This week’s anime was, uh, brief, I guess? I still haven’t caught up on Violet Evergarden and March comes in like a lion is tragically on an Olympics-prompted hiatus, so my current viewing schedule has been reduced to a fine point of four very satisfying shows. And yes, I’d actually call Franxx satisfying, at least if this last episode was anything to go by – it was the show’s strongest episode by far, and finally sold the emotional bonds necessary to make all of Franxx’s stunning visual strengths hit home. This season doesn’t really have a strictly “me” show, but the aesthetic excellence of shows like Franxx and After the Rain are definitely helping to make their not-quite-exactly-me narratives sing. We are watching some astonishing creators strut their stuff this season, and I’m happy to be here to appreciate it!
Laid Back Camp had a relatively neutral episode this week, focusing on Rin and Nadeshiko preparing for their long-awaited communal camping trip. Though the show’s recent pace has sped up to covering two simultaneous camping trips per episode, I certainly didn’t mind this return to the first episode’s meditative focus on the rituals that lead up to any camping expedition. As I reflected in this week’s Crunchyroll column, I actually prefer the show’s Rin-focused tone to its outdoor club-focused tone, and thus was happy to see that when Rin and Nadeshiko are camping together, the show favors Rin’s focus on comic anticlimax and the beauty of nature. That said, this episode didn’t really bring enough new stuff to the show’s formula to grab me in the way others have. I’m not really expecting wild twists or innovations, but the episode’s several scenes of gushing over camping food all felt a little too familiar and too similar, and that issue extended to several of this episode’s other beats. That, plus the relatively mundane nature of their new campsite, made this feel like a somewhat lesser episode.
After an episode content to wallow in all of the show’s weaknesses, Darling in the Franxx rallied back with what I’d easily call its best episode yet. Content-wise, it helped that this episode had no battle scenes, and thus no opportunities for the characters to shout shit like “I can’t believe how deep I am inside you.” Instead, the focus here was on both the buildup to the team’s next battle, as well as the process of integrating Zero Two into the birdcage. After four episodes, the bond between Hiro, Ichigo, and Goro in particular has been illustrated quite well, and so this episode was gracefully able to cash in on our understanding of their dynamic while illustrating Goro and Ichigo’s very different responses to Hiro’s situation. This episode was excellent for all three of them, and their core material was complemented by lots of smaller moments that helped build up the rest of their team. On top of that, this episode’s stunning layouts also made it my favorite episode visually, as multi-layered compositions created a beautiful and convincing portrait of the birdcage as a truly lived-in place. From its tight structure and excellent character beats to its altogether stellar visual execution, this episode clearly demonstrated that the right team and right material can make this show sing. I hope this is a sign of good things to come!
This week’s After the Rain was more par for the course, not repeating anything like last week’s stumble, but also not really elevating itself as a standout. This show has a very clear understanding of how storytelling should be tailored to its medium, by which I mean it’s quite good at segmenting all of its vignettes into self-contained twenty minute segments, which really helps reinforce the show’s intimate, almost claustrophobic tone. This episode did its best to turn the “Kondo’s house visit” segment and “Kondo’s hamster popularity” segment into a cohesive whole, but it still felt a bit less smoothly structured than some earlier episodes.
That said, I thought we got some welcome character illustration for both of our leads, with both Akira’s jealousy and Kondo’s delight at being popular offering insights into the insecurities guiding both of them. And there were still standout individual segments all throughout, with my favorite by far being Akira’s brief glimpse into Kondo’s study. Beyond being smartly storyboarded, that segment seemed to condense exactly the intangible something that Akira wants from Kondo into a clear physical action – peering through a crack into adulthood itself, assuming magic and mystery among the dust of Kondo’s study. Neither Akira nor Kondo can give the other what they’re seeking, but I’m thoroughly enjoying watching both of them stumble around that fact.
And finally, this week’s A Place Further Than the Universe was a very interesting and unexpected episode. The episode’s early scenes, preoccupied with the girls settling into the expedition’s ship, didn’t really do much for me. I’d worried early on if the show’s pacing would allow it to actually include the journey to Antarctica, but at this point, I’ve realized I’m a lot less interested in the tourism and “wow, so this is what preparing for Antarctica is like” stuff than I am engaged by the show’s more personal, emotional struggles. I get more than enough “we’re going on a pleasant adventure” satisfaction from Laid Back Camp, and that show’s way better at this particular stuff anyway.
Then, after half an episode of reflecting on the stuff that doesn’t thrill me in Universe, the episode ended up building into one of the most poignant and personally grounded finales yet. I really appreciated all the insight this episode gave us into the characters and motivations of the adults on this journey. Their melancholy, almost obligatory dedication to this expedition felt like a true reflection of how lofty dreams gain texture and caveats in adulthood, and having that complexity be revealed to our actual leads felt like a key step in their own road to becoming themselves. Universe is fine enough when it’s messing around with goofy tourism or adventure shenanigans, but it’s this show’s sharp edge, the tinge of desperation in its longing, that really elevates it. The joy of this show’s adventures will only be amplified by consistently underlining the reality of those adventures’ cost.