Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 3

I had pretty high hopes for Nabari no Ou from its first couple of episodes, and this third instalment of the series was a rich reward for that faith. Quite simply - It was awesome. Think Naruto, but with more interesting characters, less stupidly over-the-top jutsu and more 'real' fighting, and some truly sparkling animation. Oh, and set in the 21st century to boot.

After taking Rokujo to Fuma village at the end of the last instalment, only to find it virtual decimated by attackers, this episode sees Rokujo and his trio of protectors come face to face with these adversaries. From then on, almost the entire episode is a pitched battle between the two sides, which while being pretty typical for this genre of show in its content still managed to be highly impressive, with the show's animation quality in particular really shining through. Nothing was spared in showing off the delivery and consequences of each and every attack and injury, making for a gory scene which managed to remain gritty in its realism in a way that you would never hope for from Naruto. To add to the 'cool' factor, this episode wasn't afraid to use its modern day setting to the full, mixing in a gun-wielding ninja amongst all the more traditional fighting fare.

Of course, such an action oriented show won't be for everyone, but if you're a bit of a sucker for this kind of thing then Nabari no Ou is looking to be grade A material and then some. It's possibly the best looking anime I've watched this season (and yes, that includes Code Geass R2) which also has some decent characters that hold promises of going beyond your usual vacuous all-action types, with its main protagonist in particular looking to be a very intriguing personality in particular.

I wasn't prepared to nail my flag to the mast after the opening two episodes of this series, but now I feel that I am - Watch Nabari no Ou, it's brilliant stuff.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 4

Episode four of Itazura no Kiss continues in the same vein as the last instalment, following the school sports festival with an equally compulsory for any high school based anime swimming pool episode. Once again, it also seems to follow broadly the same pattern of Kotoko being really rather cute most of the time, her friends being a little irritating, and Naoki being a nasty piece of work for 95% of the episode.

Although the series is trying to work Naoki Irie's gradually changing (or at least now slightly confused) feelings towards Kotoko into the story, I can't help but feel that it's getting the balance wrong between his good and bad points. By this point the viewer should surely be finding reasons to begin softening towards him somewhat, but if anything he becomes more odious by the episode, making it every more difficult to believe that Kotoko continues to have any interest in him. For me, a little more needs to be made of Naoki's good points, something which I'm sure could be done without destroying any comic value or the like of the series.

After finding some really enjoyable moments in the opening couple of episodes, I do worry that Itazura no Kiss is sinking rather far into run of the mill territory, revisiting all of the usual suspects when it comes to subject matter when the unique conditions afforded the main characters (i.e. being forced to live under the same roof) should allow them to break away from all that. Indeed, it's perhaps telling that some of the better scenes come from the Irie family home, which are probably far more telling of the state of the show's various relationships than what happens outside of that. I still don't have the heart to actively dislike this show, largely on account of Kotoko's personality, but it needs to start being brave and deviating from the well-trodden mould a little more frequently.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 3

I gave episode two of Allison to Lillia a bit of a slating in all honesty, and I was probably a little unfair to it in places. Thankfully, episode three of the series improves a little, offering a more action-packed experience as Allison and Wil infiltrate the base where the old man is held in an attempt to rescue him.

What follows is once again pretty generic and predictable stuff, and there are plot holes appearing left, right and centre that you could fly a bi-plane through, but if you can put that to one side it's not bad as a dose of Boys Own-esque fun. The storyline seems to be advancing very quickly though, so it's going to be interesting to see how the Allison arc stretches out over thirteen episodes.

Although I've been quite nice to the show for almost two whole paragraphs, I have to confess to finding a touch of hilarity in the old man's escape, where he could easily have given the A Team a run for their money. This is an old man who can run fast enough to keep up with two youngsters while shouting detailed directions and not run out of breath at all, an old man who can fire a large number of bullets from a single pistol clip, and that's without mentioning him single-handedly taking on a large armed force. To be quite honest, he was more useful to the cause in ten minutes than Wil has been in three episodes - All hail the old man and his incredible powers of strength and fitness! Seriously, the guy needs his own series, never mind Allison or Lillia.

Joking aside though, this really wasn't a bad episode, so my faith is restored that I can at least persevere with the series for now.

Ghost Hound - Episode 20

It's been a while since I last caught up with Ghost Hound, but as we reach those all-important final few episodes the trickle of information that has accompanied much of the series has become something of a flood.

The revelations come thick and fast in episode twenty, as the various oddities which link Miyako, the Ogami workship circle and Nippon Bio Tech all begin to come together. There's still a lot of the puzzles left to be unwrapped in the last couple of episodes, but at last things are starting to make sense, and the series is certainly all the better for it.

There isn't really a great deal to say beyond that - This episode sets up the finale of Ghost Hound solidly enough, and given its slow pace up until these later episodes I still feel that this series will live and die on the quality of its ending.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 2

After an opening episode that could almost have defined the word 'generic', so episode two continues with the adventures of Arrogant Allison and Whiny Wil. Okay, okay, so I'm being far too harsh there, but there's something about the main two characters of this opening half of Allison to Lillia that I find hard to like.

Anyway, this episode sees the duo crash behind enemy lines, not long after which Wil is injured by... a deer. Stop laughing, it was a serious head injury. After carrying Wil's semi-conscious body for hours, the pair finally come across salvation in the form of a house, which happens to be the home of 'this week's cliché' - Who else but a woman who veered between hatred and wanting to shoot people from Roxche single-handedly to avenge her dead family to sweet lady who is quite happy to betray her country in the name of a treasure hunt. It's been done too many times before to be anything but eye-rollingly obvious what was going to happen from the very first frame she stepped into, and so it proved here.

I have to confess, Allison to Lillia really isn't that bad at this juncture, it just isn't something that's going to shock, surprise or amaze you either. At almost every point of the episode I could see what was coming up next, and I'm no clairvoyant, which is pretty much all you need to know about how predictable this series has been so far. Will the excitement crank up a notch next time around? We shall see, but it still plays a little too much like Tintin to me right now, with Wil making for a fine Snowy. Only less cute. Obviously.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 3

No school-based anime would be complete without a sports festival episode, and Itazura no Kiss gets this mandatory subject mater in early. I often wonder if the equally mandatory borrowing race is really as fraught with danger and embarrassment in Japanese schools as it seems to be in anime, where the worst possible scenarios frequently occur.

After episode two saw Naoki Irie soften up towards Kotoko at least a little, for the duration of this episode he seems to have returned almost entirely to being the heartless bastard he appeared to be from the start, once again raising questions as to why Kotoko has any feelings for him at all. I know, I know, teenage love rarely makes much sense, and at least Irie gets the slap he deserves this time around, and at least even the ever-cute Kotoko rouses sufficient brain cells to question what the Hell she's doing falling for him, but yet the series churns on in the same vein.

Despite that, and Kotoko's ever irritating friends, this episode is still entertaining enough through the increasingly cliché-driven storyline, largely thanks to the protagonist's personality once again, which seems to shine through despite the predictable character design and the like. There's no way Itazura no Kiss is going to become any kind of classic, but it still has the potential to be at least somewhat sweet and enjoyable as long as Naoki can pull his head out of a particular orifice long enough to be believable as someone's crush for an episode or two.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 12

So, Zetsubou Sensei leads us on down the path of righteous weirdness for the penultimate time, and by this point there's little more to say about this series' brilliance that hasn't already been mentioned by me.

This episode starts off with an admonishment for a 'hard landing', particularly when it comes to holidays - In other words, you should make sure you wind down before your break begins, a sentiment I'm sure we can all agree whole-heartedly with. This isn't the best skit to come out of the series so far, but it does have its moments... Oh, and some hearty fan service too.

Then, poor old Nozomu finds himself getting caught up in other people's dramas, although that was eclipsed for me by the fact that this series has dared to sing happy birthday, in its entirety and without alteration - Considering that this song is copyrighted by some assholes who 'protect' their ridiculous intellectual property doggedly, I imagine some kind of Kaere-esque "I'll sue!" moment arriving soon enough.

Anyway, this episode saves the best until last, and delves into the world of swimming against the current - Not in a literal sense of course, but in a more subtle way. This segment is absolutely hilarious, from its Evangelion references through to the brief Che Guevara t-shirt buying skit, and that's without even mentioning the Winning Eleven gag. Pure genius, and a great reminder of just how good this series is when it hits the right notes. Again ,every moment is well worth watching, and with so much detail flying past in each episode I'm increasingly getting the feeling that I need to watch each episode multiple times to fully appreciate it.

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 5-12

Chi's Sweet Home is a highbrow exposé of the feelings of loneliness and maladjustment suffered by modern day families in the 21st century as the pressures of everyday living dictate that they exist in ever more compartmentalised lives. Or, it could just be a show about a really cute kitten, I'm not sure which.

Anyway, I've fallen rather behind with this series (inexcusable considering each episode is only a couple of minutes long), but thanks to a 'marathon' session I've now caught up with such important events as the cat litter arc, which results in Chi finally getting name, and other important events that I couldn't possibly post spoilers about.

Really, it's this simple - Chi's Sweet Home is adorable, and if you've ever owned a cat the chances are you'll recognise a lot of the mannerisms (although hopefully not the problem of cat piss on your laundry) which are beautifully done despite the rather cheap and cheerful animation. I've said before that the only proper response to this series is "Awwwww", and I stand by that opinion firmly.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Kurenai - Episode 4

Kurenai has managed to climb its way towards the top of my must-watch anime list for this season faster than an eight-limbed mountain climber on steroids, beautifully blending some fantastic dialogue and exchanges, particularly between Shinkurou and Murasaki which veers between the poignant and the downright hilarious.

The opening section of episode four manages to pull this particular trick off with aplomb once again, as Murasaki gets caught up in the dark side of Shinkurou's job as a dispute mediator. This whole section is played excellently, from the amusement of witnessing Murasaki's argumentative streak against Shinkurou regardless of those surrounding them to the more disturbing and uncomfortable scenes that follow. The two main characters disparate naiveties are played off against one another superbly, and it's this which gives Kurenai its real sheen.

Away from that, we find out a while load more about the history and childhood of Shinkurou, while also learning the exact historical nature of his relationship with both Benika and some of the other major characters in the series. This all seems to be poured into the mix rather quickly and 'cheaply', rather than opting for the more usual slow exposure of this kind of information, but I don't think it'll detract from the series as a whole as it moves forward (indeed, it might even help in some ways) so I'm willing to let it go.

In a sense, Kurenai is becoming this season's Spice and Wolf for me - A show where I'm not too worried about the main plot and storylines, I'm happy to simply sit back and enjoy the sparkling dialogue and on-screen relationship of the two main characters. If it can keep its blend of humour and poignancy going, this is certainly going to be a notable show.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 4

For the past week, I've been on the edge of my seat waiting for the next instalment of Code Geass R2, hugely eager to see just how Lelouch manages to turn his predicament with Rollo around.

While the storyline doesn't disappoint in many ways, episode four of Code Geass R2 feels a little convoluted even by its own standards, with the Chinese Embassy situation getting a little complicated and Lelouch's ability to find out as much as he does about Rollo seemingly left not particularly well explained. On top of that, we once again see a tactic from the first series recycled, which takes a little sheen away from Lelouch's normal tactical genius - not that there's anything wrong with reusing tactics, mind you.

Overall then, this has perhaps been the weakest episode of Code Geass' return so far, although even so it would be harsh to label it as 'bad' per se. There's still a joy to be had from watching Zero's show boating and Lelouch's smart thinking as the episode progresses, and we also get an entire episode without any Kallen fan service at all. It's going to take a lot to stop me loving this show, and the plot progression in this episode has made things very interesting when it comes to seeing what happens next, but after the absolutely rip-roaring tension of episode three this week's instalment just felt a little bit flat.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 2

From the first half of the opening episode of Wagaya no Oinari-sama, I got the feeling that this was to be a series that was going to take itself far too seriously. However, as that opener developed, and even more so in this second helping, I realised that this wasn't in fact the case, and that this series is quite happy to mix more light-hearted moments with the more intense business of the major storyline.

The good news is that this mix actually works pretty well in episode two of Wagaya no Oinari-sama - While its portrayal of everyday life interrupted by a visiting spirit and shrine maiden won't have you rolling around with laughter, nor will its action sequences have you on the edge of your seat, it all comes together decently enough to keep its characters likeable (Hell, even the 'bad guy' in this episode is anything but) and the whole endeavour entertaining enough to keep you watching. It's one of those series where you can't find anything particular to point out that makes it a good watch, but then neither is there anything to criticise. That might make it sound like a rather vapid venture, and perhaps it will turn out to be just that, but for a gentle start to the mainstay of the series after the introductory opener I can't really be too harsh on it.

While this show certainly needs to lift itself to become anything but mediocre, it at least has some of the necessary building blocks in place to prove itself to be watchable.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 2

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki offered up some madcap, million miles an hour weirdness in its opening episode that won through on account of its bizarre plot rather than for its actual humour.

However, episode two of the series surprised me - After assembling such a bizarre and dysfunctional 'family', in episode two it goes on to play entirely against type. What I was expecting to be a series full of oddness and fighting between the various characters that made up this strange family borne from the 'children of Enka', instead what we got was a rather heart-warming show of this disparate family working as one and helping one another out in what you could almost call a 'serious' fashion. Of course, this proper plot line surrounding Yuuka and school bullying was bookended by Kyouka's decision to have a lavish wedding and a somewhat hilarious solution to Yuuka's problems at school to up the quote of weirdness suitably, with some extra points of interest for future episodes thrown in to boot.

In short - I liked this episode, if only for having the guts to go completely against any expectations of it by letting the assembled family act as just that - A real family. Whether this will actually hamper it further down the line I'm not sure, but between springing that surprise on me and actually providing some relatively amusing moments, I've been won over, for the time being at least. Oh, and Kyouran Kazoku Nikki is going to have to get my award for best opening song for the Spring anime too, it's suitably strange but I love it.

Nabari no Ou - Episode 2

Episode one of Nabari no Ou really rather impressed me despite being far from ground-breaking, so I was very interested to see how it would progress. After such a decent start, I have to be honest in saying that things slow down considerably in episode two, although it sets everything up nicely for the next instalment to get back to the action again.

The second episode of the series introduces (almost inevitably) a feminine touch to the proceedings, with the appearance of a young samurai student from Tokyo named Raimei Shimizu. From the on, we see yet more of our protagonist Rokujo's attempts to lead a carefree life despite all that's going on around him, while also giving further evidence of his ability to rather shrewdly manipulate those around him with little more than a change in expression. Consider we saw all of this last time around, it was a bit of a stretch to hammer this point home for as long as this episode did. Episode two also brought up some of the main character's foibles, from Thobari's fear of moving vehicles to Shimizu's frequently mixing people up. Whether these bits of information will have any use going forward I have no idea, but thus far they seem to be there simply to offer light relief.

The episode leaves us with something of a cliff-hanger, which as I say promises a more action-oriented third part. This will certainly need a little more meat to it than this episode, which almost had a filler-esque feel to it in places despite being so early in the series. I'm not too disappointed considering the need to introduce characters and set the scene, but the pace will definitely need to be picked up next time around.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Kurenai - Episode 3

Kurenai surprised me for much of its opening two episodes - Given its base storyline featuring its protagonist as a young high school student working in 'conflict resolution', I was expecting a more action-oriented experience overall. I was wrong, but in the best possible way, and the third of episode of this series has confirmed that most absolutely.

This third instalment of Kurenai is a fantastic visualisation of a number of the inter-relationships between characters in the show, and more specifically their interaction with Shintaro himself. Of course, his relationship with the object of his protection, seven year-old Murasaki gets plenty of screen-time, but we also see some brilliant realised (and very 'teenage') conversations between himself and Ginko as well as with Yuuno - Two girls who clearly have feelings for him, but none of which he so much as notices, let alone understands. The same can be said of his conversations with Murasaki, where for all his supposed sensitivity he lets each and every important point float over his head.

Much as I loved Spice and Wolf for its dialogue and character interaction, so I find that same kind of love beginning to blossom for Kurenai. While the focus of those interactions are very, very different, the human element to them all in turns fascinating, hilarious and touching, while always feeling very much grounded in reality. Murasaki's tour of Shintaro's school is not far short of being hilarious, while his later conversations with her are really quite sweet in a funny sort of way.

While the animation seemed to take a downward turn in episode three, the realisation of characters has hit near-perfection here - Whether they can keep this up (and keep it interesting) is another matter, but as of right now Kurenai is shaping up well to be a rather fabulous series.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 3

Yes, that's right, 'tis time for me to gush superlatives about Code Geass once more, and boy did episode three prove that the series is deserving of it once again.

After defeating yet another governor of Area 11 last time around and creating a new United States of Japan within the Chinese Embassy, Lelouch finds himself very much constrained to his role as a model student at Ashford Academy, ensconced in the knowledge that his every move is being watched by his 'brother' Rolo and beyond. What follows is a real tense, edge of the seat episode, as Lelouch cleverly manoeuvres his way into a winning position until... Well, I'm not going to give it all away for anyone who hasn't watched the episode yet.

So, we finally get to see Rolo's own Geass, adding to some of that edge of the seat excitement, while Kallen once again become the fan service girl - in fact, my one disappointment with Code Geass R2 so far is in the way her character has been almost totally undermined from the strong one we knew into a love-sick, slightly psychotic persona. You could argue that everything she's experienced in the Black Knights and since the failed rebellion has changed her, but I don't buy it - Bring back the old Kallen, not the water-down version we've been seeing so far this season.

That gripe aside though, Code Geass proves itself to be a work of genius once again - I get a real thrill from watching the cat-and-mouse game between Lelouch and those who'd have him killed, and this time around that thrill is all the greater as his potential Geass targets are reduced and his circumstances as a potentially wanted man makes his life much more difficult than simply using his power to tell people what to do. Why the Brittanian Emperor hasn't simply told everyone in the army that Lelouch is Zero I'm not quite sure, but hopefully that plot hole will also be sealed at some point. In closing then, this show remains as fantastic as it ever was, minor irritations aside. Prepare for more of my declarations of love for Code Geass in the weeks ahead.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Mnemosyne - Episode 3

Mnemosyne thus far has been a rather old-school combination of violence, sex and detective work, and unsurprisingly little has changed in part three of this OVA. Despite being fast forwarded to 2011, little has changed overall in the world of Rin and Mimi, although their non-immortal colleague Maeno has (of course) aged somewhat.

From there, the plot follows a complicated cocktail of bomb attacks, talk of an old World War II location used for biological warfare experiments called 'Death Island' (no clichéd naming there, then), and the reappearance of one of Rin's old foes. While I could pick holes in the plot and point out why it's all a bit daft, I have to be honest in saying that this was perhaps the most watchable episode of this series thus far - Even when the plot was a bit tricky to grasp properly, it kept moving at a decent pace, while giving Mimi a little more time in centre stage actually worked well compared to simply using her as a glorified receptionist with a few hacking skills bolted on.

So yes, it's ridiculous in many ways, and having an immortal protagonist tends to make any tricky situations a little dull (a problem quite nicely worked around in this episode in fairness), but at last this third instalment of Mnemosyne lived up to its potential somewhat in making for an entertaining forty-five minutes.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 2

After a solid if unspectacular first episode of Itazura no Kiss, I wasn't quite sure whether this series was going to manage to keep my interest. However, after setting the scene last time around, the second episode proved to really rather good.

After the shock of being rejected by Irie, seeing her new house collapse and then having to move in with Irie and his family, Kotoko finally gets some sweet revenge for at least part of this episode, finding a secret weapon to both get some attention from Irie and improve herself in the process, even if it backfires rather in the end.

Sure, it's all pretty traditional fare, and it's all been done before, but judging by this episode Itazura no Kiss has what it takes to be rather a likeable series. Kotoko's enthusiasm is rather infectious, and even though her friends are somewhat irritating they don't have enough screen time to spoil things, on this occasion at least. Even Irie proves not to be completely unbearable, showing a softer side on a couple of occasions that at least lends some believability to the fact that Kotoko is still interesting in him despite his largely cold and arrogant attitude.

All in all then, this series is looking like a keeper if it can keep things up to this extent. As long as you don't expect anything ground-breaking from the series, then it's shaping up to be an enjoyable watch.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 11

Two episodes of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in a single day? I know, I know, I'm spoiling myself.... Anyway, while episode eleven of this series doesn't reach the same comedic heights, it still fends for itself pretty well.

The majority of the episode is made up of a spoof detective drama, with our very own Zetsubou-sensei as the budding Sherlock Holmes who solves every case, but only after everyone involved has died. This was beautifully realised from beginning to end, and though it was a little lacking in the 'laugh out loud' department, there was amusement to be gathered from the anime-themed murders, including (of course) a Lillith-esque death from Evangelion, which is pretty much all it takes to win me over. Answers on a postcard (or a comment) if you figured out the anime series tied to every death in this segment.

The final segment of the episode involved making wishes, with Kafuka suggesting that wishes made in this life were bound to come true in the next. Again, it wasn't particularly hilarious, but was still amusing enough to be worthy of the series. Overall then, this wasn't a class A episode of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, but it was still well worth watching.

With only two episodes left of this show, I truly am in despair... Where are my laughs going to come from when this series is done and dusted?

Kanokon - Episode 2 (Dropped)

While I know I was very much in the minority, I didn't entirely dislike the opening episode of Kanokon, it just had something about it beyond the blatant and frequent fanservice which was somehow at least somewhat appealing.

Sadly, I can't say the same about the show's second helping. A new character is introduced, but it seems only to provide yet more blatant fan service for anyone who isn't interested in big boobs, but prefers them small. Basically, that's all that happens in the twenty-five minutes that make up this episode, with fan service scene followed by fan service scene piled up one after another, with each seemingly getting more daring in an attempt to top the last, putting it more or less one step short of outright hentai.

It's all rather a shame really - There are some likeable enough characters here, and the possibility to do something decent with the story, but all of this has been lost in the name of nudity and constant sexual references. I don't have anything against that per se, but it soon gets pretty repetitive, and it seems that the tone is now well and truly set for the remainder of the series. It can now consider itself dropped from my viewing schedule.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 10

By now it probably goes without saying that I'm completely enamoured of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, after a slow start it has matched and, dare I say, even surpassed the original thirteen episodes of the show.

Episode ten able continues that tradition, kicking of with a discussion of 'detuning' rather than living to your full potential. What started as a bit of a stretched point soon hit all the right notes, taking in everything from the JSDF through to the revelation that even Chiri detunes when it comes to stabbing people. From there, we move on to the 'mini-propaganda' that is suggesting that otherwise ridiculous things "maybe" work (and what exactly is wrong with armpit tattoos anyway?), and the problem of being turned away as a first-timer, from which both teacher and students learn that both first-timers and regulars are way too much hassle to deal with... in anime circles at least.

By this point in the series, I'm convinced of only one thing, and that's that this show is genius. Almost every episode seems to get better at hitting the mark with the jokes, and even at predictable moments it works brilliantly. I'm not sure I'll ever look at comedy in anime the same way again after Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's run is over, it'll be nigh-on impossible to either replace or replicate.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 1

Rokujo Miharu wants an easy, carefree life - Let's face it, who doesn't? But of course, anime is rarely about having a carefree life, so it takes no time at all in this opening episode of Nabari no Ou for middle school student Rokujo to be delved into a world of ninjas, a world in which is body carries a secret art of immense power that could end the constant fighting between rival ninja villages.

It's a simple enough plot, combining the almost inevitable high school aspect of virtually every anime you could care to mention with the 'cool factor' that comes from involving ninjas. Yes, it may be a little clichéd in that sense, but you have to hand it to Nabari no Ou's opening episode for its very slick presentation (it really does look great visually) and instantly likeable characters in the dour Rokujo himself, and his classmate and teacher respectively who both want to protect him from the forces that want the secret art which he holds.

Predictable this may all sound, but I really enjoyed this first episode of the series - It was well-paced, and wasted no time in getting to the thick of the action and explaining the major plot points. Whether it can hold that interest across the entire season of the show remains to be seen, but with more major characters clearly yet to be introduced and a very positive vibe to it visually, I can see this becoming a regular fixture on my 'to watch' list. It may have all been done before, but I'm willing to cut it some slack if it does it well.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Himitsu - The Revelation - Episode 1

Cross Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex with the movie Minority Report, and what do you get? Himitsu - The Revelation it seems. This anime works upon the theory that, using MRI technology, the final moments of a victims life can be extracted from their brain up to 48 hours after their death, allowing for murders to be solved by seeing the victims final moments to identify the perpetrator. If that doesn't sound like a great idea for an anime series, then I don't know what does.

This opening episode introduces us to the world of using MRI to solve murders, and indeed the rather dysfunctional team behind such investigations, via the first day of a newcomer named Aoki, a specialist in lip-reading - it seems that futuristic MRI technology doesn't extend to a decent pair of speakers. What follows is a pretty solid opener, giving us a look at the technology itself, as well as laying down the foundation for some other points that are doubtless going to be revisited again - namely, the mental pressures on the team of watching countless murders, and the effect on relatives of the deceased from having their loved ones memories trawled through by strangers... certainly some interesting moral points can be made once you think about it.

Anyhow, the animation is poor, and some of the incidental music is rather badly chosen (during a supposedly sorrowful scene with the husband of the deceased, his monologue was somehow accompanied by something akin to Samba music), but I don't want to let that detract from what could be one of the best concepts of this season. As I've mentioned, this first episode was solid and introduced the ideas behind it well enough, so there's a fair amount of potential here - Now, let's see if they can utilise it.

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 1

The opening episode of Wagaya no Oinari-sama certainly didn't waste much time getting to the point, so neither will I - We've already seen cat girls and fox girls so far this season, now it's the turn of a wolf girl... Or rather, a wolf spirit. When two brothers, Tooru and Noburu Takagami are called to see their grandmother, they think she's dying, when in reality this is just a ploy to summon them, for the younger brother Tooru is in fact the subject of an evil spirit's attention. To fight off this demon, the family require the help of their guardian spirit, the aforementioned fox known as Kuugen who was previously sealed away after a spate of unruly behaviour.

What follows is really just a quick and easy way to set the scene for what looks set to be a 'fish out of water' series from here on in, only with the occasional bit of spirit fighting for good measure. This keenness to get to the meat of the story after a single episode leaves this opener looking a little rushed, and seeing as both the flow and tone of the series (this episode took itself far too seriously for its first half) look likely to change from here on in I wouldn't want to hazard a guess as to whether it'll improve or otherwise. This first episode was average in almost every way, from the animation through to the dialogue (something that is painfully obvious if we compare, as we are want to do, with our last wolf-spirit outing in the form of Spice and Wolf), so it'll need to work a lot harder to hold my attention. It has, much like Spice and Wolf, come from a series of well-received light novels though, so hopefully there is more meat to add to the bare bones we've seen here.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 1

Rather confusingly Allison to Lillia is in most senses two anime series rather than one, with its twenty-six episode run actually covering two different novels.

The first half of Allison to Lillia devotes itself to Allison, introducing us to a world of two frequently warring factions split by one massive river, one side (Roxche) for whom Allison is a pilot in the air force. The opening episode begins with Allison dropping in on an old friend of hers, Wil, and after much of the first half of the episode is spent showing gentle reminiscences and catching up between the two, the closing segment cranks up the action somewhat, setting the scene for everything that is to follow for this pair.

For some reason, I just couldn't find myself immersed in the world offered up by Allison to Lillia here, it just all seems very bland. Even when the pace of this episode moved up a gear, the show had more of an old-fashioned and dare I say goody-goody Tintin-esque feel to it, rather than the perhaps more realistic and gritty depictions that suit me. I'll probably persevere with the series for the time being to see where it heads, but I get the distinct feeling it's going to be a little too 'old-fashioned' in its outlook for me.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 1

No new anime season would be complete without at least one series of madcap tomfoolery, and for the Spring season it appears that Kyouran Kazoku Nikki is it. Where else are you going to find a family consisting of a cat-girl who thinks she's a god, a lion, a biological weapon and a jellyfish?

The basic story goes like this - Thousands of years ago a vicious and evil God of destruction called Enka was destroyed by mankind, but not before he'd managed to implant himself in children that would be born in the far flung future. Well, that future is now, which means that Ōka Midarezaki's life is about to be turned upside down. As part of the (take a deep breath now) Great Japanese Empire Paranormal Phenomena Bureau of Measures, Ouka is set up with a vitally important mission - To become part of a family alongside all of the children of Enka, with the aforementioned cat-girl Kyouka as his wife (as well as one of said children), so that these children can be monitored and dealt with should any of them become a threat to the world.

Yes, it's a daft plot, but Kyouran Kazoku Nikki is a daft anime - what did you expect? The premise and characters of this show are introduced at a million miles an hour, with the story-setting speeding along in a suitably bizarre fashion - Think Excel Saga, only even weirder. Thankfully, that fast, irreverant pace actually makes the opening episode of the series oddly enjoyable, despite a lack of laugh out loud jokes, and I'm intrigued as to where they'll take the show during its run. It'll need to do more than just be crazy and off-the-wall to remain a watchable series, but I can't possible turn down the opportunity to find out more about what it's like to be the 'father' of a jellyfish and a talking lion.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Kurenai - Episode 2

Code Geass aside, Kurenai has impressed me most of the new season shows I've managed to watch thus far, and so I've been looking forward to seeing if episode two matches up to that promising start.

Thankfully, the answer is that it does, with much of the episode seeing Shintaro Kurenai's relationship building with the object of his protection, Kuhouin Murasaki. This was achieved in a delightfully light-hearted way, with a real rapport quickly building between the two characters in a very human fashion. On the flip side of Shintaro's personality, we see him 'in action' properly for the first time, giving us greater insight into the powers he possesses, which doubtless sets us up for some later friction between himself and Murasaki. We also get some glimpses of our protagonist's childhood trauma, with a rather shocking nightmare scene to complement some of what we saw in episode one.

While it's still too early to get a real fix on the way this series will head, episode two proved to be a well-realised blend of humour, humanity and violence - A potentially odd mix that could actually serve Kurenai well if it keeps the balance right and carries on moving things in the right direction.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the show is its animation, which is at turns clumsy and beautiful - Some of the opening shots of episode two are absolutely stunning, particularly in their use of colour, but later on we seem some scenes with decidedly ungainly movement and what looks like rather rushed animation. Overall it's a positive as far as the 'look' of Kurenai goes, but I hope animation quality doesn't drop as the series goes on as so often happens, as it doesn't seem to have as much 'in the tank' as a lot of other shows.

Overall though, Kurenai is still looking promising as a 'win' for the Spring season, and it'll definitely be keeping a place high up my 'to watch' list for the rest of the series.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 2

When I said that Zero had returned in last week's opener for Code Geass R2, I was wrong - This week, Zero returns... and how. If the opening episode left me with doubts as to whether this series could live up to the joys of the original, then episode two proved all of those doubts to be entirely unfounded.

At last, we find out just what happened between Lelouch and Suzaku at the end of the first series, just why Lelouch lost his memory and his Geass powers, and perhaps more importantly Rolo's presence on the scene as Lelouch's brother gets exploded in a brilliant (if slightly obvious) fashion. Add to that some other big twists in the tale, and what promises to be some very interesting interplay between Lelouch/Zero and Kallen, and you have the makings of a fantastic second series.

Funnily enough, episode two follows the early episodes of the original series in both the general feel and one of the major plot points (which I hope they don't do too often here), but with some top-notch animation and even more audacity from our anti-hero of the piece. It's brilliant, breath-taking, adrenaline pumping action at its best, and with a clever twist that has been the hallmark of Code Geass from the beginning.

I must admit there are still a few revelations in this episode that I worry might diminish the whole somewhat, and Kallen's transformation into the realm of almost constant fan-service isn't particularly becoming of her, but for now I can set all of that aside down to the simple fact that my heart is still pounding and I have a huge grin on my face, such was the fantastic ride that was episode two of Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Special A - Episode 1

Once you hold a grudge about something, it's difficult to escape from it - A point proven by Hikari Hanazono, the protagonist of this manga to anime adaptation. After losing to a boy called Kei Takishima at wrestling at the tender age of six, Hikari vows to beat him some day. Fast forward to many years later, and Hikari is still looking for her elusive victory over Kei, even going to the extreme of enrolling at a particular school so that she can continue to challenge him.

What follows is a really quite uninspiring opening episode of this anime, setting the scene for the many challenges between Hikari and Kei to come, while the latter begins to find himself having feelings for her. If that sounds rather clichéd, that's because this series is showing signs of being exactly that, and personally I found the entirety of this first episode rather irritating, from the supporting characters through to their circumstances as 'top guns' within their school. It's perhaps too early to write off the show entirely, but everything from the plot to the characters on show here seem so half-hearted, it's difficult to find much to mention at all - Probably the sole highlight is voice actor Jun Fukuyama suitably employing that recognisable voice of Lelouch from Code Geass as that of Kei Takishima.

I'm really not sure I'll be able to sit through any more episodes of Special A after my experiences here, it simply seems to offer nothing capable of grabbing my attention from the animation through to the attempts at humour on show.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Kanokon - Episode 1

After Spice and Wolf gave us some fabulous wolf-girl fare last season, it seems that the closest bearer of that torch for the Spring season is Kanonon - Indeed, just like the former series, it's been adapted from a series of light novels and given the anime treatment.

Of course, there are no merchants and the like here, with fox deity Chizuru Minamoto taking the more typical form of a schoolgirl, who has fallen in love (for some reason I can't yet ascertain) with a first year transfer student from the country (I guess fox girls go for country guys), Kouta Oyamada.

To sum up what this all means in two words - Fan service. Yes, Kanokon is laden to the brim with brazen panty shots and sexual references, which should be enough to put it into the 'stereotypical fan service anime - avoid' bin. Yet I have to confess, the energy on show in the opening episode of this series actually made it oddly watchable. Whether that means that the series as a whole will be anything more than an excuse for undressed high school girls is doubtful, but I have to give it at least a little kudos for rising above the rather poor animation and obvious focus of the show to at least make itself fun.

I don't think this is going to be anywhere near the top of my 'to watch' pile this season, but as first episodes go it was at least sweet enough to make consider watching at least a few more episodes. Oh, and the soundtrack was strangely alluring in places too, which probably helped.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Kurenai - Episode 1

Shintaro Kurenai is an 'expert' (or rather, a wannabe expert at the tender age of sixteen) in 'conflict resolution', working for a woman called Juusawa Benika. Upon asking for some bigger jobs to get his teeth into, he finds itself left with rather a handful, in the form of a child who has been secreted away from her rich family for reasons that are made clear enough early on in this opening episode.

While this pairing of poor teenage boy and rich young girl is obviously going to be the major focus of Kurenai, there's still plenty of other potentially interesting plot points for the show to get its teeth into, perhaps most importantly Shintaro's body, which appears to have been 'modified' in some as yet unknown fashion which doubtless will come to light as the series progresses. There are also plenty of other characters that might well keep things intriguing, but only time will tell.

Thus far, I've found myself really rather engaged by the opening episode of Kurenai - Shintaro himself is a likeable character who clearly has some pretty 'heavy' history yet to be revealed, and the early relationship between him and Kuhouin Murasaki is warming up nicely, without mentioning any of the show's other minor characters or Shintaro's 'special powers'. The fast pacing of this first episode worked rather well, and there's plenty of room for this to turn into a great series, with some pretty good animation to boot, so hopefully it can built on this early promise moving forward.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 1

Based on an (as yet unfinished) manga, Itazura no Kiss tells the story of Aihara Kotoko, a girl in the bottom class who, for the last two years, has had a crush on A-grade student and all round smart guy Irie Naoki. After those two years of wathing him from afar, Kotoko finally plucks up the courage to give Naoki a letter of confession, which he rejects instantly without even looking at it. Naoki, apparently, 'doesn't like stupid girls'.

Of course, this is anime we're talking about, so that isn't the end of the matter, and by the end of this opening episode via the destruction of her and her father's house in a minor earthquake, Kotoko finds herself invited to share a home with none other than... The Irie family, Naoki included. Cue much hilarity - Hopefully.

In all honesty, this opening episode of Itsura no Kiss isn't really anything to write home about - The animation is pretty poor, the character designs generic, and while the plot holds some future potential it doesn't show any early signs of being realised here. The jokes are weak, and the inter-relations between characters aren't much better. It's too early to write this series off, and as I say it does have potential as a vehicle for the main characters, but some rather hefty improvements will be required to drag this anime above run-of-the-mill status.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 1

There's only one thing you need to know about the Spring anime season, and that's - Lelouch Vi Brittania is back! After Code Geass established itself as one of my favourite anime series of 2007 (well, it started in 2006, but I digress), I've been waiting on tenterhooks for the show's second season to begin. That time is now upon us, so was it worth the wait?

Code Geass R2 begins a year on from the end of the original series - Zero is reported as dead by Britannia (although they know themselves that this isn't true), C.C. is sporting a new outfit and hanging out with the remains of the Black Knights, Kallen Stadtfeldt is working as a bunny girl in a casino (cue Kallen fan service shots), and Lelouch is back at Ashford Academy. Indeed, Lelouch's behaviour throughout episode one of R2 is intriguing, as he seems to have little interest in, or recollection of, either his powers or his life as Zero. Has he actually forgotten, or merely suppressed those memories as deeply as possible? This state of affairs gives us a rather different Lelouch from the one we remember, although I'm sure it goes without saying that amnesia doesn't last for long...

Probably the most bizarre change in R2 is the introduction of Rollo, a younger brother for Lelouch who is introduced to the show as though he'd been there all along. I really hope this gets explained at some point, because as of the end of episode one its a stupid addition that really ruins any attempt at continuity (ignoring all the other questions floating around my head after this opening episode).

All in all, this episode actually mirrors rather closely the opening episode of the original series - Lelouch beats a Brittanian at chess, Lelouch finds himself accidentally in the middle of a scrape, Lelouch meets C.C. and ends up gaining (or rather regaining) his power, which he puts to use in exactly the same fashion as he did in the opener for the first season. Let's just hope the series gets a little more original from here on in.

I'm not even going to try judging Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 from a single episode, as it would be patently unfair. This opener goes down the action-packed route, making no bones about choosing straightforward action over Lelouch's more tactical, thoughtful approach, and also making much of the Britannian's cruelty towards the Elevens/Japanese, which has clearly become much, much worse in the year since the first series was set. There are lots of questions that need to be answered over the next few weeks, but right now the return of Code Geass is the only answer that I need, and a very welcome one it is too. The rest can wait.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Minami-ke Okawari - Episode 13 (Completed)

While Minami-ke Okawari has disappointed throughout its run, rehashing the same tired old jokes, the penultimate episode at least improved enough to hold out some hope of not being a complete disaster. In fairness, the this series did end on something of a high note, abandoning many of the principles that made this show so boring (particularly compared to the relative funniness of Minami-ke itself) and preferring instead to focus on the emotional aspect of Kana and Chiaki's relationship with Haruka.

While the series finale was maybe too saccharine for the tastes of some, I personally found it to be really quite sweet - Despite all my criticisms of this series, I have enjoyed the characters (despite their often being rather clichéd at times), and thus the ending left a bit of a lump in my throat, while the episode as a whole left me with a bit of a smile.

Overall, this is a series to avoid if you're looking for a slice-of-life comedy due to the simple fact that it's so repetitive and forgettable. The first thirteen episode run of Minami-ke showed what could be done with the characters on show with a reasonable degree of competency, but sadly that all seemed to drain away with Okawari, leaving this likeable trio of sisters to do little more than drown in mediocrity.

Ghost Hound - Episode 19

After the surprising and sudden turn of events at the end of the last episode of Ghost Hound, I couldn't help but feel that the series had perhaps turned a positive corner towards a better paced concluding handful of episodes after having plodded along for rather too long.

Although much of episode nineteen doesn't retain much of that sudden burst of pace, it does prove to be a fantastic episode, letting emotions flow where previously the show has had rather a cold feel to it, and presenting some rather strange feelings at time in keeping with the often odd atmosphere that was developed earlier in the series. Once again the soundtrack is back to its best, and this only helps to foster that feeling of intensity, particularly when coupled with what seems to be a slight improvement in animation quality to boot.

Where this series goes from here is anybody's guess, but at last the show as a whole feels refreshed by the developments outlined in the past couple of episodes, leaving me far more positive (not to mention intrigued) as to how the show will conclude.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 9

After skimping on the laughs last time around, episode nine of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei brings madcap humour aplenty to the table, even if some of the segments of the show are so insane I can't really be too sure what the Hell's going on.

The main storylines (if you can call them that) of this episode sees Maria doing her utmost to stop people spacing out (which makes me glad she doesn't know where I work...), while Chiri decides that the only way to become loved is by being ditzy, which does make her look oddly cute in all fairness, but her idea of how to be ditzy is borderline lethal to anyone in the vicinity.

Oh, and if that doesn't sound crazy enough for you, Zetsubou Sensei himself fights the monolith from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, amongst other things. No, I'm not quite sure where that came from either, but who cares as long as it's funny?

So, once again this show's decidedly weird humour manages to hit the mark enough to leave me giggling with both glee and amusement as it manages to balance each running gag within an episode just right so as not to bore you before moving on to something fresh and equally bizarre. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to be on my guard from surprise inspections...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episode 4

Another sub-five minute vignette courtesy of Chi's Sweet Home means another excuse to remember why cats are so damned cute and lovable, with Chi's determination to find his way home being side-tracked by milk, a dripping tap, and a shoelace. It's so cat-like and adorably animated despite the repeated use of the same frames of animation, that despite its minuscule length it still manages to be the highlight of an anime watching evening.

Ghost Hound - Episode 18

After all those rather ponderous, slow-burning episodes, things are finally beginning to get into full swing for Ghost Hound, with this episode perhaps revealing the most we've seen from a single instalment of this series thus far.

While episode eighteen starts a little ponderously, the second half floods us with shocking happenings and revelations, all of which centre around the original focus of the story, that being the kidnapping of Taro and his sister all those years ago. So, why were they kidnapped, and how were Makoto's family involved? All is revealed here, although there's patently still plenty left to be said and presented to us.

If the remainder of the series can keep up this kind of much-improved pacing, then we could well be seeing Ghost Hound end with a bang (although there are still a fair few episodes to go). It's a shame that the animation appears to be getting poorer and poorer as the series progresses, and the richness of the show's soundtrack appears to have been diluted to boot, which is perhaps why I've found the series less engaging as time has gone on. Now the storyline has taken a kick up the proverbial behind however, I find myself once again looking forward to the next episode.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 8

After a couple of fantastic episodes recently, here we are again for some more despair and wackiness courtesy of Nozomu Itoshiki and company.

On the menu for this episode is being treated like a spy everywhere you go, 'May exposure' (where a front that is put up in April dissolves to reveal the hideous truth come may - Something to watch for with the forthcoming Spring anime season perhaps?), and the complaint that things which are 'half and half' usually aren't, an issue which is taken to extreme lengths by (who else?) Chiri Kitsu. While the episode still has its amusing moments, it doesn't hit the laugh out loud funny of the last two episodes, which only serves to highlight the hit-and-miss foundation on which the series is built.

Even on an off-day, you can't help but delight in the show's blatant fan-service that often gets worked into jokes, the often weird continuity (Chri's openly violent tendencies, and Kafuka's hidden agendas behind that cheerful complexion), and even the fact that you can often pre-empt what the characters are going to say and do next now that we know them and their foibles so well. These are all things which can serve to ruin other shows, but somehow Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei not only gets away with it, but makes it thoroughly enjoyable in the process. Episode eight may not be the best example of what the series can offer by a long way, yet it still succeeds in holding my attention.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episode 2-3

At just a few minutes long each, an episode of Chi's Sweet Home is hard to find much to criticise. Yes, the animation is pretty poor, but somehow it doesn't stop little Chi from being adorable despite the rather run-of-the-mill situations he finds himself in.

I'm convinced that my own cat has written the opening song to this anime, its lyrical descriptions certainly sound familiar. Anyway, if you're a cat lover then this series probably won't fail to warm your heart and put a stupid smile on your face. By rights it should be stupid, but somehow it simply isn't.

Yotsunoha - Episode 2

The first half of Yotsunoha turned out to be pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, as expected from an H-game to anime translation, and unfortunately the second half of this OVA fails to turn things around.

For starters, with its constant flash-backs to the past of the main characters while the school they're wandering around was open mixed in with present day scenes, things soon get disjointed and even downright confusing, leaving you trying to keep track of what's what. The episode also makes it patently obvious which of the girls Makoto Yuki is interested in is going to 'win' far too early, leaving the usual tensions seen in this kind of show to be a very tame and half-hearted affair. To top it all, Nono (who gets by far the most screen time in this episode) has a hugely irritating voice. Yes, I know she's from Osaka and it's just the accent, but something about her voice really grates.

So, a formulaic OVA reaches a formulaic end, and to be honest it only ever felt like it was going through the motions without much thought being put into it. While this kind of show has been done to death many times over there's always the opportunity to do something fresh with it, or at least put a handful of truly interesting characters together in some interesting situations, but all we had here were a few generic characters with generic feelings for one another. Dull, dull, dull.