Doctorkev’s Thoughts on the Winter 2021 Anime Season Part 1: Crunchyroll
With such an insanely packed Winter 2021 anime season, I’ve had no choice but to break my traditional half-way seasonal assessment into two parts. Today we’ll look at Crunchyroll’s offerings — mostly sequels, and tomorrow we’ll look at Funimation’s — mostly new shows.
The COVID-19 pandemic certainly reduced the number of 2020 anime shows that successfully completed production, and Winter 2021’s slate attests that many were instead punted to this year. Keeping up with seasonal anime already felt like a full-time job (on top of my actual, very real job) but now this feels like pulling overtime. That’s without even watching all the stuff I feel I should watch.
As I write this, Mamoru Oshii’s vampire/yuri/WTF/comedy show VLAD LOVE dumped its first 6 episodes onto Crunchyroll. It looks like trash, but I guess I’ll take a look at some point. Apparently World Trigger is a thing, but I’ve never seen the preceding 73 episodes of the original 2014 season. Fellow AniTAY writer DilKokoro swears by comfy, rural slice of life Non Non Biyori, but I’m at least two seasons behind on that and who has time to catch up? These kind of shows aren’t normally my bag, but hey — Laid-Back Camp is back and I couldn’t be happier to sink deep into its chilled, comforting embrace once more.
Laid-Back Camp S2: Episodes 1-6 of 13
Season 1 was a surprise hit of the Winter 2018 season for both me and my eldest son. Now when he returns from a busy stressful day at his part-time Post Office Clerk job I can put on the latest episode and watch the tension drain from his tired muscles while a beatific smile spreads across his face. I love this show. There’s very little plot. It’s about a group of female schoolfriends who enjoy off-season camping together, and sometimes alone. They plan outings, overcome small challenges, have humorous encounters with fluffy dogs and learn a bit more about the Japanese countryside and how best to enjoyably camp in it in winter.
After a childhood spend camping regularly with the Boy Scouts, I now have little desire to brave the elements protected only by a thin canvas sheet. However I am quite happy to watch this group of adorable cinnamon rolls do it instead. They seem to spend a lot less time setting things on fire and generally re-enacting the plot of The Lord of the Flies than my Boy Scout friends and I did.
Jujutsu Kaisen: Episodes 14-18 of 24
JJK continues to go from strength to strength as a fantastically constructed supernatural shonen fantasy. So far, I like this far more than Demon Slayer and orders of magnitudes more than last year’s all-style-with-a screamingly-empy-void-of-silence-where-the-substance-should-have-been God of High School (from the same production studio and director). What a difference quality base material makes. It turns out that with good character writing and a coherent plot with identifiable stakes you can indeed elevate your standard battle shonen tropes into something almost transcendentally entertaining. Those expertly choreographed, staged and animated action sequences are breathtakingly awesome and I can hardly believe they manage this on a TV budget. I hope they pay their staff properly.
Yashahime: Episodes 13-19 of 24
I’m not quite sure why I continue to watch this dull, incompetent InuYasha spinoff. Despite my familiarity with Rumiko Takahashi’s 1990s manga I didn’t even watch the original InuYasha anime. It has no idea how to construct an ongoing plot, nor how to motivate or integrate its characters. Half-demon princesses Towa, Setsuna and Moroha just sort of stumble from one random battle to the next, most of which leads them into conflict with the main bad guys, but it all just seems so incredibly half-assed. This show does not need to exist, InuYasha did not need a sequel, and Yashahime pisses away what little potential it had in the first place. I think I’m only sticking with this due to the sunk cost fallacy. I have little hope that the final five episodes will somehow redeem the time I have lost to this.
That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime S2: Episodes 1-5 of ? (plus OVAs)
Between seasons 1 and 2 of this mediocre-to-reasonably-entertaining isekai show were released 5 interstitial OVA episodes. The first two are completely disposable nonsense filled with slightly incongruous fanservice. OVAs 3–5 however tell a story about the titular slime Rimuru’s precocious magic school students. If you disliked that storyline from the first season, then these episodes won’t convert you, but they’re likely to be reasonably important for the plot later in season 2.
Season 2 proper is already an improvement over the frankly boring second half of the first season. We’re back in worldbuilding mode, with Rimiru’s Kingdom of Monsters gradually levelling up by spreading its influence, developing new technology and making alliances with neighbouring countries. Not every society is happy about the emergence of the new country of Tempest, and already plans are afoot to separate Rimiru from his people. (He is so ridiculously overpowered that the bad guys are completely right to attempt this strategy.) So far, count me as intrigued as to where this is going.
Dr Stone S2: Stone Wars: Episodes 1-5 of 11
Only 11 episodes? Season 1 was 24 episodes long and I’m disappointed this will be so much shorter. Is this as a result of the pandemic on production schedules or because they want to adapt the following (significantly longer) manga arc separately? Anyway, this is basically more of the same. If you enjoyed main character Senku’s quest to re-establish a Kingdom of Science in the far future stone age, then you’ll also enjoy this season, where two tribes go to war… One tribe headed by Senku, and the other headed by science-hating man-mountain Tsukasa. I love this goofy show and its bonkers application of real-life science. It’s not something to be taken too seriously, it isn’t a masterpiece of storytelling or character analysis, but it is a lot of fun.
The Quintessential Quintuplets S2: Episodes 1-6 of 12
Romantic/harem comedies aren’t normally my thing, but 2019’s season 1 of Quints was surprisingly enjoyable. Season 2 picks up where the first left off, with exasperated Uesugi still attempting to knock some sense (and knowledge) into his errant charges — the flighty, pink-haired identical quintuplets he is paid to tutor. This season introduces some more intrigue (and complications) to Uesugi’s heretofore unexplained previous contact with at least one (maybe more) quint from his childhood. We also meet the girls’ asshole of a distant step-father. Unfortunately season 2 seems to be racing through the original material at a significantly faster pace than the first season, meaning each episode seems overly busy. I don’t feel each of the individual girls gets enough screentime to fully flesh out their characters. New plots and their resolutions occur too quickly for the viewer to fully appreciate (or care). Due to these issues, I’m not finding this season as much fun as the first.
Re Zero S2 Part 2: Episodes 1-6 of 12
I love Re:Zero. I really do. But I’m finding the need to construct some kind of 4D diagram to keep track of all the moving plot pieces. It’s fine to have mystery as an integral part of your story, but with Re:Zero I constantly find myself turning to my daughter (who I have watched this entire show with) and asking “Why did that just happen? What the hell is going on? And who is that person? Are we supposed to know who they are? Why is Character X acting like this towards Character Y? Which character actually understands what is going on here? Or are they all as equally confused as I am?”
Regardless of my perpetual viewer-confusion, I’m still having a good time with this. Perhaps it would be best viewed again from the beginning after watching it all through for the first time. It’s hard to make any judgements about character motivations or consistency when the show keeps its cards so close to its damn chest all the time. Seriously, I don’t know if I’m just dumb sometimes, or if I’m really just not meant to understand about 90% of what’s going on. At least with a show as persistently high quality as Re:Zero I’m confident that everything will be explained somehow. Eventually.
Attack on Titan Final Season: Episodes 5–10 of 16
What can I say? After an almost agonisingly slow build up, the shit finally hit the fan in an explosive way. There is now absolutely no way that MAPPA intends to conclude the series with this “final” season. At least another 10 episodes or even a couple of movies after this are surely inevitable.
After a time-skip of several years, all our favourite characters are older — though in the case of Eren Yeager — not necessarily wiser. Once again the plot comprises wheels within wheels, and answers to questions and the reveal of secrets come slowly. Already we’re far past the point I had read to in the manga, and MAPPA are doing a fantastic job of picking up where Wit Studio left off at the end of season 3. There’s a bit more CGI when the titans themselves are on screen, but I think it’s used extremely well. That creepy opening is growing on me too, despite its tonal disconnect with the previous seasons’ theme songs. I am cautiously optimistic that this will remain must-watch material until the (presumably brutal, heartbreaking) end.
So I’m A Spider, So What?: Episodes 1–6 of 24
Cut from a similar cloth to That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, this is a Crunchyroll Original show that follows an unnamed main character who awakens in a subterranean dungeon to find herself reborn into another world, in the body of a magical spider. Much like in Slime, she must quickly learn how to utilise her body’s innate skills and level up JRPG-style (via a great many HUD-like menus) before she is eaten by the other horrific monsters that dwell in the dungeon.
Whereas Slime is an overly optimistic power fantasy, Spider has our protagonist perpetually in fear for her life, battling monsters far stronger than herself and then chowing down on their defeated corpses in order to stay alive. It’s very much a black comedy in this regard, though there are some anachronic scenes set in the human world where it appears our spider heroine was not the only one reborn — many of her school classmates are now members of the aristocracy in this relatively stock fantasy world. Eventually these plot lines are sure to converge, but each episode is mostly a one-spider-show of monologuing from the main character’s surely exhausted voice actress.
This is pretty good fun, and in this one instance I find the game-like sense of gradual progression interesting. Some viewers may find the spider CG off-putting, but I find it helps define her movements and personality well. The CG backgrounds and monsters are utter garbage, but don’t detract from an enjoyable, if very odd, fantasy.
Heaven’s Design Team: Episodes 1–6 of 12
The pitch for this is basically: “What if Cells at Work, except Zoo?” A bonkers edutainment show set in the workshop the angels to whom God has contracted animal design because he basically got bored after making the rest of the universe and he’s decided to outsource instead of doing it himself. This is a wonderfully creative idea, and on the whole it is explored very entertainingly.
For perhaps understandable reasons, God remains offscreen but makes his needs known through hopelessly vague orders his exasperated but eclectic team of employees must fulfil. Heaven’s Design Team is upbeat and colourful, filled with strong personalities but an absence of any kind of plot. It’s as episodic as Cells at Work, and if you’re a fan of animal biology, there is plenty here to delight. I find the OP offensively light-hearted and the characters themselves to be broadly-sketched archetypes, little more than walking plot devices. This is ok though, some of them are quite good fun. I find the pink-haired androgynous character intensely irritating but the little gothic loli girl with the poison and creepiness obsession is great. It’s worth a look, but it’s never too high on my priority list to watch.
The Hidden Dungeon Only I Can Enter: Episodes 1-6 of 12
So I already discussed this utter garbage a few weeks ago as part of AniTAY’s first impressions article series. My thoughts haven’t really changed, and I only continue to watch it due to peer pressure. Honestly, give this one a miss. It’s really stupid.
EX-ARM: Episodes 1-6 of 12
With this I have definitely saved the very worst for last. Trust me when I advise that no-one in their right mind should watch this show. I can see no good reason why this piece of insultingly poor trash exists other than as some kind of ill-considered money-laundering scheme. We were warned about this. Pairing a studio that had never produced anime with a director who had never directed animation was never going to result in anything other than abject failure. And I have never seen an “anime” fail so, so hard.
If anything I pity the poor mangaka whose original story and art have been completely bastardised by this… abomination. What’s it about? Who cares when it looks as bad as this? With an inability to properly communicate action or plot progression, I often find myself shaking my head trying to parse what the hell is actually happening on screen. The characters’ 3D models are laughably inexpressive — the only movable parts of their faces are their jaws that flap up and down unnaturally during speech. I think they only learned to animate eyebrows in episode 5, and even then they do it only sparingly. This means every single character’s face is stuck on one bland expression. For the love of God, they even had to apparently censor a completely innocuous kiss scene by shining a bright light where the lips were meant to meet — in order to stop the character models clipping together. This is weapons-grade incompetence, people.
I can’t even remember anyone’s names because I care so little for what is happening to any of these dead-eyed rag dolls. EX-ARM is so offensively bad I can only stand to watch it simultaneously (and remotely) with some AniTAY colleagues for emotional support as we suffer together and rip this incomprehensible abortion of a show to pieces every Sunday evening before retiring to bed weeping that somehow, humanity has sunk this low.
I think Crunchyroll might hate us.
Anyway, join me tomorrow as I battle through Funimation’s Winter 2021 offerings. If I can get their broken app to function to watch any of their damned shows, that is. I think Funimation hates us too. Now that both Crunchyroll and Funimation are owned by Sony, expect that swirling maelstrom of consumer-hatred to consolidate, synergise, multiply and reach new, disturbing levels of capitalistic malevolence. The Apocalypse Of The Weaponised Anime Waifus is upon us, mark my words.
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