Saturday, 28 February 2009

Rideback - Episode 7

The end of the last instalment of Rideback looked to be the end of the road for Rin, as her rash actions in trying to save her brother from GGP and their new white Rideback experiment came to a sticky end culminating in the arrest of both herself and her brother.

It doesn't take long for GGP, bad guys that they are, to break out the instruments of torture (and no, I don't mean the Allison to Lillia box set... They aren't that evil), using them on Kenji so that he will "confess" to the murder of his own partner in crime during the violent spree which led to his arrest previously. Things aren't quite so tough for Rin, as GGP have clearly taken an interest in her Rideback skills, and are looking to transfer her to their own facilities as a result.

Of course, it's during this transfer that the terrorist BMA group break her out, taking hold of her themselves for much the same reasons as GGP no doubt. So, like it not Rin is now well and truly entrenched in the politics of the country - I questioned early on how they'd manage to pull this off, and now we know how. At the moment it's questionable how much use Rin will be to either group however, as throughout this episode she's very much pulling a "Shinji Ikari", not wanting to get involved with the whole scenario and basically shrinking away inside herself rather than showing any desire, even for her own freedom. It also seems that Tenshirou Okakura is going to be dragged into BMA's plans to boot, although he seemed to be taking matters into his own hands for reasons unknown anyway. It's nice to see that he at least knows a good and proper way to delete his secret data though, making use of the Gutmann method to wipe the lot.

After truly enjoying Rideback's free-flowing episodes that remained largely free of politics, the jury is still out as to how well this series will evolve to dumping Rin in the middle of this particular scenario. This episode can't really be used as a judge of this as it was largely Rin free, a situation which actually went to show how much of an important focal point she's been thus far, as the structure of the episode sagged around the edges somewhat without her to hold it all together. It did also beggar belief somewhat that GGP transferred Rin without making use of the highest security measures possible, but I suppose that bit of artistic license was needed to progress the series.

So, this instalment was more about bolting the storylines together above all else, which didn't particularly make for the most watchable episode - Let's get back to some decent Rin on Rideback action next time around, perhaps?

Friday, 27 February 2009

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episodes 5-6

Still no new Nyoron Churuya-san (much to my chagrin), but we now have a new double bill of The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya to enjoy. Is it just me, or has the animation quality improved in these two short episodes?

First up is episode five, with the computer club challenging the SOS club to a game of dodgeball... on the computer of course. Haruhi is having none of it, so what we're left with is a real game of dodgeball, made more than a little high octane thanks to Haruhi's subconscious bending of the laws of physics. It's the kind of thing that makes me wish she was an Arsenal fan.... Anyway, I digress - This could almost have made for a full-on episode of a second season of Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, as it seems like the most "focused" mini-episode of this run thus far.

Onward to episode six things return to a more comical nature, with Nagato's new-found otaku status now apparently extending to cosplay, causing a heated battle between herself and Mikuru in the process. We then move on to the infinitely amusing possibilities of Nagato's home life with the new, miniaturised Ryoko, who takes offence to being offered up baby accessories, despite it making for (in turn) an awesome merry-go-round and a great behicle for karaoke. Not absolutely laugh out loud funny perhaps, but it made me smile.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 20

I was perhaps being a little premature in my thinking that After Story would have been better had it ended with the reconciliation of Tomoya and Ushio - Sure, this wasn't a powerful and emotional instalment like the aforementioned episode, but it did at least rekindle some of the fun times of the first series (despite its decision to put a massive dampener on the whole thing come the end of it).

There are really two major points of note for much of this episode, the first being the revelation of Kyou as Ushio's kindergarten teacher. I've always had a bit of a soft spot for her, so it was nice to see the now adult Kyou make an appearance, complete with now huge Botan.

Continuing with the blasts from the past, we also get plenty more of Fuuko this episode, as she comes to play with Ushio for a day. I know her original story arc wasn't everybody's cup of tea but I enjoyed it, so I derived a fair amount of amusement from her behaviour in this instalment, not least the suggestion of a game of Blackjack with Ushio - and why not? You may as well start 'em young...

This episode was looking likely to be almost entirely a fun and frivolous one, which is more than fine by me, but I suppose Clannad wouldn't be Clannad without some hurt and upset around the corner, and so it looks as though we're set for another rather depressing episode next time around. Not quite a tissues at the ready story I would assume, but it certainly isn't looking bright and breezy - A bit of a shame, as I really enjoyed the admittedly pointless hijinks of episode twenty.

Toradora! - Episode 21

Toradora! seems to be reaching its end far, far too fast if you ask me - Unreasonable though it is to expect this wonderful series to go on for hundreds of episodes, I really don't want it to end if I'm quite honest.

Anyhow, after jumping on the coach to their hastily arranged skiing holiday last time, this episode sees the class begin what must be competing for the "worst holiday ever" award. While the snow is good and the skiing fun, the tension amongst almost everybody in the group is palpable, and it's no time at all before the arguments begin. First up is Maya, whose desperation to get closer to Kitamura causes a ruckus almost right from the start, putting a dampener on the first day. This is however small fry compared to the scenes between Ami and Minori later in the episode.

Now, I've all but outright praised Ami a few times in recent instalments for being the one person able to step back and take a broad view of the series' various relationships, commentating on them in her own vague yet biting fashion, yet here she takes it too far, all but bullying Minori about her feelings towards Ryuuji. This eventually comes to blows, ending up (accidentally) with near lethal consequences for Taiga, a rare moment of actual peril for this series that surely solidifies and finalises the show's final choice of romantic pairing.

As per usual, this episode is wonderful in more ways than I can really describe here, managing to be funny on the one hand and genuinely touching on the other. Even during the arguments and emotional outbursts so frequent in this instalment, there's a certain restraint and subtlety which adds to both the realism and the tension of the situation - Whereas so many shows would go down the obvious route of someone blurting out a truth that they didn't want known in mid-argument to progress the story, Toradora! seems to understand that real life arguments don't work that way, and that much of what is said or being argued about is often impenetrable to anyone who isn't familiar with the situation surrounding those individuals (as, of course, the viewer is here). Even Taiga's disappearance isn't made into a grandiose cliffhanger, but simply a short but intense crisis which ends in a suitably sweet (if very slightly contrived) way.

I've said all of the way through that I don't mind too much who ends up with who in this series, liking as I do the foibles of all of the major characters, but I thought this belief might be tested by the time I reached this point. Well, it hasn't, and I still loved every second of this episode even though the likely conclusion perhaps wouldn't have been my first choice if pressed.

DVD review: Shakugan no Shana

In case you're not already aware (meaning that you haven't read the little profile blurb on this very 'Blog, which is forgiveable), as well as slapping down my musings on the latest anime here I do also review the latest UK DVD releases over at UK Anime - For some reason I've never thought to cross-link those reviews here, but now the thought has come to me I can't think of any good reason not to.

With its availability in retail next week, I've just polished off the final volume of Shakugan no Shana (or simply Shana as it's been shortened to for us Western types), so for completeness I've linked to my reviews for all six DVD volumes that I've run my critical eye over below:

- Volume one
- Volume two
- Volume three
- Volume four
- Volume five
- Volume six

Let me know if you want to see (or indeed don't want to see) links to my UK Anime reviews in future, so I can act accordingly!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 8

After delivering arguably its funniest episode so far last week, Minami-ke Okaeri continues its reasonably bountiful run with an eighth episode which manages to be amusing without ever quite reaching the dizzy heights of outright hilarity.

The episode begins with Kana's attempts to teach "the laws of popularity", which for girls appears to consist largely of being unable to open soda cans in a sufficiently cute manner. While this doesn't work out so well in Yuka's case, it has to be said that Yoshino has it down to a fine art - Hell, even wanted to open the soda can for her. As this popularity challenge continues, so we find Maki unable to even attempt to not open a soda can lest it bring forth demons from her past, whereas Atsuko has clearly perfected this discipline. In fact, she's almost too good at it...

Indeed, the first half of the episode seems to be an all-round excuse to pick on Atsuko, as she then gets lumbered with trying to explain how to behave towards men at night (watch anime with them of course!), an awkward situation only made worse by an incident involving Touma and her uncertainty as to her gender.

From here, the second half of this instalment goes off the boil a little, between Kana's demands for an interesting answer to a question which causes all sorts of strife for Keiko, despite Kana being able to dish out sufficiently interesting answers herself (although this scene is priceless if only for possibly the only moment when you'll ever see Kana lost for words) and what almost amounts to admiration for Hosaka before he drifts off into some volleyball related fantasy regarding Haruka.

So, this episode certainly wasn't as sharp in terms of either gags or dialogue as episode seven of Minami-ke Okaeri proved to be, but it wasn't a bad showing either thanks to it bringing a certain amount of charm to the party with it, with the whole soda opening scenario in particular both amusing and fascinating me enough to convince me to go easy on this instalment. Well, it almost convinced me to go easy on it - A discussion of Minami-ke post its first season wouldn't be complete with a "spot the major animation error" moment. Answers on a postcard - What's wrong with this animation?

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 5

Seeing as it was Shrove Tuesday here yesterday, a tiny, tiny part of me was hoping that the pasta gags may have been replaced by pancakes, but alas it wasn't to be, and so episode five of Axis Powers Hetalia features the usual torrent of mentions of that infernal foodstuff.

Thankfully, once again the series manages to continue to gain at least some traction with me courtesy of the odd decent moment or two - I got a kick out of Machiavelli in a suitcase for some reason, and Italy's "weapon" of choice for himself and Germany proving to be a white flag also brought a wry smile to my face. Now if only we could have more of that and less of the Italian dough-based products...

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 7

Everything You Do Is A Balloon - At least, it is when you're Touya, the Shichisei member who remains the focus of this episode thanks to "his" control over Nozomi, who is running around trying to claim as much happiness as possible.

Of course, the final focus of this bid for happiness (and death as a part of that happiness) lands literally on the doorstep of Ouri, meaning that this episode sees both himself and Makina trying to save Nozomi while destroying Touya, something that they ultimately appear to fail at in both instances.

If nothing else, there's something to be said for Touya's character in creating perhaps one of the creepiest episodes of Shikabane Hime thus far - There was something very unnerving about "his" childlike voice (which is explained with good reason towards the end of the episode) coupled with the uncomfortable juxtaposition of death and happiness, which is probably the kind of thing you could write an essay about given its religious and social connotations. This atmospheric approach to the episode actually succeeds largely in papering over what was otherwise a pretty average instalment, which felt a little like it was simply going through the motions in terms of the action and dialogue to bring us to the point we reached come the end of this particular story arc.

So, what we had here perhaps is a victory for style over substance, but with the next episode promising to bring us some information about Ouri's real family at last (while this episode let slip a little more about Makina's parents and the reason why she ended up becoming a Shikabane Hime) it certainly has the potential to be an intriguing one.

Monday, 23 February 2009

White Album - Episode 8

If Touya's actions throughout White Album thus far have left you in any doubt as to whether or not the guy is an asshole, then I present to you exhibit AAA, aka episode eight of this series, which demonstrates a level of utterly despicable beyond compare.

Anyway, I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, as the episode opens with Haruka's near breakdown getting her into trouble with some thugs, an issue that looks as though it's headed into "bad end" territory until Mana shows up, using her wiles to save her. The two then have a conversation that seems to be somewhat at crossed purposes, as they both talk about Touya as though he is a brother to them, while simultaneously not talking about him, if you know what I mean.

Meanwhile, Touya is taken aback by Rina's song, but refuses to listen to Yuki's, which leads to a long monologue from Rina to Touya explaining her brother's passion, his own history as a pop star, and Rina's current situation. This could well count as further evidence towards my oft-mooted belief that Rina is up to something and it isn't good, as she lays out how her brother has lost interest in her as "too perfect" having reached what seems to be the pinnacle of her career, while Yuki is still young a rough around the edges, posing far more of the kind of challenge he strives for. She even all but admits feeling jealousy towards Yuki over having Touya to worry about too, handing him her schedule and asking him to come and visit her any time.

This is the point where the episode takes on it's mantle as proving Touya to be a completely despicable asshole, as he spends so much time with Misaki, Haruka, Mana and company that he has absolutely no time to either see or speak to Yuki, despite her frequent attempts to call him. He then proceeds to "get caught" visiting Rina with her birthday present by Yuki, and ends the episode by copping off with Yayoi in her car. Really classy behaviour there, Touya...

After posting my 'Blog entry for episode seven of White Album, someone in the comments referred to the series taking a bit of a School Days-esque turn, and to be honest after this instalment I'd happily accept the series ending with Touya's decapitated head being taken for a trip on a nice boat - Right now, the guy deserves it. That aside, Touya's complete lack of tact and common sense is actually rather annoying here, which leaves it to Rina to save the episode once again by being suitably mysterious - While I still don't trust her at all, her character remains broadly impenetrable (I mean emotionally, get your minds out of the gutter!), and if anything this episode only strengthens the web of mixed-up feelings and intriguing possibilities that she has become. Let's hope she gets to keep centre stage next episode, as without anything to distract me from Touya being a moron I may well end up damaging my laptop.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 7

After safely navigating the danger of the last episode, it seems that Keita and Kuro now have a clear path ahead of them to Okinawa... or do they?

Of course not, this is Kurokami! By the time Akane drives them to the airport, they soon running into (almost literally) another Mototsumitama and his contractee, who have got themselves into a spot of bother with some Triabal Ends. It turns out that Kuro and this newcomer, Yakumo, knows Kuro, revealing that she is in fact a princess no less back in her homeland. So, we're finally offered up the story of Kuro's past and origins, as well as those of her brother and why she has now vowed to kill him, although we still don't know exactly what drove him to do what he did in the first place.

There's still time (amidst another episode of Keita sulking and brooding over his fate) for another rinse and repeat battle, with one of Reishin's subordinates Hiyou (he of the crazy experiments) taking on Kuro and then Yakumo before deciding to leave without finishing his fight (a common occurence in this series, it seems).

If there's one positive to be had from this episode, it's seeing Keita get punched in the face a few times, which to be quite honest serves the annoying, whiny little kid right. His near-scizophrenic mood swings from nice guy to brooding Morrissey "Heaven knows I'm miserable now" wannabe have been annoying me more and more by the episode, and a good blow to the head seems like the best possible cure I can think of. That aside, the fighting side of the series is already beginning to feel a little tired (not a good sign just seven episodes in), although at least Yakumo's appearance might add a little more frisson to the proceedings - It certainly helped to prevent this instalment of Kurokami from being entirely a dead loss.

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episode 4

The fourth instalment of The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya gets a longer running time of close to four and a half minutes this time around, with what seems to be a continuation of Yuki's spiralling otaku tendencies, caught between gaming and looking at inappropriate images of Mikuru.

That aside, Ryoko manages to "revive" herself in this episode, albeit rather smaller in stature than she'd planned. Cue a hilarious gag involving her sat on a folded cushion... A spot of pure hilarity in an otherwise pretty average episode.

No sign of episode four of Nyoron Churuya-san at present though. Nyoron....

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 7

The end of the last episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo had us all set for a big face-off, and so this episode delivers it, as Leopard comes face to face with his old enemy Nerval in the battles of the big talking... colony things.

Nerval's surprise appearance (and confirmation as "the bad guy" of the series) gives him the upper hand, allowing him to freeze Leopard's colony in its entirety, together with anything else in the vicinity. This puts Akiha, Honoka and Itsuki in a tight spot before help comes in the surprising form of Akiha's sister Takane, who appears to have rather more in the way of combat skills than we may have expected. Anyhow, come the end of the episode Leopard wins the day (for now), and Akiha appears to now be officially landed the job of helping him to defeat Nerval, the scourge of humanity that he is, once and for all.

Yet again, I found myself spending most of this episode trying to figure out what the Hell is going on - Everything keeps on moving at a mile a minute without any pause for thought or reflection, and by the end of it I'm not sure whether I'm supposed to be as confused as Akiha seemed to be or not. Still, this episode's fast-flowing pace did at least ensure that it remains fun (even if it is nonsensical fun), as it continues to sport its old-school feel and attitude that somehow lets it get away with being a bit daft and pointless without me rolling my eyes at it too much. Sadly, Leopard didn't get too much opportunity for comic interludes here, although I suppose mention should be made of his golden orbs shrinking in the cold, a gag which I'm sure requires no explanation.

Oh well, perhaps episode eight will finally allow me to understand what in the name of all that is Holy is going on in this series. Then again, probably not, but I would wager that I won't care anyway as long as it's all good mindless fun.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 6

Somehow, I've managed to get a little bit behind with my watching of Kurokami - It isn't that I've been avoiding it, honest.

Having said that, I could probably have guessed the contents of this episode from what has gone on in previous episodes, as the core of this instalment is more or less a rinse and repeat job - Keita carelessly wanders off and leaves Kuro at home, Keita gets beaten up and kidnapped, Kuro goes to rescue him, Keita has a few violent mood swings before deciding to help Kuro, Kuro snatches victory (or at least survival) from the jaws of defeat. Tune in next episode, where exactly the same thing happens. Again.

To be fair, there's a little more to this episode than that - We do get at least a small hint as to why half of the city is underwater, and more importantly we learn that Keita is neither a root nor a master root, but simply a substitute (cue the relevant song by The Who here). This has a huge impact over his contract with Kuro, as it basically means her fighting and using his Tera will cause him to age and die more quickly than normal. Mind you, seeing as he's a substitute his only alternative was to die quicker than usual anyway... The poor kid doesn't get many good breaks, does he? I almost don't blame him for being a sulky, moody idiot most of the time.

But, despite those points of interest, it was a bit difficult to get too drawn into this episode thanks to so much of it very much having a "seen it all before" feeling - The fight sequences just don't seem cool any more, becoming utterly predictable, Keita is really starting to get on my nerves and... well, there's not a lot else to talk about beyond that. In all honesty I probably should drop this series, but the completist in me will no doubt soldier on to the bitter end.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 19

If nothing else, this episode of Clannad - After Story did confirm one thing for me - Ushio really does share the voice of Chi from Chi's Sweet Home. It had been at the back of my mind for a while now, and I can finally put it to rest.

Anyhow, aside from that little personal pondering, this was very much a "clean-up" episode for Tomoya - Making his peace with Sanae and Akio for looking after his daughter, and taking her back to live with him (a move which also seemed to bring closure for them as Nagisa's parents in the process), getting to meet Fuko again, which at least brought some comic relief to the episode, and most importantly of all perhaps making peace with his father, telling him that he didn't need to worry about his son any more and leaving him free to move to the country with his mother and (with any luck) kick his boozing habits at the same time.

Although I know there would be hell to pay had they done, I found myself watching this episode almost wishing that episode eighteen had been the last - It was such a beautifully emotional reunion of father and daughter, and such a well-realised moment of clarity for Tomoya regarding both his dad and his own life that nothing was really likely to top it, in this episode at least, and so it proved to be the case. After that instalment of heightened emotion that left me crying my eyes out helplessly, this episode felt decidedly run of the mill, rather like the personal equivalent of spring cleaning. Still, I'm sure there is more to come before this series ends (although I'm still struggling to hold much interest in the whole alternate world and balls of light part of the show), so I suppose I shouldn't declare it over until a rotund woman starts singing the Big Dango Family theme tune.

Toradora! - Episode 20

Friday night is always Toradora! night for me, and what better way to kick off the weekend? Episode twenty, of course, brings us to the fallout from the end of the last episode, albeit via fast forwarding a little to the New Year, with Ryuuji laid up in bed with the 'flu for that intervening period.

Despite being rejected by Minori on Christmas Eve, and more importantly despite her own feelings which were well and truly unveiled (to the viewer at least) last time around, Taiga is still determined to get Ryuuji together with Minori and will go to any lengths to do so, including no longer going to and from school with him or even relying on him to cook for her. Meanwhile, Ryuuji tries to rebuild his battered relationship with Minori, with mixed success, as Minori herself is clearly still torn between her feelings for him and her friendship with Taiga.

As usual these days, it's Ami who can stand back from the crowd and get the full view of what's going on, dropping hints to anyone who will listen (although they never seem to) in her own inimitable style. I'm not sure whether to like Ami for trying to tell those around her how things are, or hate her for the largely unhelpful way she does it, but regardless she seems almost sage-like in the relationship department compared to the clueless Ryuuji and Taiga's new self-delusions surrounding her feelings for him.

All of this is set against a backdrop of preparing for a school trip, originally set to take place in Okinawa but relocated as a skiing holiday due to the hotel they had booked at their original destination burning down. This all seems largely irrelevant when put up against the relationship-centric nature of the episode, but no doubt it will become important next time around as they reach their destination.

Again, it's the subtlety of Toradora! that continues to make it such a gripping series to watch - Much as I've already mentioned my dislike for Ami's roundabout way of pointing out the truth, for the viewer's perspective it beats being bludgeoned to death with those facts in an "in your face" fashion every five minutes. More importantly, the reactions and behaviours of both Minori and Taiga are beautifully observed throughout - Taiga's facade of not needing Ryuuji any more fits perfectly with her determined and stubborn personality, while Minori's constant little mood swings and madcap outbursts mirror the deep-seated uncertainties and need to be accepted she clearly carries through her own life. These girls (and indeed Ami too) could all be real people, and I would wager that I could probably pin their personalities to some degree to real people who I've known over the years, such is the human side that they display.

Well, I've ended up gushing praise about Toradora! once again - Who would have thought it? It comes to something when I even end up feeling joyous at Minori's choice of coffee mug - I got a kick out of her Twitter "Fail whale" beverage holder.

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episode 3

Every episode so far of The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya seems to be getting more and more random - Not that this is a bad thing, as however short they may be each episode also seems to be getting funnier and funnier.

This particular episode was two and a half minutes of surreal genius, with Haruhi holding a local quiz with questions on the Big Bang (that's not local!), the name of some passing dog, and pitting Kyon against a small truck. With a firework of course, to make it fair. Between that and Nagato with a siren/buzzer on her head, the entire thing left me laughing while simultaneously (and frequently) shouting "What the Hell is going on?!". Mission accomplished for this episode, methinks.

Meanwhile, Nyoron Churuya-san seems to be getting by on a mixture of a mini-Churuya being really rather adorable, and the repeated use of her catchphrase (which does seem to be catching, as I've used it a few times this week when things haven't gone to plan). It did make me laugh a couple of times as well, so it seems to be working somehow.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Rideback - Episode 6

Well, Rin certainly does know how to find trouble doesn't she? From a runaway Rideback in the very first episode to messing with terrorists and the army a couple of instalments ago, and now this... Where will it end for our quiet yet ass-kicking heroine?

Well, I'm actually getting a little bit ahead of myself here, as the first half of Rideback's sixth episode gives us nothing in the way of action - We get to see that Fuego hasn't been dismantled as claimed, here about GGP's plans to arm the police with advanced Ridebacks in the fight against troublemakers and terrorism, and see Rin tending to her mother's grave - No sign of her brother Kenji though, but boys will be boys... Meanwhile, the journalists who have been sniffing around in the wrong direction looking for the "mysterious Rideback girl" who appeared during the terrorist attack seem to have finally found someone to look at the photo from the incident that isn't completely colour blind, noticed the girl in question has dark hair, and finally narrowed it down to Rin.

Rin herself has more important things to worry about though, as by chance she spots Kenji out and about with a gang of troublemakers with some seriously nice Rideback hardware to do their dastardly deeds with. Before they know it however, they're dragged into an experiment, testing the white Ridebacks used by the police with violent and devastating consequences. Before we know it, and as per that terrorist attack and Rin's subsequent rescue of Shouko, her adrenaline has run away with her and she's beating seven bells out of the white Ridebacks in an attempt to save her brother. Surely she can't escape this time though, especially now she's been spotted as clear as day by the authorities?

If ever an episode of Rideback proved that this series is better sticking to "the cool stuff" and leaving the emotion and much of the politics at the door it's this one. After looking like it was going to be a pretty slow and dull episode all in all, it only took a few fancy moves with a Rideback for Rin to put a big grin on my face once again. Yes, the way she's dragged into all these incidents is pretty clichéd, but it's hard to get too upset about it when Rin is looking pretty and using robot bikes to roundhouse kick other robot bikes. Despite ripping off Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex's Tachikoma, the white Rideback designs continue the trend of good-looking machines in this series, and as long as you don't take the plot as a whole too seriously then this continues to be a fun series to watch as long as it keeps its focus on the action and Rin being awesome. Whenever it manages to do that, I love every second of, and even beyond that I'm still a little curious as to where the show is heading next.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 4

As promised at the end of the last episode, this fourth instalment of Axis Powers Hetalia introduces us to Japan, and probably the best (and most inevitable) joke of the series so far.

When Germany mentions building a U-boat, before he knows it Japan has produced a miniaturised version, created it in a dozen different colour choices and hired a famous voice actress as its announcer. Oh, and it turns into a giant robot, naturally.

Aside from that (which really did make me laugh), all we really get are some more snippets of Italian history, peppered with at least as many pasta jokes. How is it that Nyoron Churuya-san's constant smoked cheese gags remain consistently funnier than the mentions of pasta? Probably because it's both more surreal, and far better worked into the framework of the jokes than what we see here. Still, I got a kick out of the U-boat joke, so it isn't all bad.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episode 2

After a relatively luxurious five minutes for its first instalment, episode two of The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya gets less than three minutes to impress.

For some reason, Haruhi herself has seemed to turn into a clumsy, accident-prone comic distraction here, which doesn't really work in all honesty. However, far more amusing is Nagato's research into what makes humans tick, which appears to have reached the point of watching pornography on a laptop with the sound turned up too high. I suppose one chuckle out of three minutes isn't really something I can moan about.

Meanwhile, the second episode of Nyoron Churuya-san sees Churuya fail at rock, paper, scissors and fire drills, fail (yet again) to find smoked cheese and... well, just fail in general really. Nyoro~n.

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 7

Episode seven of Minami-ke Okaeri turns out to be a bit of a Makoto special by and large, as we're regaled by the latest perils of his secret life of gender swapping.

For starters, Makoto is supposed to be practising for a three-legged race with an apathetic Chiaki for the sports festival, but thankfully for him she finds the idea of practising with Mako far more conducive to getting things done. That aside, Makoto finds itself in the midst of other "dangers" which threaten to expose him, from his flat chest through to Chiaki spilling soda on his crotch (with the latter somehow progressing into a tale about tanuki which ends up with both Kana and Chiaki talking in parables). We finally move away from Makoto's feminine attributes (or lack thereof) for the final chunk of the episode, which instead takes in what can only be described as some mug madness.

Overall, this was by far one of the better episode of Minami-ke Okaeri so far - The pacing was just about right, the dialogue was much better (with some genuinely funny one-liners creeping into the script), and even the tired old running jokes regarding Makoto's cross-dressing actually proved to be relatively funny this time around. This was then topped by the hilariously overblown excitement shown by Touma when he's gifted a mug by Kana, with an equally huge (but rather more predictable) reaction coming from Fujioka when he is offered the same. It's little moments and set pieces like this that can make a slice of life series like Minami-ke, so thank goodness that this episode managed to find some to bring some life to a series that has drifted into mediocrity over the past few weeks. I needed a good reason to continue watching Okaeri, and this instalment gave it.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 6

Last time around, Shikabane Hime: Kuro ended by bringing us a Keisei carnival, and so the first portion of this episode is dedicated to destroying "the Keisei family".

Of course, all of these replicas of Keisei are nothing more than mere clones created by Ena, and with a stiff upper lip (and a little help) Ouri despatches them without too much trouble, even showing some promise in his own fighting skills in the process. That simply leaves Ena herself, reduced to using "her" own body (we get a brief glimpse of her actual life and death here) - A powerful entity, but ultimately no match for Makina complete with her curse.

So, that's another Shichisei member defeated, but now there are new problems afoot, as Nozomi finally finds an outlet for her love of death, which leaves her running around the school and making full use of her assets to become some kind of seductress, killing off students thanks to some oversized M&Ms. No, really, she does... At least that's how it looked to me.

All things considered, this was a pretty decent episode - It managed to play up its horror routes in places by being downright creepy (both the brief scene of Ena's origins and that weird balloon Shichisei guy sent a shiver down my spine), dished out a pretty decent dose of action, and moved the plot on a step or two in the process while also setting up the next big story arc, which will be Makina versus some breasts and Smarties no doubt. Still, as per Aka, Shikabane Hime: Kuro seems to be warming up reasonably well as the series progresses, and if nothing else this was a reasonably entertaining instalment.

White Album - Episode 7

Spread yourself too thinly, and keep on telling little white lies (or, more to the point, don't tell people things they should know) and it's bound to catch up with you in the end. Thus is the lesson that Touya is, perhaps ever so slightly, beginning to learn in this episode of White Album.

After doing so much to help Misaki in the last instalment, we see Touya going to even greater lengths here, arranging for her to stay with his father so that she can work on the costumes she needs, with Touya of course helping as much as possible. His time spent with Misaki is later confused by Rina as him cheating on Yuki, which is something that he seems to fail to convince her about - and who can blame her for not trusting him? In turn, Rina leaves Misaki angry with Touya as he goes running off after Rina and leaving her to pay for dinner... Our protagonist really is a lost little lamb in the midst of all these girls isn't he?

Away from what is arguably the real crux of this episode, Yuki finally gets her first single recorded, and gets a literal kicking from some other idols in response, Haruka seems to be having some kind of breakdown, and Mana Mizuki is rather predictably unveiled as the girl Touya has to tutor as he desperately tries to earn some money.

After not seeing much of her last episode, Rina's reappearance boosts my levels of interest in this episode substantially - Although she still seems to be pulling out the stops to help Yuki (in particular helping her find what it takes to get her single recorded), my money is still on her having some sort of ulterior motive that will be to her own benefit above anyone elses, and I similarly still believe that she's intent upon dragging Touya in on this into the bargain. I realise I have less and less evidence to back this train of thought up every episode but hey, a gut instinct is a gut instinct, and I simply don't trust Rina.

That aside, I felt that this episode trivialised the rift between Touya and his father somewhat, making what I assume is supposed to be a pretty huge rift between them seem far more playful and trivial than I believe was intended. I also continue to be a tad surprised by Misaki's actions too, given that she knows Touya is with Yuki but still seems intent upon stealing him for some reason. Still, I suppose the fact that I care about all this stuff is proof positive that White Album is doing its job at keeping me engaged with the series, and although it's no classic I still find myself looking forward to the latest developments each week.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 6

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo continues along its merry way with episode six, delivering yet another episode that I feel like I only have the most tenuous of grasps of.

After receiving her mission last time out, by the start of this episode Akiha has made it to the moon alongisde Honoka, and with Itsuki in tow to help out with this particular piece of thievery in order to be granted an audience with Leopard - Not such a big deal considering her cover has been blown and the ICP now knows she faked her own death.

So, this episode deals with the group's infiltration into the base on the moon, accidentally freeing all of its prisoners and causing a revolt before stumbling into what proves to be an impromptu family reunion for Akiha, as she meets her younger sister before realising that another familiar face is in peril. Some memories come flooding back for Itsuki too, courtesy of people with boxes on their heads (I'm not making this stuff up, honest), and come the end of the episode it appears that somebody with a bit of a grudge against Leopard is about to make himself known.

Once again, a lot of this episode seems to be almost impenetrably nonsensical, yet despite not being able to really get a handle on what the Hell is going on it doesn't seem to stop me from enjoying it to a certain degree - Indeed, I would hazard a guess that I'm probably enjoying it more on account of it not making all that much sense. Anyhow, I have to say that this isn't the series best episode simply because there wasn't enough Leopard, with his one-man (one -AI?) radio show proving to be the best moment by far. That aside though, I still haven't figured out exactly what has prevented me from either hating or dropping this series, but it's clearly doing something right because I continue to find it a pretty watchable affair.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Viper's Creed - Episode 2

The first episode of Viper's Creed grabbed my attention on account of it seemingly caring little for the plot, preferring to just to invoke big motorbike mechas and even bigger explosions to sell itself. Sometimes that kind of simplicity is just what my half-fried brain needs at the end of the day, so in my book it was all the better for it.

This second episode of the series tries to build things up more in the sense of characterisation and storyline, although the entire reason for all of those aforementioned bikes and explosions is given such short shrift at the beginning of this episode that it backs up my feeling that it's secondary to "the cool bits" - In essence, it was summed up as "war is over, civil wars still being fought, terrorists blah blah blah".

The main focus of this episode is to introduce a new member to the Viper unit, thus fulfilling their positive discrimination requirements for the series, as clearly all squad-based action series must have an idealistic young man who is rebelling against his father to avoid falling foul of international law. So, we're introduced to Haruki, who happens to be (you guessed it) an idealistic young man rebelling against his father, who is in fact the President of the company they all work for. Cue Haruki making a beginner's error which leads to a successful terrorist attack, before demanding to carry on with a subsequent mission even though they have been commanded to return to base, and similarly cue the ever-sullen Saiki helping him out when nobody else was interested.

As per the first episode, the action is really where it's at with Viper's Creed, proving to be fast-paced and compelling in the kind of mindless way that somehow reminded me of playing Unreal Tournament, perhaps mainly because of this episode's choice of tight, claustrophobic tunnels for these scenes. Sadly, there's nowhere near as much of this action as we saw in the first instalment, which makes it far less interesting... Let's face it, this show isn't going to win any awards for deep emotions or characterisation. Hopefully it doesn't forget its roots of blowing things up in spectacular fashion, otherwise it might all start to get a little dull.

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episode 1

A new series of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya it ain't, but for us Haruhi fans we have to take what we can get these days. So, after a stalled start featuring a "nice boat", we finally get the four-panel manga based Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in streaming video form.

With only five minutes per episode, the focus is of course on getting laughs, and if this first episode is anything to go by in a suitably surreal fashion - This particular vignette features Kyon going to sleep, and waking up in some dream world with all of the other major characters "disguised" in various ridiculous fashions. With such simple animation, much of the core of the episode's humour is in the dialogue, and it actually worked pretty well at getting a few smiles out of me, proving to be amusing enough for my particular tastes.

Also released alongside this episode is another two minute short in the form of the first instalment of Nyoron Churuya-san - All I really have to say about this is "smoked cheese". It's random, but again it made me smile, so I can't really fault it for that.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 18

After the previous episode brought young Ushio into the frame, so this instalment continues Tomoya and Ushio's trip, further highlighting the former's short fuse and general apathy towards his own daughter.

That is, until they reach their destination, slowly discovering just how meticulous Sanae's planning of this trip has been. Realising it looks familiar, Tomoya finds himself following a path he recognises, which leads him to meet his grandmother on his father's side. She regales him with the story of his own father, and how he moved into a poky apartment just to be with the person he loved, followed by his struggles to bring up his son once his wife had died. Of course, this brings home the intense similarities between Tomoya and his father, finally allowing him to realise that he wasn't a bad person per se, simply a man struggling alone in the world to protect the one thing important to him. This also brings home the importance of Ushio to Tomoya, bringing us a tearful union of father and daughter with a new level of understanding of her importance to him.

As someone who hasn't really warmed to After Story all that much, and somebody who has frequently longed for a return to the more humourous and carefree times of the first season of Clannad, the final few scenes of this episode hit me hard. I've rolled my eyes at the nature of Tomoya and Nagisa's relationship, shrugged off Nagisa's death despite admitting that it was well handled by the series, and not really getting any feeling for Tomoya's depression subsequent to that.

Despite all of that, the second half of this episode was simply beautiful, and beautifully realised to boot - Tomoya finally coming to understand his father was one thing, but the subsequent scenes with himself and Ushio reduced me to tears ridiculously easily. Maybe it was a little cheesy in a sense, but I suppose I just wasn't expecting this particular moment to happen either so soon or so quickly, and between Ushio's adorable behaviour and the huge burden and pain being lifted from Tomoya's shoulders, I couldn't help but break down. I may not be the biggest Clannad fan the world has ever seen, but this was one excellently delivered episode.

Toradora! - Episode 19

After all that build-up, it's time for the school Christmas party at last, and there was only one question on my mind as I sat down to watch this episode - Is Minori going to show up?

Before all that however, we get to see both Taiga and Ryuuji dressed up to the nines, and even more surprisingly Taiga and Ami have joined forces to perform a little Christmas number to the party goers. Meanwhile, Ryuuji is having about as much fun as he possibly can, courtesy of finding his role in the grand scheme of things by serving punch.

It's Ryuuji's dedication to proper punch-serving protocol that leads to him not even realising that Taiga has already left the party, as she goes to persuade Minori to go to the party before heading off home - This is all pointed out to him by Ami, whose patience seem to be wearing rather thin as Ryuuji continues to be blind to the bigger picture regarding those around him.

This outburst does at least wake him up enough to realise why Taiga's headed off home after seeing Minori, which leads to our kind-hearted protagonist performing an adorable turn as "Santa" for Taiga, while her excited reaction is equally adorable. She realises it's Ryuuji from the start, but that doesn't stop her loving every second of it... Perhaps a little too much you could argue - After pushing him out the door to return to the party and a waiting Minori, it finally dawns on her that she doesn't want to see him walk away with anyone else, making for yet another genuinely touching moment, an outburst of emotion matched in its sadness only by Minori's far more subtle response to Ryuuji....

By now, you're probably sick of me harping on about the brilliance of Toradora!, but brilliant is exactly what this series continues to be. While many shows of this ilk would take their emotional moments and throw them into your face with all the subtlety of a pink jumbo jet, Toradora! manages to be relatively muted even when the emotions on show are obvious - It doesn't feel the need to explain everything and put it on a plate for you despite the complexity of the relationships involved (and indeed this complexity which brings a feeling of reality to the inter-dependencies here is another big reason why this show is so good at what it does), preferring to leave you to go with the flow and feel what the characters are feeling for yourself. It's this which makes the series in turn so heart-warming and so emotionally raw, with most episodes leaving you watching the closing credits feeling something - Happiness, sadness, or something inbetween. You can't say that about many series these days.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Rideback - Episode 5

Despite breaking pretty much every rule in the book when it comes to realism, I make no apologies for my abject love of the last instalment of Rideback - I didn't start watching this series for realism or in-depth political intrigue, I picked it up because it looked cool. Episode four was cool by the bucket load, ergo it was an excellent instalment.

Of course, it would be nigh-on impossible for the series to keep up that pace in the very next episode, and thus what we see here is a far slower instalment documenting the fallout of Rin's rash actions following the terrorist attack. While Rin herself is feeling nervous enough in the wake of facing off against GGP's army, perhaps more surprisingly it's Okakura who seems to be feeling the heat the most, suspending club activites and mothballing Fuego with a view to dismantling it completely, something which he later claims to have done already. As the episode progresses, we start to pull together a picture of just why Okakura is so edgy about getting entagled in anything to do with GGP, and it turns out to be quite understandable based upon his history.

While Okakura is indeed in the frame, it's the mysterious girl on the Rideback that took on the GGP forces that everybody wants a piece of, with freelance journalists trying to track down the suspect and TV experts all having their say. While these disparate elements fish around for the truth, the bad news is that GGP's intelligence services are far more on the ball, and come the end of the episode Rin is the prime suspect in this particular case. What does this mean for our former ballet dancing heroine? Time will tell no doubt....

Given the adrenaline pumping nature of episode four, perhaps it's for the best that this was a far more calm instalment in pure action terms, preferring instead to ramp up the tension by slowly dragging us along to the point where Rin is unveiled as "the Rideback girl", while still leaving us to ponder what happens next. This was achieved in a reasonably well-executed manner, leaving an episode that won't live long in the memory but at least sets things up nicely for some tougher times ahead for Rin and company. Now that I've really seen what Rideback is capable of, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when the going gets tough.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 13 (Completed)

Over a year after I first started watching it, at last I've come to the end of Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino, a show that really didn't impress me for the first half of the series, but one that has in all fairness grown on me as it matured and improved throughout its second half.

Of course, this final episode takes us to the grand finale of the Pinocchio story, promising (and delivering) an action-packed instalment full of violence both dished out and received by the girls. While the main focus is inevitably on Triela's battle against Pinocchio, Rico and Angelica both get in on the action as well, mainly thanks to Franco and Franca's last ditch attempt at saving Christiano. Does their attempt succeed? Who knows, it seems unlikely all things considered, but we're left hanging on this front. Pinocchio's fate is far less uncertain however, as he pays the ultimate price in his fight against Triela.

Il Teatrino was always going to have an uphill struggle to live up to the standards set by the original Gunslinger Girl series, and you get the feeling that this pressure weighed heavily upon it a lot of the time - Particularly in the early episodes, you almost felt like they were trying too hard to recreate that special atmosphere sported by the original episodes, and in the attempt to recapture it they actually lost the essence of everything that was important to it. As the episodes went on however, Il Teatrino did manage to claw back some of those early disappointments, delivering some solid episodes that entertained and felt at least a little truer to the franchise's roots. Even if it couldn't quite recapture the emotional impact of the first season, it still delivered moments that were quite chilling to watch (with Rico in particular making for an uncomfortable subject to view in action), while pulling us through to the end of the Pinocchio storyline in a respectable fashion once it found its stride. Not a classic series then, and arguably not what you would have wanted to see released under the Gunslinger Girl name, but still a series worth watching if you're a fan of the franchise.

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 6

It's Summer for the Minami household, and inevitably that means some time at the beach as well as watermelons aplenty.

Thankfully, we don't end up with too much of a clichéd beach episode, as thoughts soon turn to the loss of Fujioka (the bear), who is soon thankfully returned by Fujioka (the human). This particular section of the episode also allows us an amusing comparison of Kana to a sea turtle, and the clever use of camera angles to make it look as though... well, you just have to watch that part.

Fujioka (the human, again) also gets the spotlight for the second segment of the episode, where the visiting Maki somehow manages to instill in him a spoon phobia (a phobia which disappointingly doesn't seem to have a scientific name - Don't say I don't do my research for this 'Blog), inciting the dreaded "indirect kiss" in Kana's name. Using a spoon is easy enough to avoid when it comes to eating watermelon, but curry is rather a different matter.

We were then treated to the sight of Uchida and Mako's last minute rush to finish their summer homework, and more specifically an attempt to borrow Chiaki's homework so they can copy of her. With that dilemma resolved, we're left with Chiaki and Kana's attempts to remember and relive their summer as the autumn hits, which seems to involve wearing a swimsuit in the bath, and dredging up a lot of bad memories from the last few months for poor old Chiaki - nobody wants soy sauce on their shaved ice, after all.

All things considered, this was another pretty run of the mill episode of Minami-ke Okaeri - A couple of moments tickled me, but that aside things just progressed along their own path without ever really threatening to descend into hilarity or stupidity at either end of the scale. In other words, exactly what I've come to expect from the majority of this series, meaning that I can't even bring it upon myself to be too disappointed with such offerings from the Minami-ke franchise any more.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Rideback - Episode 4

It was only ever going to be a matter of time before Rin and her new love for Ridebacks drew her into the political side that we've been introduced to by this series, and so it goes that episode four draws her into the fight against GGP in a rather unexpected manner.

Everything starts out simply enough, with Rin going to club activities while Shouko goes shopping - Once Rin finds out that club activites have been cancelled to take the Ridebacks into the city for maintenance, she hitches a lift to catch up with Shouko in town. This is where everything gets a bit crazy, as terrorists strike the skyscraper-cum-shopping mall where Shouko is, bringing us some scenes more than a little reminiscent of 9/11.

Having been set up as rather a quiet and mild-mannered girl, I have to admit that I was rather surprised to see her grabbing "her" Rideback Fuego, and setting off to rescue Shouko despite the city being in lock-down after the terrorist attack. Of course, her skills and control with the vehicle get her into the building easily enough, but before she knows it Rin is being wrongly associated with the terrorists, and when you have an entire army breathing down your neck there isn't really much time to explain the situation...

I don't want to gush too much here, but this was a bona fide, grade A episode of Rideback. The actual terrorist attack was well portrayed, and despite taking liberties with the laws of probability (i.e. what are the chances of a girl in a dress smashing through a plate glass window without getting a cut, and getting shot at by an entire army wielding automatic weapons and not getting hit once?) the action was so breath-taking that I can forgive it all of that and recognise it simply for the adrenaline-fuelled, heart-pounding viewing experience that it was - It's been a while since an action/chase scene in anime has had me on the edge of my seat quite like this one, with the overall effect reminding me of something between The Matrix and Mirror's Edge.

I know some people have had doubts about moving Rideback's story into its political and revolutionary machinations, but if this episode is anything to go by then I really can't wait - Sure, it wasn't exactly highbrow viewing, but it was an absolutely brilliant viewing experience as these things go - Unlikely action heroine she may be, but Rin on a motorbike in that dress, pulling off ridiculous manoeuvres on a Rideback is well worth watching any day of the week.

White Album - Episode 6

Another episode of White Album comes my way, and so again I find my irritations regarding Touya's nature starting to grow - I've been quite determined to explain away his character deficiencies in the early episodes of this series, but while I still contend that his nature is an important part of this anime's story development that doesn't mean that it can't get on my nerves.

The big focus of this episode is really on Touya's relationship with Misaki, and indeed her feelings towards him - After being given a ridiculous deadline to make costumes and the like for her drama last episode, she goes crying to Touya about her problems, and of course he agrees to help her in any way possible. From here, we see Touya remain totally clueless as to Misaki's thoughts, while her own intentions are either softened or strengthened (depending on how you look at it) by her own emotional and physical state, which seems to be extremely weak, due in no part to her drama club-related stresses and the bullying (to put it mildly) that she is suffering on account of that.

While Touya is being incredibly helpful and altruistic towards Misaki, he is quite fraknly a jerk throughout the rest of this episode - He still only half-heartedly pushes away Yayoi's advances while allowing her to come between himself and Yuki, and perhaps worse he lies through his teeth over and over again on the one occasion in this episode where he gets to speak to her on the phone. You could argue that they're all white lies, but when that many fibs build up in such a short period it becomes something entirely different if you ask me, thus adding another check box to the "reasons to dislike Touya" file.

That aside, this was actually a pretty slow-paced episode of White Album. Rina enigmatically wanders around and pops up now and then without saying a word, Yuki spends most of the time recording her debut single, and the kid Touya met a couple of episodes back makes a sudden and unexpected reapparance. I can't really fathom where the series is going next (especially considering how clueless Touya seems to be around the various girls that make his acquiantance), which is a good thing in a sense as at least that means things aren't becoming predictable, but I do feel that the series needs to push on a little faster to bring us to some meatier parts of the story sooner rather than later.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 3

After a couple of short episodes of utterly comedy-free confusion, the third instalment of Axis Powers Hetalia actually made me smile. And it only mentioned pasta a couple of times. Progress!

In its own utterly stereotypical way, Italy's song about Germany was quite amusing, and between the cuckoo clocks and references to hyper-inflation there seemed to be a better mix of historical accuracy and daft comedy this time around. Still hardly a classic, and I continue to be baffled as to why Italy is portrayed in the way that he is, but oh well, it's better than nothing and has at least convinced me that this series of brief webcasts might not be a complete and utter waste of time.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 5

After ending up naked last episode (hey, we never saw that part!), it's fair to say that Akiha isn't best pleased by Leopard - Of course, our favourite AI isn't the one to back down in an argument, so before we know it the two aren't on speaking terms, and Akiha refuses to return to the colony, even at the request of Honoka.

Meanwhile, the fallout (with every pun intended) from episode four has also affected Itsuki, whose cover was blown by her actions, bringing her back to the attention of the ICP and leaving her to take drastic measures to try and resolve both the case surrounding Leopard's colony and her own private issues as quickly as possible - A turn of events which also reunites Akiha and Leopard, incidentally.

Finally, something is going on upon the surface of the Moon, and it's a state of affairs which will concern both Leopard and company as well as (for reasons as yet unknown) Akiha's mother and the Shishidou corporation as a whole.

Now, much as I've tried my best to care about all of these disparate plot points for the sake of this 'Blog, I have to confess that I don't give a monkey's nuts about the whole thing. To be quite honest the only thing that has kept Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo ticking over for me has been the amusement derived from watching Leopard, whose continuing "incompetent Lelouch" impression rarely ceases to put a smile on my face. Aside from that aspect of the series, there is a certain retro chic to this show that I can't quite put my finger on - Despite the use of CG and so on, it feels like something I would have watched (and probably not cared about the plot then either) as a kid, which almost serves to make this a "comfort anime" for me to watch on a weekly basis. I don't have a clue what it's about, but I continue to warm to it as each episode appears - Go figure.

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 5

After looking worryingly as though it might be losing its way somewhat, the last episode of Shikabane Hime: Kuro at least left us with a suitably surprising ending, with Keisei popping up to say hello to Makina. But is it the real, live Keisei? Is it a corpse Keisei? Is it Keisei at all?

Before we get to the real meat of the episode, we have the resolution of the incident revolving around Tomoharu, a former friend (and now Corpse) of Takamasa, which also brings to a close the demonstration to Ouri of Takamasa and Itsuki's relationship - In essence, their love for one another hasn't changed, but rather Takamasa has decided to hide away and bury this part of his nature, for the sake of his continuing life and survival. Natural instincts are becoming a recurring theme in Shikabane Hime: Kuro, from this particular story through to the nature of Shichisei's members, and even Makina's current plight.

Speaking of Makina, the appearance of "Keisei" is haunting her - Although she realises straight away that this is nothing but an imposter, she finds herself unable to take any kind of violent action. Luckily Ouri has no such qualms (and is surprisingly forthright compared to the relative waste of space we saw throughout most of Aka), although come the episode's cliffhanger we're greeted with no less than a Keisei carnival...

At last, it feels as though Shikabane Hime: Kuro is going somewhere - This was a pretty well-realised and solid episode, that finally saw Ouri standing up for his own feelings and beliefs (and indeed those of Makina) in a way we haven't really seen before, while also bringing Makina's unresolved issues regarding Keisei down to their raw core. Now that all of this is set and the core theme of this series is properly out in the open, I'm hoping that this upswing continues and that it can reach similar peaks to Aka at its best.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 5

After a promising opening episode, Kurokami has quickly descended into the world of cliché, without offering anything particularly compelling to keep it particularly watchable.

Thankfully, this episode does at least get one thing right - Mindless though it may be, the first half of this episode is exclusively some pretty kick-ass action (although still not up to the standard of the fight scene in episode one) coupled with a soundtrack to suit the on-screen goings-on. Admittedly it'll feel like the kind of thing you've seen countless times before (with all the synchronising, powering up and so on that is so beloved of action anime), but you've seen it countless times before for a reason - Because it's kind of cool.

However, any dramatic tension brought forth by this potential fight to the death is ruined completely when, after almost fully fifteen minutes of battle, everything stops so that Excel can invite Keita and Kuro for tea and biscuits. If your response to this is "What?!", then you've just repeated exactly what I said while watching the episode.

Over the aforementioned tea party, we do at least learn what Excel and Steiner are doing in Japan, and also get a lead regarding both Kuro's brother and possibly even what happened to Keita's mother. This sets things up nicely for what I suppose can be thought of as the next major story arc, so it's all aboard for Okinawa next time around, no doubt for more slightly tired action and mood swings by the second from Keita.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Viper's Creed - Episode 1

2009 may be the Chinese year of the ox, but it appears that it's also the anime year of the motorbike. First we had Rideback and its story of bikes with arms, and now here we have Viper's Creed, another series which makes heavy use of motorbikes.

If you're looking for a show that takes time to slowly set out its stall and introduce the major storyline first, then you can forget Viper's Creed, for it cares not for such trifling concerns. Instead, this opening episode is pure, masculine, blood pumping action. We don't really get regaled much as to the why or the where or the what (it's something to do with a private company fighting... stuff), all we really know is that a bunch of mercenary types are chasing an unmanned robot around a city's freeways, using motorbikes that look rather Akira-esque on the surface but also have the ever-handy ability to turn into mechas as well. Oh, and they have a ridiculous arsenal to hand too, from chainsaws to rocket launchers. Between these guys and a Rideback, the latter wouldn't last five seconds.

If there's one thing that becomes an immediately fun game while watching this series, it's playing "spot the anime rip-off". The design of the runaway machine could easily have come from Ghost in the Shell, the half-underwater city reminded me of Kurokami (amongst other things), and the limited battery life of the mechas once they're off the road has obvious Evangelion comparisons. Throw in some good old-fashioned bullet time, and you have a shopping list of things to make the average anime action fan go "oooh".

Arguably the one interesting aspect of the series is the way that (in this episode at least) it focuses quite largely on the task in hand through the eyes of each rider's operator, a female assigned to a particular driver, from their control room. Our introduction to the series is via a new operator, assigned to Saiki, probably the most kick-ass rider of the lot (albeit a man of few words). It probably speaks volumes as to how little this series cares about anything other than the action though, as I don't even remember hearing this female protagonist's name (it's Sakurako, by the way) until almost twenty minutes into the episode.

If you haven't guessed by now, this first episode of Viper's Creed has one modus operandi, and one alone - To woo you with its prettiness, its explosions and its action set to a pounding soundtrack. And you know what? It worked. This is probably the dumbest anime I've watched so far this season, but I really don't care, there's a lot to be said for watching motorbikes that can turn into robots blowing things up, however cliched it may be. I may well get bored of it as the series progresses (and episode two looks like it's going to be flashback-tastic - Who cares, just blow more stuff to smithereens!), but from this opener the action loving side of me is sold.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 17

Following Nagisa's death at the end of the last episode, this instalment of was always going to be Tomoya's version of The Smiths' Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now, although thankfully the self-loathing was kept to a relative minimum here.

For starters, this episode fast forwards us five years into the future, and a world where all Tomoya does is eat, sleep and work, and when he has nothing better to do smoke and drink - Like father, like son you could say. In the meantime, young Ushio is being looked after by Akio and Sanae, so Tomoya barely sees her at all.

However, Sanae et al have clearly decided that this really isn't the way things should be moving forward, and thus Sanae draws Tomoya into a plot where he is left alone with Ushio, leaving him no choice but to care for her. Of course, he does this in a clueless, uncaring manner, just about scraping by at feeding and looking after his own daughter before the episode closes with him finally deciding to take her on the trip Sanae and Akio had intended him to take her on in the first place.

While I was more than a little relieved to find that this episode wasn't as relentlessly depressing as I was expecting, it was hard to reconcile the "new" Tomoya with the guy we've grown to love throughout Clannad up to this point - Somehow, the change from the really rather caring guy who he was into the asshole we see before us here is a little too hard to believe, even taking into account Nagisa's death. I realise his inner turmoil and hatred is supposed to be clear for all to see, and I realise that the parallels to his father are deliberate, but despite that it just doesn't quite feel believable to me. Aside from being distracted by Ushio's occasionally cute behaviour, it was this thought that bugged me somewhat throughout the episode - Perhaps I'll manage to resolve those doubts internally by next episode and perhaps I'm being too naive, but at the moment Tomoya's personality change just rings a little hollow as a step too far in that particular direction to me.

Toradora! - Episode 18

Ever since that scrap between Taiga and Sumire, Toradora! seems to be on an ever-deepening emotional spiral when it comes to the relationships between the major characters, and despite being quite a slow-paced instalment episode eighteen moves things on a little further in this sense.

Of course, the main focus is the continuing preparations for the school Christmas party, with Taiga continuing to try her best to be as good as gold, while Minori seems to be trying her best to avoid both the party itself as well as Taiga and Ryuuji. During this period we learn a bit more about Taiga's past, the reason for her unswerving belief in Santa, and see a rather generous side to her (even though she sees it as being self-centred herself).

However, the important moments of this episode come courtesy of Ami and Minori. Starting out with the former, Ami continues her knack for telling it like it is as she discusses how he feels watching everyone's attempts to set Taiga up with Kitamura, while also dropping what seems to be a not so subtle hint about her own feelings towards Ryuuji. Then there's Minori, who is still clearly deeply troubled by something, but we still get no real clues as to what this might be, despite an accident during softball training potentially bringing her closer than ever to Ryuuji.

As I've come to expect from this series, Toradora! continues to be nothing if not a triumph in characterisation - Even in a relatively quiet episode, the behaviour of both Ami and Minori could easily fill of a volume of a book on psychology and body language, with their words and actions often telling very different stories, and offering an added layer of depth to the series. The character growth on show here is well worthy of note - Take Ami as a perfect example of this, an initially hateful character who has, as the series has progressed, grown up to reveal a lot more about herself, in turn becoming more than just your generic bitchy good-looking girl. It really is compelling stuff.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino - Episode 12

Well, I predicted this penultimate episode of Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino to be an action-packed one, and although I wasn't entirely wrong, I can't really say that I was right either.

With Franco and Franca preparing to blow up the experimental bridge, and the Social Welfare Agency all set up and ready to stop them, it wasn't going to take long for the two to clash, and so it came to pass, with Henrietta and Pinocchio trading blows before all three terrorists manage to escape by boat, although not before Henrietta manages to lodge a bullet in Franco's shoulder.

Of course, with all of this going on their plan to blow up the bridge fails (although they do manage to deal it some damage), and thus Cristiano's future looks bleak. Franco and Franca have to break the news to Pinnochio regarding his uncle, which of course sees him set off to try to help and protect him. This sees him walk straight into a trap, and sets him up for a rematch against a rather vengeful Triela in the series final episode.

While Gunslinger Girl as an entirety has often done better when it's stayed away from pure, honest action, this episode actually felt rather empty aside from the two slices of action that acted as bread to the episode's sandwich - It didn't cover anything we hadn't seen before, and felt rather like it was retreading old ground despite the long gap since I first started watching this series. Still, it remains a passable attempt at story progression, and I can't pretend that I don't want to see how Triela fares when facing off against Pinnochio once again in Il Teatrino's grand finale.