God damn is this ever a season of anime. I keep trying to drop shows, but they all keep being too entertaining. And now I check out Macross Delta and find out that’s a lot of fun, too? I really wouldn’t have minded one or two of these shows back a season ago, but it’s also great to log on twitter and see people enjoying such a wide variety of new anime. Even this season’s ambiguous productions are generally coming up solid – Kiznaiver had its strongest episode yet this week, and other borderline stuff like Haifuri is executing well, even if it’s not exactly my thing. It’s a fine time for watching too goddamn many cartoons, so let’s start at the top and RUN ‘EM DOWN!
My Hero Academia’s fourth episode exhibited the same strengths and weaknesses the show’s been demonstrating all along. Stretching the exam sequence out to a full episode did make things feel a little slow (I mean, we even got a pre and post-OP “last time on MHA” sequence), but the fundamental material here is so compelling that I’m still very much enjoying the show. The only real visual setpiece here was Deku’s one big punch, but that punch was surrounded by fist-pumping meditations on the meaning of heroism. Deku was a hero even before he had powers, because he embodied the spirit of self-sacrifice.
Even the unglamorous smashing and puking of these would-be heroes is kind of inspiring, since it shows exactly how dedicated these characters are. Like Deku working on his grip and arm strength even when he’s sure he’s failed, heroism is expressed in grit and dedication, not in single giant acts. And even when it comes to those acts, All Might underlined their true significance when he said “your actions inspired others to act.” Heroes act strong not because physical strength itself is a virtue, but because the appearance of strength can inspire others to action. It’s an important distinction that My Hero Academia understands completely.
Kiznaiver finally made the hard sell this week, dragging me entirely on board with a sequence of conversations that demonstrated far more graceful character writing than anything in the first two episodes. There are certainly weaker elements here and there (everything to do with the scifi organization behind the premise is completely unconvincing, and some of the jokes shift from just bad into legitimately offensive), but the mix of great aesthetics and perceptive character writing is more than enough to keep me happy for now. I’m not sure Kiznaiver is going to be able to hold together in the long run, but if it keeps giving me thoughtful character interactions, I’m very willing to give it the benefit of the doubt.
The Lost Village mostly remained its ridiculous self this week, although with the first kill on the books (I assume?), things finally started speeding up for our little camp troupe. This show gaining momentum can basically only be good; its characters are mostly nonsense caricatures we’re just waiting to see die, so if it’s not charging headlong into danger, it’s not doing much of anything. There was a fair amount of headlong danger-charging this week, and the show is reaching the point where at least a few of its characters are starting to resemble human beings, but frankly, I’m not going to be satisfied until things are at least four or five times as crazy as this. Get crazier, Lost Village. Just wig the fuck out.
All the way across the state from crazytown, Flying Witch stayed as subdued and enjoyable as ever this week, in an episode whose joke delivery was so subtle that I found myself having trouble articulating why it worked. I was really interested in writing about Flying Witch this season because its success is reliant on such understated but excellent expressions of craft, and the show has definitely lived up to that promise. The magic continues to be gracefully integrated, the rural scenes tend to actually be weirder than the magic, and the whole cast has a wonderful chemistry. Flying Witch is strong stuff.
Concrete Revolutio had a largely self-contained case this week, the first in what will likely be a number of episodes that don’t directly push the overall narrative. I was a little disappointed in that, and a little underwhelmed by the initial setup here, but the climax was actually a really smartly constructed, thrilling setpiece. I also liked how this episode used the Olympic games and athletes specifically as an alternate reflection on the way superhumans and other celebrities simultaneously exist as individuals and as icons of larger organizations. The “test jumper” here felt unequipped to carry the weight of his country into this competition – but when it seemed likely to be cancelled altogether, his anger was not based in respecting that political significance, but respecting how much the athletes had all trained as individuals. In contrast, the episode gave us little reason to suspect his three former teammates had actually considered the significance of their own sacrifice; but that didn’t lessen his respect for them.
Aside from that, I’m also getting somewhat frustrated about how this season isn’t really giving the Superhuman Bureau, and Emi/Kikko in particular, all that much to do. Those characters are ostensibly some of the protagonists here, but they’re mostly just being dragged around behind Jiro. That was somewhat true of the first season as well, but there, at least them being teammates allowed them to bounce off each other more. This show has a really great cast, so I’d like to see more of them be put to better use.
And Kabaneri continued to be UNLEADED ARAKI STRAIGHT TO THE VEIN MOTHERFUCKER YEAAAAHHHH this week, meaning there were a couple action highlights that will feature prominently in future AMVs, some really nice backgrounds (this show is extremely good at creating beautiful but obscured night landscapes), and lots of blood and guts and betrayal of the cool badass who only wanted to save you. The pacing is solid and the visuals haven’t fallen apart yet, so it still works as a popcorn watch – but the more it leans into Araki’s teen boy psychology, the less compelling it becomes. It’s funny how people complain about critics making art “political,” because really, the politics and worldview of one or another work always have such a pronounced effect on that work’s relationship with its audience. And Araki hates feelings, so I can’t really muster much enthusiasm for his stories about bloodspikes and killdaggers.
That said, there was one moment of genuine emotive grace this week. Right after hero guy had his big speech about saving all the cowardly people who never respected him, there was a long shot where he just sat there panting as the train pulled away. You could really feel his exhaustion, fear, and bitterness in that moment. Of course, that scene was immediately followed up with Action Girl laughing at him for crying, so, you know, Araki.
In this week’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, Kouichi laid an egg.
Alright, other stuff also happened too. But yeah, weirdness of his Stand’s first form aside, it was kind of a relief to see Kouichi exhibit Stand powers. It’d be a little wearying for the Speedwagon-style character of this arc to not actually be able to see Stands. Aside from that, this was a generally reasonable episode featuring a pretty classically low-tier JoJo villain, mostly noteworthy for how it worked hard to make sure the boarded-up house stayed intimidating for as long as possible. Bad Company are in truth a pretty boring Stand, but by keeping them in the shadows and doing classic tricks like having Okuyasu break the tension of Jousuke climbing the stairs, the show was able to at least keep the lead-up to that battle interesting.
I also caught up on Macross Delta this week, which was perhaps not exactly the revelatory experience my twitter feed made it out to be, but is still one of the better shows of the season. Right now, I feel like Macross Delta is a lot better at nailing the little things than the big things. The show’s ridiculous mercats are just one of those whimsical details that make anime so charming, and Freyja’s attitude and faces are great. Macross Delta has a sense of fun that sort of reminds me of stuff like Yozakura Quartet, which I really appreciate. If you’re gonna make a silly action-adventure show, I much prefer an upbeat atmosphere to the dour, self-serious nonsense of Kabaneri.
That said, the show’s actual plot is very routine so far, and not all that much has truly happened. On top of that, the show’s male lead has the charisma of a stone. I generally kinda expect the male leads in shows like this to be either whiny or mopey in a way designed to appeal to an annoying teenage audience, but whatshisface isn’t just annoying, he’s a legit asshole. I watch scenes of him skipping out on flight lessons or talking about how he refuses to follow orders and think “is he supposed to seem cool now? Is this supposed to be appealing?” Maybe if he actually had some kind of backstory that made sense of his selfish attitude this would be easier to take, but as is, he’s just a lazy jerk who the show expects me to feel invested in.
And finally, I ran through the existing episodes of Space Patrol Luluco as well, which have me more or less convinced that Trigger have figured their shit out at last. Luluco is all the mad-cap humor of Trigger’s prior short shows, but it actually attaches those jokes to characters, characters with feelings. This single change shifts the tone of something like Inferno Cop or Sex and Violence with Mach Speed from shrill to charming. Luluco and her classmates aren’t exactly rich human tapestries, but the bluntness of their words and actions actually feels kind of true to life for a certain adolescent perspective. In fact, framing adolescent love as a collection of stupid gags and mishaps kinda feels more honest and true-to-life than shows that frame it as some great romantic struggle.
The show is more or less perfectly in control of its own faculties and ambitions – unlike something like Kill la Kill, which had a smorgasbord of nice ideas stirred into an incoherent stew, or Inferno Cop, which had just the one idea over and over, Luluco has “blunt, non-sequitur-based Adult Swim humor,” “charming core cast,” and “adolescent feelings,” and balances the three in such a way that the emotional appeal is underplayed enough not to feel slight (even if it ultimately is slight), while the jokes are snappy and well-integrated enough to not feel abrasive.
Basically, as I said on twitter, it’s Kill la Kill minus everything but Mako and Nonon, a show with smallish ambitions that consistently hits its mark. Luluco falling in love with a boy as he winningly executes a boy who cheated on a test feels like something Luluco would actually do. Attaching Trigger’s over-the-top dramatic exuberance to adolescent romance is a perfect tonal fit. Etcetera. The show often looks like crap (mainly due to the bland, dead-on layouts that feel ripped straight from Aqua Teen Hunger Force), but it’s too short and endearing for that to ruin anything. I think we’re finally getting a season of Trigger shows I’ll like.