Winter 2017 – Week 11 in Review

And so the winter season approaches its end. We’ve got one more rough week after this, but the season’s shows are already beginning to turn out the lights at this point, starting with the scrappy March comes in like a lion. Other shows have a bit more life left in them – Rakugo is certainly tidying up, but Tanya’s narrative shows no sign of ending, and Dragon Maid is as lively as ever. This was definitely a lesser season, but as always, there were odd pleasures to be found here and there. Watching anime on a seasonal schedule means you’ll probably end up watching a lot of crap, but that’s all part of the experience. Let’s take a look at this week’s contenders and RUN ‘EM DOWN!

Our hero finally passed in this week’s Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. Having arrived at an honest peace with Konatsu, Bon was able to move on without regrets, and so spent an episode palling around with Sukeroku and Miyokichi in the afterlife. In spite of being the most overtly fanciful episode of the show so far, spending this much time in the land of the dead didn’t really feel out of place for Rakugo. Like in the first season, Bon’s conversations with Sukeroku here regularly adopted the pacing, quirky turns, and consistent back-and-forth of rakugo itself, making this last journey feel like one more of their old stories. And after two seasons, Bon certainly earned this final reunion with his old friends. There were echoes here of classic moments all throughout their companionship – Sukeroku miming a moment of savoring the sake, Sukeroku encouraging Bon from backstage, Bon and Miyokichi confessing on the riverbank. This was a happy goodbye, and I’m thrilled that next episode is going to give us one more present: Konatsu and Yotaro’s kids in their teen years. It’s been wonderful to grow so close to so many generations of this family.

Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid dabbled in a sitcom staple this week – the classic community theater play. The dragon-led performance of The Little Match Girl was as absurd and charming as you might hope, enlivened by hat sellers, magical girls, and a brief intrusion into the 47 Ronin. The performance itself laid out its comic beats in very effective fashion, giving just enough time for each new addition to become the “new normal” before changing the terms of the play, thus building naturally to visual setpieces where all of their revisions came to roost at once. But unsurprisingly, my favorite segments of this episode were the little Santa-focused interstitials. I’m guessing the segments we see as interstitials were presented as chapter-end 4komas in the original work, but they feel totally natural as emotional/comic buffers here in the same way Nichijou used its smaller segments. “Kanna is worried about Santa coming to their house” might not amount to a full narrative, but as a sequence of three adorable visual punchlines, it was a treasure.

Seiren moved towards its third arc finale this episode, and what an arc it’s been. Offering such new delicacies as understandable chemistry and coherent dramatic conflicts, this arc has represented a new bar for Seiren, aspiring to the heights of “lukewarm but watchable romance.” Kyoko and Shoichi aren’t a particularly compelling romantic pair, but they’re still better than whatever Shoichi was doing with the last two heroines. Seiren continues to demonstrate that while scientists may have discovered you can create a show that adheres to the dull, shapeless non-drama of real life, they apparently never questioned if they should create it.

March comes in like a lion finished off its first season with as much cohesion as it could possibly muster. This wasn’t really a particularly graceful stopping point, but I still appreciated the vignette that took up this episode’s second half. Divorced from the need to specifically recreate manga sequences, March’s direction felt sharp and purposeful for one of the first times all show. I’m guessing the second season will return to the show’s overly loyal adaptation style, but it’s nice to get a glimpse of what a more adventurous March adaptation might have been.

The Empire’s big plan went off without a hitch in this week’s Saga of Tanya the Evil, which offered the show plenty more opportunities to scoff at its own ostensible genres. The buildup and fallout of Operation Lockpick, where the Empire essentially dug under the enemy line to set up a pincer strike, was pretty thrilling in a conventional war drama sense – the sequence establishing the quiet of the eastern front was tense and beautiful, and the fallout great and terrible. But of course, this is Tanya, so what should have been a rousing triumph was instead portrayed through enemy soldiers panicking and being set on fire. Meanwhile, Grantz actually got one last romcom beat after already being blown out of the sky. Tanya is certainly an interesting show.

Also, I normally don’t mention it here due to scheduling issues (Tuesday afternoon shows and my Week in Review writing schedule don’t mix), but holy crap this week’s Kemono Friends. From light sprinklings of post-apocalyptic details, the show built up to an astonishingly tense and actually emotionally affecting dramatic climax. I don’t really want to say any more, since I’m guessing a lot of readers haven’t seen this one, but somehow this of all shows managed to be the one that actually punched me in the gut this week. I’m still not sure how Kemono Friends is real.

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