Animenewsnetwork – This Week in Anime

This Week in Anime – Gnarly Ninja Robots

Animenewsnetwork - This Week in Anime

Discotek‘s long journey to restore this ridiculously entertaining dub is finally complete and is now available for streaming. Is Joe a slick enough dude to save an alien princess, find all the Ninja Robots and restore peace to outer space?

This series is streaming on RetroCrush and Amazon Prime

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Well Nicky, it’s 2022! It’s a new year, it’s a fresh start for all of us. How about we kick it off with a look to the future, via an old show?

The future is in the past, and how bad could future past be, right?


It can’t be all bad as long as it’s got NINJA ROBOTS in it! Today we’re talking about the new and old release of Ninja Warrior Tobikage. This out-of-this-world mecha series was produced in 1985 by Studio Pierrot has now been transported straight into modern day thanks to the hardworking folks at Discotek.

There’s a history behind this show; dubbed in English by a studio in Miami, Ninja Robots never actually aired in the United States—it only aired in Australia and the Philippines. Like many of the beloved works Discotek has license-rescued, they went through a lot of trouble to recover the dub that was thought to be lost. Discotek went above and beyond to restore the Ninja Robots dub specifically for fans of bizarre old dubs, which is why we’re covering it instead of Ninja Warrior Tobikage, even though both are streaming on RetroCrush.

Since RetroCrush has no closed captions for the dub, we’ll be using the (incomplete) Amazon Prime version for subtitle reasons. We wanted to replicate at least some of the magic presented by this truly cheesy show. This really let me appreciate all the work that Discotek put into trying to preserve this show. I took caps from both versions and you can definitely notice how much more vibrant it is. First one is the version on Amazon and the 2nd is the version on RetroCrush.

It truly is endearing how much Discotek did to restore Ninja Robots, but those guys already had my heart when they license rescued Eat-Man in 2016 (and released it on my birthday, lol). In an era where media archival is a tremendous issue, it’s nice to see Discotek making sure the weird, bizarre stuff is still kept alive and in good condition.

They even significantly cleaned up the dub audio compared to the previous version. The original had a sort of tinny-sound that was not playing nice with my audio processing issues.

But where does that leave Ninja Robots? Well, in a weird place. Most people are familiar with the Voltron or Robotech school of 80s dubs where shows were completely rewritten. Think Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs. Ninja Robots… doesn’t do that. The names are mostly kept with minor changes—Joe is still Joe, Mark is still Mark, only Rennie is now Jennie. The plot is largely identical, too. It’s to the point where even the intro is kept… kinda. Much like with Sailor Moon in the 90s, the Ninja Robots dub kept the Tobikage intro melody but changed up the lyrics into expositing about the main plot as sung by a very low-rent guy trying too hard to be David Bowie. It’s… something to experience.

It’s cute in it’s own way. It’s playing on the catchy strengths of that original JRock OP “Love Survivor,” though. I could’ve totally seen myself into it as a kid.
Right off the bat, the story feels very influenced by Mobile Suit Gundam. It takes place on a Martian colony, ruled over by a military despot. General Director Hazard forces anyone over the age of 16 to work in the colonies, be it in the military or in construction.

Well, the colonies are also pretty miserable compared to their previous lives on Earth. The construction workers say that jail is favorable than the daily grind of hard labor and omnipresent military rule.

Earth isn’t much better; ongoing civil unrest has reached dangerously violent levels. Case in point: the Statue of Liberty is now rubble.

We first see Joe and pals using guns to hunt rabbits for sport instead of taking his mandatory military exam. They carelessly throw their spoil at Jenny by means of negging her when she comes to lecture them, where we get our first amazing dub line of THIS. It’s a funny line in the dub but checking the sub it also highlights a sad reality that meat might not be highly available. Also wow, Joe is a real charmer (sarcasm).

I cannot understate just how much that line is made by the completely bizarre-o delivery of the dub. Like, it’s English and it’s spoken by someone who speaks English natively. Maybe the guy can’t act, but it’s not said incorrectly, it’s just got the delivery of some weird alien. Is it meant to be a joke? Is he serious about food shortages? Am I supposed to laugh? Because I am anyway but I don’t know if I’m supposed to.

Having looked heavily at both versions for these six episodes, the dub isn’t actually that unfaithful to the original script as far I can tell. Like yeah, Joe is a hothead macho asshole in the original saying almost the exact same things here but adding the “2 Cool 4 School” ‘tude delivery to everything makes it much more ridiculous compared to the more straightforward original. It’s not quality but it’s very funny if you enjoy that kind of thing and get any sort of nostalgia from it.

When the Military Police finds Joe being a little truant in a bar, they make to arrest him and his buddies, so Joe beats a trail to the desert where he comes upon a crashed alien ship set upon by other alien robots.

Immediately, Hazard and his stooge Doc Tock (not a doctor, his name is just Doc) think to take advantage of the situation. After all, aliens haven’t been found in 200 years, but now that they’ve arrived they might as well see what they can steal from them! It seems even Hazard resents Earth’s leaders for forcing him to oversee Mars.

Also, 1980s references to American science fiction! I had to pause to catch it, but yes: that’s the Enterprise! It seems a lot of people making anime liked Star Trek as much as folks making Star Trek: The Next Generation loved anime!

While we may be here to joke about the dub, we can still appreciate the artistry of the original. The bright blue of the city is very cool with the large UFO-shaped building overhanging everything. If anything, I’m really glad I was able to appreciate it this way where there was no way I could’ve before.

Studio Pierrot is a workhorse of the industry, currently working on Boruto while also producing the upcoming fourth season of Kingdom. And nothing hits like those old painted backgrounds for science fiction shows. The actual fights might be stock footage and shortcuts for animation, but when this show wants to look good, it looks good.
It’s not devoid of sakuga though. It may be stock but the transformation when Tobikage merges with Joe’s Gold Lion is very sleek, and there’s some small touches here and there in a way that’s nice for a 43 episode series.

We’re getting a little ahead of ourselves—see, the evil red Ninja Robots annihilate Hazard’s forces, and they turn their sights to the alien ship. Joe manages to steal his way onboard where he meets what appears to be an alien princess (who is a total space-babe). But they literally can’t speak the same language, so they just leave Joe to fend for himself.

Okay but the fact that the whole reason Joe is doing anything is just cuz he finds the alien princess hot is very funny/exhaustingly typical for a dude of his time.

I know they used to say “Earth girls are easy”, maybe Joe thought the rules applied to Andromedan?
At any rate, Joe is followed by an evil robot into a gold lion-shaped robot, and finds he can pilot it. So he goes on a rampage fighting off the other evil robots.

Also, this lion has GUNS! Pew pew! Serious firepower.

Yes! A random ninja robot also appears from nowhere and merges with Joe’s robot, turning it into a robot lion that mops up the rest of the alien army. The show dubs this robot “Cybertron”, but we learn precious little about them.

Don’t you just love it when guys just merge with you?

It’s just the ninja art of merging. Mind, body and soul, and what not. Just two dudes being dudes.

The owners of the Ninja Robots—the good ones—are a little miffed that Joe somehow managed to make one work, and capture him along with Mark and Jennie. But none of them can get the robots to move again, so they’re held prisoner by them. Meanwhile, Hazard is contacted by the leader of the evil alien robots—Grathan of the Kroken. Grathan strikes a deal with Hazard to give him weapons in exchange for the capture of Rowena the Alien Princess (the intro sings about her, remember?), and Hazard all too happily agrees in the hopes of backstabbing Grathan.

I gotta add I love Hazards intense “smokes 10 packs a day” voice in the dub. It’s very despicable. He’s unsubtle scum so it works.

Again, this isn’t anything that the subtitles can quite do justice—this is just a bizarre, bizarre dub. You just have to hear Hazard yourself to grasp how much he sounds like he’s about to get his voicebox cut out so he has to use one of those weird electric buzzers on his throat.

Or the little things like Joe’s insane laugh after Jenny his not-gf gets a little miffed at him for going along with this without any real reason to trust these new aliens.

“I do this all the time.” Yeah, buddy, sure ya do.

You forgot the part where the guards saw him punch the wall like some angry teenager…

…wait, on second thought, that’s perfectly in-character for Joe, what was I thinking?

I’m unsure what Joe’s character is supposed to be other than this somewhat unhinged boy. He’s not very likeable, but he is somewhat fun to watch. I wouldn’t describe the other characters as likeable either. Jenny gets the short-end from Joe a lot including being casually sexually harassed or insulted for not being feminine enough. His friends Kenji and Reel are both unlikeable and, in the early parts, can’t do anything. And I’m not sure Mark translates well because he’s sensible but whiny.

It’s also worth pointing out that in the first six episodes we’ve watched there is terribly little going on: Joe gets the lion’s share of the attention, so what little mediocrity there is to be had from Jenny and Mark isn’t much to go off of. To wit, Jenny and Mark use their robots all of once.

It also takes a while to set up, really. It’s not until episode 3 that Princess Rowena gets captured to be used as a bargaining piece and he decides to go off to save her by himself even if all his pals are determined to help.

Joe manages to rescue Rowena with the help of Cybertron, while Hazard and Grathan settle into the roles of the evil bickering married couple, constantly trying to one-up each other while helping each other fight Rowena, Joe, and company. Grathan’s army was ordered by King Annex to start a war on her planet in Andromeda because after a millennia of peace, their people had lost, ah… their “generating instincts”. Nothing like a war to start a fire in people’s loins, yeah? Ladorio, Rowena’s father, insisted it was just overreliance on technology. At any rate, Rowena was tasked with heading to Earth to find the legendary ninja, whom could possibly pilot the Ninja Robot and fight off Annex’s armies while also teaching the Andromedans how to bone. Rowena’s expression says it all.

The legendary hero, everyone.

Another thing I’ll note about the dub vs sub, it seems like not all the original music was licensed or that some of it was changed during localization for whatever reason. This was common for dubs at the time but it means some scenes are just totally tonally different on top of the delivery worse than some of the kids in my high school drama class.

Yeah, the fight scenes where Joe’s robot transforms just have really generic Casio music playing that sounds like it’s trying too hard to be royalty-free adventure music. Not the kind of thing you’d set to a show about giant robots, more like something you’d play over Crundle Quest V: The Crystals of Gingledoof.

Speaking of, Joe still has no idea who the heck this mysterious Cybertron is or where he came from. Which is pretty rude of him. Joe should at least ask the name of the guy he keeps merging with.

Jenny and Mark seem to care even less, it’s almost like Joe’s the only one who sees him.

And then while trying to figure things out Hazard captures everyone’s parents to hold them hostage and so Joe bargains with the princess to let them drive the robots in exchange for giving her a lift to Earth since they all want to go the same direction.

Joe just, continues to be a peace of work. He gets things done and he dislikes authority, but he also doesn’t have any real compassion, even towards his friends. His one moment of sweetness lies in his memory of Earth as a kid.

He just wants to smell those mountains, man.

It’s also funny how flippantly the kids take Hazard even though he’s got an ENTIRE ARMY. Like, Joe at least has a robot but Reel and Kanji try to fill the same role as the kids from Gundam and just say ‘No you won’t!” when Hazard says he’s gonna execute them all. Like it’s a game. Maybe it’s just trying to soften a serious situation from feeling too dark. But also, I would not care if Reel died.

Kanji can stay but Reel can definitely be executed.
A daring rescue is launched which involves crashing the Andromedan ship into Hazard’s base. Hazard takes it disarmingly well.

And that kind of dry sarcasm isn’t just invented from the dub. The whole show is just…like that!

The rescue goes off without a hitch but even jackass Joe manages to acknowledge that Cybertron, who merges his mech with Jenny’s in order to wipe out Grathan’s mechs, is a “real ninja”. In pursuit of other real ninja, the gang heads to the Martian polar ice caps. It seems there was another persecuted group of humans living there in resistance to Hazard’s regime, and it’s hoped they can tell the cast more about the legendary ninja.

Also, here’s another question for you? Why do the robots have to be ninjas? No particular reason other than they look cool it seems. There’s no other reference to feudalism in this show, and we don’t even know if the main characters are Japanese, but they are ninjas, okay!

I’m more bothered that there always seems to be the one class of ninja leading them. We don’t know if these Ninja Robots are piloted or pseudo-organic (they have creepy mouths that shoot teeth and breathe fire), or what. But I guess you have to have mass-produced mooks.

They also sometimes have what seems to be blood!

The Polar Martian welcoming committee isn’t very nice and… so, like… they act as ninja and do all kinds of ninja tricks, but they never call themselves ninja or even cop to being the ninja the Andromedans are looking for. They just do some ninja-like tricks. But they’re not ninja. That includes this guy here whose life Joe saves, Damian. He’s a ninja who talks like a surfer. Hey, it was the ’80s…

And then a big battle ensues, and Mike helps out. I really enjoy this part where Mike and Joe are JUST broin’ it up. And then your bro transforms into a dragon. Honestly, I rag on Joe’s delivery a lot but Mike’s voice acting is like 10x more bizarre. It’s so baffling and does his character no service, but also weirdly charming. That’s a lot of how I’d describe this show.

I wouldn’t call Ninja Robots remarkable, especially for it’s time. It’s not incompetent, I think the robots are cool. The plot and characters aren’t great, they’re pretty unlikeable, but weirdly charming?

It definitely is. Our six episodes end with the crew finally getting an engine and charting a course for Earth, and while I can’t say I enjoyed my time with Ninja Robots a whole bunch… I’m glad it’s here and I’m glad it’s available. For every time a current shonen series is ported to a new streaming site, there are a bunch of other shows that get forgotten purely by accident or clerical error. People joke about Discotek only handling stuff like Galaxy Defender Linguini, a (fake) mecha show that only aired on Italian public access television—but Ninja Robots is the perfect example of that. Right now, I work with people at ANN who grew up watching this and were excited to hear this being brought back on DVD. This show, and many other obscure oddities like it, matter to a lot of people. Which is why it’s important to keep this stuff around. It can vanish just as easily.

Oh totally, this show may not be good, but I get exactly why it’s remembered and what makes it memorable, and I’m excited to be able to enjoy it in it’s current state. It seems like something great to put on with a bunch of friends and couple of beers and just laugh and watch some robots shoot each other. And there’s many other shows that deserve the same treatment. Plus, I saw how tirelessly the people of Discotek had to search to find ALL the dub episodes, they might’ve seriously been lost to time if they didn’t do anything about it.

It’s not just Ninja Robots that they tirelessly sought out to restore and rerelease, either! Discotek alum (and former Answerman) Justin Sevakis went through hell trying to get all the materials for Cyborg 009. And that might not even be the hardest thing they did; the folks at Discotek tracked down the third season for Medabots and even managed to rediscover the lost masters for Project A-ko. That’s a lot of anime archeology, and I don’t think Discotek gets enough love for how much work they put into this stuff.

That might not mean much if you didn’t already know about those shows, like myself. But I still like being able to have them. Everyone who has ever created something, knows how much time and effort it goes into making things. Even a garbage anime or a garbage dub had tons of talented people just working their butt off like you couldn’t believe. And some people can recognize that, even if it doesn’t always show up in the end product. And that’s particularly why it sucks when we see stuff get lost, it’s like all that effort gets thrown in the trash. I’m not even that old and there’s some things I’m worried about just being totally forgotten. Every show that gets saved feels like a miracle, even Ninja Robots!

Ninja Robots is what a beloved buddy of mine called a “museum piece”. Shows just aren’t made like this anymore. They don’t look like this, they aren’t written like this—and they definitely aren’t dubbed like this. But we’re lucky we get to see how this stuff used to be, and we’re lucky that it’s so easily available. So check it out, it’s worth a goof, just know that it can vanish whenever. Which I guess is a good mood to take into 2022—enjoy what you have while you have it.

This Week in Anime – Horse Girls Are Easy

Animenewsnetwork - This Week in Anime

If you wrote off Uma Musume Pretty Derby Season 2 based on its galaxy-brain premise, you may have missed out on one of the most emotionally compelling sports series in years.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Well Steve, we find ourselves in a bit of a lull with new releases right now. The new season’s only just started, there’s no Netflix dumps in sight, and we missed out on talking about whatever the hell Ninja Robots was. We better think up something quick before our boss catches us horsing around here.

You know, I think you’ve just given me the perfect idea. Let me take the reins.

That’s right, it’s horse girl time.
Technically it was horse girl time last spring, but forgive us for lagging behind the pack a bit, okay? How were we to know the second season of a gacha game adaptation about girls possessed by the spirits of dead racehorses would go on to become one of the biggest moneymakers of 2021?

I mean, I could have told you that. But in its own special (week) way, it’s fitting that we’d choose an odd time to talk about what turns out to be a pretty odd season. Last winter, part 2 of Uma Musume arrived three years removed from the first season—enough of a gap to allow the mobile game to finally go live—while it also followed a new set of horse girl protagonists, threading the line between sequel and spinoff.

Honestly it feels like a soft reboot. The main cast of the previous season are still present, but they are entirely side characters, and I think that works best. S1 was a perfectly OK sports homage, but Spe-chan and the rest of Spica really do work better as supporting cast with dedicated gimmicks. Can only get so much mileage out of “she liek carrot” y’know?

She do be lieking carrot tho.

Also if you’re new here, yes all the girls are named after their horse counterparts. You just gotta roll with it. Also I wasn’t joking earlier: the lore of this world is that spirits from our Earth’s racehorses travel across space-time to possess fetuses in the womb, and they all are born as horse girls. That’s just how it is.

In addition to the horrifying cosmic implications of its lore, Uma Musume returns with all your favorite horse girl locales and sight gags from the first season. Remember the hollow stump of frustration? Now you can use it to vent all of your powerfully gay feelings!

I only barely remembered that from the first season, actually. Which kind of tells you how much I attached to it. But thankfully S2 makes for a great jumping on point even if you never watched the first. All you need to know is there’s horse girls and they fucking love Springsteen.

Yeah, unless your brain is as broken as mine, in which the phrase “horse girl anime” alone is enough to alter my cerebral chemistry, I’d recommend just diving into the second season. It takes the series many charming (and bizarre) points and concentrates them into what ends up being a much more compelling, and more straightforward, sports narrative. And plus, it still takes the time to teach Uma Newbies important stuff like how their skirts work, or what their speed limit is.

I feel like having that next to the sidewalk is asking for trouble. Like at least you can hear cars coming. Imagine trying to cross the street and just getting laid out by a galloping schoolgirl.

I’m sure there are people out there who would pay for the privilege.

Yes, they also wear horseshoes. It’s a whole thing, you gotta trust us.
Don’t question it. That way lies Horse Madness.

Next thing you know, you’re gonna be asking questions like “why does that girl have pointy teeth if horses are herbivores?” and then you will truly be lost.

I’m more concerned on why her ears look like aircraft ventilators. But honestly there’s an entire column’s worth of questions I could ask about that VTuber ass horse.

Anyway, there is an actual story to this show, and it centers on Tokai Teio, the tiny, fleet-footed star racer of Spica who dreams of becoming Horsekage.

Coincidentally, Symboli Rudolf is my favorite Italian fusion restaurant.

That scene’s doubly great when you learn that in real horse lore, Symboli Rudolf sired Teio. It’s horse girls all the way down. But she’s got a lot of pep and big dreams to win the Triple Crown, and given that this is a goofy gacha tie-in about cute track races, I’m sure there won’t be anything in her w—

Yeah so that’s gonna be a running theme of this season. I think there’s maybe two whole episodes of this season without at least one on-screen injured horse girl. Which really makes me wonder what the hell kind of medical personnel work at this horse girl school.

The unfunny answer is as good medical personnel as the actual horses get. Another extremely important quirk of the Uma Musume anime to understand is that pretty much all of its major races are based on historical ones. They replicate the competitors, the outcomes, and have even gone as far as recreating specific camera angles from the TV broadcast. It’s impressive in a way, but it also means the narrative ends up beholden to the not-so-cute intricacies of the real thing, which can get pretty darn gnarly.

Yeah it’s kind of a catch-22. If you acknowledge that limitation it all but takes you out of the plot and reminds you of the frankly fucked way racing animals have been treated historically. If you don’t, it instead invites comparison to human sports injuries which are equally fucked. So the show struggles with that for basically the whole season.

Personally I just blame their trainer. This dude has three different star racers get hurt while under his guidance in like, a year. He should have been fired faster than Urban Meyer. Get him out of here and get these girls a real Strength & Conditioning coach.

What is legitimately funny is that this guy is the audience/player stand-in, yet the entire season sees him making these agonizingly grim decisions about the fate of his team members. He’s also infinitely more tolerable this season, if you can believe it. They do away with his occasional bouts of lecherous behavior from the first season, even if it comes at the expense of an almost criminal disregard for the health and safety of his team. Still a net gain from a narrative perspective, though.

Wow, so he really is Urban Meyer! Also prepare for a lot of football references, nerds. It’s playoff season and this is the closest to a sports show I’ve gotten in months. But I promise to mostly keep things horse-themed.

I’m holding you to that, or so help me I have a folder full of Twin Turbo to throw at you.

So anyway, yeah, Teio ends up breaking her leg at the end of the first episode, right after a big victory to continue her undefeated streak. This was probably not helped by her having to put on an idol concert right after winning.

God I love this stupid anime.

“Why did she have to do that?” you may ask. And what did we tell you about asking questions?

‘Tis but a fracture anyway. Teio can walk that off. And she’s going to, because she has more important things to worry about, i.e. beating her fellow teammate and rival ojou-sama.

Yes, her name is McQueen. Yes, they’re in love. Ka-chow.

McQueen gets arguably the most important narrative upgrade from the first season, going from Gold Ship’s partner in background gag crime to second billing as Teio’s girlfriend.

She also unlocks Ultra Instinct at one point, so all around a very positive season for her that definitely won’t hit any speedbumps.

They’re the two major players from Spica, while everyone else on the team plays support/comic relief. Meanwhile the other rivals come from other teams, like the aforementioned Twin Turbo. They even imported Kumiko from Sound! Euphonium to fill out the roster.

They’re part of the team of weirdos who mostly exist to trail behind Teio and McQueen, but they’re pretty fun in their own incredibly dumb ways.

Yeah, no matter how heavy the show gets, its extremely goofy sense of humor is always there to pick things up. There’s a multiple-episode running gag between a hairstylist and her hapless customer that runs all the way through the finale. It rules.

There’s also the ongoing story of Mejiro Palmer and her internet-poisoned girlfriend who looks like somebody hit “Random” in a horse girl Picrew.

I’ve finally reached the point where I unironically love this recent avenue of maximalist character design. Between gacha games and VTubers, character designers have shed all limiters and thrown absolutely anything that sticks at the wall. The anime girl arms race has never been dumber, and I’m here for it.

Count me as an apostate because just looking at Twin Turbo’s racing gear makes me feel like I drank six cans of Monster.

These horse girls are too strong for you, traveler.

But hey, I may not see what Palmer sees in her, but I’m glad she and Helios found each other.

To quickly answer another Uma Musume newbie question, yes, every horse girl is invariably gay. This has been true ever since Special Week was introduced with two moms.

It’s just how it goes. You live on the racetrack. You die on the racetrack. You get married on the racetrack.

And off the racetrack, you enjoy some nice, reasonably sized boba tea together on a Halloween date.

You know, whenever one of you isn’t seriously injured. Which is a shockingly rare occurrence for some reason. These girls get one beautiful, cathartic rivalry race before both are put back on IR. Again, fire this fuckin guy. His horse girls are dropping like the flies their tails are supposed to swat.

Sidenote: the greatest joke in this show is when the horse girls finish a race and go full Yamcha in the background. Nobody ever acknowledges it.

We told you the world of horse girl racing was cutthroat. But funny enough, my favorite part of the season has nothing to do with Teio and McQueen’s disaster-addled rivalry. It’s all about one very smol dark horse.

We stan a queen and her stupid little hat.

Rice Shower, like her namesake, is a racer with a notorious reputation as a spoiler, having foiled a previous Triple Crown attempt from a crowd favorite, and currently up against McQueen’s ambitions to win.

And she does it all in that STUPID little hat. I LOVE her.

She’s by far my favorite part too. One of the things I love about sports is that the culture around it is defined as much by narrative as it is by raw physicality. Athletes can develop reputations or foster personas that take on a life of their own, and seeing the god damn Kawaiibiscuit show delve into that was a very welcome surprise.

As a kid who never really “got” sports, I only very recently came to understand that narrative aspect of their appeal, and it was like stadium doors being thrown open. Rice Shower’s arc in particular adds up to a shockingly elegant exploration of what “villainy” means in professional competitions, and how much of that narrative is in and out of control of the athlete. Rice Shower, in that respect, hates her reputation, and it’s enough to make her want to quit.

Nah, girl, embrace that. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing a dominant dynasty get taken down by an unexpected opponent. Eli Manning spent years being considered the mediocre coat-tail rider to his older brother, then he fluked his way into beating the undefeated Patriots, and now he never has to pay for a drink in NYC for the rest of his life. You’re only a villain until you crush the bandwagon fans into submission!

Okay I know I warned you about the football references, but because I actually know those names, I’ll allow it. And for Rice Shower, the power with which she grabs hold of both the heel and hero aspects of her reputation, and further synthesizes that frustration into a record-breaking win, is the undisputable high point of this season.

Also, her flaming blue eyes are yet another bit of horse trivia minutiae, in this case referencing a TV ad about the original Rice Shower. This show, man.

It’s so good. Just embrace the power of a heel and I promise you people will love you. If those other girls and their fans are angry, then it’s their job to get better than you. Become the Kagetsu of horse girls, Rice Shower.

See that one’s a wrestling reference. I’m safe.
I love, too, that the denouement to her arc is Bourbon returning to tell her, “yep, you broke a lot of hearts today. You did good, kid.”

If you can’t win the hearts of the masses, you can at least date a Symphogear.

Alternatively, speak softly and carry a stupid little dagger to match your hat.

That cannot be safe to run with. Like it’s a wonder she of all people doesn’t get injured in this show.

Look, someone has to make it out of this season unscathed, and it sure as hell ain’t going to be the main couple.

Alright so, I guess we gotta address this story’s final arc. See the entire reason Rice Shower gets some limelight is because Teio and McQueen spend months after their big race nursing injuries, and while McQueen seemingly makes a comeback, Teio keeps getting hurt and if you’ve ever seen an athlete rush back from injury for a big competition, you see where this is going.

Teio’s whole arc is all about starting with these grand dreams and constantly having to whittle them down due to her leg injuries, which just gets more and more heartbreaking. She does eventually find inspiration not in a particular race, but in her relationship/rivalry with McQueen, which is the main thematic thrust of season 2. Even that, however, can be heartbreaking to watch at points.

It is shockingly real. One of the inescapable facts of sports is that you can only play as long as both body and spirit can keep up, and those two are rarely in tandem. You can do everything you can to take care of yourself, but accidents or mistakes can suck the wind out of you and leave you feeling empty. And that’s even harder when you’re a big name who can suddenly be left behind by the world.

And again, this is in the god damn horse girl gacha ad where they dress up in frilly costumes and perform dance numbers after a race.

Right? Watching it last year, I was completely whiplashed by how hard this season homes in on loss, failure, and injury as its main points of concern. You can either read that as a noble narrative pursuit in spite of its gacha tie-in roots, or just the grim inevitability of lifting your stories from a sport in which the participants are, ultimately, expendable. It still works for me in the end, thanks in no small part to its audacity and sincerity, but it’s definitely arguable whether this approach was a good idea in the first place.

I admire the ambition behind it, and there are absolutely moments when this hits incredibly close to home, but the problem comes when it still ultimately needs a happy ending, and getting there requires some really horse shit (pun intended) framing.

I promised to keep the football stuff horse-themed so tell me Steve, do you know anything about the Indianapolis Colts?

I don’t believe Jon Bois has done a video on them yet, so no.

So in 2012, the Colts drafted a star quarterback out of college named Andrew Luck. And for the next 7 years, through a confluence of bad luck and horrifically inept management, proceeded to ruin his career with a series of debilitating injuries that led him to a shockingly early retirement. And when he announced, through tears, that he was retiring in order to prioritize his health, an entire stadium of Colts fans booed him as he left the field. It’s one of the most shameful things to happen to a high-level NFL player in recent memory.

And it’s awful, because Luck gave literal blood, sweat, and tears for an organization that failed him and a fanbase that showed they only cared about him for his ability to win games. So when the resolution to Teio wanting to retire to avoid a potentially life-long disability is this:

The sentiment kinda turns to ash in my mouth.

That certainly does make sense! And even absent a specific example, the uncaring unkindness of real sports injuries were a nagging presence in my mind while watching this season too. You can’t pep talk your way out of a concussion. I even started to wonder if the show would ultimately commit to an unhappy, or at least bittersweet, ending, because it really seemed like the most logical place it could go. And those moments that do wallow in the stark, inevitable realities of disappointment and grief end up being the most powerful parts of the narrative for me.

The worst part to me is how the narrative frames the decision of any horse girl to not run herself into the glue factory as “giving up.” Like nah man. I can relate to losing something important to you, to wanting desperately to have back the body and ability you once had. But choosing to not wreck your body in the pursuit of a victory is never “giving up” and the show treating it that way sucks major ass.

It’s not giving up, but at the same time it’s a tough decision for a person to make when considering it’s your life’s passion—and, less seriously, that the cosmos themselves aligned to specifically make you into a horse girl destined for racing. On an individual level, I absolutely get how that can feel like giving up. Still, though, I agree it would have been better—or at least more interesting—for the show to pursue a more nuanced ultimate resolution than default back to a happy ending.

It also just doesn’t make sense? Teio gets a serious injury that’ll require monitoring, but can ultimately be overcome, sure. But McQueen is diagnosed with a degenerative disorder. That’s not something you can heal or easily fix.

I actually did some research on this because yes, it’s a real god damn horse disease, and it’s something that can only be treated through lifestyle change. That’s….that’s not something you can Hope and Dream your way through.
Not hopes and dreams, but maybe the power of horse girl love is stronger than even the best medicine. Would be an interesting thing for season 3 to explore.

It apparently has the ability to convert cartilage in your legs into collagen, because an unspecified amount of time after Teio’s big return, McQueen’s just back.

Just long enough for a new generation of horse girls to enter the academy and learn how to pulverize their ligaments into a fine powder!

Considering Teoi’s childhood idol is still at the school when she starts attending, I assume Horse Girls age like real horses and hit puberty before age 2.

But yeah, for the most part I appreciate what Uma Musume 2: Galloping Boogaloo does. It makes a way more compelling story than the first, has a much more interesting cast, and did a lot to surprise me. But I can’t see the ending as anything but a copout. But at least the haircut lady got her revenge!

Truly more important than any A plot happening. As for me, I listed this with my honorable mentions for 2021 for a reason. Certain aforementioned quibbles aside, it’s a genuinely great sports anime with a colorful sense of humor and shocking degree of pathos crammed into its 13 episodes. I’d say it’s a lot better than it has any right to be, but that would be a lie, because horse girls were always good. Let them trot their way into your heart. You won’t regret it.

We’ll have to agree to disagree, but at the very least we’ll always have this tiny horse and her tinier hat.

Amen to that.

This Week in Anime – Does The Ultraman Hold Up In Anime Form?

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Ultraman‘s legacy in Japanese popular culture runs deep and wide. Despite its enduring influence, however, the acclaimed tokusatsu series remains relatively obscure overseas even among diehard anime fans. With the 1979 The Ultraman anime installment finally streaming in the U.S., it’s time to tackle the kaiju in the room. How well does this series hold up in anime form?

This series is streaming on TokuShoutsu

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Hey, everyone, welcome to another This Week in Anime! I’m Nicky and to start us off, I’ve got a little riddle. Hey, Jean-Karlo, Can you tell me which Japanese Superhero is bigger than Superman?


Haha, that’s an easy one! ‘Cuz when “Super”‘s not enough, there’s always Ultraman!

Thank you for that classic line, Eric Stuart!
Ding-ding! That’s right! And he’s a pretty big guy too, if anything. Sometimes you don’t need too many crazy superpowers as much as just being big enough to suplex your kaiju enemies.

Today, we’re talking about the 1979 The Ultraman anime series. It’s the eighth installment of the biggest tokusatsu franchise around, and also its first animated venture.
While Ultraman isn’t as recognizable among overseas audiences as Super Sentai/Power Rangers or Kamen Rider, he’s an icon of Japanese tokusatsu (special effects). The 1979 The Ultraman animated series being streamed on TokuShoutsu is definitely a treat: Tsuburaya teamed up with Sunrise (the Gundam people) to produce an animated series.

Because the title is kinda confusing, it should be noted that this Ultraman isn’t the original Ultraman from the 1966 live-action series. The Ultraman‘s Ultraman was later been dubbed Ultraman Joneus, and while his universe is a different one from the live-action series it is still in continuity with the live-action show.

I, like many anime fans, actually have little to no direct experience with Ultraman. My biggest exposure might actually just be the student fan film Return of Ultraman produced by future Neon Genesis Evangelion director Hideaki Anno where he casts himself as Ultraman wearing a track-suit.

And I’m greatly looking forward for both of them! But before we talk about the future, let’s flash back to the past.

The Earth Self-Defense Force, witnessing bizarre phenomena like alien letters appearing in the sky, establishes the Emergency Science and Defense Squad. Commander Akiyama forms a crack team of engineers, medical experts, and some sloppy dude named Marumi to head the team while also comandeering the use of the Super Maddock, the most-advanced space ship on Earth.

While the Captain has assembled his crew, the young Hikari makes his trip back down to earth after spending a whole year living peacefully on space station EGG3. But on his way back he’s consumed by a mysterious light and confronted by the alien-being himself, Ultraman. Ultraman says the mysterious lights were the people trying to warn the people of Earth of incoming danger. Ultraman wants to help but he cannot sustain a form on earth without help, and chooses Hikari as his earthly vessel.

Ultraman, although a being from space, kinda has a lot more similarities to a godly encounter than one of extraterrestrial or supernatural nature. What with all the psychedelia and rays of light everywhere.

Well, the M78 Nebula said to be the home of all Ultras is known as “The Land of Light,” so this is par for the course for an Ultra’s appearance. At least Hikari didn’t get his body blown up in a fight between an Ultra or a monster!

Whether he’s a God, a ghost, or an alien doesn’t really matter as much as Ultraman kicks serious monster butt! But, unfortunately, he’s also got a serious time limit, serious enough to emphasize practically every episode. He might have a worse battery life than my Nintendo 3DS!
If you’ve ever wondered why your Pokémon kept making that horrendous sound when their HP is low: you can thank the adults of GAME FREAK for being traumatized by the beeping of Ultraman’s Color Timer. Yes, all of them have one.

I understand why a few NGE episodes had the EVAs on chargers now. Ultraman practically needs one. But, this doesn’t stop him from doing his best and getting his job done in the nick of time!

Right away, the advantage of The Ultraman being an animated adaptation is apparent. Live-action Ultraman was able to wow audiences with memorable monster designs, engaging wrestling action, and effective (but affordable!) special effects, but those suits were expensive to produce. Here, no such limitation exists, so Ultraman Joneus is able to fight a quartet of ice-breathing kaiju right off the bat!
You can also do some weirder stuff like have a weird living tornado or have every member of the cry fly a super cool jet all without endangering a real stunt-actor.
That last part is important! Not unlike The Thunderbirds, a lot of Ultraman‘s appeal was seeing tiny model ships firing squibs at each other. In fact, Hikari normally doesn’t transform into Ultraman until he’s sure the problem couldn’t be solved without him, and there are plenty of times where the day is saved because someone kept a bazooka handy!

For a monster-of-the-week show, there’s actually quite a lot of focus on the crew, I might add. It feels more emblematic of like Star Trek original flavor than like most anime produced now.
Marumi, for example, is the comic relief character and you’d be forgiven for thinking his only contribution is being “the fat guy.” But he’s a vital member of the team: sure, he was obsessed with giving fellow-crewman Mutsumi a pendant for her birthday, but it turned out that pendant had a flare that made it possible for Ultraman to rescue them both from a sentient monster-fueled tornado.

I actually was surprised how much focus the show had on Marumi. He’s actually more closer to a flawed everyman-type compared to Hikari, who is too young and pure for that. I particularly liked the third episode where he has to convince a kid that a baby monster isn’t a suitable pet or how he doesn’t hesitate to risk himself in the second episode to try and save the station from the tornado. Even if he was shitty and tried to sabotage Hikari so he could get a better chance of winning Mutsumi’s affection in the same episode.
Eiji Tsuburaya had a strong philosophy when it came to designing monsters for the Ultra series, preferring to avoid outright-grotesqueries and instead focus on monsters reflecting the nature of people around them. Wanigodon is a weird giant crocodile whose split parts can be reborn as a tiny version of itself that within days can grow into another massive kaiju. Marumi painfully impresses upon a kid—the main demographic of this show—that even the best of intentions don’t make you a suitable caretaker for a wild animal.

It shows a lot of maturity of his character too. He’s pretty much the real hero of that episode after being able to figure out the monster’s true weakness. I’m not a big fan of how he treats his female coworker Mutsumi, but I don’t think the show really condones all of that. I was surprised to see her introduced as someone with value to the team who wanted to be treated equally as a coworker, even if it’s heavy-handed by today’s standards.

The philosophy of the show is a very idealistic one where men and women alike work together to build a better society on the back of technology. The original Science Patrol wasn’t strictly a military organization, and the Defense Squad is no different. Episode 4 is a great example: a bizarre sentient cloud has been hovering over Japan, and nobody knows how to handle it. The Defense Squad prioritizes keeping civilians away from it while they figure out how to neutralize it.

They do still use a lot of big guns, but their first and foremost mission seems to be simply protecting people.

But they also take the time to spare some mercy for the kaiju; after the red cloud is painfully condensed into Red Smogy via contact with rainwater, the Defense Squad breathes easy when Ultraman both reverts Smogy back into a cloud and whisks it into the vacuum of space where it won’t have to fear contact with water.

There’s an understanding that many kaiju are just phenomena or creatures that are blameless for following their instincts, which could cause harm to humans entirely by accident. While the Defense Squad won’t hesitate to kill rogue or violent kaiju, they are sympathetic to the plight of lifeforms that are just too disruptive to the ecosystem.
There’s another episode where they show sympathy for the monsters because it’s trying to protect it’s babies. Lots of kaiju stuff stems from this theme of man vs nature, but this kind of neutral or even sometimes sympathetic outlook makes sense. The kaiju may feel like an invasive threat but they still seem to stem from the earth itself and are therefore an extension of it.

Also, anyone who knows me knows that I can’t resist the power of “Wow, cool monster!” the monsters here are very dopey but I still enjoy looking at them.
The Toughguibabies (yes, that’s their name) are adorable and seemingly only exist to waddle up to the nearest source of foliage and gnaw on it like hamsters with the most bugged-out expression possible and I just about died every time they flashed on screen eating their weight in trees while a massive kaiju battle waged on in the background.

Also, because babies are innocent, Ultraman Joneus shrinks them with a power he’s apparently got so that Dr Nishiki can take the Toughguibabies back to Africa where he can safely study them. But the shrink ray only works on good monsters, so Joneus can’t use it on others.

Their parents are also like neat herbivore dinosaurs that also have quills like a porcupine. And different designs for the male and female! Quality monster thoughts. I think despite it’s age and being heavily rotoscoped, the animation on Ultraman himself is also quite good. There’s very little stock footage and lots of emphasis on his musculature as he flips around or picking up and tossing his monster rivals.

However, as much as I like monsters I still can’t really bring myself to like or understand whatever the fuck THIS thing is??? Seriously, what is THAT?!

So, Pig the Robot is based on Pigmon, a beloved and tragic pygmy kaiju from the original Ultraman series. I think Pig is supposed to be some kind of kid-appeal character like 7-Zark-7? I mean, I definitely shed a few tears when I see the Science Patrol standing above Pigmon’s humble grave at the end of The Little Hero, but I can’t pretend to find him particularly adorable. Not unless a certain blue-haired god is listening and is priming Tim Curry to sicc a giant cyborg Pigmon on me.

The anime doesn’t really offer an explanation for him other than he’s a loyal part of the team. He does seem pretty smart and serves the other members well, though. The captain even had him make a birthday cake for Mutsumi’s party. However, I think he is both cute and ugly and I am never quite sure what I’m looking at. They seem to flatten his design a lot from his live-action counterpart.

Being 2D instead of 3D will do that to ya, just ask any Vtuber.

There’s still a good amount of character development to be had, especially with Pig around. You see a lot of episodes in Ultra where a character is tasked with staking the mission (and their pride) on inventing some kind of solution to a problem. In the final episode we covered for this column, the Super Maddock can’t dive deep enough into the ocean to safely pursue the kaiju Firebadon. Tobe, the chief mechanic, finds inspiration from, of all people… Pig.

Tobe is the resident machines man of the group, so he doesn’t have many speaking roles but is handy in a pinch. Watching him wallow over how to fix the ship was interesting. Fitting for a long series, it develops the cast early through simple conflicts. And sometimes the solutions are actually pretty clever! We also see quite a bit of crew in-fighting this episode.

I’m still living over his solution: he created a pressurized external hull for the Super Maddock that could launch the Maddock from inside like some kind of giant Happy Meal toy. It’s totally bonkers and illogical and exactly the kind of Mickey Mouse engineering that you could only get from the Ultra series. This… is good-good. Goes to show that the show couldn’t lose its spirit in adapting to a new format if it tried.
The fight underwater with the fire kaiju is pretty good too. Ultraman puts this thing in a sweet chokehold. There are so many cool little moments. Also, if anything the music is just very funky and makes it easy to get into the groove of things if you let it take you.

Stuff like the stock footage for the Super Maddock’s launch sequence still feels like it was shot with actual miniatures. If Tsuburaya were so inclined, they could have mixed the miniature stock footage with superimposed animated characters like what was done with Attack of the Super Monsters. They didn’t, but the show doesn’t feel worse for it. This feels like it captures the spirit of the live-action Ultraman in ways that a lot of other adaptations for other media don’t manage to capture.

Quite a bit of this looks good for its age, surprisingly. The color is still very good and mostly feels intact. Though, it’s still quite old. The footage is still heavily artifacted compared to the cleaner restorations we’ve been going over as of late on TWIA. The plots are also slower compared to now. But there are great little bits of novelty in time pieces like this. Especially if you’re already a fan.

As mentioned earlier, the spirit of Ultraman and the Ultra series at large is the hope that the tech of the future can lead to a better world. Not a single Ultra doesn’t have the absolute confidence humanity that can overcome its struggles and join the rest of the galaxy in peace and harmony. After all, they keep finding worthy humans to team up with. It’s goofy, it all boils down to seeing a guy wrestle someone else in a clumsy suit, but it’s all painfully genuine and sincere.

It almost renders the idea of a deconstruction pointless: it’s immaterial if you can see the zipper on the suit. We’re not here because friendly giant aliens and space ships are logical or realistic. We’re here because it’d be nice if they were.
If monsters were real I might actually become that kid who tries to keep one as a pet, so maybe it’s a good thing that they aren’t! But I enjoy having a silly diversion—anime is built on this concept of silly diversions being an important part of reaching emotional truths, and it’s nice to see where part of that influence stems from. Although it’s not the first time it’s been brought to the U.S., Shout! Factory has been doing a great job of trying to make Ultraman and other Toku available as they can, and it’s an important time capsule to keep around.
It’s kinda stunning how obscure Ultraman is in America given how many times Tsuburaya has localized it. I’m hoping this one is the one.

And if this animated take on a giant superhero from Tsuburaya isn’t quite your speed, have I got another show to shill!

The legacy of Ultraman surely is as vast as he is tall. Crossing my fingers for Gridman x Dynazenon soon. See you next time!

This Week in Anime – When a Wife Guy Is Banished From the Hero's Party

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Banished from the Hero’s Party, I Decided to Live a Quiet Life in the Countryside offers an appealing romance between a wife guy and a former adventurer princess… and then there’s everything else. Nick and Steve break down this RPG-inspired fantasy that features quite a bit less “quiet life” than the title might lead you to expect.

This series is streaming on Crunchyroll

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Well, Steve, we spent last week talking all about Horse Girls. So I think it’s only fair we compensate today by talking about their diametric opposite: Wife Guys.


If those are the thesis and antithesis, then it logically follows that their synthesis is Horse Wife Guys. But I don’t think we, nor anybody else on the planet, is ready to broach that subject yet. So yeah, best to stick with the basics.

Just saying, horse girls are born to run. Wife guys stay at home. Horse girls wreck their bodies trying to achieve an unattainable accomplishment. Wife guys leave the main quest line and play Stardew Valley. That’s the circle of life. For every Luigi, a Waluigi.

It’s not much, but it’s honest work. And that’s, purportedly, the conceit behind Banished From The Hero’s Party, a title which is followed by an even longer subtitle that I have a moral obligation to ignore. Let’s face it, there are way too many stories about heroes questing and adventuring. What Banished asks is what if you instead moved to the countryside and opened a dispensary?

Lord knows if I was getting raided by ogres every other week I’d want to have a steady supply of herb.
Considering the horrific existential implications we later find out about this world, I’m surprised Red’s (R)Edibles isn’t the hottest shop in town. But we’ll get to that later. For the most part, this show is a top batter in a new trend of web novel fantasy series where the main character just fucks off from the typical JRPG quest, trading in the power fantasy of those stories for the domestic fantasy of being an independent small business owner with a married life and friends.

There’s a lot to be said about why that specific shift would become a trend, but we don’t have time to unpack all that.
Not when there’s plenty to unpack in Banished‘s own lumpy knapsack full of tropes, politics, and wifeposting. At least the premise is straightforward enough. Red here gets peer-pressured out of the Hero’s party and decides to make the most of things in a quiet village far away from the demon war.

Though “banished” is a bit of a melodramatic way for Red to describe it. More like the party’s salty nerd told him he sucks and to either go hard or go home. Red chose the latter.

Side note: It’s disputed, but apparently one theory is that “not a true comrade” line is based on a Tales of Zestiria meme that spawned from not being able to have Alisha join your party. And if this whole franchise really did spawn from salt over a Tales game then I have to admire it a little.
For sure! I wish more gamers would channel their salt into something productive like a successful light novel series. Much better than the usual avenues like online flame wars or inventing cryptocurrency.

I also think it’s extra cute that Red’s big dream is to open an apothecary. I mean, it’s one step up from calling it a potion store, but it feels extra quaint when there’s just a normal-ass doctor from the 20th century living in town.

Like, I know this isn’t technically isekai but where did this guy and his lab coat come from?

Honestly, that’d be a funny twist. This world has actual, video game Item Bags so for all we know that’s Dr. Otaku who was transported here after he died playing his favorite mid-grade RPG.
Honestly I wish that were the case, because then at least the world’s weird video game logic would make sense. Why are we still slapping gaming terms onto otherwise normal fantasy settings? This isn’t isekai so there isn’t even that excuse for it here. Come on, people.

It’s just, like, a thing that light novels do now. I do not get the appeal since it typically makes the world just feel massively artificial and less interesting. Though Banished at least attempts some interesting stuff with it. But before any of that, it has to introduce the Wife half of Wife Guy.

Gonna absolutely wreck my online dating profile by calling exes “former comrades” from now on.
Rit was engineered by top anime scientists to be a spunky and super lovable princess-turned-adventurer who, like Red, decides to forego a life of orc-bashing for the slow life in the countryside. She also makes funny faces sometimes, so naturally I like her a lot.

The term “Girlfriend Fantasy” gets thrown around a lot, and while that could apply to Rit, I prefer the term I saw somebody use to describe her as “Post-Tsundere.” The couple had their cliché hero/princess story arc years in the past, and now that they’re effectively retired all that’s left is to move in together.

Also, “Post-Tsundere” makes Rit sound like the Joy Division of anime girls.
God, I was about to make that same joke. How dare you.

It’s definitely difficult to divorce Rit as a character from her role in the wish fulfillment. Like, at the end of the day, she is there to be Wife and Wife alone. But she and Red together also end up being the most consistently charming thing about the show.

I’m not gonna pretend they have a super deep and compellingly intimate relationship. The biggest internal conflict they face is how long before Red works up the courage to touch a boob. But that’s still a novelty in a genre space where the hero usually has a cadre of anime girls swooning over him and/or literally being his slaves. So I’ll take it.

The bar really is low enough to be subterranean. That’s also why I can’t be too hard on Banished and its no-nonsense approach to its central romance. If only more anime couples had a married friend to tell them to stop pussyfooting around.

Elves telling these two to cut the high school crap seems to be a running theme.

And giant barely concealed gazongas, but that’s hardly a Banished-exclusive phenomenon.

Though really, if anyone is the Joy Division of anime girls it’s probably Ruti. In that she’s got, uh… issues.

Oh right, the plot.

Might even say she’s… lost control again.

Full of disorder, that one.

No love lost between her and Ares, that’s for sure.

You know I was really disappointed once I realized this show was going to have an actual plot. Like, my idealized version of it would just have entire episodes written about Red and Rit shopping for new drapes for the apothecary, but noooo. It has to chicken out and turn into yet another fantasy light novel series. For shame.

Yeah it kinda undercuts the subtitle about living the slow life when we routinely cut back to Red’s Capital H Hero sister and her party trudging through the actual story. Though I have to laugh at how bad Ares is at party management. He gets rid of the team’s underperforming tank only to add more DPS (D’awww, Precious Spider).

That’s a terribly unbalanced setup for a raid, dammit.
Even though having a plot is a betrayal of the series’ self-professed ethos, I do enjoy how much of the plot ends up being about dunking on Ares. After Ruti goes Kung Pow on his torso, he just gets scragglier and scragglier with each screw-up, eschewing all subtlety for the sake of villainous entertainment.

Banished is really just a cautionary tale about being That Guy in your D&D group.

And while I have a loooot of problems with how the story goes about telling itself, I do at least find Ruti’s whole deal interesting on paper. Which I guess means we have to get into the whole “Blessing” system that defines most of the show.

It defines it while being rather undefined itself. Like, a “Blessing” most closely resembles the job system in a Final Fantasy game. Everyone in this world is born with a particular predilection towards some kind of craft or trade, which informs the kinds of skills they can learn and generally steers their direction. Blessings are also a basic tenet of the religion, and more broadly, its the lens through which Banished decides to interrogate determinism. Which is ambitious, to say the least.

The series is more than a bit ham-handed with how it handles (and exposits about) the whole idea, but it ultimately uses that to make a point about the importance of doing what makes one happy, rather than just following the path of least resistance in whatever life decides you should be doing.

And that’s kinda noble, but it also throws out wild ideas like the concept of “leveling up” your Blessing, which can only be done by killing people. That definitely seems normal and sustainable for a society.

Yeah that’s where it kinda breaks its own worldbuilding. Middle school is stressful enough as is; imagine if one of your friends could just unlock their dormant Axe Murderer gene any day.

In general, that’s the big thorn in Banished‘s side. It throws out a lot of big, potentially cool concepts, but they’re smashed together with such reckless abandon that it leaves no room to ponder on their inherent contradictions or troubling implications. Ironically, the series would be a lot better if it slowed down and thought these things through.

It’s not perfect, but it does try. Mostly through Ruti, who gets all the invincibility of a Lvl.99 player character, but The Drawback is everything about her personality is forcibly repressed in service of being the central hero of the world, which is decidedly not An Ideal For Living.

It’s a good angle! And an empathetic one. Ruti can’t even sleep at night, because RPGs treat “sleep” like a status ailment, which she’s immune to, because she’s the hero, of course. That’s more than a little horrifying.

I also love that her solution to this is doing drugs.

Hey, if the universe itself decided I was just A Means To An End I’d probably hit the hard stuff too. I like that the reason she has a codependent relationship with her brother is because her memories with him are the only parts of her life where she was able to be herself.

Yeah, I was very relieved that Ruti and Rit didn’t end up rivals. If anything, they are weirdo comrades-in-arms.

I also like that she doesn’t feel betrayed by Red leaving, despite it leaving her in A Lonely Place. More than anything, she’s envious of him having found satisfaction outside the strictures of his Blessing.

Also, her super strength lets her dry off after a bath like the Tasmanian Devil, so it’s not all bad.

Now that’s what I call a real Blessing.

Honestly, the emotional locus of Ruti’s arc is real good, but it gets swept into this big conspiracy about bodyjacking demons, mindjacking swords, religious conspiracies, and secret underground elven laboratories. My eyes glazed over watching the last few episodes, not gonna lie.

Yeah, while I like a lot of this in Isolation, getting there is a slog. The A-to-B plot mechanics of Banished are contrived at best, amateurishly clumsy at worst. They are only livened up by how Ares’ first act of revenge is just getting mad that Red is getting some.

Huge incel energy.

Too bad it only lands him in a cell, and by cell I mean coffin.

There’s also a brief stint where another of their companions decides to force Ruti back into her Hero box, which offers an interesting Omelas-esque conundrum that the show ultimately rejects, but also they just forgive her and convince her to stop in like three sentences.

She also gets mortally wounded and healed back to full health within, like, five seconds. This also happens about half a dozen times to other characters in the exact same scene. It’s like a bad fanfic I would’ve written in middle school.
It’s a real Atrocity Exhibition, only slightly elevated by Rit declaring she’s gonna kick God’s ass for messing with her sister-in-law.

This is why the show needs to stick to what it knows best, i.e. the joy of having a wife.

Yep, the show is definitely at its strongest when it’s pure shmaltz. And yes, they do fuck:

Now here’s a man who knows how to compliment his wife’s tiddies.

Yeah, it’s super fluffy, but sometimes that’s enough. And when the direction occasionally depicts genuine moments of vulnerability and tenderness, it’s even better.

They do kind of lose it in the final episode’s afterglow scene. Red looks like they photoshopped his face onto a mannequin.

Love to have sex with my wife and then lie perfectly still, arms at my side, looking straight up at the ceiling instead of her. Also, this has got to be the weirdest way I’ve ever seen someone touch a boob.

It’s a breast, my guy, not the Gom Jabbar.
I guess being disastrously terrible at touching another person’s chest runs in the family.

It’s true what they say, Love Will Tear Us Apart. Viscerally.

This Week in Anime – The Deep Themes of Orbital Children

Animenewsnetwork - This Week in Anime

After more than a decade away, fan-favorite creator Mitsuo Itō is back with more sci-fi shenanigans. However, behind its “kids in lost in space” surface is a much deeper treatise on humanity’s relationship with tech, nihilism, and fighting your fate.

This series is streaming on Netflix

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.
Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.


Well Nicky, we’re still waiting for this new season of anime to kick into gear, but I’ve got just the thing to hold us over: not only is there a hot new piece of original science-fiction fresh off the Netflix servers, but it gives me the perfect chance to say my piece on Alfonso Cuarón’s worst movie:


Well, unfortunately that’s the only one of his I haven’t seen so I can provide no comment, witty or otherwise. But I feel the sentiment. Why do things have to be so heavy all the time? You’re telling me I have to use energy to move these goddamn meat cylinders?! Why don’t we take a few seconds to get away from it all? We’re here and launching ourselves into Mitsuo Iso‘s latest series, The Orbital Children!

I’m pretty sure I’ll get motion sickness on the way up, but after more than a decade away I certainly won’t say no to a new Mitsuo Iso project. So suit me up and fire me into the sky on Elon Musk’s death tube, baby.

For those of you unaware, Iso has really been around the block as an animator, director, and storyteller. He started working on Gundam under a pseudonym, would later do key animation for Studio Ghibli, was involved in planning Evangelion, did some of the best goddamn animation in End of Evangelion, and then continued to be just a phenomenal animator until he created, wrote, and directed the entirely original “Kids Love Science” series Den-noh Coil.

I was excited for this series just for the fact that I’d have another opportunity to peer pressure friends into watching Den-noh Coil, hands down one of the best anime of the century and a criminally overlooked classic. But it certainly helps that Orbital Children is a mini-series basically made for me.

I haven’t watched all of Den-noh Coil myself so I recognize I’m totally part of the problem. (In my defense, I own the Blu-ray). From what I know about it, The Orbital Children really does feel like a “spiritual successor.” It’s using kids to explore hard sci-fi ideas with a playful and adventurous heart.

It’s very much in-line with Den-noh Coil. Iso does a lot of new shit with this series, but it’s also a way to revive and refresh various ideas and designs he utilized to great effect in that show. For instance: hand phones.

He came up with that one 15 years ago and has never let it go, and he’s right to do it. Apple could never.
It’s interesting how well it translated into the smartphone era! While it may re-use some of the ideas from the 2007 series, Orb Kidz explores the relationship to technology in a way that feels relatable and natural. Especially when you make one of the characters a goddamn live streamer obsessed with gaining the most followers even when her life might be in peril. Technology changes but people stay relatively the same.

Yeah, while YouTube existed back in DC’s day, it had yet to become the culture we know and can’t escape today. Mina is definitely a necessary addition for telling a story about kids and technology in the TikTok Era.

That said, Mina is the best and I love her.
She certainly wins the honorable TWIA award for “Best Face” this time around. Always gotta harvest those reaction pics for social! Bonus: she drops an F-bomb live on stream. She’s a riot.

The face game also just emphasizes the strength of Kenichi Yoshida‘s great designs.
Mina’s also just a great way to display the casual, wearable tech that’s littered throughout the setting. Its just called “Smarts” in the subtitle translation, but its essentially impossibly thin, translucent smart devices that can do everything from turning your hand into a touch screen to giving you an RGB rig in your hair.

Like damn, I wish I could download highlight and just toggle them on and off.

Having technology both socially and physically embedded in you comes with its weaknesses too. After winning a contest, three Earth kids—Mina, her little brother Hiroshi, and Taiyou—all travel to a commercial space station, Anshin. They meet our main character, Touya, who lives there in order to undergo physical therapy before immigrating to Earth. He and another girl, Konoha, were both born in space and had microchips implanted in their brains in order to survive. This apparently comes with some issues that we’ll go into later, but as stuff goes down we see how these kids are helped or hindered by technology.

It’s a charming little setup for some cool speculative fiction—the idea of space tourism and colonization is certainly a pertinent one in the current tech era. But as with Den-noh Coil before, Iso takes that idea and uses it to create a dense, ambitious story that tries to tackle a number of seemingly disparate topics at once. All in about three hours. And it does all of this while also making time for goofy shit like 12-year-olds pissing in their space skivvies.

One of the best things about this show is the playful tone throughout and how most of the kids just really feel like kids. Touya is a tiny little edgelord hacker going through his regular eighth-grader syndrome. Mina is loud and vying for the internet’s attention. Hiroshi is an annoying kid brother and also a Touya fanboy. And Taiyou is trying his damnedest to get elected as “Space Hall Cop of the Month”.

Taiyou especially has an entire space shuttle’s worth of baggage. We slowly learn about his past across the first half of the story, but essentially he and Konoha are the last “extraterrestrial” children alive, since it turns out being born in the moon’s gravity and atmosphere severely ramps up infant mortality. So you can understand why he’s such a grumpy little shit.

Also he’s kiiiiiind of an eco-fascist? Kid really needs to learn to channel his angst into a nu metal phase like the rest of us.
The chip in his head was actually designed by The Smartest AI Ever simply called “Seven”. Apparently the chips were supposed to dissolve as the space kids grew older but after Seven went a little crazy and had to be shut down, they noticed a design flaw. Now the chips could threaten both Taiyou and Konoha’s lives and futures. I haven’t really mentioned Konoha’s personality, but she’s particularly defined by being frail and also listening to SPACE WHALES.

Yeah, on the surface Konoha is easily the least developed of the five central kids, but that turns out to be partially on purpose. While Taiyou’s channeled his impending death into anger and resentment, Konoha’s gone beyond making peace with it and almost seems to be anticipating slipping the mortal coil.

Also, while all that Seven stuff becomes important later, my favorite early detail is that they can’t even get compensation for the faulty brain implants because the company that made them filed for bankruptcy. Even in the future, tech companies just waltz through loopholes.

It’s one of the few subtle details of capitalism’s relationship to technology in this imagined future. The whole space deal is dependent on capitalistic interests. There are tons of little details about branding, tourism, company management, and budget restraints. The Anshin Station is again, a completely commercial venture. But tons of it is still unbuilt, understocked or just flat unsafe. It’s the worst theme park vacation where half the rides aren’t even finished. It’s presented in a matter-of-fact kind of way but it’s definitely an important detail and often an obstacle.

It might at first just seem like a simple bit of commentary, but it gradually becomes central to the point of the whole production. These are cool, amazing, even revolutionary pieces of tech, but they are still bound by the human imaginations and societal systems that created them. It’s funny that the the spacesuits have big honking UNIQLO logos, but it’s also pertinent that said spacesuits aren’t properly stocked in the emergency shelters where they’re supposed to be. Or how vital escape passages are backed up with building supplies by workers who didn’t follow proper safety procedures.

It’s like somebody parking a shopping cart in front of a fire exit, only in a metal tube floating in the vacuum of space.
My personal favorite and perhaps one of the most relevant details is that even the ship’s mascot isn’t safe from this! At first I thought he was an AI but the resident mascot “Ashin-kun, the station fairy,” a weird pink blob who runs around in a sailor uniform, is actually the former chief designer of the space station itself. He was laid off after the company Deegle bought out the station. Residents of the ship often refer to him as “Chief.”

I’ve had nightmares about this thing before.

The mascot suit, along with having super-strength capabilities, also functions as an old-fashioned spacesuit.

Very old-fashioned.
Anyway, the actual story of this whole thing kicks off when an unexpected meteor shows up out of the wild blue nowhere and chunks of it collide with the Anshin. This just happened to occur when all the responsible adults were up in the control room, so the kids have to brave the dangers of a failing space station with determination, pluck, and Peer-To-Peer communication tools. So basically me trying to survive an 8am Computer Networking class in college.

When this happened Touya and Taiyou happened to be rough-housing over who has the better robot pet while the siblings and their official nurse and unofficial babysitter, Nasa Houston (yes, really) follow in an elevator. Nasa ends up injured in the impact and so the kids are pretty much on their own at first.

Nasa Houston, by the way, is absolutely a Gundam name.

While it’s scary trying to watch the kids survive in the very dangerous realm of space, I never felt like it was too tense to watch. It’s not like Made in Abyss where we watch children cry and suffer in hazardous unexplored territory. There are parts of The Outer Wilds or Astra: Lost in Space that are much more terrifying, but this is a good thing since it keeps it from feeling alienating to a younger audience. The characters do a lot to keep the situation light while also being resourceful.
There’s danger, certainly, and a lot of it is tinged with grounded space science, like when Touya and Taiyou have to manually decompress their space suits to keep their literal blood from boiling. But it’s very much got the feeling of a classic kids film where the danger is there to add excitement and develop the characters through action. Also one of them gets carried around in a hamster ball for a while.

Even when Mina almost has a close brush with death it’s still super funny! Other times it’s interesting because we want to know exactly how they’re all gonna get out of it. Through those struggles we watch the kids grow closer together.

Touya in particular goes from being a mini-misanthrope to becoming an actual lea