Anime roundup 1/17/2019: And There’s More Where That Came From

The Promised Neverland premiere – The orphans of Grace Field House live a happy life with their found family. They eat well, they have lots of time to play, they even have fun taking their daily tests. They occasionally wonder what’s so dangerous beyond the fences or why no one who’s adopted ever writes. Until the day that two of them discover they are actually livestock being raised as gourmet food for literal inhuman monsters, and start forming a plan for everyone to escape.

As the source material is a manga which runs in Weekly Shonen Jump, we have to have a messy-haired, athletically gifted protagonist, but Emma breaks the pattern by being a girl. Her wingmen are Norman the strategic thinker and Ray the disaffected genius, who is strongly hinted to have already known or suspected some of what is going on. This episode does a fine job of setting them up as a plucky kids that you want to root for against their benevolent but menacing “Mom”.

The orphanage seems to be more than just a simple farm, as the demons taking delivery of a child consider the ones with higher test scores to be higher-quality food. (To answer your next question, Larry Niven fans, no, there’s no way to tell at the moment if this was inspired in any way by a certain food species in the Known Space universe.) This story looks to be a lot more than a basic jailbreak, and more than worth your time.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); HIDIVE (US, Canada, and possibly more); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Hulu (US); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking and Russian-speaking Europe); VVVVID (Italy); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)

Meiji Tokyo Renka premiere – Mei has been a loner ever since discovering that other kids think talking to invisible spirits is weird. But then one evening, she is voluntold to participate in a trick at a magic show, and winds up falling back in time to the era when Japan was just opening up to the West and Japan was crawling with hot dudes with a poor sense of boundaries.

This is an adaptation of an otome game, where the player is assumed to be female and the main point is romancing the various male characters. Keeping to the flow of the game requires that the player-insert character who is invented for the TV adaptation be completely passive, free of any personality, and extremely slow on the uptake. Mei is all of that, plus she has the extremely common otome-game-heroine case of inexplicable amnesia.

Meiji Tokyo Renka at least manages to avoid some of the worst otome game tropes. None of the men on offer at the moment are built on the more awful archetypes that can surface in the genre, and you’ll certainly learn something about Meiji-era Japan if you look up the people and places that it namechecks. But there is really no affirmative reason to watch it.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except France, Germany, Asia, the Middle East, North Africa); Anime on Demand (German-speaking Europe); Ponimu (Indonesia)

Girly Air Force premiere – The Xi are mysterious beings (or machines) which swoop down and attack humans without warning. Conventional fighter jets cannot match them, but the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force is developing special fighters piloted by advanced androids. Kei Narutani happens to encounter a particularly temperamental one who takes a shine to him, and thus finds his dream of becoming a pilot being realized more quickly than he expected.

Girly Air Force is a laundry list of standard tropes for the few remaining light novels that aren’t about being sucked into an RPG-like world: guy who is arbitrarily yoked to a powerful but barely functional girl, love interest who is also a foster sister, and a play toward a very specific slice of geekdom, fans of modern fighter jets in this case. The Gripen is a real aircraft, but not one currently used by the JASDF, and this is clearly aimed at an audience that will be wowed by a premise of “what if the JASDF had these other cool fighters to play with too?”

If that’s you, then there it is, and don’t expect much more from it.

International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia)

The Magnificent Kotobuki premiere – But wait, what if your aviation tastes run more to vintage aircraft? In particular, suppose you like WWII-era Japanese fighters, but would prefer to appreciate them without all the unpleasant context of WWII itself? That’s what The Magnificent Kotobuki is here for.

The story concerns groups of hired pilots guarding a cargo from air pirates. There is an attempt at establishing character quirks for the young women doing the piloting, but unimportant details like what the cargo is, why it is being transported in this manner, or why civilization is falling apart are mostly left aside so that this show can focus on its real purpose.

Most of this episode is devoted to a dogfight featuring our plucky heroes and a squad of redshirts versus the pirates and some mysterious ace who has some kind of ongoing feud with one of the good guys. And not just the flying and shooting parts of the fight— it commences with an extended sequence detailing the procedure for starting up a Nakajima Ki-43 Hayabusa and checking its controls. This is definitely another one for the hardcore military aviation buffs and really no one else.

International stream: HIDIVE (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand)

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka premiere – Asuka Ōtorī is a war veteran with PTSD trying to put her past behind her and reconnect with civilian life. But her old job is looking for her again, and when she crosses paths with a terrorist, she realizes she still wants to fight to protect people. And, as the title suggests, the twist is that she was a magical girl.

The biggest achievement of this premiere is that it takes the premise of “magical girls plus gritty war story tropes” seriously and will manage to make you take it seriously too. Asuka’s tour of duty involved fighting animated plushies in a ridiculous maid outfit, but it makes her trauma real. (Unfortunately, it also takes the typical approach to mental illness in anime, which is that it’s something people power through rather than getting professional help.)

Though the early buzz about this show warned of intense grimdark, so far nothing worse has happened than one would see in a typical action movie. The story even goes out of its way to avoid the cliché of introducing someone just to kill them off to provide motivation. It is also refreshing that even though Asuka has implausible proportions and a revealing costume, the camera does not feel obligated to leer at her. (No such luck with an apparent villian, who is introduced with a shot of her bikini-clad bosom.) All in all, much better than expected, and good enough to see where it goes for a bit.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Francosphere, German-speaking and Russian-speaking Europe); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, German-speaking and Russian-speaking Europe)

Grimms Notes the Animation premiere – Something is amiss in the land of fairytales. The books of fate which spell out everyone’s life stories don’t mention an outbreak of mysterious monsters in Little Red Riding Hood’s forest, or the party of mysterious travellers which appears soon afterward.

Those travellers are there to stop the monsters, though, and put things back on track so that the story can play out according to plan. They do this by summoning the spirits of yet more storybook characters and then making lots of random magical attacks with names themed to their stories.

All in fairly harmless yet pointless fun, until we learn why the story was distorted. Someone wanted to break the endless cycle and enjoy free will. Our heroes’ job is to force them back into their rut and erase their memory of having the chance to make things different. Yeah. So maybe skip this one.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Turkey, New Zealand, South Africa); ADN (France); Anime on Demand (German-speaking Europe); bilibili (Asia)

Endro! premiere – Four heroes face off against the Dark Lord and release the ancient magic that will stop him forever. With that done, the end credits roll and the heroes return to a happy and prosperous life. And then the protagonist, self-proclaimed hero Yulia Shardiet, wakes up for her first day of adventuring classes.

In the waking world, the four heroes are just four girls going to school, and the only creature of darkness in sight is the cute demon girl who’s just taken over teaching the first-year students. They’re just starting to understand their powers and are about to take their first field trip to a starter dungeon where things will start to go ridiculously wrong.

What happens next will reveal that the writing is much smarter than it initially appears, but whether you not you enjoy this show still hinges on your tolerance for cute girls having cute adventures… and also a certain level of cartoon stereotypes. By which I mean that the background characters in the class include an Indian in buckskin and feathered headband, and someone in a bellydancer-style outfit from the Fantastical Middle East. I wish it hadn’t felt a need to go there, because otherwise I could recommend it to slice-of-life fans.

International stream: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)

Dimension High School premiere – Four live-action high school students are staying late for some tutoring when an animated rock intervenes, declaring that they are desperately needed to save another world. Suddenly they and the tutor are in a motion-capture room, a sphinx is phasing in through the wall, and if they don’t start solving its puzzles right now, they’re going to be eaten.

Do you like your shows seriously weird, or are you willing to wade through a lot of weirdness for a brainteaser or two? If so, this is the show for you. Everyone involved in this from actors to writers approaches it like they know it’s airing late at night when no one is watching. It doesn’t feel a great need to be coherent, but it can be amusing. There are certainly worse things you could be watching this season.

International stream: HIDIVE (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand)

Bermuda Triangle: Colorful Pastorale premiere – Parrel is a tiny town out in the middle of nowhere, but the mermaids in it lead comfortable lives. Still, the mere arrival of a new girl around the age of Sonata and her friends is an exciting development, and they immediately adopt her into their group.

This is a quintessential slice-of-life show: low-stakes adventures in a generally benevolent world. The scariest thing that happens is a particularly rough current sweeps through town for about twenty seconds. The rest is everyday stuff like eating cake, helping deliver the mail, or find the way into an abandoned movie theater.

This is also yet another show where the main ensemble has quirks rather than any sense of depth or complexity. SF fans will also be aggravated by the inconsistent physics of the underwater world. The mermaids easily maneuver in three dimensions, but the water is like air when they want to enjoy a cup of coffee. Overall, mostly harmless.

International stream: HIDIVE (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)

Kemono Friends 2 premiere – In the crumbling remains of a safari park, anthropomorphic animal girls find a new creature that doesn’t know what kind of animal it is, though it might be something called a “human”. It doesn’t know how it got there, and seems unable to defend itself, but it does have a sketchbook full of clues that may lead it back to its den. So two cat girls take it upon themselves to escort the mysterious creature through the many zones of the park to a place where it may be able to find answers.

The first Kemono Friends became an unexpected phenomenon in Japan, so the second season plays it very safe. This episode is in many ways a repeat of the very first episode, just faster-paced and clearer about the post-apocalypticness of its setting. The animation is still done in low-fidelity CGI, and much time is still spent on the animal girls demonstrating their animal abilities and habits.

Evaluating whether this is a worthy sequel would require fully understanding what made the first season so insanely popular, something which I think no English-language reviewer has yet managed. For instance, I personally think the quicker pace is an improvement, but maybe it will totally ruin the vibe for hardcore fans. Overall, I can only say much the same thing I said about the first season: it’s probably not giong to provide intellectual stimulation to anyone old enough to tolerate reading subtitles.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)

kemurikusa. premiere – The biggest news about the second season of Kemono Friends was that it had changed directors. With name recognition from a big hit and the freedom to do anything he wanted, its former director Tatsuki has embarked on a passion project about… inhuman girls in a post-apocalyptic setting who stumble across a human child, animated in cheap-looking CGI.

But, no animal hijinks here. The girls insist they are human, though there are clear hints that they aren’t. They live on what appears to be part of an abandoned city, surrounded by a scalding red fog. They grow a tree that doesn’t look much like a tree, and fight off “red bugs” that have only a vague resemblance to insects. The boy they find is determined to be a new kind of bug and executed, but luckily what kills bugs turns out not to harm him.

Though it has even worse animation than Kemono Friends, kemurikusa. has more visual style and a much more interesting world. Enough of it is shown to get you wondering how it wound up that way and what is really going on. I’d definitely like to stick around at least long enough for the explanations that are surely coming next time.

International streams: Amazon (worldwide?); bilibili (Asia)

That’s just about it for the premieres. Revisions has been picked up by Netflix, which doesn’t intend to simulcast it, and Manaria Friends will not be showing up until the 20th. So next week, we’ll take a second look at Dororo, Mob Psycho 100, The Price of Smiles, The Promised Neverland, Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka, and kemurikusa., bring back JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind, and figure out what to follow for the rest of the season.

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