Turns out anime is good, everybody. Who would have guessed! As usual, nearly everything I’m watching this season operated at a level I generally just associate with my seasonal favorite, leaving me with a pile of cartoon riches to luxuriate in. Euphonium rallied from a weaker episode with possibly the strongest episode of the season, March continued to lay sturdy dramatic bricks in between episodic pleasures, and Flip Flappers steered itself right back towards the compelling bonds between the three leads. Even JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was acting like it had something to prove, working hard to give Hayato’s struggle all the manic energy it deserves. Anime will likely go back to being bad again soon, but I can’t say I mind having barely anything to complain about. But I’m not doing this critic shtick for nothing, so let’s start off with some complaints and then work our way to the fawning praise!
This week’s Yuri on Ice was entertaining enough for its own sake while also solidifying my general issues with the series. First off, using Victor’s dog to send him back to Japan was just a shoddy narrative contrivance – but in the context of this show, I didn’t find that sort of thing all that unexpected. Yuri on Ice’s underlying narrative has always been pretty unfocused; the core relationship between Victor and Yuri has improved since its messy early episodes, but that’s been replaced by a tournament arc that’s mostly just a bunch of stuff happening.
I actually enjoy a lot of the individual vignettes of these side characters, but there’s little tension in them, and they do basically nothing to facilitate the show’s central narrative. I’m entertained by Yuri on Ice, but I feel the show has fundamentally failed to make its skating exciting outside of the sequences dedicated to the core leads. Characters like JJ and Mickey are entertaining because they’re charismatic for their own sake – they bear no relation to the show’s ostensible goals. And because so much time is spent on these little side narratives, there’s barely any heft to the main narrative, meaning all of Yuri’s performances have kinda started to blur together.
Sound! Euphonium outdid itself once again this week, letting Beyond the Boundary’s director Taichi Ishidate demonstrate his remarkable skills in an episode marked by relentlessly creative direction and gorgeous animation highlights. This episode was both constructed of stellar parts and ultimately greater than the sum of those parts – Asuka has always been one of Euphonium’s most compelling characters, and this episode did her long-awaited backstory clear justice. This episode was rich enough that it almost encourages picking favorite scenes, but between Kumiko and Reina’s material after school, Kaori’s brief appearance, and that transcendent final song, it’s pretty hard to choose. If the show can stay even close to this good for its last act, I’ll be very happy.
March comes in like a lion continued last week’s shogi lesson, before segueing into a whole lot of melancholy pondering of Rei’s shogi career. As before, I was very happy with how this show continues to use Harunobu, presenting him as an abrasive but ultimately very valuable friend for Rei. But it was the later scenes with Kyouko that really stole the show. I didn’t realize March actually needed any more ingredients, but “a stepsister who’s basically Senjougahara” seems like a pretty okay addition to me. While stuff like Kyouko’s lightning motif was a little graceless, other scenes here demonstrated March’s painfully acute character writing – my favorite sequence was likely the brief memory Rei recalls about his birth father, whose look of quiet concentration first inspired Rei to commit himself to shogi. By emphasizing both the physical mechanics and emotional resonances of shogi, March is setting itself up for some very powerful matches down the line. The show isn’t anywhere close to a traditional “sports narrative,” but the tools of sports narratives have real power. There’s no reason March shouldn’t present its shogi matches as meaningful drama, and so far it’s making all the right moves to get there.
Girlish Number leaned into its strengths again this time, jettisoning Chitose entirely in favor of a Kazuha-Momoka vacation. I felt the show emphasized the mirrored nature of their parental relationships perhaps a bit too heavily, but was consistently impressed by the execution of all the major emotional turns. Kazuha and Momoka’s flaws and complexities make them very sympathetic characters, and this episode did the weight of their anxieties clear justice. Both of them have understandable reasons for pushing away from their parents, but those reasons don’t change the fact that they’re both also somewhat immature. And on the other side, both Kazuha’s father and Momoka’s mother came off as perfectly reasonable people who would nevertheless run into awkward disagreements with their children. It’s very nice fiction-wise when every party in an argument comes off as reasonable and sympathetic at the same time!
Yayaka finally got a full turn in the spotlight for this week’s Flip Flappers, and the results were as illuminating as they were heartbreaking. It turns out Yayaka’s been groomed for the role of “Cocona’s betrayer” for the greater part of her life, but since she’s just been considered a tool by the amorphous-seeking organization she works for, her memories of playing with Cocona are actually the happiest of her life. Mirroring that sense of betrayal against Cocona doubting Papika’s loyalty was a great bit of narrative symmetry, and the visual evocation of both Cocona’s distrust and Yayaka’s despair was gorgeous. I loved how this episode used that window Cocona was staring through to convey her separation and lack of understanding, as well as the climax of Yayaka destroying her own happy memories to fight Cocona. Flip Flappers continues to turn symbolism into overt text in the most poignant ways possible, demonstrating the tremendous power of anime with every new episode.
And finally, JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure kept the tension high this week, as Hayato worked to somehow kill Kira in the hour between waking up and Rohan’s death. Bites the Dust has turned out to be a very mechanically interesting ability, in that it provides both Kira and Hayato with their own advantages. The more timelines pile up without victory, the worse Hayato’s situation gets, but also the more information he gains. In contrast, Kira is in a position of extreme immediate safety, but is constantly falling behind Hayato in terms of information. The balance results in a battle where it actually seems like Hayato could win, but it’d take both cleverness and luck.
Hayato demonstrated cleverness to spare this episode, but luck was unfortunately not on his side. There were some great single shots and even solidly animated cuts demonstrating Hayato’s despair here, but execution aside, it’s still just been great seeing Hayato become Morioh’s most unlikely hero. Where assholes like Kira can simply develop new powers on the fly, Hayato’s had to fight for every inch of ground, and his small victories are that much more satisfying for it.