written by Laurie Tom
The winter season has arrived, and there are no holdovers from fall for me to watch, so my schedule is completely free! As usual, I’ll pick two or three series to watch, though a fourth might make its way in if it comes highly recommended.
Why I Watched It: The original Japanese title Boku Dake ga Inai Machi (lit: The Town Where Only I Don’t Exist) is evocative and the premise is that the twenty-nine year old protagonist has a limited ability to go back in time to fix events that will prevent people from dying, but when he’s framed for his mother’s murder his jump back takes him all the way to 18 years ago, one month before a classmate of his goes missing.
What I Thought: Wow! There’s a lot crammed into that opening episode, covering not only Satoru’s unique ability (which usually only takes him a few minutes back, not 18 years), but also a serial kidnapping/murder case that was not actually solved even though the books had been closed with a culprit found guilty. The statute of limitations just ran out because, guess what, it’s been 18 years. Satoru’s mom is a very canny woman and figures out the events of 18 years ago didn’t actually end, and presumably the real party responsible is the one who then murders her to keep her quiet, leaving Satoru to take the rap, except that Satoru’s ability then yanks him back in time to stop the real reason for her murder.
Verdict: I’ll be watching! I was disappointed Satoru’s mom got fridged so early because as far as anime moms go, she’s awesome, but we’ll presumably be getting more of the past her now that Satoru’s gone back in time. My biggest concern is that the manga is still running, but it’s ending soon and the anime production team is promising that the anime itself will have an ending as well, so it won’t finish unresolved.
Where to find stream: Crunchyroll
Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash
Why I Watched It: Can there be too many series about people trapped in a medieval European fantasy RPG world? Apparently not. This is not the only one this season, but the only one I’m watching. The twist in this one is that the participants seem to be unaware that they’re in a game, or even what a game is.
What I Thought: It’s not clear whether they’re actually in a game, but as a portal fantasy it works fine too. Somehow, a group of about a dozen people from our world wake up in a tower with no memories of their prior lives, but sometimes words and concepts spill out and they have no idea what they mean or how they know them. They’re escorted to a town where they’re told they can make a living as volunteer soldiers since the real army is too busy to focus on local dangers. The POV party collectively fills roles common in fantasy and gaming fiction, but they’re comically terrible at it (as might be expected of random people from our world); unable to handle the weakest monsters in the forest. I was turned off by the odd 2-3 minutes spent debating the bust size of one of the female characters, but if that’s a one off I can move past it.
Verdict: I’ll probably watch this one. I like Manato (the priest and party leader), and being the most competent person in the group he probably should have taken a different role so they could actually earn some money, but then maybe if he hadn’t the rest of the party wouldn’t be alive.
Phantasy Star Online 2: The Animation
Why I Watched It: I only checked it out because I dropped a lot of hours into the original Phantasy Star Online, which was an Diablo-style RPG. The sequel never made it to English speaking shores, but its anime adaptation has. Unfortunately the word is that it’s terrible, so this is strictly a curiosity viewing. Rather than taking place inside the world of the game, it follows teenagers who play the game. Wha?
What I Thought: Not as horrible as I thought it would be, but PSO2 seems to be be suffering from trying to do two different things at once. It wants the game world to be its own entity with its own set of stakes, but at the same time it wants a plot that runs through the offline world and the people who play the game. I suspect that the in-universe PSO2 will end up being more than just a game and conflict will spill over from the online to the offline, but it doesn’t quite come together, especially since this is a real world game that exists in our world. The characters go to Seiga Academy! Say it out loud. Yeah, the reference is that blatant. And if that’s not enough, the fountain in the center of their school looks like Sonic the Hedgehog.
Verdict: I’m going to pass. While it’s nice seeing some of the designs animated for a game I had dropped well over a hundred hours on when I was just out of college, it’s just not what I’m looking for.
Where to find stream: Crunchyroll
Prince of Stride: Alternative
Why I Watched It: This seems like a slower season compared to most and I’ve never watched a sports anime before so I figured I’d try one. In high school I did hurdles and the high jump for track and field, so a series about a parkour/relay race team seems up my alley.
What I Thought: I had no real expectations going in, so I was pleasantly surprised. If stride was a real sport (I don’t think it is) I would certainly have considered it in high school. It’s very showy and well choreographed. I loved the detail the animators paid to warming up, with one of the athletes doing a common ankle exercise. Even though the show will presumably showcase their matches, the first episode gets the tension rolling with a more mundane concern when protagonist Nana Sakurai comes to Honan Academy only to find out the stride club possesses so few members it can no longer race competitively. Though they get enough people by the end of the episode, it’s clear the reason for the stride club being in such bad shape will come up later.
Verdict: I’ll be watching! It looks like fun, and even though I probably won’t try another sports anime after this one, this hits close to my heart.
Why I Watched It: Even though it’s a prequel/spin-off to the Muv-Luv series (which I haven’t seen), there aren’t many anime set in East Germany, so that piqued my interest. The art style is less cutesy than its predecessor and closer to my tastes so I figured I’d give it a shot. Schwarzesmarken translates into “Black Marks” and is the name of the 666th Squadron the story follows.
What I Thought: I’m not sure what year it takes place (1980-something?), but East Germany still exists and they’re fighting invading aliens with mecha. What makes this more unique compared to other mecha series is its setting, with the protagonists being soldiers in a communist state who aren’t necessarily happy with their country, as seen through the eyes of Second Lieutenant Theodor Eberbach, who appears to have made an attempt to flee the country at some point before being forced into the military. I’m not entirely sure where the series is going since the aliens are pretty brainless and being a prequel they’re likely here to stay, but there’s stuff involving a West German pilot defecting to the East in search of someone, and Theodor’s CO might be a Stasi informant, and nobody wants to mess with the secret police.
Verdict: I might end up watching, I’m not sure yet. I’m a bit put off by the spray-on body suits the female pilots wear, but I like the unusual setting and the fact that Theodor feels threatened by human enemies just as much as the alien ones. I feel like in most mecha anime Theodor’s army would be the bad guy’s side, but instead they’re up against aliens and they’re the dubious good guys.
Where to find stream: Crunchyroll
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
Why I Watched It: I’m not sure there’s a good way to translate this title, but suffice to say it’s a Showa era (1926-1989) period piece steeped in Japanese culture about an ex-convict who wants to become a rakugo performer; rakugo being a centuries old art form where a single storyteller/performer entertains the audience with a verbal performance of a comedic story.
What I Thought: It’s a slower sort of show, but definitely takes newcomers through what rakugo is by including the entirety of a single performance in the opening episode and making the telling of the story reflect upon the character who is telling it. Main character Yotaro is not terribly bright, but is very enthusiastic, wanting to learn rakugo because it was the bright spot during his incarceration. Being an ex-con with no money and no place to go he manages to convince his idol to take him as his first apprentice, even though Yotaro is the last person anyone would expect to become an artist. Trouble follows him around so things never get too easy, but he takes to the art faster and more successfully than I expected he would.
Verdict: I’m not sure. It felt more educational than entertaining. Though I did laugh at some of the rakugo performance, the show needs more than that to hook me and I’m not sure where it’s going to go from here.
Where to find stream: Crunchyroll
Ajin – Some people are mysteriously discovered to be immortal, but only after being killed, so no one knows how many there actually are, and being immortal is a raw deal as the government is capturing those immortals to find out what makes them tick. This has been licensed by Netflix, which means that it will not be simulcasted. In an era where localization companies like Funimation are trying to get even their dubs out faster to the online audience, Netflix’s half year delays on releasing licenses feels like a backwards way of doing things.
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 is a previous grand prize winner of Writers of the Future and since then her work has been published in Galaxy’s Edge, Strange Horizons, and the Year’s Best YA Speculative Fiction.