A manifesto for a more wondrous age.

If you know me, you probably know I’m a big seasonal anime fan. I’m an anime fan in general, but I take a distinct pleasure in tuning in each week to watch shows as they air, discuss them with other fans online, think about them and theorize between episodes, and experience a narrative as it unfolds. Sometimes these series become instant classics, shows I think I’ll still be pondering for years to come, sometimes they loose steam and barely make it to the end, and sometimes they flame out after only a few episodes, getting added to my graveyard of “dropped” shows.

I used to do a roundup thread on Twitter at the end of each season, with just some passing thoughts on what I watched and what I thought, but as it stopped being fun posting on Twitter, I stopped posting them. I’m religious about logging my watching on MyAnimeList, but I don’t leave reviews, only ratings. Yet when I stopped writing them, I felt like something was missing. Maybe it’s just the critic’s brain at work.

So let’s bring it back. Honestly, it’s a weird time to do so; it was a lackluster season, and Summer 2024 doesn’t seem to be much stronger. Still, even with little to exalt, some shows surprised me, and many gave me a lot to think about. I’ve been thinking about “flawed” art a lot, even more recently because of this blog post from writer Lincoln Michel, about finding the “gaps” in art. Sometimes, it’s the desire to do something different, or simply the space to think that makes art appealing to me. Maybe I’ll write about some “imperfect” art I love, soon.

Anyways, here’s my thoughts on the Spring 2024 Anime Season:

  1. Kaijuu 8-gou

Look, this comes as a surprise to me too. I started watching this on a whim because of a post from Gum, talking about how “manly” it was—something else I’ve been thinking about recently. The setup is fairly standard seinen: In a world threatened by giant monsters Kafka is out working as part of the cleanup / monster disposal crew, rather than fighting them head-on from the front lines. But he gains a strange power to take on a kaiju-esque form (His name’s Kafka; get it?) which finally allows him to fight kaiju—assuming his secret doesn’t get out.

While there are tons of anime where a character has to train and improve to even get into the fight, a huge part of the story is Kafka’s age. He’s 32, almost at the cutoff to apply for the defense corps, where he’s failed admissions several times. His life isn’t going the way he wanted it to, and while he’s continued to persevere, he’s starting to wonder how much longer he can keep that up.

Honestly, I love this kind of hype shounen / seinen stuff. Makes me want to go out and go for a run (and shows like it was a huge part of my increased focus on personal fitness almost two years ago). While it doesn’t rise to the heights of the best in the genre, it’s a fun romp. I’m going to carry “I'm the one who decides if I give up or not” with me for a long long time. Thanks for the wisdom, Kafka.

8/10

  1. Tensei Kizoku, Kantei Skill de Nariagaru

The rest of these could probably go in any order, but for now, I think this is it. Right next to my love of shounen / seinen action series are these sorts of fantasy / nobility series, focused on the protagonist raising the status of their meager domain. That sound niche, typed out, but I swear there’s a few of them. In this instance, Ars is reborn as the eldest son of the house of Louvent, a minor territory only bestowed on his father due to his military prowess. Ars himself lacks many useful skills—he’s certainly not going to be a commanding soldier like his father—but he does have an “appraisal” skill, allowing him to instantly assess the capabilities of those around him as if viewing their stats in a video game.

Of course, with this he sets out to find the best retainers he can, as a barrier against the coming war. The series follows him collecting and convincing these retainers to join his cause, usually by solving some problem in their lives, before turning towards the broader machinations going on in the world he inhabits.

It’s a fun show, though never quite reaches into the genre of what I call “competence porn,” series whose primary draw is watching the prowess of the protagonist, tactical or otherwise (think Legends of the Galactic Heroes, or Kakegurui [sometimes]). That’s because aside from his appraisal skill, Ars doesn’t really have anything to hang his hat on aside from his earnestness. Of course, his lack here is the driver behind the narrative, but a bit more development on Ars himself would’ve gone a long way. Maybe it’ll happen in the recently-announced season two.

7/10

  1. Yoru no Kurage wa Oyogenai

Despite having this up at number three, I have this as my disappointment of the season. It could’ve been so much more! The series follows four high-school aged girls through the formation of the virtual band JELEE, fronted by disgraced idol Kano, struggling artist Mahiru, shut-in Kiui, and lonely pianist Mei.

The art and animation are incredible, and each character gets their time to shine showing how they’ve struggled and gotten better through self-reflection and the encouragement of their friends. Kano still lives burdened from the memory of an incident with her previous idol group, and familial trouble. Mahiru wonders why she set out to pursue art in the first place, and lacks self-confidence at times. Kiui endured bullying, and built a defense of untruths. Mei faced the intense pressure of school, and turned to Kano’s idol group for comfort.

The production value is super high, and I appreciate an original series aiming to do something unique. But even looking past a handful of odd “fanservice” scenes (what did the motorcycle lady add to this story?...), it’s most let down by it’s own narrative decisions. The back half of the series feels rushed, as the writers apparently felt the need to push everything to a happy ending. We even get an odd “here’s where they are now!” montage of the ensemble cast the show’s built up. Embracing the most realistic messiness and disappointment life deals us might’ve lead to a more thoughtful show.

7/10

  1. Shuumatsu Train Doko e Iku?

Another original anime series, and original is the operative word. The series opens with a celebration, highlighting the launch of the 7G network, promising to keep Japan at the forefront of technology. Unfortunately, upon pressing the button to launch the network, the world is instead launched into chaos, resulting in psychedelic landscapes, strange mutations, and the end of normal life.

In Agano, adult residents are turned into animals with varying remaining human capabilities, leaving Shizuru, Akira, Nadeshiko, and Reimi as the sole humans in the mix. Their fifth classmate and friend Youka disappeared, leaving the girls wondering where in the world she might’ve ended up. One day, a caravan bringing supplies also bring a newspaper, with a photo from Ikebukuro showing Youka in a shady-looking group. The girls decide to drive the train from Agano to Ikebukuro, hoping to find Youka and reach the truth.

It’s really unique, and genuinely funny. But I felt they struggled to balance the episodic nature of the train’s stops along the way and the overarching narrative of finding Youka. Once the girls do reach Ikebukuro, the pacing falls out, somehow both rushed and overlong. Really, the biggest issue is the resolution with Youka. She’s gone for so much of the show, and as weird as the world around her, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to a satisfying emotional conclusion.

7/10

  1. Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 3

Am I too old for Konosuba? Have I grown out of it? I thought the original Konosuba series was one of the funniest anime I’d seen; nearly every episode took me so off guard, I was crying laughing. Season two kept up the same pace, but the movie felt lackluster to me; and unfortunately that’s the case here.

Konosuba follows Kazuma, who’s reincarnated to a fantasy-esque world after dying unceremoniously in the real world in Japan. However, the goddess reincarnating him allows him to bring one thing to make the transition smoother as he fights to defeat the demon lord; yet Kazuma throws a wrench in the plans of the goddess Aqua as he drags her along for the ride. The show is a satire, lambasting the extremely popular “isekai” genre where characters are “reborn” into a fantasy world; if you’ve watched any anime, you’ve seen this.

The humor comes from both subverting the tropes of the genre, as well as running jokes, one-off gags, and general stupid scenarios. In season three, a lot of the running jokes had worn thin on me. While it still got me to laugh from time to time, the plot and pacing felt a lot less coherent than previous iterations, leaving me wondering what the point was. Kinda want to go back to season one and see if it’s still funny to me.

7/10

  1. Yuru Camp△ Season 3

This is a bummer to put at the bottom of my list. I previous has Yuru Camp△ season two as my pinnacle of the series, but like Konosuba above, season three of Yuru Camp is a step back.

The series follows high-schoolers Nadeshiko, Rin, Aoi, Chiaki, and Ena, as they get into camping and go on various excursions. What makes the series special is not only the laid-back atmosphere and attention to detail on camping, but the bonds of the girls, whose chemistry works well together to build to some thoughtful scenes.

Season three focuses on several of the girls’ solo trips. While this is good for character development, showing how the girls have gained confidence and competence in their camping skills to attempt such a venture, it removes the interplay that made the show really sing. It’s not as much of a flop as some of the shows above, but it’s also not nearly as ambitious. It’s not like I want a show about girls casually camping to have continuous rising action, but there’s less development here than I hoped for; far from feeling like a continuation from the height of season two, the episodes fail to build towards their own climax.

7/10


(Planning on writing more about anime and stuff, because, well, it's my blog, and I like it. But if you liked this post, I'd appreciate you letting me know!)

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