It’s not unsurprising for a show to field something extra special in the middle of the season. Pre-release, it’s easy to generate excitement, but at some point, that excitement’s going to die down unless you regularly field something big. A lot of shows in the season really understand that. Let’s put them under the microscope, shall we?
Azur Lane has definitely treaded water for a few episodes in its run so far. The previous episode was, frankly, 90% unneeded material. In fact, most of the content the show is pushing, outside of Enterprise’s and Belfast’s budding
romance relationship has been sidetracking. It’s fair to say, then, that it’s time for the show to kick itself up the butt, shift back into gear and find the footing it once had.
In Episode 7, (amusingly) titled ‘For Determination; For Love’ (I’m shipping these shipgirls and you can’t stop me), it’s all out war. This almost happened a couple of episodes back, but a well-timed ambush from Enterprise forced a retreat. This episode begins with confrontation, though not quite battle. Not many shows this season could do a whole episode of battling, and while the animation dipped a handful of times during this prelude to war, it was extremely touching. Belfast and Enterprise’s relationship has gotten to the point where they don’t need to communicate their intentions, and this is clear to see; ‘come back alive’, Belfast silently communicates, to which Enterprise agrees. On the other side is the rather trite beat that Javelin and Laffey are trying to push, over their hopeful friendship with Ayanami, which is at least intimate enough to carry something worthwhile. Across the hundred cameos that line the rest of the first half, war is setup as a tragic duty, with almost no fighter wanting to take part.
As the second half of the episode ramps up, it’s mostly battle montage until Enterprise comes in – riding a fighter plane! As the 1-on-1s begin, the show is exciting, and keeps pedalling personal beats as Enterprise worries for Belfast’s fight against Akagi. I’m not entirely sure what happened at the end there, but Enterprise battles her inner-demons, comes out successful, but perhaps a bit too successful; the first death of Azur Lane takes place, and the guilt is heavy. This episode was quite the shift, then, with the tone accepting the darkness of war in a vanilla but pleasant manner – and there wasn’t a scrap of fanservice in the episode!
Fanservice, on the other hand, was one of the only things holding back Fate’s 8th episode; epic final stands lined this unstopping episode of thrills, tears and the biggest reiteration of stakes of the year. As Tiamat rises from her mountain, the sheer scale of her CGI/2d hybrid model is a sight to see, and watching the miniscule Ushiwakamaru dart in-and-out of its tails, and Leonidas bravely standing his ground, was awe striking. I was still a bit miffed by the series’ recurring unconvincing facial expressions, but that’s a criticism levied at the entire Fate anime franchise (save Lord El Melloi II and the comic spinoffs), and of course, the protagonistic team did nothing but watch, but I was consistently amazed by the episode’s power.
And the boob physics. Seriously, Ushiwakamaru’s outfit design is not a winning formula, and at times became distracting.
Yet another series yielding a strong ‘battle’ was Hoshiai no Sora, one of the dark horses of the season. In last week’s episode, the gang took on a rival school’s extremely lauded tennis club, and using crafty strategies, was breaking even. But the episode stopped short of giving the main character’s the big rival moment, allowing the first half of this week’s episode a chance to show us how far the protagonists have come. Due to an insert song and the series’ staple rock piece, this was an exciting midseason showdown – but, failing to elaborate the comeback the rival duo were making, was somewhat hard to follow. But then again, Hoshiai no Sora has been earning its worth as a drama anime, and the second half of the episode, where the group have a BBQ, was the highlight. As always, the show is at its most pleasant when it’s just normal life, so this much lighter finale is yet another highlight. Especially in the chilling scene that Itsuki takes his t-shirt, exposing his back, to nothing but pride from his teammates.
It’s odd, then, that BEASTARS made the closest thing to a misstep. As Legosi and the other carnivores ventured into town, the series partook in some serious world-building. When we discovered ‘the black market’, an almost-juvenile level of darkness was captured. And the following love triangle setup is well written but not all that exciting. The dramatic angle the show has is strong enough to keep the show intense and invigorating, but it is odd to note that the non-dramatic sequences were the highlights – Legom, the hen, was bizarrely hilarious, and the dance scene was a winner.