With this season’s extended preview week finally over, I found myself left with way too many fine shows to watch. Thus, this week was one more return to The Culling, that fun time of year when shows that would be reasonable watches in weaker seasons all get the axe purely for pragmatic reasons. Between full show reviews, Current Projects work, and other various media, I can only really spare the time for a bit more than half a dozen airing shows, and so anything that isn’t truly noteworthy had to be cut. That still didn’t make this easy, of course – this season is good, I want to watch everything I can. But I was able to trim some hedges here and there.
First of all, while Twin Star Exorcists’ second episode was perfectly reasonable, it was perfectly reasonable in a “this is a competent execution of its genre” sort of way. It appears the show really did go all-out in the framing of that premiere, as this episode seemed like it hued much more closely to actual manga panels, leaving much less of visual interest outside of the various stylistic tics the first episode already gave away. On top of that, there were a number of moments here that were outright bad, from the introduction of Benio’s annoying familiar to that apparently timeless “guy walks in on a naked girl” gag, leaving what would likely be a charming enough show in a weaker season to be an easy cut here. This may be one I just burn through for a review eventually, but as for now, I’ll take solace in this ridiculous image of Benio in a bunny suit.
I was pretty worried after the opening minutes of this week’s Bakuon. I’d been planning to watch just enough of the episode to justify dropping it, but then the show had to go and start with a ridiculous six-minute Rin backstory involving giraffes and dying fathers and fated Katana motorcycles, and it was looking like I was actually stuck with the show. Fortunately, the middle stretch of the episode had enough dead air to validate a drop, and Bakuon will have to be content with one more “a fine show for a weaker season” participation award.
Next on the chopping block, High School Fleet had a generally competent but not truly gripping second episode, placing it in solid “stall for now, pick up if buzz improves” territory. The greatest thing going for the show right now is its premise – I’m legitimately interested in seeing where all these betrayals and mutinies go, and exactly what kind of story this show wants to be telling. But the journey there is just not that compelling, with the biggest problem being that so far, the show has failed to make its sea battles particularly exciting. A combination of the mediocre CG, fairly flat direction, and lack of real tactical intrigue make the battle sequences here not that much more exciting than the curry-focused ones. Shows like this hang heavily on their moment-to-moment dramatic appeal, and if the big “fight scenes” aren’t cutting it, it’s hard to maintain interest. Maybe in a few weeks, High School Fleet.
And Joker Game managed to avoid the cutoff, demonstrating with this week’s vignette that its immediate storytelling is strong enough to warrant continuing. This episode confirmed what most people likely expected – with the premise established in the first two-parter, we’ll now be taking turns visiting the individual spies to elaborate their own stories. Collections of vignettes live or die based on the strength of the individual episode, and this episode was tightly written and exciting, a fine mix of wartime drama and cool spy tricks. Joker Game just feels like a polished prime time drama, really – nothing too flashy about its storytelling or delivery, but it’s solidly composed and consistently entertaining. An easy watch.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure continued to be quite solid this week, though this episode was certainly a step down from last week’s stunner. This was a board-adjusting episode, heavy on the exposition and only just getting to a fight at the end, and it likely could have stood to lose a few minutes overall (especially given the recap opening). But Diamond is Unbreakable’s fundamental design strength and directorial flourishes continue to put it leagues ahead of Stardust Crusaders, even when it’s just being applied to stuff like that great transition into Angelo’s flashback sequence. On top of that, devices like the boarded-up house across the street serve as more indications that Araki knows exactly what legacy he’s mining as far as suburban horror goes. Few shows get to start from as strong of a fundamental platform as this one, and with the Stands already starting to branch out into more creatively specific powers, things are likely to improve from here.
Kiznaiver‘s second episode was certainly an improvement over the first, partially because it cut down on the egregiously bad dialogue, and partially because we actually got into some fun interactions between the whole cast. The show may be kinda beating us over the head with the emotional secrets of its characters, but honestly, the fact that they have emotional secrets, and that the show is being so quick to reveal them, still makes them feel more textured than many anime characters. Shows often string out one big emotional reveal over an entire series (a dark past, a will-they-or-won’t-they relationship, etc), meaning characters feel kind of like emotional on-off switches. But these characters are being forced to honestly engage with each other from the start, which gives them a lot of potential for relationship-building and personal growth. The show’s still a question mark, but I like a lot of what it’s doing here.
Flying Witch actually demonstrated far more restraint in its second episode, which may well disappoint people who were mainly hooked by that great mandrake gag. This episode featured almost no magical elements whatsoever, and its second half was basically just a low-key cooking lesson between the leads. I’d personally be okay with just a bit more humor and fantasy, but the show is certainly very good at maintaining its own specific atmosphere. It’s a place to escape to, and a craft challenge that I’m actually really enjoying writing about. There’s a lot that goes into making a show like this feel like a real and inviting place.
And The Lost Village was more The Lost Village, meaning it’s still one of the most bizarrely written and directed shows I’ve seen in a long time. It’s actually pretty interesting to see this kind of “bad anime” in action. Normally, when anime are bad, it’s just because they embrace a bunch of established tropes and do nothing with them, giving audiences an expected package with no real personality or creative spirit. But the thing about using those tropes is, even if they don’t result in good stories, they result in comprehensible stories – the plot elements fit together, the characters play coherent roles. The Lost Village, on the other hand, is both completely unusual and completely incomprehensible. Its characters feel ridiculous in a more fundamental and consistently surprising way than most bad anime characters, like any of them could suddenly grow three heads and that wouldn’t be outside of the realm of expectations. It is its own kind of bad.
My Hero Academia‘s third episode was a pretty clear demonstration of the weaknesses of the show’s adaptation approach. Shonen Jump and Bones are clearly trying to make as conservative use of the source material as possible, meaning this week’s episode was basically entirely dedicated to a fairly underwhelming training session. It’s almost certainly a choice designed to make My Hero Academia a sustainable and semi-regular production, but this speed of adaptation certainly isn’t lending itself to the best possible anime. That said, the show is still fundamentally strong in a variety of ways, from its clear articulation of the true tenets of heroism (giving of yourself, working hard even if you’re uncertain that effort will be repaid, humility in the face of victory) to the various great All Might moments scattered throughout. My Hero Academia isn’t as strong as it could be, but it’s still a fine show, and only going to get better once it hits the manga’s stronger material.
And finally, this week’s Concrete Revolutio was absurdly dense, seemingly trying to cram into twenty minutes every single lingering plot thread that last week’s Shiba-focused narrative avoided. We got more context on the true fate of the Fumers, for one thing, which was actually a big relief. Even during the early minutes of this episode, I was worried the Fumers were going to present an antagonist that existed outside of the contrasting goals and philosophies of the show’s main characters – a true “villain.” Creating a force like that would significantly cheapen the contrast between the well-constructed sides of the show, so I was glad to see that issue resolve itself by concluding another purely plot-oriented conflict, the nature of Jiro’s abilities. On top of that, the actual scene that resolved those conflicts was an absolute stunner – Concrete Revolutio isn’t a consistently beautiful show, but the battle between Jiro and the Fumers was a gorgeous animation highlight.
There were lots of other interesting bits and pieces scattered throughout this episode, even though the overall construction muddled the dramatic impact a bit. I liked the complicated resolution of the situation the idols found themselves in, when after siding with both the students and the military, they found themselves betrayed by their one consistent ally, commerce. Aki’s feelings were totally understandable – having seen the generation before her betrayed by belief in some greater justice, she simply wanted what was best for herself and the people she loved. But in times like this, even if you’ve given up on a better future, you can’t really remain apolitical – that itself becomes a political act when the ground beneath you is moving. And so she’s forced to understand a bit of what Jiro cares about purely due to the forces naturally arrayed against her.
Other characters were a little worse-served by this plot. Having Emi and Kikko simply chasing Jiro around isn’t really the most compelling use of their characters, though I do like the ways those two bounce off each other. They’re not a natural set of partners in the way Jiro and Kikko were, so I’d like to see their own relationship evolve in his absence. But it’ll be tough for much of that to happen if they’re just consistently chasing Jiro’s scarf.
Still, this episode managed to cram a ridiculous amount of content into one self-contained story, once again demonstrating Concrete Revolutio as a show with almost too damn much to say. I am beyond happy to have this strange, wonderful creation back.