Ah crap it’s Wednesday. Things were actually looking pretty dire for the week in review this time, considering Gatchaman Crowds took the week off. That’s basically the only show I’m watching weekly that lends itself to more than a shrugging gladiatorial up-or-down thumb, so with that out of the picture, what could I even talk about? Could I really spin Prison School and Monster Musume into four paragraphs of discussion? Maybe I could… maybe I could just talk about my favorite lunches of the week? Actually that’s not the worst idea, but either way, my worries ended up being unfounded, because this week I watched the entire first season of SYMPHOGEAAAAAAR.
So yeah, the entire first season of Symphogear (that’s right, it gets top billing over the actual week in review). Holy shit was this a fun time. I’d heard extremely questionable things from my twitter feed about this show, that had given me the impression it was either Love Live plus JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure or just some Wixoss-esque trainwreck that people enjoyed mainly because they were laughing about it together. Fortunately, it really, really is Love Live plus JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. It’s got inappropriately melodramatic friendship drama attached to absolutely ridiculous fight scenes, and it makes zero apologies about that. It has one character who sings about the confusion in her heart while punching monsters until they explode, and another who sings about volcanoes of blood while firing miniguns at bystanders. It has a moment where a character literally takes out a book labeled “Being Honest with Yourself” while fretting over her childhood friend possibly cheating on her, which Symphogear apparently sees as the height of subtle symbolism. It’s got a villain who straight-up wants to…
No, I shouldn’t say any more. But seriously, in a season defined by Bad-Good shows, Symphogear has actually shown everything else up on their own turf. The show is incredibly silly, and when it tries to get legitimately emotional it can drag, but the majority of its runtime is either wonderfully nonsensical storytelling or girls riding giant swords into massive explosions. I’d actually been kinda figuring I was burned out on “default anime” by this season, but Symphogear gives me confidence that it really is the season, not me. Anime can be a whole lot of fun, and Symphogear is as anime as any show could possibly be.
Reigning back to the actual week in review, Classroom Crisis managed to stand out in a sea of Symphogear by throwing out its best episode yet. Last week’s episode demonstrated that the show is ready to make full use of its well-developed characters and relationships, and this week employed that strength to not only offer a bunch of engaging character moments and push the plot forward, but also to return to that core contrast of Nagisa and Kaito. The two of them are essentially the buddy cop center of this sometimes awkward show, each learning from the other’s example, but the show fortunately hasn’t just relied on the two of them, you know, getting stuck in a room for an episode and being forced to learn they’re Not So Different After All. Their character growth has come from the world around them, with Nagisa learning more from Mizuki and the class in general than Kaito’s silly speeches, and Kaito getting worn down by politics and informed about Nagisa from third-hand sources. At this point, the show basically exemplifies no-frills fundamentals – it’s light on immediate hooks, but its character work is so rock-solid that basically everything it does wins on emotionally resonant conviction.
Paranoia Agent also had a great episode, as it does, with this one contrasting against last week’s overcast gloom by saturating everything in oppressive sunlight. At this point we’ve run through all of the opening song characters and gotten the cops fired, so I’m guessing (and have already had it confirmed by comments) that the show will be changing gears a bit going forward. Paranoia Agent’s great strengths are its tonal/aesthetic ones, so I’m not really too concerned about where the story goes from here – as long as it continues to tell that story with with the grace it has so far, I’ll be very happy.
Over in trash alley, this week’s Prison School honestly felt kinda underwhelming. Maybe it’s because Symphogear just set the standard for crazy nonsense so high, or maybe I’m just growing inured to Prison School’s default tricks, but this one’s silliness and drama just didn’t match the last several. I’m guessing it really was just the fact that this was a transition episode, though – outside of Takehito’s sacrifice of his figurine, everything that happened this week was just setup for a variety of future conflicts. Prison School’s one of those shows that really has to impress all the time, though – its characters are all silly assholes and its plot is nonsense, so if it’s not either in the middle of a compelling caper or one-upping itself in its sight gags, it’s not doing much at all. Hopefully this week’s brick-laying means it’ll kick back into gear next time.
Monster Musume, on the other hand, was in pretty solid form this week. Rachnea integrated naturally into the big harem family, unsurprisingly falling into place as the “wise and possibly oversexed Onee-san” character. The first half was basically her joining the family, but the second half was classic Monmusu, as the whole useless team rushed to save Darling from a cold and almost murdered him in the process. There were lots of silly faces, lots of near-fatal sexcapades, and the usual upbeat energy that keeps this show fun even as it’s being as straightforward of a genre exercise as a monstergirl harem can get. Suu’s general weirdness basically held this half together – in spite of Miia’s fears, she’s clearly not a meaningful rival, but her bizarre set of slime abilities certainly kept the jokes coming. Monmusu sets reasonable goals for itself and neatly clears them – this show will only ever be what it is, but it sure is a fun half hour.
And stepping outside of anime entirely, I also read more A Silent Voice this week, which mercifully shifted from full-on adolescent sadness to some less depressing, near-romance fare. Moving towards a more standard genre space fortunately didn’t do anything to diminish the story’s strengths; if anything, with a full volume of time spent establishing Shoya’s character, this second volume was actually able to breathe a little more. A Silent Voice is very good at establishing the context of these characters’ lives without falling into any direct exposition, meaning everything that happens has a simultaneous emotional weight and the lightness of naturalistic plotting. It is a very good series!
Oh, I’ve also been playing a whole bunch of Rogue Legacy, which exists somewhere between a roguelike RPG and Super Meat Boy. It’s a whole bunch of fun, and manages to dance between several poles of appeal to great success. The gameplay has a great arcadey stickiness to it, but there’s still a strong sense of progression to keep you playing, meaning that the grindiness of leveling up and the potential aimlessness of arcade gameplay are basically each sanded off by the other. It’s also fairly difficult and punishing on a micro level, while also consistently giving you permanent rewards on a macro one, meaning you get the engagement and spice of real difficulty without the frustration of constant failure. Additionally, the fact that the game is actively structured around you continuously dying and retreading one large “level” means there’s very little barrier to entry between playthroughs. It’s a very tightly designed game, basically – you can pick up and play a round any time, and you can also get swept up in it for hours of “just one more round.”
So that’s what’s up with me! Hope you’re all doing well, and I’ll see if I can get the ol’ season preview cranked out by next week.