A pretty consistent set of episodes this week, although Sword Art Online’s doubling down on its “We’re at war with PTSD, we were always at war with PTSD” new history is resulting in some serious growing pains. But Barakamon and JoJo both had stellar episodes, and Zankyou and Hunter x Hunter continue to be the great shows they are, so I can’t really complain about friggin’ Kirito having inconsistent motivations. Let’s run them down!
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 20: It’s hard to go wrong with an episode premise like “Kakyoin must convince his allies to kill a baby,” and hoooly shit did this one ever go so, so right. I could watch Kakyoin make menacing faces at children all day, and both halves of this episode even worked as classic JoJo conflicts – the first half, where Kakyoin attempts to outwit a friggin’ baby and convince his friends he’s not crazy, and the second half, where Kakyoin gets to act smug as all hell in his “next you’re going to say…”-style defeat of Death 13. Those smug victory dances are some of JoJo’s best moments, and this episode was loaded with them, culminating in perhaps the greatest shit-eating grin we’ve yet seen. Who knew the best shit-eating grins come from actually forcing a baby to eat shit?
Here’s one more “I’ve got to destroy this baby” stare for the road. Goddamn, this episode was great.
Aldnoah.Zero 7: I think I’ve finally come to orient myself correctly for what Aldnoah’s offering – essentially, a fun adventure ride with occasional gestures at higher pretensions. Since the first few episodes, it’s basically fallen into a “progress the narrative, fight a Kataphract” formula, which works well enough as long as both those elements remain reasonably engaging. And so far, they have – in contrast to last week’s more character-progressing priorities, this one rushed through our heroes discovering both a secret weapon and a martian battleship, along with Slaine and Inaho finally teaming up to fight a ridiculous rocket-punching opponent.
Inaho’s going to have to explain his final actions this week, but my first impression would be that it’s a false cliffhanger – Inaho has repeatedly demonstrated that he actually cares about the princess, and the safe, “logical” assumption would be that anyone pursuing her is likely a threat, and even if not, it’s better to incapacitate them first and ask questions later. Plus, even if Inaho does believe Slaine is working in the princess’s best interests, their goals don’t necessarily align at all – however much he likes her personally, Asseylum is ultimately Inaho’s most important trump card, even moreso now that they seem to possess a ship that actually uses the power of Aldnoah.
We also got deliberate character-development steps in both Rayet and Asseylum’s journeys this week, with each of them coming to a new resolution in where they stand. Pretty standard beats overall, really – it doesn’t seem like Aldnoah is really reaching for the stars at the moment, but it’s a very competent adventure show, and that’s a fine thing to be.
Barakamon 7: I really loved the art-focused conversations throughout this episode’s first half. Initially, I was somewhat worried the introduction of more characters from Handa’s old life would disrupt the energy of the show – but that seems to definitely not be the case, and what they add significantly focused the show’s insights. Kanzaki’s unhappiness with Handa’s style shifts is completely understandable – as Kawafuji says, he can’t see things from other’s perspectives, and the “other perspective” here is that Handa is actually a human being. It’s incredibly easy to avoid seeing your art idols as actual people – they’re goals, they’re ideals, they’re models of behavior and “correct” expression. As someone attempting to convey meaning in the endlessly complex and personal world of artistic expression, it’s comforting to believe that there is a “correct approach” to shoot for, and that there are direct models for you to emulate.
But when your chosen models change their style, what does that mean? Do they no longer believe in their own older work? Are you falling behind even as you attempt to catch up to their past self? Can they even be trusted in the first place, now that they’ve demonstrated that they are mutable human beings, who have their own concerns and doubts and conflicting goals? Kanzaki’s later “but this style got first place!” is a very telling line – he’s not looking strictly for self-expression, he’s looking for validation of that self-expression, be it through either emulation of an artist he admired or success in competitions. And that’s a very natural thing to seek! Art is hard enough, and pursuing it without any hope that you’re either doing it right or will be rewarded for doing so is even harder. But them’s the breaks.
And then Naru pushes all of them in the water for being elitist jerks. This show knows what’s up.
Not to mention the whole segment pretty much worked as a metaphor for the art process in general – the wild confidence of beginner’s ignorance, the sobering realization of difficulty, the momentary glory, and, hopefully, the ability to laugh at your own failures. Along with the unexpected perks you find along the way.
Sword Art Online II 7: This episode put the breaks on the plot in order to focus on our character journeys, which, in hindsight, was probably a mistake. It worked out okay on the Sinon side – but on the Kirito side, the more you think about his emotional turmoil, the less any of this makes sense. And his possibly insane nurse’s therapy session didn’t help either.
Zankyou no Terror 6: A generally solid episode that was largely focused on exploring and contrasting the various feelings of powerlessness embodied by all our various protagonists. And many beautiful images, as always.
Hunter x Hunter 143: An episode with something for virtually everyone this week. Well, not much to actually make you happy, but who watches Hunter x Hunter to feel happy, anyway? And all the other bases were certainly covered.
I enjoyed the brief, hopeless stand of the Hunter Association’s three career hunters – in spite of their few scenes, they were built into clear characters with a good push-and-pull dynamic between them. And I also liked how clear it was they were out of their league – this week offered us our most overt indication yet of Pariston Hill’s terrible nature, and the scene where Hisoka dispatched their leader was executed beautifully. Hunter x Hunter always delivers when it comes to the dramatic setpieces, and the horror-film framing of Hisoka slowly making his way to the office was one more highlight.
And yet, in spite of the fun political games and assassinations, my favorite element of this week’s episode was easily Killua. Killua has become my favorite character over Hunter x Hunter’s run – his self-doubt, desire to be better than he thinks he is, fear of failing those he cares about, and lack of familial trust all make him intensely relatable, and the distance he’s come in overcoming these issues is pretty inspiring. This week, his inherent kindness was first demonstrated when he grudgingly revealed that Something can heal people without extracting a serious price. You’d think this would have been the first card he played – if his family knew this, they’d likely be far more willing to let him heal his friend. However, revealing this information would have made it that much easier for his family to exploit his sister, and so he kept it to himself at serious cost. When Illumi’s all set to make his last, characteristically spiteful act, and force Killua to murder him and carry the weight of his death, Killua surprises everyone by giving up information and making his own road harder. We’ve actually gotten to see Killua grow up across this series – just one more thing that makes it a shame our time with HxH is ending so soon.