Hey all! The Fall 2018 anime season is fast approaching; but before that, here’s some round-up reviews of the anime I managed to watch for the summer. (We Rent Tsukumogami‘s last review will be up once the last two episodes of the series airs.)

The Asobi Asobase girls at their most fashionable.

Asobi Asobase:

I seriously had to rewrite my review for Asobi Asobase about three times, because I’ve found it really hard to summarize my thoughts and feelings on it. Asobi Asobase’s brand of humor is definitely on the more absurd side—the show’s main source of comedy comes from the characters behaving and reacting in ridiculous ways, to ridiculous situations. And the show’s three main characters (Hanako, Olivia, and Kasuki) are all petty and stupid in their own ways.

Obviously everyone has different tastes when it comes to humor, but I found Asobi Asobase to be a mostly mixed bag when it came to the comedy. In some episodes, the humor felt lazy. Some of the skits rely a bit too heavily on old gags we’ve seen hundreds of times before in other anime. For example, characters yelling and screaming at each other, or pointing out how wrong something is—as if that alone is supposed to be funny. The series also sometimes focuses on clichéd comedy topics, such as a smaller chested girl getting mad at someone with bigger boobs than them; anime otaku being portrayed as fat creepy losers; and awkward girls who are obsessed with BL.

However, when the comedy in Asobi Asobase is good, it’s pretty darn good. My favorite skits were definitely the ones where the three main girls played traditional Japanese school children games with utmost seriousness and in an overly dramatic fashion. I felt that those skits showed off the series’ own brand of humor the best, and also played the girls’ different personalities off of each other masterfully. Although I may not always be fond of the humor in Asobi Asobase, I do appreciate that the show allows its three main female characters to act crass, be ugly (at times), and engage in copious amounts of slapstick-type humor. I feel like there aren’t many comedy anime with a mostly female cast that are brave enough do this to the extent that Asobi Asobase does.

The banter between the three main girls is genuinely entertaining to watch, and the girls themselves are fleshed out enough. However, I still found Hanako’s weird speech patterns to be quite annoying to listen to all the way to the end (although your mileage may vary on this, of course). Speaking of characters, most of the side-characters in this show are great. I am especially fond of the occult-obsessed girl, whose design I absolutely love. All of the skits involving her are probably some of the funniest the series offers. A special mention also goes to the girls’ extremely timid homeroom teacher, who they essentially blackmailed into being the club’s advisor.

Other than the varying quality in comedy, Asobi Asobase has a few other problems. There are some points in the show where it seemed like they were portraying some kind of niche fetish which was honestly a bit uncomfortable to watch… especially when you remember that the main characters are middle schoolers. Some examples of this are a skit revolving around the girls sniffing each other’s armpits, or (in a later skit) one girl smelling another girl’s fart… Yes, both of these scenarios actually happened in the anime. And then there are the three creepy older male characters who have absolutely no reason to exist in this anime. There’s also some unfortunate gags involving a possibly trans character. No lie, nearly all of the “jokes” surrounding this character can be basically summed up as “this girl may or may not have a dick! Whoaaah!” and it’s really in bad taste.

Despite its flaws, I still consider Asobi Asobase to be one of the better comedy anime of this season. It never made me laugh out loud, but it was one of the shows that I found the most fun to watch (out of all the other shows I watched this season). If you’re willing to put up with some weirdness at the start, Asobi Asobase will at the very least probably make you smile.

Out of five:

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Cells at Work!:

Get yourself a friendship like the one these two have.

While this show has the most interesting series concept of this season, I’m not sure if the execution was great. I feel like a lot of Cells at Work’s problems stem from it being an anime made up of 20+ minute episodes. I personally think this show would have worked better as a series of 10 minute shorts. After you get over the novelty of the whole “anthropomorphic human cells” thing, the plot of Cells at Work is pretty basic. A bulk of the episodes revolve around the cells having to repel a bacterial/viral invader with some kind of hidden or special ability. This type of episodic plot renders most episodes extremely predictable, no matter how hard the series tries to convince you that the body’s cells are “actually in in grave danger, we swear”. I ended up being a little bored during a lot of episodes because there was just so much filler material shoved in.

What Cells at Work does to pad out the airtime while they wring their hands over how to defeat an enemy is to either: 1) insert a bunch of tired and clichéd gags; 2) have the characters angst-ing over their perceived uselessness; or 3) have the enemies gloat for AGES over how they’re totally winning and they’re totally going to take over the human body THIS TIME. The only time that I felt a longer episode run-time worked was during the two-parter episodes in which the cells had to face their most dangerous enemy or most dire situation. In this case, having longer episodes helped to set the atmosphere; which in turn helped to emphasize the severity of the situation.

This anime also tries very, very hard to get you to care about its characters and their individual struggles. Unfortunately, that can be hard to do when most of the characters fall so squarely into tired old anime archetypes that you can essentially guess their entire personality within the first minute or so of their introduction. That said, I do appreciate Miss Red Blood Cell’s character. At first I was annoyed with her because she was portrayed as your typical clumsy character, but she grew on me a lot over the course of the show. As someone who recently started their first job in a long time, RBC’s situation resonated with me. Seeing her actually gradually get better over the course of the show despite how bad she was at her job (initially) was pretty inspiring. I also like RBC’s friendship with White Blood Cell, which is cute. (I really hope it’s just a friendship and not meant to be a romantic relationship because if it’s the latter that would be a little bit weird…)

Fortunately, Cells at Work isn’t just about the cells defeating baddies, and there are some episodes that focus more on the exploration of the cells’ world or how certain cells came to be. I honestly enjoyed these episodes the most. The show’s worldbuilding—what the human body would look like for the anthropomorphic cells—was really interesting and I wish they had done more of that. Cells at Work had an episode focusing solely on the circulatory system, but I really wanted an episode focusing on the body’s digestive system as well. (They did touch on the digestive system briefly during the food poisoning episode, but they didn’t go through the entire process.) I also really loved RBC’s and WBC’s designated backstory episode (episode 6), and I would say that it’s my favorite episode out of the whole series.

Overall… I’m not sure just how accurate this show is (the last time I studied biology was years ago); but as far as “educational” anime go… I guess this one’s alright. The animation quality varies at times and the art style can be kind of rough. There’s also a lot of blood and violence in this show which can come off as a bit too over-the-top. But other than that I have to say that this was a pretty interesting show, and it was entertaining enough to watch. If a second season of Cells at Work ever came out, I’m not sure if I would be willing to keep up with it, but I’d definitely be down for more biology-related anime that actually makes an attempt to teach biology facts.

Out of five:

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Happy Sugar Life:

A part of me wishes this really had been a happy, sugary show; but alas…

I usually don’t watch these sorts of “looks cute but IS ACTUALLY DARK” type of anime, because it’s generally not something I enjoy. But somehow, Happy Sugar Life managed to maintain my interest over its 12 episode run. Having watched the whole series, I would say it’s a pretty well-written psychological horror show.

I think the reason why Happy Sugar Life works so well is because it’s deeply disturbing, yes; but it also feels more realistic than other psychological horror anime I’ve encountered. There’s no secret evil or monstrous entity at work here—rather, this anime gives us a glimpse into the darkest aspects of human nature. While I have to admit that the area where the main characters live do seem to be inhabited by an unusually high number of assholes, the characters’ actions and motivations feel believable based on the characters’ situations/past trauma.

What I love most about Happy Sugar Life is the presence of the main character, Satou. I love that she’s portrayed as being a morally ambiguous character. Many of the things she does throughout the series are questionable, and some are also undeniably bad. At the same time, there are also instances throughout the series that show her in a more sympathetic light. However, Happy Sugar Life never forces an interpretation of her—rather, it’s up to the viewers to decide if they believe that Satou is just doing what she does for a good cause, or if she’s a maniac who’s completely in the wrong. Personally, I found it strangely fascinating to watch Satou outwit anyone who hindered her “happiness.”

(And then there’s Shio. Poor, poor Shio. She’s just a poor kid who got mixed up into a horrible mess.)

Another thing I really liked about Happy Sugar Life is the atmosphere of the series. This series excels in setting a somber and grim tone. I’ll be honest, a lot of the stuff portrayed in Happy Sugar Life was actually real hard for me to watch. Many times I had to watch the episodes while fiddling with phone apps, because it was a bit too emotionally draining to give the show my full attention. I also really liked the route the anime took for some of the manga’s more artistically stylized chapters. For example, one chapter of the manga is shown from another character’s perspective and they are never given text speech bubbles, but it’s obvious that they ARE talking (we just never get to see what they’re actually saying). The anime skillfully translates this into some kind of static noise and a sound wave graphic so that the same artistic intention is conveyed.

The only thing about Happy Sugar Life that I can definitively say I really disliked was one male character’s uh… Character “development” throughout the show. Yes, it is believable that he would turn out that way due to his past trauma, but it still gives me mixed feelings. It has tons of unfortunate implications all around, and he really gets shafted by the end of the series (at least in the anime) despite having the most unfortunate luck in the entire series.

As the manga is still on-going, the ending to the Happy Sugar Life anime is ultimately an anime original ending. Although it was a little rushed, I still thought it was satisfying enough, and possibly the only way the series could “realistically” end. So overall, Happy Sugar Life is a pretty interesting show that I’ll likely remember for a long time. The voice acting is top-notch, the episode pacing is good, all the plot twists were thrilling to watch, and the anime captures the manga’s art style near perfectly. I know that this series won’t appeal to everyone, due to its divisive subject matter(s) as well as delving into possibly traumatic scenarios. But if you can handle that type of stuff, I definitely recommend Happy Sugar Life if psychological horror-type anime are your thing.

Out of five:

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