Fall 2016 – Week 11 in Review

Most of the shows I’m watching were pretty fantastic this week. Alright, I’m watching six shows, so we can more specifically say four of six. JoJo is nailing its final battle, Chitose is actually becoming a sympathetic character, Flip Flappers is pulling its story together, and March is drawing all possible pathos out of Rei’s anger and resentment. That’s a pretty good ratio! So yes, Euphonium may have dedicated a full episode to a nonsense conflict, and Yuri on Ice may still be a generally underwhelming sports production, but frankly, the standards are quite high this season. With all my shows having around two episodes left, this is still easily looking to be the best season of the year, and a season any year would be proud of. The coming winter may be a bleak wilderness, but let us remember: sometimes anime is good.

Sound! Euphonium tied off Reina’s crush arc this week, which was… well, it’s over. The actual execution of this material was as solid as ever, but Reina’s crush has just never been that compelling. The sequence of flashbacks that gave some context to her feelings was probably one of the best-executed segments here, but three quarters of the way through the series’ second season, it felt like far too little too late to make us care about her feelings. Reina just hasn’t had enough time on-screen, particularly time dedicated to these feelings in particular, for them to parse as anything but “a childish crush she’s carried into her teen years.” While that’s a perfectly valid thing for her to feel, it has virtually no bearing on Euphonium’s main themes or conflicts, and sticking it right before the show’s conclusion makes it feel like even more of an afterthought. Her feelings existed in the source material as well, so they couldn’t really have excised this entirely, but I do wish they’d been able to integrate it more gracefully into the narrative. Eh, can’t win ‘em all.

Girlish Number, on the other hand, had one of its best episodes of the season, and it managed it even while focusing on the petulant, kind of awful Chitose. It wasn’t really Chitose’s own personality that sold this episode – it was how well-articulated and universal her conflicts here were. Girlish Number is a pretty negative show, but its sharpest edges hurt because they ring true in a way anime often seems afraid of dealing with. Anime will kill a character, but it’ll rarely reflect on how our relationships with our parents shift as they become old before our eyes. Anime will blow up a spaceship, but it won’t talk about how our careers can spin out of our hands, or the ways we’re expected to perform professionalism even when we’re sinking into depression. Girlish Number’s punches have the weight of reality behind them, and the show’s sad and happy beats land that much more effectively for it.

And this week’s Flip Flappers OH FRIGGIN’ BOY. I actually wasn’t wholly invested in this episode’s first half, since it basically had to do a lot of legwork in order to fill out the show’s overt narrative and history. But Mimi’s story was actually quite compelling for its own sake, and I really liked how much complexity that segment added to both her and Salt’s characters. The Eva riffs here felt totally earned, too – Flip Flappers has always bounced between classic worlds, and recontextualizing imagery like the figure in the lab coat holding the gun, or the SEELE-style panels, felt both playful and true to Flip Flappers’ fundamental priorities. This is a show about finding your identity, arriving at self-love, achieving human connection, and how parents impact their children – all of that ties it to Eva in a deep thematic sense. But Flip Flappers is entirely its own story with its own cast, and it owns that lineage with confidence.

Things got even better in the last act, when Cocona finally got to reunite with her mother. Cocona’s tears here were one of the most effective emotional moments of the series – heck, most effective emotional moments of the year. Cocona has spent this whole series longing for someone she can rely on, with her identity significantly dictated by the effect of never having parents in her life. Papika’s sudden appearance almost let her skip through that dependence and arrive at confidence and self-love, and though Mimi clearly does love her, she can only offer the safety of the cage Cocona started in. Small details like Cocona responding to the ice world that represented her initial heart, which she now loved specifically because she’d shared time there with Papika, offered more examples of Flip Flappers’ unspoken but vividly realized storytelling. Shows this beautiful, creative, and confidently written really don’t come along very often. I’m happy to see this one ending strong.

Alright, I know I’m already gushing, but JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure was also all kinds of kickass this week. We’re deep in the climax now, and Josuke’s duel with Kira was classic JoJo all the way through – clever ploys, thrilling reversals, dramatic declarations, and that reliably eye-popping art design. Some of the treats this week were largely visual, like that wonderful cut of Stray Cat and Killer Queen trading off powers, or the splitscreen shots contrasting Josuke and Kira for their final High Noon battle. Others were born of Josuke’s newfound talent for trickery – the “blood attracts blood” gambit was a little unbelievable, but it still felt cathartic as hell when those glass shards slammed Kira, or when he was guided into blowing up his own asshole dad. At this point, I can pretty easily say Diamond is Unbreakable has been my favorite JoJo arc – it wasn’t as consistently strong as Battle Tendency, but it’s offered so many great peaks, and been populated by so many wonderful characters, that it’s definitely the world I’ll be most sad to leave. I’m happy to see it ending strong.

I actually stalled a while on watching this week’s Yuri on Ice, a choice I in retrospect realize was because the incoherent semi-spoilers of twitter had convinced me it’d end in utter tragedy for Yuri, and I straight-up didn’t want to suffer through that. As it turned out, it was only JJ who took the real fall here, and that fall was actually pretty great – JJ had gotten basically no characterization outside of being the cocky Canadian asshole, and so having him be the one to break on the ice made sense. A fair amount of this show’s character work is pretty thin, but I really like how all the members of this cast ultimately work to build each other up – perhaps my favorite moment of this episode was Yuri preemptively condemning those who might fault JJ for his choices.

Aside from that, this was a pretty routine episode – there were some nice shots sprinkled through Yuri’s routine, but most of this was just recapping the performance cuts we’ve seen before. Yuri on Ice’s solution to focusing on a sport with constant fluid motion has turned out to be “just create a bank for each character and then polish/repeat it each time they perform,” which makes sense, but has forced the show to rely entirely on the characters’ emotional arcs to offer a sense of consequence. And the fact that the show has focused so heavily on performances over all else has kinda hurt those arcs, and meant the show has had about five episodes that are in large part the same episode. I dunno. I guess your reaction to Yuri on Ice just kinda depends on exactly how much you care about Yuri Katsuki.

Finally, March comes in like a lion also had a terrific episode this week, ending on perhaps the highest peak of the series so far. Even though the overt narrative of this episode was initially quite similar to last week’s episode, the very different style of execution made this feel like its own beast entirely. From the first moments onwards, it seemed like this episode was strongly and almost self-consciously dedicated to letting the sound design carry the dramatic momentum – be it the stark sound effects, well-chosen piano and horn melodies, or effective use of silence, all of Rei and his opponent’s turns were essentially “narrated” through sound. And all of that build to a stunning finale, where Rei’s feelings of resentment surged outwards in one cathartic scream. This show probably wasn’t actually made for me, but sometimes I have to wonder.

3 thoughts on “Fall 2016 – Week 11 in Review

  1. Kira taking time off from his climactic final battle against the forces of good to call in and apologise to his boss for being late might be my favourite character-related moment in all of Jojos so far.

    • You’ll love the final episode then, cause it has Kira give one of the best villain motive monologues I have ever heard in anything ever.

      • I can imagine.

        “Killing women and severing their hands?”
        “Well, now and then. A man has hobbies.”

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