Shachibato! – 01 (First Impressionzzzzz)

My impressions of Shachibato are…non-existent. Its world is okay-looking but the characters that populate it are so bland and their adventuring is almost offensively lightweight and low stakes. It was the anime equivalent of phoning it in. It’s also a waste of Horie Yui and Ichinose Kana’s talents. I certainly don’t begrudge them getting checks for this, but this is an easy pass.

Gleipnir – 01 (First Impressions) – The Minx and the Mascot

Kagaya Shuuichi is ordinary, or rather wants to be perceived as ordinary, and takes great pains to maintain that ordinariness. He lets cute girls borrow his work, sneaks a peek up a girls skirt when opportunity knocks, and continues wearing glasses even though he doesn’t need them.

He also turned down a decent college recommendation to pursue … something else. A girl who seems to like him gets it instead, but knows he was the first choice. Unfortunately, what this poor girl doesn’t know about Shuuichi could fill volumes.

I guess it’s not so much what Shuuichi is pursuing that made him turn down college, but what he is enduring. He’s suddenly been granted a highly elevated sense of smell, like a dog, and when certain conditions are met (which I’m sure he takes pains to avoid) he transforms into a giant cartoon mascot dog.

One night he smells fire, and finds a pretty girl passed out in a burning garage. He transforms and rescues her, but seemingly enchanted by her smell, starts pulling her underwear down before stopping himself, transforming back to a human, and fleeing in a panic…without his phone.

Having potentially set back his program of maintaining normality for years, Shuuichi plays dumb at school until he comes face to face with the girl, his phone in her hand. Considering his refusal to own up to sexual assault on an unconscious woman, and that he considers gaslighting her, I’m not that sympathetic with his predicament!

The girl, first-year student Clair Aoki (Touyama Nao), has no intention of letting Shuuichi off lightly. The underwear aside, she was trying to kill herself in that garage (or so she says), and he ruined her plans. After kicking him off the roof to watch him transform, she indicates her intention to blackmail him.

Clair also seems committed to making Shuuichi uncomfortable as possible whenever possible, as exhibited when she takes him to her apartment and strips down to change right in front of him, threatening death if he moves. They’re interrupted by the invasion of a mysterious woman who is after the weird gold coin Clair possesses. The attacker can also transform into a part-woman, part-beast, and proceeds to kick Shuuichi’s inexperienced-in-combat ass.

Gleipnir is the name of a delicate yet immensely strong dwarven-made chain that holds Fenrir back until Ragnarok, when he’s free to devour Odin. If Shuuichi’s mascot mode represents Fenrir, his human form is that chain. But unlike its Norse namesake it’s quickly fraying, thanks in part to Clair helping it along. Or Maybe, ironically, maybe it’s Clair who is the true Fenrir here, a wolf in model’s clothing. Shuuichi broke the chain and unleashed her by getting rescuing (and assaulting) her. There’s no going back now!

Gleipnir looks and sounds great (thanks to composer Sakata Ryouhei and a great Mili ED), with a taut, tense and gripping story. The dread of Shuuichi’s misfortunes is weighed against the reality of Clair having a legit beef with him. The cuteness of his mascot form contrasts with the horrifying nature of his transition. We’ll see what hell she puts him through, and if it ever rises to the level of Aku no Hana pitch-blackness.

Arte – 01 (First Impressions) – Her Own Power

Arte, an artistic girl approaching marriageable age in sixteenth century Florence, loves nothing more than capturing the world around around her on paper. The “caged bird” metaphor is immediately put into play: with her father deceased and her noble family barely clinging to solvency, she’ll have to work hard to make a man like her enough to accept a modest dowry. Just one issue: Arte doesn’t want to marry and be caged for life. She wants to be an artisan.

As is the case of oppressed groups throughout history, Arte has to work twice as hard to be noticed half as much, if at all. The sheer difficulty of her task becomes clear when all eighteen of the workshops angrily dismiss her without so much as glancing at her drawings. She’s so frustrated she cuts her hair and threatens to cut off her breasts, but she’s stopped by Leo, who ends up being the first and only man to take a look at her art.

Leo miraculously agrees to let Arte be his apprentice (he currently has none), but sets her on a seemingly impossible task: cleaning, sanding, and priming a huge stack of wooden boards by tomorrow morning, something even he and his fellow masters would be hard pressed to pull off. Yet Arte doesn’t see it as an intentionally undoable feat, and spends all night doing the undoable, ruined noble hands be damned.

Leo, returning home from a bender, is shocked she actually finished the boards, and admits he never intended to give her a real chance. But rather than overt sexism, it’s classism that drives his dubiousness and resentment towards Arte. He became an artisan to avoid a live of begging on the streets, while this rich girl initially tells him she wants to become one because she “loves drawing.”

Then Arte comes clean and tells him that was just putting on airs. In truth, she wants to live through her own power—not just some rich dude’s—Leo realizes he read the girl wrong. After all, even a former beggar like him had a better chance of becoming an apprentice than even the richest girl in Florence. He decides to give her a chance.

With that, Arte moves out of her family’s estate, against her mother’s explicit wishes (we’ll see if there are consequences for that) and into a decided fixer-upper of a shed atop Leo’s workshop. She initially finds the level of repairs and cleanup needed daunting and draws herself to sleep as the walls barely keep out the cold night rain. But in the morning the rising sun peeks through the cracks in those walls and she opens the shutters to reveal a glorious view of the Duomo that would make any master jealous.

Arte is as straightforward and earnest as its heroine. Her situation isn’t sugar-coated; most artisans in Florence are insulted by the mere idea of a woman in their line of work. But nor is it punishingly bleak. It simply took one person giving her a chance…her relentlessly working her ass off, but she’s on her way.

Arte’s dogged determination and optimism is both compelling and inspiring. Komatsu Mikako is well-cast for the role. That her character is loosely based on the real-life female artisan Artemisia Gentileschi lends the show a measure of historical legitimacy. I’m looking forward to watching her tough but rewarding journey towards self-actualization and independence.

Hamefura – 01 (First Impressions) – Avoiding the Inevitable

I don’t mind isekai anime, as long as it’s not always the exact same thing. You don’t have to re-invent the genre to hook me, just give it a fresh twist or two. Hamefura easily meets and exceeds that modest bar, as Catarina Claes isn’t the heroine of a fantasy RPG, but the villainess of an dating sim! At least, she’s the villain in the game she played in her previous life, before dying at seventeen.

Catarina is oblivious of her real-world Japan past until she stumbles and hits her head and it all rushes back. That’s when it dawns on her that if her path follows that of the game Catarina, she’ll either be killed or exiled in every route. It’s not a matter of playing and winning the game as normal; she has to break the game to avoid certain doom. One thing in her favor: she’s only eight, the proverbial Phantom Menace Anakin: Far from too far gone, plenty of time to devise a plan.

The question, of course, is how to things from going downhill. Having been an otome otaku in her previous life, Catarina has some ideas, and her inner deliberations are given the form of a “Council of Catarinas”, consisting of four different emotional states and an administrator to gather their votes. It’s another novel idea that adds variety to the story, and lets Uchida Maaya play off five different versions of herself—six, including her standard, “unified” inner voice.

The council’s solution to avoid another early death is to develop her sword and magical skills, so that if anyone comes at her, she’ll be ready to defend herself and survive. The magic will also mean she has something to fall back on for money should she end up exiled. Both her parents, her betrothed Gerald Stuart, and her various servants don’t know quite what to make of Catarina’s suddenly odd behavior.

Before long she’s hacking at dummies with a sword and building a garden to commune with nature (and build up her earth magic). But at the end of the day, Gerald still asks for her hand in marriage and she accepts, which means she could still be on the path to doom!

To make matters worse, her parents introduce her to her new adopted brother Keith, who in the game is bullied mercilessly by Catarina, becomes a playboy to sooth his trauma, and eventually he and the heroine Maria fall in love. When Catarina interferes, she’s either exiled or killed off.

She consults her inner head council, who decides that the best way to keep Keith from falling for Maria is to not bully him or make him feel lonely. Catarina does just that, but ends up persuading Keith to use his advanced earth magic, something he promised their parents he wouldn’t.

Catarina is injured by the giant dirt doll, Keith and their parents blame him, and he ends up isolated and alone. Different cause, same effect. Desperate to take the nearest ramp off this doom-filled route, Catarina literally chops Keith’s door down and apologizes for making him break his promise.

Keith comes into the picture pre-messed up thanks to his immense magical talent but lack of control that has led to accidents. But rather than let him stay isolated (or bully him), Catarina shows him she’s not afraid, and promises him they’ll never be apart. She gets in trouble for the door, but things are looking good on at least one not-getting-killed front! Also, it’s a genuinely sweet and moving scene.

I’m well-sold on Hamefura. It places its protagonist in the rigid structure of an otome and challenges her to forge her own path, even if she has to take an ax to the occasional door! She’s fighting against fate with charisma, panache, knowing this world will offer nothing but ruin unless she works her butt off.

Those around her are straight men witnessing her comic transformation from well-bred noble to tree-climbing gardener. Uchida Maaya lays on the industrious charm the whole way through. Her inner council is wonderful. Just as Cat is finding a way not to end up dead or exiled, this is a show managing to innovate and surprise in an over-saturated genre.

Sing “Yesterday” for Me – 01 (First Impressions) – Fine the Way They Are

When I visited Tokyo, I’d always naturally wake up very early in the morning, when the only people up were crows and convenience store clerks. One of those clerks could have been a guy like Uozumi Rikuo, who feeds the crows rejected bentos on his break. He’s approached by a cute young lady named Haru (Miyamoto Yume) who has a pet crow named Kansuke and a pointed interest in him, though he internally dismisses her as eccentric.

Rikuo just isn’t sure what to do with the energy Haru provides in that brief moment in the early morn, because he’s been in low-energy mode since graduating from university. He never engaged in any serious job hunting, and seems resigned, if not content, with a modest existence in a modest apartment with a modest part-time job. His former classmate Fukuda informs him of their upcoming six-month reunion, and also that Morinome Shinako (Hanazawa Kana), with whom Rikuo was good friends, is back in town teaching high school.

Rikuo skips the reunion, but Shinako comes to him at the konbini, and she waits at nearby a family restaurant until after his shift. There, the two pleasantly catch up, and visit their old stomping grounds. Rikuo admits he’s become what most in the world would call a failure, due to not living up to his potential and education. Shinako doesn’t judge, deeming him more “someone who needs taking care of” rather than “working his ass off in a suit”.

Shinako pops by more so the two can walk and talk after work. Rikuo’s co-worker assumes he’s some kind of smooth operator to have the attention of such a “mystery beauty”, on top of the quirky-cute Haru—who definitely gives off a mild MPDG vibe. One night the two women cross paths, and Rikuo learns Haru was once in Shinako’s class, but dropped out after being suspended for working at a bar.

While chatting in the park Haru makes it clear she comes to the store to see him, and that they met before. When he can’t recall, she tells him it was a momentary exchange five years ago. She’s harbored a crush on him ever since, but considers all relationships “illusions” anyway.


After getting a frank but salient lecture from an amateur punk rocker co-worker (of all people!) about being so self-deprecating and keeping the stakes of his life so low as to avoid getting hurt. Rikuo knows that while he can’t lose anything going through life like that, he can’t gain anything either. So he decides to breaks that pattern of behavior (for once) by meeting Shinako outside her house and confessing his feelings…and promptly gets shot down. Shinako just wants to be friends.

Rikuo urges himself to buck up—after all, he just did something he should have done before graduation—but still crashes his bike, and has himself a little weep in the pile of garbage bags that broke his cushioned his fall. The next day he reports having “closed the book on an illusion”, lamenting that while he attempted a “personal transformation”, it didn’t get him anywhere.

Haru can relate. As she talks about how she lives her life he realizes they’re alike; self-professed “social outcasts” who tell lies to escape hurt. In meeting Rikuo, Haru suddenly wanted to be liked, though now that she’s aware of his feelings for Shinako perhaps that’s no longer a viable escape. Even so, Rikuo snaps a photo of her for his co-worker’s album cover, and Haru beams at the camera.

Yesterday wo Utatte’s a wonderful realistic portrait of grown-ups looking at what they should do and not. Its detailed, lived-in atmosphere draws you in and envelops you. It can be melancholy and brooding at times—okay, most of the time—but that’s balanced by moments of brightness and warmth like that smile that closes out the episode. Haru calls it “basic” but it wasn’t 100% insincere.

After years of losing nothing, Rikuo and Haru have gained something valuable: a new friendship and understanding. Will they be able to give each other the courage to move forward, or at least pick a direction and go, or just hurt each other more than they already are? I’m eager to see how this shakes out.

LISTENERS – 01 (First Impressions) – The Day After the Music Died

In a world where “Players” pilot “Equipment” and fight “Earless” with music, Echo Rec lives in the sleepy town of Liverchester, which shuns all of that—or at least the grouchy Mayor does. That’s probably due to the massive crater of destruction left by Players ten years ago.

Echo is content to sift through the mountains of junk, looking for treasures he uses to build his own Equipment as a hobby. One day, he finds a sleeping young woman partially buried in the junk with an input jack in her lower back—the mark of a Player.

Echo takes her home—a bar called Oasis run by his big sister Swell—and after being yelled at by the mayor, he takes her upstairs. When he tells her he’s fascinated by her she momentarily thinks he’s coming on to her, but he’s actually geeking out about her status as a Player, even if she doesn’t remember that, or even her name.

When he tells her his dream of building an Equipment that a Player can use to fight the Earless, she wonders why he doesn’t just stand up and live that dream. But Echo doesn’t think that’s possible; for his young age, he’s an old soul and a pragmatic one who, dreams aside, has set limits for himself.

The girl is put off by his lack of ambition, and heads to the train station (where she spends all night outside?) while Echo falls asleep finishing his Equipment (which has the resting form of a VOX amp, prized by professional rockers). The next morning, the Earless attack—giant versions of the black shadow monsters of ICO—Echo races to the station.

The girl has already saved the Mayor’s life, then dives in to a pit of junk Echo trips and falls down. Rather than dying, she hooks the amp into her jack and it transforms into a somewhat retro mech. With the girl and Echo riding on its shoulders controlling it, the mech defeats all of the Earless.

Echo’s dream thus realized in record time, he gives the girl a name—Myuu—and the two jump on a train bound for more interesting places than quiet Liverchester, without any luggage or supplies. The giant “Monument of Admonition” topples, the Mayor somewhat awkwardly reiterates the themes of the show to no one in particular, and one of three sinister Player sisters declares that she’s “found” Myuu, setting up a Player clash next week.

LISTENERS has an interesting setting but a somewhat confusing premise: there’s no concept of music in this world? Like, at all? I’m not sure that was that clearly explained, or even accurately depicted. This wasn’t A Quiet Place territory where any sound would attract monsters. There was music playing on the TV-jukebox thingy at Oasis!

Stylistically speaking I kinda liked the clashing of Eureka Seven futurism with industrial north-of-England dinginess, but in both look and sound I’ll admit I found Echo a bit annoying while his and Myuu’s wardrobes were overly baggy. Dialogue is oftentimes overly hoaky, wholesome, or repetitive. The CGI…looked like CGI, competently rendered but lacking weight and inventiveness and pulling me out of the fantasy rather than in.

I’m also not what you’d call a music buff; it’s always been something in the background to either help me dance or work. I also gave up on Carole & Tuesday when I just couldn’t do it with the sappy English lyrics anymore. But unless I’m missing something, this first episode’s connection to music, and rock-in-roll in particular seemed…tenuous? It’s a good-looking (if a bit gray) and fun enough opening. I just wasn’t convinced I need Listeners in my life.

Wave, Listen to Me! – 01 (First Impressions) – She’s Got Something to Say

Wave, Listen to Me! is a lot of fun. That is to say, it’s fun, and it’s also…a lot. The opening minutes is a surreal scenario in which late-night radio talk show host Koda Minare finds herself in the woods, face-to-face with a big brown bear. She tackles fluffy write-in comments from listeners that are well beneath the urgency of her present life-threatening situation.

But it’s all an illusion; we’re seeing what a radio listener would imagine, and we see it vividly because Minare is such a good audio performer. Her producers and assistants are along for the ride as she starts riffing off-script, drawing from her own extensive emotional baggage. It’s not just what you say on the radio waves that matters, but how you say it.

You can see why a radio programming director like Katou Kanetsugu would switch on his phone’s voice recorder upon encountering Koda Minare in the midst of the fifth—and worst—day of Getting Over a Tragedy; in this case her boyfriend breaking up with her. Minare is just her own unvarnished self, but Katou can sense the innate talent within her, and can’t let it go to waste.

Minare goes home, blacks out (though not before perfectly arranging her shoes in the genkan) wakes up, puts herself back together, and has a good therapeutic cry watching Ghost Ship (though her friend recommended Ghost). Then, while working at the soup curry restaurant Voyager, she suddenly hears herself drunkenly ranting on the radio during a “lonely hearts” show called September Blue Moon.

Minare drops what she’s doing (risking firing by her uptight boss), hops into her adorable little Daihatsu Mira Gino, races to the station, marches into the studio, and demands that they shut off her ranting immediately. Matou tells her three seconds of radio silence is a gaffe, and eight gets him canned, so if she wants it shut off, she’ll have to provide new material.

Surely knocked off balance, both by her recent relationship woes ( and associated bender) and the fact there’s always going to be something dreamlike, surreal, and disorienting about hearing yourself on the radio, to say nothing of being thrust into the recording booth, having a mic shoved in your face, and being asked to start talking when you get the signal.

When that signal comes in the form of a tap on the back, Minare comes out of the gate blazing, backtracking on her drunken stereotyping and hoping for the opportunity to judge a future partner by his unique individuality and not toss in a box based on his region of origin.

She closes by vowing to kill her ex Mitsuo even if she has to chase him to the end of the earth. Matou’s gamble pays off: Minare has “it”. She was born for this. It’s cathartic and thrilling to behold…and reminded me of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel of all things!

What’s so satisfying about Matou finding her and giving her the opportunity to talk on the radio is how much it fits her personality. While she has her own private life (and inner monologue that only we hear), whenever she’s around others she’s going to talk, talk and talk some more, especially when she’s on the sauce. It’s high time she made money doing this, right?!

This all works thanks to crackling, realistic dialogue and a brash, bravura performance by Sugiyama Riho, whose robust, confrontational, delinquent-ish voice reminds me of prime Sawashiro Miyuki and Shiraishi Ryouko. It will be interesting to see what other scenarios like the bear attack the producers come up with, as well as to see if and how Minare balances restaurant work, broadcasting, and finding a new partner…or just finding her ex and killing him!

Hachi-nan tte, Sore wa Nai deshou! – 01 (First Impressions) – A Slight Improvement

In this suddenly wintry economic climate filled with the fear of viral transmission, the prospect of nodding off in front of your self-quarantine dinner and waking up in a completely different world…doesn’t sound so bad?

Our protagonist doesn’t live in Coronaland (the first anime to reference is probably a couple seasons off), so his is a more general ennui towards his meager lot in life. But when he wakes up at a sumptuous wedding banquet in the body of a five-year-old boy named Wendelin, he rightly presumes that lot has improved greatly.

Alas, the extravagant banquet was only to keep up appearances for the noble guests of his noble family. In reality, they’re dirt poor, sad little lords of a backwater knightdom. Their grand manor is falling apart, and the next meal he has is dry brown bread and soup that’s mostly just water.

Not only that, he’s not the third son of the lord of these lands, but the eighth, when factoring in two half-brothers. Meaning despite technically being nobility, nothing of the very little his family has will ever come Wendelin’s way. And yet, this is still probably a better deal than his salaryman existence.

That’s because in this world our protagonist has mana, which means he’s able to perform magic, something only one in a thousand people in this world can do. Yet after reading a very brief note on how to use a crystal ball to measure his mana, his father’s library doesn’t have any other material on harnessing that mana. More to the point, his Dad can’t even read!

He heads out into the woods to try to figure things out on his own, hastily drawing a magic circle, striking poses, and calling out names of spells to no avail. That’s when he’s approached by Alfred Rainford, a former court magician who sensed Wendelin’s mana and is confident he’s bound for great things.

When Alfred accidentally drops a boulder on a giant wild boar, he helps Wendelin summon his wind power and unleash it on the charging boar. It doesn’t do much, but it’s pretty good for a very first try, and Alfred takes care of the boar with a much stronger and more focused wind spell. Still, he thinks Wendelin will surpass him one day.

Sure enough, this episode begins ten years after the MC arrives in this world. He’s a cool cocky teenager wearing the same magician’s robes as Aldred, and having tea with no fewer than four pretty ladies (who mercifully don’t fight over him). I’m not quite sure such a flash-forward prologue was necessary, but I guess the show didn’t want to keep us in the dark about whether Wendelin would make it in this world.

The 8th Son? Are You Kidding Me? is…fine? It borrows elements from Youjo Senki, except that the MC becomes a boy rather than a girl and is in a Renaissance-era world rather than WWI steampunk. It has some decent moments of levity. What it lacks in originality it makes up for in its spirit of escapism. But even with Re:Zero 2 pushed to the Summer, this show is likely to be supplanted by better isekai anime airing later this Spring.

Kakushigoto – 01 (First Impressions) – Den of the Fancypeeps

Hime’s father Gotou Kakushi has a secret (kakushigoto): he draws for a living (kaku shigoto). That right there is triple wordplay! But that’s to be expected of Kumeta Kouji, original creator of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. Gotou is voiced by Kamiya Hiroshi, one of the most famous and recognizable male seiyuu of his generation.

Hime is voiced by Takahashi Rie, an immensely talented young voice whose career continues to soar. The show’s music is composed by Hashimoto Yukari, responsible for scoring many RABUJOI all-time favorite series. This is an anime Dream Team. So I immediately expected great things … and Kakushigoto mostly delivered.

While the prologue takes place as an 18-year-old Hime is finally given the key to her father’s secret repository of dirty joke manga manuscripts, the rest of the episode (and likely show) takes place years later, when Hime is in grade school. While I didn’t spot a shrine in their house, it’s implied she passed away, leaving Kakushi to juggle his secret job with Hime’s upbringing—two elements he keeps as separate as oil and water.

Fearing that learning his profession will make her think less of him and might even warp her, Kakushi makes every effort to keep Hime from learning about his job. But everyday circumstances—like a new editor wearing a t-shirt bearing his art coming to his house—make his efforts more difficult.

Adding to the complication of child-rearing in general, Kakushi is not the only person Hime sees and hears things from. Through her friends at school she’s exposed to ideas about having a good job and the importance of…well, being important. You could say Kakushi has a good job—he loves doing it and is good at it—but he’s no “CEO”, a term Hime doesn’t learn from him!

What’s great about Hime is that she is, at the end of the day, a good girl, but not a overly gullible one. She hangs the wish for her father to “be important someday” because she thinks it will make him happy, not because’s she’s disappointed. In this regard, Kakushi is a very lucky man; he could easily have a daughter who’s nosier, or more critical.

That said, Hime does inevitably get caught up in a “Girl’s Detective Agency” mission with her friends when one of them wants to track down the man who saved a cat from a stream (with his buoyant seat pad, no less).

In another instance of clever wordplay, Kakushi warned Hime of a monster named “Oshapi.” The other girls interpret this as “Fancypeeps”, or “fashionable people.” Their teacher confirms the existence of such people who occupy bookstores that don’t sell manga (she’s a fan of Kakuchi’s) and order drinks that sound like “spell names”.

When the girls manage to locate the “hero” (i.e. Kakuchi) they follow him into that “lair” of books and spell-drinks that’s really just an ordinary Starbucks. The other girls let their imaginations run away with them, but Hime remains levelheaded through it all. Though fortunately for Kakuchi, he doesn’t spot him, so his secret as both cat hero and mangaka is safe for now.

In addition to being full of clever language jokes, Kakushigoto is a solid story of a single parent keeping their child safe and happy, and that child weathering external stimuli with that emotional and philosophical happiness intact. In other words, she’s going to be alright, and she’d still love her dad, even if his secret is exposed.

As Hime continues to grow and learn more from sources other than Kakushi, he’ll have to adjust to the fact that his secret will be less and less of a big deal (also it’s not as if he’s an eroge artist). Between Kakuchi’s assistants and other acquaintances and Hime’s teacher and friends, a lot of peripheral players are introduced this week.

Still, the core duo of Kakuchi and Hime shine through as the rightful dual anchors of the show. Their respective social circles should provide quite a bit of variety; this episode featured 2 1/2 to 3 distinct stories in one. The competent direction lacks the flair of an Akiyuki Shinbo, but the writing and performances more than make up for it. I very much like what I’m seeing so far, and looking forward to more!

 

Tower of God – 01 (First Impressions) – They’re Just Like You

This is the story of Rachel, the girl who climbed the tower so she could see the stars, and Bam, the boy who needed nothing but her.

I like it—Succinct and concise. Efficient and elemental. Stark, yet beautiful. Before we’re tossed into the present, we get a brief look at the past: the last time Bam saw his beloved Rachel. Rachel is bound for the greater heights (literally) of the Tower, and Bam can’t go with her, so it’s farewell.

Rachel’s intolerance of the darkness of their world, and desire to see the stars at the top of the Tower, meant more than remaining with Bam. Meanwhile Bam can’t tolerate living in a world without Rachel; she’s his Eureka to his Renton. So when the opportunity to climb the Tower presents itself, he takes it.

That means dealing with the Tower’s caretaker, Headon, who presents the first test: avoid a giant steel-clad eel and break a black sphere. Two other challengers appear in Princess Yuri (who gives off strong Tohsaka Rin vibes) and her attendant Evan. They lend him a “Pocket” that translates their speech and does other things.

Yuri isn’t impressed by the frail-looking Bam, but the point of the test isn’t to defeat the giant eel, but simply to stare death in the face and not flinch. Needing to be with Rachel more than he fears deah, Bam passes that first part of the test. And because he has a cute face, Yuri lends him an heirloom of her family, a sword called Black March.

Bam lets the eel swallow him and then wounds it from within, but the black sphere proves too hard, even for Black March. That’s because Bam is trying to use his own strength without asking Black March to lend him hers. Yuri is again skeptical it will listen, but like her Black March likes his cute face.

The sword is also moved by Bam’s story of being saved by Rachel some time ago, when he was trying to break out of a dark place rather than cutting into one. Rachel told him about the stars in the sky.

He comes to see her as one of those stars, which means to climb the Tower and reach the sky is to return to where she belongs. He, in turn, wants to return to her warm, celestial light. Black March stuns the eel and shatters the black sphere, and Bam is transported to the second level for the next test.

Yuri, initially surprised by Bam, now knows the score, and decides that she and Evan will follow. Because there’s something she loathes more than she fears death, and that’s boredom. Not a princess to live within the walls of the palace, she seeks adventure, excitement, and entertainment, which Bam looks primed to provide.

The second test takes the first—facing death and not withering—and adds a new challenge: summoning the will to take life, not just preserve one’s own. It’s a battle royale involving 400 “regulars” (Bam is non-regular) that quickly drops below 300. Bam realizes what he must do and prepares to do it, but ends up locked in a firing circle with three other combatants, including a blue-haired student and a lizardman-like hunter.

Tower of God is disciplined, refined, and concise in its themes and crystal clear, if relatively shallow, in the motivations of its characters. It balances the simplicity of those elements with solid, confident execution. I dug the Bones-style character design and the rough old-school line work, and of course, Kevin Penkin’s gripping, eclectic score; he’s a composer who instantly elevates any work he’s tied to. Hayami Saori soars as Rachel in a role perfect for her.

Tower of God, the first big-league anime from Lee Jong-hui (AKA SIU) and animated by the venerable Telecom studio, has apparently been hugely anticipated by fans of his webtoon (which has amassed 4.5 billion views worldwide). Speaking as a newbie, I can see why. Everything in this episode conspires to create a gravitas that’s hard to fake—an atmosphere of seriousness, significance, and auspiciousness that calls to mind shows like Steins;Gate and Attack on Titan, which have their own massive fan legions.

To quote the space rabbit Headon, “I’m interested in seeing what’s next.”

P.S. Read Crow’s review of Tower of God Episode 01 here.

Spring 2020 Season Guide (Updating)

Cherry Blossoms at Yoshino, Hokusai, c. 1833

Here we are, at it again. We’re halfway through Winter, so its time to prepare for Spring by taking a gander at what’s headed our way when the weather starts getting warmer.

There are many huge shows returning and quite a few intriguing new ones. It’s gonna be a busy season. Here’s what we’re going to watch:

Seven sequels are locks (*) so far: SAO:A 2, Railgun T Part 2, No Guns Life 2, Kaguya-sama: Love is War 2, Food Wars 5, Fruits Basket 2, Oregairu (SNAFU) 3. These alone will definitely keep us occupied.

That leaves 4-5 empty slots to reach our typical max of 11-12. Which of the eight new shows will we keep? Only time will tell.

RABUJOI STAFF

LAST UPDATED 5 Apr 2020

Braverade

Appare-Ranman!
Kami no Tou: Tower of God
No Guns Life Season 2*
Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T* (Winter 2020 Carryover)
Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of Underworld 2nd Season*


sesameacrylic

Kaguya-sama: Love is War Season 2*
Kakushigoto (Hidden Things)
Nami yo Kiitekure (Wave, Listen to Me!)
Shokugeki no Souma: Gou no Sara* (Food Wars: The Fifth Plate)
Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Kan* (Oregairu 3, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU 3)

Yesterday wo Utatte (Sing “Yesterday” for Me)


MagicalChurlSukui

Fruits Basket 2nd Season*
Gleipnir
Hachi-nan tte, Sore wa Nai deshou! (The 8th son? Are you kidding me?)

LISTENERS
Otome Game no Hametsu Flag shika Nai Akuyaku Reijou ni Tensei
shiteshimatta… (Hamefura: I Reincarnated into an Otome Game as a Villainess With Only Destruction Flags…)
Shironeko Project: Zero Chronicle
Re:Zero Second Season* —Postponed to July