Anime stayed pretty respectable this week, offering up reasonable episodes all around. It seems like Rakugo’s going to the only show I can call truly great by the end of this season, though. ERASED just has too many moments where its thriller mechanics drag down its more compelling variables, and though Grimgar is quite interesting and unique, it’s also a very uneven production. The season’s second tier is also somewhat questionable; Konosuba and Dagashi Kashi both regularly gesture towards jokes that don’t work in the slightest, and Active Raid is pretty much just an average crime procedural. The season has managed to hold together to the point where I’m not actively disappointed, but I’m still very ready for the much richer spring season to begin.
That said, at least Rakugo continues to knock it out of the park every week. So let’s start right there as we run ’em down!
Ahhhh jesus christ this week’s Rakugo holy shit. What can I even say? This was without a doubt the most beautiful episode of any show this season, consistently blooming in visual delights as it detailed the breakdown of Kiku and Sukeroku’s makeshift family. The casting out of both Sukeroku and Miyokichi was elevated to the stage of grand drama through gorgeous full compositions and constant new tricks of visual invention, instilling their very earned tragedy with the theatrical weight it deserved. This week’s episode was essentially just a continuation of the force that’s been rolling downhill all along, gathering speed and inevitability as it dragged all of Rakugo’s players into the unhappy roles they’re forced to play. Like so many great tragedies, Rakugo feels like a sorrow that was destined from the start, a reflection of the tortured beauty of life. We don’t get many episodes this beautiful, and each one is worth celebrating.
Active Raid pulled off another fine episode this week, even in spite of actively diving into the Logos-centric nonsense that always seems to undermine this show’s more serious aspirations. Active Raid is often an awkward mix of silliness and political machinations, but this episode struck a good balance. Most of the conflicts Unit 8 directly faced were pragmatic ones, based in the necessities of bureaucracy and prompted by their desire to actually create a better government. In contrast, their “opponent” here was pretty much an actual child, the kind of teenage terrorist you’d expect would make up the lower ranks of a group like Logos. And on top of that, this was a Rin episode, and Rin is easily the show’s best character. Not only is she a driven, competent person who nonetheless integrates well into her screwed-up organization, but she’s also pretty much the one character who’s central to Active Raid’s larger political dramas. Giving Rin a chance to kick ass in a very cool Willwear was great, everything else about the episode was solid, this one counts as a clear win for Active Raid.
This week’s Grimgar was as slow and somber as ever, another cooldown episode after the goblin raid from last week. Grimgar’s funding situation apparently necessitates the show’s long, almost music video-esque segments dedicated to highlighting the soundtrack, but if any show can make that work, it’s Grimgar. It’s rewarding just seeing this show’s city throughout the stages of the day, and the relationship between Haruhiro and Mary is still coming along pretty nicely. This obviously wasn’t a highlight episode, but Grimgar’s an episode with pretty strange and specific priorities, and I think this moment of rest did what it was supposed to do.
ERASED had another technically impressive episode this week, though it certainly couldn’t match the emotional highs of last week’s Hinazuki one. In fact, this episode seemed like it may actually be the end of Hinazuki’s involvement in the plot, which would be a serious shame – Hinazuki’s situation is easily the most emotionally resonant component of this story, and without her, it’s kinda just another thriller. The thriller-ness also has other consequences throughout, like the way the show intentionally makes us doubt our ability to trust most of the secondary characters. Yeah, that works for the “trust versus suspicion” community theme, but in investment terms, it means it’s much harder to feel engaged with moments like the one where Satoru and his teacher share some candy in the car. Is that candy supposed to be a symbol of him being a child murderer, or just a weird quirk? If this were a different show, that moment would come across as charming – in this one, it feels like it’s necessarily A Clue, something with far less emotional resonance. I know some people like this kind of storytelling, but I can’t help feeling like it directly works against emotional investment.
This week’s Konosuba felt like it’d be the second half of a two-parter if this were a show that actually cared about its own story. It opened up with a flashback introducing us to an entirely new character, and ended in a story that basically relied on the context of the skipped introduction to that character. So I assume this was Konosuba’s extremely graceless way of skipping one of the stories from the light novels? Either way, that was likely the most notable thing about this episode – while the show has some occasional good comic ideas or inspired segments, this segment didn’t really feature any of them. Kazuma and Megumin bickering about who gets to pee while running away from creepy dolls was pretty nice, but outside of those weirdly endearing moments, most of this episode was simplistic gags that didn’t really amount to much. Konosuba is a very low-investment show, and I’m close enough to the end that I don’t mind finishing it, but it sure wouldn’t be here in a deeper season.
And Dagashi Kashi continued to be its generally pleasant slice of life self, though this episode’s second half made the grave error of attempting to actually tell some jokes. Dagashi Kashi’s characters are likable and its methods of naturally texturing them are quite nice, but when it goes for outright jokes, they tend to be pretty obvious, stale stuff. The show doesn’t have the bite of a show like Humanity Has Declined or the creativity and comedic timing of a show like Shirobako – when it’s a comedy, it’s a Typical Anime Comedy. Fortunately, the first half here was basically all warm character bonding stuff, so I can’t really complain. I just wish the show would quit trying to impress people with gags and be comfortable with its endearing self.
I also went to see Zootopia this week, which was a very fun time! The film was full of some surprisingly nuanced reflections on racism, which lent some sharpness both to its overall messages and to the little character moments as well. But the film’s two great strengths were definitely the chemistry between its two leads and magic of its world. The film clearly knew it had hit on a strong worldbuilding concept; it basically opens with a long train ride dedicated to revealing many of the unique environments of the titular city, leading me to think “damn, they’ve got a franchise here” within ten minutes of the start.
The movie didn’t just lean on that, of course. The actual plot was a pretty standard rookie cop with unlikely partner story, and most of the running time was spent either making jokes based on the concept or letting the two leads bounce off each other. But this wasn’t really a “they eventually learn to appreciate each other” kind of movie – the two have a strong chemistry from the very beginning, and already clearly like each other a third of the way into the movie. Which is good! The movie was stronger because the characters enjoyed being together. Overall it was a well-paced and solidly themed family movie that will undoubtedly be 100% ungoogleable in roughly five days’ time.