Doctorkev’s Thoughts on the Spring 2022 Anime Season: Netflix and HIDIVE
It’s another packed anime season! We got something of a break during the comparatively light Winter 2022. Although there were a handful of superb breakout shows, in general the pressure to keep up with everything was mitigated by the fact that the non-breakout shows were so inconsequential. Not so this season. Although the unholy conjunction of Crunchyroll and Funimation has scooped up the majority of anime streaming in the western hemisphere, this season both Netflix and HIDIVE demonstrate strong lineups. Even Disney Plus has snapped up the rights to a couple of shows, but who knows when they’ll deign to stream them to non-Japanese viewers. HIDIVE in particular is absolutely killing it with their selection of shows, but for now let’s start with an eclectic mix from Netflix.
I was really looking forwards to this film. I mean, with such an incredible pedigree behind the production, who wouldn’t? Directed by Tetsuro Araki (Death Note, Attack on Titan, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress), co-written by Gen Urobuchi (Madoka Magica, Fate Zero, Psycho-pass), with character designs by Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Bakuman, Platinum End), music by Hiroyuki Sawano (Attack on Titan, Promare, 86: EIGHTY-SIX) and animation production by Wit Studio (Vinland Saga, Attack on Titan, Ranking of Kings), surely with such a stellar team this should ooze glistening, soapy success from every pore?
Unfortunately the finished product does not remotely live up to the expectations its lineage inspires. It’s not bad per se, just somewhat muddled, unfocused and insubstantial. Forgetting about the lackluster plot for a moment, the film certainly looks incredible. Full of iridescent colour and constant motion, the flooded, post-apocalyptic, otherworldly bubble-inflicted city of Tokyo looks great, as the camera follows the main cast of displaced, orphaned youths as they “battle-parkour” or “battlekour” their way across the ruined landscape, utilising gravitational anomalies to launch through the air and rebound off floating bubbles and debris. Naoko Sato, writer of fantastic PS Vita game Gravity Rush leaves his unmistakable fingerprints all over Bubble, probably more prominently even than Gen Urobuchi, in some ways this is like the cinematic adaptation Gravity Rush never received.
Some years previously, extraterrestrial bubbles began to float down from the skies across the whole Earth, but something happened in Tokyo to cause a massive explosion that somehow led to the entire city’s encasement in a huge bubble (think Stephen King’s The Dome but shinier and more transparent). After everyone else evacuated, the orphans of people killed in the bubblepocalypse have inexplicably returned to the ionic surfactant-drenched city to eke out an existence in teams competing against each other in “battlekour” to win food items. It’s best not to ask too many questions about the shaky worldbuilding. Look, it’s full of teenagers leaping off buildings, pink floaty soap bubbles and strange clothing choices. It’s very anime.
The film follows a socially introverted loner, who despite this is a member of a battlekour team, and who seems to be somewhere on the autistic spectrum as he experiences severe aural discomfort with loud noises, requiring him to wear headphones at all times. He’s basically the Persona 3 protagonist, but instead of repeatedly shooting himself in the head to summon ungodly abominations from the depths of humanity’s collective subconscious, he jumps around on floaty bubbles to win crates of instant noodles. After an accident, a mysterious bubbly girl saves him from drowning, and we are repeatedly bashed over the head with repeated, heavy allusions to Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid. And no, I don’t mean the sanitised Disney version. I mean the depressing as hell, beloved-by Gen-who-loves-to-spread-emotional-devastation-Urobuchi story about a mermaid who gives up everything to pursue her love… blah blah blah… no soul… blah blah blah… foam on the waves… Yeah, I don’t want to be too spoilery, but this is a movie that wants to make you Feel Sad Things but just doesn’t manage.
Partly this is down to the characters. They’re as bland and stock anime as they come. I could tell you almost nothing about them and their motivations, other than the most basic things like “wants to win at made-up game” or “likes pretty girl”. The main character is pretty much a cipher. We don’t really know why he likes the main girl. She’s barely even sentient for half the film. She’s that very worst manic pixie dream girl stereotype in that she’s more like a pet than a human being. She exists only for his emotional development, and bounds around doing fun, crazy, quirky things because she doesn’t know any better, oh bless. Look! She doesn’t know what eggs are! Ha ha she squished one!
Then there’s the plot, which is… uninspiring, and never coheres into anything substantial. This is like two unrelated films squashed into one — a fun shonen-style fighting story about “battlekour” and another, poorly-developed sci-fi fable with an unconvincing YA romance jammed in their somewhere. As passably entertaining as it was while watching, almost nothing of this movie is likely to remain in my memory for much longer, it was unfortunately a bubble as ephemeral and insubstantial as gossamer, enticing and pretty, but ultimately empty and unsatisfying.
Tiger & Bunny 2 Part 1: 13 episodes: complete
I’ve already written quite extensively about why you should catch up with season one of Tiger & Bunny (plus both movies), plus I’ve also reviewed the first part of season two, all now available to stream on Netflix. I love this show so much, and I’m so happy a second season eventually arrived. I’ll even forgive that it took Bandai Namco eleven years to get around to making it. 2018’s sort-of-spinoff Double Decker! Doug & Kirill is still available to stream on Crunchyroll (subbed) and Funimation (dubbed). That whole Crunchymation unified library consolidation thing still has lots of gaps. Anyway, Double Decker! is hardly essential to watch, but it shares multiple themes with its estranged parent show, and is a lot of fun. The second half of Tiger & Bunny season two is due at some unspecified point later in the year… Sometimes I really hate Netflix’s weird break-up-and-binge model…
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Komi Can’t Communicate part 2: 3 of 12 episodes
Netflix also broke Komi into two chunks (the monsters!), but for some reason decided to stream this one weekly instead of dumping out a dozen episodes in one oily, stodgy splurge, Tiger & Bunny style. Komi’s first half streamed over the Autumn 2021 season, and after a single season break, part two of this delightful, slightly bonkers comedy is upon us. Because Netflix insists on doing its own somewhat irritating thing, this isn’t a true simulcast because it’s about 3 weeks behind its japanese TV broadcast, meaning the temptation to pirate is ever-present, especially if you’re an anime fan desperate to keep current with episode discussions on Reddit, and other such internet hangouts of ill-repute. Netflix doesn’t help themselves in this regard because their hopelessly inflexible subtitling software unfortunately still leaves many visual gags that rely on kanji comprehension untranslated. To watch Netflix’s Komi adaptation is to fear that you’re missing half the comedy. Crunchyroll would have done this so much better…
Regardless of my gripes about distribution and adaptation, I still greatly enjoy this show. Komi herself is an absolute delight, so cute with her huge googly eyes and occasional cat ears. Each episode introduces yet more creatively absurd oddballs for the cast to interact with. The humour doesn’t always hit (anything involving Komi’s creepy stalker girl and her obsession with Komi’s underwear makes me feel queasy), but overall this is a light, frothy confection that makes me laugh out loud multiple times per episode. All hail Komi, our verbal expressiveness-challenged queen!
Kotaro Lives Alone: 10 episodes
Oh wow. What is this show? And why is the main character so creepy-looking? The titular Kotaro is a 4-year-old child who rents a small apartment on his own. Affecting a manner of stilted, ultra-formal speech ill-matching his infantile stature, he interacts with his bemused neighbours in short vignettes that are heart-warming at best, but more often deeply unsettling and even depressing. Kotaro doesn’t do small talk, he (appropriately) distrusts strangers, and has a deadpan, matter-of fact manner of disabusing adults of their bullshit. Anya from Spy x Family he is not. I haven’t finished watching this yet because despite Netflix’s best, misguided efforts, it isn’t exactly conducive to binge watching…
Upcoming: Ghost in the Shell SAC_2045 Season 2: May 23rd
Although it’s not starting in time to catch my deadline for this article, I do want to mention the upcoming second half of the new Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex sequel. I did enjoy the first part back in 2020, despite its overly plasticky character designs. The story became genuinely intriguing and left off on a horribly cruel cliffhanger. I can’t wait to see yet more genital-deficient Barbie and Ken dolls beat the ever-living crap out of one another.
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Fate/Kaleid Liner Prisma Illya the Movie: Licht — Nameless Girl
Dropped onto HIDIVE on May 12th without the slightest hint of fanfare, this is the newest installment of the Fate multiverse’s very own magical girl show. Despite initially looking like a braindead kiddies’ Fate spinoff back in its first 2013 season, it soon gained a (well-deserved) reputation as one of the more… uh… horny corners of the gargantuan Fate franchise. Whereas the main Fate/Stay Night adaptations tend to be rather coy about what “mana transfers” actually entail, Prisma Illya has girls full-on exchanging magically-charged bodily fluids, and not always consensually either. Considering the main characters are elementary school students, this is creepy as hell.
I’m not entirely sure why I persisted watching three seasons of this deeply uncomfortable inappropriateness, but with the fourth season, something about the show changed, and for the better. Prisma Illya always had an interesting, if skewed, angle on Fate’s Holy Grail War. In this world, the city of Fuyuki, Japan, is at peace. The 4th and 5th Holy Grail Wars never happened, Shirou Emiya lives happily with his adoptive parents Kiritsugu and Irisviel, plus his younger sister Illya (biological child of his parents), who in this reality still has a questionable crush on Shirou, but doesn’t demonstrate it by trying to murder him/disembowel him/trap his soul in an inanimate doll. Instead of following Shirou as usual, this story follows Illya as she is chosen by a magical rod to become a magical girl. It’s all very Sailor Moon, at least to begin with.
What makes the show attractive to Fate nerds are the constant references to deep Fate lore, with appearances from franchise mainstays like Best Girl Rin Tohsaka and Worst Tofu Cook Kirei Kotomine, to characters from the so-far-unanimated Fate/Hollow Ataraxia: Luvia Edelfelt and Bazett Fraga McRemitz. Instead of summoning servants, the magical girl characters “install” class cards that give them the appearance and skills of servants from other parts of the franchise. For example when Illya installs the Saber card, she looks just like Fate/Stay Night’s Saber, and another character looks a lot like that story’s Archer, with weapon-summoning abilities to match. As the show progresses, it introduces many more twists on pre-established Fate characters and servants, some of whom are impressively deep cuts likely to be meaningless to poor, uninitiated casual viewers.
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This latest movie is a direct sequel to Prisma Illya 3rei (season 4), and follows on from the previous movie prequel, Vow in the Snow, that I briefly covered back in Autumn 2020. That movie was initially released in Japan back in 2017, and this latest movie is from 2021. With that length of time between releases, you’d think they might ease the viewer back into the story, take some time to re-establish characters and setting? Nope. There are no concessions to viewers without a direct neurological interface to the TYPE-MOON wiki. I wish I’d re-watched the preceding season as I really struggled to follow what the hell was going on here.
Produced by studio Silver Link, as have been all previous Prisma Illya seasons and movie, it continues to look very shiny. Not quite as spectacular as Ufotable’s godly efforts with the Fate/Stay Night Heaven’s Feel trilogy, but there are some very impressive fight scenes. As with most Fate things, the story is borderline incomprehensible, characters speechify without really saying much of substance, lots of things explode, everyone fights, there’s fountains of thick, evil magical gloop, and it ends on a cliffhanger. So we’ll probably be waiting another four years for a resolution to that. (A sequel has already been announced.)
A far cry from the first few seasons, Licht — Nameless Girl is almost completely bereft of frothy levity, smiles or whimsy, and the total absence of fanservice, incest or general underage sexual creepiness is a blessing. It’s a really depressing story now, though. Did the author stop taking his meds or something? I’ll be looking forwards to how all of this resolves, presumably in the eventual third (and final?) movie.
I’m Quitting Heroing!: 6 of 12 episodes, Tuesdays
A fantasy anime with no isekai elements for once, this has a very interesting premise. Humanity’s hero, an overpowered young man who recently saved mankind from the Demon Lord’s army, is rejected by the people he protects, so quits being a hero and instead seeks employment by the Demon Lord in their army. It starts off intriguing enough, but I have to admit that most of the episodes have been kind of dull.
The main character, the ex-hero, is one of those weird anime stereotypes in that he seems to be laid-back and almost slapdash in his approach, but in fact he’s incredibly efficient and everything he does leads to success. I hated last season’s The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt partly because its similar main character was so insufferably smug, but also because the show was so goddamn boring.
At least Quitting Heroing has some strong hooks in regards to its underlying premise, and some engaging (if also slightly stereotypical) side characters. The female Demon Lord is a lot of fun, particularly in the episode where she gets drunk and tortures the ex-hero with an excruciatingly awkward dinner for two. I like that she’s not actually evil! The most recent episode also revealed some interesting backstory for the ex-hero that’s likely to keep me watching.
The Demon Girl Next Door Season 2: 6 of 12 episodes, Thursdays
I missed this show first time around, back in 2019. Now that the second season has received such positive buzz, I took the chance to watch the original on HIDIVE before diving straight into the new season. Just as well I did, as season two episode one starts exactly where season one episode twelve left off!
This is a fun, bright, and airy fantasy comedy. 15-year-old Yuko Yoshida awakens to her ancestral power — she’s a demon from the Dark Clan, tasked with vanquishing her town’s local magical girl from the Light Clan, with the purpose of reversing the curse that keeps her family poor. Growing cute little horns, a long, black tail, and affecting the name “Shadow Mistress Yuko” (or, as everyone else calls her, “Shamiko” for short), she proceeds to challenge the monstrously strong pink-haired magical girl Momo Chiyoda to a duel. Taking pity on Shamiko’s pathetic power levels and general inexperience, Momo agrees to tutor Shamiko in the ways of magic and battles. So begins a sweet friendship/rivalry where the two girls grow to rely on one another as they learn just how weird (and full of weirdos) their home town is.
Blessed with a multitude of funny running jokes, this is a delightful comedy with characters that grow and change, and a slowly simmering backstory that means each episode, although mostly standalone, builds a little more continuity. For a seemingly throwaway show, there’s clearly been a lot of thought put into the backstory and setting. I like this a lot. It’s a bit hyperactive and slapstick in places, but there’s an affecting undercurrent of melancholia and some surprisingly dark and existential humour in there sometimes…
Ya Boy Kongming: HIDIVE: 7 of 12 episodes, Thursdays
I had zero intention of watching this show, the premise sounded so utterly stupid. Also I’ve little interest in either elecronic dance music or rap, so a story revolving around genres of music I actively dislike was an easy pass for me. However, thanks to the tireless efforts of my fellow AniTAY contributors (especially podcast host Hybridmink — you know what you did), I was beaten into submission and gave it a single episode to impress me.
A wild seven-episode binge later, I’m now a believer, listening constantly to nothing but ultra-cheesy Eurobeat EDM and gearing up to find some local hoodlums with whom to engage in tense rap battles under motorway overpasses. After being forced to endure explicit visual novel NTR porn, you’d think my life had been ruined enough by these AniTAY people, but looks like there are yet further pits for my soul and personality to be thrown into and ripped to shreds.
Anyway, in a way this is a bit like an isekai, in that main character Zhuge Liang (courtesy name Kongming) dies in 3rd century China, during the Three Kingdoms Period, inexplicably reawakening/reincarnating in his younger self’s body in modern Tokyo. Initially believing himself to be in Hell, Kongming soon finds himself entranced by the singing of down-on-her-luck would-be idol singer Eiko. Announcing that he wishes to be her tactitian (manager) and steer her towards worldwide musical success, a bemused Eiko somehow agrees, and so begins a very odd, very amusing adventure through the music industry.
Kongming himself is at once an innocent and a tactical genius. What looks initially to be a fish-out-of-water comedy quickly mutates into something quite different. After a few hours marvelling at Eiko’s smartphone and doomscrolling down wikipedia, he’s fully up to date on the modern world and quickly hatching schemes straight out of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, as well as referencing his own past military victories when contriving to make Eiko’s career a success. There’s definitely a formula to it — Kongming does something weird, everyone wonders if he’s really a fraud, and then his scheme succeeds amazingly. It’s all done with such passion and sincerity that you can’t help but get swept up in the loopy narrative.
As a famous historical figure, Kongming finds fanboys in modern Japan who geek out with him regularly, and every episode features historical facts relevant to the past military campaigns he uses to inform his modern business decisions. I know nothing about the Three Kingdoms Period, but am still able to follow what’s happening. I imagine that Chinese history buffs would get even more out of this very strange, but very entertaining show. Also — the music slaps.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life: 7 of 12 episodes, Fridays
One of my very favourite shows of the season, I wrote a detailed first impressions article about it recently. I’m happy to report that it’s continued to be high-quality entertainment, with a really clever subversion of the overused isekai anime storytelling trope. Recent episodes have added some interesting thematic and logistical wrinkles that promise to pay off some impressively twisty and economical storytelling. I liked this so much I bought the first volume of the light novel.
Pink-haired Yuri Isekai Assassins, Oh My: The Executioner and Her Way of Life First Impressions
That was one hell of a first episode, wasn’t it?
DISNEY PLUS JAIL
Summer Time Rendering: 5 of 25 episodes, Thursdays
I tried really hard not to pirate this. I’m sorry, but I failed. This was my one single biggest hype show for the season, and it was licensed by Disney Plus, and therefore its eventual broadcast date is an unknown quantity. They sure as hell aren’t simulcasting it, and although it appears on their Japanese service, there’s no hint from them when it might appear in English. I do pay for a Disney Plus subscription, so forgive me if I don’t feel too guilty about accessing this via other means.
Summer Time Rendering is difficult to describe without wading deep into spoiler territory. It’s one of those shows you really want to watch unspoiled. In terms of genre, it’s unsettling existential horror. Think Higurashi — When They Cry but without the deformed murder poppets. Summer Time Rendering manages to evoke a sense of strangled dread uncommon to the anime medium, it is truly disturbing. Horrible things happen to sympathetic characters, and there’s a compelling mystery to be slowly, painfully revealed, bit by bit. Its lush island setting is stunningly depicted, it feels like a real, lived-in place, and that makes the crunchy, moist, otherwordly horror even more effective. Hopefully Disney will get their finger out and start streaming and promoting this soon. It’s criminal that this isn’t this season’s biggest show already.
I’ll be back soon to discuss Crunchyroll’s Spring 2022 offerings. Thanks for reading!
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