Doctorkev’s Thoughts on the Winter 2023 Anime Season: Sequels and Ongoing Shows
After I covered this season’s new shows earlier in the week, it’s now the turn of the multitudes of sequels and ongoing shows to get the spotlight. There’s a few big ones, but we’ll start with one of the biggest:
Vinland Saga Season 2 — Crunchyroll, Netflix — episodes 1–6, Mondays
It’s finally back! 2019’s first season of Vinland Saga was initially trapped (outside Japan) on Amazon’s Prime Video platform, where anime was sent to die via corporate ignorance. Thankfully its quality was obvious enough that it found an audience, and is now more widely available to view on both Netflix and Crunchyroll, and to buy on blu-ray from Sentai (US) and MVM (UK), just in time for this second season. Go read AniTAY’s collective review of the first season here:
Vinland Saga: The AniTAY Review
A re-publication from 2020 highlighting the profoundly emotional journey of Thorfinn in Vinland Saga, prior to the…
Although the first season was produced by the Production I.G-associated Wit Studio, responsibility for this second season has passed to MAPPA, themselves not unfamiliar with sequelising previous Wit properties (Attack on Titan). Thankfully, significant members of the production staff (director Shuhei Yabuta and character designer Takahiko Abiru) have moved studios to ensure consistency in vision and quality.
Vinland Saga’s source manga is still running, currently at 27 volumes. Season one adapted up to volume 8’s chapter 54, provocatively titled “End of the Prologue”, so there’s little chance that this second 24-episode season will catch up to the manga, but will likely cover the entirety of the second story arc (of a projected four). At the end of the first season, protagonist Thorfinn’s life was completely upended by the larger political events surrounding him, involving Magnificent Bastard Askeladd, King Sweyn of Denmark (and England) and the effeminate Prince Canute (who gives me serious Griffith from Berserk vibes).
Season two is set some time following this upheaval, with Thorfinn somehow now a slave working a farm somewhere in Jutland, Denmark. He becomes friends with fellow slave Einar who survived the destruction of his village and murder of the rest of his family by vikings. Unlike some anime *cough* Rising of the Shield Hero *cough*, Vinland Saga treats the subject of slavery with historically accurate respect, never glamorising or excusing it. Slavery dehumanises everyone involved, with the slaves themselves treated as little more than livestock, while the “free” men who enable the enslavement of their fellows are depicted as flawed people with impaired morals. Even “decent” farm owner Ketil is shown to hoard wealth, and the men under his authority abuse the slaves under his watch. No-one comes out of this looking good.
Vinland Saga has never been a comfortable watch, as it refuses to turn a blind eye to the suffering that was the default for normal human life in the European Middle Ages. Thankfully it never glamourises such suffering, but instead invokes feelings of deep empathy even for characters who may act despicably at times. Thorfinn is a severely emotionally damaged young man who has committed acts of hateful atrocity in his tortured past, yet we still root for him to somehow find peace. Deuteragonist Einar is an excellent audience viewpoint character — an everyman who has suffered painful loss, humiliation and frustration. Watching these two guys bounce off one another while enduring back-breaking work to buy their freedom is very compelling, and at times heartbreaking. Only watch Vinland Saga if you’re willing to Feel Things.
The Eminence in Shadow — HIDIVE — episodes 14–20 of 20, Wednesdays
Oh thank God it’s over. I’m not sure why I endured to the end of this infuriating story, perhaps I was waiting for it to make sense to me? It never did. The never-ending nudge-nudge-wink-wink knowing humour never clicked with me, and I couldn’t stand the main character. I hated the gimmick that he was a deluded idiot whose fantasy role-playing all turned out to be real but he didn’t know it. He showed zero character growth, most of the other characters were one-joke cardboard cutouts, and I couldn’t feel empathy for anyone as they were all so dumb. Also there were too many female side-characters — I struggled to remember who everyone was, which didn’t help me to care what happened to them.
Occasionally the instances of more absurd humour did hit, some of the ridiculous names are amusing in an extremely juvenile way (Perv Asshat? Seriously?) and of course the show always looked very attractive, but the story itself was meandering, unfocused, the characters irritating… There’s not a chance in hell I’d ever subject myself to a second season of this. It’s just not my thing.
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon? Season 4 Part 2 — HIDIVE — episodes 12–17 of 22, Thursdays
The Show Otherwise Known as Danmachi continues to be a fun time. Never my first choice to watch, but also never the last, it’s very solid fantasy action with a variety of fun characters that I care about. This season has been laser-focused on a single storyline — protagonist Bell Cranel and friends go on an expedition to the deeper floors of the city of Orario’s enormous Dungeon, and everything goes horribly wrong. Such focus is very helpful to someone like me who found previous seasons’ enormous casts difficult to handle. This time there are only a handful of characters, I know their names, roles, and personalities, and watching them come together against overwhelming odds is a satisfying experience. There’s a real sense of danger, that these are not overpowered fantasy self-inserts, and that definitely adds to the drama. I’m tempted to go read the original books, but there are so many of them…
Urusei Yatsura Season 2 — HIDIVE — episodes 12–17 of 23, Thursdays
I continue to love this new version of the beloved Rumiko Takahashi anime, originally animated in the early 1980s but now updated with extra shininess while keeping the period setting. We’ve long since got to the point where the stories adapted are far past where Viz Comics originally translated the manga (during the original aborted run in the 1990s) and past the meagre few anime volumes released on VHS tape in the UK. So this is all new to me, and it’s great.
I was worried when they introduced Lum’s obnoxious toddler cousin Ten, one of my least favourite parts of the original anime and manga, but thankfully he’s been relegated to appearances in only a couple of episodes. The cast has expanded to the point that every episode is very different and it’s not so reliant on Lum and Ataru’s weird relationship to provide all the humour. Takahashi has always been adept at creating bizarre characters and situations, and this adaptation perfectly distills that craziness into a delightfully fun multicoloured confection. I’m so glad that there are several more cours of this to go.
My Hero Academia Season 6 (dub) — Crunchyroll — up to episode 129, Saturdays
Due to delays caused by inclement weather in Texas, where Crunchyroll dubs its anime (perhaps a light rain shower or something?), the English dub for MHA is now three episodes behind the sub. Sometimes I wish my son would tolerate reading subtitles but he won’t… Anyway this has been a fantastic season so far, and we’re now into the aftermath of the distastrous war between villains and heroes that has left society’s trust in heroes shattered. Many characters are injured/maimed/unconscious/psychologically-broken husks, and it seems likely that things will get a lot worse before they get better.
Long-running shonen stories like MHA are always at their best when they go dark like this. Superhero high school was fun and all, but now the characters are faced with a crumbling society and adult heroes who have completely failed to protect others against the villains. This is a far more compelling setup, and should provide plenty of opportunity for further character development and shocking plot convulsions. I am very much here for it — this is the best that MHA has been since the second or third seasons. I know the manga is ongoing, but author Kohei Horikoshi stated a while back the story was already into its final arc. I can only imagine there will be enough material for perhaps one, at most two, seasons after this. As much as I love MHA, I hope it continues as strongly until its definitive ending sooner rather than later, as opposed to running out of steam and limping on past its best like some other shonen properties I could mention.
Welcome to Demon School Iruma-kun Season 3 — Crunchyroll — episodes 13–18 of 21, Saturdays
Talking about shonen shows limping on past their best, this latest season of Iruma-kun has been a real drag. Though we’ve finally come to the end of the hopelessly bloated Harvest Festival, it’s been exhausting and tiresome to finally get there. At least the arc’s conclusion was pretty good, but I wish they’d covered the storyline in half the episodes. With three episodes remaining until the end of the season, there’s still some loose ends left to tie up, but I can’t imagine there will be room to progress the overall storyline much until next season.
Even though I’ve been pretty down on the most recent arc, Iruma-kun in general is still a fun, goofy time, filled with adorable characters and demented action. It’s clearly made on the cheap so doesn’t look amazing, but the limited animation does the job fine enough. This season has been criminally lacking in interactions between the central trio of Iruma, Asmodeus and Clara, not to mention the sidelining of Best Girl Ameri Azazel. Hopefully next season (if we get one) the show will get its groove back. I’m not at the stage of dropping it yet, but if there’s another extended fetch-quest arc like this, then my patience will wear thin.
Don’t Toy With Me, Miss Nagatoro Season 2 — Crunchyroll — episodes 1–7 of 12, Saturdays
It doesn’t feel like it, but believe it or not it was almost two years ago that the demonic/delightful Hayase Nagatoro-san first graced our television screens. Anyone who managed to endure past the cruelty-laced humour of the first couple of episodes will understand how this has become one of the most wholesome anime romcoms of all time. This second season only deepens the relationship between perpertually-grinning Nagatoro and her beloved “Senpai”.
Basically all of the supporting characters are now fully on board with pushing Nagatoro and her Senpai together, and even Senpai himself is coming to accept his romantic feelings for her. It’s a slow burn romance between two characters who struggle to be honest with themselves and others about their feelings, but there’s progression! Senpai takes Nagatoro out on dates! Nagatoro jokes about being his wife! She carries him when he injures his ankle! It’s all so sweet!
Nagatoro’s teasing no longer comes across as bullying, but as ways to encourage Senpai to come out of his shell. She’s fiercely protective of him when others try to bully him, and he’s also quick to defend her too. The supporting cast all have their own funny foibles, I especially like the exhibitionist Art Club President. I love this show so much. Just… don’t make the mistake of reading the original doujins like I did. Ouch…
Tokyo Revengers Christmas Showdown — Disney+/Hulu — episodes 1–6 of 13, Saturdays
Also returning following a 2021 first season is this high-stakes time travel/juvenile delinquent/organised crime drama. Bizarrely, the second season is now on Disney Plus (Hulu in the US), while the original remains on Crunchyroll. This is likely a result of the deal struck between Disney and Kodansha, where titles based on the Japanese company’s manga will appear worldwide on Disney’s streaming services. Disney’s anime streaming selection so far has been… baffling to say the least. Unlike with their criminally mishandled treatment of Summer Time Rendering, Tokyo Revengers is simulcasted. Does this mean Disney have finally got their act together for anime? We’ll see.
Picking straight up from season one’s brutal cliffhanger ending, Tokyo Revengers season two continues on as if there’s never been a break. Protagonist Takemichi remains as clueless and dumb as before, making strings of poor decisions. He would not be the first person I’d choose to send back in time to change the future. Honestly, there are times that I scream at the screen “Takemichi, NO!” I’m not sure if that’s due to the quality of the writing, or otherwise… At least it was satisfying when his girlfriend Hinata Tachibana beat the living shit out of him in a recent episode when he made a mind-numbingly stupid decision.
Takemichi is surrounded by a colourful cast of delinquent misfits, all look far older than their supposed ages (14–16, ridiculously), some of whom look like they wandered off the set of Fist of the North Star. One of these man-mountains, Taiju Shiba, is a truly boo-hiss-worthy villain who prays out loud to God while beating the crap out of his siblings in church.
My main issue is with the pacing — it’s not yet as bad as the back half of season one, but the dialogue has a terrible habit of repeatedly over-explaining the plot, and Takemichi himself is so slow on the uptake that the viewer is so far ahead of him in every scene that it’s frustrating. In terms of visuals, it’s fairly solid — not spectactular, and Disney’s manji symbol censorship isn’t as intrusive as Crunchyroll’s. Either that or the studio has become better at framing shots or making the offending symbol (that looks like a mirror-image nazi swastika to those not au fait with Buddhist symbolism) less prominent.
It’s a shame there’s only 13 episodes to this season — the first had 24. Perhaps this is because the next manga arc is longer so needs a more substantial third season? The manga is so popular, surely a third season is an inevitability at this stage?
To Your Eternity Season 2 — Crunchyroll — episodes 11–16 of 20, Sundays
I’ve really enjoyed the past few episodes of this fantasy story about Fushi, an immortal being who is able to shapeshift into copies of the bodies of his deceased friends. Fushi is almost singlehandedly waging war against his enemies — the fleshy, tentacly “Nokkers” — having demolished and recreated an entire city as an extension of his body.
Despite the production’s shortcuts (and animation shortcomings) this is a thrilling story with multiple twists and existential crises in equal measure. Fushi is discovering new, unforeseen but logical consequences of using his powers and I’ve honestly little idea where the story is going next. I suspect this adaptation will take us to manga volume twelve, but there’s a further seven after that, and the story is ongoing. I hope this gets a third season.
Mobile Suit Gundam The Witch From Mercury Part 1 — Crunchyroll — episode 12 of 12
Although Witch From Mercury was an Autumn 2022 show, the final episode was delayed until January. And what a final episode! I already enjoyed this much more than I expected (my only other exposure to Gundam was in the poorly-written Gundam Wing when it showed on Toonami in the UK over 20 years ago), but episode twelve was action-packed with some brutal twists and turns (will poor Guel Jeturk ever get a break?), and an amazing final scene that gained hundreds of complaints from Japanese parents. Yeah, turns out Witch From Mercury broadcasts on Japanese TV at 5pm in the afternoon. Imagine watching with a small child that scene where that unfortunate bloke gets splatted like a tomato, and smilingly oblivious Suletta extends a bloodied hand to blood-splattered and horrified Miorine. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. Only in Japan! I cannot wait until the second part of the story in April.
Obligatory Summer Time Rendering rant:
Summer Time Rendering (dub) — Disney Plus/Hulu — episodes 1–10 of 25
So Disney finally dumped out last year’s best anime show, unceremoniously, some might say secretly, onto Disney+/Hulu in January, all 25 episodes. What the hell? This is a show that was made to be watched week-to-week for all those beautifully painful cliffhangers. Why even bother to dub every single episode and then not tell anyone about it? UGH. Anyway, I’m glad this amazing horror/action/suspense show is finally available for everyone to watch legally.
Disney+ and the Summertime Rendering Problem
I’ve heard disturbing rumours about the way Disney+ handles its Asian media acquisitions, mainly from my sweaty…
Although I’ve already watched the whole thing via… uh… “non-standard” means, I’m rewatching it dubbed with a non-anime-fan friend. The dub… has issues. Generally, the main characters are fine. My favourite character, blonde swimsuit-wearing girl Ushio sounds exactly as I would expect — upbeat, energetic and kind of dumb but very loveable. Main character Junpei is… ok. Is it just me or does his voice actor sound a bit lispy at times? It’s kind of distracting. The very worst performance, however, is action woman Hizuru Minakata. I get that she’s meant to be super-serious and unemotional, but she’s voiced by someone who sounds like they’re reading entries out of a phone book. She sounds terminally bored, rather than tense like a coiled spring ready to unload. Oh well, it’s not so bad that I won’t continue watching the dub.
If you’re not watching Summer Time Rendering, please go and do so. I’m not going to shut up about this.
Not got around to watching yet:
Finally, as I have a life outside of anime, there are a few things that I feel I should probably get around to at some poin. Bofuri season one was a surprisingly entertaining piece of fluff that I put off watching until after it had fully broadcast. Now with Bofuri Season 2 I don’t feel it’s particularly high priority for me to watch, but now that I’ve discovered episode seven has been delayed until March, I might find the time for it. I feel almost obligated to give In/Spectre Season 2 a chance, but I found the majority of the first season to be so insufferably boring that I can’t find the energy for it right now. This is a shame because I thought the world and premise of the show was interesting. Onto the Backlog of Shame it goes. Bungo Stray Dogs Season 4 sounds like a show I’d almost certainly enjoy, but then I’d need to find time to watch the first three seasons. When’s that going to happen?
Thanks for reading to the end of my assessment of the Winter 2023 anime season. I’ll be back at the end of March/beginning of April to offer opinions on the completed seasonal anime… if there are any. So many things seem to be getting delayed, I wonder if there will be anything left to watch next month…
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