Overlord II premiere – Somewhere, somewhen, a band of possible demons is fiddling with Rubik’s Cubes and concocting a plan to do something or other. Somewhere else, a king converses about recent events. In yet another place, we finally meet the protagonist, the lich Momonga. Momonga was once an MMORPG character, but his player’s consciousness was pulled into the fantasy world when the game was shut down. Meanwhile, in plot thread #4, lizardmen have invented aquaculture.
When Momonga pulls out a map of the immediate area, you might think there’s finally going to be a comprehensive explanation of who all these people are and what they have to do with each other. You would be desperately wrong. Not only that, the opening credits sequence shows that there are a metric ton more characters still to be introduced.
Whatever you think of medieval fantasy settings, or the trapped-in-an-RPG premise, this is not the place for a new viewer to join Overlord. Luckily, most of the services below should have the first season available too.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, South Africa); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Hulu (US); ADN (Francosphere); Yamato Animation (Italy); Wakanim (Russia); bilibili (Asia); Funimation (dub starting 1/30 for US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand)
DamePri Anime Caravan premiere – Princess Ani of Inaco has been sent to sign a peace treaty in her father’s place. There she encounters a group of princes and advisers who are all hot dudes with a variety of outrageous character quirks.
There are ways in which this could have been comedy gold. The “reverse harem” setup with one central female character and an assortment of handsome men to romance is certainly long overdue for a good skewering. But Ani is too typical a protagonist, being a personality-less proxy for the intended viewers, and the attempts at humor are all of the “louder equals funnier” type.
Instead, this feels like it’s planning to be a straightforward otome game adaptation, and just wanted to try having a little fun first. Oh well.
International streams: HIDIVE (territories not announced); ADN (Francosphere)
Death March to the Parallel World Rhapsody premiere – Ichirō Suzuki is the latest in a long line of protagonists to find himself trapped in a fantasy game world. In his case, it’s a mashup of two games he’s been rushing to finish, one MMO and one mobile game. By wiping out an entire army almost as soon as he gets there, he’s now completely overpowered and only needs to master the mechanics of the world. Hijinks involving many young women are advertised to follow.
The upside of this premiere is that it actually doesn’t get into the standard light-novel RPG fantasy plot where the hero rapidly starts accumulating a bunch of would-be girlfriends. The downside is that this happens because it thinks you are very interested in the minutiae of software development and the details of the game interface. (All right, as a programmer myself, I was interested— and a little horrified— to learn that the term “death march” has become useful to the Japanese.)
The result of this approach is that this feels less like high fantasy and more like watching someone doing their first ever Twitch stream. There isn’t anything to suggest this isn’t going to start catching up with the usual light novel clichés soon, though.
International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Funimation (dub starting 1/28 for US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand)
Maerchen Maedchen premiere – This show has chosen a demographic to aim for, and that demographic is people who want to ogle girls who are allegedly in high school but look like they’re about 10. It starts with the camera being squarely aimed at the main character’s underpants during the opening credits, continues with her spending half the episode nude with only a large book to cringe behind, and finally escalates to outright Playboy material during the end credits. Setting, plot, and production values are made irrelevant by it. Avoid this show.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa); Anime on Demand (Germany); Wakanim (Francosphere, Russia); bilibili (Asia)
How to Keep a Mummy premiere – Sora Kashiwagi is used to getting bizarre and dangerous surprise packages from his archaeologist father, so the sudden arrival of a coffin is not that big deal. But then, from the coffin, there emerges… a tiny little mummy, just big enough to fit in his hand.
Instead of an eldritch horror, Mī, as Sora names him (short for mīra, “mummy”) is just the most gosh-darned adorable little critter ever to rise from the grave. Featureless, speechless (though he does figure out how to bark), limited by his stubby limbs, Mī is still the unquestionable star of every scene.
There are no big issues here, just things like Sora figuring out what Mī can eat and making peace between him and the dog. The ending credits foreshadow Sora’s friends accumulating more little sidekicks until the viewer dies of cute. Not a show that will spur much analysis, but a refreshing palate cleanser.
International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Japan, China, Korea); bilibili (Asia)
Darling in the Franxx premiere – Here’s a show with some of the best visuals and sound of the season, matched with deep philosophical musings and a hard-sf setting. Darling in the Franxx has clear ambitions to recapture the lightning in a bottle that was Neon Genesis Evangelion, mixing the giant-fighting-robot genre with metaphors for the human condition. Particularly the adolescent human condition.
Unfortunately, inside the shiny box is a pile of tired old light-novel tropes. It starts with the protagonist meeting the mysterious half-alien girl when she is naked, followed closely by being called a pervert. There are also multiple instances of misdemeanor sexual harassment substituting for plot movement and character development, and of course the hero is the worst in his school except he’s actually got super-duper potential which is only just about to be unlocked. (His former partner who flunked out with him shows up only to give him an inspirational speech and then be menaced by aliens.)
If high-quality animation is your one and only criterion for selecting a show to watch, then stick with this. But if not, and you’re intrigued by the psychological overtones, you’re better off going to the source and watching Neon Genesis Evangelion itself instead. Not to say that Evangelion could resist the urge for some clichéd nudity, but it could at least deliver old jokes with real panache.
International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Japan and China); bilibili (Asia); Funimation (dub starting 2/1 for US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand)
Hakyu Hoshin Engi premiere – Welcome to mystical China, realm of stunning landscapes, floating mountains, fantastic cities, and incredible powers! Well, technically it’s the land of Yin, but the source manga is based on a Chinese novel set at the end of the Shang Dynasty, so it is essentially ancient China in all its faded imperial glory.
Yin is in the grip of an immortal queen who rules from behind the throne, changing her identity every generation and keeping the kings in her thrall. Taikōbō, a lazy disciple of the spiritual arts, is tasked with tracking down and capturing every last one of her 365 henchmen. Though he quickly gains an ally or two, he decides to cheat by kidnapping the king and taking on the queen directly, a plan that gets further than you might think before he is found out and his ethnic group is subjected to some collective punishment.
Taikōbō and his eerily Moominesque “spirit steed” Sūpūshan are a likeable pair, bantering enough to be entertaining but not so much as to be annoying. A flashforward at the beginning that this will be following the well-worn shōnen path of ever-increasingly over-the-top magical fights, though Taikōbō’s first few encounters here notably do not turn violent. This looks like it’s shaping up to be a solid action-adventure series.
International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Funimation (dub starting 1/30 for US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand)
Hakumei and Mikochi premiere – In a little house in the woods, there live two young women. Hakumei and Mikochi are elfin creatures only a few inches high, living in a pre-electronic world with civilized talking animals and no trace of humans. Sometimes they have grand adventures, like when Hakumei wants to chase down a mythological bird rumored to be in the area. Sometimes they have more down-to-earth ones, like Mikochi losing track of her purse when they visit the nearby market town.
The world they inhabit is beautiful and detailed, and the relaxed pacing lets you sit back and soak it all in. Not much is said about the nature of Hakumei and Mikochi’s relationship or how they came to live together; it’s implied that Hakumei is a recent arrival, but that’s all so far.
If this continues as a series of vignettes about their everyday life, it’ll be a good show to stick with. If a larger story starts emerging, this could be fantastic in more than one sense of the word.
International streams: HIDIVE (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria, Russia); bilibili (Asia)
Beatless premiere – In a future so distant that Japan’s school year now starts in the fall, Arato Endō and his classmates discuss the super-advanced androids which are now everywhere, seemingly all in the form of young women. The others think of them as soulless machines, but Arato is the Nice Guy who thinks they truly have lives and personalities of their own. Robots, I mean, not women.
But then five extremely advanced androids break loose from somewhere and start destroying stuff and posing dramatically. Arato is caught up in an attack by one and saved by another. The latter is Lacia, who decides Arato would be a decent enough owner, if he would just be so good to accept the EULA…
This is better than about 90% of the boy-meets-superpowered-semi-human-girl shows out that, but that’s an awfully low bar. It passes by, for instance, not making Lacia completely helpless, not dropping her out of the sky naked, and mostly keeping the camera out of her cleavage. Next episode, she gets to wear actual clothes!
With clunky dialogue and passable animation, this is a very mediocre debut all around, and normally I wouldn’t give it a second look. But this is based on a Seiun finalist, and truly spectacular shows are a bit thin on the ground this season, so I’m willing to give it another week.
International stream: Amazon Video (worldwide)
And what happened with Violet Evergarden? As hoped and feared, Netflix did actually start simulcasting to nearly the entire world, excepting the United States, Australia, and, for whatever additional bizarre reason, Spain. Leaving out a couple of the larger English-speaking countries would disqualify it from making the season lineup for this column anyway, but there’s not going to even be a premiere review because your reviewer is unfortunately based in the US. People who do have access to it, feel free to discuss it in the comments.
Next week, the second episodes and onward of Hakumei and Mikochi, Hakyu Hoshin Engi, Beatless, Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card, and Kokkoku will battle it out to see what’s good enough to keep watching for the rest of the season. See you then!