Oh god it’s happening. We’re already halfway through September, final episodes are beginning to broadcast, and the season is well and truly ending. While I’ve gotten somewhat used to the seasonal panic of the preview guide, I certainly haven’t gotten used to the fact that we’re all that much closer to death. Fortunately, that’s exactly what anime is good for – frittering away the idle hours with cartoon entertainment to avoid the lurking specter of our own inevitable mortality. So let’s set aside our dreary, perpetually fraying existence for a while, and RUN DOWN SOME SHOWS!
Thunderbolt Fantasy’s climax began in earnest this week, as the Enigmatic Gale’s kinda terrible plan failed in pretty much exactly the way you’d expect. Having Shang play the role of the Enigmatic Gale for an extended period of time was destined to fail, and the fact that the good ol’ Bones of Creation took the extra step of keeping the swordpiece on him only magnified the failure. But all of that was a lot less fun than the adventures of Dan Fei and Juan, whose confrontation with the two remaining members of the Fellowship offered both this episode’s biggest fight and its best lines. Thunderbolt Fantasy is possibly the most earnest and direct of all Urobuchi productions, even if it’s layered with comedy and structural camp. I couldn’t help cheering for Juan’s declaration of heroic intent here, and appreciated that the show even went the extra step of poking out one of his eyes so he can match his abandoned master. This show’s story beats are archetypal, but they are also extremely confident.
Sweetness & Lightning used the long-awaited appearance of Kotori’s mom to focus this episode on different styles of parenting. I felt like the comparison of Kouhei’s choices with Tsumugi to the values of other parents was honestly a little undercooked (no pun intended, seriously, I just typed that and winced myself), but the conversation about getting scolded between Kouhei and Tsumugi was still one of the show’s better moments of grounded intimacy. Tsumugi’s change of heart there felt very believable; as opposed to simply being browbeaten into agreement, the revelation that Kouhei actually didn’t enjoy getting mad at her changed her perspective entirely. Likely because this was the series finale, the growth of all the characters felt a little more prominent this week – beyond the things the show actually pointed out, Tsumugi definitely felt older and more confident here than she did at the beginning. Sweetness & Lightning was always a pretty low-key production, but it carried this season’s slice of life title with dignity all the way through. I’m always happy to get more endearing little shows like this.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure returned to more standard fare this week, both in terms of content and execution. We were back to witnessing Araki’s take on horror standbys, with this episode’s template embracing the “evil photograph” villain. While I liked some of the visual effects used to evoke Kira’s dad’s world, this was ultimately a pretty underwhelming and exposition-heavy confrontation. More entertaining were “Kira’s” interactions with his new wife, who’s already coming across as an entertaining character in her own right. This was a role-player episode, and I can’t say I’m happy that Kira has switched to such an inexpressive face, but hopefully Kira’s Domestic Life will result in more entertaining full episodes down the line.
Love Live Sunshine finally had an episode that more or less fully dipped into the original’s weaker tendencies this week. Love Live has always struggled when it comes to season endings, and both the second season of the original and Sunshine have had a tendency to inordinately mythologize the series itself, and so an episode right at the end of the season about “finding what made u’s special” ended up being about as indulgent and underwhelming as you might expect. The ultimate message was one that this series needed to arrive at – that the Sunshine crowd need to find their own identity, and should stop trying to compare themselves to u’s. But the road there was full of the slow and unconvincingly sentimental stuff that made the original series’ worst episodes a chore. Fortunately, weak Love Live is still Love Live – the show is always brimming with endearing little gags and character moments, so this episode was still far from terrible. But it’s certainly the closest the show has come to the weaknesses of its predecessors.
But while Love Live was faltering a bit, Orange was pulling off another of its best episodes. I wouldn’t have expected an episode focused on Kakeru’s perspective to offer much we hadn’t already seen, but this close look into his original mindstate was a real “treat” – claustrophobic and painful and entirely understandable, his feelings were a steady round of blows all through the first half. Orange’s fundamentally strong material is really helping it at this point; we’ve escaped those mid-show doldrums where the show was attempting to stretch the narrative’s most static material across far too many episodes, and now even the aesthetic execution is rising to the strength of the underlying content. I frankly might have dropped Orange a while back if I weren’t reviewing it, so I guess this stands as another one of those odd benefits of watching anime on the clock.
And finally, Mob Psycho 100 really impressed me this week, largely through how cleverly it managed to integrate Reigen into a story where he theoretically really doesn’t belong. Reigen belongs to almost a different show entirely from entities like Claw – he has no powers beyond slapstick, so you’d think introducing him to Mob Psycho’s equivalent of a shounen battle arc would make for some awkward conversations. But Reigen actually shined here, coming off as more funny than ever even as he offered legitimate counterpoints to this arc’s core themes. Oh, and also this episode had one more of the best fight scenes I’ve ever seen in anime. No big deal.