It’s time to check up on the spring shows and see how they’re doing three(ish) weeks into their run!
We’re changing up the format this time around. While our previous three-episode roundtables received positive feedback, they were difficult to coordinate on our end and led to some truly unruly word counts. We wanted to keep providing these check-ins, though, so in an effort to make them a bit more manageable (both for us to write and you lovely folks to read), we’ve switched over to a structure similar to our season recommendations, with one person putting together a succinct review on each series.
Due to some busy schedules outside of the anime-watching world, this time around just Caitlin, Dee, and Vrai divvied up the writeups for the shows. 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!
Umamusume: Pretty Derby
Spoilers: Because Umamusume aired so far ahead of the other shows, we opted to cover Episode 4 as well.
Vrai: I’m still tuning in to Horse Girls, but the charm has been waning over the weeks. The giddy fun of questioning the utterly bonkers worldbuilding has mostly taken a backseat to competent but fairly standard sports drama, and while the climactic races are genuinely well-paced, the training segments can get repetitive fast.
Special Week having two moms is genuinely neat (it’d be even more so if one of them wasn’t dead), and there’s plenty of shipping potential in the central relationship alongside a generally endearing ensemble cast dynamic. But every time things get into an enjoyable rhythm, along comes Trainer (still the Only Dude) to feel up another underage girl’s legs in scenes that aren’t luridly framed but are still gross by their very existence. The moments are small, but their persistence at nearly the halfway point is frustrating.
Episode 4 is also a Dieting Shenanigans episode, and while it’s slightly better handled than most instances (Spe is worried about being able to wear her racing outfit, not trying to attract romance), it’s still dipping into an exhausting set of tropes—made all the worse by bringing up that gaining muscle often means gaining weight right before another one of those gross groping gags. (I’m gagging. The gag is me.)
LUPIN THE 3rd PART 5
Vrai: Three episodes in, the watchword I still associate with Part 5 is “kind of lazy.” I acknowledge that this is a somewhat unique opinion based on my long history with the franchise, but I’ve seen most of what this series is trying to do done better and more thoroughly. In particular, this series wants to have a darker take on Lupin as a character, but hasn’t been able to actually commit to what that means. All of his opponents so far are either worse than him or less cool, leaving the viewer free to keep on rooting for him even with the occasional “hey, he kills people” reminder.
Then there’s the decision to point and laugh at the queer subsets of the fanbase, which I’ve already said my piece on. This joke has come up frequently enough that the series might actually decide to do something with it (depending: is this Princess Principal Okouchi or first half of DEVILMAN crybaby Okouchi?), but honestly I don’t have the energy to follow it week to week just to wind up disappointed.
Less longtime fans should still be aware of the series dropping child sexual abuse into Ami’s backstory, a move that immediately puts it in comparison to Yamamoto’s Fujiko Mine series and comes up sorely wanting thus far. (Part 5 doesn’t graphically depict it, at least, but again, the word lazy comes to mind. “We have this female character who isn’t a love interest, what should we have her do?” “I dunno, sex should probably be involved somehow though.”) Plenty of people are likely to see these as minor irritations among generally fine caper action. Me, though? Unless I hear they stuck the landing, Taako’s good out here.
Cute High Earth Defense Club HAPPY KISS!
Dee: Whether we’re talking Love! or Happy Kisses, Cute High is still very much Cute High. There’s not much to add since my premiere review—it’s still a silly magical boy show that focuses on genuine adolescent troubles ranging from the trivial to the significant, and there are still a lot of teen boys having pointless conversations in public baths.
There is one important shakeup to the formula, though: our magical boys know the identities of their rivals from the start. This leads to a lot of enjoyable interactions between the groups both pre- and post-transformation, particularly the “Ralph and Sam” dynamic between the two third-years. I worried that Happy Kiss might slide into cynicism, but that cross-team bonding has helped the show develop a heart amidst its humor. If it keeps building those relationships alongside its good goofs, Happy Kiss should prove a worthy addition to the Cute High franchise.
Tada Never Falls in Love
Dee: TadaKoi is still something of a puzzle: a sequence of charming comedic and character beats periodically interrupted by broad slapstick and tropey anime cliches.
It almost lost me with its second episode, which featured some obnoxiously horny teen dudes who kept interrupting the nice club antics to shout about nude ladies and check out the girls’ chests. (Although, honestly, my biggest critique isn’t that TadaKoi has annoying horny teen boys, but that it doesn’t also have annoying horny teen girls. I remember my loud, thirsty high school friends, and I assure you they were not restricted to a single gender.)
Fortunately, TadaKoi immediately won me back again with its third episode, which was narrated by the cat and was a start-to-finish delight. Also, Mitsuyoshi continues to show zero romantic interest in Teresa, and while I’m trying very hard not to get my hopes up… my hopes keep rising even so. With luck, the second episode was an aberration and the third more indicative of the direction the story intends to go, and TadaKoi will settle into an enjoyable rhythm balancing character beats with comedy. Bonus points if it bucks a few rom-com norms along the way, too.
Magical Girl Ore
Vrai: Yeah, this turned into a dumpster fire real quick. This is what happens when I let myself believe that shows will turn to their better angels rather than sliding into the easiest, laziest option at the slightest opportunity.
Faced with the option of working to become a quirkily subversive comedy or a cheap, mean one, Magical Girl Ore chose the route most in line with its budget. It doubles down on Saki’s homophobia; renders Sakuyo a depraved lesbian who constantly refuses to honor her friend-crush’s discomfort (and who somehow still deserves better); features lots of upskirt shots of protagonists who, even if they’re currently beefy bros, are still fifteen; and hits hard on the LOL MEN IN DRESSES to an increasingly transphobic degree (there’s a bathroom joke, y’all).
The show is still sometimes fascinating to watch, in the same way that a flaming pile-up between two loaded clown cars might be fascinating: colorful, hectic, and slowly poisoning you with the burning remnants of lead-based makeup. And now and then there will be a genuinely nice moment that fools you into investing your fragile, fragile hopes. But it’s not worth recommending to basically anybody.
Kakuriyo -Bed and Breakfast for Spirits-
Dee: While Kakuriyo is perpetually hamstrung by its “supernatural kidnapping” premise, the series is taking a page from its protagonist’s book and making the best of a bad situation. Aoi continues to establish herself as a great main character: she’s patient and compassionate without being a pushover, acknowledges people’s good points without giving them a pass on their bullshit, and does everything she can to remain in control no matter how many powerful ayakashi she’s up against.
The ayakashi themselves are taking longer to impress, as many of them fall into stereotypical patterns (predatory boyfriend, jealous rival, etc.)—at least, until Aoi gets them alone and encourages more meaningful interactions out of them. Female agency and freedom does seem to be a recurring theme, so hopefully that bodes well for improved relationships between the ladies in the cast going forward. Kakuriyo will need to keep pushing against the constraints of its subgenre to have staying power, but for now Aoi is good enough to keep me coming back for more.
This relaxing comedy came out of nowhere to become one of my favorites, balancing warm humor with charming characters and a running theme about the traditional coexisting with the modern. It’s also one of the nicer-looking shows of the season, with fluid character animation, gorgeous food art, and a keen eye for detail that keeps the frames engaging even when relatively little is happening (see: one character fainting in the background; basically everything with the cat).
The third episode suggests some building tension surrounding Rokuhoudo owner Sui, who seems to have given up a job with a corporation (and broken ties with his family) in favor of running his tea house. That’s a storyline rife with potential, both in terms of developing characters and exploring the conflict between corporate chains and independent restaurants. I look forward to seeing where it goes—but, mostly, I’m just looking forward to basking in the relaxing glow of the Rokuhoudo some more.
Last Period: the journey to the end of despair
Vrai: I’m not sure what this show is doing, and I’m not sure it does either. The second episode absolutely tanked, slacking off with an abundance of hot springs fanservice weakly justified by the old “if we call it out before doing it, that makes it fine and self-aware and somehow better than the more honest titty shows!” (a.k.a., the laziest, dullest pseudo-joke beneath the barrel). Add to that a bunch of clumsy meta-humor centering on the anime industry that belongs in a totally different show, and you have a real mess. (Fortunately, the episodic structure means you can just skip this one completely.)
But then, before I could Nope out, Episode Three had no fanservice at all and focused entirely on the party’s female characters. In total contrast to the aggressively madcap style of the first two episodes, this one was a Scooby Doo/Higurashi-type mashup parody. As I did with the premiere, I spent half the episode saying “Wait, are they….?” before being knocked into a kind of dumbfounded admiration.
I’m not sure it’s going to be any kind of cohesive, but I have a weird respect for an anime that brazenly dedicates a whole episode to parodying Higurashi: When They Cry, an anime that’s almost fifteen years old now. When it fails, it does it hard, but (like the last third of Anime-Gataris) I have an extra well of patience for something that can keep surprising me like this.
Dee: Hinamatsuri probably qualifies as a “problematic fave,” with a heavy emphasis on “fave.” It’s a series that wants to show the heart and humanity present within those who live outside “polite society” while also pushing against the barriers of what that same society deems acceptable behavior. It explores much of this through lightly transgressive comedy, often by placing its teen girls in inappropriate situations such as tending bar, going to a “girly club,” or living in a homeless shantytown, where they ultimately find people who care for them and want to nurture their unique skills.
While Hinamatsuri occasionally steps over the line from “silly” to “uncomfortable” (one of the girls is blackmailed in the third episode and it’s…not great), it by-and-large maintains an upbeat, friendly tone, and there’s always a sense that the characters care about each other even if they sometimes get caught up in selfish or thoughtless whims. This is not a series about good people, exactly, but it knows how to keep itself in the realm of fiction, prodding at social conventions without promoting real-world harm.
I could see its comedy feeling less harmless and more uncomfortable for others, and that’s totally valid if it does. But for me, at least, Hinamatsuri is enjoyable escapism, and a series I look forward to each week.
PERSONA5 the Animation
Caitlin: I can’t pretend to watch Persona 5 the Animation with a fresh perspective or not judge it by the game it’s based on. I’m never going to be a newbie here. My big question will always be: “Does it do better by its female characters than its original incarnation?”
Three episodes in, and that question has yet to be answered. Ann’s arc is just getting started, after all, and this is when its at its best and most empowering. Gym teacher Kamoshida’s violence and predation are explicit, with no attempt at excusing his behavior. He’s actually a great depiction of institutional violence: using his charisma and privileged position to take advantage of the children in his care. So far, these things are handled well, with just enough depicted onscreen to make it clear what’s happening and build emotional investment, but always cutting away before it turns exploitative.
Inside Kamoshida’s Palace… that’s another story. He mentally turns Ann into a literal sex kitten, which is an effective way of showing what he thinks of her, but the camera’s leering gaze and Ren and Ryuuji’s reaction make it seem like we’re supposed to be as turned on as we are horrified. Ann’s declaration of rebellion with her persona’s awakening is great, screaming and ripping off her mask to reveal a bloody face, but her embarrassment at her catsuit remains a troubling point. Oh, and Morgana constantly calling her “Lady Ann” and worshipping her makes it all the more uncomfortable.
The question remains whether Persona 5 the Animation will step over the low bar set by the original game. I’m tired of stories that talk out of both sides of their mouth about sexual violence. Enough is enough. This version has the potential to do better, and it should.
Vrai: As befits an underdog story, MEGALOBOX came from completely outside my radar to be possibly my favorite show of the season. It still only has one female character who thus far only exists as the face of the evil megacorp, and its celebration of all things Manly has yet to dig into the toxic underbelly of what those expectations can mean (as I’m told the old series did). That said, it’s still got style to spare, and a script that’s understated and confident of how exactly to execute its sports cliches in a satisfying way.
The emphasis on Junk Dog’s—now Joe’s—status as an undocumented citizen and the conditions he and others like him live in has only grown stronger, making itself a constant part of the background. It isn’t overemphasized, but also refuses to be ignored. The fact that Crunchyroll subtitles generally don’t worry about insert songs or flavor text is a real blow here, as things like a rap about the conditions of the impoverished or on-screen Spanish text are left as-is, without translation.
Three episodes in is always dodgy territory to call how something’s going to turn out, but I’m beginning to think MEGALOBOX might be remembered as something truly special.
Wotakoi: Love is Hard for an Otaku
Caitlin: Awww yes, Wotakoi is here to provide the hashtag-relatable romantic comedy between two adults that I crave so badly. Inject that shit directly into my veins. This looks to be one of the top hits of the season, at least in my little corner of AniTwitter; Thursdays have become a constant game of dodging screenshots and friends shouting about how the writers are spying on their love lives. That’s all nonsense, by the way—clearly they’re spying on my love life because Narumi and Hirotaka are obviously based on my boyfriend and me. (No, I’m not just saying that because I’m writing this a little over an hour before it’s due, and Narumi started Episode 3 stressing over her deadlines.)
All silliness aside, it’s not hard for me to love Wotakoi, and three episodes in it’s stronger than ever. Narumi’s not a bastion of maturity and struggles adjusting to the idea of dating an otaku and friend, but the two always manage to communicate and figure things out. She blushes when she thinks Hirotaka is leaning in to kiss her, but when he asks her to come over, she just thinks about how she can’t remember the color of her underwear.
But her relationship with Hirotaka isn’t the only one that matters in the show—there’s also her friendship with Koyanagi. Both are involved in transformative fandom (a doujinshi artist and a cosplayer) which gives them an easy source of bonding outside of their respective romantic relationships. Trawling through Animate looking for BL, going to Comiket together, playing video games… these will be familiar scenes for a lot of women who participate in fandom culture. The show displays these situations affectionately, without judgment or treating them as deviant.
There are a couple sticking points that may turn some viewers off. There’s a fair bit of breast-related humor, largely related to Narumi’s small chest, and a couple of boob jiggles here and there. Others may be put off by Koyanagi and Kaburagi’s relationship, which is considerably more combative than Narumi and Hirotaka’s. It’s still equal—they just both have strong personalities and a long-time rivalry that turned to romance at some point—but still, a relationship that involves so much yelling has potential to make some people uncomfortable. Like I said in the premiere review, though: Wotakoi was made for me.
Libra of Nil Admirari
Dee: Libra is still a bit dry and stiff, but it’s making up for it with a strong storyline where warring factions and competing ideologies fight over how best to handle “dangerous” books. There are some potentially meaty undercurrents here about the effect stories have on people (and who’s responsible for that), as well as the difference between trying to fix something harmful versus destroying it altogether.
Add to that an ongoing narrative push for the female characters to take active roles, a supportive (if bland) group of guys, and a protagonist who’s more interested in books than boyfriends, and you’ve got a solid series that continues to build on its potential. I can’t say Libra has charmed me yet, but it’s definitely holding my interest. I’m in for at least another few weeks.
Vrai: I sure am going to enjoy reading the manga at some point. Golden Kamuy is a series that benefits greatly from its extremely strong premise, a solid cast, and some choice mood music. But manga fans continue to bemoan it, and it’s not hard to see why: the facial animations remain a little stiff, though they’re improving, and the CGI is still a godawful intrusion every time it shows up.
It’s competent, though, if you prefer anime to manga or can’t afford the latter. Sugimoto and Asirpa’s dynamic is adorable (though I could’ve done without the “please marry my independent granddaughter” gag even if it was clearly not serious), and there continues to be an emphasis on Ainu culture. It might not be the best version of the story, but it’s still a fun watch… er, just keep in mind that there is a continuing content warning for animal death, gore, and racism.