In which we experience a huge shake-up in power rankings land.
1. Love Live: School Idol Project Second Season
Indulge me for a second while I do my best impression of my twitter feed from last Sunday Evening:
“Oh my god A-RISE #lovelive”
“Tsubasa is wonderful! #lovelive”
“Holy crap that A-RISE performance #lovelive_2nd”
“A-RISE IS THE BEST!”
“I can’t believe the Bulls just lost to the Wizards again”
“Guys, help me, I just watched Shocking Party for the 11th time”
I was a bit skeptical that this episode could live up to the twitter hype but it did that and then some. In any show like this whether it’s The iDOLM@STER, or K-ON, or Love Live, you really need to bring it with your performance episode and this week they brought it. The performance by µ’s was excellent as usual but A-RISE themselves stole the show. They had been built up as the number one ranked idol group in the Tokyo region and they showed us why this week. The performance wasn’t merely notable for the new song and its choreography but also the fact that it was completely 2D animated rather than resorting to the 3DCG that has been something of a sticking point for Love Live in the past.
Aside from that performance, I was pleased with how they’ve chosen to characterize the members of A-RISE. It can get tiring seeing the super-talented favorites in any competition portrayed as arrogant and reveling in their status as favorites. Instead, A-RISE doesn’t take their position at the front of the pack for granted and clearly puts in the time both to stay at the top of their game and also to keep track of what their competition is doing. Little touches like Tsubasa not even being winded while Honoka gasps for breath after running through UTX shows that we’re dealing with a highly trained idol squad here that will be a formidable opponent going forward. I was really happy to see that A-RISE show some kindness to µ’s in this episode. I kept waiting for this apparent magnanimous behavior to turn out to be a pretext for sabotage but it seems that the members of A-RISE are genuinely good people that want to win but also want to see their opponents at their best. I’m glad that this isn’t going to be a black and white good versus evil type of competition but rather a face-off between two very likeable groups of idols. It makes things more enjoyable when you don’t have to root against your opponents. The combination of that performance and the pure likability of A-RISE, Love Live earns the top spot this week.
2. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka?
It was going to be nearly impossible for anything to top Love Live this week but GochiUsa did their best to hold on to the top spot with another excellent episode. I’m not sure if the resemblance to Kiniro Mosaic is intentional or merely coincidental here but it’s hard not to see Sharo and Rize as Ayaya and Yoko with their haircuts reversed. It seems that we’ve reached the yuri portion of our presentation as Sharo’s affection for Rize goes far beyond Cocoa’s sisterly love for Chino, not that I’m complaining. I do like how this show manages to take silly little ideas and run with them like the (mistaken) idea that Sharo is actually rich or treating the trip to the other café as an “infiltration” mission. Other than that it was the standard feel-good, calming stuff this week as the girls baked cookies and had a slumber party. I’ve always like slumber party episodes in these shows, maybe because it allows for a lot of costume changes and general goofy conversation. All in all, another very solid episode for GochiUsa as it sticks to the formula and executes it extremely effectively.
3. Isshuukan Friends
I continue to love the way Isshuukan Friends elegantly weaves a story of the scary and clumsy world of trying to make friends in high school. Fujimiya’s circumstances may be out of the ordinary but the story remains universal in spite of this. This week saw the introduction of Shougo who is quite well-meaning but also incredibly blunt and to the point. Even though it feels cruel to the viewer, Shougo’s skepticism over Fujimiya’s story is understandable and it comes from a good place even if it was a bit too candid. Nobody’s perfect and it was nice to see Shougo start to comprehend Fujimiya’s struggle to be understood by her classmates. The inability to be understood and the fear that people are talking behind your back were portrayed really well here and it really worked to draw Fujimiya’s struggle into focus. Isshuukan continues to demonstrate that you don’t need a huge budget or a complex storyline to make a compelling story when your characters and writing are this solid.
4. Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
In what is probably the largest jump since I started doing this, Kawaisou rises all the way from number thirteen to number four following what was easily the best episode of the series thus far. This episode offered and incredibly honest and accurate portrayal of Ritsu’s introversion and what it’s like to be introverted in general. The way this episode framed Ritsu’s supposed loneliness and the way she talks about it leads me to believe that this author really gets what it means to be an introvert. The question of “doesn’t it wear you out” in reference to Usa being around the other residents of Kawaisou all the time and the way Ritsu described her unexpected encounter with her middle school friends really hit the nail on the head in this regard. The side characters here are still pretty terrible and Usa is walking the fine line between “smitten” and “stalker” so it isn’t like everything that plagued Kawaisou through its first three episodes is gone, but at least it looks like there’s something here that I hadn’t seen previously. It stands to be seen whether Ritsu’s introversion will be a focus of the series going forward but at least if that is the case, I now have confidence that this author is capable of handling that topic accurately and effectively.
Haikyuu offers a (mostly) realistic look at high school volleyball, even when that realistic look includes the more annoying parts of the high school sport experience. Hinata and Kageyama are a headache even under the best of circumstances but at least they’re headaches in believable ways. Hinata is in a rush to spike the ball but so is every other high school kid who has a competent setter for the first time. Kageyama is an arrogant prick, but that happens when you have as much talent as he does at such a young age. The main thing that saved this episode was the introduction of Tsukishima Kei, a first year middle blocker whose primary role in this episode was to call out Hinata and Kageyama for being blockheads. Sure, he was incredibly smug in the process and some of his criticisms may have been a bit unfair but I had wanted to smack those two’s heads together since episode two so Kei’s behavior turned out to be quite cathartic to me. The next episode will be a big one for Haikyuu since it will be the first chance we have to see actual volleyball being played since the first episode. There’s a good amount of failure potential here but Haikyuu has me more confident that it can pull this off than I typically am with shows from this genre.
6. Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin
Nanana is a difficult anime to pin down. At times it will get a bit cheesy and at other times it will resort to typical light novel tropes but I don’t see this being nearly as cynical or pandering as much as other LN adaptations out there. I really would like to see the adventuring used as a vehicle to explore the characters in this show rather than just adventuring for adventuring’s sake, which we got a little of in this episode. The scene with Juugo and Tensai on the floating treasure chest was an excellent look at each of their characters. I especially liked Tensai’s comment on the “suspension bridge effect” (although I had to look that up). That comment perfectly fit the mood there and I hope to see more scenes like that as this show moves forward. On the other side, Isshin being evil was about as expected as you can get from something that’s supposed to be a surprise. Despite moments like that, there’s some definite talent at work here and the show is quite enjoyable when it’s doing things right. In contrast to Mahouka, which we’ll get to later, Nanana feels like a fairly talented writer resorting to generic LN hijinks that he shouldn’t need given what he’s demonstrated himself to be capable of when he avoids them. The early part of any new work often involves figuring things out so hopefully we’ll see more of the good parts of Nanana going forward once the author realizes what the good parts are.
7. Atelier Escha and Logy
For two episodes I was able to convince myself that I wasn’t watching an RPG adaptation while watching Atelier. That all went out the window in this episode which was pure RPG adaptation through and through. Everything from the soundtrack, to the random encounters with other people in the ruins, to the actual combat screamed JRPG to me. It’s not the worst thing in the world but it’s clearly a step down for Atelier compared to what the first two episodes were like. This episode illustrated the problems with adapting a turn based RPG into a real time television series as the combat felt way too structured compared to what you’d normally expect from an encounter with a monster like that. I’m not sure this spells certain doom for Atelier as it’s very possible for them to weave in some lighter content alongside the dungeon crawling episodes but it is the first sign that this isn’t going to be entirely relaxing adventures with no serious fighting. Still, on some level Atelier, as a show I didn’t intend to watch in the first place, was on borrowed time anyway. I didn’t expect to enjoy this show in the first place so anything I can get out of it is bonus in my mind.
8. Akuma no Riddle
Our first big dropper of the week is Akuma no Riddle which falls four spots upon moving from manga content into anime originals. The story here is starting to feel incredibly rushed and the good parts from the manga suffer deeply because of it. I understand that not everybody will agree with my priorities with regards to the manga but I have a hard time seeing the things they kept as being strengths of the source compared to what they cut out. Maybe the adaptation team here just wanted a premise to work with and didn’t really care about the original story. Whatever the reason, Akuma no Riddle is proving to be not at all what I expected it to be which is quite disappointing.
9. Date a Live II
As we delve further into the zone of disappointment we arrive at Date a Live II. This was your standard, lewd/beach/fanservice/pandering/whatever you want to call it episode and to be frank, it wasn’t very entertaining. When you drop all pretense of plot and storytelling at the very least you should be funny or otherwise engaging but this episode of Date a Live didn’t really have any of that. Maybe it was just the mood I was in while watching it but I couldn’t really get into seeing another spineless MC that’s apparently allergic to female contact get dragged around by a bevy of well-endowed suitors. It just gets old at some point and that point might be three episodes into a second season. Maybe brining Kotori or Kurumi back into the fold will fix things but at this point Date a Live II looks destined to reside in the annals of light novel adaptations that I enjoyed the first season of but upon watching the second season immediately forgot why the heck I enjoyed the first.
10. Selector Infected WIXOSS
Look what a difference it makes when you leave the barely-explained card game behind and have a character focused episode. Actually, if we’re being honest, it doesn’t do much and WIXOSS’ rise from twelve to ten is more an effect of the shows immediately above it falling off than significant improvement on its part. This episode was still an improvement although I still kind of think Okada Mari is out of her element here, if she’s even actively involved with each episode. Still, this was a marked improvement and I am more interested in seeing what happens to Ruuko as she falls deeper into the world of WIXOSS than I was about anything that happened in episode three. I’m not sure that WIXOSS will actually be good but I can see a reasonably compelling plot coming into view now which is certainly a mark in its favor.
11. Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii
Back from the dead, SoreSekai slides in at number eleven this week after I watched episode four to prep for a podcast that will run later this week. The show still has a lot of the same problems: the plot feels a bit high-strung and the gloomier moments are quite brief which makes the whole thing like it was designed for a younger audience. Also Livius continues to be a shota for no good narrative reason which grinds at me a bit. That said, my problems with the show begin to fade as I find myself increasingly engrossed in the main couple here. The dual protector/protected dynamic here has a lot more nuance to it than I initially thought and I do see a lot of potential for mutual growth here. The backstory involving Livius’ mother was also an interesting twist that could really go somewhere down the road. All in all I’m much more optimistic about SoreSekai than I was a week ago and it looks like it’s back in the keeper camp for now.
12. M3: Sono Kuroki Hagane
The final premiere of the season and it’s another one that’s hard to pin down. There’s at least some intrigue here involving what goes down at night in this town and this shared (?) history of the main cast but I can’t say I’m particularly into it at this point. It doesn’t help that the mechs themselves are pretty crude CG and the cast of characters is generic as all hell. They feel more designed to check off boxes on a character traits list rather than like actual people which could be a real problem for this show since the mech fights don’t look to be particularly pretty. I’ll give this one another episode or two to show me something based merely on the talent behind it but there wasn’t much at all in episode one to hook me in.
13. Kamigami no Asobi
The extent to which an otome game adaptation is a 1:1 translation of a standard harem continues to surprise me. This week we checked several boxes from the typical male-targeted VN/harem show:
- Club activities? Check.
- Episode focusing on a “character of the week”? Check.
- Brooding character that needs to be healed by main character? Check.
- Difficulty juggling a large cast of characters that were never all around at the same time in the source material? Check.
- Stubborn sense of duty to others from the main character? Check.
So it’s just like the stuff I normally enjoy except gender flipped. Unfortunately that may make all the difference as the novelty is wearing pretty thin at this point. The humor from gods trying to do everyday things was nice enough and Hayami Saori’s voice is still great but I’m not sure that can carry this show going forward.
14. Kenzen Robo Daimidaler
All I have to say about this episode is “WHAT THE HELL’S GOING ON OUT HERE?” I mean seriously. What is with this melancholy tone Daimidaler? Stop this. It isn’t a good look for you. There is one thing you do well and that is over the top, fanservice-y comedy hijinks. Don’t try to overstep your bounds because it won’t end well.
15. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
Oh boy. This is going to be a fun one. Short version: this show is awful. It’s a cast of one note, wooden characters delivering hammy dialogue all designed to build up the greatness of Handsome McAwesome. The good news is that it’s awful in such a wonderfully self-serious manner that it’s truly a blast to watch each week. This episode included the revelation that Handsome can replicate the effects of a super rare and expensive mineral because… well because he’s Handsome McAwesome I guess. Same reason he does anything in this show it seems. Handsome doesn’t want to let this secret out because apparently knowing such a thing is possible would embolden the masses or something. Seems like the most important thing to him is keeping the magic-users’ control over all aspects of society intact. Of course, not ten minutes later he’s lecturing the student council for not disseminating information regarding a key anti-magic organization because FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IS IMPORTANT YOU GUYS (except when it relates to my amazing powers). All of this nonsense is interspersed with Mr. McAwesome causing every girl he meets to get her panties all wet followed by his precious imouto getting incredibly jealous. What makes this all so entertaining to watch is it seems like this show has absolutely no awareness of how bad it is. It moves smoothly through each new example of Handsome’s overpowered-ness and each scene of imouto-fetish bullshit without so much as a wink to indicate that this is anything but the most serious of serious shows.
The icing on the cake was the closing seen which inexplicably veered into an incredibly one-sided commentary on the issue of income inequality. I said above that I felt that Nanana is written as if the author doesn’t trust his own ability to write a good story. In this case, I don’t think the author of Mahouka realizes he isn’t capable of writing a story this complex and by extension it would seem he doesn’t realize that he isn’t qualified to comment on an issue as fraught as income inequality. Fortunately for our author (and our hero) this world has a neat dividing line between the worthy (magic users) and the unworthy (everybody else). Handsome is able to lecture both the evil non-magic users for their lies of equality while also chastising other magic users for their own insecurity while staying majestically above it all. Our trusty imouto even chips in with a comment about how all the non-magic users are jealous and don’t get how hard the magic users have to work to train their skills. “They’re just jealous/ignorant” is one of the most condescending arguments you can make in any situation but especially one such as this. I’m not going to comment on this issue because I know I’m not qualified to state any opinion here with any sort of confidence, although I’m probably more qualified than this guy to speak on matters of economics.
The point is, Mahouka is really, really bad but it’s also really fun to pick it apart so I don’t plan to drop it because of its badness. Its self-absorption and general lack of any awareness of what it’s doing is impressive in a way. I look forward to many more weeks of Mahouka at the bottom of this list.
16. Baby Steps
Okay, I’m gonna come clean here. I was mostly just looking for an excuse to drop something at this point. Baby Steps completely invalidating the cliffhanger from the previous episode in the first minute of this episode is a good enough reason for me. We’re done here. Dropped.