Highs and lows this week, with stellar performances from Shirobako, Death Parade, and even Rolling Girls, but some real stinkers from Parasyte, Yatterman Night, and others. Honestly not a strong week overall – several of the more reliable shows really dropped the ball, and there’s only so much Shirobako can do to save the entire week by itself. Come on, anime. I know you’ve come to lean on Shirobako, but you gotta at least put out an effort. Shirobako’s not gonna be here to save you forever.
Alright, that’s enough talking about Shirobako, let’s talk about Shirobako. RUNNING ‘EM DOWN!
Shirobako 20: Shirobako continues to be just completely, totally unfair, crushing it again with another stellar and yet completely different episode. This one wasn’t the emotional gauntlet of last week, but it was still great – funny and sharp and full of mirrored reflections. Focus on Diesel and Hiraoka gave the show an excuse to further explore why everyone at Musani has committed to anime, and all of the episode’s reflections on the actual scriptwriting process (finally! the writing episode!) were both very true to life (FOR ONCE! MY DEGREE!) and also a well-constructed internal narrative. The question of Aria’s motivation was an obvious parallel for the show characters themselves, but the exploration of that conflict led to a bunch of nicely specific lines – I particularly liked Diesel’s “if it were me, I’d never stop flying. Especially knowing that if I gave it up, I’d have nothing left.”
That line really helped illustrate her character – she’s still totally dedicated to her dream in a way similar to Aoi, but she’s also too inexperienced to be able to write characters completely outside her own experience, and so she can’t extrapolate on Aria’s desires. Diesel’s scenes all episode were great, in fact – from little things like her “I know there are people who don’t need stories… like my parents” (an aside that could have been an entire arc in a lesser show, but here just added human texture to a larger story), to bigger ones like her great sequence inventing backstories for everyone on the train. And yeah, I already said it, but stuff like the writing prompts offered by her “sensei” are in fact exactly how creative writers train themselves to get better. Gotta exercise those muscles!
Hiraoka held up the other half of this week’s episode, and man. Hiraoka. His “must be nice being a girl” shtick was about as shitty as a person could be, and offered a somewhat needed glimpse of office gender politics, but that scene where he exploded with the episode director… damn. It was nice to see the show actually willing to go there, and Tarou’s “you called” entrance ended up being possibly the funniest offhand moment in the show so far. And then the president actually saying “are you not coming to work starting tomorrow?” – yeah, I’m really glad the show was willing to take off the gloves. Hiraoka’s been an awful employee, and this episode gave him the backlash he needed while also staying true to Shirobako’s tone and contributing to the episode’s specific points. It was graceful and rewarding and everything we’ve come to expect from Shirobako.
Parasyte 20: Christ, this episode sure was a mess. Parasyte descended into the worst kind of shounen/horror nonsense this week, with an episode whose tragic writing felt out of step even compared to Parasyte’s weakest prior material. We shifted from boilerplate police drama cliches to the worst police stakeout in history, and the way the serial killer acted as a running commentator was just…
Yeah, this was garbage. It’s a shame.
Death Parade 8: Another strong vignette episode this week, this time the first half of a two-parter. This time, we’ve got a sort of murder-mystery situation, with an unknown murderer and even an actual detective among the condemned. This let Death Parade play off a classic trope that mirrors its own priorities – the idea that it’s possible to “recognize a killer,” that you can look someone in the eye and tell if they’ve killed a man. And the show’s answer is looking to be the same as it’s always been – people are more complicated than that, and sometimes things just happen. Both of these men could have reached the point where they killed the people who wronged them. Evil don’t look like anything.
Outside of the base strength of the premise, the show’s writing and aesthetics were once again on point this week. Lots of compelling eerie shots, great expression work, and graceful parallels between the two stories – the way the show mirrored each of the men’s “I’m home” scenes wouldn’t have worked without strong expressions selling how much their lives were affected by each of their terrible moments, and those expressions landed perfectly. Death Parade walks a delicate balance where it attempts to convey full people across only a few memories and their actions within the arbitrary confines of Quindecim, and though on a thematic level the point is that this doesn’t reveal “what kind of people they are,” in order for the show to actually work, the audience has to invest in them as people anyway. It’s an inherent contradiction that requires careful execution and “narrative cheating” to resolve – we have to feel like we know these people from seeing them go through only a handful of key emotional moments, so we can disagree with Decim on how much he “knows” them. And this episode sold that again – moments like the detective opening his birthday present conveyed years of warmth in a few seconds. I expected Death Parade to have a certain appeal, but I didn’t expect it to be this humane. I’m still just not that invested in the purgatory-side narrative, but when it focuses on these vignettes, Death Parade continues to impress me.
Rolling Girls 8: A rally from the rolling girls! A lot of this episode wasn’t particularly great, but all of that was wiped away by the glory of the finale. It’s wonderful to see the show can still pull off gloriously ridiculous moments like this, where half a dozen elements all come together to make something utterly magical and unique. Shamisen solo as buddha statues are blown away by anti-air guns… yeah, I can get behind that.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 32: The silliness continued this week with a goddamn Polnareff episode. Polnareff actually started off the episode acting vaguely competent in his immediate IDing of the enemy Stand user, but things swiftly went downhill from there as Polnareff assumed a form more appropriate for his personality. The actual “fight” here was pretty lousy (that last scene sure was long and stupid, huh), so this episode was more highlighted by some nice details here and there – Jotaro and Iggy both being total assholes to their friends, the very nice POV sequence during Polnareff’s transformation, or just the incredible character design of Polnareff’s sinister foe. If JoJo can apply that “Menacing” effect to a dude with bells coming out of his hair-wings, JoJo can apply it to anything.
KimiUso 19: Takeshi had a performance, leading to this kind of enjoyably meaningless line:
That’s about all I’ve got.
Yatterman Night 8: Welp, this was a shame. This makes two episodes in a row with essentially no actual purpose and a whole pile of obnoxiously dumb running jokes. Don’t really have much to say about it – the episode was slow, silly, repetitive, and unnecessary. It also didn’t really look particularly good, or say anything beyond the stuff about family the show’s talked about plenty before. Boyacky and Tonzra’s antics were aggressively unfunny, Leopard’s crush on Gatchan doesn’t really add anything to the story, and the actual narrative here was a generic kid’s show episodic. Really hoping this is the last of Yatterman’s episodic digressions – the show’s best episodes are fantastic, but it can really swing in the other direction, too.
Log Horizon II 21: This wasn’t a fourth straight standout episode, but I didn’t really expect it to be. Log Horizon’s cooldowns are always pretty mellow and by-the-books, and this one played its resolutions safe while at least offering a couple nice character moments. It wasn’t a great episode, but it did its job. And hey, at least Rudy and Isuzu are always adorable.
Maria the Virgin Witch 8: This week’s Maria had a bit of everything – more plotting, more questions of peace and conflict, and more Maria acting adorably flustered. The two central points of this episode were Maria in conflict and Bernard ascendant – while Maria was urged by everyone who cares about her to take a step back and rest, Bernard made his move on several fronts, stealing Maria’s reputation out from under her while setting up Galfa to end her reign. Destroying her reputation wasn’t that difficult, of course – Maria’s wild actions have always resulted in more chaos than consistent peace, and Bernard promising stability with the church’s blessing probably seems much more appealing than Maria’s inconsistent stewardship. The Maria material was also strong here, as those closest to her declared in no uncertain terms how her presence and values complicates things for everyone. Bernard lied about her medicine being poison, but not all of Maria’s “medicine” actually helps at all.
Ezekiel’s position is the most interesting here, as her personal beliefs are the least stable and argument the least strong. Ezekiel wants Maria to be safe, but seems to be wavering in her own faith, and so her entreaty comes out in the form of personal fear, not sound argument. The rest of Maria’s friends know where she’s coming from, but can’t really offer anything but the harsh truth. Only Joseph truly believes in her, but he’s both in love with her and inspired by her conviction in comparison to his own uncertainty, so he’s no reliable judge.
Things are messy and dark and not getting better, basically. Maria’s politics were simplistic from the start, but her hanging to them is only making things worse even for the people who believe in her. There’s no way this show could end that would make “I hate wars” Maria happy – something has to give.