Wooper: Happy New Year, everyone! I hope your 2023 was safe and successful. Mine was more productive than usual, thanks in part to my greatly reduced anime-watching habits. I still stay abreast of what’s scheduled to air every three months, and tune into the handful of shows I’m likely to enjoy (your Frierens and Skip and Loafers and whatnot), but I’m not much for the seasonal grind at this point in my life. One thing that hasn’t changed about me, however, is my interest in short-form anime, so I’ve returned to recommend four such shows to start 2024 off right. They include a supernatural hangout comedy from China, a surreal trip into the imagination of an animal fanatic, and two long overdue adaptations of works by acclaimed mangaka. Let’s begin with the first one after the jump:
Wan Sheng Jie S4
Wan Sheng Jie, or “All Saints Street,” began airing in 2020, so really, its placement here serves as an apology for not including it in previous years’ posts. As a feel-good comedy series, it has very few rivals even among full-length anime, so it certainly deserved a mention before now. What kept me from watching it sooner was its country of origin, since I haven’t had a lot of favorable experiences with Chinese anime, but Wan Sheng Jie proves that donghua isn’t all xianxia and cultivation stories. The show centers on Neil, a demon whose fascination with humanity prompts him to move into an ordinary apartment building, only to discover his new roommates are mythological creatures, too. What follows is a wholly fun set of character introductions and backstories, followed by several seasons of supernatural hijinks that put a smile on my face with nearly every new episode. In its recent fourth season, Neil’s angelic love interest entered her punk era, his half brother flashed back to a summer camp encounter with a unicorn, and vampire Ira Blood’s aristocratic twin siblings paid him a torturous visit. Wan Sheng Jie is at its best when it’s introducing new apartment residents, so its early episodes are its best in my opinion, but its 2023 material was still some of my favorite anime of last year.
Silver Spoon fans rejoice – Hiromu Arakawa’s other farming manga finally got an anime adaptation, 17 years after it began publishing! Hyakushou Kizoku, otherwise known as “Noble Farmer,” is a part-autobiographical, part-educational series about Arakawa-sensei’s experience growing up and working on a dairy farm in Hokkaido. Rather than relying on her distinctive, FMA-style character designs, here she represents herself and her immediate family as bipedal cows, giving the show a cartoony charm that serves it well in its pedagogic endeavors. There are lessons on how cows’ seasonal grazing habits change the taste of their milk, how to prevent pumpkins from developing discoloration, and what to do when you encounter a brown bear in your cattle barn in the wee hours of the morning. There are more than just agricultural lectures on offer, however – Arakawa also operates in storyteller mode, telling tales about her eccentric father, the field trips she took as a child, and even the cats and dogs who lived on her parents’ farm when she was a girl. One of the series’ selling points is her Aggretsuko-esque rage, which boils over whenever she describes the ways that litter, waste, and theft can make life harder for farmers (and thus, consumers). It’s comedic, it’s instructional, and it’s just plain fun – check out the subs by [Seigyoku] if you’re interested in sampling the show.
Ikimono-san may be the strangest anime I’ve ever written about. It was directed by Atsushi Wada, who’s something of a darling within Japan’s independent anime scene, and it bears many of his trademarks: rounded character designs with miniscule facial features, a complete lack of dialogue, and an abundance of animals. It’s those animals that make this series worth a quick watch – and I do mean quick, since Ikimono-san’s 12 episodes run for just one and a half minutes each. In each of its short segments, Wada details a young boy’s fascination with a new animal species, leading him to impersonate them in unexpected ways. In one episode, the boy trades ‘clothes’ with a turtle, giving him a chance to squeeze his face and limbs through the gaps in its shell. That squeezing technique recurs in “Bear,” where the boy and his dog attempt to free a bear’s head from a honey pot, with surprising results. Ikimono-san isn’t just an animation showcase, though – it features plenty of surreal comedic touches, and even slips a pair of mini MVs into its short run, with sound effects provided by various members of the animal kingdom. This one is only for adventurous viewers, so if that’s you, check out the pilot episode [here] to see whether you want to download the full series from the usual torrent site.
Those of you with perfect recall may remember that The Diary of Ochibi-san received a [stop motion entry] in 2015’s Japan Animator Expo. That wasn’t too surprising, since it was Hideaki Anno’s Studio Khara which spearheaded that anthology project, and the Ochibi-san manga was written by Anno’s wife Moyoco, a celebrated artist in her own right. What came as a bigger surprise was the recent announcement of a two-cour anime adaptation, which has currently aired 10 of its 24 episodes, all of which have brightened my day considerably when they’ve released. Ochibi-san has a similar energy to Yotsuba&! in its whimsy and its focus on life’s little pleasures; it frequently highlights Japan’s natural beauty by setting its miniature segments at the start or end of a particular season, with cherry blossoms and rain puddles serving as frequent motifs. The characters include two anthropomorphic dogs with opposite personalities, an elderly man named Ojii and his pet cat, and Ochibi-san himself, whose striped outfit will be familiar to anyone raised on Where’s Wally books. Ojii in particular is the sole subject of the series’ elegiac sixth episode, which gently chronicles his response to the death of his wife; this is by far the show’s strongest offering, yet it doesn’t feel the slightest bit out of place among the livelier, more lighthearted material. That’s the power of Moyoco Anno’s creative voice, which celebrates so many aspects of life – even death – in a way that children (and children at heart) will instantly relate to.