First Impressions Winter 2021 Part 2

And we’re back! No preamble, on to the first impressions!

The Promised Neverland Season 2

Having escaped the House, Emma, Ray and the rest of the children now face the dangers and wonders of the outside world. Can a group of kids who grew up in such a sheltered upbringing really survive by themselves in the wild? Considering some of the monsters that are waiting for them out among the trees it doesn’t seem likely, but not everything is a threat. In fact they might even have some friends and a safe place to rest their head, but will that last? The demons who set up the House in the first place are still out there, hunting them down. How long before they catch up with them?

There were a lot of series I was looking forward to this season, Attack on Titan and Re:Zero being primary among them (and neither have disappointed me so far), but The Promised Neverland easily took the third spot. I adored the first season, it was just this perfect little pressure cooker of delight and suspense and I was really looking forward to where this second season was going to take me. I won’t say I’m disappointed, because I am enjoying what’s been offered so far, but this new season is missing that air of dread I loved so much in the first season. As the world has expanded it’s had a knock on effect to some key aspects of the series. There’s no longer a looming threat, constantly looking over the shoulder of our heroes and the goals are more vague and ill-defined now. Rather than the simple find a way to beat Mother and escape the House, now they have to find a way to rejoin the other humans, somehow, somewhere. On a slightly more positive note there have been some truly excellent scenes showing the effect this new lifestyle is having on Emma and the rest and there’s hints at some exciting things to come, so we’ll see how this all plays out.

So I’m a Spider, So What?

When a classroom of high schoolers is suddenly enveloped in a mysterious light they find themselves reborn into another world. For most it’s the classic set up, they find themselves in positions of power, reincarnated as princes and princesses with extraordinary talent, but not everyone is so lucky. Take our protagonist for example, she’s been born into the body of a weak, small spider. While the others get to lounge around at fancy parties and attend magic academies, our protagonist is stuck fighting for her life, testing out her abilities and doing her level best just not to get eaten! Whoever said life in another world was easy?

Another season of anime, another isekai! I joke because I have actually been enjoying this series so far. The characters are fun and I’m at least interested in part of the premise, which part would that be? Well, naturally it would be the part about the class of high schoolers reincarnated into a group of OP protagonists in this fantasy world. Yes I know the spider is the protagonist, and probably a draw for a lot of the people, but if that’s all this show was I think I’d be leaving this series here. Don’t get me wrong she’s an entertaining character, or rather her personality is, but there’s only so much grinding to build up character stats I can watch. I get annoyed when I have to do that in games, so why exactly would I want to watch it? No, I’m more intrigued by the rest of the class and how the typical classroom squabbles of their past lives are bleeding over into their new ones, plus the fact that they can’t act too familiar because to everyone else these people have just met. I think Grimgar was the last anime I saw where an entire group was transported to another world like this, it’s the only one springing to mind at least, so I’m sticking around to see where this goes.

Back Arrow

Lingalind is a land enclosed by a giant wall, where ones conviction can take the form of a giant mech thanks to strange arm bands known as bind warpers. When a pod lands in the remote outskirts of Edger village, most think it will be full of bind warpers as these sort of pods typically are, but what the villagers find instead is a naked man! Taking the name Back Arrow, this mysterious man claims he has no memories of who is, expect for the fact that he knows he comes from beyond the wall, which is impossible! Together with the villagers of Edger, Back Arrow will set out on a journey to find out just what exactly is beyond the wall, but powerful forces are already moving against them. And what’s this about a prophecy of destruction?!

A classic fantasy adventure! And I mean that wholeheartedly, despite the fact that this is an entirely new property (as far as I know at least), there’s something so nostalgic about this series. Maybe it’s just the fact that this is just the kind of fantasy series that drew me into anime in the first place. A simple, but wholeheartedly good main character, a quirky cast of supporting characters and plenty of episodic action filled with giant robots and floating battleships. I feel like a teen turning over to Cartoon Network on a Saturday morning all over again. So far the series has just really been set up, getting all the characters and motivations in place while explaining the basic rules to us and it’s been plenty of fun while it’s done that. I can’t wait to see where this series is going, but I know it’s going to be a blast.

Horimiya

At school Hori is the perfect student and liked by pretty much everyone, but in private she’s a brash homebody who spends her spare time looking after her kid brother. Miyamura on the other hand is often seen as gloomy and unreadable, but in truth he’s a warm and gentle soul, who also happens to have a bunch of piercings and tattoos that he doesn’t want people to know about. After a chance meeting they both discover one another’s secret selves and decide that they actually quite like hanging out together. But is their something more to this blossoming relationship? Could this be love?

Out of all of the new series that are airing this season, and by ‘new’ I mean not a returning franchise like Re:Zero or Promised Neverland, this is the one I’m enjoying most. It came as a surprise to me when I first realised it, but it’s true. This sweet, fun little show is the one I’m looking forward to most week after week. Now I realise that this series is set in an anime high school and as such it’s a very idealised, rose-tinted view of school life that is being presented, but there’s just something so real about this series. The way the characters talk to one another and just some of the moments between them, I feel like I’ve seen them all happen in real life. Whether it’s Hori realising that she doesn’t know Miyamura’s first name and agonising over how to find it out, or Miyamura realising that he has has friends now, it brings a warm glow to my heart. I also love the way this series avoids the typical sort of melodrama I associate with this kind of series, there’s no love triangles here, just realistic awkwardness, friendships and figuring out feelings! My feelings are clear though, I love this show!

SK8 the Infinity

Reki loves skateboarding, he loves making them and he loves competing in the top-secret, no-holds-barred downhill race called ‘S’ even more. Unfortunately while he’s got the spirit, he’s lacking in some of the skills. That’s when he meets new transfer student, Langa, a snowboarder since he was a little kid, looking for something to give him the same thrill when there’s no snow around. Could skateboarding be the answer? With Reki’s enthusiasm and board building skills combined with Langa’s natural talent could this be the formation of an unstoppable duo?

I’m not a skateboarder. For anyone that knows me that’s probably pretty obvious, the closest I’ve ever gotten to the sport is playing one the Tony Hawks games for an hour or two back in my teens (which feels like a worryingly long time ago). That being said, I recognise that it’s a designed to appeal to the rule of cool and I can’t think of a sport more fitting for anime. Crazy stunts and crazier characters are the order of the day and this show makes every ollie and -insert other skateboarding trick here- look really, really good. It’s so easy to get sucked into this series. It helps that we also have two such enjoyable main character. Langa is a lot of fun with his cool tricks and nonplussed/airhead reaction to a lot of things, but it’s Reki who’s the star for me. He’s just such an excitable puppy dog of a person that it’s hard not to be drawn in by his enthusiasm. The plot for this one so far has been fairly by the numbers, though I do like the fact neither Reki and Langa are the full OP package by themselves and have things to teach one another. I’ll be sticking with this one for a while.

Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation

Let me know if you’ve heard this one before. A 34-year-old underachiever, among other things, has a meeting with Truck-san and finds himself reincarnated into a fantasy world. Shocking, I know. In a world with magic at his fingertips can this layabout actually make something of his life? It seems so as with a little push from his teacher he gains the confidence to step outside his home and he even makes a friend! Who knows what else he can achieve in this second chance at life, but since he can use magic without the hassle of incantations, it’ll probably be a lot.

The granddaddy of modern isekai is here! Or at least that’s what I’ve heard, I generally try to go in as blind as I can into new series so I know next to nothing about this franchise outside of a few reviews I’ve read since it started airing. It does make sense, someone is putting a lot of love and money into this production and all the usual isekai tropes are here and played pretty straight. What interests me is that this story is very much framed as a redemption arc for the main character, giving him a second chance at life to finally get off his backside and make something of himself. It’s something that a lot of modern isekai are missing, in fact I can only think of Re:Zero as another series that follows this formula. I also like the fact that this series is taking its time, three episodes in and Rudy is still a kid, yes he’s OP, but it’s made clear that other people can learn his tricks if they start practising as kids as well. That brings me to the only thing giving me pause about this series, the general horniness of the main character. Rudy may be a child, but he has the consciousness of a 34-year-old and there are several times where his antics cross the line into being just plain creepy. Again this is a redemption arc so I’m hoping this gets addressed as he improves himself, but I have found myself wanting to strangle Rudy on more than one occasion for bringing that sort of thing into an otherwise great show.

Wonder Egg Priority

Ai is a warm, friendly person, but the recent passing of her only friend has left her struggling. However, when a bug starts talking to her and promises to take her to something fun she may have just found the answer to all her problems! What ‘fun’ turns out to be is a machine that dispenses eggs, eggs which create dreams and when the egg is cracked in said dream then a girl pops out. If Ai can protect the girl until the end of the dream, from whatever nightmare creature is tormenting them, then she might just get to save the friend she lost! Of course neither the bug or the ones who are in charge of the eggs have outright said that’s what’s going to happen, which I feel is Ai’s second mistake. Her first mistake was following the resurrected bug in the first place, I mean come on does no one pay attention to folk horror stories, ‘cause this is how they start!

I mentioned before that Horimiya is the new series I’m enjoying the most so far this season, but this series right here is in close competition for that title. There’s so much to love here, from the vibrant imagery to the creepy creature designs, fast -paced action and the sheer amount of feels it manages to generate episode after episode. The only thing that’s stopping me from enjoying this as much as Horimiya is the sheer dread I feel with each new episode, because I know this is all going to go horribly wrong at some point. It keeps reminding me of fairie folklore and by fairies I don’t mean cute, sugar-coated little critters with glittery wings, I mean proper fairies, the mean spiteful little beggars. The kind that will have you dancing in a fairy ring only to realise that 50 years have suddenly gone by, or swapping babies out for changelings. Cicadas, or whatever that insect was in the first episode, coming back to life and leading a kid off somewhere sounds exactly like one of those stories and they never end well. I like AI, she’s got enough on her plate as it is and while I can see this adventure helping her find herself and make friends, I’m also worried it’s going to end in a body bag, which I’m not ready to see.

That’s it for the first impressions. There’s a lot of really good shows this season, but in returning series and brand new ones. Of course there is some absolute dreck as well, but let’s focus on the good stuff, I know I will going forwards. Next week we’re back to regular reviews so see you then! Stay safe and stay well everyone!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.

First Impressions Winter 2021 Part 1

New year, new anime! 2020 is finally behind us and 2021 has made it’s triumphant debut, right? RIGHT?! Okay, maybe this year hasn’t gotten off to the kind of start we’d all been hoping for, but at least we’re making baby steps forward. We’re still in Lockdown here in the UK and while the cabin fever is setting in all over again, there are some things to keep me going. Most of them happen to be the host of new anime I’ve been eagerly awaiting this season, so let’s cut to the chase and bring on the first impressions!

Attack on Titan Final Season

The age of the Titans looks to finally be drawing to its close. For years Marley has relied upon the might of the devilish creatures to bolster its military power, but modern technology is quickly catching up. Soon a Titan might not even be a guarantee of victory. There is only one hope for the country, they must once again attack the devils of Paradis Island and reclaim the Founding Titan, but they’re not the only ones making plans. As young Eldians like Gabi and Falco train for the day when they will inherit a Titan themselves, the cycle of violence and hatred that started centuries ago is still continuing on. Is there any way to stop it, or will yet more lives be crushed beneath it’s wheel?

Well, it took us a while, but we’re finally here! The final season of Attack on Titan! Personally I’m excited. Yes, the series has switched studios and there are few things giving me pause story-wise, but overall this is still the same harrowing, gut-punching series that I’ve come to love. I mean any series that can dredge up so much palpable dread just from a couple of characters sitting in a room and talking has to be doing something right. That being said, I’m in two minds with the sudden time skip. I’m certainly enjoying seeing Marley and getting to know how things are across the sea, but it feels like a lot of our old cast have changed with no real indication as to why or how. I mean I barely recognised Eren and while I’m intrigued to find out how that came about I’d much rather have seen the development than deal with the mystery. I have no idea how this series is going to end, but then this show has presented such a bleak situation I have no idea how anyone can reach a happy ending. Still, I’ve come this far and I’m in it for the long haul now.

EX-ARM

The year is 2030 and Japan is facing an all-new kind of arms race. Technology far beyond the comprehension of humans, known as EX-ARMS, have fallen into the hands of criminals and fanatics and its up to the police to track them down before a disaster occurs. One such officer on the case is Minami Uezono, helped by her android partner, Alma, and an EX-ARM containing the brain of a high schooler, she’ll do what she has to keep Japan safe! But how did Akira Natsume’s brain end up in an EX-ARM? And was he really responsible for the devastation that swept Japan years ago?

Ugh. That’s really all I have to say about this series. I normally give series the usual three episode try before giving my first impressions, but in this case I bailed partway through episode two. I just…I just couldn’t take it any more. This show is bad, one of the worst productions I’ve seen in recent memory and it’s not even in a fun way. It literally hurts to watch this show. I hate bashing on animators, it’s a really hard profession and I take my hat off to anyone who’s willing to put themselves through the ringer for their art like that. At the same time this is a professional production and this show just doesn’t look professional. The characters are all so stiff and lifeless, that’s when they’re even animated in the same style and it doesn’t look as if two different series have been smashed together. I’d say it looks like a student film at best, but frankly that’s an insult to students. The writing isn’t much better either. Just avoid this one or if you want to see precisely how bad it is, check it out, but you’ve been warned.

Suppose a Kid from the Last Dungeon Boonies Moved to a Starter Town?

Lloyd is considered the weakest person in his village, he can’t even catch one of the local rabbits! Still, it’s his dream to become a cool soldier one day, just like the hero in his favourite book, and so he sets out to the Capital to join the army. What Lloyd doesn’t quite realise is that he’s grown up around some of the most powerful people on the continent, making him far stronger than anyone in the town he’s just moved to! Not that he’s noticed, but other people certainly have!

Comedy is all about timing and that’s something this series understands very well. Whether it’s building up a punchline like Lloyd winding up to punch a moron who’s giving him a free shot, or jumping out of a wardrobe and surprising you like Marie’s teacher, this show knows what it’s doing. It also helps that this series has more than one type of joke on offer, of course there’s the main course of how oblivious Lloyd is when he never recognises his own strength, or in watching people react to his strength. However there’s also the many, many crazy people that surround Lloyd so far in his adventures, or the myriad of unusual yet effective curses that get put on Marie. I love all of these characters, Lloyd is a sweet summer child that I just want to protect, but everyone else is a lot of fun to be around. I’m also impressed at the amount of world building the series has managed to fit in so far, episode three did feel rushed to a degree, but we’ve developed back stories for several characters and built an interesting conflict. I do prefer the comedy in this series to its more serious side, but I’m more than willing to stick around for these characters.

Otherside Picnic

Moments from death, Sorawo is saved by the mysterious Toriko in the bizarre world of the Otherside. Together they decide to explore this strange and often frightening place they’ve found, where folklore and urban legends seem to come to life around them. Of course their adventures come at a cost, both of them experiencing physical changes after only their first encounter! Sorawo’s eyes are now different colours giving her the ability to see more than what it there, while Torkio’s hand is now translucent allowing her to grapple with things of the Otherside. Together they hope to earn a little money and maybe even find some clues to the whereabouts of Toriko’s friend and former mentor, but whatever they find these trips certainly don’t fit any definition of ‘picnic’ that I know of!

Seriously, I have no idea why this series is called ‘Otherside Picnic’, these adventures have been anything but! The Elevator Girl almost gave me a heart attack in episode three, I’ll tell you this if I found a portal to the Otherside I’d leave as quickly as possible and never go back! Still, that aside, I am enjoying this series. Both Toriko and Sorawo are fun protagonists, Sorawo may complain a bit much and Toriko is beyond oblivious, but I’m enjoying their friendship and watching it develop. There’s a clear arc for both of these characters, and possibly a little potential romance but maybe that’s just me hoping, they do make a cute couple! The various yokai we’ve met so far are also fun, even if we don’t learn all that much about them at least they make for some striking visuals. As I said I’m enjoying this series and I’m more than looking forward to where this takes us.

Gekidol

Five years after a mysterious event caused cities and districts around the globe to disappear, life has very much returned to normal in Tokyo. For the young Seria her only concern is her newfound love for acting ever since she saw a performance using the latest 3D holographic technology. Then when she comes across a small stage troupe called Alice in Theatre, she can’t help but join and discover she has an unusual talent for mimicking any performance she sees! Even with that skill though, she still has a lot to learn and maybe at some point they’ll even get around to addressing the giant hole in the middle of the city!

I don’t want to write off a whole genre, but maybe idol shows just aren’t for me. I hate saying that because over the years I’ve tried so many different genres that I wouldn’t have even touched a decade ago and found shows that I genuinely love and adore. I’ve yet to find an idol show though and I really thought this one was in with a chance. I mean it’s categorised as also being a sci-fi show and a good way to get me interested in something is to bolt on some sci-fi or fantasy elements. Unfortunately, this show doesn’t know how to deal with those elements. The characters are all fine, the performances are fine, and the animation is fine, but what I’m intrigued by in this show is just point-blank ignored episode after episode. A whole section of the city just up and vanished and no one addresses it outside of a teacher giving a history lesson! I can feel myself struggling to pay attention with this show so, yeah, I think I’m out on this one.

Hortensia SAGA

When one of the Dukes of Hortensia suddenly turns on the King and murders him, transforming into a werewolf in the process, the stage is set for a time of upheaval and strife. Thankfully the country’s princess managed to escape, now going by Marius and disguised as a man, he serves as squire to local Duke Alfred, who also lost his father in the attack. Together these two will stand at the centre of the coming storm, but they have more to worry about than rival states and Marius’ younger brother being in the hands of the Pope. Monsters straight out of myth have suddenly began appearing across the land with no known cause. Dark times lie ahead for Hortensia and it’ll take everything Marius and Alfred have just to survive it.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good fantasy series, heck even a half-decent one will get a thumbs up from me. Give me knights in shiny armour, some swords clashing and a helping of monsters and intrigue and I’m yours. Hortensia SAGA so far has given me all of that, even if I would qualify it more in the half-decent camp. There’s nothing particularly brilliant about this series, most of it’s elements and character are fairly well-trodden tropes, but there’s nothing really bad about it either. The good guys are chivalrous and noble, the religious leader is clearly evil and up to something and outside of a giant with spider legs I’ve not seen any overly creative monsters. What does have my attention is the whole Marius situation, partly because of the whole gender angle. I mean we were introduced to them as the princess, but since then they’ve presented as male, they’re referred to as male and generally acts like a different person. I guess I’m just hoping this gets explored at some point and isn’t just ignored up to the point where their past is revealed.

Heaven’s Design Team

In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. He followed that by creating light and the oceans and the land. All that was left to make was the many varied and wondrous creatures that would inhabit the world, but, as it turns out, all this creating lark is really hard and tiring. So God decided to take the rest of the day off and subcontract his work out to a design team, Heaven’s Design Team you might say. No matter the request, no matter how vague or nonsensical, they will do their very best to meet their client’s needs, even if some of the designers have some odd foibles.

Considering this is coming out in the same season as Cells at Work 2 and Cells at Work: Code Black, part of me wants to make some comment about the rise of educational shows. Still, when educational shows are this fun and entertaining then it doesn’t really leave any room for complaint does it? While I will continually mock this series for how lazy it makes God sound (speaking as an agnostic here), I am having a lot of fun with this series. It packs a lot of information into each episode, some of which I really didn’t need to know, and presents it in an engaging and colourful way. Cells at Work does a better job of getting me invested in its characters, but I do enjoy the various personalities of the design team and how they bounce off of one another. I just wish the characters didn’t feel quite so one note, but it’s only been three episodes so far so we’ll see how that develops. If you’re after weird animal factoids and colourful animation then I can’t recommend this enough. Check it out.

And we’ll leave it there for this week. Next week, we must protect eggs with traumatised kids inside, follow one spider’s desperate struggle for survival and head to an underground skateboarding competition to learn how it’s different from snowboarding. There was something else as well wasn’t there, what was it? Oh right, The Promised Neverland is back!

Chris Joynson, aka the Infallible Fish, is a writer, blogger and lover of animation living in Sheffield. The blog updates every Friday or you can follow me on Twitter @ChrisGJoynson.