This season has a lot to offer from continuing series to new, and since this is anime, there are always too many series per season. With that overwhelming abundance, what is worth watching this season? Four weeks into this season was enough to decide what’s worth it to watch and drop.
For new series this winter, there are five I’ve continued to keep up with; Somali and the Forest Spirit, ID:Invaded, Magia Records, Keep Your Hands off Eizouken! and Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt so I’ll Max Out My Defense.
Each of these series has been a solid entry in its respective genre and has been an absolute joy to watch. Somali is an amazing slice of life, fantasy-adventure overflowing with wholesome moments. It follows the journey of a forest golem that takes on the role of being a young girl’s father as he helps her find and reunite with her lost family. I’ve spoken before about this series and how it’s based in a world where humans are going extinct and are seen as cattle or slaves to the demi-humans that now inhabit it.
There is a lot to enjoy with this series as we see these father-daughter relationship dynamics unfold and develop; coupled with the fantastical element of exploring and learning more about the world around them. The show is filled with a lot of touching and deep human moments that make each and every side-character feel important, and feel like they contribute to the story more-so than being a prop for the plot’s development. Every town they venture to feels unique and new in a genre so saturated that we would think we have seen at least one of every kind of town or city in a fantasy setting. The art style and direction, with the vibrant pastel colors, helps emphasize the nature of this show; but do not be fooled by the endearing moments of pure wholesomeness or you will be swiftly taken aback by the welcoming embrace of looming depression. Somali and the Forest Spirit may appear lighthearted and innocent on the surface, even the synopsis of the show lures you into that, but there is a dark undertone lurking within the seams that is reminiscent of Made in Abyss. These elements coupled together is what has continued to keep me invested each week and looking forward to the episodes to come. Somali and the Forest Spirit can be viewed on Crunchyroll every Thursday.
Another anime this season that has kept me excited each week is Funimation’s ID:Invaded, a supernatural, mystery thriller that plays out similar to those classic serial murder-mystery dramas on Western prime time television. I’ve always been a sucker for those types of shows, until they all turned bland and generic; but ID:Invaded captures and retains their ingenuity and centers of a premise similar to Inception. The series follows the great detective, Sakamoto as he travels into different IDs called “Wells,” that are the subconscious cognition of serial killers. Somewhat similar to the pre-crime premise, the objective is to identify missing people targeted by various serial killers and find them while they are still alive and in the process track down and discover the motivation of the killers.
While the series has had two arcs so far, ID:Invaded continues to elaborate on its plot to create an over-arching narrative of a killer that creates other killers, a man that no one knows of that is to be feared. After the second episode, it’s also stated that Sakamoto is not who he originally thought him out to be. A formerly disgraced police officer turned killer after the murder of his wife and child he helps track down the killers for a reason not yet told. The story has a way of grabbing and holding the viewer’s attention by having a mystery surrounding the case but also the mystery surrounding Sakamoto. Who is her? What happened to him? Why is he helping them? There are so many questions just around the protagonist that it holds the viewer’s suspense and makes them look forward to next week’s episode similar to the classic murder-mystery dramas of old. ID:Invaded can be streamed on Funimation every Sunday.
Speaking of mysteries and plots that you don’t know what is entirely going on at the start, this season has brought with it a spin-off, side-story of sorts from Madoka Magica called Magia Records. Based off the popular mobile-gacgha game, Magia follows the story of Iroha as she searches for her long lost sister that has seemingly vanished without a trace like that blue-haired maid in Re:Zero. What was her name again?
While Iroha remembers her sister’s existence, she encounters roadblock after roadblock that suggests that she never existed at all, but something doesn’t add up. During her search in the city called Kamihama, she encounters several other magical girls that she makes friends with to defeat the never-ending threat of witches and a new threat called Uwasa. What our cast discovers during the process of dealing with these enemies and helping Iroha is that things seem to be interconnected. Kamihama is the only city with a growing population of witches and no Kyubey. In the third episode it is even stated that Kyubey cannot enter the city without being rendering unconscious by some unknown force.
The mystery and awe aside that Magia presents, I believe it’s one of the best works Studio Shaft has presented in a long awhile. The visuals and soundtrack are very much like Madoka, but at the same time are also reflecting a more mature Studio Shaft that has had time to refine their work. Each battle plays out like a magnificent visual symphony instead of an LSD trip like prior works. The 3D models blend in seamlessly with the art style and direction while incorporating that trippy narrative to a certain extent. What really makes me keep coming back is how great the visuals are and how the soundtrack enhances the overall story to make the key moments deliver with more impact. Magia Records can be streamed on Funimation and Crunchyroll every Saturday.
On the topic of key moment, no anime can ever be complete without key animation. Keep Your Hands off Eizouken! is a another series inspired from Shirobako to showcase what goes into making anime but from the perspective of the animators. The series is fun, educational and also an inspiring love letter to creators and animators alike. The series puts you into the minds of the concept artist and character designer, and shows how when the two work together they can bring their works to life beyond what they could alone.
The anime sets itself apart from the others this season, and Shirobako, by embracing that creative narrative and changing the scene to place the artists in their world that they created. Eizouken is one of those very few anime outside of my preferred genres that I absolutely look forward to. As a creator myself, I think it will speak to so many people by putting them into the character’s creative mindset and seeing their process from conception to completion. If you’re a creator, you may know that nothing every feels complete; this show captures that mindset perfectly by showcasing the characters discussing future ideas and finding areas of improvement in their otherwise complete work. Eizouken can be streamed on Crunchyroll every Sunday.
The last anime this season I’ve been keeping up with is Bofuri: I Don’t Want to Get Hurt so I’ll Max Out My Defense. Another light novel adaptations with a synopsis that is eerily similar to countless isekais and countless SAO clones. On the surface there isn’t much special to this anime, but I found myself bored one day and decided to give it a watch and wow, I never expected it to be this enjoyable. For a series using a female Naofumi, FGO Mash knockoff as the main protagonist, I didn’t think the series had much going for it, but unlike the several other clones this series feels like it nails down the game perspective very well. The characters are all enjoyable in this VRMMO fantasy game setting and over the course of a month the game has introduced a lot of new content from story chapters to events, it definitely feels like a game that wants to keep its audience entertained and logging in everyday.
At first the series may seem off putting with the protagonist not being special at first and coming across as quite airheaded with putting all of her stats into defense. She recognizes that she is slower than everyone else, because she has no stats in speed, but continues to forgo that for more defensive points. When the first event rolls out she decides to participate and ends up taking third despite being a newbie because her defense stat is overpowered. The comedy element kicks in here when other player’s realize they cannot damage her and that her shield is also overpowered and can defeat them in one hit with its special ability. Since she cannot move fast she just sits in place and waits for other players to come to her and meet their demise. Everything in this PvP competition felt real for a game where the developers gave incentive for players to mob rush the top ranked players by earning significantly more points if they are successful. Before you say “she’s just another OP Kirito,” the thing that keeps the series grounded in realism is that she basically min-maxed her character without knowing what she was doing and exploited a part of the game that the developers never thought of when launching the game. After the event’s results, the developers then implemented patches into the game to nerf her character class and shield to prevent anyone else from doing the same and maintain the balance of the game.
From my perspective, the reason this series is worth a watch is because of that realism and comedy. This isn’t like other clones were the main protagonist becomes overpowered in a video game and the developers just sit there like “oh well.” Bofuri creates a setting that feels very much alive with characters that we will come to learn more of as the story progresses. Bofuri can be streamed on Funimation every Wednesday.
Before I finish off my review I want to note other new series this season that I think had potential, but ultimately were dropped in favor for the several other new and continuing shows that I enjoy far more. This season also has an anime similar to Invaded called Pet that deals with a supernatural mystery involving the manipulation of people’s minds and memories. While the series has a lot of promise I think its execution is a bit week. I love shows and movies that make me think and speculate on what is real and what is not, I’m a sucker for those kinds of plots but ultimately every show like that worth its salt is known for setting a foundation of what is real. Look at the movie Inception, they elaborate on what is real and what is the dream and then blur that line as the movie approaches its climax. With Pet it is the opposite and it makes the story suffer. There is no clear foundation set of what is real and what is not, the line is blurred from the start and it makes for a confusing narrative that makes you wonder if there is even one or just a bunch of random elements shoved together to create the illusion of a story.
In our anime hype article for this season we wanted to give an honorable mention to In/Spectre but ultimately decided against it. While the series had a good first episode the following two felt severely lacking don’t give a strong impression of the series going forward. The second episode was mostly dialogue between Iwanaga and the serpent spirit about a woman who dumped a body in the serpent’s lake. The entire episode plays out like a detective mystery deducing the woman’s reasoning for the murder and dumping the body in the lake. While the story is interesting I couldn’t help but feel far removed from the action. The mystery unfolds the more they talk between themselves but it all feels passive in tone since Iwanaga seems to already know all the answers and everything about the woman despite never meeting with her. The episode plays off like a cheap narrative with no payoff since there is no scenes depicting her visiting and speaking with the woman or police directly. There are no scenes illustrating her being a detective so there is no build up to the reveals and key moments lack any impact. For a show that categorizes itself as romance, supernatual and mystery it feels very lacking in two of those categories. Our main character forces herself on the other main protagonist that doesn’t seem to care for her very much and is uninterested and the mystery feels absent. In the third episode it felt like it wanted to combine action into the mix with her fighting off an evil youkai but again, it felt cheap and passive in tone with no buildup and the action felt far from rewarding. For a show with a lot of promise it doesn’t feel like it clearly knows what it wants to be.