Wow yet another season come and gone. From seeming at first like a weak season, this summer had me following more shows than in quite some time, plus not dropping any shows at all! (not that every show I finished was good….). So what was up with this surprisingly excellent season?
Best of the Best
Senki Zesshou Symphogear AXZ
Its another season of Symphogear, what more needs to be said? Ok, I guess something needs to be said. AXZ is probably the most consistent season of Symphogear yet. It doesn’t quite reach the highest highs of previous seasons, but also never comes anywhere close to their lowest lows. This could be interpreted as “playing it safe”, and thats not entirely untrue. However AXZ is still Symphogear in all the ways only Symphogear is. And as such it was a ride the entire time.
Perhaps the most notable difference from previous series is how it ended on an explicit sequel hook for the already announced Season 5. It wasn’t the cliffhanger people had suggested it might be, but it was still much more open-ended than any of the previous three seasons. At this point, most people know whether they want more Symphogear or not. And this most certainly was More Symphogear.
New Game season 2 probably had the highest expectations going into the season. Its first season was consistently great, occasionally reaching some fantastic highs. The OVA between the seasons was super solid, and set up some stuff that paid off nicely in season 2.
Season 2 was essentially 12 episodes of Best Episodes of the Season. Its weakest episode was merely “outstanding” while its best episodes were among the best episodes of anime in years. Every emotional beat was nailed flawlessly, character arcs hit their highs with unerring precision, and two new characters were introduced and an episode later felt like they’d always been there.
The worst that you can say is that Hifumi was once again sadly under used, and its criminal that PECO isn’t a real game that you can go out and play right now.
Princess Principal is probably the surprise hit of the season. An original anime about a group of female spies in a steampunk version of early 1900s London is a neat hook, but also really easy to mess up. Add in writer Okouchi Ichiro (best known for Code Geass and various trainwrecks including Guilty Crown and Kakumeiki Valverave) on series composition and people started to get nervous. Well, it turns out that it was fantastic.
The show was almost hyper-focused on its characters. The larger plotline stayed almost completely unaddressed, even in the final episodes, which segued seamlessly from what looked like major plot movement to being about Princess and Ange’s feelings for each other and their desire to be together. The non-linear episode order also contributed, allowing character focus episodes to be placed where they made sense in the show’s timeline, no matter when they ended up airing.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, this spinoff of a fairly garbage harem action show from a year or so back turned out to be one of the most purely fun and enjoyable series in a while.
The concept of setting the show after the finale of the original Luck & Logic, which (apparently) resolved the major ongoing threat of the setting was inspired. What do magical girls do when there is no more real need for them? Well, they go to magical girl school and have fun, while training just in case. The entire cast of the show was a delight, truly nice girls who all liked each other and enjoyed being in each others company.
Of course, the biggest surprise was when it went all in on Lion and Nina’s relationship, including a love confession, on screen kiss and clear reciprocation. Somehow in a season with Symphogear, New Game and an adaption of a Yuri Hime manga, Hina Logi ended up taking the crown of best lesbian couple.
Action Heroine Cheer Fruits
“What if Locodol but Tokusatsu Instead of Idols” is the basic pitch, and honestly that pretty much sums it up. A group of girls join the nationwide craze of “Local Heroines” and start putting on Tokusatsu-style stage shows for the kids of the community. And really it doesn’t go much beyond that. But thats enough. All nine of the main girls are a lot of fun and their interactions are always a treat. The show seemed a little confused about who its lead character actually was, but eventually settled on Misaki, the leader of the group and the most accident-prone Student Council President in history. She’s the heart of the group, and what passes for actual drama tends to revolve around her.
Also of note are the twins, Genki and Yuuki. Genki’s legs were hurt in an accident, so she spends most of her time in a wheelchair, though she can stand for a bit using a cane. The show never pities her, or acts like her disability defines her. Really nice seeing a character like that in this show. Cheer Fruits probably won’t make many best of lists for the season, but its a delight well worth trying out.
Made in Abyss
How do you even talk about Made in Abyss. It had a Reputation coming into the season, and it pretty much lived up to it. Part adventure part horror, like the Abyss itself it draws you in out of sheer curiosity. And that curiosity is often rewarded in ways you never wanted.
The final arc is particularly notable for having what I feel are two of the most intense, gut-wrenching scenes in any anime. Its not a show to be taken lightly, and not one that is easily forgotten. It has also prompted quite a bit of discussion. Both Emily Rand and Illegenes (both of whom also wrote about Flip Flappers!) have some excellent articles about the show, which do far more justice to it than I can here.
It turns out the way you make Isekai shows good is by completely ignoring everything most Isekai does. Isekai Shokudou was an incredibly pleasant show to watch all around. The basic concept is quite simple, but it managed to deliver a surprising amount of variety and entertaining vignettes.
The fantasy world that the restaurant connected to was incredibly cliche, but that actually helped, its familiarity made the individual stories of the restaurant’s patrons come alive that much more vibrantly. Almost all of the patrons were a delight to watch, but the true stars were of course Aletta and Kuro, who anchored the show with their own reactions to the strange, otherworldly place they found themselves working.
After being on a downswing at the end of its first cour, Sakura Quest picked up very fast in its second half, with consistently excellent arcs building to a believable, well earned finale. The town of Manoyama felt alive and real by the end, and the efforts of the five heroines made a concrete difference in the town’s outcome.
Yoshino was a fantastic lead character to follow, and her growth over the course of the series was mirrored by the fortunes of Manoyama itself. The other heroines also all went through fantastic arcs, particularly Ririko, who as the youngest probably grew the most. From being almost a shut-in to leaving to go on an overseas trip by the end. Overall its not as good as Shirobako, but still an excellent show about adult women making their way in the world.
Re:Creators was not bad, by any means. It just….should have been a lot better. That being said, it also could easily have been a lot worse. Its biggest flaw was it just did not make us care about Altair. This ended up being the lynch pin of the entire final arc, and the show just didn’t sell it enough to make the events believable. I can imagine the show where the ending they did worked, but this is, sadly, not that show.
On the bright side, Meteora is easily one of the characters of the year, and the show is very obviously in retrospect about her more than any of the other protagonists. What happened with Selesia, Alicetaria and Mamika is disappointing, but at least their stories continue, and Alicetaria and Mamika will meet again someday.
Centaur no Nayami
Considering that by all rights this show shouldn’t even exist, its hard to complain that its not very good, but well. It isn’t. The story behind how this even got approved to be made is probably fascinating, its just a real shame it wasn’t done by a studio and staff who could really do justice to the source material. The Centaur no Nayami manga is one of the most bizarre and fascinating manga running today, and well worth checking out if you were at all intrigued by the anime.
The anime didn’t even cover the most ridiculous things, like the ongoing alien invasion in America, the actually not-extent Tigertaurs, the time Hime and Shino went back in time to (our universe’s dark ages) and fought in a medieval war. Also everyone is gay.
Murayama Kei is an incredibly unique mangaka, his twitter feed is a combination of mostly naked centaur/monster girls, nature photography and musings on social issues of the day. So while the Centaur no Nayami anime was sadly not very good, I’m glad it exists regardless.
Where do you even start with this show. It was actually worse than I expected. Its not just gross in subject matter but its badly written with characters who’s actions and motivations shift from scene to scene. It ended on an alleged “happy ending”, but it just felt bitter and gross because none of it was earned and it just totally ignored all the issues it raised, or in some cases, never raised at all despite them blatantly being there. Don’t watch this show. Its not worth it.