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: Attack on Titan Season 2

written by Laurie Tom


Attack on Titan‘s first season aired far enough back that I don’t have a review on Diabolical Plots to point newcomers to, but suffice to say it’s good! It crosses over to mainstream media much easier than most anime, but the story was clearly far from complete, which brings us to Season 2.

Be aware that there will be first season spoilers as I tackle the second season!

Attack on Titan took four years to return, which is surprising considering how popular it is. Part of the delay was no doubt because the first season had chewed through most of the available manga at the time it was animated, but considering that the second season is only covering one additional story arc, rather than two, I’m not sure why the studio waited so long. The manga has completed three more story arcs since the end of the first season, so from a storytelling standpoint, there’s a lot to work with.

After a brief recap, Season 2 picks up only moments after the end of the first season, with Annie being hauled away while encased in crystal and the Scout Regiment trying to figure out what to make of the mysterious Titan that appears to be inside one of the great walls that surrounds their country.

When a priest hurries over and tells Hange to cover the hole in the wall so the entombed Titan doesn’t wake up, it becomes clear that there are a lot of secrets to their world that some people are privileged to know and others are not. Worse, Titans have appeared inside the greater Wall Rose, which should not have happened unless the wall has been breached.

The Wall Rose invasion kicks off a furious first half of the season as the Scouts try to figure out where, or even if, the wall has been breached. The breach of the outermost Wall Maria at the start of the first season devastated the human population. Losing the middle Wall Rose as well would be a catastrophe.

Worse, there’s a new intelligent Titan involved and many of our fresh recruits have been isolated from most of the military. They are unarmed, without the maneuvering gear that allows them to sling themselves into the air to fight Titans, and they’re about to get surrounded.

After the gut-wrenching opening, the real story this season is figuring out who the enemy of humanity really is, because they are facing something much more complex than the mindless Titans outside the walls. At the end of the first season, Commander Erwin Smith had promised to flush out the Titans hiding among humanity, and in Season 2, he certainly delivers.

Arguably the biggest reveal happens at the season’s midpoint, capping off the manic first half, but the story doesn’t quite regain its footing afterwards.

Though a short breather is nice, the story loses momentum when it stretches past a single episode, which it does. The animators do their best to try to keep the episodes exciting when most of the plot involves people sitting around, but to be fair, they’re constrained by the fact the series has chosen to hew extremely close to the source material and there is a chapter where the characters literally spend the entire time sitting in trees. It wasn’t so noticeable in the manga, but the same chapter fares pretty badly in animation, even with a few additional scenes to break up the view.

Fortunately, Studio Wit knows how to sell a climax and the season swings back to full spectacle with a blood churning rally at the end. The season doesn’t end with many answers, but we do have a better picture of the enemy and even more questions for future story arcs.

Much has been made about the studio only animating half the episodes they did last time, especially since Season 2 started with enough source material to last in the ballpark of 35 episodes, but with the wonky exception of the Colossal Titan, which was clearly an out of place piece of CG, allowing the animation team to focus on a smaller set of episodes seems to have turned out to be a good thing.

Every episode is much more detailed and pleasing on the eyes than the first season, and the first was no slouch when it came to animation. There are fantastic sequences of running along walls, riding through murderous Titans, and soldiers flying through the air with their omni-directional mobility gear. Any random screenshot will have much better shading and line work.

Composer Hiroyuki Sawano returns as well with one of his best soundtracks to date, remixing themes from the first season and adding new favorites, whether it’s the heart-pumping “Barricades” or the thoughtful “Call of Silence.”

Despite the pacing stumble in the second half and the lack of answers, I still recommend Attack on Titan: Season 2 to anyone who enjoyed the first. It plays to the series’ strengths and then pushes itself to become even better at what it does best.

Best of all, on the heels of the season finale, Season 3 was announced for 2018, so there won’t be as long of a wait for the next round.

Number of Episodes: 12

Pluses: Gorgeous and highly detailed battle sequences, midpoint plot reveal is a great twist, a lot of side characters from the first season really get a chance to shine

Minuses: A lot of first season questions are still unanswered, sitting in trees episode was unusually boring, pacing is off in second half

Attack on Titan Season 2 is currently streaming at Crunchyroll (subtitled), Funimation (dubbed), and aired on Cartoon Network. 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 the Intergalactic Medicine Show.

Spring 2017 Anime First Impressions

written by Laurie Tom

Spring brings back a lot of anime with new seasons and spin-offs of older properties that I didn’t expect to be returning. My spring anime sampling is a bit incomplete though.

During the winter season I had mentioned that Amazon’s Anime Strike had entered the simulcasting game, but had too few exclusive titles. That is not true of spring, where Amazon has licensed a whopping 12 titles, just over a third of all new series this season.

For Amazon Prime members, it’s another $5/month, but if you don’t already subscribe to Prime, Anime Strike becomes fairly pricey. I may binge watch the Amazon exclusives later, but for now I’ll be sticking to the older streaming services; Crunchyroll, Funimation, and to a lesser degree Daisuki.

Alice & Zoroku


Why I Watched It: It looks like an odd duck for an anime considering that the two main characters are an old man and a young girl with super powers. Protagonists who are adults are in the minority already. One that has gone completely gray with age is almost unheard of.

What I Thought: While the girl with special powers escaping from a government lab story is not very original, Zoroku himself is a breath of fresh air as he’s old enough to not want to put up with all the very anime-style shenanigans of elementary school girls using magic powers to wreak havoc in the city. The fact he gets Sana (presumably the Alice of the title, and code named Red Queen from the Alice in Wonderland stories) and her two pint-sized pursuers to own up to the damage they did and face the police was a hoot. Though he is a cranky old man, it feels like there’s enough of a dimension to him that he’s more than a trope. I like that he recognizes that Sana, for all her powers, is also a poorly raised little girl who needs some proper boundaries set so she can behave like a normal human being (and not an anime character).

Verdict: I might watch later. Though I like Zoroku and his interactions with Alice, and old man with surrogate granddaughter is not a relationship we usually get in anime, the rest of the first episode doesn’t hold up as anything I haven’t already seen before. I need more from the antagonists in charge, rather than the various kids they’re toting around to do their dirty business.

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

Attack on Titan Season 2


Why I Watched It: Attack on Titan landed with a smash in 2013, spinning off merchandising, video games, spin-off manga and anime series, and even a theme park attraction, in ways that few series have before and certainly not since. But because the series closely follows the source manga, which was less than 30% done at the time, it chose to pause the adaptation after season 1. Twelve volumes and four years later, there is plenty to adapt, and one of my favorite series returns.

What I Thought: Season 2 gets the ball rolling. After a minute and a half recap of the first season (definitely not enough for series newcomers) Attack on Titan picks up exactly where season 1 left off, and from there, launches straight into its next story arc with the mysterious appearance of titans spotted within Wall Rose. There is a fairly brutal death, reminding everyone that this world is cruel even to the best of soldiers, and it’s quickly revealed that the religious priests of the walls know a lot more about the truth of their world than anyone else. All the animation, acting, and the music is true to form, and in some ways even better. It’s almost like it hasn’t been four years since AoT last aired.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! It’s worth noting that Crunchyroll is now using the Funimation naming convention in their subtitles, which will be a bit of a jolt if doing catch-up viewing through CR, as Squad Leaders are suddenly called Section Commanders, Commander Pixis is now spelled Pyxis, among other things. I’m hoping since the manga is so far ahead that any new characters and terminology introduced will use the same names already used in the US translation so we don’t have as many variations across mediums.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled) and Funimation (dubbed, subscription required). It also started broadcasting on Cartoon Network’s Toonami April 22nd!

KADO: The Right Answer


Why I Watched It: Government negotiator meets an alien entity when a mysterious cube appears in Tokyo’s skies, and the story is told from the negotiator’s point of view! I like that a guy in a suit is the protagonist instead of say a military man or yet another teenager, pointing to a much different sort of first contact scenario than we usually get in popular media.

What I Thought: KADO: The Right Answer actually launches with an Episode 0, and while it’s mostly forgettable, it introduces us to our idiosyncratic protagonist Shindo and his personal philosophy on how negotiations should work by showing us a much more mundane land acquisition job. This is important because Shindo is on the passenger plane that gets absorbed by the alien cube when it lands at the end of the episode, and Episode 1 largely focuses on the reactions of everyone outside, while our protagonist is MIA. And it’s a pretty good focus, with people trying to look for realistic ways to rescue the plane and trying different tactics to see what works. Episode 2 looks like it will flashback to show us what happened inside.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! Shindo is a bit idiosyncratic in the way that genius types are often portrayed, but I like his philosophy that negotiation is when both parties get something they want and not just what the negotiator came for.

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

Natsume Yujin-cho 6


Why I Watched It: I already like the series, though I hadn’t expected that a sixth season would be greenlight so quickly since there was such a long gap between seasons 4 and 5, but the teenage boy who sees yokai is back again. I’m not sure there is such a thing as too many episodes of Natsume Yujin-cho, but on the other hand I’m not sure what new material the series can add since by it’s nature it’s been episodic.

What I Thought: Natsume Yujin-cho continues its routine of handling small, personal plots in a world where yokai, Japanese spirits, exist but hardly anyone can see them. This time around Natsume helps a yokai with a pot stuck on its head. The grateful yokai, a Days Eater, decides to repay Natsume by restoring his youth, which results in Natsume being turned into a small child and forgetting his teenage memories. Watching Nyanko-sensei, Tanuma, and Taki try to regain Natsume’s trust, when the child version of him is used to be pranked and manipulated by yokai, serves as a bittersweet reminder of what Natsume has gained since he was a kid.

Verdict: I’ll be watching! It might not be top of my list, but whenever I need a feel good pick-me-up, Natsume Yujin-cho doesn’t disappoint.

Where to find stream: Crunchyroll (subtitled)

What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?


Why I Watched It: I have to say that as far as atrociously long titles go, that is one of the worst. On the other hand, what kind of miserable world is it that asking those three questions is reasonable at all? So in that way, yes, the title got my interest, and I’ll be referring to the series as WorldEnd in the rest of this write-up since that’s the abbreviation used in Crunchyroll’s search field.

What I Thought: Over 500 years ago, humanity lost a war and has largely been wiped out to the point where Willem Kmetsch may very well be the last of his kind. The world is now a collection of floating islands ruled by beast people, and while there are those without fur or scales like a human, they are viewed as disfigured by society. One of Willem’s friends convinces him to make something of his life and take a job at a “warehouse” storing various weapons, which turn out to be a bunch of small humanlike children. WorldEnd is unusual in that its opening and post-credit scenes are incredibly melancholy in showcasing Willem’s loss during the war 500 years ago, but sandwiches much brighter and light-hearted scenes between them with the kids.

Verdict: I’ll probably watch. This one surprised me, as I wasn’t expecting this mix of light and heavy material. The only thing that bugs me is Willem’s age and I’m not sure if it’s just an art style issue. We don’t know how he’s gotten unstuck in time yet, but physically he looks like an older teen, which doesn’t jive with the fact that he apparently ran an orphanage and the kids there referred to him as their dad, even the older one who had to be a teenager.

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