The fall shows have had some time to show their colors, so let’s see how they look a few weeks in!
The team split up the reviews between staff volunteers, with one person putting together a short review on each series. Like we do in our check-in podcasts, we started from the bottom of our Premiere Digest list and worked our way up. If we didn’t watch a show for at least three episodes, we skipped it, and we’ve used nice bold headers to help you quickly jump to the shows you’re interested in. Unless specifically noted, we’re only discussing the first three episodes, even if a show has released more than that.
We don’t have the time to keep up with everything, so please let us know about any gems we might be missing in the comments!
Ulysses: Jeanne d’Arc and the Alchemist Knight
Caitlin: You may recall that, in my premiere review for Ulysses, I was frustrated that there wasn’t anything terribly offensive about it. In fact, it was almost… good, despite the promotional material. My journalistic integrity couldn’t let that that go unchallenged, so I bravely volunteered myself to watch the next two episodes.
I was more right than I ever wanted to be.
The second and third episodes of Ulysses are outright disgusting, on both ideological and visceral levels. The historical Jeanne managed to rise up to lead an army, despite being an illiterate peasant girl in a time when birth, status, and gender roles were everything. She protected her body and virginity fiercely, to the point she eventually died for it. This Jeanne is obsessed with boobs, both her own and others’, receives her power from performing sex acts with a man, and is dangerous and unpredictable while under that influence. It robs her of the power, drive, and principles she held in life, for the sake of wank fodder for viewers.
And what revolting wank fodder it is! Jeanne is a child in both body and mind, and the way she begs Montmorency for a “baiser” in the third episode is downright pedophilic. In a shot that actually elicited a yelp of disgust from me, it shows her tongue wriggling around inside his mouth. The other female characters, who are at least fully grown adults, wear improbable fanservice outfits that show off their enormous bosoms and other bits of anatomy, largely with strategic cutouts. And apparently, Richemont, who was so fierce in that first episode, spent years just sitting and waiting for Montmorency to rescue her.
I thought about watching Ulysses for the sake of an article about depictions of Jeanne D’arc in Japanese media, but it’s just not worth it. This show is horrific, and I will not watch another second of it for love or money. Fuck this.
Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary
Chiaki: By combining the first three episodes of Xuan Yuan Sword Luminary, you finally get a decent picture of what this show is about, and it’s a testament to its sloppy pacing.
In what should have been more evenly distributed, Xuan Yuan cuts away from the first episode, which crammed introductions for more than a dozen characters, and immediately goes back in time to recount Yin, Ning, and Zhou’s backstory. It draws out the show’s backstory to twice the length it should have taken, and, to fill all those minutes, the extended flashback features a gratuitous bathing scene with Yin and Ning including a more-than-noticeable lens flare blocking out their young bodies for the first part of the scene.
I had to ask as I watched the second episode: what is this show trying to do? Who is this show for? Overall, it doesn’t seem interested in fanservice or fetishization, yet there are moments that give me pause. As the story resumes in the third episode, I also can’t help but worry for Ning, who remorselessly kills an enemy general with her newfound prosthetic murder-arms. As she regains a piece of what she lost after her village was slaughtered, she appears to be obsessed with revenge. I fear that she will take this drive to become a one-dimensional character.
This show lacks cohesion in many ways and it’s a lot to wade through to stay invested. Perhaps with all the set-up done, Xuan Yuan will pick up and find a new groove, but I’m honestly not in the mood to stick around to find out.
That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
Chiaki: These monsters are all pretty gosh darn wholesome. The first episode did start with an assault joke, putting this series on notice, but the rest of it has played out pretty light-heartedly.
Yet, I can’t help but note that despite all the good-natured characterizations of fearsome monsters, Slime has a notably gory tinge to its storytelling. Keeping with Satoru’s agonizing death in the first episode, Rimuru ventures around the dragon’s cave killing terrifying monsters and absorbing their skills. All the while, the show characterizes this wanton slaughter in a positive light as Rimuru grows ever stronger and resourceful with a plethora of new abilities. Even the fearsome direwolf pack leader is gruesomely beheaded by the young slime, who then proceeds to absorb him and assume the role of pack leader.
The show also objectifies female bodies in the third episode. As Rimuru names all the goblins in the village, they “level up” into a superior physical form. Taking on RPG character creation tropes, all male goblins adopt a variety of masculine physiques while all the female goblins take on thin yet well-endowed figures.
Overall, though, Slime remains fun. I can’t help but pause every now and then to think about the show’s world setting, but I’ll definitely keep watching for its balance of humor and action.
ZOMBIE LAND SAGA
Chiaki: As Vrai pointed out in their premiere review, a gimmicky idol group show initially stands out, but often fails to deliver as it instead starts falling in line with traditional idol show formulas.
As all but The Legendary Yamada Tae have awoken to full cognizance, the girls of Death Musume/Green Face/Franchouchou are starting to take on their roles as zombie idols seriously, and the fact the show plays the third episode pretty straight leaves me worried. Is this going to become just another show about “a group of young girls who find friendship and camaraderie while they sing and dance”? Is the fact that they’re zombies going to become increasingly irrelevant as they fall into the rhythm of practices and teen drama?
Zombie Land, despite being about zombies, seems to shy away from outright gore and has kept its visuals safe, planting most of it firmly in the comedic sphere. The next episode, however, will be the hot-springs episode, so they better turn the trope on its head or I’ll feel pretty betrayed. I mean, a bunch of corpses bathing in warm water sounds like a recipe for disaster. I’ll keep watching because the show has been good, but I really am hoping it won’t disappoint me.
Caitlin: Episodes two and three of SSSS.GRIDMAN have continued very much in the same vein as the first one: impressively directed and sharply written atmospheric build-up leading to a climactic tokusatsu-inspired battle in the last few minutes. It’s been a very fun ride so far, and little has changed since I wrote that first episode review.
The second episode did bring with it a major reveal: Akane, the so-called perfect girl from the first episode, is indeed the villain. With the help of a malicious Gridman analogue, Akane builds kaiju and uses them to attack people who annoy her (for such “crimes” as accidentally smashing a sandwich or bumping into someone without apologizing). Up-and-coming voice actor Reina Ueda portrays her mix of petulance, sociopathy, and gleeful malice to perfection, and I’m really looking forward to exploring her character more.
And what of Rikka? Did she really take charge in the first episode, or is she more of a glorified typist? Honestly, it’s hard to say. While I don’t want to downplay her importance, she’s struggling to keep up with Yuta and Utsumi. Yuta himself pilots Gridman and Utsumi has a base understanding of tokusatsu tactics as a big nerd himself. Rikka’s role, by comparison, remains fairly understated.
She’s the emotionally intelligent member of the group, the one who can think outside of the box and cut through a crisis, but she lacks the skills to contribute in any sort of sustained, consistent manner. Rikka needs more episodes before I can say anything concrete about her role in the story. Luckily, GRIDMAN is good enough that I’m happy to keep watching to find out.
Run with the Wind
Caitlin: I’ve never been much of a runner, but damn if Run with the Wind doesn’t make me want to feel the wind in my hair.
How you feel about Run with the Wind will probably depend on your opinion of Haiji. He’s ruthless, to say the least, and has absolutely no qualms about using underhanded tactics to get the other residents to run with him. For now, the show seems to be walking a line between supporting his methods and disapproving of them. It keeps an air of careful neutrality and is generally willing to call him out when he crosses a line. (For example, Musa, who is Tanzanian, reminds him that assuming all Africans are athletic is racist). Kakeru, meanwhile, feels Haiji is setting everyone up for a fall, since even qualifying for the race is difficult for all but the fastest runners.
The biggest issue is Haiji’s final tactic for getting everyone on board: recruiting a cute high school girl to cheer them on. For starters, she’s obviously a minor while many of them are adults. This carries the implication that college girls are less appealing and buys into the popular fetishization of high school girls. She also doesn’t have any personality other than “girl”—she’s cute and peppy and approachable, but not much else. Thus far, she’s not so much a character as a focus for the boys’ motivation and, since she’s the only female character right now, it sucks.
Which is not to say Run with the Wind is bad. I’m really enjoying it so far! It looks great, moves great, and talks great. But it has the same issues with female characters that many other male-driven sports anime has, and I’m just tired of it at this point.
Ms. Vampire who lives in my neighborhood
Vrai: Ms. Vampire is an intensely difficult show to talk about, as it turns out. If completely drama-free iyashikei and yuri shenanigans aren’t your thing, then there’s basically no reason to check this out. If the stuff I described in the premiere review sounded appealing, though? Then the show is still for you, because it found its groove at the word “go” and hasn’t changed much, aside from adding one of the other girls in the opening theme.
The series is still lightly playing with the “character A is too forward/grabby and love interest B gets uncomfortable” dynamic, but soft-pedals it with genuine moments of gentle connection and re-affirmation that Sophie wants Akari around. It also helps that Akari’s friend Hinata is there to step in when things go too far, and that Akari backs off immediately (without any actual touching) when chastised.
What little drama there is looks primed to come from low-key love triangles, as Hinata has a crush on Akari and Sophie’s vampire “acquaintance” has a whiff of the clingy jealous girl about her. Even then, the show spends a charming amount of time establishing Hinata and Sophie as burgeoning friends, so things are unlikely to turn catty.
Though, speaking of, episode 3 does have a light amount of fanservice: a butt shot of Akari as she wears a tail and pretends to be a cat (it….kind of makes sense in context), and there’s some of those weird overly-shiny lips in the closing credits. Otherwise, though, this is a show in no hurry to do more or less than it promised at the outset. If you’re that target audience (I am), that’s good news.
Chiaki: All BAKUMATSU promised to deliver was hot boys swinging around swords in an alternate 19th-century Japan. I wasn’t really expecting a whole lot more, but BAKUMATSU decided to go the extra mile for anyone paying attention.
One thing Ryoma Sakamoto is known for (aside from uniting Southern Japan to lead a rebellion against the Tokugawa Shogunate) is shooting his way out of the Terada Inn like an action hero armed only with a revolver pistol. BAKUMATSU seems to want to at least loosely follow these historical events, though this time the assassin samurai are replaced by 17th-century haiku master Matsuo Basho, whom the show takes liberty to cast as a ninja assassin.
This is actually a pretty deep cut, since there are conspiracy theories in Japan that suppose Basho, a native of Iga, was actually a ninja who traveled in the guise of a poet. So even the throwaway “villain of the week” characters are getting some interesting attention for their backstories.
And, while women continue to play a minimal role in the series, the introduction of Kasumi and Hyo provides an ounce of cute to an otherwise testosterone-heavy cast. They get considerable screen time throughout the second and third episodes, as Kasumi rescues Yoshinobu Tokugawa and Hyo remains to spy on Susanoo Castle.
Overall, I’m continuing to watch BAKUMATSU with a light shrug. It’s not bad, but unless you’re particularly interested in mid-19th-century Japanese historical figures, I think there are better shows this season.
Peter: I thought I’d be one and done with Anima Yell!, but something keeps me coming back every week. On its face a bland, inoffensive cute girls show, the anime lands a few great jokes per episode that keep it engaging. Kohane and Arima in particular have a penchant for driving most of their conversations toward cheer through mutual accidents that the show keeps finding new ways to set up.
Somewhat famously at this point, episode 3 featured the girls helping a fellow female student who wants to confess her love for her tutor. As the girls are giving advice about things guys like, she fearfully admits that her tutor is a woman. Rather than acting disgusted, the girls seamlessly pivot to discussing things they think a girl might like—which alleviates much of their classmate’s anxiety all by itself.
The moment had a few imperfections, age-gap notwithstanding, by including some comments from Arima about things boys like that she learned from her older brother who very obviously has a thing for high school girls. Overall, though, it seemed intent on honestly portraying the anxiety of coming out and the main characters showing support.
A recurring theme that’s been a bit less popularly shared is Arima’s anxiety about being abandoned again after her negative experience with her last cheer squad. She didn’t receive a magical curative moment after joining the new squad, and I’m glad for that. It’s often the subject of a joke, as Arima’s thought processes about life can spiral into existential dread, but it usually comes off as relatable rather than just humorous. I’ll be happy if the running joke fades as Arima feels more secure with her new squad, but for the moment they’ve found a happy balance.
It’s definitely an anime you can reliably forecast your feelings toward by first blush. Still, the series has thrown a few curve balls with its self-awareness, comedy, and a bit of insight (if not active intent) toward more serious young adult themes, which it’s mostly navigated with surprising deftness.
Release the Spyce
Caitlin: Do you remember the ‘80s and ‘90s? More specifically, do you remember the “girls with guns” trend that permeated the anime sphere? It wasn’t about empowering the female characters so much as putting two things men supposedly like together: cute girls and things going boom. And while there certainly are some memorable series (like Dirty Pair and Silent Mobius), it still serves a largely fetishistic purpose.
Three episodes in and Release the Spyce, though it doesn’t feature guns, looks to occupy a similar space. The girls are moe-cute and, while they certainly can kick ass, the direction seems more interested in showing how adorable they are while they do it. Meanwhile, I don’t really have much feeling for the girls’ personalities outside of Momo beyond their very basic traits.
It doesn’t help that the Moryo villains’s more varied character designs really throw into relief how blandly homogenous the Tsukikage are. The Moryo all look totally different from one another… which, of course, is presented as a bad thing. There’s one character who is tall and muscular but dresses very femme. She clearly takes a lot of pride in her appearance and refers to herself as beautiful, which the series presents as misguided vanity, because how could a woman who looks like that ever think of herself as attractive. Meanwhile, the Tsukikage have such body types as “tall and skinny with big boobs” and “short and skinny with big boobs.”
It’s not a bad show, but it’s not the one I was hoping it would be. I have no doubt that Momo’s struggle to become a valuable member of the Tsukikage will speak to a lot of people. It’s fun and action-driven, but my attention waned progressively with each episode. In a world where I had more free time, I might keep watching it. But with everything happening in my life, I must ruthlessly cut every show where my attention wavers this strongly. Spyce, I hereby release you.
The Girl in Twilight
Vrai: Though it’s still somewhat adorably retro in its premise and videogame-like CGI combat sequences, The Girl in Twilight has revealed itself to have a sincere heart. The two-episode mini-arc following the premiere focuses on Asuka’s friend Nana, who’s initially jazzed that an alternate universe offers her the chance to get away from her troubled home life, even if it means she’s being forced to marry an (admittedly hot) stranger.
The setup is a classic use of sci-fi for its noblest purpose: social critique. And while normally commenting on how messed-up this universe is for forcing all teenagers to get married at 17 would earn a “well duh,” in light of recent outings like DARLING in the FRANXX and Conception, it winds up being a bit refreshing. Even better is that the climactic battle both centers around the girls’ friendships and lets Nana power up to sock her evil fiancee in the face.
The battle mechanic introduced in this arc gives the girls the ability to transform and fight, Persona-style, once they’ve reached a personal revelation or strong conviction—meaning the entire story will focus solidly on their individual struggles and inner lives. While it’s in some ways walking comfortably trod roads in the world of sci-fi, this might shape up to be a hidden gem for this season.
Boarding School Juliet
Dee: Boarding School Juliet has a good heart and a silly sense of humor tangled up in our old friend, Anime Bullshit. The central premise of a young woman looking to smash a sexist system has faded somewhat into the background in favor of rom-com shenanigans, but the undercurrent is still there, and still with mixed results.
Most of the time the main couple have a fun, semi-combative, equitable relationship. They take turns rescuing each other, trust each other, and do their best to communicate, all while keeping up a facade of being sworn enemies that leads to some solid slapstick. The supporting cast is by-and-large endearingly goofy, and the third episode introduces an explicitly queer unrequited crush that’s played as the character’s most humanizing quality rather than as gross or for laughs.
But then there’s the fanservice. Or Juliet punching her tsundere button to the point of cruelty. Or the gay panic induced by Juliet crossdressing. Or Char’s closet full of secret photos that may not be treated as creepy, but still is. This is by far one of the most pleasant versions of the shounen school rom-com that I’ve seen in a while, but it’s still a shounen school rom-com, with much of the baggage that frequently comes with the subgenre.
I confess to enjoying it, but I’d be hesitant to recommend it to others. Though, if my Twitter feed is any indication, I’m the only person on the continent actually watching it, so maybe that’s a non-issue anyway.
Peter: I wish I had more to say about Radiant. At episode 3 it’s still establishing the story, ending right as Seth departs for his hero’s journey. Tragically, his badass mentor Alma gets left behind as he heads out to see the world.
Since the majority of events so far have been resolving the premiere with a limited cast, the thematic content from the premiere review still applies. The series hamfistedly tries to explore discrimination in a way that doesn’t quite land but is buoyed by an abundance of charm which will, hopefully, also roll out into a satisfying story. As I’ve read the first volume of the comic, I’ll say there may be some thorny material ahead, but since that hasn’t happened in the anime yet (if at all), I won’t get into it.
Everything that’s already happened, however, I consider fair game. The flashback scene with baby Seth was anime-original, or at least hadn’t been introduced that early. It’s an encouraging sign that they’re planning on including more character development. Seth’s goodbye to Alma was significantly muted, however: Where in the comic both characters are reduced to ugly tears, the anime falls back on the more standard fare of shots just below the eye level with a conservative amount of tears on their cheeks.
It feels a little unfair to bring up the comic, but I’m left with concerns about them reducing its charm by making characters less emotive, in addition to the general trend of portraying “strong” characters as less emotional. At this point, though, a lot is in the air, so I’d call this one too early to tell.
DOUBLE DECKER! Doug & Kirill
[Because this show started airing early, this write-up includes light discussion of Episodes 4 and 5]
Vrai: DOUBLE DECKER is ambitious as hell, and every week I’m more impressed with it. The show’s diverse cast (which encompasses race, gender, and sexuality) is more than just a visual aesthetic: by episode 2, co-protagonist Doug has laid out a blunt speech about his desire not to simply wipe out the Bad Guys, but to eradicate the evils of poverty and class altogether. Then it follows that up with a pro-union episode. This is a show determined to make its viewers sit up and pay attention.
But while it has high ideals, it’s also a character-driven series. Like Tiger&Bunny before it, the show mixes focal episodes that follow various members of the SEVEN-O crew with plot-driven action ones. How charmed you are might depend on your feelings about the snarky narrator and western film homages; in my case, the answer is “extremely,” and it’s a joy to watch the vivid visual designs matched with equally vivid personalities.
The female cast has only gotten one focal episode so far (episode 4), but they all continue to be non-sexualized and distinct, with goals and stories that don’t hang on their male coworkers. There are a few jokes around how their boss wants to call the women of the team “Travis’ Angels,” but they’re more to do with him being outdated than the ladies being humorless for not going along with it. If there’s a crime at play, it’s that Max and Yuri haven’t had their time in the spotlight yet.
If the show has a downside, it’s that its high ambitions give it at higher risk of failure than shows that don’t bother to try. The writing has tried to strike a balance between honesty and optimism (vague spoilers for episode 5) and has so far threaded that needle successfully, but it’s a difficult line to walk, especially when dealing with heavy topics. The writers will have to be on point all the way through. Thankfully, it’s already shown some level of social awareness, as the apparent fridging of SEVEN-O’s one Black detective, Derrick, quickly had the rug pulled out from under it.
There’s no definitive news on whether the show will be one- or two-cour, and while it could probably wrap up its most basic conflict in one, I find myself desperately hoping it’ll get more time to flesh out its cast and themes. This show is already shaping up to be something truly special, and I hope you’ll give it a shot.
Bloom Into You
Dee: This is a beautifully made series with excellent production values, vibrant storyboards, and lovely piano-driven music. It’s a pensive, low-key school story, more focused on Yuu’s internal concerns and small connecting moments between characters than it is Big Drama and Loud Emotions.
It’s also explicitly queer without falling into the trap of fetishizing its characters. Touko is very clear about her romantic and physical attraction to Yuu; likewise, Yuu is very clear about her lack of interest in either (she’s not repulsed, just apathetic); and both are treated like fully realized people instead of objects. While Touko is a bit aggressive early on, their relationship is largely built on honest communication and respecting boundaries, making it an easy one to watch develop.
And yet, for all that, I find myself feeling about Bloom Into You the same way Yuu feels about Touko: I don’t dislike it—I can even appreciate and respect it—but I can’t get excited about it, either. Admittedly, I struggle with school dramas in general, but… well, maybe I’m distancing myself on purpose. Yuu reads so strongly as ace/aro that if I let myself get invested and she falls for Touko in an allonormative manner (and I am a crusty, jaded ace, so I fully expect her to), it will hurt in a way fiction rarely does for me.
I’m not trying to take anything away from this series by admitting that, mind you. If the story does become an allo yuri romance, that’s okay! If you’re invested in that particular story, that’s okay, too! Bloom Into You is by all measures a well-made queer love story, regardless of what kind of “love” ultimately develops. I plan to keep up with it and I recommend folks try it out. Just know that I’ll be watching at arm’s length, grateful that if I do get disappointed, at least I have the canon aces in Bojack Horseman to fall back on these days.