We’re approaching the end of the season, which at this point means we’re also approaching the end of the year. On a seasonal level, this means shows have really stopped pulling out too many surprises – Perfect Insider and One Punch Man demonstrated some welcome strengths over the last few weeks, but even they seem to be settling into a rhythm for the finales. And on an annual level, this means holy crap it’s time to do all that end-of-the-year nonsense! I’ve more or less settled on my top ten shows of the year, and am working my butt off to manage that list, weekly reviews, actual full show reviews, and regular current project articles for all you lovely people. It’s been an extremely busy week on basically all those fronts; I spent a great deal of last week barreling through way too many episodes of Black Lagoon, and this past weekend I also managed to sneak in the excellent When Marnie Was There. All those and many more attractions in this here week in review! Let’s RUN IT ALL DOWN!
This week’s Owarimonogatari was determined to remind everyone this was an Araragi-Kanbaru arc, but as far as Araragi-Kanbaru episodes go, this one was actually pretty consistently funny. When Araragi and Kanbaru are just riffing off each other, they have one of the most equal relationships in Monogatari – unlike his weirdly slanted relationships with Senjougahara and Hanekawa, or his codependent one with Shinobu, he and Kanbaru are actually just really solid friends. They can mock each other, they riff on each other’s jokes, and they have a lot of weirdness in common. This definitely plays into Isin’s tendency to make his characters a little too finish-each-other’s-sentences-ish (wherein it feels like they’re all just speaking in his voice), but in moderation it can work. And it helps when the jokes are as solid as this week’s serious-face roundtable on Kanbaru’s taste in BL. This arc is pretty unlikely to end up as one of my favorites (though arcs like this do have a tendency to end well, like Shinobu Time and Yotsugi Doll), but I’m still enjoying it well enough.
In this week’s Utawarerumono, all the girls had a sleepover to talk about boys and love while Haku fell in the sewer.
That pretty much covers it, honestly. Splitting the story between two alternating narratives did do some work to alleviate the mediocre nature of both sides, and some of the sleepover stuff was pretty endearing, but overall this was another episode that you could have very easily fast-forwarded through and lost nothing of value. This one even leaned further into both straight fanservice and bad anime gags than the previous ones – there were a whole bunch of fujoshi gags, but also a “Haku grabs a girl’s boobs” moment, and even a meeting-a-girl-in-the-bath moment played totally straight. Kind of a big step down from a show that was actually subverting those tropes back in its first and second episodes. Utawarerumono has been pretty bad for a long time now, and honestly it’s really just my assumption that the show will actually start caring about its own narrative again in the second half that keeps me going. If this were a one cours show, I’d have been out of here long ago.
One Punch Man was solid enough, though it couldn’t match last week’s surprising emotional heights. This was more classic OPM, with the show continuing to gain momentum as it introduces characters and accrues narrative density over time. The show’s stopped beating around the bush when it comes to Saitama’s hero status, and so this week we got to see almost all of Class S introduced as the same time, as the team gathered to prepare for some vaguely defined approaching threat. The actual fights with what might be that threat weren’t the series’ best, but it was still nice to see more characters strutting their stuff.
My favorite part of this week was likely just the way the show is really mean to Tornado. Tornado isn’t an interesting character, at least not yet – she’s the classic haughty powerhouse, full of disdain for those she sees as beneath her and very likely to be undone by her own arrogance. But this is OPM, and so instead of treating her with any actual dramatic respect, they kept switching her to a ridiculous art style intended to evoke OPM’s original webcomic art. Making fun of characters through meta aesthetic tricks is a pretty great gag, and Tornado definitely deserves it.
It’s kinda funny to see the mecha fans on my twitter feed constantly sighing about Iron-Blooded Orphans. And I get it, of course – this show’s mecha fights have been brief and vicious and spaced far apart, with basically no epic duels between clever but unevenly matched opponents. But I can’t really sympathize, because instead of being a mecha show, Iron-Blooded Orphans is clearly a me show – one focused entirely on its character relationships, slowly building up a broad cast and contrasting its characters against each other in all sorts of ways.
This was yet another character-focused episode, one that used a series of messages from home as a device to dig into the past and motivation of Atra, Kudelia, and even Akihiro. There were endearing moments with Biscuit and Takaki hearing from their younger sisters, which led into Kudelia essentially being treated as a disobedient pet by her parents. Kudelia hasn’t had the scrabbling childhood of most of her new friends, but she’s consistently been forced to demonstrate her own kinds of strength, and her later scene with Atra was a nice validation of how much both of them have accomplished. This show is about people with tough lives, but it doesn’t glamourize destitution in any direction – they’re not gleeful rebels, and they’re not overwhelmed by circumstances. Things are tough, but that’s just how life is, and so they do what they can to survive and protect what’s important.
The Perfect Insider revealed some pretty key mystery cards this week, and they were, well, about as ridiculous as you’d expect. It turns out Magata’s murder was an inside job – that is, the murderer was inside her when she entered the room. Magata was pregnant, and so now either she’s been killed by her daughter or she killed her daughter and used her as a stand-in. Neither would surprise me, frankly – the mystery in this show started with multiple personalities and AI-uploading and only got more silly from there, so it’s clearly not something the show itself cares too much about. This episode was fun enough as a series of deductions and reveals, though – the show can’t abandon its mystery entirely in favor of its character stuff, so it might as well compress it all into this one episode. Next episode is apparently when Souhei will reveal the magician’s trick, but I’m more interested in seeing where the pieces fall as far as the comparisons between Moe and Magata go. Is digital Magata going to become the third member of their crime-fighting brigade? I don’t see any reason why not!
And as a weird contrast to Perfect Insider’s silliness, Beautiful Bones actually pulled out a totally dignified and successful episode this week. There was barely any mystery at all here – instead, the main question being answered was “why do we lie to the people we love.” There were nice, thoughtful conversations between the main characters, some light bits of deduction that played into solidly established backstories, and even some legitimately noteworthy messages about family and sacrifice. This week’s Beautiful Bones was concise and thematically elegant and tonally strong, an unexpected but very welcome reward. It turns out that both of this season’s mysteries are at their best when they pretty much drop the “mystery” thing entirely.
Beyond the weekly attractions, I also burned through a whole pile of Black Lagoon this week for a recent ANN review. That was… fine? My second attempt at the show didn’t radically change my impressions of it – it still felt mostly like a very silly ultraviolence show, and I’m still not really into ultraviolence for its own sake. It’s interesting to compare my feelings on Black Lagoon to my relatively warmer feelings towards stuff like Symphogear or JoJo. Beyond the simple fact that JoJo and Symphogear tend to have more entertaining fights than Black Lagoon (JoJo because they’re set up like puzzles and more visually interesting, Symphogear because they’re more over the top and more visually interesting), I think there’s some fundamental tonal stuff that just makes me way more into those scenes.
First, there’s a general dourness to even the battling in Black Lagoon that doesn’t appeal to me – I vastly prefer the flamboyant, gleeful excitement of those other shows, as well as their general positivity. And beyond that, I also think that if a show’s going to be focused on action, it either has to nail its storytelling or embrace its absurdity. Black Lagoon splits the difference here – it wants to be taken seriously, but it’s not written well enough to manage that. In contrast, JoJo and Symphogear just accept silliness, but are generally positive and loving towards their characters, meaning they can occasionally get away with emotional beats too. But clearly a lot of this comes down to what people want in their fiction.
I also watched When Marnie Was There, which was less why-we-like-media interesting than just really good in general. The film wasn’t one of my Ghibli favorites, but it felt like a proper capstone to the studio’s output, and also featured some unexpectedly sharp scenes depicting the everyday nature of anxiety. It’s a strong film, and I definitely recommend it.