This was a workhorse week in anime. We’re several weeks out from the premieres, meaning most of this season’s shows have more or less established their tone and structure, but we’re still also some distance from the sort of narrative shakeups that often mark the midpoint of one season productions. That point in the season means many shows are entering a bit of a lean period at the moment – demonstrating their fundamental quality, but not really dazzling with any new talents. Yuri on Ice and Flip Flappers have largely settled into their genre spaces, Girlish Number and Euphonium each hit some mid-sized dramatic turns, and JoJo just kept chugging along. Weeks like this put the onus on me to come up with new stuff to talk about, so thanks a fuckin’ lot, anime. Fortunately, after possibly more than a hundred of these Week in Reviews, I’ve learned how to spend a lot of time talking about basically nothing. So if that sounds like fun to you, pull up a chair and take a seat as we RUN THESE SHOWS DOWN!
Yuri!!! On ICE finally showed its seams this week, as was pretty much bound to happen. An anime about figure skating is an inherently outrageous proposition – figure skating is a sport that embodies fluidity and grace, and fluidly animating new performances every week is an absurd burden. Thus the show is forced to repeat its animation, and this episode was very heavy on that – one routine early on was the third rendition of one of last week’s cuts, and Yuri’s own major cut was used twice. Particularly when it comes to something like figure skating, cuts that work perfectly the first time really suffer in repetition; if we’re supposed to be drawing any emotional cues from a performance more than “hey, he’s skating,” that performance needs to be unique.
The episode was a lot slower than the prior ones, which is also unfortunate – Yuri could be a slower show, but its pacing was previously one of its biggest strengths. But the characters are still strong, and this was ultimately a cooldown episode following a major confrontation, so I’m hopeful things will pull back together as we get back into the upcoming tournaments.
Girlish Number performed its most necessary narrative task this week – forcing Chitose to acknowledge she’s not nearly as special as she thinks she is. Her snark has certainly been entertaining, but I go to Wataru’s stories for the humanity, not the cynicism, and the humanity generally comes through when the cynicism just can’t cut it anymore. It also made sense to me that this week’s particular trial was overcome without that much difficulty – Chitose needs to have some talent for her personality to really work, and there’s still a huge difference between “fine acting for a character whose motivation is ‘wants the MC’s dick’” and “fine acting.” This was a fairly minor crucible, but I’m hopeful it’s the herald of far more crushing failures to come!
Sound! Euphonium wrapped up its initial conflict this week, which was something of a shock – very little else has been seeded across these early episodes, so I figured this thread would be relevant for a while. I can’t really complain, though. The show never wholly integrated its new characters into the drama of the existing cast, but they’re fine additions to the ensemble, so I think things will go more smoothly now that Yoroizuka and Nozomi aren’t the direct focus. Euphonium’s second season is certainly less focused than the first, and its overt narrative has wandered here and there, but its individual episodes are so gorgeously realized that it’s hard to complain too much. The fact that Euphonium’s source material is a little rambly actually kinda emphasizes its success – these are all fairly minor emotional conflicts, and they don’t have the firmest of thematic binding, but Euphonium still manages to make them feel grand and impactful and fully lived in. I’m very excited to see what so much of Euphonium’s staff do next.
Flip Flappers actually avoided Pure Illusion this week, instead sending Cocona and Papika off on an adventure all within their own world. Things turned out pretty predictably from there – in fact, this episode in general echoed the format of the first episode very closely, just with a desert island instead of a snowy wilderness. The show’s aversion to plot continued, meaning we barely got a useful word from Yayaka, but that seems to be this show’s deal at this point. I’m pretty much fine with that – I’ve tempered my expectations regarding any grand narrative, and am comfortable enough enjoying this show as a visually exuberant series of tiny backyard adventures. “A series of the imaginary adventures you went on as a kid” is actually a pretty compelling premise for a show – I just wish this one would stop leering at its protagonists and destroying its own charm.
March comes in like a lion spent nearly a whole episode in its goofy slice of life mode this week, which certainly made for a weaker episode than usual. March’s slice of life stuff isn’t even really bad for the genre, it’s just mediocre, whereas its material focused on Rei’s internal reality is top notch. And many of the jokes here exhibited the textbook issues of translating offhand manga comedy to anime, like the unnecessary stretching of punchlines and pacing-destroying commentary that make the tools of one so unusable for the other. But this show still has a very endearing cast, and they were perfectly charming this week. Even in its weaker moments, the family dynamic is strong enough here that it’s easy to understand the comfort Rei finds in his visits. A strong cast can make up for a whole lot of smaller deficiencies.
One of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s greatest strengths is its constant, restless invasions of other genres. That generally gives it far more flexibility than most shounen battlers, but this week, that spirit of invention unfortunately didn’t pay off. This episode was structured as a tight potboiler, with constant jumps forward and backward across the course of a single morning – but in the context of this one episode, those jumps didn’t really accomplish anything. Normally, nonlinear narratives are designed as such because they’re excellent for both raising cliffhanger-style questions and managing the pacing of drama. This episode did have a bit of that puzzle-solving appeal, but its fragments were scattered across so many distinct and unrelated characters that there wasn’t really any insight gained by scattering them like this. It really just felt confused, in contrast with the show’s usual extreme confidence.
Fortunately, the Stand battle that consumed the majority of this episode was still a reasonable fight. Superfly is one of the more unconventional recent opponents, and those are always fun ones, plus the assist by Josuke’s alien friend added even more uncertainty to the battle. I’m guessing this episode’s conceit means we’re nearing the final hours of the Diamond is Unbreakable saga, so hopefully that choice pays off soon.
And finally, Izetta: The Last Witch spent this whole episode doing its best Code Geass impression, which was a whole lot of fun. Both sides here seem to understand Izetta’s strengths and weaknesses as a weapon and symbol, meaning this was all political games over round tables, as the Emperor’s agent pulled together all available information and Fine’s group worked to control Izetta’s introduction to the world at large. There’s a reason Code Geass was such a popular show – these types of tactical games, where the audience almost feels like they’re sitting in at these roundtables, are very fun to witness. It’s essentially another kind of grounded conflict, where instead of us knowing all the relative powers of some specific combatants, we know the strategic abilities of each side at large, and thus can gauge and predict how they’ll actually clash. Given Izetta is a friggin’ witch, the show is obviously going to “cheat” in a variety of ways, and pull off twists we couldn’t possibly predict, but if the show wants to succeed as this sort of narrative, it just has to sell the validity of its twists in immediate dramatic terms. Izetta has emerged from a reasonable set of introductory episodes into a solid dramatic platform.