Friday, 18 April 2014

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 2

As first sorties go, you can't get much worse luck than Tanikaze, as our protagonist faces the appearance of the Gauna in the midst of the mission - their first appearance in the vicinity of Sidonia for a century.

Badly injured and seemingly dead, even this seems to be a better stroke of luck than squad-mate Yamano, who is introduced to us via a few flashbacks before... well, she gets eaten.  With things rapidly turning south, the powers that be have no choice but to take drastic measures to keep the Gauna at bay, no matter what that might mean for the well-being of those still on the ground.  Somehow, Tanikaze manages to revive out of nowhere to launch his own attack on the Gauna before being lifted to safety by his escaping teammates.

Understandably given the circumstances, Tanikaze finds the aftermath of this incident difficult to cope with - he can't eat, and anything that provokes thought of the Gauna attack leaves vomiting or worse.  With the Gauna having recovered from its temporary incapacitation, it's going to take some of Sidonia's finest to put paid to the terror it could unleash... is Tanikaze one of the individuals best suited for the job, or is he going to be too busy fending off the attention of an ever-growing number of females?

Much like its first episode, this instalment of Knights of Sidonia is an odd one to sum up - its world-building is fascinating, even if a lot of the facts about said world are thrown out apropos of nothing, but its story-telling is disjointed and flits around in a frustrating fashion.  Throw in the weird way in which the show is setting Tanikaze up as some kind of harem comedy lead at times and it feels like the show is turning its focus in all the wrong directions.  There's clearly a great series fighting to get out here, but between the narrative frustrations and the struggles of the show's CG to look anything other than terrible a lot of the time it's a fight that it's currently losing.

Nanana's Buried Treasure - Episode 2

Now that he has some knowledge of Nanana's history and the sphere of her influence, it's not all that surprising that Juugo has found himself picking up a particularly interesting trinket to bring back to show his ethereal flatmate.

As it happens, this strange jewel is in fact part of the Nanana Collection, and what's more he's actually snatched it from under the noses of those who were intending to steal it for their own ends.  While those directly responsible are baffled by the disappearance of the jewel, Yama finds himself the subject of investigation by "master detective" Tensai Ikkyuu and her maid assistant Daruku Hoshino, who quickly not only deduces that it was he who found the jewel but also manages to embarrass him thoroughly in the process.

Although Ikkyuu's attempt to return the jewel to the police doesn't quite go to plan, she - alongside Daruku - nonetheless chooses to transfer not only into Yama's school but also his class.  In fact, Yama seems to have a constant stream of oddballs taking an interest in him at present, as the president of the Adventure Club also makes his acquaintance with a view towards him joining.  Given that the club relates closely to Nanana, her treasures and her eventual death, Juugo gives joining some serious thought - but first, he must pass a tricky initiation test, which is where our resident detective gets to strut her stuff.

For all of the pandering nonsense that this series throws at the viewer (why do we need two characters dressed as maids?  Why is one of them a "trap"?), there's also rather a lot of fun to be had with this week's episode beneath the surface - it has some good comedy moments, Nanana is rather lovable as a laid-back lead female character, and there's already a good rapport amongst the show's growing cast.  It doesn't feel like a noitaminA show in the slightest, but put that to one side and I found myself rather enjoying this episode of Nanana's Buried Treasure, which hopefully bodes well for it provided it keeps heading in the right direction.

Selector Infected WIXOSS - Episode 3

This week's Selector Infected WIXOSS is a tale of two battles - and they really couldn't be any more different...

Having finally caught up with her, Akira has successfully managed to press-gang Yuzuki into a battle - even with knowledge of her opponents dirty tricks and tactics and the ability to circumvent some of them, it all becomes too much when Akira starts looking into not only Yuzuki's cards, but also the wish that she's fighting for.  Needless to say, this provides Akira with psychological ammunition aplenty, and despite being warned to steel herself for it it's enough to push Yuzuki into making a disastrous mistake in her rage, clocking up another victory for Akira in the aftermath; a precursor to our seeing with our own eyes exactly what she's fighting for, and against whom.

Meanwhile, Ruko finds herself challenged by Hitoe - having seen her lose to Akira, we now learn that this was actually her first battle, while she admits that she's picked Ruko for her second because she "seems weak".  In comparison to the heated, aggressive battle between Akira and Yuzuki, this skirmish is entirely more sedate, with Ruko quite happy to let herself lose to help out Hitoe.  Once her opponent realises this however she isn't best pleased - if she's going to win, she wants to do it properly.  Once Ruko starts taking the game seriously however, she's anything but the weak player Hitoe expected her to be, leading Tama to her first victory and an opportunity to evolve, as her owner seems to be rather hooked on the feeling of playing WIXOSS properly.

Even three episodes in, Selector Infected WIXOSS is mostly keeping its powder dry - we're getting to see more of its characters and their motivations, and the emotional drama which stems for this, but there's clearly still more about the game of WIXOSS itself to be revealed.  It's that promise that is keeping me watching the show - I still like the presentation of its card battles (soundtrack and all), even if the way battles pan out is impenetrable, and its characters are overblown but functional, thus ensuring that the show is doing just enough to keep my interest intact for now.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ping Pong the Animation - Episode 2

With a now somewhat broken Peco left reeling after being thrashed utterly by star Chinese player Kong Wenge, perhaps this is Smile's time to shine?

If nothing else, it seems as if everyone has suddenly taken an interest in this quiet, sullen lad - Kong himself is still desperate to play against him, but more importantly for Smile his ping pong club overseer Koizumi has decided that Tsukimoto is a ripe talent that simply must be developed.  Thus, Koizumi tells Smile to start coming in for training at 5am every morning - something Smile himself has no intention of doing - and as time goes on his pursuit of the student becomes more and more all-encompassing until Tsukimoto really can't say no.

The fact that a formidable former middle school champion is also seemingly head-hunting the bespectacled star-in-waiting only serves to further confirm his potential, but for his part Smile really couldn't care less - all he wants to do is have some fun and enjoy himself, not work hard to win matches and competitions.  None of this reasoning sticks with Koizumi however, as he pushes his pupil harder and harder, culminating in a one-of-one match between teacher and student with Tsukimoto's future on the line.  Even here, Smile is happy to just go through the motions, but as the match progresses and Koizumi's lead becomes greater, something changes - snaps, even - in Tsukimoto's head, and suddenly we see the real force of nature that he can be expose itself in spectacular fashion.

After a solid opening episode, this week's instalment of Ping Pong felt - much like Smile's own transformation - like the moment that this series spread its wings and took to the sky.  It manages to blend taking parts of its subject matter seriously with some deft touches of humour, and its unique animation style works incredibly well once it's put to use depicting a ping pong match itself to make for some compelling stuff that is hugely enjoyable to watch.  If the series can continue in this manner now that it's set up its characters and their core motivations nicely, this could well be everything that I hoped it would be as my potential stand-out show of the spring.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

No Game No Life - Episode 2

Having landed in their new home, Shiro and Sora have certainly made a quick impact upon those who have come into contact them, and none more so that would-be king Stephanie Dora.

Not that this impact has been an entirely positive one, as Stephanie is furious that having given her a hint that her opponent in the game determining the kingdom's next leader was cheating, Sora didn't expound upon why, instead leaving her to her defeat.  For his part, Sora is unrepentant, although he does offer to explain why her opponent was cheating - as well as doing anything else she desires - if she can beat him in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors that isn't as simple as it first seems.  Of course, Steph (as she quickly becomes known) fails to win the bout, and instead finds herself instructed to fall in love with Sora... rather a problem when it becomes clear just how potent the rules binding the games of this world are.

In the aftermath of all this, Sora and Shiro now have themselves a place to stay, while we learn what happens if the two siblings are separated (it's fair to say that it isn't pretty) and find out some more about the world into which the pair have been dropped.  Key to this exposition is the news that humanity - or rather, Imanity - are on the bottom rung of the world's social strata thanks to their inability to either use or recognise magic.  It's this which has seen their kingdom shrink - a state of affairs that Steph was determined to put an end to, but something which seems entirely beyond her abilities.  Perhaps she now has an ally who can make that dream come true, however...

Now that we're two episodes in, No Game No Life is a truly frustrating viewing experience - it contains some wonderful moments, whether it's the actual gamesmanship on show in even the simplest of games, or some of its slithers of comedy, but this is offset by a male protagonist who is a complete asshole, an over-reliance on a combination of fan service and typical tropes which spring from that, and a tendency to run some of the aforementioned comedy into the ground to the point where it becomes irritating.  If Sora was less of a self-righteous prick of a self-insert character I might be able to give some of its other issues a free pass, but at the moment my experience of watching this series veers almost schizophrenically from being entertaining by it to grinding my teeth in frustration about what's playing out on the screen.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 2

Honoka has finally been persuaded to take the helm of μ's in the all-new Love Live, but there's already another crisis to be dealt with!

The issue in question is that this new-look contest is insisting that only new songs are allowed in the competition, so any previously aired or performed tracks are out of the window (goodness knows what this will mean for A-RISE, who only seem to have one song in the first place).  With this in mind, there's only one thing for it... it's time for the group to decamp to one of Maki's many homes to get the creative juices flowing.  Aside from some early disasters (leaving Honoka on the train, an unintended dip in a lake for Nico and Rin), the real issue is some serious mental blocks for the main creative team within the group.

In light of this, those three creators - Maki for music, Umi for lyrics and Kotori for costumes - split themselves into larger groups in the search for motivation.  Although it initially looks unlikely to help, it's the interactions between the girls in these groups that ultimately bear fruit, moving μ's just that little bit closer to the prospect of Love Live success.

After a decent enough start, this week's Love Live proved to be a good distillation of what works about the show - watching its now well-established cast of characters bouncing off of one another is fun, there were some well-place moments of laugh out loud humour early on, and its sweet moments never crossed the line into the overly saccharine.  The result is a simple, colourful and energetic bundle of fun, which is pretty much exactly what most come to a series like this for - a case of mission accomplished on this occasion, without a doubt.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour! - Episode 2

While the landlady's away her tenants can play... except she's ensured that Ritsu will be watching over them all and reporting back to her, which negates any possibility of doing anything even vaguely outrageous.

Not that this seems to be stopping Shirosaki, who quickly starts to concoct some plan involving rope and glycerine... luckily, it isn't as kinky as it sounds, as his plan basically involves larking around in the garden and making bubbles - an endeavour that entrances and cheers up the depressed Mayumi, and even grabs Ritsu's attention.  Although this bring some joy into Usa's life as he gets to see some of Kawai's cute side, this joy is quickly turned into pain once Ritsu realises what is specifically interesting him.

From here, laundry day for the residents turns into a surprising moment that allows Usa to actually get on Kawai's good side for once as one of his gags hits home splendidly, before a horror movie viewing night (which again brings out a little of Ritsu's adorable side - can you see a pattern emerging here?) leads into the revelation of what might just be a real-life horror in the form of the complex's final resident, Sayaka Watanabe.

All of this combines into what is a hit and miss episode, that allows me to excuse some of its "misses" because of the genuine laughs that its good gags provided.  Aspects of the series are already looking to be disappointingly one-note (there are only so many "virgin" jokes one can take) and some of the characters can be irritating as a result, but Ritsu's personality hasn't bored me just yet and I'm continuing to enjoy Usa's acerbic humour and ability to stand up for himself to some extent, so when coupled with some lively delivery and visuals I'm enjoying more of the series than I'm frustrated by at this juncture.