Let me state right from the start that the two best anime series this season are continuations of existing series.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju: Descending Stories (Crunchyroll) should wrap up the story that I praised here and here. This is a sophisticated drama, well worth your time. (If you haven’t seen the first half, be sure to watch it first.)
This will probably be the final cour of March Comes In Like A Lion (Crunchyroll.) This is a smaller-scale story without the grand historical sweep of Showa but it’s an effective personal drama that is sometimes chilling but often heartwarming. See my post here.
Perhaps the best of the new series is Onihei (Amazon), a gritty police drama set in the Edo period. The writing and production values are great. But be warned: samurai police tactics would make Dirty Harry blanch.
The much-anticipated Little Witch Academia (Netflix) is a reboot of the widely-praised 2013 short film from the Anime Mirai Project. The premise doesn’t break any new ground but it’s an engaging slapstick comedy. The animation is not as outstanding as the original movie but it’s still pretty good by TV standards.
Premise: An enthusiastic but air-headed Japanese girl from a muggle family gets admitted to an exclusive European school for witches. She endures teasing and snobbery and the consequences of her own incompetence but she makes friends with some fellow misfits and everything more or less works out.
Gabriel DropOut (Crunchyroll) is the sort of comedy that has a dumb premise but I can’t stop laughing. Some young angels and devils are assigned to attend a Japanese high school so they can learn to help or harm people as the case may be.
- Gabriel is a lazy slovenly good-for-nothing angel who wants to spend all her time playing video games. She thinks humans are very annoying.
- Vignette is a very responsible devil who unfortunately is too softhearted and can’t resist helping out people who are in trouble. She is conscientious enough to commit an evil deed every day, such as recycling a bottle without removing the cap, but she still feels guilty about it.
- Satanichia is a haughty devil princess, the heir to the throne of Hell. Unfortunately she is a sniveling coward, not to mention stupid. She loves melon bread but a little dog always steals it before she can eat it.
- Raphael is a sadistic angel who loves to torment the weak (mainly Satanichia.) She’s careful to be very nice to everybody else so they all think she’s wonderful.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (Crunchyroll) is even more off the wall. Kobayashi-san is an IT manager and a maid otaku. She gets drunk and goes for a walk in the woods where she somehow saves a dragon. The dragon falls in love with her and takes the form of a maid (with horns and a tail) so that she can live in Kobayashi-san’s apartment. Then things start to get weird.
This rapid-fire gag anime comes from Kyoto Animation so you know the visuals are going to be first-rate. I’m glad to see them get away from the constant moe-blobbery of the last few seasons.
With The Saga of Tanya the Evil (Crunchyroll) we move into more disturbing territory. (The Japanese title is Youjo Senki “The Military History of the Little Girl.”)
A ruthless unscrupulous corporate functionary from modern Japan is punished by God by being reborn as a magical girl in a brutal world undergoing its own version of World War I. Which is depicted all too realistically. Will the horrors of war cause him/her to develop a conscience? So far the answer seems to be “No.”
Scum’s Wish (Amazon) looks beautiful and is oddly compelling, in about the same sense that the sight two trains approaching each other at full speed on the same track is compelling. (The Japanese title is Kuzu no Honkai.)
Two high school students who seem like the perfect couple are actually just using each other to cover up the fact that each has a hopeless crush on a teacher (who is also a childhood friend.) There are two other students who have crushes on them. The two teachers are in love with each other (and are the only characters who seem entirely sane.) By the standards of anime TV the sexual content is rather graphic.
I suppose you could get some sort of happy ending out of this but the vibe it gives off suggests that things are probably going to end badly.
If you think Scum’s Wish sounds like the worst love story ever, that’s just because you haven’t seen Masamune-kun’s Revenge (Crunchyroll.) This is a comedy that is rather funny in places, but also disturbing.
Aki Adagaki, the heroine, is a truly horrid person whose hobby is publicly humiliating any boy who dares to ask her out. The hero, Masamune Makabe, is a bit more sympathetic. He was humiliated by Aki when he was a little boy. But now he is obsessed with a scheme to get revenge on her by making her fall in love with him and publicly rejecting her.
He is so focused on his contemptible mission that in the first episode he blows off a perfectly nice and attractive girl who is interested in him. I’m tempted to say that Masamune and Aki deserve each other, but really nobody deserves Aki.
This is all played for laughs but it’s hard to imagine how it could have a good ending.
Finally, let’s have a round of jeers for some low-budget shows with really crappy, ugly, eye-burning animation. I’m talking about you, Konosuba Season 2, Kemono Friends, Hand Shakers and Schoolgirl Strikers!
Now of course, all TV animators cut corners in some ways. Any artist has to work with the limitations of his materials. As far as I am concerned, for TV animation coming in under budget without making it look bad is part of the art form. But shows like these are a disgrace.
I would also say that pure unapologetic computer-generated 3-D animation (CGI) is a separate art form from traditional animation with its own strengths and weaknesses which must be judged on its own terms.
Conversely, all traditional “flat” animators these days use some amount of computer assistance. When done right it’s seamless and unobtrusive. When done badly it just looks awful. In too many shows this season it’s done REALLY badly.