Anime roundup 10/10/2019: Thinking With Portals

Cautious Hero: The Hero Is Overpowered But Overly Cautious premiere – In her quest to become ever more powerful, the goddess Rista finds herself stuck overseeing the salvation of an especially doomed world. To save it, she summons the strongest, the most powerful hero she can find. The only problem with this plan is she needs someone ready to play D&D, and her hero is more suited to a game of Paranoia.

If you’re not familiar with summoned-to-a-fantasy-world anime tropes by now, don’t worry, Cautious Hero will explain them to you, loudly, at great length, just to make sure you know it’s being funny. Seiya, the hero, is a nonentity whose schtick is carried to such extremes that by the end of the episode one expects the plot to start playing along and have him eaten by a gazebo or something. On the plus side, Rista is blessed with a dazzling array of excellent reaction faces.

Cautious Hero isn’t completely terrible, but it feels like it’s just phoning it in, especially compared to the other parody of vaguely medieval portal fantasies arriving this season.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Hulu (US); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, Russia, German-speaking Europe); ADN (Francosphere); VVVVID (Italy); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); Muse Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)

Kemono Michi: Rise Up premiere – Genzō Shibata has had a successful career as the pro wrestler Beast Mask, but after one last fight against his arch-nemesis, he plans to hang up his cape and retire to a quiet life running a pet shop. Unfortunately he is summoned directly from the ring to a fantasy world, where a princess implores him to rid her world of magical beasts. Genzō absolutely refuses, and now his love of animals must try to defeat the forces of good and evil alike.

Unlike Cautious Hero with its stance of HELLO EVERYONE I AM TELLING A JOKE NOW, Kemono Michi takes the deadpan route, sauntering along and letting the jokes land on their own. It also is willing to embrace a few tropes and amp them up to 11. Used to seeing comedy harassement of female characters? Get ready for completely pansexual harassment. Panty shot of the princess thanks to Genzō registering his objections with a German suplex? While the shot is framed to casually include her underpants, this will later be one-upped by having the camera staring directly and unabashedly at Genzō’s groin.

Most of the subversion happens in the absence of standard plot beats, and most of that is due to Genzō not being the typical hero of this kind of story. Rather than a teen with special inborn talents precisely tailored for a heroic fantasy, he’s an adult with abilities gained from hard work. That by itself is immensely refreshing.

Kemono Michi is very much like pro wrestling can be, at its best: exceedingly crass, but with a huge heart.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); Hulu (US); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, Russia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia)

Ascendance of a Bookworm premiere – Myne is an ordinary little girl until the day she wakes up obsessed with books. She’s suddenly regained memories of a previous life where she had just achieved her dream of becoming a librarian when she died in an earthquake. She prayed as she died that in her next life she could be surrounded by books, but apparently the gods have decided she’ll have to work for that, because she now lives in a world which has not yet invented the printing press.

This one is going for the cute and harmless vibe. There’s no Dark Lord, no ravening beasts roaming the countryside, no impending war. The pacing is very relaxed, and the reincarnation angle is barely developed. It’s just a convenient excuse to get into a story about an adorable little girl going on and on about literacy.

Ascendance of a Bookworm doesn’t have its sights set very high, but it does fine at what it sets out to do.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); Muse Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)

High School Prodigies Have It Easy Even In Another World premiere – Japan has the world’s greatest politician, the world’s greatest inventor, the world’s greatest financier, and four other brilliantly talented citizens— and all of them are still in high school. All this combined genius does not save them from a plane crash which somehow lands them in a fantasy world. But it does let them magic up some technology and start the process of winning at everything in their new home.

You keep expecting this to turn out to be another parody, but no, this one is absolutely serious. It has many of tropes we’ve come to know and loathe: Heroes who face no serious challenges other than finding new ways to display their awesomeness. Ridiculously overendowed female characters animated by people who have no apparent familiarity whatsoever with actual female anatomy. Random threatening of women with assault to move the plot along. Skeevy forced intimacy.

This is a completely disposable show which is going to churn out a bunch of predictable merchandise for a predictable market and then be forgotten immediately. Best get a head start and dispose of it now.

International stream: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia)

Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun premiere – Iruma Suzuki is already living a life of drudgery thanks to his horrible parents when they decide to sell him to a demon. Luckily, what the demon is looking for in this deal is to get his chance to be a doting grandfather. Unluckily, this means going to a high school where anyone who is revealed to be a human is going to get eaten.

Despite the dark premise, Iruma-kun is constructed from 100% fun. While he’s had a crappy life so far, Iruma’s new problems stem almost entirely from people wanting to show him kindness or respect. This premiere also has the best music, the most inspired art, and the catchiest opening theme so far this season.

You could count this as yet another portal fantasy parody, but Iruma-kun has its sights set on a different subgenre. Despite some superficial similarities with Japanese high schools, Iruma’s new school is a demented Hogwarts. We’ve already got the genial headmaster, the one teacher determined to be a jerk to the headmaster’s favorite kid, the rival who forces a duel, and of course the kid himself who has been raised by terrible people, and who is hinted to be destined for greatness.

The only thing that merits a word of caution is that the theme song could get stuck in your head for a good long while. Absolutely check this one out.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Oceania); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); Muse Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)

Azur Lane premiere – Once, Earth was threatened by mysterious aliens, and the best response humanity could come up with was female avatars of famous warships to battle them. It worked, though. Now a split has formed between those who would use the alien technology and those who think it contains secrets warship girls were not meant to know. Now it’s time for a good old-fashioned world war.

The players, beneath their euphemistic names, are basically the US, the UK, Germany, and Japan. The first engagement echoes the sinking of the Japanese carrier Kaga by planes from the USS Enterprise at the Battle of Midway— and presents that as a good thing. Kaga and her sister carrier Akagi are framed as leering lesbians, just so you know they’re irredeemably evil, and Enterprise as the hero who saves the day. There is a little bit of anime’s traditional valorizing of the common folk during WWII in a side plot about a shy little destroyer who starts to form a bond that crosses battle lines, but right now it is all in on the big Japanese ships being the villains.

Aside from that, this is highly reminiscent of the last mobile-game adaptation about female warship avatars, KanColle. Azur Lane at least hasn’t arranged for a mass hot tub scene right in episode 1, but something like that will probably be along eventually. The show has pretty much the same aesthetic: an unbelievably huge cast of girls in skimpy outfits with random bits of ships bolted to them, skating across the water and making random attacks without concessions to taste, sense, or physics.

Azur Lane isn’t good, but it’s not nearly as bad as it could have been.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Hulu (US); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, Russia, German-speaking Europe); bilibili (Asia)

Special 7: Special Crime Investigation Unit premiere – Newly minted detective Seiji Nanatsuki bumps into his future investigative partner Shiori Ichinose at a meet-cute where they are both held hostage by ridiculously overpowered bank robbers. Seiji’s flailing attempts at heroism entangle him with Ichinose’s unit, which investigates very special sorts of crimes. The unit is home to a particularly interesting bunch of outcasts— because in Seiji’s world, humans live side-by-side with elves, dwarves, vampires, and something else which wants to take power…

Besides the urban-fantasy setting, what stands out in this episode is its eagerness, though Ichinose, to dissect action tropes. The bank robbers look like the same bunch of ne’er-do-wells with pump-action long guns and an armored getaway car that you’ve seen as random criminals in who knows how many movies, but Ichinose points out everything about this setup that indicates more is going on. One hopes this will be applied to other tropes that haven’t yet been addressed, like how Seiji, who so far is presented as an ordinary human being, takes what should have been two serious head injuries and a shot directly to the gut with no apparent lasting effects.

The art and animation are no great shakes, but the writing here has some real potential. It’s worth a second look.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Scandinavia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); Muse Asia (SE Asia)

Didn’t I say to make my abilities average in my next life premiere – Myne, a simple country girl travelling to a new city to start adventurer school, is secretly a noble from a neighboring kingdom, who in turn is the reincarnation of a smart high school student from Japan. When she died, she wished to have average abilities in her next life. Unfortunately she really meant median, the gods chose to use the midrange, and she now has half the magical power of an elder dragon. But Myne is determined to be popular in this life regardless.

You get the feeling that the reason Myne has no friends might not be her talents so much as being an exhausting person to be around. When she isn’t complaining about her magical awesomeness, she’s being incredibly thin-skinned about the few areas where she doesn’t think she measures up. She gets upset every time someone says she’s gawking like a country girl, and the trigger for her to incinerate the villain is the villain pointing out that Myne’s chest is flat.

The fantasy world is so generic that the show doesn’t bother explaining anything, other than the author’s attempt to include a scientific explanation for magic (intelligent nanomachines plus telepathy). The heroine’s abilities aside, everything else about this show is very average.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East, Oceania); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)

Phantasy Star Online 2: Episode Oracle premiere – ARKS is a space fleet tasked with clearing habitable planets of the evil insectoid Falspawn to make them safe for humanity. Its latest batch of recruits is sent on a training mission to an already pacified planet with orders to shoot any native fauna they can find an excuse to. Unfortunately, a pleasant afternoon’s extermination is interrupted by the arrival of the Falspawn, who proceed to rudely slaughter everyone but the hero and his sidekick, clearing the way for them to start meeting other major characters. And then a mysterious girl falls from the sky because, hey, anime.

Peel back the modern anime aesthetics, and watching this is like going back to 1953. It’s a pulp space opera where men are men, women are eye candy, and anything else that moves is vermin. Even the hero’s precognitive danger sense is not out of place.

One thing Phantasy Star Online 2 can do well is construct a majestic-looking space scene. And… there is no second thing. Don’t bother with this one.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); Muse Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (Asia)

Not only are we all done with the portal fantasies, they weren’t all as bad as they looked, were they? Kemono Michi, Iruma-kun, and Special 7 all deserve a second look, and since there are only a few more premieres coming, we can probably do that next week, plus check on what Dr. Stone has been up to in the meantime.

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