It was do or die time this week, and two shows ended up on the chopping block – both Plastic Memories and Punch Line won’t be joining us for the rest of the season. Punch Line was always a stretch, but I’m pretty sad to see Plastic Memories go. Fortunately, those drops are really just reflective of what I already knew about this season – the top tier is fantastic, everything else is kinda crap. BBB, Oregairu, Sound! Euphonium, and Ore Monogatari!! remain excellent, Unlimited Blade Works and JoJo are still perfectly entertaining, and Nagato Yuki is… well, Nagato Yuki. Keep doing your thing, Nagato.
Blood Blockade Battlefront 4: Christ this show is dense. This episode had enough character establishing, worldbuilding, and plot for a reasonably sized arc of another series, but no, we get it all in twenty blisteringly efficient yet somehow fun and jazzy minutes. Vampires were the order of the day this week, along with the introduction of a new ridiculous member of Libra, the general demonstration of Libra’s overall size and scope, and one of the more gratuitously stylish action sequences I’ve seen in recent years. BBB’s fights don’t really feel like fights – they’re not animated to convey weight in the way something like Chaika might be, and the back and forth falls more on plot expediency than coherent exchanges. Instead, they’re just beautiful goddamn dances, full of gorgeous shots and energetic cuts and light and color and framing and all that loveliness. BBB is intensely consciously framed, but I never feel like that harms my investment – it actually fits with the kind of larger-than-life storytelling the show’s committed to. From the music to the direction to the narrative beats, it’s got this seemingly careless but clearly not mix of wild creativity and precision in execution that makes it about as immediately rewarding as a breezy adventure story can be.
Fate/stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works 16: This episode reminded me of that final pre-break date, giving another strong example of how this show can often be at its best when the characters are just kinda wandering around bickering with each other. After Shinji gave one demonstration of what a fuck he is, the first sequence here focused on once again contrasting Rin and Shirou’s life philosophies, really digging into how his trauma and Kiritsugu’s influence have shaped (well, warped) Shirou’s worldview. This all felt very natural, since Rin clearly has a vested interest now in keeping Shirou from getting himself killed, and the next scene, where they basically talked their way through Gil’s nature and Noble Phantasm, offered necessary exposition for new viewers while still feeling like a reasonable conversation. But it was Lancer’s arrival that really made this episode, as he came offering his spear and an endless supply of smirks to the bashful young lovebirds. Rin and Shirou bickering over who got to sacrifice themselves for the other was great, Lancer’s expressions were great, and it was just nice to see things in this universe not be dire and dreary again for once. This show has a weird collection of strengths, but I’d say “low-key scenes between the core cast” is definitely among them.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 40: This week in Stardust Crusaders, the JoJos face their greatest opponent yet: a huge nerd. D’Arby the Nerdier really made this episode work, in spite of the actual “fight” not being as exciting as many others. His giddiness at showing off his doll collection, his crowing at videogame antics, his off-putting politeness – he was definitely the perfect character to pull out for the videogame duel. Even his randomly casual death-game smalltalk (“Mine’s #15, because I was born on January 5”) and occasional English interjections fit with his aggravating persona. The direction did a lot to liven Kakyoin and D’Arby’s race, but the biggest pull for me in that sequence was the whole cast just freaking the fuck out over every basic Mario Kart interaction. “He’s going for a boost start? Devious.” “Kakyoin… knows the controls of this game?!?” There are a few ways JoJo can use its style to elevate the mundane, and “creating a staggering contrast between the silliness of the conflict and the seriousness of the execution” is one of the better ones.
Plastic Memories 4: I was planning on giving this show another episode, but it opened with more dumb slapstick and romance gags, and nope. Got better things to do with my time.
Oregairu S2 4: My post and notes on this episode were pretty thorough, but man, this season sure is blowing my expectations out of the water. We’re essentially getting my dream version of a sequel – the show has almost entirely cut out its dumb light novel gags, aimed its focus squarely on the great character drama, directly challenged its characters’ worldviews, increased the presence of the show’s best characters (like Hayama, whose presence alone is elevating this season), and fitted all that with execution that actually does the show’s writing justice. With a sequel to one of my favorites turning out this good, I don’t think I get to complain about anime for the rest of the year.
Sound! Euphonium 4: Euphonium wasn’t quite as bulletproof this week as the first three, but it was still an enjoyable episode full of nice character moments and marked by the twin standouts of Kumiko and Taki-sensei. Both of them are such engaging characters that they pull the show along behind them regardless of what everyone else is doing, and enough else was going on that I can only really say this episode was “less strong than the straight A streak of the first three”. I really liked Taki’s actions here (as I go into at length in my post), and Kumiko’s already been established with such a firm personality that seeing her put through new experiences feels totally relatable. I was wondering how this show was actually going to conclude in one cour, but it looks like I have my answer – things really sped up this week, and the band is already basically together at this point. Onward and upward!
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan 4: It feels kinda weird that for all I’d love to see a Haruhi Season 3, it’s actually Haruhi’s presence that I’m finding most frustrating in this show. I know this is not Haruhi (the show), and that Haruhi’s presence here is really just a sort of dramatic energy/antagonist thing, and that makes Haruhi a whole lot less compelling than when she’s the actual centerpiece of the show. It also helps/hurts that this Nagato is a complete person with comprehensible feelings, and thus Haruhi’s actions have consequences for people outside of the never-quite-wholly-humanized Mikuru or totally-likes-it-don’t-even-try-to-deny-it Kyon. And I think the show knows all of this, so I’m interested to see where it goes with it. How will Nagato hold on to her show title in the presence of someone as inherently show-swallowing as Haruhi?
Punch Line 3: So things are sort of coming together in Punch Line, but the core issues remain. The writer here clearly likes puzzles and systems – there’s a bunch going on with the way certain key information is hidden from the audience, time is being manipulated in a variety of ways, and the whole production seems like it’s pretty carefully constructed. It seems abundantly likely that this week’s mysterious “Miyazawa Kenji” is actually whatever spirit is controlling our MC’s body (and at this point, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that that spirit is actually our MC from a different future timeline or something), the show deliberately hid the Christmas party from the audience, and Meika’s father clearly knew how the future would turn out, making the show seem even more recursive. But on top of all that busy tinkering stuff, we get an episode marked by a dumb misunderstanding pregnancy gag and a turtle biting a dude on the dick. I still really, really like this show’s visual style, direction, and music, but I’m not the biggest on puzzle-style storytelling unless there’s a strong emotional core to make me care, and the emotional core here is kinda sidelined by the trashy otaku stuff. I’d probably ride this out if I weren’t trying to be extremely selective this season, but I think this is where I get off.
Ore Monogatari!! 3: Well great, just one week after I complain about the lack of progression in anime romance, and here we immediately get the most adorable confession episode of all confession episodes. It’s fantastic to see this story immediately discarding all the misunderstanding and silent longing that so often characterizes romances, and it’s fantastic that the reason for that is because these are all such wonderfully likeable people who care about each other and can be honest with their feelings. Suna obviously got top marks this episode, with his “can I just tell you everything?” and confession-engineering making him one of the best friends anyone could have, but it was also great to see the earnest discussions between him, Takeo, and Yamato. Frank discussion of how they read people’s behavior, Yamato feeling insecure about Takeo’s actions but absolutely sure of her own feelings – all of this stuff puts Ore Monogatari!! leagues ahead of most romances, and makes it very enjoyable to watch minute-to-minute. And the show’s just so damn endearing in every way, full of silly faces and smiles and shoujo sparkles, and Takeo and Yamato really do make a perfect couple… this show is candy. It is going to kill me with cuteness.