No Monogatari this week, so I only had two thirds of the great shows I normally do. That turned out to be fine, though, because the second-strings were in extremely good form.
So. Three episodes left. Three brothers and mom in captivity, Kaisei captured as well, with the fourth brother still down the well, still unaware his father’s death was not his fault. There are a bunch of relevant pieces still on the board, of course – it’s unlikely Kaisei will be watched as carefully as the family, Yajiro is likely one “it was a trap!” short of busting out to rescue the family (and considering both his train trick and the fact that he’s remained a frog for god knows how long, he’s apparently extremely good at transformations), and both professors and Benten are still out there and still involved in the day’s proceedings. Granted, Benten’s turn will probably not be this easy – her position in the plot is too complicated for that.
Let’s talk about Benten for a second. Clearly we haven’t gotten her entire story – this show often mentions threads without fully explicating them, but it always comes back around to explain things when it hits an episode focused on the relevant character. And the key question with her is – why the Friday Fellows? What made her so intent on joining their group that she essentially killed a man? And what is the exact nature of her regret now?
Another fantastic week in anime, but when the current season has a bewildering buffet on the scale of three good shows, that tends to happen. All three of my favorites were in top form this week, so let’s run down the list.
Management: So yeah, I’m pretty much just evangelizing at this point. I was asked why I found the visuals of Uchouten so striking, and basically compiled a collection of many of my favorite moments. Of course, every other shot of this show is beautiful, so this isn’t even close to exhaustive. As usual, my responses were to real questions, but I’ve shortened the questions to their most basic form to keep it as general as possible.
Can you explain why you find the visuals of Uchouten Kazoku so beautiful? I agree that there are a number of standout moments, but it often feels like the backgrounds are just photographs someone put through a posterizing filter, which can clash with the hand-drawn characters. What do you get out of them?
Oh hey. It’s the most wonderful time of the week again.
Last week was beautiful as always, but it was also as close to this show comes to a board-arranging episode. By having the episode’s chosen character (as I’ve said before, the second half of this show has built its narrative structures around further illustrating one relevant character at a time) be the constant observer, the episode was able to give us a fairly broad overview of the different plots up to this point. The election is in two days, and the New Year’s Bash will swiftly follow. So was rendered powerless by the mere appearance of Benten, which might explain his being captured more than the liquor would. The Ebisugawas have at least one more trick up their sleeve, and it’s clearly a nasty one. We have yet to see the last two members of the Friday Fellows, and it’s likely Benten chose to introduce Yasaburou on the night she did specifically because they would be absent.
Even if I didn’t have absolute faith these threads would be successfully tied together based on the show so far, this is by the writer of The Goddamn Tatami Galaxy. Let’s see where we’re headed.
Fell behind on some shows this week, and haven’t had the time to catch up. I’ll update this with C3-bu and Monogatari whenever I get around to them. And hell, maybe I’ll even catch up on the handful of Titan episodes I’ve been too apathetic to watch.
Uchouten Kazoku 9: Best show yada yada beautiful art yada yada resonant themes yada yada incredibly naturalistic storytelling etc. As always, the grace of this show’s composition and dialogue fall well beyond my ability to articulate, so I guess I’ll just say that this week’s episode finally brought the scale of the show’s final conflicts into focus. The election of the Nise-emon and the Friday Fellows’ New Year’s bash are clearly going to be tied together in this final arc, most likely through whatever secret plan the Ebisugawas are plotting. Once again, Yasaburou proved himself the begrudging but undeniably best-qualified leader of the family, his easy nature making him the perfect diplomat when it came to the Fellows, the professor, and even Kaisei. I’m eager to see how Benten will figure into this conflict, but at this point I mainly just want this show to be finished so I can buy it and force everyone else I know to watch it. Why do I watch anime? Because every year we get a handful of shows worth talking about and maybe one or two of these.
Gatchaman Crowds 8: Quite an episode this week. After the tumultuous showdown of last week, they follow it up by… visiting a preschool. That kind of works, in a thematic way. Which is how most of the stuff in this show works – it often feels like Hajime is having a direct conversation with the audience more than she is with any of the characters around her. Her actions make much more sense given our fuller context, her smaller choices are often reflective of the show’s overarching ideas, and she’s so flawless outside of her communication difficulties that her alignment with the show’s philosophy often verges on (and you could easily argue fully veers into) didactic storytelling.
But anyway, theme stuff. Visiting the preschool and appearing in human form is pretty much perfectly Hajime – she values communication between equals above all else, and uses this opportunity to redefine the Gatchamen as just another group of people trying to help out, like firemen or policemen. She also uses the media presence to take the power of crowdsourcing out of Galax’s hands and publicly announce what’s going on and how people can help out (credit to tundranocaps for pointing this one out). And then Sugane and OD have their whole on-the-nose conversation about the egoless play of children being like the joyful horizontal society Rui’s so goddamn excited about. So we push the story forward while also talking about all the show’s favorite ideas. Good stuff!
Incidentally, people are getting all excited about the first few hours of Gatchaman’s appearance on Amazon or whatnot, but it seems a little premature to be celebrating that. Honestly, I’d be pretty surprised if a show this completely dedicated to such esoteric ideas finds wide success, particularly since its visual aesthetic is so unabashedly anime, which I’m guessing is pretty off-putting to most people interested in discussing crowdsourcing, gamification, and the false prophet of leadership. But then again, Utsutsu of all characters recently came in the top four of a Japanese summer “best female character” poll, so perhaps once again the right show will get big sales for all the wrong reasons.
TWGOK S3 9: TWGOK is not really my kind of show, but at this point I’m extremely happy I’ve watched the rest of it, because the improvements in this season are just insane. Keima’s always been an entertaining protagonist, but this season has forced him to actually take his Lelouch-powers seriously, and this was the episode where it all came to a head. His denial of Chihiro was some legitimately devastating stuff – normally I get uncomfortable whenever anything haremy attempts to take its characters emotions’ seriously (because if if I’m taking them seriously, I also have to take seriously the fact that harems are fundamentally fucked-up, dehumanizing power fantasies with all kinds of demented ideas about relationships and power dynamics), but this episode actually let the hammer fall in a way no other harem would. No funny gags here – Keima’s actions, while ultimately intended to help people, have completely toyed with people’s emotions, and when you do things like this you suffer the consequences. This has been coming for a long time, but I was honestly shocked by how effective it was, and the strength of this moment by itself raised my estimation of the show overall. Congrats, Season 3.
Yep, still watching Free. This week’s episode was actually one of the best (which admittedly isn’t saying much), with a bunch of great gags and some quite effective dramatic moments. My enthusiasm for this pretty lousy show kind of dwindles the more information we get on the fall show seemingly determined to prove what KyoAni are actually capable of, so for the sake of leaving my children a full set of derpy comedy writeups, I’m hoping it keeps up the pace.
I can’t image this show getting any more tragic than last week. That episode was focused wholly on the grieving process – but as Yasaburou stated at the end, this shared loss has ultimately pulled the family together. With secrets revealed (the only remaining threads being the identity of the last couple Friday Fellows and Kaisei) and the election looming ever closer, the time has probably come for Yasaburou to make some hard calls. He knows he’s the inheritor of the Idiot Blood, and he cares far more than he lets on. I’m not expecting old-fashioned heroism, but I am expecting results.
Because both story structure and the 1-cour system are kinda inflexible, this week pulled the interesting trick of having almost every single show I’m watching put their protagonist through the emotional wringer, questioning their very base motivation and bringing them as close to “defeat” (relative to each story’s stakes) as possible. Fun times!
Uchouten Kazoku 8: Jeez, you thought last week’s episode was heavy? This week dove directly into the grieving process, exploring the brothers’ father more fully than ever before through a series of quirky and moving flashbacks. Yajirou’s relevant backstory was fully laid out, culminating in the beautiful image of a rail car terrorizing downtown Kyoto and fading with the haunting shot of the family standing on the roadside, waiting for their father to come home. Even Yasaburou was forced to reflect on his relationship with his father, and possibly acknowledge that he must take up the mantle of responsibility simply because no one else can. Still on track to be the fourth anime in my list of basically perfect shows.
Gatchaman Crowds 7: Another doozy. Hajime pointing out Rui’s hypocrisy pushes him to Do The Right Thing and directly confront Katze. And so his Hundred are murdered, he’s nearly killed himself, and the Gatchamen’s chain of command is shattered. Only Hajime is able to save them, and even then only because her intelligence and philosophy amuse Katze. But even she is shaken by the appearance of a character who seems to put the lie to her fundamental faith in our common goals and desire for connection and understanding. Rui chose to forego his own ideals in order to hopefully create a future worthy of them. Will Hajime be forced to do the same?
Monogatari S2 7: Man, I act all cool and brooding about this season’s two Anime Worth Discussing, and then we get to Monogatari which was all derping around with loli Hanekawa and making terrible decisions about time travel. So far, this new arc has been much more comedy-focused than the first, which is fine as long as the comedy is good, and Araragi/Shinobu still have a fantastic dynamic. This episode was entertaining for what it was, but I’ll be happy to get into the meat of this time travel nonsense next week, and discover exactly how badly these idiots have fucked everything up.
C3-bu 8: Back to frowntown for this one, as Yura’s incredible insecurity has led her to first prove her worth to the team at any cost, and now seek victory in the same way. Cheating? Why, I never. I find pretty much everything about this show outside of Yura’s character development pretty flat (routine plotting, workmanly direction and dialogue), so it’s fortunate that they’re doing such solid work with her arc.
Free 8: And wrapping up my “everything sucks for everyone” roundup, this week featured Haru feeling really sad about not winning at swimming. Aaand not much else – the very distinctive direction from last week has been tuned down again, so once again it’s mainly watchable because I make silly jokes the whole time. I sure am excited for KyoAni’s next show…
TWGOK S3 8: I think this show’s turn will come next week, when Keima’s overt two-timing blows up in his face, but this show has always been more episodic anyway. Regardless, this particular week was mainly a rearrange-the-board style episode, setting up pieces to be knocked down in the next couple episodes. That’s fine, that’s sometimes necessary, but it’s not the kind of episode that shines in a weekly context.
So yeah, kind of a downer week overall, but the shows I’m invested in are still doing their thing with aplomb. As long as 2-3 shows continue to impress me, I’m happy.
Well, the plot’s afoot now. Yajirou’s part in his father’s death, though obviously not anything approaching full blame, will definitely be quite the scandal for the election. Yasaburou has so far managed to indulge his ultimately compassionate and dutiful nature while still maintaining his air of aloof ne’er-do-wellhood, but this trial will likely force his hand.
Management: I think a lot of people find this format more friendly/useful than the timestamp writeups, and I write these things either way, so I think I’ll be posting them here going forward. Also, feel free to let me know anything you’d like more of in the comments.
This week was so good. My top two shows for this season are swiftly becoming two of my all-time favorites, and both of them had fantastic turns this week that seemed to indicate a honing of focus for the second half. Those first:
Uchouten Kazoku 7: This episode got me right in the gut. It started off extremely strong, with one last beautiful Benten vignette before returning the focus to the brothers. But the key here was the ending. This whole episode, the perspective shifted subtly but in a crucial way – while Yasaburou was still prominent, the focus this week was on illuminating the various sides of his put-upon older brother, Yaichirou. Seeing the contrast in his behavior towards the professor (calm, deferential), his rivals (confident, authoritative), and his brothers (childish, honest) really drove home the fact that his family is the one thing he truly relies on and lowers his guard towards. Which made the final scene, when his brother confessed to his role in their father’s death, absolutely heartbreaking. Yaichirou starts off essentially begging his brother to be innocent, and falls apart with a cry and collapse when he is let down. Right now, the political issues are secondary – this is Yaichirou realizing the one thing he trusts cannot be relied on. In a narrative sense, this moment clearly points towards what conflicts will cloud the second half of this show. But in its own context, it is one more incredibly personal and relatable moment in a show absolutely brimming with them, and its tragedy does nothing to diminish its beauty.
God, I hope this show maintains this quality to the end. So far I think it’s a goddamn masterpiece.
Gatchaman Crowds 6: Not to be outdone (by much, seriously, that Kazoku episode killed me), Gatchaman Crowds pulled out all the stops this week. The cliffhanger meeting from last week was delayed only so the existence of Gatchamen could become public knowledge, and the repercussions of this were as predictable as they were awesome. While the Gatchamen went to ground, Rui was forced to act – the existence of actual superheroes would throw a serious wrench in his “everyone’s a hero, no-one’s a hero” master plan. And so he arranges a meeting with Hajime through a fun set piece demonstrating the power of GALAX, ending with a clash where Hajime takes all of five minutes to acknowledge, question, and dismantle Rui’s philosophy. Hajime ain’t nothing to fuck with. Sugane and Hajime’s relationship also progressed this episode, with Sugane finally getting it through his thick skull that Hajime is far smarter than any of them. This show is heating up.
Monogatari S2 6: It sure is tough being the first seed in a season with two of the best dark horses in recent history. This episode of Monogatari got a bit too indulgent and pointlessly Isin-ish in the first half, but the second half was a lot of fun. Shinobu’s lack of fucks regarding the dynamics of time travel, and Araragi’s extremely valid and well-thought-out concerns (which he only mentions after the fact, of course, because at the time a girl had said she needed his help), made for an extremely entertaining ride. These two have one of my favorite dynamics in the show, and sending them off on a buddy cop time travel story promises all kinds of great shenanigans.
Free! 7: Thank god. Last week’s slice of life tedium feels thoroughly behind us, because this week saw a new episode director (the one behind K-On and Tamako Market, surprisingly) inject a massive infusion of visual distinction and purpose into the proceedings. Great direction and cinematography throughout this week, and virtually everything that happened was purposeful. This show’s narrative is absolute pap, but good direction can make almost anything compelling, and this episode proved that. Nice work, Free.
TWGOK S3 7: One of the funniest episodes yet for TWGOK, with this episode attempting to pull a double-booked-date double-seduction hat trick (yes, I know a hat trick involves three things, shut up). Not much else to say – last week disappointed me because it played the romantic scenario too straight, and this week bashed two or three romantic scenarios together at the same time, with Keima continuously ratcheting up his ambition despite barely being able to stand. This is comedy I can get behind.
C3-bu 7: Eh, I’m just enjoying this show for what it is at this point. This episode was pleasant, and the characters were pleasant, and the pacing was pleasant. Yura slowly becoming a moesoft tyrant is pretty great, and her characterization is well-realized. It’s a show with middling ambitions that pretty much always hits the mark.
Hunter x Hunter 93: This show is so great. This week transitioned from a tyrannical genetic mutant establishing a human meat farm to… a teenage boy tailing his friend on a date to watch out for any funny business. And it worked. It always works. I don’t know how they do it, but this show is fun and fast-paced and well-directed and full of creative ideas or great twists on old ones every single time.
So yeah. Almost everything was excellent this week. No complaints from me.