In which these power rankings are brought to you by Nature Valley granola bars
Let me start by saying this was a very difficult week to rank. My top three shows are pretty much locked into the top three in some order at this point and my bottom three shows were pretty easy to pick as well. It’s slots four through eleven that I really could have seen myself putting in any order depending on my mood at the time. So don’t take my number four ranking as an indication of an episode that was incredibly good or my number eleven ranking as an indication of a particularly poor episode. Number four is closer to number eleven than it is to number three and number eleven is closer to number four than to number twelve. So with that in mind, let’s get to it:
1. Love Live: School Idol Project Second Season
This episode of Love Live was a good example of humor and dramatic moments being put together in a way such that one doesn’t overwhelm or undermine the other. The episode incorporated some very funny moments like Honoka’s extremely realistic dream about the results of the Love Live prelims and the antics of the younger Yazawas (all voiced by the same person!), especially Kokoro’s personal take on “NICO NICO NIIIIIII”. These gags were combined with a few more serious moments where the members of µ’s had to confront Nico’s family situation and what she needed from them as well as what they needed from her. The ultimate resolution was one that fit well with the overall tone of Love Live as it allowed Nico to save face in front of her family while also giving the other members of µ’s their due. There were a few subtle touches I liked this week such as the change from Nico being in the center of the pop up game when it first appears and then later on seeing Honoka in her proper position as the center of the group. Overall, a really nice character episode from Love Live and a fitting follow-up to last week’s performance episode.
2. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?
GochiUsa taught us this week that I’m not an overly picky eater, I’m just being moe like Chino and Cocoa. Right guys? Whatever. While the critical levels of cuteness were still present this week, the humor took a more central role in this episode and there were plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud. It seems like ideas are often quite fleeting in a show like this so the way Cocoa’s bad luck and Chiya’s slightly evil nature kept sticking around throughout the second half of the episode instead of being used as one or two throwaway jokes and then being forgotten. GochiUsa is still mostly cute nothingness but week after week it proves itself to be some of the most well put together cute nothingness out there.
3. Isshuukan Friends
This was kind of a hit and miss episode of Isshuukan for me. There were some really nice directorial choices in the use of flowers and clouds to convey the emotional ebb and flow of the episode and the ultimate climax with the diary at the end was extremely potent. The problems arise in how we got there and at times this episode felt fairly contrived and much less natural than the first few episodes had. We also saw the first genuinely negative behavior out of either Hase or Fujimiya which helps make them more complete characters in my mind. It’s nice to see characters that are good people but also believably flawed which is what we got here. On the whole, I’d call it a slight step down from the first three episodes but Isshuukan is still one of the best shows this season.
4. Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
And now we enter what I like to call the “giant pile of meh” that exists below Isshuukan. Kawaisou is a frustrating show to watch because it has some genuinely excellent scenes each week, usually between Usa and Ritsu, that inevitably get interrupted by Mayumi, Sayaka or both. I get that their jealousy of naïve, youthful love is part of the joke but I hate the way they break things up each time I’m about to get into a cheesy romance high. It was particularly galling this week because it seemed like Ritsu was so close to having somebody she could talk to about something she’s passionate about and each time those two witches had to ruin it for her. Still, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m all negative about this show. It did end up at the top of the aforementioned “pile of meh” so it had to do a lot of things right. The interactions between Usa and Ritsu seem to improve week after week as they get closer to understanding each other and if you could isolate those moments this show would be up there with the top three on this list. As it is, Kawaisou is stubbornly stuck in mediocrity. Good looking mediocrity, but mediocrity nonetheless.
5. Selector Infected WIXOSS
This was the episode of WIXOSS that everybody had to know was coming at some point. If I wanted to be cynical here I could say something about producers just telling their staff to put cute girls on screen and then abuse them to create sympathetic characters but I’m not sure I want to assign such base motivations to the creators here. If they were merely motivated by making an easy buck this would probably be just another generic card game show so I have to think there’s at least some higher artistic goal to WIXOSS. Aside from any meta-commentary about the motivations of the people behind this, the fact is that it works, at least for me. I genuinely felt really bad for Hitoe this week and I think that starting with her extremely universal and relatable wish was a good decision here. Now that the more sinister side of WIXOSS has been exposed, we can move forward in dealing with Yuzuki’s more questionable wish as well as how Ruuko and her apparent lack of a wish fits into all this. It remains to be seen whether WIXOSS will handle all of this delicately or if it will get too “in your face” with the crying and the despair but I find myself invested in the characters and their wishes now which is more than I could say for the show two weeks ago.
6. Akuma no Riddle
Akuma no Riddle is back. Or at least it’s less gone than I thought it was last week? I’m not sure Riddle will ever be what I wanted it to be but this episode was certainly a big step up from last week’s mess. I’m not sure how far they can get with this “girl of the week” format but this episode showed that the format can work given the correct circumstances. I’ll have to see something more from this show before I put it back in the top five but it’s back in the top half, at least for now.
7. Escha & Logy no Atelier
This was kind of a breather episode for Atelier, but given the way the show has been constructed so far and what I believe the show does well, I might prefer it if every episode was a breather episode. Atelier is at its best when its focus is the lighter parts of everyday village life rather than the dungeon crawling and (nearly) turn-based combat of last week. Still, there were plenty of moments this week where it was obvious that this was not originally intended to be consumed purely as a story with no viewer interaction and the overall flow of the episode suffered for it. I liked that they finally addressed what’s going on with Escha’s tail, although I could do without the second tail possessing everybody. Overall, this was an improvement but not a complete return to form for Atelier.
Haikyuu ran into some trouble this week when the realism of the gameplay in this episode left something to be desired. Or as my colleague SerendipitouslySane succinctly described the problem: “They started playing volleyball.” If you’ll excuse me for a minute, I need to go over some volleyball-related minutiae that nobody else probably cares about:
[START POINTLESS VOLLEYBALL RANT]
My first issue with this episode was how they chose to set Hinata. At first it made sense to try setting quicks for him because he seems to have no ability to avoid a block and an unexpected quick is harder to block than a normal set. The problem is that when you know a quick is coming it becomes even easier to block than a normal set. When the hitter is running a quick, they have no time to read the block or adjust to where the set is. Instead they just run up and hope the ball is there and the blocker isn’t when they reach the apex of their jump. Setting Hinata with quick sets over and over like they did would do almost nothing to deal with his issue of getting blocked. Now one can presume that Kageyama was also setting Tanaka in between his quicks to Hinata but I would have appreciated it if they would have showed us that rather than forcing me to wonder why Tsukishima wasn’t just camping the one play they kept running to Kei.
The bigger problem came during the final play of the episode. I’ll supplement my commentary here with some diagrams to illustrate what I’m talking about for this one. Hinata runs up like he’s going to be hitting behind Kageyama like he has on every other play this match. Tsukishima sees this and calls up a second blocker to help defend against this play. This takes away Hinata’s option to hit down the line meaning that the captain, already portrayed as a crafty veteran passer, should immediately rotate over to cover the obvious angle shot. At this point the ball is on its way from Tanaka to Kageyama and the court should look like this. The ball hasn’t been set yet so Tsukishima and Yamaguchi are on the floor ready to move or jump as the situation calls for. This all changes when Hinata decides to run all the way across the court to hit from the outside position instead of the right side position. He has two options with how he does this. He can either run straight across the court which will get him there faster but he’d have to swing with all his momentum carrying him out of bounds or he can take a more circuitous route which will allow him to have forward momentum when he hits the ball but will it will take him significantly longer to get there meaning it’s likely that Tsukishima will be there ready to block him. It looks like Hinata chose the former option which under any reasonable circumstances would result in a weak, floating spike that would be easily returned by Sawamura but somehow through the power of shounen bullshit he manages to magically get some power behind this swing.
[END POINTLESS VOLLEYBALL RANT]
For those of you still with me, I’ll point out that none of this really matters. They’re both extremely minor nuisances that should rightfully be ignored for the sake of the larger plot. The problem is that I can’t actually bring myself to ignore them. It’s things like this that are why I’m almost fundamentally unable to enjoy sports anime about a sport I’m familiar with. My standards of realism for the sport are impossibly high to the point where I really just want to watch the sport itself and don’t care about any of the storytelling aspects of sports-related fiction. This is probably related to why I get frustrated when sportswriters try to build any kind of narrative around random chance in real sports. I’m not interested in sports for the narrative, I’m interested for the pure competition and strategy and I always want the most talented team to win. When narratives and storytelling and just general dumb luck get in the way of that I get mad. The point is that there’s nothing really wrong with Haikyuu but I can’t really get myself to enjoy it when they’re actually playing volleyball. We’ll see if this improves when they stop playing three on three but for now consider this show on notice.
9. Date a Live II
On the other hand, Date a Live II is a show that has a whole host of things wrong with it and I don’t particularly mind. As previously stated, all of these shows are tough to rank but Date a Live particularly so. This episode saw our bland main character obtaining bullshit powers, plenty of pointless fanservice and a plot that was an incoherent mess to put it nicely. Yet despite all this, I still found myself thoroughly entertained by this episode which is why I don’t have this show any lower and in a larger sense is why I keep watching Date a Live. The whole exercise is so unapologetically absurd that I find it hard to really worry about the obvious plot-related issues. I can’t in good conscience call Date a Live a particularly “good” show but it is certainly a fun one.
10. Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii
For a show that I was ready to drop a couple weeks ago, I find myself rather engrossed in SoreSekai at this point. Nike is a very compelling female lead and I really do like her interactions with Livius as long as I ignore the fact that he is drawn as a child for reasons that still aren’t clear. I’m still unable to shake the feeling that the show is constantly pulling punches to avoid getting too gloomy as every time it seems like things are about to get deathly serious something very silly happens to lighten to mood. That’s not to say that I want SoreSekai to be pure grimdark but the mood whiplash is an annoyance that doesn’t seem to be going away. Aside from the tonal dissonance issues, this really is a nice show but it’s hard to be that happy about it when it clearly could be much better.
11. Ryuugajou Nanana no Maisoukin
Forgive me for beating a dead horse here but Nanana was really hard to rank this week. If I look at this episode in a vacuum a whole lot of it didn’t make sense. Juugo’s conversation with his dad didn’t mesh at all with the way he acted in episode one. His confrontation with Isshin seemed to involve no real plan on his part for dealing with the magical wishing wand other than “hope it runs out of juice before he kills me” which isn’t much of a plan at all. Tensai also seems to have access to a large police force (and a large bank account) for reasons that aren’t adequately explained. If you take all of this at face value it was a pretty horrid episode in terms of continuity. However, it introduces a lot of interesting elements that, if adequately explained, could become something quite gripping down the road. If I’m grading on pure potential Nanana might be number five or six on this list and if I’m grading only on what we’ve seen so far Nanana could be even lower. I’ll just say that I’m looking forward to Nanana more than I am with most of the shows above it on this list but the downside here is pretty bad as well.
12. Kamigami no Asobi
Kamigami no Asobi wasn’t particularly worse this week than it had been in previous weeks. There were still some nice comedic moments: I especially liked the way they’re playing with the concept of the “go home club”. The show has fallen into a similar rhythm to a standard VN with our good-natured protagonist helping out his/her gloomy classmates over and over again. There’s nothing that Kamigami is doing wrong once you adjust for genre and what the source material is. Still, I think it’s time to end this experiment because I don’t think it’s really worth spending half an hour each week verifying once again that otome games are almost identical to their gender flipped cousins. Normally I’d close a recap of a show I’m dropping with a terse “Dropped.” but I don’t think Kamigami deserves that treatment since it isn’t really a drop-worthy show assuming you knew what you were getting into. It isn’t even my lowest ranked show this week. Instead, I will bid a fond farewell to a show that I enjoyed more than I expected to but it ultimately wasn’t compelling enough for me to keep going.
13. Kenzen Robo Daimidaler
Speaking of experiments that had run their course, I had every intention of making this the last episode of Daimidaler that I watched. You can only watch so much gratuitous perversion before it starts to wear out its welcome and Daimidaler was certainly reaching that point. Unfortunately this episode ended with the apparent death of the protagonist meaning I can’t just leave things like that. (Yes, spoilers, I know, but seriously now, if you care about Daimidaler spoilers a) why are you reading this and b) why the hell do you care about Daimidaler spoilers?) It’s hard to believe that they’d actually kill their main character off but Daimidaler has never been lacking in audacity so I wouldn’t be surprised to see them break the rules of standard narrative structure in much the same way they’ve broken the rules of common decency. Hopefully next week is more conclusive so I can conclusively drop this mess.
14. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
Ah Mahouka, I can’t remember the last time a terrible anime was this much fun to watch. This week we’re still dealing with the issue of the impossibility of true equality. It’s actually a fairly interesting concept in the hands of a more talented writer who was willing to deal with the grey areas of how much equality is attainable/desirable and what the best way to get there is. Instead, Mahoukaman chooses to shut all debate down by using the impossibility of true equality as an excuse to not even try to change anything. The story further shuts down any debate by portraying opponents of the current system as terrorists hell-bent on crushing the current elites’ way of life. The whole “debate” in the public forum at school resembled the show itself with the student council president representing Mahoukaman always being right about everything and getting all the airtime while his opponents are pathetic straw-men whose arguments barely get the time of day before being swatted down by the hammer of Mahoukaman’s truth.
When Mahoukaman isn’t beating up poorly crafted straw-men, he passes the time charming the skirts (or curtains? what is on those female uniforms anyway?) off of every female classmate within striking distance. Not only do they all fall for him instantly but they’re also ready and willing to voice the darker sides of Mahouka’s message. Of course Mahoukaman is too pure of heart to actually be bitter at the system that isn’t properly evaluating him but Mizuki is more than capable of pointing out that he has every right to be bitter about the “crummy” hand the system has dealt him. You hear that Mahouka viewer? It’s not your fault that you aren’t recognized for being as great as you think you are. There’s no need to change how you act in order to achieve your goals. You should just be bitter at the system for not evaluating you properly because you deserve better! The whole show oozes this absurdly narrow view of what’s fair and right in life as it seeks to validate almost every negative instinct a typical disaffected teenager may have.
That’s before you even get to the charming imouto who cares for nothing except being closer than any other girl to her precious onii-chan. Miyuki’s entire existence at this point is merely to get jealous over the incredible charm possessed by Mahoukaman. Should Mahoukaman somehow fail (presumably because whatever he was faced with wasn’t properly evaluating his true talent) he will always have his safe little sister to return to. The extent to which Mahouka leans on this teenage fantasy is really a spectacle to behold. I know I can’t wait for “Enrollment Part VI” next week, where we likely get to repeat this whole dance over again. I can only hope that this will be followed by the equally riveting “Enrollment Part VII”.
Official power rankings can be found here. It’s nice to see three first place votes for Love Live this week. I was surprised to see that I was the only one who ranked it number one last week as I thought that was really the stand-out episode of the series thus far but I guess people really liked this week’s episode (not that I can blame them). The top five is once again populated by shows I’m not watching outside of Isshuukan Friends. I get the appeal of most of them even if it’s largely lost on me. The biggest surprise for me with the rankings thus far is the fact that Haikyuu isn’t higher. It seems to have all the elements that would appeal to people who typically like shows like that but it hasn’t even sniffed the top five in a while. Maybe Ping Pong is siphoning off all the number one votes of the sports anime fans.