11 episodes (4 minutes)
When best friends Hajime and Sayo visit their school’s “Traditional Arts Preservation Club”, they find it staffed by a girl who carves toothpicks and a president who exclusively draws manga about frogs. This brings forth the question of what is and isn’t art, and when something has earned the right to be considered traditional. These questions are then never answered.
Double-J is a series of surreal comedy shorts about bizarre, likely made-up art forms and the people who practice them. It’s good for a few laughs, but the main selling point is the show’s own unique artstyle. Character designs are deliberarely amateurish and made to contrast against photographed backgrounds or even actual film material, such as in an episode where the girls visit a real-life workshop for an interview with an employee.
It’s not as consistently well-written or funny as something like Tenchuu, but it’s usually quite alright and this artstyle adds enough novelty value to be worth seeking out. Especially if you have a fondness for strange humor.
4 episodes (8 minutes) + 3 OVA episodes (30 minutes)
This is a peculiar series of independent stories written by BL author Soubi Yamamoto, who is also the director of these anime adaptations of her work. The franchise now includes 4 series, 3 of which are singular episodes, with a final one being a series of shorts.
Each is a romantic story about boys who find themselves in the strangest situations. One is about a government-employed wizard finding love at a bar, for example, while another is about the anxieties of a lone warrior against an alien invasion who suspects his handlers are lying to him. The stories are emotionally-driven and quite diverse, each offering something wholly different. I personally took quite a liking to This Boy Can Fight Aliens, which has a very strong emotional core to it with a great pay off. For contrast, I wasn’t really into This Boy Suffers from Crystallization, which felt like it could have been side-story for Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai.
Consistent throughout each installment in the series is the lavish art-directing that makes up for the frugal animation. There is not a lot of motion to the series and it’s technically quite cheap, but especially This Boy is a Professional Wizard likes to flaunt its beautiful, dark colors and fantastic atmosphere. I should also add that the series are very accessible, featuring fun romantic stories that never venture into all-out yaoi. If you’re into BL or want to explore romance anime that stray from the usual, then definitely give Soubi’s work a shot.
2 episodes (30 minutes)
Dragon Century had a lot of promise to it. Its 2 episodes are two independent stories about girls teaming up with a dragon to protect mankind, but both suffer from the same weaknesses that ultimately become the series’ undoing.
In current day Japan, the young and rebellious Riko saves a dragon cub after its mother is killed by the army’s dragon hunting division. She raises it and, through doing so, learns that demons will invade Earth and the dragons hold the key in fighting them off. The second episode takes place centuries later, where a different girl called Rulishia convinces the same dragon to become her partner and help her avenge her father’s death.
Both are fun premises held back by the short runtime. Each episode has to introduce the setting and build up the storyline, which then leaves their apocalyptic finales without any room. The stories are hastily concluded, with all the implied tension falling flat as world-ending villains are taken down in a minute or even defeated off-screen. The animation and voice-acting waver in quality as well and particularly the inclusion of excessive blood & gore at utterly random parts of the story feels like a cheap attempt to make a standard fantasy tale seem more hardcore than it really is.
There are enjoyable moments sprinkled throughout Dragon Century, but overall it’s immensely underwhelming and ugly-looking. It very much feels like the people who made it had no confidence in the project whatsoever and were just trying anything and everything to make it somehow seem appealing.
Angel’s Egg is not for everyone, but those who like their artsy anime and moody, gothic atmosphere will absolutely want to check this out.
The story is mysterious and largely open to interpretation. It follows a little girl who explores the ruins of an old city to stay alive, all while protecting a strange egg that she keeps under her dress. One day she runs into a mysterious man carrying a large weapon, who tries to convince her that the egg should be broken. After all, how can you ever know what’s inside an egg if you never take a look? Dialogue is sparse, as the movie prefers to do its storytelling through visuals and metaphors. It also never truly explains what it’s about and director Mamoru Oshii has famously claimed to not know the film’s true meaning either. It’s entirely up to the viewer to draw conclusion as to what they think it’s about and which of the two characters they side with.
Angel’s Egg grabbed me from the moment it started all the way to the end. Its atmosphere is captivating, with beautiful animation and character designs, and a soundtrack that’s always on point. Even if you don’t want to guess at what the plot could be about, this film can be enjoyed for its visuals and music alone.
8 episodes (7 minutes)
Akomi has the most handsome boyfriend imaginable, but his looks are all that Ponta has going for him. He’s a complete moron and inattentive to boot, causing Akomi a lot of headaches as she tries to make their relationship work out.
That sounds like a recipe for some fun romcom shenanigans, except half the show isn’t about that at all. Akomi is curiously missing in half the episodes and instead we get Ponta and his club of friends, who all have basically the same personality and just sit around discussing random topics. It’s very dull and has nothing to do with the core premise of a girl trying to cover up the fact that her boyfriend is an idiot, so that’s 50% of the anime already wasted. The episodes that do focus on the couple are alright and got some fun moments, but it’s nothing too spectacular and never as good as other short romance anime you could be watching.
If it just focused on the relationship between Akomi and Ponta then it could have been interesting, but as it stands you can safely skip this series.
10 episodes (17 minutes)
“Guardian Hearts” is a magical girl who protects Earth, whose true identity is that of high school girl Hina. When her classmate Kazuya Watari accidentally learns of her secret, a privilege reserved only for family members, Hina is forced to move in with him in order to not lose her powers. However, Kazuya already shares his home with a number of busty anime maidens, each of which is a villain that wants to defeat Guardian Hearts.
I quite like magical girl anime, but Guardian Hearts‘ balance is heavily skewed in favor of silly harem antics. Hina is not just fighting the other girls as villains, she is also fighting them over exclusive access to Kazuya. I’d say 80% of the series is taken up by ecchi comedy content and… it’s boring. The fan-service is very tame and the scenarios either too standard or too contrived. We also never get a decent introduction to the cast of characters, so I really didn’t care about these girls at all and couldn’t care less when we get to see them in the (censored) nude.
Boredom set in quickly and persisted throughout the entire show. There was not a single moment where Guardian Hearts impressed or even surprised me, making it the worst anime in today’s selection by a long shot.
10 episodes (13 minutes)
Aka Onda is 20 years old and wants to become a voice actress, but she has yet to win a single audition. Her life then takes a turn for the worst when a housefire destroys everything she owns. With nobody else to turn to, she moves in with a guy she just met that day: 26-year-old marketing specialist Fumihiko Matsumara.
Their first night together is a passionate one, but they part ways the next morning to go their respective paths. At least, that was the plan. When Matsumara turns up to his job to hold auditions for the voice of a mascot he just designed, Onda turns up once again and lands her first job. Now reunited, they decide to keep living together, though Onda stresses they should stay friends instead of pursuing a romance. And, of course, they can’t let anybody at work find out about it.
Rec is a great story that really nails its two main characters. It’s fun to watch these two young adults both score the first big successes of their respective careers and getting a look behind-the-scenes of what it entails to voice a character is always novel. At the same time, Rec does a lot to make these characters more than just their assigned roles. The relationship between the two of them is tumultuous as the romantic tension just won’t die down no matter how frequently they insist that they aren’t lovers. This often leads to humorous mistakes and teasing, like Matsumara buying a hentai game in which Onda voices a character, but also interesting and mature topics like a storyline about career envy within couples.
A Time Slip of 10000 Years: Prime Rose
An evil supercomputer has used its powers to transport two cities and its citizens 10,000 years into the future, drawing the attention of the Time Patrol agency. They dispatch young Tanbara Gai to investigate, but when his time machine arrives, he finds that Earth is now a treacherous wasteland where a cruel empire forces its slaves to build countless statues in the computer’s image.
A Time Slip of 10000 Years tells two parallel stories. Gai’s story sees him infiltrate the slave pits to uncover and disrupt the AI’s schemes. Meanwhile, a princess of this future era by the name of Prime Rose is on a journey to become stronger, defeat the governor of the evil empire, and return peace to her lands and people. A cool setting and Prime Rose’s arc seemed particularly cool, but I still found myself bored and frustrated with this movie.
The pieces are there for this to be a great story, but the film is paced very sluggishly and filled with obnoxious tropes. Gai’s younger brother is an annoying and idiotic sidekick, Prime Rose’s cool character is tarnished by constant fan-service and a forced romance side-plot, it’s all very mediocre and mishandled. Some of the movie’s biggest plot twists don’t even make any sense. There is a part where Gai hatches a master plan inspired by Caesar, as he has his men build a literal wall around the enemy… except this only works because the enemy just stands there and lets them do it uncontested. They could just stab the unarmed builders… but they don’t.
I am generally quite critical of Tezuka’s works, but I legitimately don’t see the point of this movie. Its too violent and slow-paced for children, but adults will have to cope with childish comedy and lackluster storytelling. I watched it to the end to see where Prime Rose’s story would go, but the poor girl really deserved to be in a better anime.
12 episodes (13 minutes)
The president (and lone member) of the magical club suffers from extreme stage fright, which leaves her unable to do any tricks right if even just one person is watching her. When our unnamed protagonist one day visits the club and catcher her during practice, he is quickly coerced into becoming his senpai’s assistant.
Magical Senpai reminded me a lot of Dagashi Kashi, as both are about boys whose quite lives are shaken up by an overly-eccentric and large-breasted love interest, but this anime felt notably weaker. Its protagonists are bland and tropey to the point of not even having names and the focus of the show is primarily on fan-service comedy with a touch of cringe. After all, most jokes revolve around a teenager publicly embarrassing herself, and you’d be surprised how frequently basic magic tricks conclude with her naked or in her underwear.
The characters are just very boring, though the extremely-incestuous gyaru Saki is a notable exception, and the design of Senpai herself I found very unappealing. It tries way too hard to be sexy and ends up feeling like a very passionless anime; especially when the final episode just kind of ends without any fanfare or story conclusion. Unless a season 2 manifests and does something utterly amazing, this show will go down as a bland ecchi series that spawned a few memes.
Training With Hinako
3 episodes (runtimes varies)
This is an anime in which you yourself are the protagonist. Viewed largely from a first-person perspective, you become friends with self-aware anime protagonist Hinako, who knows about the “real world” and is overjoyed to meet someone inhabiting it. Since she has been gaining weight lately, she asks the viewer to become her training partner and join her every day to do some exercises together.
The anime uses the power of fan-service to get people to exercise more, which is strangely admirable. Hinako is a fun, bumbly protagonist with enormous knockers and she provides instructions and demonstrations on how to do various exercises. Training with Hinako is meant to be watched in short bits every day and the idea is that viewers participate while ogling Hinako. She wears a variety of (revealing) outfits and the exercises leave her sweaty, which almost makes you forget that this is literally just 20 minutes of watching the same animations repeat over and over again. The first few days at least start off with a few fun conversations, but these are soon replaced with generic countdowns between each set of exercises. It’s a bit cheap and I would have at least appreciated it if they put something at the end, instead of unceremoniously ending the video.
The remaining two episodes, Bathing with Hinako and Sleeping with Hinako, abandon this daily format entirely and are meant to be watched in a single sitting. As their names imply, these episodes are entirely fan-service, though the bathing episode does contain some useful tips for stretches you can practice while sitting.
Sadly, I do have to say that this the point where the fourth wall jokes begin to get a tad creepy, as Hinako’s dialogue turns romantic. It’s already weird to have an anime girl address me directly, but I wasn’t very comfortable with a character nowhere near my age addressing me as her lover. Sleeping with Hinako is a particularly bizarre inclusion. It features a few conversations and comedic looks into Hinako’s dreamworld, but most of the hour-long episode is just lewd panning shots of her sleeping. That’s a bit too much for me, thanks.
Hentai Bonus: Spaceship Agga Ruter
4 episodes (30 minutes)
Kei is a middle-aged woman with strange powers who controls the legendary spaceship Agga Ruter and is forever one the run from people who are looking to steal it from her. During her adventures, she adopted an orphaned boy with inhuman strength called Taiyo, but her lackluster education skills turned him into a clueless dolt with only one skill: pleasuring women.
Spaceship Agga Ruter is definitely a hentai anime and quite a well-animated one at that, but it’s also a spacefaring adventure and a comedy series, all in one. It manages to juggle these admirably, making this a hentai where you absolutely want to stick around between sex scenes to watch the plot unfold. Taiyo and Kei are complete goofballs who come up with the strangest plans to escape the trouble they routinely find themselves in, such as distracting a prison guard by reenacting his TV show, which becomes problematic when the script then makes an erotic turn.
The anime features less and less hentai as it goes on, with the 4th (and final) episode being almost entirely comedy. The cast finds themselves the “guests” of a military official whose attempts to appear dignified and imposing are constantly sabotaged by her maids, who love to pull pranks on their master. There is only one brief sex scene at the end, which is more than a little unusual for hentai. Sadly, the story does just kinda end there on a cliffhanger and I think we’re 20 years late for a continuation. I would have loved to see more adventures starring these guys and I recommend giving Spaceship Agga Ruter a try if you like lighthearted sci-fi anime and want to experience one that is very different.