(If you like what you see, you can go to camseyeview.biz to see more of my work on video game reviews, editorials, lists, Kickstarters, developer interviews, and review/talk about animated films. If you would like, consider contributing to my Patreon at patreon.com/camseyeview. It would help support my work, and keep the website up. Thanks for checking out my work, and I hope you like this editorial!)
Well, it’s time to talk about the Winter Anime Season…again. Honestly, Winter 2023 is kind of a mix of both Winter 2021 and Winter 2022 in terms of quality. There are a lot of really solid titles mixed with a ton of mediocre and trashy anime. It would be more shocking if there were more good, or more worrying if many of them were mediocre. Since I don’t make these until I’ve seen every anime up to at least three episodes or more, it lets me find time to really break down what to take away from them. You really can’t tell if the first episode will be stellar or not. It’s just whether it’s a good first impression or not. Sure, some are going to be just good from the get-go, but that isn’t always the case. A good opening hook can only go so far. Now then, let’s get started.
Onimai: I’m Now Your Sister (Crunchyroll)
Content Warning: Lolicon and underaged fanservice
Listen, it’s okay to not adapt certain stories to anime. Especially when it’s from a studio with obvious talent in its animation department. This is based on the manga by Nekotofu. It’s directed by Shingo Fujii, written by Michiko Yotoke, and produced at Studio Bind. Even with all of the faults of this studio’s other show, Jobless Reincarnation, I can at least see why people like that show. It also doesn’t hurt that Studio Bind has some amazing animators and a production pipeline to make it that way. So, why on earth would they pick a project like this when it’s such underage creepy nonsense? Yeah, it’s basically a slice-of-life comedy lolicon show, and if it was just about a brother and sister reconnecting as siblings, then that would be stellar. You can make shows about people reconnecting, but when the brother in this show is forced against his will to be turned into a middle school-aged girl by his intelligent sister, then the problems only start building up from there. You can see when the show is trying to be sweet and sentimental, but when it has to clash with the fanservice and how a lot of the fanservice is drawn to teenagers looking as lewd as possible, I hate it. I can see where more of the positive reviews are coming from, and I disagree with a lot of them, but I can safely say this one isn’t for me. The show just isn’t good, and hopefully, one day, Studio Bind will make something that won’t make you feel like jumping out of your skin or force you to sit through terrible nonsense to get to the few scraps of good story beats.
The Angel Next Door Spoils Me Rotten (Crunchyroll)
You know, romance doesn’t have to be boring. You wonder if the original author or the people working on the anime knew that or not. This is based on the light novel series by Saeikisan. The anime is directed by Lihua Wang, written by Keiichiro Ochi, and produced by Project No. 9. This show is just nothing. It’s harmless nothing, but it’s just nothing. I get there is supposed to be a budding romance between our two leads who happen to live next to one another and such, but with its flat and soulless animation, and the fact the build-up to whether they will get together or not is not handled well, it makes for a really dull sit. If there is a lo-fi anime romcom this season people are gonna watch, it won’t be this one. There are two that are worth watching more than this one.
Tomo Chan IS a Girl (Crunchyroll)
It feels good to be more positive from this point on with this category. This is based on the popular manga by Fumita Yanagida. The anime is adapted by Hitoshi Nanba, written by Megumi Shimizu, and produced by Lay-Duce. While on the surface, it’s another ‘boy and girl can’t find the right way to confess to one another’ story, it helps that they go a different direction for the characters. It is annoying that the show sometimes wants to tell a tomboy to be more feminine when the problem isn’t’ that she’s too “masculine”,but it’s also the fact the two don’t have the proper brain cells and social interactive skills to actually know how to confess to one another. Doesn’t help either that the secondary cast members that get thrown into the equation cause chaos with their silly antics for the two love birds. I do wish the animation was better to make the comedy hit harder, but it looks fine, and I can see why people adore this one. I just don’t think I vibe with it as much as others do, and I feel badly about that. Oh well, not everyone is going to like every popular show and popular movie, and that’s alright. Just don’t be malicious about it. Anyway, Tomo Chan IS a Girl is adorable goofy fun with some clunky animation.
Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible (HiDive)
This is a very cute and silly show. It is based on the manga by Nene Yukimori. The anime adaptation is directed by Kazuomi Koga, written by Yuya Takahashi, and produced by Pine Jam. Alongside Pine Jam’s great expressive animation that they obviously carried over from their work on Do It Yourself, the manga’s simplistic, but emotive art style brings life to another show that may or may not be aping off of the Komi Can’t Communicate bandwagon. Recently, we have been getting many creative ways to tackle social anxiety and feeling invisible in a world where all we do is socialize. It helps here that our two leads are the cutest together anytime they are on screen, which is all of the time. They do enough with the premise to make every sequence refreshing and full of laughs. The chemistry is delightful, and while the romance isn’t fully convincing, if you are looking for a solid cute time, then give this one a watch.
The Ice Guy and His Cool Female Colleague (Crunchyroll)
It shouldn’t feel so refreshing that an anime has young adult leads for the show to focus on, but we are in that situation here. This is based on the manga by Miyuki Tonogawa. It was directed by Mankyu, written by Tomoko Konparu, and produced by Zero-G and Liber. Once again, it feels refreshing that we have a workplace drama/romcom with a fantastical twist to how certain workers are descendants of mystical beings, and how they weave in those parts are not so upfront, and can be used in very literal and metaphorical ways. It’s really sweet and how it gets creative with said mystical powers show off different sides of our male lead. Luckily, the other characters are just as fun and likable to be around. The only downside is I don’t find the romance all that compelling, but I do like their chemistry. With a very low-key atmosphere and a lo-fi bop of an opening, there is a lot to enjoy and find appealing with this show.
Endo and Kobayashi Live: The Latest on Tsundere Villainess Lieselotte (HiDive)
It’s always refreshing when you get a truly distinct and original take on a certain type of anime series that, no matter any of the faults, you commend it for actually doing something different. This is based on the novels by Suzu Enoshima. The anime is directed by Fumihiro Yoshimura, written by Tomoko Konparu, and produced by Tezuka Productions. So, what do you get when you take a typical Otome game setting, but combine it with elements of Let’s Plays and God simulation games? This is that anime. It’s amazing that I have yet to see something this creative and how it not only has great jokes, great characters, and a banger premise, but it also pulls back from the premise to let the characters grow. You care about both the human players and the in-game characters. This was just a really pleasant surprise and I’m all for creatives tackling and taking different spins at anime that could really use a shot in the arm.
The Ice Blade Sorcerer Shall Rule the World (Crunchyroll)
Anime is just getting worse and worse in some regards with shows like this. This is based on the novel series by Nana Mikoshiba. It’s directed and written by Masahiro Takata and produced by Cloud Hearts and Yokohama Animation Laboratory. Maybe if the anime/manga/light novel industry wasn’t so hellbent on pushing everything out at a record pace for maximum profit, maybe, just maybe, we could get shows that are more interesting than this generic hodgepodge of fantasy action elements. You’ve got the school setting, you’ve got the quirky clubs and side characters, you’ve got the power fantasy, you’ve got a basic mystery plot of who our lead actually is and who the big threats might be. All it needed to do was actually either commit to something or stop trying to appeal to every single anime-goer, because when you try to appeal to everyone, then you appeal to no one. It takes a darn good team and creative to come up with something that hits all the right notes for everyone, and sadly, this sure isn’t it. I like some aspects of the show, but due to its lackluster production/visuals, some uncomfortable baiting of multiple types, and no real identity to call its own, this fantasy action show feels like an isekai, but without the isekai aspect, and without the progress of making something compelling. Also, don’t undercut the female characters you are trying to make viewers care about by making them look like lingerie models during the end credits. Makes ya wonder if they see the female characters as characters and not objects.
Spy Classroom (HiDive)
Well, at least there is something that could have been with this show. This is based on the novels by Takemachi. It’s directed by Keiichiro Kawaguchi, written by Shinichi Inotsume, and produced by Feel. We have a few anime this season that are all about a group of underdog characters who need to prove themselves, and in this case, a bunch of spy academy rejects who team up with a shady leader who trains them to be the best spies they can be. It has the spy espionage post-WW1 setting going for it, but that’s about it. Didn’t really find myself gravitating towards the story or the characters by episode three, and the plot for the first three episodes feels stretched out. There wasn’t much there, and they needed to pad out three episodes. Not that there weren’t any scenes of growth for the characters, but the characters are forgettable and that’s not a good thing due to how many there are of them. They also look more like characters you should see as anime statues than anything else. The decent action and some mystery about the world don’t really keep me wanting to come back for every new episode. Those are the breaks at times. Just wasn’t my cup of tea.
Ayakashi Triangle (Crunchyroll)
Talk about a tonal and messy situation of trying to make this premise work. This is based on the manga by Kentaro Yabuki of Black Cat and To Love Ru (which he illustrated) fame. It’s directed by Noriaki Akitaya, written by Shogo Yasukawa, and produced by Connect. Listen, it’s ambitious and admirable that a property would love to tackle gender identity with its premises. Gender swap and identity stories are commonplace in anime. It’s not like this is breaking any new taboos or boundaries. It can work and it has happened before. Too bad it’s trying to be a million things at once. It wants to be a shonen action show, it wants to be a yuri bait show, it wants to be an ecchi fanservice show, it wants to be a comedy, it wants to tackle romance through the gender spectrum, and it wants to do all of this at once when it’s not really good at being any of it. It’s too serious to be funny, too comedy driven to be serious, too horny to be low-key, and the romance angle is shot by the fact the show wants to tackle the two lead’s romance, but also be arousing to the viewer. It’s at least trying to be more than it is, but there are simply too many gender-bent anime out there to spend time on one that is not interested in being truly great, or at least great in the non-fanservice department. You can obviously tell where the budget went into this show despite having a slightly higher-than-usual polished look. Who knows what will happen to the show, since it’s one of the few anime this season getting delayed due to the lingering pandemic. Maybe it will get better, but from the four episodes that are out, it hasn’t been impressive.
The Reincarnation of the Strongest Exorcist in Another World (Crunchyroll)
Can anime actually commit to the bit for once? A lot of anime these days seem unable to commit to the bit. Anyway, this mediocre isekai is based on the novels by Kiichi Kosuzu. The show is directed by Nobuyoshi Nagayama & Ryosuke Shibuya, written by Touko Machida, and produced by Studio Blanc. The one major hook the show has going for it to try and be more interesting than other isekai power fantasies, is how our lead is reborn not just from a different life, but a different region from his home in Japan’s past to a more European location. It results in him having an entirely different magic system that he uses from the rest of the world in which he has been reborn. It should have led to some pretty interesting world-building moments and political intrigue from everyone else in this show’s universe about how this one kid can wield powerful magic, but somehow not be born with the power. Sadly, it boils down to every power fantasy. The lead is stronger than everyone else, some characters hate him in a deeply absurd way, and the lead makes two female friends be the forearm candy to the lead. After watching so many anime buck the natural trend of most power fantasy isekai, you think that would mean everyone else would try harder, and who knows, this could be a bad translation of the source material. It sure as heck feels like it’s rushing to get to certain story beats faster. Anime fans tend to take what they can get even when better stuff is already available to the viewer. Oh well. I liked the demon entities that the lead has in his control, but that’s about it.
Ningen Fushin: Adventurers Who Don’t Believe in Humanity Will Save the World (Crunchyroll)
I really hate when I feel like I’m going to like a show because of its premise, and then watch the said show and feel underwhelmed by it. This is based on the novels and manga by Shinta Fuji. The series is adapted to animated form by director and writer Itsuki Imazaki and is produced by Geek Toys and Seven. There is a real solid idea of a bunch of adventurers who were rejected by the masses forming their own party to go on adventures and save the land. Heck, there are even comedy versions of this idea with anime like Konosuba. Where this show lacks though is in the execution department. The reasons why these adventurers got rejected by society are absurd and petty, ranging from people not liking the mage for being stronger, an adventuring party thinking they didn’t need their rogue, and one badly handled case of being falsely accused of being a pest. Yeah, this anime wants you to feel for these underdogs, and you as a viewer definitely want to see them grow through the ranks and show the world they weren’t disposable beings, but the way it all unfolds is clunky at best. The dragon girl is probably the best character, which is a shame since she isn’t the lead. They also do that thing where it’s not fully a fantasy world and have things like idols, but then they don’t modernize any other element of the world around them. It’s aggravating since you can see the idea there, and like usual, it could be a bad adaptation, but the anime doesn’t really make me want to buy the manga. I might watch a bit more to see the introduction of another character, but it won’t be high on my priority.
Reborn to Master the Blade: From Hero-King to Extraordinary Squire (Crunchyroll)
Sometimes, being simply well-made and executing its premise enough with some solid action is all that you need with your isekais to be tolerable and entertaining. This is based on the novel series by Hayaken. The anime is produced by Studio Comet, written by Mitsutaka Hirota, and directed by Naoyuki Kuzuya. What it lacks in polished animation, wanting to fast forward through so much of the story’s plot to get to the leads being older, and trying to horn up the female leads to a very distracting degree that almost cripples the entire show, it does execute its premise better than most isekais. It has solid if clunky political thriller aspects. The story of a king being reincarnated to follow his past goals of becoming a knight are a good-enough twist on the formula, the characters are fairly likable, and the action is obviously where the money was spent the most. If it just didn’t have so much anime nonsense under its belt, it would probably be one of my favorites, but due to how many other isekai or isekai adjacent animate are out this season and do its premise better, it falls short, but it wouldn’t be the worst show to come back to after the three episode rule.
Giant Beast of Ars (HiDive)
This feels like an anime that’s based on a RPG, but without the terrible production issues of being based on a video game that usually plagues these series. It’s an original anime that’s directed by Akira Oguro, written by Norimitsu Kaiho, and produced at Asahi Productions. While it has some similar elements like humanity fighting against giant beasts and creatures, the world they crafted in the span of three episodes is full of life, personality, and intrigue., That isn’t always a given with original anime, and the action is rock solid as well. It definitely gives you a hook and a reason to keep watching, and it shouldn’t feel refreshing that this show feels like a show and not a marketing tool, but it feels great to watch this and not feel the creeping hands of merchandising yet touch this one. Granted, it’s there, but it never pulls you out of the experience like most anime do.
Handyman Saitou in Another World (Crunchyroll)
Nothing quite like finding an isekai that is actually distinct and not really an isekai in the traditional sense. This quirk fantasy/isekai/comedy is based on the manga by Kazutomo Ichitomo. It’s directed by Toshiyuki Kubooka, written by Kenta Ihara, and produced by C2C. Honestly, I went into this show blind. The fun idea of a handyman getting sent to a fantasy world isn’t really an isekai. When you think of isekai, it usually boils down to boring mediocre power fantasies aimed at a male demographic, but here, it’s not really any of that. Saitou is basically a rogue/thief who just happens to have his tool kit with him, and the show isn’t really all that interested in telling a story. There is a plot and progression of character arcs and such, but it’s honestly more interested in gags and skits that take place in this fantasy world than telling a grand story. Of course, being a comedy, the comedy can be hit-and-miss, but when it hits, boy do the jokes land. The characters are fairly simplistic, but they have their own depth to them that makes them fun characters to follow. However, sometimes it feels like they had an idea for a joke and it either didn’t translate well or has some missing context to western viewers or just ends with no real punchline. It’s a creative show that’s more along the lines of Cromartie High School and Azumanga Daioh than your typical isekai fare, and I think that’s admirable, to say the least.
Trigun Stampede (Crunchyroll)
It’s amazing that people ever doubted this incredible studio with what they were going to craft with this new take on the franchise. This is based on the manga and classic anime by Yasuhiro Nightow. This new take is directed by Kenji Muto, written by Tasuro Inamoto, Shin Okashima, and Yoshihisa Ueda, and produced by the best CGI studio in the anime industry, Studio Orange. Yes, the original anime is a classic and should be watched by everyone, but it’s been almost three decades, and it’s okay for people to try a new take on the franchise, because unlike a lot of remakes or reboots of certain franchises, this one is actually good. First off, you get the amazing and perfect CGI animation by Studio Orange combined with the creative western/Mad Max world that the characters live in, and lovable characters. There are some aspects that I wish they didn’t change, but so far, unless this adaptation goes off the rails like the Promised Neverland adaptation, Trigun Stampede is one of the best anime of the Winter 2023 season. Also, the dub is killer with the return of Johnny Yong Bosch as the titular Vash. It’s a great show from beginning to end so far and I don’t care if the mystery from the original isn’t there.