Vrai, Caitlin, and Peter check in on the absolutely stacked Fall season!
Date Recorded: November 13, 2022
Hosts: Vrai, Caitlin, Peter
Pit of Shame
0:01:52 More than a Married Couple, But Not Lovers
0:04:20 Urusei Yatsura
0:08:50 The Little Lies We All Tell
0:20:34 My Master Has No Tail
0:22:07 Do It Yourself!!
0:28:58 Reincarnated as a Sword
0:29:20 Raven of the Inner Palace
0:34:42 Chainsaw Man
0:44:57 Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury
0:49:29 I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss
0:53:30 BOCCHI THE ROCK!
0:59:36 Akiba Maid War
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF: The Anime Feminist Podcast. Welcome to our midseason check-in for the season of fall 2022. My name is Vrai. I’m the managing content editor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter, before it burns to the ground, @WriterVrai. [Chuckles] And with me today are Caitlin and Peter.
CAITLIN: Hello! I am Caitlin, one of the managing editors at Anime Feminist, as well as a reviewer at Anime News Network. You can find my Twitter, for as long as it lasts, @alltsun_nodere! And I have yet to figure out what other social media site I will be migrating to. Mastodon just seems too complicated. I don’t wanna… I don’t wanna do that.
VRAI: [Chuckles] Yeah…
PETER: And I’m Peter Fobian. I am manager of YouTube strategy and content at Crunchyroll and editor at Anime Feminist, and I also think Twitter sucks right now—and maybe always has.
VRAI: It’s possible. All right, if you have never joined us for one of our midseasons before, our general policy is that we use our premiere digest, which will be linked in the show notes. We start from the bottom, and we work our way up.
And if you have always wanted to hear us talk about a particular show, you can become a patron and vote to make sure that we talk about your top choices at patreon.com/animefeminist. Hint-hint! Shiny-shiny.
Normally… I don’t think we need to spend too much time on this one. But, Peter, you noted in the Slack chat that More Than a Married Couple, But Not Lovers had found a way to become even worse than its extremely noxious premise, so I wanted to touch on that for a quick second.
PETER: Oh yeah. I mean, I guess I’m not too surprised it got worse than the premise because the premise for why they’re together sucks, but then when you think about it, if the premise is that bad, then of course all the relationship stuff is going to be really bad, too.
So, yeah, it’s just devolved into this thing where each of the characters… I guess they’re stuck together in, like, a fake-marriage government Black Mirror program. But if they get good enough lovey-dovey husband-and-wife scores, they get to date the people they really want to date. But it’s—
VRAI: Which makes no fucking sense. It’s a stupid premise.
PETER: Yeah, it sucks. And it’s just sort of devolved into Yakuin, the main guy, and Akari agreeing to act super lovey-dovey in front of all of the Orwellian cameras in their apartment so they get a high score.
Well, Akari really wants to date this popular guy named, I think, Minami, Tenjin Minami. But now, about halfway through the series, every time she does something with Minami, Yakuin gets to be really jealous, and then she has to do emotional labor for him, I guess. Although at the same time, she’s also regularly doing stuff not in front of the cameras to either tease him or tempt him in sexual ways, like having internal dialogue saying “I think I want him to kiss me” and that kind of stuff, I guess proving that the government program actually works. But I guess both the characters kinda want to have it both ways and they’re being really shitty about it, so of course, yeah, it’s a lot worse.
Also, the main love interest for Yakuin… I don’t know what to… is she the main love interest… the one he said he liked at the beginning—the osananajimi’s best friend is revealed to be a lesbian who’s in love with Shiori. And so far, all they’ve done is she acts really supportive while internally thinking, “Ah, man, I’m sure sad all the time.” And I think that’s all the plot development she’s going to get.
VRAI: Wow, it’s really a worse Toradora in every way!
CAITLIN: Just watch Toradora, y’all.
VRAI: Mm-hm, mm-hm, mm-hm. Yep, all right, I think that’s about all we need to say about that. Let’s jump up to a show that is at least out of date because it originally started in the 1970s. Caitlin, are you still having fun with Urusei Yatsura?
CAITLIN: I am! You know—
VRAI: Is it still a show from the 1970s?
CAITLIN: Yes, it is.
VRAI: Look, I’m a fan of Lupin III. I know what you’re feeling. Just, we gotta be honest.
CAITLIN: The thing is that it kind of becomes, over time, less dependent on sexual assault as humor of Ataru going after girls, because the cast of characters just grows and grows and it’s watching them all ping-pong off of each other. And yes, Lum and Ataru are always at the center, but also… you know, we just had a plot of a pair of haunted boxing gloves being taken to the school nurse because she’s also a [struggles over the word] mi— miko. She’s a Miku, you see. She’s a Vocaloid. No, she’s a miko.
CAITLIN: And she’s supposed to exorcise them, but Ataru puts them on and he keeps punching himself in the face to avoid punching Lum in the face because that’s part of what their curse is.
I’m not a huge voice actor person, but I think a lot of what’s making this iteration so enjoyable to me is the voice cast. Because at first it felt weird having especially Lum’s voice be different because her original voice actor, whose name escapes me at the moment… her voice especially was so iconic to the character. And so, hearing—
VRAI: It was Fumi Hirano. Sorry, go on.
CAITLIN: Fumi Hirano, one of the all-time greats. And so, when a different voice is coming out of Lum, it felt very strange. But I’ve gotten used to that, and Mamoru Miyano is amazing as Mendo, super hilarious. And I always love having Miyuki Sawashiro around, and she plays Sakura. And just everyone is completely on point, just really carrying the comedy through.
And part of it is familiarity. When I hear Miyano screaming, “Kowai! Kurai! Semai!” which means “It’s dark…” er, well, I said it out of order, but basically, “It’s dark, it’s cramped, I’m scared,” it’s super funny because Mamoru Miyano is super funny. And I am familiar with that line, with that character bit, so hearing it again is really great. So I can’t speak for how good this series is for new people because I’ve been a fan of it for… I don’t want to think of how many years. Probably around 20, give or take. And yeah! It’s a lot of fun.
VRAI: I do get what you mean, though, as somebody who enjoyed Ah! My Goddess back in the day. It definitely had that similar problem of the yikes-iest premise, the yikes-iest premise, that really got away from it fast once it built up its ensemble. So I see what you mean about Urusei Yatsura having something similar. Would you say, for somebody who’s tentatively interested, should they watch this or should they go back to… Like, Beautiful Dreamer is the bit of the franchise that I feel like everybody really holds up in the highest regard.
CAITLIN: I’ve never actually watched any of the movies.
CAITLIN: And from what I understand, Beautiful Dreamer is very Oshii, and I’m not the biggest Oshii fan. I find his work cold.
VRAI: Mm. This, or should they wait and maybe try picking up the original series when Discotek puts it out then, maybe?
CAITLIN: I think they’re very different. And it’s been a very long time since I’ve watched the original series, so I really can’t say for sure. You could pick up the manga.
VRAI: Right! It’s still in print in those big honkin’ [speaking hesitantly] omnibi.
CAITLIN: [Imitating Vrai’s pronunciation] Om… bi.
CAITLIN: You know, pick up the manga… They all have something different to offer.
VRAI: All right, let’s scoot up to The Little Lies We All Tell, then, which is a show that I wanted to watch more of after the premiere but simply have not had time! It was either that or start season 2 of Pop Team Epic. And listen, I really missed the middle school lesbians, so… How’s it going, Caitlin?
CAITLIN: I’m having a lot of fun with it, honestly. I feel like I’m the only person watching it. There’s a couple other people talking about it in the AniFem Discord. But I don’t see anything else, and I think that’s really a shame because it is a really funny and clever show a lot of the time and it actually handles a lot of gender stuff way better than most other series. The way I describe it is Asobi Asobase in terms of tone, but a bit more surreal and way less mean.
VRAI: Yeah, I will give it that. I was impressed with the premiere, where it… Like, I think that “secret crossdresse” is sort of an inherently charged trope, especially right now, and there’s no getting around that, but I think it is the least bad way you could do it. Like the fact that they have that sketch in the bathroom but the joke is that the ninja girl is coming in covered in blood and tries to play it off as “Oh, it’s my period,” and the secret boy is like, “Oh, yeah, totally! No, that… Yeah, that sounds right!”
CAITLIN: [Laughs] Oh, that part was so funny. There is quite a bit of humor around Tsuyoshi’s gender, but it’s never “Ha-ha-ha, he’s being humiliated by having to pretend to be a girl” or “Ha-ha-ha, rooster in the henhouse.”
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, there was one quick passing joke like that in the premiere, and then they seem to have thrown it away, which I can respect.
CAITLIN: Never again.
CAITLIN: Yeah, they’ve never gone that direction again. There was an episode where his gender did get changed(?), which I don’t feel like I can really comment on as a cis person, but it didn’t feel too bad. Sekine didn’t catch on to anything that she could suddenly read his mind, because…
CAITLIN: So, one thing I was pleasantly surprised by was… I’ll just describe the plot of the episode. They all go out for takoyaki, and all of them get an extra one from the takoyaki guy for being cute girls except Sekine, because… not that it ever actually shows because this is anime, but within the canon of the show Sekine is a little bit chubby; she’s not super traditionally attractive. So, the joke is not “Ha-ha-ha, Sekine is fat.” The joke is Sekine is getting treated differently from everyone else and that makes everyone super uncomfortable, and everyone is now scrambling to find ways to make it better.
CAITLIN: And they do it badly!
CAITLIN: Tsuyoshi does it in a classic boy way where he starts being like, “Well, you’ve got these big boobs! And, you know what, that’s what really matters, right?” And it’s… [Chuckles]
VRAI: Hell yeah.
CAITLIN: And everyone’s just like, “Uh…” But it’s sweet in its own way, and that’s kind of what I mean, where it’s a little bit like Asobi Asobase but more surreal and less mean. These kids are not very bright but they do genuinely care about each other.
VRAI: Yeah, you know, there’s worse things to say than “What if Asobi Asobase did not for three sketches randomly become virulently transphobic?”
VRAI: [Inhales sharply] Oh! Really bleak mark on a show I really like.
VRAI: Yep. But that’s neat. I think that’s maybe one that hopefully some people will check out if they’re into sketch comedy type shows. It really did remind me of Azumanga Daioh a little bit, when it was working.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. Stranger than Azumanga Daioh.
VRAI: Oh yeah! Listen, it’s all gimmick all the time, which I think will work for people or it won’t. I was charmed of what I saw, and I want to watch more when I have a time.
CAITLIN: Yeah, honestly, it’s probably one of my favorite shows of the season. A lot of it avoiding nastiness stems partially from it being created by a woman. I mean, not to be essentialist here, but there are certain jokes that I cannot imagine someone who does not get periods writing well, right?
CAITLIN: Or the joke about Sekine not getting the extra takoyaki. This feels based, very loosely, in lived experiences that someone who presents female would have. Does that make sense?
VRAI: Yeah, no, I get you. There are not ways men write comedy and ways women write comedy (TM), but there are jokes that feel different depending on whether or not you have lived through a similar experience, rather than if you’re writing from an archetypal template that you’ve seen in other fiction.
VRAI: Yeah, I get you. Speaking of things that have no connection to reality whatsoever… Peter, I thought that Blue Lock was really interesting completely inadvertently in its first episode, and then episode 2 settled squarely into “Aren’t you stupid for liking the camaraderie and optimistic teamwork elements of sports anime?” so I kinda dropped it.
CAITLIN: I tried to warn you, Vrai!
VRAI: The first episode…! Sometimes shows are interesting completely unintentionally, but it couldn’t keep the steam.
PETER: Wait, wasn’t the appeal, though, that the whole program was supposed to turn them all into backstabbing sociopaths?
VRAI: Yes! But I felt like… I don’t know. At least for me, watching that second episode, it turned real quick into “And that’s kind of cool, actually.”
PETER: Okay. I would say it’s maybe reversed the reversal, then. So I become less interested in it but maybe you might become more interested. It’s still… I don’t know. It just feels like a soccer series now, which is the last thing I wanted for it.
It does have moments where it’s like the main character’s getting tempted by the devil. They recently beat a team and the main character just sort of walked up and looked at all of them crying and went like, “I just crushed all these people’s dreams. They’ll never play soccer again. Why do I feel so good?” And Ego, the sicko watching through the cameras, is watching him look down on these guys and going, “Yes! Yes!”
VRAI: Yeah, Monokuma’s humansona! I know who you mean.
PETER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, it has some moments like that, but basically they’re just sort of playing soccer now. They briefly tried to incorporate the fact that all of them… I mean, only one person gets to play pro soccer out of this, which doesn’t even make sense. Like, they run into two twins who are working together, and it’s like, “One of you guys is never gonna play soccer again once this is all over, so I don’t know why you’re so keen on working together, I guess.” It’s like a zero-sum game, right?
So it can’t really stick to its own premise and they just end up playing a lot of soccer with these pseudo–battle-royale moments where it feels like maybe the main character might be going to the dark side or something, and every once in a while there’s a betrayal of some sort.
CAITLIN: I always think of Ego as evil Madarame from Genshiken.
PETER: Mm. Oh, at least, yeah, they look very similar. I cannot remember anything about Madarame except for that one episode where he breaks his arm at Comiket.
CAITLIN: Oh, the personalities are not remotely similar. But they look similar. There’s a look.
VRAI: I respect the attempt to do a death game series where nobody dies but you keep all the same tropes. That’s interesting. But as it turns out, you do need the bloodshed and extremely gory camp to keep me interested.
PETER: Yeah. And it turns out the main character’s special ability is knowing when to pass, which is in direct conflict with [chuckles] what’s supposed to be what makes a good striker in the series. I don’t know. It feels like the setup was really great and then he had to sketch out the rest of the story and realized he couldn’t figure out how to make it work.
VRAI: And also, it’s been going for like 20 volumes and hasn’t stopped, so, eh, that killed what interest I had left.
PETER: Also, I just want to say the entire premise kind of didn’t work on the face of it. If it stuck to being a weird battle royale, I wouldn’t feel so critical of the premise of the thing, because he’s trying to get all these people into this space where all of them feel desperate to make Japan a successful international soccer entity and their careers are on the line, so everyone buys into this thing, right?
But literally in the scene where the dude’s got all 300 of those people and he says, “You either walk in and I’m gonna make you the best striker in the world or you can leave,” with their careers on the line, he says that Japan sucks at soccer in a way that was very interesting because it seemed directly critical of Japan as sort of a communalistic culture. And it really felt like it might have some politics in there, some cultural criticism, something like that.
But if it’s just gonna boil down to a soccer series, then basically it’s just like 300 people were in a room, one dude said, “Japan hasn’t been good at international soccer ever because we’re not sociopaths,” and not one kid in a group of 300, I guess, followed women’s soccer and knew that right when this manga was created they were coming out of a… (and I guess it’s supposed to be set in a pseudo-real-world-adjacent world)… none of them followed women’s soccer because that’s the exact moment that Japan was coming off of the golden age of women’s soccer, where I think in the previous two World Cups they placed first and second, and he’s like, “Japan’s never made the round of 16. They never got out of the round of 16, guys. See how bad we are?” It’s like, oh, okay. Well, turns out…
VRAI: Well, given the real-world soccer fans I’ve met, that’s true to life.
PETER: Yep. But the program was greenlit by the head of the Japanese Soccer Association, too, who is a woman.
VRAI: The one woman!
PETER: Yep. Yep. Also, there’s the scene where she and Ego are talking while she’s cleaning his apartment for him, which is also great.
VRAI: Yeah… So that sucks.
VRAI: All right, we are 20 minutes in, so we need to book it up the list a little bit. My Master Has No Tail, I am behind on. Like Little Lies We All Tell, it is a show that I enjoy but has just fallen behind because things are so bustling. But Dee is up to date on it and she checked in that it’s still pretty much the same as what she talked about in the three-episode check-in, if you want to look at that post.
The series has introduced a blind character, a musician named Koito. And there’s sort of that visual shorthand that it uses about, you know, blind folks walk around with their eyes closed all the time. I’m just going to read the little write-up in the notes that she made so that I don’t convey it poorly: “Koito knows Mameda is a tanuki because of her scent, but it’s played more as ‘Sound, smell and touch is how I perceive the world, so of course I’d be more attuned to stuff like that’ than as blindness superpower. Otherwise, she’s depicted pretty realistically, using a cane to get around. At one point, the manager yells at the staff for moving stuff around and causing her to trip, that kind of stuff.”
And it’s also going at quite a relaxed pace for where the manga is at, as far as getting into the really gripping plot details. But it’s been a nice little anime that I think folks are probably going to sleep on in such a strong [season], but it’s a nice iyashikei-type historical series.
Do It Yourself!! I think everyone is watching this one. I am a little bit behind, so I’ll let you guys talk first.
CAITLIN: I mean, I don’t know how much there is to say.
VRAI: Yeah, I think it’s still the same!
CAITLIN: [Laughs] It’s a nice little relaxing series. I enjoy the characters. I enjoy their dynamics. I enjoy watching them make things and enjoying [making] things.
I’m not a big, cute-girl hobby anime person, but I like them occasionally. And so, the one that it reminds me of most is another series I ended up enjoying, which is After School Dice Club, where it’s not just watching the girls do the thing and explaining the thing, but it really digs into the different aspects that they enjoy about it and there are different reasons that people do it, there are different ways of enjoying it—like Takumin likes making pretty things and, you know, blah-blah-blah. So, yeah, it’s a nice show. I like it.
VRAI: Yeah, I like that there are different approaches to it as a crafting thing, you know, one character who’s into macramé and mosaic and one character who’s into a lot of stuff with power tools and one character who does more with tech-leaning stuff. I think that’s a nice way to approach it.
CAITLIN: And then there’s Serufu, who’s just here for a good time.
VRAI: Who’s just here for a good time! And good for her. I said this in the three-episode check-in, so we don’t need to belabor it a lot: they go so hard on cute, clumsy girl that I do look at Serufu like, “Girl, do you have a learning disability? Do you have a nonverbal learning disability?” She’s just like me for real? Because it gets slightly uncomfortable with how hard they go!
PETER: Yeah, it gets to the point where you become a little concerned for her. Yeah, I don’t really know if there’s much to it. It’s just kind of a nice series, in my opinion. I don’t think it’s trying to explore any deeper themes or anything like that. I do want to say that I like the relationship between (oh, God, what’s the other girl’s name?) Serufu and… is it Miku? Is that her next-door neighbor?
PETER: Or do they call her Suride? Oh yeah, Purin. I should just call her Purin. I do like that it seems like she’s felt kind of distanced from Serufu because of the fact that she didn’t get into the same school and she’s trying to really lean into STEM, tech learning, and I think she feels, at least initially, like Do-It-Yourself is kind of beneath her. It’s kind of low-tech. And I think it creates an external pressure for her not to be friends with Serufu anymore, which she obviously doesn’t really want.
But I do think that’s a really fascinating character concept, because it’s like the way she’s categorized herself she thinks makes it so that she can no longer associate with her. And let me know if I’m off the mark here. But I like how it’s maybe not very focusedly looking at that as a way we make our friend groups and kind of base our social interactions and friendships off of our either academic or work communities.
And the whole idea is that she’s just like, “Oh, no, wait, we are really good friends. There’s value in what she’s doing in addition to what I’m doing,” and overcoming this really weird, self-created mental block that she has toward associating with her best-friend next-door neighbor.
CAITLIN: So, one thing… I agree, Peter. That’s all really good stuff.
CAITLIN: I want to recognize what you said. One thing that I’m kind of interested to hear other people’s perspectives on is the character of Shii, because I am as white as the Seattle summer days are long and the Seattle winter nights are long.
CAITLIN: It gets dark so early.
But anyway. I feel like a lot of these kinds of shows will have the foreign character and the foreign character is kind of the weirdo, kind of feral, like your Sus [pronounced as the plural formof “Su”] from Love Hina, right? Shii is the foreign girl and she is weird, but it’s not tied to her foreignness, because her mom is just like, “Why are you like this? Your siblings are fine.” And Shii is just kind of a weird catgirl, whose family is from some country in Southeast Asia. They don’t specify.
I’d be curious, once again, to know if anyone can tell from her traditional dress that she wears in one episode and the decorations in her house what country it is supposed to be because it does look culturally specific; they just don’t name it.
VRAI: Yeah, it is interesting. And I obviously I’m not qualified to say whether that’s a smarter take on the material or if it comes across a bit as wanting to have your cake and eat it, too, with the funny foreigner archetype. There’s a little bit of that, obviously in a much less charged sense, with… oh, what’s her name? The tiny American.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, Jobko.
VRAI: Jobko! Yes, Jobko is a full-on tiny funny American. And it’s fine but it’s certainly a trope.
PETER: An American named Juliet Queen Elizabeth VIII. That’s very…
CAITLIN: Clearly her parents are teaboos.
VRAI: Mm-hm. I do really enjoy that this could have been a series that very easily leaned into that sort of Luddite vibe of “Rargh, these kids today with their cell phones,” but instead it takes that really nice thing of, with optimization, “If you don’t have to do things anymore, what do you want to do?” And I think that’s a really beautiful way to approach this kind of thing.
And it is just sort of nice to see normalized: girls doing construction stuff. That’s very cool, and I feel like the show should get baseline credit for that even if we’re sort of picking at these other things. It is also just a good, nice show.
CAITLIN: And slightly gay.
VRAI: Slightly gay. A soupcons of gay on top.
VRAI: Oh, let’s see. Reincarnated as a Sword, I believe Chiaki is still watching. There is a brief fanservicey-tinted bathing scene in episode 4, she said, but otherwise, it’s kinda keeping on as it was when she did the third-episode write-up, so I will direct y’all there.
And then let’s get to Raven of the Inner Palace. Finally some good fucking food!
CAITLIN: I don’t know if my tastes are just changing recently, because I’m still watching it, I’m still enjoying it, but I’ve been wishing that it had a more engaging visual presentation because a lot of it is just pretty people standing in pretty places talking. And that is nice and the writing is engaging and the stories are engaging, but the visual presentation is pretty lacking.
And so, compared to a lot of other shows this season, I really wish that it had stronger direction that I think could really push it to the next level, because I am finding that, compared to Bocchi the Rock or Urusei Yatsura or even The Little Lies We All Tell, which is not super sakuga-fest but has a lot of really strong visual comedy, Raven of the Inner Palace has been drawing me less immediately to when there’s a new episode coming out.
VRAI: I mean, I guess I see what you mean, but I suppose to me, people sitting around being pretty in rooms and talking is sort of inherent to the genre that it is, which is a court conspiracy drama. And I think you’re right: if this were an Ando or a Hatakeyama series, it would probably be a little bit more full on. But I do think that the direction has done a lot of work with its aesthetics to try and keep things visually engaging in a show where (A) probably it has cut resources because it’s a joseimuke and (B) where there isn’t a lot in the way of action scenes.
I enjoy the sort of traditional art style that it has when it’s talking about—
CAITLIN: Oh yeah, the shadow puppets are super cool!
VRAI: Especially as the story has unfolded and become a lot more about buried history and the deliberate obfuscation of women’s role in power, there is a lot of rich, fertile narrative ground there.
I’m very excited that it’s getting translated. Apparently, it’s only seven volumes and that is the entire light novel series, so it does very much feel like they are trying to have this be a complete adaptation where they’ve just sort of cut down the mystery of the week in order to get the overarching story about Shouxue all into anime form in total.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Nice pronunciation.
VRAI: [hesitant] I do my best.
CAITLIN: I could not have pronounced that right.
VRAI: Thank you, danmei, for my baby’s first education. I’m still shit at pronouncing.
PETER: Especially when [in] the show they’re saying one name and it’s translated as another, right? That’s very…
VRAI: Yeah. I found myself wondering as I was watching, if Cardcaptor Sakura came out now, would they subtitle it Xiaolang instead of Shaoran? I wonder.
PETER: It’s always hard in these sorts of series for me to learn names, because it’s like I’m reading one thing, I’m looking it up and getting another, and I’m hearing yet a third name.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah. I honestly couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names. It’s terrible. I’m sorry. I’m sorry!
VRAI: Caitlin, have you considered getting into danmei?
PETER: [Chuckles] Oh, no.
CAITLIN: I don’t have time in my life to get into danmei.
VRAI: [Laughs] Ah, yay. Let’s see. On terms of pure content notes for stuff that wasn’t noted in the three-episode write up: episode 5 covers a character whose background includes childhood sexual abuse, and they’re pretty tasteful about it, but it does come up, and it’s… it doesn’t… It does come up!
Also, the most recent episode includes a case of the week involving what I like to call historical technical incest, where nobody really bats an eye at it because, ah, it’s tragic and they’re both dead and they never knew each other growing up but they’re technically blood-related and… Fine, move along, move along. I don’t care about this. Whatever.
Yeah, there was a guy who died, who was executed because he wanted to marry, I believe, technically his half-sister. They had the same mother and different fathers and grew up completely separate from each other. And, would you believe it, that didn’t go over well. Yeah, it’s such a minor plot point. I don’t care. But it felt worth flagging up for folks.
VRAI: Yeah, I really like this series! I see what you mean about it being definitely more visually quiet, and it leans a lot on that bit of stock animation.
CAITLIN: With her blowing the flower?
VRAI: Uh-huh. But I will say the most recent episode does have a little bit more in the way of #sakuga. It looks really quite nice. So, yeah, yay!
Let’s get into the weeds with Chainsaw Man.
CAITLIN: Oh boy!
VRAI: I want to know what you think about “Man Saw Chain.”
CAITLIN: All of the stuff with Denji and sex and Makima and Power is so fraught but in a very intentional way that I actually kind of really find interesting and even enjoy? Question mark?
I think that Fujimoto is doing something very deliberate and something very thoughtful with it, because… Vrai, I was going to do the three-episode write-up but then I was sick, so Vrai, you took care of it. And something I wanted to talk about was kind of like, yeah, Denji is horny. He’s horny in that way that teenagers are. And also, he’s kind of… I’d say it’s Freudian except that he never even really had a mother. His desire to touch boobs is a desire for not just sex but for intimacy and for nurturing. Fujimoto has said that Makima’s name was derived from “Mama.”
VRAI: [deadpan] I’m shocked, shocked.
VRAI: Yeah, he’s definitely doing something with it, but I do… This series is… So, there are other series we’ve covered in past seasons, like My Dress-Up Darling and Call of the Night, where I’m still following the manga but I had to tap out on the anime because I couldn’t deal with the bullshit in anime time. And I’m doing okay with Chainsaw Man The Anime because there’s enough gore and weirdness and it looks pretty, but I can definitely see how some folks who are interested but excruciated by the anime pace might have a better time with the manga, which is way fast to binge. I think I read it in a couple of days, but that was during quarantine time, so who knows.
CAITLIN: See, it’s not the sex stuff that puts me off; it’s the gore stuff.
CAITLIN: I’ve been watching it with my anime club friends, with Jared, with Alexis and Alexis’s girlfriend Shannon, and there were a couple of points where they were like, “All right, Caitlin, close your eyes! Okay, now you can look again,” because I’m not a gore person. I really don’t care for it.
VRAI: Caitlin, that’s adorable. It’s going to get so much more gruesome.
PETER: [Chuckles] Yeah, I think this is literally when it… like, it starts getting gory now, in the next episode.
CAITLIN: Oh, man. But the stuff with the boob-grabbing and the sex and the intimacy, it’s like… it’s that old Tumblr post, or I guess it was Twitter, “Lesbians, share your wisdom. World hard and cold; tiddy soft and warm.” Denji has had nothing but the cold, hard world and he desires soft and warm, which, to a horny teenage boy, is titties.
VRAI: Oh yeah, there’s a lot in the way that Denji performs what he thinks is an ideal of masculinity. There is many gender.
CAITLIN: And so, I find that actually really, really interesting. So, the stuff with Makima in the most recent episode is… I mean, it’s uncomfortable because, y’all, she is grooming this child! But it’s uncomfortable in a good way—isn’t quite the right way to put it. It’s uncomfortable and—
VRAI: [crosstalk] Purposeful.
CAITLIN: It’s purposeful. It’s intentional. It is tied in with the themes of the show.
VRAI: Yeah. No, listen, I think what gives Chainsaw Man a boost over a lot of series with horny teenage dude leads (TM) is that (A) the female characters aren’t drawn in an especially fanservicey way unless we are doing a specific POV shot of Denji staring at their tits. They’re really interesting and varied characters. And it’s definitely very purposefully doing something with Makima grooming him, where it’s taking a critical eye, from the word go, to that idea that an older woman preying on a teenage boy is hot and sexy instead of being an abuse of power.
I do think that it is also fair to be uncomfortable with… which is something that came up with my partner (they’ve been watching this with me), that of the female characters who have been introduced so far, every single one of them, except for one of the members that have been introduced in this latest arc, comes out the gate trying to barter sexual favors.
PETER: Oh, so, everyone but the nervous girl, you mean? [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Aw, Kobeni.
PETER: Yeah, Kobeni? Yeah.
VRAI: They all come at it for different self-serving ways, but it still, at a certain point, comes down to “a woman’s weapon is her sexuality” and also, if you want to read it that way, “Sexually dominant women are evil,” which I don’t think he’s trying to say. I think it’s what he finds hot, and also, he’s telling a Devilman story. But you can read it that way.
PETER: It’s been a while since I read the manga, but I believe now that they’re past the original Power story arc.
VRAI: Oh yeah. Power and Denji have a really great friendship from here on. It’s good.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Aw, I love Power.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, platonic buddies.
VRAI: There is at least one more major arc about a woman manipulating Denji with sexual favors, though, so strap in!
PETER: Yeah. It’s so weird. I read Chainsaw Man and Jujutsu Kaisen, and I think the main trio dynamic is very similar, but I think Chainsaw Man really provided more of that than Jujutsu Kaisen ended up doing.
CAITLIN: I mean, the straight-man even has a wolf in both of them.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, yeah, the shadow puppet wolf thing. Yeah, it was remarkable how similar they were. I’m like, oh, this is the same show except Itadori’s a small baby. But yeah, I do like that they sort of just become platonic buddies after the fact and Power is mostly an uncomplicated kind of idiot jerkface, [chuckles] post-that.
VRAI: I love Power so much.
PETER: Yeah. In regards to the… I do want to say, I think the scene with Makima in the last episode is very fraught, and definitely, it’s supposed to come across as sinister. There’s a lot of foreshadowing. But I also think that contrasting with all of the fanservicey stuff and Denji’s just repeatedly yelling “Boobs!” at the top of his lungs for three episodes, I feel like it was a very warm… The things that she was telling him about intimacy, I feel, were actually very good lessons.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, it was true! It was all true.
VRAI: Yeah, listen, it’s a great scene. It’s intimate, it’s genuinely filmed as erotic, like you would find in a Sayo Yamamoto series, and it’s rude to me because Makima is horrible and abusing this child and also, she’s hot!
PETER: [ironic] So rude.
CAITLIN: That’s always been the problem, right?
VRAI: It’s like I’m watching Soul Eater again and having to admit that Medusa is hot.
PETER: It’s interesting because the intent of the scene is definitely… It’s really great storytelling. And also, Fujimoto is describing more complex ideas of eroticism and intimacy that contrast with this shounen horny bullshit, kind of saying, “That’s not actually what it’s about, and you need to really grow and develop.” So, I think—
CAITLIN: Yeah, 100%.
PETER: —he’s directly pointing out that Denji is being very immature about this and specifically saying, “You’re like this because you don’t understand anything yet, and you need to really change your perspective,” right after Denji just got out of this plot where basically he fought somebody to the death just so he could touch a boob.
VRAI: And it turns out just honking a random stranger’s boob with no emotion behind it…
PETER: Yeah, it sucks.
VRAI: It doesn’t feel like anything.
CAITLIN: While Power’s sitting there performing like, “Oh, it feels so good!”
PETER: Yeah, I mean, Power really kind of destroyed him there, with the padding and everything.
PETER: So, I really did like how that reached its climax.
CAITLIN: [Laughs knowingly] Ha-ha!
PETER: Yeah, ha-ha. But yeah, it’s very pointed and it’s one of the first things where you really realize Fujimoto is a good writer and has things to say about the shounen genre.
VRAI: Yeah. The back-to-back boob touching scenes and also this upcoming story with the looping hotel hallway, I think, are when the manga really finds its feet, so it’ll be interesting to see how people feel about it from here.
CAITLIN: By the way, I did have Jared Photoshop scissors into Denji’s hand at the screenshot of… what’s his name? the older guy? …chasing him down the hallway, yelling, “Hey, it’s dangerous! Stop!”
PETER: [crosstalk] Oh my God, yeah.
CAITLIN: And that’s my job, y’all!
CAITLIN: I have literally stopped a child from walking around with scissors open and pointed at his face. [Groans]
PETER: That was a good contrast.
VRAI: Oh, yeah. So, we need to move on, but there is more we could say about Chainsaw Man and will doubtless say about Chainsaw Man in future, because I suspect it’s going to be probably about three cours if they’re gonna do the whole adaptation.
CAITLIN: The thing is that there are multiple shows this season that we could do a full podcast episode about every episode.
PETER: Yeah, stacked as hell.
VRAI: So, Witch from Mercury!
PETER: [Chuckles] Oh yeah.
VRAI: This is why I watch anime! Oh my God! Mm! Inject it into my veins.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Yeah, it’s good.
VRAI: It’s so good and, so far, so skilled at what it’s laid out that it’s almost difficult for me to crack into it, because you could spend an hour talking about what it’s doing and what it’s setting up, but at the same time, we are 6 (7, if you include the prologue episode) into what’s probably a 50-episode series. So, there is so much to say and yet at the same time, you could wrap it up in 30 seconds, like “Damn, this is sure a Gundam. I really like these characters, and it’s setting up all these themes. I hope it doesn’t fuck it up.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, the thing is that Okouchi has a spotty resume. Didn’t he work on Guilty Crown?
PETER: Was that an adaptation or original?
CAITLIN: No. I’m pretty sure Guilty Crown… He did Kabaneri. Yeah, he was… Okay, he was assistant series composition on Guilty Crown, which is an anime original.
PETER: Oh, okay.
VRAI: But he also worked on Turn A Gundam, the one that everybody likes.
PETER: Oh, yeah, I need to watch that.
CAITLIN: Well, that was episodic screenplay. He also wrote Code Geass. But he also did SK8 the Infinity, he also wrote Utena novels…
VRAI: And he also did Princess Principal and Azumanga Daioh.
PETER: Vacillating a lot here on… [Chuckles]
PETER: … how I feel about the…
PETER: Well, so far, it’s okay.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] There’s a lot going on. And he did Planetes, which is a great series that I believe had material that was original from the manga. Correct me if I’m wrong. Actually don’t correct me if I’m wrong.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, I hear… people say the anime’s better than the manga, right?
CAITLIN: He what?
PETER: Yeah, the anime improved on the manga, from what I’m hearing. It got rid of some bad stuff and focused on more good stuff. That’s what I’ve heard.
CAITLIN: Who knows? This guy’s a loose cannon!
PETER: Yeah. Maverick.
VRAI: Right now, I am inclined to put trust in it. And maybe that will make a fool of me later, but I’m just really pleased so far. I think that it’s really good. And also, it looks pretty, which apparently behind the scenes has been struggling. This week was a recap episode.
CAITLIN: I mean, they’ve been keeping it up really well so far. We haven’t seen any drops in animation that come with the production troubles, so if they need to take a recap episode to catch themselves up, I’m okay with that. Hopefully it will not impact them.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Oh, listen, I’m fine with it. I have no criticism for them. I just am concerned for them.
Yeah, so, honestly, my pitch in the three-ep was if you watch one episode— [catches self] one anime this season, make it Witch from Mercury, and I stand by that.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, should we actually talk about what makes it good, other than that we could probably fill an entire podcast episode with each episode?
VRAI: No, we are gonna come up over time, so I’m going to direct people to the three-episode write up and promise to spend a little bit more time on it when we do the season wrap-up.
CAITLIN: Ah, Chuchu’s is so good! I just want to give a shoutout to my girl Chuchu.
PETER: Great right hook.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Hell yeah. Love her.
PETER: I do want to see more before I even… It’s hard to discuss now, I think. It’s one of [obscured by crosstalk]—
CAITLIN: It is, because there’s so much happening and we don’t really have any answers.
PETER: It’s playing stuff really close to its chest, so until some things develop, it’s hard to really discuss what they are versus what they might be doing. Yeah.
CAITLIN: Listen. I just want to say I could totally picture a tiny Chuchu stabbing Guel in the foot with a fork.
VRAI: Yes! And it would be good. Man, Guel has really speedrun Saionji’s sadboy toxic masculinity arc and I do respect it.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Aw! He’s even camping.
PETER: Yeah. God, all the Yuru Camp fan art is crazy. It was like I was hit by a tidal wave when I woke up one morning.
VRAI: Guel is what Saionji would be after his post–Adolescence of Utena glow-up. This is his next stage of character development. And I stand by that.
VRAI: Anyway. Anyway, I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss. I’m behind on it.
CAITLIN: [Sighs] Okay.
VRAI: Caitlin, get your feelings out of the way.
CAITLIN: So, here’s the thing. I’ve heard two kinds of feedback. There are the people who are familiar with another previous version of it, whether it’s the novels or the manga… I am familiar with the manga. Read the first volume, was like, “Yes!” Bought the other two volumes, which only cover the first arc, which is the first novel. People who have encountered it in another version before do not like the anime. Do not. People who haven’t seem to be actually really enjoying the anime.
My problem is that the storytelling style feels like you have someone telling you, going, “And then, and then, and then, and then, and then.” It just goes plot beat, plot beat, plot beat, plot beat, plot beat, without giving any time for anything to sink in, for any themes to emerge, for any character development. They did an entire novel in just the first four episodes. It’s brisk!
VRAI: I think it’s definitely the weakest version of the material. I think it’s also a strong enough source material that if the anime is the first version you come across, you can still get a sense of what is good about it. And I know that the second arc certainly starts off a lot stronger than the first one, and I know that Dee is really quite enchanted with it and she’s up-to-date.
I know she’s enjoying it a lot. It looks like a bowl of hot garbage, and I think that in the source novels there’s probably a lot more nuance going on with this fact that you have two female characters in opposition to each other, which doesn’t come across so hot in the anime to me because there’s not a lot of time to give them interiority. But—
CAITLIN: Do they give the reason that Lilia is an antagonist?
CAITLIN: I can’t remember.
PETER: Do they? I didn’t… [Chuckles] Please tell me…
VRAI: In the most recent episode, they do.
PETER: Oh, what? I thought the series was done with her.
VRAI: No, she’s also an isekai girl but, like the Digimon Kaiser in Adventure 02, she thinks this is all just a game and none of these are real people, so she’s fine being evil and manipulative to try and maneuver her “good ending,” which is interesting.
In the novels, I can see why you would go with that. With the brisk pace the anime is going at, it just sort of comes to me like “Ah, man, girls are in competition with one another over dudes, aren’t they?”
CAITLIN: Yeah, I was talking to Rebecca Silverman of ANN because she has been reading the novels, and I’m just like, “Should I just forget the anime and just read the novels?” and she’s like, “Yeah, probably. The novels are actually really good. The anime…” Because she is also hating the anime.
PETER: Well, I’m glad we got some explanation on Lily [sic] at all because it seemed like the series had forgotten about her at, like, episode 3, and then she went on to the all-boys school. Or I guess it’s not all-boys school. The “boys are better than girls” school.
VRAI: And in fairness, the second arc does introduce other female characters for Aileen to interact with, which was my major complaint about the first novel’s worth of content. So, I think this might be one where maybe dip into the anime long enough to see if it intrigues you, or if you just don’t like reading light novels, it might be worth checking out. But otherwise, yeah, I am having flashbacks to the Case Files of Jeweler Richard, an incredibly bad take on a really good series. Yeah. Which… yeah.
So, moving on to Bocchi the Rock. Anxious!
CAITLIN: Bocchi the Rock is so good.
VRAI: I think it’s really started finding… It’s had a strong sense of identity from the word go. For me, I think it’s finally started to balance its anxiety comedy pretty well. Because my thing is that it has its moments where it has these very quiet character beats where Bocchi has a really successful one-on-one talk with somebody and is able to self-assess and grow a little bit, and I think those are really nice; and it has those really cartoonish moments of “Oh, worm”; and then I think there’s sort of this dead zone in the middle where occasionally it falls into being a little bit too wacky and this falls outside of being relatable to feeling a little bit insulting about social anxiety. But I think those moments where it hits those sour notes are getting rarer.
And… yeah. I’m not sure how I feel about the comedy drunk character. I think if this were a more cynical series like Asobi Asobase, she’d be right at home. Because it definitely does not think that this is a cool, funny thing, but also, it sticks out a little weird.
CAITLIN: Yeah. Well, I do like that Bocchi kind of thought about the alcoholism way of coping with anxiety and really saw the inevitable endpoint with a great deal of clarity and was like, “No. No, thank you.”
VRAI: [Chuckles] And that is easily the darkest joke the series has had so far.
CAITLIN: I am a little worried about the number of people going “Ha-ha-ha, it’s just like me for real!” And I get that a lot of people saying that are joking, but if you do sincerely find that cycle relatable, please get therapy. That’s addiction. So, you know.
But yeah! I have not historically liked a lot of girl music shows because they have been focused more on the cute, and the cute kind of extends to the musical style. This show is inspired by Asian Kung-Fu Generation, which has been one of my favorite bands for decades. I did travel from Himeji to Fukuoka to go see them because the Kobe show and the Osaka shows were both sold out.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Adorable.
CAITLIN: So, yeah, I’m really into the music. I really enjoy the visual manifestations of anxiety that they are very creative about, all the different ways that Bocchi melts and disintegrates and just ceases to be a tangible human being for a few seconds at a time.
And you know, I’ve heard complaints about them kind of conflating social anxiety and introversion, which I think is fair. But it also understands that social anxiety is not cute. You know what I mean? Bocchi is having genuinely a hard time with it, and they present it in a very funny, very charming way, but also, it’s not like, “Oh, look at the adorable little introvert.”
VRAI: Yeah, as somebody who’s not super into “Let’s start a band” series (given was a major exception for me), I’m really quite impressed with how this manages to sell itself as a character drama… comedy. Dramedy. Eh.
PETER: I’m on the same boat. I’m not much of a music person, but I think… I actually am at the point where I feel like some of these mental breakdowns that take three to five minutes are somewhat detracting from the part I’m actually interested in, which is more of the social interaction and the band-building, which, since I’m not a music person, I think means that their narrative is being told quite well.
I do overall like the stuff they’re doing with Bocchi, and I think a lot of their ideas for visually communicating her social anxiety are really funny and interesting. I do think they do get excessive, and also every once in a while this series hits me with something that I’m just like, “That’s a little weird,” like when she lies on her back to show submissiveness to the boss of the place.
VRAI: Yeah, that’s the one scene where I’m like, is this (flash up that title card) the writer’s thinly disguised fetish?
PETER: Yeah, yeah, I was like, “I don’t like that. I hope they don’t do anything like that ever again.” So, hopefully that was just a one-off weird joke that was a result of a poor decision or something. Yeah, but overall, it’s great.
VRAI: I will say my one outstanding note is I do at some point want a serious scene between Kita and Ryo. I want them to seriously address her crush one way or the other so she’s not just the funny lesbian.
PETER: Oh, yeah, just pining after her the whole time? Yeah, that would be good.
VRAI: But that’s really my only note. It’s been pretty solidly addressing the other minor misgivings I had with it starting out, which I talked about already. So, yeah, honestly, if you like slice-of-life and you want something that’s a little less sleepy-cozy than Do It Yourself!!, this is probably the one to go for.
All right, that brings us to our last show of the evening, which is Akiba Maid War. Fuck yes, fuck yes, fuck yes! That’s my opinion.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, yes! So good.
VRAI: I respect so much that they just took a Yakuza script and found-and-replaced.
CAITLIN: With all this just incredible visual comedy. Because it’s not just that they did find-and-replace; it’s that they visually tied in together so well. At the birthday episode, just losing it at the goat just wandering around in the tank of tomato juice.
VRAI: Yeah, it is really, really funny and creatively bombastic, and it looks really good because P.A. Works apparently is just a “We do what we want, fuck you” studio now, and I love that for them.
CAITLIN: And Cygames. It’s wild that a mobile game company is creating all of these just incredibly weird, creative shows. Because Cygames is also Zombie Land Saga; it’s Princess Connect. They already did a Granblue Fantasy anime. I would love to see them try it again, because apparently the Granblue Fantasy anime hewed very closely to the game.
Cygames is… I respect them so much for being like, “How are we going to make an adaptation of our mobile games that will be engaging to people who don’t care about our mobile games and maybe attract more of them? And then also, what is the weirdest shit that we can get away with?” And P.A. Works is like, “Yes! Let’s do some weird shit, guys!” And it’s incredible. And Akiba Maid War is their baby and it’s basically perfect.
VRAI: Also, maybe this is a case of a pen name I haven’t uncovered yet, but series composer Yoshihiro Hiki doesn’t seem to have any other TV credits to speak of, which is very interesting.
But yeah. And you’re right, it isn’t just find-and-replace because I think if it was just resting on the joke of “Ha-ha, this is a traditionally very manly type of story but we’re doing it with cute girls,” then it would feel really insulting and I would have dropped it ages ago. But it’s very sincere about its characters and the stakes that they’re facing in-universe. And it has found other jokes than “Ha-ha, cute girls are in a manly, archetypal story.” But also, I think, whether they intended this or not, it is pretty sharp satire on the cuddle-ification of yakuza stories over the past few years.
CAITLIN: Absolutely. I’m so over cuddly yakuza characters, except for Way of the Househusband.
VRAI: Tatsu can stay.
PETER: The Patient Zero, for sure.
VRAI: It is not; Hinamatsuri came first.
PETER: Oh, really? Wow.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yep. Kazuma Kiryu is Patient Zero. He’s not cuddly, but that is definitely, within the last ten years, the series that was like, “What if yakuza were cool and noble and also sort of a dorky asexual dad actually?”
PETER: Wow. Hinamatsuri really got away with it. Got a way better adaptation, too. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah. Akiba Maid War just leans super hard into the absurdity, and that’s kinda what makes it work.
VRAI: Also, it has a 36-year-old woman.
CAITLIN: [feigning amazement] What? Women can exist after 25?
VRAI: [deadpan] We’re all shocked.
CAITLIN: I love Ranko. She’s my age!
VRAI: Ah, she’s so good. I love her. It’s a really good, smart, funny series. Maybe give it a miss if you’re sensitive to gun violence and blood. But otherwise, yeah, this one’s definitely the sleeper hit.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I was thinking about it and I realized that what makes it work is that you have all of this silliness and absurdity, “Oh no! Nagomi and Ranko are trapped in a big tub of tomato juice! And there’s a goat wandering…” Or I guess it’s a sheep. “There’s a cloven-hoofed quadruped herbivore (I don’t know) wandering around inside there.” Which, I did just realize: pigs are also cloven-hoofed quadrupeds but they are not herbivores. Anyway, that is completely irrelevant.
And so, it’s super goofy and silly. And then they walk out and then Yumechi just pops a cap in another man’s ass. That’s it. Boom. Very real violence ending in death. [Chuckles] So, that kind of incongruity, I think, adds a lot of impact because you don’t get numbed to it either way.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Yeah, it’s a really good series. And I did not expect anything out of that title. Holy shit.
CAITLIN: I saw the trailer and I was like, “Oh, this one’s gonna be weird. I’m here!”
VRAI: Which is the only thing that’s required to get me to show up for at least one episode. So… you know. [Chuckles]
All right. Is there anything, any last stray thoughts that we did not cover that y’all wanted to touch on before I wrap us up? We are only marginally over time…
CAITLIN: Woohoo! Go, us.
VRAI: … by the time we edit this down.
CAITLIN: Mob Psycho 100 is going well.
VRAI: All right, well, we’ll talk about that next time.
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