Hello! Welcome to the first installment of Poplar’s Recap.
My name is Poplar– or Jake, if you prefer. This series will be a seasonal summary of all the shows that caught my attention this (anime) season. That is to say: what I watched, what I dropped, what I liked, what I disliked, and why.
First off, this is a very subjective list. I will do my best to explain why I liked/disliked a show in a clear & concise manner, but be warned that most of it will boil down to personal preference and vague hunches. Secondly, this list is in no particular order. If I have any notable favourites or disappointments for the season, I’ll mention them in a concluding paragraph. Thirdly, I welcome discussion. That’s the main reason I’m doing this, after all. If you agree or disagree with any of my points, or simply want to chat about what you watched this season, please leave me a comment!
Hachinan tte, Sore wa Nai Deshou! (The 8th Son? Are You Kidding Me?)
- Genre in a nutshell: Isekai
- Watched or dropped? Watched!
- Poplar’s Verdict: Isekai/10
- What I Liked: The opening credit theme (we need more lovingly cheesy power metal OPs); standard Isekai fare; has an effeminate, blond, long-haired male character who does not turn out to be evil for once; The religious papal faction isn’t evil for once; Elise is a sweetheart; features a joke character that actually serves a purpose later on; emphasis on political intrigue; still easy to watch after one too many beers.
- What I didn’t: Standard Isekai fare… but could have been much more if they tried; most characters besides Elise and Roderich are fairly forgettable; my weekly hangovers.
Yep. This one was an Isekai alright. It was… very Isekai-y. Yep. Nothing revolutionary here. If you like the classic Isekai format, you’ll be right at home. If not… well, you should probably skip this one. The main thing of note is the political intrigue aspect of this show, which involves lots of scheming nobles seeking to acquire more power and status at the expense of our naive (but overpowered) protagonist. If they focused more on this aspect, and tried to break the Isekai mold a bit more (Think Re:Zero), I have a feeling this anime would have garnered a lot more attention. As it stands, however, I don’t think even fans of the show like myself will remember it for that long. That is the Devil’s Bargain of Isekai: Easy to like, easy to forget once the next mildly-amusing Isekai comes next season. And so the Isekai Cycle shall continue.
Tower of God (Kami no Tou)
- Genre in a nutshell: Action
- Watched or Dropped? Dropped 😦
- Poplar’s Verdict: They forgot to build the tower.
- What I Liked: Westernised-anime-esque art style; Opening theme is pretty great; flashy fight scenes; Premise had lots of potential.
- What I Didn’t: I could see the writer’s hand*; Poorly-executed first episode; Was not invested in plot or characters, just wanted the next action sequence; annoying side characters that writer wanted me to like; seriously, Rachel, just tell the protagonist why you’re leaving, you dummy.
This one might be controversial, as I have it on decent-ish authority that this was one of the more popular ones this season. You’ll be even further outraged by the knowledge that I have no objective reason for disliking it. That’s right, ladies, gentlemen, and neckbeards, you’re allowed to disagree with me. I hope you’ll bear with me and continue reading to better understand my point of view.
Despite being a Tower, the setting felt very flat. At least during the first five episodes or so. No explanation is given on the world beyond the tower. As far as the series is concerned, nothing exists beyond the tower. Where is this tower located in the wider world? Why are there giant aliens, lizardmen, swordsmen, and a random dude with a sniper rifle running around? The character lineup felt confused, and consequently shallow. This makes everything– and everyone– feel tiny, as though nothing they do has any meaning beyond the roles they play within the tournament, within the author’s own head. This series either A) expects that the viewer already knows the characters’ origins and motivations via the manhwa (I don’t); or B) just assumes everyone will think the characters are as cool as the author clearly does (I don’t). After at least 5 episodes, I felt no investment in any of the characters. I come across this issue fairly often when it comes to non-Japanese anime adaptations. It’s this sort of uncanny valley effect, where it looks like anime, but doesn’t quite feel like anime. It feels like someone trying a little bit too hard to emulate anime. Despite their unique designs, the characters felt like walking tropes– even by anime standards. They don’t have much character beyond their specific powers and quirks. Even a run-of-the mill Isekai like Hachinan had more likeable characters, in my opinion. I think the author could have done this story and its characters a lot more justice if he focused less on the “contest” element of it all, as it doesn’t leave much time for character development.
*And what does it mean when I say I can “see the writer’s hand”? It means I have a fairly good idea of what the author of the series has planned, which characters he likes, and which ones he wants me to like/dislike, or any time in which the author is just too heavy-handed. My reasoning could be very complex, and require several paragraphs to adequately explain… or it could be something as petty as my knowing where the writer has swiped an idea/character from, and feeling he has done a poor job of making the idea their own. Depending on the subject matter, seeing the writer’s hand might bug me a lot, or only a little… or not at all. For example, Hachinan mentioned above did not bug me that it was predictable, because I knew going in that it was going to be your average Isekai, no more and no less. But I hold a show like Tower of God to a higher standard. I expect some may disagree with me about these points, and if you do, I respect your opinion– just as I hope you’ll respect mine.
- Genre in a Nutshell: Action
- Watched or dropped? Watched!
- Poplar’s Verdict: A personal favourite, but maybe not for everyone.
- What I Liked: Unique, fascinating premise; unique, fascinating powers; Characters (even minor characters) usually well-fleshed-out; Nice art style; Nice action sequences; Opening theme is a banger; Ending theme is nice too.
- What I disliked: Opening theme gets stuck in my head. Grr.
This series did for me everything that I wanted from Tower of God, and, as different as the two stories and settings seem at first glance, I actually think they’re quite similar. Both involve deadly competitions between characters with unique powers, in which the victor will have his or her wildest dreams granted. The main difference is that I believe Gleipnir pulls off this concept much, much better. I may write a more detailed review of this anime later, so for now, I’ll keep my explanation brief. It is, however, among my favourites of this season– and maybe even of the last few seasons. Needless to say, it gets a shining recommendation from me.
My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (HameFura)
- Genre in a nutshell: Comedy
- Watched or Dropped? Watched!
- Poplar’s Verdict: No Doom Flags here!
- What I Liked: Charming cast of characters; bright, colourful setting; Outro theme; impossible for me to finish an episode without a smile on my face; pleasantly surprised to see it’s getting a second season.
- What I Disliked: Catarina starts off smart, but devolves into generic “bubbly & carefree main heroine” trope through time; Secondary characters tend to fall into archetypal categories as well; not unique enough to stand the test of time– I think we’ll forget this series exists after 6 months or so.
If I had to pick only one word to describe this series, I think it would be “Charming.” It’s really just an all-round pleasant anime to watch, a much-needed distraction from the darkness of real life and the human condition as a whole. There isn’t much conflict in this story, or fear that Catarina will trigger one of her Bad Ends. Suspense is virtually nonexistent. The conflict mainly exists to keep the story moving, as Catarina herself isn’t given much depth or personal motivation (beyond the desire to devour as many sweets as possible) in this story– and you know what? That’s okay. It’s a light-hearted series that’s main goal is to make you smile. And it succeeds. A great show to watch when you’re feeling mad at the world.
Princess Connect! Re:Dive
- Genre in a nutshell: Fantasy
- Watched or Dropped? Dropped 😦
- Poplar’s Verdict: I might have liked this more if I played the game it’s based on.
- What I Liked: Well-animated, a surprisingly pretty anime!; fodder for a lot of good screenshots; always something nice about laid-back fantasy settings in which friends sit around campfires or in taverns and eat food and drink. It gives me a special feeling that I really like.
- What I Disliked: Generic fantasy game setting; Main character has this thing where he hardly ever talks and only responds in single-word sentences, making him seem like he was dropped on his head several times as a baby; Seriously, why do Japanese storywriters love making protagonists as generic as humanly possible? Especially in RPGs? It doesn’t make them relatable… it makes them BORING. VERY, VERY BORING. STOP THIS.
…Yeah, I may have lost my composure there for a second. *Ahem*.
Not much more to say about this one. It’s standard CyGames fare. It won’t be winning any awards, but it’s not terrible. If I had more free time, I might have watched more. I probably could have excluded this from the list entirely, as I don’t think I’ve heard anyone on the English-speaking side of social media talking about this anime. But on the off chance anyone else reading this has watched it, and cares that I have, I decided to include it.
Yesterday wo Utatte (Sing “Yesterday” For Me)
- Genre in a Nutshell: Romance
- Watched or Dropped? Watched!
- Poplar’s Verdict: An occasionally-frustrating show with an adorable mascot, that I watched mainly for the crow. I like birds.
- What I Liked: Kansuke the Crow; realistic drama, seldom does it wallow in melodrama; Beautiful ending theme, favourite OP/ED of the season; Kansuke the Crow; very moving and relatable when at its best; all characters feel like they could be real people; Oh, and Kansuke. The Crow. I like birds.
- What I Disliked: Not enough Kansuke; unrealistic depiction of Corvid behaviour– Kansuke felt like more of an accessory at times, rather than a living thing (this bugs me way more than it should); characters feel real… meaning they occasionally make stupid and frustrating decisions; The main character; best girl gets treated poorly by a guy who doesn’t deserve her.
I like birds. I like birds. I like birds. Can it be said enough? It probably can, in this case, given I’m supposed to be writing about an anime right now. Fine. Let’s talk about the anime, then, if you insist.
As I mentioned above, this is one of the least-melodramatic romance anime I have ever watched– for better and worse. The characters are ordinary people, each with a unique background, personality, goals, and hobbies, same as anyone you might meet in real life. Just like you probably don’t like every single person you meet in real life, you may not like each and every one of these characters. I personally found Rikuo and Shinako annoying when they weren’t being boring, and boring when they weren’t being annoying. The most unrealistic part of the series is that it pretends that these two characters are desirable in some way. Rikuo is a shuffling tobacco fiend whose only redeeming quality is that he’s apparently “nice” when he’s not too busy being a jerk. Shinako is nice, but spends the entire anime leading the male cast of characters on, even though she clearly hasn’t gotten over the death of her childhood crush. She’s the average demure, doe-eyed “nice girl”, who likes to cook and do housework… and that’s basically the extent of things. If your ideal partner is someone who will basically be your second mom, then maybe you’ll find her appealing; otherwise, the show overrates her enormously. Haru actually has a personality– basically all the character traits Shinako lacks. But be prepared for sadness: she and Kansuke really get the short end of the stick in this series. A handful of its most interesting characters get a single episode in the spotlight before never being seen again. As I said, this show can be frustrating. There were many times I considered dropping it, but kept watching. For Kansuke. Did I mention that I like birds?
This show features my favourite theme of the season: “Kago no Naki ni Tori”, or “The Bird in the Cage”, by yourness. Have a listen, if you’d like!
Shironeko Project: Zero Chronicle
- Genre in a Nutshell: Fantasy
- Watched or Dropped? Dropped 😦
- Poplar’s Verdict: Zero Chronicle? More like Zero Effort.
- What I liked: Cool opening theme; foolproof “light vs. dark” premise in a fantasy setting; The design for the two worlds are pretty neat; generic henchmen serve as good source of comic relief.
- What I Disliked: They messed up a foolproof premise; needlessly preachy about simple concepts; It’s called the “Shironeko” (White Cat) Project, despite the recurring motif of… feathers and wings, for some reason; apart from the setting, nothing is all that creative.
This anime suffers from a lot of the same problems, and is subject to much of the same criticism, as Princess Connect!. Shironeko Project is another fantasy anime based off a video game that I haven’t played– the main difference being that this one takes itself more seriously. Maybe I would have liked it more if I played the game, but that doesn’t excuse a lot of the mistakes this anime makes. The first episode is supposed to set the tone as grim and gritty, but it just comes off as… funny.
How does this guy go from this:
…In about four minutes? That’s right: after a brief training arc that lasts less than one third of a 24-minute episode, this geezer literally just keels over and dies. And the main character has the audacity to cry. As if he didn’t just meet this random dude moments earlier. It’s hilarious. Maybe the protagonist is crying because he knows he has to make the mass grave he was digging even deeper now, just to bury this dude.
Unfortunately, the subsequent episodes didn’t have the same so bad it’s good quality to them. They seemed pretty generic. If you’ve watched any other fantasy anime, you could probably guess some of the events that happen without watching a single episode. So would I recommend this one? Nah.
Nami yo, Kiite Kure! (Wave, Listen to Me!)
- Genre in a nutshell: Slice of Life?
- Watched or Dropped? Watched!
- Poplar’s Verdict: One of this season’s hidden gems.
- What I Liked: Likeable characters; unique story; cute, rough-around-the-edges main character who may or may not have drinking problems; blatant in-show promotion of Hokkaido as a tourist destination; opening and ending themes are terrific.
- What I Disliked: That it doesn’t seem to be getting a second season, as this anime definitely could have benefited from one.
This anime was a very “comfy” show for me to watch. I tend to rate each slice-of-life anime based on the level of comfort watching it brings me. And this one was pretty comfy. I could lean back in my chair and laugh along with Minare’s antics and woes over a can or two of beer. It’s not the best anime I’ve ever watched, but it’s probably tied with Gleipnir as my favourite of the season, and you bet I’ll remember this show for a while now. Like Gleipnir, I’ll keep things brief here, as I might want to discuss this anime in greater detail at another time. Suffice it to say that if you enjoyed shows like Bakuman or Shirobako, you’ll probably like this one, too. This anime stands as a fun and unique glimpse into the world of Japanese radio. And Hokkaido in general. This show features a lot of different real-life products and destinations from Hokkaido, Japan– so if you’re a Japanophile like I am, then you’ll probably appreciate the show on that basis alone.
Recapping the Recap: Concluding Remarks.
Well, that’s another season gone by. To quote a song by Amazarashi that you’re likely familiar with: 季節は次々死んでいく.
It’s a time of sadness, in which we say farewell to our favourite characters and worlds that we’ve spent the past few months with, and a time of anticipation for what adventures the next season will bring. What did you think of Spring 2020’s anime lineup? I thought it was decent– not too many good shows all at once that it was impossible to keep up with them all, but still a few more disappointments than I typically expect. What were your favourite shows to come out this season? Were there any you were particularly disappointed by? Drop me a comment and let me know.
I’m omitting a couple from this list that I watched and dropped too early to comment on, or am still in the process of watching. In both cases, I don’t currently have anything witty or worthwhile to say about them. I might write about those later, if a new development comes up. Will I write a new post about them? Update this post? Simply scream my thoughts to the impassive and indifferent gods above? Disappear from this blog for another half-year or so? I’m not sure. I’m not good with plans. Or schedules. Or anything, really. I’m a bit of a ne’er-do-well… or something. I’m definitely something, unfortunately. For now, at least: I’m still confident that the human world will at some point succeed in boring me to death. But until then, I’ll keep watching anime, and offering you my unsolicited opinions.
Listeners and Houkago Teibou Nisshi caught my eye as I was browsing Livechart, so I might give those two a try. I might also give Woodpecker Detective a second chance, as I feel I may have given up on that one too early. I’m still angry it wasn’t about an actual Woodpecker, though. Anyone know of a good anime about birds?