This one was very late, and I do apologize for that, but better late than never. This season seemed rather promising, and while light on the kinds of heavy drama that usually make up the top of my list, it does nonetheless have a variety of shows that seem interesting in their own right.
First up is Magia Record, an entry in the Madoka Magica franchise. This is as close as I can get to breaking my “no sequels” rule, but since this is a spinoff and not a true sequel, it just barely escapes the rule. My affection for Madoka Magica is pretty apparent if you’re familiar with my work, so this show had very high standards to live up to. Note that I also did not play the mobile game, so I was completely blind in terms of what to expect going into this show. It certainly starts on a strong note, as studio Shaft once again delivers an absolutely beautiful aesthetic, and despite the absence of Yuki Kajiura, the music does an excellent job of feeling cohesive with her work from the original show. The opening scene is incredibly strong, with the exception of a very clumsy exposition dump awkwardly added into the background. I get why this is necessary, for people who haven’t seen the original show and need to understand what’s going on, but it does feel a lot clumsier than the way the original show handled the same information, which no doubt comes as a consequence of having to shove it all into one scene rather than stringing it across two episodes the way the original did. Once that’s out of the way, however, the way this show actually handles its storytelling is surprisingly strong, with some legitimately fantastic scenes and story beats. In addition to strong character-driven storytelling, the series also does an excellent job of expanding on the things established in the original, adding new elements to shake up the formula in new and interesting ways. I particularly like the Chain Witch, the idea of a witch that haunts specific regions like a Yokai is a really fascinating premise for a story arc, and they really use it to its fullest potential to deliver a strong character beat and set up a conflict in a unique way, which is exactly what I would expect from a franchise like Madoka. The story beats, characters, and conflicts shown off even in just the first three episodes do a great deal to remind me why I love this franchise so much. While it may not truly live up to the quality of the original, it does a great job earning a place alongside it. Definitely a favorite for this season.
Next up is the one that caught my eye the most on this list: Jibaku Shonen Hanako-kun, aka Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. Now, as I understood it, this show was going to be some sort of horror-comedy revolving around a Yokai that haunted a toilet. If my numerous pieces fawning over Hignabana are any indication of my feelings towards horror-themed stories about Yokai, then it should be very obvious that a premise like this would be extremely appealing to me. First impressions of this show were rock solid, the aesthetic is beautiful, the pacing is solid, the music complements the scenes very well (except the OP, which feels weirdly jarring when combined with everything else, though a fine song on its own), and the level of craft put into the show is apparent immediately. I quickly realized that this would be far more on the comedy end, and that any horror elements would be few and far between at best. Not that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that, it just seemed my expectations were misplaced. Watching this show, I very quickly realized that the direction of it is on my wavelength in a way almost no other show has been. Between the slick editing, liberal use of inserts and other visual elements to keep scenes flowing, and superb use of distinct and memorable shots that flow extremely well from one to the next, it was clear almost immediately that I would really mesh well with the way this show was presented. This feeling persisted throughout the first episode, which was funny, paced well, and even had some good dramatic moments. The next two episodes were equally good, and I was utterly hooked on this show. The characters were fun, the aesthetic was beautiful, the direction was energetic and peppy, and all the stories were interesting. While the show is lacking in terms of thematic potency, and that aspect undoubtedly holds it back compared to what it could be, what we got is nonetheless a superbly entertaining show in its own right, and one that I enjoy very much.
Next up we have ID:Invaded. Every once in a while, there comes a show with a premise so fabulous that it seems guaranteed to be great, and from the outset, this seemed like one of those. The idea of tracking a serial killer by having to reconstruct their identity and motives through the fragments of their mindscape in the moments that drove them to kill is an absolutely brilliant premise for a psychologically-driven mystery. This could easily have been one of the all-time greats of the genre. And then it hit the first stumbling block: the dialogue. Not to say all the dialogue is bad or anything, but it runs into a Garth Marenghi-shaped problem very early on in the first episode. That is to say, much of the dialogue appears to be written under the philosophy “I know writers who use subtext, and they’re all cowards”, leading to a tendency to overexplain everything, even if it was already shown visually or implied in more interesting ways. While this is annoying on its own, it also left me extremely concerned for what was to come, as such a trait is often a sign of much bigger writing problems. However, despite this problem, the actual storytelling of the show is fairly compelling. Despite its flaws, there’s just enough of an intellectual character drama there to hold my interest, and overall I would say the show is decent to good, at the very least good enough to warrant checking out.
Last up this season is Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken. I must confess that I am not particularly familiar with the work of Masaaki Yuasa, the only work of his I’d previously seen was Devilman Crybaby, but his reputation precedes him enough that I knew I would have to check this out just on principle. First impressions of this show were rock solid, it’s very clear from extremely early on just how much energy has gone into this show, this is a passion project through and through. And because of that, there is a certain beauty to this show that I haven’t seen since Spirited Away. The rest of the show follows suit, expressing in the clearest possible terms the kinds of emotion and imagination that go into making animation. Despite all that, it doesn’t feel self-congratulatory, all this is in service of presenting why people can become so invested in creative work, and that’s a wholly different feeling. Putting aside my personal biases as much as possible, I would say that is is objectively the best show I watched this season, though that doesn’t necessarily make it my favorite. Either way, it is an absolutely beautiful work of animation and strong contender for the best show of the season.
This has been an exceptionally strong season for entertaining anime of all sorts. Never before in the history of my seasonal impressions have I seen this many shows and liked them all to this degree. While I would not call this the best season I have covered, it is an exceptionally strong start to the 2020 year, and hopefully this trend continues in the upcoming seasons.