Winter Season 2018 is already upon us! And already it seems as if we – the UK viewers – might need to subscribe to Netflix and Amazon Prime, as well as Crunchyroll, Funimation (for simuldubs) and HIDIVE if we’re going to keep up with all the enticing new offerings. From Masaaki Yuasa’s DEVILMAN crybaby (binge-watch the whole series at once) to Violet Evergarden (a single episode a week, subbed or dubbed) it seems as if Netflix are experimenting with all possible methods of delivery. One thing’s certain: there are hidden gems to be discovered and our writers at Anime UK News are ready, willing and able to share some of their discoveries with you.
The first season of a new year is always exciting. This time last year I was watching KonoSuba season 2, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid and Scum’s Wish which are shows that I think were some of the best of 2017 in general. With that said, does this season offer up shows that I’ll remember come the end of 2018? It’s hard to say, but I think I’ve found some potential winners from this massive selection of titles.
It wouldn’t be a new anime season for me without at least one isekai title. Last season it was Recovery of an MMO Junkie (yes, I know that only sort of counts) and this season we have Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody, a light novel adaption from studio Silver Link. Many of our readers may be familiar with the title because Yen Press have been releasing the light novels in English and are currently up to Volume 4, but for those who aren’t, I’m here to tell you why it’s worth your time.
The story is centred on Ichirou Suzuki (known as Satou otherwise), a video game programmer who falls asleep during a gruelling ‘death march’ at work thanks to extreme overtime. When he awakens he finds himself a world not dissimilar to those in the mobile games he’s working on, but Satou soon discovers this world isn’t just a bad dream! As our hero is attacked by a group of lizard-men he uses three powerful meteor skills, which destroy all the enemies around him and then some. Afterwards Satou has gained enough experience to find himself at level 310 and enough loot to make him extremely wealthy! With this startling turn of events our protagonist sets out to explore this world and see what he can find…
What I like about Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Overall the story isn’t that different to In Another World With my Smartphone because both protagonists are overpowered, obtain a harem of girls, and go on to live their days out relatively peacefully. It’s not too serious a story and so it’s easy to settle in and watch the characters story unfold. The only real complaint I have is that Crunchyroll have left a lot of ‘pop up menu’ displays untranslated and having read the original light novel, I know they’re often quite important pieces of dialogue. This was a big issue for the first episode, but the second one handled it somewhat better. I’m hopeful that as of the first things will be a lot better…
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody is streaming on Crunchyroll.
For my second title I’ve decided to talk about one of the titles being released on Amazon. The title in question is After the Rain, a seinen manga series being adapted by Wit Studio (and featuring an OP from HoneyWorks!). It tells the story of a 17-year-old high school student, Akira Tachibana, who has a crush on the 45-year-old manager of the family restaurant she works at part-time. Usually I’d be against this kind of thing and find it somewhat creepy as Akira is so young, but the way the story is told softens the scenario quite a lot. Masami is easily flustered and not even remotely aware of Akira’s feelings for him. Not only that, he’s also a father to a young son so if anything his actions are often quite fatherly toward Akira. Because of this and the fun feel that the show goes for, I’ve been really enjoying it week to week. If the relationship between the two characters ever gets serious then maybe I’ll revisit my previous concerns, but right now this is a cute and colourful series which is being well adapted by Wit Studio.
My final pick for this season is A Place Further Than the Universe. Admittedly when I started the series I went into it expecting a ‘cute girls doing cute things’ show and wasn’t certain I’d stick with it. However after the first three of episodes it has easily become a firm favourite of mine for the season. It follows the adventures of Mari Tamaki who becomes friends with Shirase Kobuchizawa, a girl who wants to travel to the Antarctica. Of course these girls are only high-school students, so there are numerous roadblocks in their way, but with careful planning and a whole lot of determination just maybe they’ll be able to make their dream a reality.
I have a real love-hate affair with titles adapted or created by studio Madhouse. The vast majority just don’t interest me and I was worried that A Place Further Than the Universe was going to fall firmly into the ‘no interest’ pile, but actually the animation, voice actors, and overall feel of the show is very well presented. The artwork is clean and colourful, but the studio don’t shy away from using dark colours for the more emotional moments. There is also a nice vocal track used throughout the first couple of episodes, which really heightens the moment and draws you in. I really think anyone with even a remote interest in a slice of life series should give this one a go – don’t let first impressions based on the poster and studio put you off like they almost did me. This show is a lot deeper than you’d expect.
A Place Further Than the Universe is streaming on Crunchyroll.
Our household doesn’t subscribe to Netflix. There, I’ve said it. So I’m leaving it to others to share their thoughts on what Netflix has to offer and confining myself to Crunchyroll and Amazon Prime (I’m still following the consistently crazy Classicaloid on HIDIVE; more about their tongue-in-cheek fantasy Damepri at a later stage, perhaps.)
So – apart from the excellent continuing shows like The Ancient Magus’ Bride and March Comes in like a Lion – what stands out from the crowd? Demelza has already recommended two shows that are my stand-outs this season: the May-December slice-of-life story After the Rain (Amazon Prime) and the unexpectedly inspiring girls’ adventure A Place Further Than the Universe (Crunchyroll) which follows a hare-brained plan to go to Antarctica that slowly becomes a real possibility. Both of these shows feature engaging, believable characters and intriguing situations brought to life with consistently good animation and visual flare. They also feature attractive OPs and EDs; I wish the same could be said about many other shows’ musical offerings this season. (What’s with all the songs with the pointless key shifts? Don’t get me started…)
First of all, Hakata Tonkotsu Ramens. Okay, the jazzy score by Kotaro Nakagawa (07-Ghost, Code Geass) is also a plus, evoking memories of Baccano! and Cowboy Bebop. But the noir drama of detectives and assassins trying to outsmart (and kill) each other in an atmospheric evocation of downtown Fukuoka doesn’t pull its punches; this one is not for the squeamish. It’s also – thus far – intriguingly twisty in the plot department. Lin Xianming (Yuuki Kaji) is a cross-dressing hitman who’s been sent to kill detective Banba (Daisuke Ono). Xianming might look convincingly like a blonde-haired girl but he makes no effort to disguise his voice – and it’s soon made clear that he’s only in this profession to try to save his sister’s life. I’m intrigued enough to want to follow this through to see if it can deliver what it promises; it’s based on a series of light novels by Chiaki Kisaki so there’s some hope there’ll be some depth of characterization and plot development. On the other hand, if it just degenerates into ‘bloodbath of the week’, I’ll probably quit and move on.
Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens is streaming on Crunchyroll.
From hitmen to toddlers is a big jump and my next choice is School Babysitters, the polar opposite of my first. Based on the popular shoujo manga Gakuen Babysitters (17 volumes and still going strong) by Hari Tokeino, it tells the story of big brother and high school student Ryūichi Kashima who is left to bring up little brother Kotarō after the death of their parents in a plane crash. News of their plight reaches the ears of the formidable chairwoman of Morinomiya Academy who has lost her only son and his wife in the same crash. She offers the Kashima brothers a home and education in the academy on the condition that Ryūichi helps out in the on-site child daycare centre. This story could have easily become maudlin or over-cute but it manages to avoid either pitfall by making its cast of toddlers believably unpredictable and the chairwoman suitably severe. As more students are drawn into the club, we’re doubtless going to see how looking after the little ones brings changes (for the better?) to their lives. Dare I call it heart-warming? And will it sustain the promise of its first episodes? Watch School Babysitters on Crunchyroll to find out.
Which brings me to the unashamedly cute in How to Keep a Mummy. When I was a child, I was terrified of Egyptian mummies coming to life – but I’m sure I would have been won over by the tiny mummy, Mii-kun, a present sent to Sora by his errant father with the one warning ‘Don’t unwrap it’. This gentle fantasy-comedy is another variation of ‘protagonist gets adorable pet and but has to learn how to look after it’ and plays up to the wish-fulfilment element we all – probably – secretly harbour. It’s undemanding but enjoyable and you can read the original manga by Kakeru Utsugi at Crunchyroll as well. All the Cute continues in How to Keep a Mummy on Crunchyroll
Normally I only tend to pick up a handful of shows in any given season but the Winter season of 2018 has given me a surprisingly busy schedule in terms of anime, of which the majority are really good. Of course, some are better than others, and I’ve managed to narrow my top picks down to three standouts that I’d recommend.
My first highlight is one that likely needs no introduction given the amount of buzz it seems to be generating from all corners of the internet since its debut: Pop Team Epic. Based upon the incredibly popular manga by author bkub Okawa, I genuinely believe Pop Team Epic might be one of the most divisive anime ever released. As much as I adore it, you could tell me you thought it was the absolute worst thing you’ve ever seen and I’d totally get where you were coming from. To call it an acquired taste would be an understatement. Lacking any coherent story or structure, Pop Team Epic instead resorts to a series of short skits in every episode, and each is more strange and bizarre than the last, easily being the most experimental anime I think I’ve ever seen. From live-action segments, featuring the voice actors in the studio recording the lines for the show itself, to ugly MS-Paint style animation to song performances, it’s quite right to say that you never know what you’re going to get from Pop Team Epic, which is what makes me absolutely adore it. My only real complaint is the bizarre decision to make the second half of the episodes identical to the first half of the episodes, with the only changes being swapping the female voice actors out for male ones, and some slight changes in the visual gags. It was funny the first time, but it soon wears thin by the third. That aside, I’d wholly recommend anyone at least try an episode of Pop Team Epic. Love it or hate it, one thing for sure is you certainly won’t see anything else like it this season.
No list of seasonal recommendations from me would be complete without an obligatory anime about a bunch of cute girls doing nothing in particular, and my favourite one of those from the Winter Season has to be Mitsuboshi Colours. The ‘Colours’ are a group of three small girls who hang around together and devote themselves to protecting the peace of their city, having a lot of fun in the process. As with all Slice of Life shows of this kind, Mitsuboshi Colours is great entirely because of the central cast of characters and their chemistry. The meek and naive Yui, intelligent straight man Kotoha and rambunctious Satchan make for a delightful trio to watch, with Satchan in particular getting a ton of laughs out of me, especially when they harass and torment Saitou, a local security guard, and about as close as a show like this can get to an antagonist. Mitsuboshi Colours also has a mild element of puzzle solving too, which I always enjoy, as junk shop owner Oyaji and his ever-changing sunglasses prepares a number of challenges for the girls to solve. If this kind of ‘Cute Girls Doing Cute Things’ show isn’t normally your thing, this will do nothing to change your mind, but if you’re like me and can’t get enough of them, this should definitely be on your radar!
Mitsuboshi Colours is streaming on HiDive
Far and away my favourite anime this season has to be Violet Evergarden. This show has been hotly anticipated for a long time now, mostly because of the incredible looking first trailer, and the pedigree of the animation studio behind it, Kyoto Animation, a name that will be familiar to even the most casual of anime fans, being responsible for some of the biggest anime hits of recent years, including K-On, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Free: Iwatobi Swim Club and of course last year’s spellbinding A Silent Voice. Violet Evergarden centers around the titular Violet, a young girl who grew up on the battlefield of a great war that has since ended, as she attempts to adapt to life outside of conflict. Deeply moved by the work of ‘Auto Memory Dolls’, a group of people who convert people’s thoughts into written words, Violet begins her journey as a Doll, coming face-to-face with the varying emotions and differing shapes of love, all in an attempt to find meaning in the words given to her by someone she holds dear.
To get the obvious out of the way first, Violet Evergarden is just about the best-looking TV anime I have ever seen. You can tell this has been in the works a really long time, being first announced in May of 2016, and it shows in every single episode having movie quality levels of detail and motion; it’s honestly an amazing feat. Not content with being just a pretty face though, Violet Evergarden also gives us a very unique setting, appearing to be some kind of alternate universe World War 1 time period, which I feel is rarely seen. The character of Violet is compelling right from the off, having an interesting backstory and generating plenty of empathy as we see her trying her best and not always succeeding in fitting into her new profession. The excellent soundtrack by Evan Call (Big Order, Tokyo ESP, Symphogear G) is also noteworthy, being equally as cinematic as the visuals. As of time of writing, only three episodes are out, but already I can tell this is going to be something truly amazing by the end, assuming nothing goes drastically awry in the next episodes. Violet Evergarden is streaming on Netflix, who are, for the first time, actually simulcasting anime in the UK, and with an English dub nonetheless, so you really have no excuse not to check out this amazing series.
At time of writing I’m still desperately trying to catch up on everything I want to watch since there are several great continuing shows on my schedule, along with plenty of new titles to check out. Like many others, I’m enjoying After The Rain on Amazon Prime’s video service along with the continuations for Mr. Osomatsu and March Comes in like a Lion on Crunchyroll. There have been a few surprises that were better than expected (Sanrio Boys could well turn out to be a guilty pleasure if I find time to catch up on it!)
Nobody else has written about citrus yet? Although I’m not following the manga and have come in with zero expectations, I enjoyed the first few episode enough to add it to my streaming schedule straight away. Yuzu is an outgoing, flashy schoolgirl whose life changes dramatically when her mother remarries, forcing her to move to a strict new school where she soon clashes with Mei, the assertive head of the student council who gives her a greeting she won’t soon forget. Yuzu is mortified when she later discovers that Mei is also her brand new stepsister, and even more surprisingly, it’s starting to look as though she might become her very first love…
From the premise alone, it should hopefully be fairly obvious that citrus is a melodrama. Everything that happens to Yuzu rapidly escalates in a ridiculous way, but it works because Yuzu herself is a likeable girl with a sweet personality; as a viewer I wanted her to succeed right from the beginning. So far, there’s no indication that the show is ever going to be an especially meaningful viewing experience – Yuri!!! On Ice this is not – but its primary goal is to titillate the audience and it accomplishes that goal far more competently than other recent efforts in its genre. It’s possible that I’m so relieved this didn’t turn out to be as bad as last summer’s Netsuzou Trap -NTR- that I’m giving citrus more credit than it deserves. However, taken for what it is, the dramatics are compelling and both the animation and voice acting contribute to a satisfying viewing experience. Hang on in there, Yuzu!
citrus is streaming on Crunchyroll
I’ve said in previous articles that I don’t watch much, if any, streaming anime; I’m an old-school TV or home media kind of woman. But this year, I’ve made a minor resolution to try and watch more online anime, and so far, it’s been easy with Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card this season. Yes, big surprise, after raving about the first volume of the new manga, I’ve jumped right into the anime series, which is currently streaming on Crunchyroll and Funimation. The series picks up right after the finale of the original manga, where our heroine Sakura is starting Junior High School when she runs into Li Syaoran, the boy she loves and who lived in Hong Kong until he surprises her with his permanent return to Japan. Right behind him however comes an all new threat; she’s having weird dreams of a cloak figure and giant dragons, and then wakes up to find her old cards have been stripped of their power. Who is after Sakura and what do they want exactly?
The best thing about the original manga, that is carried over perfectly in the anime, is the continuity; MADHOUSE really struck gold by updating the visuals whilst also making it feel like a continuation of their original anime. Considering the series ended back in the 90s and technology has continued to march forward since then, it’s quite the accomplishment! The aesthetics and details from the magical card formations to Sakura’s new outfits; it’s all perfectly animated and naturally evolved whilst having stunning 3D animation to recreate the new glass and clear magic motifs that reign this season. This is also carried across in the main story; the anime went out of their way to animate the last chapter of the original story in an OVA, to re-write their original ending, so that it could flow right into the new series. But big thumbs up go to the second episode which very sweetly, and pointedly, mentions Meiling – the anime exclusive character – so that her absence off-screen is explained. It’s only a few lines but the fact that they took the time to do so is an extremely welcomed effort. Story-wise, its exactly what you’ve come to expect from CLAMP’s best-known work. So far, it’s followed the manga closely, but by the second episode it’s already overtaken what little has been officially released in the UK, so it’ll be interesting to see if the anime decides to add any additional cards like they did in the original series or stay true to the manga all the way through. If you’re a Cardcaptor Sakura fan, there’s no reason to miss this!
Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card is streaming on Crunchyroll
I’ve also been watching After the Rain; which is currently on Amazon Prime and tells the story of 17-year-old Akira Tachibana, a reserved girl who works as a waitress in a restaurant part time and happens to have a secret crush on her manager, 45-year-old Masami Kondo. The premise alone would be enough to turn many people off, which I can completely understand; however despite the potential for a lot of uncomfortable scenes and emotions, thus far this series has striven excellently and produced a beautiful result. When I first watched the pilot, it reminded me very much of my experience with Makoto Shinkai’s Garden of Words; not just because of their mutual love for rain and age-gap relationships, but because of the presentations of the latter. In both versions we mostly follow the younger person’s journey into falling in love with the older person; we experience the purity and rawness of their emotions, their inexperience and internal struggles. Then when we do get a flipped perspective from the older person, it’s not a pervy look at the younger interest or taking advantage of them, in fact both are mentally in a very different shape than their physical ages suggest. Masami is recently divorced with a child who doesn’t respect him (nor do most of his colleagues) and his obliviousness to anything around him makes him charming rather than annoying. You can see why Akira fell for him, which is important, but also prevents it from being portrayed as a predatory kind of relationship. It’s a mature, complex and sweet handling of a very dodgy subject matter and so far, it’s compelling on top of being beautifully animated. I look forward to seeing if the series can continue to carry this relationship through until the end.
Then we have one of the biggest surprises, especially for UK fans, to turn up on Netflix and that is Violet Evergarden; because not only are Netflix simulcasting it every Thursday rather than holding it to ransom for several months, or that it’s subbed AND dubbed, but somehow, it’s only streaming in selected territories, NOT included the United States. I don’t know who in Netflix’s licensing department approved that, but whoever you are, you’ve made a lot of UK anime fans happy because for our territory to get an exclusive like this is unheard of! From Kyoto Animation, the series is set in a post-war European-like country where Violet is recovering from said war. She’s an unspecified ‘weapon’ that has only known combat and army regiment her whole life, so now lacks purpose due to her newly acquired artificial arms and a missing commander she cared deeply for. A man named Hodgins however comes to her aid and offers her a job in his new postal company, where she discovers the role of Auto Memory Dolls who compose letters for others who are unable to write their own for various reasons. Violet lacks the empathy skills but become enthralled by the role as she wants to know the meaning of her commander’s last words; ‘I love you’.
As many have already written about this show – but it can’t go unsaid – the animation is stunning; it’s as if every cell had hours of drawing, framing and shading dedicated to it to make sure each second is frame-on-your-wall worthy. It’s visually beautiful, but good looks will only get you so far, and you need a story to warrant such money being used on the beautiful animation. While the plot is not Oscar-worthy, it’s not a complete write-off. We’ve seen the ‘cute girl used as a weapon’ before in anime, as well as the clueless adolescent trying to learn what emotions are in a world so different to her old one, but so far, it’s holding itself together. This is largely due to Violet herself – she is endearing and sympathetic, she’s got some ways to go before becoming a fully fleshed-out character but her journey is one you want to follow, as well as see her interact with the others who are recovering from the war in various engaging ways. The only major drawback is the translation; there’s been one particular scene in Episode 2 where the original intention is totally lost (in both the subs and dubs) as this picture demonstrates. So, fingers crossed we don’t have too many goofs like this in future episodes, which are released every Thursday on Netflix.
Josh A. Stevens
My thoughts on anime streaming in 2018 are fortunately the opposite of what I expected to say this time last year. After years of dabbling in international licensing, Netflix have established themselves as a tour de force with their first true Netflix Original anime, the breathtaking DEVILMAN crybaby. Much like their debut of Marvel collaboration Daredevil, this new adaptation of Go Nagai’s iconic horror action manga has been hailed as a series that simply could not exist through traditional channels. With lashings of ultra violence and sex that make Deadman Wonderland and To Love Ru Darkness look like church, I haven’t seen an anime push this many boundaries since Satoshi Kon’s legendary Perfect Blue. The presence of these elements largely fits the overarching tone and it rarely feels as though they exist purely for gratification.
Produced by Science SARU (Night is Short, Walk on Girl), DEVILMAN crybaby excels in all manners of its design. The soundtrack by Kensuke Ushio (Space Dandy) is a work of art worthy of acclaim in itself. In the director’s chair, acclaimed anime auteur Masaaki Yuasa brings the same fluid visuals and movement that worked wonders in Lu over the Wall and his Adventure Time episode to situations and an audience completely different to the child-orientated anime I just mentioned, yet works just as spectacularly. I find it fascinating how, while talking to a happy, cheerful Yuasa about his kid’s film mere months ago, he had such a polar opposite whirling in his head. In my opinion, that is a sign of a true artist.
While the series’s extreme themes will make it very “Marmite” amongst viewers, with its striking animation, phenomenal soundtrack and a story that plays on just about every emotion a person can muster, I have no doubt that DEVILMAN crybaby will be fondly remembered in the years to come. If this is the kind of content we can expect from Netflix investing in anime, then I’m all for it. All 10 episodes of DEVILMAN crybaby are currently streaming on Netflix.
I’ve also been loving Netflix’s other offerings this season, including the gloriously simulcast Violet Evergarden, which my colleagues have already talked about in detail. For the first time, I’ve found myself heading primarily to Netflix for my anime fix over Crunchyroll, who are largely keeping my attention solely with the continuation of The Ancient Magus’ Bride. I’m cautiously intrigued by how DARLING in the FRANXX will develop, despite jokingly referring to it as Pacific Rim for Perverts (or a cruder moniker the editors would kill me for even thinking about publishing). At time of writing, I’ve only seen a single episode of A Place Further than the Universe and found it, well… not bad, but not particularly noteworthy either. Maybe my opinion will improve the deeper I go, as it clearly has for my fellow writers, but we’ll see.
IncendiaryLemon noted that Pop Team Epic is “divisive”, which is certainly the case here, as I found it an embarrassing waste of my time. I actually like a lot of the original 4-koma strips I’ve seen floating online, but I’m sorry Kamikaze Douga, Pop Team Epic just doesn’t work as a 12-minute quick-fire of skits… especially when it’s repeated all over again with a different voice cast, because of course it is. With so many places having invested in rights to Pop Team Epic, I’m now glad to be one of the few who hasn’t spent their money!
So in conclusion, my advice for this anime season, would be to invest in a Netflix subscription.