Well, I’m exhausted. Preview week’s done, my new media and identity essay is out, and I just want to lie down somewhere for a very long time. But anime marches inexorably on, and so it’s time once again for the week in review. This’ll just cover episodes that weren’t already covered in my retrospective – I’ll be continuing Punch Line conditionally and MY Love STORY!! definitely, but their first episodes only arrived within the last week. Other than that, my lineup seems pretty set for the time being. Let’s run ’em down!
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 38: This week’s JoJo featured a hilarious, exciting, and well-composed battle starring Stardust Crusaders’ most likable and intelligent hero – Iggy the dog. There’s not really much I could say to elevate this episode more than it recommended itself – it was easily the best episode of Stardust Crusaders, and likely on par with any of the first season’s classics. AND IT WAS ABOUT THE DAMN DOG.
This one succeeded by bringing the style of comedy back to the first season’s trick. By simply embracing the inherent lunacy of the situation and variables involved (the trash-talking dog Iggy must fight the killer ice-spewing bird Pet Shop), the episode was able to be simultaneously funny and actually exciting simply by committing 100% to its own conceit. Instead of overt jokes, the show just laid on the classic shounen tropes (Iggy darkly thinking “what? did he just smile?”, Pet Shop licking his wounds and spitting out blood), and the fact that they took place between a god damn dog and bird did most of the heavy lifting. And this was actually a really fun fight, and the animation was waaay over the usual bar for this show, and Iggy is somehow easily the most competent and crafty member of the group. His hard-talking narration, the ridiculous freeze frames, the way Pet Shop just kept fucking showing up behind him with an angry “BKAWWW” – this episode was genius. I’m glad I stayed on the ride until now.
Sound! Euphonium 2: My review of the first two episodes is up! This episode was a bit less perfectly concise than the first one, but introduced more characters, more humor, and more nuance to the themes and relationships. Euphonium is unfolding at a very steady pace so far, and it remains gorgeous, so I have high hopes for the show.
Unlimited Blade Works 14: So we got something of a Medea backstory episode this week. This didn’t really do that much to create sympathy for Medea herself, since what was added didn’t offer much of a unique dimension or motivation for Medea (and no, further alluding to her lore does not count as creating tangible character motivation). It also just didn’t line up meaningfully with everything we’ve seen from her – that the villain who cackles maniacally while torturing Saber also saved some orphans that one time doesn’t really do much in an emotional sense. But on the other hand, this sequence was just entertaining enough television, with her first Master’s ultimate downfall being a particularly lively sequence.
It was in the last act that this episode really kicked into gear, when we learned what was already pretty obvious – keeping Shinji on the board was largely just a pretext to let Gil do whatever the hell he wants. And right now, Gil wants to kill himself a Berserker. Ending this episode on that cliffhanger was a classic asshole move, but the buildup to the fight was great, and honestly did more to create personality for Ilya’s two homunculi servants than the rest of the episode did for Medea. An offhand conversation that reveals a long-established relationship can do more work than an episode of unfocused motivation.
Plastic Memories 2: Well, the first episode was the hook, so this one was unsurprisingly less engaging. We got more introductions around the office, more building of the relationship between Isla and Tsukasa, and more echoes of the main themes, all slotted together in a slow package that kinda dragged at times, in addition to having too many tired beats (having both Michiru and Isla do that shy turn-back apology was pretty egregious). Tsukasa’s turning out to be a perfectly fine lead, and the show’s aesthetics remain strong – lots of dynamic character animation, just an overall polish, etc. Both the big positives and negatives remain centered on Isla herself.
On the plus side, the points the show is making about Isla’s fear of death play in a really poignant space that anime very rarely explores. Isla continuing to train and get herself evaluated despite its pointlessness is a very relatable tendency – the idea of no longer being the person you once were, of your body slowly failing on you despite your committed effort, is as terrifying as it is inevitable. She keeps rechecking the numbers, keeps holding on to what she has left, but growing infirm with dignity is tough. On the other hand, her personality still seems too based on her being cute and helpless – I don’t want the show to try and make her appealing because she’s moe, I want it to make her into a fully realized person that the cast understandably fears losing. Plastic Memories seems like it could be dancing on the edge of the Clannad Cliff, but there’s so much good here that I really hope it takes the steps necessary to avoid stumbling.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan 2: Christ this show is comfy. Comfy as all fuck. Nagato is relatable and full of endearing expressions, days pass in a series of harmless personal exchanges and half-wagered romantic gestures, and turkey is good. We’re digging into a pretty simplistic story of Nagato attempting to gain some needed confidence, but the focus here is clearly in creating the fuzziest possible atmosphere, and Nagato Yuki is definitely succeeding at that. The consistent Haruhi callbacks are a pretty strange reminder of the inherent disconnect of this show, but I honestly think I’d rather see this commit to actually engaging with the relationship between Kyon and Nagato than try to act as some weird shadow of the original series. My guess is that neither of those threads will actually be pursued in a truly satisfying way, but I can always hope.
Blood Blockade Battlefront 2: Yep, still feels like I’m watching a classic in the making. We got our first episodic adventure this time, with Leonardo getting kidnapped by a body-snatching ring and the team having to show off all of their very awesome talents to recover him. The standalone nature of this episode makes me feel like we’re dealing with something that’s equal parts Cowboy Bebop, Baccano, and Kill la Kill (stylish vignettes in a retro-fantasy New York with comic book rules), which is just a stupidly good space to be playing in. Matsumoto’s direction remains excellent, the score is still dynamic, and the world just keeps gaining flavor. Little visual flourishes offer constant gifts, and the interplay of the characters and their various abilities already feel like familiar friends. I get the feeling this adaptation is downplaying some not-so-hot humor from the source material, which peeked through a bit in the episode’s first couple scenes, but the adaptation manages to sell jokes like Zapp stealing Leonardo’s pizzas through the strength of the pacing and visual execution. Overall, this feels like both an incredibly well-realized production and the easiest gateway anime I’ve seen in years – this should go straight to Toonami, right now, immediately. Matsumoto sure picked a project that really, really suits her talents.
Oregairu S2 2: Hoo boy, this was a dense episode. I feel like I just want to dump my entire set of notes, because there were so many little moments worth describing. In fact… yeah, let’s do that. Whole lot to talk about, let’s break it down:
“Ghosts in haunted houses aren’t scary. What’s really scary are people.”
Kawasaki (silver-haired girl) just runs for it
Hachiman and Yui being cute
Ebina’s the fujoshi girl that whatshisface is into
Yukino and Hachiman sitting far apart, divided by the giant rock of the garden. Works both for their actual body language and for the metaphor of their relationship
Blond girl has picked up on them doing something with Ebina
She’s really looking out for her friend
“If you had to sacrifice many things to protect one, you’re more likely to give up and throw it away.” Specifically to fujoshis, but it applies more generally to how we have infinite choices until we make a choice
She says she’s fine once Hikki says Hayato gave the okay
Right, and Ebina just wants the group back together and happy
“Food I didn’t have to work for tastes awesome.” Hachiman is such a teenager pretending he’s an adult. When has he ever had to “work” for food?
Really sweet just watching the three of them be friends and hang out together
Hayato also likes things as they are now
“If this is enough to ruin your friendship, was it really that strong to begin with?” Hikki’s such an asshole, oh my god
“It’s more ridiculous that you’re trying to enjoy superficial relationships like that.” Hachiman has deep, misguided views about what constitutes a “correct” friendship. He sees all these high school relationships, because they require making social compromises and aren’t incredibly rich, as “false” and not worth keeping – but people value their bonds, and really care about their friends. These relationships aren’t fake, and even the fact that everyone is expressing reservations about losing them demonstrates that. Hikki torches bridges to avoid being hurt, but most people value their relationships, and bonds come in a variety of styles
“Right now, the environment I’m in is everything to me.”
This is a classic situation – a romantic tension that can’t really go anywhere, and would only ruin things if it were acknowledged
“Well then, what would you do?” “What I feel isn’t relevant.” But it so is. Hikki’s philosophy crumples instantly when exposed to pressure
“You’re the last person I wanted to turn to.” Hayato being very honest – he normally plays the game well, but here he’s legitimately mad, because Hikki’s a legitimate asshole
One thing the show might even underplay is how right other characters often are to dislike Hikki – we see him as a troubled figure, but he really is an asshole most of the time. His jokes and blunt lines can come across as endearing to us, but they’re not jokes to the people around him. He’s an incredibly difficult person to be friends with
Oh god, this confession setup is so absurd. Ugh, teenagers
Again, good distant framing in the confession setup. All these characters keep being framed as miles apart through these mid-distance shots
Hachiman makes the confession, so she can make it clear she doesn’t want to go out with anyone. And again he burns his bridge, resolving things without actually earnestly connecting with people. He sees the pieces, but refuses to actually engage in a sympathetic way – like how teenagers think they’ve “figured it all out,” and thus are above society. It doesn’t make him happy, and it’s not nearly as clever as he wants to think, but it feels safer
“I knew that was the only way you knew how to do things.” Hayato’s kind of selfish himself
Hikki’s slouch-walk is so perfect
Yukino chews him out for it, in her quiet, defeated way. She refuses to be a cynic
Tons of animation in this sequence between Yui and Hachiman
“Don’t do stuff like that again, okay?” Aw, Yui
“You should give more thought to how others feel. How can you understand so much, but not understand that?” Both his overall mental block to avoid the pain of connection and his very specific block when it comes to Yui
Sometimes it’s actually right for things to change. Hikki can’t see beyond the existing social moment – his defensiveness is predicated on an inability to see how things naturally change across high school, and the related necessity of accepting the pain of being hurt
Hina thanks him for at least resolving her situation
“I sort of like how you can be so honest with people who don’t matter to you.” “What a coincidence, I like that about myself, too.”
“I like myself and everything about me right now. I haven’t felt that way in ages, so I don’t want to lose it.” Go Hina