For those who like: War Stories, Romance, Fullmetal Alchemist
Kyoto Animation's anime adaptation is beautiful, moody, and dreamy, and is based on the Japanese light novels (literally, as it sounds: short novels, either alone or as a series, typically aimed at young adults). War veteran Violet, a child soldier, seeks to integrate into post-war society as the Auto Memory Doll, a professional typist used by the illiterate and wealthy to write letters. Prosthetic robotic arms and hands allow her to type – but Violet has been so suppressed her emotions and generally so unfamiliar with anything to do with non-war life that she doesn't see the most central part of her job, the mess process can capture or vague descriptions her clients give her in the delicate or diplomatic prose of a professional letter writer.
This gets an enthusiastic thumbs up. It's just great as animation, with an episodic plot slow enough to do justice to Violet's attempts to become the direct opposite of a professional war machine on her own, but never so sluggish that she feels overdrawn. What you don't get is a lot in the way of explaining where Violet came from. It will largely remain a mystery.
Carole & Tuesday
For those who like: music, science fiction, behind the music but on mars
Carole is a refugee from Earth who now makes a living on the barely terraformed Mars doing a range of odd jobs while composing and playing music for uninterested street passers-by. Tuesday is a wealthy and sheltered teenager who, inspired by Cyndi Lauper, runs away from home to pursue a musical career, which is exactly what an aspiring musician should do. The two meet and of course a perfect musical partnership emerges.
The music is the point of the show and the focus of every episode. Against a science fiction backdrop, the couple pit themselves against an eclectic group of other up-and-coming groups, including finally model Angela, who is trying to put a career as a child star behind by reinventing herself – more than a little cynically – as perfect Pop idol.
The rest is a withered satire of the entire music industry, from an unlikely volunteer manager and a hugely abusive producer to a bunch of ostentatious amateurs and a certain selfish DJ. Industry jokes are common. Almost all music on Mars, now habitable, is written and perfected by a computer algorithm. Composing songs without such tools, as the almost penniless Carole and Tuesday do, is considered archaic. Genetic engineering, politics, and terrorism play a role, along with a riot against refugees, to create a Trumpian political atmosphere that threatens to destroy everything. The story feels written for this very moment.
The show is multi-point and takes place on a Mars where transgenderism is commonplace and undisputed, although the rationale for that transgenderism – "it's the radiation" – feels cheap. It may not be entirely family friendly as the music industry drinks, swears and moves on. The most tense scene is a special performance by "The Mermaid Sisters," a quartet of drag queens whose unconventional lyrical choices have been made and will be repeated by their youngest children on their next Zoom call to Grandma ad nauseam.
BNA: Brand new animal
For those who like: Batman or Film Noir, but with furries
Alternative, much better title: Fluffy Detective Shirou-san
This is an unlikely entry at first glance, and because of its promotional materials, it looks a bit different from what it ultimately is. But it's worth a try. We first meet Michiru, a Japanese teenager, when she escapes to Anima City while being pursued by human hunters. Michiru was born a human and after a traffic accident turned into an "animal man" or half human, half animal. In particular, she is now part of Tanuki – a Japanese "raccoon dog".
As soon as we enter Anima City, a self-managed sanctuary for beastmen in a world they generally despise, the tone turns out to be something else. We're in a crime drama: Michiru meets the silver-haired wolf beastman Shirou, a superhuman peacemaker who works with the city's mayor to eradicate threats to the city. Shirou solves these problems the traditional Batman way: by beating people. Repeated.
Not entirely by chance, Michiru will soon be at least tangentially involved in every new threat in Anima City, from a suspicious new religion to an all-powerful medical conglomerate with a perhaps seedy interest in "helping" beastmen. She becomes Shirou's unsolicited buddy, and the fight against crime begins.
This one had the potential to get all sorts of things wrong, as the initial pitch might be something like, "What if we did a Clint Eastwood police drama, but absolutely everyone is furry all the time. Clint, the mayor, everyone." Fortunately, it's not – and if you were hoping, please keep it to yourself – it's a mix of Miyazaki-bordering anthropomorphisms, an oversaturated color palette, and a nondescript hero and villain story. It fits into the niche of pleasantly strange without being disturbingly strange.
What's more, while at first setting off alarm bells, than maybe just another cute Japanese girl with animal ears clone, but it actually takes its cues from Japanese folklore rich in stories about animals and animal spirits taking human form to themselves insert or pull pranks on unsuspecting people. Anima City's beastmen are creatures that have always been there and transformed into human forms, but were driven from centuries of hiding after humanity invaded traditional homelands. Having convinced humanity that they are the gods of the world, shapeshifters are now treated with disgust and contempt.
My hero academia
For those who like: X-Men
My Hero Academia is available on Crunchyroll and is one of the analogies to an American superhero show in the anime world. After people with quirks, or in the X-Men language, were born mutated powers, the inherited mutations spread until essentially the whole world has superpowers, although not all are as super as others. This, of course, results in "superheroes" becoming a legitimate profession – a highly licensed and regulated profession, with elite schools teaching heroism amid relentless consumerism and popularity ratings that determine how much money aspiring superheroes can make and whether they can do it at all to attempt. At the top of this food chain is All Might, the American-style blonde superpuncher with a chin and eyebrows that the whole world looks up to. He's the superman of the show.
Izuku Midoriya, on the other hand, is a gentle, hero-obsessed boy and the ultimate All Might fan whose dreams of becoming a professional hero were dashed after his family doctor told him he was one of the rare people born without superpowers became all. He is devastated and cannot accept it.
Hero and fan meet by chance and neither turns out to be what the other suspected. The almighty All Might is a dying superhero whose injuries on duty are now too severe to ignore. He is still trying to maintain his public image and perform heroic deeds out of sheer willpower. And Midoriya, All Might later concludes, may have what it takes to be a hero after all.
This is a no-nonsense superhero show with no complications, both a tribute to Marvel and DC comic book heroes and ready to make fun of. His charm comes from Midoriya's seriousness and determined obsession with becoming what he thought was impossible, and from fellow Hero Academy students who range from the usual comic book relief and one-notes to some capable of to keep the show alone
But there's nothing too deep about it, even considering superheroes as a popularity contest, and as a shounen, it can suffer from the Naruto mistake of dragging out the latest fight of the moment longer than necessary. Weakest is the final season, which features a low-stakes villain who commits few actual crimes but mostly films himself to be a minor nuisance in hopes of attracting online fans. But it goes on and more episodes are expected soon.
If you liked this and want more superhero action, or if you didn't like it but you're still a DC and Marvel junkie, you can go a little further and try:
One hit man
For those who like: superheroes, comedy
A gentle appearance of superhero and shounen action shows both: One-Punch Man is what it promises: a hero who has trained himself physically to be strong enough to defeat any opponent with a single blow. Saitama may be the strongest hero there is, but his humble demeanor (and gruesome written test results) put him in the bottom rungs of the Hero Association.
There is a conspiracy and indeed our bored and boring hero has to actually save the world, but anything that contributes to Saitama's search for anyone, anyone, he can fight without immediately leveling it. It's not that he's vain, or greedy for power, or itches for the same treatment other heroes get when they do their rounds. he's just bored.
Little witch academy
For those who like: Harry Potter, Kiki's delivery service
There's not much to say about that. It's the story of a group of friends in a school of witchcraft, there are conspiracies and morals and scary things and failures and victories and if you don't like it then you are probably a monster. That's all there is to it. I don't make rules, I just enforce them.
Little Witch Academia is available on Netflix and has been a dedicated internet fandom for years. Everything is focused on why you are not doing more episodes of Little Witch Academia or why you are not doing more episodes of Little Witch Academia right now. That should tell you everything you need to know if it's worth trying.
But what about?
We're going to wrap up this time with two recent ultra hits that don't quite hit the mark but can't go without a mention because someone is going to mention them:
attack on Titan
For those who like: steampunk, military, giant monsters, horror, gore
Attack on Titan is a post-apocalyptic entry with the innovative hook in its first episodes. A fragment of humanity in the medieval style is trapped behind high walls. The rest of the known world has been occupied by huge humanoid monsters that eat anything normal-sized humans have within reach. They are fought by a small force that uses steampunk-esque grappling gear to soar through the air (and within range of the giants' only weak spots) like clumsy fighter jets. Our hero is heroic, but a little stubborn; His survival is largely thanks to his two childhood friends, who also join the military after the giants break through the walls of their village.
The mystery of how humanity came to be in this way – and the conflict with a central government that seems to know the truth and is hiding it – gives the show its intrigue. This is a horror and adventure show that doesn't skimp on gore.
But: As the show's central secrets become less mysterious, the explanations seem less fascinating than the original premise, and the relationship between conspiracy and mystery is too strong. With a show about huge murder monsters, the show can drag on. Our main hero never finds much in terms of personality, mostly as a brick tossed around by the rest of the plot, and everything after season one feels like it's struggling to keep the momentum going. Again, this is a blood and gore horror show and horrific deaths. However, in some episodes in the later season, it can sometimes feel like it's shrunk to something resembling an overly dramatic and military-heavy Scooby Doo episode. The shortcomings make it difficult to recommend an entry as a top tier.
Sword art online
For those who like: sci-fi, fantasy, swords and sword accessories
This is another tough question. The plot of the original Sword Art Online, and the premise on which all later transformations in the series are based, is the invention of new virtual reality devices in the near future that are so advanced that players can immerse themselves in fantasy worlds that look absolute and feel absolutely real. This is achieved with virtual reality helmets that directly capture and manipulate the brain's electrical signals. Everything goes wrong on day one when the tech's designer captures the players who have now logged into his game by removing their logout ability and using new code that kills every player in real life if their helmets are removed or when his characters die in his game world. The Experiment: How will this world be different if the potential players now risk their lives every time they try to defeat the increasingly powerful monsters of the dungeon?
Instead of explaining the shortcomings of the series, it might be helpful to describe the results. Every Sword Art Online story consists of two parts. The first creates an elaborate new world with interesting characters, environments, and spaces. In the second case, the writing gives in and all of that is tossed in the trash to get to a quickie ending that gives up all those good things and just … moves on. Over and over.
The premise of being trapped in a computer-generated reality is very popular, probably because our technology almost seems capable of accomplishing such things – but also because we are leaving this world in favor of a new one in which you are not an inconspicuous one nobody, but the savior of a whole alternate reality is, let's face it, just as sure as any other story of the discovered superhero. In a virtual reality everyone can be their own Mary Sue.
And this series, a mega hit, contains maybe 80% of the elements of something great. It's the other 20%, all of which are due to cruel writing and can end up scratching. Entire storylines that disappear with the weakest of intentions. The constant trump card of our hero rescuing his harem from online allies after each of the nifty and perfectly capable female characters has been hobbled by a plot tool and now needs their male savior. The populace of casual killers who casually roams the streets and internet of near-future Japan seems to be brazenly out of whack itself.
But the fatal blow lies in the cookie cutter's portrayal of the main villains, almost all of whom are shown as villains, through the same repetitive act of sexually assaulting our heroine before our male hero dives in to save the day. That's it. Every villain is just that, and each new villain's nasty conspiracy is explained as they threaten a female prisoner in ways that the show's staff seem to have a particularly gross desire to ponder. Last season our male lead is reduced to a pointless shell after his brain has been essentially short-circuited by the devices used – but he still manages to salvage his ever-growing collection of amorous love interests, including those already established in the Be able to grease the bodies of their opponents unaided over three kilometers. It again follows the path of every season of connecting a new interesting world with a climax so wired that you are embarrassed to have seen anything of it. There are so many better shows out there – these are yours to pass on. Maybe a future remake will fix what's broken so badly and give us the original show audience that's so compelling.
Instead, you could try Log Horizon, which takes a near-identical premise, puts intelligent characters at the top, and turns it into an expanded study of all things into the economic and political implications of its players' trap in its alternate world. You know, between sword fights. This one ends on a cliffhanger, but the long-awaited sequel will finally start again in the next few weeks.
Next time: Into the breach. You want to turn on the subtitles for those next hits and hidden gems, but it's worth it.