We talked about three kinds of recommendations:
- Feminist-friendly favorite (you would recommend it to a feminist friend with no caveats)
- Problematic favorite (you would only recommend it to a feminist friend with caveats)
- Surprise favorite (you expected it to have caveats, but actually would recommend it without)
Thanks to a frenetic August Con season, half the team was just too busy to keep up with new series, so if you listened to the summer wrap-up podcast this list will sound mighty familiar to you. Like we did last season, we had everyone name the shows they’d want to recommend to our AniFam and then divvied up the write-ups among the staff. (Er, except for Made in Abyss, which was thorny enough that we all decided to weigh in.) The series are organized alphabetically below, along with the staff members who named it as a “favorite” and a brief review.
Here’s what the team thought—let us know your picks in the comments!
Surprise favorite: Dee, Vrai
Despite having a premise that sounds rife for exploitation—the school’s soccer ace is also severely germaphobic—Aoyama-kun wound up being a great example of the Nice Comedy genre. The core cast is understanding of Aoyama’s compulsions and the episodic shenanigans are about building a character up or, at most, gently ribbing them. It’s a low-stakes character piece that let me spend time every week with a cast I liked.
The show’s format of focusing on a different character every episode is something of a double-edged sword, since it keeps introducing new cast members almost all the way to the end rather than giving more time to the characters we’ve grown to like. The beach episode is also, as always, the worst one: it’s the most egregious fanservice episode (which is still fairly minimal) and strains the show’s tone somewhat. But overall this was an unexpected treat that provided one of the most empathetic portrayals of mental illness I’ve seen in anime (and, for OCD, in media period).
Problematic favorite: Dee, Peter, Vrai
Easily the most fascinating anime of the season, Made in Abyss featured a complete setting both mysterious and deadly. The production was excellent from direction, to background art, to one of the most impressive musical scores of the year. There were definitely problems, specifically in regards to an excess of child nudity and bodily functions. Although, save for a few choice scenes, the framing wasn’t sexual, the sheer amount of occurrences raise some uncomfortable questions.
That said, the series features a strong female cast and two non-cis characters that were handled respectfully. It absolutely nailed the landing as well, a culmination of the building existential narratives with a heartbreaking conclusion.
As Peter, noted, Abyss‘s biggest problem is that, in exploring its themes of “de-romanticizing adventure narratives,” “descending into the natural world,” and “coming to terms with your own mortality” (all Good Themes, by the way) it over-uses certain devices, particularly nudity, to the point where it feels fetishistic or skeevy. It’s a relatively small amount of time in the series all told, but it’s a persistent issue and uncomfortable when it happens, and I’d completely understand if it was a deal-breaker for folks.
The thing is? I really, really like this show. I think the cast is packed with well-realized individuals with unique strengths and goals, including two badass adult female mentors, a determined female protagonist, and two sympathetic (if not outright lovable) gender-ambiguous characters. I think Riko’s cleverness and willpower are an inspiration, and while I understand if folks are disappointed that she isn’t a warrior-figure, I also kinda hate the idea that people can’t be both admirable and non-combatants. Also, the finale turned me into a puddle of tears. I’m deeply invested in the characters’ relationships and their stories, and chomping at the bit for a Season 2. My Fave Is Problematic, indeed.
Like everyone else, I’ve got complicated feelings about the show (and I think I’ve been the most vocal in complaining about them). The series has beautiful visual design, lovable characters, and some really fantastic body horror. I’d say we’re all in agreement that the use of bodily functions and, to an extent, the nudity is used excessively enough to read as fetish bait. Not everyone is going to be bothered by the fiddlier things about the adaptation (like the line between Riko being believably vulnerable versus how much it dips into making her an object for Reg’s distress), and that’s fine.
I’ve made a little litmus test that I think encapsulates my feelings on the series’ “good intentions/interesting ideas, troubling implications” pattern using one of the manga-ka’s tweets which stated: “The gender of Nanachi is unknown. When Nanachi was a human being, there was a gender, but it has not been revealed.”
To wit: you confirmed that Nanachi is genderless! Yay, there aren’t very many genderless characters, and Nanachi is great! You also implied that they became genderless specifically in conjunction with the loss of their humanity, thereby (no doubt unintentionally) connecting being agendered with being animalistic/less than human! Hey, maybe don’t do that (especially when Nanachi’s human design doesn’t read as gendered at all, nor do they gender themself)! Thus goes the eternal tug of war in my head with this show that, for all my issues with it, I still really, really want to see more of.
Problematic favorite: Dee, Peter
Although the previous season’s sports festival was an emotional high note for the series, My Hero Academia continues to push one of the strongest narratives in shounen. The Stain arc set the stage for the larger societal conflicts, pitting heroes against villains in a manner less reductive than good versus evil by including themes about the societally privileged versus the disenfranchised.
The following arc featured many of the female members of the cast bouncing back from their poor sports festival performance with proactive participation when pitted against their teachers. Unfortunately, this season also hit some of the lowest lows of the series, with female heroes stereotypically “catfighting” and an excess of Mineta acting as a blight upon the story. MHA remains imperfect, but for me at least, its strengths far outweigh its weaknesses.
Feminist-friendly favorite: Vrai
Surprise favorite: Dee
PrinPal is one of the summer season’s underrated gems. Being licensed by Anime Strike made it unfortunately inaccessible for a lot of folks, while others were put off by the moe sameface art design (a decision that, in the show’s defense, is an actual plot point). But those who gave it a look were rewarded with a fantastic aesthetic, a jazzy soundtrack, and strong character writing about relationships between women—both platonic and romantic—while also providing very minimal fanservice (and even then, never from the underage characters). Dee wrote up a great encapsulation of the show at its episodic best, and the romance between Charlotte and Ange forms the heart of the overall series.
The show does suffer from biting off more than it can chew. While the characters all grow and have satisfying arcs, the actual political conspiracy trips on itself once it has to move into the forefront, introducing a new antagonist at the last minute and not actually wrapping up any of the larger concerns about the totally-not-Berlin Wall. It badly needs a second season for that element, and none has thus far been confirmed. Still, if you’re all right with character building that comes at the expense of plot, I can’t recommend this more highly.
Feminist-friendly favorite: Dee
Talk about a slow burn that rewards its audience for their patience. Over the course of its run, Sakura Quest went from “it’s fine I guess” to “I’m so invested in these characters that I teared up during the finale.” Easily the most consistent show of the season, Sakura Quest quietly builds its characters, their arcs, and their relationships with one another organically over 24 episodes, slowly endearing the audience not just to the journeys of the five main women, but to the various shopkeepers, bus drivers, and artists that call Manoyama home.
The central narrative also ends up being quite strong, exploring multiple thematic throughlines—the tension between change, tradition, and stagnation; the importance of cultural understanding and cultural exchange; and the conflict between childhood dreams and adult realities—through its characters’ personal struggles and triumphs. It’s a low-key and gradual build-up, but it develops into a smart, emotionally satisfying story centered around great female characters and friendships, and I’d happily recommend it to others.