2021 for anime is actually shaping up to be a great one. Maybe it’s because I’m properly getting into anime and keeping up with the seasonals after 3 years, or maybe all the great stuff was delayed because of the pandemic. Still, it’s impressive how many good shows have been coming out recently. I have a batch of shows that I have completed from Spring 2021 which I thought were “good”/enjoyable enough to talk about in brief in this list. And I’ll do exactly that (in no particular order) right about… now!
The confluence of disparate character arcs makes up a cocktail of a narrative that felt like controlled chaos. I can’t say I found every character story compelling, but the way they were connected together and the tight script made my entire watching experience very entertaining. There’s a thriller-like tension in the story’s pace that’s complemented by a dry, witty sense of humor. The character writing often reveals the darkest chambers of vanity in the human heart but doesn’t deny that these qualities are still human and that the characters are still trying to connect with others that make them feel more at home in a city that rarely feels like that. I love how these metropolitan themes of loneliness and vanity are weaved in what feels like a mystery.
I have mixed feelings on Tanaka’s character arc – the closure felt abrupt and I never felt any menace from him as his (very cool) industrial noise-y soundtrack implied throughout the show. There are characters where their behavior felt slightly off-character, and their dialogue felt like they were there more to serve as clues for the audience than what they wanted to say. I guess it’s a mystery anime, so it’s not that big of a deal but I had trouble completely empathizing with characters outside of Odokawa. I really didn’t have any significant issues with the writing outside of that, overall, the writing is ambitious and meets up to the task with well-planned episodes.
The sound design of the show is probably the best technical aspect of the show, the tracks have these nocturnal, dark yet neon aesthetics to them. I couldn’t stand Yano’s rap sections, though. The delivery from Meteor sounded really phoned-in, the dude wasn’t even riding the beat half the time, and he rarely switched up his flow. If Yano was in a rap battle, he would get slam-dunked on by the flow of a sixth grader’s slam poetry (no disrespect towards slam poetry). The opening is cool, the art direction is poppy and the synth eruption on the title card is blissful. The ‘80s dance pop-influenced ending track is sweet, it sounds like a song out of KOTO’s last album. I think that’s all I have to say on the show: plot-wise, it certainly is one of the most well-crafted anime this year and I think anyone who watches this will like it to some degree – it’s got a universal charm.
As easy as it would be to dismiss this show as a glorified Honda commercial, Super Cub boasts consistently good production backed by a solid cast. The art’s linework is pristine, the character animation has good detail, and the sound design is serene and subtle (except at one point which I’ll get into later). I mean, if you are looking for a iyashikei anime about girls bonding with each other and finding their small happiness from riding motorbikes, this is it. I like the use of color grading to show the moods the girls are in. Out of the three, Reiko brings color to the dynamic with her mischief and headstrong attitude. Koguma’s blandness gets less dull over the course of the anime, and her smiles are cute.
Eniwa gets more exposure in the last leg of the anime and… I don’t think she brought much to the show. The worst moment in the show featured her too, unfortunately. It’s the beginning of the episode where she falls into a stream, and calls Koguma. Koguma rushes towards her with Vivaldi’s Winter playing in the background – that was just unintentionally funny. The use of classical pieces in the soundtrack is generally not as awkwardly overzealous, though. Overall, it’s a good slice of life anime to relax with.
Nomad: Megalo Box 2
I did a full review/discussion of it HERE. TL;DR: It’s amazing, it’s my favorite show from Spring 2021. The writing is masterful, I love how it evolves on simplistic themes, and transforms a character study into a fable-like narrative on loneliness, home and the fleetingness of success.
Zombieland Saga: Revenge
This sequel is as lively, funny, and charming as the first season. Koutarou is still one of the most hilarious characters in anime, and the show still hasn’t dulled out in terms of character dynamics between the Franchouchou girls. The scale of the show is larger, with the region of Saga’s legacy is put into view. Sure, stakes get more ridiculous but that was already the M.O. of the show since the beginning. Whenever the show does take itself seriously, it feels authentic. The opening sequence’s visuals are sharp and have this epic, theatrical vibe to it that I like. The songs featured on the show are generally good, except for Lily’s scatting… it’s uh… not good.
The dance animations are still pretty hit-and-miss, although this season it’s more hits than misses. The crowd’s lightstick animation at the end felt really real, maybe it was rotoscoped? I think that more rotoscoping would help with the dance animation, or maybe they are already doing rotoscoping and I’m just talking out of my ass. Anyway, this was a fun sequel and I can’t wait for another season of this.
Don’t Toy with Me, Miss Nagatoro
Yes, this show is pretty fetishistic. Sure, there are cute moments here and there, but for most of the time – the “comedy” of Nagatoro “teasing” our loner-otaku self-insert is there to fulfill sadomasochistic fantasies without being explicit about it.
And I’m into it. I’ve noticed this recent trend of anime featuring anime girls teasing their love interest in shows like Takagi-san and Uzaki-chan. But this show unashamedly fetishizes the teasing and takes it further to bullying. Then again, the show tells us it’s not really “bullying” because she likes the dude. I’m not sure her bullying can be even viewed as “problematic” because the anime gives us nothing that indicates that Senpai-kun is going through real trauma, on the contrary, he seems to be blushing and getting a kick out of it. Literally.
I think the best thing this anime does is not take itself seriously. Nagatoro’s expressions are meme-material and the show, overall, is well-drawn (like it’s lifted off the manga). I think the anime is well-produced, the episodes have this perfect, bingeable length that made them really easily to watch. I never got bored with this anime, except during the isekai episode. The voice acting is noticeably good, especially Suzuki Aina’s performance as Yoshi – she’s the funniest character. The ending song is cute. I don’t know, similar to Senpai-kun, I got a cathartic kick out of watching this show.
I have to say, the anime uses its restrained world-building to build up quite the attention-grabbing mystery. I dig the Victorian, prissy-ass visual design and the detail they show in the character animations – it’s neither too extravagant nor too subtle. However, it’s the characters that made the whole reveal at the end all the more compelling. Let’s take the dichotomy between the Shadows and the dolls. Weirdly, the dolls have to follow their Shadows instead of how it works in the normal world – and that’s a detail that foreshadows what’s to come. Every shadow and doll pair has their own well-written character chemistry, with their interactions reflecting their growth with each subsequent episode.
Emilico is a ball of sunshine yet she’s very astute in high-stakes situations. I think she’s one of the most charismatic anime characters that grabbed my attention like this since Chika from Kaguya-sama. The pacing of the whole cour is done pretty well, the episode structures made me reminiscent of Neverland’s first season. The discussion on classism is a bit on the nose, but it’s not tasteless – at one point of the show, the classism concepts are taken to different forms of power dynamics. Even with the quality of writing dipping a bit during the last three episodes, Shadows House is a layered, engaging, and promising mystery show.
With SSSS.Dynazenon, Studio Trigger brings together a spectacular, wild mutant beast of a show that’s a whirlwind of disparate character stories, cool giant-robot battles, and a dizzying plot progression. I honestly think that this is the best anime Trigger has come out with since Little Witch Academia. Similar to the eye-catching character designs in Gridman (and other Trigger shows), I dig the color coordination in the designs of both characters and Kaiju – they are like eye-candy. Another aspect of the show that impressed me is the comedy, the jokes aren’t distracting and the use of repetition (like Onija’s “I thought I’d be dead” line). Despite the chaotic and unfocused nature of the overarching plot, I really can’t say each episode is as unfocused and chaotic. Every episode
The character animation, although not the most fluid, certainly has detail and expression to their body language that gives us more than their script does at certain points. I thought the CG animation was up to par to give us one exciting Kaiju-of-the-week fight after another. Yume’s character growth was beautiful and her interactions with Yomogi were endearing. I was particularly invested in how Chise and Koyomi’s relationship fared – it was great seeing them change over the series. Of course, I can’t lie that I didn’t appreciate the sporadic (Mujina’s) thigh-centric fanservice here and there. The ending of the series couldn’t have been better, I seriously think this is in my top 3 favorite shows from Spring 2021.
That’s all for this roundup of my favorite shows of the season. Hopefully I’ll make another after the summer season ends!