Mr. OldSchool’s Summer Season Quick-Fire Reviews

Granbelm – A kind girl stumbles into a magic girl battle royale with super deformed style Gundam. The art style is visually striking and the action is top shelf’ish. Too bad Granbleh’s kitchen sink of tropes is delivered in such a loveless and generic way. 7

Maou-sama, Retry! – A game developer is sucked into the fantasy MMO he created in the moments before the servers go dark! Now he is a super powerful demon lord and looks like a yakuza! Zap! Loli! Art with zero style and story without originality or substance! 5

Kanata no Astra – Space High schoolers get lost in space; must show grit (and team work) to overcome crisis. Crisp animation and competent narrative construction save it from an underwhelming cast and middle shelf art style. If a kid dies next week, my opinion will move higher. 8

UchiMusume – A young adventurer adopts an orphaned demon girl he finds in the woods. There’s a potty joke! It’s charming but very safe and gives all the hints that it wont go anywhere by the end of the season. 8

Joshikousei no Mudazukai – A girl realizes she picked an all girls high school and she just. can’t. even. The comedic timing is on the money… but humor kinda whiffs? Mid shelf artwork makes it watchable but not remarkable. 7

Araburu Kisetsu no Otome – The literature club tackles sex in literature… AND LIFE! Reading train schedules and draping penises on girls’ heads play out in this earnest, bashful, slow burn. Looks to be Summer’s sleeper hit. 9!

Dumbbell Nan Kilo Moteru? – A high school girl gains weight for comedy. Goes to gym for comedy. I got bored and stopped watching. 6

Sounan Desu ka? – Girls wash up on a beech. Panty shots. ¯\_()_/¯

Tejina-senpai – A boy must choose a school club and meets a girl into magic. 12 minutes of humorless antics ensue. #Skippable 5

Enen no Shouboutai – A boy with a tragic past starts his first day as a Magic Firemen fighting demoney fire people. There’s a churchy vibe and Soul Eater art style. The animated fire is fantastic but the production costs must have been too much for the studio. (scenes linger) Worth a watch though. 8

Katsute Kami Datta Kemono – A squad of super human monsters turn evil shortly after winning an alt US civil war. Bad guys laugh like evil bad guys and tragic love interests die for motivational purposes. It’s lower shelf animation and writing with some blood to tide viewers over. 5 #shitshow

Dr. Stone – Suddenly everyone turns to stone. 3,700 years later, two teens break out and start to figure out the stone-age world around them. With style so jarringly OTT my brain can’t tell if I love it or hate it, and a narrative construction so bat shit crazy I have to keep watching. 8 #WTFFTW

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Wasteful Days of High School Girls – 01 (First Impressions) – An Interesting Woman (Or So He Says)

Wasteful Days picks up on the first day of high school for three friends who have been together since middle school (and possibly longer). Particularly for the liveliest of them, Tanaka Nozumu (voiced by the always-energetic Akasaki Chinatsu), this is supposed to be the start of their amazing high school lives; the pinnacle of youth. She hoped to become popular with the guys. The only problem is, they attend an all-girl’s school.

The only guy is a teacher who makes it clear he’s only into college girls, and manages to creep out the entire class. From there, Nozumu seeks out advice from her classmates, assigning them nicknames in the process, from from “Serious” (the girl who regularly checks stocks) to “Loli” (self-explanatory). No one is of any help, particularly her two friends, Saginomiya Shiori (a listless Toyosaki Aki) and Kikuchi Akane (Tomatsu Haruka).

The veteran all-star voice talent and the pacing of jokes somewhat make up for the fact that only a few of the jokes land, and I particularly liked the various cutaways and instances of characters reacting by just…walking away. But the full episode length makes it feel like there aren’t quite enough jokes to fill the space—a 12-minute runtime might’ve been a tighter affair. As it is, my mind often wandered.

There is a nice sequence of “possible” (but highly contrived/far-fetched) scenarios in which Nozomu encounters a hot guy, but they’re all in her head, and all are rejected as absurd by her friends, neither of whom have much energy for her antics. That being said, you get the feeling these three stick together anyways, as friends tend to do, due to pure inertia, and in the absence of strong new bonds.

If nothing else, this show captures the ennui and irrelevance of high school life as much as O Maidens captures the drama and angst. The fact it’s early in the Summer season means I don’t have a full plate yet, so this will stay on my list for now. But as tends to be the case, if better shows come along in my wheelhouse, it may signal the End of (Wasteful) Days.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season – 01 (First Impressions) – Crazy Train

Onodera Kazusa is an almost aggressively normal high school girl. She doesn’t really stand out anywhere, and is part of a literature club whose members include both a budding author, a glasses-wearing prudish type, and a serene senpai who is perfectly comfortable reciting very steamy sex scenes in the book they’re all reading.

Kazusa has a best friend in fellow lit club member Sudou Momoko, and she has a childhood friend in the train-loving Norimoto Izumi. She and Momoko are each other’s main source of verbal and emotional support in these trying adolescent times. She and Izumi were once as close as brother and sister, but have drawn further apart due to his increasing popularity—particularly with other girls.

Kazusa is voiced by relative newcomer Kono Hiyori, who does a splendid job modulating her voice for Kazusa’s vulnerable and frustrated inner monologues. It also helps that she closely resembles Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, a rare Ghibli film grounded in contemporary life and one of my favorite anime works.

It helps because Shizuku never strayed past the “pure and innocent” phase of her romance with Seiji; the film ended (spoilers!) with her suddenly proposing marriage after they bike up the highest points in West Tokyo and watch the sun rise on the city. It’s beautiful, and it marks a major milestone in their trudge toward adulthood…but it’s incomplete.

O Maidens in Your Savage Season (written by the great Okada Mari) is not incomplete. It reveals all of the insecurities and worries and downright dilemmas far beyond simply developing feelings for someone and being frustrated by one’s comparative lack of accomplishment. By the end, we have a nearly complete picture of who Kazusa is (just a kid), what she is gradually becoming mentally and physically (an adult) and how she feels about that (not so great so far!)

When Kazusa’s mom—whom she says many describe as “child-like” even though she’s most definitely not a virgin due to Kazusa’s existence—asks her to take some food to Izumi’s next door, the comfort of their familiarity is evident, but so is a growing awkwardness punctuated when Izumi asks if he should talk to her around other people.

Kazusa’s wishy-washy reply (depends on who and where) doesn’t help matters. Talking about their issues clearly would be optimal, but again…these are kids. She’s aware enough to know she didn’t handle her interaction with Izumi in a satisfying way, leaving so much up in the air and unclear, but she doesn’t yet possess the tools to do so, hence her frustration and very Shizuku-like private mope on Izumi’s front stoop.

Back in lit club, Sugawara Niina, with her confident stride, ever-calm tone, and shorter skirt, all indicate she’s more mature than the other four members. To put it far more harshly, some boys consider her a diamond atop a pile of dung. But when a story with the premise of “doing something before you die” comes up, she blurts out “have sex,” because as mature as she looks and sounds, she’s still a virgin—still in the bubble with the rest of them. Despite all the classy smut they’ve read, it’s still a totally unknown world.

But her stated desire to have sex before death brings that subject too the forefront, like poking at the bubble until it bursts. Now sex is the first thing on the minds of the four other girls, from Rika (glasses) telling some gals to shut up about sex and being verbally abused by some classmates and then complimented by another; to Kazusa overhearing two of the girls who like Izumi talk very openly about wanting to take his virginity.

The more Kazusa hears about Izumi and sex, the more those two seem like something possible and thus terrifying—a far cry from the little boy with which she used to run around, fall over, and wade in the kiddy pool. The boy who’s crazy about trains. With the bubble of obliviousness popped by Niina, Kazusa finds herself on the deep end, her surroundings growing darker and more morose. But she has to kick and swim and breathe, or she’ll drown.

Things already feel like they’re starting to spiral out of all control for Kazusa, who asserts that she doesn’t like this and isn’t ready for it at all, but she has no idea what’s coming down the track to knock her off the rails of innocence for good, where she was once only teetering and threatening to fall. In an absolutely stunning sequence that plays like, well, a train wreck, Kazusa hears music inside Izumi’s, and so enters through the unlocked front door.

She makes her way up the stairs to Izumi’s room, where the door is cracked but not closed, and lets herself in without knocking. Izumi is inside, his pants down and his feet on the desk, masturbating to porn on the internet. The director lets the two just sit there in the moment of horror, completely silent but for the (likely fake) orgasmic screams of the woman on the laptop. Izumi gives a half-hearted “Hey,” then asks if she’ll keep this a secret. Pretty smooth, considering one of every guy’s worst nightmares just came true.

Kazusa…snaps. She bolts out of the house screaming and just…keeps running and screaming (the action animation is superb) through a market district. Naturally, every food sign is a double entendre, lending credence to her lament that there’s just too much god damn sex in the world.

Worse, her pure, innocent Izumi has changed forever. The boy is dead; a man has taken his place. The last time he saw her penis it was tiny and harmless. Now, not so much. As she stops on a bridge over a train track to catch her breath, she tearfully declares out loud that “that won’t fit in there!” Then, in a moment perhaps almost too on the nose but also pretty damn effective, a train passes beneath her, lining right up between her legs, and enters a very tight tunnel. “It fit,” she says, relieved, but she soon collapses back into a heap of adolescent frustration.

O Maidens is a refreshingly bold, sincere, brutally frank depiction of sexual awakening and its maaaany pitfalls. So far the experience is largely horrifying, terrifying, and overwhelming for Kazusa, and it’s sure to continue to be so. But the show balances the drama and comedy, never letting you forget these are human beings with human being minds and parts, all of which are in a state of open rebellion, but all of which are also very complicated.

The stakes for Kazusa and her friends are far higher than looking fit in a bikini for the summer. This is for all the marbles. All we as viewers can do is ball our fists and hope she hangs on for dear life to this train ride that can’t be stopped, until the ride becomes at least little smoother, if not joyful. I’ll be in the cafe car, quietly cheering on these maidens in their savage season.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 01 (First Impressions) – Feel the Burn

Sakura Hibiki eats too much of the wrong food and doesn’t exercise enough. That’s what brings us to her initial motivations: to slim down so she can snag a hot guy. Of course, this is not a finger-snapping affair, but a brutal, exhausting odyssey that will challenge every aspect of who Hibiki thinks she is and of what she’s capable.

Of course, Hibiki doesn’t have the willpower to undertake such a quest alone, which is why it’s surreptitious that another girl at her school, the rich, beautiful, and 16% body fat class president Souryuuin Akemi joins the newly-built Silverman Gym the same day she does. She soon learns that not only is Akemi a health and fitness fanatic, but cultivates a strong muscle fetish.

Thus we have our comedic duo for this edu-taining aspirational slice-of-life: Akemi as the wilder comic, Hibiki as the straight man who reacts similarly to how most of us would in the midst of all the intense musclery on display. Their coach at the gym is Machio Naruzou, who is always wearing a bright smile and whose Prince Charming good looks immediately persuade Hibiki to join despite seeming way out of her element.

But that’s the thing about trying any new thing: you can easily come to feel like you have so much to learn and catch up on that you put far too much pressure on yourself from the start, rather than trusting in a healthie, more incremental process. You’re so afraid of failure, and success feels impossible. In something like weight training, the body will follow the mind’s lead and you’ll get nowhere.

Where How Heavy excels is on how carefully and gradually Machio eases Hibiki into the basics of lifting weights, all while maintaining a supportive demeanor that never comes off as patronizing. It’s not an easy balance to strike, but Machio makes it easy.

Heavy is also fully aware that some of the explanations of the routines look and sound pretty…erotic, but hey, we’re dealing with sculpting the human body here, and the production values are more than up to the task, so the ecchi element is not just unforced, it’s executed splendidly. You’re not mean to leer at the bodies on display, you’re supposed to regard them with awe.

That’s exactly what happens when training wraps for the day, and when Machio says the word “besides” he suddenly becomes compelled to bust out of his tracksuit and strike a classic “side chest” pose, presenting his Arnold Schwarzenegger Mister Universe physique. Hibiki fell in love with his face, but is somewhat put off by the excessive muscles, while Akemi, she of the fetish, almost has a crisis.

After her first real workout probably ever, Hibiki feels ruined, and can barely stand in class the next day. As she and Akemi walk home and she continues to voice her reservations about continuing at Silverman Gym, Akemi tells her how happy she is to be able to train with a friend from school. That convinces Hibiki to stick with it. After all, this is already more about getting a hotter bod, or gaining joy and confidence in one’s increased strength and stamina…it’s about making a lovely new friend. Akemi certainly challenges her preconceptions about her “rich girl” status.

The next day, his “secret” revealed, Machio doesn’t bother hiding his tank of a body, and gets right into introducing Hibiki to squats, which are much tougher than the bench presses Hibiki thought were already plenty tough.

Hibiki is such a relatable protagonist because she approaches things realistically within her established modus operandi: try a bit, and quickly give up. As we all would if we were in her shoes! But with multiple motivating vectors including not wanting to let Akemi or Machio down, and yes, wanting to look hotter for the beach, she perseveres and blows past those old boundaries. That’s what the slogan “becoming a new you” is all about.

While walking home after another grueling workout, Akemi notices Akemi snacking and asks her how many times she eats a day. When Hibiki honestly replies “around six or seven, sometimes more,” she fully expects a stern scolding, like she normally gets from her best friend Ayaka. But instead, Akemi is duly impressed that Hibiki has been blessed with such a powerful appetite. After all, building muscle requires fuel.

Where the critical Ayaka sees the expanding Hibiki as a bomb ready to go off, Akemi sees great potential, not a threat—a diamond to be cut and polished from rough stone. While Ayaka’s concerns are legitimate and her heart’s in the right place, the tone is wrong. If Hibiki is going to make progress, she’s going to need positive voices, including her own. I look forward to her and Akemi’s iron-pumping journey!