Summer 2016 – Week 11 in Review

Surprise surprise, another fine friggin’ week in anime. With this season leaning so heavily into pure entertainment shows over emotional or thematic blockbusters, it can be easy to take weeks like this for granted – I laughed and cheered throughout, but wasn’t truly surprised by anything. But as I said in this week’s Love Live editorial, the craft of fun should never be taken for granted. This season’s shows have worked hard to keep me entertained, and the fact that basically every show this season fits into the “goofy good time” slot doesn’t make it any less impressive of a collection. So let’s run down this season’s silly shows once more, as another strong season begins to come to a close!

Thunderbolt Fantasy was chock full of betrayals and counter-betrayals this week, as the Enigmatic Gale revealed what frankly seems like a pretty convincing fundamental motivation. Our blustery friend isn’t in this because he has a deep loathing for the sword otaku or anything – he just loves trolling people, and feels that arrogant villains who consider themselves master tacticians make the best trolling targets. That’s fair enough in its own way, and the conversation between him and Shang was full of wonderful gems like Shang’s “I understand you’re way too crazy to ever understand” being followed up by the Enigmatic Gale admiring himself in a hand mirror. Thunderbolt Fantasy has a very engaging cast and a legitimately witty sense of humor – it can certainly ride on its camp comedy, but its wholly intentional bits of wordplay are strong as well. If not for the puppets, I could easily see this show having pretty broad appeal.

Thunderbolt Fantasy

After a few weeks of less impressive episodes, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure pulled off its best episode in a long, long time. On an immediate dramatic level, this episode was a brilliant mix of action theatrics, stylish character beats, and thriller chase scenes. Koichi, Jotaro, and Josuke all played key parts in the battle against Kira, and all three of them also got to pull of great sequences of their individual types of bravado – Koichi bitterly taunting Kira about pulling one over on him, Jotaro indulging in his usual one-liners, and Josuke tricking him into revealing his villainous nature. The extended fight also felt truly desperate on both sides – Kira fought like a caged animal, and all of his opponents were basically just doing their best to stay alive.

And on top of all that, this was also easily the most visually compelling episode the show has pulled off since well before Kira arrived. There were plenty of the usual dynamic palette shifts, but those were accompanied by some nice cuts of animation, more distinctive visual tricks (I really loved the lightning transition from Kira to Killer Queen as Jotaro stood up), and plenty of stark traditional shots. This episode was beautiful and ferocious and relentlessly paced, offering a bloody adventure spectacle on par with anything Battle Tendency was able to pull off. I know we can’t expect this level of execution consistently, but it’s always great to get one more S-tier JoJo.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Love Live Sunshine leaned so hard into its ship-baiting this episode that it might as well have been a story about a polygamous trio working out their relationship issues. You’s concerns were understandable here – she’s basically always had Chika to herself, and with Chika’s friendship with Riko becoming so intense, it’s understandable that she’d feel left behind. I liked how You’s insecurities found a very reasonable way to frame this disconnect – You’s always picked up things easily, and so she could imagine Chika wanting to distance herself from You to shine on her own terms. But of course, sequences like You imagining how to confront Chika were one hundred percent romcom territory. It is hard to call material like this “subtext.”

In the end, I felt this episode’s finale actually worked better for Riko than it did for You. While You’s feelings were understandable enough, they were both only raised this episode and easily solved without much effort. In contrast, Riko’s anxieties about playing piano were perfectly resolved through contrasting her recital against Aquors’ performance. By switching back and forth between the two, Love Live naturally conveyed the idea that Riko was able to perform because she could imagine her friends standing alongside her. That’s unusually graceful storytelling for Love Live, and made for a very satisfying finale.

Love Live Sunshine

Just one week after declaring Orange had more or less lost me, this episode did a pretty significant job of pulling me back. I’d always felt kinda weird about how much the show underplayed the inherent ambiguity of Naho’s quest – yeah, saving Kakeru from committing suicide is clearly a good thing, but essentially using herself as his reason to live always felt pretty questionable to me. This episode directly engaged with that ambiguity, and highlighted how Suwa’s self-sacrificing instinct might not just be unfortunate for him, but also ultimately worse for Naho. It is a very noble thing to sacrifice of yourself for another, but when you reach the point where you’re denying your own future happiness for the tenuous potential happiness of someone else, and implicating a friend in a way that isn’t even necessarily good for them, you have to step back and think about what you’re really accomplishing.


Mob Psycho 100 had another visually conservative (well, by Mob Psycho standards) episode this week, meaning we only got one excellent cut per fight scene. But this episode certainly didn’t lack for entertainment – we got to see a good half of the Claw forces battle with Mob’s group, and even got some more tidbits of philosophy courtesy of ONE’s favorite group, the put-upon common men. Average people often seem like skittering cockroaches in ONE shows – individually they might possess identity, but as a group they’re sniveling, accusatory, and terrified. ONE seems to have a pretty low opinion of basically everything, from society at large to the people who make it up, and I don’t really know where he’s ultimately going with this. He doesn’t like the arbitrary meritocracies he proposes, but his heroes are still incredibly powerful, which makes them somewhat weird champions of an alternative. And I’m not really sure he has any ideas for an alternative? It’s a strange set of opinions to sift through.

Mob Psycho 100

And finally, my impression of this week’s Sweetness & Lightning was almost entirely overrun by how adorable Tsumugi looks in her goddamn Mr. Galigali outfit. Holy shit Tsumugi in a fluffy pig costume what even is that. Adorable outfits aside, I mainly liked the looseness of the connections between and resolutions of this week’s conflicts. Sweetness & Lightning can sometimes get a little pat in its “solutions” to its emotional problems, so I appreciated moments like Kouhei admitting that “sometimes things go wrong, and it’s nobody’s fault,” or the fact that all he could really do for Tsumugi is make her a cute costume and hope for the best. This wasn’t a standout episode or anything, but a little realism in conflicts and one incredibly ridiculous outfit can go a long way.

sweetness & lightning