Another of our beloved contenders set sail this week, with MMO Junkie ending on a kinda mediocre but still relatively charming OVA episode. Outside of that, the fall season continued to offer nothing but hits this week, with Sunshine managing its second strong episode in a row while all the season’s more stable contenders maintained their usual sheen. I have to admire March comes in like a lion for its confidence in continuously interrupting its excellent Hina arc with diversions that all turn out to be satisfying enough to warrant messing with the narrative structure. March’s choices don’t at all feel like the way this story “should” be told, but at this point, the embellishments feel like expert saxophone solos threaded into a confident jazz standard. Meanwhile, Lustrous continues to surprise in new ways, while Just Because! keeps up its awkward-as-hell consistency once again. It is so very nice when the anime is good. Let’s GET TO IT!
Love Live! Sunshine!! continued its streak of very solid episodes this week, mostly by giving its cast another excellent venue to be themselves and then just getting out of the way. I’ve had a variety of issues with this season of Sunshine, but recently I’ve mostly just been appreciating what an improvement this is over the original series’ season two conclusion. The original Love Live’s overlong, hysterically melodramatic denouement felt more reflective of the show’s unexpected mega-success than its characters’ actual feelings; in contrast, Sunshine’s characters seem to have a much greater sense of perspective, and are looking forward to the beginning of new chapters in their lives even as the current Aqours saga comes to a close. The various things all these characters are planning for their future simultaneously offers both a better message and stronger grounding for the characters, a sense that they really are people with lives outside of this goofy sitcom. Kinda weird that a cast full of characters like Yohane and Zuramaru is starting to feel this real.
March comes in like a lion also had a very fun episode, though in an entirely unexpected way. March has generally been very good about humanizing Rei’s opponents, but with last episode ending on what felt like the dramatic peak of the Rei-Hina arc, I really didn’t figure this week would dedicated two thirds of its running time to Newcomer runner-up Junkei. And yet, Junkei’s story of raising racing pigeons and fearing he was over the hill as a shogi professional was so dang charming and well-executed that it turned out to be a genuine show highlight. Junkei’s sensitivity and anxiety were conveyed so well that it felt impossible not to sympathize with him, even as he admitted to making any choices necessary to beat Nikaidou. I’m not sure we’ll ever see him again, but he turned out to be a pretty great guy, and I’d love to see him engage with his rivals in happier times. No one who loves pigeons this much can be a bad person.
Recovery of an MMO Junkie offered an OVA coda this week, which was… well, it sure was an OVA episode. The first half, where Moriko got successively more horny over Sakurai building her a new computer, was actually pretty great. The two of them are funny separately and adorable together, and the show really stretched its silly face muscles to give Moriko tons of expressiveness all through the segment. The second half, where Moriko found herself transported into Fruit de Mer, was a lot more mundane. That segment trafficked heavily in the kind of cliche MMO-centric humor the show proper generally avoided, and though there were a couple decent gags, it was mostly just “slightly above average anime comedy” – ie, a watchable show, but not one I’d actually seek out to watch. Still, it was nice seeing these characters one last time, and I don’t mind a reminder that even with shows we love, ending definitively and well tends to be a lot better than lingering until the joy is gone.
While MMO Junkie presented a slight stumble, Juni Taisen maintained its recent strong streak to finish on one more high note. Juni Taisen’s greatest strength was always its characters, and this episode essentially acted as a much-welcome eulogy for the cast, as each of them got to articulate their deepest wishes in turn. Some, like Chicken’s, were tragically reflective of everything we knew about them. Others, like Dog’s, demonstrated that one episode isn’t nearly enough to explore everything that makes these characters tick. Almost none of Juni Taisen’s characters succeeded in the ways I ultimately would have wanted for them, but it was clear here and throughout that that certainly wasn’t because the show didn’t love them enough. I’m gonna miss this messed-up family, and I only hope the me that exists in a dimension where Juni Taisen was pitched as an awkward roommate sitcom is enjoying his perfect show.
Just Because! was up to its usual awkward shenanigans this week, offering new flare-ups of drama on and around Valentine’s Day. Mio is pretty much entirely incapable of direct action, but I appreciated the definitive movement forward of her realizing she actually did have solid feelings for Eita, even if that realization was only prompted by her somewhat contrived viewing of Eita’s phone background. Surprisingly, it was Haruto and Hazuki who got the best material this week, with their play-acting of a high school baseball game feeling as sad as it was charming. High school shows often traffic in nostalgia for a moment that barely existed, and this scene felt like an outright acknowledgment of that fact – a melancholy reflection on the insubstantial nature of “definitive adolescent experiences,” moments we only recognize as iconic after they’re gone. Just Because! is a somber experience on the whole, but the fact that the Haruto-Hazuki scene ended so positively felt like a validation of its focus. Brief as they may be, we wouldn’t turn these moments over again and again if they didn’t possess real meaning.
And finally, Land of the Lustrous managed to upend my expectations once again this week, by turning the resolution of the Shiro conflict into an incredibly goofy hunt for tiny yipping pomelunarians. The copious number of great sight gags and snappy comic beats here offered a nice reminder that in spite of all the other things it excels at, Land of the Lustrous is also just one of the most effortlessly funny shows in year. Though as always, “effortless” isn’t the right word – it’s clear from his work directing Love Live that Lustrous’s director Takahiko Kyogoku is a master of timing and visual gags, and that he works on a level of comedic expertise that only seems consistently matched by Tsutomu Mizushima and the KyoAni crew. And of course, since this is Land of the Lustrous, the comedy was only one of several active highlights here – we also got some solid progression of Phos’s arc, as well as the first overt hints that Sensei might harbor some terrible secrets. I was happy to see that as well; the gems’ relationship with Sensei has always worked on a level of assumed trust that we in the audience have no reason to understand, and having Phos be the only one actively questioning Sensei’s nature feels like the natural fulfillment of their journey towards, well, wherever they’re going. Land of the Lustrous is nothing if not surprising, so I can only wait and see where this show will lead us next.