Dear lord it’s week eight. We are almost three quarters of the way through the summer season. August is practically over. What the hell is going on.
Well, anime is going on. Outside of our communal existential dread at somehow being yet another week older, things haven’t changed much in anime land – Aqours are still doing their best, Urobuchi’s puppets are still being delightfully ridiculous, and Tsumugi is still hungry for new snacks. This was another placeholder week in anime, with its various low points being balanced out by some unexpected highs. So let’s start with the good news then, and get right into Love Live Sunshine’s big episode!
Love Live Sunshine hits its first big dramatic turn this week, as Aqours were blindsided by a last place, zero vote performance in their Tokyo debut. Sunshine’s drama has generally been better-sculpted than the original series’, and this episode was no exception. Chika is just a much more traditionally effective heroine than Honoka; while Honoka would either brush this off or come off as unnatural in her despair, having this failure shake Chika felt perfectly natural. Chika’s attempts to stay positive rang as satisfyingly false all throughout the episode, and her final, bitter acceptance of her feelings went to a far more legitimately melancholy place than Love Live tends to. Chika’s vulnerability makes this whole show much better, and this episode’s direction actually felt above par for the show as well – there were some nice match cuts in both the third year flashbacks and Chika’s thoughts, and the final scene never oversold Chika’s feelings.
On top of that, this episode’s big confrontation between Kanan and Mari was maybe the most ridiculous scene any of the third years have had yet. I am absolutely loving the absurd tonal counterpoint of those three melodramatic girls – stuff like “how long has it been since you called me out here” or Mari’s tearful turn feel like they’d be more at home in a hard-boiled spy movie than an idol show. Sunshine clearly understands the tonal cues it’s employing here (stuff like the ocean spray accompanying their words is a nice touch), so I’m very on board to see how they make that genre piece and Sunshine’s general storyline collide.
Mob Psycho 100 had what I’d consider its first genuinely weak episode this week, as Ritsu’s descent into supervillainy was sped up to the point where it felt like we were fast-forwarding through two episodes of content. It was the opposite problem of My Hero Academia, basically – that show chose to stop too early in the source material, and so had to slow everything down, while this episode seemed intent on rushing through its own material in order to get to some arc further down the line. But the end result was the same – when you mess with the pacing in order to match an arbitrary number of assigned episodes, the dramatic impact suffers. It’s one more reminder that “the things that happen” are normally only a small part of whether a show’s choices end up being dramatically effective.
Orange managed to entirely sidestep last episode’s mutual confession, returning back to dramatic stasis with nary a hint of actual romantic progress. That’s kinda fine, because Orange isn’t really a romance, and also kinda not fine, because fuck you Orange. But the bigger problem with this week’s episode was obviously the production – the show has wholly run out of animation at this point, and now can no longer convey any emotion more complex than “this character has a face.” Orange has some lovely highs, but its average performance has only gotten worse over time. It’s a strong reminder that in anime, good scheduling and talented animators will often matter a lot more than excellent source material.
Sweetness & Lightning was up to its usual tricks this week, as a parent-teacher day at Tsumugi’s daycare prompted some reflections on Tsumugi’s mother, as well as what we can do for each other in a more general sense. There was a nice thematic throughline running all the way through this episode, as Inuzuka’s offer to create a new bag for Tsumugi lead into Kotori’s insecurity about being able to recreate her mother’s recipe. Both Inuzuka and Kotori were insecure about Tsumugi’s happiness, and their own ability to live up to her past memories, but Tsumugi was perfectly happy to join her old favorites with the people she now loves. It played directly into how well this show’s focus on cooking matches its focus on family – like an unfamiliar recipe, familial love is messy and imperfect, but still an endlessly rewarding experience. This episode wasn’t a revelation, but it was a fine demonstration of Sweetness & Lightning’s core strengths.
This week’s Thunderbolt Fantasy was almost wholly dedicated to the entire team dunking on Shang, which I was completely okay with. There’s an inherent comedy in the odd camp disconnect of stuff like cameras zooming in to capture puppets’ non-reactions, but Thunderbolt Fantasy also has a strong and wholly intentional sense of humor as well. This was possibly the most action-heavy episode of the show so far, but almost all of it was played as farce, and it was peppered with great individual moments like the whole team consoling the archer on his missed shots while Shang nearly got killed by a giant golem. I wouldn’t still be watching Thunderbolt Fantasy if it weren’t a confident and satisfying show in its own right, and I think the choice to play both of these first trials as farce was a very smart one – the team was assembled specifically to make these battles trivial, and so leaning into their anticlimactic nature made sense.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure also had a very focused episode this week, as we finally got our formal introduction to presumable serial killer Kira. This was definitely a visually conservative episode (Diamond is Unbreakable’s second cour has had a fair number of those), and the pacing was a little slow, but it was still entertaining enough watching Kira’s quest to regain his lost love. I liked seeing more of Josuke and his companions’ daily life from a secondary perspective, and I really liked Kira’s final speech to Shigechi. That speech was pretty much classic JoJo, and kinda reminded me of Dio’s over-explanation of his two zombie knights from Phantom Blood – many villains like to monologue, but JoJo villains see monologuing as a sacred duty. And this week’s asshole cliffhanger hopefully just means next week will be a legitimately thrilling fight. We’re certainly due for one, so I hope Killer Queen can provide.