Up to this point, this season is batting a thousand in my book; everything I’ve watched up to this point has merited at least 2 more episodes on my own more or less arbitrary scale.* In many ways, it’s already fulfilled its “five fun shows with a genre spread” quota and is already looking for bonus points. The first of which will be coming from Sunday’s lineup, which included a slightly-larger-than-bite-size comedy, a mid-major occult show, and a pair of shows, one original and one via Comic Earth Star, drawing from Japan’s most famous general. All of them were varying degrees of promising, so I’m pretty set for the weekend this Winter.
When we made a countdown podcast hyping the upcoming season, we offhandedly decided not to note that our three top series were coming out on the same day, joining an excellent pair of sports series in what has classically been the first or second most stacked day of the week. Straight dope, the past 24 hours had the potential to be pretty great. The keyword there is always “potential”; rarely does the entire slate of shows with upside pan out, and even those with very favorable preseason outlooks can disappoint. However, this time, things went on a bit different bent than usual. Seitokai Yakuindomo Confirmed Using Steroids got straight-up obnoxious with Suzu’s head. Robot Girls Z was twice as long as we previously thought. And Ian Sinclair was, in fact, Space Dandy. Which is now a 2-cour project. Since Arpeggio’s v1 sales numbers neatly edged out 10k, I’ve got an unbreakable three-way tie for favorite news of the weekend. Let’s break it down.
The Winter 2014 season has had a couple of preaired episodes at this point. It’s 2 or 3, by my count, depending on how you count adorable short Pupipo (shorts kind of exist in another dimension unless they’re Teekyu or Poyopoyo good, and this is solid not quite there). The main attractions to the undercard bout, though, are the hotly-anticipated-by-me Witchcraft Works and the no-expectations-going-in, might-not-have-watched-if-not-for-the-sparse-field-at-the-time Buddy Complex.
Before this episode I was perfectly willing to stick the show with an 8 or a 9 for an effective variation of comedy and combat that had a first gear that it wasn’t always in. Thankfully, this was one of those episodes that took the decision well and fully out of my hands. While the structure of the climax smacked very heavily of an anime-original story, the spectacle dial was cranked up to the highest level and we ended up with action scene after action scene that probably would have broken the show’s budget had it been a non-3D anime.*
It seems like a bit of a truism to say that SF has changed significantly since the beginning of the show. While it’s true that the show has upped the ante in a number of ways since the main duo defenestrated a gorilla, the change in the core of the show has been a little more delayed and tougher to identify. Before the obvious change, and even immediately after, the show was weird in a quirky kind of realistic downbeat humor. Then things got serious with King Torture, but now that that’s past, the show doesn’t seem to be going back to that kind of small-things approach. Instead, we got Red Axe in full costume and a helicopter tapping Masayoshi to lead a fight against alien spore warriors apparently created by a combination of alien spores and Sketch Turner.
I suppose I could wait until dishing on the episode itself to call this show a disappointment, but that is what it is. The shoddy serious plot handicapped a fun cast and a skilled director, and ultimately had no implications on how the story ended. There was a lot of pain and suffering to return to a status quo that would have totally still been maintained without said pain and suffering. Effectively, the whole of the nonsense that the people nominally trying to prevent a disaster caused resulted in the titular youmu being sealed (perfectly safely) right back inside of Akihito.And that wasn’t even the most bald-faced part of the script. The straight-up ass pull to revive Mirai at the end was considerably. In these past 3 episodes, she’s been dead, not really dead, dead again, and not really dead again. And that final example happened for no reason in the context of the story, beyond the meta one that the main heroine needs to be alive to bait people for a sequel hook.
If it hasn’t been abundantly clear, I love the way this show just faces 12 o’clock down a straight line and does what it wants with supreme gusto. Lining up 22 frickin’ battleships in a row and sweeping them like bowling pins with a combination of Space Battleship Yamato’s wave motion gun and Initial D’s inertial drift was an excellent way to start the episode off. And that testosterone-pumping curbstomp was followed by a hilarious exchange; the two-second fade to a sad ditty when Takao was mentioned only for her to show up and point out she wasn’t dead was a great way to get mileage out of last week’s overly melodramatic sacrifice scene.*
This show seems to be getting returns on everything. Way back in episode 4 when Mari was introduced, it seemed like her too-aggressive side was ultimately going to be used for comical purposes, and would ultimately end up being the umpteenth example of the stereotypical angry, overaggressive girl. That characterization choice, while irritating at the time, yielded huge dividends this week, as King Torture took only a few minutes to shred Mari’s heroic resolve to pieces.
It was a scene every bit as creepy as the picture implies
In an episode where Goto was driving a jeep off a cliff into a missile, KT was swapping his hand for a chainsaw, and Masayoshi humbled up a bit after understanding how much he needed people’s support (though that element could have been played for better development if they had really tried), what I really can’t get over is how much I like that scene with Moe and the pliers. Because of how deep-cutting KT’s words and actions were to Mari, and because of the quiet strength supposedly shallow Moe showed while her finger was getting the steam press. One of the nice things about scenes like this is that they can reveal hidden depths to characters you didn’t think had them. More so than any other part of the continuation (including Masayoshi’s unmasking), I want to hear the next conversation those two have.
From the beginning, Kyoukai no Kanata reminded me of a mid-major series; the type of show laced with explosive potential and nuclear flaws for which execution makes the difference between all-time and forgettable. There are many of these types of shows, though comparatively few that I’ve followed this season.* And while they might not always end up being entertaining to watch, they’re always very enlightening to discuss, because they’re the easiest case studies for the difference execution can make for the same core set of ideas. This show fits that paradigm to a T; it has a very definite set of strengths and weaknesses, and does not understand what they are. An episode that stuffed in some questionable presentation choices with very genuine moments from the main cast served to underscore that core issue.
I have to admit, I was expecting a lot more of this episode to focus on the rest of the cast’s effort to rescue the now-submerged Iona and Gunzou. I wasn’t expecting, or even really hoping for, a focus on those two. But that’s the direction the show decided to go in, and it produced an outstanding piece of work as a result. There were a few moments where they went a little overboard with the drama (Takao’s sacrifice laid it on pretty thick), but the majority of this episode was quietly stuffed with character detail for Iona and Gunzou.