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Hey! 2018 wrapped up. I had planned on seeing a lot more anime of the year than I ended up doing, and originally thought I'd go through this year's backlog in January before writing up my blog. Then I weighed that against doing work that actually gets me paid and decided the forty isekai shows I didn't get around to can be put on hold indefinitely. Sorry I couldn't get around to your favorite show. Especially you Laid-Back Camp fans. There is no mention of Laid-Back Camp beyond the intro. Sorry. Maybe next year.

In this post I'm gonna sum up the remaining shows I watched in 2018, from October and through December. The format is gonna be a little different from last time since I didn't end up sampling a ton of new anime. I'll put up my Anime of the Year blog at the end of the week, and a post looking at upcoming adaptations a bit later. Here's the previous blog post, about the rest of the year.

I read the manga and couldn't be bothered to watch the anime: Golden Kamuy, That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, Goblin Slayer, Overlord, The Ancient Magus' Bride

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I did plan on getting around to do these, but they were the first to go when I was short on time. At least I've read a bit of their source material, so I'll give my two cents on that.

I quite liked what I read of Goblin Slayer. The setting is kinda weird, what with being a regular JRPG fantasy thing where all the violence is real, man, and all the goblins are doujinshi rape goblins. You'd think the adventurers in general might be a bit more prepared if goblin assault is as common as it seems, but I guess it couldn't start out the way it did if they were. Goblin Slayer got a lot of headlines this year for opening with goblin rape, which quite frankly, is something you tend to save for a later arc. You don't get a lot darker than that subject, and if you just throw it in as motivation without buildup right off the bat you're in for some ridicule. Especially when your setting and art direction brings jrpg-styled porn to mind more than it does anything else.

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You gotta temper your edgy content with care, depth and skill, or else it's just shock shlock. Nobody really gives Berserk shit for that one time a lady gets impregnated by trolls and explodes as the spawn burst from her stomach, because it's a quality manga that spends a lot of time getting you invested in the world and has various characters deal with the subject of rape and abuse in different ways. You gotta earn the right to have your protag literally chew on childrens' intestines.

Ultimately, what I like about Goblin Slayer is the Goblin Slayer himself. Goblin Slayer isn't an isekai show, but just like Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, it might as well be. And Goblin Slayer just devastates every other protagonist. Functioning as some combination of Batman, The Punisher, and appropriately enough the Doom Slayer, he has a charm that the rest just lack. He's very driven. He's got a recognizable design, not like every other yahoo with a sword who serve as the main character for most of these kinds of things.

He's not overpowered in the context of the setting, only being able to slay as many goblins as he has with careful preparation and dirty tricks. Crucially, other characters thinks he's lost his marbles. He gets his team of trustworthy comrades(and presumably a harem, but I didn't get that far), but he is not someone the rest of the world cares much about. All of that makes him very likeable to me. He tries his best to help others, he's got his own thing going on, and he isn't put up on some pedestal by the world. Which isn't to say Goblin Slayer is my isekai of choice. I haven't read that much, and I tend to prefer something lighter. Not so much a revenge fantasy focused on porn tropes. But in the context of this year, Goblin Slayer is not my least favorite isekai.

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On the other hand, Overlord is basically everything I hate in an isekai story. The protagonist, Ainz, is this self-righteous, overpowered prick, surrounded entirely by yes-men that obey his every word. Nothing can harm him. None can oppose him. Rather than being kind, he's happy to invade as much of the new world as he can. He shows no mercy to evildoers. For him to seem remotely noble, his opponents have to be colossal dicks, resulting in a world of mostly jerks. Sure is a pity if some innocents get in the way of his army of monsters, too.

I appreciate that this is the whole intended charm of Overlord. Personally it just gets under my skin. Whenever Ainz gets flustered by an embarrassing NPC he made I just think about the human skin pergaments he writes his maps on. I watched the internet be outraged about the goblin rape in Goblin Slayer, and wondered where everyone was when that one sex slave chick gets abused and thrown out on the streets in Overlord with all her teeth knocked out, so the butler could have motivation for his revenge arc. Overlord isn't quite the king of morally despicable power fantasies yet, but until Re: Monster gets an anime it sure is up there. That's gonna be a trip, if it ever happens, I tell you what. If you're unfamiliar, it's as if one of the rape goblins from Goblin Slayer was the main character.

Pictured: Goblin Slayer's next target
Pictured: Goblin Slayer's next target

I recommend That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime if you'd like to be on the other end of a goblin fucking. Unlike these aforementioned edgelords, Slime is largely inoffensive and chill. It's just this OP slime helping out everyone in a generic JRPG world while gathering up a harem of sexy goblins and more superpowers than is fair for anyone to have. It doesn't exactly stir my heart, but it doesn't offend me either. Least he's nice about it. Good year for goblins, by the way.

The Ancient Magus' Bride is an interesting one. It's about this suicidal chick who's cursed with a specific kind of magic. She sells herself into slavery and gets bought by a monstrous, ancient wizard-like creature to be his student slash pet slash wife slash experiment. Unlike most fantasy shows, it doesn't have its roots in modern fantasy literature or RPGs, but in fairy tales and religion. It nails that dangerous atmosphere where every interaction with the supernatural is likely to cost you your firstborn child. The fairies, the trolls, the spirits - they aren't a metaphor for a minority or whatever in this setting. They aren't just humans with long ears or big beards. They're different species entirely, with a completely different set of rules and morals. The imbalance of power and figuring that alternate world out makes it exciting to read.

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However, that same fantasy element also goes for the love story part of it. It's one of the most unashamedly Beauty and the Beast-like romance stories I've read. It's all about struggling, broken women with no faith left in others or themselves getting rescued by powerful father figures that are emotionally immature or closed off, who have to be broken out of their shell and learn to love. That part doesn't appeal to me. It just makes me feel like they should go out and try to date someone who doesn't own/raise them. If they even can go out without getting spied on by their masters.

While there is some conflict over this in the story, I definitely got the sense that it's the whole appeal for both the author and the intended audience. The manga is still ongoing, so who knows how it ends there, but from what I've seen the anime just adds a wedding dress to a reconcilliation scene. I was also a bit frustrated with the villain, a man so unintimidating he should by rights have been devoured by the magus the first time they see each other. So yeah. I enjoy the setting, and some individual segments, but not the actual story all that much. Definitely not the romantic aspect of it.

Golden Kamuy is alright! It doesn't really speak to me, but it's got a unique setting and feels like a western. I heard the anime wasn't exactly the grestest adaptation in the world so I'm in no rush to watch it.

I didn't want to feel this year: March Comes In Like A Lion, Bloom Into You, A Place Further Than The Universe

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I have a hard time jumping into dramas, so I kept putting these off until the year was over. I've heard nothing but praise for all of them - which isn't to say that I'd love them. I might not. People have their tastes, if my whole Overlord rant wasn't proof enough. But I definitely think they all seem worth giving a shot at some point in the future.

What I dropped

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

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I tried out Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, this year's most anime titled anime. It's okay. There's definitely a genre of light novels that's "urban magic: otaku edition" or whatever, which this, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Bakemonogatari are all parts of. People suffering from magical realism ailments with some metaphor going on("I wanted everyone to stop noticing me, so I've turned invisible"), helping out chicks in trouble, constant unrealistic banter, self-aware fanservice anime nerd tropes, you know the drill. But if Haruhi is the classic and Bakemonogatari is the wacky artsyfartsy sex version of it, this just seems like a bland derivative of those. The setting is just a normal town, "filmed" like any other show.

Pictured: A more interesting show than Bunny Girl Senpai
Pictured: A more interesting show than Bunny Girl Senpai

I'll grant you Bakemonogatari's flashes of screens being entirely red with the word "red" on it didn't exactly do much for me, I don't like everything they did, but they always tried to do something interesting during long-ass conversations and what might otherwise have been dull exposition. There's occasional funny animation. It's got an instantly recognizable art style and cool character designs. It's got outrageous licking. Comparatively, Bunny Girl looks like a bargain bin Kyoto Animation show.

The banter in Bunny Girl is the self-conscious "we're both thinking five steps ahead and just saying whatever we want with flat expressions on our faces" kinda thing. I'm inclined to admit Haruhi's or Bakemonogatari's banter is far from natural either, but whether it's because of stronger writing or better presentation, I enjoyed listening to those characters talk a lot more than in Bunny Girl. Here you just get two characters that seem unrealistically detached and confident trading quips and exposition. I thought it was boring.

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I liked the concept of the first case. This ex-celebrity girl is increasingly becoming invisible, and eventually forgotten, by most people. That's why she can wander around in the whole bunny girl getup, although she only does that for one scene. It's a heart-wrenching kinda curse to never be seen by anyone, even when that's what you wanted to when everyone kept recognizing you from the TV stuff you did.

I'm not sitting through annoying banter and dull direction for the occasional interesting curse, however. Your mileage may vary, but ideally I want to be gripped the whole way through a show, not just holding out for the interesting high concepts or themes, so I dropped it after that first arc. Which doesn't mean it's a terrible show, I just didn't enjoy it enough to bother spending more time on it.

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san

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I'm sad I only watched about an hour of this. It's a cute little based-on-real-life-experiences comedy show about people working at a comic book store. It starts strong by focusing on international customers, so I got to see a lot of "How Japanese people view noisy tourists" type observations, complete with funny caricatures. There's a segment on fujoshi that's so relatable I couldn't help but laugh. Poor Honda-san. He's got a positive attitude to it all, though.

Out of all the shows I have put on hold/dropped in 2018, this one is the most likely to get a reprieve as a thing I'll watch with a friend. Incidentally, we still haven't watched Attack on Titan season 3.

Good year for skull-faced men, by the way.

The Finished Business

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While AoT season 3 had to wait, we did finish up Persona 5 the Animation, which remained a disappointing waste of time till the end. It ends at the Bad Ending, by the way. It's pretty fierce. Gotta hold out for March to get the True Ending.

I also finished My Hero Academia season 3 and don't have more to say about it since last time really. My Hero Academia is okay. Next season will adapt better arcs.

What I actually watched

Zombieland Saga

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What a positive surprise! I never heard a thing about Zombieland Saga until the internet was abuzz with whispers. "You should watch Zombieland Saga. Don't read anything about it, just watch." Then I did. And I was very entertained.

No relation
No relation

I'll echo that recommendation myself. Just go look at the first episode if you're curious. It's a comedy, and I don't wanna sit here and just tell you the jokes. But if you want a bit more, allow me to elaborate behind the spoiler tags.

Zombieland Saga is a zombie idol show. Through unknown methods, for dubious reasons, an eccentric young manager has resurrected idols from Japan's last 200 years of history. They're gonna revitalize the Saga district of Japan! ... By being idols? Bringing publicity to the region? I suspect there's something more to this, but the why and the how isn't the point. It's about the inherent comedy in seven dead chicks trying to make it big as entertainers, even while one of them has a rotted brain and they keep losing their limbs.

It's directed quite well. It's a strong contender for best anime rap of the year. Best opening, too. And for the second half of the show, while the comedic tone never quite leaves, it knows how to focus in on the backstory of the girls(who all died young, natch) and get to the heart of things. One girl's father has survived his daughter's demise and is a pretty sad sight. It's touching to see them make up post-mortem.

Nothing's perfect, the CG used for some of the dance scenes fails to look like a parody of bad idol CG and just looks exactly like bad idol CG. Episode 3 and 4 are both much weaker than the first two, which made me afraid I'd have to award Zombieland Saga the Most Disappointing Award until it picked back up again. I don't necessarily think it became as good as those first two episodes once more, but it maintained a high standard that was definitely good enough for me. Lots of good laughs, lots of good sad moments. I was always happy to watch the next episode.

Overall, it's one of my favorite anime this year.

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SSSS. Gridman

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An explanation might be in order. There was an old tokusatsu show that only aired from 1993-1994, called Denkou Choujin Gridman or Hyper Agent Gridman. In it, some kids make a computer game that gets possessed by Gridman, an inter-dimensional police officer. Similarly, an inter-dimensional villain called Khan Digifier possesses the computer of a social misfit in the same class as the Gridman kids. Digifier and the loner create kaiju that invade the computer world, while the good guys merge with Gridman and fight him back.

The "computer world" in this case being some set of colorful buildings that represent the inside of whatever electronic article the kaiju are attacking. Gridman defeating the kaiju and repairing the damage to the computer world might stop a microwave oven from exploding, to put it like that. The show was put out in America with new live action segments under the frankly phenomenal name Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad.

Now it it's 25 years later and some madmen at Trigger decided that what they really wanted to do is create an anime sequel to a show nobody's bloody ever heard of. Maybe the director, who also did Inferno Cop, feels a kinship with Khan Digifier? The version of Digifier that appears in SSSS. Gridman, called Alexis Kherib for reasons beyond my understanding, looks a lot like both of them. The anime really expects you to have seen the old Gridman, bizarrely. The final ability the hero pulls out of his ass is taken straight from that old show, and will only feel justified if you already knew what it was.

I don't have to tell you the concept for SSSS. Gridman, 'cause on its surface it's identical to the old one. The difference is one of execution. Hyper Agent Gridman is a campy-ass kids show with cute actors in outreagous 90s fashion playing cartoony characters. SSSS. Gridman, for some reason, tries to de-camp as much as it can. There's almost zero music aside from the Gridman/Kaiju battles. Everyone talks in this weird way, which to me sounds closer to J-dramas but is probably intended to sound like real life conversation? The comedic timing is completely off.

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Characters act in this odd, breath-taken way like they can't quite understand what is happening or get into it, never asking reasonable questions or acting like people. I have no clue what they're going for. The main character, Yuuta, has lost his memory and doesn't regain it until the final episode, which is always annoying. Shinjo Akane, the bad guy, doesn't really have much going on. She just sends kaiju after people that annoy her, and spends the rest of the time lounging in a room filled with garbage.

The Kaiju fights, on the other hand, are pretty spectacular. I shit on anime CG a lot for looking bad, but by keeping it to the giant robots and monsters and keeping those largely separate from the 2D animation, it looks fine. There's enough snappy animation to it that it looks exciting and fun in the way you want it to, and enough details that it doesn't look plain.

Let's get into spoiler territory, 'cause there's a twist here that reframes the whole thing, and it's pointless to talk about the anime without factoring it in.

The one difference in the concept for the old show and SSSS is that the kaiju attack in the real world now. Or so it appears. About six episodes in, it's revealed that the whole world is actually Akane Shinjo's creation, and only consists of the city. She's got regular old kaiju to murder the people she dislikes, and the colossal kaiju that litter the horizon but are invisible to normal people are the clean-up crew that erases the town's memories and repairs the buildings after a fight. This is all possible because Alexis Kherib turns her creations real. Also, Yuuta has no memories because he was possessed by Gridman all the time. I guess Gridman has a thing for high school girls, which might be alarming. The team of weirdos that turn into Gridman's weapons and never explain their presence(do anyone even ask them?) are also explained as parts of Gridman's personality that split into pieces, though they never rejoin during the anime. The final scene of the show, and I called this sohard, is a real life shot of a Japanese woman meant to be Akane waking up in her bed.

I was especially impressed with this battle
I was especially impressed with this battle

Naturally, this opens up a few questions. Is this all just a dream Akane is having? Is it another computer the real life Akane is using? Are Gridman and Alexis Kherib intended to be actually real, or are they figments of her imagination based on whatever tokusatsu nostalgia she has? How come she has so seriously little control of this world if it's actually hers? Do none of the heroes ever try to attack her directly, despite her living quite literally in the next door house, because she's intentionally designed them to be fucking morons unable to harm her, or do they realize they can't really hope to fight a God?

How much of everyone acting bizarrely is meant to be because it's a dream or simulation? Is that one humanoid kaiju who appears and tells Yuuta all this some character from the original series that they don't bother explaining more about? Are we just doing Cells At Work here, but for the different parts of Akane's personality, like some kinda Inside Out thing?

Ultimately, why are we doing the it was a dream all along twist?

Obviously the twist turns it into a story about Akane working through her issues. She has to learn to deal with her insecurities and self-hate and return to the real world rather than hide in a dream, growing into a better person. It's a coming of age/dealing with mental issues thing. But let me be clear here:

What's the bikini phone a metaphor for?
What's the bikini phone a metaphor for?

This is already part of pretty much every mecha show I've seen. Shinji in Evengalion, Simon in Gurren Lagann, all the kids in FLCL, the people in Eureka Seven, Planet With just this year. Not to mention, it's a popular theme in anime in general. Dragon Pilot, Welcome to the NHK, Mayoiga, Kiznaiver, Persona 4, Mai-Hime... It's so common. A lot of these are Trigger's(and previously Gainax') own shows, too.

But you know what none of these other shows do? Have some twist halfway through where it turns out all the characters are just the dream of the bad guy. It just feels like a twist for a twist's sake. Would the theme have been unclear to anyone if Shinjo Akane just went through the same plot beats she does in the anime already, minus the "I am the god of this world" parts? It doesn't really add anything to the narrative besides another layer of meta.

I was not a fan. The action and the basic concept are completely fine, but the way they did the twist and the direction of the human parts of this show is some of the least fun stuff I've had to sit through. It was also difficult to understand some bits of it because they're direct references to the original Gridman. I respect that they did something just for them and the people that care, but I couldn't dig it despite the impenetrable references the way I could with, say, FLCL.

Made me listen to a ton of this theme, though.

Karakuri Circus

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The introduction I wrote to Karakuri Circus at the end of the previous anime blog says it all, really. They did the Ushio & Tora thing again, but applied it to the author's next work.

Ushio & Tora was COOL
Ushio & Tora was COOL

I wouldn't say it's as much of a success, for many reasons. Chief among them is the conceit of the setting. In Ushio & Tora, you've got a simple concept to write everything else around. Ushio is a good kid who's got a powerful demon-slaying spear, while Tora is a powerful cat-like demon who was trapped by the spear for centuries. Now they gotta work together reluctantly while all kinds of monsters are after their heads. It's a concept you could build on in all sorts of ways for hundreds of chapters, and it was still easy to follow. Even though the anime skipped 90% of the material and some turns and introductions were super sudden because whole characters and arcs were excised, you could easily get it and feel like you weren't getting the cliff notes version. Even though you totally were.

That's not the case with Karakuri Circus. Everything comes back to circuses and dolls, yes, but that has to be explained in a way "ghosts/yokai/monsters exist" doesn't have to be. I struggle to sum it up in any comprehensible way. We start with contrivances right off the bat, with the main hero Narumi just protecting this random kid who gets assaulted in the street. Narumi is suffering from a debilitating disease that strangles him if he can't get people to laugh, which is as out there as it sounds. A few episodes later, it turns out he's essentially Street Fighter's Ryu. It's weird, man.

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The kid, meanwhile, is the heir of a family of people that fight with huge robotic dolls, and they're out to get him for the inheritance. But that's just the first arc! It's probably a hundred chapters or something, but they do it in six episodes.

Next arc you get this huge exposition dump about a medieval circus of living dolls that give people the same sickness Narumi has, and... Look. It's pretty dumb stuff. This author is also a big fan of introducing new reincarnation/clone/memory transfer crap each new arc, and having all the main characters share in some ancient past. If what he wrote is what he planned to write when starting out, it is profoundly insulting.

My Hero Academia, by the end of season 3, has covered 124 chapters(ending on the beginning of the Internship Arc) over the span of 63episodes. Fairly similarly, One Piece covered 104 chapters(Ending on Laboon) during its first 62 episode long season. Hunter X Hunter(2011) did 120 chapters(Ending at the end of the York Shin arc) in 58 episodes. It's a pretty good ratio, around 3 chapters per episode plus the occasional anime original filler episode(One Piece's extra episodes compared to MHA comes down to 10 episodes or so of pure filler arcs compared to MHA's two or three recap episodes and Asui bumming around on a boat for that one ep). This mostly doesn't feel rushed, and mostly doesn't feel slow, either. You can do even better, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders covers all of its 152 chapters in a mere 48 episodes without ever feeling rushed, largely by just never doing any filler episodes and keeping the action scenes snappy. But by and large, this is just about the ideal ratio of episodes to chapters for a faithful shonen fighting manga adaptation.

This isn't Karakuri Circus either
This isn't Karakuri Circus either

Comparatively, Karakuri Circus covers the plot of 180 chapters in the span of just 12 episodes. And because Karakuri Circus skips most of the material, we go from revelation to revelation, retcon to retcon, dramatic character death to dramatic character death. Characters have their introduction, redeeming moment and death in the span of 30 minutes.

At one point, a character appears to die dramatically and is revealed to be alive within the next 20 minutes rather than, say, after two more volumes. Sometimes characters appear with no introduction, while other times plot points make less sense because the details around them changed. A status quo that takes several arcs to change now changes every couple of episodes. It doesn't work well at all.

Many of these same problems are shared by Ushio & Tora. But unlike with Karakuri Circus, those issues didn't take me out of it to the same extent. I guess it's the difference between which parts they chose to include, and the strength of the core ideas.

Karakuri Circus is still moderately fun in a retro kinda way, although it's definitely aged better in some areas than others. The animation is occasionally strong, the direction of the scenes work, there's good voice and sound effect work. I actually quite like Narumi, I'm a sucker for these do-gooder, brave protagonists. The kid he rescues, Masaru, grows into a very nice little kid quickly too.

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There's also a third main character I haven't mentioned, the cold acrobat Shirogane, who's pleasant. While Masaru and Narumi map onto Ushio & Tora without too much trouble(Narumi is voiced by Tora's voice actor), she's a different kind of person entirely. I hope you like her design, 'cause there's at least four different characters who all look exactly like her.

Anyway, I enjoy Karakuri Circus as a shonen fighting show that actually moves at a brisk pace and with passionate energy. The cut content is both a blessing and a curse here. Not all of it was worth saving, with the kind of setup the story had. You can cut a lot of random encounters and dragged-out fights and still get a fun anime out of it.

But it's difficult to recommend this anime when Ushio & Tora is a better version of the same thing. Check it out if you've watched Ushio & Tora and could go for another helping.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind

Jojo has a lot of things going for it, both as a manga and an anime. I love how it's sorted into "parts", so rather than following one character for a thousand chapters, we're following 10 characters for a hundred chapters each. It keeps all the lore and characters largely separate and managable, and switches up the setting before it gets tired. Some characters might come over into the next part, either permanently or for a bit, but by and large they're self-contained stories.

We're now on the fifth part in the anime, and while I wouldn't recommend starting here since every other season is also good, you theoretically could jump in here and not really be too confused. It's set in Italy for the first time since Part 2, and besides a few inherited characters with limited screentime everything here stands on its own.

The franchise really is spectacular. Whenever they put out another season and overwhelm me with their new music and take on the art style, I think "This one's my favorite". The artwork can't measure up to the manga - it's an intricately detailed comic, and those designs are hard to translate and harder to animate well. But the studio does its best to make up for that shortcoming in other areas. Impressive work with color, good music, outstanding sound effects, it's got it all. While I read Part 5 a long time ago, I'm having a much better time with the anime than I ever did with the manga. Partly 'cause of the wonky scanlations, but still.

What I love the most about Jojo personally is the way it handles its fights. Most shonen fighting manga operate on a scale from "drama" to "rules". At one end you never explain any abilities much in detail and it's all down to coreography or the story to give it impact. You don't really have to be smarter, you just have to be stronger. On the other end you've got intricately detailed systems, and the appeal is in seeing how one ability is used to beat another. One is a character action game, or perhaps an action movie. The other I'd liken to a tabletop RPG. Jojo lands squarely in the latter category, and every fight is just fascinating to watch.

This year's 15-year old shonen fighting protags
This year's 15-year old shonen fighting protags

Essentially, it's the author playing a game with the audience. Here's a character with this ability. How can the heroes, who have that ability, figure out a way to beat him? He wins when he can write a fight that arises naturally from the abilities and makes it exciting, and he fails when there has to be an asspull. Mostly, he manages to win.

If you look up a fight from Jojo on youtube, you'll almost entirely see one person beating the shit out of another, which might give you the wrong idea. Jojo is nothing but fights. An episode usually begins setting the stage with something mundane or light-hearted. Then the enemy stalks the heroes, unleashing impossible things on them with his ability, in a way similar to horror movies. The heroes then have to figure out how he's doing it, a way to open up the villain. The beatdown is just the satisfying reward after 20-40 minutes of getting hounded by the opponent.

Jojo did get a bit Monster of the Week with its format post Part 2, but I really don't mind when it's done this well. I actually don't have much to say about the plot and characters of Part 5. You might like them, you might not. I think every Jojo Part is good and whichever set dressing you prefer just comes down to taste.

Personally, I think these protagonists are kinda jackasses and I know ahead of time that the villain is poor, so I'm not super invested in that aspect of it. I don't really care about the mafia flavor of it except as an excuse for a journey where the heroes get assassins sent after them again. But as an exciting shonen fighting anime with the best fights in the genre, presented amazingly through inspired direction? Yeah, I'm completely in love. Jojo Part 5 has some of the best fights in the series, with many of them involving multiple opponents at once.

Karakuri Circus and Jojo are both ongoing, and I'm gonna keep watching both of them.

How Not To Summon A Demon Lord

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I ended up watching a whole harem show after all. This is also the only isekai show I watched this year, which, I'm very sorry about.

How Not To Summon A Demon Lord starts with a high-level MMO player getting sucked into another world based on the MMO. He ends up there in character, as the Demon Lord Diablo. For once, we actually know why he's here right off the bat: He was summoned here through summon magic by two adventurers, the elf Shera and the catgirl Rem, who could both use a strong bodyguard. They try throwing a spell on him that will turn him into their servant, but the spell is reflected by Diablo's passive abilities, and he ends up with two hot chicks who now wear his collars. Makes you wonder why his magic reflect didn't reverse the initial summoning spell. There are comparatively few reverse isekai shows, where fantasy creatures are summoned into our world. Save something for the sequel, I guess.

Rem and Shera didn't just summon him for fun. Shera's a princess who escaped from the kingdom of the elves to live life on her own, and a war is treathening to break lose between the elves and her new home if they don't get her back. Which sounds like a tough start, but Rem has it worse. Through some jinchuuriki business, she's ended up with this world's actual demon lord trapped inside of her, and should she be killed the demon lord will revive. Of course every demonic prince in the vicinity want nothing more than to rip her open. Diablo isn't really hard to ask, and they start out questing while looking for ways to solve the issues: Settle things with the elves, exorcise the demon in Rem, and remove both their collars.

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Diablo is a shut-in nerd who hasn't talked to anyone besides his mom in ages, so in order to communicate, the best he can manage is roleplaying his character. I like him. Theoretically, the collars give him the ability to get Rem and Shera to do anything he'd like, but he never once uses them. He might be a dork, bu he's a nice dork, y'know. On the outside he does his best impression of an evil overlord, but unlike actual Overlord, it's clear there isn't a mean streak in his whole being. He's as overpowered as every other dull isekai protag, but it does help that he can't do shit in social situations and finds himself in them quite often. I especially like when he has to be polite and can barely eke out a sentence while still keeping to his RP.

As an anime fan I definitely relate to disappointing people, so I get it whenever his social anxieties come up, and appreciate it when his friends still support him.

Look. Boobs arefun. I used to be very annoyed by the fanservice aspect of anime, but the more stressed I've become as my twenties wear on, the more I appreciate a nice, relaxing show once in a while that isn't really about much more than boobs. "Why would you watch this when you could be watching porn???" doesn't apply. I don't relax to porn. But I do relax to Demon Lord. Watching a few good guys fight a few bad guys while boobs bounce around is the kinda mindless fun I can just sit down and enjoy without thinking about.

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As far as these anime titty shows go, Demon Lord isn't the best. It's got a gross rapey bad guy for a few episodes. The porny situations Diablo finds himself in are often the usual, contrived stuff("Oops, I accidentally grabbed your boob when I was reaching for the alarm clock"). It doesn't really have the aspirations to go much further than what is expected of it. It's far from the 10/10 comedy boobs of Prison School, nowhere close to the stellar shonen fighting butt parody of Keijo!!!!!!!!, not even in the same conversation as Re: Cutie Honey's energetic action. It hasn't been long since Konosuba, and that was twice the show this one is at the very least.

But it's also not the worst. Some characters are decent. Shera, Diablo and Rem end up sharing a pretty sweet friendship. The backgrounds, if a little generic, generally look nice. Diablo has some fun insight from using the MMO mechanics in this world based on them. The anime knows where to use its good animators, busting them out for the big combat scenes and the big bouncing boob scenes. It doesn't drag. It's kind rather than cruel. There's an occasional good comedic beat. Demon Lord never outright bored me. It's not the generic nightmare of Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, which I could barely stand an episode of. It's not Heaven's Lost Property.

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In a year as weak at fanservice as this one, Demon Lord had my back when I needed it to. It's not gonna make my top 10, obviously. It's at best three stars. But I appreciate it.

I would've watched Senran Kagura but I didn't wanna come in during season 3 and miss all the plot.

Dragon Ball Z Kai : Waiting for Goku

In Scandinavia, there was a sort of manga boom in the early 2000s. It ended in the late 2000s, with to my knowledge no manga being translated here anymore(edit: Someone's apparently re-translating Dragon Ball), but the damage was done. A generation of kids now knew there was more to comics than Norwegian comic strips, The Phantom, Tintin, Italian Canon Donald Duck, Conan the Barbarian,Calvin & Hobbes and Spider-Man. And they were easily able to get it online. Reading manga is usually as simple as searching for "Read *title of manga*". Despite nobody publishing it here anymore, there's no shortage of fans.

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At the time, our local publishers tried printing various magazines and put out the books of whatever comics they could get their hand on(some huge, like One Piece, some small, like Time Stranger Kyoko). Ranma 1/2 was the first big one, which Egmont picked up. Schibsted started later, but what they got was Dragon Ball. As a teen, I read every volume.

All Systems Goku started this year, so for the first time in my life I've been watching Dragon Ball in animated form(well, sort of for the first time. I've watched some Dragon Ball Abridged and AMVs here and there, but never an episode of the original). To follow along with ASG's commentary, I've also been listening with the English dub, though I did listen to the JP voices for an episode here and there. It's had its ups and downs to say the least. I'd watch it in Japanese if I didn't think I'd lose out on context for Jeff and Dan's jabs at the American voice actors.

The English dub has some funny jokes and isn't... bad exactly, but there is something unnatural to the way they structure their sentences and perform their lines. It doesn't sound like Americans speaking regularly, and it doesn't sound like the way people speak in American cartoons. It still has that weird anime dub vibe as they try to increase the flowery language to match English sentences with Japanese mouth movements. The differences between Goku's goofiness in English as opposed to his naive childishness in Japanese make it hard to jump back and forth between them, too. It's a different thing.

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The big charm point of Dragon Ball, for me anyway, is the art style. As Toriyama got older, I think his style got a lot uglier. Over the course of Dragon Ball Z it gradually becomes sharper and pointier, to the degree that when they show flashbacks of Goku goofing around during the Saiyan saga it looks like a different guy. People are calling Dragon Quest 11 beautiful, and I think they're outta their minds. But Dragon Ball did start out looking really great. Soft, squat characters, barely a few heads tall, with stumpy little arms and legs pulling of sweet martial arts moves with godlike speedlines.

Even when the DBZ art gets harder, less refined, you still get the colorful and cute characters only Toriyama really makes. It's downright approachable, is what it is. And it's aged like fine wine. In a year I watched a lot of anime aping a retro style, it was delightful to also watch something where you can see every sketchy pen stroke on the character close-ups, every painterly background. It's such a different thing from the digital techniques of today. While many artists have been inspired by him, there isn't anyone else that's mimicked Toriyama's style and gone big with it. It feels uniquely his, and that lends a timeless quality to the show. It isn't like Ushio & Tora where you can pinpoint the exact years it was published because of the trends it follows.

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My big problem with Dragon Ball is that the fighting is plain bad. When you start out watching, the lasers and the big punches and all the flying around, that's really impressive. Dragon Ball is unabashedly a kid's show, but it's much more violent than American cartoons, and I can easily imagine kids used to watching Transformers or whatever get blown away around the time Nappa punches Tenshinhan's arm off. Back when I started reading, I was amazed at how fluid and cool the martial arts felt to read. However, Dragon Ball Z's laser-filled fights haven't aged well for me.

In the decades after Dragon Ball, shonen fighting usually focuses on abilities that differ widely between characters. They might share an origin or a system, like nen, or stands, or chakra, but ultimately everyone's got their own special skill going on. Dragon Ball is all Superman with energy beams, from Raditz to Buu. It also quickly becomes clear that Dragon Ball is more of an RPG than a character action game, to put it like that. Not a tabletop RPG this time, but a grindy oldschool one.

What's important is who has the biggest numbers. Who can fight better, who can think better, who can plan better... that sort of thing does matter sometimes, but it's rare. And while the numbers go higher, the changes to the fights over the course of the series is minimal. There just isn't a big visual difference between a level 1 explosion and a level 100000000 explosion, and characters can destroy planets ever since Vegeta's first fight. You just have to take the word of the author for granted and accept that yes, this or that new character is ten times faster and stronger than the last opponent even though there's zero indication of that being the case besides how effective the heroes are against them.

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The experience of watching Dragon Ball is an exercise in patience. Usually Character A beats up Character B, overwhelmingly. Character B can shoot whatever he wants at Character A, but no matter how many explosions hit Character A, the smoke is gonna clear and Character A will barely have a scratch on him. Character B either powers up, or gets bailed out by a stronger character. The only way to turn the tides is to "get stronger", which rarely has anything to do with specific moves and more with just grinding out enough points to level up. And it gets very old very fast.

I think there are good ways to make a system work where every fighter share similar abilities. Hajime no Ippo comes to mind, it's just people boxing, but because of the specific training and moves and manouvers Ippo learns to overcome his opponents, it stays engaging. But that's not how Dragon Ball operates. It never really goes into depth on fighting, how one character might be better at parrying or whatever or how another has mastered jabs. The only determining factor is their level. And the only new techniques besides a couple early on in the Saiyan saga and the instant transmission are power-up moves. Dragon Ball can only engage with drama once the shine of the lasers start fading.

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And that drama does basically work. There are bad guys there, we have good guys here, we want to see the good guys beat up the bad guys. But it's pretty one note stuff for 100+ episodes. Even with Kai's heavy cuts, you're looking at an intimidating runtime. The Buu Saga in particular barely seems like it got any cuts at all, with lots of shots of characters just staring at one another and all these pointless asides that never come up again.

But even before that it's a bother. Bulma has a movie's worth of screentime on Namek, which in the manga was pretty much just a cover illustration of her pouting in a cave. She spends all that screentime bitching and moaning, because they originally integrated the last bit of her misadventures into the main plot, so they had to show how she ended up where she was. And it's a huge waste of everyone's time, and makes people resent the character. Filler Bulma sucks.

What helps ease this tedium is when Dragon Ball gets a little weird, or a little funny. In OG Dragon Ball, they're the norm, but they still turn up here and there in Z. When Goku has to chase a monkey around a little planet, you know. When the Androids go on a road trip. When Buu turns out be Kirby With No Regard For Human Life. But these moments get further and further apart whenever the arc turns serious, and I probably wouldn't have made it through the entire thing on my own. I needed Jeff and Dan to walk me through it with wrestling references, their sheer joy at discovering an anime that was fun, their funny imitations of the voice actors. They made Dragon Ball much better for me.

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Dragon Ball has had a profound influence on the medium, and that makes it easier to forgive its flaws. Of course you make some mistakes when you're the one paving new ground that everyone's gonna riff on for the next three decades. You basically introduced power levels, so of course the focus on those is gonna be a bit dumb. You're making this up on the fly, having evolved from a comedy manga to a martial arts manga to an intergalactic laser fight manga, so of course the plot won't make the most sense from start to end.

Most importantly, Dragon Ball is approachable. The art style, whenever someone doesn't Hulk out, is simple and nice. It's got heroic good guys, merciless bad guys, and an antihero or two for edgelord fans of all ages. It's got silly comedy and a lot of intense fighting. Very simple fighting, yes, but that means anyone can get it at a glance. There's a reason it is most people's gateway into anime at large, and there's nothing wrong with a crowdpleaser. I actually appreciate it a lot for getting everyone interested in the medium.

Please tell me ASG is doing OG Dragon Ball next, this art style is so my jam
Please tell me ASG is doing OG Dragon Ball next, this art style is so my jam

I dunno how to give a score to Dragon Ball. I don't necessarily love it anymore. If I were to make a top 10 list of my favorite fighting anime/manga, I dunno if it would make the top 10 for certain. Still, I'd say I enjoyed my time with Dragon Ball this year. And All Systems Goku even more.

Finally

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Well, that's it then. Stick around, and I'll get the AOTY post out on Friday. Make sure to vote for the site's overall AOTY as well while you have the chance. See ya then!

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#1 Posted by ArbitraryWater (15716 posts) -

Solid anime blog duder. I'm trying to salvage a draft of my own anime blog right now, and shit can be time-consuming and hard.

I liked Bunny Girl Senpai alright, but you're definitely spot-on about the whole thing feeling like diet Monogatari. It's not as aggressively stylish (or aggressively horny,) but it does have a scene where the main character beats someone up and then loudly yells "I'M A VIRGIN" so that's pretty good.

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#2 Posted by Redhotchilimist (2963 posts) -

@arbitrarywater: Thanks mate! Always glad to get some response on these, and good luck on your own.

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#3 Posted by ZombiePie (7424 posts) -

I AM 100% WITH YOU ABOUT MY HERO ACADEMIA!It is good to know that I am not the only person who was disappointed by season three, while also accepting that the License Exam arc is the weakest storyline in the manga. Likewise, I agree Zombieland Saga is fun and the Persona 5 anime is disappointing.

However, I have to push back on your section in one way. I have said it before, and I will say it again. Trigger can only convey a story with more than a bucket of spit when they are borrowing heavily from pre-existing properties. Every time when they try to tell a story that's attempting to be its own thing, it is HOT GARBAGE! That's why I like, but do not love SSSS.Gridman. If you want to have any fun with that show, you have to accept it's a worse version of EVA. You just have to accept it. Worse, 50% of that show involves the camera either looking up Rikka 's skirt, or zooming up against some part of her body.

Also, you made the right choice in watching Karakuri Circus and Jojo. I ended up watching Fist of the Blue Sky: Re:Genesis and GOOD GOD! That thing is a tired fire!