What’s Worth Watching in Spring 2019? Quarterly Check-in

Over the course of the past three weeks, most anime have shown their hand. Now the 3 episode rule is in effect: what’s worth watching? I will tell you that, based on their first episodes, I’ve already dropped Shoumetsu Toshi and YU-NO. 

Without further ado, here are my rankings:

10. Hachigatsu no Cinderella Nine

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This cute-girls-do-sports show feels like an off-brand rip-off. It’s got all the same ingredients but a lot less finesse; it knows what the audience wants and gives just that, to a non-extraordinary amount. I appreciate that it wants to sink its teeth into baseball’s nitty gritty aspects, bringing up a lite-history of female involvement, a girl that wants to go pro, giving some levity to training regimes, discussing equipment and showing techniques to its characters, but it all feels very cliche. The characters have a standard level of charm, sure, but there’s a certain degree of uncanniness to their speech when they exhibit emotions that don’t line up with their permanent blushes or exuberant costume design. Make no mistake, Cinderella Nine is perfectly fine. But that’s it.

Should you watch it: If you’re starved for cute-girls shows.

9. Ultraman

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It’s going to be a back-handed compliment, but I’ll say it anyway: you could do worse than Ultraman. Its CGI has some very janky lows, sure, but as a superhero action fest it can deliver the punches (and supplexes and uppercuts too!). Protagonist Shinjirou has an incredibly annoying streak as he battles with ego, and while the show tries to criticise that about him, it feels like a mediocre attempt at meta content that pretty much all superhero stories are doing these days. When it boils down to it, Ultraman is mixed martial art spectacle with a watchable story, so if you’re looking for something to chew popcorn to, well, you could do worse than Ultraman.

Should you watch it: If you want some mindless action romps to chomp popcorn to.

8. Kono Oto Tomare

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I sometimes find myself laughing at Kono Oto Tomare in instances I don’t think I should. Its melodrama involves seriously over-the-top sequences with its delinquent protagonist literally beating up bullies and fighting armed thugs that it’s very hard to take seriously. But, beside that, its heart feels in the right place to be a fitting music drama. The show just about gets how to portray catharsis and aspiration, making it very watchable. The snarky Satowa’s banter with Chika, too, makes the show a surprisingly fun watch at times. If it weren’t for consistently overblowing its trumpet, it’d be higher on the list.

Should you watch it: If you’re looking for a solid competition drama with good characters, but can look past silly dramaticism.

7. Mayonaka no Occult Koumuin

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Campy boys solving supernatural misunderstandings in oddly wholesome ways is this show’s shtick, and it’s all backed up by solid cast chemistry. The way it writes dialogue puts it amongst the more relatable workplace anime, and cuts the crap when it comes to its core misunderstandings to be surprisingly fun mysteries and problems. Yet, at the same time, it’s just lacking a bit in character. Well, barring its supernatural recurring faces, it just doesn’t have characters that stand out barring androgynous (stereotypical uke) Seo and his piercings. Still, as a forgettable workplace anime, it can give you a few chuckles.

Should you watch it: If you like all-male adult casts, this is enjoyable but forgettable.

6. Fairy Gone

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Down-tuned rap metal and edgy supernatural violence were key factors of the early to mid 2000s, yet neither have really risen to be “retro” or “cool” – they’re still seen as kind of lame. But if you have the eye for this kind of stuff, and squint through Fairy Gone’s questionable direction, you will see one of the better in that field. There’s a lot of animatedness to its action which makes its visuals have a flair, yes, but the continuity of its visual space is very low – characters often look in a direction that shouldn’t line up with their background, or the battlefield of the 3rd episode seemed to morph around a lot, for just a couple of examples. But if you have a soft-spot for that era, these are minor issues. Marlya and Free are a pair with a bit of chemistry (which is more than the genre usually manages!) and personal character beats in a well-built supernatural alt-history world, and they dart around the landscape with just enough intrigue over future plotting to excite your inner 2000’s soul.

Should you watch it: If you still think Linkin Park, Korn and Underworld are cool, you’ll love it. If you think rap metal and neo gothic movies are lame, you’ll hate it. Otherwise, it’s sloppy.

5. Kimetsu no Yaiba

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Kimetsu no Yaiba’s first couple of episodes fielded something a bit rough. Yuki Kajiura’s soundtrack was blaring rather than fitting, and the scriptwriter was using so much explanatory monologues that they may have been attempting to write the audio description track instead… but all that rolled back recently. I’m so pleased to report that Kimetsu no Yaiba is on track to be one of the finest anime of the year if it continues with this trajectory. Outside of sequels, you may just find yourself starved for appropriately dark anime, but this one is pulling out a fantastically paced bleak story with no shortage of genuine grit. Yes, the CGI can lean on the janky side from time-to-time and it still seems to be apologising with its explanations, but Yuki Kajiura’s soundtrack has really began to get into its finer points and the height of its 2d/3d mesh of animation is very superb. This is beginning to feel like a show you might not want to miss the rise of, particularly if you’re not into dramas.

Should you watch it: Unless you’re very cynical towards shounen exposition dumps, Yes.

4. RobiHachi

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It feels oddly refreshing to find a show so dedicated to just one thing. Most anime I see try and encompass a huge spectrum, throwing meaningful character arcs, gags, action scenes and inspirational scenes into a huge pot and hoping it doesn’t boil over. RobiHachi offers but one thing: pure comedy gold. Utilising a huge colour palette and gags from all across the comic spectrum – particularly excitingly when it gets meta or quietly ironic – this buddy sitcom will keep you on your toes as it goes bigger, bigger and bigger still. RobiHachi has no pretensions, and even at its best, the lack of ambition may prevent some markers from giving it top grades. However, that’s splitting hairs because RobiHachi is a runaway success for doing what it says on the tin: making sure you have a wild, hilarious ride.

Should you watch it: If you’re looking for a laugh, Yes.

3. Fruits Basket

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For better or worse, Fruits Basket is a definitive shoujo anime. Its heart-to-hearts are excellent, and not just because of that truly beautiful soundtrack and stellar direction. No, Fruits Basket relies on its excellent character writing, to become something very special indeed, even if its characters (barring protagonist Tohru) are often planted within their tropes. Fruits Basket can be very funny indeed, utilising that strong character writing as well as off-the-wall gags and a large dynamic range to its soundscape to keep you on your feet. These things don’t perfectly jam, though. There’s wacky comedy that can go too far against its gentleness, and its supporting cast are so interested in frustrating, dated tropes such as jealousy and hinting at age-gap… and let’s not forget how ‘anime’ Tohru’s entire school of fangirls can be around the boys of its cast. Fruits Basket is making a definite pitch for a shoujo anime masterpiece, yes, but it’s carrying around the usual baggage that few truly shed.

Should you watch it: Unless you’re very cynical towards shoujo romance tropes, Yes.

2. Hitoribocchi no Marumaru Seikatsu

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Ah, now this is the stuff. Us Northern Hemisphere folk have just gotten into the warmer seasons, but Hitoribocchi makes me wanna put my feet up with a nice mugga soup and watch its friendships unfurl. It’s so wonderfully touching, and so much of that comes from a deep and thorough understanding of friendship. Hitori’s not going to make 28+ friends by the time the series ends, and that’s why it’s wonderful – every incremental step is paved with so much love that she’s going to lose sight of that lofty goal amidst all the affection. Put simply, friendship is an accumulation of shared experiences, and every little gag that this lovely little show uses reiterates on those core feelings and ideas to build heartwarming developments, again and again. Chisaki Morishita voices the titular Hitori, and is putting on a stunning performance as the anxiety-suffering lead, too, and throughout the rest of the show there are subtle direction cues, such as not off-screen usage of stock catchphrase music to reiterate the point in creative ways. Altogether, Hitoribochi is one of the best cute-girls shows period.

Should you watch it: Yes.

1. Sarazanmai

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I do feel a tinge of sadness for both Fruits Basket and Hitoribocchi, because, as good as they are, the legendary director Kunihiko Ikuhara arrived just in time to demonstrate why he’s a legend. Sarazanmai is yet another piece in his catalogue where he playfully stacks ideas on-top of one another such that every single frame is jaw-dropping, poignant, and, more than anything else, absurd. Sarazanmai has made laugh more than any other show this season, but it’s also brought me the closest to tears. The musical cues have been stuck in head throughout the week, too! And, due to all the cerebral tinkering in its layers, I’ve already rewatched each episode twice. Sarazanmai gets my highest recommendation. Do not miss this one, because once again, Ikuhara is making history.

Should you watch it: It’s essential.

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