Anime roundup 1/16/2020: You Can’t Even Quit the Game

Darwin’s Game premiere – Sudō Kaname seems to be having a perfectly reasonable life until he opens up an app called Darwin’s Game and learns that he’s now trapped in a deadly fight with other players, wielding a superpower that no one quite understands. Soon two of his friends are dead, he’s accidentally responsible for another death, and he’s teaming up with an insane killer who just happens to like him. For now.

The reason Darwin’s Game went for a full-hour premiere turns out not to be that it wants to impress you with how edgy it is with a pile of gory deaths— though it does have those— but so that it can get all the way to the part where Kaname accepts an invitation to go to his new friend’s house for safety and rest, then wakes up with her naked in bed with him. Yes, this is secretly actually the latest entry in the genre of Guy Surrounded By Inexplicably Horny Girls. The camera has already started looking up the skirt of his next best friend, who appears to be about 12.

But if you’re not interested in naked children, there’s still the extreme violence with a side of ethnic stereotyping! Somewhere else in town, a guy with a Chinese name and literal pointed ears is slicing up members of rival gangs with his game-granted superpower.

Throw in the fact that absolutely everyone in the show is a slave to Idiot Plotting and there is absolutely nothing to recommend Darwin’s Game. The only good thing about it is the worst of the season is over with up front.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand; dub TBA); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Scandinavia, Francosphere, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); HIDIVE (delayed one month worldwide); Crunchyroll (delayed one month in Americas, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)

Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story premiere – Iroha and Kuroe are best friends and fighting partners, having both had a wish granted in exchange for a lifetime of fighting evil witches. But Kuroe has regretted her wish, and starts chasing a rumor that magical girls who go to the town of Kamihama can back out of their contracts. As for Iroha, neither she nor the beings that granted her wish can even remember what it was.

As a followup to one of the biggest hits of the past decade, Magia Record has some hurdles to clear before the story even gets started. It has to welcome both old and new viewers, but at the same time it has to avoid spoiling the entire previous show in case new viewers want to go back and watch it. It does this all very well, explaining only the basics of how magical girls are created, and bringing back the fantastical animation style of the witches’ pocket dimensions that helped make the first show so distinctive.

It’s also setting out to be a different kind of show than the first. The focus now is on the mechanics of the magical girl contract. What if someone wanted to take it back? Has someone in Kamihama found a loophole, or is it just a false rumor to lure magical girls there for nefarious purposes? How could a seemingly straightforward wish, like the one Iroha is suggested to have made near the end of the episode, blow a hole in reality like the one she’s living with?

So far, all indications are that this is going to be one of the extremely rare good video game adaptations. Definitely one to keep watching.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand; dub TBA); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Scandinavia, Francosphere, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); bilibili (China); Crunchyroll (delayed one week in Americas, UK, Ireland, Oceania, South Africa); HIDIVE (delayed one week in US, Canada)

Somali and the Forest Spirit premiere – Humans have been hunted nearly to extinction, but one day a golem finds a single human child in chains hiding in its forest. It makes her a disguise, and they set out to travel across the world until they can find a place for her to live among other humans.

Somali and the Forest Spirit is 100% focused on melodrama. Start with the beautiful scenery in the forest. Then add the tragic backstories for both main characters, Somali with her lost family and the golem with less than a year to live. But, while time allows, they will grow to be friends, and Somali will teach her magic robot companion all about emotions. Aww.

It could have stood to be a little more focused on other things, like worldbuilding. The town that Somali and her guardian visit in this episode is Generic Fantasy Town #583623 with prettier colors, a bunch of vaguely medieval rock piles inhabited by a random amalgam of people in random clothing from random times and places anywhere from the Dark Ages to the early 20th century. As is typical in this town, everyone has a surprising amount of material wealth and eats very well, despite no signs of cultivation or trade just outside the town wall.

All this show really has going for it is forced melodrama and Somali’s adorable face. It’s like cotton candy: sweet, but insubstantial. Sure is pretty though.

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

ID: Invaded premiere – In the near future, it is possible to collect “cognition particles” at the site of crimes and shape them into a world formed from the mind of the criminal. While a detective enters the world and tries piecing it together (literally, in this case), others look on and pick up the clues that are revealed. Meawhile, field agents take their conclusions and race to find the criminal— in this case, a serial killer who may already be in the process of killing again.

Okay, this is not one for those of you who insist on scientific plausibility. But it is one for the mystery fans, as the first episode is about setting up a system of rules, then starting to explore what can be done within those rules. The downside is that there is a lot of time spent explaining things. But ID: Invaded does shake things up a bit by not showing a plain old mission that ends predictably to illustrate the rules. Instead, things have gone very badly wrong by the end of this episode.

The whole idea of going into a different mindscape every couple episodes has a lot of potential. If you can get past the science issues, and if the characters get to do less talking and more mystery-solving, this could be a solid show.

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

Pet premiere – Telepaths exist, and they have a rough life, having to cope with the unfiltered thoughts of those around them. They are also very handy for organized crime, whether the task is making a murder look like an accident, or erasing inconvenient knowledge from people’s minds.

Not much can be said about the specifics of the story without serious spoilerage. I can say that if you’ve come to expect a certain kind of show on Amazon, Pet will fail to live down to your expectations. It isn’t interested in wallowing in violence or suffering. It’s dark, but it treats its characters with humanity, and can crack a smile now and then. The worst person in it so far is a very banal sort of evil; he’s a plain old company man whose company happens to be a criminal organization.

Pet also happens to be one of the better-looking shows this season. It’s one to keep watching for now.

International streams: Amazon (probably worldwide)

Sorcerous Stabber Orphen premiere – Once upon a time, the young man now known as Orphen was a student at the best of the magic schools. That ended when his classmate accidentally turned herself into a dragon and he stopped the other students from killing her. Now he works as a mage-for-hire, getting mixed up in the schemes of petty criminals, until the day that the dragon reappears and he has to fight his comrades once again.

The Orphen franchise has just celebrated its 25th anniversary, and in many ways this show harks back to a simpler time: before fantasy anime costumes got over-accessorized, before the faceplanting-into-boobs tic started, back when everyone had the exact same pointy nose. Then again, it’s a reminder that some things in fantasy anime have never changed, like the profusion of ridiculous names and the lack of any sense of place or time in the setting.

Surrounded by a crowd of other vaguely medieval fantasies that it helped to inspire, Orphen hardly stands out. There’s nothing egregiously bad about it, but nothing particular to recommend it either.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand; dub TBA); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Scandinavia, Francosphere, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Ani-One (SE Asia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan)

Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt, So I’ll Max Out My Defense. premiere – Kaede has never played a video game before, but somehow her competitive gamer friend has talked her into trying out the latest multiplayer VR sensation. With only the vaguest notion of what she’s doing, she lucks into a build that has her levelling up quickly, and soon she’s even got unique items to pwn everything in sight.

Yes, it’s yet another transported-to-a-fantasy-world power fantasy, only in this case it’s been crossed with the “cute girls doing cute things” genre which rarely turns up in sf shows. These tend to be low-key slice-of-life stories where the point is to watch an ensemble cast being adorable as they stumble through life.

Given the popularity of fantasy shows, cute-girls-doing-cute-things shows, and Twitch, there is probably a significant market out there somewhere for this show. If it includes you, you’ve probably stopped reading already. For people not into those three things, give it a miss.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand; dub TBA); Wakanim (Scandinavia, Francosphere, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Muse Asia (S/SE Asia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); bilibili (China)

Infinite Dendrogram premiere – Reiji has been waiting a long time, but now he’s finally allowing himself to play the latest multiplayer VR sensation. Without even bothering to glance at the manual, he lucks into a high-level quest, and soon he’s even got a unique item to help him fight.

Yes, this is another transported-to-a-fantasy-world power fantasy, but somewhat closer to the traditional form than Bofuri, in that Reiji has already started a collection of super-strong yet vulnerable young women who need him to rescue them and/or and tell them what to do. Not many adorable little girls here. Though there is a bear with a Gatling cannon, which is definitely a point in its favor.

Other than the bear, there’s nothing to distinguish this from a zillion other fantasies about overpowered teenage males and their harems, so give it a miss. Unless the bear suddenly becomes the main character.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, dub TBA); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Scandinavia, Francosphere, Russia); Anime on Demand (Germany); Ani-One (SE Asia); bilibili (China)

Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun premiere – Like just about every other middle school in Japan, Nene’s has a rumor that if you go to a certain toilet stall, you can summon up the ghost of a girl named Hanako who will grant you a wish for a price. This rumor turns out to be a bit untrue, starting with the fact than Hanako is male. And he’s a fairly low-powered spirit, being only a few decades old. But the abilities available to him are more than enough to get Nene into more trouble than she could have imagined.

This is an odd one, mostly treating the situation as an opportunity for comedy, but then swerving into serious horror toward the end of the episode. The otherworldly art is quirky at first, but really comes into its own as Nene comes to a full realization of what she’s gotten herself entangled in.

Hanako himself mostly seems like a good kid, but with some unfortunate signs of leaning toward the comedy harasser trope so common in anime. It’s very hard to say which way this one is going to fall, so let’s give it another episode to see.

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

In/Spectre premiere – Iwanaga Kotoko has it all figured out: she’s going to announce her feelings to her crush of the last two years, she’ll add that she knows all about how he can see spirits and they are afraid of him, and then she’ll gain not only a romantic partner but an assistant with her job of mediating supernatural disputes.

This does not go quite as planned. Kurō, the object of Kotoko’s affections, points out that he’s in college and she’s in high school, so her announcement is adorable but the answer is no. As for his peculiar effect on spirits, well, it turns out there’s a very good reason for why Kotoko’s supernatural friends have been telling her for weeks that Kurō is an abomination.

What sets this apart from a bunch of other modern day supernatural problem-solving shows is its characters. Kotoko is every bit the arrogant, eccentric genius, an archetype we rarely get to see in female form. Kurō is a more decent guy than 90% of the male main characters in anime combined, but he did do a horrifying thing back when he was 11. What’s the whole story around that, and how is Kotoko going to accomodate this complication? It feels worth sticking around to find out.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Oceania, Middle East, Africa); bilibili (China)

This season may be light on sf, but we’ve sure traded quantity for quality. Magia Record, ID: Invaded, Pet, Hanako-kun, and In/Spectre are all worth a second look. So next week, we’ll do that, catch up with Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun, and figure out what to keep watching for the rest of the season.

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