Spring has sprung, bloomed, and blossomed, which means it’s time for the staff to pluck out some favorites! From ragin’ red pandas to laid-back cafe boys, there’s a show for just about every mood in this season’s bouquet.
We talked about three kinds of recommendations:
- Feminist-friendly favorite: You’d recommend it to a feminist friend with no caveats
- Problematic favorite: You’d only recommend it to a feminist friend with caveats
- Surprise favorite: You didn’t expect it to be something you’d recommend, but it was (either with or without caveats)
The titles below are organized alphabetically. As a reminder, ongoing shows are not eligible for these lists. We’d rather wait until the series (or season) has finished up before recommending it to others, that way we can give you a more complete picture.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Feminist-friendly favorite: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
What’s it about? Office worker (and red panda) Retsuko does her best to survive her soul-crushing office job with a mild-mannered “can-do” attitude—all while secretly venting her rage through death metal karaoke.
Content Warning: Depictions of sexism/misogyny; the dub contains some racial stereotyping
Sanrio’s toy commercials continue to impress. Last season it was the gender-norm-smashing Sanrio Boys, and this season it’s the dark comedy Aggretsuko. The series serves as a sharp critique of modern office culture (particularly for women), from the sexist boss who’s a literal chauvinist pig, to the overworked and underpaid “opportunities” available to young professionals, and–embodied by Retsuko herself—to the expectations placed on women to be responsible “good girls” and never show their dissatisfaction or rage (no matter how justified it may be).
Yet while the social commentary and humor are biting and on-point, what really makes Aggretsuko shine is the way its characters find ways to not only get through each day, but to enrich their lives as they go. Female friendships and mentorships form the backbone and emotional core of the series, and the way the ladies support and lift each other up is downright heartwarming. Aggretsuko also does a smart job of depicting harmful behaviors while also promoting healthy ones, as demonstrated through Retsuko’s self-sacrificing romance as well as Haida’s swerve from potential Nice Guy to genuinely good dude.
It’s important to have fiction about smashing a broken system, but it’s also important to have fiction that shows its audience how to survive within that system through support networks, emotional outlets, and developing tactics to enact change (however small). Aggretsuko is firmly in the latter category, reminding its audience that they too can persevere and thrive, just like its characters do. Clever and topical, frequently hilarious, sometimes painful but ultimately encouraging, this is a series I’d recommend to just about everyone.
Problematic favorite: Dee, Peter
What’s it about? Saichi Sugimoto is a veteran of the Russo-Japanese war, desperate for money in order to keep his last promise to his childhood friend. He hears the seemingly tall tale of a man who murdered a group of Ainu men, stole 20 kan of gold (about 165 lbs), hid it in Hokkaido before his arrest, and then tattooed a treasure map on the bodies of his fellow death-row inmates. Trying to protect one piece of the map from a bear, Sugimoto meets Asirpa, the daughter of one of the murdered men. Finding their goals have parallel tracks, the two become a team.
Content Warning: Violence (graphic); sexual and toilet humor; features a villainous trans character
On the face of it, Golden Kamuy is something between a battle royale and a treasure hunt between murderous ex-cons set in a frozen wilderness, but don’t let that fool you. It’s actually many things, often at the same time. When the characters aren’t engaged in mortal combat, Golden Kamuy alternates between being a well-researched historical drama respectfully depicting the marginalized Ainu people of Japan, a slapstick comedy with an eccentric primary cast, and a culture-shock cooking show. Somehow mangaka Noda Satoru juggles all these often conflicting atmospheres so they feel as if they exist in a single world.
The centerpiece of the story is the equal partnership between Asirpa and Sugimoto. Asirpa herself is an excellent character who acts as a window into Ainu beliefs and traditions, which she respects while also pursuing her own personal truths. She’s notably treated with respect by the rest of the cast for her capability and knowledge without also erasing the fact that she’s still a child. Their mutual respect, both for each other’s abilities and goals, feels like a rare relationship even among characters of more similar ages. In the one instance Sugimoto tries to distance Asirpa from the treasure hunt out of concern for her, he’s punished both narratively and by Asirpa herself.
With so many content warnings, it seems weird to be recommending this anime, but it has an amazing way of framing even the most horrific scenes in a sort of absurd, humorous manner and starkly dividing the serious segments with historic slice-of-life comedy that feels just as important. Perhaps the most indefensible element, though, is the inclusion of a serial-killing trans woman late in the season. Given the number of trans villains in pop fiction, she’s inherently problematic; that said, she’s handled about as well as one could hope for, with her inner dialogue using the same feminine voice and the surrounding characters referring to her based on her presentation.
It isn’t great, and it’s not the only or last time Golden Kamuy will throw in some problematic content. Still, there’s a lot of good to be found here, and the combination of a setting populated by cutthroats and a slapstick style does a lot to disarm the more troubling elements.
Problematic favorite: Dee, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? Mid-ranking yakuza Yoshifumi Nitta’s life takes a series of unexpected turns when he becomes the (initially unwilling) caretaker of Hina, a mysterious girl with powerful psychokinetic abilities.
Content Warning: Minors in peril; non-sexualized teenage nudity; comedic violence and alcohol use
Life kicked me square in the teeth this season, meaning I had to drop just about every weekly airing show I’d been following. Except this one. Hinamatsuri proved a weekly delight, mixing absurd or deadpan comedy with a sometimes sweet, sometimes melancholy underpinning to give the shenanigans some weight.
The core of the show is Nitta and Hina’s father/daughter relationship, which has an appealing frankness to it. Hina is a deadpan slacker with a bottomless stomach, and Nitta is frequently frustrated and driven to romanticize his days of singledom, but the show also makes sure to underline how much they care about each other and how hard they’re both trying (kinda, sometimes).
Their relationship is also blessedly free of any incest angle or attempts to fetishize Hina—in fact, the series seems to exist in a magical world where its young adolescent characters are completely free of sexual menace from the adults around them. Hina’s “rival” Anzu pops out of her space pod naked in front of a biker gang? They’re just mad that she’s blocking traffic. Schoolgirl Hitomi gets blackmailed into working at a bar? Her patrons are just really impressed with her mixology.
Even the one story that does deal with the (false) assumption that Hitomi is having an affair with a teacher is centered on her classmates trying to catch the teacher so they can report him (and, y’know, maybe see a boob, because middle schoolers). It’s the kind of thing you don’t know you’re worried about until it’s gone, and it makes Hinamatsuri a relaxing watch in a way that many “take care of a tiny super-powered girl” shows aren’t.
Prospective viewers should be aware that there’s a lot of suffering-based comedy, and some suffering played for drama as well. Hitomi in particular just cannot catch a break, from the beginning of the show to the end; and while Anzu eventually ends up in a secure and happy home, she goes through hell to get there. Her arc in the first half of the series deals fairly bluntly with the trials of being a transient in a major Japanese city. Unfortunately, it drops the ball once Anzu is adopted, hand-waving the fate of the adults who’d cared for her in the now-demolished tent city with a pat “as long as you’re thinking of each other, they’re never alone.”
Still, the series is never quite mean-spirited enough to be unpalatable, and its heart shows through earnestly and frequently. If you’re fine with some choppy waters before the sweet payoff, this might be the comedy for you.
Last Period: the journey to the end of despair
Surprise favorite: Peter
What’s it about? Monster-fighters (“Periods”) Haru, Liza, and Gajeru return home to find that their Branch Office has been unexpectedly shut down. With empty coffers and no help, the last three recruits will have to work three times as hard to buy back what they’ve lost.
Content Warning: Excessive fanservice
Mobile games have gotten creative the past few years in adding new twists to their stories to present unique anime adaptations. Last Period may have reached some sort of critical mass, as it uses its cute setting, characters, and episodic story structure to cynically disassemble all corners of the anime and mobile industries, including itself. It’s a brave strategy for an anime ostensibly acting as an advertisement for a video game—so brave that I’m honestly curious about what the game might be like, if the anime is this merciless with its humor.
While Last Period‘s story is about Haru and friends going on quests to save villages plagued by Spirals, the anime involves very little monster-fighting. Each village, usually designed around some sort of theme, instead acts as a prompt for the protagonists’ rivalry with the de facto villains, a Team Rocket-esque group who call themselves “Wiseman.” These clashes often take the form of outselling one another or gathering more signatures to drive political change, often leaving a lot of room for brutal tongue-in-cheek humor.
In one episode, they find themselves in a hot springs village that is experiencing a financial crisis, so Choco suggests shelling out for some high-profile female voice actors to visit and drive tourism. Another episode features Haru blowing his life savings on gacha pulls and the lesson seems to be… don’t ever play a game like Last Period?
The greatest mark against Last Period is that it fanservice is used straightforwardly as much as it’s used as fuel for humorous takedowns. Where it’s put on blast in the hot springs episode, the beach episode uses a groping swimsuit ghost without any attempt at critique or deconstruction. Overall, you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get each week. This keeps the anime fresh and allows it to be flexible with its jokes and subject matter, but you get the feeling some of the writers weren’t “in” on what the anime was trying to do.
Surprise favorite: Dee
What’s it about? Four young men run a Japanese-style tea house called the “Rokuhoudo” where people in need of a break from their daily lives can come to relax, sip a warm drink, and enjoy a rotating menu of sweets.
Anime as a medium has its share of problems, but just about every season, like clockwork, it bestows upon me a soothing comedy about nice people being nice to each other, and for that I am forever grateful. This spring, Yotsuiro Biyori (or Laid-Back Cafe, as I fondly nicknamed it) swept in like a cool breeze, providing a weekly half-hour where I could just sit back, giggle, and enjoy myself without caveats.
It’s overall a light show, more concerned with relaxing its audience than conveying any Deep Messages, but along the way it quietly presents an accepting, low-key progressive world. Hard-working career women are respected at their jobs, burly middle-aged men enjoy cute desserts in cute cafes, and four good boys help their customers regain their self-confidence, improve their relationships with others, or just give them a place where they can take a break from the daily grind. Also: cats. Wonderful, wonderful cats.
If you’re in the mood for something dramatic or intense, then Yotsuiro Biyori won’t be your cup of latte. But if you, like the Rokuhoudo’s customers, need a brief respite from the (increasing dumpster fire that is the) real world, this show’s warm humor may be just the dish you need.
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