Monday, 30 June 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 12

During our run through Itazura no Kiss thus far, I've railed against almost every character for some reason or another, finally reaching the point last episode where I hated basically everybody except for the lovely Kotoko.

Well, scratch that, because now I dislike her too. With Naoki's father in hospital after a heart attack and pressure being put on him to succeed his father or at least help his failing business, Kotoko's motives throughout this episode are so singularly selfish as to defy belief. While this allows us to once again rehash the tired old 'spying on someone else's date' cliche that has already been used way too many times by this show already, it also betrays a complete lack of understanding on Kotoko's part that destroys the last brick in the wall between this series and my outright dislike of it.

Quite simply, I don't really care who gets together with who any more, or why, or what happens to any single character after - Indeed, if the entire odious bunch of them fell off a cliff in episode thirteen (unlucky for some) I don't think I'd particularly be disappointed.

Am I being a little harsh on both this series and its characters? Quite probably, yes, but after a dozen episodes of the same nonsense over and over again I'm sick of it. Following the trials and tribulations of love is what romantic comedy is all about, but without any actual romance or anything more than the vaguest hints of reciprocation towards someone's love, then the entire thing becomes pointless, and so we have the stage seen here in Itazura no Kiss. I'm not going to drop this series as I've invested far too much time in it already to not persevere to the bitter end, but from here in on I don't see any way of this series getting back into my good books. I really still hope I'm wrong on that count though.

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 2

With the end of the opening episode of Telepathy Shoujo Ran seeing our protagonist discover her powers, the second episode almost inevitably delves into the down side of being telepathic. What's it like to hear your friends dismissing your intentions and branding you as cowardly, or near-strangers pre-judging you without any opportunity to respond? Needless to say, Ran doesn't take all of this very well, although she is at least buoyed somewhat by seeing the rather purer and friendlier thoughts of her family.

As the episode progresses, we also learn that Ran is unable to read the thoughts of Rui - One could argue that's because he doesn't have any cogent thoughts in his pretty little head, but that would probably be a little harsh, and it seems pretty clear that there's going to be more to this particular plot point as the series progresses. The closing segment of the episode leaves us with a cliffhanger and also ties Ran (and, we should probably assume, Midori) and Rui in with some of the strange goings-on mentioned in the first episode.

Two episodes in then, and it's a case of so far, so predictable for Telepathy Shoujo Ran - I'm pretty sure that had I run a sweepstake on what would happen next after the first episode, all of the points noted above would have gotten a prominent mention. While that isn't necessarily a bad thing, I do get the feeling that this series is going to travel something of a well-trodden road in terms of the way the story and characters are handled, but it's still too early to tell for certain, so I'll reserve judgement for now. As I mentioned last time around, Ran also seems like a pretty likeable character, which works in the show's favour, although conversely Rui's bland personality and stupid voice are already starting to grate with me, while Midori pulls off the usual 'evil schoolgirl' act that we all know so well. As of right now though, a dose of mediocrity seems to be the order of the day for this series.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Real Drive - Episode 8

I've been quite critical of the last couple of episodes of Real Drive, with the series drifting away from Haru's story and the intriguing possibilities of the show to instead deal with designer sunglasses and an Internet for dogs - Hardly the kind of high intellectual drama you'd expect from a Masamune Shirow affair.

Unfortunately, episode eight doesn't really get us back to what I would consider the point of the series, although it does at least prove to be a little more entertaining, offering up a future vision of the ghost stories which are not far shy of an anime cliché of their own. Of course, the ghosts of Real Drive aren't in fact ghosts at all - In reality, they're little more than a temporary Internet file that hasn't been deleted. While I got a little kick out of this episode bringing the concept of distributed computing (a la SETI and Folding@Home) into the world of the Metal in a new and predictably capitalist way, that was only a very thin veneer over what was otherwise a slightly shallow episode - Entertaining enough, certainly, but once again a long way short of some of the standards set earlier in the series, leaving it once again to find the 'filler' stamp liberally applied to its proverbial forehead.

If I may table a suggestion for a future episode of this series, I think it would be wise to see Haru diving into the mind of the script writers, to see if he can find where all the decent plots have gone. Sure, this modern ghost story gets marked up compared to episodes about sunglasses and dogs online, but that's hardly a resounding endorsement of a series that could (and should) offer so, so much more.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 12

The concept of the 'filler' episode has become a staple part of any anime series of a reasonable length, but when it comes to Code Geass it's always hard to brand anything as filler for the exact reason seen here in episode twelve of R2. Quite simply, no matter how filler-esque an episode of this show may be, there are always just enough reasonably important things happening to make said episode a must watch.

So this theory is proved once again here - On the one hand, we see Lelouch having to deal with the fall-out from letting Sayako act as his double, in the form of a ridiculous number of dates with basically every girl in the school, a situation which only gets far, far worse when Milly announces 'Cupid's Day' to celebrate her last day before graduating. Cue the bulk of this episode involving silly hats and chases around Ashford Academy which may as well be set to Yakety Sax, with Lelouch the guy that every girl wants to grab the hat of so that they officially become a couple. Sadly, Suzaku is unable to attend, as I'm sure a few of us would be curious at the prospect of Lelouch and Suzaku swapping hats. Oh God, that sounds like a filthy euphemism for something.... Anyhow, this rather ridiculous premise did at least involve a couple of moments that made me smile, not least Rolo rather over-exerting himself in Geass'ing the whole school so that he could hide an immobilised Lelouch in a locker.

Aside from all that, we do get some very juicy additions to the main story in this episode - For starters, we finally see just what Cornelia is up to these days, and it's no surprise to see that it broadly involves vengeance for her sister Euphemia's death. Then there's Britannia's plans to invade the Chinese Federation. However, this all pales into comparison with the jaw-dropping "OH MY GOD" ending to the episode. I won't spoil it here for anyone who hasn't watched the episode yet, but we now know what the new-look Jeremiah is going to bring to the fight, and it could well make for all-out chaos. Indeed, it appears to have already had a huge potential effect on Lelouch's plans, but we shall have to see...

The problem with an episode like this is that, for all the brief moments that blow me away, I'm still left feeling like I've barely watched an episode of Code Geass at all. Still, I suppose I should at least be thankful that Milly's graduation should put a stop to stupid events at Ashford Academy, so that we can get on with the real business at hand.

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Special A - Episode 11

Thus far, Special A has been a little hit and miss as far as its content goes - Although it's never truly reached the heights of hilarity, it has at times at least amused and entertained enough to be a worthwhile watch, while other episodes have proved to be far more frustrating.

In terms of that particular scale, episode eleven of the series is one of the more watchable ones as things go - With Kei called away on business, Hikari ends up going on a date with Tadashi in order to help him get out of a marriage intereview. The whole forced date concept is admittedly a little cliched (particularly when you pair it with a bunch of her friends spying on her throughout), but Hikari as usual manages to be sweet enough to pull it off and make for a relatively enjoyable outing. Plus, was it just me or did I spot a little bit of fun being poked at ef - A Tale of Memories in there?

Given the content of this episode, it's almost a shame that the opportunity wasn't taken to create a proper love triangle between Hikari, Kei and Tadashi - Everything was in place for exactly that, but instead the whole issue of Hikari and Tadashi actually enjoying the time they spent together was avoided entirely, and I can't help but suspect it's because they're simply running out of time for some kind of Kei-Hikari related ending. I know love triangles are a big old cliche, be they outside of anime or within it, but it would have at least added an extra dimension to the blatant pairing on show here.

Overall then, this was actually a kind of fun episode of Special A in the grand scheme of things, despite retreading some very tired old ground. I'm starting to find myself hoping for a happy ending based almost solely on the fact that Hikari is so damn cute, and even Kei has proven to have his moments.

Nabari no Ou - Episode 12

Perhaps its just that I got far too excited about it during its early episodes, but as time has gone on my enthusiasm has dampened somewhat towards Nabari no Ou, as it seems to have lost a little of that early spark.

Thankfully, episode twelve at least goes a little way to rescuing that feeling for me, with Raimei out of hospital and offering to help Miharu despite knowing that he's talking to Yoite and thus, to some extent, working for Kairoshuu. Indeed, that 'some extent' appears to become outright working for them, as he meets with the group's leader to offer his services.

After the last couple of episodes have given us at least some action for our troubles, this particular instalment was basically excitement free in this discipline, continuing this show's tradition for mixing more action-oriented episodes with action-free ones. On this particular occasion, the lack of fighting was actually quite welcome, as it allowed for some reasonably subtle focus on the relationships between certain characters. For starters, Raimei's relationship towards Rokujo continues to be rather interesting - Is it still her promised loyalty towards him that drives her, or is there a little more to it than that? Similarly, is her offer of help despite knowing that it may benefit Kairoshuu in any way due to her recent meetings with her brother?

Then, of course, we have Rokujo and Yoite's relationship, which is as hard to pin down as ever and again begs questions aplenty. Is Rokujo helping Yoite to save his friends, or Yoite himself? Is Yoite grateful for this but unable to say so, or is he really as cold-hearted as he appears? There's certainly an interesting dynamic between the pair, with plenty of space for further investigation.

As the series progresses, Rokujo's initial characterisation is looking to be an increasingly smart one. While he is rather prone to indulging in bouts of what I can only call 'Shinji Ikari disease' (i.e. either running away from his problems or deciding that the world would be better off without him), his skills when it comes to emotional manipulation and deception adds an extra layer to everything he does, particularly now he is getting far more focus as time goes on. This doubt surrounding his motives at all times leaves you watching closely for any signs that he's going to turn things around out of the blue, and to be honest I still don't have a clue as to whether that will happen or if I'm simply reading too much into things.

Either way, and despite it not quite matching my early expectations, Nabari no Ou does continue to have some real positives stored in the bank, and if it can keep things interesting as far as the concept of Nabari co-existing with the real world and some good characterisations go, then it still has the time and ability to dissuage some of my concerns.

Chocolate Underground - Episode 2

Another five minute vignette of Chocolate Underground, and again there isn't really a great deal to show for it. Aside from an important point being made about how the political apathy of the masses can give rise to an extremist faction coming to power, all we really get here is Louise recounting a story about a mine where secret chocolate deals are brokered, and a very brief investigation of said mine that reveals a further clue.

Although I'm admittedly not au fait with the original novel, following on from the question I posed last time around I can't help thinking at this point that Chocolate Underground is being hampered rather than helped by its short episode running time - There's simply no time for anything to actually happen, and thus what does occur is shoe-horned in to the running time in a rather dull fashion that is hardly likely to pique anyone's excitement. Indeed, to some extent it felt like the episode was built up just to pad out the big political point made in the episode, which is something close to my heart but I wonder if it'll even getting picked up on by most when surrounded by such dull fare.

Friday, 27 June 2008

Mnemosyne - Episode 5

It's been a while between episodes of Mnemosyne as always, in terms of both the real world and that of this OVA. Episode five fast forwards us once again, this time to 2055, and a world where the Internet and the real world are seamlessly interconnected.

While this series' jumps forward in time have often taken a little while to settle into the swing of, this episode in particular seemed more confusing than most, with the instalment as a whole featuring entirely too many Rins. Add to that the fact that 'our' Rin had lost all of her memories due to her rather nasty coming together with a jet engine at the tail-end of episode four, and you have yourself an episode that really took rather a long time to explain itself and get to the crux of the matter. This transition for the viewer perhaps wasn't helped by the use of Maeno junior's daughter as the main hook into the whole story, who turned out to be a slightly whiny and irritating spoiled brat. Still, on the positive side we at least finally got to find out the crux of Apos' plan (the lengths some people will go to just to own a pair of breasts), and were also offered a climax that could make the final episode intriguing I suppose.

As always, Mnemosyne seems to pride itself on its arguably stylish brand of sex and gruesome violence, with the former in particular seeming to take up a large amount of screen time. It seems that as the series has progressed, so these two facets of the show have become more prominent, as if to hide the weakening plot. While I did somewhat enjoy episode four (and despite these elements rather than because of them), episode five had nothing approaching that level of verve, walking down the wrong side of the fine line between mystery and confusion while the separation of Rin and Mimi actually removed probably the best character inter-dependancy from the show. In short, shorn of its detective agency roots, this particular episode of Mnemosyne lost much of what had at least made earlier episodes watchable, leaving little beyond the violence and sex coupled with a brief clarification of the main plot surrounding Apos. In other words, not enough to make for a particularly enjoyable viewing experience, unless you like that kind of thing.

Chocolate Underground - Episode 1

I can only hope and pray that the UK government, in their current overly health-conscious mode, don't watch this show and pick up any ideas - Chocolate Underground is the story of a world where the possession or consumption of chocolate is banned, and the kind of thing likely to instigate a mecha destroying your house, while simultaneously appearing to be some kind of capitalist equivalent to 1984, complete with television advertising you can't turn off.

Beyond this and a very quick introduction to the main characters, we don't learn a great deal from the brief, five minute opening episode of this new series, so it's really way too early to cast any sort of fair judgement on it. The show's basic premise is certainly interesting, especially for us Brits who are having to contend with ever-greater intrusion into every aspect of our lives, right down to what we eat - If nothing else, it's good to know we're not the only ones, and from this opener it seems clear that Chocolate Underground is looking to promote personal freedom of choice (even if it means doing something potentially unhealthy) over some kind of food totalitarianism.

However, I do have to wonder how far this concept can be taken - To be honest, I was beginning to tire of it a little even after this five minute episode, although to be fair that's probably a little harsh until some of the characters are introduced more thoroughly. I also wonder whether this short episode running time will be a help or a hinderence, but again only time will tell. From episode one though, we can certainly say that the concept it there, but how well it's executed remains to be seen.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 9

Although I assumed that this latest mini-arc of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki was actually focusing on Ouka, it looks like I actually got it a little bit wrong - Although episode eight did indeed seem to centre around him, it appears that the real target of the plot itself was, eventually, Kyouka.

This particular instalment of the series was as fast-paced as any, and to be honest it kept moving fast enough to keep things reaonsably entertaining throughout, without dwelling too much at any point on the verbal sparring between characters or anything like that, which helped to keep the balance just about right. Kyouka's history was also revealed in a sufficiently interesting manner as well, and I have to admit that she's turned into a pretty decent character from the manic, care-free and fast-talking one that kicked off the show (although of course those traits are still very much in evidence).

Once again though, we find Kyouran Kazoku Nikki trying to pull us into a discussion of emotions and morals - On this occasion, the episode's slogan is clearly about how important it is to 'be yourself'. A fine concept, that's for sure, but this is the kind of stuff that we're used to being preached about in kids TV shows, and it feels a little trie to throw it into the slightly more grown-up context of anime - I get a feeling the target audience of this series doesn't need to be told to 'be themselves', and particularly not in the slightly condesending manner used here.

Anyway, apart from that gripe this was probably the most enjoyable episode of the series so far in a simple and lightly entertaining way, blending the action and story-telling with a few decent one-liners to help things along from a humour angle as well. Don't be mistaken into thinking that this makes it a great episode, or indeed a great series, as it's still treading on ground that doesn't even earn it cult classic status, but on this occasion it certainly made for a most watchable half an hour's entertainment.

Thursday, 26 June 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 1

Our protagonist for this new Summer season show, Ran Isozaki, is (as with most series) a relatively ordinary girl, who has just started high school and lives with her pretty run-of-the-mill family with a couple of somewhat embarrassing parents (not to mention an overarching love of pickled food).

At least, Ran thinks she's just a normal middle school girl... Until she starts to hear voices. Despite trying to shake them off as simply her imagination, things only get worse, and the whole situation takes a major turn when a new transfer student in her class (it's always the transfer students who are suspicious, Haruhi Suzumiya was right) with a newly familiar face called Midori Naha enters the scene. Meanwhile, the news of late is filled with nothing but bad news from around Ran's town - Fires, deaths, a man attacked by dogs. Of course, all of these things are completely unrelated...

Telepathy Shoujo Ran feels in many senses like exactly the kind of thing you've seen a thousand times before - A normal school girl dragged into extraordinary circumstances for some reason or another. However, despite all that I have to confess that there's some potential for the telepathy hook of this series (although it seems like the two female lead's skills extend beyond just reading minds), so while it's too early to see whether anything interesting can be done with the premise, this opening episode has interested me enough to want to see more. The animation is an odd mix of really quite basic simplicty with the odd touch of class, and indeed the characters also look very typical, meaning that there's nothing that really makes this series stand out visually. This may well prove to be a good thing if the actual storyline is up to scratch, but only time will tell. Still, Ran herself seems like a decent enough lead character, and her childhood friend Rui will either turn into an annoying cliche or someone equally likeable I would wager.

Thus, this series has made the kind of solid start you might expect without giving too much away, leaving us to wait for its second instalment to see if it can move forward positively with the groundwork it has laid before us.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 11

It seems like only yesterday that I last watched an episode of Allison to Lillia.. Oh, wait a second, that's because it was.

After episode ten finished with the ridiculous sight of an experienced military man shooting at an armoured train with a pistol, things finally take a turn for the sensible at the start of this episode, with the use of a copious amount of alcohol - Not, as you might expect, for the main characters to drown their sorrows for getting themselves involved in this god-awful series, but instead to set fire to a carriage of their train to prevent the pursuers from either boarding their train or following them. This seems to have done the trick, until they come across a heavily armoured tank which can use train tracks while also having the uncanny ability to match the speed of a powerful steam train.

At this point we begin to learn the truth about Major Stork, and from that moment on the whole story suddenly turns into a fast-paced description of double-crossings aplenty that I think made my brain melt a little. We also confirm that Major Stork murdered the guard from the last episode, which hugely upsets Wil and Allison for entire seconds before they decide that this is not the time to mourn. Oh no, this is the time to go and kill more people, led by a murderer who they've decided to carry on trusting and helping out to the best of their abilities for some reason (although to be fair he does have a gun).

So, Wil manages to shoot the tank eventually after numerous attempts using an anti-tank rifle that just happens to be on board thanks to the arms magnate they're protecting or arresting or whatever, while the heavily armoured tank only fires back a single shot in return, which must officially make it the worst tank ever.

Carrying on at breakneck speed, everybody else who isn't a major character then gets shot or, in the case of the handlebar-moustached arms dealer, commits suicide. Major Stork is suitably disappointed by this, and Allison and Wil again manage to muster up almost an entire second of despair about this thoughtless waste of human life before the episode ends. However, the story isn't over just yet... Wil has an odd feeling that something isn't quite right about Major Stork. Wow, d'ya think?

While this was actually an improvement on the last episode, this series seems to fall into so many plot holes during the average episode that it's a wonder it hasn't dug itself down to the Earth's molten core yet. Whenever the story shows signs of promise, it either gets lost in one of those holes, or otherwise goes off on a tangent that is either terribly dull or just plain confusing. It probably wouldn't be so bad if all the characters weren't equally as uninteresting - Wil and Fiona seem to become increasingly cardboard by the episode, and even the more lively Benedict and Allison seem to have resorted to a clichéd existence of cracking jokes in moments of tension and generally being far too excitable respectively. I'm now resigned to the fact that this show won't get any better, but at least it's enjoyable to poke fun at, for the sake of my sanity if nothing else.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 9

Its last episode looked like Wagaya no Oinari-sama had put an end to the whole Reverse Circle, but this apparently important item returns to the fore once again immediately, with some owl-like god trying to snatch it from Mubyou, before choosing to visit the Takagamis for their help once this fails.

What follows is pretty much what counts as normal fare for this show, with its rinse and repeat mix and humour, searching around town for someone or something, and action. Indeed, in this case the action segment seems almost entirely forced, based around little more than Kuu's impatience, although at least it does offer us an interesting little twist to close the episode.

This episode does also give us the benefit of seeing Kuu use both of her human forms, and thus her masculine and feminine charms to their fullest extent, and a brief glimpse of Kou drunk is possibly worth the entrance fee too. Sakura also gets some screen (and fan service) time, but not as much as it probably worthy of probably the most enjoyable character in this series thus far.

Wagaya no Oinari-sama certainly seems determined to largely stick to the formula that it has set out for itself, and I suppose it does at least lend a level of consistency to this series, although sadly that only succeeds in making something consistently average. I suppose at least the show doesn't take itself too seriously, and it has some certain likeable qualities about it, but beyond offering up just about enough entertainment to fill twenty minutes or so, there isn't a great to deal to recommend it.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 10

It's been a while since we last got to enjoy some Allison to Lillia, but here we are again, gathered to take in episode ten of the series, "The Train Known as Stupdity.. oops, sorry, Conspiracy". Once again, it seems that when the going gets tough, the script writers get going... to the nearest off-license, as what followed a rather sedate ninth instalment somehow manages to be, while not quite as daft as some early episodes, still somehow a bit stupid.

After yet again failing to 'get it on' with Wil (who this time is too tired to get the point, rather than simply too stupid), Allison spends some time watching the view from the observation lounge where she meets up with Major Stork - A man who, given his rather intense interest in Allison and Wil's relationship in the conversation that follows, should probably be referred to henceforth as Major Pervert.

The next morning, our favourite couple who aren't because Wil is an idiot unwittingly play witness to a muder, as a masked man pushes a guard from the back of the train before making his escape across the carriage rooftops. Who could this man, wearing goggles to aid his sight that look uncannily like the glasses worn by Major Stork, possibly be? We have no idea of the identity of this mysterious man at all. Next, a man apparantly well known as a magnate during the war announces that he is the intended victim of the killer, which led me to assume that the killer was only interested in finishing him due to the target's ridiculous handlebar moustache, but it appears that my powers of deduction are a little off.

With the target of this devious crime seemingly established, Major Pervert decides to abandon all of the passengers at a nearby military base so that the war magnate can be 'safely transported' to his destination... With Allison, Will, Ker and Fi coming along for the ride of course. Wil suspects something isn't quite right, but he's still 'thinking about it' when all Hell breaks loose, as they find that their train is being followed by a heavily armed military train.

Using his decades of military experience, Major Stork decides to attack this armoured train with... A little pistol. Does this daring and not entirely ridiculous attack work? Find out next week....

I know, I know, I really must stop slating this series and poking fun at it so liberally, but it's just so much fun, and to be honest talking about an episode of this rather average calibre in its own right is rather difficult, as there simply isn't much to say. Wil is as dull as dishwater (although he perhaps should gain bonus points for laughing about falling on his arse when someone has died just moments previously), Ker is surprisingly dumb for someone who ended a war, and the previously bold and brash Fiona now seems content to play the pretty girlfriend role. All of this is without the hammy, cliched bad guys and blazingly obvious plot points that are somehow still a complete mystery to the rest of the characters. Even Scooby Doo managed to make the eventual discovery of the culprit more suprising than this...

Sunday, 22 June 2008

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 11

I suppose I really should have gotten used to Code Geass finishing episodes with "What the Hell?!" moments by now, but for some reason I can never quite get comfortable with that expectation.

Anyhow, episode eleven of Code Geass R2 reveals exactly how Lelouch gets to be in two places at one, via some kind of Mission Impossible-esque disguise and perhaps the world's coolest nanny, who appears quite happy to snog Shirley for the sake of her charge (and also leaves me wondering why I didn't get the phone call to play Lelouch's stand-in, I can gesticulate in a wildly camp manner too you know!).

Beyond new worries at Ashford Academy for Lelouch, this episode once again turns the deus ex machina into an art form, turning what appears to be an unassailable advantage for both the Chinese Federation and Britannia into a complete defeat for the Eunuchs which forces Britannia's withdrawal for that conflict, albeit with Kallen still hostage and under their careful watch. Deus ex machine of the week was, perhaps predictably, another new Knightmare, complete with some arbitrarily kick-ass weaponary.

As always with Code Geass R2, it's oddly compelling stuff even when you get the impression they're making it up as they go along. No matter how implausible, there's still a real thrill in watching Zero pull an astounding victory out of nowhere, and this episode also managed to remind us all that it doesn't always take itself entirely seriously with a scene where Lelouch basically calls up Shirley to ask her what to do, a decision that could impact an entire (and massive) country.

If there's one thing I've learned about this show (and R2 in particular), it's that if you don't take it too seriously then it's easily the most enjoyable anime on the air right now. The action is pretty break-neck, making for plenty of over-powered mecha action, the plots are crazy but cheering on Zero is so much fun these days it's hard to care, and indeed the overall plot of one man against the world so beloved of video games equally oozes coolness in its own way. It seems that my ability to criticise turns to mush in the wake of this series, almost to the point where I wonder if I've been Geass'ed myself...

Kurenai - Episode 12 (Completed)

For a series that has barely put a foot wrong for its entire run so far, there is perhaps added pressure to make sure that said series finishes in a suitably fantastic manner. This kind of stratospheric expectation is never good for any show in all honesty, as virtually no ending can live up to what has gone before, and that is perhaps true of Kurenai in exactly that fashion.

Having said that, the finale of this show excels by giving us a conclusion that is actually unexpected, with its ending managed to duck out of the simple black or white view of life that we have come to expect from any kind of visual medium these days. Kurenai has excelled in portraying the nuances of real life throughout the series, so perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that it managed to fashion its ending in a similar fashion, but either way it should be highly commended for not only attempting it, but for pulling it off in the process. It may not be the dream ending that everyone watching the series hoped for, but when has anything in life ever had a perfect, dream ending?

Despite its 'heavy' overtones, there is still plenty on show in this closing episode of Kurenai to remind us of why we love it so - The dialogue is once again excellent, as is the interaction between various characters, and even in the most deadly series of moments we get some great quips (from Benika in particular) and some even better cut aways to some of the characters that have been left behind and worried by Shinkurou's decision to go after Murasaki... Indeed, the two brief 'interludes' that basically sandwich the episode featuring Ginko and Yuuko are the kind of subtle genius which has made this series what it is.

I do have one major gripe about the episode which amounted to a cop-out to me, and I can't really talk about too much for fear of spoiling the episode for anyone who hasn't watched it yet. All I will say is that people who have been seriously injured in a stabbing shouldn't make quite such a remarkable recovery just a few seconds later. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that you'd expect them to die rather quickly.

Anyway, following episode eleven I called this series out as my favourite of this season by far, and I think now is the time to extend that praise to 2008 as a whole. I have to accept that no ending to this series could have lived up to what came before it, and thus I really just have to welcome that this finale was more than good enough to reap my praise. That aside though, Kurenai has probably proved itself to be one the best, most subtle commentaries on modern life, love and the human condition you could ask for. It doesn't preach or teach you anything, nor does it intend to, but it shows such a wide gamut of humanity that I can't help feeling that just by watching it, I've improved myself somehow. A pretentious thought perhaps, but there you have it.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Special A - Episode 10

Someone has vandalised the fancy tea service of the Special A gang - But who would do such a thing?!

It's almost ironic when a series manages to showcase one of its own weaknesses, but episode ten of Special A seems to do this quite admirably. Putting together a bunch of ultra-smart (and almost to a man very wealthy) students and give them special dispensation to do more or less what they like, and you're bound to have negative feelings towards them amongst the general school-going populace. This isn't just a problem faced within the series however - Step outside of that frame and, despite probably seeming like a good idea to its writers, it's also an issue which effects the anime itself. Although I'd hate to prejudice my feelings towards anything based around 'class' (which admittedly is largely an oh-so British disease), at times it has been hard to warm to Special A's characters thanks to their special status, both financially (Hikari aside) and within their school lives. If there's one thing that has both enabled and disabled the show at the same time, it's the special status given to the stars of the show.

While there was more to this episode than simply such 'us and them' thinking, it did have an overbearing influence over the entirety of proceedings, as I found myself really questioning how likeable some of the main characters (beyond Kei and Hikari, who to be fair both have their own charming qualities) were. These questions floating around in my head left me seriously unable to decide whether I supported the survival of the S.A. and their extravagences or not, which I get the feeling was probably not the script writers original intention.

Anyway, beyond my internal class wars and the like, this episode does serve to set up the relationship between Kei and Hikari in such a way that the pair can't possibly do anything but finally get together next time around surely? It's probably my curiosity about this alone that keeps me watching, otherwise I find myself feeling once more that I could take or leave this series, and its occasionally irritating bouts of 'poshness'.

Friday, 20 June 2008

Kurenai - Episode 11

Just how do they manage it? Each episode, I expect Kurenai to somehow slip up, to lose its way, change its focus in a detrimental fashion or just plain screw up. Yet every time, not only does this series manage to keep itself on an even keel, it actually just gets better and better.

I've talked about this show in the past in terms of expecting it to be action-packed before I began watching, then finding myself hoping for a lack of action once it had begun. Well, with Shinkurou on his way to try and save Murasaki along with Benika and Yayoi, the action-centric episode I'd been quietly dreading for some now finally arrived - Yet despite my concerns, it was magnificent.

Perhaps one of the joys of this show is that, despite its quite sombre core subject matter, it has never ceased to be not far short of rolling on the floor hilarious, and even this episode takes joy in those little exchanges between characters that can't help but bring forth a laugh or a smile, often due to their absurdity or ironic meaning when passing from the lips of those involved. It's a very subtle kind of comedy, but it works wonders here.

Beyond that, this episode of Kurenai is simply so many things that it's hard to pin-point a single positive badge for it to wear with pride. Its fight scenes though are perhaps the best epitome of the episode of the whole - Intense, elegant and claustrophobic yet at the same time swift and absolutely brutal. Make no mistake about it, no punches are pulled here be they emotional or physical, hence that intensity I just spoke of. Given how we've been drawn so tightly into the lives of so many of these characters (and indeed we learn yet more snippets, about Benika in particular, during the course of this episode), watching these urgent, penultimate moments is actually quite an intense and sometimes harrowing experience.

In other words then, Kurenai simply goes from strength to strength. If its finale can keep up this fantastic level of quality, then this is easily going to be the best anime to come out of the Spring season, if not 2008 as a whole.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 11

One of the problems of episodic 'Blogging is that sometimes there's just nothing to say that hasn't been said before already, and Itazura no Kiss is really proving to be one of those series. We're up to episode eleven now, but still nothing much has happened to suggest that Kotoko and Naoki even should get together, let alone that they will.

Indeed, the only joy Kokoto gets from the whole affair is a cliched dream sequence, while for the rest of the episode Naoki is acting as cold as ever, although at least he isn't being quite such a patronising asshole in recent episodes. The only real glimmer of any change in their relationship is Naoki's decision to become a doctor, something that Kotoko suggested to him last episode, although this never really gets played on within this episode for some reason.

Speaking of which, it's probably a good job that Naoki has chosen that career path, as this series is fast resembling an episode of Holby City with regard to the amount of medical emergencies and hospitalisations on show. Living with a family containing two an arrogant asshole can clearly seriously damage your health, another reason why the ever-wonderful Kotoko (who continues to single-handedly carry this series) should give the object of her affections a wide berth.

It's almost become a catchphrase to wonder if something will happen to cement Naoki and Kotoko's relationship in the next episode, but something had better happen soon, I'm not sure how many episodes of wishing death on... well, pretty much everyone in this series apart from Kotoko I can take.

Nabari no Ou - Episode 11

After Raimei's hunt for her errant brother Raikou reached a bloody climax in episode ten, you could be forgiven for thinking that would be the end of the matter, for a little while at least. However, you'd be wrong, as the eleventh instalment of Nabari no Ou focus solely on that duo, and quite deservedly so if you ask me as their relationship got pretty short shrift time-wise in the last episode.

Despite being defeated and injured last time around, Raimei predictably isn't going to sit around sulking or waiting for her wounds to heal - Instead, she wants to pick up where she left off and find her brother straight away. Fortunately for her, she's found by his companion Gau first, who then proceeds to unravel the whole story abour Raikou and the sluaghter of the Shimizu clan, which turns out to be very different from the version of events Raimei knew and her brother had done nothing to correct.

In essence, the Shimizu clan's downfall was not far short of a civil war regarding whether those from the world of Nabari should use their powers in the real world - A recurring theme of this anime it has to be said, but one that has proved to be suitably intriguing so far.

I must confess, I'm not 100% convinced by Raikou's reasoning for not telling her sister the truth behind her family's slaughtr, it just seems like the kind of thing no sibling would do no matter the circumstances. Regardless, it made for a reasonably powerful episode emotionally, which did plenty to highlight Raikou's emotional instability throughout, something that it seems that even reconciliation with his sister might not change.

That aside, this episode was also notable for suffering from the 'horrible late edit to remove violence' disease that seems to be becoming more prevalent in anime these days. I would wager the recent tradgedy in Akihibara has something to do with it, but the edits here were as ugly as they were odd - Why cut some scenes of profuse bloodshed but not others? It makes no sense, but then again censorship rarely does.

Anyway, despite not really focusing on what you could call the main story too much, this was a solid episode of Nabari no Ou, which rectified my feelings last time around that Raimei's story had been glossed over - Now I see why, and everything has fallen into place. I can't really pile on any superlatives for the episode, as it was good without being anything close to spectacular, but if nothing else this series continues to be eminently watchable even it isn't quite at its best.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 33-40

Never mind the not particularly top-notch animation here, Chi's Sweet Home still manages to make everyone's favourite kitten both irresistibly adorable and hugely expressive. In this latest batch of miniature episodes, Chi discovers the joy that is known to every household cat as sitting on a window ledge and looking out over the world (no matter what problems that might cause your owners), what it's like to taste human food both good and bad, the dilemma that is what to do wen your owner is having fun in the bath (toys versus water, can there be a worse conflict for a cat?), and the battle with said owner for space on the bed at night, a battle which the cat is guaranteed to win 100% of the time (something I've learned from years of bitter experience).

The beauty of Chi's Sweet Home is that Chi is so... well... cat-like. Anyone who owns or has owned a cat of kitten will instantly recognise most of the behaviour on show here, and revel in its familiarity. At just a few minutes apiece, every episode of this series is a tiny little gem that's always guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Himitsu - The Revelation - Episode 7

During its run thus far, Himitsu - The Revelation has managed to hit the mark, then miss it wildly, then hit the spot once again. Unfortunately, while episode seven has some interesting concepts to drive it, it doesn't really bring them to fruition, making for a rather frustrating affair.

This particular episode deals with the death of an airline president in a fire - While it looks initially as though the president's death was caused by his own carelessness after leaving a lit cigar at his bedside, it soon becomes clear that there are darker factors at work. Enter Section 9 and their MRI technology, which fails to give any clear indication of the murderer but does reveal a previously unknown will written by the deceased, as well as the fact that this rather anti-social businessman doesn't have an eye for faces.

As I just mentioned, there are some interesting ideas on show here. For starters, the concept of a man who can't see faces and expressions is an intriguing one (and something which does actually have a medical basis, which this episode missed out on, instead blaming it on the deceased's anti-social tendencies, which seemed a bit daft to me), although it was rather spoiled by the overly saccharine ending. Then, if points of law are more of your thing, the question was raised as to whether a will seen via the MRI technology seen in the show should be accepted as a legal document? There's an interesting one for the lawyers out there to squabble over.

Despite these concepts which tickled the more cerebral side of me, the episode ultimately failing to turn those points into a winning formula. Aside from the fact that I really want to bludgeon the composer of the incidental music repeatedly with his own Casio keyboard, there were a couple of major flaws that really spoiled things. Firstly, the Section 9 employees seem at times to be... how can I put this politely.... completely stupid. When Maki reveals that the dead man had been found with his face slashed, Aoki's first response is basically "Do you think he was murdered then?". No Aoki, in the inferno caused by his cigar the pointed crystals from a chandelier dropped onto his head and cut his face... Of course he was murdered you moron!! There are a few other more minor examples of this kind of daftness, but that was the one that screamed out the most to have fun poked at it.

Worst of all however is one scene which pretty much tops Allison to Lillia in the nonsensical plot development stakes. We see Maki following the girl who is named in the dead man's will by car, he jumps out of the car to follow her after getting stuck in traffic, then suddenly he is the girl in drag so that he can tackle a knife-wielding assailant. What? What?! At least try to make some sense guys, please, it isn't that difficult to write a coherent script that explains away plot points like this.

So, once again Himitsu - The Revelation gets points for effort here as far as creating an interesting scenario to speculate goes, but between poor animation, characterisation and scripting, any intrigue that arises from said scenario is lost completely.

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 8

Despite occasionally wondering whether he was perhaps there as little more than the glue that holds the series crazy characters together, it appears that Ouka is going to get his own mini-arc within Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, and to be honest I'm rather pleased that's the case as he somehow seemed deserving of it. Thus, in this episode we learn a little about his past, and see Kyouka getting more than a little suspicious of his intentions as he sneaks out early for a 'date' with a Death God.

Aside from those basic facts, I'm really not entirely sure that I have any grasp on what's going on at all beyond Kyouka's attempts to break up this date. The aforementioned Death God is the woman we've already seen a couple of times this series, and she clearly goes back a long way with Ouka, but who is she exactly and why? That's one for the second part of the story I suppose, along with... well, all the other oddities that haven't yet been wrapped up.

Despite not having a clue as to what the episode is all about, this instalment of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki was actually oddly enjoyable - It's hard not to have at least a little soft spot for Kyouka's rantings, especially when it involves her strangely close ties to Ouka, and bonus points must be dished out for renaming an automated tour guide at a very odd theme park 'Trash the Third'.

I can't help but feel that it would be very harsh of me to cast any real judgement on this episode until its storyline is concluded, or at least explained a little better - Too much of what is shown here is just left hanging to figure out whether it's just craziness for its own sake or something a little more important to the plot (or, perhaps more likely, both). Once again, there seems to be a real attempt to bring emotional focus on the family unit in this series, which doesn't always work but has at least provided a motif for the show, but that aside it continues to be a hit and miss affair that manages to miss its target more often than not. Yet, despite all that, the sense of fun in this episode despite its more serious undertones managed to appeal to me somehow, leaving me rather keen to see what transpires next.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 10

For anyone watching Code Geass R2 for plenty of good-old Knightmare fighting action, episode ten of the series will most likely be your nirvana. After kidnapping the empress Tian Zi at her wedding, the rest of the episode is almost entirely one long, pitched battle between the Order of the Black Knights and the Chinese Federation, with Zero and Xing Ke leading the respective forces.

As per usual, Lelouch believes that he has everything planned out to perfection, but reckoned without the aforementioned Xing Ke and a Knightmare Frame that is equal to everything the Order of the Black Knights can throw at it. Things really begin to go awry for Lelouch when Kallen and her Guuren are taken hostage, which throws up a couple of very interesting scenarios - Firstly, does Lelouch risk his own objectives to save Kallen, which again potentially hints at a shift in the relationship between the two? Secondly, we see Diethard trying to wield some power within the organisation himself, putting his options to Zero in such a way that he believes Lelouch will only be able to follow his course of action. It's a little momentary coup that fails to work, with Lelouch ignoring his suggestion and in fact strengthening the respect of his charges in one fell swoop. However, his brave decision appears to have put him into even greater strife...

While I've always been more than happy with some of Code Geass R2's slower-paced episodes which allow Lelouch's slightly twisted genius to shine through, episode ten of the series proves that this show can manage to do an action-packed, Knightmare-centric instalment without detracting from the quick thinking, arrogance and strategic genius that Lelouch is all about. It's also nice to see that these traits don't always pay off, and indeed occasionally lead him into trouble - If Lelouch always won the day things would soon get dull, but throughout Code Geass' lifespan so far you've never been quite sure which way the penny will drop when it teeters on the brink in an episode such as this. Indeed, we'll have to wait until next week to find out how things pan out, thus leaving me on the edge of my seat for another seven days.

If that wasn't enough to occupy my thoughts with, what on Earth was going on in the episodes final scene? It appears that Lelouch has yet another trick up his sleeve that we haven't been party to, and I'm very curious to find out more about what he's managed to pull off here... Episode eleven can't come soon enough.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Real Drive - Episode 7

It always makes life interesting when an anime series exceeds or otherwise confounds my expectations, but what the Hell was this?! An episode of Real Drive where the client is a dog, only he's not a dog but a human in a dog's body, and there are lots of dogs and they have cyberbrains and they all connect to a special dog Metal with some kind of dog paradise and the guy wants to merge his conscience with a dog because he likes them?! I'm sorry, I think I need to go and lay down in a darkened room for a bit....

Okay, that's better. Yes, episode seven of Real Drive lets us in on the shocking news that in this series world there is an Internet for dogs. Yes, dogs. Said dogs also have some kind of nano machine-controlled cyberbrain which gives them basic language skills, but apparently this isn't enough for some dog owners, who feel that the whole master/servant relationship between human and dog is all wrong, and that the only way to correct this imbalance is for the owner to merge with his dog inside the Metal to become one.

Leaving aside the rather ridiculous premise of this episode, the thought of humans merging minds with their pets and the way it was described by the focus of this episode just plain creeped me out. I mean, I love animals as much as the next person, but going to that kind of extreme seems a little... wrong.

After an intriguing first few episodes, I have to confess - I'm disappointed by these last few episodes of Real Drive. Filler or not, there are myriad fascinating topics that could be discussed and brought to life by the world depicted in this series, so why is it limiting itself to overly sentimental episodes about book reports and cutesy (yet still played with a poker face by the script writers) stories about a dog Metal? Perhaps I've simply been expecting too much from the series, but for something created by Masamune Shirow the recent choices of subject matter have seemed rather flippant and a far cry from the kind of deep subjects we've seen from Ghost in the Shell and Ghost Hound. So, come on guys, enough of the nonsense, let's get back to some semblance of a real and eventful storyline.

Friday, 13 June 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 10

After the last episode ended with Kotoko's father announcing that it was time for them to move out of the Irie household, it seemed that the end was nigh for her chance to win over Naoki. Thus, the beginning of episode ten of Itazura no Kiss is a rather solemn one, as Kotoko has to say her goodbyes and deal with the rumour-mongering at university that comes from her moving out. As per usual, her so-called friends give her absolutely no help or show any interest in backing her up over things like this, which once again re-ignites one of my long-standing irritations regarding this series.

Thankfully my major annoyance throughout this show's run so far, namely Naoki's eminently hateful personality, keeps its distance this time around, so as Kotoko all but saves Naoki's brother Yuuki's life as she just happens to be passing their residence, so Naoki shows his softer side throughout, to the point of almost being (shock, horror) a nice guy. However, I think it says something about just how much damage this series has done by overblowing Naoki's arrogance earlier in the series when, even during supposedly closer moments between himself and Kotoko, I site there waiting for something to spring forth from his demonic lips to make me hate him again. By this point I get the feeling I'm really supposed to be rooting for Kotoko and him to get together, but I still can't bring myself to do it, although when I come to think of it there aren't really any other likeable characters for her to even show an interest in unless she went and married herself or something.

Anyway, if I can put all of my pent-up hatred towards Naoki to one side for a moment, this is finally the episode where he seems to be starting to come good as a normal, likeable human being. Still not good enough for the frequently adorable Kotoko admittedly, but oh well... Now please, don't screw it all up by making Naoki an asshole again in the next episode.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Real Drive - Episode 6

I'm beginning to wonder whether I was a little hasty to label the last episode of Real Drive as 'filler' now, as we seem to have been granted another diving and Metal-free sixth instalment of the series.

In essence, the main story of this episode is the kind of interesting topic which I could expound upon at great length, but seeing as my own opinions on the matter aren't particularly relevant to the episode itself I'll try to resist. The main flow of the story revolves around Minamo's lack of a cyberbrain requiring her to read good old-fashioned paper books for her school work, compared to the digitised copies used and available on-line for everybody else. While others find the concept of physical books rather an oddity, Minamo relishes in it - The feel, the texture, those little signs of the lives of those who have read the book before you, and so on.

Moving on from that interesting paper versus 'virtual' book debate, Minamo begins reading a book called 'Love Letter' - A book which was never digitised as it leaves its final page blank for the reader to write a letter of their own, the kind of trick you can't pull off so suavely in a digital world. Thus the story ebbs and flows, until the book and its concept finds itself entwined with a part of Haru's past. It's sentimental stuff and a little emotional, which at least lends the episode some credence beyond simply opening up that aforementioned debate.

It's hard for me to know what to make of these episodes, as I really wasn't expecting anything of the sort from Real Drive - It's certainly a far cry from the highbrow techno-babble of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (whose stand-alone episodes stayed on the same basic track of the show), and even the earlier episodes of this very series. While this perhaps adds a more human element to the show, and I can't say that I disliked this episode by any stretch of the imagination, I must confess I'm keen to get back to the real meat of the show, although given these past couple of episodes I'm wondering when that might actually happen.

So, to close, I suppose I can just take a leaf out of 'Love Letter', and leave a blank space so that you can write your own thoughts on the episode. Oh wait, I have that already - It's called the 'Post a Comment' button....

Nabari no Ou - Episode 10

After appearing to set things up nicely in several respects last time around, episode ten of Nabari no Ou actually doesn't deliver to quite the same action-packed degree as you might expect.

While Raimei and Raikou's battle upon finally meeting again after all these years seemed likely to take centre stage, the actual fight itself was a rather brief one, with far more time committed to its fallout for both Raimei and, to a greater extent, her brother. We also learn a little more about the reasoning behind the killing of his entire clan, although this is more or less what has been alluded to already.

Another point of focus for this episode is the continued pact between the ever-weakening Yoite and Rokujo, with the pair continuing to plot a way that will allow the latter to use the Shinrabanshou to make Yoite disappear.

While the series is continuing in much the same vein I've been expecting, I can't quite put my finger on it but something felt slightly 'messy' about this episode. Perhaps it's the fact that so many of the major characters are keeping their secrets and emotions hidden from one another, but it's almost serving to make watching the show a little frustrating at times. Certainly, the tone seems to have been set regarding the action to dialogue ratio in recent episodes, a tone confirmed again here with the obvious flashpoints surrounding Ramei and her brother and Yoite and Thobari coming to very little in terms of any jaw-dropping action.

Having said that, I have to commend the series for pulling no punches in this episode, with the aforementioned Raimei versus Raikou situation finished in a chillingly clinical fashion, and the episode ends in similarly bloody circumstances. There's nothing worse than major plot points coming to half-baked endings, and it seems that on this occasion at least this has been avoided here.

Despite my reservations about the amount of important facts that we don't seem to know, this was another pretty solid episode to keep Nabari no Ou moving on its merry way. It seems that this series isn't going to be quite as all-out action-packed as I perhaps expected from some of its early skirmishes, but it still offers up an intriguing and well-thought out slice of ninja life in a contemporary setting.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Real Drive - Episode 5

After an orgasm-centric (and it's not every day you get to use that phrase) forth episode of Real Drive, things take a very different path this time around, with a story of Minamo's search for a cool pair of shades for Haru while on the other hand an android built to replicate some kind of wrestler has gone on the rampage, beating seven shades out of anyone who happens to come near him. Inevitably, this Iron Schwartz (I could make a joke there I fear, but I won't) imposter and Minamo end up crossing paths with equally inevitable consequences.

In case that brief plot synopsis wasn't enough of a clue - Yes, it appears that episode five of this series has entered us into the world of the filler episode. With Haru supposedly away having a medical following his exploits in the last episode, it's left to Minamo and Sota to steal the show, with a light-hearted and ultimately entirely pointless little escapade.

In all honesty, it wasn't too bad as filler episodes go, but then again it wasn't actually all that great either. We didn't learn anything new, the fighting sequences were cool in that rather jaded 'oh wow, martial arts!' way that seems to plague every fight scene in every form of cultural medium these days, and.... well, let's just say if you miss out on this episode I don't think you'll be regretting it late in the series.

Roll on episode six, and hopefully a return to the proper point of the show. I was really expecting Real Drive to be largely filler-free, or at least with enough quality in hand to provide something more interesting than some cheap light relief, and perhaps it's that believe that's left me so disappointed in what I've just seen here. Like I said, it's not a bad episode in the grand scheme of all things anime, but I really can't dish out any points for effort after such a weak attempt at a side-story.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Ghost in the Shell 2.0 trailer

Does the original Ghost in the Shell movie really need a re-release? Probably not, classic that it is (and we all know you shouldn't mess with a classic), but that's exactly what it's going to get. Rather than the complete 'rebuild' treatment being afforded to the Evangelion saga, it appears that Ghost in the Shell 2.0 is going to get remastered video and audio (complete with a 6.1 surround soundtrack) and some new CG and digital effects for certain scenes.

Take a look at some before and after shots of Ghost in the Shell 2.0 (top) and the original movie (bottom) to get an idea of what they're doing:

Finally, a trailer has also been released for Ghost in the Shell 2.0, which has of course been 'YouTube'd' already.

I'm still not quite sure what to make of the whole idea, but it should prove interesting if nothing else.

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Special A - Episode 9

Following directly on from the last episode, the ninth instalment of Special A sees Hikari taken 'hostage' by Yahiro, apparently as a way of getting to Akira. The reason for this is all rather confusing, as the whole issue between them is never explained apart from via a brief and rather unhelpful flashback sequence, that only confirms that this happened quite some time ago when the pair were much younger.

Unfortunately, not revealing this point rather renders the rest of the episode a bit moot, as we aren't sure whether we should be hating Yahiro (although he does seem the detestable type), Akira, both or neither, which in turn means that I found myself really not caring too much as to what was going on.

On what is perhaps a more positive note, we do get a little movement in the Kei-Hikari relationship, although as ever this is largely stunted by other goings on in the classic way of anime shows such as this one, serving as another point of frustration.

For an episode that took itself quite seriously, the lack of any explanation of its major plot point was a pretty big failing for me, which reduced both the impact and importance of said episode down to a bare minimum. Not good for a series that has hardly been the pinnacle of top-notch entertainment from the offset anyway.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 9

After it's actually rather well-timed one week hiatus, Code Geass R2 is back in traditionally mind-blowing style in episode nine. After a million Japanese were exiled as Zero last time around, time fast forwards a little as the ship on which they all left the country arrives at its destination, an island loaned to the Order of the Black Knights by the Chinese Federation.

While this could have lent Lelouch and company as much time as they needed to prepare for their next step, it appears that Britannia were one step ahead, arranging a marriage between the female child monarch of the Chinese Federation and a Brittanian prince which was planned to see Brittania take control of part of China's territory and give them a new tool to combat Zero's threat. Thus Zero has to go all out to stop this from happening, which he does by... playing his brother at chess. If this isn't an odd enough way to try and change things in your favour, we also reach a bizarre situation where both players are looking to lose the match. This plan doesn't exactly pan out, which leaves Zero with no option but to take even more drastic action on the prescribed wedding day, which at least gives him a chance to laugh maniacally - Something he hasn't really been able to do in a while in al fairness, so it was long overdue.

With a whole new scene to set, it's not too surprising that this episode struggled slightly to find its feet, with its pacing feeling a little off at times. However, Zero's cunning and sheer balls in facing down his opposition (not to mention doing so in person, always a dangerous move) never cease to entertain me hugely, and the shift away from the Order of the Black Knights simply fighting to beat Britannia in Japan has added a huge new scale to the drama which can only be built on further over the coming weeks. Exciting times.

Again, we're given some more questions as to Lelouch and Kallen's relationship, which really does seem to be burgeoning somewhat to my eye, although it's hard to tell thanks to C.C.'s interruption due to a major problem regarding sauce for her pizza. How C.C. even manages to get pizza on some island in the middle of nowhere is beyond me, I would imagine Pizza Hut's delivery service isn't that good...

Anyway, in closing... It's Code Geass R2. Thus, what we have is another hugely entertaining episode which stands almost solely on the compelling nature of Lelouch/Zero's character. However often we get reminded of reasons why we should probably hate him, you can't help but cheer on his audacious bid to destroy Brittania.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 7

This is the kind of problem you see on Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares all the time - A trained assassin who has decided to try his hand at being a professional chef, but just can't stop his food from killing the customers stone dead. Unfortunately, it appears that the gruff Scotsman's reach doesn't extend to Japan, instead leaving our oddball family to handle the situation - An important mission, considering they've already been banned from every other restaurant in the district.

To be honest, this felt to me a little bit like an episode of two halves. While the first half of episode seven was hardly the pinnacle of humour or anything, it was a pretty tight, well scripted and paced and altogether entertaining little episode. While the second half seemed to try and deliver more of the same, it just seemed to lose its way somehow, although I can't really put a finger on why it didn't satisfy me as much as what had come before. Once again, the importance of family was a big part of the episode's conclusion, which is certainly looking set to become a recurring theme of this series, perhaps understandably given its premise.

Perhaps the most interesting feature of this episode is that it felt a little toned down in its madness compared to some of its previous instalments, which is perhaps why its pacing and storyline felt that bit stronger throughout. This also meant that it didn't bludgeon us with too much fast-paced dialogue or over the top characterisations, which also helped in keeping everything on an even keel, particularly in the case of Kyouka who can start to grate when she monologues too much, a trait which was thankfully far less in evidence here.

Although these improvements aren't enough to raise the series beyond mediocrity in truth, it did make for a more watchable experience this time around, so if nothing else it's a step in the right direction, although I'm certainly not expecting any award-winning humour or plot from the remainder of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki.

Kurenai - Episode 10

After seeing Murasaki snatched away by the Kuhouins last time around, this was never going to be the most cheerful of episodes of Kurenai, as we see Shinkurou trying to come to terms with the whole situation, while those close to him each try to sway his thoughts with their own - Should he just forget about his 'failed job' and move on, or or should he look beyond that at the person he was trying to protect to help him decide how he should proceed from here? Needless to say, despite his best efforts to detach himself from Murasaki's plight he finds himself unable to do so, eventually challenging Benika to demand that he be allowed to at least try and see her once again.

Although this episode was arguably a little heavy on the flashbacks, it otherwise proved to be another excellent example of what this series has been all about from the outset. On the one-hand (and despite its sombre tone) we had a couple of brilliantly uplifting and funny conversations, while on the other there were some really quite emotional moments that were subtly played without ever feeling overblown. To add to the ever-superb dialogue and characterisation, we learn a little more about Yayoi, and I also get a chance to gloat about reading Benika's true intentions regarding taking Murasaki away from the Kuhouins correctly - In short, it was never about allowing her to escape their grasp forever, but simply for long enough for her to experience the outside world and real love, as requested by her real mother. A very odd thing to ask for your seven year-old daughter (although I suspect her mother knew it was the one thing that would make her fight to achieve a proper life for herself), but I think I can let it go for what is otherwise a most excellent episode of an amazing anime.

My only concern at this point is that, with two episodes to go, there simply doesn't seem to be enough time to wrap things up tidily. Admittedly I'm not familiar with the light novels so I'm not entirely sure what direction the series is headed, or whether they're hedging their bets on a second series (which I certainly wouldn't object to, far from it), but right now I can't imagine so much of importance being neatly closed off in what amounts to about forty minutes of running time. Having said that, I find it equally unimaginable that they'll screw up the series after reaching episode ten with nary a mis-step, so hopefully my fears aren't justified.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 9

After absolutely tearing apart episode eight of Allison to Lillia piece by piece (and let's be honest, it deserved it), I fear that I may have struck some kind of mortal fear into the show's script writers. After that episode full of calamitous clangers and plot holes you could fly an entire air force through, the latest instalment of the series contrasts by not having a single real issue you could take a swipe at. In fact, it's so inoffensively bland that I really have nothing much to say at all.

As this is the start of a new mini-arc, all we get this time around is scene setting - Ker Benedict has used his hero status to blag a bunch of tickets for the new Trans-Continental Express between Roxche and Sous-Beil, and of course he's invited Allison, Wil and Franc.... err... Fio.... umm... Fi, too.

So, they all meet at varying stations as the train makes its journey, and... That's it really. If you want to make this episode more interesting, I would suggest playing back Kraftwerk's Trans-Europe Express over the episode, only repeatedly singing 'Trans-Continental Express' over the tune. In fact, I'm starting to wonder if this episode was a homage to the electronic music pioneers given its steady, unyielding uniformness.

Okay, so I have to admit there is some semblance of a plot: So far we've been introduced to two bad guys - One so generic I have nothing to say about him, while the other seemingly slightly more evil character appears to be none other than Rainier Wolfcastle from The Simpsons. That aside, there's also the important question of whether Allison will manage to seduce Wil, and I think it isn't too much of a spoiler to say that this was only ever going to be akin to her attempting to seduce a wet lettuce in the success stakes.

Roll on episode ten, when something will hopefully actually happen. I think I actually preferred it when the show was failing at being dramatic compared to this tea party of an episode.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 9

In what seems to be its natural cycle of action followed by more plot/dialogue-centric episodes, the ninth instalment of Nabari no Ou eschews much in the way of fighting to focus its attention on a number of disparate plot points. While some of these less action-driven episodes have been a little weak previously, this particular offering was top-notch.

From Raimei's search for vengeance against her errant brother (which to be honest was little more than a way to set up the next episode) through to Rokujo finally pouring out his feelings to Thobari while also beginning to suggest that the latter isn't being entire truthful about his knowledge of the Shinrabanshou, this episode feeds us with a number of both important and compelling stories, and that's before we even get on to Yoite's deteriorating condition and the other business of the day. All of these exchanges were delivered in a thoughtfully teasing way, opening our eyes to a little more of the situations at hand without resolving them completely, and indeed even opening up some further questions in some cases.

Mix that clever writing with the ever-present excellent visuals, and the continuingly fascinating nature of the link between Nabari and the real world (shown here at the start of the episode, where it appears that using your ninja skills to commit crime in the real world is high treason, even if you're fighting for the 'bad guys'), and you can start to see why I rate Nabari no Ou so highly overall. Sure, it hasn't been the most consistent of series with regard to episode quality, but when it hits the spot it can be riveting even on occasions where it barely raises its sword.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 8

Episode eight of Wagaya no Oinari-sama follows on from the last instalment by seeing Mubyou make contact with Tohru and company, as she seeks to find the Reverse Circle taken from her by the clam we saw last episode.

Mubyou enters the episode complete with two glove puppets - To be honest, I really don't have the foggiest idea why, but I suppose because she's quite cute we're supposed to forget about these things, not to mention the fact that said reverse circle ends up turning up somewhere she should have known it was in the first place. It looks like this whole Reverse Circle arc is going to go on for at least another episode, so given that you'd have thought that this particular offering would have made a little more sense.

Aside from that, this show again looks to mix a dash of comedy with a dollop of action, which leaves us with a blend of... unfunny-generic-action-ness. It isn't that there's anything particularly bad about either the series or this episode, and it did keep moving quite nicely, but this feels like something you've seen time and time again before, which makes it hard to invest too much emotion into the whole offering. I called Wagaya no Oinari-sama a workhorse last time around, and I think that description is apt again for episode eight - It touches all the necessary bases and reaches its destination without too much fuss and bother, making for a passable if unspectacular way to while away half an hour.

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Himitsu - The Revelation - Episode 6

After a couple of rather dodgy episodes quality-wise, episode five of Himitsu was a breath of fresh air, and considering it kicked off a two-part story I had high hopes for this latest instalment.

In all fairness, episode six carries itself pretty well, continuing the story of Kinuko, a young girl who we already know massacred her own family (although apparently nothing can be done about this as her father was already charged for the crime) - But was that where her taste for murder ended? Thanks to a little serendipity, Aoki realises that there is more to Kinuko than just the murder of her family, and so sets out to prove her guilt in some other deaths and missing persons.

While this story is well-paced, with some really quite excellent moments, it does suffer from the dreaded plot hole on two counts. Firstly, when Aoki meets Kinuko at one point he asks why she hates her father so much, and we see her flashback to some point where he had clearly abused her sexually. If this is the case, why didn't Aoki know this from all the time he spent looking through the father's memories via MRI? Secondly, (and sorry for the big fat spoiler here) the case is eventually solved by using MRI technology on the brain of one of the victim's dog - Despite being told this canine was inseparable from his owner, it still managed to find time to go and scope out where Kinuko had hidden all the bodies all on his own a week before his owner's death.

I'll be the first to admit that I've never written a screenplay in my life, so I don't want to descend into Script Writing 101 here, but it seems that both of these rather large holes could have been filled very easily indeed. In the first instance, we could have been fed some line about Kinuko's father having cleared blocked out some memories, hence Aoki not knowing if he'd abused his daughter. On the second count, we know that the dog in question was tied up and left outside the scene where the bodies were stored by Kinuko, so why not use that as a clue to go and physically search the premises rather than having it all laid on a plate via MRI? Thankfully the fact that both of these points can be explained away meant they didn't spoil the episode for me too much, but I really shouldn't have to be rewriting the story in my head so that it all fits together in a more pleasing fashion.

Despite that, I do have to give some kudos to Himitsu here for losing its earlier squeamishness and delivering a no-holds barred two-parter that didn't shy away from the blood, sex and abuse which it largely consisted of - Coupled with a strong and compelling base storyline, it was actually a very good couple of episodes indeed if you can ignore the less well-realised plot points. I really hope the series can continue in this vein from here on in, as it's exactly what I was hoping for from this show from the very start.