What a tumultuous week this was, with the release of multiple highly-anticipated conclusions to some very prominent anime shows. With Megalobox 2: NOMAD, ODDTAXI, Shadows House, Higehiro, Fruits Basket and Wonder Egg Priority giving us endings wildly variable in quality, suffice to say I have a lot to talk about this time. You can find Part 1 of this season’s postmortem here, if you want to read my thoughts on Nagatoro-san, 86 EIGHTY-SIX, Vivy, and Dynazenon, among other shows.
Onwards to the ecstasy and exasperation!
Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway — 13 episodes (Crunchyroll)
SPOILERS FOR AN IRREDEEMABLY POOR ENDING
Only one other anime this season disappointed me as much as Higehiro, and we’ll get to that later. With such a potentially problematic premise, there was always the possibility this show could shit the bed, hard, and invalidate all of the sensitive, intelligent character work from its first few episodes. Alarm bells started to ring in the second half of the season as the show began to, rather concerningly, code the central duo’s relationship and interactions as more blatantly romantic than before.
Bear in mind Higehiro is about a 28-year-old guy who, drunk one evening, lets a runaway 16-year-old girl stay in his home. Already this scenario has turbocharged yikes!!! potential, but I was willing to give the show a chance. Adult Yoshida is nothing if not consistent in refusing confused Sayu’s inappropriate sexual advances, and his portrayal as a consistent, trustworthy caregiver in a paternal-esque role was what initially attracted me to the story.
Right up until the end, Yoshida keeps his cool, and despite being obviously flustered by attention from an attractive young female, he refuses to ever give in to baser impulses. That doesn’t stop him allowing her into his bed for “platonic” cuddle time… Uh… What? A show that seems at least relatively grounded becomes progressively less believable and morally muddled the more it leans into the squicky romantic undertones. That suddenly Yoshida’s adult coworkers push him to drop everything and take time off work to accompany Sayu on a trip back home is ridiculous.
The less said about the absurd repeated apology scenes to Sayu’s emotionally abusive, neglectful, immature and selfish witch of a mother the better. The last three or so episodes are so relentlessly stupid that I may as well have been watching another show. I know that Higehiro wants to explore difficult family dynamics and painful moral conundrums, but it fails so badly at the end by having nothing at all useful to say. It completely nullifies its entire premise and setup with a poorly-conceived conclusion that fortifies all criticism levelled (initially unjustly) at it at the beginning.
I retract my earlier recommendation of Higehiro. This is ill-considered, ultimately offensive garbage that reinforces the concept that it’s ok for a grown man to become romantically entangled with a minor as long as she’s groomed long enough to become emotionally dependent on him to pursue a sexual relationship once she becomes a (barely legal) adult. Disgusting.
ODDTAXI — 13 episodes (Crunchyroll)
From one of the worst finales to perhaps one of the best I have ever seen, I am delighted to report that ODDTAXI stuck the landing spectacularly. What a brilliant anime, a showcase of tight, clever plotting and economical storytelling. I loved everything from the simple yet incredibly expressive character designs, to the eclectic music, to the deep and varied subplots. That it managed to tie every disparate element together so skillfully at the end was nothing short of breathtaking.
Some of these characters will stay with me a long time, from capoeira-wielding llama girl Miho Shirakawa to sinister rapping porcupine Yano, dour yet subtly Machiavellian walrus protagonist Hiroshi Odokawa to unhinged, starey-eyed gacha addict Hajime Tanaka. I could talk so much more about ODDTAXI, but I don’t want to spoil any more clever little details — if you’ve not already watched this very atypical anime, you should.
To Your Eternity — 12 of 20 episodes (Crunchyroll)
I was warned by multiple sources that this was based on an emotionally manipulative manga, where the author takes every opportunity to wring tears from the reader with sadistic plot twists and horrible things happening to nice characters. For the moment, I don’t feel the anime has been egregiously manipulative, though there is a perpetual undercurrent of tragedy that is common to fiction that focuses on immortal characters. Eventually they will be left behind as loved ones die. Death, cruelty and unfairness are always lurking somewhere in To Your Eternity’s background, but that isn’t to say there aren’t plenty of moments of levity and joy.
Episode 12 was a spectacular action showcase that capped off the most recent story arc, and would have been a perfectly fine place to conclude a season, but for some reason we’re getting a somewhat non-standard 20 episodes of To Your Eternity. I have no idea why, but I’m not complaining. I wonder who our magical orb-boy is going to make friends with and then inevitably lose in tragic fashion next?
So I’m a Spider, So What? — 24 episodes (Crunchyroll)
Despite well-publicised production woes culminating in an 8-day delay in broadcast for the final episode, I nonetheless really enjoyed this clunky, patchy, but fun and clever, somewhat atypical isekai. Later episodes have introduced mecha and androids into an already heady mixture of spider monsters, elves, dragons, magic-wielding knights and demon lords. Because it’s based on a long-running series of light novels, there is no plot resolution at all, and the two main timelines are nowhere close to matching up. They’d better make a second season of this, because I’d really like to know where this goes next.
Although the CGI for the central spider character is pretty good, the latter episodes’ animation craters towards EX-ARM levels of incompetence, apparently due to outsourcing. The outsourced animation became so bad latterly that apparently the main studio had to scrap it and start again, hence the final episode’s delay. If you can look past the iffy battle scenes and can forgive the laughably obvious animation shortcuts, there’s a deep, compelling story here.
Welcome to Demon School Iruma-kun — 12 of 21 episodes (Crunchyroll)
Hilariously funny and heartfelt, Iruma-kun is one of the very best shows airing at the moment. Although it’s very much a kid’s show, the humour is broad enough (and sometimes subversive enough) to also appeal to adults. It doesn’t talk down to its audience and the characters (though mainly drawn with broad strokes) have enough interesting nuances to drive some fantastic running jokes and meaningful development. I’ve mentioned before how reminiscent it is of Harry Potter, but at demon rather than wizard school. Overall it’s much more light-hearted though, without doom-laden portents of any Voldemort-like-figures looming in the background.
Clara is a one-girl whirlwind of irrepressible energy, perpetually in indefatigable motion, while Asmodeus is unquestioningly worshipful of Iruma, his diminutive focus of admiration. I particularly enjoyed the recent fraught interactions of Iruma’s Snape-like teacher Kalego with androgynous (and apparently terrifying) butler Opera. Imperious Ameri Azazel stands (literally) head and shoulders above all the other female characters and I hope Iruma recognises how much she likes him some time soon. Though he is only 14 — we can forgive him for being completely dense when it comes to women.
Fruits Basket Final Season — 13 episodes (Crunchyroll, Funimation)
Oh thank God it’s finally over. Despite an accelerated pace in its final season, Fruits Basket still felt to me like it took too long to end. So many side characters needed to be wheeled back onstage to remind us they still existed, but I could not remember (nor care) who half of them were. Most attempts at humour fell completely flat, as has always been the case with me and Fruit Basket’s excruciating lighter moments.
Yuki was boring as always, Shigure was an asshole, most characters inexplicably wanted to forgive human shit-stain Akito for her multitudinous atrocities (though I don’t think she ever actually explicitly apologised) — except for criminally under-utilised Edgy Horse Girl Rin. I get that the whole point of the show was about the healing properties of Tohru’s inhuman empathy, but in the end the overcooked, overwrought drama rang false with me. I think I kind of understand why Fruits Basket has armies of rabid fans who are sharpening their pointy sticks right now, ready to stab me for my blasphemy, but I don’t think this was written for me. Some of the emotional moments towards the end did moisten my eyes a little, I won’t lie, but perhaps they were also partly tears of relief that finally the endurance test was over.
I survived Fruits Basket!
Oh. There’s going to be a prequel? I think I’ll pretend I never heard that.
Shadows House — 13 episodes (Funimation)
Definitely one of my top shows of the season, Shadows House was creepy, cute, gothic and intriguing. Unfortunately the source manga is as yet untranslated (legally) in English. I’m unsure of the probability of a second season, as according to manga readers, the last few episodes went anime-only, meaning there will be contradictions with the source if it were to be adapted for more episodes. I suppose they could retcon it all as a dream or something.
As someone completely unfamiliar with the manga, I felt this maintained an impeccably high standard throughout, and I was perfectly satisfied with the open-ended conclusion. With strong, empathetic characters and a fascinating, unsettling premise I expect this to easily make it into my top 10 shows of 2021.
Moriarty The Patriot — 24 episodes (Funimation)
This Sherlock Holmes pastiche became ever more absurd as it progressed, but that’s fine. It was a good time despite its operatic insanity and increasingly improbable plot. The central relationship between William James Moriarty and Sherlock Holmes was somewhat hamstrung by the decision to excise certain important story arcs from the original manga, and the conclusion seemed rushed as a result. Despite this, and some weird cultural mistakes (British men do not bow to one another deferentially, Japanese-style, under any circumstances), Moriarty the Patriot was fun, disposable pseudo-historical nonsense that took its cues not only from Conan Doyle’s original Sherlock stories, but also bizarrely from Fleming’s James Bond novels. A very unexpected mixture indeed. Watch for the Victorian-era pretty boys, stay for the class-based violence erupting into bloody revolution.
NOMAD: Megalobox 2— 13 episodes (Funimation)
I’ll always maintain that Megalobox didn’t need a sequel, but the one we got was pretty damn special. NOMAD tells a different kind of story to the more stereotypical sports anime style of the first season. In fact it’s arguable whether NOMAD should considered a sports anime at all, with the boxing itself almost an afterthought compared to the nuanced, sensitive human drama that comprises the vast majority of its runtime.
Former champion “Gearless Joe” pulls himself up out of the gutter with the help of friends old and new, returning to the ring not to win but to reclaim his dignity and help heal fractured relationships. Those kids from the first season have all grown up, and as a makeshift father figure, Joe failed them when he ran away from his responsibilities years before. NOMAD is gutsy in how it portrays Joe as an emotionally weak, immature and flawed man who has hurt those closest to him with his ignorance and thoughtlessness.
Part of why NOMAD is so successful is in how it forces Joe to grow up and face his mistakes, make amends, and begin to inspire and support his estranged “family”. There’s no major antagonist to fight against this time — Joe’s main enemy is arguably himself. Yes, there’s a dodgy scientist doing unethical things with brain chips in other boxers, but that’s not the focus of Joe’s story, mainly an interesting backdrop.
It’s an understated, at times melancholy show that’s ultimately uplifting and well worth your time if you enjoyed that first season. Just don’t go in expecting fist-pumping action — the boxing matches are few and far between, and (perhaps deliberately) lack the tension and drive of those in the first season. This isn’t really a boxing anime. It’s an anime about a man who boxes — an important distinction.
Wonder Egg Priority Special Episode 13 (Funimation)
Finally, after a 3 month delay, my top show of Winter 2021 finally gets its conclusion. Wonder Egg Priority was a spectacular anime, artistically rich with realistic characters and gorgeous animation that dealt with deep, dark, challenging subject matter. So was it worth the wait?
How do I put this?
What a crushing disappointment. I don’t know quite what happened here to produce such a complete and total failure of narrative coherence, but this conclusion actively makes the previous episodes worse by association. I’d almost go as far to say that the incomplete resolution at the end of episode 12 would have been a better place to leave this.
Wonder Egg Priority was a troubled production, to say the least. Mainly staffed by a relatively inexperienced team with sky-high ambition, the artists behind it were crushed by the inhuman, relentlessly abusive anime studio system. With prominent staff members hospitalised with exhaustion and dehydration, we should have realised that it was never going to end well. And with alleged conflict between writer and director, the final episode wasn’t even storyboarded until June 2021, two months after it was originally meant to broadcast. They didn’t even start preproduction work or animation until June, meaning that Cloverwork’s poor animators still had to crunch on this — in addition to their responsibilities on Shadow House.
So we have overstretched, exhausted and physically unwell staff scrambling to finish an episode late, as a second job, on an episode that hadn’t even been written, with a creative team in conflict about what they wanted the story to be. No wonder so many of the cuts had to be outsourced to international animators just to get it done on time. And some of those cuts look… ok. And others are lifeless and limited, with none of the extra care and energy evident in every shot from the previous episodes.
What’s left of the story is incoherent, jumbled, rambling, possibly contradictory and fails to adequately explain what the hell is going on. Main character Ai acts weird. Neiru disappears randomly, and oh, by the way, she’s also apparently a robot? Um… WTF? There’s no final confrontation with apparent main antagonist Frill, introduced only 2 episodes prior, there’s a horrible development regarding Ai’s friend Koito’s backstory, and the whole thing seems like a bad joke. Endings are meant to resolve things, or at least add some kind of coda. This is like a lank accessory appendage, hanging limply and uselessly. Better to excise it and pretend it never happened, then perhaps Wonder Egg Priority may still be remembered fondly in years to come, not as the failure it became with the advent of this insult of an ending.
What will it take for studios to treat their animator employees like human beings? Surely they can see their disgusting practices result in substandard garbage like this? What a waste.
Thanks for reading to the end of what became something of a rant. I’m hoping that the next season is a bit quieter for me, as frankly I’m kind of exhausted with anime right now…
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