It’s finally time for the Fall 2021 season, and you know what that means — blankets, pumpkin lattes, and a new batch of anime! This season features pleasing visuals from historical-inspired epics like The Heike Story and heartwarming slice of life shows like Let’s Make a Mug Too, so go grab your favorite toasty drink and check out which anime should keep you company.
Here’s Part 1 of our staff’s first impressions of Fall 2021’s anime!
Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut: Space race with a vampire twist
The Cold War is a fascinating period in history, and Irina: The Vampire Cosmonaut, despite featuring fictional nations, is basically set during that time period. The east’s Zimitra Union (or USZR) is the Irina universe’s Soviet Union, complete with their own versions of Laika and Sputnik 2, and it is embroiled in a rivalry with the western United Kingdom of Arnack. Irina focuses on the space race aspect of the Cold War, but with the addition of a secret USZR test flight that involves a vampire cosmonaut.
Irina‘s premiere felt underwhelming at first, because for all the uniforms, architecture, and Cold War-inspired elements, it generally struggled to provide a memorable sense of atmosphere. It’s a good thing, then, that the main focus so far is on cosmonaut reserve candidate Lev Lepes and the titular Irina, who Lev is assigned to, instead of the wider space race or Cold War. They look photogenic in their respective USZR outfits, and Lev’s and Irina’s familiar but solidly presented personality traits — kind and eager to fly into space, and distrustful of humans respectively — lend the first episode a sense of identity and energy that the Cold War-like setting alone — or even elements like jokes about vampire myths or discussions of inhumane treatment of experimental subjects — doesn’t manage.
Future episodes may possibly change my mind on the space race backdrop and atmosphere, but for now, I’m just quietly eager to see what becomes of Lev and Irina.
By Melvyn Tan
Let’s Make a Mug Too: Second Kiln: There is no such thing as too many coffee mugs
Let’s Make a Mug Too follows pottery newbie Himeno Toyokawa as she learns more about her mom, a legendary ceramics artist, and Second Kiln jumps right back into that familiar slice of life silliness.
Just like the first season, the comedic timing is on-point: family and friends eagerly anticipate the details of Himeno’s next project, to which Himeno happily replies, “I can’t think of anything!” However, the storyboarding so far feels focused on the characters rather than the first season’s wide shots that show off Tajimi’s tourist spots and aesthetic scenery. This adds to the story and character’s charms, but the lack of dynamic compositions and an awkwardly long shot in episode 2 makes Second Kiln feel less vibrant than it actually is.
Thankfully, the characters are colorful enough to make up for it, especially new addition Rio Matsuse. She’s an eccentric rival with an intense obsession with Touko (so much so that she has pictures of Touko in her bedroom), and I have a feeling she’ll be my favorite of the season.
The anime itself is only 14 minutes long and is accompanied by a segment of the voice actors visiting the real-life Tajimi. While not everyone will like the anime losing runtime, I find that these live-action segments add a nice cultural context to the series.
Nonetheless, I’m excited to see what new projects the girls will work on throughout this season!
By Jack Concordia
Selection Project: Keep an eye on this stage
The titular Selection Project of this show is a nationwide idol audition/reality show, which isn’t something I’d usually take an interest in. Thanks to Kanna Hirayama’s (Rent-a-Girlfriend) character designs and the slight, satisfying sheen from the compositing, however, I ended up putting Selection Project on my watch list. After watching the premiere, I can say that the show will certainly be staying there for at least another week.
Selection Project has a large cast, and while the first episode does enough to provide a basic impression of them (one likes to workout, another undergoes strict showbiz-related lessons), the focus is smartly on Suzune Miyama. She’s lively, amiable, and has some health issues, a combination that makes her easy to root for. Since Suzune’s the protagonist, it’s obvious that she’ll qualify to be the Kanto region’s representative, but the premiere has some events that make the qualifier less predictable, to good effect.
It remains to be seen if the plot will remain engaging, and whether the other girls will be as interesting to follow as Suzune, who has the added benefit of having the (arguably) most memorable design. I’m also curious about how the dance sequences — I’m assuming that an idol-related show will have at least one — will look, although the premiere suggests that the general production values and songs will hit the mark. However, putting those worries, as well as my fluctuating feelings on the bright lighting and pale colors, aside, Selection Project looks to be a solid ride.
By Melvyn Tan
Takt Op. Destiny: Come for the action, stay for the comedy (and action)
In takt op.Destiny, the arrival of monsters called D2, which hate human-made music, prevents humans from having musical enjoyment. Battling the D2 are the superpowered Musicarts and Conductors, which include music-loving and easily drained protagonist Takt and his impassive, food-guzzling partner Destiny. The premiere’s plot sees Takt, Destiny, and Takt’s friend Anna (who calls Destiny “Cosette” and treats her as a sister) dealing with a D2-infested route on their way to New York.
The simple nature of the premiere, combined with the show’s unexceptional premise, suggest that takt op.Destiny won’t offer anything remarkable with its story. Fortunately, the premiere avoids feeling like a banal slog due to Takt and Destiny’s decent chemistry, as well as some silly but effective slapstick humour that involves our heroes getting hurt.
It’s also to the premiere’s benefit that the animation satisfies, particularly during the attractive fights between Destiny and the D2 that are the show’s main draw. The backgrounds, which generally aren’t very appealing or attention-grabbing, prevent the show from achieving a complete visual victory, although they’re at least not so bad that I have to fight to look past them.
takt op.Destiny is unlikely to turn out to be the event of the season, but if the strong points of the premiere persist consistently across the rest of the show, that should be enough to keep me watching and entertained.
By Melvyn Tan
The Heike Story: A visually arresting start
Based on a Japanese epic about the Genpei War, a 12th century civil war that brought the downfall of the politically powerful Heike (or Taira) clan, The Heike Story follows Biwa, a young girl who can see the future. After being wronged by underlings of the Heike, Biwa finds herself taken in by Shigemori, the moral compass of the clan, and thus becomes acquainted with some of the Heike while the seeds of conflict begin to be sown.
I’m not sure how much Heike deviates from the epic, but the first few episodes make it easy to sympathize with a few of the clan members, especially Shigemori and his kind sister, Tokuko. Biwa’s placement in the story and her friendly relationships with the aforementioned characters, particularly Tokuko, contribute in creating concern for the more innocent Heike members as the wider narrative begins marching towards its inevitable conclusion. That wider narrative stumbles at times due to dull exposition and hard-to-remember names, but it’s generally engaging and balanced out by intimate sections that focus on some characters’ personal troubles.
On the visual side, Heike pleases with its stylized character designs and painterly backgrounds. I’ve also found the rather movie-like storyboarding and direction of the currently released episodes, especially the first (by series director and ex-KyoAni Naoka Yamada) and third (by China), to be strongly compelling, adept at both drawing attention to the characters and delighting with stylistic flair. And speaking of stylistic flair, I’m a fan of how certain scenes are accompanied by biwa chanting, a choice I assume is inspired by Heikyoku.
So far, Heike has been something I look forward to each week, and I hope that continues.
By Melvyn Tan
Yuki Yuna is a Hero: The Great Mankai Chapter: The Other Side of the Coin
After three years of absence, the girls of the Hero Club are back to fill our hearts with warmth — and suffering. This season begins with the former, as they are always eager to have fun, like with an impromptu rock band led by the ever-unpredictable Sonoko, an airsoft competition, and an atmospheric camping trip at the Tsuda-no-matsubara park, reminiscent of Laid-Back Camp. Finally, the girls went to the Chichibugahama Beach, a real-life beach famous for its beautiful sunsets. The serious scenes do an excellent job of reminding us of the dire state of this world, like Mimori and Sonoko reminiscing about Gin — a painful memory, sold through solid directing and atmosphere — and the group of battle-ready white-clad girls protecting Shinju’s barrier, the Sentinels.
The show’s animation is even smoother and more expressive than last season’s, particularly during the girls’ wacky shenanigans or the competent use of CGI, while the music by MONACA of NieR:Automata-fame delivers once again both during the comedic and dramatic moments.
These newly-introduced Sentinels are the central focus of Kusunoki Mebuki is a Hero, a light novel story that happened concurrently with The Hero Chapter. This makes The Great Mankai Chapter complementary material to the previous season, rather than a sequel — and if the timeline is still confusing, then you can discover or refresh your Yūshaverse knowledge with our complete watch order guide.
I’m excited about this parallel story, and as long as they reach The Hero Chapter’s happy ending, I’m all for it.
By Alexis Kavouras
And that’s it for this first part. Click here for the second part of the Anibitez Fall 2021, in case you missed it.