The Spring 2018 Anime Preview Guide Spring 2018 Shorts
Since she's a Sanrio creation, and therefore can already be found peppering Hot Topics everywhere, I feel like I've been hearing about Aggretsuko for years before we were able to experience her misadventures in English. The character originated as a series of two-minute shorts that ran for 100(!) episodes before this more digestible 10-episode series of 15-minute episodes was greenlit straight to Netflix. I was tickled by the premise of a red panda (named Retsuko) who does her best to be a responsible wage slave climbing the corporate ladder by day, but belts out all her furious vitriol in death metal screams at night (hence the Aggressive part).
Well, after watching a sneak preview of the first four episodes, I can say that Aggretsuko shot past my already optimistic expectations. This isn't just a cute little show about #relatable office frustrations, it's an existential adventure through the exhausting labyrinth of sexism and capitalism that defines the average white-collar working woman's life, using cute animals to soften the blow. Once this lands on Netflix in three more days, you should absolutely snuggle up for a truly cathartic experience.
In retrospect, it's a wonder this wasn't made sooner. The average Sanrio aficionado is probably an adult woman with expendable income, which means the number of Aggretsukos out there might range in the millions. Retsuko herself is aware of this, often downplaying her intense anxieties and absolute hatred of her job because she knows this is just the way of the world for so many girls just like her. But boy does this series not hold back on how exhausting a 9-to-5 can be for women specifically, facing chauvinist (literal) pig bosses, the passive-aggressive energy of other women processing the same stress in different ways, and the frustration of not knowing how to fight back without being pariah'd as the office bitch and making your job even harder (if you can manage to keep it at all)! Miraculously, the show manages to frame all this draining hardship in hilarious and empathetic ways; we all know someone just like most of the animals in Retsuko's life, from a genial but perpetually unhelpful scrubby hyena to an Aubrey-Plaza-esque Fennec fox.
The thing that really makes the show special is that it's not a series of isolated gags; Aggretsuko's relatable personal crisis starts building from episode one and has already developed wildly by episode four, as she gingerly seeks opportunities to escape the hell of corporate accounting without losing her paycheck, and her terrible superiors increase the pressure on her in response to even her smallest acts of rebellion. All the while, the "perfect" high-powered executives Retsuko admires from afar (a gorilla in bright red lipstick and a secretary bird with fabulous feathers) grow ever closer as they start to see a little of their younger selves in the struggling 25-year old.
The only issue I have with this series is its pretty unremarkable Flash animation, but the writing, music, and general tone create such a cohesive and surprisingly engrossing tone that it hardly matters. (And even if there isn't much animation, the animals' facial expressions and idiosyncrasies are great.) If you wanted a version of Zootopia that was for and about the working girls of the world, Aggretsuko has your number, and I can't wait to see where this lovable little bear-cat ends up by episode 10.
Whew! Okay, I'll try to quickly run down my thoughts on all the other anime shorts of the season in order from best to worst:
Space Battleship Tiramisu: This was easily my favorite of the non-Aggretsuko shorts, not because its jokes about the everyday struggles of an anal-retentive mecha pilot were outstanding or anything. (I'd call him a NEET but well, he definitely has a job! That aside, his personality definitely fits the mold, bless his heart.) Rather, it's Tiramisu's excellent comedic timing that had me laughing throughout its run, as it builds up the frustration of not having time to eat (or more importantly, put away your food in zero gravity) before blasting off into space, then shifts into the truly maddening hell of getting stuck with your shirt on backwards/inside-out and being woefully unable to change it. (In this case because how do you get a t-shirt off over a space helmet?) There's also a healthy amount of manservice as an added bonus, so if you're down for a mundane and irreverent take on Gundam-style warfare, this one is definitely worth checking out.
Isekai Izakaya: This is exactly what it says on the tin, basically a shorter version of Restaurant to Another World that cuts straight to the food-porn point and excises all the RPG fluff. Frankly, since it shares RtAW's somewhat flawed conceit of customers being amazed by extremely basic Japanese dishes given that most of their regular diet is medieval stale bread and gruel, I consider this an improvement. Excess time spent with RtAW's tabletop caricatures was mostly time wasted, so if Food Wars! isn't sating your foodie anime needs this season and you like waxing rhapsodic about routine yet scrumptious Japanese bar food, this is a nice little ten minute escape. (In fairness to those fantasy customers, Japanese draft beer really is that divine.)
Crossing Time: Execution is everything for this one, since the premise of "short conversations people have as they wait for the train to pass" could turn out any number of ways, most of them probably boring. So far, the theme does appear to be "first love", which is a nice enough motif for delivering fun-size warm-fuzzies. The first episode builds up a surprisingly heartening and humorous love confession between a pair of high school girls, while the second episode delivers a pretty forgettable build-up of one-sided sexual tension between a shrimpy student and the oblivious object of his affections. I really liked the first episode, but I could do without the second, so this series is bound to be hit-or-miss. Good thing it's only three minutes!
You Don't Know Gunma Yet: I can't deny that I like the premise of this one more than the execution. Trying to encourage tourism to the least popular prefecture in the country by playing up its fascinating terribleness is definitely an interesting tactic! Unfortunately, anime that are made to drive tourism do still feel more like tourism adverts than anything else, and Gunma overplays its one-joke-per-episode a little too much even for its short runtime. Takasaki's mayor seems pretty chill though.
Love To-LIE-Angle: GET IT? LOVE TO-RAI-ANGLE? Anyway. This is basically a paint-by-numbers harem comedy in the vein of Love Hina, except that whitebread whingey harem protagonist guy is now whitebread whingey harem protagonist girl. There's certainly nothing wrong with relying on what works, and I do appreciate how blatant the bawdy fanservice in a yuri-scape that can be either unnervingly chaste or sadistically voyeuristic, but I think this one needs stronger production values to really shine as a guilty pleasure.
Anyway, what a season! I didn't get to participate much in preview guide this spring due to illness, but there are tons of great offerings out, and the shorts are no exception. I would recommend Aggretsuko to basically everyone, and I would recommend all these other shorts to someone depending on their tastes, leaving only two significant stinkers behind this season.
My Sweet Tyrant: This is a deeply flawed premise that needs several re-drafts to actually be funny. Watching an emotionally constipated weirdo treat his girlfriend like shit (which she doesn't mind because she appears to have confetti in place of a brain and cotton candy in place of a heart), while secretly idolizing and obsessing over her to a "call the police" degree is not my idea of heartwarming hilarity. It's supposed to be cute, but it's just awkward and uncomfortable. Nope.
Alice or Alice: Twin moeblob sisters roll around in bed, make faces at the camera, and fill
your their brother's day with cutesy bliss. Unless you're desperate for even more anime boobs, this one might as well not even exist.
Alright, with the spring season's full-length premieres wrapping up, it's time to get into this season's shorts selection. Let's run down a few of this season's briefest offerings!
First up, we've got Crossing Time, a fluffy and relatively charming show about the time people spend stuck at railroad crossings. That loose setup puts the focus on the relationships between whoever happens to be stopped at the crossing, and this first episode offered a cute romantic comedy vignette between the quiet Tomo and her boisterous upperclassman Ai. The two develop a reasonable manzai rapport across the course of this episode, leading up to the reveal that Tomo actually has feelings for her friend. All in all, this little vignette mostly reminded me of a skit from last year's Tsuredure Children, which is a strong reference point. On top of that, this skit's completely unexploited acknowledgment of Tomo's feelings for her female friend was also a welcome surprise, considering how often gay characters and their romantic feelings are treated as punchlines in anime. This episode was charming, sympathetic, and energetic throughout, making Crossing Time a fine choice for this spring season.
Next up, we've got the remarkably specific You Don't Know Gunma Yet, a show exclusively dedicated to riffing on the quirks of Gunma, a specific central Japanese prefecture. I'm guessing this one is intended to drum up Gunma tourism or something, because there wasn't anything to latch into dramatically in this episode beyond “you need to push the button to make trains stop in Gunma.” It also ends with the mayor of a Gunma town describing what makes his town great, which certainly reminded me of Sakura Quest in an endearing way, but it didn't really convince me to buy a plane ticket and go visit. I'm guessing there won't be too much for foreign audiences to enjoy in this one, but if you like low-key shows that just revel in the Japanese countryside, future episodes will likely at least be more compelling than this train-focused premiere.
Following that, we've got the equally specific but significantly less endearing My Sweet Tyrant, which seems to be a romantic comedy about the worst relationship in the world? The show frames it in a light and fluffy way, but the conceit is “Akkun does nothing but verbally abuse his girlfriend Nontan while they're together, but the fact that he stalks her and secretly tries to do stuff like hoard her scent demonstrates he really loves her.” I'm not really certain about the appeal of “you might think this boyfriend is awful, but secretly he's awful in an entirely different way,” but it certainly didn't work for me. And since every single joke was predicated on that contrast, I didn't have anything else to grab onto. An easy skip for this one.
Finally, I checked out the absurdly named Love To-LIE-Angle, which seemed to slot neatly into the “exploitation lesbians” subgenre of shows like Citrus, though with a lot more fanservice and a more slice of life tone. This first episode essentially felt like any “young boy arrives at a new dorm and immediately falls into a harem” situation, except this time that young boy is actually a girl named Hanabi. The central joke of this episode was “this boarding house is less luxurious than I expected,” and the writing outside of that gag wasn't much better, featuring multiple comic beats focused on getting trapped in boobs and stuff like that. The visual execution was also noticeably mediocre, with characters often sliding across screens to make up for the lack of animation. It's maybe worth a look if this is your genre, but otherwise it's a skip.
Ultimately, Crossing Time gets my easy pick for best short I watched, and it's also the only one of these shorts I'd actively recommend. Regardless, this still feels like a fine season for shorts. It's always nice to have a light palette cleanser in your back pocket!
Space Battleship Tiramisu sounds like it should be the title of a show within a show, the kind of thing a fictional anime club argues about when they're not having their own wacky misadventures. Instead, it happens to be my early favorite among this season's new crop of short series. It has the setting and characters of a big space opera, but ignores all of the high-concept science fiction stuff to focus on the mundane problems of the main mecha pilot. These include zero-gravity crumbs floating around his cockpit after a messy snack, an adorable space dog that the ship's captain won't let him keep, and a “nosy mom” mechanic who redecorates his cockpit without permission. It's a fun little genre parody, and the execution has been reasonably good thus far. I'll be keeping this one in my queue.
Coming in a distant second place is Crossing Time, which is billed as a series of short stories about people waiting at railroad crossings. It's the kind of premise that naturally lends itself to a short format, and the first episode is just long enough to get through its story of a girl confessing her love for her female classmate over the sound of a passing train. It's kind of cute, kind of funny, and lightweight enough to make for easy viewing. If the series can come up with a sufficient number of good stories to tell, it could be worth a few minutes a week.
This short timeframe doesn't work quite as well for You Don't Know Gunma Yet, which reaches the end of its first episode without really getting its story going. The plot is ostensibly about a teenager who moves to Gunma Prefecture and ends up learning about his new home from a group of zany characters, but at the moment he hasn't even gotten off the train. This could be an amusing take on the tour guide comedy formula, or it could be an utter waste of time. Until we meet the rest of the cast, it's tough to say which.
Isekai Izakaya offers up a premise that's similar to Restaurant to Another World, with a Japanese pub serving guests from a parallel dimension. It's a decent enough food show, but I have a couple of problems with the first two episodes. For one, the isekai part of the series doesn't really add anything. Apart from their medieval outfits, the town guards who visit the restaurant could just as easily be ordinary tourists (albeit maybe from the past) who've never had Japanese food before; we don't really get any sense of what their world is like from their conversations. My other gripe is that the screen frequently gets covered in text, including episode title graphics that stay up for the majority of the runtime. If the audience is supposed to be ogling the featured dish of the week, don't put a bunch of dancing text in the way.
Yuri harem comedy Love To-LIE-Angle doesn't seem particularly good, but I did have two interesting revelations while watching it. One: you can condense the first episode of a harem comedy down to about three minutes without sacrificing any of the standard plot points. Two: having a female protagonist doesn't make the tired old “main character falls into boobs” jokes any funnier. Aside from those observations, this show looks pretty forgettable.
Of all the shows on this list, My Sweet Tyrant suffers the most from being squeezed into bite-sized episodes. The premise is that the male lead is obnoxiously cold and nasty to his girlfriend despite being madly in love with her, and somehow she's totally on board with that arrangement. With a longer runtime, the first episode might have been able to establish a more quirky character comedy, but right now the main guy just seems like an annoying jerk. Skip this one.
Finally, we have Alice or Alice, which answers the question of what would happen if a little sister fanservice show featured twin sisters instead of just one. In case you're wondering, that twist doesn't make the show any better. This seems like the kind of series where viewers will be able to opt in or out based on the premise alone, and I'm sitting comfortably in the “opt out” camp. To make a long story short: giant robot parody good, sub-par romantic comedies bad.
Now that we've hit the end of a very crowded slate of spring premieres, it's time to take a look at all of the short series that have popped up over the last couple of weeks. I'll start with the relatively longer series of the bunch:
Isekai Izakaya is the longest of the shorts, with each of its episodes clocking in at around fourteen minutes in length. It also wins the season's award for “Series Most Likely to Get Me to Spend Irresponsible Amounts of Time and Money Recreating Japanese Dishes”. The basic premise revolves around a Japanese restaurant that has mysteriously gained access to another dimension, rooted in the usual Western Fantasy tropes of knights and dragons and all that. The Aitheria characters have a decent dynamic, but they really just exist to provide cultural contrast to Izakaya Nobu's delicious Japanese cuisine. Outside of the fact that way too much real estate on screen is given to text and watermarks, this is a good-looking show that does well in showing off the appeal of Japanese beer and double-fried chicken, among other dishes. Each episode also includes a little live action tag at the end, which feature Japanese chefs and celebrities offering some insight into local culture and cuisine. This is an educational and entertaining series so far, well worth checking out.
Next up is Space Battleship Tiramisu, which runs for about seven minutes each episode and is easily the most visually distinct short series of the season. It's trying to ape the style of hyper-dramatic mecha action series, while still indulging its own weird flavor of comedy. It also features an abundant amount of naked muscular men, so if you were looking for fanservice this season in a bite-sized form, then Space Battleship Tiramisu might just be for you. The show is also pretty funny, with most of its humor stemming from protagonist Subaru's need to revel in the personal sanctuary of his mech's cockpit. Whether it means desperately trying to enjoy fried pork cutlets in peace, smuggling giant Space Chihuahuas, or attempting to change an inside-out shirt in the middle of a battle, Subaru is just trying to live his best life. I wasn't blown away by Space Battleship Tiramisu, but its quirky sense of humor could definitely be good for a laugh now and again.
I'll cover the rest of the briefer three-minute shorts in order of how much I enjoyed them:
Crossing Time is an interesting little oddity, as an anthology story focusing on people who make conversation while waiting to cross the train tracks. This episode focuses on Ai and Tomo, the former of whom just wants to live out her ideal “youth life” of falling in love with cute boys, while Tomo just wants her senpai to realize that it is perfectly okay for girls to fall in love and date too. The frank discussion of Tomo's feelings for Ai was definitely cute, not to mention admirably frank, but the anthology nature of the series means that it's uncertain whether we'll see how this relationship develops; I certainly hope we can. In any case, this was a pleasant and enjoyable slice-of-life short, and if Crossing Time remains consistent, then it could prove to be one of the short series to beat this season.
You Don't Know Gunma Yet takes an interesting approach of educating viewers about Japan's Gunma Prefecture, and ostensibly encouraging more tourism, by depicting the prefecture as a bizarre and terrifying nightmare world from which protagonist Kamitsuki cannot escape. (Imagine a slightly less deranged version of the Rock Bottom episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.) Each episode revolves around a key Gunma factoid that gets twisted in a surreal way—the trains to Gunma don't have automatically opening doors, which turns them into spooky Hell Trains, and the local variety of noodle is used by unruly students to tie up and subdue Kamitsuki after he messes up the morning class greeting. For a one-joke premise of a show, it's a decent enough way to kill a few minutes each week, though it probably plays better to local viewers who understand the cultural differences between prefectures.
My Sweet Tyrant is what would happen if Karakai Jōzu no Takagi-san were gender-flipped and kind of stupid. Nontan is the cute and oblivious girl dating Atsuhiro, aka “Akkun”, a gruff boy who constantly ridicules and belittles her. The joke is that Akkun secretly adores Nontan, going so far as to essentially stalk her from afar, though he never shows such affection to her face. At only a few minutes long, the short is too brief to be actively terrible, but it definitely didn't do much for me. The premise is half-baked, and Akkun is not a likable leading man, so the whole “quirky romance” aspect of the series fizzles out fast. Feel free to skip this one.
Love To-LIE-Angle is another one-joke comedy, this time taking all the most cliché harem tropes and casting a girl as the lead instead of a guy. Given that this is a three-minute comedy, there's no room for nuance here, so instead the short piles on the gags and the fanservice. Natsuno Hanabi is this series' so-called “lucky pervert”, though the gender switch-up doesn't make her any more likable than your average bland male protagonist. The other girls aren't much more interesting, acting as fanservice dispensers more than anything. There are plenty of other full-length shows that do both comedy and fanservice much better than Love To-LIE-Angle, so only give this a shot if you absolutely need a bite-sized yuri harem comedy.
Alice or Alice is HIDIVE's simulcast short of the season, and the setup is about as straightforward as it gets: cute little sisters doing everyday activities, with a self-insert big brother character along for the ride for the girls to fawn over. Being an older brother to a number of younger sisters, I'm inherently wary of any series that goes to such lengths to glamorize the sibling dynamic, but then Alice or Alice makes sure to include some fanservice shots of the young girls to make things feel even sleazier. The different sisters we meet would be fine enough in a vacuum, but the way the show puts so much emphasis on maid outfits, boob-jiggles, and crotch shots makes it quite apparent that Alice or Alice won't be for me. There's just too much concentrated and sexualized moe here for my liking, so Alice or Alice is a show I have absolutely no problem dropping for good.
None of the shorts this season stuck out to me as keepers, but there is some entertainment value to be found here and there. Here's my breakdown:
Space Battleship Tiramasu – Ever wonder why ace mecha pilots are never shown eating in their cockpits? The first of two vignettes in the first episode of this 7-minute short answers that question in inglorious detail. The second story explains why mecha pilots should always be careful getting dressed before getting into the cockpit. Expect lots of manly flesh in the second part, in this overall goofy take on life as a star mecha pilot.
Love To-LIE-Angle – In this 3½ minute short, a 15-year-old girl's expectations about her high school dorm are upended when the location turns out to be much less than she expected in terms of venue and much more than she expected in terms of her housemates. The first episode strongly suggests that this is going to be an exercise in yuri fanservice first and foremost, though there are hints of an actual story too. I am curious to see if the censoring is part of the joke, or if there actually will be an uncensored version.
Alice or Alice – This roughly 3½ minute short features twin sisters and their supposedly sister-obsessed elder brother, with the second episode introducing a friend of the girls and her busty younger sister. It uses entirely chibi-fied art with vague fanservice elements, but it's not actually that dirty. Except for some potential cute factor, there's little point or entertainment value to this one.
My Sweet Tyrant – The premise of this 3½ minute short is that two longtime friends are dating, but the boy always speaks harshly to the girl in her presence, even though he's head-over-heels in love with her to the point of recording her voice for private playback. The girl seems to take all of his nasty comments as signs of affection too, remaining blissfully happy about their relationship. Its technical merits aren't bad, but I'm not sure this one works even as dumb humor so far.
You Don't Know Gunma Yet – In this silly 3-minute short, a young man is relocating to Gunma Prefecture (a landlocked prefecture roughly in the center of Honshu), only to be warned away by a friend who moved there years earlier. After that message, the passengers on his train appear very creepy to him. I'm assuming that there's some kind of in-joke at play here, since the show seems to be simultaneously promoting and warning people away from the province.
Isekai Izakaya – Each of this series' 15-minute episodes consists of about 10½ minutes of animation coupled with a roughly three-minute live action segment; the first episode features cooking one of the items shown in the animation, while the second shows a Japanese actor visiting an izakaya that specializes in the kind of chicken dish shown in the episode. The premise of the animated parts of the show is simple: residents of another world come into the establishment and become amazed at basic Japanese food and drinks, to the point that they have visions of gods (based partly on wordplay) and fairy tales as they enjoy the succulent tastes of food and drink. There's no sign of development for these characters or their individual stories. The show can be funny, but this is mostly for foodies and not helped by being styled somewhat like a variety show. Restaurant to Another World has already done this concept better.
Topping the list of “Shorts I Can Live Without” this season is Alice or Alice. That's not to say that it's terrible, although off the top of my head, the only major compliment I have for it is the nicely animated boob jiggle when Rise rolls over in the opening scene. Otherwise, this feels like a basic cute girl fanservice show with a little incest thrown in for flavor, unless I'm grossly misreading the way Airi and Rise feel about their nameless big brother. Maybe Airi will progress beyond being too stupid to live, but nothing about these characters is charming or interesting enough to merit any more episodes on my part.
Love To-LIE-Angle, on the other hand, seems more promising in terms of sexy girl stories. This is mostly because our unwitting heroine, Hanabi, is playing the role usually given to the sole male in a cast of cute girls: the harem lead. She's moved back to her old town, met the younger girl who adored her, and even got a glimpse of one new dormmate's nipples, another's vagina, and been embraced by a third's ample bosom. In terms of goofy fanservice, this looks like the season's pick so far, and the fact that everyone appears to have a personality as opposed to the blandness of Alice or Alice is icing on the cake. Plus the cherry metaphor cracked me up for some reason.
I can see where My Sweet Tyrant is trying to be funny. The juxtaposition between Akkun's words and his super sweet love for Non-chan is decently amusing, but this is a case where the brevity of the show works against it. Where a longer episode would have allowed for us to get to know the characters beyond the repeated gag, a three-and-a-half minute one only allows for the gag, meaning that we're stuck with the series' one joke as the sole thing to judge it on, apart from the fairly nice visuals Since I don't find that gag particularly funny, that makes this quite a long three minutes, because how many times can you watch a guy insult his girlfriend before acting like a stalker to show that he really does love her before you get bored or creeped out? The answer in this case is “not many.”
I don't know what I was expecting with You Don't Know Gunma Yet – maybe one of those animated travel brochure-type shows – but I definitely enjoyed what I got, which was basically the reaction my friends had when I told them I was moving north of Bangor (Maine). Apparently Gunma has the same sort of reputation Maine's Aroostook County, that it is a pit from which there is no return. According to the episode, it's ranked the least popular Japanese province, and our hero is on his way there. The over-dramatic presentation really makes this; the doors that no longer open automatically at the station, the regional accents that sound thuggish to him, and the evil pointy-toothed laugh of the demon train conductor. As the hero's anxiety spirals out of control, the whole episode just gets more and more melodramatically horrific. It's really funny in an unexpected way, and even if things take a more normal turn from here, this episode is great on its own and a wonderful example of how our fears about a place can utterly take over the way we see things.
Space Battleship Tiramisu is may be the longest short of the season, but more importantly it's part of the marked increase in male fanservice I've noticed this season – between the ending of Nil Libra of Admirari and the entirety of Happy Kiss and now this, we've got plenty of bare masculine chests and male tushes to look at. Of course, Subaru is self-conscious about his oddly placed nipples, but at least he's perfectly happy piloting his mecha in the buff. This is very absurd comedy poking direct fun at space mecha shows of the Gundam variety, and it does work in that vein. While I didn't find it uproariously funny and perhaps identified with Subaru's love of his own private space in the cockpit a bit too much, this looks like it will be a good break for your brain when you don't have more than seven minutes to watch something silly. It isn't perfect, but if even one of the jokes lands at this length, it's done its job.
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