Doctorkev’s Thoughts on the Winter 2023 Anime Season: New Shows
Somehow we’re already halfway through 2023’s first anime season, and although there aren’t as many big shows as the unbelievably hype-packed Autumn 2022 season, there’s a great mix of interesting new things, ongoing shows, and sequels. As usual, I’m watching too many to fit into a single article, so this time we’ll focus on the new and shiny things!
Endo and Kobayashi Live! The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte — HIDIVE — episodes 1–6 of 12, Fridays
Things that come with a recommendation from AniTAY’s Demon Chef/Light Novel Inhalator/Bad Taste Guru/Occasional Podcast Terror Raitzeno should usually be handled either with radiation-proof lead-lined gloves, or perhaps not at all. Yeah, definitely not at all. Endo and Kobayashi is the exception. It’s delightful, though also very much targeted towards Terminally Online visual novel/nerd culture — drowned weebs.
The titular Aoto Endo and Shihono Kobayashi are a pair of high schoolers from “our” world, gradually bumbling into romance over summer break as together every day they play a fairly generic-looking Otome (female-targeted romance/dating) game on Shihono’s home game console. The game’s setting is a European-themed fantasy world, with characters from the nobility entering a magic academy. Pink-haired protagonist Fiene who attends the school as a rare fish-out-of-water commoner with magical abilities, normally has the option to pursue romance with one of the game’s varied male characters. In each story route she is harassed by haughty blonde noblewoman/love rival Lieselotte.
Both Endo and Kobayashi believe Lieselotte to be a misunderstood “Tsundere” personality type and bemoan that there’s not a single way to redeem her from her eventual grisly fate in every storyline. However, there’s something weird about this playthrough — Lieselotte’s fiance prince Siegwald suddenly becomes able to hear Endo and Kobayashi’s running commentary as they play the game, and this radically alters the plot. So begins a strange journey that blends both game and real worlds, with heartwarming romantic and comedic developments in both!
It’s quite a contrived premise (hence the reason it took two whole paragraphs to even begin to explain it), but this is a lot of fun. The humour is very tongue-in-cheek in the way it skewers gaming and anime tropes, even if the plot itself is fairly predictable. Random/unexpected events keep occurring though, and Lieselotte herself is indeed adorably awkward, as Endo and Kobayashi frequently enthuse. I don’t think this show has a particularly wide appeal, as the entire concept hinges on familiarity with a very niche gaming genre, but I’m keen to see where it goes with its metatextual weirdness next.
The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–6 of 12, Wednesdays
We’ve been blessed with some very strong yuri-themed drama in recent seasons, with The Executioner and Her Way of Life, Birdie Wing, Lycoris Recoil, Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch From Mercury, and now this show, with a typically stupidly long title. Of course it’s an isekai. Thankfully it’s a good one.
Again with a generic European fantasy setting featuring castles, royalty and nobles, much like in Villainess Lieselotte’s world, magic is usually the exclusive purview of the upper classes. Princess Anisphia, daughter of her kingdom’s perpetually exasperated king, was born without any magical ability. Ceding her claim to the throne, she throws herself into scientific research in order to discern the truth behind magic, and create magical tools that anyone can use, even a non-magical person like her. Oh, and she’s also someone who died in our world and reincarnated in this one, but other than offering an explanation for her lack of magic, this doesn’t seem overly important.
Anisphia… um… “acquires” her brother’s ex-fiancee Euphyllia Magenta following the poor girl’s very public humiliation. Anisphia makes absolutely no secret of her attraction towards other women, and even as a child announced she wanted to marry a female. Anisphia makes the shy magical prodigy Euphyllia her “assistant” then proceeds to make her do all sorts of uncomfortable things… No, it isn’t a hentai. It’s really very sweet and fun, with Anisphia exuding pure Gremlin Energy by way of Manic Pixie Dream Girl/sociopathy.
The production oozes class and looks great, with some fantastic action sequences and vibrant colours that pop out of the screen. It’s definitely one of the prettiest anime this season (certainly a step up in visual polish from the same studio’s otherwise also high quality The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent), and the characters are a lot of fun. Political machinations and skullduggery lurk in the background, so I’m interested to see where the plot goes next.
Handyman Saitou in Another World — Crunchyroll —episodes 1–6 of 12, Sundays
Yet another isekai! But honestly this is another good one, and is perhaps my favourite new show of the season! Saitou is a Japanese handyman, who following an unfortunate encounter with everyone’s favourite anime serial killer, Truck-kun, finds himself transported to a generic D&D/medieval/fantasy world populated by dwarves, elves, wizards, knights etc. Saitou finds a place for himself as support guy/thief analogue for a party of adventurers, and discovers that his skills are appreciated far more in his new world than back home in Japan. Through helping his friends to survive in battles and while journeying through the Government-run Dungeon, Saitou finds the self-confidence and sense of worth he’d been lacking back in his original world.
Saituou’s first episode isn’t very indicative of the tone or quality of the show that follows. Although it initially appears to be nothing but a collection of scattershot D&D-themed sketch comedy vignettes featuring various characters without much linking them, by episode four the plot kicks into high gear, storylines converge, and episodes five and six are far more serialised and serious. The comedy varies from simple slapstick to more complex, nuanced and character-based, with a fairly wicked ribald undercurrent (case in point — that mushroom…) that pops up occasionally.
I’m intrigued to read the manga, and although an official English translation is forthcoming, it won’t arrive in print until the summer. Until then, I’ll satisfy myself with the rest of this season of very welcome fantasy comedy/drama.
Tomo-chan is a girl! — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–6 of 12, Wednesdays
The first episode or two of this high school romcom didn’t really sell me on what looked to be a fairly weak premise to hang an entire show on. Tomboyish teenage girl Tomo Aizawa is in love with her lifelong best friend Junichiro Kuboto, who unfortunately struggles to perceive the sporty, tall, physically aggressive Tomo as anything other than another guy. Tomo does tend to dress in very boyish fashion, and even though she wears a skirt, she always has gym shorts on beneath them. Additionally, her strong, boyish charms even tend to sway other girls rather than guys (though her blushes that accompany such events suggest that perhaps she wouldn’t be too averse to pursuing such relationships if she wasn’t as fixated on Jun…)
What really elevates Tomo-chan above the reams of other idendikit comedies is the weirdly eccentric supporting cast and the chaos formed by their sometimes deranged interactions. Tomo’s dour best friend Misuzu Gundou is darkly manipulative — a real machiavellian monster who enjoys “toying” with her favourite playthings Tomo and Jun — and jealously guards them from any outside interference. She reminds me a lot of Fruits Basket main character Tohru Honda’s similarly dark-haired and deadpan friend Saki Hanajima, except more evil.
Tomo’s newest friend Carol Olston is my favourite character. She’s apparently British (or at least of British descent — I’m not completely sure), is Very Blonde, appears to be a complete ditz, but is also a certified genius. She does such random, bizarre things, appears to be completely oblivious to the commonly-accepted rules of social interaction, yet is also completely adorable. I have no idea what goes on in her head, but I think that’s entirely the point. The scene where she sings Handel’s Tochter Zion, freuer dich (Daughter Zion, rejoice) while ceremoniously lifting a girlish hairband from Tomo’s head and placing it back on her own was a moment of inexplicable, bemusement-inducing hilarity. Why? Why did she do that? Why was it so funny? I have no idea. What’s also a nice touch is that Carol’s voice actor is the same in the English dub as in the Japanese version.
Tomo and Jun themselves are fun, but there’s only so much I can take of Jun’s apparent obliviousness and Tomo’s overreactions. Thankfully the wonderful supporting cast do their job in supporting the weaker aspects of the story. I’ll definitely keep watching.
Trigun Stampede — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–6 of ?, Saturdays
It’s sacrilege I know, but I really didn’t like the original 1998 animated version of desert planet-based space western Trigun. I’ve never been able to get past the first half of the show because its oppressively goofy humour and directionlessness really grate on me. I wonder if this is at least partly because it was based on a manga that at the time was barely more than a handful of volumes into its eventual 17-volume run. I hear later episodes get more serious and interesting, but I gave up and read the manga instead.
That original anime apparently tells a truncated version of the manga’s events, so presumably mangaka Yasuhiro Nightow must have told the production staff the general shape of the story he intended to tell. Unfortunately I found reading the manga to be hard work — Nightow’s ability to tell a complex, action-filled story is impaired by his inability to use decent panelling and logical layouts to clearly communicate events. Seriously, you have to squint at the action scene pages sideways to even find a clue as to what is meant to be happening.
So I come to this, the newest version of the story, with some trepidation. I can say without reservation, however, that so far, I have enjoyed this one the most. Studio Orange (Land of the Lustrous, Beastars) have done a fantastic job of translating this sacred text of the old style of pre-digital cel anime to the challenging (and often disappointing) arena of 3D CG anime. Prejudiced 2D anime purists will surely hate this, but that’s on them, they’re missing out. This show looks gorgeous, the action scenes incredible, and the music is wonderful (especially the end credits song — it gives me chills). My only criticism of the visuals comes down to the same criticism I have of almost all CG anime — the needlessly low framerate makes character movement look like trash. I don’t know why they insist on doing this and I want them to stop.
From a storytelling point of view, this is a remixed version — it’s mostly the same as the original but streamlined, re-ordered, and the overt sci-fi underpinnings are stamped hard and centre onto the foreground of the first episode. Details which took many episodes, or manga chapters, to be revealed originally are all out in plain view, and I like it. Protagonist Vash still tends to goof around a lot, there’s still an abundance of pratfalls and slapstick, but it’s clearer now that Vash isn’t a buffoon. He’s a deeply damaged survivor of abuse and trauma, who struggles through life with a flawed pacifist ideology.
Sometimes buddy/sometimes antagonist Wolfwood and his massive gun have been introduced much earlier, and this can only be a good thing. Main enemy Knives has also made his debut, and he’s particularly chilling. Sole female character Meryl Stryfe is no longer an insurance adjuster — she’s a journalist, which makes sense, though her friend Milly is nowhere to be seen. I don’t really care, I never liked Milly all that much anyway. Maybe she’ll turn up later. Anyway, I’m intrigued to see how the story will progress and what further changes they’ve made to the original.
Kaina of the Great Snow Sea — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–5 of 11, Wednesdays
Tsutomu Nihei (Knights of Sidonia, Biomega, Aposimz, Blame!) is one of my all time favourite manga creators. His works feature bizarre worlds filled with unimaginably huge objects, and always feature little people lost among them, struggling to survive impossible challenges in hostile environments. His work tends towards the melancholy, the obtuse, and the mysterious. Most recently his work has been animated by Polygon Pictures, a studio less well-regarded among anime fans than Trigun’s studio Orange. Polygon made both seasons of Knights of Sidonia, plus its concluding movie, along with a movie of Blame! that adapts and condenses only a tiny portion of the manga’s gargantuan narrative.
Kaina is not based on one of Nihei’s manga (though an adaptation of the story illustrated by another artist has been published in Japan), however he is credited with the story and the setting of this fascinating show. Think of it as Nihei’s take on Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Kaina is a teenage boy who lives on top of one of the enormous Orbital Spire Trees, he explores the membrane-like Canopy that stretches across the sky of the planet many miles below. Kaina’s world has been flooded by the Endless Snow Sea, and only the titanic Orbital Spire Trees rise above the perpetually rising tide. This sea is not made of water, but instead of some unspecified ultra-light liquid that cannot support a human body without special flotation technology.
Kaina’s tree is dying from lack of water, and the population is dwindling. (In the distance we witness one Orbital Spire Tree collapse and fall.) One day he meets Princess Ririha who rises through a hole in the canopy using a gas-filled floating creature. Together they descend the tree to the drowned world below, and become embroiled in a war between the last surviving peoples of the snow sea.
The parallels between Kaina and Nausicaa are obvious — both are set in ruined, fantastical versions of a future Earth, with weird biological creatures, strange plant life, aggressive monster insects and humanity on the brink of extinction. Kaina, like Nausicaa, is a pacifist, and they both journey through a land of wonders and dangers. Even though the character CG is several steps below that of Trigun’s (and yes, it’s also stupidly jerky), the backgrounds in this are just gorgeous. From a background artistic perspective, Kaina is without a doubt the most beautiful show this season. Every episode offers something new, something awe-inspiring. Also there is an armour-clad enemy lady with red hair and a helmet that makes it look like she has cat ears. That’s a winner in my book already.
Unfortunately, due to the ridiculous way that the anime industry is run (everything down to the wire, underpaid/overworked animators, over-reliance on outsourcing to pandemic-ravaged China), multiple shows have been delayed this season, many of them produced by Aniplex. With all of the money flooding into anime production from the West recently, you’d think they’d at least implement better work practices? Don’t be stupid. The only people profiting are several steps removed from the creative process — CEOs of big business and their shareholders. I don’t know what it will take to make the production of anime a fairer, more ethical, more functional business. Well I do, but it involves killing and eating all of the rich people, and we probably can’t get away with that. Yet.
NieR Automata Ver 1.1a — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–3 of ?, Saturdays
Mad bastard Yoko Taro’s 2017 PS4 (and now PC, Switch) game NieR Automata is one of my favourite ever games. I worry how such a singular experience, so tied to narrative structures possible only in a game, could translate to animation. A1 Pictures have taken up the cursed baton, and based on these first three episodes… yeah, it’s hard to tell right now.
Episode one is a 1:1 recreation of the game’s prologue, for better or for worse. Experienced players will find little that’s new, while newbies are likely to be slightly baffled. Episode two is tonally jarring but brilliant — a very Yoko Taro-like diversion and examination of beauty, futility, and despair. Episode three rejoins the plot but with allusions and inclusions from non-game supplemental sources (such as the stage plays, novels…) and earlier appearances of supporting characters than expected. It’s good, but… who is this for? From these three episodes I can’t see it grabbing non-fans. It looks good enough I suppose, but some of the CG models are lifted straight from the original PS4 games, so it doesn’t always look that great. The character animation is mostly fine so far, but we’ve barely had a chance to get to know the main characters yet. At least the next episode is confirmed for February 18th. Let’s hope there aren’t any more delays.
Ayakashi Triangle — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–4 of 12, Mondays — DELAYED
A guilty pleasure. I read the manga for this after being harassed to do so by fellow AniTAY writer TheMamaLuigi. He’s a degenerate, and I should have realised. A very horny comedy/action show filled with typical shonen tropes about fighting and friendship, it’s nonetheless a lot of fun. The manga is full of bosoms. Heaving bosoms. And underpants with lovingly detailed camel toe. And thighs. So this story gets to have its cake and eat it by having a male protagonist who is transformed into a hot, voluptuous girl. His hot, voluptuous love interest really doesn’t seem to mind much either…
So, anyway, this is pretty trashy, but it looks great, I find it funny, I love the demonic cat Shirogane, and the censorship is hilarious. Every time a boob or butt appears, Shirogane’s screaming face floats in front of the offending anatomy. I suppose this infuriates people looking for quick titillation, but if you want that go watch hentai. This is a fun shonen action show that’s just a bit hornier than the rest. As long as you don’t expect anything more from it, it’s a perfectly agreeable way to spend 24 minutes a week (probably not in the same room as your disapproving 17-year-old daughter though, as I have found to my detriment.) Who knows when the hell episode 5 is going to turn up anyway?
Started watching but not caught up:
Due to work pressures, there’s a few show’s I’ve started watching but haven’t had time to watch more than an episode or two.
Campfire Cooking in Another World With My Absurd Skill — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–2 of 12, Tuesdays
It’s another one of those slice of life isekai things where some random guy is transported to another world and is granted a seemingly useless skill which turns out to be impossibly broken when utilised with just a little intelligence and creativity. Turns out that “Magic Amazon Grocery” is a pretty decent skill, especially when you combine it with a handy JRPG-style Unlimited Item Box. It’s animated by MAPPA who are going all-in on mouthwatering depictions of freshly-seared, juicy MEAT, so if you want to watch an anime that makes you feel hungry, you could do worse. There’s also a fun overgrown wolf-deity thing. I’ll watch more.
Buddy Daddies — Crunchyroll — episode 1 of 13, Fridays
So… Spy x Family but more murdery, less wholesome and less funny? That was the impression I got from the first episode, which was fine I guess. But there’s no Yor Forger equivalent in this one, as the unrelated parental figures are both guys. Booo! Maybe I’ll watch more of this later, but I’m not that enthused.
Revenger — Crunchyroll — episode 1 of 12, Thursdays
Gen Urobuchi is something of a Marmite screenwriter — either you love him or hate him. I loved Madoka Magica, Psycho-pass and Fate/Zero, so I guess I’m in the first group. I sort-of-watched the first episode of this while over-tired after work and I fell asleep. That may not be an indictment of the content. I’ll try to find time to go back to watch it but this looks Very Serious and Tragic, so I’ll need to get into the right mood.
As if I wasn’t watching enough already, I hear the following shows are all pretty interesting in their own way. Unless I hear people clamouring for me to cover them, I’m not sure if I’ll make time for them, though: Chillin’ in my 30s After Getting Fired from the Demon King’s Army, Sugar Apple Fairy Tale, Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, and The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten!
Oh hell no:
Conversely, nothing on God’s Green Earth will get me to watch any of these three: My Life as Inukai-san’s Dog, Junji Ito Maniac: Japanese Tales of the Macabre, Onimai: I’m Now Your Sister! One is basically porn but viewed from a dog’s-eye-perspective. Ewww. The second is an abomination that never should have been given form. Why award a second season to the monsters that ruined one of my favourite mangaka’s work? The first season of the Junji Ito Collection was bad enough — why change its name, and put it on Netflix, but keep the same terrible production decisions? UGH. And that last one — I’m not averse to genderbending comedy (hence the inclusion of Ayakashi Triangle above), but this show aggressively sexualises young children. NO.
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back later in the week to talk about the various ongoing shows and sequels I’m currently watching (there’s a lot).
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