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Dated 6 April 2021: IDOLY PRIDE and SukaSuka both spoiled their anime endings during the opening minutes of their first episodes

Kotono
It's not easy being an idol.

IDOLY PRIDE turned out to be a much more satisfying anime than I was expecting. I already had some idea where the show was going, since it became increasingly clear what the first episode's prologue implied as the anime progressed. Nevertheless, it also still retained enough ambiguity to allow the show to develop dramatic tension as it approached its climax. Ultimately, this was still very much a story about Mana and Makino, and remembering this worked out well for the anime.

Mana
What is the sound of one ghost clapping?

However, there is more to IDOLY PRIDE than just the anime, and this is where my lack of familiarity with the franchise as a whole falters. Based on the release dates of the associated videos on the YouTube, IDOLY PRIDE has been in the works for over a year. Was it just delayed for reasons related to the COVID-19 pandemic, or was it originally planned as an extended mixed-media production? There are CDs to purchase, and a mobile game of some sort to play, but I don't know how critical the anime itself is to the whole.

Chtholly
Goodbye, Chtholly's last bit of blue hair.

I didn't really need to mention SukaSuka here, since it's not as if Shuumatsu Nani Shitemasu ka? Isogashii desu ka? Sukutte Moratte Ii desu ka? and IDOLY PRIDE really have that much in common aside from dropping spoilers at the start of the first episode. The SukaSuka spoilers are much more overt, though, and consequently much more memorable. There is also a certain finality to the series, in that while there are still additional volumes to adapt, adding a sequel to SukaSuka would not necessarily be the same thing as "making more" SukaSuka. In the case of IDOLY PRIDE, there are certainly enough characters to provide new opportunities for expansion through sequels, but I'm hesitant to suggest there's any need at this stage.

Dated 23 March 2021: Higurashi gets good after 74 episodes

Rena and Mion
It turns out I don't really like these two.

I need to caveat this post by acknowledging that I effectively don't know anything about the Higurashi franchise. I initially tried watching the first anime back in 2006, but dropped it after (I think) the first episode because I didn't find it interesting. It subsequently ran for 26 episodes, then 24 more in 2007. Somewhere in there we'll also find 11 assorted episodes that dropped at various times before Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou started in 2020.

Satoko
Satoko seems like a pleasant kid who probably has a stable home life.

I was aware of the franchise's popularity, and knew that Higurashi somehow fit into a much larger extended universe which included properties such as Umineko no Naku Koro ni. I basically don't know anything about these other titles either, though. Nevertheless, I decided to give the 2020 anime a chance because all these factors must mean it's got to have something going for it, right? Besides, it meant the return of Yukino Satsuki, and I love me some Yukino Satsuki. I'm also a fan of Nakahara Mai, so how bad could it be?

Rika
I guess this is not a "NIPAH" sort of moment.

Well, getting through the first 13 episodes of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Gou was a slog. I still have no idea how much it departed from the previous anime. I also don't know whether watching the previous anime is really required. Likewise, I don't know how necessary it is to have read the visual novels first either. Approaching the 2020 anime strictly as a neophyte anime-only viewer, I was teased something special on occasion, but lacked the proper context to fully appreciate those moments. On the other hand, the show regularly confronted me with my ever-increasing dislike for Keiichi, Rena, and Detective Ooishi.

Satoko
I'm pretty sure this qualifies as a huge spoiler.

Fortunately, episode 14 and all subsequent episodes focused on other characters. Suddenly, Keiichi was no longer the primary protagonist, and Higurashi is actually pretty good! I can't claim I really understand what's going on, but it's at least a lot more enjoyable and interesting to watch than everything I've seen prior. In fact, I'm even looking forward to the next cours which is slated to start in July 2021.

Featherine and Satoko
Maybe not as big as this shot.

Does it really take Higurashi 74 episodes to get good? Presumably not. But if the previous anime is anything like the present anime, then I feel comfortable about assuming it does not get good until Keiichi stops being its main character. If it turns out episodes were centered around him for the previous anime's entire run—and there isn't a departure until episode 14 of Gou—then, yeah, it doesn't get good until after 74 episodes.

Dated 16 February 2021: This is an IDOLY PRIDE spoiler, but I don't think it matters anymore

Mana
"I can see my house from here."

There are plenty of other shows I'm watching that I should probably write about instead, but y'all getting an IDOLY PRIDE update instead. Deal with it. Okay, so after six episodes, I don't know why there is a ghost. Mana gives Makino someone to talk to, but there's no reason why she needs to be dead. She could have just retired, or started her own production company instead, or any number of other options. Or she could still have died, but not returned as a ghost. So far, Mana returning as a ghost has had no meaningful impact on the story.

Mana and Makino
I wonder if Mana can change her outfit.

And we do have confirmation that she's an actual ghost (as opposed to a hallucination). One of the other idols can see her, although they haven't continued interacting after the episode with the initial revelation. If we're racking and stacking idols in the show, I do like Mana best, so I appreciate having her around, but I was sort of expecting her whole phantasmness to have a bigger role in shaping the IDOLY PRIDE lore. As far as I can tell, there aren't even any other ghosts in IDOLY PRIDE—former idols or otherwise.

Dated 26 January 2021: I could tell you about all the good anime I'm watching this season, or I could tell you about IDOLY PRIDE instead

Kotono
We can tell you're the kid sister because you look the same except for having darker hair.

Actually, wait, IDOLY PRIDE is pretty good too, or at least it is for sufficiently generous definitions of good. I started watching IDOLY PRIDE because it was described as an original anime and the PV made the show seem oddly sincere. Meaning, I was expecting a brand new entry into the idol wars to lean more on a gimmick of some sort. (See, for example, this season's Gekidol and its gimmick.) However, it looked as if IDOLY PRIDE would simply be a straightforward show about idols trying their best. [Spoilers: It is not.]

Kouhei and Mana
She is sort of distracting.

So yeah, there is a gimmick. (Spoilers from here on out.) One of the idols is a ghost. Well, not one of the idols in the troupe, but there is a ghost. Specifically, it's the older sister of the dour idol who has main-character hair. However, the only one who can see or hear her is her old manager (a former classmate from high school) who is now in charge of a lot of rookie idols. I'll need to go back and re-watch some scenes to be sure, but I suspect it's also entirely possible that there is no ghost and Manager Guy (Kouhei) is just cracking up. I mean, he does do that thing where he'll look in her direction and respond aloud to her while everyone else around him is deeply confused by his constant non sequiturs. I have to say that's probably a worrying trait to see in someone who is responsible for your career.

Kouhei and Mana
Mana doesn't cast reflections or shadows, but Kouhei appeared to feel her leaning on him.

Whether Mana actually is a ghost or just a constant hallucination that Kouhei can't shake, I'm enjoying the dynamic. I get the feeling a single-cours anime is not going to be long enough to get me invested in what the other idols have going on, but I am enjoying IDOLY PRIDE so far. In fact, I'm probably enjoying it somewhat disproportionately, since I'm not sure I can really characterize the show as being anything more than merely okay. Still, I'm eager to see where this is going, even though I suspect it would probably be better as a ghost-girlfriend romance than as an idol show about rookies doing their best.

Dated 5 January 2021: Kamisama ni Natta Hi is not a good anime

Hina and Youta
I had to include a picture of these two because they're the main characters.

Despite a promising first episode, Kamisama ni Natta Hi (The Day I Became a God) turned out to be fairly awful in a number of areas, and likely disappointed even fans of Key's usual shtick. Critically, I felt nothing when The Big Sad Thing inevitably happened. This despite reports Maeda Jun intended for it to be the saddest anime ever. Surprising no one, I'm sure, Hina suffers debilitating mental degradation just as Potato-kun comes to realize how important she has become to him. Unfortunately, the way he conveys his emotions and the actions he takes for pretty much the entire rest of the anime are aggravating to watch. It's sort of baffling, even if you're already expecting this to happen to some degree.

Kyouko
For real, though, Kyouko had excellent hair.

Ultimately, it's entirely unrewarding. I can see how at least in theory Kamisama ni Natta Hi looked like it could succeed when viewed as an outline or synopsis (you know, assuming you're okay with infantalizing love interests), but it certainly fell apart somewhere between the initial pitch and the screen. It's not all bad, though. I genuinely enjoyed the mostly standalone episode where Violet Evergarden and her father come to grips with Dead Mom Subplot. That basically had all the, uh, Key elements of Maeda Jun's bullshit done right. And I liked the Mahjong Calvinball episode which had the sort of high-energy wackiness I remember from the Angel Beats! fishing episode. The Day I Became a God did continue to have some nice gags throughout its run, although the first episode probably had the most successful jokes. I'm still willing to watch the next Key anime, but I get the feeling I'll enjoy it a lot more if its a sports comedy of some sort instead of another romance involving mentally impaired girls.

Dated 29 September 2020: The End of Oregairu ~Air/My Purest Yahallo for Thee~

Iroha
BEST GIRL.

Yahari Ore no Seishun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru. Kan (My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU Climax!, among other localized names) completed the three-season run of a harem comedy that fared surprisingly well despite my initial misgivings. Generally speaking, the term "harem comedy" itself feels anachronistic now and less appropriate even when applied to shows such as Gotoubun no Hanayome (The Quintessential Quintuplets) compared to the label's Love Hina-era association (at least in my mind). I suppose it's probably still applicable for shows such as Kanojo, Okarishimasu (Rent-a-Girlfriend). But I digress.

Yui
Oregairu might have been a better series if told from Yui's point of view.

These types of shows invoke a competitive element that pits various female protagonists against each other to vie for the male lead's affection, ultimately "winning" by becoming the romantic interest he selects at the conclusion of the series. Longtime readers of this blog may remember I'm not a fan of this construct when the male lead is so frequently a dull sap, to say nothing of the ones who are legitimately terrible cretins. I'm did not watch Kanojo, Okarishimasu, but I did watch it get shredded on the Twitter, and Potato-kun appears to be a colossal douche in addition to the show's numerous other problems. Does the girl who ultimately ends up with such a character really win? [Spoilers: No.]

Hachiman and Yukino
Kids and their selfies.

Oregairu does not suffer from this particular problem, at least by its conclusion. Hachiman in the third season is no longer the same person he was in the first season. Unfortunately, the girl who ultimately "wins" has her own issues. [Spoilers henceforth, obviously, if you haven't already either seen this coming or learned about it via some other way, such as discussions about the light novels' ending.]

Komachi and Iroha
It's about the future, Madam Chancellor.

Yukino is not interesting. She is supposed to be the most complex of the various love interests, and has some significant hang-ups that admittedly align well with Hachiman's character, but I never found her problems or growth compelling. As far as "winning" the harem comedy contest goes, she is the most sensible one to pair with Hachiman, but my lack of investment in their relationship makes the show's resolution somewhat hollow. Ultimately, it was still a good journey, and I can appreciate why Oregairu accumulated so much praise during its run, but I can't quite point to it as a much-watch show by any means.

Dated 18 August 2020: Sure not a lot of Alice in this season of Sword Art Online: Alicization

Asuna
How's it going, Asuna? Good?

I enjoyed the first half of Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld because it focused mainly on Alice Synthesis Thirty. Sword Art Online is still Kirito's show, but he spent most of those episodes sort of mentally checked out while ol' 30 wheeled him around the war. Well, Kirito hasn't been doing a whole lot during the current cours either. His mind is still locked in the nightmare prison of his psyche, but XXX hasn't been dragging him around because Alice herself hasn't been around much. Mostly it's just Asuna and various other characters from previous seasons having a bad time.

Eugeo and Kirito
Kirito is really busy right now, Eugeo.

About those various other characters.... Well, there is no way to talk about the following without spoiling Sword Art Online II and Sword Art Online: Ordinal Scale as well as episode 18 of War of Underworld, so avert your eyes if you care about that sort of thing.

Asuna and Yuuki
Fortuitously, meeting Yuuki was not an SAO memory for Asuna.

I like watching Sword Art Online despite being dissatisfied with the vast majority of it. A notable exception is the "Mother's Rosario" arc (i.e., the AIDS arc) which I regard as legitimately good, or at least as good as SAO ever gets. Consequently, the very brief callback in the Ordinal Scale movie to Yuuki's gift genuinely resonated with me, and I still enjoy the scene now as much as I did the first time.

Yuuki and Asuna
This was probably better in the books or if you hadn't already seen the Ordinal Scale version.

Episode 18 of War of Underworld also invokes Yuuki, but in a much less satisfying manner. I'm pretty sure this scene was originally written before the Ordinal Scale one, so you could argue the movie stole its thunder. In any case, Asuna drawing strength from Yuuki simply did not work for me in this instance. What did work was the appearance of Eiji and Yuna in the previous week's episode. I was legitimately surprised (largely because I failed to recognize them at all in their earlier cameo). I don't have strong opinions about Eiji or Yuna one way or another, but I enjoyed their surprise appearance.

Yuna
LISTEN TO MY SONG!

There is something that I'm unsure about, though. As I understand it, anyone converting their ALfheim Online or whatever characters to enter the Underworld server risks permanent character death, which is why Lisbeth had such a hard time gathering support when she pleaded for help. So what character did Eiji use? Yuna, I imagine, just sort camps out on the old SAO server (which nobody has scrapped, luckily for her) and doesn't need to abide by any real rules, but Eiji was using an ALO character, right? Does it matter? Is he bummed that it's (presumably) gone now unless the dudes on the Ocean Turtle can get around to restoring it? Is there anything stopping Eiji from simply rejoining the way American, Korean, and Chinese griefers joined? For that matter, are any of them generating new characters and rejoining over and over? I get the feeling we're just not supposed to think about any of this.

Dated 17 December 2019: The war in Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld is not much of a war

Alice
This break in the battle has lasted so long that Alice changed into her pajamas.

It's not particularly sensible to demand accurate war-type stuff in an anime, especially something like Sword Art Online, but they did put War in the title, and they have been building up to this particular conflict for some time. What we've gotten instead is tens of thousands of random schmucks directly facing each other in a narrow canyon making no effort to do anything other than having head-to-head fights. Some people might claim that the battles at least look pretty cool, but that's a concession I'm not willing to make this season, what with Fate/Grand Order: Zettai Majuu Sensen Babylonia raising the bar to ridiculous new levels every week now.

<Divine> Maybe that's just what happens when two sides who don't know what war is given it a try

That's basically it. Now, I'm not unreasonable enough to demand "actually realistic" war in my SAO ~ War Is All Hell ~ anime, but I would have given it a pass without commenting on it had it at least aspired to, say, Strike Witches: War on Underpants levels of realism.

Asuna and Alice
This show is called Alicization, not Asunization, toots.

Now that I've got this bitching out of the way, I guess I can get around to the main point of this post: Spoiling the most recent episode of Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld. So, Asuna finally logs into the AI world and is immediately beset upon by an extremely yellow blur. Everyone eventually calms the fuck down, though. They even listen to the batshit crazy things Asuna tells them. Frankly, I'm impressed they don't even seem irked that she's referring to her own world as the "real world." Yeah, these AIs are living in a computer, but it probably feels pretty real to them. I would be at least a little insulted. On the plus side, at least she isn't being racist about it.

Kirito
Have you tried rebooting the Kirito in the "real world"?

I'm generally pro-Asuna, even though she hasn't fared particularly well as an actual character in Sword Art Online as a franchise. It was also not encouraging to see all the latest members of Kirito's ever-expanding harem butt in for additional deban and to boast about how great their times with him have been. Hopefully, they're getting all of this out of the way now, and maybe the show can go back to leaving him in a wagon somewhere while Alice is off doing very yellow very important things. I'm okay with Asuna coming along too, providing she doesn't spend all her time talking about Kirito.