The Best of Winter 2017

Earlier today, I shared the Worst of Winter 2017 (both my opinion and the view of the readers). If you didn’t check it out, make sure you have a look later and let me know your view. Meanwhile, this post is celebrating all the good things that happened during the 2017 Winter season.

My Favourite Show

Pretty straight forward category. I had to have watched the show all the way through and I had to have loved watching it. There are only 2 shows this season that I nominated as being a must watch in my weekly overviews and choosing between them is really hard at the moment and I reserve the right to change my mind later in the year after I rewatch both as to which is actually my favourite. But for now I’m giving the award to…

ACCA.

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I really had a lot of fun with this show, though there is definitely a fear that it won’t hold up under a rewatch because a lot of the fun came from never knowing quite where it was going next.

My Favourite Character

This was a really hard choice because there were quite a few characters that I really loved spending time with this season, even if the show they were in wasn’t doing much for me. I did notice going through my notes from all the shows I watched this season that there are very few female characters of note from the season. Possibly that’s because of the shows I ended up following but even those that had female characters didn’t really seem to do much with them.

Anyway, not the point. My favourite character from Winter 2017 was…

Rei Kiriyama from March Comes in Like a Lion.

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I loved Rei and found him almost instantly relatable and I really loved watching him struggle and slowly grow but remain true to who he was (again, I had a hard time deciding between Rei and Jean from ACCA but Rei had quite a bit more development and twice as many episodes to win me over).

My Favourite Story

Obviously ACCA but given I gave that best anime I’m going to look at my next favourite story from the season. And I know this one is going to make some people raise an eyebrow but my next favourite story from the season came from…

Chain Chronicle.

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Possibly this is a sad criticism on the quality of the narratives this season (or my taste in stories depending on how you view it) but Chain Chronicle managed to build from a pretty good opening, through some basic world building, a couple of obvious twists, to a final conflict without tripping itself up, losing momentum, or doing anything that might make you question the story (though plenty of questions about the originality and execution at times). The other show I considered here was Spiritpact but the beginning of that story was far too rocky for it to be seriously nominated even if the end of the show was pretty magnificent.

My Favourite Opening Theme

Boy I’m glad I didn’t exclude it because it was my choice for best show…

Definitely ACCA.

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This opening theme is a fantastic fit for the show and just fun to listen to, accompanied by highly relevant and interesting visuals. Not once did I skip the opening and I certainly went back and watched it a couple of times after I was finished some episodes.

My Favourite Visuals

Winter 2017 didn’t have quite the plethora of visually appealing shows that previous season have had so the choice here is pretty obvious…

March Comes in Like a Lion.

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While there are certainly shows with better character designs and better animation, March consistently delivered interesting and memorable visuals that added to the overall depth of the viewing experience. Couldn’t ask for much more from a story.

Reader’s Choice – Best Anime of 2017

Here it is:

Best Winter 2017

And yep,  March Comes in Like a Lion won. Possibly because I forgot to include Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju a fact which has been pointed out to me a number of times (that was actually an honest mistake as I thought I’d covered most of the anime people had been talking about whether I’d watched them through or not but I missed one). However, from the choices available March won.

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Of course Dragon Maid and Scum’s Wish both made a decent showing here and I knew before I started this that ACCA wouldn’t win a popularity poll given it really isn’t the kind of show that everyone is going to love.

Okay, these were my choices for favourite of the season so now I’d love to know yours. Feel free to share in the comments below and I’d love to know the reasons for your choices.

With that I’m leaving Winter 2017 behind and I’m now ready to face the Spring 2017 anime season.


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The Worst of Winter 2017

Later today my Best of Winter post will come out and I’ll celebrate all those wonderful moments that got people talking (or at least entertained me during the past three months). But that is not his post. This post shares the worst and the lowest moments of the season as well as the reader’s choice for worst anime of Winter 2017.

My Least Favourite Show

Chosen only from shows that I watched from beginning to end during the Winter 2017 season (or completed in 2017 if they carried over from the previous season), this is the show that I cringed at the thoughts of watching but still managed to string me along with the faintest of hopes that eventually it would reveal something of note.

Yep, Hand Shakers.

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And no, it never did produce anything of note other than just how awful it was. Then again, anyone who has been following my blog is not even remotely surprised by this.

It should probably be noted that I literally hated everything about this show, however, in order not to let Hand Shakers get a big head by letting it take out every worst of category, I’ve pretty much excluded it from this point forward.

My Least Favourite Character

So, this had to be someone I bothered to remember but I actively disliked them as a character (so not just because they were a villain). And once again, I had to have finished watching the show so all the characters from Fuuka were removed from potential nomination because otherwise my decision would have been easily made.

I’m kind of going to have to go with Chuta from elDLIVE.

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I really wanted to see him grow as a character and I did enjoy the few kind of moments of growth he got, but he pretty much instantly regressed right after and given they are playing his insecurities for laughs it really doesn’t have quite the same appeal as some other emotionally damaged characters this season.

My Least Favourite Story

Again, I had to have finished the story to make this decision so Iron Blooded Orphans Season 2 and Zestiria are momentarily given a reprieve as neither of them have actually finished, though both would have been contenders given their season 2 plots have mostly just gone through the motions and added little of significance. And on that theme we have the winning anime:

Blue Exorcist Season 2

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All build up and hints at later plot threads but the plot delivered in this season is strictly side-story material and the final villain is all but inconsequential (and treated as such). Basically, if you have been reading the source material, you might get a lot out of this in terms of the set up for later events, but if you view this just as an anime season and ask it to stand on its own two feet in terms of plot, its going to fail miserably.

My Least Favourite Opening Theme and Visuals

Okay, these categories are only combined because the answer was one and the same. Not a lot to explain about the category other than this is an opening theme I couldn’t stomach listening to and visuals that were just hideous to look at (and I already excluded Hand Shakers from nomination).

I give this dubious honour to Spiritpact.

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As much as I ended up enjoying the show by the mid-season point, the opening was terrible as were the visuals. While the visuals improved in the second half, there were still some really questionable choices and to be honest the whole show would benefit from a total remake as the story is actually kind of good once you get into it.

Reader’s Choice – Worst Anime of 2017

Here it is:

Hand Shakers, you did it again.

Admittedly, there was a pretty short time frame on this poll and Fuuka was definitely rallying there at the end so maybe if I’d left the poll open a bit longer we’d have a slightly different result.

Now, I’ve had my say on the worst of Winter 2017. What do you think? Who would you have nominated for worst character? Which show had the worst opening, visuals, or storyline? Share your opinion in the comments below and be sure to check out the best of post later today.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 18

Review:

This is different. I’m actually going to complain about the visuals in this episode. On the surface this episode looks much the same as any other with visual metaphors being used as characters interact or to show how characters are feeling and individually these are all fine and fit with the show so far. However, what makes episode 18 different is that instead of the feeling of purpose and drive that I’ve had with the other visuals, this week’s offering just feels like they are desperately trying to create a sense of tension or rising action as we get closer to the end of the series. It all seems very messy and haphazard. The star-wars parody cats in particular and the flames, followed by the steam-bun head joke early in the episode all just felt very thrown together.

While there are some touching emotional moments in this episode which are mostly allowed to play out, the frequency and the truly jarring nature of some of these insertions really detracted from this week’s episode (at least for me).

From a story and character point of view things are still going really well, but it was definitely the visuals taking my attention this week.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 15

Review:

For a show where little happens from a plot point of view, they manage to keep the audience guessing anyway. After Rei lost his match I assumed that was the end of us watching the tournament, maybe the characters would discuss who won later. However, March once again proves that it is committed to the world they are building and not just Rei’s character by having the matches between Gotou and Shimada take up a fair portion of the episode. Admittedly, we don’t spend a lot of time at the board with them but rather we see the match through the other players who are observing and discussing the match.

Kyouko also returns early in the episode and we continue to see what her relationship with Rei is and what her relationship with Gotou is actually like. It’s interesting that Kyouko is being set up as a tragic figure who genuinely doesn’t seem to want the pity of others and yet she is so incredibly pitiful (although she’s also nasty and manipulative). Rei’s descriptions of her early in the episode and the accompanying visuals are striking and really make you consider what we know about her character.

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Of course, we also have the sisters and their grandfather who are worrying about Rei because he hasn’t been to see them since before his match and we also get a lot of school stuff because Rei is really on the edge of having to repeat a year. It’s an episode that is just packed with moments and each one is essential to the ongoing drama and they are all connected but its a lot to take in and yet at the same time very little actually progresses this episode.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 14

Review:

This show is brilliant at getting under my skin and making me feel what Rei is going through. Probably because, to a lesser extent, everyone has gone through uncertainty and failure. Everyone has made false assumptions and been burned. Everyone has felt embarrassed and confused.

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Seeing all of this in Rei, amplified, hits hard and the combination of well chosen music and visual metaphors is powerful.

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What makes this more affective is that Rei has been working his way out of depression over the course of the series and things had been quite light for awhile so this spiral back is so reminiscent of anyone who has ever tried to pick themself up only to falter at a setback. It is what happens next that I’m really interested in. Whether the connections Rei has made with other characters so far in the series and the lessons he has learned are enough to help him get through this.

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Also, the plot had been heading and pointing clearly to a Rei vs Gotou match and they’ve managed to snatch that away in a clever and logical fashion and in a way that forces Rei to reassess. It doesn’t feel like a twist for the sake of narrative convenience but rather like a deliberately planned character pitfall and the fact that most of us watching didn’t see it coming just made the whole experience of this episode better. Even after Rei has his first doubts in this episode, I expected him to come back and win. I expected we were still on track for him to grimly fight his way into that final game. But ultimately, this was the perfect way for this tournament to end.

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I cannot wait for the next episode of this show.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.


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Tuesday’s Top 5: Visually Interesting Anime in 2016

When I made my judgements about best and worst series I make that judgement based mostly on entertainment, characters and plot. Visuals (whether good or bad) play little part in that judgement. So this week I want to look at the top 5 anime in 2016 that I found visually interesting. As always I’d invite you to add you favourites to the comments below.

How did I narrow down this list? I actually remembered something about the visuals other than character designs. Seriously, I don’t usually pay that much attention to backgrounds and the like because I’m all about story and characters so if I actually remember after watching something that it was beautiful or interesting, that usually means it was noteworthy. They also had to be in an anime that aired at some point during 2016 (either continuing on from 2015, completely in 2016, or at least started before the end of 2016).

And then for patrons, I’ve put up a post called Tuesday’s Lesser 5 where I share some of the least visually interesting anime of 2016. I’m still working on providing patrons with extra content and I’ll probably be a bit hit and miss with this until it becomes a routine (I am very open to suggestions from patrons and would be patrons about what content you would like to see). If the post hasn’t come out as scheduled I will fix it – just let me know.

Please Note – There will be spoilers below – massive spoilers for number 5.

Honourable mentions this week go to: Ajin, Mob Psycho 100 (Yes, I hated the look of this but it was interesting), and Erased.

Number 5: Assassination Classroom Season 2

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Say what you will about this show as a show, you have to admit visually it is very interesting. We have a large cast of characters who each have a distinct look and a main character who by himself is intriguing and then we have the settings which are at times highly detailed and also use a large range of colours nad tones to convey moods. Honestly, the show is a feast for the eyes regardless of how you take to the plot of students trying to kill their teacher.

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Number 4: Grimgar of Fantasy and Ash

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I know a lot of people didn’t like the look of this show but I loved it. The water colour look about the scenes that just made everything feel kind of like a children’s story book while this incredibly grim tale was being woven really worked for me and it stood out from the strong colours and character designs we usually come across in this sort of fantasy world. I also liked how they contrasted each of the settings. We had the town, the forest, the ruins and then the caverns and each area had their own look and feel even while the art style was consistent. I also liked that the character designs blended with this environment rather than standing out sharply from it.

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Number 3: Yuri on Ice

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I know, obvious choice, but this anime swept me away with its animation and presentation from the very first opening. The storyline and characters took longer to win me over but I could have watched this series through just on the looks of it. I’ve never seen characters move like that and I honestly don’t care if they were reusing animation, it was amazing. I also liked that the costumes were all beautifully designed and moved with the skaters, the backgrounds, the way they gave us the feel of being in different countries even though we spent most of our time at skating rinks, and so on. The visuals were extremely well done and this show had instant appeal because of it.

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Number 2: Flip Flappers

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It’s probably good this show was so visually interesting given the story really struggled to come through sometimes. That said, regardless of what the characters were doing or whether you had a clue what the plot was about, there was always something appealing to look at on the screen. The rich detail, the symbolism, the abstract design at times, the various art styles, all of it demanded your attention and you kept thinking that you’d missed something and sure enough when reading the blogs of others there was a detail you’d completely missed amongst the many things clamouring for your attention while watching this show. No matter your thoughts on the story, this is a visually appealing anime to watch.

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Number 1: March Comes in Like a Lion

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This one may not be as frantic to fight for every minute of your attention as Flip Flappers but overall the visuals are far more cohesive (and more importantly are more suited to my tastes). The sharp contrasts between light and dark and the simplicity of some scenes compared with the rich detail in others will keep you watching and watching closely. Throw in the contrast between the very ‘realistic’ view of the world against the more ‘cartoonish’ view that is sometimes given and there’s always something to look for. Then again, even the opening of this one is mesmerizing and rich in symbolism so well worth checking out. That and it’s just beautiful.

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Those are my picks for top 5 visually interesting anime in 2016. I know three of them came from the end of the year but when I looked back at the other anime I loved, they just didn’t visually stand out. What are your favourites from the year?


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March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 12

Review:

I’m going to get my complaint about the new opening out-of-the-way straight up. What is with that song? Visually, the opening is still really fascinating but the song just doesn’t match the tone of the show and while maybe it’s pointing the direction we’re heading all it really did was pull me out of the mood to watch the episode. Definitely skipping the opening from next week.

Otherwise, this week March is back with a really strong episode. I love that Rei is aware of the change in him but that he isn’t really sure how to deal with it so instead he focusses on the challenge he knows how to handle, the tournament. That said, it seems like Rei realises he can’t keep going like this and it will be interesting to see what he decides to do next.

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Rei is the right kind of self-aware character. One where his inner monologue actually does help you to understand him and his view on the events around him (rather than simply narrating the obvious) and it forces you to question your own decisions and actions. Really loving this show still even though some of the comedic moments don’t do all that much for me.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.


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Friday’s Feature: Constructing Characters Through Visuals in Anime

A while back I made the point that I don’t really like comparing anime when I review them but there are times when a comparison can help to clarify meaning (Comparing Apples and Oranges). This week I am going to be comparing two current anime and their use of visuals to construct meaning. I am not going to be discussing which of these is a better anime. If you’ve been reading my weekly overviews you already know which I am enjoying more and my reasons.

The two anime I’d like to look at are March Comes in Like a Lion and Flip Flappers. Now I’m not going to get to cover much in this article because both of these shows are absolutely full of visual metaphors so after a brief overview I am going to look at how the central characters of each show have been constructed (in part – there’s too much in either show to fully cover without writing way too much for anyone to bother reading on my blog) so far and the impact of the story so far on the character (up to episode 6). I may do a follow up feature later on some of the other visuals in the shows, though that will probably be after they are finished airing.

Starting with Flip Flappers, it is not difficult to see why it is enthralling some people. It is a high energy anime with two adorable central characters and a sense of whimsy to the plot that calls you back to a children’s fairy tale (only one that has incredibly dark undertones and a sense of impending danger). There’s a lot to like about it even as it confuses or deliberately withholds information from the audience. It’s a visual feast for the eyes filled with dazzling colours and sharp contrasts.

March Comes in Like a Lion couldn’t be more different in terms of what it is trying to do. It’s an incredibly slow paced character piece with a fairly dark outlook on life only occasionally punctuated by moments of brightness. It is compelling viewing even as you wonder if there is in fact a plot other than seeing the character on his journey. Again, there is a lot to like about it but what really keeps the audience enthralled are how emotions are being presented visually.

Both shows initially set up a protagonist who is isolated and suffering from feelings of emptiness or at the very least a general dissatisfaction with their current existence. We see both Cocona and Rei as being isolated from others and continually looking away and toward something else. In Cocona’s case she stares out of the classroom window where she initially sees Papika (though she doesn’t know what she is seeing). In Rei’s case he regularly looks out the window toward the water and even when he is walking he regularly stops to stare off into the distance, particularly when crossing a bridge so that he can look at the water. It’s effective characterisation because we get a sense that both of these characters are wanting something more but don’t know what it is or how to get it. We also clearly get a sense of their isolation.

One thing both shows have done which I find somewhat off putting is the way they have made the characters’ eyes seem glassy. Not just these two characters. All of the characters. We see these glistening globes of colour and shading and while anime eyes are never exactly what you would call realistic, the eyes in both Flip Flappers and March Comes in Like a Lion are particularly interesting. However, this choice has allowed for an absolute freedom of expression because the eyes aren’t realistic in the first place they can clearly become the window to the characters’ emotions and change to reflect the current emotional state without anyone calling them out on being off-model.

Where the two shows diverge is in where these characters have gone. For Cocona, Papika is an unwanted intrusion in her life and yet the energy and chaos she brings is a welcome break from the stuffiness of her usual existence. The show is never subtle about the contrast between these characters and their inverted natures became clear after their first transformation experience where their colouring was entirely inverted.

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This has of course led to speculation that perhaps Cocona and Papika are actually one person and merely opposite sides of the same coin and there is certainly merit in such an interpretation but at this stage it is speculation. It will be interesting to see what becomes of that idea as the show draws to a conclusion.

Flip Flappers takes us away from Cocona’s everyday life to a fantasy world literally known as ‘Pure Illusion’. While elements from the real world have a presence there, it is clearly a world that defies normal logic and the contrast between the real world and Pure Illusion is visually clear.

While at first resisting the lure of Pure Illusion and the bright world Papika has opened up for Cocona, the change on Cocona as a character is made clear. She’s moved from being alone, to grudgingly accepting Papika’s presence, to acknowledging the emotions Papika helps her to experience.

It is clear that colour is playing a significant role in creating meaning and character throughout Flip Flappers and the composition of the shots continues to layer meaning into each scene as well. When we start looking at the number of visual symbols and references packed into most episodes this article could go on forever but I’m going to leave Flip Flappers here and go back to March Comes in Like  a Lion.

In direct contrast to Cocona’s progressive character development, Rei Kiriyama is still very much stuck in his own head after 6 episodes. The vast majority of his dialogue is an internal monologue and his interactions with other characters are few and far between and even then they are usually scarce in terms of actual interaction.

For Rei, everyday is a struggle against apathy and disillusionment and we see him facing the world and finding moments of calm in amongst a sense that he is drowning (sometimes quite literally). Dark and light again play a crucial role in constructing this conflict.

In episode 6 we are treated to an extended metaphor of Rei swimming on and on in an ocean until he became a professional shogi player (illustrated by him finding his place on an island but then collapsing on the sand). He had no will to return to the ocean to advance any further.

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The visual and the internal monologue perfectly express his feelings about the journey he has been on and where he is currently sitting. It also perfectly expresses the inner conflict he is facing because in order to stay there he has to accept stagnation but as he has said earlier in the episode he wants to go somewhere. It leaves us wondering where Rei intends to go. We know he doesn’t know yet and that until he decides he is stuck on this island and completely isolated (metaphorically of course) but we also know that through his encounters with the three sisters his carefully constructed world where he is on an isolated island is beginning to fall apart on him. Almost every scene where Rei encounters the sisters (or at least one of the sisters) is punctuated visually by the dark visuals being literally swept away by a sea of light, sparkles, or colours.

In that respect it is similar to Flip Flappers in that the sisters are acting as a catalyst of change on the main character and that the visuals are reflective of these changes. However, Papika is a force of nature that sweeps Cocona along in her wake and the sisters are more of a healing balm that gently push back some of the darkness for a moment.

Like with Flip Flappers, I could go on about the symbolism in the show (particularly the use of water and wind and the way shots have been constructed) but I’m going to leave it here because this article already got a bit longer than I kind of planned.

I think it is great we have such two highly visual shows this season (which is funny to say given anime is a visual medium and yet so often the visuals simply get the story across). Both of these are so laden with imagery that it is hard to look away and even background details take on significance. Plus, rewatching an episode is still fun because there are aspects that were missed or overlooked on the first watch through.

If you are watching either of these series I’d love to know your thoughts on the visuals and how they are constructing meaning for you. If you aren’t watching these, what are some shows you’ve watched that have used visuals in an interesting way to create character?

 

March Comes in Like a Lion Episode 6

Review:

This week, March Comes in Like a Lion hits us hard with visual metaphors as Rei tries to work through some of his baggage, or at least tries to figure out what his problem is. I like that this show continues to treat anxiety and depression with a great deal of respect and acknowledges the complexity of mental health issues. There’s no single trigger that sent Rei into the downward spiral he found himself in, and while there are rays of light in his life he continues to see-saw back and forth as he deals with the day to day. If we were to look strictly at what happened this week, the answer would be not much. That said, the episode doesn’t allow you to feel bored and it feels very much like this character is progressing toward something even if he isn’t sure what that something is yet.

March Comes in Like a Lion is available on Crunchyroll.

Super Lovers Episode 6

An overview of the series can be found on my review of episode 5.

So, this week Haru takes Ren to the zoo, we meet someone else who is going to help in the cafe, and we learn that Haru has a complicated past with some girl. Also, miscommunications abound between Haru and Ren, leading to a drunken scene in a bedroom that gets cut off rather abruptly. This series remains pretty flat and this week I think the visuals were significantly weaker than previous episodes with facial expressions regularly going just a bit askew. If you’re enjoying the series you probably will like this episode but I wouldn’t be recommending the show from this week’s efforts.

Super Lovers is available on Crunchyroll.