I kept pushing along at my own pace watching anime through the months of summer, not lacking in the slightest for things now available to see. Towards the end of those months, as I came to the end of some “twelve-episode series” I’d got started on straight away, I toyed with thoughts of squeezing one more short title in. In the end, though, I did let my focus relax a little and tried to get started a bit sooner on writing up this look back, which has affected just how the titles are ordered here.

My own self-pitying “things aren’t like they used to be” laments might be a bit different from those of some other anime fans, but I could be just as likely to let them sneak into my comments. One of them keeps fixing on how many of the comparatively few mecha series from the past decade or more “just don’t get a fair shake from other fans.” It was therefore at least encouraging to see a series named Eighty-Six (or sometimes 86, or both) not just be said to incorporate a few mecha elements but also seem to maintain some positive reactions. I did wonder if this had something to do with it having been adapted from “light novels” rather than being an original series “made up as it goes along.” Just a recommendation or two had made me go so far as to order a bundle of six translated novels from the series and pick up two more a bit later, though, so I was a little conscious more than a little might be riding on my own reactions regardless of how I handle the translation in these books.

The mecha elements I referred to might be on the fuzzy penumbra of the genre, not “humanoid robots” but low-slung, scuttling quadrapeds. Comments that “there’s more to mecha than the machinery” do seem to apply to this series, though. In the story’s context the machines are first described as “unmanned weapons” to fight a casualty-free war, only for us to then discover they’re in fact piloted by people who doesn’t have blue eyes and silver hair, cast out of their nation and called the “Eighty-Six.” Most of those people with blue eyes and silver hair who know that brush it off with the comment anyone else isn’t fully evolved. One young officer named Lena, communicating with frontline soldiers she never sees, thinks herself more enlightened, but she finds her good intentions don’t endear her to her charges at once. Other people had kept saying “actually, the metaphor of intolerance and its alternative works pretty well.” More than that, the shifting perspectives between the smug rear echelon and the front lines were interesting, but I did wonder about “battles guided remotely through abstract symbols on computer screens” having something to do with “the difficulty of describing action in prose.” Maybe I was just inclined to remember the Robotech novels, which eventually seemed to give up on describing mecha battles on getting to material animation didn’t exist for.

There were a few halfway decent battle scenes, anyway, and revelations about the war itself that made things more complicated. However, a midway-through resolution from Lena that “now that I know what the real risk is, I’ll help you win this war!” ran straight into the regular losses in battle turning all of a sudden into “a handful of pilots are left” and an elegiac weight of “maybe the only way you can fight a system so rigged and monolithic is through the mood you meet your fate with.” I was left wondering by the end of the episodes whether I’d formed a wrong impression of where all those novels would go from glances at their covers or whether the last survivors would be revealed to have even more “plot armour” than I’d thought an episode or two before. The continuation of the series is coming soon, though, and I’m at least contemplating taking a chance on a single show without all its episodes now produced and available.

The undead idol singers of Franchouchou returned in Zombie Land Saga Revenge, trying to take “revenge” for an overambitious concert that didn’t fill a stadium and left them mired in debt. Things kept winking past a full explanation of how they’d been restored to life amid varied comedy (the apparently still-mindless comedy relief had a particularly memorable focus episode) and some steep stakes in the last episodes, and the computer animation of their concert performances looked much less uncanny than I remember from the first series. I also took an odd interest in a new variant on the makeup that passes the zombies off as the living, applied less expertly and leaving them pale (if not light blue any more) with shadows under their eyes.

Notices there would be a second series building on SSSS.GRIDMAN got my attention, even as it pushed me back towards a question forever scratching at the back of my mind. There might be any number of reasons why I’ve never paid much attention to the tokusatsu live-action shows Gridman was described as making heavy reference to. Having watched anime ever since the days character names were changed to pass them off as American, though, does leave me grappling with the possibility “is it just a matter of not wanting to see actual Japanese people?” and all the problems that might unfold from there. At the same time, though, I’ve already mentioned (again) “forever scraping for well-received recent mecha anime,” and while Gridman might have kept some distance from many particulars of “mecha” the reactions of others towards it did stay quite positive.

It didn’t take long to tell SSSS.DYNAZENON didn’t operate by quite the same story rules that had been set up in Gridman; a simple and adequate explanation did eventually follow. The full particulars of just what had put all of its characters where they were might have taken more observation and contemplation than I could manage on my first time through, but all in all the story was interesting, and there wasn’t quite the same “one or two characters wind up dominating the story, if for a few more reasons than just their luscious designs” feeling as in Gridman. I did notice there was very little soundtrack music outside of the action scenes, as I recall was also the case in the original series; this might have led to a few thoughts of an austere pace, though. One other thing I noticed was a fair bit of “hand-drawn mechanical animation” of at least some of the components of the show’s titular giant combining robot, which is always welcome when it does show up these days.

Regardless of whether or not “having seen a fair bit of older anime” is just “a foolish thing to boast about,” it has given me the impression some “motorcycle chic” had been worked into it from more or less the moment it began featuring characters old enough to legally ride them. Really memorable examples of that, though, do seem harder to put a finger on after Akira or so. I don’t know if that thought was the specific reason a series called Super Cub first caught my eye, but it did keep coming to mind as I got around to watching it. It might be easy enough, of course, to make a big deal of drawing dubious contrasts between the series and its “hot-blooded predecessors,” or indeed “anime then” and “anime now.” Events begin with a gloomy, withdrawn high school girl (who lives alone on a limited budget in a sparely furnished apartment) getting fed up at last with pedalling a bicycle uphill to school. She manages to get a very good deal on a used Honda Super Cub (the step-through frame and plastic leg guards of which raised an idle thought it looked like a motor scooter, although a classmate making that comment just a little later on in the story had me thinking the comparison is to be avoided if you want to look like you know your stuff.) This helps her make a few friends (one of whom owns a different, more formidable Cub model and who tries to ride it to the top of Mount Fuji) and adds more colour to her life every so often. Despite or because of its low-key mood, I had seen a few people I pay attention to with selective tastes in modern anime making positive comments about the series, and watching it I grew to enjoy its change of pace too. The character designs were less fanciful than those in the past few “Cute Girls Doing Cute Things” shows I’ve watched, although I supposed that just meant the series was to be classified as “Slice Of Life” instead before noticing the term iyashikei (or “Healing”) applied to it too. Perhaps, too, the thought of “economical transportation” (the lead character remarks early on she can fill her gas tank for five hundred yen, even if the fuel gauge is under her seat) reminded me I get by with a small car myself (although my own Honda does have four wheels).

I took a while to get around to watching a new anime movie on Netflix, even though Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop had received some positive comments of its own. Starting it at last, I was a bit struck by backgrounds with the same flat-coloured look of typical anime character animation. The story was a light teenaged romance, with a boy who writes haiku (I seemed to pick up a new point or two about the particulars of those short poems) and posts them through his social media account but who doesn’t like to read them out loud to an audience meeting a girl who makes online videos but wears a surgical mask even in healthy times because of her buck teeth and braces. In a way, there not being any elements of overt fantasy to the story made it stand out for me, although the plot winding up hinging on “old people were young once, too” added more distinctiveness.

After trying in the space of just three months to get through bits of animation from Japan covering over a century of time, in these three months the oldest anime I watched was a mere forty-five years old. I was in fact returning to it after more than a decade, but since then I’d seen some even earlier “super robot” shows to get a better sense of what it had developed from, I could replace “fansubs” with a legitimate release from Discotek, and the series that had followed it to form what other fans have called the (thematically linked) “Robot Romance Trilogy” were also available the same way. Combattler V assigned a “five-member team” with the archetypes established in Gatchaman to pilot a combining robot, which seemed to me to have more “boxes” in its design than Mazinger Z and its ilk. It was entertaining in an uncomplicated way (including the small bit of amusement of the enemies being “Campbellians” with one early moment where locations on their homeworld are named after writers from John W. Campbell’s “Golden Age of Science Fiction,” even if their actual look is more Greco-Roman), but I guess I did get to remembering certain criticisms seen its first half is better than its second. I don’t recall “getting bored with things” myself, and it’s bad enough cringing back from negative comments about more recent anime. However, with more lengthy super robot series ahead of me, when the oft-defeated enemy field commander became a full-blown tragic figure (after his bestial transformation had more or less stopped appearing) only to get wiped out along with his whole base and superior at the halfway point, I wound up deciding to leave the promise of an all-new set of adversaries “for later” and head on to the show’s immediate successors.

It was some time ago that I picked up on the interest of others for an older series the name of which is translated as Dear Brother, long enough that I anxiously contributed to the crowdfunding efforts of Anime Sols to bring the show over here on DVD. That company just managed to finish releasing the series (and Creamy Mami) before shutting down; the person who’d got it running did eventually manage some more lasting success through J-Novel Club, anyway. Unlike Creamy Mami, though, I never quite got around to watching Dear Brother and facing “some things seem well-regarded enough maybe I’d rather have them to be watched rather than watch them and risk everything else feeling downhill from there,” at least until Discotek announced it had “license rescued” the show and would be releasing it on Blu-Ray. Discotek also mentioned its license period would be relatively short, so not only did I hasten to order Dear Brother, I resolved to watch through it and make sure my discs worked while there’d still be a chance of asking for replacements. The series began with a seemingly ordinary teenaged girl named Nanako getting into a prestigious girls’ high school (where the students don’t have to wear uniforms); despite her ordinariness, she’s greased into the school’s exclusive sorority for reasons not explained to her, and many melodramatic complications ensue. One other possible reason I hadn’t got around to opening my DVDs had been I’d watched the first episode Anime Sols had streamed to show people what they were buying into. I did remember taking perhaps a bit too much amusement in how mannish two of the older students, nicknamed Prince Kaoru and Saint-Just, looked. That impression did soon fade this time around, but I was willing to see a definite amount of “girls’ love” work its way into the series, and that’s something I seem more inclined to notice other people getting excited over mere intimations of I sort of shrug at myself in other shows with other things for me to take interest in. It might well be, though, that I didn’t remember being instructed to get excited over that because the series is old enough there are certain undertones of it being a byproduct of some of the characters being kind of messed up, if maybe not in every single case. For that matter too, there are a few men mixed into the story to complicate things; the title comes from Nanako’s narration in the form of letters (mailed or not) to a young cram school teacher who just happens to have a past with other characters too. In any event the show did look very attractive, even if I was also aware it was very ready to shift to “still illustrations,” escaping the familiar look of animation cels. I haven’t quite got to the end of the series yet.

With the last episode of Healin’ Good Pretty Cure just happening to have introduced the main character of the series that would follow it in the long-running magical girl franchise, it was easy enough for me to go straight on to Tropical Rouge Pretty Cure, also now streaming officially. Despite the invitation to continue at the end of the previous show, this new series didn’t come across as “you must have been watching Pretty Cure for years to have any chance of understanding what’s going on” (just as Healin’ Good Pretty Cure had been its own fine “jumping-on point,” of course.) It was a cheerful, summery show, set in a full-blown tropical city with something of a marine theme all around. While it’s easy to suppose the Pretty Cure franchise has a pretty well-tuned formula by now, I did find it surprising the magical figure who recruited four junior high students to become magical girls wasn’t a small talking animal, but a mermaid girl with a bit of a self-centred streak. At the same time, though, I did find myself thinking “with all the other anime I could be watching, is this the absolute best use of my limited time?” That I was enjoying Shinkalion, which seemed aimed at grade-school boys, better than this series I do fully appreciate seemed aimed at grade-school girls felt an obscure reproach. By the end of these three months, though, I was starting to think I could push on at least a bit further.