This was a perfectly respectable week in anime! In fact, it was more than respectable – Yuri on Ice managed to grab my interest in a way it never had before, Flip Flappers pulled off a stunning vignette that raised the bar for the show altogether, and Euphonium had possibly the best musical performance I’ve seen in anime. This season is just ridiculous, you guys – normally something like Yuri on Ice, Euphonium, or March comes in like a lion would be the bright spot in a largely weaker lineup, but this season’s crop basically starts at JoJo/Girlish Number and only goes up from there. Given I’m writing this prior to the election results, the world may literally be on fire by the time this gets posted (UPDATE: the world is literally on fire), but at least we’re going out with some pretty cool cartoons. Let’s RUN ‘EM DOWN!
This week’s Yuri!!! On ICE was a very solid affair, conveying Yuri’s regional qualifiers with far fewer of the shortcuts that made last week’s episode somewhat disappointing. There were certainly weaker segments here, but the show smartly leaned on its comedy to smooth the gaps between the actual performances, which were all very satisfying. The show isn’t rewriting any genre rulebooks, but it’s offering a highly consistent and satisfying sports template – we’re essentially already in the “tournament arc,” so I can only hope the show holds it together through the upcoming performances.
Personally, this episode was important for me in that it was the first time Victor actually felt like a person. He’s spent a lot of time up until now shifting between comic relief, idol, and taskmaster, but his interactions with Yuri this week finally felt like two fully realized people bouncing off each other in complicated ways. Both Yuri and Victor are stubborn and difficult in their own ways, and seeing how they sometimes sync and sometimes repel is getting more compelling the longer the show goes on. As for the “love confession” at the end, I’m not really holding my breath – confirmation of a gay relationship is a line anime loves to dance with, but I’m guessing this one will get about as much textual confirmation as the rest of them. We’ll see, though!
Sound! Euphonium’s regional performance came at last this week, and dear lord was it incredible. I already gushed about this episode at length over at ANN, but it’s still kinda stunning to think about how much passion and talent was packed into this episode’s second half. The first half was already one of the most compelling segments of the season to date – very energetic cutting, evocative layouts, and plenty of small, poignant moments with the various subsections of the cast. But the second half managed to accomplish that rare feat of actually conveying a performance’s greatness in a visceral sense, letting stunning animation and composition take the place of what a mortal show would accomplish with commentary. It was a wordless celebration of everything that makes this show and studio so special. It was a gift.
Girlish Number’s latest episode was kinda downbeat and rambly, with its trajectory doing more to imply interesting things about the narrative to come than offering too many rewards in its own right. With Chitose’s big debut already looking like a garbage fire in its very first episode, it seems clear the show isn’t going to be focused on making this production a success – and if it were, it’d be totally unbelievable, because you can’t rewind time to rescue productions halfway through. Instead, it’s looking like we’ll be following this group in a more promotional capacity, which could be interesting in its own way. One of my main problems with Girlish Number is that its version of the industry is so vaguely defined that it’s hard to see its points as any kind of biting commentary, and I kinda doubt that problem will subside. Girlish Number works reasonably well as a comedy, but I’m still hoping for a clearer big picture here to give that comedy something to cling to.
This week’s Flip Flappers was easily my favorite episode of the show so far, and actually gave me a lot more hope for the show going forward. First off, on a base episodic level, this week’s haunted school was the most fully-realized of all the alternate realities Cocona and Papika have visited yet. From the gorgeous visual design to the ominous framing and the many small genre details, this world felt familiar but wholly its own, given a strong personality through the vaguely alluded-to ideas of slow conformity, sexual menace, and that ever-present clock tower.
I also felt much more confident in thinking this show is very specifically about adolescence after this episode, with all the weird mushy body stuff that implies. Last episode’s bondage villain was one thing, but the incredibly persistent lily symbolism here was quite another – that obviously wasn’t intended to titillate, and instead just echoed the general sexual/emotional Class S prison of the school. All that plus a terrific finale in that haunted clocktower made this feel like a fully realized psychological thriller film, somehow compressed into its most essential ingredients. This episode used genre in the most effective possible way, brushing across established touchstones to allow its storytelling to be as light and graceful as possible. A real stunner of an episode.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure’s cross-cutting felt a lot less intrusive this week, though a lot of that simply came down to the pylon fight concluding. That fight’s finale was 100% Battle Tendency – Josuke was basically embodying his father there, grinning and calling shots and pulling a win out of certain death. And the rest of this episode was even better – the depiction of Enigma’s powers was one of the neater visual tricks we’ve seen in a while, and I really appreciated how that tense fight was transposed against Rohan’s “I MUST SEE THIS GUY’S BACK.” Applying absurdly dramatic framing to very mundane nonsense is obviously classic JoJo (I even wrote an article about it recently), but having that directly contrasted against a fight where people have already been captured and others are likely to die really hammered in how equally JoJo treats all of its encounters. It’s okay Rohan, I want to see what’s on his back too.
March comes in like a lion was extremely March comes in like a lion this week, in that both the source material and its adaptation had some great ideas and some bad ideas and the end result was the kind of mess I totally adore while also sighing that it’s not any better. There just seems to be a fundamental lack of confidence holding this adaptation back, and that comes through both in what is kept from the source material and what is changed. On the source material side, lots of the jokes here simply don’t work in anime form. The show certainly needs lighter material, since it’s founded on a mixture of that and Rei’s feelings, but there are ways to translate this material less faithfully that make their essence more effective. And on the adaptation side, plenty of the SHAFT style tics have absolutely no place in this production, and are seemingly there just because That’s How This Studio Does Things. A cohesive workplace ethos can certainly be a powerful thing, as Kyoto Animation demonstrate, but when it’s just associated with weird, idiosyncratic quirks like these, it feels more suffocating than anything else.
And finally, in this week’s Izetta: The Last Witch, the main cast mainly compared boob sizes and talked about pie. I’ve been kinda generous with Izetta for a while now, but this seemed like a perfectly reasonable stopping point – the show just isn’t that well-written or that well-executed, and given it has absolutely nothing going on beyond its surface-level plot shenanigans, it’s not really in a genre space I’m terribly invested in either. Digressions like this episode can actually be effective, but only if a show’s characters can make use of them – Izetta’s cast is pretty superficial and its comedy lousy, so it can’t get away with stuff like this. Adios, Izetta.