There was no Rage of Bahamut this week, but everything else kept up the year-saving tempo. KimiUso exchanged last week’s animation showcase for a more subdued but equally impressive character-focused episode, Shirobako gave us moe animation tsunderes, and Amagi pulled off another Haruhi-style triumph. But the real surprise this week was Sword Art Online – following on the heels of a fairly pointless filler arc and tedious exposition episode, SAO pulled out what was quite possibly its best episode of all time, and almost definitely its best fight of all time. Even if you don’t watch SAO, I might still recommend just checking out the second half of that episode if you enjoy fight scenes – the direction and animation were all kinds of impressive this time. You did good, Sword Art.
Anyway. Let’s run down the week!
Shirobako 6: Shirobako was clearly having a lot of fun with itself this week, as the episode was essentially a tsundere romcom between traditional animation and 3DCG. The highlight was definitely that final scene, where the two animators bonded over their shared love of Idepon and hatred of Tarou, but this episode was just very warm and confident all around. That’s not to say it completely lacked in Shirobako’s usual edge, though – even if you’re not particularly invested in the attrition war being waged against traditional animation, this episode’s constant refrain of “drawing back on the inspiration that brought you to your field” was sad in its own way, too. All the various artists here are constantly trying to square the inspirational nature of their formative art experiences and the grinding, unglamorous reality of making that inspiration a career, and I think there’s something melancholy in the fact that the only real answer is “the feelings that brought you to this hard place were real and valid.” I don’t think Shirobako needs to work very hard to feel sad – the lives it’s describing are inherently tough enough that you can feel the nobility of their passion.
Amagi Brilliant Park 7: Like in episode five, this week’s Amagi just took one Haruhi-esque adventure idea and ran with it. And also like episode five, that choice resulted in one of the show’s best episodes to date. When Amagi is on, it is really on – the whole cast contributes, scenes pop with full jokes and tiny gags, and the show is just more plain fun to watch than anything else airing. “Actual pirate invasion is played off by employees as park attraction” is basically two silly gag conceits wedged together, and Amagi delivered almost purely by riffing on everything you already know about these characters, letting its excellent timing and visual gags do the talking. It’s rare that I see a show that has this little need to be creative – Amagi is about a clear articulation as you could get of the fact that execution is everything.
Parasyte 6: It feels like Parasyte’s been building momentum every episode, and with Shinichi’s mother dead, we’re now into territory that I don’t clearly remember from the manga. I do remember enough to know they’ve been rearranging events a decent bit, though, so I’m excited to see what they’re building towards either way. And hey, it actually seems like the music’s improving! Good times.
Fate Stay Night 6: After the high of last episode, we once again cooled off with a lull that established some context and moved some pieces around. I don’t really find the Shirou-Archer dynamic as interesting as most of the others here, but the Shirou-Saber dynamic is much, much better than the relationship she shared with Kiritsugu. Shirou and Saber have enough in common values-wise that they can actually bounce off and learn from each other, which makes me think this is one of the areas where Fate/Zero being created after FSN makes sense. Framing the Kiritsugu-Saber relationship as a kind of comment on this much more successful one makes it at least a little more interesting, though I still think it was one of the weakest elements of Zero.
I’m also fine with Shinji being straight-up comically evil – the Fate universe has room for both nuanced heroes and extremely silly villains, and if you’re gonna make a silly villain, you might as well make them love what they do. I look forward to Shinji’s future cackling machinations and likely gruesome death.
Log Horizon II 7: More of a buildup episode than much else this week, though we’re starting to reap the rewards of the character development Akatsuki and Lenessia have been going through. That doesn’t really give me that much to talk about, but I’m a professional, so I do my God Damn Best. Here’s to next week’s big crazy fight scene!
KimiUso 6: This episode just kept building and building for me. I like that the characters have started to settle into their relationships at this point, meaning it’s not dominated by the immediate drama of them clashing. Instead, this episode’s first half was able to really focus on what Kousei and Kaori have in common – their passion for music. There were a bunch of great moments for each of them, and a lot of lines I really liked – Kaori’s melancholy reflection that “Kousei’s trying to turn his suffering into music – that’s how we live inside our music, that’s how we play music that’s alive” was about as beautiful an articulation of the art instinct as you could ask for, and Kousei’s own “so it’s just you and me again, huh” to the piano said just as much in far fewer words. Though KimiUso’s drama and dialogue are often heightened to the level of a stage play (something this episode actually emphasized through its use of lighting, which reflected very strongly on Tsubaki’s “outside the spotlight” conflict this episode, which etc etc etc), its reflections on why people create art are always grounded in very true sentiments. This show’s overall feelings towards creation are something I can relate to more than any single character.
Not that that means the characters are necessarily slouching! I still haven’t really connected with Kaori, but I think this episode did great work for both Kousei and Tsubaki. Being past the point of dramatic introductions means we can now see Kousei at his comfortable neutral, enjoying his time with friends, and that’s really helping to humanize him beyond his central music conflict. And this episode’s second half was all Tsubaki, culminating in that fantastic “let me carry you” reprise at the end. This episode was more quietly excellent than last week’s animation showcase, but it was excellent all the same.
Sword Art Online II 19: Yeah I said it, and I’ll say it again – this week’s SAO was actually really good. Obviously its character scenes aren’t gonna be incisive or poignant on the level of a legitimately well-written character drama, but the Asuna-Momsuna scene here was handled very well, and the fight scene that followed was excellent. I will happily take my gifts where I can find them!
Chaika -avenging battle- 6: Board-rearranging episode again, as Chaika is so fond of doing. I’m fine with that, though – the idea of throwing all these characters into a big fighting tournament seems like a perfect use of them, and promises a very entertaining second half of the season. I’m much less interested in whatever’s going on with Guy and Hatsune Miku, and this episode’s attempts to pretend Hatsune has a personality came off as pretty damn contrived, in spite of how entertaining it is to see her and Chaika conduct their half-conversations. I’m also not really sure what to make of the way the show is now using Gilette – Guy’s Sith Lord speech about him being “unable to live in a peaceful world” didn’t really make any sense to me relative to everything we know about Gilette’s character, making the scene feel similar to Toru’s plot-driven about-face from a few episodes ago. But Chaika’s rambled around far too much to hope for narrative or thematic grace at this point, and so I’m not really offended by the quirks of its storytelling. Bring on the big fight scenes!