Anime Review: Darling in the Franxx

written by Laurie Tom


Darling in the Franxx is a mess of good ideas marred by poor pacing and an unwillingness to make the most of its material. On the surface the premise is absurd. Teenagers who don’t know the first thing about sexual relationships due to never getting educated on the subject, are raised to pilot the Franxx mecha in male-female pairs. This involves the girl crouching bent on all fours over with a display on her back and handles attached to the butt of her uniform that the boy sitting behind her uses to pilot. Darling is not subtle with its imagery.

The series follows five pairs of pilots, but for the most part it’s Hiro and Zero’s show. For some reason Hiro fails at being a pilot for anyone other Zero, despite his high aptitude scores, and Zero is a hybrid that is both human and klaxosaur (the klaxosaurs being the kaiju the Franxx were created to fight).

At first their relationship is refreshing. Zero is worldly in a way Hiro and his friends are not, so she’s happy to introduce Hiro to this thing called kissing and she makes it pretty clear that she likes him in a setting where the characters don’t even have a word for romantic affection. Zero and Hiro become a couple before the first few episodes are over, which is incredibly fast for an anime, and their relationship is probably the biggest joy in the first half of the series.

Which is why it’s unfortunate that their relationship also becomes one of the worst things about it in the second half. It’s not just the feeling that the writers didn’t know how a relationship naturally progresses, but their behavior towards each other and the promises they make are inconsistent at best, head-banging at worst, to the point that in the final third they passed from my favorite characters to my least favorite.

And the series is constantly doing this. It sets up something really well in the first half, either through its plot or its worldbuilding, and then stumbles in the second. The real enemy of the series doesn’t even get revealed until the final five episodes, by which point there is so much to unpack that it’s not possible give the series the proper send-off it deserved.

Also worth noting is what the show does with its queer characters. Ikuno is a female pilot, and would love nothing more than to co-pilot with the girl she cares about, but the Franxx mecha literally will not work that way. They try, though the girl she likes, Ichigo, doesn’t read into the situation at all, and Ichigo is firmly heterosexual.

Mitsuru, who is implied to be bisexual, has a functioning co-pilot relationship with Ikuno (odd that the two queers start the series piloting together), but clearly doesn’t click with her, and it’s only with another female pilot that he eventually finds acceptance.

While it’s fine that a bisexual character ends up in a heterosexual relationship, the series’ forced heteronormative pairings send a message by letting Mitsuru find happiness, while Ikuno is left irritable and single. And the thing is, the show could have not addressed this at all and just had all the characters be heterosexual without bringing up that some people would have a real problem in this setting. Instead it brings it up, but any possible social commentary shoots itself in the foot.

On the animation front though, the mecha designs are unique, featuring cartoon-faced robots on spindly legs that don’t quite look like anything that has come before, drawn in the signature style of the lead animation studio, Trigger. Though Trigger shares animation duties with A-1 Pictures’ CloverWorks, it’s possible to see that it handled a fair number of the combat scenes due to the animation style it established in previous series like Kill la Kill.

The klaxosaurs themselves are impressive. Though they aren’t distinct enough for the average viewer to start categorizing them on their own, each fight is unique and the series doesn’t recycle previous types so the fights don’t get stuck in a routine. I don’t quite buy the worldbuilding once the series gets around to explaining them, but early on they’re a satisfying menace and one that cannot be negotiated with.

I find Darling in the Franxx difficult to recommend because its downhill slide is so steep. It had a lot of promise in the beginning, and I think the failure to live to up that hurts more than if it had been a mediocre project to begin with. It’s not terrible, and there were still some parts of the ending that I liked, but it’s clear that the main plot took too long to get going and the writers really didn’t know where to take Zero and Hiro. The rest of the cast, though they don’t get as much focus, come out of the experience a lot better.

Number of Episodes: 24

Pluses: Interesting exploration of adolescence with no knowledge of human reproduction, unique mecha and monster designs, promising world building

Minuses: Plot falls apart at the end, Zero loses the agency that made her such an interesting character at the start, LGBT characters are not handled well

Darling in the Franxx is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed). Funimation has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku

written by Laurie Tom


I loved the first episode of Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku. It was pitch perfect, and easily relatable. Narumi starts her new office job and wants to keep it on the down low that she’s an incredible otaku (nerd). The whole reason she changed jobs is that she used to date someone at her old work and he broke up with her after finding out how much of a geek she was. Narumi is not just a casual fan who happens to enjoy cosplayers and boys’ love manga. She’s pretty hardcore about her hobbies and she’s also an amateur comic artist; one that regularly goes to conventions and sells her own work.

Her attempts to fly under the radar go awry though, when she runs into her childhood friend, Hirotaka, who also works there. He’s well aware that she enjoys video games and loves manga because they used to play together, and being rather blunt, he all but outs her in front of her new coworkers until she interrupts that they really should catch up after work. (It later turns out that those two particular coworkers are otaku too, though the rest of the office is not.)

As they catch up, Narumi mourns over her terrible dating life and Hirotaka commersates. Being an otaku sucks when the other person doesn’t understand your hobbies, so Hirotaka suggests that they date each other, and sweetens the deal with geeky promises like being willing to help her when she needs another person for video games, and assisting her at conventions when she needs another person to hold down the booth. Narumi considers it a deal and they seal it with a handshake. (Which is not exactly the most romantic gesture, but points to the kind of relationship they end up having.)

From there the series proper begins.

There isn’t any easing into the dating process. Starting from the second episode, Narumi and Hirotaka are assumed to have been dating for a bit (which completely threw me off) and the series covers all the foibles of being an adult nerd who hangs out with other adult nerds, whether it’s late night gaming parties, group trips to the comic store, or hanging out at a convention.

What’s most refreshing though is that the four main characters are working adults with office jobs, so they show up to work, grab dinner and drinks when they’re done, and maybe slide in some gaming on weekends, which makes them extremely relatable compared to most anime protagonists. They get into arguments over their favorite characters, different aspects of their hobbies, and whether or not a particular move is fair in Mario Kart.

There are two primary couples in the show. Narumi and Hirotaka are the main one, and are going through the process of getting used to dating each other, but Koyanagi and Kabakura are refreshing because they’re both in their mid-to-late 20s and have been dating since high school, making them the older, more stable relationship (even as they snipe at each other over perceived or feigned slights). Since anime usually skips from early dating straight to marriage, it’s nice seeing a couple in a long term dating relationship, and it shows that despite the length of their relationship, they still have problems and insecurities despite the overwhelming familiarity they have with each other. (They also talk to each other and work out those problems, without the assistance of any magic band-aids like a single romantic gesture.)

Most of the time the show is a comedy, the situations are funny because we or someone we know has gone through something similar, so when it occasionally does get heavy, we’re not thrown out of it and the moments ring true to the character and to real life. Who hasn’t wondered if we’re settling for less, or panicked over what could happen on the first visit to a significant other’s home?

Wotakoi isn’t a series that needs to be watched in a single sitting, and the slice of life storytelling style doesn’t really lend itself to that either, but this is one of the few shows I’ve watched where I could say, “Yeah, this could be me and my friends. This could be people I know at work.” And that’s not true of most anime.

If there is one thing that I was disappointed by though, is that the new character Ko is introduced on the second to last episode and we don’t really get to know her before the series simply ends (since it’s not something that requires an ongoing plot). While the main cast consists of high functioning geeks who can pass for non-nerds around other non-nerds, Ko is incredibly introverted and unable to handle talking face to face with other people. She’s lonely, but human interaction is hard. I would have loved to see more of Ko, especially as someone who was very much like her at an earlier age, but it looks like I’ll have to read the manga for more of her.

Aside from that, I really enjoyed it, and I think it’ll speak to people from all avenues of geekdom. It might be an anime, but it’s not only about anime.

Number of Episodes: 11

Pluses: Hilarious and relatable takes on otaku life, all main characters are working adults with office jobs

Minuses: No overarching storyline, Ko comes in so late the series isn’t able to do much with her

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku is currently streaming at Amazon (subtitled, subscription required).

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: Caligula

written by Laurie Tom


What if your reality isn’t real? It should be, but you start to notice things that don’t make sense and you can’t ignore it.

That’s the situation that Ritsu Shikishima finds himself in when he hears an odd voice through his phone, and discovers the class representative for the graduating third year students is the exact same person as the class representative for the incoming first years. And he’s not the only one to find something amiss. His classmate Mifue comes home and discovers her mom has become a literally different person overnight, with a different appearance and personality.

As reality breaks down for a number of students, they quickly discover that the world they live in isn’t real. It was supposed to be a virtual utopia for people who were in pain in the real world, but now they’re trapped with no idea how they got there or who they were before.

Caligula is based on the JRPG The Caligula Effect, so there’s an expectation that lot of story would be condensed to fit a 20-30 hour game into 6 hours of TV runtime. I haven’t played the game myself so I can’t speak to how well the condensation was executed, but it’s clear that the script writers made significant changes, which is unusual for an RPG adaptation. They’re extensive enough that if you didn’t know it was based off a game, you probably wouldn’t realize it due to how much of the focus is taken off of Ritsu and how late he and most of the cast come into their powers.

When you compare this to something like the currently running Persona 5 adaptation, it’s quite a difference. In games, the main protagonist needs to awaken to their power early, usually within the first few minutes, maybe the first hour if the game is particularly exposition heavy. This is so the player can start playing.

Caligula the anime up-ends that with Ritsu being one of the last to come into his own and removing virtually anything that might be construed as running a dungeon. The process of gradually recruiting each party member one by one is gone in favor of characters coming together in smaller, separate groups first, before everyone finally bands together halfway through the series.

Perhaps because Caligula is not one of the more visible JRPG properties, the anime staff was allowed the freedom to attempt an adaptation that is better for the medium of a TV show rather than a blow by blow recreation of the game. Unfortunately, while that does a lot to transport the concept of the game into a weekly TV series, it doesn’t quite make the series itself a good one.

Caligula does a fair enough job laying out the majority of the ensemble cast in the early episodes, but there isn’t the time to delve into everybody’s backstories let alone those of the series’ antagonists. While our heroes are people who want to know who they were even if it means reopening old wounds, there are a number of people who have no desire to return to their own painful histories. With nine protagonists, six antagonists, and twelve half hour episodes there just isn’t time to give more than the slightest brush to anyone aside from Ritsu, and only because as the lead protagonist he is the key to everything.

There is one episode unfortunately late in the series that is literally a “sit down and let’s introduce ourselves” episode because the characters realize they barely know each other.

There are things Caligula does really well though, like the initial mystery of what’s going on, and I like that the characters’ virtual selves aren’t always a one-to-one match with who they are in the real world. The virtual world of Mobius was designed to make people happy, so things that they found unsatisfying about themselves or the world around them could be changed. Someone who was the butt end of jokes could be the most popular guy around. Someone who hated being short could be tall. Someone who wasn’t talented would find themselves incredibly skilled.

These changes also extend to appearances, with at least one character choosing a different gender, though it’s unfortunate that the revelation is compounded with disgust due to everything else going on in that scene, and it’s not clear whether the character’s choice was out of gender dysphoria or a less complicated desire to look different.

But for a series where people unlock special powers within themselves when they determine they are willing to escape their fake reality, the powers themselves are given short shrift. Presumably there is a reason why the Catharsis Effect manifests differently in each character (probably tied to their individual hang-ups), but we don’t know for sure, and there aren’t many opportunities for the team to show off how they work in combat. Those that do exist aren’t exciting to look at either.

The ending almost pulls the whole mess back together again with a pretty nifty revelation about Ritsu, but given how much the series had tanked in the second half leading up to the finale, it’s not enough to save it and the epilogue moments didn’t feel entirely earned, though they were otherwise effective.

If anything comes out of this mess, it’s that the anime was released in time to promote the Japanese release of The Caligula Effect remake, The Caligula Effect: Overdose, which is supposed to fix a lot of the gameplay issues as well as provide the ability to play as a female protagonist. Overdose has been picked up for a Western release in 2019, and thanks to the anime, I’m interested in picking it up now. And in that sense, the anime did its job.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Interesting premise, wide variation between who a person was in real life versus the virtual world (not everyone is actually a teenager), not afraid to deviate from the game

Minuses: Pacing is terrible, no one gets enough character development, for an anime involving special combat abilities they’re rarely exercised

Caligula is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled).

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These

written by Laurie Tom


The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These is based on the epic 10-volume novel series by Yoshiki Tanaka (which, by the way, is being released in English at a pace of 2-3 books a year, so we’ll eventually have the whole thing in a couple years).

In the far future, humanity has colonized the stars and formed the Galactic Federation. But eventually a politician seized control of the government and declared himself emperor. Some of his subjects rebelled and escaped to form the Free Planets Alliance, a new republic that is not recognized by the Galactic Empire, and the two factions have waged war for over a hundred years.

This is where The Legend of the Galactic Heroes properly begins. It’s the story of two brilliant military leaders, but also the story of the two nations they belong to. We meet both Admiral Reinhard von Lohengramm of the Empire and Commodore Yang Wen-li of the Alliance in the opening Battle of Astarte, where Reinhard nearly secures victory against a numerically superior Alliance fleet by disregarding common wartime protocols and using sensible strategy that a layperson can follow once broken down. However, before he can finish the job, Yang Wen-li’s admiral is incapacitated, putting him in command of the remainder of the Alliance fleet, which allows him to implement a tactic that forces the battle into a stalemate.

Thanks to Yang, the Empire decides to withdraw, and Yang and Reinhart become well aware of the talented tactician on the other side.

The series feels as though it’s built to see the war through the eyes of these two men. We learn their histories, their motivations, and though they are both excellent strategists, they’re cut from entirely different cloth. Reinhard is a noble, and though originally an impoverished one, his nobility gives him level of acceptance more common citizens of the Empire will never have. His privilege allows him to be daring and manipulative, and he dreams of a world he would like to make safe for the sake of those he cares about, no matter who he has to step over in order to do it.

On the other hand, Yang comes from a blue collar life and entered military school to pay for his college tuition, which he otherwise could not afford. He never wanted to be a combat officer (in fact he’d rather be a historian), but his talent resulted in deployment rather than desk work. Yang is not interested in glory so much as minimizing loss of life, and his intentions are criticized even on his own side for being overly cautious or even cowardly. Given the opportunity, he’d love to resign and live a civilian life, but circumstances won’t let him.

Ideally it seems the series should spend equal time between the Empire and the Alliance, so the audience can get to know Reinhard, Yang, and their cohorts in similarly sympathetic lights (especially since Reinhard is our opening POV for an entire episode), but after the first few episodes the series focuses primarily on the Alliance side of affairs, which feels a little odd. While this makes it clear to the audience the Alliance is no sweet-smelling bed of roses (its politicians embody the worst of election season mania), this also robs us of getting to know more of the Empire’s side of the cast other than Reinhard and his childhood friend Kircheis.

The Empire as a whole is a little too easy to frame as the villain, but to the characters who belong to it, it’s not. Reinhart is well aware of the damage a person at the top of the system can inflict, but being a product of the system itself, his solution isn’t to make a democracy, but to replace the man in charge. We don’t know enough of the other imperial officers to know how many feel the same way or if they believe the imperial dynasty is absolute.

There is also a lot of political posturing going on. I was drawn to the series on the promise of seeing two genius tacticians clash, and the opening two episodes delivered wonderfully, but the middle episodes move on to problems on the homefront, one of Yang’s solo undertakings (which is an excellent two-parter), and to a lesser degree one of Kircheis’s (which had significantly less tension). Both Yang and Kircheis’s missions have heavy political ramifications the audience is made aware of. The source novels were originally written in the 1980s, but it’s almost chilly to see how much of the political turmoil in the Free Planet Alliance still rings true today.

This results in a lot of talking heads when the show is not on the battlefront, many times by politicians or nobles that the primary cast never interacts with. This works out fine in prose, giving context to the conflict and some of the more bone-headed moves, but not so much on TV where names and offices are subtitled for a few seconds and then are largely forgotten.

Probably the worst thing about it is that the series falls short of the Yang vs. Reinhard rematch that we’d expect. Though the finale builds towards that, the final battle of the series is a protracted one and does not fully resolve by the end of the last episode. What we get is a temporary end to combat while people regroup. The battle itself is clearly not over and there is no sort of epilogue to decompress.

Readers of the books might find this particularly odd since this means the TV series does not completely adapt the first book, which covers the remainder of the battle and the political fallout in the aftermath (and ends on a much better stopping point).

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These is expected to continue as three feature length movies, so the Japanese audience will surely see them, but there’s no guarantee that those movies will readily be available in the US and even so, they might not run on a similarly accessible streaming service.

You won’t be able to get a satisfactory experience from the TV series alone, but the space battles are fun and it’s definitely a more thought-provoking series than most in its genre. If you’re willing to dive into the novels after, I think this is worth watching. Otherwise it might be better to wait and see if the movies make it over, especially if needing a resolution is a must.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Gorgeous fleet-level space battles, Reinhard and Yang both feel savvy in their own unique way, Yang’s pacifistic outlook is unique for the genre

Minuses: Some of the antagonistic officers on both sides of the war are complete idiots, the Empire does not get as much focus as the Alliance, lacks a good ending even from the perspective of a story arc

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed). Funimation has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: Real Girl


Real Girl has what is likely a cringe-inducing premise for most women. High school boy Hikari Tsutsui is a introverted anime/gaming nerd who can barely stand being around “normal” people because they make fun of him for never outgrowing his hobbies. It doesn’t help that his all time favorite series features an elementary school aged girl. Then one day he gets stuck doing pool duty with a conventionally “hot” girl who eventually becomes his girlfriend.

When I heard about the series the first thing I thought of was that it was male nerd wish fulfillment, but then I looked closer and realized it was based on a manga that ran in Japan’s Dessert magazine, which is aimed at teenage girls and young women. I decided to give it a chance.

Tsutsui (who is almost always called by his family name) is initially unlikeable. He gets stuck with pool cleaning duty because he comes late to school for the first time he can remember, which is the same for Iroha Igarashi, who is the kind of girl who looks incredibly well put-together. Her hair is styled, she’s pretty, the other girls hate her, and she has a reputation for being easy. Tsutsui immediately doesn’t like her, figuring that she’ll flake out on pool cleaning and leave it all up to him, because she sees him as beneath her just like everybody else does.

But Igarashi does show up, and they bump into each other a few more times in and out of school. He comes to realize that despite being a frequent victim of preconceptions himself, he’s also guilty of his own preconceptions about her, and once he realizes this, he tries to be a better person towards her, which results in her asking him if they’d like to date, keeping in mind that they only have six months until she has to move away.

Though Real Girl follows the story of a nerd and his non-nerdie girlfriend, it’s largely a story about communication. Tsutsui and Iragashi have a lot relationship problems. It’s never that they stop liking each other, or that they come to decide they have little in common, but there is a lot of self-sabotage, especially on Tsutsui’s part, that comes with the territory of this being the first major relationship for both of them.

Tsutsui honestly can’t believe that someone would ever be interested in him, especially someone who looks like her, so there’s an extended period where he is continually doubting that she can honestly be in a relationship with him. While he’s grateful for her, it’s possible to see how this wears on Igarashi because his repeated need to pinch himself feels like a dismissal of the fact that she does like him.

Usually this gets hammered out by the two of them eventually realizing that they have to talk, but this is high school, and nerves strike a lot.

If there’s a fault to Real Girl it’s that the human obstacles to Tsutsui and Igarashi’s relationship are largely non-threatening. When Ayado is introduced as another girl who would like a relationship with Tsutsui it’s nice to see how he reacts to the possibility that there might be one girl who will ever be interested in him, but at the same time we know she’s not a real threat. The only way her presence can sabotage anything is by Tsutsui putting his own foot in his mouth.

The same goes for the male rivals, who are similarly toothless, and Igarashi is unwavering in the fate that she likes Tsutsui despite all his hang-ups.

Probably the most dangerous character to the relationship is only introduced in the last couple of episodes, which makes for a bumpy ending to the series, as the new character and their circumstances aren’t fully fleshed out. But even so, I would still recommend this series. It’s a lot more realistic about first time relationships than most shows are, and especially for the self-doubters among us, watching Tsutsui struggle is highly relatable.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: The show is about working through a relationship rather than towards one, Tsutsui is highly relatable, depiction of relationship problems is realistic

Minuses: Rival characters aren’t much of a threat, we don’t see enough of Igarashi’s POV to understand why she likes Tsutsui so much, last minute new character not handled well

Real Girl is currently streaming at HIDIVE (subtitled, subscription required). Sentai Filmworks has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Summer 2018 Anime First Impressions

This summer’s anime offerings are more hit or miss than usual. There’s only one series I’m truly certain I’ll watch no matter what, and it’s possible I’ll dip back into continuing series from last spring, specifically Persona 5: The Animation and Tokyo Ghoul:re which looks like it will eventually finish out the series.

Angolmois: Record of Mongol Invasion


Why I Watched It: The art style is a lot cruder than I normally like, with characters having square jaws and tiny pupils. This makes it clear that these characters aren’t refined people by any means, and it’s not often that we get a historical drama around a 13th century Mongolian invasion of Japan.

What I Thought: The setup is excellent. A group of criminals are spared the death penalty and are instead exiled to a remote island whose people want them to serve as soldiers against the incoming Mongolian invasion. This is a sore deal for our criminal protagonists who evaded one death only to be faced with another, but most of them seem used to fighting and our lead is a skilled swordsman and former retainer for the shogunate, so their odds against the incoming 900 warships is probably not as bad as it looks, though history does not favor the island they’re now trapped on.

Verdict: I might come back to it. As expected for a period war drama, this is a predominantly male cast (though the island’s Princess Teruhi has potential), and I didn’t find any of them particularly likable. The plot would have to get rolling for this one to hook me.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

Attack on Titan Season 3


Why I Watched It: I’m a big Attack on Titan fan and Season 3 animates my favorite arc out of all of them. Though it’s not quite as popular as it was in its peak, it’s still the thousand pound juggernaut of the anime world.

What I Thought: I’d heard they were making changes for this arc, and boy howdy did they rearrange things. Nothing outright happens differently but events happen in different locations or happen at the same time, or even in a different order. This might be intended to give the viewer a sense of confusion as the Survey Corps doesn’t know exactly what’s going on either, but as a manga reader it’s a little baffling because some characters are no longer in a position to perform actions they take later on. It’ll likely turn out pretty good anyway, but this is by far the greatest deviation the anime has taken yet. Season 3 is not newbie friendly either. A little of Season 2 is recapped, but truly new viewers should start at the beginning.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. Though to be honest that was a given. I’m really curious how they will handle the rest of this arc due to one prominent character being placed out of action so early.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled), Funimation (subbed and dubbed, subscription required for dub), Hulu (subbed), and Toonami (dubbed). Dubs will be following roughly a month after the subtitled version airs.

Banana Fish


Why I Watched It: Banana Fish was one of the first manga to come to the US that featured a gay relationship, and for a long time that’s all I knew it as. I didn’t know it also involved an international drug ring and that the protagonist is roped into the seedy underworld after being handed a mysterious necklace and the keywords “banana fish.” Though dated now, it was a landmark at the time of its release and this animated version has updated events to present day.

What I Thought: Though Banana Fish has been modernized by about thirty years, parts of it still feel a bit dated, with character attitudes and the kind of gang warfare we end up seeing. However, for being a Japanese production, there is a surprising awareness of race; as in not every American is white. Ash himself might be, but this is a New York with a healthy population of black and brown people, in both incidental and named roles. This is also one of the few anime I’ve seen that is blunt enough to use the word “gay” to describe someone’s sexual orientation, rather than dance around it.

Verdict: I’ll probably watch it. It’s certainly a strong contender, and being based on an older, completed property there’s a very good chance for a satisfying ending. Since I missed this while the manga was in print (though it’s being reprinted) I’d like to see what all the fuss was about.

Where to find stream: Amazon Video (subtitled, subscription required)

Cells at Work!


Why I Watched It: Cells at Work! anthropomorphizes all of the body’s cells into people who do various cells’ jobs in the metropolitan world that is a person’s body. It’s completely ludicrous, but the primary white blood cell of the series cuts a striking image, being rendered entirely white, like a sheet of paper.

What I Thought: It was fun and surprisingly educational. The creator put a lot of thought into how this fictional world works, from capillaries which are narrow doors so red blood cells can only pass through one at a time, to a white blood cell pulling a Die Hard through the vents to bypass a blocked doorway, since they’re able to permeate blood vessel walls. Despite being mildly educational though, it’s not really for children. The protagonist white blood cell is a bit of a killing maniac (all the white blood cells have an instantaneous and ruthless reaction to invaders) and ends up spattered with “blood” after confrontations.

Verdict: I’ll pass. It’s funny, but not quite funny enough to beat out its competition. Also, I’m not sure how well the story will develop as a series since there’s nothing to suggest there will be an overarching storyline.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

Holmes of Kyoto


Why I Watched It: Cozy mystery involving the local “Holmes,” who happens to work at an antique shop, and his new assistant. I like the character designs and I’m always looking for good mysteries.

What I Thought: The first episode doesn’t have Kiyotaka (whose surname can also be rendered as “Holmes” through a multi-lingual pun) and Aoi solving any mysteries, but serves as an introduction to the two characters. Kiyotaka is in college, and about to be starting graduate school, making him older than most anime protagonists. He works in his grandfather’s antique shop as an appraiser. Aoi is in high school and Kiyotaka decides to bring her on as part-time help. Like Sherlock Holmes, Kiyotaka is extremely perceptive and able to draw conclusions about people from the small details regarding how they behave and how they present themselves. It’s a slow burn, but no means a boring one.

Verdict: I’ll probably be watching. The end of the episode seems to indicate that there will be darker goings-on later in the series, which seems odd for a story revolving around work at an antique shop, but I’m willing to give it the benefit of a doubt.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

Phantom in the Twilight


Why I Watched It: I didn’t have high hopes for this one, but the fact one of the characters is named Vlad and is a vampire tickled my fancy just right for the story about a Chinese girl who travels to London as an exchange student and gets to meet various monster boys.

What I Thought: The dialogue gets pretty clunky in places, and there are some London neighborhood shots that don’t look they’re part of London, but there’s just enough here that it might be worth a second look. Ton’s great-grandmother was a jet-setting Chinese woman who used to live in London and ran a business. It turns out that one of her ventures was setting up a cafe for Twilights, people such as werewolves, vampires, and other supernatural creatures, and Ton is led there by a spell she learned from her great-grandmother. The Twilights are set up to be the fighters and the eye candy for the series, but Ton might not turn out to be a slouch herself as her great-grandmother also left behind a crazy chain-rope weapon that she is now able to use.

Verdict: I might come back to this one. There’s enough to watch right now that I don’t think this is going to make the cut.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

Seven Senses of the Re’Union


Why I Watched It: I don’t have much patience for MMORPG anime anymore, unless there’s an unusual spin on it, like last year’s Recovery of an MMO Junkie. This one involves a band of friends who used to game together until one of them passed away and then the group broke up. Years later, one of them reenters the game and finds the avatar of their dead friend is active and he gets the gang back together again to find out why.

What I Thought: The game world is nothing remarkable, being generic medieval fantasy, though it’s unusual in that it’s a permadeath game. Dying results in the player’s account being wiped. What I found unbelievable though is that the main cast was the best group on their server while they were in elementary school (so they can make their comeback as teenagers). Grade school kids and permadeath don’t work well together since failure means starting over from scratch. We don’t get much of what life was like for the band of friends after Asahi died, but Haruto is the main POV and has clearly given up on MMORPGs after she died. Presumably the perspective of the other characters will come later.

Verdict: I might come back to this one. Haruto is not sympathetic enough of a personality for me to really like him, so it’ll largely depend on whether the group dynamic is enough to sustain the series, or if other members of the cast turn out to be more interesting once they get a chance in the spotlight.

Where to find stream: Amazon Video (subtitled, subscription required)

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens

written by Laurie Tom


Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens has a ridiculous premise, but once you buy into it, it’s a lot of fun. Hakata City, within the Fukuoka Prefecture, is city so populated with hitmen and other criminal elements that they’ve essentially organized into businesses. Not public facing, mind, but this is the kind of show where in the first episode a hitman finds out someone else has already killed his target, because, well, hitmen are just that easy to hire. (I imagine people with enemies don’t last long in Hakata City.)

Private detective Banba and genderbending hitman Lin are the two most prominent members of the cast, and following their story is the first arc of the series, but the first arc also introduces their fellow miscreants and the show becomes an ensemble after that point.

The cast is very good at what they do, but they sell themselves as people first, rather than what their jobs could have made them. Jiro might be in an unsavory line of work, but he’s an attentive father (even if his daughter sometimes accompanies him on jobs) and a generally cheerful man. Maru’s enthusiastic about trying to find work appropriate for his skill set (torture is his preference, but he also avenges people for pay) and there’s something about him posting a job listing at telling people to ask about his rates that makes me laugh.

This is the sort of show where one character is visiting the doctor (who does body disposal), runs into a second character who is the middle of getting rid of a corpse, and then asks if he can use that corpse for a different job.

A series about criminals, whether they’re hitmen, information brokers, cleaners, or other unsavory things could have gotten really dark, and make no mistake they do their jobs pretty efficiently, but instead we end up with a group of friends who go out eating and drinking together after a long day and play baseball on the same club sports team. The series title comes from the name of their baseball team, Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens. It helps that anyone killed by the primary cast are other criminals with a lesser sense of camaraderie.

The one thing that really sticks out though is that there is a dearth of female characters, even among the less prominent members of the baseball team. Jiro’s elementary school-aged daughter is the most frequently recurring female character and there are only two others with speaking lines who appear in a handful of episodes. In a way it feels like Lin’s penchant for wearing women’s clothes only exists because otherwise they wouldn’t have someone in a skirt for the promotional images.

I do want to talk about Lin though. He identifies as male and he’s straight (he doesn’t like getting hit on by other men), but he likes to wear women’s clothes. The rest of the main cast doesn’t give him any crap about it. Rather, they just treat it as his particular fashion sense. I’m not entirely sure anyone in the core cast even brings it up, which is refreshing. The team does use him as bait on occasion because he can pass as a woman as long as he’s not talking in his regular voice (which is deep and unmistakably male), but that’s about the extent of acknowledging it.

Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens is based on a light novel series, and I suspect there were three or four books used to make this anime since there are four storylines, the two in the middle being the shortest. Because of that, the show doesn’t have an overarching plot, but rather distinct mini-arcs covering different problems.

Though the novels are still ongoing, the anime is entirely self-contained. It’s not the type of series that beggars a resolution (there is no master organization to take down, no big bad who must be defeated) so even though it ends on an arc rather than a dramatic episode that ties together everything that came before, it still feels more than satisfying.

I recommend Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens. It’s not Baccano levels of madness, but if you like humor with your hitmen it’s pretty good.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Great sense of humor, memorable cast of characters, genderqueer Lin is treated as just another part of the team rather than constantly having attention drawn to his choice in clothing

Minuses: Female characters are almost non-existent, first named female character is fridged to provide motivation for male character, ends on arc rather than a series ending

Hakata Tonkatsu Ramens is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed).

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: Kokkoku

written by Laurie Tom

I really wanted to like Kokkoku. I really did.

The setup in the very first episode has a lot of promise. Juri Yukawa is a young woman, newly graduated from college, and she’s from a middle class family that has fallen on hard times. Her mother is still working, but her father has been laid off. Her grandfather is retired, her older brother is unemployed, and her older sister is a single mother with a child she had with a man who has since exited her life.

All four generations of the Yukawas live in the same house and Juri feels like she needs to get out of town before she ends up going nowhere like almost every other adult in her family. She knows she’s not that special. None of her job interviews locally have resulted in any offers.

Though her family is not entirely functional, they dote on Makoto, the son of Juri’s sister, because out of everyone, he’s the one most likely to have a future, so it’s because of Makoto’s kidnapping that the entire story is kicked off.

Initially the kidnapping looks like it’s just for money, and Takafumi, Juri’s father, thinks they can scrounge up the funds from the family savings, but they’re both stopped by Juri’s grandfather (who oddly never gets a name–he’s just called “Grandfather” or “Father” depending on who is speaking to him). Her grandfather has a secret that he’s never shared, and he undergoes a ritual together with Takafumi and Juri while using an old stone heirloom and a drop of his blood.

This takes the three of them into what he calls the stasis world. Time is frozen everywhere, and because of that, the three of them can now leisurely walk over to the ransom exchange site and free Makoto and Tsubasa, Juri’s brother, who was with Makoto at the time of the kidnapping. With time in stasis, the three of them believe they can rescue their family and get back home again without putting anyone in danger or losing what money they have.

However, as they try carrying the time-frozen Tsubasa and Makoto home, they encounter other people moving in the stasis world, which should not have been possible.

Kokkoku has some really interesting worldbuilding involving the laws of the stasis world and its guardians, how things float without time to make them fall, and the unusual powers the Yukawa family members are able to manifest after spending a period of “time” in stasis. I especially liked that we have a multi-generational family all working together to save other family members. They’re dysfunctional at times (Takafumi is especially bent that his father has hid the stasis world from him his entire life), but they feel real.

The first half of the series is fun while all the worldbuilding is happening and secrets are being uncovered. Where it falls down is in the second half, when their enemy’s agenda becomes apparent, and by then, a couple of the Yukawa family members’ potentials are wasted. Takafumi becomes a joke and it feels like Tsubasa was being built up for something that just didn’t happen.

Kokkoku‘s final episode is built almost entirely towards a downer ending (which would be fine), but Juri is saved by a deus ex machina that literally comes out of nowhere involving a character we’d never been introduced to prior to the final minutes of the episode.

I did not particularly like the show’s attempt to build sympathy for its villain either. Considering how dangerous he is to the Yukawa family I was not in the mood to watch his sob story flashbacks, which are verbally told to our protagonists, and I’m not entirely sure why Juri and her grandfather would give him the time of day.

I don’t think I’ve watched a show that has started so high and fallen so low by its end as Kokkoku. If you don’t mind a bad ending, the first half’s worldbuilding and the premise itself is good; 95% of the series takes place within a single frozen “moment” of time. But don’t expect much in the second half.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Interesting premise, multiple generations of protagonist’s family involved, alienness of the stasis world

Minuses: Second half falls apart, ending is a deus ex machina, some of the characters never reach their full potential

Kokkoku is currently streaming at Amazon (subtitled).

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Spring 2018 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

A lot has changed since last year. Amazon’s Anime Strike service has been shut down and everything previously streaming on it has been rolled into its baseline Amazon Prime service. While this does not help fans without Amazon Prime, American fans are no longer being charged a few extra dollars for the same content their Canadian counterparts have been getting as part of their baseline service.

Additionally, HIDIVE is coming into its own as an alternate streaming service with its own exclusive licenses. It doesn’t have a free streaming alternative, but the monthly subscription is affordable and their library is deep with several exclusives.

This spring is packed with high profile series, and a lot of smaller ones, that in an ordinary season I would want to watch. As a result, I viewed more first episodes than usual, and I’ll be going through what I checked out in alphabetical order with the goal of identifying two or three to follow for the season.



Why I Watched It: I wanted to play Caligula when it came out as an RPG because of its premise. Students live in a virtual reality school where they’re expected to live their day to day idyllic lives indefinitely. Most of them don’t even realize the world isn’t real, but the protagonist discovers the truth and he and his friends band together to escape. The name come from the psychological term the “Caligula Effect.”

What I Thought: I enjoyed this first episode, as Ritsu gradually realizes that there is something wrong with reality (though his friend Mifue gets the worst of it with her rewritten mom). It begins with a distorted cry for help during a virtual idol’s music track that only he hears, and escalates with bizarre, out-of-character behavior from his friends, until he realizes that the representatives of both of the graduating class and incoming class of students are the exact same person. At that point all hell breaks loose, complete with what I assume are artificial students transforming into monsters. It’s an intriguing start and and I really want to know why this illusionary world has started crumbling.

Verdict: I’ll probably be watching. I think this is an excellent contender for my viewing time. The only thing I’m concerned about is that this is a video game adaptation and I’m not sure how well the rest of the story will weather the transition.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

Dances with the Dragons


Why I Watched It: Dances with the Dragons has appealing character designs and looks to have nicely animated action scenes. There’s potentially decent worldbuilding with the idea of fighting dragons with “spell equations.”

What I Thought: I like the magi-tech style of combat, in that this is a modern world where magic is just another technology. There is a boundary between human and dragon lands, and juushiki users (awkwardly rendered as “juushikiists” in the subtitles) are sort of bounty hunters who take out the dragons in exchange for pay. However the worldbuilding is uneven, spending a good minute rambling about the discovery of juushiki when there are more pressing issues, like where did the dragons come from (we see ruins of skyscrapers so they can’t be native) and what is an Altar since everyone seems to be impressed by the killing of a semi-Altar dragon?

Verdict: I might come back to this one, but in a crowded season it’s a pass. While it has potential, the first episode is too uneven and there’s too much dead space that doesn’t feel like plot or character development.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

Devil’s Line


Why I Watched It: I try to stay away from vampire stuff, but this one looks interesting, pairing a college student (rather than a high school girl) with a half-vampire who is part of a police task force. The original manga is seinen, meaning the story is aimed to appeal to the adult male demographic, so it will likely avoid the usual paranormal romance tropes.

What I Thought: This is definitely a gritty, more mature offering. Vampires are much like humans except that they find blood irresistible, and get a high off of drinking it, which tends to result in the victim’s demise. Offending vampires are hunted down and arrested, though not without some level of sympathy, with the understanding that a vampire that has killed can never go back to a peaceful life without blood. I like this level of real world integration with the fantastic, however, the combat animation is extremely off-putting. It appears to be CG, but not rendered in the standard frame rate for anime so it looks too fluid. Aside from that, a lot of the night time scenes feature thin white outlines around characters and I don’t know if that’s a stylistic choice or a rendering error. Finally, I don’t think the two leads have much chemistry with each other and I found it off-putting how Anzai forces a kiss on Tsukasa at the end of the episode, even if he is half-vampire and happens to see blood near her mouth.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. It has some interesting ideas, but I don’t like Anzai or that sort of behavior from my male leads.

Where to find stream: HIDIVE (subtitled and dubbed, subscription required)

Doreiku the Animation


Why I Watched It: A number of questionable people are trapped in a survival game-ish power struggle to achieve dominance over each other, which is potentially right up my alley, so long as the requisite head games are there. Based on a novel series.

What I Thought: It was more trashy than I expected. It’ll probably appeal to people who like fiction with exploitative scenarios. I thought there would be more of a game structure to what’s going on, but basically two people engage in a “duel” while wearing these high tech retainers in their mouths and the loser is then compelled by the device to be a slave to the winner. So far as I can tell, there is no tournament arc and I suspect most of the cast is going to consist of a bunch of unlikable sadists. We meet our protagonists, who’ve yet to engage in dueling anybody, but we do see the result of one duel. Though the winner is taking some understandable revenge, she becomes cruel in ways that she didn’t appear to be before.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. If it was more game-y I could possibly hold my nose through it, but it looks like the show is going to put our protagonists through the wringer, and they won’t be the better for it by the end.

Where to find stream: HIDIVE (subtitled and dubbed, subscription required)

The Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Die Neue These


Why I Watched It: This is a remake of an epic space opera series that in older days would never have been licensed due to the size and scope of the project, covering a whopping ten novels about the interstellar war between the Galactic Empire and the Free Planet Alliance. It was one of those series that I knew about when I first got into anime as a legend in itself, but never expected to watch because no one was translating 100+ episode series at the time. The remake will be shorter.

What I Thought: The first episode focuses almost exclusively on the Galactic Empire, introducing one of our dual protagonists, Reinhard von Lohengramm. We don’t get much history about the current war so much as the Galactic Empire and the Free Planet Alliance have been at it for a while and Reinhard is rather young and arguably inexperienced for the role of High Admiral. The space battle segments are good for those craving ship-to-ship combat sans mecha, and his tactics are sound. Reinhard is willing to forgo “common sense” behavior, realizing that by doing so he can obtain an advantage. It’s not until the final minutes of the episode that we hear the voice of his rival, Yang Wen-li, on the side of the Free Planet Alliance, who promises his soldiers they will still win despite their losses. With Reinhard’s skill established and Yang Wen-li’s sheer gumption with his fleet-wide broadcast, it’s a solid tease for their eventual confrontation in the next episode.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. I love this kind of space opera and it’s unfortunately not as common as it used to be in anime. I’m not sure how it’s going to manage condensing everything from the original, but it looks really good so far.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required)

Magical Girl Ore


Why I Watched It: When I first saw the promo images of a couple beefcake guys in magical girl outfits, I assumed this was another show about boys transforming into magical girls, but it’s not! It’s about a couple girls who get magical girl abilities that turn them into a couple really buff guys. Naturally it’s a comedy and there are romance complications when the protagonist’s crush seems more interested in her male persona than herself.

What I Thought: For a series built on the premise that the girl turns into a guy and then fights demons while wearing a skirt, it takes an awfully long time to get to that point, with the transformation happening right at the end of the episode, so we don’t even get a fight scene. The show clearly knows how to parody its genre, and the “cute” mascot that looks and talks like a yakuza as part of its speech tic is an inspired touch, but the pacing leaves me concerned and I’m not sure whether it’s intentional that her crush is expressionless as a piece of cardboard.

Verdict: I’m going to pass. I might revisit if word of mouth builds up, but it’s not funny enough to make up for the slow pacing.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

Persona 5: The Animation


Why I Watched It: Persona 5 was one of the best JRPGs to come out last year, featuring teenage phantom thieves who steal people’s hearts in one world so they can regain their consciences in the real one. This should be a quick and easy way to relive the game (or follow the story in the first place for non-gamers). The game’s voice cast is reprising their roles and the series is expected to run 24 episodes so there should be the room needed to cover the entire plot without compressing and cutting too much.

What I Thought: The first episode was engaging and impressive for compressing what was probably the first 2-3 hours of gameplay into a half hour time slot. We’re told all we need to know about Ren Amamiya’s past, how he came to his new school, and what’s happening in “present day” (the story starts in media res and is mostly told in flashback during Ren’s interrogation). The first episode even manages to make explicit how Ren and Ryuji were able to visit Kamoshida’s palace in the first place, which I don’t think was spelled out in the game. I suspect series newbies will be a little, though not horribly, lost but fans should feel right at home.

Verdict: I’ll be watching at some point, though I’m not sure if it will be during the spring since there’s so much else going on and I already know the story. This is definitely going on my list though.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

Real Girl


Why I Watched It: The premise, about a boy who prefers the 2D stuff finally meeting a real girl who might be interested in him, isn’t something I’d usually watch. It feels like male nerd wish fulfillment, but Real Girl is based on a manga for girls, so I assume there is a twist to it that makes it more appealing to the female demographic. The character designs are appealing so I figured I’d give this a shot.

What I Thought: The two protagonists are not people I would normally like, but they’re human. Hikaru Tsutsui doesn’t like real girls because they tend to pick on him for being a nerd and he only has one friend, who is also a nerd, so they both get ostracized together. When he meets Iroha Igarashi he immediately dislikes her because she’s fashionable for her age and has a “loose” reputation. Of course she’s the type of girl who would show up late to class without a care (whereas he’s a model student with perfect attendance). What they go through feels very real, especially with how real people hurt each other without wanting to be cruel.

Verdict: I might watch this one. It’s a crowded season, but Iroha is a really unusual female lead. It’s rare to have a more experienced girl in a romantic pair, especially in shoujo anime. That might be why the episode is entirely from Hikaru’s POV, but I hope that switches later.

Where to find stream: HIDIVE (subtitled and dubbed, subscription required)

Tada Never Falls in Love


Why I Watched It: Sweet high school romantic comedy between a high school boy, Tada, and the girl, Teresa, who has come to his school as an exchange student. Though the trailer video plays up both the romance and the comedy in a high school setting, the early promotional art shows Teresa in a tiara and ballgown, suggesting she is probably a princess. The show is by the creative team behind the Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun anime, which I had greatly enjoyed.

What I Thought: Tada is not manic funny in the way that Nozaki was and while the first episode isn’t bad, it’s definitely a slower burn. Teresa is heavily implied to be royalty and has come to Japan as an exchange student. It turns out that she’s a total Japanophile, specifically of a period drama called Rainbow Samurai, which weirds out Tada because she acts like it’s the greatest thing ever, while to him it’s an old TV show. Tada himself doesn’t seem that remarkable other than he really likes photography, and that’s how he meets Teresa, when she keeps getting in the way of his lens. So far they have such little chemistry together that even sharing an umbrella in the rain doesn’t feel romantic, though I guess that’s the point, given the series title.

Verdict: I might come back to this one, but it’s crowded season and with Wotakoi being the clear romantic comedy winner and Real Girl also being a contender, I don’t think I’m going to be seeing this one in real time.

Where to find stream: HIDIVE (subtitled and dubbed, subscription required)

Tokyo Ghoul:re


Why I Watched It: The first Tokyo Ghoul anime veered away from the manga and went with a wildly different and original ending, so it’s very odd that the sequel manga is being animated, because it means that people who only follow the anime will have no idea how we got to this point. I’m not sure if concessions are being made to onboard those viewers, or the assumption will be that the audience knows the original manga.

What I Thought: The opening episode is different enough that I doubt I have much more context than someone brand new to the franchise. The government has recently created the Quinx Squad, which are humans with the abilities of ghouls in order to better combat them. Since ghouls require human flesh in order to survive, humans naturally don’t get along with them. We get a bunch of new characters and meet most of the Quinx Squad. The ending confirms where Kaneki is, for fans of the first series wondering why he wasn’t in most of the episode, but I feel like I really needed more answers, not just to Kaneki but to the Quinx Squad’s existence in general, to hold my interest.

Verdict: I’ll come back to this later. Despite the bumpy adaptation the last time around, :re has a new writer and new director, and if the first episode is anything to judge, this series will be tonally different. It’s bloody, but doesn’t seem to be striving for a horror feel, making it more of a dark action show, which feels like a better fit than the action horror hybrid the first one was trying to be.

Where to find stream: Funimation (subtitled and dubbed, subscription required for dub, but not for sub)

Wotakoi: Love is Hard for Otaku


Why I Watched It: After enjoying Recovery of an MMO Junkie I was really looking forward to another romantic comedy about a couple of geeks, this time in an office setting rather than an MMO. “Otaku” is a Japanese word for “enthusiasts” and particularly gets attached to those with nerdier pursuits.

What I Thought: This first episode does a wonderful job of conveying what it’s like being an adult geek, from discovering a fellow geek in the office to trying to hide your hobbies while hanging around muggles. In Narumi’s case, her ex-boyfriend actually dumped her when he discovered she’s a yaoi fangirl. Fortunately for Narumi, changing jobs to avoid her ex lands her at a new company where she gets reacquainted with her taciturn childhood friend, Hirotaka, who is similarly interested in geeky things. After being a sounding board for all her venting, he asks her why she doesn’t date someone who doesn’t mind that she’s a fangirl. The episode ends with Hirotaka giving an amazingly nerdy proposal to Narumi for why she should consider dating him (he’ll always be there when she needs another player in a video game!) and I completely loved it.

Verdict: I’ll be watching. Since they agreed to date at the end of the very first episode, I assume the rest of the series will be the ups and downs of two nerds getting used to dating each other. The other two characters in the show look like they’ll end up being a beta couple and at least one of them is confirmed an otaku in the first episode.

Where to find stream: Amazon Prime Video (subtitled, subscription required)

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Anime Review: Juni Taisen: Zodiac War

written by Laurie Tom


I didn’t expect to like Juni Taisen: Zodiac War as much as I did, but that said, it’s not going to be like that for everyone. The show is a throwback to the more violent anime of the 1990s in that there are lots of blood and guts, with possibly one of the most creative and disgusting ways I’ve ever seen to hide a corpse, but at the same time the series is very talky and ultimately depressing.

Juni Taisen is about a tournament fought every twelve years by twelve families. Each family sends a representative to participate in the gruesome death match, with the outcome deciding the fate of various nations between the power mongers of the world. As for the sole tournament survivor, they earn the fulfillment of one wish, no matter how outlandish.

Each combatant is themed to an animal of the Chinese zodiac and in several cases this also comes with a supernatural ability. During the tournament they don’t go by their proper names, but rather the name of their animal in Japanese followed by a description of their killing style. For instance: Eiji, the Ox, will introduce himself as “Ushi, Killing Systematically.” And make no mistake, there is a lot of killing.

At the start of the tournament, each combatant is instructed to swallow a gemlike object that turns out to be poisonous. The poison will dissolve into their bodies in twelve hours, setting a time limit for the battle. In order to win, the winner must have all twelve gems in their possession before time is up. Given these circumstances, true cooperation seems impossible, since winning involves removing an object from an opponent’s stomach, though at least one participant tries.

With a couple exceptions, each episode focuses on a particular combatant and we see parts of their personal backstory; who they are and why they entered the tournament in the first place. Unfortunately, after a few episodes the show is clearly following a pattern.

Viewers familiar with the Chinese zodiac, which will likely be the majority of the original Japanese audience, will be able to figure out who the winner is pretty quickly, so the show doesn’t particularly worry about revealing any secrets as the body count builds up. It might be possible for a western viewer to watch the show from an angle of suspense if they don’t know the zodiac and don’t watch the ending credits too closely, but the show was certainly not written with that possibility in mind.

How effective Juni Taisen is largely depends on the audience’s attachment for how these warriors came into their present circumstances, since (nearly) everyone dies and if a character’s one moment in the spotlight doesn’t catch the eye, then there’s not much point to anything else. Even the eventual winner’s story is not terribly climactic since their identity is not expected to be a surprise, which makes for an unusually tepid ending. I liked the winner, but because of the lack of surprise, their episode didn’t have a heavier punch than any other despite wrapping up the storyline.

While I enjoyed watching Juni Taisen as each new episode came out, it’s a series that’s more about watching a bunch of skilled strangers kill each other in various ways than anything deeper. We do get a feel for most of them as human beings, but the format prevents us from knowing them enough to miss them.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Interesting storytelling format, everyone more or less gets a chance to shine

Minuses: Doesn’t feel as deep as it was aiming for, winner is predictable if you know the Chinese zodiac

Juni Taisen is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled), Funimation (dubbed). Funimation has licensed this for eventual retail distribution in the US.

Laurie Tom is a fantasy and science fiction writer based in southern California. Since she was a kid she has considered books, video games, and anime in roughly equal portions to be her primary source of entertainment. Laurie’s short fiction has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and Intergalactic Medicine Show.