Saturday, 31 January 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 4

Last time out, Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo managed to safe itself from my dreaded drop list on account of amusing and entertaining me in some way that I can't entirely explain. Funnily enough, episode four manages to purloin more of the same to keep my interest in this show.

Right from the start of the episode, Leopard has Akiha and Honoka running around stealing things for him yet again, but when he has some time to spare he pinches Akiha's laptop to have a browse around the Internet. Naturally, the first thing he searches for is "Leopard"...

You can only imagine his anger when he finds that Leopard, the great AI, doesn't appear at all, and instead some antiquated Leopard tank is the talk of the web instead. This simply won't do, so he sends a video announcement to Akiha's school (from her laptop) letting them know he's about to steal something important.

At this juncture I assumed that the tank would be his target, but of course I forgot that this is Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo we're talking about, and thus most of the major plot points seem to make no sense whatsoever. Instead, Akiha is sent to capture some other piece of technology, a burglary which is interrupted both by Itsuki Kannagi and some powerful guy with a box on his head. See what I mean about nonsensical?

Of course, the ending of the episode gets even more bizarre, as Leopard tries to assert his authority over Akiha by remotely removing her clothes. At this point, I'd like to make it 100% clear that I was questioning the validity of this Carry On-esque plot device in my head, rather than pondering how and where I could obtain such a device. Just in case you were wondering. No, really, that's all I was thinking. Ahem.

Anyway, as I've mentioned in relation to this series previously, it's all about Leopard, whose comical "bad guy" role (pairing with Lelouch of Code Geass fame's voice) absolutely makes this series. It's hardly high comedy or the funniest thing you'll see this season, but it's just about amusing enough to remaing watchable, and Leopard's antics even somehow make the rest of this nonsensical series seem okay.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 4

After grabbing me and dragging me excitedly into this series via its first episode, my enjoyment of Kurokami has waned quite considerably since, and this forth instalment felt rather like another bump on that downward slide towards mediocrity.

After spotting the crazy amounts of Tera around town, the man and girl combo we've seen previously pick Akane as their next port of call as far as their investigation of said Tera levels goes, and of course this ultimately leads them on to Keita and Kuro. To be honest, this is pretty much the only noteworthy thing that happens in this episode, unless Kuro eating a lot or Keita having ridiculous mood swings counts.

Following from the template of the last episode, what we get here is another case of fifteen minutes of crawlingly slow plot progress followed by five minutes of action, which again felt a little sub-par and half-hearted compared to the awesome action sequence in episode one. Kuro versus men with bikes seemed all set to impress, but it ended up being a damp squib which even Steiner's raw strength couldn't pull from the doldrums.

Perhaps I was expecting too much by thinking that Kurokami could be anything other than a generic action anime, I'll only admit that, but the problem is that this series is starting to slip up when it comes to even that - The actual action has been pretty sparse of late, and there hasn't been anything of sufficient enough interest to take its place and allow me to grant its forgiveness. The animation quality has taken a turn for the worse, the plot has become a little messy and dull, the characterisations are clichéd (and downright annoying in Keita's case... stop acting like a nice guy and then suddenly blowing up on people!) and it's becoming increasingly difficult to find much positive to say about it. Still, perhaps if we can learn a little more about what appears to be Akane's "rival" for a Master Root position and why half of the city is underwater, I might be able to change my mind next time around.

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 4

After Makina's attack on Ouri in the last episode, Shikabane Hime: Kuro the main story arc takes something of a back seat this time around as we delve into the relationship between Takamasa and Itsuki.

In pretty much every sense this is the typical story of the Shikabane Hime - After being teamed up with a Contracted Priest, the pairing fall in love, causing issues which only end up leading to the death of one (or both) of them, or worse in the case of Akasha, who has of course gone on to be "the bad guy" of this series. This tale ties in with the current Corpse threat, which happens to be a former close friend of Takamasa, and someone who he has attempted to deal with since his death before. All of this book-ended by two major points of note with a closer eye on the show's big story, as Makina is taken away to be put back in confinement again, although on the way they unexpectedly meet a familiar face...

It would probably be harsh to call this episode "filler" (as it does fit in to some degree with the main story running through Kuro), but the whole "don't fall in love with your Shikabane Hime" advice has been done to death now so I'm not sure why we needed to be reminded of it yet again here. Yes, we know that Shikabane Hime are cute and human-looking but dead, and equally we know that they still have a full range of human emotions; these are all important aspects of this series that run right through it, I just believe we've reached a point where that aspect of the show can be given a more subtle focus rather than having it ground into our brains like the bullets from a pair of guns all the time.

Having said that, I will concede that this particular story was pretty well told, and at least we got to find out both where Takamasa's scars came from any why he now views the Shikabane Hime in the way he does. This, and even his forthcoming battle with his former best friend turned corpse, were of course completely overshadowed by the huge "Oh my God!" ending to the episode. Things just got interesting....

Friday, 30 January 2009

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 16

I would imagine that anybody who already knows there way around After Story would be well prepared mentally for what this episode brings, but whether you were ready for it or not there can be no doubt that sales of tissues must have rocketed over the past couple of days.

Episode sixteen of the series moves us forward further still, to the point where Nagisa's "bump" seems to be almost as big as she is, and the "imaginary world" gets some screen time too, keeping its tone alongside that of the main storyline.

Before we enter the sad, depressing ending to the episode, there is time for some light relief courtesy of the rest of the old crew (minus Tomoyo, which sucks) paying Nagisa and Tomoya a visit to celebrate the New Year. Kotomi in particular has plenty to day here, describing how she is now working on the alternate world theory that had parents had previously researched. This turns into a quite lengthy discussion about multiverse theory, and I was all but expecting a special guest appearance from Stephen Hawking - Oh, how I would pay good money to hear Stephen Hawking sing the Big Dango Family theme song...

Anyway, with that over, it's time for Nagisa to give birth, with the weather working against her making it to the hospital as was originally planned and leaving her to have the baby at home. To make things worse, she's already ill with a fever as she goes into labour a couple of prematurely and.... well, the rest writes itself really.

While the second half of this episode of After Story wasn't quite as tear-jerking for me as I was expecting (although my eyes were a bit damp, I must admit), Nagisa's labour and everything that came from it was excellent... no, beautifully... handled. From the dialogue and voice acting through to the use of colour, it really captured those moments for what they were, and I can only give kudos for handling such a difficult scene in a touching, sensitive yet oddly calm way - In many senses they pulled it off better than I thought possible, and my own lack of full-on blubbing to accompany it is more due to the fact that I've never felt as emotionally attached to Nagisa as I was probably supposed to be by this point. Indeed, with that in mind I almost feel a little frustrated at the series up to this point for not making more of Nagisa's character beyond the wishy-washy girl that was so often portrayed, had they brought her personality into sharper focus then I'd probably be sobbing into my pillow right now instead of writing this.

Toradora! - Episode 17

Toradora! may have new opening and end credits, but it still remains as wonderful as ever, continuing to cement its place as my favourite show airing at present.

It may be a month or so too late for us, but it's coming up to Christmas in this episode, and between that and Taiga's suspension (after her fight last episode) coming to an end, it's time to celebrate all round. Unless you're Minori that is, who still seems to be suffering from the after effects of the last instalment's climax, to the extent where even her softball skills have gone awry. Just what is bothering her?

Beyond that, Taiga's return to school proves that everyone is as hilariously bizarre as ever, as Taiga receives a hero's welcome from all and sundry... even Kitamura. Minori is also acting as oddly as ever, although in a very different way on account of her worries.

The main focus of the second half of this episode is a pending Christmas party for the school - Who is coming, who isn't, and so on. Meanwhile, there's a concerted effort from certain parties to get Taiga and Kushieda together, which leaves Ryuuji with some mixed emotions himself...

After the highly charged emotions of the last episode, it was nice to get back to something a little more light-hearted this time around (even in spite of the darker undertones regarding Minori's state of mind) - Taiga's giddy excitement surrounding Christmas and Santa was cute in the extreme, Kushieda's welcome to Taiga upon her return to school was hilarious, and somehow even Minori in that crazy bald wig still hasn't got tiring as a gag yet. While that sense of comedy seeped away in the second half of the episode as work resumed on progressing the plot and the various relationships which it relies upon, it still made for yet another entertaining episode which makes me dread the day this series ends.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

Rideback - Episode 3

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it's time for another racing-centric episode of Rideback, and while I initially found myself bemoaning this fact ("What, another race episode?") it actually worked out reasonably well in the end.

Certainly, I can't pretend that the vast majority of said race was cliché of the highest order, with Rin struggling to perform on a new Rideback (and Fuego not allowed to take part in the competition in question due to modifications), but a change to her new ride's setup making all the difference and seeing her climb from the back of the field up towards the lead. Then there was the pair of "evil" brothers trying to snatch the win by fair means or foul in some kind of typical Dick Dastardly style, and the near photo-finish ending. Still, at least they didn't let Rin either walk the competition or climb all the way from the back to victory, which made for a slightly more sober and realistic instalment overall.

Away from that, we did at least start to get some hints as to where the main storyline is going, with the GGP looking to seize and ban Ridebacks from Japan, which will doubtless bring them into conflict with Rin and company in short order, while Tenshirou continues to keep his beady little eyes on Rin, meaning that he's clearly up to something slightly subversive himself.

As per the last two episodes of Rideback, this isn't the kind of series you should try to invest too much thought in - It's a simple and rather predictable affair, so it's best to just sit back and enjoy the ride (with every pun intended). I can't see this show offering anything too deep or unpredictable, but its animation style and blending with CG looks pretty good, and the sheer coolness of the Ridebacks keeps each episode fun and watchable, which is all I can really ask for of this particular offering.

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 4

It's time for another episode of Minami-ke Okaeri, and this time around it's Touma who gets quite a lot of the episode's attention.

In short, there's concern all round that Touma is becoming rather too boyish, a worry ably demonstrated by her willingness to headbutt Kanna in the name of a delicious snack. But what should they do? Somehow, the original suggestion to help her become more girly gets twisted around to Kanna's idea to turn her into a gentleman (how I would have loved to see this episode become a twisted My Fair Lady parody at this point, but it didn't happen), which in turn meanders down the path of Haruka as the leader of a pack of dogs, with Kanna or Chiaki beneath her in the pecking order. But which is better, Kanna or Chiaki? There's only one way to find out....

It isn't just the Minami household that's concerned about Touma though, her brothers are also a little worried, which leads to the hatching of a plan which ends in buying a decidedly bizarre choice of birthday present. Meanwhile, Natsuki becomes a little more besotted with Haruka (no doubt largely on account of a picture Touma furnishes him with), although his meaningful long stares get misinterpreted by Hitomi as being shot in her direction. Cue even more confusion all round.

As Minami-ke Okaeri episodes go, this sits in the decidedly average category, with gags that seemed to go off at decidedly odd tangents with varying degrees of comic success to make for a reasonably enjoyable, albeit hardly laugh out loud, episode. I guess there's only so much comedy you can wring from umbrellas....

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 3

We're now three episodes into Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, and I still can't quite shake the feeling that this series is throwing as much against the wall as possible simply to see what sticks.

Anyhow, this episode begins where the last left off, with Akiha still trying to steal the source of Leopard's power, a task made more difficult by the interference of Kannagi of the ICP. However, ultimately she succeeds in bringing Leopard's power balls (there is a pretty amusing allusion towards these balls as Leopard's... well, balls... here) back to the colony, giving him the ability to destroy whatever it was that these orbs were stolen from using an anti-matter cannon.

Following on from this and the general sense of confusion and cover-up that it brings, Kannagi's death is faked so that she can continue to investigate this case undercover, an investigation that she undertakes as a transfer student in Akiha's class in true anime cliche style. Of course, Kannagi's attempts at building a relationship with Akiha are completely inept, and Honoka soon sees right through her, attacking her as an enemy of Leopard before Akiha breaks up their skirmish.

So, after three episodes I'm still not really much closer to figuring out where this series is going, but after my doubts following the last episode I have to admit that this could end up being a somewhat fun little show to watch as long as you don't take it too seriously. Of course, Leopard steals the show once again with all the best lines, from the aforementioned balls to baked potatoes, but beyond that there's an indefinable something that held my interest in this particular episode - As a series it wasn't laugh out loud funny, gripping to watch or fantastically action packed, yet it "just worked" in its own kitsch and odd little way. I thought I might be dropping this series after not really enjoying episode two, but this instalment has persuaded me to hold out and persevere with it.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 1

I don't think I've ever been entirely lost for words on this 'Blog before, but today appears to be a first - What the Hell did I just watch?

Axis Powers Hetalia has been much talked about of late, mainly because of Korea's hatred of the series before it was even broadcast based upon the content of the manga, even going as far as to threaten a cyber-terrorist attack should it hit the airwaves.

Well, the first episode has been broadcast (albeit online and via mobile phone networks - The TV airing of this show has now been cancelled), and I have to say with my hand on my heart that I don't have the slightest clue what's going on. Obviously, there is plenty of caricaturing of various countries going on within this first five minute instalment (oh, how the German likes to eat sausage! How the Russian is a bully to his neighbours! What witty repartee!), but some of them make little sense to me - The Brit disagreeing with America, when has that ever happened? Pretty much the funniest line of the episode is the Italian shouting out "pasta", but if that's the extent of caricature Hetalia is aiming for then I fear for the comic value of this show.

What really confused me was the whole Roman Empire Chibitalia section, coupled with the myterious appearance of tomatoes in some kind of relation to World War I. I'm starting to think that I need to start doing drugs just to understand this show....

Monday, 26 January 2009

White Album - Episode 4

If you're trying to compile a list of "reasons why Touya is useless" (and goodness knows you could make a hefty tome from it), it appears that you can now add "time-keeping" and "organisational skills" to that list, although to be fair it isn't perhaps entirely his fault.

After the on-off nature of his and Yuki's Saturday date, Touya ends up getting a phone call in the early hours of the morning from Rina, telling him that he needs to meet Yuki earlier, and in a different place. Of course, this all gets mangle in what passes for a brain in Touya's case, and he ends up in all of the wrong places at all the wrong times, running one way while Yuki goes another as they end up missing one another by minutes on numerous occasions. In the meantime, Touya bumps into (quite literally) a rather odd girl with an impressive line in metaphor, as well as an equally impressive ability to label Touya a pervert within seconds.

In the end, Yuki and Touya do finally get to meet, and Yuki tells Touya half of her secret at last. Yuki then asks Touya to walk her home to her nearby apartment, then invites him in so that they can discuss the latest knitting patterns. Probably.

Anyhow, once again it's Rina who steals the show despite her brief appearances in this episode, as yet again on the surface it appears that she's doing everything in her power to help out Yuki, while there's also obviously far more to it than that, as she attempts to "steal" Touya for a little before his date with Yuki, a plan which goes awry on account of the aforementioned mush that Touya carries around inside his skull. I'm still really not too sure what Rina's interest in this whole situation is... Is she genuinely interested in Touya as a person, or simply as a plaything, or even as a way to get at Yuki emotionally? Is this whole plot a wait of ensuring Yuki's career suffers, keeping Rina in the number one idol spot she currently occupies? There are plenty of questions to be answered here about her behaviour, and it's this above all else that is keeping me glued to White Album - Roll on episode five.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 3

With Makina and Ouri reunited last episode, it appeared that things were finally back on track and that the former was ready to accept the latter as her Contracted Priest. What's more, this episode begins with the news that their contract will be recognised by the Kougon cult if everything goes to plan.

Before that however, both Shikabane Hime and Contracted Priest have to go through their own forms of training to ready themselves for the battles ahead. In Ouri's case, this is pretty much just a crash course in "how not to die", whereas Makina has a far more tricky challenge - Purging herself of Keisei's influence as her former Contracted Priest. This proves to be beyond her, and before we know it a crazed (and not to mention powerful) Makina is on the loose, seemingly determined to break her contract with Ouri so that she can hold Keisei as her sole contractor, no matter what that may mean for her.

In the meantime, of course Shichisei aren't resting on their laurels, and thus they're already planning their next assault with an eye on flushing out Makina and Ouri. Add to that some back story regarding Itsuki (which looks likely to be the focus of the next episode even more so), and you have yourself episode three of Shikabane Hime: Kuro.

All in all, this counts as another "not bad" episode of this series, although given that we're now three episodes in I was expecting a little more progress by this juncture, something that has been delayed by the constant changes in Makina's mental stability. Perhaps all of this build up will bear fruit when things get really serious later in the series, but for now it's beginning to drag a little slightly, and the continuingly poor attempts at humour don't help in making each episode feel like less of a waste of time. Still, it took Shikabane Hime: Aka quite a while to really warm up, so I'm willing to remain patient for a little longer.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 3

After breaking the world record for the fastest heart transplant ever last episode, it's time for Keita to get used to his new organ, and more importantly the contract he now holds with Kuro, including everything that this means for the pair of them.

Needless to say, the morning after the night before leaves Keita struggling to get to grips with both what happened in episode two, as well as how important it is to his future. If Keita is having a hard time getting his head around everything, his poor old childhood friend Akane is left even more baffled by what Kuro tries to tell her (although apparantly not baffled enough to take her out shopping).

From here, it soon becomes clear that Kuro has made herself the object of interest of all and sundry (her brother included I'm guessing from one particular scene) with her previous actions, and she soon finds herself being pursued by various Tribal Ends, including one individual who is rather close to Keita....

After a stylish opening episode and a second which was full of explanations to bring us up to speed (albeit a little clumsily) on what this series is all about, this thirs instalment was a bit generic in many ways, with even the brief fight sequences not having the passion or visual sparkle to get the blood pumping. Keita's almost scizophrenic reactions towards Kuro didn't particularly help, although with any luck his moodiness will at least alleviate as we seem to be headed towards the real meat of the series. Still, being a generic episode isn't the same as being a bad one, and this was a passable attempt at keeping things moving even if it did't really live up to either of the opening pair of instalments.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Happy first birthday to.... err, me!

"A 'Blog anniversary post is never late... It always arrives exactly when it intends to". At least, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

I actually didn't realise it until today, but January 21st was in fact the 1st anniversary of this 'Blog's existence, and to be honest I'm probably as surprised as anybody that it's still here a year from now, considering how I started it up on a whim. Since then, I've managed to amass almost 600 entries, 'Blog about thirty-seven series (and counting) from beginning to end, and (most shockingly of all) people actually read the nonsense I spout on a daily basis and respond to it! If you are one of those wonderful people reading this, your eyeballs are much appreciated, as are your comments (whether you agree with my thoughts on any given series or otherwise) - Knowing that other people enjoy casting their eye over my scrawlings makes it all that little bit more worthwhile.

As I've already alluded to, I really wasn't sure if this 'Blog wasn't going to last at all when I started it, as I imagined its upkeep would soon become a chore. Thus far however, it's been anything but, and to be honest it's actually amplified my love and appreciation of anime - Somehow, sitting down to write about an episode after you've watched it really helps to bring out any nuances in a series or, in the case of something like Allison to Lillia, allows my frustrations to be poured out without occasioning physical harm to my laptop.

Anyway, to give this 'Blog a birthday spruce-up (and yes, I know a better spruce-up would be to move it away from Blogger - I did try to find an alternate home mid-way through last year, but nothing ever came of it) I've completely overhauled the tag system (because for some reason my early tagging efforts were, to put it politely, retarded) so that it all makes sense, and also added a tag browser to the main page so finding all of my musings on a particular series should now be a lot easier. I've also added a quick RSS feed subscriber to the 'Blog as well, because clicking the RSS icon in Firefox is oh so very difficult. Finally, I've given the Hidamari Sketch title image a break in favour of a Macross Frontier-inspired concoction, because a) I feel like it and b) I've finally found time to sit down and start watching said series.

So, in closing, thanks once again to all of you reading this for your support and comments and who knows - Maybe I'll post my second birthday entry on time?

Friday, 23 January 2009

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 15

After the announcement of Nagisa's pregnancy last episode seemed like the unlikeliest thing since the Bible's virgin birth, I suppose it's time for me to suck up the odd relationship (in romantic terms) between Tomoya and Nagisa and get used to it.

Of course, this latest instalment of After Story afforded me plenty of time to do just this, focusing on Nagisa's pregnancy and, more importantly, the subject of her health during the entire thing. Nagisa wants a home birth but her health isn't really up to it, while Tomoya becomes more and more worried about what's going to happen to her during the birth, as the sense of foreboding regarding her future increases.

All in all, not the most cheerful of episodes of Clannad, especially for those of us who know where all this is going - Oh, how I wish for those care-free, fun and humourous early episodes yet again. I can't really fault After Story for going down this route (particularly given that it's only taking us through the game's After Story path), and in a way it's admirable to even tackle it, but Clannad at its most serious just doesn't draw me in the same way as it does when it's bright, breezy and trying to make you laugh, despite attempts to inject the odd smattering of humour into such episodes. That's not to say this was a bad episode, I suppose it's just that it isn't what drew me to the series and kept me there in the first place.

Toradora! - Episode 16

By the end of episode fifteen, Kitamura's severe case of feeling sorry for himself had reached new heights, forcing Taiga to take desperate measures in her own inimitable style - Who else could run a campaign to become student council president on a platform of beating seven shades of Hell out of everybody?

Of course, the whole point of said campaign is to force Kitamura to re-enter the presidential race himself, but time is running out and he still stubbornly refuses to budge on the issue. Just what is bugging him? Of course, it's all to do with his feeling towards the current student council president Kanou, as we learn that she's preparing to leave for America once her time at the school is up. After talking things over with Ryuuji, Kitamura's decision on running for the president's post flip-flops this way and that, but eventually (thanks to some timely interference from Kanou himself), he decides to take the plunge and hand in his nomination.

This is really only the beginning though, as Kitamura uses his speech as the election's sole candidate to confess his love to Kanou, who brushes him off with a non-descript answer, to the annoyance of both Ryuuji and, more violently, Taiga. So, the latter confronts Kanou, leaving us with a climax that leaves things decidedly messy for all parties concerned. Indeed, even Minori's feelings seem to get beaten about despite her having no other part in this episode, although I'm split as to whether her emotions were related to Kitamura or Ryuuji...

After a first half that somewhat went through the emotions to build up the climax to this particular story arc, the second half of the episode was an absolute lightning storm of big emotional moments, from Kitamura's confession through to Taiga and Kanou's altercation and the ramifications of it all. I have no hesitation in saying that the whole thing left me in tears - It was raw, powerful emotion at its best, and its intensity and ferocity was so expertly portrayed that I couldn't help but be sucked into the feelings of sadness for Taiga, Kitamura, Kanou... pretty much everyone really. Again, it shows the power that has come from creating such strong characters in this series (would I have been quite so moved if this had happened in another series? Probably not), and the ability of both the animators and voice actors to put their all into this series. I'd be the first to confess that this particular story arc hasn't interested me as much as some of what we've seen previously, but its climax more than makes up for that by a country mile.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

White Album - Episode 3

While I've seen White Album's opening couple of episodes getting a bit of a rough time elsewhere, I've actually rather enjoyed it so far - Sure, it's no True Tears, and it perhaps suffers on account of its origins a little, but overall it's proved to be watchable.

With that in mind, episode three of the series is really more of the same. As promised, Rina gives Touya a call, but rather surprisingly this phone call ends with her offering a job on her management team as a helper. Before he knows it, Rina's current manager has been sacked and he gets the gig, a job that it soon appears is just a ruse to allow Touya and Yuki spend more time together.

Said ruse doesn't last very long however, as after a single day Touya is fired, leaving him jobless and behind on his rent, while a planned date with Yuki gets cancelled when her work gets in the way. That's all without Haruka turning up at all hours and acting as oddly as ever, and a tuition job allocated to Touya with someone who asks him to go away when he arrives for their first tuition session.

There were so many seemingly small and disjointed things packed into this particular episode that its difficult to really get a grip on what White Album is going to be all about by way of a contiguous story line. Obviously the relationship between Yuki and Touya is out there at the front, but this feels so fragile a lot of the time I'm not sure how long that will be the case, particularly given my hunch that there's more to Rina that simple benevolence towards Yuki in getting Touya a job. Still, all these questions floating around in my head (coupled with those ever interesting little textual insights into Touya's thought processes) means that at least this third episode managed to keep things interesting enough to engage my brain... The very brain that almost melted when Rina did her cute little wave in the doorway nearly midway through the episode - Girls that can pull off looks like that on the onen hand while slapping people and throwing tantrums on the other (be it acting or otherwise) are always irresistably dangerous.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Rideback - Episode 2

My positive feelings towards the first episode of Rideback were directed more towards the potential of the series than the actual content or storyline of its opener (which was pretty run of the mill), but nonetheless it was an enjoyable if undemanding piece of anime to watch.

With this in mind, episode two is really simply more of the same. While Rin has clearly fallen in love after her first Rideback driving experience (however dangerous it may has been), she seems a little reticent to commit herself to more, despite an official invite to join the school club. Thus, it takes a little competitive instinct to bring out Rin's desire to prove herself, and this comes courtesy of the Rideback club president, Tamayo, who has already done her homework on Rin and thus challenges her to a race when she finally finds herself unable to resist stopping by the club's garage again. So, the scene is set for Rin to prove her worth, after doing plenty of research on riding techniques online, and from here we get a pretty typical racing-themed episode which is more or less predictable from beginning to end.

However, that predictability doesn't stop it from being fun to watch. The blending of hand-drawn and CG animation is pretty much seamless, the overall aesthetic is excellent, the Rideback designs are cool and all of the characters are pretty likeable (if again unspectacular) in their own ways. This all combines to provide us with a series that isn't likely to win any awards for innovation (unless giving motorbikes arms counts), but still looks likely to leave a smile on my face on account of presenting itself expertly and aiming squarely at providing a sufficient "Woah, cool" factor to keep me watching and enjoying.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 3

After the first episode of Minami-ke Okaeri disappointed, and the second made me laugh until I cried (at one point, anyway), what on Earth is the third instalment of the series going to hold in store for me?

Well, to be honest it lies somewhere inbetween those two poles, although thankfully it's closer to the latter than the former in the amusement stakes. The episode begins, and virtually ends, with a pudding crisis, as Touma visits the Minami household on two occasions to request to stay the night after falling out with her brother on account of him eating her pudding (with the second occasion all but turning to domestic violence inside her immediate family). However, this only causes her to become embroiled in an entirely seperate pudding-related incident there, which is resolved with relative ease. The second chunk of this episode was a rather more surreal affair involving a surfeit of apples, and some kind of baked apple drama that I really couldn't quite wrap my head around.

However, my personal favourite segment of this instalment saw Kana, Chiaki and Touma trying to finish off cooking a curry started by Haruka, while she in turn tried to talk Touma's brother Natsuki through a recipe for sweets. As the two parties yell out indredients as part of their respective conversations, so confusion ensues with inevitable (yet still amusing) consequences.

If I had to label any criticism at this particular episode of Minami-ke Okaeri, it would be on account of its predictability - The ending to each of the set-ups (aside from that aforementioned surreal baked apple scenario) was telegraphed well in advance, taking a little of the lustre from those gags. Still, at least they were jokes, and in the best of Minami-ke traditions to boot - They got a smile out of me, so I'll let their obvious nature slide for now. In other words, while this wasn't quite as good as the last episode of this series, it was still a big improvement over its opener, and I'm now finding myself in the groove of quite enjoying the series as I did the original Minami-ke.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Toradora! - Original soundtrack

Ever since Toradora! started airing, I've been waiting impatiently for its soundtrack to become available. It wasn't just the show's opening theme and its brilliantly catchy ability to bore its way into your head at any time of the night or day (and I've had the opening theme single for quite a while now anyhow) that had me sold, there were also several pieces of incidental music within the series itself that I was rather keen to get my hands on.

So, the Toradora! OST is now here, and I couldn't wait to give it a listen. Except, I soon discovered that it's a member of a rather common phenomenon with many soundtracks - It only really sounds good in the context of the episodes and their visuals. Shorn of the actual content of the anime, the tracks on this OST are fun and bouncy in their own way much of the time, but they simply don't work out of context. Even the tracks I was looking forward to owning unfettered by dialogue suddenly sounded flat and uninteresting.

Perhaps on a second listen in a different frame of mind I'll feel a little differently about it, but at the moment I'm going to have to put this one down as a "nice to have for completeness, but I won't be listening to it very much all" acquisition. Yet despite this, the opening theme still continues to hijack my brain and blare out its goodness day after day after day...

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 2

First his own mum, then his friend Yamada, closely followed by Mayu, the little girl who lived next door to Keita - Three deaths, all related to people seeing somebody else who looked identical to them shortly before they died. Something strange is going on, and only the odd, bare-footed girl Kuro seems to have the answers.

If answers are what Keita is looking for, it doesn't take long for him to find them... Or rather, for them to find him, and before he knows it Kuro has turned up at his apartment on the look-out for food. After initially turning her away he changes his mind and goes after her, at which point she regales him as to the full story of doppeliners, the system where there are three "copies" (or "Roots") of every individual's soul, all with differing amounts of "Tera" - When two of these identical individuals meet, the weakest one dies, with that individual's Tera 'soaked up' by the other, until one ends up with all 100% and becomes a "Super Root".

No sooner is this explanation finished, then Kuro comes under attack once again by fellow members of the group she dealt with an individual from in the opening episode. This time Keita gets caught up in the cross-fire, leaving Kuro no choice but to take drastic measures to save Keita's life... Beyond all that, is someone controlling the doppeliner system, and to what ends?

Following on from that first episode, Kurokami continues to look like a very polished series visually. As far as the actual storyline goes, it still feels far too early to say, and to be honest so much jargon gets bandied about in this second instalment that it actually becomes a bit off-putting in the end - I don't want everything spoon-fed to me by any means, but at least give me a few more clues as to what everyone is banging on about! Anyway, putting that to one side the action sequences are incredibly slick once again, both Kuro and Keita have the potential to be interesting characters, and the whole doppeliner system holds some obvious potential to build a fascinating story, so I'm willing to let the jargon float over my head for now to see where this show takes us as it progresses.

Friday, 16 January 2009

Genji Monogatari Sennenki - Episode 1

It almost feels a little odd to be writing here on this 'Blog about what is arguably the world's first novel, a book believed to be written exactly one thousand years ago back in the eleventh century by a Japanese noblewoman. What would she make, one wonders, of the world of 'Blogging and the Internet? Perhaps more importantly, what would she make of this anime translation of this ancient work? Funnily enough for the first ever novel, it was written in a way that should translate perfectly into its anime form, split as it is into chapter by chapter instalments. So, what to make of Genji Monogatari Sennenki (or, to give it its English title, The Tale of Genji: A Millennium Old Journal) from its opening episode?

If you haven't guessed from the title, Genji (or rather, Hikaru Genji to give him his full name) is the focus of the story, and for much of this first instalment we're lead through part of his childhood, most specifically from the age of nine, where one day he spies a beautiful women, immediately becoming besotted with her and taking every possible opportunity to see her. Imagine Hikaru's shock then when this girl, Fujitsubo, is revealed as the new wife of Hikaru's father, the reigning Emporer of Japan.

Initially it seems as though Hikaru has quickly gotten over this shock, enjoying the company of his new mother who is young enough, in practical terms to be his sister, but inwardly this is clearly not the case, and one day he plucks up the courage to kiss her on the lips. This event is never spoken of again, but hangs between the two of them until Hikaru's twelfth birthday, where his rite of passage as an adult means that he should never see her again. All of this is intertwined with short scenes involving an older Hikaru, who has built up an impressive reputation as a ladies man by all accounts.

So, in essence, this opening episode of Genji Monogatari Sennenki is a love story, the kind that (slightly incestuous plot aside) could grace any modern romantic novel. The anime treatment of this first instalment seems to work pretty well, keeping things moving along in a clear and concise fashion, and with an animation style that suits the era and feeling of the piece (although the same can't be said of the opening theme music). This series isn't strictly "my kind of thing" in anime viewing terms, but as a piece of cultural knowledge it's fascinating to watch in its own particular way, enough so to make me want to dig up and read an English translation of the original novel after having done a little digging about the story on good old Wikipedia. I have no iddea whether this series will manage to hold my attention for its entire eleven episode run, but at least I feel like I've educated myself ever so slightly about something new today, and that can only be a good thing.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 14

Life goes by pretty fast if you're Tomoya and Nagisa.... Two episodes ago Tomoya proposed, last episode they got married, and this episode Nagisa gets pregnant.

To be quite honest though, I can't really figure out how that happened. Okay, let me expound on that, I'm perfectly comfortable with the biological nuances of how it happened, but to be quite frank it seems unbelievable in the extreme given the portrayal of the pair's relationship we've seen during this series. Now, I'm not asking that the production team of After Story create some kind of Clannad version of Basic Instinct here or anything, in fact I'm not asking for anything even remotely that explicitly. What I am finding hard to grasp however is that even earlier in this very same episode, we saw Tomoya and Nagisa virtually too shy and reserved to hold hands... during Clannad as a whole we haven't really see them lavish any physical affection upon one another, we haven't seen them kiss (as I ranted about last episode), and so the sudden jump to pregnancy somehow loses its believability.

Anyhow, I'm sure I'll get over that... Aside from the whole "I want a baby" story arc, there's not a great deal to discuss... Nagisa and Tomoya are now living together (at least they did that before she got pregnant), Nagisa gets a job as a waitress, Tomoya and Akio (in disguise as a rapper... be still my cringing heart) go to see her, Tomoya gets upset at the amount of change going on in the town, and that's pretty much it. Not the stuff of legends, and a pretty average episode of anime by any stretch of the imagination, but it's plot progression I suppose, taking us on our unavoidable march to "the sad bit" which seems to be looming ever closer.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 2

The first episode of Shikabane Hime: Kuro ended with Ouri and Makina reuniting, but not too far into this episode it begins to look like a decidedly brief reuinion.

For starters, Makina is none too happy with Ouri's dedication to continue as her Contracted Priest, with her feelings clearly somewhere between wanting to belong to Keisei alone and not wanting his brother to be dragged through the pain and hardships she knows lay ahead. Then on top of it all, the pair of them are captured by some Kougon priests who seem determined to exterminate both of them.

Thankfully for the pairing they're interrupted at this point, both by Shichisei as well as some more welcome visitors. It's the former who take the initiative though, whisked anyone in the immediate vicinity to... well, I'm not sure where really, it looked like a level of Gears of War to me. So, Makina gets to fight Shichisei, loses, but finds herself calling upon her deepest powers again as she becomes flooded with regret, only to get kicked around a little by Shichisei's leader Hokuto (who seems to have a rather interesting link to Makina in some shape or form, seeing her as a "broken mirror" of some description).

After spending some time setting things up (and wasting some time with rubbish humour) in the first episode, at least this second instalment moved things on apace, throwing pretty much all of the major characters into the melting pot in some shape or form however briefly. I can't help but feel that a bit of the soul seemed to have gone missing from this episode though, with a turn towards a more generic action-oriented episode which worked reasonably well without ever doing anything memorable. Still, with Shichisei on the run again the series is ripe to take an upward turn depending on where it goes from here, so hopefully it can produce something a little deeper and more well-rounded next time around.

Toradora! - Episode 15

Last time around we got to see Kitamura in a bit of a funk for reasons unknown, but in episode fifteen of Toradora! it soon becomes clear just how serious his depression is. After some rather confused ramblings, his next outburst is to confirm that he's left the student council and is refusing to run for student council president in the forthcoming election, and by the next day he's turned up at school with his hair dyed blonde and playing the typical deliquent role.

So, what exactly is going on? Even by the end of this episode we still have no clear idea, although the current student council president Sumire seems to know more than she's letting on, and we already know how Kitamura feels about her... So, despite the best efforts of Taiga, Minori and Ryuuji, what ailes Kitamura remains a mystery, and the only thing that really seems to cheer him up is Taiga showing a hitherto unknown talen for baseball. Besides all that, who is going to run for student council president with Kitamura out of the running? Actually, it's probably best not to ask...

Although there's arguably little plot progression this episode aside from Kitamura's depression and Taiga's decision which sandwich this instalment, Toradora! as per usual still has plenty of little pointers to drop when it comes to character development. Both Minori and Ami drop their guard for long enough to let their vulnerabilities show to Ryuuji briefly, although on both occasions they're sufficiently cryptic to be little more than tantalising knowledge for future episodes, while Taiga's complete inability to act normally around Kitamura is as cute as ever and her tears almost got me going. It's this love for all of the major characters and their varying foibles which really keeps this show going, and as per usual I can only salute and enjoy it while impatiently waiting for more of the same.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 1

...and so, Shikabane Hime: Aka becomes Shikabane Hime: Kuro, granting us another thirteen episodes of action in the world of Corpses and the Kougon cult. Naturally, this series follows directly on from Aka which came before it, although at the start of this first episode we are fast forwarded six months from the point where Aka ended with the death of Keisei.

So, what's changes in those six months? Ouri is working hard in training to become a contracted priest, and to be honest he's not exactly doing brilliantly at this point in time. Meanwhile, Makina is still incarcerated, cursed by her continued devotion to Keisei despite his death, a devotion which is seeing her slowly rotting and eaten away by spirits looking to feast upon her energy. All the while, Shichisei have an interest of their own in Makina, and thus plan on paying her a little visit with the help of the Betrayer Priest. However, Ouri has heard about Makina's peril, and sets off to rescue her himself.

With Shichisei put in place as the series main enemy during Aka, the scene is set for more epic conflicts between themselves and the Kougon cult in Shikabane Hime: Kuro, while this particular episode is put to work more in terms of introducing a couple of new characters (including an intensely irritating otaku Shikabane Hime) and bringing Ouri and Makina back together to kick-start the story line. Although this is more of an episode fourteen than episode one realistically, I'll give it the benefit of the doubt as a mere scene setting instalment - Certainly, I hope it isn't a sign of Shikabane Hime losing its way, as this particular episode seemed cursed by the unfunny humour that has occasionally plagued it, coupled with some rather out of place fan service which also tended to leave the main point of the show's story neglected. Still, I felt much the same way about the opening episode or two of Aka, so with any luck Kuro will build up to become similarly watchable.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 2

If the first episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo left me wondering which direction this series would be heading in (and it did), then this second instalment hasn't really done a lot to alleviate this confusion, churning along at a million miles an hour without really letting the main plot concepts pan out all that much aside from the odd brief hint here and there.

The first episode ended with some mysterious girl seemingly about to zap Ahika, and this episode begins with her floating through space (in a space suit of course, this isn't Gurren Lagann where people can stand on top of space ships posing without any difficulty), and next thing we know she's in bed and having some odd dream. Upon her return to school, she's called to see the student council, who quiz her on her stealing of a capsule last episode, before she finds herself being rescued by... you guessed it, that mysterious girl again, who both aptly and rather typically announces herself to be a mysterious transfer student in the very next scene, although at least we learn that her name is Honoka.

Honoka wastes little time in zapping Akiha again, and taking her back to Leopard's colony (which, according to the press had been destroyed by missiles) so that she can tag along in a bid to steal some piece of equipment that is vital for Leopard. All this is carried on against the backdrop of Itsuki and Nina from the Mystery Department (snappy name, that) investigating what happened to Lopard's colony for themselves, despite assurances from the Inter-Colony Police that it had been destroyed.

Now, apologies if those last two paragraphs read like the sped-up rantings of a madman, but that's pretty much how the plot of this episode is presented to the viewer, and to be honest I really can't make head nor tail of it. Of course, this isn't a bad thing necessarily as it's still early days for the series, but at the moment I'm struggling to find anything particularly positive to mention aside from the comic value of Leopard's dialogue, with the story and animation both otherwise continuing to have an oddly "old school" feel to it somehow. Anyhow, I'll be continuing to watch the series for now in the hope that it can develop into something stronger and generally more tangible.

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 13 (Completed)

The final episode of Shikabane Hime: Aka manages to offer up perhaps one of the most frustrating traits of any series - A recap episode that throws in just enough important new developments that means you have to watch it whether you like it or not just to pick up on those points.

Of course, by the close of the last episode we reached the point that we were inexorably headed to from the very start - That being the "crowning" of Ouri as Makina's Contracted Priest, after the death of Keisei. So, this episode deals sporadically with Keisei's funeral, while also revealing to us that the Kougon cult has no desire to allow Ouri to continue to fill this role as a Contracted Priest. Given the fact that the baton was passed on to him by his brother, Ouri refuses to simply give up, and by the end of the episode he's thrown a heavy hint as to what he needs to do to gain the necessary training to properly succeed his brother. Will he follow this path and become a true Contracted Priest? Well, that's a question for Shikabane Hime: Kuro to answer...

Aside from those important points, as I mentioned the rest of this episode was made up of flashbacks and a kind of glossary of sorts as to all the "jargon" used during the series, no doubt to set up newcomers for Kuro. It's fair enough I suppose, but immensely frustrating for those of us that have actually been paying attention for the past dozen episodes.

Still, this flashback episode aside and after a bit of a slow start, Shikabane Hime: Aka managed to grow sufficiently to exceed my expectations. While in many ways it remained something of a generic action series, it managed to suffuse it in turns with enough emotion, horror and character development to make it a worthwhile watch episode after episode. Let's hope that Kuro can continue down this path with a similar degree of success, especially know that the irascible Keisei has been replaced by Ouri, who has been rather dull and stupid at times throughout this series, to be frank.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Rideback - Episode 1

Rin Ogata is a ballerina - Hardly the most likely of heroines for an action-based anime series, I grant you. Rather, I should say that Rin was a ballerina... one who looked set to follow in her mother's footsteps as a true prodigy until a ligament injury ended with her deciding to pack in that particular career path.

Meanwhile, the world we're introduced to in Rideback is one of recent revolution, with an organisation known as Brittania... sorry, the GGP, having staged a massive coup and somehow wrestled away control of the entire world thanks to the use of some nifty new technology. Improbable I know, but never mind - The upshot is that a new world order is in place, but there are hitns of unrest at the military style of this new leadership.

Of course, all of this matters little to Rin, who is more interested in starting at a new school, sharing a dorm with her best friend, and trying her best to avoid all of the people who know her only as "that famous ballerina", or worse "the daughter of that even more famous ballerina". It's an attempt to avoid such situations that sees her stumble into a garage containing a Rideback - Think motorcycle with arms, or mecha motorbike if you'd rather. Rin is granted the chance to give it a quick try to pass the time, but when the Rideback malfunctions she finds her ballet training as made her more adept for this kind of thing than she originally imagined.

Now, how this sweet and mild-mannered girl who makes mechas do ballet is going to be turned into some kind of hardened revolutionary (as no doubt she will be in no time) I really have no idea, but given the implausibility of a guerrila group taking over the entire world in one fell swoop I suppose realism isn't going to be one of this series strong points. Then again, who cares? When you have an anime featuring motorcycles with arms and a ballet-dancing rider, such things really aren't important. It may not promise anything revolutionary, but this opening episode of Rideback was certainly fun to watch while oozing a certain degree of coolness, and that's really all I can ask for at this point in time. I can forgive some slightly shaky plot points along as it continues in a similar vein.

Monday, 12 January 2009

White Album - Episode 2

The opening episode of White Album certainly played its cards pretty close to its chest, only giving us a few glimpses of most of its major characters and leaving us to work out the rest for ourselves - A fact that seems to have been much appreciated by many of you, judging from the comments on my last entry for this series.

In many ways, this second episode continues in a similar vein, just letting things take their course without ever really feeling the need to stop and fill us in about what's going on, or dropping any heavy hints as to the feelings or intentions of any character. The more I think about it, the more I have to confess that it's rather refreshing, and once again in this episode we're left in the dark about a couple of things, which actually adds to the blend which is starting to make this show interesting.

Interestingly, this "work it out for yourself" ethic is actually offset against the moments where we are given glimpses into the hidden thoughts and meanings of (mostly Touya's) thoughts and conversations by way of on-screen text. I can't exactly call it innovative, but it does have a certain something about it that also adds an extra layer to the series, bringing us in a little closer to his life and the situations he encounters.

Certainly, there are plenty of things going on in episode two to lend themselves to questioning those aforementioned emotions and motives - There's the quiet, mysterious Haruka paying a visit to Touya and dragging him out into the park late at night to just sit and watch the stars, there's some good news (we think) for Yuki, and then there's Rina... Ahh, yes, Rina - Just exactly what is she doing after meeting Touya for the first time, and is whatever she's up to in league with Yuki in some way?

As you can probably guess by all of this, I've really been sucked into White Album by this episode, after being a little unsure of its opening instalment. It's still far, far too early to start talking about this series in terms of being 2009's True Tears or anything of that sort, but in this second instalment it's really built itself up nicely, to the point where I'm loathe to have to wait another week to see how it develops next time around - Always a good sign for any anime series a couple of weeks into a new season.

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 2

I think it's fair to say that I gave the first episode of Minami-ke Okaeri a rough ride, and rightly so in my humble opinion, between its general lack of any tangible humour and animation that was poor to the point of being distracting - Certainly not an effort worthy of the Minami-ke name.

Thank goodness then that episode two of this series is leaps and bounds better in almost every sense I can care to explain it. For starters, while the animation is hardly stellar once again, it is at least solid and without the glaring errors that made watching the last episode so frustrating.

More importantly however, this second instalment has proved without doubt that Minami-ke Okaeri can be funny, with almost every segment offering some level of fun and humour. The first surrounds a tin of sweets brought to the household by Touma, and after some soul-searching and arguments about how they should be shared and who should open them and when, Fujiyoka's confusion over Touma's relationship with Kana and Chiaki (being a girl in boy's clothes as she is) leads him to make a complete fool out of himself. Then we have Kana's attempt to get some cream puffs added to a shopping list... Or is it?

So, the episode goes on, broken down into various small segments as this show invariably is (with the end credits once again bizarrely pretty much in the middle of the episode), until we reach the tour de force that is Hosaka (or should I say, the Curry Fairy) performing a piano recital in his head featuring a song that's all about curry. I don't think Minami-ke has made me laugh so hard since "Ninomiya-kun! Sensei!", and for achieving that feat I can only salute it. It's amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it, and the improvement in quality with this episode of Minami-ke Okaeri is most welcome. Now the question is whether they can keep this up for the rest of the series?

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Kimi ga Nozomu Eien OVA - Next Season - Episode 4 (Completed)

Considering the fact that it was six months ago that I managed to watch the third episode of this Kimi ga Nozomu Eien, I think it's fair to say that my knowledge of said episode is rather rusty. Thankfully it didn't take long to get back into the swing of things, as I was soon reminided of the dramatic climax to the last instalment, with Haruka collapsing after Akane yells at her for the way she's treated Takayuki.

Unfortunately, said moment of drama proves to be little more than a red herring, as we find out in this final episode of the OVA that she only passes out momentarily, and is soon as right as rain again. From here, the rest of the episode is really just lots of monologues and soul-searching by both Akane and, more relevantly, Haruka, who finally decides to take Takayuki back, and they both live happily ever after. Probably. At least I hope so, as I'm not sure I want to have to sit through another OVA along these lines.

When it comes down to it, it's really rather a shame that this OVA was ever produced, as it turned out to be almost as pointless as it was dull. The original Kimi ga Nozomu Eien was an absolutely fantastic example of relationship-based drama, with compelling characters and a well thought-out storyline that kept you gripped for each and every episode. In contrast, this OVA simply has nothing to offer - There's no real love rivalry to offer, and most of the angles that could have been tackled by these episodes are either skirted around or given a half-hearted treatment that, as I've just mentioned, seemed pointless. Even if you're a fan of Haruka I can't help but wonder if there's anything much in this OVA for you, as it feels so dull and lifeless that it's difficult to care about any of the characters any more - A real disaster considering these were people whose lives we could probably have argued over all night while the original series was airing.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 1

We've had the girl who leapt through time, now it's the girl who leapt through space, or Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo to give it its Japanese title. Of course, the two series are completely and entirely unrelated, but at least it gave me an excuse for a slightly lame opening paragraph.

Anyway, this series starts with a bombshell within the first five seconds - Seventeen year-old student Akiha Shishidou has been told that she is to get married, as part of an arranged marriage organised by her mother. Faced with what seems like an unreasonable demand, she escapes from her home (and the attentions of her sister who goes after her), which soon introduces us to one of the core tenets of the series - Akiha is one of many, many people living on a colony out in space. As she worries about marriage and her future, so we take a look at the space outside of the colony, where tonnes of ancient junk from the Earth keep turning up and floating around for no reason.

Eventually, this oddity and Ahika's escape via a pod collide... quite literally, as a huge spacecraft or sorts appears out of nowhere, leaving Akiha and her... thing (is it an android, a pet, an alien? I have no idea), named Imoko to be pulled into this vast craft, which appears to be some kind of deserted colony itself.

While it's unsurprising that I can't make a lot of this series from its first episode, Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo does seem to have an oddly old school feel to it - From the soundtrack through to the animation and the plot we've been presented with so far, this almost feels like watching an anime series from quite a while ago. Your mileage will of course vary as to whether this is a good thing or not, but in this opening episode I have to confess it didn't quite work for me, and I get a funny feeling that this series isn't going to be one that grabs my attention.

The one thing that did warm me to this opening episode however is the choice of voice actors - While I got a little bit of a thrill hearing Ai Nonaka (or Kafuka Fuura fame in Zetsubou Sayonara Sensei) as the voice of Imoto, the use of Jun Fukuyama (who you'll most likely know as Lelouch in Code Geass) as the voice of unhinged artifical intelligence Leopard is inspired. Quite simply, Lelouch... sorry, Leopard steals the show as soon as he appears, from his desire to become a perfect Englishmen by scanning a cup of Earl Grey through to his scizophrenic attempt at suicide followed by a panicked realisation that it's the last thing he wants to do. If there's one good reason to watch the opener of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, it's this.

That aside, I'm not really sure that this series has the legs required to prove itself as anything other than a distinctly average anime, but we'll just have to wait and see whether future episodes can prove me wrong.

Friday, 9 January 2009

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 1

Kurokami (or Black God, to use its translated name) starts out as the story of a normal high school kid... But then again, what series doesn't these days? In fact, calling him normal is a bit of a stretch really, as the boy in question, Keita, is something of a loner, a state of affairs which seems to have occurred after the death of his mother in a traffic accident when he was younger.

So, Keita is being looked after by a childhood friend, Akane, but there's more to Keita's aversion to company that means the eye - The day before she died, his mother met a doppelganger of herself; in other words somebody who looked exactly like her. The next day the accident happened - But surely this is just a coincidence? Keita doesn't think so, believing as he does the legend that should you meet your doppelganger, one of you is destined to die.

So, the whole doppelganger theme becomes a recurring one in this opening episode of Kurokami right the way through to it's brutal pre-credits ending. Along these lines, Keita also ends up meeting a decidedly odd girl while out eating ramen one night - A barefoot girl with a dog who seems to know, or at least claim to know, a whole lot more about the entire phenomenon and what it's all about. Before he can quiz her about it further however, she gets smashed around the head by a guy wielding a baseball bat (as you do), and so a fight ensues between the two. Just what on Earth is going on?

As with any series, and particularly one like this which is going to take quite some time to really set up its premise, it's far too early to make anything but a cursory value judgement on Kurokami, but it has to be said that this first episode oozes quality production values, from its opening and closing credits through to the often gorgeous city backdrops on show, and from the general animation quality through to that very nicely realised (and combo-tastic for a moment there) fight sequence. It's a Sunrise show that's airing in both Japan and the US, what did you expect? Beyond mere aesthetics, the early signs of this series seem good to be - I'm already fascinated by the doppelganger premise presented as a core tenant of the show, and I'm getting a bit of a Gantz feeling from the final post-end credit sequences too. It could well fall flat and turn out to be a case of great animation glossing over a cliched storyline, but as of right now I can't wait to catch some more of this show as it looks like having a lot of potential.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 13

After a break of a couple of weeks, it's time to get back to After Story - The show where a couple who have never kissed suddenly decide to get married.

Now, I have to confess that my patience with After Story has begun to wear a little thin over recent episodes, perhaps making that fortnight long break much needed, and sure enough coming back to the series a little fresher my heart has softened to it once again. Of course, the episode begins with a ridiculous premise, where Nagisa's father refuses to listen to what Tomoya has to say to him until he manages to beat him at an impromptu game of baseball. If you're a parent and have done this to the boyfriend of your daughter, please let me know. Anyhow, after a lot of hard work and practice Tomoya finally hits a home run (or did Akio go easy on him?), and gets to spill the beans about how he wants to live with Nagisa, marry her and so on.

So, her parents accept this, and Nagisa gets to go and live with Tomoya. Have they kissed yet? Who knows, we haven't seen it. From here the episode fast forwards rather, spinning us through Christmas at a rate of knots, and taking us to Nagisa's graduation - Except she's ill, and so can't make the ceremony. Sweetie that he is, Tomoya instead organises a private graduation ceremony for Nagisa, bringing together all of the usual suspects to celebrate. Finally, to top off the "Ahhh..." factor, the episode ends with Tomoya and Nagisa getting married. BUT WE STILL HAVEN'T SEEN THEM KISS YET!!! Ahem, sorry, got a little over-excited there.

Anyway, compared to recent instalments this particular episode of After Story at least managed to bring back some of the facets of the series that I love - It was often quite sweet in its own soppy kind of way, and the scene involving a drunk Nagisa after her first taste of sake was one of the more hilarious things that Clannad has brought us, and was worth the entry fee on its own. Thus, this episode seems to have gotten Clannad: After Story back on track... Let's hope it doesn't lose its way again.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Toradora! - Episode 14

I know it only took a one week break over the Festive period, but boy am I glad to have Toradora! back on my viewing schedule, and if absence makes the heart grow fonder then episode fourteen didn't disappoint in giving me my fill of everything I love about this series.

After the events of the culture festival in the previous episode, it appears that Taiga has built up a bit of a celebrity status as some sort of talisman, as a rumour sweeps across the school that simply touching the Palmtop Tiger will grant you happiness. This rumour seems to have originated from the pro-wrestling drama that she starred in during said festival, with everyone she touched (although that should probably read "attacked") enjoying good times in the period immediately afterwards.

So, poor old Taiga finds herself fending off numerous people who want to use her as a lucky charm, but even that doesn't dent her mood after getting to dance with Kitamura at the close of the culture festival (an event which is also drawing rumours of its own). Indeed, so deep is her own love of the world at the moment that you can't help but feel she's missing a lot of what is going on around her - Just what did the school council president have to say to Kitamura that put him in such a funk? Aren't Ryuuji and Ami starting to get on quite well with one another? Has Minori realised Ryuuji's feelings for her? Good luck or bad, happiness or sadness, the culture festival certainly seems to have shaken up a lot of emotion, and like some kind of Christmas snow shaker doubtless those flakes of emotion will start to move and float around over the coming episodes.

As per usual, I can do little other than gush over this episode of Toradora!. When it wanted to be funny, it was funny (with Taiga's suggestion that Ami has six fathers somehow inexplicably giving me a big laugh), and when it wants to portray some subtle emotions or confusion it does a pretty good job of that too. There's also lots of beauty to be found in this series' characterisations, which has managed to created some fantastic personalities (yes, even Ami, who I've rather warmed to of late) who you can view from the outside looking in as though they're old friends by now, yet each and every one of them seems to have some unplumbed depths, thoughts and feelings that we've barely scratched the surface of so far, a state of affairs which only helps to make this series all the more compelling. So, yes, Toradora! does continue to be fantastic, and if anything it continues to get better with this proving to be one of the best instalments yet. Then again, maybe that's just my week of Taiga and Ryuuji-free heartache talking...

Hyakko - Episode 13 (Completed)

So, we reach the final episode of Hyakko, and it appears that the series has pulled a bit of a Hidamari Sketch on us, switching us around to the first day of school before most of the major characters had ever met one another.

While I suppose this is an interested concept to shake things up a bit, and does feel quite "right" in its own way as the end of the season, to be frank there isn't really a lot here for this episode to show for itself. Occurring as it does before the first episode chronologically, there's no real opportunity for character interaction, leaving us watching each person in turn going through the motions as the prepare for a first day at their new school, which is quite frankly as dull as dish water. Yes, it lets us grab a reminder of each character's foibles, but we've already had plenty of that, and when put into isolation it doesn't even have a humorous or interesting tone to it.

With all of that in mind, it's left to Torako and Suzume to steal the show, waking up as they do in a bus shelter and on the run from their parents. Even this is hardly grade A material, but somehow the two of them, their predicament and friendship at least makes for a slightly more compelling reason to watch, and Torako in particular has remained easily the most watchable character of this series throughout on account of her effervescent personality.

Much as I've tried to be nice about Hyakko, and much as though it produced at least one rather good episode (its twelfth instalment, oddly), there really isn't a lot to say about it as it turned out to be a rather dull and boring little series. At the end of the day, that single episode aside it never really had any heart or real emotion, it just seemed to be going through the motions and trying to tick some check boxes as though it were partaking in a multiple choice exam. I may end up getting arrested for it, but all I can tell you is my own honest and considered opinion, and that's that Hyakko simply wasn't a very good slice of life comedy, which ironically produced its best material when it didn't try to be funny at all for an episode.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Shikabane Hime: Aka - Episode 12

The last episode of Shikabane Hime: Aka left Keisei and Makina in a rather precarious position, with Ouri used as a "tool" to kill the former, allowing him to simply wander in and stab Keisei without any trouble.

Thankfully, this Contracted Priest is made of sterner stuff as well as being as prepared as a boy scout, which allows him to break Shichisei's control of Ouri. This only seems to be a temporary reprieve for him though, as before he knows it he's been attacked by the Betrayer Priest and had an eye pinched (no really, I kid you not), while his terminal condition is equally affecting Makina's own fighting abilities. However, Keisei's preparations and willingness to give up his own life to save those close to him grant him the power to finish victorious, but in doing so paying the ultimate sacrifice. What does this mean for Makina? Well, she's going to need a new Contracted Priest, and fast. I wonder who that could be...

I've talked before about how I've been slowly but surely warming to this series the longer it's gone on, but this particular instalment is the one that seals the deal for me and propels Shikabane Hime: Aka up the list of series that have impressed me of late. Quite simply, this is a masterful twenty-odd minutes of anime. Of course, plenty is made of the action on show here, from the sutras used by Keisei through to Makina's raw, brazen fighting style, but this is juxtaposed beautifully with the emotion that comes from Keisei's death. Even with Ouri more or less kept out of the loop during these scenes as he remains unconscious, the final exchanges between Keisei and Makina were surprisingly powerful and moving - Action-led series such as this tend to enter the realms of cliche when it comes to the death of a major character, yet there was something sad yet beautiful about it here that very nearly brought a tear to my eye. I have no idea how this particular plot point was handled in the manga, but all I can say is that it was a brilliantly written and animated scene here that simply worked perfectly. With that in mind it was almost a shame to see it return immediately to more action straight afterwards, as it would have been a perfect point to roll the end credits, but oh well, you can't have everything.

I have to confess that this is probably one of the best individual episodes of anime that I've watched in a fair while, that blended action, excitement, tears and sorrow into an almost perfect package that was eminently watchable and engaging, and really marks out the continued improvement of this series. My only worry is that after hitting this peak it may sink under the pressure of having to continue this run of form, so let's just hope the final episode of this series doesn't disappoint, and sets us up nicely for the beginning of Shikabane Hime: Kuro.