Bakumatsu Crisis premiere – The strongman who wanted to pull history out of shape and the time-changing artifact that powered him were both thought disposed of. But his castle still stands, and is back in action thanks to his self-proclaimed heir, while the artifact is repairing itself, and has developed a mind of its own. So, once again, figures of late-nineteenth century Japan who have been reimagined as hot dudes with various degrees of shirt impairment must spring into action and stop the villain.
Our hero is once again Shinsaku Takasugi, a minor figure from the campaign to restore imperial power, who died young in our timeline due to illness. Actually, I don’t need to explain that last part, as it will be mentioned over and over and over again by his best friend who is pondering whether restoring history would be a completely good thing.
Writing and production values are all just barely getting the job done, leading to a sense that the first season was popular enough that its backers decided to do basically the same thing all over again. But there is one change worth noting.
The first season’s villain wanted to get Japan’s imperialist phase started early. That’s a fairly safe choice; there’s broad agreement in the Japanese mainstream that trying to conquer and colonize all its neighbors was not a great idea. But there are people on the Japanese right wing that are nostalgic for World War II as a time when the nation had a united sense of purpose which kept everyone in their proper place. This includes the current prime minister and others in power, and the new villain of Bakumatsu Crisis is using rhetoric which would not be out of place in that context today. It was clearly successful enough to feel like it can step on a few toes.
Fruits Basket premiere – Tōru Honda is living on her own due to a mixture of bad luck and bad decisions. After her parents died, she was taken in by a grandfather, but while his apartment is renovated and he stays with other family, she decides it’s time for her to learn to be self-reliant. Discovered by the cousins on whose land she’s camping, she’s taken in in exchange for doing the housework. And putting up with the very odd curse they’re living under…
The story of the Chinese zodiac has a number of variations, but they all agree on two things: the cat got left out, and it was the rat’s fault. The Sōma clan’s curse is tied to the story in some way, though it does include a cat, who even in the present day has a grudge against the rat. Also, this being anime, all three of the cursed are hot dudes in their human forms.
Tōru is likeable enough, her friends are non-cookie-cutter enough, and the production values are decent enough for one to believe that this will be a worthy heir to the previous adaptation, which is a revered classic. It may not immediately grip you, but it’s worth checking out a little more.
International streams: Crunchyroll (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa); Funimation (dub only, US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking countries, Russia); ADN (Francosphere); bilibili (Asia)
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba premiere – Sometime in the Taishō period (1912-1926), Tanjirō is the eldest of six siblings living with their mother deep in the woods. A trip to town and a stay with a friend put him out of the way when the rest of the family is slaughtered by demons, except for his sister Nezuko who seems to be turning into one. But enough humanity remains in Nezuko that Tanjirō is willing to risk his own life to keep her alive, even against one of the legendary demon-killers— who sees the potential in him to become one too.
First off, this show is gorgeous. The vivid, detailed art is likely to make this action-adventure the top costume drama of the season. The period setting also works beautifully with the story. It’s a time when Japan was rushing toward modernity, yet in the countryside life was continuing much as it had in the feudal era, and one could still believe there were monsters lurking in the woods.
Tanjirō is a far cry from the typical spiky-haired athletic prodigies of shōnen action-adventure (though he does have one interesting superhuman ability), and Nezuko looks set to get her share of the fighting action. This looks like it will be excellent in all sorts of ways.
International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Funimation (US, Canada); Hulu (US); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking countries, Russia); bilibili (Asia)
Midnight Occult Civil Servants premiere – The institution of the night mayor has been growing in popularity around the world, so it is no surprise to find that Tokyo has its own nighttime community relations staff. New recruit Arata Miyako has a busy night which escalates from just meeting his new co-workers to using his talent for communication to stop an open brawl between rival families. Then, puzzlingly, the patriarch of one family greets him like an old acquaintance.
The catch is that our hero has tested into a branch of city government that deals with supernatural creatures. Arata breaks up a fight between humans and tengu, and it’s a tengu that greets him as Abe no Seimei, the semi-legendary sorcerer who lived a thousand years ago.
Midnight Occult Civil Servants really leans into its premise. The city government setup isn’t just there to provide an excuse for supernatural butt-kicking, at least not so far; Arata and his co-workers go about this like it’s an actual job. There’s a stab at giving the co-workers interesting backgrounds, but then they get reduced to “lol he’s a womanizer” and “lol he looks like a woman”.
Overall, a very middling premiere; it’s got promise, but this might be the most it ever makes of it.
Fairy Gone premiere – In a fantasy world, some years after a war, three survivors meet at an auction. Two are there as guards, one as a thief, but all three can fight with the aid of powers granted by fairies.
This is going for dark supernatural action, but scratch the paint and you’ll find an ordinary anime fantasy underneath. Architecture, fashion, and so forth are the standard fantasy mishmash, and character names are even more ludicrous than average. (Current favorite: Free Underbar.) Animation is surprisingly uneven, suggesting that the budget was prioritized for a few fight scenes.
If you’re looking for fantasy action, Demon Slayer is setting the standard for this season, and Fairy Gone doesn’t feel like it has a hope of measuring up.
Afterlost premiere – A girl named Yuki is the last survivor of an event that made chunk of Tokyo vanish. Trapped in a nefarious lab, she is rescued by a team that has a message from her father, who supposedly vanished in the same event. He claims he’s waiting there, in the void left by the vanishing. But Yuki and her would-be protecters have a lot of obstacles to get through to return her there.
This really wants to be an action show, and to that end it introduces all sorts of different groups to keep our heroes hopping. There are two competing groups of scientists, some mysterious other bunch in hooded trenchcoats, multiple people who can summon semi-imaginary friends like the Stands from JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, a guy in a helicopter gunship, and one or more allies to Yuki’s courier who may or may not be fully on his side.
The total effect is rather less than the sum of its parts. Yuki becomes a cryptic McGuffin to be moved around and fought over, and her main ally Takuya is bland defined. Some of the battle scenes are pretty, but this premiere could really have done with a few less factions and a little more time spent setting the stage. Nobody has clearly defined motives other than an apparent need to cause as much collateral damage as possible. There’s nothing here to make an argument for watching any further.
International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, dub also available starting 4/28); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking countries, Russia); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)
RobiHachi premiere – In an alternate 2019, Earth has been a member of the interstellar community for over 50 years. Robby Yarge ran away from his rich family as a teenager, but has never abandoned the attitude that he should be able to cruise through life on a cushion of money and is an easy mark for scams. Hatchi Kita is a genius desperately looking for something to make his life unpredictable. Thanks to some of Robby’s poor decisions, Hatchi gets what he wants when both of them become fugitives from a notorious loan shark.
Most of this episode does a decent but unremarkable job of comedy as it gets everyone introduced and the story launched. In the last few minutes, though, with all the pieces in place, RobiHachi suggests that what it’s truly going to be about is lampooning classic sf. Here it goes all out with a homage to cheesy transforming robot cartoons, followed by a nod to Star Trek.
Alternate 2019 is a riot of colorful aliens and high technology. If those last few minutes are any indication, this could be a truly fun interstellar romp. The only serious obstacle ahead for English-language viewers is coping with Funimation’s awful video player. (If you can’t get the overlay to vanish, here are some workarounds.)
International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, dub also available starting 4/29); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking countries, Russia); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)
Not everything is great, but average it out and it feels like we’ve traded quantity for quality so far this season. Fruits Basket, Demon Slayer, and RobiHachi are definite candidates for a second look, and Midnight Occult Civil Servants might get another chance if other things fall off. Next week, the rest of the premieres!