After a packed Autumn 2022 season, it’s looking as if Winter 2023 has even more exciting series to entice and entertain. Although – exactly how many new series have the words ‘reborn’, ‘another world’ and/or ‘the world’ in their titles? If you’re not an isekai fan, don’t worry – we’ll be recommending other series as well that have caught our attention.
While this season is home to several beloved favourites of mine returning, it’s also home to quite a few series I’m fond of getting their first anime adaptations. Perhaps most exciting for me is The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and the Genius Young Lady which is a project from studio Diomedea (Domestic Girlfriend, Parallel World Pharmacy) and follows the story of Princess Anisphia. Our protagonist is known for having no talent for magic (despite her bloodline being famed for it!) and interest in “Magicology”, something she’s developing with help from the memories of her past life in Japan. Then there’s our other main character Euphyllia, who’s engaged to Anisphia’s prince brother but is being shamed and dumped for something she hasn’t done at a large social gathering. So it’s Anisphia to the rescue as she accidentally crashes the party (literally, as she was testing a flying broom which goes horribly wrong) and whisks Euphyllia away when she sees the young girl has been berated to the point of tears.
Studio Diomedea is proving they have a real talent for bringing these fantasy series to life and the first episode of Magical Revolution, in particular, shows the studio is willing to move things around to create a better adaptation of the source material. In the light novel (available from Yen Press), Anisphia crashes the party fairly early on but here in the anime things have been rearranged so that we’re better introduced to both the main characters before this occurs at the end of the episode. It certainly results in having a much better emotional impact since we’re more invested in Euphyllia and have seen how hard she’s worked to be a good fiancée. Eager viewers will quickly see sparks between these two characters in a romantic sense and the story seems likely to deliver on that front too as Episode 2 includes a flashback of Anisphia declaring if she was to get married at all then she would be happy to marry a woman.
Yes, it’s an isekai, but ultimately this one has a whole lot of heart. Anisphia might be eccentric but she’s not completely overpowered (at least not yet) and even then, the focus is less on power and more on these two young ladies finding their place in the world.
My second pick for the season is Endo and Kobayashi Live: The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte, which follows Aoto Endo and Shihono Kobayashi who are members of the broadcasting club at school and decide to play and commentate over A Magical Romance, an otome game. In the game, villainess Lieselotte is destined to meet a bad end, something Endo wishes could be avoided, especially as it seems she’s a tsundere character who is simply misunderstood.
Endo’s wish is soon granted when, while they’re playing the game, Prince Siegwald (Lieselotte’s fiancé) appears to hear what she and Kobayashi are saying, reacting as though he believes they’re gods and hoping to follow their advice. Now able to clear up the misunderstandings around Lieselotte, our protagonists hope they can prevent her from reaching a bad end but their involvement is changing the fate of the world drastically…
Adapted by Tezuka Productions (Kids on the Slope, Adachi and Shimamura) this anime may not look quite as flashy as others making their debut but it more than makes up for it with a unique and entertaining twist on the villainess genre. The original light novels series is only two volumes long (published in English by J-Novel Club), so it seems likely that the anime will adapt the whole story – which is always nice to see! Certainly, if you like the villainess genre or are looking for a cute romance (both in the game universe and between Endo and Kobayashi), this one is well worth checking out.
The Magical Revolution of the Reincarnated Princess and The Genius Young Lady is available on Crunchyroll, while Endo and Kobayashi Live: The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte is on HIDIVE.
So far, this season has had a mix of new offerings, some of which have turned out to be surprising highlights as of writing. Handyman Saitou in Another World, despite its by-now rather worn-out namesake, doesn’t re-tread old ground too much with its initial episodes as the series pretty much drops the viewers into vignette-style segments exploring Saitou and his party getting into situations that they all play a part in resolving.
The party consists of Saitou himself, a man of all trades whose skill set is varied and who in life was overworked and under-appreciated. He is accompanied by Raelza, a female knight who usually dons heavy armour and appears to have feelings for Saitou. There’s also the wizard Morlock (in his twilight years) who is rather powerful but also equally forgettable, leading to hijinks and frequent back healing by fairy healer Lafanpan, a money-grubbing healer whose coin-collecting gets a very poignant backstory early on.
What makes the series a fun watch is the more segmented approach, which breaks away from the typical set-ups that isekai fantasy anime have had in recent years. It instead allows for more fantasy comedy and that’s fine by me!
Another series from this season which might well go under the radar, so-to-speak, is Mou Ippon! a Judo-themed sports slice-of-life which, though treading some familiar ground so far, sports a likeable cast of determined martial artists including the hyperactive Michi Sonoda, who alongside her friends strive to form a new Judo club whilst welcoming new member and friend, Towa Hiura. I’m looking forward to seeing how this series plays out.
Handyman Saitou in Another World is streaming on Crunchyroll, whilst Mou Ippon! is streaming on HIDIVE.
Buddy Daddies. A duo of chalk-and-cheese twenty-something assassins living together (Rei’s the silent emo shut-in type who plays games all the time; Kazuki’s the cheerful, sociable ladies’ man who’s good at housework and cooking) find themselves looking after four-year-old Miri after a Christmas party raid that goes disastrously wrong. It doesn’t help that cute Miri wanders utterly obliviously through a hail of gunfire and fleeing guests searching for her Papa. This leads soft-hearted Kazuki to rashly claim that he’s the one she’s looking for. (He has something of a guilty conscience in this respect although we don’t yet know precisely what or why.)
Buddy Daddies (P.A. Works) goes out of its way to explain that Kazuki’s only rooming with Rei because he’s been kicked out of his last squeeze’s apartment so there’s no absolutely gay here, no sirreee! But it has a great deal of fun with planting Miri in the bachelor apartment and then having her do all the things a young child with absolutely no sense of personal danger would do. Lock your sense of disbelief away before watching this show, especially if you’ve ever had to care for a small child. When – somehow – Miri ends up on a second assassination mission with her two ‘daddies’, she again, miraculously fails to be injured in yet another hail of bullets. But by the third episode, we learn a little more about the backgrounds of Papa Kazuki and Papa Rei – and why neither of them has much clue about how to parent, having missed out on having any good role models themselves. And this is where the series begins to pick up traction, adding depth to all three main characters as well as setting up an ongoing mystery or two for the future.
Some have compared this to Spy x Family but apart from the fact that it’s a found family story, involving secretive agents (assassins) wielding guns and cool, 60s jazz-influenced music, there’s no real comparison between the hyper-aware telepath Anya and only just out of nappies (or so it sometimes seems) Miri. Praise to Miri’s VA Hina Kino (Alas Ramus in The Devil is a Part-Timer!!) for capturing so convincingly the vocal range of a four-year-old child from shrieking with infectious laughter to full-blown temper tantrum.
I’ve had some problems with watching Crunchyroll since Christmas (I subscribe) which I won’t bore you with, so I almost missed High Card altogether and it still doesn’t show up on the daily menu. Thus far, this elusive series is crazy enough that I’m glad I persisted in searching for it and at the end of the second episode it totally won me over with the best ED I’ve heard/seen this season (“Squad!” by Meychan) – the OP is very impressive too (see image above). High Card has something of the same crime caper vibe as Buddy Daddies but surprised me by starting in an island kingdom where a pack of playing cards is about to be stolen during an armed assault on the palace. This X-Playing pack is very special; each card can imbue the person wielding it with unique superhuman powers – and at the height of the attack, the cards disperse, as if by magic.
The action then moves to ‘Shield Spada County’ (which looks very like London) homing in on a young man called Finn who’s pickpocketing, planning to save the orphanage (Sun Fields) he grew up in from closure (aw…). The two of spades in his possession leads him to Bell County, a Las Vegas-style resort crammed full of casinos, where he gets caught up in a terrifying and bloody clash between two men wielding cards like his own that give them extraordinary powers. Has his luck changed – or will he be killed before he can find out more? This stylish and well-made action/fantasy thriller is different enough (thus far, fingers crossed!) to make it a genuinely interesting watch. It’s poker-based (apparently) and the world it’s set in is full of card-derived names. Based on a multimedia franchise (it’s going to generate novels, a manga – Square Enix – and drama CDs) it hails from Studio Hibari and is co-authored by Homura Kawamoto (Kakegurui) Hikaru Muno and TMS Entertainment. Extremely cool, jazz-influenced music from Ryou Takahashi (ACCA, The Vampire Dies In No Time) is the icing on the cake.
I’m also intrigued by new idol drama Unite Up! on Crunchyroll which has (for a change) a rather reluctant protagonist (who’s cheered on by the elderly regulars at the family-run bathhouse) which looks promising – and Kaina of the Great Snow Sea, also Crunchyroll, an SF late-starter which has some impressive scenery and distinct Nausicaa-style vibes. Too early to tell. More later!
Buddy Daddies, High Card, Unite Up! and Kaina of the Great Snow Sea are all streaming on Crunchyroll.
When it was announced last year, I initially assumed Trigun Stampede would be a proper faithful adaptation of the manga after the original anime series went off in its own direction in the latter third of the series, thanks mostly to the manga still being written at the time; it’s an idea we’ve seen several times with other manga franchises – but instead, Stampede is something else entirely. It’s like the anime equivalent of a movie adaptation where they’ve taken the basic building blocks of the franchise but created their own story and visual identity. It’s an interesting move and one that if done right can be a treat for new fans and those already familiar as they won’t quite know what’s coming next either, but so far it hasn’t completely landed with me.
The series opened up with lead protagonist Vash and his psychotic brother “Millions Knives”, one of the best worst names in villain history, surviving the spaceship crash that in the original series was a big reveal. We’re then introduced to the present day and Vash is thankfully still his cheery and clumsy self (except when he needs to be something else) but while Meryl Stryfe is still pretty much the same personality-wise she has been re-written to be an investigative journalist working with drunk grizzled veteran stereotype Roberto De Niro (yes, really) rather than an insurance agent with fellow female co-worker Milly Thompson. Now Milly is such an important part of both the original manga and anime that I doubt she’s not going to be in the series at all despite not appearing in promo pictures and the like, but when she does appear it’s not hard to assume it will be in a similarly different role. This switcharoo also means Meryl isn’t the one in charge in her partnership, so that’s a departure as well, and not a great one. Character designs are quite different too, especially Vash who has lost his tall spikey hair and instead of concealing his normal-looking robotic arm under his coat it’s now a nearly bright green monstrosity out for all to see.
Thankfully I can say that the episode was still fun and had the right vibe but the other major sticking point is the look of the show. It’s entirely CG but a kind of CG that can look almost like traditional animation due to its cell-shaded nature and bright vibrant colours, and there are indeed moments of striking visual flare and some great comedic facial animations but sadly there are also moments of awkward 3D movement, like at one point Meryl is supposed to look like she’s blushing and while Vash and Roberto are talking, she silently goes through what can only be described as a “blushing and pleased animation cycle” that looks really unnatural. Likewise they make that mistake where instead of allowing certain characters to just be still, they put them doing things and it doesn’t look right; either the movement looks too slow or it just looks awkward. There is something to be said about the limitations of 2D animation leaving certain characters standing still so they can just animate their mouths. I don’t need a bartender to be walking and cleaning a glass while talking when it has a weird slow-down effect that makes it look really… odd.
How much you enjoy Trigun Stampede really relies on two things: if you can get used to the animation and if you’re okay with the idea of an alternate reality or timeline version of the storyline you know. For me personally I don’t mind someone going for a new take; after all, it doesn’t mean the originals disappear, but the animation will take a lot of getting used to. I feel it may be a “wait a few weeks and watch a couple of episodes when I feel like it” show, rather than a must-watch weekly effort, especially with so many other strong shows airing. Who knows though, maybe it will pick up as it goes along…
One of the things that I’ve hated about the isekai genre over the years is that they’ve eroded away the opportunities for deeper fantasy stories that don’t just appeal to the lowest common denominator with the same formulaic template and self-insert protagonist. To my surprise, this season actually has a couple of new fascinating fantasy series that drop the isekai fluff and place us into two very different worlds.
Firstly there’s Giant Beasts of Ars, a science fantasy epic set on the titular continent of Ars, which was long ago created by giant beasts. At some point however, humanity blundered in and stole the land from the beasts, which of course started to fight back. The ones who turned to fight the beasts became known as Paladins, who utilise human weapons called Clerics to gain magical and superhuman abilities that give them the edge.
The story focuses on the odd pairing of Jiro, a former Paladin turned drunken beast hunter, and Kumi, a mysterious young girl with magical powers who has escaped from the confines of an imperial laboratory. As Kumi flees from her captors she begins to lose control of her powers, only to be saved (albeit reluctantly) by Jiro. However, the miasma emitted by out-of-control Clerics attracts the beasts, which sees one make a charge at the town. Being the only ones able to battle the beast, Jiro and Kumi team up which, unfortunately for Jiro, reveals his identity to the Empire, forcing him to go on the run with her. Teaming up with the cute but deceptive Myaa, the trio embark on a journey that will unravel the mysteries of the world of Ars.
So far, Giant Beasts of Ars spins a fascinating tale with a lot of world building going on in the background outside of Jiro and Kumi’s main predicament. We have a very evil-looking imperial army conducting experiments on young girls and led by a warped and calculating individual trying to drive the continent of Ars into war. Meanwhile a princess battles against the tide in court to protect the Empire’s people, and from the shadows, mysterious individuals help Jiro and Kumi on their way, but seemingly with motives of their own.
It’s hard to tell where a lot of this is going at the moment as it’s playing its cards close to its chest and drip-feeding information, but it has all the elements there for a big ‘save the world’ quest where the main enemy is not the beasts, but the human Empire.
It also has a great aesthetic that feels retro in its art style and character design that might remind you of classic anime from, say, the 90s but in my opinion feels very similar to a ‘Tales of’ game, particularly with the cast getting a futuristic jet-powered ship that they use to travel across the world.
This is also, interestingly, an anime original co-production, with Asahi Production doing the animation and Sentai themselves sitting on the production committee (also featuring DMM, Bilibili and NetEase, among others). While Asahi Production’s previous shows have been a bit hit or miss, I can’t really find anything to complain about so far – I only hope that it manages to pull everything together neatly from its rather complex worldview.
Overall though, I’d definitely recommend giving this one a shot as it might be one of those that slips under the radar.
Secondly, we have Sugar Apple Fairy Tale. Set in a world where fairies are captured and made to obey humans by cutting off one of their wings, the series follows Anne Halford, a 15-year-old budding Silver Sugar artisan who has sadly just lost her mother. Wanting to honour her mother’s memory, Anne begins a journey to Lewiston to compete for the title of Silver Sugar Master and craft a masterpiece for the ceremony where the souls of those who have passed away are honoured. The road to Lewiston is dangerous however, so she ends up purchasing a Warrior Fairy to protect her on her travels. The one she purchases, Challe, is bitter and uncooperative due to his dark past and being abused by the humans who owned him, often making things difficult for Anne, who is one of the few that treat fairies as equals and just wants to be friends with him. If they want to get to the contest in one piece, they are going to have to challenge each other’s thinking, all the while other forces along the road seem to be ganging up on them.
I came off really impressed by this series’s debut as it honestly feels like a breath of fresh air in a fantasy genre dominated by isekai at the moment, which is surprising as it is adapted from a light novel series that was released between 2010 and 2015. While it does have some common themes, I feel it puts them together really well, particularly with the other species slavery plotline and actually making a point that it’s a bad thing.
In some ways it has a comfy and sentimental feeling to it, being a coming-of-age adventure where the character’s main motivations are really sweet and simple, but at the same time it doesn’t mince around and there’s plenty of threat and world building to get stuck into on the actual adventure. The characters are interesting too, particularly the fairies who all seem to have a range of issues that will have to be resolved at some point. Anne herself might put people off with her naivety and how she often views the world with rose-tinted glasses, but if these opening episodes are anything to go by, it’s going to be a journey that sees that part of her character unravel.
So far, then, this one holds a lot of promise and I’m looking forward to following Anne and Challe’s adventures and see if they can make it to the contest.
Giant Beasts of Ars is streaming exclusively on HIDIVE while Sugar Apple Fairy Tale is available on Crunchyroll.