Sakura Wars the Animation premiere – In an alternate 1940, there is no World War II yet (at least in Asia), but the world lives under constant threat of attacks from demons, who are only held at bay by special young women piloting mecha. In their spare time between demon attacks, the young women put on musical shows. Japan’s squad of mecha-piloting singers, though, finds their routine interrupted when asked to shelter the only survivor of an attack on the Russian squad.
This is certainly the prettiest of this season’s video game adaptations, with special care taken for the stage costumes and (outside of the main characters) period details. Beyond that, though, it’s just another story about a bunch of people with one character quirk each hacking and slashing their way through faceless hordes of enemies that materialize from nowhere. Sakura Wars is a long-running game franchise, so this presumably has a lot of fans who will be happy to see it animated. If you’re not one of them, don’t bother.
Shadowverse premiere – Hīro wants to play Shadowverse, the hottest game in his anonymous future town, but his stick-in-the-mud granddad won’t let him have a smartphone. But then he finds a mysterious one in the shed and all his problems are solved! Soon he’s going toe to virtual toe with the school bully and loving every minute of it.
Visually, Shadowverse is a mixture of Yu-Gi-Oh and Hearthstone. Narratively, it is only reminiscent of a half-hour toy commercial. When he isn’t going on in general terms about how much fun the game is, Hīro is excitedly shouting out game mechanics, matching the pedanticism of a rules-lawyer with the enthusiasm of a brand new puppy.
This being the era of Twitch, there is presumably an audience for a totally fictional show about one-dimensional characters playing a real card game. But most of you can skip this one.
Appare-Ranman! premiere – Sorano Appare is lucky to be living in the Meiji era (1868-1912) for a couple of reasons. First, as Japan opens up, it is flooded with foreign literature and technology, giving him tons of ideas for his inventions. Second, modernized laws mean that a local lord can’t have a commoner summarily executed for minor offenses such as destroying the lord’s favorite garden with an invention that gets out of control. Instead, the lord drafts the swordmaster Kosame to be Appare’s minder, setting in motion a chain of events that leaves Appare and Kosame drifting across the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles. A year later, they will be trying to win a cross-country race against a slew of larger-than-life contestants.
Don’t come looking for a highly plausible approach to technology here; by the end of the episode, historical accuracy has been flung so far out the window that it may as well be in another country. Which is to say, it’s pretty average for steampunk. Come instead for the comedy and the characters. For an arrogant genius, Appare is a pretty likeable guy, and though Kosame is doomed to be the straight man who is forever in over his head, time is taken to establish him as a decent human being who is capable in his own way.
The Los Angeles of this show is one full of robust diversity, which has been known to backfire in anime. If Appare-Ranman! is as good with the additional characters as it has been so far, there should be nothing to worry about. Next episode appears to include Appare and Kosame adding a Native American sidekick, so we should get a good idea of how the rest of this is going to go from that.
International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, Russia, German-speaking Europe); Selecta Visión (Portugal, Spain); Yamato Animation (Italy)
And that concludes the spring premieres. Nothing else seems to have been licensed for simulcasting. Appare-Ranman! will be back for a second look next week, and in the meantime, here are some second looks from last week…
Listeners #2 – Echo and Mu’s impromptu road trip is rudely interrupted by an attack by the Earless and three death-metal Dadaist players. Then Echo finds his way into the world’s creepiest restroom, and things somehow get even weirder after all that.
Last week, Listeners looked like it just wanted to have a rockin’ good time with mecha battles. This week, it’s giving off signs that it has something to say about art, or maybe even Art. The explanation of what the Earless are (or are believed to be) makes them a physical manifestation of the fear of failure that haunts every artist. And the three heavy-metal sisters don’t seem to really care whether Mu considers them friends or foes, as long as it advances the goals of their art movement.
Wherever it’s going, Listeners has already established a style all its own. This one’s worth following to the end.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! #2 – Catarina sets out to make more friends, and finds the perfect companion in the lonely Mary Hunt. So perfect, in fact, that she finds herself in a duel of honor over Mary’s affections with Mary’s destined husband, who is one of the people she absolutely can’t afford to antagonize.
In many of these reincarnated-in-another-world stories, the modern Japanese person they used to be overwrites the personality of their new incarnation entirely. Not so with Catarina, whose solution to making friends with Alan reveals that she still has a mean and devious streak. She may be the hero of the story, but she’s still the villain as well. Definitely one to keep watching.
Tower of God #2 – After sitting out the horrific slaughter of the second test, Bam lucks his way into a team for the next one, and then somehow is completely missed by the one after that, giving him a chance to sit down with an expert and find out what the heck is going on.
Not that Bam, or the viewers, really find out much. He and Rachel are outsiders to the Tower’s society, and his conversation reveals nothing useful about the world he came from. Instead, Tower of God is still playing to the shōnen fighting genre fans by setting up the rules of this particular fight. In fact, it’s borrowing wholesale from one particular well-known shōnen work.
Hunter x Hunter (whose second adaptation is still available on Crunchyroll if you’re curious) also features a young hero who has never realized he has a freakishly strong spiritual power, a new best friend with pale hair and a detached demeanor, a rival who wants to nuture the hero’s power until he’s strong enough to be worth fighting, and, in its first arc, a series of challenges designed to winnow a field of wannabes down to the chosen few who can take on anything the world throws at them. Hunter x Hunter is also much better at establishing what that world is, and is about ten times as much fun as Tower of God early on.
The one big departure so far is that Hunter x Hunter was all about following the rules. Subverting them or finding loopholes, sure, but playing fair. And here Tower of God has declared that Bam will need to find ways to break the rules if he really wants to survive.
With its visuals still well outside the typical anime look, this is a very mixed bag here. I’m putting this on the bubble until we see which way Appare-Ranman! falls.