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Dated 14 January 2020: 22/7, In/Spectre, and Fate/Baby are my top three shows of the Winter 2020 anime season

Ishtar
Ishtar is a game-breaking home run.

If you believe in my B.S. episode ratings, Fate/Grand Order: Zettai Majuu Sensen Babylonia (Fate/Grand Order: Absolute Demonic Front Babylonia) is my highest-ranked show so far this season. Fate/Baby sure sounds great and looks fuckin' fantastic, but I can't exactly call it a good show. It's one of those anime where I can't quite care about what happens, and it probably only genuinely makes sense to people who are enthusiastic about the Fate/Grand Order game. But none of that presents much of an obstacle to my ability to enjoy the series. I mentioned that it sounds great, and that's not just because it features Ueda Kana yammering back and forth on a regular basis. The audio mix for the sound effects during the frequent battles makes for an entertaining experience if you've bothered with an audio setup that can take advantage of it. Visually, the animation also remains impeccable.

Sakura, Miu, and Reika
Welcome to to idol mines, suckers.

Thankfully, 22/7 (Nanabun no Nijyuuni) also looks good. I'm expecting some janky 3DCG bits once we get to the all-singing, all-dancing portions of this idol show, but the anime looks pretty good so far, at least. I've been medium-hyped for 22/7 for some time now, thanks to Sally Amaki being a bilingual goofball on the Twitter. I'm hoping her character gets some English lines that aren't complete non sequiturs, though. Each of the idols had a different character designer, but the styles got evened out so they look more uniform when they're together. (Like in the Pretty Cure team-up movies.) This is the sensible thing to do, but I sort of wish they could have remained unique for reasons not at all explained in the show.

Kotoko
Nice hat.

I wasn't sure what to expect from In/Spectre (Kyokou Suiri), but I knew fans of the manga were looking forward to the anime adaptation, and the trailer looked okay. The first episode was good, and I like Kotoko so far, even though she doesn't have any depth perception. She also seems to move pretty well, despite her prosthetic leg. It sort of seems as if her cane is mostly for show. Frankly, it's a little early yet to judge In/Spectre (or 22/7, for that matter), but my top three anime of Winter 2020 at the moment all have / in their titles, and this was a serendipitous bloggering opportunity I didn't want to pass up. I'm sure y'all understand.

Dated 24 December 2019: I didn't plan to write back-to-back Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld entries

Yui
Go on, Yui, curse the bitches out.

Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld has a mind of its own. Or at least, Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld is about AIs having minds of their own. Specifically, Alice Synthesis Thirty MacGuffin is the prize AI the bad men are trying to seize because she is a real girl. Never mind that Sword Art Online has had a Real Girl AI almost from the start in the form of Yui, Kirito's and Asuna's adopted daughter. Yui isn't even a secret!

Pope
It's not easy being pope.

For that matter, I'm not sure there's any meaningful distinction between the Underworld AI yahoos and the "real world" regular-ass people. I certainly regard Alice as being every bit as much as a real character as I do, say, Asuna, even though Alice is very yellow. I definitely regarded the pope as being more of a real person than nearly every other Sword Art Online villain (including the current ones). Ultimately, this has a lot less to do with Alice and the pope being AIs than it does with Sword Art Online having lots of terribly written characters—especially when it comes to its villains.

Alice
This reminds me I need to get a new video card.

I'm inclined to believe Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld theoretically could actually have something intelligent to say about artificial intelligence and what makes someone a real person, but any chance it had got undermined by the really awful writing that has plagued the franchise from the beginning. I still find it entertaining, even though Alice is very yellow, but I do wish the franchise would move past its more egregious tropes. The Ordinal Scale movie accomplished this with some success, but it seems to be the exception, not the norm.

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.

Dated 22 October 2019: I am legit stoked about Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld

Alice
The most powerful swords are the ones without blades.

I am counting on reports from the Twitter that the War of Underworld arc of Sword Art Online: Alicization will be mostly Kirito-free for all of the next cours and a third of the final one. Based on how the AIDS "Mother's Rosario" arc and the Gun Gale Online spin-off panned out, I'm expecting to enjoy this quite a bit. For one thing, I already view Alice Synthesis Thirty pretty favorably, even though it's mostly because she sounds like an old sourpuss instead of a teenage girl when she talks, and because I think her armor's yellow and blue color scheme works really well—never mind that I sort of dislike UCLA.

Alice
I wanted to see unattended Coma Kirito fall off Alice's dragon.

After a perfunctory recap episode and two proper episodes of Sword Art Online: Alicization - War of Underworld, the anime seems to be off to a good start. True to SAO form, there sure are a lot of sneering assholes among the various unimportant characters. I'm okay with it, because Lalatina is entirely too resilient for any of these scrubs to fuck with, and I don't really care if random schmucks are dicks to Kirito for no reason. Honestly, I don't even know what War on Underpants War of Underworld is even about (so far it is about playing a Goblin Slayer simulator on easy mode), but it sort of doesn't matter as long as it's at least indirectly about Alice being very yellow. She sure ditched that eye patch rather fast, though.

Dated 6 August 2019: There's less impenetrable lore so far in Lord El-Melloi II Sei no Jikenbo {Rail Zeppelin} Grace note than I was expecting

Reines
Sure are a lot of TYPE-MOON characters with crazy eyes.

There's a non-zero chance I started watching Lord El-Melloi II Sei no Jikenbo {Rail Zeppelin} Grace note (The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II) because I dropped Tsuujou Kougeki ga Zentai Kougeki de Ni-kai Kougeki no Okaasan wa Suki desu ka? (Do You Love Your Mom and Her Two-Hit Multi-Target Attacks?) and Uchi no Ko no Tame Naraba, Ore wa Moshikashitara Maou mo Taoseru Kamo Shirenai. (For My Daughter, I'd Even Defeat a Demon Lord), leaving my queue empty of shows with super-long titles (unless you count Symphogear). Besides, The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II features Ueda Reina in the voice cast, production by TROYCA, and I'm basically too far down TYPE-MOON's Fate-franchise rabbit hole to not at least give new installments a chance. Speaking of which, I'm going to go ahead and say newcomers can forget about trying to get up to speed on all the Fate mumbo jumbo before watching this. Someone going in blind with no prior knowledge of the Fate universe can get by well enough. Although it would probably help to at least watch Fate/Zero, I don't think it's strictly necessary, based on how I'm faring despite having forgotten a lot about Fate/Zero by now. Frankly, there's just entirely too much Fate canon to explore, and it goes back so far that it's not really reasonable to expect new viewers to have seen all the previous installments before starting Rail Zeppelin.

Gray, Waver, and Kairi
Hey, it's that guy.

Thankfully, the first six episodes (this includes the episode 0 special prequel) of Lord El-Melloi II Sei no Jikenbo {Rail Zeppelin} Grace note have been fairly episodic, and free of the wall-to-wall nonsense that saturates all things Fate. (E.g., the series does explain eventually what the fuck a "Rail Zeppelin" is.) So far, The Case Files of Lord El-Melloi II has been about, well, the case files of Lord El-Melloi II. It's a detective show featuring mages set a little before the start of the Holy Grail War from the original Fate/stay night game and its direct anime adaptations. I get the feeling this isn't necessarily going to remain the case for much longer, because surely a show set in the Fate universe isn't going to go too long without piling on more convoluted, interconnected plot threads, right? Even Fate/kaleid liner Prisma☆Illya wasn't able to resist lore's allure. Frankly, I'd be content if Lord El-Melloi II Case Files: Rail Zeppelin Grace Note remained mostly an excuse for TYPE-MOON cameos, but I'm fine with it either way.

Dated 29 April 2019: Kono Oto Tomare! Sounds of Life is the best show of the Spring 2019 anime season

Hozuki
I can appreciate a girl who looks down on people.

Somewhat surprisingly, I am enjoying Kono Oto Tomare! Sounds of Life the most out of the shows I'm watching this season. Although my initial impressions were positive, I was still somewhat dubious until Hozuki's appearance in the second episode sealed the deal for me. I suppose if you wanted to distill her appeal down to standard anime cliches, you could chalk it up to the power of gap moé or tsundere conventions, but I do appreciate that she's the only member of this koto club who can play the instrument worth a damn. I'm also glad that her putative love interest in the show appears to be the angry delinquent kid and not Potato-kun.

Chika
Yaoi hand.

It also helps that the conflicts between Angry Delinquent and Potato-kun in the first episode feel more like something out of a shoujo manga than a shounen one. (The source material is described as shounen and runs in Jump SQ.) There were some borderline scenes in the first episode that involved clichés I hate, though. Notably, the anime convention where the first person at the scene of a crime is seen by the second person at the scene and immediately assumed to be the perpetrator. (See, for example, Boku dake ga Inai Machi (ERASED).) However, the way this plays out in Kono Oto Tomare! is at least related to preconceptions people have about others and not just the the dumb cliché in its raw form. Luckily, my own preconceptions for Kono Oto Tomare! itself did not bear out and I'll get to watch Hozuki shred for two cours.

Dated 14 January 2019: There are two Girls with Planes shows in the Winter 2019 anime season

Gripen and Kei
No, this is not a Meet Cute.

Technically, I guess there's only one show about girls with planes: Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai (The Magnificent KOTOBUKI), since Girly Air Force seems to be about girls who are planes. Both shows have only one episode out so far, but Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai seems to be far and away the better show. For one thing, the planes in Girly Air Force are strictly 3DCG sentient artificial intelligence jobbies based on contemporary jet fighters. For other, Potato-kun is in Girly Air Force. He's not too bad, actually, but the cranky Chinese girl he's partnered with is going to get annoying if she doesn't get any actual character development. Probably the real weakness of the show will be the so-called "Xi" menace which is responsible for war in China and all the refugees from the mainland fleeing to Japan. Bogus opponents hurt Strike Witches and Sky Girls and will probably hurt Girly Air Force for all the same reasons.

Kirie
The googles do nothing.

Thankfully, enemy aircraft in Kouya no Kotobuki Hikoutai appear to have human pilots (although none were clearly shown in the first episode). At a minimum, they certainly have more personality than the Xi or the Neuroi or WORMs, even if it's only revealed in little displays such as the dipped wings at the conclusion of an air battle. Kotobuki also benefits from direction by Mizushima Tsutomu who looks ready to combine ideas from his work on GIRLS und PANZER and The Third Girls Aerial Squad of Shirobako fame. Curiously, the female characters are all 3DCG (but look good for basically the same reason 3DCG characters worked in Bubuki Buranki, as opposed to Ajin). I don't know how realistic the air battles are in Kotobuki, but they look and sound great, and the anime goes out of its way to show details of the controls. Overall, the dogfighting depicted with The Magnificient KOTOBUKI's propeller-driven planes is much more compelling than the super high-G BFM (read: bullshit fighter maneuvers) demonstrated by the AI jets of Girly Air Force.

Zero
He probably also has a video about the Hayabusa.

Incidentally, if you're interested in the practical elements of World War II fighter aircraft and the associated engineering aspects that influence performance and combat effectiveness, "Greg's Airplanes and Automobiles" on the YouTube is fascinating.

Dated 10 December 2018: I guess I'm going to be watching GeGeGe no Kitarou indefinitely now

Kitarou and Medama Oyaji
Neither of these two have binocular vision.

I saw an announcement about the next GeGeGe no Kitarou ED planned for January. I guess this means the show will be continuing through at least the Winter 2019 anime season, giving it a yearlong run. More, if it continues after that uninterrupted. I'm mostly content to continue watching it as long as there are new episodes. It's been a reliably good family show through the 35 episodes I've seen, and I can appreciate it for its decades-spanning impact.

NekoMusume and Agnès
Hey, she's wearing a different outfit.

For a show with so much history, it's unexpectedly eager to challenge certain subjects I'm not accustomed to encountering in anime. Notably, there was an episode concerning World War II that spoke directly to an apparent failure in the current education system to adequately cover Japan's roles in the war. Then there's the current major arc involving foreign yokai (some of whom were outright refugees) and the different receptions they face, from sympathy to outright hostility as both xenophobia as well as some understandably unwelcome foreign yokai behavior created flashpoints not unlike contemporary real-world events and concerns. Or perhaps it's because GeGeGe no Kitarou has so much history and is such an established part of the anime landscape that it has greater latitude to address these topics.