As usual, shows listed by order of my enjoyment of said episode, links to longer write-ups. This was a pretty good week! While most popcorn shows had somewhat bored me or failed to do as well as they did in the past, everything else did really well!
1) Mushishi Second Season episode 7
After a week without it, Mushishi is back, and boy does it come out swinging. I think it’s my favourite episode of the season, after the marvelous second episode. There’s not a lot that happened in this episode, there’s not much symbolism, or characters taking action, or anything you can point at and say “This! This is why this episode, and why Mushishi are so great!” – it was a story of human loss, of a human being swept away by the grand forces of Mushishi, emotions, and loss.
It was a story about loss, and I kept having to blink away tears, though there was in most cases nothing on screen that was all that sad, it just kept calling to me, calling out to me in how close it is, how intimate, and yet somewhat detached. It was a great episode, but I can’t explain really why.
Let’s say what truly matters first – the coaches in this show are stealing the show. Smile, Peco, all the rest are only here so we’d have an excuse to watch these old geezers :)
This episode is about effort, and connections. It’s about telling people how you feel, it’s about understanding how others feel. This episode is about the past – living with the mistakes of the past, trying to undo others’ mistakes at the cost of your own happiness. Trying to make sure others do not repeat your mistakes for the sake of theirhappiness.
The world isn’t easy. The world isn’t fair. Heroes won’t come to rescue you, so you may as well become a monster. But even if you are a monster, it doesn’t mean you don’t have feelings.
This episode keeps charting the future collision-course, showing us all of these characters are motivated by dreams, or lack thereof, giving us various angles with which to treat relationships, camaraderie, effort and talent.
As always, this show has a lot of things one can discuss, while making summary all but impossible. Do check out the full notes.
Seems we get 4 episodes per arc in this show, and this “end of arc” episode was another good one. No, it was only “good” and not “WOW! I’m AMAZED” as the fourth episode was, and then again, since this show doesn’t do thingsloudly it’s more like “Wow, I’m amazed(!)”, heh. It was an episode where even less happened than usual, mostly filled with glances and silences.
Anyway, each arc is sort of a “summary” to the episodes that had gone before, not in the sense that it recaps what had happened (that’s more Nisekoi’s territory, see below), but that it builds on everything introduced and that happened this arc. This arc had been about Saki pushing the other characters forward, as well as Shogo pushing not just Fujimiya, but Hase, while accepting that he’s part of this dysfunctional group, and his only hopes of escaping are making sure they all come out of the other end – no turning back, forward is the only option.
Yes, the small moments of the characters not talking or admitting their feelings push us very close to “Standard RomCom”, but I believe these characters. Hase keeps putting Fujimiya up on a pedestal, and putting her “happiness” before his. Shogo does ask him “Are you truly ok with this?” – so we know it’s not all good. Hase is running away from expressing his feelings, from moving towards his happiness.
This show also continues to have the best sunset shots.
This was a good episode. This was a bad episode. This episode was a microcosmos of Nisekoi, as a series. We have Chitoge, whom the show loves above all others, receive a lot of screentime. She has some quiet moments with Raku, and Raku must come to her aid, while the rest of the cast tries to interfere. Tsugumi gets a couple of seconds after being pushed into the spotlight by others and leaves flustered. Marika pushes herself onto the stage, and tries to get things done, which is what the show could definitely use more of – but the moment she’s at risk of getting what she wishes for (Raku’s attention), she runs away, leaving us once more in the mire of a never-progressing story, after having promised us more.
The humor in this show isn’t terrible, but mostly relies on funny reaction faces, so you’ll have to judge it on that front. The cute and endearing moments are much better handled, and I even find myself smiling. Chitoge and Raku work, even though she’s not my first pick, personally, she’s definitely not just the girl that the show and director like, but that feels the best, when we spend time with her.
And then, to summarize it all, to finalize it, we spend time with Onodera. It was a nice moment, but it felt awfully tacked on, as if the show had to actually remind us that one of the two main contenders even exists, and that’s one of the biggest issues with this so-called harem, or even so-called love-triangle, that it’s narratively a mess (this almost feels like Shaft poking more fun at themselves, just as they did with early Mekakucity Actors, where “You’re all style and no substance!” is actually said), and doesn’t actually manage to balance all the balls it has in the air.
It was an enjoyable show, and I like RomComs even though they rarely give you progress, for those moments of “almost”, and reconciliation after the required fights, but this show sometimes went too far in undoing any effects of anything actually happening, unlike some other shows (ToraDora, for instance). But when it did do those small awkward moments, I smiled and loved it for giving me what I wanted – which is not “special”, but is enjoyable.
5) Sidonia no Kishi (Knights of Sidonia) episode 7
This is a well-directed show. The narrative had always reminded me of a standard mecha show, and specifically of NGE, and it somewhat continues. But the relations between people are somewhat different. We have people doingeverything to get those that pose a threat to them out of the way, including going as far as to engage in activities that could lead to their death, and that of everyone else – “Glory above all!” – the dangers of raising someone as a would-be messiah, eh?
There wasn’t that much character interactions going this episode, just some short exchanges, but they’ve been done well. We’ve mostly had the pacing of the scenes, and the camera work, and all of these worked very well. It was good stuff, though the narrative continues to be the show’s weakest part, it’s not actually weak, but about average.
Next week seems like we’d kick some narrative-plot-mystery into overdrive, again pushing some NGE similarities, which might kick the show to the next level.
Another solid episode of Mekakucity Actors. I won’t say it was “strong” or “good”, but the show is continuing to show signs of not being bad! Though we’ve got quite a few scenes of two people talking to one another, coupled with the required weird-poses, still-shots, silent moments, that mark Shinbo’s style of direction.
The characters continue to prove to us that they have real feelings, that they’re running away from expressing them, that they’re running away from admitting them. Grief for harm we have caused, and grief for friends that had been lost. Even Kano’s “inexplicable” behaviour makes sense – he is angry at those who try to forget someone that to him cannot be forgotten, who had gotten to speak with said person after he did.
We had seen more plot-lines converge, and gotten some more plot-explanations for where we are, but that bit wasn’t as interesting – it’s filling in the non-character/non-emotional blanks, but until they actually do something with it, it’s meaningless, for thus far this is very much not a character-driven show.
Also, the very first scene after returning to present-time, with the bunch talking to one another just felt completely empty.
7) Fairy Tail episode 8
A big part of my enjoyment of Fairy Tail certainly comes from its music. This episode was somewhat of a “return to the good days”, where our friends unleashed their fists and magic, buoyed by the power of music (and friendship)! Not great, but certainly felt appreciated after the slog of the last few episodes. And it’s going to get better from here on.
8) JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders episode 8
Yeah, this season seems to be going pretty hard for horror, but thinking of it, didn’t Phantom Blood’s second half do so as well?
This episode was so very JoJo, with ridiculous opponents, with hilarious fights, and a fight of determination. There were various moments that didn’t “make sense”, but it’s JoJo, I guess. The doll running around like a madman, the curses, everything. Now to see if they keep ramping up the madness.
The “negotiation” in this episode reminded me of the negotiation in Log Horizon, which was drawn out, somewhat obtuse, and not that interesting. Here it’s as if someone cross-bred it with Code Geass, so it has some of the air of tricking the other side, but is just not presented all that well. I think it’s the difference between writing the negotiation so it’d fit the anime and the narrative from the get-go to trying to adapt one from a written-novel, often with cutting out some of the explanation, and that it’s probably not that easy to write in the first place.
Aside from that, there’s very little that actually happened this episode, and the most excitement that is to be found is in the ominous cliffhanger the episode ended with, but that’s not really something for this episode.
What is worst about Black Bullet? Its comedy. And if we mention comedy and Black Bullet, then it means we also get another mention of Kisara’s “big boobs” and the highschool romance routine where people ask whether she and Rentaro care for one another to their outraged denials.
What is best about Black Bullet? Well, I dunno if “best” is the best way to put it, but it doubles as a pretty nice Moe Slice of Life show. I mean, just look at these two! The cute homey bits were really cute, and I even liked it when Tina referred to Rentaro as “Onii-san”, for the same reason I actually think that when Enju is possessive of Rentaro it’s a bit cute – because he is an older brother figure to them. I don’t think of their interactions as sexual, but as a cute case of young ducklings thinking a shoe is their mother.
But I did comment as soon as it appeared – that I bet many of the fans are going to lap it up like that, and whaddayaknow? We immediately after see Tina (yes, she’s cute) adopting the same sort of facial expression Miley Cyrus did in that infamous Vanity Fair photoshoot, which one can only describe as “post-coital”. It’s not just the semi-creepy fan-service, it’s this show’s awful attempt at humor, once again.
This show is following a pretty set trend – set up the human city, and set up Rentaro’s life – show us what he stands to lose, and then introduce something that forces him to fight. The action is solid, and the voice acting is as well. I actually like the horrible humanity – they dine and make merry to take their minds off of their impending doom, and take their anger at those who keep reminding them their past losses. I like them narratively, that is.
Still, this episode was an extra-heavy dose of bad comedy, and the narrative arc feels a bit tired to me.
This episode was actually sort of boring to me? It had some ridiculous over-the-top blood-splatter and cackling villain at the start, and some of the dumbest non-funny humor ever seen in an anime, but most of the episode between a humdrum story of hoodlums that need to be rescued actually did its job – of presenting to us this war-torn world, and how most people are still trying to rebuild their lives, that had been destroyed even when they hadn’t been directly involved in the fighting.
It’s just that this episode wasn’t very interesting, funny, or cute. It was just sort of there, painting the world and giving us hints of what is to come in the first 15 seconds and last 15 seconds, showing us it’s a breathing world, even where our main characters aren’t present.
I’m deeply concerned, you guys.
I like shounen shows. I’ve watched hundreds of episodes of Naruto, I’ve watched all of Bleach, all of Fairy Tail, I’ve liked all of these shows. I’ve watched Index, and Railgun, and I’m a big fan of Sword Art Online. I’m breaking down Mahouka Koukou no Rettousei on a weekly basis. It’s not very hard. I’m showing what it does wrong, how the tropes of the genre are empty wish-fulfillment, how the narrative of this show is poor and doesn’t add up, and I’m worried that I wouldn’t be able to stop, that this show is ruining popcorn shounen shows for me, that from now on I won’t only see in the back of my mind, but feel the need to explicate all the shows’ subtexts, and all the ways in which their narratives fail, and thus ruin this fun for me.
Something that is related to both this show and Fairy Tail is that I’ve read the currently adapted material. I know what is to come. On one hand, it means my mind isn’t busy trying to think up what is happening, or what is about to happen, because I know it all. It also means, as is often the case with rewatching, that I pay more attention to small details, and can notice more subtext, whether it be good or bad.
Now, it’s not that bad, no, not Mahouka, which is, but the “problem” – it’s because even reading Mahouka I didn’t think it was very good, so while the issue may be exacerbated by prior engagement with the material, it’s still there, which brings us to this episode in particular. This show shows a complete lack of understanding of how conflicts work, of how obstacles work. There are no obstacles, the foreshadowing that appears is heavy-handed and poor. When something is presented just so our protagonist will solve it immediately, it doesn’t feel as a true obstacle had been overcome. When no price is paid, the so-called “conflict” feels as a non-conflict, and as empty calories.
We all like to joke about “The power of friendship!” in most shounens, and how characters get defeated but are truly Determinators, who only rise and fight harder after being beaten, and from a meta-narrative level we know the protagonists would win, right? But there is some tension, some growth, some pain and action the characters must undergo. This series simply removes all of that, giving us a supporting cast that either doesn’t recognize Tatsuya which is supposed to make his awesome seem as if he “overcame” something, or that keeps saying just how amazing Tatsuya is – but it’s a classic case of “The lady doth protest too strongly!” – If Tatsuya had been convincingly awesome, they wouldn’t have needed the rest of the cast to point it out Every. Gorram. Second.
The “Bloomers” bit was hilarious in a physical gag sort of way, and though it wasn’t explained in the anime, actually relates to some world-building going on in the light novels, but you could also look at it as if it contains some puritan subtext (to go along with all the titillation?) and if you really want to be tongue-in-cheek, is related to how in the series’ world, there isn’t global warming in our future, but global cooling. You can read my linked piece for more explanation, and also of what’s going on with the flying magic, which wasn’t explained well in the anime (and well, the LNs didn’t explain it all that well either, I’m distilling it to you sans all the jargon).
But with every episode, we draw nearer to some action. The soccer match was actually well-animated.
The more I watch this season and think back on previous ones, the more I realize I really enjoy shounen shows a lot more when I marathon them, even when I recognize them as “not good”, not having to break down each episode on its own, and diving into the world is just more enjoyable and less tiring. Makes me go “Hm” about next season.
Anyway, it was a weird week. Most of my popcorn shows failed to satisfy me, but the rest were pretty solid! Even the Black Bullet, NGNL, and Chaika trinity, they weren’t bad, as much as they just did nothing to truly impress me. I think Black Bullet may have been the one out of those I enjoyed the most, and even enjoyed more than JoJo, but its bad parts dragged it down. Fairy Tail certainly was a mixed-bag. Honestly, spots 1-5 were good, 6-11 were sort of, and could be re-shuffled around.