The members of Special 7

Special 7 is the last of the big anime series I’d watched in the Fall 2019 season that finished that season – Azur Lane was delayed, Blade of the Immortal, Fate/Grand Order, and My Hero Academia were two-cour series, and I dropped Babylon. It’s an interesting anime series that takes the concept of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, and applies it in an urban fantasy context, but doesn’t quite have as much to say.

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The main cast of We Never Learn - Yuuki and his romantic interests.

The first season of We Never Learn ended with an announcement for a second season. With the manga being based around college preparation and studying for that, I did definitely have a sense that whether or not the manga was actually done at this point, whatever the second season ended on was going to have some degree of finality – with how the anime was paced, I couldn’t really see a way to wrap here without getting into graduation. Without too many spoilers before the cut, it does get to graduation, and in hindsight, I think the ending kind of works well.

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Sports Anime is something of a blind spot in my viewing habits. A lot of the top shows of the past few years (Kuroko’s Basketball, Haikyu, Yowamushi Petal) are on my to-watch list, and a few other shows (Giant Killing, Free, Princess Nine) I’ve never gotten around to finishing. So on a recommendation I decided to sit down and watch Scorching Ping-Pong Girls, on the one hand I found it an enjoyable and brisk watch – but on the other, it left me hanging.

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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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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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Promotional art for The Magnificent Kotobuki featuring the members of the squadron.

If you’d read my review of Area 88, you may recall that I gushed over the gorgeously depicted dogfights in that show. Since then I’ve been looking for something that scratched that itch. Not necessarily with the amount of grit that Area 88 did – but still, something that had exciting, tense fighter dogfights. The Winter 2018 anime season brought me the thing that I’d been waiting for. Specifically, it brought me The Magnificent Kotobuki, from the writer and director of Shirobako and Girls Und Panzer. Now, the series had some difficulty taking off for some fans because of the stylistic choices the director made. However, once it got airborne, in my view The Magnificent Kotobuki became a fantastic action anime.

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It feels like an unnecessary point to say, but it bears mentioning nonetheless – Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel II. Lost Butterfly is very much the middle installment of a trilogy. While the first film in this route, Presage Flower, had a very dark ending, this film manages to go into darker places and ends in a dire place. While the first two routes had a degree of brightness to their endings, and I have no doubt that the Heaven’s Feel route will be no exception, it’s important to go in knowing that.

It also bears mentioning going in, and I’m mentioning this before the cut for those who don’t want to read further before seeing the film – even though I’m going to minimize spoilers, that I would give this film a content advisory for sexual assault and suicide. Neither is depicted explicitly on screen (sort of), but it comes up, so it’s important to know going in.

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When I think of food porn in anime, I think of Food Wars – in part because of the risque reactions to the food, but more so because of the very involved dishes that are featured in the work – some of them are dishes that I feel I could make with some time and practice, but there are more than few others that I don’t think I could pull off, due to ingredients that aren’t available, or techniques that can be tricky to master (filleting a cut of meat, for example). Though there are a few other series that focus on food that is easier to pull off in the home, like Sweetness and Lightning.

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When I heard about the upcoming release of Gundam NT (or Gundam Narrative) the thought I had coming in was that the film was going to be the kickoff point for the next chapter of the saga of the Universal Century. That, after the conclusion of Gundam Unicorn set up something of a new status quo, this would start a series of films that would basically lay the groundwork for eventually reaching F91, Crossbone Gundam, and Victory Gundam.

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These past few years have been interesting for anime and manga re-imaginings of Tokusatsu series. There’s been the Netflix Godzilla anime series of films, there was the Ultraman short that was part of the Japan Animator Expo, and there’s the Ultraman reboot manga that is also getting adapted to an anime this year (2019). And there’s S.S.S.S. Gridman, from Studio Trigger in a co-production with Tsuburaya Productions, based on the live-action Gridman: The Hyper Agent from the ’90s (released in the US as Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad).

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Invoking the name of Sherlock Holmes sets a lot of expectations for a series. It sets the expectations that your series is going to be a mystery series, where the way the mysteries will be solved will be through the detective using deductive reasoning and through keen powers of observation – and also that the detective will have an audience-perspective sidekick who is intelligent and perceptive, but not as much as the detective. Holmes of Kyoto is, occasionally, that. However, just as much of the time, it’s a relationship drama, and not necessarily a well-executed relationship drama. (more…)

One of my favorite works of anime fantasy is Record of Lodoss War. It’s a show that I try to watch at least once a year, and due to my appreciation of that, I’ve sought out the various works by its creator, Ryo Mizuno, which have gotten a US release, from the Lodoss series onwards. In any case, when Record of Grancrest War was announced, and that even more it was related to a tabletop RPG that Mizuno had created, I was definitely onboard to check this out.

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Akiba’s Trip: Undead and Undressed was an interesting RPG & brawler with something of a novel concept –  that it was set in a re-creation of Akihabara with a level of detail that was just short of being on par with the level of detail that the Yakuza series puts into not-Kabuki-cho – by which I mean that there were some loading screens dividing up areas of the game, not much in terms of real-world alcohol to drink (because your protagonist is underage), and sadly no playable arcade games. (more…)

Let’s make this clear from the beginning – if you’re looking for a gateway to the Fate universe – this isn’t it. While Fate/Apocrypha is set in an alternate timeline which would, in theory, free it from some of the baggage from the original work, this is not even remotely the case. I’ve discussed the first half of the series a few months ago, but now it’s time to talk about the series as a whole. There will be spoilers – so if you haven’t decided to watch the show yet, read that review first. (more…)