Spring ’22 Preview Guide

Last Update: 4:17 p.m. 4/10/22

Welcome to my version of the Spring 2022 Preview Guide! I expect to cover every full-episode series that will be debuting this season and some but not all of the sequels. (I will cover the continuations of The Rising of the Shield Hero, Ascendance of a Bookworm, Date a Live, The Demon Girl Next Door, and Tiger & Bunny.) These will be listed in newest to oldest order, and this post will be updated multiple times per day on busier days.

In addition, ESTAB LIFE: Great Escape has already been separately previewed here.

NOTE: Tiger & Bunny 2 is apparently going to drop as a 13-episode block, so I will not cover it here. It will instead get a full review a couple of weeks down the road.

Note #2: Since we’re mostly through the premiere season, I am entertaining recommendations on what to episode review for the Spring ’22 season. I will definitely continue with Ascendance of a Bookworm s3 (in fact, I will probably take that one directly to episode reviews rather than put it here) and am planning to do 1-2 others.

Note #3: With the posting of A Couple of Cuckoos, the Spring ’22 Preview Guide is now complete. It will be taken off sticky status by 4/26.

A Couple of Cuckoos

Streams: Crunchyroll on Saturdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Even in the world of anime, few titles come with a more contrived set-up than this adaptation of a shonen manga. The two leads were switched at birth, and now, 16 years later, the error has somehow been identified and the two families are meeting. To make things simpler (since exchanging the two to their biological parents is fraught with all sorts of complications), the parents have decided to have the two marry each other, so that way both sets can call both of them their children. The children in question are, of course, unaware of the full scheme (one doesn’t even know he’s going to an arranged marriage meeting), and just happen to bump into each other beforehand and end up in a “fake boyfriend” situation that might have some genuine emotional underpinnings. Oh, and the boy might not have minded had he not already resolved to confess to his academic rival once her manages to top her. (She’s #2 and he’s #1.)

So yeah, this isn’t anywhere near as messy as, say, Domestic Girlfriend, but the complicated contrivances still run deep. The technical merits are pretty strong and the characters designs are attractive and quite distinct, and the whole thing has a bit more mature air than normal. However, the camera also tends to linger on female co-protagonist Erika’s curves in a fan servicey way, and there are already hints of a harem-like set-up which may include male co-protagonist Nagi’s not-actually-related-by-blood sister. (She’s also got quite the figure for being a middle school student, so comparisons to SAO’s Suguha will be inevitable.) The first episode also shows a goofier side that may be immediately apparent. (Oh, and the title refers to the fact that some species of cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other birds, with the intent of the other birds raising them, which lines up here. Cuckoos also symbolize unrequited love in Japan, so that may eventually be a double-meaning, too.)

I’m on the fence about this one. The first episode is well-made technically, but not far from being quite trashy in structure. Probably won’t follow it week-to-week but I can see maybe marathoning it around the end of the season.

Don’t Hurt Me, My Healer!

Streams: Crunchyroll on Sundays

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

I can absolutely see what this series is supposed to be: a fun little romp on RPG adventuring, where the healer is so full of herself, and has such a difficult person, that it results in some humorous twists on standard RPG party dynamics. Carla is even a standard anime personality type: the (usually petite) girl who dryly makes everything more difficult than it has to be.

Unfortunately, almost none of this actually ends up being funny. Pinpointing what, exactly, goes wrong is difficult; jokes running on too long, and being too dialogue-focused when they could be visual, are certainly parts of the problem, as is Carla be more a complete ass than cute. Essentially, nothing ever gels here, to the point that I’m not sure if I even chuckled once during the episode. Director Nobuaki Nakanashi has done some wonderful work with comedy series before (see Kasimasi – Girl Meets Girl), so how completely this one fails is rather amazing.

Aoashi

Streams: Crunchyroll on Saturdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

So it’s yet another series about soccer. Yawn.

To be fair, I actually found this one a little above average as soccer series go. Aoi may be a ball hog, but he’s also keenly aware of everything on the field and where everyone is, and takes advantage of that well enough to impress even a high-level coach. He also understands that he cannot get away with his style of play without his teammates setting him up for it. That puts him a step beyond the typical self-centered jock we normally see in sports series. He also has a bit more of a backstory than most, with circumstances constrained by his family’s poverty and a respect for his mother great enough that it gets him into trouble. I also appreciated the scene where the rival player who provoked him into throwing a disqualifying head butt felt the need to apologize for it.

But yeah, it’s still a soccer series, and it doesn’t have enough of a special feel to it to overcome that. No-go here.

In the Heart of Kunoichi Tsubaki

Streams: Crunchyroll on Saturadays

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Tsubaki is a promising young Kunoichi in a remote training facility which seems to be totally isolated from men; none of the girls have seen one, anyway, leaving the whole matter of what men are like up to rumor and speculation. Lately, though, she’s found herself obsessing over men, so much so that her desire to see one is becoming a distraction her squad mates have noticed, and she doesn’t understand why. (Apparently the instructors have not taught the girls about puberty.) But there are men on the other side of the mountain. . .

I found this one entertaining enough that I would at least consider watching more. It lands a few really sharp jokes (the incompetent girl who accidentally turns herself into something other than what she intended with Tranformation Jutsu, for instance) and seeing little Tsubaki trying to work out that she’s going man-crazy is amusing on its own. There’s just enough extra going on here for it to not be a one-joke premise, and the designs and animation look pretty good, too. Cannot see this one being a stand-out, but it should be a fun diversion.

Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie

Streams: Crunchyroll on Saturdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

A boy gallantly protecting a girl he loves has been a common story element over the years, so it’s only natural that a series would come along predicated on a complete role-reversal of that situation. In this case, male lead Izumi is the one who needs the protection, as horrible luck seems to plague him. Fortunately his girlfriend Shikimori is quite physically capable of looking out for him and preventing random calamities from happening, whether it be an eraser which slips from someone’s hands and bounces off someone’s foot towards Izumi or a sign that falls off the size of a building towards him. While Izumi is a bit bothered by having to rely on her like this, she sees it as no trouble at all.

I like the concept here, as well as some vague implications that Shikimori may be at least a little more than an ordinary human despite having perfectly ordinary friends. I also like that Izumi finds Shikimori’s cool side just as captivating as her cute side, and the two make a cute and fitting couple together. However, the first episode also feels a little too mellow, despite Shikimori’s bowling prowess and the incident with the falling sign. This one doesn’t have quite the spark to it that, say, Love After World Domination does (and certainly not the same level of technical merits), and in a season loaded with romantic comedies, that could hurt this series’ chances to stick out. Still, I’m at least mildly positive overall here.

Spy x Family

Streams: Crunchyroll on Fridays

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

This was the most highly-anticipated new series of the Spring season by many, and the first episode easily lives up to that anticipation. The only reason I’m not giving it a maximum rating is because the crucial third component to the scenario – the mother character – isn’t introduced in this episode. If this was just going to be another father-daughter pairing, though, I would have pulled the trigger.

That’s because the episode hits on everything it aims to do. Establishing Twilight as a spy of exceptional skill and cunning is a standard move for spy-themed shows, but even on that front the show clicks by providing suitable thrill factors and action scenes. This could have been a solid premiere just focusing on him. Even so, Anya very nearly completely steals the show from the moment she first appears. It’s not just the cute factor or her adorable precociousness, either (although those are big factors); the child-logic, matter-of-fact way she interacts with others and uses her telepathy in pursuit of the family situation she desperately wants are also a delight, especially in the testing scene where she realizes that the kids around her don’t even know as much as she does, so cheating is pointless.

Above all else, the first episode nails its aesthetics and emotional balance. It has its fun moments, its cute moments, and its somber ones, and none of them get in the way of each other. This is a fine directorial effort by Kazuhiro Furuhashi (Ruroni Kenshin, Le Chevalier D’Eon, Dororo) and a strong technical effort by CloverWorks and Wit Studio. I’m probably going to have to follow it and won’t be surprised if it ends up being one of the season’s top shows.

Dancer Dance Danseur

Streams: Crunchyroll on Fridays

Rating: 4 (of 5)

There are certain anime series that I can appreciate without actually liking, and this is definitely one of them. As the title suggests, it is a series about ballet, with the first episode focusing on a boy who got passionately interested in ballet after seeing a male dancer as a kid but has gotten hung up on how un-manly ballet is. Hence by his middle school years he’s caught in a struggle between an activity which gives him a kind of thrill he cannot get anywhere else and maintaining a “cool” image. The problem for him is that those who actually know ballet – such as a relatively new girl at school and her mother, who operates a ballet studio – can see past that cool image and recognize the talent and enthusiasm in his moves, even when he’s trying to pass them off as Jeet Kun Do. Hence it’s a classic story about being torn between heart’s desire and outward appearance, with a pretty girl thrown into the mix for good measure.

The set-up for the story is solid, the animation of the ballet moves is sweet, and individual shots of characters in ballet poses capture the grace one would expect from ballet. There’s even the promise of a love triangle-type situation involving another boy. However, I’ll never be able to continue with this one because the character design style. As pretty as the designs are, characters uniformly have giraffe necks and a long-limbed style that’s always been a turn-off in more pure shoujo romance titles. Can’t get past that arcing white line in the characters’ eyes, either. I don’t have enough interest in ballet to overcome that, so this series will be a pass for me.

Date a Live IV

Streams: Crunchyroll on Fridays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

The fourth season of this remarkably durable franchise begins in the wake of the ending of season 3, so only those fully caught up on the franchise should even attempt to watch this episode. The series certainly doesn’t waste any time getting back to business as usual, as by the end of the episode a new Spirit has been introduced and Shido has already started the dating protocols. But naturally, there’s a couple of big twists this time: the Spirit initiated contact with Shido and proposed the dating scenario, rather than the other way around, and she may be a tough play for Shido because she admits to only being interested in “2D.” Further quirks include her Spirit Dress looking like a stylized nun’s habit and her being both a former popular manga-ka and a former captive of DEM (rescued, for as-yet-unexplained reasons, by Kurumi). Her Angel is also less combat-oriented and more information gathering-oriented.

In other words, the episode is doing its best to shake up what has become a staid format. I don’t feel it succeeded at that, though Nia Honjo does seem to provide a new personality alternative. Still, it should satisfy established franchise fans. (And as an interesting side note, this episode shows that the unfamiliar characters in a currently-running cross-over with the DanMachi franchise in the latter’s Memoria Freeze game apparently are 4th season characters, as Nia is one of them.)

Love After World Domination

Streams: Crunchyroll on Fridays

Rating: 4 (of 5)

No matter how serious they try to be, sentai series inherently have a certain level of goofiness about them. Hence it shouldn’t be surprising that one makes an ideal vehicle for a goofy take on the classic Romeo and Juliet love story. That’s the premise behind this new manga adaptation, and it clicks even better than its premise suggests that it might.

A big part of this is because central characters Red Gelato (the hero, from a whole team of Gelato-themed heroes and heroines) and Reaper Princess (the evil Secret Society member) may be elites when it comes to hero-villain battles, but they are super-lovable dorks when it comes to love. On one side you have a complete musclehead who approaches everything – including declaring his love for the one who has smitten him – with complete earnestness, while on the other side you have a woman utterly inexperienced with love who’s also very conscious of the exaggerated reputation she has among her cohorts. Watching them fumble through the early steps of a relationship while still pretending to be at each other’s throats whenever anyone else is around is more of a delight than I expected, blushing and all.

Unexpectedly sharp technical merits is also a plus, as is a casually fan servicey flavor to the visuals. (The attention to lace undergarments is particularly fine if you watch closely.) That content it unobtrusive enough, though, that it shouldn’t be a deal-killer for anyone. I can easily give this one a broad, general recommendation.

Miss Shachiku and the Little Baby Ghost

Streams: Crunchyroll on Thursdays

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Don’t let the cloying sweetness of this debut fool you; ghost babies are damn scary. (Look up the Norwegian utburd sometime.) But that’s beside the point here, as this series is all about an overworked female office drone who makes a connection with the ghost of an adorable toddler-sized child who tries to convince her to go home one night. Instead of scaring her off, though, the haunting energizes the office drone, hence establishing the beginnings of a beautiful relationship.

There are, of course, all sorts of obvious questions which can be asked here, such as how such a young ghost is haunting a middle floor of a multi-story office building or how she’s so fully tangible. But it’s okay because it’s cute, right? And the opener suggests that other adorable little spirits are going to show up eventually as well.

Yeah, no. 23 minutes of this is way too much at one time.

Heroines Run the Show

Streams: Crunchyroll on Thursdays

Rating: 2 (of 5)

This one gets such a low rating for exactly one reason: the voice of protagonist Hiyori utterly and completely grates on my nerves, to the point of making every other consideration about the opening episode trivial.

This isn’t the fault of the seiyuu not knowing what she’s doing. Inori Minase has a prodigious voice acting career over the past decade, and I have appreciated her work in many other roles, including Rem in Re:Zero, Hestia in the DanMachi franchise, Meteora in Re:CREATORS, and Reines in Lord El-Melloi II’s Case Files. But man, what were she and the director thinking in this case? Based on how her dialogue is subtitled, my guess is that they were going for the Japanese equivalent of a hick accent, but surely there was some other way to portray this? Hiyori being a high-energy character and a country bumpkin in the Big City means she’s spouting off and going “eeeeeeeehhhh?” all over the place, which just exacerbates the problem.

Complaints about the voice aside, the premise seems to be that she’s getting hired to be the manager-in-training for an up-and-coming male idol duo whom she literally sits in between in class, and that is further complicated by her already being aware of the tension behind the scenes between them. Not quite sure where this is going, but frankly, it does not seem like an interesting angle to take. A few potential side-character friends who might be worthwhile do pop up, but they are not enough to prevent this from being a big pass for me.

Skeleton Knight in Another World

Streams: Crunchyroll on Thursdays

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

On the surface, this looks every bit the standard “player trapped in a game world as his OP character” scenario, and indeed, that’s exactly the way this episode plays out. As usual, there’s no explanation for how he got in that situation or why, but ultimately that doesn’t matter. He gets to be the powerful knight character he was in the game – with a few bonus powers to boot! – and by golly, he’s going to have a blast playing that role out. The catch is that he chose a skeleton avatar, with the backstory explanation that he’s a wandering knight on a question to remove a vile curse, so he can’t show his face in town. But as Overlord proved, that’s never stopped a skeletal warrior before.

What makes this one work is the spirit of fun that pervades most of the episode. The player behind Arc is really getting into this and letting his enthusiasm show, and the peppy musical score, theme songs, and generally light-hearted tone all play into that well. The one utterly incongruous element is that the episode opens with (and then later returns to) an attempted rape scene which Arc breaks up by slaughtering the bandit perpetrators. That scene is rough and feels out of line with everything else; simple menacing probably would have sufficed there. The episode is also casually very graphic, though it does not dwell on this content, either. I can see the tonal whipsaw eventually being a problem, but for the moment it’s at least manageable. And I’d like to see some explanation for how he can eat normally (or even, for that matter, have hunger pangs) as a skeleton.

Ugh. I am actually looking for disposable titles at this point, as there are already a lot of good viewing prospects for the season (and more to come!), but this one has done plenty enough to merit watching more.

The Dawn of the Witch

Streams: Crunchyroll on Thursdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

While this series is not technically a sequel to 2017’s Grimoire of Zero, is set in the same world five years after the events described in that series, and it does reference the concluding events of that series. (The school of magic present here is the one described at the end of Grimoire, for instance.) So far no familiarity with Grimoire seems to be necessary, though characters who look nearly identical to Zero and Mercenary from Grimoire are featured prominently in advertising copy for the series and so will presumably pop up eventually. Even so, the series looks like it could function as a stand-alone, but this is probably one I’ll be keeping an eye on as the season progresses.

The series itself is a mostly-typical fantasy tale, one where the unexpressive male lead suffers from amnesia but was nonetheless still recruited for the new school of magic. He and a busty top student will accompany a 300-year-old loli witch on a transfer to a newly-arranged village of witches, where hopefully the young man Saybil can better develop the magic he cannot control. Witch hunters are afoot, however, so danger will ensue.

Hard to say at this point exactly where this is going, and I can easily see some viewers getting enough of the witch Loux rather quickly. One thing that is clear is that it is going to be at least a bit more fan service-y than its predecessor, but that’s not necessarily a negative for me. I am giving it a mildly positive rating mostly because the world design seems solid and realized and a sufficient amount about magic gets explained without much info-dumping. Will need another episode or two to see how much staying power this has.

The Demon Girl Next Door 2

Streams: HIDIVE on Thursdays

Rating: 4 (of 5)

The first season of this series was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2019, to the point that it just missed making my Top 5 list for that year. (Only Isekai Quartet topped it among comedies that year.) Hence it was one of my two most highly-anticipated returning titles for this season. Despite a slow start, the episode doesn’t disappoint, with the energy level seeming to ratchet up as the episode progressed.

Thanks to events from last season, Yuko and family are no longer mired under the poverty curse, but they’re still living in a dilapidated apartment building – one which, as it turns out, is specially-designed with Light and Dark Clan members in mind. Its cheapness encourages Mikan to move there so she can have her own space, and Momo decides that she must do the same for the summer so she isn’t left out. (Thus the “next door” part of the title is now literal!) This opens up all sorts of future humor potential, though the episode initially starts with the recycled joke about Momo misunderstanding Yuko’s duel challenge as a date. That’s definitely the slowest and least effective part, but things speed up as delivering “new neighbor” gifts to Yuko’s mother leads to an impromptu welcome party. Scenes and jokes rattle by fast and furious at that point, easily capturing the fun spirit of the original at its most frenetic. Grounding that are the more serious discussions about trying to find Sakura (Momo’s predecessor), but as with most of the first season, the writing strikes an effective balance.

Technical and artistic merits still do not impress much, but this is still a welcome continuation, one whose opener promises many new and potentially interesting characters to come.

Deaimon: Recipe for Happiness

Streams: Crunchyroll on Wednesdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

A 30ish man returns home to his family business after 10 years trying (and apparently failing) to make it as a musician and discovers that his parents have taken on an abandoned 10-year-old girl to be the business’s new successor. She feels driven to prove herself useful, while he’s encouraged to look out for her. Hence we have another “dad” series in the making.

I did enjoy the animated version of Bunny Drop (and yes, I ignore what happened after the animated part), and this one is at least trying to capture some of that “substitute parent” magic and sentiment. However, while the first episode does lay the girl Itsuka’s situation on thickly, the situation here does not click as hard and immediately as Bunny Drop‘s did. Maybe it’s that the sense of urgency here is not so strong, or it could be that I’m just not a fan of the water color-styled background art. Perhaps the emotions that need to be in play here will take a bit longer to gel. Fortunately, the series has one other big draw to fall back on: the family business in question is a traditional Japanese confectioner, and the treats featured in this episode are as much works of art as food. Come to ogle the sweets and maybe the story will eventually become compelling as well.

RPG Real Estate

Streams: Crunchyroll on Wednesdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

So is it just a fluke that we have now had two series about fantasy real estate in the past year (see last spring’s Dragon Goes House-Hunting) or is this an emerging new subgenre? Either way, this series somewhat takes the reverse angle of its predecessor, instead focusing on the people trying to find properties for clients rather than the entities looking for properties. Add in a whopping big dose of CGDCT and you have the recipe for the first episode.

In fact, the real estate agency aspect is more just the setting and framing device, whereas the fantasy-themed CGDCT content is the series’ true nature. The artistry is soft and loaded with pastels, the personality mix of the core team of girls is very typical for CGDCT series, everything is soft, pleasant, and peaceful (the setting is, in fact, celebrating 15 years of World Peace), and the lessons are simple, straightforward ones. It does show some cleverness in mixing in the fantasy aspects – the RPG in the title and business’s name is short for Rent Plan Guide rather than “role play games,” for instance and mixes light, mostly unobtrusive doses of fan service, and that cleverness and an overall good balance of elements in the first episode are why I’m giving it a positive rating. Doubt I’ll follow it, but it should be a pleasant, fantasy-themed diversion if you’re looking for light viewing this season.

The Greatest Demon Lord is Reborn as a Typical Nobody

Streams: Crunchyroll on Wednesdays

Rating: 2 (of 5)

The great Demon Lord conquers everyone who opposes him, but the one thing he cannot defeat is the gap which distances him from others, and so he cannot fully enjoy his success. Hence his goal when he reincarnates (with his awesome powers intact, naturally) is to make friends, but he doesn’t know how. Luckily, the daughter of the local elvish mayor is just as isolated and quite overpowered herself.

The idea of an uber-powerful individual reincarnating to start over again once his status becomes a drag has become a familiar one of late in anime, and this is hardly the first time in recent years that this specific concept has been attempted. That’s the biggest problem with this new light novel adaptation: the concept has already been done to a standard-setting degree by The Misfit of Demon King Academy, and this version just doesn’t stack up. There’s something a little cute about Ard’s laughably failed efforts to make friends, I did get a chuckle out of the scenes where he casually offs hordes of monsters who suddenly assail him while he’s thinking, and the way he finally wins over the elf (half-elf?) girl is rather sweet; that’s easily the episode’s high point. In general, though, not enough sticks out to distinguish this title in a packed field of competition. Can’t see watching anymore of this one.

The Rising of the Shield Hero s2

Streams: Crunchyroll on Wednesdays

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

After nearly three years off, Shield Hero is finally back to continue the story. It left off with major conflicts within Melomarc mostly resolved, so this episode begins a new arc, one which looks like it will at least temporarily set aside the recurring Waves the Cardinal Heroes were originally summoned for. And this is because of the appearance of an apocalyptic-level critter called the Spirit Tortoise, which sounds something like a tarrasque from Dungeons and Dragons. It’s menacing eastern countries now but could head towards Melomarc next, so Naofumi and crew have to deal with it. Only this time they have Rishia in tow.

Whether this a plus or not is another story. Rishia has major confidence issues and is under-statted for her level, and even a possible talent for martial arts is not offsetting that in her mind. She’s clearly in love with Itsuki, but the traits shown so far make her look pathetic rather than dynamic. That she opts (at Raphthalia’s suggestion) to get a slave crest with Naofumi also certainly isn’t going to set well with those who had a problem with this in the first season. We’ll see how she plays out in the long run, but the whininess has to go.

Otherwise this is a run-of-the-mill episode. The other Cardinal Heroes are being as uncooperative as normal, there’s status updates on the village Naofumi is now (literally) lording over, and monsters to fight, and the obligatory mysterious woman at the end who wants the Shield Hero to kill her. The penguin suit is rather odd, but roll with it, right? Overall, fans of the first series should find little to complain about here.

Birdie Wing: Golf Girls’ Story

Streams: Crunchyroll on Tuesdays (normally)

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Although golf is not one of the more common sports to be featured in anime, it’s hardly unheard-of; Ashita Tenki ni Nare and Pro Golfer Saru racked up 47 and 147 episodes (with a couple of movies), respectively, back in the ’80s, Dan Doh!! was a 26-episode shonen take on the sport back in 2004, and there have been a handful of one-shots over the years, including last year’s Sorairo Utility. This one is, in some respects, different from its predecessors, while at the same time paying homage to hoary anime sports traditions like named trick shots that are probably physically impossible.

One difference is a non-Japanese setting; most of the first episode seems to take place in an as-yet-unspecified country in Europe. A second is an art and character design style with few nods to normal anime convention; this could almost be a western production, though it is animated by Bandai Namco Pictures and directed by Takayuki Inagaki, whose directing credits range from racy fare like Desert Punk and Rosario + Vampire to the cutesy Chio’s School Road. Central character/golf hustler Eve also seems to be an adult, though new potential rival Aoi is a teenage phenom. Both are very challenge-driven, so them bouncing off each other should be a regular feature of the series.

The character designs for the series are gorgeous, but the CG used for the golf balls in flight and drone-like camera zooms around golf holes impresses much less. The first episode establishes main cast members well enough and offers no shortage of golf (even if some of it is a bit fantastical), so I have to call the episode a success overall. Will be surprised if this one catches on, but so far it’s a clean-cut look at young women playing the sport.

Tomodachi Game

Streams: Crunchyroll on Tuesdays

Rating: 1 (of 5)

Wow. I’ve seen some trashy “forced to play a game” scenarios in my day as an anime reviewer, but this may be the single worst first episode ever for this genre.

Put simply, this is a failure on just about every level. The mascot here is one of the least menacing of its type, and the breakdown of the friend group is thoroughly stereotypical and lackluster, to the point that it’s hard to care enough about any of them. The stakes – which basically come down to debt manipulation – aren’t high enough to be compelling and attempts to make this psychologically thrilling by leaving who has the massive debt (and for what) up in the air don’t work. Clearly this is all a scenario to breed tension by making everyone question everyone else’s motives and honesty, but the writing is trying to force that issue rather than let it develop naturally. Revealing the people behind the curtain (so to speak) at this stage is also a mistake, as it cuts into the sense of mystery. Let’s also forget a directorial effort which is trying to overcome limited animation by using all kinds of jerk-around camera shots, which distracts from the intended effect rather than enhancing it.

So yeah, a hard pass here. Let this one sink to the bottom of the seasonal pool, like it should.

I’m Quitting Heroing

Streams: HIDIVE on Tuesdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

What if the hero successfully defeated the Demon Queen and her generals and armies, but became so disaffected with the way he was treated afterwards (i.e., feared for his power and exiled) that he decided he’d be better off hiring on to reconstitute the Demon Queen’s army instead? That’s the premise of this newish twist on the standard heroic fantasy tale, and it provides some interesting possibilities. It could, for instance, look more seriously at the long-standing issue of how returning combatants often don’t fit in back in when they return from the battlefield, and indeed, this first episode has a bit of that. It also takes a thorough like at the damage left behind by the hero’s battles and what has to be done to just patch holes, much less rebuild. There’s a lot of potential here if the story focuses on that going forward.

However, the overall tone is lighter than that. The hero defeated (but didn’t kill) the Demon Queen’s Four Generals stupidly easily, and in a couple of cases in comical fashion, and his hiring presentation to the Demon Queen (who wants nothing to do with him) comes off more like a modern-day sales pitch. Also, he’s a bit of a jerk (even though he did legitimately get a raw deal from the people back home), and clearly wasn’t a team player. In other words, for all his ability and strength, he’s pretty flawed himself. Will be interesting to see how the series balances these lighter elements and potentially more serious ones going forward, such as the former hero’s interest in finding out why the Demon Queen didn’t allow indiscriminate killing. I am cautiously optimistic here, though I can also easily see this one flopping, so a middle-of-the-road grade for now.

Ya Boy Kongming!

Streams: HIDIVE on Thursdays

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Somehow I missed doing this one when it debuted last week, so I’m taking advantage of the slowest day of the week for debuts to rectify that oversight. And it’s definitely an oversight, as the first episode of this is nearly as much of an unexpected joy as Healer Girl is.

The premise is essentially a reverse isekai: a prominent strategist from the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history passes on due to disease and, perhaps because of a dying wish to be reborn in a more peaceful time, winds up in modern-day Japan. There he meets and is entranced by the talent of Eiko, an amateur singer struggling to get a start in the music business. He is so taken with the music of the new era (and especially hers!) that he vows to learn about it and find a way to help Eiko pursue her dreams.

This premise works way better in execution than it probably should, thanks to a lot of excellent production and storytelling decisions. Kongming may be a fish out of water, but he’s also smart, and uses that to quickly start to get a handle on the modern era; I’ve always liked characters who can jump into new situations and find ways to apply the skills they know, and he’s certainly that. Eiko’s struggles are compelling, too. She’s got talent and a strong backstory, but she needs someone smart at her back to help her find her way. Light bits of humor mixed throughout with surprisingly keen insight on the music business (such as how clubs adjust the speed of their beats according to crowd size and circumstance), some good music, historical allusions, and pretty animation and character designs to create a remarkably entertaining experience. I don’t know if I’ll keep following this one – there are a lot of other options out there this season – but it’s definitely worth a look.

Healer Girl

Streams: Crunchyroll on Mondays

Rating: 4 (of 5)

This season has at least a couple of idol shows on its schedule, but based on this first episode, they’re going to have a run for their money on having the best music for the season. That’s because Healer Girl absolutely nails the delivery of its basic premise: the (literal) healing power of song.

Intrinsically linking healing and singing is hardly a far-fetched concept; it’s a staple of FRPG bards and has been used in fantasy anime series before, and even aside from magic, the mood-adjusting nature of music is self-evident. Convincingly portraying that music can actually heal is much, much harder, but that is where the triumph of this episode lies: the songs that Kana and the professional healer who serves as the central girls’ trainer sing are beautifully uplifting pieces which make you want to believe that such healing is possible. Both the opener and the closer are also delights, and even the impromptu songs the girls sing while playing around have a graceful flow to them. Episode 1 is not far removed from being a musical, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The music is the biggest plus here but not the only one. While the trio of girls may be fairly stock personalities, they interact with each other so smoothly that they clearly get along well, giving the first episode a pronounced CGDCT feel. Even the adults fit into this, and the idea of a singing healer being paired with an apparent traditional physician makes sense. Production values, while hardly stellar, aren’t bad, either. I wasn’t expecting much here, but this was a pleasant surprise.

Trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games is tough for Mobs

Streams: Crunchyroll on Sundays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

If nothing else, this debut is providing what’s going to be one of my favorite screen shots of the new season: the protagonist gloating over getting one over on his domineering stepmother.

As the title implies, the premise of this series is an alternate take on the recent trend of isekai titles about characters trapped in dating sims: instead of being an antagonist female character, the protagonist becomes one of the background male characters, with the added twist that the protagonist hates the game in question rather than considering it a favorite. (He was extorted into playing it by a younger sister who had dirt on him; wouldn’t be surprised if she turns out to be another character in the game at some point.) Because he’s from a family which does not appear in the game, he is not constrained to a particular fate that he has to avoid, which gives him more freedom to act but also less direction.

What concerns me about this one is that it seems a little too much like a direct response to the rising popularity of the “trapped in an otome game” subgenre in disaffected rather than subversive way, and that gives the first episode a somewhat nasty vibe. I will reserve further judgment on that for now, as none of the main female cast members get introduced this episode, but I am curious to see other reactions to this episode, as I may be reading too much in here. The most interesting part is the partial exploration of the setting’s backstory; the protagonist complains about the nonsensical world design, but the whole “new human vs. old human” business suggests that it may not be quite as nonsensical as it appears. Sadly, I’m not expecting the series to explore that much, but it leaves me with at least some hope for greater world-building depth.

Fanfare of Adolescence

Streams: Crunchyroll on Saturdays

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Has a sports anime ever had a more pretentious-sounding name?

That was the overriding though I had while considering a first episode which sounded, from the title, like it was going to be something special but shows every sign of being a bland, generic series about going to a specialized school for a highly specialized sport – namely, horse racing.

For the record, a three-year school to train jockeys is a real thing in Japan: The JRA Horseracing School, on which this series is presumably at least partly based. And that is the main source of any novelty the series offers. What looks to be the core cast is a standard mix of personality types and backgrounds for a sports series, with the exception that it isn’t all guys; one girl, a rare female jockey prospect, is in the mix, though you’ll be forgiven if you cannot pick her out in promo material. (She wears pants just like the other boys, and has both a slim figure and boyishly short haircut. Only the voice gives her away as a girl.) The other twist is that the lead character is a retiring member of a top boy band who has become entranced with horses. There are some minor indications of possible supernatural elements as well, and the animation on, and look of, the first episode are both pretty good. However, none of that offers much promise that this series is going to stand out, and I cannot see anything in it compelling enough to recommend it to someone not normally interested in horse racing.

Love All Play

Streams: Crunchyroll on Saturdays

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

While I have watched out several real-sports series for full-series reviews over the years, I cannot recall watching a real-sports series week-to-week since 2009-10’s Cross Game. This series, about badminton, isn’t going to change that. Despite that, I can still acknowledge the opening episode of this series as being done well enough to earn some attention.

Rather than delving heavily into the game play, the first episode focuses instead on a pressing decision that a middle school badminton enthusiast (the one on the right in the screen shot) must make on the opportunity of a lifetime: an offer of a sports recommendation to a high school with a highly-competitive program and his badminton idol on the team. The problems are that it will separate him from close friends who got him into the sport in the first place (and who thus define his badminton experience) and his parents are initially opposed to it. With encouragement from both his friends and elder sister, he opts to prove his commitment by getting into that school on his academic merits instead.

This set-up makes for a bit more compelling story, and I especially liked how the protagonist chose to prove his commitment via an alternate, harder path; he’s probably right that he will be better off in the long run for having earned it this way. The series looks pretty good, too, although it is definitely aimed at a female audience. My one major complaint is one common for this genre: the character designs seem to have unrealistic ideas about age-appropriate male body forms. How sharp the badminton play aspect will be remains to be seen, as the first episode only offers a few brief (but well-animated) snippets, but if you’re into guy-focused sports series, this one may be worth checking out.

Aharen-san wa Hakarenai

Streams: Crunchyroll on Fridays

Rating: 2.5 ( of 5)

If there’s a theme to the Spring 2022 season, it’s odd-couple romantic comedies, and this is the first entry in that genre. What this one is going for is pretty clear: the tall guy is the straight man wondering at – and trying to adapt to – the odd behavior of the petite girl whose communications skills could be better (to put it mildly). He spends the entirety of the first episode trying to figure out effective ways to communicate with someone who speaks so softly she’s difficult to hear and who has no proper sense of personal space, yet desperately wants to break out of her shell. All of this seems like a perfect set-up for a series that mixes sweetness and sputter-worthy humor.

The main problem with it – and the reason I cannot rate it any higher – is that this content only works in short bursts. It would probably be much more effective broken up into shorts, as a full 23 minutes of this tried my patience. Neither character is inherently interesting enough to make up for that, and the slightly more serious parts never rise above surface-level endearment. It definitely does have a few strong jokes (which is why I can’t rate it any lower), but an episode I have to take a couple of breaks during just to get through it just doesn’t work.

The Executioner and Her Way of Life

Streams: HIDIVE on Fridays

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

I have read the first novel for this series, and thought it had the potential to translate well into anime form, but the execution (hah!) of this episode was beyond my expectations. With one small exception (which the production team could not really do anything about, since it is straight from the source material), this is a fabulous execution of one of the most distinctive takes on isekai stories to date. If you normally don’t care for isekai stories, this one is still worth checking out, since it is in many senses the antithesis of a typical isekai tale.

The episode starts with a bait-and-switch maneuver, where a newly-summoned teen boy is the focus character. He’s been chucked out by his summoners for not being what they were looking for and is facing difficulties when Menou – a priestess from a church dedicated to helping Lost Ones like him – steps in. The twist, though, is that almost everything about Menou is fake. She is a priestess, but her real job is to determine if the summoned boy has a dangerous ability and then eliminate him mercilessly when he shows that he does. She’s not without some sympathy, as she fully acknowledges that none of this is his fault, but as a flashback to her own past shows, Lost Ones come with potent abilities called Pure Concepts which can be unintentionally catastrophic. And there’s another Lost One, a girl, who was summoned the same time as the boy. . .

The first episode scores high on a lot of fronts. The setting is unusually well-conceived and developed for a first episode, including a social structure resembling Enlightenment-era France and showing extensive influences from past Lost Ones from Japan; between that and the catastrophe potential, it’s easy to see why summoning Lost Ones is banned. Menou is also a well-developed lead with a clear personality, and I particularly liked how the production works in signs that she might have ulterior motives from the first moment of her first appearance. The magic system on display also shows promise, and action scenes so far have been sharp and satisfyingly bloody. The only real negative so far is Menou’s clingy assistant Momo, whom I suspect will not go over well with a lot of people, but the portrayal here is actually still a little softer than in the novel. But she’s worth putting up with to appreciate the rest of the content.

The first episode of this one impressed me enough that I might consider episode-reviewing it even though I already have a number of returning series to consider for the 2-3 I will do this season.

8 thoughts on “Spring ’22 Preview Guide

  1. Urrgh, I cannot stand sexual violence. To be so flippant about it immediately turns a interested to watch series into wouldnt touch it if you offered me money for it. Goodbye skeleton knight, I would rather watch an evil overlord who wants his killings to follow the hunters code of making the most of the slaughtered over a man who argues against intervening in a rape because he could get hurt.

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    1. Gonna have to partly disagree here. As heroic as it may be to do so, no one should ever feel morally obligated to intervene at great risk to themselves, and at that point Arc didn’t know that he could easily overwhelm that many bandits. (He certainly would have been in mortal peril if he couldn’t.) Hence I don’t have a problem with him hesitating long enough to convince himself in that scene.

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  2. I’ll be watching Shield Hero on Hulu and Komi on Netflix, but not much else, because of the Funimation/Crunchyroll merger. I swore years ago that Crunchyroll would never get another cent out of me, and I plan to stick to that. Now that they have phased out free w/ ads viewing there’s no reason for me to go there anymore. I might try HiDive again now that it looks like they have licensed some good simulcasts.

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    1. I think you were too nice to Shikimori’s Not Just a Cutie, but in the end, it is just a numbers game. If it was the only rom-com this season, it is passable enough, but with grade A stuff like Kaguya, and possibly World Domination, and even mediocre but more passable shows like Aharen-san (with one more rom-com to air yet) this season has too much for rom-com fans to waste time on this one (I would be speaking better of it if the lead wasn’t so unlucky “because … story” if he was just a klutz, and the girlfriend wasn’t the rebirth of A-ko, I would probably include it in my watchlist).

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      1. While Aharen is arguably funnier in short bursts, I found that one tolerable ONLY in short bursts. Shikimori isn’t as sharply funny but works better in a full-episode form because it has a bit more development to it. If I end up following either of those two, it’ll be Shikimori.

        As for editing posts, if I can figure out a way to alloy that, I will. Right now I don’t see an option I can turn on/off for that.

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    2. So, it turns out Spy x Family is watchable on Hulu as well, and I enjoyed that one a lot. I have some vague hope that A Couple of Cuckoos will end up on Hulu as well. We’ll see in two weeks.

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  3. Oops I must have hit reply instead of post and it looks like my post is a reply to Half Life (which makes no sense). I tried to look for an edit or delete button, but could not find one.

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  4. I’ll be following your reviews of Bookworm, even though I can’t watch it, because I’ve read the source LN’s and don’t need to worry about spoilers. Other than that, Sheild Hero, Spy x Family, and Komi are the only things I’ll be watching for sure — and perhaps Cuckoos (if that ends up on Hulu too).

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