Anime was good this week! Basically every show I’m watching had a solid episode, and some impressed with legitimate highlights, too. Both Konosuba and Dagashi Kashi have now established their character relationships firmly enough that they can often just coast on audience investment, and ERASED pulled off a real stunner this week, focusing largely on Hinazuki’s feelings for the first time. Grimgar executed a major action sequence with characteristic emotional grace, and Rakugo Shinju continued to be just as great as it always is. This season has a fairly light spread of shows, but you don’t really need catalog depth if the first couple tiers are holding strong. Let’s get right into this week’s highlights and RUN ‘EM DOWN!
This week’s Konosuba was pretty light on the strong jokes front, and was largely carried by a mix of relatability and silly outfits. Not relatability in terms of Kazuma’s actual actions – the dude continues to be a shitbag who kind of drags the whole show down with him, the otaku insert character in a show that’s enjoyable enough to deserve better. But going out to hunt sprites in the snow because you’ve got such pressing loans you can’t afford not to work? Yeah, that’s pretty on point. Beyond that note of sharpness, the gang’s winter outfits and excitement at chasing sprites were very silly and very endearing. Konosuba is undoubtedly a show with a pretty mean sense of humor, but if you remove Kazuma from the equation, it’s also an endearing group of friends. Sometimes it is incredibly frustrating that anime demographics are what they are, and so shows need to include garbage men like this.
It seems like every episode of Rakugo Shinju offers too much stuff to talk about, but that felt even more true than usual this week, as Kiku’s trip and return were condensed into an episode that brought us frighteningly close to the status quo in the present-day story. Kiku and Sukeroku’s friendly, competitive parting here was my personal standout sequence, as the show used all manner of neat dialogue and visual tricks to highlight the contrast between the two. The episode’s early scenes demonstrated the fundamental nature of Sukeroku’s rakugo – his “rakugo of the people” could not survive without an audience, as it feeds off their energy to make itself greater. Sukeroku readily admits he’ll change his rakugo to suit the times, while Kiku must remain the icon of rakugo as it once was and must always be. Sukeroku wants to make the people happy, and is determined not to die a pauper; Kiku wants to be true to himself, and will sacrifice all else to ensure his rakugo continues. The two are an outstanding pair, forming one of the better anime relationships I’ve seen in quite a while.
ERASED pulled off maybe my favorite episode so far this week, as a momentary lull in immediate danger let the show entirely focus on Hinazuki’s personal feelings. Satoru can often feel more like an agent of the plot than a person, but Hinazuki feels real, and her scenes at Satoru’s house this week were the most legitimately affecting material ERASED has pulled off yet. The show has had issues with dramatic tone before, but every scene of this episode’s second half built perfectly towards that quiet moment of catharsis at the kitchen table. I’m not naturally inclined towards thrillers for their own sake, but if you establish characters I care about and then put them through the plot gauntlet, I’m all for it. This episode went a very long way towards ensuring ERASED’s final act will be a conflict worth caring about.
The first half of this week’s Grimgar focused on the party’s “triumphant” attack on the goblin base. But in typical Grimgar fashion, in spite of the upbeat insert song, this was a still a thoughtful and melancholy sequence. I love love loved the focus on the “humanity” of the goblins throughout this episode. The leader of the group that killed Manato wasn’t framed as some brutal monster – instead, it was made clear in every moment that not only were the goblins intelligent beings, but that they also had personalities, fears, likes and dislikes. They’re just as desperate to survive as the humans are, and it’s really the humans that are invading their space, and they that are simply trying to defend it.
The shot of blood across the leader’s chessboard, and the final stinger of the leader being given a quiet memorial moment in the eyecatch, were the climactic images of a raid that became less about getting revenge for Manato than about simply expressing this party’s ability to exist, to work together, and to struggle to survive even if it meant others needed to die. It was a perfectly Grimgar ending to the team’s desire for closure, making their desire for revenge feel more human than righteous, more somber than triumphant.
And of course the second half continued in that vein, being wholly dedicated to visiting Manato one more time and bringing Mary and Haruhiro closer together. I really didn’t expect Grimgar to turn into this sorrowful, visually ambitious, deeply atmospheric meditation on connection and grief, but I’m certainly not complaining. More ostensible genre pieces should turn out to be this weird/good!
Active Raid also had one of its stronger episodes this week, which came down to a combination of this episodic narrative focusing on characters who already had some established personalities and the ways the immediate narrative played off the show’s larger political themes. When you’re telling little vignettes like this, the immediate question is always going to be “why should I care?” Active Raid’s writing and aesthetics aren’t strong enough to sell short stories purely on their own merits, and so the show’s success or failure almost always comes down to whether a given episode can say something meaningful about the characters involved, or offer a compelling new angle on the show’s overall themes. It’s an awkward place to be for the show, but hey, it certainly gives me plenty to critique.
And finally, Dagashi Kashi had another fine episode that was once again light on jokes, but heavy on warm fuzzy moments between Kokonotsu and Saya. Dagashi Kashi is kind of the random beneficiary of low expectations this season – if there were truly top tier slice of life shows or anything resembling a strong romantic comedy, it’d be less notable, but as is it’s pretty much got a lock on a necessary genre space. Not to say the show is bad or anything; it’s just competent and generally safe, and doesn’t happen to be a show that I demand more from than that. The show likes its characters and its characters like each other, and there are enough endearing moments and fragments of genuinely graceful character building that it holds together without a hitch. Dagashi Kashi is a perfectly pleasant experience.
Outside of anime, I also spent some time this week playing through The Beginner’s Guide, a game I’m very happy someone assigned me for the current projects. This one’s the new release by the guy who made the Stanley Parable, and while I found the Stanley Parable cute but not much more, The Beginner’s Guide felt like a fully realized accomplishment. I actually think I liked the game’s first half more than the second – while its final points as a character story certainly landed well, I really enjoyed the way the first half used the game you were playing through to actively explore various quirks of game design. But the game overall was a narrative experience perfectly suited to its medium, and that’s a rare and valuable thing in games. I’ll have a pretty thorough writeup coming soon!
Oh! And I also saw The Witch, which was excellent, and excellent in a way more horror films should strive to be. Though the actual “monster” of The Witch is frightening in all sorts of ways, at most times it felt like the film’s true antagonist was its setting – the harsh, unforgiving landscape of rural, lonely New England. Simply staring at the tall pines while the film’s menacing electronic noises burbled underneath was enough to instill a strong sense of unease, and since the film’s central family are living near the edge of starvation, even their everyday chores had a sense of menace and suffocation. The repeated shots of the father chopping logs always felt like a tense thing – one slip and not only is he permanently maimed, but he won’t be able to fend for his family. The Witch does eventually build to its own horror theatrics (I’d actually have been more satisfied if the film ended a few minutes earlier, implying more than it showed), but it’s a masterwork of setting and atmosphere even outside its genre successes. Movies like this demonstrate how compelling horror can be, and how its genre assumptions don’t have to be a limiting factor on powerful storytelling.