Monday, 30 June 2014

The end of an era...

When I fired up this 'blog on a whim at the start of 2008, the world was a very different place - Crunchyroll and legal streaming were still largely irrelevant (particularly to someone based in the UK such as myself), fansubs still ruled the roost, and Twitter barely existed in anything like the hugely popular form that it does today.

It was that environment that led to the creation of this imaginatively titled affair - put simply, I had nowhere else to talk about the latest anime, or to store my thoughts in a manner that I could easily refer back to for my writing work elsewhere when circumstances demanded me to recall some forgettable series that somebody had unfathomably licensed for home video release. Although this was a place for public consumption and discussion, my aims were always personal; I just needed a repository for my stream of consciousness, so that I could easily grab an image for a series or remember that episode x of series y was a particularly good one.

Although having this information to-hand is still undeniably useful to me, times and circumstances have changed. The UK now gets to enjoy the vast majority of content legally streaming online, and material that doesn't stream to the west at all is becoming rarer and rarer - this in turn gives me an outlet to write about the latest anime both in my capacity for the UK Anime Network, and also now in a regular monthly streaming anime column in MyM Magazine (which you can buy and read on iOS devices too, don't you know).

These opportunities have also brought me to a realisation - that to properly facilitate my work for those publications I need to work smarter, which ostensibly means watching more, writing less and making what I do write cover the latest anime in a broader sense. In other words, episodic blogging simply doesn't make sense to me any more, nor is it a good use of my time when I can throw some images and comments into storage elsewhere ("the cloud" is a dumb buzzword but cloud storage is a beautiful thing), offer up some immediate thoughts via Twitter and then save my full musings for writing about batches of episodes or series as a whole elsewhere. Worse still, at times over the past year in particular I've found myself not watching particular shows simply because I don't think they'll be interesting to write about episodically - a corruption of my enthusiasm which I'm sure you'll agree is fucking insane.

It's a harsh reality that I've been pondering for a couple of months, but now seems like the time to stop prevaricating, make my decision and retire Hanners' Anime 'Blog with immediate effect at the end of the spring season, having completed writing about every spring show (apart from M3, but fuck that series).

The site will stick around forever, of course (by which I mean until Google go bankrupt in some kind of fireball of a technology bubble bursting or something), and it might even spring back into occasional life if something which doesn't legally reach the UK absolutely demands that I write about it, but to all intents and purposes this is the end of a journey that began over six years and 3,800 posts ago. For those of you who followed my musings, be it casually or regularly, thank you all for reading - if you feel even the slightest inkling that you might miss all of this nonsense as much as I'll probably miss vomiting it into a WYSIWYG interface, then you should probably follow me on Twitter or keep up with my long-form writing at those links further up the page.

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 13 (Completed)

The Love Live is over (and there are no prizes for guessing who won), which leaves just the small matter of graduation to be tackled by both third years and the student council alike.

As you might imagine, Honoka's attempts to write a graduation speech to deliver as student council president proved rather torturous and led to some last-minute panic, but otherwise everything is in-hand and organised, leaving Honoka free to offer some comforting words to Eli before delivering that graduation speech, which of course actually turns out to be a graduation song instead.

With all of that done and dusted, there are still some final things to tidy up - literally in Nico's case as she packs up her club room paraphernalia, but also figuratively as the Idol Study Club now needs a new leader... a role to which Hanayo seems perfectly suited despite her protestations.  A final tour of the school for the graduating girls takes in all of their familiar haunts - the stage, the alpacas (who have a surprise of their own, it seems), and of course the rooftop that turned from makeshift practice arena to the group's home from home.  Saying goodbye to all of this is a sad moment, but Honoka eventually realises that, just as she promised at the start, she and her friends followed through on their dream to the very end.  But is this end though? Not when there's a bucketload of cash to be made from a Love Live movie it isn't... place your bets on what that will involve, but my money is on an international Love Live tournament.

So ends (for now, anyway) Love Live - I know I've compared it to K-ON a number of times over this second season, but it certainly sits in a similar position for me as a light and fluffy story with a decent dose of comedy that can nonetheless tug mercilessly at the heartstrings when it really wants to. The proof of quality for a show of this ilk is in its emotional payload, and although it never quite reaches K-ON's level is certainly delivers surprisingly well in that regard in its later episodes including this finale, while still piling up the colourful fun and frolics leading up to those moments, even as someone who doesn't care all that much for the show's music. In other words, even putting aside the obsessive aspects of its fan base, it isn't too hard to see why Love Live has been a major success even in an ever-more crowded market of idol-based anime.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 12 (Completed)

Now that Momo and company have been rescued, it's time for the gang to make good their escape and take on the "final boss" in this finale of Mekakucity Actors.

With the entire cast assembled, the group has no shortage of special powers to use to get to where they want to go, whether it's Takane's hacking ability (and not an iconic cap in sight) or... well... Takane's abilities with a gun in her hand. Eventually, and again thanks to a spot of special power utilisation - this time from Hibiya - the group finally find what they're looking for in the form of Mr. Tateyama's lair.

Although Tateyama - or at least the entity controlling him - wasn't expecting visitors so soon, he was expecting them regardless, and it seems that he has a few tricks up his sleeve to boot. For starters, he's quick to indulge in spilling the beans about Marry's true nature, suggesting that she's trapped within a cycle of despair that is triggering this entire series of events because of her desperation not to lose her friends. What's more, Tateyama also spies an opportunity to take on the body of the indestructible Haruka to further his plans yet more - however, it seems that he's reckoned without the power of Marry and her friends to remain steadfast in ensuring that his plot can't possibly succeed.

Truly in keeping with the rest of this series, nothing made much sense in this final episode of Mekakucity Actors - it felt like key plot points were missing entirely, with a series that has been dragging its feet for much of its running time suddenly having to race through things at a deeply unsatisfying pace to the point where even its (lazy) resolution felt like an afterthought.  The real shame is that there were brief flashes of what this series might have been on show in this finale - when the Mekakushi-dan are working together as a team it's actually pretty entertaining to watch, and that it's taken twelve episodes to reach that point is just one damning aspect of a show that has made a complete shambles of telling anything approaching a coherent story.  Is Mekakucity Actors the biggest disappointment of the spring?  You know, it almost certainly is.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 12 (Completed)

Taking the fight to a massive Gauna hive was always going to be a "do or die" mission for Sidonia's Gardes, but as the situations worsens it seems as if only the "die" part of that statement has any chance of coming true.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with Benisuzume scything through the platoon and an anti-planet missile well on its way, the decision is made to blow a whole in this Gauna hive using Sidonia's Super Hyggs cannon. The only question is whether anybody will still be alive at that point to take advantage of the route this should open to the hive's "master" Gauna, and with this in mind Nagate offers himself up to take on Benisuzume to give what remains of his platoon an opportunity to defeat the Gauna and escape the onrushing anti-planet missile.

Even for a pilot at skilled as Tanikaze, taking on this monstrous enemy with so much "borrowed" knowledge from Hoshijiro, and it all seems about to go awry as he's knocked unconscious in the eschewing battle. Enter a terrified Izana to come to the rescue before he meets his certain demise, only for Izana's craft to be knocked out into space in the resulting chaos. With ammo out, the game looks to be up for Nagate... except he has one last trick up his sleeve, provided to him in the hope that he might exact vengeance in the place of one of the Honoka clones.  Thus, victory belongs to Sidonia as the Gauna is destroyed in the wake of Tanikaze's personal victory, ensuring the safety of those on-board once again and giving Tanikaze an opportunity to try and make peace with Kunato in particular. Even more dangerous threats remain however, which is one way of saying that a second season is on the way later in the year.

If last week's episode of Knights of Sidonia was all about white-knuckled tension, the series finale was far more about balls-to-the-wall action - something which wasn't quite as gripping as what came before but fare that was deftly accomplished all the same with just enough moments of peril and drama to work into the ultimate triumph which bookends the series. These final instalments are also a study in just how far this series has come from some faltering beginnings - its initial episodes were clumsy at setting up its major characters (although admittedly they did a great job of world-building instead), but somehow events have organically ensured that putting these characters in danger elicits exactly the right emotions from the viewer, and coupled with what feels like some major improvements to its animation quality and a narrative that grew stronger by the week, we've been left with a terrific series which I'm more than happy to know there'll be more of.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 11

Last week's episode taught us a lot in terms of filling in the gaps within Mekakucity Actors (aside from the most important gap of all, of course, that being the reason why this show is garbage), so now that we have our "bad guy" in sight what's next for the Mekakushi-dan.

The most pressing issue however is to prevent Hibiya from doing anything foolhardy, and eventually Momo and Kido catch up to him and manage to persuade him that he's best served working with them - a thought that itself takes a back seat as all three of them end up being captured by... I dunno, people, I have no idea who they are or what they're doing.

Meanwhile, returning to flashback-land, we square the circle of Ayano's fate as we learn that her demise was a deliberate decision to thwart her father, or at least that of the entity possessing him, as preventing him from using the source of her power would theoretically put a stop to his plans. It's a theory that seems to be unfounded, but perhaps her sacrifice isn't such a final one after all, and Shintaro certainly seems to have a plan to bring her back having learned much of the truth himself. Now that Takane has her body back (how this happens is glossed over), the others all race to the aid of Momo as she uses her ability to make her current predicament known to all and sundry by singing like a Vocaloid.

Even by the already poor standards of Mekakucity Actors this week's episode was an absolute mess - an episode that felt like a number of disparate scenes had been accidentally dropped onto a cutting room floor and then pasted back together in a hurry with little regard for whether all of the pieces had even been picked up, let along stuck together in the right order. This inattention has turned a dull, poorly executed series into one bordering on laughable, and I for one really can't wait for the final episode simply so that I can be rid of it as soon as possible.

No Game No Life - Episode 12 (Completed)

Try as they might to twist the game in their favour, it seems that Blank simply can't be beaten, leaving Izuna on the brink of defeat in the decidedly Japanese virtual world that makes up the game created by the Eastern Federation.

This isn't the end of the matter however, as Izuna has a trick of her own up her sleeve - the rare Warbeast power to surpass her own normal physical limitations. Thus, the game has changed again - Shiro is unable to predict where Izuna will be or what she'll do next, and the pair which make up Blank have nothing left in the tank except to run and run until they can't run any more. Once Sora's last-ditch effort falls flat, the game is up and the Eastern Federation victorious... or are they?  Everyone has reckoned without Steph of all people, who has been cunningly moved into position thanks to some intelligent use of the game's NPCs and other counter-measures to the Warbeast's "mind reading" abilities.

In other words, it is in fact Elkia who have won the game and thus all of the Eastern Federation's territory - a prospect which leaves Izuna inconsolable until reassured that her defeat won't cause any death or distress to her people. There remain issues to iron out even in the wake of this victory for Sora and Shiro however, as the Warbeasts have moved most of their technology and important persons off the continent, ostensibly to lure Elkia into another game in the hope of instant revenge, or at least an opportunity to secure self-government for their people. Tired of convoluted games, Sora's suggestion to resolve this issue is simple - a coin toss, and one that he manipulates into a draw to ensure that Elkia keeps their territory and the Warbeasts keep their self-sufficiency. With all of this resolved, Blank can reveal their ultimate plan to take on Tet.. oh, and call upon the world's number one-ranked Exceed.

Much like Nanana's Buried Treasure last week, No Game No Life ends on a note which has me clamouring for a second season, but even if it never emerges (and let's hope it does) that shouldn't overshadow the fact that this show has been a tremendous success overall. At times is pandering to fandom and fan service has been a little over-bearing, but when it manages to put that to one side or integrate it into the story a little more tidily it's provided easily some of the most entertaining episodes of any series in 2014 via some spectacularly grandiose tales told in a fashion befitting of them. These episodes and the glorious twists and turns surrounding them have been what has won me over here and interesting, colourful visuals and an enjoyable soundtrack have simply been the icing on this devious little cake.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 12

Now that the future of their group has been decided, judgement day is nigh for μ's.  No, not that judgement day, but rather the Love Live itself.

With Nico having fortuitously drawn a prize slot for the event, giving the group the final slot in the competition (which doesn't seem like such a great draw to me, I've seen how Eurovision works), focus has to return to one last practice session, which the girls soon realise is literally their last practice session together.  As a result, the group really doesn't want to part company with one another, finding time to visit a shrine before hanging around without actually wanting to go home.

It's clear that there's only one thing for it - to spend the night before the Love Live together at school, eating and sleeping together (get your minds out of the gutter, you know what I mean) before waking up bright and early and preparing for the show of their lives. What a show it is too, which concludes to rapturous applause and calls for an encore which they duly provide.

As this season of Love Live has progressed, it's been increasingly clear that a bittersweet feel-good story was the direction in which it was headed, and this is no bad thing when it's delivered with the sense of fun and emotional undercurrents running through it as this episode - it didn't do anything spectacular, but then again it didn't really need to other than provide a satisfying culmination of the entire series so far, which it duly did. This is mission accomplished for the show, pure and simple.