We don’t think we’ve been so aware in a long time of the stark difference between a well-constructed, well-written show and the also-rans as in this Spring Season. Watching an episode of Spy x Family, the time zips past and just as you’re getting into it, it’s over – and it’s so divertingly written, acted and animated that you haven’t noticed the passing of time. Whereas, sad to relate, in other shows, you’re standing around, tapping your foot impatiently as they embark on an endless series of still frames or take the characters down some plot sideroad or unnecessary flashback to fill out the episode. Which Spring series, then, passed the three-episode test for our writers at Anime UK News? And which ones did we abandon along the way? And which ones were your favourites? Let us know!
When we started the Spring season I was excited about the anime just starting up and now as I stand at the end of the season and look back, I find myself pleasantly surprised that I have fond feelings for the majority of what I watched. In particular, the shows I selected to focus on for the Spring Preview have ended up being some of my favourites – which is always nice!
First up we have Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task, which followed country bumpkin Hiyori Suzumi as she finds herself working as a manager-in-training for high school idol duo LIPxLIP. When the show began I commented that the series would appeal more to HoneyWorks fans, and I think while that’s still true it’s not as big a sticking point as I feared. Because ultimately Hiyori and idol pair Aizo and Yujiro are fun characters that dedicate themselves to their work with the kind of heartfelt determination we don’t get to see all that often and which proves particularly captivating.
I think it would be difficult for anyone not to fall in love with Hiyori’s enthusiasm for life! The show is helped greatly by showing how her influence softens Aizo and Yujiro as well, who gradually develop both a better relationship with each other and also Hiyori. Studio Lay-duce manages to perfectly capture why fans of HoneyWorks (who created the characters and story for their music videos), love the LIPxLIP duo so much as they interweave drama, music and comedy together into a show that will have you eager to continue watching all the way through to the end. I also appreciate that although the story could continue, the anime finds a comfortable stopping point having wrapped up all its loose ends. Definitely highly recommended!
My second pick for the season was The Executioner and Her Way of Life, which is based on a light novel series. The series followed Executioner Menou and Akari, a girl from Japan with the ability to turn back time which causes nothing but trouble for Menou whose tasked with killing her. Initially, I was excited about this anime not only because I enjoy the novels the series is based on, but also because it’s an adaptation handled by J.C Staff who have done wonderful work on DanMachi over the years. And they certainly didn’t disappoint here as they put their all into depicting the fight scenes and paced the story to only adapt two of the seven currently released books. Covering only two volumes meant they had a perfect stopping point (since the later ones are not as good there) and could also spend time fleshing out the world and characters properly.
I am a little bit disappointed there is no sign of a Season 2 announcement since Menou and Akari’s stories are far from over and overall this anime will likely not work for a lot of viewers if more never comes to fruition, given how many unanswered questions there are. However, if you’re already reading the books, then you’ll certainly enjoy watching the cast come to life in this anime and newcomers will still enjoy seeing how the show subverts isekai tropes. Particularly the fact that people summoned from Japan to their world are looked on as nothing but dangerous, a twist we don’t usually see!
Finally, I’d like to briefly touch on A Couple of Cuckoos, a show that had yet to air when we published the Spring Preview article but has since begun in earnest. This one is based on a manga by Miki Yoshikawa (Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches) and follows the story of Nagi Umino and Erika Amano who were swapped at birth! It’s not until Nagi is 17 years old that he learns the truth and is introduced to both his biological family and Erika, his parents’ biological daughter. But if that wasn’t enough of a shock, it turns out that both sets of parents have been scheming and come up with the grand idea of having Erika marry Nagi, therefore keeping both kids within the same families! Nagi is none too pleased by the idea, given he’s perfectly happy with his life the way it is and is crushing on classmate Hiro Segawa, but nevertheless, he’s unable to protest and soon he and Erika find themselves living in an expensive apartment together.
I confess that I was nervous about this one before it started. I am a big fan of Yoshikawa’s manga and was disappointed by the anime for Yamada-kun, to the point of dropping it a few episodes in. However, I’m happy to report that this anime is great! Studio combo Shin-Ei Animation (Teasing Master Takagi-san) and Synergy SP (Hayato the Combat Butler, Major) has perfectly captured what makes the manga so much fun with exaggerated facial expressions and great comic timing. It’s not a show for everyone given it is setting itself up as a bit of a harem (and Nagi’s non-biological sister has feelings for him too. Sigh), but I think if you like the romantic comedy genre, then this is well worth watching a few episodes of. The series is set to run for two cours, which is why it started a bit later than the other Spring shows and I imagine that will allow them to adapt a lot of the manga that’s currently available (7 in English, 12 in Japanese) which will be great for existing fans and newcomers alike. Hopefully the anime will continue to be as entertaining as it has proven so far.
Heroines Run the Show: The Unpopular Girl and the Secret Task and A Couple of Cuckoos are available on Crunchyroll while The Executioner and Her Way of Life is available on HiDive.
Dance, Dance, Danseur (Crunchyroll) has really impressed with some stunning animated ballet sequences in this story of young would-be dancers, focusing on Jumpei /Junpei Xx, brought up to be a martial artist but seduced by the magic of live dance into switching all his attention to ballet. The series touched on the problems of being a boy who wants to do ballet and the peer-group pressure, even bullying – contrasting it with another kind of pressure, equally harmful, by over-zealous teachers and relatives, forcing young ballet students to endure painful and psychologically damaging training regimes. There are three main protagonists: newcomer Jumpei; his schoolmate Miyako (daughter of the owner of the ballet school that gives Jumpei his first chance) and her male cousin Luou, who has great potential but has been put through an early and abusive regime by his mad grandmother. The manga (by George Asakura) has yet to be licensed for English translation and is ongoing at 23 volumes, so the TV anime series (which only runs to eleven episodes, sadly) has come to an end long before the conclusion of Jumpei’s story – it’s only just beginning. I rate this series very highly for the imaginative way it brings ballet to life through the eyes and bodies of its young performers – and the use throughout of Tchaikovsky and Petipa’s Swan Lake to great dramatic impact. But, I rate it a little less highly, for the last two episodes which tied up the loose ends clumsily and hastily (presumably because the manga continues) leaving us viewers feeling a tad let down. So many unanswered questions! Watch this series for the dramatic and colourful ballet sequences – and to feel, as Jumpei does, the electric impact of music and dance when they come together.
Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness, in complete contrast, ends as quietly – yet charmingly – as it began. However, it feels as if this ‘everyday story of people running a Japanese sweets shop in Kyoto’ has many more stories left to tell, as it established its interesting and likable cast so successfully that it seems a shame not to know what happens next to them all. This series also stands out for its very attractive paintings (and they look like water colours) of the Kyoto locations where the story takes place and the passing of the seasons from autumn to winter and then early spring that set the scene and establish a restful atmosphere. Information about the traditional wagashi (Japanese sweets) made at Ryokushou is slipped effortlessly into each episode and it’s difficult to watch and not come away eager to try the speciality of the day or the season that was just featured.
Deaimon (based on the manga by Rin Asano, also not available in English) follows Nagomu, the only son of the Ryokushou, as he returns home having tried to make a living playing guitar in a band in Tokyo. But his place has been taken by a ten-year-old girl, Itsuka, whom his parents have semi-adopted after her guitarist father left her with them two years earlier. Trying to put her issues of abandonment behind her, she’s very much part of the family and the shop now and is determined to take it over when Nagomu’s parents retire (Nagomu’s father openly encourages her). But the sudden reappearance of the son and heir – who is also a guitarist – makes Itsuka uneasy and even hostile to the interloper. (Nagomu’s father, in particular, doesn’t hesitate to show how much he favours Itsuka and regards his own son as a disappointment.) If this description makes Deaimon sound like a tense soapy family drama, it really isn’t and although it deals with some difficult issues, especially Itsuka’s feelings of abandonment, it does so with a relatively light touch. By the end, you’re rooting for Itsuka to look more kindly on the long-suffering Nagomu and to realize that they’re both working toward the same goal: making Ryokushou a success. I’d happily watch another twelve episodes of this if they choose to make them; it’s a pleasure to look at, the OP and ED are nostalgic and beautifully sung and you feel that you’ve come to know the characters and want to discover more about their daily lives. (Maaya Sakamoto sings the OP “Sumire”.)
Ya Boy Kongming! (HIDIVE) carries on much in the same way as it began: with Eiko singing her heart out – this time to try to attract 100,000 hits to win a place to perform at Summer Sonia. Using all his considerable skills as a tactician, onetime General of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Kongming, reborn into the twenty-first century, works hard to make her dream come true. The plot is simple – it’s not so much about what’s going to happen next (something of a foregone conclusion) it’s more about the how are we going to get there? Each episode starts in the same way, with a hearkening back to the original Kongming’s career as tactician and one of the instances in which he devised a clever strategy to solve a problem, illustrated with stills evoking the ancient Chinese art of the time. How will Kongming apply the same strategy from those far-off days to the current challenge?
If you like Japanese pop (especially ballads) and Japanese rap, you’re in for a treat because the music features strongly throughout the show. Kudos to the translator, Jake Jung, for rendering the rap battles into English! Both Eiko and the street musician she befriends, Nanami, have singers to perform their songs (96 Neko and Lezel) as well as seiyuu (Kaede Hondo and Hibiku Yamamora) – which is unusual as so often these days the seiyuu also perform their characters’ songs.
Ya Boy Kongming! is a genuinely feelgood anime from start to finish. It also (quietly) has some meaningful things to say about arranging songs, writing songs – and not losing your own personal dream in the mad scramble to be noticed and get to the top. Not forgetting the catchiest OP of the season: “Chikichiki Banban” by QUEENDOM!
(The manga by Yuto Yotsuba and Ryou Ogawa has reached Volume 9 in Japan and is available digitally in English from Kodansha.)
Talking of songs, just to put in a word for the OP and ED of Fanfare of Adolescence (Crunchyroll) a series about a group of teens (one is a girl!) training to become jockeys which hasn’t fared well. The series suffers from what looks like a major plot hiccup halfway through (or maybe the necessity to squeeze what should have been a 2-cour show into one). However, the music for the series is by Hiroyuki Sawano (yes, the composer for Attack on Titan!) and he’s also responsible for the soulful ED “Outsiders”. And the blend of the OP animation and the song “Move The Soul” by JO1 is genuinely stirring to watch; the animators obviously listened to the music and matched the horse-racing images to it, capturing the excitement that – alas – was then rarely achieved in the show itself.
Ya Boy Kongming! is streaming on HIDIVE; Dance Dance Danseur, Fanfare of Adolesence and Deaimon are streaming on Crunchyroll.
This anime season had some highlights and some disappointments for me, but Love After World Domination provided a sweet and fun romance comedy where opposites attracted and a familiar premise played out in a fun fashion.
The premise was bolstered by the likeable leads Aikawa and Desumi who had their own responsibilities and problems to deal with for their respective jobs – Aikawa as “Red Gelato”, the leader for the sentai-stylised hero group Gelato 5, and Desumi a combatant leader for the villainous group Gekko, who are hell-bent on, what else?, world domination (hence the namesake of the anime).
What made the anime a good watch was the believability of the core relationship and how the series managed to take itself seriously when it needed to and was firmly humorous otherwise.
Another highlight for me from this season was Birdie Wing -Golf Girls’ Story-, an entertaining and stylised over-the-top sports anime focused on high-stakes games of golf. At the heart of the story are Eve and Aoi, who despite seemingly being opposites to one another form an ambitious and endearing duo.
The tournaments seen throughout the anime are often entrenched in trickery like a match against the snake-like Vipère, who uses a deadly perfume to distract fellow players from outscoring her. The ending for this series promises more to come and the recent confirmation of a second season should be pleasing for those who enjoyed this series, myself especially included!
Another solid watch this season was Tomodachi Game, a series full of twists, turns and games of 5D chess as the main character Yuuichi kept situations firmly under control despite the circumstances being dire.
I initially went into this series with low expectations as the High Stakes Game premise has been done poorly before, but thankfully Tomodachi Game kept me coming back each week with some solid cliffhangers and finished on a note that will hopefully lead to a second season.
Elsewhere I also found myself enjoying the slice-of-life warmth of Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness and the fantasy offering RPG Fudosan, though my interest in the latter did wane in places. The second season of Love Live! Nijigasaki High School Idol Club was also a very good watch, introducing new characters and dilemmas to overcome
All of these series are available to stream on Crunchyroll.
Beginning with a series that I had carried over from last season, the Shakespearean anime Requiem of the Rose King has at last reached its conclusion. The second half followed the intersex Richard III, having now become king of England, but still dealing with all manner of plots, back-stabbings, and tragedies that befall him. In terms of anime this season, while it has not been a stand-out show, the characters and story did make it enjoyable, although the design of minor characters which were often left blank could have done with more work.
Obviously, Spy x Family has been one of the main talking points this season. This comedy following the thrilling but at times bizarre adventures of the Forger family, with spy father Loid, assassin mother Yor, and telepath daughter Anya, has certainly been a hit – as is evidenced in my personal experience at the number of Spy x Family cosplayers at the most recent anime convention I attended at the end of June. There have been plenty of fun moments in the series, with each of the main characters providing their own element of comedy to the show. The animation and the music have also been good too. My only real problem is that the fourth member of the family, the future-seeing dog Bond, appears very briefly in this series, but the show is due to return in October so we can expect to see more.
However, the series that has been my personal favourite was surprising. I have completely embraced an anime… about golf! Birdie Wing: Gold Girls’ Story has ended up becoming something of a sleeper hit and has gained enough of a following to have been given a second series that is due to air next January. Golf is often seen as a dull sport, but it turns out it can be made more exciting if you bring the mafia into it, complete with mechanised underground shape-shifting golf courses. This mafia business results in Eve, the lead character having to flee her homeland and emigrate to Japan, but there is still plenty of action for her to both encounter and to create.
Because of this, my main disappointment of the season has been the football series Aoashi. It is a much more grounded show, but at the same time lead character Ashito Aoi does have certain abilities which just seem lame in comparison to those that Eve has. Nevertheless, I still feel the need to watch to see how Aoi develops as a character.
Requiem of the Rose King, Spy x Family, Aoashi and Birdie Wing are currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
This year’s Spring Season has been filled with absolute gems, and it has been great to see so many shows knock themselves out of the park, whether that be in action, drama, sports, or comedy. I can only echo my fellow writers’ praise for shows like Birdie Wing, which applies shonen action sensibilities to the world of golf, where golf balls become bullets and teenage girls flirt over 250+ yard drives that would make even the cheeky product placement blush! Meanwhile we’ve had dramatic music battles conducted with stratagems from China’s Three Kingdoms era in Ya Boy Kongming!, which is an absolute blast – and who knew pairing a spy, an esper, and an assassin together as a family in order to save the world could be so downright hilarious in Spy x Family.
Looking back over my initial picks from our spring preview though, it’s Kaguya-sama: Love is War -Ultra Romantic– that I have been most satisfied with, as it really sticks the landing and gives us what we’ve all been waiting for since the start of the show. So, if you have been following Kaguya and Miyuki’s ferocious battle to get each other to confess their love to each other first, then know that this third season pulls off a satisfying climax to their mental tug-of-war. However, it’s the side characters that really get the chance to shine, as characters like Ishigami and Hayasaka get a lot more screen time and character development. Ishigami, in particular, blossoms as the star of this season, as he takes the fight to his own love interest with some hilarious results.
It’s just great to be able to follow the dumb antics of such a lovable cast of characters, where the jokes hit time and time again and the central concept never gets stale, and it certainly had me in stitches in points at how silly it can get. There’s also a lot of love in here from the animators themselves, as despite it being a gag comedy, it really is one of the best looking shows this season and I love the way they included some pop culture references, like the whole Starship Troopers ending.
If you haven’t jumped on this crazy love train yet, then please do give it a shot, as this eccentric laugh-out-loud romantic comedy has really cemented itself as one of the all-time greats of the genre and really should not be missed.
If it’s something more healing you want, though, look no further than Healer Girl, which has honestly been a really nice surprise and something a bit different in the current anime landscape. The show takes the form of an animated musical and is a sweet coming-of-age story that focuses on three teenage girls, Kana, Reimi and Hibiki, as they strive to become healers, those who use singing to heal people’s ailments and injuries. The three girls are apprenticed at Karasuma Phoniatric Clinic under the legendary Ria Karasuma, and over the course of the series we get to see each of them grow and learn their craft while treating the various patients that come through the clinic’s doors.
While some may find it a bit overbearing in how it constantly breaks into song, there is so much to love about this show that I’d say it’s still worth giving it a go. The characters are a true joy to watch and really pull you along through the series as you follow their ups and downs, where you really feel the weight of both their successes and their failures. Everyone is treated with great care and each of them gets some solid development, where they really feel like they’ve gone places and come full circle by the end. The songs in the series are great and beautifully sung by the voice cast (I wouldn’t call any of the main cast big names apart from Ayahi Takagaki, but they all have musical backgrounds) and I love the way they are presented, pitching both the viewer and the characters into mesmerising vistas that represent the patient’s physical or mental state, from sprawling green pastures to the chasms of the inner workings of the body.
As much as it fits in the title, it really is a healing show, and if you like chill, heart-warming experiences, then I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of this one.
The other big surprise for me has been CUE!, a 2-cour show which wrapped up this season and definitely fits the bill of an underrated gem. The story revolves a group of fledgling voice actresses who join the newly formed talent agency AiRBLUE, where the show follows them on their journey to become established voice artists, singers and more!
While this one is tied up with a mobile game, I was surprised at how well it handles its large cast of characters, avoiding the typical gacha adaptation problem of having too many characters and not enough to do with them. Here it splits the girls up into a few different groups, taking each of them in very different directions as it spreads out their development over its 22 episodes. By having specific episodes focused on each group, it gives you ample time to get to know everyone and also allows each girl’s individual personality to shine through, from Haruna’s pure-hearted naivety and the love for the show that made her want to be a voice actress, to chuunibyou girl Rie, who struggles to find her feet at simply being herself. There’s definitely a character for everyone here and even then, they are all easy to follow, so it’s easy to latch onto and follow your particular favourite through the series.
The story is pretty decent too, and follows in the footsteps of similar shows like Girlish Number and shows the harsh realities of taking voice acting as a career: the never-ending rejections from roles, the tough training regimes, the endless retakes in the recording booth… While it’s maybe not as harsh as it could be, it still does a good job of showing that voice acting is tough, and I enjoyed watching the girls grow as they pour themselves into their work, whether that be voicing characters in the in-universe anime “Bloom Ball” (yet another in-universe show I wish was a real thing!), performing as a Love Live! style idol group, or turning what was a simple radio show into the CG web series “Bouken Survivors”. It never gets too melodramatic, but it has some really strong emotional beats that certainly had me tearing up as certain characters reached the climax of their storyline.
In general though, I just found it to be a really engaging show about a group of girls going out and trying to achieve their dreams anyway they can, and I’d highly recommend giving it a shot.
Kaguya-sama: Love is War -Ultra Romantic-, Healer Girl, and CUE! are all streaming on Crunchyroll.