Dear lord is the anime good you guys. The anime is so, so good. Even the shows I’ve been kinda so-so on, like Kino’s Journey and March comes in like a lion, turned in all-star performances this week. Last season’s emptiness seems to be getting paid back in full this season, as Fall 2017 is pretty much offering everything I want in anime. A thoughtful, subtly executed character drama? Just Because! A rambling, evocative thematic treatise? Kino’s Journey. An over-the-top but still character-focused action spectacle? Juni Taisen. And all those pillars are strongly bolstered by plenty of other shows, including TWO, that’s right, TWO actually funny comedies. We very rarely get seasons this good, and I’m doing my best to appreciate every minute of it. LET’S RUN THIS WEEK’S EPISODES DOWN!
Having been placed on the chopping block after last week’s largely regrettable episode, this week’s Kino’s Journey did its best to convince me this is a revival worth sticking with. Basically, this was the first episode of the new season that actually felt like Kino’s Journey – melancholy, introspective, and centered on a Kino more dedicated to observation than direct action. The Country of Liars was exactly the kind of strangely whimsical place I love seeing Kino visit, and the sober, reflective tone of both of this episode’s vignettes felt far more natural and engaging than recent episode’s high-tension theatrics. Kino’s Journey is at its best when it’s doing a strong Mushishi impression, and though I still prefer the original series’ storybook aesthetic, this episode conjured that same sense of timelessness and fatigue. I really, really hope this is a sign of things to come, and that we’ve escaped the Kino Attempts to be an Action Show doldrums.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie maintained its usual excellence this week, as we got to see Moriko doing her best to be an actual human being. I was slightly annoyed when last week’s cliffhanger ending was resolved with a “nahhh, couldn’t be,” but given that conflict was itself resolved by the end of this week, it actually felt appropriate to drag out that ambiguity for just this little bit longer. I also liked the excellent comedy of errors sequence where the guild leader had to help negotiate a conversation where a woman playing a male character asked a man playing a female character what girls wear on dates. I didn’t really think the gender-swapping of the protagonists’ avatars would result in all that much interesting drama or comedy (simply because playing a character of the opposite gender is such a mundane thing – I mean, I can’t remember the last time I played a male character when a game gave me a choice), but that scene turned out to be clever, funny, and endearing. Romantic comedies generally start with a set number of “misunderstanding resources” that dramatic confrontations tend to consume as fuel, and I thought this episode’s fuel economy was pretty excellent.
While MMO Junkie held down the dialogue-based comedy fort, Love Live! Sunshine!! kept busy keeping up the farcical, physical comedy. This week’s highly unexpected Riko/Yohane story was a real treat, ably matching the consistent funniness of Dia’s adventure. The show dialed back Yohane’s chuunibyou affectation enough for the friendship between her and Riko to actually feel earned, and watching her abuse Riko’s fear of dogs was one of the better comedy bits of the week. And after an episode mostly concerned with yelling and being chased by dogs, this episode even managed to further articulate Yohane’s character in a way that directly spoke to Sunshine’s core theme of “not-special people working to make themselves special.” This may have felt like a one-off episode, but I feel like it legitimately sold Yohane as a character and not just comic relief for the first time ever. Nice going, Sunshine.
After last week saw the new season pulling off its first genuinely good episode, March comes in like a lion apparently decided it was good and ready to make the hard sell, offering an episode as dramatically crushing and visually gorgeous as anything in the first season. Hina’s story of bullying was a fine enough tale on its own, but this episode’s mix of just-plain-absurd animation and consistently inventive design shifts elevated it into something truly grand. March is at best an inconsistently great show, but from Rei’s emotional roaring match and Shimada’s battle in the first season to this episode here, its highs are something special. I incidentally reviewed the crap out of this episode for ANN, so you can check out that post too if you want more thoughts.
Surrounded by flashy recoveries by other shows, Land of the Lustrous responded by simply maintaining its usual unimpeachable excellence. The King’s reunion with her brother was one of the show’s more dramatic visual setpieces yet, making great use of the setting sun to create some gorgeous color palettes. But the show was undoubtedly stolen by that one brief scene between Phos and Cinnabar, where Phos apologized for still not finding Cinnabar a new job. Feelings of purposelessness clearly haunt both Phos and Cinnabar, and it’s devastating seeing how each of them often apply their self-hatred to the other, seeing in their companion all the qualities they dislike in themselves. Phos and Cinnabar are trying to solve personal problems with no clear answer, and the show itself can only answer by illustrating how clearly they care about each other. Land of the Lustrous is funny and thrilling and creative and often emotionally devastating. CG anime as a whole has not yet arrive, but Land of the Lustrous may be the form’s first all-timer.
Just Because! also remained perfectly steady this week, offering a strong portrait of post-confession awkwardness all through its first half. I really appreciated the relatability of Mio’s difficulty apologizing to Eita, and especially the awkwardness of her outright hiding from him, but I’d say Haruto got the best material this week. His pensive reflections on both the end of baseball and the failure of his confession led to some devastating moments, and his fear of working-life nothingness felt very real and very true to his character. It was also nice to see Eita try his best to help his friend through this time. Almost all of Just Because!’s stars are pretty awkward and mopey in their own ways, but the show is very good at counterbalancing their almost too-believable negative feelings with occasional moments of joy or friendly support.
And finally, FUCK YOU JUNI TAISEN. I figured I’d developed at least a partial immunity to this show’s ability to kill my favorites, but then it went and killed Monkey without a second thought, and now I am made of sads. It’s a very Nisio trick to kill the theoretical protagonist halfway through, and also the sort of thing I should expect in a battle royale, but dangit, Monkey was a really great character to follow! As was Sheep, and I’m not sure any number of ridiculous drunken fist Tigers will make up for that. It feels like the Taisen has played out in a way that’s unpredictable in its very predictability – normally you’d expect some less overtly powerful but more heroic characters to last until near the end, but as it turns out, this Taisen’s heavyweights are very strong and very good at killing people. I’m not sure how this show is going to make me care about someone like Rabbit or the Genius of Slaughter after all this time, but with basically all the characters I knew and liked dead, we’re clearly in for a focus shift in its second half.