The season halfway point has arrived at last! In spite of early speculation by certain disreputable parties, the winter season hasn’t fallen on its face, and is actually turning out to be stronger than last winter. It’s still certainly a weaker season, but for some reason that’s just how winters tend to be – and given I’m supplementing this season’s offerings with regular injections of unfair additions like Planetes and Nichijou, I can’t really complain. But today, it’s all about the winter shows, as I commence the seasonal tradition of ranking everything I’m watching at the exact point those rankings are least likely to be meaningful. Theoretically, this is supposed to reflect the fundamental pointlessness of constructing hierarchical rankings of art in general – in practice, it’s more like most other traditions: I do it because I started doing it and I’ve been doing it for a while and goddamnit if I’m gonna stop now. So let’s start right at the top and run this season down!
#1: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju – Descending Stories
Unsurprisingly, the sequel to one of last year’s altogether best shows has turned out to be the best show this season. Rakugo’s sequel can sometimes exhibit a bit of the dramatic stiffness that haunted the first season, but overall the shift in focus to Yotaro and Konatsu has actually elevated the show’s material. What the show has possibly given up in consistent visual beauty, it’s consistently replaced with genuine human warmth. There’s a sense of both love and desperation in this story that makes me legitimately curious about how this drama will end, and the big standout performances are as strong as ever. Rakugo’s second half is a worthy successor to its phenomenal predecessor.
#2: Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
And yet, in spite of Rakugo’s general excellence, I was sorely tempted to put Maidragon at the top here. Honestly, I think it was only the particular strength of Rakugo’s most recent episode that put it over the top – otherwise I’d have been glad to honor the show that easily brings me the most happiness every week. Maidragon has captured both the comedy and pathos of KyoAni’s best work, demonstrating not just consistent visual invention, but a steady concern for the various emotional dynamics that develop within families. Kobayashi, Tohru, and Kanna don’t just constantly make me laugh, they very much feel like a real family of people who all care for each other. I wasn’t expecting to love this one, but Maidragon is a gem.
#3: March comes in like a lion
March took a bit of a walk around the turn of the year, but has rallied back with a terrific series of recent episodes. Not only has the show added a variety of new wrinkles to its articulation of Rei’s feelings, but the secondary cast has expanded such that I’m always happy to see Nikaidou, Kyouko, or Kaiki get a focus chapter. Moving away from the sisters for a bit was apparently just what the show needed – the twin focus on the Lion King tournament and Rei’s recent emotional health has given the show both depth and focus, and even the visual execution has stepped up. March continues to be a rich and extremely Me anime.
#4: Saga of Tanya the Evil
God damn you Tanya. God damn you for being so entertaining. I don’t want to be watching the nihilistic show about the fascist loli who murders people very efficiently. I want to be the guy who hangs my head at that show, sighing at the depravities committed by this medium. I want to be better than Tanya, but it turns out Tanya is better than my own misguided sense of moral consumerism. Consistently exciting, vividly executed, full of scenes that make me laugh at loud not just at, but one hundred percent with the show. Congratulations Tanya, you have won over my black heart.
ACCA has turned out to be less compelling than I’d hoped, but in fairness to ACCA, my expectations weren’t really based on anything beyond praying for decent shows in a season with many known clunkers. The show’s slow pacing and loose narrative structure can trend towards aimlessness, and it’s not really beautiful or character-rich enough to ride on those qualities alone. ACCA might actually be better if it focused less on its conspiracies, because it’s currently maintaining an awkward balance where the characters talk too much about The Plot to develop much character, but The Plot moves too slowly for that to be its own reward. Still, it’s pretty and reasonably written and distinctive. It’ll keep.
There’s honestly not much to say about Seiren – its only meaningful quality is its parade of weird kinks, and that’s far from enough to make a show good for anything but occasional shittweets. So thank you for enabling my shittweets, Seiren. I suppose that’s more than some shows can manage.