Anime is so friggin’ good this season. I thought I was lucky last season, given my sturdy crop of half a dozen reliably entertaining shows, but this one is offering a solid handful of shows that could easily be the best anime of a normal season. Yuri!!! On ICE is consistently funny and extremely propulsive, Sound! Euphonium is every bit the equal of its predecessor, Girlish Number is giving Watari Wataru an easy canvas to riff on, and March comes in like a lion might still be my favorite thing I’m watching. With Flip Flappers and Izetta each offering their own very different strengths, pretty much every kind of show I like is solidly represented here. I remember noting in the spring season that all I was lacking was a strong character-focused story – well, I may not be getting a Conrevo-style themey-wemey show this time, but I think I can be content with this embarrassment of character-focused riches. Anime is being very good to me, so let’s stop with the rambling and RUN THESE SHOWS DOWN!
First off, Yuri!!! On ICE really presented the hard sell this week. I was certainly enjoying the show up until now, but this episode’s mix of ridiculous innuendo, near-constant skating, and narrative momentum jumped it to another level. The show is having an obscene amount of fun with Yuri and Victor’s relationship, seemingly pairing Yurio up with Yuri’s childhood friend just so these other two can get even more extravagantly flirtatious. The show is very silly, but it’s still able to sell the drama of both Yuris’ feelings, and the little stylistic digressions like Victor’s explanation of the song narrative only enhance the fun. Yuri on Ice manages to be intentionally and consistently hilarious through its dialogue while still succeeding as a gorgeously realized and fast-paced sports drama. It may actually be hitting that rare Girls und Panzer spot, where each episode is both entertaining and propulsive enough that I immediately demand another one.
Not to be outshone, Sound! Euphonium also had a terrific episode this week, although in a much quieter way. This was a quiet episode in general, given some thematic consistency through the questions about competition, but ultimately centered on a sequence of small, melancholy conversations. Euphonium’s phenomenal scene-setting and uniquely naturalistic dialogue really shine in settings like that; both Asuka and Yuuko were given very strong parts to play, and the scene that might best lend itself to melodramatic execution, Kumiko getting the difficult part, was here conveyed with a remarkably light touch. Euphonium’s status as an ensemble production has always made juggling its various character dramas a difficult feat, but I’d say this episode went a long way towards integrating Yoroizuka and Nozomi with the existing characters. And we’re still so early in!
Girlish Number’s second episode wasn’t as consistently funny as the first, but it had a lot more foundational work to do. I very much enjoyed all the material between Chitose and her new costars, but I’m still not really sold on the producer guiding their project. The dude is just an abrasive idiot, and while abrasive idiots are indeed a source of consistent real-life frustration, that doesn’t necessarily mean I want them dictating the drama of my anime. Girlish Number is ultimately a character story, and I’d like the successes or failures of this in-show production to relate to the characters who actually feel like people. “Work sucks and sometimes your professional future is entirely out of your hands” may be a true message, but it’s not really an insightful or dramatically satisfying one.
Flip Flappers also went all-out this week, messing with its usual structure in order to facilitate an, er, Mad Max-themed magical girl battle. I’m not sure I liked this week’s world as much as the first one, but it was certainly more fully realized as a place, and full of beautiful visual highlights. I also wasn’t really sure what to make of the extremely sexual theming of this episode’s villain. Sexuality and villainy are often linked in media, which isn’t really a good or meaningful thing in the abstract, and I don’t know if Flip Flappers is actually making that a thematic point – after all, the show can be pretty mindlessly male-gazey even when it’s not starring dominatrix witches. The show’s overt storytelling is still a total muddle, which seems to reflect its genesis as an animation and imagery-first production. There were many striking moments and beautiful cuts this week, and I’m still loving the show’s consistent visual creativity, but I think we’re approaching the point where the show can’t ride on visual energy alone.
March comes in like a lion spent most of this episode humanizing last week’s gag character, which was a very welcome choice. March is clearly a heavily tone-driven show, and though it’s generally preoccupied with conveying the lived experience of Rei’s world, the twin shogi matches this week did an excellent job of complementing that with Harunobu’s perspective and the summer heat. The water bottle that’s been a consistent motif was again put to solid use here, reflective of March’s general tendency towards establishing a set of steady visual touchstones to better articulate the feelings of its characters. And all that visual storytelling stuff was once again complimented by a very close examination of the story’s overt match, such that it was again easy to follow the emotional ebb and flow of the competition. Episodes of this show just fly by for me – it’s doing so many of my favorite things in such a confident way that it already feels like a familiar place. I’m really loving this show.
This week’s JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure started off with one of those most fundamentally JoJo of situations – a battle between Mrs. Kira and a big angry cat, afforded all the dramatic ornamentation JoJo can muster. The rest of the episode really couldn’t match up to the absurdity of that opening bit, but forcing Kira to fight with a plant-shaped cat was still pretty great. I’m actually enjoying all the variables of the Kira household at this point – his wife is a very fun character, Kira himself is a terrific antagonist, and with the son now aware of the truth, the tension will only ratchet higher. Mrs. Kira’s type seems to be “terse assholes who never pay attention to you,” so hopefully she’ll be able to find happiness with Rohan once all this serial killer business is over. Either way, I’m thoroughly enjoying what a general upgrade this cast has been.
And finally, Izetta: The Last Witch took a brief detour into Anime Land this week, dropping the shoe that hangs over nearly all action-adventure shows. I have to feel some sympathy for people who’re drawn to anime purely for the action stuff, and then turned away when shows like this reveal themselves to be aimed squarely at a male otaku audience – it’s a predictable ending, but the frustration is totally reasonable. It feels like an interesting reflection of the genre/demographic divide between local and western audiences – western audiences are largely just interested in the action/fantasy genre stuff regardless of gender, which means they often run directly into a lot of the fanservice embellishment that those genres trend towards for the sake of their original audiences. Meanwhile, the anime that actually isn’t hobbled by its hat-tips towards a fanservice-demanding audience isn’t really helpful to western audiences, since it falls in the drama/slice of life spheres they don’t seek in anime. It’s an awkward disconnect without a real solution.
But anyway, none of that has much to do with what was otherwise a perfectly solid episode. Like last week, one of the most satisfying elements of this episode was how it consistently demonstrated the solid intelligence of its characters. Izetta’s usefulness as a propaganda tool was immediately grasped upon, and Fine’s bodyguard was suspicious of Izetta for pretty much exactly as long as seems reasonable. Izetta may indulge in some crappy anime gags, but it’s still a sturdy narrative that’s moving quickly towards clear objectives.