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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 8 October 2019: Araburu Kisetsu no Otomedomo yo。 was the best show of the Summer 2019 anime season

Sugawara
Lewd.

I suppose I need to set aside my anti-Okada bias now that I've enjoyed one of her melodramas so much. As far as sex disasters go, Araburu Kisetsu no Otomedomo yo。 was honestly a little light on the sex and not as traumatic in the disaster department as I would have liked, but O Maidens in Your Savage Season did have the courage to do a lot of things that I don't think an Okada-free show would have attempted. Framed in the sense that tragedies end in murder while comedies end in marriage. I was optimistically hoping Araoto would turn out to be a tragedy, but I still liked it quite a bit even though it turned out to be a comedy.

Sonezaki
Relax, it's only lust.

Not that there wasn't tragic stuff in it, but we're talking emotional-trauma tragic, not murder-suicide tragic. I do wish Araburu Kisetsu no Otomedomo yo。 had not gone quite so easy on the arcs that had the best opportunities for going really poorly for everyone involved, but I acknowledge this is a sadistic perspective. Besides, fully exploring some of the paths that its characters could have taken would have changed the tone of the show dramatically. Probably I still would have been entertained, but I appreciate that many viewers would not have been as accepting. Still, I don't think it's entirely unreasonable to hope an Okada Mari sex disaster would end with a murder instead of a marriage. I'm just sayin'.

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 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 13 May 2019: Isekai Quartet is a ploy to get us to watch more isekai anime

Ainz
It's because Ainz can't close his eyes. He has no eyelids.

As far as gimmicks go, I find Isekai Quartet fairly effective because I'm a sucker for crossovers. Plus, I was already a fan of the Ple Ple Pleiades shorts accompanying the Overlord anime. Isekai Quartet essentially expands Ple Ple Pleiades by adding characters from Re:Zero kara Hajimeru Isekai Seikatsu, Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo!, and Youjo Senki for additionally high-wacky antics. I have watched all of these shows, and although I dropped Re:Zero after five episodes, I'm at least familiar enough with the franchise to understand the basic references and character dynamics.

Ram
Ram seems okay.

As far as the show itself goes, Isekai Quartet has half-length episodes and is not particularly ambitious. It seems to mostly trust that viewers will enjoy seeing the interactions among characters from different shows they already like. Nobody strays too far from their idiom, and the series is entertaining enough for what it is. Isekai Quartet is surely also an effort to encourage viewers to explore these shows further if they didn't catch them the first time around. Youjo Senki and Konosuba both have movies I want to watch, and Re:Zero recently announced a sequel. I have to admit that I'm amused enough by Ram's mistreatment of Subaru during each episode of Isekai Quartet that I'm considering giving the first season of Re:Zero another chance. If I do, maybe I'll be caught up before the sequel begins. Just as planned, I'm sure, eh, Kadokawa.