Kemono Jihen premiere – A spate of mysterious livestock killings in a small town brings an expert from Tokyo to investigate. Inugami Kohachi has been hired to dispatch the creature believed to be responsible. But instead, he’s on a rescue mission, to help someone who doesn’t know the power they have, and needs to be trained before it’s too late.
This is a fairly standard opener to a story about kids and magical powers, featuring the hero who doesn’t even know anything about magic suddenly informed that he has it and whisked away to live with others of his kind. (In this case, the beast-people, the kemono of the title, are the children of humans and supernatural creatures.) It’s a reasonably competent rendition of the form, though a little darker and gorier than average. If midlist dark fantasy YA is what you’re looking for, this should fit the bill.
International streams: Funimation (US, Canada, UK, Ireland); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); Wakanim (Francosphere, Scandinavia, Russia, German-speaking Europe); Shahiid Anime (Middle East, North Africa); Muse Asia (South Asia); Bahamut Anime Crazy (Taiwan); bilibili (China)
Wonder Egg Priority premiere – Ōto Ai has been a shut-in ever since a traumatic event at school, but in her dreams she still roams her town. One night, she follows a talking insect into an underground realm where she gets a mysterious egg. When the egg breaks, another girl emerges, and Ai discovers that she has a chance to be the hero she needed in her waking life.
Japanese schools are notorious for extreme bullying of students who don’t conform, and a high rate of suicide stemming from it. Ai was a target of bullies because of her heterochromia, but it isn’t the bullying herself that she’s hiding from. Ai is driven by a very specific guilt over having abandoned a fellow victim.
This is the most wonderfullyl rendered show of the season. Ai’s apartment is all tiny, cluttered spaces, in contrast the the wide world she explores in her dreams. The dream world is a mixture of the completely normal and the utterly bizarre.
Ai herself is an engaging enough protagonist that you can’t help but cheer her on, even as you see the ominous aspects of the bargain she’s rushing into. Ai thinks she can save someone who should be beyond saving, but she wasn’t promised that explicitly. It may be that she can only save herself, and she isn’t ready to ask for that.
Either way, this is the best premiere of the year so far, and definitely deserves a second look.
Redo of Healer premiere – Keyaru is just a normal kid growing up in a fantasy world until one day, a voice guides him into the forest to perform a ritual he doesn’t remember learning. Then he suddenly remembers how he was mistreated in his previous life and how he swore to turn back time and exact revenge on those who wronged him. Also the ritual gives him the magical power to look at everyone’s character sheets because it’s yet another RPG-like world aaaaaaaargh.
Keyaru was seriously abused in the previous timeline, yet it is hard to be sympathetic to because he is a complete jerk, and totally overpowered, and the author has gone to great lengths to set things up so that all the people he needs to enact horrible retribution on so far are beautiful, high-status women.
In Redo of Healer we have all the worst elements of the modern light-novel adaptation: the lazy worldbuilding, the ridiculous RPG aspect which undercuts its desire to be taken Very Seriously, the protagonist for whom everything is too easy, and the huge dollop of misogyny on top. Avoid this at all costs.
International streams: HIDIVE (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa)
And that is it for the January premieres. Alice in Deadly School turns out to be an OVA (a direct-to-video miniseries) and episode 1 was only briefly available through Funimation, so everything that can be reviewed has been.
Now it’s time to turn our attention to some returning series, plus new shows that were worth a second look. Massive spoilers ahead!
Attack on Titan #61-65 – After a good long look at the catch-22 of oppression that the Eldians in Marley are trapped in, Eren is back at center stage and the Titans are raging again.
Now Attack on Titan draws an explicit parallel between current events and the beginning of the story. Just like the people of Ziganshina, the Marleyans are suddenly faced with a Titan appearing from nowhere, destroying their homes and killing indiscriminately. Just like at the beginning, they have been infiltrated by people who believe they are doing what they have to do to save their own land. And just like during Reiner’s years in the Survey Corps, Eren has been changed by the knowledge that his enemies are not a faceless mass of monsters but real human beings.
As Eren says to Reiner, “We were both trying to save the world.” But it’s not just them now. Willy Tybur has sacrificed himself in what he believes is a noble cause, trying to reveal the truth and stop Eren. And it’s Gabi Braun who is the most like the Eren of those first episodes now, full of rage after watching friends and family die before her eyes, ready to do anything to get revenge.
So the cycle continues, as Eren accepts an enormous amount of collateral damage in exchange for a chance to take down the War Hammer Titan. Because it is his story, we have to hope he’s come up with a way to stop the cycle. But how?
Higurashi: When They Cry – GOU #14-15 – Higurashi breaks its pattern now, starting by showing the end of the previous loop from Rika’s perspective. Sure enough, Ōishi went nuts and killed a bunch of people. But as we see in the next few loops, the immediate murderer is different every time. Something which can pass from person to person drives them into a killing rage. Something which has a particular hatred for Rika.
The last time we saw Rika talking to Hanyū, she said that she knew who the killer was. Did she mean the identity of the person wielding the weapon that killed her, or does she know what the mysterious something is? It does seem like she still has information she hasn’t said out loud, as some of the possessed people thought she had the answer to stopping the possession.
We finally get an answer here to whether this is truly a remake of the original Higurashi or not. It’s a sequel; Rika escaped Hinamizawa for a few years, but now something has dragged her back. After over a hundred years of this crap, it’s no wonder she’s tired of it and considering dropping out of the loop for good. The implication with Hanyū telling her about the magic weapon was that Rika could use it to stop the mysterious something which keeps killing her, but will she have the strength to do that?
Wonder Egg Priority #2 – Ai thinks she has it all figured out now. Get egg, free girl, fight off bullies, and she’s another step toward getting her friend back. There is the minor difficulty of her parents insisting on taking her to the hospital and bringing in a specialist to try to find out what the hell is going on, but this takes away very little of her valuable dreamworld time.
A tougher challenge is discovering that each girl she rescues will have her own distinct problems. Classroom bullies were only the problem the first time around. Ai’s new rescuee needs to free herself from a tyrannical gym teacher, and from her own warped expectations.
Meanwhile, Ai’s desire to be a better person leads her to try to initiate a friendship with the other girl she sees collecting eggs. Aonuma Neira is another obvious target for bullies, and also has someone close to her that she wants to save (or bring back?). But her quest hasn’t changed her in the same way Ai’s has; instead, she avoids new human connections while pursuing her mission singlemindedly.
So this looks like a story of trauma, but also found friendship and building a refuge, on the border between reality and dreams.
Otherside Picnic #2-3 – The second encounter with the wiggle-waggles leaves both Sorao and Toriko with physical changes which grant them new abilities in navigating the Otherside. Sorao is convinced that this means it is definitely time to stop visiting there, but somehow she keeps agreeing to more expeditions.
So we have, for now, a standard episodic structure: Toriko convinces Sorao to visit the Otherside again, weird crap happens, an urban legend is encountered, and the women just barely escape. The mortal perils are somehow less scary than the little details of the Otherside. Like the glitches which make you combust if you touch the wrong volume of air, or discovering an abandoned village which apparently used to be inhabited by something humanlike, except it uses three chopsticks instead of two.
On the romance front, not a whole lot is happening yet, but Sorao is aware that romance is in the air. She knows she’s attracted to Toriko, and she’s jealous of the departed Satsuki for occupying so much of Toriko’s attention.
Satsuki herself is one of those aspects which gets more disturbing the more we learn about her. She apprently was so confident navigating the Otherside, for instance, that Toriko never learned to watch for glitches. Either she had been travelling there for a very long time, or perhaps she had been changed by it as well.
Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World- #39-40 – When we last left Natsuki Subaru, he had discovered that his current personal trolley problem had been carefully constructed to leave him with impossible choices. But after having some sense punched into him by his new best friend, he has a plan. He’s going to save the people of the Sanctuary and his friends back at the mansion, and no one will have to go mad, get disemboweled, freeze in a sudden ice age, or be eaten by carnivorous rabbits.
Step 1: After all this time he’s spent worrying about Emilia and her failure to pass the first trial, someone points out that he could, you know, talk to her and find out what’s holding her back. So he finally does, and the first peril is cleared when Puck parts ways with Emilia, meaning the threat of the ice age is gone. Confiding in Otto also brings him help he never knew he could use, as Otto turns out to have a remarkable talent which was never mentioned before.
As Otto says, Subaru is the kind of guy who wants to take everything on himself, and then panics and flails because he doesn’t know how to handle it. But what keeps us watching is that he does eventually figure it out.
Dr. Stone season 2 premiere – The end of winter is coming, and the Kingdom of Science has to move fast if it wants to get the drop on the Empire of Might. Senkū has one more invention up his sleeve, and then its time to put his plan into action, whatever that plan might be.
Dr. Stone has not changed one bit on hiatus. Senkū is still irrepressible, ready to win everyone he can over to the wonders of science, and full of confidence that he can still save everyone, even fighting a war. The villagers are a Greek chorus of amazement at every new wonder of the modern world. (Okay, technically this week’s wonder goes back as far as the 1200s in the Andes, but still, it’s more advanced than anything the new Stone Age had seen before Senkū turned up.)
Asagiri Gen is still the dirty-tricks specialist, and he’s the one who comes up with an idea that could very well paralyze the Empire just long enough for Senkū and friends to win. Except if it works, this story would not fill an entire season.
Jujutsu Kaisen #14 – The inter-school battle is nigh, and things are not going well for Yūji. His classmates are less relieved and more angry than he expected that he was alive for a month and didn’t tell them. The opposing students have orders to kill him. And powerful curse entities are conspiring to accelerate the development of the malevolent sorcerer whose spirit he carries.
Still, this is a school battle arc, which traditionally serves as padding shōnen manga between meatier developments. Highly artificial challenges will be deployed, individual student quirks will be displayed, and little is likely to be changed at the end of it beyond maybe a few people having a little more respect for each other’s abilities.
Gekidol #2 – With bills coming due, the theater group needs to raise their profile and, ideally, some money. It turns out they have an idol singer in their midst, who has a great idea: join her in singing contests and they can achieve both goals. Thus is born a unique group which supplements its singing performances with dramatic acting.
Despite all the exciting sfnal possibilities at its fingertips, Gekidol has now made a clear statement of its intentions, and they are to do yet another generic idol show with one small twist. We do get a little more development on the technology side, revealing the probable reason for the periodic citywide blackouts, but its heart is firmly on that concert stage. Oh well.
And now it’s time again to try to cut the lineup to just five shows to keep up with for the rest of the season. This is probably the toughest time I’ve ever had doing that. But after agonizing over it, here goes: Otherside Picnic, Higurashi, Attack on Titan, Wonder Egg Priority, and Re:ZERO are in. Jujutsu Kaisen and Dr. Stone are only out for now, and may be picked up again in a future season.