The anime this week was… confusing. On the negative side, my two favorite shows of the season had pretty mediocre episodes. My Hero Academia was stuck in transition land, while The Eccentric Family decided to lean even more heavily into the same conflicts as the first season. On the positive side, basically everything below those shows had a terrific showing, with all of Sakura Quest, Re:Creators, and Tsuki ga Kirei pulling off some of their best episodes yet. I suppose that’s the advantage of watching this many streaming shows – even if the heavyweights momentarily stumble, there’s always something putting its best foot forward. Anyway, I’ve got a million words on Re:Creators this week, so let’s start at the opposite end and RUN THIS WEEK DOWN!
This week’s Sakura Quest passed the much-heralded Made Nick Cry test, so I guess that’s a strong mark in its favor. The conclusion to Ririko’s arc was handled wonderfully from start to finish, from her refreshingly grounded conversation with Yoshino to the smartly composed final song. The dramatic construction here was impressive in its own right – the way this episode tied together the legend of the dragon into Sandal’s history, Ririko’s personal journey, and the matchmaking tour was very sturdy work. And the simple honesty of Ririko’s questioning how Yoshino can be so impressive felt very real. All that plus the terrific finale sequence, topped off with the maudlin but oh-so-appropriate Sandal painting, made for an episode that was good for reasons totally outside Sakura Quest’s wheelhouse. I questioned last week how this episode was going to tie Ririko’s drama into Sakura Quest’s general themes, and it turns out the answer was “we won’t. We’ll just execute Ririko’s story so damn well that you won’t even care.”
Tsuki ga Kirei graciously avoided breaking my heart this week, powering through Akane and Kotarou’s rough patch to end on the most uplifting sequence of the entire show to date. I actually appreciated how quickly this episode moved through the anxieties of the two – the fact that Kotarou was repressing his own feelings was still given meaningful dramatic focus, and the major scenes depicting their unhappiness were articulated well enough to easily give the conflict weight. Their first meeting outside the cram school, the sequence of Akane watching Kotarou in the parade, and their subsequent unhappy date were all articulated with extreme finesse, making it easy to believe in their uncomfortable, mixed-up feelings all along the way. Tsuki ga Kirei’s all-around excellence may be the most striking thing about it – not only is it elevating itself largely on the basis of small, well-chosen dramatic details, but those details are are so numerous and reliable that it may well be the most consistently strong show of the season. It’s nice to have such a Me show handled with such care.
My Hero Academia had another transition episode this week, powering through the remainder of the sports festival to get us right to the next arc. This material felt about as much of a letdown in animation as it did in print – having the climax of this arc be the match between Todoroki and Deku made sense in an emotional and thematic sense, but having everything past the first match of the semifinals be a rushed-through summary fight still felt like a disappointment. The irony of My Hero Academia is that even though its particular specialty is how well it grounds its shounen storytelling in strong character work and compelling ideas, the surface-level action theatrics are also so entertaining that it feels bad when they aren’t also prioritized. “Being good at too many things” is an awkward problem to have, but the ways these characters’ powers interact when they are prioritized is so thrilling that rushing through a much-hyped tournament feels like a bit of a waste. That said, we’ve spent a full season watching these kids battle each other. It’s time to move on!
The Eccentric Family also felt a bit rushed this week, though my larger problem here was that this season is ending in exactly the same damn way as the first one. I’m not normally one to clamor for narrative novelty, but having this season’s final conflict mirror pretty much every single variable of the first one still feels like a bit much. On top of that, Soun had already received a note-perfect sendoff, and so having him reemerge to menace everyone again feels kinda underwhelming. That said, even if I was disappointed with this episode’s turns in an overall narrative sense, its individual scenes were dynamite – from Yaichiro and Gyokuran’s dramatic exit to the last stand of Pompoko Man, The Eccentric Family’s strong cast really got to strut their stuff here. The Eccentric Family 2 is definitely a weaker season than the first, but a weaker Eccentric Family is still a very enjoyable thing.
Finally, after an episode that brought me pretty close to dropping the show entirely, Re:Creators had what was quite likely the best episode of the show so far. Divided into three distinct segments, every single major sequence of this episode was terrific in its own way. In the first, the conversation between Selesia and her creator focused on the power of storytelling from two strong perspectives. Takashi’s commitment to adding stories to his own work for the sake of the characters involved was touching, but even better was his underlining one of the most fundamental truths of creative expression – that through telling stories and creating art, we assert our own existence in the world.
The conversation between Rui and Sota then turned from the specific purpose of creative work to the difficulty of simply living, contrasting the limitations of living within a story with the terror of living in the real world. I really appreciated Rui acknowledging the inescapable hypocrisy of a character in a story telling someone to chase their dreams. Stories follow clear patterns, and dreams are either achievable or not – but in the real world, the ambiguity of potential makes it that much harder to pursue anything. The real world will trip you up just as much as a narrative will, but there’s no guarantee that any of your struggles will arrive at a purposeful end.
Finally, Sota’s memories of time with Altair’s creator offered a poignant articulation of both the positive and negative power of fandom and the internet. After image board culture allowed Sota and his friend to actually meet, it then dragged them apart with both a hierarchical and witch hunt-happy culture that felt all too familiar to me. And Re:Creators refused to settle for the easy “well, other people on the internet are terrible” conclusion there (even though yes, other people on the internet are terrible). Instead, it acknowledged that the inherent distance of the internet means it’s easy for all of us to become complacent, and embrace our least charitable selves. Terrific stuff all around.