Revisiting My Anime Early Impressions of 2021

umrguy42
umrguy42
Dec 15, 2021 · 12 min read

Over the course of this year, I began helping my fellow writers over at Anitay with producing articles for their “Early Impressions” series for each of the four anime seasons. Amongst the various year-end reviews, I thought it would be good to go back and revisit the four shows I wrote up now that they’re complete (or mostly so, in the case of the last one). I’ll look to follow up on various points made throughout each article, whether those held up / panned out / were wrong or subverted, etc., and expand on anything else that may have come up along the way. WARNING: There will be the occasional spoilers below. Continue at your own peril.

Welcome to “12 Days of Anime 2021”, a writing challenge in which I look to have an article a day for 12 days leading up to Christmas, all centered in some way on anime or anime-related topics. You can find last year’s stories at this link over on Anitay, as well as re-posts of my 2018 and 2019 series here on Medium. Big, big thanks to Stanlick for creating the header image outline template.

Winter: Heaven’s Design Team (Tenchi Souzou Design-Bu)

Overall, I’d say that Heaven’s Design Team is (so far) a nice, enjoyable little show that’s worth watching. It has the feel of a comedy that’s mostly going to be “by the numbers,” but it’s been well executed so far, and the grounding in real biology at least offers up something I haven’t seen much of outside of Cells at Work.

After watching the entire season, I think that analysis held up pretty well. It remained cute and funny, and we DID get our penguins, although not nearly as much as I’d hoped. There were certain design segments I liked, and only a few that, while I didn’t dislike them, per se, felt like they weren’t quite as good, and/or dragged on a bit.

Plus they threw in an Alien gag during an onsen visit.

I noted in my original article a comment about this being “Creationist propaganda”, and how that’s not a feel I got. I still stand by that, especially later in the season, when the design team ALSO starts getting some requests from Hell, culminating in a launch party for the team down in Hell itself — a party to which God even sends a message to the team, not because they’re in Hell, but because one of the designers went to the party after asking for more time on a design (while suffering from a creator’s block).

At the end of the season, this show turned out to be pretty much what it was advertised as — a goofy comedy about designing animals. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but if you’re looking for some light-hearted fun to change up your mood, you could do a lot worse than TenDeBu.

Spring: Super Cub

One thing to note — despite the fact that this is a Cute Girls Doing Cute Things show (and seriously, that crooked smile that comes up so much on Koguma’s face as she admires her bike, and the brilliant smiles on Reiko’s as she talks about feeling like she can go anywhere, are both fantastic), this is not a comedy per se. But a “comfy” slice of life-ish show, with mostly low stakes and some occasional drama (probably), seems right up my alley this season, and maybe it will be for you too.

Ooooh, so close. This felt like it had potential to be one of my contenders for Anime of the Season/Year, but to me at least, it didn’t feel like it managed to stick the landing. Koguma and Reiko spend a bunch of the season improving their riding gear, and Koguma’s bike. Reiko also ends up replacing her bike with another Cub after wrecking it one too many times doing hill climbs. They make a new friend, who at the end of the series, acquires a Cub of her own. These are all Good Things.

But as the season went on, late in the game, as Koguma became a more experienced rider, I felt like we were getting less Smiles We Must Protect from her, and instead, like she was getting colder, and becoming a little more of a “bike snob” about things.

Also a scofflaw, riding around with Reiko on the back like that.

I didn’t expect, and didn’t want, a series arc in which Koguma would go from introvert to all open and friendly and stuff. I did want her to begin opening up at least somewhat. Well, I’d say she definitely kept the introvert, while opening up a bit more like I’d hoped… but then it felt like her character skidded off the other side of the cliff. Since I’ve never read the source material, I don’t know if it’s just a poor/rushed adaptation, or what, but it was jarring to realize I was starting to dislike our main character. Some shows, you can get away with that. A show like Super Cub, not so much.

(And I apologize for nothing with using all the “Little Honda” lyrics in that article ;p)

Summer: The Great Jahy Will Not Be Defeated! (Jahy-sama wa Kujikenai!)

At the end of the day, even a great cast may not be able to save a poor show. Like Druj, I want to believe that Jahy-sama has a great and glorious plan, and that the Great Jahy won’t be defeated in winning me over, so for now, despite my concerns, I’m still along for the ride. I just hope that maybe we get more of a real ‘arc’ of some kind in the show, and we’re not left with the same jokes/scenarios over and over.

Oh man, Jahy-sama. This show started a month later than the rest (and spilled over into this season, for an odd 20 episodes), and at the time this article goes live, will have just one episode left. Thankfully, starting with the very next episode I watched after the 3 initial ones I based my article on, so many of my concerns started to be put to rest.

Yes, there’s an arc. And while they “repeat” jokes a bit, it’s not just the same things over and over and over again. And while there have been several more occurrences of Jahy worrying about Druj seeing through her, they’ve managed to spread them out more, find different situations to incorporate them into, and most importantly, not take up over half an episode at a time with them again.

We meet the poor hapless Saurva, who wants so badly to defeat Jahy and become the new second-in-command, but whose schemes always backfire, usually so badly that Jahy doesn’t even notice them or even Saurva herself. Jahy confronts Jinguu, the World’s Unluckiest Magical Girl, who is starved for friendship, and at least for a while, becomes that Friend Who Won’t Leave You Alone to Jahy. And there’s Kokoro the Precious Cinnamon Roll, who becomes Jahy’s first real friend through her help with the search for mana crystal shards, along with their shared play on the playgrounds while Jahy is in her small form.

Sorry Koguma, but we’re protecting THIS smile now.

Along the way, we’ve also gotten to know the Manager and her sister the Landlady more, and confirmed that both of them really do care for Jahy (even if the Landlady is a little more tsundere about it). Jahy *is* growing as a person and changing. Not completely, but perhaps enough, as the circle of people in her life grows.

But most importantly, the second half of the series introduces two important things: The mysterious force that sent Jinguu to destroy the Dark Realm’s mana crystal in the first place, and the Dark Lord herself.

Move over, The Devil is a Part-Timer!, there’s a new best Demon Lord in town.

She’s smol and adorable and eating Jinguu out of house and home. She’s re-appeared now that they’ve started to gather enough mana crystals, but what she really wants (besides food), and what her relationship to the light creature that’s also been going after the crystals, remains to be revealed.

No matter how this season ends up, I’m definitely glad I stuck with it. I’ve gotten plenty of laughs from it, some feel good moments, and plenty of HanaKana noises combined with Naomi Oozora screams to make it all worthwhile. (And yes, the rest of the voice cast is as frickin’ awesome as I knew it was going to be…)

Fall: Taishou Otome Fairy Tale (Taishou Otome Otogibanashi)

My biggest concern, not knowing the source material, is how will the series stick the landing? Will they continue to thread the needle, keeping Yuzuki realistic? The series does have “Fairy Tale” in the title, so I’m willing to grant a little leeway on just how “perfect” the characters are, but there IS a limit. How will they handle the underlying sub-plot that is (or should be eventually) Yuzuki having been sent to be Tamahiko’s bride? I think if the series can keep up the current balance (and doesn’t expand to involve some kind of “harem”, given the additional girls seen in the opening), then it should hopefully wrap up as a nice little story of one person helping another through the darkest of times through to the other side — a story I’m all too ready to get lost in these days.

So, what’s probably the most contentious show on this list. Still in progress as I write, with a couple episodes left. Yuzuki is still a pure cinnamon roll, and probably a little too perfect for reality, but still. While it’s not always as immediately obvious, the story so far has actually covered almost 2 years in-story. So while changes are occurring, especially in Tamahiko, it’s not an instantaneous (or nearly so) thing. (Warning: Major spoilers here!) We see that, when the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 devastates the area while Yuzuki has gone to Tokyo to visit a friend, after Tamahiko’s attempt to assist the local village folk in rescuing trapped locals is rebuffed, he retreats into his house and the blackness he was mired in at the beginning of the series, at the thought that he can’t do anything, AND he’s lost Yuzuki. But, unlike that prior Tamahiko, he remembers his comparison of Yuzuki to a spring storm, blowing everything before her, and is able to pull himself out enough to make the decision to try and go find her.

In addition to Yuzuki, Tamahiko also receives some help in his mental recovery from other characters who come along. I mentioned Tamako, his younger sister, in the original article, already. Another new boy in town, Shiratori, comes in when Tamahiko starts attending the local school, and having had some issues of his own (plus a famous sister), Shiratori becomes Tamahiko’s friend almost against Tamahiko’s own wishes. And we see Shiratori also doing his best to help the local schoolboys start warming to Tamahiko, despite the general distrust of the powerful Shima family, coupled with the occasional more personal anger at Tamahiko, such as when being late due to his disability causes punishment for the entire class during gym. Tamahiko himself returns to school after he winds up tutoring a bunch of the local village children on a regular basis. Tamahiko isn’t “fixed” yet, but with some help from Yuzuki and the others… he’s starting to make progress.

After publishing my Early Impressions article, I was asked a question I hadn’t considered for it, which was, whether Yuzuki has a real character and personality, or is just this magical character there to heal Tamahiko (and others). And that’s a fair question. I would say, there are aspects of her character and backstory that aren’t necessarily that well developed — but then again, that feels somewhat true of a number of the main characters — we get sort of a “blob” of characterization, then move on. When viewed objectively, Yuzuki DOES have this tendency to be this near-perfect being that Tamahiko feels he’s not worthy of, but has decided to try and get better to be worthy of (before he can actually marry her), but for me, personally, in the moment watching the show, it doesn’t stick out as much. We see Yuzuki as a young girl who’s in love with Tamahiko, wants to help him, but who also has a steel core when required. For instance, she both moves Tamahiko almost to tears when she gives him his first birthday present ever, only to seemingly calmly and casually destroy that same, personal present when she thinks it was given away to a girl who likes to tease Tamahiko (and later on Yuzuki) by proclaiming that she is (later, that she wants to be) Tamahiko’s mistress.

Finally, let’s return to the original elephant in the room — the setup that this is a purchased marriage, involving teenagers. The “purchased” part isn’t really addressed very much after the beginning, although in one of the most recent episodes, I thought it was about to be. As for the marriage aspect — as I noted above, we get a declaration about midway through the season from Tamahiko that Yuzuki deserves better as a husband than him, but that he wants to become a man worthy of being that husband. Through the course of the series, we see that Yuzuki is innocent, but not completely naive. She seems to know about the “birds and bees,” but then again, she and Tamahiko have both had moments where they realize they’ve said/done something that could be construed as more than they meant — while at the same time, both are realizing that what they do want is for their relationship to continue. Yuzuki notes when she turns 15 years old, and legally able to be married, but neither seems to be in an actual rush to take that step. By contrast, Yuzuki’s visit to Tokyo is so she will have a last chance to see her school friend, who has gotten pregnant and is about to be married to the baby’s father and move to I think, Kyushu. Honestly, I’m not sure what happens in the source material, but given the progress currently in the anime, I *could* see this season ending with at least a ‘proper’ proposal, if not an actual wedding. And honestly, I feel okay with that, given how the show has handled the subject so far. If so, would be an interesting follow-up / second season kind of plotline to maybe revisit the whole “purchased” issue, anyway, dealing both with Tamahiko’s father and Yuzuki’s parents, possibly. With (currently) two episodes left to air, again, I hope the series doesn’t screw it up at the finish line, but I’m fairly hopeful given how it’s gone so far.

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