Anime was a mistake; Miyazaki knows it, I know it, and even though you may be in denial, you know it, too. So why bother making a recommended viewing list of something that nobody likes? This, my friend, is the paradox inherent in the existence of AniTAY. Every season, our writers from around the world dive into the pile of trash and emerge with the most polished of under-recycled ocean waste, claiming it to be a jewel. But is it not humans’ needless coveting of jewelry that gives it value in the first place? You have regrettably given meaning to our anime selections by clicking on this article, and for that, I think you deserve to hear us out until the end.
This Winter season has proved surprisingly tumultuous, likely because of the numerous coronavirus-delayed anime that all ended up getting pushed to 2021. Among these delays is the contentious Mushoku Tensei, an anime you may have heard about if you run with the anime cat girl avatars on Twitter. I will not say what we decided to do with this show just yet, but I feel obligated to inform you that our selections will shock you in more ways than one. If that is not a good enough reason to continue reading, then I am excited to announce that for every angry comment you leave on this article, famed AniTAY admin Dexomega will receive 10 lashes. Enjoy! But first, some notes before we get started:
- 1) As always, we have omitted continuing shows and sequels. Only new stuff here. Check out our fall sequel guide for information about sequels.
- 2) Similarly, only shows available for legal streaming are considered. Netflix has complicated what the word “available” means, but we still consider limited-availability shows such as Netflix originals for this list.
- 3) We included a “where to watch” section, but keep in mind that our listings are based on availability in the United States.
AniTAY’s Winter 2021 Sequel Guide
New year, new platform, and a tidal wave of sequels means that now is an excellent time to revisit our Sequel Guide…
Now that we have the introduction out of the way, I give you the official AniTAY anime recommendations of Winter 2021!
2.43: Seiin High School Boys Volleyball Team
Written By: Arcane
Genre: Sports, Drama, Slice of Life
Where to Watch: Funimation
Spoiler-Free Synopsis: A young volleyball prodigy moves back to his suburban hometown after being forced to leave his middle school team in Tokyo following an incident where a teammate tried to harm himself. Now attempting to develop a more understanding attitude, he sets out to redeem himself by leading his new team to victory, only to be met with apathetic teammates and a childhood friend who refuses to take his ace position seriously.
Why You Should Be Watching: 2.43 takes a turn away from its most obvious comparison, Haikyuu!, by exploring what it’s actually like to be on a kids’ sports team, much as Sound Euphonium did for high school bands. The kid better than everyone else who gets all the weight pushed onto him while the other kids trash-talk him behind his back, the team that’s split between people who want to take the sport seriously and improve and ones who are just there for something to do- a clear divide forms between the ones that are born with natural talent and those who have little hope of catching up.
Of particular note is the dichotomy between the protagonists — the naturally-talented but equally hard-working Haijima and his pretty-okay childhood friend Kuroba. The way their relationship develops as the two rediscover each other is interesting to watch as sort of an alternate take on the backstory of Haikyuu!’s Kageyama. Kageyama is taught by the team around him that he has to treat other people with care and tact, while Haijima goes through trauma by virtue of having caused it in someone else and has to develop into someone who can empathize with and understand how to elevate the people upon whom he relies.
This kind of exploration evokes shows like Stars Align, where there are sports happening, but the focus shifts to the drama of being on a team in a high-stakes situation. The rising stars are worried about keeping up their momentum because one loss could take all the wind from their sails, and the seasoned champs are concerned that they’ll tarnish the hard work of their seniors if they lose to an upstart team. There’s a lot more riding on their shoulders than just a high school title.
Oh, also, the opening is killer. Give me more huge brass sections in anime music, please.
Recommended by: Arcane, hybridmink, Koda
Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki
Written by: Nomadic Dec
Genre: Drama, Romance
Where to Watch: Funimation, Animelab
Spoiler-Free Synopsis: Loner Fumiya Tomozaki has taken refuge from life by playing video games. Unlike the inscrutably unfair hierarchy of society and school, there are no innate tiers in his favourite fighting game, Tackfam. Your objective skills are what define your ranking in this perfectly balanced game, and Tomozaki is undeniably the best, until a new challenger arrives online and almost beats him. Tomozaki is excited when his new rival asks to meet in real life, but is shocked when they turn out to be none other than Aoi Hinami, the most popular girl at his school. Aoi, however, is bitterly disappointed that her opponent is such an awkward loser in real life. Tomozaki initially resents this characterisation by a girl who has never suffered the injustices of being on the bottom rung of the social ladder until Aoi skewers his perception of himself and his prejudices about what it takes to be popular by pointing out all the things he has done to land in the “bottom tier” of school life. She then promptly appoints herself to help him experience the joys of life, and Tomozaki readily accepts the opportunity for self-improvement. So begins a broadening of Tomozaki’s horizons and social connections.
Why You Should Be Watching: Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki has a fundamentally positive outlook on life and promotes the idea that life’s rewards come to those who try. The series is far from naïvely optimistic, however, cynically dissecting the tools of affable communication and amiable rhetoric. It differs from series like My Teenage Romantic Comedy SNAFU by making Fumiya more immediately culpable for his actions in ruining his own social standing, rather than externalising the source of him not fitting in. Fumiya is also a willing learner, and so his journey from myopically living alone to gaining empathy and a social circle is endearing.
The framework of using gaming metaphors to impart wisdom is an effective shorthand for covering the complexities of life in twenty-odd minutes. The juxtaposition between gaming logic and life’s irrationalities is dramatically effective while watching a well-meaning Fumiya stumble and gradually improve. The series also has the trappings of a harem series, with Aoi telling Fumiya to target his classmates like a dating simulation game. However, it subverts those norms of receptive heroines by grounding each of the women in their own social conflicts that slowly unfurl as Fumiya develops his relationship skills. In this way, the series simply encourages Fumiya to genuinely care about others while maintaining the independence and agency of each woman. The objective of the game turns into becoming a confidante who shoulders the burden of personal problems and shares in delights. In essence, unlocking meaningful friendships. It also creates an element of mystery: the central relationship is between Fumiya and the emotionally elusive Aoi, whose compassion and geniality is tempered by her perfect façade unravelling into one of bizarre preparedness as they become closer. Thus Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki turns social interaction into a detective story, and that’s a salient observation about life’s inner workings.
With Aoi acting as his model, Fumiya Tomozaki’s personal growth relies less on wholesale transformation and self-betterment, but rather accentuating and then channelling his best existing qualities into fostering connections and appreciating the attributes of others. Bottom-Tier Character Tomozaki, therefore, has a thesis that we individually grow by engaging with and involving other people in our lives, as difficult as it can be. It’s a more attainable and yet aspirational approach to enacting change, and a comforting thought that we do not have to overcome our personal barriers to change alone, but rather by relying on each other.
Recommended by: Doctorkev, Gugsy, Nomadic Dec, Protonstorm, Reikaze, TheMamaLuigi
Heaven’s Design Team
Written by: Koda
Genre: Comedy, Educational
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
Spoiler-free Synopsis: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He followed them with light, water, and land. Then he created the many animals that would inhabit the earth. Or, at least, that was the plan. Turns out this got too tedious for him, so he outsourced the task to an organization called Heaven’s Design Team. Shimoda is a newly hired angel liaison between God and the team and must help guide the creation of “God’s creatures” by passing his design requests to the team and the team’s resulting designs back to God for approval.
Why You Should Be Watching: Initially, Heaven’s Design Team seems like a relatively simple, yet charming, edutainment show meant to teach kids about animals. The early episodes have the design team start out with a concept where the ultimate resulting animal seems pretty straightforward and obvious. For example, in one episode they start with a long-necked deer, but end up with a giraffe as the accepted design.
As the episodes go on, however, much like the animals themselves, the show’s jokes start evolving. First, they change the initial design plans for animals into something off the wall, like a gorilla with patchy hair, but end up with an accepted animal design completely out of left field relative to the initial, extremely vague request from God. On top of this, the show starts incorporating various biological mechanics it introduces in prior episodes into newer jokes, such as a running gag about giant creatures having issues getting proper blood flow to their brain.
It isn’t just the jokes based around the creation of animals that make this show entertaining, though. The characters, while not particularly deep, have some wonderfully enjoyable quirks. For example, Saturn struck it rich by designing the horse, but is so obsessed with it that almost all of his proposals are just variations of horses. Pluto, in particular, is enjoyable in how she finds cuteness in creepy things, so she ends up designing almost all of the unusual and dangerous animals on Earth.
My personal favorite character, however, is Mars. She is the “mechanic” of sorts of the group and her job is to build the working prototypes of the design proposals and test their viability, often pointing out to the team the biological deficiencies of their ideas, such as a Pegasus needing bulky muscles everywhere to actually be able to sustain flight. It’s not a flawless show, but as an animal lover, Heaven’s Design Team has a winning formula for me.
Recommended by: Arcane, Doctorkev, Koda, Tenshigami
Written by: Requiem
Genre(s): Romance, Slice of Life, Heartwarming Melancholic Wistfulness of Youth
Synopsis: Kyoko Hori and Izumi Miyamura appear to have little in common, beyond being 3rd year students in the same class in high school. However, appearances can be deceiving-Hori is popular and cheery at school, but at home dresses down and is a bit abrupt and straightforward while taking care of her younger brother, Souta. Miyamura, meanwhile, seems to most to be a gloomy, otaku loner, but is actually a quiet, free spirit who, away from school, rocks multiple piercings and tattoos, and isn’t really into manga or anime at all. One day Miyamura happens to assist the young Souta and the real him has a chance encounter with the real Hori, and a beautiful relationship is born that slowly grows, whilst entangling their friends and others. Ah, youth.
Why You Should Be Watching:
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: boy meets girl, shocking secret, they agree to keep each other’s secret, romance blooms(eventually). Like many of its ilk, Horimiya breaks no new ground with its narrative or concept. Yet, somehow it’s the best show of the season. How can this be? As always, the devil is in the details.
What makes Horimiya exceptional is its execution, its willingness to not surrender to easy tropes. Characters act and respond like actual people might. The kind of misunderstandings that would take most romance shows episodes or seasons to overcome are resolved in an episode or less, allowing for pacing that’s nearly breathtaking in context. The main characters’ relationship progresses further in this season than most anime romances regardless of genre. Of course, the rapid romantic development is a welcome change from the norm, but it would be meaningless if you didn’t care about the characters. Thankfully, this is where Horimiya shines brightest; the characters are wonderfully realized, three-dimensional people. Romances often have antagonists, but there are no bad people here, no villains, just kids trying to be good people, even when things get hard or awkward. The cast is treated with a gentle hand, making the emotions hit harder when one of them suffers heartbreak or anguish; it makes you empathise and root for them all, not just the main couple. That is not to sell that main couple short; they’re fantastic leads and completely adorable together, the fiery Hori playing perfectly off the mild, easygoing Miyamura. The progression of their relationship is done nearly flawlessly, a sting of story beats that make perfect sense but still leave you desperately anticipating the next one. It’s just a masterclass in how to tell this kind of story.
Visually, Horimiya remains outstanding. The character designs are distinct and full of little details, like Yuki and her oversized, playful-looking sweater sleeves. The color palette gives the show a soft, delicate feeling; the occasional use of a shifting colored background in key moments helps convey the characters’ emotions. The score is efficient and effective, with impeccable timing, hitting the right cues at the right moments.
Horimiya is like a warm, gentle summer breeze; at the end of most episodes it leaves you feeling refreshed and with a smile on your face. Don’t let yourself miss out on this absolute gem.
Recommended by: Arcane, Dark Aether, Doctorkev, Gugsy, Hip Hip Jorge, hybridmink, Nomadic Dec, Protonstorm, Reikaze, Requiem, TGRIP, TheMamaLuigi
Written by: TGRIP
Genre: Modern-day Supernatural Investigation
Where to Watch: Funimation
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Abandoned by his parents as an infant, Kabane Kusaka has toiled away for all his life in a rural Japanese village working as unpaid labor for his abusive aunt suffering as the town’s unwanted (and consequently, unemotional) pariah. One day, however, a strange man named Kohachi Inugami visits to investigate reports of supernatural phenomena and is the first person to treat Kabane as an actual person. Realizing that Kabane wasn’t intentionally abandoned by his parents and seeing his full power as a half-human half-ghoul hybrid, he offers to take the boy under his wing and help out with his investigation agency in Tokyo. There, he meets the other misfit children Inugami has taken under his care and agrees to help out with keeping the peace between humanity and the hidden world of monsters that lies just below the surface…
Why You Should Be Watching: A season this packed is going to have its fair share of hidden gems, and Kemono Jihen is one of them. While it isn’t an animation showcase nor an intricately written wonder, it’s a show that simply has no weak point anywhere in its production. Each episode is a pleasant watch that keeps you engaged with stellar world-building, a fun and diverse cast of characters, and a tone that strikes a good balance between something laid-back yet always alluring. Imagine a less gritty version of Grimm that leans more on Japanese folklore. Like Grimm, a key component of Kemono Jihen’s draw comes from exploring exactly how its world works, especially the relationship of the central detective agency to the supernatural world it wants to protect.
While there are personal issues directly involving Inugami (involving a tenuous truce with an especially treacherous police superintendent), most of the story involves Kabane and crew intervening in cases where monsters have wreaked havoc with the lives of ordinary humans, which most of the time involve an overlooked sense of humanity in either the monsters involved, the people they have messed with, or Kabane himself as he reckons with his growing emotionality. There’s a welcoming sense of empathy, and while the theme of “finding the man inside the monster” is nothing new, it’s still executed pretty darn well, especially considering any character involved can be the one you end up feeling for. If you’ve been looking for a fantasy series where you can relax a little bit but still find yourself involved in ways you didn’t expect, look no further.
Recommended by: Arcane, Dark Aether, TGRIP, Viking
Written by: Reikaze
Genre: Fantasy, Mystery, Adventure, Romance
Where to Watch: Funimation
Spoiler-free Synopsis: Sorao Kamikoshi, a college student with extensive knowledge regarding urban legends, happens to stumble across the “Otherside,” an incredibly dangerous world in which those same myths are brought to life. Finding herself in a near-death situation, Sorao is saved by the gun-toting Toriko Nishina, who is looking for her friend Satsuki. Otherside Picnic follows their adventures in the Otherside, and in their travels, as they grow ever closer together.
Why You Should Be Watching: It’s hard to explain with a singular reason why you should be watching Otherside Picnic, because it does so many typically opposing things well. Because the Otherside is always dangerous, the tension makes every episode compelling and thrilling. The show always has a great mystery: the inherent premise of an Otherside means the show oozes with intrigue and the unknown. The important part of a mystery is how it unravels information, and Otherside Picnic does this well, too, thanks to its episodic nature. That episodic nature also means that it does adventure extremely well through a consistent, satisfying feeling of exploring somewhere new and exciting. That isn’t to say that there isn’t a continuous plot — the hunt for Satsuki is always present and information about her is drip-fed throughout the show in a compelling manner. There’s also the relationship between the very likeable Sorao and Toriko: seeing them get closer, trust, and rely on each other is something I look forward to every episode.
But if I had to choose only one reason to recommend Otherside Picnic, it would be the atmosphere of the Otherside itself: the show completely and utterly nails that creepy, ethereal, and otherworldly atmosphere that urban myths thrive on. Every facet of making the Otherside is done exceedingly well, leading to moments that really take your breath away. Everything is shrouded in a veil of uncertainty, the design is full of lots of eerie, empty spaces, the visual presentation is intentionally dull and saturated to contrast to the real world, the designs of the creatures in the Otherside are straight out of urban legends, and the music is ethereal and alien, the icing on the top of this very creepy cake.
I did have some nitpicks with Otherside Picnic: it can be slow and dialogue-heavy at times, and there are some parts that don’t look that great (particularly the CG). Overall, though, Otherside Picnic is an easy recommendation from me, being a unique and compelling show that I thoroughly enjoy watching.
Recommended by: Arcane, Dark Aether, Doctorkev, Hip Hip Jorge, hybridmink, Kinksy, Reikaze, Viking
Sk8 the Infinity
Written By: Hip Hip Jorge
Where to Watch: Funimation
Spoiler-Free Synopsis: Sk8 the Infinity centers on two high-school boys, Reki and Langa, as they navigate the world of ‘S’, an underground extreme skateboarding circuit setup in an abandoned mine in Okinawa. There are no rules; racers can, and will, do anything to win.
Why You Should Be Watching: Dumb fun. That is why you should be watching — dumb, exhilarating fun. Oh, and some solid skateboarding sakuga, which I didn’t know I needed, but now I want more. Whenever Studio Bones (My Hero Academia, Mob Psycho 100, and the greatest Pokemon music video) is involved in something new, it’s worth paying attention to. When a talented director with Kyoto Animation in her blood is also involved, well, then attention makes way for complete and utter anticipation.
Sk8 the Infinity’s director is Hiroko Utsumi, known for directing Free! and Banana Fish as well as working as a storyboard artist and animator on my favorite of her works, Tamako Market. Similarities to Free! are readily apparent: a male sports anime vibe mixed with slightly flamboyant (probably an oxymoron) flair. As early as the climax of the first episode, Langa (spoiler-alert) wins his first race in high-octane, perfectly ungrounded fashion, while a sinister-looking and shirtless (shirtless?) character looks on in his abandoned mine luxury-box. It is in this initial race where the aforementioned dumb fun and sakuga first truly become present, and it is glorious.
The way Langa wins adds to the appeal of the show; comedically taping his board to his feet, a la a snowboard, only to be left standing still once the race starts. Slowly but surely, he makes his way down the course, gaining not only blistering speed but confidence in his newfound abilities. Having freshly returned from living in Canada, Langa happens to be a high-level snowboarder, and demonstrates those skills in dazzling action.
Reki, on the other hand, is obsessed with wanting to win his first race in ‘S’, yet strikes out time and again, going up against the likes of Shadow and the rest of the vibrant and eclectic cast of racers. Which makes his utter joy seeing his new-found friend win on his first try all the more endearing and refreshing. The wonderful action scenes aren’t the only beautifully animated parts of the show, as I found myself rewatching shots of Reki casually flipping his board, landing uncomplicated tricks, as he skates to work — subtle but adept and masterful examples of superb artistry.
A+ animation, great action, energetic characters, and a highly regarded and talented creative team make Sk8 the Infinity an easy recommendation.
Recommended By: Arcane, Dark Aether, Hip Hip Jorge, hybridmink, Koda, Nomadic Dec, TGRIP (‘specially for its dub)
Wonder Egg Priority
Written by: TGRIP
Genre: Deconstructionist Magical Girl
Where to Watch: Funimation
Spoiler-free Synopsis: 14-year-old Ai Ohto has stopped going to school due to her one friend attempting suicide after she endured vicious bullying. While on a late night stroll, Ai has a strange, dreamlike experience that grants her a strange egg, and upon cracking it open, she enters a surreal world where she’s tasked with saving a teenage girl who also attempted suicide. Ai is eventually filled in on the situation: help the souls of enough recently departed girls, and her friend will be granted her own life back. Along the way, she joins forces with other girls who struck up the same bargain: the stoic Neiru, the brash Rika, and the tomboyish Momoe.
Why You Should Be Watching: Because this feels like the long-awaited kick in the teeth that the magical girl and moe genres felt like they’ve needed for years. There’s a sense of anger, of a restrained rage, and here Wonder Egg Priority’s finally allowed to express what it’s had to repress for far too long. Transgressive media is always necessary, especially when it’s punching up with a clear target in mind, and what makes Wonder Egg Priority stand head and shoulders above its contemporaries is that it’s doing this while being one of the outright sharpest looking productions currently airing. This season already has its fair share of good-looking shows, but it takes something truly special to go toe to toe against Mushoku Tensei’s deep-as-hell budget and Jujutsu Kaisen continuing to go full Madhouse in its second cour. Cloverworks has done an incredible job of evoking KyoAni at their best, which I personally think is intentional given how this show purposefully feels like a KyoAni show with some serious bite.
Each episode feels like a short film in how they each have so much content you can study and dissect, from what various characters represent to why the four protagonists act the way they do, and all of it is enclosed in a general theme of how harmful gender roles are perpetuated in today’s world, especially for girls the age of our young leads. But don’t let this make you think that this show is as dark as Madoka, because one of its best graces is how it still manages to have moments of levity — Egg’s dark themes and tone make its contrasting moments of cutesiness feel so much more genuine than in most moe shows. Wonder Egg Priority is so many things: a show about cute girls doing uncute things, a magical girl show that has a chance of surpassing Madoka Magica, and an honest to god early frontrunner for anime of the year.
Recommended by: Arcane, Dark Aether, Doctorkev, Gugsy, Hip Hip Jorge, hybridmink, Kinksy, Koda, Nomadic Dec, Tenshigami, TGRIP, TheMamaLuigi, Viking
(Note: Our honorable mention section is reserved for shows that had both significant support and significant pushback during our debates. In order to represent both sides, we include both “for” and “against” opinions for our honorable mentions.)
Cells at Work! Code Black
Written by: Dark Aether (for), TheMamaLuigi (against)
Genre: Biology, Action/Adventure, Comedy, Drama
Where to Watch: Funimation, Crunchyroll
Spoiler-free Synopsis: The human body plays host to trillions of anthropomorphic cells. Based on the popular series Cells at Work!, this spin off follows a new Red and White Blood Cell as they navigate the chaotic environment of their host. But whereas the original looked at a healthy individual, this story is anything but. In a world of constant stress, disease, and a diminished workforce to meet the body’s demands, everyday is a Code Black for these overworked cells.
Why You Should Be Watching: Like its sibling series, Cells at Work! Code Black follows the hectic work life of a Red and White blood cell, except their host is on the brink of collapse. Delving further into the ugly side of the human body, the cells of this story continuously struggle to do their jobs as their toxic home closes in on them. Excessive smoking, drinking, poor diet and hygiene, and some all-too-real situations for anyone who’s had the displeasure of witnessing a person undergo a critical illness, Code Black is your weekly reminder that every destructive habit has repercussions.
The original Cells at Work was a landmark title in the world of anime “edutainment,” with shows like Dr. Stone and How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? expanding the subgenre and gaining traction. Having to follow up at the same time as its original counterpart returns is a daunting task, yet there is enough substance and style among both series to not only complement each other, but highlight Code Black’s unique appeal. As the subtitle implies, Code Black takes no prisoners in depicting the horrors lurking within this body. Not many shows can lay claim to revolving entire episodes around gonorrhea, erectile dysfunction, and kidney stones and turn them into their own misadventures.
A more cynical person would take the regular occurrence of death and destruction within the body as pure “shock value,” but unlike its predecessor, Code Black takes strides in depicting the cold world of a hostile workplace through some clever commentary. The diminishing number of cells places an unreasonable burden on them to carry out their daily operations. As the stress of the job and reality sinks in, the show becomes a grim look at how this toll affects individual workers as they find ways to cope. Some bury themselves in their work. Others exploit coworkers for self-gain or simply give up. And, for the less fortunate, many find themselves succumbing to their worst impulses, leading to their own self-destruction. It’s in these smaller moments that Code Black reminds us that sympathy can go a long way before someone literally works themselves to death.
Whether you’re a medical professional or a complete novice like myself, Cells at Work! Code Black is another solid entry in the growing medium of anime edutainment. And if that didn’t pique your curiosity, this one has a boner episode!
Why You Should NOT Be Watching: I want you to walk to your closet, take out that old Biology 101 textbook, and time yourself reading it for twenty-three minutes.
Did you fall asleep? Were you bored out of your mind?
Congratulations! You now know what it’s like to watch an episode of Cells at Work! Black!
Cells at Work! has a foolproof premise the series bungles through jargon-heavy narration that, purportedly, is supposed to teach viewers about their bodies. It fails through its lack of any engaging content; its admittedly great character designs cannot make up for the utterly uninteresting things those characters are doing. Is it educational? Sure, if you pay attention and take notes like you’re in a lecture. Is it entertaining? Absolutely not.
Cells at Work! Black has all the same faults with the added detriment of an overly edgy style focusing on ultraviolence and fan service. Honestly, I was looking forward to Code Black; it already seemed more fun than the original series, and the diminished focus on the “edu” part of the “edutainment” premise had me intrigued. Old habits die hard, though, and the show’s insistence on telling instead of showing brought me back to how I felt before: bored.
You’d think as one of AniTAY’s self-proclaimed trashbags, I’d be fine with some boobs here and blood there, right? Well, you aren’t wrong, but Code Black’s utilization of these sacred elements often harms more than it helps. The frequent boob shots and over-the-top violence distract from the already-tedious narration, leaving me wondering where my attention should fall. Should I watch the poorly animated fight scene of a scantily clad white blood cell fighting the NeumoflimflamSlimJim virus? Should I pay closer attention to the narrator telling me how smoking, drinking, and stress are slowly killing me?
If I wanted to be preached to, I’d watch a D.A.R.E. ad. Not a show that feels like it was written by an eleven-year-old boy who watched the original Cells at Work!, got bored (what a surprise), and wrote his own version.
I understand all these aspects of the show serve a purpose — this is a body that doesn’t take care of itself, and the cells’ world is imploding accordingly. That does not excuse Cells at Work! Black’s inability to make that premise actually engaging, visually appealing, or in any way entertaining.
The boner episode was pretty good though.
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
Written by: Doctorkev (for), Viking (against)
Genre: Isekai, Fantasy, Coming-of-Age
Where to Watch: Funimation
Spoiler-free Synopsis: After dying in his 30s, a socially maladjusted, unemployed shut-in is reincarnated as an infant in a pre-industrial medieval fantasy world. He seizes this second chance at life to avoid making similar mistakes to those that led to his previous lonely, empty existence, while learning to curb the worst excesses of his obnoxious, perverted personality.
Why You Should Be Watching: Mushoku Tensei takes the now extremely cliched “isekai” anime conceit (where a modern-day Japanese person is inexplicably reincarnated or transported into a fantasy world with all of their memories intact) and makes it new and fresh again.
This isn’t achieved with any grand or innovative narrative breakthroughs, but with good-old-fashioned economical storytelling, gorgeous production design, beautiful use of its earthy/pastel colour palette, cinematic animation, and complex, human characters with convincing inner lives and selfish desires yet obvious love for one another.
Main character Rudy is a difficult guy to wholeheartedly root for — he’s an unrepentant pervert, and even as an infant his behaviour is not ok. He sexually objectifies women because his only points of reference are from sexually explicit dating sims. We witness him gradually grow from and learn to at least squash that perversion down to where it causes less harm. He grows from his mistakes and pushes himself to learn about his world in a way that lends a pleasing sense of story progression.
Despite his rough edges, Rudy is empathetic to the needs of his family and friends, standing up to bullies, overcoming his deep-seated horror of leaving the house, and challenging injustice even when it occurs within his own family. He uses his intelligence to mentally outmanoeuvre his exasperated father (who tends to think penis-first and deal with the dire consequences later).
MT’s evocation of family life is fascinating, heartwarming, and upsetting in equal measures. There are frank evocations of marital unfaithfulness, violence, and unequal or abusive relationships normally alien to this most disposable of genres. The show does not overtly moralise about its characters’ failings, but also refuses to glory in them, leading the viewer to reach their own conclusions in a respectful, matter-of-fact way that I find refreshing.
Although some of the aforementioned frank, earthy material may be off-putting to some viewers, it’s all in service to the main character’s journey towards a healthier adulthood. Supported by a colourful and interesting supporting cast (who made me tear up with emotion on at least one occasion so far), I’m willing to overlook Rudy’s more questionable behaviour as I can tell this is a well-planned story with barely a moment wasted. This is my favourite show of a highly-contested season.
Why You should NOT Be Watching: Mushoku Tensei does a lot right. It is beautifully animated and directed and is filled with interesting and imperfect characters. However, its downfall is rooted in those characters, particularly in the protagonist, Rudeus.
Rudeus (aka Rudy) was reborn in a fantasy world, giving him a second chance at life. He retained his full 35-ish years of memories from his previous life and should have some semblance of a modern understanding of right and wrong. His first act after being reborn was to try to grab a woman’s breasts. He failed, simply because he is in the body of an infant and cannot reach. This is not a good start. At this point he began to understand he has been reborn. So, we’ll give him a pass on that groping attempt. He’ll try to be better. However, Rudy’s sexcapades continue in a cringe-worthy manner. Many anime would treat these acts comically, but in Mushoku Tensei that comedy (intentional or not) just comes off as creepy.
Eventually, at seven years old, Rudy got shipped off to a relative’s house to tutor their nine-year-old daughter, Eris. In their first meeting, Eris beats the shit out of Rudy. One might think it’s fantastic to see a sex pest get his ass handed to him by a girl. The problem is context: she doesn’t know anything about him. There’s no sense of justice in the beating. It’s just that — a beating. And much like Rudy’s sexcapades, any hint of comedy here badly misses the mark.
The final straw, for me, was when Rudy decided to grope a sleeping Eris. That wasn’t enough for him, because he tried to remove her panties, too. All the while we hear Rudy’s inner monologue reinforcing that he is mentally 40+ years old. Luckily, Eris woke up and again beat the shit out of him. It did not matter, because all I could see is that this sex-pest is a child molestor. At that point, I was completely done with Mushoku Tensei.
I’ve not even touched on Rudy’s rapist father, the family maid (suffering for Stockholm Syndrome), or the indignities inflicted upon Rudy’s tutor. There is so much in this show that makes me say, “what the fuck?” Yet, all it really needed to do to make the show watchable was tone down the main character and not make him a child molestor.
This article was a collaboration by many members of the AniTAY community. Some wrote part of the final article, and several others took part in voting and discussion over the past couple of months.
Contributors in Alphabetical Order:
- Aoi Yamato
- Dark Aether
- Hip Hip Jorge
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