Weekly Rundown: Winter Week 4

This week’s crop of episodes was actually pretty solid all-around, with the exception of Rolling Girls failing to find any real footing now that things have gotten uh… rolling. One mediocre showing in an otherwise solid week is nothing to scoff at, though. It’s especially fortunate considering good ol’ Mother Nature decided to paint all of New England a healthy shade of Snowy Cataclysm this week. There was even a 24-hour travel ban in effect at one point, so I actually didn’t have much difficulty getting through the frankly absurd number of shows I’m still watching. It’s not like I could actually go anywhere. I even managed to dig into my backlog for once! So, weather aside, it was a pretty good week. Let’s take a look at it.

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Log Horizon 2 ep 16: After all of last week’s preparation, we’re finally off on our big adventure with the Lowbie Squad. I’m not gonna lie, this episode’s execution of that premise doesn’t quite live up to the premise itself. For what could have been a grand Tolkien-style quest, this episode mostly involved a lot picnics and horsing around. Which is fine, I guess. These kids aren’t the mature seasoned adventurers that Shiroe and crew are, and I don’t expect their story to be anything other than a smaller-scale companion piece to Log Horizon’s larger plot. I actually find the kids to be pretty endearing characters, so I enjoy having the chance to watch them grow. Even if that growth is painfully slow. This episode did actually have some good character beats, though. Little things like Rudy being naively insecure about why Isuzu treats him differently or Touya waxing philosophical about the endless winding road as a reflection of life’s path were good moments that do a surprisingly decent job of selling the emotional growth of these characters. It’s not particularly graceful, but Log Horizon rarely is. The episode ends when a wild plot point appears in the form a female summoner calling herself “Roe2”. I actually already know what her deal is, but I’ll avoid spoilers. Suffice to say the answer is both incredibly obvious, and incredibly silly.

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Your Lie in April ep 15: It was going to be hard for KimiUso to top last week’s show-stopping performance. And for the most part, it didn’t. Not that this episode was bad, but it was clearly sliding down a little from last episode’s peak. Tsubaki finally resolves to come to terms with her feelings, after her proxy-boyfriend dumps her. Even as she voices her enmity for music, she seeks comfort in the school piano room where Kousei practices. Eventually Kousei discovers her, and Tsubaki realizes how much Kousei has meant to her. She may have always played the older sister, but Kousei was always her pillar of emotional support. Kousei has his own troubles as he continually makes excuses to himself for not visiting Kaori, terrified to face the possibility that she too will be leaving him. A fear that seems more and more justified, as the episode ends with Kaori collapsing in the hallway and unable to stand. This episode was all about facing loss, and how the characters deal with it on an individual basis. Tsubaki reacts with anger and frustration, while Kousei and Kaori both live in states of constant denial. Kaori outwardly hides the severity of her condition, while Kousei continually lies to himself about his reluctance to face the truth. Clearly acceptance is still a long ways off for these characters, but we’re getting towards the home stretch here so KimiUso needs to starts working on resolving some of these conflicts.

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Parasyte ep 16: This episode of Parasyte managed to get me invested in its action-horror nonsense for the first time in a while. The reveal that the Parasite assassin is actually some kind of Parasite Voltron made up of five individual parasites controlled by a main “head” is interesting not only in the immediate dramatic implications it holds for Shinichi and Migi, but also an interesting example of how the Parasites themselves continue to evolve behind the scenes. In the past, the Parasite enemies have always been undone by the failings of their human components. By combining multiple Parasites into a single body, they effectively minimize or even eliminate that weakness. However, that does require a certain level cooperation and compromise for the individual Parasites involved. It’s also suggested that most Parasites aren’t actually capable of “managing” such a complex system. It doubles as a thematic callback to the “Genetic Altruism” discussion from earlier. Miki is essentially a living example of that instinct at work. That several Parasites would surrender their own autonomy and submit to communal existence for the sake of survival. Unfortunately, this episode was not without its problems. One of the most interesting things about Parasyte the anime is the decision to modernize many aspects of Parasyte the manga. Shinichi’s dad reads the news on a tablet instead of newspaper, the synthy techno soundtrack, etc. And one of the most frustrating aspects of the anime is the decision not to modernize many aspects of the adaptation. There’s really no getting around it: Parasyte’s treatment of its female characters betrays its age in a way no number of iPads and smartphones could possibly mask. One of the major dramatic turns in this episode was the Parasite Cabal murdering the private eye’s wife and daughter off-screen. Which is then excused with “Well it was dark and stuff”. Leaving Parasyte’s count of Dead Female Characters Used as Dramatic Impetus for Male Characters at “a whole lot”. Even the superhero comics that Parasyte is clearly taking pages from have largely started to move past this kind of storytelling, and it has become a distractingly antiquated black mark on Parasyte’s story.

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YuriKuma Arashi ep 4: This episode pretty much singlehandedly put all of my apprehensions about YuriKuma to rest. Then stuffed them in a cardboard box and drop-kicked them into an antlion pit. This episode not only managed to poignantly lay out Lulu’s backstory and establish her motivations as a character, but also expanded on the show’s central ideas by doing its very best Utena impression. In an episode-long flashback, which is essentially solely dedicated to Lulu’s resentment of being born into a literal patriarchy and lamenting the social structures that drove her to hate the cute little brother that genuinely cared for her. It’s not Mirun’s fault the kingdom values male heirs, and Lulu knows that, but at the same time he’s a much more convenient target for her frustrations than dismantling the entire social-structure that marginalizes her. It’s a graceful, and personable illustration of YuriKuma’s emotional core. A darkly comedic parable about how oppressive arbitrary social-structures fundamentally limit people. In the end, Lulu’s resentment destroys her best chance for real happiness, and she sets off with Ginko to ensure that she doesn’t do the same. The episode ends on an ominous shot linking Ginko to Kureha’s mother, and Kureha mirroring Lulu thematically. Pretty much everything YuriKuma had to do to anchor its narrative on concrete emotional ground, this episode did with the grace and style that Ikuhara trades in, and all the jackhammer-like subtlety that YuriKuma revels in. And I really couldn’t be happier about it. This was a transcendent episode.

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The Rolling Girls ep 3: Somewhere in the middle of this episode, it just kind of dawned on me how many superficial elements this show shares with Kino’s Journey. Girls on motorcycles traveling through various thematically distinct city-states? That would normally have me pretty damn excited. Unfortunately, the actual core that makes those kinds of narratives work seems distressingly absent from this episode. I did enjoy a few of the incidental details, like the girls being totally nonplussed by Chi’s ability to project her thoughts onto her iPad, the border-guard nonchalantly handing our heroines their apparently mandatory wizard cosplay, or the episode’s entire central conflict essentially hanging on the city’s resident Best trying to pawn her Power Stone to buy a life-size anime figure. The actual execution kinda lost me, though. There just isn’t enough rapport between the central characters to really carry an episodic narrative like this. There does seem to be some intrigue surrounding the Power Stones and the woman who is obviously Chi’s mother, hopefully the show will actual build that into something. There’s still some good stuff in Rolling Girls, but this episode felt extremely rough around the edges. And the jarring drop-off in animation quality didn’t exactly help either. C’mon Rolling Girls, you can do better than this.

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Maria the Virgin Witch ep 3: And this is the episode where the “virgin” part of the title finally becomes a relevant element in Maria’s odd chimera of a narrative. After Joseph and Ann plead with archangel Michael to spare Maria, the Big Guy Upstairs hands down a compromise: Maria can keep her life, and her powers, as long as she also retains her virginity. This dilemma offers up a direct challenge to Maria’s ideals. She can continue to use her magic for good, but only at the cost of her own personal fulfillment. In other words, if Maria wants to continue modelling herself after Joan of Arc, she’s going to have to put her money where her mouth is. To keep Maria in check, Michael assigns a lower-level angel named Ezekiel to keep tabs on her. This results in easily some of the show’s best gags so far, like owl-form Artemis and Priapus comically bullying Ezekiel’s much smaller dove transformation, or Maria evading Ezekiel’s watch with an impromptu version of the old “Look! A distraction” trick. This episode also introduced another new character, Father Bernard. A local monk who offers maria a chance to absolve herself and make amends with the Church, an offer that she curtly refuses and that Bernard himself admits doesn’t exactly line-up with the Church’s decrees. The episode characterizes Bernard more as a politician than a holy man, as he admits he cares more about the well-being of the city than a strict adherence to scripture. It’s a nuanced position that adds a fair bit of humanity and ambiguity to what has so far been a mostly one-sided lampooning of the Church as an institution. This was a pretty complex and introspective episode of Maria, and the show continues to demonstrate its commitment to being far more than just scantily-clad witches and dick jokes(though I doubt the show will ever abandon them completely).

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Durarara x2 Ep 3: Well, this was a surprise. Three episodes into the arc, and the show has already revealed the true identity of the Hollywood killer. And it’s actually an interesting choice! In true Durarara fashion, the show reveals Hollywood to be Ruri Hijiribe, a famous young pop idol who served as a minor background character throughout the first season. Most of this episode is dedicated to her backstory and interactions with Shizuo’s brother Kasuka, as he reveals a profound level of empathy for the murderous young idol. Kasuka, like Ruri, is a monster. Not the ferocious dangerous kind like Ruri or his brother, but the sad broken kind. Kasuka explains that he chose a career in acting because he thought playing different characters would give him insight into why his own humanity seems locked away inside of him. Kasuka is a monster trying to be human, and this forces Ruri to confront her own inhumanity. Both in her figurative identity as Hollywood, and a very literal sense. Shinra has Celty take Ruri home, and immediately senses something different about her. Ruri isn’t quite as monstrous as Celty or Saika, but she certainly isn’t fully human either. This was an uncharacteristically thoughtful episode of DRRR, essentially posing the question of what is the greater measure of humanity: a man who plays the part of a monster, or a monster that plays the part of a man? Unfortunately, that does mean this wasn’t a terribly exciting episode. It took me quite a while to even find a decently interesting screenshot for this post, as most of it was monologues and exposition.

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Yatterman Night ep 3: Yatterman Night is certainly an odd show. Not in a bad way, but in a way that does make it hard to figure out exactly what it’s going for sometimes. This episode shifts wildly between lines like “All that came back was a small sum of money, and fragments of bone” and a talking pig peeing on a killer android’s foot. And while the show succeeds largely in being both funny and somber when it wants to be, the actual blend comes off as somewhat haphazard. This episode introduces us to two new faces, the demure and seemingly blind Alouette; and her staunchly overprotective childhood friend, Galina. The characters offer an interesting look into the world of Yatterman Night, gracefully expanding our understanding of the Yatter Kingdom through a requisite Tragic Backstory and their interactions with the Yatterbots. Galina nervously fumbling a goofy Yatter Salute when the bots come knocking on the door in search of Doronbow is a great little detail that gives the viewer some insight in the Yattermen’s regime without having to actually spell out “Hey guys, they’ve got a special salute and secret police! You know, like that other historically oppressive sate that was infamous for those things!” Overall, Yatterman Night continues to chug along pretty confidently. It’s not the show I’m most excited to watch every week, but it might be the show I want to see hold things together the most.

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