Following the popular notion of giving an anime three episodes before deciding whether to drop it or not, I’m finally ready to gush and spew about all the things I loved and hated about this season. Fall 2019 ended up giving me 15 anime to dip my toes in and surprisingly, only one of them ended up being dropped. So with Fall bringing us an anime obsessed with books, cooks, and really pretty crooks, Let’s start with the only anime that got three strikes no matter how cautious it was.
Cautious Hero – 5/10
An overpowered hero is summoned to a new world by a up and coming goddess, only for her to find out that he’s so unnaturally cautious and careful that it borders on lunacy.
The synopsis was enough for me to check this one out. The idea sounded humorous, but when it comes to any type of show with a eye-catching synopsis, the most important question is “What else?” A good joke does not a good show make. A comedian cannot have a career as a comedian if they only have one punchline. This is, unfortunately, what Cautious Hero seems to replicate because after three episodes, there has largely only been one central gag. Whoa-ho, the main character is so ca-razy!
It’s a shame that this is all there is to him so far. Whenever its time for a mission or to save something, we get a joke about how he wants to train even more despite being more than powerful enough. Then we have some jokes about how weird he acts because he’s being cautious and thorough with his planning. Finally, we get the punchline of how he decimates the enemy so thoroughly and with so much collateral damage, that the idea of him as a hero just becomes a funny, but tiring concept.
There’s some mild entertainment in how the goddess tries to keep him in check, and I do think it’s best bits are watching the other denizens of this world stare flabbergasted at the destruction the main character leaves in his wake. I’m a fan of Konosuba, which is a very close comparison to the tones and style of Cautious Hero, and at this point, I’d rather just recommend Konosuba over this one pretty easily.
Food Wars! The Fourth Plate – 6/10
Continuing the Team Shokugeki (cooking competition) from the previous season, the rebel chefs and the Elite Ten continue their battle for the fate of the academy.
The Fourth Plate doesn’t really feel like it’s own separate season, so just consider this the second half of the Team Shokugeki arc that began in the previous season. The first episode throws us RIGHT back into the fray by showcasing one masterful dish after another in rapid succession. This has always been one of Food Wars strengths. Every dish has a considerable amount of thought making the anticipation leading up to any chef’s big plate reveal a never-ceasing prospect.
Despite that though, I personally feel like Food Wars has had its foot on the gas a little too much these past couple seasons. I feel like each match-up and behind-the-scenes setup is becoming more and more simplistic and convenient each time. The drama feels more systematic than organic now. Rather than a more purposeful plot, I feel like we’re in a perpetual state of Chef X versus Chef Y for reasons that don’t really matter.
The Team Shokugeki itself is a key piece of the plot, but the individual bouts are losing their identity and charm because of that. I’m caring less and less about the chefs involved because there’s less given to me to set up each bout to make me really care about who wins anymore. Especially because people have crossed sides between the Elite Ten and the rebels so easily that I don’t really feel like there’s even a difference between them anymore.
But Food Wars still has its core characteristic on lock. It knows how to turn culinary into extraordinary. I don’t think I’ll ever drop Food Wars because of everything that led to here, and because I still come away from each episode wanting to eat whatever was cooked up.
Sword Art Online: Alicization – War of the Underworld
So let’s set this straight. Sword Art is the overarching series. Alicization is the name they attach for the current “world” we are in. And War of the Underworld is the current “story arc” within Alicization. This means that, in order to understand War of the Underworld, you should at least watch Sword Art Online: Alicization which is the introduction and lead-in for War of the Underworld. But you don’t really need to watch Sword Art Online proper to really understand Alicization. Furthermore, War of the Underworld will have a part 2 airing later.
Now let’s talk about how Kirito leaving center stage is always the best thing to happen in this series. Just like with the Mother’s Rosario arc, someone else steps into the spotlight rather than Kirito, and the show becomes all the better for it. I’ve never really understood why Kirito was in Alicization at all considering all of the emotional investment tied with Eugeo. But now Alice is the woman in charge and almost instantly, the protagonist feels much more alive. Kirito has proven a hard protagonist to relate to, which is why Eugeo was necessary. But Alice needs no secondary protagonist. Her resolve and motivation are clearly etched out and I’m much more excited to be following her around for a change.
Sword Art also boasts some of the finest production this season. Episode 2 featured a scene where Alice unveiled her hidden identity to the humble villagers nearby in a bombastic spectacle that notched the score up a point by that scene alone. Coupled with the music and overall artistic quality throughout, and this is easily one of the more aesthetically pleasing ones. This is nothing new to Sword Art though. It’s always had a bit more love and care than A1’s other properties.
The only faults I have with it are the rather incompatible natures of the plotlines, and the reaches the story has to attempt to connect the dots. When American soldiers infiltrate a submarine as an undercover operation hired under the table by the American government, then you have one type of story. If you have a video game world that manifests the souls of a player into a fantasy world, you have another type of story. Now when the soldiers of story A try to hack in to the game of story B, and decide to try to find overpowered accounts to load into the game stronger than they are meant to be, it just doesn’t feel like a well-posited story at all. Especially when the soldiers are in a time critical mission, but somehow have time to sit pompously on a throne. I just have to wonder, why is any of this happening at all?
As nonsensical as the character behavior and actions are, Sword Art is still all about cool games, cool powers, and cool characters. While Kirito is unfortunately a little too cool for school, Alice switching in to lead is the booster shot Alicization needed this whole time.
Ascendance of a Bookworm – 7/10
Ascendance of a Bookworm brings an adventure story with absolutely no conflict where a girl wakes up in an old-style world where books do not seemingly exist.
Ascendance of a Bookworm knows the feeling of absentmindedly dawdling by a bookcase, perusing all of the bountiful tomes of stories and information that you could read. It’s not even the notion of the book itself, but the feeling of choosing a book, of dedicating time to reading, and of the pure enjoyment that comes with acknowledging that the mental state of sitting down to read a book is about the most soothing thing one can attain.
This is the same feeling that motivates our charming main character, Myne (or perhaps Main, since the subtitles have switched between the two). She has such an inherent love for reading and learning that she decides to dedicate all her time to finding a way to either get her hands on a book or start writing one herself.
Given the time period the world is in, this leads to a more practical approach to this dilemma. It’s not because of some crazy mental offshoot where people don’t believe in books or the storing of data. It’s simply because, paper is a luxury, and the average citizen focuses on more manual labor style tasks than anything else. This means inventing paper, procuring ink, learning how to read and write, and all of that research-intensive stuff are the goals of each episode.
It helps that there’s a strong sense of camaraderie between the townsfolk, and that most of the solutions are obtained by cooperation and strengthening relationships with others. It’s all very charming and astute in its application. This uplifting and good-natured tone is perfect for any soul craving sweet sustenance, but it’s not the typical pandering cuteness you’d see in other popular anime.
Fate/Grand Order Absolute Demonic Front: Babylonia
Fate/Grand Order: Hogwash Codswallop Hooplah Babylonia is the latest in the ever-expanding Fate universe. In fact, I would argue that the Fate universe has now surpassed the range and complexity of our very own universe. But this particular fate is adapting a part of the story of the mobile game simply called Fate/Grand Order, or Fate GO.
Simply put, our heroes are traveling to different times in order to correct timelines and save humanity. Doing so means they adventure to all sorts of eras of Earth, and Babylonia focuses on the trip to Ancient Mesopotamia. Most of the Fate oddities are here. You will see many characters that look like other characters you may love from older Fate adaptations, but they are not the same person, nor is this continuing any semblance of a story from a different fate. This is simply a new story being added to the heaping pile that is the Fate franchise.
I have only played the opening to Fate GO and was worried I wouldn’t understand this anime. I actually almost bypassed watching it, but I had heard that the animation this time around was all around terrific so I caved. Turns out, as long as you know the initial setup of traveling to multiple times and places, and that it is just focusing on the final of those seven places, then you’re all set to embark on this journey.
So, now that I have embarked, am I satisfied? Well, that stuff I heard about the animation was no joke. I feel like this has the best animation work out of everything I’m watching, with only Sword Art Online really competing on the action front. But Babylonia has a little extra oomph in its camera placement and dynamic angles. Though you do get a couple butt shots here and there. But hey, Fate is a waifu factory and everyone knows it, and a lot of people are here for that sort of content. It’s not too pervasive, invasive, or distracting, so let’s enjoy the combat.
The story on a whole, well, I’m not really invested. I don’t really know anything about this humanity we’re trying to save. I mean, yes I know I am a member of this “humanity” myself, but in this fiction, they don’t really aim to show the emotional stakes of what would happen if they lose. They just kind of expect you to be like, “Oh no, humanity? Well we gotta save it. I mean, there are people who have yet to make an account on Fate GO!” Though this could also just be a consequence of not having played the mobile game or seeing the previous Fate GO anime adaptations that I don’t sympathize with the characters yet.
Fire Force – 7.5/10
Fire Force is a leftover from the previous season (so now past 12 episodes) that takes firefighting and shounen battle tropes and melds them together into a lite-fantasy battle anime. It’s by the creator of Soul Eater so it was turning a lot of heads before it even premiered.
Fire Force has been on a very slow but very consistent decline since episode 1, which remains my favorite episode. Ever since, Fire Force has maintained some of its standards that it laid out in episode 1, but also showed that there isn’t quite as much gravitas as expected. This is mainly because Fire Force hasn’t really cut any deeper into the core emotional arc of the main character, or really most of its characters in the many episode that have already aired.
Instead we are having our heads turned left and right as the show takes itself from district to district learning about all these other sectors without really cementing our main cast first. That being said, Fire Force still has a pretty novel idea, and anytime the characters get to fighting, it’s among some of the most visually stunning battles I’ve seen this year.
So while the show is kind of spinning around telling side stories that get us one tiny step closer to the main plotline, it has still been satisfying overall. But oddly enough, out of all the anime I am writing about Fire Force feels like the most “normal” one as far as storytelling conventions and stylistic depictions go.
Psycho-Pass 3 – 7.5/10
My excitement for Psycho-Pass 3 was tempered severely thanks to my lukewarm experience with Psycho-Pass 2. And the continued absence of Gen Urobuchi, the original creator of Psycho-Pass was an unavoidable warning sign that told me I am probably not going to enjoy this. Well, it turns out, I am. Not as much as Psycho-Pass 1 mind you, but the potential feels a bit more tangible this time.
The main character this time around can use a form of extreme empathy to literally trace out the past actions of whomever he is focusing on. They label this as his reason for being a Mentalist, which is a neat little skill set that initially felt a little too haphazardly added to the world of Psycho-Pass. But in the second episode, there seems to be a little more purpose and care into this technique, as well as potential drawbacks. It’s not a simple ace in the hole. This even goes for the way it is visually portrayed. At first I thought the “digital rain” was kind of attempt at cinematic flair for no reason but to look cool, but now I see that it’s a part of his immersion, and is also the key to having his partner being able to snap him out of it. It become readily apparent that this isn’t something he can use recklessly. It makes me think of Nietzche’s famous line from Beyond Good and Evil. “And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.”
While this ability is the primary highlight that sets itself apart from Season 1 and 2, the nature of the crimes at play are also much more economical and political in nature. Season 2 went off the rails with an eccentric serial killer and a lot of wacky what-if scenarios that seemed to just be aiming for anything that makes a nice plot twist without much regard to the cohesion or thematic merit of the show. Psycho-Pass 3 however, is throwing us into the world of macroeconomics, particularly subprime home loans, the housing bubble, and all the psychological and financial studies that go alongside it.
Another thing I was impressed with was the choreography in some of the fights. My memories of the earlier seasons are fading, so they could be as good as they always have been, but I was surprised by how much effort was put into them, and I will always deeply appreciate well animated and directed martial arts in fight scenes.
Babylon – 7.5/10
Not content with only one detective anime? Well Babylon may just tickle that fancy. Especially if you are looking for something a bit more studious and informative than the more fanciful Psycho-Pass 3.
Babylon follows a much more laser-focused and unflinching look into a bureaucratic lifestyle which could be considered a breath of fresh air for some, and breath of musty office air for others. But while Babylon essentially seems like a more boring, conventional noire style show, it churns out some really unforgettable scenes in episodes 2 and 3. Enough to add creedence to the fact that this show is taking more creative liberties than one would initially expect.
By the end of episode 3, Babylons plot expands so wide in scope that I actually wonder if its intimate presentation style can handle such a large, and dramatic central conflict. But as I haven’t gotten that far yet, all I can say is everything leading up to it has been either interesting or captivating. The ratio isn’t entirely favorable so I would prefer a bit more spice before I put this higher on my list, but the show hasn’t exactly taken any bad steps.
I really want to talk about a particular scene in episode 2 that had viewers take to the forums to discuss the directing style. On one hand, I feel like it comes off as rather amateur in terms of editing, but it also definitely shows a director thinking outside of the box and certainly capable of turning the mundane into the mesmerizing. Babylon is a great watch if you really want to pay attention, and have that attention rewarded. As it’s a detective anime, you never really truly know until the truth is laid bare, so you’ll have to follow along with me and find out together.
Oresuki – 8/10
The main character, Amatsuyu Kisaragi has always been nice to his friends, and it seems like that is finally going to result in a romantic development for him. Turns out, nothing is as it initially seemed, and even the main character may not be all the he lets on to be.
Oresuki is the great trope subverting romcom I had no idea was coming. Episode 1 has a really cool double take where it repeats the same storyline but with a differing perspective. And that change of perspective is what ultimately reveals the true form of Oresuki. An anime that actually doesn’t give a shit and is ready to embrace its trash talk and show these romcoms how it really is out here.
I consider Oresuki my favorite comedy this season, but as comedy is highly subjective, I’m not sure there’s much here to appreciate if you didn’t find it funny first. But Oresuki is basically just turning into a battlefield of relationship drama where anyone could be hiding ulterior motives and the most antagonistic force is Bench-kun, who is… a bench. You really gotta see it to understand.
Oresuki is probably the most difficult anime to describe on this list as seeing it unfold and reveling in it’s chaotic glee isn’t exactly something I know how to put to words just yet. All I can say is that the show starts off firing its jokes on all cylinders, pretty much to the point that my only worry about the show is that it’s going to burn out fast. When the audience starts to expect subversion, then, how does the show surprise them next? Either way I’m delighted to see the next episode, and if it can keep up this wild ride the whole way, I may have found my comedy of the year.
Blade of the Immortal – 8/10
A young woman hires a famed “unkillable” swordsman to help exact her revenge on the faction responsible for her parents’ death.
I expected Blade of the Immortal to be closer in tone to the more romantic Wu Xia style films in Chinese cinema. What I got was a much more brutal, honest, and sometimes horrific look into the classic tale of revenge. Blade of the Immortal puts you in a world where I could almost hear the nihilistic wails of a selfish humanity in the ambiance of the setting. This is brought to life even more by the deft presentation thanks to director Hiroshi Hamasaki, credited as the main director of Steins;Gate.
I could easily see Blade of the Immortal turning into one of the frontrunners this season because the framework and execution of this anime is of a very high caliber. However, it also pushes hard into the minimalism and doesn’t shy away from discomforting episodes. At the moment, the anime hasn’t had a good enough emotional payoff for it to really resonate with me, but by god this is exquisitely crafted stuff, so if that catharsis ever does hit, its going to be a doozy. I find it very comparable to Dororo that has just finished airing earlier this year.
Of course, with every swordsman anime, most people will be curious as to just how good the fight sequences are. Well, I think I can safely say that Blade of the Immortal is doing some downright fantastic battles. Quick, and frequent clever cuts have turned each encounter into a frenetic, head-turning experience where you feel like you’re twisting and turning through the air as much as the combatants themselves. They do not feel like traditional anime fight scenes, and I applaud the team at Lidenfilms for their work here.
My Hero Academia: Season 4
The fan-favorite superpower-fest is continuing its legendary run into its fourth season. With season 3 having one of the most riveting climaxes of that year, my question simply becomes, what in the Unites States of Smash is going to happen next?
Well, it turns out after three episodes, my question hasn’t really been addressed yet. This is a long-running show, and these arc transitions, coupled with flashbacks in every premiere episode of this series, haven’t actually made much headway into the next arc yet. Significant characters are still being introduced to each other, and we’ve only had one notable scene from the perspective of the villains.
One thing that has changed for our little Deku this time around is that his focus is not really on mastering his quirk anymore. Nay, he is now the predecessor to All Might, and the secret feels so flimsy at this point that they may as well just publicly announce it. That small quibble aside, this means Deku has to strive to become a beacon for heroism in general. He can’t just be a capable fighter. He has to be able to have the unshakeable charisma and an aura of such magnitude that evil is quelled simply by existing.
This approach is one I absolutely favor, mainly because I think it helps set My Hero Academia apart from it’s less hero-focused Shounen brethren. But until Midoriya is ready for his next turn in the spotlight to see how much All Might he can really exude, we have to wait and see how his current work-training situation is going to develop. I can’t say I’m terribly excited, but it still feels like the My Hero engine is in a comfortable purr, and it’s just waiting for the perfect moment to hit the gas pedal.
Vinland Saga – 8.5/10
Greeting death with enough glory to grant you passage into Valhalla is the core tenet that governs the vikings. Far away in a settlement in Vinland, Thorfinn’s father tries to practice a different philosophy, one in which you live a life of peace away from the battlefield.
Last season when I was gathering my first thoughts of the anime on air, just like I am doing now, I gave Vinland saga a 10/10. The opening episode is really just about as perfect as an introduction can get. I can still easily recommend this anime to almost anyone who wants a serious action series.
The Norse setting and the ruthless band of vikings have both been a nice break from normalcy in the characters and settings of everything else I’m watching. Battles are exhilirating with some truly ludicrous set ups, like a hulking Viking throwing boulders at ships in the river.
But the lower score is primarily due to the surprisingly slow pacing and development aspects the show ended up having. Who’d have thought that an anime about vikings seeking the Valkyries’ blessing in battle would be a slow burn? Thorfinn, our main character, has changed very little from an entire season’s worth of episodes. This isn’t to dismiss it because I think the foundation is there for fantastic character growth, but it is going at a very careful pace.
Having all this time to just focus on the adventure has brought us some phenomenal episodes though. These latest ones tackling religion in a very thorough exploration have kind of pushed Vinland Saga back into feeling like a masterpiece in the making. But now I’m a bit more unsure. The series could slow down again, and if it does, I may be back later with not much new to report.
Beastars – 8.5/10
Episode 1: This is weird in a bad way.
Episode 2: This is weird in a good way.
Episode 3: I’m now weird because I’m loving this.
Beastars is probably going to be the tough sell of the season for the less adventurous anime goers out there. First off, you have a CG animation style which is an instant turn off to many people, and I am often among them. Second, you have what many people call “furry bait” and I would likely still be among them had I not pressed on with the show.
The strengths of Beastars are all there from the get go. The focus on character psyche is impeccable. It was just hard to notice because of the “what is that deer wearing?!” moments and every other strange anime-to-human adaptation this show has done. Once that dust settles from crash landing into Zootopia, the anime, you see that its clearly more than an anime version of our favorite racially undertoned, fuzzy Disney movie. This is an anime about identity. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt such human identity crises than the ones portrayed here.
By the end of episode 3 I had complete and utter empathy for all three of the lead characters, and it did it without me realizing. The character development and profiling is so rich that you just get lost in it. Just as the characters do from their own inner turmoil, you emerge, changed. This is a wonderful character study using animals as case-examples of school reputations and personality tropes; The weirdo, the slut, the idol, and more to come I’m sure.
Beastars already feels like a potential all time favorite, and its on a swift upward trajectory since I wasn’t really feeling it in episode 1. You also have to check out the opening video. It’s delightful. In case my vague references weren’t enough, don’t go throwing this one on for the kids just because you see cute looking animals in cartoon form.
Stars Align – 9/10
Leave it to sports anime to be the wildcard genre. I do believe that almost every sports anime I’ve started, I went in expecting not to really enjoy it. This is nothing against sports anime in general, but more because of my dislike for sports in real life. I always assume that a love for the sport is a requisite to enjoy whatever sports anime comes on, and many times, this is absolutely not the case.
But even within sports anime, Stars Align has done a lot to show that it’s not just here to propel us through tennis tournaments. This show is here for a much more personal reason, much like how the characters are in this ill-reputed boys tennis club for a very personal reason. The boys are always seen lazing about and are a sore sight compared to the eager, ambitious girls tennis club. You learn VERY quickly that these students aren’t just lazy sloths without a care in the world, but that they are all drawn to the idea of a “losers” club because of what the world has done to them, like a Japanese Breakfast Club.
The first episode of this series had the forums alight with shock thanks to the blindsiding outro scene after the credits. Stars Align already makes a strong first impression due to its charming characterization and dialogue style. There are no shouts of triumph or motivation, and no signature moves being emblazoned across the screen. Instead, this anime employs a naturalistic school vibe where every voice line sounds so in tune with the environment they are in that I almost want to do a full study simply on the conversation scenes themselves. The closest comparison that immediately comes to mind is Tsuki ga Kirei. A tranquil, beautiful romance anime that found a spot on my top 50 list. If you enjoyed how the characters talked and interacted in that one, then you will be right at home here.
Stars Align has also been a confident, yet subtle representation of several progressive concepts and warm-hearted affirmation. One of the most powerfully depicted character is the student council president who’s a bigger gal, yet is commanding the student body like a respectable pro, as well as being the opening dancer in its ending credits video (yes, they have apologized for ripping off those dance moves, and that was dumb of them.) One of the characters is told to not wear a visor because only the girls team does, and his nonplussed response of saying “whatever, I like it so I’ll wear it” was just perfect. That same character notices that one boy has a crush on another boy, and instantly accepts it. This is the kind of representation thats great. It’s natural, not unobtrusive, and not under a glaring spotlight that screams “I’m being progressive.”
Stars Align is shaping up to be a lot of things, and I think anyone harboring any doubts because of its genre typing are losing out on a potentially unforgettable drama.
Chihayafuru: Season 3 – 9.5/10
See this list here?
It’s been a long time since anything has come off of this list. So let me tell you, whenever anything is even whispered about any of these anime continuing, it’s enough to make me stop in my tracks. Mid-step, mid-bite, hell even mid-piss, I will almost pass out from an unhealthy build up of pure excitement. Chihayafuru is BACK, after a 6 and a half year void. I haven’t decided what will take Chihayafuru’s place on this list. I’m just still taking it all in. Honestly, if season 3 doesn’t wrap up the full story, and ends without announcing a sequel, then it’ll just go right back on the list.
Chihayafuru is yet another sports anime. This is really the best this genre has ever done in a season for me. But anyways, this time the sport is Karuta. And not many people have heard about it so let me just explain this delightful game. Karuta involves two competing players, and one reader. The reader picks up a card at random and enunciates what is written on it. On the floor in front of the players are a bunch more cards that refer to the second half of one of the cards that the reader could potentially read. The player’s job is to identify and knock away the card that pairs with the reader’s card before your opponent does. Everytime you do, you move one card from your side to the opponent’s side, and once one side is empty, that player wins the game.
The poems that are written on the cards are read elegantly. In fact, being a reader has its own hierarchy and necessity of recognized vocal talent. The traditional competitions have their contestants wearing beautiful elaborate clothing. It’s really just an all around beautiful game, and the anime seemingly embraces that and radiates with the same kind of charm. It’s right up there with March Comes in Like a Lion as the most beautiful sports anime I’ve ever seen. March has a bit more of a director’s flair, but Chihayafuru has its own strengths that make them both stand in their own hard-to-reach territory, most notably, it’s bottomless well of warmth.
Chihayafuru also has a terrific romantic subplot making this equal parts shoujo anime with all the best bits of that style of storytelling too. But the romance isn’t as overt. It’s like this soft envelopment of adoration, admiration, and innocuous love that perpetuates between the main characters that makes them so easy to cheer on once you choose your “ship” of choice.
So with Chihayafuru proudly leading the offerings of this Fall 2019 season of anime, I finally retire myself back to the humming of my computer fan to bask in the glow of my monitor and continue all of the anime I just talked about. We’re only three episodes in so I may be back to reflect once more when the season is officially wrapped up. Enjoy your anime and I shall mine.