In case it hasn’t become clear as I work my way through the anime I watched during the 2019 Winter Season, I’m jumping back and forth between anime I enjoyed a lot and anime that kind of had a bumpier ride. Last week was the slice of life delight My Roommate is a Cat so unfortunately this week we’re crashing down to the unintentional disaster of a narrative that is Grimm’s Notes. Admittedly, I am running low on anime I actually enjoyed last season, but I do still have reviews of The Promised Neverland and Endro to come out so there’s a few delights still in store.
What should be obvious by now is that I don’t really want to write about Grimm’s Notes and yet I feel I kind of need to. I did in fact watch the entire season and while we had an intriguing premise and an entire minefield of potentially interesting questions to ponder about morality and the human condition and free will, the anime literally does nothing with any of that. Instead it becomes an exercise where the protagonist’s are right because they have to be and they don’t even try to convince the villains, let alone the audience, that they have any grounds for that conviction.
Basically the story involves a whole bunch of story zones where every one living in them has a book that essentially tells them what is going to happen in their life and that is the script they follow. Our main characters are all characters who, for whatever reason, have blank books. They travel from story zone to story zone and stop chaos tellers from messing up the stories.
However, where that becomes problematic is that they set Red Riding Hood back on a path to be devoured by a wolf, set Snow White and her step-mother up to repeat a tragedy, and basically override any one’s objections that maybe the story shouldn’t be followed.
These are the characters we are supposed to support.
I wouldn’t mind so much if they ever explained the consequences of not getting the story back on track. We get an ambiguous statement about story zones collapsing but are never told what that looks like or what happens to the characters in the story. Do they all die? In which case, sure, maybe keeping the story on track is a good idea. But it isn’t established, nor does anyone actually ask.
Even the villains don’t bother to make their case for why giving characters free will might be a good thing. For once the villain’s actions are actually something that seems kind of logical even if there are dire repercussions, and they never even try to justify themselves.
Instead we get the heroes saying they’ll set the story right and the villains who stay in the shadows and make ambiguous comments but do little.
So the plot is a bust, and the characters are worse. Visually this is fine. Not good or great or particularly interesting, but I’ve certainly seen worse and some of the fights are actually kind of fun to watch even if the motive behind them is lacking. The music is unexceptional and honestly completely forgotten almost as soon as the episodes end.
Honestly, this was such a great concept and handled so incredibly poorly. The biggest issue is the crushing disappointment of realising that the writers clearly had no clue what to do with their own idea when it came to the anime. I have no idea if the source (which I think is a game) did a better job or not, but I do know this anime is incredibly skippable.
Winter 2019 has had its ups and downs throughout but regardless of my final thoughts, I had a lot of fun this season. There was always something to look forward to and as some shows faltered, others rallied. While I know some shows are ongoing and some have not yet aired final episodes (and in the case of Boogiepop wa Warawanai I’m just hopelessly behind), this is my final standings for the Winter season.
In the listing I’ve commented on where the series was at the mid-season point in the list and whether it has moved or not but if you want to see my mid-season thoughts they are here.
Hopefully you enjoy and remember the results of the reader’s poll will come out later today.
Previously placed at position 13. It didn’t even deliver the little that was expected.
I was vaguely hopeful that this one would improve, but realistically I’m struggling just to convince myself to finish watching it. It has continued to be a meandering mess and while some have enjoyed the mystery I’ve mostly just found it frustrating.
Not aided by ugly visuals and characters that are pretty bland, there’s very little compelling me to keep going with this but I will finish it at this point. I kind of feel I past the point of no return a while a go. Still, if I wanted to pick the series on my watch list that I most regret watching, Boogiepop would be it.
Images from: Boogipop wa Warawanai (2019). Dir. S Natsume. Madhouse. 2019.
Number 14: Grimms Notes
Previously placed at position 15, Grimms Notes continued to underwhelm.
While it would be nice to say that it managed to pull its narrative and characters together, mostly I just felt this one oozed wasted potential until the very end. Not that there weren’t some fun moments along the way, but it just never felt satisfying to watch.
It isn’t all bad news with some of the character moments being cute enough and having a simple ‘save the story zone’ plot each week. Even if the main story line felt hopelessly underdeveloped and the themes unexplored, it wasn’t as if this ever became unwatchable.
Images from: Grimms Notes. Dir. S Shizutaka. Brain’s Base. 2019.
Number 13: Sword Art Online Alicization
Previously at position 10, how this has fallen.
I was disappointed when Sword Art Online Alicization was only managing position 10, and yet honestly I can’t say this has gotten any better. If anything, the faults with the pacing, character motives, exposition, and just idiocy have gotten worse to the point where I’m honestly wondering whether to keep going with episode reviews when it continues or whether to just let this one go and review it once they finally finish it.
An increasingly frustrating and underwhelming watch full of babble about things that barely make sense even in the context of the story, and characters who essentially break the rules of the world at will, it all just became fairly tiresome to watch this season.
Images from: Sword Art Online Alicization. Dir. M Ono. A-1 Pictures. 2018.
Number 12: Kaguya-Sama Love is War
Previously and still position 12.
For a comedy anime it wasn’t bad. It isn’t really my style and to be honest outside of the occasional moment where the characters really clicked there were a lot of times where watching this was just kind of empty. Still, the visuals, animation and sound design of this one were pretty fantastic so I can’t fault the production in the slightest.
However, ultimately, if I’d stopped watching this one it wouldn’t have mattered. There was no compelling reason to keep going and while I can see why it appeals to some, it really isn’t speaking much to me.
Images from: Kaguya Sama: Love Is War. Dir. S Omata. A-1 Pictures. 2019.
Number 11: Endro
Previously placed at position 14, this one actually was kind of charming fun.
Despite the pastel colour scheme and cute girl antics, I actually did find this one entertaining from week to week. There were some moments that really just shone for both the story and the characters proving you really can take something fairly standard and make it shine if you put enough love and effort into it.
Honestly, this isn’t going to be something I watch again but if you like cute girl stories or just want a fun slice of life/comedy that has an adventurers setting thrown in, this is actually really cute and entertaining. The only reason it didn’t get higher up my list is because I’m just not that into cute girls and some of the friendship sequences made me roll my eyes hard.
Images from: Endro! Dir. Kaori. Studio Gokumi. 2019.
Number 10: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime
Previously position 7 there’s just no denying the second cour was ordinary.
After slowly warming up to the show in the first cour, the second cour that aired during Winter 2019 of That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime was overwhelmingly average. Now source readers will pull out the ‘it gets better’ cards as well as explain that some bits were skipped over, but none of that changes the fact that the anime is most definitely average.
There were some cute moments and character encounters and a few fairly awesome moments in the occasional fight, but a lot of this second cour was sitting around talking, or introducing characters we were never given a reason to care about who effectively had their problems solved with minimum effort. It remained light and fun to watch but had absolutely nothing to hook the audience or to convince me this would ever be worth watching a second time.
Images from: That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime. Dir. Y Kikuchi. 8Bit. 2018.
Number 9: The Price of Smiles
Formally position 5. Okay, I was being optimistic.
It is almost scary how on the nose my prediction for this series was at the half-way point. I suspected we had a show that would simply kill off its characters towards the end and in the lead up to the final episode we had one prominent character death an episode all to serve the ‘war is bad’ slogan this anime seemed to want to plaster onto almost every episode. That doesn’t mean it was terrible. There was actually a lot of promise along the way. It just never quite delivered.
Still, there have certainly been worse mecha anime over the years and while the ending was foolishly optimistic and naive, much like the main character, I can’t say I’m upset with it. While The Price of Smiles never managed to break into being something truly good, it certainly skated along the edges of it and kept me hopeful throughout.
Images from: Egao no Daika. Dir. T Suzuki. Tatsunoko Production. 2019.
Number 8: Domestic Girlfriend
Previously in 6th position.
Right, so you get what you expect when you keep watching a melodrama and as the story progresses they have to push to increasingly forced and silly methods to up the ante. That said, there is a certain delight in watching this train wreck unfold and while I wouldn’t say I actually like any of the characters, I kind of am curious about where they will ultimately end up.
This one somehow manages to be trashy without actually being trash and while it isn’t great it is also something that is hard to stop watching. While the occasional scene pushes the sexual content a little further than I’d like and the basic premise and the idea of teachers and students dating isn’t something I’m thrilled about, I can’t say that this is actually a bad watch. Not really one I’d jump to recommend but one that I’d honestly have to admit I’ve been enjoying despite the many complaints I might muster about it.
Images from: Domestic Girlfriend. Dir. S Ibata. Diomedea. 2019.
Number 7: The Rising of the Shield Hero
Previously in position 4.
I’m honestly pleasantly surprised that this one has remained as entertaining as it has. With Sword Art and Slime both plummeting in the ranks during the Winter season it seemed isekai fantasy was taking a serious downward turn. While there are plenty of points against Shield Hero in terms of pacing and at times characterisation, I’ve mostly had fun watching it and continue to look forward to how it rolls out this story.
While this one might also take a downward turn as it moves into a second cour, I’m kind of hopeful of this one just keeping things moving. And while the fights remain fresh, the story doesn’t linger for too long on any one part, and Naofumi continues to be an interesting character to watch, I’ll probably keep enjoying this even though I would hardly call it great.
I kind of knew this one probably wouldn’t hold in the top 5 for the season but I was hopeful. A dark magical girl story that actually seemed willing to deal with the trauma a teenage girl would face if forced to fight to save the world and watch companions die? It is a good idea and at least provides some kind of grounding for the violence rather than just being opening gratuitous in killing off young characters grotesquely.
However, the execution both from thematically and in the delivery of the narrative have been somewhat lacking and once again we’re left with a show that is more concept than delivery. The over the top torture segments also don’t help to ground this as anything more than something trying to be sensationalist when actually there’s a reasonable attempt at exploring trauma and PTSD buried here but alas the show can’t give it the time or weight it needs between the other ideas it wants to cram in an a desire to imperil Asuka’s classmates. I didn’t mind this but I kept wanting more from it and by the final few episodes it was clear that it wasn’t going to deliver.
Images from: Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka. Dir. H Yamamoto. LIDENFILMS. 2019.
Number 5: Meiji Tokyo Renka
Formally in position 10 – nice climb.
While this one reeks of mediocrity in visuals and almost everything else, this is the anime I’ve gone back to again and again just to feel good and kick back and relax. There’s something incredibly fun and infectious about Mei as a character and the cast of guys surrounding her aren’t too shabby. The supernatural elements work well but it is Mei’s ongoing relationship with Ougai that really grabs your attention.
While I won’t say this improved as it went, it maintained its standard throughout and the characters are naturally charming enough to slowly make you warm to them and each episode feels just that little bit more fun than the last. Not one to be proclaimed a master-piece but for those who don’t mind the occasional reverse harem romp this one is certainly a fun time waster to fit into your viewing schedule.
Images from: Meiji Tokyo Renka. Dir. A Daichi. TMS Entertainment. 2019.
Number 4: The Morose Mononokean
Previously number 8 on the list – this one exceeded expectations.
Season two of The Morose Mononokean continued to far outstrip season one and advanced the plot and character development in a way I’d been wishing the first season to but it just never got to. There is very little to complain about with this second season with almost everything being better than season one and the balance between yokai of the week episode and episodes developing the world and characters being pretty well thought out.
With cute yokai characters, conspiracies, blossoming powers and generally more supernatural fun, The Morose Mononokean ended up being one show I began to look forward to each weekend. The chats with Irina around the episodes were also a factor as watching a show is always better with friends, but honestly this one was a delight this Winter season.
Previously number 9 on the list (that’s quite the rise).
If I was asked whether this got better as the season went on and whether that accounts for its rise, the answer would be a clear no. This isn’t a story that gets better. There’s a solid character journey for Subaru and one that I greatly appreciated which certainly accounts for a lot of its rise through the ranks, but what My Roommate is a Cat does brilliantly is deliver a fairly consistent performance. Tie in consistently meeting expectations week after week with concluding a character arc in a fairly coherent manner and My Roommate is a Cat might be decidedly average in a lot of ways but it was one that I found a very satisfying watch in the end.
This anime definitely demonstrates the power of simplicity in that it has a very simple gimmick with the cat narrating part of the episode from its perspective but otherwise the character count is low, the scenarios very low key, and things tie in together way too neatly for real life but in a way that makes for a fairly entertaining weekly watch. Not to mention, there’s a cat in it and apparently having a cat in it is something that makes a story recommendable.
Images from: My Roommate is a Cat. Dir. K Suzuki. Zero-G. 2019.
Number 2: The Promised Neverland
Remaining in second place.
I feel a bit bad for The Promised Neverland. Given the genre and style of story in almost any other season this one would have been a sure number one for me. Yet, opposite Run With the Wind that mostly didn’t rely on cliff-hangers to maintain viewer interest or suspense, I just can’t say that the gimmick filled Neverland is better even if I’m certainly enjoying it a lot.
The mark of a great story where I want to know what happens, where it keeps me guessing and theorising, and when the reveal is made it may not be what I thought but everything kind of clicks into place as all the anomalies and hints suddenly make sense even while a new mystery rises to be solved. The cast are charming, the setting thrilling, and all and all this one has been a delight to watch this season.
Images from: The Promised Neverland. Dir. M Kanbe. CloverWorks. 2019.
Number 1: Run With The Wind
Maintaining first position.
While I never expected to like Run With The Wind that much, even with a fairly strong showing from The Promised Neverland, there just isn’t any reason to not make this my number one of the season. I’ve fallen in love with the team and through the final episodes I cried, I cheered, I cried some more and then I smiled through those tears in absolute delight. It really helps that every character had a moment to shine in those final episodes and each character journey felt like it was given time to draw to a conclusion. It was a lovely viewing experience and one I’m really glad I picked up.
Whether it was Shindo’s absolutely heroic actions during his leg of the race, the general camaraderie and support each member showed for the others, or the feat they accomplished together, there were just so many moments to celebrate. This anime is gorgeous, well put together and has just the perfect number of episodes to tell its story. For all that I do have some minor complaints, they are just that, minor. This is definitely my pick for must watch of the season.
There were almost no expectations riding on this episode. Given after eleven episodes Grimms Notes still hadn’t really properly explained its own premise or really justified the motivations of the group I guess we’re supposed to care about there seemed little point in hoping that this final episode would do much to bring things together. If anything, Grimms Notes managed to miss even those low expectations.
Perhaps the worst thing this final episode does is give the villain about two seconds to explain their motivation and then have the heroes dismiss it without further consideration or discussion of the implications. It really demonstrates that this anime never intended to actually care about its own premise or the underlying reasons. The group of heroes are saving story zones because FEELINGS and that is GOOD and anyone destroying story zones must be BAD. Don’t ask any questions beyond that because the story is utterly uninterested in them.
Outside of the overall plot of this anime being completely toothless, this final episode does well enough with a fight against the Jabberwock and then Loki (Curly somehow vanishes and is never seen again so why she bothered to even make an appearance is something that might be questioned). However, the heroes get royally taken down by Loki.
At which point Ex here’s a voice and uses the weird power we kind of got told he had to connect with heroes he hasn’t met, but we’ve never seen outside of the episode when we’re told he’s special, and he connects with Ludwig Grimm.
Now I’m stumped. Given the title and references to fairy tales and folk lore (though a large number of the story zones have not been based on Grimms tales at all), I kind of would expect a twist that maybe Ex could connect with Jacob or Wilhelm Grimm but Ludwig? Unless there’s some grander plot where Ludwig is apparently seeking to steal control of the story-zones from his famous folklorist brothers that just makes no sense. And if there is some grander plot, why on earth didn’t we get to watch that?
And true, maybe the source does explain all this nonsense but as is my usual stance, if I have to seek the answer outside of the anime, the anime isn’t very good.
So I’m left confused, and mostly indifferent to the mess that ultimately was Grimms Notes. Now, it isn’t unwatchable. Not even slightly (and I apologise for the quality of the screen caps but that is definitely an internet/streaming issue on my end and not the anime). The thing is though, that in the vast sea of anime, there are significantly better anime out there to spend your time on. So unless you are in the mood for nothingness peppered with story references, maybe don’t bother. That said, I’ll get around to a full review of this one later.
For a penultimate episode this was pretty meh and also pretty confusing. I’d always assumed that they transformed into characters they had met. Ex’s first transformation kind of broke that pattern but otherwise mostly they are characters we’ve seen in the world, or I assumed characters the others met before they met Ex. But clearly Reina had never been to Wonderland and met Alice for real so now I’m just plain confused.
Grimms Notes did at least break the formulaic mould it had created in this episode. While it all seemed to follow the usual pattern, the villains threw a curve ball in at the end which is what will lead us into the final episode (or at least what I assume is a final episode), so points at least for that.
Turns out Alice and the White Rabbit have joined forces with the Queen of Hearts to remove any trace of wonder from Wonderland. They act like the disciplinary committee from an anime high school and arrest anyone who is seen doing anything that might be vaguely fun by the looks. Turns out these people end up on trial and are then sentenced to death.
Which seems dark but don’t expect the episode to linger on that point.
Anyway, Reina’s absolutely crushed her hero, Alice, is behaving in such a way and more or less spends the episode trying to talk her into believing in the power of stories. It is all very cute with some fun messages to be had, but this anime just doesn’t have the narrative strength to pull it off in any manner other than stale.
As for Tao and Shane, they’ve more of less become the peanut gallery since their focal episode and could more or less vanish without appreciably hurting the plot at this point. Even the fight scene had them do one attack and then promptly vanish from existence while Ex and Reina finished it off (or tried to).
I guess we’ll see what the villains have planned next week and maybe it will save this show from quietly slipping into forgettable sub-par history.
Well, the villains finally take the time to speak with Ex regarding their ambitions in Episode 10 of Grimms Notes. Curly asks Ex whether it is more important to protect Jeanne D’Arc’s life or her fate and Ex utterly fails to answer, mostly because despite 9 episodes of dashing into story zones and correcting fates, Ex has never really addressed the big question of whether or not his actions are right.
Just when you think he might be developing something resembling a reasonable character who at least contemplates his actions, he throws aside thinking it through or the consequences and just accepts that Jeanne is committed to her fate, as written in her book, and so he’ll trust in her feelings.
The problem with that argument is that we don’t know how much Jeanne is actually in control of those feelings. Her rising up and leading the French was written in her book of fate. As was her acceptance of their ultimate betrayal and her death. So trusting in the feelings of someone being controlled by fate as a justification for defending that fate is at best a flawed argument and is more likely a form of self-deception so that Ex doesn’t need to ask himself the big question of whether or not he’s actually the one doing more harm than good by assisting Reina in tuning story zones.
The ongoing avoidance by this story of looking at this big question is really starting to bug me because exploring it and having the characters really deconstructing their motives could have been a really interesting affair. Instead the good guys are good because they are and no matter how logical the villains seems they are the villains of the story. The nebulous story tellers have so far escaped being questioned for their questionable morality in creating characters who are clearly sentient but are then forced to live out lives that involve avoidable suffering.
It all just seems like a strange premise if the story isn’t willing to actually address any of these issues.
But hey, another story tuned and back on track. Jeanne can lead that army, at least until she is killed.
This week on Grimms Notes, Reina, Ex, Tao and Shane find themselves in a desert when Aladdin shows up to offer them some water. As you would expect, he also helps himself to Reina’s book and so they hunt him down so that Reina can deliver a suitable slap to the thief.
Aladdin’s story is more or less what you would expect at this point given the way Grimms Notes has been unfolding. He found the magic lamp as his book of fate told him but then it was stolen from him and he was kicked out of the city. Determined to get things back on track they start crossing the desert but are soon attacked by villains and this is where something unexpected happens.
In the midst of battle, Aladdin steps in between a villain and a weakened Reina, and takes a lethal blow. With the main character dead you would think the story would be over and the story zone would collapse on the spot, but instead they point out that when they tune the world another person, similar enough, will just take his place. Wow, talk about disposable.
The more I learn about story tellers and story zones, the more I think we should let Loki and the other chaos tellers just have their way. There seems little advantage to anyone in maintaining the status quo. Then again, there’s probably still something we haven’t heard yet about some kind of major consequence if we do in fact just let the bad guys win, but it makes it hard to get behind Reina’s tears as she tunes the world this episode. Part of me just wondered if perhaps things would be better if she didn’t.
This series remains that little bit interesting, a lot confusing when it comes to what is driving the characters, and mostly I wonder how many episodes it has and whether we’ll get to an end point. Are the ‘villains’ making their move and if yes, why did it take them this long? What have they been waiting for? What move are they making? And do I actually want the ‘heroes’ to stop them?
I keep wanting the next episode of Grimms Notes to be the one that turns it all around. The one that reveals the motive of the heroes and presents the villains in an actual menacing light. The one that explains why story ones exist and who these mysterious authors are who are inflicting such pain upon their creations. And yet, seven episodes in and there’s still no sign of that.
We did get a slightly more detailed look at one of the ‘villains’ as she inserted herself into the story to meet with Ex and the others but even then, other than a cryptic comment or two she provides nothing in the way of new reveals. The story of the week is much the same as any other though as always you have to wonder if resetting things to how they are ‘supposed’ to be is actually the right things to do.
Our heroes never question their actions. That is what bothers me more than what they are doing. But even when asked about their actions they don’t pause and reflect for even a minute. They seem utterly convinced that keeping stories on track according to the books of fate is the absolute right thing to do. Yet they haven’t provided a convincing argument to the audience to make us want to get behind that motive.
Otherwise there is little to note here. The story is ongoing in much the same pattern it has been with no real ups or down in animation or any other area. This show kind of just exists at this point.
Grimms Notes Episode 8 Review
Alright, so by the end of this episode Ex actually does ask if they are doing the right thing but the question is quickly dismissed under ‘no choice’ and ‘too late’ comments so it doesn’t actually get explored.
Outside of that, this week the focus is on Tao and kind of Shane as we visit their story zone. And this is a bit of an issue because it really does prove that these story zones are literally just looping round in circles which makes you wonder why anyone sees the point. I mean why defeat the oni if you know that as soon as that is done there will be a new hero and a new oni threat and the whole thing will just rinse and repeat.
The other issue being that neither Tao nor Shane are particularly complex characters so the backstory on them and how they met and ended up deciding to leave their story zone is pretty weak, as is their resolution to keep a story on track that doesn’t exactly seem like it is doing anyone any favours.
Grimms Notes continues to not really do anything particularly note worthy but nor is it unwatchable. All and all, this one isn’t showing any sign of improvement but it isn’t getting any worse.