So far, this season has been all about quality over quantity.
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!
We Never Learn: BOKUBEN
Chiaki: Perhaps I should have known better. Maybe I should be wiser after years of watching and reading harem stories.
I had been lured into a false sense of security during the premiere for BOKUBEN, but the show came back with redoubled unsolicited physical contact and cringe-worthy lines such as “Struggle all you like, I’ve got you now! I’m going to teach you a lesson all right!” starting with the second episode, when we’re introduced to Nariyuki’s childhood friend Uruka Takemoto. Episode three keeps up the pace and firmly establishes Nariyuki as the typical harem anime protagonist: a man constantly victimized by running into lewd or easily misunderstood situations by some cruel machination of the plot.
What hurt the most about this series was that it put on the airs that maybe this time we would finally get a protagonist who can keep his hands to himself, and yet BOKUBEN makes it clear the first episode was more a fluke than anything. Maybe I should be the one to learn here and not to get my hopes up so much.
Vrai: You know things are grim when I’m watching Midnight occult civil servants but this is the series I feel embarrassed for. I compared ROBIHACHI to several series in my premiere review, but at the time I meant it in terms of potential inspirations, the kinds of shows it felt like this show was kicking off from before embarking on a brave new identity of its own.
Three episodes in, I’m pretty comfortable calling this Discount Space Dandy. The series has discarded much of what made it eye-catching in its premiere, trading out the enthralling weirdness of future-Earth for a Mars and Pluto populated by humans in mascot suits. The TV commercial inserts are also already tiresome, cropping up as stock footage without anything new to say.
Robby, meanwhile, is meant to play as a lothario who gets in over his head because he’s horny only to come through as a kind of philosophical savant at the last moment. But in practice, what this means is basically all the female characters are walking, bouncing breasts with dialogue, and that Robby will give a monologue that technically ends the plot without being particularly satisfying. The more the show insists that I be charmed by him, the more my loathing increases. Not because this type of character can’t work (hello again, Dandy), but because the series’ writing is just too clumsy to sell it.
There are a few bright spots. The series is fairly pleasant to look at even if it’s conceptually disappointing; Hatchi’s relentless enthusiasm for everything he encounters remains endearing; and once in a while a joke will achieve a height of sublime idiocy that genuinely works (like two mech pilots bluffing attack names at one another like they’re kids playing with action figures).
Best of all are the trio of Team Rocket-like debt collectors chasing after the protagonists, who are a genuine delight every time they’re on screen and also the performers of the season’s best ending theme. While I’m not jazzed about the sexual menace the show keeps folding into Yang’s comments about getting his hands on Robby, the small moments of this extremely extra boss and his two adoring lackeys are the times when the show actually gets fun. Indeed, like Team Rocket in the days of Indigo, I’d way rather be spending time with these guys than the leads.
While it holds at a level of “basically okay” and occasionally spikes into excellence for a few scattered minutes an episode, I think I’d recommend going through your backlog before picking this one up.
Chiaki: I still don’t know if this show is supposed to be a slice-of-life about hot Buddhist deities living fabulously or if there’s going to be some kind of major tonal shift before the final three episodes of the season. NAMUAMI keeps you on your toes because, as of the end of episode three, the show strongly hinted that it wants to do more than just showing off hot men opining on the state of vices in the modern world. Asura is beginning to move and the Buddha will have to confront him, but will the show’s pacing and themes keep up with such a drastic tonal shift?
The cast is extremely charming, as these boy-ensemble anime tend to be, and nothing has been outright wrong with the series. Though I’m still not over the fact that these transcended deities are living out their own selfish desires and prone to the attraction of modern day appliances and luxuries, NAMUAMI manages to sprinkle in some Buddhist trivia and have unique, if surreal, situations to keep the show moving (in just the first three episodes, Bonten and Taishakuten have experienced the wonders of a supermarket, online day trading, a zoo and a retirement home).
Personally, I’m having fun with this, and the formula inexplicably works. While I might not call this a “religious experience,” NAMUAMI has certainly been an experience.
Caitlin: Much like its characters, Mix is all too aware of the baggage it carries. As a distant sequel to Touch, Mitsuru Adachi’s touchstone work, it’s constantly dropping winks and nods to its weighty predecessor. This self-awareness has made it hard for me at times to get into it, since this is my first Adachi anime, and I’m still trying to decide if it’s worth it.
That said, these three episodes have made it abundantly clear why Adachi is considered a master mangaka. While the episodes’ pace has been relaxed, even lackadaisical, there’s a lot of information packed into every line of dialogue. Meisei Middle School is beset by its connections, not just to the once-champion high school team but also to the nepotism that holds them from once again achieving greatness.
Even within the Tachibana family, each interaction paints a picture of a family that, though they care about each other an awful lot, is complicated by how they’re two families cobbled together. For all that Touma and Souichiro have a twin-ish relationship, they’re still stepbrothers, and they can never forget that. It’s awfully treacherous territory for two thirteen-year-olds to navigate with minimal adult guidance.
The only one who seems able to move beyond that for any amount of time is Otomi, Souichiro and Touma’s twelve-year-old sister. So far, she’s the only one who doesn’t seem to divide her family into blood-related versus by-marriage. She’s cheerful and sassy, supportive of her brothers but with interests and friendships of her own.
Unfortunately, her brothers seem to have appointed themselves guardians of her virtue. When Touma leaves her home alone, Souichiro scolds him for abandoning her when “things get more dangerous as girls get older.” When she’s beset by admirers, her brothers chase them off. The implication that girls must be constantly protected by the men around them frustrates me, especially since Otomi is such a delight otherwise. They don’t seem to care what she wants or if she feels like she’ll be safe alone—it’s all about them protecting her from evil males.
Still, Mix thus far has charmed me. The naturalistic dialogue and storytelling have sold me on Adachi’s body of work, enough that I’m already thinking of what to watch next!
Midnight occult civil servants
Vrai: Bless its heart, Midnight occult means well. The theme of communication as a rare and secret weapon has carried on strong, and there’s a tinge of bittersweetness in some of the writing beats (the Romeo and Juliet from the first episode? Yeah, RoTengu got the shit kicked out of him and they ended up running away anyway after thanking Protag-kun for making an effort). Unfortunately, its execution has the grace and skill of a drowning elephant.
The art already dips into the low valleys of QUALITY off-model work by episode two, and while it’s not quite into My Sister, My Writer’s levels of terrifying melting faces, it’s still pretty grim. The writing doesn’t fair much better, relying on Arata to parrot back exposition like he’s Solid Snake, which grinds already meanderingly paced episodes to a near-standstill. At its best, it ascends to the dizzying heights of competence, but its glacial nature means it’s often too boring to be camp.
It does have one ace up its sleeve: Huehuecóyotl, a.k.a. Coyote, a.k.a. Kohaku, a trickster-type who floats around with the most stereotypical Queer Antagonist voice (which, given Jun Fukuyama is playing Arata, left me a little bitterly amused) and is generally kind of delightful. The subs use “he” pronouns fairly decisively but the actual dialogue often sidesteps pronouns, and there’s a gender fluidity to the original stories surrounding Huehuecóyotl. It’s probably worth noting that the character is drawn from Aztec belief systems, and anime’s usage of other cultures tends to be “ooh, aesthetic!” at best, though the writing overall here is so low-level that it would hardly stand out.
He’s a lot of fun regardless, a “””friend””” of Arata’s previous incarnation prone to act like a forgotten girlfriend (oh yes, it remains that kind of show), and a pretty clever amoral antagonist. During his scenes, the anime truly does achieve that sweet sweet trash cred. Of course, by the end of episode 3 he’s less antagonist (or even a Q-esque chaotic neutral force) than a clinging limpet around Arata’s neck, and if the show intends to background him I can’t say the last two episodes have done much to endear me to the rest of the cast. It’s a watchable sort of show, but more the kind that fills time than anything actually worthwhile.
Hitoribocchi no Marumaruseikatsu
Vrai: Did the first episode interest you? Well, it’s still doing that.
Hitoribocchi belongs to that particular style of “Cute Girls Doing Things” show that’s difficult to review, because a lot of the enjoyment comes from the comfortable familiarity established week after week. Since the premiere, another girl has joined Bocchi’s friend group—Honshou Aru, who tries to be reliable for everyone but is secretly a walking case of misfortune (yup, her name is also a pun). It adds some fun new character dynamics, as Nako and Aru tend to clash but don’t want to distress the fretful Bocchi. But it’s still a show about casual conversation and Bocchi battling her anxieties.
I don’t mean any of this as a knock—the show is also still really good at its central conceit. Bocchi’s struggles can be downright agonizing in their familiarity, whether it’s fretting that her new friends have forgotten all about her when she’s out sick, or assuming Aru’s momentary pretend-resistance to friendship is a sincere dismissal.
Bocchi is a comedic lead, but her baby steps and coping mechanisms are celebrated and the series has a clearly protective affection for her that keeps the jokes from feeling mean-spirited. Episode 3 introduces a shy teacher character who feels like she wandered in from a dramatically wackier show, but it’s more incongruous than anything else.
If the first episode appealed to you, it’s looking like you can strap in for more of that experience (with maybe some slightly more momentous changes once the entire cast is assembled). If it didn’t, there’s nothing dramatically new to draw you back.
Dee: If I know anything about Ikuhara-directed anime (and I may know a bit), Episode 4 is going to smash through the window with a major formula shakeup, rendering this review worthless the day after it gets published. It’s a lot of fun to revel in and speculate about Sarazanmai week-to-week, but a bit daunting review it.
I s’pose what I can say is this: if you weren’t sure about it after the first episode, give it until the third. In addition to its famously buck-wild visuals and fearless story beats (kappa! butts! otter-cops! MUSICAL NUMBERS!), Sarazanmai is also proving itself skilled at developing its cast of complicated, flawed characters and extremely unsubtle queer themes. The third episode centers around one boy’s crush on another, and neither the dialogue nor framing leaves any room for “bromance” deniability.
So far, Sarazanmai is reminiscent of Yurikuma Arashi in how open and sincere it is about depicting explicitly queer desire; but where YKA was almost stiflingly bleak for most of its run, Sarazanmai has a much brighter tone and aesthetic. This gives it room to explore the absurdities of adolescence and endear the audience to the characters through bursts of levity, whether that’s a fat cat caper or a romantic fantasy sequence. It’s fun.
It is, however, probably worth reiterating that this is a story about deeply flawed people. The main trio are adolescent messes who often make harmful choices (don’t kidnap cats or kiss people while they’re asleep, kids!). Presentation does not equal endorsement, of course, and Ikuhara’s stories have a history of nudging self-centered teens towards empathy and consideration, so I trust him to guide the narrative into healthier expressions of love and desire. Still, if you’re looking for a simple story about nice people making good choices (and that’s fine if you are), this likely won’t be your cup of tea.
There was never any doubt that I was going to stick with Sarazanmai, but I’m also genuinely excited for it each week. I’m floored by its ambition, delighted by its weirdness, sympathetic to its cast of disaster teens, and intrigued by its exploration of human vulnerability and connection. Any project this complex could certainly fall apart, but I’m with it til the finish line regardless.
Caitlin: What is there to say about Fruits Basket? Three episodes in, and this remake has proven to be a labor of love, a well-directed adaptation of the already-strong and beloved source material.
Now that the Sohma family curse has been established, the show can breathe a little, giving the audience time to get to know the characters. Yuki and Kyo aren’t just rivals—they truly and genuinely dislike each other, incapable of seeing eye-to-eye. Yuki may be smooth and gentle with Tohru, but has an acidic tongue with Kyo that borders on cruelty. Kyo, meanwhile, is rough around the edges and has anger control issues, but also a sweetness at his core, even as Yuki covets his natural approachability.
This leaves Tohru, who wants nothing more than everyone around her to just get along, caught in the middle of the two. At this point of the story, it really is easy to dismiss Fruits Basket as being merely about a doormat of a girl surrounded by boys, fixing all their problems. Tohru is particularly prone to making just the right speeches to comfort the people around her.
But still, there’s a hint of the steel she holds within her. She talks to Yuki not about how everyone is naturally kind, but how kindness is something that must be learned and chosen. It’s an unusual speech, especially for a person as unfailingly sympathetic as Tohru.
Technically speaking, the new adaptation is impeccable besides some awkward CG smoke effects. The direction and storyboarding have been top-notch, with little flourishes here and there that enhance the old story. While the Japanese voice cast is strong, hearing the English voice actors reprise their old roles has had a powerful effect on me—especially Laura Bailey, who has long since moved on to better-paying gigs.
I firmly believe Fruits Basket has something to offer just about everyone. Just watch it, okay?
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba
Dee: The first two episodes of Demon Slayer were everything I wanted them to be: tense, tightly paced, gorgeously animated fantasy-action that never lost sight of its central brother-sister duo or the familial love that binds its story together. The second episode also introduces some morbid humor and bursts of absurdity, which went a long way towards keeping things from getting too grim.
Also, Nezuko punted the head off a demon and I straight-up hollered with delight.
The third episode was a bit more, er… concerning. Not just because Nezuko is stuck in a Magical Coma while her brother is off training (although that was irritating), but because there’s an extended monologue from one of Tanjiro’s teachers about how “real men don’t cry.” It’s a jarring moment for a show that’s thus-far painted Tanjiro’s empathy and emotional honesty as some of his most admirable characteristics, and makes me wary of where Demon Slayer plans to take these good kids and their story.
There’s plenty of time for the series to backtrack on that point, and I have every intention of watching to see if it does. It’s still a riveting historical fantasy with a likable cast and phenomenal production values, after all, and I like it a lot. But I thought I was going to come in here singing unbridled praise, and it turns out I can’t quite do that, which is a bit of a shame. Hopefully I’ll have happier news at the mid-season mark.
Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life
Lauren: My least favorite trope is when a girl spends her entire life mastering a skill to reach the top of her field… only to be surpassed by an average protagonist with conveniently innate talent. I suspect this is about to happen on Kono Oto Tomare. But let’s talk about how, even with that looming on the horizon, I’m far from ready to drop this show.
At the start, we’ve got a fairly typical club premise made rather special by its focus on one of Japan’s oldest instruments: the koto. While there are hints that the koto is an instrument women more typically play, the majority of the club members are boys. Amidst them is Satowa Hozuki, a pedigreed koto prodigy with a cynical side. Her characterization makes her imperfect but wholly likeable: it’s hard to fault her for being a snob when she has the talent to back it up—in spades!
This predictable club anime is hitting all of the expected plotlines, so it should be no surprise that by episode three, our koto players are gearing up toward a live performance the Evil Vice Principal is forcing them to do in order to justify their continued existence. Hozuki, as the most accomplished member, is taking a teaching role—but thanks to the ways Chika is helping her overcome her past trauma, she’s doing just as much learning as everyone else.
The romance building between these two outsized, clashing personalities is one of the best parts of the show, but I wish they weren’t so equally matched in their battle for koto club ace. See, it turns out that beginner Chika can produce such a sonorous tone that it makes Hozuki stop in her tracks. It looks like he’ll quickly become the most celebrated koto player in the club for Plot Reasons, which just isn’t fair when you consider how long and hard Hozuki has been working.
Even so, I’m so happy for Chika! He’s spent his whole life not fitting in and now there’s finally somewhere he belongs. I’m happy he has friends like Hozuki and Kurata who recognize his talent and support him. And I unironically love the three idiots who joined the club and are working their butts off because Chika has inspired them with his own dedication. Everyone is getting their fair share of character development, and I really love the chemistry of the main trio (even though Kurata is going to swiftly become a third wheel).
And while this show is minimalistically animated, to put it kindly, the soundtrack is awesome. Each episode features more actual koto playing, and I am here for it. This isn’t going to be Anime of the Season, or even a standout of its genre, but you know what? It’s pretty good.
Dee: A quiz for you, dear readers. In the third episode of Fairy gone, we are introduced to a femme fatale-type character whose name is—this is true—“Bitter Sweet.” Miss Sweet if ya nasty.
Does this cause you to (a) roll your eyes all the way back into your head, or (b) grin, giggle, and/or applaud with childlike glee? If you answered (b), then good news! Fairy gone may be right for you!
As that might suggest, Fairy gone is a mess, but it’s something of an endearing mess. The story is already a convoluted tangle of people, lore, history, and competing organizations, with much of it told through clunky expository dialogue. Still, it manages to anchor each episode around enough small, intimate character beats that we don’t lose sight of the emotions and relationships driving all the plot points. And, though the action isn’t always the prettiest to look at (those CG fairies sure are An Aesthetic), it’s imaginative enough to stay engaging.
The narrative strikes a solid balance between its two leads, and while Marlya is clearly the rookie to Free’s veteran, she’s a fast learner and by no means helpless. The series has thus far treated its female characters with respect, neither sexualizing nor damseling them (even our femme fatale dresses practically!), and it’s given me no reason to think that won’t continue.
Mostly, though, Fairy gone is the kind of guileless series that can name its characters things like “Free Underbar” and “Bitter Sweet” but still treat them with total straight-faced sincerity. I catch myself giggling at it and then getting sucked into it, particularly during the frenetic action sequences of Episodes 3-4 (we try not to talk about events beyond Episode 3 for these reviews, but suffice to say I enjoyed the fourth one a whole lot).
I’m not sure it’s “good” by most narrative metrics, but I like it a little more each week. It’s almost certainly gonna be fantasy trash, but it just might turn out to be quality fantasy trash, and I personally wouldn’t mind that at all.