The Winter 2021 anime season is in full swing, and with it comes new shows, as well as continuations. While it would make sense for me to prioritize first impressions about anime that are debuting, I find this particular batch of sequels to be interesting because of the wide range of approaches they encompass.
The first anime to stand out in this respect is Attack on Titan: The Final Season. The fact that one of the biggest titles in recent memory is heading towards a conclusion is noteworthy enough, but one wrinkle about this particular season is that it’s being animated by a completely different studio, MAPPA. This usually means that there will be inevitable shifts or inconsistencies with the previous anime, and they’re really noticeable with this final season. However, it doesn’t come across as a dip in quality (unlike, say, One Punch Man Season 2). At the same time, the fact that the final season of Attack on Titan takes place after a time skip means that it’s hard to make too direct a comparison—familiar characters look older, and I can’t help but wonder how Studio Wit might have approached this change.
The second is Show by Rock!! Stars!! The fourth season of the Sanrio franchise is a crossover of sorts, bringing back the original cast alongside the characters of the third season, Show by Rock!! Mashumairesh!! But it’s also in many ways a return to form, as Mashumairesh!! takes the humor and general feel of Show by Rock!! in a fairly different directionthat focuses more on relatively subdued yuri romance—and thus a less fun one, in my opinion. Upon watching the first episode of Stars!!, I immediately could tell that something was different—half of it is spent making an elaborate Initial D streetracing reference—and how the quirky irreverence that made me a fan of the first two seasons had returned.
The third to catch my attention is WIXOSS: DIVA(A)LIVE, which is the latest anime adaptation of the WIXOSS trading card game. While I’ve still never played the actual TCG, the first anime based on it—Selector Infected WIXOSS and Selector Spread WIXOSS—stood out to me due to its psychologically intense “monkey’s paw” narrative. However, this latest version of a WIXOSS anime is both a departure from how battles were portrayed and the darker atmosphere of the previous series. The (for now) lighthearted setting involves WIXOSS as an online virtual experience, bringing to mind the change from Gundam Build Fighters to Gundam Build Divers. Even the meaning of certain terminology has changed significantly, as where once “Selectors” meant players of the card game, it now means audience members who cheer on their divas who are participating in the game.
From the three sequels listed above, you have a finale that’s being done by an almost completely different staff, a direct continuation that’s more like a turn back towards greatness, and a reimagining that stands in stark contrast to its predecessors. Together with the more conventional follow-ups we’re seeing (The Promised Neverland and Re:ZERO, for example), we’re getting pretty much the whole gamut of possibilities. This variety brings to mind all the debates I’ve seen over the years about the right and wrong ways to do sequels: How closely do you adhere to source material? How much should previous seasons? affect the new work? It reminds me that there’s no single right answer.