This week in anime felt a little lonely, courtesy of March taking a sick day, but the rest of our contenders did their best to liven things. Flip Flappers and Euphonium had unexpectedly ordinary episodes (at least for those shows’ definitions of ordinary), but Girlish Number continued to focus on strong character writing over industry commentary, which is definitely where the show shines. Kira found himself with yet another ridiculously specific serial killing-enabling power, and Yuri on Ice decided it was time to introduce a tragic incest narrative and make Yurio a catboy. All in all it was a pretty standard week down on the anime farm, but I still found a thing or two worth talking about. Let’s run ‘em down!
Sound! Euphonium had another fairly subdued episode this week, though it was less disjointed than the episode two weeks ago. This one thrust Kumiko’s sister Mamiko into the spotlight for the first time, and though her conflict echoed Euphonium 2’s general issue of artificially injecting drama that doesn’t emerge naturally from the show’s central variables, the actual execution of the scenes between the sisters was excellent. Euphonium’s first season had a tiny amount of seeding for these confrontations, but I can’t help but wish for the version of this show where conflicts like this actually built up naturally over time, instead of just taking focus as soon as last week’s conflict is solved. I can acknowledge the excellent sound design and sense of visual reserve elevating scenes like this episode’s final clash, but with Mamiko only becoming a full character in the last couple episodes, those scenes still don’t land with the emotional impact they deserve. At least this episode was still filled with a bunch of adorable tiny Kumikos!
Girlish Number continued to lean on its strongest variables this week, foregoing much narrative progression relevant to the in-show production in favor of some excellent character focus for Kazuha and Momoka. Kuzu-P has always been a clown of a character, but this episode kinda accidentally emphasized how even Chitose can distract from Wataru Watari’s strengths. His love of snark is well and good, but it’s stuff like Koto’s commentary on family and Momoka’s subtly expressive choices that really sell this show for me. Saying the world sucks is easy, but showing how it sucks for exactly one person is a little more compelling.
Yuri!!! On ICE got as goofy as it’s ever been this episode, and Yuri is already a pretty goofy show. The show has adopted an interesting and frankly kind of inherently self-defeating structure, in that instead of focusing on the specific performances that are relevant to the characters and the emotional context of those performances, it’s taken care to animate every single competitor Yuri faces off against. This is impressive in one way, but really works against creating consistent emotional investment – and so instead, we get silly little vignettes like this week’s incest all-star pair and JJ STYLE.
I’m pretty okay with that – Yuri on Ice is fundamentally a fairly traditional sports narrative, and sports narratives tend to be built on visceral entertainment. The “visceralness” of that entertainment generally comes down to how you invest your show’s sports clashes with either emotional or other kinds of weight, but Yuri on Ice often just constructs ungrounded but inherently funny or endearing little narratives for its side characters. It makes the show overall come off as a bit less emotionally gripping than it could, and some of the actually important narratives can get shafted as a result (Yurio in particular was pretty screwed by this episode’s lack of focus), but the show is still fun at basically all times. The show doesn’t really wow me, but a strong cast, good sense of humor, and lots of funny details go a long way towards keeping Yuri on Ice together.
JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure decided what it really needed to introduce was a third Kira power based on an explosive time loop, which, well, okay. Strangeness of that new power aside, I was happy to see more content focused on Hayato, who has turned out to be one of the unexpected stars of late Diamond is Unbreakable. Hayato is almost certainly more competent than the average JoJo, given he was able to back Kira into a corner as a normal boy with no powers at all, and it’s inherently compelling seeing him try to navigate through this drama with only his wits to help him.
JoJo generally “cheats” when it comes to grounded conflicts – the solutions characters arrive at are theoretically intelligent ones, but in practice they tend to be things that only work because of luck or narrative convenience or a character’s sudden ability to predict how a bullet will fly after bouncing off seven metal corners. Hayato’s total lack of powers mean his exchanges with Kira are significantly closer to believable games of wits, and combining that with the visceral powerlessness of being stuck in a house with Kira means his material possesses a grounded tension much of JoJo lacks. JoJo doesn’t need that tension, but I’m happy to see the show embracing new dramatic tools. I hear the seventh arc isn’t just a great JoJo story, but a great story period, and so it’s intriguing to see Araki stretching his writing abilities in real time.
Finally, this week’s Flip Flappers stuck pretty closely to what I initially expected from the series – glorious animation highlights, unnecessarily skeevy camera angles, and wild, incoherent visual creativity. This fairly mundane Pure Illusion super robot adventure was a bit of a letdown after the last two weeks’ thoughtful and thematically fascinating psychological adventures, but it still had its charms. After learning that Pure Illusion generally reflects the mind states of those in the “real” world, it was nice to think of this as an exploration of how Hidaka sees himself. Considering he built likely built Bu-chan, you could even see this episode’s noticeably prevalent fanservice as one more expression of what life is like in his scifi-obsessed brain. As usual, much of this episode’s storytelling was purely visual – the fact that this was Hidaka’s mind in the first place was only made clear through shots mirroring his lab and Pop’s castle, and the fact that Yayaka’s arc hinges on accepting her “embarrassing friendships” was also illustrated through mirroring her and Pop. When even your underwhelming episodes are still this stuff with visual flair and intelligent storytelling, you’re probably in a pretty good place.