The anime is just gonna keep being good, I guess! Fall 2017 continues to be one hell of a season, offering a wide variety of strong shows that so far haven’t really faltered at all. If anything, the fact that this season, and particularly its surprise hits, have been so consistently strong is prompting me to be a little harsher to shows I’d otherwise be happily accommodating. In this case, it means that I’m probably parting ways with The Ancient Magus’ Bride. The manga’s adaptation is perfectly “okay,” but “okay” is just not enough this season – I’m not getting anything out of the anime that I didn’t get out of the more tightly composed manga, and meanwhile, we’ve got stuff like MMO Junkie and Juni Taisen totally blowing me away every single week. I’m sorry Chise, but your adventures turned out to be late by exactly one season. Let’s set that sad parting aside and run the rest of this week down!
This week’s Recovery of an MMO Junkie maintained the show’s very consistent balance of romance, MMO jokes, and absolutely brutal riffs on social anxiety. The sequence dedicated to gatchas was charming enough, if a little outside of my own experiential wheelhouse. I did feel the show leaned into some pretty stale joke territory, but that was all made up by the episode’s second half. There, the sequence between Moriko and Lily’s real-life friend hit so close to home it felt like an attack. Feeling hemmed in by someone’s offer of a date or meetup is something I know all too well – and as with Moriko, it has nothing to do with the person offering, and everything to do with my own anxiety in theoretically consequential, one-on-one social engagements. I perfectly understand Moriko’s fear of “oh no, they’ll all learn I’m a fraud,” as well as the frustration of knowing you have no legitimate excuse to turn someone down. MMO Junkie manages to turn its exploration of severe anxiety into consistently funny skits, but it’s also smartly and sympathetically articulating some pretty harsh truths.
Just Because! seemed to suffer a slight step southward this week, mostly because of its fairly slow first half. “Slow” might be a weird complaint to level at Just Because, considering its usual mode of storytelling is so dang atmospheric and methodical, but even when the show’s scenes meander, I generally feel like they’re revealing more about these characters and their world, as well as working to establish a stronger sense of atmosphere. That didn’t feel as true of this week’s dog lesson, which mostly just felt like a vehicle for more terrifying mascara-wearing dogs. I was much happier with the episode’s second half, which was both a relatably tortured quasi-date experience in its own right and also moved the show towards a pretty major paradigm shift. All this crushing has been nice, but I’m ready to see how these kids deal with immediate conflict within their group.
Love Live! Sunshine!! 2 seems to have fully hit its stride at this point, as this week’s Dia-focused nonsense was likely the best episode of the show so far. This minor conflict was a smartly chosen one, as what with Mari’s standard absurdity and Kanan’s seemingly goofiness-oriented rewrite this season, Dia is basically the only member of this cast who isn’t some variant of abominable memelord. Her self-seriousness actually worked as an emotional obstacle here, and the fact that she’s not-so-secretly one of the most silly and awkward members of the cast resulted in all number of great gags. Sunshine’s idea of dramatic continuity being “maybe Mari should try and sell that giant Mari statue we introduced to fund their trip to Tokyo” really points to how well this show currently has its priorities down. Love Live feels as confident and aware of its own strengths as it ever has.
We returned to something resembling episode two’s catch-up mode for this week’s Juni Taisen, which combined Sheep’s backstory into a narrative that also kept the tension high with Monkey and Rat while offering brief introductions to Horse and Tiger, and even giving us some explanation of the Juni Taisen’s overall purpose. Sheep unsurprisingly turned out to be just as sympathetic as most of our focus characters, someone who was brought into a crime family like Chicken, but managed to flourish there and actually live a happy life. It was frankly a relief to see how well life had gone for him – after the suffering of Chicken and Boar, it’s nice to think that even if Sheep bites it, he’ll have achieved his purpose and maybe even helped the drunk-ass Tiger survive. A battle royale populated by a Nisioisin cast has turned out to be a naturally cruel construction, but “this cast is too fantastic, I love every one of them” is a pretty good complaint to have.
It was a great relief to see March comes in like a lion returning to top form this week, with an episode that offered both uncharacteristically effective comedy and classically evocative emotional drama. The first half of this episode was genuinely funny from smart to finish, pulling off both conceptually sound skits and fine bouts of conversational character humor. And the second half twist, predicated on Rei’s memories of a ladybug-housing bush, was one of the finer portrayals of emotional triggering I’ve seen. We’ve seen bits and pieces of Rei’s early school experiences before, but this segment smartly contrasted that against his home life, and segued perfectly into Hina’s present-day troubles. It’s nice to see March showing it really can be a confident and emotionally rich story when it wants to.
This week’s Kino’s Journey left me pretty seriously conflicted. On the one hand, this wasn’t a truly terrible episode – spending time with another perspective character was an interesting shift, and the floating country was a nice visual setpiece, even if it didn’t prompt any particularly chewy moral questions. On the other hand, it felt like this episode confirmed that “reader-chosen adventures!” means “we’re gonna adopt every single story where Kino ever fires a gun.” Kino taking deliberate action is supposed to be a shocking departure from the norm, a strange jolt of violence in a show that’s otherwise far more atmospheric and cerebral. Turning Kino into an action star fundamentally shifts the nature of their character and the nature of this show, along with its ultimate takeaway. And placing the dramatic emphasis in these episodes on “building up to the part where Kino shoots a gun” makes the countries we pass through feel more like vehicles for big setpieces than coherent, breathing places. This Kino’s Journey is a competent enough show, but I’m not sure it has enough of what I loved about Kino’s Journey to really speak to me at all.
On the other hand, this week’s Land of the Lustrous expanded its scope in a variety of ways that still felt true to its fundamental character. First off, Phos’ new slug friend is a critical addition to the cast, and I hope we get to see more of the King for many episodes to come. Most other characters in this show simply tolerate Phos, but their slug friend actually speaks to Phos on precisely the same level, making for a bunch of very endearing conversations. The separation of “flesh, soul, and bone” also felt quite appropriate for Lustrous’ consistently minimalist storytelling, and Phos’ undersea journey offered a variety of new visual rewards as well. Land of the Lustrous continues to be a confident story told well.