[Roundtable] Winter 2018 three-episode check-in

We’re continuing the informal three-episode “check-in” roundtable that we started last season, this time with the long list of promising Winter 2018 titles. Amelia, CaitlinDee, Peter, and Vrai got together to chat about the many shows in each of their queues and how they’re doing a few weeks into the season.

A teen girl in a winter coat, scarf, and hat clenches a fist and looks serious as light emanates out from behind her in a halo. Subtitles: "Here we go!"

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’re interested in. Unless specifically noted, we’re only discussing the first three episodes, even if a show has released more than that.

There were a lot of shows to discuss and the roundtable got a bit, er, lengthy, to say the least, so we’ll likely be switching up the format next season. That said, please let us know if these check-in posts are helpful to you. Also let us know your own thoughts on the season so far in the comments below!

After the Rain

A teenage girl in a uniform leans forward, staring hard at a middle-aged man sitting in a computer chair, who's smiling nervously. Subtitles: "Can you stop glaring at me?"

Vrai: I checked back in specifically because I got a fair amount of pushback on my premiere review saying I’d gotten it wrong, and this either wasn’t going to be a mutual romance or it wasn’t going to focus on Kondo. I could’ve gotten behind a story about a one-sided crush (again, I really really love Gankutsuou), but that just wasn’t the feeling I got from the premiere.

Amelia: I could get into that, too. I’ve got a few friends who were into significantly older men when we were at school and I navigated their crushes for years. There’s value in showing that experience.

Vrai: Well, guess what? There’s a confession in Episode Three, which nominally nods toward Kondo pointing out the reasons this is a bad idea (while not touching on the actual reasons it’s a terrible idea), and then ends with him agreeing to go on a date with her. And during the whole conversation we’re still shut out of her internal monologue, while being treated to a lot about how this makes him feel like a young man again (in fact, there’s a lot of implication about this dude being a lost boy in an adult body, to which I say: you’re a grown adult. Fuck off, grow up, and stop putting the weight of your failures on this impressionable child).

I’m sorry, but this doesn’t feel like Akira’s story. She’s the manic pixie dream girl who’s making Kondo feel young and valued, and her issues are never anything that’s going to significantly get in his way.

Amelia: That’s the big part that’s missing for me: I have NO IDEA why Akira likes Kondo. He’s deliberately presented as an uncool purveyor of dad jokes, apologies, and all-around awkwardness. Those friends I mentioned, with their older-man crushes? They were 100% because my friends looked up to them, and compared them favourably to boys our age. We don’t get anything like that from Akira. It seems like she wants a dad, not a boyfriend.

A teen girl in a school uniform and a middle-aged man in a waiter outfit stand under an umbrella together as hearts fall around them.

Amelia: There’s also a big issue with where the age gap falls. I would be much less concerned about justifying her feelings for him were she, say, 21 to his 49. By that point she’s gone through at least some rite-of-passage adult experiences, like living away from home or going to university or working full time, or something to bridge that gap between child and adult. At 17, there’s very little of that.

Vrai: The gap between a teen and a middle-aged person is far too wide, and I don’t like the nominal lip service being paid here that’s actually working toward selling this as a “cute healing romance.” He clearly worries that he has nothing to offer her, but the way it’s framed is very, again, manic pixie dream girl a la Woody Allen. It strikes me as way more insidious because it’s wrapped in such pretty paper and because it avoids the standard leering camera. This makes me feel 50-times ickier than some of the fanservicey-leaning shows I’m watching this season.

Amelia: Agreed. It is truly beautiful, but from its earliest shots in Episode One it makes Akira look almost ethereal, which, honestly, rang alarm bells for me in its own right. The show is telling us that we’re watching Akira’s story, but it’s framed as if through Kondo’s eyes.

Vrai: I’m not coming back for more. This show makes me angry and uncomfortable, and the apologism for it more so. At least citrus fans know they’re watching trash.

Amelia: Entirely fair. I’m going to keep watching. “Uncomfortable” sums it up well, but discomfort can be an effective part of storytelling and there’s a chance it could turn this ship around. If not, I just hope other people become more critical of these uncomfortable aspects as the series goes on.

 

Ms. Koizumi Loves Ramen Noodles

Yuu and Koizumi at a lunch table with bowls of ramen. Yuu is attentive and blushing. Caption (Koizumi): Hakata and Nagahama ramen are the most mainstream Kyushu tonkotsu styles. Caption (Yuu, internal): she'll actually talk to me when it's about something she likes.

Peter: Ms. Koizumi is, uh, definitely about its title.

Vrai: It’s still a food porn show! And there’s still not a whole lot else if you’re not there for that. Though I will say I’m pleasantly surprised about Yuu. Having her cook for Koizumi in the third episode and it going really well was a nice change from the static “comic stalker lesbian” schtick.

Peter: I wish Koizumi had showed any kind of humanity as a result of that, but at least she’s accepting of all forms of ramen. If she had told Yuu her cooking was bad I would have lost hope for the series.

Vrai: I will say I’m always a bit guiltily aware that if Yuu were a male rom-com protag I’d find her behavior really irritating: horning in on Koizumi’s time no matter how often she’s ignored or rebuffed. But… I’m rooting for her. GO GO RAMEN LESBIAN. WIN HER WITH YOUR COOKING!

Peter: On the food porn note, the last episode… Koizumi and Yuu were at a standing ramen bar and the camera was focused directly on their skirts while the audio was just loud slurping noises.

Vrai: I worry that the fanservice ramped up over the last couple episodes—if it gets much more egregious I’m going to start being uncomfortable rather than just rolling my eyes.

Peter: I guess… I just don’t know where they’re going? Is the purpose just to keep introducing strange new ramen types and discuss its culinary history?

Vrai: I don’t think it has much ambition but I’m content to motor along. I wanna see Yuu and Koizumi get closer and I like the other girls. As someone who watches a lot of competitive cooking shows, I find the food facts pretty interesting. As long as the fanservice doesn’t get worse, it’s in my wheelhouse.

Peter: My main concern is it’s going to get boring or out-and-out offensive. And it’s leaning in three different directions, so I don’t know which it intends to expand on. There’s definitely some potential, and the Yuu cooking scene was a glimpse of a pretty cool direction the show could go. We’ll just have to wait and see.

 

Maerchen Maedchen

A redhead in a bikini top and scarf holding a sword. caption: If you don't want to die, use your original!

Vrai: I wound up checking out a second episode of Maerchen out of morbid curiosity, and I’m honestly glad I did. The series still has a constant low-key issue with Light Novel Fanservice Nonsense, but it feels increasingly perfunctory and easier to ignore. I don’t think it’s ever going to be gone, but it ratcheted down so quickly that I was able to enjoy the things I liked about the premiere with minimal interruption. Hazuki is still a very endearing protagonist, and there’ve been some interesting ideas introduced about the importance of preserving folklore and magic (i.e. “telling” the stories in a way) as part of how they continue to thrive. It’s not super deep, but it’s pleasantly competent at hitting on themes I really like.

Hazuki’s pursuit of Shizuka is also keeping me invested. It’s supremely low-stakes but also pretty cute, and while the show sure bandies around the term “friendship” a lot, it’s increasingly leaning in a yuri-ish direction. By which I mean Hazuki covers for her trips to the other world by saying she’s going to see “someone she likes,” and the joke isn’t “she doesn’t mean it like that” but more “her sister thinks the someone is a guy.” It’s definitely going to remain pure and chaste, with all sexuality coming out of fanservice rather than genuine attraction, but also they’re cute. (Yes, this hat is tasty, why do you ask?)

 

KOKKOKU

A photo of Juri's family posing in the yard around a snowman

Dee: KOKKOKU has three major problems. First, it lazily uses sexual assault (or the threat of it) as a shorthand for “These Are The Bad Guys” while still sexualizing the woman those Bad Guys have assaulted. Second, it thinks I give a single shit about any of the male characters. It’s two female characters are great—resourceful, level-headed, and with a mysterious shared past—but KOKKOKU forces me to spend over half of each episode with a bunch of boring or outright irritating dudes. (I mean, I guess the grandpa is okay. I guess.)

And finally… it’s just not very good. It’s not well-staged, the pacing drags in the middle of each episode, it’s decent at suspense but abysmal at comedy, and it spends way too much time regurgitating the rules of its world instead of fleshing out characters or moving the story forward. I gave KOKKOKU three episodes because I really, really wanted to like it. I won’t be giving it any more.

 

Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens

A black-and-white image of a person in feminine clothing leaning on a railing and looking out over a cityscape while a masculine figure leans against a car. On-screen text says "Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens."

Dee: Somehow, despite its walk-in fridge full of dead women, I am really enjoying Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens.

Vrai: Same? Same. I’m kind of a sucker for good ensemble cast shows. I’m also pleasantly surprised by Lin Xiaoming (the cis crossdresser). Like, on the one hand there’s basically no way to win with his character because of the way trans and GNC characters are conflated while also being rare—so by merely existing with that deep voice and passing presentation, he reads like the shitty TERF idea that trans women are still “really” men underneath. And I can’t shake the feeling that part of the reason he’s a cis crossdresser rather than a trans woman is so the series can catch the fujoshi crowd and put Lin in more brutal fight scenes.

That said, in the context of the show, his appearance basically goes without comment after the shitty slurs in the first episode. Also he’s a punk garbage boy and I’ve adopted him.

(…And I want him and Banba to do a smooch.)

Peter: I obviously don’t have the same perspective, but I do think a pure crossdresser who doesn’t seem to have any interest in passing is pretty rare. This isn’t the greatest story to be exploring that, though.

Vrai: But he does pass. He passes in every way but his voice, and that’s what makes the protestations feel kind of uncomfortable.

Peter: True. He’s also used it to his advantage now.

Vrai: The show doesn’t constantly have jokes at his expense, but it’s absolutely playing on the dichotomy of “LOL you thought he was a girl!” Which feels like trap rhetoric.

Close up of Lin walking down the street. Caption: Idiot, I'm a guy

Dee: There’s a definite lack of sensitivity to Hakata. Though I think it’s softened slightly by the fact that the show has an actual queer (or at least queer-coded) character, too. Speaking of: I love The Avengers. A young girl, a gay bartender, and a Latinx man. I demand a spin-off about them.

Vrai: I too like The Avengers!

Peter: Who are obviously gonna band together with Banba and Lin.

Dee: As they all track down the politician’s evil son and bring him to justice!

Vrai: HE IS SO OUTLANDISHLY EVIL. Definitely a character I want to see suffer rather than just die.

Dee: Which, I guess this is the part where we provide the Content Warning that the sociopath’s whole thing is buying women and murdering them.

Vrai: This is definitely one of those shows where I’m annoyed at how it treats women, but I can keep enjoying the plot because it doesn’t languish in the suffering of the women it’s killing off. No torture porn. (….That’s such a low bar.)

Peter: I know what you mean though. Psycho-Pass was intolerable for me because it spent SO MUCH TIME having you watch women get killed.

Dee: It’s a tired plot device, but at least the focus here is on finding and stopping the killer. There’s also something to be said for the fact that anime has enough stories with female heroes that I don’t feel like “Oh great, another fridged woman!” I don’t think it’s quite as common in this medium as it is in live-action U.S. TV.

Vrai: Yeah. This is the one crime story in a while, rather than being one of 50 every night on primetime. And like you said, our most sympathetic characters include queer-coded, GNC, and POC characters. I would still like some women to do cool things though, please.

Dee: Same. It’s one of those things where I’ll totally understand if it’s a deal-breaker for folks, but I’ve been able to look past it thanks to an enjoyable cast and what looks to be an entertaining narrative as we watch all these disparate threads come together. Weirdly, I’d still keep it under “yellow flags,” because I think it’s handling its problematic elements with enough restraint that it’s only a deal-breaker if the very existence of that problematic element is a deal-breaker. Does that make sense?

Vrai: Totally. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if some of this stuff is deal-breaking for folks (and there is a fair bit of gore, if not torture). But as “look how edgy we are!” hard-boiled-style stories go, I’m having fun with this one.

Peter: Yep. I’m eager to see where it goes, issues aside.

 

DEVILMAN crybaby

A close-up of a teenage boy holding a camera to his eye. Another teen boy is reflected in the lens.

Since this was released all at once on Netflix, pretty much everyone (including, we’d imagine, many of our readers) has already finished it. Rather than pretend we’re only 3-4 episodes in, we’ll just direct you to both the Premiere Review and the podcast retrospective if you’re coming in late and would like to learn more about it.

 

DARLING in the FRANXX

A teen girl in a skintight suit pulls a boy in a school uniform inside a shadowy room that appears to be some kind of cockpit.

Caitlin: I’m having a hard time really getting a handle on FRANXX. The sexual imagery and metaphor is SO STRONG that I’m not getting much of a sense of the characters outside of that.

Peter: I’ve kind of given up on trying to decipher any sort of meaning out of the constant innuendo and I’m focusing more on the world and characters which, honestly, is allowing me to enjoy the series a lot. Whether or not anything comes of all this work they’re putting into the capital-M Metaphors, I feel like I’m gonna like it anyway.

Amelia: Week-to-week, this is the show I’ve started looking forward to the most. However, that is specifically contingent on the fact that the sexual metaphor is SO over-the-top and I expect the show to pay it off. They’ve spent so much time building up this overt connection between sex and piloting, and piloting skill with manhood, that to subvert it would actually raise a lot of interesting potential avenues of discussion. If they don’t subvert it, then it’s just the aggressively het show that literally objectifies teenage girls.

Peter: Regardless of where they go with the sex elements, I find the concept of their being partnered up kind of analogous to arranged marriage. They’re forced to build an emotional bridge with someone they might not consider their ideal partner. That, at least, is a dynamic I find interesting.

I’m curious to see where they’re going with Hiro’s story, too. They talk about how he was a great leader before. There’s a lot of potential there, but it could also disappointingly wind down to him losing confidence after a “bad performance” and having to “get back on the horse.”

A teen boy in a school uniform lays on his back in shallow water, staring up and looking flustered. A girl in a military skirt uniform is above him, her hands on either side of his head, pinning him to the spot.

Amelia: With Hiro, I think they’re telling a story which will resonate with a lot of men. He’s struggling to find his place in the world, having failed to achieve success through the conventional routes laid before him, despite seeming destined for success as a (younger) child. He got a glimpse of it with Zero Two, so now he’s fighting for any opportunity to relive that and find his place again. I think his character will resonate—which is why I’m so invested in the idea that he’s going to be successful without fitting these stifling gender roles prescribed for them.

Peter: He feels useless in a community of individuals who lead an existence with a defined purpose. If he can’t fulfill that purpose and contribute, death is preferable to him.

Amelia: Pretty topical for any country that acknowledges the struggles men in particular face with mental health when unemployed or otherwise unable to play the breadwinner role they’re expected to have.

Caitlin: I think for me to be fully satisfied with FRANXX, it would have to engage not only with the masculine domination within heterosexuality, but also the way heterosexuality is baked into the fabric of their society. Which… I just don’t see happening at this point. There is something going on here, but my instincts say “femdom,” which, while it’s transgressive and may float a lot of boats, isn’t necessarily progressive or feminist.

Amelia: This is true. I know this isn’t an anime I can realistically recommend to feminist friends, but I’m enjoying the interactivity of theorising about it with friends and imagining where they could be going with their premise. As has been pointed out to me though, that is a position of privilege; as a cishet viewer myself, it’s very easy for me to hand-wave its aggressively cishet premise. Which is to say, I fully expect almost no AniFem readers to follow this one, and I completely support you in that decision.

 

citrus

Yuzu staring down Mei, hands on her hips

Vrai: citrus makes me so mad. It’s constantly really close to being my jam. Yuzu is a great protagonist: she’s forthright, confident but limited in her experiences, and wants to do the right thing (and a gal, which is interesting–while you see plenty of “perky but naive” heroines, “delinquent”-adjacent types are a bit more rare). And sometimes the show will have REALLY nice true-to-life moments, like when it clicks for Yuzu that she’s in love with Mei and she just starts crying. I even like the broad strokes of Mei and Yuzu’s dynamic (“blunt, naive optimist tries to help but accidentally makes it worse” and “prim and elegant person who’s manipulative out of necessity and hurting inside”).

But then as soon as I’m getting into it HERE COMES THE SEXUAL ASSAULT BRIGADE.

Amelia: It’s like forcing themselves on each other is the only way they know to express sexual interest which… is something another show could make a great comment out of. But not this one.

What I do like about citrus, a lot, is that Mei and Yuzu are connected by their difficulty showing vulnerability. Each struggles with this, in different ways, and watching them try to manage each other while protecting themselves is a genuinely interesting dynamic. As you said, Yuzu is a great protagonist, I love her defiance in the face of compulsory uniformity and her insistence on being true to herself. But the frequent assault with no commentary attached is A Lot.

Vrai: It doesn’t help that the anime at least (I’ve not read the manga) feels pretty blatantly engineered for a straight male audience. I’m a fan of queer pulp, but honestly every time a supposedly “sexy” scene comes around I get uncomfortable.

Part of it is them being fifteen—I think there’re ways to have frank stories about teen sexuality that don’t sexualize the teens themselves. This feels like it’s squarely in the latter category, and not in a way that vibes with me as a queer enby. The constant focus on skirt lengths, the blister pink knees (“blowjob knees” if you wanna be crass, and I think the show does), or Yuzu’s friend telling her all the women of this academy have purely sexual hookups before they later marry dudes. It feels more like the “lesbian porn” that gets cranked out for men rather than an actual queer audience.

A teen girl presses another teen girl down to a futon, pinning her arms. The girl on top's hair is covering their faces, but it's implied they're kissing.

Vrai: I wanna be clear that I don’t need every queer romance to be happy funtimes sunshine with no stakes (I liked the hell out of DEVILMAN crybaby). But the fact that this is the anime that’s so high profile bothers me. This one, with its plastic colors and emphasis on sexual assault but no thoughtful commentary on that assault (I’m not holding my breath that Mei’s gonna get professional help as a clear abuse survivor). Which is part of what keeps me from accepting the idea that this is actually meant for the WLW crowd. I’ve seen this shit before, and it was not made for the queer audience being depicted.

Whew. How about you?

Amelia: I’m obviously not as qualified to comment on this one, but it rings the same alarm bells for me. Which is frustrating because there’s a lot about it I enjoy. Yuzu and Mei are both interesting, complex characters tripping up in everything they do. But the sexual assault or the weird family dynamics are so off-putting. There is something weirdly watchable about it though… I could see myself checking in again, especially when the story shifts (as the opening credits suggest it will) to a more equal romantic feel.

Vrai: I’ve heard from folks that it gets better in some ways but a lot worse in others. It’s a shame because I do want yuri that’s not so locked into that Class-S feel of enforced chasteness. Where is my yuri with adult women?!

Amelia: Every time something like citrus gets greenlit, it makes me sad about all the stories that aren’t. Adult women, consensual queer relationships, problematic expressions of sexuality that are properly explored… These stories all exist in the manga market. I hope someday they start to make their way over here instead of (or even as well as) shows like citrus.

Vrai: I’d be happy with “as well as.” But here we are, and this is the big-budget representation of the yuri genre while Kase-san had to get kickstarted.

 

School Babysitters

A teen boy in a black suit lays on the floor as four toddlers clamber on top of him, along with a plush giraffe.

Amelia: School Babysitters was one of my favourite premieres. As an older sister to much younger siblings, it really resonated with me. Caitlin, do you think it still represents daycare life well, three episodes in?

Caitlin: I think the children are fairly accurate, but they’re broad “types,” rather than individuals. I’m hoping their personalities get a little more defined, but I’m not holding my breath. I especially hope Kirin doesn’t end up as “sweet little girl surrounded by roughhousing boys,” because let me tell you: That stereotype? UNTRUE. I’ve known a lot of one- and two-year-old girls who were obstinate, destructive, aggressive, and had way too much energy. But I see people say things like, “He’s such a boy” all the time in real life and it drives me crazy.

Their caretaker Usaida is totally irresponsible, though. Two-year-olds need SO much supervision. Without adult guidance and structure they’re bored, aggressive, and destructive. There would be SO many bites in that classroom. Usaida also casually invites the guy who gets nosebleeds to come hang out which, even ignoring the gross pedophile gag, hello blood-borne pathogen risk?

Amelia: Let’s talk about the gross paedophile gag. It’s a huge black mark on the series. Even though it turns out to be an easily discarded side joke featuring what seems to be a throwaway character, I was surprised by how genuinely dark it felt in the moment. I had heard about this character, so even though I knew it was coming, the joke felt really disturbing when I watched it.

Caitlin: There have been a few parts of School Babysitters that felt “off,” but that was definitely the worst one. Other things I found “off” were the way the chairwoman is working Ryuichi half-to-death, the middle schoolers chasing the kids around while Usaida stands back and laughs, and Taka getting hit by his older brother. There’s been a lot of little things that have alienated people.

Amelia: The chairwoman is developing genuine affection for Ryuichi now though, which is nice to see. They both lost people, and she was drawn to him. I don’t think she’s going to be the bastion of support he needs, but there aren’t any other candidates who seem to fit that bill either…

Caitlin: I’d like to see the series take more moments to develop Ryuichi and his mental/emotional state. He’s only 14 or 15 and just lost his parents, and he’s now being raised by a woman who treats him mostly as a source of free labor. I don’t buy the “showing she cares” indirectly excuse. He’s in a precarious position.

A teen boy looks at a little girl, her back to the camera, as she stares at a pile of fake food lying haphazardly across the floor.

Amelia: What do you think of Inomata?

Caitlin: I think she’s fine, although the “tightly wound high-achieving girl” is a risky character type. I liked the moment she came to the preschool! It was sweet. Little kids don’t have empathy exactly, but they do pick up on emotional cues from adults (and she might as well be an adult to them).

Amelia: I really like her. Her fear of being disliked by them is so real—kids have no filter and they will let you know if they’re not impressed. She’s a nice contrast to the kind of maternal female character we so often see in anime. Inomata has zero instinct around kids, she needs to learn the skills Ryuichi already has.

Caitlin: Yeah! It’s a good reversal.

Amelia: So three episodes in, would you recommend this as strongly as you did in episode one?

Caitlin: Probably not. I’d recommend it, but with quite a few caveats. I still love the cute kids and how well the writing seems to get child development, even if it doesn’t understand how adults should act around them. I want to see where it goes!

Amelia: It’s definitely fallen in my estimation since episode one. However, I’m still enjoying it, and if it builds out as satisfying an emotional arc for Ryuichi as episode one suggested it would (and cuts out any further paedophilia, jokey or otherwise) I could probably recommend it. Low priority to pick up until that’s proven, though.

 

Pop Team Epic

Two girls, one short with pigtails and one tall with long hair and a big bow, wearing identical school uniforms smile and look at each other. Subtitles: "Are you upset?" "No, I'm not."

Vrai: I sure like Pop Team Epic when clips of it show up on my Twitter timeline.

Amelia: This show was made for Twitter. Unusually deliberately so.

Vrai: I like the stuff that’s playing with mixed media a lot. But it’s also 24 minutes long and gets exhausting to watch all at once. I have a fairly high tolerance for surrealism and anti-humor, but the ratio of duds to successes starts grinding me down… then a real good sketch will come along and convince me this is a good idea.

Amelia: I’m as amazed as anyone to be saying this, especially considering I usually cannot stand absurd, non-sequitur humour, but I find Pop Team Epic immensely watchable. In fact, I think its pace better suits my dwindling attention span, and the repeating structure means I’m more likely to get the jokes of slight changes in the second half if I’ve just watched the first.

Vrai: I’m interested in the moments where it seems to be pushing at the anti-cuteness thing in particular. Stuff like “The Documentary” is SO GOOD.

Amelia: Right? And I love that it’s baked into the show. For example, I thought for sure the male voice actors would be a one-off gimmick. Instead, it’s a feature. I like that it gives female voice actors in particular the chance to demonstrate their comedy chops. Popuko will be cute one second and enraged the next, while Pipimi goes from older sister to murderer.

Popuko and Pipimi have a beautiful friendship and a tendency towards violence. We talk often about the lack of range of female characters in anime, often getting pigeonholed. This is such a break out from that.

Vrai: I will say I think this is gonna become a time capsule real fast. But at the same time, I do kind of respect how it formats itself. I don’t always like it, but I respect the deliberateness of it.

Amelia: And that’s the thing: it is completely deliberate. Like that sketch where they flip through like 20 different fortunes, and warn you to be ready to take screenshots. It feels interactive in a way few anime do. I’m enjoying experiencing it on Twitter as much as watching the episodes themselves.

I agree with you on it not having lasting power—this feels designed for that week-to-week almost communal viewing experience. I doubt I’ll rewatch it, but it’ll be interesting to see if its influence is felt past the end of this season.

 

Junji Ito Collection

A pale, grinning teen with candles tucked into his headband, swinging a hammer. caption: now you'll see some real horror.

Vrai: The reactions to Ito Collection have taught me that my thirst for horror anime content has lowered my standards considerably.

Amelia: I was going to say—this was, hands down, the biggest disappointment for me.

Vrai: I still like it! I’m always interested by what’s going on, the techniques the art team is trying to use to translate Ito’s style, and the composition choices. It’s true though that the most successful stories have either been very still, wordy ones (Long Dreams, Doll Funeral) or comedic ones like Souichi. They’re having a hard time pinning down the unspoken movement of Ito stories that have a lot going on physically.

Peter: I don’t think most Ito stories require a tremendous amount of movement. Direction is more important. Ito’s usual formula is setting up an unsettling atmosphere and then delivering a horrific full-page spread, which isn’t animation-intense so long as they commit to making the impact shot good.

Amelia: I seriously do not consider Souichi one of “the most successful ones.” I didn’t find it funny or engaging—it was a slog to get through. Without “Doll Funeral” at the end I would have gone into Episode Two with no hope whatsoever of the series I wanted.

Vrai: I will say that a chunk of Ito’s work isn’t… the best at depicting women. His protagonists are generally pathetic or helpless people about to have horrible things happen to them, but horror unfortunately tends to fall back on sexist tropes, and some of this does too.

Like, the actress story is “Women Be Competing” with an unhinged jaw (even if the crew is garbage too), and the Crossroads Bishounen Story is….a lot (I think it’s the worst one). I tend to grade horror on a curve in some ways if everyone is having a miserable go of it (I think “Long Dreams” is fine, for instance), but Ito’s female characters can fall into particular sorts of misery.

Amelia: Agreed. Animation and atmosphere complaints aside, from a feminist standpoint it’s a rough watch.

Vrai: I guess I’m cheering for it partly because it’s one of the six shows that has a female director this season. And she’s a veteran animator, too.

Amelia: Would you recommend it though?

Peter: I’d recommend it to Ito fans at least. I think it’s trying to be true.

Amelia: You’ve mentioned the problems with Ito’s material from a feminist perspective. For me to be able to recommend this, the adaptation had to do something really special. I look forward to catching up with you both at the end of the series and finding out which stories are worth going back and seeing, but I don’t think I could recommend this as a series.

Vrai: I probably wouldn’t call it feminist, no (oh boy Crossroads Bishounen). But I’m sticking with it.

 

How to keep a mummy

A tiny hand-sized mummy holding a hand-made picture book

Dee: I really think we could just post this tweet and that’d cover our thoughts.

Vrai: LOOK AT HIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM.

…Okay. Mummy is cute. It’s sweet and heartwarming for 22 minutes every week.

Dee: Yeah, “AWWW” is pretty much the extent of my feelings about it.

Vrai: It’s not Super Deep or even trying for commentary like Sanrio Boys, but there are clearly themes about caring for others and the importance of community. It does seem like it might have some dark moments based on the opening theme, but very much trending toward a feel-good sort of show.

Dee: I could do without the weird gag where the aunt puts on glasses and turns into a Lusty Lady, though. It stops just short of smashing my “NOPE” button, but the sexual connotations of her interactions with the boys were super uncomfortable during that scene.

Vrai: Yeah, it was a lot of Nope. I hope those glasses don’t get a lot of play. Otherwise, Good Friends Take Care Of Good Pets. It heals the soul.

Dee: This is a great season for healing anime. Even with that one burst of unpleasantness in Episode 3, I’m happy to have Mummy on that list.

 

Hakumei and Mikochi

Three round-faced people, two girls and a woman, wearing colorful rounded caps and jackets sit around a table filled with food. The frizzy-haired one in the middle has a bowl in one hand and chopsticks in the other; the woman on the right is holding a bottle; the girl on the left has her eyes closed as if enjoying the taste of the food.

DeeHakumei and Mikochi is a very nice show that I’m not sure I’m going to keep up with. As much as I enjoy its storybook aesthetic and soothing tone, it doesn’t have the narrative through-line or comedic chops of my preferred healing shows this season, Laid-Back Camp and How to keep a mummy. It’s divided up into 2-3 “chapters” per episode and they’re all fairly self-contained, with a recurring cast but not much in the way of story lines or character arcs.

That said, it’s quite charming and very family-friendly. The two leads have an enjoyable dynamic, plus there’s a wide variety of female characters who range from singers to scientists to cafe owners. I’d happily encourage folks to try it out, with zero caveats. There may not be enough here to hook me for a full season, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a fine series even so.

 

Violet Evergarden

A young woman with her long hair pulled back in a ponytail holds a stuffed dog between her bandaged hands, studying it.

Amelia: I was always going to watch Violet Evergarden week-to-week, to send a message to Netflix that simulcasting works. Thankfully, this isn’t a chore. The problems noted in the first episode remain—most crucially, Violet’s boss and somewhat-guardian Hodgins continues to withhold important information from her, despite his deception causing her obvious distress. However, the advantages of the first episode remain as well, and they are significant. Violet Evergarden has settled into an exquisitely animated slow-burn drama with varied, dynamic characters (and some representation of disability, which I hope our disabled readers will comment on).

As of Episode Three, it seems to be expanding its focus beyond just Violet while continuing to progress her own arc. This should give us a well-rounded series—though Hodgins’s deception means we’re in for an emotional punch, which they seem to to be saving for the season’s end. How manipulative that feels will have a lot to do with whether or not I’ll be able to recommend this when it’s over. For now, it’s a beautiful series which I’m enjoying very much.

 

Record of Grancrest War

A close-up of a blonde woman peering intently into a young man's eyes. Both are wearing European fantasy-style clothing.

Peter: Grancrest is something I’m really enjoying despite it being on fast-forward for three episodes. I’m wondering what point in the story they’re trying to reach that makes everything that’s happened so far this dispensable.

Amelia: Pacing aside, how is it living up to your expectations?

Peter: It’s exceeded my expectations, I think. Lodoss War was great, but Parn was your typical bland protagonist surrounded by an awesome cast. This is similar, except with an even stronger supporting cast.

Caitlin: I think of Siluca as the protag, but I like Theo.

Amelia: I wish I had faith that Siluca would stay the protagonist to the end of the series…

Caitlin: Same, but I’m hoping very, very hard. It’s been a bit of a turn from the first episode, where Siluca boldly declared that she wasn’t going to thank him because she didn’t want or need his help.

Dee: I really appreciated the conversation they had in the third episode where Siluca realized she should think of Theo more as a partner than a tool. But then Theo’s response was basically “Nah, I trust you, I want you to take the lead when it comes to strategies and political maneuvering.” Healthy communication and relationships built on mutual respect: My Jams.

Amelia: I like them speaking openly about Siluca’s ambition, and that conversation was particularly important as it comes two episodes after Siluca saying she’d do whatever it took to achieve her goals. She’s already changing, but in a positive, collaborative way that treats Theo more like an equal—and he responds with respect.

Caitlin: But in the last couple episodes, both major battles have ended with him stepping in and rescuing her. Which really isn’t cool with me.

Peter: Yeah. I’m sad she hasn’t gotten to finish a duel. I simultaneously love to laugh at how the cast pushes Theo into the background but also that he feels guilty not helping and steps in. The moments aren’t perfect, though.

Amelia: It feels to me like Siluca is recentering herself and her ambitions around Theo, while he’s incorporating her into his ambitions and making them grander than they were before he met her.

Peter: I got the feeling she promised to realize his (vague) ambitions if she could essentially use him toward her own ends and he’s entrusting his ideals to her since she’s way more capable and intelligent than him. Obviously things have gotten complicated since she now has the doki-dokis for him.

Amelia: I love that she has the doki-dokis for him. I wish Theo were more than just a standard issue heroic nice guy, but it is good to see two capable adults falling for each other.

Caitlin: Him rescuing her at the last second notwithstanding, I really enjoy their dynamic.

Amelia: I mean, I’m assuming it’s two-way, though I could understand him being distracted by Aishela.

An animated gif of a woman in fantasy armor twirling a warhammer and saying "Shall we dance?"

Peter: Aishela is my favorite. The genki bisexual chuuni berserker.

Caitlin: She fights with a hammer. And that’s AWESOME. Other than the impractical fantasy armor, Aishela hits a lot of my action fighter girl points. (Speaking of action, the fights throughout have been really good. It has a great sense of weight to it.)

Amelia: I also have time for the POC footman, Irvin. His speedy knife fighting is a lot of fun to watch.

Dee: I wouldn’t call Grancrest a shining star of feminism by any stretch, but it’s not afraid to let its women be smart and badass and fun, which is really all I ask for in a fantasy series.

Amelia: Agreed… Although I think we have to at least mention Siluca’s outfit. I have such a thing against action heroes in thigh-high socks. THEY WILL NOT STAY UP. YOU WILL CHAFE.

Dee: Talking about the costume feels redundant at this point, honestly. We all agree it’s dumb. But the camera doesn’t leer. She’s not objectified by the direction, framing, or narrative. So I’m over it.

Amelia: True. Aishela also doesn’t deal with a leering camera, direction, or narrative. The show has been consistently good at this. Past the first episode, the costumes haven’t bothered me.

Caitlin: It bothers me a little, but not enough to ruin the show for me. I’ve fallen in love with the characters. The plot does need to start letting things land with a bit more weight, but for now I’m just enjoying watching Siluca being a string-pulling badass.

Peter: The villain is so perfect, I think: An earl whose OPENING SCENE had him basically saying “no one respects women more than I.” Oh, and: “If I only I could find a woman as great as my own mother.”

Amelia: I’ve seen Episode 4, but in non-spoilery terms, I think it’s fair to say that with the introduction of more significant antagonists and allies alike, we’re going to have a lot more explicitly feminist-relevant topics to discuss going forward. If things continue as they have, this will probably be a recommendation of mine.

Peter: Yeah. It’s great. The costumes and Siluca not getting to uppercut Moreno are pretty much the only minor blemishes to me. Once the pacing slows down (which I’m pretty confident it will), I think it’s gonna get even better.

 

Laid-Back Camp

A group of five teenage girls wearing winter coats and hats, huddled around a campfire, look towards the camera and smile.

Dee: Laid-Back Camp is my happiest surprise of the season. I swear watching it works the knots out of my neck.

Peter: I thought it would be all right, but it’s got amazing comedic timing and the humor feels nice and quirky. I’ve already laughed out loud at a few scenes.

Dee: The comedy is what’s really made me fall for it. The characters have this strong back-and-forth that’s snappy without being mean-spirited. Like that text conversation where the two girls were giving each other crap and both are clearly in on the joke. It’s not just one person ragging on another; they’re all screwing around together. It really reminds me of the time-wasting goofing off I’ve done with my own friends (particularly in high school/college).

Overall I think it’s a terrific example of how to do the “cute-girl” genre without it just being a string of overused archetypes and leering fanservice. There’s a genuineness to these characters and their relationships that makes the cuteness and comedy feel fresh and endearing.

Peter: It’s just really good writing, and yeah, like you said, you don’t have to be on alert while watching it. Either for framing, or important plot points to interpret the story, or offensive content. You can just take it at face value.

I also appreciate the way they’re obviously gonna draw Rin into their camping club, but the series is still respecting that Rin enjoys camping alone, too. It seems she’s going to discover she likes sharing the activity with people sometimes, but it isn’t treating her solitary trips as strange or something that should be fixed. Hell, her self-sufficiency was even described as admirable. I think that’s the perfect way to handle it.

Dee: Yes, agreed! It’s not following the “Lonely Outcast” model at all—it’s depicting both individual and community camping as valuable.

Peter: Smart, since that’s one of the real appeals of the wilderness. It’s just perfectly executing on what it set out to be.

 

Sanrio Boys

A teen boy in a school uniform looks freaked out as he flees from a teen boy with his hair pinned up in berrettes wearing a more casual version of the same school uniform, who is chasing after him.

Dee: It’s super weird that the one show this season that has explicitly feminist themes is also a blatant toy commercial.

Amelia: This is true! The overall message of loving what you love is a really strong and important one. I know Peter put up a tweet about how that really resonated with him. It’s obviously in Sanrio’s interests to spread the message that their products are cool for boys, but I don’t want to be too cynical about this—it’s a valuable message to send in any way you can.

I thought their premise was pretty much done in the second episode, but Episode Three added an interesting wrinkle for me. I think the premise has more potential than I’d realised. And is it me, or do we not get a lot of teenage girl characters like Yuri? Even though “stroppy teen girl” is a real-life stereotype often bandied around?

Dee: I think it’s rare to find one who isn’t played as a stereotypical tsundere, for sure.

Amelia: It was refreshing to see a teenage girl presented as something other than consistently sweet and reasonable. Being a teenager is a rough experience, and having Yuu as a big brother would present certain challenges. Her cold shoulder and lashing out was unfair—and a really valuable dimension to an anime about cool boys liking cute things. They’re taking a straightforward, marketable premise and trying to do something very human and nuanced with it. I respect that.

A young boy clutches a plush animal with floppy ears wearing a beret to his chest and looks upset. A playground is behind him. Subtitles: "Girl, girl, Kouta's a girl!"

Dee: Me too! Though I do wish it were more clearly marketed towards the teen boys who could benefit most from its message. The BL subtext and once-an-episode slow pan up a teenage boy’s comically well-defined abs makes it pretty clear they’re targeting a (straight) teen female demographic. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing, especially when Episode 3 did a decent job of addressing those same girls’ possible prejudices, but it’s kind of a bummer to know that a lot of guys won’t give this show a second glance because of it’s sparkly wrapping.

Amelia: Exactly. It is absolutely playing to fujoshi—and, in all honesty, the constant teenage schoolboys drawn topless in such loving detail is off-putting to me, too. This is the kind of thing I would call out if it were teenage girls. I don’t like it any better when the subject of a voyeuristic camera is a boy.

Dee: Yeah, agreed. I tend to give shows that are obviously targeted at a teenage audience a little more leeway, especially if the characters are also written to be multidimensional—layered personalities, diverse relationships, struggles, etc.—instead of just walking pin-up posters. Sanrio Boys pings my discomfort-o-meter occasionally, but there’s enough work done to make the boys actual people instead of just objects for the (presumed straight) female gaze, so it’s more of an eye-roll than outright disgust.

Amelia: It was the same for me. It feels very much like it’s targeted at girls their age or younger, which helps.

I think what struck me as most important about Episode Three was that these characters aren’t going to be two-dimensional. Yuu is popular, smart, has close friends—but at home, he’s dealing with a sister he’s somehow alienated, and when she pushes his buttons he almost hits her. When they make up, it’s not because all their differences are resolved. But they’re siblings, so just being on good terms with each other is enough for now.

That’s a pretty impressive development off the foundation the first couple episodes built. Especially for Yuu, who I thought was going to be just a comedy playboy. I can’t wait to see what nuanced stories and emotional range we get for the others.

Dee: Same here. Despite the manservice, it’s really the only show this season that’s directly grappling with feminist issues, and I’m curious to see how it builds on and explores those themes as it expands the cast and pushes the story forward. You kind of have to check your cynicism at the door, but if you can, I think it’s a valuable watch.

Amelia: I think they’re also doing some genuinely good work with their story craft and character development too. I’ll be continuing to watch this one, for sure.

 

DamePri Anime Caravan

A young man with long hair wearing a European-style fantasy suit practically lies on top of a table, one foot pointed in the air, his face just a few inches from a young woman who sits at the table. She looks miffed. Subtitles: "So... isn't that pose exhausting to hold?"

Dee: As I said in my premiere review, DamePri was made for me, and that’s still extremely true.

Amelia: The moment Narek’s character shows up flipping between poses in the smoke, and the other characters say, “What’s he doing? He’s just thrashing around” I knew it was a Dee show. The level of goof is perfection.

Dee: I just adore shows that so clearly love the genre they’re joyfully mocking.

Amelia: Okay, the princes and their entourages are great, but can we talk about the princess for a second, and what a fantastic main character she is?

Dee: Yes, please! I adore Ani. Also her genius mother. Because of the VN format, it’s pretty common in otome games for the protagonist to be more reactive than proactive, and DamePri kind of follows that model, but I love that the one directing the protagonist is this clever female monarch.

Amelia: Exactly! And Ani herself is such a good “straight man” to these extreme characters, while also having an element of goofiness herself. She doesn’t feel passive at all.

Dee: No, she has a wonderful internal monologue about how Done she is with all these boys. She’s clever and resourceful, but she also won’t put up with nonsense and speaks her mind (sometimes even when she doesn’t want to).

Amelia: Is there likely to be a love interest?

Dee: I’m hoping Ani stays single! None of these boys are good enough for her. Some otome adaptations will lean more into a Friendship Ending—I’d like to see that here, personally.

Amelia: Me too, actually! As much of a romantic shipper as I am, this doesn’t feel like a series for that.

A close-up of a young woman wearing a headband and a flower tucked behind one ear. She looks tired and annoyed, and is sweating slightly. Subtitles: "Erm... you do know I'm just a Princess, right?"

Dee: Do you have any critiques or concerns? It’s super hard for me to be unbiased about this one.

Amelia: Narek’s manipulation of Ani by wielding his economic power over his people was a little hard to watch. It kind of seems like she’s going to get pushed around a lot, and while I like that she’s not passive about it, it seems the people using her end up getting what they want in the end.

So my only concern is that Ani will be manipulated into being the saviour of the guy she falls in love with. We’ve already seen her have a positive effect on Narek and Mare, which is sweet, but they’ve given her nothing in return except things she should have been entitled to already.

Dee: Yeah, there’s a low-level element of “the woman having to do all the emotional labor just to get the guy to meet her half way,” which, RELATABLE, but maybe not ideal. The series is so steeped in parody, though, that it doesn’t feel like it’s lauding that—if anything it’s sympathizing with Ani’s struggles.

Amelia: This is true, and honestly, I’m searching for stuff to highlight. This series is a pleasure so far.

Dee: Probably the only thing that bugged me was Chrom’s creepy bondage schtick. The dude straight-up tortured a servant and they played it for laughs (even if it was build-up to a very good Lupin gag). If they’re setting Chrom up as the main antagonist I could give them a little leeway, but it was still played way too lightly for my tastes.

Seriously though, that’s my only real critique. I love Ani, I love how she’s already getting better at diplomacy and handling these idiot princes, and I hope she gets to sit the Iron Throne at the end.

Amelia: She is, to my mind, what makes the show. She’s very human, surrounded by these over-the-top guys, and I find her incredibly likable. Looking forward to the next episode!

 

A Place Further than the Universe

Four girls in matching coats and pants stand in front of an arctic landscape. One is striking a pose atop a small hill, one is taking a photo, and the other two are laughing.

SPOILERS: Since Place Further aired so much earlier than many of the other shows, we decided to discuss Episode 4 as well.

Vrai: Raise your hand if you thought the show about the Antarctica girls would be the best of the season.

Amelia: NOPE. I live-tweeted the first episode and started out incredibly cynical and mocking, then by the end I was like “Nope, rewind, I was wrong, this is very good.” The characters have completely stolen my heart. They feel, more than any other group of teenage girl characters I’ve encountered over the past two years of anime viewing, like real individuals.

Dee: I think what’s particularly impressive is how much of their personalities are conveyed through dialogue and visuals. There’s little (if any?) internal monologuing in this show, and yet these girls feel more well-defined than a lot of protagonists who give you a direct window into their thoughts 24/7. It’s a pitch-perfect combination of writing and direction. And animation, I should add—Madhouse is doing a fantastic job on expressions and body language.

Amelia: Those girls trying to be sexy…

Dee: God that was so perfectly high school.

Vrai: I LOVED THAT. It’s such a great way to depict teens trying to be “sexy” without objectifying them. IT CAN BE DONE.

Amelia: I love Shirase so much. That she put this plan together and took the lead but was in no way prepared to do it herself was also very high school. While presented as capable and dedicated, she’s got limits, and we’re hitting them. And that is so refreshing.

Dee: I was worried Shirase was going to be one of those bog-standard “mature cool-headed anime girls,” but she’s so much more than thatShe’ll have these poignant moments of thoughtfulness that remind you she’s been through tougher times than the other girls (losing her mother)… and then she’ll shout “Wait for me, penguins!” out a window when she realizes she’s finally going to Antarctica. She’s had to grow up fast in some ways, but she’s still a kid in many others.

Amelia: She works hard, but she also wants to rub her success in her doubting classmates’ faces. She wants to go to Antarctica more than anything, but can’t get over her fear of talking into a microphone to make it happen. She’s such a human character.

A close up of a teen girl with long hair yelling at another teen girl, who's watching her with confusion. Subtitles: "Impossible, you said? Ridiculous, you said?"

Vrai: I’m also a big fan of the fact that this explicitly isn’t a “world of women” series. Dudes definitely exist, but the story’s made the decision that it’s going to focus on the contributions of women, and professional women in particular.

Also I think I’ve cried at every episode.

Dee: I think I’ve laughed out loud and gotten choked up once every week. The balance between silliness and emotional resonance is perfect.

Vrai: I see people worrying that it’s gonna take a dark turn once they get to Antarctica, but I’m not worried about it? I don’t doubt they’ll face some peril, and there’s a melancholy undercurrent for sure, but this just doesn’t feel like the kind of show that’s gonna amputate someone’s foot for shock value or something.

Amelia: The most likely darkness will come from Shirase finally accepting the loss of her mother. And that’s going to be rough, but she’ll have accomplished so much by then, and be surrounded by a stronger support network than she’s ever had. It’s going to break my heart, but it’ll be a worthy source of darkness.

Anyone have any concerns about this one? I think I could go on about its strong points for days.

Dee: I thought the scene with Kimari’s mom was a little uncomfortable. I know they were trying to play up the very teenage feeling of “my mom’s gonna kill me,” but it wound up coming across like her mom might actually be abusive and they were playing it for laughs, which put me off.

Vrai: Oh yeah, it was really good until the actual “coming for her with a ladle” bit. Then the gag was a little too “uhhhhhhhhh real child abuse though.”

Dee: There’s no reference to Kimari actually getting hit (she doesn’t talk about being sore or anything), so I don’t think anything happened. It’s just like… maybe don’t make the threat of abuse be your joke, y’know?

Vrai: Yeah. That’s the only thing I can think of in four episodes, though.

Dee: Same. I’ve liked if not outright loved everything else.

Amelia: I take it we’re unanimous in recommending it to our readers?

Dee: Definitely.

Vrai: Please watch the good ice girls!

Two teenage girls, one with long hair in a school uniform and the other in casual clothes wearing a ponytail, sit on a train, leaning their shoulders together and smiling.

 

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