Anime roundup 4/15/2021: Buffer Overflow

Joran: The Princess of Snow and Blood and Mars Red premieres – In the fantastical and stylish 1920s and 1930s, a rapidly modernizing Japan is stalked by monsters. In Joran they are “changelings”, people taking on animal attributes, and in Mars Red they are vampires. In both cases, there are organizations trying to co-opt the monsters to their own side.

Both these shows are trying very hard to be Art. Joran wants to be edgy and adult, so it sticks the secret entrance to its underground base in a brothel and plays up the violence. Mars Red wants to be sophisticated and grown-up, so it dials down the action and finds an excuse to spend a lot of time quoting an Oscar Wilde play. Both have a similar twist at the end of the episode, but in Joran it seems like a needless extra spasm of random tragedy, while in Mars Red it suggests a calculated move by an enemy which knows more than they should about the efforts to defeat them.

Both are excellent to look at and listen to, both setting up an exquisitely detailed world where the modern and the ancient exist side by side. When it comes down to the writing, Mars Red has the edge, but both are worth a second look.

International streams for Joran: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); ADN (Francosphere); Ani-One (SE Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan)

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

Zombie Land Saga Revenge premiere – After the idol group Franchouchou burst on the scene, it tried to advance too far too fast. Now the girls are trying to work off the debt, drag their manager out of his funk, and stage a comeback, all while not letting on to anyone else that they are all actually zombies.

The first season of Zombie Land Saga kicked off with two brilliantly comedic episodes before settling down to become a more typical idol show. It was a good idol show, and a funny one, but still a standard idol show. And that is where it wants to stay now.

There is no scene more painful to watch in this premiere than the band’s return to the site of its first concert. One of the highlights of the first season’s opener was the group of still barely-active zombies flailing their way through and inadvertently impressing a bunch of death-metal fans. This time, they just go through their idol paces, and the performance lands with a dull thud, both onscreen and off. This show doesn’t remember how to do anything else anymore.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Anime on Demand (Germany);  Muse Asia (south and SE Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); bilibili (China)

The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent premiere – When the powers of darkness encroach too far, the people of a generically medieval fantasy world summon a hero to lead the battle. This time, they accidentally bring in two. While the prince takes an immediate shine to one of them, the other is left to her own devices, which is fine by her when she discovers a talent for potion-making and an alchemical research institute that would be happy to bring her on board.

The typical summoned-or-reincarnated-to-another-world power fantasy in anime involves a young man who gets awesome monster-killing abilities and a whole lot of hot female sidekicks. This is a quieter story centered on a young woman, but it is still very much a power fantasy. Sei, our heroine, quickly finds a way to be surrounded by cute guys. And while there is some arm-waving about the special powers of various plants, it turns out potion-making requires little actual skill, just the ability to pump magic into the brew, and Sei conveniently can do this better than anyone.

This is at least a relatively harmless example of a genre whose worst excesses have involved slavery apologia and gratuitous sexual violence. It’s an awfully low bar to set, but if you’re looking to turn your brain off and watch some escapism, this might do.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Scandinavia, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan)

Full Dive: This Ultimate Next-Gen Full Dive RPG Is Even Shittier Than Real Life! premiere – High schooler Yūki Hiro hates his life and lives for the chance to escape into VR games. Fate sends him to a sketchy store where he gets talked into trying out an obscure game he’s never heard of, where he promptly screws up the introductory quest while discovering that this game is so realistic, wounds actually hurt.

On paper, this should be a great comedy. The ways in which Hiro is bamboozled into picking up the game and then things go horribly wrong sound funny if just described. But somehow, in the moment, it’s all drawn out and tedious. Part of the problem is that Hiro himself is just not an engaging character. The story seems aware of this (his name is a sarcastic pun on “brave hero”) but it really makes him no fun to watch. Also there are already signs of some of the cliches of trapped-in-a-game stories creeping in, like how Hiro will apparently soon be surrounded by scantily clad babes, one of whom is his sister.

So, nice try, but skip this one.

International streams: AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan)

Blue Reflection Ray premiere – Hanari Ruka has enough to deal with, trying to acclimate to a new boarding school when she has social anxiety. But then her roommate Hiori turns out to be the sort of person who vanishes for days and then returns one night through the window, and Ruka finds a magic ring that matches Hiori’s, and suddenly they’re moving around in a zone of frozen time and Hiori is transforming into a magical girl to fight a monster.

This show ties into the Blue Reflection game franchise, but with an original story, so it’s hard to say how things are going to go. The basic elements all seem to be present: a girls’ school, magical transformations to fight monsters, and something about everything being driven by the power of emotions. The antagonists so far are other girls at the school, and the one big mark against Blue Reflection Ray in this episode is that it has gone with the Evil Predatory Lesbian archetype for the one we really get to know here.

The look of the everyday world in this show is dull, but that turns out to be a deliberate choice to draw a contrast with what happens when magic starts happening. Overall, this could be a decent effort, but it’s up to whether you can stand the overused villain.

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

The World Ends With You The Animation premiere – Neku wakes up in the middle of the Shibuya Scramble, unclear on how he got there, why he seems to be insubstantial, and why he’s getting a mysterious message about a mission. But the countdown timer that appears on his hand indicates that he’d better figure it out fast, before he gets erased from existence. Luckily a girl named Shiki is on his side and ready to help him fight his way through these new challenges.

“Fast” is definitely the word for this show. In just one episode, Neku completes three “missions”, masters multiple combat mechanics, gains a partner and two allies, and learns the rules about who runs the game and the restrictions they have to operate under. Things move so fast that there’s no time for much character development or lasting reaction to events. In particular, Neku at one point almost kills Shiki under the influence of darkness, and then the scene just blips to the next day and Shiki is just trying to not be awkward about it.

The game that this show is based on has enjoyed lasting popularity, so someone out there must be happy to see it in animated form. But there’s not much here for the uninitiated.

International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, UK, Ireland); Hulu (US); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Ani-One (SE Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); bilibili (China)

Shadows House premiere – Somewhere in the hinterlands is a manor house full of people who appear as flat black voids and shed soot which they can make into magical constructs. They are served by “living dolls” (who are pretty obviously humans) who act as their companions and faces as well as doing more traditional work.

Our point of view for this episode is Emilico, the new doll serving a girl named Kate. The story is one of her learning her new duties and how in general to exist in the house. There are a whole lot more characters waiting to appear, based on the opening and closing sequences, but for now it’s just her, Kate, and low-stakes problems.

It is impossible to suss out what kind of story Shadows House will be right now. Maybe there are dark mysteries and big fights waiting up ahead; maybe it’s just going to be a weird gothic slice-of-life story for the whole season. Whatever it is, it’s doing a decent job of drawing the viewer in and making them want to know more. Definitely worth a second look to see if it unfolds a bit more next time.

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

Tokyo Revengers premiere – Hanagaki Takemichi’s life sucks so badly, he looks fondly back on middle school as the time when he peaked. When a fortuitous accident sends him back in time to those halcyon days, his adult brain sees himself as a dork just playing at being a badass. And then he recalls too late that he’s jumped back to the moment when it all started going downhill. If only he could somehow change things!

By the end of this episode, Takemichi is back in the present to see that he has been able to make one small but significant change. So this won’t be a story of a linear reliving of his life, but going back and forth to build those changes up. It’s a neat concept, but brought down by a couple things. One is that, by necessity, as a tale of teenage gangsters, it’s going to be full of jerks and bullies.

The other is that female characters appear in the story only to represent problems that Takemichi needs to solve. There’s an annoying neighbor lady to show that his living situation sucks, an annoying boss lady to show that his work life sucks, a Greek chorus of girls in middle school to warn him about dating the popular girl, and the girl herself, whose death in 2017 is what kicks the whole story off. Although Takemichi opens up to her little brother in 2005, I’m confident in predicting that at no time will he attempt to save his girlfriend by warning her directly of what’s coming.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan)

86 premiere – The Republic of San Magnolia is locked in drone warfare with another polity, but it has little effect on the lives of its citizens. Only the military knows that its fighting vehicles are not drones, and only one Major Vladilena Mirizé cares about the people on the other end of her aural link who may as well be living in a different world.

86 has an excellent premise undone by terrible everything else. The divide between the republic’s citizens and its front-line grunts, who are not considered real people, is sketched with all the delicate, layered subtlety one would expect to find 200-page pulp novel. Everyone in the city besides our heroine and her best friend is either an idiot or an outrageously bigoted caricature. The grunts are a bunch of honest, hard-working souls, who live simple lives eating real food in contrast to the effete city folk and their food substitutes.

86 is also let down by being very, very anime. Our heroine who is going to be confronting deep and serious issues is trapped in a military uniform with a carefully calculated thigh gap to show off her garters. Valuable time that could have been spent explaining why there is a war going on or why everyone’s sure it’s going to end in two years is taken up by squeeing about food.

Props to whoever at least tried tackling something other than being transported to a fantasy world in a light novel, but there is unlikely to be anything worth sticking around for.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Shahiid Anime (Middle East, North Africa); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan)

I’ve Been Killing Slimes For 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level premiere – Aizawa Azusa gave her entire self to her job, only to experience karōshi (death by overwork). Reincarnated as an immortal 17-year-old in an RPG-like world by an apologetic goddess, she keeps to a simple routine of tending her garden, visiting the local village, and killing a few tiny slime-monsters per day for the magic crystals which she can exchange for money for her other needs. But after three centuries, she’s become one of the most powerful beings around, and word eventually leaks out.

This leads to gentle complications that Azusa can easily deal with, like adventurers and dragons showing up to challenge her. After 300 years, the memory of her death is still strong, and she’s determined not to let anything interrupt her quiet existence.

It’s all fairly low-key. The question is, how much time are you really ready to spend in yet another generic medieval fantasy world?

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan)

Battle Athletes Victory ReSTART! premiere – One night, Akehoshi Kanata comes across a crashed spaceship whose only occupant implores her to win the Cosmic Beauty athletic tournament. A few years later, Kanata is Earth’s champion, and ready to compete against girls from across the solar system.

This is a remake of a classic series from the 1990s, and if it is at all faithful to the original, then I’m afraid it hasn’t aged well. For instance: we meet two brown-skinned characters in this episode. One of them is the champion of the Moon, who dresses in a far more exotic outfit than any of the other girls, and is accompanied by a kangaroo. The other is Gamma, a member of a triumvirate that apparently fixes the Cosmic Beauty tournament from behind the scenes. His character quirks for quickly differentiating him from the others are that he flies into a rage easily and then spends the rest of his appearance eating a banana. Yeah.

Then again, coming from a less enlightened time cannot excuse all of ReSTART!‘s flaws. The writing would be lazy in any decade, and the camera spends far too much time staring at parts of the girls other than their faces. Aside from being creepy, it winds up showcasing how far too many of them have permanent wedgies and weirdly shiny thighs.

Blame the Suck Fairy if you want, but this should have been left behind to be softened by the haze of nostalgia.

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

To Your Eternity premiere – A lump of semi-conscious matter is cast onto something like the Earth, to imitate what it sees there. After working its way up to a wolf, it witnesses the end of a tribe and sets forth in human form.

This is one beatifully written and staged episode, but be aware that there is a lot of death. Animal and human, singly at great length and en masse offstage. Only the eternal something-or-other survives, taking the form of a human and setting out on an adventure afterward. Which is, really, part of the premise of the whole story: one immortal character, passing through the ages as mortals die around it.

What To Your Eternity needs to do now is show that not every experience the immortal has is going to be quite as hopeless as this one. Throw in some slightly happier endings, and this will be one seriously powerful tearjerker.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); ADN (Francosphere); Anime on Demand (Germany); Ani-One (SE Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan)

And with that, we have just one more premiere left (the second season of Welcome to Demon School starts next week). It’s time to start taking second looks and figuring out what to watch for the rest of the season. Look for Vivy -Fluorite Eye’s Song-, ODDTAXI, Megalobox 2: Nomad, Joran, Mars Red, Shadows House, and To Your Eternity to slug it out next week!

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