The anime was not so great this week, I am afraid to say. Darling in the Franxx tied off its recent rally with a mediocre beach episode, Laid Back Camp outsourced its aesthetically weakest episode yet, and March comes in like a lion was still a no-show altogether. Though this winter season opened with an unexpectedly appealing grip of shows, it’s at this point arrived at an average, or perhaps slightly below-average lineup. That’s still fine for me, of course – with After the Rain still kicking ass and readers guiding me into such luxuries as Toradora and Princess Tutu, I’ve still got plenty to enjoy every week. But as for airing shows, this is slowly becoming a season that encourages prolonged glances towards that ever-present backlog. But enough grumbling – let’s start with our comfy campers and run this week down!

This week’s Laid Back Camp was a lull episode in terms of both content and execution, which made for a pretty natural pairing. Anime production schedules are a mess, some episodes are necessarily going to be outsourced to companies that can’t match the aesthetic standard of the principle studio, and in a show like this, handing off an episode that’s mostly about hanging out in a home ec classroom and visiting an outdoor equipment retailer seems a lot smarter than sabotaging one of the camping trip highlight episodes. And while this episode was a big tonal step down from the show’s usual standard, and its material wasn’t the most compelling, I did appreciate all the insight we got into the relationship dynamic between the three members of the outdoors club. When a camping trip is dominating the proceedings, the characters tend to mostly just respond to it, and not necessarily express themselves as much. Here, we got to appreciate the fun contrast between the eternally beaming Nadeshiko, headstrong Aki, and resident straight man Aoi. Laid Back Camp’s fail state is apparently “fun, relatively straightforward slice of life,” and that’s a fine place to be.

Things came to some kind of breaking point in this week’s After the Rain, which centered itself on two terrific climactic scenes. The first, occurring in the back office of the diner, featured Kondo’s long-awaited snap at the presumptuous Akira. Akira’s attention can occasionally provide Kondo a welcome sense of nostalgia for his own youth, but when she extols his greatness as a guy who basically just managed to survive until middle age, she rubs salt in the wounds that lead him to seek that nostalgia in the first place. Hearing him praised as someone who can “explain books just like a teacher,” he finally offered the quiet “you don’t know anything about me.” From a kid like Akira, hearing praise like this only underlines his deep sense of inferiority and unhappiness. It’s nice to be liked, but it’s not nice to be continuously, rapturously reminded that you’ve led a life you consider a failure.

The second scene took place at Kondo’s apartment, and featured a very charged reconciliation between the two of them. That scene essentially underlined the meaning of the show’s title, framing Akira’s adolescent emotions as a wild storm, and Kondo as the emptiness after the storm passes. Akira sees her feelings as a terrible trial, but Kondo can’t help but envy her ability to feel so strongly at all. This was possibly the most “romantic” scene of the series, but even here, it’s clear that neither of these characters are connecting with the other as anything but a vessel for alleviating their own pain. This show understands its leads so well, and sympathizes with them so completely, that I can’t help but be swept away by its beautiful sadness.

Darling in the Franxx managed to turn a beach episode into something that wasn’t entirely a waste of time, though time was certainly still wasted. Basically the whole first half of this episode was standard beach gags and fanservice, with the only real highlight coming when the other boys all interrogated Hiro about the mysteries of kissing. That sequence essentially offered a Franxx-specific twist on a very familiar romcom staple, and further bolstered the endearing bond between our leads. Building off of that, the second half of the episode both offered evocative glimpses of the old world and also further fleshed out Ichigo’s conflicted feelings about Hiro’s path. I like Ichigo as a character, but her moonlit walk with Hiro felt so very representative of these “the doomed childhood friend makes their stand” scenes that I couldn’t really invest in it as a scene in its own right. Franxx is an incredibly derivative show, but it’s often able to rise above mere copying through its aesthetic excellence and various other strengths. This episode wasn’t terrible, but it was a kind of just okay that I’ve seen many times before.

Finally, A Place Further Than the Universe had a relatively strong episode this week, after a few episodes that didn’t really thrill me. When Universe focuses on the malaise that inspires its protagonists, I generally have a great time – when it’s focusing instead on the practical mechanics of traveling to Antarctica, or the bustle of the journey itself, I tend to tune out. I was thus happy to see this episode focus heavily on the ambiguous relationship between Shirase and the trip leader Gin, whose bittersweet shared history offered some welcome texture to both their characters. I also liked this episode’s renewed focus on the intangible dream that Antarctica represents – what Gin once described as the nature of clouds, which always seem so close at hand, but can never be truly grasped. Universe’s focus has expanded to concerns that don’t really engage me, and its aesthetic appeal has suffered since its characters have gotten stuck on a big metal boat under nearly permanent sunlight, but I’m still happy to enjoy an episode like this.

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