Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2019 Mid-Season Roundup

dororo mio
We’re now exactly halfway through the season for the majority of new shows airing, while those titles that began airing in the previous season have about 6 episodes to go as well. Let’s check in to see how they’re all faring. (Boogiepop wa Warawanai, Meiji Tokyo Renka, Revisions, and Grimms Notes were all dropped after the first episode.)

Sword Art Online: Alicization
Current Score: 5/10

sword art online alice kirito

My weird relationship with the Sword Art Online franchise continues. Admittedly, I started off (as in, back in the first half of the first anime series) genuinely enjoying it, and I will still defend at least some aspects of the original show against those who seek to use SAO as their anime whipping boy. Nowadays I guess you could say I’m watching it in more ironic fashion, because I find myself laughing in places where I’m pretty sure that’s not the intent, rolling my eyes frequently, and occasionally still getting offended even though I should definitely know better by this point. Basically, words like ‘subtlety’, ‘logic’ and ‘restraint’ aren’t in SAO’s lexicon, and pity the person who’s still expecting any of those things in even the smallest dose. Storytelling-wise, it’s also a total mess. Non-expository plot, what’s that? Consistent pacing? Never heard of it. Characters that aren’t based on pandering otaku stereotypes? Pfft. On the other hand, I have to hand it to the show, it clearly has a winning formula, and I admire its tenacity and yes, even its idiocy at times. It takes a very special kind of something to combine mostly crappy storytelling with enough addictiveness to make me keep watching despite myself. Basically, I’m forced to label SAO a success regardless of – or perhaps even because of – its numerous failings. Go figure.

Fukigen na Mononokean Tsuzuki (The Morose Mononokean S2)
Current Score: 6/10

fukigen na mononokean tsuzuki ashiya

I didn’t actually write about this one when the second season started airing, mostly just because everything I noted about the first season back when that aired in 2016 (holy crap, has it really been that long?) still completely holds up for me, and I didn’t want to be repetitive. But hey, Mononokean is still on my weekly watch list, so while the show doesn’t quite excite me per se, I thought I’d take the opportunity to at least give it a mention. Basically, I think it’s a cute series, entirely inoffensive and for the most part nicely easygoing. Whenever things take a sinister turn, they don’t remain that way for very long – mostly because Ashiya is too darn chipper for his own good. On the other hand, the show is just kind of ‘there’ for me; it doesn’t strike me as saying a whole lot or being especially profound in any way. Not that this is a necessity for any given title to be enjoyable – not every youkai-centric show need be on the same emotional gut punch level as Natsume Yuujinchou, after all – but it does make it feel as though this particular show lacks a bit of gravitas.

Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan
Current Score: 6/10

ekoda-chan

I suspect my patience would be stretched a bit thin if these were full-length episodes, but at less than 5 minutes each, I think Ekoda-chan delivers a near-perfect episode length for what it is. More impressively, it maintains a certain sense of consistency in overall feel that’s completely at odds with its framework – anyone would expect a series with a different director, art style, and voice actor every episode to be at least somewhat erratic in quality and tone at best. To be clear, I definitely like some episodes of Ekoda-chan more than others, but on the whole, the show is surprisingly cohesive, likely as a result of its very narrow and entirely character-driven focus. I can totally understand why it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea – it’s too abstract, whimsical and seemingly haphazard to be considered mainstream – but that makes for an interesting watch most of the time, and I wasn’t really looking for anything more from it.

Doukyonin wa Hiza, Tokidoki, Atama no Ue. (My Roomate is a Cat)
Current Score: 6/10

doukyonin wa hiza cats

I honestly thought I’d be enjoying this one a bit more than I really am – which isn’t to say that I dislike Doukyoin, but simply that it’s no masterpiece of storytelling in any particular way. The writing is fine, the direction is fine, the artwork is fine, it’s all just… fine. Truth be told, I’d probably be more enthusiastic about the series if some of the key scenes had a little more subtlety to them. As it is, I find much of the internal drama a bit too on-the-nose at times; it tends to lean too far in when I feel like it should be revealing less, since personally, I find it more difficult to get emotionally invested when absolutely all ambiguity is lost or the execution becomes overly obvious. Arguably that’s one of the hallmarks of drama itself, but I just prefer the attempts at heartstring tugging to be somewhat less transparent. That said, as plenty of viewers have pointed out, this is a story revolving around a reclusive novelist and his accidentally-adopted cat, and is set in a world where animals have near-human thought processes and communication skills – in terms of story, it’s basically tailor-made for people like me.

Kakegurui×× (Compulsive Gamber S2)
Current Score: 6/10

kakegurui xx runa

This anime is still the very self-aware and highly entertaining trash it no doubt intended to be from the very start – no more and no less. Viewers either get and dig that or very rightly stay the hell away, and in either case, I feel like everyone should definitely have a good idea of what they’re getting into with this by now. Also, while I didn’t really have a favourite character up until this point, Runa has now taken that spot for me.

Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru (Run with the Wind)
Current Score: 7/10

kaze ga tsuyoku fuiteiru

While I’d hesitate to say this is one of the best shows currently airing, what with the likes of Dororo and Neverland to compete with, I do think Run with the Wind is probably one of the most underwatched shows of this (and the previous) season. As far as sports titles go, it lacks the constant tension and screaming excitement that most shows of its ilk have in spades, but that’s exactly what drew me to it in the first place. While that means Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru doesn’t attract the same level of viewership as those other shows, I genuinely prefer the more understated, down-to-earth atmosphere it isn’t afraid to provide. It’s also been extraordinarily consistent in terms of general quality, from the writing and direction to the artwork and animation, and that’s no small thing when dealing with any series slated for more than one cour. Moreover, my initial worries about the character development being less than solid due to the size of the cast turned out to be unfounded. If you aren’t watching Kaze ga Tsuyoku Fuiteiru already, I highly recommend you give it a shot, as it’s very much deserving of one.

Yakusoku no Neverland (The Promised Neverland)
Current Score: 8/10

yakusoku no neverland emma norman

Other than being worried about how things can possibly be wrapped up in a satisfactory manner within 6 more episodes (though I can only assume we’ll be getting a second season at some point), I’m enjoying the hell out of Yakusoku no Neverland. It’s sure not a comforting watch, but it’s a seriously compelling one, and my only minor-ish complaint at this point is that it’s a bit too slow in terms of story. Don’t get me wrong, good horror/thriller titles absolutely should take their time and ramp up the tension bit by bit, keeping the atmosphere tightly controlled by also controlling when and how certain information is revealed and action taken. That said, we’re now halfway through the season and in purely practical terms, very little has changed since the end of episode 1. At some point, there will need to be solid payoff, as well as some kind of conclusion that nonetheless won’t be easily forgotten between I guess the end of March and whenever Yakusoku no Neverland returns afterwards.

Dororo
Current Score: 8/10

dororo hyakkimaru

Dororo has remained a very solid, not to mention still surprisingly bloody series. This is certainly Tezuka at his darkest, and while a bit of blood is to be expected in samurai-centric period stories, I guess I still hadn’t quite shaken my inherent assumption that since Tezuka tended to pen primarily family-friendly fare, the content of even something like Dororo would be relatively clean and wholesome. If viewers were in any doubt about this whatsoever, the previous two episodes (5 and 6) should irreversibly prove otherwise. That’s not a complaint of course, just an observation. If I did have any complaints about the show, they’d probably be based mostly on its technical aspects, which at times just don’t quite match up to the quality of the OP or premiere episode, although much of the artwork is still undeniably stylish. Given that this is set to be 24 episodes in length though, it’s no shock that the background artwork especially suffers a bit from time to time due to simple budget constraints. This doesn’t do much to hinder my enjoyment of the series, as overall, Dororo continues to be very well-written and sharply directed.

Question of the post: What’s your favourite show of the season right now, and has that changed since things first started to air? Are there any new shows you’re still wavering on?

20 thoughts on “Anime Taste Testing: Winter 2019 Mid-Season Roundup

  1. Dororo is still my top pick for the season despite some short comings. I’m glad that it finally dug into some more startling parts of the series (aka my heart in ep 5 & 6). I’m looking forward to seeing where it goes next on the series and how certain elements will be revealed.

    Also I hadn’t realized how similarly I felt about Mononokean until you mentioned it. There’s a lot of good in the series, but nothing particularly ‘wow’ about it. I’m still enjoying it for what it’s worth, especially since a friend of mine also happens to be a big fan of it.

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    • Me too. A couple of weeks ago I would have said that Neverland took top spot for me, but episodes 5 and 6 really gave Dororo that extra edge for me.

      Yes, Mononokean is perfectly okay, sweet and easy to watch. Just… nothing too special I guess.

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  2. My favourite for the season is Run With The Wind closely followed by The Promised Neverland. There’s a lot of anime I’m enjoying more than I expected or are just easy and comfortable watching (The Morose Mononokean and My Roommate is a Cat both fall into just easy watching) so I’m having a fun season so far. Probably my biggest disappointment is coming from SAO Alicization and Boogiepop as I just want more from both of them and they don’t seem willing to pick up and just keep doing what they are doing.

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    • Both great choices! And given that Run with the Wind seems almost criminally underwatched to me, I love seeing that show get some much-deserved attention. I agree that Mononokean and Roommate fall into the easy watching category as well. Both are lovely, albeit missing any kind of ‘wow’ factor for me.

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  3. There are a few things about Neverland that I find offputting. The not-quite-12-year-olds talking like 40-year-old spymasters, for one, and the nutty, horribly racist caricature of Krone. As a result, while I continue to watch the show, I just can’t get invested in its story.

    Ekoda-chan, on the other hand, I seem to like a lot more than you. I’ve actually really enjoyed every episode so far – some more than others, of course – and would agree that there’s a weird coherence despite each one having a different director, art style, and voice actress. Ekoda-chan herself is a terrific character, so I lament that the manga doesn’t seem to be translated, and while it’s kind of oddly sexist that a show about a young woman trying to make sense of her life has so far has only old, male directors work on it, I’m even finding the interviews with the directors and actresses after each short animation to be fascinating. I guess it doesn’t scratch the same itch for you as it does for me, but every week, at the end of Ekoda-chan, I find myself exclaiming, “Why can’t there be more anime like THIS?”

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    • I’m assuming the kids’ overconfidence in their general knowledge and abilities is going to come back and bite them at some point – I certainly don’t expect their escape to go smoothly, precisely because the leaders are a trio of near-12-year-olds who aren’t the spymasters they think they are.

      To be clear, I do like Ekoda-chan – I just don’t love it. But I do think it’s underwatched and would love nothing more than for more people to be discussing the show. I’d also be very satisfied if more anime did indeed take a page out of Ekoda-chan’s book and go for something more character-driven and whimsical, as opposed to the shows mired in stereotypes and story/character tropes that tend to pander to the lowest common denominator. Like you though, it strikes me as quite sexist (albeit not at all surprising) that Ekoda-chan is being helmed, so far at least, solely by older male directors. That’s also still the norm for Japanese-produced anime in general, hence my lack of surprise.

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  4. Honestly, all the shows I’m watching feel so different to me in tone, goals, and plot, it feels difficult for me to choose one. I think MP100 season 2 would be my choice, but I know you’re not interested in it (and it would be difficult to talk about without the context of season 1), so i won’t belabor it. The Promised Neverland and Dororo have been pretty good with some bumps in the road. (Dororo in particular I wasn’t compelled by the first couple of episodes but slowly got invested in. It has a real knack for building such a dreary, tragic atmosphere.)

    One show I’ve been digging that’s not mentioned here is Kaguya-sama: Love Is War. I think its humor is dependent on how much you like romances/romcom tropes and teenagers being idiots, but it’s surprisingly engaging for being based on silly miscommunications. I also think it’s opening is a real jam and fun to watch.

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    • Fair point. You’re right that I don’t watch MP100, but I can definitely understand the appeal, and don’t begrudge the show it’s popularity. Ditto with Kaguya-sama, actually – I didn’t end up trying it because I don’t tend to like romcoms much and have a pretty low tolerance for the common tropes of the genre, be it in anime form or otherwise. But I’ve heard some good things, so if that’s what other people are into then that’s great. I might check out the OP at some point at least. 🙂

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  5. Pingback: Anime Blog Posts That Caught My Eye This Week (February 22, 2019) | Lesley's Anime and Manga Corner

  6. The interesting bit about Dororo is MAPPA’s expanding the source material with original content of their own which seamlessly complement Tezuka’s main story. This is quite rare considering most anime-original additions tend to get a bad reputation with the fandom who see it as inferior and at odds with the mangaka’s storytelling. (I’ve been reading the manga; Tezuka’s source is pretty basic and bare-bones in some places.)

    The added content emphasizes the bleak theme much more than the original, although the last episode 7 was wholly anime-original (which explains its more hopeful tone. I think the next one might be original too.)

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    • Yes, I’ve heard about that. Not being a manga reader at all myself, even of my absolute favourite franchises, I don’t particularly care when an anime adaptation adds to, removes, or otherwise changes the original content – so long as the story and storytelling is interesting/good respectively, that’s all that matters to me. 🙂

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  7. I’m late to the party, so I’ve seen an episode or two more at this point, but on the whole I actually agree with most of what you say about the shows you’re watching:

    SAO: I’ve had enough after one season, but I didn’t hate it, and I can understand people liking it. I tried watching season 2, but the first episode’s very beginning reminded me more of the things that irritated me than of the things I enjoyed, so I bowed out. Had I not bowed out then (and in a different mood I might well have stuck it out), I might be in the same situation you’re in now. Of course, I heard that Alicization would run for a year, so that might have given me the push, too.

    Mononokean: Yes, a pretty fun watch.

    Ekoda-chan: My involvement differs from episode to episode. Part of me thinks I should have enjoyed the animal episode more: good comedic timing is pretty much the only thing it had going for it, so it’s my least favourite episode. Episode 2 and the string episode are my favourites so far. Others fall somewhere inbetween.

    Cat: Oh, I love this show. I don’t actually disagree with anything you said, but I’m watching anime mostly to unwind before and after work, and for that purpose it doesn’t get much better. The cat’s extremely cute, and as a former cat owner, I can say I recognise the behaviour perfectly. It’s just cutified enough to lend itself well for more cartoony moments and the anthropocentric interpretation of the cat point of view. It’s what I expected, and it gets things right on the cat front. It’s a bit flatter on the writing front, where it seems that writing is mostly used as an excuse for staying inside a lot, but I find the writer cute, too, in his way. It’s one of my favourites this season.

    Kakegurui: Not my kind of show, so I didn’t try season 2.

    Run with the Wind: I’m liking it a lot. I loved the first cour, but it lost a little of its appeal right after the break. Around mid-season it was picking up again, for me, though, and now I’m back into it, even if not quite to the extent of the first cour (but that’s not unusual for me, since in nearly any story the set-up phase interests me more than the resolution – very few exceptions).

    Neverland: I’m having fun with the show, but it’s in the lower middle field this season for me. I’m watching this show a lot like Death Note: good suspense, but low involvement with characters, and probably little staying power. I think it’s the heavy focus on suspense that keeps me at arm’s length: what would get me invested in the show more would either be an expansive and well-thought out setting, or a multi-point-of-view character story. A suspense focus puts restrictions on what the show can reveal, and thus both of these elements suffer. The longer the show goes on, the more this becomes a problem, because I don’t have the patience for non-stop suspense.

    Also, Neverland is bad for my motion sickness; there are really horrid camera movements at least once per episode. Last episode was particularly bad.

    Dororo: Love it. It’s interesting that the more Hyakkimaru regains, the more vulnerable he becomes. I haven’t seen this concept since Princess Tutu. There’s also the aspect that the more Hyakkimaru regains, the harder living is for the peasantry, and the harsher the Lord (and his family) reacts towards it and its neighbour. It’s quite intricate actually.

    Of the shows you’re not watching, I’m with the majority for once: MP100, and Kaguya-sama (it’s a gag-comedy first and formost, and romcom second). Usually, there are a few underwatched shows I really like (more underwatched than Run with the Wind), but while I watch such underwatched shows none of them are very good (For example, Colourful Pastrale is a CGDCT show where we learn that Mermaids who live at the bottom of the sea, take a shower before they take a bath…)

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    • Yeah, I think the biggest (general) problem with SAO is that it has it’s genuinely good aspects, but very rarely actually plays to them. It’s far more interested in pandering, in my opinion, to some of the very worst factors that otaku culture encourages, because that’s what has the cash rolling in. It’s a smart business move and I don’t blame anyone in the industry for wanting to make a buck, but it’s terrible as far as the anime itself is concerned.

      Dororo is definitely my favourite of the season now, having edged out over Neverland. You’re right, it’s quite intricate and just has a really great balance going on between well-executed action and equally well-executed drama.

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      • Hm, I’m not sure that the problems with SAO stem from pandering or are business decisions, primarily. It’s difficult for me to pin-point. I think it’s more that the author genuinely enjoys that type of story and thus writes it, but isn’t actually that good a writer (or wasn’t when writing the first SAO).

        I remember when SAO first aired. It was one of the show’s I’d set my sight on. I knew it was by the same author as Accel World, a later work that got its adaption first. I quite liked Accel World, even though it wasn’t anything special. The topic was interesting, too. With trapped-in-a-game stories, I cam from .hack//sign, which I really liked. I didn’t expect anything on that level, but going off Accel World, I expected a good entertaining show. Then I watched episode one and… well,.. The SF aspect added nothing to the show, and the outsider aspect already present in Accel World felt comparitively clumsy. Then, they introduced Asuna with a hood, so that there could be that big surprise moment when the player Kirito clicked so well with was… a girl! (Customisable Girlfriend unlock!) I quickly adjusted my expectations, and then I was mostly fine with the show. It’s not that much worse than other shounen fighters, really.

        Now since Accel World is, IMO, better written than SAO (hard to compare novels you haven’t read by only the story structure as it comes through in the anime), and since there are clear through-lines in interest, I think the author was mostly struggling with the writing, and was (and probably is) still learning. Interviews I’ve read with him make him seem like a humble, open minded guy who takes in feedback, but doesn’t always get it. And that jives with the difference between SAO (season 1) and Accel World. I don’t know anything about any of the other SAO shows, so I might change my mind a little. But I think it’s more like being immersed in those tropes and reproducing them, than consciously trying to make money.

        I don’t really know how plausible that is, and I’m in no hurry to find out (as that would involve getting back into SAO, and I’d rather not), but that’s how it seems to me.

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        • Personally, I think the pandering and the business decisions are essentially one and the same when it comes to SAO. And while I won’t pretend to know the writer’s intentions, I have to assume from much of what goes on in the story and how the characters are presented that this was also fairly in line with good business sense – i.e. the popularization of what the writer already knew would sell.

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