What with an unprecedented surge of patient demand assailing the UK health service latterly, I’ve barely had time to think — let alone write the last couple of months. However, I have kept up with seasonal anime. Sometimes vegetating in front of the pretty moving colours at the end of a busy, stressful day is the best medicine. I’m happy to report that after a couple of understandably light seasons, Autumn 2020 has been excellent for anime. You can read my season-halfway article here if you missed it, otherwise let’s plough ahead. I’ve ordered the shows by streaming service this time.
Attack on Titan - Final Season: Up to episode 4 of 16 (also on Funimation)
It’s incredibly difficult to assess the quality of this fourth (and apparently final — though I’ll get to that in a moment) season of breakout megahit Attack on Titan. If you’ve not yet experienced this intense, brutal, thematically complex show filled with monstrous, deformed, fleshy “titans” and the poor squishy humans they devour, then the first season is also widely available to stream on Netflix. Season 4’s production has shifted from the highly-regarded Wit Studio (After the Rain, The Ancient Magus Bride) to MAPPA (Dorohedoro, Zombieland Saga). Wit seemed keen to move to other projects, and the producers found it difficult to attract another studio willing to sip from what could have been a poisoned chalice.
So far, I’m cautiously optimistic. MAPPA’s production design and animation so far have been pretty flawless — there is a notable increase in CGI use when depicting titan-centric action scenes, but these in no way detract from the grand spectacle. Overall though, these inaugural episodes are slow-paced and thoughtful — functioning as a soft reboot of the show, introducing a raft of sympathetic new characters and detailing their very different setting, at least compared to the earlier seasons.
This is Attack on Titan engaging almost entirely in setup mode. Our previous main characters are nowhere to be seen, the timeline has skipped 4 years ahead from the end of season 3, and the action is based in an entirely different country. Thankfully the aesthetics remain very similar and episode 4’s cliffhanger promises that shit is about to get real, man.
What concerns me is the stated episode count of only 16 episodes — an unusual number for a anime season. Considering that the previous 22 manga volumes were adapted over 3 seasons into 59 episodes, it seems bizarre that the further 12 remaining volumes can be compressed into only 16. So far, the final season’s adaptation rate has been roughly two chapters per episode (about half a volume), so to maintain this pace would require at least 24 episodes, and the manga isn’t even quite finished yet. I suspect MAPPA will pull a split season trick, just like Wit did with season 3, with a 9-month break between the first and second halves of that season, probably bringing the entire final season towards a more sensible episode count of somewhere between 26 and 30. If they don’t do this, prepare for an utterly disappointing rushed disaster of a conclusion. I can’t imagine the producers would allow such a precious property to be so callously shafted. I live in hope.
Jujutsu Kaisen: Up to episode 13 of 24
I came to this violent, spectacle-filled action shonen manga adaptation very late in the season, partly because it was from the same director (and studio)as the derisory God of High School from last season. Why not read AniTAY’s own DarkAether systematically disembowel that show while he flays open its myriad flaws for all to see here. Alternatively read AniTAY’s resident Animasochist enclave’s wailings about the generally terrible Crunchyroll Originals (of which GoHS wasn’t even the worst) here.
Thankfully, Jujutsu Kaisen is roughly 9000% better than GoHS. Director Sunghoo Park brings his trademark flashy action to a story with well-drawn characters who exist in a coherent, logical and interesting world. They interact like sympathetic and intelligent human beings in a story hasn’t been written by a toddler making shit up as he mashes random action figures together for inspiration.
Significantly darker than the average shonen, this follows teenager Yuji Itadori as he is possessed by an exceedingly powerful (and evil) sentient curse. He makes a devil’s bargain to share his body with this curse, using the power it grants but always at the risk of losing control and hurting others or of sacrificing his humanity. There is a significant aspect of the tired “magical high school” trope to this, but that storyline is sidelined in the latter episodes as Yuji must face off against a supremely creepy bad guy. Yuji tragically loses friends, makes mistakes and frequently screws up — Jujutsu Kaisen is full of brutal twists and every victory is hard-won. I really, really like this. See — when a good director is given great source material, they can make magic. Stick that up your arse, GoHS webtoon-stans.
TONIKAWA: Over the Moon for You: All 12 episodes
Oh my goodness. A decent Crunchyroll Original. Something must have gone wrong. This is a delightful show. Placidly paced with gentle, warm humour, this is such a sweet, feelgood story about two innocent, inexperienced lovers who marry young and spend time gradually getting to know one-another. There isn’t a mean-spirited bone in this show’s body. Granted, the overall plot is almost nonexistent, none of the underlying mystery of enigmatic Tsukasa’s identity is resolved, (is she the mythical immortal Princess Kaguya from the moon, or what?) but it really doesn’t matter. It prioritises quiet character beats and lovable romantic interactions.
It may sound overwhelmingly treacly, but the characters themselves aren’t overly sentimental or lovey-dovey themselves — they’re a couple who genuinely love, appreciate and care for one another. It is kind of hilarious how long it takes for them to even kiss, and I don’t believe for a moment that in real life a similar couple wouldn’t be spending a great deal of their time naked beneath the bedsheets. For a young, married couple, Tsukasa and Nasa’s relationship is oddly chaste… but I expect they’ll get there… eventually. Or maybe that’s what the inevitable doujins are for.
Is it Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Season 3: All 12 episodes
Danmachi is a fun fantasy romp in a D&D-trope-saturated world. What would improve my experience would be if I could remember who more than 20% of the many, many characters are. The central story itself isn’t that hard to follow, but when random characters pop up here and there for cameos, say something that I’m probably meant to know the significance of, then disappear for several episodes more, then perhaps there is a deeper issue. It’s not as if it’s been that long since season 2 — it was only last year, and I watched the first season for the first time immediately beforehand. I also watched the spin-off Sword Oratoria earlier this year. It should all be fresh in my mind. The fact that I still get lost without a character wiki guide surely means I’m not the only one?
From reading fan commentary it also seems clear that much character-building material from the original novels has been left sundered on the adaptation-room floor. I get it — novels need to be streamlined for anime, otherwise episode counts would run out of control and pacing would be run into the ground. As a result, I sometimes feel this show is made only for pre-existing fans. Although it’s enjoyable with some really effective emotional moments — especially this season — I shouldn’t be feeling quite this lost should I?
I wanted to like this more, but found trying to follow the wheels-within-wheels nature of the background story, which is poorly translated to the screen, something of an impediment. I do not have the time to trawl through the many volumes of the original light novels for what, to be fair, is only an averagely entertaining show for me. Of course I’ll keep watching if there is a fourth season, but I’ll always have the sneaking suspicion that I’m only a vaguely tolerated visitor to the franchise, this show wasn’t made for the likes of me.
Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon: Up to episode 13 of ?
I started off quite invested in this sequel/spin-off to Rumiko Takahashi’s 90s shonen fantasy show Inu-Yasha, but my patience is wearing thin. This show is episodic to a fault and feels like filler episode after filler episode where the desperately anaemic background plot barely progresses at all. This show just isn’t compelling in any way. Inu-Yasha and Kagome’s daughter Moroha is the only toothy, grinning, feral ray of light in this grimly dull, by-the-numbers shonen snoozefest. I’m probably going to drop this unless something of substance actually begins to happen.
The animation is nothing special, most of the characters are barely-described ciphers. One of the girls doesn’t sleep because her dreams were stolen by a butterfly. Whoop-de-do? Not even the affected character gives a shit, so why should the audience? There is no overall theme, no particular stakes, no ultimate direction. No-one ever seems to even bother asking where the main characters from the original show have buggered off to. This show needs to discover its point of existence, and fast.
Fire Force Season 2: All 24 episodes
Fire Force remains dumb, colourful, incredibly animated fun to the last episode. For most of the season it managed to rein in its worse excesses in terms of its previous egregious use of fanservice, only for it to rear its unwelcome, offensive head in the final half. Poor fiery-cat-eared Tamaki never catches a break. She’s one of my favourite characters — she’s cool, cute, funny and has awesome powers. So why does the author see fit to continually abuse and demean her? I get that in the final couple of episodes (a training arc — weird concept for a finale) that she finally starts to “power up” as it were, but after multiple scenes of her failing and needing rescued, often while becoming randomly naked during climactic battle scenes, I’m not sure her character arc can be redeemed. Also what the hell point they were trying to make by deliberately sidelining the other main female character Maki I’m not entirely sure, but it sure was clumsy.
Much of the backplot was shelved in this second season — Shinra’s brainwashed brother basically did not appear — and the story made some odd choices in terms of talking animals and child abuse that did not sit well with me. What I did like was the tender examination of Nun Iris’s doubts when faced with the possibility that her faith was based on a lie. Shinra’s support of her as a true friend was truly heartwarming and I also appreciated that the show avoided the whole organised religion=bad, therefore religious people also=bad fallacy. Now I know I can’t expect a full, fascinating and enlightening theological dissertation from a show that features the Most Stupid Main Character Ever (Arthur) but I hope this aspect of the world is more thoroughly investigated in the hopefully inevitable third season.
Higurashi — When They Cry: Gou: Up to episode 13 of 24
I really wish I could be more positive about this. Inspired by my fellow AniTAY writers’ enthusiasm for the original Higurashi — When They Cry from 2006–2007, I binged the whole thing then contributed to this collaborative review/retrospective here. I hoped by watching all 55 episodes that I would adequately prepare myself for what initially looked like a shiny new remake — but what is actually a sequel.
SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW
Higurashi is based on a sequence of visual novels (or “sound novels” as the creator insists on calling them) and features a bizarre juxtaposition of cutesy kiddie characters and horrific, bloody violence. Cue endless internet memes. It is more than that though, and through the use of an almost groundhog-day style conceit, it explores multiple timelines where things in the village of Hinamizawa are more than a bit… off, but in each successive story arc, the underlying wrongness is deepened and further explained. Season 1 was mostly comprised of “question” arcs where random scary shit happened and we as viewers were not given any explanatory context for the horrific events we witnessed. Season 2 (Kai) comprised of “answer” arcs that explained the underlying backstory and motivations of the characters and seemingly resolved the malignant time loop trapping our beloved murder-urchins in a centuries-long spiral of death and dismemberment.
Now 13 years later comes Gou… And I am not sure what to make of it. Initially I was quite excited, then intrigued… then mystified… and then bored. Many episodes are a beat-for-beat recreation of episodes from the original series with only minimal changes until the conclusion of each 4-or-5-episode arc. Without the context from previous seasons I can’t imagine new viewers will appreciate all the story has to offer, whereas for veterans like me… there just aren’t enough changes to justify this. Perhaps the second half of the season will miraculously recontextualise everything in some amazing, unexpected way, but that’s not going to return my time to me, time that I felt I wasted watching nothing but reruns with slightly altered endings.
The new character designs by Monogatari’s Akio Watanabe look much more modern, but do lose some of the original Studio DEEN production’s janky, misshapen charm. The music is great, the atmosphere remains quite oppressive though there’s been little in the way of true horror. I’m going to keep watching, as the little hints and unexpected occurrences keep me hoping that eventually this will all be worthwhile.
Akudama Drive: All 12 episodes
Pure, adrenaline-infused popcorn movie fun, Akudama Drive barely let up in intensity during its perfectly-constructed 12-episode run. Effortlessly cool, always over-the-top, achingly stylised and mesmerising, this one show came out of nowhere to become one of my favourites of the season. I suspect the whole thing would work very well binged over the space of a couple of delirious, blood-spattered sessions.
Surprisingly straightforward, considering it originated from the creative team behind Danganronpa (check out those sweet, slinky and colourful character designs — I love them), the plot still packed in enough twists and turns to keep me on my toes. That finale was close to perfect in both execution, and tone with some truly spectacular set-pieces, heartrending sacrifice and even some fittingly thematic comeuppances. I know I’m being vague here in terms of plot, but if you haven’t done so already, take yourself on an Akudama Drive. If you like fun, you won’t regret it.
Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle: All 12 episodes
Without a doubt my number one show of the season, my heart will now forever belong to my sleepy murder-princess Aurora Syalis Goodereste. At the start, I worried that the show would be unable to sustain the humour based on the one central joke — captive princess Syalis can’t sleep well in the noisy demon castle, so contrives some way to improve her sleep usually involving mass destruction/chaos of some kind, much to the horror of her captors. Thankfully, the show ably ameliorated such concerns by constantly adding new concepts, deepening the ancillary characters and even developing a subtle backplot regarding human/demon political relations.
Without fail, each episode would trigger hoots of laughter from this viewer who often does not find anime comedy funny. I felt compelled to share this show with multiple family members and I am unsure now how many times I have watched the first episode. This show is so delightful, so sweet and so creative that I am desperately hoping for a second season. Until then I intend to catch up on the many available volumes of the manga. Also my wife is now demanding I buy her a soft golden crown to wear in bed to keep the hair from her eyes. I thank God she hasn’t asked for an enormous pair of scissors with which to harvest materials from defenceless monsters.
Moriarty the Patriot: Up to episode 11 of 24 (split cour with further 13 episodes to air April 2021)
Another show that came out of nowhere to become appointment viewing. I cannot believe I now have to wait until April for the second half of this tense, exciting period detective/crime show. Essentially “Anime Sherlock Holmes but what if Moriarty was the POV character?” Holmes isn’t even introduced until episode 6, though he becomes a more prominent character than even Moriarty from episode 8 onwards. The first few episodes give us a fascinating insight into Moriarty’s childhood and provides detailed background regarding his hatred of the aristocratic class that drives him to become a “Consulting Criminal” in direct opposition to Holmes’ “Consulting Detective” persona.
Never has an anime been quite so timely. Even though this is set in late Victorian England, the themes of disparity between rich and poor remain as important as ever — perhaps this unforgiveable inequality is even more pronounced today. In a world where a tiny conclave of amoral plutocrats own the vast majority of the world’s wealth while a huge proportion of ordinary people struggle to feed themselves or obtain clean water, this is an important call to arms, and perhaps a warning to those in their gilded towers that the phrase “eat the rich” exists for a reason…
Talentless Nana: All 13 episodes
Probably my second-favourite show of the season, this is like My Hero Academia gone very wrong by way of Death Note. After the genius fake-out of episode 1’s very generic “superpowered high school” setting, pink-haired murder-pixie Nana’s body count starts to rise precipitously. It’s another one of those shows where you’re not sure if you should be sympathising with the amoral sociopath murderising the unhinged, dangerous superpowered teenagers or hoping for her eventual comeuppance.
Nana doesn’t give us easy answers, as the main character becomes as conflicted as the audience as it appears she is as much a victim as those she hunts. Lied to and manipulated by a shadowy government cabal, she questions her orders as she starts to form relationships with the other pupils at her remote island school. Ostensibly a murder mystery show (i.e. “I need to commit murder, the mystery is how do I manage this without being caught?) it evolves into more of a morality piece towards the end.
Always tense and tautly written, with a fantastic, conflicted main character, the final episode will have you screaming for more. Truly they picked an incredibly fitting and admirably ballsy place to end it. It really will be a crime if they don’t review this for a second season.
The Day I Became A God: All 12 episodes
What a waste of fucking time. I’ve never seen any other anime from Jun Maeda (Clannad, Charlotte, Angel Beats) before and now I’m not sure I want to. I already struggled with the “comedy” in the first few episodes. Sorry, but I just do not find the very Japanese concept of “Manzai” comedy at all appealing. This is a traditional double act where one character is basically a loud, bumbling idiot and the other is a straight man who reacts to the other’s slapstick antics. The Day I Became A God leans hard into this and it is excruciating.
The thing is, through all this ephemeral, empty, mindless “comedy”, there’s an undercurrent that something “bad” is going to happen, i.e. the end of the world. Apparently Maeda’s other works also run to this pattern —the first chunk of a series is light-hearted fluff, in the final few episodes there is a rushed attempt to fabricate a plot including TERRIBLE TRAGEDY, tears ensue, some viewers elevate Maeda to godlike genius status, others scream in frustration. So forewarned, at least I was aware of the possibilities. I kept watching in the hopes that something interesting would happen.
DETAILED ENDING SPOILERS FOLLOW
Stuff did happen, but it was so mind-meltingly dumb that what remains of my brain cells still ricochet around inside my now empty skull wondering why the rest of their friends shriveled up and died. So main character Hina (Odin) has god-like precognitive powers because she has a quantum computer embedded in her brain, placed there by her now-dead grandad to save her from completely-made-up neurodegenerative disease “Logos Syndrome”. Why Maeda felt the need to invent some inconsistent bullshit disease when there are plenty of other real diseases out there, I’ll never know. Actually, yes I do know. He was too fucking lazy to do some proper research on how these diseases work and what effects they have on the human body and mind. He clearly just wanted a vague plot device he could mould into whatever contrivance he wanted. This is NOT GOOD STORYTELLING.
Anyway, for reasons, the government steals Hina away and removes her brain chip. Yuta and friends ineffectually put up some “missing” posters like she was a lost cat or something and get on with their lives. Previously irrelevant hacker boy shows up and obliquely references Hina and it takes Yuta months to work this out and eventually plot device guy/hacker dude takes him to the sanitorium where brain-chip-less Hina is now essentially an Anime Girl Vegetable with a new Moe Haircut. Hina’s carer repeatedly tells Yuta not to raise his voice. Yuta repeatedly screams at the top of his fucking lungs terrifying the inexplicably now regressed-to-toddler-stage Hina. Oh and now she’s terrified of men, because apparently Fictional Logos Syndrome does that. And she can’t walk. Except when the plot needs her to. And she can’t talk. Unless the plot needs her to. And she’ll never improve. Unless the plot needs her to.
Do you understand how frustrated I was by this utter fucking bullshit? It was offensive to people with real diseases and to the people who care for them. It was offensive to viewers hoping for some kind of meaningful ending or decent exploration of the themes brought up regarding intelligence augmentation, familial love in the context of illness etc. etc.
In one final “fuck you” to anyone watching with even half a shred of decency, Yuta finally takes Hina home away from the institute where they are best able to care for her and her needs, she seems to miraculously lose her fear of men and even finds the previously lost ability to walk, but worst of all he declares “they fell in love”. Sorry, but this is not platonic, familial love. This is a declaration of romantic love for a disabled, dependent child. He ruminates on how Hina chose him, and how he will then spend his life trying to cure her. That last part is sweet and honourable, but WTF? Why did Maeda make his main character a lolicon in the final episode? There was no context for this! There was another female character he was clearly interested in, but she quite conspicuously moves aside to allow Hina in. UGH. I never want to watch or talk about this show EVER AGAIN.
Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina: All 12 episodes
Another exercise in inconsistency and frustration, Wandering Witch is a deeply odd show. Some episodes are terrible, some are middling, a few are even quite good, but none are exceptional. This is a shame, because it almost always looks great. The character designs are cute and attractive, the animation is of consistently high quality, the background art is gorgeous and those colours fairly pop from the screen. Shame the writing is so dire and superficial, then.
Wandering Witch’s main problem is that it has plenty of interesting ideas but little clue how to explore them. It’s like the author randomly flits from one half-baked idea to the next, cramming lots of little things in hoping that it will distract everyone from the total lack of depth or interiority in any of the characters.
The second problem is with Elaina herself. She’s just not a compelling main character. Yes, it’s kind of funny how self-centred she is (and the show itself even calls her out on this towards the end), but she does not seem to grow or develop in any way at all, even in response to her most harrowing experiences. And some of those experiences — oh boy. That episode with the time travelling and the serial-murdering-child was top-tier chuuni-level edgy gore-porn bullshit. I needed a bath after that.
For a show where the novel author insisted on “no panty shots” (something I totally understand), there was a bizarre concentration of off-colour humour — take the episode with the foot fetishes/grape stomping. I mean… what? There’s also the recurring disaster lesbian witch character Saya who practically orgasms every time she glimpses Elaina. She made me very uncomfortable. Elaina herself is heavily hinted to be homosexual — or at least aggressively autosexual in the final episode where she goes to bed with herself after confirming that she is definitely horny for her own duplicates. This show also has nothing good at all to say about any male characters — what few there are are shown to be either malignant, stupid or ineffectual. It wasn’t a huge problem for me, but left me a bit bewildered as to the author’s intentions.
The closest point of comparison for this show would be Kino’s Journey, a show I recently watched through in its entirety (both versions). Wandering Witch is nowhere near as good. Kino’s, for all its flaws, has something to say in many of its more thought-provoking episodes. Wandering Witch never provoked any thoughts from me at all, and why should it have when the central character’s overriding thoughts are always “Look at me! Aren’t I so beautiful?”
Yes dear, you are. But you are empty.
Great Pretender: All 23 episodes
Finally, the concluding arc of this incredible show from Wit Studio dropped onto Netflix recently. I wrote about the first three arcs here.
As I said before, I don’t normally enjoy shows about heists and criminals, but the exceptionally well-drawn characters in Great Pretender sucked me in and would not let go. For all the clever twisty-turniness of the convoluted plots, it was always the stories of hapless Makoto Edamura, smooth-talking Laurent Thierry and their assorted band of confidence tricksters that kept me returning.
This final arc of 9 episodes was significantly more complex than any of the previous arcs, interspersed as it was with multiple flashbacks that re-contextualised much of the earlier events in the series. Overall this was a great arc — messier and less focused than my personal favourite third arc, but it dealt with some meaty, dark subject matter — child trafficking, organised crime etc. — that other shows would likely shy away from. I found the conclusion particularly messy, difficult to follow and hard to accept — it approaches and then exceeds the realms of the utterly ridiculous.
I’m afraid I binged this entire arc in one sitting, perhaps inadvertently validating Netflix’s infuriating release strategy. At a time when some shows put me to sleep within the space of one episode (sorry, Higurashi…) a show that can keep me consistently engaged for 3.5 hours is clearly doing something right.
That’s it for the autumn 2020 season. I’ll be back very soon for a whistle-stop tour through the highlights of the entire year in my annual postmortem article. Keep an eye out for it!
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