Doctorkev’s Thoughts on the Spring 2021 Anime Season: Funimation

DoctorKev
DoctorKev
May 24 · 13 min read
Vivy goes full Terminator in her Matsumoto-powered flying cube-mobile. It’s glorious.

After last season’s insanely packed roster, I swore that this time I’d reduce my anime burden significantly for Spring. That… didn’t exactly work out. I covered 23 shows last time, and so far I’m up to 19 for this season… Hence the reason I’m splitting my usual midseason article in two again. There’s just too much high quality anime out there. Crunchyroll has the lion’s share of notable shows this time (for once), but that’s not to say that some of Funimation’s offerings aren’t incredible.

No matter what the show does, I refuse to feel empathy towards the horrid Akito.

Fruits Basket Final Season — 7 of 13 episodes (Mondays)

My relationship with Fruits Basket remains tortured. I really do appreciate what this show is trying to do by exploring its complex, broken relationships as partially oblivious yet eternally sunny nominal protagonist Tohru swans through the lives of the supporting cast, bringing healing in her wake. I say nominal because in this final section of episodes, she’s been like a supporting character in her own show.

Some of the other characters are great — I’d watch a show following only Edgy Horse Girl Rin (I like her new short hairdo) and be deliriously happy. Bouncy yellow bunny boy Momiji is always empathetic and slightly unpredictable — especially since he seems to have grown about three feet taller in the space of a month or two. However, anything involving the painfully irritating and pointless School Student Council characters makes me want to sandpaper my eyes in abject boredom. Yes, I get that since Tohru more-or-less chose Kyo (not that he realises it), Blandness Personified Yuki needs a new love interest, and she’s okay, I suppose, but everyone else gets on my nerves. Thank God they’ve graduated from school now so I need not suffer any more excruciating and pointless “hijinks”.

With Tohru relegated to short cameos, this final season focuses more on the Soma family’s backstory and internal politics, and it is clearly attempting to make me empathise with sociopathic hellspawn Akito. It isn’t working. Akito is a horrid little shitstain of a character, and every time one of the other Soma’s bonds with Akito breaks, I give a little cheer as a another part of Akito’s blackened heart dies. I can only hope the final episode ends with Tohru ripping Akito’s shrivelled, carbonised heart from within its writhing, fleshy prison and she chows down upon it ravenously in full view of the other horrified Somas, blood oozing from her grinning, gaping maw. Now that would be an ending.

Unfortunately I expect the actual ending to focus more on such predictable concepts as “forgiveness” and “healing” rather than gore-drenched body horror.

Sei — omnipotent except in the presence of hot men

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent — 7 of 12 episodes (Tuesdays)

I love, love, love this show, and I find it hard to put into words quite why. Yes, this is another isekai (transported to another world), though refreshingly this isn’t about reincarnation or wish-fulfillment and the main character is an adult. Twentysomething Sei is a modern workaholic Japanese woman summoned via magic ritual to the fantasy kingdom of Salutania in order to be their “Saint”, a magical warrior who will protect the realm from monsters… Except this time, the once-in-a-generation summoning ritual went a bit wrong, summoning two people from our world.

Obviously, the Crown Prince assumes that the younger, hotter girl Aira summoned alongside Sei is the “true” Saint. Sei is essentially ignored (though not mistreated) and informed that there is no way for her to return home. Free of obligation or responsibility, Sei makes the best of her knowledge of herbology (her hobby back in modern Japan) and joins the Medicinal Flora Research Institute, where her colleagues quickly discover that her healing potions (and cooking) have incredible restorative powers. Could Sei in fact be the real Saint?

That the show seems in no real rush to answer this question turns out to be one of its strengths. Although Sei’s inherent magical ability is clearly very powerful, she has no idea how to use it and requires training. Like Sei, we start with complete ignorance about the rules of this world, and learn along with her as she gradually learns to make a place for herself. This relaxing pace and (initial) lack of stakes sounds like it might be boring — but it really isn’t.

Sei is a realistic, adult character with a stoic attitude and a delightful blind spot when it comes to romance. She knows what she wants (to gain knowledge and skills) and by generally being a hard-working and pleasant person, succeeds in her endeavours. I particularly enjoy the steady, gentle plot progression that begins to introduce political intrigue and other interesting characters later on. Her interactions with the besotted knight Albert are gently humorous — he’s very clearly interested in her, but she’s either too oblivious or too shy to properly reciprocate. Despite being surrounded by multitudinous other hot guys, the show so far has steadfastly refused to go the “harem” route so endemic with this genre. I find myself really rooting for Sei’s success and happiness, though also intrigued as to how her counterpart Saint candidate Aira is doing…

SSSS. Dynazenon’s promo art cleverly homages/mirrors that of its progenitor series, SSSS. Gridman.

SSSS. Dynazenon — 8 of 12 episodes (Fridays)

A show in which a group of plucky characters fight enormous monsters with the power of transforming plastic toys. No, this isn’t a Saturday morning kids cartoon from the 1980s, but it is made for people who remember watching similar fodder (maybe more live action Tokusatsu shows, perhaps) from their childhood. A sort-of-sequel to Studio Trigger’s 2018 SSSS. Gridman, it’s only in later episodes that any links at all with the progenitor series are even remotely hinted at. For a show with such a basic, kiddie-ish premise, this is an unexpectedly complex and emotionally mature show that holds its cards ever-so-close to its chest.

Mysterious pink-haired facially-scarred homeless man Gauma recruits a ragtag band of misfits to help him pilot the extremely plasticky-looking giant robot Dynazenon in his fight against the weird monsters that periodically attack the city — the “kaiju”. As anyone who watched Gridman will know, these monsters don’t just appear out of nowhere — they’re a manifestation of human will, or desire — but whose desire this time is so far unexplained. Gauma himself doesn’t seem to have any answers — he’s extremely vague about his motivations, and so are his enemies, former colleagues “The Kaiju Eugenicists” who act about as goofy as their names.

Dynanzenon is a show where none of the characters seem really sure why they do what they do, or if they do, they’re not letting on. This goes for Gauma’s hapless recruits, all of whom have their own problems, some of their own making. Hell, he recruits four people but has only three spare Dynazenon vehicles, leaving one person as a sub. If that isn’t an allegory for directionlessness, I don’t know what is.

Yomogi Asanaka is a typical-seeming anime schoolboy, but he’s unhappy at home and is focused on spending all his spare time outside of school working so he can become financially independent from his mother and her boyfriend as soon as possible. Yume Minami is his classmate and romantic interest, she’s very odd in that she deliberately leads boys on, inviting them to meet, then stands them up. She seems to be somewhat broken inside, at least partly due to the death of her older sister, the circumstances of which is one of the show’s underlying mysteries.

Koyomi Yamanaka is a very unusual anime protagonist, in that he’s a 33-year-old shut-in, whose only real social connection is with his apparently prepubescent cousin Chise Asukagawa. He just sort of accidentally becomes a Dynazenon pilot, but without anything better to do, he goes along with it. He has a fascinating side story involving a married ex-school friend that he reconnects with. The shows uses this to examine his disillusionment with his life choices, but also to highlight his underlying decency when faced with difficult moral decisions.

I haven’t even mentioned the flashy, smoothly-animated and brightly coloured battles yet, and that’s because despite their spectacle they are easily the least interesting aspect of SSSS. Dynazenon. I’m far more invested in these well-written and nuanced characters than in anything regarding their silly plastic toys. That’s probably the point.

So anyone who’s played NieR Automata can report that red-eyed robots are Bad News…

Vivy — Fluorite Eye’s Song — 9 of 13 episodes (Saturday)

I’ve already written quite extensively about this show in the below linked article. Suffice to say that Vivy remains the most spectacular anime this season, with absolutely incredible action sequences and beautiful production design. The storytelling is dense and idiosyncratic — although this is a show about a blue-haired android fighting to prevent a future AI apocalypse, it’s all seen through the narrow-focus lens of a main character who is single-minded in her mission to make people happy via singing.

This is a central concept of Vivy’s story — the AI characters can act only to fulfill the parameters of their very specific missions. In a way, this restriction reminds me a lot of those episodes of Star Trek — The Next Generation where Picard and crew had to solve some thorny problem within the bounds of the Prime Directive. Vivy can’t just go and murder someone who gets in her way, because that would be a person whom she couldn’t later make happy by her singing. Conversely, she may need to dirty her hands to to prevent the apocalypse, because otherwise there would be no-one left for her to sing to.

Sometimes Vivy’s mission interpretations conflict with her cube-like partner Matsumoto’s, and their exasperated interactions are always amusing, and the show’s direction is almost always surprising and unpredictable to the point of being almost obtuse. I’ve really little idea of what Vivy is trying to say with this narrative, but it’s certainly been a fun ride so far. I hope it sticks the landing so that I can go back to the beginning and re-watch it with the intention of being able to say “oh, so that’s what the point of that was.” I’m a little concerned that it could end up as merely empty spectacle, but that’s the cynic in me.

The more I look at this group of characters, the more unsettled I am by their relationships and appearances

Shadows House — 7 of 13 episodes (Saturdays)

Another show I covered earlier this month, article linked below. Shadows House has a fantastic fairytale concept — what if shadows were not just sentient, but also dominant over their associated people? With a setting that’s Upstairs Downstairs by way of Rule of Rose/Resident Evil 1, mixed in a blender with The Promised Neverland, Cloverwork’s latest show is like nothing else this season. Even the incredible opening and closing songs get in on the creepy/cute gothic aesthetic.

Like slightly satanic Victorian nobles, the odd shadow people (who disconcertingly refer to themselves exclusively in the third person when talking) hold the lives of their counterpart “living dolls” in their hands. Apparently brainwashed children, these dolls are made to believe they are not human, but constructs who exist only to become their assigned shadow’s “face”. This blatant dehumanisation is creepy and disturbing, yet the children do everything they can to win the approval of their shadow masters.

This is such a fertile ground for storytelling that I’m very excited to see where it goes next. Main protagonist Emilico truly is an impossibly optimistic ball of sunshine, a stark counterpoint to her shadow Kate — a nervy, pessimistic mistress who nevertheless encourages her “face’s” individuality. I find myself rooting for them to uncover the dark secrets of their creepy, dangerous mansion and escape whatever sinister fate they seem destined to meet.

Despite William James Moriarty’s Red Eyes Of Evil, he’s really a morally upstanding chap.

Moriarty The Patriot — 19 of 24 episodes (Sundays)

I already adored the first half of this Victorian-era Sherlock Holmes pastiche, broadcast back in Autumn 2020 before taking the following season off. As the title suggests, Holmes himself is not the focus — instead he’s relegated to occasional support status while the spotlight is on original criminal mastermind William James Moriarty and his impossibly beautiful bishonen features, red eyes and flowing blonde locks. I don’t imagine this was quite who Sir Arthur Conan Doyle conceived as his Consulting Criminal, yet it works extremely well in a bonkers, campy way.

Whereas the first cour dealt with Moriarty’s backstory as an orphan rising to High Society through murder and blackmail, now we find him well-established, enacting his plan to bring down the rich, corrupt nobility and emancipate the downtrodden lower classes. We find conspiracies within conspiracies involving not just multiple minor characters from the Sherlock Holmes stories but blatant homages to other major figures from prominent British fiction (to mention in detail here would be to spoil a frankly absurd but hilarious identity reveal).

Moriarty is a ridiculous show that cannot possibly be taken seriously, yet it’s earnest in its desire for a fairer world. Our main character is still something of a mystery — he plots in secret, doesn’t always share every detail with his accomplices, and is not afraid to commit heinous acts for the “greater good” (at least as he sees it). Moriarty and Holmes clearly have similar goals in mind yet their methods are diametrically opposed. I get the impression that under different circumstances they would be great friends, but I fear the weight of literary predestination will drag them towards an inevitable tragic and bitter confrontation. I’ll certainly be there for the (no doubt hilariously anachronistic) fireworks.

Joe has seen better days

Megalobox 2: Nomad — 8 of 13 episodes (Sundays)

Finally, Megalobox — the show that I convinced myself did not need a sequel. And I’m still not sure that Nomad is a completely necessary follow-up to the tightly-written and precision-engineered original, but boy is it a great anime if you like depression, ennui, grit, pain and regret. Set 5 years after “Gearless” Joe and champion Yuri’s climactic boxing match at the end of the first season, everything that could have gone wrong went wrong. Joe is now a wandering hobo, scruffy and addicted to strong painkillers, drifting from one dead-end Central American town to the next, earning money from throwing fights in scummy underground venues.

Nomad takes its time to explain Joe’s situation, while filling in the blanks about the wider world in which he struggles to survive. Although somewhat slow-paced, every scene has a purpose that is only enhanced by a haunting, melancholy soundtrack. Like the original, the boxing matches are sparse yet gripping — easily equalling some of the best Rocky fights in intensity.

With a grungy mid-90s aesthetic, Nomad is depicted in earthy, grimy browns and greys. This is a very deliberate throwback, and for some bizarre reason they’ve downscaled the picture to SD quality so it looks like something recorded on VHS tape from late night Brazilian TV. Never mind that 90s anime was painted on cels and recorded on film. Anyway, Nomad is at times painful yet uplifting to watch. Joe gradually pulls himself out of his slump and his old supporting characters gradually make reappearances — older, different. I’m not entirely sure what direction the plot intends to follow — it’s not quite as single-minded or cohesive as the first season — Joe’s not aiming for the top this time, but he’s still the underdog we can cheer for, even when it’s clear he’s the sole cause of many of his own problems.

That’s it for Funimation’s shows. I’ll be back later in the week with an even more gargantuan list of Crunchyroll’s offerings. The main thing missing from today’s list is My Hero Academia Season 5. The part it’s adapting is where I dropped the manga because it bored me to tears (another bloody tournament arc…) and I figure the only way I’ll be able to tolerate it is when I eventually watch it dubbed with my 10-year-old son. His unrelenting enthusiasm should keep me awake until the plot returns.

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