Anime roundup 1/13/2022: The Starting Gate

Tokyo 24th Ward premiere – Suidō Kōki is a corporate scion a year out of high school, interning with a project to upgrade the Hazard Cast, a predictive policing system. His old friend Akagi Ran is a guerilla artist. Another friend is Aoi Shūta, one-time wannabe hero, now drifting through life. All three are haunted by the death of a mutual acquaintance a year ago. Now they all receive simultaneous phone calls from that friend, warning them of a trolley problem happening right now, and they discover they have developed miraculous abilities that allow them to choose a better solution than the ones presented.

The crisis feels very contrived, but the characters are smart enough to be suspicious of what’s going on. They do save the day, but they have questions about how these new abilities can even work, and Kōki immediately suspects that this is linked to the next version of Hazard Cast.

Comparisons to Minority Report, as the best-known work about trying to predict crime, are going to abound, but Tokyo 24th Ward is more rooted in real-world predictive policing and its known problems. It also brings in one element that the subgenre has been lacking up until now, namely unabashed foodieism. Kōki’s parents run a bakery, and the philosophical discussion between the three friends just before all heck breaks loose takes place around a table for grilling okonomiyaki.

This is a solid start to the story, and my main concern is the ambitiousness of the production. Not only does it look very good, it’s a double-length episode, lending credence to the animation director’s tweets about things falling apart under the strain behind the scenes. There was already a lot of concern that the studio behind this had taken on too many shows for this season, and trying to go the extra mile on this one can’t be helping.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia, except India); Funimation (North America, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Columbia, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking Europe, Russia); AIS Play (Thailand); Aniplus Asia (SE Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); Laftel (South Korea)

Orient premiere – The land of Hinomoto has enjoyed 150 years of peace and prosperity since the oni arrived and freed the peasantry from the yoke of the hated Bushi (warriors). Or so the official histories say, but Musashi, an apprentice miner, and Kojirō, a descendant of Bushi, know that the Bushi are the true heroes, still fighting to drive the oni away. Musashi desperately wants to join their number, but never has the courage to stand up for his convictions until the moment that he discovers the horrible truth of the mining life.

Orient is based on a manga written for younger teens and pre-teens, and its worldbuilding may be too simplistic even for an audience of that age. Humanity is divided into heroes and sheeple. A lot of time is spent building up the descendants of samurai to be the most horribly oppressed people ever, even at one point attempting a clumsy analogy with a group of people who are the targets of prejudice in actual Japan. The oni are horrible alien monsters whose only apparent occupation is to stand around looking horrible and occasionally eat people.

Even the fighting scenes, which are supposed to be the whole reason for watching something like this, are very basic and uninspired. The hero has an unconventional weapon, but all he does is just slice all his opponents in half with no trouble. Skip this.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); bilibili (China, SE Asia); Sushiroll (Indonesia) Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); Laftel (South Korea); meWATCH (Singapore)

In the Land of Leadale premiere – Cayna, as she is known in the fantasy realm of Leadale, was the avatar of a woman living on life support. After a power outage, she finds that she now exists only as Cayna, and that two hundred years have passed, bringing changes to Leadale that she never anticipated.

None of those changes involve a Dark Lord or anything as serious as that. There’s been a political realignment, but Cayna’s old stronghold still stands, and as an elf she has nothing to worry about from the passage of time. Plus she was an extremely high-level player, so her lack of knowledge is really her only impediment.

In the Land of Leadale promises to be a very laid-back story about Cayna rediscovering her new home. It’s the same old generic fantasy world, and it looks like it’s “trapped in a video game” rather than “transported to world that resembles it”, but if those aspects don’t trouble you than there’s nothing especially wrong with it.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); bilibili (China, SE Asia)

The Strongest Sage With the Weakest Crest premiere – In yet another generic fantasy world, everyone’s abilities are influenced by an emblem appearing on their bodies from birth. After exploring the possibilities of the others, a mighty wizard wills himself to be reborn with the one version he hasn’t tried yet. Reborn as Matthias Hildesheimer, he heads off to magic school only to learn that in this later age, magical knowledge is being lost and everyone thinks the new emblem he was born with is just the worst.

This is an old-school light novel where the protagonist is thought to be the absolute worst at something, but he’s actually the absolute best, and the story is constructed so as to let him just sail through life smugly dispensing advice to lesser mortals. By the end of this episode, Matthias. age 12, has already demonstrated that he’s better than a career magical blacksmith at enchanting weapons, aced his way through the school entrance exam, started teaching classes himself, and revealed the existence of demons who have been secretly controlling humanity. Everyone defers to him; one of only two female characters introduced so far swoons.

There is absolutely nothing original about this show, and nothing exceptional about the production.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Shahiid Anime (Middle East, North Africa); bilibili (China, SE Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); Laftel (South Korea); meWATCH (Singapore)

Miss Kuroitsu From the Monster Development Department premiere – Kuroitsu Tōka works as an assistant in the R&D division of a large organization. On this day her job is stressing her out, because the scientist she assists has half-assed his latest design concept and she’s going to be stuck doing the presentation about it to the C-suite. She does her best to flail though it and convince the executives that it’s their best shot at furthering the company mission, which is: to conquer the world!

So far, Miss Kuroitsu does an excellent job of blending the office setting with a clear love of tokusatsu (live-action superhero shows). From the opening presentation about how all the competition has its own hero problems to the fearsome-looking department boss lecturing Tōka about remembering to use her vacation days, it is equally adept poking fun at both. The one worrying part involves a new monster whose brain and body are out of sync due to last-minute changes demanded by the CEO. While the joke hasn’t gone anywhere terrible yet, it has a whole lot of potential for turning bad.

If there are no missteps there, Miss Kuroitsu shows a lot of promise. The question is how long it can keep the joke going.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Shahiid Anime (Middle East, North Africa); Sushiroll (Indonesia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); Laftel (South Korea); meWATCH (Singapore)

Girls’ Frontline premiere – Girls’ Frontline is based on a mobile game where you collect cute girls who are representations of famous military guns and send them on tactical missions.

Oh, all right, there is an attempt to provide a plot. The setting is a future world where World War III broke out and everyone started fighting via military androids, though the exposition at the beginning dodges awkward questions like “why did they make them look like that” and “so what was World War III about, anyway”. Our heroines are a squad of androids who look like semi-normal adorable girls carrying enormous guns, trying to snatch a cache of data away before evil androids who look like maids can kill them and take the data for themselves.

There’s also a bunch of running around and shooting, so I guess this has the basics covered for people who are desperate to see a military show. But if you’re not desperate, don’t bother.

International streams: Funimation (unspecified territories); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Shahiid Anime (Middle East, North Africa); bilibili (China, SE Asia); Sushiroll (Indonesia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); Laftel (South Korea); meWATCH (Singapore)

Tribe Nine premiere – Taiga is a tuna fisherman and Extreme Baseball champion, who has come to Tokyo to try his skills against the finest— the gangs of Tokyo who use XB to solve their disputes in order to keep the body count down. Haru is a shy kid who gets targeted for mugging. But they both happen to wind up in the right place at the right time to catch the eye of Kamiya Shun, leader, coach, and champion slugger for the Minato Tribe, who arranges for them both to join his team when Minato is challenged to a game by a new rival.

XB is every bit as nuts as advertised. The field is the city, the bat can be a lightsaber, the pitcher can wear a suit that spits out the ball with little if any relation to muscle power, and so forth. There are a few rules, like not attempting to murder one of your opponents unless either you or they are holding the ball, so that it still kind of resembles actual baseball. Genuine baseball fans will be either thrilled or horrified.

On the character side, we have a suitably wacky bunch of misfits with underlying competence. Shun has a real eye for talent, and the coaching skill to prod Haru out of his impostor syndrome and into a small confidence-building success. Taiga has the chops to match his bragging, and the secondary gang members feel like one big squabbling but loving family.

Tribe Nine is pretty fun, but not one of the standouts of the season yet. Maybe one to keep in reserve if some things fall apart on a second viewing.

International streams: Funimation (North America, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Columbia, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Sushiroll (Indonesia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); meWATCH (Singapore)

Sabikui Bisco premiere – Nekoyanagi Milo is just eking out a living as a small-time doctor, treating minor injuries and searching for a cure to the Rusting, a progressive disease that afflicts more and more people in future Japan. His life is about to be upended by the notorious terrorist Akaboshi Bisco, who brings the mushrooms that cause the Rusting into the very heart of the city.

Now here is a show that could have done with a double-length premiere, because it feels by the end of this episode that it has barely started to explain what’s going on. Partly this is from a lot of time spent establishing that it is a very specific type of urban dystopia, which requires standard trappings: prostitutes, adorable street urchins stealing to survive, corrupt government, black helicopters, an endless army of enforcers in suits. (Okay, the rabbit heads which are part of the enforcer uniform are maybe a little less standard.) In the wild lands outside, a further amount of time is wasted cutting back and forth to a man who is clearly the wanted terrorist bluffing his way through a border crossing while an official brags at length about how no criminal could possibly get through.

This is all frustrating because there are some truly unique elements to this world that are only acknowledged at the margins until the very end. The ecology of Japan has been radically altered, there’s a big crater where some or all of Tokyo used to be, the mushrooms are clearly Not What Everyone Thinks, and then there’s the matter of why a guy is risking his life to conjure up giant mushrooms with his bow right in the city center. I think it’s worth sticking around for another episode to see if at least a little more explanation is coming.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); Funimation (North America, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Columbia, UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, German-speaking Europe, Russia); Shahiid Anime (Middle East, North Africa); Sushiroll (Indonesia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); Laftel (South Korea); meWATCH (Singapore)

So that’s Sabikui Bisco, Tokyo 24th Ward, Miss Kuroitsu, and maybe Tribe Nine to cue up for a second viewing next week, not a bad start to the year at all. Next week we’ll also have three more premieres to look at, a chance to catch up on Ranking of Kings, and the long-awaited return of Attack on Titan.

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