Winter 2024 Overview

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How was your Winter 2024 Season? Was it better than Autumn 2023? Did the ongoing slew of isekai enchant or overwhelm you? And what on earth was going on in Brave Bang Bravern!? As the late-starting series gradually reach their conclusions and the first titles of Spring 2024 make their debuts, the writers at Anime UK News return to give their verdicts on the titles that lived up to their initial promise – and a few that surprised them!


Hotly Anticipated

At the start of the season, I picked The Wrong Way to Use Healing Magic as my choice for hotly anticipated, a choice I do not regret as it has remained one of my favourites throughout the winter months. But today I’m choosing to shine the spotlight on a different title – ‘Tis Time for “Torture,” Princess. Based on an ongoing manga series by creator Robinson Haruhara, the story follows an otherwise unnamed Princess who has been captured by demons along with her mythical sword Excalibur. Under their imprisonment, the Princess is subjected to interrogations and torture to make her spill secrets about the humans, but it’s not all as nasty as it seems…

The ‘torture’ that Princess usually finds herself subjected to often involves tasty food (which she’s allowed to eat once she spills a secret), or other enjoyable activities such as petting cute animals or getting to spend a relaxing afternoon by a river, playing in the water. In fact, given the snippets of backstory we see of the Princess having to forego niceties to instead focus on training to become a powerful fighter in the Imperial Army, she may even have a much better quality of life being held captive by the demons!

Despite its episodic and sometimes repetitive nature (how many food tortures can you really do?!), this is a series that proved a real joy to sit down with once a week. Princess, Excalibur and the various demons we meet throughout the series are great characters who aren’t interested in bringing any harm to our protagonists. One of my personal favourites is Hell-Lord, who looks like an imposing demon lord at first glance but is a very kind ruler and doting parent when it comes to his daughter Mao-Mao. This is a slice-of-life comedy that’s sweet in all the right ways and has been wonderfully brought to life by studio Pine Jam (Do It Yourself!!, Kageki Shoujo!!) who have kept the colour palette colourful and put an emphasis on making sure all of Princess’ expressions shine through. I must say, voice actress Haruka Shiraishi (Kaie in 86, Asirpa in Golden Kamuy) has done a truly excellent job in the lead role, capturing Princess’s emotions in a way that I think would be rather difficult for some actors.

I’m hoping we’ll see a second season for this one as it’s the kind of series I’d happily continue watching, but for now, I’m just pleased it received the high-quality adaptation it deserved. It may not be the most original thing in existence, but it’s a lot of fun to fill an evening with.

Returning Champion

Shangri-la Frontier started in the Autumn 2023 season and continued through Winter ’24, and the further it went on, the more confused I became as to why I never got into the manga when it started in English. Back when we were writing the Autumn preview, I picked this series as my Unexpected Diamond choice as I had no prior experience with it and was shocked by how good a series it was proving to be. I’m happy to report that after 25 episodes, I am still very taken with it. I still wouldn’t say the anime is particularly original, especially as it borrows so many ideas from other VRMMO series (and their closely related isekai friends), but there’s something captivating about the cast and their stories all the same.

The second half of the series saw protagonist Sanraku team up with fellow players Kei Uomi and Towa Amane as they begin a quest to take down Wethermon, a strong boss in the form of a Samurai who is tied to a questline Towa has been following. This boss is only accessible at particular times and is a unique monster that’s never been defeated before, so of course Sanraku is more than up for the challenge. This is a hard-fought battle that’s spread out across 5 episodes, episodes that are filled with action and would have seen many a studio crumble under the pressure (especially for a project having already run for a cour), but to their credit, studio C2C (Otaku Elf, Handyman Saito in Another World) stuck to their guns without cutting any corners and continued to put out some incredible work every single week. This has to be one of the best fights I have seen in a long time, perhaps only challenged by Frieren and Delicious in Dungeon, but neither had to sustain the quality for as long as Shangri-la did for these kinds of scenes.

Although I have now picked up the manga so I can continue following the adventures of Sanraku and his human (and rabbit!) companions, I hope this is also gifted with a second season. If the quality can stay as high as this, then it will be a must-watch for anyone who likes this genre of anime. I can certainly see why the manga became so popular.

Unexpected Diamond

When I first saw The Weakest Tamer Began a Journey to Pick Up Trash, I suspected it would be a cutesy isekai or VRMMO title. So, I was understandably shocked when I discovered that not only was it a more original spin on the isekai genre, but it’s also quite a compelling drama. The story follows Ivy, a child with memories of a past life (or more of a second personality who holds those memories and talks to Ivy occasionally) who becomes the shame of her village when she’s discovered to harbour a low-level tamer skill. In this world, someone’s value is decided based on their skill and how many stars that skill is ranked with. So for someone like Ivy with a taming skill of 0 stars, she’s immediately abused and kicked out of her home. Thanks to a kindly fortune teller she manages to live in the nearby forest while being taught the ways of the world, but when the fortune teller later dies, Ivy has no choice but to set out on a journey and get as far away from her village as she can.

Simply leaving the village behind doesn’t ensure Ivy’s safety either; not only are there dangerous monsters but the head of the village wants her found and killed. So Ivy lives in fear, knowing that even if she makes it to the next town she might not be able to count on anyone for support. Luckily she makes a slime companion on her journey and although not everything goes to plan, she’s at least not alone now. And maybe someday she will find people she can trust and call friends!

As I said earlier, I was surprised that this series wasn’t an overpowered isekai adventure of some kind, given the name. It’s very grounded and even though Ivy has memories of a past life or a second personality living within her (it’s hard to tell which is more accurate), she still has to work hard to accomplish anything at all. Although it starts quite dark, I wouldn’t say this is a grimdark series either; there’s plenty of happiness to be found once Ivy makes friends with the slime Sora and like any journey, there are just as many ups as there are downs. It’s relatively well-balanced, even if everything to do with her old village is frankly horrible.

Based on an ongoing light novel series (available through Seven Seas), I’m not convinced this season will end at the most satisfying point but at least the source material is readily available if you wish to carry on. And I do think, regardless of the ending, this is well worth checking out if you’re looking for something different in the isekai genre. It’s far more heartfelt than you’d expect it to be.

‘Tis Time for “Torture,” Princess; Shangri-la Frontier and The Weakest Tamer Began a Journey to Pick Up Trash are all available to stream on Crunchyroll.


Hotly Anticipated

A Sign of Affection was one of my most anticipated anime titles of the year and I’m glad to say that this series didn’t disappoint, it was strong all the way to the end. The series was very faithful to the manga but had many anime-exclusive moments and scenes that I truly appreciated: not just expanding on Yuki’s view of the world, as I mentioned in the preview article, but also adding extra character details to the side cast. Oushi for example, gets a few scenes using his signing with others than Yuki, showing he has a softer streak outside of the tsundere persona we usually see. The best scenes added were for Emma and Shin; admittedly in the manga I’m not sold on them as a couple as I never really felt their chemistry. However, the anime adds many scenes of the pair hanging out together, plus cutaways to Emma’s job and the backstory of Shin’s developing feelings (with high school glimpses of Itsuomi as a bonus). It really made the series feel richer and the couple more engaging overall.

There were also a few moments where the anime made manga-faithful scenes even more romantic: in particular Episode 5 with the note-taking episode. In the manga it’s over quickly because we’re just reading the text they’ve written on a page. But in the anime, we watch Itsuomi and Yuki write up their thoughts in real time, and you can feel the understanding and romance building between them, thanks to Itsuomi’s patience and Yuki really wanting to get to know him. Then Yuki picking up the notebook later and re-reading it is very reminiscence of treasuring your first birthday card or love note from your crush, it just works so well on screen.

The animation also continues to be gorgeous, easily making this one of the best-looking shojo in years; the character designs are faithful, the backgrounds lush and vibrant, and just the extra details of colours being more vibrant or duller, depending on who Yuki is with, makes the art feel like a character in itself. One thing I was disappointed in is that the extra attention in the pilot episode, making certain scenes mute or just white noise when listening from Yuki’s POV, isn’t really continued till the end. There were a few missed opportunities, but I did like that whenever Itsuomi laughed, the audience never hears it, we just see a close-up of his face, just like Yuki sees and hears.

The series ended with anime-exclusive scenes wrapping up emotional arcs; it seems they were capping off the series for now. If you wish to continue their love story (which I personally recommend) the anime ends halfway through Chapter 21 of the manga, beginning at Volume 6, which is out now.

Unexpected Diamond (1)

7th Time Loop: the Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life Married to Her Worst Enemy was an anime I found myself looking forward to more and more each week, and if I had to pick just one show to get a second season out of the three I watched, it would have to be this one. The first season really felt like a small portion of a much larger story and I would love to see more of these characters in the future. Rishe was a strong protagonist through and through; she’s basically playing New Game+ but choosing a different route to play each time, and this time, she’s picked her most challenging of all: trying to stop an upcoming war that’s due to be initiated by her fiancé. But even though she’s got tips, tricks, and skills from the 30+ years of experience she’s gained from her previous six loops, she’s by no means invincible. She often applies knowledge she’s gained to win people over, but people aren’t just NPCs with checkmarks to tick off, they have their own goals and dreams. So sometimes she doesn’t always get her own way or finds herself applying the wrong information to the situation, which makes her journey interesting and gives her conflicts to deal with, despite holding more cards up her sleeve.

It’s why she’s such a good foil to her love interest Arnold as well; he’s a very layered character but one she knows next to nothing about, having only learned about him previously via third parties. We’ve only just scratched the service of Arnold being traumatised from a lifetime of royal backstabbing and politics, plus the previous war he’s fought in, yet he tries to make the world better with the small changes he does make. But he has a pessimistic side that sometimes clashes with Rishe’s hopefulness, despite him being drawn to her and her impulsiveness. In terms of their romance, we don’t get much development, but the moments we do get are great: the balcony scene in Episode 11 especially. But we’ve yet to see what the trigger will be for Arnold to start a war, and the whole backstory of how Arnold got to where he is now, plus we only really touched on three of Rishi’s past lives, so it would be great to see more of that too.

If you wish to continue Rishe’s journey, Touko Amekawa, the author of the original light novels has been very active on Twitter/X during the anime’s run and very kindly did her own chart of comparing the material timeline between the anime, manga and light novels, so you know exactly where to pick up from – very handy!

Unexpected Diamond (2)

I wasn’t expecting to really get as invested into Cherry Magic! as I did in the end, but I did immensely. What started out as a comedy Boys’ Love with silly excuses for the leads to touch (due to Adachi’s power) expanded with its themes of queer communication and coming-of-age in your 30s that I grew to really love. Adachi’s journey of coming out of his shell, and not being so judgemental of others (like assuming Kurosawa being a popular guy, must mean he’s a jerk too) was a nice journey to watch unfold. Also learning that having the power to read people’s minds doesn’t automatically mean you understand them was a nice exploration. Episode 9 for example has the couple’s first major fight, realising that Kurosawa is at a disadvantage not being able to read minds as well, so Adachi’s lack of expressing himself causes them both pain because magic powers aren’t a substitute for communication. The magic was a way for Adachi to learn to be confident in himself, not meant to heal wounds that he chose previously to ignore. Kurosawa also had a nice arc; being the ‘pretty face’ all his life, he learned to internalise his own thoughts and feelings so much that everyone just sees his mask, and it takes Adachi’s mind-reading powers to make him realise how much he bottles up, and attempts to hide himself, assuming that’s what people are after. The pair end up making each other healthier, better people, and make a really sweet couple too. Their journey is very much worth a watch.

As for the beta couple, Tsuge and Minato, I quite liked their dynamic at the beginning, with Tsuge being a bit of a recluse but yelling positive encouragement to Minato. But Tsuge’s use of his power got less and less prevalent as the series went on, despite a few times where they do touch but we don’t get many of Minato’s thoughts, which is a shame. It’s also a shame that both couples barely interact with each other, despite a few overlaps in friend circles.

If you enjoyed the anime and want more, it seems to end roughly at Volume 6 of the manga, with a few jumps to glance at future volumes events, but there’s currently up to 10 volumes of the manga available (and reviewed by the lovely Sarah) with even more to come. In addition, I highly recommend the live action adaptation, which is on Crunchyroll too. I watched this after the anime’s Episode 9 cliff-hanger, and the J-drama is delightful! It starts in a similar way to the anime but then goes on its own route and explore themes of communication in its own way.

A Sign of Affection, 7th Time Loop: The Villainess Enjoys a Carefree Life Married to Her Worst Enemy and Cherry Magic! Thirty Years of Virginity Can Make You a Wizard?! are all available to stream on Crunchyroll.


Returning Champion

As Winter 2024 got underway, one of my most anticipated returning champions was the third season of Classroom of the Elite, which followed a second season that redeemed my very indifferent thoughts towards the overall story and concepts introduced in the first season.

Season 3 maintains a lot of what makes the series an enjoyable ride with lead character Kiyotaka Ayanokouji continuing to be an intriguing and stoic manipulator, but without veering off into dull territory. In an effort to add something new to the character this season explores a gradually growing relationship between Kiyotaka and Kei Karuizawa, which appears to be breaking away in small ways from just being another case of chess master and pawn.

The “Mixed Camp” exam set-up, which pitted members of the class against each other, also played out rather well, with characters like Yosuke Hirata getting some spotlight as the unity of the class is threatened by a student getting expelled. I mentioned before that the anime has faced criticism from readers of the source material, but as an anime I’ve found this series entertaining in its own right, and look forward to more in the future.

Another returning champion for me came in the form of Kingdom 5th Season. It’s impressive that a series that had a rough beginning from a production perspective has grown into one of the underrated gems of its respective seasons, and this arc was no exception, focusing on and showcasing the strengths of its lead characters well, with Xin continuing to prove his leadership skills alongside strategist Ten and close ally Qiang Lei, as they faced off against the Zhao army at a conflict over Koku You Hill. This arc has been consistent and strong for me, and though I’m a bit sad that it was a shorter season, I appreciate that there’s more story to tell in the future.

Unexpected Diamond

Doctor Elise: The Royal Lady with the Lamp stood out in the early weeks of the season for taking the familiar concept of a reincarnation story with a narrative focusing on second chances and righting wrongs, and then  focusing on a narrative of a medical nature.

Though the season ended on a fairly satisfying note, with the King’s recent and almost-deadly illness subplot being addressed in a way that highlighted Elise’s strengths and talents, it was also open-ended in a way that her wager with the King, a deadline to become a medical expert or else become his son’s fiancé, was still on the table. Also, for the curious: the titular lamp never appeared either, so a second season for that alone would be welcome!

Classroom of the EliteKingdom and Doctor Elise: The Royal Lady with the Lamp are streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hotly Anticipated

Mr. Villain’s Day Off. Who’d have thought that the panda obsession of an evil alien general plotting to take over the Earth would turn out to be such a restful, philosophical and touching anime series? And yet, after twelve refreshing episodes, it’s hard not to wish for more to give us viewers twenty-three minutes or so of respite from the daily grind – inspired by Mr. Villain/the General’s insistence that his day off is sacrosanct and no one must interrupt his precious down-time, incognito in Japan.

As the series has continued, we’ve come to meet and get to know the Earth Rangers, the heroes who defend the Earth – the General has already encountered them several times around his neighbourhood and, with the exception of Black who acts as a kind of father-figure, all the others are painfully young, high-schoolers and, in the case of Green, twins of primary school age. How they came to be Rangers is gradually revealed and it’s a poignant story – yet mangaka Yuu Morikawa doesn’t make it mawkish; it’s revealed in the anime series as in the manga, in a matter-of-fact way, leaving the viewers to read into it as much or as little as they choose. And because of the gentle humour linked to the fact that Red has an appalling sense of direction and when getting lost, is often pointed in the right direction by the General – or that Pink (who longs to be a Magic Girl, rather than a Ranger) is acknowledged as such by the General, one wonders whether the General’s ‘human’ feelings are growing stronger, nurtured by his encounters with the many children he meets and talks to. (Not forgetting the keen-to-help young female assistant at his local supermarket or the really nice ladies handing out delicious free food to sample to passers-by). And, of course, pandas at ‘Uenono Zoo’.

The General also has the ability, it seems, to see kami and ayakashi. A recurring theme in the later episodes is the relationship he develops with the spirit of a cherry tree (a little girl) and the spirit of a nearby tree (a little boy) who has fallen in love with the cherry tree but doesn’t know how to tell her. This little urban fantasy thread has a fey charm reminiscent in some ways of Natsume’s Book of Friends and yet is also uniquely Yuu Morikawa in its tone of voice. Another later thread is the General’s rescuing of a robot cat that’s been developed to attack humans but isn’t working properly. He takes the cat (which has quite a contrary/tsundere personality) back to the home planet where it’s tested and pronounced to be useless in performing the task for which it was intended. What will become of the angry little robot? Will it be deactivated?

The manga continues (published by Square Enix Manga) and even though we’ve been shown some fights between the General and his alien forces and the Earth Rangers, it’s difficult to believe that things won’t come to a more peaceful conclusion… at some stage…

 Unexpected Diamond(s)

The Witch and the Beast, adapted very faithfully from Kousuke Satake’s ongoing grimdark fantasy manga, has not finished its run at the time of writing. Its transformation to animation has highlighted some of the strengths but also the plot weaknesses of the ongoing manga. The episodic nature of Guideau’s relentless search for the witch Angela who cursed her has meant that although we’ve been treated to the earlier story arcs and learned about much of the dark magic systems in this alternate world, the lack of an ending in the original work results in a rather unsatisfactory build-up to the final episode. (How many times have we seen this before in anime based on unfinished manga?)

So, a flawed but fascinating watch, nevertheless – I haven’t been as bothered by the quality of the animation in the magical fight scenes as some other critics, because the strange chemistry between mage Ashaf (compellingly voiced by Toshiyuki Morikawa) and his troublesome partner/charge Guideau is enough to keep us watching, hoping for revelations to explain why they are together. The trailer for the final episode (which will bring us to the end of Volume 5 in the manga) shows a glimpse of Guideau and Ashaf in the formal black attire they’re required to wear to visit the world of the vampires. Orlencia Sett and the vampire arc begins in Volume 6. Will there be a second anime cour? It’s not the best place for a ‘Final Episode’ but there we are.

However… I just had to write about Delicious in Dungeon (which after finishing its first cour has continued straight on into the second on Netflix). The reason the ill-assorted group of adventurers: knight Laios, elf-mage Marcille, halfling Chilchuck and new party member, dwarf and master-chef Senshi, get together is to rescue Laios’s mage sister Falin who has been devoured by the fearsome Red Dragon but has not yet been digested (they hope) because of a dragon’s slow digesting time.

This series has been criticised (not by me!) for neglecting the main underlying plotline while the main cast are wandering around the dungeon and focusing on cooking and eating many of the strange creatures and plants that they encounter. How relentlessly plot-driven do viewers need their anime to be, I wonder? Why do some reviewers not trust the script writers to do some really clever unobtrusive clue-planting work?

Much of the joy in watching this endlessly inventive and brilliantly animated series is in the details (and the cookery). There’s action – some of it absolutely stunningly presented (the encounter with the Undine in Episode 9 ‘Tentacles/Stew’) – but there’s also time for us to get to know the main characters and how they interact. (A great voice cast!) Also, like Frieren, this is not ‘yet another isekai’ – everything takes place in the traditional yet well imagined fantasy world created by mangaka Ryouko Kui. And if the inhabitants seem to be fantasy quest dime-a-dozen at first glance: elves; dwarves; halflings etc., the way the mangaka and the anime brings them to life is very far from clichéd. I also commend the way the script writers (and the mangaka) have slyly/cleverly foreshadowed all kinds of developments that are beginning to pay off as the story continues. The character designs (faithful to the manga) are also refreshingly different, bringing a real breath of fresh air into an increasingly same-looking stock fantasy character design that means it’s often difficult to tell certain series apart.

I also love the OP: “Sleep Walking Orchestra” by BUMP OF CHICKEN with its touches of folk/medieval that sound ‘just right’ and I will be very sorry when it’s replaced for Episodes 14 onward (the first OP is always the best? Discuss). Praise too to soundtrack composer Yasunori Mitsuda (Black Butler: Book of Circus, Inazuma Eleven) for only using music when necessary but not running it in the background all the time (isekai series, I’m looking at you; also, alas, Cherry Magic!).

Mr. Villain’s Day Out and The Witch and the Beast are streaming on Crunchyroll. Delicious in Dungeon is streaming on Netflix. 

Cold Cobra

I didn’t watch a lot of new anime this season, but the one series I did cover is the very definition of Unexpected Diamond:

Bang Brave Bang Bravern!, swiftly re-titled to just Brave Bang Bravern! in English-speaking markets, is one weird, bizarre and other words to describe the same thing show, that’s for sure. As I mentioned in the preview a few months ago the first couple of episodes featured an equal mix of parodying Super Robot shows and on-the-nose sexual innuendoes between Super Robot Bravern and his chosen human pilot Isami, despite other human pilot Lewis clearly wanting to have a Super Robot himself and also clearly having sexual tension with Isami as well, creating a strange love triangle between two men and a male robot.

This odd mix continued across all twelve episodes, mixing in a few more tropes for good measure, including the seemingly alien woman acting like a child slowly learning the ways of humanity in the character Lulu, enemies ending up turning over a new leaf and joining the good guy team, and even some time travel shenanigans towards the end. In fact it’s this time travel plotline that solves the love triangle in a very satisfying, yet also typically bizarre way but to go into too much detail there would spoil one of the few genuine surprises the show pulled off. Well, I should say plot-surprises, each episode normally featured at least one scene that surprised me in a “did I just see a female other-dimensional afterlife robot have an orgasm?” kind of way.

The show really was the definition of “having your cake and eating it too” as it both parodies all aspects of Super Robots shows but also is a really fun Super Robot show, complete with fun battle sequences and moments of melodrama and human characters crying out for their beloved Robots when they seemingly die only to come back stronger via the power of love and support, though normally that love isn’t so literal! Overall Bravern was quite the weird show, it made me laugh, then it made me care enough about the characters that I brought into some of drama, only to then make me laugh and shake my head at the latest weird twist. I enjoyed it, and I look forward to the day it’s part of a Super Robot Wars game and has to meld with more serious shows and the in-between battle cutscenes that will follow…

Brave Bang Bravern! is streaming on Crunchyroll. 


Unexpected Diamond(s)

This year’s Winter season left the sequels at the wayside and was filled with a lot of new shows. While it’s nice returning to familiar favourites (like we’ll be doing in the upcoming Spring season) it’s great seeing new and creative ideas, even if some of them don’t completely pan out as you’d hoped (like Metallic Rouge, which sadly didn’t live up to the potential that I mentioned it had in our season preview).

My favourite this time around has been Villainess Level 99: I May Be the Hidden Boss but I’m Not the Demon Lord, a show that combines the common isekai, villainess and over-powered protagonist tropes into a fantastic deadpan comedy.

It starts off in typical fashion, as our protagonist is reborn in the world of her favourite otome dating sim game, but instead of taking the role of the heroine, she turns out to be the game’s villainess and secret final boss, Yumiella Dolkness. Knowing the plot of the game, when Yumiella enrols into the game’s academy, all she wants is to live a quiet, peaceful life and so tries to avoid hitting any flags that put her on the path to becoming the hidden boss. Yet when her maxed-out level is revealed to the entire school, she is instead mistaken for the Demon Lord! Taking it upon herself to clear her name, Yumiella must manoeuvre around the game’s plot to ensure that the game’s heroine, Alicia, and her party levels up enough in time to defeat the real Demon Lord, so she can actually live the life in the game that she wants.

I found this series to be an absolute blast thanks to the way it resolves a lot of the problems Yumiella and the rest of the cast have by putting them in a silly situation then having her show off her insane powers, whether that be winning a magic spell tournament with her signature “Black Hole”, killing enemies with a single punch, or terrorising her classmates with hordes of monsters in an attempt to get them to level up. Yumiella meanwhile thinks that this is all perfectly normal and doesn’t understand why people are so shocked at her abilities, creating this hilarious gap between the two perspectives, which is completed by Fairouz Ai’s flat and monotone delivery for Yumiella’s voice creating that “I’m just walking here” atmosphere.

As much as it’s really fun, it can also be incredibly charming, particularly in the way it presents its characters and how they interact and grow together. Yumiella starts off pretty much on her own, but as she takes it upon herself to train the class and starts uncovering some of the political infighting between the noble houses, she slowly starts gaining friends and worms her way into their hearts. You will first think a lot of the side characters are complete jerks, particularly with the main guys vying for Alicia, but they do gradually all come into their own.

The show does have some downsides, as the Demon Lord part of the plot isn’t anything special and it’s definitely not the best-looking show, particularly when it hurls at you lots of CG monsters, but its heart makes up for a lot of it. So, I can say that if you like villainess shows and more comedic isekai adventures, then you’ll love digging into Villainess Level 99 because it’s a really fun ride.

For my second pick, we move into the arena of gyaru rom-coms with Hokkaido Gals Are Super Adorable!.

When Tsubasa Shiki is forced to move to his grandmother’s home in Hokkaido, he meets Minami Fuyuki, a stylish and outgoing gyaru who helps point him to the right place. As classmates at his new school however, they quickly become friends, although with her very bubbly personality Minami at first always seems that she is teasing him or leading him on. This is where we left off in our season preview, and having now watched the full thing I can tell you this is a sweet and funny romantic comedy that has a lot of love for both Hokkaido and its main gyaru trio.

While the opening episodes are pretty horny and verge more into the teasing genre, things do calm down a bit as the series progresses and Tsubasa and Minami’s relationship advances. It’s cool just to see them have fun together and you can clearly tell that they are into each other. Things get mixed up a bit as other girls make their entrances, although they aren’t given the same amount of screen time as Minami. They do have their own quirks though, like Sayuri is really into video games (particularly what is meant to be an in-universe version of Animal Crossing), while Rena has a penchant for Meiji-era Japanese fashion. Rena is the weakest out of the trio and is only really present for a segment in the middle of the series, so I think it could have done a lot more with its cast than it has done. Still, the jokes are funny, and I think they all add something to helping Tsubasa get used to his new life in Hokkaido.

The climax at the end may throw you off slightly, due to it pulling back from committing to certain plot developments, which was a bit of a shame, but overall I enjoyed this as a fun and whimsical romantic comedy that has a lot of sweetness and charm.

Finally, I’d like to give a mention to The Wrong Way to Use Healing Magic, which on paper is a very standard isekai, but actually puts a nice twist on things and surprisingly does nice things with its characters.

Our dragged-into-this-by-mistake protagonist, Usato, along with Commander Rose are clearly the stars of the show, as it goes all in on the mechanics of using healing magic in unexpected ways to create two phenomenal powerhouses. The back and forth between the two characters is great, and you can always tell even though Usato might moan and complain, he really respects his superior officer. Rose’s backstory also chips away a lot of her edges and shows that the series is heartfelt and always displays its characters in their best light, whether that be friend or foe. As a result, it’s easy to watch and always grabs you as entertaining.

It’s main weakness though is that Usato’s friends Kazuki and Suzune are often pushed to the wayside and only turn up at either key moments, or to insert some light romantic touches. I would have liked to see the three of them act as more of a team, yet it often feels like they are too distant.

Other than that, I can only agree with Demelza’s comments from the season preview. It’s a fun and solid isekai show that’s an easy weekly watch, whether you’re new to the genre or an isekai aficionado.

Villainess Level 99: I May Be the Hidden Boss but I’m Not the Demon Lord, Hokkaido Gals Are Super Adorable!, and The Wrong Way to Use Healing Magic are all streaming on Crunchyroll.


I think the best show of the season has probably been The Apothecary Diaries again, so now that it’s over (until next year’s sequel, at least) I’m going to have to go back to searching for something that brings me as much joy as its wonderfully polished blend of politics, medicine, mystery, beautiful imagery and heart-warming, one-sided romance. Fortunately, it wasn’t the only animated title which held my interest throughout the season!

Hotly Anticipated

It’s difficult to write about it while the show still hasn’t quite wrapped up, but I picked Bucchigiri?! at the start of the season based on the strength of its first episode and at this point in its run I still have mixed feelings about how it’s played out. I still love the wild, colourful designs, the lively theme songs and the cast of argumentative delinquent thugs, but what I haven’t found quite so engaging is the pacing of the main plot. It feels as though we’ve seen a lot of repetitive scenes of the same characters repeatedly making the same poor choices without ever questioning their situation, and not enough hot-blooded punching and kicking. I felt sympathetic towards main character Arajin’s avoidant personality for the first few episodes but after a while I just wanted him to do something – anything – which didn’t suck. Nearly anyone in the supporting cast would have made a better lead than Arajin.

Marito from the anime Bucchigiri?!

Strangely, Brave Bang Bravern! trod some very similar ground with its traumatised lead spending the first half of the series barely present in his own show. But while the latter resolved those issues in good time and gave the lead some clear reasons for how he was acting, Bucchigiri?! spent so much time doubling down on Arajin’s passivity that I ended up feeling more frustrated than entertained. Week after week, his callous treatment of human golden retriever Matakara was uncomfortable to watch, especially when the story took a darker turn. It’s sometimes difficult to judge how seriously I should be treating the silly plot about combat-genie possession when there’s some weighty emotional drama going on behind the scenes, and the only real constant is that Arajin has been a thoroughly terrible friend to everyone else in the show.

There’s still time for a good ending and I’m hoping that we’ll get something crazy enough to make the rest of the show feel satisfying in hindsight, but at this point my impression is that Bucchigiri?! hasn’t quite lived up to the stunning designs and energy that it delivered when it was at its best. I have enjoyed my time with it but it could have been so much more.

Matakara from the anime Bucchigiri?!

Unexpected Diamond

Cold Cobra has already given Brave Bang Bravern! a fitting enough tribute but I want to give it another mention because it was genuinely one of the highlights of the season for me. While Bucchigiri?! aimed high and didn’t quite stick the landing, Brave Bang Bravern! managed to pull off a solid, satisfying run which told a complete story and never once lost its momentum after the (intentionally) stodgy first ten minutes of the opening episode. I was already expecting to like it from the name and pedigree alone, but nothing could have prepared me for the levels of utter insanity which followed; where Bucchigiri?! sometimes seemed to falter instead of leaning in to its craziness as hard as it could, Brave Bang Bravern! continued to raise the stakes week after week in a flamboyant, glorious tribute to classic super robot nonsense. It delivered on every front: the numerous plot twists meant the story never dragged as everything escalated, the ever-present playful sauciness made me smile, and the heroic theme song has been on repeat in my house for the last few weeks. Brave Bang Bravern! is an instant classic that I won’t soon forget.

Lulu from Brave Bang Bravern!

Returning Champion

While I didn’t have anything which took me by surprise at the start of the season, one show which arrived in a surprising way was the fourth season of Fairies Album, the Chinese fantasy donghua which Crunchyroll still doesn’t seem interested in pushing to its would-be fans. Appearing on the site partway through the season with very little fanfare, the fourth series of Fairies Album picks up straight after its predecessor with another batch of short story arcs about the spirits (and people) encountered by sour-faced heroine Tao Yao on her wanderings.

Since we never got the first two seasons, I still don’t really know what actually happened at the start of the series – but that doesn’t really matter, because at this point in its run Fairies Album is carried by the weird and wonderful spirits that Tao Yao clashes with, even though she’d been relatively restrained in her grouchiness so far this time around. It’s a familiar formula for anyone who has enjoyed shows likes Natsume’s Book of Friends or Mushi-shi in the past, and it always works because the situations – and the spirits – are all unique and full of secrets. I’m very glad to have Fairies Album back even if it sometimes feels as though nobody else is watching it. Can we have the first two seasons added to the catalogue one day please, Crunchyroll? I’m reasonably sure that more people will watch the show if they don’t have to start halfway through!

Fairies Album season 4

Bucchigiri?!, Brave Bang Bravern! and Fairies Album are all streaming on Crunchyroll. 


Sarah's been writing about her love of manga and anime since Whenever - and first started watching via Le Club Dorothée in France...

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When she's not watching anime, reading manga or reviewing, Demelza can generally be found exploring some kind of fantasy world and chasing her dreams of being a hero.

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By day, I work in the television industry. By night, I'm a writer for Anime UK News. Twitter: @lilithdarkstorm

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HWR enjoys anime and manga alongside a love for film, gaming, Classic Doctor Who and electronic music from the likes of Depeche Mode and more.

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Cold Cobra

Having watched anime since it was airing late night on the Sci-Fi channel in the late 90s, I consider myself... someone who's watched a lot of anime, and then got hired to write reviews about them. Hooray!

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With a chant of "Ai-katsu!", Matthew Tinn spends their days filled with idol music and J-Pop. A somewhat frequent-ish visitor to Japan, they love writing and talking about anime, Japanese music and video games.

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Rui can usually be found on the Anime UK Forums ready to leap in and converse with anyone else as passionate about historical anime (fantasy or otherwise). There is apparently some debate around whether Rui is an actual person or some kind of experimental anime-obsessed A.I.

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