Well heck dang it’s Wednesday again. Anime was pretty alright this week – a couple clear standouts, a couple weaker entries, an overall par performance. JoJo’s fundamentally great art design is unfortunately still trembling under the weight of several consecutive seasons, and Orange is beginning to lose me with its circular conflicts, but Love Live pulled off a spectacle that was just as funny as last week was successfully dramatic, and even if JoJo wasn’t prepared to be top JoJo, Thunderbolt Fantasy certainly was. It frankly makes me a little sad that I have to scroll all the way down the streaming titles page to reach Thunderbolt’s spot on Crunchyroll – I can kinda understand that its inherently camp nature makes it less appealing to many fans seeking action shows, but it’s seriously so, so much better than 9/10 of the shows in its genre. Surely one day the Thunderbolt Fantasies and Lost Villages of the world will get their due!
Anyway. LET’S TALK ABOUT SOME CARTOONS.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure played it pretty safe this week, offering up a fight that was conservative both in dramatic construction and visual flair. This season in general has been a fairly significant step down from Diamond is Unbreakable’s early episodes, at least when it comes to execution – the show’s relentless release schedule will do that. But in spite of that, I still appreciated Koichi figuring out ways to combat Kira’s totally unfair heat-seeking sub-Stand. And there were a couple fragments of absurdism here that were also pretty appealing – I liked Koichi getting progressively more frustrated with the house around him, and I liked how the menace of Sheer Heart Attack was consistently undercut by that silly tinkling sound effect the show used to convey its movements. This really wasn’t much of an episode on the whole, but JoJo still offers its own brand of smaller treasures.
Fortunately, Thunderbolt Fantasy was happy to pick up JoJo’s slack. This week’s episode was Thunderbolt fun from start to finish, full of the absurd lines and melodramatic camerawork that make the show such a joy. This was possibly the most stereotypically Urobuchi episode of the show so far, what with both the fair temple maiden and hot-blooded spearman learning the Terrible Way of the World. I almost had to laugh myself at sequences like Dan Fei acknowledging the cruelty of the world, but of course, that stuff isn’t the reason I love Urobuchi shows – it’s because realizations like that are always countered by lines like Shang’s “you can regret being deceived, but don’t ever regret trying to do the right thing.” And the Screaming Phoenix Killer’s final hour was equally satisfying, likely peaking with that classic but still wonderful “this will be decided in eight… no, nine moves.” As I’ve said before, I’m not naturally an action fan, but when action leans into its own inherently camp nature and embraces a spirit of fun, I can be easily convinced. And Thunderbolt Fantasy is fun as hell.
Love Live Sunshine was also in top form this week, as the formal introduction of the third years to the group led to… well, a whole bunch of insane bullshit. Mari and Dia are absolutely ridiculous people – even when they’re not acting out a melodramatic love tragedy, they still can’t help but attack everything they do with exuberant enthusiasm. It was great seeing both of them get to be their full, dorky selves this week, as Dia’s enthusiasm for following u’s schedule happily transitioned into making the Best Beach Shack Ever, and Mari amused herself making vile-looking stews and snuggling her girlfriend. Sunshine was already a league above the original Love Live when it came to wacky shenanigans, and both Dia and Mari are at least as absurd as Yohane.
This episode also had another of Sunshine’s more effective emotional arcs, as its repeating structure allowed Chika and Riko to grow closer across a series of very frank conversations. Their conversations embodied another far pole of Love Live – the show is normally very heightened in its style of drama and dialogue, but those exchanges really did feel like two close friends navigating uncertain emotional needs. Though “close friends” may not be the right phrasing, considering this episode ended on a face-to-face “I love you.” It seems that Sunshine has decided to give up on subtext altogether at this point.
Mob Psycho 100 had an expected cooldown this week, since not even the absolute top tier of non-KyoAni productions can maintain the execution of last week’s episode. That was more or less fine, though – the cast and narrative are strong enough to carry the show at this point, with Mob and Ritsu each leading the pack in their own ways. Mob Psycho’s thematic stuff can get pretty broad or on-the-nose at times, but both Mob and Ritsu have developed into complex and compelling protagonists, products of their environment and also compassionate brothers who ultimately really care about each other. I was initially not terrible impressed with Mob’s fundamental nature being cast as the repression of violence, but seeing that framed through his willingness to do anything for his brother has given his problems a necessary human touch. Mob Psycho is pretty alright.
This week’s Orange was a bit of a turning point, but not really in the show itself – it was more the point where I just kinda lost interest in the immediate drama of what these characters are doing. We’ve had enough straight episodes of “we have to help Kakeru carry this burden” that it all just kinda feels like noise at this point, and this episode’s wincingly on-the-nose visual metaphors didn’t really help that. That said, this is still a very likable cast on the whole, meaning it’s a fine enough time just watching them enjoy the festival together. My expectations for Orange have lowered consistently throughout the season, but I still hope these kids turn out okay.
Recent episodes of Sweetness & Lightning have excelled by moving away from the cooking sequences themselves, to the extent where the actual meal has sometimes felt like an awkward afterthought. But cooking is at the heart of this show’s appeal, and this episode got back to fundamentals in the best way possible. Over half of this episode was wholly dedicated to the best part of the show’s usual cooking rituals – watching Kouhei and Kotori freak out over the most simple elements of cooking preparation. Tsumugi actually got to join in this time, as her successive moments of terror and astonishment at Kouhei somehow turning a raw fish into an actual meal (HE CUT OFF ITS HEAD) was a treat as well. It’s nice to see that the show can still draw great entertainment out of its most basic ingredients – exploring stuff like Tsumugi’s own world or her relationship with her mother is great, but the unlikely discoveries implicit in making a meal with close friends is still a terrific hook for Sweetness & Lightning.