In which some things are better than expected.
After four weeks I think I can finally say that the “giant pile of meh” is no more. At this point in the season the shows that were previously hard to place have sorted themselves out more or less. We still have the elite top three (with another show suddenly knocking on the door) but behind that there are now pretty clear dividing points between good, merely fine, and decidedly mediocre. Let’s see how things stack up this week:
1. Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka?
There’s a new king of the (blue) mountain this week as an excellent episode of GochiUsa (and a merely good episode of Love Live) vaults our favorite rabbit-themed baristas into the top spot. Gochuumon wa Usagi desu ka is a cute girls doing cute things anime that simply gets it. The pacing and storyline transitions are on point, allowing each episode to hold together as a cohesive whole rather that devolving into a series of unconnected vignettes. This week, the surface-level gags and events ranged widely from constructing puzzles to handing out café flyers but the episode had a strong theme of gaining greater understanding of the people around you that kept every scene connected and pointed in the same general direction. Now, GochiUsa and its ilk are never going to be the most thematically dense anime out there but the capacity the show has demonstrated for carrying themes like this in between the comedy is one of its great strengths. The comedy itself was on point as well and GochiUsa is a show with one of the best senses of comedic timing I’ve seen in a while. It’s often hard to get these things right when transitioning from a manga where the timing is done via panels and subject to the reader’s reading speed to an anime where the timing is entirely under the control of the director. Scenes like the pancake falling on Chino’s face or Anko landing on whatever he happens to be landing on this week (why do all their gags seem to involve things falling from the sky?) are timed perfectly to give exactly the right length of beat before the payoff.
Aside from the comedic timing, this episode provided further examples of really well-handled heartwarming moments. GochiUsa really has the whole “d’awwwww” thing down without getting too saccharine (although let it be known that I have an incredibly high tolerance for saccharine moments so YMMV). I also was glad to see that they addressed the whole “Sharo isn’t actually rich” thing before the end of the show. I liked the gag but I didn’t want it to drag out and end up being used as a crutch when the writers ran out of ideas. Fortunately it was taken care of this week and handled very smoothly at that. I hope that Aoyama’s desire to meet her old master can be addressed similarly as we had a near miss on that front this week. (side note: HAYAMIIIIIN~!!!! So good) Sharo’s idea of what Rize looks like to other people was nice too. Overall, GochiUsa stands out as one of the best cute, slice of life anime in recent memory and further evidence that White Fox is one of the best studios out there.
2. Love Live School Idol Project Season 2
Well the contents of that letter were certainly… something. I’d normally get mad at a show for throwing a cliffhanger at us and then immediately invalidating itself the next week (see: Baby Steps) but I feel at this point Love Live has established itself well enough that we as viewers can know pretty confidently that whatever was in that letter wasn’t going to be some truly earth-shattering thing and was likely to be something silly. I doubt that anybody was seriously going through the week preceding this episode thinking “oh my god, what is going to happen to Honoka?” What ensued was pretty much classic Love Live although arguably it felt more like an episode from the first season which is a marginal step down in quality compared to what they’ve been giving us in season two. There were some genuinely funny moments like Honoka and Hanayo communicating via ragged breathing in front of the rice shop and it was once again nice to see Honoka’s continued growth as a leader but this episode wasn’t quite as funny or quite as moving as the previous episodes.
I suppose I should deal with the elephant in the room since a lot of people seemed to have issues with the whole dieting thing. It is a real problem people (especially young girls) face when they’re presented with unrealistic body proportions and are led to believe these are normal and expected if you want to be attractive. It’s especially concerning when you see characters that have fairly normal if not fit body types partaking in some sort of starvation type diet in order to lose a little bit of weight. Yomi from Azumanga Daioh and Nagi from A-Channel are two good examples of characters that exhibit this habit. So I understand the concern people have regarding things like this. What I will say in Love Live’s defense is that this was a situation where the weight gain (apparently) was having a noticeable effect on Honoka’s physique which was demonstrated when she couldn’t fit into her old performance uniform anymore. Given the lofty goals of the entire group it seems like some kind of fitness program was in order. The other major point here is that Honoka and Hanayo were following an exercise and diet program put together by Umi (who, for the sake of argument here, we’ll assume knows what she’s doing). Given that Honoka arguably needed to lose some weight for her school idol duties and she wasn’t simply starving herself for a quick fix I think the entire sequence was handled pretty well. Again, there are cases where this is an issue and people have every right to champion this cause but I don’t think this is the place to plant your flag if you’re one of these people.
3. Isshuukan Friends
Isshuukan Friends took a step forward this week plot-wise although not in the way I was expecting after last week’s revealing episode. Rather than delving further into the question of the source of Kaori’s memory issues, the show moved to more openly acknowledge the budding romantic tension between Hase and Kaori. I really like the way the romance is portrayed here with both main characters being simultaneously extremely likeable and also noticeably flawed. We already knew that this would be about Kaori’s journey to dealing with her condition not by shutting herself off from the outside world but rather surrounding herself with supportive people who are capable of accepting her in spite of it. What was less clear at first, but is become more clear week after week is that this is also a journey of self-discovery for Hase who isn’t exactly great at expressing his feelings or understanding where his needs end and others’ needs begin. It’s nice to see shows like this where good people don’t always do everything right and Hase is handling his feelings for Kaori in a believably awkward and clunky manner. More than most shows about the subject, Isshuukan really nails the awkward, first-love feeling among people who aren’t terribly extroverted or socially skilled. It’s a pleasure to watch such a genuine and straight-forward story of youthful friendship and romance each week.
4. Selector Infected WIXOSS
It’s a real shame that the top three on my list are so locked in because it means WIXOSS really has nowhere to go despite getting consistently better week after week. It’s clear at this point that the people behind WIXOSS really get how to build suspense and deliver a solid pay off based on that suspense. Sato Takuya can draw from his experience with Steins;Gate and when paired with a talented writer like Okada Mari the results can really be great. The show just oozes tension and you can really feel the desperation of the characters as they see their dreams and wishes start to slip away. The bombshell dropped at the end of this episode was impressive as well and I can’t wait to see where they go with this in the upcoming weeks. If you gave up on WIXOSS early on, you should seriously give it another shot. The show is excellent.
5. Akuma no Riddle
It’s fairly surprising that I’m ranking Akuma no Riddle this high given I had pretty much left it for dead after last week’s lackluster showing. I thought that if Riddle was ever going to break out of its funk, last week would have been the time following an episode that bought the show extra time by killing off multiple characters. Apparently the staff chose to put that off an extra week because this week we finally got basically everything I had been wanting out of Riddle since the assassination attempts began. We got additional insight into Nio’s circumstances, some extra acknowledgement of Tokaku’s backstory and some legitimately clever tactics from our would-be assassins. After it seeming like nothing that happened in the previous episode ever mattered the following week (other than the rapidly shrinking cast) this episode that seemed to hint at larger plot points that will actually last beyond this week (and hopefully beyond this arc) was like a breath of fresh air. Still, I’d like to see Riddle do it again. One episode is an accident. It will take a second before I call this a trend.
6. Escha & Logy no Atelier
This episode was an interesting study in how the Atelier anime as a whole is put together and what makes it tick. There were certainly some heavier plot elements involved in Linca’s story this week, but at the same time the show managed to maintain some semblance of the “heal-y” tone that I feel has worked well for it previously. The story was handled fairly well considering how easily a plot based around previously unknown twins could have descended into abject silliness or mediocre action. This episode even gave some indications of that soaring heartwarming feeling I like as Linca’s sisters left town to pursue their own goals. If Atelier can keep putting together episodes like this it will end up being a nice little hidden gem even if it doesn’t really show the potential for much more than that.
7. Date a Live II
With Date a Live we have now moved out of the “pretty good” tier and into the… um, Date a Live tier I guess. I won’t say that there isn’t anything quite like Date a Live because there most certainly is whether you look to something like Infinite Stratos or Outbreak Company to find something similar in tone/humor. But DAL is fairly unique within this season which counts for something? I think? DAL II hasn’t been terribly well made as there are clearly some animation deficiencies which may be attributable to the change in studio. I also feel that Miku has been one of Chihara Minori’s weakest performances. Still, when you look past the audio/visual deficiencies, the show is still quite a bit of fun. There were a few highlights this week including Shido being chased down by an army of glow stick wielding otaku and Kurumi’s unique brand of crazy. Date a Live will probably be forgotten shortly after it finishes airing but it’s certainly fun while it lasts.
8. Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii
SoreSekai, like Date a Live, has its own tier to itself. In this case it’s the one show where I’m largely lukewarm on it but it isn’t actively disappointing me. I do feel like SoreSekai is a flawed show but I don’t find myself thinking “this is such a waste of potential” like I do with the shows below it mostly because SoreSekai’s failings leave it at what I’d estimate as 80-90% of its potential rather than something significantly less than that. It’s a decent medieval/fantasy/shoujo romance story but it isn’t much more than that. This episode shed some light on Livius’ past and exposed a pretty negative side to his character which was interesting if also a bit distressing. Bard is initially portrayed as the scummy intruder on Nike and Livius’ relationship but by the end Livius is the one who ends up coming off the worst in all this. Bard is a curious character as it seems his entire existence is predicated on ruffling Livius’ feathers and not much else. Using a character merely as a tool to move the plot forward isn’t particularly inspired but it isn’t really that damning either. Still, this is a pretty blatant example of it and it took a bit of the air out of an otherwise good episode.
9. Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin
Another week, another interesting idea in Nanana taken down by poor execution. There are only so many times a show can fail to deliver on its potential before you have to accept it’s never going to happen. I know I said something similar regarding Akuma no Riddle a week ago and we saw how that turned out so maybe I should never say never but it doesn’t look good for Nanana. Nanana’s problems are also distinct from Riddle’s in a way that makes me more pessimistic about the show. Whereas Riddle was offering decent execution of ideas and events I didn’t really care about, Nanana is taking ideas I’m interested in and repeatedly failing to realize them. It’s easier for a show to start tackling more worthwhile storylines than it is for the author to suddenly figure out how to write compelling dialog and stop resorting to cheap fanservice tactics. There isn’t really a nicer way to describe the uninspired verbal sparring between Juugo and Yukihime followed by a fight that somehow turned into a fetish-y bondage scene. I’m still enjoying the show enough not to drop it but I’ve basically given up on it actually being “good”.
How do you solve a problem like Hinata? I really want to like Haikyuu and it isn’t really a bad show but I can feel my frustration starting to boil over every time Narut- I mean Hinata is on the screen. I’m really getting tired of the blockers’/defenders’ selective moments of idiocy whenever the plot calls for Hinata to do something good. It’s hard to get around the fact that Hinata’s skill seems to be isolated to occasional BS bursts of superhuman speed and everything else good about his play is entirely narrated rather than shown to us. I won’t go into detail about the absurdity of his game winning block/spike combination but just trust me, it was in no way a play that could ever possibly be made in an actual volleyball match. It’s a shame too because Aoba’s star setter was playing the game exactly as it should be played by an extremely gifted player so to have his obvious skill be trumped by the plot armor of Hinata was incredibly frustrating. It’s a real shame too because I love Kageyama’s storyline and I feel like this would be an excellent show if Kageyama was the main character and Hinata ceased to exist. The trials of a talented but egotistical player learning to work with his teammates instead of against them is infinitely more interesting than watching a shrimp that occasionally runs like the flash when the plot happens to call for it. Sadly, like Nanana, this isn’t a problem that is likely to go away as Haikyuu doesn’t strike me as a show that will pull a Daimidaler and kill off its main character.
11. Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
And rounding out the trio of “shows that have really nice moments but end up being deeply disappointing” we have Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou. Kawaisou has a nasty habit of creating thoroughly unlikable characters, although I think that might have been the point this week, at least with the restaurant-goers. The thing is, these characters were actually a fairly realistic representation of the type of high school students that get obsessed with their present social standing rather than worrying about the actual quality of the company they keep. Here Kawaisou falls into its pattern of hitting upon a genuine aspect of human behavior and the experience of finding yourself as a teenager. Unfortunately, the resolution was deeply unsatisfying and gave up any goodwill the show may have generated prior to that. When your unlikeable new characters are sent off by your existing unlikeable characters it doesn’t really do much to restore your faith in fictional humanity. It doesn’t help that the way this was executed lacked any of the realism that the initial set up had. At this point I think it’s safe to say that Kawaisou’s moments of clarity are the exception rather than the rule and they will likely be few and far between going forward.
12. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
In case you were wondering: Mahoukaman? Still perfect and awesome in every way. If you forget about this, don’t worry, you will be reminded of it constantly. It’s one thing to have a main character that never screws up but Mahouka takes it to a whole other level with the way the characters constantly point out how amazing Mahoukaman is. The show’s inability to give the viewer any credit at all extends to the magic system as even eight episodes into the show we are still having the magic mechanics explained in excruciating detail. It would be one thing if all of this was going to be on the final exam at the end of this season and we need to know the inner workings of the magic system in detail, but explaining your world’s mechanics via textbook-style exposition rather than by example or leaving things implicit rather than explicit it really isn’t the best look for entertainment.
The characters that aren’t Mahoukaman continue to be lumped into two groups: the people who are merely waiting to become converts to the church of Mahoukaman the minute he does something amazing (which is all the time) and the caricatured enemies that are against Mahoukaman out of pure stubbornness or jealousy. Mahouka makes zero effort to add any nuance to its conflicts. Mahoukaman is categorically right and anybody who opposes him is categorically wrong. It’s a shame that such an interesting mechanic like the magic in Mahouka is being squandered by such uninspired execution. On a similar note, Miyuki seems like she could be such a good character if you took out her fawning over her brother and replaced it with an actual compelling personality. That can probably be said of a lot of characters in this show but Miyuki actually has some really nice scenes like the opening training scene and the scene where she flies (thanks her brother discovering the secrets of human flight of course). Madhouse has shown a great sense for spectacle here but unfortunately the spectacle is wasted on some of the most uninspired writing in recent memory.