Since I forgot to repost what I thought of the summer anime last year, I’ll just wrap it into this post!
Summer 2020 Anime Overview
Thanks to pandemic delays, the Summer 2020 season was slim pickins (and the fall season was A Lot in comparison) but there were a couple titles I enjoyed!
Appare-Ranman! technically launched in the spring, but thanks to COVID delays, most of it ended up airing last season, and that’s when I picked it up. The anime follows Appare, an eccentric inventor and his long suffering samurai companion, Kosame. Thanks to a mishap, the pair get blown from their home in Japan all the way to America, circa…well, SOMEWHERE in the late 1800s/early 1900s, but don’t expect much attention to historical accuracy here. Kosame desperately wants to get home to reassure his family but lacks the funds, meanwhile Appare just wants to build a cool car, so both of them end up joining the Trans America Wild Race, the first car race across all of America, and get mixed up with a variety of characters.
I read about 30 print books in 2020 (you can see them all here) (a LOT of light novels…needed that escapism) and I really liked most of them! I discovered a few gems I’d like to talk about here. From cats to Greek mythology to fantasy-horror-yuri, we’ve got a nice range!
The Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa
Nothing beats a good snarky cat voice. The Travelling Cat Chronicles follows the journey of Nana the cat as he goes on a road trip with his owner Satoru and meets many of his owner’s old friends. We learn a lot about Nana and Satoru’s pasts along the way and bit by bit, the mysterious purpose of their journey becomes clear.
This book shows how a strong narrative voice can take a reading experience to the next level. Nana’s narration is acerbic, lively, and just plain fun to read. Again, a pitch perfect kitty cat. The tale is also tearjerker and had me bawling like a baby, but they were good, cathartic tears that come from reading a story that touches on the tragic aspects of life as well as the beautiful ones, helping one come to terms with how bittersweet but meaningful our experiences can be. Nana and his owner encounter many people struggling to find happiness and love along their way and each tale is touching without ever crossing into cloying sentimentality. I definitely strongly recommend this one, for both cat lovers and lovers of a solid, sweet stories.
For the Spring 2020 anime season, I mostly watched continuations of shows I was already into. The one new show I did pick up was My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom!
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! follows Katerina Claes, a spoiled young noble girl deviously scheming to win the heart of a prince- oh wait, never mind, she hit her head and remembered her past life! Turns out she’s an eighteen year old Japanese otaku chick who died and got reincarnated as the villainess in her favorite otome game.
If you don’t feel like reading the wiki article, an otome game is basically a female- targeted dating sim where you play as a blank slate main character and date a bunch of pretty boys (and sometimes girls, but usually only if you go outside the mainstream ones), unlocking their backstories and collecting all the romantic endings.
Having played this game, Katarina is well aware that the Villainess character- who constantly tries to interfere with the game’s heroine and whichever boy she’s pursuing- is either exiled or killed in all of the games endings. And now she IS that villainess, living in the world of the game and all its characters! Does that mean she’s doomed to a horrible fate? What’s a girl to do?
Well, if you’re Katarina, what you do is be supportive and kind to the people around you and in doing so accidentally get every single character in the game to fall in love with you. And yes, this includes all the boys the heroine is supposed to date, the other female romantic rivals the heroine is faced with and the game’s heroine herself.
That’s right, we finally got us some bisexual romantic comedy hijinx last anime season, my friends! My Next Life as a Villainess was the delightful little show I really escaped into during these anxious pandemic times . All these girls casually falling in love with Katarina without it being treated as ‘weird’ was what particularly drew me to this show and warmed my gay little heart to see. It was honestly the perfect fluffy, low stress watch during these high stress times.
Anime has long been oversaturated with ‘harem’ stories– where a usually unwitting protagonist somehow gets a bevy of beauties in love with them- but it’s still unfortunately really unusual to see bisexual harems, especially ones with a girl at the center, so right away there’s a big draw to this story that helps it stick out from the rest. (And worry not, the story is largely focused on Katarina having fun with these pals-who-are-not-so-secretly-in-love-with-her, rather than having a ton the dubious shenanigans you see in more sexually charged tales.)
Harem protoganists also famously tend to have the personality of potatoes, being so painfully bland it’s unclear why so many people would fall in love with them in the first place. But that definitely not the case for Katarina. She’s brash, ridiculous, kind and INCREDIBLY dense, and that for a pretty dynamic combination in this setting! She does genuinely come off as a fun person to be around. Unlike a lot of modern isekai shows, she doesn’t stumble into having incredible magic powers or skills, so her compassion is genuinely her greatest strength and what saves the day and wins hearts time and time again.
Katarina’s five brain cells doing their weekly check-in
(The moment she won my heart was when she responded to a tragic Frozen style situation with her friend locking himself away from people because he believed his magic was dangerous by taking an axe to his door. My kinda girl!)
The premise also allows for some plausible built-in reasons for the characters to take such special notice of Katarina- having been raised in a different world, she isn’t beholden to all the social rules, class divisions and noble family drama all the other kids in this very specific midevial-esque fantasy world are so embroiled in. This combined with her naturally earnest, accepting and straightfoward nature means she’s able to cross boundaries and reach out to them in a way they aren’t accustomed to. She was significant in each character’s life because she genuinely was the first to show them acceptance and affection without pretense, if only because she isn’t even aware there was supposed to be a pretense.
Keep Your Hands off Eizouken! follows three high school girls: Midori Asakusa, Tsubame Mizusaki and Sayaka Kanamori, as they work together to create their own anime. They form a club on their high school campus, which they dub “eizouken” (the rough meaning of which is “film association”).
Awkward and spacey but endlessly creative, Asakusa takes on the job of director and also handles background animation. Mizusaki is a part-time model who has to dodge her parents disapproval over her pursuing anime, but she’s a whiz at character animation. And finally, there’s the tough-as-nails, blunt-as hell Kanamori, who doesn’t have much passion for animation itself but has a lot of passion for selling a good product, and she wrangles the two artists and reminds them of the bottom line.
Eizouken! is a vibrant artistic triumph bursting with wonder and ingenuity. I can’t really communicate just how good it is- this is truly a show that speaks to the existence of nerds, creative weirdos and (if you identify with Kanamori), the poor souls who have to deal with how ridiculous creative weirdos can be.
The show finds great visual ways to express the creative and planning process for an enterprise, having the girls literally climb around in the settings and concept art they create, struggle to fly the planes they’ve designed, and so on. By doing this, it transforms what could have been a more standard narrative into a more unpredictable tale that switches between being a a thoughtful meditation on the different aspects of the creative and production process and a rollicking, wacky adventure story.
And it’s all carried by very strong characters. Even their designs are bold and distinct- its very rare to see a main protagonist female character in ANY sort of animation have a constant, unflattering grimace like Kanamori does, but it suits her cynical self perfectly. Eizouken! focuses on female characters, but unusually for anime, and let’s be real, animation in general, it doesn’t sand off any unique edges to make them as ‘generically cute’ as possible. Mizusaki is the closest to a standard conventionally cute design, but that suits the fact she’s a part time model. Thanks to the great animation, the girls also have a wonderful expressiveness that matches their striking designs. The great article The Glorious, Geeky. Goofy Girls of Keep Your Hands Off Eizoukengoes into this more in depth.
(As the article mentions, the storyboard director of episode 1, Mari Motohashi, said they animated the characters in a consciously gender neutral manner too, saying of the original manga that “she liked the “gender neutral” feel of it. She described Asakusa as like an elementary schooler, Mizusaki as having some girlish aspects still left in her, and Kanamori as like an intellectual yakuza. She said that Kanamori’s pragmatism was refreshing, and felt true to life regarding how the anime industry works, which may be why creative people tend to enjoy the manga. “)
It’s not just the main three! Side characters are distinctive too and unusually diverse for an anime taking place in Japan. The setting itself encompasses this diversity, you see signs in many different languages and so on. The mangaka hasstated it was based on her own experiences attending a public school, saying on twitter: “I was attending a public elementary school. There were Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Americans, Iranians, Brazilians, Egyptians and Nigerians. Those are normal. And there were various skin colors, religions, and various names.”
Of course, strong designs and animation need strong writing to match them and Eizouken! provides. All the characters are deeply loveable in their quirkiness and struggles, and they play off each other well. Continue reading “Winter 2020 Anime Overview”→
It’s been a while since I checked in with this blog, so I thought I’d finish up the round of updates to link a couple of other things I’ve written/others have written about my writing in the last couple months.
– -Speaking of In the Way of All Flesh, The Afictionado included my book in her fantastic 2019 Book Recs posts! I’m delighted, obviously, and there’s a lot of other great titles there too! Her 2019 anime recsare good and definitely worth a look too!
-And, just to throw in something extra, I started a casual tumblrwith my friend highlighting cool book covers we find in indie bookstores, including graphic novels and manga, if anyone wants to check that out.
When choosing anime of the decade, I decided to limit it to either a) anime that began airing in the 2010 decade or b) complete individual seasons that aired in that decade (as in the season actually has its own separate name and all that). I decided not include any continuous ongoing series from previous decades that don’t separate into named seasons, which yes, eliminates 2009’s Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood, but ya’ll already know that’s an all time anime fave of mine. Basically, these ‘anime of the decade’ posts cover anime that comes up as belonging to the 2010 the decade when I search my personal MAL.
Given– full reviewhere. This romantic anime about some guys in a band that tells an effective and hopeful story of healing from grief and loss while showing dorky boys being cut as heck and is realistic and respectful in how it handles queer characters.
Sarazanmai- short review inthis post. Kunihiko Ikuhara’s latest offering is a story of three troubled middle-school boys turning into kappas, yanking stuff out of zombie butts and dealing with their myriad mental issues. Like most of Ikuhara’s stories, its amazingly bizarre and full of that good queer shit. It’s a bit of a mess and could stand to be expanded on, but it’s still an entertaining and enthralling story about human connection with a stubborn optimism that’s welcome in these hard times.
Stars Align- Full reviewhere. Though unfinished, this show about a boys soft tennis team still shines with its emotionally honest portrayal of how teenagers suffer under familial and societal expectations, and its straightforward and empathetic representation and discussion of trans issues is miles ahead of most mainstrearm media.
Mob Psycho 100 II– Short review in this post. Season 2 continues the story of a shy psychic boy and his con-artist mentor and features amazing animation, fun characters, awesome action and simple but well executed story about how if everyone is not special you can be what you want to be. Definitely one of the best action anime of the decade.
The Promised Neverland– Short review inthis post. This anime has shortcomings as an adaptation and is problematic with a capital P thanks to the issues with Sister Krone (good writings on those problems are linked in my review), but it was definitely top 5 in terms of how intrigued and excited I was week to week. This suspenseful tale of three smart kids who find out their idyllic home is a lie and struggle to escape got me good, bringing the friendfamily feels and high stakes cat-and-mouse drama I love, and it got me hooked on the manga.
Some bonus faves:
Ascendance of a Bookworm- Full reviewhere. The story of a bibliophile’s quest to get some books after she’s reborn as a peasant girl in a world where only nobles get to read, this is a pleasant fantasy story with good world-building and some well earned dramatic bite beneath its slice-of-life sweetness.
Chihayafuru Season 3– Short review in this post. The continuing tale of one girls journey to be the best at karuta continues to have solid visuals and sharp writing alongside varied character dynamics.- this isn’t my favorite season of the show season so far, but it’s still quality anime.
My Roommate is a Cat– Short review in this post. Any anime that has a cute cat narrating a good chunk of it deserves to be on a best-of list, and this is sweet story of a socially anxious guy finding a way to deal with his grief as he bonds with his furry friend. Just feel-good all around.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War– Short review inthis post. Though there are some bumps in the road, this comedy about two ridiculous teenagers trying to “win” at love by getting the other one to confess is skillfully directed and often laugh out loud funny.
Posted a little late, but here are the reviews I put on tumblr for the winter 2019 anime season!
Star Align is a really cool show in a lot of ways, and it’s such a shame that it might not get the conclusion in deserves. This anime focuses on a boys’ soft tennis club, but more than anything it’s a drama about the difficulty of battling with society’s expectations (often enforced via one’s parents) as a teenager.
It’s a BIG task to take on myriad ways parents force expectations on and downright abuse their children, and sometimes it feels like Stars Align tries to do too much at once and verges into melodrama (and pacing issues)- but at the same time, being a teenager IS a hot pit of melodrama, and while the show may edge on clunkiness for some, there’s no denying the show resonates and talks about important things. It’s gripping, and when it’s on, it’s painfully on.
Both main characters of the show, Maki and Toma, deal with severe parental abuse, physical and emotional, and the show is brutal and forthright in how deeply it affects them.The rest of the team deals with similarly rough stuff with their families. (Seriously, if you’re affected by seeing that kind of stuff, fair warning, the show gets intense with it). Yet amidst all the heartache, we also see how the kids find support and solace in their friends and some adult figures in their lives, acting as a ray of hope. The kids are all pretty lovable, and seeing them bond and triumph is a treat.
One of the biggest splashes the anime made was its empathetic, straightforward discussion of trans issues. The typical “oh gosh, the team has to crossdress to go undercover!!!’ anime cliche was turned into an opportunity for a character on the show to have an intimate, heartfelt discussion with a friend regarding their uncertainty about their gender- they discussed the possibility they were nonbinary (known as x-gender in Japan) and another character on the show is revealed to be a trans man. This is the first time a lot of these things have been said in a mainstream anime. The unfiltered message of understanding and compassion the episode gave was sorely needed.
I’d like to give a quick shout out to how the show also treats teenage girls a lot better than most male-focused sports anime does (a low bar, but I like when it’s hopped over). The girls’ tennis team is shown to be hardworking and talented. They soundly beat the slacking boys at the beginning of the show, but gender is never bought into it, nobody chastises the boys for getting beaten by girls specifically. Rather, the coach rightly points out its a waste of the girls valuable practice time to have to deal with players who aren’t giving it their all, and the boys should be ashamed on that front. Later, when the boys team has worked a lot harder, they have rematch, and our main characters implement the girls team captains advice to good effect. It’s just nice to see girls’ athletics not only acknowledged, but treated with respect and as an inspiration.
I also like how Kanako is a refreshing spin on the reoccurring ‘girl character’ in a dude sports anime- the show allows her an actual distinct character arc and her own ambitions. Rather than the cheerful manager,she’s a misanthropic nerd who’s not officially affiliated with the team in any way. She wants use them as drawing fodder, but becomes an important part of the squad and bonds with them regardless.
The Afictionado was nice enough to give my book a review and also link to my article on mental illness! Check this post for those goodies and a lot of other great stuff, both my her and people around the net!
Some reviews of the Summer 2019 anime I watched, hot off the Tumblr press!
Given is definitely going to be in the top five anime of the year for me. I say that with complete confidence even through the year isn’t over yet. That’s how good it is.
This is a story that combines band and music drama with high school boy romance drama and even throws in some grad school guy love drama for good measure. But it’s also an incredibly moving, well-executed story about coping with grief and survivor’s guilt. It can be very funny, very adorable and is often heartwrenchingly emotional.
I adore the two leads and their relationship. Ritsuka is endearing from the second he bursts into the scene- He’s a dork who’s instinctively kind and helpful even as he blusters about it and complains dramatically. He can be bad at communicating but he really does try his best, bless him. He’s just a complete mess constantly overwhelmed by the feels he gets from this weird guy he’s crushing on.
Mafuyu is equally wonderful- Ritsuka describes him as a “lost puppy” when he first meets him and, well, that’s not inaccurate.The kid is little awkward and taciturn, yet his strong emotions and high enthusiasm shine through all the time. Mafuyu is also a lot more complex than he initially appears. He has a TON of baggage and intense turmoil he’s going through underneath his sweet, spacey-seeming exterior.
Unlike a lot of characters in the BL genre (and teen romance in general lbr), Mafuyu has a romantic past, he’s well aware he’s gay and his ex isn’t some one dimensional evil caricature either. It’s also later revealed Mafuyu IS aware of how he comes off and gets sad about not being able to express emotions and socialize like “normal people” do. He’s a very resonant and well-thought-out character, and his journey is nuanced, fantastic and tugs on the heartstrings.
Then there’s the two grad school guys, Haruki and Akihiko. They’re fun,interesting characters who’ve got some thorny romantic tension going between them. They both seem, realistic for their age. I mean, Haruki is constantly burying his face in his hands and internally screaming, which is extremely relatable and absolutely accurate to my grad school existence at least. Their different relationships with their sexuality and feelings also have a touch of realism and nuance. One of this pair has been in relationships with plenty of guys and girls alike and is pretty comfortable with his sexuality-but he clings to some of his past in what might be an unhealthy way. On the opposite spectrum, the other man accepted his feelings long ago, yet never acts of them, seemingly deciding it’s hopeless.
When they’re not busy being disasters themselves, these two act as mentors and sorta big bros to our disaster teens. This honestly rules. As I said in myBloom into Youreview, it’s my favorite thing when media reflects how different generations of people in the lgbtq+ community can help and support each other.
In fact, there’s a really touching and realistic conversation where Ritsuka talks about his insecurities over his emerging crush with one of the older guys and shares a bit of his own experience to reassure Ritsuka. He lets Ritsuka know, no, there’s nothing wrong with him and there are people who’ve been there and who understand. The whole thing is just really well done. It’s also great because it feels like the show is really trying to warmly reassure any viewers who might be struggling. It shouldn’t be a rare thing to feel like a story about queer romance is truly keeping the queer audience in mind, yet it is RARE. So it makes me happy to see this story reach out.
Given is on point with it humor, characters, romance, exploration of grief and deals well with issues- but it’s got even more going for it than that! It’s a really well directed anime. The pace is slow and contemplative, with an absorbing atmosphere that really draws the viewer in and makes them feel like they’re living day-to-day with the characters. The dramatic moments, the funny moments, the sweet moments- they all hit just perfectly. The care taken in telling this story really comes through.