My Top 8 Favorite Anime of 2018

2018 was a big year for me, anime-wise. I really started keeping up with the anime reviewing community, particularly Anifem and ANN, and that meant I jumped on a bunch of series and had a lot of great finds.

I figured that a top 8 list would be fitting. I ruled out continuing series and kept it to stuff that debuted in 2018, but Golden Kamuy and My Hero Academia are still good. Also March Comes Like a Lion is the BEST, I don’t care if I haven’t finished it, it’s a fantastic, breathtaking drama with amazing characters everyone should watch and would totally be number one on this list if it was eligible.

These aren’t exactly ranked, since I have a hard time doing that with stuff I like, but the anime I found most impressive is nearer to the bottom.

Honorary mentions for Skull faced Bookseller Honda-san which was a thoroughly good time and Violet Evergarden which was pretty and had some episodes that made me cry.

How to Keep a Mummy

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Let all easily-offended anime fans choke over the fact I choose this cheap-looking fluffy show over daring artsy stuff like Devilman Crybaby and the like. This adorable series about a boy and his friends adopting miniature fantasy animals is charming as heck

This show just really clicked with me, and its honestly my go-to when I really need to calm down from my anxiety. The characters are so sweet and likable, the atmosphere is so pleasant and the cute fantasy animal shenanigans hit my sweet spot. It’s a thoroughly soothing experience, but it also has enough of an “edge” to keep me from getting bored, since it gently touches on stuff like anxiety over losing pets you love and so on. Full review here.

Zombieland Saga

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Part idol show, part killer comedy, Zombieland Saga has a loveable cast of quirky undead girls to enjoy. It goes all out with its body horror gags and outrageous slapstick, but still manages to have a lot of heart underneath it all- and that’s not just referring to one that routinely bursts out of girl’s chest cavity.

The show is about a group of misfits bonding together to find a life after death- and though they become a team of idols, they’re idols who ultimately celebrate weirdness and individuality. There’s even a ridiculous delinquent girl, which is one of my weaknesses. And shoutout to the show for having a trans character in the group, who is treated with empathy rather than derision and ultimately accepted.

I do feel the arc that wrapped up the show was kind of “meh”, and I have some trepidation about what was revealed about the girls’ manager but the stronger episodes and fun characters make up for it. I’m also intrigued to see bits of a larger plot start to form- I’m genuinely curious to see where the show goes and looking forward to more. Full review incoming!

Planet With

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Planet With follows an amnesiac boy who lives with a cat monster and quirky maid-looking girl, who task him with fighting the local superheroes in a cat robot. This anime goes full-speed-ahead, balls-to-the-wall and never lets up, packing in more story, twists and climactic battles in its 12 episodes than a lot of anime do in 50. Yet the entire thing remains cohesive, engaging and fun while taking the time to explore cycles of violence and the power of empathy and forgiveness. It has solid characters, a strong story and is just a good time overall. I feel like this anime was really overlooked by many this year, so I only hope more people will discover this hidden gem as time goes on. Full review here.

Hinamatsuri 

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This comedy about a yakuza thug who is dragged into being the guardian of a psychic girl is all the wacky found family shenanigans you could ever want. The characters are entertaining, the twists are unexpected and it is full of great girls. It can also be surprisingly touching and empathetic in how it deals with things like homelessness. It avoids the skeezy and uncomfortable aspects a lot of anime comedies has an remains a fun time throughout. The animation is also wonderfully expressive. Full review here.

Continue reading “My Top 8 Favorite Anime of 2018”

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More Anime Openings I Adore

Because I couldn’t contain myself, here are a few more of my favorite OPs. These are either a). OPs I love but have to admit are not perfect or remarkable on a technical level or b) OPs I think are really good but one aspect just doesn’t completely click with me.

Toradora Opening 1

This OP is so darn catchy and cute. I can’t watch it without remembering how equally cute and fun this show was and being overcome with affection. The visuals of this opening don’t fully keep up with the energy of the song in places- but that doesn’t matter to me. It’s adorable! I also just adore the bouncy tune and pink and white silhouettes and aahhhh.

And Taiga’s glares in it are A-plus. Seriously, I love a good intimidating glare from a girl and the one she gives at the beginning gave me chills the first time I saw it. I also love the quick succession of shots of the girls being badass in their different ways at the end- this show had SUCH GOOD GIRLS and watching this OP reminds me of that and isn’t that all that matters?

Xam’d: Lost Memories Opening

Ahhhh I remember I could never skip this OP when watching the show. I just love how it starts out with the characters tapping their feet to the music, I love the cool backgrounds, and I especially love that is just has this whole sequence with a monster chasing everyone and the Captain casually defeating it with her bigass fuck-off gun. It’s so well animated and an exhilarating action sequence that allows you to see the dynamics of the squad instantly.

However, much as I love it, I’ll admit storywise it kinds falls apart at the end. Akiyuki, why did you throw away those perfectly good apples you took the trouble to get? Why did you turn into your robot-creature-whatever form only to instantly transform back and get a letter? It looks cool, but these questions distract me. Still, great OP that always got me pumped to watch the show.

A Certain Scientific Railgun Opening 1 

I adore this OP with all my heart and soul, and that’s almost 100% because the song is banger and the opening and ending shots are super badass. However, I will admit the visuals in the middle fail to keep up with the energy of the song, which is shame, because like, this song was clearly specifically written for the show. You’d think they’d be having an action scene during the whole “only my railgun can shoot it” part of the song but nope, they decided that was the time for a long shot of Misaka on a train. The song basically carries the OP, with the visuals in the middle being somewhat slow and generic.

But that doesn’t matter because I love the opening bit- it looks so badass and actually syncs with the music- and I adore the end shot of Misaka using her powers too. It’s just beautifully animated, and that utterly makes up for the lacking visuals in the rest of the OP for me.

…And 2

The second opening of a show is a little more action heavy and well synced with the music and also has a bangin’ song.

Erased Opening

Honestly, this one is a near-perfect OP- I debated whether to put it in my 15 favorite OPs for a long time. The song is really intense and memorable and I really like how it incorporates the time travel motif and represents it via film- the beginning shows the main character in a theater with his younger self, then later you have the film spinning by as the character’s silhouette writhes in the background and he reverts to his younger self. I also really like how even the shots in this OP that seem random and generic are actually REALLY significant to the plot of the show- there’s a lot of clues to how the plot plays out. For once, the OP focusing on random empty classrooms and fields is actually REALLY significant to a reoccurring motif in the show. The show gets extra points for making a change to the OP in one of the later episodes that reflects the events of the episode in a chilling way.

Continue reading “More Anime Openings I Adore”

Anifem Article- ‘The Courage to Speak’: Mental Illness and Recovery in Natsume’s Book of Friends

My article, ‘The Courage to Speak’: Mental Illness and Recovery in Natsume’s Book of Friends has been published on Anime Feminist! Check it out here.

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I’m once again so grateful that Anime Feminist gave me the opportunity to publish this piece. I had a great time working with them as always.

I really poured a lot of myself into this one- a lot more than I expected I would- so I think it’s among my best as far as articles go. I put a ton of work and many, MANY hours into this. (Fun fact: I wrote the bulk of this while I was in Chicago to see Hamilton!)

On the way, I had some powerful realizations about myself and why this show resonated with me.

So this article ended up being about more than Natsume Yujinchou- I have some thoughts about how media and society in general approaches mental illness, abuse and recovery and why this show in particular stands out simply because it doesn’t sensationalize abuse and values recovery rather than reveling in suffering.

I hope this piece can encourage people to check this show out because it really is something special that connected with me on a deep level. I think others who have struggled with trauma, mental illness and abuse might feel the same. It’s a gentle but thoroughly emotional experience.

Even if you haven’t seen the show, I’d really appreciate if you read this piece! It’s special to me and if you’re interested in the experiences of someone struggling with mental illness and in how fiction engages in serious mental issues, you might get something out of it. Thank you.

Spring 2018 Anime Overview: Quick Summaries and Tumblr links

I watched six anime during the Spring 2018 anime season and I’ve now written full length reviews for each of them. So here are the anime I watched, ranked from weakest to strongest with the titles linking to my in-depth review of each series on tumblr. For all the reviews at once, please see this post here.

Believe it or not, I wouldn’t call any of the anime on this list bad- it was all enjoyable to a degree and I wouldn’t anti-recommend any of it. However, there were ups and downs with each one, and some of these series were weaker than others in my opinions, so I’m here to talk about why! Hope you enjoy and find it useful!

Click on the title of each anime to see my detailed review/overview of the series!

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card (Episodes 14-22)

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I’m sorry, Sakura, but I have no choice. I have to bite the bullet and admit it.

I did enjoy the second half of the Clear Card anime, in which our eponymous magical girl continues to protect the town from enchanted cards. It continued to be cute and pleasant and I’m all about the adorable and wonderful arc with Meiling, but if I’m honest, it was the weakest anime I watched this season. It was all poor pacing and zero payoff. The last episode had a big climactic reveal that finally allowed the main character to know who is messing with her life…then promptly undid it so she knew nothing again. Such a cheap move means I have to admit this was a weak season.

Doesn’t mean I won’t watch the next one though.

Megalobox

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A classic-style boxing show set in a near-future dystopia, where scrappy underdog Joe fights to rise to the top.

Toward the end, I kinda started wanting to rank this one last, but while in my heart I’m all “eh” because it’s Not My Thing, in my head I know it’s a solid production that’s more cohesive overall than Clear Card was. The show started out with the potential to explore some strong character arcs and social themes, but kind of dropped all that for a by-the-numbers boxing story that lacked any real punch, if you forgive the pun. However, the soundtrack and aesthetic were top notch.

Golden Kamuy

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In the aftermath of the Japanese-Russo War, veteran Sugimoto teams up with an Ainu girl named Asirpa to pursue dangerous criminals in the name of revenge and a golden reward.

This is a great, pulpy story full of fun characters and entertaining beats that will actually educate you about history and a marginalized culture while you have a good time! I would have ranked this one higher if it wasn’t so disappointing visually compared to its manga source material. While the show is great, the manga is a better experience overall, with a more thorough story and gorgeous art. However, I’m grateful to the anime for introducing me to this story, and if you can’t get ahold of the manga, definitely check out the show (though read my review to know what you’re getting into, content-wise).

My Hero Academia Season 3 (Episodes 1-13)

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Izuku Midoriya continues training to follow in his idol’s footsteps to be the world’s greatest superhero, but things are thrown into chaos when villains invade their school training camp and take one of the students captive.

My Hero Academia’s flaws remain, such as poor treatment of female characters at times and the one character who remains an annoying black hole with no purpose but to aggravate me…but it also delivers some of its strongest episodes yet. The action is just incredible, gripping and visually striking. The emotions run high and hit hard. The character dynamics remain strong and great to watch as everyone continues to be tested. We get some real revelations and game changing moments and even civilian parents get their chance to shine. And it has one of my favorite tropes: Wacky Disguises.

Hinamatsuri

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A yakuza member’s life is thrown into chaos when he’s forced to adopt a superpowered girl and deal with her bizarre friends and acquaintances.

This pitch-perfect comedy offers wacky family dynamics, weird situations and subverts expectations at every turn. The cast of characters is varied and entertaining and serious issues like homelessness are actually touched upon with care and sympathy. The show can tug at your heartstrings one second and make you cackle the next and it thankfully never crosses any lines with its cast of young girls. One of the best shows of the season for sure.

Aggretsuko

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A mild mannered red panda tries to navigate a crappy job and vents her rage through death metal in private.

This is probably tied with Hinamatsuri strength-wise (and Hinamatsuri’s animation is more detailed, though I think Aggretsuko’s simplistic style works for it) but on a personal scale it edges over it just slightly because the biting criticism of modern society it offers is exactly my jam. The show tackles issues like sexism in the workplace, suppression of the true self in the name of conformity, corporate exploitation of workers and societal expectations for romance. And it does it all in a funny, cute way that is just super relatable, especially to millennials. It offers hope while acknowledging that change is often slow and hard. And it offers a great range of characters who show surprising depth at times. I’d rec this anime to anyone and I’m very glad it exists! (even if its ultimate goal is to sell us Sanrio toys.)

Reflecting on Attack on Titan: How the narrative failed its characters

I did a breakdown of how Attack on Titan failed the potential of its premise due to its commitment to being edgy fascist garbage, but I also want to talk about how it failed a bunch of characters who were brimming with potential.

(This is gonna be messy and loooong, because I have a lot of feelings. Someone on the last post noted my “rhetoric blows” and I will freely admit I’m not really trying for coherent “rhetoric” here, I’m just venting my frustration so I can get it all out of me and move on).

Yes, it wasn’t solely the premise that drew me and so many others to Attack on Titan and its potential. There were a lot of unique and exciting elements with the way this shonen manga handled its characters.

I said before that Isayama never cared about his characters, but that was a bit of a exaggeration. I think he did start out caring about some of them…it’s just he quickly got bored with them and started treating them solely as tools to serve the “plot” and the screwed message he wanted to impart.

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Isayama does have one strength as a character writer- he excels at  showing characters who are messy, flawed and selfish but nevertheless sympathetic. Nobody in Attack on Titan is a classic unselfish “pure” hero, they are all deeply flawed. Isayama’s characters were compelling in the beginning because of that. He allowed his characters to exhibit cowardice, he allowed them to fail spectacularly, and that made Attack on Titan stand out. Despire the melodrama of their situations, actions and personalities, there’s a rawness to (most of) his characters that fits the horror of the setting.

Even the protag Eren, who a lot of people dislike or find easily the most boring character (honestly I found Levi the most boring though), has this ugliness to him that makes him distinct from the billion other teen boy protags in shonen. He is genuinely unstable and honestly a bit disturbing, as this collection of weird murderfaces he makes shows (behold my post popular aot post, ah memories).His obsession with killing Titans was unsettling, it was the classic determination of a shonen hero through a screwed up horror lens, this kid ain’t all right.

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Historia especially resonated me because she was TRYING to be that classic pure heroine- but she was selfish like everyone else deep down. She just wanted to be SEEN as an pure-hearted martyr who sacrificed for others, when really all she was doing was giving into her suicidal urges. It was criticism of the very concept of the “immaculate woman”, and that’s pretty cool. So was the fact she was seen through by Ymir, someone who embraces selfishness in all other aspects of her life but is ultimately selfless when it comes to her love for Historia…that’s some good shit. It’s fantastic as a character concept, and Ymir and Historia’s initial character writing and backstory will stick with me because it was genuinely good in all its melodrama.

Historia and Ymir were nuanced queer characters whose relationships were fleshed out well. I do believe Isayama put care into crafting their initial arcs and developing them.

But then we run into a problem. A problem that eventually we run into with every character in AOT. Isayama stops caring about them. After their initial big arcs or moments in the spotlight or backstory reveals, he just doesn’t know what to do with these characters anymore. So they completely disapppear from the manga or fade into the background only to matter again when he decides to kill them off for some cheap shock moment. Either that, or they just exist to further the narrative of how the military is cool and we have to exterminate all our enemies and blablabla.

Because he ultimately cares about that narrative far, far more than he does giving these characters the full stories that resonate, make sense and are effectively paced. He’s completely willing to undo all the character work he did previously if it means he can be edgy or impress his ideals on the reader.

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That’s why Ymir and Historia have this dramatic parting that gets the audience pumped to see what happens to both of them and when they’ll reunite…only for Ymir to just completely disappear from the narrative, then be killed offscreen without even really re-entering the story again. That’s why Historia has this whole big arc about reclaiming her agency, resisting her abusive family and learning to live for herself…only to be intimidated into becoming Queen even though she’s not super into it, because she needs to serve the military and NOT live for herself after all, I guess? And oh, now she’s numbly accepted her duty to endlessly make babies for the sake of the nation! Turns out her real purpose is to be something for the other characters to be sad about.

Isayama got bored with Historia’s arc and Ymir’s arc and their relationship. He may have fun coming up with characters backstories and the big dramatic moments, but once those are over? He doesn’t care enough to do the work to conclude their stories. He gets distracted by his next plot point, his next action scene. The characters are toys he discards or breaks for the sake of either some edgy ‘anyone can die!’ moment or to push forward whatever new stupid plot point he’s thought up for his fascist narrative. (Links to evidence of Isayama’s views in this post).

Continue reading “Reflecting on Attack on Titan: How the narrative failed its characters”

Reflecting on Attack on Titan: How the narrative failed its premise.

I apologize for dwelling so much on something I no longer like with Attack on Titan, it’s just such a fascinating trainwreck, even though I hopped off the train just in time I have to look back at it periodically and be horrified yet morbidly reflective. I do find it disturbing people are denying the imperialist subtext here because it barely qualifies as subtext anymore at this point, so I do think noting it is valuable as long as fandom continues to be denial.

I just keep wondering at myself why I was drawn to AOT in the first place and HOW I didn’t see this coming- I think reflecting on that is valuable so I’ll see the warning signs earlier with other media.

It also helps me consider what makes a good narrative and what elements can appear compelling only to be squandered.

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Because honestly, there WAS so much potential there, and though it’s a struggle, I CAN remember what excited me about it. There was a good horror concept here. It really did make me feel what the terror would be, to have this unknowable, ravenous threat that could so easily wipe out everything, to have to trap yourself to avoid it. The huge walls, the striking visuals, the displays of human weakness and terror, the visceral aspect of it all- it was compelling stuff. And also importantly, it kind of rode that line where it was very easy to laugh at as well- the memes involving the titans were a TON of fun in the heyday of AOT, the bizarre way the various ones were drawn were so funny, the peak melodrama of the situation was so absurd it almost made fun of itself, especially with all the exaggerated expressions- the fandom had a lot of fun with it.

And the concept COULD have gone somewhere that was compelling, rather than boring fascist nonsense. While the components of fascist narrative were present from the beginning- a grotesque invading threat the military, the protags, as heroes, must fight- there was potential in the premise for all that to be subverted, for it to ultimately go somewhere not fascist. The Titans turning out to be fellow humans, even your former loved ones, could have been more than a footnote.

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The titans actually being people only ended up mattering in the sense of “this shows us the REAL threat is this other race that trapped us here and in fact we must use the titans to defeat them”. It didn’t ultimately change the characters or their ideals, it just made them change enemies (to a much, much more boring threat and narrative). But it COULD have been a game changer that shook the characters to their core. A very natural place for this revelation to lead would have been “it turns out there is no clear enemy. We’ve been fighting ourselves this whole time. We thought we were killing something monstrous, but it wasn’t, it was the people we love. We were used. Now what do we do?”  It could have been a story of the characters struggling to answer that question. How can they seek freedom now?

And if you really want a “dismantle the corrupt government” plotline, it would be a much simpler and stronger narrative if it was simply about the government pushing for Titan extermination despite the revelation, because they prioritized their own safety above all else and also wanted to erase past mistakes.

What if the Titans had simply been the result of horrific human experimentation done in the past and the government just wanted to cover it up? That’s it. no other countries, no emphasis on royal bloodlines or magic amnesia or any other convoluted bullshit. The reason people responded to Attack on Titan was NOT because they love convoluted royal drama or covoluted wars between opposing countries, that was not even a factor in the beginning…it was because it touched on this very simple, visceral thrill, so the story needed to keep being simple and visceral.

The final struggle of the narrative, the key to freedom, could have been the characters having the re-evaluate their worldviews and the character having to struggle to find an alternate method to deal with the titans while society goes against them for doing so.

The survey corps is disbanded. Eren, who could only deal with his grief by focusing on obliterating a clear enemy, now doesn’t have that and is forced to actually grow as a character. He has to actually confront his guilt and the fact his desire to construct an inhuman opponent he could fight was all so he didn’t have to deal with survivors guilt, because he wanted something that was black and white with no messy emotions attached. but it turns out nothing ever is that simple.

Or hey, maybe there’s something more compelling and less predictable you could do to subvert the fascist elements. I’m only doing this off the top of my head, there are probably a million ways the story could go in a more interesting direction than the shitstorm we got if someone actually focused and creative puts their mind to it.

Continue reading “Reflecting on Attack on Titan: How the narrative failed its premise.”

What I’m watching so far: Spring 2018

Here’s my watchlist so far for Spring 2018!

Unfortunately for me, both Kat’s Mystery Files and The Innkeeper is a Grade Schooler haven’t been licensed/broadcast on Crunchyroll so I probably won’t get to watch them and Hisone to Masotan has been snatched up by Netflix and therefore won’t be seen until after the season ends. Fortunately for me, a couple other anime have have caught my interest!

I’m continuing with:

My Hero Academia Season 3:

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First Impressions: I’ve heard a lot of things about this arc, so I’m looking forward to it. Unfortunately the first real episode of the arc indulged heavily in the series’ worst habits. Mineta hasn’t been expelled (this is supposed to be a school for heroes yet a serial sexual harasser gets no administrative punishment. the system is broken, the students should rise up) or died yet (HE COULD HAVE, BUT MIDORIYA JUST HAD TO RESCUE HIM. THERE’S LIMITS TO HEROISM, DEKU) and what’s worse, keeps getting screentime. Horikoshi still has a hard time writing an adult woman hero who isn’t a sex joke or gross, dated stereotype (at least Mandalay seems okay?) I am interested in Koda and his backstory though, he may have endeared himself to me mostly through his attempted murder of Mineta, which is something someone should have done a long time ago. He came so close. The True Hero. Anyway, looking forward to what this season brings, hope this episode got all the annoying junk out of the way (I can dream).

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card 

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First Impressions: Plot is finally starting to happen, slowly but surely. And Meiling was a delight in these past episodes, I only wish she could have stayed longer. It’s great to see how much she’s grown. There is still a weird amount of time spent on lovingly rhapsodizing about food, someone feed these showrunners.

Really promising new shows I’m following!

Hinamatsuri

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First Impressions: The Adventures of Badass Psychic Girl and Her Dorky Yakuza Dad are a lot of fun so far. It’s also managed to not be creepy thus far! A low bar that a lot of anime doesn’t pass, unfortunately. It’s the kind of comedy I enjoy most, irreverent and silly but not really mean. It knows what lines not to cross and knows what ruins the comedic escapism. These loveable characters are irresponsible and self-centered, but not actively cruel. For example, a young girl is left alone in an bar and encounters a drunk old man, rather than  her facing any sexually tinged peril, the joke is the guy mistaking her as a bartender and teaching her how to mix drinks. That’s when I realized I can feel safe with this show, that no uncomfortable feeling was going to disrupt my fun here, which is a rare, nice feeling.

Also I love wacky situations and funny faces (especially female characters making ugly looking funny faces, it’s sad how rare that is) and this series runs on that. It’s Good.

Golden Kamuy

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First Impressions: I’ve been really interested in the Ainu and their depiction in Japanese media ever since I first heard about it when Hiromu Arakawa discussing the Ainu plight as her inspiration for some elements in FMA. So the fact this anime deals heavily with the Ainu, acknowledges their poor treatment by the Japanese government and has a young Ainu woman as a major character is really interesting. . And she’s a badass! The historical, post-war setting really makes it stand out- I haven’t encountered a ton of anime that deal with the Russo-Japanese War. I was also intrigued by the premise introduced in the first episode, which could go into a lot of interesting directions and promises to be action-packed. The out-of-place CGI bear made me laugh, too. Color me intrigued and eager to see more. Maybe not more bad CGI though, unless it’s appropriately funny.

Series I’m keeping an eye on:

Continue reading “What I’m watching so far: Spring 2018”