In which we witness the best episode of anime so far in 2014.
1. Love Live School Idol Project Second Season
Wow. Just wow. After last week’s underwhelming (outside of the actual performance) episode Love Live came back with a vengeance and hit it out of the park is almost every way. To start, I really liked the way they revealed the results of the final Love Live prelims. Instead of letting it hang over us and building the suspense they revealed it naturally through the characters’ interactions. It impressed me the way they showed us that something was up via the way the girls from µ’s and A-RISE reacted to each other. The two groups had been established as friendly rivals so the sudden tension made it clear that something fundamental had changed in their relationship. Then, Tsubasa tells the girls to go win Love Live and it suddenly becomes clear what has happened. There was so much mileage gotten out of that scene even with very little being said. That wasn’t all this week, far from it actually. We were also treated to some poignant thoughts from the third years as they near their goal while also nearing their graduation. As they took the time to look back on everything that µ’s has been through but also what they have to look forward to I couldn’t help but get caught up in the emotion of it all. The way this episode evoked the comfort of close and familiar friends while also acknowledging the passage of time was superb.
But we still aren’t done. Arguably the very best part of this episode was the way Honoka and Tsubasa interacted as one leader speaking to another. In a show where a lot of the characters are fairly static, I’ve been impressed by the growth seen in Honoka as the show has gone along. Her interactions with Tsubasa created another opportunity for her to look back and consider what it was that makes µ’s special. It really feels like Honoka is no longer just the de facto leader of the group but really somebody who understands how to push everybody forward and what it needed to get things done. It’s a very impressive change for somebody who seemed so lost at the start of season one. I continue to really like the way A-RISE and specifically Tsubasa are being used. It would be easy to paint them as ruthless rivals that are determined to win at all costs and make them easy to hate. Instead, they are treated with great respect and are presented not as a group you want to lose but instead a group you can genuinely feel bad for even while you’re happy for µ’s. They work hard and they’re good people and when it doesn’t work out for them it’s tragic even if it’s an inevitable side effect of your favored idol group’s victory. This episode ran the gamut of emotion from celebratory to poignant to reflective, all accompanied by the general good vibes provided by a group of close friends working together and succeeding. It’s the kind of feelings I remember getting out of K-ON and precious few shows have been able to replicate that feeling since. By managing to rise to those lofty heights, Love Live has given us the best episode of any anime this season and is my easy number one pick.
2. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu Ka?
In any week where Love Live wasn’t this amazing I’d be inclined to give this episode of GochiUsa the nod for the top spot. The episode was all about people working but the show does a great job of creating an atmosphere where work doesn’t really feel like work. I really loved the way Cocoa and Chiya played off each other and the entire half of the episode involving those two and Sharo had a very Yuyushiki vibe to it. Cocoa is the lovable goofball like Yuzu, Chiya is the sweet girl who plays along with Cocoa’s nonsense like Yukari, and Sharo is the beleaguered straight-man (girl?) who puts up with all this nonsense while also maintaining a begrudging affection for the other two. It was also nice to see the way Chino came to realize how she feels about having Cocoa around. The scene where she was about to call Cocoa just as Cocoa called her was incredibly sweet and that whole arc really tied the episode together nicely. It may not be number one this week but GochiUsa is still a wonderful show.
3. Isshuukan Friends
It seems the storm we all knew was coming for Isshuukan Friends is finally here in the form of Kujou Hajime. While Kaori and Hase seem to be progressing nicely back towards where they used to be, Hajime’s presence isn’t going away and it means that Kaori will have to acknowledge her past sooner or later. This was one show where you knew the good feelings couldn’t last forever and this episode did a really good job evoking the feeling of everything we had been cheering for over the first nine episodes slowly slipping away. Hase’s response of jealousy and possessiveness when confronted with this truth isn’t the path to making things right and hopefully the writers realize this and he will learn how to step back and let Kaori live her own life and make her own decisions. That’s not to say the two can’t be together but Hase seems to feel entitled to Kaori at this point rather than accepting her as an equal. Hajime for his part seems quite mean-spirited. In contrast to Kiryuu who will often be blunt but seems to be coming from a good place, Hajime seems content to needle Hase and upset him not for the sake of any greater good but merely in response to his own bitterness over Kaori. It’s a bit of a mess right now but it’s also a necessary mess and hopefully everybody will be the better for it when it’s cleaned up.
4. Akuma no Riddle
We’ve finally reached the end game in Akuma no Riddle and boy is it a doozy. This episode had it all: plot twists, interesting character interactions and honest to god thematically significant moments. Akuma no Riddle probably suffered due to its large cast, but now that we’re down to the bare bones of the cast, things are really looking up and the show can start to do the things I was hoping it would do from the beginning. Episode eleven isn’t exactly the best time to finally become good but it’s better than nothing.
5. Selector Infected WIXOSS
Having worked from the start of this season to make the point that Selector Infected WIXOSS isn’t just a re-hash of Madoka, I was upset when Ruuko effectively cut me off at the knees with her proposed wish. I was heartened to see that it doesn’t seem like she’ll follow through on that wish but the fact that seed has been planted is a real problem for me. The rest of the episode wasn’t that bad and I like the dynamic of unwilling combatants in a game they aren’t allowed to lose shaping up here. I’m interested to see what role Iona has to play. She seems like she’s experimenting with the WIXOSS system but it’s unclear as of yet why she sees fit to do these experiments or what she hopes to learn from them. With only one episode left in this season it’s unlikely that anything resembling a conclusive ending will occur next week but I do hope they’ll show us something before going on break.
6. Atelier Escha and Logy
We’re still stuck on a questionable storyline where getting to the unexplored ruins is suddenly super-duper important after being irrelevant for nine episodes. If we choose to accept that though, I think this was a very nice episode on balance. We were introduced to Logy’s motivations this week and it allowed the show to tell a nice, relatively self-contained story that built on the show’s theme of relying on others. I was also pleased to see them reuse the fire goddess as that meant the mostly regrettable hot springs episode was not completely in vain. I’m guessing this plot will carry us through to the end of the show meaning Atelier pretty much is what it is at this point. I’m not sure if I love the way they’re ending it but it isn’t terrible and on the whole the show is still a very positive surprise.
7. Soredemo Sekai wa Utsukushii
SoreSekai, like Atelier, appears to be moving into its end-game as Livius is forced to face off against Nike’s grandmother in order to hold on to the girl he loves. My biggest positive takeaway from this episode was how Nike’s imprisonment was handled. Rather than simply sitting in her cage like a typical damsel in distress, Nike is fighting to escape at the same time that Livius is fighting to save her. The give and take of Nike and Livius’ relationship has been one of the strongest points of SoreSekai throughout and it’s really coming through now that the two are equals rather than one clearly being the master of the other. While that was good, I was a bit disappointed in the execution of this conflict. Rather than an actual plan to have her way, this seems more like a test set up by Nike’s grandmother wherein Nike and Livius are given a series of plot-hoops to jump through in order to be reunited. Thing like telling Nike “if he sees you even once before three days are up the spell is broken” or Nike’s grandmother hiding the key to her cell in the water rather than keeping it or putting it somewhere less accessible seem contrived to offer a glimmer of hope rather than something done by someone who actually intents to win. This could all be revealed to be a test from the start in which case I’ll take back what I said here but right now it doesn’t feel right.
As seems to be the pattern with Haikyuu, my opinion of this episode was broke down very easily into two parts. There’s everything that didn’t involve Hinata which I liked well enough. I was glad they acknowledged that Asahi simply hitting through a block is not a long term solution but it does work as a vehicle for him to get his confidence back. The gameplay was generally good and we got some additional insight into the side characters. I was really happy to have a real coach on the sidelines that can actually talk intelligently about what’s going on on the court. It creates a good way to express the subtleties of how the game is being played without detracting from the immersion. While all that was good, there’s still the glaring problem of Hinata whose BS was on full display this week. He reprised his “run back and forth across the court like you’re going to fake somebody out” plan from episode four this time with the added insult that the other team was told the ball was going to him. I won’t go into the details of why that would never work again and I’ll just say that once again it completely killed the moment for me. We also have the lingering issue of Kageyama doing all the work yet the rest of the cast acts like Hinata is adding something of value here. Kageyama could be setting pretty much anybody who’s remotely competent at volleyball and make them look good. If Hinata wasn’t playing with Kageyama he’d get cut. The fact that people act as if it’s an even give and take between the two is absurd.
9. Bokura wa Minna Kawaisou
It was a tale of two episodes this week on Kawaisou. The first half of the episode was what I’ve come to expect from Kawaisou. This week the focus was on Sayaka and her childhood friend. The fact that everybody saw these revelations as an opportunity to make Sayaka’s life miserable is expected given how awful Sayaka has been but also typical of this show in that everybody seems insistent on making sure nobody else is happy. There’s no affection between these characters and the way they treat each other so terribly is not fun at all to watch. Even Usa’s feelings for Ritsu come off more as creepy than anything at this point. At least that’s what it was like for the first half of the episode. The second half actually got back to the things I have wanted out of this show since episode four. It showed once again how well the author understands what life is like for an extreme introvert at Ritsu’s age. The process of Ritsu making a friend who shares her passion for literature, but then being too inexperienced and timid to let her friend know that she needs space hit the nail on the head. I could definitely relate to Ritsu’s feelings of isolation at the karaoke lounge. Unfortunately, this was marred by the fact that the show focused on the fact that this was a “mixer” and let Usa get all possessive over somebody he isn’t actually romantically involved with. The feelings Ritsu was going through would have been mostly the same regardless of whether it’s a mixer or just a karaoke trip but the way they handled it kind of undercut the emotional potency. I guess that’s to be expected of Kawaisou at this point. Next week is the finale which will likely mean bumbling Usa rushing in to save somebody who doesn’t need to be saved. Ugh.
10. Date a Live II
Like so many other mediocre light novel sequels, Date a Live II more or less limped across the finish line keeping true to the strengths and weaknesses it has possessed throughout its run. The animation continued to be lackluster and the writing was questionable when it got outside the comfort zone of harem hijinks. Miku’s transformation from man-hater to Shido-lover was abrupt and largely pointless. I did like how the characters and plot points from throughout the season seemed to come together at the end though. The creators seemed to have at least some idea of what they were doing even if the end result often left a lot to be desired. Date a Live II certainly wasn’t a good show and it lost a lot of the charm that kept the first season afloat. It’s not the worst thing in the world but it once again demonstrates that you enter a mine field when you start making second seasons of light novel adaptations.
Final Verdict: 4/10
11. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
I’ve already talked far too much about all the ways that Mahouka is terrible. You guys should know them by now. This week was no different with Tatsuya being right all the time and spending his time lecturing people about how right he is. So I’ll gloss over that in favor of something much more fun: crack-pot theories! In a stunning revelation this week we found that Tatsuya actually has a weakness. (Sort of) His “weakness”, such as it is, seems to be an inability to notice girls’ romantic interest in him. Now you could just call another example of Tatsuya being so aloof and in control and gentleman-like but I prefer to take it a different direction. I say Tatsuya is gay. Think about it. Early on he described Juumonji’s manly physique in surprising detail. Throughout the show he’s taken more notice of men than women. The women flock to Tatsuya be he seeks out the mean. Just look at the first half of this episode when he followed Hattori and helped him handle some thugs. Then at the very end he offers his gun up to another guy to try out and be his “guinea pig”. It seems pretty clear to me what’s going on here. Far from being a morally bankrupt pile of right-wing talking-points, Mahouka is actually a progressive anime about how the greatest and most powerful guy on earth is a gay man. Either that or after eleven episodes of this crap I’m going crazy. You be the judge.