Friday, 29 February 2008

Spice and Wolf - Episode 9

After last week's gently paced episode of Spice and Wolf, little really changes for the majority of episode nine of the series, with things continuing to be rather sedentary aside from some hint towards future perils for Lawrence in the not so far flung future.

Despite the introduction of Nora the shepherd girl, Horo still manages to steal the show despite having a few long periods of silence - Again, the characterisation of everyone's favourite wolf girl proffers a beautiful mix of emotions and reactions that sit somewhere between betraying her thoughts and feelings and masking them expertly. I have to be honest, I wasn't too taken with Horo in early episodes of this series, but I've now warmed to her hugely, warts and all.

Given the slow, luxurious pace of this episode there isn't a lot more to say beyond mentioning my enjoyment at once again getting to enjoy Lawrence and Horo's chit-chat and verbal sparring largely without interruption, although if you're after some more action-packed moments it certainly seems as though something is amiss in Rubinheigen. It's odd, I'm normally the first to complain if any show lumbers along with a slow plot, but in this case I'm beginning to revel in it, although it shall be interesting to see what transpires next.

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 8

So far, Shigofumi has managed to impress and disappoint in equal measures, starting out with a fantastic two-parter before losing its way somewhat, and then finding its form again in the last two episodes. Episode seven left us at a real cliffhanger, with Fumika shot by her father - This leads us into part eight, which devotes itself almost entirely to explaining everything we needed to know about Fumika, the girl in the hospital who is also Fumika, why she shot her father and so on.

While I can't really fault the episode itself, which I enjoyed, I have to admit that I'm not all that convinced about the dual Fumika explanation issued in this episode. I know I really shouldn't be trying to apply logic or reason to a show about dead people who deliver letters from other dead people to the living, but the concept of why 'Fumika' is a Shigofumi just rankled with me on account of its implausibility. Perhaps things will be explained in a more satisfactory way later in the series though, so I'll let it pass me by for now.

What worries me more about the revelations of this episode is the way that they hint at a change of tone for the series as a whole - From the darkness of those opening episodes, it now seems to be shifting towards a far lighter, more positive 'happily ever after' second half. I could be wrong, and to be honest I hope I am, as the idea of Shigofumi as slice-of-life comedy doesn't really strike me as a particularly good one.

Finally, episode eight of this series was, as per its third part, struck by the content editors - Although this was done in a less drastic and hastily carried out way as that earlier edit, it still did a disservice to the scenes which had the edit applied. Making blood black to reduce its gory impact is all well and good (well, it isn't, I hate censorship of any kind, but I digress), but when those scenes also feature copious amounts of black ink, you're only serving to confuse everybody.

So, I'm left in two minds at the end of this instalment of Shigofumi - I thoroughly enjoyed the episode, but am now a little hesitant regarding the back story, and even more concerned about the direction for the remainder of the series. Only time will tell whether my worries are justified.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Spice and Wolf - Episode 8

Really, this episode of Spice and Wolf could easily have been subtitled "Horo acts cute" - With the focus of this episode simply on her journey and trading alongside Lawrence, there's plenty of time to enjoy the full range of her personality. Thus, over the course of episode eight we get to see Horo overexcited over food, Horo drunk, Horo blatantly manipulating Lawrence to get her own way, and Horo the actress managing to cunningly tip a deal in Lawrence's favour.

Okay, so this might not be edge of your seat stuff, but I really couldn't help but watch it with a smile on my face - Whatever reservations I may sometimes have about Spice and Wolf, an on-form Horo really can make an episode thanks to her characterisation and teasing verbal sparring with Lawrence, with this showing perfect proof of that. If we're honest about it, nothing particularly happened to develop the plot a great deal, but it simply doesn't matter.

At the end of the day, that really rather sums up Spice and Wolf - It's all about the Lawrence and Horo double-act. Is this a bad thing? On a showing such as this, certainly not, and I find myself warming to this duo more all the time.

P.S.: If you're wondering what happened to episode seven, it's slated for a DVD-only release at the end of May. Confusing, I know.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

True Tears - Episode 8

To get all of the adjectives out of the way early: Beautiful, wonderful, gripping, superb, fantastic - Such are my already well-known feelings towards True Tears, feelings which certainly weren't dimmed by episode eight of the series.

While Ai's devastating sweater-lips combo attack left Shinichirō in shock at the climax of part seven, things soon settle into a state of calm and happiness for the show's protagonist, as he finds himself getting closer and closer to the ever more adorable Noe. On the other hand, Hiromi's obvious malcontent and emotional imbalance worsens further over the course of the episode, where we see yet more of her sharp tongue and manipulation of any given situation to get her own way. This state of affairs soon begins to slowly impinge upon Shinichirō's happiness somewhat, leaving us with an end of episode cliff-hanger with interesting implications for both Noe and Shinichirō.

As I've used up all my praise for this series in the first sentence, there really isn't anything more to be said. I love this show with every fibre of my being, and can only reaffirm my opinion that you won't find a better anime to occupy your time with this season. And you know the best part of all? Against all odds, it just keeps getting better.

Mai-Otome 0~S.ifr~ - Episode 1

Yes, I know the title of this anime looks like whoever named it had some kind of seizure half-way through, but for some reason Mai-Otome 0~S.ifr~ obviously seemed like a good naming convention to someone. Anyway, for all the bizarreness of most of the title, doubtless the Mai-Otome franchise will ring a bell with many of you, with this OVA turning out to be some kind of prequel to everything that has gone before.

The focus of the story is a young girl named Sifr, who has dreams of becoming an Otome herself. Apart from that, there's not really a huge amount I can tell you about the plot, as it's all rather confused at this juncture to be honest. Maybe I should have just been paying more attention during the last series?

Despite being a bit confusing, Mai-Otome 0~S.ifr~ manages to cram plenty of high octane action into its first episode, mixed with a few doses of fan service for good measure - A mix which works surprisingly well in all honesty. Although I can't see this series coming close to the majestic Mai-HiME which started this whole franchise, it may at least have more to offer than Mai-Otome and Zwei, which fell rather flat. Until I really get to grips with the plot in future episodes though, I shall have to reserve making a full judgement on this show.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 7

After its return to form in episode six, I was really curious as to which way the next part of Shigofumi would turn - Back towards mediocrity, or continuing on the solid basis of episode six. In all honesty, when I realised that this episode was going to be rather more Fumika-centric I wasn't feeling hopeful, but thankfully I found myself being pleasantly surprised.

After peeling away small slices of Fumika's past over the series so far, episode seven throws an absolutely massive spanner in the works, tasking her with delivering a Shigofumi to her father Mikawa Kirameki. This gives us a more in-depth opportunity to find out just why Fumika tried to kill her own father, while also bringing Nojima Kaname well and truly into the story as a result of his own investigations into Fumika. This mix leaves us with some questions still left unanswered, a big cliffhanger ending, and what is overall a reasonably well paced and thought-out episode that provided a decent blend of humour, madness and emotion.

I have to admit though, this week's actual Shigofumi itself was really rather eerie considering the current spate of suicides in Wales, with the writer of the letter choosing to end her life because of the beautiful afterlife described in one of Mikawa Kirameki's novels. With the media and the Internet's supposed glamorisation of suicide being blamed for the aforementioned real-world story I just mentioned, this plot point seemed strangely appropriate.

So, I guess I have to end this particular entry by admitting that yes, I was wrong - Just when it seemed that focusing on Fumika's story would detract from has made this series fantastic in places so far, so the writers go and deliver a really rather good episode based largely around her plight. Now they've perhaps found their form, let's hope they don't lose their way again.

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Ghost Hound - Episode 13

"For the Snark was a Boojum, you see" - A line from a seemingly nonsensical poem written by Lewis Carroll, and also the title of episode thirteen of Ghost Hound. How fitting that quote is too, given the surreal nature of a large portion of this episode, which takes us on a journey to who knows where. Even by this series' standards, it's hard to tell with any exact certainty where Tarō's dreams and out-of-body experiences begin and end here.

Away from all that, Ghost Hound continues to insist on keeping its cards very close to its chest, with this episode revealing little about what's going on aside from a couple of additional, miniscule hints at more strange happenings and characters knowing more than they're letting right at the end of the episode. Again, I find it hard to be disappointed by that slow pace, thanks entirely to the richness of the experience that is watching this show. The audio remains hugely atmospheric and often claustrophobic, the animation is excellent, and the references to literature, psychology, spirituality and the like are just the kind of thing I can happily lose myself in and attempt to intellectualise about. As I've mentioned before, this kind of thing is (much like some of the more literature inspired moments in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex) very much something you'll either love or loathe, but once again I can only plant both feet rather firmly in the 'love' category.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 4

I've been in despair without my fix of humorous weirdness recently, so thank God for a new episode of Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. While this particular episode was perhaps a little more hit and miss than the opening few parts of this series, it still managed to squeeze in a few genuinely laugh out loud moments, as well as the amusing (not to mention true) premise running through the entire episode that people are always distracted from the main point of things by something irrelevant - A problem which apparently affects invading alien leaders as well as humans, which is always good to know.

Speaking of which, full marks have to go to this episode for its parody of Asuka's rampage in Unit 02 during End of Evangelion, starring a giant Chiri with a shovel. Yes, I'm a huge Eva geek, so it made my day.

That aside, this honestly wasn't the best episode Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has had to offer by some distance, yet even on an off-day where the animation seemed to take a downward turn and the fan service went almost through the roof it manages to remain hugely watchable. Besides, let's face it, nothing else can challenge this anime for its surrealist factor, so it's rather short of competition.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Minami-ke - Episodes 1-13 (Completed)

Minami-ke has been on my to watch list for a little while, particularly given its continuation as Minami-ke Okawari, but it's only recently that I've been able to catch up on this slice-of-life comedy, featuring 'a plain depiction of the lives of the three Minami sisters', as the opening titles so succinctly put it.

In case you haven't guessed somewhat, Minami-ke finds itself in the same kind of company as Lucky Star, Azumanga Daioh et al which, given the quality of those series, is quite a tall order for this effort to live up to. Does it manage it? Not entirely. While it takes quite a long time for the series to warm up, once its introduced the various characters which spice up proceedings and add for more comedy potential things do get much better, offering far more in the way of genuinely funny moments that are at least guaranteed to raise a smile even when the outright laughs are few and far between. As with most comedy, Minami-ke is very hit and miss, sometimes veering off into segments that simply don't work, while at others it hits the mark so close to the bullseye that it had me doubled up with laughter. Indeed, some of the more throwaway gags in the show seem to be the funniest, with the occasional appearances of Ninomiya-kun and Sensei providing some of the most hilarious asides I've seen in a long time. What better way to demonstrate than via the medium of YouTube?

Animation-wise, I did find myself getting annoyed by the change in animation style for close-ups of the sisters - Yes, I know it's being artistic, but I guess I'm a stickler for consistency in character designs and it only succeeded in irritating me. That aside, the animation quality is pretty decent throughout, although some of those aforementioned character designs are a little generic.

Anyone who knows me will know that I'm a huge fan of Lucky Star, and before that Azumanga Daioh (not to mention School Rumble, which could also be considered a stable-mate in this particular genre). I have to be honest and say that, blow for blow and joke for joke, Minami-ke fails to match any of those series. However, that doesn't mean that it isn't worth watching, as it still succeeds in offering up plenty of entertainment and amusement in its own right, particularly if you can get past the slow opening few episodes. I'll certainly be persevering to see how Minami-ke Okawari holds up

Monday, 18 February 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 6

After last week's somewhat pointless episode, praise the Lord of anime above for the return to form of Shigofumi. While episode six isn't quite up there with the brilliance of that opening two-part story arc, it's the closest we've come so far, and I'm sure it's no coincidence that this particular storyline also just happened to feature little of Fumika (or indeed the Shigofumi she was looking to deliver), leaving the main plot to speak for itself.

The focus of this particular episode was bullying, and although in places it was perhaps rather unbelievable, it still did an excellent job of relaying the feelings of desperation and isolation suffered by the bullies victim, as well as the mixture of apathy and plain inability to help on the part of another, who in turn finds himself at the centre of the bullies games. While the episode didn't really break any new ground in the way it told its story, it still made for an emotionally powerful piece of work that would have stood up perfectly well without the concept of this show behind it. Indeed, the only link to Fumika at all was that, once again, this happened at the same school as the hostage situation we saw in episode three, which must make this particular place of learning the unluckiest or most dangerous in the world, with a body count that's racking up at a rate of knots.

At the moment, it's really hard to tell what Shigofumi will being us next, such is its hit and miss nature. I'm certainly all for more episodes such as this one however, as the lack of such a Fumika-centric storyline seems to give the real stories far much more space to breathe.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Mnemosyne - Episode 1

Mnemosyne - If that isn't an anime show title that cries out "Hey, I'm cool! No, really... Watch me!" then I don't know what is. In case you're wondering, the word is of Greek origin, referring to a Goddess who was the personification of memory in Greek mythology.

The star of the show is Rin Asōgi, a private detective of sorts with a useful sideline in kicking ass. Oh, and she's immortal as well, which naturally comes in quite handy when you're dealing with people trying to kill you on frequent occasions. This six-episode OVA is set in the early 1990s, although to be honest its overall feel as a series harks more strongly from the 80s - Poor animation, plenty of fan service, nudity, violence and gore, and a soundtrack to match that particular period.

Despite all that, the opening forty-five minute episode of Mnemosyne isn't that bad in the grand scheme of things, with a somewhat likeable lead character and a reasonably paced story involving a student who isn't sure who he is any more - a problem that leads to the aforementioned plethora of nudity, violence and blood aplenty. Oh, and zombies. How original. Okay okay, so I said it isn't that bad... I didn't say it was that good either though.

As mindless fun, Mnemosyne does alright for itself with almost nostalgic qualities, reminding me of the bad old days of anime (a quality which may be deliberate given that this show was commissioned as a tenth anniversary project for the AT-X network in Japan). But, you have to ask yourself how a series based around someone immortal is going to hold your attention over five more episodes - if you know she isn't going to die, then there's hardly any dramatic tension to be had in moments of peril, is there? Of course, there are unanswered questions left after this opening episode which may just spice things up a bit, but from episode one the best description I can come up with for this series is 'average'.

True Tears - Episode 7

Well, the writers of True Tears sure know how to leave a cliffhanger don't they? Episode six of the series left us with a revelation of "I am your father"-esque proportions, and just like all the best revelations it left us with more questions than answers - Namely, are Hiromi and Shinichirō really related?

Given the outbursts which ended episode six, it's unsurprising that this weeks offering finds itself as a tight ball of emotion all round, with the various relationships between major characters well and truly shaken up. While Hiromi largely takes a back seat in episode seven, Noe and Ai both make their feelings for Shinichirō known in their own inimitable styles, meaning that just when you think things are about to take a smoother path, chaos ensues once again, leaving us with yet another 'what now?' ending hanging in the air. Do I really have to wait a whole week to find out yet again? Argh!

I know I've waxed lyrical far too much about this series already, but honestly - True Tears is near perfection. It can bring you from tears to laughter to smiling with glee and then back again in the course of a single episode, and manage it in such a way that it never feels forced or contrived. Again, both the animation and characterisations are spot on, toying with your emotions expertly to receive the desired effects. Never mind whether I want to be in Shinichirō's boots or not right now (although Noe was particularly adorable this week), I'm not sure that any amount of this anime will sate my hunger for more of this beautiful piece of work.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Ghost Hound - Episode 12

Only Masamune Shirow could get away with calling an episode of anime 'Homeostasis Synchronization' without seeming overly pretentious, but anyway, I digress. Episode twelve of Ghost Hound continues with the series' tradition of very slowly building up to whatever revelations lay ahead, giving as little away as possible and, indeed, only serving to confuse the viewer yet further. But, despite all that, this show remains hugely fascinating and watchable.

This particular episode once again showcases the absolutely fantastic audio and soundtrack work that has been seen throughout this series, again strengthening the out-of-body and often surreal feel of the show. This particular episode also takes some particularly freaky turns, on one occasion delivering a sudden and eerily disturbing vision out of the blue in the best horror traditions. It takes a lot to make me flinch or provoke a sharp intake of breath while watching anything, but Ghost Hound managed it here, truly sending a shiver down my spine.

The juxtaposition of psychological chit-chat, unique soundtrack and slow-paced surreal storyline is probably one of those things you'll either love or loathe every minute of, and I have to confess to being aligned with the former of those two categories. Despite the fact that I don't feel like I know any more about what's going on in this series than I did at the end of episode one, somehow I really don't mind too much - I get the feeling I could watch another dozen episodes of this even if the plot barely moved on at all.

Spice and Wolf - Episode 6

Thus far, I've really been quite enjoying Spice and Wolf as a comfortable, pleasant trip through the normally clashing worlds of Horo and Lawrence, but I was starting to get the feeling that the series needed to be shaken up a little to stay fresh and entertaining. As if by magic, along comes episode six to upset the apple cart (with every pun intended for anyone who has watched the episode).

In all honesty, this entire episode is built around a single, key scene, where we finally get to see another, previously hidden, side to Horo. It really is a perfectly portrayed effort too, pulling a number of emotions out of the hat and taking you along with Lawrence on what is really a relatively brief but intense rollercoaster of feelings. All in all, this episode is awesome from beginning to end, and brings this show up a notch in my list of favourites from this current anime season - everything that was perhaps missing from Spice and Wolf until now seems to have been sated, and I'm all the happier for it. Hey, we even get the inevitable reveal of where the show's name comes from (the spice part anyway, I'd like to think everyone has figured out the wolf bit by now) - it's a bit cheesy, but that's one less thing to keep me awake at night.

With the immediate dangers and action over, it'll be interesting to see how the next few episodes pace themselves, and what direction the series goes down. If this outing is anything to go by however, this show is in very capable hands.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 5

After improving over the past couple of episodes, part five of Il Teatrino really lost its way somewhat, offering a rather disjointed story which revolved largely around an aspect of Marco's past catching up with him, while also placing some focus upon Angelica's continuing deterioration. While the latter would probably have made for a more interesting episode, instead we were left with Marco-related flashbacks aplenty (why would sedate flashback sequences have shaky-cam effects? I know he has eyesight problems, but really...) and a plot that virtually screamed out what was going to happen next within a few minutes of that particular scene being set.

To make things worse, the whole episode was only very loosely (and again, disjointedly) connected to the main Pinocchio arc which is the mainstay of Il Teatrino, giving it a rather filler-esque feel that was lacking any real passion where there was potential for plenty. While this wasn't a terrible episode by any stretch of the imagination, it really didn't go anywhere, leaving me with somewhat cold - a real disappointment after the series appeared to be building up a head of steam, which it is now going to need to start over with. Again, I'm left hoping for better things next time around.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Ghost Hound - Episode 11

Considering how this series is approaching its half-way mark, it's either incredibly brave or stupid that Ghost Hound is still yet to really form a coherent storyline, moving things on slowly with little in the way of clues as to where things are headed. Yet, despite that, it still somehow manages to remain engaging with an intellectual air about it, even during an episode such as this where everything takes on an almost hallucinogenic quality. At times you find yourself completely unsure as to whether what you are watching is real, a dream, an out-of-body experience, or something else entirely, while the masterful audio production of this series continues with its disconcerting and disorienting theme to serve as a catalyst for those feelings of confused unease.

In all honesty, it's probably the soundtrack that has made this show for me thus far, pulling out a full range of audio trickery to give the whole endeavour a truly unique feel, while somehow holding together a story which regularly threatens to burst into chaos. Add to that some pretty decent animation and intriguing artwork and concepts, and you have a show that doesn't dazzle so much as it creeps into your sub-conscious, leaving you thinking about what you've just seen and heard long after the episode has ended. Most apt, considering much of the subject matter on show, and I for one look forward to seeing just if the unique feel of this anime can keep up a head of steam, while also offering the cogent storyline it perhaps needs to become more than simply an artistic curio.

Shigofumi - Episode 5

Wow, what happened here? From the sublime to the ridiculous in just five episodes, such is the turn Shigofumi has taken. After sticking with decidedly serious subject matter for its opening handful of episodes, it seems that episode five was designated to offer light relief, with Fumika and Chiaki both sent out to deliver a Shigofumi to a cat. Amusingly, that cat's name was Schrödinger, but that was more or less where the humour ended. In case you haven't already noticed, this episode really didn't work for me - it largely felt like filler for the lack of a more interesting story scenario to cover.

Having said that, this episode does at least move on the storyline with regard to the truth about who Fumika is and why she ages unlike all the other Shigofumi, although somehow even that ended up as a bit of a disappointment. It does give this part of the story room to breathe for the remainder of the series, but I have to be honest - I can't really get worked up about Fumika or her plight at all. It doesn't matter how much you use the old 'quiet but mysterious' cliché, it doesn't make a character fascinating, and to me I find it hard to like Fumika, let alone concern myself with her past or future.

Maybe I'm just a cold-hearted guy when it comes to these things, but I'd rather she sticks to what she does best (that being delivering the Shigofumi), and let the writers use that vehicle to create some more fantastic storylines akin to the opening two-parter. Unfortunately I don't see that happening, and thus I find my interest in this show waning.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 4

After finally starting to move in the right direction last time around, episode four of Il Teatrino has actually managed to keep the ship steady, offering up another solid episode for our delectation. Sure, it still isn't quite up there with the fantastic quality of the original Gunslinger Girl series, but it's doing enough to keep my attention and move things in the right direction, so I can't be too critical.

Episode four of the series focuses largely on Angelica, and her rather drug-addled return to action after a long period of hospitalisation. Her exact mental state was built up to quite slowly and never really pinpointed exactly, although having said that one of the positive points of this series so far is that it doesn't feel the need to moralise or state the obvious on behalf of the viewer - rather than pointing out "Ooh, that's terrible" at any particular points, it simply puts those actions or sections of dialogue out there to be considered and shocked about as you see fit. Watching two children agreeing on whose turn it is to kill their next enemy is deeply unsettling, as is Angelica's obsession with having weaponary at her disposal, which proves that Il Teatrino is getting it right in that department.

All in all, I've actually enjoyed the last two episodes of this series so far, so I'm certainly starting to get the feeling that it won't be a complete let-down for Gunslinger Girl fans. Now, if only they'd sort out that shoddy animation quality...

True Tears - Episode 6

It's Sunday, which can mean only one thing - An opportunity to gush over the latest instalment of True Tears. It's really gotten to the point where there isn't a lot more for me to say about this series that hasn't already been said - The animation remains pristine, the characterisations beautifully realised, and the whole show is so emotionally involving that at times its hard to remember to do other important things. Like breathe.

As you might expect as we hit mid-series, episode six sees everything taking a darker turn, with almost every major relationship seem so far crumbling in one way or another, some of them quite spectacularly. If you thought you could predict how things were going to turn out before the start of this week's showing, you'll probably want to scrap all of those ideas and start again from scratch, such is the way that things are turned on their head. In some shows this might seem over the top and rather contrived, but yet again True Tears has its finger well and truly on the emotional pulse, pulling you along sensationally to share in the various goings-on with the main players in this drama.

There really isn't anything much left for me to say about True Tears except - I love it. It seems that every week this show climbs higher up my list of all-time favourite anime, and if it keeps up this quality throughout its second half then it could easily make my top three. It's near-perfection within its genre.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Spice and Wolf - Episode 5

After several episodes of relationship building between Lawrence and Horo, last week's instalment of Spice and Wolf finally saw fit to shake things up a bit, courtesy of the capture of everyone's favourite wolf girl and giving viewers at least something in the way of action. Naturally, episode five seeks to quickly reunite the duo whose partnership is what makes this show what it is, with Lawrence soon playing his part in conceiving a plan to rescue Horo amidst the increasingly confusing 'silver coin' back story. I guess that's what I get for not taking Business Studies at school.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that Lawrence's plan succeeds, which leaves the second half of episode five free to re-examine the bonds between himself and Horo, with the latter acting in that typically hard to read fashion which, in the long run, doesn't seem to do all that much to cloud her obvious affection for Lawrence.

Once again, that's really is all there is to say about Spice and Wolf - Never mind the rest of the plot (although to be fair that is deepening at its own pace), it's all about the increasing dependence of the two main characters upon one another. This is really no bad thing when those characters are as likeable and well-realised as they are here, although the lack of something with a little more meat to get my teeth into is beginning to leave me a little frustrated in places - even the big revelation that was hinted towards in episode four turned out to be... well, not hugely exciting really. Don't get me wrong, Spice and Wolf is proving to hold its place as a nice and relaxing series to watch, but I don't see it taking any risks and leaving its relatively gentle pace any time soon beyond the odd minor shake-up here and there. I could be wrong of course, so we shall have to see what transpires as we move towards the second half of the series.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Shigofumi - Episode 4

After yesterday's True Tears post, here's another series that has been snaffled up early on by Bandai Visual. After a really rather disappointing third episode, can Shigofumi return to its ealier promise in episode four?

In short, the answer is yes. While it comes nowhere near the dark but masterful opening two episodes in tone (nor indeed the edited for nastiness third helping), this outing for Fumika was a really quite excellent story of love, hate, and the thin barriers than can so often divide those two emotions. The main storyline overall was simplicity itself, but delivered in a rationed manner that somehow avoided making the whole thing feel trite.

Aside from the subject of this week's Shigofumi itself, we also see more questions raised about Fumika, with regard to both who she was and what she is now. The aside between Fumika and Chiaki, another deliverer of Shigofumi, certainly sets the former apart as an unusual case, doubtless setting the tone for any revelations that may take place in the weeks to follow.

In all honesty, and from a purely personal point of view, I'd really be quite happy to see this series simply tackling the individual story surrounding each Shigofumi assuming it's done successfully - I can't help but find myself unable to rouse any real interest in Fumika's background (or future for that matter), given her detached personality. Does it really matter at all? Doubtless it will become a bigger focus of future episodes, so here's to hoping it's worthy of the otherwise decent start this series has enjoyed thus far.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

True Tears - Episode 5

It's nice to know that it isn't just me whose been left purring over True Tears, with Bandai Visual already snapping up the series, licensing it for a Western release.

Although episode five felt a little close to losing its way for a few minutes with what seemed to be a slightly rushed (and visually slightly below-par on the animation front) opening, it soon settled down into its usual groove of beautifully realised characters, situations and conversations. It's really rather hard to find much to talk about beyond glowing praise of the way this series handles all its main players, weaving a subtle yet powerful blend of emotions that can't help but drag you into its fold - Little emotional moments that would hold little interest in other shows grab you by the heartstrings here with expert ease.

After a few minutes of this episode where everything seems to be falling into place far too easily with regard to the main relationships on show, things soon inevitably get shaken up again, leaving the episode closing with yet another "No, don't end it now, I want to see more!!" ending. The guys behind True Tears really are experts at exerting their emotional hold over the viewer, down to the very last second of each episode. I should probably hate them for manipulating my feelings so easily, but far from it, I really don't ever want it to stop. I think it's going to take a lot to knock this show from its current 'series of the season' perch...