Well I guess some weeks have to be disasters. A couple of the shows I’m watching were fine this week, but there were some real terrible episodes in there, and one in particular… I don’t even know what to say. It’s pretty rare that a generally excellent show completely sets itself on fire just a few episodes before the end, but here we are. This is what we got. So let’s get right into it.
ERASED is the show I’m talking about. ERASED’s episode was… an episode. All those issues of occasionally melodramatic framing, or the ways the show sometimes leaned into its cheap plot twist theatrics at the expense of its emotional significance? Yeah, this episode was all of that. Plus it basically savaged any hope of ending up with a coherent theme regarding community, what with the show making its one trustworthy adult character a villain for the sake of cheap plot thrills. But even outside of its larger structural failings, holy crap was this ever a ridiculously over-the-top episode.
The reveal of Mr. Yashiro’s villainy contained awful lines ranging from “THIS IS MY TRUE FORM” to “IT’S LIKE YOU CAN SEE THE FUTURE,” with a whole lot of plan-explaining monologues thrown in for good measure. Given how poorly executed this episode is, I actually think this director was the perfect choice for Sword Art Online – the second half of this episode might as well have been a Sword Art Online sequence, what with its shock-focused framing and ridiculous villain smiles. It’s the kind of episode I’d want to laugh at, but man, I was enjoying this show. It’s a shame.
Active Raid also had a bad episode this week, though it was the opposite kind of bad. In contrast to ERASED’s incredibly over-the-top nonsense, Active Raid went decidedly, er, under-the-top, running through the opening steps of the villain’s evil plan with barely a hint of drama or tension. This episode really should have landed with some real urgency, but flat direction and the non-reactions of all the central characters meant the heroes losing their jobs felt about the same as the heroes getting delivered the wrong pizza. It was a nothing episode, and in the context of Active Raid that’s far less debilitating than ERASED, but it’s still not something I’m happy to see.
Speaking of bad episodes, man, this week’s Konosuba sure was creepy, huh? Kazuma’s pretty much always been a deeply unlikable character who basically brings the show down whenever it leans into his perspective, and not only was this episode all Kazuma all the time, it paired him together with Darkness, easily the show’s other weakest character. The results were basically 100% the self-insert light novel garbage this show only inconsistently rises above, a sequence that was basically one extended creepy joke. Aside from that, the only really notable thing about this episode was that it featured some of the most rebelliously animated boobs I’ve ever seen in anime. Like seriously, none of these boobs seemed happy about being attached to their owners. Not the most noteworthy achievement, but it is what it is.
And just to press this disappointment train a little further, Dagashi Kashi also had a crap episode this week. Dagashi Kashi’s very far from a great show, and its weaknesses are clear as day, but I certainly don’t enjoy it when the show leans into them as completely as this. Dagashi Kashi’s biggest problem as a comedy is that it’s just not funny. You would think that would kill the show, but in fact, most of the time that’s actually okay – it’s more about being endearing than funny, more about being atmospheric than clever. But this episode was pretty much entirely dedicated to a series of stretched-out dagashi gags, and so basically none of the things that make the show enjoyable came up at all. Not an unexpected failure, but a disappointing one just the same.
Alright, that’s enough disappointment. Fortunately, this season also has a couple good shows, with Grimgar once again demonstrating its usual sensitivity and beauty this week. The episode’s first half saw the team entering the mines where Mary lost her teammates, their attacks on goblins now replaced by raids on kobolds. Once again, the show used a number of incidental lines and details to demonstrate the intelligence and culture of the creatures they were fighting, leading to a nice sequence where Haruhiro silently scorned Ranta for his lack of reverence for the dead, while acknowledging that however respectful he himself was acting, the end result was the same.
That lead into a second half where Haruhiro and Ranta finally had a very necessary conversation. Haruhiro’s in a tough spot here; he’s trying to promote group harmony, but Ranta just seems fundamentally incompatible with the rest of his teammates, and not likely to take criticism well. Seeing Haruhiro struggle to stay “leaderlike” in spite of his fundamental dislike for Ranta, and Ranta sullenly explain the thinking underlying his own behavior, was one more reflection of this show’s unexpectedly strong character work. The only complaint I really had with this episode was the way the show continues to explain skills for what feels like no reason. Grimgar isn’t really a show where fights are tactical affairs, and so these explanations really just feel like awkward vestiges from the source material. But that’s a small complaint in what overall continues to be a surprisingly strong show.
And of course, as always, Rakugo very easily retained its crown. The show isn’t really competing against anything – frankly, it’s so much better than everything else that’s airing that it almost feels like it’s in a different medium entirely. Rakugo is a prestige show directed by an extremely talented director that’s aimed squarely at adults, and likely adults who don’t actually watch much anime. It’s a story of family and regret and tragedy on a theatrical scale, and this episode followed smoothly in that vein, with the death of Kikuhiko’s master providing ample opportunities for gorgeous shots and personal meditations on who these characters have become, and what they regret not accomplishing. In the end, Kiku’s master acknowledged all of his faults, and expressed regret at driving one of his only sons away from him. Kikuhiko was left alone, with only the thought of still reconnecting with Sukeroku lending him anything but the bracing solitude of the stage. This was another sad and beautiful episode, but tiny Konatsu’s impassioned rakugo offered at least a spark of hope at the end. These characters pass their prestige and passions down through strange avenues, but the spark of what they do remains strong.
Stepping outside of airing series, I also went to see The Boy and the Beast this week, which was… well… I enjoyed it? The central relationship between the two leads was excellent, and the movie was full of ideas that I’d have liked to see put together in a compelling way. But after watching this, it’s abundantly clear that Hosoda can’t entirely write his own films. From the overall structure to the use of side characters to the integration of its running threads, The Boy and the Beast is an incredibly messy film. It felt a lot like a first draft, where you’re just writing as you go, and end up integrating ideas that really should appear in the first act somewhere halfway through the third one. The use of Moby Dick as a motif let to a great visual payoff, but why was that even brought up in the first place? The young lead’s relationship with a human in the real world was probably necessary, but that human was given far too little opportunity to become a meaningful character. I enjoyed my time with Boy and the Beast, but it’s certainly an awkward film, full of missed opportunities. Hopefully Hosoda learns the right lessons from this one, and doesn’t make the same mistakes again just because it was a financial success.
I also saw the Psycho-Pass movie, which felt kinda superfluous and a little rushed in its ideas, but was generally enjoyable as well. This wasn’t like Psycho-Pass 2, which plainly didn’t understand the ideas of its predecessor; the Psycho-Pass film attempted to expand those ideas by weaving them into classic issues of nation-building, and though its points were very constrained by its limited time for exploring them, it was overall a reasonable addition to the series. I also get the feeling I’d have enjoyed the film more if I weren’t seeing it dubbed – Akane’s voice actress had that awkwardly common dub issue of over-enunciating every one of her words, which made it a whole lot harder to buy into this version of her as a person. In retrospect, that was probably too high of a price to pay for seeing it on the big screen.
And on the non-anime front, I went out to see 10 Cloverfield Lane this week, which was pretty good! It’s a slowly building suspense-thriller thing that makes excellent use of its very contained setting, and most importantly, all three of the central performances are excellent. John Goodman radiates menace and intensity in this role, basically single-handedly making the cast’s little home feel like a constantly off-kilter and claustrophobic space. And Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a tremendous amount purely through eyes and body language, constantly drawing the viewer into her headspace without a word. The script occasionally stretches a little for the sake of a goofy thriller beat, but the direction is quite strong, with the film’s uncomfortably close framing rarely giving the viewer much chance for a breath. It’s a little strange that this one even shares the name of its “spiritual predecessor,” since the two have so little in common outside of Abram’s name. The film’s strictly thriller genre fare and has a pretty questionable third act, but I’d definitely recommend it if you’re looking for a tense time.