Winter 2016 – (Late) Act II Thoughts

Well, we’re a little late once again, but sometimes you’ve just got to align leisure activity with free time…or in Haru’s case, hell. Sorry, Haru. Give him a round of applause, folks.

With just about 2 or 3 weeks left in the winter 2016 season, he and Yata are back to update you with their thoughts on this season’s shows, many of which haven’t changed all that much.

There are a couple which have.

Mostly for the worse.

Find out why and more below on this belated update from For Great Justice!

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ASSASSINATION CLASSROOM SECOND SEASON

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“About the other night…”

Harubro:
It’s kind of weird that now that a lot of crazy battle shit has gone down with the AssClass anime as of late, that the point that it would drop the ball would be the breather bits which seemed sort of fun as I read the manga. Except it’s not, once one comes to the striking realization that it’s just slogging though what ended up being the slowest part of the whole franchise.

Case in point, Nagisa’s mother going completely off the deep end, attempting to force her idea of an ideal life upon her son by drugging him and trying to coerce him to burn down the building that houses his now beloved End Class. Pretty fucked up in retrospect, but Nagisa ends up thwarting that plan and eventually reconciles with the parental unit. Sure, almost every outsider (especially adults) having some sort of irrationally seething rage against the E Class is one of the establishing things of this series, but this was pretty overboard. For once, a Seiji Kishi show’s fuck-up isn’t even Seiji Kishi’s fault! Incredible.

Acknowledging that this point in the series was one of the weakest bits of the AssClass saga, things will begin to move on from here on, with the school festival episode acting as a pretty cozy recovery, with even better arcs on the horizon. As I write this, the final chapter of the manga is in the process of being released, and AssClass’ final arc was a joy to read, albeit a predictable one, but a joy nonetheless. The anime should improve from here on, as there’s a lot more battles and crazy antics to come. I’m just left wondering if they’re going to attempt to cram that final arc into the upcoming second cour.

Either way, I’ve stuck to my guns on AssClass for far too long to drop out now. When it’s at its best, this show is too much fun to even think about it.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 10 episodes and two cours of prior material.

BBK/BRNK (BUBUKI BURANKI)

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tfw Monday mornings

Harubro:
Somehow, I’m still hanging around with Bubuki Buranki, but not before I temporarily dropped it for a week or two following the fifth episode. Things just got sort of stale and same-old same-old fighting with another member of big bad Banryuu’s team, but the introduction of the rival Bubuki teams was a real shot in the arm for the show.

It all started with the introduction of Epizo Evans and the American Bubuki team, who are every bit as flamboyantly American as you would expect. You can very easily imagine “America, Fuck Yeah” or just about any other patriotically American song blasting in the background as the Americans go about their business of attempting to resurrect the American Buranki.

With the introduction of the American team, it seems almost a dead giveaway that there’d also be a Russian Bubuki team hellbent on achieving their goal in the most brutally efficient way, because y’know, Mother Russia and all that fun stuff. Aside from their brooding leader, the Russian team is almost hilariously incompetent after their edgy introduction, with their various team members getting pummeled by Shizuru the combat wiz, or swatted away like flies by a Buranki.

Also of note with Bubuki Buranki, I only recently found out that this show shares its Art Director with the likes of Kill la Kill and Senyuu, which explains a ton about why the show is at its best when there’s either a big battle or a bunch of silly antics going down. I’ve already stated before that I enjoy BBK/BRNK’s CG animation, and it’s only become more endearing after seeing it applied to some of the sillier scenes that have popped up as of late here.

The story is still clumsy and falls over itself a lot, but still manages to maintain some sense of coherence when all is said and done. We’ve had Azuma go through a typical central protag struggle with him being unable to use his Heart bubuki for a few episodes while the Americans were after him. He overcomes this, of course, and he and his comrades proceed forth to Treasure Island, the Buranki nest, where they run into Azuma’s mother, who looks after them for a bit. A bit of peaceful time goes by, then stuff goes awry in a hurry as everyone else appears to have followed their trail.

Big battle time begins now with BBK/BRNK, and I feel this show is worth just enough to warrant sticking around to see how it goes.
Current score: 6/10
Still watching after 10 episodes.

DAGASHI KASHI

DK

I candy-ven handle jokes as bad as the one you’re reading right now.

Yatahaze:
Over the last few months, I think it’s safe to say Dagashi Kashi has proven itself to be two shows wrapped up in one package. It’s half candy-centered predictable gag comedy and half laid-back summery slice of life. One of these is consistently fun to sit back to and enjoy. The other is frustratingly spotty.

Go ahead and take a guess which one’s which.

Yep, the sweets skits have passed their expiration date. The comedic timing in these segments is dry and they almost invariably lack punch, mostly due to their repetitive nature (look at the latest episode for an example, which was essentially four consecutive “Hotaru, you’re an oblivious dingbat” lampshades in a row). Unlike their counterparts in the series’ earliest episodes, these sequences have also grown less fond of their biggest highlight – anthropomorphized candy dream spots. Like, this little bit was certainly welcomed in episode 9 after over a month of candy talk but no candy talking.

But that’s not the real highlight of Dagashi Kashi and for a while there, I thought the show realized it too. When you put this cast into dagashi-advertising mode, there are only so many roles they can play; Hotaru has to be obsessed, uncorrected, and ridiculous, Kokonotsu has to be the straight man, Saya has to be easily flustered and Tou has to be the bro-dude. But remove the dagashi (or minimize its influence in a scene) and suddenly you’ve got a whole different playing field, one where the quartet can casually mess around on equal terms and contribute something worthwhile to each other. At no point was this emphasized better than in the series’ 7th episode, where the gang heads off to a summer festival. Kokonotsu’s Dad, realizing Saya is into his son, gets ol’ Coconuts to abandon their festival stand and go on a little date. Tou, actually wanting to feel useful for once, takes over in his stead. And Hotaru has a blast throughout the whole episode in a way that comes off as charming instead of grating because her presence is moderated and her jokes refined. While this wasn’t a completely self-isolated thing (the “stuck inside during a typhoon” scene and Kokonotsu playing along with Hotaru’s gags in episode 5 were also highlights that showcased the show’s more lackadaisical and better written side), they’re still too few and far between to make Dagashi Kashi anything more than a sweet tooth time-killer. It’s fine in small servings, but I’m glad it’s only one season, cause I’d get a cavity (or a mouth ulcer) if it kept going any longer.
Current score: 5.5/10
Still watching
after 9 episodes.

DIMENSION W

Dimension W

Nice to see even the show’s leads are uniformly cringing at how bad this is.

Yatahaze:
Well, this one fell apart pretty quickly. I would’ve been fine with Dimension W being this season’s Dagashi Kashi of action sci-fis, something with a little substance, a consistent tone, and while not overambitious, certainly capable of telling a story worth checking back in on each week.

Unfortunately, by episode 5, Dimension W started to prove it would be none of those things. The second half of the series’ first two-parter, that episode signaled the start of a long and frustrating series of poor narrative turns. What bothers me isn’t that Dimension W doesn’t make sense on more intellectual terms – it was clear from the start that it wouldn’t be that kind of show (if drawing a negative line on an existing one in the plane wasn’t enough of a give-away).

No, it’s that even as a senseless cheaply-produced action show with plot twists for the sake of plot twists and dialogue so bad even a child would cringe at it, it’s surprisingly boring. Not to mention that its attempts at establishing “deeper” characterization for the viewer to feel engaged are exaggerated to their extremes, having the reverse effect. Like, in whose head was it that “I need the audience to feel sad for this side-story plot device character, so I’ll have her be threatened with rape and then fail at saving her friends only to be discovered dead by her love interest to cry about it and haunt everyone” was a good idea? That happened.

That actually happened.

And then “magical telepathic earrings for ambiguous stereotyped African dictator-princes” happened. And then “letting Kyouma know in a flashback that his almost incurably sick girlfriend was beheaded in a coil accident and then letting him wander a couple rooms over to see her decapitated corpse on a gurney” happened. And then “Mira is actually said girlfriend’s body, because that makes a hell of a lot of sense” happened. Did I mention the rape thing? Oh, and what about everyone going back to Easter Island and fighting floating orbs and robot guards and…

Get the point? Dimension W is bad, and the above paragraphs only scratched the surface of its incomprehensible decisions this past month. To make matters worse, it’s a complete chore to push through, making a hatewatch through its final few episodes all but impossible. I won’t be wasting my time on it anymore, and if you’re still there with it, surely you can admit the same would probably be for the best.
Final score: 2.5/10
Dropped after 9 episodes.

DURARARA!!x2 KETSU

DRRR

“Anri, stop. We’ve already cut enough corners getting so many cours of this shit out.”

Yatahaze:
Shit is finally hitting the fan. I feel like I say this every time, but it’s more and more true with each post. DRRR is past the limit of analysis. It’s just an out-of-control roller coaster growing ever clusterfucked with each passing episode. Celty’s head has been reunited with her body, a growing horde of Nasujima-controlled Saikas have surrounded Russian Sushi, Izaya’s been bloodied and beaten to the near-verge of death (but he’s not going down without a fight), and Masaomi and Mikado, at last alone on a rooftop, reveal to each other their true identities. This is what some 50+ episodes of buildup have led to.

And though the animation quality and character model consistency have been stretched to their limits at this point, I’m still loving every second of it.
Current score: 8.5/10
Still watching after 10 episodes and four prior cours-worth of material.

ERASED (BOKU DAKE GA INAI MACHI)

ERASED

If only I could erase some of this show from my memory.

Yatahaze:
It’s impossible to put into words just how conflicted I feel with ERASED right now. I think it’s safe to say that spoilers lie ahead. Picture this website is actually a grocery store. There is a display stand of spoilers inside. And I’m not just going to accidentally tap it over or bump a cart into it. Nah, I’m driving straight through the front wall from the parking lot with an 18-wheeler and taking that stand and anything else in the way down with me. Hell, I’ll even go clean through the back side of the store and steer the thing into a frozen river. The gloves are coming off and it’s impossible to avoid what’s been coming.

It’s time to stop being courteous to ERASED.

On one hand, while week 10 is normally an extremely awkward point in a season to review a single-cour show, ERASED pulled out its grand anti-reveal at just the right time for me to not sugarcoat my feelings about the season’s popular hit any longer. ERASED had significant early highs, but it hit a stumble at its halfway point. Episodes 5 and 6 contained outsourced material whose execution and rushed hackneyed “back in the present” plot events sank the series to a new low. The show gained back its emotional resonance and directorial momentum afterward, leading up to a heartwarming conclusion to Kayo’s arc. But with 4 episodes left, manga-readers’ fears were realized: the show had too little time. It had to rush again. And this reveal?

This reveal was just plain ugly, and not necessarily because it was poorly executed (though that’s certainly part of it) or because it came out of left field. Let’s be clear – if that did come out of nowhere for you, you clearly haven’t been paying attention. If Yuuki wasn’t the killer, the rules of mystery-writing dictate that it had to have been another mature character the audience knew, and there simply wasn’t anyone else in the 1988 timeline this whole time it could’ve been but Yashiro. It was a fact I wanted to ignore, clinging to the idea that maybe a new more fitting character would have a late but not-too-late introduction and be the ultimate Big Bad. But alas, Yashiro was the serial killer after all.

Still, that’s not the problem. The problems are that his “motive” was edgy pointless mumbo-jumbo and the show executed his behavior during his and Satoru’s drive to isolation as bewilderingly cartoony. ERASED has had problems with this before; overtly showing some of Kayo’s abuse, the cheesy villainous grins on the show’s “evildoers,” the glowing red eyes. All those directorial choices placed far too little faith in the audience to grasp the situation without over-the-top theatrics in a show that was otherwise quite understated and careful about its mood. Yashiro’s timing and the way his ride was framed were quite good; the seatbelt trouble, the glove box call-back, the uneasy finger tapping. That was all great buildup. But when it came time for him to reveal all, he sounded more like a Scooby Doo antagonist who got far too much joy out of finally getting away with it despite this one meddling kid. And don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the ultimate turn of events happened and that the killer methodically targeted, manipulated, and took down Satoru – that was karma which, again, Satoru should’ve predicted would happen long before he did. But presenting it this way was just too cheap.

And it’s such a shame, because when ERASED’s core mystery thriller aesthetics took the back burner to Satoru and Kayo’s arc, an arc about friendship, trust, and the gray area of heroism, it was a genuinely fantastic show. The production stayed crisp and impressive even without that focus. But the fact that ERASED is cashing in on its “mystery thriller” aspect here at the end has me wondering why anyone believed they could succeed at it with no actual mystery. When the perpetrator is obvious by narrative necessity, the question then becomes “why?” and Yashiro has no “why” yet aside from some bullshit about how “good deeds and evil deeds are the same, so why only do good deeds?”

Like…what?

And here’s the worst thing:
ERASED is, at times, a genuinely good show. It had great ideas. It executed a handful of those ideas fantastically. But it’s too damn convoluted for its own good. There’s just no way around it. Too many narrative variables at play yet too few potential outcomes. Speaking of which, it’s not done yet. We’ve still got 2 more weeks to see how Satoru somehow stays alive and doesn’t send the universe into a time paradox. This is a series whose success was contingent upon how it would tie up all its loose threads, and while the ride was enjoyable and at times exemplary up until now, A-1 just picked up the first of several strings and set it aflame.

What a goddamn shame.
Current score: 6.5/10 (but you’d better believe that’s only for the production values and Kayo’s arc – and expect it to drop even further by season’s end).
Still watching after 10 episodes.

GRIMGAR OF FANTASY AND ASH

Grimgar

Theory: Everyone wandered into Grimgar after getting distracted playing Pokémon Go.

Yatahaze:
Of all this season’s middle of the pack entries, I’m pleased to report that Grimgar is, aside from constant off-model character design issues, not only staying watchable, but actually thriving in every other possible way.

Scrapping the light novel antics early, the series has honed in on its calm eye-appealing aesthetics and natural voice acting to craft a low-key fantasy drama that’s less about killing goblins as it is getting over grief from friends lost. Its sense of pacing is fantastic, its polish (again, in all respects aside from character model consistency) is evident in each scene, and most importantly, its soul is in the forefront. Each character has their own strides and insecurities, and watching them learn to trust and befriend one another in the face of mutual misery, growing closer together as a party as a result, has been the show’s primary goal, one that it’s achieving spectacularly. Grimgar may not set out to do a whole lot, but it’s a much more concise and enjoyable show because of that, not in spite of it. With no sign of its target disappearing, I can only hope the show will stay intact in its final episodes. As is, it’s winter 2016’s crowning underdog, and as far as “shows that aren’t Sekkou Boys” goes, second only to a certain masterpiece I wrote off back in February but had a change of heart towards. I’ll address that shortly. Grimgar may not necessarily be flawless or outstandingly impressive in any way aside from its gorgeous backgrounds, but it’s a competent little slice-of-adventure with a heart of gold and charm to spare.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 10 episodes.

HAIKYUU!! SECOND SEASON

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Good sports anime is good sports anime.

Harubro:
Volleyball is a good, fun sport.

A lot of people wouldn’t think of it as a sport that can leave you hanging on the edge of your seat as a game progresses, but a lot of them are wrong. Case in point, Karasuno’s rematch versus Aoba Johsai, who booted them out of the prefectural tourney last season in a pitched match.

Their second matchup in tournament play seems even more heated than the last, perhaps because Aoba Johsai has a young goon on their squad that makes Karasuno’s boisterous upperclassman Tanaka seem well-mannered. A fun bit during this match was seeing Yamaguchi get his redemption upon being called to pinch-serve in the second set, though it was a bit disappointing to see Karasuno let said set go. Seems like it’ll always be tit-for-tat between these two teams.

It seems as though Aoba Johsai’s flexible defensive prowess has forced Hinata into a corner, with most of his spikes getting received with ease, which has him visibly vexed. I’m beginning to wonder how much longer the match will go before Hinata figures out the Rule of Cool and starts sneaking shots past the blockers, because y’know, shounen sports anime. Protagonists have gotta win at some point, right?

We should be set for a fun little conclusion to this particular season of the Volleybros, though I’m pretty positive news of another season should show up before too long. Good stuff.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 23 episodes and two prior cours’ worth of material.

KONOSUBA (KONO SUBARASHII SEKAI NI SHUKUFUKU WO)

Konosuba

Who actually has the silliest name in this quartet? Go ahead, take a guess.

Yatahaze:
Wasn’t planning to include a final thoughts piece in this article, but oh well, Konosuba decided to end with a mere 10 episodes. The good news is this season’s little fantasy harem adventure that could chugged along fine all the way to its conclusion. Konosuba is one of those shows whose gimmick is obvious from the beginning; it’s a comedy series that shrewdly pokes at its characters and their own little quirks and uses those quirks and the viewer’s expectations to continuously flip the tables. At the season’s start, I worried the new additions to Kazuma and Aqua’s little party would end up being too one-note to work, Megumin the token reckless pyromaniac and Darkness the token masochistic goofball, and while that unfortunately sometimes remained true, Konosuba often found ways to set them up in situations where their idiosyncrasies still gave birth to hilarious character interaction. Aqua and Kazuma were still plenty endearing in their passive-aggressive behavior towards each other, and while individually these characters are far from great, together they form an entertaining bunch to follow around.

The world itself also contains its fair share of inherent silliness. With “enemies” ranging from flying cabbages to haunted dolls and beyond, part of Konosuba’s comedy relies on the way it mixes its strange (but not too strange) happenings and  its “all for one” sense of community. I’m enjoying how all the more fantasy-esque elements (like raising stat levels and such) are kind of glossed over and casually mentioned without too much exposition. It allows the viewer to take the circumstances of this world as they come, and with implications that are as fairly self-explanatory as these, that decision aids the narrative tone. The real meat of this show is seeing a bunch of underachieving adventurers bicker and chill in near-perpetual poverty despite their surreal efforts to change that.

Konosuba’s biggest downfalls are its terribly off-model character designs (which actually grew more funny to look at over time) and its inconsistency with jokes. They often take a standard fantasy situation and mess with it a bit, each character adding their own thing to the mix, so sometimes the outcome is predictable…or just not funny in the first place. That said, its final few weeks contained its best sets of material to date, so hopefully that momentum will carry into its greenlit second season. Though it’s not as consistently laugh-out-loud hilarious as it would need to be to get a glowing recommendation from me, as a popcorn show that brings a decent amount of low-key chuckles each week, Konosuba’s a fine watch.
Final score: 6.5/10

MYRIAD COLORS PHANTOM WORLD

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blah

Yatahaze:
It’s not exactly that Phantom World got worse. It was always kind of the bottom of this season’s barrel as far as “things that are pretty enough to watch” go.

Well, I mean, I do think it genuinely did get worse, and by that I mean it got predictable and – somehow – even more shallow than it started out as. I can only take so much fanservice without any semblance of an overarching plot. At some point, it starts getting tepid, and everything past episode 4 (which I think was actually pretty good) just kept sliding further and further down a slippery slope of pointless episodic tomfoolery which, despite acting as if they’re supposed to be self-contained, seemed to keep getting brought up in the episodes afterward. And if Phantom World was more about its world than it was its “plot,” that would be okay too, but it’s really not, nor is it about character interaction, or even trying to keep up the façade that it is by this point. Phantom World is Fanservice World.

And frankly, the only thing the fanservice has going for it is that it’s animated and drawn by KyoAni. Phantom World screams “light-novel cash grab,” and with it growing less and less entertaining each week, this is where I jump ship.
Final score: 3.5/10
Dropped after 9 episodes.

Harubro:
Inexplicably, I’ve managed to stick around with Colorful Fanservice World. Maybe it’s my need to blow off steam built up during the first bit of the needlessly stressful work week. This show has continued to amuse me despite its complete lack of a coherent storyline or any meaningful character development.

We’re like 10 episodes in now, and Colorful Fanservice World has proceeded purely on a case-by-case episodic manner with nothing resembling a story arc to be found. These episodes have also been utterly unrelated to one another, with the exception of the occasional appearance of a mysterious device that Haruhiko happened upon a few episodes back. The device is always shown is some sort of foreboding manner, but this being Fanservice World, I really don’t know if the damn thing is important or not.

For me, at the very least, the last two episodes were the best ones thus far, my favorite being the episode where Haruhiko and friends get roped into helping the Drama Club (and by drama club I mean one lone senpai, because of course there’d only be one member) put on a period drama depicting an incident involving the Shinsengumi. Because Drama Club-senpai was actually a Phantom, the play ends up becoming much more immersive than our group bargained for. That particular episode actually ended up being a lot of fun to watch for me, as did the following episode where Ruru makes a wish to masquerade as a student of the academy.

I’m not even trying to pretend this show is good, because aside from the sweet, sweet KyoAni art and animation, Colorful Fanservice World is still a shamelessly silly chuuni harembait show. At least it is very self-aware of that fact, as are the folks who are cranking this out, for they have some very highly anticipated works waiting in the wings as they bide their time on this nonsense. I’ve already wasted too much of my time on this fun little train wreck of a show to quit now, so I intend to sit this one out till the very end.
Current score: 4/10
Still watching after too many episodes.

SEKKOU BOYS

SEKKOU

S-E-K-K-O! B-O-Y-S! SEKKOU!

Yatahaze:
Sekkou Boys is still Sekkou Boys.
That’s pretty much all you need to know.
Current score: Yes/10
Still watching after 10 episodes.

SHOUWA GENROKU RAKUGO SHINJUU

Rakugo

He really didn’t have sexual relations with that woman. Hillary would be proud.

Yatahaze:
The first episode of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was a lackluster and misleading opener on its own. I still stand by my opinion that it simply wasn’t very good.

That said, it was ultimately necessary in order for Rakugo’s later dramatic tension to work. And what’s more, every single second of the series from episode 2 onward has been increasingly fantastic. With ERASED falling apart beyond repair, Rakugo is handily the best full-length show the winter 2016 season has to offer.

So uh…whoops. Sorry for writing it off so quickly. Allow me to get you caught up:

First and foremost, if you, like I, watched none of Rakugo beyond its first episode (or didn’t even get that far), I should probably emphasize that this story is not about the first episode’s pseudo-protagonist Yotarou, but actually about his master, the 8th generation Yakumo Yuurakutei. And when I say it’s about the 8th generation Yakumo Yuurakutei, I more accurately mean it’s about Kikuhiko Yuurakutei, though aside from the social standing implied by the name, they’re the same person. Kiku was taken in as a young lad by the 7th generation Yakumo (from this point on just referred to as Yakumo or the elder Yakumo) after a childhood leg injury left him incapable of dancing. He wasn’t the only rakugo apprentice under Yakumo’s custody though; a carefree, dirty, poor mutt of a kid named Shin (later Hatsutaro and then even later Sukeroku, which he’ll be called for the rest of this) was also reluctantly accepted by the elder Yakumo. And from the outset, it’s clear that between the two, Sukeroku has more passion for rakugo, but more precisely, more passion for his vision of rakugo.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu’s first half features the two “brothers” growing up, competing for their master’s respect and their own sense of fulfillment, and whatever else life in the mid-20th century throws their way, from war to love to repetitive aimless days. Its first 7 or so episodes are a slowly-unfurling ride that loosely keeps the viewer’s attention between lengthy (though much better-executed and more personality-filled) rakugo performances and what appeared to be a brief love triangle between the two men and a geisha acquaintance of Yakumo’s named Miyokichi.

But alas, that can’t last forever, and as Rakugo hit its halfway point, the adult slice-of-life turned into straight up adult drama. Tension between Sukeroku and his master over what constituted “accepted rakugo” led the latter to favor a budding Kikuhiko, and as the apprentices split up on their own paths in life, so too did the people around them. The first episode made it clear that Konatsu, Sukeroku’s (and if I’m inferring correctly, Miyokichi’s) daughter, blames Kikuhiko for her father’s death. But why? How does he actually pass? Why did all this tension carry over into another generation? What really led Kikuhiko to take on Yotarou as an apprentice after years of turning people away? These questions loom over every increasingly tense and gripping second of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and transform it from a mere tale of one man’s life into a foreshadowed tragedy without going overboard in the directorial department. To contrast with ERASED, Rakugo works because its outcome is obvious, but not its twist, something that other show foolishly decided to flip around. Rakugo also more consistently understands nuance in sound design and animation. It’s less showy, and in turn has more to show for itself. And while ERASED’s momentum has been all over the place over the last three months, Rakugo started with few stakes but has increasingly built more and more of them up with a masterful touch.

Super-duper spoilers for episode 10 in the paragraph below. You’ve been warned.

Beyond its personal drama, there’s also the ongoing metaphor for the death of “old rakugo.” The series’ commentary on art transforming with each generation pairs up extremely well with the decrease in popularity of an art form such as rakugo in a hierarchical and technologically-advancing society like Shouwa-era Japan. “The arts are as fragile as a soap bubble,” Kikuhiko laments in the show’s latest episode, and that statement couldn’t be more true. As the elder Yakumo withholds his title from the rebellious Sukeroku, we see him reject the natural adaptation of their art form. Sukeroku’s constant comeback is “if the people enjoy it and I enjoy it, that’s all that should matter,” and while it’s more than just differing ideology that tears Sukeroku away from his master and “brother,” that part of the tension is repeatedly stressed. On the contrary, while Kikuhiko also finds his own style of rakugo, one that’s restrained enough to be generally accepted by the art’s masters, it too is different enough that the elder Yakumo, while proud of him, doesn’t even want to pass his title on down, nor does Kikuhiko initially want to accept it. Even Yakumo’s death doesn’t immediately usher in the passing down of the Yakumo name, as Kikuhiko performs the following day in the show’s most tortured rakugo performance yet, one where a man is visited by a shinigami (god of death). Kiku’s acting here is phenomenally frightening, with the art direction filling the screen with candles and blankness, the man alone on the stage he’s occupied for so long in someone else’s – and society’s – shadow. He ends the performance in a curled up ball on the floor, panting. “This is the solitude I’ve longed for,” he thinks. The weight of the past is gone. He can be free. But he can’t. He’s got followers still begging him for apprenticeship, his second-hand man Matsuda to console about his wife’s illness, and a lead to follow regarding where Sukeroku’s been all this time, with the world moving on around them.

All that occurred in just the last episode too. Rakugo’s picking up speed as it comes closer to making its run full circle, and if you haven’t started watching it yet, you need to marathon what you can ASAP. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is one of those shows that will reward with rewatching, so maybe in the near future I’ll do some sort of episodic analysis for it. It certainly deserves one, and what’s more, it deserves an apology from me. This is the best proper (*cough* Sekkou Boys) show this season, bar none, and the only one from this winter that I would consider an Anime of the Year contender. I jinxed that last time, but with as much consistent brilliance as it’s shown so far, I have no doubt Rakugo will eventually rank among the year’s best.
Current score: 9.5/10
Still watching after 10 episodes.

SNOW WHITE WITH THE RED HAIR (AKAGAMI NO SHIRAYUKI-HIME)

Shirayuki

Snowjo White finally pays off.

Yatahaze:
I’m relieved to say that Snow White with the Red Hair’s second cour is improving on its first in pretty much every way imaginable. Maybe it’s just because I got what I wished for (less overt focus on Shirayuki and Zen and more time spent with side characters outside the castle), but I’d actually say that for all its first season’s teasing about how it could be something more enticing than what it was, cour two has been on top of everything. Not only was the group’s little journey to Tanbarun and their subsequent hostage crisis really entertaining, it gave the rest of the cast tons of space to come into their own. Whereas I was losing interest at the end of season one because few if any of the characters felt like they were truly people outside of their shoed-in relationships to the show’s romantic pair, season two’s plot points, both arc-length and episodic, have allowed them the ability to more naturally grow without any noticeable forced exposition. The dialogue seems to have grown much more conversational as well.

Not to mention we got to see tons of Raj, and Raj is the best character in this show, so yeah.

Now that the gang’s back in Clarines, can it stick the landing though? The latest episode showed Zen fulfilling his duties interviewing women (well, a woman) to be his potential wife, and it only made clear that he does truly want to be with Shirayuki for life. Under Izana’s watch (always my least favorite part of this show), maybe their marriage will actually happen, but while Shirayuki and Zen’s relationship has progressed smoothly over the course of this cour, it hasn’t ever struck me as one ready for that stage of commitment either. How Snow White With The Red Hair plays its final hand will ultimately determine how I’ll rank it, but as of this moment, cour two has me thoroughly pleased.
Current score: 8/10
Still watching after 10 episodes of the 2nd cour, 22 episodes total.

And that’s it for now! With this season ending and spring around the bend in a couple weeks, hopefully we’ll be back soon to give everyone some final thoughts and first impressions! Til next time, this has been For Great Justice.

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