[Roundtable] Fall 2017 three-episode check-in

Given the sheer number of promising new titles as well as the limited nature of a premiere review, we’ve decided to try a new, informal “check-in” roundtable to talk about the currently airing shows and our thoughts three episodes into the season. Amelia, Dee, and Vrai got together to talk (and talk!) about the many shows in their queues and how they’re doing a few weeks into the Fall.

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 past the first episode, we skipped it, and we’ve used nice big headers to help you quickly jump to the shows you were interested in. Let us know your own thoughts on the season so far, as well as what you think about this new type of post, in the comments below!

Four girls and two boys in school uniforms stand around a table covered in boxes filled with what look like blu-ray cases. A pink-haired girl looks startled, while the other seem happy. Subtitle: "We have plenty of time to watch and discuss anime."

Dee: That sound. Do you hear that sound? It’s the sound of my Fall watchlist slowly crushing my ribcage. This season is stacked. I’m happy, but I’m also watching like 15 shows. RIP me.

Vrai: WOOF. I feel like a slacker by comparison. I’m watching like seven.

Amelia: I’m only caught up on about three things, so feel better, Vrai. But there is a ton of stuff I WANT to watch, where last season it felt like a chore. And I’m hoping I’ll get some hot tips on recs from both of you in this conversation too…

Dee: We’ll do our very best!

Vrai: WOULD YOU LIKE SOME GARBAGE? I HAVE THAT.

Amelia: You ALWAYS have that.

Dee: You have TRASH, Vrai. I’m pretty sure we all burned the garbage to stay warm as the autumn chill (finally) creeps in.

Which OH LOOK, A SEGUE! Nobody’s watching Sisterfucker or Nazis Я Kool, right?

Vrai: HELL NO.

Amelia: I intend to watch Sisterfucker though.

Dee: I’ll say a prayer for you.

Amelia: I enjoy snarky livetweeting. Also, I’m open to being pleasantly surprised, like I was for Shobitch!

Dee: Which is once again a perfect segue!

 

My Girlfriend is a Shobitch

[Editor’s Note: As of this conversation, Shobitch Episode 3 had not yet aired]

Dee: Amelia, I know you were much more optimistic about Shobitch than Vrai or I were. Keeping up with it?

Amelia: I am indeed. And I will continue to do so until the main couple, Kosaka and Shinozaki, cross a line. I love Kosaka dearly, and I appreciate both her character development and the way Shinozaki treats her. I’m getting the same enjoyment out of it that I got from My Love Story!!, albeit on a more adult-themed level. It’s a low bar, but the fact that a show like this hasn’t hit my dealbreakers of things like “accidental groping as meet-cute” is going a long way for me.

CAVEAT TIME: We’re only two episodes in, and the side characters HAVE hit my dealbreakers. My love for Kosaka is strong enough to offset that for now, but it’s on thin ice.

Vrai: Yeah, that was my concern. Kosaka was an amazing character but I couldn’t handle the supporting cast in the premiere.  I was gonna check out the second episode, then saw “little sister vs girlfriend” in the description and noped out.

a girl in a cat-eared hoodie. subtitle: your ACTUAL sister is going to walk home with you

Amelia: I think the first episode is slightly worse than the second. It focuses on the little sister rather than the childhood friend, and her big brother complex is… ugh. But the childhood friend grabbing Kosaka’s breasts in episode one was a low point, and I don’t think the little sister plummets that hard.

Dee: “Nobody was assaulted for comedy!” Sometimes I worry about the height of our bar. ^^; But I’m glad the main couple continues to be fun and supportive.

Amelia: Honestly, they could go either way, but I’m a sucker for odd-couple romances based on a foundation of acceptance of quirks (hi there Nodame Cantabile), so the low points with side characters aren’t quite enough to put me off… yet.

 

King’s Game

a boy looks at a phone screen in horror, washed in a red filter

Vrai: I watched a second episode of King’s Game. I have so many regrets.

Dee: Still about awful people dying awfully, eh?

Vrai: Y’all know the sweet, perky orphan girl?

Dee: No, I wiped that show from my memory. BUT CONTINUE.

Vrai: She’s actually a calculated survivalist. We know this because she isn’t shamed about taking off her clothes when she’s ordered to have sex with a guy as part of the game, and then she takes the main character off to the side and deliberately makes him look bad with a false rape accusation.

And then I was DONE. My love for a spot of the old ultraviolence could not survive that.

Amelia: Ah, false rape accusation, that old insta-DONE.

Vrai: My bar for horror is pretty forgiving, but that is an immediate nope.

 

KONOHANA KITAN

Two girls with fox ears sit in a hot spring, submerged up to their chests. They are both looking at something or someone off-screen. The girl on the left, with light hair, is blushing.

Dee: I watched the third episode of Konohana Kitan because I’d heard good things and wanted to be able to talk about it for this check-in. There’s still some gratuitous nudity, but it does have what appears to be a sincere, canon wlw relationship between two of the fox-girls. It basically ends with a boy guest at the inn getting a crush on one of the two girls and the other girl shutting him down: “Nope, you can’t have a crush on her, sorry.”

Vrai: Oh no, that’s cute. My low bar…

Dee: It’s very tropey and archetypal—tsundere who’s bad at expressing her feelings, “tomboy” girl who frequently gets mistaken for a boy—but it doesn’t seem baity, at least.

Amelia: Low bars all around! Do you think it changes much between episodes one and three, or will first episode impressions be representative? (I am basically trying to figure out how little I can watch before making a decision.)

Dee: Well, as with Shobitch, there wasn’t any sexual assault played for laughs in the third episode as opposed to the first, so, progress!

Vrai: The lowest of bars!

A close up of a blonde girl, open-mouthed and blushing. Subtitles: "She's so pretty."

Dee: I doubt you’d enjoy it, Amelia. It’s very Cute Girls Being Cute. Frequently while naked in a hot springs. And the camera leers at times.

Amelia: Is this a “But it’s equal opportunities objectification!” thing, in the sense of “Some queer women like to sexualise female characters too THEREFORE your dislike of sexual fanservice is anti-feminist”?

Dee: I dunno. I think the manga-ka is a woman and it ran in a yuri magazine, for what that’s worth.

Vrai: It did get switched to a seinen, so I’m a little curious but also wary.

Dee: It’s not my thing, personally, just because I find the characters fairly flat, but I’d bump it up to a “yellow flag” at this point, I think.

Vrai: Maybe if I get bored enough I’ll give it a go for the sake of all our “deeply desperate for any queer anime, no matter how mediocre” viewers.

Amelia: A powerful recommendation indeed.

 

TWOCAR

two girls on a makeshift sidecar; one is flustered, the other intent

Vrai: I thought I was gonna keep up with TWOCAR but wound up dropping it in Episode 2. It turns out the prize for winning the local tournament is a trip to the Isle of Man (har har) where their teacher went, meaning I would have to put up with that subplot a lot more prominently than anticipated (and also lots of side characters were already talking about the motivation of “a girl in love!” and UGH).

And also, rather than giving the gimmicky supporting cast one-on-one spotlights, they brought them ALL into the cast, then split up the duos, and I couldn’t keep up with who was who, nor care.

Amelia: …Isle of Man? Like… the actual place?

Vrai: Yes and also the pun.

Dee: The one male character went to the Isle of Man.

Amelia: But… That’s a terrible prize. (Sorry Isle of Man dwellers… but you know it’s true.)

Dee: Not when your hot coach voiced by Shinichirou Miki (swoon) is waiting for you on that isle!

Amelia: I had little interest in that one anyway, and it sounds like that’s not likely to change. Moving on!

 

JUNI TAISEN: ZODIAC WAR

A muscular man in a playboy bunny costume points a bloody knife toward the camera

[Editor’s Note: As of this conversation, JUNI TAISEN Episode 4 had not yet aired]

Dee: I think Vrai and I are both keeping up with JUNI TAISEN?

Vrai: It’s my kind of trash.

Dee: It’s a trashy action spectacle with zero feminist value, but also not much in the way of feminist demerits either, I think. A few ridiculously revealing costumes, but the camera isn’t super skeevy about it.

Vrai: It has been killing off a lot of its women pretty early, but… but the SPECTACLE. And I like the warrior of the monkey (who is a woman) a lot.

And that bunny, y’all. I love him. We call it The Empowered Bunny Man Hour at my house.

Amelia: Oh, this is THAT one!

Vrai: Though I mean, I think we know how it’s gonna end. We read Fruits Basket.

Amelia: Then I’m IN.

Dee: After its first 3 episodes, it’s settled into a predictable narrative structure. I’ve been having fun, but if it doesn’t change things up this week, I’m not going to stick around.

Amelia: Then I’m MAYBE NOT IN.

a girl in glasses, a heavy coat and no pants holds up her hand in the middle of a banquet hall

Vrai: I think the predictable structure could work for a sense of inevitable dread but could also get boring. Very easily could cut both ways.

Dee: If the structure stays the same, they’re going to kill off my favorite character this week, and then both the dread and the tension will be dead for me.

Amelia: Wait, there’s DEATH in this? This conversation is a rollercoaster.

Dee: It’s a battle royale series, Amelia.

Vrai: It’s a total bloodbath spectacle show.

Dee: Literally its only connection to Fruits Basket is “has a zodiac theme.”

Vrai: Yup. I was making a cheap joke on “clearly the rat will win at the last minute.”

Amelia: I thought this was going to end with a beautiful romance…

Dee: I mean. I guess it COULD. But there will be a lot of dead bodies before then.

Amelia: As with all the best romances.

 

BLEND-S

A girl in a maid outfit peeks out from behind a counter, glaring at a frightened man facing away from the camera. The girl has a black "doom" cloud behind her and sound effects emanating from her form. Subtitles: "Rumble rumble"

Dee: UM. SO. I am watching BLEND-S and I feel guilty about it, but clearly not guilty enough to stop watching because it’s still in my CrunchyQueue.

Vrai: EMBRACE AND EXPLAIN.

Dee: It’s a show about fetishes. Primarily fictional anime/manga/game-based fetishes, but not always. It’s about fantasies intersecting with “real” people, and assumptions based on appearances/stereotypes contrasting with actual individuals. All of which is coated in a cute-girl workplace comedy series.

Which makes it interesting but also sometimes deeply uncomfortable. One dude fetishizes yuri. One girl fetishizes blonde-haired foreigners. Everyone who comes to the restaurant fetishizes some moe archetype—”the tsundere,” “the sadist,” “the imouto,” etc.

Amelia: Is any of this commentary? As a POC who studied Japanese I have a complicated history with the “blonde-haired foreigner” fetish and would love to see that reflected and explored a little.

Dee: I think so, yes. For example, there’s a scene in the 3rd episode where their Italian manager is nervous about spending time with a girl he likes and his Japanese coworker is like “This might be a stereotype, but you’re an Italian man, so you have a lot of experience romancing the ladies, right?” And the manager responds “That is a stereotype! I’m personally really awkward and nervous with people I like!”

Amelia: Oooh, thumbs up!

Dee: But ALL OF THIS needs to be tagged with a big, SCREAMING asterisk, because the manager is an adult and the girl is his 16-year-old high school employee.

Vrai: Oh, they’re the ship. That’s a little yikes.

A young man in a waiter uniform bows slightly and extends a hand to be shaken. Across from him is a pigtailed girl in a pink school uniform, looking startled. Subtitle: "Won't you work here as a precursor to going out with me?"

Dee: Their budding relationship is being presented as pretty cutesy—two awkward turtles crushing on each other largely because each represents a fantasy/fetish that the other one likes. If she were an adult, I’d be fine with it. But she isn’t, so even though the series goes out of its way to make the manager a big hapless dork who gets bossed around by his employees (i.e., trying to mitigate the power imbalance) they can’t make it go away because SHE’S SIXTEEN AND WORKS FOR HIM.

Amelia: How old an adult is the manager?

Dee: I don’t remember them saying it, but Caitlin said in her premiere review that he’s 26.

Amelia: It’s generally not a dealbreaker for me if both partners are in their late teens, but a teenager and someone 10 years older is a little dicier…

Vrai: That’s a whole lot of nope for me. That’s a HUGE maturity gap.

Dee: I told you I feel guilty for liking this show.

Vrai: It sounds like there are good secondary aspects!

Amelia: I’m probably more bothered by the employer/employee power dynamics than the age gap, in all honesty—so many anime girls look young, it’d be easier to put into the “Please do not acknowledge while viewing” part of my brain. The other stuff would have to be very very good to offset the age gap plus power dynamic skew.

Dee: I have a feeling it will eventually cross my discomfort line and I’ll end up dropping it. If Konahana Kitan gets bumped up to “yellow flags,” then I’d bump BLEND-S down to “red.”

Vrai: That’s too bad.

Dee: BUT HERE I AM WITH THE SHOW IN MY QUEUE. I’ll just leave my feminist gun and badge on the table, orz

 

Anime-Gataris

Two girls in school uniforms face another girl in a sleeveless dress, who has her back to the camera. One of the school girls is blonde and wearing an expression of exaggerated admiration; the other has pink hair in pigtails and looks confused. They appear to be standing in a costume store.

Dee: On to a less complicated series: Anime-Gataris!

Vrai: I’m still jazzed about it. No one is more surprised than me. Club anime aren’t my thing, and I have very little patience for namedropping as a stand-in for actual jokes, but the SINCERITY of it won my heart. It’s a show about how being passionate makes someone beautiful, and I love that.

Dee: My main critique of Gataris is that it’s really insular and simplistic. I appreciate the enthusiasm and the show’s central message about how it’s important to have something you love, and I adore the way it paints geeky hobbies as something that creates a community rather than something that isolates people. But it’s also very “anime is always amazing all the time, we can poke a little fun at it, but let us never genuinely critique it.”

Vrai: That’s very true. Nobody ever gets into the meat. Which on the one hand is true of high school students a lot of the time I think, because it’s still that youthful, early infatuation, but it’s not necessarily productive. And anime is often a little too quick to pat itself on the back with shows like this.

Dee: I want an episode where Kamiigusa shows Maya a series full of fanservice/sexism and Maya is really put off by it, and Kamiigusa comes to realize she’s gotten so used to the conventions of the medium that she didn’t even realize this could be upsetting/uncomfortable for someone.

Vrai: YES. AND IT WON’T HAPPEN.

Dee: Oh, almost certainly not.

A crowd of students in shadows. Subtitles: "But it's in anime that we learned justice, friendship and perseverance."

Vrai: Episode 3 ends with a big impassioned speech about how battle anime champion the weak and downtrodden and on the one hand it’s well performed but I’m also like… anime loves to pretend actual oppressed groups don’t exist. (Again, this is a show where their homeroom teacher is An Hilarious Gay Stereotype.)

Dee: And Episode 3 has a fujoshi bit that fetishizes gay men. So yeah, it’s still a “yellow flag,” I’d say, but the flags are pretty few and far between.

Vrai: Yup, I’d say the same. I’ll stick with it I think, but it’s got some flaws.

Amelia: I’m instantly wary about anything self-congratulatory about anime or fandom, and I’ve not been won over by this conversation—do you think it’s one for me? Any charm points you’ve not mentioned?

Dee: It strikes me as very genuine and sincere. The fact that it doesn’t criticize its medium feels more like “blinded by love” than “intentionally misleading,” if that makes sense.

You could give the first episode a try and see if you find it charming or full of itself. The tone/pace is pretty consistent, so if you’re not into the premiere, I don’t see your opinion changing.

Amelia: Okay, that’s good to know!

Vrai: For a show that spent a whole in-universe conversation on third episode twists, it sure didn’t have one.

Dee: I kept waiting for a shoe to drop, but all shoes remained suspended.

 

Black Clover

A close-up of a white-haired boy wearing a black headband. Four multicolored arrows are jabbing into his face. The arrows say "Loud," "Obnoxious," "Immature," and "Short."

Amelia: Okay. Black Clover.

Dee: [ominous music plays?]

Amelia: Is NOT good.

Dee: [ominous music plays!]

Amelia: I love shounen very dearly. Naruto is one of my favourite and most personally meaningful anime of all time. I came up with the phrase “shounen-by-numbers” independently in response to Black Clover before speaking to many other people who also came up with it independently. It’s hitting almost identical beats to every other JUMP show, without any of the heart and with an extra high level of annoyance.

Dee: Is the protagonist still screaming?

Amelia: I don’t know who cast the main character but they deserve to be fired immediately. I actually turned the sound off at one point because I couldn’t take it anymore.

Dee: As far as feminist-relevant concerns go, are there any from the later episodes people should be aware of? Or is it still just a bland but mostly harmless shounen?

Amelia: General absence of women? Shounen does not have a good track record with female characters. What I’ve seen so far makes me assume it’s going to tap into the most common tropes in the worst possible ways. The only reason to watch this would be if you reeeeally love shounen, except that it feels like a big middle finger up to everything that good shounen celebrates and explores.

Dee: OUCH.

Vrai: So it’s for NOBODY. Well, at least there’s always a new shounen on the next horizon.

 

Just Because!

two middle school boys lean against a rail on a shopping street, talking

Amelia: Someone talk to me about Just Because! Worth it?

Vrai: Another show not in my wheelhouse that I’m surprisingly down with. There is some romantic miscommunication, which I loathe as a plot element, but it doesn’t feel contrived and it’s not a super consuming part of the plot. Plus the ladies talk about things besides boys sometimes, which is nice.

Amelia: Well that was an exercise in damning with faint praise.

Dee: It’s a very down-to-earth story about high school seniors entering their final semester of school. There’s a poignancy to its tone—that sense of standing on the cusp of adulthood and hoping you don’t have any regrets.

Amelia: Aww, this sounds bittersweet. I’m not good with high school bittersweet, as it invokes too much of my own.

Dee: It is, a bit. But all the female characters have distinct personalities and goals, and many of those goals do not involve boys/romance, which is great. I don’t feel like I have a ton to say about it, it’s just a well-written, grounded slice of life.

Vrai: As 90% of high school romance anime are, it’s relentlessly heterosexual, but I like these kids and so far I want to keep with it.

Dee: I was just thinking “I should put an asterisk on my last sentence that the life they’re slicing off for us is very cis/heteronormative.”

Vrai: It’s a personal pet peeve of mine that these Snapshot of Everyday Life Among a Group! shows are all preeeeeeeeetty similar. But, yeah, enjoying the show.

 

URAHARA

A girl in a cat-eared hoodie holding a tablet, a girl on a hoverboard, and a girl in a crop top with a city high-rise in the background

Amelia: I watched an episode of Urahara and I thought it was cute and feminist-friendly and aesthetically pleasing but not for me—does that sound about right?

Vrai: I think it’s made for a young audience. I couldn’t get into it, but it looks lovely.

Amelia: Same. I appreciate the kind of collage feel of the art, but it was both cutesy and kind of surreal, which is a kryptonite combination for me. However, I saw the creators speak at CRX and I was really impressed by how important it was to them that the girls’ identities as creators come out in the dialogue—they even rewrote the script so that would come out more strongly! I’m glad that shows for kids with that kind of emphasis exist.

Vrai: Yeah, I’m glad. These kinds of things should exist even if they’re not for us.

 

Girls’ Last Tour

two girls in a military jeep, wearing coats and helmets

Vrai: Speaking of cutesy…

Dee: Did anyone keep up with Girls’ Last Tour?

Vrai: I just couldn’t go back to it when the time came.

Amelia: This one puts me off so badly. Both the aesthetic and what I know of the plot.

Dee: The “plot.”

Vrai: That’s not enough air quotes.

Dee: I caught the second episode. I’m gonna be That Guy: I prefer the manga. It’s less cutesy, more melancholy, and the sketchy art does a better job of establishing the vastness of the world and sense of quiet, lasting decay. So if I keep up with it at all, it’ll likely be through the manga.

Vrai: That’s definitely what I wanted from the premiere and didn’t get.

Dee: The opening theme does feature the two girls dabbing, though, so I can’t be too upset with it.

Amelia: I can’t believe you both actually find a sense of lasting decay to be desirable. “What do you look for in a story?” “Oh, a sense of lasting decay, you know. Same as everyone, right?”

Dee: Stories about people finding hope/companionship amidst seeming isolation and hopelessness are very appealing to me.

Vrai: Same. Little lights in the dark. There were flashes of that here, but not enough for me.

 

Kino’s Journey

A young person in travel gear riding a motorcycle

Vrai: And then there’s Kino’s Journey

Dee: Siiiiiiiigh. I’m so bummed that I don’t care for new Kino.

Vrai: I gave a GLOWING review to the premiere and it’s been downhill from there. It’s been a weird experience for me because I’ve been finishing my first watch of the original 2003 anime in concert with watching the new show. So I saw new Kino’s version of Coliseum before I saw the old one… and it still didn’t feel RIGHT. I could still tell it was rushing through things and the characters felt very flat in a way I couldn’t engage with. And I have an ever-plummeting confidence on how they’ll handle Kino being AFAB.

Dee: Can you go into that a little?

Vrai: The ’03 Coliseum episode featured Kino responding to being called “boy” and “missy” with “don’t call me that, my name is Kino.” But new Coliseum only includes the “boy” line. It also ends with a male character being confused as to why Kino wouldn’t want to “go off with strange men,” and then another character whispers to him (presumably that Kino is AFAB). In the ’03 anime, that scene took place after Kino’s backstory episode, so it was far less ugly; in new Kino, it feels like they’re gearing up for a “gender surprise.” Gender twists are NOT OKAY with me.

Also, Crunchyroll is still using “he.” They fixed the in-episode subtitle for the premiere, but the episode descriptions for subsequent episodes are still wrong. Kino is SUCH an important character for me and a lot of transmasc folks, and this breaks my heart.

Dee: What the hell, Crunchyroll? And their features/news team is so good about using “they,” too.

A young person in travel year stands in front of their bike; in the foreground, a man's clenched fist is visible

Vrai: As far as other stuff… I think new Kino thinks I’m dumb?

Dee: Yeah, that’s my biggest critique of new Kino so far. ’03 Kino was very restrained and understated. It trusted its audience. New Kino feels the need to spell everything out for you.

It’s just so… average, I guess? Average writing, average direction, average aesthetic. It’s not bad, it’s just nothing special. Which is a shame because even though I’m not over-the-moon in love with ’03 Kino, I do think it was special.

Vrai: The art looks like everything else that’s airing right now. I know it’s more in-line with the LN design, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. Old Kino had some arguably clunky things about its look, but it was clearly going for a cohesive aesthetic.

Dee: And maybe it’s unfair to compare a reboot to its predecessor, but it’s also difficult not to—especially when they chose to adapt the same story.

Vrai: The decision to re-adapt stories that ’03 Kino had done was a terrible one. It does the new adaptation no favors. And like I said, I saw the new version first in that case—and it still just didn’t work. I’m gonna keep watching it, but I’m not excited anymore. Just sort of sad.

Dee: I’m not sure I’ll stick with it. It’s kind of bumming me out that every week I come into the group chat to sigh and talk about why I didn’t care for Kino again.

Vrai: The discussion for all of this SHOULD be me saying “watch this if you want but ’03 Kino is the must watch”… but there are no legal subtitled streams of the original series.

Dee: Another bummer.

 

Recovery of an MMO Junkie

A woman with long dark hair, wearing a sweatsuit, hunkers over a computer desk. On the main computer monitor is the image of a girl in a pink cloak and a boy in a purple suit. The bottom of the screen has text and color bars, implying this is a video game.

Vrai: This next one’s on you two. MMO Junkie seems like a perfectly nice anime that hits all my personal NOPE CAN’T buttons.

Amelia: MMO Junkie is proving a delight for me. How are you finding it, Dee?

Dee: I LOVE MMO JUNKIE.

Amelia: It’s so refreshing to see some of my experiences reflected in anime. Woman in her thirties, living independently, enjoying beer and nerd pursuits, scared away from corporate zombification, nervous about falling for someone online… it’s so fun (and so rare!) to relate to a character in an anime so much.

Dee: I love the way it depicts online friendships and communities as just as valid and valuable as IRL ones. It acknowledges that there’s a level of performance and uncertainty that isn’t necessarily present in face-to-face meetings, but that doesn’t mean you can’t form meaningful connections.

Amelia: Yes, absolutely! And other people on the AniFem staff have noted how accurately it portrays the experience of falling for someone online, which I agree with.

A long-haired woman sits in a dark room, her hands covering her face. Subtitles: "I had so much fun. Lily-san, thank you. Thank you!"

Dee: And yes, the corporate zombification is Too Real. I wish I had the financial security to quit MY soul-sucking day job…

Amelia: The corporate zombification scenes have made me tear up. It’s so real… but again, it’s incredible to see something that actually hits me that hard in real life expressed in an ANIME. My recurring observation about representation is that you don’t notice its absence—until you experience it. Then once you do, you just want more and more. I desperately want more anime with 30-something women protagonists now.

Dee: There’s also something kind of amazing about a show where the adult protagonist’s decision to quit a job that was making her miserable and pursue activities that make her happy ISN’T painted as inherently negative. Moriko was pretty clearly depressed, and while she’s still a big ball of anxiety at times, forming this online community has at the very least put her on the path to getting better.

The show sympathizes with that, instead of telling her to suck it up. I suspect the series will eventually nudge her towards finding a balance between IRL and online life—or between responsibility and pleasure, you could say—which is healthier in the long run, I think, but that level of sympathy and nuance is very much appreciated.

Amelia: That’s a really good point, especially since a lot of manga about working women emphasise the virtue of committing to a job until it starts improving—which, in real life, some jobs never do.

Dee: It’s important to be able to endure a certain level of stress/unpleasantness, but it’s also okay to get out if what you’re doing is hurting you.

A pink-haired girl looks flustered and overwhelmed as the rest of the frame is filled with text bubbles in Japanese. Subtitles: "Hey, hey!" "My waifu!" "You're so cute, Lily-san."

Dee: I also like the way MMO Junkie plays with gender presentation and cultural norms. Lily getting harassed by male players to the point where a friend pretends to be her partner (a.k.a. her online boyfriend) to get people to leave her alone was painfully real. It’s exploring what it means to present as female versus male and how that affects your interactions both online and IRL in a way that’s really fascinating and resonates with me.

That said, I think it does that at the expense of having a conversation about gender identity, which is really unfortunate.

Vrai: My brief two cents: shows in this subgenre tend to use gender play as kind of neat hat, where the characters can fret a little but ultimately put it away, safe in the knowledge that they are cis and straight and won’t suffer any social consequences. Meanwhile these shows also tend to not feature any actual queer or trans characters. If MMO Junkie winds up having an actual queer or trans ship, I think I would be infinitely less annoyed by the premise.

Amelia: I know some on the team are relying on headcanon for this one and just hoping that’s never contradicted, but you really shouldn’t have to. In art as in real life, MMO settings provide a really easy way to approach trans and queer ships, and not making use of that even on a subtextual level is a shame.

Dee: It still could do that, but it hasn’t yet. So, as much as I love it, I maintain what I said in my premiere review—the way it handles gender identity and sexuality is going to be a dealbreaker for some folks.

Amelia: And I think we need to acknowledge that it’s okay to appreciate representation in one area while criticising it in another. No such thing as a perfect feminist show.

Vrai: Yeah, I think the only arguable “harm” is when someone says “a show has good things, so the bad parts shouldn’t be talked about!”

Amelia: Exactly. That’s how you end up throwing other marginalised people under the bus.

 

Land of the Lustrous

A long shot of a grassy plain. There are three figures standing with their backs to the camera: A long black-haired person, a person with iridescent hair, and a green-haired person seated on the ground. Above them is something that looks like a cross between a cloud and a fortress, with a bright ball of light at its top center. In the distance is a tall building.

Amelia: I’m showing Land of the Lustrous to a friend right now and continue to be blown away by its beauty and ambition and horror and sweetness.

Vrai: IT WAS MADE FOR ME.

Amelia: Imaginative body horror? Check. Agender characters across a spectrum of gender presentations? Check. Visually fresh and accomplished? Check.

But—and this is a big deal—I LOVE IT TOO. You and I don’t usually fall for the same shows, but this is so special. And I have to acknowledge that AniFem staffer Peter has been fanpushing the manga for MONTHS.

Dee: I love it, too. The premiere kind of underwhelmed me, but then the next two episodes were excellently adapted. It balances action with character drama with world-building exceedingly well.

Vrai: There seems to be a focus on distinguishing itself through very dynamic camera work, which I dig. I am a gibbering mess about this show. I cannot cohesion. I LOVE THESE CHILDREN, ALL OF THEM.

An androgynous person with short, iridescent hair picks up and hugs another androgynous person with messy grew hair, who has their head buried in their knees.

Dee: A question I’ve been sitting on that I’m curious about: Do folks find this good genderqueer rep? I really like the series and think the characters are very well-realized, but I’m hesitant to push it as actively progressive on that front for the same reasons I’d hesitate to push a show about discrimination where the people being discriminated against are a fantasy race. I mean, they’re not agender humans. They’re sentient rocks.

Vrai: Mmm. I’m a little bummed that they’re all skinny androgynous waifs (yes I know the story made up reasons for that, but the story could’ve made up reasons for them to be different shapes too), but it’s very very cool to see characters referred to with neutral pronouns.

To me, anyway, the emotional truth of the characters matters more than the “technically rocks” part (since they are very human beyond their biology), but I could see how folks would disagree. It is a bit of a tired trope that the only way creators seem able to conceive of genderqueer characters is as somehow inhuman, but I’m SO HARD UP. And there’s something intriguing about bodies being implicitly modular.

Dee: Of course, and I’m not meaning to take that excitement away or rain on anyone’s parade. Personally I’ve always been happy to take fantasy elements as metaphors for real-world issues. But I know not everyone feels that way, which was why I’d been thinking about Lustrous from that angle.

Vrai: That’s fair. It’s entirely possible some folks will find it a half measure.

a pale figure with green hair lying on the grass; their limbs and face are shattered and show green glass on the inside, the same color as their hair

Dee: Backing up slightly, the modular nature of the gems strikes me as part of the shows Buddhist undercurrent—the concept of “the self” as an illusion, a cluster of ever-changing pieces rather than a unified whole—especially given all the Buddhist imagery surrounding Kongo-sensei and the Lunarians. (I’m SUPER interested in the show’s Buddhist elements and curious to see how it builds on that, by the by.)

Vrai: Oh, quite possibly. Serves a neat dual purpose that way. The physicality of the gems, fragility of body, role, and self all in one, is really interesting to me. It’s very much a show about how your body dictates your social role, which is subtextually interesting even if the designs are a bit disappointing.

Amelia: The friend I’m watching anime with right now didn’t fall immediately in love with Land of the Lustrous because of the character designs, and that makes me sad.

Dee: That’s a shame. Lustrous is really good. And having read Volume 2 of the manga, I can confirm that it will continue to be good for at LEAST another 2-3 episodes!

Vrai: MORE ROCKS, goes the cry every Saturday night.

Dee: So say we all!

 

Code: Realize ~Guardian of Rebirth~

Amelia: Code:Realize is the only one in our top tier that I know nothing about—how’s that doing?

Dee: I really like it! It might be too ridiculous for your tastes, but I’d say give it a try. It’s set in a steampunk London and all the boys are named after and inspired by classic Victorian-era literature. Van Helsing and Dracula joined the cast this past week. Dracula is a cute sad boy. Van Helsing is a tragic edgelord. It’s amazing.

Amelia: Steampunk London? I must watch and criticise.

Dee: The boys are all good boys. They’re sweet and supportive to Cardia, the female protagonist. The third episode was about them deciding to take her with them on a TRAIN HEIST, and when they remembered she has no memory and therefore no life skills, they were like “Hey you want us to take turns teaching you how to be awesome?” Cardia was on board, so she’s now learning martial arts, how to drive a car, alchemy, political science, and gentleman thievery.

Vrai: AWW.

Amelia: Amnesia is one of my less favourite tropes…

Dee: In this case I appreciate it because it gives the necessarily blank-slate VN protagonist a reason to be a blank slate. And I actually really like Cardia. She’s quiet, but she has goals and wants to learn and be a productive member of the team. It seems like she’ll have a proper character arc, which is a rarity in VN adaptations and I am extremely Here For It.

Vrai: I’m glad. Reverse harems deserve a good anime now and again.

Dee: And it’s continuing to press on its early ideas about the importance of agency and the ostracization of people deemed “monsters” by society, so curious to see where it goes with all that, too.

Amelia: That is all kinds of intriguing. I’m looking forward to watching it!

 

The Ancient Magus’ Bride

Close-up of a redheaded girl, one eye squinted shut, as a humanoid creature with clawed feet and green wings leans in and kiss.es her on the cheek

Dee: It’s really hard for me to talk about Magus’ Bride because I’m working off 6 volumes of manga knowledge.

Amelia: I haven’t seen the first three episodes since CRX in August. However, as I recall I found it beautiful and intriguing and ambitious, but cringed at any mention of their betrothal and the forced stripping and bathing scene was extremely off-putting. However, many many people I trust have recommended I stick with it, and that holds a lot of weight with me.

Vrai: I’ll say I was wary going in, was super won over by the OVA, and found the anime so far a little bit disappointing by comparison?

Dee: I actually haven’t seen the OVA! I know it’s anime-original. It’s mostly a prequel story, isn’t it?

Vrai: It is, yeah. It’s about Chise as a child and her interactions with a library in the woods. And I REALLY liked it. I think having it take place in the real world grounded it and made the magical elements work largely as metaphors for Chise’s trauma, so they feel like they’re part of conveying her emotional reality rather than being an escape. I was impressed with its subtlety and relative nuance.

Dee: My suspicion is that the OVAs are indicative of what the series will become. I think Episode 3 with the dragons gives you a better idea of how the series is handling Chise’s depression and personal journey.

Vrai: The anime so far is perfectly watchable but its depiction of Chise’s backstory feels very Anime™ rather than the more realistic and sincere exploration I got from the OVAs. The anime is just so very focused on showing us fantasy stuff right now that Chise’s backstory feels like window dressing.

Dee: It’ll pull in more details as we go. Chise isn’t ready to look at her own history just yet. Hence why what we do see is all flashes—usually at moments where something triggers or forcibly draws out those memories.

Close-up of a redheaded girl with a chained collar around her neck. She has her head bent forward, hair covering her eyes, mouth opened in a snarl. Subtitle: "I've never once been fortunate!"

Vrai: I think my big concern with Magus’ Bride is more metatextual than anything? This is clearly a story that wants to handle things with nuance and delicacy (and chomp Howl’s flavor, bless its heart), and I can feel its desire to do good.

My concern would be that because this is a popular show, along come the knockoffs that grasp “she sold herself to a husband and it worked out! He’s not like all the others, what luck!” But not all the rest of it, and they create actually damaging narratives. Which I think is a discussion worth having when a work decides to grapple with a fraught premise and it takes off.

Dee: I’m hesitant to penalize a series because of people who Missed The Point. If I did that I would never be able to enjoy anything, and no one would ever be able to write anything difficult or complex. That said, I do agree that I don’t want a bunch of stories that follow just the broad strokes of Magus’ Bride. I hesitated to read it for as long as I did because of those broad strokes.

Vrai: And you’re right, that doesn’t mean Magus’ Bride doesn’t deserve success and praise for what it does well, or that people shouldn’t enjoy it. But it also doesn’t mean “this premise is cool again y’all, have at it!” It’s one of those really super thorny discussions of how individual products affect the whole market.

And even saying that, I’d still recommend the OVA to people, is the thing.

Amelia: Do you think watching the OVA improves on the three episodes of the series out so far?

Vrai: It’s really, really good. If the series comes up to that bar it’ll be a special one. (I still find the betrothal stuff kind of uncomfortable but the series is doing its very, very best to mitigate.)

A moonlight forest with tall trees shooting towards the sky and a crescent moon shining down on them. In the center is a tall figure in a dark cloak, another redheaded figure in his arms.

Vrai: Also, I adore fiction that remembers that Fae Are Assholes, Actually.

Dee: They operate on their own rules and morals. Sometimes they’re helpers (from a human perspective), sometimes not. But they’re always dangerous and never your friends.

Vrai: IT’S GOOOOOOOOD.

Dee: I think Elias being fae-adjacent adds an important layer to his relationship with Chise, too. It pushes against a lot of labels without ever settling on one, and the series doesn’t romanticize him or even seem to especially trust him (nor does Chise), at this point.

Vrai: I think the series would fall apart if it didn’t have that element. Also the supporting cast is A+

Dee: Everyone is very worried about and wants to help Chise. It’s lovely.

Vrai: This show really is ALL about the execution.

Dee: Whatever Elias’s many shortcomings and general sense of—maybe not inhumanity, but perhaps unhumanity—towards Chise, he is expanding her world, introducing her to others who support her, and encouraging her to wield her own power. Which is ultimately beneficial for her.

Vrai: It does feel like Chise’s story even when she’s not in control, which I think a lot of series struggle with?

Dee: It’s a slow build and the adaptation is taking its time with it, but I’m glad you’re intrigued and hope you stick with it. Like you said, it’s all in the execution.

Vrai: I both want to see more of it and kind of hope I never see another show follow in its footsteps.

A tall figure with a skull for a head wearing a black cloak pats a redheaded girl on the head. It is nighttime in the forest. Subtitles: "That was a good experience, was it not?"

 

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  • Blusocket

    I’m with Vrai in feeling that AMB is very ‘just okay’ so far, although I think my issues are more that the (visual) direction feels lackluster rather than the plot elements turning me off–nobody blinks! It also has some long takes in the middle of uneventful scenes that feel too drawn out, and I don’t think it’s incorporating its jokes super smoothly. I don’t mean to bag on the series–it’s genuinely good, and I’m glad its getting an adaptation and doing well! I think it’s just definitely strongest when it’s putting the viewer in Chise’s head through the visuals, and it’s not quite pulling that off consistently, instead giving us a few more isolated moments of visual spectacle. I really loved the OVAs as well, so that’s probably coloring my perspective of it, but I just really wanted to like it more than I actually do so far. We’ll see how the rest of the season goes!

  • GreyLurker

    As you are unlikely to do much more on Black Clover I would like to offer up a small spoiler for it

    Black Clover introed it’s female lead with episode 4.

    Noelle Silva is from a noble family but suffers from older more talented sibblings telling her not to bother trying because she sucks, and she would just embarasse the family if she tries to do anything publicly. She has a lot of power and generally gorgeous Water Magic, but little to no control over it. She defies them and tries out for the Knights anyway, ending up in the same unit as Asta. After initial problems the two make a really good team.

    As a Manga reader I am happy to report that she has kicked at least one of those sibblings square in the teeth recently and that her control over her magic greatly improves.

    She kind of parallels Asta in a lot of ways. Asta has no magic, while Noelle has more than she can handle. Both suffer from those around them thinking very little of their chances in life. Both stubornly refuse to give up on their dreams and both are determined to prouve themselves despite setbacks.

    as you can probably guess from the twin-tails, she has a slight case of Tsundere.

    • Ayal92

      Noelle was the main reason I didn’t drop the manga and I regret nothing. She has had the most character development of the three main characters and most of her plots (control her powers, overcome her classism, kick their siblings in the face) have very little or nothing to do with Asta.

      Black Clover has some problems when it comes to female characters such as fanservice and the Blue Roses’ entire existence, but the ones it does right, it does right.

  • chises

    I had the same issue of being underwhelmed with AMB since I watched the OVAs before the TV series. When I watched the OVAs, there were moments where my brain went “Studio Ghibli, is that you?” because it was emotionally/visually captivating. When I saw the TV series, it felt like it was missing some of that magic, but like Dee said, the third episode seems to an indicator of things to come and I’m excited for that.

    Also, I’m really liking the round-table format! I’m a big fan of transcript/chatlog style stuff and I like reading everyone’s opinions about each show.

  • Lauren Vaughn

    Hearing that Dee and Caitlin both enjoy Ancient Magus’ Bride has convinced me to extend the series A LOT of trust – namely believing that Elias doesn’t (at least at this point in the narrative) see Chise in a sexual way and that the “bride” thing is a miscommunication not attempted grooming.

    That said – the fact that slavery is practiced and apparently accepted within the setting is deeply disturbing. Even if Chise is essentially treated like a free person and learns to value her freedom, I’ll be bothered as long as the system of slavery itself remains unchallenged. I’m hopeful we’ll learn that Elias is working to undermine the slavery system.

  • Elvenqueen

    Magus’ Bride is the only non-sequel this season that I’ve been keeping up with… but Lustrous sounds fun! I think I’ll check it out!
    Please keep doing these 3rd episode round-tables, they are neat and informative! (and make me feel better about dropping the shows I dropped!)

  • The Bellman

    Yea I’ve been mildly enjoying the new Kino’s Journey thus far but I can’t shake the sense that it’s just been sortof… Toothless? Putting aside my other major gripe with mediocre music and sound design (it’s unreasonable to expect this show to compete with the same talent behind the original series and Lain), they just haven’t been putting the troubling and hard-hitting episodes I had come to expect from the original series.

    By this point in the original series, we’d had the very atmospheric and touching *Land of Visible Pain*, the exceedingly grim *A Tale of Feeding Off Others*, *The Land of Prophecies*, one of the more bizarre and quirky episodes, and then episode 4 was Kino’s rather shocking origin story.

    This new series opened with a purely functional episode, followed that up with an even weaker adaption of one of the worst episodes from the original series, and then did an entertaining but more or less run-of-the-mill episode. Like it’s possible that they’ll do something meatier later on, but it’s a bad sign that they’d frontload the show with so much mediocrity if they had better material.

  • Jesshaleth

    Ooh this was great, I’d love to see more posts like this! It’s so good to hear several people weigh in, and like last season I’ve ended up picking up shows I wouldn’t have given a chance otherwise – thank you so much!

    All I have to add is that in a misguided attempt to give it “the three episode rule” I watched the third episode of King’s Game. It actually gets even worse. So there’s that.

  • Petrosilia Zwackelfrau

    “Land of the Lustrous” is the series I’m enjoying the most right now. I love the fact that I don’t know what to expect from episode to episode, something that I find to be rare in anime. Not knowing where a story is going or what it is about can be frustrating (as it was mentioned in the discussion about “Just because”), but I don’t find that to apply in this case at all. I thought Dee’s comment about buddhism was very interesting – it’s a good look, but I hadn’t thought of applying it to the story. As for the characters, I can’t really care about Phos just yet because she seems like such a directionless fool. But I like how the characters interact with each other, and I’m looking forward to seeing Cinnabar’s story develop especially.

    I’m ambivalent on “MMO Junkie”. On one hand I certainly appreciate the real life elements, showing what working life does to people. On the other hand I really can’t get into the romance, and that’s a problem, because the anime focuses quite heavily on that element. The story is moving way too fast for my liking. I think I would enjoy it more if there was another storyline, something in-game maybe, to bring about opportunities for the characters to interact naturally. Right now, the falling in love seems really random to me. But reading the discussion, what with people saying it’s so realistic, I assume I’m receiving it differently because I don’t have that (online gaming) experience.
    One thing that I did appreciate is how the anime is showing Moriko react to opportunities for romance in real life and virtual life at the same time, and how differently that plays out. (Though, again, moving to fast!)

    I’d forgotten about “Just because” and watched the three episodes only today, and I have to say I found it a bit bland. IMO, the storyline matches the color palette. And the animation really isn’t great – over at Sakuga Blog there’s an interesting article laying out possible reasons for that.

  • Justice

    Really interesting to hear the very strong opinions of 03′ Kino. I only ever got around to a single episode before 17′ started and have been enjoyed it a lot so far, glad to know it’ll be worth going back for when it’s finished.

    I also very much share the same issues with Girl’s Last Tour, but have opted to stick with it. Episodes 2 and 3 got a little closer to the more serious tone I was hoping for, but I’m also glad to hear the manga will be worth returning to when I finish with it.