In which the lead is exchanged once again.
1. Yama no Susume (Episodes 9 and 10)
After last week’s disappointing lack of subtitles, Yama no Susume returns with a pair of excellent episodes about climbing Mt Fuji. To me, a slice of life anime about a hobby has three jobs: create an engaging atmosphere surrounding the activity, be reasonably true to life and make the activity seem like fun. I’m willing to give a little leeway on the second one for shows like K-ON that hit it out of the park on the other fronts. In these two episodes Yama no Susume managed to hit on all three of these points. The atmosphere surrounding the trip up the mountain was immersive and really got the viewer into the experience. The show was also very true to the mountain climbing experience down to the commercialization of Mt Fuji and the noisy American tourists. Finally, the show presented the experience in a way that makes the viewer want to try it for themselves. Fuji was already a goal of mine, but I’ve heard multiple people expressing interest in it after watching these episodes. Things like collecting brands for your walking stick or marveling at how your bags of food puff up at altitude really capture the little joys of the Fuji experience for new climbers.
Of course, things aren’t always easy for new climbers tackling a tall mountain for the first time and Aoi, not unexpectedly, succumbs to altitude sickness. I was initially concerned about the group going off with no adults but Kaede has proven more than capable of leading the group and seeing the way she cares for Aoi and makes the best of a tough situation was quite heartwarming. For creating a realistic and enticing story about tackling Mt Fuji, Yama no Susume earns the top spot this week.
2. Hanayamata (Episode 10)
The biggest issue Hanayamata has had up to this point is the fact that occasionally the solutions to the conflicts in the show feel a bit too neat and tidy. It still stands above other shows that don’t even bother to tell a story but it has been a source of annoyance for me. This didn’t change in episode ten as Machi joins the yosakoi club with very little reasoning provided for the move. In contrast to the other girls who had mostly well-articulated reasons for choosing to participate in the club, Machi just kind of joined because she felt like it. That slight misstep is easily forgiven though because I really like the dynamic Machi adds to the group and the way her involvement reveals more about her character. Machi takes yosakoi as seriously as she takes everything in her life and seeing the rest of the club realize how hard she’s working was really sweet. I also liked seeing Hana’s dad and finally learning where she gets her love of Japan from. The closing moments of the episode seem to indicate that Hana’s family situation will be coming front and center which is a pivot I’m looking forward to. Given Yoshida Reiko’s capabilities as a scriptwriter I have confidence that Hanayamata will be able to handle this well and not devolve into overwrought drama.
3. Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Episode 11)
We’re eleven episodes in and Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun shows no signs of losing its quirky charm anytime soon. This episode was all about Nozaki’s creative process and how he manages to turn almost everything into research for his manga while being oblivious to everything else. The highlight for me was probably the scene early on where Nozaki alternately charms and pranks Chiyo all so he can add to his catalog of “high school girl reactions” for use in his manga. The way Nozaki manages to act in the most absurd ways while keeping a straight face and then reimagine everything he sees as a manga scenario is extremely fun to watch. The show teased us with the prospect of romantic development in the next episode preview but I’m inclined to believe they’re just teasing us. This is fine, because I rather like things the way they are now without getting bogged down in the romance. Nozaki-kun doesn’t bother teasing us with romantic progression and instead leaves the characters in these half-formed non-relationships and I think it would lose a lot of its charm by changing that.
4. Ao Haru Ride (Episode 10)
After giving Ao Haru Ride a hard time for its reliance on misunderstandings and a moody, troubled male lead last week I have to give it some credit for how it handled things this week. The show managed to both resolve the misunderstanding and give a justification for Kou’s behavior all in one fell swoop. While I still might question the reliance on standard shoujo tropes, at least Ao Haru Ride seems to be handling them well. As a proponent of the idea of “generic done well” I liked this episode quite a bit. The realization of the source of Kou’s angst and his fear of attachment gives him some much needed character depth and makes him more than just another troubled bishie that gets trotted out there because apparently that’s what teenage girls are into. I could do without all the crying as well but I guess that comes with the territory too. It still looks like Ao Haru Ride won’t exactly go anywhere from here with only two episodes left but I have to say I like “here” a lot more than I did a week ago.
5. Barakamon (Episode 10)
If Barakamon had been a different kind of show up to this point I might have liked this exact same episode significantly more than I did. The first half was in Barakamon’s typical style of rural slapstick which has mostly left me indifferent up to this point. The second half actually delves into the reality of the fact that Handa was never going to stay in this rural town forever and dealing with is a necessary growth experience, both for Handa and the local children. I think if Barakamon had actually built up my emotional investment over the previous nine episodes then maybe Naru arriving at his house and finding it empty would have had more impact. As it is, the scene was slightly sad but once again I found myself mostly indifferent. It seems that Barakamon is doomed to leave me wondering what might have been rather than being able to enjoy what it is. At least there were no bugs this week.
6. Zankyou no Terror (Episode 9)
Zankyou no Terror pretty much is what it is at this point in its run. It’s still competently made but the style of the show and the storytelling choices just aren’t what I’m into. It’s hard to come up with new ways to say “this just isn’t my thing” week after week so instead I’ll bring my idea for the Ferris wheel scene as a metaphor for a first date. Twelve wants to get close to Lisa but he needs to carefully choose his actions because if he makes one wrong decision everything could blow up in his face. He works tirelessly against the clock, hoping that he can eventually reach his goal when time runs out and the night ends before he wanted it to. These are the things I think about when ZanTero isn’t able to keep my attention. Let’s move on.
7. Glasslip (Episode 11)
In contrast to ZanTero, Glasslip really should have been my thing and utterly failed at it. I think that there was a good episode in here somewhere but the previous episode had left the plot in such a state that this episode was never going to be coherent. The episode didn’t really amount to much more than “things happening” but I can at least imagine these events meaning something if the story that preceded them lent them any sort of weight. Instead I’m still scratching my head wondering how things fell apart like this.
8. Aldnoah.Zero (Episode 11)
And speaking of shows that utterly fail at giving any weight to their events, Aldnoah.Zero continues to eschew and sense of credulity and instead go for all-out corny action. I guess that’s fine as far as it goes but for a show that teased something much more than that early on, it has to be a disappointment. Inaho was in full Gary Stu mode this week taking the fight to the Martians with questionable tactics that somehow work because he’s Inaho goddamnit. This was accompanied by absurd events like Eddelrittuo managing to drive a hummer skillfully despite the fact that her feet probably can’t even reach the pedals and a massive battleship crashing into the Martian command ship without so much as an explosion, probably because there were main characters nearby that can’t die. The show makes the apparent immortality of the named characters feel even more absurd by killing off unnamed grunts without any real thought to it. If you’re looking for schlocky action then Aldnoah.Zero has you covered but for all other purposes the show has to be considered a failure.
9. Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei (Episode 24)
I was tempted to grant Mahouka a higher ranking this week on the back of the seven (yes, seven) times Miyuki uttered the phrase “onii-sama” this week. Ultimately I decided against because despite Hayami Saori’s heavenly vocal skills, the show is still a hot mess. This episode saw Tatsuya callously and effortlessly slaughtering his enemies with an amount of blood that made me surprised that it wasn’t censored like JoJo or Tokyo Ghoul. Apparently even uncensored blood is possible when you are the almighty Mahoukaman. Normally the brutal murder of fellow human beings would be frowned upon but when they’re the enemies of Tatsuya then they don’t deserve to live. It must be fun to know you’re always right like this. Can we make the show just Hayami Saori saying “onii-sama” for twenty-two minutes instead? Please?