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Fall 2019 Anime Staff Viewer’s Guide

As always, the GoombStomp anime crew is here to give you a rundown of many of the shows airing. What’s good and what’s not so much? We got you covered.

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Summer has ended and it’s time to cool off a bit and break out the blankets as we settle into a comfy new anime season. As always, the GoombStomp anime crew is here to give you a rundown of many of the shows airing. What’s good and what’s not so much? We got you covered. (List in no particular order)


My Hero Academia Season 4

Studio: Bones
Director: Kenji Nagasaki
Main Voice Actors: Daiki Yamashita (Deku), Kenta Miyake (All Might), Tarusuku Shingaki (Mirio)

There’s good reason for My Hero Academia’s continued acclaim and popularity. After 2018’s stupendous third season, the king of modern shonens enters its Shie Hassaikai arc. With a new villain in Overhaul, more Mirio magic, and the usual dollop of awe inspiring action and character driven drama (all conveyed through Bones’s top-notch animation); there’s no better time to embrace the most entertaining anime on the market, especially with our ongoing super hero fanaticism (see Marvel’s box office dominance).

Honestly, that’s all I have to say. You’ve just gotta watch this show! (Bu Harry Morris)

Rating: Highly Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll and Funimation


Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of the Underworld

Studio: A-1 Pictures
Director: Manabu Ono
Main Voice Actor(s): Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Kirito), Ai Kayano (Alice), Kaori Maeda (Selka)

Last year’s Sword Art Online: Alicization nearly bucked the series’ trend of supremely generic isekai by taking the effort to establish and build up a new world as well as finally introduce a male character on equal terms with Kirito in terms of plot relevance. It ultimately got bogged down by its final arc, however, that dragged on for much too long and accomplished much too little. It did set the stage nicely, though, for the second half of the story.

With Kirito now in a vegetative state only vaguely responding to the faintest of stimuli, it falls on Alice to pick up where he left off. In the first episode alone, Alice has already demonstrated to be far more of an interesting character than Kirito or Asuna ever were owing much to the complicated circumstances that led her to where she is now.

The world-building that was swept aside in the final arc of the first season is finally making its return in War of the Underworld but with the last two episodes focusing on events happening in the real world it’s still difficult to tell how well the Underworld will be fleshed out.

Nonetheless, it’s obvious that Asuna will eventually make her appearance and Kirito will eventually regain consciousness. I just hope they stay out of the picture long enough to give this new protagonist room to breathe. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll and Funimation


Stars Align

Studio: 8bit
Director: Kazuki Akane
Main Voice Actor(s): Natsuki Hanae (Maki), Tasuku Hatanaka (Toma)

Though it’s billed as a sports anime, there’ve only been two actual soft tennis matches in the first three episodes of Stars Align. Even more surprising? That likely wouldn’t occur to you while watching the show.

Everything begins when middle-schooler Maki Katsuragi moves back into town at the same time as the local boy’s soft tennis club is given an ultimatum: win a match in the upcoming summer tournament or disband. Thing is, the boy’s team hasn’t won a match of any kind in four years. They’ve gotten lazy and apathetic. When Maki inevitably joins, he’s disgusted; they’re so bad that a generally athletic newcomer can beat them at their own game. It’s immediately clear that this isn’t the story of a tennis prodigy leading a downtrodden team to victory, but instead the story of a team who got the jolt it needed to take a long, hard look at itself and get better.

This underdog narrative is what’s driving the show forward, but it’s the stunningly realistic depiction of broken homes in the background that gives Stars Align so much heart. Why did Maki and his mother move in the middle of the school year? How does club president Toma deal with being the second, clearly least-favored son in his family? How can a kid possibly remain calm in the face of bullies who take deep jabs at his parent’s divorce? Each of these are answered with the utmost care and firm, unrelenting accuracy.

If you’re looking for a heartfelt drama with strong writing and one of the most best “battle themes” in recent memory, you owe it to yourself to check this out. (By Brent Middleton)

Rating: Highly recommended
Watch on Funimation and Hulu


Cautious Hero: The Hero is Overpowered but Overly Cautious

Studio: White Fox
Director: Masayuki Sakoi
Main Voice Actors: Aki Toyosaki (Rista), Yuuichirou Yumehara (Seiya)

With a name like that, one hardly needs a plot synopsis. Fledgling goddess Rista is assigned an S-rank danger world to save in order to be promoted to a first-class goddess. She pours over possible hero candidates to summon and eventually arrives on the stupendously powerful Seiya only to be terribly disappointed to find out he’s sick in the head he is when it comes to preparation.

Seiya is the antithesis of a standard isekai protagonist in how distrustful and abrasive he is of everything and everyone. He refuses to take advice from anyone and will refuse to do anything until he is 150% sure he is prepared for it, much to Rista’s dismay. While this was rather comical in the first episode, the schtick quickly began to wear out its welcome the second and beyond.

Rista, on the other hand, is the show’s saving grace. The runny egg style used to animate her results in some truly screencap worthy faces reminiscent of old Looney Toons that I have to pause the episode for a few seconds to appreciate. Special mention has to be given to her voice actress, Aki Toyosaki, for delivering lines and sounds that so perfectly encapsulate the exasperation felt from dealing with someone like Seiya. Is she alone enough to carry the show? That’s debatable, but at least I have reaction images for any given mood to send to friends now.

Rating: Indifferent
Watch on Funimation


Food Wars! The Fourth Plate

Studio: J.C Staff
Director: Yoshitomo Yonetani
Main Voice Actors: Yoshitsugu Matsuoka (Soma), Hisako Kanemoto (Erina), Minami Takahashi (Megumi)

God I didn’t want to write the review I’m writing right now. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Shokugeki… until I didn’t. 

Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars! in the West) returns for its fourth season and I sincerely wish it hadn’t. For nearly three seasons, Shokugeki was a by-the-numbers shounen about fanservice and food and it was wonderful. Though it was fairly cookie-cutter, Shokugeki hit all of the beats rather well: a fun cast, a good sense of humor, and plenty of cheesecake. The twist that set it apart (i.e. the cooking) was extremely well done and clearly held respect for the culinary arts.

Then… Azami came onto the scene.

Azami Nakiri, introduced in the latter half of Season 3, serves as Shokugeki’s primary antagonist as he seeks to bring the entire world under his banner of haute-cuisine. Tootsuki Academy is his first target and anyone who rebels will be crushed under his iron fist. Schlocky enough and in a vacuum he could serve as a good villain, but Azami’s execution leaves something to be heavily desired. Season 4 picks up directly where 3 left off: the rebels continue their fight against Azami and his goons, with Soma leading the charge.

Unfortunately, the show has only continued to decline in quality as the problems prevalent in the previous season have only become more pronounced as the series goes on. So many of the things that made Shokugeki great have taken a backseat: the characters, the cooking, and story are all swept aside by Azami’s incredibly inane scheming. 

There’s a frustrating carrot being dangled in front of the viewer as they can see glimpses of a fun show beneath the hot garbage. However, there are far too many places where the series is now lacking for it to be worth any kind of investment. Beyond the story rapidly souring, the animation quality has become noticeably worse. Not that Shokugeki was ever a standout, but Season 4 is egregious in its use of monotone backgrounds, static character shots, and mouth flaps.

There are more things I could rant on about Shokugeki, but suffice to say it’s not worth your time anymore. (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating:Not Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll


The Seven Deadly Sins – Wrath of the Gods

Studio: Studio Deen
Director: Susumu Nishizawa
Main Voicer Actors: Yuki Kaji (Melodias), Sora Amamiya (Elizabeth)

The Seven Deadly Sins tries its hand at a grandiose story of fantastical intricacy, but it lacks the marvellous characters and memorable world to justify such lofty ambition. Still, when Meliodas and co. are kicking ass and cracking jokes, it ticks the right boxes of ‘decently entertaining’ to warrant persevering with.

After jumping ship from A-1 Pictures to Studio Deen, things were looking sketchy for The Seven Deadly Sins – Wrath of the Gods (especially given episode one’s gore censorship and plain unfinished opening). Fortunately, this was promptly rectified in subsequent episodes by uncensoring the bloody bits and delivering animation that’s on par (if not better) than preceding seasons. As polished as A-1 Pictures’ quality is, they fill the space of ‘default anime look’, so their style is pretty feasible to emulate.

The Seven Deadly Sins – Wrath of the Gods is more than living up to the standards of prior seasons. Sure, it suffers from the same story flaws, but it’s reassuring that the sins are in safe hands with Studio Deen. (By Harry Morris)

Rating: Indifferent
Watch on a Japanese Netflix account. Otherwise, available on other Netflix regions at season end.


High Score Girl II

Studio: J.C. Staff
Director: Yoshiki Yamakawa
Main Voice Actors: Sayumi Suzushiro (Akira), Kouhei Amaski (Haruo)

As I’ve written about before, High Score Girl is a wonderful tribute to the incredibly spirited era of 90s video games. From the clacking cacophony of the arcade to the warm comfort of your own home, video games in the 90s were a constantly evolving medium. High Score Girl is a snapshot into that time, centered around the friendship and blossoming romance between Haruo Yaguchi and Akira Oono, two kids who have found solace and a mutual connection through video games. 

Season 2 picks up directly after the events of the previous season, with the love triangle between Haruo, Oono, and Hidaka rapidly building towards some eventual conclusion. While the central conflict for this season is one of romantic tension, High Score Girl does a fantastic job of making it feel natural. It allows its characters time to breathe, giving the viewer a glimpse at just how much they value video games and the friendships that have come from them.

Though Haruo is ostensibly the protagonist, Oono and Hidaka both have ample screentime that lets their own personalities shine. The best love triangles are the ones that feel completely natural, where the conflict centers around the interplay of circumstance and personalities.

Of course, a show about video games wouldn’t be complete without, well, video games. Aside from the excellent character writing, High Score Girl does an amazing job of using real-world franchises. It doesn’t simply reference games like Street Fighter or Golden Axe, it will actually get in-depth on the mechanics and the community that developed around these video games. High Score Girl indelibly captures the spirit of 90s video games without being beholden to nostalgia. It’s a period piece that’s developed its own identity, a story that works with the setting, not because of it.  (By Kyle Rogacion)

Rating: Highly Recommended
High Score Girl Season 1 is available for streaming on Netflix, with Season 2 coming out at a later date.


ORESUKI Are You the Only One Who Loves Me?

Studios: Barnum Studio, Connect
Director: Noriaki Akitaya
Main Voice Actor(s): Daiki Yamashita (Amatsuyu), Haruka Tomatsu (Sumireko), Sachika Misawa (Sakura), Haruka Shiraishi (Aoi)

It’s no secret that the school-based rom-com is one of the most predictable sub-genres in all of anime. The childhood friend, the oblivious main character, the inevitable school fair and beach trip; we’ve all seen it before. Right from the jump, it’s clear that the entire appeal of ORESUKI is based around taking these tropes to task. Unfortunately, that base appeal wears thin rather quickly.

The main character, Amatsuyu “Joro”, starts off playing a typically shy high school student with a childhood friend who greets him every morning and a crush he serves with on the student council. Suddenly, both of these girls approach him and want to talk one-on-one. They each find a bench (one of the funnier running gags in the opening episodes) and confess…that they have a crush on his best friend.

The problem is that while ORESUKI is built on being a different kind of romantic comedy, it rarely translates into an enjoyable one. While there are a few laugh-out-loud moments, many of the jokes are hit-or-miss. Instead of a nuanced re-imagination of the typical rom-com character archetypes, nearly everyone involved is simply exposed as being selfish or hateful. The result is a cast of unlikable brats that are hard to care about (save for the cunning and Joro-obsessed Sumireko).

Because the show jarringly forces the cast to “deal with” the revelations made in the first few episodes, it remains to be seen if its shock value-contingent narrative will stay interesting now that so many of its cards have been laid on the table. Nonetheless, those looking for a different type of rom-com experience might want to see how things pan out. (By Brent Middleton)

Rating: Wait and See (For jaded rom-com fans)
Not Recommended (For everyone else)
Watch on Crunchyroll and Funimation


Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia

Studio: CloverWorks
Director: Toshifumi Akai
Main Voice Actors: Nobunaga Shimazaki (Ritsuka), Rie Takahashi (Mash), Kana Ueda (Ishtar), Takahiro Sakurai (Merlin), Tomokazu Seki (Gilgamesh)

Recent Fate series have already been relatively unapproachable, expecting viewers to have a fair bit of knowledge going into them to get anything out of them. Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia may just take the cake, though. It’s not only an adaptation of a gacha-style phone game, but an adaptation of the 7th and final story arc at that. While the anime somewhat tries to contextualize how we reached this point, it still expects the viewer to know going into it, meaning not even all Fate fans will be able to jump right in if they haven’t played the game.

All that said, Babylonia still displays all the hallmarks of a good Fate show. Characters are bursting at the seams with flavor and personality (historical accuracy aside), fights are so flashy and bombastic every kick to the guy feels like a punch to your own, and magical explanations are just the right amount of hand-wavy convoluted. Ancient Mesopotamia is gorgeously animated and conveys a sense of grandeur with the numerous panoramic shots that pull far away from of characters.

As someone who has played the phone game, it’s difficult for me to tell how accessible this adaptation is for newcomers. Knowing the direction the story will eventually go in, though, it’s at least worth giving a shot to decide if you want to stick with it because if adapted properly this show can result in some of the most butt-clenchingly intense moments seen in anime. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Recommended
Watch on Funimation


Azur Lane

Studio: Bibury Animation Studios
Director: Motoki Tanaka
Main Voice Actors: Yui Ishikawa (Enterprise), Yui Horie (Belfast), Ayane Sakua (Prinz Eugen)

If you’ve spent any time within the animu fandom you’ve heard the term “gacha”. The word derives from the onomatopoeia “gachapon”, referring to the sound made by a hand-cranked toy-dispensing machine popular in Japan. The concept behind gacha (chance-based toy collection) has bled over into the Japanese gaming world in a way that only Japan knows how to do: by combining it with waifus. 

Azur Lane is one of many franchises that has built itself around the gacha phenomenon. In the style of Kantai Collection (“KanColle”), the series follows a massive cast of anthropomorphized World War II-era battleships in their military and personal escapades. Beings known as “Sirens” have invaded Earth and taken control of the seas. Thinly veiled counterparts to real-world nations take up the fight against the Sirens, sending off legions of shipgirls to do battle against the invading forces, as well as Not-Germany and Not-Japan who have begun to use Siren technology for their own purposes.

If the premise sounds ridiculous, well, you wouldn’t be wrong. If you decided to watch Azur Lane for the plot you will be sorely disappointed. However, if you came for fun fights and cute girls you came to the right place (though “right” may be subjective). Speaking of cute girls, boy howdy there are A LOT OF THEM. In the first few episodes you’re quickly introduced to a cast of over a dozen characters who, while they’re all distinct and unique, quickly become overwhelming to keep track of. Azur Lane has no qualms about what it wants to be, but whether or not that’s for the best remains to be seen.  (By Kyle Rogacion)

For fans of series like Girls und Panzer, Strike Witches, and Fate/Grand Order, Azur Lane will be up your alley. For everyone else: keep walking, nothing to see here.

Rating: Recommended (for specific audiences)
Watch on Funimation and Hulu


Ascendance of a Bookworm

Studio: Ajia-Do
Director: Mitsuru Hongou
Main Voice Actors: Yuka Iguchi (Maine)

Book-lover Urano finds herself reincarnated in another world as the 6 year-old girl Maine after the usual isekai circumstances cut her life short. As long as she has books to read, though, it doesn’t matter where she lives her life. The only problem? Books are extremely rare and expensive in this world and Urano turned Maine’s family is very poor.

Ascendance of a Bookworm progression-wise is very similar to the on-going Dr. Stone. If Maine can’t obtain a book, she could just make her own. She uses her know-how from her previous life to experiment with all sorts of writing and drawing materials, ranging from Egyptian papyrus, to Mesopotamian clay tablets, to Chinese woodblocks. Her genuine desire for books is supremely charming, as well as all her reactions when her bright ideas don’t quite go according to plan. Not to mention the reactions of those around Maine when she seemingly whips up a new invention from thin-air.

There are hints of a possible greater story but as it stands right now it simply is Maine’s adventure to obtain a book, which puts it in a slightly awkward position in terms of what kind of audience it’s targeting. Regardless, Ascendance of a Bookworm has a bright world, a likable cast, and the ingrained satisfaction of producing something from scratch. If it does eventually evolve into something more than that, even better, but it’s already worth checking out for some feel-good moments alone. (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll


Chihayafuru 3

Studio: Madhouse
Director: Morio Asaka
Main Voice Actors: Asami Seto (Chihaya), Mamoru Miyano (Taichi), Yoshimasa Hosoya (Arata)

It’s been six whole years since the enthralling second season of Chihayafuru, and even more since the series’s inception in 2011. Fans of the show are already going to watch this much anticipated third season no matter what, so I’d like to take this moment to instead tell newcomers why they should watch this delightful series.

Chihaya is a spunky high-school girl with one passion, and one passion only: karuta. She barely manages to scrape together a karuta club for her school and away they how go with practice, exhibition matches, and tournaments. 

Few people outside of Japan are even aware of this distinctly Japanese card game but Chihayafuru does an excellent job explaining the rules and the strategies involved. The way Madhouse animates these matches of wit and reflexes is nothing short of mesmerizing. There is an unbelievable amount of layers involved in what seems like a simple game at first glance, and being shown all the different ways to play is absolutely fascinating. By the end of the second season, I was looking up professional matches just because I was that interested in the game.

Meanwhile, the manner in which Chihaya and her teammates grow both as players and people is downright inspirational. Their internal conflicts and struggles can be both relatable and heart-wrenching. It’s easy to feel proud for the characters and their accomplishments and connect with them on an emotional level. It’s these factors that make Chihayafuru such a enchanting series and one that absolutely deserves more attention! (By Matt Ponthier)

Rating: Highly Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll


Kemono Michi: Rise Up

Studio: ENGI
Director: Kazuya Miura
Main Voice Actor(s): Katsuyuki Konishi (Genzou), Akira Sekine (Shigure)

The way Kemono Michi starts off will be familiar to many: Genzou Shibata, a professional wrestler, is in the middle of a major match when he suddenly gets summoned to another world by a princess determined to save her kingdom. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Genzou is anything but a by-the-numbers isekai protagonist. His infatuation with any and all animals and lifelong dream to open a pet shop elevates a by-the-numbers premise into one of the most creative twists on the genre yet.

Genzou falls head over heels for every animal and animal-like being he comes across, be it catgirls or fire-breathing salamanders. Anthropomorphic thugs on the street become terrified of him because he’s determined to relentlessly pet their fur. Lady-beasts blush passing by because of how aggressively he flirts with them. Seeing him and straight woman Shigure (his mischievous money-minded companion) take on quests is genuinely entertaining not because of the action sequences, but because of how Genzou interacts with his adversaries.

A couple of the recurring gags are already starting to wear out their welcome four episodes in, but nearly every scene perfectly nails its comedic timing nonetheless. The lively cast that Kemono Michi has built up thus far is promising, and I can’t wait to see what hi-jinks the crew gets into over the comings weeks. If the show can keep rolling out genuinely hilarious situational and slapstick humor and keep the fantasy themes fresh, this is easily set to be one of the most lighthearted and enjoyable isekais of the year. (By Brent Middleton)


Rating: Recommended
Watch on Funimation.

Welcome to Demon School! Iruma-kun!

Studio: Bandai Namco Pictures
Director: Makoto Moriwaki
Main Voice Actors: Ayumu Murase (Iruma), Ryohei Kimura (Asmodeus), Ayaka Asai (Clara)

This is a show that seems like it came straight from a time capsule dated from the early 2000’s, when beta protagonists that stumble upon every fortune imaginable were in vogue. While Iruma-kun seems to have missed the memo that times have moved on, it’s almost refreshing to see a show that’s so by-the-books.

After his parents sold his soul to a devil to pay off a debt, the titular Iruma finds himself going to the titular demon school. There he tries to stick out as little as possible to avoid being outed as a human and inevitably does just the opposite. Every action he takes snowballs into some sort of life-threatening predicament that he somehow fumbles through into a glorious conclusion that earns him praise. While the outcomes are always apparent, seeing how Iruma stumbles into it provide a decent amount of laughs.

The simplicity of the story carries over into its design as well with a bright, yet flat, color palette; simple, yet distinctive, character designs; and tropey, yet charming, archetypes. By all intents and purposes, Iruma-kun should be a boring show. It doesn’t try to be anything it’s not, though, and sticks to the strengths of all things simple and basic, and that lends it more of an entertainment factor than you might think if you’re just looking for some laughs.

Rating: Recommended
Watch on Crunchyroll


BOKUBEN: We Never Learn Season 2

Studio: Silver Link
Director: Yoshiaki Iwasaki
Main Voice Actors: Ryota Osaka (Yuiga), Haruka Shiraishi (Fumino), Sayumi Suzushiro (Uruka), Miyu Tomita (Rizu)

After a shockingly short amount of time, BOKUBEN is back for another season and it’s… exactly the same as before, for better and for worse. Namely, the degree of eye-rolling misunderstandings will vary wildly depending on which character each given episode is focused on.

If it focuses on either the logical Rizu or the energetic Uruka, then expect an entire episode dedicated to one obnoxious understanding that should never have happened in the first place. If it focuses on Fumino or Kirisu-sensei, then expect an amusing display of exasperation that you’ve probably felt when dealing with a friend before. If it focuses the petite Asumi, then you’ll actually be treated to a relationship and interaction that actually makes sense and is a genuine joy to watch with no strings attached.

So roll the die and see which girl you get each episode because this series is still a paradigm of inconsistency.

Rating: Indifferent
Watch on Crunchyroll and Funimation


No Guns Life

Studio: Madhouse
Director: Naoyuiki Itou
Main Voice Actors: Junichi Suwabe (Juzo), Daiki Yamashita (Tetsuro), Manami Numakura (Mary)

No Guns Life is in a tricky situation right off the bat by presenting a relatively serious story… with a protagonist that has a gun for a head. Without some levity Juuzou would be impossible to take seriously. Fortunately, a kiss to his muzzle by a lovely lady and a flustered reaction later provided just that in the opening moments of the first episode, setting the appropriate tone for the rest of the show.

Juuzou is mechanically modified “Enhanced” and acts as a fixer to problems caused by other Enhanced citizens. He eventually comes across the fugitive, Tetsuro, and decides to shelter him from the overbearing mega-corporation that controls the city. There’s nothing profound here beyond watching android-like superhumans go at it against each other, and that’s fine considering how well done the fights are.

The world has a griminess to it that matches the grizzled appearance of its inhabitants. Juuzou plays the part of a standard hard-boiled investigator type but with a dash of goofiness when he gets thrown off his game. Mary the mechanic is usually the one instigating such chaos and can be a hoot to watch. All in all, No Guns Life will be a fun ride, just don’t expect anything groundbreaking from it.

Rating: Recommended
Watch on Funimation


Didn’t I say to make my abilities average in the next life

Studio: Project No.9
Director: Masahiko Oota
Main Voice Actors: Azumi Waki (Mile), Sora Tokui (Rena), Masumi Tazawa (Pauline), Fumiko Uchimura (Mavis)

“Hey Jim, this genre called ‘ee-say-kyy’ is really hot right now. We should get in on it.”

“I dunno Tom, I only like to make moe blob, slice-of-life, cute-girls-doing-cute-things series.”

“Why not both?”

Thus, is how I imagine this show came to be. Our reincarnator, Mile, wants nothing more than to be average in her new life, and requests as much. Problem is the outlier of an ancient dragon in the world means that the average “of all living beings” is much higher than the average of “all human beings”.

This is a power fantasy, through-and-through with a moe blob coat of paint. Instead of club activities, Mile and company have fun adventuring out to destroy golems much higher than their own levels. Instead of building a harem of girls, we get saccharine, sweet interactions between girls. It’s a fluffy, light-hearted show that will elicit a chuckle hear and smirk there and not much more. Fan of either genre will probably be able to get something out of this, though.

It’s worth noting, however, that the show took a bit of a turn in recent episode that feels rather sudden. Whether this is beneficial or detrimental is yet to be seen.

Rating: Indifferent
Watch on Crunchyroll




Heralding from the rustic, old town of Los Angeles, California; Matthew now resides in Boston where he diligently researches the cure for cancer. In reality, though, he just wants to play games and watch anime, and likes talking about them way too much. A Nintendo/Sony hybrid fan with a soft-spot for RPG’s, he finds little beats sinking hours into an immersive game world. You can follow more of his work at his blog and budding YouTube channel below.

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Anime’s Survival Genre: Creating a Killing Game

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anime the killing game

Anime’s survival genre, which has lent itself to a spectrum of popular, critically acclaimed shows over the years, has a sub-genre that is more diverse and nuanced than it seems to the casual glance. The infamous “killing game” sub-genre has spawned many easily recognizable, seeming cult-classics. 

While the killing game genre is massive, and maybe even a bit oversaturated to date, the three anime adaptations covered in this article serve as proof that a seemingly rigid basis for a plot can take many concrete and thematic twists and turns.

There are many listicles online that can serve as great jumping-off points to find different entries to your liking—here, however, you’ll read a more in-depth analysis of three shows, each with their own cult following and notoriety.

These shows are: When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni), Danganronpa: The Animation, and Future Diary (Mirai Nikki).

For these shows, this article will ask the same three questions:

  1. What is the basic premise of the killing game?
  2. What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?
  3. How are the character deaths handled during the game?

In the interest of not spoiling the ending for these shows, this article will focus mostly on how each killing game is first introduced.

Answering these questions, with a laser focus on just three examples, will show just how nuanced the construction of a killing game anime can be. 

When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni)

When the Seagulls Cry (Umineko no naku koro ni)

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

This anime serves as an adaptation for the Umineko: When They Cry visual novel series. Protagonist Battler Ushiromiya travels to his family’s estate on a private island, reuniting with his extended family after an absence of six years. As Battler reconnects with his cousins, his aunts and uncles discuss the finances (the potential inheritance) to be left behind by Battler’s grandfather, Kinzo Ushiromiya. Battler, his family members, and several of the estate’s staff, get stranded on the isolated island by a typhoon, and a chain of brutal murders begins, in accordance with a strange riddle, supposedly hinting at a way to find Kinzo’s secret stash of gold, and the headship of the family, simultaneously avoiding a gruesome death at the hands of Beatrice, the mysterious “golden witch.”

Thus, this particular killing game has dual incentives for survival and material wealth.

The killings follow a pre-determined schedule of sorts, the twelve “twilights,” described in the main riddle, which predict both the number of people who will die, and how.

However, they are intentionally cryptic, and do not specify who will die. This adds to an overall sense of the killing game being both a dreaded inevitability and an impossible mystery, leaving everyone subjected to it utterly defenseless.

Question 2:  How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

Characters’ deaths in this entry are by far the goriest and grotesque out of the three anime covered here. There’s a seeming fetishization of death, as the bodies are often horribly disfigured—to the point that, even seeing the censored versions can be hard to look at. However, this is not senseless gore—this apparent disrespect to the dignity of his murdered relatives and the estate’s longstanding employees enrages Battler, fueling him to declare all-out-war against Beatrice and the killing game itself.

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Battler is determined to use logic and reasoning to solve the various, seemingly “impossible” murders that occur around him, while refuting the idea that the deaths of his loved ones were caused by the “golden witch” Beatrice and, thus, magic. After the first series of deaths, the anime places Battler in a different dimension, able to converse with a woman who claims to be Beatrice. What follows is a test of Battler’s faith in logic and reasoning, in the face of the cruel and vindictive witch “Beatrice.” This tension amplifies as a sort of groundhog-day effect happens, wherein the scenario resets itself, with Battler forced to watch the murders begin anew, with new victims and circumstances, struggling to keep his head and solve the atrocities in a rational way.

Danganronpa: The Animation

Danganronpa: The Animation

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

This anime adaptation of the Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc video game, places Makoto Naegi and his fifteen classmates trapped in a sealed-off, underground version of Hope’s Peak Academy high school. With no memory of what happened to them and how they got there, they are pressured into playing a killing game, wherein the winner can both survive and escape back to the outside world. 

The killing game follows a specific pattern for each murder. Monokuma, the self-proclaimed principal (a talking teddy bear) states that participation in the killing game is the only way to escape to the outside. Each new murder begins with a body discovery, followed by a limited window of time to investigate the murder, and, finally, a class trial, wherein the students try to present evidence to vote for and convict the culprit.

The game itself is very controlled and regimented, with the only freedom presented is the freedom to kill in any way the culprit chooses.

The incentive, then, besides basic survival, is to escape to the outside world, albeit at the other classmates. Soon, however, a thematic duality between protagonist and the killing game’s mastermind occurs, similar to When the Seagulls Cry, as Makoto Naegi fights Monokuma’s attempts to spread despair to incite murder with a fervent belief in “hope” to both stop participation in the killing game and for everyone to escape.

Question 2: How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

This show revels in death, but not in gore so much as in spectacle. Similar to its source material, the anime builds tension leading up to each body discovery, and everybody discovery is surreal, near-unbelievable because each is bizarre in its own way. The bodies bleed pink blood, and each body discovery is shown with a shaking screen.

The number of bizarre details provided to each murder is crucial to the plot progression, as this lends itself to the “investigation” component, followed by the trial. Additionally, every time a culprit is found guilty of murder, they are given a tailor-made execution scene, complete with its own unique animation sequence—at the hands of a teddy bear. 

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Naegi remains staunchly against falling under Monokuma’s influence and engaging in the killing game. At first, he tries his best to deny that anyone would play into Monokuma’s game. However, once the murders begin, he develops a fervent belief in “hope,” which, as mentioned, runs in exact contrast to the theme of “despair” espoused by Monokuma (and, later, the true culprit). Naegi’s survival instinct becomes intertwined with his belief in his “hope.” As the story continues, Naegi and Monokuma dig themselves deeper into their dualing ideologies, and are alternatingly angered by, and dismissive of, the other’s ideals. 

The inclusion of the other classmates on equal footing means that, while some try to murder their peers, others begin to side with and aid Naegi, to end the game and regain their freedom.

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

Future Diary (Mirai Nikki)

Question 1: What is the basic premise of the killing game?

Protagonist Yukiteru Amano, a shy fourteen-year-old student, is pulled out of his ordinary school life as a social recluse when he is thrown into a killing game by the god of causality Deus Ex Machina, wherein Yuki and eleven others are provided their own future diaries, which predict the future in a manner unique to their character, and are pressed to find and kill one another, with the last person remaining will become the next god in place of Deus.

This killing game has next to no rules—kill the other diary holders, and you win. The game, then, has the dual incentives of survival and becoming a god.

At the anime’s beginning, the other participants have seemingly been chosen at random to participate (with the commonality of living within Sakurami City). However, Yuki has previously conversed privately with Deus many times as his “imaginary friend,” and, in the anime, after Yuki muses about having no “dreams or goals,” and saying “all I have is this diary and this imaginary world,” Deus states he will start an “entertaining game,” telling Yuki “I shall bestow the future upon you.” Soon after the game begins and, while the other contestants are regularly summoned to speak with Deus as a group, their identities obscured, Deus clearly favors Yuki from the start, which ironically leads many contestants to try killing him first.

Question 2: How are the character deaths handled throughout the game?

Interestingly, the first two diary-holder deaths are more strange that horrific—their diaries are destroyed, and their bodies morph and warp in a spiral into sheer nothingness. However, there are plenty of non-diary holder characters who die gruesomely, even at this early stage, and soon after the deaths of diary holders become gory in their own right. Much of this death and destruction comes from Yuno Gasai (another diary holder and infamous yandere), who seems unfazed by it, particularly as it involves protecting Yuki—however, as time goes on, Yuki bloodies his own hands, likely desensitized by the game.

Question 3: What is the defining philosophy of the protagonist?

Prior to the game’s start, Yuki’s personal philosophy is being a mere “observer” of life around him. This is made impossible once the game begins. Throughout the game, Yuki struggles between his basic instinct for survival and a growing desire to cast aside his loneliness and build friendships with those around him. This theme is highlighted a number of times, when Yuno, determined to help Yuki survive, delivers heat-of-the-moment ultimatums urging Yuki to abandon potential allies and friends to save himself. This dynamic is ironic, as Deus originally positioned the start of the killing game as a chance for Yuki to break out of his socially isolated tendencies. However, Yuno is from the start is simultaneously reliable and unreliable. On the one hand, she seems an expert at survival and knows the rules of the killing game before Deus has even given his official explanation to Yuki (and the viewer). On the other hand, she is Yuki’s stalker, and her obsessive tendencies are emotionally unhealthy for Yuki.

In the end…

As this discussion hopefully shows, there are a number of ways to expound upon the specific anime sub-genre of killing games. Using the above examples illuminates how choices governing both the killing game’s rules and it’s protagonist’s identity and personal philosophy can take a viewer down vastly different, and shockingly entertaining narrative paths.

By Katharine Booth

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Anime

‘Shirobako’: Meditations on Success and Failure

The First Step Through the Recording Room Door

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Shirobako Anime

In celebration of the recent announcement that the Shirobako movie, imaginatively titled Shirobako Movie, has a Japanese release set for February 29th, 2020, it’s time to reflect on one of the best series of the 2010s:

Spoilers abound

Few anime series reflect the societal tension of achieving success, and therein causes of failure, more acutely than Shirobako. Centered on the working lives of five school friends in the anime industry, the central theme is laid out explicitly within the first five minutes: Aoi Miyamori and her school anime club friends are excited at the prospect of joining the anime industry, their major anime project bringing them creative pride. The montage illustrating their hard work has vibrant tones; then Shirobako jumps forward into the future. Overworked production assistant Aoi grips her steering wheel while delivering more animation cuts that need checking. The background colours are muted. While she momentarily perks up at hearing a promotional radio interview for the anime that she’s working on, this is still not exactly as she imagined.

Success is elusive. The type of success is immaterial, for each person has their own passions and ambitions, and indeed what qualifies as success is also personal. At some point, however, one may catastrophically fail at achieving their desired success, adapting and resurging in response, but sometimes failure is an endpoint. Point blank. Other times, success eludes a person for reasons wholly outside their control. Society, in general, poorly prepares young people for the ramifications of failure, because it is so focussed on escalating ascendency. Within the nurturing structures of home or school a great lie is told, repeatedly, that personal improvement and effort will proportionally result in accomplishment and acknowledgment. Schools, especially, convey this through validating scores and grades, such that individual contentment with one’s own success becomes tied to external approval. Thus transitioning to the chaos of society beyond the protective confines of home or school is very often difficult for people. There is still always another marker or level of achievement attainable, but the path to success and contentment is obfuscated, and if people don’t outright fail, then they may suffer from aspirational deflation. Some people have the misfortune to be apprised of this early, but more often, the realization arrives in burgeoning adulthood.

Exploring the concept of adult success through that juxtaposition — where reality dispels the ideal — with anime as vector, is inspired, not solely meta-textually. As one of Japan’s most distinctive and unique fictional mediums stylistically, anime encapsulates that creative ideal imbued with cultural heritage. In this way, creating anime becomes a creative zenith, bringing the arduous pursuit of realizing professional creative success, in all its fits and bursts and economic considerations, into stark relief. Shirobako approaches this from several angles with Aoi and her friends as conduits. For example, Ema Yasuhira, a key animator, is harrowed that her drawing rate may not be sufficiently quick enough to earn enough money and feed herself. Misa Toudou, a CGI animator, wants more than from her career than modelling car tires and hubcaps — she joined her current company because the CEO was once a famed anime creator, but he felt the need to prioritize financial stability, not just for himself, but for all of his staff. Creative endeavours are a risk and prone to failure, especially as anime operates on thin profit margins.

That would be a simplistic thematic discussion, however, and Shirobako is far more multifaceted. Returning to Aoi, she is elevated for her efforts when the opportunity arises. Mechanically, as the viewpoint character for the audience, Aoi’s promotion through the ranks allows the series to show more fields within the industry, but it also serves as a counterpoint to the trajectories of the other main characters. However, Aoi still struggles, because although she has a dream to create anime, she laments that she doesn’t concretely know what she wants to actually achieve now that she’s there. Her future prospects concern her. Setting aside compounding factors, societal success rarely has room for people without overarching plans—it’s regarded as listlessness. Shirobako has empathy for these people: some people, like Aoi, focussing on the current step in front of them, just stumble onto a new and unexpected avenue towards contentment. Late in the series, fellow people in the company are quizzed on why they wanted to make anime. Some were passionate, while others just fell into it, happenstance, and stuck around because they enjoyed the minutiae of the work they were doing. Shirobako emphasizes that the latter is perfectly okay and a form of success, as well as contentment.

Perhaps that notion about success should be then rewritten: personal contentment is elusive. Especially in a creative field, where satisfaction with one’s creations can be so ephemeral, and art — in its incipient stages at least — is direct self-expression, the other hurdles and barriers formed by a civilisation that impede personal creative contentment cause severe frustration in denying an outlet for successful expression.

As a corollary, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his 1841 essay, Self Reliance, describing the social imposition on valuing personal testimony and discernment,  “I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions.” Nearly two hundred years on, the aggregated names, societies, and dead institutions often remain a bulwark against new people entering the circuit of success, where one achievement begets another through increasing recognition. Not that those already on the circuit are generally undeserving of their success, far from it; and they too are liable to face a precipitous drop from precarious fame, as Shirobako’s main director character, Seiichi Kinoshita, found out when the follow-up project to his award-winning debut was a disaster. However, frequently the hardest element in achieving success is initially getting the proverbial foot in the door, because there’s an accreted doorstopper of “badges” jamming it shut. Shirobako knows this, and the tribulations of Shizuka Sakaki, an aspiring anime voice actress, consequently make for the most affecting storyline and a pertinent rumination on failure.

Shizuka’s failures in entering the voice-acting industry threaten to cause her recession into obscurity. Humanity is mostly anonymous, but those with the desire to rise above the crowds and perform with a platform frequently fear such a thing. Pointedly, Shizuka joins a group of voice actors providing background cheers as sports fans, but her zeal has her shunted away from the microphone, because she is too loud.

A particularly wounding vignette related to Shizuka’s struggles bluntly satirizes an anime production committee meeting. After a successful audition, Shizuka is on the shortlist for a major character in a new series. She is, in fact, the anime director’s first choice. Here Emerson’s “badges and names” rear their heads, with the representatives for the brands co-funding the anime reverting to their bureaucratic interests, solely focussing on the marketability or promotional qualities of their companies’ favoured actresses. It’s a familiar experience for anyone who has ever entered a meeting knowing, that for whatever reason, those judging have pre-emptively made their decision based on preconceptions and extraneous circumstances.

Shirobako further thematically underscores Shizuka’s trials through Waiting for Godot. Shizuka’s former acting coach invites her along to see the rehearsals of an all-female production that she is directing. The play’s first act revolves around two companions, Estragon and Vladimir, as they wait beside a tree for the arrival of the unknown Godot that evening. Eventually Pozzo and Lucky — a loquacious, abusive master and denigrated slave — pass by, interrupting their humorous and poignant squabbling. At the end of the act, a messenger boy tells the pair that Godot is unable to come today, but that he will be there tomorrow (it is implied that the men have been waiting regularly for a long time). The far more serious second act sees Estragon and Vladimir still underneath the tree, patiently waiting for Godot, until a blind Pozzo and mute Lucky appear. Evidently a significant amount of time has passed, and yet Estragon and Vladimir are expecting (hoping!) that Godot will arrive. This is the most facile reading of Waiting for Godot, but it draws a direct parallel with Shizuka’s plight. Her career is stagnant; the daily chore of failing auditions is a repetitive stasis. In the same way Estragon and Vladimir expect Godot to eventually arrive as promised, Shizuka is waiting for the tacit societal promise of getting an acting job as a result of her hard work to be fulfilled. Godot never arrives in the play, and Shizuka’s dreams are perilously close to failing by virtue of never being given the chance to realize them. The demoralizing truth is that not everyone is rewarded with vindication for their talents.

This can curdle into bitterness, if not resentment. Shirobako’s most extreme example is the ornery production assistant Daisuke Hiroaka, who is disenfranchised with animators taking his role and the anime production process as a whole for granted. Shizuka is not so jaded, but one evening a dejected Shizuka envies a younger, successful actress complaining about her work schedule on television. Most heart-wrenchingly, Shizuka discovers all of her friends are working together in the anime adaptation of a popular manga series that she auditioned for, lamenting that “[She] would have loved to have worked with all of [them] just want[s] to work with you all”. Seeing friends succeed while one is continuously failing can strain even the most affectionate friendships.

Here is where Shirobako’s prevailing positivity exists. Shizuka magnanimously does not resent her friends, despite frustrations, and they, in turn, all admire her qualities and have faith in her abilities. Likewise, throughout the series, multiple anime production crew-members commiserate setbacks and issues together over drinks. As much as creating anime is a collaborative effort where people solve problems together, friendships and support structures help bear the load of failure. There is also a more positive and possibly misconstrued interpretation of Waiting for Godot (having not read or watched it properly since 2009). Estragon and Vladimir remain undaunted about waiting, and are content to bickering with each other for as much time passes. They are together under that tree; the final line is “Yes, let’s go”, but neither leaves. Similarly, none of the girls are ready to give up on either their careers, or each other.

In that optimistic vein, Shizuka leaves Waiting For Godot invigorated and determined to continue trying. People acquiring resilience against rejection and overriding failure, and detaching their self-worth from external success, is a difficult process. But it enables reconciling with reality and appreciating the more minor achievements in life. Soon afterward, Shizuka gets the opportunity to play a prefecture mascot. Her friends worry that she sees this as a tangent to her career objectives, but Shizuka appreciates it as lateral progression, and more importantly, a worthwhile experience in its own right.

Towards the end of Waiting For Godot, Vladimir demands that the messenger boy recognizes him when he surely returns tomorrow with the eternally disappointing news that Godot won’t be coming. Vladimir wants acknowledgment on a personal, human level. It is an external validation of ourselves and our place in society. As such, Shizuka also wants to be accepted on her own merits: Aoi, due to friendship and appreciation of her talent, is on the verge of recommending Shizuka to director Seiichi Kinoshita and producer “Nabe P” when they visit the bar Shizuka works at, but she stops her. Fundamentally, humans want to be accepted and heard as part of respect and dignity for their individuality.

That same granular humanity is really Shirobako’s silver lining in the grind of overwhelming failure: for all the nebulousness of the person that is Godot or the nebulousness of the anime industry, Shirobako humanizes the process by showing everyone’s interior and working lives. Subsequently, it illustrates that all it takes is one person acknowledging your efforts to opening the door to success. Aoi messes up interviews at multiple anime production studios until her enthusiasm for the children’s anime Andes Chucky amuses the heads of Musashino Animation, as they worked on it, and they give her a chance. College student Midori Imai helps research some technical information on Aoi’s behalf, and the director and screenwriter are impressed and contract her as an employee. A revered background artist originally got his break because one of the production assistant staff members — who eventually became head of Mushashino Animation — saw his skill and asked him to paint snowy weather for Andes Chucky.

So it is the most cathartic moment in the series when Shizuka steps through the recording studio door to record a significant minor character, the younger sister of the character she had originally auditioned for. Seiichi Kinoshita had remembered her and thus gave her the role. That karmic justice and emotional fulfillment and resolution are partly why we consume narrative fiction. The empathy we have for characters — both in their joys and suffering — allows us to reflect on our own experiences, but with the refinement of narrative that abstracts things from the mundane human experience and brings them into focus. Pathos is heightened. It’s also a more palatable way of processing our own feelings, because there is the reassurance, especially in optimistic series like Shirobako, that failure does not have the same finality as in life. Shizuka’s struggles ultimately leading to success is uplifting and also a wonderful way of reminding us that one shut recording room door is not the same as every door being closed to us. Our own narratives continue beyond failure and setbacks. 

Grand scale success is elusive and too dependent on other factors to be a pure reflection of one’s capabilities; but if one is actively determined and finessed, eventually somebody else will appreciate it. It could just be one’s friends or family, but it could a person who grants further opportunities. Shirobako, therefore, asks us to find the process of trying to succeed, stumbles and all, worthwhile in and of itself. Shirobako then asks us to continue doing so, and always hold out hope that we will find that one person who reaches out and unlocks that blocked recording room door, letting us, like Shizuka, perform.

Declan Biswas-Hughes

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Anime

Anime Ichiban 20: See You Space Shounen

Harry makes his return to the Anime Ichiban crew after a short absence to talk about the thing he knows best: passionate young men overcoming obstacles with their fists/swords/forehead.

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shounen anime

Harry makes his return to the Anime Ichiban crew after a short absence to talk about the thing he knows best: passionate young men overcoming obstacles with their fists/swords/forehead.

Note: Apologies for the strange audio overlap for the last minute of the episode. There were some strange syncing issues we couldn’t seem to work out.

TIMESTAMPS
0:00 – Introductions
11:05 – Cowboy Bebop live-action actor injured on set
20:04 – Yu-Gi-Oh card game milestone
26:04 – What anime character Japan wants as their boss
32:47 – The newest stage play adaptation
37-38 – Make some pizza with the Promare team
41:58 – Weathering With You finally falls out of the Top 10 at the box office
50:41 – SHITSUMON! – What makes a good shounen protagonist?
1:21:31 – Closing remarks

TRACKS

Intro – “Tank!” by Seatbelts (Cowboy Bebop opening theme)
Outro – “Koukai no Uta” by Sayuri (My Hero Academia Season 4 ending theme)

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