Well hell guys, I guess the anime is just gonna keep being good. Love Live and Kino’s Journey actually stepped up their game this week, and everything else seems to be holding steady. My schedule still can’t really handle this number of shows, so after last week saw me letting go of Girls’ Last Tour (which was actually great!), this week I’m taking a break from SideM (which is also great!). There’s not really anything wrong with either of those shows, but I’m just a slow watcher with a lot on my plate, so they’ll have to wait for a rainy day. Outside of that, this continues to be the strongest season of the year, with major highlights in basically every genre I care about. It’s also wonderful to have a season where not one, but two of my top choices were shows that weren’t even on my radar coming in. Anime is still full of surprises!
First off, Love Live! Sunshine!! 2 finally and consistently nailed the level of dramatic and comedic execution that made its first season such a treasure. Neither priority overwhelmed the other this time – while there was plenty of focus on the simultaneous open house and Love Live qualifiers conundrum, that drama was tempered with consistently enthusiastic gags from the whole team. Mari’s oddly chosen bursts of english were a joy, it’s been wonderful watching Ruby gain confidence to the point where she’s actually dunking on Yohane, and absurd visual gags like the whole team getting barraged with oranges embodied Love Live’s campy, gleefully excessive comic tenor. On top of that, the Love Live qualifier performance felt second only to Snow Halation among this franchise’s performances, and accomplished that purely through aesthetic acumen. Love Live’s dance sequences have moved from a regrettable CG failing to a genuine highlight of the show, judiciously leaning on vastly improved CG characters and supplementing that with plenty of traditional animation and visual flourishes. Love Live has hit its stride.
Kino’s Journey also seemed to find its footing this week, offering an episode that found a surprising degree of comedy in Kino’s latest adventure. Kino’s exploration of a giant roaming fortress-country fell neatly in line with the show’s classic travelogue appeal, in spite of leaning further into science fiction than most of its stories. And the big climax sequence, where the country’s leaders very politely carved a giant hole in a wall with an immense laser beam, was suffused with an unexpected but welcome style of deadpan humor. This Kino feels like a bit more of a mercenary and emotionally-driven character than the previous series’ Kino, simultaneously coming across as both more human and a bit less likable, which may also come down to the fact that this series’ reader-chosen episodes will likely be the most action-packed ones, where Kino is more often driven to take a stand. But the action here felt less thrilling than wryly absurd, which I am all for. It’s hard for me to not appreciate an episode that contains the line “the children will be so sad. Should we deploy the laser beam?”
The violence came to a brief halt for this week’s Juni Taisen, which seemed appropriate for a Sharyu-focused episode. Instead, we basically got twenty minutes of Nisioisin Socratic dialogue straight to the vein, along with a full and convincing portrait of Sharyu’s character. It feels like Nisioisin rarely gets to write a genuine, all-out hero character, and Sharyu is a phenomenal take on the concept. When Nezumi tried to needle her philosophy as simple-minded, she slowly built up the case that a simple, unvarnished belief in the power of people to arrive at peace is actually a difficult and meaningful thing, and not simply a product of naivety. “Don’t sell platitudes short” thus acted as a cheeky but fully meant summation of the inherent power of a philosophy of hope. Sharyu facing the rabbit next week means she could be in real danger, but I hope she survives at least a little longer. This show’s action theatrics are a ton of fun, but characters like Sharyu are why I love Nisioisin so very much.
Just Because! maintained its consistent strength this week, in spite of reining back a bit on the omnipresent character acting. There was still plenty of subtle movement here though, and outside of the animation, this episode also did a great job of fleshing out Yoriko and Ena, two of the least-prioritized members of the cast. Just Because! has already reached a level where I could pretty much imagine any two members of its cast having a conversation, and how those conversations would be different from any other pair of characters. The show is goddamn alive, and in spite of its consistently terrifying dogs, it also manages to be one of the most beautiful shows of the year. The solemn beauty of a rainy day is a moment well worth capturing, one of countless momentary realities Just Because! brings to life.
I also continued to be charmed by this week’s Recovery of an MMO Junkie, which offered a bit more insight into Momiko’s special friend Lily, as well as more general reflections on the awkwardness of human interaction both online and offline. I felt a little too skewered by Momiko’s happiness at blowing off a potential date, a sentiment that my own social anxiety-festooned experiences can certainly relate to. And conversations like the one where Momiko and one of her guildmates discuss the awkwardness of receiving an expensive gift also reflected MMO Junkie’s unusually thoughtful view of human relations. The show’s character writing is insightful enough that I already totally buy the bond between Momiko and Lily. As it turns out, smart writing can actually allow for a much snappier overall narrative, selling a romance in far less episodes than shows usually take.
Unfortunately, the praise train has to make a brief halt at the March comes in like a lion station. This episode focused largely on fleshing out Gotou’s character, and the results were… extremely mixed. Pretty much our only two points of sympathy provided here were “Gotou’s wife is in a coma” and “Gotou is very tired,” but neither of those come close to excusing his predatory behavior towards a young girl he has almost total power over. This episode’s sympathetic gaze actually reminded me of why I dropped the author’s previous work, Honey and Clover – there, the first episode’s sympathetic framing of “this college-age dude is in love with a girl with the mind of a child” drew me out of the story completely. But Gotou is far less central to March comes in like a lion, so I’m guessing the author’s fond view of deeply unequal relationships won’t damage much going forward.
The Ancient Magus’ Bride continued its straightforward but relatively sturdy adaptation of its source material, this time breathing life into the strangely uplifting dragon aerie visit. Chise’s conversation with Nevel is definitely one of the early highlights of the story, offering a unique argument for Chise to value her own life. Even if we see ourselves as monstrous or worthless, our lives can still have a crucial impact on others, often in ways we can’t see ourselves. It was also nice to see this chapter’s moe-ass dragons brought to life, and weirdly charming to see them giddily talk about dying and becoming trees. As usual, my only major complaint was the adaptation’s conservatism – I really liked the insert song used for Nevel’s dream, but the fact that we spent a good twenty seconds on one image of Nevel floating in front of the sea felt like a major missed opportunity. A more active and ambitious portrayal of the beauty of flight could have made that sequence a true masterwork, but as usual, we have to settle for “a competent copy of the manga.” Magus’ Bride is a fine show, but with material this good, a better team could have made something eternal.
And finally, Land of the Lustrous continued to present the strongest argument for CG’s artistic merits that I’ve seen yet. The fight that opened this week’s episode seemed designed specifically to emphasize exactly the kind of dynamic tracking shots and swooping tricks that only CG productions can pull off, resulting in a chaotic but generally clear and incredibly energetic fight. From there, the rest of the episode was mostly just charming as heck, as the goofiness of maybe-Phos’ slug-caterpillar form offered a consistently funny counterpoint to an investigation of Dia’s own feelings of worthlessness. Outside of the action highlights, many sequences here were just beautiful in conception and execution, like the segment dedicated to Phos coming back together. Land of the Lustrous doesn’t really have any weak links – it’s funny, full of strong characters, intriguing, and often straight-up beautiful.