Spring 2021 has been jam-packed with new shows – so many we haven’t managed to cover them all. Some have impressed, some have ended up somewhat ‘meh’ and some have not, as ever was, lived up to their initial promise. So the writers at Anime UK News have been looking back over the last twelve weeks and are here with their thoughts about the series they’ve been watching.
Did we get it about right?
When we started this Spring Season I was most excited (and worried) about seeing light novel series 86 hit our screens in anime form. The books are so good that I was filled with dread that the team at A-1 Pictures wouldn’t be able to capture what makes them special, but thankfully it wasn’t long before I realised there was absolutely nothing to worry about!
In a move that I’m sure will surprise many, this 11-episode series only covered Volume 1 of the books (and even then isn’t quite finished yet). For a world with as much depth to it like this one, I think that was the correct choice all told and has allowed the anime team to expand the story with new anime original scenes. Usually daring to say the words ‘anime original’ would set off some alarm bells, but in this case, they’ve been created with the help of original author Asato Asato, so they all slot into the story perfectly while helping to deepen our understanding of the show and its cast.
Having read so much of the series, I thought I was prepared for the heart-wrenching content of the anime, but seeing it anew was painful all over again. The mix of happier episodes where the 86 are allowed to just be kids for a small amount of time in contrast with the sections taking place on the battlefield is harrowing and I don’t think many productions could have done this much justice to the emotions of the original work. I’m simply astounded by how good this anime has been and ecstatic that it will be back for a second cour later in the year.
Also, it has to be said that I love how protagonist Lena is portrayed. She’s a young girl who is only 16 years old, but in the novels, it’s easy to forget that. After all, she is a commander on the battlefield and has to act well beyond her years. However, when not on the clock, we get to see her act more like what you’d expect of a teenage girl. Someone who gets flustered and wants to do their best but is also inexperienced, both socially and in their job. Actually being able to see all this in motion is one of my favourite things about the anime and I can’t wait to see where the anime goes from here. This is one that everyone needs to be watching.
Another show I’ve been enjoying this season is Pretty Boy Detective Club. This is an anime adaptation by studio SHAFT of a series of novels by NISIOISIN, which follow the story of Mayumi Doujima who is in need of help and falls in with the Pretty Boy Detective Club who are more than willing to lend a hand. As the series goes on Mayumi becomes part of their club and helps them investigate other mysterious cases that they get themselves into.
Since SHAFT also worked on NISIOISIN’s Monogatari series, there is no doubt that this is a perfect match for the series but admittedly I’m not a huge fan of how SHAFT animate their works so I was worried about Pretty Boy Detective Club. Thankfully the studio managed to not go too over the top outside of a handful of episodes and what they did bring to the work fit in rather well. The members of the Pretty Boy Detective Club are supposed to be eccentric and beautiful and I think SHAFT managed to capture that well. The whole anime basically sparkles from beginning to end, which seems like a weird thing to say but trust me it works.
While this didn’t end up being a full adaptation of the series, it does manage to cover five of the eleven books. Although I suspect judging by the ending of the series they may have rearranged things somewhat and chosen to adapt the very last book since it did seem quite final. This is a shame since I’d have loved another season both to see the rest of the content animated but also simply to see more of these quirky characters going about their lives.
86 is available on Crunchyroll while Pretty Boy Detective Club is on Funimation.
This season offered some very impressive original titles alongside the recurring and returning shows.
ODDTAXI was for me the standout for the season, providing an original story from studio OLM & P.I.C.S. The series, which takes place in a world full of anthropomorphic characters wasn’t afraid to take twists and turns as our main protagonist, taxi driver Odokawa, is thrown into a plot involving a missing girl and a lottery win.
His involvement only increases throughout the series, especially due to a growing bond with Shirakawa, a nurse with ties to criminal Dobu for whom he becomes an unwilling accomplice. As the final episodes unfolded, I was left very satisfied with how it all concluded, providing an intelligent noir-styled series.
Another impressive original offering has been Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song-, a science-fiction series which covers familiar themes of AI and robotics but does so with a lot of character and some impressive visuals.
Looking at the fantasy offerings from the season, I’ve been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and maxed out my Level, though a mouthful to say, is a nice and relaxed offering which gradually builds up a repertoire of characters, each one possessing their own quirks and charm.
I’ve been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and maxed out my Level & ODDTAXI are available to stream on Crunchyroll and Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song- is available to stream on Funimation.
Those Snow White Notes made a strong impression early on with its very stand-out and unorthodox cast of characters giving us a great hook into the world of the Tsugaru-jamisen, arguably the most famous and well-respected style of playing the shamisen. While its early episodes promised a rather different kind of story with main character Setsu Sawamura leaving home to go to Tokyo and ending up in a rather domestic incident with a young woman and her abusive metal band leader boyfriend, it soon settled down into a more typical rhythm and storyline as soon as his crazy mother sends him off to school.
While going this route may have disappointed some people as it embraced all the trappings of a school club show, it thankfully never lost its heart all the way through its run, focussing on Setsu stepping out from under the shadow of his beloved grandfather and his fine music, and finding his own sound. There were certainly plenty of trials and tribulations too, which I thought the show presented well, and got to show off the best of its cast through them. The members of the school’s shamisen club may be a ragtag bunch, but they are a lovable lot, and it was great to see them come together over the course of the series as they prepare to enter competitions. And it’s in those competitions where the show really shines, as it gets to let loose on its wonderfully played shamisen music, all supervised by the Yoshida Brothers themselves (which is still a cool attachment to the series, even if their only proper contribution is in the ending theme).
It does have some issues, particularly here where the music being played will often be interrupted with some other music while the show is doing some exposition, or explaining the thoughts in the characters’ heads, as well as some problems with the consistency of its characterisation, pacing and forgetting about certain characters. However, I still think this made for a really heart-stirring music show, and is very much on par with other shows of its kind such as Kono Oto Tomare!: Sounds of Life – it just comes down to which type of instrument you prefer.
WIT Studio promised a fascinating sci-fi thriller with Vivy: Flourite Eye’s Song, a series that saw the cubic AI Matsumoto travel into the past to meet Diva, a songstress AI who is the only one capable of stopping an inevitable war between humans and their AI counterparts. As they meet up at certain flashpoints in history, Diva, now going by the name Vivy, takes a stand against both humans and AI, preventing crisis after crisis in order to stop a more terrible fate.
While it wasn’t perfect, Vivy ultimately delivered on its core premise, presenting a fascinating and tense rogue AI story that harks back to similar dystopian cyberpunk works like Ghost in the Shell, as it presents a society that increasingly becomes over-reliant on AI as we move through the series, heralding humanity’s downfall. This sees the rise of the terrorist organisation Toak, which Vivy frequently comes into conflict with in most of her missions, as their actions are what is thought to sway the opinions of humanity and AI into conflict.
The action sequences are very slick, mixing in CGI with traditionally styled animation to great effect, producing thrilling shootouts and high impact close-quarters combat, all the while tackling existential themes well when it slows things down for the drama, as Vivy continually questions “what does it mean to put your heart into something?” For Vivy, or Diva, that should be dedicating herself to her singing, as the show thrusts out a very powerful soundtrack with some great songs that actually tie themselves into the storyline, which I thought was a particularly great idea.
The issues I had with the show mainly involved its pacing, and how by the nature of its plot it has to jump around a lot between different times and stories. While some stories work well in an episodic format, some needed a lot more time to flesh themselves out, with some major plot points being shoved in as shock post-credit cliffhangers. The latter half of the series also becomes meandering and confusing at times, while Vivy’s soul-searching in episode 10 drags things to a halt before the big finale kicks off. As such I’d say if you want to watch this one, its best to take a day out and binge the whole lot at once, as its format and story really lends itself to that rather than watching it week-on-week.
Despite these issues, I still found Vivy to be a very enjoyable rogue AI story, and a great addition to that genre.
Those Snow White Notes is available on Crunchyroll, while Vivy: Flourite Eye’s Song is available on Funimation.
Can I be the only viewer who feels more than a little melancholy when I see the ‘final episode’ flagged up for a series I’ve been following? All the bright promise that enticed us into watching the first episode and then kept us eagerly returning for more, suddenly…over. Once we know the ending, it’s never ever going to be quite the same starting out on a re-watch.
And so to Backflip!! This quiet and unassuming sports series about men’s rhythmic gymnastics is still my overall favourite of the new Spring 2021 titles (closely followed by Shadows House and Those Snow White Notes). After some disappointing sports shows featuring young men in the last year or so (I don’t count classic well-established favourite Haikyuu!! or bold, brash imaginative newcomer Sk8 the Infinity) Backflip!! stands out as watchable, relatable and expertly paced. The creative team (director Toshimasa Kuroyanagi The Great Passage) have pulled off a well-written original series with a believable and likable ensemble cast of high schoolers. The sport itself is amazingly well animated, using a skilful blend of traditional drawing and CGI (which I usually hate, so colour me pleasantly surprised); the final competition performance uses unusual camera angles and tracking shots so that at times the viewer feels as if they’re taking part themselves.
There’s no high melodrama here, just a lot of sweat and hard work and good-natured joshing camaraderie. When a small but significant accident threatens to ruin the boys’ performance at the final competition, it’s a quiet kind of angst that spreads through the whole team. The first years are painfully aware that this is the third years’ last chance to compete together – and are desperate not to let their senpais down. The senpais are falling over themselves not to apportion blame and to be mature about the potential disaster. Other series would have played this for all the melodrama they could wring out of it but the desperation and uncertainty is all the more believable and affecting for not being overhyped – and the episode ending is truly shocking.
The final competition routines are dazzling to watch, with inspiring use of music (unlike last season’s disappointing Skate-Leading Stars which was a frustratingly wasted opportunity). Yet for me, the stand-out episode is #10 in which the team members are ordered not to rehearse by their coach just before the competition and fret the hours away, resorting to frantic cleaning activities in their dorm to relieve their frustration and pre-competition nerves. So understandable! Especially when we get glimpses of their coach and manager also unable to settle to anything. And check out the delightful dictionary scene with Misato and Shotaro in the library (a cheeky little self-reference by the director to The Great Passage?)
Backflip!! is that rare thing: a genuinely feelgood series with characters that you’ll come to know and like – and great performances from the voice actors to match. It also contains some beautiful – and occasionally terrifying – imagery (Episode 10 again). The announcement of a film to continue the story is very welcome (although another anime cour would be even better!)
My other stand-out new series has been the deliciously creepy Shadows House, based on the ongoing manga by so-ma-to. This dark fantasy confection begins with a wordless chorus and instrumental OP that has just the right unsettling gothic feel, cleverly animated and choreographed to match the changing images to the rhythms of the music (a wonderfully creepy score from composer Kenichiro Suehiro) and concludes with a veritable earworm of an ending song “Nai Nai” by ReoNa, performed with a rising tone of desperation and lyrics to match.
In Shadows House, living dolls serve their shadow masters and mistresses whose bodies are made of soot and emit soot when they feel strong emotions, so cleaning is a never-ending task, carried out by hordes of living doll servants. We follow a new member of the team, a bright-natured, fair-haired girl ‘doll’ given the name Emilico by her young shadow mistress, Kate. Through Emilico’s eyes we see the bizarre rituals of the house and get to meet other living dolls and their young masters and mistresses. The dolls, it seems, must learn to become the outward faces of those they serve, imitating and projecting every expression. There is to be a grand debut at which the youngest family members and their dolls must perform tasks successfully to be accepted into the Shadows household and to rise through the floors of the house to meet the master of the house, Lord Grandfather. But good-hearted Emilico is far from being the perfect obedient doll and Kate has concerns of her own too. What secrets are hidden in the echoing corridors of the big house and the labyrinthine garden where the dolls and their shadows must pass a series of trials? What will become of Emilico and Kate if they fail the test? Shadows House can be watched and enjoyed on several levels: as a dark and twisted fairy tale – but also, like the most potent fairy tales, as an exploration of what self and identity truly mean. Do the shadows represent the darker sides of ourselves?
However, my other new fantasy series, Fairy Ranmaru, stayed consistently baffling with its Buddhist/fairy rules until it pulled something resembling an underlying plot out for the final episodes. Unfortunately, the plot turned out to be a circular one, so we ended up more or less where we began, without – to be honest – achieving any enlightenment as viewers along the way (although, it seems, plenty of ‘attachment’ was earned by the fairies by rescuing damsels in distress to restore their dying fairy world). There were so many wasted opportunities to make something of the elusive underlying story which, had the writers woven it in more successfully earlier on, might have developed more convincingly. I think we were supposed (from the promotional material) to be rooting for megane Ranmaru but he was such a bland non-character that it was impossible to summon the energy. Try not to listen to the songs. They are not good. Watch it for the bizarre transformation and art-themed battle sequences.
Shadows House is streaming on Funimation; Backflip!! and Fairy Ranmaru are streaming on Crunchyroll.
Spring Season has already been and gone, and if you take nothing else from this overview, let it be known that this season has been nothing short of superb both in variety of choice and content. I would love to spend the entire article telling you all the new shows that hit this season for you to watch, but we might be here all day! I will say quickly that a couple that are definitely worth checking out. Higehiro ( After Being Rejected, I Shaved, and took in a High School Runaway) for something a little bit different on the romance genre. Despite what you may expect from the show, it’s a sweet show about coming to terms with things in the past to overcome them and move on as well. You can tell it does rush a little near the end, as a lot of the more impactful moments surrounding our protagonists, Sayu and Yoshida don’t hit the mark or feel like they’ve been given only a few seconds of time to really land, but overall it’s a pleasant watch.
The other is To Your Eternity – I mentioned it before in the preview and I think in passing it needs a good shout-out here as well. To Your Eternity really does takes you through a journey of discovery through the eyes of March, as they learn more of human life. It’s loving, it’s beautiful, yet dark, depressing and tough. While March is the main character throughout the show you really start to feel they are, in a way, just like the viewer, as they lack the understanding or ability to do more than observe what’s going on. You see this more so in the first arc than the later ones, but no matter how much March grows, I think a lot of that never changes given how ageless they are. It’s a beautiful yet heavy show that is worth watching.
But of course the one I really want to spend some time talking about today is my personal star of the season, and potential Show of the Year contender – ODDTAXI.
ODDTAXI is unique, well-crafted and full of life. It’s hard to find something that I could really compare this to as a concept unless you look more into western style noir/detective shows. The show is so wonderfully deliberate in every single scene that you really need your full attention on it to pick up the details. I was picking up things in later episodes that made me realise “oh, they hinted at that in this episode…didn’t they?” so many times it left me ridiculously happy and excited to watch the next episode. The show would not be what it is without Odokawa at the centre too. Not to take away from the other cast as they are funny, loveable and terrifying in their own ways. But everything connects to our loveable Taxi Driver at some point, in some capacity in such a way that never feels forced or shoehorned in, but fantastically interwoven with the other characters and story threads that you see happening. While very casual and witty, he’s very isolated to start, and really doesn’t like interacting with people much. A likely reason is that sarcasm, etc is worn as a “mask” you could say. But you really see his guard drop and the mask crack as the show goes on, with the wonderful cast bringing out more and more of what make Odokawa so loveable, and relatable. I don’t want to dive too much into what makes him so special in fear it would reveal a little too much of the twists near the end, but I can’t stress how much I love Odokawa after this show.
The world is so full of life, there is so much to see and digest that I was sitting talking it through with others for days after it’s finished, and still enjoy that now. Something that honestly feels rare these days. You won’t find another show like this for years, if at all. If there was any show I could pick out for Spring, or even this year to watch, it’s this one, I can’t find anything that I would fault here.
Higehiro – After Being Rejected, I Shaved and took in a High School Runaway, To Your Eternity and ODDTAXI are streaming on Crunchyroll.