The season’s halfway point has arrived! Normally this is the part where I’d comment on how quickly time seems to be passing, and probably make some offhand gesture towards our inescapable mortality, but given we just concluded one of the most horrific and dispiriting political contests in my country’s history, it really doesn’t seem like time’s been passing all that fast lately. But if you wanted fatigued political commentary, you’d check my twitter feed – in spite of all else, the world keeps turning, and that means talking about cartoons!
This season has been offering us a terrific bounty so far, presenting close to half the shows that will likely star in my year-end list. The better shows get, the more small-minded and useless it seems to rank them in any kind of reductive list, but what’s the point of a tradition if it’s not celebrated far past the point of reason? So let’s once more do that thing I always do, starting at the top and running down my favorites of the season so far!
#1: Flip Flappers
From engaging but seemingly unfocused beginnings, Flip Flappers has proven itself to be a show that’s just as well-written as it is beautiful, and dear lord is it beautiful. Flip Flappers’ heavy focus on visual metaphor and smart reliance on genre assumptions has allowed it to tell a compelling story of adolescent self-discovery while also offering a menagerie of beautiful episodic fairy tales. The show embodies the wild freedom of animation in its gorgeous invented worlds, consistently surprising with its new fragments of Pure Illusion. All of that would make it a satisfying animator showcase in its own right, but Flip Flappers’ overarching narrative seems just as strong as its episodic tangents, using all of those manic adventures to constantly reveal new things about Cocona’s own story. It’s one of those rare shows whose abundance of creativity is actually married to clear and well-articulated core concepts. Brilliant as an escapist fairy tale anthology and poignant as a character story, it is a remarkably rich production.
#2: Sound! Euphonium 2
The bad news is, Sound! Euphonium 2 is definitely not the equal of its predecessor. This largely comes down to the fact that its source material is a second and third novel that don’t naturally evolve from the themes and conflicts of the first, leaving this season both unfocused and somewhat emotionally undercooked. It’s a common issue, but still a disappointing one. The good news is, Sound! Euphonium is still one of the most beautifully realized shows in the medium, demonstrating an acuity of direction, character acting, and pure animation acumen that basically any other show would kill for. The show’s heights are plentiful and staggering, from its remarkably well-observed smaller conversations to astonishing standouts like the regionals performance. Sound! Euphonium 2 is certainly messier than the first season, but it’s still a terrific production by any reasonable metric.
#3: March comes in like a lion
It’s kinda clear to me that I’m enjoying March a good bit more than the community at large, which makes sense. The show has some huge, glaring flaws, both in the way it’s adapted its source material and the way it’s embraced SHAFT’s usual stylistic tricks, but the stuff it does right is just so exactly my jam that I’m happy to roll my eyes and wait through another tedious stab at semi-comedy. The show’s use of color and backgrounds in general are beautiful, its articulation of Rei’s internal world is fantastic, and the consistent framing device of Rei’s shogi matches actually gives the show an unexpected degree of dramatic intrigue. The character writing in general is also quite good, making for a production that I always feel comfortable returning to in spite of its quirks. Even SHAFT’s house tricks make this show feel that much more like comfort food, considering my endless love for Monogatari. What is great in March is exactly what I value in fiction, and I’m always happy to watch another episode.
#4: JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable
Diamond is Unbreakable has certainly weathered some weaker episodes, which feels somewhat inevitable for a non-stop three-cour production, but you just can’t keep a good JoJo down. Even when single episodes are offering lukewarm aesthetic execution or mediocre villains, the fact that Diamond is Unbreakable has far and away the best cast of any arc so far make it a pleasure to see what’s new in Morioh today. Diamond is Unbreakable is blessed with the show’s strongest fundamental platform in almost all respects: great heroes, great villain, great setting, great aesthetic, and a creator who’s continuously expanding the limits of what Stands can really do. I am going to seriously miss characters like Rohan and Kira when this is all over. I only hope JoJo isn’t quite done with us yet.
#5: Yuri!!! On ICE
Yuri on Ice banks on a simple truth: when executed correctly, sports shows can be some of the most consistently gripping productions out there. Yuri definitely isn’t Girls und Panzer-tier, but its initial momentum and ramp-up into constant performances has made it one of the most eminently watchable shows of the season. Its character work is largely just serviceable, but its cast is quite likeable, and the various animation hiccups haven’t prevented its performances from generally parsing as coherent “battles.” Yuri on Ice’s focus on figure skating has made for a predictably difficult road, but the show remains entertaining throughout.
#6: Girlish Number
I’m enjoying Girlish Number, but it feels like a show suffering from a serious identity crisis. There are elements here that point to a desire to express meaningful critique, from its occasionally perceptive character moments to its very all-encompassing approach to the media mix landscape, but it’s so regularly farcical that it’s often hard to take it as anything more than a goofy parody. Girlish Number lacks the incisiveness and empathetic truth of Oregairu, which makes sense – Wataru Watari clearly lived Hachiman’s experience, while his understanding of the anime industry at large will naturally be more vague. But I think that issue points to the way Girlish Number could ultimately succeed – by articulating and emphasizing the humanity of its characters, something Wataru is absolutely capable of doing. I’m rooting for Girlish Number, but it’s not there yet.