Spring 2024 Overview

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Has the Spring 2024 Season proved to be a good one, filled with series that our reviewers have looked forward to, week after week? What have been the gems? Has it been a ‘something for everyone’ season as shonen favourites My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer returned with new episodes? Let us know which series have appealed to you!


Returning Champion

So, another season of Black Butler comes to a close, and was Public School Arc as entertaining as the rest of the series? As Sebastian would say, ‘Yes, my Lord.’  The story is a long mystery where Ciel has to uncover what happened to a relative of Queen Victoria’s, a student at the school who suddenly stopped replying to her letters. But Ciel must do so with his greatest assets taken from him: his demon butler and rest of his house staff at his beck and call 24/7. Instead, he must work around the boarding school’s own strict rules, hierarchy and many secrets around every corridor, with some students also scheming to earn themselves the favour of the Prefect 4 (the top students at the school, only secondary to the illusive Headmaster himself). It was interesting to see Ciel use his wits at different points to get himself into the favours of the Prefect, whilst also trying to work against other students who saw him as a threat. Within the confounds of the school, he couldn’t just call for his demon butler to solve all his issues, as Sebastian was also undercover as a teacher and Ciel was meant to be an ordinary student – not the Queen’s Guard dog.

The new side characters introduced into this arc are also fun. McMillan is an entertaining friend, almost a complete opposite of Ciel by being cheerful and approachable. Maurice is a sinister mini-villain for the first half of the season, the first hurdle Ciel must overcome to get to the headmaster. And all the Prefects and their lackeys are engaging with their own personalities and goals. Even though we knew there was something sinister going on, you couldn’t help but be intrigued by them as well, and admittedly the final reveal of what happened to the missing student made me feel sympathy for the P4 in a small way.

The only plot-related thing that held this season back for me was its reliance on knowing what happened in the Book of Murder and Atlantic arcs. Both have been animated but at the time of writing, there’s no legal way to watch them in the UK. They were released on home media in the US, but never in the UK, and for some reason they’re the only Black Butler anime OVAs/films that Crunchyroll hasn’t picked up for their service.  It made the villain reveal lack the punch it was obviously going for, and it’s clearly one part of a longer running arc that started in the Murder and Atlantic arcs. I hope after this they are picked up for license so the UK audience can finally get a chance to see them in some capacity.

The actual Public School Arc ended at Episode 10, with Episode 11 being filler, but I didn’t mind that at all. I love these characters and always welcome a chance to spend time with them, especially as the house staff didn’t get a look in for most of this season but do get some screen time in Episode 11. The season ends with a quick look at the next arc: Emerald Witch. Considering that the manga artist Yana Toboso is now on hiatus, to prepare for the manga’s final arc, I think it’ll be a great opportunity for the anime to catch up with the four arcs that the manga has yet to be animated before Black Butler takes it final cup of tea. But we’ll have to wait and see…

Unexpected Diamond

Vampire Dormitory was actually the series I ended up looking forward to the most each week, not because it was superior, but because it was just so darn entertaining. All the melodrama, all the blood sucking, all the ‘will they or won’t they’ had me coming back – I’m not going to lie. As mentioned previously I’m a sucker (pun intended) for vampires, but throw in soul mates, and fairytale-esque tropes as well? That’s one way to keep me coming back each week! I lapped it up until the end and really enjoyed the ride. I also have to admit, the opening theme ‘Sugar Blood Kiss’ by Fantastics was a banger, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it ended up in my Spotify Wrapped 2024 in some capacity.

However, that doesn’t mean the series was perfect. I mentioned the suspension of disbelief in the preview in regard to Mito’s gender (the wig issue being a small snag) but it’s a recurring gag/plot point in the show. First of all, it was inconsistent with whether Mito’s disguise worked or not; her two love interests can’t see past her wig, but two randoms on the street clocked her? Also, I was certain that Ren (the dhampir secondary love interest) knew of Mito’s true identity in Episode 3 at the hot springs, but then acts surprised in Episode 7?? Didn’t make sense to me. Also, there’s a powerful ‘curse’ put upon Mito that you think would affect her greatly, but outside of worrying about what her romance interest Ruka thinks, it’s not explored. Despite both love interests saying they’ll love Mito, regardless of gender (which is a nice sentiment) the series goes for the heterosexual/cis-normative route and doesn’t really explore gender in any way; it’s all about melodrama and romantic tension. It’s a shame, but if you can turn your brain off and accept the series for what it is, Vampire Dormitory is very enjoyable in a campy way.

The series ends with a very brief shot introducing a new character that Ruka seems to dislike right away, but no reason is given as to why. Although the main couple do have a happy ending, there’s a few leftover plot threads that I wouldn’t mind being explored if a new season was picked up. I also want to see Rin again…I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him; he deserves a happy ending too!

Vampire Dormitory and Black Butler: Public School Arc are streaming on Crunchyroll. 


Spring 2024, much like the English weather as of late, had ups and downs, with the ménage of returning faces being generally very solid, especially TSUKIMICHI: Moonlit Fantasy Season 2. I have found Sound! Euphonium Season 3 very divisive though, and more so than I expected, and whilst some new series like Gods’ Games We Play were fun excursions I was left indifferent to others like Astro Note, which didn’t do a lot for me overall, despite the premise being reminiscent of some classics.

Hotly Anticipated

I previously all but gushed over Bartender: Glass of God for the Spring 2024 preview article, and will do so again here as I believe it to be on par with the original in offering something deeper and more mature than you tend to get nowadays from the fantasy and Isekai offerings – I enjoy those too for what they’re worth but an anime like BGoG seems to be more of a rarity nowadays. Bartender: Glass of God maintained my interest as Ryuu Sasakura (Takuma Terashima) continued to surround himself with different Eden Hall patrons and their problems, even coming to terms with his own indecisions come the finale.

If I had any criticism, Ryuu didn’t exactly have many of his own problems to resolve within the narrative and the animation could be a bit stiff but otherwise I’ll happy revisit Eden Hall if it gets a home media release (hopefully by All the Anime to match their 2006 series release).

Unexpected Diamond

Golf-themed sports anime Ooi! Tonbo ended up being a pleasant watch throughout, and I wasn’t expecting to see the final episodes go in such a narrative direction. The initial premise of Tonbo (Rika Hayashi) remaining a positive and enthusiastic spirit despite losing her parents and having to make a new life on the island of Kagoshima formed a solid backbone to her passion for golf, though it was Tonbo and Kazuyoshi Igarashi’s (Hiroki Touchi) bond as student and teacher that made it an engaging watch.

The story took a natural turn with Tonbo’s journey away from the island leading to meeting new friends and rivals, whilst confronting her own skill obstacles and finding new potential in the process. This wasn’t a modern classic for the sports anime subgenre, but it deserves more eyes on it than it likely has by being stuck on Amazon Prime, and a second season would be welcome. (It’s just been announced for this autumn: Ed.) 

II also found myself pleasantly surprised by how fun Studio Apartment, Good Lighting, Angel Included turned out to be, as following the life of Shintaro Tokumitsu (Shuichiro Umeda) and his newly forged bonds with Angel Towa (Hikaru Tono) and their other supernatural friends made for very comfy viewing.

The basic premise of Shintaro finding himself surrounded by girls of different backgrounds and quirks was perhaps what led me to be reluctant of the series’ quality at first – it’s a tried and tested formula with some dud anime offerings, but Studio Apartment manages to feel more genuine and funny with some cast standouts and a fun finale. This was another offering from the season that I’d like a continuation for one day.

Bartender: Glass of God and Studio Apartment, Good Lighting, Angel Included are streaming on Crunchyroll, whilst Ooi! Tonbo is streaming on Amazon Prime.


Hotly Anticipated

Perhaps unsurprisingly my most anticipated series this season was Wind Breaker, which has remained an utter joy from start to finish. However, since I talked passionately about that anime in the Spring preview, this time I’m swapping my pick to Mission: Yozakura Family! This is an adaptation of a Weekly Shounen Jump manga created by Hitsuji Gondaira, which follows protagonist Taiyo Asano and his childhood friend Matsumi Yozakura. Having lost his family in an accident, Taiyo is very reserved and keeps to himself besides talking to Matsumi who has resolved to keep an eye on him.

One day, Taiyo’s life takes a turn for the unexpected when he’s attacked by Vice Principal Hirukawa who is trying to assassinate him. Luckily for Taiyo, he’s rescued by Mutsumi along with five of her siblings who reveal themselves to be the world’s greatest spy family, the Yozakuras. Now Taiyo knows their secret, Mutsumi’s siblings encourage the two to get married, thereby protecting the family’s secret without having to murder our lead. Taiyo has been afraid of admitting his feelings for Mutsumi due to losing his family and being reluctant to get close to anyone, but now faced with this decision, he’s finally able to face the feelings he’s been running from.

As the series goes on we follow Taiyo and the Yozakura family as they prepare him for life as a spy. He also has to contend with the eldest son, Kyoichiro who hates how close our protagonist is to Mutsumi, as well as a bunch of other eccentric characters living in the shadows of the spy world. There’s a mix of comedy and drama, as you may expect from a series running in Jump. The series has been lucky enough to be adapted by studio Silver Link, which has done a great job of capturing what makes the story so much fun. It’s vibrant and charming with enough characters among the Yozakura family for every viewer to find someone they like.

Much like Undead, Unluck before it, I fear this one is going under the radar due to being released over on Disney +. This is a shame as not only is it a great action series, but it’s also due to run for 27 episodes so there’s still plenty more of it to enjoy through the Summer season.

Unexpected Diamond

After Wind Breaker, it’s no mistake to say that the series I’ve looked forward to the most every week is Oblivion Battery. Not just because it looks fabulous or because some of my favourite actors have lead roles (although those two things help!), but because it’s a story that’s easy to get invested in.

There are so many questions and interesting storylines surrounding the cast, from their reasons for distancing themselves from baseball, their relationship with other teams or their friendships with one another. This is true of Kei with his amnesia which has been a consistent theme since the beginning, leading viewers to wonder what he can do to regain his lost memories and whether he’s truly that different to the way he was before the loss of his memories. The team at Mappa have very carefully and deliberately rearranged the content of the original manga to present us with a more cohesive story, but also one that compels you to continue on to get closer to the truth.

Maybe one of the reasons it works so well is that all the drama is interlaced with excellent comedy moments that bring a smile to your face. And there’s something to be said for the simplicity of Haruka’s desires; he simply wants to play baseball with Kei the way he always has. The motivations of the cast are balanced by one another in a way that other ensemble pieces often struggle with.

This is a show that at a glance could be written off as simply being a sports series or a school life series, but it’s so much more. The mental health struggles Kei and the other characters are shown to wrestle with or have gone through are thoughtfully depicted with the kind of depth I didn’t expect initially. The first episode presents us with a somewhat eccentric lead who has no interest in playing baseball and many viewers decided they hated it off the bat, thanks to some somewhat crude jokes, but by the end, the series has more than rewarded our time and earned itself a spot among my favourite shows.

Yes, dear readers I did go out and buy all the manga halfway through the season and if someone puts this on home video in the UK, it’ll be among my small selection of anime purchases that year – I just love it that much. If you haven’t been watching this, go and change that right now. You almost certainly won’t regret it.

Returning Champion

Plenty of franchises I’m fond of made their return this season, but while Black Butler, Reincarnated as a Slime, MHA and others have been great, the one that’s stood out the most is Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation Season 2 Part 2.

This half of the season sees Rudy and Sylphie prepare for their married life together, but life grows complicated when the research he’s helping friend Shizuka Nanahoshi with hits a major block and then there’s a letter from his father, who thinks he’s found Rudy’s missing mother in the depths of a labyrinth but it’s so dangerous to explore that he asks for Rudy’s help. Simply reaching his father’s location is no easy task and Rudy fears what they’ll find there, but he knows he needs to go to keep Paul safe. If nothing else, for his younger sisters Norn and Aisha who have faced enough loss already.

Mushoku Tensei has a reputation for being a questionable series, largely down to Rudy’s perverted personality. And of course, this season, like the others, hasn’t shied away from that, but underneath all that, this is a series that knows how to play with your emotions and get you suitably invested in its story. Rudy is still young, but as a character, he’s grown a lot and is beginning to show signs of behaving like an adult,  particularly now he’s caring for Norn and Aisha who came to live with him. Norn, especially ends up needing his support as she enrolls in the same Magical Academy and struggles with the reputation of being Rudy’s sister. She struggles with studying and shows signs of shutting herself away, similar to how Rudy did in his previous life. This whole storyline is well written and easily one of my favourite moments in the series so far.

A lot of the gripes people have with this series are still there, but equally so are all the strengths of the anime. The music is great, the animation is stunning and the story is compelling. I’m not going to say it’s the best isekai out there, but it’s certainly earned its place among the greats. If you’ve enjoyed the previous seasons of this, then the second half of Season 2 certainly isn’t going to prove disappointing.

Mission: Yozakura Family can be streamed on Disney +, while Oblivion Battery and Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation are on Crunchyroll.

Cold Cobra

Hotly Anticipated

The big new series I took a look at this past season was the latest Shonen Jump manga to make the transition to anime in Kaiju No. 8. I was initially impressed with the show’s choice to go with an older protagonist than your usual school-age one, picking a 32-year-old who is taking one last shot at his dream while being surrounded by younger characters. As the series has gone on, though, this has been the only unique choice in characterisation in a series that has otherwise stuck to the clichés of the genre quite strictly. This isn’t too bad of a thing though as the animation from Production I.G. has been top-notch and the voice work for both the original Japanese and the simultaneously-released dub are both great as well.

The show focuses on Kafka Hibino, the previously mentioned man in his early 30s, who had dreamed of becoming part of Japan’s Anti-Kaiju Defence Force alongside his childhood friend Mina Ashiro when they both lost their homes to a Kaiju attack. Sadly, while Mina rocketed up the ranks of the Force, Kafka failed the entrance exam again and again, ending up instead cleaning up the messes after the monsters are defeated. He meets a young man called Reno who is going for the Defence Force for the first time and they strike up a friendship which leads to Kafka getting inspired to try again. To complicate matters though, our protagonist soon finds a Kaiju who flies down his throat and gives him an extremely powerful transformation, but that also means he’s an enemy of the Defence Force. You can see the set-up here. Kafka takes the entrance exam and passes by the skin of his teeth (thanks to the knowledge he’d gained dissecting Kaiju in his prior job) while also defeating a deadly Kaiju with his own Kaiju form, but doing it in such a way that he gets labelled as Kaiju No. 8, the eighth Kaiju to come along that’s powerful enough to be ranked.

So while Kafka is hanging out with his fellow recruits (all of whom are in their late teens/early 20s) and taking orders from his superiors, he’s also hearing about the top-tier Captains planning on taking him down in his Kaiju form. It’s a fun idea for a plot, though admittedly one that doesn’t have massive shelf life when the first few major Kaiju the group have to face end up defeated by the mysteriously appearing Kaiju No.8. The plot does keep moving though, to be fair, so that aspect isn’t over-played, and the fight scenes are often fun eye-candy. My only issue is what I mentioned in the opening paragraph: pretty much all the other characters in the show are archetypes you’ve seen 100 times before with zero modification. You have the young rich girl who is trying to prove to her father that his over-the-top expectations of her will be met, Reno is the try-hard who keeps improving with hard work and who soon picks up a hot-head rival, they all take orders from the Third Division’s Vice-Captain who not only looks a bit too much like Gin from Bleach but also has the “fun laidback guy who is actually extremely powerful when they need to be” thing down to a tee.

As a fan of the genre for so long it hasn’t detracted from the show much, it’s like a comfortable pair of shoes at this point, and overall the central character is fun and easy to root for and the animation, voice work and action choreography are all high-tier, but the rest of the show’s cast need a bit more personality injected into them for me to really champion the series. I will definitely be watching a Season 2 when it eventually rolls around though.

Returning Champions

As for returning series, there were two though both started late and are still on-going (well, one just barely) so I’ll take a quick look at both. It’s funny though how easily comparable they are as My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer both started in the same place, right before their final arc, but they couldn’t have handled it any differently.

My Hero Academia began with a mini-arc focusing on a new hero from America called Star and Stripe who arrives to face off with our central villain of All For One (who has possessed the body of the other key villain in Tomura Shigaraki) and does so… right away. Then the fight ends in the very next episode! This then led into an “everyone trains” arc but one that swiftly then focused on a potential traitor in our core heroes’ mitts… who then gets immediately outed, leading to the whole “arc” ending after only three episodes. This isn’t me complaining, MHA has always had a great pace about it, thanks to its seasonal approach meaning it doesn’t need to add a whole bunch of filler content like most Shonen Jump shows of the past (and a few still in the present!) I just wanted to point out that the show set up and began its final arc in five episodes, as that’s quite important for the next paragraph… Anyway, as usual, the animation is solid, the characters are enjoyable and the big final showdown between all the remaining villains and heroes has been great fun so far, but as it still has another cour to go I’ll save my longer thoughts for then.

Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Hashira Training Arc on the other hand has been an exact opposite experience. As the name implies it’s all about training to get stronger before the final arc, just like My Hero Academia, but while that crammed two mini-arcs into five episodes this has stretched one mini-arc into eight episodes, with Episode 1 and the currently-unaired-as-I-write-this finale both being an hour long. There isn’t even much else to it either, it’s just Tanjiro and his friends being trained by the different Hashira (the most powerful Demon Slayers) across the episodes, with only one or two bits of character growth, mainly surrounding Water Hashira Giyu Tomioka who finally gets some spotlight after appearing in the first few episodes, sprinkled in here and there. It’s not bad, and judging by the end the recent episode I’m sure it will have an exciting finale that sets the final arc up well, I just don’t think it will have been worth the long wait…

Kaiju No. 8, My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba – Hashira Training Arc are streaming on Crunchyroll. 

Ian Wolf

Hotly Anticipated

As a big CLAMP fan, the series I was looking forward to the most was The Grimm Variations, the re-working of six Brothers Grimm fairy tales.

It is of particular interest not only because of my fondness for the people doing the character designers for it, but also we in Britain have just witnessed arguably our greatest anthology series of the past ten years, Inside No. 9, reach its ending. As a result it is hard not to compare the two in terms of their twists and turns. Also as each episode is different, it does feel like the only fair thing to do is to dissect each episode individually.

Cinderella is a dastardly deceiving story where the Cinderlla character is manipulating everyone around her, often by violent means. A shocker and good attention-grabber to start off with. The violence continues in the Little Red Riding Hood episode, whose dystopian setting and Big Bad Wolf serial killer craving for something real in his fake world is also powerful in terms of its animation. Also, CLAMP’S motif of people losing an eye crops up here. Hansel and Gretel, with the duo being students at a boarding school, was for me the best of the lot, having the best surprise ending, and for fans of CLAMP, a reference to familiar characters. Eagle-eyed viewers will recognise a cameo from Sayoran from Cardcaptor Sakura, Akira from Man of Many Faces, and Nokoru from CLAMP School Detectives.

The Elves and the Shoemaker is probably my least favourite of the six episodes. The story, which sees a struggling author finding that someone is writing his books for him, lacks the action of the previous stories, and the ending here felt a bit plodding. The Town Musicians of Bremen was a better effort, with the musicians becoming a gang in a sci-fi western story, and in my opinion, the depictions of ex-deputy sheriff Dog, former prostitute Cat and buff metalworker Donkey are the best character designs in the series. The Pied Piper of Hamelin was another slower effort, but still contains some great tension, and almost certainly the best animated sequence in the series, towards the episode’s finale.

If you are able see this Netflix-exclusive series, it’s worth popping into any of the six episodes and give yourself a brief sample of its style. A worthy, short diversion among more bog-standard shows.

Returning Champion

Like Darkstorm, I too have been welcoming the return of Black Butler and its Public School Arc. Much of what Darkstorm has said matches my own views, with Ciel’s position of being trapped within the stuffy rules and confines of Weston Public School giving him new challenges to face as he attempts to solve the mystery of missing student Derrick Arden.

Something not mentioned however, but of interest to me as someone with an interest in sports anime is the 4th of June cricket tournament, which forms a key plot point in Ciel’s efforts to gain closer access to Weston’s mysterious headmaster. This is partly because cricket is a sport not yet the subject of an anime in its own right, and partly because it was interesting to see how they told the story, given that in Japan cricket is very much a minority sport – there is no way it’s ever going to be as popular as baseball is over there. Despite this, most of the depiction of the cricket was of the action on the field, with hardly any talk about how to play the game.

This is OK for viewers in the UK or in other parts of the world such as India (and yes, Prince Soma does play in the tournament too), but you must suspect that there are at least a few Japanese viewers baffled by what was happening, and possibly a few Americans streaming the show too. Then again, maybe a combination of Black Butler’s depiction of the game and the recent Twenty20 World Cup held over there might have sparked a bit of interest – although one suspects that the Aristocrat of Evil’s underhand tactics might well anger some members of the MCC; whether that be the use of the world’s highest bouncer, adding laxatives to food, or distracting sexually repressed schoolboys with scantily-clad women.

The Grimm Variations is streaming on Netflix and Black Butler: Public School Arc is on Crunchyroll. 


Just as I’d begun to remember which titles were airing when, they’re all coming to a close – and we’re plunged into that strange between-seasons limbo in which we’ve come to anticipate certain titles on certain days – and they’re no longer updating because they’ve finished (and the new Summer series are starting)! Am I the only viewer to be disorientated by this seasonal shift?

What’s surprised me this season (although maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, as a long-time anime viewer) is how some series started out in a promising way but then failed to hold my attention. (e.g. I haven’t managed to stay with the updated re-run of Spice and Wolf.) Not so with Black Butler: Public School Arc which displays some serious story-telling skills spliced with impressive animation (for a TV series) and stellar voice acting. (Let’s not forget that Queen Victoria makes an appearance in these episodes, as well!) However, even one of my top two recommendations from our Spring Preview, Tonari no Yokai-san, has had some dicey moments (more on that below) and because of that, it slipped  in my estimation from my top choice of the season to a worthy third.

Three Unexpected Diamonds

YATAGARASU: The Raven Does Not Choose Its Master has gone from strength to strength, delivering a fantasy/Heian era fusion story about an imperial court filled with intrigues, scheming, and betrayals worthy of Game of Thrones. The protagonists are yatagarasu, three-legged ravens, who shape-shift into human form. They are ruled over by the kin’u, or golden raven, and a true kin-u is only born into the ruling family.  (Those who can’t shapeshift into human form are fated to be ‘horses’.) The story unfolds through the viewpoint of Yukiya, a second son of a noble family, who is appointed to serve Crown Prince Wakamiya, the true kin-u (and therefore, the next emperor) who seems to be remarkably disinterested in choosing a bride from the four young ladies of the leading houses summoned by the empress to the Cherry Blossom Palace. The empress favours his brother (the brothers have different mothers) and the four noble houses are meddling behind the scenes while Prince Wakamiya continues enjoying the idle lifestyle of a dilettante.

The four potential brides are left to their own devices in the Cherry Blossom Palace for a whole year in which the prince fails to visit them. This puts considerable strain on the young women and their ladies-in-waiting, especially as they are all under pressure from their families to catch the prince’s attention. Meanwhile, Yukiya comes to learn much about his royal master and to see that under the indolent exterior that he shows to the court, he’s astute and clever – which he needs to be when assassins strike.

When the prince suddenly makes an appearance at the Cherry Blossom Palace after the year is up, one of the four has already left because of some scandalous and treacherous behaviour. Whom will he choose from the other three? This episode is full of revelations and surprises – and it’s great news that the series is continuing into the Summer Season. Wholly recommended – and my favourite of the Spring season.

The character designs by Takumo Norita (Broken Blade) are strikingly different from all the other series airing at the moment (those piercing eyes!) and each episode concludes with a beautifully drawn character card.

Tonari no Yokai-san began extremely well, showing us the little rural town of Fuchigamori in which yokai live side-by-side with humans in harmony that stretches back over many centuries. Buchio, the family cat who becomes a nekomata as his lifespan as a cat runs out and gains the powers to speak and shapeshift as well as protect his beloved family, makes an endearing viewpoint character to help us get to know some of the other residents. But after we wrote the Spring Preview, the ongoing series veered rather unexpectedly into science fictional territory and – to my mind, anyway – lost the plot. Suddenly there were scientists from the Space-Time Laboratory taking readings in Fuchigamori and what began as an urban fantasy strongly rooted in Japanese folklore (tengu, dragons, even Hanako) began to dabble in timey-wimey stuff. So when in Episode 12 a rift appears in the sky and oni-like creatures from another dimension appear to terrorize the people of Earth, I felt let down. Why was there a need for science-fictional explanations for the creatures of legend, such as kappa, tengu and kitsune?

It’s still a nail-biting watch, because we’ve become attached to Buchio and his family and it’s hard to watch them being threatened by these space invaders, but it’s also muddled and muddling from a set-up and story point of view. It needed (probably the original manga needed) to decide to be one thing or the other, not to try to straddle both fantasy and science fiction. (The manga is currently available in French but no signs of an English edition.) Yes, there are Ghibli vibes but it’s also very much its own series. Best to give it a try and see what you think for yourselves!

In some respects, it’s not too dissimilar to the other quirky but far darker urban fantasy Mysterious Disappearances (Crunchyroll) which, in dealing with supernatural happenings in contemporary Japan, has echoes of Tokyo Babylon. This overlooked Spring series is also well worth a look if you’re a fan of the warped yet subtle type of mystery anime. (The manga by Nujima has only just started to be published here by Seven Seas.)

Sumireko Ogawa works in a bookstore where her co-worker, a strange young man called Ren Adashino, discovers that she’s a novelist who found fame in her teens yet since then has suffered from writers’ block. After he introduces her to his younger sister, strange things begin to happen – Curiosities – and Sumireko rediscovers her desire to write. But Ren and Oto are not of this world and the price to go ‘home’ will cost them dear. Genuinely creepy and original, this series would have risen higher in my estimation if it were not obsessed with some awkward and unnecessary fan service (sigh, yes, Sumeriko is extremely well-endowed). However, I especially recommend Episode 8 for its atmospheric setting and wistful story A Book, an Affair and a Mermaid which lifts the series and rather subtly points it towards its eventual resolution. The character writing (and voice acting) also lifts the series with the central trio of Sumireko, Ren and Oto being brought to life in a convincing way. Oto’s odd nickname for Sumireko: ‘Apartment Wife’ is a sign of genuine affection as Sumireko becomes something of an older sister – or even – mother figure for the lonely girl.

YATAGARASU: The Raven Does Not Choose Its Master, Tonai no Yokai-san and Mysterious Disappearances are all streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hotly Anticipated

While the third season of Sound! Euphonium was perhaps one of the shows I was most looking forward to, it hasn’t grabbed me in the same way as some other shows have in this spring season. However, I do think it has a lot of interesting things to say and is a very strong character-driven piece, even if the music (which was mainly my initial draw into this series) falls by the wayside.

This season primarily focuses on Kumiko and her progression through her final year of high school. Taking up the mantle as president of the Kitauji High School concert band, she has a lot of responsibility to finally deliver the win at the national championships that the band has been striving for since she joined. While she sets out with good intentions, things are not set to go smoothly for her, thanks to transfer student and rival euphonium player Mayu Kuroe. As Kumiko struggles against a more talented player, she begins to drift, full of doubt over her own future and creating rifts with the people she cares about the most. Can she get things together and deliver the prize everyone wants so badly before they all graduate?

If I had to say anything about this season of Sound! Eurphonium, it’s that it gets too bogged down in its own melodrama and emotional baggage to the point at which it gets a bit overbearing. It’s great at showing the tension between the characters and how flawed they all are, but there’s not really anything uplifting or positive here, culminating in a “that’s how it is huh?”. The finest example of this is Kumiko’s career decision, which she spends the entire season dithering over, only to be told “how typical” by her teachers when she finally begrudgingly makes a decision. I think there’s just a feeling of a lack of any growth, and a lot of the characters we see haven’t really changed much since we first met them. This is particularly true for Mayu, who, while being the main antagonist of this season, continually says the same lines. You’d think the culmination of the pair’s rivalry would push them both out of their toxic behaviours, but that’s sadly not the case.

In essence, it tries too hard to stick to its own rigid sense of realism. Yes, life is tough and not everyone succeeds or fulfils their potential, but it’s disheartening to watch characters take a certain path when you know they can do a lot better for themselves.

It’s also disappointing that for a series where music is a core theme, it barely features any performances. I’ve enjoyed the performances in previous seasons as major set pieces and turning points of the story, but here they very much take a back seat to the melodrama, and I think as a result it’s missing specific turning points. The band’s path to the national competition is glanced over and not really celebrated, even though it should be the main thing to talk about.

While I’ve yet to see the final episode at time of writing, honestly, I’ve come out of this show feeling rather mixed on it. While it’s previously had strengths in its character writing and showing some amazing moments as the show tracks the band as they grow through competition and rivalry, this season just feels like it’s on a bit of a downer and doesn’t deliver the same high notes as it has done previously. It’s definitely not bad though and still maintains Kyoto Animation’s reputation for delivering high quality and impactful series, but it’s maybe just not what I’m looking for, and while I hope it goes out with a bang, I can’t help but feel that personally, in both music and drama, this has now been eclipsed by other shows.

Returning Champion

Going into its third season, Laid-Back Camp is pretty much a known quantity – you know that you’ll be getting more comfy camping goodness and just a chill time with Nadeshiko, Rin and the rest of the gang, but you’re also expecting a few surprises and delights along the way. I thought the show absolutely delivered it, but I don’t think it has the same impact as previous seasons did as it eschews variety for a deeper ongoing story, focusing mainly on Nadeshiko, Rin and Ayano’s suspension bridge tour.

Having it play out like a travelogue was interesting, and I loved a lot of the little touches in the way it tries to show off this particular area of Japan (like the dam curry) and Nadeshiko’s newfound love of retro trains (which is absolutely adorable). It was also nice to spend more time with Ayano, Nadeshiko’s childhood friend, as until now she hasn’t really been seen as part of the main cast and is more of a side character, so trying to build her into the core group more was nice to see.

The trade-off though is that we didn’t see as much of the other main cast members, particularly in gathering them all together. As much as the series is about finding joy in the great outdoors, I’m heavily invested in their overall friendships, so I do prefer it when they are all on-screen together. So, in that sense, the greater focus on solo camping didn’t quite hit the same notes for me, but there are thankfully some great moments scattered throughout, whether that be the great sausage experiment, or the way it tells the story of Aoi, Chiaki and Ena’s bizarre camping trip that doesn’t quite go to plan!

There’s also a great sense of moving the show forward with time, as it centres things around the girls moving into their second year at school, which also sets up a couple of new faces who are destined to join the Outdoor Activities Club in future. As this isn’t a great place to leave things, I’m hoping a Season 4 isn’t too far away as we aren’t done with our comfy camping activities just yet.

But overall, Laid-Back Camp Season 3 has been very enjoyable, and as a fan is worth returning to the series for. It’s super relaxing, looks beautiful, and is still the same fun, goofy old time that it ever was.

Unexpected Diamond

Amongst a lot of bigger names, The Duke of Death and His Maid has been quietly rumbling on, delivering what I think is an underrated gem of a romantic comedy with a unique hook and mystery simmering underneath it. The second season ended at a pivotal point in the story, finishing a training arc as The Duke and his friends prepare to go up against the evil witch Sade in order to break his curse of the touch of instant death.

Season 3 had a lot to deliver on, and despite initially settling back into familiar territory I can confidently say that it delivers on what it set out to do and remains true to its core values throughout.

Things are shaken up by the return of Alice’s mother, Sharon, who is as delightful as her daughter in her quirky mannerisms, making it easy to see where Alice gets her overly flirtatious personality from. Yet there’s some touching stuff here too, as we finally get to understand the connection between Sharon and The Duke’s mother, Gerbera, and how close their relationship used to be. I love how everything is connected with the series’ sense of time, and the hopeful message that love in all its forms endures as it shows these lasting connections, from The Duke’s grandparents to the circus master and octopus witch Amelia, and to even The Duke’s complicated friendship with Philip. All the character development and progression are just so well thought out and really well told.

This follows through with the big bad herself, Sade, as the show slowly reveals why she started cursing everyone in the first place, taking us on a wild, but at the same time rather tragic ride through time. And when The Duke and the rest of the gang finally catch up to her, it’s never about having a big blazing shonen-esque battle; it’s about saving those who are in need and showing even your worst enemy kindness and respect. I just love how it portrays this message and the way it ties things all together, resulting in a fantastic and moving ending that not only answers all our questions, but leaves everyone with the happy ending that they deserve.

It’s hard to go into things further without spoiling anything, but honestly this show was a delight from start to finish and if you do want to experience a quirky and mysterious romantic comedy that has its heart in the right place, then I’d definitely recommend you give this a look.

Sound! Euphonium Season 3, Laid-Back Camp Season 3, and The Duke of Death and his Maid Season 3 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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Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. His debut book, CLAMPdown, about the manga collective CLAMP, is available now. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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

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