Alright, now we’re actually three quarters of the way through the season. That generally tends to align with shows’ second-to-last dramatic peaks, and this season was no exception – both Mob Psycho and Love Live had huge episodes this week, and the JoJo/Thunderbolt Fantasy pairing had pretty key turning points as well. Orange is starting to look a little long in the tooth at this point, but other than that, I’d say the season’s crop are holding together quite well. I’m perfectly happy to have two seasons in a row conclude with dignity intact!
First off, this week’s Mob Psycho 100 was HOLY SHIT THIS WEEK’S MOB PSYCHO 100. A show that had largely existed in visuals-up-to-eleven turned the visuals up to ELEVEN again, on like, a new scale where the original eleven was one and so the new eleven was actually eleven elevens. Mob’s fight with the agent of Claw was a gorgeous spectacle in a wide variety of ways, mixing variable styles of character animation with beautiful alternate coloring techniques and even a couple physically active single cuts. Between that and the fact that Mob actually seemed to be able to pull Ritsu back from the brink, I had basically nothing to complain about this week. I really was a little worried this confrontation between Mob and Ritsu would end in some cynical, disappointing way, so it was nice to see that Mob’s fundamentally good nature once again prevailed. It’s a tough world, but we gotta have something to cling to!
Sweetness & Lightning’s at-home curry focus made for a pretty routine cooking portion this week, but the episode was nonetheless lifted by many of the tiny details. The first minute or so, when the school group’s dads were all muttering outside and then simultaneously enraptured by the thought of watching the kids cut vegetables, was certainly one – but the episode’s other highlights were a bit more subdued. I liked the sequence where Kouhei came home alone, and silently realized he didn’t know what to do with himself in an empty home. I liked Tsumugi coming home after that, where her cheerful greeting to all of the home furniture rang true once again to her precise expression of kid-dom. And I really liked the episode’s somber finale, where reflections on Mom’s curry briefly brought to the surface the light sadness that girds this whole production. Even in a show largely defined by its titular sweetness, that hint of worldly sadness does a great deal of good.
Shigechi met his end in this week’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, after being double-exploded by Kira’s surprisingly straightforward Stand. I get the feeling I’m going to be impressed by the directions this arc takes Kira’s power – after two full seasons of Araki experimenting with Stand powers in all sorts of strange ways, having one that just creates bombs makes me think Araki’s looking to impress us with how Kira turns that into a whole vocabulary of weapons. Though I’m a little surprised he didn’t just blow up the jacket here, but I guess taking the simple route is never in the cards with this show.
Killer Queen aside, the clear best thing about this episode was seeing the whole squad meet up in response to Shigechi’s death. Diamond is Unbreakable’s cast is miles away the best group of characters JoJo has ever assembled, meaning it’s a legitimate treat just to see them all hanging out and discussing strategy together. I hope that’s another lesson Araki takes to heart – killing bad guys in gruesome ways is well and good, but turning them into complex allies of the main cast is ultimately far more satisfying.
The actual story of this week’s Orange was reliable as ever, but dear lord is the production ever falling apart. There were brief moments of visual appeal in this episode’s first half, what with Azusa’s dorky fantasies and the occasionally arresting rain stop between Naho and Kakeru – but by the time the show got to the athletic festival, all bets were off. Closeups or long shots, held frames or characters talking, it didn’t matter – everyone was subjected to rigorous, relentless smoosh-face. It’s nice that the team at least knew which parts of this episode really, desperately needed solid drawings, but everything that wasn’t plot-essential was basically hideous this time. It’s a shame seeing fundamentally solid material be held down by the oppressive realities of the modern anime industry.
Thunderbolt Fantasy had a fairly mundane episode this week, one that mostly just moved the plot through the Enigmatic Gale’s unexpected, inevitable betrayal. It was a pretty weak betrayal, frankly – based on his positioning in the OP and whatnot, I figured he had a much greater plan than “steal the artifacts for himself.” It was so low-key that I don’t really trust it; I assume there’s more to this story, and that we might actually see our tricksy friend flip sides twice more before the end of the show.
Other than that, I’m happy to see that our assassin/necromancer/sharpshooter trio have become such fast friends. They make for an entertainingly ridiculous peanut gallery, and seem to be having a great time offering snide commentary on all the stuff that’s actually happening.
Love Live Sunshine finally dedicated a full episode to the third years’ drama, and lord, what an episode it was. The melodramatic third year sequences have been a highlight of Sunshine from the start, but this episode was actually even better than those previous scenes. There were certainly plenty of absurdly operatic moments here, from the mountain confrontation between Mari and Kanan to the all-dutch-angle revery looking out at the rain, but their story also made sense, and rose to a legitimate dramatic peak. It was simultaneously high camp and earnest, earned personal drama, basically the embodiment of Love Live at its best. Tears in the rain, messy hugs, goofy faces, and weeping strings.
On a side note, it’s also kinda impossible to ignore that this entire thing was and has been framed as a doomed romance from moment one. Love Live has been messing with validating its fandom pairings since forever, but it’s never had an entire episode dedicated to exploring the strong and contradictory feelings bringing together one of its main couples. This episode even ended with what was more or less a ballad between the two of them, as they could finally speak honestly about their feelings.
Love Live is almost certainly not a show that will textually acknowledge a pair of its characters having romantic feelings for each other – but that’s more a reflection of socially regressive market forces in Japanese anime fandom than something inherent in Love Live specifically. And when the show is dedicating its third-quarter climax to celebrating these characters rekindling their relationship, it feels a little hard to deny the underlying intent – I mean, most actual, dedicated romances don’t do this much to explore the ambiguity and miscommunication of an old relationship. Love Live is gay as hell, and that’s pretty great.