Times are tough, my friends. Having just powered through every season premiere that’s available on basically any streaming service, I am left with mere grains of sand, anime fragments that tumble through my hands as I seek to shape them into watchable shows. Seasons have been dry before, but we are in the desert now. My first recommendation for the summer season is “I hope you’re still enjoying My Hero Academia, Re:Creators, or Sakura Quest.” My second recommendation is “I’m sure there’s some backlog you’ve been meaning to get to.”
But still, I didn’t watch through all these friggin’ premieres for nothing. There are least a couple bright spots in the gloom, and even if there weren’t, I’m sure most of you are just here to watch me descend into gibbering and howls as the shows get worse. As usual, I’ll be starting with my top picks and grouping the season’s offerings into general descending tiers. For longer thoughts on all of these shows, click through the title and check out my full ANN reviews (look for Nick Creamer). Buckle up, cause it’s gonna get bumpy. LET’S RUN THIS SEASON DOWN!
Anime That Offer Hope In This Blasted World
Made in Abyss had the strongest premiere of the season by miles, barreling out the gate with an episode that combined gorgeous art design, terrific animation, and consistently graceful storytelling. It introduced us to a compelling cast and even more enticing world without letting either of those goals overwhelm its moment-to-moment adventure narrative, naturally integrating us into a world where traversing the abyss seems as thrilling to us as it does to its heroes. I’ve heard significant grumbling about the heavy turns of the source material, but none of that dampened the appeal of this terrific episode. I really hope it holds together.
Anime That Are At Least A Frail Light In The Darkness
Yep, sorry, the top tier actually only has one show this season. But down here in second-string territory, A Centaur’s Life is still doing its best. A Centaur’s Life seems to have the opposite problem of Made in Abyss – instead of a great production that elevates questionable source material, A Centaur’s Life has strong material but a pretty shaky production. Solid slice of life material and intriguing worldbuilding are doing their best to weather this show’s questionable animation and art design, and it seems like Centaur’s Life will actually be going in some intriguing, refreshingly nuanced directions regarding society and discrimination. “Basically carried by the source material” puts Centaur’s Life at the top of this dire season!
Welcome to the Ballroom seems close to the platonic ideal of shounen sports dramas. Gifted with a remarkable staff heavy on animation talent, its first episode was a beautiful display, demonstrating how much animation can do to elevate both action and characterization. Unfortunately, its purity of purpose is also its weakness – Welcome to the Ballroom plays its genre incredibly straight, and we’re likely in for a very traditional “boy trains a lot to beat challengers, gaining friends and rivals along the way” narrative without all that much introspection or greater dramatic reach. Still, there’s nothing wrong with a classic story told well, and Welcome to the Ballroom’s telling is excellent.
If you have any interest at all in a send-up of classic JRPGs, Guru Guru is here to provide. The show mixes lots of quick and legitimately funny jokes with great visual segues and some genuinely charming character work, with this first episode already selling me on the individual charm and collective bond of hero Nike and mage Kukuri. It’s not the richest thing, but it’s very endearing and good at nailing its own goals – if you’re looking for comedy or 16-bit nostalgia, give it a try.
Anime That Provide Meager Warmth Through The Long Cold
Oh god, tier two can’t end at four shows, what the hell is happening. Anyway, my bracket titles might be getting a bit too esoteric here, so I should clarify that we’re still in above-average genre territory here. Restaurant to Another World is exactly that – a somewhat compelling slice of life with a nicely unique premise, lifted by its light humor and generally strong art design. I’m guessing Centaur’s Life will be my comfy fix for the season, but Restaurant to Another World’s mix of food porn, likable characters, and natural humor seems like it’ll make for a very easy watch.
Katsugeki is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from “ufotable take on Touken Ranbu” – a beautifully photographed and animated action venue stapled to a pretty silly premise. Katsugeki’s first episode actually did a pretty great job of ingratiating me to its first two leads, and it’s a visual feast either way, so if you’re looking for awesome action and don’t mind a somewhat contrived setup, it’s worth a look.
Altair looks to be a fairly competent “swashbuckling historical war drama” in the vein of stuff like The Heroic Legend of Arslan. Its first episode was awkwardly rushed, but was otherwise a very competent stab at that goal, offering a likable lead, sharp production chops, and plenty of political intrigue. It’s not exemplary enough to recommend outside of that genre’s appeal, but if you’re a fan of those sorts of dramas, definitely give it a look.
Hell yeah, I get to recommend an anime called Action Heroine Cheer Fruits. This one turned out to be a very charming take on the “local heroes” concept also riffed on by Sakura Quest. Its first episode is a warm family story imbued with sensitive reflections on the importance of heroes, culminating in a charmingly inept performance of a sentai battle for the local kids. It wasn’t a terrific premiere or anything, but it was good-hearted and generally entertaining.
Anime Whose Bones May Still Contain Marrow, Enough To Feed Us Perhaps
Hina Logi looks to be the most straightforward “cute girls in a club” show of the season, though of course it’s also a sequel to a show in a different genre entirely and is kind of a genre meld itself and look anime is complicated. Anyway, all you really have to know is that you don’t need to watch Luck and Logic to watch this, and if you’re looking for cute girls beyond New Game!!, this is a passable genre entry. And yes, “passable genre entries” is where we’re at.
This one’s another generic shounen sports narrative, though the topic here is “quiz shows” and the production values are absolutely middle-of-the-road. Unless you’re very into quiz shows or feel some passionate, bizarre need to only watch airing shows, there are a million sports dramas better than this one.
Princess Principal is a quasi-Victorian steampunk spy thriller populated with a high school slice of life cast of cute girls. The results are very, very stupid.
CHRONOS RULER is equally stupid action-fantasy nonsense, but at least this one seems to understand it’s silly, and its unabashed chuunibyou-ness is kind of endearing. It’s certainly not good, though! Oh no no, we’re well past that.
Seriously, We Are Faaaar Past That
LOVE and LIES must always be pronounced the way it is capitalized, because that is the only way to convey its actual tone. LOVE and LIES is ABOUT a WORLD where LOVE IS OUTLAWED but this HIGH SCHOOL BOY just LOVES A GIRL so MUCH GODDAMNIT and there’s a LOVE TRIANGLE I guess but THIS EPISODE DIDN’T GET TO THAT.
Knight’s and Magic is this season’s best “normal real-world dude goes to a magical universe and is the best at everything” show. The things this show’s hero are best at include: robots, magic, guns, girls. It also looks pretty nice!
There were… zombies, I think? No, demons. Demons, and there are some cute tough guys, and it’s vaguely based on Journey to the West. Look, just watch Katsugeki.
Miracle Examiner strives for Shiki-style horror melodrama, but is unfortunately too poorly written to get there. It’s a shame – a better version of this show would be a lot of fun.
Hitorijime is an extremely meh BL effort populated by characters I’ve already forgotten about.
Anything I could actually tell you about this show would result in a less magical takeaway than whatever you might assume based on its title, so I’m just going to leave you with that gift.
This title is actually pretty honest, though.
Why Do We Do This To Ourselves
18if strives to convey the madness of dreams in both visuals and narrative. I give it points for striving.
Dive’s first episode is ugly, awkwardly constructed, and not very engaging. It turns out adding an extra exclamation point didn’t actually make this twice as good as Free!
“What if Natsume’s Book of Friends was incredibly boring.”
I Should Have Gone To Law School
This title is genre salad and I will not dignify it with a review.
Why do they keep making this show. What did I do. How can I be forgiven.
I feel like I’m being beaten up by a giant wrestler labeled “Anime” and now a guy labeled “Chinese Productions” enters the ring and he’s hitting me with a folding chair.
There is no hell but the one we have made with our own hands.