Thursday, 31 January 2008

Spice and Wolf - Episode 4

I said after episode three that Spice and Wolf required a little more... well, spice, aside from the admittedly wonderfully portrayed relationship between Lawrence and Horo, and so episode four has brought just that to the table, turning the relatively mundane journey the pair have embarked upon thus far on its head.

Indeed, this episode seemed so keen to get to the crux of the matter that the opening part of the episode really felt rather rushed, trying to quickly cram in the whole story about silver coins and the true expected role of Lawrence in the deal he'd previously made with another merchant at break-neck speed. After zipping through that, the story finds some time to focus on the pair's relationship once again, with what were some really quite emotionally fraught and intriguing moments, again almost perfectly played out to grab the watcher's interest.

But, no sooner does that aspect of the story seem to be revealing itself than the action starts for real, pulling us along with it to what is the show's first real cliff-hanger, which may well disappoint those who would quite happily enjoy an entire series of Lawrence and Horo scooting around selling things, but was certainly needed to give the plot a kick into life. Spice and Wolf may not be lining itself up as my favourite anime of this season, but once again this episode has proved its worth in holding my attention.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 3

I shouldn't laugh, and I swear I hadn't misheard it, but I was watching a news report today about an aircraft co-pilot who had a mental breakdown mid-flight, and it noted that he was carried off the plane after it had made its emergency landing shouting "I'm in despair!!". Which brings me to episode three of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei...

While you can never really be sure what to expect of this series (which is half the joy of the whole experience), the opening segment can only be described as beautifully realised, yet a rather odd experience. From then on, we enter much more familiar territory, with certain trains of thought being grasped upon, fleshed out, and then taken to extreme and long-winded lengths. It's as hit and miss as always, but the entire segment surrounding dropping bombshells casually into a conversation, then at the other extreme making everyday remarks sound like like major incidents had me almost literally rolling on the floor with laughter - Chiri Kitsu's revelation in that segment alone is worth watching the episode for.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei certainly makes you work for your enjoyment, flinging information and jokes at you at break-neck speed, and delighting in throwing several threads of dialogue and the like at you at once (try keeping up with all the various things going on in the opening segment without developing a headache - go on, I dare you), but if you can live with that (and you should be able to in this information age) then you'll be rewarded grandly with one of the most surreal yet amusing things I've ever had the joy of watching. If this show's rather unique brand of humour is your kind of thing, it really shouldn't be missed.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 3

After a far from inspiring start to Il Teatrino, I was beginning to fear for the integrity of the Gunslinger Girl franchise. Thank goodness then that episode three has taken the series in a far more positive direction, which felt far more like the show that so many of us cherish.

Sure, the animation remains extremely ropey, and some of the dialogue was admittedly still a little clunky, but at last we started to see signs of what Gunslinger Girl is all about, from the emotional ties and conflicts between the girls and their fratello (with Triela the focus of this entire episode), to the bursts of action when the show requires. Throw in a potentially interesting villain of the piece in the form of Pinocchio (a terrible name for a bad guy I know, but what can you do?), and hopefully now much of the scene setting has been done in those opening two parts of Il Teatrino, we can see something much better emerging - Certainly, the building blocks are now in place for a return to form, so let's just hope the improvement continues into episode four.

True Tears - Episode 4

Episode three of True Tears ended with a real "I need the next episode now!" moment - Sure, it was an anime/TV/movie cliché 'Person A overhears person B talking about person A and hears something he or she would rather not' moment, but it (together with the general quality of the show so far) left me aching for more.

True to form, episode four really doesn't disappoint, moving on Shinichirō's relationship with the three girls who are the stars of the show markedly, and each in its own unique fashion. This is truly one of those shows where you know your emotions and feelings for the main characters are being toyed with mercilessly, but hop on the roller-coaster and enjoy that ride and it's hard not to love every minute of True Tears.

While it would be way too early to hail this anime as perfect, and it can't really be called a work of genius on account of the fact that this kind of show has been done many a time before, True Tears is nonetheless proving to be a masterpiece thus far - The animation and artwork is simply beautiful, the characterisation is wonderfully engaging, and the emotional feel of each episode is perfectly balanced between lighter and more serious, poignant moments. I really feel that I should put a 'but' in there somewhere, but I can't... I'm simply struggling to find any negatives to offset the myriad good things I have to say about this anime thus far. Roll on episode five, once again I simply can't wait!

Shigofumi - Episode 3

Shigofumi set itself up with some high expectations thanks to that fantastic two-part opening story, but with the surprise changes to the tone of the series unwrapped it was always going to be difficult to keep that kind of momentum. Regardless of that, I was well and truly looking forward to episode three, with my interest piqued further by news that the episode in question had been edited due to its content in a "think of the children" moment.

In fact, let's start by talking about the edits made to this episode - Quite simply, they're ridiculously clumsy, and detract hugely from the story itself. Leaving my imagination to fill in the blanks, I have come to my own personal conclusion that the character in question held everyone hostage my making threatening use of a stick of French bread.

That aside, after the fantastic story and characterisation of the opening two episodes, this particular showing was really rather bland - A nondescript story, which happened for a non-existent reason. There was no real interaction on Fumika's part either apart from one interesting point of note, which just left the episode to plod on without any real direction. I still have faith that this show can deliver some more great episodes thanks to its intriguing concept, but in all honesty this particular offering wasn't one of them.

Friday, 25 January 2008

Spice and Wolf - Episode 3

While I still have some reservations about whether Spice and Wolf is going to be able to keep my interest for the entire duration of its run, I have to admit - It's kind of growing on me.

While this particular show is hardly a bastion of deep thinking or packed with action, it nonetheless has so far managed to keep me engaged, moving on both the basic plot (making legally trading goods about as exciting as you probably can in animated form) and the relationship between Horo and Lawrence quite nicely. Indeed, that is perhaps the crux of this anime so far - The way the two main characters interact (although this is doubtless helped by the fact that Horo is just plain cute in the bargain) gives me that warm, fuzzy feeling, thus help managing to keep my interest.

Oh, and Horo keeps her clothes on for basically the entirety of this episode which, given her proclivity towards gratuitous nudity in the first couple of episodes, is well and truly noteworthy in and of itself. So, while I'm not still 100% convinced by the overall entertainment quality of Spice and Wolf, it's done enough to keep my interest piqued so far.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Shigofumi - Episodes 1 & 2

Shigofumi - A final letter, written shortly after a person's death to another individual of their choice. Thus stands the concept of this anime, which has been adapted from a series of Japanese light novels.

From the concept alone, you should perhaps guess that this isn't going to be the most cheerful and upbeat of series, but to be honest from most of the opening episode it's rather hard to guess exactly where things are going - Unrequited young love coupled with more than a touch of humour from Fumika, the deliverer of these Shigofumi, and her talking staff sidekick Kanaka, leaves you expecting something really quite light-hearted. Just as you relax and smile at the little jokes and inter-personal relations of the main characters, so the series delights in proverbially punching you in the stomach the moment you drop your defences.

Make no mistake about it - These opening episodes of Shigofumi come from a dark, dark place, and that early joviality makes this descent into these murky waters all the more powerful. To be honest, it's not far short of genius, which is perhaps to be expected from Ichirō Ōkouchi, screenplay writer of both this series and the brilliant Code Geass. While the emotions put to use in these early episodes may not be all that subtle, they work perfectly as an emotional rollercoaster that leaves you wanted more... And boy do I want more. A unique and intriguing concept, beautifully yet disturbingly realised, this could well prove to be one of the best anime series of 2008 - High praise indeed, considering it's still January!

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episodes 1 & 2

For many of you, Gunslinger Girl will require no introduction, regarded as it is as something of a classic both in its manga form, and thanks to the superb original anime series. Given its reputation, creating a second series of the show is a tall order for anyone to take on.

On the positive side, Il Teatrino has the series' creator Yu Aida on board as chief writer, which certainly gives some hope of maintaining the quality of this follow-up series. Similarly, this second season is also set to follow an arc from the original manga, which also bodes well in keeping the overall tone that has made Gunslinger Girl so popular intact.

Given these plus points, I can only hope that the opening two episodes of Il Teatrino are simply a slow start for the show. While the first episode was forgivably little more than a recap of what the franchise is all about, its focus on action over the more thoughtful and emotional side of the various 'fratello' didn't particularly fit with what Gunslinger Girl is all about. The second episode was clearly more of a scene setter for the arc that is to follow, but proved to be clumsily realised and really quite disappointing.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle that Il Teatrino will need to overcome is its animation quality. Quite simply, it's terrible - I can't think of any anime I've seen in recent times with worse production values in all honesty. Some dodgy animation I can live with though, what I'm really hoping beyond hope for are a few glimpses of the real Gunslinger Girl we know and love once this new series gets into full swing. The early signs don't look good though, I'm sad to say.

True Tears - Episodes 1-3

True Tears is an anime based on a dating sim. Except it isn't - Rather bizarrely, only the title is shared between anime and manga, otherwise every aspect of this show from character design down to the storyline has been altered. Having never played the game, I really can't draw any comparisons between the two, but what I can say is that, from its opening three episodes, I've really warmed to the True Tears anime.

As far as plot goes, True Tears couldn't be much more stereotypical if it tried - One guy, surrounded by three girls, all with very different personalities and all, it seems, with a bit of a crush on Shinichirō Nakagami, our hero. Of the trio thus far however, Noe Isurugi has largely dominated the story, mainly on account of that unbeatable combination of being both cute and weird. Then you have Hiromi Yuasa, who already lives with Shinichirō after her father died when she was younger, and Aiko Endō, who we know very little about thus far (aside from her cooking abilities). Oh, and there's some odd stuff about capturing tears going on somewhere too. Not to mention regular appearances of chicken feed.

From reading all that, it most likely seems hard to pick out anything that particularly makes True Tears stand out from the crowd of anime that follows similar situations. Yet somehow, despite all that, this series so far 'just works'. It's often quite beautifully animated, the main characters are all likeable yet mysterious enough in their actions and feelings to remain intriguing, and the whole show so far just gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling of enjoyment. Hopefully as this series continues I'll be able to put my finger a little more precisely on why it works as a whole (assuming it doesn't go off the deep end story-wise and end up disappointing), but for now you'll have to trust me on this one when I say that it's well worth checking out if you like gently-paced, relationship-centric anime.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

School Days OVA - Valentine Days

Oh boy, more School Days. Despite being one of those people who is rarely, if ever, shocked or offended, the final episode of School Days really shook me to my core. Despite having heard about all the controversy surrounding it and the editing of the episode's blood (because black blood is so much better than red, naturally), even I wasn't prepared for the quite literally brutal bloodbath that was the end of the story. Nice boat or otherwise it was, quite simply, fucked up.

Perhaps thankfully this one-off, Valentine's Day special OVA of School Days refuses to retread such sordid ground, instead preferring to poke a little fun in the direction of that ending - Thus, we see Katsura making 'chocolate' (and I use that term loosely) while wielding a chainsaw, and later on much of the cast chasing Makoto around with a variety of knifes, meat cleavers and so on.

As you might have guessed, in no tangible way, shape or form does this fit in with the series canon, preferring to instead act as a very isolated and humorous episode. At least that's the plan - To be honest, the entire thing is little more than one giant 'Valentine's Day in anime' cliche, leaving little to nothing in the way of redeeming features. The animation is pretty poor, any storyline and humour are both largely absent, and overall it's something that's best missed unless you're some kind of huge School Days fan, and even then you'll likely be left disappointed.

All of a sudden, watching characters behead their already dead boyfriends and take their dismembered noggin for a boat trip seems that bit more tempting...

Monday, 21 January 2008

Ghost Hound - Episodes 1 - 10

Ghost Hound - An anime created by Production I.G. and Shirow Masamune, names easily recognisable by anyone with a keen interest in anime, and in particular the superb Ghost in the Shell franchise. Compared to the legendary nature of the aforementioned offering, it must be quite daunting to undertake anything new, but in some ways Ghost Hound really couldn't be much further removed from Shirow's most famous work. Gone is the crowded, cybernetic world of the future, replaced instead with a small, sleep town, and gone is the gadgetry in favour of ghosts and spirits.

Beyond those major and obvious differences however, Ghost Hound does share a few things in common with Ghost in the Shell, primarily in the way that Shirow has put plenty of emphasis on questioning the value of the human conscience and its abilities - Much as GitS focused on the Major's deep questioning of her own emotions and the like, so Ghost Hound uses the fear and dreams of its protagonist, Tarō, to explore both the conscious and subconscious mind. As always with Shirow's work, the research that has clearly gone into this series is impeccable, examining Out of Body Experiences and various psychological treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress in a highly scientific and well-referenced manner in a way that anyone who enjoys the literary references of Ghost in the Shell will lap up, while not being afraid to enter the realms of pure, unadulterated fantasy to keep the story compelling as entertainment.

Ghost Hound isn't just a lesson in psychology though, it takes great care in building up all of the major characters over the course of the series so far, slowly revealing more about them and seeing them grow and evolve both as individuals and in groups as they confront their own various fears and dark pasts. This attention to detail has made the show something of a slow-burner thus far, but a fascinating one none the less.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect to Ghost Hound is its audio track, which delights in obscuring passages of speech (particularly in the start of episode recaps), and generally using the soundtrack as an excuse to heighten the sometimes uncomfortable feelings or thoughts that characters develop frequently throughout the show. Some may call it gimmicky, but personally I feel that the soundtrack is used to perfection here, rarely failing to elevate any tensions or oddities that are apparent in any given scene.

Overall, Ghost Hound so far is one of those series that requires a fair amount of attention to make the most of - It's the kind of show that can have you running to Wikipedia or Google to do further research on some of the topics discussed, just as Ghost in the Shell could have you diving for your copy of The Catcher in the Rye. An entertaining series that goes some way to expanding the interest and knowledge of the viewer - Personally, I really couldn't ask for much more.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episodes 1 & 2

If ever proof was needed that things don't always have to make perfect sense to be funny, then (in my book) Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei could quite possibly be put up alongside Monty Python's Flying Circus and the stand-up comedy of Ross Noble as conclusive evidence along those lines.

It's really no secret that I loved every episode of this show's first season, and the return of the unfortunately named teacher (whatever happened to calling him Pink Supervisor anyhow?) can only be greeted with joy myself.

The first two episodes of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (even the show's title is a play on words, which gets it bonus points from the start) seem to have taken the show's early success in its first season as proof that the surrealist boat can be pushed out even further the first time around. Thus, what little continuity existed previously gets completely blown out the window, the jokes become ever weirder (and indeed harder to follow, with a huge chunk of episode two seeing the characters talking complete nonsense, which is then translated into something slightly less nonsensical (although only just). In theory it probably shouldn't be funny, but in reality it's hilarious stuff. I would provide more examples of the kind of bizarre humour to be expected here, but I really don't want to spoil any of the surprises... Oh, okay, Kafuka Fūra putting lyrics to Träumerei is definitely not to be missed. Speaking of which, has anyone else spotted the clues to Kafuka's real name?

Overall, much like its first series, Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is most definitely an acquired taste... The marmite of anime if you will. Some people no doubt simply won't get it, while others will absolutely relish every moment of humour and clever little snippets of wordplay and inside jokes. Feel free to park me well and truly in column B on that one.

Spice and Wolf - Episodes 1 & 2

It's safe to say that when it comes to watching anime, anything with two much of a historical bent tends to pass me by (with one or two exceptions obviously). But, gripped with new anime season fever, and having heard some excited commentary from elsewhere, I decided to check out the opening two episodes of Spice and Wolf without really knowing what to expect.

In essence, Spice and Wolf is the story of Craft Lawrence, a hard-working and savvy merchant who finds his normal routine disrupted by a rather unusual discovery in the back of his cart, in the form of a naked girl... With ears and a tail. This rather shocking discovery is only made all the more intriguing when said girl claims herself to be Horo, a wolf God (although surely that should be goddess?) who has been worshipped for many years by local townsfolk. However, with the town's prosperity no longer resting solely on the worship of a deity and the harvest she provides, times are changing for Horo, who seems keen for a way out of her current situation. The story from here on in writes itself for these opening episodes, with Horro tagging along with Lawrence's journey, thus beginning what is looking very much like a friendship/relationship-based show.

Having said that, judging by these opening episodes, Spice and Wolf could just as easily be a female (well, wolf-girl) nudity based anime, with Horo spending virtually the entire first episode without clothes, and wasting no time in shedding any garbs for a period of episode two. Of course, you could argue that this was all for the sake of continuity and furthering the storyline, but... Well, I get the strangest feeling that the opportunity to make gratuitous use of a naked, sexy wolf-girl was too much for the writers and animation team to pass by.

Apart from the major wardrobe malfunctions which seem to plague Horo, the opening episodes of this series have proved to be rather sedate, and not in a bad way, with the relationship between the two main characters progressing quite nicely, building up tension on one side of the proverbial coin but affection on the other. However, there will definitely be a need to move the show's storylines on much further than simply that to hold any real interest, which leaves this anime thus far capable of going either way, into the depths of dullness or something really quite special.

My first episode review of this 'Blog, and I'm already sitting on the fence... Great! Anyway, I await episode three with interest...

This was inevitable I suppose

Since entering 2008, I've found myself watching more and more new anime, and seeing as all the cool kids have 'Blogs these days dedicated to the latest material coming out of Japan, I had a sudden urge to follow suit.

I really have no idea how often I'll update this, so it's very much an experiment at present, so I'll just have to see how things go. This certainly won't be a visually beautiful, screen grab laden experience most likely, just a simple spot for splashing my thoughts on whatever shows I'm watching around so that everybody (or more likely nobody) will read them.