In which we are forced to wonder how things ended up like this.
1. Nagi no Asukara
It’s fair to wonder how we got to a point, after five years had passed, that Chisaki still hasn’t managed to move on from her fourteen-year-old self. Then again, with somebody as adept at compartmentalizing her life and clinging to the past as Chisaki I guess it isn’t terribly surprising. It was heartbreaking to see the way she falls apart as she realizes that no matter how hard she tries she won’t be able to maintain the same relationships with her closest friends. The combination of guilt and loss is incredibly acute when it’s been put off for so long and I was impressed with how it was portrayed on Nagi this week. I really hope Tsumugu and Chisaki eventually do find each other. I like to believe that Chisaki has romantic feelings for Tsumugu despite what she insists. It’s too bad that Tsumugu is so blunt and matter of fact because I think that a more delicately worded confession might have won Chisaki over, or at least not provoked such a violently negative response. The shared familiarity that Tsumugu described is very powerful and I imagine it will win the day in the end but what happens in between is tough to watch.
In happier news, somehow Sayu and Kaname are the first couple to actually find common ground which I found to be incredibly surprising but also not as forced as I would have thought. I had figured that Sayu was almost certainly doomed in her quest for Kaname’s love simply because of how determined Kaname was to not give up on Chisaki. However, they managed to reveal another side to his character that allowed it to all hold together and actually end up being pretty satisfying. Top marks to Okada-sensei and the rest of the crew on that one. As far as where we go from here, I really have to hope that Tsumugu’s plan doesn’t actually work. Using the stone as a proxy for Manaka’s emotions just seems too easy and arbitrary. There has to be some kind of real sacrifice here rather than just throwing a rock into the ocean. Given how well the first Ofunehiki did at preventing the initial calamity I have to think this will go similarly poorly. It does beg the question of why the surface dwellers are so gung ho about doing another ceremony. Five years isn’t exactly enough time to forget something that was as disastrous as the last one. It’s kind of an odd choice but not nearly enough to knock Nagi off its perch at the top of these rankings.
2. Sakura Trick
Speaking of inexplicable decisions: how the heck did Sakura Trick end up so high on this list? Really, I think you should all know why by now. The high points this week included the unspoken implication early on that in addition to sharing all the same taste in food and favorite items with Yuu, Mitsuki also shares Yuu’s taste in women. (Can’t really blame her) I also enjoyed Haruka and Yuu’s barely thought-out plan to get around the Mitsuki-instituted ban on kissing via “accidental” kisses. Good job you guys. This is an incredibly subtle plan that I’m sure nobody will catch on to. While we’re on the subject of the kissing ban; it must be nice to be in Mitsuki’s position where if you get NTR’d (by your sister no less) you can just issue an executive order to make it stop. I wish I had that much power. It will certainly be interesting to see where things go next week now that Mitsuki seems to have realized her own feelings for Haruka in addition to finally catching on to Haruka and Yuu’s relationship. It’s arguably more intrigue than most shows like this get and a mark in favor of a show that’s gotten by largely by pandering thus far. (not that I’m complaining)
3. Inari Konkon Koi Iroha
Mostly solid final episode for InaKon if not spectacular. To the good: I really liked the use of music in this episode, in particular the use of the ED early on and the song that played after Inari returned Uka’s powers. Really, the whole sequence following that power transfer was spectacular. I absolutely loved the use of lighting there to really evoke the feeling of the end of a long (although kind of short by anime standards) journey much like the end of a long summer day. It left the feeling of everything Inari needed to do being done and now she can finally go home and rest. On the flipside: I was pretty disappointed with how little closure was offered on the Uka/Touka front. There was a brief hand-wave at the idea that humans and gods are wholly incompatible but I’m not convinced that Uka really believes that nor do I find it particularly satisfying or consistent with the rest of the show. It’s an ongoing manga so it’s quite possible that said situation hasn’t been resolved in the source material so conclusively saying anything about it here was difficult. Still, the ending could have stood to have at least a little acknowledgement of that as an open issue. I also felt like there was quite a bit of time where nothing in particular was actually happening, especially given this was a final episode. The flight to Uka sequence and the process of opening the stone door could have been significantly cut down in favor of more exposition and a more concrete resolution of the loose ends than we got.
Overally, InaKon was an enjoyable little show that had some constructive things to say about love and wishes although it was ultimately more of a pleasing diversion than anything consequential. Then again, I don’t really feel that a show needs to be consequential to be good and worth watching. InaKon did a lot of things right in how they built the characters and their relationships and did very little wrong along the way. I was particularly happy with how well they handled side characters like Maru who I fully expected to be little more than a gag character that was merely present for otaku to identify with. She actually served a fairly important role in illustrating the need to accept who you are and to realize that how you see yourself and how others see you may be two very different things. All of that is certainly more than I was expecting out of this show before the season started making this arguably the most pleasant surprise of winter 2014.
Final Verdict: 7/10
4. Saki: Zenkoku-hen
For a brief moment I thought that Saki was going to eschew its normal pattern of dawdling on the breaks between the first and second halves of each round and get right back into the fifth players match action but alas it was not meant to be. Still, the backstory they offered for Miyamori’s Toyone was one of the nicer bits of non-mahjong content that the series has had. Toyone’s loneliness and her desire for acceptance made me almost sad that I’m still cheering for her to lose out to Eisui. (Emphasis on “almost”. Ohara Sayaka makes sure that I don’t lose faith in Eisui) I also think that Toyone’s sickly sweet high-pitched voice is something of an issue. There’s a fine line between giving an otherwise imposing character an unexpected voice and simply having poor casting. It mostly works with Toyone because she seems to be such a sweet girl on the inside despite her enormous stature but it’s still a bit jarring at times.
As for Eisui, the end of the episode seems to indicate that Kasumi is finally ready to make her move after stalling for what seems like forever. I still want to believe that Eisui can pull this off and, based on my theory from last week: the fact that we got all of Toyone’s backstory as well as the reveal of her second ability leads me to believe that Miyamori will be eliminated alongside Himematsu with Kiyosumi and Eisui moving on to the finals.
5. Silver Spoon
Not a lot to say about another great episode of Silver Spoon this week. I continue to be impressed by how straightforward and genuine Silver Spoon’s message is. Nothing is sugar-coated but by the same token it isn’t a particularly gloomy message. We aren’t led to believe that simply by wishing for it, Mikage will be able to attend the school of her choice and continue to ride the horses she loves so much but at the same time it isn’t presented as an impossible pipedream either. The way the story has been crafted to present hard work as a virtue but not the end all be all of magically getting what you want in life is superb. I’m also still impressed by how there are no real enemies in Silver Spoon. Even Mikage’s family, while initially opposed to her wishes, are portrayed as concerned parents/family members who genuinely want to make things work out for Mikage while also keeping her plans realistic. These aren’t some tyrannical masters that refuse to compromise in any way but at the same time they aren’t complete push overs who will let their daughter do whatever she wants just because she demands it. The closest thing this show has had to “bad guys” is Hachiken’s family and in particular his father. When that issue has been addressed is when Silver Spoon has been at or close to its best to the fact that we can expect to see that in next week’s finale is a very good sign.
6. Witch Craft Works
It’s all about balance for Witch Craft Works since I don’t believe that a fully serious WCW could stand under its own weight but a fully silly version would get stale fast. So far the show seems to be striking a reasonable balance but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit concerned. Primary among the issues in this episode was the way things got a little bit shounen-y with Weekend taking an excessive amount of time during combat to explain hers and Ayaka’s tactics in excruciating detail. It’s moments like that which typically turn me off to most action shows. Fortunately, this episode managed to balance those weak points out with the show’s trademark sense of humor and comedic timing. There were a few great moments with the stack of washcloths (and fish?) on top of Honoka’s forehead sticking out as the best. I guess when a single washcloth isn’t enough to cure a cold the only cure is more washcloths. In addition to being one of the sight gags that this show is so good at, it pokes fun at a little piece of anime culture that I always found a bit silly (namely the only cure for the cold being a cold washcloth). Not the best episode of WCW but it could have been much worse.
7. Space Dandy
As far as the surreal to comedic continuum of Space Dandy episodes goes this was farther to the surreal side than I’d like. Still, this wasn’t nearly as lost on me as the plant episode was. I got a chuckle out of the conversation between Dandy and Scarlett regarding the supposed memory erasing alien in a box. The whole concept of the Gogol Empire declaring war on a planet over an overdue library book was amusing as well. Sadly, the rest of the episode was almost entirely the artsy, experimental style that leaves me cold. The episodic nature of the show and the drastic changes is tone and style from episode to episode (presumably due to significant staff changes) makes Space Dandy one of the more uneven shows out there. When it’s on it’s one of the two or three best shows airing but when it veers off in a direction that caters less to what I see as the show’s strength it can be among the dullest.
Making sense of D-Frag has always been a losing battle but even by D-Frag standards it’s hard to figure out what was actually going on this week. Despite that lack of coherent plot the jokes peppered throughout the episode were mostly funny. I like the otaku member of the new student council’s insistence that Roka and Sakura sounded like two voice actresses. I was kind of disappointed with the evil orchestra of 14 which had been good for a few laughs the first time but fell completely flat for me this time. I think it’s pretty clear that D-Frag is running out of whatever steam it may have once had at this point and it’s probably a good thing that it ends next week.
9. Chuunibyou Ren
This ended up being a particularly frustrating episode of ChuuRen to watch as it made it clear that the staff is still capable of delivering the things that made season one good but they have by and large chosen to avoid the heavy lifting this season. Shichimiya’s crisis is as emotionally potent as almost anything from the first season and has served as an oasis in this desert of failed chuuni jokes. The problem with the show continues to be primarily Rikka’s regression but also the way the writers seem insistent on solving every single problem in the most chuuni way possible. What was portrayed in season one as a way to avoid dealing with real world problems has now somehow transformed in to the end all be all solution to every conceivable issue. It’s a shame that what I liked about the first season of Chuunibyou and what KyoAni seems to want to do with this seem so at odds with each other. I can’t exactly go around telling production studios what to do but that doesn’t make me any less disappointed in how ChuuRen has turned out.
10. Golden Time
Relatively speaking I have to say that Golden Time has gotten better compared to where it was three or four episodes ago. Then again, it would have been pretty hard to get any worse. At this point you can almost convince yourself that Golden Time is a good show but that stance depends on the viewer’s ability to ignore the inherent flaws that undermine everything Golden Time is trying to do. Really, if you don’t think that much about the show it’s a decent romantic drama right now. If you think about it then it becomes more of a farce. Since it’s ostensibly my job here to think about such things (Sakura Trick excepted) you can guess where I come down on Golden Time.
Remember when Nourin was good? No, really. In keeping with our theme of wondering how we got here it’s hard to believe a show with episodes like the one introducing the school’s “big four” or the “cooking with Becky” episode could also have overly melodramatic ones such as this. I’ve found the temptation to make things overly serious near the end has been a flaw that has felled a lot of LN adaptations out there and it seems Nourin has fallen into this trap. The problem as I see it is that if you make no effort to write your characters as serious, relatable characters early on then when you try to switch gears into melodrama you’re likely to fail. On its own, this wasn’t really a terrible episode but given the absurd things I’ve seen these characters do in previous episodes I have a hard time taking anything like this seriously.
12. The Pilot’s Love Song
If making sense of D-Frag is a losing battle then making sense of The Pilot’s Love Song is a hopeless endeavor. This is probably a bad time to ask the question of why the war in this show is being fought but the fact that this question hasn’t really been addressed at all is symptomatic of the problems with Love Song. The Barbarians are presented as this faceless enemy that the viewer is just supposed to accept are evil and worth killing. I would have been willing to accept this if the show had kept the focus on a small group of students caught in this larger war they didn’t know much about but the fact that it seems like this war is being built up into a central part of the plot it kind of feels odd that we have no idea what the enemy’s goals are. For a show that at least took steps towards showing the grey morality of a violent uprising against a cruel tyrant, this feels excessively black and white. Aside from that, I have to say that the only thing worse than throwing death flags for otherwise unknown characters so you can kill them off the following episode and pretend it’s tragic is to do the same and then not actually kill them off, especially when we saw their plane get blown up. There were other minor annoyances such as Karl overreacting to seemingly everything and Karl and Claire somehow being able to talk to each other while on moving planes but really those aren’t worth worrying about compared to the bigger problems with Love Song.
No ImoCho. You aren’t allowed to leave the bottom of this list until you tell me what’s in that stupid box. (or the show ends, whichever comes first)