Spring Preview 2022 – Funimation Fades Away…
No time to draw breath for the keen simulcast fan as the Spring shows began before some of the Winter shows had finished! And what a wide range of titles are on offer: the much-anticipated Spy x Family, not to mention the return of very popular series like Kaguya-sama and TIGER & BUNNY 2.
What’s different? All the new shows will be streaming on Crunchyroll – well, almost all, because some are still on Funimation, in spite of the initial announcement to the contrary, and others still are on HIDIVE and Netflix. Exactly how long, we wonder, will Funimation remain available to subscribers?
There are several shows that have sparked my interested this season. For starters I am continuing with Requiem of the Rose King which has now skipped forward in time, with a more grown-up Richard dealing with the true possibility that he may actually become king if the people ahead of him are “dealt with”.
However, clearly the big series that is getting everyone talking is SpyxFamily. The series follows Twilight, a spy from the nation of Westalis, whose new mission is to assassinate the leader of an extremist political party in the neighbouring state of Ostania in the hope of preventing war. Assuming the name Loid Forger, in order to achieve the mission he needs to adopt a child and get them enrolled at the school the leader’s son attends, and for the enrolment to succeed he needs to find a wife. He adopts a six-year-old girl, Anya, and marries a local civil servant, Yor. Yor obviously doesn’t know Loid’s a spy, but then again Loid doesn’t know that Yor is secretly an assassin codenamed “Thorn Princess”. The only one who knows their identity is Anya – because she’s secretly a telepath who can read the minds of her parents and all those around her.
SpyxFamily has already been established as being the big-name anime of the current season and it is easy to see why. You have the typical shonen-style fights and battles, but on top of this is comedy. The series has so far been a splendid farce, with Loid and Yor’s hidden identities combining with Anya’s telepathy to make for some great comedic moments. The first three episodes, which establish the main characters, have had plenty to go for them so far and hopefully it can keep up the momentum.
Elsewhere this season there are some sports anime that have peaked my interest. One of them, however, is a show I’m not sure I will be keeping up with. While football anime Aoashi may have won awards for the original manga, whether you like it or not will probably depend on how you react to the lead character. Ashito Aoi is a boy who is clearly talented at the beautiful game, but he does have one problem: his massive ego. His attitude to everyone around his: “Give the ball to me.” However, the second episode does see him develop somewhat as he comes to realise that helping with assists can help win the game. It will be interesting to see how this one develops. There is one connection to another series I’ve already covered: Ciaran Strange, the British voice actor playing Richard in Requiem of the Rose King, has been announced as voicing Ashito in the English dub.
If you like your sports anime to be a bit more bonkers, then you may want to try Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story. It puts me in mind of Kuroko’s Basketball creator Tadatoshi Fujimaki’s less-successful follow-up, the golf manga Robot x Laserbeam, in that so many of the shots in it are ludicrous and would never happen in real-life. For example, in the opening episode, the lead character Eve, a girl who plays secret illicit games to earn money for her friends, plays a hole that is cut by a railway line. One sequences sees Eve perfectly time her shot by hitting the ball between the carriages of a speeding train, so the ball clips one of the carriages, ricochets off a rake in a bunker, and then lands within an inch of the pin. Like that would ever f***ing happen! Nevertheless, it is this action which is getting some people talking about this show.
Requiem of the Rose King, SpyxFamily, Aoashi and Birdie Wing are currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Having enjoyed the Winter season, I enter Spring with a spring in my step. Kaguya-sama, Ascendance of a Bookworm and Rising of the Shield Hero make their return landing alongside some highly anticipated shows for me, so no matter what happens, I’m confident I will end this quarter on a high.
Out of everything, the new anime I’ve been looking forward to is the adaptation of The Executioner and Her Way of Life. If you follow my work here then you’ll know I’ve been reading and enjoying the light novels since Yen Press began publishing them in mid-2021, so it’s no surprise I’d make the jump to anime. Our story follows Menou, an Executioner working for The Faust who are tasked with killing ‘Otherworlders’ (a term for people summoned from Japan into this world). Menou is used to taking her targets down swiftly, but her latest mark is Akari – a girl with the ability to turn back time. This renders Menou unable to kill her because any fatal blow activates her power, but luckily Akari doesn’t remember the attempts made on her life so Menou has time to figure out a new plan…
Handled by J.C Staff (DanMachi, Food Wars), the animation for this series immediately catches the eye with its vibrant palette. As you’d expect the team have brought their A game to the fight scenes too, which are engrossing and easy to follow. On top of that Menou’s voice actor, Iori Saeki (Kano Minami in SSSS. Dynazenon) is a perfect fit for the character and conveys her mature personality well. I was so worried this one would disappoint me, but as it stands it will likely remain a favourite of mine all the way to the end and I think fans of its genre will enjoy how it subverts some of the tropes we’ve come to see as of late.
My second pick this season is Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task which is based on a song by HoneyWorks. Anyone who follows the band will be aware of their collection of characters who interact with one another and advance their lives through the course of the various songs and their music videos.
This story follows Hiyori Suzumi, a country bumpkin who moves to Tokyo for high school and finds herself in need of a part-time job. She ends up becoming a manager-in-training for the high school idol duo LIPxLIP, who also happens to be in Hiyori’s class at school! Outside of the spotlight the boys (Aizo and Yujiro), are bratty and uncaring about those around them and are shocked to find that Hiyori neither knows about nor cares for LIPxLIP. But the fact she’s not star-struck by them is why she got picked for her job and puts her in the best position to manage these two, maybe even melting the ice around their hearts as they spend more time together…
Honestly speaking there’s nothing particularly new here and it will certainly appeal more to people familiar with HoneyWorks like me. But we also haven’t had this kind of silly slice-of-life series in a while so it does offer something different in the crowded seasons of fantasy. With animation by studio Lay-duce it’s also nice to look at, and consistent with Our Love Has Always Been 10 Centimeters Apart., another series that was based on a HoneyWorks song that this team worked on. If you watched that series you’ll see some familiar faces pop up here, but it’s by no means required viewing to enjoy Heroines Run the Show.
Of course, I couldn’t close out my piece without briefly touching on Ascendance of a Bookworm, which returns for Part 3! After a couple of recaps for those of us who may have forgotten what was happening in the story, the series picks up right back where it left us with the beginning of Winter looming. Myne has nothing but books on the brain and finds herself in trouble with the Ink Guild who aren’t pleased about her sniffing around their business. Our heroine will do anything for her dream, but when that dream could be putting the people she loves in danger, what choices will she have to make?
If you’re not already a fan of the series, then this season is unlikely to change your mind, but for existing fans, it’s nice to see it return to our screens, all the same. I also think studio Ajia-do have given it a bit of a fresh look with more polished animation here and there. It doesn’t look drastically different to before, but it’s not as flat and that will have a big effect in the more emotional scenes to come.
The Executioner and Her Way of Life is available on HIDIVE while Heroines Run the Show and Ascendance of a Bookworm are both on Crunchyroll.
Music plays an important role in all of my three top picks, especially the first which is also, I suppose, a sort-of reverse isekai. Kongming (Zhuge Liang) – well known to fans of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms – makes the wish on his deathbed in 243 AD to be reborn into a peaceful world – and re-awakens in twenty-first century Tokyo. He has no problem making himself understood and after the initial shock (it’s Halloween and everyone thinks he’s in cosplay, he thinks he’s gone to hell!) he begins to apply his strategic skills to making a new life for himself. The trigger? Hearing a young woman performing her own songs to an appreciative audience. This is Eiko and she has big ambitions to share her music with the world. Inspired, Kongming decides to devote his new life to making her dream come true. It just so happens that the owner of the bar where she works is a massive fan of The Three Kingdoms – and he can hardly believe his luck when he realizes who Kongming is (forget any kind of disbelief – he just buys it) and offers him a job at the bar. But promoting an unknown singer’s career in the cutthroat world of popular music is going to be a challenge. Kongming relishes a challenge!
Ya Boy Kongming! (P.A. Works) is what we all need right now: a feelgood show with great music, engaging characters (especially the lead) and a witty script that doesn’t insult the intelligence. It’s based on a manga by Yuto Yotsuba and Ryo Ogawa (available digitally in English from Kodansha). Eiko’s songs (including the ED) are sung by 96 Neko – but her VA is Kaede Hondo – and this show boasts what is probably the catchiest earworm OP of the season: “Chikichiki Banban” by QUEENDOM. (Is it me or does bar owner Kobayashi – expertly voiced by Jun Fukuyama – spookily resemble Bill Nighy?)
Music is essential to ballet – and this brings me to my second choice: Dance Dance Danseur (Crunchyroll) based on a manga by George Asakura (much neglected, sadly, by US publishers so far). Jumpei, the young son of a stuntman/martial artist, is learning the martial art of Jeet Kune Do – yet falls in love with ballet when his parents take him to a live performance. But when his father dies unexpectedly, Jumpei’s uncle takes the boy aside and tells him he must now be the man of the family. There’s no room for dance in Jumpei’s life; he’s cracking under the pressure of having to act ‘manly’ all the time. Then he meets Miyako. She’s learning ballet under the strict tutelage of her mother who runs a ballet school. It’s Miyako who sees his potential and persuades Jumpei (who’s painfully conflicted) to start training there, even though he insists he can’t (because of Jeet Kune Do). Will Jumpei be good enough to be able to compete in an upcoming competition in a pas de deux with Miyako? Or will a mysterious blue-eyed transfer student steal that honour from him?
An anime about ballet (like rhythmic gymnastics or ice-skating) needs breath-taking animation and a well-chosen or specially composed musical score to convince us. Thus far, the team at MAPPA have impressed with some scintillating dance sequences. The scenes where Miyako takes the reluctant Jumpei to a performance of Swan Lake are especially convincing (hearkening back to the original performance that sparked Jumpei’s enthusiasm). Jumpei snoozes through the first acts of the ballet – but the moment the evil magician Rothbart appears on stage, Jumpei is all attention. We experience the male dancer’s powerful stage presence through Jumpei’s dazzled eyes. Thank goodness, the team use the original Tchaikovsky score to make the full impact on us, as well as Jumpei. But the practice sessions (even where Jumpei can’t get anything right and constantly ends up as a tangle of uncoordinated arms and legs) are also well animated. And that’s exactly what I was hoping for from this anime as a starting-point: to have the same feelings that Junpei experiences when watching the dancers move and to hear the music they’re moving to. So far, so good – although the character designs (faithful to George Asakura’s original manga) are decidedly idiosyncratic. The young dancers are very willowy (thin) perhaps to accentuate the elegance of their movements but most disturbing of all, are the eyes. The use of the white half-circle makes them look as if they’re about to burst into tears which I find distracting as I keep wondering why they’re upset. Somehow, in black-and-white in the manga it’s not quite so distracting.
So, it’s not Billy Elliot and it’s not Welcome to the Ballroom even though there are some similarities: male protagonist learning the ropes of an art that requires dedication, practice and self-sacrifice and is still unfairly thought of by many as a girly pursuit. But this is also a story about peer group pressure and the importance of fitting in when you’re a young teenager. By the third episode, we’re shown the very thing Jumpei dreads will happen to him if he reveals that he’s learning ballet: the scorn and cruelty of fellow students as the transfer student joins his year group and is relentlessly bullied for being different.
I’m hoping that the animation continues to respect and showcase the essential relationship between the choreography for the dancers and the music they’re dancing to. There’s certainly enough in the human drama to draw viewers in – and enough for ballet fans to keep us watching too. And a special mention for the ED, “Kaze, Hana” by hitorie, a really imaginative blend of collage and animation.
The desire to make music is what took Nagomu to Tokyo but after ten years, the band he was in has broken up and when he hears his father has been hospitalized, he rushes back to Kyoto to his family’s wagashi (Japanese sweets) shop. His father, as it turns out, is fine – although still furious with his only child for following his dreams. But there’s a new member of the family, a ten-year-old girl, Itsuka, that the family has been looking after since she was left behind by her father (also a guitarist, like Nagomu). In Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness, Itsuka has become a vital part of the family, helping in the shop and making herself useful. Having for a heartbeat mistaken Nagomu for her father (he was carrying a guitar) reveals the fact that for all her competence, she’s still desperately hoping to find him and that makes her resent Nagomu even more. Good-natured Nagomu is determined to stay and make a new life, learning the family sweet-making craft and supporting his parents, but it won’t be easy persuading his irascible father -or Itsuka – to accept him.
At first it seemed as if Deaimon might turn out like Yotsuiro Biyori (2018) another feelgood anime, set in a traditional Japanese restaurant, with a ‘customer of the week’ theme. But by the third episode, it’s clear that it’s more plot-driven than that when Nagomu’s ex turns up in Kyoto, allegedly on a sight-seeing trip and just happens to meet Itsuka… Deaimon is attractively drawn and animated with the Kyoto background and interiors portrayed in a soft water colour style. The characters are intriguing and even if, as a slice-of-life, the drama is kept low-key, it’s engagingly told. It’s passed the three-episode test for me where many other series this season haven’t.
At the time of writing, we’re still waiting for A Couple of Cuckoos to start. Last season’s badminton anime Salaryman’s Club was the late starter on Crunchyroll but turned out to be one of the best shows of the season (it’s only just finished but there are hints of a possible second series) so who knows…?
Ya Boy Kongming! is streaming on HIDIVE; Dance Dance Danseur and Deaimon are streaming on Crunchyroll.
Normally, this is where I’d talk about the new hit idol show that is being beamed to your screens, but this time I can’t really do that, as the second season of Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club is not streaming in the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man or French-speaking territories due to Anime Limited having the license for the franchise in these parts of the world. While they would normally use Crunchyroll to host the streams, with the streaming platform now being a direct competitor due to the Funimation merger that’s no longer possible, leaving Anime Limited without a place to upload it. While this is an absolute bummer for the small but hardcore fanbase the franchise has and sadly pushes them towards piracy, I do hope that they will be able to sort out a solution in the future, maybe not for this one, but hopefully by the time Superstar!!’s second season comes around.
That said, this is just one show and there is plenty of other stuff to sink your teeth into, and if you are looking for that music fix there are two other options. Demelza has already covered one of these in Heroines Run the Show, which I’ve been enjoying even though I’m not that familiar with the extended HoneyWorks universe – having a main character who doesn’t know about LIPxLIP certainly makes it a good jumping on point! Yet we also have Healer Girl, a bizarre but mesmerising show about girls who sing to heal people.
The series follows Kana Fujii, a first-year high school girl who is training to become a healer at the Karasuma Voice Treatment Center, along with her friends Reimi and Hibiki. As apprentices, the girls are mentored by the center’s most gifted healer, Ria Karasuma, learning the tools of the craft as they witness the treatment of the many patients that come through the center’s doors, and even getting to help some of them themselves.
If you’re a fan of musicals, then this one should go down well with you, as we have characters bursting into song left, right and centre, even singing the actual dialogue! So far at three episodes in, it’s a cheery show, filled with heart-warming moments as you see the three girls struggle to achieve their dreams of becoming healers, trying to push ahead and advance their skills as fast as possible (despite their mentor’s advice). The girls come off as sort-of troublemakers, but ones that ultimately mean well, as when Kana helps stabilise an old grandmother who is struggling to breathe with her chronic bronchitis. Add in a strong-headed rival with Sonia and you’ve got a recipe for a fun and entertaining anime that will have you cheering and supporting these girls as we move through each episode. While I don’t see this being a big hit, I’d still recommend it as one of those underrated but just nice to watch shows that come around every so often.
Now, in a complete opposite to that, my main pick for this season is Kaguya-sama: Love is War -Ultra Romantic-. Yes, we’re back for the third season of shrewd and tactical will-they-won’t-they antics with Kaguya, Miyuki, and the rest of the Shuchiin Academy student council, as the pair continue to battle it out to make each other confess their love first.
If you’ve already seen the previous two seasons or are knee-deep in the manga, then there’s nothing really new to introduce here, as it keeps the same format of adapting the story into two 10 to 15-minute sketches per episode, with each being filled with some great laugh-out-loud moments. The early episodes here place more emphasis on the side characters than our leading couple-to-be, particularly focusing on Yu and Miko, as well as Hayasaka, with the latter getting some particularly funny torture when she’s forced into a karaoke booth with Miyuki.
All in all, the show just continues to be one of the best comedy anime around right now, and if you aren’t on board with it already, I’d highly recommend going back and checking out the two previous seasons in the Crunchyroll library.
And as one final mention, I can’t close out without also making a recommendation for Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story. I’ve being keeping an eye on this for a while with it being helmed by Bandai Namco Pictures (a studio I’m rather fond of thanks to Aikatsu!), but I never expected it to be this outrageous. Think of having a game of Mario Golf, put it on some kind of illegal drug and mix in dodgy underground dealings and match-fixing (plus some self-insert merchandise plugs), and you have the literal definition of insanity. There is some serious story in here with main character Eve trying to raise money to support a couple of seemingly orphaned kids, but that rather fades into the background when the characters tee up and just go nuts, with blue bullets, red bullets, powering through trees, mega-accurate slices and more. With the rivalry between Eve and Japanese teenage superstar Aoi Amawashi now firmly established, I can’t wait to see where this brilliant show takes them. Even if you’re not into golf, if there’s one anime you need to watch this season, it’s probably this one.
Healer Girl, Kaguya-sama: Love is War -Ultra Romantic-, and Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story are all streaming on Crunchyroll.
This anime season sees another mix of continuations and new shows, some of which have impressed whilst others have been less memorable so far.
Aharen-san wa Hakarenai is a school-based comedy series that focuses on a duo comprising of Reina Aharen, a petite student with the quirk of being very quiet and hard to decipher whilst Raidou Matsuboshi is stoic and sports an expression which leads him to be less approachable.
Their interactions make up a bulk of the episodes seen so far as Matsuboshi does his best to help Reina work on being more outgoing and easier to hear, whilst she helps him in subtle ways also. Other characters are also introduced including Mitsuki Ooshiro, who worries about Reina and Matsuboshi’s relationship, and Matsuboshi’s sister who wants to help her brother in his endeavours.
Though the premise and first few episodes feel familiar in some ways they’ve also provided some fairly laidback and fun entertainment and I’m interested to see where the central relationship goes.
Another solid watch so far this season comes in the form of Love after World Domination, a romantic comedy with the premise of two leads working for opposite sides of an ongoing conflict.
Fudou Aikawa takes on the role of “Red Gelato and is the leader of the hero squadron “Gelato 5” whilst Desumi Magahara leads minions for “Gekko”, a villainous organisation seeking – what else? – world domination.
There’s a charm to seeing these two awkwardly try and make their relationship work whilst also needing to maintain their roles as hero and villain. It’s another fairly basic premise that has so far been a pleasant watch, and the main couple are endearing enough to root for.
An anime which might go overlooked this season is RPG Fudousan, a fantasy comedy series focusing on magician Kotone, who alongside Demi-human Fa, priest Rufuria and the soldier Rakira work for RPG (rent plan guide) Real Estate to help customers find their prospective new homes.
The premise of fantasy real estate was explored fairly recently with Dragon Goes House Hunting, but instead of a wimpy dragon, instead we get a more CGDCT approach. It’s been a fairly inoffensive watch so far and the use of fantasy in the premise makes a change from the isekai titles on offer.
Aharen-san wa Hakarenai, Love after World Domination and RPG Fudousan are all available to watch on Crunchyroll.