2020 is here, ushering in a new decade of anime! From the comeback of Haikyu! to more of Railgun T, this season is packed with adorable characters, glamor, and science! Here are some of the shows our staff have watched this season so far!
A3!: All the world’s a stage, and the show must go on!
Before watching this, I mostly viewed female protagonists of otome games as damsels-in-distress who could never solve problems on their own. Despite being based on an otome game, A3!‘s protagonist, Izumi Tachibana, is a surprisingly determined and willful woman who shoulders more responsibilities than the usual female protagonist. The show begins with her search for her missing father and stumbling upon the impending fall of the Mankai Company’s theater, which she later takes over, crippling debt and all. It was a pleasant change that I welcomed, considering how I prefer anime with independent females. Of course, with the anime game’s otome roots, you can expect the presence of various potential romance plotlines, starting with Usui Masumi who joins the troupe solely because of Izumi.
While a little rushed, the relatively smooth introduction and transitions have sparked my interest in seeing how Izumi will bring the troupe back to its former glory. (I also love how they used lines from Shakespeare’s As You Like It to attract the last member they needed for the troupe, Tsuzuru Minagi). I look forward to seeing how the show will go on.
A Certain Scientific Railgun T: Toss a coin to your Railgun
Railgun T’s premiere functions primarily as a set-up for the Daihasei Festival arc — an event that was covered in Index‘s second season from a different perspective — as well as a reintroduction to the Academy City setting and the espers that inhabit it. It also hints at a sinister plot that (once again) involves Misaka Mikoto’s clones as well as Misaka’s rival Shokuhou Misaki. However, despite Level 5 esper Gunha Sogiita’s explosive debut, as well as continuing the series’ tradition of having Misaka use her Railgun ability near the end of the first episode, the premiere is overall a rather reserved and relaxed affair. The episode mainly follows Mikoto as she goes about her business, while the Daihasei committee tries to find a Level 5 who’d be willing to show off their abilities for the festival. The latter is a great excuse for the show to feature amusing cameos from “dark side” characters like Mugino and Kakine.
Basically, there’s quite a bit going on, but there aren’t any exceptional moments or strong hooks. Even so, I found this to be a delightful premiere. It may only be 2020, but the art-style and FripSide’s opening song already feel pleasantly nostalgic. Plus, it’s great to see Mikoto (and her friends) in the spotlight again, especially since she didn’t get to do much in Index‘s third season. There’s also a sense of quality that felt lacking from both Index 3 and the Accelerator anime. Railgun T‘s premiere feels like the antithesis to the former — the pacing is well-controlled and unrushed, while the animation is satisfyingly competent at worst. I’m wary of the show repeating the first two seasons’ reliance on fillers later on, but I’m content with this start.
Asteroid in Love: A cup of astronomy with some geology and fluffiness
It’s barely ten minutes in that I found out, “Jupiter has, like, seventy moons,” and the “person” who said that piece of trivia is a girl (not a boy!) named Ao. Ao is not only responsible for sparking our protagonist Mira’s interest in astronomy, but she also made a promise to find an asteroid together with Mira before parting. (Sounds like a “promised” thing from some romance tropes, hmm…) By a stroke of fate, Mira and Ao reunite at their high school’s Earth Sciences club many years later, recognizing each other due to the whale keychain on Ao’s bag.
The anime sets itself up to not only be about finding asteroids, but also about the bonds between the members of the newly-merged Earth Sciences Club, albeit in a very cute, slice-of-life form. With Doga Kobo being Doga Kobo however, I have already sensed a burgeoning friendship (read: some chemistry) between our high schoolers Ao and Mira amongst the lighthearted pastel colors. One thing is for sure— other than geology and astronomy, our high schoolers love food and hamburgers. Ultimately, this is a very soft, fluffy series that you can relax with (while trying not to scream, “Softttttt and cuteeee!”) after a long day. It has gentle tones of friendship beside the perfect amount of cuteness to tide you along the rest of the night while gazing at the stars.
Keep Your Hands of Eizouken!: Three brain cells working together on an anime project
At the hands of Science SARU, we are presented with the technically intricate and exhilarating adventure of three high schoolers creating an anime film. Each character represents the trinity of Japanese animation, namely the director for Asakusa, the producer for Kanamori, and the animator for Mizusaki. Yet, they don’t truly embody their respective titles, as their own set of quirks and upbringings bring flavor to their anime production. Under the guise of a “regular” film club, the three gremlins embark on this thrilling journey of creativity and innovation, all while avoiding Mizusaki’s overprotective bodyguards, overstepping club boundaries with the anime club, and fixing their dilapidated club room.
What I love about Eizouken is the portrayal of the creative process through the classic “show-don’t-tell” trick. It doesn’t begin with characters prattling off ideas or having them go through real-life problems of running through the city. Instead, it’s animated in a storyboard-style and puts the characters in an imaginary world full of possibilities. From mechanized sailboats that cruise around the canals to astronauts fixing a hole in the ship, the audience is instantly pulled into the story and completely entertained, even when Asakusa and her crew are just doing the most mundane thing on Earth. Paired with an electric soundtrack and the sputtering of mechanics for sound effects, Eizouken takes off with a giant leap into the unknown. I look forward to these three gremlins achieving their dreams in their small-scale film club.
Haikyu!! To the Top: HEY HEY HEY, LET’S GO TO THE SPRING TOURNAMENT!
It is time, my fellow AniTrenders. We have waited over four years. No longer will we cry because of no season four and the possible end of a series that has really only just begun. Production I.G. has blessed us with another installment of the Haikyu!! franchise, followed by multiple movies and OVAs that illustrate the beginning of a new chapter. All of this is legal on Crunchyroll, which I am forever thankful for, and I can hardly wait to reunite with my precious crow boys.
But four years is a long time, no matter how much you try to spin it. The new season immediately catapults us into Haikyu!!’s training arc in preparation for the Spring Tournament, which is rather jarring. While I haven’t forgotten the emotional ending to Season 3, TO THE TOP lacked an easy transition that would refresh veteran audiences and reintroduce the setting to newer folks. It took me a bit getting used to that, plus the sudden declaration that Tsukishima and Kageyama were selected to attend top-notch volleyball camps. This leaves the rest of the cast to bite the dust and figure out how to practice/improve themselves for the Spring Tournament. Being the natural airhead he is, Hinata decides to barge into Tsukishima’s camp, which seems like an odd decision and maybe out of character. However, given Haikyu!!’s popularity and the overwhelming amount of character development so far, I can only place my trust in what’s to come.
ID:Invaded: A psychology interpretation of “Minority Report”
Weaving together the overarching plot of Minority Report and Psycho-Pass’s innovations, ID:Invaded introduces a specialized police division that is capable of discerning the killing intent of murderers. Using “cognition particles” picked up at crime scenes, data specialists and analytics gather together to form an “id well,” or a technological realm that’s linked to the subconsciousness of the murderer. With the formation of the well, the brilliant but pathological detective Sakaido dives into the well each time to understand the intricacies of his target and uncover the location of the murderer’s next victim.
The series’ greatest aspect might just be the lack of information it presents. Unlike other anime where the narrative tends to info-dump in the first few episodes, ID:Invaded immediately introduces its audience into a cubism world full of intrigue, and sprinkles in bits of worldbuilding through character interaction and dialogue. With just the barebones, the audience is forced to pick up the world’s lore, piece it together, and come up with their own conclusions, just like Sakaido is when solving homicidal crimes. It might be a bit frustrating how each case is not a self-contained mystery per episode as there are multiple cliffhangers, but in the realm of psychology and detective work, sometimes being left on the edge is just part of that thrill. Make sure you pay attention to all the minute details and facial expressions!
2020: Perfect Blue, Salmon Pink
I half-expected If My Favorite Pop Idol Made It to the Budokan, I Would Die to be some complicated drama, but it’s just a wacky comedy (with slight yuri vibes) about an obsessed idol fan. It’s an entertaining ride that’s amusing and imbued with the right amount of energy. The main draw lies in the show’s use of exaggeration, especially in the behavior of the main character, Eripiyo. Her fanaticism is so great that she spurts blood from her nose during a performance, prompting a dramatic close-up of blood leaking through her hands while a fellow hardcore fan asks if she’s dead. The lines are funny too. There’s a discussion between Eripiyo and a fellow fan about Maina, a member of the Cham Jam idol group and Eripiyo’s favorite member, and the idol’s association with salmon pink. While a new flyer depicts most of the group’s members with flowers or fruit, Maina is shown posing with a salmon. “I’m supposed to wrap a salmon around my King Blade now?!” Eripiyo protests. (The King Blade is an LED glow stick brand. If you’re wondering how a glow stick looks like with salmon meat inside it, the show obliges your imagination.)
I enjoyed this premiere a lot, but here’s the thing: it centers on fan obsession. While Eripiyo’s intense passion towards Maina is pointed out to her by her fellow hardcore fans (which goes to show just how fanatical she is), everything is ultimately played for laughs. Maina’s apparent aversion towards Eripiyo is also revealed to be a result of shyness rather than fear, with Maina even being secretly fond of the latter. If Eripiyo wasn’t a cute girl herself, this would’ve been a disturbing watch. Since that isn’t the case, I find myself overlooking the lack of social commentary and enjoying the show for what it is (for now, at least). However, your mileage may vary.
In/Spectre: Yokai Goddess meets Yokai Slayer
From the writer of Zetsuen no Tempest, In/Spectre is much like its predecessor as the writing and witty dialogue set the tone of the series. Even though the show seems to be slow-paced, interlaced with many layers of banter and discussion, in every scenario, everything is broken down into pieces to be scrutinized and observed. The events in In/Spectre are mysterious and quite eerie as it deals with the spiritual world and surreal phenomena. Many of the events involve yokai, — demons, ghosts, monsters, and such in Japanese folklore — as well as other mysterious life forms. Although the main characters seem to only discuss evil spirits and ghosts together, when any kind of fight begins, it’s action-packed, just like a slap in the face. It’s hard to predict what might happen next and how a case might unfold, thus showing the need for our lead “inspectors.”
What draws me to In/Spectre is not only the yokai and mystery aspects, but the characters themselves. Kotoko’s straightforward, no-filter character never ceases to amuse me — not to mention her boisterous claims about inserting herself into Kuro’s life as his girlfriend, probably even future wife, almost immediately after their second meeting. In contrast to her bubbly, crafty character, the dark, gloomy, and expressionless Kuro also seems to be keeping secrets as his thoughts and actions are difficult to decipher. While their entry into the supernatural world is quite similar, they live on different ends of the spectrum when it comes to their relationship with the yokai. My question is, will Kuro ever accept Kotoko as his girlfriend, or will he continue to tag along with the Yokai Goddess’ requests?
Interspecies Reviewers: Don’t watch this in public
This anime exists. You may have never wanted to know this, and now’s your chance to turn back. When the first key visual for Interspecies Reviewers (above) was revealed, the reactions on social media were certainly stronger than those from most announcement posts. The character designs are to thank for this because… well, it’s a monster girl show. A very shameless and raunchy one. So, if you have any predisposition towards such tastes, then you’ll probably have a good time with this anime. If not, then I suggest you skip to the next entry.
Our setting is a classic anime fantasy world, populated by all manner of magical creatures, in particular, many kinds of humanoid or half-human species. The story revolves around an elf and a human, both adult men, on a quest. The mission? It’s hard for me to put into delicate words, so I’ll just quote Funimation’s official description:
“In a world bursting at the seams with moe monsters and humanoids of the horned sort, which brave heroes will take it upon themselves to review the beastly babes of the red-light district? Can only one be crowned the ultimate title of best girl? Behold the most tantalizing of trials.”
Yep, our two plucky protagonists are going around this world to sleep with females of every species possible and review them with a numerical score. I didn’t go in expecting anything classy, but this is something else. In a roundabout way, I actually respect the gall of the creators to unabashedly go forward and bring this into existence. Why did I deliberately choose to watch this, you ask? Honestly, I just couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing what exactly an anime with character designs like that could possibly have in store. Was I surprised? Not really. Disappointed? Only a little. Now that you know of this anime’s existence and you’ve read the premise, I probably can’t say anything to convince you either way. You’re either onboard for this, or you’ve already grabbed a drink to forget what you just read.
Whichever the case, have fun.
Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story: Decent contract
Given that the notion of a dark magical girl anime is hardly novel anymore, I was afraid that this spin-off of 2011’s Puella Magi Madoka Magica would feel a little cliche. Luckily, the early reuse of Yuki Kajiura’s haunting yet beautiful “Sis Puella Magica!” track assured me of the show’s distinctiveness. Meanwhile, the rest of the premiere confirms that the stylized visual style and surreal elements of the Madoka Magica series, along with its world of bizarre Witches and Kyubey, remain compelling despite their familiarity… at least for now.
While it’s comforting to see those familiar elements again, Magia Record is also reassuringly different in various ways. For starters, the faces are slightly less stylized this time. In addition, the soundtrack — which is excellent during downtimes, but less impressive during fight scenes — no longer features Kajiura at the reins. More notable are the new cast and story. Protagonist Iroha Tamaki may be pink-haired like Madoka, but she’s already a Magical Girl at the start of the series and a more active character. Her ally Kuroe is disillusioned with the Magical Girl life, which allows the show to be more upfront about its dark side without regurgitating the sinister revelations of the original. The plot centers on a rumor that Magical Girls can be “saved” if they go to Kamihama City. However, Iroha and Kuroe discover that the Witches there are stronger than any they’ve faced before. It’s an intriguing mystery, and I’m eager to discover the answers.
Pet: “Inception” but with goldfish and thirsty water
Do you understand what’s going on here? Neither do I, but it’s an absolute acid trip that’s both exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time. Pet begins with a mysterious organization that handles shady and vague jobs at the behest of Mr. Katsuragi, one of the recruitment managers. Because the nature of these jobs entail high risks and members are liable of betraying the organization, a team of “crushers” are required to dive into their sub-consciousness and adjust their target’s memories, will, and motivations to suit Mr. Katsuragi’s demands. In an extreme case, they may even destroy the target, hence their moniker. It’s an extremely taxing job that involves an inexplicable amount of trust and effort from our crushers Tsukasa and Hiroki. There are heavy hints of shounen-ai and vulgarity thrown around, but it’s nonetheless an interesting premise.
I’ve always been enamored by plots of “mind-diving” and the ability to alter memories. Unlike Inception that focuses on the mind-diving and action theatrics, Pet takes this a step further by establishing boundaries of mind-diving, notably the concept of “peaks” and “valleys” of particular people. Understanding the nuances between the two boundaries and manipulating them to their advantage is part of a crusher’s skillset, and I wonder if we’ll ever see Tsukasa and Hiroki slip up, whether they fail to rewrite their client’s memories or they lose themselves in their subconscious. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Geno Studio is strong-arming this production; the quality so far is amazing and out of this world in comparison to their previous one-dimensional work on other series. I’m praying desperately that the quality won’t diminish for this series and that we get to experience more mind games out of Pet.
Rebirth: 3-minute gag anime but also it’s a card game
When it comes to creating anime as a tie-in to a trading card game, there are really only two approaches I’ve seen. Most of the time, you’ll see a story revolving around the very cards that you can buy at your local game store. Some card game anime will instead feature characters and settings seen within the game, omitting anything to do with the literal card game itself. And then there’s Rebirth (りばあす), the new anime promoting Bushiroad’s upcoming game, “Rebirth for you” (Reバース for you). Rebirth manages to incorporate both aforementioned card game anime approaches, and yet it doesn’t really commit to either one. What this anime sets out to be is a self-aware satire of the entire card game anime genre.
The series follows the antics of a few chibi girls playing the game, but we don’t actually see a second of gameplay. Instead, we get the rapid-fire jokes you’d expect out of a 3-minute short. The first episode immediately pokes fun at the ever-common premise of a card game seen as the most important sporting event known to man. The opening narration brazenly announces that everyone in the world is obsessed with the trading card game “Rebirth,” as we are shown shots of various individuals holding cards including astronauts, babies, and Donald J. Trump. It’s genuinely funny and much more comparable to short gag comedies than any traditional card game anime.
I have to say, marketing a card game with a moe comedy is a pretty revolutionary idea, and I’m all for it. The voice cast is very respectable, featuring many names fans know and love from some of Bushiroad’s other titles. I see the potential for a great short comedy in the works, and I hope increased awareness of the title will lead to global releases for both the anime and the game before long.
Room Camp: Good vibes and free therapy
Room Camp is the light and fluffy spin-off of Yuru Camp none of us knew we needed until we received it. This is a short series, with episodes lasting about 3 minutes — which is more than enough time to heal your heart and purify your soul. We follow Nadeshiko, Chiaki, and Aoi from the Outdoor Activities Club as they go on a stamp rally that takes them to all the local hotspots. So far, it looks like the journey will be a lot of fun! Yuru Camp was always about the characters and their relationships with one another, and Room Camp graces us with more of that. My favorite girl, Rin, is missing from this, but fear not, for Yuru Camp Season 2 and a movie are on the way!
In the meantime, decompress with a hot drink and watch the three minutes worth of gold as many times as you need. Once you’re done with that, listen to the theme song Sunshower on repeat. This is how to recover from a hard day. You’re welcome.
Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It: The epitome of every research lab
For centuries, scientists have served as humanity’s cornerstone for technological and medical advancement. Every breakthrough in history is all due to their rationale, ingenuity, and eagerness to analyze the unknown. Yet at the same time, scientists are incredibly neurotic and sometimes so illogical that, of course, they’d try to pick apart an abstract concept like love and try to prove it through science. Welcome to Science Fell in Love, so I Tried to Prove It, the anime series about graduate students Yukimura and Himuro trying to prove their love to each other by enduring countless love simulations and collecting raw data, all while avoiding their actual thesis proposals for the Ikeda Lab. Let’s not forget about our undergraduate students Kanade and Kosuke who are being worked to death as slaves for this ambitious “project,” a common theme in research labs.
As a STEM student, the show’s concept hits way too close to home. It’s absurdly familiar to see a pair of idiots trying to figure out their feelings for each other and taking it on a whole new level, yet it’s refreshing how they attempt to back it up with facts rather than through tsundere hijinks. There’s also a startling degree of explanation behind the Ikeda Lab’s research themes and topics, which provides an educational edge too. My only gripe about this show is the lack of graduate student representation. Ibarada-senpai is probably the closest representation of an otaku graduate student who’s on their console 24/7 and simultaneously writing their paper. But where are my normal graduate students with black bags under their eyes, empty cups of coffee, and sweatpants because they frankly don’t care about anything else except finishing that research presentation that they procrastinated on last week? This is not true science at all— this is heresy.
Smile Down the Runway: Don’t stop believing!
You don’t normally see an anime centered around the fashion industry, much less the modeling industry. When I heard about Smile Down the Runway, I was reminded of The Devil Wears Prada, a well-known fashion-centric Hollywood movie that I greatly enjoyed. Naturally, the anime piqued my interest.
Unfortunately, the first episode felt somewhat disjointed. While there was an underlying thread that Chiyuki will not give up trying to be a top model, the anime kept jumping around separate incidents which abruptly led to Ikuto and Chiyuki’s meeting. The lack of smooth transitioning made me, a new entrant to the series, somewhat confused. However, the second episode completely turned things around. If anything, it reaffirmed why people should watch this anime: it captured the intensity of working in the fashion industry, whether as a writer for a famous magazine (speak of the Devil) or as a famous designer trying to make their fashion show a success. While my confusion wasn’t completely resolved from the first episode, I really loved the determination and passion that Ikuto and Chiyuki have in pursuing their dreams. I look forward to watching them succeed despite the harshness of the fashion world and whatever the world throws at them.
Somali and the Forest Spirit: A more humorous and fantastical version of “The Mandalorian”
Many moons ago, way before the adaptation news was released, I stumbled across this series. At first, I thought nothing of it. Somali and the Forest Spirit sounded like a cute and simple series about a father and his adopted child, something that I could read and kill time with. But as I flipped through the chapters, I was swept away by Somali’s enduring nature, Golem’s awkward responses, and the heartwarming interactions they have with the denizens of the world. In a simple quest to reunite Somali with her family, Golem must lead the small human out of monster territory and protect her at all costs. He doesn’t quite know what compels him to do so, but it brings him solace and a much higher purpose in life.
So far, everything is going perfectly. I find myself laughing at Somali’s adorable pouts to Golem’s stringent rules, the merchants sweating profusely whenever Golem threatens them, and Somali chasing after anything that interests her. It sparks this childish part in me that dreams of a grand adventure in a brand new world. However, this anime is somewhat lacking in the animation and design department. Compared to the manga panels where everything seems to sparkle in a lightly shaded ambiance of cool colors, the anime’s color scheme seems monochrome, flat, and cell-shaded. Sometimes there’s no dimension in the art to really make the fantasy landscapes and general animation stand out. Sure, Somali’s expressions are conveyed perfectly in the anime, and we can’t get enough of her cuteness, but as someone who’s big into worldbuilding, I’d appreciate a bit more effort in the portrayal of this rich fantasy world.
Toilet Bound Hanako-Kun: The surprise of the season
When you think of Square Enix, you think of a video game conglomerate that’s capable of churning out renowned franchises like Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts like there’s no tomorrow. But what about them publishing a cute, edgy, occult manga about a high school girl and a toilet-bound ghost who’s part of the school’s infamous “Seven Wonders?” Enter Toilet Bound Hanako-Kun, a series whose popularity that I was initially skeptical and doubtful of. But after watching just two episodes, all my expectations were blown away.
For one, I absolutely love the aesthetics of this anime. From the vibrant cute coloring to semi-creepy designs of the monsters and facial expressions, it appeals to a certain audience who are into the moe-horror genre. Lerche added its own personal touches to enhance the ambiance too: Japanese camellias bloom at the edges of each scene while panels slide across the screen, indicating a change in transitions like in the manga. The characters are also absurdly charming — notably, Hanako-kun, whose mischievousness and dangerous edge keeps the audience on their toes. It doesn’t help that he’s voiced by Megumi Ogata, the voice actress behind Yukito Tsukishiro from Cardcaptor Sakura (a.k.a. the childhood heartthrob). However, characters and animation designs just scratch the surface; the plot in itself is intriguing and introduces a plethora of concepts regarding popular occult topics of school rumors and specters. I highly recommend everyone to give it a chance!
The Case Files of Jeweler Richard: Oooh, shiny!
A few seasons ago, we got Holmes of Kyoto, a fluffy slice-of-life and romantic series about an eccentric antique evaluator and his female assistant. Following that vein, we have The Case Files of Jeweler Richard, an anime about college student Nakata Seiji who saves jewelry appraiser Richard Ranashinha Dvorpian from a group of thugs. By a twist of fate, Seiji finds himself working part-time at Richard’s appraisal establishment and learning more than what his college courses offer. While it’s simply a pleasure to ogle at the priceless jewels from a distance and appreciate the spicy drama that accompanies it, Jeweler Richard is fortunately much deeper than that.
The series tackles a refreshing aspect of “professionalism” that I haven’t seen in most anime. Due to the fact that Richard’s line of business deals with many clients of different races, beliefs, and sexualities, he demands absolute professionalism from Seiji. The habit of questioning, speculating, and stereotyping is forbidden at any point during the evaluation, which seems like a direct criticism of the Asian mentality regarding the “other(s).” Instead of becoming frustrated by these differences, Seiji’s self-righteous nature allows him to adapt himself to the situation and slowly reforms his ideals throughout the course of two episodes. It may seem a bit SJW and, because we’re so early into the series, we might even run out of material for Seiji’s actual character development. But I have faith that Jeweler Richard will do both characters justice and flesh out a true working relationship that thrives on tolerance, empathy, and, most importantly, trust.