Land of the Lustrous is so good you guys what is up with that. I mean, the other anime I’m watching are good too, but seriously, Land of the Lustrous. I think it actually might be on anime of the year trajectory at this point, particularly if we hit any real payoff of its big threads by the end of this season. Aside from that, hey, guess it’s time for the Week in Review! The season’s holding pretty steady at this point, with most shows either moving towards or formally transitioning into their final act. Love Live is still messing around in side arcs, but I actually appreciate that in a structural sense, since I don’t think the show really improves by focusing on the drama of the Love Live itself. MMO Junkie had a criminally adorable episode, and Just Because stayed as well-observed as ever. Look, I don’t know how many ways I can say “this season is phenomenal and we should cherish it while it lasts.” Let’s get right on with it and RUN THESE SHOWS DOWN!
This week’s Love Live! Sunshine!! concluded the brief Leah/Ruby sisters arc, which was… fine? Ruby was certainly one of the least-developed Love Live characters, but I’m not sure supplementing her original “timid girl who really loves her big sister” character with “really, really loves her big sister” did all that much to improve her. I know comparing basically any other Love Live character to Nico isn’t really fair, but Nico’s equivalent episode from back in the original series essentially did the opposite thing of this episode – instead of leaning into the artifice that is her signature, it pulled back the curtain to reveal the larger emotional context that artifice exists in, furthering her status as a multidimensional person. Ruby is still just as simple as ever, we’ve just given her simplicity a whole bunch more screentime now. I can kinda admire Sunshine’s belief in these characters’ ability to pin down a more subtle dramatic narrative, but I don’t think I really share the show’s faith.
Fortunately, Recovery of an MMO Junkie was just as charming as ever, satisfyingly paying off Moriko and Sakurai’s final, full understanding of each other. Well, understanding in a “who they play online” sense – much of the actual comedy of this episode leaned on their total lack of mutual understanding outside of that, and their almost uncanny ability to draw the exact wrong impression from each other’s behavior. Lots of romantic comedies lean on near-misses and misunderstandings that feel pretty contrived, but it felt totally true to character that Moriko would see Sakurai’s discomfort as a reflection on her, while Sakurai would see Moriko’s idle phrasing as a romantic rejection. It is really nice to have a romantic comedy that acknowledges that even at thirty, many of us don’t have any friggin’ idea what we’re doing.
March comes in like a lion had a fairly mid-tier episode this week, at least compared to the last several weeks of highlights. Nikaidou’s backstory lacked the strong animation and visual creativity of Hina’s arc, but it was still a fundamentally engaging story that offered strong context for one of March’s best characters. It’s a credit to March’s character writing that Nikaidou’s preoccupation with “proving his strength” feels totally alien to me and yet totally understandable for him, a goal that’s clearly near to his heart in a comprehensible way. Even if the execution wasn’t as good as it can be, watching Nikaidou break down in tears after not being treated like a real opponent was a powerful moment all the same. I’d certainly like to see more resolution of Hina’s narrative soon, but March has a whole lot of strong threads, and I’m enjoying these digressions along the way.
Ena actually got to enjoy her big date in this week’s Just Because!, successfully maneuvering Eita around his Fated Romance with Mio. Just Because!’s storytelling is so naturalistic that it feels like Ena is almost aligned with the show’s own values: yeah, Mio and Eita might be the chosen couple who’ve known each other since middle school, but when has that ever actually meant anything in real life? Mio’s previous “chosen romance” dissolved the moment she realized the person she liked was her own fanciful idea of Haruto, not the actual living person. This episode also offered more great articulations of the awkward visibility of young romance – just like how all the big dramatic events at the school are witnessed by almost every character, so too was Ena and Eita’s date awkwardly chaperoned by Mio. There are few more quintessentially high school experiences than saying “this is my stop” just because a situation is so awkward, and then wandering your way home from wherever you get off.
Juni Taisen had likely its best episode of the second half this week, elevating both Tiger and Ox to two of the best characters in the show overall. Tiger’s story was already a fine reflection of this show’s generally furious attitude towards war, but her meeting with Ox and subsequent actions gave her a “redemption arc” just as satisfying as Chicken’s. And Ox provided an excellent counterpoint to Monkey’s character, his straightforward simplicity and clear philosophy of righteousness making it easy to see why he’d triumphed so long on the battlefield. Their exchanges back in the present time were heartbreaking, and made me dearly wish for some followup show that allows this whole wonderful cast to escape their violent genre. It’s key to Juni Taisen’s point that its moments of outright heroics are few and far between, but this episode seemed very earned on both Ox and Tiger’s part.
And finally, this week’s Land of the Lustrous was absolute suffering from start to finish. It was totally unsurprising that Phos would see Antarc’s loss as totally their own fault, but seeing how heavily that emotional debt weighed on them was still a crushing experience. Land of the Lustrous’s gem-memory conceit gestures towards the way all our scarring, physical or otherwise, fundamentally changes us in often unhappy ways. Kongo’s observation that Phos suffers countless tiny breaks every time they use their new arms was just as sharp, tethering every good thing Phos’s changes bring about to the unhappy fact of their genesis. And Phos’s reflections on no longer being able to sleep, or no longer finding any joy in achieving the combat dreams they once had, felt as real and universally pertinent in this hell-year as anything I’ve seen in recent shows. Land of the Lustrous is strong enough as a character piece, worldbuilding exercise, action show, and visual spectacle, and yet it still keeps also throwing these psychological haymakers episode after episode. It really does seem that Lustrous may well be the best show of the year.