Welp, we’re a third of the way into the season now, and this season’s looking pretty damn predictable. The top shows continue to impress, the speculative picks have pretty much all fallen off the wagon, and Barakamon stands alone as the one surprise hit. It’s looking like I’ll be reduced to my usual half-dozen shows a little quicker than usual this season, which may just mean I’m getting better at dropping things efficiently, but I’m not really complaining. All I need is a couple standouts to be happy, and this season’s certainly got those – let’s run them down!
Tokyo Ghoul 3: I was really all set to drop this show this week, and that may still happen, but this episode felt like a bit of an improvement over the second one. For one thing, the strong visual flare returned – episode two felt very visually bland, and the fight scene wasn’t particularly engaging, but this episode had a bunch of nice compositions, great use of lighting, and lovely backgrounds. That’s still very easily the series highlight, but the narrative situation wasn’t quite as dire this weak, either.
The ghoul society worldbuilding doesn’t really do much for me (fantasy societies tend to be interchangable for me unless they actually reflect on people or the real world in compelling ways), but the scene between our MC and the young girl that rounded out this episode might have been the first one where I actually sorta cared about any of the characters. MC has basically been a passive figure in the show so far, but seeing him actually engage with this girl, and demonstrate his passion for reading, offered a bit more spark to hold onto. I think this may be too little, too late for me, but it’s at least a good sign for the show in general.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 16: This week’s JoJo sadly marked the end of Enyaba and Polnareff’s torrid love affair. Alas, it is the candle that burns brightest that most swiftly flickers out. RIP in peace Enyaba, Polnareff will avenge you.
This week also featured some top tier “OHHHH MYYYYY GOOOOD” from Joseph, along with Jotaro being forced to be a bridge (pictured: Jotaro’s “are we seriously fucking doing this” face). You brought it on yourself, Jotaro – you can’t get away with breaking the rules of JoJo and straight-up complaining about what you always do without any consequences! Now get to work.
Zankyou no Terror 2: Zankyou’s first episode was a very deliberate hook – it kept the focus very tightly on Lisa and the initial terrorist plot, and each scene was purposeful. In contrast, this second episode didn’t really need to prove itself, and so it felt a bit more like the kind of thing Watanabe loves – it built atmospere through great environmental shots and an excellent score, and though it still ran on suspense, the show’s long-term mysteries were less foregrounded this time. Like Kyousogiga, one of the things that stands out to me in this show’s sound design is the absence of noise – Zankyou understands the power of silence, and its musical strokes are made that much more significant through the untouched silence of so many other scenes.
The focus on the Oedipus myth is also an interesting and hopefully purposeful one. Considering we already have plent of indication this could be a story about a rejected, vengeful younger generation falling into the sins of their predecessors, Oedipus seems like a pretty apt touchstone. Guessing the endpoint here would be pretty ambitious, but it seems like Nine sees in Lisa some failing of his past self, something he hopes to “correct” – and attempting to “fix” that cycle could easily mirror the larger narrative cycle of what he hopes to “fix” with his terrorism. Which in turns fits in pretty well with the inescapable cycles articulated by this week’s detour into mythology.
For all that potential goodness, this episode’s overt narrative was in large part a reiteration of the first episode’s plot. So while there were certainly many things to praise here, considering this show is in large part a thriller, I’m hoping future episodes will push those strands forward while also acting as distinctive page-turners in their own right.
Barakamon 3: And a solid recovery by Barakamon! This episode was a pretty great return to form after the lackluster second one, and succeeded by correcting basically everything I disliked about that one. Though the animation wasn’t as tremendous as the first episode, this one still used visuals to great comic effect, particularly during the fantastic cold open. Though this episode still incorporated two largely disparate stories, much more focus was given to the more important MC story, allowing his self-doubt arc room to breathe and actually feel “earned.” And even though the fujoshi jokes weren’t exactly groundbreaking material, this episode still had a lot more character-focused humor than the second one, giving it personality and heart at the same time. Lots of shows have strong first episodes, but this episode seemed to indicate Barakamon is actually going to be reliably enjoyable, which is a much tougher trick for any show (and comedies in particular) to pull off. And also goddamnit those Naru faces Barakamon stahp.
Sailor Moon Crystal 2: Crystal has gotten me pretty interested in checking out the original series, but man, these faces are terrible. Whoever decided these characters designs were both a good idea and clearly should constantly be adhered to needs to be double fired. Twitter really doesn’t help here – pretty much every week, I see someone making their way through the original series and cataloging all the great, evocative faces along the way. If I’m going to watch this series, I’d like to be watching the definitive version, and it really seems like Crystal isn’t that. A shame.
Sword Art Online II 3: Another unusually strong episode of Sword Art Online this week, though in a very different way. This one had none of the fun, self-contained energy of the previous episode, but actually seemed interested in exploring some of the many concepts the first season breezed over. Its elaboration of Sinon’s motivation was extremely direct, but in the context of SAO, I’d say any character writing is good character writing, and only a couple moments of this really leaned over into silliness. Yeah, my standards for this show are probably pretty low – but if everything holds together, this second season might actually be a legit 6/10 popcorn show. Here’s the full writeup!
Aldnoah.Zero 3: A very engaging conclusion to what I guess we can consider the first mini-arc of Aldnoah – our ragtag heroes versus the invasion force and that terrifying force field. This episode played out more or less like an episode of Code Geass, with Inaho demonstrating a great deal more overt personality as he devised and executed a counterattack on Trillram’s Kataphrakt. Using the river was a clever trick – I figured they might just try to overwhelm the field, but using the constant pressure of water to search for weak points was a nice resolution. Inaho’s plan depended on the pilot being somewhat overconfident, but why wouldn’t he be? Overall, this episode’s action centerpiece really worked for me.
Aside from working on a pure engaging-entertainment level (which shouldn’t be understated – Aldnoah is probably the most fundamentally enjoyable show I’m currently watching), I also liked how this episode continued to bounce its cast off each other, and to treat everyone more as people in a crisis than representatives of warring “sides.” Many shows build up to “everyone has their own reasons” – Aldnoah basically just starts there, from an assumption that everyone is trying to do their best given their current circumstances. The efficiency with which last episode brought together the soldiers, the students, the princess, and the spy is already paying dividends in illustrating how arbitrary such distinctions are when you’ve got a goddamn invincible Kataphrakt breathing down your neck. For someone who’s often accused of putting words in his characters’ mouths, Urobuchi is definitely letting the story do the talking this time, and I think it’s making this story feel somewhat lighter than much of his previous work. Now we just have to see what happens when Urobuchi stops writing the scripts…
Tokyo ESP 2: Alright, here’s an easy drop. The first episode was too clearly a hook for me to really gauge what the show would actually be like – but this episode seemed much more standard, and it turns out the answer is “not very good.” Nothing about the actual narrative was particularly interesting here – it was all pretty standard shounen-beginnings stuff, with perhaps the most creative touch being our MC’s father’s awesome character design. But that’s not necessarily a dealbreaker for an action show – the thing that sinks this episode is that the actions scenes are just really boring. Very floaty, no weight to anything, uninspired direction, mediocre animation, bland sound design. That’s not really a failing an otherwise mundane action show can overcome, and so I’m happy enough to drop ESP here.
Hunter x Hunter 139: That’s right, I’m back on the Hunter x Hunter train. I spent the first couple days of my vacation burning through the end of Chimera Ant, and now I’m actually up-to-date for the Election arc. I’m really enjoying this one so far – Pariston’s already as big of a hateable shithead as Pouf ever was, it’s great to see all the old characters again, and Killua has clearly earned a being-adorable-with-his-sister arc. This episode was mainly dedicated to setting up future rules of engagement, so it wasn’t the most exciting, but it still had great moments like Killua’s mom being oh-so-proud of her treacherous son, and Hisoka’s deadpan “I may have issues, but you are one fucked up dude.” I’ve actually been preferring the election side of this so far (the interactions between Pariston and basically everybody are just way too much fun), but overall it’s kind of refreshing to get back to upbeat, adventure-style Hunter x Hunter after the endless overwhelming drama of Chimera Ant.