NAMUAMIDABUTSU! -UTENA- premiere – Yes, that is the actual localized English title that some adults decided on for this show. You may think that this hints at general incompetence or lack of quality in the show itself. You are entirely right.
This is based on a game about pretty-boy interpretations of Buddhist deities fighting evil, and so it does open with a quick fight scene. But the show is like nope, just kidding, this is actually going to be a slice-of-life show. The focus characters haven’t been to this plane of existence in a while, so they can reenact a pile of stale fish-out-of-water gags. And when they do spot some more evil to fight, they’re encouraged to chill out, because who can fight all the evil in the world these days? The only way any spiritual enlightenment is going to be happening is that the viewer is given ample time to reflect on the suffering inherent in material existence while the show drags on and on.
One small consolation is that the character art carried over from the game is beautiful, but even this is taken away as more and more characters swap their unique costumes for track suits. There are also, in the mobile game adaptation tradition, way too many characters introduced in way too short a time. I don’t know who this is supposed to be for; fans of the game will be annoyed that the fighting part is gone, and it doesn’t seem interested in trying to hook anyone else.
Amazing Stranger premiere – Nona is an intrepid interstellar explorer who lands on a planet of giants and disguises herself among a group of statues. Then she finds herself in the apartment of Haruto Bōida, a supernerd who’s just gotten into plastic figure collecting. Haruto started by getting the heroine of his favorite anime. When she abruptly comes to life, he recalls the episode about the planet of giants and decides to play along.
There is potential for great metafictional fun here, but Amazing Stranger goes straight for the lowest common denominator. It feels obligated, for instance, to have Haruto notice that his new toy is very lifelike and then jump to seeing if he can take its clothes off. It may eventually get past this but this is a very disappointing start. At least it’s only 12 minutes long.
International streams: Crunchyroll (territories not specified)
Sarazanmai premiere – Kazuki Yasaka is an eccentric boy working on a selfie project for a friend. He ticks off the wrong guy, stuff happens, and suddenly he, the other guy, and another friend have offended Keppi, who claims to be the prince of the kappas. For this, Keppi transforms the three boys into kappas and sends them into the spirit world to take down what he calls kappa-zombies. They do this by singing, dancing, joining hands, and unleashing the kappa’s most infamous power.
Kappas are said to live in rivers and attack humans by reaching up their bottoms to extract an organ called the shirikodama (literal translation: “butt jewel”). This is how Kazuki and his comrades defeat their target. This is also how Keppi transforms them into kappas, while also somehow simultaneously swallowing them so he can poop them out into their new forms.
This is definitely the most anime of all the anime shows premiering this season. Coming from a writer-director famous for heavy use of allegory, it also comes with a layer of symbolism about privacy, security, and the risks and rewards of human relationships so thick that it’s in danger of, well, vanishing up its own behind.
The visuals are nice and crisp, with a fluidity you’ll rarely see outside of a movie theater. If you’re into anime just for pretty pictures, go ahead and check this out. But in terms of story, it feels like there’s too much to dig through for too little reward. It’s inspired, yet uninspiring.
Wise Man’s Grandchild premiere – An overworked salaryman is up too late one night, and accidentally walks into the path of a car. As often happens in anime these days, he is immediately reborn as a prodigy in a magical world, where he is adopted and raised by a powerful wizard. At the age of 15, he is sent off to magic high school, but that is the point where his guardian realizes he’s failed to educate the boy about everyday life.
This is not bad as most of the shows like this that we get these days. Protagonist Shin has nothing off-putting about him, other than he’s desperately bland and is about to be inserted into a complete cliché of a school setting. The interesting people here are Shin’s guardian, Merlin Walford, and the woman we eventually learn is Merlin’s ex-wife. They were a powerful demon-fighting duo back in the day, and they’re on speaking terms enough to both participate in raising Shin, but they can’t seem to stand each other for long. Instead of Shin waltzing through life, I’d love to see the focus being put on the two of them bickering and working out their differences and eventually getting back together. But it is not to be. Phooey.
The Helpful Fox Senko-san premiere – Inari, celestial patron of rice, civilization, and technology in general, looks down on the mortal world and sees an overworked programmer named Kuroto Nakano barely holding his life together. She sends Senko, one of her fox attendants, to take care of Kuroto and return some happiness to his life. Kuroto reacts as you’d expect when he comes home and finds a child with fox ears cooking dinner for him, but he starts to adjust to Senko’s pampering almost immediately.
This show is at its very best when playing up the humorous side of the situation, with a tone and timing reminiscent of a Chuck Jones cartoon. At its not-so-best, it’s a reminder of the extremity of the traditional expectations of a Japanese housewife. As the flashbacks to Kuroto as a young boy emphasize, a wife is expected to treat her husband as though he is a child who cannot care for himself, cooking, cleaning, and never hoping for gratitude or reciprocity. And she should allow him to do whatever he likes with her body, as Senko feels compelled to allow Kuroto to pet her tail despite her being clearly not okay with it.
There isn’t much leaning on the “but she’s 800 years old, so totally not pedophilia!” pedal yet, but I have a feeling that is in the near future. The premiere instead dials up the creepiness level including a bonus segment where the viewer is encouraged to imagine that Senko is their own pseudo-wife. We are very close to the abyss here; back away while you can.
And that, believe it or not, is it for the premieres. Gunjō no Magmell and Carole & Tuesday have been picked up by Netflix, which means no simulcast for them. The next step is to give things a second look and set the lineup… you know, why don’t we just go ahead and do that, since it’s such a light season?
Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba #2 – Tanjirō’s first direct encounter with a demon showcases everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. Nezuko is demon enough to be enticed by the smell of blood, but she prioritizes kicking the demon’s head off to save Tanjirō. Decapitation turns out to be a surprisingly minor impediment to a demon, but sunlight destroys it (and so is a huge threat to Nezuko as well). And Tanjirō has the fortitude to defend himself and Nezuko when their lives are on the line, but has trouble with the idea of deliberately executing an intelligent creature which is at his mercy.
Still, Tanjirō demonstrates enough promise to be taken on as a student by the man he’s been sent to. Just as the demons are based on the concept of oni (usually translated as “ogres”), Sakonji Urokodaki is presented in many ways as a tengu. These are crow-like beings (which we’ve just seen in Midnight Occult Civil Servants as well) which feature in Japanese mythology as sages and enforcers of Buddhist law. The implication that Urokodaki is not just a fighter, but a learned man in many respects, and he’ll be teaching Tanjirō more than just how to wave a sword around.
I’m inclined to keep watching this one, both on its own merits and as a contrast to the demon-slaying approach of Dororo.
Midnight Occult Civil Servants #2 – Arata’s co-workers are intrigued by the Abe no Seimei connection, so everyone troops off to his granddad’s house to check out the old family papers, only to have an unexpected reunion with the old family cat Yuki (Snow). The very old family cat, as it turns out, because Yuki is a nekomata who has been guarding the Miyako heritage for centuries. Arata solves a tricky situation by suggesting that Yuki could just guard the papers at the office, which also handily is full of people who can see Yuki and play with him.
Arata trying to find ways to talk through monster encounters is already a recurring theme. It worked great with Yuki and the zashiki warashi, okay with the angels and tengu, probably not so well with his ambiguously gendered nemesis and their army of zombies. There comes a time when Seo’s attack gadgets are going to be the only way to solve a problem, and this looks like one of them.
I’m happy to see that the business with Reiji’s past job and Seo’s appearance has not been turned into any running gags. It’ll be interesting to watch the bureaucratic approach in contrast to the demon-slicing of Dororo and Demon Slayer for the rest of the season.
Dororo #13-14 – Dororo and Hyakkimaru face evil at two places where Buddhist works have been perverted in some manner. First is a statue of Fudō, a deity of wrath, haunted by its builder’s spirit. Then a nunnery, which has a whole collection of ghouls and demons tangled up around it. But in between fights, Dororo learns that he’s carrying a map to a great treasure.
It’s hard to come up with a reason for why Dororo’s mother didn’t want to claim the treasure, other than this story couldn’t happen otherwise. Maybe she didn’t approve of how Dororo’s father came by it, or there’s a curse of some sort? Dying nobly doesn’t seem to have helped much, as now it means half the map is lost.
Still, this is reportedly part of the original plot of Tezuka’s manga, and this show is otherwise still doing a fine job. Let’s see where this ends.
RobiHachi #2 – Robbie and Hatchi get as far as Mars before they run out of fuel. Taking the opportunity to mix with the natives, they stumble across the dark secret behind Mars’s tourist success and very nearly find themselves co-opted into it.
This week’s shout-out to vintage sf is War of the Worlds, but, in the grand old tradition of sf, this episode is about the present day, and not subtle about it. The program that Hatchi is forced onto is an obvious copy of one called Why Did You Come To Japan?, and the overall tourism approach sounds suspiciously like the “Cool Japan” campaign, which among other things includes touting anime. Which makes putting this statement in anime form a little ironic, but I guess this is how to reach the people the writer most wants to hear it.
All this plus the improving banter between the leads is unfortunately overshadowed by another relic of the past. It seems Yang is set up to be the Evil Depraved Gay, or at least that this show is fine with you thinking he is.
This makes it a tough choice about whether to keep paying attention to this show. Just on the connections it’s building to Western sf, this show has a significance that could demand overlooking a few blemishes. My philosophy of what should get attention is also that if there’s something else just as good and without the downsides, the other thing should get the spotlight instead. But the other shows with a strong argument for significance this season are Sarazanmai, coming from a highly noted writer-director whose works have a habit of getting into problematic territory around incest and sexuality, and Fruits Basket, about which see below. So I think RobiHachi wins this one.
Fruits Basket #2 – Tōru quickly learns a few other twists to the Sōma family curse. The animal transformation will eventually wear off, with a variable limit which will time itself for maximum awkwardness when the victim comes back fully naked. The only other power everyone gets is the ability to converse with their type of animal, except someone also has the power to cause amnesia so that the curse can be kept a secret. All of which seems structured entirely for plot convenience.
Tōru now has to figure out where she stands with Yuki and Kyō, although it’s obvious to the viewer: in the center of a romantic triangle. Both of them like her, though it takes all episode for Kyō to say so without shooting himself in the foot.
This may be a beloved classic, but it’s hard to find anything here that isn’t absolutely standard for supernatural high school comedy-drama, and I’m not sure this is even the origin of those tropes. The one thing rumored to be coming later in the story that does sound unusual is some extremely unfortunate business about gender identity. So let’s leave this here.
So that makes it Dororo, Demon Slayer, Midnight Occult Civil Servants, RobiHachi, and Attack on Titan when it finally comes back in a couple weeks. And while we’re waiting for AoT, look for a visit from an old friend next week!