Let it be known that Week Nine of Summer 2017 was dedicated to providing some top quality Maid Service. More so than ever before, this week had some incredible heights and some catastrophic lows. As a whole, it’s been a pretty strong week when the shows all balance out. While that all sounds alright, that does leave some of these shows in a very bad spot for the latter end of the season. Although we’ve seen some of the best individual sequences of the season, a small portion of quality can’t always make up for an all-round dull episode. Thankfully, not every series fell to this effect (I’m looking at you Welcome to the Ballroom) so let’s delve into Week Nine of the summer season!
PUNK GIRL SHOWS HER PURE NATURE, THEY RUN A MAID CAFE AND STAY OVERNIGHT
COMEDY, ROMANCE | ANIMATED BY DIOMEDEA | DIR: KUSAKAWA, KEIZOU
This Punk Girl is becoming the true rival to A-kun, a main character introduced in the first episode. That comes with no complaints as she’s probably the most enjoyable character to watch in amongst the ADD crazy cast. Maids are apparently the in thing this week as AHO-Girl decides now is the time for a school festival and (unlike British schools where nobody wants to do it) multiple people want to be the head of operation. I’m not sure if I’ve just been blind to it this whole time or just neglected to mention in any previous edition of the Weekly Roundup, but the voice acting in this show is incredible. Not only displayed in our main character of Yoshiko – able to breach upper limits of volume, extended sounds and pure idiocy – but every character in this show commands them self into the shot with their distinctive performance. This became apparent in the argument between Punk Girl and A-Kun as shown above, things got heated pretty quick. Following the festival antics we were treated to some words of wisdom by Yoshiko: “Girls dream of kisses, boys dream of boobs” and that’s about as intelligent as it gets. Finally, they wrap up with a Karaoke celebration where pure angel Sayaka gets drunk off the fumes of nearby alcohol and it gets about as bananas as you’d expect. More of the same but that’s a very positive response, really enjoying this mindless comedy show.
Kakegurui – Compulsive Gambler
THE CONCLUSION TO AN UTTERLY LACKLUSTRE GAMBLING/SCHOOL IDOL PERFORMANCE
MYSTERY, PSYCHOLOGICAL | ANIMATED BY MAPPA | DIR: HAYASHI, YUUCHIROU
What an embarrassment. Honestly, what even is Kakegurui at this point other than a show unaware of what makes a strong series of its genre. Maybe I’m missing something, really, what about this show makes it entertaining to watch compared to any other baseless thrill ride? So this episode functioned as the second of a two episode arc where the academy’s own School Idol is inevitably defeated by our protagonist. They really went in hard on the concert theme aswell. With every member of the student council having their own insane design and single quirk about them, their games revolve around their “personality”. Some of these work, the Geisha theme displayed in Episode Three worked particularly well because the stakes were established and the reaction was a solid payoff. Not to mention, that actually had legitimate gambling. Following last week which, quite literally, had no games in it whatsoever, it’s a relief that the entirety of this one focused on exactly that. Kakegurui has never been one to stick to traditional methods of gambling but each episode honed in on one specific game. This episode didn’t really know what it wanted to do. Not only was the animation actually embarrassingly low quality in segments (repeating actions five times across the episode), but the setup absolutely destroyed the potential for a well paced and developed game. We got a couple minutes of Yumemi singing, a couple more of Yumeko afterwards and then a literal slideshow detailing around 4 more games entirely. Why are we skipping the exact foundation that made this show entertaining to deliver some tripe story about a School Idol and her idiot fans? I wholeheartedly enjoyed the first few episodes of this show but it’s been a downward spirals since then. I’m in too deep now though, can’t wait for the next episode.
Knights & Magic
OFFENSIVELY POOR WRITING, UTTERLY TEDIOUS, ONLY 10 SECONDS OF GOOD CONTENT
ACTION, FANTASY | ANIMATED BY 8BIT | DIR: YAMAMOTO, YUSUKE
Can I drop a show nine episodes in, is that allowed? In amongst the 24 and a half minutes of this week’s episode was ten seconds of entertainment. That’s not an exaggeration, if you managed to wade through the sleep-inducing drivel, the last fight sequence had an interesting shot that lasted a couple seconds. Apart from that, this episode actually felt offensively bad. Not in the way we’d normally think of the word but from a writer’s standpoint, there was a feeling of arrogance throughout the entire episode. As we’ve seen too many times in Knights & Magic, the episode begins on a completely new setting introducing some fantasy-named clan who plans to wreak havoc on the peaceful lives of our main cast. Instead of slowly building up a presence of evil and constantly reminding viewers that they’re presence does have an effect on the well being of the “good guys”, this show just kind of shows them to us. For the first ten-fifteen minutes, we as an audience couldn’t care less about the peril these characters are in. We’re shown the bland “king sacrifices himself for a sheltered princess” trope, which can work if done correctly. Especially in this genre, it’s been done great multiple times. The missing link that Knights & Magic seems to think they can skip is pacing. Taking time to develop these characters, just introduce them at least! You simply cannot attempt to provoke an emotional response with 2-dimensional characters that haven’t had any time to be more than “I’m the beautiful princess” and “I’m the stubborn king”. It honestly frustrated me that the writers of this show tried to accomplish this, you cannot expect your audience to care about something they’ve only seen for two minutes. If not for the blatantly obvious character designs and “these mechs are red and scary”, you could play this scene with triumphant music and the whole thing would feel like a victory sequence – because we as an audience don’t know any of these characters. Bottom of the barrel for this series, honestly painful to sit through and that’s not something I thought I’d say for this show.
Koi to Uso (Love and Lies)
THE CULTURAL FESTIVAL ARRIVES AND THEIR PERFORMANCE IS A LITTLE ON THE NOSE
DRAMA, ROMANCE | ANIMATED BY LIDENFILMS | DIR: TAKUNO, SEIKI
If last week’s emotionally destructive dialogue wasn’t so strong, this would have been the strongest episode this series has seen yet. Koi to Uso has never put itself on a pedestal and tried to pull off something visually spectacular. Whether it be their budget or the unique character designs taken from the manga, the animation quality hasn’t been all that. Despite only barely improving, it goes a long way when this episode actually had some imaginative storyboard work going on. I would hazard a guess that a solid 60% of this show consists of a basic facial close up of two characters alternating depending on which one is speaking. I get that this show is a Romantic Drama so the emphasis on dialogue and conversations is inherent, but there are so many ways to play with this concept. The writing is written specifically for that aswell and that’s why it’s upsetting that this is the only episode to actually convey it! Yukari is an oddball who constantly says things that would be visually interesting to see, his way of structuring sentances has always been irregular but the staff never use that to their advantage. Here, it was much easier to pull off as half of the episode was just watching Nisaka and Takasaki perform Romeo and Juliet. Credit where it’s due, this performance is the visual highlight of the show for me. Summarising the plot in a couple of minutes means that you have to be creative with what each frame shows. So, for the first time, a visual aspect is the key focus for an episode of Koi to Uso. As I said to begin, if not for last week’s episode (which pulled off some impressive emotional response through dialogue and soundtrack), this sudden shift in visual focus would’ve made it the most impressive episode so far.
Made in Abyss
A STRONG FOCUS ON RIKO PROVIDING THE MOST WELL ROUNDED EPISODE SO FAR
SCI-FI, ADVENTURE | ANIMATED BY KINEMA CITRUS | DIR: KOJIMA, MASAYUKI
Incredible. Before this week, each episode has honed in on a clear aspect of their series and left the others somewhat lacking. With the first few episodes impressing audiences with stellar backgrounds and introducing Ozen the Immovable later on focused more on dialogue and character building, it’s been a one-or-the-other kind of series. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that approach (it certainly makes it easier to write about), but when you do assess this show as a whole and not in an episodic format it sticks out like a sore thumb. Well I can’t say that anymore. This week presented the most perfectly balanced, well written and gorgeously animated episode so far. Bringing itself away from the idea that Reg is the muscle and Riko is the knowledge, this week brought the two together in a way that I still can’t figure out. Forcing Reg to pass out within the first few minutes of the episode enabled the writers to really hone in on Riko – who, in my opinion, hasn’t seen much attention in the last few weeks. Functioning as our main protagonist for the first section of the series, it’s so clever to have this gap in between. Now we’ve been so intrigued by Reg and his ability to protect Riko, leaping back to her emphasises the raw amount of growth since their initial departure. I’m not just saying it’s well rounded for the hell of it, the internal perspective we’re treated to here is near flawless. Accompanied by the strong shift in backgrounds (making use of emptyness more than previous settings), there is a clear change that personifies the development of Riko as an explorer and a survivor. Really spectacular episode proving this series is still fighting strong for a spot in the “Best of 2017” list.
THIS IS THE MAID WEEK AND MOMO’S SLOWLY EASING INTO THE CHARACTER TEAM
SLICE OF LIFE, COMEDY | ANIMATED BY DOGA KOBO | DIR: YOSHIYUKI, FUJIWARA
Momo may have been given a pretty unpleasant start but at this rate she won’t be so bad. Having introduced the new hires last episode, this week we get to see Aoba, Yun and Hajime organise a welcoming party for them. As always, nothing is quite as simple as it seems as everyone has their own idea of what the initiation should be. After a short conversation where Aoba attempts to act older than she is for the 100th time, the main event begins without hesitation. Maid outfits, AHO-Girl wasn’t the only show this week to use any excuse to get its main cast into cute outfits. This scene was the most fluffy we’ve seen in a while, taking time away from the introspective character building of the last few weeks. Personally, it’s a great change of pace to see a bit of fun unrelated to the video game setting. Audiences and critics will take any opportunity to shoot down this show as soon as it retracts from its initial premise, but these quirky activities that take place away from their desks make up a large part of their lives as well. Not every episode has to completely take place in the character team’s corner – watching them create 3D models and new designs. Continuing this trend (after a large amount of maid service), we’re taken to the welcoming party that was mentioned at the start. Less of a party and more of a casual meal, we get to see the steep contrast between the Programming team’s immediate friendship and the Character team’s hesitance to making Momo feel welcome. Quite surprisingly, this doesn’t last that long and after a few awkward minutes we’re back to Hifumi doing Hifumi things. Having watched this episode twice now, it does kind of take a hectic approach accomplishing multiple things at once. Whether that’s a good thing or not I still can’t figure out until we see the result of this plethora of character build sections in later episodes. Momo’s not quite at the level of the rest of the main cast but this week instilled a level of faith in me that wasn’t there before. Great episode as always.
Welcome to the Ballroom
THE SHOW’S SECOND “PERFECT EPISODE” FOR COMPLETELY DIFFERENT REASONS
COMEDY, SPORTS | ANIMATED BY PRODUCTION I.G | DIR: ITAZU, YOSHIMI
If this show could stop being so perfect that would be greatly appreciated because I’m running out of new ways to compliment Welcome to the Ballroom. As a critic, I should begin with the weaknesses of this near flawless episode. Repeated sequences. We’ve seen it multiple times in this series and it’s been a minor inconvenience but it made itself drastically apparent here. We’ve seen the flashback sequence before of Mako and Gaju practising together last episode and it’s not just a couple seconds of run time. In addition, the interaction at the Flower Painting played three times this episode – on top of the initial scene that actually took place last week. In the overall scheme of the episode, it’s a nitpick at best but it does break concentration and engagement. When you make your viewer rewatch sequences that, admittedly, worked very well the first time it’s going to make those great moments feel tiresome.
However, if that’s the price I have to pay to get some of the most beautifully awe-inspiring and breathtaking animation this series has seen, sign me up! Despite their dance only lasting one minute in-universe, most of the entire episode kept us in the action and on the ballroom. This episode focused on the character development of Tatara and his ability to fade himself out for the sake of his partner, Mako. This isn’t just done in one go, the episode constantly cuts back and forth between the actual dance and the internal monologues of a bunch of characters. Instead of taking the lazy route and having the camera focus on their faces, (for the most part) the visual direction takes us on a journey. While achieving a more diverse and visually engaging episode, it also conveys the hectic and unorthodox nature of Tatara and Mako’s “routine”. It’s not even a routine, more of an improvisation activity displaying the jump in skill level and the new mindset of a couple’s sport.
It’s this realisation that Tatara is a beginner and needs to become the frame for Mako to bloom that makes this episode so strong. Sure, on a micro level it excels in every feasible manner. The animation is the best we’ve seen of the series, the composition was perfect in displaying the actual routine and the audience response and the writing never felt dull or distracting to the action. On a micro level, it’s one of the best I’ve seen. Almost any show can be fundamentally strong, but being able to pull off such a strong narrative on a macro level – displaying in plain sight the true nature of your characters and allowing them to flourish in an open setting is a testament to the staff (and the source material). With that impossibly long sentence, I think I’ve made it clear that this episode is my highlight and genuinely made my week.