Fall 2016 – Week 7 in Review

It was very clear this week that many of this season’s shows took careful notes based on my first half in review post, and adjusted their content accordingly. Normally it takes at least a few weeks for shows to shift gears based on my exact preferences, so I was happy to see the response time so accelerated here. Shows like Girlish Number and Sound! Euphonium clearly took my complaints to heart, and as we all know, being able to accept constructive criticism is an admirable quality. I’m glad we can all agree anime turns out better when it listens to me specifically.

Alright, impossibility of my writing affecting anime production in any way whatsoever aside, this week really did see many shows directly tackling some of my existing complaints. Girlish Number dug in to its cast, Euphonium emphasized the variables that had worked in the first season, Yuri on Ice offered its most well-earned and best-composed personal material yet, and Flip Flappers was just fantastic in all regards. The fall season continues to impress in new ways, so let’s start with those flip flaps and RUN ‘EM DOWN!

This week’s Flip Flappers directly followed up on last week’s journey into Iroha’s psyche, opening with the reveal that “mending” her traumatic memories had actually killed her passion for art. I was fascinated by that new conflict in a couple way. On the one hand, it was totally unacceptable and intrusive for Cocona and Papika to basically alter Iroha’s brain – but on the other, do they then have the “right” to switch her back from a happy and socially well-adjusted person to one whose only outlet for her psychic pain is painting? It’s a very messy situation, and I liked that the show didn’t seem to frame Cocona’s desire to “fix” Iroha as either right or wrong.

Of course, that conflict only covered the first few minutes of this episode, whereas the rest dove deep into Cocona’s psyche, examining the many things Papika represents for her. Flip Flappers is handling its psychological investigations with as much confidence as its goofy adventures, offering funny tangents and striking individual scenes all along the way. The show was one of my biggest wildcards coming into the season, but it’s turned out to be one of the best original productions of the last few years. I hope it can finish strong!

Flip Flappers

In contrast with Flip Flappers’ continuous experimentation, this week’s Sound! Euphonium succeeded by returning to the basics. The first season had already made compelling characters of Asuka and Haruka, and so it was satisfying to see them return to the spotlight for an episode that also echoed the original’s themes about “specialness” and why we play. Euphonium 2 has turned out to be inescapably weaker than its predecessor, but even if this one isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, it still has a whole bunch of great parts. Lacking the thematic cohesion and clear momentum of season one, the pleasure here comes through individual threads – the powerful execution of Asuka’s scene with her mother, or the satisfaction of seeing Haruka ace her leadership responsibilities. There’s still plenty to enjoy here.

Sound! Euphonium

Yuri!!! on ICE also went for the gold this week, offering its strongest dramatic peak yet in the confrontation between Yuri and Victor. Victor has been an intentionally distant character for much of this series, and so seeing Yuri finally challenge him so directly was a long-awaited thrill. Victor’s distance has frankly made it hard for me to see that much chemistry between the two of them, but Yuri’s breakdown here and Victor’s passionate responses went a long way towards selling their relationship. It also seems like it IS a relationship now, pretty undeniably, which is great to see. Anime far too often skates around (pun absolutely intended) acknowledging same-sex relationships, but Yuri on Ice seems centered on an imbalanced adult romance in all its awkward glory. The show’s sales numbers are terrific, so hopefully this inspires more such textually acknowledged relationships to come!

Yuri on Ice

Girlish Number expanded outwards from Chitose this week, offering some texture and humanity to Koto, Kazuha, and even Momoka. The show’s overarching narrative is still pretty ungrounded and unfocused, but giving its heroines conflicts as tangible as “I needed to get a lead role before my time as a saleable commodity ran out” is a very good way to mitigate that issue. Girlish Number’s stars are all distinct enough that their conversations now possess the awkwardness of realism – there are uncomfortable pauses and half-finished thoughts, and not everyone is ever on the same page. Grounded dialogue isn’t an objective good, but it’s one of the few things tethering this show to the ground at all, and reflects the show’s generally excellent characterization. I wouldn’t want every show to be a vaguely constructed character study, but vaguely constructed character studies are definitely a Thing I’m Into.

Girlish Number

JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure concluded Rohan’s battle with Cheap Trick, which was highly entertaining from start to finish. Rohan’s my favorite of Diamond is Unbreakable’s many great characters, and Cheap Trick seemed designed specifically to make a fool of him. I honestly wouldn’t have minded more of Rohan contorting himself to find ways to avoid showing his back in public, but appreciated that his battle concluded with all the cats and dogs of the neighborhood exacting bitter revenge on an eccentric mangaka. Having Hayato be forced to confront an extremely accomplished Stand user with no powers at all was also exciting stuff, and a fairly unusual place to take the story. This episode’s art was kind of a mess, with characters appearing off-model far more often than on, but between the strong material by Rohan and Kira, it’s kinda hard for the adaptation to screw this arc up.

JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

And finally, March comes in like a lion pulled off its first totally successful comedy/slice of life-focused episode. Maybe I just needed a breather coming off last week’s depression-centered episode, but this episode’s mix of charming character moments and actually solid jokes came as a very pleasant surprise. It helps a great deal that the characters are actually established at this point – great slice of life shows are generally built on the bedrock of great, endearing characters, and March’s character work has been solid right from the start. Very few of the gags here overstayed their welcome, and Harunobu is proving himself a far more likable character than his first appearance would have indicated. March has always been theoretically built on the balance of heavy psychological material and warm slice of life sequences, and if both sides of that dichotomy can stay strong, it’ll be a far better show for it.

March comes in like a lion

3 thoughts on “Fall 2016 – Week 7 in Review

  1. I guess my main problem with Flip Flappers is that I don’t really care much about the two main leads. There has been nothing that made me want to cherish them, to support them, and more often than not I find Papika annoying. It’s even more annoying to me that most of the time I don’t really get the show’s subtle metaphors or themes that some others get (that’s why I usually rely on your critic or in Jacob’s from ANN to understand a little bit more of this, but I don’t want to do that all the time).

    That’s why I liked ep 6 so much, because of how the focus shifted from them to Iroha to tell a more grounded story with more clear ideas.

    This show is so creative and beautiful (and full of awesome sakuga) it’s kind of annoying that I’m not enjoying it as much as I’d like to. Hopefully this will change by the end of the show.

    • This just happens sometimes, and I find it pretty sad; when you can see that a show is gorgeous and overflowing with talent and ideas, but you just can’t get yourself to connect to it. Personally I’m loving Flip-Flappers, but stuff like Eccentric Family and Katanagatari just never struck a chord with me even though they’re by all rights phenomenal. I guess that’s why there are so many shows!

  2. How does the kiss in YOI compare to the pre-audition KumiReina scene in S1? Because the latter also could have been easily construed as having a kiss. (On the other hand, YOI has at least one creator confirming the kiss, so)

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