At the start of the year I didn’t lack for anime to watch, and yet I had been asking myself how much of it I’d see in the three months ahead. For quite a while I’ve been getting through two half-hour episodes a weeknight. The thought did creep into my mind, though, that it might guard against burnout (having kept watching anime quite a while longer than many are said to has meant seeing certain people mutter a lot about just about anything recent) and sharpen my appetite to pare that viewing back to one episode a weeknight, even if just for one season. The extra half-hour opened up could be useful even if I can’t admit to doing anything profound in it, but I did keep enjoying what I did watch.

One thing that helped lighten my schedule was not having thought very much streaming the season before really caught my attention. While this might have been a chance to catch up to everyone else instead, I have to admit to continued caution and worries the winter might be more threatening to “fragile production schedules” than the summer or fall. (It then so happened I couldn’t help but notice in the last weeks of this season a series I’d supposed I’d get around to seeing seemed to have gone pretty well awry...) Instead, I headed all the way back to a series from two seasons ago I hadn’t quite been able to fit into my schedule at the end of last year, and began watching Appare-Ranman! I suppose its wacky cross-country auto race, set in “a past not our own,” might raise thoughts of “steampunk” for some. Having read William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s The Difference Engine back when that term was being introduced in a rather specific way, though, I might have just wanted to call it “gleefully anachronistic.” The series began with a young, obsessed inventor named Appare and a nervous samurai winding up in Los Angeles by accident; they enter the great race to try and win the grand prize to spend on a ticket home. It did take a while for the race to get rolling, the episodes beforehand setting up a diverse cast of racers (although I have to admit to thinking the black man among them seemed the most distanced from the main characters; by the end of the series he’d got a bit more development, though). It also so happened the race faded back somewhat into a sort of “Western with bizarre style,” which I kept enjoying all the same while remembering series from some years back that might have tried harder to appeal to audiences English-language commentators wouldn’t dismiss as “the Japanese core with more money than sense.”

The other streaming series I was interested in was the latest instalment in the Love Live franchise. I’d got a solid introduction to a third set of nine “school idol” singers through a new mobile game, the core story content of which has more substance to it than the previous one I’d played. When that game started showing designs from the Nijigasaki High School Idol Club anime, though, I did start wondering if its own elaborate artwork had spoiled me in advance; at first glance, the anime art might have seemed only “simplified to a sketchy extreme for the sake of being drawn over and over.” By the time I did get to the series, however, I might have managed to think there was character to its artwork as well. Where the mobile game had set up an alternative world where the characters of all three subfranchises can interact, this anime only features the new group, that much more “nine distinct individuals” than the previous two; each high school girl featured in her own episode with a solo performance offering a definite “music video” feeling. I suppose this somewhat diminished the “constant practice is required” theme that had particularly appealed to me with the original series, but as that appeal might have got my attention in the first place through its contrast to K-ON! I now seemed able to accept that change. The computer animation used in the performances does keep looking better alongside (or at least less distinct from) the drawn animation. The characters stayed easy for me to like; I was a bit struck that where in the game one of them hides her face behind pink sketches of simplified expressions for quite a while, in the anime Rina doesn’t start using her “Rina-chan Board” until her feature episode and before that there’s a good sense of just how expressionless her face is. (There was the thought, though, that this might have been less an artistic choice than a matter of “a blank face” being easier to animate than “a flat drawing in shifting perspective.”) One other change from the game was that where the characters address an unseen tireless helper you’re encouraged to see yourself as, in the anime this character gets her own design, voice, and name. I have to admit to being conscious this produced an even number of major characters at last in a franchise where a good many fans are very intent on pairing those characters off with each other, and there did seem four distinct “best pals” duos open to much further fantasies. With the last two characters, though, one seemed most associated with her younger sister and the other just happened to provoke a misunderstanding that led to a moment I’m sure some would react to with “the bait might be nice enough, but we want confirmation!” Anyway, as with previous Love Live series the opening and ending songs grew a great deal on me over the course of the show.

Along with those shows, I was continuing Healin’ Good Pretty Cure through streaming. There were some changes to the arrangement of magical girls and adversaries along the way to somewhat change the focus of the “civilian” scenes; as the first entry in the Pretty Cure franchise I’ve seen I couldn’t tell if this was less elaborate development than some previous series or about the agreeable same. I do still have a ways to go through it, although the very latest episode I’ve seen ended with a genuine cliffhanger.

There was the chance to open up two series on Blu-Ray I’d considered speeding through at the end of last year only to find thin reasons against that. So far as other similarities went, they’d both been licensed by Sentai and streamed on that company’s private-label service, which I don’t have a subscription to; they also both happened to be adaptations of manga I’ve already read in full, which can keep me from getting around to the anime version at all. In these two cases, though, I’d not only liked the originals but hadn’t been warned away from their adaptations, leaving me willing to take the chance on revisiting their stories in a new way. Bloom Into You was thirteen episodes long, one episode longer than I’d thought I had time for, but for all that I now knew just how its particular “girls’ love” story ended I was interested in going back to its beginning with a wider perspective on its characters. I was readier now to notice how its main character Yuu, who I’d had a narrow focus on to start with before, had started off reading romance manga for her demographic and listening to love songs and wishing she could have fireworks go off for her, although there was also an odd moment or two I hadn’t quite remembered where she didn’t quite seem to get how or why the girl interested in her was flustered at incipiently romantic settings. Lighting, colour, and music did seem to add something to the story to counter some small sense of oddness to the anime character designs starting off. However, where I’d watched the closing episodes of the anime hoping it would at least get to the school play being prepared for, something that keeps reminding me of how the mixed-sex romance KareKano/His and Her Circumstances never quite got to its own play in animation, this adaptation also just sort of left off in progress. I could, of course, just pick up the manga again, but budgeting out the time for that with new manga always ready to hand is something I have distinct problems with.

As for the other series I’d considered watching, O Maidens in your Savage Season was only twelve episodes long, but it had been adapted from a manga written by the anime screenwriter Mari Okada (and drawn by someone else), and I suppose I didn’t quite want to “pit it head-to-head against another work from her pen,” the movie Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. The TV series was set a world rather closer to reality, where five young women in high school start noticing how much sex is worked into the Japanese literature they’re reading in their club, and then confronting multiple complications of that in their real world. In the afterword to the manga Okada had explained things hadn’t got as raunchy as she’d first imagined, but that perhaps might have let it be adapted into animation after all with very little watering down. In this case, too, eight volumes of manga had been adapted in full, without it feeling “too rushed” to me; I took an odd interest as well in modern production methods offering a slightly textured look to the “painted cels” of the characters.