With a new year and a new decade, comes a brand new season of airing anime. To help anime viewers decide which shows are worth checking out, here’s my first episode impressions for 8 shows streaming on Crunchyroll & Funimation.
Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica Gaiden
When thinking of the most influential anime from the last decade, there’s often two answers that come to mind. Sword Art Online, for spurring the popularity of isekai light novel stories, or Madoka Magica for spurring the popularity of dark magical girl shows or shows featuring young girls in dark and dangerous situations. For the first proper animated series since the original Puella Magi Madoka Magica series back in 2011, we have Magia Record, an adaptation of the Madoka mobile game. While it is advised you should watch the original series, this spinoff seems to be in a separate continuity from it, not requiring a watch. Nonetheless, much of that series’ hallmarks return. SHAFT still provides their atmospheric artsy visuals, with the town being painted orange by the sunset and the Witch Realms’ nontraditional design. Its focuses on main character Tamaki (her pink hair and red eyes not being unlike Madoka) and her friend Kuroe fighting monsters as Magical Girls and upholding their duty as magical girls. The real question is if this series will attempt to replicate the tragic character tumbling the main series did revolving around the implications of being a magical girl, or if it will be a lax, more traditional genre take. The dark atmosphere and problematic concern with youthful desire still seem to be present, but it is wondering whether you’ll continue to delve into that. The character Kuroe, for instance, already made her wish and got what she wanted, but the circumstances did not last. It’ll be interesting to see where this would go. If you’re a Madoka fan or enjoy SHAFT’s stylization I cannot recommend this show enough, but if you’re hesitant about the universe or the magical girl genre, it may not be for you.
This show had a double length premiere and as of this writing the second episode has also been released. Protagonist Sudou Kaname is forced into a mysterious mobile app game that puts him into battle with other players who also activated the game. The show follows the style of a high stakes thriller not unlike Mirai Nikki, where intense and often gory battles are punctuated by loads of weirdness. There’s laser shooting box-cutters, a serial killer panda mascot with glowing red eyes, and its main female lead appears to be an almost Yuno Gasai-esque blond haired girl using chains as a weapon in both hands. Much of the episode’s run is spent on reaction shots of Kaname scared at the horror surrounding him; lots of murders are shown on screen and he must be crafty in order to survive. If this show aims to maintain interest, focusing on his craftiness against various opponents would help to better justify what can come off as schlock. Production values are mostly average, nothing great, nothing terrible, and the censoring is at an average modicum. Should you watch it? If you’re a fan of high stakes thriller anime that can forgive silly moments of gratuitous schlock for edge of your seat entertainment, I would say yes. If you want a bit more nuance, I would give this a pass.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken
This is a show that’s sure to get the attention of longtime fans. It’s a manga adaptation animated by Science SARU, the studio created by Masaaki Yuasa for such projects as Devilman Crybaby and Lu Over the Wall. Yuasa has made a name for himself more and more over the years from his cult classic film Kick-Heart to beloved adaptations such as The Tatami Galaxy, Ping Pong: The Animation, and the aforementioned Devilman Crybaby. Their usual stylized animation shows in the character designs, which are artistically uneven, but consistently animated. In the show itself, you can understand what drew him to the project. It focuses on three girls: Midori Asakusa, Sayaka Kanamori and Tsubame Mizusaki in their imaginative goal to create their own anime together. In taking on this premise, the animators of the series integrate enough stylizing and detail to reflect the characters’ aspirations. A brief imagine spot from Midori goes into a hand-drawn style, a section near the end has the characters animating while in rough sketches and it pays great respect to the actual craft of created animation scenes, something rarely explored in anime other than Shirobako. Future Boy Conan, a 40+ year anime that gave Miyazaki his start in the anime business, is used as direct influence. The show also has the potential to delve into negative stigma surrounding anime, since the character of Mizusaki wants to be an animator, but her father forbids her from joining an anime club at the school all three main characters attend. Their school is uniquely crafted with the sort of intricate design one could only see within animation. I personally could not recommend this show enough, whether you’re a fan of comedy, a fan of Yuasa or have similar enthusiasm for animation as a craft.
If there’s any anime this season that I think would be really interesting if more thought went into exploring the nature of its premise, it’s this one. Unfortunately, this first episode showed exactly where this series’ priorities lie; the titillation. Plunderer is an action fantasy anime which takes place in a world where every character has a number somewhere on their body. This number goes up or down depending on if a character completes some sort of arbitrary, specific task. For instance, the character Nana has a number (on her exposed chest of course) that goes up if someone compliments her food. If the number goes to zero, the character is seemingly killed, taken into the abyss. Even ignoring how ridiculously arbitrary the premise is, it’s ruined by how much it emphasizes the ecchi. It starts with a serious scene where its female lead Hina loses her mother and is desperate to find a legendary hero, only to immediately be fondled by the hero for comedy, and later, kidnapped by a supposed military character whereupon he leeches her for drama. The ecchi could perhaps be expected given the creator’s past work on Heaven’s Lost Property but seems to want to only take perversions seriously if it comes from a proclaimed antagonist. When the also perverted hero saves her at the end, it suggests such leering will continue throughout. I could only really recommend this to ecchi fans who aren’t concerned about plot development or character intrigue.
Somali and the Forest Spirit
If you want to watch an anime this season that is both cute and soothing while also seeming to be a sort of meditation on a unique future, this is one for you. It focuses on a tale of two outcasts, both oddities in the world around them. There’s Somali, a young girl who exists in a world where humans exist no longer following a suggested war, and her caretaker, a mysterious forest golem. The idea of the show appears to focus on their developing relationship both to themselves and to the world they live in. Studio Satelight certainly makes it a colorful world with pinks on the walls and filled with animal people. One of the more interesting elements of the show is actually its theme song. Rather than being the energetic rock anthem you might expect of anime, it’s very reminiscent of a song from a Disney movie, with a very similar pace and rhythm. With this one, I get the impression it’ll be a relaxing show based on the father daughter bond between the leads, but that its heart will be bolstered by learning about the world lore. If you want a nice, relaxing show that may evolve into something more, this one should do it.
Recommending In/Spectre is tricky because the show’s first episode makes it difficult to discern what type of show it will be. At some points it seems like an adventurous slice of life with some mystery and some action. At other points, it makes it come off like an action show where silly situations are taken to deafening seriousness. The premise seems pretty simple on paper: 17 year old Iwanaga Kotoko and 22 year Kurou Sakuragawa work together to solve issues about the supernatural creates, with Kotoko being raised by the creatures while walking around with a cane, and Sakuragawa seemingly being new to the scenarios, but having power on his own. I say the tone is tricky because the first episode has Kotoko talk in very serious terms about how worrying the dangerous spirits can be, much like a more mature fantasy world leader, but equal importance is given to her precocious crush on Sakuragawa for reasons taken very seriously that feel unrealistic. The two characters speak in ways that would imply a sense of mystery and grandiose importance, but the first episode doesn’t show anything to push for the self-serious tone. That could change in the future, as the writer on the manga this is adapted from comes from the same writer as Blast of Tempest, a mystery thriller with both moments of silliness and moments of heavy stakes. The animation on the show also isn’t particularly stunning. It is adequate for basic conversations but doesn’t appear to be too dynamic in the battle scene at the episode’s end. I’d advise a wait and see approach on what tone the show ultimately goes with.
Smile Down the Runaway
Surprisingly, despite the look on the poster, this is actually a Shonen anime. Much like My Hero Academia, it begins with the main character already having achieved her dream of being the world’s top model, with the rest of the series being in flashback form to explain how she works her way up to that position. I say it’s a Shonen anime because the quick pacing, humor style and focus on reaching some distant goal take emphasize over budding romance between its female lead Chiyuki Fujito and boys drawn to be extremely attractive. It seems the show will be about Chiyuki overcoming the world’s challenges, as the director heavily emphasizes her struggle through some greyscaling when people are shown to doubt her, and bombastic, inspiring music that shows how dedicated she is to following her dream. It isn’t just about her though, as focus also turns to the meek Ikuto, a boy also doubted by the world around him, as he seeks to become a fashion designer. My hope is that the series will replace a focus on battle strategies with a focus on fashion, in a similar way to how Food Wars focuses on the judgement of food and style of each individual who presents it. Convincing Shonen fans to want to watch a show about overcoming the world of fashion is a hard sell, but if you have interest, it can be found on Funimation.
This one is bizarre, but it knows its appeal. Essentially, this show appears to be about this detective character, Sakaido, navigating a datascape of memories in order to track a killer, while the office managing its datascape helps piece together the mysteries in the real world based on the reflection within data. It starts off bizarre, with a sequence of zooming through cells until Sakaido is given focus. The drive to kill around him creates a bizarre jigsaw world where the killer’s victims appear around him. Its sci-fi mechanics can be confusing to follow at times, with how the characters’ actions in one world appear to almost magically affect the other, but its goal of being a sci-fi thriller starring characters in sleek suits is apparent straight from the get-go. While the studio NAZ isn’t particularly iconic, what may interest some is the director attached to it. Ei Aoki, responsible for directing such shows as Fate/Zero, Aldnoah.Zero, and Re:Creators, shows with distinctly Hollywood influence in their style and presentation. This continues the trend by being like a Japanese take on the dream navigating seen in Inception, albeit with a task force on top of it. The major question here is whether. If you can deal with convoluted logical hoops in how sci-fi technology works for an interesting and unique thrill ride, this show provides that.
Are there any other titles that interest you? What anime will you watch over the Winter 2020 season? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, or via social media.