Dee, Caitlin, and Peter check-in on the Summer 2018 season!
Recorded: Saturday 26th August 2018
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, Peter
0:01:10 How Not to Summon a Demon Lord
0:04:20 The Master of Ragnarok & Blesser of Einejehar
0:11:35 Angels of Death
0:13:35 We Rent Tsukumogami
0:16:41 Holmes of Kyoto
0:16:55 Harukana Receive
0:20:33 Asobi Asobase
0:33:08 Planet With
0:41:39 Cells at Work!
0:46:07 100 Sleeping Princes
1:03:29 Revue Starlight
1:06:08 Phantom in the Twilight
DEE: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. I’m Dee, the managing editor at AniFem. I also run the blog The Josei Next Door, and you can find me on Twitter @joseinextdoor. And I’m joined today by Caitlin and Peter. Would you guys like to introduce yourselves?
CAITLIN: Hi, I’m Caitlin. I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as writing for The Daily Dot and my own blog, I Have a Heroine Problem.
PETER: And I’m Peter Fobian. I’m an associate features editor at Crunchyroll and a contributor and editor at Anime Feminist.
DEE: And today, we are doing our mid-season review chat about the summer 2018 anime season. I’ve somewhat lovingly been calling it The Season of the Problematic Faves.
DEE: I’ve been enjoying it, but I think that there will be a lot on here that we’ll be critiquing as well as praising, so it should be a fun time. We have a lot of shows to get through, so we’ll just jump right into it, especially since Peter is watching everything, as per usual. So, we’re actually starting at pretty much the bottom of our list, which is very unusual. How Not to Summon a Demon Lord. Peter, you are keeping up with this hot mess, aren’t you?
PETER: Oh, yeah. Super popular, by the way. Just so you know.
CAITLIN: That’s not surprising.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, I try not to think about that.
PETER: Yeah. It’s pretty bad. I feel like there’s not much more to say about the problematic stuff in Demon Lord that wasn’t covered when we were talking about Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody. I think all these isekai slave anime cover this same ground where these women are very enthusiastic about being enslaved so long as their owner is nice and come to value the fact that they’re owned because it’s a connection to this person that they admire. And it’s pretty gross.
In Demon Lord’s case, it feels a little bit worse because it has very high production values, really good animation, and it actually does scratch around the surface of some good writing, which is why it might have gotten treatment than, say, Parallel World Rhapsody. There are the beginnings of some really interesting plot ideas that just are not really explored. The main character actually has an interesting thing going on with him, but next to a bunch of sexual assault and slavery jokes, it either doesn’t get time or you just can’t appreciate character development for a guy who is having a nice time owning several women.
Yeah. Slavery isekai is still bad, as it turns out.
DEE: I hate that it’s an entire genre. I think that’s what’s killing me. You’re like, “You know, these slavery isekai,” so I’m like, “God, that’s a genre now!” We have to engage with the fact that that is a genre.
I just want y’all to know I’ve been reading a light novel that is by no means perfect, but half of the main arc was the protagonists were taking down a slave trade ring. So, it’s not all bad.
PETER: Light novels are not all bad? [chuckles]
DEE: Yeah, light novels are not all about slavery being good. I’m reading one where slavery is bad!
PETER: Thank God.
DEE: They have cleared the bar that we set on the ground.
CAITLIN: Or the wonderful antebellum myth is like, “Slavery isn’t all bad so long as, you know, you’re nice to them.” It just makes me think of all of those pre-Civil War cartoons that I saw in my history book that are like, “Oh, yeah. No, slavery is cool because without it they would be out freezing, and with it they have a warm place to sleep and food.” And it’s like, no, that’s not…
DEE: It’s like, no, you are completely robbed of agency.
PETER: Yeah. Demon Lord, it is very open about the fact that it’s a male power fantasy and basically kind of a not-quite-porno.
DEE: Yeah, I have heard that. It’s not like it tries to pretend, so you know what you’re getting from day one.
PETER: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s not really hiding what it is, where I think Death March was a bit more insidious, maybe. And I’ve heard rumblings about what Rising Shield Hero will be like.
CAITLIN: Oh, yeah. I read some summaries of that.
DEE: [crosstalk] We’re bracing ourselves for that one.
CAITLIN: It’s real bad.
DEE: Well, I think that’s probably all we have to say about that one. Speaking of light novels at the bottom of our list here, Master of Ragnarok &… I don’t know the rest of the title. It’s long. Peter, you’re watching that one, too, huh?
PETER: Yeah. Blesser of Einherjar. That one’s kind of similar. It doesn’t really have slavery, I would say. There’s a lot of warring, maybe Roman-era clans, and they do this thing where if you conquer a clan, you do this Oath of the Chalice where you become family members. In negotiations, you basically decide if you’re going to be their kid or their sibling. And “sibling” means you’re in equal relationship. If you’re their kid, they can order you around. The main character is stuck in this world. He’s in love with his younger sister back in the real world, trying to get back to her.
DEE: Oh. So, his actual sister?
PETER: Yeah, his real-life sister.
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, Lord.
PETER: He’s got a cell phone, of course, so every once in a while they call each other and he tells her what’s going on as a way to exposit his current character struggles. So, he is introducing modern technology to his clan, using his cell phone to find out all these genius Sun Tzu strategies. And when he conquers other clans, he makes the person join his family rather than killing them off because he doesn’t want to hurt anybody. So, he collects a bunch of siblings and younger sisters because of course all the other clans are led by women.
CAITLIN: Of course.
PETER: Even though it’s otherwise a pretty patriarchal society. Just happenstance, I guess.
CAITLIN: It’s really… I listen to you describe it, and it’s like there’s just a grab bag of light novel isekai tropes, and they just reach in and pull one out. It’s like, “Ah! In love with his little sister. Okay. Now what else? Ah! He has a cell phone.” It’s like, oh! [chuckles]
DEE: Yeah, hearing you talk about it, I’m like, “I think this aired like three seasons ago, didn’t it?”
PETER: Yeah, I would say it’s… I don’t know. In Another World with My Smartphone… I didn’t get too far. I don’t think it had slavery in it. [chuckles] This one does have slavery. He buys two slaves, but he just wants to free them.
PETER: And then they end up working at his castle or whatever.
DEE: So, he does free them and then they decide to stay there?
PETER: Yeah, he basically says, “You’re not really my slave.” He just saw them being sold on the market, and actually I think he was kind of disgusted with the slave trade, but it’s not something he thinks he can deal with right now.
In the last episode, he decided to create compulsory education so that he could give the bottom rung of society means to rise up and raise the overall capability and intelligence of his clan. I mean, there’s slavery in the world, but I don’t think he’s really participating in it.
PETER: The way it’s portraying him as a character—
DEE: Sorry, I’m just thinking of that bar that we set on the ground. [laughs] I’m thinking of this one walking over it, and I’m like, “Congrats?” [laughs]
PETER: I mean, if you’re going to do an isekai and it is supposed to be a harsh world that has slavery, I would appreciate a story where maybe somebody manages to get rid of it or something. That’d be neat.
DEE: Yeah, that’s why the one I’m reading—
PETER: Eh, I don’t think I would trust somebody to write that either because they’d probably make it very like “Person comes in and fixes everything.” It’s like the white savior kind of thing.
DEE: Oh, I’m sure it would— Well, it wouldn’t be a white person, but it’s functionally the same equivalent. It’s like, “Group in power comes in and saves all the poor marginalized folks,” because they would definitely be women. So, yeah, I think there’d probably be issues no matter what. But I guess that’s that. Anything else you wanna note about that one?
PETER: I guess the essence of the show is that they’re not slaves, but it does seem like they are all subordinate to him, and the girls of course all fall in love with him and get into ecchi situations. So, I wouldn’t say it’s too far off, but I will say that the character does not personally own slaves. So, if that’s the rung you fall off on, then it has been cleared, I guess.
DEE: [chuckles] Well, okay then. Next up… Let’s try to go through these ones towards the end because I think we’ll have some genuine discussions as we get further up the list. Island. You’re keeping up with this one, as well.
PETER: I know there were a lot of concerns going into it. I guess he starts dating Rinne. It’s gotten really weird actually. You know how there’s three girls? It doesn’t seem like Sara and Karen are actually romantic interests in any way. They each have [their] own subplot, both regarding their mothers, that he helps resolve. Mostly it’s them taking action and he’s just along for the ride.
Karen’s mom left the island and she always felt abandoned. And she kept reading this book by this male author that her mom read, that had this line in it about grabbing your destiny. So, her whole subplot is… Her father is very domineering. They both escape the island together, go to Japan to where she knows her mother is. They arrive and it’s a gravestone.
PETER: But then they meet this person who worked with her mom. It turned out she was a marine geologist and she’d left the island because she wanted to continue her research. And the book she was always reading was one that she had written under a male name. All of her books were published under a male name because women aren’t respected in that field. And so, she learns that her mom was a very intelligent scientist that wanted to continue doing her work rather than become a housewife. So, it’s a little bit surprising in that way.
It’s got into weird time travel stuff, and I guess the main character— I can’t remember how old he is, but he is dating Rinne at this point. It’s not as bad as we thought it was, and I don’t think it’s done a lot of the sexual stuff, except for one joke in, like, the third episode.
DEE: So, it kinda frontloaded that stuff and then backed off from it as it went?
PETER: Yeah, there’s really been no sexual content between characters. Karen and Sara, they don’t seem to be romantic interests, and it’s just about this guy and this weird fated romance thing he has with Rinne that involves time travel. It’s still hard to say where it’s going at this point, but I do think they took the harem aspect out and actually injected some cool personal stories regarding the side girls with their mothers.
DEE: [crosstalk] Island, I think, is based on a visual novel, so it kind of tracks that if the anime adaptation wanted to tell one route but also touch on the other two, that you’d get those personal arcs without the romantic element. Which, to me, if you’re gonna adapt a visual novel, that’s probably the best way to do it.
PETER: Usually, though, it’s pretty clear that all the characters do have a romantic interest in the character even though it doesn’t pursue that route. In this one, I don’t think Sara and Karen are interested. They don’t care. In that way I think it’s better because it makes one romance and it just takes the other two out and just focuses on their own plots, divorced of the romance, which I think is maybe a step up to most adaptations like that I’ve seen.
DEE: Yeah, that doesn’t sound too bad. Well, that’s good to know that the red flags we had on that one weren’t quite as dire as we had worried they would be.
You’re also keeping up with Angels of Death, which I know Vrai had attempted to keep up with and dropped it at our three-episode check-in. So, how is it continuing?
PETER: I actually really like it. [chuckles] It’s really cool.
DEE: Do you?
PETER: Yeah. I thought it was gonna be a dark kind of psychological horror. And it definitely has that, but it’s also kind of a buddy-cop comedy thing. They’re going through these floors, each of them controlled by a serial killer, and Rachel and Zack are working together but they’re both kind of idiots.
PETER: But in different ways. So, they keep arguing about weird stuff. She really wants Zack to kill her, but Zack can’t get excited about killing somebody if she’s completely monotone and stuff; they gotta be afraid or something. There’s a lot of innuendo regarding getting your rocks off. So, she tries to make facial expressions for him and he’s just like, “I just can’t get excited” [chuckles] or something like that.
And then there’s a floor where this other guy was willing to kill Rachel, but Zack had promised to kill her, so she says, “Zack’s the only one for me.” And Zack’s like, “I guess you got dumped,” and then kills the guy. I don’t know. It’s just really weird humor of this really belligerent serial killer and this really smart girl.
DEE: It sounds kind of gleefully trashy.
PETER: Yeah, it kind of reminds me of Dorohedoro or Golden Kamuy, where everybody’s serial killers but they’re so goofy you don’t really take the serial killer aspect seriously, and you’re just along for the ride as these two idiots are trying to solve all these video game puzzles. And then there’s a little bit of psychological horror in there. But it’s mostly a comedy to me, actually.
DEE: Mm-hm. Whether intentionally or not?
PETER: Yeah. I don’t think there’s many problematic aspects. I know I said there’s innuendo about sex and stuff, but I don’t think they really lean into that, so it’s not like it’s all about sex or anything. So, it’s remarkably clean for all that, too. They really didn’t even have much death until later on. Funny series. Good comedy.
DEE: [chuckles] The horror comedy. The slasher comedy, I guess.
Well, Peter, you get to take a short break because the next show, going up the list, is We Rent Tsukumogami, which you and Caitlin are not keeping up with and I am. I don’t have a lot more to add past what I said in the three-episode check-in. I’m kind of enjoying it. It’s my isekai of the season.
Every episode is basically: somebody has a problem or there’s a mystery they need to solve and they use the tsukumogami in their shop to basically plant them in the location where they need to hear and see what’s going on, and then the tsukumogami comes back and reports to their buddies. And throughout it, you learn a little bit more about each of the different characters.
And everything with the tsukumogami is really cute and fun, and I like all of them a lot, and everything with the humans is kind of bland and boring. They keep trying to assure me that the main girl is super interesting and has a great personality, but she doesn’t really get to do anything. And then—this is the part that I kept bringing up in comments—her adopted brother has a giant crush on her.
DEE: Here’s the thing. In the context… And the more I read up on this, the more I see what’s happening here, but I totally understand why a modern-day audience would find this super creepy.
Basically, they were adopted as teenagers or young adults; had never even met each other before then. And this was a fairly common practice in Edo Japan because in a lot of places, family lines were through the boys, so if you didn’t have any boys in your family, it was basically a loophole. Like, “Oh, well, we’ll just adopt in the second son from some other family whose prospects aren’t great, and now they’ll be the head of this family.” And it wasn’t terribly uncommon.
It wasn’t super common, but it wasn’t considered weird for the person you quote-unquote “adopted” in… was basically the fiancé of your daughter. You just adopted them so they would be the head of the family, so you could continue your family line through them. Again, it was a weird loophole to deal with some patriarchal bullshit. And that’s functionally what the series is playing with—but again, totally understand if a modern audience looks at that and goes, “Oh, gross. No, can’t deal with that.”
But my bigger problem with it is he’s very possessive without ever actually telling her how he feels about her.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Aw, I hate that.
DEE: So, he comes across as very obnoxious. He’s not super aggressive. He’s just passive-aggressive to any guy who shows an interest in her. And it’s implied that she has a crush on this other guy who has vanished off the face of the earth and they’re trying to figure out where he is. But she spends most of the story sitting in the background, and he spends a lot of the story being very paggro about everything.
And so the humans are not fun, and it takes the enjoyment out of the show because, again, I really like the stuff with the tsukumogami. I think the little one-off stories and the different characters are really fun. So, it’s one of those where I’ll probably finish it, but it’s not one that I get excited about every week. Truthfully, I’m kinda just watching it for the little tidbits of Edo history because I find that interesting. So, that’s where we are with Tsukumogami.
Next on the list, I talked about Holmes of Kyoto. I got through three episodes. I never came back to it, so if anyone wants to read about that, it’s in our three-episode check-in.
Now we’re starting to get into the shows that more than one of us is watching. Next one up is Harukana Receive. Peter, you’re watching this, and so am I.
DEE: Yeah, get us started.
PETER: I almost don’t know what to say about it. It’s kind of the very lighthearted mirror to Hanebado!, I feel, the two all-female net sport anime this season. It’s really bright and cheery, kind of a light fanservice show where the girls are in bikinis and stuff, but it’s not really sexual or they don’t act very sexual. I don’t know if it’s trying to have the best-of-both-worlds kind of thing. I think the volleyball stuff in and of itself is pretty good, and the characters are all very… It’s very like an iyashikei, except there’s a competitive element.
DEE: Yeah, it has that upbeat vibe that… Peter, I don’t know if you’ve watched Haikyuu!! or Yowamushi Pedal.
DEE: But to me, it has that same kind of upbeat, optimistic… teams coming together and partners forming bonds, and “Now we’re gonna try our hardest and do our best.” And it has very much that kind of optimistic feel to it.
I think sport series often tend to slot into either that category or the Hanebado [category], which we’ll talk about later. I’m a huge fan of this chipper sport genre. I adore Haikyuu and I get similar vibes from Harukana Receive.
So, it’s the first of the ones on this list that I would consider a problematic fave because, like you said, there is definitely fanservice. It doesn’t really go away. I think it helps that it’s all pretty bright and upfront. There’s some skeevy camera angles in a couple of episodes, but otherwise it’s like a little boob bounce here. And sometimes it’s honestly kind of funny, like when they’re looking for swimsuits and Haruka gets excited because hers has ruffles on it, and she’s like, “Look! When I jump, the ruffles bounce!” And it zooms in on her boobs bouncing and I’m like, “Okay, that was kinda silly.”
So, it doesn’t really bother me, and I think it helps that— The most recent series that I can semi-compare it to would maybe be Keijo!!!!!!!!, which was obviously ridiculous but was also in that vein of a sports anime with fanservice in it. But what ended up killing Keijo for me was the nonconsensual groping nonsense that started coming up with some of the girls, and this doesn’t have any of that.
The relationships between the girls are all very positive and nice and supportive, so the little bits of boob or butt shots I can roll my eyes at and just move past. And obviously, not everybody can do that, but I’m enjoying it a lot. I watched the latest episode this morning, and the ending made me have some feelings about some of the characters, so it’s definitely endeared me to its cast.
PETER: I think it’s really lighthearted and goofy. I think the only part where I was like “Eh” was when the girl slapped her sister’s butt after they scored. But I get what you’re saying. They’re open with the fact that they’re not wearing much clothes. What was the comment Haruka said? She’s like, “I noticed the other girl’s suit was pretty cheeky,” or something like that. Is that what she said?
DEE: Uh-huh. Yeah, I think that was the word.
PETER: Yeah. So, they sort of recognize it’s like that, but I guess that’s sort of the truth of the situation, too. I’m enjoying it. I think the characters are funny. When they get into sports, it’s really about the sport at that point, and I think it does some cool stuff.
DEE: Yeah, it treats the matches seriously and I appreciate that a lot. If you watch the first episode and the fanservice isn’t an automatic dealbreaker for you, the rest of the show is pretty much that, so I think you could keep up with it and have a good time.
Next on our list of problematic faves, which all three of us are watching: Asobi Asobase. Caitlin, you haven’t gotten a chance to talk yet.
CAITLIN: I haven’t!
DEE: Why don’t you kick us off here?
CAITLIN: [chuckles] All right. Asobi Asobase is pretty much just a crass, rude, occasionally gross comedy featuring three really, really dumb teenage girls. It is a little bit like Always Sunny without them being as malicious. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I mean.
It has some really inspired sketches. All the episodes are made up of five-minute sketches. It varies from “Inspired” to “Oh, no, no, don’t do that! That’s not funny. Don’t try to figure out if this character is trans. No. Stop.” But yeah, it’s just been a lot of fun seeing these three complete idiots goof around and be dumb.
DEE: Yeah, I think there are some genuine moments of brilliance in Asobi Asobase. One of my favorites is the sketch they have about “How does sex work?”
DEE: And the general concept there is everybody is either too embarrassed to talk about it or their school system has completely failed them, because they haven’t discussed this at all in health class.
First of all, it was just hilarious. And then also, I thought it was one of the sketches that flirted with actual social commentary about what a joke the sex ed in schools is. And I’ve seen that come up in some of the biographical manga that I’ve read. My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness and The Bride Was a Boy both talk about that, too—about how sex ed in school does not really prepare you for a lot of things.
And it sucks because I feel like the show is very, very close to me being like, “Yeah, it’s crass, but it’s always laughing in the right direction.” It’s very close to me being able to wholeheartedly recommend it to people if they enjoy that style of humor. But then, like you said, the transphobic bit is really bad. And it sucks that I have to highlight that moment anytime I talk about it and let people know, “Hey, this is the thing that happens, so just be aware going in. It’s pretty rough.” And I could see it being legitimately triggering for some people.
CAITLIN: Right. To continue the It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia comparison, it’s like anything having to do with the character Carmen, who is—
DEE: Can you go into that a little bit?
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, Carmen is a trans woman in It’s Always Sunny. And her depiction is a little bit more complicated because she seems like a very cool person and everyone else in It’s Always Sunny is a trash fire. But the Always Sunny characters are very transphobic towards her. It doesn’t help that her character entered when they were a little bit more realistically terrible instead of over-the-top terrible.
And so, I know trans people who are not upset by how she is on the show, but at the same time I know others who are really hurt by it. And the jokes are sometimes at her expense, but they’re more at the expense of the main characters and their ignorance. So, it’s a little bit more complicated.
DEE: Yeah. The first bit in Asobi Asobase with that character, I was on the fence where I was like: okay, there’s definitely some bad stuff in here, but at the same time—I’m just gonna go ahead and use “they” because it’s not super clear if this character’s supposed to be trans or not—they disclose to their boyfriend and their boyfriend doesn’t care, and I was like, “Oh, that’s sweet.”
But then the rest of the episode is spent on the girls trying to figure out “But does this girl have a penis?” And it’s like, “It’s none of your fucking business,” is the correct answer here. And they’re shitty. Our main characters are supposed to be shitty, so at that point I was like, “Well, we’re not really supposed to fall in line with them.”
But then the character came back, and the entire quote-unquote “joke” around them is this uncertainty about whether or not they have a penis. And I’m like, “Once again, not your fucking business.” So anytime the character shows up, I get super uncomfortable and just really need that bit to be over because I think about 95% of the show is really fun and really funny, and then there’s that 5% that is just rough.
CAITLIN: Yeah. 100% agree.
DEE: Peter, you’ve been quiet. Anything you want to add?
PETER: I pretty much agree with the full assessment that… Yeah. I do want to say that Hina Kino, the voice of… Is it Haruka? Hanako? Hanako, right?
DEE: Hanako? Yeah.
PETER: Yeah. I don’t know why I forgot her name. I think that’s probably one of the most impressive voice acting performances I’ve seen in…
CAITLIN: The three main characters’ voice actors are all relative newcomers, and they’re all killing it.
DEE: They are. Yeah, they are absolutely killing it. The animation is incredible. The delivery, the timing… It’s really fantastic. I’m blanking on the director’s name. He’s done a million things.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Seiji Kishi.
DEE: It’s Seiji Kishi, right? Yeah.
CAITLIN: Right, who I normally don’t really like, but I have to admit he is a pretty strong comedic director when he’s not being homophobic or transphobic.
DEE: Yeah. He did Humanity Has Declined, which is one of my favorite comedies. That was when his name came on my radar, and since then I’ve had kind of a love-hate relationship with him. Yeah, when he’s—
CAITLIN: He did the Persona 4 anime. [chuckles]
DEE: Yeah. He did Yuki Yuna, which I’m still kinda mad about, but we’re not gonna get into that on this podcast because we just don’t want to get into that on this podcast. But yeah, he’s kind of up-and-down, but I do agree. I think comedic timing on this show is very excellent and the voice acting has been tremendous.
CAITLIN: The skit in the newest episode—as of this recording, episode seven—where Hanako accidentally opens up Kasumi’s fanfiction. And afterwards they’re having this very, very awkward talk. And there’s a beat. And then they just both scream and bang their heads against the nearest surface. [chuckles]
DEE: [chuckles] Yes!
CAITLIN: It’s not something that I’ve done, but it’s something I’ve felt.
DEE: Yeah. I think in some ways it holds a mirror up to some of your shittier habits in middle school, and so you’re able to laugh at the girls because— Any time Hanako goes off on popular girls with their makeup and how stupid they are, I’m like, “Yeah, I remember those conversations.”
CAITLIN: But she wants to be one of them so badly.
DEE: Yeah. And it coming from jealousy and this kind of internalized sexism. And the joke is always on her. It’s always like, “Hanako, you’re being a shit right now.” And so, I think most of the time it treads that line very, very well, which I also appreciate.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I have really mixed feelings about Olivia. I think she’s great as a send-up of foreigner characters in most anime and manga. She’s blonde, she’s blue-eyed, but she doesn’t speak English. [chuckles] At all.
PETER: And I loved her pretending to have that American accent. [chuckles] That was good.
CAITLIN: But there are times where they make fun of her body odor, and if I were still living in Japan or I were more fresh from that part of my life… and I mentioned this in one of the previews, but it might sting more than it does, because it’s true: most East Asian people don’t have body odor and most white people do. And it’s really hard to buy deodorant in Japan. [chuckles]
DEE: And see, I had no idea that was a thing until they started making jokes about it in Asobi Asobase. I do think sometimes some of their body jokes… There’s a couple jokes in the first episode that are a bit fatphobic. I do think some of their body jokes lean into being mean spirited. But then the other girls go out of their way to try to make Olivia not feel bad about the fact that she’s stinky.
So, I feel like over the course of this season, they’ve done a good job of getting you to realize that even though these girls are kind of shits to each other, they also genuinely like each other, and I think that’s helped endear me to the characters and keep the show from growing stale as it’s gone forward. So, yeah, again, another one of those problematic faves where I totally understand if the issues are dealbreakers, but I’m definitely enjoying it and it sounds like you guys are, too.
CAITLIN: It is probably one of the strongest “gross girls” comedies to come out because it is just unabashedly like, “These girls are horrible and disgusting,” while rarely being hateful.
DEE: Yeah, and it doesn’t feel sexist to me. It doesn’t feel like, “Oh, look at women, who are all so bad.” It’s like, “No, look at these three trashy kids.” Because then you’ve got these teachers who are actually kind of sweet, or the goth girl in the club who’s genuinely very nice.
PETER: [crosstalk] Ah, she’s my favorite!
DEE: I love her. Yeah. That episode, I was like, “Aw! I found a character I actually want to protect on this show!” And I think that variety of personalities makes it not feel… I don’t know. It’s mean without being mean-spirited. Okay. We’ve talked about that a lot. We could probably spend an entire episode talking about Asobi Asobase, but we have lots of other stuff to cover, so let’s move on.
Okay, I think I’m going to butcher the pronunciation. Angolmois? [Pronounced to rhyme with “voice”]
PETER: Yeah, close enough.
DEE: Angolmois? [Pronounced to rhyme with “boys”]
PETER: Pretty much.
DEE: Peter, you’re watching it. Angolmois. [Pronounced in the French way, rhyming with “Artois”] [chuckles]
CAITLIN: That’s how I’ve been saying it in my head. [chuckles]
PETER: I don’t know. It’s a historic war series. There’s one dominant female character in their group that is supposed to be important, but in more of an inspiring-the-men kind of way, who’s of course fallen for the main character.
Most of it’s just… I wouldn’t say it’s self-congratulatory, like “We fought off the Mongols” kind of thing, because it is looking at how they basically sent prisoners to the island to get killed by Mongols to slow down the Mongols as much as possible, and they’re showing how Japan was actually probably not very ready for the invasion, which I think is good. They didn’t take it seriously or something, or they were gonna sacrifice these prisoners and just hope for the best, and it’s probably really fortunate that that typhoon came through and wrecked that guy’s navy because they would’ve otherwise maybe actually had a successful invasion.
So, I don’t want to say it’s very… what’s that called where it’s glorifying? You know what I’m trying to say, right?
DEE: Sure. Yeah, no, I know what you mean.
PETER: But it is just about war guys fighting, and in that way it’s pretty good. Just in the context of this particular podcast, I’m not sure if there’s too much to say about it. There could be some problematic representations of Caucasian people in it maybe. You remember how in 300, they really showed all the Persian troops to be these weirdos, right?
PETER: Yeah, where they’re trying to “other” the enemies. I think there might be some of that going on, because some of the… I guess they’re supposed to be Caucasian, even though it’s the Mongol horde? Yeah, there’s some weird stuff going on with that.
DEE: Yeah, I don’t know enough about the Mongols at that point in time to know if that’s historically accurate or if they just wanted some blond people in their cast.
PETER: Yeah. But there’s maybe some problematic representations of foreigners in there. Mixed bag.
DEE: Okay. Not one that I was super enthused with, and doesn’t sound like I’ll be going back to it. But if you’re into war stories, doesn’t sound like it’s terrible. Next one, another one that all of us are keeping up with, Planet With.
CAITLIN: Yes! I love Planet With.
DEE: [primly] Tell us why.
PETER: [primly] Go on.
DEE: [primly] Paint a word picture.
PETER: [primly] Planet with what?
CAITLIN: It is this incredible… Most series I don’t think could pull off the pacing that it’s going with. Normally I like it when series have a bit of time to breathe, but it’s so efficient in everything about it.
It’s efficient in the storytelling. It’s efficient in the action. But it’s also efficient in the character building. I feel like, among all the interesting action and the characters talking about their ideals, I have a good sense of who these characters are and what their relationships are, and I can sympathize with them.
And it’s all just perfectly balanced in such a small package. It’s done more in half of a season than most series do in a full cour. And I’m very enthusiastic about it and I love Benika, the woman wearing a suit. [chuckles]
DEE: Yes. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: And so, I am just very excited about it; excited to see what is going to come on next week and where the story goes. And it doesn’t feel predictable. I don’t feel like I’m going to know what’s gonna happen next. It feels so fresh and so well done that it’s just really nice having a series like that this season.
DEE: Yeah. I’ve definitely seen anime that were in this vein in terms of being very action-oriented and focusing on these… I think Planet With does have something it’s saying, and I’m not 100% sure what that is yet because we’re still having the argument, but it’s having a conversation about justice and humanity’s path in life and whether you should give somebody the opportunity to choose to do good or if you should take that choice away and ensure that they do good. So, that concept of free will.
And I think a lot of the time when you have shows like that, the characters tend to suffer because they tend to become vehicles for the ideas. You know what I mean?
CAITLIN: Right. Mouthpieces.
DEE: Yeah, mouthpieces. But Planet With, I think, has done a very good of humanizing all of its characters. On the one hand, yeah, they are representative of these different ideas that are going on in the big picture, but at the same time, you can see why they got to that point based on these very real human emotions and personalities that they have.
CAITLIN: And they do these quick little moments that flesh out the characters and give a really strong sense of who they are. Like Takashi. I love that the villain for half the series is named Takashi. [chuckles] It’s such a generic name. But he’s one of those characters with strong ideals. He’s the leader of this group, and he could easily just be a mouthpiece, but then we see these moments of him as a small child with his parents. He was a baby once, and that does a lot towards making him come across more as a person.
PETER: And they also describe the origins of his tyrannical worldview, where ultimately they came from compassion. And I think that’s what the series is doing that’s really interesting. It’s doing something that not many shounen attempt to do, and specifically something that I thought was the exceptional thing that made Naruto ultimately so good, was that it really looked at the causes of cyclical violence and addressed them.
And Planet With is doing the same thing while also taking this—and I find this really weird, that it’s come from an anime—it’s doing it through the metaphor of… It reminds me of talks about denuclearization and stuff, where the US is trying to make other countries not have nuclear weapons while we still have ours, because we want to keep as many out of the world as possible and don’t want tyrannical rulers rising up that have the power to potentially destroy the world, which is ultimately what the aliens are trying to do to all of humanity.
So, I think it’s a really interesting way to address that, especially with these dueling philosophies of the two… I don’t really want to call them villains. And you can see how Takashi came to that conclusion by having to defend so many people growing up and wanting to have this power so that he can stop larger space police from coming in and doing the same thing that he was resolving small-scale. And at some point, even this ultimately compassionate thing that he’s attempting gets twisted and could turn into something bad.
CAITLIN: I never really thought of the parallels like nuclear disarmament in the US. That’s a really interesting point.
PETER: The way they do it is really insidious, too. I love the aliens, how they try to remove the passion within you by filling all the holes in your heart. That was the moment where I knew the series was really good, when they first fought an alien and then it went through that really surreal thing with the fireman. And it was basically trying to say, “It’s okay. You don’t need to have any regrets.” And he had to reject that. Otherwise, it would just remove his humanity.
All those scenes are really amazing. It’s so crazy that they can have a whole episode and fit that surrealist dream sequence into so many of them where those characters are overcoming their personal struggles. And that’s so cool because it shows you how fucked up [it is] what the aliens are trying to do to stop us from extending our power into the stars, but also tells you so much about the individual characters as well. It’s really genius.
CAITLIN: Yeah. One thing that really got me is Takezo, the dad. Like, yeah, he had dreams of women with giant skewers of meat, but the really hard part for him was when his dead wife was there.
PETER: Yeah. I like how he went, “That’s not fair.” [laughs] After all those years… That guy’s really awesome.
PETER: I hope he continues on in the series. I haven’t watched the episode after the big, climactic fight, which you would think would be at the end of the series, so I have no idea how it’s gonna pivot. But if the second arc is as good at the first arc, then it’s gonna be really good.
DEE: Yeah, I’m really curious to see how it all comes together.
CAITLIN: Also, Nezuya, the one who did get caught up in the—
DEE: You mean the light novel protagonist stereotype?
PETER: Yeah. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: Yeah, the one who carries a book around upside-down because he just wants to look cool pretending to read it. He was the silliest and most shallow of the characters, so of course he doesn’t question it when he’s handed his fantasy, and he’s the one who can’t break out because he doesn’t really have much else going on other than wanting girls and wanting to be cool.
DEE: Wanting to be in his own isekai, basically? [chuckles]
PETER: I felt bad for the rest of his club, though. All of them were so openly and acceptingly nerdy about it, and everybody could tell that he was acting different. And it did feel like he had kind of died. I really love the… I can’t remember what the club is called, their special investigation club, which I guess is just a news club now, because now all they do is follow the news. They’re into UFOs and stuff, and now aliens are attacking the planet, so it’s like, “Okay, I guess we should just watch the daily news and just talk about it, because that’s what our club’s all about.”
DEE: Yeah, I think overall the series has handled all of its characters really well, including— The main character is a boy, but I think all the female characters have been handled really well, too.
CAITLIN: Yeah! Absolutely.
DEE: Which I appreciate. I don’t feel like any of them are just there as vehicles for the guys or as eye candy or anything like that. They all feel like fully fleshed-out individuals as much as the male characters do. This is another one I think we could probably spend an entire podcast talking about. And who knows? By the end of it, maybe we’ll decide we want to. But we still have quite a few shows to cover, so I’m gonna push us forward, if y’all are okay with that.
DEE: Okay, next on the list. I get to take a few sips of water here because I’m not watching this one, Cells at Work!
PETER: Mm. Love it! Great show!
CAITLIN: Yeah. Lots of fun. I can’t decide if I want to be NK Cell or if I want to marry NK Cell.
CAITLIN: “Life goals or wife goals?” is very difficult. It’s a very difficult choice.
PETER: She’s great.
CAITLIN: Just those arms…
PETER: [chuckles] It’s a little hard to tell… I mean, it’s really carefree and goofy, so I don’t think there’s too much to analyze there, unless you really want to talk about how there’s a lot of clever characterizations of different cell processes through these anthropomorphized weird characters that you get in the anime. So, I think that’s where most of the discussions are. I think it’s pretty non-problematic, super funny and entertaining, and it’s good edutainment.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, the problematic stuff just feels a little bit like nitpicking. The female-gendered cells… like Macrophage has very feminine speech patterns, but I think it’s more about the visual comedy of this very feminine woman murdering a bunch of pathogens with a giant cleaver and eating them.
PETER: Yeah. And I think once you learn a bit more about her functions you can kind of see why the author may have gone with that, I guess, because the first time you see her, she’s killing bacteria, but then you find out that interacting with macrophages is how white and red blood cells develop in bone marrow. So, you could say, “Oh, they’re like a caretaker for all these little babies.”
And then they also destroy a lot of foreign material in the body, so they’re cleaning up/eating the stuff, so you could say that’s a cook or a maid. So, I kind of get why they chose that metaphor divorced— I mean, I guess they could have been butlers, too.
DEE: Yeah. That was the main reason I didn’t— Well, I didn’t keep up with it. The first episode didn’t really grab me, and then I found the depiction of the different cells pretty gender-essentialist in a way that wasn’t egregious, but it was just irritating enough and there wasn’t enough else that I liked about the series that I ended up not keeping up with it.
Which isn’t to say— It sounds like lots of people are enjoying it, and it doesn’t sound like it’s doing anything that’s actively harmful. It’s just not doing anything actively progressive either, I guess is how I would say it.
CAITLIN: Right. Give us more female immune cells!
PETER: I’m gonna plug my work here a little bit. I’ve been doing an interview series with a friend of mine who’s a med student, who was a former cancer researcher as well, so every three episodes we do an interview and we talk about the characterization stuff, which has been pretty interesting. He says it’s really spot on and is following the course that you should learn about biology, where you learn about cell function [and] then it introduces interactions and pathologies, so he was able to predict the course of the series just based on his own biology lessons. So, I think—
DEE: Oh, that’s neat.
PETER: —it’s got a lot of value in that way, and you learn about some really crazy stuff, like… Caitlin, you remember the scene where the macrophage was popping the top off the kid’s hat to graduate them so that they could leave the bone marrow?
PETER: It turns out that’s actually the cell’s nucleus.
PETER: And the macrophage eats it.
PETER: So, I was like, “Oh, that’s some nightmare-inducing shit once you anthropomorphize the characters.”
CAITLIN: So actually, Macrophage is lobotomizing the red blood cells and eating their brain matter.
PETER: Yeah, that was actually his theory for why Red Blood Cell is always getting lost, is because red blood cells don’t have nuclei, which is the brain of the cell. Although there’s that sickle cell theory going around, too.
CAITLIN: Mm, that’s an interesting theory.
PETER: Yeah. But yeah, just a lot of neat biology stuff.
DEE: Yeah, it sounds fun. I can understand why it’s popular, and I’m glad people are learning cool stuff via the animes. That’s always neat, too.
Okay, next on the list, just real quick. I did get about four episodes into 100 Sleeping Princes. It was pretty bland. It was trying its best with what it had, I think, but I couldn’t keep up with it, so I went ahead and dropped that one.
Next up is Hanebado, which both Caitlin and I gave our best shots to and ended up dropping at three episodes in, for both of us, more-or-less.
DEE: But Peter, you are keeping up with it.
PETER: Yeah, I’m so glad I didn’t drop it. I am so happy I didn’t drop it, because I think around the three episodes, I was like, “I don’t think the writing in the series is that great.” I was kinda disappointed actually, because I felt like they really…
Well, first of all, it had the Bad Coach trope that’s in every female sports anime. And then it felt like Nagisa and Hanesaki’s character drama, which I thought each were interesting on their own, just got swept under the rug. Like, Nagisa got fixed after a single game where the guy is like, “Oh, yeah, it’s really hard being tall, isn’t it?” or something like that.
DEE: Yeah, I felt like the narrative was… It was like they introduced a bunch of drama at the beginning to hook the audience and then went, “Well, we don’t actually want to talk about that,” so they just very quickly resolved the issues in a way that— It was like they were trying to hit the big mid-season emotional beats in the first two episodes, and I really struggled to care.
CAITLIN: It’s the opposite of Planet With. [chuckles]
PETER: Yeah. Well, it turns out, nope! You know how they were like, “See, Hanesaki? Badminton can be fun. You’ve got your team. It’s gonna be fine.” Nope. [chuckles] It’s not fine.
DEE: No, her issues were not magically resolved via one episode?
PETER: Neither were Nagisa’s, actually. Nagisa got some confidence in her shot back, but after— You know how in the beginning match, she gave up on that last shot because she knew she wasn’t gonna win? Now she’s super afraid of letting anything pass because she’s afraid she’ll be giving up on it, so she chases literally every single shot even if it’s gonna be out and has started knocking some out shots back in. And somebody uses that against her.
So, she’s paranoid of ever becoming so disheartened that she gives up on a shot again. It was like a double-layered complex that she got from being so thoroughly destroyed by Hanesaki.
And Hanesaki herself, since she’s gotten back… Basically, you can definitely see why she left, in addition to the whole drama with her mom, because Serigaya, the pink-haired girl—
DEE: Ugh, yeah. I did not like her.
PETER: Yeah. She kinda makes it her personal mission to continue making Hanesaki suffer to psychologically ruin her game before, because she wants to beat her. And then also, Connie shows up and talks shit to her, too. And Hanesaki right now is basically going, “My best friend and my team are forcing me to play. I can’t quit this game. Everybody hates me because I’m good. When I got into this game, I just wanted to make friends and have fun. So, fuck this. I’m just gonna make everybody else suffer, too, because I’m so miserable.”
PETER: So now, she just played Serigaya and completely destroyed her, and then rubbed it in her face. Serigaya tried to throw her off her game by giving her a handkerchief so she could wipe the snot off her face when she won or something like that. So, halfway through the match, Hanesaki ties it in her hair like her mom does. And then when she wins, she kneels down next to Serigaya and offers her the handkerchief back. It’s really good.
She’s just turned into this really petty, mean person, and you can tell she’s not really getting anything out of it. She’s just miserable. But she’s just been forced into this situation where badminton’s not fun.
DEE: So, it’s a show about how unhealthy competition destroys people, as opposed to Harukana Receive, which is about how healthy competition brings people together!
PETER: Yeah, that’s why I said it’s the light mirror of Hanebado!
DEE: Yeah, I can see that now. I’ll be honest: that sounds interesting; it does not sound like something I would have fun watching.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, same.
DEE: So, I think I’m probably not gonna go back to it. But it definitely sounds like it is doing more than it looked like it was gonna be doing in those first couple episodes. So, I am curious to see how the story progresses. I’m not gonna watch it, Peter. I’m just gonna let you tell me how things turn out.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] And occasionally look at screenshots people post of their muscles.
PETER: Of Nagisa flexing? Yeah. Yeah, her most recent match, she was being knocked around either side of the ring. Basically, her opponent’s coach, his plan was to make Nagisa blow out her knee by running back and forth over and over again—
DEE: [crosstalk] Yikes.
PETER: —because she’s heavy and she puts more strain on her knees. So, Nagisa counters this just by hitting the shuttlecock so hard that the person can’t even aim their shots when they return it. So, you see the muscles in her arm explode, and then she shoots the shuttlecock at the other girl and almost knocks her over. It’s really good.
DEE: Yeah, I’ve seen those GIFs. It’s intense.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And I agree with Dee. It sounds like it does go into better territory than it looked like it was for a while, but it doesn’t sound like something I would enjoy watching.
I like sports anime that are— They can have drama. They can look at the negative aspects of having really intense team sports. And I like that it is an actual drama about girls, because—the drum I’ve been beating for however long—there’s not a lot of sports anime that take girls seriously. But it just doesn’t sound like something that would be fun.
PETER: Yeah. Well, I should say there [is] lighthearted stuff like where Hanesaki’s story is— I think Hanesaki is gonna end up okay. But on Nagisa’s side, the person she’s playing whose coach tries to get her knee blown out, her opponent eventually just says, “I really don’t want to play this way. This doesn’t feel right.” And Nagisa’s competitiveness kinda makes her turn the corner.
And then they have a really good match after that, where the person loses but they felt like they got to play their own style and came at it positively in the end. And they were on the same team in middle school. So, it’s actually a really positive conclusion to it.
DEE: Yeah, that makes that sound much better. I would be curious to see how it wraps up, if it ultimately finds an optimistic way forward or if it continues to be sort of grim about it, because right now it sounds like it’s touching on some of the same elements that Ping Pong touched on, which I thought that show was incredible, and part of it the reason that it was so good was that it did spin at the end and find a positive way to bring its story together. So, yeah, definitely be curious to see when we talk at the season finale how that all shakes out.
Okay. So, next up, one that Caitlin and I— Peter covered the bottom half, and now Caitlin and I are gonna cover the top half, I guess.
PETER: Oh, yeah.
DEE: Next one on the list is Banana Fish. I have kind of complicated— We ended up recording this later than we had initially intended, which is why it’s more like a three-quarter-season than a mid-season. Everyone’s schedules were kind of all over the place for a little while there. Con season!
But I’m glad we waited because I think if we’d recorded this a week or two ago, I would have been a lot more down on it than I am at this point. I think I’ve kinda come around to what it’s doing and have accepted it and am enjoying it now. But I’m not sure where to begin. Caitlin, do you have a starting point here?
CAITLIN: Not really. [chuckles] It’s—
DEE: We haven’t talked about it a lot here, but I feel like I’ve seen so much discourse about it on Twitter that at this point I’m tired of talking about it, even though we have not at AniFem done that much with it yet.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I feel like part of it is that… And, you know, I was very excited and on board for Utsumi’s direction at the beginning, but I feel like she’s floundering a little bit more with the more serious material.
DEE: Yeah, I think the one-on-one scenes with the boys—and I’m including Ash, Eiji, and also my favorite good boy, Shorter, in that statement—I think the one-on-one character scenes with them have been very good, and apparently the adaptation has really made Shorter a distinct character who people can get behind, whereas in the manga, he was more just kinda there.
But I think when it comes to the more drama, crime, mystery elements of it, it doesn’t feel like the creative team is super interested in it, so they skim through it as quickly as they can so they can get back to the more character drama elements of it.
CAITLIN: I agree, and it’s a little bit of a shame because that is where Utsumi’s strength lies. That is what made Free! great, was the character drama. Well, not character drama, but that balance between the character drama while also being very lighthearted and fun.
But honestly, I feel a little bit lost when it comes to the gang stuff and the more serious plot. It’s like: “oh, they’re going to this place, and uh-oh, there’s gangsters there! And now they’re going to this place. And uh-oh, gangsters!” It feels a little bit disinterested in it, so it’s like you said, the moments between the characters and then “Uh-oh, gangsters.”
DEE: [chuckles] Uh-oh, gangsters!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oops! All gangsters!
DEE: What a good tagline! [laughs] Yes! No, I kinda know what you mean. And I think one thing we… We discussed this in the three-episode write-up, too. Not only the disinterest, I think, from the creative team in those elements…
To be fair, they’re trying to get through, what, 18 volumes of manga in two cours or something like that, so I know they’re cramming a lot in early on. And the past couple episodes have felt like they’re allowing the story to breathe a little bit more, so maybe going forward, they’ll spend more time teasing out the more serious plot criminal elements to it, as well. But the fact that it’s an ‘80s manga and they pretend to update it but really haven’t—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, I don’t understand what the point was in “Now they have smartphones.” That pretty much seems to be the main difference.
DEE: Truthfully… and again, this is pure speculation, folks. Do not take this as me having read a bunch of production write-ups, because I read a few but not all of them. In some of the stuff I’ve read, I kinda got the sense that it was a marketing decision—that if the character designs were with modern hairstyles and clothing, people would be more likely to watch it.
Which I get, but at the same time, I think you should either commit to setting it in the ‘80s, and then some of the more troubling elements of it or even some of the plot points that are very contingent on “This is what it was like in the ‘80s”… I think you wouldn’t have those issues. Or I think if you’re going to update it, then you need to commit to updating it and you need to be willing to deal with “Oh, this is what things are like in this particular part of the US now” and “Oh, hey, maybe fridging a black child for shock value in episode two is in poor taste.”
CAITLIN: Not a great choice.
DEE: Really rough. And to me, that’s baseline level of research about setting your story in America in modern day. I have definitely had some critiques about that, and I had a hard time getting into it early on because of a lot of me being like “That’s not how it works in modern-day US.”
Or even if your argument is “The system is super broken and that’s why these injustices are allowed to carry through,” I think you need to be more upfront about “Oh, we’re dealing with a bunch of crooked cops” or something; whereas I think there’s this element of “Oh, no, these are good guys, but their hands are tied.”
So, yeah, I had some trouble with the early episodes. I’m finally starting to get into it because of the character drama and also because I just really, really love Shorter.
CAITLIN: [chuckles] He’s a very good boy.
DEE: He’s a good boy stuck in an impossible situation, and he’s definitely—and I say this as someone who hasn’t read the manga, so I don’t actually know what’s going to happen—he’s definitely going to die, and I’m getting very attached to him, and so that sense of dread is just every episode watching him sprint towards his doom.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] When he’s just sitting there and he’s got Eiji unconscious but with his head in his lap was just very sweet.
DEE: Mm-hm. He’s trying his best. He’s in, again, an impossible situation. He’s doing his best, and I just… [inhales] Yeah. So, I’m starting to get emotionally invested in it, which is good, but it took a while. I probably would have dropped it if it weren’t for the fact that it’s such a big, important show that I felt like I should keep up with it.
CAITLIN: I agree. I agree. And I think it is (A) I just wanna say it’s making me crazy about how Amazon is calling Yue “Yut.”
DEE: Oh, gGd, yeah. That bothers me too.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Why!
DEE: I don’t know.
CAITLIN: That’s not even— I don’t see how you would get to that romanization. But anyway, I think it’s a little bit of a shame that Utsumi’s first serious drama title was such a high-profile series, because there’s definitely some growing pains going on there. And I don’t think she’s not capable or competent as a director, but I think maybe this should’ve been her fourth or fifth series as opposed to her second, if we’re counting all of the first two seasons of Free! as one series.
DEE: I think this was gonna be a difficult one to adapt no matter what, and I don’t wanna place everything on her because anime is collaborative and you’ve got production committees and studio heads and this other stuff.
I think it’s the— God! This was in an interview. If I find it, I will link it. I will try to find it. I think it’s one of the producers—but again, don’t quote me on that—who was a big fan of Banana Fish and talks in some of their interviews about how they didn’t really want to change anything because they liked the original so much. So, part of it could be that, as well.
But I think those elements of series in the ’80s that don’t age well have continued to… The sexual assault threats are exhausting. It’s honestly hard for me to have a connection with Ash because his backstory is so just Endless Suffering that it starts to feel almost like a parody. So, I struggle with that. Pretty much any time a female character shows up, I’m like, “How long before something terrible happens to her? …Aaaaand there it is.”
So, I think it’s one of those that… the original manga is very important and, I think, in a lot of ways, very good, and I think Banana Fish is trying to capture some of that. It’s still very much that issue of “It was a series written in the ‘80s and now we’re trying to bring it to the year 2018,” so I can see if there are folks who are struggling to get into it because of that. I totally understand.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, that absolutely makes sense. And it did almost lose me for a while when it was just constant sexual menace, men threatening men, men threatening women. And the fact that the last few episodes have been able to have some of the lighter moments, I think, has gone a long way towards opening things up, giving things time to breathe, helping connect to the characters a lot more. But yeah, no, I 100% agree.
For a long time, it was just like, “Okay, well…” And it feels a little bit uncomfortably sexualized at times. Like there are moments when Ash is lying on the floor and his shirt is lifting up in a way to show his abs, and it’s just like, “Mm, no, nope, nope. Let’s not.”
DEE: Yeah. I think by and large they do a good job of not showing things or not sensationalizing things, but yeah, every once in a while they stumble, and since it’s such a difficult subject, it’s more noticeable. So, I would agree with that too.
CAITLIN: With… what’s Max’s wife’s name? Lauren? Jessica! No, it’s Jessica! I knew it was one of those very late ‘80s women’s names that everyone my age knows 500,000 of them. Sorry, Lauren. Love you. [chuckles]
CAITLIN: But anyway… And I say that as someone with one of those names. I do not appreciate that Jessica was implied to be raped, but I do appreciate that it was only implied instead of showing a horrible rape scene.
DEE: Yeah, I agree. So yeah, we put it in the “It’s Complicated” category, and I think it’s very firmly there. I would be surprised if we don’t end up doing a full retrospective on this, and we’ve talked about it a lot already. I think we should probably go on unless there’s something else you feel is essential to bring up to listeners.
DEE: Okay. Let’s move on then because we are over time as per usual for these mid-seasons. I’ll try to go through this one quickly. I’m the only person who’s caught up on Revue Starlight. Caitlin, you were watching it, though, weren’t you?
CAITLIN: Okay, so here’s the thing. Watching things on HiDIVE’s a giant pain in the ass.
DEE: So yeah, Revue Starlight. I know Vrai is also keeping up with this, so I’m not the only person on staff who’s watching it. I like it a lot. I like it more every single week. I think it continues to build on itself very well.
I struggled a little bit in the early going because the characters in the first couple episodes felt very archetypal “cute idol girl” in the sense that there just didn’t feel like there was quite enough meat on them, so I was having a hard time really latching on to their characters and feeling a resonance with that. And that’s not, again, to knock the genre as a whole. Just me personally, I’ve always struggled with that genre.
But as the series has gone on, I think it’s done a really good job of exploring the different characters and their drives and motivations; their goals. The episode that aired today—so I don’t want to talk about it too much because this podcast is going up the day after we record this—was excellent, and they’re starting to tap into anxieties about growing up and relationships with other people changing, and one of the girls has an unrequited crush on one of the other girls, and it was a really good episode. I did not expect her character to be somebody I could really feel for in the early going, and now she’s my favorite character in the cast.
So, it melds the fantastical elements with the school-day, idol-show vibe very well. The direction is stellar. All of the scenes that take place on the stage are incredibly well done. The songs are good. I—
CAITLIN: Does it still have the giraffe?
DEE: It still has a giraffe—
DEE: —working behind the scenes. And I’m very, very interested in where it’s going and how it’s going to bring all these different threads together. It’s great. It’s fascinating.
As of right now, it’s one of those where, I think, even more so than most series, where it takes its story will determine whether or not everything before it was worth it, if that makes sense. Even though I’m enjoying it week to week, I do think that its final arguments will have a big bearing on whether or not I recommend it to people. But as of right now, yeah, check out Revue Starlight. It’s really something special, I think. I’m hopeful, anyway. So, yeah, that’s Revue Starlight.
And then we can talk about the top show on our list. Both it and Revue Starlight were in our “Feminist Potential” category where we felt like there were themes under the surface. This one has been very fun for me. Phantom in the Twilight. Caitlin, how have you been feeling about this one?
CAITLIN: I agree. It’s a lot of fun. I love how… God! I’m gonna need help with the names because I don’t have an ear for Chinese names the same way I do with Japanese names. I love how Ton is not your standard damsel otome heroine. She comes in and she fucking kicks ass. I really enjoy her character. I enjoy her relationships with the boys. I don’t enjoy—God, now this is one where I have trouble with the name—the Chinese hopping vampire.
DEE: Oh, Tauryu?
CAITLIN: Tauryu. Thank you. He’s kind of a butt.
CAITLIN: He’s very unhappy that… Rijan?
DEE: Yeah, Rijan.
DEE: Rijan. No, you were right.
CAITLIN: Yeah, we’re totally butchering their names, I’m sure.
DEE: We’re pronouncing them the way the— We’re using the… How do I word it? There is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese characters. So, I’m sure it’s not Rijan in the Chinese transcript, but that is how the characters are saying it, so those are the pronunciations we’re gonna go with.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] But yeah. [Ton] is not ladylike like her great-grandmother because it’s sort of like “Women can kick ass as long as they’re still sufficiently feminine.” But he’s also the only one who has an issue with it.
Luke, the werewolf, is a very good boy. I always end up liking werewolf characters, almost universally. Even in crappy vampire series, there’s always the one werewolf, and I always like the one werewolf character even if I hate everything else about the series. So, yeah. It’s a fun show.
DEE: I really appreciate how much of a focus there’s been on Ton’s decisions and what she wants to do. And she’ll get some pushback from the guys and in ways that I think are understandable, because she is new to this world, where they’re like, “Well, no, we want to make sure you’re safe,” and she’s like, “Okay, but I want you to be honest with me and include me in these things. I can handle it.”
And then they do. They respect that after they have that conversation. So, I like that the series really pushes for her agency and control of the situation.
I get what you’re saying about Tauryu, but the thing I enjoyed about his episode was that it comes about that you find out that the only reason Rijan seemed so put-together was because she had, functionally, this butler who was helping her maintain that image. So, for me he just comes across as this really uptight, fastidious butler-type character, so I find him kind of amusing in that sense. Also, any time he pulls out his giant gun, I crack up.
CAITLIN: [through laughter] Yes!
DEE: Like you were saying, Luke is wonderful. They have that entire episode where Ton kinda teases him like, “Oh, are you flirting with me?” and he’s like, “No, you’re upset. I’m not gonna flirt with you unless you’re happy and in a place where you want to flirt back.” And I’m like “Aw!” And then they have a couple little moments together. So yeah, he’s a good boy.
CAITLIN: He’s a sweet boy even though the vampire is gonna be the canon love interest ‘cause vampires are always the canon love interest.
DEE: I’m kinda hoping— This series feels like a big setup or like a giant advertisement for an eventual otome game, especially since it’s produced by a video game company. My hope is that the arc they have chosen in the anime will lean more towards a friendship—keep it all vague, because at this point Ton’s not really interested in any of them. She’s much more interested in saving her best friend, Shinyao, to the point where I think it’s very easy to ship the two of them together.
DEE: Shinyao is a little bit… I don’t want to call her a pain point because I actually like her. I like that she’s a more traditionally feminine character. She gets kidnapped a lot, but she doesn’t come across as a constant damsel. She looks for opportunities to escape, and she’s choosing to stay with Chris because it seems like the safest option. But I am curious to see where her story ends up, because I don’t love it right now. But again, it’s counterbalanced by Ton just being [such] an awesome badass that it doesn’t really bother me.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I super thought that she was gonna bite it in the last episode when it turned out that her Umbra best friend, Pyro Jack—your friend and mine, Pyro Jack—sacrificed itself for her.
DEE: Yeah, that was sweet and sad.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah, it was sweet and sad.
DEE: Spoilers, folks. But yeah, I feel like that covers it. We have it in the Feminist Themes category, and I think that’s probably still fair because of the way it does have that otome genre format, but with so much more of an active, take-charge protagonist and showing her being heroic. But I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly deep story. I think it’s a very fun supernatural action series that you can sit back and enjoy. And I am, very much. So, I appreciate that about it.
CAITLIN: Yeah. And you know how I feel about that. I don’t declare things “feminist” very readily, and I wouldn’t put this one on that list. But it’s still fun, and it’s really great to see a girl kicking ass. So yeah, it’s a good show. I’m happy it’s around this season.
DEE: Me too. I hope they bring it home and the ending is nice and it all works out for the kids, for these good kids.
Okay, I think we’re good. That was the end of our list, and we’re not gonna cover sequels in the mid-season. We’ll do that for our extremely supersized end-of-season at this point. There’s a lot to talk about, it turns out. So, any final thoughts, folks? Or should I go ahead and wrap us up?
PETER: Anime: still good.
CAITLIN: A lot of people are saying it’s a weak season, but I have more shows that I’m keeping up with than usual for me, and I’ve managed to keep up with them. I haven’t fallen off of them midway or anything like I end up doing a lot of the time.
PETER: I think saying mid-season about this point is kind of like a meme, almost. I mean, people are intentionally meming, but it seems like every season I hear that it’s a weak season, and then halfway through the season, everybody’s watching a bunch of stuff that they got pleasant surprises from. So, that’s all a lie. Anime’s good.
DEE: Every season is a good season. Yeah, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by some of the stuff, too. Things like Revue Starlight and Phantom in the Twilight, which were not even on my radar at all, have proven to be really enjoyable. So, I’ve been happy so far, and here’s hoping that we’ll be back in a few weeks and we’ll be able to say that they ended well and recommend stuff to folks. Okay, I guess we’ll go ahead and wrap up on that note, then.
CAITLIN: Play us out, Dee.
DEE: [imitates Vaudeville fanfare]
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