And so it ends. This really wasn’t much of a week in anime, considering a third of my airing shows have already finished, but it still seems worth it to stop by and turn the lights out. Even taken as the season’s conclusion, this was a pretty weird one; not only are Just Because! and Love Live lingering into the year’s final days, but March comes in like a lion isn’t concluding at all, and Land of the Lustrous was only able to offer a light thematic bookend. This was an extremely good season, but it seems that it’ll be ending very quietly; no anthemic finales, and not all that much finality in general. But hey, if all these great shows want to end with slow dignity instead of dramatic fanfare, I suppose they’ve earned that right.
Land of the Lustrous sadly demonstrated the limitations of adaptation in its final episode. The plain fact is, there’s just very little way to provide a truly satisfying conclusion to a show that’s only covering a small portion of an ongoing manga. Made in Abyss handled that challenge by turning its last act into what essentially amounted to a small, self-contained film about Nanachi and Mitty. Lacking such a clear dramatic centerpiece, Land of the Lustrous instead worked to mirror its introduction in every possible way, from the casting of Phos’s anxieties onto other characters to the familiar shot frames dedicated to their interactions with Cynnabar. It worked well enough, but the increased dramatic focus on entirely unknown gems made it impossible to turn this into a truly conclusive and satisfying ending. Land of the Lustrous is a phenomenal show, but sometimes even phenomenal shows are limited by constraints outside their control.
Just Because! moved towards a significantly more conclusive ending, as Mio and Eita each headed off to attend the other’s first choice college exam. I appreciated this episode’s graceful mirroring of the two across its run, but frankly couldn’t feel the most invested in its actual drama. Mio and Eita are pleasant enough together, but they just don’t possess half the chemistry of Eita and Ena; or at least, we haven’t gotten enough scenes of them together for them to really demonstrate it. Just Because! is running into a relatively common romantic issue where you’re supposed to invest in a romance because “destined lovers,” but are given no tangible reasons to believe two characters belong together. The fact that Mio and Eita are so bad at being honest with each other is cute enough and true to each of their personalities, but it makes it inherently a bit more tough to care about their potential future together. Just Because! is a very good show, but I think it’d be significantly stronger if we’d gotten at least one more episode like Mio’s center exams, where these two were forced to demonstrate how much they care.
Love Live! Sunshine!! also moved towards a pretty conventional dramatic peak, as we basically just checked in with all the girls on the eve of their final competition. As usual, this episode avoided the overbearing sentimentality of the original series by demonstrating all of its cast members have lives and feelings beyond their existence as a school idol group. But like Just Because!, this episode was almost one hundred percent buildup, meaning it didn’t really offer that much of its own appeal. The performance at the end was presumably supposed to be our big payoff, but Aqours Love Live show surprisingly ended up being one of this season’s least engaging performances. Love Live has really stepped up their performance game this season, so it was kinda strange to see this performance fall below the bar set by their qualifiers show and Chika’s stage flips. That said, this season’s broader perspective has me excited to see what the show will pull off in its finale, as these girls actually move beyond the world they’ve been fighting for.
Finally, March comes in like a lion made no attempts to act like this was a season ending, in keeping with its usual no-fucks-given attitude towards dramatic adaptation structure. Even within this single episode, there was a serious sense of incongruity in going from “let’s hang out with the shogi-science club and underline how Rei was finally found a happy home” to “welp, time to close up this club, cya guys later.” But structural clumsiness aside, this first half did offer some firm and very welcome validation of Rei’s long, painful journey. Seeing Rei’s happy tears contrasted against a running water faucet felt like a redemption of that rushing water motif, the principle icon of the depression and self-hatred that have kept Rei down. March is far from a perfect show, but I can’t say I mind this season’s “all emotional payoff, all the time” credo.