This was kind of a slow week overall, outside of nuts-good episodes from usual highlights Shirobako and KimiUso. Although both Chaika and Fate Stay Night also pulled out very fun episodes, Rage of Bahamut and Amagi were kind of subdued, and the bottom tier of Log Horizon and SAO both fell below average. But I mean, I’ve had seasons where I was happy to see one show keeping it together… I should probably be able to take it in stride when only four of the six shows I really like put out top-notch episodes. And this was the first great Chaika in a while, a very important Chaika in fact, so let’s start right there. Running it down!
Chaika -avenging battle- 8: CHAIKA FIGHT. TWO CHAIKAS ENTER, ONE CHAIKA LEAVES. Well technically it’s more like fifteen Chaikas enter, and we haven’t actually seen any Chaikas bite the dust yet, but still. Fun episode! Lots of fights, lots of actual plot progression, and Gilette seems to be back with the good guys. I’m thankful for that – I wasn’t really invested enough in Vivi’s conflict to get much emotional draw out of him randomly being brainwashed into evil, and the two of them on the same side is actually pretty adorable. It’s also nice to see (our) Chaika legitimately kicking ass at this point – having solidly earned her rapid-fire battle technique, she’s providing a great counterpoint to Toru’s berserker style. I really don’t have any complaints about this one – the show’s playing all its remaining cards as quickly as it can, and the result is really goddamn entertaining. Here’s hoping the show has enough steam left to power across the finish line.
Parasyte 8-9: Double the Parasyte, double the… tense school drama and slow walk towards alienation from your own species (heh, “alienation”). Parasyte is a busy goddamn show at this point, but it’s juggling all its pieces quite effectively, so I’m having a lot of fun with it. It jumps between threads in a way that seems natural, and while its articulation of Shinichi’s journey isn’t exactly subtle, it’s still very effective. The aesthetics still haven’t risen to elevate the fundamental strength of the source material, but that source material is strong, so I can’t really complain. Carry on, Parasyte!
KimiUso 8: It’s a very strange and lucky thing for me to have KimiUso and Shirobako coming out on the same day. Between the two of them, they encompass a great deal of both what I seek in art and what creating art is actually like, and it’s fitting that the two poles of the art experience are represented on the one side by an extravagant dramatization of middle-school genius and on the other by a completely unvarnished depiction of creation as day job. It’s a pretty lovely contrast.
This episode of KimiUso was a total gift. Constructed as a contrast between Aiza and Igawa’s very different performances, the show was largely carried by the music, which KimiUso has managed to translate into completely understandable “fight scenes” in the context of this show. Aiza’s was all confidence, speed, and technical merit – he’s a brash kid who’s trained like hell, and his performance screams “see THIS? Can you do THIS?” And then Igawa’s completely different performance manages to steal the show, possessing incredible personality that perfectly, tangibly represents the loose, sneering power of her wild talent. And even outside of the song itself, the sound design and pacing of that second sequence were fantastic – though the show has had issues with its “always at eleven” emotional tension in the past, this time it was in absolute control of its emotional flow, and the rise and fall of tension and suspense of her moving towards the performance were beautifully articulated. KimiUso’s always been full of technical merit, but even though I’ve greatly enjoyed the show from the beginning, it really seems like it’s just now gaining full confidence in its own powers. It’s a thing to see.
Amagi Brilliant Park 9: The Elementario finally got their dedicated episode, and though it wasn’t as strong as the last couple, it was still pretty damn funny. Nothing about this episode was surprising in the least, but Amagi episodes rarely are – it’s really the little details of execution that sell this very silly show. Like the comic beats of “aw, we failed” – giant guns emerge from the walls – electrocute girls – “oh wow, you can see their bones.” Or the mascots getting successively more bored and calling more and more of the obvious plot beats as the episode continues. Or upping the ante with that ridiculous drill at the end. FACE THE DRILL!
Shirobako 8: This episode was much less tense overall than the last one, but the tone it struck instead impressed me in its own way. Shirobako has always been an extremely grounded, uniquely lifelike construction, but this episode slowed down the pace and worked over its conversations to the extent that it really just felt like the camera was following these characters throughout their day. And that true realism tone didn’t hurt the episode’s narrative tension at all – it was still smartly constructed, it was just so graceful in its construction that it didn’t feel like a formally structured “story” at all.
While the lion’s share of the narrative was focused on resolving Ema’s creative wall, the “B plot” of Aoi coming to understand her sister’s needs was handled almost entirely through subtext, and did wonderful work of maintaining the show’s general themes while the narrative took a close look at one particular character. The Aoi/sister stuff was as quietly devastating as anything this show has done – a marvelously understated examination of the ways adult life fails to live up to our expectations, the things we do to make up for that, the way our personal unhappiness can accidentally push us away from the ones we love, and the quiet understanding and warmth of knowing you’re needed by those around you. That last scene of Aoi asking “Do you need anything else?” felt like a triumph without overtelling a thing – it let this little drama resolve in the kind of non-climactic moments of mutual understanding that characterize actual life. It was brilliant.
Shit, I’ve gone on a big rant about a narrative that only took up about three minutes of the episode. And the rest of it was great too! There were plenty of endearing little moments, like when we learned the head internal production assistant actually dreams of baking cakes. There was the drunken “we should make an anime together!” conversation at the bar, with lines like “I don’t know anything about money, but I’ve got the drive!” reminding me of way too many old creative project discussions of my own.
And there was Ema’s whole conflict, the centerpiece of this episode. This, too, was resolved in the best way possible. In last week’s episode, Ema let her immediate panic over failing in one specific project become some kind of harbinger of general doom, and got caught up in basically every fear that characterizes a life in the arts. Everything she was afraid of is true – but you can’t escape that stuff. It’ll always be there. What Ema did have to do was solve her immediate technical problem, and the show handled that not with a generic Motivational Speech, but with a compassionate coworker who’d been through this before and had some great advice. Stuff like “if I was good at anything, I was good at copying” isn’t standard Uplifting Conversation material – it’s just really good, really relevant guidance. Ema couldn’t Happy Thoughts her way through her problem – she needed real help, and she received it. This show doesn’t pull punches, but the way its characters pull each other through makes it uplifting as hell regardless.
Sword Art Online II 21: Man, this was such a Sword Art episode. I wish I could have done a classic timestamp writeup for this one – there was just so much Kirito smugness, so much absurd combat, so much completely tone-deaf dramatic cuing. SAO has had good points and bad points throughout this second season, and though this episode wasn’t really one of the worst points, it was still incredibly reflective of what makes SAO such a fundamentally broken thing. Limp your way across the finish line, SAO! You’re almost there!
Fate Stay Night 8: Alas, the candle that cackles most loudly burns out the fastest. Shinji’s one-note villainy was clearly not long for this world, but I was hoping he’d last a little longer than one full episode. This was a fun episode overall, and the first to break FSN’s “odd-numbered episodes are fights, even-numbered episodes are exposition” streak – there were a bunch of great fights here, and Rin/Shirou’s tag-team battles were very satisfying. Once again, FSN is demonstrating a much better sense of weight and motion than Fate/Zero ever did, with exchanges from the initial sparring through the battles at school all landing with a satisfying crunch of body striking body. I didn’t expect Rider to bite the dust this early, given she seems like a fan favorite in the community, but I guess that means Heaven’s Feel is where she actually gets to be a character. And the show continues to play up the Shirou-Archer contrast, so I guess I’ll stay ready for wherever that goes. Fate Stay Night continues to pretty much just be solid entertainment, but it’s such well-constructed entertainment that I don’t really have any complaints.
Log Horizon II 9: Another kind of middling Log Horizon episode, though this time it wasn’t because the show is the Most Flat Thing Ever, but instead because the episode actually had legitimate good points and bad points. Which… I guess I’ll take? The highlights here were actually pretty dang good! So yeah, fair enough, Log Horizon.
Rage of Bahamut 8: This episode had some nice moments, but was more setup than anything else – it was clear it had to lean on our existing affection for the characters, and though it did that very effectively, that’s more a credit to how well the previous episodes juggled action and character-building than anything remarkable about this specific episode. That’s fine, though – the details were nice (Favaro’s wonderful expressions, the king’s “but I wanted the magic sword!” routine, Amira’s reunion with her “father” actually being a heartfelt moment), and the stage is clearly set for Jeanne to be forced to escape with our heroes next week. Or be sent on a suicide mission with Kaisar and Rita? Who knows. Either way, I’m ready for Bahamut to kick back into high gear for its last stretch of episodes.