Anime got pretty heavy this week, you guys. Between Shirobako and KimiUso, things were altogether a little too real in the land of Japanese cartoons. That’s how I like it, though – the sharp stuff is what I watch media for, and you can’t depict earnest triumph if you’re not willing to accept the possibility of failure. Pretty much everything else is holding steady, but my favorites are actively climbing at the moment, and it feels pretty goddamn great. Here’s hoping they both turn out to be as good as this week would promise.
Shirobako 7: TOO FUCKING REAL. You’re not allowed to pull shit like this, Shirobako. You’re not allowed to talk about how success even in artistic fields largely comes down to networking with old friends and not pissing off any superiors. You’re not allowed to have the message be “either you start talented enough and get good enough to make it quick, or you find another career.” You’re not allowed to be so blindingly honest about the fact that perfectionism is a vice real professional artists aren’t allowed, and that the balance of efficiency and quality is always, always, always going to be your merciless, slave-driving overlord.
God damn. This episode. Tons of hard truths in this one, complemented by many wonderful faces from both Ema and Aoi and a devastating, slowly dissolving vocal performance by Ema in particular. So many of the lines in this episode just crushed me, from “if you do that, you can eat. If you can’t, you give up” through “___ got that position after two months!” “Yeah, well they’re a genius!” “Yeah, and I’m not” and finally “if I’m failing in the present, the future’s not going to get better.” Oh wait, can’t forget – “you probably don’t have to try that hard.” “How hard is ‘that hard?’” I’m sure basically everyone fighting to make it as an artist has lived through all of these moments, and Shirobako didn’t pull any punches in displaying how these anxieties build, and how they’re not actually based in inflated fears, but in the grim realities of how these businesses work. You certainly don’t make much money doing this stuff – you do it because you love it, and oftentimes loving it isn’t nearly enough. And then that deadpan cut to Aoi receiving a giddy text from her happily employed older sister…
Yeah. Brutal stuff. Hard truths with a smile. Shirobako reached a new level this week, and I really hope it’s a sign of more poignant hardship to come.
Parasyte 7: As I said in my season halfway point post, this season really hasn’t been fair to Parasyte. In most normal seasons, this show “playing it safe” with its excellent source material and consistent execution would put it right near the top of the pile – in Fall 2014, that doesn’t even manage top three. This week was another fine episode of Parasyte, and the show is continuing to become more engaging as it goes along, but it still has a lot of work to do if it wants to be boxing in the Shirobako-KimiUso-Bahamut weight bracket.
Fate Stay Night 7: Christ, these servants sure are having a great time. I think the difference in writer between Fate/Zero and FSN was probably the most clear yet this episode, as we entered a brawl that included three variations on Saber’s character and two warriors so cool they don’t even need to kill their opponents. Honor this, glorious battle that, and a heaping helping of chuuni-as-all-fuck bromantic battle declarations. Fortunately, the fact that this episode leaned into the most wince-worthy tendencies of Fate’s treacle-text origins was ably paved over by all the fantastic action sequences. I seriously can’t imagine how people got through this stuff in visual novel format – not only is this adaptation smoothing over the worst of the writing and characterization, but it’s also conjuring from nothing the narrative’s best strength, its great action setpieces. Fate Stay Night, you are damn lucky ufotable is here to make you look good.
Amagi Brilliant Park 8: In this week’s Amagi Brilliant Park, the gang uses ridiculous disguises to ruin Kanye’s high school career. These disguises involve wearing perfect Kanye costumes with giant zippers sticking out of the head. How am I supposed to talk about this ridiculous, beautiful show.
Rage of Bahamut 7: The first half of this episode was kind of slow compared to how the series has progressed so far. It was basically a steady build towards the second half’s fight, which isn’t the kind of pacing Bahamut is accustomed to – fortunately, the second half was a lovely battle, and more importantly, Favaro and Kaisar were absolutely adorable together. The show has had to work damn hard to keep them separated so far, but now that that’s over, it’s clear that this was meant to be the Favaro-Kaisar Friendship (Or Maybe…?) Hour from the beginning. LOOK AT THESE TWO. LOOK AT THIS.
Sorry. Seriously, though. Adorable.
Log Horizon II 8: I have to admit, I was hoping for a lot more. The Christmas Eve episode and the Ash Lake episode raised my expectations – I was really expecting the show to actually pull off a thrilling conclusion to this arc. But no, we get a bunch of still frames and a by-the-numbers execution of all the exact plot resolutions we knew were coming. This episode could have been a season highlight, but instead it just kind of happened. It’s a shame.
KimiUso 7: As I said earlier, this is clearly “pull off episodes that mentally scour Bobduh personally” week or something, because between this and Shirobako, there’s not much left of me at this point. This week was all about the fear and consequences of failure, and the common anxieties all performers live under. Kousei spent the first part of this episode struggling with the challenge he’s had for a while now – trying to find his own identity in the music he’s playing, and finally moving out from his mother’s shadow. This conflict was resolved through what was definitely Kaori’s best scene yet, where she assured him of all the things that make up his own solid identity. This was a really important and necessary scene for the show overall – the bond Kaori and Kousei share through music has been apparent since the beginning, but this was one of the first times Kaori comforted him purely as a good friend who actually knows him. Scenes like this sell their relationship far more than any rapturous monologue by Kousei can.
Outside of that scene, the rest of this episode was all about performance anxiety. The buildup to Kousei’s performance was murderous, and displayed virtually all the competitors doing their best not to crack under the pressure. I really, really liked how naturally this episode revealed the disconnect between the pressure all of us feel as individual performers and the way we see those around us. This started early on, with Kousei’s early “Watari and Tsubaki both sparkled” remark being contrasted against Watari breaking down alone in the bathroom, but it was then picked up by rival Aiza as he grumbled “would it kill him to look the least bit happy?”, and came to a brilliant head at the end. This entire episode displayed Aiza in a state of either anxiety or regret, measuring himself against his old rival and actually panicking at the thought of his performance to come – and then, as he finally walks across the stage, Kaori reveals that he’s the clear favorite to win the damn thing. It doesn’t matter how good you are – even for the best of us, the pressure of performance and fear of failure is its own special hell. This episode was heavy, unrelenting, and painfully true.
Sword Art Online II 20: And Asuna’s wacky adventure is underway. This episode was about as neutral as an episode of SAO can possibly be – it wasn’t impressive or disappointing, it didn’t pull out any shocking twists or embarrassing failures, it just kinda floated along. Apparently this arc is going to get maudlin as hell eventually, but until then, I’m happy to watch an episode that can only really be described as “inoffensive.”
Chaika -avenging battle- 7: The resolution this season seems to moving towards is making it kinda hard to muster much enthusiasm for Chaika at this point. As this episode made clear, Hartgen’s goal is pretty much the exact same as last season’s final bosses – return the continent to war, this time in order to regain the “purpose” he’s lost since then. This obviously plays directly into the question of post-war identity the show has always grappled with, but it’s basically the most simplistic way the show could possibly engage with this issue – Chaika has never been a work of great thematic nuance, but I was hoping it’d build to something a little more thoughtful than this. Because of that, the show is now riding pretty much entirely on spectacle and how much it’s already endeared you to the characters – this episode began the grand tournament, but the plot hasn’t really heated up yet, and so things somewhat dragged this week.
It was nice to see that General Fyodor, the new head of the council, is actually a thoughtful and competent leader. It’s kind of refreshing to see someone in a position of power actually taking the various concerns of his advisors into concern, and attempting to avoid hasty action while still acting decisively when necessary. A shame he’s probably either going to be overridden or murdered by the two war-happy conspirators, but if he survives, I’m sure we’ll get to see a nice scene of him pardoning all the surviving Chaikas or whatnot.