Hey guys, it’s time for the Week in Review. I got pretty complacent over the summer season, what with the total absence of watchable anime and all. With only three shows to write about weekly, I was able to show off by tossing in random episodes of Game of Thrones and Rick and Morty, adding content and still not having to write as much as usual. But here in Fall 2017, the Week in Review has come roaring back. As I write this opening paragraph, I’ve still got maybe half a dozen shows left to watch, and that’s after already getting through five this week. Sanity will demand I cut my schedule down to reasonable size at some point, but for now, you all get to enjoy the hard-fought fruits of my endless labor. From a season of drought, we’ve arrived at a season where the anime is just too damn good. Make up your minds, you friggin’ cartoons.
Alright, enough grumbling. Let’s start wherever we can and run this towering week down!
This week’s Land of the Lustrous conveniently demonstrated the contrasting goals of a first and second episodes. First episodes generally need to wow the audience – they need to put a show’s best foot forward, and offer, if not a hook, at least a resounding demonstration of the show doing what the show cares about most. Second episodes, on the other hand, need to demonstrate solidity – though they often are forced to fill out the narrative context that premieres tend to skip, they also must demonstrate that even when a show isn’t aiming for the bleachers, its fundamental aesthetic and storytelling qualities are sound.
Land of the Lustrous’ second episode succeeded handily at that, filling out the show’s cast while offering both plenty of warm humor and some really striking imagery. Land of the Lustrous is a big fan of sharply angled camerawork, often following the trajectory of a projectile or character’s swing, and while I felt the technique was perhaps a tad overused, it generally resulted in very energetic action scenes here. Outside of that signature technique, plenty of the more traditional shots here were just beautifully composed. Moments like Dia’s eyes refracted through their breaking sword, or the master sleeping as the Lunarians hungrily tap on his window, were their own dramatic and visual reward. Plop that on top of this episode’s strong introductions of four more gems, and its somewhat sharp-edged exploration of Dia’s psychology, and you have an episode that firmly demonstrated Land of the Lustrous is a fundamentally reliable anime. There are a lot of contenders this season, but I really want to stick with this one.
On the other hand, Love Live! Sunshine!! 2’s premiere had a very different challenge: prove this season has Still Got It at all. After a fairly tepid premiere defined by poorly paced drama, this episode fortunately returned Love Live to its classic wheelhouse, letting the characters bounce off each other through all sorts of ridiculous skits. The Sunshine cast’s serious eccentricities enable a lot of jokes, but they also formed the bedrock of this episode’s main conflict: “can the first years and third years hold a conversation if the main trio aren’t there to link them?” I was happy to see the show directly address this issue, and though this episode didn’t necessarily answer that question in a satisfying way, I’m kinda guessing the door is now open for, say, Kanan and Hanamaru to discover they have something in common, and be good dorks together. Basically all I ever want from Love Live is characters being good dorks together, and this episode had some very good dorks.
Given it wasn’t even on my radar before the season, I was very ready to drop Recovery of an MMO Junkie just to lighten my schedule. Unfortunately, Junkie’s second episode turned out to be even more charming than its first, offering some wincingly sharp jabs at the MMO junkie/socially anxious nerd experience, as well as some fluffy and solidly grounded romance. Momiko’s fears about meeting up with the man who saved her hit a little too close to home for me, but like many great comedies, this episode smartly balanced its piercing digs with consistent love for its characters. Junkie’s pacing can feel a little awkward at times, but it’s got such a good heart that it’s hard to stay mad. I guess Junkie can stick around for now as well.
Unfortunately, one of the only shows that did have a lousy episode this week is one I’m also covering for ANN. March comes in like a lion’s premiere didn’t really feel like a premiere at all – still slavishly devoted to its two-chapters-per-episode adaptation rate, the show spent its grand return fiddling around with the shogi/science club and learning how to make ramune. These chapters could have served as a nice breather after some dramatic peak, but situated at the very beginning of a season, they just felt like time-wasters. Still, March has always had this issue, so I’m sure we’ll be back into the interesting stuff soon.
And at the other end, Just Because!’s second episode was just as satisfying as its premiere, if not quite as aesthetically flawless. The show’s rough but consistent animation continues to breathe endless life into its characters, elevating small character moments into momentous unspoken negotiations of feelings. The characters are all likable and distinctive in their own ways, the narrative is really capturing the tone and pacing of their lives, and the overall effect is a fully realized world that brings me right back to my own high school days. In spite of its ostensibly slow scene-to-scene pacing, there is a consistent sense of urgency to this story, an awareness that every day which passes is one of just a few left until graduation. Few shows nail an atmosphere as well as Just Because!, and the fact that it’s dedicating its substantial aesthetic gifts to such an understated, character-focused narrative basically makes it candy for me specifically. Please give me more of these forever, anime.
This week’s Kino’s Journey left me somewhat conflicted. On the one hand, this was a generally well-executed episode – pretty and propulsive, some nice visual storytelling, and a fine illustration of Kino’s sometimes contradictory character. On the other hand, having seen the original show, this version’s articulation of Colosseum felt dramatically reduced in a variety of ways. Condensing this story into one episode meant there wasn’t really any time to make the fights impactful, or to build up either this society or its king as meaningful characters. And beyond that, the underlying choice to place Colosseum this close to the start of the show felt somewhat misguided. Kino generally takes the role of passive observer, and in the original series, the fact that they were moved to act here came as a dramatic revelation – this is exactly the limit of Kino’s impartiality. Placing that story right at the beginning of the series results in a very different, and somewhat more simplistic image of Kino as a person. Still, this was a fine episode for its own sake, so I’m still on board to see where this adaptation leads.
While Kino’s Journey felt just a tad messier in its second episode, The Ancient Magus’ Bride actually improved on its predecessor. A great deal of this episode’s relative strength might just have come down to the fact that visiting Angelica was already one of the early highlights of the manga, and was also handled quite nicely here. Magus’ Bride’s adaptation doesn’t really offer creative embellishments on its material, but its fundamental art design closely matches the manga’s default style, and there’s enough strong animation to capture the beauty of magic and this world’s fantastical creatures. I also appreciate that the show is matching the manga’s subtlety in its depiction of how unhealthy the relationship between Chise and Elias is. While my initial reading of the manga was accompanied by an ongoing skepticism about how well the story could handle this relationship, my knowledge of how well it actually is handled down the line makes me actively appreciate the story’s light touch. Also, this episode had an adorable dog-sized salamander who loves hugs, and that is a very good thing.
The bonus subgroups finally made their appearance in this week’s Idolmaster SideM, resulting in an episode that felt the most, well, Idolmaster-esque out of any so far. I enjoyed the more focused experience of the first two episodes, but it was very nice to return to this mode, where all the individual characters’ odd quirks contribute to an overarching feeling of ensemble camaraderie. Narrative-wise, it’s looking like this season will be a bit more like Cinderella Girls than Original Flavor – a more centrally focused narrative that emphasizes the mechanical details of rising stars, as opposed to goofy, creative episodic narratives in a more fanciful world. I frankly kinda prefer the original mode, but I’m still charmed enough by this cast, so I’ll give the show some time to sort itself out.
Last up, Juni Taisen managed to break my heart for a second time this week, formally introducing us to and then swiftly dispatching the very sympathetic Niwatori. While Boar was mostly just a really charismatic villain, Niwatori went through an entire character arc in this one episode, rising from an abusive past into a hardened killer, only to fall when her chemical power-up highlighted her genuine desire to be able to trust others. Like the first episode, this was a brilliantly concise character piece and one more propulsive step in the overall battle royale at once. I’m sad Niwatori is gone, but I get the feeling I’m going to like many more members of this cast – the simple fact is a battle royale written by Nisioisin is an inherently cruel thing, because he’s so good at bringing any sort of character to life. All these characters can really hope for is to be used thoughtfully and well by the narrative, and Niwatori definitely got that – not only did she get to show off her power while dispatching the boar, but she also earned a classic hero’s death. Here’s to you, Niwatori.