The anime was, uh, brief this week. Just Because!’s production woes finally flowered into an entire week off, while my persistent issues with neo-Kino’s Journey led to me finally dropping it. Outside of those missing contenders, things didn’t actually get that much better – I had issues with this week’s MMO Junkie, Love Live, and Juni Taisen, leaving it to just March and Lustrous to carry the banner. Fortunately, those two performed admirably, with Land of the Lustrous in particular continuing a pretty much unbroken streak of excellent episodes. With Kino out of the picture, it’s likely time to actually pick up Girls’ Last Tour, but that unfortunately has to come after actual work-related shows. Hopefully that’ll make it in by next week, and in the meantime, let’s run down this week’s unfortunately lackluster offerings!
This week’s Recovery of an MMO Junkie was somewhat hit or miss. My biggest issue was the episode’s timing, both in terms of dramatic pacing overall and in terms of individual jokes’ comedic timing. The material with Kowai here wouldn’t have been particularly hilarious even with snappier pacing, but having every beat feel staggered by a half step didn’t do the episode any favors. On the positive side, I felt this episode’s lengthy dive into Sakurai’s headspace went a great distance towards solidifying his character and position in the narrative. The fundamental nature of his “I should let those two fall in love” conflict isn’t the most engaging, but I appreciated the awkward nuance of him trying to sort out how his relationship with Hayashi might survive in spite of him no longer pursuing Moriko. Much of MMO Junkie’s best material focuses on the complex nature of how we define and segment our online spaces and online selves, and Sakurai’s fretting here was both interesting as a conflict for its own sake and also a solid way to make him feel that much more sympathetic. I’m still not thrilled by Kowai’s role in this story, but if it leads to more awkward negotiation of these spaces, I’ll take it.
Love Live! Sunshine!! was unfortunately stuck in the moody doldrums for a full episode this week, as the girls very slowly learned they wouldn’t actually be able to save their school. Conceptually, I really appreciate this conflict ending in “failure,” and the cast having to deal with actual, consequential disappointment. But in practice, this show has given me no reason to care about Aquors’ school beyond “the cast cares about it,” and their reasons for caring about it have never felt particularly meaningful. On top of that, constructing the whole first half of the episode around watching an enrollment number tick up, and the second half around letting all the girls just be mopey for a while, didn’t really result in a particularly thrilling episode. Love Live’s saccharine melodrama tends to fumble the most when the show is attempting to pull off sad moments, and that remained true here. Fortunately, we’re only just past the halfway point and the team has already dealt with their mopey conflict phase – unless this show repeats the original Love Live’s exhaustingly drawn out goodbye segment, things should improve and stay improved from here out.
Things remained as compelling as ever for March comes in like a lion this week, as the continued evocation of Hina’s bullying drama offered strong character work, great visual tricks, and engaging storytelling all around. I really appreciated the great diversity of expressions we saw out of Hina this episode, a shift that seemed exactly matched to Rei’s growing understanding of her emotional complexity. March’s character designs can sometimes lead to fairly inexact expressions, but the show was able to draw strong subtleties of anger and snark out of Hina’s various looks. And sequences like Hina’s furious vision of getting back at the bullies spoke for themselves, offering more of the dynamite visual storytelling we only occasionally got in season one. After a shaky first couple episodes, it’s actually seeming like March’s second season is on track to be even better than the first.
Land of the Lustrous also maintained its usual strength, although for this show it’s less of a “streak” than “yep, Lustrous is one of the most consistently excellent shows of the year.” The show hasn’t had the dramatic peaks of Made in Abyss or the off-kilter charm of Kemono Friends, but as far as pure sturdy execution goes, I’m not sure anything else has it beat. This week’s episode continued the show’s usual mix of compelling new worldbuilding, great comedy, and too-sharp reflections on purpose, with Antarcticite’s comments on Phos falling into complacency offering the spicy counterbalance to scenes of Phos slowly pushing their own head through the snow. Phos’s character and conflicts resides in that perfect sweet spot of endearing dorkiness and painfully relatable insecurity, and the world around them keeps blooming with compelling new mysteries. Here’s hoping the show stays this strong.
Finally, Juni Taisen had one of its weakest episodes this week, continuing an unfortunately low-tier string. Individual Juni Taisen episodes tend to rise or fall based on the appeal of their focus character, and frankly, neither Horse, Snake, nor Dragon have made for particularly compelling protagonists. Snake and Dragon are basically just selfish assholes, and so them in particular getting two straight episodes has been a serious drag, particularly since this episode didn’t actually push the present-day narrative forward at all. That said, I did like how the trial of Snake and Dragon skewered the ways we tend to sanitize geopolitical violence. The two essentially played the role of Watchmen’s Comedian, emphasizing the fact that no matter how we dress it up, our righteous wars are still monstrous actions performed by monsters. After establishing a world that seemed far more violent than our own, this episode seemed dedicated to denying that, and emphasizing how close this is to our own reality. But while that’s a nice enough point, it didn’t justify a full episode spent with these jerks, lizard blog or not.