It’s been more than possible for a good while now to be aware “these works of animation you’ve come to find the look of appealing, with the audio usually delivered in a language you still have next to no understanding of, aren’t that connected to reality.” In just the past unfortunate while, though, “escaping reality” might seem that much more of a taunt, diversion, and refuge. I haven’t yet increased my intake of anime in this time of enforced protective isolation any more than what it had been at the start of the year, but even so I did get through a lot of it.

While spending a good bit of last year finding “unusual links to Macross” I got to thinking this year I could turn back to a different mecha anime franchise that doesn’t really need “unusual links” to offer months and months of content. I had new releases of the first three “alternative universe Gundams” waiting to open. For the very first of them, though, I was aware this would mean at last getting past “keeping one Gundam series others have been positive about ‘to be watched’ is a strange final counterbalance to the grim residue of series I’d started only to ‘drop’ unfinished or just been warned away from beforehand.” Now, when I’d first heard of Mobile Fighter G Gundam on the far side of the millennium there’d been intimations of “the odd one out” or even “the black sheep” of the franchise, but in the years since then (and just perhaps with the way the later series, viewed week-by-week by more fans, keep greatly suffering that online gauntlet) its standing has climbed to dizzying heights. I’d gone so far as to hurry to buy DVD collections of it (with utterly bland front covers just perhaps intended to try and nudge buyers back towards more profitable “singles”) when Bandai Entertainment had shut down and it had seemed the effort to sell Gundam to North America had come to an unfortunate end, only to stall on opening them (and seeing about the rattle that seemed to mean loose discs inside) with the strange feeling I’ve already described. Then, that effort restarting through Right Stuf (which has seemed more successful so far) had meant Blu-Ray sets, and buying them had been another nudge to watch.

I knew G Gundam had jolted the formula established by the main-line “Universal Century” animation preceding it by putting “giant robots with a particular design language war around and on Earth” into a “martial arts tournament” format, with its “Gundams” embodying absurd national stereotypes (and could remember a bit of indignation when, in trying to get the series on American cable TV in an attempt to recover from the very first Gundam burning out there, some of the names had been changed to be a little less controversial). The “Build” subfranchises might have helped me get used to tournament formats, and in an odd way too having recently seen the more posturing Gundam series that had just preceded G Gundam helped me accept “it had been time for a change.” As for the “absurd national stereotypes,” it took no more than two or three episodes before I’d started seeing the likability built into most of those characters (if with occasional awkward lapses). I might have needed just a little longer with the main characters Domon and Rain (who just happen to be from “Neo Japan” and have the most familiar-looking and coloured Gundam) to get past thoughts about “female characters are stuck being responsible yet attractive so that male characters can be posturing arrested adolescents,” but as that thought faded the series also seemed to transcend its “tournament” setup to face bigger issues of betrayals and vendettas. That didn’t affect its driving enthusiasm and general good spirits, which were certainly tonic to start with (even as I pondered whether there’s something a bit lazy and self-satisfied in the invocation of the word “awesome”). Still, I did have to face thoughts it would wind up steamrollering all the other “alternative universe Gundams” that followed and returned to whatever degree to the more serious (or more “pretentious” and less self-assuredly absurd) air of their progenitor universe. With that in mind, though, I then wondered what would spare the original animations themselves beyond “being first,” which threatened to end with the peculiar thought “the only thing needed to make a really good Gundam series is to make a series that isn’t Gundam.” At that point I got to the midway mark of the series (and realised that if I wanted to finish it before the end of these three months I’d have to watch more episodes of it per week), where all of a sudden it moved back to a tournament format and might have needed a few episodes to really pick up again (that “picking up” including the introduction of a lone female pilot who all the same wasn’t treated as somehow unnatural among the assorted manly men). As generally satisfying as G Gundam wound up feeling, I might have managed to escape it “spoiling everything else” for me.

Starting to watch a new series might have given me a bit of cover for returning to another. Wrapping up last year looking back at the decade improved my spirits with how many titles returned to my mind seeming to still stand out for me, but I was conscious all those new series had kept me from seeing most of them more than once. Having decided on “top picks” for at least some years gave me some obvious choices to go back to, and I started off by going back a full decade and opening up a Blu-Ray set of Sound of the Sky, which I’d first seen on DVD. I’ll admit it had surprised me a bit there’d been a Blu-Ray re-release still on Right Stuf’s Nozomi label, given Aniplex’s name was in the credits and that company had been gathering all its expiring licenses back to itself, possibly to be streamed the same as any other series but only sometimes sold again at their usual stiff premium for an on-disc bit rate. Funimation had managed to re-release the original Fullmetal Alchemist on Blu-Ray, but it had only been available for a short time, after which I’m afraid to admit my thoughts of “a desperate attempt to prove there was money to be made in cheaper releases too” changed to “a vengeful effort to poison the well in advance of a potential premium release.” However, all of Aniplex’s discs being “Right Stuf exclusives” might have had something to do with one small favour staying on sale. Overused griping aside, anyway, I was conscious returning to the series of thoughts I’d had about it last year, when I’d supposed “it had stood out in its time for adding an unusual, cosily well-post-apocalyptic setting to then-familiar young female characters some called ‘moe’ as an abbreviation for ‘endearing’ and others just used that same word to condemn as somehow ‘calculatedly pitched to a condemned audience,’ and yet that time just may have faded along with its controversies.” When one early episode had the characters’ faces look kind of lumpy, I’d felt a little concerned that was a more obvious sign of the series “aging over the horizon.” The next episode had looked better with one of the more personally appealing stories of the series, though, and I managed to recover my positive feelings as I kept realising how many of the show’s shifting moods were managing to surprise me again (even if I did remember at least one episode had provoked much indignation from others years ago).

As for up-to-the-minute series, the year started off with Netflix having made the second half of Carole & Tuesday available here. As other people had already tracked down “fansubs” of the Japanese broadcasts, though, I was aware of mutterings about the series having expanded past “musical performances” to taking on contemporary concerns about scapegoating refugees for political gain. Watching through the episodes did get me thinking the assorted musicians introduced through the series had helped to produce a more hopeful ending rather than doing everything themselves, however, and I remained willing to think dismissing positive examples as “unrealistic” has its own problems. Watching at a slower speed than some seem to take “all available at once” to imply, I’d only started that series when the once-a-week episodes of the very latest anime season began streaming; as can happen, one of the first to appear managed to get my attention with nothing else to distract me. Asteroid in Love was another one of those series taken note of or just brushed off as “cute girls doing cute things,” which I have to admit to taking more note of when they mix in a subject that catches my attention. “Astronomy” very much qualifies there, and the show started with a grade school girl named Mira meeting another kid named Ao who gets her interested in stargazing; years later, the now high school-aged Mira seeks out her new school’s astronomy club only to find it’s been combined with the geology club into “earth sciences” and Ao has also joined, now grown well out of her tomboy phase. I’m stuck admitting the “in love” part then faded well back into my mind with earth sciences to distract me (and that despite one secondary character who seemed a bit obsessed with pairing off others in her own mind), although that might have also had something to do with the youthful way the “cute girls” were drawn for all that the artwork seemed quite pleasant in general. (However, late in the series Mira’s advising teacher met up with an old acquaintance from her own school days on a trip involving all-night observing, and when one woman and then the other excused themselves with casual comments about going to the nap room I’m afraid I resorted to the thin cover of “those who do wear ‘slash goggles’ just might be perking up at that.”)

New animation in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica franchise got a lot of attention, but the explanation Magia Record was a “side story” based on a mobile game sparked some dismissals-in-advance. I have to admit to a different yet also ambiguous reaction, namely that in seeming to disengage from the franchise after I couldn’t manage to accept its original movie follow-up as “the conclusion we’re stuck with” (something that’s also happened with me with other “suddenly continued franchises,” although in other cases I seem to manage quite well to revert back to contemplating what I’d had yet sort of shrugging off the continuation), I was almost oddly willing to give the new animation half a chance. (It also amounted to this season’s justification for having subscribed to Funimation’s streaming service, even if the episodes only streamed there one week in advance of Crunchyroll and the subtitle translations of on-screen text weren’t as nicely formatted.) The tale of a new magical girl enticed by rumours of being “saved” from a grim fate she’s only beginning to understand did look just about as impressive as the original series had, although in bringing in “magical girls of the week” from a mobile game I suppose filled with them the story’s assorted enigmas didn’t have anywhere near the building menace that had caught up so many people before. The new story also ended with a sort of “to be continued” moment, or perhaps more a “just when it was getting interesting” moment. I did keep wondering about how the mobile game played out, but managed instead to wander back into the Love Live mobile games.

It took running into an enthusiastic first reaction for Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! to really register for me, although as it did I did retrieve impressions of announcements seen of that series about three young women in high school making animated short subjects (which just about amounts to the prologue of Shirobako) that had slipped from my memory. As others offered up their own enthusiasm, I started thinking of previous times I’d seen works by the series’s director Masaaki Yuasa talked up only to be left struggling to articulate just what it was about their styles (favouring “fluidity of animation” over “good-looking stills,” perhaps) and stories that never quite came together to grab my own interest. This time, though, things were coming together; I was impressed enough by the first episode’s slightly peculiar world, varied characters, and mixing of animated reality and fantasy to think it by itself had just made up for some worries I hadn’t been quite been able to find the original series I’d seen last year as appealing as the ones from the year before. Then, I started wondering if that amounted to “setting myself up for a fall,” and if the anime’s world was interesting enough by itself it didn’t necessarily need to be the setting for “something so self-indulgent as an anime about making anime.” (A bit later on, though, I did come to understand the series was an adaptation of an existing manga.) Fortunately, the series built quite well on its foundation as the mismatched trio of a slightly scatterbrained designer-director, a fashion model who just wants to be an animator, and a tall and sometimes grim yet always effective producer-type made three increasingly ambitious short subjects.

The third Chihayafuru series continued right in the middle of these new series, delving further into karuta competitions of the highest level. I was impressed by the way they focused on secondary characters (and some of them were years older than the proverbial vast majority of anime characters), but conscious by their end they seemed to just point towards future competitions that would include the main characters, getting closer to the end of high school but also running into relationship problems. Things ended on a more uncertain note than the previous series had, leaving most people watching to make comments of varying uneasiness about where the manga had got to and how long it might take for another anime adaptation of it. As for other anime adaptations starting up suddenly after long hiatuses, though, A Certain Scientific Railgun T had got my attention months before and had me watching its previous series again. This series was set during an enormous “athletics festival” the original light novels had had their own action set during. Familiar enough with the manga already, I had pondered how, after a series just previous in which Mikoto Misaka had been isolated from her friends who’d helped make the original series more appealing to me and others, she would wind up isolated from them again, this time through the creepily powerful psychic ability of a student at her own school. This didn’t eliminate them from the story, though, and there were some action-packed developments I hadn’t really remembered. There were also, though, several pauses in the animation as first signs of spreading infection, which at first left me remembering tales of one series running four recap episodes in a row during the SARS crisis of 2003 (although back then I hadn’t really been following “fansubs” in that vanished age when competing groups were all offering different takes on things with little indication of who would provide the most personally appealing translations on the most consistent schedule) and then just left me worried there could be a lot more of that in the months ahead. In any case, with A Certain Scientific Railgun started my viewing schedule was getting pretty full; I did sample one episode of a show called Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It (with lab-coated graduate students trying to quantify their attraction to each other) but decided it didn’t feel quite as appealing “science”-wise as Asteroid in Love and left it.

Near the start of the year I did get out to the movies to see Weathering With You, which was attractive to see yet challenging to contemplate; in the time since then I haven’t just turned away from the film, anyway. I’d hoped the anime movie in the trailer attached to it would also come to my area, but it didn’t. However, I did manage to watch a now-rare “OVA-like” short movie on disc called Kase-san and Morning Glories, adapting bits of a “girls’ love” manga I’d read before. While stuck with a few ambiguous feelings about how private the main characters keep their same-sex relationship (while still on a family-name basis with each other), it was nice in a way to not have as many melodramatic complications as the last animation on the acknowledged subject I watched. After finishing Sound of the Sky, I moved on to my next high-standing series from the previous decade by beginning Nichijou, ready to pick up on the assortment of moods and running gags in Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of Keiichi Arawi’s manga (which continued after the material that had been adapted, and after finishing it I went on to his quite similar manga City.)