Summer 2015 – Week 12 in Review

The week in review has come again. We had a pretty serious bumper crop of episodes this week, with basically everything but Classroom Crisis offering one of its best episodes yet. Of course, “best” is a relative term this season, so when it comes to Monster Musume and Prison School, that really equates more to “most absurd/delirious/grotesque/bizarrely well-executed” – but that’s what I’m watching those shows for, so more of what they are definitely isn’t a bad thing. And on the “actually respectable show” front, both Gatchaman Crowds and Paranoia Agent seem to be ending as well as possible, with Gatchaman in particular really pulling things together beautifully this week. This has been a lousy season overall, but it’s looking like the few brave shows that made it to the finish line are going to let it end with some god damn dignity.

Speaking of dignity, dear lord this week’s Prison School. This was almost certainly the show’s “best” episode, one that crossed basically every line the show had previously only danced with. The first half was your typical solid Prison School – dynamic direction and over-the-top performances elevating an absurdist prison breakout narrative. If there’s anything to draw attention to in the early scenes, it’s that Prison School’s sound design seems to have only improved over time; the use of alternately silly and melodramatic music has always helped elevate the show’s humor, but it felt more prominent and central to the jokes here.

Prison School

But the second half, when Hana finally got her chance to punish Kiyoshi, was when this episode went totally off the rails in the best way possible. The president and vice president are fair enough villains, but Hana is easily the most compelling of this show’s antagonists, for a few core reasons. First of all, she’s more unhinged than the other two, meaning her scenes tend to go even more over-the-top. Second, instead of playing the straight man to the boys by scorning their actions, she just punches the hell out of them – her brutal physical comedy consistently cuts the show’s usual jokes short, acting as a nice counterpoint to the rest of the humor. And finally, perhaps most importantly, she’s the least powerful of the three student council members. Ever since Kiyoshi first accidentally spied on her, she’s lacked the sense of distant power the other two have – she’s just as panicked and desperate as the rest of the cast.

Meaning that in this scene, as we were getting absurdly, wonderfully Prison School lines like “don’t get so full of yourself just because your penis is out,” we are also witnessing a mad embarrassment arms race between her and Kiyoshi. The two could play off each other as equals, so the scene was able to constantly one-up itself in a way many of the gags can’t. This scene was the absurd payoff to an entire season of friggin’ pee jokes, and it really, really honored that legacy. Prison School is quite a thing.

Prison School

Over on Monster Musume’s end, this episode succeeded not by one-upping any of the previous material, but simply by having every animator that’s ever been involved with this project apparently team up to make it possibly the best-animated episode of any show this season. There were funny gags and great faces and cute moments with the cast, but it was the animation that stole the show this time, a buffet of dynamic movement that gave energy and personality to every single scene. At times (like when Cerea or Miia were emoting like mad), it felt almost like that Joshiraku gag about animating nothing. At others (like when a spinning shot followed Papi as she dragged Darling out of the house and down the street), it was all the fun and beauty animation can express. Not every episode of Monster Musume has had stellar production, but the show definitely ended on the right claw/hoof/fin/flipper.

Anyway, here’s Papi and Suu terrorizing some children. Rock on, Monster Musume.

Monster Musume

Moving on from trash alley, Gatchaman Crowds insight turned the tables on the Kuu-sama by having Hajime pull some tricks I never would have thought possible. Hajime inherently assumes the best in people, at least until she’s absolutely proven wrong, and so having her manipulate the TV drama news system and poll-based politics to create a sense of responsibility in the public seemed a little underhanded for her. But when I thought about it more, I realized this was Hajime echoing Rui’s choice back when Rizumu was trying to prove the menace of Crowds. Like Rui, Hajime is willing to put her life on the line in order to prove people are fundamentally better than the atmosphere would lead you to believe. Taking all the violence they wanted directed at Gelsadra upon herself, she proved that when directly linked to the consequences, people would choose not pursue such actions. There are all sorts of thorny corollaries tied up in this particular stunt (like how using the Gatchaman to wreak vengeance on Gelsadra also kind of inherently sends the message “you need us Gatchaman, and look how powerful and terrifying we are”), but that’s just kind of how life and politics work. Things are messy and difficult, and Gatchaman is all about acknowledging that.

Gatchaman Crowds insight

Classroom Crisis had the one semi-dud episode this week, unfortunately. Pretty much anything would be a letdown after last week’s great scene between Nagisa and Mizuki, but having Nagisa’s brother essentially turn into a full-on cackling villain planning to shoot him into space was maybe not the best dramatic call for this series. There were good moments here and there, and Angelina beating the snot out of goons is always fun, but this overall felt like one more misstep to toss on Classroom Crisis’ misstep pile.

Classroom Crisis

Fortunately, Paranoia Agent’s eleventh episode was quite solid. It wasn’t as strong as the shows’ best, but that’s a high bar – the conceit of Mrs. Ikari essentially being interviewed by Shonen Bat was still a strong idea, and the little ending reward of getting to witness Keichi’s nostalgic dream world was a very nice bonus. And hey, this episode nicely sets up the next one, and since I’ve already seen that fantastic episode, I can easily forgive this one for not being quite as resonant or dramatic.

Paranoia Agent

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