Fall 2021 is a bit of a strange beast. We learned that the first part of the extremely-anticipated second season of Demon Slayer is going to be an episodic re-edit of the Mugen Train movie, the third season of World Trigger only six months after the end of the second, and a surprise continuation for Yuuki Yuuna is a Hero after several years of absence (and a dropped license for the excellent second season). Oh, and another season of Yashahime, for some reason. Let’s dive in.
86: Eighty Six (second cour)
Presented by: TGRIP
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Genres: Military-Mecha Drama
Why You Should Catch Up: Because this is one of the best mecha shows of the year, and for once that isn’t a “by default” kind of claim. 2021 is somehow, against all odds, packed with a bunch of good mecha shows, from well received sequels like SSSS. Dynazenon, to cult hits like Back Arrow, to even good showings from beloved franchises from Evangelion and Godzilla. While there is even more giant robot goodness to come in the upcoming fall season, we shouldn’t forget that what’s possibly the best one of them all is also coming back from its break. We knew from its sizable light novel fanbase that 86 was a show to watch out for, and while it didn’t come as a total surprise, it was still really nice to see a show whose production values matched up to the ambition of its source material. Superb direction (from a first time director, no less), Hiroyuki Sawano’s best musical score in years, and A-1 pictures pulling out all the stops for a change helped 86 reach its full potential in this adaptation.
One criticism that has been leveled at 86 is that its framing and cinematography of this show can be a bit on the nose at times in what kind of symbolism and themes the story wants to tackle at times. But given how a show with that kind of attention to detail is remarkably rare to see in anime nowadays, I personally didn’t mind it, and in fact enjoyed it since it means 86’s visual storytelling really is in a class of its own. It’s also rare to see a mecha show that focuses on teenagers to have this measure of maturity to it as well, less in a fanservice kind of sense, and more in a serious contemplation of how modern warfare and class divisions play out in its world, along with ongoing personal character struggles. While I will state my own personal niggle of how the show tries too hard at times to be “happy” and give its characters moments to just be kids (it doesn’t feel as organic as the rest of the show), when it wants to be gut-wrenching, it usually succeeds. In weaker anime years, this would be a shoe-in for anime of the year, but even in a year this packed, 86 still stands out in the best kinds of ways.
Time to Catch Up + What You Need to Watch:
- 86’s First cour (11 episodes, a little over 4 hours approx.)
Where to Catch Up: The first cour of 86 is available on Crunchyroll, subbed and also dubbed in english, spanish, french, german, and portuguese.
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Season 2)
Presented by Dark Aether
Genre: Shonen, Action, Dark Fantasy, Strand-Type Anime
Why You Should Catch Up: In the wake of one of the biggest anime films of the year, to say Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba’s sequel has a lot riding on it would be putting it lightly. Let’s be real here: most of you here are probably looking for a release date on your preferred streaming service (or Toonami). But just in case you need a refresher or are new to the series, I’ve got you covered!
Set in the Taishō-era, Demon Slayer follows the young charcoal seller turned demon hunter Tanjiro Kamado and his kid sister Nezuko Kamado after their family is slaughtered and the latter is turned into a demon. Hoping to find a cure and the demons responsible for the murder of their family, they travel together seeking guidance from the mysterious Demon Slayer Corps. But as Tanjiro’s training progresses and Nezuko’s demonic instincts awaken, they get more than they bargained for when deadlier foes block their path. After some setbacks and a brief moment to regroup, they board a train where they meet someone who will light their way forward…
In a year that saw modern Shonen grow beyond mere action-based spectacles, Demon Slayer’s first season came at the right time back in 2019. As someone who spends far too much time waxing poetic on his favorite anime, its traditional format paired with a darker setting, a grounded main character and its distinct sense of style and aesthetic elevated the show beyond the pages of print. To say nothing of Ufotable’s breathtaking animation and its razor-sharp knowledge of the genre, it quickly rose to prominence within a short period.
Though the characters, world building and visuals are often highlighted, it may surprise you to hear Demon Slayer’s greatest strength is not in its redefining of the genre — as some often conflate — but rather its refinement. To that end, I can think of no greater example than the show’s signature expression of empathy. Whether it’s the love and compassion of family or simply grieving for the fallen or eternally damned, Demon Slayer’s first season pivoted its protagonist as kinder, gentler soul after tragedy befell his peaceful days. Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see how far season 2 can take this following Mugen Train’s conclusion.
Of course, there will be plenty of action to satiate the most blood-thirsty of fiends! Besides, isn’t that all a sequel really needs?
What You Need to Watch + Time to Catch Up:
· Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba (Season 1) — 26 episodes, about 10 hours
· Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba the Movie: Mugen Train — about 2 hours
Where to Catch Up: Funimation (Season 1 + Mugen Train, Dub/Sub), Crunchyroll (Season 1, Sub only) & Netflix (Season 1)
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 6: Stone Ocean
Presented by Nior
Studio: David Production
Genre: Shounen, Supernatural, STANDU POWA
Why You Should Catch Up: Nearly a decade after David Production unleashed upon the world the anime adaptation of Phantom Blood, it’s hard to contain my excitement for Stone Ocean. The battle between the Joestar lineage and their supernatural foes is a veritable odyssey at this point. The series is old enough to have helped define a few tropes of shounen manga, but despite that, JoJo remains a singularity. Its flamboyant designs are immediately recognizable and manage to extract the awesome out of the mundane, while Araki’s way of writing makes the ridiculous seem completely logical. And with each chapter focusing on a new generation of characters, the show remains incredibly fresh while building upon previous ideas and exploring different (and potentially wackier) fighting styles. This is a flavor of “bizarre” you won’t get anywhere else.
And while it’s odd that the series took so long to get an anime — at least, a good one — my God, was it ever worth the wait. David Production’s record with the series is spotless. With Golden Wind, they proved they can be faithful down to the word count while simultaneously elevating and expanding the source material to the point the anime feels more canon than the manga at times. It’s a joy to revisit the older parts and realize how it reflects the evolution of the original author in a way that not many studios can get right.
Part 5 had some amazing and inventive fights — probably my favorite so far — but as far as the plot is concerned, it was a bit of a tangent. Giorno’s adventure only moderately tied into the Joestar family’s ongoing odyssey. Part 6 returns to that root by focusing on a direct descendant of the Joestar lineage, Jolyne Kujo. This is exciting not only because it’s the first time the series had a female lead, but Stone Ocean also marks the end of this long chapter in the JoJo franchise. Future installments changed gears by setting themselves in an alternate universe, effectively rebooting the series, which means Part 6 is, by every definition, a finale — the last clash between the legacies of the Joestar family and their eternal nemesis, DIO. And long-time fans have every right to be hyped.
Unfortunately, all the things that make JoJo unique are something of a double edge sword. It is incredibly hit or miss, equally incredible, and dumb to different people for the same reasons. From my experience, people either go “this is weird, get me out” or become the type that unironically replies to WhatsApp messages with JoJo stickers — don’t lie, you know who you are. There is no in-between. So if you are still on the fence, here’s my recommendation. Load up the OP for Phantom Blood on YouTube. If you get that pleasurable sensation on the back of your head, then welcome to the family, brother.
What You Need to Watch + Time to Catch Up:
- Part 1 & 2: Phantom Blood + Battle Tendency — 26 episodes (Approx 9.9 hours)
- Part 3: Stardust Crusaders + 2nd Season — 24 episodes each (Approx 18.4 hours)
- Part 4: Diamond is Unbreakable — 39 episodes (Approx 14.9 hours)
Optional but Recommended:
- Part 5: Golden Wind — 39 episodes (Approx 14.9 hours)
Where To Catch Up:
- Parts 1–4: Netflix, Hulu, Funimation, Crunchyroll
- Part 5: Crunchyroll
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation (second cour)
Presented by: Astinaut
Studio: Studio Bind
Genres: Drama, Fantasy, Isekai
Why You Should Catch Up: Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation is no easy recommendation, but it is a worthwhile one. The protagonist, Rudy Greyrat, is portrayed as a foul and desperately perverted creature prior to his reincarnation — potentially to a criminal extent if the web novel is sourced for context beyond the vagueness in the anime. For all the incremental improvements and character growth Rudy experiences, arguably this heinous trait is never tempered, and so the extent of fundamental change Rudy can truly be said to undergo remains questionable. The series neither condones nor condemns Rudy’s actions, and anyone expecting a polemic against his depravity or direct reckoning in this regard will be disappointed. This series is dedicated to depicting a person slowly adapting to his new lease of life in a fantasy world, and that person is sometimes a licentiousness adult in the body of a child. Add in pseudo-medieval societal norms, and Mushoku holds a discomforting position in 2021, even amongst the litany of anime series with casual female fanservice and groping. For many viewers, Rudy Greyrat will reasonably be irredeemably off-putting as a character to invest in.
That is an important qualifier — and perhaps qualifier will seem a mild term for some — because Mushoku is nominally a tale of somebody trying to lead a more productive life by extending beyond his personal limitations and furthering his understanding of the world, including its minutiae. In most facets, the genuine sense of discovery informs Mushoku’s storytelling from the outset: it is no accident that the first several episodes barely move beyond the garden walls of the Greyrat household. Rudy deciphering magical incantations word by word or slowly discerning his new parents’ fallibility elevates the worldbuilding; Mushoku dedicates itself towards establishing its fantasy as realm with its own history and society that Rudy has been transplanted into, rather than simply a vector that directly responds to his own personal machinations. Experiencing Rudy’s adaptation to his new life brings freshness in its specificity.
This also structures the episodic storytelling effectively, as personal development or realisations are paired with the expansion of Rudy’s literal world. As he ventures into new towns and meets new people, the encounters underline themes of friendship and camaraderie, but also the harshness of death and survival. Perhaps these are simple ideas, but once again Mushoku enhances these omnipresent elements in life through detailed animation and at times genuinely stunning and cinematic colour and composition choices by Studio Bind.
Returning to that caveat stated at the beginning, an initially terrible person like Rudy Greyrat still learning and receiving compassion and care might feel unearned to some. The series is littered with initially unpleasant and flawed people, from violent children to philanderers to murderers. And yet the audience is asked to have empathy, because so many of them, like Rudy, are in some way seeking the chance to start anew.
Is there satisfaction in watching awful people improve themselves slightly, often at the expense of culpability? Frankly, the presentation is convincing. Yet the amoral nature of Mushoku’s universe serves another purpose. Free of expectation, Rudy and every other character struggles and stumbles, but there is comfort in the knowledge that literally anyone can reform and change. However imperfectly and marginally, the idea that reform and growth wholly relies on personal will is reassuring. In that way, there is always potential for change, and that is a hopeful thought.
Time to Catch Up + What You Need to Watch: 11 episodes (4 hours approximately).
World Trigger (Season 3)
Presented by: Requiem
Genre: Action, Adventure, Cool Jackets
Why You Should Catch Up: World Trigger seems to have mostly flown a bit under the shounen radar, even with a famous studio behind it and a very solid episode count at 85. Still, it’s never garnered the kind of hype or attention of a Demon Slayer or Black Clover. It’s a shame, really, because it’s a great little show.
Quick recap: Mikado City is ground zero in a war against attacks from other dimensions, which are defended against by an organization called Border, utilizing an energy called Trion. Trion is turned into various weapons using technology called…wait for it…triggers. Our POV character is Osamu, a fairly normal high schooler and Border trainee, who forms a team with Yuma, a ‘Neighbor’ from another dimension with ridiculous fighting skills and his actual neighbor Chika, a tiny girl with huge, massive…amounts of Trion.
So far, so tropey…teenagers join organization to use powers to fight mysterious enemy. But WT uses that somewhat worn premise as a foundation for some really detailed world building. The writers use a deliberate-some might uncharitably call it languid- pace to explore not just the battles and experience of the main 3 cast members and not just the battles against the Neighbors, but the politics and rivalries within Border, really stretching to utilize the truly massive cast available. There are at least 30 to 40 named characters in the roster and almost all of them get at least a few moments to shine and/or a tragic backstory. It’s a fairly impressive feat of series composition.
One of the big keys to the series’ likeability is the 2 male leads, Osamu and Yuma. Yuma is a bit OP and frankly, in most shows, would be the main character. But he thrives as the sidekick, fine with being the Ace of his team but not his captain; Yuma, more than anyone, recognizes Osamu’s latent potential and the quality of his straightforward, honest nature. Osamu himself is somewhat unique as a shounen protagonist: he is not the chosen one, he has no hidden super powers, he’s not related to some legendary character and no weirdo superhuman fed him his hair. He is very much the everyman, a mostly normal person in a world of magic weapons and special abilities. What he does have is determination, ambition, and a relentless work ethic, and that both inspires his team and endears him to others in Border.
To make a long story short (too late), World Trigger does a lot of the small things that help immerse you into a world and make you care about what happens to the people there. Season 2 was mostly set up for what should be a hell of a Season 3 as Border and our intrepid trio go on the offensive and travel to other dimensions for the first time. It’s a payoff for a story that’s been building since Episode 1, and it should pull the trigger a damn good time.
Time To Catch Up + What You Need to Watch:
- World Trigger S1 and S2 (85 episodes, roughly 30 hours)
Where To Catch Up:
Both seasons are available on Crunchyroll; however only S1 has a dub.
Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon — The Second Act
Presented by Doctorkev
Genres: Fantasy, (Reverse) Isekai, Supernatural, Shonen, Action, Time Travel
Why You Should (Not) Catch Up: 21 years ago, the TV adaptation of manga superstar Rumiko Takahashi’s 56-volume Inuyasha emerged as one of the biggest shonen anime of the early 2000s, achieving international success. Via Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming block, it became many western fans’ gateway into the world of Japanese animation. The manga continued long after the anime ended, so a “final act” to conclude the story finally followed in 2009. It seems that wasn’t the end of the franchise, as two decades later, shady anime execs smelled money in unwitting millennials’ cheap nostalgia. This must be what happened, because otherwise there would be no justifiable reason for the abomination that is Yashahime to exist.
Yashahime is the Boruto to Inuyasha’s Naruto. A pointless, cash-grab sequel that no-one asked for, that isn’t even based on a manga by the original creator. Yes, they unchained Takahashi from her desk long enough to scratch out some vague character designs, but that’s where her involvement in this cursed production ended. Unlike Takahashi’s progenitor work, Yashahime is confused, erratic and poorly plotted. Characters lack coherent motivation — they act irrationally, and stupidly. What little plot exists is sketchily drawn and vague. Lacking clear purpose or drive, the main characters are as lacklustre as the underwhelming villains.
Yashahime follows a central trio of characters — the daughter of Inuyasha and Kagome, plus the twin daughters of Sesshomaru and Rin — as they bumble around Sengoku-period Japan, colliding with plot elements at arbitrary junctures and generally failing to be engaging protagonists. At no point does anyone ever query the sheer weirdness of these kids being abandoned by their parents as infants, to bring themselves up in the wilderness. Towards the end of the first season we receive some vague half-answers, but the girls themselves don’t seem to care, so why should the viewer?
Please don’t bother with this staggeringly inept stain on the reputation of one of Japan’s premier manga creators. It’s a poor shadow of the earlier anime, and an exceedingly unsatisfying, frustrating show to watch week-by-week. Season one suffered such a ridiculously contrived, stupid resolution that I cannot bring myself to waste any more time on this vacuous, empty nostalgia bilge.
Time to Catch Up + What You Need to Watch:
- Yashahime: Princess Half-Demon Season 1: 24 episodes (9.5 hours approx.)
- Inuyasha — 167 episodes (67 hours approx.), Inuyasha: The Final Act — 26 episodes (10.5 hours approx.)
- Inuyasha movies 1–4 (6.5 hours approx.)
Where to Watch: Crunchyroll
Yuki Yuna is a Hero Season 3: The Great Mankai Chapter
Presented by: Doctorkev
Studio: Studio Gokumi
Genres: Dark Fantasy, Magical Girl, Slice of Life, Gut-Wrenching Tragedy
Why You Should Catch Up: Madoka Magica has a lot to answer for. Gen Urobuchi’s 2011 dark, violent and cynical take on the “magical girl” concept spawned an army of lesser imitators, many of them imperfectly replacing the original’s nuanced tragedy with black-hearted cruelty. 2014’s Yuki Yuna stands above these grim replicas to stand close to Madoka. This isn’t another dark, bleak dose of nihilism (looking at you, Magical Girl Site), but a genuinely touching (if at times harrowing) exploration of true friendship and the meaning of sacrifice.
Apparently set on the modern-day Japanese island of Shikoku, we follow Yuki Yuna, a normal junior high school girl as she interacts with her friends in the “Hero Club”, where they do their best to help those in need. This slow-paced, wholesome slice-of-life facet of the show is juxtaposed with intense, terrifying CGI-aided fights against the “Vertex” — alien invaders who seemingly want to destroy Yuki Yuna’s world. She and her friends are called to be magical girl defenders of their city. Much like Madoka, there is a hidden price for their powers that becomes increasingly unsettling, then eventually horrifying. Via the trappings of a shinto-esque religion, Yuki Yuna explores the disturbing concept of magical girls as sacrificial objects, expected to give up everything in service to the people they try to save.
Bright and bubbly Madoka Kaname-like archetype Yuki Yuna herself sports pink hair, as seems mandatory for main characters in such shows. Her overly intense, serious friend Mimori Togo has long straight black hair, with more than a touch of Madoka’s Homura Akemi about her. The rest of the colour-coded characters follow similar tropes as established by prior genre shows. Yuki Yuna is not merely a regurgitation of previous magical girl show concepts, though. It’s intense not just in its action scenes, but in its evocative (ultimately otherworldly) setting and the painful, desperate emotions wrung from its suffering characters. There’s existential horror, impossible choices, and brave, hopeless sacrifice. With a plot that keeps twisting knife after knife after knife, it exemplifies that just-one-more-episode compulsion common to the best TV shows.
At the time of writing, the excellent first season is easily available to stream on Crunchyroll, however the second season (split into a 6-episode prequel, a recap episode and a 6-episode sequel) has become a victim of Amazon’s hated Anime Strike debacle, and has disappeared from their Prime streaming service, leaving no legal streaming option. I expect it to turn up on HIDIVE close to the third season’s premiere.
Time to Catch Up + What You Need to Watch:
- Yuki Yuna Is a Hero Season 1–12 episodes — (5 hours approx.)
- Yuki Yuna Is a Hero Season 2 (Washio Sumi Chapter and Hero Chapter) — 13 episodes (5 hours approx.)
Where to Watch: Season 1: Crunchyroll, Season 2: not currently available to stream, Season 3: HIDIVE
Check out last season’s sequel guide here: