Anime roundup 10/8/2020: On the Road Again

Hello! If you’re looking for commentary on the last episode of Re:ZERO of last season, it’s down at the bottom of this post to protect against spoilers. But now, the early fall premieres.

Higurashi: When They Cry – New premiere – It’s June 1983, and Maebara Keiichi is settling into his new life in the rural town of Hinamizawa. He already has a group of friends from school, and spends many a pleasant hour hanging out with them. But then darker hints about Hinamizawa’s recent history start appearing, which his new friends claim to know nothing about. And then there’s that dream he had the other night about bludgeoning them all to death…

Although it’s a flashback to bubble-era Japan, Higurashi has ingredients that are recognizable from horror around the world: the bucolic village, the peculiar local festival, and the sense that something evil is lurking just below the surface of it all. By the end of this episode, it’s starting to break the surface, and Keiichi is in immediate danger.

So far this is some very effective atmospheric horror, and worth taking a second look at.

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

Jujutsu Kaisen premiere – Itadori Yūji has incredible athletic gifts, but instead of joining a school sports team, he prefers to hang out with the weirdos in the occultism club and then go visit his grandfather in the evenings. Then one night, on the heels of a personal tragedy, several bad decisions collide: the occultists have gotten hold of a seriously evil artifact, the person coming to retrieve it arrives too late to stop them unpacking it, and then that same person inadvertently suggests a way to Yūji that he could save everyone— but not the personal price that it might extract.

The artifact in question is the severed finger of a demon. Apart from that and what ultimately happens to it, Jujutsu Kaisen is not very into gore or gross-out horror, instead sticking to a simple rule: if it’s not creepy enough yet, add more eyeballs.

In the time that we are living in, this may need a content warning that the hero has to deal with the death of a family member, and that the story looks like it may include reflecting on that and death in general. On the other hand, it also depicts being able to punch misfortune away, which may be therapeutic for some viewers.

This show has a solid start to its story, some terrific action, and a top-quality production. If it keeps it all up, this could be one of the standout shows of the season.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Middle East, Central Asia)

Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina premiere – Elaina wants to be like her hero Nike and travel all over the world as a witch, so she studies hard and becomes the youngest ever provisionally qualified witch in her kingdom. Then she discovers that no other witch is willing to take her on to complete her apprenticeship, except for one oddball out in the forest, who has secret agendas of her own.

This is a bit hard to judge yet, since it’s all a prequel to the actual wandering part. But some idea of its general attitude shows through: everyone’s basically good underneath, and its not afraid of having the heroine confront her flaws and learn some life lessons in a non-scarring way. The only downside so far is that this is yet another show taking place in Generic Vaguely Medieval Fantasyland, defined by a mélange of random artifacts from the 12th through 19th centuries mashed together by someone with no concept of how much labor it would take to make things in a pre-industrial society, leaving it with no sense of place or time.

I really can’t give a verdict on this until we actually see some of Elaina’s travels, so one more episode for this one.

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

I’m Standing on a Million Lives premiere – In another corner of Generic Vaguely Medieval Fantasyland, Yotsuya Yūsuke is trying to understand what just happened to him. One minute he was on cleanup duty after class, the next he was in a fantasy world with a couple of classmates who are now a witch and a fighter, and now he’s been assigned a class with crappy stats and is on an impossible quest to fight an overpowered monster.

This being an overtly gamelike world, with a GM assigning quests, the mishmash of sources is more forgiveable. However, it’s just not a very good story. The GM is the stand-in for the writer, forcing the characters to take up the plot because they would never have gotten together otherwise. The characters have no chemistry, and everyone acts like Yūsuke is now in charge and the girls are helpless, even though they suppposedly completed a couple of quests without him already.

As for action, a flashforward at the beginning of the episode plus developments late in it suggest we can mostly look forward to Yūsuke beating opponents to death very gradually with broken farming implements. This is not a show that has anything to recommend it.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Africa, Middle East, Central Asia); Ani-One (SE Asia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); bilibili (China)

King’s Raid: Successors of the Will premiere – And in another part of Generic Vaguely Medieval Fantasyland, the squire Kasel has a nice lunch with his cleric friend and then a festive dinner with his comrades. Also there’s a demon attack which kills another childhood friend, but this episode is more concerned with Kasel’s eating habits.

Well, there is one other plotline introduced, involving a band of dark elf mercenaries being offered as defense for the kingdom. All the prejudiced nobles of the court refuse to consider such a thing, because dark elves are just all bad, but in a twist it turns out that the filthy foreigners actually are planning to destroy the kingdom from the inside. Though a couple of them are featured in the promo art and the closing credit sequence, so presumably at some point they are won over by Kasel and become Not Like Those Other Dark Elves.

King’s Raid at least manages not to trip over the very low bar set by most video game adaptations— no time bogged down explaining game mechanics, for instance— but it doesn’t exactly distinguish itself, either.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); iQIYI (China?)

By the Grace of the Gods premiere – And somewhere out in the forests of Generic Fantasyland, a young boy is wrangling slimes. Not your nasty, armor-eating D&D slimes, but the largely harmless slimes that often serve as the first monster in the training dungeon in Japanese computer RPGs.

Ryōma used to be an overworked Japanese businessman, but he died an ignominious death in our world and, as so often happens in anime these days, he was reborn with awesome magical potential in a fantasy world. But instead of going adventuring, he decided he just wanted to relax and cultivate his slimes. After a lot of experimentation, he’s figured out how to breed different varieties and use them to create lots of useful potions.

Yes, if you’re tired of all those shows about adventuring in a fantasy world, welcome to the story about the person who wants to focus on the crafting aspects of the game. And it is, unfortunately, yet another gamelike world. It lets you think it isn’t for a bit, but about halfway through, someone hauls out the magic orb that lets him look at people’s character sheets, and then Ryōma gets an actual game manual at the end of his flashback to how he got here.

By the Grace of the Gods isn’t outright terrible in any way, but it’s built on top of some very worn-out tropes. Whether you can enjoy it will depend mostly on how well you can stand seeing them yet again.

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

Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle premiere – Finally, in yet another corner of Generic Fantasyland, Princess Syalis has been kidnapped by the Demon King to be held as a hostage. She’s treated fairly well, but with crummy bedding and noisy demons down the hall, she’s desperate for a good night’s sleep. Fortunately, Syalis is a clever and resourceful girl, and she soon realizes that everything she needs can be made available to her, if she puts her mind to it.

Forget the slime show, this is the anime about crafting you’ve been waiting to watch. Once Syalis has a goal in mind, she pursues it eith singleminded creativity, making use of everything her jailers let her get hold of (including the jailers themselves, in a couple cases).

Sleepy Princess gets a pass on the lax worldbuilding for two reasons. First, it’s a comedy, which means much can be forgiven as long as it stays funny. But, second, it’s no random mishmash of stuff the designers thought looked cool. Every object in sight is put there for a specific purpose as Syalis MacGuyvers her way to better sleep.

No pun intended, but this is the sleeper series of the season so far. It’s a delight to watch.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); iQIYI (China?); bilibili (China)

Yashahime: Half-Demon Princess premiere – Sometime in the early 1500s, a local lord has captured an oddly dressed stranger from the land of “Reiwa” (the name of the current imperial era in Japan). His adviser, after inspecting the book of future history she carries, surmises that she has some connection to another person who appeared mysteriously in the area some years ago: Higurashi Kagome, priestess and lover of the half-demon, Inuyasha.

Are you at all familiar with the hit manga and anime InuYasha? No? That’s fine, this episode is here to help you out. While it can’t give you all the ins and outs of a series that ran to almost 200 episodes, it does give you a quick introduction to the major characters and what they were up to shortly after the story ended. For returning fans, it’s a chance to see some of your old friends back in action again.

With most of this episode devoted to catching new viewers up, we don’t learn a whole lot about the present situation in the framing story. But if you’re looking for some sword-and-sorcery action in a coherent world which does have a sense of place, this looks like just the thing. It’s head and shoulders above all the generic medieval fantasies this season.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, Europe, Africa, Middle East); Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Hulu (US); Ani-One (SE Asia); Animate Gamer (Taiwan); iQIYI (China?); bilibili (China)

Assault Lily Bouquet premiere – Hitotsuyanagi Riri is off to a special high school where she and lots of other girls will learn to fight monsters. On her very first day, she makes some important friends and, surprise, gets to fight a monster.

Assault Lily Bouquet is one of those shows with an enormous ensemble cast who are all differentiated by assigning them one character quirk each. So Riri is the flighty one, and we also meet the stuck-up one, the shy one, the moody one, and so forth. It is also very, very clear on who its audience is: the camera spends a lot of time staring at body parts other than faces, and there’s a bunch of suggestive body contact and talk of pairing off, but without any real sense of romance.

So if you are a straight male who is looking for an excuse to ogle a bunch of teenage girls, congratulations, here is your show. Everyone else, there are better things available this season.

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

Talentless Nana premiere – On an isolated island, there is a school for youngsters with superpowers to learn to fight the enemies of humanity. Nakajima Nanao is relentlessly bullied because he has no power to display, but one day he meets a new girl, Hīragi Nana, whose mind-reading powers make her just as much a misfit, and the two of them begin to bond.

If this seems at odds with the preview description, don’t worry, many things in this show are not what they seem. Nakajima has been holding out on his classmates, and Nana’s abilities are not what they first appear to be. But the premise did omit one crucial detail. When that is revealed at the end of the episode, the entire narrative changes from an extended meet-cute to a brick hurled through the front window of the superhero genre.

The idea that Talentless Nana is built around is not one that will sit well with everyone, especially in this day and age of superhero franchise dominance. But if you’re looking for something new, the kind of story to challenge your assumptions, this is the show to check out.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (unspecified parts of Europe); Aniverse (Germany); Muse Asia (SE Asia); bilibili (China)

Warlords of Sigrdrifa premiere – When mysterious objects called Pillars started manifesting on Earth and shrugging off everything humans could send at them, the god Odin took pity and granted girls around the world the powers of Valkyries, allowing them to destroy the Pillars. Claudia Bruford is one of the best such, but also known as the Grim Reaper for her tendency to be the only one to survive her battles. Transferred to Japan after their local ace was killed, she finds herself with new comrades who manage to not become casualties while fighting alongside her.

All the Valkyries fly what appear to be World War II-era aircraft, though with the ability to do maneuvers that are well beyond the capabilities of modern fighter jets, according to my in-house military expert. This may be a baffling choice at first blush, but there is a small but real subgenre of anime dedicated to allowing the appreciation of WWII airplanes without all the awkward context of WWII itself. This subgenre also usually overlaps with the all-teenage-girl fighting genre. Here it shows some restraint in comparison with Assault Lily Bouquet, in that it doesn’t start aiming the camera up anyone’s skirt until the last ten minutes or so.

The Pillars play the usual role of alien invaders in this kind of show, in that they have no motivation beyond looking cool (which, okay, they do) and doing whatever they need to do to produce a narratively interesting battle. The point of the show is: girls and WWII airplanes. All other things are superfluous.

The best I can say about this show is that watching it will earn you less side-eye than Assault Lily Bouquet.

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

Talentless Nana, Higurashi, Wandering Witch, Sleepy Princess, Jujutsu Kaisen, and Yashahime all deserve a second look. With a maximum of five slots in the lineup, this may mean painful decisions. But first, next week, there are six more premieres to go. Then we’ll circle back and see what makes the cut.

Now, below, spoilers for the end of last season.

Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- #38 – At long last, Subaru has a chance to confront the evil creature who stole him from his home and warped his life, and it turns out all she really wants is for him to practice some self-care. Well, that and to kill her someday.

Everyone wants to improve Subaru, and just about everyone needs to work on their technique. Two different people decide that the best way to tell him to be easier on himself is to punch him. Roswaal wants to get Subaru more focused on aiding Emilia, but to do that he has set up his own personal trolley problem which keeps distracting Subaru. Satella wants him to be her hero, but to that end she has given him a power which puts him through hell and doesn’t even allow him to talk about it.

Subaru used to be his own worst enemy, but he has some real competition at this point. How he is going to absorb his latest lesson and find a way to save everyone, we’ll have to wait and see. Re:ZERO is now going on hiatus, with the second half of this season debuting in January. As good as it’s been so far, I have no doubts that it’ll be right back in our regular lineup then.

(CrunchyrollAnimate Gamerbilibili)

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