Friday, 31 October 2008

ef - a tale of melodies - Episode 4

ef - a tale of melodies happily continues down its path of extreme (and slightly pretentious) gorgeousness, but can episode four actually add a little more in the way of a plot to the mix?

Well... kind of. My personal highlight of the episode was the return of Hiro and Miyako, albeit relatively briefly - I've already mentioned how I felt that their story was the strongest part of a tale of memories, so this gives me renewed hope that we may see a little more of them as this series progresses.

That aside, if there's one thing this episode does well it's tying everything together, linking Nagi in with Hiro and bringing the prior earthquake into the equation to finally properly show Yu's loss - Something he shares with Yuuko's brother, who seems to be hugely protective (to the point of being threatening) of his sister. Of course, there's also plenty of movement in the relationship between Kuze and Mizuki, with the pair sharing a kiss (well, two really), and Kuze accepting Mizuki's feelings but not the prospect of actually doing anything about it.

Even four episodes in, I'm still honestly not sure what to make of ef - a tale of melodies - I find myself coming to write these 'Blog entries with my mind a complete blank, and I just find myself unable to really interpret what I'm seeing in any tangible fashion. I think I'll simply have to openly admit that I don't understand the motivations of many of the main characters here, from Kuze's morbid fascination with his own death above all else (which is quite an interesting subject for discussion in its own right to be fair) through to Yu's almost schizophrenic relationships with Nagi and Yuuko in his flashback segments, all of which is before we even start tackling Mizuki's love for Kuze, which to be frank feels terrible false and unreal to me.

Still, despite all that I am perhaps warming to this series, increasingly enjoying its visuals even if I'm left rather baffled beyond that. I just hope I'll be able to wrap my head around this series eventually and laugh about what a fool I've been, rather than reaching the final episode and being forced to ask "So what the Hell was that all about?".

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 5

After three episodes dealing with Sunohara and Mei's story, it's time for a new focus in Clannad ~After Story~, and this time time around it's dorm manager Misae Sagara's turn in the spotlight.

Before all that, we get ourselves another little segment of Imaginary World "action", where the girl from that world has made a see-saw. Once again, I'm left wondering what this slightly pretentious has to do with Clannad as a whole, but at least it doesn't last too long I suppose.

Anyway, onto the episode proper, Tomoya and Nagisa pay a visit to the dormitory, to find Misae dishing out her usual slice of justice to Sunohara after he tries to sell her cat - A nameless ginger feline that just started following her around one day until she decided to take care of it, to use Misae's own explanation (and that sounds strangely akin to how I'd describe my own cat. Although he does have a name at least). As Misae talks, so Tomoya dozes off, and before we know it it's flashback time!

This particular flashback takes us back to Misae's own schooldays, where she finds herself harrassed by a young lad called Shima Katsuki, a boy who Misae apparantly helped simply by talking to him when he was wheelchair bound in a hospital. He wants to return the favour by granting her a single wish, although Misae is more interested in pursuing a guy she's interested in at school than dealing with such trifles, yet finds herself spending time talking to him anyway despite her frustration at the inevitable misunderstandings it causes.

After enjoying the comedy of the early episodes of After Story, and even having a certain amount of time for the last instalment which closed out that Mei-centric arc, I have to confess that I found this particular episode really quite dull - I can't really blame Tomoya for drifting off to sleep mid-episode. To be fair, the seeds have at least been sewn for some interesting episodes to continue this story arc, so I can't be too harsh on it all, but unless I'm being naive it seems patently obvious where this story is headed and I just can't get too excited about Misae's story in general. Overall though, I suppose I'll have to simply reserve judgement until we see what episode six brings us, but either way I have to chalk this up as the least interesting episode of After Story so far.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 25

It's been a while since we all last "enjoyed" an episode of Allison to Lillia, even if it is with a heavy heart that I have to remember that this is the series penultimate episode. It goes by the title "The culprit laughs secretly", although I suspect he isn't the only one having a good giggle.

So, last time around Major Travas and his team found their train halted, as they were surrounded by armed men. Said bunch of wannabe Great Train Robbers seem to think that there's gold on board (a good haul with the credit crunch and all that), so demand that Travas and company give up their weapons and surrender. "What a tired old phrase for a villain to use" comments one of Travas' colleagues - I can only assume he's new to the world of Allison to Lillia...

Of course, Travas isn't going to give up that easily, so he hatches a cunning plan - To drive away in the train, which nobody else seemed to have thought of. Having said that, after cutting away to some nonsense between Lillia and Treize (with the latter worrying about the thought of Travas marrying Allison, probably because then Lillia's father who isn't would be again, which would cause people's heads to explode), we return to find that the armed men on foot are chasing after the train which is travelling at full speed and managing to keep up. Let me just say that again - Men on foot are keeping up with a steam train running at full speed. I was beginning to suspect that this episode was a tie-in with an episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles or something, but apparantly not. Anyway, those men on foot finally seem to fall away, leaving just a jeep keeping up with the train, but thankfully one of Travas' subordinates manages to blow out its tyre to stop them from following. Rather than simply stop the jeep, the occupants decide to throw themselves to their deaths (I assume, as jumping out of an incredibly fast moving car can only ever be classed as suicidal), before Travas books his berth as "Most Implausible Stunt of the Week" by jumping from the fast moving train into the fast moving jeep which has somehow not slowed down at all or deviated from its course, despite only having three inflated tyres.

So, the train is stopped, the runaway jeep is stopped, and there's even time for Travas to tell Axe that he killed her father (because there's never a bad time to tell your closest work colleague you killed their Dad) before one last baddie is despatched and the danger is over. But something isn't right - This whole plan has actually been organised to... allow someone to play the accordian on a train! Oh wait, no, that's not it... who is the real target of all this devious plotting? Surely not the important member of the royal family that Travas carelessly and needlessly left on the second train? Oh, it is. Oops. Do the Boy Scouts have an "Epic fail" badge yet? I want to nominate Wil for one.

So, with Treize now in the grasp of these criminals, of course they're going to kidnap him immediately and do whatever they need to with him? Err no, they're going to kidnap Lillia instead (using a cunning ploy of luring her away from Travas with the promise of a ripped dress that needs sewing), because... Oh for goodness sake how am I supposed to know, I don't write this nonsense?! Sadly, it seems that unlike our generic baddies from earlier, Travas and Allison aren't capable of keeping up with a train on foot, as the detached section of the train holding Lillia speeds away.

So, tune in for the final episode where Travas turns up entirely too late to save his daughter again, and the laws of physics are broken in yet more ingenious ways! Go on, you know you want to...

Toradora! - Episode 5

The last episode of Toradora! basically sealed my adoration for this incredibly fun and funny series, so expecting too much in the way of criticism of this show from here on in is most likely futile unless they really manage to screw it up somehow.

Having said that, episode five does threaten to imbalance this series' perfect weighting so far thanks to the introduction of Ami Kawashima, a part-time model and childhood friend of Kitamura's who could politely be said to have a split personality, and more realistically be called a complete bitch. Ami's character is set up straight away to give us due prior warning, but of course all Hell threatens to break loose when she joins the same school (and indeed class) as Taiga and company. Before you know it Taiga is upset, Ryuuji is even more misunderstood than ever, and yet somehow Ami is the focus of all the positive attention.

Despite all this the bad news, this episode of Toradora! manages to remain cute and funny in equal measure (although admittedly not up to the genius of the last instalment), and you could almost argue that we get to see Taiga at her best thanks to the introduction of Ami. Minori doesn't disappear without a trace either, grabbing some decidedly amusing moments of her own.

So, while I'm hoping that Ami's character shapes up into something decidedly less manipulative and evil, her introduction does at least bring something new in to keep the plot fresh, and even my intense personal dislike for the newcomer from the off doesn't really deflect from the fact that Toradora! remains a hugely entertaining show to watch this season.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Real Drive - Episode 16

Real Drive continues on its merry way with episodes that have no inter-relation with one another, with episode sixteen taking in the importance of androids having breasts, to all intents and purposes.

In essence, this instalment is all about Sota's hang-ups when it comes to sparring with Holon - Does he go easy on her and never deliver the finishing blow because she looks like a woman, or because he's actually somehow in love with her (with I suppose returns to the first point anyway)? The question never really gets answered to any real degree, but the plot as a whole does move into a wider story about androids being used as sex toys, with Sota sent to investigate. The whole subject of falling in love with androids is an interesting one, and the kind of thing you can sit around and discuss for hours, but to be honest Real Drive almost seems to shy away from getting too deep into the concept with this episode, preferring to simply scratch the surface... a bit of a disappointing decision, if I'm honest.

This rather light treatment of the subject matter makes for another 'okay but not spectacular' episode of this series, where even the animation quality seemed to drop off a little. When you consider the way shows such as Ghost in the Shell have tackled the issue central to this episode of the series, it really does come off as rather below-par and almost rushed in its writing and execution, which isn't particularly what I was expecting from this series when I first embarked upon watching it. It does continue to have a certain something about it both visually and in broader terms that makes the series bearable, but it could... no, should... be capable of so much more.

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 4

It's almost ironic that the relatively sedate pace of Ga-Rei -Zero-'s third episode proved to be rather shocking, after the action-packed, character killing bloodbath that was the first two instalments. If you're looking for a return to that hour of insanity however, you'll probably be disappointed in episode four.

We pretty much continue where we left off last time here, with the episode as a whole once again focusing on Kagura and Yomi's relationship, with some little asides surrounding Kagura's father thrown in for good measure. This episode also tries to inject a hefty dose of humour into proceedings, with varying results - A crazy, almost naked anti-evil weapon manufacturer wandering around really didn't work for me, but then again some of his creations did raise a smile... In this educated time we shouldn't laugh at the anti-evil iron for women I'm sure, but the anti-evil boiler? Considering my own boiler here seems to be playing up a little today, perhaps I should invest in one myself...

Anyway, I have to confess that it's almost hard to come to terms with this series change of pace after those frenetic first two episodes, but I say "almost" because I still really am enjoying this series - The animation remains largely gorgeous (aforementioned almost naked guy aside), and both Kagura and Yomi are eminently watchable no matter what angle you look at them from... I'm talking in personality terms, you perverts! Add to that some pretty cool supporting characters, and occasional action sequences that manage to remain quite stylish even though they're nothing new particularly, spice it up with a dash of not knowing what this series will throw at us next, and it remains a definite winner in my book.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Kannagi - Episode 4

The last episode of Kannagi introduced us briefly to Nagi's sister Zange, and in this latest instalment she well and truly takes centre stage as what will doubtless be the main storyline of the series begins to take shape.

In short, the city of Kannagi ended up with two sacred trees as points of worship, as the town is split by a river, and the human embodiment of those two trees is (of course) Nagi and Zange. Despite their first impressions, the good/evil split of this pair of sisters isn't what you might expect - Despite Zange's nuns outfit and wandering around taking confessions from people on the street, it appears that she has in fact taken over a human body as a vessel, which is much frowned upon by her sister.

That aside, the whole "idol" concept highlighted in the show's opening credits is built up here - Both sisters need the love of the people to continue to thrive and survive as gods, hence Zange's work as a "nun" which has made her quite the local celebrity, putting her a step ahead of Nagi who only (arguably) has Jin on her side.

Compared to the more humour-oriented previous episodes, the work on building up the show's main plot moved it into (slightly) more serious territory here, setting up Nagi and Zange on their respective sides of the fence that separates good and evil. This need to concentrate on the plot perhaps lessened the fun factor of the episode, but thanks to its bunch of good characters it wasn't too much a blow, allowing Kannagito remain eminently watchable.

Yozakura Quartet - Episode 4

Yozakura Quartet continues on its merry way, this time giving us a proper introduction to the villain of the piece - Enjin, a demon who has possessed the body of someone called Gin, an old friend of Hime and Akina's. In other words, the scene is set for a lot of emotional conflict and turmoil... After all, how do you fight an enemy who is also your friend?

With that in mind then, this episode gives us some flashbacks to the time before Gin was possessed and went AWOL, before having Enjin finally breach the town's barrier, no doubt with an eye towards wreaking havoc. Oh, and we also get introduced to a nun with two swords, which I suppose can never be labelled a bad thing per se.

The way that Yozakura Quartet handles its story remains quite an interesting affair - While this instalment gives us a fair amount of action in its latter half, it always tries to mix it in with plenty of conversations and interactions about every-day life in the town, from Hime's weight and preferences in food through to the broadcasting of a new town song. I still wager that were this series to forgo all that just to concentrate on the action, then it would end up as a far less enjoyable show in general, as to be honest it's those interactions between the main characters that really makes the series for me. Sure, it isn't a deep or thought-provoking study of equality or friendship, but it's nice to watch... The kind of anime that gives you a bit of a warm, fuzzy feeling every episode. That can never be a bad thing either in my book.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 3

Chäos;HEAd continues along its slightly confusing and messed up path exactly as you'd expect it to in episode three, even referencing dissociative identity disorder to add a little real-world bulk to this otherwise supernatural show.

After having Yua confront Takumi, suggesting that he is in some way responsible for the "New Gene" murders in the last episode, we first and foremost get a flashback to our protagonist's past - Namely, an occasion where his parents didn't allow him to go on a school field trip, and his resulting frustration and wishes seemingly turned into a real-life disaster, with the bus crashing and injuring/killing his classmates (it isn't made clear exactly what happened). Can Takumi really predict the future, and more importantly is he doing things he doesn't even remember in his sleep? Takumi visits a psychologist to find out if he's sleep-walking, but the results seem to suggest that isn't the case.

From here, further research on Takumi's part takes him to a gig by a band called Phantasm, and their lead singer Fes (a girl bearing more than a passing resemblance to a student at Takumi's school...), who seems to cross-reference important points that tie in with the New Gene killings in her band's lyrics. Takumi also starts seeing girls hanging around with huge swords, which appears to be another hint regarding what it to come in future episodes...

Once again, Chäos;HEAd delights in its refusal to separate any kind of real-world reality from what may or may not be Takumi's delusions, running it all together in a single storyline so that you really can't be entirely sure what's going on. The introduction of those big swords that only Takumi can see is probably the biggest hint yet as to where the series is going, although even that doesn't really give us a lot to work with, and aside from that (admittedly far from minor) point we really don't progress very far in terms of being educated as to what the Hell is going on - Mind you, this sense of mystery is actually working in favour of the series as far as I'm concerned. Takumi may remain hugely unlikeable as a person, but somehow this series continues to draw me into its web of intrigue on account of its rather unique story-telling perspective coupled with a solid enough plot to make the episodes fly by in an interesting and entertaining fashion. - Just the kind of thing to leave me wanting more.

Kemeko DX - Episode 3 (Dropped)

After fully expecting to drop Kemeko DX after its second episode, I pretty much surprised myself by giving it a reprieve to at least see how episode three shaped up, and whether it could continue that slight improvement that I could see in the second instalment.

However, the word "Dropped" next to the title to this entry should tell you that any such improvement was short lived, as this third episode went back to everything I disliked about the opener - Randomness for the sake of randomness, with nothing that I could really call humour, and characters that generally rather got on my nerves. Kemeko is rather too over-the-top for my tastes, while Sanpeita as a character is virtually non-existant, and many of the other main supporting characters don't do a lot for me either.

The attempts at plot progression on show here weren't particularly impressive either, it all felt very old hat and cliche with its talk of dormant secret powers from many years ago and so on, leaving me cold as far as actually caring what Mishima Electronics (who I noticed in one shot are responsible for making Kemeko's suit by the way) are up to.

In short then, I guess I have to somewhat salute this series for trying, and actually putting out a reasonable second episode, but as per Kyouran Kazoku Nikki earlier this year it simply tries too hard to be crazy and zany sometimes, and that forced feeling ends up leaving us with a dull and irritating series.

Hyakko - Episode 3

Hyakko thus far has pretty much set out its stall as a decidedly average school-based slice-of-life anime series, which certainly hasn't managed to command the laughs of some of the other notable shows in this genre. Can episode three fare any better?

In all honesty, not really, with episode three giving us more of the same. The first half of this episode introduces us to class rep Andou, who has delegated that Torako as "morals officer", requiring her to check that everyone is following the school's uniform restrictions. Andou comes along to offer support for this activity, and from there (as if it wasn't made pretty clear even before this point) we're simply subjected to a long, slow (and not particularly funny) build-up to the announcement of Andou's sexuality.

Thankfully, the second half of this episode is a big improvement, introducing another new character in the form of Chie Suzugasaki, a bit of a dab-hand at robotics and engineering who gave me a bit of a chuckle at her laughing evilly over a hot soldering iron right at the beginning of this segment. Somehow, the main quartet end up getting drawn into the robotics lab by some giant robot Chie is wandering around with, which leaves us with an amazed Suzume asking some relatively amusing questions about the robot's capabilities, and the eventual creation of both a robot Torako and Suzume.

Once again, Hyakko proves itself to be quite easy to watch while falling far, far short of the kind of humour and laughs I've perhaps come to expect from this kind of series on account of the likes of Hidamari Sketch and its ilk. I'm not sure if it's trying too hard to be funny or not hard enough, but either way it simply fails to do anything to make it stand out from what is a not insubstantial crowd in its genre, which leaves it with its work really cut-out if it wants to make an impact. Still, at least the second half of this instalment was a step in the right direction, so perhaps there's still hope that Hyakko can deliver some genuinely, laugh out loud funny segments over the remaining ten episodes.

Friday, 24 October 2008

ef - a tale of melodies - Episode 3

To call the opening couple of episodes of ef - a tale of melodies a slow-burner would probably be something of an understatement, given the series propensity to feed us only tiny parts of the story while preferring to dazzle us with its artistic merit - A plan which, as I mentioned last time around, will only ever take you so far.

Thankfully, episode three finally starts to move us forward in a decent fashion as far as actual plot development is concerned. For starters, Chihiro (one of the main features of the first series) makes her reappearance here, and finally confirms to Mizuki the shocking news that we'd all pretty much already guessed - That Kuze is a dying man. To her credit, that doesn't put her off at all, but Kuze himself seems determined to distance himself from anyone who could possibly regarded as caring about him, as well as seemingly wanting to rid himself of his musical talent for whatever reason. Looking at the other half of the story, Yu becomes drawn in closer to Yuuko as we learn more about her current situation, although I have to wonder exactly where Nagi is going to fit into this particular side of things (beyond becoming some kind of shining beacon of fan service for the series).

So, I can't really put my hand on my heart and say that this third instalment of ef - a tale of melodies has entirely convinced me that it's going anywhere, but it has at least started to lay down some of the building blocks of a more interesting story even if it's taken rather a long time to get there. There's a lot to like about the visuals of this show, as it does have a certain stylistic uniqueness to it, but pretty pictures alone does not a good anime make, and I still earnestly believe that a tale of memories needs to do a lot more to even live up to its predecessor, let alone surpass it.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 4

After Story's Sunohara and Mei-centric story arc hits its third instalment in episode four... Although dare I suggest that this was an episode too far for this particular plot line?

Perhaps that's a little unfair, as spending three episodes on Sunohara and Mei isn't the problem in itself (and indeed the arc started really well as far as I'm concerned) - This episode somehow fell a bit flat by developing a case of Clannad's intermittant yet virulent disease, what I call resolve-a-problem-in-the-most-illogical-way-possiblitus. The major symptom of this particular disease is that any Clannad character facing a personal issue looks to resolve it in arguably the most bizarre way possible, and it seems that Mei has a particularly bad case of it here. Given the problems with her brother, you'd think there would be myriad ways of trying to get him to see the light, but for some reason Mei decides that the only way to "get him back" is to somehow get him to rejoin the soccer club he left some time ago on account of being bullied. Not only does this not seem particularly sensible, it didn't really feel like it tied in with Mei's complaints about her brother's behaviour in the last episode either, which left me with an odd "well what's the point then?" feeling floating around in my head throughout the episode.

Regardless of that, we're then treated to Mei, Nagisa and Tomoya chasing after footballs (sorry, I just can't use the word 'soccer' one more time without feeling nauseous), and then still having their request to allow Sunohara to rejoin the club turned down, before everything turns into a full-on fist fight first between the football team and Sunohara and Tomoya, before the latter pairing turn on each other. Thankfully, it appears that the cure for resolve-a-problem-in-the-most-illogical-way-possiblitus is a hefty dose of fisticuffs, to be taken with a small dase of weak ending, and so everything ends up coming up roses.

I should probably point out at this juncture that I didn't really dislike this episode of After Story, I simply felt that it didn't live up to what had come before, nor did it really feel natural from either an emotional or logical perspective. I still enjoy the characters and animation enough to be able to somewhat brush off this kind of stuff, but perhaps I simply prefer it when Clannad is being light-hearted to when it tries to get a bit more serious - That's not to say that it can't do the latter (the original series frequently succeeded along those lines too), but it always seems to be a little more hit and miss, and personally I think that this episode is Exhibit A for the prosecution in terms of placing this accusation against After Story.

Toradora! - Episode 4

Subjective as I try to remain in this 'Blog, I really can't escape the inevitable any longer - I truly have fallen in love with Toradora! as a series.

If I had any doubts along those lines, then episode four has erased them on several counts. For starters, it was absolutely hilarious, from Taiga's collection of blurry photographs of Kitamura through to Kushieda's pudding in a bucket, and with plenty of great lines and conversations in-between that had me laughing out loud time after time. If that wasn't enough to win me over, Taiga proved to be largely adorable throughout this episode despite those inevitable outbursts of anger and violence, while all of the other main characters also lived up to expectations to complete a thoroughly entertaining episode.

Beyond my immense enjoyment of this particular instalment, there really isn't a lot else I can say - Toradora! is one of those series that you have to watch to appreciate, and no amount of my waxing lyrical about it will change that. So, all I can say is that if this is your kind of anime show, and you haven't checked it out yet, then be sure to give it a go - Quite simply, it works, right the way from the opening titles and theme tune onwards.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 3

After two episodes of blood, guts and death aplenty, I suppose it was inevitable that Ga-Rei -Zero- wouldn't be able to keep up that kind of pace indefinitely, and thus episode three of the series takes on a far, fare more sedate pace.

The principle of this episode is simple - After seeing Kagura and Yomi clashing, and the former fighting for her life, last time around, this episode is a beginning to end flashback explaining the relationship the two have, and how they came to become "sisters". No doubt this is going to be some kind of precursor to see how Yomi has fallen from these close bonds to her current state, whatever that may be.

The non-stop action may have been missing from this episode, but this series continues to be incredibly visually appealing, with some great animation and pretty decent character designs to boot. While it's a bit difficult to adjust to this huge change in pace after such a rip-roaring start, hopefully the picture built up by this episode will come in handy as the series progresses - After all, they can't kill off a whole bundle of characters every week, can they? Perhaps the most exciting thing about this series is that once again I can't really figure out where the next episode will take us, or what it'll show us, which is very refreshing after having watched so many utterly predictable series that fell into the same old rut in recent months. While this episode has all but confirmed Kagura's survival despite what we saw in episode two, I wouldn't want to place any bets regarding episode four's contents - All I know is that I can't wait to find out, which cements Ga-Rei -Zero- as one of this season's best from what I've seen so far in my mind.

Wagaya no Oinari-sama - Episode 24 (Completed)

After veering all over the place and never really settling into any kind of particular stride, Wagaya no Oinari-sama finally comes to a close. Given that slightly odd way in which the series has developed, it probably isn't surprising that the final episode was a bit of a rush and a jumble in all honesty, trying to tidy things up neatly while still leaving room for a second season.

Indeed, speaking of tidying, the episode kicks off with a major New Year's clean-up operation championed by Noboru - Needless to say, it all goes a little awry when it comes to letting Kou and Kuu clean, and when the latter's sister (or brother? who knows) Gyokuyou turns up to see her sibling being ordered around, she decides to take action, giving Noboru and Tooru a "taste of their own medicine" by sealing them away in the same way that Kuu was by their family.

Eventually, Gyokuyou relents and releases the brothers, but only on a promise that Kuu will never see them again. However, although she leaves and returns to the cave where she began the series, Noboru, Tooru and Kou track her down and eventually persuade them to rejoin the family. Cue happy endings where everyone eats hot pot and loves each other as one big happy family, Gyokuyou and all. Ahhh....

While Wagaya no Oinari-sama could hardly be called an outstanding series, it has retained a certain relaxed atmosphere to it that has at least made it largely watchable. It never really seemed to get the hang of mixing more serious story arcs with its more light-hearted side, and indeed as the series progressed it almost seemed to give up on creating much in the way of drama and tension, making way for more of the wonderful Sakura (easily the highlight of this series - have I mentioned that she should get her own show yet?) and some more random outings, but to be fair they actually brought a little charm and life to the series where previously there was none. I won't be waiting with bitten nails and bated breath for a second series of this show, but I have to confess that I probably would want to give it a look if such a thing were to emerge.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 3

While episode one of Shikabane Hime set the scene in a not particularly spectacular style, and episode two added some genuinely creepy and horrific atmosphere to the mix, what can the third instalment bring to the series?

In short, what it brings us is some depth to the plot. The episode starts with another of those time-honoured cornerstones of the horror genre - The echoing sound of a crying baby in the night, which on this occasion belongs to a Shikabane. However, before it can be caught, all Makina is left with is the body of a dead girl, a situation which repeats itself numerous times. How is this Shikabane getting away every time, and why is it targeting young girls?

Meanwhile, Kagami is sent home from school with a terrible cold, but the mysterious "ghost cat" that keeps appearing drags him out to the outside of a gynaecologist's office, where he passes out only to be helped by the seemingly friendly doctor there. No sooner has he come around than he ends up face to face with who else but our favourite Shikabane Hime, leading to further arguments, revelations and peril.

It may have been a little slow to build up, but this was definitely the best episode of Shikabane Hime so far, finally putting some more substantial flesh on those bones of the series opening pair of episodes. We get to learn of the origins of Makina (although enough mystery remains to keep us suitably intrigued), the plot surrounding mixing Shikabane and humans is equally interesting, and we get a glimpse of what appears likely to be the series true bad guy.

While the horror elements of this episode were nowhere near as strong as the last instalment's outing, the atmosphere in this series remains suitably dark and moody, which continues to work well, and the thankfully the move to a more plot-centric story here actually worked well, being both delivered and expounded upon in a satisfactory and worthwhile manner. Thus, I'm still not convinced that Shikabane Hime: Aka will become any sort of classic, but it is at least building up to be a solid and eminently watchable show that is beginning to go some way to justifying its hype.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Yozakura Quartet - Episode 3

I've already marked out Yozakura Quartet as being oddly likeable (and from what I've seen it's currently going down pretty well in Japan too), but somehow being entertained by an episode about a fat dog who gets turned into some kind of speeding bullet has to pretty much cement that "I'm not sure why I kinda like this, but I do" sentiment that this series gives me.

The dog that I'm referring to turns up on Hime's doorstep in the middle of training at the beginning of the episode, before we flash forward one month to find that the animal (called Silver, in case you care) has become a loyal pet, and a decidedly fat one at that. The bad news is that Hime's devotion to Silver is seen as weaker leadership by some of the residents, an issue which burns at the heart of her commitment to the mayoral cause, and thus gives her some tough decisions to make.

In essence, these decisions are made for her as Silver runs away after she punishes him a little too sternly, at which point the evil fox demon who we still don't really know a lot about happens upon him and turns him into "super evil speeding bullet demon dog thing", before eventually making him into a full-on demon that has to be dealt with in the usual fashion.

Despite its hardly world-class animation, and pretty basic plot points that make even Wagaya no Oinari-sama look complicated, Yozakura Quartet continues to 'just work' on some level, which I can only put down to the fact that all of the main characters have a refreshingly simple, warm and enjoyable relationship with one another - Despite their individual special powers (and all that lightning, which seems to be the special effect du jour for this series) they really do often seem like a bunch of normal people sharing an office, which makes for a surprisingly down-to-earth tone for the show even when it gets speeding flying demon dogs thrown into the mix. In other words, it's just a bit of uncomplicated fun, which isn't a bad thing every once in a while.

Kannagi - Episode 3

After a thoroughly enjoyable first couple of episodes of Kannagi, I was wondering whether this series would be able to keep up those high standards as the show progressed. However, episode three seems to have given me no cause for concern along those lines, as it somehow turns out to be even better than the instalments which preceded it.

For starters, we get to see Jin at school for the first time, and thus meet up with his fellow art club members - A typically diverse group that already managed to bring plenty of humour to the table, from Daitetsu the gentle giant who almost explodes at the sigh of cute cats through to the otaku-esque Akiba. These may be slightly cliched character traits, but if it works then you can't knock it, and in this episode both of those characters have their moments.

The main focus of the actual story this time revolves around the art club having to clear out their store room, a place rumoured to be the residence of a ghost. Jin think that he sees an impurity there during their first visit to the room, but despite choosing not to tell Nagi about it she finds out anyway, and thus turns up at the school, leaving Jin with a lot of explaining to do.

In a sense, the plot is almost entirely incidental to a series such as this, which is really all about the interactions between the various characters, where of course Nagi gets to take centre stage, stealing every scene in which she's a part. We also see a very definite love rivalry developing as far as Tsugumi is concerned, which also brings about a few amusing moments.

So, once again I'm left with nothing but positive impressions of Kannagi - It's a simple pleasure, but it's great fun to watch and that's all there is too it. It's undemanding, and it managed to get a fair few laughs out of me... What more could I ask for?

Kurogane no Linebarrels - Episode 2 (Dropped)

The first episode of Kurogane no Linebarrels seemed to be some kind of lesson in how not to make a mecha-based anime - The mecha designs were uninspired and their animation extremely poor (and a waste of CG rendering time), and as for the main protagonist... Well, the less said about him the better.

Indeed, said protagonist Kouichi somehow manages to take this incredibly average anime and make it worse by being the most irritating "hero" I think I've ever seen in anime, a guy who doesn't give a damn about anyone else apart from himself and his new-found powers, despite frequently calling himself a "hero of justice". Now, you could argue that it's a brave move to create such a slimeball of a main character to start the series, as no doubt he'll learn and reform his ways as the show progresses, but he's succeeded in being both so annoying and so plain stupid in these first two episodes that I really don't think I can watch on any further.

Kouichi's character is really just the mouldy icing on the crumbling cake of below-par animation (even putting aside those horrible mecha animations) and supporting characters that I can't even begin to muster up any interest in, coupled with a rather cheesy soundtrack and general feeling that this series has tried to borrow the best bits from other mecha anime yet has somehow managed to blend them all into a turd sandwich.

Maybe this series will somehow turn into a classic and make me look foolish, but I really don't see it, and after sitting through far too many episodes gritting my teeth at an irritating lead male character last season (yes, that's right Itazura na Kiss, I still hate you for putting me through that) I simply don't have the will to do so again. Thus, this is going to be the first (and quite possibly only) series that I drop from my viewing schedule this season.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 15

Hurrah! This is just what Telepathy Shoujo Ran needed - An episode about a comb. Yes, that's right, a comb.

While Ran and Midori have been taking centre stage with all of their various supernatural abilities throughout the series, it appears that it's Rui's turn to have some ghost-related fun for this story arc, as he spots a woman in a kimono that nobody else can see. Next thing he knows, he's given a mysterious box by a trader at a market, and whisked off to the Edo period, where he meets a girl called (funnily enough) Ran, who is linked into this whole comb business, and also gets caught up with some giant slug with headlights. No, really, I'm not making this up.

Beyond that, this feels like just another episode of Telepathy Shoujo Ran (yes, I know, that's probably because it is just another episode of said series), following the general rules for the series but supplanting Ran or Midori for Rui, which might not be so bad if he weren't such a dull and lifeless kid most of the time. It could be down to that predictability, but the episode really does plod along somewhat, and if I'm honest every episode of this series seems more stilted than the last as it tries to offer up something genuinely watchable.

I can't really find anything tangible to criticise about this episode, as it's perfectly passable in its own right and doesn't do anything wrong per se, but somehow (and on the back of fourteen episodes of more of the same) it doesn't really do anything to lift itself out of utter mediocrity either - An issues which is making this series an increasingly bitter pill to swallow.

Kemeko DX - Episode 2

The opening episode of Kemeko DX quite frankly left me cold, and sorely tempted to drop the series after that single instalment. However, fair guy that I am, I wanted to at least give it a second chance to redeem itself.

To be fair, episode two of the series has in fact at least given it a stay of execution in my anime-watching schedule. While a lot of the madcap craziness continues to be almost totally devoid of amusement to me, this second instalment managed to worm its way ever-so-slightly into my heart by piling on a large number of pop culture and anime cross-references, from Ghost in the Shell to a completely random reference to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (which seems to be turning up all over the place at the moment, even Toradora! revolved an entire conversation around a phrase from that show), whilst even poking a little fun at the brothers who founded Kadokawa who produce the series. It also managed to amuse somewhat with its depiction of Sanpeita's Mum, the horribly overworked manga artist who (along with a colleague) has just pulled four straight all-nighters in this episode - Her sleep deprived behaviour is probably the highlight of this instalment.

Aside from the humour, as far as the plot goes we get introduced to Tamiko (Sanpeita's sister), and also find out that the girl inside Kemeko doesn't appear to be the girl Sanpeita promised to marry ten years ago, while also discovering just who Kemeko and the girl who 'drives' her is supposed to be fighting against.

So, I suppose what we've learned here is that throwing a bunch of cultural references into an anime series tends to make me far more forgiving of its flaws than usual. The whole Kemeko suit thing just annoys me hugely for some reason, and the general premise and humour of the series does nothing, but as long as it can remain sly and clever in its use of other materials to bolster it, then I might actually find myself watching the series from beginning to end without ever mustering up the heart to drop it.

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 2

I refused to use the term "mindfuck" to describe episode one of Chäos;HEAd, but I have to admit that having watched this second episode, the series does seem to be edging ever closer to matching that particular turn of phrase pretty well.

Last episode left us with Takumi meeting the girl he'd seen using wimbled crosses instead of drawing pins and a dead body instead of a poster last episode, and in his own class at school no less - What gives? Well, if this episode is to be believed the girl in question is Rimi, and Takumi has been friends with her for many, many years. Surely he'd remember such a thing, this can't be true?

If that isn't problematic enough for Takumi, Yua is still paying a disproportionate amount of interest in him, taking him out shopping, trying to visit him in his classroom and asking him to walk her home. Despite Takumi's protestations that he's only interested in 2D girls, and misgivings about her, he can't help but to enjoy the warmth of female attention... is Yua really interested in a hikiomori like him? On top of all that, the police investigation into the so-called "New Gene" killings have captured video footage of a male running from the scene of the latest crime, carrying a wimbled cross and wearing a very particular school uniform...

The key to Chäos;HEAd's success as a series is really very simple, yet incredible effective - In essence, it's all about Takumi's delusional nature. You could call it gimmicky, but the fact is that watching the show, and viewing it through Takumi's eyes as we do, you simply have no idea as to what is real or what is simply a figment of his imagination. Did he really witness that murder? Is Rimi really an old friend? Is Takumi somehow involved in these killings himself but blocking them out of his head as part of his psychological issues? Quite frankly, we don't have a clue, but it's hugely entertaining trying to pick up the clues, filter out what is real and what isn't and try to figure out what on Earth is going on here.

Probably, the biggest problem with the series thus far is Takumi himself - His character isn't exactly lovable at the best of times, and I can see this becoming a real 'Marmite' issue amongst viewers of the show - People will either like him as a protagonist or absolutely hate him. Personally, I don't have a problem with Takumi's character at all, as it fits in brilliantly with the picture that has been built of him - Sure, it can be a little cringe-worthy to watch, but isn't that kind of the point?

While this second episode of Chäos;HEAd arguably wasn't quite up to the same quality as the opener, it continues to stand out as the most intriguing series I've watched so far this season - It gets you thinking and puts your powers of deduction to use thanks to its main narrative device, and that alone is almost guaranteed to keep me coming back for more.

Friday, 17 October 2008

ef - a tale of melodies - Episode 2

I mentioned last time around that I wasn't too sure what to make of ef - a tale of melodies, and I have to confess that I'm afraid the same is true after watching episode two of the series.

It isn't so much that it doesn't make sense as the fact that it jumps about rather frequently, and hasn't given me enough in the way of a story for me to form any kind of bond with any of the main characters. In a sense, it almost feels like a triumph of style over substance, with lots of great artistry on show but not a lot to really nail down where the story is going, or indeed where it's coming from. Sure, we do get some more background on Yu and Yuko, showing how their relationship has both developed and splintered, and Kuze and Mizuki's relationship also gets a shot in the arm, but it feels almost like we're being fed random morsels of some far, far bigger stories, and to be quite honest it's a little bit frustrating, and I don't ever remember feeling that way about ef - a tale of memories, which seemed less prone to such prevarication.

I certainly haven't given up on a tale of melodies yet by a long shot, but I do worry that it's trying a little too hard to be an artistic piece that would rather look down its nose at anyone who doesn't "get it" rather than make a genuinely salient attempt at story-telling. I really, really hope it goes on to prove me wrong on that count.

Toradora! - Episode 3

I don't think it's any secret that I've really enjoyed the first couple of episodes of Toradora!, and having just finished episode three it's fair to say that my opinion of the series has changed not one iota.

While the first two episodes focused largely on establishing the dynamic between Taiga and Ryuuji, episode three shifts its focus a little more in the direction of the latter's romantic interest in the always energetic Minori Kushieda, culminating in one of those anime cliches that likes to pop up quite frequently - Getting locked in a shed or storage room of some description with the object of your interest.

Despite Minori getting plenty of screen time this episode, that doesn't mean that we don't see plenty of Taiga to boot - Indeed, it's her reactions to Ryuuji that make for one of the more interesting topics of discussion this episode, as she helps him to meet her by taking him to a restaurant she works at on the one hand, but repeatedly tries to do some serious damage to his eyeballs every time he gawps too much. Is that just what friends are for, or is there a little more to it than that? Speaking of talking points, we always get dealt some pretty big hints that Minori isn't quite the confident, self-assured girl she likes to make out she is.

While the plot of this episode (and indeed the series as a whole) isn't the kind of thing to blow your mind, Toradora! works fantastically well almost solely on the basis of its characters. Ryuuji is an incredibly likeable guy (and who doesn't feel they're misunderstood every once in a while?), Minori has that infectiously upbeat attitude that seems to be hiding some very human frailties, and Taiga... Well, you probably wouldn't want to hang out with her if you valued your life, but as an anime character she simply shines. Put those three (and the rest of the cast) together, and you have something the viewing experience of can be summed up in a single word - Fun.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 3

Following on from the quite frankly hilarious second episode of Clannad After Story, episode three continues down the route of convincing Sunohara's sister Mei that he has a girlfriend, courtesy of an Oscar-winning performance by Sanae.

Following Sunohara and Sane's first "date", we get to the crux of the problem between him and his sister - Never mind girlfriends and the like, Mei is simply upset at how Sunohara has changed, for the worst in her opinion. This is epitomised when he shrugs off a girl being bullied in a playground as unimportant - A shock for Mei, coming from a guy who used to frequently save her from bullying.

In an attempt to win his attention back from Sanae (who of course Sunohara still thinks is Nagisa's sister) Mei lies to him, pretending she has a boyfriend of her own, and as the episode progresses this quickly turns into all kinds of messy as said lie gathers pace and drags more people into its fold.

While I absolutely loved episode two of After Story, after those heights this particular offering feels more like a passable effort rather than any kind of heights of genius. Maybe it's just me, but the intricacies of Sunohara and his sister's relationship feel a little stilted somehow, and it's hard to take in Mei's assertions that he used to be so different when we've never really seen this side of him during any part of Clannad. Still, despite that the story remains generally solid, blending emotion and humour reasonably well, and there are some more really funny moments to be enjoyed here once again (with Tomoya hanging out with Mei a particular highlight). Episode four is looking set to be pretty fractious though, so steel yourself for an altogether more downbeat experience next time around...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 2

While I referred to the first episode of Shikabane Hime as a jigsaw puzzle that had to be put together without the picture on the box, perhaps I should have looked at it from a more simplistic angle and simply labelled it as being a case of style over substance. Thankfully, episode two actually manages to balance out those particular items on the "important things for anime to have" agenda far better.

The episode opens by greeting us with a scene of carnage on the roads, with a crash involving (fatally) a coach full of pre-school children, one of whom was friends with one of the orphans who had previously lived under the same roof as Ouri Kagami. Horrifyingly, three of these children 'return' from the dead as Shikabane, leaving Makina to follow and despatch them in her time-honoured fashion, but of course Kagami ends up getting involved which eventually puts him right in the firing line of this skirmish. Here, he ends up learning both about Shikabane themselves as well as Makina's role in "removing" them, although he's still in the dark as to the exact extent of his brother's involvement (as are we, now I come to think about it).

While that opening episode of Shikabane Hime: Aka felt like just another series of ghosts, girls and guns, this second helping manages to strike a far more atmospheric tone. Some of the most horrific scenes are very well realised, with the emergence of one of the children from her coffin in Shikabane form the kind of thing to send a shiver down the most hardy of spines, while the driving rain and flashes of lightning may be as old as the hills when it comes to creating atmosphere, but why move away from such useful devices?

I have to confess that a lot of that visual polish is arguably papering over what could be labelled as a "more adult Bleach with guns" or something along those lines, but now that the storyline and the main characters inter-relationships have been built a little further, the scene is potentially set to offer something that is at least compelling and entertaining. The jury is certainly still out on Shikabane Hime: Aka as an entity of its own, but episode two has shown some shoots of growth that I hope continues into future episodes so that it can at least somewhat live up to the hype.

Yozakura Quartet - Episode 2

I marked out the opening episode of Yozakura Quartet as having some potential, which is usually the kind of proclamation that sends a series into a nosedive faster than you can say "and at the end they all take up knitting". Thankfully, this series saw fit not to take that nosedive in quality quite yet.

Overall, the episode continues to focus on Rin, the new demon in town, who gets away with only a small handful of restrictions to her freedom after the incident last time around, but still finds it incredibly hard to come to terms with the fact that she has to share her surroundings with humans. We get some flashbacks to see exactly why this is the case (which really wasn't surprising at all), but unfrotunately that really doesn't help poor old Akina, the resident human and demon tuner... or demon murderer, as Rin prefers to look at it (and she isn't the only one).

In the meantime, we finally get a proper introduction to the baddie of the piece, a demon fox (demon foxes always get the blame) with a penchant for lightning bolts... In fact, the whole series seems to have a penchant for lightning bolts, so I suppose I shouldn't really single him out. Anyway, numerous demons are finding that their powers are suddenly going out of control and causing damage, which it seems it most likely related to Br'er Fox, and of course when Rin is caught up in these goings-on who is on hand to save her? That's right... Akina. Thus, Rin no longer hates humans and all is well with the world again. Until the next episode, no doubt.

While the overall content of this episode from a storyline point of view was really quite predictable, and almost seemed to be ticking off boxes as far as giving us glimpses of some of the major character's histories was concerned, it still somehow managed to remain pretty watchable throughout. Last episode I couldn't quite put my finger on why I felt the series had potential, and largely speaking I feel the same with episode two - I should be shrugging my shoulders and writing it off as a piece of mediocrity, yet somehow I still rather liked it. Whether those feelings will last for the full twelve episodes I have no idea, but while Yozakura Quartet is hardly pushing the boat out as a must-see show this season, it's looking set to be worthy of a look if you have some time to burn.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Nabari no Ou - Episode 26 (Completed)

After being gripped by the first few episodes of Nabari no Ou, I really didn't think that I'd reach the point where I'd be glad to see the end of the series, but glad I am, and then some.

In a way, this episode summed up everything that was wrong with the series as a whole, and only served to prove how shot to pieces the pacing of the show was. After somehow ending up with most of the meat of the series finale in episodes twenty-four and twenty-five, in reality there wasn't much left for episode twenty-six to tie up, and this was basically done and dusted in the first few minutes with Miharu finding Yoite, asking him what he wants to do with his future and banishing the Shinrabanshou from having anything to do with him again.

So, the rest of the episode basically catalogues Yoite's decision to carry on living rather than having his existence erased, after which point he takes up knitting. No, really, I'm serious. We also get to see all of the other characters in an almost sickening roll-call of "Happy happy, joy joy" moments, which would have been fine for a couple of minutes for the end of the series, but twenty whole minutes of it was, quite frankly, torture, which left me wondering if the Shinrabanshou could perhaps reappear to end my own existence rather than watch that interminable ending.

I've made this point far too many times already in my coverage of this series, but it's really the only point I can make at its conclusion - This series should only ever have been thirteen episodes long. I can't help but think that this somehow ended up becoming such a labour of love for its writers that they couldn't see the wood for the trees, as this is exactly the kind of show that needed a ruthless hand to relegate much of its content to the cutting room floor to make for a fresher, faster-moving series. When Nabari no Ou put its mind to it everything worked rather well as a kind of "thinking man's Naruto", but this was all let down by its dreadfully plodding pace and seemingly completely pointless episodes that showed us so much but told us so little. At the end of the day, you shouldn't have to watch a series knowing that only every other episode will be any good, but that's exactly how sitting through this show felt, and to be quite frank it completely ruined both its concept and ambience, which is a real travesty if you ask me.

Real Drive - Episode 15

Real Drive has been one of those series that has largely disappointed me, not so much because it's a poor effort but rather because as a concept it holds such a vast amount of potential. Despite that, it's only produced very occasional episodes of worth with rather too much filler, topped off with the cardinal sin of a recap episode last time around.

With all of this in mind, episode fifteen of Real Drive is a rather difficult one to pin down. On the surface, it offers up quite an interesting thought, namely the future of food in a world where everything can be simulated by computers, introducing us to a special food club in the Metal where its members tastes have become so refined that they simply can't stomach normal food in real drive, leaving them to basically starve and die instead - A state of affairs which of course leads Haru to investigate the group.

However, despite this rather serious sounding concept, the entire episode is basically treated as a comedy - We more or less start out with Minamo giving a five minute diatribe against green peppers (I'm not a huge fan of peppers, but even I can't wax lyrical about it quite like that), and then via some misfortune which leaves Minamo having not eaten and thus hungry for the entire episode we get to meet this Metal-based food club themselves. At this juncture the episode becomes almost Monty Python-esque, with some bizarre characters with an incredibly nonsensical dress sense and equally surreal choice of eating locations for their virtual meals. Although I was surprised to see the subject matter given this treatment, I have to confess - It was actually quite funny in its own weird way, so the episode certainly wasn't a complete dead loss by any means.

Overall then, I have to give this instalment a pass mark for bringing up an interesting subject, but more or less breaking with its own tradition in not taking said matter at all seriously, with some decent if slightly surprising results. I really don't know why the writers feel that they have to fit every plot point in exactly with Minamo's own every day life though - I'm pretty sure that we can handle these concepts without having our hands held to such a ridiculous degree.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 2

The first episode of Ga-Rei -Zero- entertained me with its no nonsense blend of stylish action, then confounded me by seemingly killing off the entirety of what were shaping up to be the main cast in the matter of a minute at the end of the episode. So where on Earth can it go from here?

Hmm, how about a Humvee, spiritual ferrets that can turn into energy blasts, massive shotguns, briefcases backed with machine guns, zombies, and schoolgirls wielding huge swords? Yep, that's exactly where Ga-Rei -Zero- has gone, and to put it bluntly it just oozes awesome.

Aside from all that, we get introduced to a little politics in this series - Last episode, we followed the Supernatural Disaster Prevention Agency, whereas this time around we become familiar with the Ministry of the Environment's Supernatural Disaster Countermeasures Division, which is where our Humvee-sporting new band of heroes come from. After staving off a Category B monster, things ramp up a notch when a Category A element enters the fray... The trouble is, it's Yomi; one of their former colleagues and close friend (and then some) of Kagura, one of those aforementioned schoolgrils with swords.

If you've ever wondered how to make a non-stop, all action anime, then sit up and pay attention, for Ga-Rei -Zero- is well and truly it. Although we do get some quieter moments to firm up the plot, these are few and far between compared to the almost relentless action, all of which is carried out with both blood and guts with plenty of style to match. If it's your kind of thing, then it's really both engrossing and stunning to watch, with some very nice animation to back up the crazy supernatural fighting.

There's no need for deep thought or analysis here, I'm loving this series so far. A lot. It shows no signs of becoming too deep or highbrow, but as pure entertainment with a very definite laddish "cool factor", I don't think it'll be beaten this season... No, I don't actually think it'll be beaten this year on its current showing.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 24

Another day, another episode of Allison to Lillia as we draw ever closer to this magnum opus of drug-fuelled insanity. Or something. Anyhow, episode twenty-four brings us "The Great Train Operation", although "The Implausible Train Confusion" seems like a more apt title if you ask me.

Of course, after bumping into Treize unexpectedly, Lillia demands to know what he's doing on this train packed with security agents while accompanying a beautiful woman. I was really hoping that he might... you know, tell the truth? But no, instead he somehow drags Princess Matilda into his single-ply tissue of lies, and as per usual Lillia takes it all hook, line and sinker. No wonder her own mother calls her dumb and pitiful later on this episode... Speaking of Lillia's utter stupidity, even Matilda notices straight away that Travas is her father (although bizarrely only on the basis of eye colour, which I guess means that Frank Sinatra is my father), while she is also at least human enough to think that abandoning your wife and daughter so that you can play secret agent and get to wear some kind of Madonna in concert headset on a train is a little upsetting.

Anyway, with Lillia placated and drinking tea like the class dunce that she is, something is afoot amongst the passengers - A student has collapsed (from drinking too much milk, judging by the animation), and the passengers are furious. Someone has poisoned their lunch boxes! No, I know it makes no sense, but this is Allison to Lillia we're talking about, so bear with me. The passengers then go to the train's buffet car to have it out with Travas and company, and while this is going on some masked assailant is spotted on the roof of the train and captured. One passenger admits that this female assassin wannabe is his wife (except she isn't - again, bear with me here), then takes Lillia hostage until Allison shoots at him and threatens him unless he lets her go. Seeing as Allison was useless with a gun in the first half of this series, shooting towards someone who is holding your only daughter in front of them seems like a rather risky business, but I suppose at least it's better than our hero Travas, who just stands around with his mouth agape wondering why this never happens when Madonna wears her headset. As the whole poisoning plot is revealed by Allison (who also seems to have inherited Travas/Wil's brains for such conundrums, again making him look like the secret service's answer to Inspector Gadget), by some miracle of chemistry and pharmaceutical genius the two guilty parties pass out in pain, having been poisoned themselves using some magical serum that only starts working once you've been caught carrying out your evil plot I assume.

So, with danger still clearly imminent, Travas makes the decision to split the train in two, somehow magically procuring a second locomotive, while also leaving his own daughter and wife on the other half of the train to their own devices, and possibly death, thus surely cementing his nomination for "Worst parent of the 21st century". However, even this little trick doesn't stop yet more people involved in this cunning plot to appear out of nowhere in what just happens to be exactly the right place, thus holding up the train containing the princess. During this scene, Travas also tells the train driver to ignore a car on the track and to "just push it out the way", which I suppose confirms if nothing else that physics (and specifically collisions) never was his forte at school, although to be fair given the number of times the laws of physics have been broken in Allison to Lillia he may well know better than me (and Scotty from Star Trek) on this occasion.

Really, trying to wrap my head around the 'nuances' of this particular episode's plot have made my head hurt, so I'm not even going to try rationalising it any further. I must go now, lest someone try to poison my lunch box....

Kannagi - Episode 2

The opening episode of Kannagi left me, quite simply, wanting more - Although it's always difficult to judge any anime from a single episode, there was enough on show to suggest an enjoyable series ahead. If this second instalment was anything to go by, my initial gut feeling was absolutely right.

It's hard to worry too much about the plot of this particular episode, as it's really just an excuse for every aspect of Nagi's character to shine - One moment she's as cute as button, the next cunning as a fox, the next as stubborn as a mule; versatile doesn't begin to describe it, and even Nagi manages to convince both Jin himself (for a while at least) and his childhood friend Tsugumi that she has a split personality. Actually, she might not be so far wrong after all...

Speaking of Tsugumi, of course we have some inevitable rivalry for Jin's affections building up here, with this girl in question promising Jin's father that she'll look out for him while she's also suitably shocked to find some strange girl living with him, despite being gullible enough to take in Nagi's elaborate story to explain her presence. On top of all that, we also have some evil spirit capturing to enjoy, which also proves to provide both entertainment and amusement, including the classic line "She's not a weirdo or a fraud, she's a religious person". Oh, and there are kittens too. Awww.

Anyway, all I can really say is that I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. Sure, it wasn't hilarious comedy or action-packed, but Nagi is simply proving to be one of those eminently lovable and watchable characters, much like Spice and Wolf's Horo and her verbal sparring with others made that series. Her attitude plays off perfectly against Jin's own personality, which gives us all the makings of a great little series to close out 2008 just as the aforementioned Spice and Wolf opened it.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Allison to Lillia - Episode 23

It's time for another brand new arc of Allison to Lillia, which is in no way, shape or form inspired by an arc we've already seen regarding plots being hatched on long distance trains. Of course not, like a series of this calibre would be reduced to reusing old ideas...

Anyhow, it's spring break for Lillia (the girl is on a permanent holiday from school, I swear), and to make the most of that time Allison invites her on a little trip, taking a military plane before boarding a train to complete the journey. However, that train just happens (oh, joyous coincidence!) to be ferrying a certain Princess Matilda, who is due to marry Treize when he turns twenty if he can't find anybody better (or worse, depending on how you look at it). With such precious cargo, of course everyone's favourite incompetent secret agent Travas has been put in charge of the operation, a plan that is so important that everyone involved has been given codenames, with Travas taking on the cunning pseudonym of "Leader" (which he clearly nicked off that angry woman from the last story arc).

Meanwhile, some fat man has hired an imprisoned criminal to go out and kill someone. The rest of the plot writes itself from that point really, and I'm sure I don't need to point out the ridiculous concept of hiring a criminal who is in prison to commit a murder - But I will anyway. Firstly, I doubt most prisons are in the habit of letting their most dangerous inmates out on day release to go and commit further crimes, and secondly, why would you want to hire someone who is in prison anyway - Doesn't the fact that he's been caught and incarcerated suggest that he's a bit of a rubbish criminal in the first place?

I also have to question the competence of Travas' staff in this episode, with one in particular taking on her codename of 'Anne' with glee, but then blubbing her complete family history out to the princess at the first available opportunity. Great, tell her all about your parents, what they did and where they're buried... I mean, that won't blow your cover at all now, will it?

Anyway, back to the plot... Wait, not quite yet, I have another gripe. Why on Earth is Benedict getting so angry with Fiona about her buying too many cameras? They're a godamn royal family, they can buy as many cameras as they like and still afford to live in a big palace with dynamite-proof kitchens and ultra-secret hidden lofts! Has nobody told him that's he's married into money?

Right, honestly now, back to the story... While Allison and Lillia, and Treize and Travas start out on different trains, a "breakdown" to the formers vehicle leads them to be allowed aboard the latter along with the rest of the passengers. But wait a second, how can they possibly let members of the public share a train with royalty without thoroughly vetting them first? Don't worry, Travas' team has control of everything, as one of his party quickly scans the passengers with his binoculars (even though they're stood three feet in front of him) to ensure that none of them are suspicious. Because of course the convicted felon hired to murder someone will still be in his prison uniform and not changed into a suit or anything, right?

So, everyone is happily aboard the new train, and it's only a matter of time before Lillia bumps into Treize and demands that he tell her why he's there. The episode ends, leaving us wondering what stupidity will distract Lillia from finding out the truth this time around. And what about the princess' safety? Oh, that's right, there's nobody suspicious on the train... If I roll my eyes any more they're going to drop out of their sockets.

Well, time for me to put away the colander, which I've now verified has entirely less holes than this episode of Allison to Lillia. Don't worry though, I've already got a sieve ready for my comparison with episode twenty-four, so don't miss it!

Nabari no Ou - Episode 25

By the end of the last episode of Nabari no Ou, it was looking like we were in for a cataclysmic ending to the series, with Hattori dead, Yoite gone bonkers and the Shinrabanshou about to be unleashed unchecked by Miharu.

But, of course, this is Nabari no Ou we're talking about, and thus five minutes into this episode we're back to the plodding old story that has haunted this series so much. After all that build up, which is brought to new heights by the Shinrabanshou creating some kind of "giant of light" (I'm sure I wasn't the only one waiting for Second Impact at that point...), the whole process is stopped because Miharu sees his Mum who tells him to forget about it. Talk about an anti-climax.

In all the confusion Yoite has somehow managed to disappear (he certainly gets around pretty well for an almost dead guy), and so the rest of the episode turns into a predictable case of Miharu going in search of Yoite, helped by Thobari and Yukimi (who also got injured in the scrap before the Shinrabanshou stopped doing its thing). Very little happens beyond that aside from confirmation that Raikou is dead, which once again leaves me wishing this had been a thirteen episode series so that we don't have to worry about every other episode slowing to a sloth-like pace.

Considering how well poised the end of episode twenty-four was, it's almost incredible that they managed to make something so dull out of this instalment after threatening some kind of apocalypse in the opening minutes - It seems that the writers of this series have succeeded admirably in turning cliff-hangers into stamp collecting parties. Despite enjoying a few episodes of this show, I'll be more than glad to see it finish with what looks like an equally dull final episode just to get it out of the way. A real shame, when you look at the potential for what this series could have been.

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 1

The word "mindfuck" gets thrown around way too easily with some anime series these days, and thus I'm going to avoid making use of it here, but even I have to admit that the opening episode of Chäos;HEAd is not far off fitting that description pretty well.

The protagonist of the series is Takumi Nishijou, a guy who could easily have fitted the lead role in Welcome to the NHK. In short, this high school student is a bona fide hikikomori, living in a messy crate with nothing but a load of anime figurines and an imaginary friend for company, gaming all night long and doing his best to have nothing to do with "those 3D girls" out in the real world.

This social angst actually ties in very well to the darker side of this first episode, where some strange things are going on - Mutiple suicides, murders where people are nailed to walls and so on. Takumi finds himself getting dragged into these events despite his reclusive status, which only serves to increase his paranoia and delusions, to the point where he finds himself unable to trust even an innocent, anime-loving girl who has had an eye on him.

In a way, this first instalment of Chäos;HEAd feels like two series rolled into one. On the one hand there are some definite shades of Welcome to the NHK in there, but at the other extreme the series is also building up into some kind of psychological thriller - A combination that could make for an almightily interesting series. With that in mind, I was really rather impressed with this opening episode of the show - While its duality is a little confusing (and that opening scene before the credits was certainly pretty apocalyptic in its visuals), Takumi's state of my mind really does add something to the whole murder back story and who is responsible, particularly given his delusions and 'hallucinations' which aren't marked out as such for the viewer, so assuming we're seeing everything through his eyes we can't really be sure what we're seeing is real at all.

All in all, this could well be the most impressive and promising episode of this new Autumn anime season so far, and given its twelve episode length it should try to overstretch itself hopefully. I'm now very much on tenterhooks for episode two, which I hope can continue this good start to the series.

Hyakko - Episode 2

After introducing us to the main four characters in its opening instalment, episode two of Hyakko gives us a rather better glimpse of what we can expect from this slice-of-lice school comedy.

A couple of weeks into the school year, it's time to choose on an after-school club to join, thus setting the scene for untold disasters, particularly given Torako's rather over-zealous competitive streak. Indeed, it's Torako's enthusiasm that sets the scene for this episode, building up what gradually becomes a rather vicious rivalry between herself and the initially apathetic Tatsui as they try out a variety of sports as well as a handful of other activities (which are rather glossed over for some reason).

I commented last time around that Hyakko will have to do a lot more to impress me than its first episode offered, and while to be fair this second instalment was an improvement it didn't really hit any home runs as far as its humour is concerned - It did have its moments, but nothing truly laugh-ou-loud funny, with the episode overall having a bit of a "seen it all before" feeling to it. Torako's boisterous nature has set her out as the natural leader of the group, but I really hope that Ayumi and Suzume get more of a look-in in future episodes than just standing around watching events involving the other two unfold, as they really were horribly neglected beyond the odd moment here and there this time around.

So, two episodes in there's no real sign that Hyakko will prove to be anything other than a run-of-the-mill example of its genre, but we can at least hope that it succeeds in pulling out some decent individual episodes during its run.