We’re nearing the end of the year, and I’ve got presents to wrap, so I hope you’ll forgive me if I keep this brief. Not many surprises to speak of this week, outside of SAO somehow ending on… uh, maybe the highest note it’s ever reached? Normally when SAO is okay, it’s because it leans totally on its fight animation – but this week didn’t even have a fight. Instead, it just ended the arc in a way that satisfyingly ties up the thematic lines and character journeys of this story. Huh. Funny thing. Maybe try that more often next time, SAO!
Anyway, enough praise for my nemesis. Let’s run ‘em all down!
Shirobako 11: This was a focused, unabashed Aoi week, and jesus almighty did it ever make the most of that. Aoi’s finale episode isn’t going so well, and so this episode steered us from awkward interview to half-sane employment stress, with Aoi’s current crisis offering time to think on where it all went wrong. I don’t know what I could possibly say about that little keyframe girl sequence, with Aoi greedily staring in at the wealthy companies working on Doraemon and Gundam. This show is brilliant, right? We all agree this show is brilliant? And that goddamn ending, baiting the idea that Anno himself might save Exodus. And that “yeah, he’s still working” -airplane noises- Wind Rises gag. And the fact that no one is even pretending to hide their contempt for Tarou at this point, and are instead using him to console themselves about new employees. This was a smaller-scale episode than some previous ones have been, and the only real career stress it highlighted was interview woes, but it was still one of the series’ best episodes yet just on invention and humor alone. Shirobako is killing it.
Amagi Brilliant Park 12: Welp, this did everything it had to do. Amagi’s always been a pretty light and fluffy show, but this ending landed because KyoAni are damn good at what they do. And yeah, these characters have been established well enough, and yeah this journey has been enjoyable enough that I’m kind of naturally invested, but mostly it comes down to the execution. The solid pacing of that first half, right up until they finally cross the finish line. And the aesthetics of that second half, with KyoAni’s incredibly acute expression work doing tremendous heavy lifting. It worked, I bought it, I wouldn’t mind a second season. If kinda derpy comedies be KyoAni’s calling, then I guess I can accept that. I’ve spent a lot of time moaning about the studio KyoAni might have been, but it’s time to come to terms with the studio that they are – they are the studio that sometimes make solid and almost frustratingly pretty comedies like Amagi Brilliant Park.
Sword Art Online II 24: Hey waddayaknow, it ended pretty damn well. There were certainly things I could nitpick in this episode, and I think the big dramatic scene overreached by maybe one notch on the drama bar, but this episode tied SAO’s themes together so neatly that I can’t really complain. I’m glad the story ended here, and that the author never made any more content to adapt.
Rage of Bahamut 11: This episode made me realize that a big part of my problem with Bahamut is just Amira. I don’t find either her journey or her character particularly interesting, which kills a lot of the show’s attempts at dramatic tension, but when she isn’t in the center, the show can still pull off a fun episode. And this episode was definitely fun – it didn’t regain the madcap pacing and brilliant production of the show’s first five episodes, but there were still plenty of animation gifts, nice character moments, and great single ideas to fill out the runtime. Kaisar’s turned out to be one of the star characters of the season, and stuff like that inflatable duck-battle was wonderfully absurd. I’d watch full episodes of Kaisar plummeting through the sky any day.
Log Horizon II 12: Pretty standard cooldown episode, though I really liked Shirou’s resolution to the money problem. Tetra actually being a guy is interesting I guess in a worldbuilding sense (since it plays off that earlier stuff about the world changing), but I don’t really know what they’d actually do with it? It’s not like Tetra has proven to be the most engaging character. Anyway, this episode was fine, I’ll miss William Massachusetts, I’m ready for the next arc.
Fate Stay Night 11: I actually really liked this episode right up until the last scene. The Rin-Shirou awkwardness in the early scenes was making me sigh, and I was actively thinking “they haven’t really bonded enough for me to buy romance here – they’ve just spent time in proximity,” and then the show goes and gives me exactly the kind of scene they needed in that conversation on the deck. A couple scenes like that will go a long way towards selling a real connection between these two. Even that scene foretold the problem of the end, though, what with Rin’s wonky philosophy of magic. That led into Shirou’s own words from Kiritsugu (“If you’re going to enjoy something, enjoy it to the fullest”), and finally climaxed with Archer’s dumbass speech. I generally really dislike using this word, but Archer’s speech on reasons for fighting was legitimately pretentious – a simple and frankly meaningless code dressed up as something cutting and profound. The character moments earlier in this episode were solid and did a great deal to improve the resonance of this material, but that scene reminded me that most of the time, FSN should really just stick to fight scenes. Nasu sure ain’t Urobuchi.
KimiUso 11: Takeshi kind of stole the show this week, with his bittersweet musings on heroes. From that wonderful imagined sequence at the beginning, to the obvious but bracing realization “heroes always win, no matter what. This is like… it’s like you’re actually human.” Obviously, yeah, but the moment you realize your hero is just another fallible person is about as classic a “death of childhood” moment as you can imagine.
Kousei’s grown a great deal through this performance – so much so that we even get that amazing line “competitions are no place to find yourself!” I really liked his final “maybe it’s not possible for someone to get up on stage in an innocent state.” It’s an oversimplification, as much of this show’s passion is, but it’s also a sharp and true thing. Performance is an active of letting go – as Kousei’s mentor says, “the piano will drag out everything in your youth.” We all bring our sharp, broken edges to that which we express through art. And then we got that beautiful scene at the end, where KimiUso once again got to show off its aesthetics, leading into big ol’ DUN DUN DUN Kaori health foreshadowing. It seems likely we’ll get two more big performances, given the pacing so far, so I’m gonna guess we’ll have this reunion concert between the two of them and then one post-Kaori competition by Kousei? I dunno, but this show is great, so I’m ready to see wherever it takes us.