Anime was perfectly alright this week! No ridiculous highlights to report, but also no dramatic failures, with pretty much all my trusted shows turning in reasonable performances. Tanya apparently spent its week off meditating on the true ugliness of war, which was nice to see, while Dragon Maid recovered from last week’s missteps with a perfectly satisfying beach episode. Seiren wasn’t great, but Seiren isn’t great, so that’s not really news. And most importantly, I caught up on all of Kemono Friends, and even wrote an article over at Crunchyroll about one of the show’s various strengths. It’s been a satisfying week over here in anime land. Let’s take a look!
This week’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid actually pulled off KyoAni’s second straight good swimsuit episode. The gang’s trip to the beach ended up mostly being a way to reaffirm the bond between Kobayashi and Tohru, as the two both realized that the vast differences in their experiences only made their relationship that much more special. There is something deeply and uniquely endearing about watching a dragon and her girlfriend reaffirm their relationship while one of them is literally fishing off the other’s back. That said, if these two don’t start feeding Kanna some actual food, I’m not going to be happy. I saw “Kanna eats a crab” on twitter maybe half a dozen times before watching the episode, and it still made me laugh – “Kanna eats a cicada” was so perfectly executed I probably woke up the neighbors. Sometimes it’s the thoughtful commentary on identity and relationships, and sometimes it’s just the note-perfect execution of the tiniest gags.
After its brief rise into “actually watchable romance” territory last week, Seiren returned to its usual standard of strange but not particularly compelling oddity. The conclusion of Shoichi and Toru’s whirlwind affair was about as bland as you could imagine a courtship involving a bunny outfit and deer mating to be – the two of them simply had a couple awkward conversations at Comiket and then admitted they liked each other. Beyond its mediocre character writing, it feels like one of Seiren’s biggest issues is that its arcs aren’t constructed like actual dramatic arcs – they’re mostly just collections of disparate scenes of people talking, with little sense of momentum or serious dramatic consequence. There’s very little dramatic rise or fall in this show; basically every scene exists at the same tempo and is equally interchangeable, creating the sensation of listening to someone else describe their mundane day at work. It’s an unusual effect, but not a good one.
On the other hand, March comes in like a lion had a very strong episode this week, bringing Shimada’s feelings home in a poignant and tangible way. Shimada’s backstory wasn’t particularly surprising, but it was told with great flair. By framing his memories around the single image of taking the long bus into Tokyo, the show was able to give his complicated feelings a clear and universal emotional touchstone. Shimada’s vulnerability has turned him into not just a mentor, but a legitimate friend for Rei, and it’s easy to see how their relationship is a good thing for both of them. Even in an episode without all that much visual ornamentation, the base nature of their conversations is deeply satisfying. It’s a credit to March’s character work that a story focused on one of the protagonist’s opponents has been the most compelling full arc yet.
Bon was almost dragged back into performance in this week’s Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, but the real joy here was seeing Yotaro perform Sukeroku’s final work. The circumstances are different, but overall situation matches up pretty perfectly – after a disorderly life, Yotaro has finally arrived at a family he wants to keep, and his performance felt like a plea to maintain it. In contrast with Sukeroku’s easy contentment, Yotaro is nervous and desperate, but the emotional effect is just as strong. This episode was pretty much season two’s articulation of its own opening song – all the characters who’ve loved Bon reached out to him in their own way, forming a chorus of support. Yotaro alone is too respectful of Bon to save him, but his tears are crucial. The journalist lacks the sensitivity or context to speak to Bon’s feelings, but his impertinence is also important in its own way. Unfortunately, as the conclusion to this episode demonstrated, every dream ends eventually. You just have to make the most of them while they last.
Finally, Saga of Tanya the Evil returned this week, with an episode that… actually felt like a totally focused attack on the idea of finding war “epic” or fun. I’m normally a little hesitant to give action shows credit for waving the “violence is bad, actually” banner, since I think that’s generally trying to have your cake and eat it too, but this episode didn’t even try to thread that needle. It reintroduced us to a senior officer from Tanya’s first squad engagement, letting us get to know his family, feelings on country, and general ambivalence towards the war effort. Then, as Tanya’s squad rained hell on his deployment, we got a direct contrast between his desperate actions to protect his home and Tanya’s idle one-liners about overworking and getting credit for a job. There was nothing “badass” about that battle – it just felt intentionally unpleasant from start to finish, ending with Tanya enjoying an easy victory and the show’s one “good person” rotting beneath a frozen sea. This show is normally happy to dunk on Tanya, but it’s never been nearly this thematically strident before. It’s a new and not unwelcome turn for the series.