Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 4

After their impressive victory at Vasel, the reverberations of squad seven's achievements in that particular battle are still ringing in the ears of both sides of the war, with Gallia looking to take the initiative once again while the Empire look to regain the control that is in danger of slipping through their fingers. To this end, we get our first real glimpse of some of "the bad guys" as they roll out their big guns to tackle the issues that the reversal at Vasel has caused.

On Gallia's side of the coin however, Welkin and company have been drafted in to support a regular military assault led by one General Damon, a man who seems to have something of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the Militia. Indeed, he outright refuses the assistance of Welkin's squad, instead choosing to go it alone - I'm pretty sure the rest writes itself from there, but needless to say that his efforts don't exactly result in a resounding success for his troops.

So, despite holding his tongue in the face of Damon's insults (or more likely simply not paying attention to them), Welkin gets his moment in the spotlight as the Militia are tasked with taking over the job of attacking the supply route and base at Kloden where the regular army left off. Can they succeed? Needless to say we'll find out next episode...

While this particularly build-up to episode five takes up a fair amount of the episode, quite a bit of time is spent upon building and moulding Alicia's relationship with Welkin, as well as throwing the more flamboyant Faldio into the mix too. Despite her complaints and reservations surrounding the way Welkin behaves, she clearly trusts him to do the right thing at a deeper level, and it's this kind of understanding which is obviously going to become a pillar of the series as it develops.

Beyond Alicia and Welkin's relationship, everything is really pretty run of the mill to the point of being cliched here - The Empire's big hitters are predictably evil in the way they sacrifice their men for the "greater good", while General Damon is similarly an archetype of the arrogant and selfish military general. Still, despite all of that a sense of fun continues to surround this episode, even if "fun" isn't really the ideal word to describe a series based around war. Even as I find myself shaking my head and laughing disapprovingly at the unrealistic portrayals of war I brought up in my synposis of the last episode, I have to hand it to you that Valkyria Chronicles is really enjoyable to watch. It's video game roots show through to the core in so many ways, yet that's yet to prove itself to be a bad thing, and thus far it's actually looking as though it may become something of a poster boy compared to the frequently rather weak and dull video game to anime adaptations we're used to.

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 3

Another episode of Hatsukoi Limited means another girl gets the spotlight shone upon her for an instalment, and this time around (again closely shadowing the manga) Kei Enomoto is the focus - A girl who may only be fourteen, but who is generally thought of as being mature beyond her years, to the point of receiving marriage proposals from older men. The trouble is, she's also rather shallow, worrying entirely too much about looks and finances aside from a guy's personality.

Kei's other trouble (and one which I can sympathise with entirely) is that she's a bit of a perfectionist, and these various facets of her personality all come to the fore as she's forced to work with Kusuda (the perverted guy we were introduced to last episode) on arranging some cheerleading as part of the forthcoming school festival.

Naturally, the relationship between Kei and Kusuda is a largely fractious one, as the pair clash over... well, pretty much everything really - However, beyond all of that, and particularly as the episode progresses, a certain grudging respect and even admiration builds up wordlessly between them, as Kusuda proves to be more reliable than first meets the eye while Kei's hard work and determination accompanies her attractive looks quite nicely.

This kind of love/hate relationship has been done umpteen times before in anime, and particularly in high school anime, but I actually quite liked the way it was portrayed here. At least we finally got a more rounded view of Kusuda beyond the entirely negative portrayal last episode, while Kei arguably gets a less favourable airing as her stubborn streak bludgeons through any brief positive thoughts she has towards Kusuda. It isn't hugely funny and it certainly isn't ground-breaking, but as an episode of a slice of life series goes it wasn't too bad, keeping Hatsukoi Limited on its even if unspectacularly watchable keel.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 14

A few comments during my coverage of Hetalia - Axis Powers thus far have left me realised that my knowledge of world history really isn't as hot as I perhaps thought, leaving my watching this series occasionally akin to sitting through Akira with your grandparents.

Still, episode fourteen worked well enough for me - After a brief segment featuring Italy escaping from Germany to go and chat up women, we enter a wonderful "German simulator" spoof advertisement, for a game that allows you to "enjoy" the frustrations of being a German in everyday life. In all honesty this simulator could have been subtitled "Why the European Union will never work", being as it was largely a broader coverage of pan-European foibles and stereotypes, including an appearance from Spain and Greece which left me complaining "that just isn't true" inbetween my giggles. "If you buy it now it comes with special shocking images for free!" was the icing on the cake that really cracked me up. If only every episode of Hetalia was like this, for this particular instalment was a thoroughly entertaining five minutes.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Shangri-la - Episode 4

Four episodes in, and Shangri-la appears ever more determined to be as irritating as humanly possible. If that is it's aim, then it has to be said that it delivers admirably.

After their return from Atlas last episode, Kuniko is still mulling over what she saw there, while meanwhile the whole carbon trading scam going on in the background becomes even more unstable as another party starts hacking around and adjusting things to their needs. But who else would have a computer powerful enough to perform such feats? Well, it looks like Kuniko's grandmother has a pretty hefty PC or two hidden away in her basement...

It's carbon trading of a more physical kind that's on Kuniko's mind however, as she decides that Metal-Age should trade in some of their huge graphite stockpile (methinks they've been taking carbon trading a little too literally) for some hard cash. Oh, and guns. Lots of guns. To complete this transaction, it's time for a trip to Akihabara, so that the series can offend as many otaku stereotypes as humanly possible while also creating an opening for at least one more transsexual gag (not that any further openings were needed, as that particular quote was fulfilled within the first two minutes of this episode).

You know, it's actually becoming increasingly painful to write out any kind of plot synopsis for this series, so ridiculous has it all become. Trading in graphite? Miiko as the new favoured lady-in-waiting of Mikuni when the rest of us would have killed her within seconds? Lady Ryoko naked again? Please, for the love of God, make it stop... Still, at least Kuniko seems to have got her attitude back again this episode, after turning into a stupid whining idiot last time around.

After watching the first episode of this, I discussed the even-handing approach the series seemed to be taking towards climate change issues. Well, I've changed my mind - This series is clearly encouraging us to pollute and destroy the planet by making all of its characters to utterly annoying.. Certainly, it would make me want to light fire to an oil field or two having to spend five minutes with Momoko or her terribly animated buddy Takehiko. I'm trying to think of a single redeeming feature to this series but I simply can't - It isn't even fun to watch in a "so bad it's good" kind of, it's just outright terrible. I was almost going to suggest that Shangri-la feels like it's been written by a teenager who has spent far too much time fretting about the environment and not enough time learning how to write, but that would be way too harsh on illiterate, environmentally-conscious teenagers.

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 4

Given the vast improvement in quality across the first three episodes of Natsu no Arashi, episode four of the series should probably be some kind of magnum opus. Of course, this isn't the case, but it does turn out to be a respectable little instalment.

After Arashi was invited to join a group trying to film their own movie in the last episode, so in this episode that offer is taken up, albeit not be Arashi herself but by the cafe's owner, who clearly sees an opportunity for a little fame and fortune (well, mostly fortune) for herself. It has to be said that Jun in particular looks rather striking wearing an Arashi-esque wig - He'd make for a good girl... Anyhow, the story being filmed just happens to be set in wartime, and filming also just happens to be located at Arashi's old school, giving her time to reminisce (while also getting to prove without any doubt that she is a ghost to a skeptical Jun) while also reveal that she isn't the only ghost in town.

While the last episode really thrived upon its jump back in time to World War II (which was excellently realised), this time around the time travel feels like something of an afterthough, with the mainstay of this episode really acting to prove that Arashi is in fact a ghost (as if proof were needed) while also introducing Kaja to the proceedings. Thus, the episode is unspectacular all things considered, getting by on account of being reasonably entertaining to watch while building up to more interesting things in future instalments on a number of counts. Regardless, it remains an improvement over those first two episodes, which is good enough for me for the time being.

Basquash! - Episode 4

It's pretty easier to tell lunar women apart from the rest of the crowd in the world occupied by Basquash! - It's all about... their earrings of course. You thought I was talking about that massive bosom, didn't you?

Anyhow, the appearance of this striking lunar women takes the series in an even more bizarre direction (if that were possible) - For starters, she's entirely fascinated by people's feet, all but raping Dan's as she sees their potential. It isn't just Dunk Mask that this person we later learn is a shoe designer from the moon is interested in, as she also soon taps up both Sela and Iceman Hotty, looking for a 1-on-1-on-1 rematch after their briefly epic contest last time around. Her motive is simple enough - She wants to kit out the three competitors Bigfoots with specially designed trainers (which will no doubt make series sponsors Nike very happy - Could you ask for better product placement?) as a promotional exercise.

Meanwhile, and just in time for this big rematch, Dan learns that there's more to winning basketball games than dunking, figuring out in the process that he in fact holds some far more precious talents that could allow him to turn the tide against his opponents...

Yes, Basquash! is becoming more bonkers by the week (although at least I'm starting to see where the show's name is coming from), but I can't help but love it all the more for its oddities. The character designs remaining as striking as ever (yes, even the ridiculously top-heavy Haruka), and every episode just oozes cool from beginning to end. The animation is still excellent even if the quality drops off slightly this episode, and the backdrops against which the series is set are as jaw-dropping as they ever were. It may not have the depth or ability to stimulate your brain like an Eden of the East, but for pure fancy-free entertainment Basquash! still can't be matched this season if you ask me from what it's offered up so far.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Saki - Episode 4

After three episodes of Nodoka getting annoyed with Saki and walking out in every instalment, the end of the last episode at least found some common ground between the pairing, meaning that episode four begins with this duo of leading characters on proper, friendly terms at last. Mind you, I can't help but think that Nodoka is getting a little too... well, "excited", about this new-found friendship.

Anyhow, that aside the club president announces that the Mahjon club have now officially been entered into the prefectural qualifying round of the national championships, an exciting prospect tempered with some words of warning regarding one of their prospective opponents. With that done, the president sends Nodoka and Saki off to help at a nearby cafe... A maid cafe of course, for this series would surely crumble without its weekly dose of "oh look, Nodoka has huge mammaries"-based fan service. Never mind the maid outfits though, because equally as unsurprising is the fact that this particular cafe has a Mahjong table.

After beating a couple of customers easily, Saki and Nodoka suddenly come across a ridiculous skillful opponent, who they later find is a professional Mahjong player called in as a favour by the club president to motivate the pair. Despite Saki almost going to pieces over the affair, this somehow works, leaving us with the prospect of a training camp episode next time around.

As always with this show, you can't help but laugh at Saki sometimes - Again we have the lightning bolts and sparks from the Mahjong tiles, but perhaps more amusingly this time around was Saki's ability to "sense" her opponents skill as soon as she walked into the cafe like some kind of Mahjong ninja. It also appears that professional Mahjon players have pretty oddball dress sense too, but oh well.... Despite being both patently ridiculous at times and entirely transparent at others (as soon as a cafe was mentioned I could see exactly where we were going with that particular plot device), it really is quite easy to get swept up in the Mahojng action despite the fact that I continue to have not a clue as to what is going on. Only the Japanese could make a board game seem so damn exciting, and to be honest this series really needs more Mahjong action not less, as this is the bread and butter that really works well for the series once you get past the fact that certainly aspects of it are entirely daft.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 4

With the mysterious goings-on at Lior resolved, episode four of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood sees the Elric brothers head back to headquarters - It probably isn't the best time to be in the vicinity though, as a mysterious man with a scar etched into his forehead is going around murdering State Alchemists, with the Iron Blood Alchemist the latest victim of his attacks.

Meanwhile however, Ed and Al have found themselves a new avenue of research courtesy of Roy Mustang, who introduces them to the Sweimg-Life Alchemist, Shou Tucker. Mr. Tucker seems like a nice enough guy with a lovely daughter and a huge dog (well, huge if you're Edward anyway), as well as a wealth of knowledge regarding chimeras and biological transmutations - Just the kind of thing the Elric brothers could do with increasing their knowledge on. However, just what lengths will a man like Shou Tucket go to in order to keep his State Alchemist qualification?

While this episode once again covers (and in a more brief manner) material that many of us are plenty familiar with from the original series, it has to be said that this was by far the best episode of Brotherhood so far in my opinion. The introduction of Scar is, of course, an important point in the series, but the way Shou Tucker's disintegration from man into monster is handled here was simply excellent. To be fair it got a great treatment in the original series too, but even with prior knowledge the second half of this episode both creeped me out and made my skin crawl just as it was supposed to, making for some truly, deeply dark and disturbing stuff.

After my complaints about the handling of the last episode, this fourth instalment simply seemed to get everything right, blending everything together perfectly and in a sufficiently well-paced manner to make for a highly enjoyable and watchable episode. Now that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood looks as though it might have found its feet, let's hope it can remain elevated upon them as we progress apace to pastures new.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Eden of the East - Episode 3

Eden of the East has already captured the imaginations of a lot of people from its opening couple of episodes, and in all honesty it's easy to see why. Episode three somehow manages to continue that prestigious start via the time-honoured tradition of answering some of our questions in such a way that only more subsequent questions arise.

Last episode, Akira was on his way back to where he believed his house was, with Saki following his lead. As they reach the location stored on Akira's phone it appears to be something of a slum however, and their search leads them to a padlocked warehouse-esque door, to which Akira just so happens to have the key... What do we find inside? A huge, upmarket shopping mall. At least now we know where a big chunk of Akira's 10 billion yen has gone, the guy went and bought himself an entire shopping mall to live in. How badass is that?! His room turns out to be a part of the multiplex cinema, which ties in nicely to his intimate movie knowledge.

However, it isn't all good news for Akira, as his search of the mall turns up some disturbing evidence to link him to his past, evidence which only becomes even more shocking as the episdoe develops - Is (or was) Akira really capable of that, and if so why did he do it? Careless Monday seems to be closer to home than he could possibly have imagined. Much of this information comes courtesy of the detective, Kondo, who catches up with Akira, beating him up and stealing his phone. Unfortunately, our man of the law doesn't seem to be very proficient when it comes to thinking things through - Did he really think he'd be able to just walk away with a phone with billions of Yen charged to it? Of course, in reality the whole thing is fingerprint-protected. The poor guy isn't very good at sending e-mails to the right people either...

I'm not sure what I can say about this episode of Eden of the East other than to mention how marvellous it is - Although Akira and Saki share a little less screen time together on this occasion, the time they do spend together is again sparkling in terms of both dialogue and chemistry. This is set aside however as we start to slowly piece together the "game" the Seleção (which means "selection" in case you were wondering) are being forced to play - It appears to have been sold as a way to save the country, but how exactly? Whatever is going on, the rabbit hole appears to be a pretty deep one, and I for one can't wait to explore it further.

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episodes 21-22

Time for another The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya double-bill, and this time around our double helping of insanity kicks off with a surprisingly action-packed little number.

Thanks to Tsuruya obtaining some free tickets to the "Supernatural battle show" (which is of course in no way a take on Power Rangers), and due to Yuki's enthusiasm towards it, the SOS Brigade get to enjoy a Sunday out. Of course, this being what it is the good and bad guys in this particular event are played by Mr. Arakawa and Miss Mori respectively, with the latter ending up in an epic battle with Tsuruya. Meanwhile, Kyon and Koizumi pass the courtesy of a 100,000 piece jigsaw (as you do), but even they aren't entirely immune to the side-effects of Tsuruya's big fight.

Meanwhile, episode twenty-two has Ryoko doing the housework, and very serious she is about it too. That's pretty much all there is to it apart from an obvious gag or two, which somehow makes it all the more amusing. You still can't beat Kyon's jigsaw puzzle despair in the previous episode though.

Never mind though, because Ryoko gets yet more screen time in the latest instalment of Nyoron Churuya-san, where she tries to remove her name from a test because Kyon had forgotten to write his, only he actually had. Thus, we're left with Ryoko and Churuyahaving to resit the exam. I won't spoil the rest of the gags (a number of which had me laughing out loud), but I'm sure you can guess at least a couple of them without even watching the episode. As usual, hilarious stuff.

K-ON! - Episode 4

You can't have an anime series without a beach episode, so of course K-ON! makes sure that it delivers such a necessity good and proper in episode four.

Strictly speaking, this is in fact supposed to be a training camp episode, after Mio finds a cassette of the previous light music club's performance at the school festival and becomes determined that they hold a gig of their own that at least matches them for musical proficiency, but of course trying to get Yui and Ritsu to train when they have a big beach-side villa to enjoy is nigh-on impossible.

Despite her best efforts, Mio ends up getting caught up in all the frivolities and arguably enjoying herself more than anybody else there, before finally coming to her senses and dragging the rest of the group in to practice no matter what.

Speaking of Mio, this series seems to be veering further and further towards becoming a vehicle to deify the poor girl, as we get close-up swimsuit shots, maid outfit shots, and countless other scenes which only seem to exist to make Mio look unbearably cute, with the other three girls barely getting a look in over the course of this episode. Still, despite the fact that even KyoAni appear to have caught the Mio bug which has been affecting almost every other online otaku for almost a month now, this remains a fun enough little episode with a few good laughs to be had. There's really little else to be said of this instalment of K-ON! - It's funny, it's cute, and in essence it's doing exactly what it set out to yet again, which makes it pretty difficult to fault. Of course, I'm going to have to buck the Mio-centric trend by making the sole image for this post one featuring... oh to Hell with it, have a picture of Mio.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 13

Another episode of Hetalia Axis Powers means another pause for thought as I try to figure out what to write about regarding such a short episode.

I suppose Italy training by way of petting a cat and squeezing its paw was pretty noteworthy (and makes me thinking that maybe I should signed up for the armed forced myself, it all seems pretty fun), while England is trying to get his revenge on Germany by using magic, which I like to think is an homage to Paul Daniels. Not a lot, but I like it.

Oh, and of course there's the friendly faced Russia who appears to be some kind of psychopath beneath the surface - Perhaps one of the better caricatures that this series has put forward as it seems to represent the slightly schizophrenic assumptions and feelings towards modern-day Russia that the West holds rather well. So, this was another episode that didn't make me laugh out loud at all (and from my "outside looking in" perspective I'm stunned at the commissioning of a second season), but it was still relatively enjoyable so I can't complain about it too much.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 15

After a couple of Earth-bound episodes, it was about time that the girl who leapt through space started... well, leaping through space again. Luckily, that's exactly what happens in episode fifteen of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo.

Thanks to both a cunning plan and some help from Professor Fon, Akiha and company finally have an end in sight to their visit to Earth, using Nerval's "Pied Piper" to hitch a lift out of the atmosphere and back into space, at which juncture they're rather conveniently dumped from their makeshift taxi into space.

It's at this point however that all Hell breaks loose - Akiha spots Nami and goes after her, only to find out about her recent switch of allegiance, a state of affairs which sisterly love most certainly won't fix and leaving us with a major case of sibling rivalry. It isn't only Akiha finding herself engaged in emotional as well as physical conflict, as Honoka also finds herself torn as she comes across Kagura in battle. Just as things are looking dire however, a moment of miscalculation from Xanthippe inadvertantly saves them all - For the time being at least, although come the end of the episode things aren't looking too good for Leopard courtesy of Nami making the most of an opportunity to practice with the eight horse-boxes of the apocalypse known as Existence.

We're now fifteen episodes into this series, and yet Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo is somehow still managing to do it - Entertaining me with this space-bound bit of fluff. In recent episodes the action quotiant has really been ramping up to good effect, and the second half of this instalment was a great example of this, seemingly throwing everything at the viewer in a mass of goings-on yet still managing to make the whole thing work in a rather addictive fashion. No matter how much this series remains nothing more than an ordinary show on paper and in terms of its general story line, it still succeeds in being great fun to watch every single week, and once again I have to admit that I don't know or understand how Sunrise have done it.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 3

With the important parts of the back story out of the way last time around, it's time for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood to get on with the business of the start of the Elric brothers journey proper, as they make their way to Lior to investigate the strange goings-on there.

Of course, if you're familiar with the original series then you'll know this particular episode all too well - From "Father" Cornello, a man of miracles who promises that he can even resurrect the dead through to Rose (she of the gorgeous hair), one of his most devout followers in the hope that he can bring her dead lover back to life. Naturally, Ed and Al are most interested in how the Father performs his miracles, as it becomes clear that this is simply alchemy of some kind, but without a transmutation circle and seemingly without any equivalent exchange. In the brother's mind that can mean only one thing - This man possesses the Philosopher's Stone.

As it's been so long since I watched the original Fullmetal Alchemist series it could be my mind playing tricks on me, but it seemed that this new treatment of the whole Lior plot had a much more explicit focus on religion versus science than the original, arguably taking on an even more atheistic stance than its predecessor. That aside, the main check boxes of the story were all there as I remembered, although this time around the series seems far more happy to descend into comedy even at what would otherwise be more serious moments - A little light-heartedness is never a bad thing, but I can't help but worry that Brotherhood is overdoing it rather and losing some of the impact of its story-telling as a result. This comical turn also extends to the animation, which also frequently switches to a more comical styling which jars occasionally.

At this point in time it's still far too early to get a real handle on what Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is hoping to achieve in comparison to the original series, and watching it remains rather an odd experience as everything feels so different yet so similar much of the time. As of right now, I'll have to admit that if I had to choose between the two my vote would go for the original series, but then again it's always impossible to say whether I'm looking at that show through rose-tinted (or should that be Rose-tinted?) glasses. To me, Brotherhood is still feeling a little rushed in place and entirely to flippant in others, which is taking the sheen from what would otherwise have been a solid start to the series for me. I certainly don't want to write this show off, but I'll be the first to confess that my skepticism towards it is very slowly growing week on week.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Basquash! - Episode 3

Basquash! continues along its merry way in episode three, showing no signs of drifting away from its in your face street attitude and frequently breath-taking animation - And thank goodness it's sticking to its guns is all I can say.

After the appearance of the mysterious guy in his mecha who cut short Dan and Sela's street basketball session with his own terrifying abilities last episode, so this episode begins with the pair of them continuing to struggle to get to grips with this new arrival. In Dan's case this just plain pisses him off, while Sela finds herself caught between the agony of defeat and the ecstasy of finding a man who she wants to... ahem... share her genes with. I'll leave you to figure out what that means.

With both Dan and Sela's mechas laid up as a result of this conflict, they can initially do little as this mysterious man turns his attentions to other street basketball players, smashing them to bits one by one while maniacally shouting "Destroy!", a turn which innovatively earns him the nickname of Destroy. So, in the end it's time for Dan in his best Dunk Mask outfit and Sela (aka the Platinum Hurricane) to lure out and unmask Destroy, a plan which turns into an intense street basketball game that gets the whole city out of bed to watch, and also appears to have garnered some interest from farther afield too, not least in the form of the visiting princess Flora (voiced by Rie Kugimiya no less).

Three episodes in, you could probably start compiling evidence for Basquash! as a case of style over substance, but I'm not buying it - I get the impression that it knows exactly what it's doing, and when all is said and done it's rip-roaring stuff to watch. The street basketball scenes are perhaps a little clumsier than they might wish to be, but every episode is so filled with energy and panache, lust and passion that you can't help but be carried along on the rollercoaster upon which it offers you a seat up front, encouraging you to accept everything daft that it shows you in the same way as past classic anime shows like FLCL. If you can let reality take a back seat and give Basquash! full permission to run away with your imagination, then it's quite an experience.

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 3

After their bitter-sweet escape from the Battle of Bruhl, which saw the town destroyed despite them escaping with their lives, by the end of the last episode of Valkyria Chronicles all of our heroes and heroines from that day were in training with the Militia to join their full-blown fighting force.

With that in mind, episode three wastes no time in assigning them all to their squads, with a selection process that seems to end up somewhat akin to picking a football team at school, with all of the new friends from Bruhl ending up teamed together under the charge of Welkin as commander of the newly formed Squad 7.

Given his lack of combat experience, it's no real surprise that he struggles to gain the respect of the older, more battle-hardy members of the squad, which becomes even more of the problem given the prescence of his adopted Darcsen sister in the squad. This comes to a head during the squad's first mission, to recapture, Vasel Town, leaving Welkin having to make a risky bet in an effort to gain the trust and respect of his subordinates. Of course, this gives way to some more awesome Edelweiss tank action, with Welkin's knowledge of nature and biology playing a decent part in the eventual success of their mission.

It feels a little weird to be referring to a series about a large-scale war as being "light-hearted fun", but that's exactly what Valkyria Chronicles is. Even when people are being shot and the body count is piling up, this show never seems to stop and dwell on that human tragedy, instead
just ploughing on and wallowing in heroic victory. Indeed, it's hard to remember that there's a war on at all during some sequences, as the birds sing and the sun shines while Welkin and Alicia sit on a grass bank just a few hundred meters away from an enemy that would surely be firing tank shells at them from over the water if they were the least bit competent.

So, Saving Private Ryan it ain't, but to be frank I can live with that when it comes to Valkyria Chronicles - As long as you're happy with the pleasant, undemanding action and dialogue and instead enjoy the generally pretty animation and likeable set of characters, then there isn't a great deal to complain about. War has never been so much fun, by the looks of it - answers on a postcard if you can name the video game that quote comes from, by the way.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 2

Hatsukoi Limited limited started off pretty well in its first episode, sticking to the first chapter of the manga almost religiously, and episode two follows on in a similar vein - Adding to and extending from what the manga covers slightly, while still well and truly retaining the overall feel of the source material.

This episode deals somewhat with the fallout from episode one, as rumours are rife around all and sundry that the man-mountain Misao was beaten up by a girl - Misao knows it, Ayumi (who was the culprit in the entire thing) knows it, and Misao's younger brother Mamoru knows it, but nobody is going to confess to such a scenario ever taking place in public.

Of course, Misao is still tortured by the fact that he hasn't had a proper answer to his confession from Ayumi (who seems to think that she has given him an answer, and she probably has something of a point), while Ayumi herself is more interested in Mamoru, who in turn is keeping his distance from Ayumi after seeing her defeat his brother. Talk about tangled webs and all that...

Indeed, this particular web is more tangled still, as Mamoru admits to a friend his feelings towards Misaki, his older next-door neighbour and friend of Misao. While Mamoru wants to get closer to Misaki, so she treats him like a little brother, giving us yet another dilemma of the heart to ponder.

I have to confess however that despite all these goings-on centred around emotion, the main drive of this particular episode seems to be fan service, as it features in abundance here. Again, I have to be fair in mentioning that it's hardly absent from the manga, but it does get ramped up her to a pretty large degree. That aside there are a couple of funny moments, although sadly the funniest section of this episode is made up entirely of Japanese plays on words, so it loses any real relevance in the translation to English no matter how you translate it.

From these opening couple of episodes, I really don't see Hatsukoi Limited becoming a classic amongst its kind - It's well animated and pretty to look at (and yes, I am saying that as a hot-blooded male and not just from some kind of pretentious arty perspective), and delivers its simple stories well enough thus far, but it doesn't really hold anything unique to make it stand out from the crowd, and that may well prove to be its downfall in the long term.

Shangri-la - Episode 3

Episode three of Shangri-la begins with Kuniko awakening from a nightmare, only to be plunged into a new one - The nightmare of being the star of such a clumsy anime series. Yes, this third instalment of the show may not quite have plunged the depth of awful anime that episode two managed, it doesn't seem to be from want of trying.

While Kuniko herself has been more or less the sole bright light in this series so far, even she manages to take a turn towards being intensely annoying this time around, with her constant whining questioning of everything (even when under intense gunfire) only matched by her near complete ineptitude when it comes to doing anything from standing in a train carriage to running away. What happened to the girl who was unafraid to show her distaste for her former captors with a final moment of defiance, or the girl happy to take on an armed tank armed with only a boomerang? More importantly, who is the shadow of that girl who has taken her place?

Much of this ineptitude springs from Kuniko's decision that she wants to see the inner workings of Atlas, the place normally only opened to lottery winners and rumoured to be a paradise of sorts (compared to the squalor of the rest of the outside world anyway) that everybody wants a place within. This privilege was of course bestowed upon Miiko at the end of the last episode, and this time around she gets her dream place within Atlas.... But all is not as it seems.

Beyond that, we get a few other generic pieces of evil people being evil, including a scene where Lady Ryoko has her naked body dried by a male subordinate, which.... well, doesn't seem all that evil to me. In fact, do you think they need any new subordinates for episode four?

In all fairness to this episode, the revelations surrounding Atlas and the lottery winners who get their place within it did actually catch me by surprise, but then again maybe I'm just being dim - It was a nice little twist in my book, but if only there were some likeable characters to care about then it might have had some more impact. That twist in the tale aside, Shangri-la just seems to be going through the motions - Badly animated action sequences, bad guys that can't shoot for toffee, "humorous quips" in dangerous situations, gay jokes, blah blah blah. In short, it's boring, and to give a longer appraisal of this episode, it's booooooooooooooooring.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Saki - Episode 3

Another episode of Saki sees Nodoka remaining as determined as ever to stay at the top of her game in the hope of toppling Saki, even if it means numerous late nights and admonishments from her father. Meanwhile, "training" is much easier for Saki herself, with a quiet snooze under a tree seemingly enough to prepare her for another session of wiping the floor with all and sundry in the school club.

However, once again Saki's old habits appear to die hard, as she racks up another ±0 in an attempt to placate Yuuki - A move which pisses of Nodoka considerably, causing her to walk out, with Saki predictably chasing after her... hasn't this happened every week so far? Anyway, at least this time the relationship between Nodoka and Saki seems to take a more balanced and hopefully long-standing turn for the better after some strong words are spoken, as Saki explains her sudden desire to want to compete in the national championships, stemming from what seems to be a messy divorce within her family. Can mahjong save the day? This is anime, so quite probably.

Speaking of said championships, we also see the club president signing up their school to the prefectural qualifying round, and as the draw for the first round is made we get to see a few of the prospective opponents in the making, taking in the usual cliches of mean opponents or snobby rich kids from private schools - No doubt we'll be seeing plenty of them in competition later on.

I suppose this was a pretty fun episode all in all, although my ability to take it even slightly seriously is being stretched to the limit by Saki herself trying to use mahjong to reunite a split and dysfunctional family, while Nodoka's mood swings and bitchiness are starting to grate at times - The again, when you're being used as the blatant fan service object in a series I suppose you have every right to be a little bitchy. I imagine the competition segments of this series will be what make or break it - It looks ready to descend into high cliche at that point, but then again the actual mahjong sequences have been fun to watch so far even though I don't have much of a clue about what's happening, so it could actually work in its own odd kind of fashion.

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 3

After a first episode that disappointed me, Natsu no Arashi managed to turn around my scepticism towards the series in episode two, and thankfully this third instalment puts my doubts to bed almost entirely by serving up another genuinely likeable slice of anime.

Much of this episode focuses on the growing friendship between Arashi and Hajime, as they seem to become more comfortable in one another's prescence, despite a warning from Jun that women aren't always what they may seem on the surface (an ironic statement coming from this particular character, as you may have already begun to fathom). Still, Jun's words do nothing to stop the pair thoroughly enjoying themselves at a nearby arcade (via a rather humorous skit about the deadly crane game to be found there) and thus cementing their bonds further.

True to form, it's at this moment that Arashi asks a favour of Hajime - She needs to travel through time to do something, and she can only do it with his help. So, off the pair are whisked to World War II Japan, with Arashi desperate to prevent a man and his child from their deadly fate - Who these people are and why Arashi is so centred upon stopping them we have no idea, but needless to say the entire endeavour puts both herself and Hajime in danger - Can their friendship last against a backdrop of asking such a huge favour?

As I've already mentioned, episode two of this series allowed the potential of Natsu no Arashi to begin to shine through, and following on from that episode three really seems to have nailed it down pretty nicely. In a way it's a bit of an odd episode in that nothing much particularly happens (and even Arashi's jump back in time feels almost like a brief, albeit important, aside), yet despite that it's enjoyable and entertaining from beginning to end - The animation is starting to make great use of those quirky little Shaft touches which always makes their output worthy of consideration, and the Arashi/Hajime dynamic is an oddly touching and gentle one which is growing in stature by the episode. There still appears to be a lot of room for growth in this show, and doubtless the bigger picture is still largely obscured at this exact moment in time, but to be honest Natsu no Arashi is proving to be perfectly watchable as it is judging by this instalment.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episodes 19-20

It's Christmas! Well, it is in The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya world anyway. That can only mean one thing - A Christmas party for everyone... except Kyon of course.

Naturally, Kyon's job is to protect the SOS brigade from the threat of an evil Santa out to destroy them and their club, although given that thought Haruhi seems to be entirely too pleased when "Santa" actually appears. Mildly amusing stuff, and I got a kick out of how the arrival of "Santa" actually tied in to a much earlier episode.

Meanwhile, episode twenty fast forwards us to April Fool's Day, with mini-Ryoko and her balloon dog companion Kimidori (you know, when I type it like that I have to wonder what drugs the episode writers have been taking) trying to play a couple of pranks on Nagato. Naturally, Yuki is having none of it, coming back with an evil prank of her own, and giving us a brief dose of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya's ridiculous hilarity at its best.

Last but not least, do I really need to mention how hilarious is Nyoron Churuya-san is yet again? From trying to smoke some smoked cheese to getting lured into the Windows Recycle Bin with smoked cheese (which is officially the funniest thing I've seen all week), as per usual episode ten had me laughing long and hard.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Eden of the East - Episode 2

Although I had my reservations before I started watching it, the opening episode of Eden of the East managed to tick all of the boxes that enabled it to keep my interest and then some. Before you ask no, numerous scenes features a naked man wasn't a box that required ticking in case you were wondering.

While this second episode of the series starts to give us a few clues and snatches of information about exactly what is going on with "Akira", the overall plot and storyline remains veiled in plenty of intrigue and mystery. What we do learn however is that "Akira" has 8.2 billion Yen available on his phone which he apparantly has a "responsibility" to spend, and also that Juiz, the mysterious woman who he can call upon at any time, can do anything that he wishes. Juiz also refers to "Akira" as a messiah and a priviledged person - Well, with 8.2 billion Yen in his pocket she probably has a point.

The trouble is, it appears that "Akira" isn't the only one in this position, as we're also introduced in this episode to a detective with the same phone as our male protagonist, who appears to be having a few debt problems, and who certainly isn't afraid to use Juiz's help to the fullest of its abilities.

All of this occurs against the backdrop of a Japan that has recently suffered a fresh missile attack, one which has this time downed a plane, a far cry from the previous attack where ten missiles hit Japan but not a single person was killed - An event now known (in that wonderfully understated Japanese way) as "Careless Monday", and a rather eerie topic for this show in a month where North Korea has tested a missile with the ability to hit Japanese soil quite easily. Speaking of such things, Eden of the East also has no qualms about referencing 9/11 freely, even discussing the Freedom Tower which will replace the destroyed World Trade Centre towers thanks to its near-future setting.

Despite all of this intrigue and mystery however, where this episode really succeeds is in the dynamic which exists between "Akira" and Saki, which works brilliantly on so many levels. While "Akira" is the one with no memory, he frequently appears to be the more astute of the pairing, while despite having a complete and functioning memory Saki remains a bit of an enigma to us as viewers at the moment, which serves to create a real bond between the two of them, and as a result to us watching too. It's all pretty subtle, but it really works for me, adding the icing to the already fascinating cake that is Eden of the East. To be honest, I really can't wait to see some more of this show as I'm truly intrigued by where it's trying to take us.

K-ON! - Episode 3

Now that Yui is kitted out with her very own guitar, all that remains is for her to learn how to play the damned thing. At least, it would be all that was left for her to worry about if it wasn't for some pesky exams.

As you can probably imagine, Yui isn't exactly the most studious type, and couple that with the obvious distraction of her new guitar when it comes to trying to revise and you have a recipe for disaster, a recipe whose major ingredient is Yui having to retake the exam. To make things worse, she's barred from club activities until the resit is over, leaving the rest of the light music club hanging loose. Even with this pressure upon her Yui's study habits don't get any better, leaving Mio to step in to save the day (with a little help from Tsugumi's cake and Ritsu's... err... well, Ritsu is no help at all really) thanks to her excellent ability to drill facts into even the most stupid of people (which I believe is reason number 5,462,976 why everybody on the Internet who watches this show seems to be in love with Mio right now).

While music and the band may take a back seat for this instalment, this doesn't make episode three of K-ON! any less delightful, as (and yes, I am going to gush about this show again - sorry) it once again offers up a perfect mix of light-heartedness, fun, and some great splashes of humour - I laughed myself silly at the other girl's assumption about how Yui and her sister would act at home together, and Yui's bizarre dream made me chuckle as well.

In all honesty, "fun" is probably the only word I need to sum up this series so far, as that's exactly what it sets out to offer and it manages it by the shed-load. I can't really deconstruct the show any further than that, it's simply great to watch - No deep, hidden meanings or thought-provoking scenes, just a simple story brilliantly realised right down to the opening and ending songs which I find myself humming relentless to myself during the week.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 2

After starting out with something almost completely unexpected to keep fans of the original anime series and manga happy, episode two of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood knuckles down and properly starts the show's "reboot" process.

Of course, this means taking us back to the very start of the story, something which Brotherhood does in a far more comprehensive fashion (to my memory at least) than the original anime series. Not only do we get to see a little of the Elric brothers learning their trade, we get an even more no holds barred account of the fateful night that they attempt human transmutation. This is undoubtedly a hugely important moment for the series right from the off, as it sets both the moral tone and the emotional crutch that haunts Ed and Al throughout, and to be honest I thought it was carried off very well here.

After spending so much time on those events, we seem to get far less time assigned to watching Ed's rehabilitation as he's kitted out with automail and trained up to use it, with the series again keeping its eye trained on the emotional over the visual by concentrating on the visit of State Alchemists Roy Mustang and Riza Hawkeye as they attempt (and obviously ultimately succeed) to convince the Edward to take the State Alchemist examination and become a "dog of the military", dangling the carrot of the research he'd be able to perform once he has taken up such a position.

All of this is set up as flashbacks as the brothers travel to Lior on their first real mission, which arguably disjoints things quite considerably, skipping over the State Alchemist examination to a pretty large degree in the process. The pacing of this episode certainly takes a little getting used to an I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, but what the instalment offered it did very well and in the manner that you'd hope from a new Fullmetal Alchemist series. In a similar vein I'm also in two minds about the animation quality, which feels more bold and pronounced than I remember the original series being - Something which again offers both positives and negatives depending on which way you look at it.

I suppose at the end of the day Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is always going to be a risky business - How do you reboot such an incredibly popular and successful anime and make it better without pissing off the fans? As of right now I'm not entirely sure that the series producers have the answer - Perhaps they're trying too hard to please everybody, but it would be unfair to judge until we see at least a few more episodes of the show so I'll hold fire on any real criticisms for now.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 13

The half-way point of Kurokami left us in a pretty cruel condition, with a handful of high profile deaths or severe injuries, some decidedly crazy goings on that seemed to be opening up a door to an alternate dimension or something, and all round chaos as a result of the titanic battle between Reishin and... well, pretty much everybody else really.

After all of that, episode thirteen of the series fast forwards through six months and into a very changed world. For starters, the Kaionji Group appeared to have achieved most of their goals - Master Roots are now in place ruling the roost across Japan, causing its economy to thrive, and with those fortunate individuals giving preference in every way over the rank and file who can't claim to hold Root status. Of course, this enviable state of affairs has given the Kaionji Group plenty of clout and control worldwide, even as far as stopping any attempts from The Noble Ones to unseat or imbalance their power.

Meanwhile, Kuro appears to be trekking around alone with no sign of Keita, while Akane is held prisoner by Sawamura due to her own Root status. However, we do soon find out about Keita's fate, and find ourselves looking at a trusty band of fighters willing to battle it out against the Kaionji Group's plans no matter what.

Thus, episode thirteen of Kurokamiis broadly split down the middle - The first half fills us in on everything that's been going on during the six months that we missed (and pretty concisely too might I add), while the second half turns into a big, fat action fest as our remaining motley crew of heroes find themselves up against a bunch of power Mototsumitama in the employ of the Kaionji Group - A state of affairs which leads almost inevitably to Kuro "levelling up" (in terms of both costume and her powers incidientally), but more importantly giving us plenty of Kurokami action sequences at their best.

The shake-up to the story line afforded the second half of this series is, at this juncture, really very refreshing, allowing the show to break and do some far more interesting things to decent effect. The tone is a little darker, the action is more passionate, and the whole thing feels a little like it's had a shot in the arm over the already improving first half of the series. It remains quite typical fare within the confines of its own genre, but it's quite happy to exist within those parameters while still proving to be entertaining, and that works for me quite frankly.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Shangri-la - Episode 2

The opening episode of Shangri-la was a strange old beast really - Sporting some potentially intriguing plot concepts and a girl capable of beating tanks with a boomerang (always a useful skill) on the one hand, but delivering some ridiculously contrived baddies on the other. Oh, and transsexuals.

For some reason this series really seems to be fixated on gender reassignment, not only making some of the major characters transsexual but also mentioning it at every opportunity, and when there isn't an opportunity then it'll somehow get brought up anyway. Now, I have nothing against any form of personal lifestyle choice, but talking about breaking the flow of the episode...

Then again, trying to detract from the "serious business" of the episode is probably about the best thing that Shangri-la can hope to do, because quite frankly it's pretty dire. I've already mentioned the contrived baddies, but Lady Ryoko is the most hilarious example of a generic evil woman, like some kind of out of control Darth Vader with lipstick. The Medusa side of the story seems far more interesting, but even this section brings shame upon itself. Imagine those wonderfully illustrated hacking scenes from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. Now imagine them recreated by a five year old with poor motor skills. And a Puff the Magic Dragon fixation. Congratulations, you've just imagined the "hacking section" of Shangri-la.

Amidst all this, Metal-Age and Kuniko are up to something following a vicious attack by some unknown entity, but by this point I was rather beyond caring, and the lazy and badly animated action scenes from this section of the episode didn't exactly help. Indeed, the animation as a whole has taken a real nosedive from its already just about average quality in the first episode - Range Murata must be wishing he was in his grave already so that he can go for a spin in it.

For all its faults on show in its opener, I really thought that Shangri-la might have some potential, but all of that seems to have been stripped away and replaced by cliche, farce and nonsense come episode two. I have a feeling it's only going to get worse too, which might potentially leave this series as my comic fall guy for this anime season. After all, it's been quite a while since I've made myself sit and watching anything truly terrible.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 14

As Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo carried along its merry path, episode fourteen gives us many important and memorable moments, but I suppose my first mention must go to the return of Pizza Hut product placement to the world of Sunrise anime series... and how! For several minutes, the restorative powers of Pizza Hut's cuisine are given our full attention in what might as well have been a commercial for said food chain.

Anyway, moving swiftly on, the last episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo left us with Honoka about to throttle some oddly dressed old man, with Akiha and company still well and truly stranded on Earth. Perhaps inevitably, it turns out that this man is Leopard's creator, Professor Friedrich Otto Noblemain, a man still fighting against Nerval in his own way but arguably not having a lot of success, although thankfully he does still have the odd trick up his sleeve.

Thanks in part to the introduction of the Professor to this episode, many of the dots that have been scattered throughout this series start to join, pulling previously disparate elements together to explain Nerval's desire to kidnap people, the origins of Honoka, the importance of Leopard to everything that is going on, and even just what's going on in those odd dreams Akiha has been having on occasionally.

Meanwhile, Tsutsuji and Benkei find themselves all but foresaken by Nerval, and Nami's importance back at the now occupied colony is being very talked up in this episode - Expect some interesting sibling rivalry in the next episode.

While I've often found myself "not sweating the big stuff" while watching this series, and instead letting it wash over me like some kind of bizarre sea made of inexplicably tasty pickles, now we're finally starting to get to the heart of the matter and figuring out exactly what the Hell is going on in the series, and it actually does its part to enhance rather than detract from the enjoyment I've derived from it so far. Sure, Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo is hardly looking likely to blaze new trails even now I know what's happening, but it remains an entertaining way to spend twenty minutes or so every week, and with enough likeable characters for me to at least somewhat care about their fate enough to continue watching with interest. This show thus remains a guilty pleasure for me, even though I'm not entirely sure what I'm feeling guilty about.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 12

The various episodes of Hetalia Axis Powers thus far have generally left me either laughing out loud on occasion or (more frequently) scratching my head wondering if I'm missing something. Episode twelve of this series of short instalments sits somewhere between these two extremes, although thankfully closer to the former than the latter.

The "reconstruction" of France and England allying is mildly amusing to me as an Englishman (who probably doesn't hate the French as much as I'm traditionally supposed to), while rewinding back to World War II (wouldn't this series be better if it tried to keep some semblance of chronology?) I did chuckle slightly at Italy's answer to the question "What do you do if you see England?", which involved the use of white handkerchiefs and flags. A better episode than many prior instalments of Hetalia Axis Powers in other words, and at least it featured stereotypes than I can smile and nod at, but still not really a classic.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Chi's Sweet Home: Chi's New Address - Episodes 3-12

Some of the latest new episodes of Chi's Sweet Home get about as close as this series will probably ever come to powerful emotional drama - With the prospect of Chi being sent away to Hokkaido moving ever closer, Youhei's parents still haven't told him the bad news. Naturally, once he overhears this for himself he's more than a little upset, prompting him to try and run away with Chi.

Although he doesn't get far the emotions run high, and eventually his parents realise that there's only one way forward - To move to a new home where pets are allowed. And whaddya know, just at that moment they see a huge advertising hoarding for just such a place!

From here on in we enter more traditional Chi's Sweet Home territory, with Chi making the most of investigating and enjoying the boxes used to move the family, being terrified by the moving process, and finding her own way of settling down in her next (and it has to be said, rather awesome-looking) apartment. As always, it's adorable and amusing to watch - You can never have too much Chi's Sweet Home if you ask me.

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 2

Come the end of the first episode of Valkyria Chronicles, we were all ready to steal a tank and invade Paris. Wait, sorry, wrong series... Come the end of the first episode of Valkyria Chronicles, Welkin and his sister Isara rolled out their secret weapon (and arguably the real star of the series) - A strapping great tank, which is always quite useful in a war I would say. Even more useful is the fact that Edelweiss (for that is the tank's name) is already loaded up with ammunition and with plenty of fuel... rather conveniently I must say, but then again given their military blood I suppose they'd always be prepared for much things.

Needless to say, making use of Edelweiss allows Alicia and company to escape their current predicament and make it back to Bruhl, but the relief is short-lived as the town soon comes under full-scale assault from the Imperial forces, killing numerous people and wounding many others as the local patrol's stabd-in commander makes a complete hash of things. The only obvious course of action from here is to retreat, but this can only be achieved if the Imperial forces are tied up on other business while the wounded and those left remaining escape. Thus, Alicia, Welkin and Isara are tasked with using Edelweiss to hold the entirety of the Imperial forces at bay while the everyone else retreats. Why, that almost sounds like the sort of mission you'd expect from some kind of video game...

While almost everything about this episode is utterly predictable from Edelweiss' huge hardware superiority (include the fact that other tank shells just bounce of it without a scratch) through to the incompetence of of the arrogant guy in temporary charge of Bruhl's forces, that doesn't mean that episode two of Valkyria Chronicles is anything but a whole bundle of fun. The main characters have already wormed their way into my heart via their idiosyncrasies, and to be quite honest watching Edelweiss charging around blowing up other tanks and people is hugely rewarding (and I'm guessing that actually playing the game would be even more so - Anyone want to donate me a PlayStation 3?). It's a bit like those good, old fashioned war movies where you know what's going to happen but still cheer when the plucky Brits blow up some Germans anyway.

Valkyria Chronicles certainly isn't going to be the most deep and introspective treatment of war in animated form (witness Alicia waxing lyrical about flowers near the end of this episode and you'll see what I mean), and that "sketched" effect really does annoy me incredibly, ruining some otherwise gorgeous animation, but get beyond that and you have yourself one enjoyable series so far.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 2

Oh all of the series I've started watching for this Spring anime season, Natsu no Arashi seemed the most likely to be dropped based solely upon its first episode, which simply didn't impress me in any way, shape or form. Thank goodness then that episode two of the series acts rather more like a proper opener, succeeding to at least some degree of drawing me into the picture that it paints.

While episode one was some seemingly random episode thrown in at the beginning of the series for no real reason that I can fathom, episode two actually takes the time to introduce us to the major characters. For starters, we see Arashi arrive looking for work at the cafe at which she now works in the midst of a storm, before Hajime gets his proper introduction as a lost kid on his way to see his grandfather who enters said cafe and somehow ends up connected to (and "possessed by") Arashi, learning at least a little about her ghostly being. The owner of the cafe also gets her situation seemingly spelt out, so that we at least know what we're watching now, and thankfully it isn't all about jumping through time after strawberries this time.

While I'm still far from convinced by the show's animation and artwork, it is at least beginning to show some of those typical shaft glimmers to keep my interest from time to time, while also very briefly tipping its hat to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei at one point and even bringing Tenma Tsukamoto and Harima from School Rumble into the cafe for a scene - If you get a kick out of this kind of thing, then that's another tick on the "reasons why episode two is better" check sheet for Natsu no Arashi.

Now that we have a story in place I have renewed hope that this series might not be such a dead loss after all - Yes, Hajime still gets on my nerves a bit, but with the background information that this episode provides I can at least see some potential storytelling diamonds shining from the rough start that this series provided. Whether those diamonds can be picked out by the show is another matter of course, but for now my patience has been refreshed so I'm willing to wait and see where Natsu no Arashi can take us next.

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 1

It's probably fair to say that the slice of life, school-based series has been done to death by now, but that doesn't mean that we won't lap up more of the same when it's well done. With that in mind, along comes Hatsukoi Limited, a series based on a manga which tells the tale of a number of middle school girls and their lives and loves.

This opening episode follows the opening chapter of the manga pretty closely, focusing our attentions on Ayumi Arihara, a girl who dreams of being swept off her feet by a guy like some kind of princess - A dream world which extends to her idea that she's happily accept anyone at all who confesses to her as it would be such a wonderful moment in her life.

While this is a wonderful idea to be applauded in theory, real life doesn't quite work like that, as Ayumi soon discovers when she is confessed to by Misao Zaitsu, a high school student and a near-literal monster of a man - The kind of person who is more likely to terrify than impress the ladies when he walks by. So, Ayumi is left with a dilemma - Accept the feelings of this "beast" and be done with it or reject him and possibly face his wrath? This decision only becomes more difficult as he begins to follow her around everywhere, and worse Ayumi develops a crush on Misao's (far less monstrous) brother.

It's too early to sat too much about Hatsukoi Limited just yet, as from this single episode we've only really gotten to know a few characters, and only Ayumi of the main set of girls the series is based around has been given any real screen time. Still, despite all this what we have here is a pretty fun and solid start to the series - There's a lot to like about Ayumi in her own way (fan service aside), and the story for this first episode had enough laughs and general amusement to hold my interest as well as the manga managed, which seems like a good starting point. I very much doubt this is going to become some kind of seminal slice of life series, but with any luck it'll make a better fist of it than the likes of Hyakko, and it certainly appears to have stronger source material to build upon from what I've seen.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Basquash! - Episode 2

The first episode of Basquash! quite simply blew my mind, seemingly snatching the best bits of various series from Eureka Seven through to Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and doing it all in a beautifully polished and compelling fashion. Making an impressive opener is the easy part though, so can the series continue to hold my attention?

After destroying the local stadium, and pretty much putting an end to the bankability of Big Foot Basketball as a whole, "Dunk Mask" has served his year of jail time and is a free man at last. What a difference a year makes though, as Dan finds himself walking into a much-changed world. For starters, he's become a legend thanks to his shenanigans, swamped by adoring fans looking for an autograph while Big Foot Street Basketball has become the sport of the moment. Even the girls are after him... Well, one girl in particular, serving him up with a bunch of flowers upon his release.

However, being a legend won't pay the bills, and boy does Dan have a hefty bill to pay, with the total damage he caused to the stadium and corporate interests adding up to more zeros than you can throw a giant basketball at. There's only one thing for it - Dan is going to have to suck up his legendary status and get a job. The work comes easily enough for him though courtesy of Miyuki, who sets up a home delivery Bigfoot service that becomes hugely popular after some initial teething troubles that adds to Dan's debt. However, like all good ideas others quickly catch on to it, and Dan soon has some serious rivalry in terms of both home delivery and his own street cred - Competition from a surprising quarter to boot...

It would be unfair to expect episode two of Basquash! to live up to the first, but once again the first thing that becomes apparent about the series is that it oozes polish, from the excellent use of CG through to the fantastic backdrops and artwork (with a passing nod to Fallout 3 at one point I thought). Plot-wise, things carry on moving at an excellent pace, keeping things interesting by delving into the injury which has crippled Coco and why Dan is so desperate to reach the Moon as well as giving us a tiny glimpse of Miyuki's past. Even without these flashbacks to fill in the blanks, the story remains compelling, blending humour, action and half-decent dialogue to keep this series is running as one with both savvy and attitude in equal measure. How this will pan out over twenty-six episodes I have no idea, but I continue to have a very good feeling about this series as a potential big hit - If you haven't check it out already, it really is well worth watching.

Saki - Episode 2

The opening episode of Saki certainly did a good job of demonstrating the protagonist of this series' talent, as we saw Saki herself ratcheting up a number of ±0 against all the odds. Unfortunately, the series did less of a good job in helping me figure out how the Hell you play Mahjong - The again, that isn't really the point of the series, so it is duly forgiven.

Anyway, in order to obtain access to some books that she wants, and against her will, Saki has agreed with the club's president to play another game of Mahjong, except this time the very same president plays a bit of a sneaky trick on her, asking her to imagine that she's playing with a points handicap against all of the other players. She duly does this, and once again pulls off some near-impossible moves to end up with ±0, at which point the bombshell is dropped - The president asked her to imagine she was playing with a points handicap, not to actually play with one. Recalculate the scores and we find that Saki has won by a handsome margin.

This state of affairs sends ripples of emotion through both Saki herself (who comes to realise that winning can be enjoyable) and Nodoka, who can't stand to be beaten, not least by someone who previously confessed to not even liking the game. Conflicted feelings all around as a result of this then, but it isn't enough to prevent Saki from catching the Mahjong bug, and come the end of this episode she becomes an official member of the club. What will this mean for the Saki-Nodoka relationship?

There's something eminently amusing about the way Saki handles itself, from the Mahjong titles that spark and shoot lightning to the magical girl-esque moment between Saki and Nodoka, all of which is topped off by the straight faced drama that the series somehow manages to bring forth from what basically amounts to a board game. Yet, no matter how much I tell myself how ridiculous the whole thing is, I can't deny that it's actually quite enjoyable to watch. Yes, I don't know how the actual games of Mahjong work, but seeing a game in progress is oddly compelling, and Saki herself has a kind of mysteriously likeable quality to her which keeps the show ticking over in this episode. This can't quite be said for Nodoka however, who aside from being a bad loser also suffers the ignomony of being top-notch fan service fodder - Yes Gonzo, we have noticed that she has huge mammaries, we don't need them shoved in our face every other frame.

Pointless fan service aside, Saki could well end up as an unlikely hit with me - It isn't too demanding, and despite its attempts at drama it all remains pretty bright and breezy to keep me entertained thus far. It's probably better than spending half an hour actually learning to play Mahjong, that's for sure.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 12 (Completed)

As the start of the last episode of Shikabane Hime: Kuro looked to bring the time of the Shikabane Hime themselves to an end, so the end of that very same episode brought them redemption, as those with a close enough bond with the world and their contracted priests found their energy and abilities restored, allowing them to fight on.

This state of affairs of course turned the tide quite substantially against Shichisei, with some of them defeated within minutes of this final instalment, leaving Akasha and Hokuto (now Akasha's own Shikabane Hime) leading the line in their ever-decreasing hope of victory. While this pairing look to be about to beat Makina and Ouri, so the arrival of Sadahiro turns the tide, as they turn their attentions to Akasha's real weak point - His heart. By attacking his former, now entombed, Shikabane Hime, and reminding him of his love for her as a result, Akasha's bond to Hokuto is broken, leaving her alone and none too happy about it. Hokuto does, however, manage to escape, albeit not for long...

From here, this final episode tidies up a few lose ends, settles the question of Makina and Ouri's future plans, and then leaves us with oddly unsatisfying ending, as Makina takes on Hokuto once again. Does she win? Does she die? Do they all give up and decide to go to McDonalds instead? Who knows, thanks to the open-ended closing scene of the show, but the suggestions seems to be that this is a battle that won't end any time soon.

So, Shikabane Hime has come to end, with its Kuro-labelled second half both suffering and impressing in many of the same ways as Aka did. Having done so much to build up the story in the first half of the show as a whole, I was expecting a faster start to Kuro than that which eventually manifested itself, as things became rather ponderous for a while, but once it got into the swing of its major storyline then it delivered far more consistently in terms of action and pacing. While the horror potential of the series often (disappointingly in my book) took a back seat, when it did come to the fore it was often excellently done, with episode nine in particular getting all of its ducks in a row to offer up one of the best individual episodes of anime I've watched in the past year. It's highlights like that which perhaps make you realise that this series wasn't all that it could and indeed should have been, but come the end of it all Shikabane Hime remained engaging enough to be watchable and, more importantly, enjoyable throughout. It was no classic, but were I to drop dead tomorrow I wouldn't be coming back as a Corpse based upon the regret of having watched this series.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Eden of the East - Episode 1

I think it's fair to say that Saki Morimi is having one of those weird days. A trip to Washington DC to take a look at the White House looks set to turn into a disaster as she's spotted throwing something onto the Presidential lawn by a couple of cops, but the next thing she knows she's been rescued by a gun-toting naked man. If that doesn't qualify as weird, then I don't know what does.

In return for saving her, Saki lets said naked guy borrow her jacket, only to realise that she's left her passport in there, meaning that she has to chase after him to retrieve it. After catching up with him, she ends up (via the Japanese embassy) at the airport ready to fly home to their native country - But just what is going on back in Tokyo?

Meanwhile, our aforementioned naked guy is having a bit of a crisis of his own, suddenly finding himself naked with a gun but no memory. Thankfully the location of his home is programmed into his phone, but upon his arrival there it appears to be some kind of terrorist hideout. Well, the guy certainly thinks like a terrorist, disposing ingeniously of some fake passports and evading some police questioning in an... err.... irregular fashion.

So goes the first episode of Eden of the East, and I have to admit that it seems quite strangely compelling from this opener. Production values of the series seem high from this first glimpse (well, it is a Production I.G. show) from the use of Oasis on the opening theme through to the employment of proper American voice actors to portray the Americans within this episode. That aside, the story itself has plenty of room to be intriguing thanks to our mystery man, as we're already thick with questions surrounding who he is and who he was working for. Despite all the questions, this episode doesn't lose its light-hearted touch either though, with some nice little set pieces to give you a laugh away from the pure, simple absurdity of it all.

Overall then, like so many series Eden of the East (or Higashi no Eden if you want to use the Japanese title) could swing either way as far as its quality and interest level goes at this juncture, but from this opener it's looking like a keeper if you ask me - There's plenty to like from episode one.