I’ll just come out and say it – this week kinda sucked. Almost everything on the weaker half of my list either hit a season low point or continued a losing streak, and even Shirobako’s episode was only “great.” I felt kinda awkward just dropping sad remark after sad remark, but this was just not a respectable week for a lot of shows. Fortunately, the top tier remains strong, and that’s definitely the most important thing. Both Death Parade and Maria nailed absolutely critical episodes, Yuri Kuma didn’t make any real missteps, and Shirobako just settled back into “a very solid Shirobako episode.” The season isn’t ending gracefully for some, but things are still gonna be okay. Let’s run ’em down!
Death Parade 9: Another of Death Parade’s soaring highlight episodes this week, as the conclusion of the murder mystery two-parter dropped all of the show’s ideas on the table. The narrative parallels here gracefully linked both the two arc “protagonists” and Decim himself, and the visual work was just as strong. I mentioned last week how introducing an actual detective as one of those to be judged allowed for the show to play the general Death Parade conceit against a classic genre articulation of its ideas – here, that idea was taken as far as it could go, with the ultimately broken and validation-seeking detective being cast as a direct parallel to Decim himself. The revelation of Tatsumi’s presence when Shimada’s sister was attacked was about as stern a condemnation of the arbiter system as the show could possibly conceive – Decim wasn’t just framed as an ignorant fool in a meaningless game (though he was called that too!), he was basically accused of being directly complicit in their suffering. Which he is! The system sucks, and this episode pulled no punches in declaring that.
Even aside from how well this episode laid out all of the show’s major points, the execution this week was just incredible. Tons of beautiful single shots, lots of evocative match cuts (I particularly like how the ways this and the previous episode making the two contestants visually echo each other actually fed into Tatsumi’s narrative desire to have Shimada mirror his actions), an incredible kineticism in scene transitions – this episode’s production felt movie-good, and they certainly picked the right episode to splurge for. With this episode in the bag, Death Parade has basically already proven everything it needs to. I mentioned way back in episode 4 that the show would only need a few episodes of that caliber to qualify as Great – well, we’re there.
Yuri Kuma Arashi 9: Yuri Kuma Arashi remains itself – visually engaging, thematically rich, maybe a little light on character engagement. This episode contrasted the end of Yuriika’s story against Ginko’s lowest point, which let us see the whole story of Ginko’s criminal-bear activities. The truth was pretty much what you’d expect – Ginko was jealous of Sumika, tried vaguely to help her anyway, but in the end stood and watched as she was killed. With Ginko now possessed by her own desire and Yuriika out of the picture, I’m excited to see how the conflict will turn out. I’m actually happy to see Yuriika gone, frankly – the thought that the show’s last quarter will hinge on conflict entirely within the central cast seems much more compelling.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 33: This episode wasn’t significantly stronger story-wise than last week’s – the whole Set fight just wasn’t particularly engaging, and relied far too much on gross-out gag humor. The main thing that surprised me about this whole digression was how much love David Productions put into it. Many of the fights in Stardust Crusaders’ first half were just as boring aesthetically as they were in storytelling, but for some reason, this episode was full of all sorts of engaging shots and dynamically animated sequences, adding a whole lot of personality to a villain who frankly didn’t deserve it. I guess the creators really enjoyed this arc, or something, and I can’t really complain – the way the visual style cut loose here was nice to see, even if it was being wasted on poop jokes and Polnareff’s tiny wiener. You’re a weird bunch, David Productions.
Fortunately, the next villain is apparently a crowd favorite, so I’m looking forward to the show pulling all of its pieces back together. Good times ahead!
Parasyte 21: A reasonable enough episode of Parasyte this week, though obviously the show’s systemic problems are kind of keeping it to just a certain level of quality at this point. It’s frustrating to say, considering how much this show dithered through the Kana arc, but a lot of my problems this episode came down to things feeling rushed. Hirokawa’s speech, Shinichi’s panic, Murano sleeping with him – all of this felt like stuff that needed more time to feel earned or resonant, and the show just hasn’t built there. But still, the episode didn’t really stumble, and there was also some nice material in there. Pluses and minuses.
Rolling Girls 9: Rolling Girls tried for emotional resonance this week, which went about as well as you’d expect in a show that has willfully underused its main cast. What was supposed to be solemn simply came off as slow, and the episode’s generally haphazard structure and downgraded visual quality didn’t help either. Rolling Girls has spent too much time goofing off to stop now, unfortunately.
Shirobako 21: Pretty baseline episode of Shirobako this week – strong as usual, but not a standout like the last couple. This one was largely composed of many nice details, along with a couple major threads regarding the career trajectories of Aoi and Hiraoka. Aoi’s need to understand Hiraoka naturally continued her own career-purpose questioning, all of which is pointing towards the declaration Aria made last week – Aoi may not have a single strong artistic goal of her own, but she’s happy to help create an environment where creators can make great anime. My favorite element of this track was when Aoi visited Hiraoka’s old schoolmate, who said that his solution to balancing quality and scheduling was to “work with creators to find goals we can agree on,” and through that make sure everyone is passionate about the work for its own sake. That was actually a repeated point in Ian Condry’s The Soul of Anime – the work is too difficult and financially fraught for anyone to make it if they’re simple working for a paycheck, and so anime relies on creators making things they truly want to have exist.
Hiraoka stands against this idea, burned out by his own experiences in the industry. The show’s attempts to humanize him are working pretty well and still reflecting on all the general show themes, though it does seem incredible to me that he hasn’t just been fired yet. Then again, if Tarou has lasted this long, Hiraoka might just make it too.
Also, that roller coaster scene was great. It’s nice to see Mii-chan finally getting to achieve something resembling her dream, though that bright spot was pretty thoroughly countered by Zuka’s resigned “don’t rep me with your studio friends” head-shaking at the episode’s end. It’s never easy.
Log Horizon II 22: Really wasn’t impressed with this episode’s worldbuilding reveals, or really anything about it, for that matter. It was largely one of the “derp around and eat cake” episodes with a big exposition-dump attached to the end, and having one of Log Horizon’s biggest secrets turn into “aliens did it” is… well, I guess we’ll have to see where they go with it. Still, not a promising start.
Maria the Virgin Witch 9: Well, the hammer finally came down, and Maria handled it as well as I could possibly imagine. That scene in the forest was legitimately chilling without ever seeming gratuitous – it really conveyed the awful gravity of the situation while leaving just the necessary ambiguity and making strong use of cutaways to the house. The scenes to follow were Maria at its absolute angriest, as Bernard used his new position of power to strong-arm the village into complicity in Maria’s condemnation. It was really something to see him talk of people being damned by their association with a witch while essentially doing the exact same thing, and making sure Martha and the others couldn’t escape from their association with his church. And all the rich conversations spent with Viv, Joseph, Ezekiel, and the others are paying off now, as their various reactions to Maria’s captivity feel rewarding and earned. Maria’s always been a well-written show, so it’s not exactly surprising that the climactic build-up is turning out this gracefully, but it’s still a fine thing to see.
Yatterman Night 9: I’m sorry to say it’s becoming a real struggle for me to get through this show. It felt totally in control of its powers at the halfway point, and this episode wasn’t nearly as bad as the previous two, but it just hasn’t had any real spark since episode six. Its humor reaaally doesn’t improve on repetition, it’s been recycling the same narrative structure repeatedly, and those poignant dystopian elements that made the first half so memorable have disappeared into episodic wacky cartoon adventures. Yatterman has become a trial.
It’s nice that this episode at least understood that Gatchan is the most engaging member of the cast now. His path to heroism has involved actual growth, and he rarely gets mired in the dumb gags that keep dragging the show down. And the stuff about Goro apparently being mind-wiped into his current state is certainly pretty chilling. And hey, we’re at Yatter City. Maybe the last act can pull things together.
KimiUso 20: Welp, turns out that first “almost” in my initial paragraph was secretly foreshadowing, because goddamn this was a great episode of KimiUso. The first great one in a long, long time, and man was I ever happy to see it. Tsubaki’s stolen the show repeatedly throughout KimiUso’s run, and that remained true here, with the first half featuring a well-paced, beautifully constructed build to her actual confession. The writing was uncharacteristically understated, the sound design used rain and silence to wonderful effect, and there were a variety of great shots that juggled wide open spaces expressing the vast silence between her and Kousei with moments of bracing intimacy. The show also used repeated lines, weather, and Tsubaki’s cold to create a nice set of parallels between her memories and current moment, and the confession itself was handled with all the grace and beauty the show can muster. I figured that’d be it for this episode, but the last act was strong as well, pushing Kousei a very needed distance forward and ending with one more standout aesthetic sequence. And jeez, that last shot – what a perfect mix of direction and devastating sound design. The silence, the water, the catch in his throat. KimiUso at its best is an extremely strong show, and this episode was a nice reminder of how good it can really be.