Winter 2020 Week 2 Roundup: The State of the Season

Weekly Roundups are comprehensive posts where I cover some of the biggest events in the seasonal anime I’m watching.

With the season kicking off, how does each show stack up?

22/7, ID:Invaded and Eizkouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! are off to hot starts

ID:Invaded Episode 1-2 Review
22/7 Episode 1 Review
Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! Episode 1 Review

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ID:Invaded’s mental labyrinths have intriguing implications on one’s psyche. 

It was their mere premieres that cemented these three as the top of my Winter 2020 playlist, but they’ve continued to deliver at a high standard. Good thing too, because they couldn’t be more individual from one another! The running thread throughout is a mild, though not excruciating, meta-awareness of their genres, and in each case it creates a piece individual from their contemporaries.

With strong links to genre classics such as Minority Report and villains whose notoriety is not without popular influence, ID:Invaded is crafting a curious police procedural that digs deep into the subconscious of its villains and detectives alike, seeking to ask much more than just where the ‘will to kill’ really comes from – and whether it can be stopped. Pseudopsychology is the name of the game here; you’ll have to bring some scientific suspension of disbelief to overcome the concept, where a former detective-turned-serial killer enters the ‘ID Well’, subconscious, instinctual personality, of serial killers and determine the clues to solve the case. With its dark twists and strong mystery backbone, ID:Invaded has you begging for answers against its compelling drip-drip-drip of crime drama.

On the other side, 22/7 has one giant hurdle of disbelief to be crossed, and that’s that the 22/7 idol unit’s production company are run by The Wall, an order dispensing entity of unknown origin. Look past this bizarre piece of fundamental plotting and at the shiny lighting and great character designs, because 22/7 is an idol anime whose main character is depressed and its cast privy to the industry’s difficulties, particularly Nicole, who is quite clearly not in the middle of her first audition. It’s quite tempting to throw your hands up and declare 22/7 the ‘Evangelion of Idol Anime!’, but Miu’s weariness with life is extremely humanised. Miu has a caring mother and a loving little sister, and though she has to work extra hours to help, she is happy to fight for what she loves. Of course, the scene of her selling her old keyboard is a tearjerker, but the hole she’s digging is one that anybody with depression can empathise with – with an extra kudos Nagomi Saijou’s nuanced, natural depiction of the self-destructive, directionless protagonist. In its second episode, the cast is coming together while also coming apart, because this is an idol anime with no miracle cure, no magic spells and no cheat-sheets to stardom.

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22/7’s awkward audition sequence cuts deep, because there’s no such thing as a ‘natural’ when it comes to show-business.

Meanwhile, Eizouken snatches your imagination and runs wild. That’s not a propeller, no, but a piece of a gigantic sci-fi city who’s under attack by aliens, so get in that dragonfly shaped spaceship – no, it’s not a desk – and escape! The creativity of the series is its first and last bastion of defence, and it has so much that it overshadows the effective but unexciting characterisation and mediocre club plotting. Eizouken feels like a labour of love, and that aspect allows it to shine brightly.

Dorohedoro, Kyokou Suiri and Koisuru Asteroid have enough style to overcome their shortfalls 

Dorohedoro Episode 1 Review
Kyoukou Suiri Episode 1 Review
Koisuru Asteroid Episode 1 Review

Dorohedoro may just be the closest we’ll get to a Tarantino anime – barring, of course, that sequence in Kill Bill.  The comically nonchalant hyperviolence is so very stylish. Of course, there’s some issues with pacing in particular as the series seems to jump around a bit ridiculously at times, with characters entering randomly and breaking up the episodic sense-of-purpose. But it’s very good despite that, and as the series entered its second episode, it feels like it’s going to overcome its growing pains and become another cult classic, like one of the aforementioned director’s works!

Kyokou Suiri has already been compared to the likes of Monogatari, Bunny Girl-senpai, Denpa-teki no Kanojo etc. That’s high praise for some! I’m glad to inform those to whom that is not high praise, that there is a key differentiator: the protagonist is the heroine, Kotoko! However, she’s still a heroine, and I’m absolutely not sold on that characterisation, but the series goes on as you might expect; rapid back-and-forth dialogue as the various parties get to the bottom of its convoluted, supernatural mysteries. The English title is a great pun, in case yo were wondering, In/Spectre is as it says – the supernatural element is interestingly researched, using multiple different cultures’ (though primarily Japanese) folklore to build this compelling background of ghosts and monsters and spirits and gods. It’s enjoyable, but it’s primarily chitchat, and lacks some of the aforementioned show’s out-there symbolism to spice it up, and instead relies on nail-biting cliffhangers to bring you back each week.

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Kyokou Suiri may be primarily dialogue driven, but its conflicts are definitely dynamic.

And then we have Koisuru Asteroid, the romance of the season! If only it were a bit better at what is, oddly, its primary goal. You see, cute-girls shows – like this one – are All Ado About Nothing type shows where they get you interested in a weird gimmick that the girls use as a shared hobby to hang out. In this instance, it’s a mixture of astronomy and geology, but sadly the show is really quite boring when it gets down to the science. Bland exposition and not all that exciting interest is all it has. But the primary leads, astronomers but interested in more, share the cutest romance! But, then again, it’s not going anywhere, so extremely sweet relationship-building are pretty much going to waste. It’s still a good enough watch, but if you can’t look past the lack of explicitness then this might be closer to infuriating.

BOFURI, Somali to Mori no Kamisama, Housekishou Richard-shi no Nazo Kantei and Darwin’s Game have shown that they can inspire

BOFURI: Itai no wa Iya nana de Bougyoryoku ni Kyokufuri Shitai to Omoimasu Episode 1 Review
Somali to Mori no Kamisama Episode 1 Review

‘Shield Heroine’ is just one loving name that BOFURI has earned in its sweet, earnest couple of episodes focusing on a Defence-Maxing MMO player, Maple. In my opening episode’s review, I commented that the series has determined its rut already – ridiculously overpowered protagonist finds silly ways to overcome her problems, then goes party forming to have some fun on more challenging content with friends. It’s going that route indeed, but I didn’t expect such a solitary scenario in its second episode, which is almost entirely dedicated to her IRL friend, Sally. Since she’s only just started, but is an experienced gamer, she has to get up to speed quickly. Maple helps her, but Sally takes the screentime for herself as she goes underwater and has a tense battle with a high-level boss. That kind of independent action does wonders for her development, and she exists as a gamer in her own right without living in Maple’s shadow. If the show carries on imbuing its cast with this much love of gaming, it might just climb up the ranks.

I’m struggling to form a strong opinion on Somali to Mori no Kamisama. The show is extremely blase, acting as a series of vignettes as Golem escorts Somali through the world and hopefully reconnects her with humankind. There’s some twists and developments, and some world building, and it’s all very happening and not really demanding attention. Its world is big on imagination but low on hooks, as the only personal factor is Golem’s mysterious condition, because the connection between the two leads, while cute, has no real movement. This is a rare kind of anime that merely happens, not like a traditional story with purpose and not like a traditional Nothing Happens anime where there is overflowing personality. Everything in this show lives and dies by its world, and its indeed very pretty. How interested are you?

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The fantasy world of Somali to Mori no Kamisama is indeed very pretty, and you get the feeling that Satelight really thought it through as they designed the backdrops.

Housekishou Richard-shi no Nazo Kantei, or as I dub it, Jeweller Richard, is a show that I missed in the first week(s). It didn’t look that interesting, and I’ll break it to you: it’s ultimately not that interesting as a show about jewellery. It’s actually a drama, whereby Richard and his shop-hand, Seigi, offer appraisals for customers and learn the deeper stories behind the scenes. Both of its episodes have told captivating stories, entirely in past-tense, but I’ve got to take my hat off to its second story about a woman unwilling to get married. I almost want to spoil the big twist, but let’s just say that it’s far more political than many anime are willing to get! The show is ultimately a little bland, and its drama can feel a little contrived in relation to the jewellery, but it’s a very chilled out song-and-dance and I really like sitting through it after a hard day.

On the other hand, Darwin’s Game is great pulp. Overstuffed, a little bit, but it has no pretensions and merely ploughs on with its edgy setting. In this death game, death’s coming and you’ve gotta avoid it! I find it really fun how the show ties its mobile game ideas into the story, such as having a ‘gacha’ system where Kaname spends his points after winning and randomly is given a gun, and in its recent episode, an event occurs where its characters are forced to collect rings in a Free For All setting. It’s not high art, and it has no real intentions of discussing society’s love of murdering one another, but it’s a decently fun time. Of course, we’ve gotta address Shuka’s obsession with Kaname which is, undoubtedly, fanservice for its sake and holds the series down.

NekoparA and Magia Record: Mahou Shojou Madoka Magica Gaiden – what are you doing?

NekoparA Episode 1 Review
Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Gaiden Episode 1 Review

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NekoparA’s girls are sweet, but the show is definitely not

I knew what I was getting into with NekoparA, and yet I still find myself disappointed. This series, about a cafe owner who has his catgirls work as maids, can’t entirely lose its trappings as a sexual visual novel. You see, NekoparA is a cute-girls show and is fairly competent at it. The voice actresses are particularly good at capturing feline growls and the outfits are extremely adorable. But every few minutes, the show will get sexual, but not in a conventional way. It will do something nonchalant with an undue focus, such as one of the girls desperate to go to the toilet… except this scene exists for no reason. In a later scene, another girl is embarrassed because she has to change her panties because she leaked a little. Another scene has Chocola, one of the leads, imagining herself breast feeding a younger cat. There’s a lot of fetishes uncomfortably brought up. It really ruins the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, Magia Record makes my first drop. The show misses all the marks, frankly. What is pacing? It just ploughs on, exposition dumping with only a few symbolic nods to its former series but with none of the intrigue. Its development is entirely bland, reeking of imitation but without the energetic love. It’s cheap. It’s lazy. It’s lacking in all the things I normally applaud. Undoubtedly a shame that I’m lamenting one of the more interestingly directed anime of the season with such poor rating, but this show is tired.


That’s my season so far. What shows are you keeping up with? Am I missing any must watches?

 

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