What We’re Watching this Winter
Amidst the generous helpings of new series, there are some welcome returns, others – well, the jury’s still out at this stage. And then there are the titles continuing their runs from the autumn: Urusei Yatsura, Blue Lock, Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-Kun etc. while My Hero Academia is perhaps the only shonen series to keep going into the new year without taking a break, other than One Piece which is now a legend and a law unto itself. So which returning series have proved themselves worthy of another season – and which ones are shadows of their former selves?
While I’m still enjoying Blue Lock, My Hero Academia, Urusei Yatsura and To Your Eternity from last season, there’s no denying that I have been eagerly awaiting Winter with some of my favourite series returning. It may not have been off our screens for quite as long as the other anime I’ll be picking, but I’m of course delighted for the return of DanMachi for Season 4 Part 2 after it took a season off. When we left Bell, he and Ryu had been separated from the rest of their group and plunged into the depths of the dungeon, somewhere Bell has never been before and is woefully unprepared to take on – particularly with an injured Ryu in tow. This arc adapts one of my favourite books in the series and with the talented team at J.C Staff handling it, I can’t wait to see it play out in anime form.
Putting DanMachi aside, the series I’m perhaps most excited about this season (and potentially all year, depending on what happens!) is the return of Bungo Stray Dogs for Season 4. Having wrapped up Season 3 in 2019, this one has been away long enough that there was uncertainty it would even continue in anime form after the initial seasons were aired much closer together. Thankfully those fears were unfounded and the series has made its triumphant return, kicking things off by adapting one of the light novels to serve as a reintroduction before we get into the meat of the story.
Season 2 of the series gave us a glimpse at the history behind Dazai, Sakanosuke and Ango’s relationship while Season 3 opened with the story of how Dazai and Chuuya got to know one another in the Port Mafia. This time around we’re in for another origin story, one that revolves around Ranpo and Yukichi Fukuzawa, the president of the Armed Detective Agency. Taking place before the agency was even created, here we learn what drove Fukuzawa to create it as well as how he and Ranpo got to know one another. It’s an important arc that shapes the very foundations of the story, so I’m glad studio BONES chose to open this season by adapting it. They’re clearly putting a lot of love into the project too, these first couple of episodes have been very stylish, showing off the talents of director Takuya Igarashi and chief animation director Nobuhiro Arai who have honed their skills on the other seasons of Bungo Stray Dogs and several other big name productions by BONES. Certainly, if you enjoyed Bungo Stray Dogs previously, you will enjoy Season 4 as well.
My other pick from the returning champions is In/Spectre, which is back for a Season 2 which was originally supposed to air in 2022. Opening with an anime original episode written by original author Kyou Shirodaira, we’re reintroduced to Kotoko Iwanaga and her assistant/mercilessly put-upon partner, Kuro Sakuragawa. This proves a good choice, given the second episode is completely absent of our two lead characters as it introduces a storyline about a man who was saved by a Yuki-Onna when pushed off a mountain and left for dead. This is the first time we’ve seen humans and yokai harmlessly interacting outside of our two main characters, so it proves interesting, while also setting up a storyline to bring Kotoko into the picture with a mystery to solve.
The original series lost quite a few viewers over time due to focusing on one long arc for its entire run and Season 2 looks set to be similar judging by the characters in the opening animation, but provided you’re okay with that, then you’ll certainly enjoy what’s on offer here. Having kept up with the manga after Season 1 ended, I know this arc surrounding the Yuki-Onna isn’t exactly short but it’s also unlikely to take up the whole season. We should have time for a couple more storylines at least, which I think will better appeal to anime-only fans of the series who do choose to stick with it.
DanMachi Season 4 Part 2 is available on HIDIVE, while both In/Spectre Season 2 and Bungo Stray Dogs Season 4 are on Crunchyroll.
Tsurune – named after the sound made when the bowstring hits the bow when shooting an arrow in kyudo – has picked up just after where the first series left off in its new season: Tsurune: The Linking Shot (HIDIVE). The boys’ kyudo team at Kazemai High School has just won a place in the prefectural tournament but they’re competing again against Kirisaki High who so very nearly beat them – this time in the regional tournament. (Sadly, the girls’ team of only three is reduced to watching and recording the boys’ progress but that’s another issue altogether.) This story focuses quietly yet impactfully on the boys’ team members, their opponents, and what kyudo means to them all. And it looks – as ever – amazing because it’s a Kyoto Animation production. The opening sequence is worth watching more than once as it flicks between showing us the main characters drawing their bows in the present day – and then portrays them in Heian times competing in the kind of medieval archery competition described by Lady Murasaki Shikibu in Japanese classic The Tale of Genji; it’s subtly yet exquisitely done.
However, a new series needs much more than beautiful visuals – and even though Tsurune: The Linking Shot takes its time to re-introduce us to the main cast: childhood friends Minato and team captain Seiya, tsundere Kaito, relative newcomer to kyudo, Ryouhei, and outward-going Nanao, it’s not until the third episode that the series really starts to get underway. The high schools are competing against each other again in the regional tournament when Minato and friends encounter a new team from Fujimine High that employs a very different, far freer style of archery. Minato and Seiya also encounter the Fujimine captain, silver-haired Nikaido, whom they haven’t seen since middle school days and seems – from the malicious glint in his eyes – to have an old grudge to settle. The air begins to crackle when he greets them – and we’re left wondering what precisely Nikaido is up to. Where Tsurune scores is in its depiction of kyudo itself (as well as what it comes to mean to the high school students striving to do their best). When the series focuses its attention on the tournament, there’s a genuinely palpable tension as each archer lines up their shot, then lets loose… The animation shows us Minato’s face in close-up, the green of his eyes flickering, reflecting his rapidly shifting thoughts – and we know that something is troubling him. When their coach Masa analyses the results after the tournament, he has some harsh and surprising advice for Minato. Suddenly nothing looks certain! This series is a must-watch for anyone who is a fan of the KyoAni style of animation.
The Vampire Dies in No Time is one of those gag anime series (based on a manga) that are intensely and sometimes gloriously silly, the shtick here being the unlikely business partnership between Draluc, a rather weedy scion of an ancient vampire clan, and Ronaldo, a famous vampire hunter. They’re based in Shin-Yokohama which boasts all kinds of supernatural beings, good and bad, as well as various organizations dedicated to the eradication of said supernatural beings. I’m a little sad that the slick song-and-dance routine that opened the first series has been replaced with a somewhat less sophisticated J-pop opening number with all the cast waving light sticks etc. But I can forgive this series a great deal for the continuing presence of Draluc’s faithful companion, John the armadillo, who still wails pitifully every time his master collapses into a heap of dust/sand (which is frequently). Watch it for supernatural hi-jinks, some occasionally dubious sexual humour and the ever-adorable John.
Up till now I’ve been writing about Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun well into its third season, but I’ve found the most recent Harvest Festival contest episodes have become increasingly less enjoyable to watch as the writers continue to spread the original manga material out far too thinly and it’s really begun to drag. A pity. However, slice-of-life Play it Cool, Guys continues to quietly entertain with the introduction of a fifth not-so cool guy, novelist Ishigami. It’s only eleven minutes per episode but the mangaka’s distinctive graphic style is attractively brought to life and the would-be cool guys continue to embarrass themselves in various endearing ways.
Tsurune: The Linking Shot is streaming on HIDIVE; The Vampire Dies in No Time Season 2, Play it Cool, Guys and Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun are streaming on Crunchyroll.
Having previously reviewed the first season of BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense. and having a really good time with it, I’ve been eagerly waiting for this second season to roll around for more overpowered antics with everyone’s favourite shield-bearing, turtle-slinging MMO monster.
The opening couple of episodes here continue pretty much from where the first season left off, showing the adventures of Maple and her guild, Maple Tree, in the virtual reality MMO “New World Online” as the group starts marching through the new levels that are being added by the game’s development staff. And well, I must admit I’m kind of underwhelmed by what we’ve had so far, and I think this comes down to two issues.
Firstly, the pacing in these couple of episodes is like they’re trying to do a speedrun, as we see not one, not two, but three new levels in two episodes. While many of the episodes in the first season actually took the time to show Maple and her gang exploring each new area, there’s been very little of this here, with it focusing primarily on defeating the end-of-level bosses, which Maple or another character can easily one-shot anyway. It’s a shame as the locations we visit look fantastic – there’s a Japanese inspired world with a permanent sunset and shots of beautiful wisteria trees, a sky world which players traverse over bouncy clouds, and a horror-inspired world filled with ghosts and a spooky haunted mansion. We do at least see more of the horror one with a fun segment that plays with Sally, but it feels like a core part of the experience is missing.
Secondly, the whole joke around Maple being overpowered is starting to wear a bit thin with a lack of challenge, even when she is sort-of pushed against it. This makes things a lot more boring when she’s just on her own as I feel the series plays her better when she has something to protect and actually use her insane defence for.
I am however hopeful these issues can be sorted out as the series progresses, as we’ve already had some good moments with the rest of the cast that explore different aspects of their personalities, particularly with stuff they might be embarrassed about. So, it definitely knows it can still pull off those humorous, wholesome antics – it just needs to focus on that and make sure it’s showing everyone having fun adventuring rather than it just being a boss rush.
Also returning this season is Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro, presenting us with more of Nagatoro’s devious antics as she continues to both torture and shower down her unique brand of love on her ever-suffering Senpai.
While the opening scenes of Nagatoro were controversial and put people off, quite reasonably so, I think over time this has developed into an interesting entry in the girl-teasing-boy subgenre of romantic comedies with a bunch of funny (but occasionally cringey) jokes and more heart-warming character moments, that works best when you don’t take it too seriously and have the knowledge that they’re both actually into each other.
So far in this second season there’s a sense it’s trying to pivot more towards the wholesome moments, with Episode 2 being one of the strongest out of the entire series so far, showing how far their relationship has come as they go to the zoo together, while I enjoyed seeing them actually help each other out in their own awkward ways.
The teasing jokes are a bit more mixed, as it feels they are specifically designed to appeal to people with certain kinks, although they do kind of work on an embarrassment factor.
As such, this is a series that is definitely not for everyone, but if you can tap into or work around its… lewdness, then there’s definitely stuff to enjoy here.
BOFURI: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, so I’ll Max Out My Defense. Season 2 and Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro 2nd Attack are both streaming on Crunchyroll.
Vinland Saga was a surprise hit a few years ago (to me, having never read the manga) and it held up when I re-watched it on Blu-ray for this site last year, so when Season 2 was announced, I was excited to finally get back to it. What’s funny is that Studio MAPPA has taken over anime adapting duties and the opening episode is extremely similar to the opening episode of Attack on Titan Season 4, the very season that MAPPA took over that show as well. Instead of catching up with the cast of the original run we’re introduced to a new central figure in a different location and reveal that he is actually part of the “enemy” side. The key difference here though is that Vinland Saga was never one to paint a good and a bad side, they didn’t sugar coat the killing and pillaging of innocent people and settlements part of Viking history, so seeing poor Einar the farmer from a Northern England village having to watch his home burn and his mother and sister killed before ending up in slavery wasn’t a shock in terms of reversing narrative roles. It was a shock in terms of just not being very pleasant, but that was obviously the intention!
Episode 1 ends with Einar having been bought and taken to a large farmland where he meets Thorfinn, the true protagonist of the series (all scraggy haired and older, another coincidental connection to Attack on Titan S4!) but this is where the introduction of Einar is quite brilliant. Thorfinn saw his father killed by his own Viking kind and joined the band that did it so he could one day get stronger and get his revenge, that was the whole plot of Season 1, whereas Einar went through the same tragedy, if not worse, but has taken his mother’s last words of begging him to start over to heart and is concentrating on finding a way to create a new farm and build a new home for himself. Thorfinn, having seen the figure of hatred that kept him going die not by his hands, has now given up, he sees no point in living and has no goal in life so is just existing for the hell of it.
So in Episode 2 we get an odd pairing where Einar and Thorfinn have to work together to clear a field but when Einar talks about Vikings being heartless monsters, Thorfinn works alongside him, knowing full well that he helped those same monsters kill countless of Einar’s people, all for revenge, something Einar has risen above. It’s a frankly brilliant kind of odd couple that I’m looking forward to seeing develop over the course of the season (Hopefully! With this series you never know…) The animation thankfully matches the look of the first show: sweeping vistas of medieval Europe, accurate homes and clothes, and deliberately brutal violence when needed. This season even kicked off with an old Icelandic poem actually read in its native language, which was a nice touch. With most of the staff returning, including series composer Yutaka Yamada, it thankfully feels like Season 2 of Vinland Saga rather than any kind of visual or audible reimagining that can sometimes come at the switch of an animation studio.
With the farmer’s son talking about wanting to join King Cnut’s army and several other characters from the original series appearing in the opening there is obviously a lot more on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to it!
Vinland Saga Season 2 is streaming on Crunchyroll and Netflix.