Since we have another end/beginning of season overlap here, the spoilery end-of-season commentary can be found in the bottom section. Onward to the premieres!
Magical Girl Ore premiere – Saki Uno dreams of being a magical girl and a pop star and impressing Mohiro Mikage, her co-star’s big brother and a top idol. But it’s all going horribly wrong— she can’t sing, no one comes to her performances, and when she learns that her mother has been moonlighting as a magical girl and needs someone to fill in for her, everything about that goes disastrously wrong. Such as her magical girl form is a big buff dude, Mohiro might be attracted to him, his sister reveals she has a crush on Saki, and absolutely nothing about magical girl powers works the way she expected…
The first hurdle for this show is: can it be a situation comedy about people of varying genders and attractions, or are those people going to be the joke? I’m happy to report that it mostly clears that one. The worst so far is an inordinate fascination with the fact that Saki is still wearing girly underpants in male form. It’s more interested in poking fun at the clichés of magical girl shows. The requisite cute mascot isn’t cute, the awesome-looking magic wand is useless, and so forth.
The humor is blunter than a broken pencil; this show hardly misses an opportunity to announce that it is telling a joke, and it follows the school of thought that the louder everyone shouts, the funnier it is. But the jokes are worth it, and this is a decent effort overall.
GeGeGe no Kitaro premiere – Humans think that monsters are just myths these days, but when people start turning into trees right in the middle of Shibuya, something odd is clearly going on. Mana Inuyama agrees to send a letter to the obviously fictional monster-fighter Kitarō to reassure a neighbor kid, but of course it turns out that he’s real, monsters are real, and her life is about to get much more interesting.
As a franchise with a long history behind it, GeGeGe no Kitaro has built up an extensive mythology, but this series starts new viewers off easy with only a few characters and no deep backstory. Also as a popular franchise, it comes in with a superb budget, producing the most lavishly animated children’s show you’ll have seen in some time.
This is aimed at kids, with a mix of spooky thrills and easily digestible morals: Technology is great sometimes, but don’t be obsessed with it! Don’t vandalize what you don’t understand! Listen to your grandmas, because they know all sorts of cool stories! But it’s the kind of thing a parent can watch with their kids without being bored or driven insane. Highly recommended for the target age group, and not too bad for adults looking for something undemanding.
Umamusume: Pretty Derby premiere – There are girls who are the reborn spirits of horses, with ears, tails, incredible speed, and ridiculous horse-style names. Special Week is one such girl, just transferred to a training school in Tokyo where she dreams of winning races and starring in the after-race concerts.
Having established that the girls have the spirits of actual horses, Umamusume proceeds to take the analogy waaaaay too far. They don’t just race on horse-style racetracks, they start the races in steel horse pens. They’re actually called “horses” when running, and parts of their body are referred to in terms appropriate for animals.
But these are minor complaints compared to the story of Special Week and the one adult male in the show. They meet when he sneaks up behind her and starts fondling her leg, commenting on her excellent musculature. Then it happens again. Then he stalks her and has her kidnapped so that he can invite her into the team he’s training. And… she accepts, because someone she looks up to is there.
Seriously, in a world that already contains Larry Nassar, how is this a plotline any show needs? This could have been just another uninspired videogame adaptation, but it’s chosen the wrong way to stand out.
Space Battleship Tiramisu premiere – Subaru is a piloting prodigy, the best fighter in the Earth-defending fleet despite being the youngest. Set apart from the other pilots by his age, he prefers to hide in the cockpit of his mecha. In this seven-minute episode, this makes him his own worst enemy as he contends first with a poor choice of lunch and then an unfortunate wardrobe mistake.
This episode makes good use of the time it has, managing to establish a reasonable amount of backstory while leaving room for quite a few chuckles. It’s a solid sendup of Extremely Serious Space Opera, and I wish it were available to more of you. Hopefully there’ll be another streaming announcement or two soon.
Kakuriyo -Bed & Breakfast for Spirits- premiere – Aoi has always been able to see spirits. For some reason this led her mother to abandon her, but her grandfather took her in. Unfortunately, shortly after his death, it turns out he’d used her as collateral for a debt to an ogre, and Aoi is whisked away to be the ogre’s bride.
Since this is a paranormal romance, the ogre turns out to be a hot young-looking dude who gives her smoldering looks and talks about how tempting it would be to eat her but how he’s totally not going to do that. Also he runs the fanciest traditional inn with the awesomest views in the spirit world, and when Aoi decides she’s going to work off the debt rather than be forced into marriage, it just happens that there’s an abandoned restaurant on the grounds where she can put her cooking skills to use.
What saves this from being a completely paint-by-numbers paranormal romance is the food theme, not just as physical nourishment but its role in building ties between family and friends. Aoi nearly starved after being abandoned, and her memories of her grandfather are bound up with learning to cook; she’s learned to offer food to spirits to stay on their good side; her first friend at the inn introduces himself with a meal.
If the simulcast were more widely available, it would be worth giving this another episode to see how the balance of paranormal romance and food is going to work out.
Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These premiere – It is The Future, and human space is divided into three empires, at least two of which are locked in a titanic war. On one side is the ragtag Free Planets Alliance; on the other is Space Imperial Germany, where the young genius Reinhardt von Lohengramm has made High Admiral and sworn that now he will show all the hidebound traditionalists on both sides how to properly win. And he does, until the first hint that someone in the opposing fleet might have a clue what he’s doing too…
Legend of the Galactic Heroes is famous for its focus on tactics and big-picture storytelling rather than action, though the main statement this premiere makes is that boy howdy can you buy a lot of CGI these days even with an anime production budget. Von Lohengramm’s brilliant strategy breakthrough consists of refusing to politely hold still until the other fleet can slaughter him. Whatever genius countermove is happening at the end will not be explained until next time.
If you like a good solid military space opera, this certainly looks like it will fit the bill, with terrific production values all around. If you’re tired of typical military space opera features like treating space battles much the same as two-dimensional naval battles, or effortless FTL, well, it’s got those too. I’d say this is on the bubble for a second viewing; we’ll see how many other candidates we’ve got when it’s time to circle around and take a second look.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Netherlands, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa); ADN (France, DOM-TOM, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); VVVVID (Italy); bilibili (Asia); Funimation dub (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand; starting date TBA)
And now, the winter season finales. Spoilers ahoy!
Hakumei and Mikochi finale – If we can’t get a straightforward answer about Hakumei’s relationship to Mikochi, the next best thing is filling in some more of her past. We finally get to meet Ryokubirō, the wolf master of the caravan, and a whole lot more, as it turns out. Though she’s an old woman, she isn’t too old to kick a bunch of thief butt, run an entire network of spies, vigilantes, and traders, or have her head turned by a pretty young woman. Mikochi’s exact feelings may still be a mystery, but it sure looks like someone fell for Hakumei once.
Much remains to be told about a Hakumei’s past. Like, for instance, what makes it so easy for the caravan veterans to go straight from “Someone just messed up with explosives” to “Oh, that must mean Hakumei is still hanging around here.” And there’s a lot more room for stories in and around Makinata. The manga is still going strong, so maybe we’ll get to see more sometime.
That was a beautiful conclusion to the most beautiful and surprising show of winter. If the description had been less “tiny people live in the woods” and more “women geek out about everything”, it could have been less of a surprise, but there was no way of knowing it was going to be this good at building its world and characters. Now, if HIDIVE could just let us know when it’s going to be available for free streaming, so I can get busy telling more people to watch it…
Hakyu Hoshin Engi #11 – Having recovered Yōzen, the forces of Konron Mountain regroup and shuffle themselves into teams for another infiltration attempt. Outside of this but still helping are the three mysterious sisters, one of whom proceeds to casually destroy more of Kingo Island than anyone before her simply because it’s getting between her and her snacks. Madonna could be written off as a horrible anti-feminist stereotype if it weren’t for it being made clear that she’s one heck of a fighter as well. I mean, it’s the guys trying to keep up with her who are stopped by a roomful of monsters and then sucked into an extradimensional tornado, not her.
Hakyu Hoshin Engi‘s strengths and weaknesses are both on full display here. There’s the great art, a ton of distinctive characters, and entertainingly loony action still going strong. But looking over all the infiltrators who might be killed off is a reminder that there’s been no time to properly introduce most of them, and the random unconnected flashback at the beginning means the narrative is still too jumpy for its own good.
In a better season, this might not have made the lineup, but it’s been mostly fun to watch and deserves at least a fighting chance for next season. So we’ll put this aside for now, and come back to it after the premieres are over.
Beatless #10 – The fallout for Arato from taking responsibility for Lacia’s actions is two weeks’ suspension and repaying ¥2,000,000 (approximately US$20,000). And a further break with Ryō, because Arato somehow never gets around to mentioning that everyone was attacked by Methode, thus allowing Ryō to become her latest patsy. Also no one important has noticed there an extra Shiori wandering around, and Arato still hasn’t asked Lacia about the mysterious transportation service that keeps bringing the Black Monolith to her.
Visiting his father (or his father’s android duplicate) in Tsukuba Science City, Arato finally gets it all laid out for him in nice clear charts by Watarai, except he still manages to miss the most important point: it’s not just that the non-Lacia-class androids are all controlled by the cloud, but the cloud is controlled by Higgins. Humans are already Higgins’s pets. Maybe that’s being saved for a later revelation?
When you can’t tell the difference between deliberate plotting and sloppy writing anymore, it’s time to give up. I’ve been following Beatless because there was so much interest in seeing a Seiun finalist animated, but I think we’ve seen enough by now to say that it’s terrible, and it’s not going to get better. I would not be performing any service to fandom by continuing to bash it for another season, so here we leave it.