I have to say, this has been a very satisfying season so far. I’m honestly surprised at how well the shows are doing to the point that it seems like there’s a visible line between what is palatable and what is pretty much inedible. That said, it’s been a bit of a chore figuring out how to rank these shows as the weeks go by, because all of them do what they do very well!
If you read my mid-season round up, you may have noticed that there’s quite a spread in terms of genre. That alone makes it difficult to say one show does better than the other — but that’s the format we bloggers have to follow, and believe me if we could just blurt out everything at the top of our heads, life would be so much easier. But we rank shows to give us an idea of how strongly we resonate with the themes that are presented — it’s not to say that any one show is better than the other.
So just what happened this week in animeland? Sit back and let’s RUN ‘EM DOWN!
March Comes in like a Lion
One of the problems of illustrating a depressive headspace is that you run into the danger of being overly dramatic, effectively losing the audience in a droll overplay of sad metaphors that doesn’t drive home any potentially uplifting morals. I mentioned before how tragedies work precisely because they do not brood over the foils of a character. In a similar vein, dramatic trials like Rei’s succeed only because there is a momentary epiphany in his struggles that homes in on a thematic truth regarding depression: namely that it has the fearsome power to alienate us. It has the power to make us curl up in a corner and stagnate, fearful of the waters of change or the unforeseen perils that thwart our path towards growth. Much of this episode spent its time with Rei and his seemingly tortuous path towards independence using simple, but beautifully rendered visual metaphors. But what uplifts this otherwise depressing episode is the echoed theme of “wanting to go somewhere”. It takes Rei several weeks of visiting the Kawamoto’s to realize that he’s fed up with stagnation. That in his matches with other players like Harunobu, there’s more to Shougi than just winning — or not wanting to lose, for that matter. That in seeing the kindness of Hinata or Akari, there is something more noble and moving in thinking about the welfare of others. And this is a triumph for someone who lived most of his life feeling like he was being a burden to others. For the first time, people have shown him hospitality without asking him for anything in return. In many ways, Rei is very hard on himself, but the final scene of this episode really homes in on the strength of this series to recapitulate thematic truths behind the meaning of depression and what it can do to people. It’s a tricky thing to manage themes like this without appearing as insensitive, but March comes in like a Lion is managing the waters of this troubled subject with full authority.
I’m quite happy to finally place gi(a)rlish number this high on the list for a change. Putting Chitose’s ill-manners and poor work ethic aside, this week’s episode decided to focus a bit more on its other characters — specifically Momoka and Kazuha — most of which was achieved through indirect framing and character mannerisms. I guess it goes to show that every person has their own reasons for wanting to become a voice actress. Though Chitose is likely in it for the fame and wanting to surpass her own brother, Momoka and Kazuha have their own intriguing motivations that are markedly different from one another. And this gives us a clue as to why they are depicted with an odd sort of friction early on in the series. To a certain extent they don’t see eye-to-eye in terms of what motivates them, but on the other hand they understand each other’s predicament well enough to respect each other’s approach. For Momoka at least, she’s a fine depiction of a victim of circumstance — the quintessential successor to a generation of industry — as she is a person thrown into the business out of pure convenience. She’s even depicted on the reflection of a television screen, highlighting her own career as something similar to a television show — artificial and boxed in. Even though her parents give her a “choice”, it’s clear in her mannerisms that there are a lot of expectations she has to fulfill. This is in contrast to Kazuha who is clearly passionate about the field she’s working in, but is disillusioned by the unequal amount of dedication that the people around her espouse. This episode has been a very sharp portrayal of what it means to enter an industry that ignores passion over results, and doesn’t hesitate to shuttle aside personal comfort for convenience in production. It’s depressing, yes, but a good show like gi(a)rlish number should be able to make its characters shine in spite of such cynicism.
It was another strong week for Flip Flappers, this time delving more into the headspace of Cocona as she takes her first solo adventure into Pure Illusion. Much of the success of this episode has to do with how it invites us to experience Pure Illusion with the same set expectations as Cocona. Initially, we’re led to believe that she IS in Pure Illusion, after which we share the same pragmatic sentiments of having to find the real Papika and get out of there. Then we find ourselves lost in several depictions of Papika in all sorts of used anime tropes before finally arriving at a scene where Cocona is faced with the devil herself. But what’s striking here is the sort of conversation they have. Earlier in the show, Cocona bemoans the idea of changing someone’s personality as a result of tampering with events in Pure Illusion. When she gets an abrasive response from Salt, she stomps out in a passive-aggressive fit. Now that she’s face-to-face with the devil, she’s asked an eerily familiar question: “Is change so bad?” The next scenes frame Cocona and the pseudo-Papika as maturing adults venturing into a deeper, more sensual connection, which was (appropriately) staged within a motel. It’s an intelligent use of narrative framing that depicts the tempting allure of adolescent independence — a sort of care-free attitude — which at its core features a lost individual (i.e. Cocona) and their momentary encounters with ephemeral, ever-changing faces of “love” (i.e. pseudo-Papika). Cocona is able to escape the fairy tale pitfall by remembering the thing that grounds her — that the devil is not the Papika she knows. That she needs to find her real friend and help return her Senpai back to normal. It’s this rootedness in purpose and knowing where you come from that is at the heart of most fairy tales (just look at Spirited Away), which is why this week’s episode was a sheer delight to watch unfold. It’s been a while since I’ve had a show that could really rock my brain, and boy does Flip Flappers deliver.
Sound! Euphonium 2
Much of my enjoyment in this week’s episode of Sound! Euphonium 2 is thanks to Haruka and her awesome baritone sax solo. But that’s not to say the remainder of the episode wasn’t that awesome, either. But like a whirlwind, another conflict hits the concert band just as they’re getting prepared to enter the Nationals — and what better way than to bring up Asuka’s long-standing enigmatic character to light. But what’s more intriguing in this episode was how Haruka was given the spotlight — not just in the solo — but in her analysis of what it means to stand in Asuka’s shoes. Apart from the psycho-mother gig, much of the pent in frustrations of Asuka resides in her problematic personality, which is that she’s a Jack-of-all-trades. For many people, this translates to “being good at practically everything”, but for the person implicated, there’s a certain limit to be had. Indeed, they can do all sorts of things better than most people with little effort, but that’s just a recipe for disaster when expectations begin to mount. And the full force of her absence is felt when the band fails to perform to the expectations of Taki Sensei. And although what he says to them is a little cryptic, it does make quite a bit of sense — don’t let rumors dishearten you. The band has become pretty tight-knit, and they should know better than to doubt Asuka in spite of all that has happened. Indeed, they need to learn to become stronger despite her, and it’s a lesson that Haruka learns in full stride. Good for you, Haruka!
Yuri!!! on ICE
Things are starting to get a little routine in Yuri!!! on ICE, but this episode brought in to focus a pretty important message when it comes to coaching people. For one, it’s not a coach’s business to know what goes on inside the head of the person they coach. You can’t manage something that can’t be helped, really. But what you can do is acknowledge their emotions and allow them to let it out. Likewise, it’s also up to the coachee to express themselves freely — to actively “rebel” and make clear what’s “okay” and what’s “not okay”. And though I hate to use such a tired adage, it seems apt to bring it up now: communication really IS a two-way street. But what’s more interesting is how this episode managed to frame how communication doesn’t necessarily imply having to say things directly to one another. Throughout Yuri’s skating routine, he would do spins and flips that were never agreed upon in the first place; Yuri would poke at Victor’s whorl just to spite him. There are many ways two people can communicate aside from the verbal and (in some extreme ways) the platonic, but what’s important to realize is that sometimes saying nothing and being there can be enough. And it’s something Victor needs to realize if he wants to become an effective coach.
Izetta: The Last Witch
For the record, nothing was really “wrong” with Izetta this week, but nothing was particularly “stellar”, either. The plot moved forward in a predictable fashion, highlighting a somewhat underwhelming sea battle against the Germanians and their ploy to unravel the weakness of the White Witch. The scenes depicted this week pan out routinely enough to make you know what to expect, and the overall execution feels a bit lacking. This type of genre feeds on action and expectation, so when those two aren’t met, the result is this episode. The only way Izetta has ever made up for its lack of “loudness” in the action department was with its smart choice of framing action sequences in ways that would complement one or the other in succession (check out the train sequence in the first episode). This dynamic framing, unfortunately, seems to be missing in this episode. Otherwise, the plot is moving within reasonable expectations, so I guess there isn’t much reason to complain beyond that.
Things are getting more interesting in Occultic;Nine, but this is at the expense of rambling dialogue and terrible cinematography. I swear, that scene with Detective Moritsuka and the goth made me want to hurl my tea at the monitor. But that’s not a very effective use of freshly brewed Earl Grey, so I resigned myself to throwing a half-baked crumpet at it, instead. Speaking of crumpets, there’s this one scene with a chopped-up body inside of a box that was kinda gross. I have no qualms with regard to graphic depictions of macabre in animation, but for some reason this came off as a little distasteful. I want my crumpet back.
Natsume Yûjinchou Go Nyanko-Sensei and the First Errand
Yeah, it’s a spin-off episode. It sucked. It was basically one terribly extended pun. And the kids weren’t even that cute. I’m beginning to wonder if I really DID like Natusme Yûjinchou, or if this is just me “growing out of it”. But episode 2 was good, so why can’t they make more of that!?
And there you have it! Whew, this was a pretty packed week. This season is shaping up to be one of the best seasons of the year! So until next week, Ciao!