Monday, 31 March 2008

Kimi ga Nozomu Eien OVA - Next Season - Episodes 1-2

I could have sworn I'd 'Blogged about the first episode of this OVA, but apparently not, so I'll roll it in together with episode two of this follow-up to the successfully (and it has to be said, extremely good) Kimi ga Nozomu Eien.

This OVA is supposedly meant to follow the 'Haruka route' from the game the original anime was spawned from, and indeed its first episode follows Haruka upon her discharge from hospital after three years in a coma, as her and Takayuki look to continue the relationship they started not long before the accident that caused her coma all those years before. However, those years of waiting have taken their toll on his ability to find a job, and the episode ends with Haruka pushing him away, parting them for at least the time being so that they can get their own lives in order.

Episode two of the OVA switches its attentions largely to Mitsuki, who regales us with her story of everything that happened from the very start (why not make the recap episode one of the series?), right through to the present day that sees her sharing a flat with another former swimming club member in Tokyo.

While it's great to see all of the characters from Kimi ga Nozomu Eien once again, you can't help but shake the feeling that there's something missing this time around. Perhaps the series needs a bit of time to grow, but these first two episodes have seen plenty of monologuing without ever really engaging the viewer - There just isn't the emotional spark there that made the original series so watchable and capable of drawing you into its morally impossible world.

My soft spot for the original series is probably giving Next Season a bit of a free pass, but I still get the feeling that there's plenty of potential in this show. It'll have to start blossoming soon if it wants to avoid looking like a half-hearted effort however.

Ghost Hound - Episode 17

After episode sixteen of Ghost Hound finally started to help up piece together what's going on at Nippon Bio Tech amongst other questions, it seemed that the series was finally starting to shift through the gears towards revealing many of the mysteries surrounding the series.

At least, so I thought. However, episode seventeen returned to the same old slow-pace, dealing largely with Taro's suspicions that Miyako is his sister reincarnated, a possibility that the already fragile girl takes none too kindly too. That aside, we learn nothing new here really, and I have to confess that I'm finally beginning to feel frustrated with this series, which has so often teased that it's about to 'open the kimono' as it where, before withdrawing back into itself. While I'm still hopeful for some fascinating conclusions to the series, it seems likely that Ghost Hound will be drawn out for a fair bit longer before we start getting real answers to the big questions that have been posed.

Building up slowly to a climax is no bad thing, but Ghost Hound's pace is at risk of bordering on the lethargic.

Chi's Sweet Home - Episode 1

Chi's Sweet Home is a series of brief five-minute episodes, taken from a manga which tells the story of a lost kitten (Chi, obviously), who is discovered and taken in by a family.

The animation is pretty basic, but given the fact that the content features a cute kitten, the opening episode can be summed up in just a single word - Awwwwwwwwww.

It's safe to say that the sole purpose of this series is to bring the word 'kawaii' to your lips, and to be fair, the first episode succeeds in that. Yes, it's no deep magnum opus or fantastic psychological study, but it's about a kitten, what more do you want?!

Sunday, 30 March 2008

School Days OVA - Magical Heart Kokoro Chan

After the bloody and disturbing School Days, then the ridiculous Valentine Days OVA, what next for Makoto and company? If the title of this new OVA doesn't give it a way, yes, it's yet more nonsensical parody thinly dressed up to fit the School Days franchise.

Actually, did I say dressed? Hardly a fitting word, seeing as this particular OVA seems to have been an excuse to shoehorn as much fan service as humanly possible into a twenty-five minute space. Never mind the excruciatingly poor magical girl parody, this 'episode' is all about nudity and revealing costumes for the various female characters from the franchise. Even that might be vaguely acceptable if the animation wasn't so god-awful from beginning to end.

The only place Magical Heart Kokoro Chan manages to redeem itself even slightly are the very occasional in-jokes scattered throughout the OVA, including the appearance of... you guessed it... A boat. Called Nice Boat. It was obvious, and it was stupid, but it made me laugh, so I guess this wasn't a waste of twenty-five minutes of my life. No, I can say with absolutely certainty that it was only a waste of twenty-four minutes and thirty seconds of my life.

True Tears - Episode 13 (Completed)

So majestic has True Tears been as a series, that I can see myself buying the DVDs and affording them silk cushions upon which to rest in the utmost luxury. This show has worked so well from beginning to end that it seemed beyond inconceivable that the writers would make a mess of the ending, and thankfully they didn't, choosing not to leave the viewer hanging on for a conclusion until the last minute and instead opting to make it pretty clear quite early how things were going to end.

From that moment onwards, we see Shinichirō really getting to grips with his feelings and why he feels the way he does, and perhaps more importantly watch him finally 'do things right' as he promised to do a handful of episodes ago. Again, I can't help but find some of Hiromi's actions a little... well, bitchy, to be honest, but at least the show's characters have remained consistent throughout.

When it comes to the crunch, characterisation is what has made True Tears what it is - Every one of the main players in this drama has felt real to an unprecedented extent, to the point where I suspect that some of my prejudices regarding certain characters were more to do with real people they reminded me of than the actual character themselves. Beautifully coupled with this excellent writing and plotting was the animation, which captured the nuances of human interaction in a delightful fashion - Sure, every anime of this ilk uses those aversions of the eyes and the like to convey emotion, but in True Tears the subtlety of it brought the feeling of intimacy delivered by the series to whole new levels.

I've been gushing about this series for thirteen weeks now, so this is my final chance to sum up True Tears in a single word of my choice. And that word shall be... Masterful.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 12 (Completed)

Shigofumi has proved to be a tough old series to pigeon hole during its run, in terms of both style and quality. At times, it has delivered fantastically dramatic episodes and storylines, almost delighting in the disturbing twists given to those stories, yet at others it's fallen flat to a huge degree - Perhaps given the episodic nature of the first half of the series, this shouldn't be surprising.

Episode twelve finally brings the show, and its focus on Fumika's internal struggle between herself, Fumi, and her 'imaginary' friend Mika, to a close. But, to be honest, it's a cop-out. While the story was set to go one way or the other with regard to which of Fumika's split personalities would win out, and despite not being afraid to court controversy throughout the series up to now (with two episodes requiring last-minute edits for content), the show's writers have instead opted for a 'happily ever after' ending - Nobody dies or disappears, and everything is left more or less exactly how it was before... Even Mikawa Kirameki continues to have his books published, despite the knowledge of his child abuse becoming public.

Considering the near-relish with which Shigofumi has shocked and disturbed, to go down this route is hugely disappointing, and while I never cared too much for the main Fumika storyline as some of the Shigofumi delivery plots that got their own episodes, I at least hoped that there would be a strong and somehow positive resolution.

Overall, this closing episode perhaps perfectly sums up Shigofumi as a whole - Some moments of excellence (those opening two episodes will live long in the memory as a fantastic work), let down by an inability to carry that potential and ability through to its logical conclusion. At the end of it all, Shigofumi is the kind of show that would make for a perfect 'Best Of' DVD - Pick out three or four episodes from the twelve that made up the series and you'd have a body of quality work, but move beyond that and you end up with a far more diluted end product.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Ghost Hound - Episode 16

After almost losing its way a little in the last episode, things get well and truly back on track in episode fifteen of Ghost Hound. The focus of this instalment is split between Makoto's attempts to deal with his family's past (in particular the death of his father and his mother abandoning him) on the one hand, and Masayuki's decision to take an out-of-body trip to Nippon Bio Tech on the other.

Overall, it's the latter of these two plotlines which fascinates the most, as we finally begin to understand just what kind of experimentation is going on there, although there is still clearly plenty yet to be revealed. Speaking of revelations, we also find out the real identity of 'Snark', who appeared in the Unseen World (or Abstract World, as he'd rather have it) in an earlier episode, who also manages to add quantum physics to the wide range of scientific and psychological subject matter covered by this series so far.

After having moved so slowly for such a long time, it appears that the revelations which tie everything in this show together are finally going to begin falling into place, and not a moment too soon - This series could only live so long on the odd snatch of horror and plenty of background research. While there's still plenty yet to be made known, things are suddenly get interesting, and promising to make the remaining episodes of Ghost Hound all the more fascinating provided it doesn't falter in its pacing again.

Spice and Wolf - Episode 13 (Completed)

To begin this entry, a confession - When I first started watching Spice and Wolf, I was convinced... no, determined, that I wouldn't like it. An often naked wolf girl and a rather dull merchant set in the far flung past? Hardly the kind of anime I'd traditionally trouble myself with, but I figured I'd give it a go anyway seeing as several people were talking about it, but to be honest I was just expecting a rather clichéd and fan-service laden offering.

However, thirteen weeks later I have to come clean and admit it - I was wrong.... Boy, was I wrong. While Spice and Wolf never threatened to be an action-laden, edge of the seat work, it offered a vast amount of simple pleasures thanks to one simple factor often forgotten by anime writers - Personality. Quite simply, the Horo and Lawrence dynamic that developed throughout this series is up there with the best of them in any television medium... A Mulder and Scully of the anime world, if you will. The way the two main characters played off against one another's strengths and weaknesses was in turns touching, amusing, saddening, and a whole other host of emotions that I can't even begin to conjure in words.

While episode thirteen turned up the action quota a little to polish off the existing gold smuggling storyline (while also giving plenty of screen time to Horo in her wolf form), it still never lost sight of what is important about this show, keeping the main pair's dynamic at the fore and throwing in plenty of mercantile thinking into the bargain too. Indeed, the series was concluded with a beautifully hilarious scene between Horo and Lawrence, which well and truly leaves the door open for a second series. I never thought I'd be saying this when I embarked upon this particular journey, but please make a second season of Spice and Wolf. Please.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Minami-ke Okawari - Episode 12

I've been giving Minami-ke Okawari a pretty hard time for not being funny or entertaining enough throughout its run, and while I can't say that episode twelve brought some much needed hilarity to the series, it did at least manage to find some plot development to speak of, and has actually left us with a bit of a cliffhanger going into the show's closing episode, which has actually left me wanting to know what happens next.

If only the writers of this show had realised ten weeks ago that deviating from the tried and trusted gender confusion and "Oh, isn't Kana stupid" gags was a sure-fire way to improve the series, then Minami-ke Okawari could have followed in the footsteps of its somewhat superior predecessor in remaining far more watchable. While even this episode was hardly a classic, at least taking some likeable characters and putting them in situations with some emotional meaning as happened here created a far more engaging spectacle, leaving you with at least some predilection towards said characters that went beyond such non-descript feelings as 'nice' (which is probably the one word I would have chosen to sum up the series thus far).

So, will the final episode of Minami-ke Okawari bring this series some last minute rehabilitation? To be honest, it's a little late for that, but at least this episode has left me caring what happens next, which is a vast improvement all in all.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 7

Is there such a thing as too much Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei? After that long drought, followed by three episodes in close proximity, I can categorically say - No.

Aside from a couple of segments that were in keeping with the general scheme of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, taking in those annoying 'jokes' that people have heard a million times (in particular, I had to laugh out loud at the mention of Winning Eleven 11... you have to wonder if it'll happen) and seeing Nozomu Itoshiki find himself with an addiction to qualifications in an effort to become a permanent examinee and thus get an easier passage through life.

Away from that more traditional role, episode seven of the series went down the route that it seems no comedy anime can resist - The pardoy. Thus, Zetsubou Sensei got the magical girl treatment, with 'Zetsubou' channel also bringing us some hilarious takes on children's TV and cooking programmes, amongst other things.

For some reason, the final 'examinee' section of the episode also decided to take in as many animation styles as possible, some of which were truly rubbish to the point of amusement, while somehow appealing to my artistic sensibilities. You've got to hand it to the team behind this anime, they've managed to take randomness to some whole new levels, and to be honest I could have watched some of those parody skits all day. Brilliant stuff, and recent episodes seem to have seen a real return to form after the series stuttered a little for an episode or two earlier in its run.

Monday, 24 March 2008

True Tears - Episode 12

Oh boy... Just when you thought that all of the main matters of importance had been settled and that True Tears would cruise on through in stylish fashion to the end, so everything gets well and truly shaken up again.

While some of episode twelve's revelations were of no real surprise at all (Jun's in particular, although it was surprising just how forthright he was about it), the shift in Shinichirō's feelings which all seemed to stem from Noe was a big shock, with the show's protagonist having some real moments of clarity during this episode. As if that wasn't enough to make you get down on your knees and beg for the final episode of the series, so we were left with the cruellest of cliffhangers, bordering on mental abuse of True Tears lovers such as myself who know have to wait another week to find out the outcome of those shocking last few seconds. All of that, and I haven't even mentioned Hiromi, who also seems to be realising exactly the way things are panning out.

I think I've run dry of compliments for this show, taking in everything from its animation to the actual plotlines and characterisation which have been unsurpassed, and even though we're getting more and more still frame shots as the series is clearly running out of time and/or money, the important scenes are still a lesson in animated mastery. Even when things get shaken up to keep the show interesting to the very last, it never feels forced or contrived, with everything taking what seems like a natural and understandable path. The thought of this show finishing next week leaves me very much in two minds - On the one hand, I really want to see an ending which will almost certainly befit everything that has gone before, but on the other, a big part of me simply doesn't want this series to finish at all. Ever.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 6

After so long without a dose of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei for the soul, much like buses two come along at once, and once again this show manages to squarely hit the spot in episode six.

Amongst the topics covered in this episode are wisdom teeth (referred to as 'teeth unknown to parents' in Japan), which soon devolves into a wider examination of things that parents don't get told, as well as Nozomu Itoshiki's despair at the world where everything is reported, a trend which he tries to buck but, naturally, fails miserably.

If all of that sounds like rather normal fare, and you're expecting something along the lines of episode five's relative normalcy, forget it. Sandwiched inbetween those two sketches is a discourse and demonstration of the dangers of the dream sequence in a show which takes in some rather bizarre territory, and then just to confuse everyone further still the aforementioned wisdom teeth segment of the episode sees the various voice actors and actresses swapping characters faster than.... well, a very fast thing.

It's simply tricks like the above which would be annoying or just plain stupid in the hands of anyone else, yet Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei not only carries it off, it makes it pretty damn funny in the process. Besides all that, what other show would have the meaning of the universe revealed by a gossiping old woman in an apartment block, or question whether babies dream of inheritance and large accident compensation pay-outs? As I've said many a time before, this is a really hit-and-miss series, and its humour is very much an acquired taste (you don't have to be mad to watch this show, but it helps), but with its constant stream of dialogue, visual gags and the like, it rarely fails to meet its laughter quota.

Minami-ke Okawari - Episode 11

While Minami-ke Okawari really hasn't held a candle to the series' original run, thanks mainly to the fact that it hasn't looked to progress at all beyond the general plot points established all those episodes ago, I have to credit episode eleven for at least offering up an improvement in that sense (although it seems the writers still couldn't resist bringing up some of the show's 'gender confusion' issues for at least one portion of the show).

Thus, the mainstay of this episode is Kana's decision to feign illness to get out of certain things, only to be caught out with a real cold the next day when the things she actually wants to do happens - and let's be honest, I'm sure exactly that kind of kismet has happened to all of us at some point in time. Anyhow, what follows is Kana's attempt to recover from said cold in less than a day (another thing we've probably all tried at some point), which wasn't laugh out loud funny at all, but it got me smiling which is a start for this show, so it is at least a step in the right direction.

The only thing that does remain truly positive throughout this series are the three sisters themselves, who can't help liking for their own respective personalities and quirks - if it weren't for this trio's characteristics (coupled with some of the supporting characters, who also do their part to be broadly likeable), I think I would have given up on this series long, long ago.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 5

Almost a month without watching a single episode of this show? Yes, I was well and truly in despair thanks to a lack of witty weirdness courtesy of everyone's favourite teacher.

While episode four didn't particularly hit the right notes for me, episode five of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was a definite return to form, stringing together some wonderfully bizarre trains of thought and backing up with enough decent sight and set-piece gags to make me burst out laughinng on numerous occasions. Amongst the topics for discussion this time around was how everything in the world can be split into science, athletics and liberal arts (which made a frightening amount of sense in places), how Japanese 'fortune bags' prove that there's nothing good about leftovers, and that people shouldn't expect to be rewarded for acts of kindness.

It's this kind of thing which has really sealed Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's irreverent style, and quite simply, it's what it does best, bombarding the viewer with informations and jokes aplenty safe in the knowledge that enough of it will stick to make for an enjoyable experience, with this particular episode probably the best example of what the series is capable of in quite a while. You can never quite tell whether the odd animation in places (showing just characters feet for entire segments) is there to make it cheap to produce or to add to the style, but again, it really doesn't matter when all is said and done. Simply put, when it's on-form this often hit and miss show is sheer genius.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 11

With episode ten of Shigofumi leaving us with the 'real' Fumika awakening from her coma, it was pretty obvious that this week's instalment would deal with what followed from that major change as well as moving towards a resolution of the whole 'Fumi'/'Mika' split personality issue.

To be fair, after having found myself rather disinteresting in much of the storyline surrounding Fumika herself, this episode was handled rather well, and ended in a way that leaves everything well and truly up in the air regarding what lies ahead for Fumika's Shigofumi alter-ego, and perhaps the 'true' Fumika in the bargain. While much of the way the episode progressed was really quite obvious, it still managed to remain well paced and actually quite gripping in places, in a way that the whole Fumika back story hasn't particularly succeeded with up until now.

Now that I'm resigned to the fact that Shigofumi will never recapture the glory of those first two episodes, and that it has by its very nature been a hit-and-miss series, my expectations are far more relaxed as we move towards the show's close. While this week's episode was a solid and decently realised one, I still have to wonder whether they can close out the series in a satisfactory fashion, as what is now its major storyline still balances somewhat on a precipice between being smart and, frankly, a bit daft.

Spice and Wolf - Episode 12

So, here we already, at the penultimate episode of Spice and Wolf, a show which I wasn't expecting to become particularly engrossed in, but which has turned out to be highly engaging.

After so many really rather sedate episodes, we were really due a more action-packed episode, and that's exactly what episode eleven brings us, with Lawrence and Horo, with help from Nora the shepherd, enacting their cunning gold smuggling plan, taking a route which puts them in grave danger of being attacked by, of all things, wolves.

I mentioned last time around that it felt like there was far too much story to be squeezed in before the end of this series' thirteen episode run, and that may well explain why parts of this week's episode felt rather rushed - compared to the leisurely pace we've been used to with this show, there was certainly a determined effort to push on through to the important moments as quickly as possible to leave us with the inevitable cliffhanger. Sadly, this quickening of pace gives us less time to enjoy that wonderful relationship between Horo and Lawrence, although we do get to admire the former's verbal skills when it comes to tying Nora in knots.

Despite the fast pace of this episode, I still don't see how a satisfactory conclusion can be reached in just one more twenty-five minute episode, and I really hope we won't be left with a rushed ending of some kind. It seems almost inevitable now that the door will be left open for a second season of the show (which is certainly no bad thing in my book), but let's cross our fingers that they can give the current storyline an end that does this rather wonderful series justice.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Yotsunoha - Episode 1

Yotsunoha is a two-part OVA that takes its cue from a hentai game for the PC, which should give you a pretty good idea about most of its major plot points without saying anything. High school, one guy, several girls with wildly varying personalities and physical characteristics, etc etc.

To be more precise, this show follows three girls (Nono Nekomiya, Iori Yuzuki and Matsuri Amachi) and one guy, Makoto Yuki, who we first see on the last day of their current school before it closes for good. The group buries a time capsule and agrees to meet again to reveal its contents three years later. We then fast forward to exactly that time, giving this episode plenty of excuses for flashbacks and reminiscences while also dealing with the current feelings and thoughts of the group.

Beyond the slightly intriguing principle of the time capsule and meeting three years later, what follows is pretty much anime cliché, with at least two of the girls harbouring feelings for Makoto, who of course is more or less completely clueless of this. It isn't bad per se as an OVA goes (although Nono's drawling voice really annoys me for some reason), and the main characters are all somewhat likeable in their own predictable fashions, but it doesn't look likely to break with convention or bring anything new to the table, instead offering some reasonably easy-going entertainment. If you like this kind of thing a lot (or maybe if you played the original game), then Yotsunoha will probably work pretty well for you, but otherwise there are plenty of better examples of this genre around judging by the first half of this OVA.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

Appleseed Ex Machina

The 2004 Appleseed remake was a difficult one for me to rate - On the one hand, it featured some fantastic set piece action sequences that I could happily watch over and over again (with the opening sequence of the movie possibly one of the best examples of choreographed action against a perfect soundtrack since The Matrix's infamous lobby scene), but on the other it had contained some very stilted dialogue and a plot that really didn't capture my imagination. The soundtrack also gave the movie a rather Westernised feel, which similarly both worked and failed to grab my interest in equal measure.

Appleseed Ex Machina sees Deunan Knute and Briareos reunited in action once again, and as would be fitting of a sequel to the 2004 Appleseed offering, it begins with a short but intense action sequence - Oh, did I mention a certain John Woo was involved in producing this movie? This call to action ends with Briareos hospitalising, giving Deunan a new partner to work with - Tereus, a bioroid who bears more than a passing resemblance to Briareos before he became the man-machine he currently lives his life as.

From here, the plot takes in the ups and downs of creating a global communications network, which the baddie of the piece then uses to send lolcats to the unsuspecting citizens of the world who are addicted to personal communication devices of their own. Okay, okay, so I made up the lolcat part. We also (in keeping with the original movie) have cause to question the morality of cloning and creating bionic humans with certain emotions removed, and see Deunan face up to the question of just how unswerving her love for Briareos is.

Or at least, we would be asked those questions were any of them really posed in any depth during the course of the movie. Although the Appleseed franchise is based on a work by Masamune Shirow, we see little in the way of his trademark philosophical, political and moral debates surface here. Instead, the focus is kept well and truly on the action side of the movie, keeping things moving thick and fast to ensure the explosions and gunfire keep coming.

This action-oriented focus certainly keeps the movie ticking along with a certain amount of entertainment throughout, although the action sequences never really caught my eye in the same way as the 2004 Appleseed remake managed, often simply being too fast and furious to fully appreciate even with the smatterings of inevitable bullet time effects. The use of CG in a cel animation style certainly makes for an interesting look for the movie (as it did its predecessor), giving it a video game feel that is in keeping with its action-packed nature. While the soundtrack isn't packed with big names like the movie before it, it still had a fair impact at times, to the point where I wouldn't mind taking a peek at the soundtrack at some point.

Overall then, if you're hoping for something thought-provoking out of Appleseed Ex Machina - Forget it, you really won't find it here. If a couple of hours of neat visuals and explosive action is more your bag, then this movie is a decent enough jaunt to pass the time. Personally, I preferred the first movie, but only by a whisker.

True Tears - Episode 11

Pure genius - That's almost all I can find to say about True Tears in general, but particularly this episode, which someone manages to top once again everything that has come before.

After episode ten left us with what could practically have been the series finale, things predictably got shaken up a little during the course of the episode, although the biggest shake of the bunch came (where else?) but right at the end.

After last week's episode began this process, all in all episode eleven seems to be one of continuing and more prominent realisations for most of the characters. Aiko realises that she still needs Miyokichi, as a friend at least, after jettisoning him last week, Hiromi realises that's she's hurt a lot of people and dragged them into the predicaments she's caused, and Shinichirō soon comes to understand that his promise to 'do everything right' last episode has turned out to be anything but correct. Then there's Noe, who finally loudly acknowledges what she's known for a while now. Indeed, the only one who still refuses to accept their true feelings seems to be Jun, who continues to pursue Hiromi under the auspices of their 'contract' without admitting that the real reason for doing just that is simply to try and rekindle Noe's happiness.

I know I just mentioned that this show is pure genius, but I can't help but say so again - True Tears is pure genius. After worrying that we may end up with a Hiromi/Shinichirō ending despite the former not being worthy of much respect a few episodes back, the storyline has progressed admirably in showing Hiromi owning up to her mistakes and taking a much more admirable course of actions despite her concerns and prejudice, even to the point of telling Shinichirō something that she was clearly conflicted over, fearing it may swing the balance of his feelings away from her. Again, this just goes to underline how spot on the characterisations in this series have been throughout, and when coupled with the largely luscious and emotionally descriptive animation then you're left with... you guessed it. Pure genius.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Minami-ke Okawari - Episode 10

After finding Minami-ke relatively amusing at times, its continuation in Okawari hasn't really worked so well in its opening episodes - A trend which continues through almost inevitably into episode ten.

Once again, all of the main characters in this slice of life series are likeable enough, which makes it more than a little difficult to actively dislike the show, but at the same time there's nothing that really appeals to my sense of humour, with most of the running gags now seemingly entirely exhausted. For example, we get that Kana is hyper and a bit stupid by now after having spent twenty-three episodes watching her, and although this episode finishes with a nice little twist on her usual characteristics (which is simply cute rather than funny) everything else is very much predictable. So we could go on with every major character, to the point where you can guess pretty much everything way before it happens. That in itself isn't a bad thing (it happens in plenty of series of this ilk), but without some snappy one-liners or clever skits to drop those characters into, it simply never takes off.

Once again then, Minami-ke Okawari managed to be 'nice' without ever really being funny, and remains a shadow of its former self.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Spice and Wolf - Episode 11

Well, thank goodness for that! After Lawrence managed to upset Horo terribly last episode, I feared that episode eleven of Spice and Wolf would find itself shorn of the usual rapport between the dynamic duo. But no, any anger and resentment was soon overcome, and we were back to our old ways of enjoying the strangely engaging relationship between merchant and cute wolf-girl.

Of course, making up their differences pales into comparison with Lawrence's wider problem of owing a lot of money which he simply can't find. Thus, we find him and Horo (who comes up with the idea, naturally) turn criminal masterminds and plotting a way out of their crisis.

Considering how we're running out of episodes, I'm really beginning to wonder how they're planning on closing everything out cleanly in the time remaining - Do I smell season two of Spice and Wolf in the offing? Although I find myself struggling to be really interested in the wheeling and dealing a lot of the time, I can happily live with it just to enjoy the many facets of Horo's personality. I've blathered on enough times about how she and Lawrence make for a perfect focus of the series, without any need for anything much else to happen at all, but I stand by that fact. Never mind the plot, this show continues to get full marks for its handling of the main pairing of characters.

Ghost Hound - Episode 15

I've frequently talked about Ghost Hound as a slow-burning series here previously, and so it continues, with little to nothing being revealed each episode. Indeed, episode fifteen actually felt strangely disjointed - I'm not sure whether or not it was a deliberate ploy to throw the viewer a little off-balance, but it certainly made things just that little bit harder to follow.

That aside, there wasn't anything particularly noteworthy about this episode until its climax, where it appears that things might be about to get rather messy, on Makoto's part at least. We also saw poor old Professor Hirata suffering mentally once again during his investigations - He really does seem to get the raw end of this whole out-of-body experience lark, I have to say.

So, another episode comes and goes, and we're still none the wiser as to exactly what is going on in the town of Suiten, with yet more questions being posed without any answers appearing to be forthcoming. Episode fifteen certainly wasn't the best example of what this show is all about, so hopefully it can pick things up a little better next time around.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 10

After going off the rails last week as it deviated from its tried and trusted formula just a little too much, episode ten of Shigofumi broadly goes back to basics, leaving Fumika with only a minor part to play so that the story could concentrate on a young girl called... err, Fumika. It appears that Fumika's are like buses in this show, turning up en masse when you least expect it.

Anyhow, the sweet little Fumika in this episode is little more than a vehicle to introduce us to the real focus of the piece, Takehiko - a thirty-something otaku who has just been diagnosed with cancer. As you might expect of Shigofumi by now, it's hardly cheerful subject matter, but despite its plot holes what follows is a really rather poignant episode. It's the kind of thing that's been done before plenty of times for the medium of television, but in this case I have to confess that it left me with a lump in my throat - I can't quite put a finger on it, but the feel of the episode just worked its magic on me, I guess it's just a case of my sympathising with certain aspects of Takehiko's life.

The final seconds of the episode deliver a big (albeit inevitable) moment that promises to shake up the series and bring the storyline back to the 'real' Fumika once again, so as per usual who knows what the next episode will hold. Will it be genius? Will it stink? Such is the variable quality of Shigofumi that I wouldn't want to bet money either way. Regardless, episode ten is another mark in the 'pretty good' column for the series.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Spice and Wolf - Episode 10

Episode nine of Spice and Wolf hinted that there may be trouble ahead for Lawrence, and episode ten sees those problems manifest themselves in the worst possible manner as our favourite merchant's luck finally runs out in spectacular fashion.

While I could consider Lawrence's financial and economic problems in great detail here, let's be honest - nobody really cares too much about the whole merchant thing, it just happens to be a great vehicle for Lawrence and Horo's relationship. Once again, Horo is on top form, teasing and verbally jousting away while making it difficult to understand where her teasing ends and real feelings towards Lawrence begin. Horo's presence in, and effect upon, Lawrence's life come to a head at the end of this episode, leaving us with a bit of a cliffhanger as to how things will shake out next time around.

Unfortunately, the animation quality of Spice and Wolf seemed to take quite a steep dive in episode ten unless my eyes deceive it, but thankfully the Lawrence-Horo relationship is still the big draw of this show, and it still works brilliantly. As a purely character-driven piece, Spice and Wolf remains largely delightful, and more than makes up for its relative lack of action or even a particularly interesting plot by leveraging this single relationship alone. Enjoyable stuff, and strangely relaxing to watch with its olde world charms and likeable duo at the helm.

True Tears - Episode 10

Damn you True Tears, for manipulating my emotions so easily and readily! After admitting my anti-Hiromi feelings last week, I sat down to watch episode ten of this series expecting to enjoy the episode but not the route Shinichirō has taken. Yet, despite all that, my only emotions come the end of this latest instalment is a slightly misty-eyed smile, coupled with the simple thought - 'Awwwwww'. Yes, I'm a big old softy when it comes to the crunch.

All in all, episode ten is one of realisations for most of the main characters in some way, shape or form. Shinichirō realises how much he's hurt many of those around him with his recent actions as well as his true feelings, Hiromi decides that she needs to be away from the household that has caused her so much heartache over the years, and Aiko finally does the almost inevitable and does away with Miyokichi. Indeed, the only people who appear to be clinging to their respective confused, rocky outcrops of emotion and Jun and Noe, both of whom seem simply unable to fathom where to go from here.

Once again, True Tears has proved itself to be masterful in almost every tangible way, leaving certain sentences unfinished and thoughts unsaid, while also speaking volumes with a simple subtle smile of facial expression. Rarely have I seen an anime mix its animation and storyline in such a perfect, balanced package, where one would be liable to collapse without the other - it's a fine tightrope to walk, yet this series is yet to even wobble, let alone fall. It's beautiful, and that's all there is to say about it.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 9

After the big revelations about Fumika's past in episode eight of Shigofumi, this instalment saw her Shigofumi delivery colleague Chiaki get her own episode explaining her back story and the reason for her death.

Thankfully, episode nine didn't take us quite down the path I was dreading in my last entry on this series, but nonetheless it couldn't have been much further removed from the gritty and dark stories of earlier episodes, giving us both a happy ending to the episode and integrating both Mika and Chiaki in the world of the living with nary an eyebrow raised - no matter how popular Cosplay may be in Japan, I don't see two girls with talking staffs dressed in their particular getup wandering around without someone wondering what on Earth is going on. Somehow, rooting this pair in real-world friendships and the like has destroyed too much of the mystery and suggested loneliness of being a Shigofumi, which with it somewhat ruins both the premise of the show and Fumika's earlier feelings of hatred towards people, which have suddenly dissolved entirely since the last episode.

There were a couple of nice moments in this episode, both humorous (the little exchanges between Matoma and Nojima) and more serious (Chiaki lamenting the passing of time without ever ageing and so on), but that aside the change in tone of this series just really doesn't work for me. I still get a horrible feeling that we've now left those darker earlier episodes behind completely and are just running down to a happy ending at the end of the series, but judging by the variances in quality so far you really can't tell where Shigofumi will take us next.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Mnemosyne - Episode 2

After not being hugely impressed by the opening episode of Mnemosyne, my expectations for the second forty-five minute episode of this anime were certainly much lower, which perhaps explains why I found part two just that little more entertaining.

Probably the biggest draw of this episode is that Rin's immortality finally gets explained, alongside some of the other imagery we were witness to in the opening episode. Of course, all of this ends up as being little more than another excuse for either a. More sex, b. More violence, or c. More of both at the same time, so the back story behind the whole thing is a complete load of rubbish. What starts as a story about a rare stamp ends as a story about angels and assassins, which also gives rise to the introduction of perhaps the most geeky assassin in the world - when this particular plot point was revealed (and I won't spoil it here) I couldn't stop laughing.

If episode one was all about violence, this offering of Mnemosyne took far more pleasure in its sexuality (although of course there was still copious amounts of violence to boot). Now, hot-blooded male that I am, a little sex, nudity and lesbianism is perfectly alright by me, but it would have been nice if at least some of it wasn't so pointless.

At the end of it all, Mnemosyne really has carved itself out as a real old-school anime, valuing nudity and blood over clever storylines and deep characters. That said, episode two's plot did at least hold my interest to some extent, and kept the action flowing surprisingly well given its longer running time over the standard half hour episode format. It's very much an acquired taste, and it doesn't really sit very well on my palate, but there are worse things out there you could be watching I suppose.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Minami-ke Okawari - Episodes 1-9

It's taken a while of playing catch up, but at last I'm up to date with all things Minami-ke. While the first season of this show wasn't particularly a classic, it was still both entertaining and amusing enough for me to look forward to a second series. So, how does this second helping taste so far?

Coming straight from viewing the first run of the show, watching Okawari is actually a little disconcerting from an animation point of view, as things have changed rather a lot - while the overall look and feel is the same, the addition of computer animation and some subtle character and colouring changes have really altered part of the feel of the show. When you've spent thirteen episodes getting comfortable with a set of characters, even such subtle changes can be quite distracting, and I'm not sure that work done here has been for the better (although doubtless it's made the life of the animators easier).

Having watch through to episode nine of this series, I can only wish that an equal amount of effort had been made in changing and progressing the storylines in Minami-ke Okawari - although the first series was hardly rife with laughs, it did have enough going on to get the odd smile or chuckle out of me, but somehow these further episodes seem completely devoid of much of that humour. Instead, we seem to end up being pushed down the same old tired pathyways over and over again, focused around cross-dressing, Kana's stupidity and so on. Even introducing new characters hasn't particularly pulled the show out of this rut, leaving it feeling rather stale.

That isn't to say that Minami-ke Okawari isn't at all entertaining - it's a non-taxing, relaxing show to watch and unwind, and the overall personalities of Haruka, Kana and Chiaki remains watchable, but beyond that the majority of the nine episodes of this series so far have been largely wasted, a trend which doesn't seem likely to shift any time soon. It isn't quite enough to stop me watching, but it really would be nice to see a departure from the tired old jokes and interplay between characters in the last few episodes of the show.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Ghost Hound - Episode 14

By now, I'm going into every episode of Ghost Hound not expecting anything much in the way of plot progression, but while episode fourteen hardly moved things on leaps and bounds it it did start to answer one or two questions about some of the series' goings-on. Of course, this was matched by at least as many fresh questions being posed, but once again I find myself more than happy to go with the flow and let everything unravel itself in its own good time.

Much of this particular episode of Ghost Hound was virtually a history lesson, taking in brief snippets of Japan's ancient history courtesy of its oldest surviving book (although there is some contention as to its origins), the Kojiki. Again, the team working on this series prove themselves to be fantastically well-read on every subject they choose to tackle, which goes a long way towards making this anime so engaging on an intellectual level as well as entertaining.

While the animation seems to be slipping a little, the quality of the storyline and research certainly isn't, which serves to keep me well and truly hooked to the development of the show. I still have no idea where things are going to go next, but surely much more will have to become clear in the coming episodes.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

True Tears - Episode 9

After what had been a really rather joy-filled episode eight, the next instalment of True Tears was well and truly placed to bring everything down with a depressing bump. As expected, that's exactly what happened in the opening portion of episode nine, with Hiromi and Jun's motorbike jaunt in the snow coming to an explosive climax (with every pun intended). What followed that moment was a demonstration of the subtlety of mood and character which has come to be the hallmark of this show, where volumes were spoken with just a handful of words and some far more important physical expressions.

From then on, everything turns around quite sharply for virtually all of True Tears' main players, for Hiromi in particular. I suppose it was almost inevitable that things would be shaken out into what you could easily regard a more predictable groove, and that's exactly what's happened here. I think I've become so emotionally entangled in this show that it's hard for me to say whether this episode was on a par with what has gone before, namely because it isn't particularly the direction I wanted it to take from a personal point of view. I know I'm not the only person out there with a bit of anti-Hiromi sentiment in me, and seeing everything come up roses for her at the expense of Jun and Noe in particular feels a bit sickening right now.

All in all, I suppose the fact that I feel that strongly about this episode proves that it remains a fabulous piece of work, despite the quality of animation being cut a little this week. Whether I'll be able to conquer my dislike of Hiromi over the remainder of the series remains to be seen - I wager it'll take a fair bit of good writing to convince me that she's the one for Shinichirō. Either way, there's still plenty of energy left in this wonderful series.

School Rumble: Third Term gets the green light

If you were feeling particularly harsh you could perhaps call it a poor man's Azumanga Daioh, but personally I've always enjoyed School Rumble (note to self: start reading the manga some day). While a lot of people didn't seem to get on with Second Term as much as the first series, my own preferences were in fact the other way around, with the second series getting a lot more laughs out of me episode for episode. Thus, I'm really quite pleased to see that a third series of School Rumble has been given the green light to go ahead, and with the same team working on it to boot.

My only real worry is that another full season of the show could see them run out of ideas. Only time will tell...

Saturday, 1 March 2008

True Tears - Original soundtrack

Given how much I've enjoyed True Tears thus far, it probably isn't much a of a surprise to anyone to see me jumping on the chance to grab the show's soundtrack at the first available opportunity.

In all honesty, outside of its place as incidental music within the series, a role in which it excels, this soundtrack from Kikuchi Hajime is largely a quite melancholy affair - certainly not something you'd want to listen to in an attempt to cheer yourself up (aside from the Noe-inspired tracks anyway), although anyone who has seen much of the show will probably already have figured that out. Without the benefit of the beautiful animation and powerful emotional scenes it normally accompanies, most of the tracks here are shorn of much of their impact, leaving most of the tracks on show as pretty vignettes without much real backbone.

One thing that has surprised me during the run of this anime so far is just how much both the beginning and ending title tracks have grown on me - Naturally, both of them appear here, although sadly only in their shortened 'TV' form rather than in their full glory, so you'll have to fish out the two singles to really get the most out of them. In particular, the track which accompanies the show's closing credits, Aira Yuki's Sekai no Namida, is probably one of (if not the) best track of this season's shows for me, although it did take a while to ingrain itself in my brain.

In all then, I can't see myself revisiting this soundtrack very often at all - It's no classic, but it does satiate the True Tears completist in me.