I hate to say it, but this was not a good week in anime. Everything beyond Rakugo Shinju and ERASED has been kinda iffy this season, but this week, not only did ERASED put out its worst episode by far, but both Dimension W and KonoSuba were so bad that I’m probably dropping them until further notice. I was already sort of on the edge with both of those shows, and it honestly wouldn’t take that much to convince me to give KonoSuba another episode, but when half the shows you’re watching disappoint you, it’s not a good scene. ERASED in particular was a real disappointment – the show’s existing issues of overselling dramatic peaks and just being too much of a boilerplate thriller took over entirely this week, leaving me with an episode that felt more silly than dramatically effective. But that said, there were also highlights to make up the difference, and I can always use the time saved to work on more Current Projects! Let’s start at the top and RUN ‘EM DOWN.
Getting one piece of bad news out of the way early, I reaaally struggled to get to the end of this week’s Dimension W. It opened with goth loli girl joining Mira in the rape imagery “fun” and pretty much went downhill from there. The actual plot of this murder mystery only got more and more ridiculous as it neared the end, culminating in a flashback sequence to the coil’s activation that was almost breathtaking in its badness. The mystery writer’s motivation involved a woman who was almost sexually assaulted (surprise surprise), accidentally killed her attacker, and then offed herself with the classic “slips on a muddy path and falls down a ravine” trick. And then, as if just to grind in the “YOU DID THIS” maudlin bullshit of this whole affair, the mystery writer ends up seeing her body actually clutching the coil itself as floodwaters rise to kill his friends. It was tone-deaf narrative choice after awful line of dialogue after dramatically vacuous action sequence, just a rolling cascade of miserable storytelling. I was on the fence with Dimension W already, and even if this terrible arc is over, I can’t really trust it’s going to get much better than this.
Fortunately, as Dimension W fell, Grimgar rose even higher to make up for it. I’d been pretty much expecting the aftermath of Manato’s death to be more affecting than the actual event – this director is a little shaky when it comes to the outright drama, but nails the repetitive, everyday material, and grieving is nothing if not continuous. And that proved very true in this episode, an episode where even the dialogue stepped up as the various members of the team shrank into themselves in their attempts to come to terms with Manato’s absence.
The cast has spent enough time gaining texture that these anguished scenes of pointless infighting or stressing over what they can do now felt emotionally earned, and the climactic scene between Haru and Yume was a tremendously cathartic highlight, as the floodgates of Haru’s feelings finally gave way. Grimgar’s animation isn’t just “strong,” it has very clear personality – the characters are expressive in ways that always make them feel like individuals. And who would have guessed a fantasy RPG light novel show would spend an episode and a half focused on the various expressions of grief, and how loss can drive a wedge between those left behind? There are still awkward loose ends running up and down this show, but its strengths are really something.
Rakugo Shinju also impressed even more than usual this week, with an episode that split the difference between Kikuhiko continuing to be frustrated at Sukeroku’s seemingly effortless talent, and Kikuhiko finally blooming as a performer for the very first time. The scenes between Kikuhiko and Miyokichi were an early highlight; Rakugo Shinju is excellent at framing scenes such that intimacy is clearly established through shot framing and body language, and in a relationship with the generally taciturn Kikuhiko, it’s this direction that does most of the talking. After years of practice, Kikuhiko stills feels his rakugo is simply formally correct – there’s no fluidity and passion in it, and his scenes with Miyokichi sharply reflect the self-hatred this inspires.
But then in the second half, an unwanted play performance finally gives the self-doubting performer a chance to shine. Given an entirely new style of performance and an audience with a vested interest in his actions, Kikuhiko is able to let go of his normal anxieties about doing things right, and lean into his practice while actually expressing himself on stage. It’s a brilliant release after so many episodes of anxious tension, and a great reflection of how important each of these two men are to each other. The strength of Rakugo’s character work and its evocation of performances came together this week, finally granting Kikuhiko the satisfaction he deserved.
Active Raid continued to be The Show That It Is this week, mixing a fairly bland episodic conflict with some reasonably compelling worldbuilding details. I feel like poker is one of those classic devices that writers always think will inspire a compelling conflict, but almost never does. In order to make gambling exciting in fiction, you need to either go deep on creating a parsable set of rules and stakes for the audience to legitimately invest in, or keep it simple and go for total flare, like in JoJo. Active Raid took the most common route, which is to make basically every hand the best hand in the world and frame those hands as some kind of battle of wits between the two contenders. But I don’t really see how this approach is supposed to work – it doesn’t make poker more understandable to people who don’t understand poker, and to people who have played any poker, it just looks ridiculous. I liked the ways the context of poker in this world reflected on how people come to peace with society, but the actual poker match was just a series of things that happened.
I feel a little bad dropping KonoSuba here, because in truth, this episode wasn’t nearly as bad as the last one. There were a fair number of gags that demonstrated an actual understanding of comedy, from the execution of the opening’s “I have a new skill!” anticlimax through the great incidental sound effects as Megumin continuously collapsed, all the way to Dullahan’s mixture of petty anger and alarm at dealing with the show’s very stupid party. But the show just isn’t finding enough new jokes, and its characters aren’t getting any more funny or engaging, and Darkness continues to be terrible. On top of that, while the first couple episodes gave me the impression that all of the party members would be equal idiots in this production, lately it’s been much more common that MC-kun has just been the straight man offering mean-spirited commentary on the other characters. I don’t want an unlikable self-insert character in a show like this – I want an equally endearing crew of fools. Couple that with the very inconsistent laughs, and I think it’s time for me and KonoSuba to part ways.
And as if to rub in its comedy victory, Dagashi Kashi had another fine episode, one that presented fewer direct laughs, but plenty of endearing moments between likable characters. Dagashi Kashi has a fundamentally sturdier platform than KonoSuba – it isn’t just a vehicle for gags, its characters actually feel somewhat like people worth caring about. Because of that, the show can just spend half an episode with the cast durdling around and enjoying each other’s company and it’s actually a very refreshing time. In contrast, characters like Darkness or MC-kun don’t really feel like people who could carry an actual conversation – they’re just vehicles for their Character Attribute, which is a much weaker place to be. And Dagashi Kashi actually is varying its jokes up on top of that, so the comparison just gets harsher and harsher. Comedies about terrible people can work, but if you’re not leaning on fundamental chemistry or likable characters to bolster your appeal, your jokes better not slip up.
And finally, ERASED suffered its first real stumble this week, in an episode that was basically all busy plot with no aesthetic elevation to support it. When ERASED isn’t being made great by fantastic direction and sound design, it’s just another thriller, and one that can easily get caught up in its own questionable love of cliffhangers and plot twists. When you couple this with the show’s regular tendency to overreach and try to sell dramatic moments as DRAMATIC MOMENTS, you can arrive at some real dicey terrain. This week was basically all that, with a combination of too-giddy direction in the first half and too-flat direction in the second making this a pretty disappointing episode all around. But this and next week’s episodes are actually outsourced, so hopefully the show will return to its strengths in a couple weeks.