Surprise of the Season: Higehiro
Overall Rating: 3.5
This is hardly a flawless series, and better series overall definitely aired during this past season. However, no series in the Spring 2021 season – not even my beloved 86 – more firmly defied initial expectations. Based on the premise (which is fully outlined in the full version of the title!), viewers had every right to expect this one to go in a wholly sleazy direction. . . but it didn’t. To be sure, the series had its occasional fan service moments, including a full-blown sex scene in one flashback, but even those moments rarely felt gratuitous and they disappeared entirely in the series’ later stages. The result was an improbably wholesome story about a twentysomething single man who, for several months, shelters a teenage runaway in his apartment, and without having sex with her even though she freely offers it as recompense.
The story works overall because of the relationship it builds between the two leads. Yoshida is a man who is firm on his principles; he cannot totally deny some level of attraction to Sayu, but he remains resolute that he is only interested in older women. This is a difficult point for everyone (even Sayu) to understand and accept, but as the story gradually shows, this is not just a case of him being kind-hearted or seeing Sayu like a daughter. He wants someone in his life – someone he can come home to – and Sayu fits that bill. That provides at least some selfish basis for why he is so adamant about rejecting Sayu’s efforts to sell her body for a place to stay and insisting that she raise her standards for what should be acceptable from guys: he wants family, not a lover. In the process he helps Sayu sort out her life and become both strong enough and independent enough to confront the troublesome home life which drove her to run away in the first place.
The two most satisfying elements for me were seeing how Sayu gradually collected herself as a person and sorted out her feelings and values and the tenderness of the scenes where they were together, just comforting each other. I also liked how the series did not let either character easily off the hook. In fact, the series almost went overboard in impressing the questionable legality of what Yoshida was doing, while also suggesting that Sayu cannot blame everything on her mother or what happened to her friend; yes, her mother was horrible, but Sayu made some bad choices herself. (So did her brother, for not putting Sayu in a more supervised away-from-home situation.)
The series also has some significant flaws. While I didn’t find the artistry to be distracting, it is far from being one of the more visually ambitious series of the season. The story also shows some clear signs of trimming even from an anime-only perspective, and certain parts of it feel repetitious. Also, one of Sayu’s former hosts gets let off much too easily when he comes back into the picture, and not enough is done in the long run with the women in the office who are interested in Yoshida. However, the stronger points overcome the messiness, and the series ends properly (though not necessarily in a why everyone will be happy with. I reject more cynical interpretations of the content and so can firmly recommend it, even for those who may be leery about the title.
86 (4.5+ overall rating) – I almost put this series as my surprise for the season, as while I expected it to be good based on the source material, I don’t think anyone expected it to be this good. This is, quite simply, one of the best adaptations of a light novel that I have ever seen in anime, in any sense you want to name. It is one of the best-looking series of the season of any kind, with top-of-the-line-for-TV CG use in action scenes, rich use of symbolism, and a fine balance between the Alba and 86 sides, and it packs one of the season’s best musical scores as well. Just as importantly, it also takes its time in adapting adapt its compelling premise and story, including flawlessly adding in anime-only content which only enhances the story. The one possible knock against it is that it may sometimes get a little heavy-handed in its handling of systemic, Nazi-inspired racism, but even that aspect I felt was generally done well. It is a series which will defy any early negative impressions, and it deserves to be considered one of the early top candidates for Anime of the Year.
Combatants Will Be Dispatched! (3.5) – I am a big fan of KONOSUBA, and while this is not KONOSUBA-level shenanigans, it’s still fun enough, with Six being a lovable ass and Alice making a solid partner for him. In fact, the relationship and (most importantly) understanding between the two is one of the series’ selling points. Supporting characters are more hit-or-miss, but the amusing ironies (a self-proclaimed evil organization, which encourages members to collect Evil Points to gain access to equipment and rewards, also has an internal sexual harassment policy) balance that out. Overall, a fun view but not a deep one.
Fruits Basket the Final (4) – Some things could have been justified better (the Yuki/Machi relationship in particular), while on other points I felt the series got redundant on its psychoanalyzing. Still, on the whole, this was a complete and satisfying resolution to one of the major shojo franchises of the past 20 years. The parts that manga readers complained about being skipped mostly didn’t bother me, as I feel those scenes may have bogged down the pacing, and I was pleased to see that not all of the Zodiac members could easily move on from Akito’s abuse. That lent a bit more authenticity to the final resolution.
Full Dive (2) – Wow, did I actually finish watching this one? I cannot remember the last time that I watched a series to completion that I so actively disliked, when a review at the end was not the goal. Especially in the early and middle stages, the series was so mean-spirited that it was a wholly unpleasant viewing experience, and even some better plot twists late in the series could not fully overcome that. Not something I can recommend for any audience.
How NOT to Summon a Demon Lord Omega (3) – For better or worse, this season can simply be described as “more of the same.” It is only 10 episodes long, but by keeping it that short it can devote its entire run time to a single arc. Expect more fan service, more high-powered action, some encounters that almost rise to the level of being a challenge for Diablo, and a variety of cute and/or sexy new female characters to add to Diablo’s orbit (if not harem). The “Double Summon version” is not much racier than the regular version but still the recommended way to view the series.
I’ve Been Killing Slimes for 300 Years and Maxed Out My Level (3)– This is not a series that I ever intended to watch out, as I was not overly impressed by either the first novel or the artistic quality on the first episode. However, I wandered back to it during a weekend where I had nothing to do, so here we are. As isekai series go, this one is a fluff ball. Though the female protagonist is as OP as any isekai protagonist gets, battles are brief and demonstrates of raw power are more an afterthought than a feature. The story is instead all about Azusa chillin’ with the makeshift family she gradually gathers (essentially a harem, with at least one or two even interested in her sexually, though that’s never more than a mild tease) from slimes, dragons, ghosts, elves, and even demons. The “don’t work to excess” philosophy heavily promoted by the novel is present here but in toned down form, no threat is ever too serious, and comedy is a regular element. Sadly, the visuals never improve, but this concept does not hurt much for its lack of animation quality. The series will be too passive and aimless for some tastes, but it is inoffensive, low-key fun.
Moriarty the Patriot (3.5) – I rate the first half of this series higher, but it seemed to lose its luster in the later stages as it turned to focusing more heavily on overall plot. Definitely not a fan of the final episode, either, or the ultimately-underused gimmick with James Bonde. The vaguely homoerotic implications of the Sherlock/William relationship did not work for me, either, and the new opener is a major step down from the first half. Despite those problems, the series still executed well enough often enough, especially on visual fronts.
So I’m A Spider, So What? (3.5) – While this is unabashedly my favorite series of the season, and I generally like how the adaptation is handling the story, the series simply ran into too many visual issues in the second half for me to rate it higher. The CG, which was never great (certainly not on the level of 86!), only got worse, and that combined with choppy action editing and changes which only made sense in a “limit the animation complexity” frame (desert where forest should be?) weighted the series down. A delayed final episode (which hasn’t aired by the time of this posting) isn’t helping, either. Still, it did enough things well at adapting a chaotically-designed novel series and synchronizing its human and spider sides that I cannot completely rag on this half, and it does still have one of the most involved and meticulously-thought-out plots of any isekai series. Oh, and of course, it has Kumoko, who will certainly be remembered as one of the year’s great characters.
The Saint’s Magic Power is Omnipotent (3.5) – This is a low-key, perfectly serviceable isekai series about a female protagonist who is not initially regarded as the desired Saint until she shows, through her abilities, that she is. It winds up having stronger romantic elements than the typical isekai, but it does not resort to too blatant a shojo romance feel, and it also avoids feeling too much like a power fantasy (even though it basically is one). While never a priority view, it makes for a nice change-of-pace series.
Vivy -Flourite Eye’s Song (4) – This is the second-best series overall that I saw in the Spring season. It was not as deep and insightful about technology as I had hoped, in large part because it ended up being more of an extended character study than a commentary about human relationships with technology. However, it succeeded at turning Diva/Vivy into a compelling character, and even Matsumoto eventually grew on me. It is also one of the better-looking and better-animated series of the season.
SEVEN KNIGHTS REVOLUTION: Hero Successor (3) – Nothing is inherently wrong with this by-the-numbers fantasy series (which is connected to a mobile app game), and it does generally look good; in fact, Faria is one of my favorite character designs of the season. However, it does absolutely nothing to distinguish itself, either, resulting in a mostly-bland view roughly equivalent to Winter 2021’s Hortensia Saga.
Zombie Land Saga Revenge (4) – I’m still going WTF over the epilogue on the final episode, but up until that point this was a very solid addition to the franchise. It filled in some backstory gaps (especially about Yugiri), while also providing a taste of the bigger picture; if the series has a major flaw, it’s that the bigger picture was not focused on more. I enjoyed the performance set in the final episode and felt that the songs’ lyrics aptly summarized what the girls had been through and what Saga Prefecture had to endure, though my favorite performance still remains Yugiri’s sultry “The Saga Incident” at the end of episode 9.