Summer 2017 – Week 13 in Review

At last, another season has come to an end. This one wasn’t a particularly auspicious season, but hey, it happens – sometimes the best shows are in genres I don’t really care for, sometimes I sleep on the wrong shows (sorry, Princess Principal), and sometimes there just aren’t that many things worth watching. Even if the airing catalog wasn’t very deep this time, I had a great time with My Hero Academia, Tsuredure Children, and Made in Abyss, and also found lots of time to watch a whole bunch of older anime. The backlog is basically an infinite yawning gulf of quality entertainment, and no matter how much I tear at it, my expanding genre palette just seems to make it broader and darker all the time. With a very promising season coming up, let’s take a few moments to say goodbye to summer’s final stalwarts. Starting with those lovable kids of Class 1-A, let’s run this week down!

My Hero Academia’s second season concluded on an episode that was simultaneously entertaining enough for its own sake and also one giant, flashing advertisement for season three. If the episode hadn’t actually concluded on a “to be continued in the next season,” I might have been kind of annoyed, but as is, this was a perfectly reasonable stopping point. There wasn’t really much for the anime to do in elevating this one – Shigaraki is always going to be a character who comes across more menacingly in carefully drafted manga panels than simplified anime art, and so his meeting with Deku inherently lost some of the power of its manga rendition.

That said, narrative-wise, this was an excellent elaboration of Shigaraki’s fundamental nature. Shigaraki is essentially the antithesis of a hero – while heroes rely on their strong personal convictions to inspire others to believe in a better world, Shigaraki believes in nothing, and only wants to share his nihilism with others. Of course, as the heroes rightly pointed out following his first appearance, Shigaraki isn’t some genius who’s seen behind the curtain – he’s an angry manchild throwing a tantrum. While Shigaraki claims to believe in nothing, it’s clear through his words and actions that his most fundamental belief is “I am important. Pay attention to me. Why aren’t more people paying attention to me.” Shigaraki is an angry little troll, which makes him a far more realistic villain than a true nihilist would be. His fundamentally pitiful nature actually makes him that much stronger of a character, and I’m looking forward to where his story goes next.

Classroom of the Elite concluded on likely the best note possible, finishing up its desert island arc with a series of twists that actually felt relatively grounded and consistently satisfying. The web of deceit cast by classes C and A was a very strong first-level conspiracy, and Ayanokoji’s counterplay felt both reasonably intelligent and suitably devious. Arranging the narrative such that “continuously provoking Horikita’s illness was the linchpin of my plan” is no small feat, and a credit to how smartly designed this overall challenge was.

These sorts of massive “we were losing everything but then flipped it around” heist-style feats generally depend on a challenge that’s constructed to seem insurmountable but rest heavily on a couple of fragile load-bearing pillars. In this case, both the fact that guessing another team’s captain would invalidate all your own team’s bonus points, as well as the fact that you could switch your leader given the correct circumstances, allowed Ayanokoji to completely circumvent his opponents’ carefully laid plans with just one clever counterplay. Classroom of the Elite didn’t turn out to be a particularly good show on the whole, but this final arc proved that this author definitely does have some specific talents.

And finally, Made in Abyss’s epic short film finale extravaganza was… man, this show. Nanachi and Mitty’s backstory rode a beautiful line of tenderness and tragedy, well-sculpted moments of desperate friendship leading into a brutal, inevitable, and completely earned conclusion. This whole last act has built Nanachi and Mitty up to the point where all of this episode’s emotional beats landed with titanic weight, and the last several arcs have all been seeding the ambiguous nature of the white whistles. It’d be easy for a flashback and conflict like this to feel exploitative, but even though the actual content was horrific, this episode never expressed anything short of clear love and respect for its unfortunate heroes.

The actual goodbye was just as emotionally charged as the descent into the sixth layer, and moments like Nanachi experiencing good food for the first time were afforded as much focus and solemnity as the overtly horrific stuff. The final ascent of the balloon was the perfect capstone to a nearly perfect show – an ideal metaphor for the heroes’ own hopes, frail and battered by the forces of the abyss, lifted home by the help of friends. This has been a shaky season, but Made in Abyss was always an entrancing, beautifully executed outlier. This one will stay with me.

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