Aw jeez, we’re nearing the halfway point already? This season and year are going way too fast, and all I’ve got to show for it is all this writing about cartoons. This was a fine week in anime, and it seems the various tiers for this season are pretty established at this point, even though it’s hard to directly compare many of the shows I’m watching. Maria the Virgin Witch is excellent, but shares almost nothing in common with most of my other shows. Shirobako is fantastic, but how do I compare what it does to something like Yuri Kuma Arashi? Fortunately, I’ve long since learned comparisons and evaluations are a sucker’s game – I’m happy just to enjoy the good in the many shows I’m watching.
Also next week I’m gonna rank them anyway because it’s tradition, but that’s besides the point. Let’s run ’em down!
Shirobako 17: A very warm episode of Shirobako this week, composed of a variety of tiny scenes whose central goal seemed to be articulating the relationships and integration of Musani’s new staff. We got a bunch of scenes with both of the new production assistant girls, more ominous moments of Hiraoka actually being even worse than Tarou in a very different way, and more moments of Ema’s pet key animator being ridiculous. Shirobako’s always full of nice details, and there were plenty of those here – skinny Honda was a great surprise, the disconnect between the more professional of the two assistants and Musani’s standard “this sucks, I can’t do it, find someone else… fine, I’ll do it” distribution system felt very true to life, and Zuka’s turn as the Plum Piggie was just one more perfectly sad indignity. As Goth Loli-sama said last week, career survival is about enduring humiliation, and Zuka’s certainly enduring her share. Aoi is also very naturally assuming a supervisor role at Musani – her earnest energy from the first half is transitioning very believably into a confidence around the office, and she seems equally comfortable trying to solicit work from animation legends and helping her assistants through their first screwups. When Shirobako isn’t in narrative crunch mode, it falls back on being a tremendously superior slice of life, and that’s where we were at this week.
Log Horizon S2 18: A strong episode this week that really made the most of the younger characters’ personalities and relationships. Isuzu, Rudy, and Tohya all had strong moments, and the overall show seems very confident in its current story. It’s very nice to see the kids not just failing to slow the story down, but actually elevating it through their own presence. A good place to be!
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 29: After one week of puzzle-battle, one week of pure comedy, and one week of atmosphere and action, I was kind of wondering what style of episode JoJo would turn to next. Well, it turns out the answer was “every style at once.” This episode was full of fun fights, lots of dynamic shots and split frames, solid animation, and also ridiculous comedy, finishing the battle with Anubis by combining every single thing JoJo does best. Visual tricks like Evil Polnareff breaking through JoJo’s split frame were wonderful variations on the JoJo formula, Jotaro being a huge dick all the time really shined in this episode (with Star Platinum even getting in on the stupid jokes), and Anubis’s final, ignominious flight to the Nile ended the episode in a pretty absurd space compared to last week’s stylish and respectful villain introduction. JoJo seems solidly “back” at this point, possessing great confidence and moving effortlessly between its core styles.
Idolmaster: Cinderella Girls 5: This episode wasn’t exactly significantly worse than the last one (in fact, Miku’s breakdown here was one of the best moments in Cinderella Girls so far), but it still made me feel like it might be time to drop this show. The character writing for the side characters just isn’t improving – Russia is still Russia, Lacrosse is still Lacrosse, etc. They’re not just underdeveloped, they’re developed in ways that make them feel nothing like human beings, and it’s tough to buy into even a very breezy show if the characters feel canned like that. In a weaker season, I’d possibly stick with the show for the atmosphere and animation, but this isn’t a weak season. I guess we’ll see next week.
Yuri Kuma Arashi 6: GODDAMNIT THOSE GIRLS ARE JUST TERRIBLE. This week’s biggest visual highlight was its beautiful fairy-tale centerpiece, but the episode did great work overall in adding texture to Kureha, Ginko, and especially Sumika. Sumika came across as the show’s most admirable character, someone essentially too good for this world – understanding the society she’s trapped in, but still rejecting it. And the idea that Ginko just let her die really complicates our understanding of her character in a nice way – Ginko seems trapped as Kureha, but in very different ways. Yuri Kuma continues to impress.
Death Parade 5: We got a second behind-the-scenes episode this week, as Nona introduced us to several more purgatory employees while Decim failed his five-year performance review. The strange fragments of worldbuilding and beautifully creepy backgrounds were nice, but I think what I most enjoyed about this episode was its continual confirmation of last episode’s most important thread – these people are really terrible at their jobs. Decim is particularly terrible, in that his inability to adapt in this episode is reflective of a larger inflexibility that makes him incapable of meaningfully engaging with human nature (even Nona’s pool partner comments on Decim’s ‘no-nonsense’ rigidity). But Nona also seems to hold far too much faith in the importance of the arbitrary rules this place has established. I don’t really mind that the system here’s a mess – that’s the point of the show, and last episode demonstrated that playing off that point can result in really poignant human moments. But considering what lengths the show’s already going to to demonstrate what a flawed world it’s created, I’m interested in seeing how far things are pushed away from this status quo.
Parasyte 17: This episode didn’t fix everything wrong with Parasyte, but it was a strong episode nonetheless. Themes were tied together, characters were used well, and we even got a compelling fight scene. Hopefully Parasyte can keep this up and end with dignity intact.
Yatterman Night 5: Another rewarding episode of Yatterman this week, as Yatterman sets up a winter tournament to give the people hope, but not too much hope. The main players and dynamics of Yatterman are fully established at this point, and the show feels very comfortable seguing between momentary gags, heartwarming moments with the family, and visually dynamic fights or declarations of justice. Gatchan got more of a spotlight this week, which gave the show a chance to get some great jokes out of the fact that he’s basically the only one who really challenges Leopard in the group. What can I say, seeing Gatchan deck a nine-year-old girl while training is pretty funny.
The “if we can’t win, at least we’ll survive” refrain remained strong here, with Gatchan articulating it directly before his match, and the big battle with the three Yatterman mechas was a real visual feat. You don’t really expect Yatterman to be a great-looking show, given its intentionally drab color palette, but when the big moments hit, they look wonderful. The sound design was also particularly noteworthy this week – the two victory songs used for Doronjo’s entrance and for their final victory both really sold those moments, though at this point the nobility of Doronjo and wickedness of Yatterman are so solidly programmed into the show’s DNA, and so consistently articulated through its character moments and worldbuilding, that it’s not hard for the show to rise to cheer-worthy moments. I don’t want to jinx it, but Yatterman really doesn’t have to do anything but stay this good.
Rolling Girls 5: Rolling Girls just keeps being something new every week, but it’s still managing to hold itself together. The big remaining problem continues to be its emotional resonance – it’s busy and full of ideas, but it’s not quite letting its characters breath to the degree they need. Pick yourself up, Rolling Girls!
Maria the Virgin Witch 5: Galfa took the lead this week in a very focused episode. All the leads play off each other very well in this show, and they all have very different relationships – the Galfa/Joseph scenes have their own distinct energy, as do the Joseph/Maria ones, and the Maria/Vivs. Galfa is one of the most archetypally unusual characters here, and though his narrative seems somewhat of a tool in Joseph’s finding-your-purpose arc, he represents a very necessary perspective. And both of the major Maria-Joseph scenes were great, with the first one’s direction really helping to convey the romantic tension between them and the second demonstrating Maria at her most naive and kinda useless. It’s nice to see a show where basically every character is torn between multiple competing desires, and Maria’s writing is strong enough for that tension to be clear in virtually every character exchange.
KimiUso 16: Jesus christ is this show pretty. The humor’s almost universally bad, and the pacing can certainly drag, but god damn is it ever pretty. This episode didn’t have as many animation highlights as some of the others, but it was a feast of beautiful shots – from the many emotionally charged uses of reflections in windows, mirrors, glasses, and eyes, to the perfect framing of specific personal moments across the entire cast, to the warped hallways of Kaori’s private suffering or beautiful backgrounds of the outdoor shots. Episodes like this make me wish every element of the show were this strong – we so rarely get shows with such pronounced, consistent, staggering beauty.
Not that the writing was a wash this week. There was a lot of silly humor, but there were also some wonderful little conversations, mostly between Kousei and his new student. I wasn’t sure about her introduction last week, but her actions betray a fully established and parsible personality that actually kinda helps me understand some people in my own life. “Not to play exactly how the score dictates is merely the selfishness of someone’s who’s forfeited victory” is very easily something I could imagine certain people who argue with me about art saying – it’s about control and power, a child’s view of something that’s based in infinite complexities and resonances, but why she would think that is totally understandable. And their later conversation on the shrine steps was one of the show’s most grounded exchanges, something this show desperately needs more of.
This episode also did great work in further elaborating KimiUso’s view on art as a kind of emotional reflection of its creator – the new girl’s line about her motivation being “ulterior motives” really just pointed to the fact that all this show’s characters have “ulterior motives” for playing. That’s what art is – the distillation and expression of a personal human truth through another medium. It’s bloodletting, pouring your soul into a common vessel for the sake of communication and even just existence, proof you’re there at all. KimiUso definitely has its problems, but its strengths are achingly clear.