This summer’s recs are definitely a case of quality over quantity.
How did we choose our recs?
Participating staff members can nominate up to three titles and can also co-sign other nominated shows. Rather than categorizing titles as “feminist-friendly” or “problematic,” they are simply listed in alphabetical order with relevant content warnings; doing otherwise ran the risk of folks seeing these staff recommendations as rubber stamps of unilateral “Feminist Approval,” which is something we try our hardest to avoid here.
The titles below are organized alphabetically. As a reminder, ongoing shows are NOT eligible for these lists. We’d rather wait until the series (or season) has finished up before recommending it to others, that way we can give you a more complete picture. That means series continuing into Fall, like The aquatope on white sand, are not eligible. We also leave out split-cour series, like The Case Study of Vanitas, until they finish their run.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Recommended by: Alex, Caitlin, Dee, Lizzie, Mercedez, Vrai
What’s it about? The Kouka Revue, a fictionalized version of the Takarazuka, is an all-women acting troupe known for their lavish musicals. The prestigious school that trains these actresses admits only 40 students per year and is about to admit its centennial class—including disgraced ex-idol Ai, who just wants to get away from men, and country girl Sarasa, who longs to play the coveted role of Lady Oscar.
Content Warnings: Depictions of CSA, eating disorders, fatphobia, stalking.
After a sequence of opening arcs dealing messily but sympathetically with child abuse and eating disorders (covered in our 3-episode check-in), Kageki Shojo settles into a lighter ensemble story of actors improving their craft and pursuing their goals. The series does continue to touch on topics like toxic theatre culture, gender roles, and queerness through its characters’ conflicts, but it’s woven fairly quietly into individual arcs, acting more as backdrop than foreground.
While Kageki Shojo always treats its characters’ feelings as valid, ultimately it’s more interested in how people navigate unfair systems (both on and off the stage) than it is about changing the systems themselves. This may leave some viewers frustrated, though I’d argue it’s still effective as a character-driven dramedy that opens the door for audience interpretation and discussion.
With its complex female cast, diversity of relationships, and thoughtful depiction of topics that often go unexplored in popular media, Kageki Shojo isn’t always an easy watch (especially in its first 3-4 episodes), but it’s by and large a satisfying one. The finale is more comma than period, so with luck the series will be successful enough that we can spend more time with the stage girls in season 2 someday.
Love Live! Superstar!!
Recommended by: Alex
What’s it about? Kanon loves to sing but her staggering stage fright gets in the way, causing her to mess up her audition for a prestigious music program. When her classmate, Keke, hears Kanon singing to herself, she presents an alternative: stuff the fancy music curriculum, form a new club, and become a School Idol. While reluctant at first, Kanon soon bonds with Keke over their shared passion for music and becomes determined to give it a shot. If only the student council would stop trying to shut them down!
This is my first Love Live anime (though I did play the rhythm game quite intently a few years ago), so while I can’t compare it against its sister series or tell you how it stacks up in the grand School Idol Canon, I can tell you it’s an absolute delight. A sense of goofy humor and sincerity runs through the whole show that, combined with the expressive animation and catchy songs, makes it just fun to watch.
The rag-tag pile of students that form the idol group make for both an endearing main cast and a rewarding underdog story. Instead of throwing the team together right away, most of the series is a satisfyingly paced “getting the band together” arc where the five main characters, their motivations, and their relationships with each other have space to develop. As a never-to-be-understated bonus, this cast is never subjected to sexualized imagery (at worst, occasionally the camera will highlight a flippy skirt hem during a dance routine).
The goofs, the melodrama, and the musical numbers weave together neatly into a really enjoyable story about passion and friendship. Of course, the “school” part of the School Idol contest does allow for Superstar to elegantly sidestep dealing with the idol industry, as this is more about kids in a club taking a shot at a regional competition. But hey, that’s okay: if you want a story that explores and critiques the harrowing realities of the performing arts world, you have Kageki Shojo. If you want an earnest comedy about girls following their dreams while making hilarious facial expressions, you have Love Live! Superstar!! Variety makes the world go round.
Recommended by: Mercedez
What’s it about? Hashiba Kyoya is as unsuccessful as they come: at least, as a game director. So when his company goes bankrupt, leaving him in the lurch, he heads back to his family home, all while considering everyone who’s succeeded and not him. Then, in the blink of an eye, Kyoya finds himself a decade in the past with a second chance and a shot at a brighter future.
Content Warning: Fanservice.
In the premiere for Remake Our Life, I… was pretty harsh. It was a fifty-minute slog through a go-nowhere premiere that didn’t do a whole bunch. I lambasted it for having the audacity to do a double-length episode that wasn’t outstanding in the least, and sat in the middle ground of “just okay” versus being a dynamic opener that set the series up for a really full-body exploration of adulthood and happiness. While I ultimately didn’t regret my inaugural watch, I did have hopes for… more. Which is why, days after the finale (at the writing of this review), I’m still feeling some kind of way, because Remake Our Life may be one of the best of Summer 2021, which is the most wonderful thing to type/say.
I’ve spent twelve weeks with Remake Our Life (thirteen if you include episode 6.5, which was… a choice for a series that kicked off with an almost hour long premiere). Twelve-ish weeks with Kyoya and the character of Team Kitayama, who form the foundation for his second shot at happiness and some of the most emotional beats in the show. Twelve-ish weeks moving through a quite-smart time travel show with a dose of the fantastic. And mind you, it’s not perfect: there’s a good deal of unnecessary fan service (I’m calling you out, pre-time skip Shinoaki) and some weak, go-nowhere plot beats. But overall, Remake Our Life is a really good series, and while it won’t be remembered by the end of 2021, it’ll live on in my heart.
Near the end of my initial review, I said that I saw the potential in Remake Our Life. I said, and I quote, “I can see the possibilities around the edges, the potential for this to be a coming-of-age story for adults. I can even see this becoming a really powerful, impactful story about being happy and seizing second chances.” I’m glad to say that, in the end, Remake Our Life did come full circle, providing a solid story about a twenty-something seizing a second chance with both hands, and deciding to be happy, which is the most millennial wish of them all.
Recommended By: Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? After a strange storm, 36 students on the verge of graduation find that they and their school have been transported to a strange other world, and that some of them have developed powers. As they explore a nearby island, they discover the walls between dimensions are thin, and begin to search for a way that might lead them back home.
Content Warning: Corporal punishment; corpse imagery; animal death; body horror (plague); flashing lights; existential dread.
Sonny Boy, at its best, reminds me a lot of the 2003 Kino’s Journey anime, which is about the highest compliment I can think to pay it. While nominally a mystery isekai, in practice each episode is a different short story. As characters step into new dimensions, they’re left to puzzle out what rules it follows, which generally leads to meditations on the grand terror of growing up.
The show touches on topics ranging from the specific (hikikomori and authoritarianism in schools) to the more abstract (the difficulty of carving an independent path as an adult), and it’s not so much a ready-made allegory as a series of thematic thought experiments. Tonally it won’t be for everyone, as it’s the kind of story where characters are named after train stations and dialogue is often discarded in favor of quiet travel across eerie physics-defying landscapes. The emotional episodes that hit do so hard, but it’s much more satisfying in small chunks than as a binge watch.
Visually, it’s stunning, which is no surprise from the director of Space Dandy and ACCA-13. The cast is roughly at gender parity with no fanservice to speak of, aside from several remarks about one character’s big boobs; and one of the central sympathetic characters is the Japanese-Indian Rajdhani. I confess to rolling my eyes at the very last-generation feel of having the free-spirited moral center of the group not use a cellphone, but it’s a pretty minor story quirk that never becomes a full-on lecture.
And while the show’s twelfth episode feels like a largely unnecessary addendum that spells out things we could’ve guessed from the more stunning finale of episode 11, it doesn’t take away from the show’s overall impact as a beautiful, thoughtfully made work of optimistic nihilism and a breath of fresh air for anyone seeking something different in the modern isekai genre.