We’re in the settling now. Shows have established themselves and fallen into comfortable rhythms, massive narrative changeups are either far in the past or waiting in the last act, and most productions are just doing their best to pretend scheduling and creating twenty minutes of animation is just as easy the seventh time as it is the first or second. There are highs and lows, but they’re smaller bumps – Love Live has a somewhat weaker episode, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure tries on a new style hat, etcetera. These are the dog days of summer, where we’re all more concerned with the fact that global warming is now a lived reality than we are with which waifus most recently prevailed. But anime endures, and like a barnacle on that great cartoon vessel, so does the Week in Review. Let’s run ’em down.
This week’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure did possibly the most sensible thing the series could conceivably do: bring back Yukako and give her her own focus episode. Yukako’s first appearance was fantastic, but it was even better to get an episode from her perspective, where her feelings for Koichi directly and consistently crashed against her “kill ‘em all and let god sort ‘em out” personality. Koichi/Yukako is basically a fanfiction perfect pairing, and I am amazed that Diamond is Unbreakable is actually going to have them as a couple going forward. Right fucking on.
Oh right, I’m supposed to criticize. Well. Aside from Yukako being great and pairing her up with Koichi also being great, I really liked how this episode played up its classic horror-tinged fairy tale aesthetic. JoJo very frequently rips concepts from horror movies, but old-fashioned fairy tales are often just as horrific as any modern slasher film, and beats like “cut out my eyes if I choose wrong” rang true to that style. That choice also prompted this episode’s one bit of distinct visual personality, the lovely art noveau images that framed Yukako and her fairy godmother. JoJo always gotta excel.
Thunderbolt Fantasy was somewhat outdone by that performance, but still offered all of its usual treasures. Adding an actual bloodthirsty assassin to the group has worked wonders for team unity, meaning this episode was largely dedicated to exploring the lack of trust between our seven heroes. Shang’s attempts to learn more about their team leader were thwarted by the very sensible counterpoint that he himself is actually the most suspicious member of the group – having claimed he’d traveled across the Badevilsharp Wastes to get here, he’s now under suspicion by basically every member of the group that has the capacity for such.
That thread ended on an extremely Urobuchi exchange: “do you not believe people are good?” followed by “I want to. And there are people I do believe in.” That’s basically where I fall too – we’re lost if we don’t believe in human goodness, and we need to take solace in the fact that there clearly are great individuals out there. It’s one of the reasons his shows tend to work so well for me – I’m a naturally cynical person, and think the world is pretty crap, but also think wallowing in that won’t help anything. The world’s not going to make it easy to be positive, so we need to bring our own hope to it.
And philosophy aside, this episode also ended with a spearman running across water to kill ninjas, who were then revived into zombies through talismans shot into them by a master archer. Thunderbolt Fantasy is some killer shit.
Orange kicked into high gear this week, as Suwa’s reveal of his own letter lead to him steering Naho and Kakeru right the fuck through confessions on both sides. I was perfectly fine with that narrative fast-forward – as much as Naho’s headspace is a believable place, Orange lacks either the sharpness of voice to make that space permanently compelling or the visual execution to completely bring her anxiety to life. Orange is a perfectly reasonable show, but at this point I’m not expecting it to be much more than a fair entry in a genre I like. We’ll have to wait for Euphonium season to get back into the real prestige dramas.
This week’s Love Live Sunshine unfortunately didn’t really feel up to the show’s usual standard. The group’s trip to Tokyo was full of gags that just didn’t make great use of the characters; Yohane being in full fallen angel mode the whole time was more tiring than anything, and Hanamaru’s material really leaned on her zura affectation over her more entertaining eccentricities. On top of that, there was a little too much of the u’s-worship that has always somewhat defined Sunshine; sequences like the group visiting the stairs u’s practiced on leaned towards the self-indulgent canonization that sank the original series’ last act. That said, there were good moments here and there, from You’s incoherent costume changes to the general tonal madness of the more “serious” scenes. I’m still very much in love with how the third years are performing some kind of hard-boiled tragic love story in the background of a silly club show, and I also appreciate that one of the group’s rivals introduced herself by doing a spinning flip and leaving without a word. Well-crafted camp is in bountiful supply this season, and Love Live seems determined to contribute its share.
Mob Psycho 100 pulled off another episode focused almost entirely on its stars’ insecurities, this time highlighting the inferiority complex of Mob’s brother Ritsu. This was a dark and depressing episode from start to finish, but I was really impressed by the show’s overall restraint. The only scene that I felt got too on-the-nose in its cynical messaging was the finale, where the “malevolent crowds” got a bit simplistic in their villainy, but that seems to be a tendency ONE can’t really avoid – other than that, both Mob and Ritsu’s insecurities were treated with sensitivity and great visual representation. Mob Psycho continues to be as visually compelling ever, and far smarter of a show narrative-wise than I’d ever expected.
Finally, Sweetness & Lightning rallied back this week after a pair of frankly pretty mediocre episodes. The show’s general formula had gotten kind of stale, so I was happy to see it branch out with an episode largely framed from Tsumugi’s perspective. There were lots of neat tricks of framing that really hammered in the difference in how a little girl like Tsumugi interacts with the world, and also just plenty of individually charming moments on her adventure. This episode’s conceit also allowed for lots of moments with more emotional complexity than the usual “fun times with food” – there was some nice melancholy in Tsumugi’s reliance on her father near the beginning, and I loved how the show articulated her tantrum later on. Sweetness & Lightning has a fair enough standard platform, but its characters deserve opportunities to stretch themselves like this.