Pretty killer episodes this week, at least from the top shelf. KimiUso, Shirobako, and Parasyte all turned in stellar performances, Chaika kept up the dramatic intensity from last week, and Log Horizon suddenly decided to toss off one of the best speeches I’ve seen. The other episodes were middling, but the season’s looking strong as we move into the endgame. Look forward to a pretty stupid amount of content over these next couple weeks – I’m planning on participating in the 12 Days of Anime posts (one post a day for the twelve days leading up to the 25th) along with all my usual review shenanigans, my top shows of the year post will follow that, and even ANN might have some kind of bonus piece to contribute. I hope this is what you want, internet. This is all the blood I have!
Alright, enough of that. Let’s run down some cartoons.
Chaika -avenging battle- 9: NO BRAKES ON THE CHAIKA TRAIN. Chaika went into crazy finale mode this week, with Black Chaika becoming a Chaika-Squid in order to revive good old Emperor Gaz. This was about the most simple and direct place the show could have taken Gaz’s secret plan, and yet it totally worked – all the pieces came together, all the characters played their parts, and all the dominos fell with an extremely satisfying sound. Chaika’s always been something of a scripted D&D campaign, and this felt like exactly the right place to take it for the ending – all the one time-rivals are now solid allies, all the secondary villains have been cast aside, and now there’s just God-King Gaz and our favorite characters all lined up against him. I’m guessing pretty much everyone will get some kind of moment in the sun next week, and the stage couldn’t be better set for a satisfying, riotous conclusion.
KimiUso 9: Vicious and beautiful episode this week, with the most direct articulation yet of Kousei’s horrible relationship with his mother. The show doesn’t pull any punches in displaying her abuse, and the episode rides tragically from his old practice sessions, to the way he blames himself, to his final moment of rebellion. It’s clear in the contrast between his pain and Emi’s desire for self-expression what this show is actually fighting for here. All these characters are Musicians – music is their voice, and should be a beautiful expression of self. But Kousei’s mother stole that from him, and poisoned what would have been his natural method of self-expression. Now, with his learned performance failing him, we might finally get to see a moment of Kousei being actually okay with himself, and expressing that in his music.
KimiUso’s done great work in establishing what all of these musicians mean to each other over the last few episodes, and lines like “I never knew – that music could be this colorful, and that it even had a scent” rang as perfect descriptions of how art builds on art, and passion inspires passion. Plus the show was just beautiful, as always – scenes like Emi stomping down the hall in brilliant red as the rest of the world faded to greyscale, or all the chilling articulations of Kousei and his mother, brought the story to life as they always do. I certainly wasn’t expecting the pre-Kousei part of this competition to take up three entire episodes, but it’s turned out to be the best segment yet – like its characters, KimiUso is most alive when it’s expressing itself in song, and it’s been wonderful getting to know all of these young stars.
Sword Art Online II 22: This episode was basically everything terrible about SAO’s attempts at heavy drama all rolled up into one terminally infected ball of sadness and puppy-killing. “We’ve only given this character an episode and a half of screentime, any ideas on how to make the audience care about her?” “Give her AIDS, kill her family, sentence all her friends to die.” Bravo, SAO, you have somehow outdone yourself in artless emotional manipulation. It’s actually been a while since SAO has been terrible in this particular way – I think the last major time this happened was when the show introduce Yui just to murder her, so I guess we had a good run. Nice going SAO, thanks for giving us something really dumb to remember you by.
Rage of Bahamut 9: A kind of awkwardly messy episode of Bahamut this week – it felt like it must have been outsourced or something, because the usual tone just wasn’t there. Not only was there conspicuously little animation (scenes like Amira/Favaro falling at the beginning or Amira’s breakdown were laughably under-animated), but the overall direction just didn’t flow like the show normally does. Even within scenes, the cuts between shots just felt awkward, like the show had forgotten how to maintain its normal sense of flow. Hell, even the sense of humor did this – that extended tooth-pulling gag barely felt like a Bahamut joke at all. The content itself was actually pretty fine, though – it was nice seeing Favaro get his anime hero on with all the “to hell with fate!”, and it’s nice seeing Jeanne and Rita becoming independent protagonists with their own adventures. But yeah, really weird quality drop this time. Hopefully that means we’ll be getting a solid run of episodes to cap the show off – we’re currently approaching a parity of high-speed and kinda monotonous episodes, so it’s pretty important that Bahamut shape up in the very near future.
Log Horizon II 10: Holy shit, William Massachusetts. I’d figured the only interesting thing about you was your amazing name, but GOD DAMN. This week’s speech was an absolute scorcher – it laid out an entire philosophy of games as identity in skewed but sympathetic fashion, fully exploring William’s values and making them real through his view of the world. He’s not in a healthy place, but his issues are understandable and even common ones, and the show couldn’t have a greater understanding of what makes a person like him tick. Log Horizon just laid out the truth of gaming in one blistering twenty minute episode, rising suddenly out of a middling trapped-in-an-MMO genre piece to say something incredibly true and poignant. This episode is a perfect, self-contained reward.
Fate Stay Night 9: Fate cooled down for a while this week, with an episode largely dedicated to character-building and silly jokes. That fortunately/unfortunately meant the show ended up kind of leaning on the visual novel’s drama and dialogue, leading to a fair number of wince-worthy lines from Archer and Shirou (as I commented on twitter, it feels like Shirou is this show’s visual novel protagonist while Archer is its light novel protagonist). But hey, you’re not watching FSN for the poetry – you’re watching it for the fights. And even in the absence of fights, there were still plenty of pretty shots in this episode, along with some legitimately great gags. Plus hey, Shinji’s still around! And Gil’s getting involved! Fun times ahead, I’m sure.
Amagi Brilliant Park 10: Are we really… Amagi, are you actually asking me to care about your characters? Your characters are named after famous rappers, Amagi. Amagi, you’re… you’re the silly show about mascots who drink heavily and harass people. No, don’t… don’t do the tragic backstory thing, Amagi. You can’t… no, don’t try to make me care about that one time Kanye promised Latifa he’d save her. You’re not boxing in that weight bracket, Amagi. You can’t… no… no, Amagi, stop…
Yeah, this episode didn’t work at all. Amagi has barely earned any emotional investment period, and what investment it has earned is strictly related to the dynamic between Kanye and Sento – Latifa’s barely a device, never mind an actual character. I’m guessing the episodes from here on out are going to pick up for the meat of this final storyline, and I guess the show needed some kind of last-second motivation boost, but an episode leaning entirely on Amagi’s non-existent emotional depth was never going to be much to talk about. I’ll give you this one, Amagi, but you sure as hell better get back to the jokes from here out.
Parasyte 10: Definitely Parasyte’s finest episode yet, this conclusion to Shimada’s arc finally realized the full potential of the source material. Great pacing, creepy-gorgeous single shots, and actually effective music – any complaints I’ve had in the past disappeared as the show just perfectly connected with the material it was thrown. Really hoping this is a sign of more stable goodness to come.
Shirobako 9: This week’s Shirobako was about an even mix of good cop and bad cop – it dealt some heavy blows, but softened them with some wonderfully surreal fantasy. CG-chan (fine, Misa) got highlighted for the first time this week, with her own career troubles skewering one more key conflict of a life in the arts. Misa has a stable, good-paying job – by any conventional metrics, she’s way ahead of most of her friends. However, with that stable job comes the “security” of knowing that for the foreseeable future, all she’ll be handling will be artless, soulless car designs. Frankly, Misa’s lucky – her problems are small ones relative to her friends, and her position is enviable. But there’s still a compelling sadness in her position, and particularly in how the show framed them. In fact, the show’s visual framing was really excellent this week in general, with lots of poignant shots isolating our various protagonists as they considered their futures. And that diner conversation between Zuka and Misa was a killer – stuff like Zuka’s bittersweet reflections on meeting a lead star who’s younger than her, or the “being able to see your future can bring you down sometimes” “I don’t even know if I have a future!” is relayed with a smile, but really cutting stuff all the same.
And then the Seven Lucky Gods appeared and our heroes waved them on their way. Way to make a perfect little surreal moment, Shirobako. It does help with the sting.