Summer has faded all too fast in this pandemic year, the leaves are turning brown and the shows that we’ve been watching and enjoying – mostly – at Anime UK News have drawn to a close as the start of the new Autumn Season gets underway. Which titles lived up to their initial promise this summer? Which ones faltered along the way? Were there any dark horses? We couldn’t watch them all…so if we’ve missed any gems, please let us know!
Josh A. Stevens
Maybe it’s because the previous season was left feeling a little empty after all the COVID-19 related delays, but I really felt spoiled for choice these past three months. Every Friday after work, I’d stay up until the early hours catching on the week’s simulcast- – except for Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- Season 2, which I had to make time for every Wednesday, because I didn’t trust my Twitter mutuals to not spoil each week’s dose of suffering before the weekend. If you’re a fan of the series and are up to date, you’ll no doubt know why I think this latest instalment is a serious Anime of the Year contender, but if you’ve lapsed in the four years since this dark fantasy’s debut, then you definitely need to catch up!
The white whale has been defeated, but an attack on Crusch’s wagon has wiped all memory of Rem from the world, with Subaru being the only one to remember her. Learning that the Irlam villagers have taken refuge in a secretive territory of Roswaal’s, Subaru and Emilia head to the Sanctuary in hopes of bringing them home, only to discover that the villagers can’t leave until they clear a series of trials overseen by the enigmatic Echidna, the Witch of Greed. For every problem Subaru tries to tackle, however, another two entangle him in their threads. With his situation growing more desperate and complicated, he may have to turn the mysterious power of the witches, and inside himself, for a way out.
Originally intended to immediately follow the Director’s Cut re-airing of the first season, this latest instalment wastes no time and hits the ground running with a remarkable return to form that immediately reminded me why I loved Re:Zero so much. Subaru really is pushed to his limits with an unrelenting series of shocking revelations, brutal demises, and an ever-complicating web as he tries to find a route where no-one has to die. This isn’t torture for torture’s sake though; we’ve already seen Subaru come a long way from his selfish beginnings, but this season really is a great example of stellar character development. Subaru having to confront regrets from his past life, and the very nature of his Return by Death ability, are breath-taking moments that I didn’t think Re:Zero was capable of. Other cast members get their time to shine too, with Arai Satomi’s seriously award-worthy performance of a pleading Beatrice, and the shocking nature of Emilia’s vulnerability being among my favourites of the series’ many great moments. New characters are given remarkable nuance too, such as the enigmatic Echidna, the Witch of Greed. Echidna is a fascinating character, full of charm and charisma that grabbed me even while doubts about her true intentions sat in the back of my mind. She’s an absolute scene-stealer in a series already packed with incredible scene after incredible scene.
My only complaints about Re:Zero‘s second season, are that the web can get so complicated that it becomes hard to keep track, and that I have to wait until January for the next cour! Basically, watch Re:Zero!
Like with Sing “Yesterday” For Me last season, a few of the anime I was pumped about at the start of summer also saw my enthusiasm peter out by less-than-stellar final acts. In our preview for this season, I made the bold move of recommending Super HXEROS, Aniplex’s sexy tokusatsu homage where teenagers (mostly female, naturally) fight aliens with cloth-bursting “H-Energy”. Early on, I was excited by how sex-positive the series appeared, positioning the bashful tsundere Kirara Hoshino for a potential character arc about accepting your sexual desires. Being a part-adaptation of an ongoing manga, however, that didn’t happen. Instead, the series quickly declined with beach episodes and other shenanigans that wouldn’t have been out of place in To Love Ru, and introducing new characters that distracted from our already busy core of five. Now, I’ll just remember Super HXEROS as the anime that ended with everyone having an orgy to power-up. Yeah, that happened – and it wasn’t even Peter Grill and the Philosopher’s Stone (how have we had two anime this season that feature orgies?!).
In the end, I still had fun with Super HXEROS – it was a dumb fun show about girls (and a guy) whose clothes explode. But despite its strong opening episodes, that’s all it is. If that’s enough for you, then you’ll have a good time with it. I just can’t help but wonder if it could have been something a little more. One anime that didn’t disappoint me though, was DECA-DENCE.
When discussing the series in our seasonal preview, I had to dance around the twist in Episode 2 because it changed the landscape of the series in a way similar to how the rug was pulled out from under us at the end of School-Live‘s premiere, or Puella Magi Madoka Magica‘s third episode. However, it would be nigh impossible for me to evaluate whether that twist was worth it, without openly talking about what it is. So if you haven’t seen the series yet or are averse to spoilers: watch DECA-DENCE, because it’s a fun series with an original take on a great idea, even if it does trip up over its attempts to be too smart at times. Then, quickly scroll down to my friends’ recommendations without reading more of mine! If, however, you’ve already seen the series or don’t mind knowing the twist, then let’s get to it!
So, I went into the remainder of DECA-DENCE with trepidation. The revelation that the Gears bravely fighting the monstrous Gadoll were actually avatars controlled by cute cyborgs playing a game totally threw out all my expectations for the series, and left me nervous over whether this was a genius play, or a catastrophic betrayal of audience trust. After finishing the series, though, I think it both helped DECA-DENCE, and dragged it down. On the one hand, I enjoyed this set-up more than I would have a simple Attack on Titan clone. On the other, though, I think the series was confused by its own muddled world-building. I’m still not sure I really understand how the world and the game work in relation to each other, and this certainly isn’t helped by the use of video game terminology like “bugs” and “avatars”. Why do cyborgs have to log into terminals like a VR game in Sword Art Online if the Gadoll exist on the same plane as them? And what even is “the system”? Maybe we might have had some more detailed answers if the series was longer than a single cour, but as it stands, I think DECA-DENCE‘s world-building tried to be too clever, and tripped over itself.
What’s more important than the world in any series though, are the characters who live in it, so it’s a good thing that Kaburagi and Natsume make such an incredible duo, that I’m not sure the series would have worked with just one of them. Kaburagi was introduced as an apathetic armourer just content with his dull lot in life, while Natsumi has a defiant optimism that certainly leads them to many collision courses, but it was great watching that spark gradually rekindle in Kaburagi’s eye each week. I just wish Natsume’s character had received as much attention as Kaburagi, because although she remains a focal point for the narrative, she wasn’t really given as complex a trajectory as her co-star, and even her eventually learning everything is a game (of some kind?) didn’t quite have the impact I thought it would. However, Natsume retains that peppy charm that I just like, so it’s okay.
In conclusion, would I still recommend you watch DECA-DENCE? Yes! It’s a breath of fresh air – something the anime medium is sorely needing right now! It may not be perfect, but it’s one of the season’s stronger series, and you’ll no doubt have fun with it.
Re:Zero -Starting Life in Another World- Season 2 is streaming on Crunchyroll, while Super HXEROS and DECA-DENCE are available on Funimation.
Like Josh, the big hit for me this season was DECA-DENCE but beyond that I’ve found myself deeply engrossed with the latest season of Sword Art Online. This season brought an end to the Alicization arc, which has been going since its first season in 2018! Not only has this particular story being one of the hardest hitting emotionally, it has also propelled the franchise forward in a variety of ways.
Even if you haven’t been watching this arc of Sword Art Online yourself, you’ve probably seen some clips of the animation on Twitter or another social media site. Compared to earlier seasons of the show, Alicization brought a complete overhaul to the style of animation. The characters are still the ones we love and minimal changes were made to designs, but the fight scenes are now on a whole other level. They’re very fluid and impressive to look at, so much so that it’s worth watching for, even if you’re not usually a fan of the show.
Of course the series hasn’t been without its issues and those are largely to do with the story. It doesn’t matter where we are in Sword Art Online, it always seems like the female characters are set up to be abused or pushed into uncomfortable situations. I know author Reki Kawahara has spoken about how he wants to do better with his writing now, compared to when he wrote the material the SAO anime is adapting, but that doesn’t really make up for what’s happening. Especially when it feels like some of these scenes could have been cut without losing anything.
Ultimately while I do have issues with SAO (who doesn’t really?), there is no denying that the series is a real blockbuster now. Like every popular series, there is good and bad, but in the end the anime is fun and that’s what matters most. With the news of an anime project for the Sword Art Online: Progressive light novel series, we won’t be saying goodbye to our heroes for long and I’m certainly looking forward to more!
Speaking of popular series with problems, let’s take a second to talk about the final season of Food Wars!. Delayed from the Spring season after the rise of COVID, Food Wars! made its return this summer to finally bring an end to this popular shonen. Now if you read the manga (as I did) then you’ll know the series, unfortunately, drastically went downhill in terms of quality and appeared to be wrapped up early after a drop in its popularity.
I admit that knowing the content this season would be adapting left me with a sense of dread. I’ve long felt that the fourth season of the series would have been a fine stopping point (both for the anime and in the manga), but that just wasn’t meant to be. Now we have to deal with Soma’s evil brother(!), an evil underground cult of chiefs(!!) and an almost supernatural clash of cooking abilities in a new tournament(!!!).
By all accounts, the story is absolutely terrible, but admittedly there was fun to be had watching it in anime form. Pitting voice actors Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Soma in Food Wars!, Kirito in Sword Art Online) and Jun Fukuyama (Asahi in Food Wars!, Lelouch in Code Geass) against one another leads to some incredibly dramatic and exciting exchanges. The talented acting brings the characters to life and makes you want to keep watching, even if the plot content itself isn’t very good.
Despite everything, it feels like the team behind the anime put their all into the project and that feeling is contagious. No one is going to be in a rush to revisit this arc nor will it be particularly memorable (even as the end of the series!), but it certainly could have been much worse. Like Sword Art Online, Food Wars! was fun until the end despite how silly it all got.
Sword Art Online Alicization and Food Wars are both available to stream on Crunchyroll
This season saw some solid entries, though the main standout was Fruit Baskets 2nd Season, which carried on weaving its story of melancholic family brutality and happier slice-of-life beats as Tohru continued to be a positive influence on the Somas, despite their troubled family dynamics.
Another highlight for me was the wonderful Diary of our Days at the Breakwater, which was a pick of mine for the preview article some time ago. Each week of this was rather joyous and calming as the Breakwater club ventured out on various fishing expeditions, helping new member Hina to hone her skills but also develop new bonds. My fishing-enthusiast friend also found this to be a seasonal highlight, showcasing how the main premise could work well for viewers, regardless if they actively participate in the pastime of fishing or not.
Elsewhere, a duo of seasonal continuations in Muhyo & Roji’s Bureau of Supernatural Investigation and No Gun’s Life, both on their second seasons, failed to really impress despite some decent episodes as they struggled to present the source materials in an impressive enough fashion for my liking – leaving me largely indifferent to the former and liking but not greatly enjoying the latter.
To leave this on a positive note though I also enjoyed what DECA-DENCE had to offer with an original story that was creative enough to live up to its early twist. A Certain Scientific Railgun T (pictured above), another continuation for the season that finished its second half also proved to be very impressive and the strongest of the three seasons for me so far.
Diary of our Days at the Breakwater is available to stream on Funimation. A Certain Scientific Railgun T is still available on Crunchyroll.
I only watched one show to any great extent this season and, as mentioned in the Summer Preview article, it was “The God of High School”, an anime adaptation of a Korean “Manhwa”. So what did it turn out like? Well, to answer that, let’s look at the final paragraph I wrote in the Preview article:
“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!”
Well, I’m here to tell you that the above paragraph still holds true, just remove the “So far at least!” line at the end. Coming from someone who loves the shonen series, it takes a lot for me to say this, but man, this show was shallow. The adventures of Jin Mori, Yu Mira and Han Daewi were just one feast for the eyes after the other, with “plot” twists often coming out of nowhere for the sake of setting up the next series of fight sequences. Now I would like to reiterate that the fight scenes are still amazing: fluid, stylized and often incredibly framed and animated, I won’t take that away from the show and it deserves a lot of praise for that, but in 13 episodes we went from a regular tournament arc involving schools to characters fighting massive god-like beings and suddenly meeting actual deities. It’s like when Dragon Ball went from simple fetch quests and tournaments to the entire Earth being at stake, but across 13 episodes instead of 100.
Speaking of Dragon Ball, I think the lead cast of Dragon Ball Super got more character development than any character here, and that’s saying a lot because Super was similarly extremely light on plot and heavy on action (though not as well animated in the fight department!) By the end of Episode 13, the lead trio are the only characters you care about because they’re the only ones featured who actually stuck around long enough to slightly develop, and they don’t do that much…
Basically while I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the stunning eye-candy, I will say the show ended up frustratingly superficial, a one-trick pony. Despite how amazing that one trick is, it needed to show me something else eventually otherwise that one good thing will lose its effect. It didn’t need to be much, but it needed to be something, anything, to justify the visual feast but it didn’t. One to watch here and there alongside actual good shows because it is stunning, but it’s not something you’ll get really engrossed by.
The God of High School is available to stream on Crunchyroll.
When you’ve got surprisingly good shows like DECA-DENCE in a season, it’s easy to overlook others, especially those that have been hit by the COVID-19 delays. One of these that I didn’t see people talking about much was one of the ones I talked about in our Spring Preview – APPARE-RANMAN! – which has emerged as one of my favourites of the year so far.
The show was originally billed to me as a Japanese version of Wacky Races, and while it does have that similar sort of feel, it ended up turning into something darker and a lot more compelling, as the plot revealed itself to be more of a spaghetti western. As feared outlaw Gill the Snake started getting his fangs stuck in and sabotaging the Trans American Wild Race, it was evident that there was a lot more at stake for the characters than just a pot of money; with each one having different motivations to explore and develop.
While Appare is just Appare and gets off on being a technology nerd, characters such as Kosame, who still feels responsible for the death of his mother as child, Hototo, who is seeking revenge on his father’s murderer and Jing Xialian, who is fighting against the discrimination she faces being a woman in what is stereotypically a man’s sport, all resonate strongly throughout the series and give it a lot to say. It’s also cool how the relationships between them all evolve over time, going from them starting off as a bitter rivals but slowly becoming friends as they all team up to tackle the big bad in front of them.
It’s certainly not simply a series to nerd over cars, then, and is filled with a suspiring amount of tense action and drama, especially when it pulls its twist later on and reveals the big bad as the person you would least expect them to be! So, don’t be put off just because it focuses on the race early on, as you’d be missing out on one of the best written and most exciting shows of the year.
Elsewhere, despite having a bit of a rocky start, The Misfit of Demon King Academy turned itself into a very entertaining “switch your brain off and enjoy it” power fantasy show that had me looking forward to whatever dumb antics Anos and the gang were getting up to each week. I really liked how it had no real care for what its audience might think and just went with it, no matter how crazy the plot got – whether that was Anos surpassing time itself to save Misha and Sasha, winning the magic sword tournament with a perfectly ordinary one, or taking on the human hero academy.
While all of this was dumb fun, it honestly felt like it had its heart in the right place as well, making good points around how discrimination and division between people are bad and that it would be better for everyone to work together instead. Attach that to a really good cast of characters that you can really invest in and it just impressively carries itself really well.
Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and this series does rush towards it in its last couple of episodes. It’s a shame as I really liked where it was going with a lot of its background lore and worldbuilding, but I felt it pushed ahead too quickly in trying to resolve the lingering regrets of those who lived in it 2000 years ago. That said if you are looking for a fun, dumb easy-to-watch action show that really doesn’t care what you think about it, then this will go down nicely.
Lapis Re:LiGHTs, on the other hand, I have mixed feelings on, as while it delivered in what it set out to do, being a fun slice-of-life series about a bunch of girls in a school of magic, it did feel like it was trying to be too much at once and doesn’t really excel at anything. It had a lot of good slice-of-life comedy with good, compelling characters, some good songs in its music segments, and a good level of threat as things began to fall apart at the end – but it was just that: good.
I think it could have benefitted from trying to pick a specific strand and sticking with it a bit more in order to create a more consistent story. I found the latter third of the series quite fascinating as it starting introducing these magical monsters, so personally I would have preferred if it had gone in more on that angle and cut out some of the fluffy “cute girls doing cute things” episodes that we had at the beginning. It just does a really good job of getting that side of things right, as seeing the girls struggle over their problems and eventually come out on top was very cathartic and left you with a really good feeling about it.
With that in mind, I’d say if you’re interested in this kind of series, go for it! Just keep your expectations in check and you’ll probably get your fill by the end.
APPARE-RANMAN! and Lapis:ReLiGHTs are both available to stream on Funimation, while you can catch The Misfit of Demon King Academy over at Crunchyroll.
I loved The Millionaire Detective – Balance Unlimited. CloverWorks didn’t disappoint and eventually (after an unplanned COVID-19 gap) delivered a show that had viewers (not just me, it seems) on the edge of their seats each week. If DECA-DENCE’s revelatory episode was the second one, perhaps Balance Unlimited’s game-changing episode was the fourth in which ‘Millionaire Detective’ Daisuke Kambe leaves home without his wallet or connection to his AI ‘butler’ HEUSC and has to rely on his unwilling partner Haru Kato, experiencing everyday life as it’s lived by the common people in the process. Apart from this delightful and funny character-building fluff, a sinister and dangerous mystery continues to bubble under – properly foreshadowed from the very beginning of the first episode – to be brought to a satisfying and dramatic conclusion in the final episodes. But only eleven episodes leaves the audience wanting more!
Stylish in its design, evoking in visuals, gadgetry and cool retro music by Yugo Kanno the spy and crime shows of the 60s and 70s, Balance: Unlimited manages to tell its story with admirable economy. But streamlined plotting and an outrageous premise count for nothing if the characters don’t engage the viewers’ interest or sympathy and the writers have managed this very successfully by pairing the Millionaire Detective with the demoted and disgraced young police inspector Kato. The resulting partnership – and clash of personalities and working methods (Kambe gets what he wants by throwing money at it, hence the Balance: Unlimited of the title, whereas Kato is a dedicated, idealistic and hard-working policeman) – gets off to a rocky start but is strengthened in unexpected ways. It’s also a pleasure to watch the other members of the ‘Modern Crimes Prevention Unit’ who seem at first viewing to be an unmotivated bunch of slackers, idling away the hours in the basement of HQ, yet who begin to change (and reveal hidden talents) when Kambe joins the group. And how could I not mention the talented (and glamorous) Suzue Kambe who is just as adept at developing and wielding new gadgetry as she is in monitoring HEUSC at the Kambe mansion – and yet, in spite of her outward Bond girl image, makes a charming foil to Daisuke Kambe’s ice-cool reserve. The attractive character designs are by Keigo Sasaki and offer a great range of facial expressions and reactions (not to mention some pitch-perfect performances from the Japanese seiyuu). The US dub is now appearing week by week on Funimation; it’s good in parts but this is one show where the original cast is best.
Fruits Basket came to the end of its Second Season, confirming what many fans had long hoped – that it would be back with a Third Season to complete the tale of the Zodiac-cursed Soma family in 2021 without skimping on or drastically cutting the source material. These episodes have very much been about Yuki (the Rat) Soma as he assumes his role as School Council President. Ever since the beginning of the tale, the very special relationship between Tohru and Yuki has grown and altered – and here we get to see how much it means to Yuki. Dealing with the ill-assorted members of the School Council, especially laid-back Kakeru and withdrawn treasurer Machi, has changed Yuki, forcing him to confront aspects of his own personality – and eventually to stand up to clan head Akito who is the cause (along with his uncaring parents) of so much of his childhood trauma.
Lighter-hearted moments include an unforgettable and unique interpretation on stage by Tohru’s year of Cinderella as you’ve never seen it before! And earlier there’s a significant encounter between Tohru’s best friend Arisa and a young man called Kureno, who turns out to be yet another member of the Soma family. Revelations about the Soma family and the young Akito who has inherited the role and spirit of god come thick and fast, culminating in that reveal in the final episode. No spoilers here, although manga readers already knew what was coming! The second part of the Second Season has benefited from an excellent OP and ED: “HOME” by Asako Toki and “Eden” by MONKEY MAJIK. Excellent performances from the Japanese cast, especially Yuki (Nobunaka Shimazaki), Kakeru (Takuya Eguchi) and Machi (Ai Kukuma) have made this a compelling watch, week after week. (Although perhaps this show’s subtitle should be ‘How NOT to Parent’?)
The Millionaire Detective – Balance Unlimited is streaming on Funimation (subbed and dubbed). Fruits Basket is streaming on Crunchyroll (subbed) and Funimation (dubbed).