The winter heavyweights were both firing on all cylinders this week. Fresh from directing what’s apparently the most perfect anime film ever, Yamada turned in what was likely Dragon Maid’s most technically accomplished episode yet. And over in Rakugo land, the final act continued in fierce fashion, as Bon struggled mightily against his own obsolescence. Seasons aren’t necessarily defined by only their best shows, but Winter ‘17’s top tier is making a strong argument in that favor. We only ever remember our favorites from any given year, anyway – even if nothing else stands out, as long as they shine bright, anime will keep. Let’s dive right into those and the other shows of the week!
As I just said, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid pulled off its most impressive episode yet this week, in a show that’s already brimming with sharply paced exchanges and beautifully animated gags. This was a Yamada episode through and through – deeply obsessed with the smallest gestures that reveal our humanity, aiming straight at the gaps between us that define our relationships. Both the Kanna lunch competition and the arrival of a new dragon offered lovely opportunities for Dragon Maid to explore the specific ways Tohru and Kobayashi have become special to each other, and perhaps even more importantly, it vividly articulated exactly how each of them expresses those feelings. Tohru’s alternately timid and giddy body language, Kobayashi’s seeming insecurity in letting herself be expressive in the first place – all of this episode’s major sequences were enlivened with countless little details of self-expression. It is remarkable what these animators and this director can accomplish.
And not to be shown up, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju had another devastating episode this week, as Bon clung desperately to life even as his end seemed to approach from all directions. This show almost never pulls off two performances in a week, so seeing both Bon’s prison show and private performance was a real treat, particularly since that second performance demonstrated his embodiment of Rakugo’s stars at its best. In spite of his grumpy words about Yotaro’s show, it seemed clear that his apprentice’s performance stirred something that he hadn’t felt for a long time – a genuine need to express himself through rakugo, regardless of who was watching.
The lively, desperate tone of that second performance made his prison show feel like an accomplished but distant affair. Bon is a practiced professional, but his best work is inherently selfish, an act of self-expression that he dares the audience to follow. More so than Yotaro or Sukeroku, Bon is his rakugo – it is his most pure expression of self. And the fact that he is most alive on the stage must make his fading ability to express that self all the more terrible.
This week’s Seiren introduced us to new heroine Kyoko Tono, and… well, that’s pretty much it. Seiren is a very boring show defined by some occasionally ridiculous lines of dialogue, meaning fodder for silly tweets is pretty much the highest office it can aspire to. The actual experience of watching Seiren is inoffensive but also basically empty – in fact, I actually had to look up the name of the previous heroine, because her presence had totally faded from my mind over the course of the week. Seiren is a nothing show, and this episode offered a reasonable start to its latest nothing arc.
If Saga of Tanya the Evil‘s last episode was a slap in the face, this one was just a series of slow, methodical punches in the gut. Not content simply to frame Tanya’s antagonism through one honorable soldier, this episode featured her committing actual war crimes, as she and her commanders framed a resisting city of civilians as “enemy combatants” in order to shell them with impunity. I still can’t quite believe this show is going to lean entirely in to condemning the atrocities of war, but this episode was basically nothing but that – from start to finish, it was a grim, agonizing series of callous military maneuvers and human suffering.
The show didn’t let Tanya “get away” with her actions in a dramatic sense – the unconscionable nature of her orders was emphasized again and again, and the ending scene even underlined the fact that Tanya herself had allowed for this path. Responsibility lay with Tanya, her underlings, and the higher command, and the show visually underlined the civilian cost of these choices as well. If Tanya actually spent half a season making it fun to follow its hero only to about-face and underline the inhumane madness of war, I will be pretty impressed.
Shimada’s battle ended in this week’s March comes in like a lion, which was a real shame. Not in actual narrative terms, of course, since this arc has basically been all about Shimada coming to terms with his life choices in spite of everything. The opening sequence here, where Shimada dreamed of the life that could have been if he hadn’t pursued his foolish dream, was one of the most affecting moments in recent weeks. But in terms of what I’m enjoying in this show, it’s going to be hard to say goodbye to Shimada as the temporary protagonist. Still, it’s been far too long since we’ve spent much time with the Kawamoto siblings, and Shimada’s life story is so stressful that following him much longer might have been bad for my health anyway. Here’s hoping he gets to stick around as a solid pillar in Rei’s life – the two have become very endearing friends, and there’s a lot more to life than winning shogi tournaments.