Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 25 (Completed)

Of all the series I've watched over the past couple of seasons, I think Itazura na Kiss would have been my least likely candidate for a show I'd hope for a bonus episode of. Yet, after the series proper finished last week, here I am with episode twenty-five to watch. All in all, it's a bit like receiving a card in the post from an old friend, only to find out that it's to tell you that he ran over your dog.

This bonus episode takes us on a holiday organised by Naoki, before Kotoko got pregnant and all that. While she imagines a fantastic two weeks of just the two of them together, he clearly has other ideas, taking her to meet the rest of his family out in the countryside. Given the history of this series it's no real surprise that each and every member of this family is a complete an utter asshole, who I ended up hating within minutes of their introduction. So, for most of the episode we have said family going all out to destroy Kotoko's resolve, with Naoki's grandfather in particular beating her (I'm not kidding) and making her work all hours of the day, before sending her out on an impossible task in order for him to approve her marriage to Naoki. When the episode turned into a pathetic ghost story towards the very end, I was hoping that this meant the grandfather have tied, but sadly he was still alive and kicking.

Episode twenty-four actually found me going easy on this series for a relatively sweet and happy ending, but after that surprise it's almost as though this final instalment was tacked on to remind me that no, Itazura na Kiss is a terrible, hateful series, full of characters that you'll loathe for every single minute they're on-screen until your blood pressure goes through the ceiling. I really can't overstate how much I absolutely, completely and without any doubt hate every single character in this series apart from Kotoko (who has had her moments too). Not just some of the characters... Every. Single. One. If that isn't a huge misjudgement by the writers of this series, I don't know what is, but all I can tell you is that the world they managed to create with Itazura na Kiss is vile and loathsome, and I'm glad to be rid of it with the end of this series.

Shigofumi OVA - Episode 13 (Completed)

Shigofumi was one of those series that ebbed and flowed with its episode quality quite drastically as it progresses, bringing us some fantastic story lines on the one hand but a fair number of average ones on the other. With this in mind, I wasn't too sure what to expect of this one-off OVA, which basically surmounts to the show's thirteenth episode.

Given its "episode thirteen" status, it's no surprise that we carry on from where we left off previously, meaning that the real-world Fumika is back in the land of the living and working her way through school, while Shigofumi Fumika is still doing her thing delivering the letters of the recently deceased. We also return to what must be the worst school in Japan, the home of hostage situations, suicides and bullying during the series proper, where things clearly haven't changed a bit as Fumika is subjected to plenty of bullying of her own. This coincides with some other strange goings on, with students receiving Shigofumi of their own while grafitti is left speaking of the curse of the male student who committed suicide previously. As the episode goes on, so we find out the source of these letters, and so all of the major characters work in their own way to put a stop to it before things get out of hand.

As either a stand-alone episode or as part of the series itself, this OVA almost feels a little odd in that it doesn't particularly take us anywhere. Although I suppose it was nice to see a little of how Fumika is getting on after she was left hanging somewhat at the end of the series proper, beyond her making a friend by the end of the OVA we didn't really learn anything about her, while the Shigofumi Fumika was kept out of the way for most of the instalment. All of this has left me not sure what to make of the episode, aside from simply stating that it was okay.

In a sense this OVA reminded me of both what is good and not so impressive about Shigofumi as a whole - It isn't afraid to take on some pretty dark topics, has an interesting and relatively broad range of main characters and has an apt soundtrack to match its mood (the OST is well worth a look by the way, I kept meaning to review it but never got around to it), yet for all of that it often seems to fail to do anything with those strengths, with the dark mood lost or toned down and the characters left to do little but spout the odd platitude or look somehow troubled. I do get the feeling we might see a second season at some point though, in a way this OVA seemed to open up more doors than it closed.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Real Drive - Episode 14

Argh! It's a recap episode.

After such a long wait for more Real Drive, when we finally get it all that is served up to us is a concatenated and regurgitated version of what we've already seen, dog Internet and all. Well, if those bastards can slack off by making a recap episode, let me briefly recap my thoughts on this series so far - Nice animation, Minamo is oddly cute in her own way, the soundtrack is largely excellent, but the storylines haven't lived up to my expectations of what this series could provide generally speaking.

While the second half of this episode isn't actually recap material, the animators instead get to take the week off by knocking together some quick animation of Minamo going for a diving (in the sea, not the Metal) lesson, and filling up the rest of the time with stock video footage of fish and coral reefs. If this were Minamo's homework (as is the premise for the recap) it would come back marked "See me after class". From the brief preview for the next episode, it looks like they don't have a clue what's going on with episode fifteen either...

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 20

You know you're in trouble when even the characters in your anime series say "Oh God, not another hot springs episode!", and half of them refuse to turn out for said trip... Yes, that's right, in what I can only assume is an act of desperation Wagaya no Oinari-sama features its second hot springs episode of the series.

This time around, only Noboru and Kuu make the trip to said hot springs, and with Kuu on a TV detective series watching spree and thus determined to take part in some kind of murder mystery during the break, what we're left with is basically an episode of Telepathy Shoujo Ran without the telepathy (although come to think of it that could probably describe Telepathy Shoujo Ran half the time too).

While the episode tries to be a knowing spoof of detective series it ends up being a very poor, unfunny waste of time - Filler at its worst, you could say. Compare it to Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's masterful parody of the detective series genre, and it just looks all the poorer, and I can't even think of anything positive to mention to even attempt to add some balance to my thoughts, it really was that bad. If only Kuu had won that Korean barbeque after all...

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 12 (Completed)

Despite its almost half-hearted attempt to build up some love rivalry for Haruka in this series, in reality we knew exactly where this series was headed from a couple of episodes in, making this twelfth and final instalment all but a formality.

While this probably wasn't a good episode for me to watch with just a few weeks to go until my own birthday, as it's given me way too many outlandish ideas (I've already put in my order for a cake the size of Haruka's), it was just about passable as a device to finish the series, taking us through the usual "Oh ho, my present is bigger than yours" posturing from rich boys while Yuuto's simple but uniquely personal gift was the one that captured Haruka's heart. From there, the only real question was whether the script writers were actually going to let Haruka and Yuuto kiss at the end of it all (after Yuuto remembering that he was the little boy who gave Haruka that first issue of Innocent Smile, of course), but after a dollop of fan service their big moment was of course denied with a brief dose of crazed stupidity.

Taking each episode on its own merit, "seen it all before" could be a label applied to every single one - This series didn't so much break the mould as fill it with jelly over and over again until you needed your stomach pumped. I have to be fair in saying that watching Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu has been more fun than having your stomach pumped (watch out for that quote on the DVD release!), and when it delved into otaku culture in its Akihibara-focused episodes it was really rather good, but beyond that it largely floated merrily in its own sea of medicority, never looking likely to either swim to the shore of greatness or sink into the dark depths of dulless. If I had to sum up the series in a single word then? Average.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 21

That's right, it's time for yet more Allison to Lillia, which I currently seem to be well and truly overdosing on - The things I do for you guys and girls...

Anyway, last episode Treize stumbled across some dynamite, and thus hatched a cunning plan - To blow up the palace's kitchen to create a diversion. In Allison to Lillia terms this is actually a pretty good plan, although for some reason Treize seems to think that putting dynamite in the kitchen is okay "because it's made of brick". Ahh yes, brickwork, infamous for being entirely explosion-proof...

Of course, strapping near-man that he is, Treize undertakes this dangerous task for himself. Wait, what am I saying? Of course he doesn't, he leaves Lillia to plant and ignite the dynamite, while he rather conveniently finds that the armed and highly trained guards that have kidnapped everyone in the place have left the front door open. Unfortunately for him, they close it before he can get inside, causing him (with Lillia now tagging along) to have to break in via his own bedroom instead. From here, he radios for help, but can only get the phrase "Royal family's winter palace" and "armed" out before the transmission is cut, baffling the recipient. What an earth could "armed" mean? Hmm, it can't be anything bad, back to the tea and custard creams!

Meanwhile, Fiona finally realises who the woman holding her hostage is, at which point possibly the best line ever in anime is revealed. I'm not sure if it's a translation error, but Claire (the leader of the gang) recalls how she was there on that fateful day when her father Owen was "cornered to death" by Fiona and company. Cornered to death? Is that what it said on the death certificate? It's so beautifully appropriate, yet so completely hilarious... Anyhow, in return for this revelation, Fiona tells the whole story about how she isn't Princess Francesca, and so the kidnappers change their plan to take Fiona away so that they can reveal this secret and cause chaos within the royal family.

The episode ends with Treize getting shot, although both the animation and audio clearly show that somehow the bullet hits his own gun which he's carrying rather than anywhere on this person. Is such a thing even possible? Come now, this is Allison to Lillia we're talking about. Stay tuned for yet more improbably and implausible action very soon!

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 21

After bringing us such a good twentieth episode of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, I'd almost forgotten how hit and miss this series has been, which left me hoping for more of the same this time around. Boy was I disappointed.

A sunny late September weekend probably isn't the best time to watch a Christmas-themed episode of any anime, but this is particularly the case when that episode is, quite frankly, rubbish. The story surrounding the grand-daughter of Santa, who decides that she hates Christmas and sets herself up as a kind of anti-Santa, before being caught in a trap of Kyouka in the hope of getting presents and.... Oh, I can't even be bothered with the rest of the synopsis, so let's just say it was all a bit cliched and dull to the point of becoming irritating.

To be fair, this episode wasn't entirely devoid of humour, as it gave us Ouka dressed as a reindeer, Santa being shot down by an RPG and a guard refusing to shoot said Santa as it'll "make him a naughty boy", but that's just about where the laughs ended, leaving us back at the mercy of this wretched episode. If the last episode of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki was a minor masterpiece, then this particular offering is a minor travesty.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 25 (Completed)

Well, I can only breathe a sigh of relief that my synopsis for episode twenty-four of Code Geass R2 labelled the possibility of an R3 as "surely not?", as you really couldn't have asked for a more final ending to this series. Code Geass R2 has all but delighted in showing us that Sunrise has no qualms with killing off major characters, but even by those standards the ending to this series was a mightily brave one.

With Nunnally's sight returned, but her continued unwillingness to hand over the 'key' for Damocles (I get a chuckle out of the idea it has an ignition somewhere), Lelouch is faced with the prospect of using Geass on his own sister. This perhaps goes to show how much Lelouch has changed (I hesitate to say matured) since the beginning of Code Geass - That earlier Lelouch would never have dreamed of using Geass, but the Lelouch we see here hardly hesitates before doing so. Thus, despite the massive battles going on outside (in particular between Kallen and Suzaku), Lelouch wins the day, and the ownership of the free world.

From here, all that is left is to explain the "Zero Requiem" - I'd somewhat guessed that it would be a way of turning things around along these lines, but I wasn't expecting quite such a drastic course of action. In short, Lelouch allows the hatred of the entire world to pile upon him, and once he holds all that hatred... He allows himself to be killed, by 'Zero' (aka Suzaku, who feigned his own death to prepare for this moment) no less, meaning that all that hatred can dissipate and a new era of peace and reconciliation can begin. Like I say, no room for Code Geass R3 here. It's hard to really put how this ending struck me into words, as I was actually surprised how sad and almost disappointed I was to see Lelouch die - I was constantly expecting him to have one last cunning trick up his sleeve, but nothing... Here was a man truly willing to die for his convictions, whether you agree with them all not.

As a series, Code Geass R2 was always going to suffer by association to its older brother, which was not far short of a revelation upon its original broadcast. While R2 did occasionally managed to scale the dizzy heights of its predecessor with some fantastic episodes and set pieces, it largely struggled to live up to expectations. In part, I blame this on the wider scope of R2 - Code Geass thrived on its almost claustrophopic air, with a small band of terrorists fighting a massive empire over a single territory every loss and setback was more keenly felt, and every victory seemed more massive. This time around, the scale of conflict was global and with many more sides involved, which led to far more complex politics while the claustrophobic air was gone as there was always some place to run or hide, and the numbers game no longer matter thanks to a handful of uber-strong Knightmares ruling the boost in each and every major battle. Add to that the storylines surrounding the origins of Geass (which were needed, but didn't really do a lot for me), and you have yourself a series that occasionally got tangled up in its own self-importance.

This isn't to say that Code Geass R2 is a poor series - Anything but. The twists and turns that made Code Geass what it was largely remained, and while sometimes contrived at others the old genius was still there, and on many an occasion an episode finished with my mouth agape or a big grin on my face from what I'd just seen. It was also hard not to welcome a return of the likes of C.C. and Kallen, great characters (depite the neuroses of the latter) second to only Lelouch himself, who was largely masterful in both his plots and his ability to loathe both himself and others.

In short, I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy almost every minute of Code Geass R2 - I just didn't enjoy it quite as much as the first series. In the grand scheme of things though, that's a bit like saying you didn't enjoy winning a lottery jackpot because you had a sore throat... It maybe takes the sheen off things a little, but it doesn't make it any less brilliant.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 19

There's a God of poverty in town, siphoning luck away from its residents, and it must be stopped! Actually, if we're being a little more realistic, we can probably say that there's a God of filler on the loose, who needs to be stopped before he drags too many episode of Wagaya no Oinari-sama into its trap.

Episode nineteen of the series manages to bring us a Halloween themed instalment entirely too early, but this time of costumes and disguises acts as a perfect cover story for our otherwise relatively harmless God. Still, Ebisu is determined to have him caught, turning the rest of the episode into a rather slapstick chase around town to catch said poverty God and win the big (or not so big, as it turns out) cash prize.

There isn't a great deal to discuss apart from this - We do get a few minutes of the wonderful Sakura, which is always welcome (and I suppose the short skirt helped), but to be frank it wasn't enough to save this episode from being stamped with a big, fat label stating "run-of-the-mill". Overall, this proved to be a distinctly unspectacular and rather pointless affair which leaves me with little to recommend it - It wasn't even particularly fun in the grand scheme of things compared to some of the other more filler-esque episodes provided by this series, which is a bit of a disappointment overall.

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora - Episode 6

It's been quite a while since I last watched an episode of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto, and to be quite honest the sixth instalment of the series has left me arguing with myself about its quality.

Let's get one thing out of the way first and foremost - The animation quality of this episode was absolutely abysmal. There's no way to dress it up; while this series has often been an odd mix of breath-taking backdrops and not so stunning foregrounds, the character animation of this episode reached a new low, which left me suspecting that the episode has been completed by a bunch of six year-olds. Bad animation does crop up in anime from time to time, but on this occasion it was downright distracting.

Aside from that, this was a really hit and miss episode. As ever, the pace of this series has proved to be very sedated and relaxed, and to be honest I really rather like it for that, and similarly I've also been enamoured by the normal school friendship vibes that the show gives off despite its magic-related connotations, which makes for a very realistic series away from all the spells and such. While this focus of the series got some nice scenes this time around featuring all of the major trainee mages in some shape or form, the episode as a whole was a bit of a dead loss. While its start was fair enough, with Sora still suffering a little mentally from the problems arising from her use of revival magic last time around, the episode soon moved on to the story of a little girl who was looking for help from some mages to let her have a baby, which was a little disturbing in its own right but ended up being hugely uneventful and pointless to leave the episode feeling like filler above all else.

While this series certainly does certain things rather well, and is nothing if not relaxing after a stressful day or the like, this particular episode also well and truly highlighted everything that is wrong with the series. I really can't stress enough how bad the animation was here, and when mixed with a pretty disappointing story line there was basically nothing to recommend it whatsoever come the end of the episode.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 22

After complaining all series long about Nabari no Ou's constant slipping from more eventful episodes into a far more sedate pace, I honestly thought that episode twenty-two was going to suffer a similar fate judging by the early part of this instalment - Even though virtually all of the main characters are now in open revolt of some kind against Kairoushuu, there just didn't seem to be much going on beyond yet more building of the relationship between Yoite and Miharu, which to be honest has already been built as far as it can really go.

Thankfully, things do start to progress more as we move through the episode - We finally get to catch up with what Thobari has been up to, Raikou turns his moment of madness into a full-on decision to rebel against Kairoushuu after meeting Oda, and Yukimi finally takes things into his own hands by deciding to recapture Yoite and Miharu, an action that you could argue puts us back where we were a couple of episodes ago, although of course the alliegiances on the battlefield have changed rather a lot since then.

As I'm sure I've already mentioned, one thing that has impressed me about this series is the fluidity of its characters and their beliefs - We aren't just faced with the same old good versus evil battle, we're instead left with two very different interpretations and visions of a better future, coupled with players in this conflict that have no difficulty in realigning their alliegance as the situation around them changes. In short, it's all really a rather human way to react to things, and it makes things feel that bit more realistic than the series might otherwise be.

While this episode gave us some action and those aforementioned shifts in allegiance, it still doesn't feel like a massive amount has gone on somehow, and certainly not as much as you might expect for a whole episode of an issue of this type, which once again reinforces my feelings that thirteen episodes would have been enough for this series. Still, I do at least remain keen to see things through to the end to find out how it all transpires, so while I can't say that Nabari no Ou has me hooked as it did in some of those early episodes, it is still fighting (and just about winning by the skin of its teeth) to keep my interest.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 20

After the last episode of Allison to Lillia, I was all but ready to get Treize to just get on with it and tell Lillia he's royalty, but I have to admit that by the end of this episode I'm all but down on my knees pleading for him to get this particular plot point out of the way - His parents have been kidnapped and held at gunpoint, he's on his way to rescue them, yet he's still spouting nonsense to stop Lillia finding out the truth for no particular reason.

After being held at gunpoint last time around, we get to find out just what the woman who has taken Fiona hostage wants - Ikstova's secret treasure in short, even though she doesn't have a clue what the treasure actually is. She's going to be pretty annoyed if it's an Allison to Lillia DVD box set, I can tell you, although considering she is still doing a good job of looking like the angriest woman in the world, I'm not sure she'd actually be able to get any more pissed off. Fiona also makes an attempt to bluff to the woman regarding what the treasure is, but quite frankly she's rubbish at it. "Okay, you got me, I'll tell you what the treasure is! It's actually.... generosity... and, err.... pigeons. Yes, that's it! Really big... pigeons."

In case anyone hadn't guessed last episode, we also get a big fat hint dropped that the woman in question is the daughter of the guy who got blown off a rooftop by Allison's plane earlier in the series, a particular item of implausible hilarity I really didn't need to be reminded of. This reminder is brought to us by Allison meeting the guard (now chief of police) Warren in a cafe, whereupon we're offered the inevitable flashback sequence, as Warren reminisces. "I can still remember the happenings of that day vividly... I've never seen anything so stupid in my life" he tells Allison. Well, I made the second bit up, but only because I don't think he was around to see the regenerating knife and plane blowing man off building shenanigans at that point in the episode.

Meanwhile, one of the royal bodyguards manages to escape and tell Treize whats going on, so he sets off with Lillia down a secret tunnel (these royal families and their secret tunnels, eh?) with no plan or equipment but for some vague notion that he needs to save his parents. The head of police is in a cafe enjoying a coffee you idiot, go and find him! Aside from a mine cart ride (although this isn't a mine, it's a tunnel, so I'm not too sure what it's doing there) absolutely nothing happens here at all, until the discovery of some dynamite at the end of the episode. I can already see the inevitable climax to this story arc where Treize saves his family by blowing them to smithereens...

To be honest, this was rather a slow episode, with all of its major points being dragged out rather too long. Besides which, where's Wil gone? Once again, he seems to have vanished until the very end when he's no longer required, which I suppose may well be the best place for him. Still, episode twenty-one promises a really big explosion if nothing else, which gives us something to look forward to.

Chocolate Underground - Episode 10

Chocolate Underground continues, and for a while there I was thinking that this episode was going to consist almost entirely of long, vacant staring at a bread roll.

Thankfully, it did deviate from that in the end, seeding the beginnings of a revolution against the Good For You party from numerous angles, in that good old heart-warming way series like this love where the children are the ones to see and speak about when the adults turn and look away. We also find out just why Frankie tipped off the Chocolate Police about Smudger and Huntly's antics, which was perhaps inevitably to do with his brother who is currently under arrest for going against the government.

Actually, I thought those protest scenes actually spoilt one of the more pertinent points that I felt the series carried up until now, that it was apathy towards the government and its intervention in people's private lives that caused all of this mess in the first place - Beating down demonstrations actually twists that story somewhat, and I would argue to the detriment of the point being made.

Anyway, after those thirty seconds of sheer bread roll misery this wasn't too bad an episode, although yet again I have to bemoan how the material being covered here was worthy of far more than the few brief minutes it ends up being squeezed into, which continues to do the underlying story of Chocolate Underground an immense disservice.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 19

It's time for the beginning of a new Allison to Lillia story arc, and with the New Year approaching Treize has invited both Allison and Lillia to Ikstova to celebrate, while also hoping to use the opportunity to reveal the truth about his identity to Lillia. For goodness sake man, just tell her already!

Oddly for a series that has prided itself on Allison stealing planes for much of its duration, Allison and Lillia take the bus to Ikstova this time around, becoming delayed when the road is blocked at one point due to an avalanche. Luckily it appears that a travelling shovel salesman was on the bus, as there were plenty of spades to go around to help clear the snow. We were actually fed a false hope around this point that the episode would become some hysterical attempt to drum up an Abominable Snowman story, but sadly even Allison to Lillia's writers have too much savvy to go down that particular route.

Instead, we get to see Wil/Travas hard at work even on a day off, where Axe (what an awesome girl's name, you wouldn't mess with her) reports that someone is spending vast amounts of money buying expensive colour film. Whatever are they doing with it? Wil realises that they could be making a below-par anime series called Allison to Lillia - They must be stopped at once! Okay, he doesn't realise that (there's some nonsense about revenge going on instead), but we later hear that Fiona and Benedict have hired some innovative colour film-makers to record their New Year celebrations. Coincidence? Of course not.

So, we see the film crew doing their thing, with the female head of the crew insisting that everybody call her leader, I can only assume so that she can look unfeasibly angry for the entire duration of the episode. Why she's spent so much on film I have no idea, as her cunning plot for revenge doesn't really involve it at all, as she pulls a gun on the New Year revellers (Fiona included) at the stroke of midnight, shooting the ceiling to really drive the point home, or to waste a bullet depending on which way you look at it.

So, that's where we're left at the end of this episode, which was really all about the build-up to what happens next. Once again, Wil manages to be entirely too late to actually do anything useful to stop any cunning plots, which increasingly makes him look like Inspector Gadget minus the gadgets than any kind of useful secret agent, while Treize singularly fails to say "Hey, I'm a prince, I'm really rich, can we go to bed now?" to Lillia - Why do I get the feeling that particular issue is going to get dragged out to the final episodes of the Lillia half of the series? Regardless, I'm now looking forward to seeing what kind of ridiculous plan the world's angriest woman has in store next episode. I just hope it doesn't involve Bigfoot...

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 11

Ryoko's Supernatural Case File continues along its recent path concerning Monami in episode eleven, which can only really be good news as it's been by far the strongest storyline of this series so far by some distance, even if it did go off the boil rather last time around.

Episode eleven at least manages to pull us back on track straight away, as Monami escapes and makes her way to Izumida's place, albeit a fair bit older than when we last saw her. In the meantime, we start to get a feel for the issues between JACES and the NPP, and Ryoko and Ruriko in the process, a bitter rivaly that goes back a couple of generations, although in that time only some of the personnel have changed...

So, from here we have some insider spying, cloning, zombification, and a rather cute Minamo who is infatuated with Izumida and will do anything to be with him - A heady cocktail that looks set to be a recipe for disaster as Ryoko continues to investigate the situation.

As I just mentioned, episode ten mis-stepped somewhat after a couple of good instalments, but thankfully episode eleven really has brought things back together rather more tightly for this arc which I assume is going to continue through to the end of the series. It isn't the most enthralling series of this ilk you'll ever see, but with this particular story arc it does at least offer some intriguing and reasonably entertaining fare, which is starting to make up for those weak episodes earlier on in the series to pull together a half-decent show by its close.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 18

Just how many episode of Allison to Lilliacan one man take over a short period of time? Well, two episodes in two days hasn't killed me, so that's a start at least.

After rather unfortunately landing their sea plan full of orphans on some rocks at the end of last episode, it's literally sink or swim for all involved at the start of this episode, which soon translates into swim for everyone apart from Treize, who doesn't know how to. Of course, if there's one thing Allison to Lilliahas taught us it's that life is precious for all of the main characters, and so Lillia decides to simply throw Treize in the water and let him fend for himself, before acting rather surprised when he starts to drown. By the way, why didn't the seaplane have any life jackets? It's a seaplane, these kind of things would come in handy.

Anyway, Lillia rescues Treize after almost killing him, then spends so long prevaricating over giving him CPR that by rights he shouldn't have ended up brain damaged if not dead anyhow, but amazingly it all ends up okay in the end, and the rescue planes soon land to provide tables and chairs to the orphans so they can have a beach picnic. I'd have loved to be a fly on the wall at that emergency briefing; "Right lads, we've got dozens of orphans to go and save from a sinking plane, so make sure the aircraft are loaded with all the normal essential gear for such a rescue. Frank, go get the wooden tables and chairs, and Benny, you'd better find our best cutlery and china. Bill, you're in charge of condiments this time, don't let those children down!".

Before the orphans are packed up and sent on their way, we're dealt an entirely pointless bit of exposition when we find out that the young lad Carlo isn't actually a young lad at all, but a girl named Carla. I can understand wanting to hide this from the other orphans to get along in life, but why hide it from Lillia too? Oops sorry, I forgot, this is Allison to Lillia and therefore the plot is legally bound to make no sense whatsoever.

Speaking of nonsense, after Lillia and Treize get returned to their hotel, the latter gets invited out to a dark secluded spot by a strange man. Oh, it's Wil/Travas, never mind. Anyway, what Wil wants to tell Treize is that the real mastermind of the plot to kill the orphans is actually the seemingly kind man who was in charge of the orphanage, who has apparently been engaged in human trafficking for profit for many years now. While this is fine in and of itself, it adds a whole new level of insanity to the plot to down the plane full of orphans - These weren't just defenceless orphans who nobody would miss, these were this guys cash cow, why would he want to kill them all? Given that rather odd way of handling your valuable assets, I can only imagine that (despite Wil hinting that he'd been killed) he managed to escape and find himself a job on Wall Street.

After all that has gone on, Treize decides to cut his holiday with Lillia short and make his way home alone. At this point, I assumed that this was building towards a whole new arc where Treize goes off on some adventure of his own, but no, it appears that he's abandoned a holiday with the girl of his dreams to go and buy a book on how to swim. That's right, the morning after Lillia hints to him that she'd rather like to share a room with him, he leaves her to buy a swimming book. Even Wil wasn't this daft in the Allison arc - Oh wait, he was, wasn't he?

Speaking of Wil, he's clearly learned well from Allison's father, as we learn that he was quite happy to let the plane full of orphans be crashed, killing them all, and it was only the prescence of Lillia on the plane that forced him to change his plans. What a lovely guy.

So, that's another arc over, and judging by the ever greater number of plot holes appearing in each episode, I'll be looking forward to picking up an official Allison to Lillia colander as a Christmas gift for someone in a couple of months.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

World Destruction - Episode 12

Episode eleven of World Destruction left us with a cliff-hanger... Quite literally. Ho-ho. Sorry, I had to get that one out of my system. Anyway, with the Destruct Code stolen and Morte and company left in the winter continent, what next for our brave trio?

Quite simply, they get caught in another rather clichéd plot device. Sorry, I mean... they get caught in (cue booming voice) the Labyrinth of Memories. Said labyrinth takes Morte, Kirie and Toppi into their past, and a maze that they may never escape out of unless they can break out of that particular cycle - Which leaves me biting my tongue to make any jokes comparing watching World Destruction to being stuck in a labyrinth.

Meanwhile, Dr. Alligator or whatever his name is keeps on trying to reveal the secrets of the Destruct Code, and seems to be on to something that will doubtless be revealed next week, while the head of the World Salvation Committee heads after Morte under the false premise that she still holds the Destruct Code. All that aside, Lia and Naja seem to have taken a week off at this pivotal moment, as they don't appear in this episode at all oddly enough, at a time when it seemed as though the series was building up a grand entrance for them.

I can't really hide from the fact that this is a pretty average, run-of-the-mill anime, and thus this episode is entirely in keeping with that. It doesn't really tell us anything that we haven't figured out already about any of the main characters (apart from Toppi being rubbish at chatting up female bears perhaps), and brushed dangerously close to filler territory at times considering it's episode twelve of thirteen. They don't seem to have left themselves much room to play with to end the series on a high, but I suppose we'll just have to wait and see if World Destruction can perhaps redeem itself with a lasp gasp sensation. I wouldn't want to put money on it though.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 24

Itazurs na Kiss has been a long and winding road to watch, and unfortunately most of that road has been on a steep downward incline, filling me with more hate and bile then I imagined possible from any anime series.

Given those twenty-three episodes of anguish, it's actually quite amazing that this series has finally, finally managed to get it right with the very last episode of the main story (with episode twenty-five looking like some kind of bonus episode - Gee, thanks guys!) - All of the main characters behaved like normal, decent human beings, made largely the right decisions or at least wrong decisions that felt like the sort of natural thing a lot of people would do, and above all it had a really rather adorably happy ending. Despite my concerns that Naoki was abducted by aliens a few episodes ago and replaced with a more consciencious model, it was all rather sweet and actually left me smiling rather than frowning (and even got a laugh out of me at one point, how's that for progress), which was surely the whole point of this series in the first place?

That aside, you can't help but wonder if this episode thought it was an instalment of Holby City, as it seemed to focus almost entirely upon medical matters between Kotoko's pregnancy and a bit of a scare regarding that, and Matsumoto being rushed in for emergency surgery. Still, it was all quite well done and threw up dilemmas that didn't involve Naoki being a miserable git, so that's fine by me.

Relatively good though this episode was, it still isn't enough for me to forgive the tone and generally icky feeling that everything that went before gave me, but seeing as there's still one more episode to go I suppose I'll leave my final complaints until that airs and I can finally say, with more than a little sense of relief, that Itazura na Kiss is over.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 17

After quite a while with no Allison to Lillia to amuse myself, I'm suddenly drowning in a veritable sea of episodes of this series, which means that we don't have to wait too long to find out the answer to that most baffling of questions from the last instalment - Why the Hell would you want to deliberately crash a plane full or orphans? I can imagine that even Osama bin Laden was left scratching his head over that, huge fan of Allison to Lillia that he is.

Thankfully, episode seventeen answers this question emphatically, but perhaps unsurprisingly for this series it makes basically no logical sense whatsoever. It appears that the leaders of the region in question are fed up of the terrible conditions of squalour and starvation, and decide that these problems need to be brought to the world loud and clear. Normally, this would involve some kind of telethon featuring famous people running marathons or dressing in stupid outfits and having slime poured on them, but it appears that Turkasia's version of this is to shoot down a plane full of orphans, which of course will send the world into a frenzy of despair and bring about massive changes to the region. Now there's something you won't hear from one of the US Presidential candidates as a plan for a bright new future.

There is of course a rather small adjustment that could have been made to this 'cunning' plan - Seeing as these kids are orphans, and thus have no parents to note their loss, why do they even need to kill anybody at all? Sink an empty plane, say it was full of orphans, et voila! Sympathy and money by the barrel on your doorstep, and not a single annoying street urchin side character done away with. Of course, this might have made for a slightly less entertaining episode of Allison to Lillia, but... actually, then again, maybe not.

Anyhow, back to the plot, we see Treize manage to take down a fighter plane with the wing of the seaplane, which would normally be the kind of thing to trigger a quick downing of the aircraft by the remaining fighters before anything was done. But no, instead the Captain of these fighters sees an ideal opening to discuss his plans for the future, Summer holiday destinations and the weekend's football with Lillia and Treize, which just so happens to give Allison enough time to turn up and turn the tables on them. Polite as can be, Allison shoots down the various remaining fighters, while kindly reminding them that this may be a good opportunity to eject from the crashing aircraft. Really, I'm not sure they needed to be reminded...

With the evil, misguided pilots out of the way (although Treize really seemed to be warming to their ideas - I was expecting him to ask for a subscription to Rather Stupid Terrorist Idea Magazine at any moment), all that is left is for Treize to land the plane on the water. Which he does. On some bedrocks - Good job that man. While all of this is going on, Lillia remains too dumb to notice that Allison is calling Treize 'Prince', while he jabbers on about his royal bloodline - Then again, she hasn't noticed that Wil/Travas is her father yet, and it took Allison about half a dozen episodes to notice her father before that, so I suppose she isn't the most buoyant seaplane in the fleet.

So, join us next episode, where all the orphans that we've spent the last two episodes saving drown horribly because Treize can't land a plane and Allison is happy to just fly around and watch. Marvellous, I can't wait!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 20

Did I just watch an episode of the wrong series? I thought I was watching Kyouran Kazoku Nikki's twentieth instalment, but that can't have been it I just saw... can it?

Okay, so I'm over-egging this particular pudding - It was very much Kyouran Kazoku Nikki I just watched, and this isn't the first time that the series has delved into some deeper and darker territory, but after so many daft and frankly not particularly entertaining storylines mixed with some slightly better but rather generic offerings, I really wasn't particularly expecting the turn towards psychological horror that this episode became.

The focus of this episode is entirely upon Chika (who is long overdue some more exposure regarding her back story really), blending what appears to be an innocuous day out with some of her school friends with some memories from her childhood, in particular surrounding a weird pet monster she called 'Vitamin C' and her sister, who didn't treat her like all of the others in her family treated their younger siblings.

While this all sounds straightforward enough, and indeed seems to be so early in the episode, the second half of this instalment absolutely delights in turning the story on its head - Not just once, but several times. You could perhaps argue that the way the story was spun was a little contrived, but in a rather detached (and admittedly less compelling) way it evoked thoughts of The Sixth Sense in me with its revelations. All of this is without answering perhaps the deepest psychological question (and scar upon Chika's personality), regarding whether her older sister didn't abuse her like others in her family were abused because she really was plotting something as Chika imagined, or whether there was an actual real bond of sisterly love that transcended the disturbing status quo of that particular family.

In short, this episode was an absolute breath of fresh air after so many of the episodes that have come before it, and harks back to one or two of this series' early episodes where I held such high hopes about its ability to break the mould. This instalment shows what the script writers can do when they put their mind to it, eschewing madcap comedy almost entirely to deliver something altogether darker and more potent, the kind of thing that leaves you sitting there for a good half hour mulling over what you've just watched and whether it all meant what you thought it meant at the time of viewing. It would be far too strong to call this episode genius, but particularly in the wider view of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki as an entire entity, it was a little gem, a flash of brilliance in the otherwise dull rice bowl of mediocrity. If this show had been a thirteen episode series of episodes like this, we might well all have been raving about it.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 11

We're already at the penultimate instalment of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, so of course it's time to ramp things up for the probable "Awww, love is great" ending which must surely be the only proper way to bring this series to the close.

This final story arc surrounds Haruka's birthday, with Yuuto soon hitting on a present idea after talking about anime with Haruka, although it seems that doing so has become a big hush-hush thing again - Last week the pair's school held a cosplay cafe, but it appears that this week they all hate anime and anyone who likes it again. I know, it makes no sense to me either.

Anyway, Haruka's Dad being who he is, he's gone and bought an equatorial entire island to use as the location for her birthday party (whatever happened to using McDonalds?), bringing us to plot hole number two - We're told he bought an uninhabited island on a whim, yet it has an airport and huge palacial building? Get this guy to build the 2012 London Olympic village, quick!

Naturally, this grand location and a rather odious guest who has designs of his own for Haruka all gives Yuuto a bit of an inferiority complex regarding his choice of present, which really makes it blindingly obvious which way this whole storyline is leading into the final episode. Speaking of the obvious, we also get a predictable Haruka almost drowning and subsequent Yuuto/Haruka CPR moment, and plenty of swimsuit fan service from every quarter as you might expect.

For all its faults this was a relatively fun episode to watch, with Haruka seemingly acting cuter by the week, and Yuuto continuing to be a genuinely nice guy who end up honestly rooting for to get his girl - What a contrast to Itazura na Kiss this series is in this particular regard. Once again, no new moulds have been broken as the series has followed the status quo from beginning to end, but it's remained watchable throughout to keep itself ticking along as a rather sweet little show.

Monday, 22 September 2008

School Rumble San Gakki - Episode 26 (Completed)

So, this is it, the end of School Rumble, a series that managed to keep me amused (at times majestically) throughout its two seasons, which makes me more than a little sad to see its end cut from a full season down to just this two-episode OVA. What makes me even more sad is that the first of those two episodes was a complete abortion, devoid of humour or anything worth discussing, and coupled with below-par animation to complete ruin what little was left of the experience.

Thankfully, this final episode of San Gakki was at least an improvement, although compared to the instalment that went before that isn't saying much. While the beauty of School Rumble for me was always the intertwining and interleaving of romantic matters with straight-out scenes and episodes played for laughs, this closing episode became a strangely serious affair, once again devoid of much real humour (although it did manage one decent gag towards the end) and instead devoting itself to the Harima, Karasuma and Tenma love triangle. Given that focus, it's rather odd that they still decided to leaves things hanging right at the end of the episode (can't we have more anime that ends things definitively... please?!), although not as odd as the outright depressing outlook of this finale - Eri left alone and bitter? Karasuma with a debilitating mental illness? Harima back to being an outcast ruffian? This is more like Eastenders than School Rumble, and to be honest I didn't like it all that much.

It's probably saying something that the most entertaining part of this last ever episode was the end credits, which took us back over highlights of the series as a whole - Compared to this relatively bleak ending, how fresh, joyous, fun and humourous it all seemed... Why oh why did that School Rumble that we all remember and love desert us on its death bed? I'm not sure I'll ever quite be able to figure that one out, but for now I'll try not to think about it and remember what School Rumble was, not the badly-animated downer that is San Gakki.

Special A - Episode 24 (Completed)

It may not always have held much of a place in my heart, but as Special A has gone on so it has wormed its way into my affections, managing to be fun and yet still rather cute and lovable when it wants to be. However, episode twenty-three left us with Kei flying off to London on a jet, leaving Hikari crying out for him in tears from the tarmac, so surely there's no chance of a happy ending?

Don't be daft, this is Special A, and so of course we're treated to a rather ridiculous yet rousing finale involving the rest of the class hitching a helicopter ride to London, with some of the other major characters also in tow to complete the scenario. Thus, we're reminded of the close bonds between all of the major characters, the relationships that have blossomed during the series, and of course Hikari and Kei finally get together. Well, sort of, if living as constant rivals constitutes 'getting together'. They did kiss though, so we got our big "Awwwww" moment to complete the series if nothing else.

If I'm honest, this ending was actually rather predictable, and didn't go all in out in giving us 'closure' to the Hikari and Kei situation, although on the plus side I did get a kick out of seeing London anime-style (which I was really impressed by visually), and not a stupid attempt at a British accent in sight! Overall then, a passable way to close the series that was fun without being funny and sweet without actually making me blub like a girl - A thought that pretty much sums up Special A as a whole really. While it has won me over during its twenty-four episodes, mainly on account of Hikari's personality if I'm quite honest, I can't pretend that it was anything much other than a pretty average series in the grand scheme of things. Good to watch while it lasted, and a decent way to pass the time, but not the kind of thing you'll be digging out to watch again and again.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 12

After being kidnapped by Shimotsuki's bodyguards last time around, the hunt is on to find Ran before something terrible becomes of her. Of course, being telepathic at a time like this is always handy, as Ran can simply tell Midori where she is and give her directions like some kind of astral TomTom.

So, for a fair bit of the episode we see Rui, Rin and Midori chasing through floods and rain to get to Ran, while Ran herself has plenty to contend with of her own, as she discovers that the reclusive Shimotsuki is in fact part of the Three Eyes clan, and has a handy line in hypnosis that would make HypnoToad jealous (although if I'm frank it also makes him look a bit stupid when he uses it).

The searching trio turn up just in time, and Rin somehow manages to overpower about a dozen bodyguards single-handedly - Never mind telepathy, I can see a spin-off series emerging here in Incredible Hulk Rin. As Rin handles the guards, so Midori and Ran follow Shimotsuki, who has hypnotised and taken Reika hostage under some crazed assertion that she is in fact his dead daughter. Which she is. Except she isn't. Yet she still holds their mysterious powers. My head hurts now.

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself here - After catching up with the old man, Midori and Ran get subjected to the whole sob story of how the Three Eyes clan were persecuted and discriminated against, although I can't help but feel they might have been liked by the general populace a little more if they didn't go around hypnotising and kidnapping people, but that's just me. Midori speaks up regarding her own history of persecution, pointing out that she never looked for revenge on those who hated her for her powers, even though this is a blatant lie because that's exactly what she went around doing in the first episode or two.

After all this, and some pleading from Reika who isn't but is only isn't, the old man realises the error of his ways, and throws himself to his death from the handy mountainous drop nearby. Only he doesn't, because his daughter who isn't but is just happens to have a special power which is a tractor beam, so she saves him. The whole thing comes to a close with a landslide on the mountain, leaving Midori and Ran to save everyone by creating a forcefield, again belying their real abilities - These girls aren't telepathic, but rather they have whatever special powers they want to fit the context of that particular episode. I guess Special Powers To Fit The Context Of Each Episode Shoujo Ran just doesn't have the same ring to it.

While this was quite an entertaining and fast-paced episode, it did introduce inconsistencies and confusion that you could drive a bus through, which really took a lot of the sheen away from it and left the whole thing as enjoyable in a more Allison to Lillia-esque "who wrote this thing?" kind of way. Still, there was never a dull moment, and considering that episode ten was just one twenty-five minute long dull moment the return to storylines where things happen is a welcome one.

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion R2 - Episode 24

Following on from the last episode of Code Geass R2, the focus inevitably remains on the titanic battle between Lelouch and Schneizel - The kind of sibling rivalry normally confined to the back yard or school playground, but somehow this particular tiff has managed to end up with the whole world at stake. Well, boys will be boys...

I suppose if you think about it it was inevitable that Lelouch was going to win out somehow, and (apologies for the spoiler) that's exactly what he does here after lots of mecha battling action, Kallen and C.C. going at it like crazy (I mean fighting in their Knightmares, you perverts!) and a rather user-unfriendly anti-FLEIJA device (only Nina would create something that needs to be configured and detonated in 19 and 0.04 seconds respectively - She should go work for Microsoft when all this is over) that enabled Lelouch and Suzaku to make it aboard the Damocles.

From that point onward, cue another great little trick from Lelouch to win against Schneizel after what appeared to be a long dialogue between the two but wasn't, which also brought up a rather nice soundbite as to what the different factions in this series are all about - Charles was pursuing yesterday, Schneizel today (i.e. the here and now, forever more) and Lelouch claims to be chasing tomorrow, although we still don't really know quite what he's up to in the long run. I think I've gotten a feel for what he wants to do, but I'm far too much of a wimp to discuss it in public and be wrong, so I'm sitting on my thoughts for another week. With Schneizel beaten, it's just left to Lelouch to handle Nunnally, which brings about a big surprise of its own...

There seems to be rather a lot of anti-Code Geass R2 sentiment floating around the Internet these days, and although I can understand some of those frustrations (just how many times can you bring some characters back from the dead?) if you can put some of the more crazy aspects of the show to one side it is still more than capable of pulling off some moments that leave you with a big grin on your face as Lelouch triumphs against the odds yet again. Perhaps R2 hasn't felt anything like as 'smart' in this respect as the original series, but damn is it still entertaining most of the time. Now we just have to wait and see how it will all end, or indeed if it will all end at all? Surely there's no room left in this show for Code Geass R3...

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Chi's Sweet Home - Episodes 84-88

Another five episodes of Chi's Sweet Home sees the series continue to be as absolutely and wonderfully adorable as ever, as Chi gets himself into some more trouble at the hands of the big black 'bear' cat, in turn leading to stress aplenty for his family (and laughs aplenty for us) as they try to hide him away from the landlady.

There's nothing more to say about this series that hasn't been said already - Where Chocolate Underground suffers for its short episode time, Chi's Sweet Home absolutely thrives on it, and is just so beautifully realised that I can do nothing but lavish praise on it. As per usual, it's a must-watch for cat owners and cat lovers... Hell, possibly even for cats themselves.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Chocolate Underground - Episode 9

Chocolate Underground provides us with another proverbial finger of fudge (no sniggering at the back), but is it enough to keep me sated until something more filling comes along?

Well, yes and no. This wasn't such a terrible episode, but as usual things have to develop far too quickly due to the short episode running time, and thus the whole thing feels more like highlights than an actual episode. Inevitably, the Chocolate Police find the underground layer in the bookstore (thanks to noticing a displaced floor tile in the first instance, which didn't make much sense), and arrest many of those involved including Smudger, although bizarrely those who escape (including the bookstore owner, whose guilt is pretty obvious) get to stand around and watch while the police do nothing to try and round them up. As a totalitarian quasi-miltary force, I think it's fair to say that they suck.

There isn't a lot to say about this episode aside from that synopsis, as that's basically all that happened - No real character development (and what we did get was clumsy), just those basics laid out in front of us with no pomp or ceremony. Still, the preview for episode ten looks intriguing, so there might be a little more to talk about there if it can rise above the disadvantages of that dreaded short episode running time.

World Destruction - Episode 11

Episode eleven of World Destruction featured a brief appearance from a penguin, which guarantees it bonus points in my book. But is that enough to raise this episode above the abject medicority which has passed for much of this series?

Well, it goes without saying that a penguin alone won't sway my opinions, but I think it is fair to say that this is probably the best episode of World Destruction since the first instalment - That doesn't make it fantastic of course, but it was by far more entertaining that much of what has come before, even if it did drop into a world of cliché in the second half of the episode.

After seeing what the Destruct Code had to show them last time around, the World Destruction Committee set off for the winter continent, which actually allows us to focus on the World Salvation Committee for a change for the duration of this episode's first half, meaning that we learn a little more about Lia and Naja and their motivations - If only they'd done this kind of thing a little earlier instead of throwing it in as an afterthought, it might have helped the series develop in a slightly broader fashion.

Anyway, as we learn (although I guess we already knew if I'm honest) that Lia's home is with the dragons that reside in the winter continent (and no, I don't know why a fire-breathing creature would want to live in a cold place either), so her feelings are manipulated to go Hell for leather in her pursuit of the World Destruction Committee, which leads us to a cool (and dare I say sexy?) but ultimately cliched battle between herself and Morte. This plays right into the hands of our Wall-E creator wannabe crocodile, who manages to snatch the Destrict Code in the ensuing chaos, while also making sure he has time to laugh evilly. This guy has clearly been to the Bad Guy Finishing School and graduated with honours.

So, like I say, this was a better episode compared to a lot of the dross I've put up with from this series, so for that I can only be thankful. It still wasn't a classic, but it was fun and did just enough to draw me into its plot to keep me entertained, and I can't really ask anything more of it at this juncture. Oh, and did I mention the penguin?

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki - Episode 19

When I realised that this was going to be a hot springs episode of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki, "Oh God no, please anything but that!" was my instant natural response - Surely nothing good will come from mixing the clichéd hot springs scenario favoured by so much anime with a rather hit-and-miss series that tries a little too hard to be crazy sometimes?

Well, I have to confess - I was wrong. This episode was, by all accounts, really quite good, and managed to get more laughs out of me than any episode of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki since goodness knows when. The antics of the Midarazeki family themselves were worth the price of admission in their own right, from a drunk Kyouka and Gekka through to some brazenly hilarious discussion of breasts, and the addition to the episode of a 'klutz devil' Hell-bent (do you see what I did there?) on collecting a soul from someone who she believed was guaranteed to die at the hot springs that night actually added a little to the episode rather than distracting from it.

Away from the fun aspects of the episode, we also got yet more "Awww, they're a family" posturing, which was by far outgunned by the reintroduction of Kiriko from earlier in the series to the story. Her relationship with Hyouka is probably the sweetest depiction of blossoming love between a simple girl and a biological weapon. Okay, so it's also the only depiction in anime of said relationship, but it works and I like them both so be quiet.

While it's actually been quite painful to watch episodes of Kyouran Kazoku Nikki of late, it's a bit of a relief to be able to sit down and actually enjoy an episode for once. Sure, it isn't blazing new trails, and once again it occasionally tried too hard to be zany, but overall this episode got the balance of storyline, gags and family love just about right, making it one of the better episodes of this series when it comes to living up to the potential that the show has occasionally promised.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 23

Watching Itazura na Kiss has become almost an episode-by-episode hate-fest for me, not so much for the series itself (although I suppose perhaps I do dislike it by association to some degree) but for the various characters on show within it. Despite Naoki's conversion into really rather a decent husband (which still leads me to suspect that the real Naoki is being held hostage by aliens), it seems that the dislike I felt for him has simply been spread around to others.

On this occasion, the main source of my irritation has to be Kotoko's so-called friends, who rile her up into a frenzy with their talk of the husbands of pregnant women having affairs - You could argue that it isn't their fault that Kotoko goes off at the deep end, but these people could at least show a little decency for Kotoko's situation rather than gossiping idly. Naoki's mother isn't much better, with her constant spying and interfering once again managing to raise my blood pressure quite substantially.

To top it all, we also see another example of domestic violence as pre-cursor to romance, as Yuuko Matsumoto gets a slap from Sudou which indirectly leads to her falling for him. This is the second time we've seen a woman fall in love with a guy who slaps her in this series, and frankly it baffles me.

Finally, with Chris and Kinnosuke still planning to get married (just how many ill-matched couples does this series want?), Chris' mother proves to be pretty annoying too.

Yes, yes, I know I just sound like "Angry of Dorset" in this entry, but if this series only had one or maybe two characters that I didn't like I could live with it. Instead, Itazura na Kiss has frequently seemed to leave Kotoko virtually alone in an unending sea of absolute assholes of different types and degrees, and I suppose the chivalrous male in me just feels that isn't on. Oh well, only two more episodes to go and then you won't have to hear me complaining about the characters I don't like in this series any more.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo - Episode 10

After a fair few spotty episodes, the ninth instalment of Yakushiji Ryoko No Kaiki Jikenbo finally seemed to put us on solid ground, giving us a decent story with both political intrigue and a rather bizarre cliffhanger, as Ryoko ended up face to face with her sleeping beauty of a younger look-a-like.

With everything seemingly in place for a rip-roaring continuation of this story, episode ten was actually a rather muted affair - While the beginning and climax of the episode was indeed a decent continuation of what had gone before, the middle section was largely a rather empty and pointless wasteland of watching the young spitting image of Ryoko (who was rescued at the start of the episode) cooking and dressing as a maid. I'm sure this was all probably intended to endear us to the character (named Monami by Izumida, he of the atrocious knowledge of French), but it just felt unnecessary, and I can't say it changed my feelings towards the reasonably strong ending to the episode (complete with inevitable giant lizard!) one iota.

Still, despite that weak middle chunk of the episode, we were at least left with some more interesting possibilities as this major story arc continues in the next instalment, while Ryoko still isn't giving anything away about either the origins or importance of 'Monami'. Colour me intrigued...

Nabari no Ou - Episode 21

The Nabari no Ou episodes are coming thick and fast once again at the moment, and thank goodness things are getting a little more interesting within them to boot.

After the capture of Miharu, Yoite and Oda at the end of the last episode, this instalment sees quite a gathering of forces against Kairoushuu as a result, with various factions and individuals with an interest in the hostages come out to try and rescue them, including Gau and Raikou. I've talked before about how free and easy characters in this series are when it comes to choosing their side, and we really get that impression here again, with numerous players in this series making choices based upon their own convinctions rather than those of the group to which they are allegied - To be honest, it makes for a refreshing change from the typical 'good versus' evil conflicts we see so often in shows of this kind.

What should have been the other big revelation of this episode was a glimpse inside the mind of Hattori, Kairoushuu's leader, showing his history and motivations for wanting the Shinrabanshou. However, it has to be said that this all actually felt rather weak, taking in the story of Hattori as war journalist who has seen so much evil that he wants to rid the world of it, using the Shinrabanshou in a quasi-Human Instrumentality Project manner to basically 'delete' the world's history and start over again. Maybe I just don't have any feel for it because it's such a bonkers idea, but killing so many people in the name of peace and wiping the memories of the entire planet because of memories of his own just seems hypocritical in the extreme. Yes, I know the bad guy is always a big ball of hyprocricy, but somehow I was expecting more of a big revelation on this point, something along the lines of "I want a world where everyone wears Yoite's hait". Hmm, okay, maybe not that then, but you get the idea.

This was actually a pretty decent episode all in all though, turning the tables somewhat due to those changes in allegiance (although how permanent they'll be I have no idea) while also splitting the main characters up for long enough to avoid too much "Yoite! Yoite! Yoite!" nagging from Miharu, who proved once again that he's capable of fending for himself to at least some degree. No doubt episode twenty-two will turn into a bunch of long, drawn-out rubbish just to spite me, but this was actually a reasonable effort, and certainly rather watchable.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 9

Somehow, having such a long gap without any episodes of Gunslinger Girl: Il Teatrino to watch made the eighth episode of the series all the more disappointing, as it took what was by all accounts a powerful and poignant part of the manga and somehow managed to turn it into something decidedly bland and lifeless.

Thankfully, episode nine is much, much better in virtually every way I can express said improvements. Although the episode jumps around rather a lot, and almost rushes through its main plot point much of the time, it still manages to cover plenty of ground while bringing together the disparate elements that make Gunslinger Girl what it is. We see the worries and problems of the girls handlers, specifically in the case of Jose this time around, coupled with the neuroses of the girls themselves (in particular Henrietta), while also mixing in a bit of action together with those moments that always send a chill down your spine - Seeing Rico grinng from ear to ear as she proceeds to beat a suspect senseless in an attempt to get information out of him is a disquitening experience, and exactly the kind of thing that the franchise has always managed to do so well.

Overall, this could quite possibly be the best episode of this particular series so far, feeling like just the kind of affair you'd expect from Gunslinger Girl despite its slightly off-kilter pacing. If only this kind of formula could have been applied to Il Teatrino as a whole, it might have been a rather less hit-and-miss affair than it has generally proved to be.

Special A - Episode 23

As Special A hits its penultimate episode, so the pressure on Kei to leave for London intensifies, hitting him where it hurts most - His friends and, of course, Hikari.

The political manoeuvring coming from Kei's grandfather and subordinates sees first the Special A closed down, forcing the gang to attend normal classes, before than pressure switches to the families of individuals within that group, which in turn sees Akira, Jun and Megumi drop out of the academy altogether. This leaves Kei with only one choice - To secede to his grandfather's wishes and leave for London, giving us an implausible yet still strangely emotional ending to this episode with Hikari absolutely distraught.

I've commented previously about this series that on occasion the Special A's priviledged existence can actually be a handicap to allowing the viewers to empathise with the main characters, and this issue crops up again here, as I found myself wholly unsympathetic to having the Special A closed - After all, why should a handful of rich kids get such special treatment, smart or otherwise? Luckily this wasn't dwelt on for too long, and allowed the actual storyline to flow through, with Kei and Hikari of course stealing the show, even when the former was brooding away without actually talking to anyone.

If nothing else, I'm certainly now intrigued to see how the series closes out, as this slow-burned has carefully and quietly edged its way into my heart from a show that I could care less about into something that I actually rather enjoy watching.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Episode 10

You know, I sometimes have to wonder if anyone has actually been caught in that typical anime dilemma - Late at night in the school building, sprawled on the floor with some cute girl for a totally innocuous reason, when your girlfriend or a girl you care deeply about walks in, sees it all and runs off in tears. I mean, it must have happened once at least surely, otherwise how would anyone have even thought of such a thing?

The finale of the last episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu left us with just that scenario, and of course the start of episode ten shows us how it's all a big misunderstanding, with Yuuto saving Shiina from a falling blackboard, hence the reason for the whole sprawling on the floor thing. This being anime however, Yuuto can't just come out and explain it, and Haruka is too stubborn to listen to reason anyway, and thus we're left with the two of them in a state of fake happiness and generally awkward avoidance of one another for the majority of the duration of the episode.

Despite that cliched pedigree, this episode actually worked rather well - It wasn't too overblown, be it emotionally or otherwise, and the way it all ended was rather sweet, and even though I tend to cheer on the underdog, I was more than a little happy to see everything sort itself out between Haruka and Yuuto come the (arguably inevitable) conclusion of this instalment.

Once again, this series hasn't been about doing anything particularly new with the scenarios it covers, but it manages to do them well and with some likeable characters. This solid modus operandi won't make for an all-time memorable series, but as entertainment in the short-term it really hasn't done too badly for itself as we move towards the last couple of episodes.

Itazura na Kiss - Episode 22

As Itazura na Kiss enters the home straight, we learn that Naoki has been captured by aliens and replaced by a facsimile that manages to act far more like a reasonable human being than the real thing. Okay, so that point isn't quite make explicitly clear in this episode, but it's the only plausible explanation I can come up with for Naoki's personality change over the past couple of episodes.

Anyway, in this instalment we learn that poor old Kotoko has never been able to celebrate a proper birthday with her husband - A fact we're probably supposed to be surprised at, but inevitably this comes as no shock at all. Thankfully, altered alien clone Naoki can think of nothing better than giving Kotoko a great birthday, and even swaps shifts to make sure he gets the night off work. So, despite being caught up and sidetracked herself, Kotoko makes it to her date, where Naoki lavishes her with love (yes, in that way too) and even (more surprisingly) buys her a present.

The second chunk of the episode sees our newly lovey-dovey couple working together on the same ward, where they manage to save a child who has vomit lodged in his throat - And let's be honest, after watching this episode he wasn't the only one. The episode also ends with a big surprise... Well, a surprise if you don't know what happens after sex anyway.

Although the past few months have programmed me to dislike this series and its characterisations, this episode did at least move us towards what Itazura na Kiss probably should have been from at least the half-way mark, while the fact that it has taken twenty-two bloody episodes for Naoki to show any real and constant affection towards his wife will probably haunt me to the grave. Still, saccharine though this instalment was, at least we got to see Naoki (or Naoki alien clone, as I suspect) spreading a little happiness, with Kotoko on the receiving end.

Now, who wants to put some money on Kotoko giving birth to a human-alien hybrid baby before the end of the series?

Chocolate Underground - Episode 8

Chocolate Underground gives us yet another bite of the sweet stuff with episode eight of the series - Always enough to get a taste, never enough to really start enjoying it.

After being outed to the Chocolate Police by a classmate, the police raid the bookstore where the whole Chocolate Underground 'organisation' is run from, but surprisingly find nothing thanks to the cunning design of the store, complete with dual-layer basement. Those cunning shop builders think of everything!

As per usual for an episode of this show, that's all they have time for once they squeeze in the end credits that always manage to entirely spoil the next episode. Cue yet another entry where I bemoan this series short running time per episode, which entirely ruins any flow to what could otherwise be a good story. Short episodes work for Chi's Sweet Home due to its very nature, they don't work for something that tries to build a story such as this. Apparently the show is going to get a theatrical release in early 2009, but I really don't see that working any better given the weird pacing of almost every individual episode.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 16

Ahh, it's been a while Allison to Lillia, and how I've missed you so - Your ridiculous plots, your stupid characters. But here you are once again, just begging to be mocked and jibed in the best possible taste, and in the name of making anime better.

Anyway, last episode Lillia and Treize made it to the docks, leaving a couple of people abandoned and without transport in the process, so we can only assume that those individuals have now perished so that our main duo can enjoy a charity seaplane ride with a bunch of orphaned children.

But, as they board the plane, Lillia and Treize are being watched from the shadows... Thankfully, it turns out that these shady looking types are actually subordinates of Wil... err, sorry, Travas, and they soon communicate the situation to Major Travas who appears to be shacked up with a whole bunch of his work colleagues in a camoflaged school bus. No, I don't know why either, maybe Wil forgot about saving his daughter and decided to go on a work team-building exercise instead. Anyway, with this new information in tow, Travas sends out Allison to find the seaplane before undiscussed bad things happen. "But where is the plane? It's a big lake", asks Allison. Of course, Wil is renowned for having his finger on the pulse and all available information at his fingertips, and so he immediately helps her out by telling her that he doesn't have the foggiest. Good old Wil, always a man you can count on.

So, after enjoying their seaplane ride for a while, Treize soon realises that something is up, as they should have reached their destination by now (they must be flying XL Airways) but are still over the sea. He and Lillia go to check with the pilot (because of course, the pilot will be on-hand to fully brief them on the evil plot underway), but find the entire crew on their way out of the door, parachuting to safety. Why are they doing this? I can only imagine that being bit-parts in an episode of Allison to Lillia was too much to bear, and so they decided to take their leave before anything really ridiculous happened.

With the crew gone, it's left to Treize to pilot the plane, but as soon as he starts to turn it towards its expected destination the plane is fired at by a number of other planes that have been following them. Of course, the orphans on board love all this commotion and watching the plane they're on being shot at, because they're morons. Trezie is told not to change the plane's course or it'll be shot down, and that as long as he does what he's told... err, the plane will be shot down.

Yes, it appears that this week's evil plan somehow involves killing orphans and shooting down a plane for profit - A plan that makes about as much sense as me going out tomorrow and investing my money in horse-drawn carriages as the next big thing. I know Allison to Lillia hasn't exactly been big on coherent storylines, but even by its own low expectations this seems particularly nonsensical. Hopefully all will be revealed next episode, when hopefully Wil might pull his finger out and stop being the worst secret agent ever, and we can also look forward to Treize defeating a bunch of light, fast and agile fighter aircraft by ramming them with a seaplane. Umm.... good luck with that.