Most of this season’s anime came to a close this week, leaving just those two oft-compared highlights, Rakugo and Dagashi Kashi, to finish the season alone. ERASED pulled itself together to end with as much dignity as it could, given the circumstances of its villain, while Active Raid similarly felt hamstrung by its own weak antagonist. I almost feel tempted to write an article specifically about antagonists now, because the problems with both those shows were so specific and so centered on the ways they handled their villains. Though of course, that article would then end up spinning out into how an antagonist shouldn’t be something you design independently, and should instead reflect the core themes and conflicts of your narrative, and then we’re all the way back at storytelling step one again. Anyway. Some shows ended this week, some shows didn’t. Let’s crack those knuckles once more and RUN ‘EM DOWN!
Grimgar finished with one more fine episode this week, giving basically every member of the cast some badass moments and then letting everyone enjoy their time together once again. The fight against Death Spots wasn’t as much of a highlight as those early goblin fights, though it was more of a “conventional anime fight” – all of the characters got to use their attacks effectively, but that just isn’t as interesting as the fights where the whole group was barely getting by. But that material was fine, and the cute scene where Haruhiro woke up to Mary waiting was pretty much worth the price of admission by itself. Outside of a couple issues regarding pacing and fight framing, I enjoyed nearly everything about Grimgar. It’s not a truly great show or anything, but it’s a show I’d be happy to watch in basically any season.
Dagashi Kashi had an episode that was so typical Dagashi Kashi it left with virtually nothing to say about it. Actually, that’s not really true – typical Dagashi Kashi episodes aren’t entirely flavorless, but their charms are low-key and not particularly remarkable. This episode was a bit worse than that, coming across as so lukewarm about everything that it really did stretch the limits of mundanity. The second segment at least had a couple nice exchanges between Kokonotsu and Hotaru, but I sure do hope the finale leaves me with a better impression than this episode. The show’s definitely been kinda underwhelming, but it has a certain charm – I’d like for it to end on a good note.
ERASED finished as gracefully as you could hope at this point. The material with Yashiro was still a bunch of nonsense, but like with many shows, that was a nonsense-debt that had been built up over the preceding episodes. Satoru was going to confront Yashiro, and their confrontation was going to be ridiculous, because Yashiro is a ridiculous character and this show has no capacity to present compelling thriller beats. But all the rest of this episode’s material was perfectly fine – the early scenes did a lot of work in tidying up the show’s thematic loose ends, and the final scenes offered a few more morsels of the great atmospheric stuff that made the early episodes so compelling. ERASED concludes as a much lesser show than I might have hoped, but hey, early episodes do that – not every show can keep it together for that full season run. And the low points can’t take away the moments I enjoyed.
Active Raid‘s ending was very similar to ERASED, if you adjust for the fact that Active Raid is just a fundamentally much worse show. Like ERASED, every moment concerning the show’s ridiculous villain detracted from the series, and also like ERASED, all the scenes that avoided that character were a fine reflection of what the show does best. Active Raid resolves as a relatively likable but also bland and low-stakes procedural drama, with its gifted director’s hand not really visible in its humdrum stories and their humdrum execution. Active Raid comes off almost reflecting the just-working-for-a-paycheck feel of its own protagonists, which is a kind of meta-storytelling I can’t say I’m a huge fan of.
And it all came together in Genroku Rakugo this week, which finally arrived at the tragic climax it’s been moving towards all along. I really liked how the show handled the actual tragedy here – this seems like a situation the three of them truly could have worked out, if they’d had more time together, and so having it be an accident of passion is very appropriate. Simply having Sukeroku acknowledge how much Miyokichi means to him likely would have solved everything; Miyokichi didn’t truly hate rakugo, but she hated the idea of essentially being nothing to any of the people who were important to her, and if she could take rakugo away from Sukeroku, at least that was an expression of meaning. But this is an archetypal tragedy, and so catharsis comes too late to save any of these characters.
On top of that, Sukeroko’s last performance was as good as it had to be, a dynamic monologue well outside of his usual wheelhouse that served as a self-contained setpiece and a reflection on his own final maturation in the series.
My only real complaint at this point, and one that’s kinda been building for a while now, is that I continue to not really feel emotionally invested in these events. I’ve been discussing this on twitter with a variety of people, and heard a variety of reasons for why Rakugo might feel like an emotionally distant production. “Because it’s framed as a self-conscious piece of theater” seems like a good one – the characters often feel like they’re playing classic theatrical roles more than being people, making it hard to engage. “Because the scenes that would attach you to them as individuals are here framed as metaphors in performance” is another fine one, one that also acknowledges the fact that the show’s faltering animation has made its latter performances significantly less personal.
My own initial feelings were that it came down to the fact that Rakugo has virtually no incidental scenes that simply build individuality into its characters – all of its scenes and lines of dialogue are straightforward direction of dramatic intent that play into the core narrative/themes more than reflect on specific individuals. But it’s a generally tricky issue I’m dealing with here, and something I’m frustrated by – I want to care about these characters more than I do, but I just don’t. It’s clearly a very impressive show, but it’s just not one that moves me.