A new year brings with it a new season of anime. And with the comforting regularity of a pendulum that smacks a rock into the side of your head on every swing, isekai anime continue to dominate the seasonal output. Thankfully, in a medium that increasingly depends on tentpole series and safe, regurgitated schlock – there are a few standouts every season that manage to stay afloat on the roiling river of refuse.
Not included on this list is 'Demon Slayer' because if you love 'Demon Slayer' you're already watching it. I have already reviewed season one and discussed why I find it middling and uninteresting; but if it's your jam, then there's a new season in progress right now.
Here are the shows I’m watching this winter season:
My Dress-Up Darling
The strange name pretty much sums up the plot of this anime. A guy named Gojo who has an affinity for traditional Japanese dolls (and lives and works at a studio dedicated to them) befriends one of the most popular and beautiful girls in school after she learns he can sew. She asks him to help her craft the perfect cosplay of a video game character she loves. The shy, reserved, and kind of weird Gojo, having finally made his first friend in high school with the drop-dead gorgeous Marin, must now navigate awkward social situations and learn more about the intense and dedicated world of cosplay to bring Marin’s vision to life.
With gorgeous animation, likable protagonists, and some occasionally cute flirting, the anime explores traditional Japanese culture’s ability to evolve into the popular otaku culture of today. All the while it entertains the over-the-top flirtatiousness of Marin toward Gojo in a way that, while not realistic and mostly for fanboys, still gives the show a kind of wholesome innocence despite its lecherous moments. While the majority of male characters in series with similar situations are either total creeps or annoyingly innocent puritans, Gojo is multi-dimensional enough to be less a self-insert and more an actual character.
‘My Dress Up Darling’ is certainly not a universal recommendation but it is making the simple plot of a girl wanting to cosplay into a compelling romantic comedy.
Available on Crunchyroll and Funimation
Attack on Titan Final Season Part 2
Attack on Titan is wrapping up its incredible story with a final set of episodes focused on the war for Paradis. With fantastic animation, a great opening, and every episode ending on a nail-biting cliffhanger, Attack on Titan: The Final Season Part 2 is sure to leave fans on edge, waiting impatiently for the next episode every week.
You can check out my review of Part One here for a better idea of what to expect.
Available on Crunchyroll and Funimation
The stranger rides into town on a giant crab, bow slung over his shoulder, his arrows able to manifest giant mushrooms that infect whatever they pierce like a parasite. Pursued by the government and treated as a terrorist, this mushroom grower knows that his fungi are actually helping to purify the post-apocalyptic Japan he roams; while everyone else blames him and the mushrooms for a mysterious affliction known as "rusting" that is killing the population.
With steampunk airplanes that are actually slugs, rhinos that are equipped with rocket launchers, and a force of bunny mask wearing special agents; 'Sabikui Bisco' is the kind of utter weirdness that made me fall in love with anime decades ago. It feels like a show that would have released comfortably in the 90's or early 2000's and a breath of fresh air in an otherwise turgid season.
The hero, Bisco Akaboshi, is a manly-man action hero with a dedicated goal and a sense of humor. Facing down an opponent, he declares "What did I do, kill your family?" with the aplomb of an 80s action hero. It's a series that never stops moving, with plenty of action, comedy, and a world that's uniquely bizarre.
I'm not entirely sure where the series will take us or if it can maintain the forward momentum it managed in the first three episodes but it's well worth the time of any action fan.
Available on Crunchyroll
Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Part 6: Stone Ocean
Back in December I reviewed the first set of episodes
for 'Stone Ocean', a fantastic arc in the long-running Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure series. The first twelve episodes dropped on Netflix and it’s been assumed that every three months the streaming platform will offer up another twelve episodes. That means we can likely expect the second part of Stone Ocean to show up in March. Stone Ocean is quite possibly as good as the series has been since introducing stands in Part 3 and Jolyne Cujo one of the best main characters in the series. I gave that first drop of episodes a perfect score and I only expect the series to get more weird and intense. If you’ve not caught up already – I implore you to go give it a shot.
Available on Netflix
Lupin the III Part 6
Speaking of the sixth part, let’s talk about 'Lupin III'. The original anime series began in 1971 and the iconic character has been in multiple television series, movies, OVA’s, and more. In all that time Lupin and friends were in more movies than James Bond; but it was only with 2015's television revival of the series that we started seeing a lot more enthusiasm for the Lupin franchise, probably because of a younger audience getting acquainted with a series that is older than 'Gundam', 'Star Wars', or most anime fans’ parents.
This season’s central focus is a battle of wits between Lupin and Sherlock Holmes. The battle comes as Lupin becomes involved in a heist that has something to do with the mysterious organization known as Raven, a group of politicians and giants of industry who have pulled the strings of the British government since the end of World War 2.
While the central story is full of action, twists, and great characterization; it’s the one-shot episodes that really shine through. One particularly memorable episode has a rich guy with a recreation of the American transcontinental railroad in his backyard. The miniature train line, complete with tiny American landmarks, becomes the set for an action scene that’s straight out of an episode of 'The Avengers' (not the superheroes, the OG’s John Steed and Emma Peel).
And that’s what Lupin is all about and why the series has such an enduring legacy. The characters are a unique hodge-podge of weirdos and they allow the writers to do anything from a serious character study to a dorky nonsense heist. Much like 'The Avengers' or James Bond, Lupin can mold himself to any genre or tone and remain fresh and fun because of that. Part 6 further cements that as long as anime exists, Lupin will endure and outlive most of his contemporaries.
Available on HIDIVE
Ranking of Kings
It’s rare that I can speak to an anime being both easily accessible to anyone, inclusive and thoughtful in how it presents its content; all while managing a balance between deadly serious character drama and whimsical fantasy elements. ‘Ranking of Kings’ focuses on a young prince who is deaf and unable to speak so relies on reading lips and sign language to communicate. Because of his disability, the denizens of the kingdom and those surrounding him in the walls of the castle underestimate and bully him. Despite Prince Bojji being the dying kings choice to succeed him, political machinations lead to Bojji's mean little brother becoming prince. Prince Bojji must now fight for his life in a twisty-turny adventure perfect for any fan of 'Game of Thrones'.
Because of the childlike nature of the show I nearly skipped over it but I’m so glad I didn’t let appearances fool me. This is a compelling, well-written, beautifully directed and emotionally resonant coming-of-age story offering characters unlike any found in contemporary anime. While the fantasy world it offers isn’t as well-realized as a Westeros or Middle Earth, it uses those elements of traditional fantasy to create a cast and world that captures the spirit of the fairy tales of youth.
Every single character is multi-faceted, with even the seeming villains coming with backstories that humanize them. In one episode, ‘Ranking of Kings’ offers more character growth and investment than entire seasons of other shows; a testament to its amazing writing.
‘Ranking of Kings’ has set itself up to be one of the best anime of recent memory and I can’t wait to see where Prince Bojji’s story takes him.
Available on Crunchyroll and Funimation
Jujutsu Kaisen 0
Jujutsu Kaisen took the anime world by storm and was among the best shows I watched last year. And while fans patiently wait for the second season, they can check out the theatrical release of this prequel film, dropping March 18 in select theaters. If you’re curious about the backstory of some of your favorite mentor characters in the main series, this movie is for you.
Limited theater release: March 18
Shenmue the Animation
Releasing on February 5, 'Shenmue' rounds out the season with an adaptation of the cult classic martial arts game. Ryo Hazuki searches out the murderer of his father from Japan to Hong Kong, and goes toe-to-toe with underground organizations in his pursuit of justice. Without the abundance of filler and mechanics that made the game series inaccessible to so many gamers, the anime should let the story and action shine through.
Available on Crunchyroll and airing on Adult Swim