Summer 2016 – Week 13 in Review

The season well and truly ended this week, offering conclusions to Orange, Mob Psycho, Love Live, Thunderbolt Fantasy, and… well, JoJo is apparently eternal, so Not JoJo. Oh wait, Thunderbolt Fantasy also didn’t end, it’s still got an episode left. So I guess this week was actually just a clusterfuck of endings and non-endings, and we’re not going to get a break between seasons after all, and we’re just going to have to live with that. Either way, I can conclusively say that episodes of anime did in fact air this week, and I had at least a couple things to say about several of them. SO LET’S DO THAT!

Mob Psycho 100‘s conclusion ended up being more impressive than I’d expected, and I was already expecting a lot. The visuals were honestly right about par for this show, which was maybe a little disappointing, but that was made up for by the fact that Reigen actually managed to offer a fairly satisfying conclusion to the show’s thematic questions. ONE still seems like a pretty mixed-up guy, but Mob Psycho’s emphasis on both societal engagement and kindness felt far more coherent than One Punch Man’s general mess of whatever, and this show’s cast was strong enough that it was also nice to get a little epilogue touching base with everyone. Mob Psycho was a strong production from top to bottom, and will easily slot in to my end-of-year list. Thanks for the ride, Mob!

Mob Psycho 100

More shocking twists aplenty were unveiled in this week’s Thunderbolt Fantasy, starting with the fact that Shang had been using a fake sword all along. There was plenty of entertainment to be found in his ribcage-exploding techniques and blase acceptance of his new nickname, but I also appreciated the show actually tying its sword-world themes together a bit. While the Bones of Creation seeks an unbeatable sword worthy of his unbeatable technique, Shang is perfectly happy whacking people with sticks, and taking the burden of making those strikes lethal on himself. Hurray for thematically coherent foils!

Also, turns out the uber-sword was actually acting as the prison key for that demon god. Whoops! That scene was also sprinkled with a light dusting of thematic cohesion, courtesy of the Bones of Creation’s declaration that he’d be happy to live in a world of chaos, both because swords love chaos and because his ultimate defeat of the demon god would then establish him as a mighty hero. Thunderbolt Fantasy’s “villains” tend to care about titles for their own sake, placing value in the title over the substance of their actions. In contrast, all of its heroes hide their titles, either cloaking their nature like the Enigmatic Gale or taking up a new identity entirely like Shang. It’s not the most rich of thematic stews, but it certainly makes for a cohesive production, and is about the level of complexity you could gracefully integrate into a straightforward adventure like this. Urobuchi has always been a master of storytelling fundamentals, but I appreciate the minimalist approach to theming he’s going with this time – very few straightforward speeches, just letting the actions and preferences of the characters do the talking.

Thunderbolt Fantasy

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure pulled off an all-timer again this week, though in a very different mode than Kira’s fight. Rohan versus Boyz II Men was one of the most gleefully silly episodes the show has had in a long, long time, and made the most of some of JoJo’s greatest tricks. First off, framing the episode around a game of rocks-paper-scissors was a great choice that called back Jotaro’s poker match. Like that episode, all of the energy and drama that’s normally applied to big physical confrontations was instead applied to absurd mindgames, making for a wonderfully silly spectacle. The execution really deserved notice here – given a conflict that was absurd on its face, the show just decided to lean entirely into it, framing Rohan and his opponent as soaring into the sky in order to throw gestures at each other.

On top of that, Rohan is just a much more compelling character than Jotaro, and this episode leaned into his personality in the best way possible. Even before the match started, I was already cheering at his dismissal of the other leads, as well as his choice to just straight-up punch a kid in the face. And manipulating the invisible baby to assure his victory was a perfectly callous/charismatic choice, an absurd twist that actually didn’t seem out of place for Rohan. This was one of the most entertaining JoJos I’ve seen in a long time, and gives me great hope for the last act of Diamond is Unbreakable.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Love Live Sunshine just kinda shuffled to the finish line this week, continuing the show’s legacy of never finishing a season well. Sunshine didn’t really have the huge tonal missteps of the original two seasons, of course – it was more just very bland in its conclusion, pushing the girls towards their qualifiers with none of the energy or personality that made the earlier material so fun. The Love Live competition itself is almost always the least interesting part of this show, kinda echoing how the music performances are never the highlights they’re intended to be. Love Live excels in tangents and gags and energy, and so its more plot-focused stuff generally struggles. That really is a shame – there’s no reason Love Live shouldn’t be able to bring the same energy to its ostensible dramatic peaks that it does to its smaller stuff, but when it comes time for the big moments, the show can’t help but go broad and repetitive. The theatrical reenactment that concluded this episode honestly was a pretty unique idea, but it just didn’t do anything for the show – and everything that surrounded that was extremely safe “everything we’ve learned” and “everyone is supporting us” fluff.

That said, I’m certainly looking forward to the show’s inevitable second season. Sunshine overall was a solid improvement over the original series, and Love Live’s second season was an improvement over its first, so I’m excited to see what might come next. Love Live is a monolithic institution, but its staff seem to keep learning from the past, iterating in slightly better ways every time. I’m sure they’ll save their school eventually.

Love Live Sunshine

And Orange also just kinda ended, though at it at least was able to pull some emotional heft out of its major scenes. Orange certainly didn’t need a double-length finale, but I was legitimately affected by both Naho and Kakeru’s mutual confession and the group’s final night scene, and that’s all I could really hope for. Orange has been hampered by issues as diverse as production meltdown, narrative bloat, and a fundamentally nonsensical premise, but it’s managed to wring consistent endearment out of its extremely strong central cast. Characters are generally the one thing you can’t do without, and Orange demonstrates you can still almost make a show even if they’re all you have.


8 thoughts on “Summer 2016 – Week 13 in Review

  1. I was very impressed my Mob Psycho’s ending but still a bit confused about ONE’s themes. If having psychic powers doesn’t make you more special than anyone else, then how come the only way Reigen could end the conflict was by demonstrating overwhelming psychic abilities and forcing the espers to listen to him?

    • Yeah, that seems like a permanent problem of his work – he wants to talk about society and the arbitrary nature of power, but he can’t help but make his protagonists the most powerful in a traditional sense. At this point I can appreciate where he’s going, but he just doesn’t seem like a good enough writer to solve his own dramatic preferences.

      • I’d suggest his series “Makai no Ossan” (Old Man of the Underworld) if you have the time/inclination. While it has the same overpowered main character issue, it focuses much more on everyone else, leaving the titular old guy to mostly deal with non-violent middle-aged dad issues and mop up an antagonist now and then.

    • Well, in a sense the same problem applies to the real world too. A bunch of people who go join ISIS are really delusional idiots who think society doesn’t appreciate them for what they are, so they ought to get together with similar rejects and SHOW ‘EM.
      Sadly, they also have guns and money and thus kill innocent people who are probably much more well-adjusted than them. At least in Mob’s world the good guys have corresponding amounts of powers to throw against the likes of Claw. Reigen needs power to counter Claw’s agents in the immediate, but it was through his words that he really defeated them for the years to come as well, by destroying their motivation and will to fight entirely.

    • I think one of the ways to look at this contradiction is from the point of view of the villains. They refuse to recognize Reigen expressly because he isn’t one of them, and the only way for them to listen to him is if he were to talk to them “on equal footing” (i.e. as a person with psychic powers). In the professional world, I can attest to such (illogical) behavior. Doctors, for example, will refuse to listen to evidence, no matter how sound or scientifically based it is, unless it presented to them by another Doctor, or perhaps someone in a position of authority to which they would actually defer to.

      In this sense, pride (as was hinted by Reigen) is what fuels their childish desires to rule the world. But Reigen smartly points out that pride as a basis for wanting to take over the world can be a very fragile excuse. All it takes is one person to beat you down, and you lose all sense of self and purpose.

      Also, “power” as “physic strength” is relative, as Reigen only reluctantly uses Mob’s powers to drive home a point. Beyond the use of these powers, the gist of his message remains unchanged. The powers only served as a tool for him to make them pay attention to him; they aren’t the basis of his argument to begin with.

      In the professional setting, I’d relate this to finding “movers” – the people who can effect change in a top-down strategy that challenges, but does not necessarily break down, the status quo. So in a sense it DOES make sense to have to use force in order to make the villains listen to him. It’s certainly a contradiction, but that contradiction lies in the espers that claim superiority over other people, not Reigen I believe.

    • For me at least that was the point. Reigen is a con man. He was telling them to look at how powerful he is despite being a commoner, but he was never really powerful to begin with. The one who is both powerful and realizes that power doesn’t mean anything is Mob, but Mob barely understands his own thoughts on the matter and is certainly not able to clearly articulate them.

      Reigen on the other hand is quite used to using words as weapons, and he was easily able to cut through all of their boasts, philosophies, and claims. Yeah they had powers, but they were beaten by a guy borrowing powers from a little kid. There will always be bigger fish in the sea, just because you have a special ability doesn’t mean others don’t as well.

      Claw wanted to take over the world, but that was just a flight of fantasy. There would always be someone like mob who was stronger but did not stick out. There would always be people like Reigen who would trick them and confuse them. Psychic powers are not absolute, they don’t make you a god. Reigen beat them with powers that were not even his own.

      I do think that perhaps resolving it in a way that did not involve powers at all could have been better. However the way it was done allowed Reigen to continue to casually look down on them and call out their bullshit, as he had been doing previously. A plan that involved outsmarting them and defeating them without powers wouldn’t allow for the same sense of crushing superiority that would show them that they really are not special. Yes in the end being defeated by someone powerless would certainly have that effect it wouldn’t allow Reigen to show them how real adults with powers act.

  2. Great review! Perhaps a stupid question, but… What makes you so sure that Love Live Sunshine will have a 2nd season? I really enjoyed it despite some minor flaws, but now I really need a 2nd season, yet I haven’t seen any announcements. So yeah, what makes you so certain?

    • Sunshine outsold basically everything else this season by miles and miles, and its anime is one of the tentpoles of a much larger multimedia franchise. Considering this season concluded right before the start of the titular contest, I’m 99.99% sure it was planned with a second season in mind.

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