Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Hanners' Anime 'Blog Air Pie With No Pastry Awards 2008

I've donned my tuxedo, rolled out the red carpet, and just written two blatant lies in a desperate attempt to make this 'Blog entry sound more important than it is. Yes, this can only mean one thing - The first, some say inaugural, some say premier, Hanners' Anime 'Blog Air Pie With No Pastry Awards, an annual opportunity for me to throw all pretences of non-bias out the window, rave like a blatant fanboy, and probably offend most of you with a variety of acerbic comments. Well, it is New Year's Eve after all, that's what its for. As per most laborious and drawn-out awards ceremonies, I'll be working through various categories to reward the best and lambast the worst that 2008 has had to bring us, building up to the big finale of announcing my best anime series for 2008. So, without further ado, let's get this waste of Google's storage space on the road.

Best opening titles - Every anime series needs to start with a... err... start. As does every awards ceremony for that matter. So, first up, what was my favourite opening credits for a 2008 series, considering both music and visuals? I was sorely tempted to grant this first award to Toradora!, a series with an opening theme so enjoyable that someone has even made a version you can watch in Microsoft Excel. No, really. The visuals are pretty darn cool, and the music... well, let's just say the opening theme has been stuck in my head ever since I first heard it, whether I like it or not.

However, this effort is pipped to the post by the wonderful pairing of Zoku and Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and it's frankly insane viciously bizarre visuals. Mix it with some awesome music, and you have yourself a winner.

Best closing titles - If I'm totally honest, I don't pay much heed to title sequences in anime at all these days, and this is especially true of closing credits, particularly as I'm normally raring to start writing about what I've just watched these days. Thus, my winner here does so more on music than visuals, and that winner is Ga-Rei Zero, which triumphs on account of Mizuhara Kaoru's Yume no Ashioto ga Kikoeru. Similarly, an honourable mention goes to True Tears ending, ignoring its rather rubbish closing animation thanks to a truly catchy tune that, rather oddly, I ene up learning the lyrics to from listening to it too much.

Best soundtrack - I can't help but think that 2008 hasn't been a great year for anime OSTs, as I can't think of any memorable ones (from series that I've watched and later grabbed the soundtrack to anyway). Given that limited scope, one series OST does stick out in my mind, and that OST belonged to Shigofumi. It's doubtless a very acquired taste, but hey these are my awards and not yours, and oddly listening to this particular CD was a more emotional experience overall than watching the anime itself. An honourable mention in this category goes to Real Drive, for providing a double CD OST with an entire disc of electronica. Me likey.

Worst soundtrack - Himitsu - The Revelation. I really don't want to talk about it any more, lest its horrible MIDI beats get stuck in my brain again. Oh, too late. Argh!

Best character - Most years will introduce each and every one of us to at least one anime character that we want to make real, love and have children with... what, it's just me? While a good series will frequently have many good characters, this category is more of a celebration of a series that is made by a single individual, and with that in mind there can only be one winner - Spice and Wolf's Horo. From the inevitable aesthetic angle she's sexy, she's sassy and she gets naked more often than is strictly necessary, but she also wins out in terms of personality, displaying a beautiful range of emotions struck against a great line in come-backs. Horo was everything to Spice and Wolf, and for that she should be saluted as we await her return in season two for 2009.

Worst character - There can only be one for this award, and that one is Itazura na Kiss' Irie Naoki. If ever I were to meet such a nasty, pretentious, unlikeable asshole in real life, I would most likely punch him in the face. As he's just an anime character, I had to remind myself that laptops are expensive to prevent simply punching the screen instead. A dishonourable mention goes to every other character in this particular series that wasn't Kotoko, for their part in this horrible show.

Best filler episode - Yes, I know this is largely a contradiction in terms, but that's kind of the point here - Just occasionally, a filler episode appears that manages to defy tradition and offer up something fresh, different and funny. All of these check boxes were ticked by our winner for 2008, courtesy of Kure-nai's sixth episode, "Light Shines Over Your Head, Doesn't it?". Making an anime episode into a musical has absolutely no right at all to work, but somehow Kure-nai pulls it off, remaining as delightfully funny as it proved to be throughout the series while somehow adding to that hilarity courtesy of this aforementioned musical interlude. It's just a shame that the animation was so terrible for this instalment really.

Best individual episode - This award celebrates the single episode of any given series that managed to drop my jaw, ignoring the quality of everything around it be it good or bad. I'm going to cheat a little bit here, and grant this award to a story arc rather than a single episode, simply because I can. Therefore, this award goes to the first two episodes of Shigofumi - Dark, emotional, powerful, and generally fantastic in the way its story was told and portrayed. It's somehow even more impressive when put into relief against the shambles which much of the rest of this series proved to be...

Worst individual episode - I'm sure most of you will probably be shouting out various episodes of Code Geass R2 at this point, but tough - I didn't think any of it was that bad. This is especially true when you bring my old favourite Allison to Lillia into the equation, and it's from this show that I pick my worst episode of 2008. Episode eight, titled "The Princess and the Hero", showcased everything that was wrong with this series, from more continuity errors than you could shake an idiotic script writer at through to its big climax, where (and I'm going to quote Wikipedia here) "Allison and Wil fly their plane close to the tower which creates a strong wind that blows Nihito off the balcony which kills him". What? What?! The only thing that blew me away was the stupidity of this aspect of the episode.

Best series ending - Even the best of series can screw things up with a rubbish ending, and there's nothing worse than watching a dozen, or even two dozen, episodes of pure genius only to be left with an end that is either a massive cop-out or simply defies belief. This is actually a tough category to pick a winner in (which makes me wish I hadn't thought of the damned thing in the first place), but my final choice is going to be a recent one - Kannagi. Sure, it was barely in keeping with all of the humour of earlier episodes, but in a way that made the emotional scenes in this final instalment all the more beautiful - It was just a sweet and lovely way to end the series, complete with some humour thrown in at the end to remind the viewer that yes, Kannagi was still funny.

Worst series ending - Again, I fancy some of you are shouting Code Geass R2 again here, and there may be a few calls for Kure-nai too, but my vote is going to Real Drive here. Not the best of series in the first place admittedly, but what the Hell was that ending all about? The Metal is the sea? Someone's soul and memories being stored in the sea, like some big liquid USB flash drive? 80-something Haru getting fifty years younger so he can have sex with an underage girl whose somewhat loosely related to him? Make it stop, make it stop... Oh, it's the final episode, it's all done now. Thank God for that.

Best series I haven't actually watched - Otherwise known as the "word of mouth I've chosen to ignore" award. This is an easy one, for I've barely been able to cross the street of late without someone asking me whether I've watched Macross Frontier yet. I've heard an incredibly amount about how it's an amazing fusion of J-Pop and.... well, nobody seems to be able to remember much apart from the music. I will watch it, I have it sat here waiting to go, all that I need is time, but for now I shall honour it for the fact that so many people have told me I should see it. They can't all be wrong... Can they?

Worst series - Finally, on to the big boys, the best and worst anime series of 2008. To be honest, there was only ever going to be one contender for the worst series award and that is... you guessed it, Allison to Lillia. Indeed, I went so far as to posit whether it's the worst anime series I've ever seen at the time of watching it, which may be a tiny bit harsh. Anyhow, quite simply Allison to Lillia got everything wrong - It's main characters were all dimwits (yes, even the supposedly bright one), a war that had raged for centuries was cleared up in four episodes thanks to a cave painting, a bad guy got blew off a roof by a gust of wind from a plane, terrorists kidnapped a plane full of orphans to crash into the sea because... well, it seemed like a good idea to them, Wil got Allison pregnant before he told her loved her, and... I could go on all day, but my fingers are beginning to ache. So's my head, now I come to think about it. The scripting and plots for this series were simply terrible, made worse by those dreaded continuity errors and the frequent breaking of the laws of physics (which would have had Scotty spinning in his grave, I imagine), an I'm frankly astonished that such a shoddy piece of work ever made it to air. I'm glad it did though in my own peculiar way, as I've gleaned so much fun-poking and so many in-jokes from this series that I almost feel I owe it something. So, here is that something, a kick in the teeth courtesy of my "worst series" award.

Now, a drum roll if you please, as we move on to....

Best anime series - I've actually thought long and hard about this, as there are a few potential contenders here, but my verdict is final, and I'm pretty pleased with my choice. The winner for best anime series 2008 is... True Tears.

I don't like soap operas. Never had, probably never will. The arguments and drama surrounding relationships and all that jazz simply holds little interest for me. Yet, for thirteen weeks early in 2008, True Tears managed to hold me captivated by just such a story. I found myself having deep, considered thoughts about the contents of each episode, arguing over my choice of girl for Shinichirou week after week, and even when the "wrong" girl came up trumps at the end of its all I still didn't mind, because I'd been there to see it all and I loved every last second of it.

Fantastic, deep and well-rounded characters, a well paced and well written story, and 2008's most beautifully animated series meant that there wasn't much not to like about True Tears, and if you haven't watched it yet yourselves, do yourself a favour and give it a try. Yes, even if you don't like soap opera and drama.

So, there you have it, my thoughts and opinions as we close out 2008. I hope you all have a great New Year, and I'll see you all again in 2009. But until then, this is the point where you get to flame away in the comments section. Go on, you know you're just dying to...

Hyakko - Episode 10

Another episode of Hyakko introduces us to yet another "new" (new, as in we've seen her before but didn't really know anything about her) character, but yet again it appears to have left its sense of humour at the dry cleaners or something.

This time around, the emphasis of the episode is upon Touma Kazamatsuri - A quiet girl who wants to keep herself to herself, not wanting anyone to intrude on her languid life of visiting the library and sitting up on the school roof to read and eat her lunch. That sounds pretty good to me actually, but of course not to Torako, who promised to be Touma's friend before they both joined the school and still seems determined to have that friendship blossom.

Cue an episode of Torako straight up irritating Touma, a scenario which could have been amusing but somehow managed to be entirely unfunny apart from a brief aside involving Torako breaking her teacher's phone, which gave me a brief chuckle. I'm really not sure what's wrong with the writers of this series, they have a decent if typical setup to the series, they have a pretty strong cast of characters and character types to play with, and yet they seem almost wholly incapable of making them do anything even vaguely interesting, let alone funny. It's like they're trying to copy Hidamari Sketch in concentrating on mundane everyday life as much as possible, only they forgot to watch episodes of that aforementioned series through to the point where there are actual jokes. It's either that or I'm suffering from a complete sense of humour failure every time I watch this series.

Throughout its run so far I've really wanted to like Hyakko, as I genuinely believe that it could and should work as an anime for the reasons I've already laid out. Yet, despite some promising moments for a little while, it seems to have been anaesthetised, and recent episodes have felt like I've just been watching to say my goodbyes as its last signs of life slip away into the ether. With just three episodes left to go, I'm not particularly hopeful for a sudden upturn in its fortunes either.

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 10

It may have happened a couple of episodes ago now, but Minai's "death" (I'm not sure if you can say that someone who is already dead has died, but never mind) still reverberates around this episode. In particular, Keisei seems Hell-bent on finding out how she was disposed of despite Ouri putting her into hiding, a line of enquiry that exposes the exact nature of the people Ouri has been working for in his part-time job. Of course, we already knew that they were involved with the Kougon cult, but now we know exactly what the nature of their involvement is as well.

That aside, Shikabane Hime: Aka seems to have taken us into the story arc which will close out this series. This particular arc begins with Omune (she of the weird crush on Makina, despite knowing that she's dead) introducing Ouri (who must be sick of people telling him about freaky and weird things by now) to a cult led by a monk who claims to be immortal, a "gift" that he can offer to anyone willing to join his organisation. Ouri goes to check out this cult, with some obvious suspicions, but also rather naively the thought that this guy may be able to "cure" the Shikabane Hime or something similar, but not long after this "magical" monk gets visited by some rather unsavoury characters, who look set to go face to face with the Shikabane Hime and the Kougon cult in due course.

This all ties in to some further back story regarding Makina, who is having some pretty graphic nightmares about her death and exactly what happened to cause it. If you wondered why Makina hates Corpses so much, you'll soon see why, and of course these revelations also add some further flavour to the closing episodes of this series.

In many ways, this particular episode is simply an interim one, designed to transition us to some bigger, more important episodes to close out this series (and no doubt to set things up for Kuro, coming in January), so from that point of view it does an okay job of things, introducing some more of the horror-esque scenarios that have worked pretty well for the series at times, and explaining reasonably well what was threatening to become an overly-complicated state of affairs between the various personalities and factions on show here. When all is said and done then, this all allows Shikabane Hime: Aka to continue in its role as a pretty good series, that stretches but perhaps never quite breaks the boundaries of the genre it occupies.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Kannagi - Episode 13

It's fair to say that Nagi's disappearance in recent episodes hasn't really done much for Jin's normally shy yet friendly demeanour, and lo and behold not too far into this episode he flips at poor old Tsugumi, complete with a shoe-based incident which would doubtless have had George W. Bush flinching.

Self-destructive though this may seem, if nothing else it at least spurs Tsugumi into action after a little introspective thinking of her own, and by the end of that day she's launching a surprising tirade of her own against Jin, leaving him (and me) open-mouthed until it dawns on him that she is, of course, right, and rushes off to find Nagi with the help of updates regarding her location on her fan message board to lead the way. Cue a decidedly emotional reunion and reconciliation between the two of them, complete with some evidence that Nagi is in fact a God after all, a possibility that even she has been doubting of late.

With all of this resolved the series does at least close with a little of the comedy that has inhabited much of this series, from a bunch of voicemail messages to the predictable moment where Tsugumi walks into the house to pay a visit at the worst possible time, complete with amusing reaction. So, normality is restored, and the distinct possibility of a second season is left hanging over us like a deliciously ripe fruit just out of reach.

Considering how its almost sole focus has been its comic value throughout much of the season, it's been really quite surprising how much emotional depth has been poured into this series over its final few episodes, a depth which has largely worked out quite well. Certainly, this final episode was almost exquisite in both its use of dialogue and emotion throughout its first half, offering up some perfect snapshots for the mental state and thoughts of various major characters. Even if all the tearful emotion in this climax isn't your thing, then it has to be said that Kannagi has regularly been a hilariously funny series on a consistent basis - Who else could make an entire episode about karaoke work? At the end of the day it's that sense of humour which has made Kannagi one of my favourite and most anticipated shows of this season week after week, so any additional depth has simply been a bonus on top of that. Bring on a second season!

Sunday, 28 December 2008

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 12 (Completed)

With the vast majority of the cast's major characters killed, maimed or dismembered by Yomi during the course of the series, it probably isn't too surprising to find that the grand finale of Ga-Rei -Zero- is all about Yomi versus Kagura... Although Noriyuki does put in an appearance despite being wracked by guilt over various things.

I mentioned in the last episode how what looked likely to be a long and massive battle turned out to be something of the more short, sharp variety, and this final episode of the series takes a similar approach - Rather than going on and on with an epic battle sequence, fighting is limited to relatively short, spectacular, high intensity skirmishes - And it works, there's no doubt about it. Ga-Rei -Zero- has frequently managed to put out some of the most spectacular action sequences I've seen in anime this year, and this big climax doesn't disappoint with plenty of moments that are simply a breath-taking mixture of speed, beauty and violence. Oh, and Kagura has a sword that can also fire bullets, a weapon that could only be made cooler if it also shot shurikens and lighting. While on fire.

Aside from pure unadulterated violoence, this final battle also has an emotional aspect to it of course, and this is handled well enough, albeit in an arguably cliched fashion of the kind we've seen before in everything from the Transformers TV series upwards. Still, I suppose if it isn't broken you shouldn't try to fix it, and I can't begrudge this series writers for finishing the show in the way they have, even opting to jump a couple of years in the future to show us how everything turns out (what have you done to your hair, Kagura? Change it back!).

In closing then, as far as I'm concerned Ga-Rei -Zero- is quite possibly the best action-oriented anime I've watched in 2008. Perhaps its biggest down-side was the slightly ponderous mid-section, but even this was watchable and helped to build the back story well enough, and to be honest considering the beginning and ending handful of episodes frequently kicked so much backside that my jaw hit the floor and carried on through several storeys below in awe, then I can forgive it such foibles. In fact, I can forgive it one Hell of a lot, because whenever Ga-Rei -Zero- broke out the swords and killer suitcases it was simply wonderful - Ridiculously violent, but delivered with almost balletic poise and grace that meant you simply couldn't tear your eyes away from the screen. There's certainly room for more of the Ga-Rei franchise in anime form, and I for one am hoping that this series was a significant enough success to encourage its production.

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 12 (Completed)

With Takumi awakened and now completely aware of who (or should that be what?) he is, the climax of Chäos;HEAd deals simply with the "small" matter of him destroying Noah II to put an end to the delusions that have overtaken Shibuya.

Of course, as is so often the case with bad guys, it appears that the actual driving force of the head of N.O.Z.O.M.I., Norose, is rather more altruistic than it first seemed, as his goal is to keep Noah II out of the hands of politicans so that he can created a world where people (to put it simply) aren't mean to one another any more. Of course, wonderful though this concept is (and completely at odds with the rioting and the like we saw when Noah II was activated, but never mind - Perhaps the idea was for all the horrible people to kill each other), the philosophy that wins the day here is that a man who cannot choose ceases to be a man (to paraphrase A Clockwork Orange)... and quite right too.

So, much of this episode sees Norose and Takumi facing off, with the latter having to battle through and fight off countless delusions of being melted into a puddle and having a stake shoved up his... err, moving swiftly on... This use of delusions is pretty well in keeping with the series as a whole, so I suppose some kudos should be dished out for not going for an entirely action-based big finale to take us to the inevitable happy ending and a world restored to normality (aside from Takumi's delusional powers I assume).

While Chäos;HEAd can in no way claim to be a classic, it's turned out to be one of the solid shows of this season, mainly on the strength of its general concept of delusions, then delusions made into reality. The former offered up some fantastic early episodes where we really weren't sure what was real and what was fake, and although this power waned once the game was up and we understood the core tenets of the show, it still continued to be a solid and interested plot device that thankfully didn't descend into the realm of the deus ex machina half as much as it could potentially have done given the subject matter. The series also managed to avoid the harem anime possibilities that its character line-up gave room for, and created some reasonably well-rounded characters even if you didn't particularly like them all (with Takumi himself ripe to be the most unlikeable "hero" of 2008). Having not yet played the game around which this series is based, my thoughts on Chäos;HEAd are doubtless different from those who are familiar with it in its original form, but purely as an anime spectacle this show has managed to be a well realised and frequently intriguing work - In other words, I would imagine that it's accomplished everything that it set out to do.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (Completed)

I'm sure the original Ghost in the Shell movie doesn't require any introduction, nor does it need plot synopsis or discussion as to the subjects it covers. It's the movie which started my love affair with anime (yes, I watched it before Akira), it's spawned countless works that look to be inspired or even imitate it (most notably The Matrix) and... well, it just so happens to be a fantastic poster boy for Japanese animation and writing. Having spawned both a sequel and the excellent spin-off Standalone Complex series, we return to the beginning of it all with Ghost in the Shell 2.0, a "remake" (although remix is probably a better word) of the original movie.

While Gainax's Rebuild of Evangelion movies have gone the whole hog, recreating and reimagining the series from the ground up animation and all, Production IG's efforts here are largely far more subtle. The most obvious visual change is the introduction of numerous CG sequences to replace scenes in the original version of the movie, and as you might expect this is a hit and miss affair. On the one hand, the CG diving and various HUD/GUI scenes actually worked well thanks to their CG facelift, but on the other we had two scenes featuring Major Kusanagi that were also translated into computer graphics, and these stood out like a sore thumb against the original artwork. Indeed, I'd personally say that the opening scene where we see the Major carry out an assassination was actually ruined entirely in every way that it is possibly conceivable for it to be ruined - The mix of brand-new 3D against older cel animation was all wrong, and the added CG actually destroyed the pacing of that scene, slowing it down to the point where it became far less exciting than the version I remember from times past. Somewhere inbetween those two polar opposites are scenes where CG helicopters have been inserted into the original animation - These actually work okay most of the time, and I dare say if this is your first time watching the movie then you wouldn't notice at all.

The other largeish change for devotees of the original movie is the change in colour palette for 2.0 - While the original was all about green hues (again, cue comparisons to The Matrix), this time orange appears to be the order of the day. I wouldn't say this change makes things better or worse, merely different, although I don't see much point to making such an alteration I must confess.

Probably the biggest boon to Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is the reworking of the movie's audio. For starters, I don't ever remember the film's audio being so precise and powerful, with a much wider, grander sound stage that's noticeable both when heavy weapons are being fired through to more subtle background audio elements - All in all, it's a definite win for me. In a similar vein, all of the movie's dialogue has been rerecorded, although this side of the audio equation is a little more controversial, with the Puppet Master's voice artist replaced (and made female - I can't think of many things more insulting than replacing an original voice artist) and some elements of dialogue changed, and dare I say "dumbed down". The dialogue changes don't dramatically alter the tone or plot of the movie, and I supposein a sense they have helped with the overall pace and flow of the film, but I can't help but feel a little sad for the loss of some of the more philosophical moments, which in many ways is what makes Ghost in the Shell what it is.

Overall, Ghost in the Shell is still Ghost in the Shell, and so great is its quality that it would take a massive amount of effort and incompetence to ruin it. Thankfully, Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is a long way away from ruining this classic movie, although by the same token I'm not especially convinced that it's improved it. Yes, the new audio track is excellent, and some of the CG additions are quite nice, but is that really enough to make it a worthwhile project? My gut feeling is no, but then again I'm more than a little thankful for this release for the simple reason that it gave me an excuse to watch Ghost in the Shell one more time. If you're a lover of this movie or the franchise that it spawned, then it's probably worth making use of that excuse too.

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Toradora! - Episode 13

Toradora! reaches what is more or less its half-way stage, and in a fashion that will probably leave you going "Awwwww" at least once.

With the wrestling event over and still no sign of Taiga's father, it's time for the culture festival's beauty contest, with Taiga of course representing her own class while Ami hosts the show. The trouble is, Taiga's entire introduction on stage was based around her father being there, and when the invite for him to take to the stage goes unanswered everything goes horribly wrong... Until Taiga goes ballistic that is, and somehow manages to turn everything around to have herself declared as winner. No, it probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but I guess I can cut it some slack this time around in the spirit of the festive season.

Speaking of not making much sense, what follows is an announcement from the school council president that the winner of a lap of the school grounds gets to crown Taiga as winner of the beauty contest, and also an opportunity to dance with her, which of course sends all of the guys into a frenzy. Realising Taiga's probable loneliness due to her father not showing up (and having received a text message himself from her Dad getting him to break the news about him letting her down again), Ryuuji takes it upon himself to win this race to cheer up, but finds himself facing some stiff competition from who else but Minori. This eventually leads to the two making up, bringing forth some of those aforementioned "Awwww" moments (notwithstanding Minori's pondering over whether she's a lesbian, which will doubtless get some people reaching for the drawing pad and pencils...).

While almost everything about this episode was slightly implausible (winning a beauty contest by ripping your dress, tripping over and getting yourself zipped into a bag? You won't see that at Miss World I would wager) it still had enough going for it to keep things ticking over, not least reminders of why I love this show's main characters so much. They're the kind of people you'd want as friends, which is always a good starting point, but as far as watching them in action is concerned they have enough of a fallible human nature to make them all lovable. Yes, even angry Taiga. With things getting just ever, ever so slightly lovey-dovey between the main duo and their unrequited loves in this instalment, I'm very much looking forward to seeing what the second half of this series can bring to the table.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Merry Christmas from Hanners' Anime 'Blog!

With just a few hours to go as I type this here in the UK until Christmas Day is upon us, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish Merry Christmas to all of you reading this - No matter how or where you're spending it, I hope you all have a great time.

Of course, you don't really give a monkeys about some random 'Blogger wishing you a good Christmas, so to make up for that, how about having Spice and Wolf's Horo wish you a Merry Christmas instead?

Click on the image for a full-sized version, and I'll see you all after the festivities have died down!

ef - a tale of melodies - Episode 12 (Completed)

So, ef - a tale of melodies comes to a close, and it's Christmas! (Why do I get the feeling you may have already noticed this?) To be precise, it's actually Christmas in the world created by the series, which at least makes for topical Christmas Eve viewing if nothing else.

After leaving us hanging regarding the outcome of Kuze's operation in the last episode, it feels a little odd to have all of this skipped over by the beginning of this episode - Kuze is alive and kicking and as healthy as he could hope to be, meaning that we've skipped the immediate aftermath of his operation and recovery time - A bit of a disappointment in dramatic storytelling terms if I'm honest. On the other side of the coin, all this talk of sightings of Yuuko has let Yuu to return to his actual home town to see for himself, where of course he does indeed get to meet "spirit Yuuko", albeit briefly before she disappears into the ether.

Indeed, it's happy endings all around here, to an extent that's almost overly saccharine given some of those deep, dark, disturbing places we were taken to earlier in this series. Perhaps I'm just a miserable old git who prefers imperfect (or downright depressing) endings, but ef - a tale of melodies finale here felt almost airbrushed of any real drama, with everything working out just perfectly in the end to make for a "and they all lived happily ever after ending". This perhaps isn't helped by the amount of (excuse the French) inane bullshit uttered by characters in this episode - There was so much of it, that they even had to cram in a couple of minutes of statements you'd expect to find in your fortune cookies after the final credits. I don't want to start bleating on about the occasional pretension of this series, and I know it's always been quite floral in its use of language and concepts, but it just felt at odds to me with a series that has covered such depravity and insanity at times.

While many series has have great beginnings and ends but lose their way somewhere in the middle, ef - a tale of melodies almost seems to head in the other direction - It took me a long time to warm to this series through the slow early episodes, then grew to love both its art direction and dark, dark subject matter somewhere in the middle, before my interest trailed off again somewhat in these last couple of episodes. Much like its predecessor, a tale of memories, I also found myself enjoy one of its major relationship arcs while not being so enamoured of the other - In this case, Yuu and Yuuko's story caught my attention, whereas Kuze and Mizuki's actually turned me off somewhat.

There are certainly good reasons to watch ef - a tale of melodies - For all of my claims of pretension, it's art direction is still occasionally breath-taking and makes the series well worth looking at in its own right. It's also managed to offer up some of the most fantastically dark and brilliant realised scenes I've seen in anime this year, which is also worthy of much high praise. Get beyond those plateaus however, and this series has been a bit of a hit and miss affair, with those dizzy heights at least making up for the mediocrity of some of the early and late episodes.

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 11

The last episode of Ga-Rei -Zero- brought us back around to pretty much where we'd left the "present day" story in episode two (albeit with extra colour to fit in with all the back story we'd been taken through), with one major little addition to the end - The introduction of Kagura's father as Yomi's next heavyweight opponent.

With this in mind, I was rather expecting a humongous, drawn-out battle between these extremely skilful fighters, but in fact this particular battle turned out to be intense but brief, with Kagura's indecision when presented an opportunity to finish Yomi off (although to be honest it probably wasn't worth much given her near-immortal status) causing her father to be mortally wounded, and allowing Yomi to escape.

From here on in, the action comes thick and fast, but not quite as thick and fast as the bloodshed - Yes, that's right, once again Ga-Rei -Zero- is delighting in killing off or badly injuring as many major characters as possible - You've got to admit they do it with style though. Meanwhile, Kagura tends to her father's bedside, in the knowledge that her part in this saga isn't yet over, and that she still needs to decide which path she's going to travel...

There's always a danger with a series such as this that it will become a case of style over substance, and Ga-Rei -Zero- certainly has the former in spades - The character designs, the weaponary, the fighting may all be in familiar territory to the average anime fan, but that doesn't make them any less awesome, and when even the whelchair-bound former boss of Yomi comes out fighting with both style and grace you can't help but be impressed. Even with all of this going on however, there's still a quiet focus on the emotional aspects of the series' major stories - It isn't in your face, and it isn't anything like as explicitly clear as the death and mayhem, but it's certainly there as a subtle undercurrent that runs through the series.

In short then, Ga-Rei -Zero- continues to be hugely impressive as an action-oriented vehicle, while still carrying enough in the way of strong characters to edge just slightly beyond being a mere hack 'n' slash anime. It's gory and violent to the extreme, yet never feels like it's stepped over the bounds into being overly gratuitous, and you leave each episode that focuses on the action feeling like you've just stepped off a rollercoaster - Which is exactly how a series like this is supposed to work.

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Hyakko - Episode 9

It's been a little while since I last had the pleasure of its company, but after a couple of somewhat improved instalments we reach episode nine of Hyakko.

Following the trend in recent episodes for introducing characters we've already seen around before one by one, this time we get to meet Minato Ooba, a girl who is rather overly prone to tears if even the most minor of things goes wrong, but conversely when somebody helps her out she simply can't leave them alone for an overwhelming urge to help them out - The kind of "clingy" person that can really get on your nerves pretty quickly. Torako soon finds this out for herself after lending Minato a one hundred Yen coin, and thus much of this episode sees both herself and Ushio (who is also suffering from "the Minato effect") trying to figure out a way of gently (or not so gently) weaning her off of her "helpful" streak. This does have its mildly amusing moments, but as has so often been the case with this series, it's not in the same league as the kind of memorable scenes or gags you'll find in a series like Hidamari Sketch or Lucky Star.

However, in contrast to the second "chunk" of this episode, that first mini-story seems like pure genius. The closing portion of this instalment is simply Suzume wanering around collecting snacks from people. No real humour or gags (unless, "oh look, Suzume has lots of snacks" counts, and in my book it doesn't), no punchline to make it all worthwhile at the end, just a pointless, time-wasting meander around the school building. I want my ten minutes back!

If the first part of this episode was hit and miss, then the second didn't just miss, it went out into orbit and ended up in the outer reaches of the universe, so pointlessly poor was it. It's moments like that which only serve to remind us what Hyakko isn't, and that's a top-notch slice of life anime series. Sure, it's passable and it does while away the time with an occasionally reasonable degree of success. Then again, so does picking your nose.

Kannagi - Episode 12

We reach the twelfth episode of Kannagi here, yet there's nary a glimpse of Nagi herself in sight? Blasphemy!

Of course, we saw last episode how Nagi's argument with Jin, and her subsequent feelings of self-doubt, affected her mentally, and by this episode she appears to have disappeared completely, leaving only her "magic wand" laying around and her clothes thrown in the bin, while leaving a note to Jin to say sorry. From there, the rest of this particular instalment is more or less simply Jin moping - Not a particularly entertaining use of time you could argue, but his lonely worrying and meandering throughout the episode is both really poignant as well as being very.... well, like the typical sort of thing a guy does in these situations. Of course, this rather self-centred way of worrying about Nagi shuts out everybody else, including (most vitally) Tsugumi.

If you're already missing the more light-hearted side of Kannagi already then don't worry too much, as there are some glimpses of humour early in the episode, not least the family Jin visits to try and find out more about the God which Nagi may or may not be, which got a couple of laughs out of me. Zange's surprising martial arts progress is also well worth the price of admission.

Given where this episode leaves us, it seems amazing to think that there's only one episode left of the series to shoehorn whatever's left to come into, which again gets me thinking that a second series of Kannagi must surely be on its way. While I didn't hugely enjoy episode eleven's more serious fare, this time around I really found myself empathising with Jin and his troubles, which made for a more powerful emotional experience than I was perhaps expecting. Yes, Kannagi isn't the same without the star of the show putting in an appearance, but nonetheless the quiet, sad beauty of this particular instalment has left me wishing that this series isn't about to end quite so soon.

Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 2

Here on the cusp of Christmas, is there any better way to celebrate than with some more Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei? Of course there isn't, which brings us untidily to the second instalment of the show's Goku OAV.

Speaking of untidy, the animation for this particular episode is all over the place, but this being Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei that is, of course, deliberate, mimicking other popular animation styles both in keeping with one of the topics under discussion ("maturation", under the auspices of the Japanese preference for process over the end result, a prediliction which this very series arguably makes a strong case of) as well as just to poke fun at other specific anime genres. In a way this does make things a little difficult to watch sometimes, as you're so distracted by the changes to character designs that you almost forget to pay attention to what's being said, but on the plus side I suppose that at least gives us a good excuse to watch this episode more than once.

Other topics up for discussion this time around include doing things even though you know that they're completely pointless, and (perhaps most amusingly of all from this episode) book titles (and indeed titles of media in general) that should be changed to better reflect their contents. In fact, this particular segment climaxes with a suggestion that Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei simply doesn't feature enough despair these days, meaning that it either needs more despair or a new name, although this gag is eclipsed in my mind by the suggested renaming of Crying Out Love, In the Center of the World.

Of course, to pick out one or two gags doesn't even begin to cover the cornucopia of topics that get "the treatment" here, with the War in Iraq and the lack of WMDs and (amusingly) both Clannad and Negima having fun poked at them mercilessly - You can't possibly hope to pick up on all of this series comic nuances and quick-fire visual or textual gags in a single sitting, but as always you'll delight in the ones you do get, and find yourself wondering whenever you're going to get time to watch it all again with the "Pause" button on the remot to hand so that you can at least try to catch the rest. It's as hit and miss as ever, yet despite that Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei remains as brilliant as ever.

Monday, 22 December 2008

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 9

After seemingly starting out as something of a pure horror/action series, Shikabane Hime: Aka has gained a surprising amount of emotional depth in recent episodes, and largely speaking this continues to some degree into episode nine.

Before all that though, we do get a decent chunk of that horror/action hybrid, with Makina gatecrashing on a bunch of students wandering around a supposedly haunted house just for fun, before things get serious when a corpse turns up to spoil the party. While Makina manages to defeat the corpse, albeit losing her arm again in the process (insert any "she's only 'armless" jokes in here at your leisure), she also gains herself a bit of a female fan in the form of one of the girls who was part of that group of students. While this particular little story seems to be little more than just a sideshow to the main points covered by this episode, I would wager that there's more to this particular plot point than a simple bit of Shikabane Hime groupie behaviour.

Anyway, away from all that the real point of this episode is to give us a glimpse into the life and times of Ouri, largely recounted by Keisei - How Ouri was found when he was first taken in by a child, and his inability to understand or compose human emotions, a state of affairs changed by his discovery, friendship with and death of a cat - A cat whose "soul" follows him around to this day, which is again a seemingly innocuous part of this series which I have a sneaking suspicion will become far more important as the series progresses.

To me, it seems that Shikabane Hime: Aka has really found its "groove" over the last few episodes - Sure, it revels in the odd bout of machine gun-touting action and the like, but it appears that it really wants to bring home the emotional impact of its story in many ways, becoming increasingly philosophical about death and the way it is viewed, and indeed about the way people treat the dead, be it as a mere memory or in corpse form. This actually makes for some interesting viewing, an although this particular episoe couldn't really be labelled "deep" the series as a wider entity raises some interesting questions (to my mind anyway). It appears that normal service will be resumed next episode, as Makina gets back to fighting some bigger, badder enemies, but as long as it can continue to mix this up with some more thoughtful and emotional content then Shikabane Hime: Aka is starting to look like it's on to a winning formula.

Yozakura Quartet - Episode 12 (Completed)

So, as we reach the climax of Yozakura Quartet, so the series is perfectly poised, with Enjin about to do battle with Hime as the cherry blossoms bloom around the town, and the rest of the gang closely involved too in their own various ways of course.

Given this promise of an all-out, action-packed episode, the first half of this final episode is actually surprisingly luxurious in its treatment of the story, shying away from going too crazy on the action side of things in order to focus on the emotional aspect of the story offered by Enjin's continued use of Gin's body. Even though he claims to have entirely purged Gin's soul from himself, is that really the case? Akina still isn't sure, which causes him to hesitate at a crucial moment.

After all this build-up, the second half of the episode does lean on the action a little more, with Hime's dragon lance (and indeed Hime herself) doing some major levelling up in her final battle with Enjin, and I don't suppose it's too much of a spoiler to say that these additional powers lead her on to an ultimate victory, saving the town and destroying the cherry blossoms in the process. So, normality returns, and the series closes out with a reminder of just why I was so enamoured by the early episodes of this series, with light-hearted banter and every-day tasks being tackled by the major characters, which is somehow quite cathartic.

While Yozakura Quartet is never going to live long in the memory as a classic anime series, it somehow managed to rise about its obvious limitations to become a pretty enjoyable little show, not so much on the strength of its core storyline surrounding Enjin, but more in terms of offering up a bunch of really rather lovable characters who interacted and worked together in a way that was oddly captivating to watch. If you can put aside the blob monsters and insane, deus ex machina level final episode power ups... in fact, if you can forget big chunks of the whole Enjin story, then you're left with a fun series which came as quite a pleasant surprise to me. Despite getting a whole bunch of things wrong (which I won't go into here) that would have added a lot to the series and its major plot points, it's still wormed its way into my affections to leave me really glad that I took up Yozakura Quartet in the first place - At the end of the day, that's what really counts in my mind.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 11

Right, let me get this straight - Shogun is Takumi, but Takumi isn't Takumi (who is Shogun) because Takumi is a delusion created by Shogun, who is actually Takumi, only not a delusion. Yeah, I think that about covers it.

Okay, okay, it's simple really, Shogun is the real Takumi who has created the delusion Takumi to do his legwork for him (although you'd have thought he'd manage to create someone who was a bit less of of a reclusive nerd though, oh well). Anyway, at the start of this episode all of this information becomes crystal clear to Takumi, an "awakening" which finally allows him to gain his Di-Sword. His timing couldn't be much better either, as shortly afterwards "The Third Melt" occurs (which I guess is like Third Impact, only more... melty), totalling Shibuya in the process.

From here on, it's all about Takumi playing the hero role (with a little help from the other Gigalomaniax's that we're already familiar with), with a transformation in both abilities and personalities which brought to mind Neo in The Matrix, all of a suden oozing a kind of cool, calm and collected persona which was previously beyond him. This display of abilities sets us up for a grand finale, as Takumi races both to save Rimi and destroy Noah II, thus saving the world.

Aside from some slightly cheesy moments (crazy killer bugs popping out of people's chests in particular), this was a pretty good episode, laying out all of the required information in a simple enough fashion, finally turning Takumi into the decent guy the series has arguably been crying out for since the start, and also doing its bit on the horror front with the spooning out of brains and so forth (don't eat soggy Coco Pops while you're watching this episode, whatever you do). I suppose the way that Chäos;HEAd is constructed means that the build-up is always going to be more intriguing and impressive than its actual revelations, but the transition from one to the other has gone smoothly enough, and the series as a whole has been an entertaining enough ride to leave me wanting to watch that one last episode so that we can see Takumi save the world, before going back to being an anime-obsessed geek like the rest of us. Who knows, maybe even as an anime-obsessed geek with a cute, pink-haired girlfriend?

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 12

After all that initial hardship, things finally seem to be going well for Tomoya, with his abilities at the electrical company improving, and what's more his hard work has landed him the prospect of a promotion, hefty pay rise and all.

With these happy thoughts floating in the air, a big chunk of this episode of After Story is dedicated to the life story Yoshino, the rock star turned electrician. Far be it from me to pour scorn on his story, but... well, I'm going to pour scorn on his story. I know Clannad isn't exactly the bastion of entirely realistic and believable stories, but Yoshino's tale of working hard to reach the top of the music industry before losing his "mojo" on account of meeting some of his more needy fans, before turning to drugs and so on felt a bit trite to me, and didn't seem to have any real depth to it. Dare I say that there wasn't even much point to it, beyond its moral story of "choose your own path". Oooh, deep.

Anyway, from there we at least move on to some plausible drama (for a bit anyway), as Tomoya's father gets arrested, and as the rumours fly his promotion possibilites evaporate - A state of affairs which only deepends Tomoya's hatred and resentment towards his sorry excuse for a parent, and to be honest you can't blame him. The trouble is, reality is soon suspended once again, as Tomoya (after a bout of anger regarding his father) asks Nagisa to marry him - Not a concept completely out of leftfield I grant you, but consider this - We haven't even seen Tomoya and Nagisa kiss yet!!

Now, I have to admit that I seem to be having a bit of a "pick on Clannad - After Story" day here today, poking gentle fun at many of the things I've let slide in previous episodes, but I guess twelve episodes in (and that's ignoring the original series itself) some of these issues are starting to wear a little thin. That isn't to say that I hated this episode, or dislike the series in general (I'm still rather fond of it), but it has lost some of its lustre for me in recent instalments that I'm struggling to rediscover. At least on the positive side of things, I finally warmed to Nagisa this episode, as she actually stood up for beliefs and concerns somewhat rather than caving in to people at the first opportunity, and beyond that the story as a whole still has plenty of potential life left in it, so hopefully things will get back on track soon enough.

Toradora! - Episode 12

With Taiga and her father finally making up at the end of the last episode, surely it's going to be a "happily ever after" story as far as her family is concerned from now on? At least, that's how Ryuuji sees the situation, but nobody else really seems to agree - Is he just being naive?

Certainly, Minori seems to think so, leading to some major tension and a full-blown row between the two, with both parties revealing a passion that we really haven't seen from either of them, and leaving them both refusing to speak to one another -which, of course, mortifies Ryuuji. However, it appears that he has an unlikely ally in Ami - Not the kind of girl to give you words of comfort, but seemingly happy to give him a push in the right direction and support him in her own unique way, which isn't something we would have expected from her even a couple of episodes ago.

Of course, all of this is played against the backdrop of the culture festival, and Taiga and Ryuuji's class' pro-Wrestling musical drama. If the first half of the episode was perhaps a little heavy compared to your average instalment of Toradora!, then the "wrestling drama" itself was hilarious, returning us to a more light-hearted place that remains as Taiga has a bit of a crepe crisis (Is it just me or is 2008 the year of crepes in anime?). Putting all of that to one side however, is Taiga's father really going to turn up to the cultural festival as promised, or was Minori right in her scathing opinion of him?

As per usual, I found myself absolutely engaged in and absorbed by this episode of Toradora!, from its more emotional first half through to the more largely comedic second. Indeed, the row between Minori and Ryuuji was especially well staged - I suppose it goes to show how much these characters have become ingrained in my consciousness when I found myself feeling uncomfortable at seeing the two arguing, and then upset at their falling out. This is where this series really shines, by bringing us a bunch of major characters that, while appearing almost stereotypical on the surface, all have a lot of depth and variety to their emotions, which makes every episode so fascinating to watch, particularly while each episode is building upon these changing emotions and the tensions and alterations they're causing to the relationships between characters. As I seem to be saying every week, I just can't get enough of this show.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 10

After Yomi's transformation into... well, whatever she is now thanks to the Death Stone, and her disappearance from hospital, we more or less come full circle back to the events that we saw right at the beginning of Ga-Rei -Zero-.

While some of the major (or should I say, cooler) scenes are simply shown once again here, this is no straightforward recap episode - Now that we know all of the missing holes in the picture, we get to see exactly what Yomi has been up to in no uncertain terms (well, apart from when the censors get a hold of the picture that is), not least mentally torturing Noriyuki (who we learn has been working hard to find out who attacked Yomi) while physically torturing Kazuki.

We do get a brief glimpse of the tears of what might be the real Yomi before she turns her attentions to Kagura, bringing episode ten to a close in a similar position to episode two, with Kagura captured and Yomi about to deliver a lethal blow upon her - Except that she isn't the last line of defence just yet...

Given the use of what could be called recycled material in this episode, I wondered if it would all get a bit tired, but even the exact same scenes we saw at the start of this series still kick an almight amount of backside, and the whole thing is even more tense and the torture scenes harder to watch now that we know the whole back story to the show. With an ending that promises some more spectacular action and difficult decisions for both Kagura and Noriyuki, I absolutely can't wait to see what the next instalment of this series can serve now it's back to what it's proved it can do best.

ef - a tale of melodies - Episode 11

The last instalment of ef - a tale of melodies looked set to bring us an all-round relatively cheerful and happy episode, yet still managed to turn it around into pain and death by the end of it, with Yuuko coming to an untimely demise at the hands of a passing car. I suppose you could argue that this series has tried to portray her lasting (nay, ghostly) legacy as a good thing by way of the people she's helped via her random appearances, but I'm not sure that's much comfort when you're dead.

Anyway, in a sense the first half of episode eleven gives us a very similar state of affairs, only in microcosm. With the meat of the Yuu and Yuuko story out of the way, our attention naturally turns back to Kuze and Mizuki, with the latter's letter of challenge and reappearance seeming to finally snap Kuze out of his vicious circle of self-loathing and depression. Finally admitting his feelings (and again, let's ignore how creepy this whole Kuze/Mizuki relationship is in some ways), he meets Mizuki up on the rooftop of the school, and after finally accepting her love... his heart all but gives out. Once again, sadness is snatched from the jaws of happiness.

With Kuze's health reaching something of a "last gunfight" state, he finally chooses to have the operation that he's apparantly been refusing up until now - An operation with a low rate of success, but even if it does work it will only grant Kuze a maximum of three years more on his life. Will the operation succeed? This episode teases us with his near-death and return to life, but we'll have to wait for the climatic episode to find out.

That aforementioned "creepy" aspect of Kuze and Mizuki's relationship means that I haven't enjoyed this side of ef - a tale of melodies' story anything like as much, which is a shame really, as it's had its moments. As far as this episode goes, again in delights in taking some almost Evangelion-esque glimpses into Kuze's psyche (with animation to match), but on the other side of the coin Mizuki's almost impossible positivity in the first half of the episode actually brought to mind Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's Kafuka Fuura, which I'm sure wasn't the intended reaction. The second half of this episode also seemed to struggle a bit to really bring out the emotions which should have arisen from Kuze's decision and the imminent danger of his death - Rather surprising considering how powerfully other key emotional moments have been handled in this series. Perhaps it's just my dislike of Kuze and the slightly ridiculous air Mizuki gives off to my mind, but this episode didn't entirely work for me - Much like its predecessor, a tale of memories, it also seems to be a tale of two stories... One I have an immense interest in, and another that struggles to hold my attention.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 9

I'm really starting to think that Ga-Rei -Zero- should actually have been called Major Characters That Survive -Zero-, so high has the body count of this series been thus far. Last episode added Mei (for a second time, which has to be pretty bad luck) to the list, which seemed to be closely followed by poor old Yomi.

Except Yomi didn't die, nor was she implanted with the Death Stone that cursed Mei. Instead, she was left with terrible injuries which put her into a coma for two months and left her all but paralysed, blinded in one eye and unable to speak. However, it seemed to be the emotional pain which caused Yomi the most distress, as Noriyuki calls off his engagement to her (under pressure from his father), her colleagues hold her responsible for Mei's death (well, they're not wrong on that count to be fair), and eventually even Kagura who continues to dote on her "sister" has some moments of doubt. It's then, at that lowest ebb, that the kid that's been parading around with the Death Stone strikes, curing Yomi physically but leaving her with the same curse that racked Mei.

I'll be the first to admit that this was a rather slow-paced episode of Ga-Rei -Zero-, which kept much of its focus on the immediate emotional fallout of Yomi's fate rather than the more practical aspects. This may seem a little languid and luxurious, but the more you think about it the more sensible this focus seems, as the viewer needed to be taken on a journey from the Yomi that loved Noriyuki, Kagura, and indeed everyone around her into the Yomi who, while still feeling guilty about many things, doubtless also found hatred building up inside her due to the way she had been abandoned to varying degrees by those who she considered close to her. This kind of drawn-out exposition of that fact might not suit everyone, but for me it made for a pretty good episode in its own right, and if you are itching for some more action then surely now we must be at a point where all Hell will break loose and we'll loop back around to where we started this series. Much as I enjoyed this quietly upsetting interlude, I can't wait to get back to the real crux of the matter.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 24

An episode of Telepathy Shoujo Ran without Ran hearing voices would be like... well, quite a good episode of Telepathy Shoujo Ran, most probably. Okay, to be fair the voices are largely kept to a minimum this time around, and if nothing else we at least look likely to be finishing the series with a story arc that has rather more meat to it than most of the previous instalments, so I suppose I can't complain.

What begins with a freak gust of wind while sweeping up leaves (the writers of this series really know how to create tense and dramatic scenes, don't they?), soon turns into birds flying into closed windows, animals going berserk and escaping from zoos, and an earthquake - The only problem is that hardly anybody seems to have noticed this huge earthquake, and those who have are acting strangely. Indeed, all around town people are getting disproportionately angry, although I suppose that's what happens after sitting through twenty-three episodes of Telepathy Shoujo Ran.

This episode is really just a lead-in for what I'm assuming will be a story arc that closes out the series, bringing back an old face as an adversary (hmm, I wonder who that could be?) and hopefully actually ramping up the tension and feeling of actual danger for once, as it's been conspicious by its absence for much of this series. My ire was again raised by Ran's powers and their occasional deus ex machina effect (in this case she suddenly magicked up some kind of telekenetic lasso to stop somewhat - This isn't telepathy), but that aside this was in all honesty one of the better episodes of this series, and it does bode well for a more interesting ending after way too many episodes that have been, quite frankly, dull. Seeing as this series started off relatively brightly, it would at least be nice to see it end on a similar note.

Kannagi - Episode 11

After light relief aplenty in recent episodes of Kannagi (I shy away from calling it filler as a lot of it was too damn good to be tarred with that particular brush), it appears that we're back to the "serious" business of the series again as of this instalment, although with only two episodes left to go I can't help but wonder how they can hope to achieve anything much in this time frame.

Anyhow, after all the fun of karaoke and so on, Nagi decides (with a little coaxing from Jin) that it's time to return to her "work" of catching and destroying impurities... With Jin's help of course. This generally involves Jin getting injured (being hit on the head by a "magic wand", falling out of windows and so on, all while still being talked about by everyone in the school due to the "love square" they think he's involved in), and to be honest it's enough to make a grown man snap, let alone a teenager.

So, having reached breaking point, Jin snaps, quizzing Nagi on what she's actually doing and what her purpose is. He gets no answer, Nagi instead running off in tears, and from here on in the episode takes rather an introspective turn - Is Nagi a god at all? Who, or what is she? Does Nagi herself even understand what she is or her real purpose? So many questions, and not a lot in the way of answers, so confusion reigns amongst many of the main characters by the time we reach the climax of this instalment.

After all the fun and frolics of recent weeks, this episode of Kannagi is actually a rather sobering one, although it still manages to be relatively light-hearted and fun when it needs to be (with the Clannad-inspired dating sim parody the pick of the bunch). I have to admit that I prefer Kannagi when it's being laugh out loud funny, but I can't really stand here as some kind of enemy of plot progression and character development, so I'm still suitably intrigued as to where this particular story line is headed, and indeed what the series is going to do with its remaining episodes. Surely it's going to be a case of when, not if, for a second season of this series?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 8

The last episode of Shikabane Hime: Aka left us in kind of an odd place, seemingly so close to the climax of its particular story arc without delivering the finishing blow. Thus, the opening to episode eight of the series sees the Corpse being battled last time around finally finished off by Minai, with more than a little help from Ouri (who finally manages to make himself useful in such circumstances).

Ouri's meeting with Shikabane Hime Minai last episode proves to be the blossoming of a bit of a friendship, with the latter finding an excuse to meet Ouri at school and taking him out to buy a new mobile phone (as she has to confiscate his old one to investigate the aforementioned Corpse's case). However, this time spent with Ouri leads to something of a dereliction of duty, leaving her Contracted Priest alone and unprotected - A situation which a couple of young deliquents who he had a run-in with last episode make full use of, with horrifying consequences.

From here on in, never mind the horror aspect of the series, this episode is all about the emotion as we see what happens to a Shikabane Hime whose Contracted Priest has died. While Minai wants to "live" having found a new purpose in her being, and Ouri finds himself wanting to save her from her fate, this particular story was always going to end in tears, and so it goes. What will this mean for Ouri's impact upon the rest of the series, and indeed his relationship with his brother?

With these latest revelations and developments, I have to admit that Shikabane Hime is really growing on me by offering up a level of emotional and character-related depth I wasn't particularly expecting from what is, to all intents and purposes, a show about zombies. Even Makina, who tries to play all her actions without emotion or giving anything away, has developed a certain aura of mysery around her, while I was almost surprised to find myself feeling sad at the "death" (or death again, I suppose you could call it) of Minai, which I suppose just goes to personify the odd relationship between the Shikabane Hime, their Contracted Priests, and other outsides. So, once again if you've been watching this show for the promise of a horror-style series you'll probably be disappointed, but personally, I really have a lot of kudos for this episode and the way its events were handled and depicted.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Yozakura Quartet - Episode 11

After "Blob Monster-gate" in the last episode of Yozakura Quartet, I was hoping for better fare this time around, and although said blob baddies did reappear again in this episode this penultimate instalment wasn't all that bad on the whole.

With Hime still laid up in a hospital bed, despite her protestations, it's up to the rest of the gang to save the town, which they plan to do by splitting in to two groups - One to find Enjin, and the other to deal with any demons that appear in town until they do. It's the latter group that sees those blob monsters reappear, although given my dislike for them seeing one hit by a big lamp-post was actually strangely satisying, before their attentions move on to more important matters in the form of Eiji, who proves to be as formidable an opponent as ever.

On the other side of the story, Ao finally manages to find Enjin - Hanging around at Tokyo Tower of all places. Cue the creation of a giant rail-based artillery gun to shoot at Enjin, and to Hell with blowing up Tokyo Tower (which always seems to get a rough ride in anime - Do the Japanese really hate it that much?). This assault causes Enjin to return, just in time to meet the back to full health Hime, who even has herself a new weapon to swing around (and a magically restored scarf too), leaving us with a pretty run-of-the-mill and expected face-off for the series' big climax.

I've mentioned earlier in this series that Yozakura Quartet doesn't always look entirely comfortable with "doing" action-packed, and this episode did indeed veer from the ridiculous to the sublime - I know I should be trying to suspend my logic and disbelief for a show like this, but long-range attacks on Tokyo Tower and the subsequent jump from Tokyo to wherever this town is location seemed a little ridiculous, and pushed things just a little too far despite me being more than happy (and actually quite impressed) to see cars being thrown around and ripped asunder by bare fists. Oh, and Enjin had to go and go the generic "Ha ha! I'm a crazy evil guy, look at me!" laugh, which never fails to get my eyes a'rollin'. Still, even with moments like that which make me giggle at the ridiculousness of it all, and despite the fact that the wider "moral" of this series has lost its way a bit, I still continue to hold a little candle for this series (although it has run short of wick in the past week or two) mainly on account of its main characters, who somehow charm me even when they're carrying out some generic anime action or being a bit dim. Come on, who doesn't want to give Ao a hug and some warm milk?

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 10

Okay, that's it, I admit it - Chäos;HEAd has finally succeeded in entirely melting my poor, uncomprehending brain. Thus, this particular 'Blog post will be brought to you by the charred remains of my head.

After the last episode linked Takumi to Shogun in a pretty big way, so this latest instalment manages to ramp up the "bloody Hell" factor substantially. Never mind about Shogun being Takumi's future self, does Takumi even exist at all? Apparently not according to Rimi, who informs Takumi that he was only "born", as a delusion, a year ago.

Takumi isn't the only one having an identity crisis, as Yua seemingly comes face to face with her sister Mimi who had committed suicide.. or has she? Indeed, who is Mimi and who is Yua? Again, confusion reigns until a Di-Sword or two sorts everything out. Everything, that is, apart from the existence for a period of two Nanamis (with Rimi attempting to save the real one), and the outbreak of absolute chaos around the city as N.O.Z.O.M.I.'s plans begin to take full effect. Oh, and the detective, who is in a bit of a tight spot himself.

Once again, this episode proves to be Chäos;HEAd at its best, delighting in messing with the viewer's head and causing them to question every single scene, for things are rarely as they seem. It's hard to really put into words what happens in each episode, as it's so filled with doubt at anything that anybody says or does (thanks to the whole "delusion" device), but it's exactly that which makes this series so compelling to watch when it gets it right and does it well. Even when the censors get hold of it (as I'm guessing has happened with Nanami towards the end of the episode), I almost find myself forgiving them for it. Note, I said almost.

Anyway, it seems almost impossible that this story will be wrapped up satisfactorily in two episodes, but here's hoping that they manage to do a good job, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be gripped by the duration of the remainder of this series. No way am I letting anyone put frog plushies on my phone now though...

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 23

It's time for episode twenty-three of Telepathy Shoujo Ran, and the heroine of the series is hearing voices again - Shouldn't she have been locked up in an asylum for this by now?

Anyway, this time the voice in question belongs to someone whose soul has been locked inside a haniwa - A man who is on a mission to find a new Queen for his people, despite having been dead for a thousand years or so. Normally you'd tell this kind of person not to worry and to just buy a PlayStation 3 and chill out, but this series being what it is they set out to help Wakatakeru (for that is his name) so that he can fulfil his promise.

While this episode was looking like prime two-parter material, rather surprisingly the whole thing was wrapped up in a single episode, with an ending that quite frankly felt hugely rushed and left out what could have been a decent episode's worth of material (with Ran as queen and so on) - This left this particular instalment feeling a bit like a shallow, half-baked lesson in Japanese history, which is always interesting provided you don't try and tag it on to... well, a shallow, half-baked episode of anime. Once again, Midori and Ran use their decidedly non-telepathic force field power, and once again Rui seems to know everything about anything, which leaves us with another episode that bears a strikingly close resemblance to almost every other episode of this series, which only serves to make it all the less interesting.

There isn't even much of a feeling that this series is working up to a big finish, leaving me wondering whether it's simply going to fizzle out in a few episodes time. Right now, that time can't come soon enough, as this series that promised to be at least fun continues to prove itself as possibly the most repetitive anime series of this year.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 11

Ahh, work versus love - One of those conflicts that you can never quite balance right, at least not unless you're some kind of self-employed multi-millionaire (and there aren't many of those about).

It's exactly this conflict that ails Tomoya in this episode of After Story, as he tries to balance his new career with spending time and paying due attention to Nagisa - A balance that he fails miserably at in all honesty, from not paying attention to what she's saying (which he probably should, as the clues are obvious that Nagisa is quite the loner at school once again having had to retake her final year again) through to standing her up in the name of fixing a mistake he made at work the night before.

Thankfully, it isn't all quite so sobering this episode, as we do get a brief segment featuring Tomoya hanging out with Akio which gives us some light relief involving toy light sabers and putting a lizard down Sanae's back, but aside from that its all very... well, real. Arguably not the kind of thing you want to watch after working long hours and worrying about money and making time for your girlfriend, but oh well.

All in all this is another somewhat slow-paced episode of After Story, which continues to carefully build itself up to the bigger items on its agenda, which I wager may well start next episode. On the one hand I have a fair bit of admiration for this relatively realistic portrayal of life, work and relationships, but on the other hand it doesn't make for the most gripping of anime, and personally I still miss the lighter, funnier side of Clannad, which has always been what drew me to the series the most. I get the feeling that I'm probably in the minority on that point though, so with that in mind I have to concede that After Story is trucking along just fine.