In which all the cool characters wear sunglasses.
[Begin pointless meta-commentary]
The dream of an undefeated season is dead once again.
Because I insist on meticulously measuring and recording most things I do, I have a spreadsheet I use to track my power rankings from week to week. It’s color coded and everything, look. The spreadsheet goes back to the beginning of summer 2013 and in the past 4 seasons I’ve never actually had a show rank at number one for the entire season. I’ve come close twice: Tamayura was in the top spot for the last eleven weeks of its twelve week run and Nagi no Asukara managed to stay at number one from the start of winter 2014 up until Sakura Trick’s finale caused me to lose any semblance of rationality. It’s a small sample size to be sure but I don’t think it’s unexpected that no show would be number one for an entire season since my opinions have a habit of varying wildly during the first part of a season (as an example, according to some old text files I have from 2011 I once had Fractale ranked above Madoka Magica which, lol). Anyway, I thought Glasslip might be the show to break this streak since it immediately jumped out at me as a show I would like and there didn’t seem to be many contenders that could knock it off its perch. Well, after five weeks the dream is over and we have a new number one.
[End pointless meta-commentary]
I think at this point I should probably add “shows with an all-female cast written by Yoshida Reiko” to my list of things that I can count on liking whenever they come along regardless of any of the other variables. When it comes to anime about cute girls doing cute things Yoshida-sensei is basically without equal as a scriptwriter. Hanayamata allows her to use these skills to great effect as the characters in Hanayamata have significantly more depth and the storylines are more involved than other shows like this. Each of the girls has her own well-articulated fears and desires and these inform the way each of them approaches Hana and yosakoi. This week we got more background regarding Tama, the local rich girl who has dedicated herself up to this point to gaining her strict father’s approval. The episode did a wonderful job of demonstrating the internal conflict she experiences between doing things that make her happy versus doing things to make her father happy. As somebody who has always followed the directions she was given, seeing Hana’s impulsive enthusiasm and feeling her own growing desire to participate causes her to feel lost. The show does a great job of conveying this feeling to us, especially with the scene at the end where Tama is literally blown off course before encountering Naru. By combining this type of character exploration with the typical cute antics I enjoy and the stellar visuals Hanayamata proves itself to be worthy of the top spot this week.
Glasslip drops to number two but this episode was probably better than episode four. The big difference maker to me is that Hanayamata is great now whereas Glasslip is still something that could be great down the road. The ceiling is still there for Glasslip and arguably it’s higher than Hanayamata’s but it needs to actually show me something to be my top show again. That said, I do like the direction things are moving this week. For all of Touko’s insecurity and confusion, she did address what she saw last week with Kakeru and none of the other characters seems intent on wallowing in relationship limbo which is definitely a good sign. We’ll see where things go from here but I wouldn’t take this ranking as a sign I’m not still optimistic about Glasslip.
3. Yama no Susume
Yama no Susume continues to fill its niche as solid comfort food week in and week out. This week saw the conclusion of the girls’ expedition on Mount Mitsutoge. Once again the show does a good job of accurately portraying the mountain climbing experience, this time regarding the knee strain that descending will put on you. (I wish I had a hot springs to relax in after some of my mountain climbing expeditions) Yama no Susume is doing a great job of taking advantage of its new longer format and I’m looking forward to where they can go with twenty more episodes like this.
4. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun
While it might not have been at the same level as episode four, this week’s Nozaki-kun was top notch comedy. The show is managing to stay fresher than I could ever have expected prior to the season. I don’t know if this is because I misjudged the manga or because Dogakobo is just that good at this type of show. This week Nozaki stole the show with his attempt to get into Mamiko’s head by acting like her at school. The delivery here was superb as Nakamura Yuuichi does a great job of selling us on Nozaki’s misguided but genuine attempts at understanding the characters he writes. Caveats regarding the show potentially running out of ideas still apply but so far Nozaki-kun has been very impressive in how many different ways it manages to find humor in the process of creating shoujo manga.
5. Ao Haru Ride
It feels like I’m starting to run out of patience a little bit with Ao Haru Ride. I still think the show’s good but I’m just not feeling the chemistry between Kou and Futaba at this point. Kou as a character feels somewhat incongruous as he’s mostly aloof and cold but he occasionally does things that seem designed only to tease Futaba rather than being part of an internally consistent character. It’s possible this is intentional as the point of all this seems to be that Futaba sees what she wants to believe are flashes of the old Tanaka when he’s actually a different person than he used to be. Whether this is a case of poor characterization and an intentional choice of the author to adjust the way Kou is presented based on how Futaba perceives him remains to be seen.
6. Zankyou no Terror
ZanTero has improved marginally over the course of its first four episodes but the show still isn’t really resonating with me (if you’ll pardon the pun). The events on screen are mildly interesting and I like what they’re doing with each key player in the plot being rejected by society for different reasons but I’m just not that into it right now. One thing that would really help is more focus on Lisa. Her plight is the most interesting to me right now but she’s gotten the least screen time up to this point. I want to know how she got to this point and what her involvement will mean for the two member of Sphinx but so far ZanTero doesn’t seem interested in exploring this and instead chooses to cover more Oedipus riddles. There’s no doubting ZanTero is competently made but as it is I’m just not feeling it.
Another show that isn’t bad but isn’t really working for me is Barakamon. I’ve mostly accepted that the show isn’t going to be what I want it to be. (and at no point was that more clear than when they broke out the old “sea cucumber” joke this week) Still, the show will tease me with some interesting ideas like Handa’s continuing need to have his work validated via critical acclaim rather than being able to enjoy his craft on its own merits. Unfortunately, those ideas tend to get shoved to the side in favor of goofy comedy. To me, the biggest problem for Barakamon is there isn’t any one thing that it excels at. The ideas regarding Handa’s character growth aren’t fully realized, the comedy is okay but it isn’t on the level of a Nozaki-kun and nothing else about the show really stands out. Again, the show isn’t deeply flawed in any specific way; it just isn’t great at anything which leaves the whole thing feeling kind of empty. Maybe Barakamon can find a niche going forward but at this point it seems like it’s merely mediocre as both a character study and as a comedy.
First the good: I find the way the Martian politics are playing out here to be really interesting. The maneuvering by Slaine and Saazbaum to try to gain the favor and trust of the emperor was probably the best part but there are plenty of good places to look for little conflicts between different factions within the Vers Empire. At first I was afraid the Martians would all be portrayed as cold-hearted racist jerks but there’s enough variety here to keep things interesting. On the other hand, I’m finding all the events taking place on earth to be incredibly dull when they aren’t actively annoying me. A lot of it stems for Inaho whose lack of any discernable personality and incredible tactical brilliance simply because the plot calls for it combine to make him feel like Kirito-lite. After three straight episodes of nameless terran soldiers being slaughtered by a new Martian super robot only to have that robot defeated by Inaho I’m starting to get sick of it. I want to believe this is more than just nameless characters getting killed off in order to make Inaho look more badass but if there’s more going on here it isn’t apparent at this point. I’ll give Aldnoah.Zero more time but that needs to be fixed if the show’s going to be any good.
9. Futsuu no Joshikousei ga Locodol Yatte Mitta
If the goal of the creators of lol Idols was to see how much drudgery I’ll put up with if cute, vaguely lesbian girls are involved then mission accomplished. I thought it was impossible to make something with that formula that wouldn’t work for me but this might be it. A lot of it has to do with this show wasting so much time on waxing poetic about a small fictional town that nobody cares about. Slice of life anime about small town life can work (just look at Non Non Biyori) but your characters experiences have to be more universal than what we’re getting out of lol Idols. There’s also the issue of the characters spending an inordinate amount of time not fully clothed. I get that the idol life involves changing clothes a lot but this still feels a tad exploitative (of fictional characters, but you know what I mean). When they had to remove Urogoko’s voice for the national TV performance the thought did cross my mind that this is some kind of commentary on the watering down of celebrities’ personalities in order to increase marketability and all of the fanservice is merely commentary on how exploitative the idol industry is but I don’t think lol Idols is capable of anything that meta.
10. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei
Everything wrong with this episode of Mahouka has been wrong for weeks although this episode did score very high on the unintentional comedy scale. Tatsuya brutally murdering supposed gangsters simply because the almost kind of could have hurt Miyuki and the show treating this as A-OK might have been a new low for the show. I also thought it was hilarious when they revealed that the only emotion that the weaponized Tatsuya has left is his love for his younger sister. Anyway, Mahouka is clearly the second funniest show this season after Nozaki-kun although I don’t think that was the author’s goal going in.