July 31, 2021

The BEST Anime of Summer 2020 – Ones to Watch

Normally I would start this off with some flowery words about bright and fun summer is, before segueing into some variation of “look at all the anime you can stay inside and watch instead, here’s the ten best ones, enjoy!” but the thing is… I mean, firstly, we should all be staying inside anyway, but secondly that whole Pandemic deal has done a bit of a number on the summer 2020 anime lineup, and there are… exactly ten new full length shows that aren’t sequels airing this season. So I guess I just got to review them all!

That said, I definitely don’t RECOMMEND them all – but there’ll be a list at the end of the video showcasing the shows I do think are worth your time, rounded out with some of the best continuing series I’ve already talked about in prior videos, just in case those aren’t quite enough to fill it. These are the only ones you can watch for summer 2020, brought to you by World Anvil.

UZAKI-CHAN WANTS TO HANG OUT! (STREAMING ON FUNIMATION)

I figure it makes sense to start with the shows I have the least to say about and work my way up to the really interesting stuff, and no show this season gives me less to say than “Uzaki-chan wants to hang out” I mean, just reading that title and then describing its plot is gonna get a bit redundant. Hana Uzaki is a boisterous, bubbly, busty college girl whose senpai, Shinichi Sakurai, is perpetually gruff and introverted, so to him to help him break out of his shell, she wants to hang out! She is often annoying, he often gets annoyed about it, and a weird cat follows them around reacting to everything they do for some reason. It’s not a particularly complex comedic formula, but it works. The first episode had me consistently chuckling as the characters embarrassed themselves at a VR Demo Kiosk and bantered over dinner.

It does a good job of making Uzaki endearingly stupid, smug, and irritating without pushing into territory – yes, that is supposed to be her Moe character appeal, and if you don’t get it, I don’t blame you – and likewise, Shinichi is enough of a grumpy jerk to deserve all the irritation he endures, without being totally unlikable. If it sounds like I’m damning this anime with faint praise… I mean, there are far funnier comedies this season, and I probably wouldn’t have even mentioned it against a marginally more substantial lineup, but it isn’t bad at all. Its characters have solid comedic chemistry, it has a good sense of timing, and while its scenarios have thus far been decidedly mundane, it accurately captures the vibe of hanging out with old buddies after school – brightening each other’s days even as you get on each other’s nerves.

SUPER HXEROS (STREAMING ON FUNIMATION)

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It’s at least moderately funny, which is more than I can say for Super HxEros, an Ecchi superhero parody about how the word Hero contains the letter H and the word Ero, which are both DIRTY THINGS. That’s not quite the only joke in this odd mashup of power rangers and harem tropes, but it is indicative of the show’s general level of wit. In Super HxEros, the earth is facing an invasion from evil “Censor Bugs,” alien parasites that drain humans of their “erotic energy,” leaving them as boring, overserious husks of their old selves. To stop this menace, a weird exhibitionist scientist invents these bracelets that let people channel their erotic energy into alien-(and clothing)-obliterating super-attacks.

Naturally, he needs the horniest people on earth to make the most of these weapons, and as we all know, there’s nobody hornier than pubescent teenagers. Except that’s not true, women’s libidos actually peak in their mid-thirties, but this is not a show for people who think about things even remotely that hard. And, frankly, you can do better if you’re just looking to turn your brain off and enjoy some sexy superhero fun, too. Sentai fans looking for a fun riff on their favourite genre will be disappointed to find Super HxEros is far more concerned with setting up random fanservice moments than it is with spoofing genre conventions or even telling a coherent story.

Its action scenes are just saitama versus the mosquito queen over and over again, it’s no less shameless about recycling its jokes, and its characters are even more paper-thin and played-out than your average low-tier harem. Sadly, the same can be said for the fan service. Sure, the animation’s nice and squishy, and the girls are pretty, but if you’ve seen one guy fall face first through the ceiling of a hot spring and land directly on a tsundere’s chest, you’ve kind of seen them all, you know? It’s a real quantity over quality deal, and I’m hard pressed to think of a reason to watch this over… literally any other ecchi anime.

MR. LOVE: QUEEN’S CHOICE (STREAMING ON CRUNCHYROLL)

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And while it’s not ecchi, there’s even a marginally better superpowered harem series airing this season. Though you wouldn’t guess it from the English title, Mr. Love: Queen’s Choice. The Japanese name, Koi to Producer: EVOL x LOVE, which it shares with the Otome phone game on which the anime’s based, at least provides a hint. The titular “EVOLs” are a newly-emerging breed of evolved human with supernatural abilities teleportation, time stopping, that sort of thing. Well, it’s not entirely clear what their deal is, at least not right now. Mr. Love frames the truth behind these powers as a big mystery, and its nameless heroine, who inherited a producer role on a failing cable access mystery show from her dead father, is gonna be the one to solve it. Mostly by flirting with and interrogating 4 insanely hot and talented guys: a genius scientist, an Evol-tracking cop, a CEO, and an idol. It’s an odd character lineup.

But such is the way with self-indulgent harem fantasies, and the show keeps its tone light, breezy and fun enough that you don’t really question it. Which is good, because terms of plot structure and pacing honestly, it is a bit of a hot mess. Episode 1 bounces from scene like a rabbit on bath salts, barely giving its characters or plot beats any time to breathe. A lot of those beats are driven by convenient coincidence, too – like the heroine just happening to run into Tokyo’s top male idol, who just happens to watch her show – at a random 7-11. It seems like there may be a plot justification for all these chance meetings – possibly connected to the secretive suits following her, or the mysterious gloved man who pushes her into traffic partway through the episode.

In case I haven’t made it clear yet, this series dangles a LOT of plot threads in quick succession – so far I’ve only described, like, half of what happens in episode 1 – and they get tangled up in each other just as quickly. I even lost track of which hasubando was which at one point, which you never want to say about a harem series. Still, the chaotic storytelling does at least support the generally… conspiratorial vibe the show has going for it, and even with its breathless pacing, I at least found the mad dash from start to finish to be fun. I don’t think I’m going to keep going with the show, personally, but if you’re a fan of otome stuff, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it.

MONSTER GIRL DOCTOR (STREAMING ON CRUNCHYROLL)

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Now, speaking of things that come at you fast… I went into the first episode of Monster Girl Doctor not knowing that centaur hoof fetishes were even a thing, but I sure came out the other end of it INCAPABLE OF EVER FORGETTING. I mean, if you’re into that, more power to you. And even as someone who’s not, there is something kind of… anthropologically fascinating about seeing an anime explore these incredibly niche fetishes. I see some strong opportunities for novel world building in a series so intently focused on the anatomy of fantasy creatures, and some thought does seem to have gone into developing the society they all live in. But so far, at least, it doesn’t seem to be much more thoroughly developed than Interspecies Reviewers or Monster Musume, and those series’ fan service scenes were a lot more fun and less stiff.

The static art in this show is decent, but the actual animation is pretty lacking, and it’s not helped by lifeless, poorly-composited CG elements. That said, Monster Girl Doctor does have some advantages over its competition. Its character designs leverage the medieval fantasy aesthetic to craft some absolutely gorgeous costumes, and the monsters underneath are pretty gorgeous to boot. And as an adaptation of a full blown light novel, as opposed to a horny gag manga, it holds the promise of an actual plot to go with all that plot. Though how good that will actually be remains to be seen.

I do think that doctor Glenn and his Lamia nurse Saphee have decent chemistry too – the jealous childhood friend fending off horny suitors from her naïve, single-minded crush can be a fun romcom dynamic if it goes somewhere eventually, and I enjoy their banter when they’re alone together. The doc being such a sexually oblivious, consummate professional also takes a lot of the potentially creepy edge off the use of a doctor’s office as a fanservice framing device, even if his stethoscope and mammogram technique is decidedly… gropey. That lack of basic medical realism does kinda diminish my hopes that this anime can construct a convincing world, though. I’m not quite ready to write it off just yet, as there are glimmers of a good show beneath that crusty exterior… but boy, is it ever crusty.

LAPIS RE: LIGHTS (STREAMING ON FUNIMATION)

Lapis Re:Lights doesn’t have nearly as many inventive or intriguing ideas, but nonetheless, it does a better job of making its setting – an ostentatious academy for singing witches, along with the surrounding city– feel believable. A lot of that, I think, comes down to how the series uses its background characters; it features a wide array of distinct (if more than a little same-facey) designs, and makes an effort to have them inhabit and interact with its spaces, instead of just… existing behind the main characters. It also takes time to flesh the setting out, highlighting the unconventional classes and extracurricular activities that make the school magical.

Something that a depressing number of anime that attempt to leverage the inherent appeal of the “magic academy” premise neglect to account for. The academy itself – fully rendered in CGI – will look familiar to anyone who’s played a JRPG before, and it is a bit lacking in background detail, but strong, consistent lighting effects keep it feeling tangible, at least. The one novel idea the show does have is to take the tired light novel premise of the school for witches and blend it with the equally tired anime premise of the school for idols. And… the combination makes a surprising amount of sense. Both genres lean heavily on themes of legacy, and the series smartly uses that connection to inform the characterization of its protagonist, Tiara, whose sister was a top idol at the school in days gone-by.

And the magic elements have the potential to give the stage shows a unique flavor. While the cast is pretty huge – you can tell that this series was made to move gacha tickets in its inevitable mobile tie-in game – the series keeps its story coherent by focusing squarely on Tiara and the other 4 girls in her idol unit, LiGHTs. The girls have vibrant personalities that lean on Moe tropes – genki idiot, uptight noblewoman, horny bookworm, etcetera – without being wholly defined by them, and Tiara has particularly strong – vaguely romantic – chemistry with her cool-headed childhood friend, Rosetta.

I do wish the show would do more with its characters and setting in its actual storytelling– surely they could have come up with a more interesting plot for episode 2 than “the girls chase a duck around town.” But with adorable character and costume designs across the board and consistently strong music and animation, it has everything it needs to carve out a niche in the idol fandom, and maybe make some new idol fan boys out of folks looking for a bit of magically-infused Moe.

DECA-DENCE (STREAMING ON FUNIMATION)

There is at least one show this season that’s REALLY scratching my itch for detailed, convincing world building. Deca-dence is built on a by now very familiar sci-fi conceit: on a future earth where massive monsters have supplanted mankind as the global apex predator, the surviving humans eke out a meager existence in a massive, combat-ready city on treads. It’s not the most original elevator pitch, but the series stands out by making that mobilized metropolis feel remarkably REAL and lived-in. The monsters in question, some of which are considerably less than massive, are the Gadoll, mysterious creatures apparently able to generate anti-gravity fields at will. Which means that to fight them, humans and their weird purple, (it believe alien) guardians, the Gears, must utilize these fancy, omnidirectional jetpack sphere things.

It’s hard to describe, but easy to grasp how it all works when you see it in motion – like a blend of Attack on Titan and Mob Psycho 100. And there are few people as qualified to direct such intense aerial action that Mob Psycho’s own Yuzuru Tachikawa. On top of killing these monsters, the soldiers are tasked with extracting their blood, which fuels the titular mecha-city of Deca-dence. Those humans who can’t fight the Gadoll live as an underclass of Tankers – so called because they reside in the nomadic fortress’s fuel tanks, where they’re taught to serve the gears gratefully and without question. Our Heroine, an obligatory plucky young orphan named Natsume, dreams of being a soldier like her late father, but as an amputee with a cheap prosthetic arm, her combat potential is dismissed out of hand by the higher ups.

Instead, she’s instead assigned to cleaning duty, high up on Deca-dence’s exterior, working under a gruff old man named kaburagi. The series spends a LOT of time showing us what this work entails, and what day-to-day life is like for tankers in general before we get even a whiff of action outside the prologue, and while that may make it too slow for some folks, I personally LOVE IT. The constrained scale of the setting allows the artists at studio Nut to absolutely cram it full of tiny, meaningful details, allowing us to get a sense of who individual characters are from their living quarters alone, and what the broader society they live in is like from the look of communal spaces. And underneath all that – quite literally – lies an intricate mass of moving, mechanical parts.

If you’re the kind of nerd whose favorite thing about cowboy bebop is the ships, you’re going to LOVE this show. But even if you’re not – and the prospect of going through the whole “Darling in the Franxx” rigamarole again bores you no matter how slick the production values may be… Give Deca-dence at least two episodes to win you over. Trust me, there’s a lot of layers to this one that aren’t immediately apparent– even if it only took the first one to hook a nerd like me.

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RENT-A-GIRLFRIEND

Another anime that really impressed me from the get-go is Rent-A-Girlfriend, a harem-adjacent romcom with a deceptively mundane premise. Kazuya Kinoshita is a fresh-faced young college boy whose future looks bright – he’s got a good circle of friends, decent grades, a supportive family that’s happy to pay for his education, and FINALLY, at long last, a GIRLFRIEND. Mami Nanami’s cute, funny, in love with another guy, and stylish as heck, and with her by his side, Kazuya’s going to… wait, what?

Suddenly stuck coping with the twin traumas of a first breakup and the apparent awakening of an NTR kink, Kazuya finds himself going through a LOT of tissue, and looking for a cheaper outlet for his despair in a post-pandemic world, he opts to Rent-A-Girlfriend through an online app. Which is… not that weird a concept, actually. “Compensated dating” has long been a thing in Japan, and Rent-A-Girlfriend takes a surprisingly mature and nuanced view of the profession for a raunchy romcom.

On his first rental date Kazuya finds himself taking a sweet and cheerful fellow university first year named Chizuru to the aquarium, and after he impresses her with his obscure fish facts, she lets him take her all the way to eleventh base. He’s pretty giddy about the whole thing until he reads her thread in the diamond dating app forums, and finds dozens of other guys who’ve gotten the exact same flirty treatment. Right down to the UNSPEAKABLY LEWD FINISHER. Frustrated that he’s been fooled into getting the exact thing he signed up and paid for, Kazuya leaves Chizuru a nasty anonymous review and takes her out again to “give her a piece of his mind,” leading to an embarrassing public display of impotent incel rage.

AFTER she went to the trouble of studying fish facts for his ungrateful ass, too. Chizuru rightly chews him out for being such a dick about her doing her job too well – but right in the middle of his realization that he is, in fact, the asshole, Kazuya gets a call from his family and learns that his beloved grandma has collapsed. Chizuru follows him to the hospital, planning to give him the remaining pieces of her mind when he’s done there, and, in a panic, he introduces her as his girlfriend. She plays along – it is her job, after all, and it’s not her first time meeting a client’s family– but things take a turn for the hilariously awkward when, after giving them her overly enthusiastic blessing to “consummate this thing,” his Granny runs off to brag to her old lady friends about what a hottie her beloved grandson has hooked.

One of those friends happens to be Chizuru’s grandma, who doesn’t know about her part time job yet. Thus, the pair must pretend to keep dating in order to keep up appearances. With Kazuya paying for her time of course, and only after he profusely apologizes for being such an insecure shithead. Unusually sex-worker-positive perspective aside, this is a classic “Romantic comedy of errors” setup through and through, And while I went into this show expecting to enjoy it strictly as an indulgence – my kind of trash, if you will – I walked away from it legitimately impressed by just how SOLID its fundamental comedic chops are. It walks a razor thin line between being hilariously provocative and just plain gross, and in the first episode, at least, it doesn’t stumble OR miss a beat with its comic timing even once. Everything involving the grandmas in particular had me HOWLING with laughter.

THE MISFIT OF DEMON KING ACADEMY (STREAMING ON CRUNCHYROLL)

So did The Misfit at Demon King Academy – though it took me a second to fully appreciate its brilliance. I kind of rolled my eyes at the first episode, thinking I was just watching another over the top, edgy-try hard light novel wish fulfilment thing about an underappreciated, overpowered magic genius saving the world by telling everyone else they’re wrong. But partway through the second, I realized that I was in fact watching THE MOST over the top, edgy-try hard light novel wish fulfilment thing about an underappreciated, overpowered magic genius saving the world by telling everyone else they’re wrong. The surly teenager you just saw throw an entire fucking castle with one hand is Anos Voldigoad, the demon king of Tyranny, reincarnated into the world to claim his rightful throne after a 2000 year slumber.

But before he can do that, he’ll have to prove he deserves it, by outperforming all of the arrogant but powerful demon aristocrats at the school that was built to find his true successor. Even though, I mean, just fuckin… look at the guy. Come on. Misfit at Demon King Academy is to Mahouka, The Asterisk War and the many light novels like them what One Punch Man is to Dragon Ball and the shounen battle genre at large. It takes the already incredibly imbalanced power dynamics inherent to the formula, and places a whole goddamn fist on the scale for comedic effect, while preserving the obligatory “underdog rising through the ranks” story structure through liberal application of severe bureaucratic incompetence.

 But where One Punch Man handled its absurdly one-sided violence with a wink and nod to the audience – an acknowledgement of how empty and unfulfilling it ultimately is – Misfit’s over-the-top, show-stopping moments are delivered without a hint of irony. The music, sound design, acting, artwork, and direction behind the show’s action scenes are all impressively polished, and all indicate that we’re meant to take them 100% seriously, even when Anos murders a man using only THE VIBRATIONS OF HIS HEARTBEAT. And then brings him back to do it again and again…. and again… using a resurrection spell that operates on the three second rule. Which is explicitly a joke – as are the antics of Voldigoad’s doting, affectionate parents, who gave birth to him as a talking baby just a month ago – but those clearly defined moments of comic relief only make it harder to discern whether the unerringly serious fight scenes are meant to be read as parody, or sincere, over-the-top, edgy badassery.

The same goes for the dialogue – am I meant to be impressed by how cool and smart Anos Voldigoad is when he mansplains the world’s magic system and politics to his classmates and teachers? Or is it supposed to be absurd that he’s expositing about these nonsensical fantasy concepts in such a condescending, exasperated manner. Like “What, you mean you don’t know that magic dolls can have souls too? YOU ABSOLUTE FUCKING SIMPLETON.” I don’t know. But what I do know is that, whether these moments are jokes or not, the consistently po-faced manner in which they’re presented only makes them funnier. If this is a joke, it’s being told FLAWLESSLY, and if it’s not, this is one of the greatest works of “so-bad-it’s-good” media in existence. Either way, you should ABSOLUTELY watch it.

GIBIATE (STREAMING ON CRUNCHYROLL)

 I wish I could say the same for Gibiate, but sadly, it’s thus far only managed to be so bad it’s bad. I don’t know how you take a premise like “Time traveling samurai defending the last survivors of Post-apocalyptic Tokyo from a zombie virus that turns people into Digimon” and make it BORING, but by Haruhi, director Masahiko Komino and Studios “Elle” and “Launch Box” pulled it off. The first few minutes did leave a solid first impression on me –as someone who enjoys dunking on bad anime. Its exposition about the “Gibia” outbreak, delivered awkwardly through the tired, generic framing device of archival news audio… double-framed within the equally tired and generic device of a teen survivor recording a video diary… on her 18k ”Bony” handycam, in front of a Japanese-censor-friendly “Drinks, Brugs and Rock’n Roll” poster definitely put a smile on my face.

One that only grew when I finally saw the monsters it was building up to “Oh no! it can’t be” “Weh” That smile quickly faded into a blank stare, though, when that was followed by minutes that felt like hours of lifeless, generic samurai drama dialogue… a tone the show kept up from that point forward. All told, this first episode features about 90 seconds of “action” – containing maybe 50 total frames of animation and only three “attacks” – padded on either side by interminable, poorly-written exposition dumps, delivered by actors who sound like they’re either falling asleep or just waking up. And that is not the kinda tone you wanna set going into a horror-fantasy martial arts action anime. Even if it does manage to pick up the pace and adopt a more suitably exciting tone in future episodes, the series faces an uphill battle against its own production values if it wants to deliver any kind of memorable action, funny or otherwise.

Gibiate’s art direction clumsily attempts to follow the modern trend of highly detailed, photorealistic backgrounds, and uses a hand-shakers-esque purple-green gradient filter to blend its characters into them. It’s as ugly here as it was there, but this show doesn’t even cut those corners in service dynamic camerawork or actions, as its character designs – courtesy of legendary final fantasy illustrator Yoshitaka Amano – are far too intricately detailed to animate with any degree of consistent fluidity. The end result looks like something out of a particularly cheap episode of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, with lots of motion-obscuring close-ups and long shots of still images… but none of the visual flair and s-tier character posing that makes that show’s motion-manga-esque style work.

It’s as if you’ll forgive the phrasing – bizarre blend of stylistic elements that speaks to me of a production committee selecting artistic talent for their name cache, rather than in service of any cohesive creative vision. Gibiate is by far the biggest disappointment to come out of the “Crunchyroll Originals” lineup to date, but thankfully, it’s not the only one to air this season, and The God of Highschool MORE than makes up for it.

THE GOD OF HIGH SCHOOL (STREAMING ON CRUNCHYROLL)

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Following closely on Tower of God’s heels, this is the second “Crunchyroll Original” to take a popular Manhwa from Korea’s webtoon platform and place it in the hands of a capable Japanese animation studio. This time studio Mappa under the direction of Seong-hu Park, who previously helmed Garo: Vanishing Line, and is slated to direct the next big Shounen Jump thingamajig, Jujutsu Kaisen. And ifthis show’s any indication that hotly-anticipated supernatural action series is in VERY good hands. The God of Highschool’s premise is as simple as it gets – there’s a big martial arts tournament going down in Seoul, South Korea, where the country’s top young fighters are competing to see who’s the nation’s best. Sinister, supernatural shit’s very obviously afoot behind the scenes, but our heroes Mori Jin, Daewi Han and Mira Yu, already have their hands MORE than full facing the crazy – and crazy powerful – foes the tournament’s organizers have lined up against them.

Not to mention each other – this is a tournament arc after all. There’s no clever high concept or subversive plot hook to draw viewers in here – this anime relies solely on raw excellence in its execution to stand out. And… OH MY GOD… OF HIGHSCHOOL! Is that execution ever excellent? Fight scenes have a wild, chaotic flow to them, with smooth camerawork, breakneck pacing, and brutal, intense choreography, all backed by an infectious hip-hop soundtrack composed by Arisa Okehazama (who’s also slated to work on Jujutsu Kaisen, so, yeah, get double excited for that). The martial arts techniques on display range from taekwondo to tai-chi, and they’re animated in a fluid, snappy manner that matches the show’s over the top, capital A ANIME tone, while staying true to their real-world roots.

If you like martial arts anime or martial arts in general, this show’s fights will have your eyes glued to the screen from the second the bell rings to the moment a contender hits the mat. It’s exhilarating to watch. It’s also wickedly funny when it wants to be, combining absurd character humor with characteristically extreme slapstick to great effect… and those characters, while clearly drawn from age-old archetypes, have a lot of… heart to them. A charisma that makes me want to know more about them.

If you’ve been craving some pure and simple unadulterated shounen hype, they don’t come much hype-er than this. It may even have the chops to stand alongside genre kings like Yu Yu Hakusho and Dragonball… though time will obviously have to tell on that front. And with that, this first (and hopefully only) edition of the Only Ones You Can Watch has come to an end. In case it wasn’t clear which anime I most strongly recommend, these are the ones to actually watch: If you’re looking for some more anime to fill your time: last season’s Digimon Adventure 2020, Fugou Keiji: Balance Unlimited, and Appare-Ranman! Have all come back from their pandemic-induced hiatuses, and the delayed second cour of No Guns Life is airing now, too.

Fire force is back in force as well, and there’s these two obscure older shows that finally got second seasons. Oregairu and Re:Zero. You might have heard of them. They’re pretty good. Now, normally I’d cap this list off by asking you guys what you recommend, but since there, aren’t all that many options, I’ll instead ask this: what anime in your backlog do you plan to catch up on this summer? Yazy and I have been watching G-gundam, and it’s been a blast. Leave your answer in the form of a comment below, and don’t forget to subscribe, if you haven’t already. I’m Geoff Thew, Professional Shitbag, signing out from my Mother’s Basement.