This week in anime wasn’t the best, I’m sad to say. My reliable favorites were reliable-to-great, but… well, there are only two of those. And everything else kinda let me down. I feel like I’ve more or less set myself up for disappointment this season – instead of accepting that it’s a bad season and relying wholly on backlist shows to get me through, I’ve basically just assumed a handful of shows are permanently in “dud episodes” and keep feeling disappointed when they consistently prove their dud episodes are actually just their normal episodes. It’s no way to live, frankly, and I don’t actually know if next season offers any escape – considering how tentative my excitement is for basically everything on my preview list, it seems pretty likely that Monogatari and Iron-Blooded Orphans will be next season’s best shows, too.
But I don’t mean to depress you. Even if this week’s shows were bad (and even when it comes to what I was reviewing for ANN, they were), that doesn’t mean I don’t have stuff to say about ’em. And hey, not every show tripped on its face – in fact, Owarimonogatari pulled off an episode that I’d probably count among the best of the year. So let’s put on a brave face, assume a stiff upper lip, and contort your muscles in any other way you feel appropriate as we RUN ‘EM DOWN.
Starting off right at the top, Owarimonogatari pulled off its second top-tier episode this week, matching the Sodachi confession episode with a conversation between Kanbaru and Shinobu that ranks among the series’ best. This episode was a tremendous celebration of both of these characters; Kanbaru brought her very aggressive personality to bear on a conflict that mirrored her own regrets, and Shinobu was forced to acknowledge the insecurities that always dictate her actions. The two parried and riposted through a debate that worked in both a personal and general thematic sense, and the last few scenes of Shinobu throwing her own doubts at Kanbaru felt like one of the most genuinely intimate moments the show has ever created. These characters are great, this scene was great, this show is great. No matter what else is airing, we are lucky to still have Monogatari.
In contrast, The Perfect Insider jumped the shark as proudly as any show possibly could this week, wholly leaning into both the absurdity of its underlying mystery and the nonsense philosophy expressed by Souhei and Magata. Souhei’s been a very silly man from the very beginning of this series, but my constant hope was that the show realized this, and would eventually push back against his ideals. But this episode treated both his philosophy and Magata’s “solution” as if they were profound truths, and not just ridiculous contrivances of a self-serious but ultimately adolescent narrative. There have been good things all throughout Perfect Insider, but in the end, it seems like the show wasn’t actually a backwards-looking reflection on attitudes like Souhei and Magata’s – it was a present-moment idolization of them, a story as caught up in their meaningless monologues as they were. It’s a damn shame.
Beautiful Bones had yet another one of those episodes that utterly fades from the mind upon conclusion, leaving me legitimately struggling to remember anything that happened. I do remember that it was the start of another multi-part story, and that this will likely be the concluding series. Ah right, there was also a scene where Shoutarou commented on how Sakurako actually seemed committed to this mystery. The teacher was involved, and the female classmate gave them a hint… the evil painter guy! Yeah, the evil painter guy’s also in this one, fedora included. And he… was there another evil painting? No, it was about the three girls who used to be friends, and the two who fought over him. That’s it! Woohoo, go me.
Beautiful Bones is bad.
One Punch Man had another pretty okay I guess episode this week, as Saitama punched his way through a whole shipful of aliens and his Class S companions fought one hella tough alien outside. With none of the emotional/thematic heft of that one great Mumen Rider episode, One Punch Man very easily falls into a ho-hum pattern, broken up only by the occasional bright spots of great animation. There were little hints of ideas about Class S heroes not being great team players or lateral thinkers, but we already knew that; most of this episode was really just a standard shounen battle on the one end, and Saitama’s style of one-joke non-battle on the other.
Saitama basically stands as the antithesis to dramatic storytelling, and none of the heroes involved in the other battle were particularly interesting (guy who punches, guy who pokes, guy who slices, guy who bats), so there just wasn’t much to grab onto here. The brightest spots were the scenes featuring one of the psychics on either side of the battle – both of them had actual personalities, and both of them had powers beyond “hit stuff really hard.” One Punch Man has been an enjoyable enough ride, but unless we’re about to steer into some segment that actually makes the show dramatically interesting, I think one season was just about right for this concept.
Utawarerumono improved from last week’s episode, but still didn’t really approach “good.” There were certainly good things about this episode – I thought the running joke of Kuon and her friends just chilling at the noodle stand through all the drama was solid, and I appreciated the show using one of its silly episodic adventures to actually develop some of the existing characters. But in the end, this was still one of Utawarerumono’s endless episodic adventures, overlong and overly reliant on silly faces and generally just a block of animation that could very easily be skipped. I’m feeling kind of committed to this show at this point, but I really shouldn’t be – there have been far more drop-worthy episodes than good ones, and at this point, even if it shifts to actual storytelling, why should I have any reason to expect it’ll be good at that? I should probably just drop this now and spend that time watching more actually good current project shows.
And in order to end this sad criticism sandwich on a positive note, Iron-Blooded Orphans had another fine episode this week, though it was kind of an odd one. Most of this show’s material feels solidly in the character-drama area I associate with Okada, but occasionally we get stuff like this week’s two major villains, both of whom fell into the “what is this ridiculous character doing in this show” style I associate with stuff like Turn A Gundam. But the villains were really only an antagonistic device, and that was intentional – the leaders of these pirates were a higher force with their own motives using Human Debris as, well, human debris.
Instead of focusing on the level of characters who actually have underlying philosophical disagreements, Iron-Blooded Orphans tends to prioritize the characters several rungs down the chain – the characters who are pitted against each other by circumstance and necessity, tools of larger games. And these characters still want to feel a sense of agency, but they can’t direct their anger at the true sources of their pain – and so they make villains of people stuck in the same position on the opposite side, emphasized in this episode both through the Gjallarhorn tag-on committed to fighting Tekkadan and the Human Debris who swore to get revenge for his comrade. They’re focusing their anger in the wrong directions, but what else can they do?
Well, “Tekkadan” is pretty much the answer the show’s presenting. Tekkadan’s emphasis on family transcends class division, making bonds between Kudelia, the Turbines, and all of Orga’s companions. In response to Akihiro’s doubts, Orga articulates the exact point all these frustrated subordinates need to hear – “your brother didn’t wish to become our enemy, right?” It’s rarely the people forced to pull the trigger who plot to “fix” the world.
Outside of the weekly episodes, I also watched and wrote up the first three episodes of Hyouka this week, which was a goddamn breath of fresh air. Hyouka is gorgeous, Hyouka is carefully constructed, Hyouka is full of nuance and character and grace. The cast is a joy to be around, the writing is understated but sharp, the character animation and shot framing is wonderful, the humor is actually, consistently effective. It’s just a perfect warm breeze of a show, full of riches but also so easy to watch through. I’m really hoping you guys keeping supporting these writeups, because I’m certainly loving my return to Hyouka’s world.
And on the opposite end of what media can achieve, I also watched the entirety of Dragonar Academy, which is a legitimate contender for the worst show I’ve ever seen. There was just nothing good about Dragonar Academy – it failed spectacularly even as a basic light novel power fantasy adaptation, and its failures beyond that in terms of aesthetics and worldview and basically everything else just boggle the mind. Dragonar Academy made me feel sorry for other tentacle porn, which clearly don’t deserve a reputation based on shows as terribly constructed as this one. I’m sorry tentacle porn, I’m sorry light novels have done this to you.