This was a week of mild but pleasant surprises in anime land. Over in the Sunshine Islands, Love Live demonstrated that this season might actually have a better handle on its own drama than either of the first two, nailing Hanamaru’s introduction without giving up on the physical comedy that makes the show great. And down in Mob Psychoville, Mob proved himself to be just as strong a character as his show is a visual showcase. With everything else performing pretty much as hoped, this is looking to be another surprisingly sturdy season of anime. My preview chart was short, but nearly everything on that chart has ended up impressing, leaving me with a fine lineup all around. Let’s RUN ‘EM DOWN!
This week’s Thunderbolt Fantasy really leaned into its D&D adventure style, as we learned of the three deadly challenges the group must face, and the three allies it would need to surpass them. Thunderbolt Fantasy’s story is playing out like a cheesy videogame, and I am totally okay with that – establishing clear obstacles and clear victory conditions seems like one of the better ways to impart this story with impactful drama, considering the puppet fights themselves generally feel more like a nonsensical series of swooshes and explosions than a tangible exchange of blows. And the show’s over-the-top dialogue continues to make for a charming combination with its stiff-expressioned heroes. Thunderbolt Fantasy and JoJo offer two great variations on camp action spectacle, and I’m happy to be enjoying them both in the same season.
Love Live Sunshine seemed determined to make me eat my words this week, as just after applauding this season for leaning more fully into Love Live’s inherent silliness, we got an episode that shined by relying almost entirely on sturdy character drama. Like the earlier episodes, this one was framed as a mirror of the MakiRinPana episode from the first season – but unlike that episode, this one let its secondary stars do basically all the dramatic heavy lifting.
Chika has been the focus so far, but this episode actually jumped viewpoint characters entirely, and positioned us with the relatably lonely Hanamaru. Hanamaru’s friendship with Ruby made sense on both their parts, and her ultimate act of “self-sacrifice” rang true to everything we learned about her. With Mari also scheming in the background, it seems that Sunshine is taking a much more democratic approach to its narrative progression; things aren’t driven by Chika in the same way the original was driven by Honoka, and basically all of these girls get to have their own style of agency. That makes for a much more compelling overall cast, and I look forward to seeing how that change in perspective will play out once the whole cast has assembled. Sunshine continues to be a satisfyingly robust consolidation and improvement on Love Live’s core strengths.
Given he spent two episodes brainwashing and abusing Koichi, you might expect Rohan would be slotted pretty firmly in the “villain” category. But this is JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and so this week, he and Koichi quickly teamed up and ended up meeting an actual ghost. I’m glad of that, of course – Rohan’s a very entertaining character, it’s delightfully insane to see him and Koichi palling around so easily, and the bizarre tenets of this episode’s ghost world made for some intense dramatic moments and great visual flourishes. The circular world the two of them were trapped in also allowed for one more of the show’s rare CG sequences, as the camera actually panned with them around the block. It wasn’t the most visually graceful sequence, frankly (mainly because the scenery they were traversing was so transparently simplified), but it’s nice seeing the show continue with the better experiments of Stardust Crusaders. Also another dog died.
Planetarian finally Did the Thing this week, with our melancholy robot companion at last presenting the Junker with her vision of the stars. Even at this point, it feels like there’s not much left to say about this show. Planetarian is simply a small but well-executed drama, offering no surprises, but still pleasing through its excellent thematic poignancy and strong forward momentum. As I’ve said before, I really think this OVA-style format is a great fit for many stories. There’s been more and more experimentation with anime delivery formats lately (I mean, the latest season of Monogatari was only available by phone), and I’d love to see more shows experiment with those possibilities in order to find a format suitable to their storytelling priorities.
Orange continued to raise my blood pressure this week, with an episode largely dedicated to Naho repeatedly biting her tongue and nearly sabotaging her existing relationship with Kakeru. I see pretty regular complaints about Naho not acting the way she’s “supposed to” given the letter, but I don’t really have any problem with that – Naho’s an insecure kid, and this show is more about that and the hopeless optimism of nostalgia than any sort of fantasy thriller “you must fix the past to save the future” sort of thing. But this is certainly one of those situations where my disinterest in plot as a dramatic motivator puts me more in line with this show’s goals than many people. Personally, I can really appreciate a show so laser-focused on a strong and genuine perspective, and am perfectly fine accepting the show’s vague fantastical conceit as the thematic vehicle it is.
Mob Psycho 100 actually upped the ante this week, complementing its consistently inventive visual execution with a story far more poignant than either of the first two episodes. It’s really nice seeing the distinctive ways Mob Psycho uses its visual strengths to convey the feelings of its characters; I already wrote about how Reigen creates his own tonal space over at Crunchyroll, but both the second and third episodes have done a great job of expressing Mob’s exhaustion, insecurity, and assorted other emotions purely through his visual existence. And when you couple that with an episodic narrative whose cult antagonists perfectly matched Mob’s own preexisting insecurities, you end up with something far more emotionally effective than I’d expect from this show. I’m a little worried Mob’s new sidekick will just be a drag all around (Mob Psycho’s humor is still its biggest weak point), but I can’t really complain about this episode for its own sake.
And finally, Sweetness & Lightning’s newest episode was light on the emotional drama, and instead acted mostly as a showcase of Tsumugi being adorable. It’s kinda funny that Inuzuka is already at the point where he’s asking Kotori for parenting tips, but incidental bits like that were almost lost in the bountiful wave of great Tsumugi moments. Tsumugi doing her best to suffer through a bite of green bell peppers, Tsumugi suspiciously investigating a new red pepper, Tsumugi doing a clump-fighting rain dance, and Tsumugi being smug about her own mastery of flattening the vegetables. I have absolutely no interest in having kids, but Tsumugi sure is a concentrated dose of everything endearing about children. This show’s consistent mastery of believable child behavior continues to be its greatest strength.