We subtitled Summer 2022’s Preview ‘The Rise of HIDIVE’ but perhaps 2023 Summer 2023’s Preview should be subtitled ‘The Rise of Netflix’? Our writers have some intriguing things to say about two of this season’s new series on Netflix as it’s heartening to see manga and light novel titles written for a shojo/josei audience adapted to anime. Bleach and Jujutsu Kaisen are back too for those looking for a shonen vibe – but are they stronger than ever? Have we picked the best of the bunch for our preview? Are there some promising new series we’ve missed? Let us know!
My Happy Marriage is the new romance anime of summer, and one I’ve looked forward to since I’ve reviewed the first three manga volumes for the site (and Demelza covering the original light novels). The series is set in an alternative fantasy version of 19th century Meiji era in Japan; where family wealth and status is decided by how powerful the members’ psychic powers are, from mind-reading to pyrokinesis. The story, however, is a Cinderella-esque tale of Miyo, who was born with no powers and is a live-in slave for her father, stepmother, and half-sister Kaya, who all treat her the same as the dirt on their shoes. One day, her life is changed forever when she’s sent off to marry Kiyoka Kudou, an extremely powerful user who is rumoured to be a cold man who never has a fiancée longer than three days. But when Miyo arrives, she finds that the rumours are not exactly as they seem to be.
If you read my reviews, one of my earliest complaints is that the use of ‘magic’ is lacking in the first volumes, with the world building and description of ‘grotesqueries’ (the magical big bad of the world) being lacking. Luckily in the anime they try to remedy that; the first episode is focused on Miyo’s horrific home life and how she got to her self-defeated mental state before she meets Kiyoka, but Episode 2 makes the effort to expand the viewpoint, actually showing the magic powers and Kiyoka’s role in the grand scheme of things, whilst also developing the relationship between the pair. The anime is using its medium to the fullest here, fixing or expanding on things that the manga couldn’t. It also helps that the animation is lovely; Kinema Citrus (from Made in Abyss and Revue Starlight) really bring the stunning art style of the manga and light novel to life. The only things, so far, I’m not sold on are the opening and ending theme songs, definitely some of the weakest I’ve seen come out of romance anime in a while (in my opinion). But overall, I can’t wait to see how this develops.
Confession time: I thought this mini movie was just the extended opening episode for the anime series because it’s become the new cool/hip thing to do (see [Oshi No Ko]) But if ONE series has a good reason to do so, it’s a lore-heavy franchise like Fate. But no, this is just a one-off film, with the anime series coming later. As a film though, it’s not bad. Fate/Strange Fake (based on the light novel of same name) takes place after the original Fate/Stay Night game, but it’s an AU where the Holy Grail War is happening in the United States, which the Mages in the Clocktower do not like (they’re British, so it’s understandable) and this new version of the Grail War isn’t just like the other Grail Wars; they are only summoning six Servants, scrapping the Saber class, but also other Servants are being summoned in unique ways and the definition of ‘Hero’ being blurred as well. But this special is very much like the pilot episode of Fate/Zero (which was also an extended length) in that it’s all set-up, all hype for the battle/plot to come. As a result, Fate/Strange Fake is obviously NOT beginner-friendly; anyone going into this series need to have at least seen Fate/Stay Night (all routes) with knowledge from Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files being helpful too as characters from there show up here. The animation is by A-1, who previously did Fate/Apocrypha, and the animation quality, when it comes to magic and battles, is stellar, but I’m not happy with the character designs. The new designs are heavy on lines and make the faces look very sharp compared to the cleaner look we’ve had in the Fate anime we’ve had before. I understand if they wanted this series to stand out on its own, but I personally prefer the previous look. Also, it should go without saying considering it’s Hiroyuki Sawano’s work, but the score is good, and his ending theme ‘FAKEit’ is a banger!
While Summer is normally a lull in the anime calendar, there are quite a few series I’m watching this season. Sadly, all of them are returning franchises, and the two I want to talk about share a lot in common, being both Shonen Jump series that focus on fighting the supernatural (or at least that’s how they both started anyway…) Oh well!
The first series I want to talk about is the return of Bleach: The Thousand Year Blood War. Despite being the weakest manga arc, I loved the first chunk of episodes last year due to the combination of stunning visuals, great voice work and OST, and a blistering and extremely loyal adaptation of the source material while also adding in extra bits to flesh everything out (overseen by original author Tite Kubo himself) and I’m thrilled to confirm all those things are still here for Cour 2. The previous chunk of episodes ended with our lead protagonist Ichigo finding out about his mixed heritage and undergoing something of a new transformation (or at least a new look to his regular transformations, I guess) and it seems one of the newly added scenes will involve him going on something of a mysterious journey to meet the Soul King in the “Royal Realm” before heading down to the main conflict.
Speaking of the main conflict, it doesn’t take long for the enemy Quincy Wandenreich to re-invade the Soul Society, though this time their European-looking architecture has come with them, transforming the whole landscape in the process (and turning the sky a crimson red), and to make matters worse. Ichigo’s long-time friend Uryu has seemingly joined the villainous side and has been named the successor to the Quincy leader Yhwach (remember, that’s “You-Ha-Ba-Ha”…) Several of the Captains start to pair off with the equivalent Quincy “Stern Ritter”, and in fact most of the second episode is several chapters’ worth of fighting faithfully adapted into a tight 20-odd minutes, and spoiler alert: that’s pretty much the rest of the story arc, unless Tite Kubo really does go mad with the extra scenes…
It’s still quite the sight to behold though, and there are some crazy fights I’m looking forward to seeing not only get so nicely animated but also voiced and backed by the always dependably awesome Shiro Sagisu OST. It may not win story of the year but once again Bleach might be the “best adapted show” of the year, and maybe even the prettiest (if you ignore all the red and dark blue the show seems to be using for this part of the story anyway…)
The second returning show is Jujutsu Kaisen. The show was a hit in its first season and it’s thankfully taking cues from other recent Jump! adaptations by doing seasons that adapt the manga without the need for filler, and in fact there is zero catch-up as we start Season 2 with a flashback arc. After the Jujutsu Kaisen 0 film revealed they were once friends, “cool teacher” Satoru Gojo and the series’ overall antagonist Suguru Geto are the stars, set during their time as Jujutsu High second year students and close friends. The duo are shown to be something of a pair of prodigies as well, as they save some of their fellow students from harm, then are given an extremely important mission from the higher-ups. It turns out the mysterious entity known as Master Tengen that’s responsible for the barriers that protect the Jujutsu schools, among other feats, needs to merge with a specific human every 500 years in order to not “evolve past humanity” and therefore cease to exist in a form capable of interacting with the mortal realm (or something!) and Gojo and Geto are sent to protect this sacrifice until the time of the merger.
The sacrifice in question is called Riko Amanai and she’s a regular school student, leading the viewer to question how right the situation is. In the first two episodes, Gojo and Geto have had to fight off rival sorcerers from a terrorist group known as “Q” while we see another group has hired a man named Toji Fushiguro for the job, a man who seemingly has no luck gambling but is completely confident in his ability to best even the legendary Satoru Gojo. It’s a fun set-up and the animation has proved to be capable of keeping up the with fast-paced and often visually weird fighting the show is known for. It’s also kept its nice blend of humour, tragedy and gore as well, making this a strong start. I know some people aren’t keen on starting with a multi-episode arc that doesn’t feature the series’ established poster boys (Bungo Stray Dogs had similar complaints in its previous season) but I think this works well, and will no doubt play an important role in the overall story arc.
Bleach: The Thousand Year Blood War is currently streaming on Disney+; Jujutsu Kaisen is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Growing up amongst both Harry Potter and The Worst Witch I’ve always loved a good school of magic story, so when I saw folks describing Reign of the Seven Spellblades as “Harry Potter, but with swords” I of course stuck this one on my watch list.
From the off it definitely has that similar feeling. Set around Kimberly Magic Academy, an incident involving a troll (not in a dungeon this time) bands together a small group of new students including Oliver Horn, a boy who seeks vengeance on those that killed his mother, and Nanao Hibiya, a samurai girl from the distant land of Yamato, drenched in the blood of her country’s civil wars and unconsciously seeking a place to die. Together, this small group of six friends must navigate not only their classes but the deadly school itself, which harbours terrible secrets with a percentage of students not just flunking out but actually dying every year.
So far, I’m finding this one pretty fascinating, in particular with the school being particularly dangerous and hiding plenty of secrets, like the labyrinth it turns into at night and the mysterious older (and in some cases much older) students that roam around it. The world building is something I definitely want to dig more into, but it’s slow in showing its hand at the moment, which I think is fine as it doesn’t want to reveal everything at once and is happy taking its time exploring its main cast.
The main focus of this early on is Nanao, looking at her dark past as well as her instant attraction to Oliver. Setting the two up as a pair this early helps denote them as the main characters we’ll be following, but it does kind of leave the rest of the group in the shade for the moment. There is some focus on Katie, a conservationist for all magical creatures set apart from the rest of the world which exploits them, which is definitely relevant to real world and interesting to see; as well as Pete, who gets bullied for the lack of magical ability and trying to do everything by the textbook, and a little bit on Michella, the heir to a prestigious magical family, but we haven’t really seen them come to the fore, and Guy is certainly left out as I even struggle to remember him.
Outside of the lore and characters, it’s pretty typical magic school stuff, full of taking lessons and getting into trouble, but there’s some cool early fight scenes as the main cast get to duel each other as well as getting lost in the labyrinth. And that is definitely not a bad thing, as there’s enough here to keep driving the story forward and gradually reveal more, as there’s definitely a lot to dig into, so much that we’ve barely scratched the surface so far.
Reign of the Seven Spellblades definitely has potential and does the magic school fantasy well with some interesting world building and characters. It does seem a bit of a slow burn, but we’ll see if it fulfils on that potential at the end of the season.
As BanG Dream! began chucking in more bands and started to heavily rely on the mobile game to keep up, I found myself gradually falling away from what is a solid mixed media franchise with some cool music. This season’s new entry however, BanG Dream! It’s MyGO!!!!! has managed to pull me right back in with what feels like a fresh new start.
Set after the graduation of a lot of the main cast from the previous seasons, It’s MyGO!!!!! focuses on an entirely new cast trying to make it big with their high school rock band and follow in the footsteps of those previous big names. Our main character is Anon Chihaya, who has just come back from a period of studying abroad in London, transferring into the legendary Haneoka Girls’ High School. With most of her classmates already in bands, Anon feels like she has to be in one too in order to fit in, and sets about scouting out students who aren’t currently in bands. However, the students she does find, like the peculiar Tomori Takamatsu or the standoffish Sakiko Togawa, are still reeling from the breakup of their previous band, CRYCHIC. If Anon wans to make her band, she’s going to have to pull together the former CRYCHIC members and help them sort things out.
We’re already quite deep into this series with it launching the first three episodes all at once, which I think was a good move as it works well in longer sittings in the way it really pulls you into each of the characters’ very similar but separate worlds. Each of them, including Anon herself, have a lot of damage and baggage to work through, and the character writing is competent enough to allow you to really emotionally connect with each girl’s specific situation even if you haven’t experienced it yourself. I’ve found myself crying in a couple of places already as the girls’ stories and development play out, and that’s just from the genuine emotional connection as it’s definitely not a tearjerker type of show.
I will say though it is a lot slower paced than a lot of other music shows and feels kind of lacking on the music side while it focuses more on this character development and actually forming the band. So it’s a distinct departure from previous seasons which were more a musical showcase, peppered with songs from the franchise’s main bands. So if you can’t find the same investment in the characters you might not enjoy it as much if it is the music you are here for.
If you’re an existing BanG Dream! fan then this is obviously going to be a must watch, but if you’re new to it or have been away from it for a while like me, so far it’s looking like this is worth getting stuck into.
I’d heard a few mumblings of Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead being one to keep an eye on before this anime season started, but I don’t think I was quite prepared for such a stellar opening episode.
I’ve actually only seen the first episode at time of writing, so I can’t say much for whether it will stay like this going forward, but it initially pulls you in by shoving the ugly side of the anime industry right in your face. Told through the eyes of Akira Tendo, a young bright-eyed graduate who lands his dream job in what is a clear parody of a certain anime production company, we see him being gradually ground down by the “black company” full of never-ending hours of gruelling work, barely sleeping in a corner of the office and realising the colleague he’s taken a shine to is being sexually exploited by their boss. Following his decline is devastating and heart-breaking as you not only feel for the character, but it feels like this has come from a real life experience with the rich detail it has in its writing.
Things then completely spin around when the zombie movies Akira finds himself watching in his depression suddenly become reality. The tone flips with everything bursting with colour and life despite the undead hordes and you can’t help but be absorbed by the jubilant feeling on screen.
One hundred things to do in a zombie apocalypse sure is a wild storyline to pick going forward, but I think this will be a good thing to watch if it can sustain the things that made its debut so gripping – that brutal honesty and the jubilation of freedom. If you like idea of black comedies fused with zombie horror then definitely don’t miss out on this one, as it’s set to be a cracker.
Reign of the Seven Spellblades, BanG Dream! It’s MyGO!!!!! and Zom 100: Bucket List of the Dead are currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
Malevolent Spirits: Monogatari was a series that I rather enjoyed when its first season aired in the 2023 Winter Season. So far, the story has been fairly low-key, melding slice of life antics with Botan’s friends trying to get her and Hyouma closer together, with supernatural elements building in the background and then coming to the forefront towards the end of third episode. I’m certainly curious to see how the story develops and have enjoyed revisiting these characters so far.
Though not quite an unexpected diamond nor hotly anticipated (I went into this one totally blind), I have found myself intrigued by the initial episodes of the supernatural horror Dark Gathering.
The premise sees Keitarou Gentouga a college freshman who hates ghosts but is unfortunately tied to the supernatural as he experiences various situations that attract the spectral right to him. After a tragic encounter that ended in tragedy for a friend caught in the conflict, he becomes a shut-in, but is gradually encouraged out of his lull, adopting a part-timer tutor role, taking on childhood friend and moral support Eiko Houzuki’s cousin Yayoi Houzuki, a prodigy of sorts with similar spiritual connections as Keitarou.
The set-up and initial episodes for this have been pretty decent so far, and owing to this series having a two-cour run, I am hoping it makes good use of its episodes – it’s nice having another supernatural anime to add variety to what has otherwise been a season in which a lot of series have been skipped.
Malevolent Spirits: Monogatari is available to watch on Crunchyroll, whilst Dark Gathering is available to watch on HIDIVE.
Like fellow writer Darkstorm, my pick for this category had to be My Happy Marriage. Having fallen in love with the light novels, this has been one of my most anticipated anime series all year, particularly given the capable team handling it. As Darkstorm mentioned earlier in the article, the series has been adapted by the studio Kinema Citrus who are doing a wonderful job at capturing the atmosphere of the world and story while also expanding on it where they deem it worthwhile. And it has to be said that, although we have lost some of the heroine Miyo’s inner monologues in the transition from novel to anime, this hasn’t proved an issue in the slightest. Even if we’re not hearing Miyo outwardly talk about the hardships she’s been through or the mental state she’s in at a given moment, the team at Kinema Citrus ensure that every scene is framed just right to convey those sentiments to the viewer without the need for dialogue. Miyo’s Japanese actress Reina Ueda (Lemon in Mashle, Kanao Tsuyuri in Demon Slayer) also does a fantastic job of capturing our heroine’s personality, being careful not to express too much emotion as Miyo is very closed off from the world at this point.
And all of this is backed up by a wonderful soundtrack composed by Evan Call (Violet Evergarden;, Josee, the Tiger and the Fish). If you’ve heard his work for Violet Evergarden then I’m sure you’ll agree that his compositions are well-suited to these historical settings with the light use of piano and strings which are never intrusive but always heighten the emotion of a given scene. I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest of his work as the series goes on, I’m sure it’ll be another soundtrack I listen to frequently once it’s released.
While My Happy Marriage might be my most anticipated new show when it comes to those returning I’ve been spoiled for choice. It’s a strong season with Bungo Stray Dogs, Rent-A-Girlfriend, Jujutsu Kaisen, Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation and many other series I’m fond of coming back to our screens. And while you readers may expect me to pick BSD given my obsession with it, instead I’ve chosen to talk about Horimiya: The Missing Pieces.
Horimiya’s first season aired back in the 2021 Winter Season and ran for only 13 episodes. It was clearly a passion project on behalf of the team as they cherry-picked important moments from the original manga and told the story from beginning to end. At the time, many fans weren’t happy with this disjointed approach to the storytelling as it skipped over quite a lot of content by the time it got to the end (the original manga is 16 volumes long!). But this was my introduction to the series and I loved it, regardless of the issues.
Now the series returns for a second season and as the subtitle implies, has been created to fill the gaps of the first adaptation. This season is adapting the skipped content, which can be a little confusing at first since the very first episode is a school trip where Hori and Miyamura are not yet dating! But as we’ve gotten further in, the timeline hasn’t been as much of a problem, partly thanks to the pair getting together relatively early in the grand scheme of things.
Once again it’s studio CloverWorks that take on the project with all of the staff from the first season making a return. It’s clear from the stylish opening and ending themes alone that this is once again a passion project for the team; they clearly love Horimiya just as much as we do. A lot of thought is going into how these chapters are adapted and depicted for fans and so far each episode has been an absolute pleasure to watch.
Of course, I’m sure viewers would have preferred that the series was adapted better the first time around, but as a solution to not knowing whether you’ll get a Season 2 or the time to adapt a whole manga, I find myself okay with this. Certainly, if you are a Horimiya fan then you’ll definitely want to be watching this.
There are very few shows this season that have surprised me, usually because I expected them to be good from the offset having enjoyed the source material each. However, one series that has earned my unexpected diamond pick is The Most Heretical Last Boss Queen: From Villainess to Savior! Based on a light novel series (published by Seven Seas) by author Tenichi, this anime tells the story of Pride Royal Ivy, an eight-year-old girl who suddenly gains memories of a past life and realises she has been reincarnated into the world of an otome game where she’s fated to become the last boss! Luckily, she’s realised all this early enough that there’s still time to change course and avoid becoming an evil villainess, or at least she hopes so…
As far as these Villainess anime go, we’ve seen a very similar storyline in My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! and I’m the Villainess, So I’m Taming the Final Boss. However, unlike those series, this is not a romantic comedy and it takes itself very seriously. This is helped by the fact our lead heroine Pride doesn’t run around like a headless chicken and instead puts thought into each decision she makes as her days go on, hoping desperately to avoid a Bad Ending. The series is being handled by studio OLM (Pokémon, Dark Gathering, Komi Can’t Communicate) and the team there are delivering a series that looks bright and colourful at first glance but manages to capture the dramatic atmosphere of the story well.
Even if you’re not usually a fan of this isekai sub-genre I would still recommend giving the show a try if you’re looking for a drama this season. The characters are likeable and have quite a bit of depth to them so far and as I mentioned earlier the fact Pride is a bit more intelligent than we normally see for shows like this makes it far more appealing. The only major downside is that the original light novels are still ongoing, so there’s a question to be answered as to how the anime will conclude. But the series is quite popular in Japan, so perhaps it will get a Season 2, should it gain enough of an audience.
My Happy Marriage is available on Netflix, Horimiya: The Missing Pieces is streaming on Crunchyroll and The Most Heretical Last Boss Queen: From Villainess to Savior! is on HIDIVE.
I hadn’t honestly expected to be quite so underwhelmed by this Summer Season’s offerings but to my mind, there’s still way too many inferior isekai series (sorry to offend any fans but I feel there’s a real sense of barrel bottoms being scraped, no metaphors intended!) Luckily, my fellow writers have recommended some of the more promising offerings available this season so…
What to make of Undead Murder Farce? The novels by Yugo Aosaki on which this series is based are not as yet available to read in English but the subject matter is familiar – over-familiar, in so many ways. Because here we are yet again in that alternate late nineteenth century European setting so beloved of Japanese writers and, scanning the character list, ah ha! Who do we have we here? Sherlock Holmes, Dr Watson, Professor Moriarty, Jack the Ripper, the Phantom (of the Opera), Victor (Frankenstein), Arsene Lupin, Carmilla, even Aleister Crowley… (In truth, I’ve always been a sucker for variations on the Sherlock Holmes theme, but they have been rather ubiquitous of late in anime and manga.) However, none of these fabled and mostly fictional characters have yet made their appearance (though there might have been a hint or two about a certain ‘M’). Instead, the shtick here is that the detective is ‘the cage user’: Aya, an immortal woman – or rather just her head as she has been separated, a little like a reverse Celty in Durarara!! from her body. In this story, her uncorrupted head is carried around in a bird cage by her faithful maid/bodyguard Shizuka – and she has linked up with the rather louche circus performer, Tsugaru who is half-oni, previously employed to fight monsters. The two hit it off straight away and a rather different ‘buddy’ detective story ensues.
It’s a dialogue-heavy series with great similarities to In/Spectre in that the female protagonist does almost all the talking – and the deducing. We’re plunged into a European vampire murder mystery by Episode 2. Stylistically, it looks good and the OP and ED “Crack – Crack – Crackle” by Class:y and “Reversal” by Anna are pleasingly ‘different’ and stylishly animated. It’s the kind of tale that catches the interest by leaning heavily on its borrowed cast (what will this Sherlock Holmes look like? How will he behave?) rather than inviting the audience to sympathize with the half-oni or even the immortal fourteen-year-old female detective who wants Tsugaru to end her interminable life. The overall colour palette is dark and with the vampire episodes taking place at night (because vampires) it becomes a little wearing on the eyes. Reasons to keep watching? It’s directed by Mamoru Hatakeyama (Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, Kaguya-Sama) and… Sherlock Holmes, I guess.
Returning Champions (for the series with new seasons)
HWR has paid tribute above to the series I chose as ‘Unexpected Diamond’ from Winter 2023, Malevolent Spirits: Monogatari, and even though favourite supernatural series The Devil is a Part-Timer and The Duke of Death and His Maid are also back, I promised I’d return to my other ‘Unexpected Diamond’ from the spring: Sacrificial Princess & the King of Beasts. Sariphi, sent as a human sacrifice to the kingdom of the beasts and its terrifying king, has charmed his leonine majesty, learned a secret that he conceals from all his court and is now his queen-in-waiting. This means she has to perform various tasks and challenges – but she is determined to prove the other beast courtiers’ misgivings about her suitability for the role wrong. Also, she’s in love with King Leonhart and he with her – but they’re going to need all the support they can get for if his secret is revealed, the kingdom could fall apart. For a modest manga-based shojo series, this has strong story-telling and some intriguing world-building (the mangaka could teach many of the isekai writers a thing or two!). Heroine Sari may look pale and weak (she certainly does to the other beasts at court) but appearances can be deceptive and her determination to succeed leads to some surprising outcomes in the intrigues at court and beyond. Well worth a look, especially if you’re a fan of shojo manga.
Ōoku: The Inner Chambers appeared with all ten episodes on Netflix at the beginning of the season (the first episode is 80 minutes, so kind-of self-contained). Based on Fumi Yoshinaga’s award-winning alternate history manga, it adapts the first four volumes. It’s set in an alternate Edo-period Japan where almost all the young men have been wiped out by the Redface Pox and the women have taken over. The Ōoku began as a select band of samurai chosen to protect the first female shogun, Iemitsu, but it soon became more of a male harem. Most of these episodes relate the angst-ridden relationship between Iemitsu and Arikoto, originally a monk who was forced into the Ōoku by the fearsome Lady Kasuga, the power behind Iemitsu’s reign as shogun. There have already been two live-action drama series based on the manga but as Fumi Yoshinaga has a very distinctive graphic style, I had hopes that everything that makes her manga special would be preserved in the anime – and sometimes it has been. At other times, though, Studio Deen are not quite up to the task. The music is by Kenji Kawai but is – to my ears, anyway – very Western-influenced with big 19th-20th century style orchestral moments, rather than the subtle Japanese-inflected score I was hoping for to enhance the 18th century atmosphere. I’ve been forewarned about the disappointing US dub (thank you to Caitlin Moore of ANN) and with Mamoru Miyano as Arikoto and Eriko Matsui as Iemitsu, I was probably never going to go there, anyway!
But…is it a diamond? Maybe a zircon gemstone? The strength of Yoshinaga’s story and characterization shines through the less-than-stellar animation moments – and, if nothing else, perhaps it will encourage new readers to seek out the manga!
Undead Murder Farce and Sacrifical Princess & the King of the Beasts are currently streaming on Crunchyroll; Ōoku: The Inner Chambers is currently on Netflix.