A strong week in anime this time, with few surprises but plenty of impressive episodes. Some shows have been jostling in position recently, with KimiUso in particular making a major stab at a recovery, but things have mostly settled – Shirobako, Maria, Death Parade, and Yuri Kuma are consistently strong, JoJo and KimiUso are rallying, and the rest are, well, the rest. This has been a very strong season, and I’m ready to see it close out in kind. Let’s run ’em down!
Shirobako 22: You’d think an episode with this many scattered scenes, split across so many characters and tiny arcs, would feel more comfy or light than the more focused ones. And it did start that way – it was great to see Aoi, Ema, and Rii-chan all moving forward in their own ways, and the first gifts here were Shirobako’s constant bits of offhand truth – “it’s hard to regain trust that’s once been lost,” “if we have to be stressed, I wish it’d be over a bigger problem,” etc.
But then the episode’s focus opened up, and the cumulative weight of all these little journeys and moments was just too much. That heartbreaking Zuka scene, as painful and intimate and relatable as you could imagine. The wonderful exchanges between Tarou and Hiraoka, which demonstrated that Tarou was actually right, and that their friendship brings out the best in each of them. Ai fighting against her own painful shyness. Sugie giving Ema advice that cut a little too sharp for me – “talent is the ability to take a chance and be calm enough to learn from mistakes.” And then his rueful “I couldn’t draw this,” a victory for Ema that still felt kind of sad. And then her warm little conversation with her parents, a small scene that acted as a perfectly understated bookend to her career anxieties. Ending with that “I had no idea the sky was so blue,” an echo of the show’s best episode (“Some day this blizzard will end and we’ll see the blue sky”), was five steps too many – I was sniffling all through this episode’s second half, and that moment killed me. This show has built such a living world that checking in on any character feels like a treat, and Shirobako never wastes those opportunities – every moment pushes characters forward in smart ways while offering poignant camaraderie for our collective struggle.
Death Parade 10: A very warm and endearing episode of Death Parade this week – not words you’d normally associate with Death Parade, but by keeping the focus on the understandable feelings of our two leads and supplementing them with a woman who actually felt satisfied with her life, the show was able to highlight its own fundamental empathy without resorting to any serious dramatic turns. The old lady illustrator made the most of her appearance here, winning over Decim and Chiyuki while pointing to one of the main reasons the judgments normally turn out so wrong. Death Parade doesn’t highlight darkness – it highlights regret, and when the games prod people to hysterics and inform people they’ve run out of time, many people will do terrible things to undo a central regret. In contrast, this week’s new arrival is happy with her past, and the memories of her life are fond friends, not reminders of what she failed to do. The further articulations of Decim and Chiyuki’s personalities were also excellent this week, and it’s looking like the story will gracefully move towards a conclusion that works with the episodes we have left – not an overhaul of the system, but an acknowledgment that weighing people at least requires human sympathy. Death Parade remains strong as it winds its way to a close.
Parasyte 22: Things came together in a pretty strange way in this week’s Parasyte. The inevitable Gotou fight wasn’t the best, but the totally unexpected aftermath, where Shinichi spends some time hanging out with a crotchety old lady, was actually pretty great. It was a nice reprieve from the issues that have haunted Parasyte’s second half, and managed to reflect on the show’s main ideas without feeling heavy-handed. It’s a strange success story, but I’ll take it.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 34: I didn’t take too many notes on this episode, because I was watching it the way JoJo is meant to be watched – drunk and with friends. In light of that, I was happy to see D’Arby reward the experience – this arc was a fun return to the gleefully ridiculous puzzle-fights of classic JoJo, and though Joseph’s moment in the sun was brief and didn’t involve as many reversals as I’d hope, that’s really just because Stardust Crusaders is ultimately an ensemble production. D’Arby’s a fun guy who lacks the sometimes obnoxiously extreme behavior of recent villains, framing a Stand battle over manipulating silly bets is an inherently good idea, and I’m looking forward to seeing Jotaro hopefully win a fight through something other than punching the other guy really hard. JoJo is back on track.
Yatterman Night 10: So we’ve arrived at the final arc, and… yeah, it’s tough for me to summon that much enthusiasm. This was certainly something of a return to form – the 1984-style dystopian cartoon riffs were in full display this week, and I liked pretty much everything that happened during their initial sneaking into Yatter City. But the stuff with the Twelve Yatter Gods just seemed to drag on for no purpose, and there isn’t a huge amount of bite left with only the main characters hanging around, and overall I’ve just lost the sense of investment that previously carried me through the show’s weaker digressions and gags. The show spent too much time not taking itself seriously for me to respect its emotional stakes anymore. I did like the final twist – it seems likely that Doronbow actually did win in the past, and since then have simply been using the image of Yatterman to lend credibility to their regime. But at this point I’m mainly just coasting to the finish line.
Rolling Girls 10: Rolling Girls performed a fine recovery with a very story-packed episode this week. The show’s at its best when it’s not stopping for a breath, and juggling different stories with basically all the girls made sure that was consistently the case this week. There was also a pretty great fight in the middle, but at this point I’m already kind of gearing up for the finale – shows often tend to trick you by starting and ending with episodes that are far more impressive than the material in between, and since peak Rolling Girls is so much better than standard Rolling Girls, I’m hoping that’ll be the case here too.
Yuri Kuma Arashi 10: Yuri Kuma Arashi is winding towards what’s always felt like an inevitable conclusion, and not really becoming any stronger or any weaker in the meantime. Its strengths remain what they’ve always been – great thematic richness, a quirky sense of humor, a strong aesthetic marked by clever riffs on horror movie framing. Its weaknesses are the same – a sense of narrative compression that somewhat keeps the characters from coming fully alive. This will almost certainly wind up as the weakest of Ikuhara’s three shows, but it’s still an impressive production, and I certainly can’t complain about getting another Lulu episode.
Maria the Virgin Witch 10: Another great episode! Maria’s always been one of the most consistent shows of the season – in fact, after Shirobako, it is the most consistent show of the season – but it’s been outdoing itself these last few weeks. The story is coming together in a very satisfying way, but most of this comes down to the characters. The show’s careful writing has gifted each of them with strong personalities, priorities, and personal arcs, and they’re all being tested in the final stretch.
Ezekiel’s probably my favorite character at this point – her need for Maria to repent is completely understandable, and the contradictions in her values very naturally articulated. Ezekiel is basically an extension of the church of heaven, but she possesses an individual’s sense of right and wrong, and she knows Maria is a good person. Because of this, Maria’s continued defying of the church leaves her with no real belief to stand on. Other characters also got to shine this week, with Viv, Edwina, and Maria’s familiars all getting great little moments – Viv’s “I have to go. She has the same dream as me” was a poignant and well-placed reveal, and Edwina has managed to demonstrate as much personality as anyone in only half the episodes. Maria’s just doing everything right, basically – it’s a compelling story told well, and I’m eager to see how it ends.
Log Horizon II 23: Another lazy episode of Log Horizon as the show just sort of putters its way to a finish. We got an actual story this time, with Isaac getting his first-ever focus episode costarring with Lenessia’s little brother, but nothing that happened here was particularly momentous. Log Horizon is setting up pieces for a third season that may never come, and that’s a pretty weird thing to see.
KimiUso 21: KimiUso continued to rally with another excellent episode this week. The shot framing was easily the standout here – when KimiUso wants to look beautiful, it is a peerless production. Lots of characters isolated in well-composed oversized frames, lots of sharp closeups, a smartly limited use of color for an episode largely focused on sterility and snow. Particularly noteworthy were this week’s repeated visual refrains – the birds in flight and the descending water drop. The birds were pretty obvious, but the variety of ways the show managed to integrate the water drop (tears, melted snow, sweat, the drip of Kaori’s hospital equipment) was an impressive trick that lent a cohesion to this episode in the same way last week’s various matching refrains kept the whole consistent and self-reflective. With the show almost over, all sorts of characters were finally able to be honest with each other, and the build to the last performance was handled well too. KimiUso had a weaker stretch for a while there, but it’s pulling together nicely for the final act.