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Dated 20 July 2021: Fruits Basket: The Final was the best Spring 2021 show

Tohru
This is how everyone sees Honda Tohru and yet people
still manage to be assholes to her.

It's sort of difficult to talk about Fruits Basket: The Final because it's a 13-episode conclusion in a 63-episode adaptation of a well-regarded 23-volume manga. It's also a do-over succeeding a 26-episode series from 20 years ago which was also really good even though the source material hadn't ended yet. So, there's a lot going on.

Kyo
Is cat.

I do wish I had paid closer attention when I started watching this iteration of Fruits Basket when it began in 2019. There are a lot of characters, and there is a lot of setup, and I'm certain I missed a lot of subtleties early on. I suppose that is an argument in favor of re-watching the series, even if it is 63 episodes long, but that isn't going to happen until I've finally gotten around to reading the source material. It's gonna be a while.

Tohru and Hana
This bedroom is fantastic.

Probably everyone who has heard about Fruits Basket also knows opinions about it are almost universally favorable. Likewise, anyone thinking about getting into the series probably knows at least as much as I did concerning what it's ostensibly "about" before I watched the first anime (the 2001 one with Hocchan). One thing that surprised me as I got deeper into the plot is how monstrous the zodiac aspects are regarded in-universe. They're not set up that way at the start of the series at all.

Yuki
Look, a rotary phone.

I don't really want to write about Fruits Basket, since it's basically one of those shows where you can just sort of say, "Look, everyone says it's good. It is good. Just watch it." I can also see how it might not be for everyone. You have to have to have an appetite for romance and a tolerance for assholes. So many assholes. Honda Tohru is, like, the nicest, sweetest, goodest girl in the entire world and she's constantly surrounded by bitches being bitches and assholes being assholes. Back the fuck away from Honda Tohru, people.

Machi
People are also assholes to Machi.

I guess viewers also have to be okay with "problematic" 'ships. I don't know if this heightened anxiety is an actual sign of the times, or if it's just localized sensitivity found on the Twitter. There are multiple age-gap pairings. There are people being mean to the people they love. Honda Tohru's mom dies. It's a whole thing. I guess the Fruits Basket 'ships are less "problematic" than the ones in Card Captor Sakura, but if these are the sorts of things that genuinely bother you, shoujo might not be for you.

Dated 13 July 2021: The End of KoiKimo and HigeHiro ~Air/My Purest Love for JKs~

Ryo and Ichika
They're not flirting.

I started the Spring 2021 season with an entry covering both Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui (It's Disgusting to Call This Love or KoiKimo) and Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou. (I Shaved. Then I Brought a High School Girl Home. or HigeHiro), so I guess I should have a post wrapping them up as well. I found KoiKimo to be a better series, perhaps because of its straightforward story. It also helps that KoiKimo leaves Ichika in control of her fate. It is ultimately Ichika's decision whether her relationship with Ryo will advance or not.

Yoshida and Sayu
Platonic head pat.

Sayu does not have this luxury in HigeHiro. Maybe it's disingenuous to claim HigeHiro is about Yoshida "looking for something attractive to save" (my apologies to Liz Phair), but replace Yoshida's name here with "the audience's surrogate," and maybe it's not far off the mark. KoiKimo and HigeHiro both ended up where I expected, but Sayu had much less say over the path she took to get there.

Ryo and Ichika
Making the end credits look more like the manga art was a nice touch.

In contrast, KoiKimo is an honest romance. There is no real mystery whether Ichika and Ryo will actually end up together or not, even though KoiKimo does introduce rival love interests for both leads. Moreover, the rivals are genuinely more sensible partners from every objective metric. However, the most obvioius impediment—the age gap between Ichika and Ryo—is never depicted as a meaningful obstacle. When it is finally viewed as a problem, its solution is entirely unsurprising.

Yoshida and Sayu
Platonic head pat.

The solutions to the challenges presented in HigeHiro are also fairly obvious, but the series insists on pantomiming a number of unconvincing feints. They're unconvincing because Sayu basically has no flaws, and Yoshida clearly feels something for her. He never has a reason to turn her away, and Sayu's rivals for Yoshida's attention are dubious love interests who quickly end up supporting Sayu anyway.

Sayu
Relax, Sayu. Wonder Eggs are only 500 yen each.

In fact, Sayu's true adversaries are her lack of self-worth, her family's disinterest in her welfare, and the story's insistence at making Yoshida obtuse. Yoshida's behavior is baffling in HigeHiro, and not just because he denies being attracted to the sexually available high school girl living with him. Yoshida's behavior is baffling because he's willing to accept immediately on faith that Sayu would be better off returning to her home, without ever examining even the slightest bit the reasons why she ran away in the first place. It seems irresponsible to not at least contemplate the myriad awful situations that potentially compel teenagers to leave home and offer sex to strangers just to survive.

Sayu
HigeHiro showed Sayu orgasming on screen.

Of course, the real reason Yoshida never asks is because the story can't let him or the audience know before the narrative is ready. It turns out the unpleasant situation Sayu fled wasn't that bad, but that's the case only because HigeHiro insists on rehabilitating its antagonists immedately after introducing them. This sort of cowardice is a significant weakness of HigeHiro, as it makes its conflicts fairly hollow. The challenges presented in KoiKimo are not intractable either, but at least they don't take on a fraudulent quality.

Ichika
Ichika grew accustomed Ryo's nightly calls without realizing it.

KoiKimo succeeded by being forthright about its romance and committing to it unapologetically. In contrast, HigeHiro (like Yoshida himself) spends basically the entire series maintaining an unconvincing veneer of plausible deniability over whether or not Sayu is an actual love interest. At the risk of attracting accusations of being in favor of age-inappropriate pairings, I'm going to suggest HigeHiro does this to its detriment.

Sayu and Yoshida
They had to put him in a chair watching her sleep
so people wouldn't insist they still fucked.

I suppose I can't speak for its source material, but the anime most certainly portrays Sayu as an eligible partner. Does HigeHiro provide Sayu with agency by having her test Yoshida's resolve each time she propositions him? Or does the series undermine Sayu's agency by presenting these moments solely so Yoshida can continue to rebuff her and showcase his unflagging integrity? I'm not answering this rhetorical, but I think we all know.

Dated 20 April 2021: Koikimo is better than Higehiro even though both are missing the same thing

Ichika and Ryo
Stalker distancing.

News that the Spring 2021 anime season would feature TWO shows about adult men paired with high school girls created ripples across the Twitter, but even this mild outrage waned after viewers discovered neither show was as torrid as anticipated. Descriptions of Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui (It's Disgusting to Call This Love, A.K.A. Koikimo) in particular concentrated on elements that ranged from misleading (characterizing its male lead as "a womanizer") to outright untruthful (e.g., calling him "sex-crazed...with a wandering eye for women"). At the risk of stereotyping too much, I suspect more attention should have been paid to the fact that the Koikimo manga is described as josei (i.e., for adult women) instead of seinen (i.e., for adult men who miss fucking teenage girls).

Sayu and Yoshida
I was too bothered by Sayu's lack of luggage to make a Fate/stay night joke.

Curiously, Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou. (Higehiro: After Being Rejected, I Shaved and Took in a High School Runaway) seemed to attract less pre-season attention than Koikimo, but perhaps its original novels and manga adaption were already known well enough to deflect unwarranted speculation that it was going to be a smutty romp. This, despite its synopsis outright stating that its characters meet when the titular teenage girl, Sayu, offers sex in exchange for a place to stay. Instead, Higehiro is about a man, Yoshida, who insists he is not attracted to the JK crashing at his place. The series begins with Yoshida being rejected by his long-term crush (his boss at work, no less) who claims she is already seeing someone. He is so devastated that he seemingly does not even notice she was CLEARLY LYING.

Gotou
Dude, you're staring.

Higehiro also draws attention to Yoshida's insistence that he is not a "nice guy" for letting Sayu live with him without strings attached (unlike everyone else she has stayed with during her previous six months as a runaway), but rather that the other men she has known are despicable people. Yoshida also repeatedly insists he is not attracted to Sayu because he only likes women with large breasts, but then the show promptly undercuts him by immediately alerting (and repeatedly reminding) the viewer that Sayu's boobs are also comfortably big.

Sayu
Higehiro even quantifies the comparison.

This is where I lose the ability to predict the path Higehiro will take. There is enough fan service and "male gaze" to the anime that we are obviously supposed to see Sayu as a legitimate love interest of Yoshida's, despite (or perhaps because of) his loud denials. But the show also retains the harem elements by keeping the CLEARLY LYING boss lady and deliberately slapdash co-worker near as potential romantic rivals. If I had to guess how this story ends, I would expect Yoshida's support to put Sayu on a path to success before re-uniting the two after a multi-year timeskip apart that has given Sayu time to become a self-sufficient adult with even bigger boobs than ever. Alternatively, we'll get a cop-out non-ending ending, potentially with all four of them living together for contrived reasons.

Ryo
You can tell he's sincere because of the sparkles.

While Higehiro is about a man who denies being attracted to the teenage girl living with him, Koikimo is about a man openly and aggressively wooing a high school girl 10 years his junior. At this point, I think it is necessary to acknowledge the tropes that govern this story's boundaries. Ryo and Ichika meet by chance and a suspension bridge moment sparks his sudden obsession with Ichika, who is coincidentally classmates with Ryo's kid sister, Rio. Fortunately for Ryo, his sister not only approves of his infatuation with her friend, but even volunteers as his wingman to provide opportunities for him to get closer with Ichika.

Ruri, Rio, Ichika, and Satsuki
Rio's anime bed is made of concrete.

Moreover, Ichika's own mother approves of Ryo's courtship, despite Ichika's clear displeasure. It is probably worth pointing out that Ryo has apparently never had to pursue a love interest before. He is not a pick-up artist chasing after fresh prey. Instead, girls and women have thrown themselves at him his entire life (Ichika's and Rio's classmates all unanimously agree Ryo is exceptionally handsome), so this is an entirely new experience for him.

Sayu and Yoshida
Dude, you're staring.

So what are Koikimo and Higehiro both missing? Lust. In the case of Koikimo, Ryo is clearly, genuinely smitten with Ichika, but he is arguably more drawn to her disinterest in him than he is to her physical appearance. Ichika is presented as being fairly unremarkable among her peers, and her own best friend describes her as "normal" (although at least one boy at her school has taken a liking to her). In the case of Higehiro, it takes three episodes of the show loudly signalling that Sayu is comely and sexually available before Yoshida finally admit he finds her attractive. However, his refusal to sleep with her is predicated on a critical, foundational cornerstone to the narrative's integrity, so I don't expect the story can too easily reverse this stance even if the audience comes to think he protests too much.

Ichika and Rio
She is upset because she is pleased.

After four episodes of Koi to Yobu ni wa Kimochi Warui and three episodes of Hige wo Soru. Soshite Joshikousei wo Hirou., I enjoy Koikimo more than Higehiro. Neither series is especially realistic (although I could believe Higehiro, despite the melodrama, were it not for the CLEARLY LYING Christmas-cake boss lady and the co-worker who deliberately fucks up her work for Yoshida's attention), but I find Koikimo more amusing. I can't rule out the possibility that I'm simply more enamored of Ichika's seemingly endless barrage of disgusted faces than I am with Sayu's "pretty big for a high school girl" bosom, though.

Dated 9 March 2021: I guess I'm watching season three of Log Horizon for the 'shipping

Akatsuki and Shiroe
It's not a date.

The first season of Log Horizon provided an entertaining perspective on what it might be like to be trapped in a video game. Even now, it holds up well when compared against the relentless tide of trapped-in-a-video-game isekai bullshit anime that seems—itself—nearly inescapable now. The second season of Log Horizon was all right, but it is common to find fans who like it a lot less. The currently airing third season, Log Horizon: Entaku Houkai (Log Horizon: Destruction of the Round Table) has mostly been about politics during the past eight episodes. It doesn't exactly get the series off to a rousing fresh start after its six-year absence.

Minori
Minori is still writing shit down—still being competent and helpful.

The preview for this week's episode heralds the return of love-triangle high jinks involving Minori (who was very recently merely a shrimpy kid), Akatsuki (who was and still is a shrimpy grownup, and Shiroe (the purported adult in the room). Naturally, I don't expect this to actually go anywhere. It has (at least been) pretty obvious that Akatsuki is the only real love interest. Even then, there's no indication there will be any meaningful progress anytime soon. Ergo, propping up Minori (who I think is still only around 14) as a romantic rival is probably going to be just more of the same low-stakes love-triangle nonsense from previous episodes.

Lenessia
They're literally going to put Lenessia on a SHIP so she can go get Krusty and
bring him back instead of just quietly thinking about him all the time.

Curiously, it seems the Krusty x Lenessia pairing might actually have some life. Originally, I mostly regarded the interaction between these two as that of a young man who (somewhat inadvertently) prods a recalcitrant princess into seizing the reins of destiny when originally he just wanted to amuse himself by teasing a teenage girl for a while. However, season three is making me question whether my assumptions about Krusty—or, more specifically, the player behind Krusty's character—are wrong. It's at least not clear to me anymore how old he is or how long ago the brief flashbacks we've seen actually occurred. Suddenly, a Krusty x Lenessia pairing seems much more plausible than Shiroe x Akatsuki, and certainly more so than Shiroe x Minori, regardless of what this week's episode may bring.

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 22 December 2020: Majo no Tabitabi was interesting, but I haven't decided if I thought it was good

Sheila
Majo no Tabitabi needed more Sheila.

Majo no Tabitabi (Wandering Witch: The Journey of Elaina) turned out to be a lot different from what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be more laid back, like Flying Witch, but instead the series is more about Elaina observing the fucked-up world around her in a mostly non-committal sort of way. In this respect, I've seen it compared to Kino's Journey (which I haven't seen). I don't know if this is the case for Kino, but Elaina's detachment (and narcissism, honestly) makes her sort of dull, although the strange encounters she has during her travels are interesting.

Saya
Poor Saya missed out on the final episode's all-you-can-eat buffet.

I'm not suggesting there are major flaws to Wandering Witch that needs improving, but I do think it would be better if Elaina had more charisma. I found myself enjoying Saya's appearances much more than I thought I would, considering she mostly comes across as a turbo-lesbian gag character. Guest appearances by various other witches also helped out the show a lot. The best elements of the show and its finest moments all involve characters other than Elaina. I don't think this is by design, but rather it's because I just didn't find Elaina herself particularly interesting. Ultimately, I did enjoy the show overall, and I would watch more of it, but I'd rather have future episodes told from a different character's point of view if Elaina is going to remain the same.

Dated 20 October 2020: More more Autumn 2020 first impressions

Kyouko
The childhood friend has good hair.

In addition to the shows described in the first and second installments, I am also following Kamisama ni Natta hi (The Day I Became a God). I find its comic timing better than the jokes themselves, but that already makes it better than most other anime comedies. This is also a Key anime, so some sort of trauma is assured by the show's end. It's probably not for everyone, but it's one of the better offerings this season so far.

Rena
Rena seems sort of upset about something.

I only watched the first episode of the 2006 Higurashi no Naku Koro ni anime, and basically know nothing about the franchise except that it involves lots of murder and possibly time loops? However, I am willing to give 2020's Higurashi no Naku Koro ni - Gou (Higurashi: When They Cry – Gou) a try even though its first three episodes haven't especially impressed me. I'm not even sure why the Gou part of the title needed to be hidden until after the second episode. In any case, it's an excuse for more Yukino Satsuki (see also YashaHime), and I'll presumably enjoy the show more as the mystery develops.

Yuna
I still don't know why specifically a bear suit, though.

Kuma Kuma Kuma Bear (localized as The Bears Bear a Bare Kuma in English because each Kuma is written differently in the original Japanese title) is a silly show. Events within the first two episodes occurred non-chronologically, but I think that made the first episode more interesting. It's not really fursuit One Punch Man, but I at least enjoy Yuna's unconcerned reactions to fairly absurd events. Incidentally, I'm also enjoying Kawase Maki as Yayoi in Major 2nd S2, so she could be a seiyuu to watch for in the future.

Lou
Chicks love handkerchiefs.

Kimi to Boku no Saigo no Senjou, Aruiwa Sekai ga Hajimaru Seisen (Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World) is sort of terrible. Like, I don't even feel motivated to point out the parts it really gets wrong. I will mention, though, that it cast Amamiya Sora in the sort of dignified princess roles she was initially known for (e.g., Asseylum from Aldnoah.Zero) before everyone realized Tenchan's true calling was loudmouthed shitbag roles (like Aqua from Konosuba). I'm pretty sure I'm only giving the anime a chance because someone on the Twitter said something nice about the light novels once, but there's also a good chance I've mixed it up with a completely different title.

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.