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Dated 28 January 2019: Egao no Daika teaches a 12-year-old girl that smilewar is all Hell

Yuuki
This queen's bed looks smaller than queen-sized.

Egao no Daika (The Price of Smiles) caught my attention because it is an original anime featuring mecha. But then the initial responses to the first episode suggested it was more about a silly country's 12-year-old monarch trying her best with the assistance of her loyal childhood friend, Potato-kun. Based on those reports alone, I wrote the show off. But then I heard about what happens in episode two and decided to give it a try out of curiosity. Yeah, I am totally on board. Yes, the show still stars a naïve awkward-age girl, but it's actually about a war that Smilestan's Deep State kept hidden from her. Moreover, it's clear from the OP and the ED that Egao no Daika also stars a soldier fighting for the opposing side. Indeed, Ittōheisō Shining has had a more prominent role in the show through its first four episodes than Queen Princess Yuuki.

Stella
I like Hayami Saori in this role, but I'd rather have Dark Mamiko.

Thankfully, Egao no Daika is also not one of those shows where Potato-kun spends half the series wiping out enemy mecha on easy mode before suddenly realizing people die when they are killed. I can at least guarantee this is not going to happen in The Price of Smiles. Rather, soldiers in this show display no hesitation killing their opponents even when they can see the whites of their eyes. There is still some question as to how Yuuki is going to react to the war now that she's getting a crash course in reality. It's more likely than not that she'll continue to oppose it, but other possibilities remain on the table since this is an original anime. Personally, I'm hoping for at least two cours of gripping war melodrama, but we're probably only going to get the 12 episodes scheduled thus far, alas.

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.

Dated 16 July 2018: Hataraku Saibou is informative, whimsical, and gloriously violent

AE3803
AE3803 doesn't quite know her way around yet.

One of the more pleasant surprises of the Summer 2018 anime season is Hataraku Saibou (Cells at Work!) which anthropomorphizes a human body's blood cells and depicts them as industrious workers carrying out tasks such as ferrying oxygen to different parts of the body and fighting germs.

U1146 and AE3803
You get used to it, newbie.

It's maybe about what you might expect if you're familiar with these sorts of gimmick shows, but the execution is quite good. The setup is suitably clever, and the various characters are endearing. In particular, Hanazawa Kana is excellent as the newbie red blood cell, AE3803. I enjoy her panicky shrieks. They contrast nicely with her white blood cell friend's somewhat staid approach to executing bacteria.

U1146 and Platelet
Platelet is also a fan favorite already.

I'm not sure how long this will stay amusing, but there's certainly no shortage of different stories the show could explore. There are at least five volumes of the still running manga, and three spinoffs, so I'm fairly confident there will be enough source material to keep the show entertaining throughout the season. In fact, Hataraku Saibou briefly held the top stop in my Summer 2018 ranking (until the incredible first episode of Shoujo☆Kageki Revue Starlight raised the barre). I'm not expecting Cells at Work! to remain quite this high for the rest of the quarter, but it is off to a strong start.

Dated 7 May 2018: There's more to Golden Kamuy than 3DCG bears

Asirpa and Sugimoto
At least the smaller animals are 2D, even when they're delicious.

Golden Kamuy was one of the Spring 2018 shows I was looking forward to the most. It stumbled a bit out the gate when the first episode's infamously out-of-place looking 3DCG animals dominated most of the show's initial discussion. That this got the most attention is a bit of a shame, because Golden Kamuy has a lot going for it. Notably, the manga is good enough that a few misses in the anime adaptation are not going to be enough to ruin it. I didn't watch the all-3DCG Berserk, but the problems facing Golden Kamuy here are by no means as severe. It's not as if the entire show is 3DCG—just the larger animals when they appear.

Asirpa
Golden Kamuy is also about Asirpa looking displeased.

Seeing as how the show isn't actually about bears, 3DCG or otherwise, it's pretty good most of the time. Well, that's assuming you have an appetite for the horrors of war, collecting the skins of dead convicts, brutal violence, Japanese history, Ainu cultural lessons, and delicious meals made with freshly killed game. I suppose I'm not fully prepared to resist arguments that anyone interested should just read the manga instead, but I do believe the anime adds bits worth appreciating separately. I suggest watching the anime first before turning to the start of the manga. The way I see it, the anime will inevitably finish far short of the still ongoing manga's current position, and you'll probably want to read it anyway.

Dated 9 April 2018: I'm looking forward to Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory

Tessa and Leonard
I guess you need to watch The Second Raid
to know who the person on the right is.

There has been a running gag for years about Full Metal Panic! fans in anguish about Kyoto Animation working on other projects instead of animating another sequel to follow Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid. To some extent, I fit that category of disgruntled fans in the sense that I did want another FMP season, although it's not accurate to claim I harbored Kyoani any ill will, if only because I had long ago concluded no such sequel would ever be forthcoming. Surprisingly, there is going to be a fourth season after all: Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory. (Get it? Full Metal Panic! IV. Anyway....) Xebec is making this one, and it starts on 13 April. Do you need to watch the first three seasons before watching FMP IV? I dunno. Probably?

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Dated 26 March 2018: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho and Yuru Camp△ are the best shows of Winter 2018

Rin
There's also the matter of Rin's excellent hair.

Yuru Camp△ finished its 12-episode run last week with an open-ended conclusion to its deeply satisfying season. As far the actual narrative goes, I can't exactly claim Laid-Back Camp was particularly eventful, but the show's real strengths came from its pleasantly relaxed mood and its freakishly endearing lead character, Rin, anyway. I do like the other characters as well, though, and I'm particularly relieved Nadeshiko turned out to be a lot better than I initially feared, but Rin basically carried Yuru Camp△ for me. She did, after all, clinch the Girl of the Quarter crown in week 10 by racking up most of my Girl of the Week awards. If you place any stock in B.S. numerical ratings, I did score Yuru Camp△ in first place for most of the season before Sora yori mo Tooi Basho passed it.

Hinata
"When angry count four; when very angry, swear."

There's actually one episode of Sora yori mo Tooi Basho left, but I'm all but certain to subjectively regard it as this season's best show regardless of how it actually plays out. Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (see this post for more about the show's name) is exceptionally well done. I'm particularly impressed with how it pays off the numerous little heartfelt investments it made during the course of the series. Also of note is the astute directing which has juggled comedy, drama, and even a little horror with skillful touches of emotional resonance in the right amounts and at the right times.

Violet
Mission top secret, destination unknown.

Speaking of emotional resonance, compare Sora yori mo Tooi Basho with the much hyped Violet Evergarden for example, which turned out to be a hot mess of wildly disparate levels of quality depending on the episode. I felt nearly all of them were clumsy and overwrought, with the exception of two episodes (both of which credit Sawa Shinpei as the episode director, incidentally). In particular, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho has made much better use of its music than Violet Evergarden has, as I've mentioned before. All in all, I'm very impressed with Sora yori mo Tooi Basho, and I'm looking forward to its creative team's future projects.

Dated 6 March 2018: Violet Evergarden is a fully automatic memory doll

Violet
Actually, Violet doesn't seem to brush her hair either.

Violet Evergarden is not subtle. The animation is beautiful, even by the already high standards I've come to expect of Kyoto Animation, but it's somewhat wasted in an uneven show. After eight episodes, I don't care about any of the characters—certainly none of these personality-free men with perpetually uncombed hair. I'm willing to pretend to care about Violet as the main character, but I think I should be more involved by this point so close to the show's end. I would have less of a problem with Violet being a cipher if the show were two cours or longer. As it is, it feels as if the entire auto memory doll letter-writing bit is filler instead of ostensibly one of the main aspects of the series. Is it telling that the far-and-away best episode to date was an anime-original addition?

Violet
WHAT MAKES THE GREEN GRASS GROW?

Writing aside, Violet Evergarden also seems too intent to serve as a talent showcase. It's filled with glorious vignettes, but mostly does not work for me as a whole. In particular, I find the background music incredibly intrusive. The music itself is good, despite not being especially memorable, but the bigger problem is I don't think I should be noticing it nearly as much as I do. In any case, it takes me out of the scene entirely too often. As with most of the other problems I have with Violet Evergarden, it's good from a technical perspective, but would benefit from more restraint. Or perhaps I'm only getting distracted by these components because I'm not invested in the show itself? Probably the lack of appreciation for the plot is entirely my fault, as I'm clearly more interested in the wartime flashbacks and post-war aspects than I am in Violet's effort to understand feelings. Violet Evergarden is only just now revealing the role its titular character played in the war and how she reached the state where we found her in the first episode.

Violet
I don't know why Violet is wearing short pants.

The explanations raise a lot of additional questions that I don't expect to be addressed. For one, considering how unremarkable Violet seemed to be when she was, uh, acquired, why doesn't the army have a lot more of these emotionless child soldiers? Violet was a goddamn wrecking machine that her unit dispatched when it needed someone to ninja the shit out of the enemy. And she was the only one with the situational awareness to identify a pretty obviously vulnerable position. It just seems they could have used a lot more of her ilk. I don't think this is nitpicking, because there should be a compelling reason why Violet has such a gift for killing. If the focus of the show is supposed to be emotional discovery and recovering from loss and the horrors of war, Violet Evergarden could conceivably hit the same points by making her a regular-type scrub child solider as opposed to a Norse valkyrie holy terror.