Yes, it would appear I have taken the plunge. After months of quarantine, I’ve succumbed to the darkest recesses of my tortured mind and done the unthinkable: I’ve written an anime post. I was planning on making this a blog specifically for video game content, but after committing the majority of my free time in the last few months entirely to seasonal anime, I figured I may as well accept my fate now and commit entirely to the bit. So, from this point on, you might see a few anime posts here and there, depending on whether or not I have anything to say. There are a few shows I’d love to delve deep into, maybe even a couple from this list, but for now I’m going to take it easy and run down some of the currently airing shows I’ve been keeping up with this season. In no particular order, here’s some hearty recommendations!
Adachi and Shimamura
Bizarrely, I haven’t seen that much Japanese media embrace LGBTQ+ stories, especially in the mainstream sense. The Persona series, while showing signs of improvement over the years, continues to be infamous for its frequent casual homophobia and transphobia, and that’s just one example of many. These subjects are often utilised as throwaway gags, never properly treated with the seriousness they really deserve. In that respect, Adachi and Shimamura struck a chord with me purely due to its overwhelming sincerity.
The show, adapted from the light novel series of the same name, chronicles the goings-on of the two titular truant high-schoolers. Sakura Adachi is extremely shy, arguably to a crippling extent, and this anxiety she experiences on a daily basis has led to her near daily absence from school. Hougetsu Shimamura, on the other hand, is seemingly quite normal on the surface, with a couple of good friends and a solid reputation with her peers, but beneath the cheery facade lies a more emotionally difficult and complex truth, which leads to her frequently skipping class as well. The two girls discover immediate companionship from their shared actions, but on a deeper level, they are both struggling with the same insecurities: social isolation. However, they remain entirely distinct from one another throughout their many interactions, which are all a joy to behold.
The pair have such incredible,almost effortless chemistry, complementing one another beautifully. Adachi’s frequently turbulent state of mind means she often wears her feelings on her sleeve, which may come across as irritating were it not for Shimamura’s expertly honed ability to mask and guard her emotions, allowing her to entertain Adachi’s bizarre emotional outbursts and requests with relative ease. In a sense, Adachi is the more straightforward character, sometimes in denial about her true feelings towards her classmate, but also never really afraid to entertain her fantasies.
Shimamura, reversely, is a much harder nut to crack, since she herself doesn’t seem to understand how she truly feels either. She regularly ponders over her general state of dullness, seemingly aware of her predicament but unable to identify the root cause of the issue. Seeing this very particular state of being discussed with such honest eloquence hit me like a goddamn freight train, because I know EXACTLY how it feels to coast for years unable to feel much of anything, to the point where that becomes your new normal and anything resembling a strong emotional reaction immediately feeling strange and wrong. It’s this precise mindset that led to my being unknowingly terrified of confronting my true self, for fear that my entire worldview for years was flawed in some way. Like Shimamura, there was always a part of me deep down that knew how I really felt, but it became blockaded by dozens of walls until introspection became a seemingly impossible task to overcome. To be more particular, it wasn’t until about a year ago that I came to terms with being bisexual, and it took even longer to realise that I didn’t feel comfortable identifying with my birth gender.
That’s why Adachi and Shimamura are such fantastic protagonists to have in a story about the blossoming romance between two high school girls; they’re both such excellent representatives for the differing experiences of many LGBTQ+ kids growing up in a cis-heteronormative society. While I personally relate better to Shimamura, I imagine there are plenty of Adachis in the world as well who feel equally validated by this show. Even beyond that, I truly believe this is a story anyone can appreciate and connect to in some form. Beyond the two main characters, there’s a wide array of lovable, well-written side companions to enjoy, bringing with them other interesting perspectives and life experiences. The season is nearing its end and I don’t know how well the creators are going to stick the landing, but regardless, what we have now is one of the strongest slice-of-life anime I’ve ever seen.
So going from talking about my personal deep-seeded identity struggles to Akudama Drive might end up being a little jarring, because this show is on another fucking wavelength entirely. Set in a post-war Japanese dystopia, the show follows a collection of high-ranking criminals – labelled in this world as ‘Akudamas’ – who, following a high-paying prison break job, find themselves forced into a seemingly impossible heist mission. With their lives on the line and billions of yen promised as payment up for grabs, they devise a plan to infiltrate one of the most well-guarded vaults in the futuristic city of Kansai, with some incredibly entertaining results.
I don’t have a deeply personal anecdote to accompany this show, because the truth is, in the words of YouTuber Mother’s Basement, Akudama Drive is just built different. Originally conceived by Danganronpa creator Kazutaka Kodaka, with series composition headed by his DR co-writer Norimitsu Kaihou, this series bleeds the particular atmosphere and tone of their acclaimed games. The seven core Akudamas are all incredibly well-realised, each displaying a core character trait, and having their personalities carefully develop as the narrative unfolds. In true Danganronpa fashion, what draws you to these individuals isn’t their inherent goodness – on the contrary, most of them are pretty irredeemable – but rather it is their single-mindedness that is meticulously built upon over time.
More than that, however, it is clear that these people are merely a symptom of a greater evil, that being the city of Kansai itself. Indeed, the world of Akudama Drive is perhaps the strongest character of all. The show does the one thing I adore in dystopia fiction, in that it throws the viewer directly into the deep end and allows them to learn about the world organically. This is necessary for the breakneck pace, of course, but for all its bombast, the show never talks down to its audience or disrespects their intelligence. It’s super refreshing to enjoy a work of fiction with such impressive restraints, especially one in which the pilot episode features a motorbike-riding emo guy riding alongside the side of a skyscraper like he has the laws of gravity on a blacklist.
In a show aiming to excite at almost every turn, it inevitably runs the risk of dropping the ball more frequently, and while this does happen on occasion, I can’t point to any episode in particular as an outright dud. This story somehow manages to pull you back in when you least expect it, with some moments that had my entire jaw on the goddamn floor in surprise. I have absolutely no idea how they’re going to wrangle all the ideas and themes they’ve been building up to this point, but as the series nears its conclusion, I somehow have faith they’ll knock it out the park.
Higurashi – When They Cry (NEW)
I had the pleasure of going into this with exactly zero knowledge of the source material and for the first episode, that was pretty magical. Finding out that this seemingly cute slice-of-life show about guys being dudes in rural Japan turned out to be a deeply disturbing tale of distrust and buried truths that shook me to my anxiety-fuelled core. The aspect of Higurashi I enjoy the most is the feeling of utter confusion and paranoia it instills in you. It’s an ever-unfolding story told from various perspectives, and hearing different accounts of the town’s dark past has you constantly questioning which version of events is accurate and whose ought not to be trusted.
Call me a masochist for emotional torment, but this is just about all I ever wanted in life and more. After all, the initial confusion only serves to bolster my curiosity. I desperately want to know what’s going on with this bizarre village, but more than that, I want to see these characters make it out of this hellish cycle of death and insanity unscathed. The show opens as a seemingly bog-standard slice-of-life harem thing before truly showing its hand, and while I’m sure this was intended as a setup for the later subversion (see Doki Doki Literature Club for reference), it also does a phenomenal job of making you care about these people dearly. Uncovering the mystery is all well and good, but without that strong emotional backbone, it simply wouldn’t work at all. These characters are so interesting and multi-dimensional, with their own unique loves, hates and anxieties, and it never fails to warm my heart seeing the protagonist Keiichi try desperately, often to no avail, to help them through their troubles. They, for lack of a more original term, feel like real people, and that makes the quest to save them ever more righteous for both Keiichi and the viewer.
The show is currently only ten episodes in with another fourteen left to go, and I can happily report that I still don’t know where it’s going or what’s even happening with this weirdo town. That’s the charm of Higurashi though; I’m more than willing to stick out the dread and danger, if only to gain just a sliver of an idea of what’s bubbling under the surface, ready to burst. If you’re particular adverse to the things I mentioned above, it’s possible that this show might not be your vibe, but I do encourage you at least give it a fair shake. I can tell this one is really special, and I’m certain it’s all leading somewhere utterly fascinating.
Alright, let’s get the obvious pick out of the way. Jujutsu Kaisen is comfortably the biggest new anime of the season and has the potential to grow its audience even more as the years go on. Shockingly, there is actually a reason for this: it’s very, very good, and having now read ahead in the manga, it’s poised to only get better from here.
There’s an unflinching honesty to Jujutsu Kaisen that I’ve connected with. At its core, despite all the insane supernatural shenanigans occurring at every possible second, its message never wavers. It’s a story designed to interrogate the nature of living one’s life with purpose, and the ways in which you might identify the inherent goodness of that purpose. The characters in the show are driven by different things, but ultimately that thing is always determined by past experiences. Yuji is determined to use his unique ability of containing the curse god Sukuna’s power within himself to reduce the number of curse attacks on innocents bystanders, so that everyone can die a normal death surrounded by the people they love, and that driving force is informed by his grandfather’s lonely passing. The curses, on the other hand, aim to claim the world for themselves, which seems like a generically evil motivation, but it hits a little different when you consider these curses, despite clearly possessing sentience, are treated like any other curse, be it weak or strong. They are a threat, and they must be eliminated. Furthermore, as manifestations of humanity’s worst fears, it would make sense that they would only feel spite towards the very humans who unknowingly created them.
Jujutsu Kaisen does an excellent job of grounding each and every character in a believable, perhaps even empathetic, position. Make no mistake; the curses are unambiguously evil, but they are also beatable. What would normally be a tale of good triumphing over evil lays the groundwork for a deeper consideration of the possible failures of the institutions put in place to combat this terrible threat. Yuji’s unorthodox nature represents a shifting of the tide for the Jujutsu world, and that brings with it a while other dimension of antagonists to worry about. It’s clear that in order to prevail, Yuji and his companions must operate outside of the traditional methods, so framing it as this dick-kick to a corrupt system that would rather see him fail before they themselves admit fault is both intensely cathartic and surprisingly prescient to our own reality.
Putting aside all that interpretation bullshit, what lies at the heart of Jujutsu Kaisen is a collection of lovable personalities, backed up by a killer soundtrack, stellar animations, and a rock-solid grasp on tone. I can see this anime becoming incredibly influential if MAPPA plays their cards right, and judging by their track record so far, I have complete faith in their abilities.
The way this show has completely flown under everyone’s radars is actually criminal and you all deserve to go to prison (sorry, I don’t make the rules). However, I will person your heinous actions if you give this next bit a read so I have the opportunity to convince you about why Taiso Samurai is awesome and how a gymnastics anime became maybe my favourite anime of the season???
What I love most about this show is its consistent ability to surprise me. That’s not to say it gatling-guns you with twists and turns, but rather it continually shocks me with its immovable pure heart. I mentioned earlier that this is a gymnastics anime, but that’s really more of a backdrop to a different story of ordinary people figuring out their path in life. It’s closer to a slice-of-life than anything, starring the unreasonably attractive Jotaro, a former Olympic-level gymnast whose form has since wavered over the years. The narrative chronicles his process in rediscovering his love for the sport, and prioritising the things that matter most to him in life, in order to become the best person he can possibly be, both for himself and his loved ones.
While that sounds like a fairly generic summary, it’s more about the minutia along the way that breathe such incredible this group of strange characters. Jotaro has his own demons to confront, but that also goes for most everyone on the show. Jotaro’s daughter Rei is left alone most nights as her father trains, due to her mother’s sudden passing years ago. As a result, she kind of becomes the cornerstone of the Aragaki household, with the cooking and cleaning placed almost entirely on her young shoulders. As a result, she develops this damaging complex where she feels the need to be this perfect supporter to her dad so that his gymnastics career goes as smoothly as possible, at the detriment to her own happiness. Her arc involves understanding her limitations and realising that she needs to put herself first sometimes in order to be the best person she can be. Being an adult isn’t about being miserable for the sake of others, or at least, it shouldn’t be.
That’s what really lying at the core of Taiso Samurai. It’s a show about introspection; about realising your own capabilities as a human being and adapting to live in a way that’s best for you, while simultaneously understanding the impact you have on the people around you by simply existing. In a lot of ways, framing this as a sports anime is pretty genius, at least in my eyes, since it plays to the strengths of the genre. On top of that, the show is just packed with oddball characters and interesting little oddities, and it never once takes a judgemental stance on any of their ways of life. The nicest one for me is the doctor character Britney, who I initially feared to be a standard lazy gay archetype, but he ends up being an incredibly competent medical professional whose expertise in acupuncture single-handedly saves Jotaro’s career by healing his chronic shoulder injury. After his introduction, he’s treated as just another character who helps Jotaro in his gymnastics journey. He wears messy make-up and carries himself with a generic flamboyance, but ultimately that’s what makes him happy and as a result he is able to do his job well too.
And that’s the real beauty of Taiso Samurai: its endlessly kind heart. It’s a show that just wants you to live your best life, because if you’re happy with yourself, the people around you will be happy too. It’s a story about loving yourself so you can spend more time loving others, and helping them love themselves too. It believes in the power of community and enjoying everything you do in life, but it never feels the need to sugarcoat the very real struggles many face to reach that stage. The world can be a cold and unforgiving place, but it’s up to us to make the best of what we have, for the people we have left. I hope that did a good job helping you understand why I love this show so much, and hopefully if you watch it as well on my recommendation, you too can discover why Rei Aragaki is just the fucking best. After all, in such a difficult year, it’s nice to be reminded that, sometimes, people are worth the effort.
Zoo wee mama, that sure was a lot more words describing anime than I had anticipated! Regardless, the upside of this medium is there’s pretty much an endless stream of this bullshit all year round, and this coming winter is looking to be absolutely packed. We’ve got so much to look forward to, like all new seasons of Attack on Titan, The Promised Neverland, That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime, Dr. Stone, Beastars, RE:Zero, Cells at Work, alongside a number of brand new shows which will no doubt leave their own surprise mark on the anime scene.
Fall 2020 has been my very first foray into seasonal anime, and as much as I joke about anime being terrible, it truly has been a lot of fun. During a difficult quarantine period accompanying a metric shit-ton of university work, the predictable weekly output has played a huge part in keeping me sane these past ten weeks, and I can only assume this trend will continue leading into the new season. I’m super excited, and I hope you are too! Hopefully you’ll be back here in a couple months to hear more about my bad taste in media. Regardless, even if it’s just for me, I look forward to sharing that with you all. Have a good night ❤