Thursday, 31 July 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 13

Having had the inevitable hot springs episode last time around, it's now time for Wagaya no Oinari-sama to dish out the equally ubiquitous culture festival instalment. I'm sure it doesn't take the work of a genius to figure out that Kou plus a haunted house equals trouble...

Cliched it might be, but in all fairness to this particular episode, it was actually pretty entertaining and amusing at times to boot. Once again, the wonderful Sakura (who still deserves her own series in my mind) makes an appearance to liven things up, but Kuu and Kou both do their part to amuse and entertain in equal measure.

Away from all that, we also get some hints as to a forthcoming major storyline, as Kuu runs into another fox God much like herself, an old friend who dishes out the latest plots and goings-on surrounding their world. This also invokes a chance for Kuu to team up with this newcomer to the series to make a not insignificant amount of money, but surprisingly she declines, instead preferring to focus on her actual duty of looking after Tooru.

If nothing else, I have to give this episode some kudos for at least making a predictable culture festival episode entertaining, and not falling into too many obvious 'fish out of water' traps along the way. While the storylines on show here are hardly pulse-quickening, I have to confess that I am warning to all of the major characters, which is helping the series along its way in a decent fashion now that the overly long 'Reverse Circle' arc is out of the way. With that particular arc in mind, I do find myself with a little trepidation in mind at the thought of another major story arc on the horizon, as this series has often been at its weakest when it tries to take itself a little too seriously.

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 6

I hate to keep harping on about Telepathy Shoujo Ran as a modern equivalent to Scooby-Doo, but it seems that every episode brings that comparison to bear further and further.

Episode six is the most blatant example of this so far, featuring a hot spring bath and hotel (no anime would be complete without a spring bath episode) that is supposedly haunted, while at the same time some famous local businessman is looking to buy the property for himself. You can almost guarantee that the second part of this story will have said businessman unmasked as the ghost by 'those pesky kids', but for now we're left with what appear to be some actual ghosts, and a story that is fairly entertaining overall.

Yes, despite being a tad predictable, Telepathy Shoujo Ran once again proves to be nothing if not fun, with the interplay between Rin, Ran, Rui and Midori in various combinations managing to keep things light-hearted, while the whole telepathy aspect of the show doesn't get much of a run out but does at least succeed in moving on the storyline in a easy yet rather well-done way. As long as you're not looking for anything serious or thought-provoking, then this series so far has done a decent enough job of keeping each episode ticking over to make for an entertaining twenty-five minutes.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

World Destruction - Episode 4

So, World Destruction continues on its merry, and really rather generic way. Episode four brings us to Springland which isn't, as you might hope, a land full of things on springs, but rather a land of permanent Spring.

Thus, this episode brings us a whole story based around a tree. Yes, a tree, but one with a supposed curse for anyone who should break a branch off of it. Of course, our trio of heroes (or should that be anti-heroes) that make up the World Destruction Committee soon managed to do exactly that, and so begins a tale of ghosts, curses and rumour, with yet another escape from the World Salvation Committee thrown in for good measure.

Really, there isn't a lot to say about this episode, being as it is yet another tired offering from this series doesn't really bring us anything in the way of either character development or excitement - It just meanders along from start to finish without telling us anything new, to the point you could almost label it filler if you didn't get that sinking sensation that pretty much the whole series is going to be like this anyway. There are worse ways to spend twenty-five minutes, but then again I can think of plenty of better things to do that watch an episode of anime based around a blossoming tree. Having said that, this series does at least put in a contender for best opening song of any show this season, so I suppose there is at least some semblance of a reason to watch it.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 16

After just writing about how Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu manages to trump an average plot with lovable character, it's rather ironic that my next task was to tackle the latest episode of Itazura na Kiss, a series with more in the way of a plot, but a bunch of characters that you can't help but hate.

Once again, Naoki's shambolic marriage to Kotoko has to be seen to be believed - What kind of married couple can trade one of them passing their exams for a date? They're marriage for God's sake; dates just happen when you're married, they aren't some kind of bargaining tool! This is perhaps only trumped by Kotoko having a pregnancy scare, as the idea of her and Naoki having any sort of intimacy is... well, laughable. Besides, if she were to have Naoki's baby, it would doubtless turn out to be some kind of demonic klutz, which I shudder at the thought of.

Oddly though, none of this is really the focus of the episode, with those aspects seemingly shoe-horned into an episode that really concentrates on the relationship (or lack thereof) between Chris and Kinnosuke. Again, we somehow manage to be convinced that the best way to build a relationship is to wear down the other party by being as irritating as possible until they give in, and as with Kotoko this seems to work somewhat for Chris in the end. After making fun of the possibility of some of Allison to Lillia's writing a good parenting guide, I could soon see this followed up by Chris and Kotoko's best-seller, "How To Get The Man You Want By Dogged Persistence Alone (Even Though He's An Asshole)". A catchy title, I'm sure you'll agree.

By now, there doesn't seem to be much point in me hiding my feelings that I wanted virtually all of these characters (Kotoko excluded perhaps) to die in a fire and put us all out of our misery. It sounds harsh I know, but I really can't find anything to like about any of these characters, with Naoki in particular proving to be as bad a husband as he was a man prior to marriage, which is beyond unforgiveable for a series that, at it's core, is supposed to be about love. For a romantic comedy, there's a distinct lack of humour to be found in having a spouse whose an asshole.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 3

After a slightly auspicious start, the last episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu succeeded in going a long way towards winning me over. After what was really quite an adorable second episode, the first segment of episode three seemed like a return to cliche-dom, with Yuuno visiting Haruka to study for tests - Cue, err... 'womanly' distractions, eyes meeting over a dropped eraser, and so on. Similarly, we were also introduced to Haruka's fiesty younger sister, which again seems to be something that has been done a million times before in exactly the manner seen here.

After this however, things actually picked up a little, with Haruka's secret almost being revealed only for Yuuno to cover up for her. Despite this, Haruka locks herself away for days out of a mixture of shame and worry for Yuuno for taking the rap. From here, we see a far more likeable to side to both of the lead characters again, with the episode closing out in a suitably interesting fashion.

While there's so much you could pinpoint about this series that is far from original, treading on old ground isn't always such a bad thing as long as you have good characters and suitably interesting situations to place them in. With that in mind, this episode is a perfect example of that philosophy, with the 'home study' section of the episode proving to be not just predictable, but also not particularly entertaining, whereas the second part of this instalment also made it pretty easy to see where things were going, yet carried itself reasonably well on the characters involved alone. In other words, this time around characters trumped the storyline, and by enough of a margin for me to continue to broadly enjoy this series despite its lack of anything even approaching innovation.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Real Drive - Episode 12

Real Drive's episode quality has been all over the place since the beginning of the series, quite literally varying from the ridiculous to the sublime. Thus, it's always a little difficult to predict what to expect from the show.

In all honesty, episode twelve as an entire entity is a rather sedate one, with Minamo befriending a blind girl who has recently been granted sight via optical implants while Haru searches for a unique Metal artist known as Iris. Really, the link between these two segments of the episode's plot scream out in a cacophony of predictability even in writing, and in the episode itself that link is even more blatant - Unless, of course, you happen to be a major character in the series itself.

Anyhow, while the episode itself is hardly either taxing or exciting, it does win some points for doing what a series of this ilk really should do - Pose some interesting questions. Scientifically, the episode provides some interesting little snippets about brain development for anyone who is congenitally blind, going on to posit the question as to how (and indeed if) someone who is blind from birth should be granted sight. As a wider point from this, it also questions whether it's really right to work towards and create a world without disability, particularly considering that many with those disabilities would consider their disadvantage to be anything but, as these things often build stronger personalities in other areas. As medical science improves by the week, it's a huge question that we may find ourself facing more and more often, so to see it asked here in this futuristic world makes for an interesting talking point.

With that in mind, this episode did redeem itself by providing some hugely interesting food for thought to go with the lavish and beautiful visuals of the series. It's a bit of a slow-burner, and it's certainly no Ghost in the Shell, but I have to heap some respect on any series that is willing to both do its homework about a given subject, and then raise some important moral and philosophical points that we may well find ourselves having for real in the near future. If that is the true aim of Real Drive (and I suspect it is), on this occasion at least it has succeeded.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 15

A very ordinary fourteenth episode of Allison to Lillia left us with plenty of questions, and the fifteenth instalment is now already here, thus allowing me to answer the most important point of all: Yes, Ker Benedict's facial hair has become more ridiculous since the last episode.

Anyhow, despite Will/Travas telling Allison that under no circumstances could he let Lillia board a plane last episode, he somehow completely fails to make an appearance this time around to save his daughter, thus once again proving that he is, quite simply, completely useless. You'd have thought a secret agent would have some cunning tricks up his sleeve, but obviously not.

Anyhow, during their sightseeing flight over Lartika, Lillia and Treize's pilot decides to make an unscheduled stop to check on another pilot who appears to be stranded in the lake. For no apparant reason, said man takes the pilot hostage, leaving Lillia and Treize no choice but to rescue their new friend. Oh, sorry, I forgot - This is Allison to Lillia, we have no need for minor characters here, so Lillia and Treize instead decide to leave him alone with an armed man and steal his plane. Their parents would be proud.

It isn't long before the couple find themselves being chased and shot at by other aircraft, and they end up having to make a forced landing before their plane is blown to pieces. "Why did they blow up the plane?", asks Lillia later. Hmmm.... Why do people normally shoot at other people? "So that we don't have any transport" was Treize's answer, missing the incredibly obvious point that they were trying to kill you, you morons. Ahem.

Thus begins a long walk for the duo, although thankfully they find an empty house to sleep in. This happens to be owned by a very nice man, who helps them on their way back to Lartika by letting them borrow his car. Yes, that's right folks - He let a fifteen and sixteen year-old borrow and drive his car. Considering the pilot earlier also let Lillia fly his plane, I can't help but feel that the under-aged driving laws are a little lax in this country. It's also worth noting that nobody stopped to ask how this kind man was supposed to get back to town himself from the middle of nowhere without a car - I guess that's another minor character left to die a slow and gruesome death.

So, the pair drive to another seaplane, which is about to host a charity flight for children, but not before they've been spotted by some people who, simply by their demeanour, scream out "We are bad people. Be afraid!". All of this is without an aside where we see that Fiona has basically told Treize to marry the girl of his dreams by the age of twenty or else - Another piece of great advice doubtless pruned from the chronicle of knowledge that is "Major Stork's Guide to Parenting" (now in paperback, with foreward by Wilhelm Schultz).

Altogether then, this was another rather dull and predictable episode, with a smattering of that unique brand of Allison to Lillia silliness thrown in for good measure. Ironically, I wouldn't have it any other way - Let's face it, how else would I amuse myself without being able to write entries like this?

Monday, 28 July 2008

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 4

Thus far, Hidamari Sketch x365 has been, for me, an enjoyable and relaxing distraction at the end of a busy day, acting as a rather gentle little 'slice of life' series. However, I have to say that episode four has largely managed to take a step beyond just relaxing me, into the realm of flat-out hilarity.

The first half of the episode introduces (albeit temporarily) a fat cat to the proceedings, and as another esteemed 'Blogger I know will tell you, fat cats make anime better. So it proves here, with some quite frankly brilliant moments and one-liners that take in everything from marriage to Rubik's Cube, all with (of course) a feline concern in mind. It's been a while since an anime made me laugh that hard and that often (well, on purpose at least), and for that I can only salute Hidamari Sketch x365.

The second half of the episode takes on the rather more cliched topic of a school culture festival, and while the humour doesn't come anything like as thick and fast it still has some great moments (with Yuno's sleep-deprived turn with the stage spotlight a particular highlight). It's sweet, it's adorable, and when it wants to be it's damned funny - what more could you ask for from a slice of life series?

Thus, any lingering doubts I may have had about this series have been more or less wiped away by this episode. Of course, like most shows of this genre, it's always going to be a little hit and miss depending upon the subject matter and the viewer's relation to it, but if future episodes can leave me with this big a smile on my face and trying to supress a giggle while I remember the funny parts, then it's dedinitely onto a winner.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 14

I've been incredibly mean to Allison to Lillia for almost the entirety of its Allison arc, mainly due to the fact that it's piled no end of unintentional comic hilarity upon me, a goldmine which I've actually rather enjoyed pillaging to make the most out of an otherwise disastrously poor series.

However, after a brief introduction in the last episode, the Lillia arc proper now begins, and incredibly it manages an entire episode without any plot holes that a small continent could fall into. As we've already established, Lillia is the daughter of Allison and Wil (they of the 'get pregnant first, profess love to one another later' movement), the latter of whom is now known as Major Travas (or, as I prefer, Major Travesty) who is hiding his identity from his own daughter because... well, because he's a moron, basically. However, in keeping with this fashion for people hiding their true identities, Lillia's childhood friend Treize (that's Treize, not Trees, thus spoiling all my jokes about wooden acting) is in fact royalty... and what do you know, he's actually the son of Ker and Fiona! Considering Treize's hidden love for Lillia, this whole setup is starting to feel rather incestuous to me, but I digress.

In an attempt to set up some excitement for young Lillia, we sit through a rather dull episode that sends both herself and Treize on a Summer holiday (no Cliff Richard on the soundtrack though, I'm afraid) to Lartika, a town built on a lake and with the hugely innovative nickname of 'Lake Town'. Anyway, blah blah blah, stuff happens which is no doubt of future consequence to the story, then Lillia and Treize decide to take a trip on a sightseeing plane. But, what's this? Will... err... Major Travesty phones up Allison to let her know that an evil plan is afoot (when isn't there?), and that under no circumstances can he let Lillia and Treize board a plane. If nothing else, it's nice to see that Wil's complete lack of timing hasn't been dimmed by the years.

So, there you have it, the start of a thus far decidedly average Lillia arc where very little has happened at all - Indeed, the whole thing is thrown into sharp relief when you consider that Allison and Wil's first adventure involved ending a centuries old war. What will happen next? Has Lillia really inherited her father's romantic ineptitude? Can Ker find an even more stupid combination of facial hair? I'm sure we'll find out all this and more soon enough.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 16

With yet another Kinjutsu scroll in the possession of Kairoushuu, so the focus turns to the scrap for the final scroll, which just so happens to be the one held in an unknown location by Banten village.

As seems to be the general modus operandi of this series, last episode's relatively action-packed instalment is followed by a far more sedate one, with lots of dialogue and little else. This does at least give us an opportunity to learn more about Aizawa's immortality, and is own interest in pursuing the Shinrabanshou, but aside from that it seems like we don't pick up on much truly new information at all, and thus the episode plods along at an almost care-free pace as it makes its way toward setting up the next big stand-off.

While Aizawa's revelations bring another interesting aspect to the entire scenario, everything feels so relaxed in this series that once again it's hard to get any real feeling of urgency surrounding the future of Nabari, and indeed mankind itself. While I've often applauded the way Nabari and the normal world have been mixed in this series, the fact that people can swap sides and change their intentions without even much in the way of bad blood adds an odd feeling to proceedings, giving off that sense that the whole story isn't all that important after all. The only benefit to come from all of this is the lack of a real 'bad guy' to rally against, with the series preferring shades of grey to any real sense of 'good versus evil' that becomes so cliched in many other series.

Overall though, I'm reaching the point where I wish we could just fast-forward to the final episode to find out what happens at the end at get it over with, as really get the impression that there isn't much on offer to entertain us between now and then. I still wonder if this show wouldn't have worked better as a jam-packed thirteen episode series, considering its almost constant mixing of action-filled episodes in with others where virtually nothing happens. It's certainly turned out to be a long way from the "Naruto for grown-ups" I jokingly referred to it as after the first few episodes.

School Rumble San Gakki - Episode 25

I know that the response to news of a new School Rumble OVA have been rather mixed since its announcement, due to a lot of people's feeling that the second season of the anime came nowhere near living up to the abilities of the first. However, I have to say that I actually sit in the opposite camp in this particular debate - Although I'd be the first to admit the the second series of School Rumble was rather hit and miss, in its prime it proved to be absolutely hilarious and one of the funnier anime series I've had the pleasure of watching.

Anyway, this particular OVA enters us into a world of confusion - Why is it labelled episode 25 for starters? In short, this OVA is the final two episodes of School Rumble - 3rd Term, an anime which is now (sadly) never going to be produced. Thus, what we're left with is a 'recap' which takes us through everything that would have happened in that series (and has, I assume, happened in the manga that this OVA is sold with), which brings us up to speed for these final two episodes, which will be episode 25 and 26 respectively.

Obviously, this confusing timeline with a gaping hole in it is a pretty auspicious start for the OVA, and as someone who hasn't been keeping up with the manga at all the whole affair felt pretty marooned from the reality I remembered from the second series. Add in to that the rather poor animation and the distinct lack of humour, and all in all the whole thing left me cold. For me, School Rumble was, largely, all about being light-hearted and funny more than it was seeing any of the various relationships brought to a serious head (although of course I did have my favourites as doubtless anyone with a heartbeat does), and thus the almost serious tone of this episode didn't sit well with me at all. Any lighter moments were really just the usual case of Tsukamoto rambling rather than anything actually resembling comedy, which is hugely disappointing seeing as the series typically managed to roll out at least a few decent gags most episodes, or provide some situations that were far more watchable than what was served here.

So, we're left waiting for 'episode 26' to finish the whole thing off, but after this offering it's hard to generate much enthusiasm for it to be honest. If I wanted an attempt at a serious show dealing with relationships, I'd go back and watch True Tears again.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 16

After episode fifteen of Code Geass R2 turned out to be rather confusing to anyone who hasn't succeeded in imbibing every last little piece of information of the show, it's actually rather a relief to see a return to more normal fare this time around.

Well, when I say normal, the episode begins with further evidence that C.C. has reverted to being a mere slave girl (albeit an unbelievably cute one), and the Emperor of Brittania is nowhere to be found since his meeting with Lelouch in the last episode. This latter point calls for fast action from Zero, and this comes in the form of a treaty signed with numerous dissenting nations, to create the 'United Federation of Nations' - Not one of Lelouch's most creative moments when it comes to nomenclature I must say. Anyway, the treaty gets signed, the nations involved give up their military powers to entrust their security to the Order of the Black Knights, and their first decision is... To liberate Japan from Brittanian control. So things change, so they stay the same...

Of course, this main thread wich runs through the episode is only part of the story, as elsewhere we derive some great pleasure from watching Kallen beat up Suzaku, learn a slither more about Anya and her past, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I'll shut up about before I laden this entry with two many spoilers.

While anyone looking for some more mecha action will probably be disappointed, and the change in C.C. from smart partner in crime to mere servant is an odd one to get your head around (did I mention how unbearably cute she is like this?), this was an excellent episode of the highest degree to me. I found it hard to get too drawn in by the shenanigans of the past two episodes, but this return to the fight for freedom from Brittanian rule is much more my cup of tea, leaving me once again looking forward to what happens next, particular given the usual set of big fact cliff-hangers to tantalising us with until next week.

In other news, this (rather aptly, given my love for this series) makes for 'Blog entry number 250, so every reader who comments on this story wins an air pie with no pastry!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Special A - Episode 14

After episode thirteen saw the Special A crew shipped off to a normal school for a few days, this instalment of the series continues that arc, focusing once again on Akira's problems as well as the reason's for Yahiro's almost obsessional behaviour towards her.

In particular, we see a darker side to Yui, who Akira befriended in the last episode, a side which Akira incorrectly puts down to the influence of Yahiro, whereas in fact Yui is simply trying to help drag her own family out of financial problems.

All in all, this makes for a respectable episode, that is possible more notable for a change in the relationship between Tadashi and Akira (which adds a nice extra frisson to the series as a whole) than anything else, while also making us feel a little sorry for the mostly hyper-priviledged members of Special A rather than simply rolling our eyes at their extravagence and riches as we have been for most of the season. Considering that this has been a weakness of the show from the very start, it's actually quite refreshing to see the tables turned in that particular quarter. Again, this isn't really enough to move Special A out of the realms of mediocrity, but as an episode in its own right this really wasn't too bad although a return to the main Kei and Hikari relationship next episode will be most welcome.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 2

Featuring a beautiful and intelligent girl with a secret anime and manga obsession is pretty much a cast-iron way of guaranteeing a lot of male viewers with a similar passion, and thus that's exactly what Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu brings to the table with no qualms. Having said that, it's rather odd that the series' male lead isn't similarly anime obsessed, although I suppose at least that gives the show a different angle from the aspect we've seen in the past from shows like Genshiken.

Anyway, whereas episode one left me liking the series opener somewhat while still remaining broadly undecided about the show as a whole, I have to confess that episode two has left me smitten. This instalment covering Haruka taking Yuuno around Akihabara is about predictable as it comes, and if I were to ask most of you to write out the expected major plot points before watching this episode (don't worry, I won't be setting homework this time) you'd probably be able to guess about 90% of them without trouble.

However, predictability doesn't always have to suggest that an episode is poor, and in this particular case the obvious progression of the episode doesn't really matter at all. Why not? Because the episode as a whole is just so damn adorable, that's why. I complained last time around that Haruka had been made way too clumsy considering her supposed intellect, but in this episode we see a much more balanced character who is both less irritating and far cuter as a result, thus achieving its aim of making her the kind of girl we'd all like to take home to our parents and marry.

In essence, that's all there is to say about this instalment of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - It's all about establishing the dynamic of Haruka and Yuuno's relationship, and letting Haruka show her true colours, and in that sense it works perfectly. I'm still not entirely convinced that the series will manage to keep this premise running successfully for its entire duration, but sticking with the present right now, this particular instalment has given me the most consistent anime-generated smile I've had all week, and that can never be a bad thing.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 1

You can't go wrong with a detective series.... Is the kind of short-sighted thinking that brought the world Midsomer Murders. Thankfully, Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo (or Yakushiji Ryoko's Supernatural Case File, if you prefer your titles in English) is a very different kettle of fish.

This series introduces us to the world of Izumida Jun'ichiro, a police lieutenant whose job it is to 'babysit' his boss, the beautiful, smart and fiesty Yakushiji Ryoko of the show's title. It all seems like a cushy enough job given her preference of clothes shopping to doing much in the way of actual police work, but unfortunately she seems to have the rather nasty habit of running into supernatural cases as though they were an everyday occurence. In this first episode, a simple shopping trip turns into an investigation after a man mummifies and explodes before their eyes, and not so long later a second, similar incident occurs. Unfortunately, Ryoko is more interested in settling a score and upsetting the applecart than discovering the truth, although luckily for her the two seem to be somewhat connected.

Given the subject matter of the series, it seems pretty clear that this is going to be one of those shows that lives and dies on the strength of each story arc. With that in mind, this opening episode is a rather average effort, that introduces the main characters and their traits and relationship well enough, but without expending too much effort on actually making for a gripping case to investigate. If they're going to try and built up the show on the personalities of the main duo alone, then this show looks likely to fall flat - Mulder and Scully they aren't, and The X-Files this ain't. Still, at least the episode's cliffhanger was intriguing enough, suggesting that there might be some more life in episode two and giving me a lifeline to hang on to before writing off this series before it's even begun.

In closing though, Izumida will have to be the winner of the "stupid comment of the week" award - After seeing a man age, mummify and die before his eyes before exploding, what words spring forth from his lips? "Hang in there!". Err... I think it's a little late to be offering up that particular piece of advice, but thanks for the effort.

World Destruction - Episode 3

The opening episode of World Destruction actually found my hopes for this series rising, only to be dashed last time around as it entered the world of generic action anime. While this third instalment was arguably a slight improvement by way of being a little more entertaining, it somehow managed to remain almost wholly bland and predictable.

The subject matter of the episode was simple enough - World Destruction Committee get captured (although we don't really know how), locked in a prison, and spend the episode planning (and then realising) their escape. In the meantime we have a beastman prison guard who hates seeing the brutality around him, while also falling in love with one of the inmates. Please, stop me if any of this doesn't sound like something you've seen in anime (or indeed on TV in general) a thousand times before.

So, we have ourselves a mix of love story and prison escape story, but to be honest the entire thing might well have been written out on-screen long before any of it happened, so predictable was this episode. To top it all, the animation quality already seems to have taken a big dive, at times all but crying out "We've sold masses of pre-orders of this game now, let's just finish the episode's animation on napkins down the pub later on". In fact, let's just hope that aforementioned Nintendo DS World Destruction game (which is what this anime is all about at the end of the day) doesn't fall into the same trap of failing to offer anything even vaguely interesting...

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 11

Episode ten of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki didn't just bore the pants off me, it pre-empted some kind of Great Escape for my entire wardrobe. Naked and decidedly unamused, can episode eleven lift my spirits?

In a word - Yes. In a series of varying quality such as this one, we've seen episodes both good and bad come from it, but personally I have to rate this as easily one of the better efforts. For starters, everyone's favourite biological weapon Hyouka gets a well-deserved focus this time around. What's more, he falls in love for the first time. All together now: "Ahhhh".

In all seriousness, just about everything about this episode was spot-on. The flow of the instalment was an expert blend of the kind of madcap stuff you'd expect from this series and more reasonably-paced moments, the balance of funnier and more serious moments was also just about right, and indeed the overall emotional content did a great job of handling the issues at hand without ever delving into 'over-the-top' territory.

It isn't easy to have the average viewer empathising with a biological weapon, but this episode makes a pretty good fist of it - We've all been there before, with those weird feelings in your head every time you think about the person you want to be with and so on, and when mixed in with a bit more of Hyouka's back story you have yourself one very good episode.

So, this series' roller coaster nature with regard to episode quality strikes once again - All I can do it enjoy the good episodes, such as this one, and try and 'tune out' the rest to make the most of it. If nothing else, the tone of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki continues to take a U-turn from my original expectations, so if nothing else it should be commended for its willingness to take the odd risk here and there rather than constantly playing to the bland old 'zany anime' stereotype.

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 5

I started referring to Telepathy Shoujo Ran as some kind of Japanese Scooby-Doo for 2008 pretty earlier on, and with episode I can't help thinking back to that point as a pretty good call. While you could easily point of myriad differences between the two shows, the overall feel of the series from the sense of mystery that really isn't so mysterious if you think about it through to the unmasking of the villain of the piece who is always obvious in a slightly off-kiler way is all present and correct here.

That isn't to say this is a bad series though, and this episode once again does a passable job of presenting its story and major plot points in an entertaining way, while also keeping the inter-relationships of Ran, Rui and Midori ticking along nicely.

We do however see at least one stupid moment in this episode, where everyone is amazed at the blossoming of the Emahi grass after they all burst out laughing, only for Rui to mention that all the stories about the grass say that's how to make it blossom anyway. I mean, he could have mentioned it a little earlier, couldn't he? I was also going to point out another daft moment which came courtesy of Rui, who tries to resuscitate Midori after she stops breathing without actually performing mouth-to-mouth. However, Wikipedia (see, I do my research about these things) has informed me that this isn't actually a necessary part of CPR any more thanks to the latest research, so I'll let him off on that technicality. You learn something new every day, huh?

Somehow I feel that I shouldn't be so impressed by this series, yet it somehow manages to work its characters and story in such a way that I really can't find it in my heart to dislike it. It's certainly nothing new in any shape or form, but the 'special powers' angle is played pretty well, and the main characters are all worth watching in their own ways, which contributes to what is a strangely fun little series - Assuming you didn't loathe Scooby-Doo for some reason, that is.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Mnemosyne - Episode 6 (Completed)

Ahh, Mnemosyne, however can we thank you for providing us with six long episodes of sadistic violence and gratuitous sex? By letting you drop into the not inconsiderable bin of easily and quickly forgotten anime, most likely.

While Mnemosyne hasn't been all bad by any stretch of the imagination, which some nice concepts and one or two half-decent storylines earlier in the series, it seemed that as the show wore on so the sex and violence become both more prominent and more pointless, as if to cover up for a main plot thread that was fast spiralling out of control into the realms of confusion.

However, no amount of sex or violence (although ironically this episode seemed to pull its punches sexually, albeit making up for it with tons of nudity, while keeping the violence coming) could really cover up the fact that this final, sixth instalment of Mnemosyne really didn't work in a lot of ways. For starters, its pacing felt all wrong, and indeed the whole endeavour often felt like a bit of a rush job to fit a satisfactory ending into this last fourty-five minute episode. This relatively break-neck rush to the finale probably also contributed to the general feeling of confusion surrounding it - Although all of the major points were explained, none of this was done in a way that truly felt satisfactory, and as a result neither Apos nor Rin finished the series as a character you could particularly care about it any way, be it negative or positive. The continued thread of immortality for all the major characters doesn't really help with this either, as no matter how they got slice and diced you knew they'd be coming back for more soon enough.

It's perhaps ironic that the series 'side stories' ended up being some of the best moments of the show - Perhaps if Mnemosyne had continued to focus on this rather than the whole Apos and Ygdrassil saga then it might have made for a more endearing series as a whole. I suppose, in closing, there's only one real lesson to be learned here - If you have yourselves an average anime series, it doesn't matter how many naked female forms or bloodied, dismembered corpses you throw at it, it'll still be average.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 15

After fourteen episodes of nastiness from Naoki, the inexplicable man of her dreams and Kotoko got married in what I can only describe as the fastest wedding in history. Surely, the series from now on will be a bed of roses, happiness and kittens?

Err... no. Husband or otherwise, Naoki is still an absolutely insufferable asshole of the highest degree, who once again succeeds in spending most of the episode belittling or otherwise ignoring Kotoko. It was bad enough when the two of them weren't together, but now they're husband and wife it's hard to keep my wish to see him horribly decapitated or the like in check - it seems like no end would be too good for him.

Mind you, he isn't alone in the world of unsavoury behaviour that seems to surround Kotoko. The Irie family decide to follow them so that they can spy on the couple's honeymoon (which was both stupid and irritating), Kinnosuke and Chris both seem to annoy one another as much as they do me, and Kotoko and Naoki meet another newly married couple on their honeymoon consisting of a shallow woman who seems to spend all of her time on the look-out for someone to have an affair with (hmm, sounds like someone I once knew, but we won't go there) and a weak-willed guy who finally asserts himself on his relationship by hitting his wife. Is it just me, or does everyone in this series seem to live in some kind of moral vacuum? It doesn't even feel like I'm being mean wishing that their plane back to Japan had crashed into the sea at full speed.

So, everything changes, yet everything stays the same, and my hatred for the various characters in this series is inevitably going to seep onto Itazura na Kiss itself. Is hate a rather strong word? Well, yes it is, but this series has (Kotoko aside) proved itself completely incapable of creating a single likeable supporting character who could be called a normal, decent human being. To my mind, that suggests that there's something intrinsically wrong with the series, and considering we're fifteen episodes in now, it's far too late to put it right.

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora - Episode 3

The third instalment of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora continues to run the risk of letting its lavish backdrops steal the show from the story itself, and on occasion it's a pretty close-run thing with the feeling that the characters are placed around the scenery rather than vice versa, but overall it just about manages to pull the trick off once again.

This particular episode sees Sora take on her first proper job in training to be a mage, a simple job that involves opening and locking a safe for a client. Of course, that would hardly make for an exciting focus, and so we see Sora sticking her nose in to the client's business to put it bluntly, and soon managing to reach the emotional crux of her continuous requests for a mage to come and open and close her safe.

Aside from that, we also learn a little more about Gouta's situation, and are seemingly set up for some later conflict with the assertion that no student should use their magic outside of working for clients, even if it saves lives.

Despite those occasionally overbearing backdrops and rather bland character designs, there's still something about this series that works for me, largely centered around the dialogue and emotions on show. These are at times both subtle and quite powerful, and in the case of Sora's interference with her client's life (or lack of) it was actually quite touching. Outside of those more powerful moments, much of the rest of the episode's dialogue feels natural enough to draw you in, and thus goes some way to banishing the issue of those largely dull looking characters.

I'm still not entirely sure if (or even how) this series will carry itself through its entire season, but as of now I'm still quite content to go with the flow and enjoy it for what it is, with its positives still managing to outweigh its flaws for me for the time being.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 3

Hidamari Sketch x365 continues on its usual fashion into episode three, proving once again to be a thoroughly likeable slice-of-life series.

To be honest, it's tricky to find anything too much to say about the show that I haven't already covered, all I can really say is that it handles its source material well, excelling it those little observations and moments in the average day that make you smile and laugh, and managing to do so subtly without jamming the punchlines in your face just in case you don't get it. When handled in such a fashion, even the smallest jokes somehow become just that little bit funnier - For example, the disruption of Yuno's step-counting on the way to a shrine this episode is disrupted by Miyako asking her the time. It's hardly the pinnacle of hilarity, but when treated right it can actually serve to be pretty amusing. Or maybe I'm just easily pleased.

Anyway, even putting the humour to one side the lilting and almost soothing nature of the series is very apparent, right down to the rather stylised animation which somehow fits perfectly with the show's mood. This is exactly the kind of thing that can help you relax at the end of a hard day, and with such a bunch of lovable characters it's really quite easy to find yourself wishing your life away to some little apartment complex in Japan. In fact, after watching a few episodes of this, all donations are gratefully accepted for a one-way plane ticket....

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 15

Episode fourteen of Code Geass R2 took us in a rather surprising direction (to my mind at least), directly to V.V. and the Emperor, which was the kind of thing I was expecting would be reserved until the end of the series. But, here we are, with Lelouch and his nemesis face-to-face - so what happens next?

Actually, that's a pretty good question. What the Hell just happened? Finding out that Charles has traded his Geass for immortality wasn't too much of a surprise, and neither was Lelouch's convenient deus ex machina to use Geass on him without endangering himself, but what followed all of that was... well, trippy. Man. For the rest of the episode we were treated to not far short of psychedelia, with Lelouch getting a trip through C.C.'s thoughts to find out both her origins and her one true wish. While also this is going on, Nina's research comes to fruition, and a whole bunch of other major characters face up to various truths about both themselves and others. Again, this all feels like real end of season stuff, so goodness knows what will happen next, even without C.C.'s "Who are you?" ending to throw a cliffhanger into the works. A little bit of my heart broke when I realise she may not even remember how pizza tastes...

So much seemed to happen in this particular episode that I almost feel like I've missed an instalment of Code Geass somewhere, as I found myself finding it hard to keep up with the plot at times. This was the kind of instalment that makes me wonder if I shouldn't be making lengthy flow-charts to keep up with the various factions, inter-relationships and so on, while also making me think that I'm perhaps not as much of a die-hard fan of the show as I led myself to believe - Surely I should be able to understand all of this stuff?

Anyway, after compartmentalising my confusion somewhat, this was another episode jam-packed to the rafters with revelations and revolutions, which at the end of the day is what Code Geass is all about. Even when it's having a bit of a Matrix Reloaded moment full of lengthy dialogue about lies, truth, life and death it still manages to be entertaining (unlike, funnily enough, The Matrix Reloaded), and there are so many "What happens next?" moments that I couldn't possibly want anything but for episode sixteen to come along as quickly as possible. And please, bring back C.C's memory of pizza, for the love of God!

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 15

In all honesty Nabari no Ou has been a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to the quality of each individual episode, but I can't help noticing that it seems to work rather better when it descends into darker territory that during those more lightweight and humorous episodes - Thus, the end of episode fourteen held plenty of promise for this instalment.

While not proving to be as action packed as you may have expected, this particular episode throws some pretty big revelations at us regarding Aizawa, as well as seeing Miharu come close to unleashing the full power of the Shinrabanshou he carries with him. Eventually, all of this seems to play into the hands of Alya's headmaster, allowing him to give up the Kouga clan's kinjitsu scroll just as he wanted.

Overall, this proved to be a well paced and rather emotionally charged episode - Although the rather tepid relationship between Kairoushuu and Banten remains (far from the full-blown hatred between the factions you might expect), there's a fair amount to hold the viewer's interest here, and Aizawa's contribution both explains some of the happenings earlier in the series while also adding yet another intriguing angle to the series. Add to that Miharu's continued work with Kairoushuu, and you have yourself a pretty interesting episode.

In fairness, I built this series up so much as far as my own expectations were concerned early on that it was always going to struggle to match those expectations. Thus, with that in mind what we have here is a pretty decent series, that really does a rather good job when it manages to find its flow and not get too caught up in the minutiae of the plot. Things certainly seem to be picking up as the series progresses far as both pacing and plot development are concerned, so I just hope they can keep things up with the storyline that has enveloped the past two episodes now closed. Exceedingly slow episodes have plagued this series at times, so I really don't want to see any more 'wasted' instalments, but there now seems to be enough going on for the plot to continue to develop without too much concern regarding 'filler' or the like.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Sekirei - Episode 3 (Dropped)

Last time around, I gave Sekirei quite a dressing down (with every pun intended) on account of its gratuitous fan service. By around the half-way mark of episode three, I was wondering if I'd perhaps been a little harsh, as while there were still large breasts and tight clothing on show it wasn't quite at the same level as what had preceded it.

At least, that's what I was thinking until the various girls started using attacks that tore off one another's clothes. That's right, by the end of the episode we were left with a couple of topless girls, thanks to attacks designed not to kill or maim but instead to shred items of clothing, and thus managing to drag what had been at least an average episode into the gutter.

Aside from that, the introduction of so many competing individuals (with the object of their attentions the mysterious young 'Green Girl' we saw a bit of in episode two) has made this whole affair a little bit confusing to be honest, as I feel like I'm not sure exactly what's going on any more (aside from "More excuses to show female breasts" that is). It might be a little easier if the male characters stood out a little more rather than fitting into one of a handful of cliches, but then again when you're spending so much time drawing those aforementioned (and oft-mentioned when it comes to discussing this series) breasts I suppose there simply isn't going to be much time to draw any male characters in the series.

By this point in time I think it's simply fair to say that this series really isn't for me, it just doesn't work on any level and the suggestion that it'll be descending further into a harem show has pretty much sealed the deal for me. Thus, it's time to be a man, take that difficult decision, and officially pronounce the series dropped.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 12

I'm pretty sure some kind of international law dictates that every anime series must have at least one hot springs episode, and thus to avoid a long prison term for all of its script writers so Wagaya no Oinari-sama ensures that its mandatory requirements are fulfilled by giving us just that.

After winning said hot springs trip as part of a lottery, we find the usual gang get to meet up with the boy's Great Grandma from those opening episodes. Then, of course, no episode would be complete without some kind of spirit out to get Tooru...

Not for the first time with this series, the main crux of the episode falls flat from what is, quite frankly, a lack of effort. Just as things get interesting, with Tooru cornered by this little girl who isn't what she at first seems, then the whole debacle comes to an end with little more than a few tears before bedtime to show for it. Considering the whole premise of this series, and having Kou and Kuu as guardians, was based around Tooru being in grave danger, it seems a little odd that all of his moments of 'peril' have come largely from wishy-washy characters who, even as bad guys and girls, are far too nice to actually hurt or inconvenience anyone too much.

With that in mind then, it's hard to really pin down any particular point to this episode, it really just splashes around like a goldfish that has no interest in any of the shiny ornaments you put in its tank. 'Pointless' always seems like a harsh description of anything that's only trying to be entertaining, but I'm afraid it seems to fit the bill rather well here, considering the absence of any real humour, emotion or anything else that might have given this otherwise lacklustre affair some impact. This hasn't exactly been a great series at the best of times, but to be honest this particular episode failed even by those hardly stellar standards.

Special A - Episode 13

The last episode of Special A really teased us quite mercilessly, bringing us to the brink of believing that Hikari was finally going to realise Kei's feelings for her and that they'd all live happily after. But nooo, we're only half way through the series, so they had to renege on that thought and keep the status quo for the time being.

Indeed, episode thirteen of the series really doesn't bring anything new to the table regarding that particular relationship at all, instead choosing to focus on Akira and a particular neurosis of hers regarding making new friends as the entire Special A gang are made to spend three days at a normal school - "about time too!", I hear those of you frustrated by the main characters pampered existence cry. To be honest, that feeling of superiority the mere concept of a 'Special A' class gives to the series continues to be probably its biggest undoing, leaving the main characters aloof from the rest of the world in a way that isn't always as amusing as they try to portray it.

This particular episode has one glaring example of this, where Akira wins over her adopted class not thanks to her personality, but primarily due to being able to deploy a large number of limousines and an impromptu party for them all. Somehow it simply didn't sit well with me, in what was otherwise a half-decent episode, and once again it takes the gloss off some normally quite likeable (or at least occasionally entertaining) characters.

Once again then, this series skirts the fence of mediocrity without vaulting over into the green, grassy field of 'good anime', but then again nor does it fall into the slurry-laden pastures of 'bad anime'. It has a certain charm to it if I'm honest, but if you haven't picked up this series already by this point then there really isn't anything to make it something I'd recommend.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 4

So far, each episode of Telepathy Shoujo Ran has elicited a rather different response to me. While episode one was rather "Ooooh", so episode two was a bit "Ughhhh" and episode three thankfully more "Ahhhhh". What strange, gutteral noise will episode four elicit from me?

Luckily, the answer is actually rather a good one. While the basics of this episode's plot are rather contrived, taking Ran, Rui and Midori's Golden Week holiday and plonking them on a trip with Ran's father that involved pickles and magical grass (no, not that 'magical' grass, before you ask), once you've moved past that point what follows is actually pretty fun and oddly intriguing. If I'm honest it's the kind of thing that could easily have been a plot from Scooby-Doo (which oddly enough I also mentioned in my summary of the last episode, so there's clearly a pattern developing here), but in a sense that's no bad thing; after all, you're hardly likely to be watching a series about telepathic middle school girls if you're searching for an anime packed to the rafters with realism.

Speaking of which, this is the first time we really get to see this series' telepathy angle used as a means of teamwork and major plot development, and to be honest it works really well. Sure, a fair amount of it could have been achieved with normal dialogue between characters and so on, but the whole secrecy of the two girl's communication adds an extra frisson to the proceedings. As long as they don't start wielding this power like some kind of sonic screwdriver to fix up all the plot holes each week, it could well add an interesting element to the series.

Overall then, I'm finding myself increasingly happy with the direction this series is heading, as it looks to carve itself a nice little niche for 'good, clean and adventure-laden fun'. It won't tax your brain very much at all, but makes for an enjoyable and undemanding watch at present.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 14

Maybe I'm just too old to understand it any more, but judging by recent anime the way relationships progress certainly seems to be changing. Yesterday I saw Allison to Lillia's Wil not tell Allison he loved her until after he got her pregnant, and now we have this series.

After thirteen episodes made up almost entirely of Naoki bullying, belittling and berating poor old Kotoko, in the space of a single episode we see this situation turned around on his head so completely that I'm always lost for words. Never mind dating, within these twenty-five minutes we go from barely talking to one another to full-blown marriage. It's the sort of thing that I might have just about managed to pass off as romantic if it wasn't for the fact that I still harbour a deep dislike for Naoki, and although his demeanour has naturally improved for this episode there was still the odd glimpse of that irascible asshole that you'd rather bludgeon to death than engage in conversation with.

It seems like an eternity, but we've finally reached the point where Kotoko and Naoki become a couple (and I can only say it happened in a very badly-paced manner due to my aforementioned point), so the question probably shouldn't revolve so much around how good this episode was, but rather the focus should perhaps be: what can the rest of this series offer? I have to confess, I'm curious as to how (or even if) this progression will change the Naoki/Kotoko dynamic, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see. Provided Naoki can at least be a bit less of a nasty piece of work then it should hopefully make for a more bearable second half to Itazura na Kiss... My fingers are well and truly crossed.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

World Destruction - Episode 2

The opening episode of World Destruction actually caught me a little by surprise by being rather better (and certainly more fun to watch) than I expected. Can the second episode live up to these higher expectations though?

To be quite honest no, they can't. While episode one was a pretty good grounding for the series, this next instalment seemed to sink a little too far into 'generic action-adventure' territory, as we saw our trio of boy, girl and bear land up on board a 'pleasure ship', where their activities don't go unnoticed by the World Salvation Committee for long. Cue the kind of gambling and action scenes that it feels like I've seen a million times before in all honesty, with the highlight being a card game that involved only two cards - To be honest, I'd be all for destroying a world that comes up with such useless card games.

This episode also manages to be clichéd by way of including an almost token young girl who needs to be saved and has only taken to thieving people's possessions to save her father from a life of gambling. Again, this kind of thing has been done to death, so give me a break.

All of this might not be so bad if we started to see any kind of bond developing with the major characters, but thus far we've seen nothing of the sort that is worthy of note. Sure, maybe it's a little early to expect anything to form, but the sense of this trio not really caring about what happens to one another is just another facet of World Destruction that makes it unpalatable in this instance.

Who knows, there may be room for improvement, but from this second episode I get the feeling that this series is going to be taking the path of least resistance, and thus by that token the path of a heavily generic plot.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 13

During the course of this series' Allison arc my complaints, criticisms and all-round reasons for merry-making at the expense of the show have been many and varied. However, I have to say that I can't recall an episode of anime that has left me shouting at my laptop screen for almost an entire half-hour quite like this one.

As usual with an instalment of Allison to Lillia, it's hard to know where to start, but let's try the beginning. Shifting forward a little from episode twelve, we now find Wil studying hard and living with Allison, while still managing to maintain fantastically uninterested and unromantic around his soul mate - This is a man who somehow manages to care more for his sweater than his girlfriend. Talking of sweaters, it also appears that the end of the war has finally taken its toll on poor Ker Benedict, who has now taken to obsessing over jam while wearing similarly comfortable sweaters. Indeed, his interest in jam seems to preclude taking Fiona anywhere with him, leaving her at home to fend for herself with twins so that he can visit Allison and Wil. Oh Mr. Benedict, what a modern man you are.

Anyhow, this is only the begining of the end, as Wil is one day approach by Lillia's father (who I shall continue to refer to as Major Stork as it has far more comic potential). Now, considering this man is a cold-blooded murderer who has no qualms about blowing up entire trains, he isn't really the kind of guy you want as a father-in-law, but it soon becomes apparant that this won't be a problem at all - Not content with ruining his daughter's life once by abandoning her as a child, he's now decided it would be a great idea to do so again by enlisting Wil into his intelligence agency, upon which point he'll have to move to Sous-Beil and assume a new identity. Aside from the obvious irony of Wil working for an intelligence agency (the guy can't even drink a cup of tea properly for God's sake!), watch out for "How To Be A Good Father" by Major Stork, now available in all good book stores.

So, Wil mulls over this offer, but obviously realises that spending the rest of your life with the person you love is far more important than some half-baked intelligence job working for a man who is clearly some kind of perverted psychopath. Oh, wait, no he doesn't, he decides it sounds like a great job and runs off to leave Allison alone as soon as humanly possible. However, it appears that Allison also got lucky as part of Roxche's "Two lobotomies for the price of one offer", as despite finding out that she's pregnant she decides not to tell Wil, so that he can run off and play spy games without worrying about her. Maybe these two do deserve one another after all...

The final ignomony for Allison comes as Wil's train departs, and he shouts to her "I should have told you this before, but... I love you!". Yes, Wil, you should have told Allison that before... For example, how about telling her that before you get her pregnant, that is the normal order of things I think you'll find.

This does, of course, bring us to some good news. The Allison arc is now over! However (and I suppose we can curse Wil's unfortunate fertility for this) the Lillia arc now begins, leaving us with another thirteen episodes to look forward to. The closing minutes of this episode give us a sneak peek of what's to come, with a fifteen year-old Lillia and a much older Allison. Allison has found herself a boyfriend called Travas, who works for the Sous-Beil military and finds it impossible to drink a cup of hot tea. I really have no idea who he could be, but doubtless he has learned much from Major Stork about how to be a great parent, with pretending not to be the father of your own daughter high up his list of top tips.

Okay, I finally admit it - This series is brilliant. Not in the way it tries to be brilliant admittedly, but laughing at its ineptitude and crazy plots each week is fast becoming a regular highlight for me. Bring it on, Lillia!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 11

With the whole Reverse Circle arc finally closed out by the end of episode ten, this particular instalment of Wagaya no Oinari-sama allows us to enjoy some more light-hearted fare (although to be fair even a 'serious' episode of this show isn't what you call deeply profound). With Kou still ramping up the list of breakages by the week, herself and Kuu finally decide that it's time to get a part-time job to help pay their way. Really, I'm not sure there's much more I need to say beyond that, as their efforts wherever they go lead to predictably disastrous consequences.

Indeed, this particular episode is the kind of thing that has 'predictable' written all over it, and it soon becomes easy to second-guess what's going to happen next. Despite that though, I can't really call this a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination, as it turns out to be entertaining enough all in all, there just really isn't a lot to say about it. In many ways this mirrors quite a large portion of the series as a whole, always doing an acceptable (albeit predictable) job without ever even coming close to stretching itself to any degree. If you don't mind your anime unchallenging, then Wagaya no Oinari-sama just about works.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 1

We've all been there, haven't we - Trying to keep up our reputation as an intellectual, charming and beautiful person, while all the while hiding from the world the fact that we'd actually much rather be sat around watching and discussing copious amounts of anime. Well, okay, let's scratch the 'beautiful' part in my case.

Anyhow, so that thought brings us to the opening episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, which gives us exactly this scenario - An attractive and intelligent high school girl who, beneath it all, is just a big ol' otaku. It's a secret she's managed to hide almost perfectly until she happens to quite literally bump into Yuuno, the series' male lead and a pretty unspectacular young man with little real interest in either anime or women. Of course, Haruka is mortified that her secret is out and aoids Yuuno like the plague, but eventually a friendship begins to blossom once everything is ironed out...

I would imagine that if you're playing the demographics game when commissioning anime series, the phrase 'beautiful female otaku' must see yen signs flashing in your eyes, as let's be honest it's the kind of thing we all want to see and dream of - Who wouldn't want a girlfriend as addicted to anime as you? From that angle, this first episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu does a pretty respectible job of hooking in its likely viewers, making Haruka the kind of cute and clumsy girl that everyone will find themselves wanting to look after. I have to confess, she's even charmed me a little, although I have to question why this supposedly intelligent and physically fit girl is so absolutely hopelessly clumsy and forgetful most of the time; to be quite frank, it doesn't really make a lot of sense, and in many ways it would have been nice to see Haruka portrayed as a rather stronger character than the seemingly shy, weak and wishy-washy one we get here.

If you can put that seeming incongruity to one side however, this opener for the series seemed reasonable enough in introducing the main characters and story-line. I'm not sure that there's a massive amount of room for any kind of ground-breaking comedy here, but then again other shows have proved that if you do something well enough, it doesn't necessarily have to be all that innovative. While I am leaning towards the 'like' side of the fence on this series so far, I think only time will really tell whether it's going to sink or swim now its premise has been established.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 2

After a somewhat enjoyable but largely scene-setting first episode to Hidamari Sketch x365 (which was very much welcome in my case, having not seen the original series yet), the second episode fast forwards us by almost a year. To be honest, this confused me a little bit, but thankfully after a while it all fell into place and made a little more sense.

'Slice of life' series that this is, there really isn't a huge amount to talk about by way of a plot, with the episode instead featuring a whole host of little vignettes that mould together into what was quite honestly a very entertaining twenty-five minutes. While its first episode didn't give me any real laughs to speak of, there were some deliciously funny moments to be had here, which still managed to fit in with the beautifully understated nature of the series as a whole.

As I mentioned last time around, it's hugely important to create likeable characters for this kind of series, and luckily Hidamai Sketch x365 has these in spades, from the four main characters through to the teachers we've been introduced to so far, all with their own foibles to add to their own individual comic value.

Sure, a lot of the gags and themes are pretty old hat in the grand scheme of things; for example poor eyesight, Valentine's Day chocolates and so on, but yet these very seem subjects still managed to tickle my sense of humour enough to get a laugh out of me, perhaps providing that the old jokes are sometimes the best.

While I have to confess that I feel like I'm maybe missing out a tad having not seen the original Hidamari Sketch series, as it means I've lost a grounding in some of the character's personalities, it still hasn't effected me enough to stop me enjoying this series so far. I'm always willing to lap up a 'slice of life' series provided it has sufficient quality, and this particular episode has certainly buoyed my hopes that Hidamari Sketch x365 can prove to be exactly that for this season.

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora - Episode 2

Having watched the opening episode of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora, I was really rather taken with its visually impressive backdrops, which proved to be the only real highlight of what was otherwise a solid if uneventful opening episode. However, come this second episode and its move to Tokyo, those previously jaw-dropping backdrops have actually started to grate with me, becoming ever-more obvious as just retouched photographs. This in itself would be too bad if the quality of animation was otherwise high but, quite simply, it isn't, and those basic character and object drawings stick out like a sore thumb amidst those hyper-realistic surroundings.

Having said that, and after slowly getting used to the style of the piece, I have to confess: I really enjoyed this episode. While once again nothing much happens, with the general jist of the episode simply introducing Sora to Tokyo (and vice versa), the Bureau of Magic and her new 'home' for the next month, it doesn't happen in such an utterly charming way that I couldn't really help but fall for it. On closer inspection of my feelings, I think the main reason why this episode has won me over is the feeling of reality to it all; and no, I don't mean those backgrouds. The classroom scenes are full of idle background chatter, and even the conversations that have any focus feel like just the sort of thing you'd expect to hear in those given situations. Similarly, the scenes within Tokyo themselves present a far more pin-pointed feeling of bustle than your generic anime crowd scene, with a wonderful feeling of individuality to each person within those scenes that really captures the cosmopolitan vibe of wandering around any major city. Finally, the otherwise slow and lilting nature of the show so far means that when something does happen (and we do get one example of this in episode two), it somehow has far more impact than in a series where things are always happening.

In all honesty, this isn't the kind of thing I would expect to like if someone were to describe it to me (indeed, I'm not even sure why I started watching it if I'm frank), yet somehow it's managed to capture me with its somewhat unique charms, notwithstanding Sora herself who manages to be a universally loveable character. Whether these feelings will last for the entirety of this series I'm honestly not sure, but for now I'm actually rather smitten with this sedate, magic-tinted slice of school life in a strange city.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 14

We've already seen Lelouch go off the rails somewhat this series, but it has to be said that this pales into comparison with the fallout which follows the death of Shirley in the last episode.

While I thought that Rolo might have kept his part in her death silent, it appears that I reckoned without his psychotic behaviour, as he happily admits to it straight away (albeit via his own twisted version of events). Lelouch outwardly appears to both forgive and praise Rolo for his actions, but of course anyone who saw episode thirteen will doubtless be quick to spot that this is nothing more than a front to keep his 'brother' on-side for a little longer.

While the focus of this episode jumps around all over the place early on, moving both back in time to 1997 as well as here, there and everywhere in the present day, we eventually settle upon Lelouch's latest plan, fuelled almost solely from Shirley's death - To take out the organisation which is researching and using Geass at its source, V.V. included with a sudden 'shock and awe' strike. While this seems like suicide, you have to hand it to Lelouch for his planning (as per usual), although in his Shirley-induced rage he doesn't even bother to disguise himself as Zero any more.

What follows is the usual kind of fast-paced Knightmare action, together with a suitably "Oh my God" ending that leaves me feeling entirely unsure as to what will happen next at this point. The episode also sees C.C. returning 'home', as a former part of the organisation Lelouch is looking to destroy, but to be honest her role in everything seems to remain as mysterious as ever.

I really wasn't expecting Code Geass R2 to reach this point quite so early in the series, as it seemed like this particular battle was an almost sure-fire candidate for the last few instalments. Yet here we are, and despite that aforementioned opening segment that couldn't sit still, we ended up with an extremely tense roller coaster episode that has so many potential ramifications for Lelouch in almost every way that I don't even know where to begin sifting through it all in my head. Altogether then, while being perhaps a little confusing in a way, this was a fantastic episode, and that's all there is to it - It's simply a great example of what Code Geass should be all about.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 3

After leaving us with our first real cliffhanger in the form of the kidnap of Rui at the end of the last episode three of Telepathy Shoujo Ran finally takes us into what I get a feeling will be the series proper. This episode sees Ran tell her brother about her telepathic powers, which he accepts without question, and they head off in search of Rui. After taking a look around his bedroom, Ran manages to see a vision of a masked face, and the school rooftop; let's be honest though, you don't really need to be telepathic to know that the masked baddie was headed for the school's roof - Has this girl never seen any anime before? It's where they always go. From here on in, said masked baddie is unveiled in almost Scooby-Doo-esque fashion, and Ran manages to befriend Midori, which is undoubtedly a good thing after commenting last episode that her 'evil schoolgirl' act was a rather worn one.

While the second half of this episode was really a little too dialogue heavy for its own good, it did a decent job of progressing the storyline, and most importantly bringing Rui, Ran and Midori together under the same proverbial banner, which in my mind has far more promise than the previous status quo of Ran and Midori as sworn enemies, which was getting old rather quickly.

In short then, while I'm sure we won't be seeing anything too spectacular from this series (the next episode sees the trio go on holiday together, which is a totally new and unique storyline to an anime show for us all), this particular episode has renewed both my hope and interest in Telepathy Shoujo Ran as something worthwhile watching. Its characters may be a little run-of-the-mill (in particular Rui, who seems to be as dull as dishwater), but they remain very likeable all in all and with enough personality (and clashes of personality) between the two female leads to ease us through each episode. Overall then, this really was a pretty good offering within the confines of its genre and my expectations.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Chocolate Underground - Episode 4

In episode four of Chocolate Underground, our two heroes crack the code, find the headquarters of the underground chocolate producers and eat some chocolate. But have they been rumbled? Thus concludes episode four of the series.

I hate to sound like a broken record yet again, but the five minute running time of each episode is absolutely destroying anything that could be made interesting about this series. Indeed, this episode is a prime example of the problem. While your average anime series would have taken the idea of a hidden code to find this secret lair and turned it into a full episode of its own, complete with a "Wow, what a moment of genius!" point of revelation, Chocolate Underground skips this process entirely, merely throwing in as an afterthought at the start of the episode "Oh by the way they've figured out the code from the last episode". Quite simply, it's weak.

Add in to that the fact that we still don't really know anything about any of the main characters, and quite frankly we're left with no real reason to care. Perhaps if each episode came with a slab of chocolate I might feel a little more hospitable towards it, but it doesn't, so I don't. In truth, it only leaves me feeling hungry for a better series.

Sekirei - Episode 2

Sekirei's opening episode pretty much set out the series' stall as one that wouldn't be breaking any new ground, but was regardless a relatively fun way to set out at least some of the major constructs of the story.

Having laid out those bare basics last time around, we found ourselves with a few little additions to that story dangled in front of us... However, this was given short shrift as episode two seemed far more pre-occupied with dangling large breasts aplenty in front of us instead. While the opening instalment of the Sekirei actually balanced the fan service and story progression reasonably well, it seems that this particular episode found itself going almost all-out down the "watch this, it has hot women!" path - Indeed, we even got a naked fight scene between two Sekirei in a bathroom to fill the action quota with fan service to boot.

To be honest, my brain has been so filled with the female form for the past twenty-five minutes that there really isn't much more I can say about this episode, mainly because there isn't anything more to say - Minato and Musabi literally fall at the doorstep of a new place to live after being kicked out of Minato's apartment last episode and move in; everything else here is largely either inconsequential or as yet unexplained.

I'm sure I've mentioned before that I have nothing against fan service, but when it takes over an entire series to the exclusion of everything else then it really becomes rather pointless as it ranks as too tame for hentai and too dull and vacuous for anime. Thus, another episode like this one and Sekirei will be heading for my 'drop' list with all the gravity of a heaving, bouncing bosom.