Summer 2019 Anime Retrospective

Series Overview

I was actually a little apprehensive about Summer when it began. It seemed like there was potential in a lot of shows, yet many indicated glaring flaws. The season was an odd mixture of things, where I didn’t expect to be disappointed by some shows or pleasantly surprised by others. My thoughts haven’t really changed since the halfway point, but let’s dig in deeper, shall we?

Vinland Saga and Kanata no Astra were the top of the crop in my initial forecast of the season. The latter was dropped before the mid-way point, and I cited the gimmicky, shallow characters as a major problem, which was actually quite upsetting for this sci-fi fan. The erratic use of claustrophobic letter-boxing the screen really didn’t help its case, becoming an ugly, shallow and cheesy show that I couldn’t be bothered with.


Vinland Saga, however, is just a little too slow, always feeling like it’s carrying a carrot on a stick in front of us as it stumbles further into itself… yet not quite delivering on its promises. By the midpoint of the season, Thorfinn’s descent had been dealt with in a mere couple of episodes, and the overall story was more keen to show us some mopey vikings hunting for cash at the edge of their abilities while Thorfinn kept reminding us he’s Not One Of The Family. As they got embroiled in the war with the English, it seemed like the show was finding some direction, but the use of the Danish Prince as a source of comedy and weak drama, the reluctance to actually choose a protagonist, and that overly philosophical monologue from Askleadd did lower my expectations of that tasty carrot. I’m beginning to feel like this show needs to put in some serious work to get out of its rut.

Ah, now what was the other show I had high expectations for going in? Yes, you’re right – the two based on their productions. Let’s start with the magical-mecha battle royale, Granbelm (the review of which is still in a TBA state, sorry about that). From those opening 10 minutes, two things were clear, and remained a sticking point throughout the entire series: brilliant fight visuals, but slightly overall confused direction. Balancing too many characters, the show never really knew what to focus on; introductions were sloppy, the multiple narratives were disjointed and there was a lot of low development for just too long. Being a battle royale, the cast gradually dwindled to the remaining members, and it was at this point that the series began to perk up – as well as, of course, when it dealt with Anna’s arc, a character with more screen-presence than sense. In fact, Yoko Hikasa’s performance as the troubled, jealous, spiteful and arrogant Anna is going in the year-book as one of the most impressive performances of the year. Sadly, this energy didn’t really extend to the protagonists, Shingetsu and Mangetsu, who were just a little too passive, whose relationship was too reliant on philosophical musing and systematic explanations, and whose ultimate moments were a little lacking in oomph.

Still, the main thing is that Granbelm was that kind of show that was fun to watch on a weekly basis. It put all its eggs at the end of the show – the make-or-break of the entire narrative was where the journey would end, as, until the final handful of episodes, it wasn’t quite clear how it was going to go. That ending was disappointing, and dragged the show down with it, but for all the possible theorycrafting the cliffhangers allowed, I can let it off. A little bit.


And then we come to Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru. That odd little show about girls working out, that fit in a smattering of education, offbeat humour and a whole lotta inspiration. I find it odd to say it, but the show was actually a little exhausting – I knew each time I watched it, that I would be fidgeting, wanting to get up and lift some dumbbells myself! It turns out squats and lunges go pretty well with watching my TV, so #ButtGoals and all that – but I really want to address how much I enjoyed the show. The characters were a little on the shallow side, but the jokes didn’t hold back. Particularly when the seasonal highlight of a character, Machio, turned up, did the show have me in fits of giggles. Turns it out’s hard to exercise when you’re giggling. It’s that that put the show in the running for anime of the year.

But in that race, my chosen horse is leaning towards being Given, the show I… had high hopes for but also worried for. Studio Lerche have mixed productions, and it worried me that this 11-episode adaption of a BL anime was the studio’s side project to the more intensive Kanata no Astra – which was kicking off with a double-length episode. Given didn’t demonstrate any particularly noteworthy animation, and actually dropped the ball a little with its CGI during the performance, but as a written piece it’s the highlight of the year. Around the 3rd or 4th episode, I knew some viewers were still wondering if the show was committing to the romance or just beating around the bush, but the way the show assuaged fears and contextualised homosexuality in society was something to watch. Given just got better and better as it discussed its drama, giving needed breathing time to its arcs and had some brilliant dates. Did we need the side character development? No, but it’s giving us the sequel movie – and I can’t say no to more Given.

Speaking of things I am saying no to… I believe my Kimetsu no Yaiba review, which is currently amongst the lowest reviewed anime on this blog, is rather controversial. It was particularly during the Summer season that the show got worse and worse, and ultimately gave up writing coherently, or even cognisantly of its mission statement! The comic backbone that it discovered at the tail-end of Spring began to dominate the show, and became exceedingly grating, but the complete lack of direction, foresight, or even structure, was damning. So, that’s a movie I can confirm I am not looking forward to.


Still, let’s keep things positive. Kochouki: Wakaki Nobunaga, an origin story for famous Japanese warlord, Oda Nobunaga, was one of the best dark horses of the year (alongside Meiji Tokyo Renka). I had almost no expectations going in, yet it surprised me with its theatricality. Each episode would have a little bit of comedy and some exposition as it built to the dramatic arc of the episode, and each climax was gob-smackingly powerful. Whether the child Nobunaga was standing up to his uncle or being betrayed (again and again), the show brought out all the stops to make it impactful. Some of the writing could have been tightened up, as some of the catalystic events were a little weak on impact.

Moving forward: I should probably bring up Cop Craft – a show that was almost the exact opposite in that regard. The big moments were… somewhere between decidedly average, and later, when the production failed to keep up with its ambitions, hard to watch. However, what it had in spades was character chemistry, which made the in-between scenes with Kei and Tilarna very enjoyable. The banter was solid. Shame about the story, which paced itself randomly around episode durations, and rarely gave enough setup before exploding awkwardly and ending even more awkwardly. That cat episode, split weirdly between the tail-end of one and the front-end of another, was a right laugh, though.

Let’s finish off the seasonals with Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo. I was rather enamoured with this series, but the show didn’t setup an end goal – and that’s worrying. As the show went along, I ended up being really impressed with some arcs and sighing boringly at others. The wildcard character, Nina, made the show very difficult to work, as not enough development was put into this dramatic catalyst of a character – and, on the other side, I’m sure the age-gap romances, while never crossing the line, a bit too controversial to stomach the airy handling of.

Tejina-senpai and Sounan Desu Ka? They’re both actually very similar shows – using sexual jokes to demonstrate and explain their gimmicks. Tejina-senpai, while employing more sexuality, had some top notch voice acting and use of the comic-straight-man, such that, as long as it wasn’t getting too convolutedly sexualised, I was laughing throughout. Meanwhile, Sounan Desu Ka? couldn’t quite make its lessons relevant or funny enough.

el melloiii.jpg

At the midway point, I discussed Lord El Melloi II’s anime – which was very good, but was about to go through a major shift. While the following arc was a little more reliant on the series’ iffy detective stories, the character drama continued to be some of the best of the year – though it never really decided what its relationship was between Grey and the titular Lord. In any case, the epilogue episode is going to be discussed a little bit further down – and is one of the few times I cried during the season. 

I wish I could say the same about Symphogear’s epilogue, which betrayed the hardcore fans still following the series’ reliable action plots. Weak antagonists, convoluted plotting and some of the weakest characterisation of the franchise thus far are things that just can’t be painted over by the epic animation.

And, finally, I didn’t really get far enough with Abandoned Beasts and BEM to have a reasonable comment to add.

Ultimately, my rankings for the season:

1. Given (9.5/10)
2. Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru? (9.5/10)
3. Lord El Melloi II Sei no Jikenbo: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note (9/10)
4. Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo. (8.5/10)
5. Tejina-senpai (8/10)
6. Kochouki: Wakaki Nobunaga (7.5/10)
7. Granbelm (6/10)
8. Sounan Desu Ka? (5/10)
9. Senki Zesshou Symphogear XV (3/10)
10. Kimetsu no Yaiba (1.5/10)
11. Katsute Kami Datta Kemono-tachi e (Drop ~Episode 5)
12. BEM (Drop ~Episode 7)
13. Kanata no Astra (Drop ~Episode 4)

Best Premiere


For a show about sex, you’ve gotta hand it to Araburu Kisetsu no Otome-domo yo‘s ability to make it salacious, but grounded, and somehow still funny. The premiere was its finest moment, delivering key developments in amusing ways, and setting up the crux of its conflict. I drew issue with how unclear it made its endgame, but this was only a problem further down the line when the series’ directionlessness kicked in. For this 1 episode, though, teenage melodrama was given a kick of reality – and it was epic.

Best Episode


Now, I think it’s cheating to award a finale with a ‘Best Episode’ tag, because it’s all too often the one that ties everything together and gives prior episodes purpose. But Lord El Melloi II‘s 13th episode is a little different. First Step Towards The Future does function a little as an explanation to the loose-ends of the final few episodes of Rail Zeppelin arc that preceded it, that I grant you. But it was really an evaluation of everything that has happened thus far, darting between characters to have conversations on What Just Happened, but emphasising the growth of its cast across the way. A graduation sequence walked a fine-line between tragic and harmonious, encapsulating the feeling of time of the series – but this lead to the strongest scene of the season, and dare I say the entire year. As our Lord dozes off, the series bares itself in the most beautiful way.

This epilogue chapter concludes, and sets up, far beyond its time, and does so with a grace few finales could match this year.

Best Character Arc


I’m not sure I warmed up to Given’s space cadet, Mafuyu, as much as I perhaps should. There was some reasoning behind his attitude, but it didn’t quite feel concrete enough for the exaggerated aloofness. However, behind this act was a soul we don’t get to see given this much depth. Heartbreak, and all the emotions that went into that first love being so powerful, were dissected under a sympathetic gaze. Moving on has never been so tough, but only because the retroactive writing was so strong.

Best Boy


Machio, everybody’s favourite Muscle Bro’ from Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru, stole every single scene. That goofy smile was ready to intercept any and every opportunity to explain, safely, workouts you may not have done before. The sheer gall of the character, and the reactions he garnered as the series went on, were a source of constant joy. This show wound up near the tippity top of my year, and I just don’t know if it would do it without Machio.

Best Girl


Another comic lead, the titular Tejina-senpai was a wonderful presence throughout the entire season. Her show did dirty her antics from time-to-time, putting some compromising positions where they perhaps shouldn’t be… but the girl was a dumb blast. Kaede Hondo’s epic performance captured the ditziness and the faux-intellectuality to create a smug, heartwarming, goofy character to follow.

Best Fight


Setup all season long – far more than any of its other plots – Granbelm finally delivered the showdown between Anna and Shingetsu. The sheer rage emanating from the redhead was a sight to behold, especially as Shingetsu’s crafty tactics struggled against the overwhelming power of that anger. You could feel the years and years of love-turned-resentment throughout this fight, and it was equally as cathartic and heartbreaking to watch unfurl. Sadly, the series struggled to have much left in the tank after this point, but it was all worth it for this climactic battle.

Best Production


Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru? wasn’t just flexing muscles – the entire team were flexing their all. Dumbbell’s high ranking comes down to the passion imbued, and a somewhat forgettable OST aside, you can feel the love of craft in every scene. There’s a high level of polish here, particularly when the show decides to show-off! The direction is the icing of the cake, though, expertly winding a new joke in when least expected.

Final Words

If I’m going to be frank, some of the shows here have been the best of the year. Others have had some cracking moments that I’ll be discussing, too. But I can’t shake the feeling that the top-of-the-crop just couldn’t make the cut – and there weren’t enough surprises beyond them.

How was Summer 2019’s anime season for you?


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