So I know this is supposed to be the bad season that follows winter’s shocking bounty, but it turns out this season is actually really good. It’s not exactly a deep bench, and Plastic Memories is so far turning out to be a disappointment, but Blood Blockade Battlefront, Oregairu, and Sound! Euphonium are all top tier shows, Ore Monogatari!! isn’t far behind, and even the rear of the pack is relatively entertaining. I normally only expect one or two truly great shows in a season, so even if nothing else rises in my standings (and honestly, there’s not much that could, outside of maybe a surprise turn by Punch Line), this is still solidly above par. Who would have thought that a season with a sequel to one of my all-time favorites, a show directed by one of my favorite directors, and a new low-key drama by KyoAni might actually be pretty okay?
Yeah, I guess I should probably have seen this possibility. Well, for once, I’m very happy to be proven wrong. Let’s run ’em down!
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 15: This was an interesting episode. I feel like this was just a few inches off from being truly excellent, but those inches were crucial ones. I think the structure of UBW hurt the story that was being told here – this felt like one of the second half character-climax episodes from Fate/Zero, but because this show is so closely tied to Shirou and Rin instead of being an ensemble piece, we just didn’t know Ilya well enough for its emotional beats to land. Which is a shame, because Ilya’s story seems like it’d be a really strong addition to this show as a central pillar – she’s her own very compelling reflection of the parenting thread that follows from Zero, and her relationships with Kiritsugu and Berserker are neat mirrors of Shirou’s personal story that also reflect on his obsession with saving people even at the expense of the self.
Berserker reflecting a strength that comes from protecting others, Gil’s denial of that strength, her unhappy link with Kiritsugu, the way her being a “doll” is just a more overt version of the ways Rin and Shirou already do reflect the wishes of the past… Ilya’s just a really, really smartly positioned character, and so it’s frustrating that her entire story was condensed to one episode instead of being a slow build across the entire show, which would have made the finale here hit with a real punch. As is, it’s still well-constructed (I don’t mind the lack of exciting fight choreography, since this conflict was far more about the emotional/ideological conflict than the physical one), but it doesn’t land with the emotional impact that I think it really does deserve. This was the cliffnotes version of an arc that could have made this entire show significantly better.
Sound! Euphonium 3: And Euphonium maintains its crazy streak with a third straight episode of wonderfully understated storytelling and perfectly chosen shot framing. KyoAni at their best make this look so very easy, but there’s so much going on with this show. It’s nice to see them demonstrating such mastery of the craft again.
Plastic Memories 3: Plastic Memories sure does think it is a funny show. That can be a real problem – anime thinking it’s funny is rarely a good thing, because that tends to mean the anime will attempt to tell jokes. This week’s Plastic Memories spent a very long time trying to tell jokes, and though it did get a chuckle or two out of me (Tsukasa weightlifting, some of the reaction faces), the overall ratio was pretty terrible, and the descent into cliches like the romantic slip-fall and Michiru’s entire personality were not welcome. Fortunately, the episode’s last few scenes were much better, and got pretty decent mileage out of the way Isla hides her fear of loss in defenses based around her mechanical nature. That, and the quiet scene between her and Tsukasa at the very end, gave me something to enjoy in this episode. Unless these characters and their rapport are able to rise out of the tired animeisms they seem so fond of, I’ll pretty much always favor scenes like that over this show trying to be funny.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 39: God damn has this show picked up. The second half of Iggy’s battle was at least as good as the first, with That Fucking Bird getting a couple more wonderfully absurd jump scares (how’d he get beneath Iggy underground?) before finally ending in a dramatic clash that was actually more intense than any of the human-sized battles so far. And that intensity was ably matched by Iggy’s fakeout death, where we were treated to a montage of Iggy ruling New York and farting on people to the sound of a mournful choir lamenting his end. This show is wonderful, and I’m so happy to see it return to the mix of absurdity and absolute, 110% dramatic commitment that marked its best material.
I figured the episode would let up once the Iggy segment ended, but Kakyoin’s return and the final walk to Dio’s mansion were great in their own way. Some nice visual effects signifying Dio’s crazy aura, good pacing on the “the gate’s open. THE DOOR’S OPENING. A FLYING BUTLER AHH” reveals, and plenty of reaction shots that hammered in how Iggy has become an equal member of the group. I know Stardust Crusaders has fallen in sales compared to the first series, and it certainly had its problems early on, but these episodes are making me really hope it does well enough to justify more bizarre anime adventures. David Productions are doing some brilliant work here.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan 3: The reappearance of Haruhi has me worried, honestly. I don’t actually want to watch a show that’s basically the old Haruhi minus the scifi shenanigans, especially since this one lacks the character-moment acuity that KyoAni brought to that series. Nagato’s the title character, and Nagato’s the one I want this to be about, so hopefully the show will manage to escape Haruhi’s huge shadow.
Ore Monogatari!! 2: This story is just going to goddamn kill me. Takeo’s obtuseness is killing me, Yamato’s incredibly refreshing direct expression of emotions is killing me, and the overall obvious truth that they would make the most adorable couple is just TEARING ME TO PIECES. Stories like this make me frustrated that anime just doesn’t allow couples to actually be couples, for sad arbitrary reasons of audience identification. I would dearly love for the next episode to have Yamato just say “I like you, Takeo,” and have their lives just go from there – but things just aren’t ever that easy in anime land. Which is such a huge, tragic shame. Conflict doesn’t end at confession – that’s certainly a satisfying resolution to one issue, but there’s more to life than pining after your crush. And these two would make such a perfect little couple. Screw you, Ore Monogatari. You’re just a big, unavoidably watchable jerk.
Anyway, this episode was pretty great. Takeo and Yamato remain a great couple, Sunakawa doing his best to be a good friend is nice to see, and the show is still making the most of its premise. So far this has been a good kind of painful.
Oregairu S2 3: Oregairu’s just so god damn good. The first season was one of my all-time favorite shows, and so far the second season has actually been significantly better, leaning entirely into the show’s strengths and elevating its fundamentally terrific character work with much stronger aesthetic execution. This is like a genie-wish show.
Punch Line 2: Christ, Punch Line is such a strange one. There’s dumb self-aware light novel jokes in spite of this being an original production, there’s all sorts of random and legitimately intrusive panty shots that kill important character moments… and then there’s a bunch of natural, offhand character building through incidental conversations. This show’s engaging in exactly the same kind of naturalistic storytelling as something like Shirobako, but it’s applying that mastery of graceful plotting to this goddamn panty extravaganza. There’s hints of a larger story that actually sounds kinda compelling, the whole ensemble setup of the apartment complex is being used in a very energetic and natural way… but what the hell is it all being used for? The show’s first episode demonstrated great aesthetic personality, and this episode more or less continued that while introducing even smarter storytelling, but there are so many jagged edges of dumb boob jokes and panty shots that it almost feels more sad than satisfying. Punch Line makes me realize that I actually prefer it when fanservice shows are poorly constructed – at least then I don’t have to lament the fact that good creators are being wasted on bad fundamental concepts. This show has so much talent and so little to do with it.
I’m probably going to watch the next episode, though.
Blood Blockade Battlefront 3: Man, this show is so much fun. There’s just so much going on in every single shot, from the wild, beautiful depictions of the Escher-esque Alterworld to the narrow, stark shots of Klaus slowly descending into himself through the manic megachess match. And the constantly shifting music gives the show such a diverse array of moods, and the comedy is handled lightly and quickly enough to never feel like it wears out its welcome, and the characters are just such fun people to be around…
Of course, all of these things are true of every episode, and outside of this one demonstrating exactly how much fun Matsumoto is having going nuts with the Alterworld designs, I’m not really telling you anything that isn’t already obvious. So I guess the one thing that I specifically liked about this episode, aside from Klaus’s adorable computer and K.K. choking up as she gave the raid orders and the wonderful scattered details of megachess, was how this vignette demonstrated that this is far from being just Leo’s story. He’s the character we come back to, but everyone here is leading an interesting life, all of them have their own strengths and weaknesses. I’m looking forward to seeing who we get to focus on next, and however Matsumoto will bring their world to life.