It feels like all of these great shows are now just jostling to remind me exactly how great they are, right before the season ends and we’re all left in the winter void. March comes in like a lion rose to a dramatic crescendo, Land of the Lustrous had one of its most visually jaw-dropping episodes yet, and even Love Live Sunshine managed to shake off its recent woes and deliver a strong performance. With Recovery of an MMO Junkie already taking its bow, we’re really in the final days now – and with the end of the year prompting me to write way too many final lists, I’m getting even more reminders of how good this season is. Considering Land of the Lustrous is likely to be one of my future go-to gateway shows, I can’t really complain about all this anime ending strong. Let’s instead celebrate it while it’s here, and run this week’s episodes down!
This week’s Just Because! was a great Ena episode, but I mean, they’re all great Ena episodes. But still, even by regular Just Because! standards, watching Ena try to not-so-sneakily avoid Eita was about as charming as could be. Ena often feels like the only member of this cast with any real sense of perspective – thus while a character like Mio might begrudgingly admit that “today sucks,” Ena says it with a laugh, immediately appreciating how friggin’ stupid young love can be. Mio did do her best though, landing on some important resolutions regarding both her love life and her college prospects. There was also a great continuous loop of “I wish I had things as figured out as that person,” with half the cast in turn feeling jealous of a character who would then demonstrate just how completely they themselves are an emotional mess. Just Because! is having a wonderful time with the embarrassing nature of youth, and I’m having a wonderful time along with it.
March comes in like a lion finally paid off some of the main threads of its recent arcs, in particular bringing the Newcomer Tournament arc to a very emotionally satisfying conclusion. Another show might have focused more on the tactical interplay of Rei and his opponent, but this particular conflict wasn’t about shogi tactics: it was about Rei practicing emotional restraint, and playing his conservative best in spite of wanting to heroically charge for Nikaidou’s sake. The episode’s execution matched its dramatic focus, staying aurally and visually reserved as Rei made his methodical plays. And after achieving his long-awaited victory, Rei was rewarded in the most satisfying way possible: by finally being allowed to truly help Hina, and be a shoulder to cry on when she needed it most. This episode was both a graceful narrative bow and a validation of how emotionally generous this whole cast can be. Thirty episodes in, I am entirely in love with all the members of Rei’s unlikely family.
Love Live! Sunshine!! pulled off its best episode in a looong time this week, genuinely reminding me how charming this show can be. I actually felt this episode was perhaps the show’s best stab yet at what it’s been trying to be all season: a more subtly written character drama, one with enough grounding to successfully capture the melancholy feeling of this group’s time together ending. That aspiration to greater dramatic complexity has been clear enough in the show’s choice to actually have the school close, but felt better articulated through small moments like Dia, Mari, and Kanan reflecting on their long friendship. Tangible details like Mari being sequentially detained in higher and higher bedrooms gave this drama a specificity of lived experience that it’s often lacked, and the dialogue in general felt more grounded here than archetypally aspirational. Details like that were also some of the show’s best jokes in a while, and peaking on the absurd image of Mari driving her idol squad across the moon was the most Love Live thing the show could possibly do. I’ve had pretty mixed feelings about Sunshine’s second season, but this episode was a joy from start to finish.
I was sad to see Recovery of an MMO Junkie end this week, but the show had a complete story to tell, and this brought it to a perfectly satisfying end. This episode’s focus on awkward stumbling at Sakurai’s apartment felt a little less unique and well-observed than some of MMO Junkie’s other anxiety-related drama, but it was adorable as heck, and I felt fine seeing this episode more as service for the fans than anything else. I’m a little surprised that ultimately, that dream sequence of Moriko fleeing a corporate disintegration didn’t really go anywhere, but I guess those are also the compromises we accept when a continuing light novel series is adapted into a theoretically self-contained anime. In the end, Moriko and Sakurai are each individually two of the best-written characters of the year, and their fumbling towards romance has been one of the most reliable pleasures of the fall season. Between Maidragon and MMO Junkie, this has been a banner year for the romantic comedy.
I was a bit more surprised to see Juni Taisen not end this week, considering the Juni Taisen proper was finished a bit over halfway through. But both Ox’s goodbye and Rat’s victory were satisfying in their own ways, and I’m actually looking forward to a full episode of Rat presumably acting on Monkey’s final wishes. It seems like Monkey really will get the last laugh, though I’m sure she wouldn’t laugh herself – not only were her insights the only way Rat was able to survive, but just like Chicken, it seems that her philosophy “weakened” Rat, and made him a less single-minded warrior. With the show so close to its end, I’m happy to see Juni Taisen offering its heroes the respect they deserve, giving fond sendoffs to Ox, Tiger, and Monkey. The show was often unsatisfying as a traditional battle royale and more than a little messy as a war narrative, but Juni Taisen’s characters were vivid from start to finish, and I’m sad to see them go.
And last but certainly not least, Land of the Lustrous pulled off another visually overwhelming episode this week, matching a new evolution in the Lunarians’ attack patterns to some of the most dynamic battle scenes of the year. Both Bort and Dia were given highlights that felt almost genres apart, and yet equally powerful. Bort’s initial confrontation with the six-eyed Lunarian was one more delirious tribute to exactly what CG animation allows anime to accomplish, with Bort’s actual opponent essentially becoming a hostile landscape Bort had to struggle against. And then when the monster reached the actual school, Dia ended up trapped in a horror movie that seemed to directly echo classic sequences like the raptor hunt in the original Jurassic Park. I cared about Dia more than enough to be utterly taken in by this sequence, and wounded by how clearly their own self-doubt echoes Phos’s original feelings. Land of the Lustrous never feels content to rest on its own consistent excellence; every episode astonishes in a new way, every embellishment emphatically argues for this show’s status as a genuine classic.