The Wrap-Up: Summer 2021

We didn’t have much of a summer where I live, and I wish that had been the case all over the world, seeing as it would have been a perfect analogy for the complete non-event that was the summer 2021 anime season. Regardless, anime bloggers must sail on, whether the winds are in their favour or not, so as the seasons change, The Wrap-Up rises from its slumber once more. In The Wrap-Up, all of our contributors get to shine a spotlight on the show they thought to be the very best of the past few weeks, as well as reflect back on the preview to see which shows let us down the most. When you watch currently airing anime or tokusatsu, eventually the question will rise which of these shows can rank amongst the medium’s true classics. Regardless of who covered what, this is where we single out the cream of the crop, and decide which shows from the past season deserve to stand the test of time.

This time around, unfortunately, the songs of praise we so blissfully sang last season have turned into half-assed 2 a.m. ukulele covers. The finger on the proverbial monkey’s paw has curled with all the conviction and finesse of a party horn rolling itself back up — in other words, this season was such a wet blanket half the crew had to take a page out of my booklet and cheat their way to finding a favourite. On the positive side, that means we have an incredibly diverse line-up of shows to discuss, from shows that aren’t even finished yet, over shows that aired years ago and shows that aren’t Japanese, to shows that aren’t even that good to begin with. You know what they say about the land of the blind and all that. Boy, this season sure made me wish I lived in the land of the blind, am I right guys?!

… Look, no one else wanted to write this introduction, okay?

What was your favorite show of the season?

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S

The quality (or lack there of) of the summer anime season is going to be a running theme in this post, and for me this has manifest in practically being forced to declare Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S my favorite show of the season. I literally have no other options. That said, I don’t hate it — in fact there is a lot I love. It’s a great found family story, Kobayashi and Tohru are the best couple Kyoto Animation has ever put on screen, and they even get married! The problem is… everything else that happens in the show. I can’t openly recommend it due to some hypersexualized characters, borderline pedophilia, and some real uncomfortable bits involving gender in the first couple of episodes. If you’re a sucker like me and can get past that, great, but I would not ask anyone else to.

Honorable Mentions: I guess shout out to Aquatope on White Sand as the only other show I liked, but that is ongoing and technically doesn’t qualify.

Which show let you down the most?

Sonny Boy

I had high hopes for Sonny Boy and it met almost none of my expectations. Even staunch defenders will tell you that this thing is a mess of ideas. It’s like writer/director Shingo Natsume has spent years jotting down any random “deep” thought about society that happened to pop into his head, and now he’s publishing that collection in anime form. That could be good if executed properly, but all we get are bland morality tales of the week, with characters that don’t feel nearly as interesting or endearing as they are meant to be. Even the surreal visuals seem mediocre despite the striking art style. But the most damning indictment of Sonny Boy is the fact that they found a way to make a bad anime baseball episode. How is that even possible???

Dishonorable Mentions: To Your Eternity had a great start and a great final episode, and I kind of hated everything in between. Focusing on the magical meta plot was a bad choice and totally killed it for me.

What was your favorite show of the season?

Star Wars: Visions

To be clear, I am completely sick of Star Wars. My favorite installment is Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords, which spent most of its runtime tearing down the franchise’s core elements, exploring its every thematic wrongdoing and moral failing. But when you hand Star Wars to a bunch of anime studios, it’s able to drop most (not all) of its baggage and just be space samurai fun times, and for the first time in over a decade I was able to genuinely appreciate and enjoy it. Trigger’s The Twins is of course a bombastic showcase of Hiroyuki Imaishi’s beloved style, but the surprise standouts to me were Geno Studio’s Lop and Ocho and Studio Colorido’s Tatooine Rhapsody, both of which felt like they could have only come out of an anime anthology like this.

Honorable Mentions: Getter Robo Arc, while not actually very good, led me to watching 1998’s excellent Getter Robo Armageddon and gave me greater context and appreciation for my favorite super robot shows. To Your Eternity adapted some of the strongest early material of an emotionally powerful manga. Thunderbolt Fantasy Season 1 was an incredibly entertaining journey into some good proper wuxia fun.

Which show let you down the most?

Digimon Adventure:

The original Digimon Adventure is one of very few shows I would genuinely qualify as important to my childhood, and I was happy to share it with Zigg. The reboot lacks literally any positive trait from the original show that is not simply re-using the visuals or design. It was a truly wasted half-hour each week for over a year and I do not understand how a show from 2020 can have such blatantly worse writing than a show from 1999.

Dishonorable Mentions: Sonny Boy lacked any reason for me to actually care about its simultaneously surreal yet subtextless worlds. To Your Eternity was, frankly, a poor adaptation of excellent source material. Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time closed the book on the franchise and I sincerely hope I never have to talk about Evangelion again.

What was your favorite show of the season?

Love Live! Superstar!!, I guess?

Much to my surprise, dismay, and ultimately, disgust, I must admit that, as per the rules I myself came up with for this feature, none of the shows I have enjoyed this season are eligible for the highly coveted award of my favourite anime of the season. Of the two shows I watched to completion so far, neither is particularly deserving of a recommendation — more on that later! — and everything else I’m still enjoying is carrying over into the next season (The Aquatope on White Sand, Fena: Pirate Princess), or was barely even a part of this season to begin with (The Heike Story). There is, however, one show that would have finished in time for this features if it hadn’t been for those darn Olympics — a show for which I do believe some congratulations are in order. That’s right, by sheer technicality, my favourite anime of this season is — Lord, forgive me — Love Live! Superstar!!

This is odd, because if you journeyed along with me through the previous Love Live! series way back in 2016, you would know that I was more than convinced the very fundamentals of this franchise were broken beyond repair. Nevertheless, Superstar!! has shown that virtually everything that made Love Live! so darn obnoxious can disappear like morning dew with only the slightest of fixes. Narrowing the central cast down from nine to five, first of all, was a brilliant move, giving the cast — essentially a prime selection of everything that did work in the previous seasons — some room to breathe and develop. All the familiar plot beats are still there, but the stakes have been deliberately and significantly lowered and as a result, the overall vibe now matches the flimsiness and superficiality that has always plagued the franchise. A deliberate parody of a show that has always felt like an unintentional one, as it were. Heck, even the music and computer-generated dance sequences have been improved to at least not be actively grating anymore!

Granted, the Love Live! franchise’s saccharine go-getter attitude and unapologetic reverence for idol culture will never sit well with me, but I’ll take what I can get. I went into Superstar!! for the sole purpose of doing a dumb joke for the first impression post, but after 8 episodes and two extended breaks, I’m still tuning in, so I guess I… like it? Gosh, just shoot me in the face now, please.

Honorable Mentions: The Aquatope on White Sand and Fena: Pirate Princess are fine, I guess, but honestly, at this point the highlight of my week is Kikai Sentai Zenkaiger, which is just about anything you’d want out of a tokusatsu show. Giant toy dinosaurs shooting missiles! Singing kung-fu pirates! A robot parrot puppet dangling from a string smashing into people’s faces! A bad guy whose name is Stacey! Truly, people, you don’t know what you’re missing.

Which show let you down the most?

To Your Eternity

I swear to God, this is the last fucking time I will get excited for the anime adaptation of a manga I like ever again.

Dishonorable Mentions: The only reason why the incomprehensible train wreck that is Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time didn’t win this dubious award by a landslide is because its predecessor was so much of a disaster this one could have been 120 minutes of a monkey eating a shoe and it would still have been an improvement. Speaking of incomprehensible train wrecks, Sonny Boy showed that even my patience for artsy-farty navel-gazing has its limits. I remain interested in whatever just about anyone involved in this project ends up doing next but yeah, maybe, like, have a plan before vomiting ideas all over a screen next time, okay guys?

What was your favorite show of the season?

Thunderbolt Fantasy (season 1)

This season was so bad across the board that I felt it was an appropriate time to try and catch up on some old backlog shows that fell by the wayside. As a result, nothing this season has brought me as much joy as going back and catching up on 2016’s Gen Urobuchi-penned Taiwanese puppet battler, Thunderbolt Fantasy. It was probably the best decision I made this season because goddamn, Thunderbolt Fantasy is the shit. The adventures of the peerless sword bum Shou Fu Kan and smarmy master thief Rin Setsu A is a legitimately enthralling adventure romp, incorporating the best traits of both wuxia and shounen battle manga. The things they manage to do with these puppets blows me away. Blades bleed, men speak of virtue and honor, and a whole lot of dudes get chopped up like it’s Jim Henson’s Dynasty Warriors. I’m fully bought in on Thunderbolt Fantasy and will probably make my way through the rest of the series as time permits. Shout outs to our good friend/unrepentant murderer, Screaming Phoenix Killer.

Honorable Mentions: In terms of weekly anime that actually aired this season, The Aquatope on White Sand is probably the only one I could call genuinely decent. Getter Robo Arc tries its damned hardest but ultimately falters due to its myriad production issues. Star Wars Visions is a legitimately great collection of self contained shorts that do a better job of getting at what makes the setting interesting than basically anything else that’s come out of Star Wars in years.

Which show let you down the most?

To Your Eternity

To Your Eternity is an emotionally resonant story that is utterly failed by its anime adaptation. While I wouldn’t compare it to the sheer lows of the now notorious Golden Kamuy anime adaptation, boy does it get close. I didn’t think it was a story that necessarily needed lavish visuals or an outsized production budget to properly convey its themes, but To Your Eternity’s anime proved there is in fact a minimum bar you have to hit or else it distracts from the content itself. Throw in the weird pacing and the odd closing point and we’re left in an uncertain place with the anime. I’m curious what they’ll do with a season 2, we can only hope that its production is less severely hampered by the pandemic.

Dishonorable Mentions: D_Cide Traumerei The Animation was the kind of anime trash that I occasionally enjoy as a guilty pleasure but on the whole it’s simply too uneven for me to even recommend to fellow trash connoisseurs. While I respected its artistic ambitions, Sonny Boy was just too disconnected for me to get invested in. Apparently Evangelion 3.0+1.0: Thrice Upon a Time counts as content from this season so I’ll just say that as someone who has sort of fundamentally believed that the entire Rebuild project was kind of a waste of time, the final film did not do much to sway me on that, despite its admittedly impressive production values. Ultimately, its narrative theme, while it’s one I understand and respect, doesn’t justify the film’s languid pacing, poor treatment of legacy characters, and navel gazing finale. 

What was your favorite show of the season?

Tokyo Revengers

I feel like I should be able to say ‘time travelling banchou‘ and just be done here, but Tokyo Revengers does deserve a few more words than that. I missed this show entirely when it started airing last season, but I quickly found myself hooked while playing catch up. It’s not a perfect show by any means, but seeing protagonist Takemichi flip-flop between the past and present trying to shift how events play out is very fun even without the school punk setting. There’s also some very good character work to find here, along with some quality big moments, so I’ll be along for the ride from the beginning with the inevitable season two.

Honorable Mentions: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid S was a fun return for KyoAni, albeit with all of the caveats the first season earned for itself. The Aquatope on White Sand has been a favourite for me week-on-week, and I hope it continues to be through its second cour. The Duke of Death and his Maid was also surprisingly good, which isn’t bad for a show I almost dropped before pondering on the first episode a little more. Also I think Sonny Boy is good but I’m too dumb to make heads or tails of it.

Which show let you down the most?

Battle Game in 5 Seconds

Just to be up-front about it, I didn’t honestly believe this show was going to be good. Even in episode one everything seemed subpar, but the revelation of the protagonist’s special ability was enough to get me to watch on. Akira Shiroyanagi is one of the blandest and yet somehow still unlikeable protagonists I’ve seen in a while, but his ability meant that there was good potential for some good ol’ shounen mind games, as his power becomes whatever his opponent believes it to be. And for a few episodes, we did see some of that. However, it all quickly downturned into rote shounen schlock, with terrible plot decisions, shit villains and ‘oops our budget vanished’ CG for some of the fights at the end. Don’t bother.

Dishonorable Mentions: That episode of Pokémon Journeys where two guys get horny over blue Pokémon, with one of them having a romantic dream sequence involving a Brionne.

What was your favorite show of the season?

I hate to be a Debbie Downer (okay, not really), but I wasn’t blown away by any specific anime this season. Granted, I didn’t make an effort to watch every single show (I think only 9 in total), but then again, I don’t feel I should need to wade through 30 or so titles in order to find something that really speaks to me. While there were some shows that I ended up liking, all came with at least a few caveats, leaving me with honestly nothing that I would personally consider top-tier material.

Honorable Mentions: Fena: Pirate Princess is pretty fun, and good-looking too, but as this show is ongoing, I’m not sure it’s fair to talk much about it here until it wraps up. Ditto with Aquatope, which is also pretty okay, if (for the most part) fairly predictable. I will also drop To Your Eternity in here, even though that’s a rather contentious thing, even by my own standards. The first and final episodes were home runs though, no doubt about it, and the first major story arc was also excellent.

Which show let you down the most?

Uramichi Oniisan

I wouldn’t say I was overwrought with disappointment here, given that I have no familiarity with the source material and only watched a couple of episodes of this, but man, what a waste of potential. What I really wanted out of this show was some proper satire, perhaps in the vein of something cynically dark and cutting yet hilarious like Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei, or even something a bit lighter with a similar sense of humor to Kakushigoto. What I got was the same joke repeated over and over again, which got less and less funny as time went on (if indeed it was ever funny to begin with). It’s a shame, because the possibility for social/children’s media commentary in this show was incredibly high, yet Uramichi Oniisan completely failed to deliver.

Dishonorable Mentions: Sonny Boy was pretty bad and felt more pretentious than artsy to me – I only finally quit after episode 5, so I’d like to think I gave this one a decent shot. Paradoxically, To Your Eternity gets another mention here, just because I feel it was a show with largely diminishing returns, the aforementioned final episode notwithstanding.

What was your favorite show of the season?

Can I say nothing? Alright, what about “The Duke of Death and his Maid

This season sucked in various ways. I’ve technically finished three shows out of the thirteen I actually started, but nothing has really stood out as amazing. Out of the eight shows I’ve started but not anywhere near up to date on, Sonny Boy is interesting and looks cool, but is otherwise a mess. Completed shows are Dragon Maid (it’s fine after an uncomfortable start), My Next Life as a Villainess (feels a bit lost on what it wants to be after resolving the title of the show in season one) and Duke of Death and his Maid. The latter is honestly the show I come out of the season saying “well that’s a show I’ll remember”, especially with the surprise announcement of a second season, when it felt wrapped up in all but the main plotline as a general ongoing thing (as slice of life shows with an underlying thread of a story tend to do). Season two could be good, and I look forward to it.

Honorable Mentions: As I say, Sonny Boy is decent enough, but I’m not exactly rushing to see it, to the point where I’m a few episodes behind.

Which show let you down the most?

Anime streaming services

Here in the UK, Love Live! Superstar!! was licensed by All The Anime/Anime Limited for streaming on Crunchyroll, rather than a direct license by Crunchyroll. This meant that an additional layer of complexity and delay is introduced in the production of the stream. Add on delays of getting the material from Japan, plus delays in the Japanese broadcast itself due to conflicts with the Olympics, meant that it’s a dice roll on what day the episode would come out. Even if the US side gets the episode on-time, the UK rarely did. With all of that combined, I’ve watched two episodes out of the nine aired so far. I’m probably going to watch the whole lot once they’re all out, as it’s just been a pain to keep track of this season.

Next time on anime streaming services: who knows what will happen now Funimation own Crunchyroll for the inevitable second season and movie of Superstar!! Meanwhile, Netflix have decided that, rather keep a series in jail for a whole season and release the lot at once, they’re going to release episodes……… monthly. Thou hast made a valiant effort.

Dishonorable Mentions: The Detective is Already Dead, along with anything interesting in the show after two episodes.

And so, the summer 2021 Wrap-Up ends with no clear “winner” and no clear answer to the driving question behind this feature. Nevertheless, it would be disingenuous to claim that this season was a total wash. Despite its plenty of fumbles, To Your Eternity managed to at least give some of the manga’s key scenes the adaptation they deserve, Sonny Boy was… interesting, shows like The Aquatope on White Sand, The Duke of Death and his Maid or Tokyo Revengers provided some entertainment, and fans of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid got a second season that played to all of the original’s strengths and — perhaps more importantly — shows that Kyoto Animation has, at least on the outside, recovered from the tragedy that struck it two years ago and can once again operate at full capacity.

What I’ll ultimately take away from this season, however, is not one show in particular, but rather how apparent it is becoming that the rigid seasonal structure of anime as we know it is slowly falling apart. The era of streaming allows for show to air whenever and however they want, and while we’ve long been able to completely ignore many of these irregular “original net anime” or “ONA” on account of them being absolutely terrible, shows like Fena: Pirate Princess, Star Wars Visions and The Heike Story are showing that the notion of anime being released in four batches a year might very soon be a thing of the past. Within the framework of The Wrap-Up as it currently stands, we weren’t really able to give these shows the attention they deserve, but disqualifying them from this feature simply because they don’t adhere to whims of a dying format would be silly. Perhaps some changes to the formula of The Wrap-Up are in order? Only time will be able to tell.

So, did your favourite make the cut? Or is there an anime of the year contender we haven’t mentioned at all after all? Make sure to let us know in the comments! If you want to revel in despair a bit more and find out what the future has in store, make sure you check out the ungodly Frankenstein’s monster of a podcast Jel and co. have concocted to be fully caught up with everything that’s just started airing, finished airing, or is about to start airing. One can never have enough anime, after all!

Okay, yeah, no, scratch that, we all know that‘s a load of bull.

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