It’s pretty remarkable (and, from a writing-about-anime perspective, frankly intimidating) how well this season is holding up. Maybe it’ll just take a couple more weeks or something, but so far virtually none of the shows I initially enjoyed have fallen apart, and some of them have actually improved. Currently I’m impressed by as many shows this season as I was by pretty much the entire rest of the year to date. Running it down…
White Album 2 4: One of the most restrained and well-depicted romances I’ve seen. I’d already been sold on the distinctiveness and complexity of Hikari and Ogiso, but this week was undoubtedly Touma’s episode. She initially came across as a comfortable role staple – cold and standoffish, but harboring a long-time crush – the classic tsundere ice queen. This episode humanized her wonderfully, using her unhappy relationship with her mother to illustrate both her own self-image and the way that expresses itself through her relationships with her peers. This episode also set up the very understandable dramatic tension within the trio – Hikari and Touma seem to share an actual mutual attraction, but neither of them are the type to pursue it. Meanwhile, Ogiso’s feelings towards Hikari are clear, and she actually does have the drive and self-confidence to act on those feelings. Whatever happens now, I have full confidence the writing will see it through.
Kill la Kill 4: Kill la Kill as a classic Looney Tune. I never knew how beautiful that could be. There really isn’t anything meaningful you can say about this episode – personally, I felt it was possibly the funniest single episode of anime I’ve ever seen, and I’ve hated a whole lot of anime comedy. Saving budget has never looked this good.
Nagi no Asukara 4: Not much to say about this one – my general impression of episode 4 was “like episode 3, but somewhat less so.” No standout sequence like 3’s sister-focused flashback, but it did establish a more stable place for our protagonists within the school, as well as continue to build the background texture of the relationships linking these characters. I’m somewhat less than thrilled the sister conflict is actually still relevant – I kind of liked having her wishes just be a sad casualty of this cultural friction, and the more the show focuses on resolving these small immediate conflicts, the less hope I have its scope will be something grander. But it’s still a pretty, professionally constructed drama, so I guess that’s looking a gift fish in the mouth.
Kyoukai no Kanata 5: Maybe my favorite episode of this so far? I dunno. Almost certainly the best-directed, and the most effectively focused, and the one whose emotional journey was most sharply depicted, and… yeah, it was probably the best. Mitsuki’s internal arc, fuller characterization, and new fondness for Mirai were all handled well, and regardless of my feelings on her own shows, Yamada is undoubtedly an excellent director. This show doesn’t have the overall sheen and vision to match Hyouka or the emotional acuity to match Chuunibyou, but it’s a fine, aesthetically impressive version of what it is.
Samurai Flamenco 3: Dear god this show is endearing. Extremely funny, with a well-constructed and somehow cozy aesthetic, and focused on a deeply resonant dissatisfaction with the necessary settling of expectations that partially defines adulthood. This particular episode was fantastic, and introduced immediate-breakout-character Red Axe with a death-defying motorcycle leap explosion. It was interesting to me to see the range of reactions to him across the internet – some people assuming his aims were wholly mercenary, others believing he was simply a crazy dude who really liked justice. Personally, I kinda think he embodies a “why can’t it be both” attitude that digs at the heart of this show’s sentimentality – yeah, he’s a fading celebrity who could use a break, but he also dives into that role with absolutely gleeful abandon, and his first reaction after his performance is happy surprise at all the young people his announcement resonated with. Kinda fitting that I reference Chuunibyou right before addressing this show – they seem to have very similar feelings about the difference between growing up and growing old.
Log Horizon 4: This show remains proudly watchable. It doesn’t impress me, it doesn’t disappoint me, it continuously entertains me. Every episode adds just enough solid dialogue, smart articulations of the setting, and narrative progression to keep me solidly engaged. If you’re looking for a show to watch, this is a show that you can watch.
Golden Time 4: I was ready to drop this show, but was basically coerced into continuing by mysterious circumstances (intrigue!). I’m not necessarily glad I did, but this episode was definitely a huge step up from the first three. The show finally addressed the conflict that’s been sticking out like a huge, utterly-immersion-breaking middle finger from the very first episode – the fact that Koko’s relationship with her not-boyfriend is a completely ridiculous narrative device, making her a completely ridiculous narrative device. Mitsuo finally and deservedly shut that whimsical dynamic down for (hopefully) good, leaving room for actual progression in the manner of believable human beings. Even Tada Blandri got a star turn this episode, directly confessing his affection at the smoothest possible moment. I’m being kinda dismissive her, but that’s mainly residual resentment – if the show builds off this episode’s very necessary developments, it could right itself in record time.
Yozakura Quartet 4: This episode was really bad and this show is pretty much losing me. I initially liked its system of dropping you into a living world with already-defined characters and systems, but it’s just got too many characters, too much worldbuilding lore, and too many conflicts to waste this much time derping around with pool parties and grumpy old pottery-makers. I feel like it’s taking my investment for granted, and that’s a dangerous choice to make.
Monogatari S2 17: Another Mayoi arc, another slew of ridiculous pedo jokes and pointless rambling conversations. Araragi and Mayoi are both fairly low on my list of Monogatari characters, and putting them in a room together is not my idea of a good time. But aside from the actual narrative content of this episode (it’s kind of amazing to me that “aside from the actual narrative content” was how I’d preface almost everything I liked about Bakemonogatari, considering how good the series has gotten since then), it was still pretty and well-directed, and the conflict with Shinobu at the end was actually great. Shinobu, Senjougahara, and Hanekawa are all such great, vibrant characters that they can basically bring any scene to life singlehandedly, and this scene actually had a great emotional conflict underpinning it – the very different ways Araragi and Shinobu each seem to view their relationship. Hopefully Mayoi stays unconscious and we get another Araragi/Shinobu arc for free.
Outbreak Company 4: This show is some bullshit. Last episode was focused on the nationalist backlash to Japan’s underhanded policy of cultural assimilation, and this episode… was focused on the protagonist lusting over a cute girl with a fluffy tail. How do… how do I reconcile that? Eh, fuck it.
Kyousogiga 3: Saved the best for last. Kinda hard to articulate what makes this show so good, because everything makes this show so good. Its lovely, evocative world. Its great sense of energy. Its distinctive, articulate, understandable characters, and the wonderful structure that’s giving each of them room to define themselves. Its poignancy – the universality of its themes, which seem to be riding the Eccentric Family trend of coming-of-age redefined as acceptance-of-adulthood. Its beautiful aesthetic, well-chosen soundtrack, and standout direction. And the fact that, in spite of being composed entirely of top-rate parts, it still manages to be more than the sum of them. It’s really nice when shows are good.