It’s sink or swim time this week, and fortunately for my own sanity, a whole lot of shows are obligingly gurgling their way to the bottom. This tendency for the chaff to vote itself off the island is being nicely counterbalanced by solid episodes from all the shows I give a damn about, so right now I couldn’t be happier about this season. At this point, it’s looking like I’ll cut down to between six and eight shows that are all roughly as good or better than my top two from last season – last season was weak, but that’s still a fantastic place to be. Running them down…
No Game No Life 2: Well, I probably wasn’t going to watch this episode, but my twitter feed convinced me it was at least enjoyable trash with Steph’s amazing “WRYYYYYYYY.” And the episode confirmed it – Steph’s voice actress is doing awesome work, and all of her rants were a joy to listen to. The rest of the show? Awful. Pretty much the archetypal light novel adaptation – tons of fanservice, the same tired jokes, and the MC being a super badass who’s also a total nerd who totally relates to all your weird otaku hangups. It’s self-aware, but at this point, self-awareness almost seems like the standard mode for these shows – self-awareness is not self-reflection, and this show contains zero self-reflection. G’bye, No Game No Life.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure 3: JoJo is just so goddamn hilarious you guys. Even when no real action is happening, every minute is just full of overwrought wonderfulness. Avodol’s hysterical recollection of meeting Dio, culminating in “HE WAS SO TERRIFYINGLY CHARMING… ALMOST LIKE A WOMAN!” Joseph Joestar being World’s Greatest Grandpa, wandering around in his pajamas shouting about his grandson’s pants. Avodol breathlessly expositing (Avodol does a lot of stuff breathlessly) how Holly can’t handle having a Stand because she’s a girl and this is a comic for boys. Joseph randomly headbutting his grandson in rage and despair (holy shit is he a great grandpa). Jotaro compassionately telling his mother “JUST SHUT UP AND GET BETTER SOON.”
JoJo just has this serene level of absurdity, and breaks so many rules of storytelling in such confident and ridiculous ways, that somehow it all becomes so much more than the sum of its parts. Nothing has happened yet, and yet the show is still a joy to watch. I don’t know how they do it.
The World is Still Beautiful 3: This week’s episode opened with two “uwaaaa pervert!” jokes followed directly by a boob size joke. The rest of the episode wasn’t significantly better – even this show’s dramatic moments are pretty ham-fisted, and at this point it’s looking like the anime-original episode was actually handled by a much better writer than the person who wrote the source material. The banter between the two leads actually is occasionally solid… but it’s inconsistent, and more often than not the show is dragging out tired character beats that aren’t really elevated by the execution. I dunno. I’m on the fence – at its best moments, this show is a fairly reasonable version of a genre I really like, but those moments just don’t come often enough. I might just drop it for now and maybe save it for a rainy day.
Captain Earth 3: It’s both weird and kinda thrilling to see little echoes of this writer (and larger team)’s past in various elements here. The Evangelion-style scifi trappings as pure vehicle for character and theme. The endless obsession with family and adolescence. The theatrical, Ikuhara-esque leanings. This stuff is basically synonymous in my mind with “good anime,” so I guess they know my weaknesses. And the ways this show doesn’t line up with those classics are well-chosen – I like that our protagonist here is a very proactive guy, and I also like that the “mysterious children” aren’t kept at arm’s length. They’re people too, and they’re getting the chance to be people. Other than that, this was largely a setup episode – it formally introduced our last protagonist, more directly established… pfff… “Salty Dog” as an antagonist, and introduced what seem to be the main crazy powers of our two Mysterious Children. It’s what happens after this that’s the hard part, so we’ll have to see where it goes.
M3: Well, damn. This is pretty much the ur-scifi anime – typical in every single respect, with nothing about its characters, narrative, ideas, or execution inspiring any sort of motivation to continue. The visual effects of the Lightless Realm are kinda neat, but the actual concept is absurdly on-the-nose. Possibly the most interesting thing about this episode was that it kinda seemed to be archetype-ifying characters and fast-forwarding narrative to get to… something, but this episode didn’t give me the highest hopes that the “something” we’re moving towards is really worth racing to in the first place.
Honestly, the writing’s just bad – tired and contrived, with no real spark to anything, and it pretty much outright states its own themes. I had issues with Nagi no Asukara, but Okada at least seemed passionate about that show – I do not get that impression here.
One Week Friends 3: Could this show be any more relentlessly charming? It’s hard to imagine. These characters come off so naturally, and their interactions seem so earnest, that it’s tough not to fall in love with them. And the show is far from just empty niceness, either – all of this love of people is made much, much more real by the sharp edge of fear at the heart of this show. It’s kind of a funny comparison to make, but One Week Friends is pretty much all about the same things Eva was – the overwhelming fear and absolute necessity of human connection. How difficult it can be to trust. How well you can really know another person. And how your world opens up when you have someone to rely on.
Both the narrative and the direction express this with subtlety and grace. This episode featured a lack of trust from all three of its central characters, each expressed in a different way. Kiryuu was the most overt example here, but also the most understandable – he didn’t trust the girl telling this strange story, and he didn’t want his friend to get hurt. He questions why Fujimiya can’t speak for herself – which reveals her own lack of trust, an inability to open up and meet either of the others halfway. When she tries to make amends for this, it reveals Hase’s own lack of trust, when he attempts to keep her from worrying about things and take all the burden on himself. None of this is overstated – all of it is expressed through the natural patter of their conversation and the endless series of shots that see them stranded, alone in the huge, intimidating frames that surround them. When Fujimiya ultimately crosses into Kiryuu’s world, he reciprocates, reaching out his hand as well, and the resolution feels like one more tiny triumph in a show dedicated to revealing how enormous these moments can be.
One Week Friends has been pretty remarkable so far. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
Hitsugi no Chaika 2: More confident, high-quality work from this week’s Chaika. The opening game of cat-and-mouse was well-designed and well-directed, keeping tension while also allowing the wizard’s taunts to naturally fill in a little exposition. I particularly liked the wizard’s desperate offer to buy back his treasure at the end – much better than a threat or a warning, this rant really ground in the ambiguity of whatever’s going on here. The following scene was also well-done – our siblings fighting the law just to save a cute girl might stretch credulity, but the show’s already established that Toru kinda hates being a mere mercenary, and so the turning point specifically played against his pride. And then we had another action sequence, again full of little weighted encounters with plenty of understandable back-and-forth… and then the final reveal gave us the context we’ve been lacking while also working perfectly with Toru’s character. Bam bam bam.
This show is just action-fantasy done right, and that’s kind of a rare thing. I’m not tremendously engaged in it (so far it’s felt more polished than distinctive), but I can see why you would be, if you like this sort of thing. And I’ll certainly keep watching.
Also Chaika a cute.
Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei 3: I got exactly one minute and twenty-seven seconds into this episode. I am not being paid to watch these characters all talk jargon and fawn over how awesome this protagonist is, and so this is where I get off.
Knights of Sidonia 2: The CG is still regularly awful, but everything else about this show is pretty solid. The writing cleverly leans on the strengths of hard scifi to embellish its fantastical elements with some grounding, and the direction in the action scenes is phenomenal. The larger pillars of the plot are kinda standard, but it feels like some actual thought was put into all the little details, and that really helps give a sense of place to this story. I’m still grappling with the CG as I watch it (many scenes that would play as anime standards here just seem odd due to that extra degree of separation), but I get the feeling this show will reward that struggle in the end.
Mekakucity Actors 2: This second episode was a whole lot better than the first in a variety of ways. Both the writing and direction were much more purposeful – we actually got a solidly articulated character this time, and some of the visual flourishes were very well-chosen (I particularly liked the various inanimate objects representing everyone except the mother and protagonist). Honestly, I can’t say there was anything wrong with this episode – it was actually quite well done, but for some reason, this show just isn’t grabbing me. Part of it might be that I just don’t like the combination of Monogatari’s sterile world and this show’s flatter, rougher visual style – I’m just put off by the aesthetic in general. A more legitimate complaint might be that we’re still clearly establishing pieces, and those pieces seem dedicated more towards telling a story for a story’s sake than anything else, so I don’t have much to invest in. Either way, while I can’t point to anything that this episode did seriously wrong (unlike the first episode), I’m just not that compelled to continue. I guess we’ll see.
Ping Pong 2: And to absolutely no one’s surprise, the brilliant writing, direction, and sound design of Ping Pong’s first episode didn’t turn out to be a fluke. Nope, turns out this is just a great property being handled by a great team, and the second episode was even stronger than the first. There’s so much energy in this show! It builds towards these climactic moments with a great sense of naturalism, displays tremendous personality and humor along the way, and then lets loose in a flurry of gorgeous shots. It conveys the energy and excitement of these matches through direction alone – I may not be able to understand what actually makes someone great at Ping Pong, but these scenes make it ridiculously easy to follow the momentum and back-and-forth of these exchanges regardless. Coach stole the show this week (“NONSENSE! Who needs high school english?!?”), but we also revealed new shades of both Smile and Peco. Smile because this was clearly his episode (and the visual interpretation of his internal shell was fantastic), and Peco in that one key scene in the center, where, in spite of all his bluster and self-centeredness, he does his absolute best to cheer up his most important friend. There’s nothing I don’t love about this show – I’m really just happy it exists.