Director: Atsushi Ikariya
Streaming on: Crunchyroll
Future generations of weebs will look back on our not-so illustrious history and mark two eras on the calendar: before Winter 2021, and after. In no uncertain terms, last year’s inaugural season offered up a legendary serving of anime, and honestly, it has affected my judgment as an anime reviewer. I began reviewing in the fall of the previous year; I had no idea what I was getting into.
The season came and I found myself overwhelmed with reviews, though I still managed to watch everything I was interested in and review them promptly. Now, though, a year later, I can see how that season skewed my perception of a good anime season. Winter 2022 is good, even great, but compared to its predecessor? Yeah, no contest.
Attack on Titan and Demon Slayer are back in force, wrecking me emotionally every Sunday, but I’ve been watching and reviewing some lackluster shows, especially compared to how I was spoiled for choice previously. It just feels a little underwhelming, you know? The other ones are pretty good, but right now I don’t need an anime that is just good, it needs to be weird. Real weird.
So I was at a loss, blaming my own spore taste. I mean, Sasaki and Miyano are a couple of fungi(s), but if I stopped reviewing then and there, that would be im-morel. Okay, okay, I’m done. Today, I’m reviewing Sabikui Bisco, because this rustpunk mushroom world has really grown on me. Okay, now I’m done.
I hope you like anime that make a strong impression, because the first minute of Sabikui Bisco features all of Japan being consumed by the mushroom cloud of nuclear Armageddon. In the years following, the Rust Wind has come and consumed countless victims, rotting their bodies from the inside out. Humanity has been reduced to a few large settlements, helpless to treat the epidemic.
While most people believe mushrooms are the source of the Rust, a young doctor named Milo is convinced they’re the key to curing it. Luckily, he’s found the last ray of hope in this world, a terrorist known as Bisco Akaboshi, a Mushroom Keeper whose bow literally shoots arrows capable of producing giant mushrooms. They’re on a time crunch to search the wastelands for the Rust-Eater, a mythical mushroom capable of curing the Rust.
In the first couple of episodes, Sabikui Bisco lays a phenomenal foundation for its story. If it didn’t grab your attention by starting with an actual nuclear apocalypse, then it might have done so with subtle atmospheric worldbuilding and character writing. The first episode in particular just lets the audience hang out with Milo, watch him work, and acclimate to the sooty air of Japan after the end of the world.
In fact, the second episode is a character study on Bisco and his relationship with his mentor. Establishing two likable leads, elaborating on an intriguing world and a genuinely wild premise did wonders to get me excited for the story going forward. The couple of explosive mushroom-themed action scenes we got didn’t hurt either.
In just the first couple of episodes, Sabikui Bisco has shown me many things I have not seen anywhere else. I mean, in hindsight, it should have been immediately obvious. Rustpunk apocalypse where mushrooms save the world sounds immediately like just the most anime thing I’ve ever heard of. Strong concepts don’t mean much, though, if they lack the visuals to realize them.
And Sabikui Bisco has that in the bag. There’s some glaring CG, but I’m willing to forgive that the giant crab our protagonist rides looks kind of spotty simply because he rides a giant crab. I was shocked to learn that this was the debut anime from studio OZ, because it looks way too good for that. I know new studio doesn’t always mean inexperienced animators, but we’ve had so many studios pop up in the last few years that churn out garbage that I’m not wrong to be initially wary.
However, Sabikui Bisco was directed by Atsushi Ikariya, who also serves as its character designer. You may know Ikariya from his work on the Fate franchise, particularly Fate/Zero and Ufotable’s Unlimited Blade Works, where he worked as character designer, key animation, and animation director, and you know what? That makes sense. Character designs can trip up talented animation teams if they’re not suited to fluid animation, so someone with extensive experience in both design, animation, and direction working as director gives Sabikui Bisco a tremendous advantage.
So I could spend the rest of my remaining time gushing about how Ikariya and the team at OZ have brought this world to life so vividly, but there’s something else I need to mention that I usually don’t talk much about; I mean music. I’m not going to pretend I’m knowledgeable about music; I’m tone deaf, have no technical knowledge, and if you asked me why I like certain music, all I can say is that the beeps and the boops make my brain happy.
But you don’t need to be an expert in music to appreciate its use in media. More than anything, it’s important to understand what kind of emotion the score is trying to evoke, and Sabikui Bisco is on fire. Whether it’s tense tracks in a chase scene that puts us on edge with tight string instrument pieces, off-kilter explosive selections that immerse us in this peculiar world, Sabikui Bisco’s compositions start off stellar and only improve from there.
So Akariya is a pretty big catch for this series, and I’ve found some other impressive names when glancing through the staff listings, but I wasn’t prepared for what I found. Sadayuki Murai sounded vaguely familiar, but hey, I was probably getting names mixed up, it couldn’t possibly be…nope, actually, it’s the guy who wrote Cowboy Bebop and Perfect Blue. Are you joking me?
I know I trash on classic anime a lot, but this guy wrote Bebop and Perfect Blue, and I’m not so jaded and cynical as to say I’m not impressed. And yeah, it shows in Sabikui Bisco’s writing.
The first two episodes are strongly composed individual stories that effectively introduce us to Bisco and Milo, providing compelling hooks to each boy’s motivation and personality before they ever actually meet up. I’m far more invested in the journey these characters take because the script took the time to lay the groundwork and endear the characters to the audience first.
If I had one complaint in those first few episodes, it was the fight between Bisco and Milo’s sister Pawoo, who is this ultra-elite supercop hunting Bisco. Two characters fighting because of a misunderstanding where one person refuses to listen and one person refuses to adequately explain themselves is a grating trope. The scene highlights that it is silly that people believe the mushrooms cause the Rust, and not just random shmucks.
In fact, Milo is the only scientist who even thinks mushrooms could help reverse the Rust. It’s not clear what the shady governor of the city stands to gain by leading people to believe that the Rust is caused by mushrooms, either, so the fact that literally no one is shown disagreeing other than our main characters is a rare moment of weak writing. Ultimately, though, it’s a nitpick, and it really has no bearing on the show as a whole.
Sabikui Bisco is probably going to claim my personal favorite spot on this season. My Dress-Up Darling is just a bit easier to love, but hey, I can’t help but love something that is just so weird. I know these outlandish concepts often backfire painfully, but I can’t stop myself from getting on the hype train every time something new and bizarre rolls onto the seasonal block.
Considering its pedigree and the absolutely phenomenal showing we’ve had so far, I have no reservation in giving Sabikui Bisco an Entertaining Fantastic, with the sincere hope it continues to prove me right. I really hope it does, because I kind of had to snub Demon Slayer to save this grading for Bisco.
And that wraps it up for Winter 2022. All in all, there’s some gems to be had, but it’s a standard season. If you’re not watching My Dress-Up Darling and Sabikui Bisco, you’re missing out. Oh, and Sasaki & Miyano and Tokyo 24th Ward are good, if you like those genres. Not much I can do for you if you refuse to get on the Demon Slayer bandwagon, but hey, at least we dropped Love of Kill and Requiem of the Rose King.
So why not comment on your favorite anime of the winter season down below, follow the Otaku Exhibition if you want to see more essays on anime now that I’ve cleared out my review backlog. You can also follow me on Twitter @ExhibitionOtaku where I’m always talking about the anime I’m currently watching, as well as how Genshin Impact is determined to deprive me of Keqing. Until next time, thanks for reading.
EDIT: I wrote this essay approximately seven hours before I lost the 50/50 pulling on Ganyu’s banner and got Keqing. Life is good, and I retract any slanderous statements towards Genshin Impact here.