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Doctorkev’s Winter 2022 Anime Postmortem

Pecorine loves anime almost as much as she loves food.

Thus endeth the lightest anime season since the pandemic-inflicted days of 2020. Not that we’re currently pandemic-free, but the anime industry at least seems to have adapted, especially considering how stacked the upcoming Spring 2022 season looks. Winter 2022 has been a top-heavy season, with a handful of truly spectacular, high quality anime floating atop a pond filled with sludge.

Netflix spewed out The Orbital Children in one go, as Netflix is wont to do, and it was excellent. Season 2 of Demon Slayer concluded halfway through Winter with the euphemistically-accurate-I-guess Entertainment District Arc and some incredible, industry-redefining action in its penultimate episode. I covered it in my halfway Winter 2022 article.

In order to prioritise watching some older anime that I actually enjoyed (hence my recent flurry of movie reviews), I dropped the tedious Slow Loop, the boring and derivative Tribe Nine, and the terminally dull The Genius Prince’s Guide to Raising a Nation Out of Debt. Anime should not be boring. If your anime is boring, you’re doing something wrong, and I won’t waste my time with it any more. I’m so glad I dropped Platinum End part-way through its first cour, as I what I’ve read about the ending confirms it was a pointless and empty show that would have made me feel murderous rage had I experienced it firsthand.

I started the season a little deflated at how few interesting-looking anime there were, however was pleasingly surprised by the high quality of several shows that I stuck with to the end. Let’s start with the anime that was merely “okay” and work upwards.

Ryo remains one-track-minded and serious, much like his videogame incarnation.

Shenmue the Animation: Crunchyroll: Episodes 1–8 of 13 (Sundays)

Surprisingly not terrible, Shenmue is a pretty decent stab at condensing and adapting the rambling story of the games. It manages to cover the entirety of the first (Sega Dreamcast) game’s plot within the first five episodes, without making the viewer feel that anything of import is missing. There are decently-choreographed fights (a relief considering the game’s close relationship to the Virtua Fighter series), the promised forklift trucks, and Ryo even goes looking for sailors, or at least people connected with Chinese smuggling rings. Ryo also remains charmingly, unbelievably dense when it comes to women. Its 1980s setting is served well by its oddly old-fashioned, brown and grey, earthy aesthetic. Shenmue the Animation wouldn’t look out of place on VHS.

Due to its delayed start, the final five episodes will continue into Spring 2022, so we’ve yet to see if any of the recent (and generally poorly-received) Shenmue III game’s plot will be covered, or if that’s being held back for a second season. Yu Suzuki’s original plan was for Shenmue’s plot to be told in a total of sixteen chapters, latterly reduced to eleven chapters, apparently requiring four or fives games to finish the story. The original Shenmue covers chapter 1, a manga that came with the Xbox version of Shenmue II covers chapter 2, Shenmue II itself covers chapters 3 to 5, and as I haven’t played it and can’t find any concrete answers online, I’m unsure how many chapters Shenmue III covers. Creator Yu Suzuki himself says that by the end of Shenmue III, only 40% of Ryo’s story has been told.

I can’t see Suzuki completing his story via games at this rate, I wonder if he’ll settle for anime instead? At the rate of adaptation, he’ll probably need four, maybe even five seasons total… I’m not sure I’m invested enough to even finish watching this season, let alone multiple. In a busier anime season, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered with this at all.

Vanitas cackles evilly, despite his apparent role as protagonist.

The Case Study of Vanitas Part 2: Funimation/Crunchyroll: 12 episodes

I’d really like to enjoy Vanitas more than I do, but half the time I’ve no bloody idea what is even happening or why. It feels to me like an ungodly mashup of the weirdness and comedic tone of Fire Force with the interpersonal relationships of Moriarty the Patriot and the overwrought worldbuilding of an Anne Rice novel. It always looks great, but the goofy humour at times seems misplaced and prevents me from taking the story at all seriously.

Each time I start an episode, I think “I’m going to try really hard to pay attention to understand what in hell’s name is happening this time”, unfortunately my attention wanders, and by the end of each 24-minute chunk of confusion, if you asked me to summarise the plot, all I’d be able to offer would be a resigned shrug.

At least the larger-than-life characters are fun. Vanitas himself remains annoying, but at least the last few episodes flesh out his backstory and offer some kind of explanation for his horrible personality. I don’t understand how Best Girl Jeanne tolerates him, but she is by far my favourite character. I’m not sure I’ll bother with any further seasons, should they be announced, I feel I’d need to go back and watch all 24 episodes of this first season, and I don’t think it will be worth it.

Bisco and Milo: Mushroom Bros.

Sabikui (Rust-eater) Bisco: Crunchyroll: 12 Episodes

So many of my fellow AniTAY colleagues adore this show. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s… okay. Look, at times it’s really entertaining, at other times it’s like Vanitas in that I haven’t a bloody clue what’s going on, and then it struggles to keep my attention to the end of each episode. On several occasions I’ve drifted off to sleep while watching. That is never a good sign, because good anime always keeps my attention. This started the season in my top 5 shows, but I’ve lost interest.

Bisco runs almost entirely on the “rule of cool”. Stuff happens because it looks striking, or is eye-catchingly strange, and for the most part, that works in its favour. Its grungy, 90s-style anime aesthetic looks like almost nothing else in the modern industry, and that helps it stand apart. Style isn’t enough for me though, and I’m just not sold on the main character, red-haired mushroom-keeper Bisco, nor his relationship with the blue-haired Milo. The introduction of a romantic aspect to their friendship towards the end was utterly lost on me, it just seemed so out of place. I get that they’re two good friends who’ve helped each other through tough times, but I just don’t see them that way.

Main antagonist Kurokawa is kind of fun in a laconic yet vicious way, though his later actions make him such a stereotypical cackling bad guy that he’s hard for me to accept as anything other than a product of juvenile writing. I love Milo’s sister Pawoo though, she gives me real Fruits Basket Edgy Horse Girl vibes, and that is Very Much A Good Thing. Overall, I wish I liked this more than I did, but for all the deranged spectacle, I found the story lacking and multiple episodes dull.

Gotta love the creative use of fairy censorship.

In the Land of Leadale: Crunchyroll: 12 episodes

There’s negligible chance I would have bothered with this fairly generic isekai fantasy in a busier season. It was vaguely entertaining enough that I finished watching it, but apart from the very cute little floating fairy that inexplicably mimics the main character’s body language and facial expressions, there will be very little of this show that will remain in my memory past season’s end.

Apart from an interesting setup (terminally ill woman who spent her entire waking life in a MMORPG is — shock — reincarnated into the game as her player character upon her death) that unfortunately leads nowhere interesting conceptually, there isn’t a whole lot to distinguish Leadale from the torrents of identical isekai sludge spewed forth from the Japanese Light Novel effluent pipes.

Protagonist Cayna’s relationships with her in-game adult children are weird, one-note and unnatural, her behaviour towards them threatening, childish, emotionally immature and difficult to empathise with. A late-stage decision to adopt an orphaned child lacks any kind of emotional meaning, her trauma is brushed under the carpet, and any character development is essentially nonexistent. I don’t think the author had any particular plan here, other than making up a vague story as they went along, incorporating whatever random fantasy/MMORPG elements that floated close enough to tickle their under-utilised brain cells. Mediocre, but inoffensively so.

The surprisingly civic minded Evil Executive Megistus.

Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department: Crunchyroll: 12 Episodes

After an initial couple of “meh” episodes, Miss Kuroitsu gradually grew on me as the season progressed. A workplace comedy set in an evil corporation that aims to conquer the world via producing monsters to battle super sentai-style costumed superheroes, it is at times extremely funny and relatable. Far from a generic “everyman” main character, Kuroitsu herself is at times gleefully bonkers in her single-minded determination to build/grow better monsters, despite the usual coporate politics and red tape that bog down any kind of creative industrial work.

Although it’s a show targeted at fans of live-action Japanese rubber-suited superhero shows (of which I am definitely not a fan, I can’t take Power Rangers-esque stuff at all seriously), even if I don’t get most of the frequent in-jokes, the comedy is still broad and strong enough to make me laugh. It’s an absurd premise for a show, but it’s played seriously, the characters believe in what they are doing, and this only helps the situational humour to land successfully. Shout out to terrifying-looking, but surprisingly caring and conscientious chief of staff Megistus as overall Best Boss.

I particularly like how each of the monster characters turn out almost nothing like their original designs due to executive meddling or budget cuts. Poor Wolf-boy is given a girl body at the last minute because CEO and flightly young girl Akashic wants a “cute” monster. Enormous rail-gun mech Cannon is downgraded into a massive comedy chicken with an eye-visor. Venom-spewing hydra is downgraded from having eight serpent heads to four, and the venom ability is withdrawn. And Valentine-themed chocolate monster Melty can’t be deployed because she has metal foreign objects embedded in her milky chocolate body, falling foul of food safety laws… It’s all so silly, but funny. I’d watch another season of this.

Aww, what a cute ickle monster.

Life With an Ordinary Guy Who Reincarnated Into a Total Fantasy Knockout: Crunchyroll: 12 Episodes

I was all set to hate this show, yet another isekai, but it kept making me laugh. I get that there are some concerns about the initial setup where a terrible goddess (think Konosuba’s Aqua, but less reliable and more vindictive) forces a sex change on an adult man, transports him to a fantasy world along with his (un-sex-changed) male best friend, where they then spend twelve episodes in a state of gay panic, avoiding their obvious feelings for one another. This situation is so divorced from anything in real life I think it’s silly to find it offensive. Unless there really are magic love goddesses out there who provide 100% effective biological sex reassignments, in which case I stand corrected. I mean, in one episode, the now female co-protagonist Tachibana fears that if her relationship with best friend Jinguuji proceeds towards romance, she’ll end up getting pregnant with his kid. Even with the very best real-life medical advances, that could never happen outside of bonkers fantasy-land.

And bonkers fantasy-land is firmly where Fantasy Knockout stays, with cute bear monsters whose faces open demogorgon-style into red, fleshy nightmare-fuelling visages of death, an enormous cutesy mech modelled on said bear monster, a human-sacrifice-munching squid-god who ends up roasted and eaten by the village it terrorised, a vain elf girl who is upset that she wasn’t considered beautiful enough to be the human sacrifice, and a pink-haired princess whose teenage rebellion leads to all-out civil war.

Of course, this being lowbrow anime comedy, don’t expect much in the way of actual relationship progression between the lead characters, but the final episode does manage to impress with a touching moment of tender honesty between the repressed Jinguuji and the exasperated Tachibana that almost makes the entire show seem worthwhile. Fantasy Knockout may not be for everyone, I didn’t for a second think it was for me, but after watching it all, I don’t regret my time with it. Also the ending theme and its accompanying visuals are hilarious.

Even for anime, these girls’ faces look wrong, right?

Akebi’s Sailor Uniform: Crunchyroll: 12 episodes

Another surprise, following the extremely uncomfortable framing of the featured young girls’ bodies in the first episode, I’m happy to report that Akebi’s Sailor Uniform becomes a delightful, beautful and emotional show that soars far higher than I expected it ever would. Although the uncomfortable, fetishistic focus on twelve-year-old girls’ feet and thighs never quite disappears, it becomes less nausea-inducing as the show progresses. It may still be enough to put some viewers off, however, and that is entirely understandable.

Despite being a show about adolescent female friendships, the source manga runs in a seinen magazine, which means the target audience for this is adult men. Men, who like myself, may have adolescent daughters themselves. My daughter watched a little of this with me, and she was creeped the hell out, so I don’t think you can say that negative reactions to this are purely in the eye of the beholder, as some of the show’s defenders may claim. I’m pretty sure my teenage daughter isn’t a pervert who sees sexualisation of girls wherever she looks, and I’m willing to take her initial, visceral reaction at face value. The show is creepy at times, but my overall impression of it is positive.

Komichi Akebi is such a delightful, friendly girl, a veritable ray of sunshine that spreads happiness and light wherever she goes. Although she shares many of the same anxieties and hangups as other girls her age, her positive disposition helps her to succeed in making friends, inspiring others to do their best, and to excel at the tasks she sets herself. Watching her story is relaxing and comfortable, like curling up with a soft pillow and a warm blanket on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Probably the most aesthetically pleasing show of the season, its pastoral beauty and gorgeous music really elevates what could have been just another cookie-cutter slice of life show into something very special. If only the character designs didn’t make every girl look like they have one too many chromosomes.

Chomp chomp chomp

Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2: Crunchyroll/Funimation: 12 Episodes

Okay, now we are into the small handful of top-tier shows that elevated this season higher than they had any right to, considering the poor competition. Attack on Titan continues to be violently intense, thematically challenging and conceptually bonkers, with exhilarating action and compelling moral quandaries. MAPPA continue to hit it out of the park with this adaptation, and with the conclusion of this part of the increasingly hilariously misnamed “final season”, there are still nine chapters of the manga left unadapted. At AoT’s average adaptation rate, that’s anywhere between another six to nine episodes, or even one or two movies. At the time of writing, MAPPA haven’t yet announced their plans.

So far, I’ve remained unspoiled on the concluding events of the manga, and I hope to stay that way. I have absolutely no idea what’s coming next. Multiple cast members have already died horrible deaths, some at the hands of their former friends. Friends have become enemies and vice versa, and the endgame seems to have created strange bedfellows amongst the final cast groupings. I’m still unsure as to the ultimate ideology behind AoT’s story, but it’s clear to me that this is not fascist apologetics, as some unhinged internet commentators seem to argue. If anything, it’s an anti-war, anti-fascist polemic that features a complicated fictional war setting as messy and as contradictory as anything in the real world. Characters are forced to re-evaluate their beliefs and worldviews, to join up with former enemies to fight for the greater good. I wondered where AoT could possibly go at the end of season 3 when WIT Studio passed on adapting future chapters, but my anxieties were unfounded. Attack on Titan’s final season (part 2) has been just as good, if not better, than some of the first three seasons.

Kokkoro finds another opportunity for her adorable “x-face”.

Princess Connect Re:Dive Season 2: Crunchyroll: 12 episodes

Wow. What an improvement on the first season. Princess Connect is another show funded by Cygames’ bottomless well of gacha-addict-drained cash. Thankfully, unlike the second season of Rage of Bahamut, Princess Connect doesn’t shit the bed at the end. Far from it, almost the entire season is a stunning showcase of bravura sakuga animation, incredible attention to detail, tearful emotional payoffs and significant plot development.

Perhaps my overwhelmingly positive response to this season compared to the first is that in the interim I’ve played the (very enjoyable) gacha game and become more attached to these characters. I’ve some familiarity with the complicated underlying plot that isn’t explained all that well in the anime. That plot isn’t the same as the game’s, but they share the most important central premises, and it seems the anime plot is essentially a streamlined alternate timeline to the game. Almost every character from the gacha’s massive cast gets at least a few scenes to shine, and it’s testament to the excellent design that it’s easy to tell everyone apart, even if it’s impossible to remember everyone’s names and powers.

It’s the central quartet who are most important though: hapless amnesiac Yuuki who gradually remembers his previous sacrifices (traumatic though it is for him) and rises back to formidable hero status; loyal, caring Kokkoro who doesn’t get a whole lot to do other than act as Yuuki’s support; conflicted cat-girl Karyl, forced to choose between her best friend, the one who wholeheartedly accepts her for who she is, and Kaiser Insight, the corrupt antagonist who has usurped the throne yet seems like family to Karyl; and finally Pecorine, the lost princess, fearless warrior and incredible glutton who will do anything to protect her (stolen) kingdom and irreplaceable friends. These are all wonderful, fully realised characters that we want to spend time with, we want to see them succeed. I cannot enthuse enough at how well Princess Connect transcends its origins as a “mere” gacha adaptation to become a stunningly successful anime on its own merits.

Marin’s blush radiates the energy of a thousand suns, annihilating everything in her wake.

My Dress-up Darling: Crunchyroll/Funimation: 12 Episodes

I loved this show, a very horny teenage romantic comedy about a socially awkward boy and a cosplay-obsessed “gyaru” girl, from beginning to end. I then shared the first two episodes with my wife, an avid cosplayer, and she crushed me by hating it. Not just disliking it. She hated it, and complained to my kids the next day that I’d made her watch a weird, perverted show. I was crushed. Anyway, episode two was a bit much, but it rarely becomes as creepy and horny again. Except for the later introduction of a naked secondary character that occurs in a bathroom. That is also supremely uncomfortable and makes me think again about encouraging my wife to give the show a second chance. I really don’t want my wife thinking I’ve become some kind of pervert.

Anyway, despite the frequent close-ups on exhibitionist Marin’s young, supple, moist female skin and her perfect, shiny curves and ample bosom (ok, I’ll stop now before I creep myself out any further), this is such a sweet and wholesome show about a slow-burning romance between two utter dorks and their shared obsessions. Both get so into their respective roles around making and wearing costumes that they’re too distracted to notice the compromising positions they get themselves into… until it’s too late. (See the love hotel episode for an incredibly funny — and hilariously horny — example of this.) It’s amusing how main characters Gojo and Marin’s main default states are either extreme, focused concentration or radiant, blushing acute embarrassment. They’re so utterly adorable. I need there to be a season two of this immediately.

Go Bojji!

Ranking of Kings: Funimation/Crunchyroll: 23 Episodes

I’m delighted to confirm that my top show of 2021 sticks the landing for the conclusion of its second cour in 2022. Prince Bojji is Best Boy of both 2021 and 2022, and I am willing to die on this hill for him. His little shadow friend Kage is coming up a close second, and socially awkward but deeply loving Queen Hiling is Best Mum. She’s an inspiration to adoptive/foster/step parents everywhere and I love her so much.

Maintaining a hopeful, positive outlook to the very end, Ranking of Kings refuses to wallow in misery, pain and betrayal unlike some of its closest-related Western media (Game of Thrones, etc). That’s despite featuring selfish, brutal and at times wicked characters with questionable motives and despicable deeds. Ranking of Kings recognises that sometimes love and forgiveness are the braver, more noble outcomes of conflict, although sometimes it pushes this concept so far it can be a little difficult to swallow. No overt spoilers here, but I find it… surprising and difficult to accept that the terrible actions of certain characters are essentially washed away by the conclusion…

Additionally, the number of fake-out deaths by the end get a little tiresome. Nobody ever seems to die in this show, except in flashback, and even the most grim injuries seem inexplicably non-lethal. I suppose having powerful healing characters in the cast can have that effect. There are a number of random heel-turns from characters here too, where they seem to switch sides very quickly, and their previous opponents/enemies just accept it. Oh well, there’s little point questioning it, it’s all part of the show’s fairytale atmosphere and it does have a certain, very individual charm.

As it’s based on an ongoing manga, there are several outstanding plot threads left tantalisingly dangling. At the current rate, it’s likely to be several years until enough source material exists for a season 2. For now, I’m extremely satisfied with this gorgeously animated, cleverly-structured and emotionally resonant show. If you’ve not started watching it, I urge you to do so, and show it to your friends and family. I think Ranking of Kings could very easily become the best gateway for new anime fans.

Random Leftovers:

Sparkly hair and sadness, yes — it’s the return of 86.

86: EIGHTY-SIX Part 2:Crunchyroll: episodes 11+12

Finally, the conclusion to the second part of this intense war/mecha anime has arrived, and it was worth the wait. Beset by production difficulties, 86 part 2 missed several deadlines and essentially aired on a fortnightly basis in November and December of last year. Eventually they ran out of available TV slots, pushing back the final two episodes to the end of the Winter season.

We pick up exactly where we left off, with Shin (Undertaker) fighting the enormous metallic monstrosity Morpho alone, his fellow soldiers having apparently sacrificed themselves to ensure his success. That battle abruptly ending, we then witness an Evangelion-like deconstruction of his psyche, and he almost gets to meet the one character we’ve been desperate for him to meet since the very beginning… But 86 isn’t happy to give you what you want without making you suffer first.

The final episode is a stunningly beautiful thematic coda to the entire show so far, with emotional catharsis in spades and an absolutely perfect ending. If the story were to end here, it would be satisfying enough, but the TV show adapts only up to the end of novel volume 3, and we’re up to volume 11 in Japan now. Here’s hoping for an early renewal and further stories in this dark but fascinating world.

Especially for all you Eris fans out there, an episode all of her own.

Mushoku Tensei: Funimation: episode 24 (OVA)

Finally, a single episode that appeared on one of the Japanese blu-rays, now available so far only on Funimation (the rest of the episodes have recently materialised also on Crunchyroll). You’ll have to dig for this one, it’s not mentioned anywhere obvious on the site, and it’s listed out of order, after episode 11 of part one.

This installment follows fiery young female warrior Eris while usual main character Rudy is busy with his father (concurrent with anime episode 16), a chapter from the novels that went unadapted until now. It introduces a character who’s likely to be important to later plotlines (although having only read up to volume 5 myself, I can’t confirm this).

In typical, headstrong Eris fashion, she gets upset at a precocious boy mage, hunts some goblins, gets embroiled in a big fight that has nothing to do with her, and kills some assassins. It’s a fun reminder of how great an adaptation of the books this is, communicating with music and beautiful artwork what the books take many pages to relate. I can’t wait until the recently-confirmed season two is finally released. I also can’t decide whether to read ahead in the books, or wait for the anime…

Thanks for reading to the end of my lengthy thoughts on a not-so packed season. Next season looks completely different. There’s a huge quantity of anime barrelling towards us, and multiple shows that I’m hyped about. I’ll be back partway through the season to talk about the (likely unhealthy number of) shows that I’m watching.

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DoctorKev

DoctorKev

Physician. Obsessed with anime, manga, comic-books. Husband and father. Christian. Fascinated by tensions between modern culture and traditional faith. Bit odd.

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