Wednesday has come again, and with it, one more scraping collection of show reflection fragments pulled together out of my paltry watch schedule. Fortunately, this week I was able to supplement my bare-minimum weekly viewings with a big ol’ ten-inch steak of anime. This week I watched basically the entirety of The Idolmaster!
But before we get to that, let’s run down the usual suspects, whose episodes this week ended up being well…. kinda suspect. But hey, at least the bad shows had good episodes!
First we’ve got Paranoia Agent, whose grab bag of mini-stories this week felt like whatever loose change ideas Satoshi Kon just happened to have lying around. There were a couple funny gags, but this episode was way, way below the show’s general quality, and felt even more ineffective given last week’s entirely successful mood shift. The show can get away with an episode like last week’s, both because it kinda served as an intermission after the first major arc and also because it was just really, really internally satisfying. But a second straight week of forgetting the main plot, compounded with that week’s episode being by far the weakest, is structural-damage level bad. This episode hurt the show, and it’s a shame – it had been making almost entirely effective moves up until now, and black marks like this don’t go away. Hopefully things pull back together next week.
Nearly as disappointing was this week’s Classroom Crisis. I honestly don’t expect the most from this show at this point, but the decision to separate Nagisa from his classmates was about the worst choice the show could make. The internal dynamics between Nagisa, Kaito, Mizuki, and Iris represent basically everything this show is good at. The class by itself isn’t that compelling – everyone outside of the main trio are essentially non-characters. Nagisa by himself also isn’t that compelling – his stories of corporate espionage are basically just the dramatically sterile filler articulating his internal struggle. It’s only when the characters come together that the show demonstrates humanity and engaging drama. Hopefully that happens soon!
Fortunately, Gatchaman Crowds insight had a strong episode this week, but I can’t think of more I haven’t already covered in my supersized writeup, so let’s move right along!
Over in trash alley, Prison School offered up one of the most perfectly composed Prison Schools yet. Prison School is at its best either when it’s going into the truly surreal with its fanservice or riding high on the energy of a heist, and this episode featured both. The boys’ attempts to steal back some DTO data were a perfect opportunity to set up one more tiny prison gambit, and choosing to center that gambit on the vice president’s crazy strength and pride was a very smart choice. And then the unexpected nipple-based back-in-forth of the actual battles was textbook Prison School. This show is absolutely repulsive, but there’s just something magical about the vice president breathlessly describing Andre’s nipple hair as a noble tree swinging proudly in the desert. What the hell is this show.
Monster Musume also rallied back from a couple not-so-great episodes with an episode where both halves were finally entertaining again. The first half was better, and I think that in large part comes down to the fact that Suu is one of the most inherently ridiculous members of the cast. A Miia or Cerea story can stick to pretty simple harem antics, but when you’ve got a water-based blob who gains power and intelligence from moisture and isn’t necessarily sentient all of the time, things are almost guaranteed to get weird. And get weird they did, with this half ending in a kaiju battle (kinda funny how Crunchyroll just translated that as “monster,” leading to a moment where a monster was suddenly shocked by the appearance of a monster) between a giant tree-dryad and Suuzilla, with Papi and Darling at one point clinging to Suu’s house-sized waterboobs for dear life. The second half was less entertaining, because Cerea is frankly kinda boring, but fortunately Rachnia had some fun bits (along with an ending scene that went way, way, waaay past this show’s usual raunch levels), and the final family house scene had a lot of great faces. Monster Musume ain’t art, but it sure is something.
Incidentally, this episode also let me make this terrible tweet. Good work, me.
Alright, that’s enough timely preamble, let’s get to The Idolmaster. This has basically been an idol summer for me – I watched Love Live S2 a few weeks ago, and just recently ran through Symphogear, and even have the Love Live movie coming up in a few days. I probably wouldn’t have watched any of these shows a few years ago, which is a nice feeling; broadening my media palette doesn’t mean I’m “lowering my media standards” or anything (as much as some people would like to think that’s the case), it just means I get to enjoy a much broader variety of good things, and styles of good things. As little as maybe three years ago, I was probably still in full “moe is cancer” mode, refusing to engage with stuff that felt too idealized or “pandering” and placing far too much emphasis on ultimately superficial aesthetic touchstones. There are certainly still general trends I’m highly critical of in anime storytelling, and I think that will always be true, but I feel I’ve gotten rid of a lot of ugly preconceptions over time, which both helps me engage better with more shows and also just have a better time with anime.
All of this is to say, I’m happy I’m at the point where I could really fully appreciate The Idolmaster, because damn is it an excellent show. Combining a bunch of fun scattered vignettes and a couple central dramatic arcs, it brings a good dozen characters to life, having all sorts of fun in the process. There’s great distinctive chemistry across most of the cast, tons of individual standout episodes, and too many impressive single moments to count. And the execution… yeah, this is probably gonna get a little rambly.
Idolmaster is flat-out one of the most beautiful shows I’ve ever seen – wonderfully directed, purposefully lit, and brimming with absolutely gorgeous animation. Like, “far beyond TV anime”-level animation. Like, “it’s obvious half of Gainax’s old staff worked on this show even if you don’t check the staff list”-level animation. From the nuanced expression work to the vivid body language to the jaw-dropping stage performances, The Idolmaster totally spoiled me on animation. I frankly feel a little bad for the Love Live movie now – after watching all these beautiful fully animated dances, it’s gonna be pretty hard to go back to the CG dolls.
So yeah, I’m glad I was able to enjoy The Idolmaster. Turns out you don’t need to sell your soul to a waifu just to enjoy good things made well.