Vrai, Peter, and Caitlin check in on the 2021 Winter season, from beefy skate boys to overworked cells.
Date Recorded: February 27th, 2021
Hosts: Vrai, Peter, and Caitlin
0:01:23 Sk8: The Infinity
0:12:04 Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki-kun
0:16:33 So I’m a Spider, So What?
0:18:49 Skate-Leading Stars
0:21:25 Back Arrow
0:28:38 VLAD LOVE
0:34:16 Kemono Jihen
0:37:47 Heaven’s Design Team
0:39:22 Cells at Work! CODE BLACK
0:43:25 2.43 Seiin High School Volleyball
0:46:26 Wonder Egg Priority
0:49:18 Otherside Picnic
Horimiya and Experimenting with Kink through Fiction
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast, and our winter midseason check-in. My name is Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai, which is where I post the stuff I do for freelance writing. Or you can find my other podcast where I talk about trash media @trashpod. And with me today are Peter and Caitlin.
PETER: Hi, I’m Peter. I’m an associate manager of social video at Crunchyroll and an editor at Anime Feminist.
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I’m the technical editor for Anime Feminist. I am also a reviewer for Anime News Network.
VRAI: All right, as per usual with our check-in podcasts, we go from the bottom of our Premiere Digest up to the top, starting at the bottom with Yellow Flags. And we are actually going to be jumping up a little bit because, Caitlin, you’re watching Wave!! for work but not until it’s over, and I dropped Last Dungeon Boonies around episode 3. So y’all can just check out Chiaki’s little write-up on it in our three-episode check-in if you’re curious about that.
Which brings us to our first proper title, Sk8 the Infinity, which I had every intention to watch but didn’t.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah! Oh, my God. It’s so good.
VRAI: New Utsumi is treating you well?
CAITLIN: Yeah. You know what? Utsumi just knows how to hit just right for me. Every week I watch it, it makes me so happy. It’s not a perfect, unproblematic series, but it just fills me with the kind of joy and sunshine that I so desperately need and that not a lot of series since Free! have really been able to give me.
VRAI: I know the reason it ended up down in Yellow Flags was that the premiere was kind of shitty to the few female characters who appeared on screen. So, how’s it doing? I assume it’s still mostly about dudes.
PETER: Oh, yeah.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] We got our first major female character a couple episodes ago. She’s a detective. She seems pretty cool. We don’t know much about her so far. But yeah, it’s definitely a series about men, which seems like Utsumi’s thing, is series about men aimed at women.
VRAI: And that’s fine. That’s fine that there’s a niche for that. Personally, I prefer when a series, if it wants to be about dudes for people who are into dudes, if it just doesn’t have women in it, because then it won’t be shitty to them.
CAITLIN: Yeah, that’s fair. I mean, Free wasn’t too bad with its female characters. Gou is good.
VRAI: I really liked the team manager, whose name, of course, I forgot, which—
VRAI: Gou. Yeah. Yeah, this feels like one of those that I’ll say that I’m going to watch and not get around to for years, but I’m really glad you’re enjoying it. Peter, if you had any two cents…
PETER: Yeah, I’ve mostly been enjoying it, and I don’t know if you’re going to appreciate the comparison, but it really reminds me of Air Gear. Scratches some of the same itches. It’s like an extreme sport, very bombastic people doing really unrealistically cool techniques and stuff, and maybe some pseudo-magic going on sometimes with some of their techniques, especially the villain. So, it’s fun in that way.
But also, when it first introduced… God, I cannot remember anybody’s names, but Snow is good at everything and… who’s the red-haired guy? What’s his name?
PETER: Yeah. He’s very mediocre, and Snow turned out to be really good, and I’m like, “I wonder if they’re ever going to address the fact that Snow is just immediately better at skateboarding than Reki.” And they do. Reki is going through an arc right now.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I feared that was going to be the arc, is that Reki starts to feel resentful that he is just an average skater. He’s probably good by most people’s standards, but by the S race, he’s really not it. And so, he’s going to have to deal with his feelings of bitterness and resentment about basically being a support character. Because he’s a really good skateboard maker. He definitely has a skill that other people lack, but it’s not the skill that he wants to have.
We should probably talk about Adam.
VRAI: Ah, yes, Mr. Queer-Coded Villainy. You’ve mentioned him a few times before.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah. Here’s the thing. Adam is just absolutely wild. Every time he does something bizarre and new, like he starts tap dancing on his skateboard at some point—and Koyasu Takehito is having so much fun voicing him. But he’s a queer-coded villain, unfortunately.
And every character is kind of queer coded in some way. Cherry and Joe feel like ex-boyfriends. But he is the most flamboyant one and he is the villain, and it’s not great. But it’s still just so fun to watch.
PETER: Yeah. He’s a real Hisoka.
CAITLIN: A real who?
PETER: Hisoka, from Hunter x Hunter.
CAITLIN: Oh, okay. Hisoka. Yeah.
VRAI: Oh, red-hair pedophile clown man.
PETER: How old is he? All the older skateboarders are… They said it was like eight years ago when this first started happening, which I think was their last year of high school.
CAITLIN: So, yeah, like 20s.
PETER: Yeah, late 20s. Yeah. And his style of skateboarding is kind of assault-y, and those guys are definitely still high school age. So, yeah, not great.
CAITLIN: He’s not great. He’s not great, but he’s so fun and I just laugh every time he does something weird!
And by the way, if you’re one of the people who wanted to like Free but felt uncomfortable that the camera was ogling half-naked high school students—which is fair—the only character who is regularly half-naked is a grown-ass adult.
VRAI: Heck yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah! And he is big, and he is dumb, and…
PETER: And he can cook for you.
CAITLIN: And he can cook. He’s a chef.
VRAI: All right.
CAITLIN: He’s a professional chef. [chuckles]
VRAI: I’m really glad it turned out to be everything you were hoping for, because I know you really love Utsumi and Banana Fish was her with her hands tied behind her back.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I really got the sense from the interviews on Banana Fish that producers really wanted to preserve the material and she was just very restricted the whole time.
VRAI: Yeah, I’ve got opinions on that, but let’s move on! We spent ten minutes talking about skate boys. Next one up the list that people are watching is… both of you are also watching Horimiya.
CAITLIN: Oh, that’s another one I can talk about for ten minutes!
VRAI: Try to keep it five. I believe in you.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Horimiya is also doing great. It is kinda slamming through the manga, though. It is doing about an episode a volume, which for a romcom is really fast.
VRAI: Yeah, that feels dangerous potentially.
PETER: That actually explains a lot of my problems with the series. [chuckles] I’m just like, “Wow, that subplot wrapped up fast. That all happened very suddenly. I’m not quite sure if I feel any resolution to this mini-arc.” I think it is because that was an entire volume’s worth of content, I guess.
CAITLIN: Yeah, well, the manga leans more ensemble comedy. Like in the last episode, the whole thing with Tooru and Yuki and Sakura, the manga has a lot more of that sort of stuff. It feels more fleshed out. It feels more like their relationship is gradually developing, as opposed to just hitting the milestones one after another in rapid succession.
The pacing is not ideal, but the visual direction is great, I feel like. The last thing I watched by Ishihama was Persona 5: The Animation, which was not very good. But Horimiya, I feel like, really works to his strengths visually, a lot of moody lighting and camera angles and carefully framed shots.
The opening is incredible, absolutely one of the best openings. This one’s going to go down in history as one of the best openings.
VRAI: With the faster pace, I know it’s starting to get into the kink stuff that you wrote an article about. How’s it feeling on that front?
CAITLIN: I haven’t watched that episode yet. The new episode that dropped today is getting into that, so… Some people read the manga and they were like, “It didn’t read as kink to me, just as something that Hori wanted to try,” but apparently the translation had her saying something was kind of hot, so sounds like at least the translators are making it a little bit more explicitly sexy. But yeah, we’ll see.
VRAI: All right, so maybe if you’re feeling unsatisfied with how fast it’s going through the anime, give the manga a shot.
CAITLIN: Oh, absolutely.
VRAI: With, maybe, the understanding that… I know you mentioned Hori is a little bit gentler in the anime.
PETER: Yeah, I would say it definitely does the central romance pretty well—me not having read the manga. But all these subplots that surround side characters really feel strange to me because they seem to wrap up very suddenly and it seems like the characters all knew the answer the whole time, so there really was no drama to it, if that makes sense. So, I’d imagine, reading the manga, a lot of the side character stuff would maybe feel more satisfying.
CAITLIN: Yeah, like, for example, the stuff with Remi and Sengoku in last episode. He was talking about, “She makes me want to protect her, but in a way, she’s protecting me in doing that,” which I think was really interesting.
I like that Horimiya has a varied female cast and so you can have a character like Remi and not have her feel like, “Well, this is how girls should be. They should make guys want to protect them, even if it is performative, blah blah blah,” because that is a way that she has of wielding her feminine power, but there are other female characters who don’t operate that way, and that makes me feel like it’s fine.
But anyway, part of that chapter was from Remi’s point of view, where she’s talking about “He makes me want to protect him” and that sort of stuff.
VRAI: Feels like something that would be good to include.
PETER: Yeah, watching it in the anime, I get the sense that all the characters know exactly how all the other characters feel, and yet they still have to go through the paces of the drama, and I think that’s just how they were forced to portray it in the anime to get the thing done with in half an episode.
CAITLIN: Yeah, the manga’s not really like that. It also has a lot of the characters just goofing around, being teens together in a way that’s actually pretty nice. I really recommend the manga if you’re enjoying the anime but you feel like it’s falling short in a few ways. The manga has its own flaws, but—
PETER: Anime pretty.
CAITLIN: Yeah, anime pretty. Anime pretty, and, once again, incredible opening and incredible closing. Just absolutely wonderful.
VRAI: Well, at least it has that very, very pretty shine on it, which is nice. All right, Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki. Mercedez did the three-episode check-in for this, and I know she was feeling tentatively positive that it was actually going to address the fact that its protagonist sucks and also the whole central issue of his quest being forced around getting a girlfriend. Peter, how’s it going?
PETER: I wish Chiaki or Mercedez was here so they could talk about it, because I feel like both of them have a much more positive reaction to the series than I do. I definitely think the series does a good job of forcing Tomozaki—I don’t want to say “forcing” because he grows to be very accepting of this, of actually putting in work to improve himself.
The assignments he gets are like “You need to go out, hang out with some people, and suggest three things to do” or something like that. And the way they build it up, it’s really being socially proactive and accepting the fact that sometimes you’re going to embarrass yourself or be uncomfortable; slowly working into putting himself out there and forming social relationships.
So, I feel like all the structure of the ways that he has to improve himself is really good. But I’m having a lot of time really getting over the Manic Pixie Dream Girl of… Aoi, I think is her name?
PETER: I mean, I don’t think she’s romantically interested in him, although it is revealed that he is romantically interested in her now. They just meet and she decides to make him her pet project and to “fix him,” I guess. And, again, she is actually making him do all the work and just saying “These are the things you have to do. These are the tasks I am giving you and I expect you to do them,” so it’s not just [like] her wacky personality magically fixed his life or anything.
But the structure is kind of undermined by the fact that she just kind of came out of nowhere to help him save himself. And I think the biggest issue of the series is probably the character Mimimi, who just kind of molests all of her friends all the time.
CAITLIN: [sarcastic] Great.
PETER: She sticks her head up under the shirt of another character. She’s always licking one of them and commenting on the taste of her sweat—
PETER: —on how the other girls smell when she puts her head in their clothes, licking their pillows, that kind of thing. It happens in two episodes, but I think it literally happened in the episode before last, so I don’t think it has any intention of stopping, and it makes me second-guess what the author thinks normal human interactions are, which really creates a problem about a series where somebody’s learning how to interact normally with people. So, that’s probably my number-one problem with the series.
VRAI: Haruhi Suzumiya has so much to answer for.
CAITLIN: I have been told that— This is not something I encountered myself, but I have been told about, yes, there are women in Japan for whom just grabbing each other’s boobs are normal. I also have had friends in the U.S. who just grab each other’s boobs sometimes. So, I’m not going to go too hard on anime for that unless it’s framed really uncomfortable. But licking—stuff like sticking her head in other people’s shirts? That pushes it a little far.
PETER: And audibly breathing in through her nose and talking about her bouquet.
PETER: Yeah, it’s gross.
VRAI: Really gross.
PETER: It’s very gross.
VRAI: I guess I’ll be interested to see if Chiaki and Mercedez think it’s worth a rec at the end of the season, because that sounds like there is maybe good stuff there but saddled with the same issue that this general genre usually has.
CAITLIN: It kind of sounds like it’s what I wanted Rent-A-Girlfriend to be—
VRAI: Yeah, so that’s something—
CAITLIN: —and it wasn’t. [chuckles] So…
PETER: Tomozaki himself is definitely… I don’t really have any complaints about him as the central protagonist. A lot of the stuff that goes on with him is him learning not to hate himself, too, because after he’s made some progress… At one time he’s going down an escalator and he sees his reflection in the window next to him, and he has this realization that maybe he’s being too hard on himself and he has improved and he should love himself a little bit, which I think was one of the stronger moments of the series. And he was resentful but not a shitlord before. So, of all the problems I have with the series, he is not one of them. I think he’s a good protagonist.
VRAI: So, something to try if you wanted to like Rent-A-Girlfriend but it was Rent-A-Girlfriend and it sucks.
PETER: [chuckling] Yeah.
VRAI: You know what? That’s a halfway decent rec for a lot of people, I’m sure. Moving up the list, we’ve got So I’m a Spider, So What? Is it still doing its thing? Has anything major changed since episode 3?
PETER: It’s still just Aoi Yuuki putting on a clinic. One of the best voice actresses of all time, I think.
CAITLIN: She’s great.
VRAI: She’s very good.
CAITLIN: I just can’t with the gaming mechanics. I can’t.
PETER: The other thing I was going to say is I actually think it’s starting to do some interesting stuff. I mean, this might just be the fact that I watch basically every isekai show, but I think it’s doing some interesting stuff with “Well, if you were in a gaming world, how could you narratively explore that idea?” And one of the classmates has become hyper-religious because she thinks the administrator voice when you level up is the voice of God.
VRAI: All right.
PETER: And she has become a religious fanatic. All of her friends are creeped out by her because she’s just like, “You’re not taking any taboo skills because the administrator says those are bad, right?” And you’re like, “Are you gonna burn me to death at the cross if you find out that I have?” So, just recently it started introducing some interesting ideas.
I don’t know what you’d call it. I don’t want to call it a deconstruction. Like metanarrative, I guess I’ll say, in addition to just Aoi Yuki being hilarious and fun at all times. But I’ll probably report back on where any of that goes at the end of season.
VRAI: Nice to hear that the other half is at least trying to do some interesting things. I feel like this entire genre of meta-videogamey isekai is really down there in a rut, so good on it for exploring.
PETER: Chiaki also brought this up, and I know Chiaki’s basically a fan of it because of the other characters that aren’t the spider Kumoko, because one of the characters brought back—was a male—was brought back as a female and is grappling with their gender identity, which apparently gets resolved in a way that she liked later on. I don’t know if the anime will get to it.
And another character is brought back as a beast, who thinks maybe it’s punishment for her bullying Kumoko when they were still in real life. So there’s definitely some other stuff on the classmates’ side of the story.
VRAI: Good for you, Aoi Yuuki Spider. Good for you. Caitlin, I’m way behind on Skate-Leading Stars. I think the last episode I watched was 5 or 6, and it’s practically finished at this point, so that’s all you.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I think I’m a couple episodes behind. I like it, I’m enjoying it, but it has some problems. Just at the end of the day it’s just not that good.
VRAI: Mm, that’s a shame.
CAITLIN: Yeah, its pacing is weird. When they show the skating, it looks really good. But it’s only ever for a couple seconds at a time, and the camera spends way more time either zoomed in on their faces or people talking on the sidelines.
And I don’t want to just sit and compare the show to Yuri on Ice constantly, constantly, constantly, because that’s not fair to it. Yuri on Ice is an incredible show. It was something really special, it was something really magical, and it’s not fair to expect every show about a similar subject to be like that.
But Yuri on Ice gave us the entire skating sequence on camera, and maybe it wasn’t always perfectly animated, but you knew what their routine was like. And in Skate-Leading Stars, I can’t feel excited for them going to championships with their routines because I don’t know what their routines look like. So, I’m still enjoying it, but it’s weird.
VRAI: Yeah, I know what you mean. It’s like they saw people making fun of the kinda wonky rotoscoped bits of the Yuri on Ice routines and were like, “We’re only gonna show ours when it looks really good,” which I can understand, but then the cutaways aren’t very compelling?
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s got— You know what, it’s the same director as Tamayomi and it’s kinda got the same issue where you’re watching it and you’re like, “Why is this less than it should be?”
VRAI: Mm-hm. Which is, yeah, too bad because I thought the first couple episodes were pretty intriguing as far as playing around with team sport dynamics.
CAITLIN: Yeah! And it’s still got that. And I like that the main characters absolutely fucking suck. They’re not nice boys. [chuckles] They’re really shitty. But, yeah, it’s not totally coming together the way it should.
VRAI: I mean, maybe that’s because the director, Mister Code Geass Man, is also working on the next show that we get to talk about, which is Back Arrow!
CAITLIN: Yeah! Which is… What a fun show. [chuckles]
VRAI: Do you want to talk about your feelings first?
CAITLIN: You know what, Vrai? You haven’t gotten to talk about much. Do you want to go?
VRAI: Yeah, sure. I like Back Arrow. I think it is this almost unassuming little show that has some very Escaflowne-y vibes in that it’s this bombastic action fantasy with mech elements. The cast is broadly drawn, but I like spending time with them. It looks a little bit doofy in places.
I think my biggest question about it—because the screenwriter is the same guy who wrote Gurren Lagann and Kill la Kill and Promare, Kazuki Nakashima—my question as of this moment is “Is he going to challenge himself at any point with Back Arrow?” or is this going to be basically the same story he always tells, which is enjoyable, but, my God, that man has a niche.
CAITLIN: I mean, I’d be okay with that.
VRAI: I will say Back Arrow doesn’t strike me as the kind of show where he’s going to push himself to go above and beyond. I’m not mad at it when I say that; just I know exactly where this is going, because I have seen three other things he’s written in this pretty direct mold.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, that’s fair. Jared compared it to a PS2 game in its aesthetic and writing, which I think is apt.
VRAI: Yeah. It’s got this earnestness that I find really charming, and Shu is basically the best character. That is maybe the most— The fact that the rogue trickster character is not evil, so far…
CAITLIN: I love the way he’s just leading Bit around by the nose. He’s totally got Bit’s number.
VRAI: It’s fun. It is a really breezy throwback kind of show, and it is also nice, speaking of the other stuff that dude has written on, that they managed to do an entire bathing sequence that’s pretty pivotal to the plot and there’s no fanservice in it. So, that was a pleasant surprise.
CAITLIN: I think the horny in most of his TRIGGER work comes from Imaishi.
VRAI: Yeah, Imaishi is like that.
CAITLIN: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Nakashima show that wasn’t also Imaishi. So, it’s really interesting seeing that writing without the bombast that Imaishi trades in, and I think that might be why… although Taniguchi can do bombast, too. We’ve all seen Code Geass.
CAITLIN: I don’t know if we’ve actually also seen Code Geass, but we know Code Geass.
VRAI: [crosstalk; deadpan] Spinzaku.
CAITLIN: So, I’m not sure why the show is not catching on, because it is so fun and so weird.
VRAI: I think it’s because it’s a little bit more restrained than the shows that both of these guys are most known for.
CAITLIN: I don’t know if I would call it restrained because—
VRAI: Some of the stuff in later episodes gets wild, but if you were to clip out an action scene here or there, it’s neat but it’s not like “Holy shit, what the… What?” It doesn’t have that immediate grab-you quality.
CAITLIN: Except for, like, torture choir.
CAITLIN: [through laughter] Which had me pretty much cry-laughing. Or the pretty boy farm.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah, it does have some magnificent flourishes of absurdity that I’m very into.
CAITLIN: It’s gotten pretty weird in the last few episodes.
CAITLIN: [laughs] Which is great, because I feel like… The first few episodes, I will say, I was like, “Okay, this is fun,” and then I immediately forget it afterwards. But once Shu joined the team and it started to be like, “Oh, maybe Shu’s our main protagonist here,” then it started to liven up a little bit, because I feel like that was what they really needed to get things moving.
VRAI: The girls are all still pretty solidly sidelined, but it doesn’t treat them poorly. It’s just they don’t get to do much at crucial moments, which is kind of a bummer, but…
CAITLIN: And there’s definitely something going on with the doctor that we haven’t gotten yet. I mentioned this the other day. I was watching it with Jared and was like, “You know, for someone with such a prominent voice actor, it’s really weird that the doctor hasn’t really done much.” And Jared’s like—
VRAI: Suspicious, even.
CAITLIN: —“Wait, who’s the doctor?” I’m like, “Seki Tomokazu,” who is one of the top voice actors in Japan, who has played many, many prominent roles that are too many to list. But just off the top of my head, Chichiri from Fushigi Yugi, Van from Escaflowne, Domon Kasshu. There’s more recent ones than that, but those are the ones that I really know him for. Shuichi Shindou in Gravitation.
CAITLIN: So, yeah, big-deal voice actor. And I told that to Jared, and he immediately was like, “Okay, the doctor is from beyond the wall. He just showed up in this town one day and it happened to be on top of the dreadnaught? There’s something going on. He knows something.” His recent guess is that he’s a prince of Lutoh. There’s definitely something happening with the doctor.
VRAI: Yeah, I would call this show overall very comfortably tropey but also extremely competent in how it pulls those off, so it’s a comfortable watch every week.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And it’s two cours. So…
VRAI: Is it?
VRAI: I did not know that. Okay. That’s interesting.
CAITLIN: So, we’re only a quarter of the way through.
VRAI: Fascinating! Okay. Huh! Okay.
CAITLIN: Which goes a long way to explain its chill pacing.
VRAI: Yeah, which I’ve missed, honestly. Its pacing is nice, and that explains some things.
CAITLIN: I do like 26-episode pacing better than 13-episode pacing, usually.
VRAI: Depending on the kind of show it is, yeah, sometimes it’s good to have time to sit in that world, especially in something that has as many political machination elements moving around as this one does.
VRAI: But we should probably move on, and I will restrict myself to only two minutes of yelling about fucking Vlad Love.
VRAI: I feel like my feelings haven’t changed that much from the premiere review I wrote, which is that I should be extremely into this and yet it turns me away at every turn. It’s a yuri vampire comedy, and yet I really hate the protagonist, Mitsugu, who just feels like she escaped from a ‘90s ecchi comedy. She’s written basically exactly the same as all of those extremely shitty deadpan dudes, but they pasted on some tits and now it’s progressive.
CAITLIN: Well, Anime News Network has an article about how Vlad Love is actually from, I think, the mobile game that never really took off, and then what’s-her-name was a boy in that.
VRAI: That tracks because… I don’t want to be an essentialist and be like, “Girls are like this, and menfolk are like this.” What does that even mean? But there are lines they give to Mitsugu that feel very cishet dude, talking about how—because there’s wacky shenanigans over how her vampire girlfriend takes on different personalities based on whose blood she drinks, she has this moment where she’s like, “Oh, man. With this thing, I bet I could mold her into my perfect type of girl,” and I’m like, “I hate you and I want you to die.” Mitsugu sucks. Some of the other ensemble cast is okay, but there’s not enough of them to make up for how much Mitsugu sucks.
The production feels overbearing and like it wants to be flourishy and artsy, but it really only has two or three tricks, which is being a subpar Ando with its picture-in-picture framing. Then I found out that it’s… So, Oshii is the big name attached to it, but the guy working under him worked on Ranma for several years but is best known most recently for co-directing Neo Yokio, another show that I really hated because I thought that its meta-humor was stale and unearned and its characters were shrilly and annoying and it wanted to pat itself on the back for progressivism that it hadn’t earned.
So, that tracked, and everything suddenly unfolded before me. And then I dropped it.
PETER: You saw it like the Da Vinci Code. You solved it.
VRAI: Uh-huh! It all came together. Peter, it looks like you’re still watching it.
PETER: Yeah, I’m up to current. I wonder how much of the picture-in-picture is just budgetary, because occasional moments you do see some impressive animation but a lot of it is just static. So, I don’t know how much of that is them trying to be artistic or just save efforts.
But yeah, I think I had a lot of the same problems you do. I think a lot of the cast just seems to conform to whatever’s necessary for the moment rather than having unique personalities, especially Mai. She literally just seems like a vacant creature unless you’re talking about her stepmother, in which case she just throws obscenities around like a sailor. But the rest of the time, she’s just nobody until she drinks some blood and freaks out.
CAITLIN: Well, Oshii has actually literally said that character is the lowest priority for him when he’s making an anime, that he is least interested in character writing.
PETER: Well, that definitely comes across. I don’t know if that works too well in the context of what they’re trying to do here.
VRAI: Yeah, a slapstick romcom. That feels like the characters should be the most important part, which explains why it feels so hollow and grating to watch.
PETER: Yeah. It kind of reminds me… The anime I wasn’t expecting for it to remind me most of was Dropkick on My Devil, but I feel like it’s just not as funny, which is unfortunate.
And a lot of it is just references to Oshii. Most recently, I think a bunch of people were getting hit in the head by bladed weapons, and one of them was randomly the captain from Patlabor. And then they made a reference to Blade of the Immortal, which I found out from a Twitter comment Oshii came very close to directing the Blade of the Immortal anime back in the day.
So, a lot of it just seems like self-referential comedy, too, which I imagine will go over a lot of people’s heads because the last time he directed an anime before this was when? [chuckles] Before 2010?
CAITLIN: For all of his bluster before it came out, talking about making strong medicine and “Let’s show what happens when you piss off an old man,” sure just seems like nothing.
VRAI: Yeah. It escaped from 1992, and I want it to go back.
PETER: Both of its OPs are good, though.
VRAI: That’s true. Yes, they are. They are extremely kickass.
PETER: I don’t know why it has two. [chuckles] It alternates every episode. I think that’s really cool, and both of them are very good, so that’s probably my favorite part.
VRAI: All right, we are at the 40-minute mark and we have six shows left to go, so we’re going to motor through this a little bit. Kemono Jihen. Peter, anything noteworthy to add? I dropped it because I hated how it treated its female characters and femininity in general.
CAITLIN: That’s fair, honestly. It’s not great to its female characters. It’s not.
PETER: Or female-coded characters. I think one of my biggest problems with the series is Akira doesn’t do anything because—
CAITLIN: No, he doesn’t.
PETER: —he’s always scared of gross stuff. I don’t know. There’s a bug and he screams, and then he just doesn’t do anything for the whole episode, which really sucks, considering Akira’s very female-coded. Yeah.
I really like Kon, and I feel like the series treats her like shit too. I think right now she’s living by herself in a park. It seemed like it was going to go into an arc where Kabane befriends her and then she can get integrated into the main group, but I guess she’s just spending weeks at a time in this park with Kabane regularly forgetting her. So, that sucks a lot.
CAITLIN: Kon is interesting because she’s the most animal-coded of all of the hanyo.
PETER: Yeah. Kinda Inuyasha.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And maybe it’s just because of Inari being terrible, but she is very feral. She is obsessed with being a good girl and being obedient, and she doesn’t really know how to socialize. It’s very sad, honestly. But yeah, I’m still enjoying the show. It’s beautiful. It’s beautifully animated. I do like the characters, even if it’s really shitty to its female characters.
PETER: Yeah. The characters themselves are good, just not always how the show treats them.
CAITLIN: Another really good opening. Lots of good openings this season. But yeah, no, I would definitely put it all the way down to Yellow Flags at best. [chuckles]
PETER: Justice for Kon.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And do you feel like people were talking about it having creepy uncle vibes in the beginning?
VRAI: I got that from the first episode, but I feel like it pretty much went away by episode 2.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I feel like it’s kinda dissipated.
VRAI: All right, well… It felt like the most interesting part of it was how it was exploring coping with and unpacking trauma. Is that part at least still good and interesting?
PETER: [crosstalk] Oh yeah.
CAITLIN: Oh yeah. It’s still going very hard on that. We just got Shiki’s whole thing with his parents—which, once again, not great to female characters.
PETER: Yeah, that was…
CAITLIN: Real, real bad. It was real bad there!
CAITLIN: But it was explicitly about him getting over seeing something that traumatized him, being gaslit about it, and then recovering and seeking retribution from the perpetrator.
PETER: It’s a real Korean horror movie now.
CAITLIN: By the way, Rebecca Silverman on ANN has been doing really interesting weekly write-ups talking about yokai lore.
VRAI: Oh, that sounds neat.
CAITLIN: Yeah! I recommend them.
VRAI: Cool. Some cool supplemental reading. I might go read those even though I dropped the show because it’s fun to learn things.
Next up is Heaven’s Design Team, which I don’t have much to add from our third-episode review. It’s adorable and precious. It has the best subtitle job of the season. Oh my God, it’s so good.
And I do want to add that they’ve continued to treat Ven-chan very well. They’ve been real good to her, which was my one lingering worry from the first episode. Otherwise, though, God, I love it so much.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, I cosign all of that. It is another show that just makes me happy when I watch it. [chuckles] Great voice actor performances also. Just everyone involved is knocking it out of the park. And koalas are terrible nightmare creatures.
VRAI: They’re horrible nightmares and they eat poison! That’s why they’re so stupid.
PETER: And it’s got a rap battle in it now.
VRAI: Heck yeah it does.
PETER: It’s got everything.
VRAI: It does. And enka.
PETER: Mm-hm. I’m pretty much on board with everything you said. Very fun. I don’t think I have too much say about it, but I do want to say that I have been surprised by how popular this show is.
VRAI: Oh, good!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Good!
PETER: It extremely exceeded my expectations for how well it would do. Extremely so. I am very happy about that.
CAITLIN: If I were a substitute teacher, I would show it in a biology class or something.
PETER: Oh yeah, it’s definitely a “you could just put that on at school” kind of show, too, like Cells at Work!
VRAI: It is extremely wholesome and good, and I love it and people should watch it.
CAITLIN: Hooray for edutainment!
VRAI: Speaking of edutainment, Cells at Work! Code Black.
CAITLIN: That one I would not put on at high school!
PETER: The only Cells at Work! you couldn’t, really.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I’m surprised by how much this show has grown on me. It’s so odd because it feels like the creators… They put out an interview before it aired, I remember, that they wanted this show to be a relatable cry of despair for an overworked generation or something like that. The anime certainly feels like that! It’s so sincere that it actually hurts.
But it’s adapting a manga that can’t seem to decide if it’s serious or sincere, so there’ll be these extremely po-faced takes on these very well-established tropes and genuine pathos about how “overwork’ll kill ya, y’all!” And then it’ll get saddled with episodes 3 and 4, which… I understand that episode 3 in a vacuum is funny because of its absurdity, but when you put it next to the rest of the show, it sucks, y’all! It sucks!
PETER: Yeah. I didn’t like the liver, host club thing that they did either. It’s weird. I think it’s very progressive in its politics, but then it really falls back on this shitty sexist stuff.
CAITLIN: The liver thing, honestly, I thought it was really interesting. I don’t know if they go back later because I am behind.
PETER: They do.
CAITLIN: But— Okay. I can’t remember exactly, but the one cell being like, “We’re working hard all the time and you guys just get to sit back and drink,” and the host being like, “No. This is really hard work! We have to deal with all of this stuff, and we have to be cheerful and we have to smile through all of it. We deserve some respect.”
VRAI: It’s basically the same problem that regular Cells at Work has in that it has these very gendered labor roles, but you just notice it more because this one’s edgy. But I thought episode 2 was a really good take on “Hey, y’all, don’t be shitty to service and sex workers because you think they don’t work as hard quote-unquote ‘real jobs.’”
PETER: Everyone’s wasting away in this decaying body that we occupy. We live in a society.
CAITLIN: That’s relatable! [chuckles]
VRAI: And you can skip episode 4 altogether because that’s the sexual assault one.
PETER: Yeah, that one… That one, that’s where I stopped, so I have been kinda surprised that it got right back on the ball afterward. I mean that’s where I stopped before the anime started, because I read the manga.
But yeah, it was kinda so-so for a little while, but then it got right back to the pre-venereal disease stuff. Like, the blood clot thing was really good. Any time where a cell is dying and seems to be almost overjoyed by the fact that their death means that they don’t have to work anymore… [chuckles]
CAITLIN: The sweet release of death!
PETER: Yeah, very impactful.
VRAI: Yeah, just from what I’ve poked around and read, it seems like this is basically adapting the first two volumes with some stuff taken from the third. And that seems like a good choice for how it’s going to wrap up, because, just looking at the eight volumes and some of the chapter titles, I assume this body just dies and that’s how it ends.
PETER: Yeah, I want full End of Eva. I guess the stomach ulcer’s coming up, so maybe it’s pouring into the space between organs. They get sepsis and you got the coast. I don’t know whose face is in the horizon coming out of the sea. And then the red blood cell and the white blood cell on a beach. Yeah, that’d be good.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] Okay.
VRAI: But yeah, it’s definitely my surprise of the season and I would tentatively recommend it to people… Maybe… Yeah.
2.43 Volley Boys, or Seiin High School Volleyball. Caitlin, I know you dropped it? Why?
CAITLIN: I just started the episode, and I realized I didn’t care, and life is too short to watch [shows] that you don’t care about, if you’re not getting paid for it—because I watch a lot of anime I don’t care [about] because I’m going to get paid for it. But nah. Just wasn’t feeling it, which is a shame because I was really feeling the first couple episodes.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s fair. I was thinking about it, and what it reminds me of is Just Because, which is this anime that nobody but me watched, partly because it was on Anime Strike back in 2017.
CAITLIN: Didn’t Amelia watch that?
VRAI: She did, I think.
CAITLIN: She was into it, I remember.
VRAI: Well, the thing about it is it was, similarly, this very nice, quiet show about kids in their last year of high school and where they want to go in their lives. And it was really good at individual moments, but it had trouble stringing those moments together into a plot with momentum. And then when it was over; you just forgot about it.
And that’s pretty much how I feel about Volley Boys, where there are scenes and character interactions I really like a lot, but its pacing is completely borked.
PETER: Yeah, it’s all over the place. I think that the last episode is— I think I’ve officially dropped it at this point as well. It’s just steamrolling all over all these plot— I don’t know if there was a resolution to a lot of these subplots. I don’t know if it expects me to know the status of a lot of things that are going on at any one time. It keeps introducing new ones, and then we don’t get conclusions. I don’t know what’s important in the show.
VRAI: Speaking of one- versus two-cour pacing, I feel like this should have been a two-cour, like it desperately wants to be. But it just doesn’t have the time. And so, while I am— I’m not a sports anime guy, so in theory, I’m kind of interested by the structure, where this is basically vignettes of these teenage boys’ lives tied together by these big, important moments in the sport they all play, but in practice, I just don’t think that they’re nailing it.
CAITLIN: No, sports anime, for me, it’s all about the buildup. You need to see them go through all the practicing and the struggles so that you can feel really excited for the matches.
PETER: Yeah, especially if it introduces you to the other team so you come to sympathize with both sides, so you kinda don’t want the other team to lose either.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] The rivals.
PETER: Yeah. Ippo’s really good at that, where it always tells you the backstory of the other boxer, so you realize that there’s some real stakes on both sides for the match. I guess what I’m saying is Haikyu!! or Ippo are what you should be watching.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Haikyu does that, too.
PETER: Yeah. Watch Haikyu and Ippo.
CAITLIN: And Run with the Wind. [chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah, it’s a shame, because I want to root for this because it’s josei and you never see josei adaptations, but it’s just not working for me, really. It’s too bad. Also, the cousin-fucking is weird.
VRAI: Wonder Egg Priority—I almost don’t want to talk about too much at all because I feel like we can and should dedicate a whole episode to it!
CAITLIN: There’s so much here. Oh, my God!
PETER: It’s about way too many things. I gotta say, though, I’ve never been in so many chat rooms specifically created to talk about a single anime before in my entire life. I am in three or four groups that were specifically created to talk about Wonder Egg Priority, and that has never even come close to happening before.
CAITLIN: Just every Tuesday, the black bar… the AniFem Discord turns into…
VRAI: A CIA document, I believe you could call it.
CAITLIN: Thank you. It’s just black bars as far as the eye can see. [chuckles] And if you try to bring up anything else, everyone just moves past it to keep talking about Wegg. [chuckles] It’s…
PETER: I don’t think I’ve also ever been so nervous about an anime before, because it’s dealing with so many fraught subjects and there’s so much on the line, and it could go real bad at any moment, and you’re just holding on, hoping to God that it sticks the landing.
CAITLIN: Oh, my God.
VRAI: I’m still a little bit iffy on Momoe’s subplot, but honestly, as of Rika’s focus episode, which was episode 7, I think it has my trust now, because that episode is really good.
CAITLIN: That was a really strong episode, yeah. Even the people I know who don’t like it, because I’m in a couple of anime Discords… AniFem Discord loves it, talks about it. The other Discord I’m in, the general mood is actually they do not care for it.
PETER: That episode or the anime?
CAITLIN: The anime.
PETER: As a whole? Wow.
CAITLIN: As a whole, yeah. But even the people who were down on it were saying that the last episode was good. But yeah, it’s handling so many touchy subjects. I believe Steve, vestenet, who’s doing the reviews at ANN, said that they are juggling flaming chainsaws, which I think is an apt metaphor.
VRAI: The week that this comes out, the past week of links post, I included someone who made a thread that was a running total of content warnings, just if you’re interested in it and haven’t it up yet and you kinda want to get ahead. Yeah.
And with that, I think, let’s put the Wegg aside for right now because, again, that will need a retrospective podcast. It’s just a thing.
CAITLIN: It’s so much.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Which brings us to our last show of the season, Otherside Picnic. I wish this was a better adaptation. I still like it, but…
PETER: I feel like a lot of it’s supposed to be really super atmospheric core. I feel like for that you really need some cool visuals, and I just don’t think they were given the resources to do that. So, you just get these really bare environments, maybe with some CG characters walking through it, and I just don’t feel the experience they’re trying to generate, is my feeling.
VRAI: Yeah. I think the source material… And I haven’t had a chance to pick up the light novels yet. I do intend to. But I think the source material is strong enough that it’s shining through and making this still an enjoyable watch for me. But it’s a very functional production. When it came out, I compared it to No. 6, and I think that is still accurate but not necessarily in all the ways I had hoped.
PETER: Yeah. I think I actually like the series when they’re not in the Otherside more, because that’s a lot more character-focused and a lot more comedy and stuff, where the voice actors can do a lot of work. Yeah, but then the Otherside is very reliant on either the prose of the novel, I guess, or what the anime studio could really be bringing to the production.
VRAI: Yeah, atmosphere and cosmic horror are tough to do visually, even when you have a really talented director, and this one is extremely workman-like, as you like to say, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I am looking at his credits right now, and there’s not a whole lot to excite. He directed RerideD. [hums skeptically]
VRAI: It’s too bad because I know people love these novels. And I think this is an okay primer. Apparently, it has moved around some of the arcs from the books, which, now that I know that, I can see the chop and screw, as it were.
But I think it’s one of those things where, if for whatever reason you can’t get the novels, which are out through J-Novel Club, or you prefer to watch rather than read, I think this anime is perfectly watchable. I have a good time sitting down and watching it with my wife every Monday. But it’s not amazing.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I think something that’s emblematic is the way it uses CG, just as a metaphor for the whole package, because in its long shots, it just has this really stiff CG animation that I’m not sure why they’re using it. It doesn’t look good, but it’s not unwatchable. It’s not Ex-Arm bad and they only use it for a few seconds at a time. Just, I don’t know why they’re using it.
And I feel like that is… For a lot of the production, it’s like I don’t know why you’re doing it this way. It’s kind of lessening the impact, but it’s not ruining it. Does that make sense?
VRAI: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And like Peter said, I think both of the lead voice actors are really good, and I think they are carrying the show in a lot of respects, particularly in regards to the burgeoning romance between Sorawo and Toriko, because the visual direction definitely does not communicate a lot of intimacy between them. Yeah, I wish that it was better than it is, but it’s fine. It might get more people to read the light novels, and that’s the best thing.
CAITLIN: I’ve definitely been thinking about picking them up.
VRAI: So, yeah, any final thoughts that we didn’t cover up till now? We won’t be talking about ongoing series and sequels until our winter wrap-up. Did I forget anything?
[All remain briefly silent]
VRAI: All right. I guess that about wraps us up then. Thank you so much for joining us, AniFam. If you liked what you heard, you can find more of us up on Soundcloud by looking for Anime Feminist or our written stuff on our website.
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