Sunday, 30 November 2008

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 8

If episode seven of Chäos;HEAd felt a little like reading A Brief History of Time in Arabic backwards to you, then the good news is that episode eight is far, far less strenuous on those precious brain cells, taking an extremely action-oriented turn that doesn't particularly require too much thought at all.

The whole thing starts with Takumi being persuaded to go on a "raid" with Kozue (or Kozupii, if we really have to use that annoying name) and Sena, who are off on a mission to destroy "Noah 11", a piece of equipment which is vital to whatever N.O.Z.O.M.I. are up to. The ability of a Gigalomaniac to project delusions onto others makes it easy enough to enter the target complex, but when it seems as though they've found Noah 11, they come across the CEO of N.O.Z.O.M.I. - Cue lots of fighting with Di-Swords, and a few dirty tricks played using delusions as weapons, before Ayase briefly joins the fray and does her part to turn the tide despite still being injured from her fall in the last episode. The intrepid trio (well, quartet if you include Ayase) win the day, but it seems to be something of a phyrric victory...

Mixed in with all of this are some important details regarding Sena, including her real family name and her reason for fighting tooth and nail against N.O.Z.O.M.I. and a little bit more about Kozue and why she doesn't speak (although if her telepathic voice is anything like her real one, I think I'd stay quiet if I were here too). Perhaps most important of all is what little we see of Rimi in this episode, as we learn that she is in league with Shogun, and seems rather keen to dispose of Takumi, although Shogun thinks otherwise. What are they planning? Who else does N.O.Z.O.M.I.'s President have captive? There are plenty of new questions to answer heading into episode nine...

Considering that I wasn't sure whether Chäos;HEAd would be able to make the transition to a more action-packed scenario particularly, this episode actually fared rather well, keeping the flow of interesting and important developments going alongside the more typical swinging around of swords, a segment of the episode that was actually made all the more watchable in itself by the use of delusions as weapons. While I get the impression that this series is heading away from the game upon which it is based at a rate of knots (although I still haven't played it myself yet), and is similarly moving away from the tone of those fascinating early episodes, it still remains a decent series with plenty going on to keep me both entertained and watching with due intrigue in the show and everything it portrays.

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 13 (Completed)

Seeing as one of the group's Tanabata wishes last episode was for them to carry on as they were forever, I was kind of hoping for the same thing, but alas here we are at the end of Hidamari Sketch x365, this time jumping forward (or is it backwards? It's always so hard to tell with this show) to the New Year, just as Yunocchi returns back from some time in her home town.

As per normal, this episode is the usual relaxed yet warm and fuzzy slice of life fare, with some great funny moments thrown in here and there (Yoshinoya's quick changing ability and Miyako's slow-motion coin throwing being particular highlights). In keeping with the series delight in solving earlier mysteries some time after they were first posited, we also find out the identity of the person who sent Sae her first ever fan letter - Yes, that's right, it was none other than Natsume.

If someone asked me to describe what makes for a good slice-of-life anime, I'm really not sure that I'd be able to tell them - It seems like the kind of thing that should be obvious, but the more you think about it the less easy to pinpoint it becomes. Hidamari Sketch is a great example of this - It isn't the funniest anime ever penned and it doesn't have the greatest characters per se (good and well-matched though they are), yet it has some kind of arcane magic that binds together everything it does to create its own little world of perfection - A bubble which, once I'm allowed into, I genuinely find myself not wanting to leave. It isn't eminently quotable like Lucky Star, yet despite that it's the kind of series that you find yourself relating stories and events from with others who have watched the series, to the point where things like exploding silica and the like become in-jokes. If that isn't a sign of a good slice of life show, I don't know what is - As per the original series, I've loved every single second of Hidamari Sketch x365, and I can't begin to put into words how much I want to see more of it. It's something that I'll simply never get tired of, and I can see myself watching this show over and over again as the years go by, it's truly timeless.

Real Drive - Episode 26 (Completed)

So, Real Drive is over at last, and the world is safe from the threat of technology once again, all thanks to the powers and wonder of the sea.

I suppose this kind of climax was inevitable from the very start, but for a primarily science fiction show such as Real Drive it's actually rather surprising to see it take such a nature-centric end-view of itself. In essence, the damage caused by the weather nanomachines is stopped by switching off the Metal entirely (and causing the full beauty of the universe to be revealed thanks to the loss of light pollution), but in its place the sea reveals its powers to store memories and generate the energy needed for the world to survive and progress. If I'm honest, it's all a bit soppy as endings go (not to mention rather far-fetched, with Haru's ageing reversed entirely and Holon and fellow androids reactivated, all thanks to the power of the sea!), and the whole thing is a little difficult for me to get a handle on regarding my own opinion toward this ending. On the one hand, it certainly gains points for being different, and does fit in with some of the environmental topics covered by the series, but on the other it felt at odds with the science and technology angle to the point where its ending was almost spiritual.

Whatever your thoughts on the ending, I don't think this should detract from the fact that Real Drive simply went on for too long - As I've asserted before, it should only ever have been a thirteen episode series with much of its filler cut out, which would have created a far more compact and compelling storytelling unit. As it is, I have to admit that I really grew to like Minamo, and indeed many of the other main characters, but I would have done so without the needless filler which detracted from the real message of the series so much that I feel it's at least partly responsible for my conflicted emotions over its ending. Real Drive wasn't a bad series by any stretch of the imagination, but by the same token it wasn't what it should be, especially coming from the people who brought us Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex.

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 12

It's Tanabata at Hidamari Apartments, but for once all is not well - Sae and Hiro appear not to be talking to one another, but how on Earth could that have happened? Is it a matter of passion? A matter of surface? A matter of perverts? (You really can't beat Japanese wordplay)

So, as the episode goes on, we find out exactly what this quarrel is all about (at least as much as possible between Hiro stuffing her face in the name of comfort eating), and thanks to Miyako and Yuno greasing the wheels all is well in no time, with apologies, tears and so on. Ahhh....

That aside, to assist with the Tanabata celebrations the landlady has planted a bamboo tree at Hidamari Apartments, so the rest opf the episode is filled with its occupants making wishes and decorating the tree for a rather more relaxed end to the episode.

Given that this is Hidamari Sketch x365, as per usual I have little but glowing praise for it as it blends emotion and friendship via some great and lovable characters with some genuinely laugh out loud moments - The exact blend which has made this series so watchable from the very start. As far as this particular episode goes even the animation (which hasn't always been my favourite aspect of this series) is great, with some genuinely brilliant arranged scenes.

It's sad to know that I only have a single episode left to go before I complete this series, as even the anticipation of a chance to watch some more Hidamari Sketch is going to be something that I'll miss hugely.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 20

Given how far through this series we are, it seems a little odd for this to be the point where Telepathy Shoujo Ran starts to shoehorn in the filler episodes, but that's exactly what we get for this show's twentieth episode.

I can barely be bothered to describe it, so mundane this episode turned out to be, but the basic premise of the story involves a love letter, delivered to Rin via the locker of his judo club house (a judo team of which he is captain) but stolen by Midori in a fit of jealousy. Rin finds the culprit but doesn't care, and thus we wonder why this episode even exists at all.

A single paragraph doesn't seem like a lot to outline any anime episode synopsis, but that's seriously virtually all there is to this particular offering (aside from Rin's conviction that he must possess some supernatural powers considering that his sister does) so I can't think of anything more to say beyond that. Quite simply, this is an incredibly average episode of an incredibly average serious, and no amount of expansion upon what I write will change that.

Real Drive - Episode 25

After last episode seemed to leave us with a big, fat "end of the world" cliffhanger, I was rather expecting a full-on episode of death and destruction in this penultimate instalment of Real Drive.

Perhaps I should have known better however, for a large portion of episode twenty-five made it hard to fathom that there was any danger to the planet at all. Sure it rained a lot (even in the Sahara desert), but apart from that everything seemed to be business as usual, from Minamo and Nyamo fooling around (not like that, get your mind out of the gutter!) in a swimming pool through to yet another appearance of the now-infamous beef stroganoff. I cooked beef stroganoff myself yesterday, yet oddly so far nobody has approached me to make an anime series about the experience.

Anyway, if you can tear yourself away from all the food-related threads running through this episode, there is important stuff going on, with Minamo and Haru both making a decision on their future plans, while we also get to find out (or rather confirm, as it was at least somewhat obvious what was going on) what Kushima's final plan to tackle the potential problem of the weather nanomachines is. Strangely enough, it involves diving... Who'd have thought?

Anyway, if you can get past the lion's share of this long and languid episode, you'll find yourself with an awesome ending to this instalment, particularly in pure visual terms as the sea begins to burn just as Kushima predicted. Will Haru be able to save the planet before it all horribly goes wrong? Will he be distracted by a conversation about food, allowing his plan to fail? Who knows, but with only one episode to go we're guaranteed to find out pretty soon, in a finale that will have to be fast-paced to close the big outstanding issues in this series off successfully.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 9

After taking up eight episodes to polish off the remaining story arcs that they hadn't managed to squeeze into the original series, episode nine sees the beginning of what we can generally regard as Clannad - After Story proper.

Given that last story arc this can be generally regarded as "a good thing", although be warned, After Story isn't likely to be a light-hearted and humorous tale. Indeed, give or take a couple of amusing moments (Botan's "Doll mode" being the obvious highlight), the episode as a whole plays like a one of Eastenders more depressing episodes while someone is sat on the video's fast forward button.

With time running out at school, thoughts begin to turn to graduation and what comes after that... For most of the gang at least. The exception to this rule is Tomoya, who seems to be trying to dodge the question even when it's put to his by Nagisa. If Tomoya was looking for an excuse not to think about these things, then he certainly gets it, as Nagisa falls ill once again, a mystery fever that lasts for so long that she misses the rest of the school year and will have to retake her final year yet again. So, this episode is filled with Tomoya juggling school and his worries for Nagisa, managing to graduate despite really not wanting to do so without her, bringing us to an emotional ending as his school life finally comes to an end with no clear future path in sight.

I have to confess that the ending did get me feeling a little emotional, but that aside there isn't a massive amount of note in this episode apart from the feeling that most of the main characters that have sat alongside Tomoya and Nagisa will be largely jetissoned, which is possibly (for me at least) even more upsetting than the episode's overall subject matter. Really, overall this instalment can probably be seen simply as scene setting for everything that's going to come from here, and while I can understand taking an entire episode out to show the period of time covered here I think we all got the idea within the first five minutes, which left a lot of the rest of this instalment dragging a little.

Still, the main meat of After Story is what we're all here to see, and now we're finally getting it - Time to add a bumper box of tissues to your Christmas wish-list, as chances are you may well be needing them...

Friday, 28 November 2008

Ga-Rei -Zero- - Episode 7

It's probably fair to say that episode six of Ga-Rei -Zero- didn't exactly offer much joy and happiness for Kagura, as she found herself having to kill the school nurse who had been overtaken by demons right in front of her only two real friends at school. Mind you, at least she came out of the ordeal physically unscathed, which is more than could be said for Mei...

With everything that went on in the second half of that last instalment, episode seven was only ever going to be a continuation of those trials and tribulations, and that's exactly what we get here. Largely, episode seven focuses on Kagura as she tries to come to terms with what she had to do, as well as how her friends have reacted to the revelations about who she really is, issues which have a wider impact on whether she really wants to inherit the powers passed down through generations of her family at all.

By the end of the episode all seems well, as her friends eventually come to accept her and what she is, although doubts still linger in her own mind no doubt. However, all of this becomes of secondary importance as she arrives home to find her uncle (and Yomi's adopted father) murdered. Unlike Yomi and Kagura, we know who the culprit is, with Mei having seemingly risen from the dead at the start of the episode before behaving oddly throughout the rest of this episode...

While there's nothing spectacular per se about this episode or the way it deals with the issues it portrays, the overall tone and feeling of this instalment works pretty well - Kagura has quickly become the centrepiece of this series, making the focus on her emotions after a harrowing time naturally important to the story (and her constant tears actually made me feel a little glassy-eyed myself, so I guess that proves that her characterisation in this series has worked pretty well), while the whole incident with Mei has been made blatantly obvious to the viewer, which equally makes it clear where the next episode will most likely be heading. While Ga-Rei -Zero- will probably never live up to those rip-roaring first two episodes, I still have to take my hat off to it for continuing to be what I'd class a good series, that has managed to move away from those action-packed roots pretty capably to create a series that I find myself anxiously waiting for the next episode of each time.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Hyakko - Episode 7

The preview for this episode of Hyakko promised us thrills and spills... Okay, well it didn't really, but if Apple can have an iPhone commercial pulled for making the Internet seem too fast then I can make a pseudo-complaint about false episode previews in anime!

Anyway, it's summer uniform time at Kamizono High School, which means that the members of the photography club are out in force once again in the name of business - Namely taking pictures of the female students which they can sell on to make a tidy profit. Joining them for this task is a guy named Kitsune, who just oozes delinquent in name, looks and actions. Things take a surprising turn as the group comes across Torako, as we learn that Kitsune is in fact her brother, and indeed a sibling with a knack for getting one over on his sister whenever it takes his fancy. With Shishimaru (he of the not all that secret crush on Torako) joining the party, Kitsune seems to have decided to help him out by getting him closer to Torako, with some frankly mixed results.

Once again, this episode of Hyakko proved to far from the heights of humour, but in a strangne kind of way I am kind of warming to it and its depiction of school life and the characters therein - Not enough to make it any kind of classic by any means, but enough to keep the series watchable without seemingly like a complete waste of time. It also seems to be delighting in teasing us with some certain pieces of information and relationships that we don't have a definite feeling for yet, which is probably another little piece of intrigue which keeps me watching this series which is starting to excel at being average if I'm honest.

ef - a tale of melodies - Episode 8

After a couple of episodes that can only really be classed as artistic genius, I suppose it's only natural that this series was going to have to come back down to earth with something of a bump, and compared to the compelling, dramatic and uncomfortable instalments that have come directly before, episode eight of ef - a tale of melodies feels strangely... well, 'normal'.

Despite losing out in his fight with Amamiya last time around, a quick phone call to Yuuko's mobile phone is all it takes for him to persuade her to run away with him, a fact that is probably unsurprising given her wavering thoughts at the end of the last episode. So, off they trot, with the lion's share of this episode dedicated to showing the pair of them struggling with accomodation, work, and their feelings for both one another and themselves. Of course, this can only last for so long before Amamiya turns up in both of their lives again, and so the original status quo is restored.

Meanwhile on the other side of the story, Kuze recovers from his heart 'episode', enough to bemoan his life (and of course how it's running out so rapidly) while also finding some fork-tongued barbs to throw at both Nagi and Yuu, the latter of whom throws the punch in his direction that I've probably been wanting to see since a tale of memories.

At the moment, I'm really quite happy that the Yuu and Yuuko part of the series seems to be getting far more weight thrown behind it, as to me that's where the real crux of everything that this series has done well is, leveraging the feelings of loss, abandonment and so on in a disturbing yet moving and intriguing fashion. Up against that, even Kuze's battle with his own mortality seems rather thin on the ground, a fact which isn't helped by either his character or the whole nature of the relationship with Mizuki, which still feels like too much of a schoolgirl crush for me to take particularly seriously.

As I mentioned just now, this episode had no change of living up to the past couple of instalments, which simply blew me away - With that in mind, I can't really bemoan ef - a tale of melodies for offering up a solid episode that simply progressed the story rather than relying overly on flashy visuals or shocking revelations, particularly when it focused on what I can only call my "favourite" side of this series' story.

Toradora! - Episode 9

With the result of the swimming contest last episode a tie, the chance to spend part of the Summer holiday at Ami's villa ended up being opened up to all and sundry, meaning that the whole gaggle of main characters get to spend some quality time together.

Before that though, both Taiga and Ryuuji have a rather odd dream to get out of their system (that's what comes of watching too many horror DVDs), which leaves Taiga deciding that she needs to move things apace with either her or Ryuuji's unrequited love problem to prevent said dream from becoming some kind of prophecy. Unfortunately for Taiga she loses the game which decides who is going to be the "support" for the other's love interest, leaving her in charge of the plan for getting Ryuuji and Minori together - A plan which involves ghosts in an attempt to capitalise on Minori's terror at the supernatural.

So, the group arrive at Ami's villa (via some hilarious shenanigans at the airport which cracked me up absolutely), and aside from the odd hiccup things seem to be going pretty well for both Taiga and Ryuuji in terms of getting closer to their respective love interests, although it appears that Aisaka's supernatural plan might just be about to get its own back on her...

You're probably all fed up of hearing me gush over Toradora! by now, but tough, because I'm going to do it some more. As with most episodes of this series so far, the eighth instalment of the show doesn't aim to be laugh out loud funny every single minute, yet it does manage to keep up a consistent pace of light-hearted banter, goings-on and amusement while throwing in some hilarious scenarios every now and again. Even more skilful is the way all of the major characters are handled, with each of them having obvious (or occasionally not so obvious) depths beyond their outwards appearances and actions, and all having foibles that somehow make them even more likeable in the long-term... Yes, even in Ami's case, as I found myself starting to almost feel a little sympathy towards her this episode. In short, this was another neat little slice of Toradora! genius, and to be honest I can't even decide which (if any) romantic match-ups I want to see in this series, which probably only helps to make it all the more enjoyable for me.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Real Drive - Episode 24

It's taken Real Drive a long, long time to exhibit any more than passing similarities to its more well-regarded sibling, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, but if ever an episode of this series were to borrow from its stable-mate, and to good effect, it's this one.

With all political avenues quickly blocked by Jennie Yen (what a girly name for a hard-man with a military-grade cybernetic body), there's only one option left for Sota, Haru and company to stop the deployment of weather nanomachines, and that's to turn to what basically amounts to terrorism - In short, physically breaking into the island from where the nanomachines will be launched, to connect it to the Metal so that the launch can be stopped from there.

This sounds like a job for Major Kusanagi, but in her absence we see Sota make his way to the island to generate a link to the Metal, while Haru dives in to do his part. This entire episode and plot oozes Ghost in the Shell, from the visuals (which have always borrowed a little from Stand Alone Complex to be fair, and why not? It looks great) through to that old match-up of cybernetic body against flesh and blood, and it even pulls no punches in giving us what seems to be a despairing end to the episode. Indeed, in this episode Real Drive even seems to borrow the idea of a nuclear holocaust in the past, the fallout from which had been cleaned up by micromachines.

Of course, the series isn't over yet, so with a couple of episodes to go there's still certainly going to be some further twists in the tale before the end of the world. If only some of the chaff had been thrown out of this series to make a compact, thirteen-episode offering, then I'd probably be singing its praises from the rafters right now - As it is, this is simply an excellent episode of a series that has otherwise dragged on pointlessly for far too many of its twenty-six instalments.

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 19

Well, here we are again, as it's time for another episode of Table Levitation Shoujo Ran... Oops, sorry, Telepathy Shoujo Ran.

If you've been worried about the amount of time Ran and company seem to spend getting holidays away from school, then worry no more, as this particular episode actually takes place within the confines of school. Rather predictably however, it's time for the school festival, and even more predictable is the choice the students have to make as to what their class will be doing at the festival - A cafe or a haunted house. But which is better? Hmm... a cafe.... or a haunted house? There's only one way to find out...

Combine the two! Yes, of course, the class decide to do a cafe that is also a haunted house. I have to wonder just how many haunted houses and cafes there are at the average school festival in Japan though. Anyway, this whole school festival thing is little more than a distraction for the emotional crux of the story, which is Midori yet again struggling with her emotions regarding her parents, particularly when she sees Ran's parents so proud of their children. By the end of it all, both Midori and Ran's powers are revealed (well, sort of, but seeing as the chair levitation I mentioned earlier has nothing whatsoever to do with telepathy, I guess Ran's parents don't know quite what they're letting themselves in for), and Midori reconciles with her previously generically unpleasant parents. Probably.

Given this episode and the preview for episode twenty, I'm starting to wonder if the writers for this series haven't run out of Scooby Doo-esque mysteries for the gang to solve (although I could argue they ran out of those four or five episodes in) and are thus resorting to the obvious use of filler episodes. I suppose to be fair resolving Midori's emotional turmoil is a key point of the show, but considering this only seemed to take about two minutes amidst all the other inconsequential stuff, I'm still armed and ready with my big "FILLER" stamp to give this episode the Hanners seal of mild disapproval.

Hyakko - Episode 6

After taking a one week break, Hyakko returned with its sixth episode - It seems that the extra week was largely poured into the animation quality in places, which was notably good, but was there anything more to pull this series out of mediocrity other than that?

Well, the answer to that question is "yes and no" if you ask me. On the one hand, I really did quite like this episode, not so much in terms of comedy as content and atmosphere. With classes ending for the day, Tatsui quickly finds herself left behind by the others, which leads to a long period of soul searching on the walk home - Why does she have no real close friends? Is she always destined to be alone like this? It's the kind of thing we've probably all asked ourselves at some point, although at that moment we probably haven't arrived home to find said friends already at your place looking through your old photo albums and waiting for your return. So, Tatsui does have friends after all, and this entire episode at least gives is some insight into this girl who has been nothing but a brick wall emotionally before now - This made for a strangely absorbing episode even though nothing much of real note happened, by offering up a sedate and really rather human set of emotions and circumstances which at last gave a little depth to the series as a wider entity.

However, if the lack of comedy frustrated you, then you may possibly be sated by the ultra-long 'preview' for the next episode, which decides to be a bizarre kind of parody of various things (not least a brief The Ring moment) that will in fact have little or no bearing on the actual episode. All I can say about this is that it was "different", but to be honest it didn't particular appeal to me on any level of humour. Still, this episode's human touch for its main focus made for a net win for me, with its different feel giving a slight leg-up to what has been a decidedly average series so far.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 6

By the end of episode five of Shikabane Hime: Aka, we were left with a zombie corpse car thing, and not one but two gun-toting yet cute dead schoolgirls. I mean really, if you asked your average geek for a definition of awesome, wouldn't it be something along those lines?

Anyway, I digress - Episode six of this series takes us along the same road of internal politics, betrayal and questionable morality that the last instalment first set us down, from the contracting out of the one Shikabane Hime who is allowed to kill humans to assassinate Keisei, who is believed to potentially be the "betrayer priest", while meanwhile the real betrayer reveals himself as a former "top gun" contracted priest who killed (and, it's suggested, loved) his own Shikabane Hime, and has a rather neat party trick thanks to all the corpses he's collected from his SUV of doom.

All in all, this episode balances things out reasonably well, mixing in som gun-toting action and transforming corpse car fighting with a fair few revelations about both the Shikabane Hime and the entity they work for. Of course, given where we are within the confines of this particular series, revealing these facts only leads to more questions, reaching to the heights of "Does Makina believe in heaven?" through to the more general question posed last episode about whether creating Shikabane Hime to kill corpses is any better than the corpses that are created by themselves. We also have to question just how benevolent the religious organisation behind this whole thing is too, as the betrayer priests insists that he is in fact the betrayed instead, and the fact that they were more than willing to contract a killer to take out Keisei hardly paints a picture of a friendly family business.

So, all of this blends together to make for a pretty successful (albeit not ground-breaking) episode, although I am starting to get a little fed up with Ouri - Is there any point to him turning up to all of these scenes of death and destruction? Thus far he's added very little to the series aside from being the eyes and ears of the viewer, and to be honest I was expecting him to have a far greater role to play in this series than simply acting as that vehicle - Indeed, I still believe that this will be the case further down the line, but we seem to have been rather slow to reach that point so far. Oh well, that gripe aside, Shikabane Hime: Aka is at least keeping up its entertainment factor, so on that closing note I can't particularly complain.

Real Drive - Episode 23

The last episode of Real Drive ended in rather depressing fashion, within Kushima's consciousness lost (or rather, stubbornly refusing to leave) the Metal, and Holon sacrificing herself for the sake of Kushima's cyberbrain.

So, episode twenty-three rejoins this situation, with Haru seemingly rather down about the whole thing, and Sota struggling with his new temporary role taking over from Kushima while also finding it hard to so much as talk to Holon, who is back up and running but restored froma three-month old backup (lesson of the day: Make sure you back-up your androids every night).

On a more positive note, as least the General Secretary of the Trustee Committee has had a change of heart, and is now beginning to realise that all is not well on the artificial island - These fears are confirmed when Sota finds a way to unlock an AI buried deep within Kushima's cyberbrain, which then relates the true danger of unleasing the island's weather nanomachines, a danger which predictably involves potentially destroying the whole planet. Equally predictably, the bad guy of the piece will do anything for his day in the sun, even if it risks the entire planet, and so the General Secretary finds herself suspended so that he can carry on with his (now officially evil) plan.

While this episode didn't grip me as much as the last couple of instalments, it did okay for itself when it didn't get too bogged down in recaps and flashbacks to the past, and has set up a good old-fashioned end of the world scenario with a clock running down to keep things interesting in these final few episodes. Will Minamo save the world, or will she never get to "enjoy" a green pepper again? We should find out soon enough...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Kannagi - Episode 8

After last week's closet-tastic episode, this time around on Kannagi we get another episode that is largely confined to Jin's house, yet once again (although perhaps to a lesser extent on this occasion) it manages to deliver.

It's the start of the rainy season, so on a wet and stormy night Jin and Nagi are staying well and truly cooped up indoors. What they weren't expecting however was a visit from Daitetsu, who managed to lock himself out of his own house and, unable to break in due to a visit from the police, decided to see if Jin could put him up for the night.

This all sounds pretty dull, but the thing is Daitetsu's imagination seems to have a nasty habit of running riot... Thus, an argument between Nagi and Jin (who Daitetsu still thinks are brother and sister) somehow turns into an erotic, incestuous love story. Yes, that does mean fan service galore to boot. As Jin and Nagi try to cover up the fact that they aren't related, things only get worse, and once Daitetsu admits to stealing the tree from which Nagi was carved by Jin all Hell breaks loose, while also offering us some points to ponder regarding Nagi and her behaviour at times, where it's fair to say she isn't exactly being herself. It appears that she knows it too, and is clearly hiding something from Jin along these lines...

Even when Kannagi isn't at its best (and I would posit that this episode is an example of a mediocre episode of the series) it still manages to be funny often enough to be enjoyable - Whatever your thoughts on the blatant fan service, there was a certain amount of humour to be derived from Daitetsu's thought processes, and even beyond that there were a fair few moments that made me either laugh out loud, shout out "What the Hell was that?!", or somewhere inbetween. Indeed, Kannagi occasionally seems to delight in little visual gags, such as a rather Konata Izumi-esque looking weather girl on the TV and all sorts of oddities running out of a school bathroom late in the episode. It's these little touches that continue to make Kannagi both watchable and amusing, even when it arguably isn't hitting all the right notes.

Real Drive - Episode 22

Episode twenty-one finally brought us towards the real crux of Real Drive, with Kushima missing presumed kidnapped and something decidedly fishy going on. So, can the crew rescue their boss safely?

On a positive note, Kushima's body turns up very early in the episode. The bad news is, it doesn't seem to include his brain - It appears that one of the downsides to having a prosthetic body is that any old person can come along, open up your head and go running off with your brain (something which some doubtless suspect happened to be years ago). With only a limited time available before Kushima's consciousness would be unable to reconnect to the Metal, it's a race against time to find both his brain and his consciousness.

From here, the episode is a good old fashioned "run around and save the day" yarn, with Sota and Holon going after Kushima's brain and unravelling the political conspiracy surrounding the weather nanomachines that Kushima had opposed the deployment of, while Minamo and Haru dive into the Metal to search out his consciousness. It probably isn't too much of a spoiler to say that both parties succeed in these goals, but at what cost? Indeed, one team member in particular makes a very heavy sacrifice in the name of saving Kushima.

Overall, this episode really worked pretty well, using the race against time format to offer probably one of the most fast-paced instalments we've seen of Real Drive so far, but despite that never losing sight of its more emotional side which has always sat alongside the politics and technology aspects of the series. It also leaves plenty unsaid and untied for the final handful of episodes, which hopefully means that we'll be seeing more decent quality stuff before the series is out, a thought which one again leaves me lamenting that it took Real Drive so long to reach this kind of peak in the first place.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Yozakura Quartet - Episode 8

As Yozakura Quartet has largely avoided being too action-oriented so far, preferring instead to focus on the relationships, thoughts and feelings of the main characters, I was a little wary of just how well the series could pull off an episode that was entirely centred around the main plot line and with a much larger action quota to boot.

Thankfully, I didn't have to worry too much - While episode eight of Yozakura Quartet isn't going to be entering any halls of fame for brilliantly portrayed action scenes, what we got here was actually a more than solid episode that actually gripped me quite substantially.

With Ao taken hostage by Enjin and the rest of the gang now facing off against him, we finally learn what the baddie of the piece is after and why - Put simply, he wants the key Akina holds to access Nana-Gou, so that he can make this ancient tree blossom and thus free all of the demons that have been sent to "the other side" over the years, bringing them all back to life. I'm sure I don't really need to explain why that isn't a very good idea from the point of view of the citizens of the town...

So, from there we're basically offered up plenty of fighting and action, mixed in with the whole dilemma surrounding fighting an evil demon who has overtaken the spirit and body of an old friend, a dilemma which Enjin makes use of with relish. While there isn't much time to concentrate on it in the midst of the action, the fallout from actions both earlier in this series and during this episode is building up quite clearly, particularly on the part of Akina, and no doubt this will cause some friction as we move on through the series. Of course, in the short-term this all takes a back seat to saving the town from the immediate threat, a problem which leaves Hime having to take drastic measures which themselves have unknown (to us the viewer anyhow) consequences.

I thought that if one episode would "trip up" my liking for this series, it would be this one. In terms of action, Naruto or Bleach this ain't, yet all those build-up episodes have given me so much time to invest in the major characters that I found myself on edge throughout the action scenes, cheering on Hime and company and holding my breath when they got into tight spots. It just goes to show that half of the battle (with every pun intended) of putting together a good action-oriented anime episode is in having characters that you have at least some emotional attachments towards, and this particular instalment allowed Yozakura Quartet to cash in on the groundwork of the series so far in spades to keep it running as an unlikely hit in my current anime viewing season.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Chäos;HEAd - Episode 7

If you felt like you were finally beginning to get your head around Chäos;HEAd after the last episode, then be prepared to retrieve your dunce's cap and plant it firmly back on your head, as episode seven takes us on a deep dive into some of the craziness that has been going on in the series.

After the "earthquake" (which was patently far more than simply that) last episode, a fair amount of anarchy seems to be reigning around town, from looting to fighting. It isn't just the general populace that's uneasy either - Takumi arrives at the school looking for Rimi (just where is she for most of this episode?) but instead finds Ayase about to jump from the roof of the school building. Thankfully, her fall is broken by a garden beneath which she lands in, but was that patch of soft ground even there before she fell?

This is where we start to get dragged deep into some of the background of the story, references to a Dirac sea and all. For starters, we get confirmation over what I suppose you can call the main jist of the story, that delusions can become reality by basically implanting them in the heads of enough people - This is a process called "real-booting" by Sena, and is responsible (via Takumi) for the appearance of the garden which saved Ayase, even though he shouldn't be able to do so without a Di-Sword. As an extension of this, we learn that Di-Swords have to be real-booted to be used as an offensive weapon, at which point they can be seen by everyone.

On the other side of things, we at last get to see the inner workings of N.O.Z.O.M.I., who are experimenting in ways to force these delusions as reality upon the populace using signals which are transmitted by people on the streets carrying backpacks such as those we saw last episode. What is their aim with all this? We don't know exactly, but some Dr. Evil little finger in mouth-esque world domination seems quite likely.

As if that isn't enough delusion blue ice lolly to get your teeth into, the inevitable mysterious transfer student Kozue finally makes herself know as a major part of this story, proving her ability to communicate telepathically (and annoyingly too, so I guess every silver lining has a cloud in this example).

You know, if ever a series made me glad that I'd 'Blogging about it, it's this one - As the episode finished, I found myself with a mild headache and furrowed brow as I tried to process exactly what's what, but thankfully the requirement to take some time rationalising and explaining it all for this entry has allowed me to get my head around it and feel comfortable with where the story has taken us. Unfortunately, filling the episode with so much explanation and revelation made it feel a little more like a class at school where you know there's going to be a test the next day than all-out entertainment, but if you can get over that point then it was a passable instalment that at least has allowed the series to set out its stall and put up some big signs to point to where it's going from here.

From what I've heard online people who have played the game are starting to have real problems with the way that Chäos;HEAd is handling the story, but having not done that just yet am I thankfully continuing to enjoy the series by and large, even if this episode threatened at times to become a bit of a chore.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Real Drive - Episode 21

It may have taken around twenty episodes, but Real Drive is finally getting to the crux of the matter, and handling what should have been the main focus of the series from the very start anyway.

This particular episode really seems to work hard at trying to tie the various major elements of the story together, from the incident that saw Haru spend half a century in a coma through to the weather nanomachines that were under investigation over the past couple of instalments. Haru and Kushima clearly believe that the two are linked and are working towards that end, but they find themselves encountering more than some slight political resistance, leading us to a big old cliffhanger at the end of this particular episode.

Away from all that, we finally get some movement in the realm of Sota's feelings towards Holon, which have been hinted at like nobody's business almost from the very start of the series. Indeed, you can say that we've witnessed more than just mere movement, with Sota actually outright choosing Holon over (ironically) the woman upon she was modelled in the first place. As Real Drive loves to do, this does pop up a big philosophical question in amongst the other items that the show deals with, namely - Is it okay to fall in love with an android? Indeed, beyond that, the more pressing question is perhaps at what point does an android become something (or someone) you could actually truly fall in love with. There's a suggestion within Real Drive that the way Holon has been treated has somehow made her "more human" than had she been seen as a mere robot by her colleagues - Another point of discussion there.

This sudden burst of activity from the series towards its ending makes me think that this is another one of those series that should have been given just thirteen episodes or so to strut its stuff, as judging by the amount of filler its provided twenty-six episodes was a bridge too far for it. Still, now the real meat of the story is hotting up, we could be looking at an interesting close to the series, which actually leaves me looking forward to these last five episodes rather than coming close to vaguely dreading them and the mediocrity they might otherwise have offered.

Oh, and Minamo's "Infini Tea" line was a classic this episode, so bonus marks go to it for that.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 8

Right, let's get this out of the way right from the off - The Yukine story arc has to be easily the weakest of Clannad ~After Story~. There, I've said it now.

After the misunderstanding last episode which caused the rival gang to thing that Sunohara was Yukine's brother, things were only ever going to get worse, and indeed this turns out to be exactly the case. Despite Yukine's attempt to mediate, the two gangs appear to be headed on a collision cause that will only end up involving the police and probably worse, although she does at least manage to tone things down to a one-off fight between her "brother" (to be "played" by Sunohara) and the leader of the rival gang.

This seems like a simple enough idea, until Nagisa turns up with some of her mum's latest invention, "rainbow bread" (thankfully not available in all good supermarkets) which knows the whole of Kazuto's gang out cold, as well as Sunohara in the process. So, Tomoya steps up to the plate to fight the rival gang leader, in a scrap which lasts a surprisingly long time considering we mostly see Tomoya getting his ass kicked. Just as all hope appears to be lost and all-out gang warfare is about to break out, so Kazuto Miyazawa appears... Or does he? Of course not, he's actually dead (which was made about as obvious as it could possibly have been last episode without explicitly saying so), and Yukine is in fact simply pretending to be her brother in a desperate last ditch attempt to stop the fighting.

I'm not sure what it is about this story arc, but the last couple of episodes of After Story have singularly failed to grip me in any way, shape or form - The whole thing seemed dull, plodding and contrived, and aside from at least getting to see a little of Tomoyo (which is always a treat) there was little in the way of redeeming features about this episode much like the previous one. Still, I remain confident that things can only get better from this point onwards, and the episode nine preview seems to hint that we'll be moving towards the real crux of the After Story plot, so with any luck we'll get some real improvement over the coming episodes after a couple of not so stellar story arcs.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

ef - a tale of melodies - Episode 7

It usually takes a lot to really shock me or shake me up when it comes to indulging in any form of media, but I have to admit that the previous instalment of ef - a tale of melodies managed to do exactly that - Not in the sense of any kind of physical shock like, say, the end of School Days (which left me physically trembling on account of its brutality), but rather the kind of thing that can leave you in a mentally shaken state.

Having come away from the ending of that last episode both impressed and feeling almost violated by its intensity, I wasn't really expecting episode seven to be able to carry on along those lines. However, while it didn't manage to hit those heights, large swathes of this episode did manage to retain that claustrophobic, schizophrenic sense of panic and despair which episode six had clearly aimed for.

If there's one thing I came away from this episode with, it's the feeling that at least three of the main characters - Yuuko, Yu and Kuze - are mentally utterly broken characters. Yuuko's plight is an obvious one after years of abuse which have left her with conflicting feelings towards Yu - She hates him utterly, wants revenge, for him to feel just a slither of the pain she bears, yet still at a deeper level she does indeed have feelings with her. Yu's predicament is far simpler - He lost his sister in the earthquake, unable to protect her, and now he feels that he has lost Yuuko in much the same way, a thought that drives this normally ice cold guy to screaming insanity and even to contemplate killing another. Finally, fast forwarding to the present, we have Kuze, whose fear of his own mortality and conflicting feelings around that (does he want to be alone for his dying days, or does he want to love and be loved?) are gradually tearing him apart, both physically and mentally.

After such a slow start, I have to confess that thanks to these past couple of episodes ef - a tale of melodies has become absolutely fascinating. While I'm still not entirely convinced by the Kuze and Mizuki relationship on any level, this side of the story has at least entered more thought-provoking territory, while the Yu and Yuuko arc has proved itself to be more dark and disturbing than I ever would have predicted a few short weeks ago, making for an uneasy but ultimately gripping piece of drama to watch. All of this is backed up by those sumptuous visuals, which seemed so pretentious before but now fit what we're seeing, hearing and feeling perfectly, complementing the unhinged and mentally unbalanced state of the main characters with both artistry and imagery that are rarely matched in any other anime I've seen.

This blend of drama and aesthetics is becoming unlike anything else I've seen at an incredible pace and episode seven has, just like the previous instalment, finished leaving me needing to take a deep breath and find time to clear my head before I can return to the real world, away from the mental imbalances I've just felt and witnessed. If you ask me, that's the sign of quality narrative and true artistry.

Toradora! - Episode 8

The rivalry between Taiga and Ami really started to hot up in the last instalment of Toradora!, and thanks to a 'bright' idea from Minori, this is what we end up with - A sports contest to decide whether Ryuuji gets to spend his summer holiday at Ami's villa or not.

With the choice of sport being drawn out of the pot, what else becomes the chosen discipline for this contest but... Swimming. Hardly Taiga's special subject it's fair to say, as we learned last episode. So, the in-class betting over who will win begins with earnest, but with both Ryuuji and Kitamura putting their faith in Taiga, she has little choice but to try and repay that by doing her best to win the contest, even before taking into account how desperately she doesn't want Ryuuji to end up with Ami for an entire summer.

Call this "yet another generic swimming pool episode" if you like, but that doesn't make it any less great. If nothing else, Taiga's get up at the start of the swimming contest (not to mention the line that follows it from the watching crowd... "I thought she'd come armed") has to be the funniest thing I've seen all week, and there were plenty of moments that really hit various emotional spots during the course of the episode, from humour to some actually far more serious moments between Taiga and Ryuuji that again managed to shape the perception of their relationship in subtle and enigmatic ways, walking that ever so fine tightrope between love and friendship almost perfectly to leave the viewer not only guessing, but repeatedly changing their mind during the course of the episode.

So, yet again Toradora! wins the day as one of the better (if not best) series of this anime season - A superb bunch of characters, given perfect situations and great dialogue to strut their stuff. It's incredibly fun to watch, which makes it one of the highlights of my week, and that's really all I should need to say by way of a compliment.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Real Drive - Episode 20

After last episode's beyond miraculous developments, the twentieth instalment of Real Drive becomes something of a "Yay, Haru can walk again!" celebration. Mind you, I think I'd be throwing paper aeroplanes around like a mad thing after something like that too.

Aside from Haru's ability to walk once more, as he struggles to regain the ability to move around properly, Minamo finds herself thinking about the future - Will Haru need her once he can do everything for himself? Her friends answer to this dilemma seems simple enough... Why not get a cyberbrain? Here we learn that having a cyberbrain implanted only requires a couple of injections thanks to the joys of nanomachines - Sign me up!

So, Minamo goes for a medical to see if she's a suitable recipient of a cyberbrain, and while waiting for her test results meets a stranger who is oddly familiar in many ways... At the end of it all Minamo decides to stay as she is, which I suppose we're supposed to applaud as another triumph of nature over technology.

Once again, this wasn't a hugely deep or exciting episode, although it does highlight the kind of "digital divide" that already exists in the world we live in, only taken to greater extremes. Right now you and I reading this have an obvious advantage in many facets of life thanks to our knowledge and ability to use the Internet to its fullest potential, but will the next generation leave us behind and struggling as technology improves? It's these little questions and thoughts which spring into my mind which gives me a little appreciation for Real Drive as a series - It hasn't been a particularly fantastic show at any point during its twenty episodes so far, but at least it has provoked some thought and discussion in my case, so that I don't have to class it as a complete write-off. That is however meagre pickings compared to the potential which this show has had to offer, so in a wider sense it continues to disappoint me.

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora - Episode 12 (Completed)

Having slowly but surely warmed to this series and the sense of happy relaxation it frequently washed over me, I was hoping for a similarly happy ending to Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora to offset the slightly depressing turn that the story took in the last couple of episodes.

With that in mind, I wasn't entirely thrilled with the ending to this show, as it was at best bittersweet. I suppose in reality I should throw some praise its way simply for not taking the easy way out and offering up a suitably 'real' ending to go with what came before - No miracles, no reprieve from the harsher aspects of life, just an old-fashioned story of life, love and loss that reall resonated with me in places. The way Gota and Sora's relationship continued even as distance seperated them was particularly heart-warming, and I suppose at least the way that this episode jumped forward five years at least gave us some closure on most of the questions we might otherwise have been left asking.

For all its shabby animation that was made to look worse, not better, by the photo-realistic backdrops, Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora proved to be a really human experience. Sure, it wasn't fast-paced or full of drama, but it often perfectly captured the nuances of human interaction, offering a realism that belied its use of magic as a central tenent. Indeed, the whole idea of using magic was almost irrelevant to the bigger picture - The main characters could have been at school learning anything you care to mention, and the end result would have been almost exactly the same (although perhaps less eye-catching to draw in viewers in the first place). So, this has proved to be a quiet little hit with me, going about its business in a way that was far from bold and brash, instead choosing to slowly worm its way into my heart by offering up a kind of soft yet true to life reality which I found myself unable to resist being captured by.

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 5

Episode four of Shikabane Hime: Aka finally brought us to the point where Ouri discovered the truth about Keisei's job as a Contracted Priest and his relationship with Shikabane Hime Makina, so with that out of the way the start of this latest story arc allows us to be dropped a little deeper into the world we've only scratched the surface of so far.

While we've only really seen Keisei acting on his own so far, episode five takes us into the 'cult' that he belongs to as a wider entitiy, including all of the politics that entails. Thus, we learn that Keisei's father is a bishop in said group, and that for a Contracted Priest to tell anybody (including his own family) what he does is strictly forbidden - Having broken that rule last episode, Keisei is thus faced with suspension from duty, while also being tasked with eliminating his own brother, leaving him with some very difficult decisions to make that don't get any further airing in this instalment.

There's plenty going on outside of this political manoeuvring however (although some of it remains interlinked), not least the growing legend of an unlicensed car rental company, of which nobody who has hired a car from them has ever been seen alive again since. I've rented some pretty dodgy cars in my time, but none that some kind of pulsing brain in the storage compartment, or indeed one with a sat nav that encourages me to kill my fellow passengers if I want to live as there's only "room for one". This is the kind of concept that could make a movie or horror story all of its own (indeed, it would fit a concept like Saw pretty well if you ask me), and with that in mind it almost gets rather short shrift in this episode, giving us some gory moments but never really revelling in such a horrific idea as perhaps it could, and indeed should.

On Ouri's side of things, he finds himself the object of attention for a new and mysterious transfer student (and we all know too well to avoid them), while all the girls are fawning over a new P.E. teacher who has arrived out of nowhere. Between that and the cat that keeps appearing encouraging Ouri to go check out this rental car of doom, life certainly isn't getting any easier for him, so it's a good job Makina doesn't seem too concerned about following the terms of her and Keisei's suspension from duty.

So, yes, this episode almost skips over the horror aspect which had so much potential, which is a little disappointing, but it does at least make up for this somewhat by introducing some major new characters to the proceedings (mostly of indeterminate allegiance), as well as raising some moral questions regarding the Shikabane Hime themselves. Thus far, they've been portrayed as on the side of good, but are they really any different from the Corpses they fight? All of this, plus Keisei's dilemma regarding his adopted brother, is plenty for the series to be getting on with, and indeed its kept things running pretty smoothly here - It still isn't offering enough to stake a claim as any kind of classic series, but it continues to prove to be entertaining and competent at its storytelling overall, which is enough to keep it enjoyable.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Real Drive - Episode 19

This particular two-part story arc of Real Drive continues into episode nineteen, concentrating once again on the battle between nature and technology.

While the last episode ended with Holon losing her connection to the Metal completely, it turns out that this was less to do with the noise interfering with said connection as it was the inclement weather - You'd have thought such important links would be a little more resistant to rain clouds, wouldn't you? With Holon out of action for a while, Sota chooses to stay behind to wait until she recovers, leaving Haru, Minamo and their guide to carry on towards their destination.

Once the group safely reaches what is supposedly the source of the noise, and Haru dives into the Metal to see what's going on, things take what is frankly a rather Biblical turn - Haru discovers some kind of forest within the Metal, which removes impurities and fixes things that are broken... This somehow extends to allowing Haru to regain to power to walk, and curing Minamo's cold.

While the whole nature versus technology debate is an interesting one (and the dicussion of "weather particles" to control the weather and how this would affect nature is a particularly important debate to have), I was really a little disappointed at how readily this episode seemed to "jumpt the shark" into miraculous territory - Find, link the forests and the "noise" they generate to the Metal, but don't start making nature a cure for all ills and suplementing it with a load of jargon that really makes no sense. All good science fiction is based upon the first of those two words primarily, and while artistic license is to be expected (nay, encourage) this just felt like a step too far, from the realms of "ooh, cool" to "huh?". Still, I suppose at least Haru's 'levelling up' to walking mode offers some interest possibilities for the rest of the series, so it isn't all bad, and I can't criticise the fact that at least we've been given a story arc that isn't filler for the first time in way too long.

Allison to Lillia - Episode 26 (Completed)

It's taken what seems like an eternity, but it's with a heavy heart and some sadness that I come to the end of Allison to Lillia, a series that has brought so much laughter and entertainment to so many of us, with almost all of it having occurred entirely unintentionally.

Of course, episode twenty-five left us with an almighty cliffhanger, as we learned that Treize was the real planned victim of all the crazy plotting, with Lillia captured as a hostage to lure him into the net (why they didn't just capture Treize in the first place is beyond me). So, once Allison and Treize realise that they're unable to run as fast as a train (other people in this series have managed it, so don't be too hard on them for trying), they have to decide what to do next. Luckily at this point Travas appears, showing obvious relief that Treize is safe, and mild disappointment that his daughter is in danger. Again. After quizzing some of the other passengers on board, they soon learn who the true mastermind behind this whole state of affairs is - The doctor who was on board the train. "But he looked like such a nice guy" exclaims Allison, clearly blind to the fact that he looked so totally and generically evil that he may as well have had "Yes, I am a criminal" tattooed to his forehead. Her next question wasn't much brighter either... "So, what kind of person is this Criminal Number 42?". Oh, I don't know Allison, I've heard he's a really nice guy who runs a playground, subscribes to a cross-stitching magazine and owns The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in its entirety on audio book...

Anyway, clearly fed up of the moronic company he's keeping these days, Treize dashes off in a jeep to rescue Lillia, with Allison and Travas close behind. Treize somehow manages to make one of those impossible vehicle to vehicle leaps so beloved of recent episodes to board the criminal's train, but finds that all of the emergency brakes have been disabled. Not only that, but if the speed of the train goes slower than 50 miles per hour it'll explode. Wait, sorry, that's Speed, but it's something like that. This incredibly intelligent and devious murderer has obviously dropped the soap once too often in prison however, as his masterplan to capture and kill Treize also involves said criminal mastermind dying, which he doesn't seem to mind at all. Mind you, having starred in an episode of Allison to Lillia I suppose a watery death is a veritable promotion.

Of course, with all this going on Treize finally has to admit to Lillia that he's a prince, but his opportunity to confess is ruined by Allison and Travas (can't I just start calling him Wil again) turning up on a plane, for no particular reason other than the fact that every Allison to Lillia story arc must contractually feature a plane at some juncture. Travas' plan is to shoot the link connecting the train's engine from the remaining carriage, but as per usual for him he leaves it too late, allowing the criminal to drag Lillia and Treize onto the roof of the train's engine. With a broken bridge coming up, time is of the essence, so we commence what is actually a surprisingly good action sequence involving hanging a ladder out of the plane. Of course, just as Treize is about to be lifted to safety with Lillia, the criminal manages to grab his ankle, preventing his escape and leaving Lillia watching in horror (and me with glee) as the train crashes into the river, killing the criminal and Treize instantly.

Except of course this is Allison to Lillia we're talking about, and we can't possible have an unhappy ending like that. So, Treize inexplicably (literally, they don't even try to explain it, I'm not even sure Jesus could have pulled off this resurrection) survives and returns, while Criminal Number 42 doubtless died horribly. Trezie and Lillia get to dance together, and then none of the other major plot points we might have cared about are resolved, leaving the door open to another series. Oh good God almighty let me be wrong about that.

So, at the end of it all I'm left with weirdly mixed feelings. On the one hand I'm going to genuinely miss Allison to Lillia, as what other anime series am I going to rail about and poke merciless fun at after this? If someone were ever to apply the Myster Science Theater 3000 concept to anime, then this series should be its poster child - Hell, I'd even write the damn scripts for it myself. Outside of the enjoyment I've garnered from tearing this series limb from limb - The implausible stories, the stupid exclamations, the bent and broken laws of physics, and that ending... ohhh, the ending - This is without a doubt the worst anime series I've ever watched. Yes, I know that sounds harsh, and there are doubtless worse shows out there, I just haven't seen them yet thankfully. Luckily good and bad are often on a circular scale, meaning that things become so bad that they're actually good in a twisted kind of way, and as unintentional comedy goes Allison to Lillia definitely achieves that with distinction.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora - Episode 11

After a rather depressing outing last time around, the penultimate episode of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto - Natsu no Sora at least returns us to a happier place... Well, more or less.

The majority of this episode focuses on the magic students final exam (which they all pass of course), followed by their graduation ceremony - This brings good news for both Sora and Gota, as aside from both of their tutors the former gets visited by one of her former customers who she helped earlier in the series while the latter is cheered on by both of his parents, now seemingly back together after reconciling their differences. Aww....

As with most things, this happy ending means that other more regretful things have to end, and so Sora and Gota have to say their goodbyes, a parting made all the more difficult by Sora's terminal condition.

How they're going to fill up that final episode I have no idea, but even as somebody who tends to dislike overly saccharine endins I find myself hoping for a happy one here, as somehow it would be both fitting and worthy of this particular series. While this particular episode was a little slow and plodding (due largely to its subject matter - Exams and graduations just aren't all that exciting in anime plot terms), it doesn't disguise the fact that I have a soft spot for this series as a whole and the characters contained within, and thus I don't particularly like the thought of it reaching its climax with death and sadness.

Hidamari Sketch x365 - Episode 11

Hidamari Sketch x365, it's been so long since you last graced us with your presence, and how I've missed you so...

It may have been far too long a break without a new instalment from Hidamari apartments, but episode eleven of x365 wasted no time in getting back to the joys that this series brings, beginning with a not particularly suprising admission from Miyako, but giving us a glimpse of a surprisingly rebellious side to Yunocchi as she sneaks up onto the school roof to catch some sun and sleep... Pigeon attacks and alien abduction notwithstanding.

The second half of the episode introduces us to the seven mysteries of Yamabuki High... Well, it's more just one mystery over and over again, but never mind. This latest mystery involves Hiro, a low ceiling, and some very tight pants (trousers to us British types). The rest writes itself really, but there's still a certain amount of amusement to be had from working towards the rather obvious conclusion.

As if the resolution of that mystery wasn't enough, we also finally get to witness the shocking secret of apartment 203 - Okay, so it wasn't shocking at all, and was a bit of an anti-climax to tell the truth, but you can't have everything I suppose.

At the end of the day this was another episode of Hidamari Sketch x365, which means some great moments of slapstick and one-liners from Miyako, some generally amusing moments from everybody else, and just that general sense of happiness and well-being that always washes over me after watching this series - It's always a pleasure, and that enjoyment shows no sign of abating towards the end of x365.

Kannagi - Episode 7

Featuring an entire episode where the star of your show is shut in a closet out of sight might not seem like the most prudent of ideas if you're trying to pen an anime series, but that's exactly what we have here with Kannagi's seventh episode. Guess what? It works pretty damn well too.

The episode begins with Nagi having shut herself in the closet right from the get-go, due to some kind of disagreement with Jin that we aren't party to at that point. After trying everything he can think of to get her out, he calls Tsugumi to help him out (despite his horrified realisation about "those" magazines in the closet), which ends up as a similarly unsuccessful ploy.

So, we spend the rest of the episode seeing most of the major characters having a crack at persuading Nagi to come out of the closet (wait, that doesn't sound quite right, does it?), from Zange's idea to.. err, "molest" Jin through to the arrival of Akiba, who is greeted in a hilarious fashion by Jin.

It seems that Akiba is the guy with the key to this whole mess at his disposal, for the argument which kicked off the closet incident was Jin taping over a recording of Nagi's favourite anime with a TV show about cute cats (we've all been there, or somewhere similar, I'm sure). Semi-otaku that he is, Akiba has just the episode that Nagi is missing recorded. On Blu-Ray. And Betamax. Yes, Akiba is a Sony fanboy, which also makes him a master of formats which nobody else has any chance of every playing. D'oh!

An episode of Kannagi with very little of Nagi to enjoy shouldn't work by rights, but it does in this episode and with plenty to spare - It's fun, it's funny, and for a technology-minded guy like me the punchline to Akiba's arrival ("It's a Sony!") is probably the funniest thing I've seen in quite a long time. Pure genius. Once again, Kannagi proves to be one of the most outright enjoyable shows of this season - Not the kind of outright comedy that has you in stiches from beginning to end, but still great to watch with a few big laughs thrown in for good measure. Don't miss the end credits either, as there was plenty of amusement to be had there too.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Real Drive - Episode 18

After being way, way too filler-ish of late, we finally get a Real Drive story arc that feels like it has a serious and decent place within the confines of this series. Not only that, it also follows up (at least in part) the mentions of water particle research made (and largely glossed over) in the last episode, which somehow makes me feel a little better about the whole thing.

The plot of episode eighteen is really simple enough - Noise has been detected which interferes with The Metal, and appears to be coming from a jungle-filled island not far from the main artifical island. Of course, the job is to find out who or what is causing this noise, and thus Haru, Sota, Minamo and Holon are sent off to trek through and explore the jungle for answers, assisted by an expert on the island who is rather usefully cyberbrain free, leaving her free from the struggles suffered by those with cyberbrains as the noise interference gets worse.

This scenario actually allows us to get to one of the core concepts of Real Drive, that being technology versus nature. While the episode itself is pretty slow-paced, it really brings into relief the powers of both camps, from Minamo fighting off a cold while Holon struggles to co-ordinate herself as her connection to The Metal gets weaker (which seems like a pretty big design flaw to me, surely cyborgs shouldn't shut down just because their connection drops?!), while the jungle around them is shown to have grown apace, even overtaking villages on the island and outliving even humans using prosthetics by a massive degree. While it doesn't particularly ask any big or searching questions, this episode does at least manage to offer a nice line in provoking thought, the kind of thing Real Drive has done so well, yet so rarely, during the majority of this series.

This episode also proves to be part of a rare multi-episode story arc, which I suppose has allowed for this slow but sure (and surprisingly light-hearted on occasion) build up while giving it the opportunity to create and grow the points its trying to make. While this doesn't make for an exciting instalment by any stretch of the imagination, it certainly makes a change from all that pointless filler material we've been subjected to, and the introduction of something worthy of thought and debate is always a good one in my book.

Yozakura Quartet - Episode 7

It's festival time in Yozakura Quartet, with the entire town celebrating the sacred tree which protects them from evil. This once again allows us to enjoy the friendship and camaraderie of the main characters as they work towards and enjoy the festival itself, although the post-festival party ends up becoming arguably just a little too enjoyable once the water starts flowing.

Yes, I said water - Apparently (although this makes no sense in any practical terms, but I digress) water is to demons what alcohol is to humans. Thus, when that water gets flowing at the party, everyone ends up thoroughly drunk... Aside from poor old Akina that is, who (human that he is) enjoys no benefits from the water and has to put up with everyone else's drunken antics.

Amusing though this is, the whole festival plot is really nothing more than a side dish to the main course of the episode, which sees Genjin taking Ao hostage (making every use of the fact that he's stolen her brother's body for his nefarious ends) and calling out her friends to meet him, building up to what is looking likely to be a pretty action-centric episode next time around. Just what is he planning for Ao? Indeed, what is planning to do with Hime and company? Cliffhangers being what they are, we'll have to wait and see.

While I've praised the feelings of community and friendship engendered by Yozakura Quartet over the action within its main story arc thus far throughout this series, things are finally really starting to get interesting within the main Enjin plot, to the point where it's beginning to feel like a proper part of the story rather than a simple distraction from the fun side of the series. Having said that, there's still much to be said for the more light-hearted aspect of the show, with the water-fuelled drunkeness on show this time around vaguely amusing in its own right, while all of the mian characters remain very much likeable in their own way. Still, with a potentially action-packed episode on the way, I'm curious to see how this series can handle such a 'pressure', given that its livelier moments haven't always worked out so well in entertainment terms previously.

Telepathy Shoujo Ran - Episode 18

Someone was clearly listening to my thoughts that Telepathy Shoujo Ran was covering too much tired old ground, for episode eighteen has brought us... Divine treasure snakes!

After Ran was overcome by voices in her head at the end of the last episode, this time around those voices repeatedly make her run off places, on one of these occasions while also wrapping some kind of glowing tea towel around her head. In the meantime, the complaining idol is... well, complaining some more, Rin gets hit on the head with a coconut, the suspicious grandson of the man who discovered the island is... well, acting suspiciously, and the kind old farmer is actually full of hatred.

It's some documents that Akaza (said suspicious guy) is carrying that kicks off this whole divine serpent idea, as he apparently holds an unpublished chapter of his grandfather's book that explains what they're all about, and how (in typical supernatural style) they appear every so many years to grant a wish, which is why both he and the idol seem to be there, to wish for a big bucket of money and eternal youth respectively - Fair play to them really.

Of course, justice and morals win the day, and everyone lives happily ever after in the end... Apart from the grandson and idol I suppose, who really didn't get anything out of the trip for their efforts. So concludes another decidedly mediocre Telepathy Shoujo Ran story arc that I really can't find a lot else to write about, it all just sort of washed over me like a migration of grass snakes on some mysterious island.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Hyakko - Episode 5

After a one week break, Hyakko is back, complete with its mildly amusing but never quite entirely funny plots and mildly likeable but never quite loveable characters.

Episode five of the series if basically segmented into two chunks. The first sees some further results from the last episode's selling of photographs of all the freshman girls, with one individual in particular seemingly garnering a lot of attention from someone. That individual is of course... Torako, not Ayumi as everyone immediately assumes, and to be honest that conclusion is worked towards and revealed in a rather clumsy way which rather ruined this particular part of the story if I'm honest.

Speaking of Torako, she gets plenty of time in the spotlight in the second half of this episode - After ending up late for school, she finds herself bumping into Ushio, a delinquent with a love of manga and cats (which makes her a-okay in my book). They end up hanging out together for most of the school day, getting a little "over-exicted" over a karaoke session in the process, before finally deciding to make the trip to school and being duly punished for their lateness.

Once again, Hyakko somehow manages to miss its real point during this episode, trying its best to be humourous but never really succeeding in reaching those dizzy heights. To be fair it does raise the odd smile, and I can't find it within myself to moan about any of the characters in particular as they're all unique and pleasant enough, but the series somehow continues to lack that cutting edge at delivering the killer blow/punchline that seems to come so easily to series like Hidamari Sketch and Lucky Star. That lack of edge alone is what puts Hyakko into a different, lower, league to its esteemed rivals, and I really don't see it managing to remedy that now we're five episodes into the series.