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Dated 12 June 2018: In defense of DARLING in the FRANXX

Mitsuru
Look, it ain't that bad, okay.

Depending on which corner of the anime fandom you find yourself, I imagine you're either on the side that doesn't believe DARLING in the FRANXX needs defending, or in the camp that doesn't believe it deserves defending. My basic perspective on the show is that it is not capital-G Good, nor is it part of the "bad but has good parts in it" category, but rather that it is a flawed result of some efforts that I genuinely appreciate.

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Dated 14 May 2018: Hugtto! Precure is a mixed bag

Cure Ange, Cure Yell, and Cure Étoile
I can't claim these are the most memorable Cures of the franchise.

Hugtto! Precure is about a quarter of the way through its (presumably) year-long run, so we should have a pretty good sense as to what sort of Pretty Cure it is. In contrast with its predecessor, Kirakira☆Pretty Cure à la Mode, Hugtto! is notably more violent. At least there is significantly more melee in the fights again. This was immediately apparent in its first appearance during the crossover cameo at the end of the Kirakira run, as that series quite obviously avoided direct punching and kicking—probably more so than any other Precure generation thus far. (Kirakira sure was happy to lean way into the emotional trauma side of things, though.) In any case, the return of fancy beatdowns is a welcome development.

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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 19 March 2018: Overlord II and Dagashi Kashi 2 have something in common

Momonga
Sure seems as if Momonga has spent a lot of his screen time this season sitting.

Both Overlord II and Dagashi Kashi 2 feature a lot fewer scenes of some of its main characters than I was expecting. In the case of Overlord II, it seems the vast majority of this sequel's screen time is devoted to minor returning goofballs or entirely new characters who mostly serve to expand the worldbuilding aspects of the story, albeit at the sacrifice of characters from the first season who I was hoping to see more of again. Not that Lizard Man politics and alliances are not interesting in their own right, or that I'm not engaged by old man good guy combat butler Sebas Tian picking up a teenage girlfriend who can reportedly almost cook palatable meals...but this wasn't at all what I was expecting from a second season of Overlord.

Zaryusu and Crusch
I admit I am amused by the albino Lizard Man lady who can't be in direct sun.

Based on other reports I've seen, the source material for Overlord does seem rather detailed and intricate enough to make me think its probably a lot better than other fantasy light novels. At a minimum, it doesn't appear as if the author is at all half-assing the writing, so perhaps the books are good enough to be regarded as regular fantasy novels and don't deserve the stigma I reflexively assign to most (but not all) "light" novels. The Overlord books have actually been licensed, and at least six English-language volumes are out already, so I guess I could give them a try. Hopefully they feature adequate amounts of Momonga doing Momonga-type things and aren't, like, wall-to-wall Lizard Man politics.

Kokonotsu and Hajime
Another Millennial desperate for an unpaid internship.

Dagashi Kashi 2, like Overlord II, has fewer appearances by its putative main character than I was expecting, but it also differs from its first season in few other ways. For one thing, it's a shorter, half-length show this season. The character designs are also a bit different, but I don't really have an opinion about this change because the voices are still the same. Hotaru's absence from a significant part of the season was unexpected, though. It's a sensible departure, in that it opens up space to develop the new character who temporarily fills Hotaru's role as the resident nutjob, but I'm not sure I'm totally okay with the lack of Hotaruness this season. Sadly, it also seems the original manga is ending soon. This Hotaru-free future seems less than ideal.

Dated 13 March 2018: Toji no Miko is okay

Hiyori and Kanami
Toji no Miko official art.

I probably would not still be watching Toji no Miko (Katana Maidens) were it not for the character designer. (Shizuma Yoshinori was also the character designer for Zero kara Hajimeru Mahou no Sho and a bunch of Kantai Collection ships.) Even then, I like the official promotional art more than how the designs actually translate into anime. I'm also not too enamored with the anime itself. I appreciate that it's going to be two cours, since I do rather miss when longer shows were more common. Admittedly, the longer length does seem to dampen the pacing a bit. I can see this turning some viewers off, but I'm okay with it, even though I would have also enjoyed a high-tension sword-girl-fugitives on the run story.

Kaoru, Kanami, Hiyori, and Nene
There is a lot going on in this shot.

While Toji no Miko is neither bad nor good, it does have good bits in it. I like the physics-defying inverted vertical scabbards that the characters use for their swords. I doubt contraptions so top-heavy could ever be practical in the real world, but they totally work for anime because they keep the characters from banging their swords into things whenever they move around, and they allow the personalized designs to appear in nearly every shot. It's a clever way of including a bit of flair to the characters' designs without relying exclusively on the usual hairbands and giant ribbons. Other good things include Kawasumi Ayako in the cast (the Ayako Doctrine remains in effect), and there a number of mildly amusing gags, such as the shrimpy girl's stupidly ginormous sword and the rich girl's ability to Deus ex machina solutions to complex problems. Toji no Miko is by no means a must-see anime, but it embraces its animeness earnestly enough to keep me watching week after week, and I expect to continue watching it next season as well.

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.

Dated 27 February 2018: The Ancient Magus' Bride? Still good

Redcurrant and Chise
I really liked this arc, but it was less visually jarring in the manga.

Two-thirds of the way through the second cours of Mahoutsukai no Yome (The Ancient Magus' Bride), the show is about as good as it was during the first cours. That said, the Autumn 2017 half finished as my top show of the season, while the Winter 2018 half looks as if it will finish fifth. This, though, results from the appearance of four outstanding shows in what is turning out to be a very strong season of anime. Meanwhile, episode 20 of The Ancient Magus' Bride also takes us past volume seven of the manga. That is, finally further than what I've read of the source material. With that, I think I'm finally able to view the anime for the first time the way someone coming to it fresh might see it.

Silky, Ruth, and Elias
Anime Silky is pretty great, though.

To be honest, it sort of reaffirms my nagging suspicions that The Ancient Magus' Bride works better as a manga than it does as an anime. I don't believe this is the fault of the WIT STUDIO adaptation, because it is beautifully done and the quality has remained high throughout. Instead, I suspect the stories featured in the series might just lend themselves better to print than anime. The occasional transitions to comic SD-style bits also work better for me in manga form than animated. Ultimately, I'm still glad the series received an anime adaptation and I'm pleased it has turned out as good as it has, but I'm left wondering if a television series was the best vehicle for it. I suspect, in hindsight, that a series of OVAs like its prequels would have been a better format. Thus, assuming the manga continues to run for some time, I hope we'll continue to receive further installments of the anime in time as OVAs or movies after the television series is over.

Dated 20 February 2018: Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (the Antarctica show) is a triumph of original anime, even if I'm still not sure what to call it

Hinata and Yuzuki
I'm hoping AR glasses will make flying more tolerable someday.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho (A Place Further Than The Universe) is remarkably well done. Before the season started, I fully expected it to be a trite "cute-girls-doing-cute-things" fluff piece about high school girls having implausibly canned adventures in Antarctica. However, it turns out Yorimoi adopts a serious attitude toward exploring the logistics required and examining just how something like this might actually be accomplished. I take it as a triumph of original anime that the story seems well thought out and enjoyable in ways that are often missing from anime adaptations of preexisting works, particularly when such anime try hard (to their detriment) to closely follow the source material.

Hinata and Yuzuki
These two are so good.

Instead, Sora yori mo Tooi Basho has taken its time establishing the groundwork instead of leaping directly into Antarctica and absolutely benefits from this pacing and thoughtfulness. This is not to say that Yorimoi is an overly serious or dramatic affair (although it does have serious moments and drama in it). There is quite a bit of comedy and levity in the show centered around the character dynamics and benefiting from impeccable timing and astute direction. I'm not familiar with most of the director's previous work, but I see Ishizuka Atsuko also directed Hanayamata, which was also nicely done, although Yorimoi has been even better through seven episodes. Yorimoi is vying with Yuru Camp△ for the honors of Best Winter 2018 Show.

Hinata, Shirase, Yuzuki, and Mari
You need to be a professional to get that sort of air.

I guess I should explain what I mean about not being sure what to call Sora yori mo Tooi Basho. Its official English subtitle is A Story that leads to the Antarctica. Additionally, some sources early on read the Japanese title as Uchuu yori mo Tooi Basho, but the PVs confirmed it was Sora yori instead of Uchuu yori. However, the title I have difficulty accepting is the official English one used by the Crunchyroll: A Place Further Than the Universe. Grammatically, I'm pretty sure it should be "Farther" instead of "Further," and I believe "the Universe" really should be "Space" instead in an English title, regardless of whatever original Japanese sources claim. The reason being is because—as I understand it—the title is a reference to how Antarctica is about 14,000 kilometers from Japan, whereas space is only about 100 kilometers away if you travel straight up. Hence, A Place Farther Than Space. Admittedly, this means effectively everything on Earth is farther away than space, but it still makes more sense than using "Universe" barring some further explanation later in the show.