Nearing the halfway point again! And once again, I’m gonna keep things loose and flowing here for the week in review. When I’ve only got a couple episodes worth actually talking about, and I’m already covering one of them in great essay-sized blocks for ANN, I gotta do what I can to fill your Wednesdays with criticism and joy. So let’s run down all the random crap I’ve been watching, starting at the top with G-G-GATCHAMANNNN.
Because seriously, holy shit, this week’s Gatchaman Crowds insight. I’d say this was very likely the best episode of either season, one that played off the strengths of the first season while even addressing many of the criticisms people had about that one (Hajime focus, narrow idea of “rightness,” underuse of other characters). insight is a wonderfully well-composed sequel – not only does it refuse to retread any of the material from the first season, it both extends naturally from the arguments presented there and uses the ideas and characters already established to dig into more complex ideas and conflicts without having to dally in exposition.
The use of Jou’s character here was particularly inspired – combining Tsubasa’s (unexamined) belief in vertical power with Rui’s understanding of human nature, he fights for Gelsadra because he understands what Tsubasa would never acknowledge. He’s not happy about his actions, but he’s willing to sacrifice on means if it will help the people he thinks can’t help themselves, even the people who are directly challenging him (like Rui). This election went far beyond “make sure your villains have human motivations” – this was a collection of heroes all trying to do the right thing, who through their actions may have inadvertently destroyed the world.
Shifting gears entirely, the other big episode that kinda-sorta impressed me this week was Prison School. This episode wasn’t thought-provoking or emotionally gripping or challenging in any way – it just did what Prison School does as well as Prison School can. Prison School doesn’t work because it’s puerile – lots of shows are puerile, that’s nothing special. It works because it both goes above and beyond the call of duty on personality of execution (with the base drawings in the manga, and with those drawings combined with tricks like the monochrome shots or Lego interludes in the anime), and because it’s also legitimately a ridiculous prison breakout story. Shift the variables a bit and this would be cheesy prime-time television. I’m not sure if the show can vary up its combination of puerile, aesthetically interesting, and fast-paced to last an entire season, but it’s still working so far.
Keeping up the trash parade, we’ve got this week’s Monster Musume, which featured
- a slime jerking off a snake’s tail
Suu getting stuffed in a literal trashbag
Mero hasn’t really done anything beyond be the ojou mermaid, but this episode was still a treasure. Keep it up, Monster Musume.
Classroom Crisis had an absolutely clunker of an episode this week, while my scheduled Paranoia Agent was possibly my favorite since the standout premier, an episode that drew some fantastic parallels between its focus character and the eternally put-upon police chief. But I’ve already written about those, so let’s move along to…
Overlord, I guess? Overlord was… eh. This was a less immediately entertaining episode than the past two, since it was largely setup for a new arc, but because of that, the relevant questions become “is this show good enough to stick with even if it’s not being immediately entertaining, in the hope of payoff” and “does this particular arc seem compelling enough to justify that kind of faith.” The answer to the first question is “maybe, just barely, at times,” and the answer to the second is pretty similar.
There are nice details here – I like the fact that the “NPCs” of this world (who I guess aren’t really NPCs, given everyone’s just now an equal player in a new world?) are already gaining some texture, and I particularly liked how Aains’ actions are prompting ripple effects like the alchemist identifying his potion. But the actual story is moving too slow and is hung up with too much lame content, with the villains in particular being capital-V villains. I don’t want to slowly watch Aains defeat simplistic cartoon characters – I either want the show to get smart enough to be worth investing in or immediately entertaining enough to be worth tuning out to. Currently we’re in an awkward compromise between the two.
On the backlog front, I also got through the second half of Love Live! S2 this week, which was… well, it was a huge disappointment. Everything up to and including episode nine was a joy to watch – there were some minor hiccups in the diet episode, but even that one had reasonable jokes, and Snow Halation was a goddamn triumph. Easily the best song and performance of the show, and basically the one time the actual idols part felt like an integral element of the emotional narrative, and not just a creepy CG dance tacked on to a different show.
But as soon as that was over, season two basically fell into a maudlin fit, sobbing all over itself for four episodes at the thought of its own ending. Love Live! is not the kind of show that can support a Return of the King-style Five Epilogue Extravaganza – hell, no media can do that. And so episode after episode of tearful goodbyes and nostalgic glances backward basically sank all the momentum those first funny, well-composed episodes had built. Damnit, Love Live! You need to take this a bit more… I mean less seriously.
And finally, I took a look back at the winter season and marathoned the first half of Saekano. I’d initially panned this one in my season preview, but people kept talking about it on twitter, and given it was the writer of Classroom Crisis/White Album 2, I figured I must have missed something.
Well… I hadn’t. Not really. Saekano is definitely interesting, but so far it seems very far from good. It basically feels like the result of a talented writer (snappy dialogue, well-conceived plots, etc) being chained to the most tropey light novel garbage imaginable. The characters play out as stereotypical archetypes while actually commenting on their own archetypes, but the series never rises above that stuff. Bad light novel/visual novel storytelling is critiqued verbally, and then wholeheartedly embraced in action. Character motivations collide with larger narrative themes while the camera busies itself staring at everyone’s breasts.
It’s kind of infuriating, actually – it’s one of those shows that feels like an utter casualty of its demographic. I’m fine with junk I have no interest in watching, and I’m fine with really committed, well-constructed junk… but this is like an actually good show awkwardly grafted to all the worst excesses of modern anime storytelling. Everything the show does that’s actually compelling exists entirely aside from its light novel tendencies, but its light novel tendencies are front and center at almost all times. It’s a big, frustrating waste.
That said, I’ve been taking a whole bunch of notes on it! The disconnect between its parts, and how it sort of struggles against itself, and the occasional glimpses of “maybe this show really does want its characters to grow up,” make for plenty of discussion fodder. So I guess I’ll see where it goes.