Very close to just giving four #1s. These shows keep trading god-tier episodes week to week and distinguishing between them becomes more about “which was more amazing this week?” rather than which is better overall. I’ve just lost any ability to make that call anymore! For now, I’ve compromised as 1/1/2/2.
NOTE: I get very spoilery this update! I was in the mood to be much more specifi, and this far into the season it’s hard to stay high-level without being (extra) repetitive. I especially recommend making sure you’re caught up with Yama no Susume before reading my comments. And Free. And… all of them I suppose.
1. Futsuu no Joshikousei ga Locodol Yattemita [▲0▼] – 11 eps, 9/10 – [IMPORTED] Episode 9 gave us Yukari’s vulnerable side, setting Nanako up to tend to her, which was endearing. Episode 10-11 were preparation for and day one of the Locodol Festa, and it’s exciting to see the focus on the Locodols this time. This show is always strong at sticking to its themes. Nanako summed it up perfectly in episode 10. She’s a Locodol, and she truly believes in the “local”. It drives home her tremendously satisfying character growth so far.
Episode 11 did a brilliant job with all that. Nagarekawa Girls are contrasted to Awa2 Girls, but without condemning the latter’s more commercial profile. Yeah it’s all slightly simplistic in its message (e.g. the obvious symbolism of Awa2 selling out their idol merch but very few of their town’s local specialties) but I think the depiction of Awa2 Girls when they met Nanako’s group was very good. Rather than one-dimensional antagonists, we see mutual admiration between the teams. After some culture shock the Awa2 Girls see the upsides of Nagarekawa Girls’ lower profile, and recognize something of their older selves in them. I’m interested in seeing how it plays out in the final episode.
1. Yama no Susume Season 2 [▲3] – 10 eps, 9/10 – [IMPORTED] I can’t do the last two weeks justice. Beautiful, subtle, executed with absolute mastery of mood and pacing, visually stunning, perfectly acted. The Fuji arc is among the best of Summer’s offerings, no question.
I’d been wondering how they could tackle Mount Fuji before the half-way point. Short of going overseas to challenge even larger mountains (which seems a bit extravagant!), Fuji is the holy grail. When it became apparent they really were taking on Fuji I figured fog would obscure the sunrise, or a landslide would make the trails inaccessible and force them to try again later. Something like that would work, but at the risk of being a rather thin development, narratively. But that’s fine for this show, right?
I should not have underestimated it. Instead of some external obstacle, everything breaks down on Aoi’s own physical limitations. She’s initially feeling optimistic, but gradually comes down with altitude sickness. Kaede stays with her while Hinata and Kokona reluctantly carry on, and it looks like this is where the Fuji trip ends. Bitter disappointment, above all towards herself. And a very strong motivation to have them attempt it again in the second cour!
Allowing the story to take a weightier tone is all well and good but the execution is what floored me. Episode 9 was visually stunning in its colors and environmental detail, but episode 10’s appeal was its beautifully understated emotional impact. Aoi’s sickness comes on gradually and when it really hits her it’s not an especially dramatic scene – after some dizziness on the way up, she nods off at a rest stop. Kaede shows us how indispensable she is at this point, tending to Aoi with skill and concern, and not a hint of condemnation. It’s not only Aoi she needs to guide either – she manages to keep Hinata and Kokona together as well. I have such, such immense respect for Kaede as a character. And so we end with Hinata and Kokona viewing the sunrise without half their group, while Aoi tries to sleep, disappointed in herself, wanting only to run away. Rough stuff!
Ahhhhhh, honestly, anyone who wasn’t sure about watching this show, please please do so. I can’t possibly do these recent episodes justice.
2. Hanayamata [▼1] – 10 eps, 9/10 – [IMPORTED] I really appreciated how episode 8 addressed the “girls who are clearly in perfectly good shape fret over their weight” trope. It seems like that’s where we’re going, before the episode tosses it out in this scene, which I found really charming. Episode 9 was the Machi episode, and I honestly love how it was handled. Healing a decade of feelings of betrayal in an episode or two is always going to feel hasty, but I found the certification test a great vehicle for proving Sally’s dedication and washing away Machi’s resenement. And then episode 10, Machi get! The last scene before the ED was adorable (and showed off Machi’s strengths!), as was the post-ED scene. Of course you didn’t think we’d get character arcs for everyone except Hana, right?
Hanayamata is not “just” a lighthearted slice of life series, it’s much more fundamentally a story of how five girls meet, bond, and work out deep emotional and relationship issues through yosakoi and the friendship it nurtures. Naru’s feelings of self-worthlessness, Yaya’s inner emotional fragility conflicting with her desire to maintain a cool exterior, Tami’s opposing desires to please her father and find her own dreams, and Machi’s strained relationship with her sister and deep-seated feelings of betrayal. Together they’ve overcome so much, and arrived on the other side happier people, individually and as a group.
Now it’s Hana’s turn.
(P.S. Aniki is such an Aniki.)
2. Free! Eternal Summer [▲1] – 8 eps, 9/10 – [IMPORTED] I’m pretty confident in saying episode 10 was the best of either season. The outpouring of emotions between Rin and Sousuke capped off a character arc for Sousuke that was so, so much better than I could have expected. It would have been zero effort to go on autopilot and write Sousuke as a more one-dimensional rival, and it would have worked well enough if not been very engaging. But instead, Sousuke is a fleshed-out addition to the cast, and I love his place in the story, both as an essential part of Samezuka and a motivation for Haru.
Haruka’s episode 9 collapse in the freestyle could have been a more subtle, but it did clearly show how poorly he was dealing with the accumulating pressure. And it made the triumphant relay all the better. What set the mood for me was that moment when team Samezuka in the audience notice Sousuke’s shoulder and their cheers die down into worried mumbling, until Mikoshiba SCREAMS at them to FOCUS – I really appreciated him right then! Then it happens again when Rin screams for Sousuke and gives him the second wind to finish his leg. Exciting as all hell the whole way through, and so, so well animated.
Then episode 11. Now that did not end at all where I thought it would. Either time, before or after the ED! I really like seeing Makoto and Haru just yell at each other, because there’s loads of tension there that needed to be let out. It doesn’t end nicely, but that sets up Rin’s bombshell after the ED. Hah! On the one hand I do want the final reconciliation to be between Makoto and Haru, but, it makes perfect sense that Rin would be the one to help Haru out of this. After all, Rin has already been through it. Nobody understands it better. And I mean, Rin has basically ascended to godhood in this season, so if anyone can do it…
5. Barakamon [▲0▼] – 10 eps, 8/10 – A show I enjoy but find myself not having a lot to say about. It’s really really solid though. Episode 10 was pretty great but I do have a small complaint about how Seishuu just up and leaves without telling anyone. That’s really at odds with his growth as a person, which has been depicted with exacting nuance and attention to detail thus far. For him to simply disappear just feels off. Like it’s done purely for purposes of time, to set up some drama, not because it’s what he’d actually do. If they resolve it well in the end, all well and good, (and I’m confident they will!) but it was slightly jarring.
Just Mahou Shoujo Taisen from Spring. I’ll finish it eventually.
• Sabagebu! – 6 eps – Just not feeling it, and lost the will to go back and catch up.
• Fate/kaleid liner Prisma Illya 2wei! – 2.5 eps
• Momokyun Sword – 1 ep
• Hunter x Hunter – 146 eps, 7/10 – With two episodes left, Yorkshin remains the climax of the series. But this last arc impressed the hell out of me. Initially I felt like it hit the brakes too hard with the Killua/Illumi confrontation, but subsequent episodes have made clear Illumi is playing a long-term game here, and we’ve got some very interesting material coming up. The Alluka/Killua/Illumi conflict is what interests me the most by far of all HxH plot threads right now. Only Kurapika’s current whereabouts come close. Of course, this being HxH, I doubt we’ll see material for another season any time soon.
THAT KILLUA THOUGH. I love Killua. I love Alluka. When they’re together you get among the best scenes of the whole show. I didn’t think I could love Killua any more than I did, and then this arc happened. Still zero doubt that he is among my favorite male characters ever (…a list I should really think hard about one day).
• Jojo no Kimyou na Bouken: Stardust Crusaders – 24 eps / complete, 6.5/10 – And done (until Winter)! 24 episodes to arrive in Egypt… Well despite a rough start, it ended up being a consistently decent ride in the latter half. I still don’t think very much of Joutarou as a character (a bit bland?) but everyone around him made up for it. I hope the second half of Stardust Crusaders comes off less “Stand of the Week” and plays out more like the original 2012 season.
Current 2014 Top 10
1. Sakura Trick (Winter)
2. Akuma no Riddle (Spring)
3. Saki Zenkoku-hen (Winter)
3. Futsuu no Joshikousei ga Locodol Yatte Mita (Summer)
3. Yama no Susume (Summer)
6. Hanayamata (Summer)
6. Free! Eternal Summer (Summer)
6. Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka? (Spring)
9. No Game No Life (Spring)
10. Hitsugi no Chaika (Spring)
I DON’T EVEN KNOW, NUMBERS ARE HARD, ANIME IS GOOD, AHHHHHHHHHH!