This season had plenty of shows we liked, but only a handful that stood head and shoulders above the rest.
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. This means we also leave out any unfinished split-cour shows, which we define as shows that air their second half within a year of the first.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte
Recommended By: Alex, Chiaki, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Kobayashi is desperate to get fellow Broadcasting Club member Endo to play her favorite otome game, Love Me Magically! (aka MagiKoi), in order to show off her all-time fave Lieselotte. In order to help Endo improve his broadcasting skills, she suggests the two of them keep a running commentary while they play. But the thing they didn’t count on was Lieselotte’s fiancé being able to hear them!
Content Warnings: heteronormativity, romantic relationship between distant cousins, for some reason Lieselotte has the same last name as a notorious Nazi; depictions of stalking
Despite its Let’s Player premise, the overt meta is actually not the appeal of Endo and Kobayashi Live. On the contrary, the show’s weakest moments are stored in those moments, whether it’s Endo commenting that the game’s polyamorous ending sounds like heroine Fiene is leading the cast on or Kobayashi making wink-wink-nudge-nudge jokes about Liese and Fiene’s close friendship coming across as yuri without dignifying that possibility in any way (this show is downright relentless in pairing its cast off into boy-girl couples). Some members of our discord have alleged that these lines are adaptational add-ins, which would track with how incongruous they feel against the story’s overall sweet tone, but I haven’t had the chance to confirm–if you want to check it out yourself, both manga and light novel are licensed by J-Novel Club.
The show also doesn’t have much interest in engaging with fandom as a group cultural dynamic in the same way that something like My Dress-Up Darling, Complex Age, or Princess Jellyfish does; in truth, the show finds its groove when it lets even the hint of those threads drop. What this show is really, really good at is writing about communication. Endo and Kobayashi functionally serve as couples’ counselors, and I couldn’t help being impressed at how thoroughly charmed I was week to week despite that aforementioned heteronormativity. The writing emphasizes emotional openness and vulnerability regardless of gender and firmly underlines the importance of consent as a central part of the work; and while it never overtly condemns the common trope of otome games including much younger and much older potential routes, it does quietly push both those characters toward age-appropriate love interests as part of Endo and Kobayashi’s happiest ending rewrite. The finale is also a rewarding, earnestly touching tribute to the way fictional characters can have a beneficial impact on real people’s lives. This series lives and dies on its earnestness, and once it finds its way through the early hiccups and some technical rough edges, its gentle heart shines through.
Recommended by: Alex, Chiaki, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Frustrated at never getting stronger, Sonoda Michi decided to quit practicing judo after middle school to focus on relaxing and getting a boyfriend. But when her opponent from her final match shows up at her high school, she can’t help remembering what she loved about the sport.
Content considerations: multiple “encouraging” slaps on the buttocks between teammates that one character is visibly uncomfortable with; brief unsexualized nudity (bath scene); discussion of sports injuries
A show about girls wrestling, barefoot, and slamming each other around until they get all puffed and sweaty could have been a fan service hellscape, but mercifully Ippon’s storyboarding and direction does not take that route (low bar, I know, but let’s get that reassurance out of the way early). There’s not only a gratifying lack of sexualized imagery, but a satisfying physicality to the designs and motion of the female leads that makes them feel convincingly strong and in charge of their own bodies. The characters’ focus on reaching their physical peak emphasizes muscle, stamina, and strategy, and is (save for a couple of quick discussions of weight) entirely devoid of demoralizing diet talk. There’s also a fun range of body types on display, though it’s worth noting that the bigger, stockier girls tend to be side characters on opposing teams while the protagonists are pretty much all the same, more conventional, size and shape. Gosh those main characters are fun, though—each bringing her own distinct personality and brand of sincerity that makes them delightful to watch and easy to root for.
In the three-episode check-in I flagged that the narrative framing seemed intent on implying crushes between members of the team. It is with a heavy heart but an air of “I don’t know what I expected” that I must inform you these implications don’t really go beyond implications. Especially during the competition arc that defines the back half of the series, the focus shifts to the team dynamic, the camaraderie between the protagonists and their rivals, and of course the crucial business of staring in awe at their competitors as they work their way up the victory ladder. Which is not a bad thing; as I wrote earlier, a romantic subplot (or two) wouldn’t necessarily add to this story of physical prowess and passion in a beneficial way.
But, of course, it’s still disappointing to be left with a status quo of unspoken, blushy yearnings that bubble under the surface without being addressed. The intimate bonds between these judo gals are sweet and fun to watch, but if you’re looking for something more concrete in terms of f/f teen romance you’ll come away empty-handed. You may, though, still enjoy the sincere (one-sided?) affection and mutual respect between two of the female coaches… and hey, things are left open enough for a possible second season, so who knows?
Small disappointments aside, “Ippon” Again! carries such an earnest, charming energy throughout its whole 13 episodes that I can’t help but sing its praises. Even if you’re not usually a sports anime fan (I know I’m not!) consider giving this one a shot.
The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady
Recommended By: Chiaki, Dee, Toni, Vrai
What’s it about? Since she was a child, Princess Anis has dreamed of being able to fly; unfortunately, she was born without magic. No problem! She just renounces her claim on the throne to her younger brother in order to invent magical tools instead. When her brother calls off his engagement to the refined and beautiful Lady Euphyllia, the princess makes another bold declaration: she’ll take Euphyllia away herself!
Content Warnings: gore, several one-off awkward scenes that never crop up again (a gay panic joke, a parent hitting their child played as slapstick, a boob grab), scenes of non-sexualized nudity; depictions of sexual harassment, compulsory heterosexuality, depression, classism.
MagiRevo is the kind of show that only seems to come around once in a blue moon: it has a queer romance that’s not only the emotional center of the plot but, for those who find themselves frustrated by less demonstrative titles, includes not only a love confession but also an on-screen kiss; Anis is explicitly a lesbian, and comphet is a pivotal part of the narrative given her role as member of a royal lineage; the show’s strongest narratives examine the suffocating, limited roles placed on women in male-governed systems and the ease with which they’re discarded when no longer useful, while Anis’ pursuit of “magicology” is explicitly a narrative about class conflict; and in the truest feat of witchcraft the show pulls off, it does all these things while being gifted the resources to look damn good in the process.
It’s not just having Big Ideas that makes the show worthwhile, though; Euphie and Anis make a wonderful couple, and their individual struggles are moving. The pacing can sometimes be brisk, but the writing knows where to hustle things along (mainly through what might have been big long infodumps about the magic system) and when to slow down to let its emotions hit, especially when its heroines struggle with the despair of wanting to escape the systems they’re trapped in while still feeling like failures for not living up to those expectations. It’s an engaging, complete-feeling adaptation, made with the kind of care, attention, and resources I wish more yuri and BL series could be allotted.
Summer Time Rendering
Recommended by: Toni
What’s it about? Shinpei Ajiro is back on summer vacation in his hometown to attend the funeral of his beloved sister, Ushio. It’s a bittersweet homecoming, catching up with his sister Mio and the rest of his adoptive family and friends as they mourn and prepare for the annual town festival. But when sightings begin happening of mysterious doppelgangers and people start disappearing, will he be able to unravel the mystery before it’s too late?
Content warnings: gore, fanservice, body horror, child death, suicidal imagery, gender/body swap
It’s likely you didn’t watch Summer Time Rendering, given it was locked in Disney Jail then released quietly on Hulu. If you just watched a bit of it, you might have felt it’s wearing its Higurashi influence a bit on the sleeve. A repeating timeline? Creepy small town with a mysterious religious festival? Conspiracies that seem to implicate an entire community? Girls with knives? However, what Summer Time Rendering turns into is less blood-curdling psychological horror than it is a fun murder-romp through time. Less child abuse, more teenagers coming together to fight back. And honestly, I dug that!
Part of what made this show work so well was how it built its characters out. Ushio in particular is a complete delight: a loud, obnoxious, gremlin who is also caring and a powerful fighter; the writing makes it clear why she meant so much to the community and why her death was so devastating. The show largely does well by its female characters—in many of the show’s most powerful moments, young women refuse to let girls be abandoned or exploited by society.
The show also seems to be playing with some interesting ideas about mourning and our duty to those who pass, particularly through the doppelganger imagery. Characters are forced to confront the uglier sides of themselves, their “shadow selves” as Jung would put it, in a way that reflects larger confrontations with one’s potential impending death. The monstrosity of living through one’s offspring is interrogated. Overall, however, the series is mostly content to be a fun puzzle box of twists in which wondering how the characters will get out of the latest problem is the primary pleasure.
There are some caveats. The show takes a second to get going—the show begins with more limited animation and suspenseful exposition, and there is notable, if minor, fanservice. I would also not describe the show as being particularly deep—you spend more time having fun wondering what will happen next than pondering deep thematic questions. Finally, the increasingly common trope of “boy trapped in a girl’s body but not in a trans way” rears its annoying head. In spite of this, the body nonsense is not as frustrating as I was worried it would be, the fanservice disappears completely after a couple episodes, and after the first cour the pacing reaches a swift gallop and the animation is spectacular.
All in all, Summer Time Rendering is a delightful series that deserved better than to be buried on Hulu. A great watch if you want some suspenseful, puzzle-box binge watching.
Recommended by: Chiaki
What’s it about? Left without electricity and owners, four androids face the threat of an imminent, forced shutdown. However, there’s still hope in the form of performing at Babel, a music epicenter of entertainment where a song well-sung might just save their electronic lives. These androids don’t dream of electric sheep—they dream of a musical future!
Content Warning: Dismembered robots (comedy), racism and violence
On paper, Technoroid OVERMIND sounds like every other boy band idol show made to sell some kind of mobile game. Android boys sing and dance and try to learn how to human by dripping sex appeal. It’s the multi-media strategy that has allowed franchises like Uta no Prince-sama and Idolish7 to flourish, but Technoroid OVERMIND just has that hook to make it more than just “boys hot.”
Its tone remains light and it’s all in service to KNoCC’s rise into pop-idol stardom, but their emotional growth to understand human emotions runs parallel to a festering anxiety by humans against androids. It all culminates into an illuminati plot that feels more at home with Deus Ex or Blade Runner.
Technoroid OVERMIND comes at an interesting time where AI art and chatGPT have rocked online communities as tech-shills have tried to create “original” works derived from stolen work. So why should the boys of KNoCC get to have their humanity affirmed and celebrated while works by DALL-E 2 be resoundingly shat on?
Ultimately, to me, it lies in intent and the focus of the storytelling. Real-world AI creations are hollow, not because those programs lack human soul and aren’t truly human, but because these are simply tools, not only meant to create art but to obfuscate the blame and guilt for stealing the database from which its generated from, art by AI ultimately is there to benefit the people who create and rely on it. KNoCC and other robots in Technoroid, on the other hand, takes on a human role because they aren’t generating music and dance for the benefit of an owner, but for themselves. They are more than tools and threaten to break away from being “thingified.”
It thus becomes an allegory for racism, and while it often begs the question, “why not just actually make it about race,” I think it’s a particularly interesting swing to add to a franchise when the original game seems to be just a by-the-numbers gatcha game. It is the truly cyberpunk story we should be telling today, but it is being overlooked because it lacks the cool, gritty futuristic guns and neon that normally dazzle the audience in such settings.
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