In which everything is “gross”
Only eleven shows on the schedule this week with SoreSekai not airing and me not watching Daimidaler. Not sure if this will turn into a stealth drop or just a one week break. Maybe the abbreviated schedule means I can get this in under 3000 words for once. Let’s get to it.
1. Love Live School Idol Project Season Two
Love Live rolls on, this week with a much sillier episode than either of the previous two. The silliness is never far away with Love Live but this episode certainly represented a noticeable tonal shift. The shift was pulled off very nicely and honestly I think Love Live is probably more at home in this format where the girls’ personalities are all allowed to bounce off each other throughout the episode. The previous episodes weren’t bad by any means (they ranked number one here didn’t they?) but I very much welcome the return of the silly Love Live. The highlight of this episode had to be the scene where each member of µ’s was assigned another member to imitate. Seeing each character trying to pull off another character’s personality was hilarious and I’m guessing that it was a ton of fun to write, animate and voice. The performance at the end including the Halloween costumes was excellent as well. Sidenote: How the heck do they manage to write and choreograph all of these new songs week after week? This was episode six and we’ve already had three performances all coming in the last four episodes.
Finally, I’d like to point out what I thought was a very important scene near the end of the episode. I described this episode as very silly (and it was) but the episode briefly shifted long enough for Honoka to have a very honest and revealing moment with Eri. Honoka’s growth has been slow and subtle so far, and she still isn’t the model of responsibility but she’s certainly grown up quite a bit compared to who she was in season one. Her comments to Eri as she observes the behavior of the rest of the group demonstrate her newfound ability to step back for a second and see the big picture in a way she didn’t in season one. The old Honoka was always plowing forward without stepping back to think and everybody followed her not because of her inherent leadership ability but because her energy was so infectious that they couldn’t help but follow her. Honoka still has that energy but she’s also grown up into somebody that is truly capable of leading µ’s forward and it’s really nice to see the transformation that’s occurred over the past nineteen episodes. When you combine that with the irresistibly charming antics of the group as a whole Love Live is the easy number one once again.
2. Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?
The decision to put Love Live number one may have been easy but that doesn’t mean the shows behind it had bad episodes. Quite the opposite actually as this episode of GochiUsa was probably one of the best we’ve seen so far. It had all the things that a typical good GochiUsa episode has: extremely cute moments from the entire cast, Chiya’s rabbit being slightly evil just like his master and the general light and fluffy atmosphere that makes GochiUsa enjoyable. In addition to all that, this episode incorporated a new character voiced by Hayami Saori (!!) wearing glasses (!!!) and a scarf (!!!!) which is pretty much the perfect gift for me regardless of what the character actually does. Her conversations with Cocoa and Chino were representative of a more subdued component of genuine human emotion in between all the aggressively cute moments. Chino’s bout of jealousy over Cocoa’s treatment of her classmates and Rize’s desire to change her image were simultaneously charming and also eminently relatable. I’ve never been a Japanese schoolgirl (or wherever they are? Rural Europe? Whatever.) but the emotions in play here were very universal and added a human element that a lot of these shows that are just cute for cuteness’ sake don’t have. GochiUsa would have been fine without this but adding a wrinkle like that is what separates the K-ONs of the world from the mere Kiniro Mosaics and GochiUsa is proving that is belongs in the former category.
3. Isshuukan Friends
It’s a rough life out there for Isshuukan friends. You can have a really nice episode like this and still end up no higher than third. The main event this week was the introduction of Kaori’s mother who immediately challenges Kaori and Saki for the title of most moe character in the show. She wasn’t all cute, flustered mom moments though, she also helped move the plot forward in a fairly surprising direction. The details confirmed a nagging suspicion I had previously but didn’t mention at the time. A couple episodes ago (I can’t remember if it was episode three or four) there was a moment where Kaori came very close to remembering Hase’s friendship but instead of her usual blank lack of recognition she seemed actively in pain because she had almost remembered. We saw that again with the scenes of her in the hospital room following her accident and her mother’s comments seem to indicate that she potentially has some sort of repressed memories related to her previous friendships. Whether this holds the key to resolving Kaori’s memory issues is anybody’s guess. On the one hand, I like the potential here for a new direction to take the show now that Kaori seems to have mastered getting along with people at school but on the other hand it also represents the potential for a cheap way out of a complex problem. I’m cautiously optimistic given the fact that the previously offered diary solution didn’t work or at least didn’t work as well as Hase had hoped. For the time being Isshuukan Friends is still one of the best shows this season.
4. Selector Infected WIXOSS
In the past couple weeks this has been where the “giant pile of meh” has started, and while WIXOSS isn’t approaching the level of quality demonstrated by the top three shows on this list, it’s certainly worked its way into a groove to the point where I’m willing to say it’s escaped from that large group and has moved into its own tier above the pile of meh. I really like what they’re doing here as we delve deeper into the world of WIXOSS and start to understand more about what’s actually going on. I wrote yesterday about the problems Akuma no Riddle has with its haphazard pacing and failure to build on itself and WIXOSS is a great example of how to do this right. It started slow but week after week the intensity and the sense of dread has grown to the point where I now find myself eagerly anticipating the next episode each week.
5. Escha & Logy no Atelier
This episode is pretty much exactly what I was hoping Atelier could be after the first two episodes. The atmosphere was very calming and it had that general “everybody is happy” feel that belies the fact that it’s adapted from a video game. If everybody is happy in a game, what’s left for the player to do really? I don’t know the game so I can’t be sure if the mood stays the same between both mediums but it’s really surprising to see a show like this come from a console RPG. The more this show deals with the inconsequential everyday events like eating and cooking contests and the less it delves into dungeon crawling arcs better suited to actual games the more I’m going to enjoy this going forward. The healing vibes aren’t all the way up to the level of a manga or anime original iyashikei but it’s certainly got a lot of that feel to it. Given it came completely out of nowhere, to see Atelier reach this level is a very nice surprise almost regardless of what happens in the upcoming episodes.
6. Date a Live II
And we’re back to the giant pile of meh again, although maybe this week it’s merely a small mound of meh rather than a giant pile. Date a Live II sits atop this pile because… I don’t know really. I guess I like nonsensical shows about the characters forming a band or something? Maybe it’s because Tohka in a maid outfit is adorable? It’s possible that Love Live has just conditioned me to like any episode with an idol performance. (Speaking of which, why did Chihara Minori’s character sound like a vocaloid?) Regardless of the reason, this was a largely unremarkable episode of Date a Live but it also did less wrong than the shows below it which is probably the real reason it ended up here. My biggest gripe with the episode was the way they handled Origami’s combat. I get that Origami is being presented as a formidable warrior here but the shock of this supposedly un-pilotable suit being flown by Origami is lessened when we’re introduced to the unit as it’s actively being piloted. On the whole it’s a minor gripe in a mostly inconsequential show. Date a Live II is still Date a Live at its heart and that’s nice, I guess.
Well, they’re back to playing volleyball in Haikyuu which means I’m back to being annoyed with the show for arguably minor transgressions. These issues are getting progressively worse though, which is a bad sign for Haikyuu’s longevity. The problems all continue to be almost entirely related to Hinata which is good in that these problems aren’t universal but it’s bad since he takes so much of the show’s focus. My first problem with Hinata is I don’t’ see how he makes anybody, but specifically Kageyama, any better at the game. All the other characters act like Hinata is somehow unlocking Kageyama’s full potential but I fail to see how he wouldn’t be better served setting to somebody who, oh I don’t know, opens their eyes when they hit? I get that Hinata is super-fast and all that but you don’t need to be fast to hit fast sets, you just need good timing. At this point it seems like Hinata has no timing and it’s Kageyama doing all the work of getting the ball in a place where he can do something useful. It’s hard to take this seriously when the central premise of what makes this team succeed is so questionable.
The other major problem with Hinata is his sudden bout of extreme nervousness. Nervousness in your first high school match is understandable. I certainly was nervous my first time out there. The problem here is how extreme Hinata’s nervousness is and how much it conflicts with his established personality. The first few episodes built up Hinata as somebody who doesn’t care if things are stacked against him and who has unwavering belief in his talent. It didn’t matter that nobody else wanted to play with him. It didn’t matter that he was “too short” to play volleyball. It didn’t matter that all the other teams were more experienced and taller than his team. He was ready to go out there and give it his best because he knew he was good enough even if nobody else believes it yet. It’s hard to square that character with the one who gets so nervous about an exhibition match. I would have expected Hinata to welcome the opportunity to prove himself rather than caving to the pressure. He should only cave to the pressure if he doesn’t believe in his own ability to perform which shouldn’t be the case at all. Other than that, I was just generally annoyed that the opposing blockers seem to have forgotten how to jump because there were so many very blockable balls that were just flying on by. We’ll see if things improve with the new opposing setter next week but right now it’s hard to get excited about a volleyball show that can’t get volleyball right.
8. Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin
In contrast to Atelier which is adapted from a video game but feels nothing like one, Nanana still feels like a video game despite its origins being nothing of the sort. The show also still has its nasty habit of resorting to cheap fanservice and other generic LN tropes when the plot itself can certainly stand on its own. The entire mystery surrounding Nanana and the various factions in play here create a potentially fascinating storyline and I really like seeing Nanana beginning to develop some feelings for Juugo. Tensai, of course, is still wonderful as well. The problem is, despite all these really good elements the whole always seems to be less than the sum of the parts with Nanana. It’s kind of like an extremely gifted athlete that never really succeeds at the highest levels because of work ethic or off-the-field issues. You’ll see any number of people who think that this athlete is destined to be something great down the road and there will be moments where you still see the skill that made you so excited about him but he just never seems to consistently put it all together. Nanana has all the components of a really solid adventure anime but it just isn’t putting them together properly at all. Still, the flashes of greatness are better than nothing and Tensai herself has to count for something, right?
9. Akuma no Riddle
Speaking of wasted potential… I covered Riddle’s failings at length yesterday but to summarize: I think the episodic nature of the show is crippling any potential it had to be really good. The characters are more or less static as they just go through the motions as the plot calls for it but the creators stubbornly refuse to do anything really interesting here. I suppose it could be worthwhile if you just want cheap entertainment from girls trying to kill each other but even the spectacle here is wearing thin. The show’s only just past the halfway point but I personally am more than ready for it to be over. It’s a surprising thing to say about my most anticipated show of the season but that’s what it’s come to with Akuma no Riddle.
10. Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
Not to be outdone, Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou followed up last week’s flawed episode with an episode that centered on a molester which is pretty much the last thing this show needed. Sexual assault played for laughs is never a good look (says the guy who was, at least until this week, watching Daimidaler) and, despite its success handling Ritsu’s introversion, Kawaisou has pretty much failed to handle any other topic with anything resembling tact. Aside from the obvious problems with the plot this week, the usual suspects are back to doing the things they do worst. Sayaka is terrible even when she’s doing something right like stopping a molester (by kicking him square in the balls) and Usa is edging towards the wrong side of the smitten/stalker line. Another thing that stood out to me this week was the way Usa lectured Ritsu after her encounter with the molester. I’m not usually one to pull the “victim blaming” card because I think that one can encourage safe behavior without apologizing for predators but in this case it seemed way out of line for Usa to be taking Ritsu to task like that right after such a traumatic experience. It’s fine for her grandmother to encourage her to be more aware of her surroundings when the molester is only a nebulous threat in the back of everybody’s mind. Once that threat materializes and becomes all too real for Ritsu, you shouldn’t be yelling at her and making her think that what happened is her fault. Ritsu should have plenty of motivation to avoid things like that in the future without Usa yelling at her and the whole scene felt really tone deaf on Usa’s part. Maybe that was the point but it wasn’t really apparent at the time and it doesn’t reflect well on Usa even if it was an honest mistake. Better luck next week I guess.
11. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
I’d love to use this space to rip apart the episode that marked the conclusion of the enrollment arc (unfortunately) but it was actually a halfway decent episode. It wasn’t good by any means and a lot of the flaws with the show were still apparent but it was a huge step above the episodes that preceded it. The biggest change was the fact that this episode was not nearly as overtly political as the last few episodes. Without that huge weight around its neck Mahouka was actually able to do some pretty interesting things, albeit within the context of Mahoukaman’s overwhelming power and his sister’s overwhelming desire to get in his pants. It’s kind of amazing how thoroughly Mahoukaman outclassed the man that was supposedly Blanche’s national leader. Here we have a high school student (admittedly a talented one, but nonetheless a student) who managed to completely humiliate the local leader of a large terrorist network. I’m not against powerful main characters but come on now. It wasn’t even a matter of Mahoukaman dodging the attacks thrown his way or really doing anything at all. It just seems like every attack used against him simply doesn’t affect Mahoukaman. I don’t know if it was his charm, his general above-it-all stoicism or the undying love of his precious imouto that deflected all of that but it certainly didn’t seem like he was taking any action to avoid them.
Things actually got kind of creepy near the end of the episode when the authorities were carrying the wounded members of Blanche out of the building. Miyuki seems horrified by the damage her ice attacks (which looked really awesome btw) did to those men but Mahoukaman gives her a calm look as if to say, “It’s okay that you horribly disfigured those men. They were fighting for equality which as well all know is a lie so they got what they deserved.” It might be unfair of me to read something so strongly political into that look but Mahouka brought this upon itself. Speaking of the authorities, where the hell are any adults here? Why is a group of high school students allowed to commandeer a hummer, drive to a terrorist outpost and take down the entire force stationed there without any adult so much as saying “hey, maybe you guys should be back in school”? Here I’ve spent two paragraphs picking apart an episode that I said wasn’t that bad but we’re playing by Mahouka’s rules here and normal standards of “not that bad” don’t seem to apply.