Winter 2017 – Week 10 in Review

The anime was very cheery this week! I mean, I expect that from Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, but even sadsack productions like Rakugo and March comes in like a lion turned in remarkably optimistic performances. I certainly didn’t mind that – frankly, it feels like all of us could use a little sunshine as the winter trudges to its end. And these were certainly well-earned strokes of positivity, given what the characters in both of those shows have recently suffered. With all that on top of this week’s wonderful episode of Dragon Maid, this was a pretty alright week in anime land. Let’s start with those reliable dragons and RUN THIS WEEK DOWN!

This week’s Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid broke my heart close to a million times. In fact, it may well have been my favorite episode of the year so far, hanging as it did on both Kanna’s general goodness and the overall lovely dynamic of the Kobayashi family. The first half in particular was a heart-melting demonstration of how well this show can articulate Kanna’s childish mannerisms and needs, as she first pouted about Kobatashi not attending her sports festival, and then gathered up her courage and sense of responsibility to say it was okay for her not to come. I really loved how much time the episode dedicated to Kanna watching Kobayashi at work, and how the show contrasted each of them working hard in the days leading up to the festival. Like all great slice of life shows, that segment beautifully celebrated the warmth and humanity of our small gestures, and how important we all are in each other’s lives.

The second half wasn’t quite as devastating, but it was still charming and full of great family moments. Watching Kobayashi and Tohru cheer for their dragon daughter was an absolute delight, and seeing Kanna thank both her parents for being there was a perfect capstone. The parent-child slice of life genre has had a few recent hits, but strangely enough, Dragon Maid seems to be emphasizing Kanna’s personal growth even more than shows like Sweetness & Lightning or Barakamon. This whole family is growing together, and it’s a delight to be there with them.

Seiren had possibly its best episode yet this week, though as usual, the bar with Seiren is not particularly high. Perhaps the greatest strength of this new arc is that Kyoko is basically the only girl so far who’s felt like a meaningful match for Shoichi. Instead of their conversations feeling simply weird, they’re weird in a way that feels oddly naturalistic, matching the unique tone the show can sometimes strike outside of its overtly romantic material. It’d be nice to see an actually good show embrace Seiren’s singular approach to dialogue, but I suppose this one will have to do.

Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju made a pretty hard turn this week, rising out of last episode’s apocalyptic conclusion to offer some of the most optimistic moments of the show so far. The theme was clearly “renewal” here – the idea of a new beginning was reflected in every element of this narrative. From the cold shell of the burnt out rakugo theater emerged a bright new spring, heralded by cherry blossoms and the promise of a new child for Konatsu and Yotaro. Konatsu was offered a new beginning in a variety of contexts, from Yotaro proposing rakugo for women to the writer to her new apprenticeship with Bon. And even Bon himself was rejuvenated, as his lengthy conversation with Konatsu resulted in fresh optimism for both of them.

That conversation was one of this show’s most quietly cathartic turns yet, offering a firm acknowledgment of their familial bond without betraying the resentments that led them here. Beyond its various narrative trails, the enduring fortunes of rakugo felt most clearly articulated in the long sequence dedicated to Yotaro’s radio program, where the beauty of rakugo was framed as permeating every facet of their daily lives. Rakugo is confidently winding its way to a very satisfying conclusion.

March comes in like a lion was also all sunshine and rainbows this week, a welcome turn after the harrowing Shimada tournament arc. We finally got to see Shimada return to his rural village, where anxieties eventually gave way to a new confirmation of his bond with his extended family. And seeing the Kawamoto family fret about internal affairs offered its own brand of warm fuzzies as well. It seems pretty much impossible that this season of March will arrive at any kind of solid conclusion, but it’s still been a very enjoyable ride.

Of course, if there’s one show we can trust to stay true to its cynical roots, it’s Saga of Tanya the Evil. This week’s episode wasn’t as relentlessly brutal as the last two, but still found time for some chilling notes as it transitioned into the show’s presumably final arc. Watching Tanya get fired through the sky in a V-1 rocket was fun, but I’d say the best material here was mostly attached to her droopy-faced second in command. Watching the show’s doe-eyed, ostensibly moe soldier blithely recite the Nuremberg defense to cheer up last episode’s hesitant soldier embodied exactly what makes Tanya so weirdly compelling.

Viktoriya’s most notable quality seems to be her ability to follow orders and agree with directives from above without any sort of personal hesitation or moral reflection, making her both a frighteningly ideal soldier and a weirdly appropriate application of the “upbeat, eternally subservient” cute girl type. Seeing her later be the only one who wasn’t troubled by Tanya’s new mission only underlined the cynical appropriateness of her character here. And of course, having Tanya finish the episode by once again reminding us that our brutal fascist is really just a lover of free market principles at heart was a lovely way to tether this show’s meanness back to its modern relevance. I could never have guessed Saga of Tanya the Evil would be half this smart, this politically driven, or this good.