Schoolgirl Strikers premiere – The most generic late-2010s action show of all time has arrived! Our team this time is one of several attending an all-girls school specifically created to support the alien-fighting effort. For some reason it is necessary to name all the teams after stars and desserts. The protagonists are Altair Torte, which I admit has a certain poetry to it, but it works out less well for – get ready – Procyon Pudding.

The first half of the episode is mostly occupied with the team indulging in cute hijinks in an attempt to flesh out the characters. This actually works with the team prankster, Yūmi, who comes across as an endearing romantic. The others are still stuck on one note: the gloomy weirdo, the star athlete (shouldn’t they all be star athletes?), the hyper-cheerful child, and the team leader with conveniently selective amnesia.

Then it’s time for some moderately uncomfortable transformation sequences and battle! The girls’ combat outfits look like they were designed on a dare to be as inconvenient as possible, all random straps and windows. At least they get enough coverage to not freeze to death at room temperature; another team has to make do with bikinis, belts, boots, and random splashes of body paint.

This is also the sort of show where the girls are all taking showers by the minute-and-a-half mark, and yet even the fanservice feels halfhearted. There’s no effort put into even trying to explain the alien invaders, and the animation is nothing more than workmanlike. I don’t know what the point of this show is. It’s terrible.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); bilibili (Asia)

Blue Exorcist: Kyoto Saga premiere – Yukio Okamura is a gifted exorcist who has overcome his childhood fears to become a fighter of demons. When he helps track down a thief who has stolen the eye of an ancient demon, the thief offers him a temptation with the promise that his insecurities will eventually force him to give in to them.

Unfortunately, Yukio is not the main character. That’s his twin brother, Rin, who inherited all the cool demonic gifts from their father, Satan. Rin has pointed ears, a tail, the ability to summon eldritch flames, no usefulness as an exorcist, and a busty woman wearing almost nothing following him around as his minder. Rin is also an annoying twerp whose modus operandi is to show up where he isn’t wanted, get in the way, and make extravagant predictions about how someday he’s totally going to be the best exorcist ever.

Aside from Rin, who stands out like bagpipes at a chamber music concert, the cast is mostly three-dimensional and likeable; unfortunately, the other aspects of the writing are terribly lazy. The demon whose eye was stolen is simultaneously too minor for most exorcists to have heard of and so big a threat that sending a trainload of squabbling teenagers to beef up security around the other eye can’t make the situation worse, and pretty much everything else that happens in this episode does so arbitrarily so that the characters have something to do. So far, this is not justifying the strong fanbase for the past series.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland); Daisuki (US, Canada, Oceania, Europe); AnimeLab (Australia, New Zealand); ADN (France, DOM-TOM, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); Wakanim (Canada, France, Belgium, Monaco, Switzerland, Algeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Nigeria, Sénégal, Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique); Anime on Demand (German-speaking Europe); AkibaPass (Germany, Austria, Switzerland)

Saga of Tanya the Evil premiere – It’s 1924, and alternate fantasy Germany is still at constant war with all its neighbors. Its strategy is to keep everyone bogged down in trench warfare with conventional troops, and then dispatch a quick-moving force of flying sorcerors to trouble spots.

Amongst the mages is Leutnant Tanya Degurechaff, a person of singular talent who is candidly described by one of the general staff as “a monster”. Tanya is a little girl who can control magical power far stronger than any other mage seen so far, and who operates with the canny ruthlessness of someone many times her age (for reasons explained in the previews, but not yet in the show).

Being that this is a light novel adaptation, Tanya is yet another iteration of the hyper-competent arrogant jerk protagonist. Unlike most of them, though, the story doesn’t ask for her to be accepted as noble or heroic. Although her spells include a prayer for the glory of the Fatherland, she’s clearly just looking out for number one. Even when she seems to take pity on an overexhausted subordinate, she thinks of it as something that will look good when she’s considered for a promotion.

If this show really embraces its potential for darkness and cynicism, it could turn out very well. It’s not quite there yet, though.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); FUNimation (dub starting Jan 23 for US, Canada, UK, Ireland)

Chain Chronicle – The Light of Haecceitas premiere – The massed armies of a fantasy world, led by a young hero, arrive at the castle of the Dark Lord for a final confrontation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work out. Important things get destroyed, the hero is almost killed, and darkness spreads across the land. The hero mopes about this for maybe five minutes before getting his mojo back and plunging back into battle.

Not a lot happens in between fight scenes because this show has a metric ton of characters to introduce. There are multiple human factions, elves, dwarves, ogres, and lots more (but, notably, no dark-skinned humans), and everyone has to get their bit. The setting is a typical JRPG world, an anachronistic stew of medieval Europe, Renaissance Europe, bits the artists liked from the Peter Jackson Lord of the Rings movies, medieval Japan, and modern fashion. A lot of the women are stuck with bare midriffs, slit skirts, and so forth; a lot of the men are stuck in armor with pointless and inconvenient ornamentation.

It sure is a gorgeous anachronistic stew, though. Chain Chronicle is also being released as a series of compilation movies, and it’s got cinematic production values to match. I just wish it were in service of a story that didn’t feel like it was just going through the motions.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); bilibili (Asia); FUNimation (dub starting TBA for US, Canada, UK, Ireland)

Interviews With Monster Girls premiere – Tetsuo Takahashi has been fascinated by the lives of demi-humans since at least his teens, but gave up on anthropology and got a biology degree instead. Now a high school teacher, he is startled by the arrival of no less than four demi-humans at the school in a few days, and decides to see if they will agree to being researched.

The challenges of demi-human existence look to be a metaphor for the experience of foreign-born and minority people in Japan. For instance, Tetsuo at first calls the demi-humans ajin (literally, “sub-human”), but vampire girl Hikari informs him that it’s outdated and derogatory, and he should be saying demi instead. This parallels the adoption of the English word “half” (hafu) as a more polite alternative to native terms for people of mixed Japanese/non-Japanese ancestry.

Everyone is a basically nice person and the show is set to be an adorable little slice-of-life story. The one place where it stumbles is during part of Tetsuo’s interview with Hikari, where it should have occurred to him that getting one of his teenaged students alone and then bringing up the topic of sex was probably not a great idea. It obviously sprang from intellectual curiosity, but may be uncomfortable for some viewers anyway. If it can manage to avoid any further stumbles, it should be fine.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); FUNimation (dub starting Jan 25 for US, Canada, UK, Ireland)

Idol Incidents premiere – Natsuki Hoshino’s career starts out like any idol at the center of a TV show. Spotted by an industry insider as she performs for the local fieldworkers, she’s given a once-in-a-lifetime audition opportunity, wins the spot, and sets her sights on the national stage. Along the way, she’s given a mentor who at first resents her but eventually warms up to her indomitable cheerfulness and helps her win the hearts of more fans than ever.

Except in this case, Natsuki isn’t competing for a recording contract, but a chance to be a member of the Diet (the Japanese parliament). The person who plucked her from obscurity isn’t a producer but the head of the Heroine Party, which needs a candidate for a sudden by-election.

The political situation is not depicted with great subtlety. The election is due to the death of the local MP, who choked to death on a bun while laughing maniacally over the bribe he was in the middle of receiving. The majority in the Diet is held by the Gerontocracy Party. Its head is a dead ringer for former prime minister Junichirō Koizumi, only with an evil, sadistic leer.

It’s plenty clear by the end of the episode what the Heroine Party is against, but not what it is for. Are the idols going to stand together for social justice and the welfare of all, or are they there to Make Japan Great Again? Is it all just a sneaky ploy to get viewers interested in the workings of debate and compromise? Or is it going to take the truly cynical tack and focus entirely on the idols giving performances, delivering the opinion that politics is all show and nothing ever really gets done?

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); bilibili (Asia)

elDLIVE premiere – Chūta Kokonose is a middle-school loner who argues constantly with a voice only he can hear. Although deficient in the friends department, he’s a pretty competent guy otherwise, since he lives with only his ditzy aunt who is incapable of performing any task not directly related to making muffins for her bakery.

After a typical awkward day at school, Chūta is unceremoniously beamed up to a spaceship, where he is informed that he has been selected by a magic supercomputer to become a member of the space police. Well, first he gets weirded out by a bunch of aliens, then stuffed into a spacesuit and tossed out the airlock, and then someone finally starts explaining things properly. By the end of the day, he’s not just a policeman, he’s gotten the explanation for his inner voice, which has been kept from him all this time due to more idiot plotting.

elDLIVE livens this all up with some creative visual flourishes, but it can’t help the story.

International streams: Crunchyroll (Americas, UK, Ireland, Scandinavia, Netherlands, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa); ADN (France, DOM-TOM, Belgium, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra, Monaco); bilibili (Asia)

Gabriel DropOut premiere – Gabe is the top angel in her class, but everything changes when she’s sent to Earth and gets addicted to an MMO. Suddenly she’s a misanthropic shut-in who bothers to go to school just often enough to provide comedy setups.

In a quick series of skits, we are introduced to her main acquaintances on Earth: Vigne, a demon unable to control her positive impulses; the princess of Hell, whose schtick consists of overacting and being scared of everything; and the slightly older angel Raphi, who is a sadist and bully and good at it to the point of being seriously unfunny.

Raphi by herself is enough to recommend skipping this show, but it’s nothing special even before that. It’s built from a bunch of recycled stereotypes, the jokes are as lazy as Gabe herself, and it’s way too interested in her underpants.

International streams: Crunchyroll (worldwide except Asia); bilibili (Asia)

Well. This isn’t shaping up to be a very good season, is it? But I’m up for a second look at Saga of Tanya the Evil, and giving Idol Incidents a chance to explain what it wants to be.

We’ve got a few more premieres coming next time, plus the return of Iron-Blooded Orphans, so don’t give up hope yet!

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