It’s that time again! We had a reasonable crop of episodes this week, with four out of my six active series offering solid episodes, and one of the last two never promising to offer a single solid episode in the first place. I think at this point it’s safe to say Iron-Blooded Orphans is the breakout star of the season – it’s not the flashiest show, but it’s just absolutely solid in everything it does, full of strong characters and well-chosen dramatic turns and plenty of threads I’m excited to see through. Other shows are more tentative, but still enjoyable so far – in particular, I feel like it’d be easy for either The Perfect Insider or Utawarerumono to fall apart, but I’m still having a fine time with them so far. And One Punch Man is starting to wear out its single joke, but I’ve heard the original series picks up from here out, so I’m hopeful this is just a temporary lull. Overall, this isn’t the flashiest season, and certainly can’t compare to the year’s stellar first half, but I’ve got enough that I’m enjoying that I can’t really complain. But that’s enough news in brief, let’s get to it and RUN ‘EM DOWN!
Iron-Blooded Orphans once again followed up a heavier episode with a lighter one, setting most of the pieces in place for the attempted journey to Earth. I’m still feeling impressed by how well this show is using its very broad cast; basically everyone in this story feels both necessary to the narrative and like they contribute something unique character-wise. The relationship between Mikazuki and Kudelia got some nice elaboration this week, with Mikazuki’s gesture of thanks to Kudelia acting as one more articulation of the way his specific type of pride guides his actions. Kudelia keeps getting caught up in the distant philosophy of her power and significance, but Mikazuki keeps things grounded – her decision to hire his comrades has resulted in tangible benefits for the people he cares about, and so he wants to thank her as an equal. Their relationship is a constant ambiguous negotiation, with both their relative power and the degree of respect they afford each other resulting in all sorts of bumps in the road.
Speaking of bumps in the road, this episode also gave us a strong reminder that Mikazuki is an extremely dangerous person. He didn’t fly into an uncontrollable rage when he thought Biscuit’s sisters were hurt – it was more like Orga’s declaration from last week, a matter-of-fact “he is going to kill this man.” I’m really enjoying the thread of McGillis Fareed and his brother-to-be, whose slow piecing together of what’s really going on is offering a surprisingly compelling counterpoint to the main cast. In fact, it’s really only the simpering not-Hitler dude who’s failing to sell his narrative (“I’ll show you how terrifying adults can be!” alright buddy), and I’m pretty sure his story will be ending in an episode or two. Outside of that, Iron-Blooded Orphans remains strong.
We had a pretty fun confrontation in Owarimonogatari this week, with Hanekawa once again demonstrating she’s basically the only member of this cast with a good head on her shoulders. The first Araragi-Ougi conversation here managed to keep things fresh by doubling down on Ougi’s villainous nature – instead of the vaguely mocking leading-him-by-the-nose of the last arc, here she was framed like in Ougi Formula, physically bullying him or whispering to him like a devil on his shoulder. The show very successfully created a sense of menace in her offering to go with him to Oikura – you got the feeling that even though there weren’t any specifics, this would be a turning point in Ougi’s control of the situation.
And then Hanekawa arrived and smashed that all to pieces. Hanekawa wasn’t really at her most in-control in this situation (she felt much more confident in her Hitagi End conversations with Kaiki, for example), but that could likely come down to a combination of Ougi being much more unknowable than Kaiki and this just being an earlier, less self-assured Hanekawa. The show’s manipulation of the timeline is beginning to make things a little tricky to parse – we’re currently a little ways after Tsubasa Tiger, but prior to when things with Nadeko get really serious, so this is apparently still just “mature relative to the rest of the cast” Hanekawa, not “self-actualized success story of the Monogatari formula” Hanekawa. Fortunately she’s still aware enough to know Ougi’s clearly no good.
Beautiful Bones remained pretty much crap this week, with this episode’s attempt at an emotionally charged story falling flat because of, well, basically everything. Beautiful Bones is a series of poorly conceived mysteries starring a combination of characters we have no attachment to and characters who are so poorly written that we can’t feel attached to them. It also doesn’t even look good, meaning it’s quite a struggle to come up with anything good to say about the show. Plus it’s not even bad in a funny way – it’s just really tedious. Not much to say.
There’s also not much to say about One Punch Man, either. At this point, for better or for worse, the show has gotten into a rhythm – trot out a few of its usual jokes, have Saitama make aggrieved expressions at anyone taking superhero stuff seriously, and then sprinkle in a few gorgeous animation setpieces as payment for our trouble. I’m beginning to think I have the same problem with this show that I did with Space Dandy – yeah a lot of this stuff is beautiful (although the default aesthetic notsomuch), but what am I actually supposed to care about here? The humor’s getting too samey to carry the sequences in between the big action spectacles, and even big action spectacles are far more satisfying if they’re tied to something more than self-conscious gags. This episode’s ending pointed to “youth ennui in a decaying society” as a potential theme, and next week’s field trip to the hero DMV promises to be pretty entertaining, but One Punch Man is going to have to demonstrate it has more going on if it wants to be treated as any more than an occasionally diverting spectacle.
Fortunately, The Perfect Insider has yet to fall apart. It’s navigating a tricky line, though – the show rides on the nuance of very prickly characters, and its subdued aesthetics mean it has to be consistently precise in its shot framing to come off as beautiful. But so far the show is managing it; its characters are compelling even though they’re not traditionally likable (aside from Moe), and it hasn’t yet had to rely on pure mystery appeal. If it does shift to pure mystery, and pin its hooks on “how did this all come about,” things could easily fall to pieces – but so far it’s consistently used its mystery elements to either create a sense of atmosphere or highlight information about the characters, which is a much more effective allocation of resources. And that comes down to more than my own story preferences – if you can tell a compelling mystery where your mystery touchstones also say things about the characters or ideas, you’ll have a far more fully realized story than one where the only appeal is figuring out the magic trick.
Finally, this week’s Utawarerumono saw our heroes arriving at the imperial city and running into Nekone, Ukon’s sister. This wasn’t the most gripping episode, but it demonstrated some pretty efficient storytelling all around, and brought the cast closer together. The main conflict of this episode was Nekone learning to take things a bit more easily, but that was rarely foregrounded – instead, the episode just let her bounce off both Haku and Kuon, learning from each of them as the narrative moved towards the initial pair finding stable employment. I think my favorite thing about this episode was how naturally Haku’s personality grated on Nekone – he’s got a combination of easygoing ignorance and general curiosity that understandably frustrates a high-strung girl who’s spent her life cramming to become a scholar. Haku isn’t bound by any assumptions about the world, and doesn’t have enough ego to mind looking like a fool, which makes his lateral problem solving and easy ability to make friends come across as natural results of his personality. Rurutie’s turning out to be nothing more than a gag character, but Haku and Kuon remain the sturdy pillars keeping this show compelling.
Oh wait, I also finally got to the last episode of Blood Blockade Battlefront this week, which was… well, I guess there’s no way to cushion the intent of “huge disappointment,” so I’m just gonna go with that. I figured this episode’s double length would let it convey something truly grand, but it turned out to just be an incredibly stretched out version of an very overplayed ending – that classic “shounen hero runs to the finish line, being hi-fived by all the friends he’s made along the way.” The whole family parallel the show had been developing between Black/White and Leo/Libra amounted to basically nothing (wait, this show is suddenly about the power of an ordinary boy?), and almost none of the cast actually got to do anything. The episode felt simultaneously busily self-involved (in its dumping of Black-related info and constant ominous one-liners) and totally empty (in its pacing, and in the events that actually took place). BBB’s second half was pretty shaky in general, but it’s a shame it had to end on a sour note.