Oh what’s this another stellar week in anime jeez tell me something I don’t know. All the best shows feel like they’re not even competing with each other anymore – they’re competing for placement on the end-of-year list. In contrast to last year, where I struggled to think of more than seven shows I’d be happy recommending, here we’ve almost got half a list already filled out. Shirobako is a legend, Death Parade is uneven but has staggering highs, Maria is consistently excellent and brimming with great characters, and Yuri Kuma Arashi is a little emotionally lacking but full of ideas and beauty. We also had a great finale for KimiUso and strong episodes for both Log Horizon and JoJo. What the hell is up with this season.
Shirobako 23: God damn is this show ending well. On the one hand, it’s fantastic to see the show bringing all of its threads together in such a joyous, heartwarming way. On the other hand, damnit, this might mean we don’t get a sequel! Don’t end too well, Shirobako! We need more of you!
But yeah, this episode was a hilarious and heartfelt gem. The quest to meet with the mangaka was definitely Shirobako at the most farcical it’s ever been, and the show nailed each ridiculous turn in time. Having the director be the hero here was the obvious choice – he’s always existed in something of his own personal reality, and having the world play along for a while felt very natural. There were lots of nice little character moments for everyone – Tarou’s “if I were the director, I wouldn’t budge ever!” was a perfectly useless Tarou line, and Hiraoka continued to make his own way towards redemption by offering insight into why this mangaka might not trust anime studios. Hiraoka’s shifted from pure antagonist to a needed voice in the company – somebody at Musani needs to empathize with those who don’t think they’ll succeed, and Hiraoka is willing to admit to the negative side of anime production.
The director’s meeting with the mangaka had plenty of rewards, too – from the smart contrast in priorities between the two of them to the simple joy of finally hearing someone say it’s not a fucking funny story. And the director’s overt tying of the fate of the Aerial Girls to his own employees spelled out just enough of one of Shirobako’s core messages – the importance of those who work hard being rewarded, even if it’s only in fiction. Which led perfectly into Zuka’s final, long-awaited debut – “thank you for saving me, aerial girls.” Not all real-life Zukas are going to make it, but that doesn’t make Shirobako’s optimism a lie. Moments like Andes Chucky in the blizzard or Zuka getting her role are important – they’re the promises that give hope to the next generation of creators. And life is hard – we could all use a little hope.
Parasyte 23: Parasyte pulled off another solid episode this week, finishing off Gotou in one of the show’s best fights before pretty neatly tying together Shinichi and Migi’s personal arcs with the larger question of what defines humanity. Turns out the answer is “not much!” We may make lofty gestures towards some “human instinct,” but in the end, what moves us is the desire to protect those close to us, and that does not make us special among animals. I guess that’s the best we can do.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 35: Goddamn was this episode fun. This was just absolutely pure JoJo – bullshit confidence games, “how will he get out of this one?”, and a conflict perfectly suited to Jotaro’s strengths (being a stoic, condescending asshole). D’arby did a lot of the heavy lifting here, too – his slow shift from total confidence to madness was appropriately theatrical, and it’s always very comfortable to watch an entire fight from the opponent’s perspective. You know Jotaro’s gonna win, you know this guy is fucked – but how can he possibly do it? Plus stuff like “I’ll wager my mother’s soul” or randomly sipping a fruity drink is so perfectly Jotaro (not to mention lines like “I’ll wager one Polnareff.”) And the final win both actually made sense (Jotaro bet on his opponent fearing Dio more than he did), and increased the suspense regarding Dio’s power. There were tangible stakes, it really felt like Jotaro was on the edge, and the whole fight was full of nice silly touches. Couldn’t ask for more.
Log Horizon II 24: Log Horizon really stepped up this week, with an episode that was both surprisingly focused and way above par aesthetically. Some actually nice animation, gratifying character moments with a wide stretch of the cast, and a central question that sits at the core of what Log Horizon has been about for a while now. And now the show’s about to end, god damnit.
Death Parade 11: One more standout episode from Death Parade. This one continued with last week’s focus on the background players, and like that episode, it succeeded brilliantly by never overselling and allowing our natural understanding of the characters to guide the emotional and thematic beats. The question of judgment still lingers, but it took a backseat to the characters – Ginti was the only one here totally dedicated to proving the validity of his methods, and Ginti is a fool. His scenes with Mayu offered a nice counterpoint to Decim and Chiyuki’s material – he wants to prove that humans are weak and senseless, prove that they all deserve the void, and he’s going to force Mayu to be his accomplice. But Mayu refuses to make it easy for him, and she ends up getting some of the best lines of the episode – “Am I not allowed to live without meaning?” “I pity you arbiters”, etc. And in the end, even Ginti’s characterization of the void as a terrible place is called into question. Ginti thinks human lives are defined by regret, but he’s wrong – Mayu is happy to take responsibility for her life, and if the void is the sensation of eternally falling, then at least her and Harada are falling together.
Mayu’s story might have taken up the entirety of a weaker episode of Death Parade, but here it was just the framing for one of the show’s single greatest setpieces. Chiyuki skating through her memories was absolutely breathtaking, and demonstrated how at its best, Death Parade can rival any show in power and execution. The animation, the music, the color work, the scene transitions… all of it was a wonder. And the following conversation was great in its own way, as all the work the show’s done to characterize Decim and Chiyuki came to bear in Chiyuki’s bitter declaration that people can’t understand each other, and Decim’s poignant “is it wrong for me to want to understand?” That contradiction lies at the heart of the show – people are far too complicated for judgments like this to be meaningful, and yet, in spite of that, these fractured attempts to reveal “fundamental nature” end up highlighting all sorts of beautiful personal truths. Moments worth capturing, and celebrating, and sharing with others. The arbiters are wrong to judge people in this way, but the pursuit of mutual understanding is still a noble, human thing.
Yatterman Night 11: Yeah, it’s just a chore to get through this at this point. The villain explanation was obvious and overlong, Goro’s turn was needed but not given the backing to have much emotional weight, and the show overall is just something I’m finishing because damnit I’m stubborn like that. We had some good times, but it’s been many weeks since I really cared about Yatterman.
Maria the Virgin Witch 11: Maria’s triumphant ride to the finish line continued this week. The show’s diligent character work continues to pay strong dividends while highlighting the show’s underlying conflicts, with this week offering a powerful contrast between Galfa and Joseph’s perspectives. While Joseph rattles on about pride and honor, Galfa cuts down his simplistic views in a few offhand sentences – “I’ve disliked those eyes since the day we met! Those eyes can’t see what’s going on in this world!” Joseph judges everyone, assuming the world is simpler than it is – but the confidence he assumes Maria possesses is based in naivety, and both him and Maria have largely been given their comfortable stations in life. In contrast, Galfa has to live in the real world – a hated immigrant and lowly soldier, he has to fight for every inch he takes. There’s no higher ground for Galfa – he might make friends, but he’ll never rise if he doesn’t fight tooth and nail for everything, and he despises Joseph for judging him for that. Joseph sees both Galfa and Maria in terms of their conviction, not their circumstances, and Galfa bristles at the comparison. And Galfa is right to do this. Every line of this conversation paid off all that has been built up about both of these men. These characters feel like living people.
Of course, Joseph isn’t just a simple hypocrite – as he demonstrated in beating himself up after the fight, he really does try to hold to his naive ideals. Maria getting mad at him for that was a great touch, as naive ideals are basically what bring the two of them together, but each of them come at their feelings from a different direction. And the episode’s ending was both a great, endearing moment for the two of them and perfectly representative of why people get so mad at Maria – after all this bloodshed, as soon as her crush proposes to her, it’s “love conquers all!” Maria and Joseph have a lot in common.
Yuri Kuma Arashi 11: Yuri Kuma got a notable aesthetic upgrade this week in a climactic episode rich with gorgeous backgrounds and even some actual character animation. The content was pretty good, too – I haven’t felt this invested in the story in a long time, and certainly haven’t been this engaged with Ginko since her early lovestruck episode. The Lulu scene didn’t get me in the same way stuff like this week’s Shirobako does, but that’s not really a fair comparison. Yuri Kuma looks on track to end very well.
Rolling Girls 11: This episode was a mess, but it was an entertaining mess, and that’s pretty much all I need from Rolling Girls. We’re not going to get another arc that comes together as well as the Kyoto story did – the show has too many loosely defined characters running around in this story, and there’s just no way to make them all seem important. But as long as we get a few sweet fights along the way, I guess I can accept that.
KimiUso 22: And there we go. KimiUso ends with one more stunning performance and an unsurprising but nonetheless sincere and satisfying epilogue. Everything about this show has always been sincere – it’s naive and overwrought, definitely, but if you can respond to its oversized emotions, it’s certainly had a lot of rewards. And this episode was the show at its best – with no crowd commentary or major character turns to make, all the details just got out of the way and let this performance be a soaring, beautiful experience. The music was wonderful, the expression work of the characters was great, the shifting background of their performance elevated the experience while tying back to the opening song. The music, backgrounds, and expressions remained great through the episode’s second half – I particularly liked the repeated shots illustrating the beauty of the changing seasons, as well as Kousei’s long series of shifting smiles as he finished Kaori’s letter. KimiUso’s biggest theme, the power of music to fundamentally change a person and connect people on a level beyond words, was certainly embodied here, and though the ending wasn’t a shock, it was appropriate. KimiUso is far from a perfect show, but it definitely finished strong.