At the halfway point of this weekly roundup, it’s time to go through the entire season.
Azur Lane’s treading water
When I talk about ‘good’ series, one of the major facets I look at is direction. There are many facets to this, but having a concise vision is an area that Azur Lane is lacking in.
One only has to take a precursory glance over the pool of this gacha game’s waifus to realise that there’s a broad divide in the cast: the busty, mature women in tight pencil skirts, and the generally flat-chested lolis exposing a dangerous amount of skin. I’m not going to cast judgement over either fetish, but the valley drawn is biting Azur Lane in the butt. Put simply, it has to show mature action women involved in an engaging conspiracy lined with exciting action sequences, while also carving time for juvenile fanservice nonsense. And it lacks a good ability to blend these together.
It’s a distraction. From time-intensive zoom-ins to episode-long bath sequences, the fanservice is taking us away from what the show is trying to do for far too long, messing about aimlessly with perversions. It’s not like the rest of the show and its occasional upskirts during combat is clean, but it’s a cheeky side-dish rather than an obtuse intrusion of an already snail-like pacing. The fact of the matter is the show is bogging itself down with unneeded diversions, and we barely got our plot in place by episode 4. If the more serious scenes with Enterprise and Belfast weren’t so well handled, I’d be biting this one’s head off.
Running Rating: 6/10
BEASTARS’ excellent drama
Making something jaw-dropping is no easy task, but BEASTARS is really exemplary in the dramatic field. It can get to such intense climaxes, like Legosi’s first performance, purely because it has mastered the basics to such a degree. The major players have been established quickly, and the show then moved on to developing them – and doesn’t fear their many, many facets, showing us Haru’s self-destructive side before showing us just why she is that why, and how she plays up to ‘what’ she is. Louis, meanwhile, is almost a tragic hero, who is as unlikeable, in his binary understanding of carnivores and herbivores, as he is noble for burdening himself with the weight to defeat his own crutch. As these moments play out in the plot’s crescendos, again and again, it’s a standing ovation from me.
The big question mark is Legosi. His animalistic instincts are awakening, and the writing is analysing the different aspects we associate with this – and not shying away from sexuality. While teenage sexuality in this show with animals is honestly being handled far better than almost any anime I’ve yet come across, the fact is that I am not trusting the medium (as a whole) to portray a more intimate discussion from a singular protagonist’s point-of-view. But if there’s one show I welcome the chance, it’s this one.
Running rating: 10/10
Blade of the Immortal struggles with the payoff
Blade of the Immortal is a weird one. It’s hard to put my finger on just why I find myself bored during it. The presentation is sharp, with intriguing framing used to alleviate the animation difficulties and snappy editing to style. And, indeed, the atmosphere, with a focus on background insects and long, drawn out shots, leaves a strong impression. The problem is much deeper than that, though, though perhaps, one could also argue that it’s directly related.
Taking such large amounts of time out can ruin pacing, and this is definitely not the only show on this list I am using this argument against. But Blade of the Immortal goes further, dampening its running atmosphere – and it just doesn’t have the punch to approach the payoff. Fighting its weirdos is too draped in context, and it’s tonally unable to raise its voice for the big bits. That, and, I think we’re all a bit sick and tired of how Rin, as a character, is being handled; not only is she consistently outsourcing her own vengeance, but she has to deal with sexual abuse, losing every battle until Manji shows up and even being the butt of the series’ poor jokes. Some agency would be good, and some development into her character beyond her generic quest would be good. But, it’s not exactly delved into Manji’s many potential faces, and the big bads are more gimmick than substance.
It feels like an accident when the show stumbles upon a good episode.
Running Rating: 4/10 (drop)
That good natured comedy, Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy
Chuubyou Gekihatsu Boy has been impressing me each week. This club anime is in the twilight of its genre, yet it has no interest in changing the tropes or breaking the mould. Its gimmick is relatively par for the course, even! But the show has something hard to come by: a jolly good bit of fun. I worry that several of these characters will slip from my memories soon into the new year, particularly Futaba, but I’m having too much of a good time to notice.
The show has a good eye for gag crafting. Mizuki being dragged into their nonsense is no strange thing compared to other club anime, but she’s always a quiet observer sharing a space with us to giggle at their antics. And it helps too that their antics are so bizarre, yet well-timed and good natured. While it’s something that could be improved, Gekihatsu Boy is often dipping the show’s presentation into other genres for its best jokes, particularly alongside its most well-groomed gags. The way the group get to gang-up to laugh at one another, too, is part of the charm – there’s a friendship building here, and it’s very, very pleasant.
Forgettable? Perhaps, but it’s an enjoyable weekly watch all the same.
Running Rating: 7/10
Fate/Grand Order’s not letting up
Fate/Grand Order has one of the kindest anime productions around, being produced for much longer and more intensively than most. That’s fair, but that also doesn’t quite explain just how much oomph each frame and each soundbite has.
To replicate the game’s grinding-gameplay focus, each episode has a battle sequence. I’ve already discussed how impressive each one is, and while the fight with Ana & Mash against Ishtar or Gilgamesh is still the highlight of the year in the category, each is very strong. The character animation, particularly during episode 5, has been tremendous, too, packing so much character into movements and facial expressions.
As a story, there’s a few faults, though. Per the game’s nature, there’s a small ‘MC-Kun’ syndrome, with Ritsuka Fujimaru being particularly uninteresting. However, Grand Order is at its most exceptional when it lets its historical characters get knee-deep in their own lore – Ushiwakamaru was a hero in her own time, and you can feel that from her roof-time chat; Gilgamesh has some personal demons and he carries them everywhere he goes. The story’s only just beginning, but I’m excited to see more. Just don’t go expecting Ritsuka to win a Protagonist of the Year award or anything.
Running Rating: 9/10
Hataage! Kemono Michi just doesn’t have enough variety
I’ll be honest, the show has had me laughing a good few times – particularly with the introduction of Carmilla, the useless vampire lesbian that gleefully waltzes into her own peril. The problem is that, like many of the show’s decent repertoire of jokes, is that they’re just repeated in the exact same tones of voice, the same volumes and, even, the same animation. A bit of joke repetition is good but it’s getting tedious. It took Hanako 6 episodes before she did something other than just eat, and it wasn’t developed enough to be heartfelt.
But, I think more saddening than that, is the cruelty of the humour. There’s an uneven level of meanness to its jokes. Carmilla can be an idiot to cause her own misfortune, but the rate to which she’s beaten and pulverised for her error feels too much compared to the rest of the cast’s tomfoolery, particularly as Genzo and Hanako plot-armours their way away from harm. The comic rapport is unbalanced and can feel dissuading, as there just isn’t enough nice humour given the time of day – even the weirdly pleasant romance, that Genzo has with his neighbour, is just too sidelined to be anything to take seriously. The substance is mean-spirited, the side dish leaves you wanting, and there’s no desserts on this tiny menu of gags.
Running Rating: 5/10
Honzuki no Gekokujou’s pivoting on the spot
I’ve tried my best to like Ascendance of a Bookworm and its hard-to-stomach protagonist, but there’s another elephant in the room that’s becoming all the more apparent (and just focusing me on that initial issue). The story is crawling forward with little direction, confusing the series’ hook with that of a day-to-day show, but the constant reiteration of the goal of making books is a distraction of that; it’s succeeding at neither. Throw in the foreshadowed, background element of our not-so-believable leading ladies illness, and the series seems like it’s got so many things it wants to do and not much intention of doing it.
While Myne has done all sorts to become a 6 year old mystique, it’s simultaneously underwhelming and over-punctuated. It’s been episodes since she designed shampoo and hairpins, and she is still reaping the rewards from it. The menial plodding of the series means that she’s not even invented paper yet, the first step of her grand quest, and the weak character rapport can’t carry such lethargy.
Running Rating: 3/10
Hoshiai no Sora’s making the right moves
I’ve been a bit concerned about Hoshiai no Sora’s malnourished side-plots, but finding more time for development has really shored that issue up. What we’re left with is an excellent drama that digs deep into its traumas, though is perhaps a little pulpy with the sheer amount of unfortunate backstories it has.
There’s something to be said about how uncomfortable the traumatic experiences can be in motion. It’s especially notable when you factor in that the cinematography has been losing its creativity in recent episodes, with convincing sound mixing and sheer narrative force being the primary driver of Hoshiai no Sora’s success.
That said. Mitsue’s constant banter is probably the highlight of the series, though. I said in my Episode 1 review that the show just breathes, casting an air of realism over everything it does. It’s not just the climaxes that the show builds to, but the cathartic thereafter, because this show is immersed in real-life.
But, to get back to that earlier point, it’s bordering on melodramatic with all this personal drama. Everybody seems to be getting their chance to explain why it’s not All Okay. It’s one of those situations where everybody being special means that nobody is special, and I want to point out to these type of writers that it’s okay to be normal, or even to experience a traumatic event firsthand rather than carry it from before the series starts. It’s still potent, but it’s losing that bite.
Running Rating: 8/10
Is a passing grade okay? Kandagawa Jet Girls seems to think so
You asked for T & A, and you got it. Mission statement fulfilled, with some adequate, though directionless, sports anime things lurking behind the giant busts and butts. Other than a scene where a passing train causes the girl’s breasts to comically bounce, the show has failed to really let its quite-sapphic relationships, innuendo-filled dialogue and passable sports battles commit to memory. The trance OST is lit, though.
While the show isn’t falling into too many pitfalls – other than a general lack of pace – the show is also not excelling. The hooks aren’t falling into place too excitingly. That’s a problem in the ecchi-sport genre, with works like Keijo!!!!!!!! or Harukana Receive showing this up with strong casts with far more compelling relationships, much more exciting and meaningful sporting sequences, and dare I say it, but far more tasteful uses of sexuality, too. There’s only one real description, then, of Kandagawa Jet Girls – and it’s the ultimate sin of criticism; it’s passable.
Running Rating: 4/10
Lacking in substance, but Null Peta’s in no shortage of sweet
I’ve not had a good chance to chat about Null Peta. I had no idea which way this show would go, so colour me surprised when it, not just went the sweet route, but happened to excel at it. Null has made a robot replacement for her sister who passed away recently, and these 5 minute episodes, while slapstick focused, manage to access something profoundly heartwarming.
Null doesn’t want to go to school, but Peta Mk. 2 is determined to make her – even if that means a detour through space. The comic routines aren’t anything special, relying on dumber and louder ideas moreso than actual punchlines, but the situations are generally amusing enough to elicit a giggle each episode. The real reason to watch it, then, is the bond between Null and the ghost of her sister that resides in this robot. Gently, Null moves on, but even more softly is the reluctance, and the allowance she’s given to show weakness. Null Peta reiterates that it’s okay to need a bit of time to yourself, and it’s even more okay to say you’re not okay. The show gently coos, and it’s as beautiful as it sounds. Inconsistently perhaps, but this short is fielding too many touching moments to ignore
Running Rating: 8/10
Shinchou Yuusha’s comic greatness
On the contrary to the other comedy on the list, Shinchou Yuusha is getting away with a small pool of jokes. Sheer determination is all it needs because delivery is absolutely on-point. The main appeal is the Goddess Ristarte, who has been upgraded from the genre’s usual heroine-sex-appeal status to observing and micro-managing protagonist. It helps that Aki Toyosaki’s wide-ranging performance as the two-faced Goddess, and White Fox’s unendingly charming facial expressions, are making Shinchou Yuusha a one-woman show.
A one woman show that even has fantastic OTT jokes, too. The hero, Seiya, has solutions to problems that are funny in basic exposition, and only get funnier and funnier with the excited monologues that don’t stop for breath.
There’s the constant worry that such a small joke repertoire will eventually run its gamut, but with this much creativity, Shinchou Yuusha is a surprise hit.
Running Rating: 9/10
The Average Isekai is struggling to even be average
The isekai genre is at splitting point. We’ve long since begun scraping the bottom of the barrel. Being able to achieve mediocrity, when you can barely swing a cat around in that crowd, is an achievement. Most try out gimmicks, and Average Isekai’s gimmick, about a girl trying to be average in another world but not specifying an average of what, could be passable. Its switchup to include a female protagonist in an all-female party of hunters could be another trick to hit another demographic. The writing didn’t get the memo that the show was going to try something new – and it’s sinking beneath incompetency.
Mile, the show’s 12 year old protagonist, is a hodgepodge of tropes. Her meta-awareness is just energetic enough to overcome how frequent this archetype presents herself. I’d be willing to shrug at the trite chest envy she encompasses. But the show fails basic awareness of timing, decency and self-awareness. Villains are too cruel or creepy for their comic defeats while heroes are busy misrepresenting sexual abuse as comic events. When the show does get serious, it would rather cut onions than have meaningful developments, chucking in clunky, tragic backstories and hoping the shock and jaunt will give the show ‘depth’. It even burries its head in one of the medium’s most tepid moral dilemmas, suggesting that killing villains will make the heroes ‘just as bad’, but it doesn’t actually give the decency to voice that cliche; the scenes lack clarity, coming off as weary and confused.
And that’s frustrating. Because Average Isekai’s hit-ratio of jokes is, well, the desired 50% it wanted. Is that a passing grade, though?
Running Rating: 3/10