This season, I started off pretty despondent at the lack of anime, hence the obviously exasperated tone of my halfway impressions article. Now that Summer 2020 is over (and the evenings are getting dark again — boooooo) I can look back and say that despite the great contraction in the number of new shows, some of those that did survive the cull were potentially some of the best of the year so far. Let’s get to it.
Re:Zero Season 2 (eps 1–13) CRUNCHYROLL
WARNING: SPOILERS. Wow. I already loved this show, but season 2 has made me love it even more. You’d think a story where the main character keeps dying and restarting at exactly the same place might become frustrating, or repetitive, but Re:Zero avoids such pitfalls with exuberant style. Its world is so detailed, so well-constructed, that even though we see only a tiny aspect of it through hapless protagonist Subaru’s eyes, we are aware that beyond him there are wheels within wheels in motion, a larger meta-plot that will grind onwards with or without him. That Subaru has this rare “return by death” skill means he could perhaps be the only wedge able to seize said wheels and hurl the plot into unpredictable chaos.
Now several other major characters know about his “return by death” skill and that changes the entire dynamics of the story. At least two of these “confidants” wish to use Subaru for their own potentially devious ends. He is forced to fail again and again and again, navigating an endless maze where the walls keep shifting. We feel Subaru’s anguish with every failure — mashed by a monstrous were-beast, disemboweled by a terrifying smiling assassin, or munched by demonic bunnies. I mean, come on — what other show has the guts to murder it’s main character — twice — via death by bunny? The only downside to season 2 is the fact that it’s a split-cour production. With episode 13, we take a break until January 2021. I’ll be counting the days until you can die repeatedly again for our entertainment, Natsuki Subaru, I suppose.
Fire Force Season 2 (eps 1–13) CRUNCHYROLL
I can say without reservation that I look forwards to new episodes of Fire Force again. Almost completely gone are the offensively bad fan-service scenes, and in their place is a focus on expanding the backstory of the world. Now we know much more about the existential threat posed by the mysterious “Evangelist”, and about the (predictably) corrupt Holy Church of Sol. I did worry that this would devolve into a stereotypical and tiresome “organised religion = bad” screed, but it seems a little more complex than that. Sweet characters like devout nun Iris are still portrayed as positive, good people despite their affiliation with the apparent bad guys, and The Evangelist is posited to be the original source from which all religion arose. That’s pretty heady stuff for an otherwise fairly formulaic yet fun shonen series. I’ll keep sticking with this, as long as they can keep poor, abused Tamaki fully clothed during the serious action and drama sequences.
Fruits Basket Second Season (eps 1–25) CRUNCHYROLL
The final quarter of Fruit Basket’s second season was mostly bereft of my beloved Edgy Horse Girl, so was therefore about 1000% less interesting. If I have to sit through another deathly dull episode enduring Yuki’s “adventures” with the Student Council, I will claw out my eyes. I hate all of these ancillary characters who add nothing to the show except dead weight and indolence. The episode that chronicled the school production of “Something Like Cinderella” was utterly excruciating and possibly the worst episode of anime I have watched all year, and that includes the excremental God of High School. The only thing that elevated this final yawn-some tranche was the final episode with its overdue revelations that (I hope) foreshadow some actual plot progression next season. My relationship with Fruits Basket is tortured. I want to love it because of how it deals with dark psychological trauma, but good lord does it need a ruthless editor. I know the author hated what the early 2000s series did to her plot and characters, and it seems she had free reign to control the production staff this time round, but it resulted in a flabby, boring series that needed at least a third of the content cut to keep it interesting. Like George Lucas, she needs someone to tell her “No, dear — really — no. We’re not doing that, it’s shit.”
No Guns Life Part 2 (eps 13–24) FUNIMATION
So this fun cyberpunk throwback show starring a gumshoe with a gun for a head comes to an end without really concluding anything. Yes, the current threat is neutralised in a thematically satisfying way, but NGL leaves multiple threads dangling for a further season that I fear may never come. It’s based on an ongoing manga and I’m unsure what proportion of that has been adapted in this 24-episode chunk. I have to admit my attention started to drift during some of the later episodes. It was still a good time, though I wonder how much of this I’ll retain? I suspect not that much. I enjoyed it for being a cyberpunk revival, but there are far better (though older) shows in the genre. I hope that the existence of NGL leads to the production of more, and perhaps better, shows in the future.
New Shows: Netflix one-and-dump section:
Great Pretender (eps 1–14) NETFLIX
Ok, so technically this isn’t actually “one-and dump” as there are still 9 episodes to go that have only just recently been released in Japan. Perhaps if we’re lucky we’ll get them before the end of the year. Great Pretender belongs to a genre of show I generally avoid — it’s about con men and confidence tricksters. Usually I find the typical characters found in this genre to be difficult to root for — usually they are smug crooks who deceive and cheat their way to victory, and I just can’t abide that. However in Great Pretender, our main character Makoto Edamura (comically mispronounced by his colleagues as “Edamame” or “soybean”) doesn’t want to be a con man, and in fact makes multiple (failed) attempts to go straight, but keeps on being drawn back into the elaborate, arcane schemes of tricksy frenchman Laurent Thierry and his attractive female accomplices Abigail Jones and Cynthia Moore. With character designs by Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Yoshiyuki Sadamoto they have that typical sharp, tall look signature of his style. Great Pretender’s backgrounds are also spectacular, with a creative use of colour that reminds me a little of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 4 with its surreal pink skies and weird colour schemes.
For the first few episodes, I wasn’t sure I was going to like this. I could appreciate it was slickly made but I found it hard to empathise with criminals. However, by the end of the first “case”, I was hooked. Although Laurent and his gang certainly skirt the very edges of the law, they con only the most rich and corrupt individuals and clearly have a strong moral code and frequently display empathy to the downtrodden and exploited. With twisting, turning plots and some truly despicable antagonists, I enjoyed this far more than I expected. I also liked the multi-episode case structure as it gave each story time to breathe. Case 1 comprises episodes 1–5, case 2 episodes 6–10 and then the third and possibly best case runs from episodes 11 to 14. I can’t wait until the 9-part case 4 comes to the West.
God of High School (eps 1–6 then dropped) CRUNCHYROLL
You can read my analysis of why this show is a flashy but pointless waste of time in my previous article. I do not recommend bothering with this insultingly vacuous trash. Somewhat unbelievably, this season’s other Crunchyroll Original Gibiate is apparently even worse. Crunchyroll need to get their act together before their originals become a laughing stock.
My fellow writer DarkAether wrote a detailed review that explains why this show is so terrible. I agree with every word:
Why did I keep watching this? section:
Rent-A-Girlfriend (eps 1–12) CRUNCHYROLL
So I stuck with it. This trash romantic comedy is more deserving than God of High School, confirmed. Kazuya is still a terrible human being, but at least he’s trying to be better, I suppose. I quite like new blue-hair-ribbon-girl Ruka, even if she sets off creepy stalker vibe alarms. She just wants a guy who’ll make her heart race, and by god, for some reason the human wreckage that is Kazuya does so. Girl needs better taste. Main girl Chizuru remains a saint, but I seriously question her sanity for hanging around Kazuya. I can see no reason why she should be developing feelings for this foetid cancerous tumour in human form. I can only hope that in the upcoming season 2 that Kazuya meets some kind of hideously painful and humiliating death off-screen, leaving the girls to either find themselves nicer boyfriends or perhaps even hook up with each other. A certain section of fandom would queue up to watch such a show.
Appare-Ranman! (eps 1–13) FUNIMATION
A refugee from the Spring 2020 season, this wacky-races-like romp ran for 3 episodes before production studio PA Works had to slam on the brakes due to COVID-19. I held off on watching it until I knew all the episodes were in the bag, then binged it all over a couple of sessions. This is a great, brightly-coloured and fun period piece that is difficult to date because of all the screaming anachronisms — steam-powered cars and wind-up Segways in… what? The 1890s? 1900s? 1910s? I have absolutely no idea, but it doesn’t matter. Appare Ranman! is a blast.
Protagonist Appare Sorano reminds me a lot of Dr Stone’s Senku, but a lot less smug and with crazy pink hair rather than a weird green leek growing from his head. He’s a talented engineer/inventor who cares little for the opinions of others, ignores social niceties and is single-minded about his obsessions — and in this case, it’s building a car to win the “Trans-America Wild Race”. Appare certainly comes across as someone on the milder end of the Autistic Spectrum — probably with what we used to call Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s not that he doesn’t care about people exactly, it’s that they’re not always relevant to what he wants to do. Although the show is named after him, main protagonist and audience-insert character is hapless samurai Kosame who finds himself charged with responsibility for Appare’s shenanigans. Mixed with a very colourful cast of car-obsessed crazies, this is great fun, even if it takes until the end of episode 5 for the race to actually start. Turns out that time building up the secondary characters really pays dividends. I particularly like Chinese racer Jing Xialian — one of the few female characters, racing to fight against her society’s ingrained sexism. I love her design and personality so much, she might just be Best Girl of 2020.
The latter half of the series ( SPOILER) mostly ditches the racing theme to become a bonkers twist on the Western genre, complete with gunslingers, evil outlaws, shootouts in ghost towns, runaway trains… It is a lot of fun, and in places surprisingly heartfelt. I’d watch a second season of this in a heartbeat.
My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax! (eps 1–12) CRUNCHYROLL, HIDIVE
Last time, I complained that this show bored me and I couldn’t understand why people liked it. My daughter vocally hated it, and once we completed our viewing of season 2, she jumped ship. “You can watch the rest of this boring crap yourself, dad. Ugh. Feelings,” she spat like a true sociopath. So season 3 was a solo watch for me and I am happy to say something finally clicked. This would never have happened without watching the first 2 seasons and their inscrutable, subtext-filled character interactions where no-one is able to properly communicate their feelings to one another. Season 3 has much clearer stakes, and I understood what each character was trying to do, and say, and why. I liked it so much, it might even be in my top 3 shows of the season. This is an enormous surprise to me. SNAFU is a show where the climax outshines everything else. It also contextualises everything that went before. I feel no compulsion to go back and watch any of season 1 and 2, because they were frankly boring as hell, but season 3 is the opposite. I’m not entirely sure it justifies the time I spent watching all 40 episodes in their entirety, and I don’t think I could recommend this show wholeheartedly, but I’m still glad I watched it. Finally I can appreciate how sharp, detailed and intelligent the character writing is. Even if I agree with my daughter — no way in hell do real teenagers talk like that.
Deca-Dence (eps 1–12)
It’s a close race between this and Re:Zero Season 2 for best anime of the season for me. Upon hearing the title I was immediately put off by the dumb name, however the show itself quickly dispelled any misgivings by its virtue as a practically flawless anime. Spectacular animation, breathlessly-directed action sequences, an engaging story with twists and revelations nearly every episode, sympathetic characters and a bonkers setting all combine to make a well-paced, ingeniously-structured and worthwhile whole. This is an anime that you do not want to have spoiled for you. Even describing what other shows it is like could easily spoil the surprises hidden within. Go seek it out for yourself. You won’t regret it.
Look out for an AniTAY collaborative review (headlined by fellow AniTAY writer DilKokoro in the near future, where I’ll write a bit more about this show.
Thanks for reading to the end of this Summer 2020 Anime Postmortem. I’ll return in a few weeks to report on the still living corpus of the upcoming Autumn (“Fall” to you uncultured American hordes) 2020 Anime Season. I’m not overly enthused with what I’ve seen of the lineup so far, but I’m hoping for some pleasant surprises like Deca-Dence or Appare-Ranman!
Originally published at https://anitay.kinja.com on October 1, 2020.