Wednesday has come again! And it’s the second week of the season this time, meaning it’s time to a long, hard look at the shows I was iffy on for the first episode and likely drop half of them down the trap door. There were definitely some shows that earned the big red button this week, but also ones that held strong, and I even managed to find a show to pick up since my preview retrospective. I’ll just be covering second episodes here – you can find my impressions on all of the actual premieres back in that retrospective, and it’ll be going forward that all the shows get to share some space again. But it’s looking like they actually will have to share that space, since dear lord, this season might even have four or five solid shows. Let’s start at the top and RUN ‘EM DOWN.
Starting with one of the biggest open questions, One Punch Man accomplished the commendable feat of having a second episode that was just as great as its first one. The humor varied up just enough to keep things fresh here, and the introduction of Genos added a nice “superhero straight man” counterpoint to Saitama’s out-of-place deadpan. If Saitama started cracking actual jokes about his misplaced personality, the whole thing would fall apart, but having him just comment peaceably on the sensation of being buried, or try to think of dumb battle-appropriate puns because he’s bored with all the serious talk, works wonderfully. And though I’m not sure I enjoyed any of the animation highlights this week as much as I liked the colossus punch-swarm or the spinning shot of Saitama versus the subterraneans last week, this was still a gorgeously animated episode. Genos got most of the cool ones this time, with his fight against the cyborg gorilla offering some very dynamic cuts, but the battle against Mosquito Sawashiro was also fun (and not just because they were fighting Mosquito Sawashiro). One Punch Man has set an absurdly high bar for itself on execution, but it’s not wavering yet.
Iron-Blooded Orphans only got stronger in a second episode that settled down and spent some key time fleshing out its characters in the wake of their first battle. It feels kind of weird to praise the subtlety of a show that stresses its focus on war orphans in the friggin’ title, but there were just so many nice details of storytelling this week, from the way the show naturally demonstrated Mikazuki can’t read to the strange mix of parent and comrade relationships shared by at least half the cast.
There’s a sadness and desperation to this story that doesn’t need to be highlighted to be understood – it’s clear in the way Mika naturally uses retreating soldiers as a shield, and clear in the ways almost the whole cast matter-of-factly accepts their own relative powerlessness. And of course characters like Mika have both little use and little emotion to spare for things like the princess’ sympathy – like with Orga in the first episode, he at least has the right to his pride. These are classic war story beats, but Iron-Blooded Orphans is both personalizing them and executing them with a confident, soft touch. This show’s fundamentals are strong enough that I’m really looking forward to seeing where it goes.
Owarimonogatari had a fairly dramatic episode this week, at least as far Monogataris go. We finally got to meet Oikura first-hand, and she turned out to be just as eternally vengeful towards Araragi as he’d feared. This was a satisfying duel on both an immediate and larger level – it was fun seeing Araragi’s attempts to either agree with or make general Oikura’s statements run into a perpetual wall of “no, it’s you I hate specifically,” and it was also fun seeing an antagonist who embodies the antithesis of what Araragi’s been slowly learning. Araragi’s overall arc is focused on him both finding value in himself and learning he can’t save everyone, and that people have to help themselves. Oikura disagrees with both of those points – she thinks people are only strong because others lift them up, and the reason she’s unhappy is because no one was willing to support her. Araragi used to feel he was responsible for everyone, and now he’s run into a girl who truly does feel he’s responsible for her.
Beyond that heady stuff, any episode that features Senjougahara saying “I’m the only one who gets to attack Araragi with stationary” can’t really be bad. And the Ougi segment later in the episode was also fun, and really let the show cut loose visually. The “Sodachi Riddle” title keeps feeding into both the narrative and visual framing, with logic puzzles and impossible geometry making Monogatari’s world even more convoluted than usual. Plus basically every moment in that decrepit mansion was gorgeous – using the inconsistent lighting and crumbling architecture let the show pull together all manner of beautiful compositions. This all seems like a very solid arc so far.
I shouldn’t stack all the good news at the top, so to vary it up a bit, Comet Lucifer lost me about halfway through its second episode. Well, technically I was kind of already lost from the beginning, but it was around the halfway point where I thought to myself “I wish I could just fast-forward to wherever this show starts to differentiate itself from every other mediocre entry in its genre” and then swiftly also thought “wait, why am I even watching this.” I don’t need to sit around waiting for shows to get good – I’ve got plenty of good shows I’ve been meaning to watch anyway. DOWN THE TRAP DOOR IT GOES.
Also on the chopping block this week was Concrete Revolutio, whose second episode also failed to grab me in any meaningful way. This partially comes down to the show itself, and partially comes down to me. On the show side, Revolutio is still failing to give me a reason to care beyond the fundamentals of its premise – these characters are still just random characters, this world is still just a random world. And on the personal side, Revolutio possesses an interesting aesthetic that just doesn’t appeal to me at all, in basically any element. I don’t care for the pop-art, for the old-school daytime heroes, for the busy mixed monster worldbuilding, or for the crime procedural format. It’s very much a “this is a fine thing to be, but it’s not my thing at all” situation. Combine that with my problems with the structure and character stuff, and this just doesn’t seem like my kind of ride.
Fortunately, I happened to pick up one last new show that is very much my kind of ride – Utawarerumono. I didn’t watch this originally because it was framed as a sequel to the previous series, but apparently this one is completely standalone, and also very good! It’s centered on a pair of characters with chemistry so good it actually does justify all the Spice and Wolf comparisons I saw being thrown around, and the execution is solid as well. It looks nice (non-CG monsters! pretty forest backgrounds! great silly faces!), has sharp and flavorful dialogue, and moves extremely well. The dynamic between Haku and Kuon feels fresh, with Kuon taking on most the traditional “heroic” attributes (ie many of the ones coded as “male,” for worse or for worse), but each of them supplying plenty of quirks to their banter. And even though I like their conversations so much I almost wish the show wasn’t building towards a larger story, it seems to be moving in that way with relative grace as well. If you skipped out on this one, I’d say it’s definitely worth a second look.
Aside from that, I mostly spent this week watching a whole bunch of K-On!, which suffice it to say I’ve enjoyed a whole lot more the second time around. It’s pretty much wholly an atmosphere-focused work, but it is extremely good at being that. The little repeated jokes basically just create a sense of warmth, the animation and general visual style are absurdly expressive, and the endearing friendship highlights keep it from getting too samey. It’s just a nice little show, and that’s a fine thing to be.