I spent too much time translating this year to read much of anything, so you’re not getting a proper end of year post.
In any case, we’ve entered that awkward space between seasons. The taint of anime, if you will. Perhaps zoomers would more readily understand it as the Backrooms of anime, a liminal space where you’re chased around by video essays singing praises for the latest prestige shounen until you phase through the floor and plummet toward the next heap of shows. Don’t worry, there’s plenty of isekai to break your fall. You know, fans of the Backrooms and adjacent media would probably get a kick out of Otherside Picnic. I think there’s some serious potential in pushing it with that crowd. But I digress.
Otherside Picnic and Castlevania 2 have taught me that it’s a risky proposition to traverse supernatural territory at night, so consider this post a sort of encampment, a safe haven until the dawn has broken and the creepy crawlies have retreated. Soon it will be safe to seek out an exit once more, but until then, join me in pondering what has passed and what is yet to come.
The Ghosts of Anime Past
When I reflect upon the anime of 2022, one series forces its way to the forefront of my mind: Lycoris Recoil. I say this not because I am particularly fond of it―it’s enjoyable from moment to moment, but let down by noncommittal plotting―but because the buzz surrounding it was emblematic of the degree of cultural permeation anime has attained. At any point during LycoReco’s airing you could log onto Twitter and find thousands―possibly millions―discussing it and/or drawing Chisato and Takina kissing; you could type 花の塔 into Youtube or TikTok and find new covers and piano arrangements daily. Hell, Kojima (you know, the Metal Gear guy) made public appearances wearing shirts emblazoned with the protagonists in all their bishoujo glory. This fervor, this LycoRecomania demonstrated to me that anime is steadily encroaching upon the mainstream, winning more and more viewers with each year thanks to its increased availability in an era saturated with streaming services. No longer is it perverse tripe that Something Awful posters will call you a pedophile for watching… though you can still find, ahem, specimens like that if you go looking. I’ve been watching anime for a good twenty years now, and it’s fascinating, perhaps even a little validating, to see its audience grow like this. This explosive growth does not come without a price, of course, but if you’re reading this blog post you’re likely already painfully aware of the poor working conditions animators labor under. Suffice to say: I don’t see anime’s popularity dying down any time soon, so in an ideal world its production would be more sustainable. Whether we live in that world or not remains to be seen.
As an aside, LycoReco also demonstrated that anime fans the world over are just about fed up with stories about the irreplaceable bonds between two girls where the girls in question do not actually kiss. Or hell, fuck. Now, I don’t think every relationship needs to be romantic in nature, myself. How do you even begin to define what Homura feels for Madoka?1 Karen’s declaration of 負けたくない at the end of the Revue Starlight movie embodies her relationship with Hikari more than any other words could. Trying to fit explicit romance into Granbelm would work about as well as it does in most scenario-driven eroge. And so on and so forth. But when there are no plain and simple romances, when every relationship has to be interpreted by the viewers, it gets a bit tiring. If I may be so bold, it likely speaks to a conservative mindset entrenched in the anime industry itself. (To be clear, I’m not criticizing any individual creator or series here.) We don’t have this problem with manga. I can read any given Kirara series without worrying that the powers that be are compelling the author to erase lesbian identities, since there are plenty of other Kirara series with explicit girl x girl romance (or that are simply yuri manga marketed as such). Soshage are perhaps the most nakedly profit-driven storytelling medium ever devised, and yet D4DJ was willing to introduce a canon lesbian couple who talk about how much they love each other and spending Christmas together on your home screen. (Feel free to make Yukina and Risa a couple next, Bushi. And I’m expecting Ruka and Yuki to actually get married at some point, Maeda. Tell me that I would develop faith in Maeda as a yuri creator a year ago and I would have looked at you quite funny indeed. And speaking of yuri in soshage, I have some hopes for S-E’s upcoming Towa Tsugai as well―it looks like it might be willing to go to places that Blue Reflection Sun would apparently rather dive straight off a cliff than even approach.) I don’t watch television shows with real people in them, but by all accounts the TsukuTabe drama adaptation was a resounding success. It really does feel like anime is especially reticent to depict romance between women, at least in recent years… even when yuri manga and light novels get adapted, they end before the relationship develops and never get more seasons!
All this is to say: I’m counting on you, Ookouchi. Quite frankly I don’t give a shit about how the rest of G-Witch turns out if you have Suletta and Miorine kiss. Revolutionize the goddamn anime industry and pave the way for more shows with explicitly romantic yuri.2
At least we have plenty of yuri manga/LN adaptations to look forward to in 2023, even if they are all almost certainly cursed to never receive a second season. But hey, G-Witch might be able to help break that curse, too…
By the way, you should really watch Granbelm if you haven’t.
Now, let’s discuss another anime original about the irreplaceable bonds between two girls where the girls in question do not actually kiss, DIY. As far as original anime go, I enjoyed DIY more than the reddit darling that was LycoReco. I realize that sounds needlessly contrarian, but hear me out here. Airing in adjacent seasons, the two shows formed sort of a yin-yang relationship for me. LycoReco hooked me immediately and remained consistently entertaining on an episode to episode basis, but ultimately failed to coalesce into anything especially meaningful or memorable, whereas DIY, despite taking a few weeks to win me over and having just a handful of episodes I would describe as “standout,” ultimately proved to be much more satisfying as a narrative thanks to meticulous buildup leading into a strong ending. From a yuri perspective, we can see this reflected in the central relationships of each show. DIY is very much about Serufu and Purin’s relationship; the final episode frames the entirety of their journey through the world of Doing It Yourself in the context of their feelings for one another, and their reconciliation (well, it’s debatable whether Serufu considers it as such) serves as the bow on the narrative. In LycoReco, while the trajectory of Takina’s life is irrevocably altered by Chisato, there is a curious lack of emphasis on their relationship in the finale; all’s well that ends well, maybe, but there’s no major advancement for either the characters or the setting. It’s a return to the status quo for LycoReco and for ChisaTaki, the sort of open-ended pseudo-denouement I’ve grown to expect from, say, the early volumes of a light novel series. (Hardly surprising that the plot draft for Lycoris Recoil was provided by a light novel author, then.) If LycoReco is about anything, then it is about Chisato, to the exclusion of all else. Not necessarily a problem, mind you―sometimes protagonists are protagonists for a reason. But Chisato remains a frustratingly opaque character, propped up by the people around her. I think there is a lot of potential for a second season of LycoReco if it moves away from this suffocating focus on Chisato and allows the other characters to be more than expendable action movie buddies. And maybe it could allow Chisato herself to let her guard down and express her feelings a bit more openly in the process. As it stands, the Shinji/Mika subplot is the most memorable aspect of Lycoris Recoil for me, because it had the decency to conclude―literally with a bang, at that.
But really, I think we all know that the best original anime this year was Birdie Wing. How does one describe Birdie Wing? I don’t think you can describe Birdie Wing. You just have to watch Birdie Wing if you want to understand Birdie Wing. Truly an experience, Birdie Wing!
I suppose the second season of Nijigasaki also aired this year, on the topic of original anime, but quite frankly I remember nothing about it except that one episode that was really gay. That episode was pretty good.
Adaptations, then. The Slow Loop adaptation was disappointing on a spiritual level. I’m not one for fishing or hunting―if anything I’m a bit of a bleeding heart when it comes to animals―so the manga is at times challenging to read for me, but it’s very well put together on a technical level and does a nice job of depicting familial affection without drowning you in saccharin. Besides, part of what makes fiction worthwhile is its ability to expose you to perspectives and viewpoints that differ from your own (obviously deleterious ideologies excluded, of course). When it comes to the anime, though, well… there’s a real dearth of anything at all to say about it, I’m afraid. The manga’s measured and effective paneling makes way for the most banal of shot/reverse shot, the animation certainly doesn’t make up for the storyboarding’s lack of expressiveness, and the character designs have been distorted into the same offputtingly neotenous style as employed in e.g. Gochiusa or Wataten. Perhaps there is value in the anime as a case study in how lackluster presentation can neuter perfectly enjoyable content, but do you want to sit through an entire cour of anime as some sort of intellectual experiment? I don’t know, maybe you do; judging by Twitter there are plenty of people who engage in such research every season.
Moving on, the second season of Machikado Mazoku’s adaptation was decidedly more palatable. While perhaps too committed to reproducing the manga’s aesthetic, it is competently produced and inflicts minimal damage on the manga’s content in translating it to the screen. You don’t really need anything more; those who know me well know that I consider Machikado Mazoku the best piece of media in active (well…) serialization, full stop, and any adaptation of volumes 3 and 4 that wasn’t a complete disaster was guaranteed to be my personal anime of the year. There’s a part of me that wishes the adaptation were as brilliant as Bocchi the Rock’s, but eh. It’s probably better to reserve those adaptations for manga that aren’t perfect already, you know?
I’ve already summarized my thoughts on Bocchi on Twitter. I often overstate or understate my degree of infatuation when tweeting about individual episodes of anime (it’s hard to process a series in 20 minute chunks once a week!), but I stand by everything I’ve said about Bocchi’s adaptation. It did a fantastic job of breathing life into the comparatively dull early parts of the series, and its reception speaks for itself. Season two when?
Yama no Susume Next Summit is a series I may have overstated my infatuation with on Twitter, then. There were several episodes I really appreciated, and the ending wraps everything up spectacularly, but as a whole? It’s largely devoid of the pathos of season three. Nothing meaningful is done with any character except Aoi (though shipping Kokona with Honoka is admittedly amusing), and that’s a letdown after the beautiful catharsis born from Aoi and Hinata’s reconciliation in s3. That said, Next Summit could certainly be worse; it does provide a satisfying conclusion to Aoi’s own journey, so I’m fine with Yamasusu ending here if it has to.
What else did I watch? Shokei Shoujo, while definitely infused with a bit of that, uh, J.C. Staff soul, was an overall competent adaptation that faithfully represented the source material. As a fan of the source material, it thus stands to reason that I would be pleased with it, and indeed I was. What a terribly roundabout way of stating that. I apologize. Let’s be a bit more direct with the next evaluation, then. The Chainsaw Man anime was pointless. I don’t even hate the prestige vibes the adaptation exudes from each and every pore―though a certain quote from the producer makes me want to―but splitting the manga into 12 episode chunks just doesn’t work. Imagine FMA Brotherhood if you had to wait years between every cour. I don’t know, all of the effort that went into this adaptation just feels terribly misplaced.
I can’t think of any other anime I watched this year that’s worth talking about, so there probably isn’t any. Enough of this meandering nonsense then.
1 Well, according to Urobuchi, it’s love, and presumably he would know.
2 Let it be said that I welcome explicit queer relationships in media regardless of the genders and sexualities involved. I talk about yuri here because it’s what I’m familiar with.
The Ghosts of Anime Yet to Come
All right, time for the actually fun part of this post, going down a list of upcoming anime and making snarky comments about them. Now I no longer have to reflect on myself and painstakingly analyze the media I have consumed. Om nom nom.
These are the shows I have my eyes on for Winter 2023.
Tensei Oujo to Tensai Reijou no Mahou Kakumei: I like the characters in this series, but the prose in the light novel is perhaps best described as turgid; I fell off it after the first volume. I’ve heard only good things about the first episode from fans who watched the pre-airing, so I’m optimistic this will be the ideal way to experience the series for me. While the first episode is largely original, it’s been described as the good kind of original content, by a scriptwriter who clearly understands the appeal of the source material. I would expect no less from the one and only Watari Wataru. I’m not sure I’m ready to forgive him for the ending of Oregairu just yet, but the man certainly has a lot of respect for his peers and seniors. By the way, the heroines kiss in volume 3 of the LN. Maybe the anime will actually make it there!
Revenger: Strangely, I haven’t seen anyone talking about this. It does look pretty mid, honestly. But it’s an original TV anime written by Urobuchi, so even if it’s bad it should be bad in interesting ways. Phrasing it like that makes me sound like one of those dime-a-dozen Urobuchi haters, but let’s be clear: I love most of the guy’s work and get a kick out of even his more questionable stuff. So consider me on board for this.
NieR:Automata Ver1.1a: JRPG adaptations always turn out great. I’m sure this will be no exception.
Sen no Kiseki Northern War: JRPG adaptations always turn out great. I’m sure this will be no exception. With production values to rival those of the games and the presence of Rean Schwarzer himself, I’m confident this one can aspire to the heights of Final Fantasy Unlimited and Star Ocean EX.
D4DJ All Mix: I want you to click this link and look at my number of FCs in the D4DJ game, and tell me if you think I’m an unbiased source. That’s right, I’m actually the least biased source, and I’m telling you, this is the anime of the season. Not will be, is; ever heard of a little thing called pre-established harmony? The Lyrical Lily girls are loads of fun, and the anime’s continually evolving 3D should bring them to life like never before. I am typically loath to apply terms birthed on English-language social media to Japanese fiction, but Kurumi and Miiko can only be described as “gremlins”; if you spend ten hours a day liking tweets depicting cats going goblin mode, or whatever it is that gen Z likes to do when they’re not busy voting conservatives out of power (good work, by the way; keep it up), this is the anime for you. God willing, we’ll get a cameo from UniChord, and then we can add this to the litany of yuri adaptations airing in 2023. Also, the OP is by InoTaku… as if the promised victory of D4DJ All Mix needed to be any more promised!
Okay, I’m going to wrap this post up here so I can actually post it before 2022 is over. See you guys on Twitter, that miserable zombie of a website.