Summer 2018 three-episode check-in

By: Anime Feminist August 1, 20180 Comments
A teen girl in a school uniform with pigtails smiles wide and spreads out her hands. Behind her, another girl holds up her arm, exposing her arm pit. Subtitles read "It doesn't smell!"

The summer shows have had some time to stretch their wings, so let’s see how they’re shaping up!

As per the new format, 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!

Angels of Death

Rachel looking horrified as a tall man looms behind her

Vrai: Edgelord garbage series rarely last as comedic trash entertainment, and Angels of Death is a prime example of why. After an adorably extra premiere that threw every pretentious horror trick in the book at the wall, subsequent episodes slowly slid into a stodgy morass of brown walls, muted dialogue, and lifts from other horror series.

There were moments of brightness, like the impromptu mini-AMV that broke out in Episode 2. But they came further and further apart, leaving me a lot of time to think about how I don’t especially like the characters.

Isaac, Rachel’s protector, is an especially nasty piece of work if the show wants you to actually bother with emotional investment. He’s a serial killer who particularly enjoyed targeting women, but has decided to protect Rachel because she’s not like those other girls, the ones without death wishes.

Halfway through Episode 3, when Isaac and pint-sized gravedigger Edward started arguing over who has the right to grant Rachel’s deathwish, with decidedly romantic undertones, I started to realize that, yes, we are all going to die. And I’d rather be watching some good anime, or at least trash that will entertain me at a higher rate than once an episode.

We Rent Tsukumogami

A screenshot from "We Rent Tsukumogami." A comb shaped like a rabbit, a person with a large moon-like face, a bird-like creature dressed in traditional Japanese robes, and a young woman in a kimono all look up expectantly at a batlike figure in the foreground, with his back to the camera.

Dee: Despite a rushed premiereWe Rent Tsukumogami has settled into an enjoyable little groove, blending magical realism with historical slice-of-life. Each episode focuses on a different member of the tsukumogami team, providing insight into why they came to life and how their past owners influence their current dispositions. The interactions between them are energetic and charming, with guest appearances from other tsukumogami (with equally big personalities) to help keep each episode fresh.

At the same time, there are some slow-burn stories unwinding among the humans, including the arranged marriage from the premiere, Oko’s search for “Suou’s person,” and Seiji’s crush on Oko. These parts of the series fare less well, as the human characters all feel significantly less vibrant and well-defined than the tsukumogami cast. There’s a bit of an iyashikei vibe to it, but I’m not sure yet if that’s because it’s relaxing or because I’m kind of bored.

Perhaps We Rent Tsukuogami’s biggest hurdle is how it’s so deeply steeped in Japanese history and culture. The “adopted siblings” aspect remains the most prominent example of this, but there’s also Episode 2’s ample references and jokes regarding figures like Genji, Yoshitsune, and Princess Kaguya. I got a big kick out of it, but it’ll likely fall flat for the majority of English-speaking viewers. This isn’t a weakness, mind you—the series is under no obligation to cater to a Western audience—but it may create a barrier of entry for much of AniFem’s readership.

Overall, I’d say if you were totally put off by the premiere, then there’s no reason to come back to this one. However, if you liked the concept but didn’t love the pacing, give it another try, as Episodes 2-3 are narratively much stronger. Just…maybe keep Wikipedia open next to you while you do.

Holmes of Kyoto

A young man (Holmes) wearing a work uniform and gloves holds up an antique tea bowl, smiling faintly.

Dee: The romantic elements from the premiere have thankfully faded, but so have the lectures about art and history. Instead, Episodes 2-3 settle into a pattern where Holmes gets asked to solve a mystery for family friends and, in the process, reveals his clients’ secrets. Aoi comes along too, mostly serving as a sounding board for Holmes’ deductions.

I’ll give it credit for doing its own thing, as the “crimes” are spawned more from vulnerability than malice, with stories featuring toxic friendships, family finances, and secret (consensual) polyamory. I suspect it works better as a series of loosely connected stories in its original novel form, but as an anime the characters (especially Aoi) come across as fairly flat and none of the conflicts carry much weight as a result.

All things considered, Holmes is thoroughly “fine.” I doubt I’ll be back, but if you can get past the romantic undertones in the premiere, there are worse ways to spend 22 minutes a week.

Harukana Receive

A teen girl jumps, arms extended, over a volleyball net. Across from her, another girl is making a spiking motion. A volleyball is behind her, as if it's been blocked by the jumping girl.

Dee: I said in my premiere review that Harukana Receive looked to be an upbeat sports series with some moe/fanservice elements, and that still mostly holds true. The amount of fanservice has risen significantly since that first episode, but it’s so cheery and upfront (and sometimes downright relatable and funny) that the most annoyance I can muster is the occasional eye-roll. Not everyone will feel the same, of course.

It’s also developed some yuri elements over the past couple episodes, mostly involving Narumi thinking fondly about her “former partner” and Kana getting flustered over Haruka—whether it’s over her cute butt or her declarations of affection. HaruKana have a sweet, supportive relationship. They are also first cousins. Sooo… uhhh… there’s that…

Real talk, though? I enjoy the heck out of Harukana Receive. It has a sunny disposition, a solid sense of humor, and likable characters working hard to improve themselves and support each other. For me at least, its positives outweigh its more troubling elements. I won’t blame folks if they pass on this one, but right now it’s firmly on my watchlist.

Chio’s School Road

Chio crouching with shiny glasses. caption: if there's one thing I've learned from staying up all night playing video games...

Vrai: So, good news/bad news. The good news is that the protagonists of this series continue to be supremely excellent trash girls, giving one another shit and bonding over their mutual awfulness with a genuine sense of affection (think It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Some of the sketches, like “Bloody Butterfly,” feel right out of last season’s Hinamatsuri. Basically, when the show is on, it’s extremely on.

The bad news is that when it bombs, it bombs hard. Episode 3 in particular has a dire sketch whose punchline is “lol, predatory lesbian,” a character that also brings back the jiggly boob nonsense that had otherwise disappeared after the first episode. It leaves a decidedly bad taste in one’s mouth. Fortunately, the show is sketch-based, so duds can be skipped with no consequences, but if you want to avoid the more insensitive and unfunny bits, I’d hang back and wait for other viewers to give you a heads-up.

Asobi Asobase

A girl in glasses and a blonde girl play Thumb War.

Caitlin: I wasn’t sure about Asobi Asobase at first, to be honest—I liked the first episode well enough, but my approach to seasonal shows tends to be rather cutthroat. I’m glad I took it on for the three-episode test, though, because damn are the next two episodes gut-bustingly funny.

Not that much has changed. It’s still mean without crossing over the line into cruel. The faces are still incredible and horrifying. It’s like if Nichijou were full of jerks, or if you sucked every ounce of moe appeal out of Azumanga Daioh. It is the anti-moe. These girls are not here to be cute; they’re here to be gross and terrible to each other and everyone else.

The jokes occasionally edge toward their meanest when regarding ethnic differences about Olivia: the smell of her armpits (armpit odor is linked to a gene most white people have and East Asians don’t) and how she’s doomed to age poorly. And if I were still living in Japan, I might have been a bit stung by it. But safely surrounded by similarly stinky, poorly aging people, it still earned a “funny because it’s true” laugh.

If you want a moe-free female-driven comedy but felt alienated by Pop Team Epic’s… Pop Team Epic-ness, your time may have come. Play and let play with Asobi Asobase.

Planet With

A teen boy wearing a glowing face mask faces forward. Behind him, a giant purple cat-man raises its paws as if to pounce.

Peter: No other anime this season has grabbed me the way Planet With has. It’s eccentric, thoughtful, dramatic, and action-packed, often all at the same time. After it’s masterfully coordinated premiere, the series continues to expertly juggle its many hats, packing each episode with a thoughtful personal subplot focusing on one of the Nebula Soldiers while also moving forward Soya’s own story and fitting in a number of jokes that allow both sides to breathe.

Of particular interest is the bizarre cognitive space that the Nebula Soldiers find themselves in whenever they’re under the core of a Nebula Weapon. Here, they confront an internal conflict and overcome it to defeat the aliens. Paired with the cliffhangers and reveals regarding Soya’s past, it’s hard to figure out how this is all supposed to come together, but early appearances give it an ambitious feel.

There are a couple of minor snagging points. First, there’s Sensei’s obsession with looking up the skirts of his female action figures, a running gag much like Soya’s own struggle to eat meat. It’s strange, but preferable to being directed at any active female characters, I guess (although knowing that the figures are characters from Satoshi Mizukami’s previous works doesn’t help).

I also have some concerns with the developing narrative around Miu and Harumi. While each Nebula Soldiers’ internal conflict has been compelling, Hideo’s was about forgiving the self-perceived failure that had shaped his life. Meanwhile, Miu and Harumi’s struggles are centered around what seem to be a positive and ultimately constructive portrayal of strength that’s undercut by their concerns with how it affects their femininity.

Whether Planet With frames the issue as a conflict with cultural perceptions or as a feature that somehow compromises their identity as women will really affect my feelings toward the series. Either way, I’ll be sticking around to find out.

Cells at Work!

A man in white and a woman in red stand next to each other, looking up at something.

Vrai: C-U-T-E. That’s the word for Cells At Work. If you’ve got any fondness for edutainment, the show’s blend of sentai shenanigans and almost iyashikei teachable moments provide a pleasant 22-minute package every week. The show’s visual coding is appealingly thought out, from Red’s hat mimicking the slight curvature of a red blood cell to delivery packages being sorted into boxes (for gases) and food baskets (for energy). It feels sincerely excited to teach its audience, and the goodnatured cast is fun to hang out with.

The gender essentialism problems Caitlin mentioned in the premiere review do, unfortunately, persist. The show seems to be trying to branch out from making Red the helpless damsel—in Episode 2, both she and White Blood Cell are saved by the childlike platelets, and Episode 3 prominently features Macrophage and her enormous hatchet—but the unconscious bias of what A Girl and A Boy look like remains strong. Also, subplots like Naïve T-Cell learning that his fellow T-Cells hazing him is actually a beneficial bonding technique (rather than, y’know, toxic garbage) are a bit hard to swallow.

These issues are rarely in the foreground, so your ability to put up with it may depend on how taken in you are by the earnest tone and well-crafted anthropomorphism. But if those aren’t your jam (and maybe even if they are), the incidental irritants might wind up wearing down your enjoyment.

100 Sleeping Princes and the Kingdom of Dreams

A young woman in modern-day clothes blushes and looks surprised. Poking its head over her shoulder is a white fox-like creature wearing a vest, looking like he's on the verge of crying.

Dee: I’d be hard-pressed to describe 100 Sleeping Princes as “good” by any metric. The animation is noticeably stilted and frequently off-model. The story seems to have forgotten its own premise, as our Princess keeps finding princes who are already awake and just need her to listen to their personal problems and pray them to victory.

Princess herself could be replaced by a wedge of cheese and nothing would be lost. In fact, she’d be a more compelling character that way, because at least then I’d be wondering what kind of cheese she was and which wine she’d pair best with.

Sorry, I’m being snarky. I actually don’t hate 100 Princes. The boys are all decent dudes, the villain is magnificently extra, and the little mini-arcs are totally functional (the next one is gonna have pirates and merdudes!). If Princess were more active or at least had a personality beyond “nice,” I’d likely be enjoying it. I wouldn’t warn folks away from it; I just don’t think I’ll be coming back for more.

HANEBADO!

A teen girl in a sports uniform leaps forward, a badminton racket in one hand, aiming for a birdy flying in the foreground.

Caitlin: For years I’ve been asking, hoping, praying for a sports series that takes girls’ sports seriously. I thought Hanebado would finally be the one. And… some boob nonsense aside, it does treat its characters seriously.

These girls aren’t here to faff around and be cute, they’re here to play badminton and work out their issues. The former comes across beautifully—Nagisa, Ayane, and their teammates are incredible athletes. The boob nonsense has mostly been toned down in favor of detailed, fluid motion that looks rotoscoped, without ever dipping into uncanniness.

The latter… needs a little work. In terms of character writing, Hanebado has gone a little too far to the other side, to the point of feeling at times dour and humorless. Nagisa and Ayane’s intensity comes from some serious issues around the court, but they get worked out a little too fast and the victories feel hollow and unearned. On the other hand, there’s little of the sense of fun or camaraderie that make series like Haikyu!! and Free! so much fun to watch. There’s also too much (and by “too much” I mean “any”) comedy from the coach not having any sense of boundaries or personal space.

Hanebado may offer genuine female athletics, but with the weak storytelling and character development, it’s driving away much of an audience that cries out for its core concept.

Banana Fish

Ash and Eiji staring into each other's eyes with their foreheads touching

Vrai: I’m on the AniFish train for better or worse, y’all. I’m far too invested in the history of queer anime and manga to skip out on such a pivotal work. But it’d be nice if some more of that “better” came along soon, because so far it’s been kind of a bumpy ride.

The show’s biggest problem is the modern update, a decision that only goes skin-deep as the plot remains almost entirely unchanged from the 1980s manga. This means story beats that made sense in the original pulpy narrative now have glaring holes in them, such as new laws that would allow Ash to seek amelioration as a CSA survivor or the fact that none of the non-crooked cops think “runs an underage sex ring” is an angle to pursue when trying to take down a mob boss.

Meanwhile, elements like the death of a young Black character, used for shock value, come off as even more tasteless in light of current events (not to mention unnecessary, since you could still make Ash feel guilty with an injury rather than a fridging). In the manga, that kind of stuff gets worse, not better; and since series producer Kyoko Uryu is an intense fan of the original work, I’m not holding out hope for the kinds of big changes Banana Fish needs to gel with modern sensibilities.

It’s not all bad. Utsumi is clearly passionate about Ash and Eiji’s relationship, and the series comes alive when they’re on screen together. The kiss in Episode 3 is easily the most creative, above-and-beyond moment to date, not just recreating the moment panel-for-panel but elevating it to the needs of a new medium. To a lesser extent, character scenes with a tight focus on Ash can also be gripping, and the boards have a good eye for violent, kinetic action scenes. The voice acting is also universally solid.

Unfortunately, when scenes Utsumi doesn’t seem as interested in come up, the direction turns rote, functional but unimpressive, often replicating the form of the original panels but not the spirit. This basically includes everything about the Banana Fish conspiracy that doesn’t end in Ash Having An Emotion. There are sparks of brilliance here, but it’s trying to be a romance dragging around a ten-ton crime thriller tumor on its leg, and I’m not sure how that’s gonna shake out in the long run.

Oh, and Amazon’s translation keeps adding slurs to the subtitles where they aren’t present in the original dialogue. That needs to stop immediately. I would encourage you to (politely) continue reporting the issue.

Revue Starlight

Karen from Revue Starlight looking upward at a shower of gold confetti flying across the camera

Vrai:  This show couldn’t have been more made for me if it had shown up gift-wrapped at my doorstep. It’s a surreal character drama drawing from the Takarazuka tradition (and thus, inevitably, drawing many a comparison to Revolutionary Girl Utena), with heaps of heavily implied yuri and a good old dash of musical theatre to top it off. I love it, I’m here for it, stuff it into my face.

The cast is rather large for the run-time, but the broadly sketched personalities are fairly well-suited to the setting of a performing arts school (boy could I tell you a thing or two about student actors, kiddos). The designs are as memorable as they need to be, and the heavy use of symbolism helps paper over the jump to Big Emotions for secondary cast members while the show takes its time building up the main relationship. The animation on the school scenes is often fairly limited, but only because Revue Starlight is saving up for the duels, which make smart use of stock transformation footage and are simply breathtaking to look at.

If there’s a critique to be made, it’s that there’s precious little that makes sense on a literal level. Like Yurikuma Arashi before it (which Director Furukawa also worked on), there’s a great deal of well-drawn metaphor but not always a lot of concrete detail backing it up. That’s not necessarily a problem if the show can nail the emotional journey between Karen and Hikari, but it’s a high-wire act. If the emotional resonance falls flat and doesn’t deliver on all these high-falutin’ metaphors, then you have a lot of flash with no soul. So far though, my hopes are high.

Phantom in the Twilight

A young woman in a red jacket crouches behind a large, ornate steel shield, looking determined.

Dee: Gosh, do I love this show. Everything I said about the premiere is still true, with the added bonus that I’ve had time to grow attached to the cast. The story is moving at a nice clip, balancing character development, action, and world-building in equal measures. While the series clearly cares about its cast and their conflicts, it also maintains a sense of humor about its paranormal premise, which gives it a boatload of charm and makes the group dynamics even more endearing.

Ton continues to impress as an active, courageous protagonist. She has room to grow but can hold her own with the team, both in her interactions with allies and battles with antagonists. There’s also a consistent undercurrent about respecting her wishes and agency, whether it’s from Ton herself or one of the boys.

Speaking of those boys: Phantom may be full of vampires and werewolves, but the typical predatory undercurrent is refreshingly absent. Luke (a.k.a. Best Boy) even explicitly says he doesn’t prey on vulnerable girls and only flirts with “happily-smiling” ones who want to flirt back. They’re not perfect, but they’re overall good dudes, and the series has done a stellar job of maintaining a power balance between Ton and her teammates.

Shinyao’s more passive role remains my only real concern, and I do hope she isn’t damseled for the entire series (although even that’s mitigated when it’s another lady doing the rescuing). Beyond that, Phantom in the Twilight is a phantom in the delight. I’m already looking forward to the next episode.


[Editor’s Note: The We Rent Tsukumogami review was added on August 8, after the original publication of this article.]

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