It’s amusing that the Winter anime season tends to have some of the year’s best shows right out of the gate. Winter 2019 gave us Mob Psycho 100 II, Promised Neverland, Dororo, and Shield Hero to name a few. 2020, bad as it was, began with Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken for goodness sake.
Basically, the winter season ain’t no joke. While other industries treat the beginning of the year as a slow time for new releases, anime is consistently doing the exact opposite. So to celebrate this and perhaps to look on the brighter side of things, here are a few of the most promising shows this season.
Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation
I’ve warmed up to the Isekai genre quite a bit. I think it can be wrought with a kind of stigma because of how oversaturated it is, and IT IS oversaturated. However, if it clearly has its own spin on things or strong direction, I can get behind it 100%. That’s how I came to fall in love with Shield Hero, with the wonderful score by Kevin Penkin and the direction by Takao Abo.
Mushoku Tensei has a fascinating draw to it, based on the promotional PV. The story is called “the pioneer in Isekai Light Novels,” though the forums I’ve searched about the source material find this to be a contentious point. Given that it is a “pioneer” I took that to mean that it might not be that original. In fact, with how many isekai have come out, it could be the exact opposite.
I wasn’t too concerned though, and I think that is entirely thanks to the visual direction of this show. Within the first second of the trailer and I mean the first second, I was convinced I was going to love this show’s animation.
The PV shows off tons of action and dynamic character movement. From the premiere episode alone there was plenty of effects animation with the focus on the main character learning magic. The color design, while appealing, feels diluted and not as bright as other fantasy isekai. The aesthetic feels more grounded, if only slightly.
My biggest concern is whether the story will hold my interest. Its contentious importance in the genre not-withstanding, treating this adaptation like a “return to basics” doesn’t interest me. The genre’s core never interested me much anyway. What does interest me is how the visuals and music will carry the tale.
The main character, Rudeus, is a 34-year-old man reincarnated as a boy in a fantasy world, but he retains his memories from his past life. Plus, he narrates the tale. It takes the Saga of Tanya the Evil approach, with the character’s adult mind helping them to succeed. Contrary to Tanya however, Rudeus is frequently reflecting on his old life in hopes that he can have a better one in this new world.
A child with an adult’s mind surrounded by young beautiful women is a recipe for comedy, not to mention awkward ethical quandaries on forums. Episode one’s humor followed by episode two’s introduction sends some strong signals about the tone of the show. The story is very comfortable with sexual content, be it comedic or informative to a character. It strikes me as a story produced with a slightly older audience in mind. Or at least a horny one.
Humble beginnings for the most part, but the visual presentation, character designs, and the overall tone of the show are things I can get behind. I think the pacing is good too. I could have sworn that the premiere may have been 45 minutes long judging by how much ground was covered, but it was a typical 22-minute-episode.
To have a show of this visual quality come from a completely original studio – Studio Bind – fills my heart with a lot of hope for the future of the industry. Chief Animation Director and Character Designer Kazutaka Sugiyama has done a wonderful job so far. I’ll be keeping up with Mushoku Tensei, and looking forward to whatever this studio pursues next.
Wonder Egg Priority
Well this was a surprise, wasn’t it? Practically no marketing through Funimation, which was a big misfire if you ask me. Perhaps it was because CloverWorks was already releasing season two of Promised Neverland this season, but to disregard Wonder Egg Priority as simply the “other” CloverWorks show this season is an offense far too great.
This feels like the season of dramas with film-quality animation. Mushoku Tensei was absolutely gorgeous and reminded me heavily of P.A. Works’ film Maquia from 2018. In a similar vein, Wonder Egg Priority‘s background art, lighting, and character animation feel like a Kyoto Animation film. The fact that this show is, in fact, a show, makes that all the more exciting.
This is an original series written by Shinji Nojima, a manga writer. This is their first foray into anime writing and a strong start for certain. Partnered with Director Shin Wakabayashi, this series follows Ai Ooto, a shy, bullied girl with Heterochromia. She is led by a strange voice to a capsule machine that gives her an egg.
She’s told that if she breaks the egg, she can get what she wants most of all. When she breaks it open… Well, it’s certainly not a chicken she finds inside. I’m being intentionally vague because I believe the premiere episode is better experienced with fewer hints. What follows is a bizarre adventure through a twilight version of her school, filled with faceless assailants and creepy monsters.
At the end of the road, Ooto finds something that reawakens her greatest trauma, and her fear of it happening again pushes her to awaken a power inside her. As the whole strange happening comes to a close, Ooto finds that maybe, if she keeps breaking these eggs and dealing with the aftermath, maybe she can undo some of the pain from her past.
The premiere of Wonder Egg, apart from being gorgeous, is heavy, to say the least. Depictions of depression, bullying, and suicide, however brief or even allegorical, set the tone effectively in a single episode’s runtime. The promotional materials hint at more girls in the main cast, each of which I assume is going down the same path as Ooto to achieve something they desire most, even if they don’t realize it yet.
Ooto’s goal is established so plainly and matter-of-factly, that I see this series being something of a monster of the week show, with the cast battling monsters to slowly creep towards their goals. I love premieres that foreshadow their stories like a game as if the characters, as well as the audience, are being sucked in by a simple premise that is undoubtedly far more complex.
I would say there is no other story I’m more excited to see develop, but I just remembered Attack on Titan is airing. Instead, I’ll say that Wonder Egg Priority looks to be a must-watch original series from a mostly new writer and director duo. Plus, and maybe I’m stretching here, this feels like it could be a darker, more serious, lesbian equivalent to 2019’s Sarazanmai, and I’m I’ll for it.
SK∞ (SK8 the Infinity)
SK8 the Infinity was another surprise, similarly because I had no idea it existed until very shortly before its release. In this instance, however, I’m more offended by myself for not knowing that it existed sooner. Followers of my other blog will know that I am a shill for Studio Bones and believe them to be one of the best animation houses in the world.
So imagine my surprise when I went into the trailer blind and kept exclaiming “DUDE!” at increasingly heterosexual-sounding levels. For context, I am gay as hell, as if it wasn’t obvious from the fact that I sat through Sarazanmai.
There’s something so “early 2010s” about SK8. Maybe it’s just the assortment of pretty boys but anime will always endeavor to dispense plenty of those. It’s probably the extent to which this sports show just throws caution to the wind that’s making me nostalgic.
I get a similar feeling of fun from this as back when I watched Kuroko no Basuke in high school. It was a sports anime with wildly stylish characters continually murdering my suspension of disbelief with wackier and wackier spectacle.
SK8 follows Reki, a skater in Okinawa who participates in “S” an underground skating scene. He ends up befriending Langa, a snowboarder who moves to Japan from Canada. After seeing how the Canadian applies his skills from snowboarding to skateboarding, Reki befriends him and tries to fulfill their potential as a true skater.
Reki teaching Langa about skating is what I’m mostly in it for so far. The former, despite what their attitude might imply at first, is a great teacher and a patient one at that. Watching the dynamic between the two as Reki tries his best to help him get over his fears and bring out his true skills is all kinds of wholesome.
As for the rest of the colorful cast, this is where the similarities between this and sports anime like Kuroko make me feel right at home. They all have their own aesthetics or gimmicks, some adding the appropriate amount of depth and others just being downright ridiculous and adding lots of character to a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
SK8 is directed by Hiroko Utsumi, the director of Banana Fish and Free. It’s also an original series and not an adaptation, which makes me think there’s a 50/50 chance this show will have some sort of canon gay representation. Ichirou Ookouchi penned the script, also responsible for Azumanga Daioh and Code Geass.
The cherry on top, for me at least, is that Yukari Gotou, bless her heart, is the color designer for this show. This woman has done the color design for the Bungo Stray Dogs series and Kekkai Sensen season one. Those are the only shoes on her MyAnimeList page and they are two of my favorite shows of all time. I think this is fate.
I’m trying very hard not to set my expectations too high with this one. This could very well end up being a chill comfort show for me or my next obsession. It’s really too early to tell. The important question is whether or not I’m having fun right now and between the skating animation or Ryo Takahashi’s rock-filled score, the answer is most certainly a yes.
The cold winter is meant for staying indoors and cozying up. Since we don’t have much choice anyway in the middle of a pandemic, I hope these three shows can make this prolonged quarantine a bit more bearable. And with the anime industry’s track record, hopefully, this Winter anime season’s lineup will be well worth the watch.
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Mushoku Tensei, Wonder Egg Priority, and SK8 the Infinity are all available for legal streaming in the US via FunimationNow.
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