Here begins the first part of a long set of reviews–at least, of what I call reviews. I tend to describe the facets of each show which I found enjoyable or deplorable. After all, the other anime reviewers have covered all the technical points by now, and I’d likely only be repeating myself.
The following six out of the eleven anime watched in Winter 2019 rate from 2 1/2 to 3 stars. For me, two and a half stars refers to a mediocre anime which disappointed me, but not enough for me to consider it to have been a waste of my time. Three stars designates a decent anime which I enjoyed but will not watch again. Three and a half star anime are good enough to be worth watching again in the future and contain aspects which make them memorable. I’m inclined to be generous with that last rating. Thankfully, I did not run into any anime I’d rate two stars or less this season, which are all levels of poor quality.
Let’s begin, shall we? Spoilers ahead!
11) Meiji Tokyo Renka ★★ 1/2
Remember how I said that this rating often applies to a show which has disappointed me in some fashion? The ending was a disaster. The heroine’s decision to return to her own time was irrational to the point of malice. If virtue follows reason, we must certainly denounce an extremely irrational choice as malicious. The last episode shows Mei feeling a certain surge of homesickness. Why? The series offers no reason for her to be homesick, and plenty of reasons for her to remain in the Meiji Era. Mei claims to feel empowered by the new friends she has made in the Meiji, which appears to be the only motive for her to leave behind all her real friends for people who find her weird and disturbing. Maybe, she also wants to be a tragic heroine? Why should one be happy when one can satiate one’s passion for melancholy?
This was a poor ending to a very funny show. Perhaps the worst part about the end was how it undercut all the sincerity of the preceding episodes. None of it seems to have really mattered. At least, I had a very good time until then.
10) Mysteria Friends ★★★
This show cleverly evokes the viewer’s sympathy and emotion by turns. But, overall, it offers little more than a very beautiful show to look at. Without the yuri undertones, certain episodes would have had neither tension nor content. This might be unfair to an anime clearly in the Iyashikei or calming anime genre, but there you have it. The heroines were pleasant and likable, and the beach episode ranks as the best fan service episode of the season. Still, Mysteria Friends offers little beyond beauty.
Yet, the beauty was great. It would seem unfair to the series if I did not include a list of sceneshots:
9) The Promised Neverland ★★★
Some of my dear readers are probably surprised by this rating for one of the best beloved anime of this season. It has some of the same faults I found in Attack on Titan. The great ingenuity of the plot and the suspense were undermined by a world I did not care about and characters with whom I could not identify. They did not strike me as eleven year old children, which went a great way towards destroying my suspension of disbelief. I could imagine 15 or 16 year olds acting like Ray and the other two, but not 11 year olds. The reason behind choosing that age must be so this scenario can work: there is no way that a single woman could have controlled an orphanage with children fifteen years of age or older. The defects of the scenario make part of me wonder whether The Promised Neverland ought to have been made at all.
I suppose my essential problem concerns having child characters without the innocence and the wonder of childhood. You might rightly claim that many children do not grow up in areas conducive to innocence and wonder, say, war-torn Syria. Should not a mangaka be able to tell a story about them? Yes, but I at least want to be able to recognize an 11 year old psyche when the author says that the character is eleven years old. My complaints aside, watching the heroes overcome a myriad of reversals until eventual victory was fun.
8) Kemurikusa ★★★
Bad animation and too much silliness mar a decent fantasy story. The series starts with Rin and her little family having never seen a man, leading them to wonder whether Wakaba, who suddenly enters their life, is poisonous or a bug. They also constantly threaten to eliminate him, which might be funnier if Wakaba were not so hapless. For the first five episodes, part of me wanted Rin to make good on her threats. However, Wakaba does manage to man up and become more useful over the course of the series.
One almost wonders whether Kemurikusa wanted to comment on the topic of toxic masculinity with a character like Wakaba, who may represent the weak, herbivore man of modern times. In contrast to the musings over whether Wakaba is poisonous, Ritsu posits that Wakaba may be more like medicine. I want to add that men taught to be gentlemen–i.e. a man who would not willingly harm another person, as Bl. John Henry Newman defined him–are the antidote needed for any sick society.
One of the odd things about this show is how humanity seems to run on different rules. They can survive on water and using the power of the mysterious kemurikusa leaves without needing to eat solid food. The Rina girls even seem to be able to ingest and later use various inorganic material. Be that as it may, the characters are all very likable, and that is the anime’s strongest point in addition to the action.
7) Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka ★★★ 1/2
Now, we’re getting into the good stuff! You might say that Spec-Ops Asuka suffers from the same defect as Magical Girl Site, which I did not finish (dropped after 2 episodes): the sight of teenage girls suffering bloody anguish is hard to take–especially in the context of war. Many scenes in Spec-Ops Asuka would have been easier to take if the characters were teenage boys, aka the usual demographic offered up for cannon fodder. (Remember that the American militia of the 18th century consisted of all armed men from 15 to 50–the standard for most of human history.) The nature of the threat from the Disas, the evil fairy kingdom, forces human governments to resort to using magical girls. But, one have a strong degree of sympathy for the Japanese soldier who says that he will never forgive politicians for throwing teenage girls into combat.
The above makes it hard for me to rate this rather original anime higher. The frequent fanservice segments and occasional torture scenes are also problematic, to put it mildly. On the positive side, Asuka has to rank as the most sympathetic heroine from the winter season, combining both the milk of human kindness and a grim devotion to duty. Even certain villains, particularly Giess and Chisato, come off as very sympathetic. The action is fantastic, and the fact that the girls fight giant villainous critters in the form of stuffed animals lends a delightfully quirky air to the series.
This anime also bears a strong American influence. I have never heard “a very expensive way to commit suicide” in an anime before; though Americans sometimes make this jest. Also, Asuka’s resistance to leaving behind her high school life to fight, opining that she hopes to preserve this life by not fighting while Kurumi thinks Asuka has got this exactly backwards, rather reminds me of a conflict one might see in a superhero movie. The nationalities chosen for the villains, particularly Russian and Somalian, are choices a patriotic American writer would make also. Anyway, go watch this if you can stomach the negatives I mentioned earlier.
6) The Magnificent Kotobuki ★★★ 1/2
This anime lives and dies by its action. The story and characters are only really there to connect the fight scenes. This central fact makes the CG not only palatable but excellent. Besides the dogfights (the finale includes the most incredible dogfight ever produced by the mind of man), it has the greatest gun fight of the season: that moment when the bartender turned out to be more than the maudlin fellow mourning his estrangement to his wife.
A part of me is surprised that I can watch something which features Mitsubishi Zeroes so prominently. I grew up watching movies which frequently had Zeroes shooting defenseless airmen in their parachutes. (This evil habit once turned out badly for one Japanese airman.) When I was young, I remember my father and I coming across some Japanese schoolchildren in the Smithsonian Museum. They were staring with awe at a Zero in the exhibit, much to the disgust of my father and annoyance to myself. Perhaps I am getting too open minded for my own good.
At any rate, The Magnificent Kotobuki was fun to watch. (It does help that all of the planes are Japanese.) The characters tended to be amusing rather than likable, and there was far too much henpecking for my taste. But, any fan of action, particularly air combat, would do well to watch this.
Stay tuned for part 2!