At the beginning of fall, this year was not really looking good. I had maybe five or six shows I’d be comfortable putting on a top shows list, and the fall season featured a lineup of ambiguous sequels and unknown originals. But holy shit has this season overperformed like crazy. This lineup is a goddamn bounty of riches – there’s at least four shows that would be comfortable top picks in any normal season (Shirobako, KimiUso, Parasyte, Rage of Bahamut), and the shows immediately below this aren’t even that far off – I could easily see Fate/stay night, Amagi, or Psycho-Pass 2 overperforming and vaulting over the competition at any time. Fall seasons tend to be fairly stacked in general, but this one in particular is one of the best seasons I’ve seen. It’s a good time to love cartoons!
Parasyte 2: So! I’ll actually be covering Parasyte on ANN starting, uh, later tonight, and that’ll include this episode, but yeah, this one was great. The show’s one awkward element remains the kind of hit-or-miss soundtrack, but the actual content is fantastic. I love the little horror vignettes they sprinkle into the show, I love how expressive the key animation is (this show doesn’t seem to use a crazy number of total frames, and instead just chooses its key frames really well), and I love the story we’re being told. Shinichi himself is a great character – this episode clearly laid out his strong ideals, which is probably the right call in a show that seems interested in challenging ideals. And I love how the classic adolescent tricks of a “my body is going crazy!” narrative combine strangely gracefully with the questions of the food chain, and of the selectiveness of empathy. Whole damn lot going on in this show.
Shirobako 2: This show is a goddamn miracle. Even the first five seconds are great – Aoi parsing the key animator’s collapse in terms of the silly anime she’s seen is both a great gag and actually really poignant. It’s true – we contextualize the drama of our lives in terms of the drama we’ve already internalized, even if that drama is just silly anime. It’s still real in an emotional sense!
I also love how Aoi’s positivity all throughout this episode isn’t necessarily a good thing. She keeps being optimistic, but you kind of can’t be this optimistic in this situation – she’s giving artsy types who need a tighter rein way too much rope to hang themselves with. Of course, you also can’t be totally cynical – the push-and-pull of artistic ambition and practicality was illustrated all throughout this episode’s conflicts. And applying that passion to shit like “Jiggly Jiggly Heaven” is just wonderful.
What else should I talk about. The detail of Aoi’s voice actress friend picking up a call while bussing tables at the second job she has to hold? The multiple arguments on the nature of moe, and what exact kind of cuteness the characters are supposed to exude? The director’s very sympathetic “we’re going to kidnap the viewers, not leave them behind”? Man, I can really relate to that one…
Yeah, Shirobako’s just great. I love basically everything this show does. What a wonderful surprise it’s been.
Fate/stay night 2: Welp, the infodump finally landed, complete with one of the Great Grail War Traditions. And it wasn’t actually that bad! For one thing, it’s legitimately pretty interesting seeing the world Kirei has very purposefully created – with his father’s legacy already destroyed, Kirei is essentially a man driven entirely by malice, and so it must give him great pleasure to see the children of two of his rivals being so easily coerced. His talk of “a hero of justice must have an evil to defeat” seems fairly prophetic, given that Kirei himself is a living demonstration of how low humankind can sink. That “hero of justice” stuff is also a little worrying, though – it seems like the first big indicator we’ve jumped from the Urobuchi thematic rails to the Nasu ones, and I’ve never found “good cannot exist without evil” to be a particularly engaging argument.
But anyway, yeah, this episode dumped the whole Grail War on our heads. It was better than Fate/Zero’s opening, fortunately, and it largely accomplished that by staging this conversation as an actual argument. Kirei clearly wants to tempt Shirou into joining the war, but he can’t be that direct about it, and he can’t talk about their actual relationship. So he gives away what information is useful, and even ends up using Kiritsugu as an example of what horrors the war could possibly inflict. It was a long conversation, but it was necessary, purposeful, and actually contained some internal drama. Once again, Fate/stay night has demonstrated clear improvement from the mistakes of its predecessor.
Lord Marksman and Vanadis 3: This episode’s first half had possibly the least engaging battle-storytelling I’ve ever seen (troop rotations were narrated as big CG chess pieces moved around), which was enough of an excuse for me to drop this in pursuit of a saner show pile. Sorry Lord Marksman, this season is just too good for you to survive in.
KimiUso 2: This was a goddamn episode! Everything about this episode’s first half was just beautiful – Kousei’s shifting emotions throughout the various recitals, the way they smartly depicted the variations between the performances, and then Kaori’s burn-it-all-down finale. It wasn’t really emphasized by the episode, but one thing I particularly appreciated was Tsubaki’s role in this episode. Her choices in actually getting Kousei to this performance really demonstrated how much she cares about him, and then her satisfaction at seeing him become truly invested in the performers was a great elaboration of why she’d fall for him in the first place. In the context of this episode, her “you were cooler when you played piano” last week feels much less selfish – it’s not the fact that he was great at piano that inspired it, it was more just seeing him invest himself in a passionate way. And none of this would work if the way Kousei was interacting with the performance (“he’s off time… but he can make it!”) weren’t actually made tangible by the production – this show is really selling the music.
Speaking of selling the music, goddamn, Kaori’s performance. Clearly the show didn’t expend all of its animation in that first episode – if the show stays this high-quality, it’ll be worth watching for sequences like that alone. And given how good everything else going on here is, at this point, KimiUso’s one of the many shows grappling for this season’s top spot.
Psycho-Pass 2 2: I liked this episode a great deal more than the first one, for a couple big reasons. First, I’m really loving what they’re doing with Akane’s character, and with her team overall. Given all the events of the first season, Akane has completely “earned” being a competent, intelligent detective – and in light of that, the show’s not screwing around and holding her back with departmental bureaucracy. Her calls are smart, her team is being used well, and the show is operating from “Sibyl will probably fuck up my expectation in a variety of ways” as a given. There’s no ambiguity about Sibyl anymore, but that doesn’t actually weaken the show – instead, Akane simply has to act under the assumption that Sibyl will be constantly making her life harder. We’re no longer waiting for an obvious “the government is evil” shoe to drop – the evil government is just a fact of life.
On top of that, the show is also just looking gorgeous this season. Great shot compositions, beautiful color palettes, great use of shadow – it overall feels like a strong visual upgrade from the first season. I was pretty worried that this season would seem somewhat “phoned in” or like a cash grab, but it seems like this team is actually doing their best to improve on the substance of the first season.
Swort Art Online II 15: This week, SAO II had its second-worst episode, meaning it was just incredibly goddamn boring. Nice going, SAO.
Log Horizon 2 3: Log Horizon handled explaining raids the same way it handled explaining everything else – by sitting the audience down and goddamn explaining raiding to them. It’s not pretty, but goddamnit it gets the job done.
Amagi Brilliant Park 3: I don’t really have that much to say about this episode. It was pretty funny, it was surprisingly full of fanservice, and it continued to elaborate on a set of characters I’m legitimately interested in following. It didn’t really have the pile of great ideas the first two episodes had, but it was… fine? I dunno. A slow week in the Brilliant Park.
Chaika -avenging battle- 2: Wasn’t the biggest fan of this episode. The actual resolution of Chaika’s fight with Claudia was fine, but too much time here was spent telling us stuff we already knew. That Claudia represented a positive alternative to the purpose-seeking trials of the show’s other characters was already pretty implicit in her nature – the show didn’t need to have her repeatedly state it herself. Wasn’t too much of a problem though, because the show also provided pretty much everything Chaika is intended to provide – fun fight scenes and Chaika acting adorable. I also liked the furthering of the “memories/emotions are magical fuel” line here with Claudia’s “a strong magical attack is most dependent on a wizard’s strong emotions.” That’s a conceit many fantasy-action shows take for granted without ever actually justifying, but here, it falls perfectly in line with the way the show’s already defined magical energy. I am all for coherent in-universe explanations of the Power of Love!
The Fruit of Grisaia 3: This show is trash and I am trash for watching it. It’s total harem nonsense and is perfectly reflective of every problem I had with the visual novel, but for some reason I am compelled to continue. Time to turn in my critic badge, I guess.
When Supernatural Battles Became Commonplace 3: So this show is pretty much failing as a comedy – it doesn’t have many actual jokes, and what jokes that are there generally aren’t that great. But interestingly enough, I don’t really mind that. At this point, it seems clear that the show is trying to be something more than a comedy, and all its best moments support that quite well. Just like last week’s final apology, this week’s ending conversation between Andou and Tomoyo was by far the highlight – their “Do you want to know?” “Do you want to share?” exchange contained more honesty and trust than most actual romantic dramas. And the framing of this scene was great, too – I really loved how the entire last segment of it was shot from Andou’s perspective, so we very cleary saw Tomoyo’s perspective on him while leaving his own emotions concealed.
The conversation leading up to that exchange was great, too – the show directly laid out the contradictory escapism and desire for acceptance of chuunibyou, making it seem very likely the show will earnestly pursue the emotional contexts of these characters’ lives. Having this show actually take itself serious, and successfully take itself seriously, was one of the last things I was expecting – but if the show wants to actually go somewhere, its steps in that direction have been impressive enough so far.
Rage of Bahamut: Genesis 3: This was very easily my favorite episode yet of Bahamut. It didn’t match the non-stop action/animation rampage of the first episode, but it didn’t have to – its atmosphere was very different but equally good, and more importantly, it actually had some goddamn heart. The episode starts somewhat slow, as the show finally decides to actually tell us what the hell’s going on with the larger plot, but the important part of the episode was Kaisar’s B-turned-A-plot. Kaisar’s always been the most interesting and endearing member of the cast, and this episode was really his chance to shine. We finally heard the full story of his house’s downfall, which he in a very Kaisar move tried to turn into a lesson about family for Rita. It’s just hard not to root for the guy – he’s totally caught up in simplistic ideas of chivalry and knighthood, but in a way that make it clear he just fundamentally wants to do the right thing. And his heart is always 100% on his sleeve. Pairing him up with Sawashiro’s Necromancer Rita is a fantastic choice, and I look forward to seeing the two of them bounce off each other from here out – even though it’s an obvious trick, I was legitimately sad to see Rita “die,” and legitimately happy to see myself fooled. This episode demonstrated an economy of character-building that’s a real great gift to have.
I mentioned the atmosphere at the beginning, and that deserves a little more praise, too. We transitioned smoothly from upbeat adventure to somber horror story, but the show didn’t seem any less comfortable here – the episode wasn’t scary, but the mood was set well, and the backgrounds were beautiful in their decay. Plus the one big fight scene was great as always – not only was the animation itself very fluid and kinetic, but the direction also bounced from one character to the next with a very natural rhythm. Bahamut continues to thoroughly impress.