Welcome to our new anime dystopia, where half the shows are postponed and the rest are, well... read on to find out. If you dare.Screenshot: Netflix
I don’t know about you, but I’ve just experienced my worst ever summer, and the pandemic-assisted drought of decent anime to distract me from spiraling stress levels has not helped. My job has rocketed in intensity and my recent 2 weeks of disappointing, non-restful holiday have been spent in paranoid lockdown, hiding from the rampaging hordes of drunk pub-loitering idiots who have caused a significant COVID-19 outbreak in my city, just as my kids are due to return to school. I, along with most of you out there, am so tired of this. It’s not the time to become complacent though, so I’ll keep wearing my mask to the store and continue disinfecting my hands obsessively.
Despite restrictions on production, Spring 2020 turned out pretty well for anime, considering. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Summer 2020. There’s a lot of garbage I’ve no intention of covering, plus some disappointments but thankfully a few real gems are hidden in there. First up, let’s look at this season’s sequels.
Re:Zero Season 2 part 1: (eps 1-6 of 13) wednesdays, CRUNCHYROLL
For those drawn to Emilia, yet disappointed by her lack of evil: New White-haired Waifu: Echidna.Screenshot: Crunchyroll
I have waited so long for this, the delayed continuation (almost 4 years!) to what is far and above the best example of the isekai genre. Season 1 utilised severe tonal whiplash to shock and disorient the viewer, unleashing brutal plot twists and grim punishments on poor, pathetic and irritating main character Subaru. Yes, Subaru is an entitled jerk who only improves as a person by being repeatedly humiliated/murdered/eviscerated/impaled/beheaded, each death leading him back to a “save point” earlier in his timeline, much like the protagonist in a video game. This is a very effective plot device that allows him to make terrible mistakes but in doing so gain more information about the world and his adversaries. Then he can do better next time. Or get murdered in a different way and try again. Rinse and repeat until he gets it “right”... or at least succeeds in the least awful way.
Back in Winter 2020, Crunchyroll released the director’s cut of Re:Zero season 1 as 13 re-cut double-length episodes with 2 extra OVAs. If you’ve seen the standard version of season 1 recently, there’s no need to go watch the director’s cut - the only substantial addition was a new 4-minute epilogue at the end of the final episode that has also been stitched onto the beginning of season 2's first episode. I would recommend watching the OVAs though.
Season 2 continues to add new characters and concepts, illuminates (or at least complicates) the motivations of existing characters and introduces new challenges against impossible odds/grim and bloody torture sessions for poor Subaru to blunder his way through. The production quality remains high, so much is crammed into every episode that they often don’t have time for OPs or EDs. It feels as if the series has never been away. Without any noticeable dip in quality, I heartily recommend season 2 to anyone who enjoyed the first. If you hated the first, this will not convert you, although that does lead me to wonder what the hell is wrong with you?
Fire Force Season 2: (eps 1-7 of 24) fridays, CRUNCHYROLL
Oooooh - new pink-haired Yandere girl. She’s got a crazy stare and everything. It always seems to be the pink-haired ones.Screenshot: Crunchyroll
More light-hearted pyrokinetic hijinks with Shinra and his fiery pals. I quite enjoyed season 1 as dumb, colourful, smoothly-animated fluff, though found the frequent, jarring fanservice off-putting. So far, season 2 has managed to rein in its worst impulses with only one instance of truly egregious fanservice that completely diffuses the tension in a climactic battle scene. Oh well. If they can keep the frequency to once every half-cour or so, I suppose I can let it slide. I’ll be writing more about this in the upcoming Summer 2020 AniTAY collab article, so keep an eye out for that.
No Guns Life Season 2: (eps 1-6 of 12) thursdays, FUNIMATION
Juzo and pals rarely look as happy as this in the show. For a guy with a solid expressionless gun for a head, he still somehow manages to emote pretty wellScreenshot: Funimation
What is there to say about why you should watch this show? The main character HAS A GUN FOR A HEAD. Now either you will disregard this concept as being unutterably stupid, or you will think “that’s cool, I want to watch that.” I very much sit in the second camp. NGL season 2 is deeply reminiscent of old 1980s and 90s cyberpunk anime in both concept and gritty, grimy aesthetic. It’s as if Studio Madhouse threw Blade Runner, Neuromancer, Bubblegum Crisis, AD Police, Armitage III and Ghost in the Shell into a blender with a bunch of old hard-boiled detective novels and built some kind of bio-organic monstrosity from the resultant sludge.
With a tone that veers wildly from goofy comedy (there’s an extremely stupid episode about a creep who uses mechanically augmented eyes to leer through women’s clothes) to serious contemplation about the dehumanising effect of cyborg tech on ex-military veterans and poor people, it’s a pretty fun show to watch, though perhaps not as thought-provoking as it thinks it is. Unusually, most of the backgrounds in the show seem to have been generated using Unreal Engine, but that isn’t as jarring as you might expect. Unlike some recent CGI anime monstrosities, the CG is kept in the background - the characters remain 2D animated for the most part, and with good use of colour palette, they never appear too alien to their computer-generated world.
Season 2 has mostly kicked the plot into high gear, which makes for a more coherent viewing experience than the first season. I very much recommend this to those whose sensibilities attract them to the look of older anime from 30 or so years ago.
Fruits Basket 2nd Season: (eps 1-19 of ?) mondays, CRUNCHYROLL
So... uh... Fruits Basket’s been a lot more... interesting... recently. Can’t possibly think why...Screenshot: Crunchyroll
I asked for more Edgy Horse Girl and boy, did we get her. Rin is far and away my favourite character in this show. Tohru does not annoy me quite as much as she did before, she seems to be growing a backbone and some agency of her own, plus there are hints she may have to start acknowledging her hidden trauma sometime soon. I do find it weird that all the other characters need Tohru to be giving them a hug, or even just be standing in the room or something, for them to recognise that they are emotional screw-ups in need of serious help. I don’t want a show about Tohru the Human Hug Pillow. I do need a show about Rin the angry and edgy but very pretty and really actually pure-hearted and noble horse girl.
Severely Depleted New Things section
The God of High School: (eps 1-6 of 13) mondays, CRUNCHYROLL
Our intrepid trio realise they’re trapped in an incomprehensible, poorly plotted and badly written trash heap of a show.Screenshot: Crunchyroll
Crunchyroll has produced a mixed bag with their original series recently. First was IN/Spectre, which I found mediocre and dull. Second was last season’s Tower of God which was pretty fun but did little to properly explain its world and seemed both over-stuffed and under-elaborated. Do they get it third time lucky with this Korean webtoon adaptation? Uh... No. No they don’t. This is the worst one so far. (I’m not bothering with Gibiate, this season’s other Crunchyroll Original, because it is apparently so terrible that Crunchyroll are barely promoting it themselves.)
TGoHS starts ok with a frenetic, funny opening episode that I found entertaining, if exhausting to watch. Episodes 2 and 3 are also fine, it seemed to be a fairly standard shonen fighting tournament show, not normally my thing, but I was willing to give it a chance.
Then it shat out episode 4, perhaps the worst single episode of anime I have watched in over a year. It will likely go down in history as the episode that sunk the show, that demonstrated that beneath the flashy fight choreography and stylistic effects, this show is empty of intelligence and decent character writing. Random shit just happens, no emotional climax is ever earned, characters do not interact with one another organically, they just describe their relationships to one another without showing evidence to the viewer. I don’t know if the original webtoon is this bad, but up to episode 6 this incoherent garbage remains unfocused, incompetently structured and even worse - boring. I have dropped this polished but steaming turd effective immediately.
Deca-Dence: (eps 1-6 of 12) wednesdays, FUNIMATION
Do you like aerial fights? Do you like strong characters? Do you like narrative mind-f**ks? DO YOU LOVE ANIME? Watch Deca-Dence.Screenshot: Funimation
So this has been the biggest surprise of the season so far. With a really dumb title and an underwhelming synopsis, I was ready to skip this until I heard orgasmic moans of pleasure spewing forth from the AniTAY discord. Yup, Deca-Dence must be the only show in living memory that has seemingly united the entire server in adulation.
Directed by Mob Psycho 100's Yuzuru Tachikawa, written by Hiroshi Seko
(also Mob Psycho 100) and produced by The Saga of Tanya the Evil’s Studio Nut, this anime-original show has some serious talent behind it. As it is based on no other media source, Deca-Dence’s viewers are completely unspoiled and therefore at the mercy of writer Seko’s batshit plot twists, the most magnificent of which occurs within the first minute of episode 2 and completely inverts what you think this show is going to be about. I cannot in good conscience elaborate further. Watch this show. The bonkers premise, fantastic world-building and thrilling action animation make this one of the most spectacular and rewarding shows of 2020 so far.
Rent-a-girlfriend: (eps 1-6 of ?) fridays, CRUNCHYROLL
Main girl Chizuru is a delight. Every other character... not so much.Screenshot: Crunchyroll
It says a lot that I’m still watching this overwrought, manipulative soap opera trash over God of High School. I should have learned my lesson with last year’s Domestic Girlfriend, a similarly trashy animated car-crash. Especially as I read the manga up until the most astonishingly terrible ending in the history of popular media. An ending that didn’t so much shit the bed as also drench its housemates’, neighbours’ and distant relatives’ beds in dripping, fetid and rotting faeculent matter. Perhaps I somehow hope that this particular lurid romantic comedy/drama won’t make the same mistakes. That hope is probably unwarranted.
Protagonist Kazuya Kinoshita, first year college student, is a total loser, and the show revels in revealing how degraded and scummy his personality is. This is a show where Kazuya’s choice of which mental image of which girl he should masturbate to is an important plot point. Kazuya has been dumped by his borderline sociopathic ex-girlfriend and in a fit of self-pity decides to hire a fake/rental girlfriend. Apparently this is a thing in Japan. Anyway, contrived hijinks ensue and he ends up dragging rental girlfriend Chizuru ever deeper into a spiraling web of lies, prolonging their fake relationship so that he can save face in front of his friends and avoid disappointing his manipulative, perverted grandmother. Chizuru is far too nice of a person and despite her irritation, allows this entitled little shitbag to force her into embarrassing situations far beyond her comfort zone. She doesn’t help herself much as she expresses a desire to help him become a better person... You’ll be stuck with this human wreckage for a long time if you’re aiming for that, girl...
It’s a show you peer at through clasped fingers while groaning “No, dear God, don’t do that...” Despite the contrived premise and cringe-worthy plot progression, the show is quite entertaining and it certainly looks good with attractive character designs, bright colours and surprisingly detailed animation. I may be able to survive until the end of the season, but it may not be healthy to do so.
Netflix One-and-Dump section
Japan Sinks 2020: (all 10 episodes) NETFLIX
Place your bets now - how many of these guys do you think will survive until the end?Screenshot: Netflix
This is the fourth screen adaptation of the 1973 novel Japan Sinks, after a 1973 movie, a 1974 live action series and a 2006 remake movie. I expected big things from this updated version, produced as it is by Science Saru, anime auteur Masaaki Yuasa’s (Devilman Crybaby, Get Your Hands Off Eizouken, Ride Your Wave, Night is Short Walk on Girl) studio. I’ve only seen a few of Yuasa’s works, namely his most recent productions, so I was pretty hyped for this.
I’ll say it right out - this is nowhere near as good as his other works. In fact Yuasa himself was not chief director - after spreading himself pretty thin recently on Ride Your Wave, Eizouken and the upcoming Inu-Oh - it seems pretty clear that he devolved most work to his compatriot Pyeon-Gang Ho. Japan Sinks shares an odd semi-realistic but also loose and scratchy look with the rest of Science Saru’s output that does not give it a typical anime vibe, and that may reduce the enjoyment of anime aesthetic purists.
This is a popcorn disaster flick through and through, and I was certainly never bored, even during the slower, less compelling middle section. It follows the trials of a nuclear family and various odd hangers-on as they attempt to survive a disaster that improbably causes the entire Japanese archipelago to sink beneath the sea. The central characters are mostly fine, except for the exceptionally irritating little kid who keeps speaking in dreadful Engrish phrases that make little sense. I can’t say the peripheral characters are as well drawn, with a wheelchair-bound morphine-addicted grandad who goes on a bow-and-arrow-aided killing spree of heavily armed cultists really stretching credulity. The annoying European YouTuber guy is nothing but a massive plot device who drags the story out of narrative cul-de-sacs in increasingly improbable ways that strain suspension of disbelief.
I watched this with my 15-year-old daughter over 2 sittings and at the end her first words were “So, Dad. Which were your favourite deaths?” This is essentially the anime version of Final Destination except it’s not just a chosen few who die, it’s everyone. Punctuated by ridiculous, contrived deaths that happen to idiotic people, it is pretty hard to take it seriously at least in hindsight. While watching, I found it pretty damn depressing. I don’t regret watching it, but I don’t think I can recommend it. There might be a good drinking game buried in there somewhere. “Down a shot each time someone is dismembered/drowned/eaten by seagulls/devoured by a shark/crushed by random rocks/shot by a cultist.” Liver failure ahoy.
BNA: Brand New Animal: (all 12 episodes) NETFLIX
Must... resist.... the... furry... girl... Oh shit. Too late.Screenshot: Netflix
I love Studio Trigger shows. If you love Studio Trigger shows, then like me, you will likely also love this - a 12-episode distillation of Trigger’s great obsessions and themes that doesn’t really do anything mind-bending or new but is a damn good time otherwise.
BNA makes an interesting companion piece to the fantastic movie Promare - visually it shares a very similar colour palette, and it shares themes of an oppressed underclass of people with special powers rising up against injustice and fighting for their right to exist. The ultimate bad guys in both productions are almost identical in appearance and outlook too - I wonder if that was deliberate?
Protagonist Michiru is a scrappy teenager who one day unexpectedly transforms into a “beastman” and must run away from home to reach the only city in Japan where such people are safe. Despite exploring themes of racism, hatred and oppression, this is a mostly light and breezy adventure filled with action sequences and slightly bonkers concepts that kind of fall apart if you look at them too closely. The underlying plot doesn’t make a whole lot of thematic sense and it’s hard to get a sense of what Trigger is trying to say with this other than “beast girl cute, colours nice, explosions good, war bad.”
It’s best to check out your brain, let the insanity wash over you without questioning it too deeply. It’s as bright as a rainbow but shallow as a puddle. I hope they can make more so maybe they can add a bit more depth, certainly it concludes all too soon - BNA could be twice as long and still entertain.
From the Eternal Streaming Backlog of Shame
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Seasons 1+2: (2013, 2015) HIDIVE/CRUNCHYROLL in North America, Blu-ray/DVD only in UK
Ah... disaffected youth. If only I could remember any of their names.Screenshot: Crunchyroll
With season 3 currently airing on Crunchyroll and HIDIVE, I thought it would be a good time to catch up on this apparently very popular romantic comedy show, rabidly recommended by many within the AniTAY community. Except the first two seasons are unavailable to stream in the UK. As an act of faith in my compatriots’ opinions, I slapped down cold hard cash to buy the blu-rays from Amazon.
I worry I may have made a mistake, in more ways than one. I thought my teenage daughter might enjoy watching this with me. I was horribly, horribly wrong. She just does not get it at all. Typical Doctorkev’s Daughter quotes: “Oh my God, why are they making such a big deal about that? What is even going on? Why is she upset? What did he do and why is it a big deal? What, are they still going on about that? Real teenagers do not act like that. Oh God, why does everything have to be so dramatic? This sucks. And I’m bored. Please don’t make me watch another one.”
I kind of have some sympathy with her. This seems to be a romantic comedy with little in the way of actual comedy, and very little overt romance. It’s more of a subtle interpersonal drama where... not a lot actually happens. I do identify with main character and social pariah Hachiman who does seem to have a desire to help others, but usually at his own expense. It just doesn’t seem very compelling to me and I keep finding excuses to put off watching more of it. I probably get more enjoyment from torturing my daughter by making her watch it than from the show itself. I feel there is very much “an emperor’s new clothes” vibe with this show, where apparently if you don’t think it’s wonderful it’s because you just don’t “understand” the characters... Hmmm. I wonder if I’ll manage to battle through until the end of season 3 before the end of the summer anime season?
Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun: (all 12 eps - 2014) NETFLIX/HIDIVE
Shojo manga-ka superstarsScreenshot: Netflix
Recommended a few podcasts ago by fellow AniTAY author and podcast host Protonstorm, I finally found time to watch this very funny (sort-of) romantic comedy. Based on a 4-koma manga, it doesn’t have a deep plot with emotional progression, but it does boast some adorable nerds with strong personalities and bizarre quirks. It takes a lot for an anime to make me laugh, but this did. I wish they had made more of this. Also I am a sucker for cute girls with hair ribbons. My favourite character is probably the blue-haired girl who everyone mistakes for a prince and who can’t help but seduce the other girls even when she only has eyes for a hapless guy who thinks she is only messing with him.
Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? On the Side: Sword Oratoria: (all 12 eps-2017) HIDIVE
This is basically “suggestively-dressed girls go on a jolly adventure”, but it’s a lot of funScreenshot: HIDIVE
I’d put off watching this show, a spin off from DanMachi (I dislike the overly wordy English translated-name). In the UK this is only available to stream on HIDIVE, and for reasons unclear to me, is unavailable via their iOS app. HIDIVE doesn’t have a PS4 app either, so the only reasonable way for me to watch this is on my laptop, which is not my preferred modality for anime watching. Anyway, I’m glad I got around to it eventually as this was a fun little show that helped fill in backstory for the main plot-line. I know a lot of fans really dislike quiet blonde girl Ais as she is so emotionless, but I found myself warming to her. With fun character interactions, tense fight sequences and fascinating worldbuilding, this really whet my appetite for DanMachi season 3, unfortunately delayed until 2021. If only this season had a definitive ending - nothing is really resolved or explained. I believe the spinoff light novel series continues alongside the main series, so perhaps they will eventually make more?
Toilet-bound Hanako-kun: (all 12 eps - Winter 2020) FUNIMATION
W-was that our producer? Have they greenlit season 2 yet?Screenshot: Funimation
On my radar since the beginning of this year, Hanako-kun is a very weird show. Animated by Studio Lerche, they of Assassination Classroom and Astra Lost in Space, I was attracted by their pedigree in creating interesting shows with heartfelt character moments. Essentially the Japanese version of Harry Potter’s Moaning Myrtle (except male), Hanako is a ghost who haunts a school’s girl’s bathroom. He makes friends with a girl who has a complex about her abnormally thick ankles (a rather odd running joke) and together they investigate other rumours and apparitions within the school. It’s mostly fun and lightweight, though with sometimes surprisingly dark and emotional sequences. It was much better than I was expecting and would love a second series. Bonus points for impeccable style - Hanako-kun truly looks unlike any other anime - though this is at the expense of very limited animation that the exceptional direction just barely manages to hide.
That comes to the end of the anime I’ve watched in the first half of this season. Normally I’d have probably written individual articles for some of these but I’m been too busy with work and I’ve also been working on a massive non-anime-related writing project that has sucked up a huge amount of my time and energy. I’ll certainly be back at the end of the season, maybe before. See you then. Stay safe and well out there.
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