An excellent week in anime this, uh, week, with pretty much everything I’m watching either holding strong, recovering from weaker episodes, or demonstrating new strengths altogether. Death Parade was easily the surprise star this time – Death Parade was almost a show I was watching out of obligation up until now (“yeah it’s well-constructed, but why should I care?”), but this episode felt sharper, more passionate, and more poignant than any of the previous trials. Plus it actually attacked the show’s premise, and even pointed to the idea that the arbitrary nature of these trials is intentionally reflective of how the arbitrary nature of life itself prevents us from being the selves we ought to be. Rolling Girls also made something of a comeback this week, and Yuri Kuma is starting to feel like it’s finally comfortable in its own world. Potential transitioned into results across the board this week, which means I guess I’ll be watching Too Many Shows for some time to come. Let’s run ’em down!
Stardust Crusaders: Egypt Arc 4: Falling at the opposite end of the scale from last week’s farce, this week was all tense atmosphere and action, and yet still just as good. Great color work throughout, some nice animation and shot framing for the big fight, and just a wonderful sense of atmosphere from Polnareff’s run-in with Anubis onwards. The slow walk to the battle among the pillars was great, the fight itself had great back-and-forth and some standout visual sequences, and even that little barbershop scene at the end built perfectly through the music and that ominous sound of the sharpened razor. The last three episodes of JoJo have featured JoJo-as-puzzle-battle, JoJo-as-pure-comedy, and JoJo-as-stylish-action-drama, and all three have nailed their various goals. It’s wonderful to see JoJo back in such confident form.
Log Horizon II 17: Things are coming together now for Log Horizon II’s second half. My concerns about the focus on the kids were partially answered by introducing more interesting characters (well, mainly one interesting character – Nureha herself, one of the show’s most interesting players) and partially answered by a brilliant scene that avoided the kids altogether. The collision of economic policy, fantasy worldbuilding, and gamer psychology is basically everything I could want out of Log Horizon, and plays in the same vivid space as William Massachusett’s shining moment. I’m eager to see wherever this goes.
Shirobako 16: Aaand right after the first episode that could at all be considered a stumble, Shirobako pulls out one of its most fun and surreal episodes of all time. I was pretty surprised by this one, honestly – I’d figured this was the point where the show would get super heavy, and there certainly was drama, but it was interspersed with so many wonderful little gags and scenes that the episode felt lighter than almost any other Shirobako. “Which way is the cute road?” Aoi commenting on the director two-timing his key staff. Ema’s ridiculous Angel Dance (which I’m now going to watch again goddamnit that friggin’ dance). Goth Loli-sama’s pitching form. The ultimate resolution to Iguchi’s character design issues was pretty simple, but the path there still offered some poignant moments of career sharpness – “I’ve been working on this so long I can’t tell what’s okay anymore” is a feeling I’m sure most people can relate to, and Goth Loli-sama’s “every occupation has difficulties. That’s why the rest is how much you’re able to endure after all the humiliation you face” had a serious sting to it as well.
It was an interesting choice to go so silly in resolving this issue, but I think it worked – we’re still early in the season, we can’t be moving into drama-crunch now, and even with this issue resolved, the fact that they’ve lost two weeks of production time means all of Aoi’s planning may not save them now. I personally want this show to go darker, frankly – Shirobako doesn’t pull punches, but so far everything has worked out okay in the end in an industry that isn’t really known for that happening. But even if the conflicts continue to be resolved with as little fuss as this week’s, the show is still full of great characters, harsh truths, and fun gags. It’s a treasure either way.
Yuri Kuma Arashi 5: Just as last episode made Lulu a character worth cheering for, this episode humanized Ginko, setting up an adorably love-struck teenager behind the stoic facade that’s driven the plot so far. Kureha also gained texture through the new flashbacks and pressure of those around her, but this was really the Ginko show, and unlike Lulu’s episode, this time the show didn’t have to rely on shifting up its format. The show feels comfortable in its own skin now, and no longer something that’s great just because it’s smart, funny, and aesthetically rewarding. I mean, those are all good reasons to watch something, but it all coming together in a package that actually feels graceful and in control is a nice bonus.
Death Parade 4: Goddamnit, Death Parade. Just last week I write “it’s looking like Death Parade isn’t going to be a great show,” and then you pull this shit. Then you go and pull out a brilliant episode that blows away every element of your preceding material, drawing on the theatricality of the first episode and empathy of the third and creating a story that’s both gut-wrenching and full of all that gorgeous animation and shot framing I’d figured was just a one-time thing. It’s like your staff knew what a good story you had here. Knew that these characters were your first pair worth truly believing in, and that this episode’s perfect economy of characterization and storytelling deserved every inch of stellar execution.
All my complaints were answered. The characters here were drawn believably across as few scenes as possible, with the reality-show mom easily becoming Death Parade’s first great character. The humor here was aimed at the farce of the system, and so was the anger – instead of watching people act horribly, we were watching a system force people into horrible circumstances. Decim was the “villain” here, if anyone was – and the way the game here forced the characters into terrible action acted as a mirror of the turns their former lives took, as well. “Life is full of unfairness. That is something you know all too well, correct?” I’m so happy to see this show taking the emptiness of its own conceit to task – not only is it directly elaborating how these games don’t truly tell us anything about how good their participants are as people, this week it used that point to reflect on how life itself mistreats us, and makes monsters of fundamentally good people. This episode was angry, but it was angry at the game – it had nothing but love for its protagonists.
God, this episode was so good. I’m vetoing my prior lack of faith in this series’ potential. A couple more episodes like this and I’ll be all set.
Rolling Girls 4: This week’s Rolling Girls didn’t return to the energy and animation splendor of the first two, but it still arrived at a comfortable and enjoyable place. The big question last week was if they could make the protagonists people worth following, and though we’re not entirely there yet, this week did solid work in fleshing out Nozomi, Ai, and Chiaya through conversations between them and, most importantly, conversations with their absent parents. The last five minutes in particular set a perfect mood for the road to come – wistful, kind of apprehensive, but excited about the prospect of friends and adventure. I’m back on board.
Idolmaster – Cinderella Girls 4: It looks like Cinderella Girls is starting to find its feet at this point. This episode’s video introduction conceit was a fine way to add a bit more personality to most of the cast, and the overall episode just moved well and was very endearing. Cinderella Girls’ greatest strength continues to be its absolutely wonderful character animation – at least half the work in maintaining this show’s energy and developing personalities has come out through the vivid movements of every member of its cast. Jumps in facial expressions, body language, posture and movement and dance – virtually no shows animate their characters to this degree, and it’s sharply demonstrating how much animation can do almost by itself. Several members of the cast are still just gimmicks at this point (the scenes with Anastasia and Rock Girl were particularly wince-worthy), but we’re getting there. Cinderella Girls is comfy and beautiful, and that’s all I really need it to be.
Parasyte 16: It’s sad and kind of strange to say that Parasyte is easily the weakest thing I’m watching, but that’s where we’re at right now. This episode was stronger than the last few, but still not strong, and my interest in Shinichi’s psychological drama has pretty much entirely dwindled at this point. Hopefully Parasyte’s last third will shape together enough for it to at least limp across the finish line.
KimiUso 15: This was another Tsubaki-focused episode, that largely just elaborated on her realization from last week. That made it kind of slow as an individual episode (after all, for us in the audience, Tsubaki’s position has been obvious since episode one), but it was still told with KimiUso’s usual visual gracefulness. Lots of beautiful shots of Tsubaki stranded in open frames, lots of smart transitions (her turning away from Kousei transitioning into jogging in a tracksuit was particularly deft). The Kousei material here was more limited, but also more distinctive – I particularly liked his “the instant there’s a little distance between us, it gets harder to see you” line. But really, everything else this episode accomplished was ultimately overshadowed by how powerful that last Kaori scene was. Wonderful use of silence, great visual framing, a perfect mix of sterile hospital shots and slowly panicking closeups – that scene was a legitimately upsetting sequence, and felt like a window into an intimate, terrible moment more than a piece of dramatic storytelling.
Maria the Virgin Witch 4: Even though the youth/virginity/comedy stuff and faith/religion/inevitability of conflict stuff really do reflect off and complement each other, the distance between Maria’s various elements is still pretty funny at time. This episode’s first half was basically all “we gotta get you laid” jokes, with endless curly hair witch Viv absolutely carrying her first major scene. “I want to stop war itself.” “Are you stupid or something?” Yes Viv. “Aren’t you just pushing your ideals onto others?” Yes Viv. “He ain’t got one on him!” YES VIV. Viv’s the best, that scene was great.
And then, after a smart transition focused on Joseph’s own youth and ideals, we jump straight into Maria being unable to save a village whose piety led them to die in the plague. Certainly a bit of a tonal shift, but the show moved gracefully from one to the other, and I’m not going to begrudge this show any of its anger. Faith’s a dangerous weapon – of course Christianity has endless skeletons in its closet, but it’s a testament to the enduring danger of faith that my immediate internal response to this scene was “friggin’ anti-vaxxers.” Obviously this show comes down pretty hard on religion, but it’s aiming at real targets, and its feelings on Maria’s simplistic pacifism are equally scornful. This show’s interrogation of its own themes and characters gains more texture with every episode.
Yatterman Night 4: This episode started off pretty dang silly, with lots of wacky faces and even “classic” hot springs shenanigans, but the second half certainly made up for lost time on the melancholy drama front. My favorite element this week was easily the way the Yatterman nation uses its ridiculous Yatter gimmicks as symbols of control and oppression – watching everyone do those dumb salutes and then cheer as their families are carted off for forced labor was a really unsettling experience. I also liked the lack of hesitance this week’s couple had in betraying their new friends – I was worried Leopard’s silly “we’ll run away until we win!” was actually going to be rewarded (which would really hurt the world this show’s attempting to create), but instead, she’s immediately betrayed by the people she hoped to help (who are right to betray her, since they’re desperate and her plan is useless), and even then they fail to avoid their fate. And the final fight had some wonderfully surreal elements and lots of lovely animation, and the ending “laugh so they can’t see you cry” was another punch. Yatterman Night is working on a difficult balance between the elements of kid-show aesthetic it embraces and the ones it throws away, but this episode had more than enough standout moments to hold together.