Winter 2018 Anime Recap

After such a packed and varied season like Fall 2017, it seemed like the first few months of the new year might've been doomed to mediocrity.

Only a couple shows looked like they might have potential, but even then, that was only a maybe. Much to my surprise, though, more series caught my attention than I'd expected. Now, at the end of the season, I can say it was one of the most enjoyable and relaxing seasons yet. Filled with a few fantastic slice-of-life stories that had me eagerly awaiting every new episode and a mixture of other stories that all had impressive individual strengths, Winter 2018 was a much-needed break from the shounen takeover.

Children of the Whales

Japanese Title: クジラの子らは砂上に歌う (Kujira no Kora wa Sajou ni Utau)
Studio: J.C.Staff (Food Wars, Toradora, Bakuman)
Available On: Netflix
Rating: 8/10; Good

While this is technically a series from the Fall 2017 season, Children of the Whales only just made it to North America in 2018. Centered around an isolated community living on an island-like ship called the Mud Whale, the series focuses on 14-year-old archivist Chakuro. On an expedition to another island that they come across one day, Chakuro finds a girl who tries to attack him before passing out. This sparks a series of events that are life-changing for everyone on the Mud Whale.

Children of the Whales' art is its strongest feature. Beautiful pastel backgrounds accompany solid character design that makes everyone look unique without making one person stand out more than the others. The series' world building and plot are intriguing. They draw you in immediately and manage to keep a hold of you through most of the series. The last few episodes present even more possibilities when it comes to where the story could head next, but are used more as introductory threads for a possible second season rather than answers that help wrap up the existing season.

Some parts tend to get a little mundane or repetitive, especially when it comes to certain aspects of the world that the Mud Whale's inhabitants only just learn about. However, there are some breathtakingly emotional scenes as well that are filled with imagery that will stick with you long after you finish the series. I won't go into specifics, but there's a part in episode 9 that had me crying a little.

Darling in the FranXX

Japanese Title: ダーリン・イン・ザ・フランキス
Studio: A-1 Pictures (Sword Art Online, Fairy Tail, Blue Exorcist) and Trigger (Kill la Kill, Little Witch Academia, Kiznaiver)
Available On: Crunchyroll, Funimation (Dub)
Rating: 7.5/10; Good

Supposedly set in the distant future, Darling in the FranXX is half mech anime, half sci-fi coming of age story. In this world, groups of children become pilots of the large battle robots called FRANXX to protect the large, mobile cities they live on called Plantations. These children aren't allowed into the city, isolated in a special mansion on the surface of the Plantation instead, and aren't given names, only three-digit codes.

The series follows a group of these children who are being treated as an experiment, allowing them to experience things like puberty and love that children in this world don't usually get the chance to learn about. One of the members of this group, who is added at the beginning of the series, also has a unique set of personal issues to deal with, as she's half Klaxosaur, the digital-type monsters that the children are tasked with fighting. This makes her a little wild and rabid at times, which causes her partners to die within three piloting sessions with her. The exception to this, as we find out, is a boy who was originally thought to be a prodigy named Hiro, who the series focuses on.

Darling in the FranXX has its good moments. The beginning of the series was a rough introduction to the world with excessive letterboxing (when the screen has black bars on the top and bottom) and an over-sexualized piloting system that's clearly meant to represent the stereotypical roles of men and women in relationships. Basically, the girls are the power source for the FRANXX, while the boys are the pilots. The way they're situated inside the mech, however, has the girl down on all fours while the guy sits in a chair and grabs handles that are attached to the girl's hips. It's off-putting when you see it for the first time, especially if you're not a big fan of the hyper-sexualization that sometimes shows up in anime.

That one aspect almost had me wondering if I should even bother continuing the series since it made such a strong statement that the show was clearly going to just be a huge innuendo for sex. I'm glad I didn't stop, though. The episodes more toward the middle of the season spend a lot more time focusing on the group's mental innocence and their naivete to everything except what they've experienced themselves. The depth each of the characters is given is a remarkable feat and, while some episodes are definitely less interesting than others, the series has exceeded my expectations. I'm looking forward to seeing what the second cours has to offer. 

School Babysitters

Japanese Title: 学園ベビーシッターズ (Gakuen Babysitters)
Studio: Brain's Base (Durarara, Natsume's Book of Friends)
Available On: Crunchyroll
Rating:  8/10; Great

I'll be quick with this one. If you want my full breakdown on why School Babysitters was one of my favorite shows of the entire season, you can check out the full review.

School Babysitters follows Ryuuichi and Kotaro, two brothers who lost their parents and were then taken in by a school headmistress. In return for taking care of them, the headmistress tells Ryuiichi (who is high school age) that he has to help out in the school's daycare whenever he isn't in classes. Kotaro, who's a toddler, then becomes a part of said daycare program.

The entire show centers around the silly yet entirely relatable things that happen with this group of toddlers in the daycare. One episode is all about what happens when one of the toddlers loses his favorite toy sword at a festival, while another looks at how another toddler tries to prove that witches are real.

While some plotlines linger a little from episode to episode, the series is as a whole episodic, which makes it really easy to just sit down and enjoy an episode or two without having to remember what happened before that. It's a relaxing little slice of life that anyone who's even been around a toddler for 10 minutes will relate to and appreciate.

How to Keep a Mummy

Japanese Title: ミイラの飼い方 (Miira no Kaikata)
Studio: 8bit (Rewrite, Knight's & Magic, Tokyo Ravens)
Available On: Crunchyroll
Rating: 8/10; Great

Another amazingly adorable series that stole my heart, How to Keep a Mummy puts mythological creatures like mummies and dragons into modern day Japan. Most of these creatures do their best to live in places where humans won't encounter them, or pass themselves off as ordinary objects when they can. There are certain humans that know of these creatures' existence, though. Some of them chase after them to either kill or sell them, looking at the creatures only as a profit source. Others, like the series' main character Kashiwagi Sora, use their knowledge of these creatures' existence to help them when they can.

Sora's father is an adventurer who travels around the world, sending back various spirits and enchanted objects for his son. Most of the ones he sends back end up being dangerous, which makes Sora weary when he opens the coffin that his father sent him that supposedly had a mummy in it.

The mummy he finds, later named Mii-kun, is the exact opposite of the terrifying, murderous creatures that Sora's been sent in the past. Mii-kun acts similar to a child who's desperate for their parent's love and affection or a tiny puppy always looking for attention. He's naive and innocent, but always has the best intentions.

Sora and his childhood best friend, Kamiya Tazuki, build up a small group of friends who all eventually take in a mythological creature of their own. The series is fairly episodic, with only things like Tazuki's backstory being something that threads throughout the entire season. More than anything, How to Keep a Mummy is an adorable fantasy-meets-the-real-world series that's just here to make viewers happy and, at times, a little emotional.


Japanese Title: アイドリッシュセブン
Studio: TROYCA (Re:Creators, Aldnoah.Zero)
Available On: Crunchyroll
Rating: 9/10; Great

While IDOLiSH7 hasn't completely finished, the season was almost entirely contained within the Winter 2018 season, so I decided to include it. At the beginning of the season, it seems like IDOLiSH7 might fall in line with Dream Festival!, Love Live!, iDOLM@STER SideM, and basically any other stereotypical idol anime. Problems were bound to pop up, but it seemed like this group of teenagers that all had different backgrounds and goals would make it through with the power of friendship and hope, just like every idol anime group does.

I'm happy to report, though, that I was proven wrong. The series doesn't always give IDOLiSH7 what they want. In fact, more often than not, the group is hit with some difficult issues that actually happen in the music industry. It's also nice to see a group of people whose goals aren't just "to make people smile". While the group agrees that making their fans smile is the goal in general, each member has their own motivations and hardships. From wanting to get on TV in order to find a long-lost family member to following their dream of becoming a singer, despite their parents' disapproval, each member of IDOLiSH7 has a motive that makes them real and relatable and provides their character with a lot more depth than what we usually see for idol shows.

The show also adds in smaller obstacles that we don't usually get to see in anime. One of the members has asthma, but he doesn't tell anyone because he doesn't want to be a burden to the team. That, naturally, backfires. Another member is occasionally haunted by the reality that he originally only made the group because of his older brother. Even though he has since proved his worth, he still constantly battles with self-doubt.

IDOLiSH7 is, at its core, a series that is filled with the most realistic cast of characters and believable experiences I've ever seen in an idol anime. The massive cliffhanger at the end of episode 15 left me desperate for more, which makes it even worse that the final two episodes won't be airing until mid-May.

A Place Further Than the Universe

Japanese Title: 宇宙よりも遠い場所 (Sora yori mo Tooi Basho)
Studio: Madhouse (Hunter x Hunter, One Punch Man, Death Parade)
Available On: Crunchyroll
Rating: 7/10; Good

There's no doubt that A Place Further Than the Universe is my 2018 version of Made in Abyss: A critically acclaimed series that just never hit the "absolutely amazing" note with me. The series follows a group of four girls who all band together to go on a trip to Antarctica. Throughout the entire adventure, they learn more about each other and become friends.

From a very high-level, the series is actually really simple. Where it really shines for most people is in the development of each character, as well as the growth of their relationships. There's a sense of nostalgia that most people feel when they watch these four kinda lost teenagers slowly learn about themselves and what they want thanks to the friendships they build and their experiences together.

The show's art is beautiful and buttery smooth, making everything an absolute delight to watch. However, there's one fundamental part of the entire show that seems to be absolutely necessary. Those who watched the show and absolutely loved it always mention how endearing they find the main cast and how they couldn't wait to spend time with them each and every week. While I didn't dislike any of the characters, I never found any of them any more charming or likable than similar characters in other series. That seems to be why I could never classify this series as anything more than slightly enjoyable.

I got bored often, especially toward the end of the series, and that's probably due to the fact that none of the characters really connected with me.

Sanrio Boys

Japanese Title: サンリオ男子 (Sanrio Danshi)
Studio: Studio Pierrot (Naruto, Osomatsu-san, Tokyo Ghoul)
Available On: Crunchyroll
Rating: 7/10; Good

Going into the season, I didn't really know what to expect from Sanrio Boys. As most point out when they first see it, the show's concept is basically just a giant commercial for Sanrio characters and products. Each and every episode showcases something Sanrio at least three times, if not more. So my question going into the first episode was how good could a giant 12-episode commercial really be?

Not to be outdone by the challenge, though, Studio Pierrot really did a great job taking Sanrio's token male spokescharacters and putting them into a story that's both insanely relatable and also sorely needed. Sanrio Boys follows five high school boys (mainly centered around Hasegawa Kota) as they form friendships with each other by bonding over their love for Sanrio characters.

Each character goes through their own sort of difficulties, ranging anywhere from learning to open up to and rely on your friends, to overcoming the fear of being ridiculed for what you like. Even for someone like myself who isn't a big Sanrio fan to begin with, the life lessons that are taught in the series are ones that just about anyone would be able to recognize as something they've at least tangentially experienced.

The show's even more important from a societal standpoint. Seeing these likable, realistic male characters bond over their love for characters that are commonly perceived as feminine or girly is something that's missing in most shows. If a character does like those kinds of things, they usually act extremely effeminate or over the top. In Sanrio Boys, though, you have a soccer superstar, the admired class president, a ladies man, a loner, and an average high school guy. None of them are flamboyant or obnoxious. They're the kinds of guys everyone encounters in high school, and they're enjoyment of Sanrio characters doesn't define them.

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