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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

Anime Ichiban 22: Those That Make History

Some shows just “have it”.

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anime of the decade

It’s the last Anime Ichiban episode of the decade which means it’s time for a little something special! Join the crew as they take a trip down memory lane and pick apart what made some of the most influential anime of the decade so impactful.

TIMESTAMPS
17:21 – Update on 2020 Olympic Gundam space launch
22:44 – Yoshiyuki Tomimo and Rumiko Takahashi recognized with government Cultural Honor award
25:48 – Global anime market growth
32:08 – New Retro Crush streaming service
36:26 – SHITSUMON! What are some of the most influential anime of the decade and why were they so?

TRACKS
Intro – “crossing field” by LiSA (Sword Art Online opening theme)
Outro – “Holy night’s Dong” by Tai no Kobone

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Anime

The Historical Comedic Mechanics that Make ‘KonoSuba’ a Great Fantasy Comedy

A deep dive into Japanese and Western comedic heritage and humor.

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The Konosuba: Legend of Crimson movie made its North American premiere on November 12th. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at why Konosuba is such a great comedy series on a character-writing level in the context of Japanese and Western comedic history.

Anime is a wondrous and varied medium, but the plague of generic European fantasy world “isekai” every season would make an onlooker think otherwise. Isekai stories revolve around characters entering another world from their own. Alice in Wonderland, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Fionavar Tapestry could all be considered isekai. The glut of anime isekai in recent years—where protagonists invariably travel from the modern day to some Tolkienesque or Dungeons and Dragons-inspired fantasy world—has spawned its own permanent subgenre of self-aware parody and satires, of which Konosuba: God’s Blessing on This World is a part. Yet Konosuba is notable because it is also an exceptional anime comedy.

Dying from the stress of trying to save a schoolgirl he mistakenly thought needed rescuing, teenage hermit Kazuma Satou arrives in purgatory having done nothing with his life. The goddess Aqua gives him the choice to start life over in another world as long as he defeats the great evil sweeping the land. She offers him a gift to help him of which Kazuma chooses to take Aqua along.

Unfortunately for Kazuma, Aqua is both spoilt and a moron. He spends most of his time rescuing her from the mouths of giant, man-eating toads and other mishaps. His other companions aren’t useful either: the sorceress Megumin has specialized only in explosion magic, while Darkness is a highly skilled swordswoman but prefers to be hit by the enemy out of masochistic tendencies. They are a truly terrible company of heroes, and hilarious to watch.

To explain why Konosuba is brilliant beyond its amusing premise, passionate performances, or clever dialogue, however, we must ironically get serious about the mechanics of comedy.

Konosuba Aqua and frog

Comedic Conflicts

Comedy is extremely subjective. The cultural nuances, sensibilities, and idiomatic expressions mean that not all comedy is universal—“American joke” is a derisive term amongst Japanese people for a failed and incomprehensible joke, for example—but certainly some elements do translate enough to make some general commentary on it.

Comedy is born of conflict, flaws, and suffering. Prominent Western comedies such as Blackadder, Frasier, and Parks and Recreation all share a few things in common. Firstly, the opposing personalities produce a strong and constant source of fundamental interpersonal conflict between them that can be mined continuously. This is absolutely the case for Konosuba; Aqua’s gullible and stupid nature contrasts Kazuma’s tactical deviousness, and their dynamic produces scenes such as him using her as bait to lure in crocodiles while she wails. It is a rich well of comedy.

Secondly, a character’s personality flaws are what bring about their downfall in a scenario. All four of the main characters manage, in their own ways, to make any given problem worse, and they invariably descend into further debt.

Finally, the overall situation they are in is an obstacle to the fulfillment of their desires. Kazuma desires peace and to laze about at home, but he keeps being sent on kingdom-saving missions. Within those missions, his personality directs his actions and were Kazuma able to lounge about uninterrupted forever, there would be no series.

These three elements roughly make up the basis of all so-called “character-based humor”. The versatility that it provides can be traced back through Eurocentric Western comedy for centuries if not millennia. Plautus’ comedies performed between 205 and 184 B.C. frequently revolved around class obligations. All of Shakespeare’s and Molière’s comedies endure because they concern both character dilemmas forced upon them by society and pettier conflicts with and manipulations of one another (allowing for salient observations of humanity). Even early silent slapstick films of the 1920s and 30s physically built up characters and their dynamics in order to motivate the pratfalls and slip-ups.

Konosuba Kazuma is shocked.

Japanese comedy independently arrived at these principles of character-based humor as well, but has tended towards reducing these concepts down to smaller scales and acting within distinct roles in live performance. In this way, the flawed characters are more boxed in by the parameters set by their role. This is where anime comedies like Konosuba differ in their sensibilities, owing to the long history of Japanese comedy being performed in this way.

Manzai” might be the most enduring; it originated in the Kansai region during the Heian period (794 – 1185). The style features a double act with one person in the “boke” idiot role, while the intelligent “tsukkomi” comments and challenges them as a comedic “straight man”. Think Abbott and Costello. With the advent of television, the broader array of “owarai” (meaning “laugh”) comedy has given rise to “reaction” comedy, where, as the name suggests, the physical and verbal reaction to a situation is the focus and joke, frequently conveyed through exaggerated facial expressions and noises.

This is not to say that Konosuba, or any comedic anime, is a direct synthesis of traditional Japanese comedic art-forms, but that heritage has clearly filtered through to the sensibilities of anime comedies. The most common joke across anime is a sharp cutaway to the straight man protagonist’s exasperation and bewilderment at the bizarre actions of his compatriots. This copies manzai and “reaction” comedy. Konosuba is rife with these types of jokes and the limited and deformed animation by Studio Deen accentuates their impact. Konosuba’s real cleverness, however, is the way it uses role-based humor as part of its comedic repertoire and avoids the pitfalls often associated with it.

Comedy Roles in Anime

As said earlier, Japanese comedy heavily favors role-based characters as the source of character humor for many centuries. This is frequently evident in anime comedies and sometimes this works to hilarious results. D-Frag, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun, Nichijou, and Tanaka-kun is Always Listless have characters with very defined roles they occupy in jokes on the basis of their personalities (that long list is there as suggestions for viewing). What they can, therefore, do comedically is limited by the role they play, becoming a subset of specialized characters with flaws.

Where this practically differs from simply being a character with comedic flaws is the limits the role sets with the type of joke being able to be told with that character. While a purely “flaw-based” character means that the output and outcome of a conflict will be foreseeable for a particular character as a result of their flaws in a certain scenario, role-based humor additionally limits the possible input and stimulus for the joke in the first place. Practically, characters evolving from role-based humor will only be used for certain kinds of jokes and will only ever take certain kinds of actions. Their responses are not tailored to the situation. The situation has to be more tailored to them.

Nozakii-kun Seo inflicts pain on everyone around her.

In something like the anime series Grand Blue Dreaming and Kaguya-sama: Love is War, or say, the sitcom Friends, the audience knows how the characters will respond to and behave in a situation, but you could give them a simple dilemma and each would be able to carry on on the basis of their flaws and be funny.

A more role-based character would need a particular problem and sparring partner to find that same comedic value. For example, Seo from Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun will always be completely oblivious and unintentionally confrontational in response to a situation, so she is only ever used for those sorts of jokes, like angering somebody with something she says, or placed in a situation to be boisterous with her opposite, the jittery Wakamatsu. There is absolutely crossover between these two forms of character creation, and a well-written “role-based” character is nearly indistinguishable from a “flaws-based character”, but they are still slightly different in execution.

Where a lot of anime comedy falls flat then, at least to foreign audiences, is that the characters are identified less by their personalities, but rather exclusively by the role they play. At its worst, they become one-note and one-joke characters, repeated over and over to diminishing returns, as there is a lack of tension because the scenarios always have the exact same result. Certainly, all characters in all comedy, or even all fiction, have roles in the stories and conflicts, but there is a difference between characters having personality traits and being defined by their archetypal role. When there is a problem with a role-based character, and the series hinges on them and role-based humor, there is little way of alleviating the problem without changing the character entirely.

Konosuba avoids this issue with character roles because all the characters’ personalities contrast the expected demeanors of the fantasy class roles they occupy. Aqua is an all-powerful god and yet she is a needy moron. Megumin is an “Arch Wizard” mage and should reasonably be proficient across various types of magic, but instead she is so hyper-specialized that she’s rendered nearly useless after a single, uncontrolled spell. Darkness is outwardly a refined and noble crusader as one would expect from a powerful knight, but her penchant for flagellation and depraved fantasies always threatens to expose itself.

Konosuba Aqua questions Kazuma's plans.

The juxtaposition of character role and flawed personality helps set the absurdist tone and is the foundation for reaction comedy when paired with the cynical and conniving comedic straight man in Kazuma. However, that gap between the ideal and reality also leads to personal amelioration for the characters. Darkness feels obligated to uphold her family’s honor and embracing her fetishes becomes a mode for self-acceptance. Megumin’s delight in explosions makes her a social pariah, and so it is a touching moment when Kazuma recognizes it as important self-expression, endearing him to her. In this way, Konosuba neatly eschews the problem of equating comedic role to personality, and that helps set it apart from many other anime comedies. It is a genuine character-based fantasy comedy.

On top of this, Konosuba can lampoon the trend of incorporating game elements into fantasy anime series, such as defined fighting class roles and skill trees, because it already is utilizing those same roles for its comedy. Thus it is able to hang its parodying of isekai and game tropes off this firm central character basis. The parody is not the source of the jokes, merely an added quality as a result of the sincere treatment of its characters, moving it from hollow parody to genuine satire.

Konosuba is a superlative comedy because it is a complementary blend of Japanese character-based humour and fantasy isekai, and is able to use video game structure towards fulfilling comedic intent. It can both adhere to and mock modern fantasy isekai adeptly because its comedic foundations are built on character conflicts.

Character conflicts are everything in comedy, and the extra layer of restrictions via character roles that have evolved in the course of Japanese comedic history can make the styles confusing or simply not funny to foreigners. Konosuba is exceptional and acclaimed as a comedy because it manages to integrate both character roles and character-based humor in a tautly written and witty package. The fact that it is a fantasy isekai is ultimately incidental to it being a great comedy, but Konosuba is a beacon for what more comedy and fantasy anime could aspire to.

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Anime Ichiban 21: Explosions are so Kakkoii!

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The Konosuba movie delivers on almost all fronts while this anime season delivers more shows of varying quality.

TIMESTAMPS

0:00 – Introductions
10:03 – Konosuba movie impressions and revenue news
22:23 – DEEMO movie announcement
26:29 – A cruise for anime fans
30:22 – Clip Paint Studio manga software donated to Texan schools
34:05 – The decline of Japanese arcades
38:53 – Yuki Kaji monetizes his voice even more
42:17 – This week in stage play adaptations
49:47 – Tokyo anime studio exhibition
51:08 – SHITSUMON! The yabai, the ma ma, and the kakkoii of this season
1:20:38 – Closing remarks

TRACKS

Intro – “Papapa” by Shuka Saito (ORESUKI opening theme)
Outro –  “Chisana Boukensha” by Sora Amamiya, Rie Takahashi, and Ai Kayano (Konosuba first season ending theme)

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