Sunday, 31 August 2008

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 7

When a fellow 'Blogger tipped me off that this episode of Ryoko's Supernatural Case File was about a killer mangrove, I wasn't sure exactly how literally I should take that information given our often light-hearted discussions about the latest anime. Well, it looks like I should have taken it serious, as a killer mangrove is almost exactly what this episode of the show is about.

Quite frankly, there's probably not a lot to be said beyond that, as this kind of plot idea is the kind of thing you'd expect to see from a bad black and white B-movie being ripped to shreds on Mystery Science Theater 3000, not a 2008 vintage anime series. The crazy plot idea might be forgivable if there was any real feeling of menace or peril during the episode, but somehow it all feels pretty tame, and the feeling throughout that lighting a match to said mangrove would do as good as job as some kind of ancient engraved stone is validated when the episode ends with the whole thing being napalmed. Really, they could have just done that at the start of the episode and regaled us with a list of stupid plot ideas that were binned by the script writers for the rest of the duration.

After episode six was as dull and stupid, and episode seven followed down that same path, I'm beginning to wonder why I'm watching this series. It's managed to cover a couple of stories well in earlier episodes, but I'm starting to wonder whether it's run out of steam already. I have nothing against the whole supernatural idea (it worked for the X-Files for years), and it can be done with some borderline ridiculous stories if you don't take yourself too seriously and offer up some good characters to help it on its way, but to be honest Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo is increasingly proving that it can't do either of those things with any consistency, and at the end of the day that's going to be its downfall.

World Destruction - Episode 8

World Destruction is one of those series that has used more tired old concepts than Morte's skirt has bad stitches, and episode eight proves to be another one of those "every series of this ilk does this kind of thing" moments.

To be quite fair, this isn't such a bad episode, as the World Destruction Committee hitch a lift to Autumnland (whoever named all the lands in this anime and video game should be shot), get apprehended on account of their 'chauffeur' carrying illegal arms which happens to contain a time-bomb, and get trapped in a sandmarine (think submarine, but it travels through a sea of sand) along with the World Salvation Committee who were on hand to try and apprehend them.

Of course, being trapped at the bottom of the sea means that the two opposing sides end up with a truce, working together to save themselves from death, and blah blah blah. This whole 'temporary truce' concept is the one we've seen countless times before in numerous shows, and for some reason on this occasion it continues even after they've been saved, which is really pretty stupid if you think about it.

Anyway, despite my moaning this wasn't a terrible episode by any means, and it did turn out to be quite entertaining in its own way when coupled with my now well and truly lowered expectations for the series. It's still hard to get excited by the cookie cutter plots and the not particularly interesting characters, but at least the actual character designs are nice and things kept moving here to stop me losing interest. So, I guess that's something of a thumbs up for mediocrity, on this occasion at least.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 21

We're getting towards the end of Neon Genesis Evangelion... whoops, sorry, I mean Code Geass R2 now, and you'd expect some of the big plot points to be getting wrapped up. That's indeed what happens here, although at the same time the series seems quite happy to open a whole new bag of jelly babies at this point.

Yes, I really couldn't help but work a little Evangelion-related joke into my opening here, for the simple reason that the more I heard the Emporer talk about Ragnarok's connection, the more it sounded (and seemed like) the former show's Human Instrumentality Project to me. Not quite the same I grant you (there was no actual God involved there, for starters), but similar enough to my mind.

Anyway, I don't want to talk in solid terms about the plot too much for risk of spoilers, but it probably goes without saying that that Anya/Marianne situation is cleared up (almost exactly how you'd expect it to be), Suzaku gets involved in the whole on-going scenario, and of course the whole thing ends up with what amounts of a philosophical argument between Charles and Lelouch. All in all this was both pretty well done and also quite interested, as it suggested that the Emporer's motives from the very start weren't as evil as he himself has been made out to be throughout Code Geass, indeed his thinking appears to be more misplaced and idealistic than malicious by the end of it.

I'm sure it isn't a spoiler to say that Lelouch prevails, and then really turns things on their head with his next action as we jump forward in time a month. I really don't see how they can finish everything that has been started in this episode before the season ends, so I'm really starting to assume now that there might be a third series on the cards.

In recent episodes I've complained a fair bit about not enjoying the supernatural Geass stuff as much as the political and military tactic side of the series, and thus I had my reservations about this episode, but at the end of it all I can't help but say that it was handled perfectly. Everything that seemed confusing was made clear, each character's motives were obvious and really quite reasonable in the grand scheme of things, and of course the "Lelouch turns impending disaster into success" aspect of the series wasn't absent here either. While this wasn't an action-packed rollercoaster like some of the episodes of this show, nor was it as emotionally fraught as it could have been (it was strangely sterile in that discipline), this was still a most excellent episode, and highly enjoyable. Where the Lelouch and Suzaku story goes from here I honestly have no idea, but I can't wait to find out. Besides which, you have to hand it to the pair of them for putting their principles before their emotional state of mind in this episode, which was most admirable.

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 77-83

There's honestly nothing left for me to say about Chi's Sweet Home at this point, so I can really be brief in saying that this latest bunch of episodes are as cute and lovable as ever.

Chi plays some more, wins but loses at Hide and Seek, and learns how to hunt thanks to the big black cat, and all of this means in simple terms that the series continues to be both adorable and right on the mark when it comes to depicting the life of your average household cat or kitten.

For its pure fun and cuteness factor, this has to be one of the best series of 2008 hands-down.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 9

After labelling the last episode of Telepathy Shoujo Ran 'mediocre', I find myself a little unsure as to how to label this instalment, apart from possibly 'more medicore'.

In all honesty, this was the dullest episode of this particular series so far, giving us a date between Ran and Rui that Midori inevitably intrudes upon (albeit without the aid of teleportation this time) that ends up with the trio carrying around a stone statue containing some trapped lovesick spirit, who wants to get back to his girlfriend who is a chopped-down blossom tree in a library car park. I'm sure it isn't too much of a spoiler to say that this all ends happily, and Ran and Rui are rewarded with... err... some blossom. Wow, that's great, thanks trapped spirit!

Between the cheesy old love story (which to be fair is kind of a classic Japanese story in itself) and the equally unsurprising arrival of Midori to ruin Ran's plans, there's really nothing here to make this episode stand out from any other episode of this series, or even make it particularly watchable in its own right - The whole jamboree was just entirely too predictable to have much to offer most viewers. At this point, I'm wondering how they can make twenty-six episodes out of this series, as it really needs an injection of energy to prevent it from being filled up with meaningless, run-of-the mill episodes, with this particular offering a perfect example of what can happen between lazy script-writing and the lack of anything better to add to a series. Oh well, I still like the opening theme, so I guess at least those two minutes of my evening weren't wasted.

Chocolate Underground - Episode 7

Chocolate Underground hits its seventh episode, but also seems to be filling with the kind of plot holes that that are akin to a sieve - A bit of a disappointment, after the sixth instalment of the series actually gave us a rare few minutes where it hit the spot.

Once again, this episode crams way, way too much into five minutes, pushing the story on at such a pace that it's rather like eating a bar of chocolate too quick - You don't get to appreciate the taste, and end up with indigestion.

The plot is pretty simply in this outing, and involves Louise, Huntly and Smudger visiting an old book store to find out how to make chocolate from the ingredients they discovered last episode, only to find that the owner of the store was involved with the underground chocolate shenanigans we saw previously. In the end, the basement of the store is set up as some kind of underground chocolate bar, which raises a whole bunch of questions as to why this isn't detected by the authorities when their far-better defended operation in the mine was. I suppose it makes sense if you take the show's dessicant excuse into account, but somehow it all feels a little daft overall.

Overall though, the real cause of suffering for this episode is the lack of time to progress the story properly, which leaves this episode jumping through time at a rate of knots. In short, it makes the entire endeavour feel rushed... and that's most probably because it is.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 17

Although Wagaya no Oinari-sama hasn't always worked for me, this particular story arc covering Shiro/Byakki seems to be the best yet, drawing me into this series better than any of the plot points that have preceeded it.

It is perhaps this factor that let me to be a little more disappointed with episode seventeen, as it seems to get mired down a little in an instalment where not a great deal happens in all honesty. We do find out a number of important things, such as just who the odd pairing who have been following Byakki around are, and also what Byakki's modus operandi is, but a lot of this is covered in reasonably short order, leaving us with an episode largely around Tooru being chased around and bumping into Mubyou (or rather, her look-alike assistant) and poor old Sakura, who always seems to get dragged into these things.

Thus, there isn't a great deal to say about this episode - It pulls together most of the major characters from the series so far (albeit in a slightly clumsy way) but mainly seems to be a warm-up act for the episodes to follow where doubtless things will get more heated. This isn't a bad move in itself, so I can forgive it for being meticulous in its build-up, but unfortunately it didn't make for the most entertaining of episodes in the process.

Special A - Episode 20

What do we want? More Kei and Hikari! When do we want it? Well, I guess the next episode will have to do. Yes, that's right, yet again my hopes for this series getting back to the bread and butter of the show have been dashed, as once again we're sidetracked by one of Special A's other on-going relationship traumas.

This time we go back to the relationship of Jun and Sakura - If you thought that was all but resolved a few episodes ago, you were wrong. Unfortunately, that means we face what might as well have been a repeat of that episode, albeit in a different location and with a slightly different direction, which thus gives us lots of Sakura chasing after Jun, a fair amount of 'Inner Jun' flirting with all and sundry (and kissing Kei, which I'm still trying to bleach from my mind), and... well, not much else really. Most of the humour somewhat missed the mark, we've heard all of Jun's angst about getting involved with girls before, and all in all this made for a pretty missable episode.

Still, at least this particular relationship issue seems to be solved now (although I thought that last time we were fed this story), and we were left with a cliffhanger of sorts to take us into the next instalment, so it wasn't all bad. But have I mentioned yet how I want this series to get back to featuring more of Hikari and Kei? No, I thought not...

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora - Episode 5

While I have no doubt that it's very much an acquired taste, I've been rather drawn in by the lilting and easy manner of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora so far, and it certainly doesn't look like the tempo of the series will be changing at all any time soon, which is only good news as far as I'm concerned.

If I had to pick a 'focus' for this episode, I'd point it towards Sora's magic trainer Seiichiro, as we see what he does when he isn't "on duty". We don't really find out anything too particular about him beyond his past as a guitar hero (in the non-video game sense, obviously), but it at least fleshes out his character a little.

Beyond that, it is of course the magic itself that gets plenty of time here, and one of the things I've enjoyed about this series (which has surprised me if I'm honest) is the 'personal' feeling of the magic used in this series - It isn't all big, set piece, Harry Potter stuff, but intensely private in most cases, from destroyed and unknown treasure for an old woman that gives some piece to a question mark that has hung over most of her life, to the awakening of a woman in a coma. I must confess that I'm not too sure about the second of these two applications of magic, as despite the obvious dilemma it brings forth as a result of its use which adds a little frisson to the episode, it just seems a step too far compared to everything that has gone before. It would be over the top to suggest it somehow devalues life within the series, but using magic to wake people from comas just seemed odd to me in numerous ways that it would take too long to give air too here.

That aside, I'm continuing to feel a certain something for this series - It isn't outright love so much as a wamr, fuzzy feeling. Despite its magical roots, both the characters and the conversations they have feel very realistic, which actually matches the 'controversial' art style which gives us some hyper-realistic but decidedly static backdrops. It would be easy to argue that these jar with the quite basic character designs, and I can't deny that, yet somehow that "out and about in Tokyo" feeling that the series gives me is quite a precious thing, and thus overall the aesthetic of the series is a net win for me.

For now though, I'll simply continue to enjoy that warm, fuzzy feeling, as this continues to be one of those series where I neither care nor worry too much about what happens next, as I'm just happy to go with the flow and soak up the atmosphere as much as anything.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 20

If my overall feelings regarding Itazura na Kiss haven't made themselves clear by now, then I've failed both as a 'Blogger and also as a man. How can I possible feel any real love for a series with so many unlovable characters?

While the Naoki we see before us in this twentieth episode isn't quite as outright evil as the man we encountered in the first, in a way he's worse, with his almost schizophrenic attentions towards Kotoko which veer from not far short of disgust to love. How can anyone marry a person like that? Actually, on second thoughts, that side of the equation is, sadly to me, perfectly understandable, so perhaps the question should be "How can anyone marry a person like that without looking to divorce them at the earliest opportunity?".

The first half of this episode is all about Kotoko's graduation as a nurse, and aside from Naoki being an ass as usual until the very last minute where he somehow redeems himself (in Kotoko's eyes at least, I'm far better at carrying a grudge), the episode is just as much about a battle for cross-dressers to be allowed to wear a skirt to the ceremony. Okay, it's a little more complicated than that, but I think that's basically the essence of it.

Anyway, the second half of the episode whisks us four years into the future, with Kotoko as a (klutzy, of course) trained nurse. Is Naoki now a paragon of the wonders of marriage and a hugely nice guy? Is the Pope Catholic? In reality, all that is changed is that we now have new characters to ask Kotoko to leave her husband to shack up with them, and new girls to fawn over Naoki and try and lure him away. So things change, so they stay the same, which really proves once and for all that the script writers have absolutely no decent ideas beyond this tired old formula of temptation towards adultery and Naoki being rude.

With only a few episodes to go, it's certainly too late for either myself or this series to change the record, and thus we both appear doomed to just ride out these final instalments in the hope of a half-decent ending - Preferably one that involves Naoki being trapped in a space shuttle's escape pod, destined to drift through space until his oxygen runs out with nothing or no-one to comfort him in his last moments. Of course, it might prove difficult to write this into the plot of Itzaura na Kiss, but a guy can dream...

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 6

The last couple of episodes of Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo actually managed to up the quality of this series quite noticeably, and with this episode introducing French maids who are also experts in weaponry and computer hacking surely things can only get better?

Well.... Not really. After a handful of earthquake-like incidents, and other oddities going on underground, Ryoko soon gets to the root cause of the problem, which is. A giant salamander. Don't you just hate it when huge lizards ruin your underground network? This also ties in to the discovery of a large underground paradise for beauraucrats, crafted using the fruits of their ill-gotten gains by siphoning away tax money to build their own little secret theme park, which certainly beats a cash for peerages scandal any day of the week.

The problem is, this whole episode feels rather rushed and disjointed, and even if you manage to forget about the absurdity of a giant salamander living in the underground network for no particular reason, and the numerous other plot holes I could probably start picking if I used some of my brain power to actually start thinking about the plot, you're still left with a messy and distinctly unsatisfying instalment. While the past two episodes had enough mystery or tension to at least keep my interest for a while, there was nothing to really make me want to keep watching this episode beyond giving me the ability to write these very words.

Quite simply, it was an easily forgettable episode, and there isn't a great deal more I can say about it beyond that.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 69-76

Another batch of episodes of Chi's Sweet Home invariably means another batch of utter feline cuteness.

This time around, Chi discovers the joys of milk, a hidden stash of cat biscuits, home-made cat meals (a note in the unlikely event that my own cat is reading this: Don't even think about it), and so on.

What more can I say? It's a glorious and wonderful (and often very realistic) series for any cat owner, and that's all there is to it. Who would have thought that episode after episode of a cat being brushed would be so fantastic?

Special A - Episode 19

Last episode, I all but pleased for a return to focusing on Kei and Hikari, and did I get it this time around? No. Argh!

With Akira and Tadashi now together, for some reason Megumi decided that it would be a good idea to start dating Yahiro to ensure that he didn't interfere with this relationship. Now, it seems pretty obvious from the very start that this isn't a good idea, but unfortunately Megumi doesn't seem to see this, and thus we have to put up with a lot of Yahiro (he of the Naoki Irie school of dating) being irritating, although I suppose as a small token of gratitude for living with it we get to hear Megumi's voice properly. Err, hurrah?

Thankfully, the episode was saved for me by Hikari, who comes down and stays at home with a fever, making the rest of the Special A gang pay her a visit to see how she's doing. Witness feverish Hikari, which has to be the most adorable thing I've seen all series, wrapped in a blanket and crawling around like a... well, adorable slug. Or something. Anyway, in her feverish state she spends her entire time chasing round after Kei in a loved-up (read delirious) stupour, which is really what makes the whole thing so cute and also pretty hilarious - Oh, if only the entire episode had been dedicated to that part of the storyline.

So, despite all that we're no closer to see Kei and Hikari get any closer... Can you tell that it's starting to frustrate me yet? It doesn't look as though episode twenty will bring us any closer in that direction either. For now then, episode nineteen was very much a 'game of two halves' - Annoying Yahiro and non-descript Megumi on one, and funny and adorable Hikari on the other.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 15

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki's episode quality continues to be a hit-and-miss affair, and goodness knows when (or even if) we'll ever get around to the revelation of who the actual descendant of Enka is, but at least in the grand scheme of things this latest instalment of the series was actually okay. In fact, dare I say it, it was actually quite amusing in places.

The overall 'theme' of the episode has been done a million times before, with Kyouka taking on the role of a 'magical girl' of sorts, in an attempt to get revenge on Ouka because he forgot their first wedding anniversary (he's a guy, it's the kind of thing we do, give the poor bloke a break!). Of course, that plan doesn't work out at all, and indeed her magic wand only ends up punishing other people, with hilarious consequences on one occasion and completely forgettable consequences on the other half dozen or so. Needless to say, it all ends up with everybody happy at the end of the day, ready for another completely random and off-topic episode next time around I suppose.

For all its occasional bright moments (somehow, the recap at the start opf the episode which turned into Teika biting his tongue and getting angsty tickled me), a lot of the heart that existed earlier in this series seems to have evaporated, with any emotions on show being much more twee and predictable than the sort of thing that actually surprised me in the early episodes of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki. Between that, and a lack of real humourous focus for the madcap craziness that the series relies on heavily, this really feels like a show without direction now, and there doesn't seem to be much evidence of it regaining that anytime soon. So, this was a passable effort, with a few laughs thankfully, but I can't even begin to predict what I'll be saying come the next episode.

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 16

If episode fifteen of Wagaya no Oinari-sama seemed to suggest that the Byakki arc of this series was (at least temporarily) over, then think again, as it continues apace here.

Perhaps unsurprisingly considering her supposed power, it doesn't take Byakki (or Shiro, as we first knew her) much to escape from the Oni, where of course she makes her way back to Tooru regardless of the interest of the Oni in claiming back their most prized possession.

Interesting and rather inevitable though this all was, I have to confess that personally this particular storyline was once again overshadowed by the ever-wonderful Sakura - I know I've said it before, but someone needs to get this girl her own show! Never mind demon foxes and oddly powerful white-haired girls, Sakura's misunderstandings and ponderings about Noboru's relationship with Kuu and Kou trumps it every time, and in an extremely funny fashion to boot. Although on that note, what was Miyabe's comment about Noboru's "scent" all about? Time for a change of socks perhaps?

Anyway, this was another pretty good episode, and even ignoring Sakura's fantastic turn as neurotic wannabe girlfriend it was a solid enough outing that sews the seeds for an intriguing continuation of this particular story arc (which in itself has proved to be one of the better ones on offer so far throughout this series). It's taken a long time to get to this point, but I finally find myself getting drawn into this series properly.

Special A - Episode 18

I've fallen quite a way behind with watching this series, which is rather unfair in a way as it's actually quite a sweet and watchable little series at its best. Episode eighteen of the show probably counts along those lines, if nothing else because it resolves at least one of the relationships amongst the show's main characters.

I have to confess that I've never really warmed to Akira in this series, particularly as it's gone on and it seems like a never-ending torrent of deep-seated issues surrounding her have come pouring out. Even for most of this episode she really isn't the kind of character you can empathise or feel sorry for, and indeed her entire personality seems to be at odds with Tadashi, who she has more than a bot of a soft spot for. I know, opposites attract and all that.

Anyway, it probably isn't much a spoiler to say that all of the misunderstandings and issues between Akira and Tadashi are finally resolved this time around, in a conclusion that gets a very slightly teary "Ahhhhhhhhh" from me - Put bluntly, it was really rather cute, and made up for the fact that the episode all felt rather uneventful aside from those closing minutes.

So, job done, and that's one couple down - Now please, please can we get back to Kei and Hikari?

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 7

The last instalment of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu ended with quite a commotion, and for some reason I really couldn't figure out what it was going to be all about. I can only contend that my brain was having a slow day, as in retrospect the whole thing was quite obvious - Of course, Haruka's father had found out about her secret love of anime and manga.

This in itself had all the makings of a decent plot, and indeed one that could have been strung out over several episodes. However, what we actually got instead was something so ridiculously overblown that it really served no purpose but to completely devalue the whole thing. For all of its foibles, this series has at least kept itself grounded quite reasonably in reality, yet all of a sudden this was thrown out of the window with Haruka's father sending troops and helicopters to find her daughter after she'd run away from home. To top it all we had Hazuki as some kind of martial arts expert and... well, you get the picture.

I might have forgiven this had the episode been funny as a result, but quite simply it wasn't (and I suspect it wasn't really trying to be beyond making the whole situation ridiculous), and it only served to detract from what was the actually rather sweet blossoming relationship of Haruka and Yuuto.

In closing then, I can only mark this episode as "See me after class, and don't let this happen again!". This series is fine (in its own mediocre form) staying grounded in reality as it is, it doesn't need flights of fancy to help it on its way.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 8

Telepathy Shoujo Ran thus far has proved to be one of those series that never looks like even going up the driveway of greatness, let alone knocking on its door, and seems to prefer just sitting in its car across the street wondering what goes on inside its house. Thus concludes today's bad metaphor.

Anyway, episode eight of the series certainly doesn't do anything to assuage those feelings, as it delivers another reasonably solid showing that can only ever really be described as okay. In short, Midori disappears off to some eating contest, leaving Ran and Rui with some quality time together doing homework (these crazy middle school kids and their life of debauchery, eh?). Of course, this doesn't last long before Ran gets herself involved in a story involving as couple of school-mates being bullied, one of whom is leaving and the other refusing to pay attention to the girl who is about to move's feelings.

Normally, you or I may dispense some advice on the subject in that kind of situation, then leave it well alone, but of course this series being what it is we end up with Ran and a returning Midori (via teleportation no less - When did this show become Teleportation Shoujo Midori exactly, and why has she not used this power before?) working together to fix the situation. They do, and everyone lives happily ever after. Ahhhhhh.

If that synposis sounds pretty run-of-the-mill, then I've obviously described the episode well, as it was pretty much a poster boy for an average, undemanding and just about bearable episode of anime. Part of me does wish that the script writers would keep Ran and Midori's powers at least somewhat grounded and static though, as we seem to be moving fast from merely the realm of telepathy into that aforementioned teleportation amongst other things, which is only going to devalue the spirit of the show as an entirety if you ask me.

If you've enjoyed the series so far then chances are you'll have enjoyed this episode too as it keeps things ticking along well enough, but in all honesty I can't really label it as anything other than mediocre.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 20

Even after coming towards fifty episodes of Code Geass, for some reason I still never fail to be surprised by the big twists and turns employed by the show's script writers - Indeed, every time I think I've got to grips with it, something even bigger comes along to make my reverie short-lived.

So it goes that episode twenty of Code Geass R2 throws us a massive "No way, really?" moment, which comes courtesy of Anya. Her link to both Geass and Lelouch have been hinted at and gradually played up as the series has progressed, but did anyone really see the revelation which came from her meeting with C.C. coming? If nothing else, it's going to be fascinating to see that one explained in full.

Aside from that, this episode in general sees another shift in focus, away from Tokyo and the battle for control of Japan, and back towards the Emporer and exactly what he has planned. Whatever it is, it appears to involve ancient ruins and (of course) Geass, although Lelouch's attempt to put Charles 'in check' at the climax of this episode is an intriguing one, and certainly seems likely to do more than Suzaku's rather ham-fisted attempt at assassinating the Emporer, once again letting his stubborn sense of duty get in the way of making any kind of logical decision.

All in all, this episode seemed a bit all over the place, but then again that's only fitting following the deposition of Zero last time around, so I can't really criticise. If anything, my main disappointment stems from the return to focusing on the Emporer and Geass, where freeing Japan and the like always seemed like the more interesting side of the plot to me and looks effectively as though it's been abandoned for the remainder of the series now. Still, the new mysteries and conflicts that have sprung up here have piqued my interest well enough, and I'm sure we're looking at a fascinating few episodes to close out this series.

Chocolate Underground - Episode 6

I've been pretty harsh on Chocolate Underground so far, and I'd like to think rightly so as it hasn't really offered us much, but thankfully the sixth instalment of this series of short episodes at least seems to get the right idea.

I've waxed lyrical from the very start about how this series, beyond its talk of chocolate, is actually arguably an important reworking of the kind of ideas previously expressed in the likes of George Orwell's 1984, warning against the various issues that come from government intervention in every-day life. With that in mind, this particular episode is perhaps the best example of that thus far, with Dave (a cringe-worthy name for a martyr against totalitarianism, I know) being arrested for his part in the underground chocolate scene, and censorship of the Internet preventing Huntly and Smudger from finding out what they want to know about the creation of chocolate.

All of this is played in a way that doesn't pander to in-your-face preaching about how we should be wary of government control in our lives, yet it still manages to outline it in a way that is clearly obvious to all and sundry. Will a simple anime series help stop the erosion of civil liberties by myriad governments around the world? Will it even encourage people to stand up to those infringements? Probably not sadly, but at least provoking thoughts along those lines is a start, and for that if nothing else I have to show Chocolate Underground, and specifically this episode, some respect.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 5

After the last episode of Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo offered a definite improvement over what had come before, can episode five of the series continue in a similar vein?

Thankfully, in a sense it can, with this fifth instalment offering an arguably typical, but still none too shabby surrounding a runaway robot and Izumida meeting with his ten year-old cousin. There can be little doubt that anyone could pull apart the reasoning and programming behind said robot (only basing its attacks on looking for people with guns isn't going to help much with terrorists, and shutting down said robot so easily with a single bullet makes it more or less useless anyhow), but despite that the episode moved along smoothly, quickly and in a reasonably entertaining fashion.

While a lot has been made about the inter-relationship between Izumida and Ryoko in this series, I don't really see the draw of it, particularly when the latter is something of an insufferable know-it-all most of the time, and it is perhaps this that has left me to rest my hopes on the show's occasionally flimsy plots. Still, when it can come out with something at least half-decent and watchable such as the past couple of episodes (even if this offering can't really be labelled 'supernatural' in any shape or form), I can forgive it for some of its other transgressions.

There's no way I can mark this down as some kind of fantastic series by any stretch of the imagination, but on the strength of the past couple of episodes Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo is at least starting to pull its weight and offer up some half-decent plots to entertain us with.

World Destruction - Episode 7

There are two kinds of anime series - I'm not sure what the other one is, but one is the kind of dull mediocrity that makes up World Destruction, consisting of a half-decent concept but with little to show for it in the way of a truly entertaining series.

This particular episode sees our intrepid trio finding themselves being outdone by a bunch of imposters who are also calling themselves the World Destruction Committee - I wish I could joke that at least they were more entertaining to watch than the real thing, but to be honest they really weren't, and indeed they weren't even given a lot of time to assert themselves as characters in their own right, which would at least have made things a little more interesting.

To tell the truth, nothing happens in this episode that is worthy of note, and even the appearance of the World Salvation Committee's duo at the end of the episode is glossed over, making the major plot point the fact that Morte's skirt is tearing. Yes, you heard me right, the lack of a sewing kit was the most important plot point of an episode of anime, which says it all if I'm honest.

I've reached the point by now where I go into each episode of World Destruction not expecting too much, yet still it somehow fails to live up to its expectations. Given the possibilities of the series (between the destruct code and Morte's history), it's all the more depressing that they've done so little with the material they had to work with, and I can't help but wonder if this is even serving as a decent advertisement for the Nintendo DS game that it's supposed to be trying to help sell.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 19

To be honest, I'm surprised that this instalment of Itazura na Kiss wasn't subtitled "Battle of the Assholes", as it would have seemed like a pretty appropriate title - On the one hand we had Naoki, whose ability to be a disgusting excuse for a human being is already legendary, and on the other we had Keita, who thinks nothing of spending all his time trying to convince a married woman to leave her husband so that she can shack up with him. What great role models these guys are...

So, for most of this episode this is all we get to 'enjoy' really - Naoki ignoring Kotoko in that way he's perfected over nineteen episodes, while Keita uses every opportunity to try and snatch Kotoko away. Finally, it all comes to a head in some good old-fashioned domestic violence, with Kotoko throwing books at Naoki (note to Kotoko: Try an anvil or something next time) and Naoki slapping Kotoko. Again, not the kind of thing you'd particularly expect from a romantic comedy, but exactly what you'd come to expect from this series. It all ends up happily ever after of course, at least until next week when we'll probably be back to Naoki acting like an asshole again.

All of this is without Kinnosuke's sudden proposal to Chris after she is injured at work - Because this series simply hasn't had enough knee-jerk marriages, here's another one to up the tally.

It's probably obvious by now that any semblance of charity towards this series has now evaporated, and I find myself feeling quite frankly uncomfortable with every episode of the show that I watch, as we end up with a more and more depressing view of the relationships on show, complete with reprehensible morality on frequent occasions from virtually every character - It's the kind of thing that can't be undone with a simple saccharine moment at the end of an episode. Couple that with the worsening animation (which was truly terrible in this episode), and I shall be rather relieved when this particular series is finally over.

Chocolate Underground - Episode 5

It's been an age since we last covered an episode of Chocolate Underground, and while I'd love to say that its presence has been sorely missed... It hasn't.

Having said that, I have to give this particular five-minute episode kudos for at least being the best of the bunch so far, even if by 'best' I mean "something actually happened". After finding the secret underground chocolate producers last episode, this time around the whole thing gets rumbled due to a small amount of chocolate leaking into the river - I don't know about 'small amount', from what I could see it looked like a close cousin of Willy Wonka's chocolate river.

Anyway, I digress; after being found out by the Chocolate Police, Smudger and 'that other kid' make their escape via a railroad, and find themselves with a massive amount of the ingredients needed to make chocolate at the end of it all - No oven though, which made the whole thing a little less exciting for me.

The short running time for each episode in this series still isn't working for it, as once again it means that there's basically no time for anything to happen in each instalment, rendering it largely pointless. With such an important message to give out at its core, it's almost criminal to see it being reduced to these short segments that have no real flow or emotion to them, leaving me to wonder if the Half-Baked Anime Police will come crashing through the script writer's door any time soon.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 6

No anime series invoking or involving otaku and anime culture in any way, shape or form would be complete without some kind of Comiket-based episode, and so Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu gets this must-have storyline in early (which I'm sure has nothing to do with the fact that this episode aired on the day Summer Comiket 2008 started), with Haruka and Yuuto visiting the show.

Just as the last episode of this series proved to be highly predictable, I'm sure you could pan out this particular instalment in your head without watching the episode with an equal degree of ease. Packed trains, long queues, out of stock doujinshi, and so on - It's all been done before, and if I'm totally honest it's all been done a lot better by other series.

That isn't to say that this particular episode is a complete dead loss - Haruka is at her sweetest and most believable as a character when it comes to her anime and manga obsession, and Yuuto is still turning out to be a thoroughly decent guy, with this episode also keeping us freed from the probable future hardships of that oh-so obvious love triangle looming on the horizon. So, 'nice' is probably the best word to describe this instalment - It won't make you laugh out loud much, it certainly won't blow you away with any deep or shocking revelations (although it does leave us with an intriguing cliffhanger), but it does do a reasonably solid job of depicting both the good and bad of Comiket while also translating the sheer scale of the event (especially to a first-time visitor) in a decent enough manner.

I'm not sure whether this cliffhanger is going to shake things up somehow, but to be honest the series at large probably needs it to pull the show out of its current realm of predictability. As I seem to keep mentioning, this isn't a bad series by any stretch of the imagination, it's quite likeable in its own way, but it simply lacks that extra little something to take it beyond watchable into the realms of being memorable.

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 7

In its typical time-jumping style, episode seven of Hidamari Sketch sees this series flip back to what could almost be considered the beginning, with an episode covering Yunocchi and Miyako's school opening ceremony. While flitting back and forth along a time line is still a little confusing from where I'm sitting, I'm willing to let it slide for this series, especially considering the fact that its subject matter isn't all that reliant on chronological order.

That aside, there's only one thing you really need to know about this episode, and that is that Miyako is absolutely hilarious from beginning to end. I lost count of the number of times her outbursts and actions had me laughing out loud, from getting dressed in the morning to the speediest way to walk while carrying shopping bags. It's sheer genius, and really Miya could have been given this episode all to herself and it wouldn't have been any the worse for it. Of course, there were some moments of usual form from all of the other main characters, but they all paled into comparison and were little more than straght men... err, women even, for Miyako's twisted genius.

Sorry, am I starting to sound like a Miyako fanboy here? I'll stop now, but in all honesty this was a top-notch episode that was deliciously funny, and most of that hilarity was down to one person alone. It's the kind of episode that just leaves you desperately yearning for more of the same.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 18

After already expounding at length on several occasions about Nabari no Ou's habit of mixing up episodes with plenty of action or plot progression with those that have nothing much of note at all - After a far bit of action last time around, you could bet your shirt on episode eighteen being as dull as dishwater and, what do you know, that's exactly how it turned out.

I'm not entirely sure why the writers of this series think that we need to be reminded over and over again about how anguished Yoite is, or how Miharu worries about him, or how Raikou blames himself for Gau's current state, because to be honest we've had it drilled into our head over and over again to the point where we can't possibly forget, and then had those thoughts stuffed into every other orifice just in case being told the same things repeatedly makes us brain-dead. Much as I've enjoyed some aspects of this series, the repetitive nature of some of its main plot points are really beginning to frustrate me (in case you haven't just noticed).

All of this "Yoite, Yoite, wherefore art thou Yoite?" running around and getting upset (the guy clearly just wanted to do some Christmas shopping) actually detracts from the two major plot points of this episode, with Gau brought out of his coma by Kira of all things (no, I'm not sure how that makes sense either) and Miharu suddenly realising that he needs to save Yoite rather than simply wiping out his existence as originally requested. Whether that means that Miharu is gay for Yoite is something I'll leave you to decide for yourselves, personally I like to think that they just have a close friendship.

So, I suppose what I'm saying is that all of this episode's plot progression could probably have been squeezed quite easily into five minutes, or perhaps ten if you were really being generous, which one again gets me wondering about whether Nabari no Ou would have worked much better as a thirteen part series. It's getting to the point where I almost wish Yoite would pop his clogs or something just to speed up the snail's pace at which the story is travelling - Still, I suppose this long, drawn-out instalment must surely mean that episode nineteen will be a non-stop rollercoaster of excellence?

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 19

After that barn-storming last episode of Code Geass R2, it was probably impossible to top it this time around. Indeed, the fallout from the use of FREIJA last episode was always going to make for a much darker instalment this week, and so it proved here.

In short, Lelouch loses everything - Following Nunnally's death last episode, Schneizel pays the Order of the Black Knights a personal visit to tell them the truth about Zero... Who he is, and the power he holds over them, a truth which is then confirmed by Ougi as the final nail in the coffin that turns Lelouch's entire organisation against him. What we don't see however is whether Ougi gets his request in return for handing over Lelouch - Is it something Schneizel would even have sufficient power to agree to?

Of course, Code Geass prides itself on turning everything on its head, and so we see two occasions where Lelouch seemingly betrays someone to their face but still somehow fails to lose their love and respect in the process. The latter of those two is Kallen, who he shuns simply to save her life, a point she realises just a little too late. However, the big news is regarding Rolo, who continues with his love for Lelouch despite our protagonist admitting that he hates him and has been trying to kill him for the last two episodes, to the point of saving Lelouch from his seemingly inextricable situation at the cost of his own life.

So, we end this pretty solid episode with everything well and truly shaken up. Lelouch vows to fight on, but how? Has Suzaku gone mental? What's next for Kallen? And C.C.? What is Charles planning? Does anyone have Pizza Hut on speed dial? There's enough questions to fry your brain, and we're running out of episodes to answer this. It does, however, look increasingly likely that we may be left with some kind of diabolically predictable "plan to destroy the world" to close the series, which to be honest seems a little disappointing in comparison to a lot of the (relatively) more grounded scenarios that have gone before.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Special A - Episode 17

What is it with this series and marriage interviews?! This latest instalment of Special A sees Akira called up by to a marriage interview by her parents, making this the 534th episode to feature such a plot-line. Not bad going for a series with just seventeen episodes so far.

Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but it does increasingly seem like the major emotional crux of basically every episode of this series is a marriage interview, which is starting to become a little repetitive and tiresome in many ways. As we mentioned, this particular interview is aimed squarely at Akira, who turns out to be less shall we say 'girl-centric' than we first thought, with her true feelings caught somewhere between her childhood friend Yahiro and, far more importantly, Tadashi.

So, we have another episode of characters being blind to another's feelings - While Hikari has no idea of Kei's love towards her, so Tadashi doesn't even begin to realise Akira's connection to him. All of this molds into a culture festival episode that at least avoids hitting many of the cliches of covering that kind of event, while also providing at least one classic line - "What's your type of girl?" "I like all mammals". Well, it made me laugh anyway.

The whole 'posh people having fun' angle admittedly still rankles with me a bit, and there's some real hypocracy on show with some of the major characters and their actions if you think about it, but this was another passable episode all in all I suppose, even if I wish the focus had been kept on Kei and Hikari rather than spread out to myriad other characters, as their situation seems far more interesting than a lot of the other stuff going on from a romantic perspective. Still, every time I watch an episode I find myself wanting to see how things develop next, which I suppose is the whole point of the series, so it obviously isn't doing a completely disastrous job of conveying its story and major plot points.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 14

Episode thirteen may be unlucky for some, but it at least brought Kyouran Kazoku Nikki back to the average episode quality that we're used to after a poor twelfth instalment. Episode fourteen moves on to finish up this two-part story, by way of a similarly mediocre offering.

After seeing a handful of people turned into half-person, half-animal hybrids last time around, things get ramped up hugely this time around as everyone gets turned into a "beastman" (shouldn't that be "beastperson"?)... except, of course, all of the show's major characters, and the handful that we saw in episode twelve who make a rather pointless little cameo.

From there, the story becomes a mix of another appearance of Dr. Gebok coupled with the splitting of the Paranormal Phenomena Bureau of Measures into two distinct camps... or is it? That particular aspect of the episode becomes (deliberately) a little confusing, making it difficult to decide who is on the side of our 'family' and who isn't. Thankfully Dr. Gebok's contribution is far less open to speculation, as he simply serves to play the generic evil bad guy once again, causing the family to pool their resources to defeat him.

This is one of those episodes that is hard to criticse in any particular way, while being equally impossible to praise - It's the kind of episode that just flows over you without causing any particular emotions one way or another. Much of the craziness that perhaps set this series apart earlier in its run have now become second nature, and thus rather tired to the point where you don't even notice it the vast majority of the time. That leaves the show to rely heavily on its plot, which to be honest is pretty wafer-thin when exposed in this fashion, with all of the major points feeling like the kind of thing you've seen done before... Only often rather better.

Perhaps the one positive that comes out of these last two episodes is the attempt to build more of a backbone to the series as it moves into its second half, which it's really crying out for if we're honest. For a while, it seemed like the whole 'Children of Enka' problem that created this family in the first place had been forgotten, so it's about time we returned to it. Will they be able to meld such a madcap series with a 'big picture' storyline? I wouldn't bet the house on it given the show's quality so far, but we shall have to wait and see.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 4

After what felt like an almost entirely pointless third episode, episode four of Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo at least brings us back to the true driver of the series, with a return to some proper supernatural investigation.

Oddly, this particular episode felt like perfect two-parter material, as there was plenty of storyline available to slowly build up to and expose, arguably far more than what was on offer in the opening episodes that was spread over two parts itself. The storyline here considered a strange non-human skeleton that had been discovered, and the resulting research let to the creation of a genetically modified creature that mixed the DNA from this skeleton with a human embryo. Of course, it should be pretty obvious to all and sundry that this is a bad idea, but for some reason scientists in anime never consider these things, leaving us with a decidedly weird entity on the loose, a state of affairs which is brought into the spotlight when it commits murder.

As I've already mentioned, there was some good material and a very solid plot on show here between the story of this creature's gestation, its violent tendencies and the creature's 'mother' who has chosen to protect it, yet a lot of this intriguing story was lost thanks to some decidedly off-kilter pacing coupled with too much focus on Ryoko and Izumida compared to a plot that was more than healthy enough to stand on its own two feet.

These scripting decisions often skewed things in all the wrong directions, with little more than passing remarks paid to the murder that kicks off the investigation, and even some of the interesting moral questions get glossed over so that Ryoko gets more screen-time being her usual sassy self. It really is a shame, as we all know from The X-Files (before it jumped the shark, anyway) that you can mix some decent lead characters with an intriguing inter-relationship with fascinating supernatural plots and make both aspects of a series work well. Alas, this isn't the case here, as we get too much inter-relationship and not enough investigation all in all, particularly for the first half of the episode, leaving just ten minutes or so to squeeze all the 'real' story into.

So, a definite improvement for this series here, and as far as the pure story goes it was an episode far more worthy of being watched, but the over-bearing focus on Ryoko and Izumida only served to spoil it for me.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

World Destruction - Episode 6

After the last episode of World Destruction left me quite fancying trying my hand and doing just that myself to be rid of this series, episode six has at least softened my thoughts along those lines, to the point where I'm now only considering destroying the odd continent or two.

While this latest instalment is hardly the stuff of legends, it was at least a great deal less predictable than a lot of what has come before, to the extent where it actually felt like it had a script written for it rather than just pinching ideas from old episodes of He-Man or something. This particular episode introduces us to Summerland, where it's very hot - Okay, okay, so the location is hardly the subject of some deep, blue sky thinking. Anyway, our trio find the heat too much, but are guided to a charity hospital where beastmen (including one of the Moomins, unless I'm very much mistaken) and humans live together in peace and harmony. Or do they? Morte has her suspicions, as women who want to destroy entire planets are want to do, while the World Salvation Committee are never far behind... Or particularly useful at doing their job, I can't help but think.

The more I think about it, the more I realise that not a lot happened in this episode really, but at least it didn't happen in a less predictable and occasionally more entertaining way. We learned a little more about Morte's past (although it's seemed pretty obvious for some time anyway), and Kyrie actually did something useful for once, a moment which so surprised me that it actually led to me remembering his name. Oh, and Toppi said 'bear' a lot, which isn't at all annoying. Ahem.

So, the World Destruction Commitee's journey continues, where they will no doubt meet more dull characters to interact with, although from the preview for episode seven it appears that this will be the instalment where all Morte's clothes fall off. Now there's an idea they definitely didn't get from He-Man.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 18

Considering that Kotoko and Naoki got married about half a dozen episodes ago, it seems a little late to be introducing a full-on love triangle to proceedings, but that's exactly what has happened here.

As ever, Kotoko is completely useless at being a nurse, and Naoki is similarly useless at being anything approaching a decent human being. But what's this, a nice character in Itazura na Kiss? This can't be possible! Yes, after eighteen whole episode, we finally have a male character that you might not want to set fire to and then bury alive in an anthill in the form of Keita. Or rather, you won't want to do that to him for the first few minutes of the episode, until he considers kissing Kotoko while she's passed out a little later, before propositioning her and telling her to leave Naoki at the end of the instalment.

Now, I'm all for causing Naoki as much misery as he's piled on others throughout this series, but then again adultery is hardly a recommended step on the to-do list, and anyone who brazenly suggests it regardless of the situation in hand is... well... probably just as much of an asshole as the bad husband who brought about that situation in the first place. Thus, once again in this series we find ourselves without anyone to cheer on as such (aside from Kotoko perhaps), and instead end up hating the entire world that surrounds her, from arrogant son and interfering mother to Kotoko's ever-changing but always irritating friends.

I must be sounding like a broken record now, but can we not have one, just one, balanced and likeable character in this series? I suppose I should be grateful that Keita is at least a step in that direction, but I still can't find it within myself to like him either, leaving Itazura na Kiss to remain in my eyes as a world of shocking male behaviour towards women amongst other gaping flaws that turn the show from simply not very good into actually slightly unpleasant.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 53-68

There really isn't anything new I can say about Chi's Sweet Home that I haven't mentioned already, as it continues to be the single most adorable anime I can ever remember watching. Not only is Chi singularly cute and lovable, she's also so perfectly cat-like that anyone who has a moggy of their own will smile with recognition at each and every episode, whether it involves a trip to the vet, thunder and lightning, or simply having said cat curl up on your lap looking to sleep at the most inappropriate moment possible.

What more can I say than that? At two minutes an episode, coupled with at least half a dozen exclamations of "Awwwww" or "How cute!" from myself per episode, it doesn't get much better than this.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 5

Last episode, I was pretty tough on what I felt was Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu's turn towards mediocrity. Episode five certainly doesn't assuage those feelings entirely by any means, but it has at least softened my feelings towards the show a little again.

It was pretty inevtiable that this was coming, but this latest instalment well and truly sets up the kind of love triangle that we've come to expect from any series like this, as Yuuto bumps into Shiina yet again (third time lucky!), only to find that she's also transferred not only into Yuuto and Haruka's school, but also into the same class. We know all about mysterious transfer students from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, but really, this kind of coincidence is the kind of thing that can only happen in anime.

After quickly endearing herself to the class with her multitude of talents, we soon learn that the chink in her armour is swimming - Unfortunate, with an inter-class swimming competition coming up. With this many coincidences in a row, I'd have been tempted to pack in school and buy some lottery tickets, but instead Yuuto and Haruka offer to help Shiina out by teaching her and improving her swimming technique. Cue a rather predictable swimming pool-based episode, with a little bit of beach episode thrown in for good measure (albeit without the beach - You'll understand if you watch it), complete with leg cramps, trips to the school medical room, fan service and so on.

This is all the kind of thing we've seen too many times before to mention, although to be fair this episode just (and I do mean just, by the skin of its teeth) about pulls it off courtesy of the really rather likeable nature of the main three characters. They all seem like normal guys and girls, and that helps to keep the show grounded while setting up that inevitable love triangle in way that never felt too convoluted. This at least allows me to somewhat ignore the ridiculously transparent build up to Shiina needing to be rescued (we don't need to see her legs while swimming a thousand times to get the picture that she might get a cramp, come on guys), and the "seen it all before" nature of the episode as whole. Yes, we have seen it all before but hey, given the smattering of decent main characters I feel like giving Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu a free pass - This time around, at least, particularly with the promise of some more Haruka as otaku-based shenanigans next episode.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 3

After the last episode of Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo caught a rather serious case of 'stupid plot disease', I wasn't expecting too much from this third instalment of the series - Which, as it turned out, was a good thing, as this episode was pretty much a lame duck in its own right.

After the fall out of the last episode, destroyed building and all, Izumida has the day off work, while a pair of journalists decide they want to dish the dirt on Ryoko. Now, this particular plot point annoyed me straight away - After giving some grand little snippets of dialogue about hunting for only the truth and hating people like Ryoko who use their position and knowledge to their advantage, this very same journalist then decides to go all paparrazi on her by following her around looking for some sleaze to dig up to blackmail her with. Err, hypocritical much? In my mind, pots and kettles were interfacing to discuss their shades of colour en masse.

Of course, Ryoko knows this is going to happen thanks to the journalist's conversation having been overheard, so she calls upon Izumida so that she can use him to set them up with the scandal they want. Again, this makes very little sense from where I'm sitting, and overall it seems like one of the poorer stratgies I can think of.

If all this isn't bad enough, the ending to the episode makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. What the Hell just happened there? Okay, you could argue that this is a series about supernatural investigations and so on but I'm sorry, if you can't be bothered to even adequately build up to or explain the deus ex machina you invoke, then I can't be bothered to make up an excuse for it for you. It was a hugely lazy plot device, and to be quite honest I get the feeling it would have been better to have simply flashed up a caption saying "Haha, we just wasted half an hour of your life" at the end of the episode - That's certainly what it feels like from here.

This episode was extremely poor in short, and I can't even get too excited about the main characters - Ryoko is far too manipulative to be truly likeable, and Izumida appears to be a bit of a dolt. I should probably drop this series, all things considered, but the sadist in me wants to carry on at least a little further to see if there is fun to be poked at this show if nothing else. It's mean of me, I know, but little things please little minds and I get the feeling that this series has just radically shrunk my brain.

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 6

A new episode of Hidamari Sketch x365 is starting to prove to be a wonderful thing each time it appears, and even though I occasionally feel left out from not having watched the original series, its remains a very enjoyable experience.

While further confusion can be had by the episode switching from Summer to November half-way through, this is another very good episode, with the second half in particular featuring numerous great one-liners, while the first part of the episode deals almost exclusively as an insight into Sae's life, which was probably actually somewhat overdue as until now she hasn't had much screen time to herself.

It's difficult to find much to say beyond that, as there isn't really a great deal to discuss about the minutiae on show in any slice-of-life series, but it's all just so utterly likeable that sitting down to watch an episode of this already feels like settling down with some old friends to talk about whatever happens to drop into your head at that moment in time. Probably the only thing that's surprising me about this series (although this particular instalment has nothing on episode four) is the amount of fan service on show, but even that all fits into the storyline well enough for me not to begrudge it.

The overall rule then is very simple - If you like slice of life series, you'll like Hidamari Sketch x365, and that's basically all there is to it.

Monday, 11 August 2008

World Destruction - Episode 5

After a promising first episode, World Destruction has rapidly become the kind of series that makes me want to band together with a bunch of oddballs intent on destroying the world just so that I don't have to watch it any more. Certainly, episode five didn't do anything to change that feeling.

At the start of the episode, our intrepid trio are camping out near a Colosseum where humans are captured and forced to fight beastmen for the amusement of the local populace... and if you can't figure out the plot for the rest of this episode from that snippet of information alone, then you've most likely never watched any animated series before in your life, and have accidentally happened across this 'Blog while looking for the best tent to buy for your forthcoming tour of Outer Mongolia.

Yes, predictably enough Morte and "that guy" (whose name I can't even be bothered to remember any more as he serves no useful purpose to the series... unless being annoying counts) get captured and sent out to fight for the baying public. Equally predictably, they win because Morte is, for all her feminine charms, rather good at kicking ass. Meanwhile, Toppi meets an old friend, who predictably (I've actually copied the word predictably to my clipboard for this entry, as I figured I'd be using it a lot) turns out to have "turned evil" and ends up turning in his former pal. Blah blah, they beat everyone in sight, Toppi teaches his former friend Yappi an important lesson, they escape, series continues, I rock back and forth in a corner comforting myself with the knowledge that there is 'only' eight more episodes of this God-awful series to go.

From watching the past few episodes of World Destruction, I can only assume that there's some kind of hefty reward on offer for creating the year's most predictably predictable anime series of the year. This episode oozed so much cliche throughout its duration, I feel like I need to take a shower and change my clothes before hosing down the rest of the house. Sure, you've been commissioned to make a show to sell a video game, so you've probably already sold your souls to Satan (or should that be Sega?), but come on guys, at least try to pretend you're putting some effort into it...

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 13

After what was a pretty appalling twelfth episode of this series, the thirteenth instalment of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki has at least moved our focus entirely back to the main characters of the show, with Chika getting much of the screen time this time around.

Indeed, the first half of the episode is actually quite enjoyable as we again get to spend a little more time with one particular character, which has often been the hallmark of this series so far. We also get a smattering of quite sweet 'family'-oriented moments too, which is another thing that this show has done well quite frequently.

Given that, the second half of this episodes descent into relative randomness just didn't work as well somehow, between stealing that limelight from Chika and planting a whole bunch of rather generic madcap craziness in its place. That isn't to say that there weren't some amusing moments, as the episode certainly raised a smile here and there, but beyond that it didn't offer up anything that genuinely caught my interest in any discernible fashion.

Thus, Kyouran Kazoku Nikki's ever-changing episode quality strikes again - After reaching a low last time around, this instalment feels far, far better by comparison, but expand that reach out to the series as a whole and this was only a middling story, sat snugly between a couple of extremely good episodes and a number of far more mediocre to poor ones. All of this makes it difficult to find any good reason for sitting down to watch this series, as its positive points simply don't manifest themselves often enough to grab and, more importantly, hold your attention.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 41-52

Oh adorable Chi, how have I managed to go so long without watching watching any of your equally adorable exploits?

I'm not sure how I ended up quite so far behind with watching this series (and with two minutes per episode the order of the day, I can hardly say I haven't had time), but I have indeed fallen behind to the point where I've had to break my watching of this series into two big chunks.

This particular batch of episodes takes in the scary yet ultimately educational appearance of a huge black cat, the dangers of sticky tape, and that oh-so fine balance of giving your cat the affection it needs without over-doing it (something which to this day is some kind of arcane art form for me). All of this takes place with the usual cute and fun tone of this series, with Chi herself being as wonderfully expressive as ever, while leaving you nodding in recognition at the utterly cat-like behaviour often on show here.

Really, it's a little work of genius for putting the life of a kitten into focus in such an entertaining way that rings true for any cat owner, and for that reason alone it's a highly enjoyable series to watch. Sure, some of the jokes seem to be getting repeated now as the series draws on, but with Chi behaving so adorably it's hard to get too het up about it.

With that I must go, as my own cat has decided that he's far more worthy of my attentions than some mere anime 'Blog....

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 18

Episode eighteen of Code Geass R2 was always going to be a big hitter, considering its focus on the second battle of Tokyo as Lelouch tries to wrestle Nunnally from Britannia's control while also defeating a large part of Area 11's forces as part of their attempt to liberate Japan.

I always try not to swear on this 'Blog for the simple reason that it's rarely necessary to make a point, but on this occasion I think it is necessary, because holy shit, this episode was fucking fantastic. I've never been too excitable when it comes to the mecha side of Code Geass, with its ever more insane Knightmare upgrade cycle and the ever faster and harder battles, but even I was blown away at the way this particular episode and its action-centric battle in the skies was handled. It was fast, it was vicious, it was chaotic, and I actually found myself shouting and punching the air as Kallen returned to the fray in spectacular style, so high were my emotions running.

There was so much going on here, and so much of it (more importantly) that I don't want to spoil for those who haven't watched the episode that I won't talk about the actual plot too much, but with so many different elements coming into play it was a real tour de force in numerous ways, even though Lelouch was given little chance to showcase his tactical nous.

When an episode (and indeed my reaction to it) is so adrenaline fuelled, it's hard to adequately express it in words, and there certainly aren't enough superlatives to go around on this particular occasion, but all I can say is that it's been a long time since I've been drawn so utterly into an anime episode of this kind. It was so intense (complete with a horrific ending to the point of being unbelievable) that I almost feel like I need to take a break to recover and regain my senses after twenty-five minutes that has dragged me from the edge of my seat to jumping on my feet to gritting my teeth to watching mouth agape.

I'm almost tempted to make some ridiculous proclamation here, so before I get too carried away allow me to rein myself in and say instead - This was the best episode of Code Geass (accounting for both series so far) ever. Yes, that is me being conservative too.

Saturday, 9 August 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 15

Just as episode fourteen set us up for a more intriguing instalment this time around, so the fifteenth instalment of Wagaya no Oinari-Sama prefers to keep that sense of intrigue going, as the current storyline proves to be far from over.

The focus of this episode is Kuugen's efforts to find Noboru after he was kidnapped last episode, and although you could argue that Kuu was acting out of character for much of the episode it was at least nice to see a different, slightly more mature and intelligent side to the star of the show this time around. Indeed, Kuu demonstrated some smart and quick thinking that would give Code Geass' Lelouch a run for his money on a couple of occasions - Considering how much I enjoy those smart little turn-arounds in fortune in that series, I can't really complain to see them translated into this show.

Once again however, any attempts at action sequences are relatively brief, which is something that has always surprised me about this series - When you have all-powerful Gods and the like slugging it out, you tend to expect something a little more substantial than the odd smashing of a ceiling, although I suppose keeping the abilities of these deities grounded perhaps isn't such a bad thing (even if the preview for the next episode suggests that any such 'weakness' will go out of the window at that juncture).

Overall, this was probably one of the best episodes yet as far as interesting plot and character development goes, demonstrating the mental growth of Kou, Tooru and Noboru while also giving us a somewhat meatier storyline to get our teeth into that has actually held my attention somewhat. Bonus points should also be given for the Oni buying spells and the like from the Internet, for the simple reason that... well... they bought spells from the Internet. In a list of "things I would like", the online purchase of what basically amounts to magic has to be pretty high up the list - Amazon eat your heart out.

In all seriousness though, I actually found myself getting caught up in this episode, which is probably the first time I've really been able to say that about Wagaya no Oinari-Sama. It's still hardly a classic series, but at least it's now headed in a more interesting direction.

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 5

After the last episode of Hidamari Sketch x365 offered up plenty of hilarity, things were a little more sedate in episode five, although they somehow managed to remain pretty much equally entertaining.

One of the big 'tricks' to pull off for any slice-of-life series is taking the mundane and making it fun to watch, and in that sense Hidamari Sketch x365 really does have that ability down to a fine art. This episode dealt with the visit of Sae's sister Chika for the duration of spring break, and despite largely featuring the group eating and chatting away (but for some asides, including a a bath house scene with so much fan service that it actually started to get a bit tough to concentrate on the dialogue) it was still enjoyable in the kind of 'warm and fuzzy feeling' way that this series manages to elicit, making you feel almost as though you're part of the group rather than simply an outsider looking in.

It's that feeling that leaves you reaching the end of an episode feeling refreshed and invigorated, so sweet yet undemanding is this series. While episode five lacked the big laughs that the previous instalment had to offer, it still managed to retain that almost inexplicable feel-good factor that makes me want to keep coming back for more.