Dee, Vrai, and Peter look back on the Fall 2021 season!
Date Recorded: January 9th, 2022
Hosts: Dee, Vrai, and Peter
0:02:31 takt op.Destiny
0:09:12 MUTEKING THE DANCING HERO
0:15:21 Lupin III Part 6
0:17:28 Irina the Vampire Cosmonaut
0:22:35 The Faraway Paladin
0:25:37 Banished from the Hero’s Party
0:25:47 Taisho Otome Fairy Tale
0:27:37 The Night Beyond the Tricornered Window
0:28:27 Komi Can’t Communicate
0:32:25 Blue Period
0:33:09 Ranking of Kings
0:39:37 The Heike Story
Sequels and Carryovers
0:46:30 Let’s Make a Mug Too 2
0:48:19 The Great Jahy Will Not be Defeated!
0:49:16 Restaurant to Another World 2
0:50:03 The aquatope on white sand
0:56:41 86 EIGHTY-SIX
PETER: My understanding… You know how they finally got along at the end of Venom 1 and then in Venom 2 they’re fighting again because that’s the only plot point they could think of to have conflict in the main character? Anyway, it’s kinda—
DEE: Hello, everyone. Welcome to our Venom podcast.
[Intro theme song]
DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee, one of the managing editors here at AniFem. You can find most of my writings at my blog The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. That’s J-O-S-E-I Next Door. And I am joined today by fellow AniFem staffers Vrai and Peter.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai. I’m a managing content editor at Anime Feminist. You can find the freelance writing I do on Twitter @WriterVrai. You can find the podcast about trash media I cohost @trashpod, although because of life and many other things we’ve been on a little bit of a hiatus as of late.
And I apologize in advance. People are always asking, “Will you all cover danmei or donghua on AniFem?” and we always say no, because we feel like as an editorial team we don’t have a lot of cultural competency in that regard as editors. But I will say I didn’t get that much anime watched this season because I was busy getting into The Untamed.
DEE: So that’s where Vrai’s been.
VRAI: So that’s me. Anyway, Peter?
PETER: Hey, I’m Peter Fobian. I’m associate manager of social media at Crunchyroll and an editor here at Anime Feminist. On Twitter I am @PeterFobian.
DEE: And today we are looking back at the winter [sic] 2021 anime season. It is our retrospective. Like we usually do with these, we’ll basically start from the bottom of our Premiere Digest list and work our way up. We categorized the shows based on how much interest or value they might have to a feminist-minded audience member.
Because there’s quite a few shows and there’s also, I think, a lot to talk about with some of them, we aren’t going to go through the entire list. We touched base with some of the earlier ones in our mid-season, so you can check that out. We also have first-episode premiere reviews and three-episode check-ins which you can read up on, so this will really be heavy focused on the back half of the season.
And with that in mind, we’re actually going to start basically halfway through our list in the neutral zone with Sakugan. Oh wait, no, sorry. We wanted to start with Takt Op. [pronounced “Takuto Opus”] Destiny, which is not how it’s spelled, but that is how it’s said apparently. Peter, you finished this one, right?
DEE: Yeah. What would you say to folks who are curious about it or maybe tried it at the start and weren’t sure if they wanted to keep up with it?
PETER: I liked it pretty well. I think it dodged some red lights that we were seeing early on and maybe fell into other ones, so it kind of just depends on where your areas of sensitivity are. Specifically, Dee, I think you kind of fell off because you were liking Lenny and Titan and they kinda disappeared.
DEE: Yeah, that was part of it.
PETER: Okay, I can say they come back, and they have some really big narrative importance, some great moments, too.
DEE: Oh, cool.
PETER: So, just specifically for you, I thought I’d mention that. The big concern, I think, was around Hell, the Musicart who had dark skin and seemed to be the psycho villain Musicart.
DEE: Yeah, seemed very unhinged.
PETER: Yeah, well, while she works for the villain, she is not the villain and also not the only Musicart villain. So she’s one of a crew. I would say, maybe not great but also not the definable villain of the series.
DEE: Could have been worse. [Chuckles]
PETER: Yeah, could have been a lot worse. They do lean into a romantic subplot between Destiny and Takt. And I don’t know quite what the age gap is between the characters, but I believe it does exist. Also, there’s just that weird thing where she’s possessed by an alien mineral to make her into a Musicart, so I don’t know where that falls on the problematic scale.
PETER: I do think it really hit the landing with the final episode, though. It was a really, really great finale and it introduced some stuff, which I think… It kind of did the thing where… what’s the other girl’s name? Amy? Anna. Anna Schneider. If they ever do a season 2, she might be the new (I don’t know what they call it) Musicart commander person. She joins the chorus Symphonia [sic] thing. I don’t know if that’s leaning into the current story arc with the video game, the gacha game, or if that’s a teaser for season 2, but it seems like they want to do some stuff with Anna as a character in one way or another. So I think that’s good after focusing on just Lenny and Takt and that crazy guy as the three composers so far they had in the series.
DEE: Yeah, I liked Anna, too. So you’re saying she doesn’t have her personality overwritten by the alien seed things. She’s still herself; she just becomes involved in the action?
PETER: No, I think Anna— She joins whatever their organization is called, and I think she becomes, possibly, the handler for Destiny going forward. I think that’s what the situation is in the gacha game. I think they’re both characters. So that might be what they’re going into.
DEE: Okay. Well, so, as far as gacha game adaptations go, it sounds like this one turned out pretty solid. I know the animation at the start was terrific. Did it pretty much continue to look really nice all the way through?
PETER: Oh yeah. The finale was frickin’ gorgeous. Probably the best episode.
DEE: Awesome. That kinda makes me want to just watch the finale for the pretty colors. [Chuckles] Be like, “Oh, this sure looks nice. I have no context for this.”
PETER: I do think the best moment of the series was definitely a Lenny–Titan moment, though, so you have that to look forward to, as well.
DEE: That is good to know. Depending on how dire winter is, maybe I’ll go back because I didn’t hate it; there was just other stuff and I didn’t love it. So, good to know. And hopefully it does well.
Okay, next up then is Sakugan. Vrai and I both dropped it at 4. We talked about why in the mid-season. Peter, you finished it. I guess it’s getting a season 2, so you got to the halfway point. How was the character development? Did Gagumber become less of a tool? [Chuckles]
PETER: I don’t know. It’s one of those things where you always think he’s gonna do it, but then he falls back into his bad behaviors again.
DEE: That’s annoying.
PETER: In the final episode, he did have another breakthrough, but it’s hard to say, especially with season-twos or with movie sequels. They always gotta return to whatever the big conflict in the first movie was because they can’t think of a new angle to write about it, you know?
PETER: Spoiler zone: it’s kind of revealed that Gagumber… he’s not actually her biological father. She’s an indigo child or something.
DEE: I suspected it might be something like that, yeah.
PETER: Yeah, yeah. And she, to protect him, decides to leave or something, but he goes like, “No, fuck that. I’m the one who changed your diapers. I’ve been there for you the whole time. I am your dad.” And it was a really good moment, but I’m worried if [in] season 2 he’s just gonna be old Gagumber again.
VRAI: That does seem to be the complaint that I heard from mutuals who were following it: that there would be good individual moments, but there was no sense of building characterization. Every episode could be played in any order.
PETER: Yeah. It is kind of like that. And I did think they were going to punish Gagumber actually for being the way he was, because it turns out Zackletu, the woman that’s introduced—I don’t know if you got to her…
DEE: Yeah, I met her. In the bad episode.
PETER: Yeah. She knew Gagumber previously. And she was close to somebody who used to work with him and died and was trying to see if Gagumber was the one that got them killed or not. And the way he treats Memempu actually convinces her that it was his fault that the guy died, so she tries to kill him. And in that way, I’m like, “Oh, are there consequences, as him being such a shitty father was enough to convince this other character that it’s like, ‘Oh, no, you’re probably a piece of shit and I should kill you for getting my friend killed’?”
And they fight, and the way she fights him kind of makes her a little villainous. She takes Memempu as a hostage. And then, after they fight and he ends up rescuing Memempu in the process, I feel like they just got back to square one again, though.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, it seems like there was a lack of cohesive character development throughout. So that’s a bummer. I really enjoyed that first episode, and then it was diminishing returns and… yeah. So, sounds like it kind of stayed the course, folks, so if you liked the first few episodes, then you’ll probably continue to like it—although, again, that episode 4 was a real stinker. Otherwise, I don’t know, maybe when season 2 comes out and people watch it, maybe it’ll start doing character stuff and having it stick.
PETER: I’ll let you know if Gagumber is a new man in season 2 or not.
DEE: Yeah, keep us posted on if he actually changes.
DEE: Okay, next on the list… You know, we should really just have that clip of John Mulaney saying, “We don’t have time to unpack all that,” just ready for you to smash whenever I need to queue it up on these retrospectives, because I always feel like I need that clip. The next show is Muteking the Dancing Hero, which Vrai and I both completed.
VRAI: Dee, I’m so sad.
DEE: Yeah. Overall I had a fun time with it, but there’s kind of a big sticking point in the final episode that is making it hard for me to give it a wholehearted recommendation. Vrai, would you like to talk about it? And obviously, folks, spoiler zone, final episode. I don’t know how deep into specifics we’ll go, but we are going to reveal some character death type stuff. So here we go.
VRAI: Yeah. So I also really, really liked this for 11 episodes. I was totally ready to put it on the season rec list. I think on the whole it’s a really fun tokusatsu throwback with bright colors, and we are dance-battling aliens, who are also Jeff Bezos. And it was a great time. DJ got to become co-protagonist, which was cool.
And then the final episode came. And we mentioned in the mid-season that we were kind of worried that the show was going to kill off Vivi, who was the previous generation of sentai hero, and she had some death flags on her character. It was something that I was sad about but kind of bracing myself for, because I hate when shows kill off a trans or queer character and they’re not in very specific circumstances with creators. You get what I mean.
VRAI: So I was kind of braced for that, and I was going to be sad but not maybe dealbreaker-crushed, because I assumed that there would be loss in the finale. You know, final battle stuff. I thought maybe Muteki’s grandma would die and we’d lose a couple other people in the fight to the finals. Standard stuff.
But what happened in effect, folks at home, is not only does Vivi-nee die; she’s the only character who dies. And it took me a while to unpack why this ended up bothering me so much, and I think I figured it out. It’s not that she dies, because she’s a mentor character. That’s pretty standard to kill that kind of character off, because you pass on the torch to the next generation or what-have-you.
DEE: Yeah. And it is a very heroic, noble… like “No, I’m going to do this thing to help them because they need it, and I’m more focused on the kids being all right” sort of thing. So, yeah.
VRAI: Yeah, she’s framed as a heroic character from beginning to end in—this very admirable figure. But she’s the only one who dies. The show fakes you out twice about it, where it seems like she’s died and then she comes back.
DEE: Yeah, that pissed me off. [Chuckles]
VRAI: It pissed me off a lot. And then, literally everyone else gets to go to the dance party at the end. And when I say “everyone else,” I also mean Alien Jeff Bezos, who gets a Steven Universe redemption. And I would be fine with that if this was an Everyone Lived show. But no, everyone lives and gets to go to the eternal dance party except for the heroic trans character who’s the only one whose death stuck. And I’m pissed!
DEE: Yeah. It’s one of those where if you’d have one of the kids be trans, just one, there’d be some balance moving on to the next generation. We might have been like, “Well, no, she dies but it’s heroic, and there’s also these other characters.” But not only is she the only character who dies; she’s the only queer character in the entire series. Although I would argue that the sports bros are boyfriends. But that’s headcanon.
VRAI: Oh yeah.
DEE: That’s headcanon; that’s not official.
VRAI: And maybe it’s also that the show is extremely on the theme of “Individuality is great and being yourself is great” and there are rainbows everywhere, and suddenly I’m back in 2009, where we’re celebrating how it’s great to be different but we’re not saying exactly what “different” means and all these characters in text are straight.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah. Because they have that moment where Vivi kind of comes back, and I guess it’s her spirit before she goes to heaven. I’m assuming she goes to heaven and she’s having a great time there. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Uh-huh. She goes to alien octopus heaven.
DEE: Yeah. Also, she’s an alien, so their trans character is not even a human person. Which, we could dig into the alien [as] brown characters, “mixed-race” issue that’s going on with both her and DJ, but we don’t have time. We don’t have time. It’s probably there. Somebody, if you want to pitch us an article, by all means.
VRAI: Yes, hell yes.
DEE: But her spirit comes back, and I was like, “Oh, maybe they’re gonna magic a way for her to survive, actually.” And she has this conversation with Alien Bezos, as we’re calling him, and it’s basically like, “Yeah, embrace individuality. It’s so great that there’s all these different shapes and sizes and colors and people in the world.” And I’m like, “This is a wonderful message.” And it’s like, “Live your life the way Vivi lived her life.” And I’m like, “That’s so great! Why does she have to die, though?”
I don’t know if the show realizes that it undercut its own message with that particular point. I think the show thought it was doing a noble, heroic thing really lifting Vivi up. And it’s like, “Yeah, but she’s still dead and, to our knowledge, none of the other characters are queer, so…”
It’s frustrating. I still liked it. I don’t regret watching it. I told you, if you decide to rec it for the season, I will cosign it, but I am not prepared to grapple with the fraught topic that is Vivi, so I’m hesitant to recommend it even though I did enjoy it.
VRAI: Yeah, I also don’t regret watching it, but I guess now [it] sort of dampens my enthusiasm to recommend it to other people.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah. But if you know that going in, just be aware of it, I guess. Otherwise it’s a fun time. It’s just it goofed up at the end, and I don’t think it knew it did.
But for now we need to move on from Muteking to Lupin the Third Part 6, which, Peter, are you caught up on that or…?
PETER: I’m up to 6. I didn’t catch up to it with you.
DEE: Okay. Okay, and Vrai, you haven’t gotten into this one yet.
VRAI: I simply haven’t had time. I will, someday. I know. It… Mm… Go. Go on.
DEE: Yeah, so I’m all caught up. They took a week off between cours, but it’s running through the winter as well. And the Sherlock arc they were doing in part one, they wrapped it up with a two-parter at the end of this cour. And I think Sherlock is still going to kind of be a character in part two. But that central story is kind of wrapped, so we’re moving into a new story with a lady villain thief, which I’m interested in, who has some connection to Lupin’s mom, and this is all cool! So I’m curious to see what part two does.
Part one: I continued to really enjoy the one-shot episodes. There’s a wild one about Darwin’s bird (Is that Archaeopteryx? Am I saying that right? Anyway…) that I had a great time with.
VRAI: Yes, the one Oshii’s been waiting to do for decades.
DEE: I’ve had a lot of fun with his very self-indulgent episodes. They’ve been super fun. Yeah, the one-offs have been a good time. The overall arc with Sherlock was… It was fine. I’ve noticed that (Vrai, I think you’ve talked about this, too) with a lot of the newer Lupins, the one-shot episodes tend to have some really strong ones, and then anytime they try to do a longer arc, it sputters a bit more.
DEE: The Sherlock arc was… Again, it was fine. I didn’t have anything against it, but I had more fun with the one-shot episodes. I’m glad they wrapped it. They did some nice stuff with Lily Watson, who is Watson’s daughter. And she’s officially the new Watson. So I do like the idea of shifting to some different characters and sleuths and things in the next generation. So it was fun.
I am continuing to watch it and enjoy it. The new one that dropped today, I’m very curious to see what they do with this new antagonist backstory stuff they’re setting up with Lupin. So, fingers crossed it goes well. That’s where I am with that one. Any questions or concerns before we move on? [Chuckles]
DEE: All right. Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut. I finished this one. Peter, did you finish this one?
PETER: I didn’t have time, unfortunately.
DEE: Okay, I guess I get to monologue again. This one will be short. Here’s the thing: I finished some of these shows… feels like a month ago. It was probably only two weeks, but that’s a forever time in Anime World. This was one I basically liked all the way through, and I will probably never think of it again. [Chuckles] Now that I have finished it, it will quickly disappear from my brain. It might come up in conversation. I’ll be like, “Oh yeah, I watched that. It was all right.” So it’s one of those. I’m damning it with faint praise.
Where’s that John Mulaney clip again? We can just put that in here. It did some interesting things with the idea of allyship, with the protag, whose name I’m now forgetting, and I really should have pulled up the Wikipedia for this one before I started talking about it…
PETER: Yeah, what is his name? Lev. It was Lev.
DEE: Lev, yeah. Well, so, one thing that was nice about it is: it is a full story. Because I think the manga… Yeah, the manga was seven volumes, and they got the whole story in.
DEE: And it really didn’t feel super rushed. There were definitely some places where they did a little bit of time-skippiness, a little.
But yeah, so they did some things that I didn’t hate with the idea of allyship with Lev. Because at first the whole thing is: Irina’s gonna be the first person in space but nobody’s gonna ever know about it because she’s a vampire and they don’t want that to be the story that’s told, because vampires are an oppressed species in this world. Or, I guess, race, because they’re really not any different from humans. I’m like, “Why did you have to make it a fantasy blood-drinking thing when clearly you want to have a conversation about racial oppression?” But you know what? That’s a conversation for another podcast. That’s a whole conversation.
But at the end, Lev… he’s trying to make sure Irina’s words are heard, so, spoiler: when he actually goes into space and is officially the first person in space, he repeats her words because he wants people to know what she said about the stars. But everyone assumes they’re his words, so it’s like, “Are you actually helping?” And she gets kind of upset at first. She’s like, “Why are you repeating the things I said? Why are you taking credit for that?” And then she kind of realizes, “Oh, he’s trying to tell me that he misses me,” because they haven’t seen each other for a while.
But then at the very, very end, he gets up and he’s giving his big “Go, UZSR! Go, fantasy Russia!” speech, and in front of God and everyone, he’s like, “Yeah, by the way, I wasn’t the first person in space. It was this vampire named Irina and she was amazing and she worked really hard. And she deserves to have her story told.” And…
PETER: [deadpan] Got ‘em.
DEE: Yeah, got ‘em! And I really liked that they did that. And because it’s also, lowkey, a romance… although they never officially get together, which I really like, because their relationship in terms of power dynamics and age dynamics… I like the idea that they might someday get together, but they don’t actually get together in the story. They clearly care about each other. So I like that they didn’t go all in on the romance aspect.
But she’s in the crowd, so she actually comes up on stage. And the people working behind the scenes, a couple of them actually did support her. So they were kind of like, “Yes, good. Well done, Lev,” and they made it work. Because I thought, “Oh, you guys are gonna get thrown in jail and it’s gonna be real bad.” But at this point he’s a national hero, so they can’t really do anything to him.
PETER: Hard to delete him, yeah.
DEE: Yeah, exactly. So they kind of get away with it and Irina gets her story told. And so, I did really like the way it came together at the end. It’s always good to hear Megumi Hayashibara in a main role.
As far as production and delivery goes, it was competent throughout; it was not jaw-dropping. But I think it had its heart in the right place and it wrapped up the story well. So, again, not one that I’m necessarily going to remember into the future, but overall, a well-told little alternate-history narrative.
PETER: I feel like you’re throwing me a curveball. You said “faint praise” and then you basically just praised it a lot. [Chuckles]
DEE: Well, like I said, as I was talking about it—again, I liked it more in theory than in practice. I’m describing this big, triumphant finale and I should have been in joyous tears about these characters, and I was like, “Oh, cool. You guys told the story well.” I never really clicked with it on that emotional level. But as far as nuts and bolts go, I think it handled its elements pretty well. Like I said, a faint rec: worth your time but not something that you need to drop everything to watch.
I lowkey apologize, guys. I summarized like the entire end of that show and probably didn’t need to. But now you folks know… the whole story.
Okay. Next up, Peter, Faraway Paladin.
PETER: Yeah, I really liked it. I thought it was really good. I think it might have had the same issue that you had with Irina in that… Well, I don’t know. Its production was definitely not as good as Irina. I feel like it was really hampered by—maybe not the direction, but just the resources available to the team who was making it.
Which is a shame, because I feel like as far as storytelling and just general emotional themes go, it was much more mature and interesting than, I’d say, about 99% of the isekai that you ever get out there. I think it’s gonna get a season 2, so it’s not like it came to any sort of set conclusion or anything like that, so it’s kind of hard to summarize it as a whole-cloth piece, but it felt really good.
A lot of likable characters. I think William’s a sweet boy. He meets a… I told you about the shitty half-elf archer boy.
PETER: He’s also very good.
DEE: I really want to go back to it!
PETER: He also meets a Robina Goodfellow, who’s a half-elf bard… or not a half-elf, a halfling, who’s this little tiny girl. Everybody calls her Bee. And she’s really bubbly and great and is always making songs. She plays a rebec. She is super great, a very good addition to the cast. Hangs out with a merchant, who kind of works on [unintelligible]l. So they kind of form, like, a D&D group.
I think all the characters are really charming. William’s a little bit overpowered, but I think they always sort of attribute him being overpowered to the fact that his parents were so great and they gave him all the tools he would need to survive the world and they loved him so much.
DEE: [Laughs] They just raised him so good!
PETER: Yeah. He was raised so well by his great parents. And as he travels the world, he learns more about how his parents were heroes and stuff and loves them even more.
DEE: That’s adorable.
PETER: Yeah. Yes, it’s really great. It’s just you gotta kind of really push through whatever challenges the production had. Kind of a shame. I felt like if it got the same attention Mushoku Tensei got, it could have really been something spectacular, but instead—
DEE: [Sighs] That’s too bad.
VRAI: Listen, we all wish that the budget of the pedo show could be on better things, but we live in the world.
PETER: Yeah. If I got a one-to-one to another isekai, though, that’s where I would have transferred the resources directly, though. But yeah, that’s where I’m at.
DEE: That’s another one that I kept being like, “Oh, I should give that another try!” If I could just check out the books… My library does not have them. I think I’d really like to read it, but…
PETER: Yeah. The light novel art is spectacular, too. It is really good.
DEE: Oh, good. Yeah. Again, the winter season is looking a little dire at this point, so Faraway Paladin might get to make a comeback next season. We’ll see how it goes.
PETER: I recommend checking it out to at least Meneldor if you can or all the way to Bee, and I think you’ll be hooked by then, probably.
DEE: Cool. Cool, cool. Good to know.
Anything else to say about Banished from the Hero’s Party that we didn’t say at the midway point?
PETER: I think we pretty much got the whole of it the first time.
DEE: Stayed the course? Okay, good to know. Taisho Otome Fairy Tale is next on our list. We’re entering the It’s Complicated category. Kind of like how I said the mid-season, this show continues to fit very solidly in It’s Complicated. I liked a lot of things it did. I thought the cast was overall… most of them were relatedly flawed, and it was overall a very warmhearted show about finding a community, sometimes with relatives (like, the main character reconnects with one of his sisters), but sometimes also realizing you have to be willing to let go of toxic family members, and him getting away from his absolutely garbage father and older siblings.
It’s another one where the manga was only six volumes or something, so they told the full story in the anime—to my knowledge, anyway. It felt like it had a conclusion. And [it] continued to have the same problem throughout where the main girl Yuzu was just… Every time they’d walk up to the line of letting her be a more well-rounded character, they eventually kind of pull it back into “Oh, but she’s just so sweet and perfect!” And her role is to just help and fix everyone around her—which includes female characters; it’s not just dudes. So there’s that. But that was always the stumbling block and continued to be the stumbling block throughout, the way they wrote her.
Otherwise I really liked it. I think it did some very nice things with depression and found families and a little bit with ableism. Yeah, so it had lots of good elements. I thought the overall story was very sweet and hopeful. And I am not going to officially recommend it in our season retrospective, but if you like rom-coms and you’re listening to this, I am unofficially recommending it here. I think it’s a nice little historical romance. So I will give it that: flawed but worthwhile.
Okay, Night Beyond the Tricornered Window, Vrai dropped because the production was a disaster. But the manga was good.
VRAI: Yeah. I actually did want to note very briefly before we move on, there was, since the mid-season, a very interesting interview posted on Anime News Network with the manga author where she talks about, partly, the series starting out with some of the typical consent issues that people always talk about with BL and her acknowledging that “I just wasn’t really thinking about that stuff when I started writing, and then as I became more aware during the writing process, I decided that I should lean into this as horror.” And it made me respect her a lot. And so I’m really looking forward to even more continuing with reading the manga. That’s all I had to say about that.
DEE: Okay, no, that’s interesting. That is good to know.
Okay, next up—this is another one that might take some time—Komi Can’t Communicate. Vrai, you and I watched this one to completion. Well, to the end of season 1, because we’re getting a part two in the summer. I think it’s split cour. Or spring. Anyway, what are your thoughts on Komi? Anything different from the mid-season?
VRAI: Every time that Yamai is not on screen, it is a wonderful, lovely time. Najimi is my child and I love them. And they’re all good kids! I like this show. That’s my thoughts.
DEE: Yeah, I really don’t have much to add from the… And reading the manga, this continued to be the case, too, from what I’ve read of it. Yamai is a huge, huge flaw in the show, and she never really gets better. Every time you think, “Oh, maybe they’re gonna pivot her into being more relatably just an awkward kid with a crush,” they swerve back into overbearing, creepy predatory lesbian stereotype, and it sucks. So Yamai’s no fun.
Everyone else is great. I’m glad you like Najimi. I love Najimi. They’re such a little troll and I adore them.
And you know, I think we lament a lot of straight rom-coms as just “We smashed a potato against a pretty girl and romance happens because we said it would.” And honestly, I think it does a really good job with Komi and Tadano. They’re believably awkward turtles who you understand why they like each other. I think they’re very sweet together and I make “Aw” noises sometimes with them. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s a well-done slow-burn romance at the heart of the story. Or I should say “love story,” maybe. But yeah.
VRAI: I think there are times where it gets a little bit close to the line of being infantilizing in its depiction of Komi and her anxiety, but for the most part I really liked it.
DEE: Yeah, I think there’s definitely… There might be an interesting Versus article you could do, honestly, between Komi and WataMote about depicting the awkward messiness of social anxiety as opposed to… With Komi, they’re very sympathetic to her anxiety, but it’s pretty much always depicted as endearing, right? It’s cute. It’s never the cringe-inducing “oh-God-that’s-too-real”-ness that something like WataMote leans more into. And there are some fair criticisms to make about that, like, “it’s okay as long as you’re cute.” So there’s probably a conversation to have there.
That having been said, within the context of the show, it being intentionally a light comedy, I think it handles her very sympathetically.
VRAI: And I definitely find her relatable a lot of the time.
DEE: Oh, yeah. No, I do too. Definitely. But you know that feeling of “Oh, this is too close to home. I need to go lie down.” I think Komi doesn’t get into the… I will say it is ultimately a comedy, and so I do think you have to kind of be aware of that going into it. But God, the final little note at the end of the last episode, where it was like, “This is dedicated to anyone who struggled to communicate,” I straight-up teared up. I was like, “Oh my God! This show has such a good heart!” So I do love that it is engaging with that so openly.
And Komi says she wants to get better at communicating, so Najimi intentionally pushes her out of her comfort zone sometimes and then immediately feels bad about it. [Chuckles] So I think the show is really nice about not being like, “Oh, Komi just needs to get over it.” It tries to accommodate her needs and wants and balance that out in a way that I really like. Overall, I think the main characters are good kids.
VRAI: Same. So yeah, it won’t be on the recs post because it’s split-cour, but we liked it.
DEE: Yeah, no, definitely.
How far into Blue Period did you get? That’s the next one on the list.
VRAI: I only made it about halfway. It fell squarely into my “I didn’t hate this, but I’m just gonna have a better time and get through it faster if I read the manga.” So I’m sorry that I don’t have anything more to report on the trans stuff. Y’all, I truly meant to and it just… it didn’t… It didn’t.
DEE: Yeah. It sounds like it wasn’t a particularly strong adaptation. Most people said they thought it was kind of flat in comparison to the manga, which is unfortunate.
VRAI: Yeah, and again, I really enjoy what I’ve read of the manga and intend to go back to it.
VRAI: Maybe we can do a podcast specifically for that sometime in future. I don’t know.
DEE: Yeah, maybe we’ll touch on it at some point. Well, that was quick, then.
We’ll move into our Feminist Potential category, which I think both of these shows… Sometimes we get to this top category and it’s like, “Oh, boy, we goofed up, man. We misread that premiere like nobody’s business. Sorry, guys.” So far, I would say our top two this time through we kind of knocked out of the park.
Ranking of Kings, we’ll start with. How’s everybody feeling about Ranking of Kings halfway through, as it continues into the winter?
VRAI: [touched] Why is it so good?
PETER: Couldn’t feel better, I don’t think.
DEE: Yeah, it’s really strong. It’s a terrific production of a surprisingly complex narrative. It’s weaving a bunch of different plotlines together and a bunch of different character arcs and everybody feels like a well-rounded person and not just an archetype. It’s building a lot of mysteries and juggling them.
Again, I’m always worried—it’s got a lot of balls in the air, and I’m like, at some point one of these is gonna crash to the ground. But so far, I think it’s juggling all of its plot points really well. Yeah, it’s not eligible for the season recs or the anime-of-the-year list for us, but I know it would have been up there if it had been and probably will be for next year, too, unless it faceplants at some point.
VRAI: No, my only concern, I think, is that the manga’s still ongoing, which means that the anime is going to have to find either a stopping point or make up its own ending. Which, it’s not made by Bones, so… probably it’ll just have a non-ending. But other than that, I really like how humanizing it came to write Hiling. That episode made me so happy!
PETER: She’s like my favorite character.
DEE: Yeah, no, Hiling is great. Frickin’ Daida, who starts as just this little shit, has become a very—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, you mean my son?
DEE: Yeah, yeah. Again, he’s a kid who had somebody in his ear who he thought he could trust, and turns out he couldn’t. And I also kind of felt bad for him because his mom kind of ignored him. I really like Hiling, but she definitely had this attitude of “Well, he doesn’t need my help. He’ll be fine. I really should focus on Bojji.” And so it shows how even kids who seem like they maybe have it all together and are quote-unquote “strong”… It’s doing a lot with capital-M masculinity, and I really hope somebody pitches us on it, because I think there’s a lot you could talk about there with the way the other characters talk to and address and deal with both Bojji and Daida and how that is damaging for both of them in very different ways.
VRAI: I think another weaker—er, not another anime “would”—other animes have tackled disability in a way that it pretty much limits itself to Daida’s episode, where he realizes that he’s been kind of a shit and not understood Bojji’s perspective, and then that’s as much as they get into. And I would be very interested to see somebody pitch something about how, or if, his episode in the mirror hits differently because we are so centered in Bojji as the hero and how good he is [sniffles] in his journey, and he’s so… I love him! Sorry. This show is full of feelings.
DEE: [crosstalk] No, no. It is. There’s a tear-up moment every couple episodes, just about. And again, everyone’s really well humanized.
The way they’ve handled Bojji’s arc, I think, has been good because, again, kind of in the way that with Komi, it wasn’t like, “Well, you just need to get over this.” There’s a thing Bojji wants to be able to do, which is he wants to be able to defend and protect people, and he finds a teacher who goes, “Okay, here are your strengths. Let’s work with those.” And he’s able to find a weapon and a style of fighting that works for what he wants to do and what he can do with his physical abilities. And I’d be really curious to hear from especially a hard-of-hearing or a Deaf person engaged with this show how they think it’s handling that, because obviously I do not have those life experiences. But from my limited perspective, it feels like it’s handling the idea of accessibility and accommodation quite well, so I do like that about it, too.
VRAI: It makes me so happy to hear people talk about this show because it always feels to me like this should be an Anitwitter bubble show. But, no kidding, one of my coworkers at my day job brought it up out of nowhere, and I was like, “Oh! Oh, people are watching this show!”
DEE: I think it has a lot of crossover potential especially because it’s set in a very Western fairy tale-type world. So there’s not that cultural barrier of… Even a show like Demon Slayer, which is huge, there’s still a little bit of a cultural barrier of “Oh, okay, this is a Japanese history show rooted in Japanese mythology,” and if you don’t have that baseline, it can maybe be a little bit intimidating for some folks to get into. Which is not the show’s fault, but it can impact crossover.
And this one, immediately I feel like it is built on ideas that are baked into a lot of our common myths and legends and, again, fairy tales and Disney movies and stuff. And the way it plays with those ideas and challenges them, I think it’s very engaging, and so I think it has some potential there as well. So, hopefully it continues to gain a bigger and bigger following as people realize this show kicks ass actually.
PETER: Classic Disney–esque is a good way of describing it.
DEE: Yeah, I mean, even the art style, right? You don’t look at it and immediately go, “Oh, that looks like an anime.” It doesn’t have a lot of the traditional… The author is clearly, both in the art and the storytelling style, leaning into Disney fairy tale-type tales.
VRAI: I mean, I got Tezuka from it, but Tezuka is also…
DEE: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. No, you see that, too. But Tezuka was also [chuckles] inspired by Disney, so it’s a long line that goes back. But yeah, just as far as the art style goes. And then… What were you gonna say, Vrai?
VRAI: Oh, SungWon Cho, a.k.a. ProZD, is Kage in the dub, and every time I think about that I smile.
PETER: Yeah. Great casting.
DEE: [crosstalk] That is also great. Yeah, I haven’t watched any of the dub yet, but again, if it has a good dub, that also increases its potential to gain a wider audience. And it’s always nice when the critical darlings also become hits, so I hope Ranking of Kings does well for itself.
Speaking of critical darlings, are we ready to move on to the next one on the list?
VRAI: Yeah. You go. I feel like you are the best to do this.
DEE: Yeah, so The Heike Story was our other top-tier show this season, and I think that I would say without a shadow of a doubt that stayed the case all the way through. It was a work of art and it was terrific and I cried a little bit, so it hit me… There weren’t a ton of shows this year that both clicked with me emotionally and also from an analytical, critical perspective. Heike did both with aplomb, and I was very, very impressed with this one.
It’s probably going to be a niche show forever and ever because it is a retelling of a classic Japanese… Well, I mean, it began as bards going around and telling the story of the Heike, and then it was eventually put into writing. And there’s a ton of characters, and so it can be kind of hard to follow. And spoilers, I guess?: everybody dies. So it’s a heavy one, too.
But I was really impressed with this, especially from the perspective of “How do you retell a story that’s been told a million times and still make it fresh and different and new?” And I think this adaptation of Heike was brilliant in all regards. I think the way it centered the emotionality of the characters and the domestic life and the women in the story in a way that at least the translation I read of Heike Story—because I’ve heard that the newer translation does a better job of this as well—the translation I read really was a bunch of men fighting battles and politicking. And you get some of that in this, but it’s very much grounded around the impact that has on family and kids and the women who have limited power in this society, and “how do you exist within that structure and navigate within that structure.”
I thought Biwa was a surprisingly terrific protagonist in the way she sort of existed in the in-between spaces and was trying to grapple with what she could do, again, with relatively no power, and how she could honor these people around her and what she was seeing, and the value of narrative and storytelling and…
There’s a lot I can talk about with this show, you guys! I’m monologuing and I’m sorry. I was really, really impressed with this one, and I can’t wait for it to get a Blu-ray so I can have it on my shelf forever and ever and watch it again and maybe cry.
Peter, Vrai, you also finished it. [Chuckles] How did you feel about it?
VRAI: I really, really liked it. I think it is always going to be an intimidating series for people. As somebody with no familiarity with the source material, certainly I got lost a time or two, but I think the show is really, really smart in its visual coding. I always felt like I was following the emotional throughline of knowing, “All right, these people are related to these people, even if I can’t necessarily remember their names and what house they’re related to.” The emotional throughlines were always very clear, and I think it’s very smartly told that way.
I did by the end start calling it Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead For Japanese Literature, which I stand by.
DEE: Do you want to explain that to folks who don’t know…
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, for the people at home. Sorry.
DEE: Yeah. [Chuckles] … Who maybe don’t know what that is?
VRAI: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is this famous existential 1970s play where two of the side characters from Hamlet are on stage the whole time, and you’re essentially seeing them when they are offstage from the grand Shakespearean tragedy. And then they’ll talk in sort of a normal, vernacular talk about why they’re here, and they can’t remember, and can they defy this fate that they feel like they have to do. And then the plot will break in and they’ll break into their lines from the play. And then the plot will leave again and they’ll be like, “Why did we just do that?”
And so I think that that sense of compulsion and the inevitable and people battling against something that feels like is larger than they are is very present in this, also. I don’t think it’s a direct reference or anything. I just think the two works are dabbling in similar ideas.
DEE: Yeah, retelling of these classic tragedies and engaging with the idea that it has to happen this way every time you tell it. I can see that comparison. Peter, what about you?
PETER: I really liked it. I gotta say, up until the finale, I was like, this is good. It obviously didn’t click with me the same way it did with you. But that was one hell of a finale, which really kinda boxed it up nicely. And the way they decided to execute on it really kinda… It was a very great emotional delivery on everything that had occurred up until that point.
I also want to… I agree with what you said about reframing the story since… I know I have read some of Tale of Heike, back in Japanese literature when I was in college. I remember basically nothing, but some of the ways that they lose battles is kind of comical in… I don’t think there’s any way they could portray it in a modern way that is not comical, like with the guys getting scared of the birds and whatnot.
DEE: Yeah, it’s not… I know what you’re saying. Keep going. Keep going
PETER: Yeah, yeah. I think it was able to deliver on how ludicrous some of the events were in an entertaining way while still delivering the emotional fallout of those events, both of which I think are missing from the original telling, which if I recall correctly told it straight, like that’s how the guy lost and it was very embarrassing. But it kind of shows you that it’s humorous.
And then you touch back with the character more personally later and their entire self-perception is destroyed. And you kinda come to pity them as well, because… I can’t remember his name. But he’s the one who ends up becoming a monk, right? Or is that the one who all of his guys fell off the cliff? One of the two. You kind of see how all these people are not equipped to deal with the problems that they had in front of them. And it brings it on a very personal level with them having conversations and crying and giving up, and this one character feeling sympathetic toward all of them on a very personal level, rather than there’s this larger narrative. So, I think that’s great. Really good finale.
DEE: So Heike Story was great. Everybody should go watch it. The end! Go watch it. The end!
Okay, we have a few minutes here. We’re actually doing pretty good on time. There were sequels and carryovers that we can touch on here. I’m going to skip over Tropical Rouge PreCure here because I didn’t finish it. One of these days I will actually get through a whole PreCure, but I just keep losing momentum around episode 30. I keep waiting for the beat to drop, I guess. And then it never really does, then I sort of lose interest. But it was pleasant. I enjoyed what I watched. I just got busy with other stuff.
I finished Let’s Make a Mug Too 2. Which, by the way, a missed opportunity for them to spell it Let’s Make a Mug T-W-O for season 2. Like, come on, guys. I really enjoyed this one. I think 15 minutes is exactly the right amount of time for it. I think if it had been a full half-hour, I would have lost interest earlier.
It does a really nice job… I mean, kinda the same stuff I said about the first season. I think it does a nice job of showing the frustrations you have as you find a hobby you like and then you decide you want to get serious with it, and the frustrations of figuring out the art you want to do and not being as good as you wish you were because you’ve just started this thing. And then there’s some characters who are really talented but they’re trying to find their own voice because they’ve got the technical aspects down, so “where do I go from here?” And it’s all very slice-of-life, lowkey, relaxing to watch. But I think it touches on those things really well. And the main character connecting with her deceased mom through this art form that they both end up really liking.
So overall, I really like that one. If you like either hobby shows or you need a chillout show, I would absolutely recommend Let’s Make a Mug. I think it’s great for that, especially.
Peter, you kept up with Great Jahy. I know Mercedez has been enjoying this one. Do you have anything you wanted to say about it today, or is it staying the course from those early episodes?
PETER: I think she enjoyed it a lot more than I did. Since it’s two cours, I should say that it did have plot and character development. You learn more about the Big Bad—or Good in this case. Jahy kind of develops a lot as a character to stop being such a shitty asshole and starts appreciating people and figures out ways to live in our dimension and stuff like that. So, there is development in the story. And it ends on a pretty good note. I enjoyed it all right.
DEE: Okay. So if you liked it as the start, it sounds like you’d like it all the way through, but if it wasn’t for you at the beginning, there’s no reason to really go back to it. Does that sound about right?
PETER: Sounds right. I think Mercedez was doing the episode reviews.
VRAI: Yeah, she covered it week to week on ANN, so if people really want a bunch more detail, it’s there.
PETER: [crosstalk] Read that, please
DEE: Cool. Yeah. The next one, I will touch on very briefly: Restaurant to Another World 2. None of us watched it, but Chiaki and Mercedez did and frickin’ loved it, enough that (spoilers, I guess) I’m pretty sure they both put it on their best-of-the-year lists. So, be aware of that one, I guess. If you like, again, chillout shows, it sounds like that one continued to be nice.
VRAI: Every day I feel a little guilty for dunking on the first episode of the first season so hard. It didn’t deserve that.
DEE: It didn’t deserve that, but in fairness it was pretty boring. [Chuckles] I agree with you. Again, I haven’t seen season 2 so I can’t speak to how it continued to go, but I had a hard time getting into that one, as well. But power to the folks who liked it and continue to like it. And it sounds like if that style is your style, season 2 will be a great time.
Okay, I do want to spend a little bit of time on Aquatope. What’s the full title on that?
VRAI: The Aquatope on White Sand.
DEE: The Aquatope on White Sand. Yeah, the words are never the… Yeah, they’re never all exactly where I expect them to be. So, The Aquatope on White Sand made me cry full-on tears—not just tear up—like two to three times, which is a record, I think! This one hit me hard with its storylines, especially about having to let go of a place that you love that is no longer there and the frustrations of finding a job that you want to do and then having to give it up for a job that you don’t like as much because that’s just the way the world works sometimes, like you have to do the work that you’re given to exist and pay your bills.
So I really, really liked this one. I thought the character arc, especially with Kukuru and her growing into her own as a young adult and figuring out what she wants to do with her life… I thought it was really well done. I think it was probably the best full-on character-driven drama of the year. I think it was really, really strong. So I liked this one a lot. How did you guys feel about it?
PETER: It’s been so long since… I think it ended before the other shows ended, and it was 24 episodes, so I’m having trouble remembering my specific experiences with it. But I came away really positively toward the show. Yeah, I just want to agree, especially with the way they… In addition to Gama Gama being so important to her, the way they tied it to her parents and her feelings of loss and grief, I felt, was really spot on.
And also, as a layer to what you were discussing earlier with having to do the job you’re given, I kind of personally felt that in the way that sometimes you’re really in love with the work you’re doing, and part of advancing your career is having to manage other people and maybe stepping back from getting your hands in the actual work that you previously enjoyed. So there’s an element of sacrifice, even in just continuing on with the same career. I’ve experienced that personally. And that kinda hit me because I’m like, man, I really liked doing some of the smaller things I used to do, and now I just don’t have time for those things anymore. I have to hand it off to other people, and that really is kinda painful.
DEE: Yeah, having to go from the hands-on to the more bigger-picture, abstract work and how you make that transition while still finding joy in it. Yeah, I thought it handled all of that really well.
I also do want to give a shoutout, because I’m pretty sure this happened in the second quarter… Yeah, it did. Shoutout to the episode about working moms being really fucking good—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yes!
PETER: [crosstalk] Hell yeah, yeah.
DEE: —because that’s still a huge… This has been my point of study recently. I’ve been reading up a lot on Japanese family structures and work–life situation over the last ten-odd years. And there’s still a huge social pressure to stay home and raise your kid full time, especially when they’re younger, before they go to school. And so for the show to take a really sympathetic view towards the moms with the young kids and being very supportive of them doing their work and be like, “No, they need a support structure around them. They’re not monsters for wanting to also do this job that they love or that they need to do to pay the bills or what-have-you.”
So I thought that episode was maybe one of the—again, Heike Story was a friggin’ work of art—maybe not the best episode of the year, but in the top tier as far as episodes of the year go. I thought that was really terrific. So I wanted to put a pin in that, as well, because that was unexpected and great.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s a good callout.
DEE: So, good job, Aquatope.
PETER: Lowkey, pretty revolutionary plotline for anime.
DEE: [crosstalk] Honestly, yeah, kind of! Good for you, guys.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Considering the ongoing problems with women being encouraged to go back to work but there not being support systems for their children, so they’re tired and underpaid and it’s a whole thing.
DEE: Yeah. It is, yeah.
VRAI: Yes, I also thought that Aquatope was really good. I think you could binge this show, but it was just really satisfying to watch week to week. I really liked the characters. I really liked Kukuru’s character arc, and like you said, some of the individual episodes were really nice. It’s very pretty to look at from beginning to end. I like the very quiet melancholy that it captures in certain moments.
On the one hand, I kind of like that it ends up being focused on friendship and career over romance. It’s very, very funny to me that they kept doing all of that stuff with Kai having a crush and then it goes nowhere. I will say I really, really wanted to get behind this show as “All right, they’re just going to be friends. They’ve seeded this long-lost sister thing since the beginning. I’m going to be on its side that it’s trying to be platonic about this.” And then they would bring out the “like sisters” thing exclusively at the moments where our two main characters were acting very non-platonic. And it started to feel a little baity. I try not to label shows with that. But it felt a little baity!
VRAI: Like they had realized they had written this more intimately than a friendship in those moments, and rather than lean into that or readjusting the scenes, they were like, “No, no, no, we’re just going to verbally reassure people.” Because there are moments in the show where they feel like good friends and sisters a lot of times, but those aren’t the moments where they’re calling each other “like sisters,” if you see what I mean.
PETER: Soulfully staring into each other’s eyes with mood lighting.
VRAI: Yeah. Yeah! So that was kind of an annoyance, but it wasn’t enough to break the show for me or even to keep me from recommending it to other people. It just made me roll my eyes really hard. And also they definitely started dating after the end of the show. Like, damn, that finale.
Those are my thoughts on Aquatope. It was quite good. It’s nice to see shows about adult working women.
PETER: Thank you, P.A. Works.
DEE: Yeah, I love that that is a series P.A. Works has made, is shows about working—working girls and working women. So yeah, I thought this one was really good. It might be my favorite of their “Working” shows. I know Shirobako is everyone’s favorite. Overall, as far as emotional highs and stuff, this one’s up there for me. It’s more subtle, but I really thought this one did a very good job with its character stories.
Okay, so, technically we could talk about 86, but it’s not finished. There’s two more episodes. They’ve been having a production implosion.
DEE: And you know what? Honestly I would rather that they take the time to do it than to smash it out the door half-finished.
DEE: So, we sort of got a finale with episode 10, but it was very much a “Maybe everybody’s dead,” which they did at the end of season 1, as well! [Chuckles] So there’s two more episodes. They’re going to air in March. I don’t know how much we want to talk about it at this point without knowing how it actually officially wraps.
I wasn’t as enamored with this season as I was season 1, mostly because Frederica is—not the worst character in the world, but had the worst voice actress I think they could have possibly picked for her. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a voice actor’s character portrayal decision impact my feelings about a show as dramatically as I did Frederica.
PETER: Yeah. It was so atonal with the rest of the series.
DEE: Yeah. And she just sounded like she had swallowed helium and was playing her like this. And I think the character on paper can work, other than some of the tropey scenes that I feel like somebody had to check a box for two minutes in one episode or something. I think the character works in the story, as far as the idea of generational violence and her connection to Shin and Kiri, her old guard. I think all of that on paper is really good. But every time she opened her mouth… So hopefully it gets a dub, and then maybe I won’t hate Frederica as much because they’ll cast her better.
DEE: Yeah, I think 86 might be one of those where after season 2 comes out we might just want to do a full-on retrospective, because I think there’s a lot we could dig into with it.
Peter, was there anything in particular you wanted to say about it before we call it for the day?
PETER: I think you called it out. It’s really hard to talk about it without seeing the conclusion. I do want to note there is already a dub up to episode 16. So, you could check that out.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh. Okay. I missed that, so I guess I just didn’t see that on the page. So, cool! That’s good. I’ll have to see how she sounds in English and maybe I’ll like her more. That would be great.
PETER: But yeah, I think you summarized it pretty well.
DEE: Okay. Yeah, we’ll have to put a pin in that for spring, and then maybe we can dig a little bit more into what the show was trying to do with season 2 and why it worked or didn’t work and all that good stuff.
PETER: Heck yeah.
DEE: Was there anything else? I don’t see anything else on the list, but speak now or forever hold your peace, team. Otherwise, I’ll play us out.
VRAI: [Hesitantly] I think that was everything. Yes.
DEE: Cool! Awesome. Okay, we actually did pretty good that time. Go, team.
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