This week has had me eating a balanced diet of my own words pretty much every day. Virtually every show I was on the fence about rallied heroically, many of the major complaints I had about everything I was watching were directly addressed, and this season is now actually looking pretty good. Way to make me look dumb, anime! Friggin’ jerks.
Running it down…
Kill la Kill 16: Yep, starting a week in review with Kill la Kill. It’s been a long, long time coming, but this was the episode we needed – Life Fibers were explained (aliens, of course), Ragyo’s Fiendish Plan was unveiled, and Ryuuko’s character development actually led to her defying her allies. After many weeks full of stuff happening that didn’t actually affect the fundamental plot, the scale of the overall show was finally brought into focus. Hell, they even focused directly on humanizing Satsuki – both the flaws in her philosophy and the fact that her brave face is largely a performance were central to this episode’s first scenes. I’ve been waiting for this episode ever since the middle of the Naturals Election, and though I’m not happy it’s taken this long to arrive, it’s still done a lot to restore my interest in this series. Hopefully the next few episodes maintain the game-changing pace this one established.
Samurai Flamenco 15: Goddamn does this show like to play the long game. After an entire middle act largely dedicated to being a loving throwback to super sentai storytelling, we’re back on ground that’s actually about something – we finally get the grand reveal that the entire sentai world was basically invented to distract voters while the governments of the world do what they want. Which is certainly a great spin in its own right – it builds directly off the complacency and “mass media as desensitizing entertainment” ideas of the King Torture arc, and actually makes sense of pretty much everything that’s happened so far. But I’m mainly just sort of astonished at the guts of this show, at how fully it’s dedicated itself to something that’s pretty much guaranteed to piss people off.
I remember discussing the validity of what this show attempts in reference to Clannad – that is, a show that basically builds an audience rapport through one dedicated genre, and then manipulates that rapport to emotional or dramatic effect when it switches to another genre. I suppose Steins;Gate would be another example of this, and I think both of these examples illustrate the key issues at work here. In order for this kind of long game to work, you have to both be really good at each of these genres (which is where Clannad lost me), and the audience has to like each of these genres (which is why so many people dislike Steins;Gate’s first half while loving the second). And in the case of Samurai Flamenco, I feel like a lot of people who’d appreciate the way this is turning out all signed off a few episodes ago, because super sentai nostalgia-ism just isn’t that interesting to people who aren’t really invested in super sentai shows. Which is a shame, because I really like the overall concept here – but it’s just unrealistic to expect an audience to buy into a reality they don’t care about because an unknown twist down the line might suddenly reveal it was one they do care about all along.
But I’m a sucker for formal experiments, and I’m a sucker for shows with a meta sense of humor, and I’m a sucker for the kind of cynicism involved in the points this show is moving towards, so I’m certainly on board. It’s just kind of a shame the show has so deliberately marginalized itself this way.
Space Dandy 5: This week, Space Dandy proved it can pull a Bebop. Few raunchy jokes, no structural experiments, and nobody dies at the end – instead, we got an understated personal drama that showed off Dandy’s better nature and featured a few segments designed almost strictly to show how simultaneously relatable and full of wonder this universe happens to be. Having Dandy’s first serious episode be one where he has to take care of a kid was a very, very smart choice – he’s one of those people that seems enough like a kid himself that their rapport comes naturally, but being forced to take care of someone else brings out every ounce of maturity and compassion in him. It was very different from the usual fare, but it didn’t feel unnatural – both in tone and character, this episode felt like it made great use of what makes Dandy different from Bebop.
And yeah, I felt it was like ten times better than every Dandy episode so far. What can I say? Humor’s disposable, drama cuts at the heart of our nature. I’ll take drama over comedy pretty much every time (though of course comedy’s a great tool in dramas – in fact, I pretty much always prefer comedy as a tool, not a genre), and I’m very happy to see Dandy can pull off a damn solid drama.
Sekai Seifuku 4: Following in the wake of the three sudden upgrades above, I was kind of worried Sekai Seifuku wouldn’t hold up. Well, turns out that was totally unwarranted, because this week’s Sekai Seifuku almost made me cry.
It was pretty much as different from last week’s as possible – in fact, it almost had the opposite message. While last week was a cynical satire about the dangers of extremism and unquestioned belief in a cause, this week’s episode was largely about the importance of belief – of how much stronger we are when we have others we believe in, and when others believe in us. Natasha’s backstory was intentionally vague and fable-esque, which worked in a lot of ways – with the general vagueness of this world’s reality, with the ambiguity of a child’s memories, and with the intended universality of this episode’s message. And its resolution was pretty standard stuff, but it was handled beautifully – the slow build of the episode’s narrative, the rapid, childish absurdity of the climax, and then the bracing honesty of the glances shared by Natasha and Kate at the end.
The music and pacing did a lot of work, but this was also just a good message, and one that, somewhat ironically, I feel last week’s counterpoint actually strengthened. Because as I’ve said before, optimism untempered by reality always rings false for me – shows that are all happy all the time just feel like condescending lies. It’s this stuff, stuff that fully acknowledges the world is harsh and sharp, that can really get to me – when a show like this smiles at you, you know it really means it.
Log Horizon 18: And Log Horizon has its best episode ever. The discussion with Lenessia’s grandfather displayed rapid-fire and actually understated political maneuvering, the setup and very concept of Lenessia’s speech was about as smartly cynical as ideas come, and that whole crowd-pleasing performance… brilliant stuff. Like with Sekai Seifuku’s third episode, this episode proved that “villain in glasses” title wasn’t just a cute nickname – Shirou legitimately manipulated the hell out of these people for his own ends. Yeah, saving the People of the Land is almost certainly the “right thing to do” according to any reasonable moral system – but Shirou knows people don’t do things just because they’re right, and so he put on a performance designed to play to their predictable nature as humans and gamers. “Come save the kingdom, heroes. I warn you, it’s a dangerous quest! But look, even this beautiful princess is fighting – and see how much she cares about you? How can you let her down!? We can’t offer great rewards – only the knowledge that you’re the great and mighty hero you joined this game because you always wanted to be.”
Brutal stuff. This is this author at his absolute best – using a grim acknowledgment of our lesser nature to make a paean to our better one. A goddamn impressive episode overall, and a serious feather in the cap for Log Horizon.
Nagi no Asukara 17: Well, if you hadn’t caught the theme of this series before now, I hope this episode change change change.
Yeah, there was a whole lot of muttering about change by everyone this week. It was kind of a slow one, overall – the central “arc” was basically “Miuna and Sayu both get optimistic about pursuing their childhood crushes, then they both get shot down, then they both get a reason to be optimistic again.” Which sounds kinda pointless when I put it like that, but…
Actually, no “but.” This just wasn’t that good of an episode, and rang of nothing so much as the “we get it already” relationship re-reestablishing doldrums of the first cour’s middle act.
Not really worried, though. There were still good bits here (like Kaname seeing Chisaki and Tsumugu act out their domestic life together, a nice bit of visual storytelling), and it seems like we’re moving right along next week. Whether or not the expedition into the sea actually bears fruit (I’m kinda guessing not), the “new normal” has now been fully established, so the show now has a solid platform to begin shifting the variables again. I’m ready to see where it goes from here.
The Pilot’s Love Song 5: Not a flashy episode here (it’d be hard to ever describe this show as “flashy”), but a good one. This episode burned through Claire’s flashback in about a quarter the time Karl’s took, and yet still established pretty much everything you’d need to know about her character. It even firmly set the larger context of this entire series – the roles our arbitrary lots in life force us to play, the distance between those roles and our actual selves, and the way war makes casualties or monsters of us all. Claire’s power made her feel needed for a time, and really only sped the end of political shifts no single person could have stopped, but to Karl, Nina is the one symbol of everything terrible or unfair that has ever happened to him. It’s easier that way, to isolate the symbol – it gives him purpose. But really, the two of them couldn’t be any more similar – both used-up pawns, both victims of forces larger than themselves, both exiles.
It’s looking like next week will be ending the brief peace these characters have been enjoying. This episode has me very ready for it.
Chuunibyou Ren 4: Hm. Well, this episode was basically the kind of thing I was worried about – it was pure fanservice fluff, with no real progression whatsoever. In the first season, the KyoAni wheelhouse episodes that made up the first half actually had purpose – each served to fully introduce a character and progress the central narrative. Here, the point of the episode was “goof around with Nibutani and Dekomori before wandering right back to the status quo.” Which… well, I like these characters, so I still enjoyed it, but I’d much rather see this actually going somewhere. It could even still have been a Nibutani/Deko episode, it would just have had to push their relationship in some way. But that would require upsetting this show’s reliable romcom stasis, and so it didn’t happen.
One of my favorite things about Chuunibyou S1 was that it didn’t follow these dramatically limiting, character-stifling “rules of romantic comedy” – things actually happened, characters actually changed. If Ren does a whole lot of treading water, it’s not going to impress me.
Hunter x Hunter 114/115: Fell behind on last week’s episode, but that wasn’t the show’s fault. It’s actually kind of nice to cover two at once, because I feel these two episodes are each a showcase for one of Hunter x Hunter’s tentpole strengths. First, 114 was all on Madhouse – their production of the Shoot fight, and the various visual flourishes scattered throughout, made that particular episode an absolute joy to watch. And following right after, 115 was all on Togashi – the number of compelling mini-narratives on display here, and the way even side characters like Welfin endlessly justify their own presence, is pretty much the ultimate argument for this genre as a narrative form. I love how Welfin’s focus on winning his “king behind the king” prize consumes his attention even as the walls crumble around him, and I love how his distrust of his own ability serves as yet another example of how well this show has thought through the implications and potential of its own fantasy systems. Normally, a show with a reliance on battles either keeps the combat variables simple enough to be readily graspable (as grounded sports shows tend to) or simply foregoes tension and embraces meaningless spectacle (as stuff like Jojo does). Hunter x Hunter has powers as wacky as anything out there, but every single one of them is treated with thoughtfulness and respect – all the pieces bounce off each other in intelligent, dramatically satisfying ways. It’s a rare, effective thing, and the fact that it’s just one of so many strengths is, as always, remarkable.