This week in anime was really good! Super good, in fact! It wasn’t just held up by one or two shows – almost every show I’m watching (aside from Beautiful Bones, but that doesn’t really count) either held strong or pulled off one of its best episodes, and a bunch of these episodes even demonstrated strengths their shows hadn’t previously exhibited. The Perfect Insider was full of strong character moments, Owarimonogatari returned to the beautiful art designs of arcs long past, and One Punch Man succeeded not just as an animation showcase, but as an emotional drama. I’ve got all sorts of good things to say about these episodes, so let’s get right to it and RUN ‘EM DOWN!
Owarimonogatari’s Shinobu Mail pulled off its first consistently great episode this week, riding on a combination of Gaen’s strong personality and some of the best visual sequences of the show to date. This episode’s visual tricks were as diverse as they were compelling, combining classic tricks of Monogatari architecture like the spiral shots of Shinobu and Gaen with all sorts of variations on the painted and cut-paper styles of Shinobu Time and Suruga Devil. One particular shot of a traditionally painted samurai falling past felt paper mountains was probably one of the most beautiful designs in any arc. I actually feel somewhat tempted to put together a “ten best Monogatari visual tricks” list or something, because it’s really remarkable how many phases and experiments the show’s spun through.
Oh, and the story was also pretty good. Gaen’s words here were unsurprisingly relevant to many of the character arcs so far, and I’m really enjoying how Monogatari is managing to create a sense of thematic progression in spite of jumping haphazardly between points on its timeline. Nonlinear storytelling is a tough trick to pull off, particularly across as broad a media time frame as a long-running anime, but I think Monogatari is doing a fine job of it.
The Perfect Insider also came out strong, managing to pull off the seemingly impossible – make Souhei a reasonably likable character. Souhei’s philosophical pretensions will never be more than indulgent flimflam, but his relationship with Moe has gained some solid context over these past two episodes. It makes sense that he’d treat her lightly but stick around – he probably sees himself as something close to her older brother, a family member who’s destined to always maintain a specific distance from her. In spite of what anime might have you believe, most sibling relationships aren’t secretly brimming with romantic tension, and many of their exchanges so far make a lot more sense given what we now know. This week’s episode illustrated the awkward but friendly distance between the two of them through some really nicely understated conversations, offering plenty of rewards even as it failed to progress the actual mystery. It’s looking like Perfect Insider might come together after all.
Beautiful Bones had another episode somehow, but that’s about all that can be said on that topic. There were baby bones and weird toes involved, I think. Oh, and also some dead cats. So, uh, there’s that I guess.
And even One Punch Man performed way above expectations, offering what I’d easily consider the best episode of the show to date. This episode was full of beautiful dynamic fight scenes and diverse art flourishes, but that’s something I’ve come to expect from the show. Still, it shouldn’t be discounted – this show is regularly beautiful, and this was one of its most consistently beautiful episodes. But beyond that, this episode was also far and away the most emotionally and thematically satisfying of the show so far.
A whole bunch of that came down to Mumen Rider. Instead of his class C weakness being played as a joke, or as something he’s just totally oblivious to, it was clear immediately that he knew very well his own weakness. Focusing on an incredibly overpowered character has offered its share of jokes, but here on the other side, Mumen Rider bitterly saying “no one expects much from me. I know that more than anyone. I’m not good enough for class B” was easily the show’s strongest bit of both personal storytelling and social commentary to date. It doesn’t matter how hard the guy tries, he’ll always be a dude on a bicycle rushing to complete his hero quota, barred by random circumstance from ever truly excelling in the one thing he’s chosen to do. Mumen Rider’s material this week was in my opinion the first truly great segment of this show on any level outside of pure animation.
And then, apparently determined to trump basically all my expectations, this episode also managed to wring a whole bunch of pathos out Saitama as well. Saitama only cares about how strong people are if that impacts his own ability to find satisfaction in his life – when he arrived at the scene of the battle, he was as impressed by Mumen Rider’s efforts as he would have been by any stronger man. And even though the “dark knight” trick is a pretty standard one, I could definitely believe in Saitama’s disdain for the people who only respect heroes when they’ve feel they’ve “worked hard enough to earn it.” Hard work, results, and recognition are three separate things, and standing firmly on the heroes’ side, Saitama could just as easily be recognizing the earnest effort of any salary worker who never gets a parade for their daily trials.
The episode’s final sequences brought the two of them back together in a wonderful series of tiny scenes. Saitama getting his one positive letter, the two of them sharing a meal after a long day of work, and the flashback to Saitama making small talk about the everyday trials of class C heroism all did great work to humanize both these characters specifically and the world they inhabit. If the show can keep up these small human moments while also continuing to excel on the visual front, it might actually take a spot as one of my favorites of the year.
But no week can be all good news, unfortunately, and this week Utawarerumono bit the bad episode bullet. The show’s been muddling around in bad episodes for a while now, and this one followed the usual trend – a couple random characters showed up, caused about twelve minutes worth of meaningless conflict, and then wandered off again. Apparently at least one of these characters is someone I’m supposed to know from the first series, but that doesn’t really do me much good, and I doubt that knowledge would have made this episode’s actual non-content more interesting. The good material here was condensed into bits and pieces at the fringes – Kuon getting to act like the immature and very entertaining protagonist she is, and Kuon and Haku sharing some good couple moments. The two of them bickering over proper dinner table sign language was excellent, as was the episode’s later implication that Haku could pretty much naturally guess exactly how Kuon would spend a day off. Rewards are sparse in these episodic adventure doldrums, but hopefully these two will carry us through to more interesting material.
Finally, Iron-Blooded Orphans was as reliable as ever, finishing up Tekkadan’s merger into Teiwaz with an episode featuring reflections on what the organization means to all of its characters, and how they envision themselves moving forward. As usual, Orga got a great deal of the core focus this episode, as his meetings with Naze and the Teiwaz patriarch ended up teaching him more about what it means to be a leader. Mikazuki’s presence has taught Orga to always maintain a visage of strength, but a leader needs to be more than strong and determined – he also has to be approachable and kind. As Naze’s second in command said, “the greatness of a man is measured by the amount of his love.” Orga’s love was clearly on display this week, as he navigated negotiations and threw parties all with an eye towards preserving and cherishing his family. And his perspective inspired confidence in those who follow him, with even Akihiro describing their union ceremony as a “great moment for the family.” With nice beats scattered throughout for Mikazuki and Kudelia as well, this episode represented one more solid link in a show that’s coming to define consistency.
Outside of airing shows, I also watched the first few episodes of Casshern Sins for my reader-funded projects. They were quite good! The show is clearly going for a specific style of heightened, sorta mythic storytelling, but the second episode in particular nicely counterbalanced the distance of that approach with some engaging personal stories. And the show is just friggin’ beautiful as well, which helps a lot – you’d think it’d be tricky to find beauty in a world that’s all crumbled to dust, but Casshern Sins makes it look easy, and that aesthetic feeds directly into the show’s themes as well. It’s an enjoyable experience so far, and I hope people keep supporting it.