Spring 2015 – Week 7 in Review

There were some good episodes this week, with JoJo and Oregairu tossing out particular standouts, but overall, I have to say this one was defined by its worst episodes. Nagato Yuki had a second straight episode that was just completely without merit, and Unlimited Blade Works hit what I really, deeply hope has to be rock bottom. Last week I expressed hope that Caster’s absence would help the show regain a sense of momentum – well, apparently Archer had other plans. He’s always been one of the weakest parts of this show, and this episode was his grand performance, where twenty minutes of dialogue conveyed ten lines of information we already knew. I’m too far in to stop now, but UBW is not making the ride easy.

But that’s enough doom and gloom for now. Let’s talk JOJO.

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 43: Hoooly shit was this a good episode. This was peak JoJo, one of the episodes for the greatest hits catalog. JoJo’s always been a very silly show, but after all this time, they really fooled me into giving a damn about Iggy and Polnareff, and seeing them working together was a treat. There was great animation throughout, a lot of engaging single shots, and a real sense of momentum as the fight moved quickly through stages and counterattacks. Good music as well, really helping to keep the tension high as Polnareff and Iggy were slowly broken down by their opponent (Araki is definitely making the most of this being near the end of the arc, as whether they win or not, this fight is clearly putting both Iggy and Polnareff out of commission). And that ending was just relentless tension – a legitimately dramatic exchange between the idiot frenchman and farting dog, a ticking clock that actually felt earned and terrifying. Vanilla Ice and Pet Shop have been two of the best fights in all of JoJo history, and I’m on the edge of my seat for whatever comes next. JoJo is glorious.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Oregairu S2 7: And the hammer finally falls. At the most cruel time, too – Hachiman is finally beginning to come to terms with his own issues, and just as he starts to accept that he needs to change as a person, Yukino tells him he might as well quit the club. You can’t call her unfair, because she’s going through the same thing and it’s his stubborn actions that prompted this, but it certainly wasn’t compassionate timing. Oregairu’s getting pretty painful here.


Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 19: Well I sure hope it can’t get any worse than this.

We’ve reached absolute zero of terrible Fate dialogue at this point – an entire episode wasted spelling out one simple point that was already clear from the previous episode. In a better show, Archer’s nature would be a shocking reveal that lands with real emotional impact, acting as a cruel counterpoint to Shirou’s ideals. But here, Shirou’s ideals have always been silly, and never really been tested – we’ve never taken him seriously, so why would Archer’s nature be surprising? And even beyond that, this was just awful storytelling both on an immediate and structural level. The conversation between Archer, Shirou, and Saber had about two minutes’ worth of actual content, but it was spun out and recycled across an entire episode, with characters just repeating themselves again and again. And hearing Archer just say that his ideals were betrayed is the least emotionally resonant storytelling imaginable.

The contrast between Archer and Shirou here and Kiritsugu in Fate/Zero is basically a textbook illustration of showing versus telling. In Zero, we actually saw what Kiritsugu had to do to uphold his ideals, and followed the consequences of those choices all throughout the series, and so the ending came across as the tragedy it was supposed to. Here, we get a season and a half of “Shirou, your ideals are silly,” almost no actual testing of those ideals, and a final “I proved your ideals are silly, and here’s my evidence.” There’s no emotional investment there – that’s the solution to a math problem, not a story. This episode was all meaningless lore-words and endlessly repeated simplistic philosophy, basically the worst elements of Fate synthesized into one rambling, emotionally sterile episode.

At least Shinji got punched that one time. And Kotomine enjoying his evilness is fun. But yeah, terrible episode. Terrible terrible episode.

Unlimited Blade Works

Sound! Euphonium 7: Euphonium got pretty somber this week, with an episode equal parts sad goodbyes and holy shit that shot framing. Like seriously, every single scene, just beautiful, poignant, effortlessly tone-conveying framing. This show’s always been pretty, but damn – the more melancholy focus of this episode really let the show stretch its emotional muscles. I’m actually happy to see Aoi gone narrative-wise, because she pretty much only existed to provoke this episode, but I was also happy to see how her absence ended up affecting characters other than Kumiko even more than Kumiko herself. The show’s really making the most of its ensemble here – we’ve got a good dozen characters who all feel more or less real. Keep it up, KyoAni!

Sound! Euphonium

The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan 7: God damn is this show becoming a chore. This episode wasn’t as abrasively tired as last week’s, but it replaced that with… nothing. Nothing happened. And normally I’m the kind of person to scoff at “nothing happened” complaints! People said “nothing happened” in Eccentric Family, but if that’s nothing, I’m all about it. But here, “nothing” didn’t secretly imply “there was a lot of subdued character work and vignettes that furthered emotional throughlines while acting as their own reward” – nothing that occurred this week told me anything new about the characters, pretty much all the beats were repeated from previous episodes, and the actual content was just the cast making subdued but obvious reactions to standard tourist things. This is not how I want to spend my time.

Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan

Ore Monogatari!! 6: Welp, Yamato’s “big secret” turned out to be pretty much exactly what you’d expect – Yamato wants to actually have a physical relationship, but Takeo’s focus on her being “pure” makes her feel insecure about expressing that. I didn’t really like that no one criticized Takeo for framing Yamato in that way in the first place, and this whole conflict didn’t feel like it required close to two episodes of screentime, but there was still a lot of good material this week. Yamato describing all the things she finds sexy about Takeo was a nice bit of honesty, and Sunakawa’s sister definitively established herself as one more reasonable, likable person in her own way. And then the second half, where Takeo and Yamato spent the whole time giggling about getting closer to each other and slowly figuring out both small degrees of physical intimacy and each others’ boundaries, was both adorable and satisfyingly earnest. Not the best episode, but plenty of the warmth I’ve come to expect from this show.

Ore Monogatari!!

Blood Blockade Battlefront 7: I ended up taking a lot of notes on this one, even though I didn’t feel it was the strongest episode. There’s just a lot of fundamental stuff to BBB that’s pretty much always interesting to talk about. I got into a bit of this on twitter, but it’s all scattered fragments, so I think I’ll just hand over my actual episode notes. The main things I liked here were the creation of a sense of place, the way the framing kept the viewer emotionally grounded in Klaus’s progression throughout the episode, and the easy conversation style the show’s already constructed between Leo and Black. Here’s the rest of it:

Blood Blockade Battlefront

Leo meeting with Black for lunch, talking about White

Their conversation is good. Matsumoto conversations are all good – they have the rough edges of people with different frames of reference kind of unevenly bumping against each other

Black is psychic. Telekinesis – he tries to keep coffee from spilling on Leo

Black seems to value Leo

“You think your knight will come?” Leo also said his sister refers to him as a “tortoise knight,” which Black said means she relies on him. So the meaning of a “knight” is key this week?

Another one of these huge shots that emphasizes the sense of space in the city, as well as the imposing force facing Mr. Klaus

Blood Blockade Battlefront

So Klaus is being tricked into competing

I really like the effect of the spotlights. The lighting is very good in this episode

I feel like if I were to write about BBB, the piece should focus on creating a sense of place

This place is offworlders betting on humans. The opposite of last week’s. Exploitation and other-ization are universal

“You guys can all get crushed by us, you small-timer race!” Yep. They see humans as pets

But of course the crowd gets treated as savages too

This episode is actually focusing on the comedic reactions, which I don’t like. Drawing focus to them disrupts the mood

“Why would people come all the way here just to see some blood? Trouble crops up every day in Hellsalem’s Lot.”

Blood Blockade Battlefront

“The world truly is a cavalcade of efficiency in violence.” I really, really like this phrasing. It’s just pleasing to the ear, with the tumble of “cavalcade” rolling into the corporate-speak “efficiency” and ending with the abrupt “violence.” “Efficiency” is a labored-sounding word that seems clinical – violence is sharp and beautiful, almost uncomfortable in its easy delivery relative to its meaning

“It transcends species… we’re all giant idiots who embrace these two rules. Fighting barehanded, 1 on 1.”

Everyone’s getting caught up in the flow of the violence, from the contenders to the crowd to the owner himself

“Very nice. It makes me doubt my own sanity.”

The way the music cuts when the vampire is revealed. And the form of the vampire itself. This show is really, really able to create a sense of gravity and fear regarding these creatures

Another gorgeous shot of the city

Blood Blockade Battlefront

This was a simpler and in some ways weaker episode of BBB, but it also struck very firmly at the core of many of the things that make this show rewarding and interesting

Black and Leo’s conversations have become really compelling really quickly

So Black’s one of the 13 Kings

30 thoughts on “Spring 2015 – Week 7 in Review

  1. “You guys can all get crushed by us, you small-timer race!” Yep. They see humans as pets

    Although this is kind of a throwaway line, given last episode was all about humans looking down on Otherworldians, it’s still a funny contrast. It’s obvious who has the “real” power in Hellsalem’s Lot (spoiler: it’s humans), but it’s a neat detail to show that prejudice runs both ways.

    Actually, now that I think about it, this episode and the last are both great at showing the lines of division and connections between humans and Otherworldians – the divisions are obvious last episode, but Leo and Nej connected over burgers and a not-so-fun past. And now, the divisions are subtle, but the shared inter-species love of “[…] Fighting barehanded, 1 on 1” is the obvious connection here.

    • Well, considering how many people in Hellsalem’s Lot are basically surviving due to the whims of the vampires, I’m not sure the power structure is so simple. I like the contrasts they’re creating here – “we all oppress the Other” is easy, but I think it’s being put in a variety of interesting terms throughout BBB while rarely being the central focus.

  2. How do you like the setting in F/SN in general (I mean Shirou/Archer)? I think it could be pretty compelling if it just was handled a lot better.

    Loved Euph this week too, that first half especially.

    • Yeah, I agree. I think the fundamental idea behind Archer and Shirou is a really compelling one, and it really just comes down to the execution.

  3. Your love for Stardust Crusaders is so confusing to me! I can’t get over the series’ loss of its first two seasons’ over-the-top but still entrancingly dark, epic quality. I feel like we’ve moved from Grendel vs Beowulf to the Three Stooges, and it’s really killed my love of the series.

    Your reviews leave me glad I didn’t even try the Haruhi spin-off though.

    • I think maybe the key difference in how we approach JoJo is that I basically never took the series seriously at all. That was something I noticed even back within the first season, where a lot of the scenes others found boring in Phantom Blood were actually some of my favorite moments. I think the show needs a balance of silly and fist-pumping (and that this balance was out of whack in the earlier parts of Stardust Crusaders), but I’ve always found it very silly.

      • There’s probably something to that. I’m not sure I ever took Jojo seriously, exactly — the Grendel versus Beowulf analogy, which i think captures the difference between S1/2 and S3 but not the true nature of S1/2, may be a little misleading in that respect.

        They always pulled silly gags, and always went so over-the-top with everything they did that it became on some level a joke. But I guess I liked them not admitting that it was a joke, if that makes sense, even while knowing the audience knew it. And I think that gives it a hugely different feel from the slapstick sort’ve comedy that seems to dominate S3.

        • Well, if you stopped in S3, that might explain it. The second half of Part 3has a lot more genuinely compelling action–N’doul, Anubis, D’arby, Pet Shop, etc.–than the first half, even though there are farces (the Oingo Boingo and Bastet episodes) and flops (fucking Alessi).

          I also find it kind of hilarious that you choose to complain about that during the Vanilla Ice fight, one of the darkest and most brutal this side of Part 5.

  4. The main difference between Shirou and Kiritsugu is maturity, Kerry thought that by his twisted way of killing the few to save the many, one day he would be able to make his ideal into reality

    Shirou not once thought of this, he already knew his ideals were impossible from the get go, that’s why he didn’t think about using the grail to grant his wish, he only entered the war in first place so he could stop disasters like the great Fuyuki fire from repeating itself

    And I disagree with you about not seeing Shirou upholding these ideals. He did that everyday, his entire life before the HGW and Ilya’s death scene are examples of this.

    Furthermore Archer is pratically what would Shirou became if he continued with his broken mentality from the beginning, basically a broken , bitter person, so I disagree with you about not having emotional investment because well, Archer is Shirou, and we got a fair share of his backstory.

    • And I disagree with you about not seeing Shirou upholding these ideals.

      I think he meant in sense of that there isn’t anything that really tests, challenges, and outright obstructs Shirou’s uphold of his ideals. With Kiritsugu, we had to see how much he had to sacrifice for his goals, but with Shirou… we only got some physical obstacle, rather than an emotional and ideological challenge.

      As far as the entire F/sn goes, there’s only two real challenge to his ideal: Archer, and (in HF) the Shadow. The thing is that with Archer it’s just something that he could easily avoid if he had more self-preservation instinct, and with the Shadow, we never really see him have to see what horrible things that came from his choices, they’re only suggested.

      Shirou is fundamentally an interesting character, but the same could be said of countless other characters. The thing is that he’s not very well-executed. Rather than an adult trying to hold on to his dreams and ideals, being tested by reality everyday with his every choice, he comes off as a naive child who has not truly experienced what different types of ordeals he will have to face in his journey.

      I think it’s because with the short time-span of the Holy Grail War, we couldn’t really see much situations outside of it (where with Kiritsugu, we saw it through his backstory, and how he is in the present).

      • We see the emotional and ideological conflict throguhout the entirety of F/SN with him constantly contemplating and reflecting on where his ideals have brought him and where they will take him (unfortunately most of this was removed in the anime). If you’ve read UBW then you know the next episode will contain the most key scene to his character where he confronts his ideals quite literally.

        Kiritsugu’s character exists to contrast and compare with Shirou’s answer but he doesn’t come close in terms of being a fully realized dynamic character the way Shirou is. You mentioned Kiritsugu’s backstory, but we also have pretty gruesome details of Shirou’s backstory and how he lost his everything on the day of the fire.

        In HF he does understand the weight of his choices, it’s quite nuanced and some of the bad ends elaborate on this also. I prefer UBW but in terms of Shirou’s mentality HF is on par if not better.

        Can’t say I agree that he’s not well executed – I feel Shirou is one of the best executed characters ever with (literally) multiple character arcs handling the protagonist as a child, adolescent and adult (mentally) dealing with deontology, virtue ethics and consequentialism in that order. He doesn’t come across as a naive child – that would be Kiritsugu, actually (“let me pursue this seemingly omnipotent wish device to make my unattainable dream attainable”).

        • You might have a point with the execution of Shirou’s character in the VN, which has the time and branching routes to fully explore it.
          (Although I did read the script of the VN–and not in English–and personally felt like everything, including Shirou’s character, could have been executed better with less wordiness)
          I guess it’s important to keep in mind people are saying that regardless of the source material, this UBW adaptation is not executing Shirou’s character well.

  5. Well I sure hope it can’t get any worse than this.

    Well it should be. After this there’s only a bunch of action scenes. Other than that… oh. Yeah. I almost forgot. The dolphins. This has the potential to be bad, or really bad, depending on how they’re doing that scene. On the other hand, you can now cheer, since you should only have one more possible slump in the UBW curve.

    Also, is it just me or is there really very few notable show this season?

    • Eh, 3-5 shows I’m really enjoying is more than enough for me. I only normally expect 1-2 great shows a season, and I think Oregairu, BBB, and Euphonium are all up there.

  6. So I’m not crazy – someone else thinks this episode of UBW was god-awful! I was utterly bored the whole time. Not only the story was simple enough and diluted without reason, not only the revelation of Archer’s identity had basically already been given in episode 18 anyway, but it still managed to be plagued by asspulled deus ex-machina magic concepts and remain actually not all that clear. With 15+ minutes of exposition monologue – that has to be a new record. I understand Ufotable needs to stretch this to take two seasons, but then they should’ve just created original material and done a flashback episode for Archer, which would have served the purpose of showing instead of telling in this dreary manner. Nasu is indeed a writer of unique talents – to make the story of a man who sells his own soul to a superior magical power and slowly realizes how he’s actually condemned himself to a fate worse than death and ends up wishing only to erase his own existence and know the bliss of oblivion this boring, you really have to try.

    • It’s pretty frustrating! There are some compelling ideas here, but holy crap this execution. It makes me wish ufotable had just gone all the way and merged the routes into a new story that actually made some dramatic sense – but of course, doing that would infuriate all the old fans. It’s a lose-lose situation.

      Your flashback idea also would have been so, so much better than this portrayal here. Imagine if the show had actually cut back to a past Shirou coming to this choice, living through these lives, and then winding back towards where we are now – that could have landed with impact, and had a real sense of drama and reveals. Instead, Archer just monologues the most interesting parts of the story in the most tedious way possible, robbing them of any emotional weight. It’s such a waste.

      • Yeah… the mind goes to the awesome reveal of Puella Magi Madoka Magica’s episode 10. If I think about the first time I watched that I still get the shivers. This was like… the opposite of that.

      • I think you’re looking for the wrong role in Archer’s character.

        Remember Kyouko from Madoka Magica? Her role is similar to Archer’s. She ALSO monologued about her life instead of it being shown to us, and it was fine because of what she was supposed to represent thematically and how she helped Sayaka grow. The same goes for Archer – a clear-cut flashback of his life would be a disservice to his character.

        I can see why this episode was highly criticized (Archer given too much focus, Shirou not enough focus), but the specific complaints about the story are misguided, IMO.

        • The Kyouko example doesn’t really help – us learning about Kyouko’s backstory came at a key moment in Madoka after Kyouko had already undergone a fair amount of on-screen growth. That was basically her last attempt to reach out to Sayaka, and so it gave context for her character while furthering both of their arcs (since her reaching out at all was a big step for her emotionally). This worked because she was already an established and engaging person, and because her backstory gave us context that we couldn’t already infer, and because the telling of that backstory was actually visually engaging and concise and based purely in character logic, not invented worldbuilding.

          As I’ve said, I don’t have a problem with the base idea here – it’s just basically every element of the execution that I find really poorly done.

          • Thank you for the response.

            This is also Archer’s last attempt in reaching out to Shirou – he already tried at the temple, after killing Caster, etc. And as will be apparent soon this is key to Shirou (and his own) growth. I’d also argue that Archer is an engaging character in his own right through his dynamics with Rin, Saber, and Shirou.

            Archer’s backstory is based in worldbuilding that had been foreshadowed since as early as episode 6, and Counter Guardians are an important idea thematically in terms of karma. Talking heads sort of come

  7. It’s crazy how BBB is doing in preorders! Are the fujoshis eating this up that much?

    I kind of wish of more Chain though. Then again the show seems to really put the secondary characters to be really secondary since mostly the 3 dudes

  8. That’s surprising since I thought this was the best episode of the 2nd cour. I don’t understand the comment that the episode was wasted saying a simple point. I’m going to go through the episode 1) it started with a tiny flashback of Shirou making a contract. 2) The episode starts with focusing on the pendants and how there’s only a single one in the world. Neat but possibly deducible trivia. 3) Archer was summoned by Rin because the pendant in his possession served as the catalyst for his summoning. Important distinction not revealed previously because it elaborates why a Servant from the future was possible. 4) Lancer decides to retrieve Rin. Gonna ignore the Rin/Kirei/Lancer side from now on since the criticisms are aimed at Archer’s narration.

    5) The debate starts. Saber asks why Archer wants to kill Shirou so badly? Seems like a valid opener. 6) Archer gives a short introduction what Guardians are. 7) Allusions to Saber’s wish are made. She did not realize her ideals. 8) Archer, on the other hand, did realize his ideals but now he’s full of regrets. Tiny flashback of him being summoned over & over to kill people, and not once saving a single person. 9) This is when the discussion of Shirou’s ideals begins and ends with Archer telling Shirou to kill himself. 10) Archer says that he doesn’t seek atonement. He already got hanged and sees that as his atonement. 11) More discussion of Shirou’s ideals. 12) Archer’s disillusionment of what Guardians really are. 13) Saber points out that nothing will change, even if Archer kills Shirou 14) Shirou makes his stand

    The episode hit every note right. I can’t see how it can be reduced to a simple point. Sure some ideological points were made like in 9) and 11) but the rest was fleshing out the system the protagonists are living in, and I think that’s where the crux of the matter lies. I mean, “meaningless lore-words”? The world-building is a big part of what makes F/SN tick and to casually disregard because it doesn’t address your interests is a bit unfair to the show. Characters are nice but they aren’t everything. Even Shirobako benefited from a working-place setting with its animation industry backdrop, so did Uchouten Kazoku which took place in magical Kyoto roaming with tanuki and tengu. Same counts for Log Horizon with its game lingo that seems foreign to anyone who doesn’t play MMORPGs.

    Anyways enough about F/SN. I’m enjoying my #1s Eupho/BBB as usual.

    • The problem is that the way the speech was delivered lacked punch. Part of it is because the big revelation wasn’t much of a revelation any more (last episode’s teasing was so straightforward it basically gave the twist away already). Part of it is that it still got too dragged – if you’re trying to get a punch, short is better. About the lore, I think the main problem for me was that the concept of what “Guardians” are was never hinted at before, and was here used casually as if their existence was perfectly natural. The purpose of foreshadowing is to give all pieces to the viewer and then make them suddenly fall in place in front of his eyes at the end. That’s what makes it look like a magic trick. If we had been introduced to “guardians” before, even seen one, this would have been more impactful because it would have been like “OH SHIT ARCHER WAS A GUARDIAN SHIROU ALL ALONG”. As it was however he only was a conveniently-just-introduced-plot-point all along. Which isn’t nearly as impressive. The skill that really makes a narrative tick is having precious few tools and bending them naturally to your will. Anyone can make a story work by inventing a new concept every time they need it.

      Then of course it’s subjective etc., but the point is, if you’re already invested in the Fate franchise on your own you’re more likely to enjoy this anime as something you already know taking shape, so you’re probably looking more at the details (did they get the characters right? The voices? The music?). Which are admittedly pretty gorgeous all the time. But as someone for whom this is basically the first contact with the UBW story, this was disappointing. If the idea of Guardians was already introduced in the Fate route for example this made more sense in the VN, but they should have found a different way to make that work in the anime too then.

  9. On the subject of BBB, there’s one shot way back in episode four that’s really interesting to go back to in the context of Black’s conversations with Leo in this one. Specifically, this shot where White holds up a photo of the graveyard (http://i58.tinypic.com/10zr4e8.jpg). Damn if there isn’t a scene that reflects White’s former and present relationship and power dynamics with her brother in a nutshell.

    Really, the way the show makes use of color (specifically white, black, blue, and red) can be downright fascinating at times, especially when it comes to how in regards to Leo and/or Black. What they’re meant to represent is pretty obvious (especially the whole red = strength/force/power thing), but the show seems to have opinions on where Leo’s (and Black’s) strengths lie (http://i61.tinypic.com/ivaeqe.png), what he wishes he had (http://i58.tinypic.com/29dit69.png – lyrics are relevant), and what sort of direction he should take instead (http://i62.tinypic.com/op73as.jpg). Considering that Matsumoto is picking and choosing which vignettes she uses in the show instead of adapting the show in order, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Leo winds up in the hospital in and only in the episodes where he uses the All-Seeing Eyes of God to attack or control.

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