2020, a year of ups, downs, and lots of weird. Such a different year for the lot of us all. With the worldwide pandemic at hand and all of the effects it has created, this year won’t ever be forgotten by this generation. Something that never changes though? Me sitting down in November to watch some anime for a yearly challenge. The rules are below, but boy I can admit this year was a tough one. With my work schedule, and breaking my own rules, I was burnt out by the middle of the month. The almost 140 episodes of anime in 30 days almost got me to want to just quit this time around. And of course, because life is odd, I somehow finished earlier than I expected. The selection of shows this year was one I was the least enthused about than ever before, so that may have added to it. 3 of the 5 series are highly loved and often talked about by the general community and people in my friend circles. Knowing me, there is no way someone will either disagree or be disappointed by some of my opinions on those shows, but hey that is part of the fun of it all. All is fair in love and war and anime internet opinions….or something like that! This is the 2020 November Challenge!

The way this mega-post will work is as follows: I will talk about the shows in order of when I watched them, there will be two splits of non-spoiler & spoiler, and you will get an idea of how I felt about them all through that. Afterward, I will present individual awards for several hand-picked categories. Then the final part comes. I will give the official order of how they all ranked this year, and deem the winner of the 2020 November Challenge! It should be fun, but it will be a lot to read. I will have a large spoiler picture above each section that talks about well…..the spoilers, for people to avoid if they wish.

Before I begin, I would inform the readers outside of Kitsu, what the rules of this tournament are generally when people sign up. Aside from a “first come first serve” to sign up unsaid rule, these are the following rules I use.

THE RULES
-The show’s length must be between 10-30 episodes. No less, no more.( I broke this rule three times this year? Why do I even make my rules when people ignore them?)
-It must have full-length episodes.
-No shorts, OVAS, ONAS, films, or anything else aside from standard format shows(Exceptions can be made with a proper discussion!)
-No adult content like hentai
-You must have seen it to completion
-I must have not seen any of it.(Even a single episode seen by me disqualifies it)
-Season 1’s are allowed, but not multiple seasons at once unless it fits in the 30 episodes overall rule above
-You get to choose if I watch it dubbed or subbed if both languages are available

Other than that let’s get into talking about the challenge!

2014 Winner: Shinsekai Yori

Other Shows: No Game No Life, Shiki, Bokurano, & Kyoukai No Kanata

2015 Winner: Berserk(1997)

Other Shows: Donten Ni Warau, Princess Tutu, Mawaru Penguindrum, & Master Keaton

2016 Winner: Oh! Edo Rocket

Other Shows: Planetes, Katanagatari, Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, & Haibane Renmei

2017 Winner: Fune wo Amu

Other Shows: Kino’s Journey, Aishiteruze Baby, Cuticle Detective Inaba, Food Wars, & Hanada Shonen Shi

2018 Winner: Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Season 1

Other Shows: Mob Psycho 100(S1), A Place Further than the Universe, Tamako Market, Emma: A Victorian Romance, Kyousougiga

2019 Winner: Future Boy Conan

Other Shows: Silver Spoon, Big Wind Up, Dennou Coil, Isekai Shoudou, Outlaw Star

2020 November Challenge!

                                                                       

Show: 3-Gatsu no Lion/March Comes in like a Lion

Year Aired: 2016-2018

Studio: Shaft

Episodes: 44(22 per season)

Source: Manga

Watched For: Fukuchi

 

Although the west has been drawing more love and attention towards anime in recent years, some series are always going to be less relevant than others to the masses. Where things like One Piece are without a shadow of the doubt the king of shonen in places like Japan, if you ask someone in the west, they would probably prefer Naruto, Bleach, or of course Dragon Ball. One said series that receives this same treatment is Honey & Clover. A massive success in Japan, yet in the west the same appeal just isn’t garnered. Well, the author’s second big hit, March Comes in Like a Lion sort of falls in that same boat. While lots of avid fans would die by the stake for its praises, many people know little to nothing about the series still. Regional preferences of stories really do occur even to this day even with anime booming in popularity more than ever.

March Comes in like A lion or 3-Gatsu, is a story that seems simple at onset. Young professional shogi player Rei Kiriyama lives alone has barely any social connections, and is living a life of emotional solitude. We know very little from the get-go about this high-schooler turned professional, and as the show steadily lifts the veil, we get a much clearer picture of why Rei has little real important relationships and lives such a meager life dedicated to shogi and little else. Instead of being a traditional sports series, or just a straight drama, the series goes for a combination of the two. Similar to series like Ping Pong the Animation or Cross Game, the series is not about the sport itself, but how the sport holds meaning to the characters themselves. And just like those series, the characters inhabiting the world who directly connect to Rei’s life, in and outside his dealings with shogi are what make the bulk of the story, themes, and actual content of it all. It isn’t a series about shogi, but a series featuring shogi as an important factor in a person’s life. We get the inside track on what makes Rei tick, and what drives him forward or holds him back at different crossroads in his life.

3-Gatsu is one of those shows that is a total package. It’s meant to incorporate comedy, drama, slice of life, sports, and a myriad of other micro-elements to meld into one series. It is one of those shows the reflects real life in that way. Life is often not just one sort of experience. Some days are better than others, and that is just the way it is. You laugh, cry, get surprised, and have expectations of how your day might turn out as soon as you get up out of bed. This means the show has deliberate slow pacing, because hey guess what? life normally ticks by like a tortoise if you are analyzing it day by day. But then, on the other hand, it flies by before your eyes when you are dead set focused on accomplishing a goal. 3-Gatsu is the type of anime that is made to reward patience. If you want action or more embellished elements to drive home a little extra spicy drama, this isn’t the type of show for that. It takes each part at a steady pace for maximum delivery output. I’d recommend this type of show to people who like series with creative direction and a pension for character-focused storytelling. If you want something that is going to be more bombastic though, you might wanna search elsewhere. Either way, I would say 3-Gatsu has earned a place with its community for a reason. They cherish the feelings given to them at that specific speed.

 

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The opening moments of 3-Gatsu are filled with oppressive imagery and a strong sense of dread. This was and is the feeling I got when I started up this series. A sense of loneliness and sadness drenches the audience as we are introduced to Rei Kiriyama, a professional high school shogi player. Honestly, I think the beginning of this series, while quite emotive and interesting, is a hard sell. The show has a lot of quick jump cuts, and it is super hard to get a sense of who Rei is and why everything just feels so empty. They try to spruce the episodes up with colorful and cheery girls to show a counterbalance of what Rei is now, and where he could be, but I don’t think until we get a little backstory on his past does 3-Gatsu become actually enjoyable to watch. Thankfully this only takes a few episodes and the first few introductory episodes set up the cast pretty well. As we get further along we get more building blocks to this, and things become more and more bright. It’s a really neat bit of imagery with the opening and ending tracks as the show goes from season 1 to 2 and finally concludes what has been adapted to now and how we can see clearly the effects on Rei through his surroundings. If this series would have only given me season 1 for this year’s challenge, I honestly am not sure where it would rank. I wasn’t totally sold on everything in the first season’s run. I liked the cast, and a lot of the background on Rei, shogi, and other key cast members were fascinating, but it wasn’t clicking. I felt the step-sister made scenes always uncomfortable and I disliked her general presence in the series as a whole, and how her being in his life always seems to make him regress even further. Most of the side cast doesn’t really get a proper storyline outside of the star of the first season, Shimada. So, with these elements conflicting with each other, I felt Rei felt very stuck in place, and most of the supporting cast lacked depth or interest outside their surface-level personalities. But you know what? Season 2 lacks this evil step sister almost altogether, and something truly special begins to unfold.

I would wager that most of you reading this have experienced at one point or another some form of bullying in your life. I know I have, and my experiences shaped me regardless of what I say on the topic. It creates a splash of impact that can’t be undone, yet the consequences can be used to move one forward. Hina’s trials and tribulations with bullying in her middle school are profoundly emotional, and relatable. Her iron will, and also at the same time crumbling desolation spawn a storm of perfect narrative cohesion. This story arc not only covers just about every aspect of the discussion, and chooses not to demonize anything but the act itself. Reason is always brought into the conversation. There is always a reason behind the choices made, and everyone involved in the situation is impacted. From the bully to the victim, to the people around them such as family or teachers. This arc is not only heart wrenching but inspiring and drives Rei forward in a way that the story was lacking. A sense of purpose is finally given to him, friendships are being given their full attention, his sense of self is bounding into a new place altogether. Hina and Rei affect one another mutually for the better, and with this become the two pillars of the show. Hina’s side gives new perspective and depth to her family members, friends, and other people involved with the schooling system. On Rei’s end, the many shogi players of his life are given this same respect and are just a few episodes all of the groundwork set before starts getting consistent evolution and payoffs that are much appreciated.

Where 3-Gatsu seemed to be missing a special x-factor in season 1, the second season really takes the narrative and its wonderfully charismatic cast to brand new levels. The shogi gets far more interesting with deep introspections delving into the player’s psyche, giving the game a deeper and far more interesting appeal. The cast steadily grows with fun people, but the main cast shines the most and really exemplifies the themes of growth and support. The building effect is one of those things I really like about fiction in general. 3-Gatsu doesn’t grab you out of the box, but once it does take hold it won’t let go. Then you find yourself appreciating elements you didn’t give enough credit like Rei’s breakdown in season 1 where he yells furiously, or the rich sweetness behind the adorable Nya Nya Shogi. This is something I really dig and am glad to see. If season 3 does land, which seems possible, I will be there to see what happens next. Also, I personally love Hina’s new haircut. I think it looks god damn cute, and I will eagerly keep supporting her as an avid fan of the girl with the biggest heart of them all. Overcoming obstacles isn’t something done easily, but it is something we can all do if we put our all into it.

Random Fact: Shogi in its present form was played as early as the 16th century, while a direct ancestor without the drop rule was recorded from 1210 in a historical document Nichūreki

                                                                       

Show: K-on!(!)

Year Aired: 2009-2010

Studio: Kyoto Animation

Episodes: 39(S1:13/S2:26)

Source: Manga

Watched For: Reinachan

 

If there is a company the is famous for animation that I seem to hold a generally different disposition than the average viewer it would probably be Kyoto Animation. A studio heralded by pretty much the greater anime community for their outstanding attention to detail, cute character designs, and catalog of shows that keep on giving. So, if there was anyone show I was antsy about taking time to finally bit the bullet this year, it was most definitely K-on! I’m more than comfortable exercising dissenting opinions and defending myself if they are there, but it does get quite exhausting, and I never go into any show wanting to dislike it. This being a real potential case, K-on! had me a bit worried from the onset. Would I feel about it like I do many other Kyoto Animation series? A feeling of static characterization and general apathy for the general gags used? I surely hope not, but that’s all part of the challenge is it not? Face my fears, expectations, and just let the anime do the talking for itself. If K-on! was to be loved, hated, or fall somewhere in between it would all be on the show itself, nothing else mattered.

For those of you who somehow don’t know, K-on! is a coming of age comedy series with light music elements throughout. 4 girls: Yui, Ritsu, Mio, and Mugi form together the Light Music Club. An after school club focused on creative expression of music with no real set structure or limits on it outside of the members itself. Later on a 5th member Azusa, an underclassman, join the band and club as well further expanding the dynamic of the girls. The series basically chronicles the 3 years of the high school lives of the main four girls, and their experiences in and outside the club. Everything is somewhat attached to it, but in general, it’s the highlights of those days of youth. Everything from festivals to vacations, to simple club conversations take place in-between a large amount of cake and tea they eat on almost a daily basis in their club room. And when I say a lot of tea and snacks, I truly and deeply mean a worrying amount of consumption. Somedays I stay up at night trying to crunch the numbers to see if they would possibly all have diabetic issues after how much sugar they managed to consume in such a short span of time on a consistent basis.

Who is the market for this show? People, who like watching cute moe fluff pieces? Or maybe folks who like slice of life comedies? Or possibly those who really like shows that never really try to elevate the drama to an extreme point as to keep a sense of relaxation and good times before all else? It really could be any number of things. My theory is people just like the feeling of K-on! They find it not only amusing but wholesome and enjoyable. The type of anime viewer who really loves moe with a large slice of comedic shenanigans is bound to have a most joyous time with the series. I think if you are ready to find yourself enjoying stuff like Tamako Market, Haruhi Suzumiya, and Kyoukai No Kanata, then you are basically the target demographic for this juggernaut of the genre. If you like cute girls doing cute things, then maybe just maybe you should check out K-on! if you haven’t managed to do so yet.

 

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The first season of K-on! might just be the most devastatingly boring piece of media I’ve watched in years. It’s hard, to sum up, what sort of concentrated ball was put square into my chest when sitting through this first season. With no exaggeration, when I completed my watch sessions for the first 2 nights of K-on! I was filled with such a feeling of apathetic emptiness that I couldn’t even decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my evening. All of my motivation was literally stripped from my persons and it took a good 40 minutes or so after I stopped watching to regain a feeling of normalcy. I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced an anime to do this to me on this level before that. Now, I made a mistake on this chart and have K-on! second on this list but it was in fact my 3rd show of the month. So, I think it was a mixture of not being invested, 70 plus episodes of anime crammed in 10 days or so before starting it, and hitting a true burnout mid-month. I don’t believe my enjoyment was directly affected by this set of events, but I do think the lack of interest in wanting to watch anime in general and feeling dull from it all most definitely was. Basically, I don’t think it was all K-on’s fault, just a little bit. If I had to list out my grievances with K-on! it would match what I normally feel about a lot of Kyoto Ani works. Their character writing is so drab, and their main characters always seem to mostly just be able to be summed up in a few simple adjectives. Yui is simple-minded, air-headed, lazy, and likes taking the easy way out of things. Ritsu is energetic, playful, likes to tease others, and also loves to find shortcuts. Mio is serious, easily flustered, and easily amazed too. Mugi is rich without knowing commoner life, polite, and curious. And that is almost all these 4 amount to. They have small strides of being more than just a few simple character traits but that is about it.

Now, Azusa has this same issue when they introduce her too. She is single-mindedly focused on practice and straight man to the comedy antics to go along with Mio’s demeanor for balance. Season 2 does alleviate some of this by giving the cast all some separate moments of more than just the same old thing over and over, but it is few and far in between. Yui and Ritsu are borderline frustrating on a regular basis with their inconsideration of those around them on most accounts, Mio just reacts strongly to everything, Mugi offers tea and laughs, and Asuza wonders why they aren’t putting any real effort into the music why succumbing to their slacker mentality. Maybe it is because I’m getting older, but the slacker group think behavioral aspect of some people really really just tires me out. I’ve not a fan of it, and I find these girls to be lazy and unmotivated most times. The fact they support each other in that too doesn’t help. They literally only make strong efforts when forced to do so, otherwise, no initiative is shown. This lack of depth really hurts K-on! for me, because it makes the girls feel very forgettable. Real people are more than just a few traits, and I find Kyoto Ani rarely makes characters worth talking about, and K-on! is no exception. While most people probably like this show for the lack of conflict or deeper meaning trying to be explored, I find myself bored with a group of girls never having any real conversations. Instead, they just discuss the same thing over and over again while never growing as people despite being in the time of their lives when the most change does occur.

The highlights of K-on! are most definitely the times when we are taken out of the club room. Events like the summer concert, or the hardware store bring much more diversity and change to the typical set up of the show. And the small number of times where we get a nice one on one scene with the girls usually shined quite brightly. Stuff like Mio and Ritsu discussing their Romeo and Juliet roles and finding their voice for the parts by understanding each other through their friendships are incredibly endearing and a showing that there is more beneath the layers if we were given an actual chance to see it. The group dynamic is when the show often is at the weakest because it normally devolves into very static conversation and the same gags over and over. I like seeing the characters act like people and express their true individualities, and I feel it is all too rare in K-on! I would say the series never is bad but sits in a land of mediocrity with the lackluster girls who are at the center of everything. If you like cute fluff pieces, this is the type of show for you, but there are just so many better examples in modern anime with girls that are actually interesting and the activities they do are equally so. However, for K-on! this is true for neither and it’s a true detriment to the overall enjoyment factor of it all.

Random Fact: The modern word guitar has been applied to a wide variety of chordophones since classical times and as such causes confusion. The English word guitar, the German Gitarre, and the French guitare were all adopted from the Spanish guitarra, which comes from the Arabic qīthārah and the Latin cithara, which in turn came from the Ancient Greek κιθάρα. Kithara appears in the Bible four times, and is usually translated into English as harp.

                                                                       

Show: F

Year Aired: 1988

Studio: Studio Deen

Episodes: 31

Source: Manga

Watched For: feethebunny

 

Every year or two in this challenge, someone finds a way to sneak in a really retro series or something flat out obscure to the larger community. This year’s title to that honor goes to F, possibly one of the worst named shows ever. Have you ever tried googling anime with names like F, Touch, or something else with a single letter or word that is super common? It’s maddening how many keywords you have to think of to look it up. I even learned the Italian name of the show just to help lookup the music for the mini awards below. So, you mix the fact that the series isn’t super well know, to begin with, and then you also give it a single lettered romanized name, and you create the perfect storm of anti-google searching. Gotta love how much the lack of preservation of the anime medium actively harms itself with the odd or simple names they gave series at different times.

F is a show about F-1 racing(Well mostly F-3 but the final purpose is to make it to F-1). High octane speed races similar to that of what you would imagine in NASCAR, but instead of standard looking cars, they use these smaller, tighter machines for more speed. You up the danger, but you increase the amount of challenge and speed that comes with it. The sport is really only for those who have the constitution for it. It requires lightning-fast reflexes, incredible driving skill, and a whole lot of balls. Gunma Akagi, our main hero of the story is a country boy living with his rich family. He likes going fast, and he plans to be the fastest there ever was. His goal? To become the fastest driver alive that no one can pass. A simple and effective premise that lays all the groundwork for him to try and challenge the professional leagues, and learn all the ins and outs of what makes the racing world more than just a bunch of guys on a track trying to best each other by a few seconds in super speedy cars.

This series is definitely geared towards the type of anime watcher who likes action and old school anime. A lot of classic personality types from the ’80s and ’90s are present here, and the series is really focused on Gunma’s end goal. Gunma and his main rival Hiziri are both incredibly self-serving and so goal-oriented that they do it at other’s expenses though. If you find yourself easily irritated with selfish people who want to succeed no matter the cost at some times, you might wanna stop by the pits and get off the course. F is worried about one thing, and that is being exciting, which it often manages to do with the races and the outside drama that gets in the way of Gunma. This seems like the type of story meant for people who love all the tropes of older anime to their fullest, so if that is you, gun it to 88 and find this old obscure show and give it a go!

 

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Gunma Akagi…..my god what a character we have here. I feel I will be using almost my entire space on my thoughts just on him. I mean I want to talk about the races, Tomatsu, and Hiziri’s illness, but I feel Gunma is going to take a lot of time to talk about. Similar to how most of my K-on thoughts was me ranting about the main characters rather than mentioning the actual coming of age stuff like them graduating and what not. Gunma is the driving force of the F through and through. His behavior, demeanor, and those affected around him are the ones always in play. This is why it makes it so hard to talk about Gunma.

Because Gunma is literally the worst. He even admits it on a few occasions. He is crass, rude, devious, and often the scummiest person in the entire series. He tries to grope unconscious women, forces a kiss onto his helmet from someone he is actively harassing, steals from people when he needs extra funds, and never apologizes for a single thing. Now, I suppose that is part of what makes Gunma who he is. The completely unapologetic asshole who wants to win. It’s definitely different to make your main character so forwardly abrasive on such a regular occasion. He does mellow out a bit in the back end of the series, but from the first 2/3rds or so, Gunma is almost every episode or two doing something that I would find deplorable or downright just not okay to do to people to who he is supposed to be friends with. He is not a person who appreciates how much is given to him, but rather dictates what he needs and demands it now or he will make a fuss otherwise. His personality is one of that time period that I’ve always disliked, but normally it gets split into a few characters, or someone antagonistic behaves as such. Not here though, the hero of the story is actually almost a villain.

Now, I’m unsure if that is the idea. Hiziri is the person we are meant to root for, and if the author wants us to hope Gunma will grow or not. This is why I am so conflicted on Gunma in general. The ending of the god damn story is basically a complete flipping of the script. When he finally overtakes Hiziri after all this time, he isn’t proud or happy about it. Despite all his efforts, he recognizes something isn’t right. Gunma had been slowly evolving in the last section of the series when faced with hardships, and the finale goes big. We’ve known for some time that Hiziri is sick and going blind, and will die after he fully loses his sight. It’s not told to us how or to what extent it would take for his passing once the blindness takes over, but the awareness is there. He wants to win before his time is out, to fully challenge himself to his greatest reaches as the pinnacle of living. Tomatsu leaves to aid him in this journey despite his best friend Gunma being in the dark on it all this time. When Gunma passes Hiziri and wins, and goes to his crashed vehicle to see that he drove Hiziri to his limit and beyond with his racing. Something Hiziri admits himself before finally dying before our eyes. Gunma in a surge of incredible character development acknowledges Hiziri as the true winner and carries him across the entire course to the winning pedestal. He in front of hundreds of people declares him the winner, and that he will learn what it means to truly be a racer, signifying Gunma is a changed man forever. It’s heartbreaking, absolutely brilliant, and made me so conflicted on Gunma and F as a whole.

Random Fact: The first Formula 1 race was the 1946 Turin Grand Prix won by Italian driver Achille Varzi

                                                                       

Show: Aria the Animation

Year Aired: 2005

Studio: Hal Film Maker

Episodes: 13

Source: Manga

Watched For: ScarletxHunter

 

Some series are considered hidden gems, and for some reason, the anime community thinks it is one. I get it doesn’t pull in the numbers that massive shows do, but the amount of people I know who watch a lot of anime who have seen this show or definitely know of it is pretty large. The casual market may not know of it, but the actual anime community most definitely does. Aria has become one of the critical darlings of the slice of life genre over the years. The general consensus of the show is it is the greatest of the greatest in what it does. Most folks who have seen the series in its entirety often rank it amongst their favorite shows of all time. So, of course, I’m always eager and afraid to talk about a show that people are so utterly passionate about in fear of them coming to beat me to death with gondola oars if they don’t like what I have to say about it.

Aria is a slow and episodic show chronicling the adventures of several girls who are part of a business being navigators on gondolas in their water-filled city. Dubbed undines these people are essentially the cities true tour guides in many ways. We are on Neo-Venezia, a city that mimics Venice, Italy with the incredibly futuristic technology that can create and sustain an entire ecosystem on a new planet. It sounds all grandiose and a bit far-fetched, but Aria doesn’t really worry to dabble in the future’s current state of affairs and just stays focused on the girls of the city and their lives as undines. We get to see the stories of the people who take their rides, see the girls slowly learn from their mentors to become true professionals, and a whole lot of cats who serve as mascots and apparently even more important roles yet to be fully explained. Akari is the main character and through her teachers, friends, and loyal president Aria, she slowly gets a bigger picture of the greater world and a fine appreciation of it through her experiences.

I think if you truly appreciate Slice of Life anime in some way or another Aria is basically made for you. Most people call it the most relaxing anime for them. It didn’t quite hit that same vibe with me, but I think I understand where they are coming from. I associate that same feeling with some of my favorite slower paced anime, so once I’ve seen seasons of it, I feel the initial discovery mindset will dissipate and the setting and tone will grasp me firmly. Anime with pleasant settings and characters who are meant to make you feel right at home is what Aria encompasses naturally. Many people are drawn to Aria because it creates a distinct connection that feels familiar, yet new at the same time. Some people find this type of anime boring because it doesn’t have enough of something or conflict to seem interesting. If you are one of those types of people Aria is not made for you, unlike the others. Decide yourself what you value in your fiction and if you want something like Aria then take a ride down to Neo-Venezia as soon as possible.

 

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I guess I have to toss Akari into my list of anime girls that I find to be just wonderful now don’t I? If I ever make another waifu list she might be on it. I simply adore her personality and desire to appreciate everything around her so thoroughly. It might be a sappy line, but Akari is such a charming and well crafted main lead as the eyes of the series are regularly through her lenses. The bountiful amount of girls whose name starts with the letter A is in full force here throughout. I almost thought it was a naming convention for everyone in the series for the first episode. It was at least greatly amusing to me, not sure if anyone else really cares but I had a good laugh with it.

What was sorely lacking in a slower show in K-on, Aria did correctly. It has a similar premise even if you think about it. A group of girls hanging out together most days working a little bit, but mostly enjoying each other’s companies. However, in Aria, the cast feels like they are slowly growing through their experiences together and with the people around them. Alice herself is a fantastic example of this. From secular to still peculiar but with her own charms and far more open especially with Akari because of their growing friendship. I hate to directly compare two fairly different shows in many ways but the way the cast and comedy were handled in Aria with it being also a barrage of regular gags was also just delivered in a much more comedic and after a while endearing way. If I do have to compare, which I will, in this case, the cast, comedy, musical performances, and character designs all easily outweigh and crush K-on with an iron fist.

Aria’s greatest weakness is the fact that I had to watch a single season that is basically the introduction for this challenge. While I was pretty tired of anime because 3 people broke my rule and I allowed it, Aria was one I couldn’t make the exception for, so I buckled down for just a simple 13 episodes. And similar to shows I love like Natsume, I feel Aria probably has that building effect. You get the first season to set the tone, introduce the world and cast, and have a small section of great stuff. This means, the majority of the first season is really solid and good, but it rarely exceeds that bar of quality. Usually for these types of series to really hit home the hardest with the cast and stories you have to be fully invested, and that takes a little time. I no doubt imagine subsequent seasons increase the level of quality and big moments to capture one’s heart. I will take that leap of faith when the time comes, but for now, just remember that what I did see was pretty good overall. I just hope they give more explanation to the whole time travel thing outside of saying cats are somehow connected. I’m gonna need a bit more than that even if I do love a good kitty cat.

Random Fact: In the 1500s an estimated 10,000 gondolas of all types were in Venice; in 1878 an estimated 4000 and now approximately 400.

                                                                       

Show: Recovery of an MMO Junkie

Year Aired: 2017

Studio: Signal.MD 

Episodes: 11 

Source: Web Manga

Watched For: KNO108

 

Modern anime is filled to the brim with small single cour seasons of shows. They normally are produced as light advertisements of the manga, light novel, or whatever source it is derived from. In this age of anime, that means a ton of series are unfinished and no one plans to go back to them. I always am cautious when watching seasonals with this in mind because many of them don’t get to hold to the test of time because they very often serve as the jumping-off point and usually conclude right when stuff is starting to truly pick up. This is especially noteworthy to mention with romance series. We very rarely get a fully adapted romance based series or one that gets to that point in just a single season. Usually, the groundwork is barely being even laid and they can’t even really talk to one another by the conclusion of the 12-13 episode runtime they are given. A lot of red flags of potential disappointment are created this way, and I think it is the major reason I’m so selective with what seasonal series I do go into now.

MMO Junkie is about two people who meet playing an MMORPG and hit it off as amazing friends right away. Our main character Moriko is recently a self-proclaimed NEET and wants nothing but the satisfaction of escapism through her favorite hobby. She can’t go back to her old game for the servers are shut down, and missing the memories of her friends from that time period embarks on this new game called Fruits de Mer(That would be seafood in french). She creates the perfect hot guy character to play, and goes forth to succeed! And she really doesn’t at all, not until a more experienced player named Lily aids her. Soon after they become great friends, Moriko joins a guild and all the wonderful times of MMO goodness are upon us. Except for when her real-life troubles and MMO troubles somewhat coexist all at the same time. She must balance her relationship with her good friend Lily, and her odd lifestyle in real life that is she ashamed to admit is real.

This show doesn’t waste much time honestly. They get you into the nitty-gritty really quick, and if you find the comedy and story to be one that appeals, it shouldn’t take long before you are as sucked into it as Moriko is Fruits de Mer. I assume the video game premise and the NEET lifestyle will be something that turns away a chunk of viewers, but who are we kidding, this is an anime meant for social awkward 30’s people who want to relate a little. We have real adult cast members, with real-life issues and it’s kinda refreshing in the sea of school-based anime we get to have something based in the adult world. As someone who is almost 30 I find these characters more to my relatable side than the younger contemporaries. It might not appeal to all anime fans, but I think the ones who like stories about older characters trying to find themselves with something to heal their broken soul, then you should log in and give it a whirl.

 

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Firstly, maaaaann I really wanted a kiss or a proper hug there at the end, but you know it would have been too forward for where they were at so I can respect the hand-holding as a symbol of them growing closer. It’s a lot more natural than where my brain wants things to go. They are almost both 30 though, so I mean you know, it could happen!

I really wasn’t sold on this at first. I thought Moriko was going to irk me with her obsessive NEET lifestyle, and that the game world and characters in it would be equally 1-dimensional. I think it felt this way at first because I couldn’t tell how this story was going to unfold. It manages though to pretty quickly build up a party of people who all seem to have good chemistry and who just want to help one another out. Moriko/Hayashi’s journey to heal her wounded soul from the work world and her terribly bad low self-esteem is something I can understand well too. I’m currently really contemplating quitting my job currently in the next few weeks as well to start anew and work on myself directly. I can get behind finding solace in your hobbies, but the people you get close to are the ones who really impact how you go from there. We all know we aren’t as bad as we treat ourselves, but sometimes we need a helping hand for it.

That’s what I love about Lily/Sakurai in this series. They are someone who is doing well in life, and they are just having a good time with a hobby they adore. They can be that main pillar of support for someone if they get close enough, and they become that for Hayashi/Moriko. I do want to note it’s a little contrived that they were friends in the old game, connected to the same work company in real life, and became instant besties in the Fruits de Mer as well, but oh well, fuck it, fiction loves serendipity and I kind of do too. It’s basically a sign these two were always meant to cross paths in some way or another. I am a sucker for the setup game here too. The idea is to have a fully-fledged meaningful friendship be the base of what will eventually become a romantic relationship. I always say the best partner is someone you can call your best friend. I feel they fill this role very well for each other, and would make excellent lovers if they take that step. Getting a nice mix of the in real life and in-game worlds too were nice for balance to show their chemistry works no matter the context. It also allowed other characters to support them in different ways. Guild members for the in-game moments, and mainly the character of Kowai in person for both of them. These people are what friends truly are, a circle of support that always wants to nudge you in a direction that will help you find happiness. That’s very much a thing online communities can create or people who shape your every day around. Everything has a purpose even if it’s small if you take time to invest in it. It’s just up to the individual to take the necessary steps to enact change that matters.

Random Fact: Meridian 59 is the first recognized 3D MMORPG to be successfully released, however the term itself wasn’t coined until Richard Garriott of Ultima fame came up with it.

Awards!                                                         

Favorite Character

Hina Kawamoto

March Comes in Like a Lion

 

Every year, there are always a lot of great characters to look back on. You get so many ones to talk about when you watch at least 5 anime. Even in shows, I don’t like I tend to find ones that appeal to me in some way. The amazing heart and honesty present in Hina as she battles through her ordeals in season 2 of 3-Gatsu are tremendous to behold. She went from being a fun lovable character to someone just absolutely inspiring. Her growth directly affects Rei and the two-fold dynamic they hold splashes to so many people around them. It starts with her though, and her amazing tenacity and trueness to herself.

Least Favorite Character

Gunma Akagi

F

 

I won’t talk more on this since he gets his spot above in plentiful detail, but Gunma won this pretty handily. Until the last section of F, he alone was bringing the entire experience down with his deplorable attitude and behavior. He isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but that mostly is because of how his story lifts him up in the end. Without that, he wouldn’t even have competition here.

Best Cast

March Comes in Like a Lion

 

 

 

We get a bevy of great people here. Rei, the Kawamoto sisters, most of the important shogi players like Shimada, Nikaidou, and the like. We can toss in the Science clubs guys, the homeroom teacher, or any number of incredible smaller characters. While Aria and MMO Junkie really competed here with their overall solid casts, you gotta give it to the numbers game here. The sheer amount of excellent characters isn’t even close between these series when you consider that.

Favorite Visuals

March Comes in Like A Lion

 

 

 

One of the only series to really experiment with different lighting, art styles, and metaphorical directing, 3-Gatsu sets the bar for what you can do if you get creative with anime. No manner of solid production can beat solid variety from a series. I dug F’s aesthetic, and MMO Junkie’s splash of color, but they couldn’t match what was brought here.

Favorite Music

Aria the Animation

 

 

 

We got some decent music all around. F has some killer tracks throughout that make me feel like what I love about that time period, and 3-Gatsu has a lot of excellent tracks as well. However, I am a little biased towards the music creating a setting. If you know prototypical Italian music styles and mix that with slice of life vibes you get a really lovely blend of instrumental and vocal songs that make Aria’s Neo-Venezia feel like a place you want to give a visit to.

 Favorite Drama Scene

“I know what I did was not wrong”

March Comes in Like a Lion- Hina

 

 

If you know this scene and how it basically kickstarts the moment the series goes from good to great, then you know why I chose it. The animation quality, direction choices, and performances all crescendo into a mixture that tears away at your heart. Brilliant is the only word I have to accurately summarize this scene and many that follow this subject in this arc.

 Favorite Comedy Scene

A Sick Shogi Match

March Comes in Like a Lion

 

 

A shame I couldn’t find a proper gif or picture for this. The part where Shimada and Yanagihara are playing Shogi: one sick with stomach issues, the other with a cold as a championship match is the funniest thing I saw all month. It has such a light humorist tone, and really just makes for a great visual to enjoy.

 Best Fight

Gunma versus Hiziri: Final Race

F

 

 

Do I pick a shogi battle? Nah, not when you have this finale race. This race and the ending of how it is handled made F go from a show I can’t really say impressed me much as a whole to recontextualizing the entire story and character of Gunma in a way I truly wasn’t expecting. Who would have thought this prick’s final race could just about put me in tears?

Worst OP

K-on!! OP 2(Season 2 OP 1)

2nd worst: F – OP 2

While F has a downright terrible second opening that replaces a pretty good first one, the K-on!! opening is one I can’t stomach at all. The song attacks my ears with no abandon with the high pitched terrible character voice of Yui and is quickly followed up by a disorienting 3D spin spot. That shot is also used 3 times in the opening as repeated animation. We get really uninteresting character profile introductions and shots that pace well at all with the song’s really fast pacing. Overall this is a really really hard opening to ever listen to more than once in my lifetime. Especially when you consider that despite my dislike of Yui’s character singing voice, that the first opening of the series fits so well with the vibe and feel of the series.

Worst Ed

F- ED 2

2nd worst: F – ED 1

I can’t say much possible about either of these endings. While I like their songs well enough for the general feel they produce, these endings feel so out of place, but in the second one, extremely so. It’s like he is in Rome or something on a dark stormy day. I truly don’t get it, or the slow slow pace that is nothing like F as a whole.

Best OP

March Comes in Lions OP 3(Season 2 OP 1)

2nd best: March Comes in Like a Lion OP 4(Season 2 OP 2)

Is this where I apologize to the people in the Anime Event music group who all have this a 10 with my comment at them? No, I won’t do that, because I still think the bias of the show’s story elevates that bias too much, but with that being said, I like this opening quite a bit. The visuals are dynamic in color, and Yuki’s voice is superb. I much prefer it over the prior opening featuring her, and this reminds me more of her range in works like the Sakamichi no Apollon opening. If this opening had a little bit better visual storytelling I might even toss it in my actual favorites list. But at least it has a cute little finger puppet moment to make up for all of that.

Best ED

March Comes in Like a Lion ED 1

2nd best: March Comes in Like a Lion ED 4(Season 2: ED 2)

I think this was tough. I had to make a call between 3-Gatsu and Aria for this spot. But the emotional build-up of a few of these ed’s are a little bit better than just President Aria chilling on a rainy day around the city.

And the winner is….                       

5. K-On!

Dun dun dun!! Yeah, you probably guessed it from my above thoughts. What do you get when a series is unfunny, consistently boring, and full of flat characters? I suppose a number of Kyoto Animation series honestly, and K-on! now joins the ranks of many of their other works for me such as Kyoukai no Kanata, Haruhi Suzumiya, Dragon Maid, and Amagi Brilliant Park. I often find these shows have very very unengaging characters. Kyoto Ani’s works have always suffered from a lack of good storytelling, and captivating characters to carry their shows. I’ve been a minority in this mindset for quite a long time, but it happens very regularly with the content of their works when I do experience them. K-on! isn’t a bad series in the slightest, but I find it rather lacking in so many ways. The comedy doesn’t hit, the pacing of the story is pretty random, and I feel the story tries way too hard to make Yui feel special and different from the rest of the world. Even when she does everything wrong she still gets to succeed in the end. K-on! was a show I feared I might dislike greatly and it certainly was. I definitely have no intention to seek out its ovas or film at this point. I think one sit through was good for this lifetime. Even the small moments of greatness like their conversation about truly realizing they are going to graduate, or the gift for their teacher can’t make up for a land of mediocrity. At least the turtle was cute, that aided me a lot through such troubled times.

4.  F

My god, Gunma is a prick! And this is the main character who the whole show leans upon. He is a nasty guy throughout but somehow gets a massive redemptive moment in the end that he seizes like a god damn champion. By the end of F, I still don’t really know how I feel. I was feeling so sluggish throughout the first 15-20 episodes with Gunma’s insanely inappropriate behavior, and couldn’t for the life of me see how I was going to finish this madness. Then the series shifts gears and really starts digging into some interesting ideas, and most of the payoff for those things is great I would say. Is good payoff enough to make up for a massive boatload of time invested into battling my urge to punch my screen with how much Gunma was aggravating me? No, I don’t it does, but it does frame the entire series in a way that I hadn’t thought of it before. F might not be something I would call great, but I don’t think it should fall deeper into obscurity like it no doubt is going to as time passes. There are ideas here worth talking about, and I want those to be present for the anime community. Maybe someone will be crazy enough to revive it before our very eyes someday.

3. Aria The Animation

Consistency is something you can’t deny. Aria never dips below a certain line of quality entertainment. Its premiere season does struggle to exceed the point of just being good, but it has its share of moments where it does. Everything from the attention of detail like the wonderful pen pal letters than open and close the episodes, to quiet consideration for those you live with are hard not to be impressed by. I would say I like the cast a good deal, but we had to spend a lot of time getting to know them from the start, which left little time for them to properly shine. I foresee the second and third seasons bringing the A-game though. Aria places right in the middle this year though. It helped get me out of my anime burnout midway through the month, and it was just a nice time altogether. I mean I love Venice, goofy cats, and heartwarming sappy lines, so I suppose something was here for me no matter where I rank it in the end. Looking forward to seeing what Aria has in store for me whenever I take a tour of its later content.

2.  Recovery of an MMO Junkie

I did not expect to like this as much as I did. First impressions were meager, and I assumed that would be the totality of it all. I love being proved wrong. Where K-on! proved me right, MMO Junkie proved me wrong. It lifted me up at the end of this month of crazy binging in this crazy year of a pandemic to feel just a little better. By the end, I was shipping the largest freighter you’ve ever seen with Moriko and Sakurai’s name on it, and proudly so. They really just brought the best out of each other, and that’s because of the foundation of the best relationships in communication. They constantly work to communicate better with one another to share their inner feelings, and in the end, we get two people who are as compatible as you can get. Despite a weird use of French in the name of the place the story really picks up, this story is delightful and full of care. We aren’t likely to see any more of it, so I will just savor what I was given because even though it’s not a favorite of mine in terms of romance, the friendship the main two have is irreplaceable to me.

1. March Comes in Like a Lion

Was this obvious? It might have been to fans or to those who read all of my breakdowns. Had only the first season been here, who knows what outcome we would have gotten, but since I’m an idiot who agreed to both seasons, I got treated with some good karma for it. Just absolutely tremendous characterization is present throughout this series. Starting with the Shimada storyline in season 1, it’s clear 3-Gatsu knew where it wanted to go with its world and people inhabiting it. The shogi gets elevated. The people get elevated. My damn kokoro gets elevated! 3-Gatsu truly clicked with me at some point. I wanted more. The fact the second season was the end might have been a good thing at the time. I wanted to say fuck the challenge, give me more of this, please. Can I please see high school Hina and Rei interact with one another? Can I please see how Shimada and Nikaidou are doing in their respective shogi journeys? I just want more, please. The culmination of all the set up in the first season brought forth in season 2 was simply breathtaking like Keanu Reeves is. I felt so pleased and engrossed by the series of events unfolding, and it seemed like it was just going to get better and better. I’m sad I have to say goodbye to 3-Gatsu for now, but I can still cherish the brilliant balance of all the parts that make up its whole. This was one of the few years where the winner of the event was a clear runaway. Nothing else came close, so the month began with an absolute bang. This means once again the champion of last year is this year’s winner yet again! But in the end, I suppose I’m the winner thanks to all of you great people sharing anime you love with me.

Wrap up:

And that is a wrap! The 2020, 7th Annual November Challenge has concluded with Fukuchi becoming the 2-time champion and for the second consecutive year as well! I still want to thank the other 4 for taking their time to participate and share their anime with me. No matter my response, negative, positive, neutral, positively negative, I still really am glad you shared your anime with me. The experience and getting to discuss these are a big part of why I do this. It isn’t about enjoying it always, but getting enriched to get a new point of view on something I’m inexperienced at. As always, I will take time to contact the winner by giving them a reward or gift for winning, and they will take part again next year too. Otherwise, stay healthy, wear a mask, and have yourself a wonderful holiday season everyone!

Until Next Time!

See ya, My little Wanderers!