Summer Season 2020 Preview

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The Summer Season 2020 has begun! Or…has it? Some new series (Rent-a-Girlfriend, Deca-Dence) appeared and some highly anticipated continuations launched (Sword Art Online Alicization, Fire Force) and are well underway. Crunchyroll seems to be doing well in this respect, with The God of High School and Gibiate, two more Crunchyroll Originals. But the season is looking a little thin on the ground so far, leaving the writers at Anime UK News with something of a problem: when is the best time to write a preview? Undaunted, we’re giving it our best shot. Tell us what you think of this season’s new offerings. Feast or famine?

Onosume

While I’m always an advocate of quality over quantity, it does seem that for this season pickings for new shows are quite slim, with these very unanimated times still impacting a lot of production schedules for Japan’s animation studios. However we do have a lot of delayed shows returning, such as one of my recommendations I made last time out, Appare-Ranman!, while there’s still a good handful of shows to get fired up for.

The first of these is the second season of Fire Force, which jumps back into things with one of my favourite parts of the series so far: the hunt for the fifth pillar and Adolla Burst user, and the race between the Fire Force and the Evangelist’s followers to claim them first.

While we are just getting into the meat of this part of the story as I write this, the first couple of episodes have been pretty solid, with an excellent warm-up featuring both the crew getting up to some goofy antics in trying to find Lieutenant Hinawa a decent outfit (which of course goes hilariously wrong!), and battling one of the giant infernals that the manga has occasionally shown but have not really had a huge presence in the anime so far.

Sitting in a bit of a lull between two major story arcs presents both a challenge and an opportunity in bringing us back into the series, and the anime-original infernal fight is perfect for doing that, being able to re-introduce all of the members of Company 8 and give them an opportunity to demonstrate their powers. It’s frantic and flashy enough to show off David Production’s standard of animation, get existing fans excited for what’s to come, and draw in new or more casual viewers as well so everyone is starting the new season on the same page. The climbdown from that into the nude calendar and the terrible joke that comes with it does seem a bit whiplash with its tone, but at least for anyone who zoned out with that, the second episode resumes with gusto, as Arthur has to face off with our hero after Shinra is possessed by the first pillar at Company 4’s headquarters.

So, while fans will be straight back into it, newcomers might be weirded out by some of the opening gags, but if you ignore them and focus on the opening fights and core of the story, I think this is setting up for a satisfying new season.

Speaking of manga, having reviewed the first volume of The Misfit of Demon King Academy recently, I was definitely interested in seeing how the anime was going to pan out; however in the end I don’t think I was prepared enough, as blimey the first couple of episodes of this show are a mess.

To clarify, I don’t think it looks too bad, as it certainly has some pretty decent visuals and animation, but narratively, the beginning of the story is completely mixed up, re-ordering the events of the first few chapters of the manga adaptation into something that’s – if not incomprehensible – at least hard to understand.

The opening prologue which explains the core of the story, showing why the Demon King Anos has become tired of the world and wishes to see the end of the war between demons and humans, is shifted from Episode 1 to Episode 2, meaning that as it opens with Anos meeting love interest Misha for the first time outside the titular academy, you have no idea about the world or why this guy, who is obviously a reincarnation of the demon king, has been reincarnated.

We quickly move into the entrance exam, and while the big fight against the cocky upstart Zepes still occurs, it pushes the second half against Zepes’ brother Leorg to after the event, and while the battle is still entertaining, it kind of misses the point that both battles were a public exhibition of Anos’ power, and putting one half behind closed doors takes away the impact of making Anos’ spells feel like they come from another world.

Moving back to the entrance exam, the whole thing feels rather rushed with key points such as the historical knowledge test being completely botched, as the show misses the entire point of it all setting up the reason for Anos being labelled a misfit. Additionally, while I know in the series his name has been lost to time, the franchise as a whole can’t decide on the correct spelling of it – the manga goes with Anoth Voldigord, while in the anime I’ve seen both Anos Voldigord and Anos Voldigoad. It’s not a dealbreaker and I know translation can be difficult, especially when it comes to sounds that don’t really exist in Japanese, like “th”, but some consistency would have been nice.

It’s a frustrating start, then, however things do start to pick up in Episode 3 as we get introduced to Misha’s sister, Sasha, who definitely has some crooked scheme up her sleeve – and although you can see it coming a mile off, it is still fun to see it play out.

With all of this in mind, at the moment this is a difficult series to fully recommend until I have seen more. It’s a typical power fantasy with an added twist of a social class conflict, and while it certainly has style, it needs to build more into its core plot for it to have any substance.

Finally, we have Lapis Re:Lights, an all-new cross media project from Kadokawa and KLab, with the anime produced by Yokohama Animation Laboratory.

Set in a world of magic and music, the story focuses on Tiara, a teenage girl who sets out from her home of Bristol to join Flora Girls’ Academy, a prestigious school for witches which splits its students up into different groups and classes based on their performance and magical ability. After reuniting with her childhood friend Rosetta, Tiara finds herself in the same group as her, but despite being overjoyed at being placed with her friend, she now faces immediate expulsion from the school, as at the end of every semester, the lowest performing group is expelled and Rosetta’s is next in line! We now follow Tiara as she attempts to pull her friends together to stop them all from being expelled.

I’d say this series is best described as a fantastical slice-of-life comedy with idol elements, as while there’s plenty of magic to go around and music clearly has a very significant role to play in the world, the core focus is on Tiara’s day to day life with her friends as they get into all sorts of trouble. If you like the typical cute-girls-do-cute-things type of shows I think this is one you’ll particularly enjoy as it’s very light and fluffy with just enough drama and funny moments to keep you invested in the characters, who are each very charming. Tiara is very happy and always sees the positive side of things, Rosetta is very hardworking but is a bit of a klutz, Ashley is more of a tsundere type of character, while Lavie is the sporty troublemaker and Lynette is rather shy and nervous.

It’s definitely fun to watch them go about their daily lives, with each episode focussing on something in particular, whether that’s Rosetta taking on different part time jobs, or the girls taking on other teams in a magically enhanced game of dodgeball; however I’m more interested in seeing where it goes with its idol themes, as they seem to tie into how the academy and the world around it works, with performances by the top groups at the academy being used to replenish the city’s mana, which is gathered from how much the attending crowd enjoyed the live performance.

This is surely where it will tie in with the upcoming mobile game with the various students being chucked into a gacha system, but in the anime, it honestly gives off similar vibes to The [email protected] in its performance, with a pretty catchy idol song and some decent CGI animation backing the choreography.

As an idol fan I’m definitely interested to see how far it takes these segments, but even if you’re not and you’re just here for cute girls doing cute things, then I’d say this is a pretty decent effort and is worth a look.

Fire Force Season 2 is streaming on both Crunchyroll and Funimation, The Misfit of Demon King Academy is streaming on Crunchyroll, while Lapis Re:Lights is streaming on Funimation.

Demelza

With very few new shows catching my eye this season, it falls to some tried and tested favourites to entertain me through these warm summer months. With SAO, Digimon Adventure: and the return of Food Wars (which was airing last season and then got postponed) this is a good time to be a fan of the ‘big’ anime franchises.

Another well-loved title returning this summer is Re:Zero, with its second season, which has been off-screens for a while having caught up with the original light novels when the first season finished airing in 2016. Now, four years later, we reunite with our heroes as they face new challenges and fight off even worse enemies.

The first episode of Season 2 drops us into the show just after the final episode of S1. Subaru is celebrating having defeated both the White Whale and Betelgeuse and having kept Emilia and his friends safe. However, Subaru quickly discovers that not everyone is okay and suddenly no one can remember who Rem is! As he rushes back to the capital, our hero finds an unconscious Rem, who shows no signs of waking up and only he remembers her. So Subaru sets out to save Rem and continue to protect Emilia in what could prove to be one of his most difficult challenges yet.

Although it has been so long since Re:Zero first aired, thanks to consistent releases of the light novel source material, manga adaptions and the anime itself (including the recent director’s cut which is on Crunchyroll) – it feels like it never left. This is a good thing because it means we can drop back into the franchise without needing much of a reminder as to what’s happened before. As far as second seasons  go, Re:Zero’s has proved a triumphant return so far.

When it comes to brand-new anime, I’ve been enjoying Rent-A-Girlfriend. The story follows 20-year-old college student Kazuya Kinoshita, who has recently been dumped by his first girlfriend (after only a month of dating!). While cooped up in his room crying over his broken heart, Kazuya comes across an app for a ‘rental girlfriend’. Thinking he has nothing to lose, Kazuya decides to give the service a shot, but the experience he gets is nothing like he expected!

Kazuya’s choice of girlfriend is a girl called Chizuru, who is in all ways the best girlfriend a man could ask for. In fact his ‘date’ with her is so fantastic that Kazuya wonders if it’s like this for everyone. When Kazuya discovers that Chizuru has a bit of a fan club online, he feels tricked and leaves her a terrible review. However, he later rents her again and ends up embroiled in lies when his grandmother finds out about Chizuru and Kazuya can’t muster up the courage to tell her that the two aren’t actually dating.

Adapted by TMS Entertainment from an ongoing manga, the show looks nice. Character designs are recognisable and suitably ‘cute’, while the animation and music work well to bring the world to life. The real problem is with the story and if Kazuya will develop beyond the somewhat sleazy personality he currently has. When I reviewed the first volume of the manga it was showing signs of improvement, but it’s equally so early in the series’ life where it might yet throw all that away.

Ultimately Kazuya is not a very likeable protagonist, but the show is carried by the female cast and entertaining situations everyone is put into. This won’t be an anime everyone wants to watch (and in fact my friend and fellow writer Josh finds it cringey!), but if you’re looking for a new romantic comedy it’s worth a shot.

Re:Zero S2 and Rent-a-Girlfriend are both available to stream on Crunchyroll

Cold Cobra

Most Summer line-ups are rarely full to the brim with things that have my interest and this year isn’t that dramatically different, but the Crunchyroll original “The God of High School” caught my eye, not just because it looked quite fun, but because it’s rather unique (to me, at least) background. The series was created by South Korean Yongje Park and published on “Naver Webtoon”, a popular online webcomic site in his home country. So this anime adaptation follows the standard path but in a different part of the world, one that’s not often seen on this kind of major stage.

The God of High School itself is set in Seoul and sees a fighting tournament between a bunch of schools in South Korea as its core premise, to start with anyway. The story focuses in on three participants of the God of High School tournament: Jin Mo-Ri, Yu Mi-Ra and Han Dae-Wi (subtitled without any hyphens), with Jin being the lead with plenty of that youthful energy and occasional slapstick moments to balance his strong fighting ability, where as sword-wielding Yu is the more “looks shy and awkward but is actually really strong” female member of the team, leaving Han to be the strong quiet type. They meet up in the first episode, though the two male leads are already familiar with each other, and by the end of Episode 1 we’ve already seen a large-scale battle between all the participants and by the end of Episode 4 we’re already looking at the finals, so the adaptation isn’t hanging around.

This is really the only major problem with The God of High School: a lack of a story, so far anyway. Tournament arcs are often light on it, and the action has been some very pretty and extremely fluid eye-candy, but given this is the opening story we need a bit more meat to chew on. Now there have been a few shots of a mysterious suited businessman who killed a bunch of greedy people on holiday in the opening moments of the series, so there is something else going on, but right now there isn’t much to talk about. Well, not without mentioning a rather weak Episode 4 that revolved around a wedding for most of its 20-odd minute runtime (though from what I’ve read that particular story lasted several chapters in the manga, or “manhwa”, and wasn’t liked by fans, so I guess the writers decided to skip over it as much as they could).

So basically, if you’re in it for the high-speed action and fight scenes, there’s a lot of animation talent on show, but if you’re looking for something more cerebral or plot-driven, then you may want to look elsewhere. So far at least!

The God of High School is available to stream on Crunchyroll

HWR

As I write this Summer Preview contribution I am fittingly feeling the heat as we approach another scorching weekend. A fitting title for such weather is Diary of our Days at the Breakwater, a fishing-themed slice-of-life anime from studio Doga Kobo that began airing the previous season but sadly was postponed due to COVID-19.

Thankfully, Episode 4 recently aired and having re-watched the prior three episodes to catch up, I’m now able to discuss this likeable series.

Diary doesn’t exactly tread new ground from a story perspective, with Hina, a newcomer to a seaside town being roped into joining her upperclassman Yuuki on a fishing trip, eventually forming the school’s Breakwater club and following their fishing escapades with some educational elements stitched into each trip.

Despite having a sense of familiarity from an anime and genre perspective, the tone and likeable characters are really what’s worth sticking around for. The relaxing atmosphere is fitting too for fishing, and follows how the activity often involves a lot of patience and quieter periods before something gets reeled in!

Alongside Hina and Yuuki is the tomboy Natsumi and the quiet Makoto and the four make for a tight unit – I’m looking forward to seeing where fishing takes them next!

Elsewhere, I’ve found myself interested in the continuation of another delayed anime, Appare-Ranman!, though with four episodes under its proverbial belt I hope to see the big race get underway soon. Lapis Re:LiGHTS has also been a decent romp so far, blending SoL school-based elements with comedy and some Idol action thrown in for good measure. I was also pleasantly surprised to see UMAYON pop up, albeit a little sad to see that they’re only shorts but hopefully we’ll see another full-length season in the future!

Appare-Ranman!, Diary of our Days at the Breakwater and Lapis: ReLiGHTS are available to stream on Funimation. UMAYON is available to stream on Crunchyroll.

Josh A. Stevens

Seeing as my good friend Demelza has lovingly dropped me in it given the insane popularity of the show I’ve seen online, I may as well get this out of the way first: I’m not enjoying Rent-a-Girlfriend. As Demelza has already done a great job describing the series, I’ll just get into why I’m not raving about it as much as others: it boils down to me finding the series’ handling of its central premise too mean-spirited. I totally appreciate that my knee-jerk response is personal (although what opinion isn’t?), but as my own lack of romantic experience is also a regular joke among some family members, seeing Kazuya’s parents and even his grandmother frequently roast him like some kind of romantic Quasimodo just left me feeling uneasy. The series really wants me to laugh along to the same kind of jokes that are made at my expense, and I just can’t.

Now, that’s not to say Kazuya is without faults, because oh boy does he have plenty. Teenage protagonists positioned as pathetic loners are nothing new in anime, and my toes curled when he hired Chizuru for a second date only to criticise her career choice. Buddy, if you don’t agree with rental girlfriends, just don’t hire a rental girlfriend. However, my introduction to Kazuya has yet to show me any of the redeeming qualities we’ve seen in similar characters like Re: Zero‘s Subaru. While Subaru had his own cringey train-wreck moments, like his tirade about how he humiliated himself at the Royal Selection gathering for Emilia, way before that we had already seen how he earnestly endured literal death to protect Emilia and Rem from harm, and how he was kind-hearted enough to earn their affections. With 4 episodes of Rent-a-Girlfriend having aired at time of writing, however, I have yet to see any redeeming qualities from Kazuya. He’s an impulsive liar who keeps digging himself holes, and has such little self-respect that he’ll side with the ex-girlfriend who gave him a verbal lashing over the girl who stepped up to defend him. Despite how much the internet seems united in hating her right now though, I actually find Kazuya’s manipulative ex-girlfriend Mami, to be one of the more intriguing characters in the series so far. So I’m interested in seeing how her character plays out as the series goes on.

Now, one huge benefit Re: Zero has had that Rent-A-Girlfriend hasn’t, is time. We’ve been able to see Subaru grow out of his hang-ups and become a better man as his series progressed, and Rent-A-Girlfriend still has plenty of room for Kazuya to mature too. Surely he must, because how else can I believe that so many girls will fall for him? If you’re looking for a fun harem comedy series, there are plenty with far more redeemable male leads, like Raku Ichijou in Nisekoi or Nariyuki Yuiga in We Never Learn – BOKUBEN, who are decent enough guys that they don’t need their main love interest to carry their series for them. While my first impression of Rent-A-Girlfriend hasn’t been strong though, I’ll be keeping tabs on how it plays out. Although, I’m not sure anything short of adoption can fix that family.

Okay, I totally appreciate that the optics of me criticising Rent-A-Girlfriend for its treatment of the male lead, only to segue into praise for the provocative, “ecchi” SUPER HxEROS, aren’t great. However, I can guarantee that my fellow writers and past writing can vouch for me being far from an “incel”. So I hope you can bear with me, as I explain why I’m enjoying this action series about people powered by sexual energy that causes their clothes to explode.

Produced by Project No.9 (and you thought there is never a girl online?), the story and presentation of SUPER HxEROS pays homage to tokusatsu series like Super Sentai, with its main characters being a group of heroes who fight to defend the world from bug-like aliens called Kiseichū who seek to eradicate the human race. The series pulls a sexy twist on that normally family-friendly formula however, with the villainous Kiseichu’s schemes revolving around depriving humans of their “H-Energy” (their sexual desire) so they no longer reproduce, and eventually go extinct. They’re certainly thinking about the long game with such a plan, but in their way stands the Super HxEROS, teenagers who weaponise their own H-Energy to combat the aliens. Using that power does come with the downside of burning through the user’s clothing though, because of course it does.

SUPER HxEROS first came to my attention due to the heavy attention it received during last month’s Aniplex Online Fest, which was unusual for a series of this genre. So, I figured that either there must be something special about the series, or Aniplex simply had a marketing budget they couldn’t spend solely on Sword Art Online. Turns out, it was the former, because if nothing else, SUPER HxEROS is fun.

Now, on paper this sounds like the kind of series I’d either turn my nose up at or enjoy in absolute secrecy, so why the heck am I talking about such a show? Because even though you’ll know if SUPER HxEROS is for you or not from the elevator pitch, it brings some interesting ideas into an otherwise stale genre. At first glance, its heroine Kirara Hoshino ticks all the boxes of a female character unfortunate enough to be in an ecchi series: she presents herself as an ice-cold prude, but is easily flustered by anything remotely sexual. Rather than spending its time on the mishaps of its oblivious male protagonist, however, SUPER HxEROS sets a goal similar to Mari Okada’s coming-of-age drama O Maidens in Your Savage Season, in fighting the stigma that female sexuality is something to be ashamed of or hidden away. We’re almost half-way into the series at time of writing, and Kirara’s well on her way into a narrative arc about the importance of embracing your true feelings and desires, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

As a major caveat though, SUPER HxEROS isn’t exactly the progressive bastion I’ve probably made it sound like, as it still falls prey to some tropes of the genre. Momoko, one of the more endearing members of the team, is straddled with the stereotypical fixation about her small bust size, there are instances of male protagonist Retto Enjo being flustered by unexpected contact with the girls, and there have been a couple of sequences involving a dog that feel straight out of To Love Ru. However, it’s definitely sowing the seeds to be step forward for the genre, and it’s definitely not Peter Grill and the Philosopher’s Time, where girls literally exist just to sow a different kind of seed (this anime season, I swear…).

If you can put up with fanservice though, SUPER HxEROS is a surprisingly fun, raunchy pastiche of the tokusatsu genre. I doubt it’ll be my favourite in a season that sees the return of Sword Art Online and Re: Zero, but it’s charming in its own right. Also, its opening theme (“Wake Up Hx ERO!” by Burnout Syndromes and featuring Yoshitsugu Matsuoka) is easily the best opening song this season.

Another anime that’s really caught my attention this season, is DECA-DENCE, an original series directed by Yuzuru Tachikawa (Mob Psycho 100) at NUT, the studio behind Saga of Tanya the Evil. In a dystopian future where humanity has been nearly wiped out by creatures called Gadoll, the few survivors reside in a mobile fortress where the series takes its name. Natsume always dreamed of being a soldier, but is instead assigned to repair the fortress’ armour, working under the apathetic Kaburagi. Before long, however, Natsume becomes embroiled in the fight against the Gadoll, and for her life.

At first glance, DECA-DENCE might look like Howl’s Moving Castle transported to the world of Mad Max or Attack On Titan, but to go into any real detail about why exactly it caught my attention will unfortunately spoil things that I feel viewers should experience first-hand. The series has made waves through anime communities not unlike the now-well known third episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the first episode of School-Live. Even saying that may be too much, but I encourage you to watch the series before it inevitably becomes common knowledge on the internet. All you need to know right now, is that it’s one of the most refreshingly creative series we’ve seen this year so far. Whether that’s ultimately a good or bad thing, we still need to see, but I’ll look forward to letting you all know where I stand on that later on!

SUPER HXEROS and DECA-DENCE are both available to stream on Funimation.

Sarah

Bungo and Alchemist – Gears of Judgement, like The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED, started in the Spring Season, went on hiatus, but came back to Funimation before the detective series (which has now restarted at Episode 3) and, in its own slightly quirky way, has proved that it was far more fun to watch than its premise might lead you to believe. Yes, it’s based on a mobile game, yes, the characters are the reincarnations of famous Japanese authors (all male) and they’re all young and good-looking (some of them were in real life, but not quite like these pretty boys) and yes, it seems to be treading similar territory to Bungo Stray Dogs. (It also suffered a rather unkind lambasting at the hands of ANN, partly because the villains of the piece are called Taints which induced some sniggering.) But if you can put all these reservations aside, you’ll find a very different portrayal of Ryonosuke Akatugawa and Osamu Dazai (and fellow authors) to the one in Bungo Stray Dogs – a much more literary approach, dare I whisper this suggestion, in which individual episodes are based on the authors’ stories which must be preserved from the virulent attacks by the Taints. In this respect, it brings to mind another well-liked bishonen series, Katsugeki Touken Ranbu with a future evil force threatening the integrity of the historical timeline being replaced here by works of literature. And a show that has an ED from Elements Garden – “Yabunonaka no Synthesis” ) by Yoshino Nanjō – can’t be that bad, can it?

Fruits Basket is continuing its Second Season on Crunchyroll and Funimation – but I’ll return to discuss this in the Summer 2020 Overview. It has the most beautiful ED out of both seasons, “One Step Closer” by INTERSECTION – so that’s well worth a look (and a listen) but in spite of this moment of calm, the new episodes are not shying away from the darker elements that lie at the heart of the deeply dysfunctional Soma clan.

And here – at last – is The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED from CloverWorks. Based on light novels by Yasutaka Tsutsui (The Girl Who Leapt though Time) first published in the 1970s, it delivers a distinctively retro crime caper vibe from the opening titles onwards, even though it’s been updated to the present day. The stylish OP and ED use imagery that hearkens back to animated trailers for spy and crime thrillers of the 60s – and there’s more than a whiff of Lupin III about the music. But here, we’re dealing with the police, not a clever band of crooks – or, more accurately, the ‘Modern Crimes Task Unit/Prevention Unit’ to which Haru Kato has been demoted, having shot a perpetrator. Also assigned to this basement backwater is impossibly rich and suave Daisuke Kambe, the Millionaire Detective of the title, who solves any and every problem with the aid of HEUSC, his AI butler. Money is no object to Kambe, as the bewildered Kato soon discovers when his new cigar-smoking partner flashes the cash to solve the cases they’re both reluctantly forced to work on together. With episode titles like ‘I came, I saw, I sponsored’ (#1) ‘Love does much, money does everything’ (#2) and the puzzling ‘The sinews of war are infinite money’ (#3) the series so far has managed to deliver thrills and spills (as expected from a 70s series) and some outrageously WTF moments, all very classily animated. With its seductive blend of action and comedy, this is proving (as hoped) to be a fun watch – so far. Recommended!

The Millionaire Detective – Balance: UNLIMITED and Bungo and Alchemist are currently streaming on Funimation. Fruits Basket Season 2 is available on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

Sarah

Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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HWR

HWR enjoys anime and manga alongside a love for film, gaming, Classic Doctor Who and electronic music from the likes of Depeche Mode and more.

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Onosume

With a chant of "Ai-katsu!", Matthew Tinn spends their days filled with idol music and J-Pop. A somewhat frequent-ish visitor to Japan, they love writing and talking about anime, Japanese music and video games.

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Demelza

When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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Josh A. Stevens

Reviewing anime by moonlight, working in film by daylight, never running out of things to write, he is the one named Josh A. Stevens.

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Cold Cobra

Having watched anime since it was airing late night on the Sci-Fi channel in the late 90s, I consider myself... someone who's watched a lot of anime, and then got hired to write reviews about them. Hooray!

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