Wow, we’re already one month into the season? That just means two weeks until I have to do a mid-season recap — something I’ve always promised myself to do but never got about to doing. Oh well, perhaps this time around I won’t burn myself out given I’m still around after a month of continuous reviews. That’s gotta mean something, right?
So yeah, the last month was actually quite nice. And I say that with all modesty because I’d hate to jinx the situation. It’s been a long time coming since I’ve actually enjoyed a Fall season (Fall always tends to be the best season for some reason), so jumping in to it with low expectations actually gave me the benefit of being surprised when there were, in fact, quite a number of great shows. Sound! Euphonium is the obvious gem of the season, but there are a couple others that simply can’t be ignored.
For this week, a couple other shows have finally come out of their own, in particular Occultic;Nine, which was actually engaging! So just what exactly happened this week? Let’s run’em down!
Sound! Euphonium 2
It’s easy to dismiss this week’s episode of Sound! Euphonium 2 as overly melodramatic, but much of the character work thus far has actually added up to a rich dynamic that allows Yoroizuka’s reveal to have a very poignant appeal. In many ways, I understand how our personal insecurities can inevitably back ourselves up into a corner. Yoroizuka was always a timid person, and it’s sometimes far easier to console ourselves with a self-defeating mindset if only to preserve what modicum of dignity you have. For Yoroizuka, that was the memory of Mizore befriending her in a harsh and alienating environment. Many people have a hard time understanding why some people act differently from the way they feel — a.k.a. the tsundere or the milder kuudere — but this episode in particular employed a smart use of light and shadow, as well as other neat compositional tricks that bring us into the mindscape of a troubled Yoroizuka. And Yuuko gets plus marks on my register for being such an incredibly patient friend. In spite of Yoroizuka’s heartless comments regarding her relationship with her, Yuuko pulls it together and tells her that it’s okay to feel happy and that she need not persecute herself in an act of self-pity. Such richness in dynamics of the human relationship is a tough thing to pull off without coming off as preachy, but Sound! Euphonium 2 was able to do it brilliantly. On a last note, this was all witnessed from the perspective of an outsider, Kumiko. How all of these external experiences relate to her (as she mirrors the viewer’s take on the situation as a fellow outsider) are recapitulated in her discussion with Asuka, who in her opinion thinks that Yoroizuka was rather cunning in keeping Yuuko around as insurance. Such distrust in the goodness of others rubs off in a bad way for Kumiko, and her little gesture of indignation is shared with the viewer as she goes on to talk to Reina (at least indirectly) about what all of this drama means. It was a good note to end the band member drama arc whilst highlighting the ways in which this drama has allowed Kumiko to grow as a character.
March comes in like a Lion
I would have placed this at the top of this week’s list if not for the superior compositional philosophy employed by Sound! Euphonium 2 for this week’s reveal. But that doesn’t mean that March comes in like a Lion wasn’t as good — in fact, they pretty much share this week’s top seat for best episode so far. Narrative exposition is a tactic often employed in Japanese shows, which at times can feel a little tedious especially when it feels like the narration is essentially spoon-feeding the viewer. In this week’s episode, Rei’s narration is used to tremendous effect, highlighting both the character strengths and flaws of both himself and Harunobu, who prior to this episode was what I would have called off as the foil-comedic relief character. It’s great to see a smart compositional mindset in mirroring their Shogi matches as children and as teenagers, bringing to light the reality that both of them play for totally different reasons — and both perfectly valid reasons, even if Rei may think otherwise. All of this is recapitulated in a very dramatic exposition that homes in on the reality of depression and the many faces it may take. Rei is pretty hard on himself, and he uses both Harunobu and Hinata’s experiences of frustration/despair and their ability to cry in the face of it all as markedly different from his own. He seems to paint a rather inhuman lived experience for himself and even hints at a sense of “failed inadequacy”, and yet he is still able to appreciate the beauty of a starry starry night together with a sobbing Hinata. This show has left us with an interesting introspection into what it means to experience sorrow, the many ways we go about handling it, and the sense of comfort there is to be had in experiencing it with another human being.
Yuri!!! on ICE
Yuri!!! on ICE has remained consistently propulsive in its narrative, and has allowed both Yuri and Yurio to gain impressive amounts of characterization. I honestly felt that Yurio’s training under a spartan prima ballerina was a tired sports-show trope on “intensive training”, but Lilia’s pairing with Yurio was actually a wonderful contrast alongside the pairing of Viktor and Yuri. It appears that both of these characters need to exit their comfort zones in order to become more of themselves, and this episode efficiently uses its entire screening to make the best of such odd pairings. The result is a very engaging episode that effectively translates the “training up” scenes just before the Grand Prix. Such an effective narrative execution is actually very tricky without being accused of having poor pacing. Far from it, Yuri!!! on ICE has shown consistently well-paced drama sprinkled with enough fanfare and comedy to make it throughly engaging. I’m very pleased at how this show is shaping up, and I’m more than excited to see as to where these two Princes of Ice are going to take us.
I complained last week how Wataru Watari’s depiction of the anime industry in gi(a)rlish number seems to be a caricature at best, but I think this week’s episode shows how his characters can navigate such a ridiculous environment and still appear as fully-realized characters in and of themselves. And much of this has to do with what the characters aren’t actually saying — something that’s difficult to pull off if not for the effective use of animation and compositional cues that clue in to the perceived awkwardness in having to tell Chitose that she’s just THAT BAD at voice acting. And I’ve seen this sort of set-up many times in the past when people just can’t seem to address the elephant in the room. It’s really easy for a lazy script writer to vent out his frustrations towards Chitose in the dialogue, but none of the characters do that in this episode. Instead, the accumulating awkwardness becomes more and more apparent to Chitose, as she’s forced to humble herself to the reality and actually ask her brother for help. It’s a welcome kind of hit on her character that makes all the effort and eventual success of her improvement all the more rewarding and even deserved. I’m really enjoying Wataru Watari’s treatment of characters… but damn, that Kuzu is a load of Kuzu (garbage).
Whoa, what are you doing here!? Yeah, I was actually quite impressed with the third episode of Occultic;Nine that I had to do a double-take on it just to make sure I wasn’t seeing things. But the truth is, I wasn’t seeing things, and this week’s episode was actually pretty satisfying in the number of reveals it had, as well as its overall pacing. In particular, the dialogue between detective Moritsuka and Ririka was legitimately engaging, combining a lot of sly dialogue, flirting, and exposition in one very smooth execution. The final reveal was also very intriguing, adding to the overall complexity of the narrative whilst tipping off a hat in respect for the similar complexity of its characters. This is precisely what was missing in the last two episodes where characters were basically just appearing left and right or appearing to have some sort of importance by merit of their quirkiness, alone. If I’m lead to believe that Occultic;Nine can be as propulsive as Steins;Gate, then I guess there’s a certain amount of investment to be had. Indeed, the latter didn’t really take off until the 7th or 8th episode, so I guess I’ll have to give Occultic;Nine a similar benefit of the doubt until then.
Izetta: the Last Witch
I was a little disappointed in Izetta this week after it began to digress into the realm of fan service. Of course, I was kinda expecting this given the number of butt shots last week, but episode 4 is riddled with even more leery shots and suggestive framing that is typical of shows of this make. That’s not to say that I dislike it; rather, I feel it digresses from the more engaging material, such as the Kingdom’s plans in “marketing” the reappearance of the White Witch. In spite of the unnecessary fan service, the narrative is pretty much solid and moving without much incident. For one, the use of Izetta and Finé‘s backstory as a shared pact that draws Izetta and Bianca closer was a smart use of exposition that helps set a good tone between the two. All-in-all, the show is doing fine; it’s a personal preference that makes me wish this show would focus less on the boobs and more on the bombs (bad joke).
Life in Flip Flappers land was a little ho-hum this week, marking the first episode to take place outside of Pure Illusion — or did it? Much of the compositional tone of the show still remains imaginative, and the character-work has generally explored the attempts of Cocona to leave her own self-imprisonment in the real world, but that’s the same thing that’s been going on for the past three episodes. Except that this episode was relieved of any propulsive action set pieces that could keep the viewer engaged. Instead, we see the girls playing survivor on a deserted island after Papika’s hover (surf)board gets washed out to sea. I appreciate the dynamics between the two, but it’s not like I need any more of it for me to get what kind of emotions are at play within Cocona’s mindscape. I guess what I’m looking for is some narrative cohesion to put all of these things together. There are just so many ideas on board that I’m worried about the whole thing toppling over. Sigh. Here’s hoping.
Natsume Yûjinchou Go
I mentioned last week how unexcited I was for another Natsume and Friends vs. the world schtick, but this week was bludgeoned by clumsy execution and uninspiring rhetoric. It’s one thing to have wishy washy animation and composition, but it’s another thing to end the two-episode arc on we do things differently, and since you’re the bad guy I want nothing to do with you. I believe the franchise can speak in far more expressive language than that in just a single episode — case in point episode 2 and the little girl spirit. I hate to be frank, but these last two episodes were a huge waste of the potential richness and expressiveness that Natsume Yûjinchou is known for. That and the fact that the next week preview makes me feel a little anxious now that Taki is coming back. I know this show can do better than this.
BBK/BRNK: The Gentle Giants of the Galaxy
There has to be a term for how Shounen shows have a knack for “untimely reveals”. It would seem acceptable for a series that is in serialization since the story is basically being thought up on-the-fly, but BBK/BRNK shouldn’t have that problem if it is a self-actualized show with an end-goal in mind. Either that or the choice of narrative execution is so poor that you end up thinking to yourself really? That’s it? And “really that’s it” is basically this episode where they finally reveal what the heck Buranki are — and they do this in a hot spring with the girls in bikinis… in the middle of a snow storm… while people are getting killed somewhere in Siberia. I mean seriously, I’m beginning to lose patience with this show. It’s just so all over the place.
Whew. What a week. How are all of you guys doing? Still enjoying the season as much as I am? Don’t be shy now — feel free to leave some comments! Till next week!