Good episodes all around this week! “Sacrifice all mediocre performers to your dark god” is serving me well this season, as I’ve now reduced my lineup to “the shows that consistently impress me plus Sword Art Online because I apparently don’t actually value my time in the slightest.” Barakamon has proven itself generally consistent at this point, Zankyou continues to be the most ‘flawless’ show I’m watching, and Aldnoah has apparently taken it upon itself to be both a satisfying Urobuchi show and my replacement popcorn entertainment. Good work, cartoons.
Zankyou no Terror 3: I ended up accidentally writing a full writeup for this one. Woops! Sorry, won’t happen again.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 17: Sadly, the end to DAN OF STEEL’s reign of terror wasn’t quite as compelling as its beginning, which I’m gonna chalk up to a combination of no more Enyaba/Polnareff shenanigans (RIP Enyaba) and Jotaro actually being in control again. Jotaro’s a big teenage dork whose personality is basically “stoic + cheesy one-liners,” so seeing him being forced to become a bridge for DAN OF STEEL and whatnot was actually pretty fantastic – it’s less exciting to me to see him actually beating guys up with his fairly boring Stand. And while we’re on Stands, this episode was also kind of a disappointment in the fight-resolution department, too – there wasn’t really a clever use of powers, it was just basically “Kakyoin’s Stand has some pretty handy tricks, oh look those tricks defeated DAN OF STEEL.” I figured the first season had basically stretched the ripple powers to their narrative breaking point, but I prefer seeing bullshit like “the ripples turn the icicles into a rope… somehow!” to “Kakyoin’s Stand uses Some Stand Bullshit, it’s super effective!” I feel there was more of a sense of whimsy and invention to a lot of the ripple silliness, and I’m hoping we get back to that again.
Barakamon 4: It’s looking like episode two was just a temporary misstep at this point, because this was another great episode of Barakamon. Our main character just has such great natural chemistry with the kids – there’s something very childlike in everything he does, from his pride, to his panic, to his absolute joy in Doing, and all the people around him respond to that very naturally. Normally, when a show has its characters say “there’s just something about that Male Protagonist,” it comes off as the show insisting its characters are more compelling than they really are – here, it’s very clear what people both like and are amused by in him. This episode’s big art conflict was also one of the show’s most relatable so far – I’m sure pretty much anyone who’s attempted a Big Art Project has experienced the terror and shame of that oppressive blank canvas. Whatever you imagine in your mind is pristine – anything you actually do will only spoil both your vision and the poor surface you’re inflicting it on. Naru’s answer was a very useful one, in this case – if what you’re working on is already a mess, then you can only do your best to fix it, and giving yourself a clear goal like “erase these handprints” helps narrow your focus from Infinite Potential to I Gotta Get This Done. Art lessons with Barakamon!
Sword Art Online II 4: Sword Art Online’s streak of actually pretty good episodes was unfortunately broken this week, as we once again sank back into Expositionville. The episode spent most of its running time slowly explaining stuff that the second episode already demonstrated much more gracefully – in fact, you could probably use the comparison of the two as a perfect illustration of Showing versus Telling. Apparently a necessary addendum to that truism is “whatever you do, don’t do both of them one after the other,” which I assume its author figured wasn’t actually necessary to mention. Hopefully this’ll just be a temporary stumble though, as Sinon is still a character and there’s still a conflict to be overcome. I guess we’ll see!
Aldnoah.Zero 4: I really liked the little conversation between Inaho and Rayet this week. Inaho was, as usual, unperturbed by learning the princess was alive – his deadpan response, “so that wasn’t just a hypothesis,” once again demonstrated his tendency to look down upon his own life as it’s happening. And when discussing his plans with Rayet, he further noted that “people don’t tend to act rationally in these situations,” a line playing off Calm’s prior and perfectly understandable resolution to get revenge for his friend’s death. His emotional distance actually allows him to feel empathy here, and to see the princess as both a piece on the board (one who clearly didn’t wish for this) and a human being in danger. But that empathy is itself something kind of inhuman in this context – it’s reflective not of some “greatness of spirit,” but of the fact that he’s just strangely good at emotionally removing himself from the situation. Rayet, on the other hand, doesn’t have that option – she just watched her only family stolen by the force the princess inherently represents. Her far more callous answer – “I’ll betray her if I have to, all Martians are the enemy” – is actually the more “human” one here.
Of course, the rest of this episode went on to demonstrate that Inaho’s not actually a robot or anything – he has his own motivations (like actually admiring the princess), he’s just not a dramatically emotional person. This week’s Kataphrakt battle was another neat puzzle, and I’m happy to see that it seems each Kataphrakt has its own unique powers – that clearly leaves room for far more exciting conflicts, and makes this seem more like a series of Angel attacks than standard robot battles. It’s not about spirit and guts, it’s about solving a puzzle against overwhelming odds. The Code Geass comparison is again kind of relevant, though this is “Code Geass if Lelouch were just a softspoken and emotionally reserved boy who performs terrifically under pressure,” which you wouldn’t necessarily think would be this compelling! But yeah, it is – so far, every episode but the first one has both entertained on an immediate, visceral level while also giving me plenty to talk about. Most anime is just really bad at presenting fun conflicts with well-defined stakes and variables, and Aldnoah is nailing that every week while progressing a dozen characters and consistently gesturing at larger ideas. This is an extremely balanced show.
It is pretty great to be back in goofy, relatively cheerful Hunter x Hunter land. Not much to say about this episode – it was basically a few moments like those ones interspersed with more scene-setting, introducing more of this arc’s relevant characters. Hunter x Hunter has pretty much a small army of relevant characters at this point, and instead of that feeling overwhelming, it’s actually really nice to see how characters like Morel and Leorio end up interacting. I’m still waiting for some kind of Pariston-Cheadle battle of wits, but I’m enjoying things as they come for now.