I’ve had a weekly Sunday ritual going on for the better part of 10 years where I binge watch anime once a week with my friend Alan. In the beginning, anime night was primitive, unformed, and involved a great deal of internet piracy. We mostly watched Naruto. Now we can watch shows easily, legally, and cheaply on official licensed streams. Everything in this review is available via Crunchyroll or Funimation.
Premise: Deities grant powers to heroes who join their “families.” These heroes explore dungeons and gain experience in a manner very similar to MMO gaming, except they’re not in a game. Probably.
Subgenre: Adventure/Comedy. Protagonist inexplicably causes every female within a ten-mile radius to fall in love with him.
Points For: The comedy is actually funny, if largely based on reaction shots. Bell Cranel, the protagonist, has a personality. Hell, he’s even reasonably lovable. He and his goddess, Hestia, have a rather sweet relationship that doesn’t degenerate into Anime Comedy Trope 1A. (Wherein the female lead is inexplicably naked in a place she shouldn’t be and the male lead wanders in and gets punched through the ceiling for the dastardly crime of walking into his own kitchen.)
Points docked for: Hestia’s gravity defying outfit/boobs. The animators’ fixation on female hindquarters. The casual sexualization of (frequently underage) female characters.
Review: Worth it for Bell’s high speed somersault dungeon escape alone! And that doesn’t take into account the ridiculous teeth brushing in the opening . 7.5/10
Premise: Seven mages summon seven legendary heroes to battle over the omnipotent wish granting power of the Holy Grail.
Subgenre: Visual Novel Adaptation.
Points for: Holy cow, this show looks amazing. They animated the shit out of this. The premise is weird, the art is incredible, the characters are compelling, the fight choreography is insane, and every episode ends too damn soon.
Points Docked For: This show is literally perfect.
Extra Credit: Fate/Stay Zero, the prequel season to the Fate/Stay franchise. Also amazing.
Review: Summon a legendary hero to kick your own ass for reading this stupid review instead of watching the show. 1,000,000/10
Premise: Anime Iron Chef.
Subgenre: Shonen action show. Think Dragonball Z or Naruto.
Points For: Protagonist Yukihira Soma is the trolliest troll who ever trolled. All he cares about is finding the next delicious recipe for his family’s neighborhood diner. The cooking battles are treated with the gravitas of a fate-of-the-world climactic duel while regularly dropping some pretty serious food science. And the dishes look delicious.
Wait, There’s More: Tasting these creations causes a strong reaction; the best food induces orgasmic sensations.
Points Docked For: The show definitely lacks subtlety. The characters are fairly one dimensional and gratuitous nudity is the order of the day (though played for laughs). Also, this super elite cooking school owns an entire town but somehow graduates less than ten percent of its students. How is it still in business?
Review: Someone who can cook some of the creations from this show, please do so. It makes me so very hungry. 8/10
Premise: Shitty apathetic teen with a heart of gold solves teen drama.
Subgenre: Do-Nothing Club does things
Points For: The misanthropic protagonist, Hachiman Hikigaya, solves a lot of problems for a lot of people, usually by demonstrating the futility of human interaction. Yukino Yukinoshita, the president of the Service Club, is the resident snark knight. Hachiman’s interactions with his sister, Komachi, are quite adorable while remaining realistic.
Personal Favorite: There’s a sequence where Komachi gets pissed at Hachiman for not talking to her when something is obviously wrong, and instead mopes around teen-angst style. Later, when he realizes that he’s been a jackass, he apologizes and they have an excellent (and rather touching) midnight conversation. But I’m a sucker for good sibling interactions in media.
Points Docked For: A severe case of Cerebus Syndrome takes a lot of momentum away from this sequel season. Yukino and Yui Yuigahama, the two main female characters, get a lot less screen time; Yukino has been borderline written out of the show and Yui has communication issues (by which I mean TELL THE MAN YOU LIKE HIM ALREADY) that are typical for the teen comedy/drama genre in any culture.
Review: A very funny first season has led to a very dramatic second season. While still good, its flaws are unlikely to be resolved. 7/10
Premise: Two children of powerful families have to pretend they’re dating to keep the peace. Hilarity ensues.
Subgenre: Everybody fall in love with that guy!
Points For: The comedy mostly hits, but is largely based on outrageous reactions to outrageous behavior. Plots are based on characters choosing the most absurd option to solve mundane problems. Produced by Shaft and directed by Akayuki Shinbo, which are huge points for me. Also, fantastic opening!
Points Docked For: “Diverse” cast of mostly one-dimensional characters. The same silly premises play out again and again. If people just admitted their feelings up front, the show would be over by the third episode, and this is the second season. Never has more plot been spent on so little actually happening.
That being said: People familiar with anime will immediately recognize that this show is built entirely upon the oldest of old tropes. The enjoyment is less about the interesting new things being done and more about the solid execution of things that have already been done. I had a professor who talked about great composers and how they tend be either “originators” or “culminators.” This show is definitely a culminator.
Review: I’m pretty much a Shaft/Shinbo fanboy, so I love it. Still, they spend whole episodes on whether someone will work up the courage to admit to themselves that they almost are willing to consider confessing that they might be interested in someone. Maybe. 8/10
Premise: Gigantic excitable guy acquires adorable girlfriend.
Subgenre: Gigantic excitable guy acquires adorable girlfriend.
Points For: The true story of my life. The big bruiser type almost never gets any love in this genre. Or maybe any genre. It’s adorably cute thus far. The main couple admit that they like each other and start dating in the third episode, so there’s none of that will-they-or-won’t-they interplay. The maybe not so heartwarming meet cute involves the ogre-like Takeo Gouda saving Rinko Yamato from a groper on a train. Takeo gets in a bit of hot water when the groper tries to blame his victim for wearing a short skirt and Takeo punches him through a wall. In the police station. Oops.
In the Interest of Full Disclosure: I came to this one late, so I’ve only seen 3 episodes. It could get terrible the moment they start dating.
Points Docked For: Yamato, through three episodes, seems to be one of those archetypes of the perfect (Japanese) girl. Cute, polite, nice, quiet, makes amazing baked goods. So far she doesn’t have much depth of character aside from choosing the brutish Takeo because “he’s so cool!”
Review: It’s not quite like anything I’ve seen before, though the romance genre is not one that I typically watch. I hope Yamato starts showing some interesting personality quirks. 7/10
Premise: A group of girls becomes best friends through the power of high school band.
Subgenre: Cute girls doing cute things.
Points For: As an anime fan who also has a Master’s of Music in trombone, this is the most “in my wheelhouse” show ever created. In the third episode, the band director delivers the most brutally cold takedown of an ensemble I’ve ever heard without saying anything explicitly rude or raising his voice. He is my new idol. The rehearsals were clearly written with advice from real practicing musicians. The production studio is Kyoto Animation, so the character animation is breathtaking. Did I mention that three of the main cast are tiny, adorable girls playing the bass, the tuba, and the euphonium?
Keep An Eye On: Kumiko and Kosaka’s relationship. Those of you familiar with the “red string of fate” will understand the implications of this. An interesting festival scene in the latest episode brings the possibility of a lesbian love story played straight rather than for fan-service purposes. Which might be a first in my experience with anime.
Points Against: Girls are over-represented in this show, which is not a complaint of gender bias, but rather a complaint about the producers wanting fans to have lots of choices for “cutest girl.” The basis for the complaint is that there are a couple of distinct personalities, primarily Kumiko, the euph-playing protagonist, but most of the girls are, so far, defined by a single trait. This is somewhat offset by the male characters having the same issue.
Review: I would award this show 8/10 solely on the strength of Hazuki naming her tuba “Tubacabra.”10/10
Premise: There are androids called “Giftias” that are indistinguishable from humans in every way except that they lose their memories after roughly ten years of operation and have to be recovered and shut down before this happens.
Subgenre: Emotion Porn.
Points For: The premise gives the show the opportunity to examine aging, memory loss, and the end of life decline of loved ones.
Points Docked For: Not doing that.
Review: Wasn’t creative enough to fulfill its promise. 4/10
Premise: Former businessman takes revenge on the ninja/yakuza who killed his family.
Subgenre: Japanese take on American take on Japanese animation.
Points For: Funny in an Adult Swim sort of way. The show is produced by Studio Trigger, the same folks who brought us Kill-la-Kill. All of the extreme action sequences kick into a cheesy, and consistently amusing, clipart tableau. Episodes are half-length, so the joke of the show being cheaply produced never quite gets old.
Points Docked For: Studio Trigger is known for producing over-the-top, totally bonkers, blow your mind animated action sequences. This show has none of that.
I Remain Amused By: If you introduce yourself to a ninja, the ninja must introduce themselves to you. All ninja attacks are accompanied by shouts of “YEEEART!” When one piece of clipart is bounced off of another piece of clipart, the victim explodes photorealistically.
Review: I always shout “YEEEART!” at least six times between the end of the episode and the end of the night, but I am a tad disappointed that it is not animated the way Kill-La-Kill was. 6/10
Premise: A dimensional rift has combined New York with…I don’t know, maybe hell?
Subgenre: Cool shit all the time for no particular reason.
Points For: This is the most interesting show I have ever watched where I have no idea what the show is about or what it’s trying to say. But it’s packed so full of interesting powers, cool fight scenes, and weird characters that I have yet to be bothered by its lack of coherence. Crazy monsters? Check. Cool Weapons? Check. Alternate dimensions? Check. Superpowered eyesight? Check. Blood magic? Check. Vampires? Shit, we have those too. And it has a pedigree! The creator of the show is Yasuhiro Nightow, best known to American audiences for Trigun.
Points Docked For: The episodic nature leaves everyone wondering what is supposed to be going on.
Japanese Versions of English Names: Leonardo Watch. Klaus V Reinhertz. Zapp Renfro. Steven A. Starphase.
Review: Watch it! Do you like it? Do you know why? 8/10
Premise: Alternate reality featuring Nagato from the Haruhi Suzumiya series of anime and light novels.
Points For: If you enjoyed The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, you get more of those characters, mostly in their original form. That’s it, really.
Points Docked For: Asahina is still constantly sexually harassed, which we are supposed to think is funny. It’s actually a pretty generic high school do-nothing club comedy aside from its ties to the main Haruhi Suzumiya series.
Hold Onto Your Butts: This is a spin off based on a single moment of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. It was licensed, but it’s essentially fanfiction as it’s an alternate universe where Nagato is the shy girl she was in the Haruhi movie rather than the alien life form from two series preceding it. And in this alternate universe, the Nagato/Kyon shippers may win their shipping war, because in this universe, Haruhi Suzumiya is not a god. Unless she is.
Review: I probably wouldn’t be watching it if not for its ties to the Haruhi-verse. 6/10
Premise: Yellow tentacled superbeing destroys the moon, gives the people of Earth one year before he destroys them too, demands to be made teacher of a middle school class. Their mission is to assassinate him before the year is up. The problem is, he’s a REALLY good teacher.
Subgenre: LOL Japan.
Points For: This is the kind of premise you only get in anime. An ensemble show that is about characters rather than plot, each episode focuses on one or two members of the class and the way that Koro-Sensei, the superpowered yellow-tentacled teacher, helps them overcome some issue in their life. Generally played for laughs, with a great deal of success. This goofy show has an occasional moment of mood whiplash when Koro-Sensei loses his temper, or when Nagisa, the closest thing this show has to a protagonist, paralyzes someone with his raw killing intent.
Points Against: The principal of the main campus is cartoonishly evil. Koro-Sensei conveniently invents powers for getting out sticky situations. At least one member of this class of ragtag misfits might be an honest to goodness sociopath.
Review: Perhaps the silliest show I’m currently watching. I have questions about Koro-Sensei’s origins, but don’t know if this is the type of show to address those concerns. 9/10
Putting a Bow on Things
I left two shows off of the list: I Can’t Understand What My Husband is Saying, a three minute long gag show that is basically about nothing (other than demonstrating that Japan is better at titles than we are). I’m also (STILL) watching Naruto: Shippuden, which is allegedly winding down but has been airing for 10 years and I don’t need to tell you about it.
Images via Anime News Network anime encyclopedia.