Saturday, 31 May 2008

Kurenai - Episode 9

We knew the change in tone was coming, but despite being postponed for the duration of episode eight, it finally arrived this time around with Shinkurou and Murasaki being forced out of their apartment as the Kuhouins finally manage to catch up with their errant daughter.

However, despite that escape to the safety of Benika and a hotel, Shinkurou decides that he and Murasaki need to return to the apartment for one last night to say goodbye - An action which unsurprisingly puts them both at risk.

While I've expounded many, many words on this show's use of dialogue to create much of the fun and hilarity of this show during its run so far, episode nine of Kurenai showcased the script writers ability to use these powers in a very different way here in what is surely an emotional crux of the series. Throughout the episode, there was a very ominous feeling of impending doom, and once again Murasaki seemed to get the best lines, on this occasion some really touching thoughts on loved ones and loss. Also of interest during this episode is confirmation of Murasaki's place in the Kuhouin family, and some real question marks being thrown up surrounding both Benika's true motives and intentions in this whole affair.

I've been a little worried that switching Kurenai away from its simple and truly hilarious formula which has worked so well for much of the series would dent its popularity with me, and although the absolutely heart-rending ending to this instalment has left both me and my slightly damp eyes wishing for a return to joviality, I can't deny that this particular episode proved to be a top-notch construction once again. We've had the rise of Murasaki, now we have her fall, and while I'm braced for futher hardship and sadness in part ten, I still can't wait to see what happens next in this absolutely magnificent series.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 8

After arguably taking rather too long to build up this storyline in its last episode, part eight of Nabari no Ou takes us to the real heat of the assassination attempt on the evil Mr. Frosty (he of the bad American accent), and does so in pretty compelling fashion.

While episode eight is anything but non-stop action, with any actual fighting limited to bursts here and there between dialogue (which makes you wonder if all these ninja training schools you see in anime shouldn't just be replaced with schools specialising in English or Japanese), it does open up an excellent if slightly complicated scenario where nothing is quite what it seems. For starters, we find out the real reason why Oda wants to see Mr. Frosty killed, a scenario which is far more personal than the simple business and humanitarian proposition it was dressed up as.

Moving to the actual assassination attempt itself, Yoite and Rokujo's relationship means that things go far from smoothly (and indeed become rather chaotic) for the Banten ninjas, Kairoshuu and particularly Yoite, while Aizawa surprises everyone with his actions to bring things to a conclusion. Never mind Rokujo himself and his constantly hidden feelings, it appears that the rest of the major characters also still have plenty left to be revealed about their own pasts and lives. Even after all this, there's still time for the episode to close with yet further double-crossing and surprises for everyone involved.

While this might sound confusing when condensed and cast into this spoiler-free environment, it's actually played off excellently within the body of the episode itself, with everything flowing freely and in a logical manner that defies what may look chaotic in the first instance. The reasoning behind the entire assassination request may be a little contrived, but it at least brought some personal feeling to what otherwise would have been a game of 'kill the generic bad guy'.

Overall, my faith has again been restored by this episode of Nabari no Ou - But can it actually keep the momentum this time? I'm truly delighting in the complicated world (both 'real' and ninja) portrayed in the show, where nothing is clear-cut and straightforward (a far cry from Naruto and its ilk) and the characters are hinting at a complexity we can't yet begin to guess at. When it comes to these crunch episodes the series is very much polished and immensely watchable... If it can just drop the habit of slow down to a turtle's pace at times trying to over-explain things that don't really need so much effort, then we could have a real winner on our hands.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 6

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki has, in turns, amused, moved and entertained me, but it would only be fair to say that episode five really didn't float my boat due to its lack of humour and rather contrived emotional responses.

While episode six, which concludes that particular mini-arc, was something of an improvement, at its core it contained many of the same complaints for me. Although it managed to wring a wry smile out of me on one occasion, it was otherwise devoid of anything truly funny, with most of its madcap pacing seemingly just there to add 'flavour' rather than any real humour. On the other hand, while the episode was veritably dripping with emotion, in again boiled down to the same tired old talk of family as the answer to all life's problems. While this family-centric focus worked really well in episodes two and three, it's all become a little same-y now and consists of little more than repeating the same old mantras over and over in an attempt to make a coherent and sustained point about the important of surrounding yourself with those you love. Yes, I'm a cold-hearted bastard for not gushing about this stuff, now let's move on.

All of this is without mentioning the absolutely monumental deus ex machina that gets invoked at the end of the episode - I simply have to mention it because, despite clearly claiming to be there for comic value and to add some mystery for future episodes, it really just felt lazy to me.

Overall then, I'm disappointed, as I thought that this series might be able to lift itself beyond saying "Hey, look at me, I'm crazy!". Ironically, it does manage that, but only with a surfeit of contrived emotional content that really doesn't work for me. On the positive side though, it does (for my money) have the best soundtrack of any series I've watched this season, not least courtesy of its insane opening theme which I've mentioned my love of before. Some likeable music really can't make up for those other pitfalls though.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 8

After an episode finale last time around that gave me at least the tiniest, slightest glimmer of hope for some progress in part eight of Itazura no Kiss, here I am a broken and dejected man once again.

Although everyone has moved on from high school to university, little has changed in Kotoko's life - She still harbours desires for Naoki, a situation made even worse by their kiss in odd circumstances last episode, yet the object of her love is still a self-centred, rude and very nasty piece of work. Yes, that's right, despite being eight episodes in Naoki is still yet to be anything but a complete asshole to the ever bright, breezy and hopeful Kotoko, something that I continue to hate him for. Not only that, but Kotoko's irritating friends are still on the scene, as if to complete my misery. In short, everything is as it ever was, and so all of my complaints about the series remain exactly the same.

No matter how I try to rationalise it, no sane woman would still hold an interest in someone like Naoki after so long with nothing but insults thrown back at them, it's simply unhealthy. Thus, until the dynamic of that relationship changes (as surely it must do to move this series into its next phase), Itazura no Kiss will continue to frustrate me more and more with each passing episode. Please, script writers, put me out of my misery and make Naoki do something likeable... Anything likeable.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 21-32

Let us be candid here for a moment - There is nothing more that I can possibly say about Chi's Sweet Home. It's about a kitten. A cute kitten. A cute kitten who does cute things. If you aren't sold by the premise alone, then this series is not for you.

This latest batch of episodes sees Chi visit the vet, get her nails trimmed after developing a penchant for scratching sofas and designer jeans, and then finally gets to rule the roost as the family leave her to house sit for a day, with predictably destructive consequences. In short, it's all adorable, and it's all scarily cat-like for anyone who has ever shared a house with a feline, and particularly a kitten. As ever, the only real world of summation required is: Awwwww....

Special A - Episode 6

I'm not sure why, but it seems that however average it may be, the longer Special A goes on the less inclined I am to criticise it. Although it continues to meander along at a not particularly engaging pace, and frequently features plots that really don't particular make sense at all (something which could certainly be levelled at this episode), I... well, I kind of.... like it. Just a bit, mind.

In episode six of the series, Hikari gets invited to a birthday party alongside Kei by his brother - A party that Kei only very reluctantly allows Hikari to attend. It's never made explicitly clear why Kei doesn't want her to tag along, on the one hand it seems to be due to her much lower societal status compared to those at which the party is really aimed, but on the other it could simply be that Kei wants to protect her from the party's host, Yahiro. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere inbetween, but in all fairness to the script writers they don't overly suggest either option, leaving you to decide for yourself.

Indeed, the more I think about, the more this could be Special A's hidden treasure. While many shows of this genre seem to feel the need to spell out every action of the main characters in every way short of semaphore, this show never overdoes it, preferring to keep things far more ambiguous. Thus, it's often hard to decide whether Kei's criticisms of Hikari are joking or serious, or whether his protection of her is for her sake or his own. Again, the truth is probably somewhere inbetween, but this does at least add a little depth to both story and character, especially compared to other current shows of a similar ilk like Itazura no Kiss.

So, while I can't really get excited about this series even half a dozen episodes in, I'm starting to build a grudging respect for it - It doesn't get everything right by a long, long way, but somehow it just seems to have that little spark beneath its otherwise mundane exterior that keeps me from simply walking away. Thus, my feelings for this series are much like Hikari's for Kei, I would wager.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Himitsu - The Revelation - Episode 4

"Robin Hood, Robin Hood, riding through the glen
Robin Hood, Robin Hood, with his band of sleeping old men"

I'm sorry, I don't know what came over me... I suppose that's what happens when an anime episode features a bad guy who seems to have a thing for dressing like Robin Hood. Minus the tights. Fortunately. What is perhaps worse is that I can't even tell whether it was a knowing nod in that direction or just a guy who liked to wear a stupid outfit.

Anyhow, episode four of Himitsu again looks to tackle a delicate and difficult subject, and to be honest once it again it fails to do it justice. For starters, its thoughts on suicide and/or assisted suicide are delivered with all the subtlety of a ballet dancer performing Swan Lake in wellingtons. Then there's the outright incompetence of Aoki and company, who somehow fail to spot the blatantly obvious reason for the happenings they see via the MRI playback of the brains of the deceased for virtually the entire episode, where to most of us people with an ounce of nous we could see what was going on within the first thirty seconds. Let's just hope they don't need to use the MRI scanner on any of Section Nine any time soon, as they might well struggle to find anything to scan.

Continuing the theme of heavy handedness, the case Aoki is working on just happens to coincide with an illness to his own father - Are we really going to have poor old Aoki linked to every case via his own long-suffering family? One minute it's illicit desires for his sister mirroring an assassinated President's homosexual lust, the next his father falls ill and starts talking about his future at the same time as Aoki investigates an assisted suicide case. Let's just hope for his family's sake he doesn't investigate a case about a police investigator killing all his own family any time soon. Or worse, a case investigating an anime 'Blogger bludgeoning a Section Nine investigator to death with a plastic DVD case for being so bloody stupid.

While this episode wasn't a complete loss, I can't help but be disappointed to see such a promising idea for a series being used in such a lacklustre fashion. There's so much that can be said and done with the concept that seeing it treated in such a manner, where you and I as the viewer are treated as brain-dead morons (or so it seems) is immensely frustrating. What we have here is an excellent vehicle for some great murder/detective stories with some very interesting moral angles thrown in to accompany them, but what we're left with is more akin to painting (or rather, anime plot development) by numbers.

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 6

Episode six of Wagaya no Oinari-sama reintroduces Sakura, who we saw a few episodes back, to the series as Tamaki's love interest (well, Sakura is interested in him, rather than vice versa), and in all honesty the show is all the better for it. Yes, this development does move the series into that rather clichéd realm of the harem anime, and to complement that at times it does become rather fan service-y to boot, but despite that this episode at last somehow manages to regain the sense of fun that is more or less its only redeeming feature thus far, cutting down the need for any action to a bare minimum (it barely gets a minute of screen time) and instead just going with the kind of situations you'd expect, from misunderstandings to desperate attempts to explain away Kou and Kuu's odd behaviour and the like.

To be honest, part of me almost wishes Sakura had been introduced as the main character of the series rather than the two brothers, as she possesses a barrel-load more personality than the two of them put together, and actually gets most of the amusing moments in the episode in which she features rather than simply being the focus of attacks by random and more often than not stupid spirits every episode. Her love interest in Tamaki is as clichéd as you imagine, as I've already mentioned, but at least it feels genuine and her overall personality shines through where every other character in the show seems, to be honest, a little dull - and it's really coming to something when you're discussing a series about a fox-girl-god-spirit-thing, but you find said fox-girl-god-spirit-thing boring and predictable.

While it looks like the next episode will return to more spirit-based fare, to be honest I'd rather it stick to its fish out of water, slice of life focus which seems to hold the richest materials for what is admittedly a very average series at best anyway.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Real Drive - Episode 3

After two episodes of trying to figure out what the Hell is going on, Real Drive is finally starting to make some more sense as of episode three, becoming more than just a pretty face with fantastic animation and CG and actually putting some decent plot-related meat onto those bones.

Unsurprisingly, said plot is turning out to be rather typical Shirow fare, involving humanity's ever-continuing quest for progress, a quest which now appears to be at odds with the depths of the ocean and the Earth's biorhythms, the likes of which caused Haru's diving accident fifty years ago as well as the power station explosion we saw in the show's earlier episodes.

Of course, this still leaves one rather large question - Namely, how all of this fits into 'the Metal', the virtual world in which people are able to dive. It seems clear that this is ripe to be explained in the near future, as Minamo (who is clearly acting somewhat as our guide for this whole journey) currently doesn't have a clue as to what it's all about either. At this point in time it's largely immaterial however, as this episode focuses on Haru trying to prove his worth so that he can dive in the Metal for the Physics and Chemistry Laboratory (which just sounds like a bad day on the school timetable to me, but I digress) and his old boss.

After being left a little cold by the very start of the series, I have to confess that I'm warming to Real Drive quite nicely. Production I.G's work on the animation is absolutely top-notch, and they do a fantastic job of creating both the virtual and real world's of the show as well as intertwining the two. While the storyline is still a little vague, it looks as though it could well visit some interesting places regarding the relationship between humankind and nature, as well as some deeper questions about the nature of consciousness, which is always the kind of thing you can expect a show of this ilk to do in a well-researched and thoughtful way. It's still too early to make Real Drive a series to recommend watching, but it now officially gets a 'this has promise' sticker to wear around. Virtually speaking, of course, so they can only wear it in the Metal.

Kurenai - Episode 8

After last episode seeing Murasaki's whereabouts discovered by the Kuhouin family, I was fully expecting to see a change in this latest instalment to something a little more fraught and action packed... and bizarrely, despite the fact that I was expecting Kurenai to be action-oriented before I started watching it, I was actually rather disappointed by that thought.

Thankfully, episode eight of this series chose to almost entirely delay anything along those lines for at least another episode, instead opting to give us another episode of beautiful bonding between Murasaki, Shinkurou and the other residents of his apartment block, and yet more glittering dialogue, the like of which has made this show my firm favourite of the Spring anime season.

The mainstay is the episode is the decision to help Murasaki celebrate Shichi-Go-San, something Japanese kids apparently celebrate when they are three, five or (in Murasaki's case) seven years old. You learn something new every day. Anyway, the group's celebration involves taking Murasaki to a shrine, and as Shinkurou takes her home at the end of the day we get one of those wonderful exchanges that really mark out the qualities of Kurenai, a conversation which is in turn amusing, embarrassing and touching. Indeed, the closing minutes of this episode demonstrate just how close Murasaki and her protector have become, and despite the formers view of that relationship perhaps being corrupted somewhat by Tamaki's rather perverted view of the world, it's all really quite sweet. It isn't all good news though, as Ginko's research into the Kuhouin's delivers a real bombshell for Shinkurou.

I've noted before that Kurenai can even be a great series in episodes when nothing happens thanks to some snappy dialogue and great characters, but it should also get kudos for those moments when something important is going on. The tail end of this episode, from Murasaki trying to tell Shinkurou how she feels about him through to the bombshell that is delivered to him by Ginko and the last couple of minutes where everything begins to fall apart are an absolute masterclass in both characterisation and how to convey emotion in anime. Even without any over-the-top emotional reactions from any of the characters I found myself becoming entagled in their feelings and fears - Surely a sign of a grade A series.

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 7

As we reach the seventh episode of Il Teatrino, once again we find the focus shifting away from the girls themselves, with this particular instalment focusing on the story of one of the terrorists. Thus, we learn why Franca has chosen the path that she has, as well as seeing her get into (and rescued from) a very sticky situation.

While Franca's reasons for becoming a terrorist are at least somewhat understandable, due to her father being imprisoned for a crime he didn't commit and then dying in jail before this could be brought to light, her response to this miscarriage of justice seems to be rather disproportionate. I know this has been referenced by another character in the last episode, but it must be said that much of her personality is something of a paradox - Here is a woman who will stop to help a pregnant woman, but yet has no qualms about extinguishing innocent lives as part of her vague campaign to 'change things'. Of course, we could easily drift into a deep and never-ending discussion about the roots of terrorism, but sticking solely to this series Franca's justifications and need to follow the path she has chosen seem rather weak, especially for someone so intelligent and with so much to offer - I simply can't buy her reasoning for taking such desperate measures.

Aside from that big question mark hanging over the episode, we do get to see Pinnochio at his most terrifyingly brutal, doing him justice as an opponent to be feared. Beyond that though, by the end of the episode there isn't a huge amount that has changed from how it started, and even the appearance of Section 2 feels like a rather token effort. Not a bad effort, but the continued focus away from the main characters doesn't really help the series all that much considering how the original Gunslinger Girl's true genius was in its portrayal of the internal and external struggles of the girls.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 7

The shifting sands of quality that seems to occur between each episode of Nabari no Ou continue again as of episode seven, as once again we find ourselves with an instalment that is little more than setting the scene for what should be a far more action-packed episode eight.

With the race to grab all of the various ninja villages kinjutsu scrolls now public knowledge in the world of Nabari, our intrepid bunch of good guys find themselves being coerced into use as little more than 'guns for hire', put to the task of assassinating an rather unsavoury businessman who goes by the rather unlikely surname of 'Frosty'. Rather than focus his attentions on breakfast cereal or driving an ice cream van, the subject of all this attention creates chemicals, abuses third world countries, experiments on humans and so forth. Thus, the team (minus Raimei, who has to disappear to handle some business of her own) set out to do their work while Mr. Frosty (sorry, I can't even type that with a straight face) is visiting Japan from his native country.

Yes, there's a little more to this episode's plot than explaining this assassination scenario, but not by much. We do however get some ever-entertaining moments of Rokujo using his knack for emotional blackmail, and some predictably terrible attempts to speak English to denote Mr. Frosty's western roots. Please, anime writers and voice actors, if you're going to have an English speaking character either find someone English to play the part or just make them speak Japanese and hope we won't question it. I know it probably isn't such a big deal to any Japanese watching as us Western types, but it always grates with me.

So, twenty-five minutes later, all we've really learned is - Wait for the next episode when the good stuff will likely start again. It's a good job that Nabari no Ou at its best has been fantastic in earlier instalments, as when we get to these scene-setting episodes it really does tend to drag.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 8

The conclusion of Code Geass R2 episode seven left us with a potentially dangerous curve ball being thrown by Zero, who agreed to join the Special Administrative Region of Japan shortly after putting more than a slight dent in Suzaku's plan to capture the Order of the Black Knights. By agreeing a deal which could well turn his own supporters against him, and potentially leave the Japanese without any real hope, how on earth could this be turned around in Lelouch's favour?

The answer is, of course, with a little cunning and a lot of genius, brokering a deal and playing a hinted at but still rather unexpected card to free over a million Japanese, and himself in the process. After complaining about the repetition of ideas and plots earlier on in this series, Code Geass R2 now truly seems to be ploughing its own furrow compared to the first season of the show - After last episode's most excellent slice of tactics from Lelouch, this episode delivers an even more daring plan, which of course goes entirely to plan while also potentially softening the relationship between Lelouch/Zero and Suzaku, as the pair being to show signs of both trust and understanding of the other's goals.

Naturally, this wouldn't be an episode of Code Geass without leaving as many questions as it did answers. Just where are Lelouch and his million strong followers going to go now (okay, so the Chinese Federation seems like the likely destination there), and what will be their next battle seeing as it's patently obvious that he won't be willing to just leave it there? If they move away from battling for the independence of Japan, will any of those million followers want to continue to support Zero beyond their own limited interests? Besides which, what about Lelouch's friends, and indeed his role as a normal student? Without so much as a trailer for episode nine to give us a clue, your guess is as good as mine.

Really, this is what Code Geass at its best is all about - No action, just a quick moving yet tense march towards the inevitable moment of revelation when Zero's latest plan comes to fruition. And what a plan it was too, which despite being a little implausible had me grinning from ear to ear with glee. It even made Suzaku look good, which has to be saying something. Overall then, a classic episode, and once again I hate the thought that I'll have to wait another week to see what Lelouch plans to do next.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Special A - Episode 5

After watching yet another episode of Special A, the only word which springs to mind to describe it is 'okay'. It certainly isn't terrible, but than again it's not all that great either, leaving this plainest of words as the most fitting.

After threatening to dissolve into yet another rather daft contest between Hikari and Kei over a school party/festival, this episode does at least shy away from covering that rather well trodden ground of rivalry between the pair, and instead takes a somewhat sweeter approach. Once again Kei's rather neglected childhood stands out as the reason for any disagreements and his determination to organise everything alone, and I suppose I did find myself warming to this theme somewhat as someone who is often myself assumed to prefer doing things on my own when I would in fact much rather share them with someone else I care about to add to the enjoyment. It's rather ironic therefore that despite this being the theme of the episode, Kei seems to complete absolve Hikari of any part of organising the eventual party - Sure, he all but organises it specifially for her, but that still rather blows a hole in one of the supposedly more touching points of the episode.

Besides that, episode five does hold some fun moments (the use of a blimp to deliver various sweets being a bit of a highlight), but otherwise never does too much to raise a tear, a smile or a laugh - In all honesty, it just seems too straight-laced and stuffy to do that, rather like the main characters of Special A and their upper class position, you could argue. Perhaps at the end of the day my apathy towards this show is just a little class envy or something, but despite having warmed to both of the main characters I still don't feel like I can invest all that much heart in their relationship, and as per Itazura no Kiss the leading duo's roles are occasionally all but ruined by some irritating supporting characters. Hence my overall feeling about this series that Special A should perhaps be renamed Special OK.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 7

Aside from granting a big exception to the final minute or so of episode seven of Itazura no Kiss, everything basically remains exactly as I seem to have described this series from day one, although if anything many of the points I initially made have only become more deeply entrenched and 'in your face' as the show has progressed.

In other words, Naoki Irie is still as much of a nasty piece of work as ever, to the point where it's beyond impossible to fathom why Kotoko still holds any feelings for him. Kotoko's friends are still incredibly irritating, particularly Kin who is increasingly moving towards sealing my vote for the 'anime character I'd most like to punch repeatedly in the face' award for this current season. Naoki's mother is also well up there on the list of irritations and climbing higher by the week, with her interfering in her son and Kotoko's relationship (or lack thereof) becoming unbearable. Even my feeling that Kotoko herself saves this series is beginning to wane, as her spirit and energy can only take her so far before she just looks plain stupid for chasing a guy who there is nothing positive to say about aside from his intelligence.

Really, all of this is a shame considering my earlier feelings that this show could make something of itself - It was never going to break new ground, but it continually does itself a disservice with its increasingly stereotypical portrayal of all of its main characters. Yes, that ending I mentioned gains it some bonus points for shaking things up, but all signs point to a return to normal service in the next episode which rather defeats the point. I haven't given up on this series completely yet, but we're now seven episodes in and if I'm honest, it hasn't gone anywhere much - If you were feeling particularly harsh, you could even argue that it's going backwards.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 5

Although I've really rather enjoyed Kyouran Kazoku Nikki up until now, episode five seems to be (for me at least) the point at which it has hit something of a wall with regards to its quality. Having moved from the rather soft centre of episodes two and three to the more expected crazy comedy last time around, episode five tries to blend the two to some extent, offering some madcap moments but with a very obvious streak of family love running through it.

Unfortunately, this seems to push the episode down the road of being a jack of all trades but master of none, as the sentimentality never really extends itself beyond frequent proclamations of protecting the 'family' and the comedy simply doesn't manage to be very funny. While episode four at least gave a me a few decent laughs, this instalment's detailing of the Midarezaki's honeymoon and the strange goings-on that naturally soon follow never raised much more than a brief smile here and there. It's almost like it was holding back for fear of overshadowing the sappy family stuff.

Although this particular arc is going to extend over at least one further episode, as a story it doesn't seem to have much going for in terms of comedic value or morality, existing as it appears to in a kind of story-writing cul-de-sac with no obvious way out apart from taking some heavily predictable and well-trodden road. Of course, one of the rules of writing a madcap series such as this is that there are no rules, so I'd be very happy to be proved wrong, but as of right now I think some richer ventures are required to showcase the undoubtedly rather likeable and appealing main characters a little better.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 7

We're now over half a dozen episodes in to Allison to Lillia, but to be quite honest I find it near-impossible to be objective about the series now, such is the way that it has wormed its way into my subconscious as a figure of fun. It's an odd thing sometimes how a completely average series can often turn out to be more offensive from its mediocrity than something truly dire, and such is the issue here.

I wasn't expecting any great changes from episode seven, and in that respect I wasn't at all disappointed, with a showing that gave us some heftily moronic plot points to consider, most notably - Why have Allison and Wil got to steal a plane when Ker Benedict could easily have used his position to persuade them to be allowed to use it? Yes, I know, it isn't like Allison is a fully trained and qualified air force pilot who they'd actually trust with an aircraft or anything. Oh, wait a second... She is. What makes this part of the story worse is the fact that all three of them seem to have a blatant disregard for the safety of everyone else at the expense of their relatively tame mission, with Allison quite happily 'driving' a plane through a town and smashing up a bunch of cars with little regard for its dangers. Far be it from me to become a fully paid-up member of the Anime Health and Safety Inspectorate, but I thought the good guys were usually supposed to care about other people?

If the first half of the episode was a bit stupid, the second part was merely disappointing, with the predictable Benedict-Fiona love story emerging ("I know I've only just met you, but I like the way you cover up your chest all the time"), and Fiona making a hugely shocking statement which wasn't ("You're not a real princess? I didn't realise you were lying even though the head of the village we escape from blatantly said exactly that last episode"). In all fairness, we don't yet know why Fiona is lying about this, so hopefully there will be a good story behind it, but then again this is Allison to Lillia so I won't be holding my breath. Oddly, even Allison and Wil seem apathetic to the possibility that she's lying ("Yes, she probably is lying, but still... This is a jolly good adventure!").

Once again, I have to confess that my commentary here is far more damning than it probably should be, as this episode is another example of mediocrity of the most average degree - If I weren't poking fun at it mercilessly I'd literally be left with nothing much to say, such is the blandness of the series. Still, it's cheaper than a sleeping pill I suppose - Must... make it... to... the Lillia... arc....

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Himitsu - The Revelation - Episode 3

While the opening half of this two-parter dealing with the assassination of a US President had little in the way of revelations, the conclusion of the story in episode three of Himitsu - The Revelation lived up to its name by revealing that said President... Just couldn't stop looking at men's bow ties. At least, I think that's what the revelation was.

Okay, I jest, that wasn't it at all, but funnily enough it seems that the writers of this story simply couldn't bring themselves to spell out what they really wanted to say, so instead just made it painfully obvious from the very beginning of the episode without ever blurting it out. You could call it trying to be clever I suppose, but I got the feeling they were just being a little coy.

Anyway, that aside, the pacing for this episode just felt very, very wrong, with a sudden ending that wasn't an ending but then was again. After all that build-up, it all felt very unsatisfactory and not a little untidy - Again, you could argue that this is simply portraying the nature of the kind of MRI investigations carried out in this series, but again I'd counter that with my assumption that it's just some rather weak scripting.

I still rather like the concept of Himitsu - The Revelation, and the format does have some potential as well as bringing up the odd moral quandary about whether anyone should be looking at the deepest, darkest secrets of a person's psyche, even if it means catching a killer. However, I'm beginning to worry that the series is going to become too burdened down in the personal problems of the investigating team - Indeed, even this whole potentially ambitious storyline surrounding the death of a president seemed to end up as little more than a pastiche for Aoki's feelings for his sister, which really did nothing but add an unnecessary layer to a plot that didn't really need it. With the end of this episode bringing more personal revelations about a team member, it looks like we probably won't be focusing on solving murders alone in this show for a while yet.

Kurenai - Episode 7

Following on from last week's musical interlude, Kurenai returns to business in its usual dazzling fashion courtesy of its seventh episode. Much of this episode is devoted to Tamaki, who decides to take Murasaki to university with her for the day. Here, we learn an awful lot about Tamaki - From outwardly seeming like a highly independent woman of the world who uses men as little more than playthings (to the point where I was starting to develop rather a distaste for her character for a while), we actually get a glimpse of the true person underneath that façade, a girl who is just as eager to change and work hard to keep a guy's attention as the very people she so often criticises.

As per usual for the series, this particular scenario is delivered brilliantly thanks almost solely to its dialogue, which one again proves to be frequently hilarious (on Murasaki's part in particular) and occasionally poignant. Perhaps the funniest moment of all is the fact that this episode has no qualms about bringing up the 'lolicon' possibilities of Murasaki and Shinkurou's relationship - When have you ever seen any anime openly posit something upon dodgy ground that we've all been wondering (nay, worrying) about for most of the series? Seeing Tamaki mention this was one thing, but Murasaki brazenly bringing it up in an argument with Shinkurou (coupled with his expression) made my week.

Beyond this, the episode also has serious business to attend to, concerning both Murasaki's mother and her future away from the Kuhouins, developments which may well signal a forthcoming change of pace to the series. Funnily enough, I find myself wanting to resist any such change, such is the joy that has been wrought from watching Murasaki and company doing the most mundane things. Never mind her kidnapping, this series could easily get by on more episodes surrounding shopping, watching TV and just generally watching Murasaki attempt to learn about life. Once again, Kurenai has proved itself to be pure genius using little more than some interesting characters and sharp dialogue, which at the end of the day is always the real foundation of good anime - A foundation which so many series sadly seem to forget, and which they would do well to learn from a show such as this.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 5

After episode four's focus on Miyako, episode five of Wagaya no Oinari-sama carried in on a similar vein, with Kuugen still seemingly fretting over Tohru's continuing hurt that he never really got to know his mother. Thus, this episode sees Kuu try to use her power to do something about this in typically irresponsible fashion.

Again, we see a similar mix of emotion with a brief burst of action, none of which really felt particularly convincing. Tohru's emotional reactions later in the episode were a little weak, and when all of the characters involved in a battle are so blatantly pulling their punches even the action sequences are left feeling sterile. Strip away all of that, and you're left with a pretty bland mix that, in the case of those action scenes, almost literally adds up to nothing more than smoke and mirrors.

With a 'bad guy' who is only interested in collecting material for decent souvenirs to sell, two goody two-shoes brothers and a pretty generic pair of powerful characters who we're supposed to be cheering on, I just really can't see what Wagaya no Oinari-sama is going to do to keep things ticking along for the entire remainder of the series. It looks like at least the next episode will return to being some kind of slice of life comedy (replete with fan service galore), and to be honest right now that seems to be its best bet, and it's proved to at least be more entertaining than these tedious action segments every week. Something certainly needs to change quite majorly to lift the show out of the pool of mediocrity in which it currently resides.

Real Drive - Episode 2

Real Drive's opening episode was really very hard to 'Blog about, because to be honest there was very little in the way of clues as to where it would be going story-wise. Normally, the second episode of a series begins to clear things up but in this case, I'm not too sure that it has.

The episode begins with a rather confusing montage of flashbacks and flash-forwards from Minamo's point of view, taking us between her childhood, her arrival on the island and subsequent meeting with Haru, and the power outage where we left off last episode. As Minamo sets out to try and restore power to the island village, so Haru takes his own route to save the day by way of diving into the Metal. It is this particular section which gives us some visually beautiful animation that mixes the stylised view of cyberspace previously seen in Ghost in the Shell: Standalone Complex with some of the more psychedelic moments of 2001: A Space Odyssey to rather impressive effect.

Indeed, if there's one thing that stands out about Real Drive it's the production values - From the orchestral soundtrack through to the stunning look of the show, it's obvious that this is a big budget production.

That aside, there is much to be left explained before we can even begin to hope to get to grips with the plot, especially with so little truly explained about the Metal and the technology seen in the show. Of course, I'm sure all will be described in thorough and well thought-out detail as time goes on - This is a Shirow production after all. So, for now I just have to be content with the fact that Real Drive looks gorgeous, and that this second episode flew by so quickly that I must have enjoyed it more than I realised.

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 7

After seeing Nunnally snatched away from him by Suzaku of all people at the end of episode six, this was bound to be an episode of introspection for Lelouch. We already knew that Nunnally is both his weakness and his greatest cause for resolve as Zero, but seeing her as the new governor of Area 11 and promising to reinstate the Special Administrative Region of Japan in front of the entire nation was always going to be too much of an internal conflict for his mind to bear.

What follows is, quite simply, pure excellence. Lelouch tries to escape the shackles which 'Zero' has become, going a bit Geass crazy in a scene which was both funny and served to reinforce the frightening amount of power which he holds. Elsewhere, we see both Rollo and Kallen react to Lelouch going walkabout, both in very intriguing ways which suggests that there is more going on in their thoughts than meets the eye. Finally, we see an absolutely classic piece of Lelouch/Zero tactical nous, which finally takes away the shackles of everything seeming to be a repeat of a moment from the first series in a beautiful bit of artistic mayhem - If ever a reminder was needed as to why I love Code Geass, that was it. Then, of course, no episode of this series would be complete without a big cliff-hanger, making you wonder what exactly the little devil is planning next.

After a few episodes where I haven't been able to gush mindlessly about how great Code Geass is, it's nice to be able to unequivocally praise it here. The animation seems to be reaching new highs over even the opening episode's beauty, Lelouch is finally free to get back to being his Machiavellian best, and a number of the supporting characters are intriguing me more by the week. While not being the most all-out, action-packed episode by a long shot, this really is blockbuster anime at its best.

Special A - Episode 4

In trying to collect my thoughts about this forth episode of Special A, I have to say - It's a strange old beast. On the one hand I really quite like it, but on the other I hate it, leaving me with a very conflicted feeling as to how to even proceed on this entry.

This episode finally introduces us to the rest of Kei Takishima's family - A father whose feminine traits are way, way over the top to the point of being hugely annoying, and the almost inevitable rebellious younger brother who feels that he can never live up to the standards set by Kei, and so between that and Kei's perceived coldness to him he refuses to do any kind of school work and so own. Enter Hikari as a tutor, and (I'm sure this isn't too much of a spoiler) an eventual reconciliation between brothers.

While Hikari is a likeable character and Kei's hidden depths make him equally interesting, this series seems to be otherwise spoilt by the rest of the supporting characters, who are various shades of annoying. While Kei's younger brother should probably be exempt from this as he really wasn't all that bad, the rest of Kei and Hikari's school friends and family all seem to be begging for to have various levels of violence applied to them to shut them up and get them out of the picture. It's a shame really, as the main pairing is interesting enough to make the show watchable, but you often end up hoping and praying that the two get stranded on a desert island for the rest of the series.

Special A also seems to suffer a little from being a jack of all trades but master of none - It's attempts at comedy often don't work, in this episode in particular, whereas the more poignant moments are often laid on a little too thick.

In closing then, I suppose I'm saying that this series should probably be avoided, unless you can grow to really, really like the two lead characters. I haven't reached that level of interest in them just yet, but I imagine I'll persevere with this series a little further for now, if only on the basis of the more entertaining third episode.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 6

So here we are, up to the sixth episode of Itazura no Kiss, and to be quite honest thus far this series has survived almost solely on the infectious enthusiasm of Kotoko. This episode does, however, finally bring us at least some softening of Naoki's previously overly harsh personality to more reasonable levels, to the point where Kotoko having any interest in him is almost believable.

Aside from that rather major shift in the dynamic between the two, this episode remains pretty standard fare, between Kotoko's disastrous attempts to impress or otherwise make Naoki happy, exuberant misjudgements that almost cause him to lose his near certain place at Tokyo University. But, does he even really want to go there, and if not then why not?

While Itazura no Kiss remains pretty reasonable to watch, it just never seems to quite get things right... Just like Kotoko herself, you could argue. Comic moments and situations are never quite brought to the boil as they should be, while more emotional scenes get passed over relatively quickly, leaving us with a slightly bland recipe. It's the sort of thing you can forgive for a few episodes, but we should be at the point where there's more than just the same old unrequited love story to fall back on at the end of the day, although the preview for episode seven does perhaps promise some movement in that direction.

I find it hard to be critical of this show, because it somehow always manages to do just enough to keep my attention, but it really needs a little more frisson if it's ever going to be much more than a way of filling half an hour. I'm not asking for anything revolutionary from the romantic comedy genre which has been done to death in every aspect of popular culture, but there's still plenty of more prime material available than this series seems willing to move towards.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 6

While the third episode of Nabari no Ou proved to be a turning point in my belief that it could become a quality series thanks to a fantastically realised and action packed offering, so episode six has helped to solidify my beliefs in a very different way.

After the cliffhanger of episode five, this next instalment begins with Raimei and Kouichi regaining consciousness to find Miharu Rokujo nowhere to be found, and leaving us with much of the episode concentrating on dialogue between Miharu and the 'Kira' user Yoite. Here, we learn just why Yoite wants the Shinrabanshou held within Miharu, and are left with a real potential turning point in the series that even the normally apathetic Rokujo is unable to ignore.

While anyone watching this series for the action alone may be disappointed here, the dialogue and character-focused nature of this episode are both vital and intriguing in their content, representing some sea changes in some of the major relationships and power bases of the show. In essence, Rokujo is no longer able to play his almost 'early Shinji Ikari-esque' role of running away and not caring about the wider issues at stake, as his hand is forced to make decisions that will affect many of those closest to him. We also see Thobari's role as the head of those protecting Miharu suffer, as his overly emotional nature when dealing with Rokujo's disappearance and subsequent poor judgement leads him to be shouted down by, most notably, Kouichi. All of this is without Yoite himself, who has proved himself to be far from the 'monster' we've seen him as thus far - Although highly mentally unstable, you could even question whether he's a bad guy at all, which will doubtless be a question for another day.

All of this adds up to provide Nabari no Ou with a most welcome extra layer over what we've seen before, giving it some not insubstantial depth beyond some cool fight scenes and the general 'woah, ninjas' exclamantions that tend to follow a series of this ilk. Add in the continuation of that great juxtaposition of real world and life as a ninja (carry out a mission for your village or finish an article for your real life job - a problem we've all had to face before. Well, kind of) without forgetting the top-notch animation, and this definitely appears to be a series that is going places provided that it can produce the goods from the seeds that it has now sown.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 4

After the last couple of episodes of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki really quite surprised me by being rather different from what I expected (although not in a bad way thankfully), episode four of the series finally seems to plant it in what you could ironically call the most sensible direction for the series - That is, utter madcap insanity.

The premise of the episode (as if it needs one) is that Kyouka (with more than a little prompting from new arrival Chika, who has designs on Ginka, if she can just make him a little less... well, gay) decides it's time for her and her 'husband' Ouka to embark on a honeymoon with the rest of the family - With a hijack option thrown in, of course. What follows is a visit to a suitably bizarre travel agents, complete with cursed employees and a branch chief who is some kind of wannabe witch doctor.

Above all else this episode is, quite simply, fun - If you like your anime to race along at speed while not necessarily making a great deal of logical sense (a la Excel Saga), then this should be right up your street. To be fair to this episode though, it isn't just randomness for the sake of it - There are some really funny moments too, such as the aforementioned request from Kyouka for a honeymoon package with an optional hijacking, and some other great little set pieces that I won't spoile too much, although any show that somehow manages to work a man dressed as a penguin wearing a turban has to get bonus points in my book.

So, those really quite emotionally charged second and third episodes, we now seem to have hit the real crux of the series, and it's exactly what I expected. Yes, it's a little predictable that this was going to be the way it progressed, but given that the craziness and smattering of genuinely funny gags were enough to keep me entertained, I'm continuing to quite enjoy the show.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 6

It's virtually by special request that I've sat down to collect my thoughts around Allison to Lillia's sixth episode, in the full expectation that I'll be able to attack it with the same venom as I have previous episodes. It almost goes without saying that it doesn't disappoint in its mix of incredibly average and generic plot points and characters, mixed with some laughable progressions in said plot.

After being drugged by the evil tea-poisoning grandma of doom last time, we start this episode by finding Allison and Wil locked in a basement. Well, I say locked - I mean locked apart from a reasonably easy to reach sky light which gives them a simple means of escape. From here, they hide out in a barn, were they are reunited with Benedict before having to escape again, this time through a handy rear entrance in said barn. To be honest, by giving the main characters so many easy escape routes they might as well have simply saved themselves the bother and kitted them out with the gun from the game Portal.

Next, Benedict is reunited with Fiona (who he first met last episode), who has just been told to 'shoot anyone suspicious'. This village really does have a bee in its bonnet about suspicious people it seems, I'd hate to be born there as a child with slightly shifty-looking eyes. Anyway, Fiona reveals who she truly is and why she wants to get to the capital, and after being captured by the crazed villagers, they suddenly turn back into nice, reasonable people at the drop of the hat, who all know exactly who Benedict is and why he is famous without being told anything, even though they didn't have a clue two seconds before. Saved by this large plot hole and the villagers split personalities, they fly for the capital, but not before the trailer for the next episode basically manages to spoilt almost the entirety of episode seven.

While it's incredibly easy to maul Allison to Lillia like a pit-bull terrier with his favourite toy, I have to once again put in a disclaimer that it isn't that bad - It's simply one of those shows that is so incredibly and perfectly average that it promotes far more bile from me than even the most terrible of series, an attitude not helped by my reluctance to drop it before the Lillia arc starts. To be honest, being able to tear apart the plot holes almost makes it a fun series to watch, so perhaps my advice would be to watch it with a bunch of friends, turning each episode into a drinking game where you chug down a shot of a beverage of your choice every time something really obviously moronic happens. Just, err... drink responsibly.

Kurenai - Episode 6

After everything that has come before in Kurenai, episode six was a rather bizarre distraction from the normal business of this excellent series - Indeed, you could probably go as far as to call it filler. However, I think it's safe to say that I haven't seen a filler episode quite as hilarious as this one.

The episode begins with Shinkurou receiving a visitor at home who is looking for volunteers for a musical as part of some kind of local cultural festival. Despite trying to avoid it, both himself and the others he shares the apartments with are dragging into having to sing and rehearse for said musical.

Never mind the obvious jokes based around bad singing (which are actually pretty amusing in themselves), it's really the dialogue that wins out in that episode. We've already seen Kurenai boasting plenty of great conversations, both humorous and deadly serious, but with their thoughts seemingly turned almost entirely to ramping up the comic value, almost every scene has been filled with fantastically funny dialogue by the script writers, and not just from Murasaki either. By the end of it all, I couldn't believe twenty-five minutes had passed as the time flew by as if it barely existed at all.

After enjoying an episode such as this, I have to start questioning whether I'm simply too enamoured of the show to be able to see its faults, but that's probably something that you'll have to answer for me yourselves. I have to admit that the animation took a definite downward turn here, to the point of actually feeling pretty awful at times, but considering the light-hearted nature of the episode it didn't detract from things too much. At the end of it all though, we learned nothing from this episode, but it was the most enjoyably funny waste of time I've watched this year so far - It's certainly very telling about the quality of this series that even its meaningless episodes allow its positive points to shine through.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Mnemosyne - Episode 4

Mnemosyne is one of those series that has shown off some interesting concepts thus far, but not always managed to deliver on them. It has, however, seemed to slowly improve with each episode, and with this in mind episode four has proved to be the best of the bunch thus far.

This instalment of the series fast forwards us further into the future - 2025 to be precise, and a world where the Internet (known as 2.0 - have I mentioned how much I hate the phrase Web 2.0 before?) is becoming so immersive that many people have become what is known as 1.5, that is alive in the real world but totally attached to the virtual one. People addicted to the Internet, who would have thought?

Anyway, the story begins with a good old-fashioned bout of graphic cybersex between a real-life guy named Teruki and an Internet idol known as Ruon. After inviting her to see him in the real world, nobody is more surprised when this actually happens, with Teruki witnessing her murder just moments later. Or does he? From here on in, we learn a little about Teruki's genealogy, and find out the truth about Ruon and her own origins.

Despite being filled with hacking and cyberspace references, I don't think Ghost in the Shell will be losing sleep any time soon after seeing Mnemosyne's relatively clumsy attempts are showing and predicting the Internet of the future. However, despite all that, the overall story is well paced (aside from a few confusing moments) and actually really rather enjoyable, eschewing a lot of the focus on angels and all that nonsense in favour of some good old-fashioned mystery and the like.

Overall, the one thing that has impressed me about Mnemosyne is the way that each episode has jumped forward in time, leaving our ageless immortal protagonists intact while seeing those around them age, wither and die, which makes for an interesting take on the show at times. That aside, there's plenty of blood, gore and sex on show again here if that floats your boat (some of it pretty unnecessary to be honest), and some particularly nasty 'deaths' for Rin this time around, none of which really distracts from a pretty decent forty-five minutes of entertainment. It's still no classic, but the series' improvement over each episode so far should at least be commended.

Monday, 12 May 2008

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 6

It's been a veritable eternity since I last watched an episode of Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino, meaning that I've probably forgotten most of what has happened so far. No, wait, I remember.... Not much.

Okay, I'm kidding somewhat, and to be honest episode six of the series worked really rather well for me, blending a kidnapping plot which is part of Pinocchio and company's plan to blow up a bridge with a falling out between Henrietta and Rico and the usual opportunity to bring up the moral question of whether it's right to use these girls in the fashion they are used here. In short then, it's pretty much a classic blend of what you'd expect from Gunslinger Girl, albeit in not such a polished manner as we all remember from the original series.

While the overall plot was perhaps convoluted somewhat by making one of the terrorists an antique repairer who Henrietta and Jose visit to get her kaleidoscope fixed (a plot point which was seemingly only there to give an emotional 'bad guys have feelings too' moment to the episode, something which has happened rather a lot in Il Teatrino), the overall balance felt just about right to me, between the girls internal dilemmas with their work and each other to the view of them from the outside world and climaxing in the always slightly uncomfortable action scenes where we see the girls in action at their best as ruthless killers. Overall then, it was far better paced and planned than some of the episodes that preceded it, leaving a pretty enjoyable experience.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 6

As cliffhangers go, the ending to episode five of Code Geass R2 was up there with the best of them - A real Oh My Goodness What The Flip moment. If you thought that Suzaku still had any distance left to drop as biggest asshole in the history of anime, that was the moment he made that final fall, using Lelouch's own sister Nunnally to try and prove once and for all that Lelouch is still Zero and that his memories have been regained.

Thanks to (ironically) a timely intervention by Rollo, Lelouch lives to fight the other day, immediately launching a typically audacious bid to rescue/kidnap (depending on how you look at it) Nunnally, who is about to be unveiled as the new Governor of Area 11. Cue one very action packed episode, including some pretty impressive upgrades for Kallen's Knightmare, and without a glimpse of fan service in sight!

Episode six of Code Geass R2 really returns us to the front line after the distractions of last week, delivering the typical kind of fast-paced action and against the clock battles that are one of the hallmarks of the show, and indeed mecha-based anime in general. While Lelouch's tactical efforts didn't seem to be at their peak as you always hope for, his Geass was used cleverly to give him the space he needed once again, another hallmark of this show. Away from the action, we got to see and find out a little more about V.V. and his relationship to the Emporer, which adds another layer of interest to the already heady mix.

So, something of a return to form for Code Geass here all in all - Not an absolute belter, but action-packed enough to get away with it, while still leaving us with plenty of questions as to how and if Lelouch can handle his current situation with Nunnally without damaging either her, himself, or his entire plan to destroy Brittania. I guess we'll just have to stay tuned...

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 5

I'll be the first to confess that I've regularly been giving Allison to Lillia both barrels on this 'Blog, and (I'd like to think) with very good reason - Indeed, were in not for wanting to see how the Lillia arc which will make up the second half of the series pans out, I would almost certainly have dropped the show by now, fun though it is to bully such easy pickings.

Anyway, after the war which I assumed would take up this entire thirteen episode arc ended in the forth episode, I really couldn't see where this half of the series would go next. The answer is, however, in the direction of a new story which looks set to take up a few episodes and, in fairness, this fifth instalment wasn't all that bad.

Well, when I say 'not that bad', I actually quite enjoyed the first half of the episode, where Wil gets kidnapped on a field trip by Allison so that she can take him on a sight seeing tour, while also making a complete of hash of trying to confess to him which was actually rather cute.

After getting caught in a blizzard, the pair decide to find a nearby village to rest in until the worst of the snowstorm is over, and stumble across what I can only describe as some kind of anime equivalent to Royston Vasey ("You'll Never Leave"). This village is inhabited largely by old ladies who like to appear kind and make lovely tea for strangers, but are infact malicious and evil old crones who want to drug and shoot people because they 'look a bit suspicious'. We don't know quite why this is their reaction to anyone visiting their 'local village for local people', but I'm sure it will be explained in due course. Most likely very badly. Okay, okay, I'm sorry, I'm bullying the poor bewildered anime series again.

To be honest, I can't really criticise this episode of the show too much, as it's proved to be pretty solid - It just seems that the script writers seem to manage to create otherwise serious plots that make me laugh. In this particular episode, the idea of using an icy river as a major road for all vehicles seems a little... well, dangerous, and that's before the evil tea poisoning grannies appear. If the show didn't take itself so seriously at times I'd probably let it slide, but these things turn up with such a straight face that they become unintentionally hilarious to my admittedly twisted mind. Still, it was an improvement upon the last episode, so for that at least Allison to Lillia's fifth episode earns a pat on the back.

Special A - Episode 3

After disliking its opening episode quite intensely, and only feeling a slight spark of enjoyment from episode two, I have to confess - I'm actually starting to warm to Special A, with its third instalment proving to have a couple of amusing moments while succeeding in being really quite charming.

Following on from Hikari losing her bet to Kei in their wrestling match last episode, Kei gets a single command over her to make her do his bidding. His choice of 'punishment'... Make him a bento. As the episode progresses, we learn that Kei has clearly lived a life entirely without having a bento made for him - Who knew it would cause such mental traumas?

Anyhow, from then on, things become rather predictable, with Hikari proving to be useless... no, dangerous... in the kitchen, and so on and so forth. Despite that predictability, it still managed to create a couple of moments that made me chuckle, while the real highlight was in Kei's behaviour and interplay with Hikari, which brought out a far softer side to him compared to the harsh individual we saw in episode one.

So, despite there being nothing spectacular and a very typical story on show here all in all, Special A seems to be slowly winning me over. I'll be the first to admit that some, if not most, of the supporting characters are pretty irritating (what it is with annoying support roles this season, first with Itazura no Kiss and now this?), but it's worth living with when Hikari and Kei get most of the screen time, which is fast becoming a rather soppy tale that somehow I've been dragged into liking.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 4

While its past couple of episodes have focused more on wringing comic value out of its storylines, episode four of Wagaya no Oinari-sama takes a bit of a different approach. While it once again tries to carve an episode neatly into 'slice of life segment' and 'action segment', the everyday part of this particular episode tries to take on more emotional overtones, discussing Miyako with her husband as well as the differing relationship the two boys had with her and why. While I can't say that it does a bad job in this field, and at least we get some flashbacks which allow us to build an idea of what Miyako was like as a person, we still don't really 'know' her enough to do much more than shrug our shoulders.

Similarly, the action portion of the episode is passable but without ever being intriguing (we never get a true feeling for who their opponent is) or particularly exciting - It all just washes over you like a rather weak water-based attack from Kou (who incidentally gets quite a lot of focus this episode, which also happens to be handled okay without forcing me to break out the superlatives).

The fact that I can't actually find much to say about this episode speaks volumes of its middle of the road blandness - The action isn't exciting, the emotional moments are devoid of feeling, and the comedy has been done so many times before that it never really becomes amusing. Of course, looking at it from a 'glass half full' perspective, that means there isn't much wrong with it either, so as mindless entertainment to kill twenty-five minutes it does okay.

I don't see the series breaking too far out of its slice of life / action mould as it progresses though, so if you haven't found enough to keep your interest yet then I doubt you will going forward. Even Kuu, who should be centre stage, has become a rather lifeless character, a far cry from our last wolf girl outing with Spice and Wolf's Horo.

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 13-20

Really, there's nothing new to say about Chi's Sweet Home that I haven't mentioned already. In a word, it's adorable, and that's pretty much all there is to it.

In this bundle of episode, Chi gets some toys (but in true feline fashion, finds the plastic bag they came in more interesting), and runs away to explore the big, wide outdoor world with all the fun and dangers that go with it.

All in all, what I really want to know is - Just how long has my own cat been writing scripts for an anime series? Some of the stories portrayed here are uncanny in their likeness... I guess that's what makes this series a cut above your average "Oh look, cute kitties!" kind of anime, as it's something that any cat owner can most likely easily relate to. Oh yes, and it's adorable, which always helps.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 5

After veering from seat of the pants action to sendantry between episodes three and four, the fifth instalment of Nabari no Ou finds itself somewhere in-between the two, whilst also succeeding in turning out to be a rather good episode overall.

Much of the focus this time around was on Raimei, who I have to confess to having a bit of a soft spot for. While we saw her attempting to extract information about something (or rather someone) previously back in episode three, in this episode we find out why - Needless to say, it's all down to a rather severe bout of family troubles. As an extension of this, she also has to admit that her entire reason for getting close to and protecting Rokujo was in the hope that she'd be able to use his power to find and bring her errant sibling to justice, something that she claims is no longer her motivation for sticking around. After all that, we're left with one very big cliffhanger for episode six, to leave me depressed at the thought of having to wait another week for my next fix.

I've mentioned it previously about this series, but it's worthy of being brought up again - One of the real plus points of Nabari no Ou is the way that it mixes everyday, modern life with the secret existence of the various ninja villages and clans. This is more than just a visual element to the series, it runs through everything from the decisions that are made through to the different ways characters seek to solve problems - While some (notably Thobari) are well and truly ensconced in a modern way of thinking that values the life of all and sundry, the 'old school' characters within the show have no qualms about their colleagues dying for the cause in the name of honour. The attempt to keep balance between the everyday world and Nabari also rears its head at times, with the deaths of ninjas having to be explained (i.e. made up) as deaths in the 'real' world as well.

Couple that interesting take on your typical ninja-based series with some beautiful animation and characters designs, and throw in an interesting and engaging plot, and you have yourself Nabari no Ou. While it has been a little inconsistent with regard to episode quality, at its peak it really is a formidable show, and I'm hoping that this particular episode sees it begin to build up a head of steam to avoid those fluctuations in quality as the series continues.

Special A - Episode 2

While I've been gradually catching up on all the anime on my 'to watch' list, Special A was actually rock solid bottom of that list, hence the large hiatus between discussing the first and second episode. I really couldn't find anything much to enjoy about episode one - The humour wasn't funny, and the pathos between the two lead characters just simply wasn't there.

In all honesty, I found myself harbouring the same feelings through much of the first half of episode two, which proved to be hugely predictable, and with some main characters that were somehow actually unlikeable rather than just uninteresting. But I persevered, and I have to admit that as the episode progresses, my feelings towards it softened ever so slightly. Yes, virtually every frame was hugely predictable, but at last the relationship between Kei and Hikari became both more enjoyable and a little more interesting than the simple, stubborn rivalry seen before.

I really can't say that this was enough to save the episode, as the plot was still horribly contrived and the kind of fare you don't need to be a physic to predict the ending to, and the main characters still feature the longest legs in the known universe, but I suppose I have to give it some credit for igniting just the slightest spark of enjoyment in me. I have a terrible feeling it won't ever emerge from its burden of predictability during the series, but I won't be dropping it just yet in the hope that it blossoms at least somewhat.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 5

It's exam time once again for Kotoko, which naturally means press-ganging the smarter than can ever possibly be healthy Naoki into helping her. The trouble is, the rest of her class have had the exact same idea, and before either of them know it he's been turned into some kind of full-blown teacher for after school study sessions.

Thankfully, this episode and the storyline it follows allows us to see that much-needed human side of Naoki - Once again, you can almost understand why Kotoko has a crush on him, with the crushing one-liners and general nastiness which has been part of his character way too much so far in the series kept to a minimum.

Aside from that development, there isn't a huge amount to say about episode five of Itazura no Kiss, as it continues to plod along in a reasonably likeable fashion thanks mainly to Kotoko's turn as a strong lead character, although in fairness some of Naoki's comebacks and aforementioned one-liners are worth the price of admission too, nasty piece of work though he may be.

Itazura no Kiss is certainly an unspectacular series in pretty much every way, but somehow it's managed to keep my interested reasonably piqued throughout, which leaves it a place as passable entertainment.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 4

You know, I tried really hard to be nice about Allison to Lillia, and even had some kind words to say about episode three, but it seems to have taken those compliments, shrugged its proverbial shoulders and laughed in my face with episode four.

Following their escape and the death of the old man, the first half of this episode is basically nothing but dog-fighting (with planes in the sky, not dogs, in case any of you are confused), and to be honest - Yukikaze it ain't. I could have likened it to watching paint dry, but seeing as paintballs were involved at one point that would probably be too literal, so let's just say that the animation really didn't help the show here, as it was so shoddy you couldn't even tell which way the planes were facing half the time. To top it all, the two 'bad guys' who got shot down and forced to land with their engines in flame suddenly seemed to appear with completely working planes again two minutes later so that they could be shot down again... Then again, maybe I just blacked out for a moment from all the excitement and missed something important.

From then on, it's a case of enter cave, find treasure, end war. Job done. Yes, that's right, the major storyline of the this half of Allison to Lillia seems to have finished already, in some kind of bizarre anime equivalent of premature ejaculation. Having found the treasure, I was fully expecting the rest of this half of the series to deal with the intense and gripping struggle to get this wonderful news out to the world and stop the war, a story which would have had plenty to offer regarding both action and suspense as well as the deeper philosophical point that some people will always want war to meet their own ends, no matter how pointless it may be. Instead, all we get are a couple more bad guys who assume the treasure will make them rich, before being killed in a freak firearms accident. Great.

All I can hope from here on in is that the story can actually improve now that the war is out of the way, although considering how ably they managed to totally screw up telling what should have been Allison's major plotline, I'm not holding out much hope. Normally I would have dropped this series here, had it not been for the move to a new story, and the entire Lillia arc to keep me hanging on for something better further down the line.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 13 (Completed)

It would be clichéd in the extreme to say that I'm in despair at the fact that Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has finished, but... well, I am. Throughout the entire run of both series, it has overall proved itself to be perhaps the funniest show to come out of Japan... no, anywhere, in a long, long time. Sure, it doesn't always hit the spot, but its hit to miss ratio is exceptional, especially considering the surreal nature of much of its commentary which often runs the risk of descending into "Huh?" territory if you don't get a particular frame of reference.

Anyhow, this episode begins by tackling the problem of 'strays', from demons through to baseball players who aren't wanted by their team any more. It isn't the funniest of segments, but has a few laugh out loud lines in there that redeem it somewhat. Then we learn the story of Meru's lack of voice, which leads her father to try and find someone to dub her voice with typically amusing consequences. Finally, Zetsubou Sensei despairs at the numerous assumptions in society, which I won't talk about any more otherwise I'd be guilty of assuming you've watched the episode.

So, the show is over, but who would bet against a third series, despite a mention of being 'afraid' of said third season? While I don't want to see this franchise dragged into the ground by running it until it bleeds unfunny jokes, I do feel that there's plenty of life in it yet, particularly when you consider that the manga is still going strong.

That aside, in a Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei-esque topsy-turvy fashion I seem to have written my conclusions about the series at the start of this entry, so in an equally fitting tribute I suppose I should close it in an equally surreal fashion. Halibut children.