Welcome (back) to the Three Episode Test, where contributors give you the low-down on what they're watching from the current simulcast season and why. Ink's watching TONS, but that includes a lot of shorts. Read more below!


Izetta: The Last Witch

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I came for the Luftwaffe porn, and I’m staying for the politically engrossing, fast-paced fairy tale. The former is merely icing on the cake, however, when you consider that this original series is written by Hiroyuki Yoshino, who assisted with Code Geass. There are definitely some similarities, not the least of which is the gripping flow of the story — this time split between a near-parallel of pre-World War II German (here, Germainian) invasions and the reunion of Eylstadt’s Princess Finé with her childhood friend Izetta (the titular last witch).

As the Germanian war machine crushes everything in its path, the small country of Eylstadt seems doomed. But a legend of a protector in the form of the fabled white witch comes to save the day again in the form of a flaming haired burning eyed hunter witch. Both female leads are already displaying some serious roundness in their individual struggles with motivations vs. promises, and the only thing compromising such strong characters (Izetta specifically) are some totally unnecessary crotch and butt shots when Izetta’s riding some armament or other in the air. That said, the action scenes are pretty …REAL pretty; the obvious CG lends an otherworldliness to the machines of war (tanks, planes) that make them seem legitimately threatening. I also got a huge kick out of watching the Germainian versions of Göring and Maximilian von Weichs bet over champagne whose forces would decimate Eylstadt. Definitely sticking with this one.

Flip Flappers

Streaming on Crunchyroll

There was a description of a Butthole Surfers concert that’s always stuck with me: strippers or women in bikinis danced seductively before a video screen onto which eyeball surgery was projected — all as the band played through their set. Flip Flappers has much the same effect. When you use anime to tell the story of a world of pure imagination, the likes of which Willy Wonka could only dream, wonderfully unforeseeable, unpredictable things can be made to happen. Unfortunately, one of those things is the depiction of a scantily clad middle school girl. The other uncomfortable thing is the odd slip of an otherwise well-behaved camera and certain scenes that seem crafted for crass titillation rather than exploitation of the fantastic world into which the story is attempting to draw the audience.

Flip Flappers crafts a world in which the viewers know only as much as the main character, Cocona, as she’s drawn into adventure after adventure by an overly enthusiastic, friendship-seeking science experiment named Papika. As such, the anime promises the exploration of fantastic worlds and delivers on them … with conflicting results. Paying too much attention will induce winces, but coasting through with eyes grazing the surface of some fast and beautiful world-building art and animation writes a check to the devil for your enjoyment. As of Episode 3, the series looks to be promising an ever-deepening descent into a world of pure fantasy, and the art and animation have both the beauty and competency to back that up. I’m hanging in until the eye surgery and porn totally overwhelm the music.

Keijo!!!!!!!!

Streaming on Crunchyroll

In five words: too laughable (and perhaps even too competent) not to watch. Undoubtedly, this series was the title that begged to be hated. And yet I found myself loving the majority of the first two episodes dealing with an 18-year-old girl who wants to do battle with her butt and boobs on a floating platform in a pool. The stupidity of the “sport” and the exploitation it begs are one thing, but the protagonist’s training regimen of over-the-top posterior exercises and classroom lessons in Asstronomy (I kid you not), coupled with the shonen battle formula, is a pure win for those looking for pure ridiculousness. And I fear my praise for this particular anime will not stop there.

Until Episode 3, the show centers around a sport that involves girls in swimsuits thrusting their privates for an eager camera, but none of it is done in a tantalizing way. The motions are too obvious or absurd, and the thinly covered (animated) flesh is too thinly veiled to be lurid. Rather, the premise works with depictions of overly assertive lunges to produce one of the best comedies this season. And then Episode 3 throws in plenty of male gaze pandering that the series, up until then, has managed to so skillfully negate via mockery and oversaturation. I’ll keep watching in hopes Episode 3 was a fluke and that the series will maintain the tone and vision set forth by its initial two episodes.

Scorching Ping Pong Girls

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Yes, I’m watching this one until the end, but no, it’s not because I want to … maybe. To clarify: I’m watching this in order to trash talk about it on the Taiiku Podcast. The first episode pretty much confirmed my concerns about what I’d be watching: moé sports muck. There are all the usual trappings: uncomfortable male gaze-centric camera angles, boob fondling and nomenclature (seriously, one of the girls is named Boobyboob, as localized from Chestchest), regular and unnecessary references to panties, and unforgivingly cardstock characters who largely talk either in deadpan or pitches that break nearby windows. Beyond moé complaints, the character designs are awful and flat/distorted/off-model, the matches don’t feature much in the way of enthralling animation, and I LOVE PING PONG: THE ANIMATION SO MUCH.

I dreaded watching any more of Scorching Ping Pong Girls, but Episode 2 starts to focus on fears and motivation of the main table tennis ace, Agari, in light of the new rising star, Koyori, who basically beats everyone in the club within two days of stepping into the clubroom and who is now looking to challenge Agari. There’s some legitimately competent character development and visual storytelling going on in that episode, and Episode 3, curse its all, actually builds on it effectively (even if only to end all too quickly and predictably). I think I see where this is going, however, and it’s not the path I’d have any interest in due to wasting the novel opportunity to explore the darker side of competition via moé.

Yuri!!! On ICE

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Sayo Yamamoto (Michiko & Hatchin, Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine) has more than proven herself a director whose work should be watched. Studio MAPPA, founded by mastermind Masao Maruyama, has a reputation for taking on projects largely based on merit and interest and completing them in spectacular fashion (Kids on the Slope, Garo, Rage of Bahamut: Genesis). This is dream territory, people!

So far as story goes, Yuri’s a failed figure skater who’s come back to his home town after eating away his feelings. An unexpected visit from his skating idol, who’s been inspired to coach Yuri back into the rink and shape him up for competitions, and a competition with another skater named Yuri represent the bulk of the first three episodes. The character animation, which varies greatly in style, is vividly expressive … and not just in the glamourized ice skating routines. During the latter, the character designs and animation suggest both genders in one character (a line in Episode 3 even alludes to this), which suggest some undertones regarding gender that are more complex than you’d find in most anime. While the story’s a familiar one, the team behind it makes it a completely fulfilling watch (weekly or binged). The content is much deeper than pretty boys skating as fujoshi bait, something the series does love to tease through more than enough obviously suggestive material), but the show goes about delivering its message with a light touch laced with a good dose of humor.


Shorts Roundup!!!

Aooni The Blue Monster

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Aooni The Blue Monster is a rarity to be sure: a short, highly energetic comedy that manages to exist within a decently established creepy ambience. The ambient horror is established via the locked haunted mansion setting but perhaps draws most of its strength from the humanoid design of Aooni (the titular monster), which is superdeformed and cast in a dark blue hue with an ominous grin. The human cast is chibified 100% of the time, save in the OP, which adds to the comedic value already raised by both the situational humor and writing that heavily and successfully relies upon twists of expectations. This a really fun watch, and the constant contrast of gore with chibi forms make every episode so far a chuckle-fest. Aooni is either a shape shifter, or there are monsters similar to it in the mansion (judging by the ED), and I can’t wait to see ‘em all in action. It's not a show I seek out week to week, but it is one I enjoy every time I click play due to a queue update email reminder.

Crane Game Girls Galaxy (Sequel)

Streaming on Crunchyroll

If you, like me, LOVED the first season of Crane Game Girls, do yourself a favor and enjoy those memories. Novelties are defined by their uniqueness, but that does not write a blank check for continuation or, much less, expansion. Such is the case here. Whereas the original five-minute animation was special for its absurd plot and obvious repugnance with the proliferation of idol-focused anime, the second season just expands the absurdity to create an almost existential crisis. There is no need for more; the first run made its point.

There are more characters introduced via the idol-populated Earth invasion force Dark Cherry, who exhibit (as if this was even possible) even more two-dimensional traits than the original cast of South Park-animated Earth defense idols. The new characters are deadpan, airhead, and buxom blonde … all imported from your favorite moé for supposed mockery but without any consequence of such, which betrays the concept of the show. On the plus side there’s more utterances of “uho” from Dark Gorilla, but that’s hardly enough to sustain a season’s worth of watching. The worst part? Instead of five minutes of uselessness, there’s ten! And the five-minute live-action segments tacked on after each episode are utterly dispensable.

Kiitaro's Yokai Picture Diary

Streaming on Crunchyroll

It’s a slice-of-life show in which a young man who can see yōkai is ousted from the main house to live in the guest house … which just happens to be infested with yōkai. From there on in, it’s just Kiitaro encountering random yōkai as he goes about his daily life. At around four minutes each, there’s very little reason not to watch if you love learning about or seeing depictions of the various monsters that the people of Japan have created to explain the unknown or scare their children into helping them with daily chores.

The animation style is very clean, the character designs are rather textbook, and the writing’s on enough of a level to warrant investment in whatever excuse is used to bring boy to yōkai in that particular episode. A somewhat lamentable use of repetition, bending to the LCD, occurs in Episode 3, but the humor in each episode is otherwise a pretty good facilitator. If you’re not digging this one by the end of Episode 2, I’d say call it a day. But the ratio of time invested to the number of yōkai you can be exposed to (and learn more in depth about on your own) is pretty invaluable. This is definitely a weekly watch for me.

Miss Bernard Said

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Ya know, I’ve been meaning to catch up on Teekyu. In all seriousness, the execution in this show is just about the same but with tennis swapped for literature. There’s also a matter of the jokes having a bit more of a centered theme and, what I like the most perhaps: more meta/critical jokes about readers and non-readers than constant puns and gags brought about by a barrage of non-sequiturs. Because of the rapid-fire nature of these and other farcical jokes, keeping a finger on the pause button is quite necessary and usually rewarded; catching everything the first time though, even though this is a very simple comedy, is tough given the massive amount of text on screen at any given moment when a book is present…which is almost always. The tongue-in-cheek humor doesn’t elicit laugh riots a la Teekyu, but the coaxed chuckles feel way more fulfilling. Each episode clocks in around three minutes, so this is yet another not to be missed if you dig hyper comedy with lots of in-jokes.

Ninja Girl and Samurai Master

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Chidori’s a young shinobi from Iga, which has been decimated by war, and Nobunaga’s a feudal lord fighting to unify Japan. When the two cross paths, she’s literally drowning due to being weighed down by the number of armaments on her chibi body. After hearing Nobunaga’s noble reason for fighting, Chidori decides to serve him and ends up doing so more competently than any other shinobi in his employ. Sengoku (Warring States) period action has never been so cute or so much fun!

I was first made aware of this series when I interviewed the director Akitaro Daichi and voice actress Naoki Matsui, who voices Matsu, at AnimeNEXT. The series is based off a 4-panel gag manga, and that’s perfect material for a director who revels in the soul-lightening power of laughter. Both visual and written humor elements center around the contrast of form verses function. Watching chibi figures hack and slash through fields of enemies never gets tiring, and Chidori’s being a bit of an idiot savant, in that she’s talented only at being a shinobi (I lie, she’s also talented at being ADORABLE), and reactions thereto fills most of the storyboarding. The series is quick, good, cute fun with loose historical context. A great week-to-week watch whose brevity always brings the yuks.

Sengokuchojyugiga

Streaming on Crunchyroll

I love shows that get creative in terms of art style. Using the visual mold that all too many define as "anime" gets tiresome, so this series, which humorously portrays sengoku period generals as animals in three-minute gags, is just what the doctor ordered. Each episode is animated sumi-e style and juxtaposes modern language and historical figures with raucous situations for much of the humor, which runs the gamut from dry to slapstick. While the former will be a hit more with history buffs, there are plenty of jokes to hold the attention of diverse audiences. Even if you’re totally unfamiliar with some of the names, anime like this can be a great jumping off point to learning via some Googling.

To Be Hero

Streaming on Crunchyroll

Confession: I never finished Excel Saga even though the series is near and dear to my heart for its hyper comedic composition facilitated by competent gag juxtapositions. Not even five minutes into To Be Hero, I found my lips curling into a familiar grin permanently pasted upon my face by rapid-fire gags of undeniable absurdity and situations of absolute stupidity. Yup, I’m watching another Shinichi Watanabe show! This one centers around a debonair letch of a toilet seat salesman who adores his only daughter who loves, loathes, and lives with him after his divorce. One day, he falls down the toilet, gains superpowers for having done so, and returns to the surface world … as an obese man who is unable to talk to his daughter in any language other than sleaze. (Everyone else he can converse with normally.) Thus estranged, he’s taken in by the flamboyant exhibitionist next door who believes his story (or just doesn’t care) and takes to unknowingly foiling inept alien attempts to take over the world. (Spoiler: sometimes they foil themselves.)

The show is just a lot of stupid fun, and packing the juxtaposition of the father’s new life, the daughter’s situation of seemingly being suddenly abandoned, and each week’s evil alien plot into less than 10 minutes per episode is perfect; the hyper is contained to a time frame that does not wear out its welcome. Instead, it’s become almost what I look forward to most to lift my spirits on any given week, and the chibi ED pretty much solidifies that.

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