So far as “keeping up with the crowd” went, three months ago I’d known several anime series I’d watched in previous seasons had new continuations and some altogether new shows had managed to catch my eye too. Along with that, though, epidemiological news from Japan had also registered on me (which might have only a little bearing on recurring ambiguities about a narrow focus on frothier fragments of that country’s cultural productions), and it had seemed ominous enough I had worries the whole down-to-the-wire structure of animation production over there would come crashing down, one insignificant bit of collateral damage. Not wanting to witness that in the form of things to see vanishing, I turned altogether inward and retreated to that old personal stand-by, series already complete in my grasp on discs.

A good many new series indeed had to stop their broadcasts just a few episodes in, but at least a few shows did carry all the way through. Whether that amounted to a “last hurrah” of the successfully ready-just-in-advance productions is something I don’t quite know yet. However, I’d at least kept a full slate of personal viewing, at least sometimes diverting, for all that a lot of the discs I’d opened were of series I’d seen before available in new formats, and most of the episodes I was seeing for the first time were quite old production-wise.

I’d started the year contemplating watching my way through the first three “alternative universe” Gundam series in their new releases. When I found myself very impressed seeing G Gundam for the first time (my reactions for once aligning with the vocal opinions of quite a few others), though, I did wonder for a while about the two series following and if they (and, indeed, all the other more “serious” and familiar shows in the franchise) would wind up under such a shadow I ought to just go on to something else. My enthusiasm for G Gundam did get a bit more nuanced about halfway through, though, and I wound up gathering the resolve to open the show that had immediately followed it for all that I’d already seen Gundam Wing and those memories of it were a bit mixed.

A lot of my thoughts about Gundam Wing are linked to its (North) American career, with recollections of it taking off on TV around the turn of the millennium amid general impressions of a general upslope for anime, and knowing it’s still fondly remembered by now-older fans. Being even older than those fans (with my own gateway title fifteen years earlier, even if a lot of other people think much less fondly of what I first saw), though, I’d first noticed some fairly dismissive opinions of it. The scattering of dubbed episodes I managed to see and videotape left me very tempted to view the show from a “camp” perspective (at the risk of showing I don’t actually know just what that word means in this context). When I did get around to buying the economy DVD collections several years later, however, I did feel struck by how, once I’d got through the first episodes with their quintet of teenaged super-pilots (although G Gundam had also wound up with “five central heroes,” which might in turn allow for reconsidering impressions of later “alternative universes” at least trying to make “Wing’s unique formulas” more serious) laying waste to disposable ranks of opponents, the constant twists and turns with who was teamed up with who made things more interesting for most of the series.

On opening up the new Blu-Rays (although I didn’t buy the deluxe boxed set aimed at the nostalgic), those old impressions still seemed ready to hand, and I was quite ready to suppose the series could really appeal to someone around the age of its main characters (although I can see the risk to implying “too young to know better”). However, I did wonder if I’ve come to find series “standouts” for seeming more blatantly self-aware and absurd (as, indeed, I was tempted to suppose G Gundam was), and if something about Gundam Wing was either all too tempting to suppose as “taking itself too seriously” or leading people like me into betraying it was going over our heads. I was at least able to see some subtler development to the pilots than more familiar “pulled into the war” protagonists get by with, but could also suppose there’s still a character who follows that more familiar path of “discovery in the crucible,” the female lead Relena. After finishing the series, I watched its slicker follow-up Endless Waltz (quite ready to appreciate all over again how these alternative universes do get to reach conclusions rather than spin conflict on forever for the sake of exploiting the initial intellectual property), contemplating how I’d bought a recent manga said to use the revised mechanical designs of the follow-up throughout.

One new series that had caught my attention was named Tamayomi, which was about high school girls playing baseball. I was amused by the thought that while about a decade had separated the first two “girls playing baseball” shows I knew about and about a decade had separated the second and the third, now less than a year had passed. However, the first-reaction reports at the beginning of April had considered the series very crummily done, and I suppose that had been the specific moment I’d swung over to watching only older shows. In a half-wistful effort to compensate, I opened up a DVD set of the oldest “girls playing baseball” series I knew about, Princess Nine. After seeing it talked up by a small but dedicated group of fans for a while, I’d managed to buy used copies of the original out-of-print DVDs and watched them only for the show to be “license rescued” by a short-lived label of the online store Right Stuf. Willing to support efforts like that and supposing the new release would leave in the original Japanese titles and credits (although their replacement is much less of a deal breaker for me than it seems for others, given in part I can’t read the language), I’d bought the new release, then left it waiting to open for quite a while.

Princess Nine’s orchestral soundtrack continues to lend impressiveness to it, although there are some episodes where its late-1990s character designs do slide off-model (which may or may not have some bearing on the odd impression one of the female ballplayers kept me thinking of Sesame Street’s Bert). There’s a sense of amiable fantasy to its team being presented as a one-of-a-kind competitor against the familiar ranks of high school boys’ teams, started rolling less through the determination of the familiar yet endearing mixed bag of players and more through the determination of an established woman determined to revive the “lightning ball” of the male pitcher she’d once had a teenaged crush on, the now-deceased father of one of the girls. I was perhaps struck this time around to a bit more nuance to the baseball games than just one “lightning ball” after another, but there was a lot of melodrama before and in between the games. I also had to face how while this particular series could be outright about “love on the playing field” (with no apparent “slash bait” for my own clouded eyes save old-fashioned “their bristling rivalry just has to swing around to sudden passion”), that made the “just wait ’till next year” conclusion that extra bit more stinging and awkward than usual. Too, that next year’s story never been told. Right after finishing the series for the first time I resorted to something I’d already drifted away from and went looking for fanfiction, but there didn’t seem much of it, much less any completed “next season” epics. Of course, I’m still not quite sure where the characters could go next that wouldn’t feel like contriving new problems out of nowhere, either. (As for Tamayomi, it actually did air every episode, that general crumminess perhaps eking it along; however, there are other series I’ve felt sorry for but never watched. The chances of its original manga being licensed may be slim.)

I’d already resolved at the start of this year to go back and rewatch some series from the past decade I’d looked back on at the end of last year with continuing good feelings. After getting through the pleasant absurdities, occasional full-bore blowups, and quieter, endearing character moments of Nichijou(conscious this was Kyoto Animation working outside the “house style” that seemed much more familiar to the point of “dangerous generalizations” over the following decade, although I’ve never felt compelled to watch their production of Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid), I moved on by one year to Space Brothers. It seemed important to watch something set in an optimistic near future (for all that we’re much closer now to the year it’s supposed to be set in and its space exploration hardware designs are discontinued plans), although I did take note of the plot arc where the recently unemployed auto engineer Mutta Namba, trying at last to do something about the old dreams his younger brother Hibito did something about in becoming an astronaut, winds up in an isolation chamber with a few other candidates. The series never “looks impressive,” perhaps, but it does stay pleasant and distinct from many familiar brushoffs of “all anime.” As it ran for a long time (and still didn’t get through all of its original manga) I was ready to just watch some of it, although when the second Blu-Ray set ended on a slight cliffhanger I pushed a few episodes further on, to the point of Hibito’s mission blasting off for the moon.

I did manage to get all the way to the end of the second Lupin the Third series and the two episodes Hayao Miyazaki had made a temporary return to television to direct, which both looked very impressive and worked in things he’d soon make a bigger point of in movies, although the “regular” episodes preceding and in between them were still as fun as ever. Even with all of that older anime, Netflix’s oft-decried strategy of “making all of a series available at once” worked out with reassurance for me when the continuation of Hi Score Girl showed up. For all that its characters stayed obsessed with a particular kind of video game I’ve never played, the awkward teen romance did reach a satisfying conclusion. I then managed to start reading the original manga, which had a lot more character in its artwork than the computer animation but offered a bit less detail to its own presentation of the games.

I don’t often resort to watching “mere samples” of series, but I made another exception when the first two episodes of a 1980s giant robot series named Albegas were made available with official subtitles. Many years ago I just happened to see toys of a third Voltron, one formed from three humanoid robots (a bit more awkwardly in plastic than on screen); the toys just happened to have started as Albegas merchandising as I learned years later. Now much more familiar with giant robot anime in general, I could see Albegas as more “conventional” than Golion and Dairugger XV, with high school student pilots and a fortified base in the Japanese countryside, even if one of the enemy commanders looked a fair bit like Dairugger’s antagonists. Pondering how “another place” might have been turned into “another planet” and passed off as part of a franchise was a decent diversion for all that I’m conscious of just how much general attention stays fixed on the Golion part of Voltron.