Summer 2017 – Week 11 in Review

It’s time again for the week in review! This week in anime was… acceptable, I guess? When you’re only really hanging any hopes on three shows, the caliber of your week is pretty easy to diagnose. And this particular week, all the things I’m caring about pulled off episodes that were reasonable, but not exceptional. On the plus side, Rick and Morty’s third season continued to impress, offering a replacement for interdimensional cable that easily eclipsed that tradition’s lukewarm reprise. And hey, we’re basically at the end of the season anyway. If this fart of a season wants to go quietly into the night, I won’t complain. Either way, let’s start with the anime frontrunners and run this week down!

This week’s My Hero Academia was pretty much exactly as good as you could expect from an episode where Mineta got top billing. The first half, covering three pairs of characters that have never really gotten any focus (along with the tail end of the Uraraka fight), was reasonably interesting but never really thrilling. Ashida and Kaminari basically never got a chance to do anything, and spent their entire exam running and screaming, which didn’t make for the most tactically interesting of fights. Shoji and Hagakure felt like an afterthought – we’d been given basically no reason to care about either of these characters, and so the only note their battle hit was “hey, invisible girl has to be naked to be invisible.” Jiro and Koda got the best of these fights, and the show’s articulation of Present Mic’s powers was actually pretty great, but again, the fact that we’d never really gotten any personal time with any of these characters really didn’t do the episode half any favors.

After all that, the second half focused entirely on a character we have spent time with, the fundamentally regrettable Mineta. Mineta’s entire personality is basically “I sexually harass people and the show acts like this is funny,” making his base existence something that inherently distances me from the world of My Hero Academia. This segment attempted to use dramatic strings and awed pans across Mineta’s classmates to imbue him with some sort of everyman heroism, but it did nothing to justify his fundamental crappiness. Mineta is a diaper-clad anthropomorphization of a toxic anime trope, and no amount of “oh you” dunks will ever make him anything more than dead weight.

Made in Abyss had a much more reasonable episode, and followed up on last week’s stunner in typically matter-of-fact fashion. The show managed to find several strains of satisfying drama in Reg and Nanachi’s attempts to fix Rico’s arm, from the character-illustrating intrigue of Nanachi’s surgery to the classically abyss-venerating fun of Reg searching for medicine. I’ve said before that I’d happily spend many more episodes just exploring the weird architecture and ecosystems of the abyss, and Reg’s grocery list offered an exciting and very well-integrated excuse to do just that. Simply descending the abyss is an inherently good time, but forcing the cast to actually adapt to and master these strange worlds is an even better one. Made in Abyss feels like a beautifully designed videogame, where everything demands exploring and even the sidequests offer thrilling glimpses of a new world.

The latest Classroom of the Elite continued the show’s encouraging trend of completely watchable episodes. Having pretty much entirely abandoned any pretense of meaningful social commentary, the show is now embracing what it does best: campy, melodramatic class(room) wars. There are enough threads and twists being tossed off in its current island arc to keep things consistently entertaining, and the fundamentals of this conflict are actually smart and interesting enough to support the dramatic weight being laid upon them. Ayanokoji also doesn’t currently feel totally omnipotent, which is a nice change from the earlier arcs.

My greatest complaint right now might be how little Horikita currently has to do – as the Yukino Yukinoshita stand-in, she should theoretically play counterpoint to Ayanokoji, but she’s just not smart enough to counterbalance his theories with compelling alternatives. Classroom of the Elite would be a significantly better show if its protagonist got more meaningful pushback, but I suppose a super-competent protagonist who totally gets society, man, is actually one of the show’s main appeals.

Last up among the Japanese cartoons, Tsuredure Children came to a bittersweet end this week. Well, the season ended, at least – with pretty much every story aside from Chiaki and Kana’s still in progress, this barely felt like an “end of part one” conclusion, much less a true finale. Tsuredure Children’s episodic, gag-heavy structure doesn’t necessarily demand a sturdy conclusion, but one of its strengths is that all of its stories are constructed around coherent emotional arcs, and most of those arcs are still kinda fluttering in the air. Still, this was a fine episode on its own terms (particularly the strikingly shot second half), and if this season’s inconclusiveness means a second season is that much more likely, I’ll happily make that trade.

Moving out of the anime, this week’s Rick and Morty replaced the somewhat expected interdimensional cable episode with a clip show of Morty’s memories, sampling the many, many experiences Rick decided Morty’d be better off without. On an immediate entertainment level, this episode was terrific. The second season’s interdimensional cable episode was a massive step down from the first, and this episode offered an entirely fresh spin on the clip show gimmick that really made the most of Rick and Morty’s fundamental conceit. Rick and Morty is often at its best when it’s being, well, excessively creative – when it’s firing off ideas as fast as possible (like in the “our family keeps gaining mascots” episode), and just demonstrating how clever its writers can be. This episode offered a smorgasbord of theoretical adventures and a torrential downpour of punchlines, riding the dark edge of its comedy range all the while.

On an emotional level, this episode very directly hammered in how Rick and Morty’s relationship relies on a foundation bed of aversion and dysfunction. Not only is it very like Rick in a “this dude is a sociopath” sense to continuously lobotomize his grandson, but thinking all unfortunate memories should just be forgotten also directly reflects his own life problems. Rick doesn’t use a marvelous science fiction device to draw out the bad feelings – he just drinks, and drinks, and drinks. This episode was less of a psychological interrogation than the first stretch of the season, but both this week and last week’s episodes have been absolute stunners in a narrative composition sense. It is remarkable how creative and tightly constructed this season continues to be.

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