One more week of anime has come and gone, meaning it’s time once more to sift through the embers and see what riches have been left behind. This was another reasonable week of anime in what is turning out to be a reliable but not particularly dramatic season. The only top tier show I’m watching is Owarimonogatari, and that’s been a known product for years – aside from that, it’s really just One Punch Man as the production powerhouse and Iron-Blooded Orphans as the stable narrative. If things continue at this pace, it’s looking like my top ten shows of the year will be 80% consumed by the year’s first two seasons – not exactly the most impressive finish to a year that started off coasting from Shirobako into Oregairu S2 and Euphonium.
That said, there’s still plenty to talk about in what shows we have left. And I’ve also heard Concrete Revolutio has been doing some noteworthy things – I wish I had a bit more love for pop art, but if you’re less put off by the aesthetic than I am, it’s probably worth a look. There’s always something worth talking about out there, so let’s take a break from the naysaying and run down some fresh new cartoons!
One Punch Man pulled itself together this week with an episode that both exemplified the show’s existing strengths and pointed to some possible ways forward. On the classic OPM formula side, the mock battle between Saitama and Genos this week was one of the best fights in the show to date – likely better than anything outside of Saitama’s final fight from the first episode, and on par with that one. Genos’ design and powers make fights centered on him significantly more compelling than Saitama’s binary battles, and both the animation and framing of this one were top notch. One Punch Man will remain watchable no matter what as long as it keeps throwing out fights like this.
Fortunately, sweet fights might no longer be the only thing the show has going for it. One Punch Man has basically run out of jokes, but it seems like there might finally be something resembling an ongoing conflict, and even some legitimate social commentary. Hero exams are always fun, but the introduction of the hero association here both gives the story somewhere to go and reflects on the disaffected youth issues the show has been gesturing towards in brief moments all along. Saitama is being judged according to arbitrary elders with petty grudges and goals of their own. He’s phenomenal, but the system is very rigid in how it evaluates people, and so he ends up getting a C in a hierarchy he’s not even sure represents what he wants to do. It’s difficult to make Saitama’s story emotionally compelling as a direct set of challenges (since he’s the friggin’ One Punch Man), but as a meditation on finding yourself in an adult world that lacks the satisfaction or security you were promised, it works. I’m interested in seeing where they carry that line.
This week’s Utawarerumono felt very, well, videogame-adaptation-y, as it introduced two more members of the “party” through an almost harem-styled walk around the town. This time, Haku found himself running into Atui, a runaway girl who to no one’s surprise ended up being some kind of princess. The whole “Atui wants to find love outside the castle” plot was pretty contrived, but Atui herself seems like a fair enough character – she’s got an even more immediate sense of snark than Kuon, and enough personality to avoid falling into the archetypal trap of whatsherface fujoshi girl. The stuff about Haku being established as the secret “Righteous Man” also felt like the show was condensing a bunch of everyday sequences from the source material, which I’m actually fine with. There will be elements of an adaptation like this that feel awkward in translation, and the whole “building a party/harem” thing is pretty naturally contrived, but I’m guessing that feeling will fade as we get into the meat of the narrative. My main worry now is that this broad cast really will just be “Haku, Kuon, and The Gang,” a bunch of people who just offer commentary and flavor without branching out and complicating the narrative in their own ways. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Iron-Blooded Orphans was as consistent as ever this week, barreling forward into a low-orbit battle that combined Coral’s scheming, Beerbelly Hitler’s betrayal, and Fareed putting together the pieces of all the small conflicts going on here. There’s barely a wasted moment in this show – every episode moves quickly and with purpose, and even the battles all arise from clear necessity, making every clash feel significant. It’s basically the opposite of One Punch Man in that regard – whereas OPM is basically meaningless beauty incarnate, Iron-Blooded Orphans is bare, robust storytelling making fight scenes land with impact regardless of their execution. This episode disposed of two early antagonists at the same time, and still worked moment-to-moment as a fun articulation of Tekkadan’s team all working together. The show hammers on Orga’s crazy grins, but they make sense – he knows his team is barely scraping by and can’t back down, and so he embraces the forward momentum that demands. His confidence, like the overall show’s, is deeply infectious.
On the opposite end of the consistency scale, The Perfect Insider ended up fumbling pretty seriously this time, as the show rambled further than ever before into hack mystery territory. The mystery side of this show has always been less interesting than the main characters and the strange link between Moe and Magata, but by tying both the nature of the mystery and the explanation for Magata’s past into her having multiple personalities, the show has made her much more of a standard device than the potentially interesting person she was before. Additionally, it sometimes felt like Moe was adopting a bit of Souhei’s nonsense philosophy patter here, making it seem more like Souhei’s voice is actually the voice of the show. But there were still good bits (particularly all the stuff relevant to Moe and Magata’s past), and this is still shaping up to be an interesting-enough locked room mystery. It’s looking like Perfect Insider is going to aim for a bit lower heights than I might have hoped, but it can still turn out all right.
On the other hand, Beautiful Bones pulled off a legitimately successful episode, largely because it wasn’t limited by trying to fit an entire mystery narrative into twenty minutes. Because this is a two-parter, the show was able to both fill out mystery variables and build on the protagonists’ personalities through long conversations where not every line had to move the plot forward. This meant both Shouhei and Sakurako came off as more fully realized people than they usually do, and also meant the show was able to establish a creepy sense of atmosphere without banging us over the head with corpses. This was a welcome turn for Beautiful Bones, and I hope it signals a more confident stretch of episodes ahead.
And then there was Owarimonogatari, which felt like a series of heavy, determined punches to the stomach (in a good way). Oikura finally got to tell her own story, and unlike characters like Senjougahara or Hanekawa, the pain of her experience was clear in every word and gesture. This episode felt like both a return to the show’s Bakemonogatari roots (in its direct telling of an entirely new character’s story), and a culmination of everything that’s come before (in the way Hanekawa and Araragi both drew on their own experiences to try and comfort Oikura). The exchange between all three of them on the nature of happiness was one of my favorite conversations in the show to date, up there with Kaiki’s mirror debate from Hitagi End. The gestures of solidarity expressed by Araragi and Hanekawa, the ways they made it clear how completely they understand unhappiness, go double for the show itself. Monogatari is a painfully human show, and this was Monogatari at its best.
Finally, on the backlog end, I spent much of this week powering through twenty-some episodes of K-On!!, and have emerged a better man for the experience. Seriously, K-On!! is just really super good – the first season was already a fairly strong and beautifully executed comedy, and the second season leans far more consistently into the show’s strengths. Instead of covering two years in a dozen episodes, this season covers one year in double that, meaning single episodes will encompass themes as complex as “Yui got her clothes wet” or “it’s hot out.” And somehow the show spins each of these tiny ideas into rambling but wonderfully constructed vignettes, building countless in-jokes, bouncing all of the characters off each other, and occasionally leaning entirely into its warm and fully lived-in sense of atmosphere.
There are goofy episodes and endearing episodes and episodes laced with familial melancholy, and the characters grow together across a million tiny moments. I’m nearing the end of the show now, and it’s still surprising me with new elements of comic and emotional reach – one episode in particular, the group’s performance at their final school festival, I’d count among the most emotionally satisfying and perfectly executed twenty minutes of anime I’ve seen. There’s a vitality to this show born of an incredible dedication to realizing the moment-to-moment humanity of its characters and world, clear in every well-framed shot and carefully animated shrug. K-On!! is very good at what it does.