Oh, quit yer cryin’! Yeah, 2017 was great, and this fall was stacked in particular, but all good things must come to an end. With the new year practically on our doorstep, we can’t wait forever to wrap up our final thoughts on this season’s offerings. Which shows stuck the landing? Which ones did we awkwardly watch faceplant over and over? And – could it be? Is there a 10/10 lurking below? We’re sure you’re looking ahead to 2018 by now, but the fall needs closure, and Yata and Haru are here to give it to ya.
THE ANCIENT MAGUS’ BRIDE (MAHOUTSUKAI NO YOME)
“Yata? The guy talking up this adaptation to high heaven isn’t digging it? Really?”
I know, I know, and I’m willing to acknowledge this was probably a case of hype from retrospective taste. When I first discovered the Magus’ Bride manga, I had no expectations and set an incredibly low bar that it easily cleared. Studio Wit hasn’t failed to convey the series’ mythical awe as I understood it from print, but what hasn’t landed for me is something far more worrisome: the show’s human drama. Chise’s slowly realizing that she shouldn’t cling to Elias, nor is Elias entirely fit to play the husband role he’s building himself up as on equal terms. The supporting cast sees it how we do—their relationship is lopsided and awkward—and they’ve done well to speed up some recognition of the couple’s faults by urging them to act more accordingly. That’s fine, I suppose, though it took us a long time to get there and the actual change between the two tends to move at a snail’s pace anyway.
So yeah, “ambivalence” is probably the right word, because I know there’s even more elaboration to be done on Chise and Elias’ behalf, but so far I’m just not gripped by or invested in it. It doesn’t help that The Ancient Magus’ Bride’s dialogue feels stilted in this adaptation, constantly undercut by ill-timed comedic gags or flashbacks. Even when it should be performing at its prime, climactic scenes can sometimes feel limp from shots held obnoxiously long or its eagerness to keep things from ever getting too serious. Its manga was very much a mood manga for me, one that you could linger on or breeze through at your own pace, and thus none of those complaints were a problem. I’m usually not picky about this stuff either, but it’s frustrating when the content is there and the execution is what’s letting it down.
Still watchable? Certainly, and I’ll continue to tune in. My hope is that it picks up in its second half, and since this was around the point where I fell off the manga, the new developments from hereon out will be all new to me. Maybe that’ll change my appreciation of this adaptation, maybe not, but for all my disappointment, I still don’t think The Ancient Magus’ Bride is a poor show, just one that could’ve been substantially more refined.
Current score: 7/10
Still watching after 12 episodes.
BLOOD BLOCKADE BATTLEFRONT & BEYOND (KEKKAI SENSEN & BEYOND)
Guess which one was the most fun?
Yep, proving that less is more even in one of the more-iest shows of the year, Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond whipped out one of the franchise’s best episodes in “Bratatat Mom,” K. K.’s time to shine. So many of Libra’s head honchos have their minds elsewhere, and that elsewhere is usually something fleeting and cheap. It’s no exaggeration to say that Zapp and Chain, great comedic fodder they are, don’t quite appeal to the okaasan crowd. And then in comes Libra’s de facto mom eager to prove she can be an actual mom to her own kids while still kicking Blood Breed ass. With a shit-ton of dramatic irony and heart, this tenth episode was an encapsulation of all that makes BBB fun as well as all that makes B3&B a spiritual improvement over the show’s first season.
And yes, I’m standing firm on my assessment that B3&B was a more entertaining time than season one, albeit less ambitious. Where this season did strive to go the extra mile, it didn’t always pay off in the grandiose manner it could’ve, and I for one take that as a negative thing. The first aforementioned two-parter, “Desperate Fight in the Macro Zone,” introduced Leo’s unassuming friend Riel and his subconscious struggle to resist a microscopic terrorist who took over his body. Riel himself was a fine addition to the cast and sold his role well, but sometimes BBB loses track of its core stakes when it widens its scope, and that’s exactly what happened here. I’m in the minority on this one, but I’d say the same happened for “Spectral Eyes, Phantom Vision,” the Watch family-centric duo of closing episodes, where Leo gets stuck between a rock and a hard place when Michella and her possessed fiancé stop by for a visit. The finale’s falling action nicely calls back to Leo’s growth since season one, a time where he pitied himself for being a burden. Now, he truly feels used to Hellsalem’s Lot, and more importantly, self-confident enough to accept his newfound “family” in Libra. It’s not overstated throughout Beyond, nor does his character change much from this season’s introduction to its closing moments, but combined with the first season, the maturity is still sweet.
Getting there isn’t always a smooth ride – it’s not so much that Beyond’s lengthier stories aren’t amusing or impressive, but that they distill those sentiments into tiny moments instead of running wild with that energy, and it sometimes feels counter-intuitive, especially for a sequel which leans heavy on immediate gratification. But I don’t at all mean that as a bad thing: Blood Blockade Battlefront was such a niche conundrum of a series I was almost more engaged with its presentation than its plot, and I wasn’t sure if I’d feel the same about Beyond with a different crew at the helm. But Beyond ended up like the show I didn’t know I wanted BBB to be all along; a quick-moving popcorn watch with a bombastic cast roaming free, not chained down to any one central narrative. I’d be lying if I said B3&B was a consistent seasonal highlight, but it accomplished its main objective: to put a grin on my face time and time again.
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
CHILDREN OF THE WHALES (KUJIRA NO KORA WA SAJOU NI UTAU)
Don’t even get me started. I have nothing kind to say.
Oh, who are we kidding, I’m perpetually “started.” Here’s a recap of what happened in Children of the Whales: a few dozen people who refused to sacrifice their emotions were outcast from their land unto a ship that, instead of eating emotions, ate their lifespans. Generations passed and eventually the pariahs unfortunately ran back into their evictors, who gleefully massacred as many of them as they could. Twice. The second time, the outcasts fought back and managed to hold on with less casualties. This is where we were last time I checked in. By then, Children’s excessive exposition, tonal imbalances, and messy lore had long since turned me off to its potential. This was an ambitious title that simply flopped at the fundamentals by biting off more than it could chew too early. Incomprehensible worldbuilding and unendearing characters were one thing, especially for a show that burst out of the gates so quickly you barely had a hold on who to root for, much less why we should’ve been concerned about its antagonists. Time, however, was still on Children’s side. Skylos fended off and Falaina supposedly a more open society than at the series’ start, there were a ton of better directions this show could’ve traveled in its second half.
Instead, it mostly retreaded its own worst mistakes by keeping alive some of the shittiest characters I’ve seen all year and introducing a ton of new plot threads, none of which it bothered to even attempt completing. I guess the series came to a thematic close: given the choice, Falaina’s inhabitants learned the truth behind their manipulated past and looked towards a better future. Vague, eh? Of course it is – there were no enforced power dynamics on that ship, and not only did it lead to convenient, haphazard writing, it also meant we could barely glean the supposed changes it underwent. Make no mistake – this series’ one “resolution” still involves mutineers attacking their leaders and a rogue warrior attempting to sabotage kindhearted Chieftain Suou’s plans. It’s the closest viewers are given to a conclusion, and it made me damn glad I stopped caring about this show months ago. Lord knows how cheated I’d feel if I didn’t mentally tune out before the kokalo spirits, gratuitous imperialists, and jester eunuchs came into play.
“But Yata,” I’m sure you’re asking. Why would you willingly stay up to date with a show you thought was an unrepentant betrayal of potential?”
To tell you the truth, I don’t know.
I assume that’s not a satisfying answer, but hey, if you don’t like it, you probably won’t like the ones Children of the Whales posits either.
Final score: 3.5/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
FOOD WARS: THE THIRD PLATE (SHOKUGEKI NO SOUMA: SAN NO SARA)
Not sure how I missed the announcement that The Third Plate wouldn’t be two consecutive cours, but it’s a bummer to see it take three months off right as it got warm. This season had its fair share of bobbles, from some of the most tasteless fanservice since the franchise’s very beginning to a slew of Food Wars’ most one-note antagonists to date. Less on-screen food to drool over didn’t help either. But the central (hehe) conflict of this threequel—a ruthless insurrection from a disowned Totsuki alum and his Elite Ten cronies—is a fantastic place to take the show. Up until now, Souma’s proven he deserves a spot among the top brass despite coming from a family diner. On an individual basis, he’s flexed his skills almost flawlessly. But taking that position on an institutional level against culinary fascists who want to “cleanse” the country of “unfit chefs” is another matter.
It’s scary how closely Azami’s takeover aligns with our current political web over here in the States. Coincidental, I’m sure, but intent doesn’t make the content hit any softer. Food Wars’ heroes, even as rivals, have always been a group of talented minds. Whether it’s Souma, Erina, Alice, Hayama, whoever, they can show off individually, but they’re best suited for team endeavors, and that’s precisely what Totsuki’s coup allows them to do. When Central comes tearing apart student clubs, who’s there sticking up for the little guy? Our bunch. When Polar Star faces imminent destruction, who’ll defend it Home Alone-style? Rhetorical questions, these. It’s a little disappointing the likes of Tsukasa, a total wimp, and Azami’s goons, a ragtag crew of edgy posers, are The Third Plate’s next enemies to take down. But when the light shines as bright as it does in this installment of Food Wars, it’s kind of hard to be afraid of the dark. So far, it’s probably the series’ least filling portion to date, but its aftertaste remains delicious as ever.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
GIRLS’ LAST TOUR (SHOUJO SHUUMATSU RYOKOU)
Most of the time, I think “For Great Justice” is a wonderful name for our little blog. We strive to talk about anime, doing the “great justice” each show deserves. Or at least that was the plan. Ever since we started, I’ve rarely had a hard time finding something to say about any given show. The only ones that really give me trouble are series so powerful, so life-affirming and emotional that I don’t feel like I could say anything constructive or meaningful about them. These sorts of shows say all they need to on their own, and if they can’t make you a fan, nothing I say will either. After all, they’re the art, I’m just some guy with too much free time and an affinity for watching pixels move in neat 24-minute packages. Those shows are rare. Since we’ve started FGJ, I’ve only covered two such series; Shirobako and Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.
And as you might’ve guessed by that run-around intro paragraph, Girls’ Last Tour is the third.
There’s a bit in one of its skits where the girls realize they just need to “get along with the feeling of hopelessness.” That’s an apt mission statement for the whole show, honestly. Girls’ Last Tour is a post-apocalyptic adventure, but it’s neither about the journey nor the destination. The destination is wherever food and fuel are. There is no far-off location or sensation Chito and Yuuri hope to reach. Likewise, the journey is one of simple living, traveling just to find something new and keep oneself alive. So in a way, I think Girls’ Last Tour is about company. It’s about the bonds people share as they navigate their hellish expanse of a life. And I think that’s why I’m having a hard time sharing my thoughts on it: it’s like trying to explain to someone you’ve just met all the charming and dependable qualities of your best friend. You can boil them down to a handful of adjectives, maybe tell an anecdote or two to demonstrate the intimacy of your relationship, but that’s no substitute for them actually developing one of their own with the person. Girls’ Last Tour has to be seen to be understood, and no simplifying or pigeonholing it as “a slice-of-life in a nuclear wasteland” does it…well, great justice.
Everyone’s relationships with media will be different, and it’s relatively easy to laugh off something as awful or analyze why something gives you a mixed reaction. This title is a bit harder: Girls’ Last Tour doesn’t necessarily do the formula differently, but it invites us in on little conversations about big topics. We are welcomed as a spectator, someone living the nomadic Kettenkrad life with Chito and Yuuri and experiencing their wonder alongside them. In the show’s universe, most of the duo’s experiences are familiar to us: fish and rations are the talking points of the show’s earliest skits. But it soon ventures far beyond simple things while still hitting close to home: from religion to music to technology and more, Girls’ Last Tour essentially offers a look into the human experience in a time and place where no antagonist is out to sully what little we have left. Our worst enemy was ourselves, but we’re practically gone. The few people Chi & Yuu meet never treat them poorly and they reciprocate their compassion.
There’s certainly something to that hopeful take on the end times which makes this show an even brighter treasure when compared to our hectic political climate. But it’s still more than that. Or maybe it’s none of it. Maybe it’s not about a peaceful post-war landscape, maybe it’s not about discovery, and maybe it’s not even about friendship. The more I think about it, the more I come back to that same quote: “let’s get along with the feeling of hopelessness.” I can’t confidently claim the show is actually about anything other than that. But it gets along with the hopelessness incredibly well. It tells us hopelessness isn’t too bad, that it’s had some great times with hopelessness, really, and it can be a great thing to keep around. I’ve tried to tell you the same about Girls’ Last Tour, and even then, it’s still beaten me there. Its hopelessness is a thing I’d never met, but through its guidance, I already understand it perfectly. Girls’ Last Tour does the talking for me, yet again. And for that and all the other tricky to phrase reasons outlined above, I have no choice but to give it my highest regards.
Final score: 10/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
THE IDOLM@STER SIDE-M
Another season down, and another boy band anime in the books.
Side-M for the most part lived up to the hype that’s gonna follow an Idolmaster show of almost any kind. Sure, it probably wasn’t nearly as hyped as the original or Cinderella Girls, but there are always expectations heaved upon any show carrying the name of such a big brand.
Solid as Side-M was overall, I didn’t really care for Sakuraba’s little angsty renegade arc, sob story backstory notwithstanding. Though Tendou’s fervor helped push the narrative along, the overall hot-head, cool loner, and softie mediator dynamic for the Dramatic Stars trio is just sort of a tired trope in my book. In the second half, the discontinuous episodes featuring the HighxJoker boys developing into a cohesive unit ended up being the grippier narrative than the Sakuraba drama arc.
Even still, Side-M put on its big concert for the final episode, and all the stops were pulled out for the performances, with camera and lighting trickery everywhere. Amongst the more memorable highlights were the twin soccer prodigies-turned-idols Yusuke and Kyousuke kicking a couple soccer balls up into the stands to literally “kick off” their performance, or all the units coming together to sing the OP, using many of the same shots from the OP sequence. I guess that really wouldn’t be all that notable, but A-1 actually bothering to animate the whole thing over again with different uniforms for the actual concert sorta caught my attention.
I’ve seen many a boy band anime in the last few years, but this season’s was surely the most enjoyable one I’ve stuck around for. I’d gladly welcome more of this over anything not called Sekkou Boys.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 13 episodes.
I kind of can’t believe how pessimistic I was about Just Because! six weeks ago. Sure, studio Pine Jam’s production mishaps made for some really clumsy moments, but the story itself stayed afloat. Better yet, it only climbed upward from there: by the show’s conclusion, I was completely re-enamored with its cast and tone.
See, Just Because! feels like a passive tale, but it’s none the worse for it. The show isn’t specifically “about” any of its five (arguably six?) main characters. It’s also not really about love or romance or anything along those lines despite featuring a love triangle to move things along. No, Just Because! is an ode to the high-school senior year and all its anxiety, last-minute opportunities, and bittersweet send-offs. It knew so from the start, but that doesn’t fully hit until the series’ finale, a graduation ceremony and epilogue which perfectly capture that one-of-a-kind mood of taking a hesitant leap out into the world while all your friends take their own. At 21, I’m still processing what exactly that final year in high school meant for me, and I’m not sure I’ll truly know until many more years down the road. But I am absolutely sure it meant something profound that I can’t entirely put into words.
Just Because! doesn’t attempt to either: its dialogue is minimal throughout, mostly urged forward by one Ena Komiya (she’s the best, by the way). And by the time the finale came around, the show said all it needed to, all it had built to, in just a few choice sentences. Just Because! understands space. Every member of its primary cast knows the world doesn’t revolve around them, and they don’t attempt to change that. For that alone, it’s easily one of the most mature high-school anime I’ve ever seen, not privy to gratuitous drama or disruptive tropes. It’s a testament to how natural the show feels that it can still be gripping and warm with so little actually going on.
Production stumbles its middle act are still an unfortunate stain on its potential legacy, but for me, Just Because!‘s heart of gold unquestionably outweighs them. Add to that some breathtaking, practically photographic visuals and a delicate but effective piano soundtrack courtesy of Nagi Yanagi, and Just Because! rebounded harder than I’d ever predicted.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
JUUNI TAISEN: ZODIAC WAR
Nope, I’m still sorting through my thoughts a week and a half after it wrapped up. What I can say for sure is that I very much enjoyed this show. The Snake/Dragon arc was a tedious waste of space, but a 10 out of 12 hit rate is pretty remarkable for a genre space that I don’t typically fancy. In Juuni Taisen’s case, that all came down to the characters. Of the ones who made it late in the game, Rabbit was an unchained wild card, Tiger and Ox shared two charming episodes together, and Rat took advantage of everyone’s immobility at precisely the right moment in order to win.
That was a divisive move for an already divisive show, but I’m alright with it: it had been foreshadowed early on that Rat was doing something that caused his body so much strain he had to nod off every few minutes. And I get everybody’s complaints: the least active participant won the contest? That’s kind of bullshit, isn’t it? Well, Rat just…played the game smart. He had the ability to test 100 different outcomes, and he used the hell out of it until he crossed one that allowed him to make it to the end. He would’ve tried to skip dealing with Duodecuple too, but no matter what he would’ve attempted then, his only guarantee for survival was to cooperate. The two decompress, Rat hands in his jewels, and the tournament’s organizer reminds him he needs to make his wish.
But Rat has no wish. He wasn’t fighting for anything. He thinks dreams and ideals are pointless at worst, cheesy at best. And after exerting arguably more energy thinking about that decision than he did in all of the Taisen, the show ends with him wishing to “forget it all.” Seeing the lives of his competitors —and his own—gruesomely end in multiple timelines, the mental toll is just too much. But even more pressingly, Rat also learned a smidgen of the Taisen’s purpose and history: it’s a tool used between nations to wage and bet on proxy wars. The individual performances of twelve people hold sway in what nation gets bombed or divided or what have you. Juuni Taisen leaves some of this ambiguous, but between its faceless gamblers and its main cast’s pasts, there’s always an understanding that this is a global anime, one in which every action taken dominoes into an effect on the world at large. And that, I think, is what really pushed Rat over the edge. You can’t be as deflective and detached as he is without some biting insecurities, and being an edgy teen wasn’t the only thing that made him this way. Rat’s wish was the easy way out – but it’s his most honest one too.
So anyway, it’s all about “the lesson,” right? Every Nisio Isin adaptation I’ve seen has some fable flowing through it, and Juuni Taisen certainly doesn’t feel like an exception. On this first watch, I feel like the show’s strongest philosophical statements rode on the backs of its individual characters. Ox’s powerful chivalry, Monkey’s optimism, Horse’s crippling anxiety—just as the Taisen is a smorgasbord of political ends, it’s also a clash of worldviews. How to be strong, how to be cunning, how to hold up appearances, Rat refuses to engage with taking a stance other than his own self-preservation, stubbornly and dismissively turning away from the fact that even his actions have consequences. Getting him to realize that was the show’s final goal, but its earlier one ended up being what made me keep coming back: even in a world where people must kill, there’s individual good in (almost) everyone. Don’t sell platitudes short. And if I may, don’t sell Juuni Taisen either.
Final score: 8/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
KINO’S JOURNEY -THE BEAUTIFUL WORLD- (2017)
So… I may step on some toes with my final thoughts with regard to the 2017 iteration of Kino’s Journey.
I enjoyed it, a lot. I liked this much-maligned reboot so much, I set out to marathon the much-beloved original adaptation in one night two weeks ago, which I pulled off successfully despite having come down hard with some manner of the flu.
Having started on the widely-lauded original anime after being introduced to Keiichi Sigsawa’s style of storytelling by its successor gave me an interesting perspective as I was watching. One can grasp Sigsawa’s penchant for a twist at the end of each chapter, said twists sometimes being just as subtle as a single line towards the end completely changing the complexion of the story. Though both series share Sigsawa’s wry, sometimes cynical methods of storytelling, I will admit that the original was a more contemplative piece overall, but as a result of that, it ran into issues with pacing every now and then.
Out of all the stories from the original series, there was an outstanding story with the Land of Prophecies episode that serves as something of a weird bit of juxtaposition with the Kind Land story shared by both the new and old series, and I almost wish that Lerche would have reprised that Prophecies episode somewhere along the way. Following the Colosseum arc, the original goes on a rather sublime run, featuring my favorite episodes of the predecessors’ run: the Land of Wizards and Land of Books stories, the former highlighting the wonder of human discovery, and the latter being a very tongue-in-cheek bit of meta indulgence. The penultimate episode of the original was also a striking story to me, a rather cynical indictment of the current state of warfare that came to be back then.
Though many have termed it a “reboot” as a result of the refreshed Colosseum, Land of Adults, and Kind Land stories, I think a more fair appraisal of the 2017 iteration would be “addition.” The collection of stories that were adapted were selected from the winners of a poll held by the publisher of the Kino novels, hence the 2017 series was designed from the get-go to appeal to the long-term readers, but simply appealing to the old fanbase alone nearly a decade and a half after the original aired would be unsustainable. Being hamstrung with that specific selection of stories but arranging them in a manner to appeal to newcomers as well was a tall task, and I think it accomplished what it set out to do.
Yes, the new Kino iteration is a lot flashier with regard to Persuader usage, but there is still some thematic relevance to current events amongst all the flashiness. Though some found Shizu’s stories to be a distraction, his stop in the Land of Radio Waves in the eighth episode ended up being a nightmarish trip to a country with a startling resemblance in character to current day America. Considering that this story first appeared in the novels in freaking 2005, it ended up being a rather prescient cautionary tale preceding the era of “fake news.”
Though I saw a handful of folks deride the new designs featured in the series nowadays as “moeblob” or whatever, I’d like to offer a fair reminder that Kohaku Kuroboshi’s style evolved at a rather dramatic pace after 2003. If you don’t like the designs of the 2017 series, then it’s probably fair to surmise that you didn’t like the designs in Princess Principal or World Conquest Zvezda Plot either, no? Speaking of Kuroboshi, I loved how later on in the new series, there were nods to his experimentation with color that feature heavily in his Kino artwork, with Kino’s color palette changing from greens to blues to purples as they do in the novel’s art. Add in that a different background studio was supposedly used for each episode to add to the different feel between countries, and you can tell that Lerche tried their best to take care with the visuals, save for the occasional wonky bits of CG.
Now, let’s talk about the sheep, because I can’t not talk about it. Though most people sought to eviscerate the series for that er.. spectacle of a battle scene, I thought it was a good bit of fun. It seems like most folks missed one of the points indirectly made in that episode, that taking the easy and convenient way when presented with a hard choice can make things much more difficult for yourself and others later on. Because that country had decided to release their beloved attack sheep outside their walls rather than cull them, they ended up with a precipitous decline in tourism as a result of the attack sheep chasing prospective visitors away from their country. Maybe I’m reaching too much from that episode, but hey, that’s just something I inferred from it.
Perhaps the fans of the old and deliberately contemplative series scoffed because the new series opted to be a deliberately fun and catchy show overall, but I absolutely insist that this year’s Kino adaptation is a worthy successor to the original, as faithful to the original works as the old adaptation as much as some may begrudge, and I hope to see more of Kino and Hermes in the future. Hopefully they won’t wait nearly 15 years to appear again.
Final score: 7.75/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
LAND OF THE LUSTROUS (HOUSEKI NO KUNI)
The Land of the Lustrous I finished a week ago barely resembles the one I last talked about in mid-November. Phos’ desire to feel useful and prove all their companions’ perceptions wrong backfired like crazy. One more battle partner lost and another body-altering ability gained, Phos in the show’s final act finally became the warrior they’d always aspired to be and found out it’s nowhere near as fulfilling as it seemed. Bearing considerably less sass (and hair), this Phos is no longer simply focused on finding an outlet or purpose. Now they want answers and relief from the scars they’ve endured.
They don’t find it, but Land of the Lustrous is very much an unfinished story in this anime adaptation. The show seemed unstoppable all season, but it was the finale that finally tripped it up, introducing new characters at the last minute and vaguely tying together scenes to bookend itself with reprised shots from the show’s premiere. LandLust’s forward momentum was one of its fundamental strengths, and even though the story doesn’t end with finality, it at least retained that jittery urgency which propelled it so far. Simple fact of the matter is this show is far too rich with worldbuilding details and an endlessly delightful cast to wrap everything up in one short cour. It didn’t bait the viewer in its closing moments, and its reaffirmation that things have changed was a satisfying enough cop-out, but Land of the Lustrous’ first season will go down as flawed for that one transgression alone.
I say “first season” because though nothing’s been announced yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that this title sold well enough to warrant a second, and there’s certainly manga material ready to fill up another bundle of episodes. And I’m very hopeful a continuation does come, because though LandLust remains a fascinating, polished, and incredibly gripping ride, it doesn’t provide much overt commentary of its own on what side it takes towards its message. That lack of closure is sure to irritate some people and it’s not at all invalid to read the show’s themes of utilitarian growth and scarring as a positive thing. But I’d disagree with that on a few grounds: first of all, the gems are not human, and their philosophies towards “being broken” are in part informed by their own immortality, something that shouldn’t be extended to us, a very mortal audience. Second, Phos clearly struggles with their transformation from young village idiot to traumatized troop every step of the way. They’re quick to discourage the other gems from following their path and the fact that Phos’ patchwork body remains an anomaly is pretty telling of how far most of them are willing to go to optimize their own capabilities, Zircon’s psychotic chat aside.
With this in mind, I (and from the looks of it, a majority of viewers) interpret Land of the Lustrous as a cautionary chronicle. Its imagery and tone seem heavily-indebted to Buddhist concepts of reincarnation and suffering, and I’m beyond curious to see what its overall conclusion will be. If that means I have to pick up a manga for once, by golly, I’ll do it. But this anime adaptation’s strengths shouldn’t go unrecognized: this is perhaps the first CG anime I’ve seen that’s not simply tolerable but actively excellent, consistently embracing 3D’s specialties instead of compensating for them. On top of the animation, the show’s storyboarding is jaw-dropping, its score is superb, and its finesse in production is nearly unmatched by any anime I’ve seen this year. Whether you come for the story or the craft, you’ll probably end up staying for both and hanging around long after the credits roll. Land of the Lustrous is one of the best anime of the year…even if it hasn’t truly ended.
Final score: 9/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
LOVE IS LIKE A COCKTAIL (OSAKE WA FUUFU NI NATTE KARA)
Good lord, this is still three minutes of like, the absolute cutest shit ever. Creators in Pack even managed to get a little backstory for Chisato and Sora in there, and then end it on such a lovely little note. Love is Like a Cocktail put what little time it had to very good use and really overachieved for such a short show. If you need a good timekiller for half an hour, you should absolutely watch all of this—it’s so damn cute.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 13 cocktails.
MARCH COMES IN LIKE A LION 2ND SEASON (3-GATSU NO LION 2ND SEASON)
Hina’s isolation at school continued as March eased its way into a shogi-heavy month of episodes. Rei and Nikaidou were optimistic about playing each other for the title of Newcomer King, and they almost got their dream match. Instead, Nikaidou collapsed mid-game one round too early. Stress and an opponent not concerned about exploiting his physical weakness did our bouncy, young hopeful in. Instead, Rei faced and pretty easily beat the final’s spoiler, Junkei, a taciturn man who just really loves shogi and pigeons.
It’s representative of March’s humility that a character as quickly introduced and discarded as Junkei is still given half an episode to come into his own. Doing so right before his match cuts matters a little close, but the context transforms these moments from mere obstacles for our heroes to clear to an event in which both sides stand to gain or lose. It almost feels like a time-padding technique the way it’s extended to folks like Hachiya, a rude competitor Rei beats earlier on in the tournament, or Sakurai, some dashing mountain-climber-turned-shogi cult star, but these distractions from the heart of the show aren’t “distractions.” The extras are gifted the personalities and motivations of individuals outside the story, not just confined to their own role in its narrative. I love March in part because of its realistic approach to human interaction, and I’m pleased that it’s not slouching in that department even when we already have plenty of characters to work with.
It’s also a lesson Hina’s bullies would do well to consider. Hina’s own feelings about her bullying have largely been swept under the rug since then, but it’s clear that none of the underlying reasons for her distress have actually been dealt with yet. Her homeroom teacher turns an accusatory blind eye, her tormenters don’t face any consequences for their behavior, and at home her honesty is only adding to Akari’s stress. Rei hears of all this and wants to help out somehow. How chivalrous of our knight in newly-discovered emotional armor to want to extend a hand to the family that helped him in his own time of need. But ultimately, Rei trying to play savior isn’t what Hina needs, and Hayashida is rightfully quick to point that out to him. In the end, he tries getting Takahashi to spend some time with her, and it briefly helps her realize she’s not in this battle alone.
But hey, that won’t solve everything and I don’t expect March to come up with an ingenuous, simple solution. One of the franchise’s biggest strengths is depicting situations like these for the crushing, complicated blows they are, allowing its moments of warmth and love to shine ever brighter. It may have been a rocky start (and to some extent, it’s hard to say this second season of March has really taken off yet), but this is very much the same show I grew to love this time last year, and I don’t take its continuation for granted.
Current score: 8.25/10
Still watching after 11 episodes.
RECOVERY OF AN MMO JUNKIE (NET-JUU NO SUSUME)
It’s like clockwork. I try my best to make an informed estimation of each new show’s trajectory during first impressions weeks, and I always, always sell one short. MMO Junkie, welcome to the “Yata was wrong” club.
See, I was mostly just skeptical the series’ in-game interactions would overshadow or completely kill off its real-world scenes. I’m not much of a gamer, and while I wouldn’t fault anyone for “me irl”-ing Moriko’s shut-in anxiety (been there myself before, it’s hard), I also don’t think the show’s pilot did a very good job of depicting the gravity of those bit either. The cutaway gags were predictable from a mile away and disruptive to any minimal sense of rhythm the Fruits de Mer scenes established.
But that really ended up being a self-contained issue. MMO Junkie swiftly expanded its scope and prioritized the real world, fleshing out Moriko’s personality and introducing a good ol’ love interest web to keep me hooked. I’m easily entertained by such things, but MMO Junkie offered a great spin on the formula by having each character play not just a genderswapped character online, but also sometimes multiple at once. The knowledge of who was who wasn’t shared equally, and though a mere 10 episodes and one OVA didn’t allow much time to delve into the delightful side cast, Moriko and Yuuta made such an endearing “couple” I was relieved the show principally revolved around them. Does this series trivialize and sidestep the underlying cause of Moriko’s…dare I call it “addiction?” Anxiety? A little bit, but it also feels like just the first chapter of a budding chance romance, and as far as that goes, it’s a humorous, adorable, and fulfilling one.
Final score: 7.5/10
Completed after 10 episodes & 1 OVA.
Crisis averted! Urahara’s themes of artistic ingenuity were agreeable in the long run after all! It had me worried for a minute there, our trio of heroes belaboring the idea of taking inspiration from things they liked, but Rito broke through the Scoopers’ brainwashing and lifted her pals out of that hell too.
Oh, and Misa turned on Shrimp-kun and embraced A R T as well, prompting one of the most lifeless chase sequences I’ve seen all year and a very obvious, very rushed reveal that the girls made up the Harajuku they inhabited for a majority of the show. It really did get obliterated back at the start, and all their grapples with creativity took place in this out-of-sight, out-of-mind bubble. Their imaginations, in other words. I suppose it makes sense thematically, but it just seemed a bit strange that they all ignored it for months worth of episodes only to whip back into the real world at the very end.
My few complaints about Urahara are mostly similar to that. The show’s messages were wholesome and its presence was eye-appealing. Its execution, however, left a bit to be desired. Its woes weren’t enough to kill the narrative, but at least once a week I wondered why one of its essential plot developments wasn’t made explicit until the last possible moment it was relevant. The girls’ first interactions with one another and their earliest support is mentioned probably at least five or six times before it’s actually shown to us, and as an integral component of their backstories, it’s hard to buy in on something like that without seeing it for ourselves, especially when there was no reason to withhold it for that long. Thankfully the show still put them in, and that’s what really allowed it to came together at the end. I found Urahara incredibly easy to kick back and enjoy. It’s far from the most polished or original thing out there, but there was clearly a lot of passion and joy behind it, and I can respect that.
Final score: 7/10
Completed after 12 episodes.
WELCOME TO THE BALLROOM
I don’t know what to say about Ballroom anymore. Virtually all my complaints—excessive monologues, recycled footage, characters whose interesting stories were rarely told—they all remained straight through the series’ finale, which in itself felt like a complete cop-out. This whole final tournament, Tatara and Chinatsu were rarely coordinated, visibly stumbled, and it became expressly clear through the cast’s narration that Tatara was still learning the fundamentals of this sport. And yet he won, beating a pair of seasoned competitors all because his new “style” was “revolutionary.”
Let’s unpack this: his “style” was “not knowing what the fuck he was doing half the time.” The main man he prevailed against, Masami Kugimiya, was coming back from having his passion so stripped away that he walked out into the street and got hit by a truck. He’s only back dancing again because his partner, former trainer, and Marisa all urged him to muscle through rehab. His backstory was a little dramatic to say the least, but it was a hell of a lot more convincing than Tatara’s wishy-washy desire to be good at something. And worse, though we didn’t get much time to see them actually dance (itself a problem with the show overall), when we did, Masami’s routine was more confident, more consistent, and generally easier to praise. In the end, Tatara’s victory came down to the arbitrary whim of some judges, and it’s a sad reflection of Ballroom‘s storytelling from start to finish.
Set aside the belligerent patriarchy at the core of this series and the director’s contemptuous remarks towards last year’s (ironically far more successful) Yuri on Ice!!!, and you’d still have a less than competent story that attempts to tell one of the most tried and true narratives in sports shows—a zero to hero ascension—and butchers it. I only felt less supportive of Tatara over the course of the series. The show’s better characters – Chinatsu, Kiyoharu, etc. – were often relegated to sideline status or denied narrative autonomy through anything other than their relationship to Ballroom’s dull as dirt joke of a protagonist. And the real kicker? The number one thing that makes Ballroom impossible to take seriously is it doesn’t understand momentum. It doesn’t know how to build stakes, keep those stakes consistent, or up the tension where it needs to. It has genuinely graceful moments and the occasional hilarious comedic gag. It’s not a complete disaster. But it fails to amount to anything other than monotonous, half-assed drudgery. I’ve seen worse, but the only comfort I have is I can now point to a sports series which fails to wrap its head around the most basic of sports series frameworks. I can say “I’ve seen this all, and it’s a prime example of incompetence.” Were all the wasted hours getting there worth it? Not at all.
Final score: 5/10
Completed after 24 episodes.
So what do you think about this fall’s anime? Any takes here you feel are totally wrong? Wanna tell us about your fall favorites? Go ahead and leave a comment or reach out to us on Twitter. If not, then I guess that’s it! From the bottom of our hearts, thanks for your readership. 2017 was a fantastic year of growth for For Great Justice, and we’re hopeful to just keep building off it going forward. We’ll see you soon in 2018.