Thursday, 31 December 2009

The Hanners' Anime 'Blog Air Pie With No Pastry Awards 2009

Woah, have I really been doing this for two years? The calendar never lies so yes, this is virtually the second anniversary of this 'blog (give or take a month, this site's actual "birthday" is towards the end of January), marking the end of a year in which I've 'blogged close to forty different anime shows (including a few movies and OVAs) - Some good, some bad, and not too many that were absolutely dire thankfully.

Of course, this makes the end of the year a time of reflection for all and sundry, and thus I feel almost duty-bound to sit down and collect my own thoughts by way of my second annual "Air Pie With No Pastry Awards" - A celebration of the best (and finger-wagging dismissal of the worst) anime of the past twelve months.

Just to make the rules clear (in the hope that it prevents me from breaking them myself in two seconds flat), only shows that have finished airing in 2009 are eligible to pick up an award here - Anything still airing into 2010 will have to wait until next year to try its hand at catching my eye.

So, with that in mind, let's get cracking!

Best opening titles - To be honest, I'm not the kind of guy to take much interest in opening or closing titles; I'll watch them once for any given show, and that's it unless they really catch my eye and do something special. For example, pick any series of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei and you'll find me watching the opening credits with rapt attention every single time.

Indeed, while Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's opening is right up there with my favourites for the year, it's Eden of the East that sticks in my mind as the best example of a title sequence done right. Even ignoring the oddly fitting use of Oasis' Falling Down to run alongside it, the title animation itself is a near-perfect amalgam of everything that such a sequence should be - It fits with the aesthetic of the series, it educates about the series without giving anything away, and indeed it serves to amplify any sense of mystery surrounding what you're about to view. It's a good job everything else about Eden of the East was as polished as its opening, otherwise it would have been quite a let-down.

Best closing titles - While opening titles should serve as a mechanism to draw you into a series, so the closing credits should arguably act as a come-down - Something pleasant to send you on your way for another week until you and said series reconvene next time around. By these measurements, Spice and Wolf II's end credits fit the bill near-perfectly - Cute illustrations, and a fabulous yet upbeat song that fits the story of the series uncannily.

However, there was one series which transcended even this to create not so much a set of end credits as an institution in its own right, and that series was K-ON!. While Don't Say Lazy was a fantastic effort within a series full of great music which was almost criminally overused within the episodes themselves, the pop/rock attitude and fashion of the title sequence simply added to the effect to create something that you'd happily watch on its own even when it was no longer bolted on to an episode of anime.

Best soundtrack - While K-ON!'s actual soundtrack itself wasn't much to write home about, it goes without saying that the various character CDs, singles and "proper" music which accompanied the series was largely excellent and well worthy of attention even outside the confines of that series. However, for my best soundtrack award this year I'm actually going to cheat somewhat and pick a soundtrack from something I haven't even watched yet, that being Macross Frontier ~Itsuwari No Utahime~. I'm sure people don't need to be told how wonderful all things Macross Frontier tend to be musically, but ever since its release the Sheryl Nome insert album Universal Bunny has been stuck on almost constant repeat play no matter what I've been doing. With so many fantastic songs which only make me yearn to see this movie all the more, it's a clear winner for the year in my book.

Worst soundtrack - You know, much as I'd love to rip into some release or other here, I can't actually think of an anime soundtrack that I've heard which has genuinely made me roll my eyes or otherwise giggle at its poor quality - Sure, there have been plenty of forgettable OSTs floating around I'm sure, but nothing so terrible as to cause me to consider going down the Van Gogh route. I'm going to have to sit this one out this year, and hope that something truly atrocious comes my way in 2010.

Best character - 2009 has been a good year for larger than life characters in anime - We've seen the return of Haruhi Suzumiya (love her or hate her), the rebirth of the good old-fashioned hero in Eden of the East's Akira Takizawa, and proof that the male lead in a romantic comedy doesn't have to be a complete moron thanks to Toradora!'s Ryuuji Takasu.

However, this year there has only been one character capable of making me laugh, making me cover my mouth and exclaim "did she really just say that?" and making me think "Awww, how sweet", often within mere moments of one another, and that characters was Bakemonogatari's Hitagi Senjougahara. For anyone who rolls their eyes at the age-old "tsundere" stereotype, Senjougahara is a perfect example of this kind of basic character built out, given depth and slotted perfectly into a series. For a show that was all about the dialogue above all else, Senjougahara got nearly all the best lines, delivered perfectly to make for a truly odd yet fascinating combination of scary yet lovable.

Worst character - If you've been following this 'blog on a regular basis, you probably don't even need to read this section to figure out who my least favourite character of 2009 is, but if you're only an occasional reader then let me fill you in on the apathetic, lazy, careless, stupid, cheating asshole that is White Album's Touya Fuji. Oh wait, I think I just did.

To be fair to be poor Touya, he is the male protagonist in a series based on an adult game, which never really gave him much chance of a normal life, but even so his complete inability to keep his pants present and correct while in the vicinity of basically any of the show's females was the final straw for a guy who was hardly likely to be "man of the year" even if you did manage to equip him with some kind of chastity belt.

Best filler episode - K-ON! isn't particularly the kind of series where you can pick out "filler" that easily (it is basically a slice of life show, after all), but the show's closing episode was clearly an addition to polish things off at the end of the series proper, and it certainly didn't appear in the manga, so to my mind it counts as filler. A good job it is too, as it's by far the best filler episode I can think of that I've seen in 2009 - Indeed, it held more emotion than all of the series proper, enabling it to act as a gauge for just how much you'd fallen in love with the series characters over its previous twelve weeks. Quite a lot as it turned out when the going gets tough in this ultimately heart-warming instalment.

Best individual episode - There have been a few individual episodes of anime that left me a quivering wreck of emotion in some shape or form this year, from the handling and fallout from Isara's death in Valkyria Chronicles through to Nagisa's death scene in Clannad: After Story... in fact, thinking about it I guess there's just been a lot of high profile deaths in anime this year.

However, there's no death involved in my favourite single episode for 2009, which comes courtesy of Toradora!, and more specifically the sixteenth instalment of the series. I know a lot of people have their own special moments from this show (so packed full of them it happens to be), but this particular episode ends with such a storm of emotion that I don't think I've ever experienced anything quite like it before - It's violent, it's sad, and it's intense in so many ways that it almost defies description. Put simply, you have to watch it for yourself to really appreciate, and that probably goes for Toradora! as a whole to be quite honest.

Worst individual episode - The obvious choice would be to throw in an episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's Endless Eight arc here (but which one? There are so many to choose from), but on an individual basis they aren't bad, it's simply watching eight of the damn things consecutively that is possibly the worst concept of the decade. Instead, I'm going to strike out of left field here, and name the final episode of Viper's Creed as the worst single episode of the year - A finale that managed to bring the word "abomination" from my keyboard as it set about creating enough massive plot holes to drive a heavily armoured motorcycle through yet still crashing it into the nearest large object anyhow. It even made me swear repeatedly during my 'blog entry about the episode; a rarity in itself. Yes, it was that bad.

Best series ending - The risk with any romance-based series is that either a. the show will end without any firm decisions made on who ends up dating/falling in love with who, usually in the hope of a second season, or b. you'll find yourself yearning for a particular pairing to get together, only to be disappointed when that doesn't happen. Somehow Toradora! managed to avoid both of these pitfalls by providing both a "proper" ending, and by creating so many wonderful characters that you were left genuinely not minding who ended up with who come the end of the series. Thus, any ending to this series is a good ending in a sense, but even then the nature of Toradora!'s big finish was perfection in so many ways that it left you with a big smile on your face even though the pain of such a great series finally coming to an end was still lodged deep in your heart.

Away from my slushy, lovey-dovey side, Eden of the East's fabulous ending is of course worthy of mention, while Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 built up to an incredibly emotional climax for what was a brave series from the outside.

Worst series ending - I've already mentioned the abomination that is Viper's Creed's final episode, and now I've gone and made myself remember it again. To quote my own thoughts at the time: "this has to be right up there as one of the worst anime endings I've ever seen - It's the kind of thing that should be studied by future generations to prevent such atrocities from ever occuring in the name of Japanese animation ever again". I think that says it all really, tempted though I am to give Shangri-la this award for its equally pathetic ending.

Best series I haven't actually watched - This is a tricky one, as I think I've covered all of the big-name and genuinely popular shows for 2009 in some shape or form (in other words yes, I've watched far too much anime this year), so what's missing from my anime viewing experience for the year? The only series I can think of personally is Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou, the second season of a series I really must sit down and catch at some point in time. If there's anything else you think I've missed, then of course feel free to let me know, I'm all ears. Well, not literally, that would be a bit strange if I only comprised of ears. How would I type?

Worst anime series - While Viper's Creed has already managed two mentions in the various "worst of" categories I've employed here, there is one series that has managed to trump even this in terms of proving to be consistently terrible, almost to the point of being impressive. That series is Shangri-la, a show which managed to take a genuinely interesting concept, Range Murata character designs and an awesome opening theme tune, and somehow turn it all into 2009's most frustratingly terrible series. From irritating characters down to nonsensical plot developments, Shangri-la had it all, and unfortunately it was all rubbish. Thank goodness that at least Gonzo also had Saki to fall back on this year, otherwise 2009 would have been a complete write-off for the beleaguered company.

Best anime series - So, we finally reach the big prize, the pie in the sky award if you like, for the best anime series of 2009. For all the naysayers pessimistically predicting the end of the days of high quality anime, the year has actually provided some decidedly tough competition for this most prestigious of choices.

Toradora! is certainly an early contender for such an award - An absolutely top-notch show which rewrote the rules for the genre it represents, and had it broadcast in its entirety over 2009 rather than splitting across two years it might have had an even stronger argument for winning outright. Then there's Eden of the East, which brought us an original idea that was fantastically executed with great characters, plots and a perfectly woven narrative - In any other year this would probably have walked away with the best anime series award, quite frankly.

However, there was one show which managed to surpass even Production I.G.'s best efforts for 2009, and it came via SHAFT's adaptation of a series of light novels in the form of Bakemonogatari. Despite the obvious production time issues suffered by the animation team throughout, this series still managed to be one of the year's most visually arresting, but more importantly it was an absolute triumph of good dialogue over all, with great lines and exchanges peppering almost every minute of every episode. From our introduction to Hitagi Senjougahara and her penchant for dangerous stationary through to her opening up to Arararagi (sorry, I stuttered) in the final broadcast episode, everyone who watched the series seems to have their own favourite Bakemonogatari moment, and the fact that there are so many to choose from is proof in itself of the outright quality of the series as a whole. Yes, strictly speaking the series hasn't finished in 2009 thanks to those additional streaming episodes to finish things off, but that's not reason enough for me to strip this fantastic series of the right to call itself my favourite series of 2009. It's rewritten the tsundere rulebook, it's poked fun at otaku without them even noticing, it's made me laugh and smile more times than I care to remember - Thank you Bakemonogatari for your part in making 2009 a year to remember.

So, there you have it, my thoughts and opinions as we close out 2009. I hope you all have a great New Year, and I'll see you all again in 2010. But until then, this is the point where you get to flame away in the comments section. Go on, you know you want to...

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 1

As we teeter at the precipice of both a New Year and a new anime season, so the coming weeks should be filled with new shows to delight in and... well, roll our eyes in exasperation at, most probably. First out of the gate for winter 2010 is Ladies versus Butlers!, the latest in a line of light novel adaptations which seems to be the "in" thing in the industry right now.

This particular series introduces us to the Hakurei-Ryou high school, although you can hardly label it a run of the mill high school by any count. Instead, this establishment seems to serve a dual purpose - Firstly, as a "finishing school" of sorts for well-off young ladies, and secondly as a training ground for servants, namely maids and butlers. At the centre of the former class of student seems to be a girl known (rather suitably, given her fiery temperament) as Flameheart, and also the school's current number one student, Saikyou Tomomi.

While all seems peaceful and relatively serene, this relative normality is broken by the arrival of a new transfer student set to train to be a servant - Hino Akiharu, a rather rough and ready looking fellow who soon inadvertently brings chaos to the school campus. It's at this point that the show's true colours are revealed, as we shift from a somewhat elegant opening half into a cornucopia of panty shots, breast groping and worse, complete with the kind of ridiculously thick "steam" and blacked out shots that we've come to expect with regard to censorship of said shows.

Having introduced some characters who are at least vaguely interesting, as are the relationships between some of them, it's actually pretty disappointing (if not unexpected) to see Ladies versus Butlers! jump down this route at the earliest opportunity, saturating its opening episode with fan service in the hope of making a quick win in terms of the show's popularity. It's to be expected from the makers of Kanokon I suppose, and I have no idea if the light novels take this particular route, but I'm hoping there's going to be more to this series than titillation, otherwise it's going to quickly hit my rarely used list of dropped anime.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 49

Hetalia: Axis Powers' latest episode deal with the enlightenment of Japan, as it moves from its previous state of isolation into a more open relationship with foreign powers.

Thus, this seismic shift in the country sees Japan at first shutting himself in and hiding himself away as France comes to visit, tempted only by the promise of a cute kitten (something which should perhaps be used more often in modern diplomacy... come on Iran, if you stop your nuclear programme we'll let you play with the kitten for a while!). Eventually however Japan gets over his previous aversion and tries to learn a little from France, albeit not too successfully if I'm honest.

That aside, this episode also sees Canada try a new way to get himself noticed, although to be frank anything Canada does is bound to be overshadowed when he hangs around with a cute, talking bear, which is far more interesting.

To be honest, by this point I'm never sure what to say about episodes of Hetalia any more - They aren't usually all that funny or anything, they're simply there. This instalment of the series was certainly there, that much I can confirm... it amazes me just how popular this show is to be honest, is it really worthy of another twenty-six short episodes once this current run (which has now been oddly elongated with big gaps between episode release dates) is over?

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

White Album - Episode 26 (Completed)

As White Album finally reaches its climax, is Touya finally going to have to get his comeuppance for all his character flaws throughout the series? Or will he simply throw caution to the wind and ensure he completes the "Mana route" before the series finishes. Hell, maybe he can even explore the "Eiji route" while he's at it?

Perhaps thankfully, nothing quite that dramatic occurs here. Instead, Touya finally pours out his frustrations and realisations about how many people's lives he's screwed up to Rina, to the point where she finally manages to find her previously lost voice while trying to yell at him (at least he's good for something, I suppose). In fact, this recovery is so complete and absolute that she even has time to grab her fanciest dress, make it to the Venus festival and sing a duet with Yuki, who luckily just so happens to be singing a completely different song to the one agreed for said festival.

This moment of musical genius causes memories to flood back into Touya's sex-addled brain, as he finally remembers how he met Menou amongst other things, and through the power of the flashback we can see exactly what has caused Touya to spend an entire decade causing grief for any woman within his radius. What on Earth could have such a potent affect on a young boy at such a tender age? Believe it or not, a crappy handmade medal with "good job" written on it.

Yes, that's right, the entire reason for Touya behaving like an asshole for twenty-six whole episodes is because he threw away a pretend medal that Yuki gave him. Once you've pulled yourself together and found an opportunity to pick your incredulous jaws up from the floor... then I'll let you continue, as my mouth is still agape at how such a thing could cause such emotional damage. I'm not sure even Doctor Irabu will be able to get his head around this one.

Truth be told, the entire ending to White Album is an anti-climax - Yes, we get something of a happily ever after ending for most of the characters, but Touya really faces no pain or punishment for his actions, and that coupled with the frankly ridiculous reason for his behaviour leaves me feeling pretty unsatisfied. Now, I'm not saying that I wanted some kind of School Days-esque ending here (okay, maybe just a little), but this all feels like pretty weak sauce for a series that has delighted in throwing ridiculous amounts of drama at our screens in recent weeks. This over-reliance on soap opera has probably been both White Album's biggest draw and weakness throughout - It often tried a little too hard to keep our attention with salacious drama, but then again it was that drama and the chance to boo and hiss at Touya like some pantomime villain that made watching the series so worthwhile. In closing then, I guess watching this series has been a bit of a guilty pleasure, and for all of its nonsensical plot devices and hateful lead character I have to quietly confess that I've enjoyed every minute of it in my own deranged fashion.

Kūchū Buranko - Episode 11 (Completed)

As Kūchū Buranko reaches its final episode, so it manages to deliver the most surreal instalment of the bunch, as it relates the story of Hideo Tsuda, who you may recognise as the father of Yuta Tsuda, the boy with the cell phone addiction featured in episode six.

This particular episode does away with the usual pattern for this series - Rather than Hideo struggling with his issue before going to Doctor Irabu for help, this instalment instead sees the senior Mr. Tsuda working himself to the bone in the emergency department of Irabu General Hospital at a busy time of year. Outwardly, he seems to be a kind, conscientious guy with a heart of gold and nothing but dedication to his patients, but this hides something of a heart of darkness when it comes to his family. Quite simply, Hideo finds it nigh on impossible to deal with family life, which leads to him storing up resentment for his son and wife's problems that threaten to bubble up from beneath the surface to consume him.

Irabu himself really does nothing to resolve this situation directly, as it's Hideo's own realisation that he needs to listen to his family's needs as he does those of his patients that puts him back on the right track as his thoughts and a breakdown of sorts threaten to drive him to despair - A discovery that segues in nicely to the Christmas feel of this episode that plays up the importance of family and the realisation that nobody is perfect. It's a pretty simple and well-worn message, made somehow more compelling by the intensely surreal method of delivery which worked rather well in terms of keeping my attention.

Overall, I have to give Kūchū Buranko some kudos for what it has attempted to do - It didn't get it right all of the time, but it still managed to hit the mark more often than it missed it, and for me that's worthy of plaudits given the difficult nature of the subject matter (which somehow this series managed to treat sensitively yet still light-heartedly). The crazy aesthetics of the series also did the job better than they might have done - You could argue that the ultra-colourful and brash look of the show and the weird mix of live-action and traditional animation were mere gimmicks, but in a series that seeked to show the world through the eyes of those lost in obsession, fear and worry it seems somehow appropriate. At the end of the day, Kūchū Buranko isn't just a brave series but one that also pulled off much of what it intended to do come the end of the day - A rare feat these days, so one that should certainly be applauded.

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Original Soundtrack

Compared to the joys of Yoko Kanno on the soundtrack for the original series of Darker than BLACK (which featured at least a couple of stand-out tracks on an OST which never really grabbed me to be honest), Ryuusei no Gemini was always going to struggle to make quite the same impact shorn of her not inconsiderable influence. However, regardless of this there were a few occasions where I found myself enjoying the background music to this new series, which left me at least somewhat anticipating the release of its soundtrack.

Of course, it probably goes without saying that Ryuusei no Gemini's official soundtrack features TV sized versions of both the show's opening and closing themes - I'm not a huge fan of either track to be honest (although I realise I'm probably in something of a minority on that front), but of course if you do love those tracks you probably already have their respective singles anyway.

That leaves the rest of the album free to showcase the rest of the soundtrack, and to be honest it's actually a bit of a curiosity - The snippets of music you'll recognise from the series are all present and correct, but they're occasionally encased in what can only be described as different tunes entirely. This makes for a rather odd listening experience that almost descends into a game of "guess the tune", as some seemingly random dance number churns along for a minute or two before transforming into one of the hefty beats that you'll remember from the series.

To be honest this isn't a bad thing to my ear at all - I'm all for some thumping dance music at times and this soundtrack delivers in an oddly satisfying way at times while also making room for some slower electronic numbers where required (with track nine a particular favourite of mine). If pounding bass isn't your thing however, there are still some other more guitar-centric tracks on offer here, although again I have to admit they don't do much for me personally but they seem polished enough. The good old piano also gets an outing for the haunting (and rather excellent) track eleven to round things off from the point of view of creating a more eclectic soundtrack.

Some odd compositions aside then, I actually found myself enjoying most of the Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini OST, with its heavy beats and electronic musings fitting the series pretty well in my opinion. It's certainly not a classic soundtrack that will be enjoyed and talked about for many years to come; rather, it's a solid effort that's certainly worth enjoying in the moment while the series itself is still fresh in your mind. Is this the kind of soundtrack you'll come back to and enjoy again in a year or two however? Probably not, truth be told.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 38

As we reach Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's thirty-eighth episode, so the game of chess between the military and everything it now stands for, and those who are seeking to reveal the truth and destroy what has tainted said organisation continues.

With the introduction of Pride in the last episode, so we see Hawkeye trying to come to terms with the danger in which she is now placed, a state of affairs that all but puts her out of said game of chess for the time being. Meanwhile however, a lot of the real interest is concentrated on Fort Briggs once again, as the Elric Brothers are sent out to capture Scar but find themselves under the watchful eyes of the military throughout. Luckily for them they soon find a way to temporarily escape these attentions, and set out to find May Chang - Something which proves to be altogether easier than they were imagining.

These jubilant times are short-lived however, as Scar himself proves to be equally simple to track down by some of the military's contingent, a couple of beefy soldiers who hide far more interesting secrets than simply too long snacking at the Central burger van... this pair are in fact Chimera created by the military, and as their true forms are revealed so Scar looks to be in a tight spot. However, these very same forms also allow for some plausible deniability on the part of the Elric brothers, who despite figuring out who this pair are attack them nonetheless, which allows them to eventually capture Scar for themselves.... or have they? Come the end of the episode Scar appears to have gained the upper hand, but in this game of cat and mouse between various parties it's difficult to know who is working towards which ends these days.

A new episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood invariably means it's time for me to sound like a broken record and gush about how great this series is, and once again I'm going to do so here. For starters there seemed to be some really noticeable care and attention paid to the animation of this episode, from Hawkeye's plight at the start of the episode through to the beautifully realised little "film" which accompanied the story of Yoki's plight - Not an important part of the episode in itself, but a nice break and change in pace which actually worked really well, as did some of the other shifts towards humour in the midst of all the darkness practiced by this instalment. I've criticised this series in the past for over-doing the humour at times, but as time has gone on it seems to have improved greatly at getting the balance just right, and on this occasion it's really blended well to both entertain and act as a compelling story-telling experience in its own right.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 26 (Completed)

After teasing us with what looked to be a glimpse five years into the future of Arashi and Hajime's relationship, only to realise that it's anything but, normal service is resumed for this final episode of Natsu no Arashi as the series comes to a close.

In short, yet again we're offered up an episode filled with fruit... fruit which is in turn filled with a veritable cornucopia of hot spices. This time around however, there isn't just a single spicy "bomb" to worry about - While Hajime's spice-filled kiwi kicks things off, a vengeful Kaya ends up making one of her own to catch out Hajime for something (and I have no idea what) that he's done and Arashi also makes one because it seems like a fun idea.

Needless to say, these kiwis end up getting mixed up with the "good" fruit at the cafe, which leads the trio who made these "devices" (plus Jun) to travel back in time and try to rectify things, only to fail to do so, at least in part due to Yayoi and Kanako's usual inability to get an order right (even though it seems like they were doing so well).

Truth be told, this was a decidedly odd way to finish a series in which we've had to much time invested - Aside from that teasing opening and a slightly sweet end to the episode there was no real closure or progress in any discernible fashion, with this instalment feeling like little more than yet another layer of filler upon a series that already had far too much of it in the first place. While the first half of Natsu no Arashi succeeded in bringing us some truly fantastic moments in the midsts of its overall mediocrity, so this second half has failed almost entirely to bring anything of note, instead concentrating on rather trite little stories that rarely hit the spot in terms of humour or content as they were designed to. Shorn of those occasional moments of genius, this second half of Natsu no Arashi has been nothing short of a rather dull disappointment.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 13

After all of the excitement and serious business of recent episodes, I suppose we were actually rather overdue something a little more light-hearted from To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, and lo and behold that's exactly what episode thirteen of the series brings us. In a word: swimsuits.

Yes, that's right, on a hot summer day it just so happens that the Tokiwadai school's swimming club needs some volunteers to act as swimsuits models for a company that sells swimwear, and with nobody else available Kuroko and Mikoto are invited along to fill that role. Needless to say, they bring Uihara and Saten along with them, while also bumping into Kongo Mitsuko, a girl with a bit of a superiority complex, as well as Judgement's Konori, who are both also taking part in the shoot.

Really, there's little more to the plot beyond that - The girls all change into swimsuits of their choice, before spending the day with some kind of Star Trek-esque "Holodeck" that recreates certain appropriate (and a few rather unsuitable) environments so that they can be photographed while acting naturally. Oh, and they make and eat some curry as well, in a scene where Kongo's lack of cooking knowledge is revealed via an attempt to peel tomatoes.

If you haven't already guessed by now, this episode is filler in every meaning of the word - Thankfully it has a couple of amusing moments (the 2001: A Space Odyssey nod made me chuckle, as did the aforementioned tomato peeling and Mikoto's frolicking at the end of the episode), but that aside you're really not missing anything if you skip this episode aside from gawping at all of the main female characters in swimsuits.... which, I suppose, is pretty much the point of the episode in all honesty. Oh well, roll on next week and hopefully a return to more entertaining fare.

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 12 (Completed)

At the end of its penultimate instalment, I found myself wondering aloud how this series would manage to close all of its plot points happily with only one more episode left to run. Well, my questions were answered by Ryuusei no Gemini's grand finale I guess, but.... ow, my head!

I suppose I should be used to the tangled webs of Darker Than BLACK these days, and generally speaking I'd like to think that I am, but this concluding episode of Ryuusei no Gemini was so dense in its twists and turns and so happy to leave questions unanswered that it's difficult to know where to begin.

Needless to say, much of this episode was about the perhaps inevitable meeting of Izanami and Izanagi, which played out against a backdrop of betrayal and shifting sides, with Shizume in particular revealed to be working for the CIA. Meanwhile, Hei survives the perils of Hazuki's "lightsaber" attacks for long enough for it to become clear both that he didn't kill Youko and that ostensibly they're both on the same side. While Hei is taken to Yin's location, it seems to be too late to stop her Izanami incarnation from wreaking havoc... or is it?

On the other side of the story Suou, Shion and July all have big parts to play, as this trio all end up within Hell's Gate - A place where their wishes can be granted, but at the cost of losing something else in the process. What happens from here is... well, pretty confusing at best, so hopefully someone else can do a better job of explaining it all than me.

I have to admit, I can't help but feel that this final episode of Ryuusei no Gemini has taken a bit of the polish from what has been an otherwise enjoyable series - While some elements of it make sense to me, and others clicked into place shortly after watching, I'm left feeling somehow unsatisfied, as though there's a big hole in my understanding that I can't quite put a finger on. In some areas this is understandable (with an OVA on the way which will doubtless mesh in to aspects of this series, and the obvious space left for a possible third season some time in the future), but I suppose I just expected a more "solid" ending. Maybe a second viewing will do this series climax more justice, and I can't deny that regardless of this ending I've enjoyed the series as a whole a lot, but right now I feel like I've just eaten Christmas dinner but someone forgot to cook the stuffing - It isn't enough to leave me hungry, but I feel like I've been stripped of an important part of the overall experience.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas from Hanners' Anime 'Blog!

In case you haven't noticed (and I sincerely hope that you have)... It's Christmas! There's really little more I need to say beyond that, as I'm sure you're all full aware of the eating, drinking and merriment that said occasion entails, so instead I'll simply wish you all a very Merry Christmas from my humble 'blog.

I hope you all have a great day, and then once any hangovers or bouts of indigestion have receded you can come back here to carry on reading about (and commenting on) all the latest anime!

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 12 (Completed)

Given the shocking cliff-hanger (if you can call it that) which closed out the previous episode of Seitokai no Ichizon, you'd be forgiven for expecting Mafuyu's confession to take up at least a reasonably hefty chunk of the show's final instalment. Well, you'd be wrong - Mafuyu doesn't want to date Ken or anything, she was just letting him know. Oh... okay then, thanks for that Mafuyu.

From here, normal service is pretty much resumed to close out the series, starting with a discussion of future dreams and careers for the student council members. Predictably, Mafuyu wants to get into something to do with gaming (or, less predictably, boxing), Minatsu dreams of becoming a bride, and Chizuru is looking to earn lots of money in a probably far from legal fashion. As for Ken, aside from this usual dreams of harems and the like, he comes up with the idea of creating a new eroge company, which he decides to name after his own nickname, Key. Err, wait, that won't work... how about Leaf? Nope, maybe not. I have to confess, that was probably the most amusing part of the episode for me.

As we enter the second half of the episode, so does a real, living, breathing Nakameguro - A transfer student who supposedly lives near Ken and needs someone to walk him home every day. Of course, this all but causes Mafuyu to explode into a frenzy of Boys Love-related excitement (also pretty funny in its own right), but in the wider scheme of things it seems that Nakameguro's appearance only serves as a segue for Ken to explain why he feels so close to the other council members and why he worked so hard to join the student council in the first place. And they all lived happily ever after, or something.... although not before discussing the possibility of a second season via knowing glances at Natsu no Arashi and Sora no Otoshimono.

In fairness, at least this being the final episode of Seitokai no Ichizon meant that the sentimental stuff felt like it had a rightful place here, which certainly hasn't been the case pretty frequently on past occasions with this series. That aside, it was another hit and miss instalment that did just about enough to entertain without ever managing to move its characters in particularly new directions or to bring any consistency to the value of its humour. While the latter of those two points is the nature of the beast for any show of this type, the weakness of the characters involved here was perhaps Seitokai no Ichizon's biggest failure - They all felt far too two-dimensional (with every pun intended) for you to care about like you do the major characters of a Hidamari Sketch or Lucky Star. Once you stop caring about the characters, their dilemmas and scenarios become far less interesting, ergo so do their jokes, which pushes Seitokai no Ichizon well and truly into the realms of mediocrity.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 12

After Kurumi's initial plot and attempt to manipulate Sawako out of her way so that she could have Kazehaya to herself pretty much fell on deaf ears, it was plain to see the gears turning in her mind for the remainder of that episode until she settled upon a new plan - Trying to shift Sawako's attention in the direction of Ryuu.

Of course, while Sawako is receptive to basically any advice thrown her way, getting her to think about Ryuu over and above Kazehaya is pretty much asking the impossible, so once again Kurumi finds herself at something of an impasse. However, with Sawako at least taking on board the concept that talking to Sanada might not be such a bad idea, it still gives her some elements to work to her advantage - Elements which become all the more potent as we receive another reminder that Shouta is actually quite the jealous one when it comes to these things.

Thus, as this twelfth episode progresses, so Kurumi's behaviour becomes borderline stalker-ish, as she tracks down Kazehaya's whereabouts at the on-going sports festival, plants a note purporting to be from Sawako in Ryuu's locker, and points Sawako in his direction to ensure that they meet at just the right time for Kurumi to break it to Shouta that Sawako is more interested in Sanada. A cunning (albeit slightly convoluted) plan, but is it going to work? Who knows, I don't have time to think about that right now while my blood is still boiling from Kurumi's behaviour.

Luckily for Sawako, she has at least one powerful ally on her side in Yano, who already seems to have figured out exactly what is going on with regard to the Kazehaya-Sawako-Kurumi love triangle, and even realises that a lot of the rumours floating around about herself and Chizuru earlier in the series originated from Kurumi; knowledge she has little hesitation in letting Kurumi know in her own subtle way. This is probably the best single exchange of the episode - Utterly bitchy and sly on both sides of the conversation, but compellingly realistic as I'm sure we've all seen or known girls who are masters at operating that way.

Anyhow, all things considered this was a wonderfully weaved episode which brought out the best and worst in all of the major characters - We get a glimpse inside the heart of Ryuu (as if we didn't already know what was to be found inside), a good long look at the "real" Kurumi, a reminder of Kazehaya's jealous streak, a great view of Yano's social nous, and of course the usual blend of naive innocence and determination from Sawako. All of this blends together to serve as a great reminder of why this series works so well - All of the major characters are strong in terms of both personality and the direct effect they have on events, which makes it far easier to be drawn into their trials, tribulations and fun times until you don't want the episode to end... something which is particularly true on this occasion as we're left with something of a mid-season cliff-hanger.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 48

Episode forty-eight of Hetalia: Axis Powers begins with a game of Name That Tune hosted by Austria... seriously, answers in the comments if you know the classical piece being played, let's see how culturally aware you guys are...

Anyhow, that aside this particular episode is book-ended by the birth of Italy proper, as Chibitalia grows up (thank goodness) - A state of affairs which brings with it quite a shocking revelation for poor old Austria needless to say, and I'm sure he isn't the only one to be slightly freaked out by the nature of said changes. I feel a little dirty myself for having watched it, now I come to think of it.

Also featured in this episode is Italy nagging Germany to play football with him (to which I would humbly suggest that he tries his best to avoid proposing a penalty shoot-out at any juncture), Germany giving Italy a helmet for his own safety (a wise move indeed), and what could be the end for poor old England following some abortive experimentation with weapons (or was it all a hoax to fool the Germans? Who knows). Not a particularly funny episode to be honest (and it was a little too slapdash in throwing together its skits to really build anything worthwhile), but I suppose that's par for the course with Hetalia most weeks.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 37

While a visit from Winry would normally be welcomed by the Elric brothers, her appearance at Fort Briggs proves to be anything but a cause for celebration, as Kimblee's appearance alongside her makes it clear that she's little more than a hostage in the hands of the military.

So, the tangled web which surrounds Fort Briggs becomes ever more complicated, as Major General Armstrong looks to have the men sent into the vast tunnel beneath the fortress rescued only for them to be found in quite a state while Kimblee and his men seemingly take care of everything else. Indeed, their plan appears to be a meticulously arranged one, deliberately keeping Ed and Al separated while Kimblee instructs the former of his next tasks as a "dog of the military", some of which fill him with absolute horror, no matter the price of the reward offered up in return for his compliance. Of course, despite accepting this offer (as if he had any choice), things still aren't quite that cut and dried, and Edward clearly has more in mind than simply blindly following the whims of his employers.

Meanwhile, another Homunculus reveals himself to Riza Hawkeye from a most unexpected quarter (or perhaps a quite expected one, depending on how you look at it), while Mustang makes indirect contact with Armstrong back at Fort Briggs, receiving a request for some additional help as she tried to get a handle on her particular problems up in the North.

As is par for the course with this series, these elements blend perfectly to create yet another compelling episode - Even without any outright action, the tension is thick from beginning to end thanks to the importance of everything that is at stake with each roll of the dice, while there's just enough humour applied on occasion to stop the entire thing from descending into utter darkness. If you are missing all the action however it looks as though the next episode should be a treat for you, but at the moment it never ceases to amaze me how Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is managing to keep its quality so consistent on an episode by episode basis over such a long period of time. As I seem to keep saying however, long may it continue.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 12 (Completed)

With Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza reaching its climax here, there's only one thing left for this series to provide.... A hot springs episode! Wait, what did you think I was going to say?

For some reason, I thought this series had already had a hot spring episode (they all tend to blend together in your head after a while), but apparently not, and so this instalment sees basically the whole cast of the series enjoying the opportunity for blatant fan service aplenty throughout its first half, complete with a botched confession to Yuuto by Shiina.

With that out of the way, the second half takes a more serious turn (well, as serious as this show can get), with Haruka somehow lost outside in a blizzard. Of course, this calls for action, and so the Nogizaka maid team form a search party to find her, a party which Yuuto tags along with to do his bit to help (albeit dressed as a bear - I did say it was as serious as this show can get, didn't I?). Needless to say, it's Yuuto who eventually finds Haruka, and after getting caught in a bit of a landslide they find a nearby empty shack to get comfortable and make themselves safe in. Really, the rest writes itself from here, as the pair look to keep one another warm, and one thing leads to another only to be interrupted at the last second, as per pretty numerous other episodes of this series. To be fair, at least the end credits give us our "happily ever after" Yuuto and Haruka moment, and not a moment too soon.

Much like its first season, I found myself having a bit of a love/hate relationship with Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza. At times I found episodes both amusing and/or enjoyable, particularly when they focused on the frankly quite adorable dynamic between Haruka and Yuuto, but at others I grew beyond frustrated with the overuse of fan service and the constant attempts to draw Yuuto into some kind of love triangle or harem situation or other. It's almost as if this series (nay, this franchise) never really figured out what worked best - If only it had got to grips with that earlier, it could have been all the more enjoyable for it. Still, as entertaining fluff Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu never really put a foot entirely wrong, and there have certainly been worse ways to spend your anime watching time this season.

White Album - Episode 25

As if there hadn't been enough drama to go around in recent episodes of White Album, so the previous instalment of the series saw Rina poisoned at the hands of yet another dastardly plot - Boy, have there been plenty of those in this series.

While Rina survives this assault easily enough, her voice isn't so lucky, and she finds herself temporarily unable to speak (or indeed to sing) - A cruel thing to happen to by far this series most entertaining character, if you ask me. Of course, this state of affairs puts her place at the Venus festival in jeopardy, and so throughout the episode we see her fight to regain her voice in time to take part.

Meanwhile, Touya seems to have gotten a bit of a sulk on, although I suppose you can't really blame him after screwing up pretty much everything for everybody... Wait, let me rephrase that - I suppose you can't really blame him after screwing pretty much everybody. Old habits seem to die hard though, as he still can't resist flirting with Yayoi while Yuki is in the bathroom just around the corner (not that Yuki really seems too concerned with what he does these days, and rightly so), and come the end of the episode he gets a golden opportunity to "complete the Menou route" (if you know what I mean) before being rudely interrupted by M3's president, who is also Menou's mother of course. Talk about awkward.

I suppose I should really be interested in how this series is going to end now we've reached this penultimate instalment, but somehow I'm not particularly - Everything seems to have been left in such a mess that none of the major characters really deserve one another, and to be honest even a "bad end" for Touya wouldn't even satisfy me. In that sense, White Album seems to have painted itself into a corner of overblown drama and misery, and I'm really not too sure that it can escape that corner before the paint dries. We shall have to see though, I suppose.

Winter 2010 anime preview

The start of a new year will also mean the start of a new anime season in just a couple of short weeks, so what (if anything) is there for us to look forward to as 2010 kicks into life?

I've just completed and published UK Anime's usual new season anime preview (complete with images and trailers wherever possible), so for a run-down of what you might be watching come January check it out!

Sunday, 20 December 2009

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 12

Harumi Kiyama may have been defeated and on the brink of being taken into custody by Misaka towards the end of the last episode, but that was far from the end of the story as things looked set to take a turn for the bizarre (and downright creepy for that matter).

With Harumi defeated, the network of Level Upper users she created "gives birth" to an entity of its own - A foetus-cum-monster made up of the thoughts of disillusionment and frustration of all of those Level Upper users on account of their inability to get by as well as they might have liked in Academy City with their insufficient powers. Thus, Mikoto now has a new threat to worry about, with this odd semi-organic monster looking set to go on an indiscriminate and seemingly unstoppable rampage.

The only way to resolve the problem seems to be the use of the "treatment programme" for Level Upper users already provided to Uihara by Kiyama, leaving us with a race to put this treatment into action and awaken the network of Level Upper users before the monster born from their thoughts does any major damage - A pressing concern considering there's a nuclear facility directly in its path.

This state of affairs leads us into what must easily be the most action-packed instalment of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun so far, with Misaka in particular given a free reign to show off her full range of offensive and defensive abilities... and let's face it, that's one of the reasons why we're watching this series in the first place. This focus on the action side of things above all else made for a predictable but watchable episode that suffered in terms of animation quality (a rarity for J.C. Staff) on account of all of that movement, while still doing a good enough job of closing off this particular story arc. It may not have provided any surprises in its big set piece finale, but was anyone really expecting it to?

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 25

It rarely takes much for the Hakobune café to be thrown into chaos, but this time around all sorts of scandal and insanity breaks loose thanks to the visit of a girl who seems to have an unfounded desire to kiss whoever tries to serve her.

It turns out that the woman in question is in fact a manga artists, looking for inspiration so that she can draw the final kissing scene required to finish her work before the deadline for it expires. Eventually, Arashi finds herself compelled to offer her help, and so that aforementioned insanity ensues, with the decidedly difficult decision of who should pose alongside Arashi causing plenty of red faces and controversy.

You can probably pretty much guess how the rest of the episode goes from here, as it swings between teasing us with Arashi posing wiht the likes of Kaya and Yayoi, Hajime attempting to kiss Jun while completely oblivious to her true gender, and both Hajime and Arashi getting more than a little jealous when the other appears certain to kiss someone else, even though they refuse to pose together for the scene.

All things considered, this is an utterly daft instalment even by Natsu no Arashi's standards, but to be fair it does manage to carry itself with some degree of poise on account of higher than usual production values and a few moments that proved to be quite amusing scattered throughout like a handful of salt. While none of that is enough to even bring this episode up to the level of what you could call "good" per se, it just about scrapes together enough entertainment value to remain watchable, even though it once again leaves me calling into question the purpose of this second half of the series when I consider how it's almost entirely consisted of what you would label as filler.

Kūchū Buranko - Episode 10

As Kūchū Buranko hits its penultimate instalment, so we meet Mitsuo Tanabe, a man who it initially appears shouldn't have a care in the world; incredibly rich, the head of a successful newspaper firm and owner of a top baseball team - what's not to like?

However, as with every patient of Doctor Irabu's, Tanabe has a problem - He's started suffering from panic attacks, belying his usual calm demeanour when faced with press swarming around him and causing him to basically black out. So, what is the cause of these attacks? Needless to say, Tanabe's need to "find himself" to discover the root cause of the problem beyond the fact that it's triggered by darkness is the main focus of the episode.

To be honest, I'm actually not too sure what to make of the way this particular episode of Kūchū Buranko handles itself - It's revelation regarding Mitsuo Tanabe's problem is certainly a clever twist in the tale that was hinted at but otherwise pretty difficult to see coming, and I can only respect it for that, but at the same time the way the whole thing was revealed felt oddly unsatisfactory to me, as though we weren't exposed to enough of Tanabe's journey to really appreciate why he became stuck in the rut that he did.

It could just be that I was expecting something different from this particular episode, but the upshot of all this is that I felt a little detached from the whole process in a way that I haven't with previous episodes of Kūchū Buranko. That isn't to say that there weren't some great moments of humour to enjoy, but this instalment as a whole simply feels less memorable than some of what has come before.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 11

Every week it seems that writing about Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini becomes a more daunting task as further revelations get thrown onto the fires that keep the series burning, and this penultimate episode certainly fits the bill on that count. In fact, it barely feels like a penultimate episode at all given how much seems to be going on as this instalment closes out.

After beginning with a glimpse at the sheer brutal horror that Izanami can be capable of, Hei and Suou go their own separate ways once again, with the former clearly looking to reach Yin's location while Suou needs to find her brother more than ever. Meanwhile, we learn that the moon which appeared at the end of the last episode is another part of the prophecies concerning what will happen should Izanami and Izanagi ever meet, adding further to the foreboding surrounding Yin and whatever she has become.

That aside, much of this episode deals with Suou's search for her brother, which takes her first and foremost towards a reunion with her father - A shock for Suou as of course she still presumed him to be dead. This meeting allows us to learn exactly how any why the "current" cloned Suou was born, from her sex (despite being a clone of Shion in a sense) through to the memories that she holds. Of course, there's little time for sentimental family reunions, with the location where Shion and her father were hiding out soon under assault from multiple forces, not least the Americans who seem to have taken an interest in nabbing both Izanami and Izanagi for their own ends. Suou's powers help her to escape the attentions of any pursuers, but at a high cost, leaving her free to find her brother as other previously disparate elements start to get together. There's certainly peril all around for the major characters by the time the episode preview rolls however.

As per my comments last episode, this really is a reminder of the Darker than BLACK we know and love - A tangled and endlessly shifting and moving story which seems unfathomably complex at times, yet never to the detriment of the show's entertainment value. While I worry that there simply won't be enough time to resolve everything to my satisfaction in that single, final episode, this instalment was another fantastically paced and developed offering which again balanced new revelations on one hand with further mysteries on the other. Now, all we can do is hope and pray that it can keep all of those plates spinning at lightning speed for a further twenty minutes to bring us a conclusion worthy of what has come before.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 11

After this eleventh instalment of Seitokai no Ichizon begins with Sugisaki looking to improve himself via an online bulletin board, so we find that he surprisingly ends up with a day off sick from the student council after running up an insane temperature.

Now, the thought of an entire episode without too much focus on Ken appealed to me personally, but needless to say he still somehow ended up being the centre of attention, albeit after the other council member's attempts to carry out a "normal" meeting without him. For them, such a meeting involved a discussion of what constitutes an acceptable part-time job, before we get a glimpse inside the mysteries that lurk within Sugisaki's bag.

Eventually, the girls decide that they should really pay him a visit to see how he's doing (especially after somehow jumping to the conclusion that he's away saving the world or something) - So, after stocking up with provisions they head off to his place. On the way they meet a couple of Ken's former class mates, who spill the beans about what a terrible guy he allegedly was at his last school; revelations which get short shrift from the rest of the council members. Thus, Ken gets a brief glimpse of his ideal harem ending, although we're left with a shocking confession (quite literally) come the end of the episode.

As so often seems to be the case with Seitokai no Ichizon, there really isn't a lot to be said about it - The vast majority of the jokes were unfunny truth be told, and the sentimental aspects of the episode proved to be dull and tiring as ever. There really seems to be nowhere left for this series to go aside from accidentally hitting the spot with a decent gag every now and then, and I don't see confessions or other attempts to shake up the status quo changing that in the slightest.

Nyan Koi! - Episode 12 (Completed)

As Nyan Koi enters its final episode, the curse of the cat deity Jizou is finally catching up with Junpei after Mizuno finds out about said curse, leaving him in more than a slightly tight spot given his allergy to cats.

But what on Earth can Junpei do to reverse the accelerating transformation to which he is now subjected? While he calls upon Kotone and Akari for help, it's actually Nyamsus who comes up with a plan, and so it goes that Junpei puts on his best acting hat to try and convince Kaede about a fake curse, before having it lifted before his very eyes.

Just when it looks as though all is well, along comes Nagi to inadvertently reveal those rather fetching cat ears, plunging Junpei into even deeper levels of peril. Of course, Nyan Koi being what it is everything ends up coming up roses (well, relatively speaking at least) as Mizuno saves the day without even realising it, before all-out chaos ensues in the aftermath of Junpei's transformation back into a human. There's still no resolution in sight for any of the character's love interests, Junpei's curse is still very much active until he completes his penance, and everything is left pretty much as you'd expect for a show that seems pretty confident that it's getting a second season.

But you know what? I hope it does get a second season. I started watching Nyan Koi without really expecting anything of worth to come from it at all - In fact, truth be told I was expecting not to like it much at all. However, while this series has hardly blazed new trails or scaled new heights for its genre, it has proved to be a largely well-animated and, more importantly, occasionally hugely funny series. A lot of comedy anime tries to get by with madcap shenanigans played at a million miles an hour, but frequently Nyan Koi manages to traverse this route with genuinely good reason, not giving you time to consider that some of the gags might be a bit stupid before peppering you with the next moment that's liable to at least make you smile. This scatter-shot humour isn't consistent, but when it works it does so very well, and thankfully this series managed a high enough hit rate with its comedy to keep me entertained while also serving up a bunch of characters who you couldn't really help but like - Even Junpei was a pretty decent guy for what was effectively a male harem lead. Thus, this all combines to make Nyan Koi my surprise show of the season - It's still no classic, but for pure mindless fun it frequently hits the spot.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 11

With the end game for Kurumi's behaviour becoming very much apparent come the end of the last episode, it seemed as though she had quite possibly gained the upper hand in her rivalry with Sawako over Kazehaya - Surely Kuronuma is simply going to accede to Kurumi's request to help her?

Well, that's what I thought would happen, but the reality was rather more surprising than that, with Sawako actually flat out refusing to help complete with an instinctive reaction to Kurumi's confession that was easily my favourite moment of the episode, while even going as far as to explain her own feelings towards Kazehaya to some degree (although I still don't think she's quite got a handle on those feelings herself). Needless to say Kurumi is left furious at this, although Sawako's naivety means that a lot of that anger doesn't really permeate her senses as they might with anyone else. Sawako most certainly wins this round then.

Of course, all of this talk of love and romance has to be put on hold for more important matters - Football! Yes, that's right, this episode also allows us to see the girls in action taking part in the "soccer" segment of the school sports competition, complete with some route one football from Sawako that Sam Allardyce would be proud of. I have to confess, I did cheer at Sawako's display of footballing prowess, and needless to say it only goes further to established her as an integral and appreciated member of her class.

With the football game over, it's time for the guys (Kazehaya included) to try their hand at softball, in a match which both Kurumi and Sawako end up going to watch together. This actually makes life rather difficult for Kurumi as she tries to balance her frustration and anger with Sawako without letting the halo that everyone else around her sees slip, but even that doesn't stop her from hatching another plan to try and draw Sawako's interest away from Kazehaya so she can have him for herself. Good luck with that though...

As is pretty much par for the course with Kimi ni Todoke throughout, there were some great moments here, with this episode managing to blend the serious side of the story (Kurumi's anger and frustration in particular) with the comical (Sawako's nonplussed and confused responses). That aside, any actual plot progression was actually pretty subtle this time around, with any major movement pretty much bookending the chance to make the most of the sports festival and have some fun with the characters. This prevents episode eleven of Kimi ni Todoke from being a classic, but it doesn't stop me from continuing to enjoy and appreciate the series as it draws towards the half-way mark.

Kara no Kyoukai 7 - Satsujin Kousatsu (Part 2)

And so it comes to an end... well, sort of, if you don't count this series epilogue chapter which will be released as either a movie or OVA further down the line. After countless hours and six movies of wonderful animation and fascinating storytelling, we've finally reached the seventh and final "proper" instalment of Kara no Kyoukai, which finds itself with quite a bit to wrap up in its two hour running time.

As the name suggests, in a sense this final movie is closest in theme to the series second instalment, but naturally the overall narrative here takes in aspects of all six of the films which have gone before. As we rejoin the world of Shiki Ryougi and Mikiya Kokuto, we find TV reports filled with talk of a "homicidal maniac" on the loose, with murders (or slaughter, as Shiki would prefer to have it, with "murder" versus "slaughter" an important theme which runs throughout the movie) occurring in the style of a killer still at large from three years ago. Despite Shiki having lost the part of her split personality which turned her into a cold-blooded killer in the past, Mikiya naturally suspects that Shiki is in some way responsible for this new and disturbing series of deaths, particularly once he realises that she has no alibi at the time of any of the murders.

While you might expect this almost traditional murder mystery aspect of the movie to continue to the very end, the "is she the killer?" question is actually resolved quicker than you might suspect, albeit not before taking the viewer on a rollercoaster ride where it seems as though the truth about something is revealed only to have that particular rug pulled out from under you as the story shifts and distorts. This part of the movie is set against a backdrop of back street drug dealing as Shiki wanders the streets for reasons we begin to understand but perhaps never quite grasp fully, while revelations slowly unfurl both from the incident before Shiki's accident that left her in a coma through to the appearance of an old face from previous films who is watching her from afar and trying to lure her into fulfilling the idealised world he has built around her.

This gives the second half of Satsujin Kousatsu (Part 2) an even darker tone, as Shiki confronts Lio Shirazume (the just mentioned stalker) but finds herself torn between her desire (or perhaps more accurately her need) to kill him and her loyalty to Mikiya and his assertions that murder is wrong, no matter the reason for it. This internal struggle seems to pin down another of the key tenets of this movie - The importance of instinct and the nature of a person. In Lio's case the urge to kill is purely predatory, a trait he has "inherited" from past incarnations, while in Shiki's case her urges are far more complex, a blend of the "missing" half of her former split personality, a need to protect Mikiya (which is where the real duality of her situation stems from) and the need to fulfil a prophecy of her grandfather's.

With the three main players in this drama swirling around, we inevitably reach a climactic half hour that is in turns brutal, disturbing, bloody and inevitable as the various battles both internal and external between Shiki and Lio in particular come to a head. It's at this point where the movie finally loses a little lustre, with Lio's supposed predatory instinct letting him down in what I found to be a most surprising fashion at a key moment in favour of what can only be described as a happily ever after ending (or at least as close as Kara no Kyoukai was ever likely to get to it). That said, the major storylines that ran through the series are given the requisite amount of closure, while there is still enough left unresolved to merit that epilogue instalment in whatever form it might take.

Even with my slight feelings of disappointment at an ending that felt like either a bit of a cop-out or just clumsily written depending on how you look at it, you can't help but marvel at Satsujin Kousatsu (Part 2) as a cinematic and animation tour de force which easily takes its place as the most impressive of the seven films. The cinematography is absolutely spot on throughout, with both the lighting and camera angles in every scene seemingly thought through to perfection and accentuating the tone of the film perfectly. When it comes to action sequences, again there's little to do except watch wide-eyed at the frenzy of speed and violence depicted before you - It's not quite up there with Sword of the Stranger or CANAAN perhaps, but it works in its own lightning fast and vicious way.

Despite my misgivings about the handling of its climax, as an entire body of work I can't help but have the utmost admiration for Kara no Kyoukai, which almost transcends simple story-telling to become an "experience" in its own right - The kind of experience that makes you want to sit down and watch all seven movies consecutively to gain a greater appreciation of. That so many occasionally complex or subtle devices and concepts have been weaved together so compellingly over the course of so much material is an achievement in itself, and if you haven't done so before then now is most definitely the time to clear some space in your diary for a Kara no Kyoukai marathon.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Macross Frontier ~Itsuwari No Utahime~ ED and insert songs album - CM Ranka

Having lavished plenty of attention on Sherly Nome (aka May'n) and her insert album for the Macross Frontier movie Itsuwari No Utahime, it would be wrong of me not to do likewise to Megumi Nakajima's turn as Ranka Lee in her own CM Ranka ED and insert song album - Not least because Ranka is far more awesome than Sheryl. Fact.

Anyhow, compared to the magnificence of Universal Bunny, CM Ranka immediately looks a little on the light side, with only one track of any decent length with the rest of the mini-album made up of the insert songs referred to already. Still, it's better than nothing, right?

Of course it is, especially given that the full-length track in question is Sou da yo. I've never been too hot on Ranka/Megumi Nakajima doing ballads and slower songs, but this really is quite beautiful, with a very obvious Yoko Kanno feel to it that keeps the track moving without ever losing its pace or underlying emotion. It's exactly the kind of track you might expect to hear at the end of an anime movie, so it certainly seems to fit its purpose.

From here, we jump into a series of short but sweet little efforts - Starlight Nattou is a rather sparse and childish little track (deliberately so, I'm sure) that doesn't particularly do much for me. Dynam Chougoukin on the other hand is a wonderful example of what you can do with just ninety seconds musically - It's upbeat, it's fun, it's funky, and to be quite honest this track should be the opening or ending theme of an anime produced by SHAFT... You just know they'd love to use this tune on Natsu no Arashi or Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei.

Kaitaku Juuki on the other hand is the kind of military sing-along that I suppose was inevitable, although talking of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei I did find myself wanting to sing the lyrics to that particular series' drawing song to it. Kaminari... pikari! Then there's Daruma Seminar, which feels more like a football chant with added Casio keyboard effects and a girl with a great voice to sex it up - God knows where that one will fit into the movie.

No Ranka Lee album is complete without Ninjin Loves you yeah!, and of course this track is present here in what sounds like an identical form to that found on the original Macross Frontier OSTs unless I'm missing something. Is it wrong that I know all of the lyrics to this song?

Family Mart Cosmos is, of course, a cheesy advertisement offering which plays up Megumi Nakajima's sexy yet innocent voice to the full - Not the kind of thing you'll be listening to on repeat (unless there's something rather wrong with you), but again I imagine it does the job which it is intended for in terms of the film.

Last but certainly not least for this mini-album Koi no Dogfight (Chotto dake) - Another fantastic and upbeat effort that could easily claim a place as the opening theme to any anime series it put its mind to. Okay, maybe the vocoder use was a little gratuitous (while also making me think of Toradora's Pre-Parade, in a good way) but I can live with that, and I'm expecting... nay, hoping... that this appears as a full track at some point, as it's clearly be crafted with more than a place as an insert song in mind given the way it fades out.

Overall, I have to hold my hands up and say that this is no Universal Bunny as its track listing and track lengths suggest, but it's still a must for Macross Frontier and Ranka Lee fans - The three new stand-out tracks (no matter how short) are worth plenty in my book in their own right.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 47

The latest episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers begins with a brief reappearance for Chibitalia, for reasons that I can't quite fathom - Indeed, this instalment is book-ended by her, although at least in terms of the episode's closing few seconds there is a little more entertainment to be had.

Sandwiched between those appearances is England and France's attempts to get Poland onside with them prior to World War II kicking off, something which Poland is completely disinterested in - In Hetalia terms, this means that Poland is more interested in pink things and ponies, which I would imagine is a slightly offensive depiction if you're actually Polish. There's also a brief segment showing America's growth while left alone by England for a while, which I think has already been pretty well-covered already in all honesty (but maybe I'm just a bitter and twisted Englishman).

Still, not being Polish means I did get a bit of a laugh out of said country's depiction, which made for a mildly entertaining episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers - Which is pretty much all you can ask of an episode of this series, truth be told.

White Album - Episode 24

Poor old Akira - It seems that even being hit by a truck can't give him more than a fleeting appearance in this series. Instead, this twenty-fourth instalment of White Album focuses almost exclusively on the revelations dished out by Menou at the end of the last episode, namely that she's never sung on any of her records, instead merely lip-syncing over tracks written and recorded by others. Rumours that Menou is currently looking to join Milli Vanilli are currently unconfirmed.

Needless to say, such a large-scale scandal leaves fallout and debris everywhere, but most squarely at the door of Eiji Ogata, as the revelation that his newly hired star can't actually sing twists and turns into stories of fraud, theft and the fabrication of stories published about Rina in the past. In short, Eiji's career appears to be finished, as he goes into hiding for most of the episode.

Of course, things aren't all that much better for M3 Productions, Menou's former employer and a company presided over by her mother. With Menou also due to take part in the Venus festival, this also looks like a dead end until Rina steps up to the plate and offers to take her place despite the cold reception she's likely to get. Similarly, Yuki remains determined to take part too, setting her up for a reunion with her former stablemate at long last.

There's plenty of other drama swirling around this episode of course, from some potential peril for Rina (who shows her intellect this episode by proving to have figured out everything going on after doing a little research) through to Eiji having a bit of a "Touya moment" with Yuki, albeit one that fails miserably.

Probably the best news for this episode however is the relative lack of Touya himself, leaving this episode to get on with things without spending too much time worrying about whether he's managing to keep his pants on. While he finds himself with quite a lot of explaining to do come the end of the episode, it was refreshing to see Yuki and Rina taking the lead without deferring to the show's equivalent of a village idiot at all for most of it - It's enough to make you wonder; what would White Album have been like without a male protagonist at all?