Oh, deary me.
I'd say I've been generally positive towards this series so far, and I stand by that, because even with its flaws I still think this is a fun series, but this episode seems like it'll mark the point where my comments get distinctly negative. There's really no way around that, for reasons that will become obvious very shortly.
In this week's episode, the athletic meet (including the much dreaded relay) begins, giving everyone an excuse to meander about in various states of undress. As Naho decides to read the letter, she discovers that the athletic meet is a disaster in the original timeline, as nobody comes to watch Kakeru, and he seems down all day, before a failure during the relay leaves him nearly in tears. As Suwa invites Kakeru's grandmother, Kakeru seems to still be distracted and unhappy during the meet, and an awkward conversation with Suwa leaves him feeling jealous and skittish.
So, serious question, what -- actually happened in this episode? I watched it, obviously. I watched it twice in preparation for this review. I'd still struggle to tell you what the actual plot was, because while there's a set-up, detailed above, nothing is ever actually done with it. I felt like by the end of the episode, we'd progressed no further with the plot than when the episode began. Kakeru was still sad over athletic meets. The relay still hadn't happened. Naho and Kakeru still weren't dating even though they were basically dating.
I'm not against fluff episodes, where nothing much really happens, but this wasn't that. This was an episode that believed that it had a point, but actually didn't, because nothing had changed by the end. I, as an audience member, had learned nothing about the characters, seen no change in their relative relationships with each other, seen no change in their circumstances.
For an episode that immediately follows us discovering that Azu, Chino, and Hagita all have letters of their own, that's baffling. When we discovered that Suwa had his own letter, it led to a sea change in the show's paradigm, as the conflict shifted from being about Naho struggling to follow the letters' instructions, and towards those instructions not necessarily always being correct, and Naho and Suwa having to figure out which was which, and what were the best ways to approach it.
With the introduction of three more letters (all of which apparently just say 'get Naho and Kakeru to date', because clearly that's going to sort out his depression), you'd think we'd get another paradigm shift. I suppose if you count 'literally nothing happening' as a paradigm, we do.
The other thing that bears talking about is the animation quality. We saw a slight dip in quality last episode, but it was slight enough that I didn't really feel it was worth mentioning, since it was just one or two frames of humourously over-simplified animation in an episode that was otherwise very impressive. Well, this episode had a sharp, massive dip in quality, and it is always obvious. Always.
Actually, that's not true. About three shots in this episode look passable. Everything else, though, is staggeringly terrible, to the point where I haven't actually seen an anime this badly animated for quite a long while.
It's tremendously strange, not least because it's so sudden. For a series to have pretty consistently high quality for eight episodes, only to then apparently run out of animation budget on its ninth episode out of thirteen almost beggars belief, and yet, it's what has apparently has happened here. Maybe episode ten will be an improvement, but this one was actually almost painful to watch.
(I saw someone remark that 'Suwa's muscles were the only well-animated thing', and I must assume from that that the person in question has never seen another human being in their life, as Suwa spends most of the episodes looking like four cardboard boxes wearing a skin coloured blanket.)
The animation is also filled with bizarre errors. A joke in an early scene is that Hagita draws abs on himself (which is a slightly bizarre choice, as the animation team has already done that for him) in purple marker, but the marker lines disappear between shots constantly. Character clothing randomly changes between scenes, a sizable injury on Suwa appears and then disappears as it becomes and then stops being relevant, and so on, so forth.
The end result is that this episode is more bewildering than anything. What exactly went wrong in the production of this episode, that it is both written terribly and animated terribly? It even feels like the voice actors aren't putting their all in, although I admit I might just be imagining that one, or it might just be that they're not really given any interesting material to work with in this episode.
Incidentally, this episode takes us to the end of chapter fourteen of the manga. Starting to lose hope that this won't have a second cour, which if it's as bad as this episode, should at the very least be morbidly entertaining, I suppose.