After this past year’s horrific fire at Kyoto Animation, I found myself looking at all the animated series that Kyoto Animation had done in the past, and found that I had seen so very few of them, and that they were also all on my to-watch list well before the fire. The body of work of the studio was at a level that I’d compare to GAINAX at their prime. So, having read the first volume of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid a couple jobs ago, while I was working in Downtown Portland, I decided to bump that show up on the list. Also, as a part of the weekly anime viewing nights I’d started with my parents after I got my Dad into anime, I decided to add that show to the rotation, sight unseen. The results were favorable, with an asterisk.

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At Kumoricon 2019, I had the good fortune of getting into a screening of the anime film Penguin Highway. It is an anime film of a variety that doesn’t come out in the US very much – an anime film that is a straight-up family adventure film, and a film that also plays into some of the Kids on Bikes concepts that came up in a few works I’ve reviewed recently (The Gate and Tales from the Loop).

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Key Art banner for season one of "What the Hell Are You Doing Here, Teacher?"

When it comes to concepts related to fanservice in anime, there are some that are very hard to do well. One of them, probably the biggest one of them, is what I call “Sexual Slapstick.” It’s someone walking into a room and seeing someone undressing, or tripping and falling and copping a feel (or seeing something they shouldn’t. They’re all based around acts that are gross, which means it can be hard to make funny. Season one of We Never Learn did it and What the Hell Are You Doing Here, Teacher? also manages to actually pull it off.

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From Left - Ultra Seven, Ultraman, and Ultraman Ace from Season 1 of Ultraman

This past year or so we had a fair number of anime series paying tribute to classic Tokusatsu series from Tsuburya Productions. The most high profile of these was S.S.S.S. Gridman, with Netflix’s Ultraman Season 1 (adapting the manga) coming out earlier, and flying under the radar. There are a few reasons for that – Gridman had Trigger’s rep going for it, instead of being a totally CG anime series, and was released in English in a more conventional manner instead of the Netflix binge model. As far as how much each of those contributed – well, I can’t get into specifics without delving into Steiner Math (which I flunked in college). That said, the show is still fun, and worth your time.

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Movie poster for Count Yorga, Vampire

Horror films about vampires in the present day are kind of interesting to me. We live in a time where the concepts of how vampires “work” are common knowledge enough that on the one hand, you don’t need to explain the concepts to an audience. That said, we also are in a world of skepticism, so characters generally shouldn’t buy into the idea of vampires being real at first glance either. Count Yorga, Vampire is probably one of the earlier films I’ve seen that takes on this concept, even pre-dating Hammer’s attempts at the concept.

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I haven’t watched a lot of “Kids on Bikes” movies and fiction – I’ve seen ET, Explorers, and The Goonies, and as of this writing am currently in the middle of reading IT (which is something of a Kids on Bikes story for the flashback sequences) but I haven’t seen or read any of the other works that really feed into subsequent works like Stranger Things. I haven’t seen Monster Squad, and until recently, I hadn’t seen The Gate – a lesser-known work in the genre that I hadn’t heard about until Giant Bomb did a “Film and 40s” commentary for it with the Giant Beast crew. Well, this oversight has, at long last, been rectified.

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From left, Lila and Lemora

Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural is a vampire film that’s been on my watch list for a while. I’ve seen it praised for its theme and tone, but due to the film’s cast and how relatively unknown the director was – and it’s limited DVD release – never really bumped it up my list. Why do a little known vampire film from a director known more for co-writing Eating Raoul than anything else, and starring an actress known for myriad sexploitation films over, say, a film by Amicus? On a whim, I bumped this to the top of my DVD Netflix Queue and gave it a try – and it wasn’t exactly worth the wait.

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Waver Velvet (Lord El-Melloi) reacting in shock and pain

Lord El-Melloi II is a mystery series that breaks from the conventions of the genre. Specifically, the convention of using the question of “Howdunit” to determine “Whodunit”. When urban fantasy normally sets into this territory, you see writers structure out their magic system to fit within this magical structure. Lord El-Melloi II, on the other hand, tosses convention out on its head and decides to play Calvinball instead.

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Promotional art for Lupin the Third Part IV

Lupin the Third is a character who refuses to be tied down. Like Tom Servo, he’s like the wind, baby. His various earlier anime series and films have set him up as a consummate flirt and womanizer, and his adventures have spanned the globe. Lupin the Third Part IV upends that status quo immediately in both respects. In the second, Lupin’s adventures in this series are generally limited to Italy. In the first case, the series opens with Lupin getting married, and not to Fujiko Mine.

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Still from the first episode of O Maidens in Your Savage Season

Occasionally, I watch an anime series that I feel utterly unqualified to review. Sometimes it’s something like Angel’s Egg, where I can clearly feel the concepts flying over my head and ruffling my hair – where I can tell what I’m seeing is art, but I lack the vocabulary to properly expand on the concept. In the case of O Maidens in Your Savage Season, it’s life experiences.

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When I was in High School, Fruits Basket came out in the US and it was a phenomenon. the manga was the flagship of Tokyopop’s unflipped manga (or “100% Authentic Manga”) initiative, and its success led to the majority of manga in the US being published unflipped, and also cemented a longstanding partnership between Tokyopop and Borders which lasted until both went bankrupt – all of that fueled as well by the success of the anime. Now, about 18 years later, long enough for the high school kids who grew up on FuruBa to have kids of their own, there is a new anime adaptation of Fruits Basket, with the first season airing this year.

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A while back, when I had started my fanzine with the intent of getting established science fiction fans, in particular, those who read fanzines (a demographic that is generally more likely to vote and nominate in the Hugos), to watch and nominate speculative fiction anime – I started with a list.  I gave a list of anime series that had come out since the turn of the millennium which I thought literary speculative fiction fans would enjoy. Among them was Bodacious Space Pirates, a science fiction anime which I felt took the sense of adventure and wonder that was a fixture of ‘50s and ’60s YA Space Adventure science fiction, kept that, and dropped the obsolete political and social views that fill so many works of that period. Astra: Lost in Space is the next anime that tries this and pulls it off spectacularly.

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