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Dated 2 March 2021: Yuru Camp△ SEASON 2 is the best anime of Winter 2021 not featuring self-harm

Nadeshiko
I appreciate Nadeshiko's apparent immunity to fatigue.

Surprising no one who watched the first season, Yuru Camp△ SEASON 2 remains fantastic. I don't actually watch a lot of shows that I would expect to be similar in terms of tone and content, such as Yama no Susume (Encouragement of Climb), or Non Non Biyori, but perhaps I should, considering how much I enjoy Yuru Camp△. Then again, the majority of my interest in the show unmistakably centers around Rin specifically, and her various camping-related efforts. I mean, I like all the other characters too, but significantly less so, and I'm fairly sure this perspective is nearly universal among fans of the show.

Rin
So what happens if you do the suspension bridge thing alone?

Actually, there is one other character I know some Yuru Camp△ fans seem to like a lot: Nadeshiko's older sister, Sakura. For years now, Yuru Camp△ fan art has featured a lot of Rin x Sakura 'shipping. (Admittedly, it is one prolific artist who dominates this scene.) I found this pairing a little peculiar, since the two characters interacted basically not at all in the first season. Best I could figure, it was either in reference to something that developed later on in the source material, or ardent fans fabricated it whole cloth.

Sakura and Rin
You know, people would have lost their minds if Sakura
had been Nadeshiko's older brother instead.

Presuming the anime is adapting the original manga (as opposed to inventing stories to bolster the anime-tourism economy), it seems we've at least reached the genesis of this particular movement. I don't actually expect Yuru Camp△ to expand this meeting into a genuine romance, though. Fan enthusiasm aside, I really don't think it's that sort of show. Sorry, 'shippers, I'm pretty sure Sakura and Rin aren't going to be tearing each other's clothes off in a tent anytime soon. Besides, Rin wears a million layers even when she's napping by a space heater while she's ostensibly working in a library; she's probably wearing two million layers when she's camping in the winter.

Dated 10 September 2019: Y'all should read JK Haru Is a Sex Worker in Another World

Front cover: JK Haru is a Sex Worker in Another World
Despite being a light novel, JK Haru is not illustrated.

JK Haru wa Isekai de Shoufu ni Natta (JK Haru Is a Sex Worker in Another World) gained some notoriety last year when a licensed version became digitally available. Hard copies are now in print as well. Being an isekai light novel, the book is somewhat tongue-in-cheek despite the subject matter. However, I believe the tone it adopts appropriately approximates the sort of setup readers might expect in an isekai light novel about prostitution, thereby facilitating its ability to get them interested in the story before confronting them with the uncomfortable realities that correspond with sex work in general and the vulnerability of prostitutes specifically.

That said, JK Haru Is a Sex Worker in Another World is not a grim book, despite a number of unsettling scenes and events. Moreover, the misogyny and violence encountered in the fantasy world setting are not exactly out of line with the sorts of hazards women face in many sectors of our real world. It's a difficult balancing act for the text, contrasting amusing adventures with these threats. And while there is plenty of sex in JK Haru—as you might expect—the scenes are typically presented matter-of-factly and not written to titilate. Sex work in JK Haru is not glamorous, and the book keeps the attention on the work part, not the sex part.

Notably, I never felt as if JK Haru Is a Sex Worker in Another World was deliberately prurient the way that, frankly, so many light novels seems justifiably accused of being. I've seen enough comments on the Twitter to know many readers will disagree with me on this point, but I think this may have to do with one's initial expectations of the book and what sort of demands are placed on it. JK Haru is presented from Haru's first-person point of view, which I think makes it more effective at conveying the bleakness of her world and the impact of the events around her. Likewise, it also better communicates the joy she finds when she pursues various recreational diversions or actually has sex she enjoys. It also avoids presenting the violence in her world or the sadism she encounters as elements the reader is expected to like (unlike the corresponding scenes in some other light novels I might name). There are surely readers who do prefer that sort of content and wish JK Haru had more of it, but I'm inclined to regard that as an indictment against those readers themselves and not the text for obstensibly failing to omit it.

Incidentally, the various twists and reveals in JK Haru Is a Sex Worker in Another World are good enough that I recommend a spoiler-avoidance posture if you expect to read it.

Dated 30 July 2019: Nobody knew a Mari Okada sex disaster would have so much drama

Rika
Rika could stand to be a little less uptight.

Actually, wait, the title of this post is a lie. Probably everybody did. I, for one, am in it for the potential wall-to-wall traumarama. Somehow, Araburu Kisetsu no Otomedomo yo. (O Maidens in Your Savage Season) is my top Summer 2019 show through four episodes, even though I typically hate a lot of Okada Mari's work. Anohana is the best example of this, being a highly praised show about Deep Feelings which drove me nuts with its bullshit and lazy contrivances. On the other hand, I'm riveted in my front-row seat for Araoto as its melodrama plays out. So far, its themes of unrequited love, envy, lust, and cruelty are not especially unique, but they also don't have to be. Everything just works and I'm happy to see its characters struggle to make sense of this challenging stage in their lives.

Kazusa
We're going to be seeing this face a lot, I suspect.

With regard to my own feelings about the Okada-isms in Araburu Kisetsu no Otomedomo yo., it's not as if there haven't been shows I've liked despite of (or potentially because of) her contributions to them. Additionally, it's entirely unclear to me whether my opinions on Okada-type works are simply unreliable, whether the shows I end up liking were fixed by other collaborators, or whether it turns out I actually do like her work, but it's other people in the production cycle who fuck it up along the way. Seeing as how the Araoto anime is based on a manga that Okada Mari is authoring herself, there's a genuine possibility that "Pure Okada" is legitimately good, and sour products such as Anohana result from other cooks dumping shit into her broth. Or I suppose maybe I'm just finding her more palatable over the years.

Dated 1 July 2019: I'm watching Re:Zero because of Isekai Quartet

Emilia and Subaru
This is some compositing.

I tried watching Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu (Re:ZERO -Starting Life in Another World-) when it aired during the Spring 2016 anime season. I made it five episodes before dropping it because I found the show rather irritating. Fast forward to the Spring 2019 anime season, and somehow Isekai Quartet finished at the top of my rankings, edging out Kono Oto Tomare! I did, in fact, expect this to happen. (The watching part, not the ranking part, that is.) I've made it through the first cours of Re:Zero so far, and do have to admit it improves quite a bit after the initial episodes.

Emilia
Partial eclipse.

I'm a little surprised how few spoilers I knew, and how many I had forgotten. That probably helped, by preserving the sense of mystery that pervades the second half of the first cours. I do 100-percent still remember the Rem and Emilia spoiler which is still to come, though. However, since I don't actually 'ship any of the characters, knowing this probably isn't going to matter much one way or another. In any case, my renewed curiosity in Re:Zero is probably a testament to the success of Isekai Quartet as a marketing ploy. Seeing as how Isekai Quartet is getting a second season, with the promise of unspecified newcomers, I suppose it's possible the premise will expand to include more than just four Kadokawa-affiliated isekai properties, although then maybe they'll need to call the sequel something like Isekai Octet or whatever. I think I'd be okay with that.

Dated 15 January 2018: Everybody relax, it's not as if they're tearing each other's clothes off in Koi wa Ameagari no You ni

Masami
Masami does not come across quite as lame in the anime as he does in the manga.

Right up front, you should know Koi wa Ameagari no You ni (Love Is Like After the Rain) is about a teenage girl who falls in love with her 45-year-old manager at the family restaurant where she works part-time. Nevertheless, it is not as—as the kids say—"problematic" as you might think, maybe because it is seinen instead of shoujo. (This last part is not a joke. If you've read a lot of shoujo, you know the genre revels in "problematic" developments.) Assuming the anime basically follows the manga, I think we can expect something much closer to Sweetness and Lightning than, uh...actually, I can't think of a show off the top of my head that follows through with this sort of pairing. (This assumes Tsumugi and her teacher did not started tearing each other's clothes off at some point in the Amaama to Inazuma manga.)

Akira
There is a lot of glaring in this show.

Rather, Koi wa Ameagari no You ni offers beautiful animation (assuming you're fine with the elongated character designs) with solid WIT STUDIO production values and the potential for the noitaminA block to potentially mean something again. That is, you don't necessarily need to dodge the show if the premise makes you uncomfortable. (Likewise, if you find the premise titillating, expect to be disappointed.) In a season chock full of so many good shows already, I can't claim After the Rain qualifies as a "must see" by any means, but it is at least worthy of more consideration by potential viewers who may have prematurely dismissed it based on preconceptions.

Dated 2 January 2018: Two Car has a third wheel

Yuri and Megumi
Yuri > Megumi.

I was expecting Two Car to devote episodes to all of the various racing teams which it had introduced at the start of the series. In fact, while it did do this for a few of the groups (including the announcers), the show instead concluded by focusing on the lead pair. Specifically, it focused on the lead pair and their would-be love triangle rivalry over their coach. After the show's only male (and faceless, to boot) character skipped town at the end of the first episode, I thought for sure Two Car would simply finish with some vague promise of pursuing him to the Isle of Man where they would TT battle for his heart. But, in fact, he returned so Megumi and Yuri could compete for his affection once again. (At least he has a face now.)

Nene and Ai
The episode about these two was pretty good.

Based on the reactions I've encountered, it seems Two Car is somewhat niche in its appeal. I found this a little surprising, but possibly that simply means I'm part of that niche. In any case, I enjoyed Two Car quite a bit for what it is and its GIRLS und PANZER approach to ignoring the genuine hazards of its rather dangerous activity. I was also not put off by the romantic subplot involving the coach. It's obvious Megumi's and Yuri's feelings will never reach him, and none of the other characters have the slightest interest in him. In that respect, it's a lot less objectionable than, say, a harem comedy where Potato-kun obliviously stiff-arms overly eager girls by the helmet as they inexplicably pursue him for no Goddamn reason. In Two Car, he's mostly just an excuse for Megumi and Yuri to continue bitching each other out. I know this aspect of the show also aggravated the Bejesus out of some viewers, but I'm rather a fan of otherwise likable girls being horrible to each other for my amusement.

Dated 9 October 2017: The Ancient Magus' Bride reminds us that fairies are assholes

Chise
Arguably worse than mosquitoes.

The long-awaited anime adaptation of Mahō Tsukai no Yome (The Ancient Magus' Bride) is really here. Based on the first episode, Wit Studio is faithfully reproducing the look and feel of the magic realm (well, England, actually) where 15-year-old Chise finds herself. Although it's probably unrealistic to expect the standard set in the three prequel OVAs and the first episode to persist throughout the next two cours, I'm fairly confident Wit will be able to do the series justice. It's a gorgeous manga, so expectations for the anime are quite high. No pressure.

Chise
It's been a long day.

Despite the title, Mahoutsukai no Yome isn't really about a child bride, although the opening minutes of the anime (and the opening pages of the manga) are meant to invoke some troubling impressions. There are dark undercurrents in the series, but they're offset for the most part by the magic and splendor of the story and setting. I'm seven volumes deep into the English-language releases by Seven Seas Entertainment, so I've got a general idea where the anime is going to go. I'm still a bit uncertain how to promote it, since this isn't a title that relies on tremendous highs or emotional whirlwinds to keep readers interested. I suspect some of the complaints I saw about the OVAs' pacing will apply to the TV series as well, at least among some viewers. I'm by no means suggesting The Ancient Magus' Bride is for everyone, but it definitely deserves investigating for at least an episode or two. At a minimum, it's a stark rebuttal to the typical complaints people have about "anime these days."

Dated 19 June 2017: SukaSuka found romance at the WorldEnd

Chtholly
Best Girl.

Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka? continues to surpass all expectations. That an anime adaptation of a light novel with a ridiculous title (WorldEnd: What do you do at the end of the world? Are you busy? Will you save us?) could turn out to be one of the best shows of the year is somewhat absurd, yet here we are. With 10 episodes in and two to go, I'm looking forward to the ending which was telegraphed in the first episode's 60-second prologue, but I'll also be sad to reach the end of the series, given that successful anime romances are so rare.

Nephren and Ithea
Ithea Seal of Approval

Since the most basic criterion for a successful romance is a pair of characters that the audience wants to see achieve happiness together, you'd think at least this minimum bit would be more common. Unfortunately, anime can't quite rid itself of the worthless dipshits who seem to be the male leads more often than not. They lend a real dubious quality to the frequent arguments about which love interest should "win." Is it really winning when her counterpart is odious? We saw this problem last season in Seiren, for example. When I last wrote about it, I suggested it was getting better. Yeah, it turns out I was way wrong.

Chtholly, Willem, Nephren, and Ithea
Mini-Kashima Double Seal of Approval

Willem, thankfully, joins the vanishingly slim ranks of decent fellows in the pantheon of anime male leads. Moreover, he and Chtholly have genuine chemistry together. It helps that the other characters see it as well. This is not a harem comedy, and there are no real competitors for either character's affections. SukaSuka is very much about Willem and Chtholly falling in love, and the show is a lot better off this way.

Willem and Chtholly
Definitely not symbolism.

If that's all it takes to have an effective anime romance, then why are they so rare? I suppose it probably comes down to the primary consumers of anime having different standards and expectations than I do. Airing this season, for example, I presume some viewers might argue Eromanga-sensei is a "good" romance, even though it is very much a harem comedy where the Best Girl almost certainly won't "win." Additionally, I think you also have to be a bit fucked in the head to sincerely root for Potato-kun and the girl who we all know he will choose at the end of the light novel's run. Thankfully, this season also features Tsuki ga Kirei (The Moon Is Beautiful), which I stopped watching at episode three, but hope to finish eventually because it seems to be another Actually Good anime about romance, albeit of the junior high school variety.