Winter 2020 Anime Premiere Impressions

Includes: Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica Gaiden (TV), Darwin’s Game, Koisuru Asteroid.

Contributors: Congress, Shymander

It’s the start of a new year, a new decade… and a new anime season! More than 30 shows are premiering this winter, but not all of them will be worthy of your seasonal watchlist. As such, we’re doing the usual—going through the premieres of almost all these new shows and writing down our detailed first impressions to help you decide what is and isn’t worth a watch. So grab a cup of hot chocolate, snuggle up under a warm blanket, and join us as we jump into Winter 2020!

As our reviews are only based on premieres, they don’t tell you the whole story (shows can get better or worse over time, after all). However, we’ve found that first impressions can do wonders for weeding out the bad… while also bringing special attention to the good.

You can find out where shows are simulcasting here.

Disclaimer: all impressions are based on premiere episodes only, and represent the writers’ personal opinions.

This season, we’ll be doing things a little bit differently. Instead of posting our impressions in one go after all the premieres have come out, we’ll be updating this article as the shows air. This way, our reviews will become available to you as soon as possible.

Koisuru Asteroid ⭐3/5


Koisuru Asteroid is the very first anime to premiere in 2020 proper (first anime of the decade!), and it starts things off on an exceedingly comfy, if muted note. A CGDCT† show from genre veteran Doga Kobo, Koisuru Asteroid is about exactly what you’d expect. It’s cute, warm, delivered with beautifully smooth animation… and just a little bit bland, failing to leave a very strong impression one way or another.

Like many of its peers, Koisuru Asteroid centers around a group of high school girls who are all in the same club. This is nothing new. What is new, however, is that the club in question is a merger between the astronomy club and the geological research society. I’ve seen mahjong, rock music, and tank battles; never anything as mundane as astronomy and geology. But in its mundanity, it makes Koisuru Asteroid down-to-earth (heh) and relatable in a way that the other shows aren’t, giving the show an educational edge and simple charm I quite enjoy.

That said, mundanity is still mundanity in the end. If you don’t watch this show for the generous amounts of moe, very little of the premise is going to interest you. The only part of the premiere that could maybe serve as a hook is already featured prominently in the synopsis. To be fair, it does set up an interesting dynamic between the two characters it involves, one that the show plays around with on many an occasion. No, I don’t think it will lead to yuri.

As for the rest of the cast, no one is too memorable just yet. However, I will say this: Mugi-lookalike Mai Inose and her uwu side-steps will definitely make her a fan-favorite as the season progresses.

In all, I didn’t find Koisuru Asteroid as charming or entertaining as, say, Doga Kobo’s Yuru Yuri (which is a personal favorite), but I also have no major knocks against it like I did with one of last season’s CGDCT shows, Rifle is Beautiful. It’s just… really decent so far, a well-animated and well put-together package that is both cute and inoffensive. And that’s all it wants or needs to be.

If you aren’t a fan of “moe girl” shows, this premiere will probably lose your interest within the first five minutes. For those of you who are, however—Koisuru Asteroid, while failing to “wow,” knows exactly what it is. If you’re craving sugary cuteness, you’ll find it here.

Summary: A cute and well-animated CGDCT centered around an astrology/geology club. It’s not particularly exciting, but shows in this genre aren’t really meant to be.

CGDCT: Cute Girls Doing Cute Things

Darwin’s Game ⭐2/5


Picture, if you will, a coin being flipped: one side says Mirai Nikki and the other says Ousama Game The Animation. It lands, bounces, and gets stuck in a crack standing upright.

Darwin’s Game is exactly what you’d expect from the synopsis. A bootleg wimp-turned-“edgelord” with an OP ability, a bootleg yandere heroine, and a bootleg mobile death game to boot(leg). One thing I did appreciate was how the episode jumps right into it and smoothly introduces the key concepts of the death game without disturbing the flow, unlike the dull monologuing alpaca of last year’s Nakanohito Genome [Jikkyouchuu]. There are hints of organised syndicates within the game and a range of mechanics like literal gacha, which piques my interest. The main duo, on the other hand, are all over the place. Shuka goes through about five character transformations in quick succession and her perceivable motivations make zero sense to me, while Kaname’s sudden entry into the game is a stretch. And, well, he really should get better friends.

The first episode tries to make up for its unappealing initial cast by injecting as much thrill as possible, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to watch at times. In the span of 48 minutes, we’re taken through a superpowered version of The Most Dangerous Game and a warehouse showdown, keeping tensions high all the way through, aided by a fairly decent score. Darwin’s Game tips its toes into gore with sliced fingers and a gratuitous amount of neck-slitting, but… I don’t know how else to describe it except “laughably bad physical acting”, especially the first death of the show.

The animation is both stiff and overdone, and the sub-par character designs suffer further as a result. It indulges in a lot of unnecessary three-dimensional panning, particularly in the second half, to the point of being nauseating. During the first meeting of Kaname and Shuka, a mere conversation, the shot constantly zooms back and forth into character’s faces like a school play being filmed on a home video camera. Worst of all, the floor sometimes just completely drifts away from where the characters are standing (watch from 28:28). Certain parts of the action, like Shuka’s chain weaving in the air while chasing after Kaname, are pointlessly animated, diluting the tension of the scene. There are a few decent cuts that show Darwin’s Game could do better, if only it was less dreadfully inconsistent.

I considered bumping this up by another half-point, but the bizarre ending gave me flashbacks to Arifureta Shokugyou de Sekai Saikyou‘s Hajime and Yue, and that’s not a good thing by any measure.

Summary: A watered-down version of Mirai Nikki with a dash of Ousama Game The Animation‘s ironic enjoyment, Darwin’s Game is nothing inspiring and at times frustrating, but it’s not one to completely rule out just yet.

Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica Gaiden (TV) ⭐4/5


In the last few weeks, I’ve seen numerous debates on Twitter about what the most influential anime of the 2010s was. More often than not, these would confidently start with Sword Art Online before being quickly rebutted with Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica. Heated comments then ensue. Whichever way you feel about it, their ongoing influence is undeniable, and we’re getting new installments of both in the new decade.

Despite the franchise’s solid track record, I was naturally skeptical before heading into this; once you watch enough lousy mobile game adaptations, you feel like you’ve seen them all. But the crew at Shaft have strived to create something new that also hearkens back to what started it all, and the first episode executes that almost perfectly.

Magia Record doesn’t waste any time pretending to be innocent, immediately jumping into the fantastical but dark world of Witches and wishes—it’s upfront about the naive nature of youth desire, the main theme of the original series. Speaking of themes, opening with a few seconds of serene silence before mic-dropping “Sis Puella Magica!”? I got literal chills from the cold wave of nostalgia (plus all the eerie imagery and daunting cityscapes). Add in a pink-haired, family-oriented protagonist and a deceptively cute Kyuubey… you’ve got a true Madoka series that flies a little bit too close to the original, but offers a divergent enough narrative worthy of a decent side story. Mahou Shoujo Madoka★Magica drew out the slow burn of anguish caused by the short-sighted wishes of young girls, leading to inevitable tragedy. In Magia Record, the main character doesn’t even remember the wish that she made despite the devastating effect it evidently had, and it’s that unfolding mystery that sets a fresh tone for the show heading into a reported two-cour series.

There’s only been two briefly shown so far, but the most disappointing element for me is the new labyrinth designs. The faux papercraft art is beautifully maintained, but there’s a lack of flair in the first labyrinth, where 3DCG is the focus, and a lack of intricate psychedelia in the second when compared to the original series and movies. But that’s not to say that the premiere is lacking in extra style overall. There’s a gorgeous amount of background detail in many provocative layouts that balance the unique Madoka blend of dystopia and magic. In Monogatari-esque fashion, stylistic displays of emblematic text frequently pop up, which unfortunately plasters the screen with splatters of subtitle text that pass by so quickly that it’s easy to miss intriguing details. I would recommend pausing to read them, if need be.

If you’re wondering about Madoka herself and the rest of the gang, their cameo in the ending theme animation should hopefully answer that.

Summary: Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica Gaiden (TV) is a delightful mix of something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue—a strong recommendation for old fans and a good reminder for the uninitiated to watch the original.

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