Nerd breakdown time

OK, all of the Winter 2023 anime series I was watching have wrapped up, so here are some thoughts.

The Ice Guy and His Cool Female Colleague: I still hope this title sounded better in Japanese. This one was fine. Cute. Basically just variations on one joke, but the characters were charming and the vibe was chill. (No pun intended.)

It ended on an iteration of its one and only gross/questionable/squicky bit,* so that was disappointing. Otherwise? Fine. Cleared the extremely low bar for a hetero romcom, which is to say, not “destroy your faith in humanity” horrible.

* The bad bit: the hero, who is the descendant of an ice spirit, reverts to child form when he gets overheated or sick. They do this once early in the series and once in the last episode, and in the last one they use it as an opportunity to do one of those already tired “oops, fell over onto my crush” scenes… while the hero is in the body of a six-year-old.

Ugh. Bad. No.

Trigun Stampede: Well, they certainly did a thing. I really can’t get into many thoughts without spoiling, but basically – they took some building blocks from the original manga and anime and built a … reconfigured story, let’s say. Its pace was exhausting, its animation was gorgeous at times, it completely lost all traces of any humor or lightness, it still allowed Vash to be a dogged optimist, and it looks like they’re doing a second season — the announcement said something like “final”, so this looks like a 1 of 2 situation. I am curious to see what the second half is like.

They leaned into some tropes in the original that were not my favorite… see: the “every woman I meet is also my martyred mom” Thing… but I still didn’t hate it.

Buddy Daddies: Yeah, so that literally was Three Men and a Baby meets John Wick and I kind of loved it? What just happened?

So… I don’t know what the marketing around this show looked like. I think that’s crucial to any discussion about whether this is queerbaiting or not. Taken entirely on its own merits, I… would not call it queerbaiting, actually? I think? It definitely calls on a few baity tropes, but never even starts a punch, let alone pulls any punches. It’s like it manages to make jokes about the leads being in a fake relationship without actually doing the “no homo” thing.

It’s like they set up a fake relationship in order to fly this unusual family structure under the radar in the story, but Kazuki and Rei’s actual relationship with one another is never explored or even commented on. They coparent. They work together as assassins. They never even joke about being a couple within the story, although we clearly see what the show itself is doing in that episode where Kazuki gets fed up with doing all the cooking and cleaning and goes on strike. (It’s a bit tired, and IMO that’s as tired as the show gets.) Still, though, the low-hanging fruit is right there, and the show never goes for it.

I mean, the kids on Reddit are constantly asking what queerplatonic relationships are, and like, folks… they don’t always look like that, not remotely, but… I’d make a case for it being an example. Because it truly doesn’t matter whether Kazuki and Rei are into one another, so long as they’re there for Miri, and they absolutely are.

(Although, show. This phrase starts popping up late in the series, “become a real family.” I don’t like it. Now, I think they’re making the case that they are a real family already, see also the track & field day episode, oh my heart — but I dunno, “real” in that context makes me twitchy. I hope they just mean legally adopting Miri or something.)

This appears to be a one-and-done season, and the story arc was mostly fine. I don’t agree with all of its story decisions, but it closed things up nicely.

Surprise favorite of the season. I started this one proverbially watching through my fingers, waiting for it to screw up, but it did not. I liked it throughout. (Mind you, it is extremely violent as well as heartwarming, which is a combo not everyone can get into. YMMV.)

Speaking of extremely violent, once the season started to wind down, we started a back catalog series: Akiba Maid War.

Holy hell.

So for starters, we started Akiba Maid War because I decided to take the plunge on a year’s subscription to Hidive. I figured I’ll see how much use we get out of it in a year, and go from there. So far I’ve started Penguindrum, by the same director as Utena and Sarazanmai but (IMO) not as good as either (sorry), and then this.

We’re five episodes into Akiba Maid War‘s twelve-episode run. And … wow. So this show is an organized-crime story about a deadly turf war, except all the gangsters are replaced with the staff of rival maid cafes. It’s a VERY deadpan, VERY dark comedy. Also, it’s a period piece set in 1999, so the opening theme sounds like it came from the soundtrack of The Matrix. Chef’s kiss. Ranko was my favorite character almost from her first line, and so far she has not been dethroned. If the Major from Ghost in the Shell decided to get a job in a pig-themed maid cafe and take it extremely seriously, that’s basically Ranko.

If I can get … let’s say three shows as entertaining as this out of a year’s subscription, I’ll feel like this experiment was worthwhile. I have high hopes for The Executioner and Her Way of Life, which is next on my agenda after Penguindrum. But I try not to expect too much out of anything in life; that way you can only be pleasantly surprised.

(As for Penguindrum, I’m 16 out of 24 episodes in, and exhausted. That last one was amusing, but… I don’t like where any of this is going, and this story hasn’t earned my trust so far. It’s very cool-looking – I love the backgrounds – and I’m enough of a completist to stay on the ride till the end, but it’s still at the bottom of my Ikuhara power ranking at this point. I have not seen Yuri Kuma Arashi. Someday, hopefully.)