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Doctorkev’s Anime Review Digest: 2

A second helping of short anime reviews, this time taken from my contributions to AniTAY’s traditional quarterly seasonal anime collaboration articles. Note that each review was written mid-season, so my opinion of each was based only on the first half-dozen episodes available at the time.

Gleipnir (Spring 2020)

Genre: Fantasy, Furry, Perversion

Where to watch: Funimation

Spoiler-free synopsis: Shuichi Kagaya is a shy high-school student who hides his academic ability to fit in with his peers. Unfortunately, peer acceptance becomes the least of his concerns when he inexplicably transforms into a grotesque furry mascot monster, complete with enhanced sense of smell and animalistic drives. Adding to his worries is fellow student Claire Aoki who not only threatens to expose his secret if he doesn’t do her bidding but also discovers that the huge zipper down his back opens into a moist, fleshy cavity into which she can enter and pilot him like a meaty, furry mecha. Adolescent sexual maturation was never this disturbing, was it?

Why you should be watching: It’s hard to recommend this show whilst retaining some semblance of dignity as a human adult, so let’s dispense with the pleasantries. Gleipnir is fucking weird, and it is made for fucking weirdos. From the moment Claire strips off her clothes and enters Shuichi’s moist, glistening meat cavity, his posture bent forwards in submission, his cheeks glowing crimson with embarrassment while he emits noises the like of which you haven’t heard since you accidentally overheard your parents screwing late one night when they thought you were asleep, you know that, like Shuichi, you are in for one hell of a ride.

Never has a show been so completely, absolutely, entirely about sex without containing any explicitly sexual content. Yes, there is copious fanservice — mainly the camera lingering over Claire’s pubescent body (remember, she’s meant to be about 14 but looks more like 24) — and the women in this show do seem to like to disrobe at the drop of a furry hat. With glistening moistness lovingly depicted on Claire’s lithe limbs when she slithers in or out of Shuichi’s furry meat-socket, the incredibly explicitly moist sound effects complement the visual action in a way best described as synaesthetic. The animators and sound designers know exactly what they are doing, and the consummation of their work is certainly an intense experience.

Although the plot is essentially another “death game”, this is infinitely more entertaining than last season’s equivalent but bland Darwin’s Game. Gleipnir’s main characters are emotionally multi-layered and evolve beyond the primitive tropes often employed as crutches in lesser shows. Claire and Shuichi’s relationship is far from healthy in origin, but they grow to rely on one another and each utilises the other’s strengths in intelligent, organic ways. The background hunt for power-granting magic alien coins is completely extraneous to the purpose and focus of this show, which is to explore boundaries of intimacy and consent in a heightened, ridiculous setting. Uncomfortable material comes with the territory so this certainly is not suitable for everyone. However, if you are the sort of weirdo who enjoys twisted sexual metaphors, screwball humour, dark fantasy, and… umm… furry… pegging… then Gleipnir is likely the show of the season for you.

Get help.

Fire Force Season 1 (Summer 2019)

Genre: Shonen action, Fantasy, Superhero

Where to Watch: Crunchyroll, Funimation

Spoiler-free Synopsis: Shinra Kusakabe is a young man with a hero complex. The sole survivor of a blazing inferno that claimed the lives of his parents, he has dedicated his life to becoming a hero, so that he can prevent others from suffering the same fate. Fire Force follows Shinra’s entry into Special Fire Force Company 8, where he uses his inherited pyrokinetic powers to assist his similarly gifted colleagues in investigating a plague of Spontaneous Human Combustion cases, and fighting the resulting Infernals — human victims transformed by unknown means into powerful, destructive Fire Elementals.

Why You Should Be Watching: Pure adrenaline-charged fun, Fire Force is a fast-moving and lean addition to the recent stable of decent shounen manga adaptations. Spectacularly animated by David Production (JOJO’s Bizarre Adventure, Cells At Work), every episode is a showcase of pyrokinetic fireworks and bonkers action.

Fire Force is nothing if not focused; we know very little about the main cast’s lives outside their job as Fire Soldiers, bar Shinra’s tragic backstory and nun Iris’s harrowing childhood experiences. So far, each episode has worked to progress the ongoing plot with minimal filler, and the fight scenes never outstay their welcome. Little details about the wider setting are drip-fed to the audience, which helps to maintain an air of mystery around the eight different Fire Forces in Tokyo City.

In terms of integrating world-building, religion plays a large part in the plot, with the Holy Sol Temple bankrolling the Fire Soldiers, supplying some of the manpower and perhaps manipulating events behind the scenes. The mysterious Temple seems to be a cross between the Catholic Church and ancient Egyptian Sun worship. It remains to be seen how this element will factor into the later story, but it adds another layer of intrigue.

The only problematic aspect of Fire Force is in the show’s prominent and jarring fanservice. It seems no female character is spared the camera’s lecherous, languid gaze over their breasts, butts and hips. The ending sequence has a prominent scene with a nun dousing herself in water so her see-through nightgown clings to her buttocks. Another female character has a skill she calls “Lucky Lecher Lure” that causes any men in her proximity to grope her against their (and apparently her) will. Uh… what? This frequent, lurid aspect does unfortunately limit the wider appeal of Fire Force to those who enjoy or can sublimate this type of content. However, for those who can stomach this more questionable aspect, Fire Force is a propulsive firecracker of a show!

Fire Force Season 2 (Summer 2020)

Genre(s): Shonen action, fantasy, superhero

Where to Watch: Crunchyroll, Funimation

Spoiler-free Synopsis: 250 years after Earth was almost destroyed in a fiery cataclysm, the Fire Soldiers of the Tokyo Empire fight to keep their city safe from Infernals — burning monstrosities, victims of a mysterious spontaneous human combustion epidemic.

Why You Should Be Watching: Back for a second run, David Production’s (JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Cells at Work) eye-poppingly pyrokinetic adaptation of Atsushi Ōkubo’s (Soul Eater) latest manga continues to wow with phenomenal production design, inventive direction, and colourful, dynamic action animation.

Adapted at a blistering clip that outpaces other similar genre staples, Fire Force averages out at around four manga chapters per episode (as opposed to the standard one or two). This sometimes results in rushed plotting, but to Fire Force, filler and dull are foreign words. With a lively cast of goofballs complete with distinct personality quirks, this isn’t the place to look for nuanced character drama. Bright and breezy fun, Fire Force doesn’t take itself too seriously, and I’m happy to report that season one’s egregious and intrusive fan service is mostly absent, bar only one inconsequential scene so far.

With the latest episodes, protagonist Shinra travels outside of his relatively safe home city and, along with the viewer, learns about the state of his post-apocalyptic world. This new focus on uncovering secrets drives the plot in new and interesting directions, even though the two newest characters are a talking mole and crow. Yeah. I’m unsure what to make of that so far.

If you weren’t a fan of season one, this new season probably won’t convert you. However, if you were only turned off by the fanservice, it’s worth giving Shinra’s latest episodes a shot. They’re hardly award-winning material, but they’re entertaining and fun. Sometimes that’s all you want from an anime.

Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story (Winter 2020)

Genre: Dark Magical Girl, Fantasy

Where to Watch: Funimation, Crunchyroll, HIDIVE

Spoiler-free Synopsis: Return to the world of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, where magical girls gain incredible power through wishes, though at terrible personal cost. A rumour claims that in Kamihama city, magical girls can be saved. Iroha Tamaki travels to Kamihama to find the truth behind her sister’s mysterious disappearance and becomes embroiled in a plot to defy the inescapable fate that befalls all magical girls who succumb to despair.

Why You Should Be Watching: 2011’s Madoka Magica was a perfect 12-episode series that did not require a sequel. It received one in the form of the movie Rebellion in 2013, and fandom is still split on whether this was a masterpiece or an abomination. Magia Record is not a sequel in the strictest sense of the word, but it does assume significant viewer knowledge in that it does very little to explain the state of its world or the place of magical girls within it. Based on a mobile RPG with gacha mechanics, there is as a result a much larger cast — though with excellent character designs, it is not hard to tell most characters apart.

Although the story seems to be set during one of Madoka Magica’s earlier timelines, the story is focused around new main character Iroha and her quest for the truth, aided by a core group of friends. As of episode 7, the fifth member of her team has not yet even been introduced. A couple of the original show’s quintet have popped in for cameos, with more likely to follow. The original series was impressively economical with its storytelling. Magia Record is less so — however, it manages to condense a bloated and at times messy game story into a coherent adaptation that improves on the source material.

With returning artistic powerhouse Gekidan Inu Curry on visual duties, every episode contains at least one gorgeous and surreal fight scene set in a bizarre world of animated collages that maintains that very singular Madoka Magica aesthetic. Shaft continues to shine in terms of production — this is a visually arresting show that is never boring to watch, with bright colours and interesting design that elevate a relatively pedestrian story.

Iroha herself is a cipher, but her supporting players are colourful and fun — I’m particularly fond of self-titled “Mightiest Magical Girl” Tsuruno Yui whose perpetually chirpy demeanor overlies deep emotional pain. Even initially annoying brat Felicia Mitsuki has a sympathetic backstory that is more complex than it first appears.

So far, no-one has had their head bitten off or been transformed into a murderous despair monster, so this story at once seems to have lower stakes than the epic original. However, it seems highly unlikely they will manage to adapt the entire story into a single 13-episode season, so I would bet on there being a second to conclude it. Perhaps it will ramp up in intensity later. It seems strange that a relatively throwaway production like this would outpace the original in terms of episode count, and so far have much less to say.

Come for the gorgeously animated fight scenes, bonkers production design, and sympathetic characters, but whether you will wish to stick around for the lighter story remains to be seen.

Babylon (Autumn 2019)

Genre: Procedural, Suspense, WTF

Where to watch: Amazon Prime

Spoiler-free synopsis: Based on the novel series by Mado Nozaki (KADO — The Right Answer), Babylon follows public prosecutor Zen Seizaki as his investigation into a corrupt pharmaceutical company escalates to encompass shady politics, experimental sociology, ethical conundrums, and horrifying violence.

Why you should be watching: Babylon, one of this season’s four adult-oriented Amazon Prime shows, should come with a strong content warning from the outset. It does not, so I was relatively unprepared for what transpired in the most recent episode 7 (which does come with a warning). Babylon holds the record for the most upsetting anime scene I have ever witnessed.

What begins as a dry procedural evolves by the end of episode 3 into something quite bonkers and thought-provoking. Main antagonist Ai Magase is a primal male fear made flesh — a beautiful but predatory female with the ability to make any man putty in her hands, to violate their minds or to make them take their own lives with a smile on their face. Her smile and demeanour are incredibly creepy and Babylon is worth watching to find out what deranged crime she’ll commit next.

Similar in structure to a US crime procedural like Law and Order, but examining far more extreme subject matter, it drops hints of the supernatural that could equally turn out to have rational explanations. Thematically, Naoki Urasawa’s Monster would be the closest anime example with its examination of the nature of Evil. From a medical standpoint, I find the very culturally Japanese viewpoints regarding the show’s exploration of legalised suicide fascinating. The show keeps its cards close to its chest, so I’m unsure what its ultimate message will be about this loaded subject.

Almost completely devoid of humour but stylishly directed with clever use of colour and editing, Babylon is a serious watch and a show that rewards attentive viewing. This is not something one can follow while tapping away at a gacha game. Note-taking and repeated watching may also be recommended. Be warned that the latest episode is extremely upsetting and for better or worse, episode 8 has been delayed until December 30th. If you don’t mind expending the effort and risking your sanity, try something with more substance than Empty — headed Isekai #463. Just don’t expect comfortable escapism.

Rilakkuma and Kaoru (Spring 2019)

Genre: Absurd Comedy, Slice of Life, Cute

Where to Watch: Netflix

Spoiler-free Synopsis: Kaoru, a single twenty-something Japanese salarywoman lives with her pet bird Kiiroitori and two bears: the large, brown Rilakkuma and the small, white Korilakkuma. This is the story of a year of their life together in Kaoru’s small, rustic apartment.

Why You Should Be Watching: Sometimes don’t you just want to go home and hug something soft and furry? So thinks eternally single Kaoru, who initially wanted a cat, but somehow finds herself living with two bears of mysterious, unexplained origin. Invited in by her adorably strong-willed and oddly intelligent pet bird, these two friendly bears offer Kaoru respite from her everyday worries.

This is a strange show to pigeon-hole — I’ve never seen anything quite like this gorgeous stop-motion anime. At between 12 and 14 minutes long, each episode never overstays its welcome and are mostly episodic, though there are some underlying plot threads that develop over the course of the series. The tone is light and breezy; at one moment a simple domestic comedy, at other times veering into fantastical whimsy with ghostly invaders, a plague of psychedelic mushrooms, an army of dancing snowmen, and even the sweetest alien abduction you’ve ever seen.

Poor Kaoru herself never seems to get a break — ditched by her old college friends who are all getting married, she consoles herself with beer, a crush on her deliveryman, and funny misadventures with her animals. There is a dark undercurrent to Kaoru’s crisis of purpose, but it is never the sole focus of the show. It is juxtaposed with whimsical interludes driven by the inscrutable actions of Rilakkuma and co. — they never speak intelligibly, yet the detailed character animation communicates very well their emotions.

Little bird Kiiroitori is perhaps my favourite character — a fussy clean freak who works hard, expresses anger at mess and chaos, and knows his own mind. Rilakkuma has a huge zip down his back — he appears to be a bear who wears bear onesies. There’s something a bit creepy about that. This is never explained.

Every single episode is currently available to stream on Netflix. Give it a try. You need Rilakkuma in your life, even if you don’t know it yet.

Thanks for reading these random, disparate thoughts. I’ll be back again soon with another reviews digest for your delectation!

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Physician. Obsessed with anime, manga, comic-books. Husband and father. Christian. Fascinated by tensions between modern culture and traditional faith. Bit odd.