The cozy winter season has come to a close, so now it’s time to take a look back at the shows the team most enjoyed snuggling up with. Grab your penguins, your mummies, and your Pompompurins and gather ’round the campfire, AniFam!
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: Amelia, Dee, Peter, Vrai
What’s it about? Mari Tamaki is a by-the-books high school student whose desire to experience new things has always been undercut by her fear and insecurity. When she meets Shirase Kobuchizawa, a driven young woman determined to follow her vanished mother to the Antarctic, Mari is finally inspired to take a leap of faith.
Content Warning: Bereavement; an isolated joke about a parent threatening to hit their child; mild nudity (bathing scenes; not sexualized); mentions of bullying (not shown)
As someone with a knee-jerk dislike of Cute People Doing Cute Things shows, my livetweet for the Place Further premiere was snarky and dismissive. By the end of the thread, I’d taken back all my earlier cynicism, apologised for my mischaracterisation, and thrown my full support behind this beautiful show.
It’s hard to know which parts to highlight, because Place Further gets so much right. The representation of teenage girls and friendship is spot on. The Antarctica mission is led by skilled, experienced, scientific women. Each character is a distinct, complex individual with clear goals and motivations which develop over the season. The art is expressive, and the world is grounded in realistic detail. I could go on, and no doubt others would pick out different elements, but suffice to say this is an expertly crafted series.
Each girls’ personal struggles, particularly Shirase’s pursuit of her lost mother, can be hard going at times. However, the writers make sure to balance each note of grief with plenty of comedy and charisma—most episodes made me both laugh and cry, and I know the rest of the AniFem staff who watched Place Further had similar experiences.
This is a rare anime you could show someone who is not an anime fan without the need for caveats or lengthy explanations. These 13 episodes tell a complete story that is an absolute pleasure to watch.
Feminist-friendly favorite: Dee
What’s it about? Classical composers are reborn in the modern era, where they goof around, wax poetic about gyoza, and use the supernatural power of “Musik” to help out their high school landlady, Kanae.
Content Warning: Mild bawdy and sophomoric humor (fart jokes, mostly); comedic violence (teens/adults); shipteasing between minors and adults (played for comedy, and nothing comes of it)
Oh look, Dee’s shouting about the wacky composer cartoon. Must be Tuesday…
After a somewhat lackluster start, ClassicaLoid’s second season built into another strong run of episodes that once again excellently balanced the silly and the sincere. Between western homages, a Hippo/iPad road trip, and the world’s greatest usage of a classic portrait, the season also explored its characters’ insecurities, desires, and their relationships with both music and one another. The series climax is a magnificent merger of shounen and shoujo story beats, complete with last-minute power-ups and saving the day with your feelings, and its focus on family puts a surprisingly heartwarming capstone on the series.
While this second season isn’t quite as low-key progressive as the first (and dips into the “women dream of getting married” well a smidge too much), it still features a fantastic female cast who get to be just as cool, angry, or goofy as the boys, and there’s a fascinating undercurrent about the fine line between artistic influence and appropriation (a subject which I am in no way qualified to write about, but would love to commission a piece from someone who is!).
To conclude: ClassicaLoid is goofy and genuine and smart and dumb, and I loved the hell out of it. Please, Sunrise, hit us with a Season 3. Me and the 12 other people who watched it would be ever-so happy if you did.
Problematic favorite: Dee
What’s it about? When Ani, the crown princess of the tiny nation of Inaco, goes to a neighboring country to sign a vital peace treaty, she’s bombarded with idiot pretty-boys and really just wants to get back home—but her politically savvy mother has other plans for her.
Content Warning: Fanservice (teen boys); bawdy comedy (nudity); slapstick violence; one episode features a queerphobic villain
Let’s get the big negative out of the way: DamePri is a “problematic” fave almost exclusively because of the last 10 minutes of Episode 8, which features a gay pedophile villain who is played for laughs. It’s very bad and I hated it a lot, and I’ll completely understand if that’s an automatic deal-breaker for some folks.
Past that, though, this is a light-hearted, at times gleefully stupid comedy that lovingly parodies otome game and harem tropes. The boys are trash—self-centered, egotistical, flirtatious, ditzy—but not predatory (with the occasional exception of Mare, who slides into creepy possessiveness in later episodes). For the most part, they’re endearingly obnoxious and entertaining in their interactions, both with Ani and one another.
But, really, DamePri is on this list because of Ani, an immensely enjoyable female protagonist who knows how to be diplomatic but also when to put her foot down. She’s spirited and capable, both a pitch-perfect “straight man” to the boys and an awkward goofball in her own right. While I do wish the series had given her more to do in the final arc, it still does a smart job of playing to otome story beats without dameseling its heroine and leaves her in a position of equal authority when the curtain closes.
DamePri was not a perfect anime by any means. It struggled to develop its characters beyond their initial joke personas, fell back on tasteless or harmful humor at times, and rushed through its dramatic plot points too quickly for the beats to really land. Still, it got at least one solid laugh out of me every week (and often more, as with that inspired hot springs episode), and overall I had a fun time with it. If you enjoy silly, genre-savvy shoujo comedies and competent female protagonists who are 1000% Done with all these dumb dudes, you likely will, too.
Problematic favorite: Vrai
What’s it about? In a world where demons merge with other beings to ensure their own existence, sensitive “crybaby” Akira is pulled by his mysterious friend Ryo into uncovering the powers and potential of human-demon hybrids.
Content Warning: Graphic violence (toward children and adults); body horror; animal death; nudity (adults and teens); sexual assault; explicit consensual sex; disturbing themes
I’ve discussed crybaby a lot this season, from talking out its shortcomings to writing about director Yuasa’s largely successful attempt to recast an almost 50-year-old manga as a modern, progressive story. I’ll direct you there for a more thorough dissection, but I wanted to give the series one last hurrah before it goes.
There is a steep difficulty curve for engaging with this show. Its first episode begins with an engaging explosion, but a lot of the first half drags its heels indulging in the exploitation of its female main characters: finding excuses to strip them naked, necessitate their rescue, or frame them as (frequently unwilling) sexual objects for the viewer to ogle.
It’s unpleasant, unnecessary, and mimics the also scattershot early chapters of the manga (when Nagai had no idea what he was going to do) for no good reason. Also the monsters are overwhelmingly categorized by their monstrous femininity in the early going—lotta vagina dentata on display, to the point where “blatant fear of female sexuality” still feels like an applicable tag for the series.
I am not about to tell you that you “need” to tough out the first part of the series if it’s making you uncomfortable. That mentality serves exactly no one. But I will say that around Episode 6 or so the show figures out what the hell it wants to do. It uses its horror elements to critique the fear of young people, outsiders, and the marginalized in modern-day Japan, and its grotesquerie begins to feel smartly applied rather than pure spectacle. It gathers its outsiders—queer teens, a mixed-race family, and discontented teen rappers—and makes them the sympathetic center of a well-told tragedy.
It’s far from a perfect work of art (no matter what Twitter tells you), but it’s ambitious and undeniably gorgeous, and it’s continued to stay with me long after I finished watching.
Surprise favorite: Dee, Lauren, Vrai
What’s it about? Sora Kashiwagi’s father is constantly sending him cursed objects from expeditions around the world. This time, however, Sora opens a package to discover a cute, diminutive mummy in need of care.
Content Warning: Brief scene of an adult coming onto a minor (played for comedy, never brought up again); some violence toward children and (supernatural) animals
IT CUTE, Y’ALL.
I’m not the kind of person who normally enjoys iyashikei (healing) shows, but for whatever reason the cute supernatural pets of Mummy were exactly the weekly balm I needed. Those who have pets themselves will likely enjoy watching these good teens go through the panic and heart-melt of realizing you’re responsible for a small, fragile living creature that adores you. The “awws” are many but never feel cloying, and the supernatural creatures generally act more like animals than mascots.
For the most part the stakes are low—you know there’s going to be some peril but everyone will be okay. That said, the show doesn’t shy away from darker emotions, either (there’s a scene between two younger versions of the leads that’s practically beat for beat the opening of DEVILMAN crybaby), which elevates it from “cute and inoffensive” to “surprisingly well-written and also freakin’ cute.”
The lessons the show touches on aren’t world-shaking—it’s important to rely on others, being tsundere isn’t cute so much as it gets in the way of honest communication, friends come from unexpected places—but they’re well-conveyed by way of a likable cast and bright, round visuals. There are one or two borderline-obnoxious cast members, but fortunately they have very little screen time and in no way detract from a pleasant, worthwhile watch.
Surprise favorite: Dee, Peter
What’s it about? Transfer student Nadeshiko learns the joys of camping after she meets solo camper Rin. As the two explore their shared hobby in different ways, they grow closer with each other and their fellow classmates.
Content Warning: Slightly mean-spirited slapstick in the premiere; mild nudity (bathing scenes; not sexualized)
The end of the winter season saw Laid-Back Camp’s ascension to form the Holy Trinity of perfect healing anime along with the two other paragons of the genre, Tanaka-kun is Always Listless and flying witch. It’s inviting, fun, and inoffensive, allowing the viewer to let their guard down and simply enjoy the show for what it is: a cozy series about girls who like to camp.
Laid-Back Camp managed to keep its premise fun, and even informative, through its full 12-episode run, concluding with a finale that was genuinely touching. Despite a few standout narrative shows this season, I think I looked forward to each episode of Laid-Back Camp the most for it’s reliability—20 minutes of pure enjoyment, no strings attached.
Slice-of-life shows can be hit-or-miss, sometimes lagging in the middle, and many that feature all-female casts contain questionable framing or outright fanservice, but Laid-Back Camp never betrayed my trust, keeping things clean and comfy. I don’t often rewatch shows, but I rewatched this entire series once at the halfway point and again three-quarters of the way into the season. You can share it with anyone, free of caveats. I wish more slice-of-life anime could be this good.
Surprise favorite: Amelia
What’s it about? Teased as a child for liking “girly” Sanrio toys, high schooler Hasegawa Kouta has always hidden that part of himself—until he meets other high school boys who are just as fond of the cute characters as he is.
Content Warning: Fanservice (teen boys)
None of us expected the Hello Kitty toy commercial to be the show challenging ideas of masculinity, but we covered that shocker in the premiere review. What’s really surprised me is how much care and attention went into giving these Sanrio-loving boys some decent growth.
I’m a sucker for character development, and that’s what Sanrio Boys is all about. The front half shows each boy struggling in some way to be true to himself, helping each other to break down walls (often relating to the trappings of traditional masculinity) so they can become their more authentic selves and better friends with one another. The second half shows the results of that as the boys work together to put on a play, while main character Kouta deals with his insecurities about being outshone and dispensable.
There are certainly places where the series could have pushed harder on its themes. There are moments and storylines with obvious queer readings, particularly the relationship between student council president Seiichirou and half-British underclassman Ryo, but these moments are stacked more in the first half and never cross into the realm of explicit representation. Similarly, the characters’ fears that their “unmanly” interests will have negative social consequences prove to be completely misplaced, and that concern is dropped entirely in the second half.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect to enjoy the “Let’s all put on a show!” second half, and stopped watching until the finale. I’m pleased to say that I was wrong—not only did I enjoy this arc when I eventually marathoned it, but the final scene made me laugh out loud. I finished it with a hankering to rewatch from the start and see their friendship form once again, and I’m confident I’ll enjoy it just as much—if not more—the second time through.
Problematic favorite: Amelia
What’s it about? When their parents are killed in a plane crash, middle-schooler Ryuichi and his baby brother Kotaro are left all alone to fend for themselves. Luckily, the chairwoman of the prestigious Morinomiya Academy offers to take them in… on the condition that Ryuichi work in the school’s daycare, looking after the teachers’ toddlers.
Content Warning: Bereavement; pedophilia; hitting children played for laughs
As someone with much younger siblings, School Babysitters hit very close to home for me. Our own Caitlin has talked about how School Babysitters gets children right, and it resonated with my own memories of my siblings as toddlers. Ryuichi’s quiet grief over the loss of their parents adds depth and legitimate darkness to this otherwise fluffy tale of a schoolboy, his baby brother, and their well-intentioned friends.
About that, though… one of those friends is a pedophile. There is no ambiguity. It is played for laughs. He’s a minor character who pops up infrequently, but his very existence in this story is jarring enough that it would be a reasonable deal-breaker. He adds nothing to the story but discomfort, and School Babysitters could only be improved by his wholesale removal from the narrative. There’s also a father so protective of his small daughter that he doesn’t even want her to have male daycare workers, and a teenager who routinely bops his toddler brother on the head to discipline him—but really, once you hit “beloved comedy pedophile,” all other problematic elements pale by comparison.
Other than that baffling and horrifying cast addition, I looked forward to School Babysitters every week. Ryuichi is a sweet (and readable as ace/aro) protagonist, prevented from being cloying by the rich cast of supporting characters surrounding him with different attitudes towards small children.
From daycare worker Usaida’s teasing nonchalance to strict class representative Inomata’s unintentional tsundere approach, Ryuichi often works well as a straight man to the comic antics around him, all led by a group of believable toddlers. I would have preferred them to be voiced by actual children, like Tsumugi in last year’s Sweetness & Lightning—but, again, once you hit “get rid of the beloved comedy pedophile,” all other potential series improvements pale by comparison.