The season’s shows are still jostling at this point, jockeying for position and demonstrating which of their early strengths they can maintain and as-of-yet not quite imploding. Rakugo Shinju and ERASED are the easy top contenders, but beyond that, it’s a mixed field of shows that are either imbalanced, lacking in ambition, or somewhat inconsistent, but all still more or less worth watching. It’s probably not the generally strongest member of this pack, but Grimgar is actually the one I have the highest hopes for. The show’s weaknesses are loud and frustrating and obvious, but its strengths are very unique, and that appeals to me more than something like Dimension W’s straightforward but somewhat flavorless polish. But the overall crop still makes this easily the best season since last spring, so I’d say this is a good place to be. Let’s RUN ‘EM DOWN!
ERASED continues to be just brutally good in its third episode, wiping the floor with most shows through its taut fundamental storytelling and beautiful execution. Though “beautiful” is kind of a weird word for ERASED – the show is cold and dreary and oppressive almost continuously, sharing more in common with Flowers of Evil than most adolescent dramas. ERASED is a thriller about regret and abuse, a heavy work suffused with the throat-catching weight of the February sky. It feels like this work only could have taken place or been released in the dead of winter, but I’m very happy to have it.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju also pulled off a terrific third episode, continuing Yakumo’s apprenticeship as Sukeroku pulled ahead of him and the war tore them apart. While ERASED is so far largely just a well-constructed thriller elevated by fantastic execution, Rakugo is equally satisfying in its aesthetics and its storytelling. Yakumo’s trials here, as he watched himself fall behind in an art form that itself seemed to be dying out, felt intimate and relatable, a very personal trial that also reflected on the uncertainty all artists face. His fellow student inspired him, but also frustrated him, simultaneously pointing out the fun of rakugo and the distance Yakumo still had to go. Concerns regarding the future of rakugo in a time of social distrust, or the way even an initially hated pursuit can become a matter of pride and passion over time, make Rakugo the kind of period piece that still feels very familiar. And the show’s consistent ability to find beautiful stage frames in basically any setting continues to give it a strange and appropriately theatrical tone, like the show itself is a rakugo performance. It’s just a stellar and personality-filled show from top to bottom.
Grimgar continues to be a very unusual thing, a disconnected composite of good and bad that I’m still not really sure what to make of. Its pacing and dialogue feel much more naturalistic than you normally get in anime – the characters are virtually never witty, they’re just sort of feeling out conversations with each other. The scenes of the characters just doing their best to live normal lives in a fairly hostile world are very strong, and the backgrounds remain lovely even if the character animation has dipped significantly from the first two episodes.
The adventure sequences are also quite strong – this week’s fight obviously wasn’t as climactic as last week’s, but its few scenes were just as brutal and ugly and frightening. Grimgar understands what being stuck in a world like this with no experience would actually be like, from the hunger and fear to the boredom and self-doubt. But then all of this interesting slice of life/fantasy stuff has to exist in the same world as Tarou and the consistent butt shots and “those girls are being too alluring,” and it’s a pretty harsh shift. Certain shows can get away with fanservice, but in a show that’s otherwise as understated as Grimgar, it’s a weird disconnect. The show’s still very interesting though, so I’m certainly sticking around.
Perhaps more than anything else, I think it’s that ridiculous Clippy-meets-Miku desktop app that defines the appeal of Active Raid. It’s anime, but it’s anime in a context we can totally understand – these characters live in a ridiculous world, but it might as well be our ridiculous world. There are certainly elements of this show that strain that illusion, with Unit 8’s shadowy antagonists representing one massive, immersion-breaking variable in the world. But aside from that, even sequences like the dancing mecha at the end of this episode felt less like wackiness for its own sake than just a really shitty and improbable element of Amami’s unfortunate day job. I’ve heard people saying they don’t find any of the characters in this show sympathetic, but personally I feel like I’ve been in both Rin and Amami’s positions all the damn time. We’ve all been the person who’s actually dedicated in a group of fuckups, and we’ve all been the person jaded enough to know exactly what must be done to manage a broken system. And Active Raid’s tone isn’t “the system is broken, and I’m going to fix it” – it’s “the system is broken, and so is the coffee maker. We can’t do much about the one thing, but can somebody call a mechanic?”
Dimension W had its expected “Mira joins the family” story this week, which didn’t really make for an engaging episode. Loser is the only potentially interesting member of this cast so far – everyone else is basically just a genre prop, with their personalities and motivations all sticking to very safe archetypal positions. Without sequences that are exciting purely as plot or spectacle, the show doesn’t have much to go on, and so a low-key episode focused on Mira becoming comfortable in her new life doesn’t really play to the show’s strengths. I’d certainly like it if this show’s characters were strong enough to support an episode like this, but they’re not, and so this was a pretty slow twenty minutes.
KonoSuba, on the other hand, managed a second straight week of being that rarest of treasures: a legitimately funny anime comedy. It didn’t have as much rapid-fire humor as the first episode, and felt more like a conventional anime episode overall than something elevated through setpieces like the first week’s delirious montage, but I still laughed every goddamn time those frogs ate Aqua. The combination of slow buildup, Aqua’s personality, the fact that they were frogs, and the wonderful image of her legs sticking straight up out of the frog’s mouth was just very, extremely good. The concept of a demon wizard who can’t settle for being a demon wizard, and must also be a chuunibyou on top of that, is also pretty dang strong. And slapstick is just better in general when it always feels like a punchline on top of a character personality – basically all the members of this cast deserve to get eaten by frogs, and so it’s naturally satisfying when they do. If the show’s going to continue being entertaining, it’ll have to establish a strong rapport between the four leads – but given the first episode was able to create one between its two leads in just fifteen minutes, I’ve got reasonable hopes that won’t be a problem. Konosuba holds strong.
And at the comedy low end, Dagashi Kashi continues to be a show that pretty much demands lowered expectations, but within those expectations, this was a perfectly fine episode. In fact, it might have been my favorite episode of the show so far, mostly because it was the first one that treated Hotaru as a person instead of just a comedy and fanservice faucet. Someone who breaks into long explanations of why candy is great in basically every social situation doesn’t have to be an unbelievable character – I’ve met plenty of people who are super awkward outside of their One Big Interest, and only really feel comfortable in its context. This episode’s Hotaru-space scenes were solid, and so I have at least some reason to hope the show will get more compelling from here.