Holy crap did this week have some peaks. God damn. Not all the episodes here were great, but the ones that were… I’d be surprised and ecstatic to see Oregairu and Euphonium’s episodes here somehow be challenged for positions in the top 5 episodes of the year. They were both just That Good – that full of everything that makes their respective series great, and that satisfying as a realization of everything that had come before. Those two episodes were stunning, and I feel lucky to be watching two shows that good in the same season.
Anyway, some other episodes came out too, I guess. Let’s run ’em down!
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders 44: We got a slice of everything in this week’s JoJo. The show opened with the cruel trick of taking back last week’s cliffhanger, only to have Iggy take the fall instead. This was tragic, because Iggy’s awesome, but at least it meant we got two goddamn Iggy death montages in one season. And friggin’ Polnareff finally got a truly badass moment at the end of Vanilla Ice’s fight, with his well-earned ‘go to hell’ being one of the more satisfying moments of Stardust Crusaders. This was a long, exciting, and well-composed fight, and the ending was just as satisfying as the rest of it.
The episode then jumped focus over to Suzy Q, where we got what may be the last home team update before the finale. And then we got a very silly “fight” with the core JoJos, with Jotaro’s “that’s right, we’re friends… of justice, that is” just once again proving he’s the most entertaining asshole you could hope for. Even in the final moments, we’re getting a great mix of action, comedy, and drama here. Stardust Crusaders is on one crazy roll.
Oregairu S2 8: IT FINALLY HAPPENED. HIKKI FINALLY DID IT. HE FINALLY TOLD THE TRUTH.
Holy crap was this an episode. One half stern, laser-focused critique by Sensei, one half deafening catharsis as Hachiman finally lets his friends and, most importantly, himself in on his feelings. This is the truth he’s been running around, the truth so many people spend so much of their lives running around, the insecurity that leads him to construct a false castle of assumed security and objectivity. This was so good.
His life won’t entirely change from here on out, of course. He’s still the same person he was before – no one changes personalities because they learn something new, just like no one can understand others just because they want to. But god is it ever a relief to see this. Things should get better, in some ways. And he has at least admitted that he cares to the people he needs the most. Watching this episode was the best kind of exhausting. I am content.
Blood Blockade Battlefront 8: Another slightly lesser episode of BBB this week, mainly because Zapp’s just not the most compelling member of the cast. It was still a lot of fun, though and once again demonstrated the show’s confidence in the things it does best. The brief battle sequence with K.K. and Steven was excellent, full of nice visual details and sweet impact frames, and Zapp’s master was a fine riff on the heartless, withered sensei formula. I also liked how mirrors and reflections were made a constant theme throughout this episode, starting from a very stark reflection of K.K. in a car window, continuing through K.K. and Steven shouting “mirrors” in order to discover the vampire, and finally reaching their most clear articulation in the reveal that Black’s evil self is actually a reflection sharing his body. Additionally, the sequence where Black took on this burden was deliberately set up to reflect the scene from the beginning of the overall show, when Leo gained his own power. Some parts of this show are very loud, but every episode also demonstrates nice elements of understated core storytelling. Practiced energy, earned confidence.
The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan 8: Hot springs episode! You guys have seen hot springs episodes, right?
Good. Then you’ve seen this episode.
Sound! Euphonium 8: Aaand somehow ably matching Oregairu’s staggering peak, Euphonium gracefully pulled off one of the best episodes Kyoto Animation has ever conceived. Pretty much every element of this episode was wonderful, and the Hazuki conflict would have been the well-earned highlight of a lesser episode, but holy god damn that Kousaka-Kumiko sequence. Just… just incredible. Beautiful, perfectly paced, brilliantly written, featuring stellar voice acting work and ungodly animation, just a staggering extension of their relationship. That sequence was like, “I’ll give you the stars” good. That was a masterpiece.
Ore Monogatari!! 7: Ore Monogatari’s settled into a pretty comfortable neutral at this point – the relationships are stable and endearing, so this episode just spent a vignette demonstrating what it’s like when the two lovebirds have to spend a little time apart. The result was pretty much what you’d expect: Yamato spent a little time feeling insecure, Takeo spent a little time being dense, but overall the experience just brought them even closer. I’m regularly frustrated with how Takeo often exemplifies classic “I’ll take care of you” male shoujo tropes, but I couldn’t say enough good things about how Yamato is just totally earnest about liking Takeo in both an emotional and (maybe especially) physical way. It’s really nice to see an anime heroine who admits she finds her boyfriend really hot! This episode had a lot of fun with that, with Yamato acting consistently flustered at Takeo’s manly actions, which resulted in a lot of silly faces and just very relatable moments. Ore Monogatari’s chugging unassumingly but consistently along.
Fate/stay night: Unlimited Blade Works 20: The first half of this episode was pretty great! Really, really dynamic and well-composed fight, a nice final scene with Lancer, and even some decent elaborations on the nuances of the Archer-Shirou situation. Then… well, then it regressed back into Archer shouting a combination of wincingly cheesy and repetitive things at Shirou, followed by Shirou Finding The Resolve To Fight. I really wish this show had actually earned the emotional peaks it was striving for this week, because not only was the execution pretty dramatic, but there are also just some compelling core ideas going on here. Unfortunately, this show is not that show. That said, I took a bunch of notes this week, and it’s only in the second half that I really get frustrated, so let’s take a journey into my emotional progression across the episode:
Yeaaah, Lancer holding it together to kill Kotomine! The strength to follow your ideals past the limit!
Which is nice. It’s nice that Archer’s belief is sustaining him past his magical energy even as he tries to discourage Shirou, and it’s nice that Lancer matches this
And Lancer’s just great
This really isn’t much of a death for Kotomine relative to his position in the narrative, though. Another place where this isn’t really a graceful sequel to Zero. It’s an awkward fit
Doubly so because this has become so much more Shirou’s story than anyone else’s. Which is one of the core problems of this story in general, as an anime
Hurray, more creepy sexual threat Shinji. Great stuff, this story
And Lancer picks Shinji up by the head and chucks him again. Good times
Oooh, really good animation!
Awesome smears. Great sense of dynamic motion to the bodies – they feel “more real than real,” the kind of exaggerated motions that instill a sense of momentum that makes animation SO GODDAMN GREAT
Holy crap, the direction is so good too. Great shot transitions, great pacing of the fight, great jumps all around. Using a mix of the closeups, big battle shots, and shots of the internal elements of the blades. FUN STUFF
“Keep talking tough. I’ll catch up to you soon enough.” Archer could kill Shirou if he really wanted to. But it seems like he’s training him. Which is actually a really inspiring message, when you get down to it
“What don’t I understand?” “THAT YOU EVER HAD THE SLIGHTEST CHANCE OF WINNING.” God, the “heroic” dialogue is so fucking cheesy. And yet the personal stuff can be pretty good! It’s weird – this story is renowned for things it’s terrible at, and under-discussed regarding things it’s actually pretty good at
“I don’t feel sorry for him” (Shirou tries to convince himself) “But when I feel that my feet will be taking me down his path, it feels like my heart will break”
“Judging by your face, THAT PATHETIC EXPRESSION THAT SAYS YOU’RE ABOUT TO VOMIT, you saw it, didn’t you?” It’s like the show is determined to outdo its own bad dialogue every episode
“Dying because of some dumb order comes with being a heroic spirit.” Lancer is great
Pretty much every other character has basically excused themselves from this story, huh. Even Rin’s just monologuing thoughts on Archer
“I’m not the one to save him… because I agree with him.” It’s only Shirou’s irrational hope that can save him
“A fake person like you is a mistake. There is no point in such a person living.” Nice how this strikes directly back at Kiritsugu’s choices – that there has to be a point in Shirou living
And now Archer’s just doing another slow speech about how Shirou is just taking another’s ideals. Haven’t we heard this all series long?
“Hypocrisy like that can’t save anyone. No… you never knew what you ought to save.” GAWD this is bad. Archer, you hurt this show so much
This arc has managed to make the awesome Archer-Shirou concept boring and emotionally sterile
And the epic music comes in. I guess this part is supposed to be dramatic? They keep saying the same stuff, though
And Saber’s scabbard protects Shirou! Okay
“Just because you’re correct doesn’t mean you’re right.” Fine Shirou. You know what… fine.
“I’ll destroy the me that is you!” How did it come to this. I have made terrible life choices