The festive period has ended, and with all that stress and heightened levels of activity past, what better time to take stock of the finished season’s stacked selection of anime? Join me as I look at the first half of the shows I watched. (Ordered only in terms of which shows finished first!)
The Aquatope on White Sand: Crunchyroll, 24 episodes
Beautiful to the end, as befitting studio P.A.Works’ reputation for aesthetically pleasing anime, this slice-of-working-life anime following two young adult women and their struggles with disappointment and frustrated ambition is one of my anime highlights of the year. Understated yet emotional, Aquatope won’t appeal to adrenaline junkies looking for action-packed thrills, yet the subtle character development, hopeful yet melancholic atmosphere, and resonant themes of friendship and environmentalism make this more attractive to me than the flashy action of Demon Slayer or My Hero Academia.
Although the conclusion is fairly definitive (though leaving a few loose ends and frustratingly unfinished character arcs), I do see how they could make a second season further exploring main aquarium-working duo Fuuka and Kukkuru’s close friendship. I have some issues regarding the show’s weird worship of unhealthy work ethics, abusive employment practices and workplace bullying. Perhaps that’s partly cultural, but the second half of the show made me think “if that was me, I’d tell the boss to fuck off and stop calling me names.” I don’t think that referring to your new recruit as “plankton” (ie the lowest organism in the aquatic food chain) is remotely acceptable, and Kukkuru’s promotion to “nekton” in the final episode is still insulting.
If this is where the studio plans to leave the story, then the final episode’s 2-year flash-forward is a good, satisfying place for us to leave idyllic Okinawa behind, pining for those clear blue skies, bleached sands and warm, open waters. Or perhaps I’m just sick of the cold, wet Scottish winter.
Sakugan: Crunchyroll, 12 episodes
Whatever I initially expected from Sakugan, what we got did not match my hopes. That first episode teased a fascinating underground world, filled with danger, wonder, tragedy and adventure. Perhaps this will be like Made in Abyss, I thought. If only. Sakugan is one of my most disappointing anime of the year, if only because I expected too much.
Instead of a dark journey of discovery through a mysterious subterranean land, we get a scattershot romp from random city to random city, with our perpetually bickering father/daughter duo meeting random people and getting into wacky scrapes. Without a consistent tone, Sakugan’s quality bounces from heartfelt drama to goofy comedy to oversimplified political satire to dark revelation. Some episodes are legitimately fantastic, while others are boring and repetitive. It feels like three or four different shows jammed together without any unifying purpose.
Sakugan also ends without definitively answering any of its underlying mysteries, suggesting that this is half a story at best. As it’s based on a novel, I wonder if they’re planning to adapt the rest in an as-yet-unannounced second season? I’d happily watch that, if only to see if it retroactively improves these extremely inconsistent initial twelve episodes.
Yuki Yuna is a Hero S3: Great Mankai Chapter: HIDIVE, 12 episodes
I’ve very conflicted feelings about the third and surely final season of this dark magical girl show. Surely no more suffering can be wrought upon these poor, wretched schoolgirls? Season two’s ending seemed very conclusive, if somewhat rushed.
Yuki Yuna’s chronology is already slightly tortured, with the first season followed by a split second season whose first half is a prequel and second half is a sequel. Season three compounds the confusion by adapting two spinoff novels and re-doing season two’s ending, director’s-cut style. It also jumps around in the chronology, at times only barely featuring the franchise’s main characters. If you don’t have a pre-prepared cheat-sheet with everyone’s names and pictures, you are likely to be repeatedly lost and confused.
The first third of season three follows “The Sentinels”, a group of ancillary characters as they experience events that appear to be concurrent with (I think) the end of season one/beginning of season two’s “Hero Chapter”. Then we have four episodes focusing on the orginal group of heroes from two hundred years previously, and this gives some fascinating backstory on the world and the “hero system” that forces teenage girls to fight godlike abominations in secret, to protect their home.
Finally, the concluding four episodes return the focus to main character Yuna Yuki as we recontextualise the ending of season two with all of the extra background gained from season three’s side stories. Now this all sounds quite messy — and it is — however the emotional payoff is very much worth it. In particular, the final two episodes are spectacular not just in terms of stunningly-animated psychedelic action, but in emotional release, a very Evangelion-like catharsis. Paired with the hauntingly evocative music of Nier Automata’s Keiichi Okabe, the ending brought tears to my eyes and reminded me why I adore Yuki Yuna so much. Although at times it seems to degenerate into grim tragedy-porn, there’s a beating heart of deep empathy and love towards its characters that rewards enduring to the end.
The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated!: Crunchyroll, 20 episodes
What initially looked like it might be a cruel, mean-spirited comedy at the expense of proud, haughty main character Jahy turned out to be one of the most wholesome and heart-warming shows of the year. I utterly adored this, and wished there were more than only twenty episodes.
Poor Jahy does suffer a great deal in most episodes, most of the time a victim of her own hubris, pride or stupidity. Sometimes she suffers because of pure bad luck, or from the consequences of being poor. This makes her incredibly relatable, even through her temper tantrums and frequent idiocy. Despite her apparently snarky and selfish exterior, Jahy herself is actually very sweet and cares about others, not that she’d ever admit that publicly. As the series progresses, we see her open up to her friends and learn how to be a better person.
With an ever-widening cast, there are plenty of weirdos for Jahy to bounce off. From her motherly boss, to scary but caring landlord, delightful best friend Kokoro to unsettlingly masochistic former minion Druj, calamity-stricken magical girl Jingu to hapless rival Saurva, everyone has an over-exaggerated central character quirk that is mined for raucous humour that is rarely repetitive despite the limited premise. For a supposedly episodic comedy show, there’s even an ongoing background plot that reaches satisfying fruition before the end, with significant development in almost every character. Watch this and allow Jahy to become the demonic second-in-command of your heart.
Mieruko-chan: Funimation 12 episodes
My fellow AniTAY author Dark Aether recently wrote at length about Mieruko-chan here. Although I respect his overly negative opinion, I think he is completely, utterly and horrendously wrong about what for me was one of the standout shows of the season.
A deliberately mudane slice-of-life show that follows the poor Miko Yotsuya (the titular Mieruko-chan — “girl who sees”) as she attends school, hangs out with her best friend, watches TV with her brother and does the usual, slow-paced, typical slice-of-life things… all the while haunted by hideously deformed ghostly monstrosities that she desperately attempts to completely ignore. In Japanese folklore, ghosts can’t harm you unless you confirm that you can see them…
Anime is typically poor at horror. It’s hard to feel scared by moving drawings. I don’t find Mieruko-chan scary at all, but I can certainly appreciate how Miko is terrified most of the time, and barely keeps it together enough to get on with her life while ectoplasm-dripping tentacle beasts fondle her friends, googly-eyed abominations stalk her at bus stops, and gossiping apparitions attempt to engage her in restaurants. Sometimes these situations are humorous, othertimes just a little unsettling. Mieruko-chan works best when it unexpectedly undermines the viewer’s assumptions, and it does this to great effect on several occasions throughout the show.
Admittedly it is sometimes quite slow, and overuses repeated scenes — once without ghosts, and again including ghosts from Miko’s perspective. This isn’t always that interesting. Also there is a significant amount of very jarring fanservice that just does not fit the tone or content of the show, and would be much better without it.
Miko’s supporting cast is a delight — I particularly like perpertually hungry hana, whose sugary, pastry-fuelled divine aura burns away malevolent spirits (though she is hilariously unaware of this) and mushroom-obsessed Yulia whose terrible communication skills (and Miko’s unwillingness to discuss her miraculous spook-o-vision) lead to some very funny misunderstandings.
Later episodes begin to expand on the central mythos, but at only twelve episodes barely seems to even begin, leaving many unanswered questions. I really hope that Mieruko-chan gets a second season, though they’ll have a tough time topping the fantastic opening and ending songs that are both disturbing and hilarious, fitting the show like a rotting fitted human skin glove.
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation: Funimation, 23 episodes
If you’ve already made up your mind about this show because main character Rudy is a creepy asshole, then move on, nothing I say will change your opinion. I agree with you, Rudy is creepy, but the show is otherwise one of the best of the entire year.
As anyone who has followed my anime reviews will probably know, I am not a fan of the isekai genre in anime, save for a few exceptions like Re: Zero and Ascendance of a Bookworm. The vast majority of “reincarnated in another world” stories are imagination-bereft, cookie-cutter, power-fantasy sludge, spewed out from low-effort, inspiration-bereft, hack authors’ effluent pipes.
Mushoku Tensei has many features in common with these other, lesser examples, but thankfully eschews any lazy videogame-esque levelling systems or JRPG stat bullshit. This is more akin to classic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia, in that there is detailed worldbuilding that is subtle, interesting, makes sense and is relevant to the plot. Every piece of information the viewer learns via the characters about the world becomes important at some point later on. This logical and thematic consistency elevates Mushoku Tensei far above anything else in its genre, except perhaps for Re: Zero (which also, interestingly, has a divisive protagonist).
So much have I enjoyed the show that I have sought out the light novels, and I can confirm that this is an incredible adaptation. Not just faithful, but masterful in how it streamlines reams of text into simple, evocative visualisations, capturing the spirit of the words while greatly editing the volume. The beautiful soundtrack also lifts a great deal of weight in this regard. I cannot wait until the inevitable second season — apparently, the production studio Egg Firm was founded primarily to animate this adaptation.
Irina, the Vampire Cosmonaut: Funimation 12 episodes
A fun alternate history fantasy sci-fi show set in late 1950s/early 1960s Russia, this follows Irina, first (vampire) cosmonaut through her training, subsequent orbital mission and afterwards. Her vampirism is mainly used as a vehicle to explore racism and ill-treatment of oppressed minorities. It doesn’t do this in any particularly deep or nuanced way other than “racism is bad, be nice to people even if they have pointy teeth and unnatural bloodlust”. I wrote more about this in the recent AniTAY collab.
The 13 New Anime of Fall 2021 You Should Be Watching
Not sure what anime to watch this fall? Check out this guide for some suggestions!
Ganbare Douki-chan!: Crunchyroll, 12 (short) episodes
You can watch all 12 of these episodes in the space of about an hour. It is an incredibly sweet (and occasionally slightly horny) story about a shy office girl and her crush on a faceless male work colleague. She has competition from an extremely forward junior co-worker, and a confident older woman. Despite this, there is minimal cattiness. It’s clear that the object or her affection return her feelings, but he’s just as timid and awkward as she is. A slight but delectable confection, I’m glad I decided to watch it on a whim. There isn’t much in the way of plot resolution, but perhaps they’ll make more?
My Senpai is Annoying: Funimation, 12 episodes
Another office romance, with a similar lack of resolution, this is less fanservice-driven than Douki-chan. The central duo of tiny, childlike Futaba and oblivous man-mountain Harumi don’t really progress much further than their ongoing kouhai/senpai (junior/senior) relationship, as they both seem utterly dense in terms of romantic feelings. Whereas with Douki-chan such lack of development very short structure this was ok, with Senpai at five or six times the duration… it gets tiresome. It’s left to side characters Toko and Sota to become more overtly romantic, though even then it feels a bit like pulling teeth.
At least the humour keeps things going, and although I rarely found it laugh-out-loud funny, it was gently amusing. I especially like Futaba’s cat-eyed, athletic best friend Natsume (who reminds me a little of Kanbaru from Monogatari). I doubt I’ll remember much about the show in a couple of months though, it didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
I’ll be back later in the week to discuss the remainder of the shows I watched in Autumn 2021 — some of them haven’t even finished yet! See you then!
Doctorkev’s Thoughts on the Autumn 2021 Season: Part 1
2021’s onslaught of incredible anime continues into the year’s final season. No breaks allowed for poor…