Sunday, 31 May 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 9

After arguably spending a little too much time on Jun's gender issues in recent episodes, Natsu no Arashi has clearly decided that it's time for some "serious business". Well, as serious as you can get with Shaft working on a series, which means sneaking in the girls from Hidamari Sketch in a cafe scene and a prolonged and drawn-out mention of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei which still made me laugh and cheer at the same time when the inevitable catchphrase came.

Anyhow, as the episode begins yet again the discussion of taking food beyond its sell-by date back to the past to make it edible arises, and again Kaya tries to explain why this isn't possible. This conversation soon branches out into even more scientific and philosophical territories, with discussions of time paradoxes and parallel universes sprinkled throughout - I love this kind of stuff, so it was most satisfying to see it discussed here in terms of the series time-travelling premise. However, Arashi perhaps isn't so happy to hear this particular discussion, as it raises questions about the consequences of her going back in time to save victims of World War II bombing raids which she'd rather not ponder. However, this particular question does have a poignant and sweet ending, which occurs during a brief jaunt back to the mid-1980s for Hajime and Arashi.

That aside, the end of this episode makes real progress on moving the story forward in some interesting ways, as Yayoi and (more notably) Kanako get some proper screen time beyond mere comic relief to book-end this episode, and leaving us with a proper, full-on cliffhanger for the first time in this series.

For all its variable quality between episodes, this was most definitely another strong instalment for Natsu no Arashi - I've already mentioned how much I appreciate all the talk about the theories behind time travel, but even beyond that I'm fascinated by what Kanako is going to bring to the story and Arashi's heart-warming meeting with a young boy in 1985, and her reaction to it, was a truly sweet little moment. It does make wish that every episode of Natsu no Arashi could be more like this though - If every instalment had blended the elements on show here from its philosophical depths through to its cheeky cross-referencing of other anime, then this could have been quite a classic rather than the hit-and-miss affair it's largely been.

Kannagi - Episode 14 DVD special (Completed)

When Kannagi finished airing at the back end of last year, I had high hopes for the open-ended finale to the series as a gateway to a second season - However, those hopes were dampened a little by the announcement of this DVD-only "episode fourteen", which looked set to be the proper end to the show. Well, it turns out that my hopes for a second season aren't completely dashed after all, as this offering is very much a stand-alone episode rather than any kind of attempt to carry on from where episode thirteen left off.

This episode begins with Takako finding 100,000 Yen laying on the roadside (like you do), and being the honest person she is, she immediately... takes the money to all of the members of the art club to decide how best to spend it. Well, when I say decide, Takako has already decided that they have to use the money to make a movie, the only question is regarding what its content should be. Everyone has a different idea of what they want out of the project, from romance to action, which leaves Akiba with the difficult task of writing a script which shoehorns in everyone's preferences. Amazingly, it still ends up being better than Shangri-la.

With the script ready, cue a first half that takes plenty of cues from that infamous episode zero of The Melcanholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and to be honest it's the kind of scenario which never fails to crack me up - Ridiculous make-up, terrible acting and some distinctly inappropriate camera angles all add to a pretty amusing little segment of the episode. However, before long the rain closes in, bringing almost typhoon-like conditions and sending the assembled cast back to the school for shelter. Wet uniforms are soon discarded for swimsuits (you weren't expecting a DVD-only episode of Kannagi without fan service were you?), and with that done this bunch of boys and girls do what any bunch of teenagers left alone and dressed in very little do... They play retro video games. Even this is lost when a blackout occurs, leaving us with an end to the episode which would have proved far more worthy of filming as a movie than Akiba's clumsy script.

After Kannagi finished airing, I questioned to myself whether I'd still care about it six months down the line, but the glimmers of a western DVD release and this bonus episode have proved that I actually do. I mentioned in my closing thoughts for the series proper that Kannagi has been impressive in its ability to turn tired old concepts into genuinely funny moments, and that thought appeared once again with this episode's ability to turn its "filming a movie" scenario into something worthy of a few laughs. Things only got better as the episode wore on, and although the animation quality for this instalment was pretty ropey in general terms this turned out to be a pretty amusing episode all in all - Not a classic by this series reckoning I have to admit, but good enough to be an entertaining watch, and (of course) a must-see episode for Kannagi fans. Is this a good time to say "roll on a second series" again?

Saki - Episode 9

After that episode of pointless filler last time around, we finally get down to the real business of the tournament's final qualifying round in episode nine of Saki, with Yuuki once again first up to lead the way.

The trouble is, and in her typical style, Yuuki's lack of preparation means that she doesn't have enough tacos to hand to last through her leg of the match - A potentially disastrous state of affairs made worse by the solitary taco that Yuuki did bring along being snaffled by one of her opponents. Thus, we see a disastrous performance from her for the first half of her leg, and even the appearance of Kyoutarou with fresh tacos doesn't change things much, as Yuuki continues to be thrashed out of sight.

However, at this point an odd thing happens, as Kazekoshi's one-eyed (well, kind of.. I suppose "lazy-eyed" might fit the bill a little better) wonder Mihoko Fukuji steps up to the plate and starts helping Yuuki, clearing the path for her to snag plenty of points from her opponents. Of course, Yuuki is entirely taken in by this act of charity until Mihoko starts turning her wrath against Yuuki as well, simply using her to turn the tide before going all out to claim victory in this opening leg for her school. Impressive stuff by any measure, although come the end of this episode we get a glimpse at some even greater forces about to come into play.

After complaining about the complete lack of Mahjong action in the last episode, I can't really be too harsh on this instalment as it at least managed to sate those desires throughout the vast majority of its running time - I still don't really get what's happening to any great degree, yet watching the game unfold still proves to be a fascinating and rather exciting experience. For such mercies I'm willing to gloss over the "tacos as superpower" stupidity of Yuuki's schtick, not to mention the whole "Sharingan"-esque powers of Mihoko Fukuji - Two aspects of this series that make it utterly, utterly daft, yet oddly still no less fun to watch once they actually break out the Mahjong tiles.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Eden of the East - Episode 8

If the end of the last episode of Eden of the East left you feeling a little bit confused, then the beginning of this one really won't help matters, with the so-called "Johnny Hunter" flying away with one of Akira's so-called "Johnnies" before tearing it to shreds. Thankfully though, this is simply a nightmare experienced by Akira before he comes round, although how he could imagine such a thing when he seemed to be unconscious at the time when something similar happened is another matter.

Anyhow, what is important is that Ohsugi is indeed safe and sound, making a reappearance in the morning and at least somewhat explaining the situation, although something still seems rather fishy with the whole story to me - Who knows what's going on there though. Meanwhile, Hanako has seemingly spent some more money clearing up the mess from the night before and keeping the police at bay, meaning that she's still at large out there somewhere.

However, the main focus of this episode is Akira's wish to get the second Seleção phone that he has in his possession working again - Something he asks the Eden of the East crew to look into before they point him in the direction of Itazu Yutaka, or "Panties" as he's known to his friends (one of those wonderful Japanese plays on words, decidedly similar to the Nozomu Itoshiki's transformation into "Mr. Despair"). Itazu is a NEET in every sense of the world, who gave up on going outside when he lost his last pair of trousers (as you would) and has spent the last two years putting his thoughts into various strange goings-on and conspiracy theories, meaning that he ends up getting on more than a little well with Akira, who has at least some of the answers he seeks. Meanwhile, and with some help from the Eden of the East search engine, Ohsugi makes a shocking discovery about who Akira really is... or rather, all of the people he has been. Just what is in Akira's past? Whatever it is, there's clearly a lot of it, and it isn't all entirely legal.

I have to confess that I still feel rather unsatisfied with the way the whole Ohsugi crisis was put to bed in this episode - Knowing the deliberate fashion that Eden of the East has employed in almost everything it's done so far I'm hoping there's a good reason for it, but right now (and I'm probably missing something that somebody will give me a slap for in the comments section) there's a slightly deus ex machina-ish feel to that particular situation. Still, beyond that this series seems to now be turning its focus more and more towards Akira himself rather than the Seleção system he's part of - It appears there is much more to the guy than even the suggestion that he was responsible for "Careless Monday" can hold, and it's also making us question his motives at this current time. From his actions ever since wiping his memory, Akira has seemed like nothing other than a stand-up guy fighting for justice and to escape from the insane world he's been plunged into by his selection as a Seleção, but who knows what he's really planning or capable of? The thought of all this is so intriguing, it seems impossible to believe it'll all be resolved in the next three episodes...

Friday, 29 May 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 21

If things were looking a little ropey for Kirkwood as of the last episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, they get worse still here as yet still more forces look to destroy the colony, this time in the form of a decision by the Lunar Congress to blow the thing to smithereens before the threat from Nerval becomes too great for the rest of the universe.

Meanwhile, Benkei manages to achieve his goal of retrieving Leopard's "crown", skimming the surface of the sun in a death-defying stunt to rescue the dormant space station that it consists of, but at what cost to Tsutsuji. Honoka is also having problems, between her own ailments and a two-pronged attack from Takane and a semi-recovered Nami. With Honoka seemingly despatched however, the ever-more unhinged Nami turns her wrath on Takane in an arguably rather foolish fashion, which could well have dire consequences for them both.

The real story in this episode however is the fall and rise of Akiha - After becoming trapped in a box set aside for her a couple of episodes back, her attempts to escape subside as she realises just how cosy and simple her new life is - She can eat and drink whatever she likes, she only has to listen to or think about who or what she wants to, and anything upsetting can simply be filtered out. If this isn't a commentary on Japan's NEET and hikikomori problem then I don't know what is, with the entire situation being clearly analogous to locking yourself in your home and communicating only via the Internet - Of course, in the end Akiha overcomes her doubts thanks to friendship and the simple pleasure that entails. Cue lots of anti-social Japanese otaku pondering where they can find their own floating, yellow friend with a penchant for ancient vehicles.

Talking of Imoko, the end of the episode presents us with possibly the most tear-jerking scenes ever conceived featuring the aforementione floating yellow... thing, as she takes a brave decision to save both Akiha and Kirkwood from what seems to be certain annihilation. A pretty surprising end to another well-paced and reasonably entertaining episode, that continues to deliver on the possibilities that this series has set out ever since it got into the swing of what initially threatened to be an overly convulted plot crammed full with too many characters. I don't know how they've managed it, but they've got it to work, leaving Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo continuing down its most enjoyable path.

K-ON! - Episode 9

While the light music club's start of year drive to recruit new members could hardly be described as a resounding success, their live performance did at least have enough of a positive effect to generate a solitary newcomer to the club - Azusa Nakano. Despite her shy and slight demeanour, there can be little doubt that Azusa is serious about her music, quickly proving herself to be a far more proficient guitarist than Yui - But how will she fit in with the lethargic and laid-back pace of the light music club?

The answer is; not all that well, with poor Azusa taking up the role of Mio-lite for much of the episode as the other girls fuss over her and decorate her with cat ears and the like, paying little heed to her desire to simply pick up a guitar and play. Just what was it that attracted her to this bunch of layabouts anyway? Even Azusa can't figure it out, and it's only Mio who seems to understand her concerns as she tries her best to point out the problem to her band-mates with little success. With Azusa becoming increasingly disillusioned with the lack of work ethic amongst the light music club, are they going to lose her membership entirely?

It feels like I've said this a few times before already during the duration of this series, but the first half of this ninth episode of K-ON! was easily the funniest of the bunch so far, from Yui's attempts to play "Senpai" to young Azusa from her cake deficiency-related collapse after just seconds of playing the guitar. The playful nature of this half of the episode fits in beautifully with the entire feel of this series, and even my worries about turning Azusa into "just another Mio" didn't stop me enjoying it thoroughly.

From there, this instalment's second half took on perhaps the most melancholy tone the series has seen so far (albeit in its own slightly fluffy way), doing a surprisingly good job of pulling together some real feeling towards Azusa and her predicament, before reaffirming what is really this show's core "message" (although you can hardly pinpoint K-ON! as the kind of series to proletyse anything) - That it doesn't matter how talented you are, if you enjoy what you do and do it with people who enjoy it (and each other's company) just as much, then that dynamic will pay off and make you successful. It's a nice sentiment and one I can't argue with (if what you do is fun, you're all but guaranteed to do better at it), although being lazy but enjoying it isn't really the best career advice I can think of whether you're in a band or... I dunno, some kind of wannabe web journalist. Ahem.

Anyway, all that aside, this was another fun episode and thoroughly enjoyable to watch (that hilarious first half particularly), although why oh why are KyoAni so afraid of showing the girls actually playing their instruments? Once again we find ourselves cutting away from the "action" almost every single time an instrument was put to proper use - Come on guys, take a deep breath and get animating those band sequences! You've done it perfectly well when you've really had to, so don't be shy...

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 20

As this twentieth episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo begins, things aren't looking all that great for the "good guys" of this series, with Akiha captured and "box-ified", leaving Leopard largely weaponless, whilst meanwhile Honoka is clearly suffering in the health department.

However, Kazane Shishidou is a woman who has made a career out of getting the job done no matter what, and with a little nous, manipulation and swift-thinking, she soon gets things in place to try and put them back on the front foot. That means letting Itsuki make her way to Kirkwood to look for Akiha with some help from Level Free, while Benkei and Tsutsuji are set to work retrieving some important hardware to "upgrade" Leopard (while also, unbeknownst to them, acting as bait). Despite her failing health, even Honoka offers to do her bit, as Professor Fon's help becomes vitally important once again.

Luckily, things aren't going entirely smoothly for Nerval either - While Nami may still be working hard to box up as much of Kirkwood's populace as possible, an error of judgement puts them into a dangerous situation which ends in a rather shocking fashion...

When this series manages to find and keep its focus, it has to be said that it really becomes a rather compelling watch, and this particular episode is probably one of the better examples of this - While there's a lot going on in disparate locations and with various characters, it's all handled seamlessly and with pacing that keeps things flowing without descending into confusion. After considering dropping the series once or twice early on as "nothing special", I'm finding myself glad that I persevered with this show - Sure, it's still no classic of its time, but it's turned out to be really pretty entertaining now it's found its feet, and I'm looking forward to seeing how these final half dozen episodes pan out.

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 8

They say that curiosity killed the cat, and this old adage almost proves true for Faldio, Welkin and Alicia in episode eight of Valkyria Chronicles, as their little sightseeing trip to the Barious ruins takes a decidedly unexpected turn.

It isn't every day that you run into an Azure witch and the Empire's commander-in-chief, but this is exactly what happens here, with our intrepid trio crossing paths with Selvaria and the object of her protection, Maximilian. As per usual though, it seems that no situation will prevent Alicia from acting rashly, as she pulls a gun on the pair despite the obvious dangers that such a situation might bring about.

However, with Maximilian refusing to pursue the matter any further, it appears that the danger is over... That is, until the Empire shells the building, causing it to crumble with all three Gallian soldiers still inside. This leaves Faldio and Alicia trapped together, with Welkin's whereabouts unknown, giving them just enough time to pad out the episode with some reminiscences about Welkin's youth and time at University before they're found and brought to safety, thanks to Welkin's knowledge of lizards. No, really.

All in all, I have to confess I was expecting a little more from this episode, which left it as a pretty passable attempt that really didn't move things along as much I was expecting. To be honest I'm still trying to fathom out how both Welkin and Faldio were left trapped beneath rocks for periods of time, only to come out with a couple of cuts between them - Do these guys have bones of steel or something? Perhaps they've somehow inherited Alicia's quick-healing abilities by osmosis I suppose.

Having not played the PlayStation 3 game I'm not too sure where the series is headed next, but I'm starting to feel a little wary that it may be preparing to jump off at the deep end into the realms of magic and generally unbelievable goings-on - Probably not something I should fret about too much given the show's unrealistic depiction of war, but I don't much fancy seeing it dip further into flights of fancy.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 7

Continuing what is virtually a character by character tour, episode seven of Hatsukoi Limited introduces us properly to Dobashi, the quietly confident girl who shocks Kei at the beginning of the episode by admitting that yes, she is dating the guy with the glasses who we saw briefly last episode.

From here, we're regaled as to how this relationship between Dobashi and Terai (the boy in question) developed, from Dobashi coaching him to try and improve his abjectly awful tennis skills, and in the process sowing the seeds of a burgeoning love story. Of course, such things never run smoothly, and this is a particular problem in this case on account of the two personalities in question - While Dobashi is clearly quietly driven and not afraid to speak her mind, her general demenour makes her (and particularly her feelings) incredibly hard to read, meaning that people either get the wrong idea or are intimidated by her. Indeed, I'd say that Terai suffers here on both counts, unable to progress their relationship himself on account of his low self-esteem and generally slightly shy personality.

As this troubled pair boil away in the background, we do get some brief segues away from them, grabbing a little of the aftermath of Kei and Kusuda's Christmas Eve as they both seem rather smitten with the other's Christmas gift, while Koyoi delivers us a frankly hilarious New Year shrine visit with her brother, where she disparages herself for wishing for world peace over bigger breasts after a close encounter with Yamamoto's cleavage, which gets her fretting about her "love rivalry" regarding her hapless brother all the more.

If there's one thing to be said about Hatsukoi Limited, it's that it certainly isn't content to simply stick to the samey, cut and dried relationships posited by many school-based series, giving us everything from an unrequited dose of sisterly love (a direct counterpoint of the occasionally used anime fantasy of a cute sister seducing her brother) to that intriguing situation between Kei and Kusuda which has caused quite some discussion on other 'Blogs. In terms of said relationships, the one portrayed here between Dobashi and Terai is perhaps the most fascinating of the lot to me personally, as I found myself appreciating both Dobashi's focused yet mysterious nature and Terai's cheerful yet shy approach to things. Despite Kei's shocked reaction, the more you look at it the more sensible it becomes that this is the show's first successful coupling - Although she may not always announce it clearly, Dobashi clearly knows what she likes and what she wants, appreciating Terai's efforts where many others wouldn't, while Terai's quiet but caring nature actually balances quite nicely with Dobashi's willingness to say what she's thinking (if not what she's feeling). Perhaps it's just because I see a little bit of myself in both characters, but the end of this episode left me smiling, and it was actually genuinely good to see a relationship in this show coming to a resolution (or at least a very definite progression), something which doesn't happen often enough in anime in an attempt to keep the viewer coming back for more.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 18

Episode eighteen of Hetalia: Axis Powers could probably be subtitled "How to cut animation costs", succeeding as it does to use almost exactly the same scenes twice (and in some places three times) effortlessly. Thankfully, that doesn't actually detract from the fact that this was a pretty funny episode in terms of this particular series.

With Germany, Japan and Italy stranded on a beach (sorry, that sounds like the beginning of a dirty joke), they find themselves surrounded by the Allies, who seem to have treated the fight as something akin to Pokemon, but never mind. This actually gives us a rare action scene for this series... Twice as it happens, as China is sent into to do his worst to those dastardly Axis characters whilst wielding some kind of frying pan.

However, in a surreal and frankly rather funny twist, their efforts are put to an end by the appearance of a giant Roman Empire, who regales all and sundry with a ridiuclous song which sends the Allies into retreat. Twice. Well, it made me laugh anyway, although I really have no idea what that song was all about. Pretty funny stuff in its own random way.

Summer 2009 anime preview

I've not typically been one to sit down and compile lists and information about new seasons of anime and what shows will be featured in them, but I figured that it's about time I started, and so over the Bank Holiday weekend I've compiled a full run-down of the Summer 2009 season for UK Anime, discussing all of the shows to be broadcast alongside YouTube previews and trailers wherever possible.

If you want to check out the preview article in full, you can find it here:

Monday, 25 May 2009

Shangri-la - Episode 8

At the end of the last episode and after a tough spell in prison, Kuniko was faced with a terrible fate - She has to star in the remainder of Shangri-la. Of course not.. well, she does, but that wasn't the fate delivered to her. Instead, she finds herself sentenced to death, with seemingly no means of escape apart from the Metal Age guys digging some ridiculously long tunnel with a few shovels - I wouldn't want to hold my breath waiting for them to arrive.

Thank goodness then that the prison where Kuniko is held contains the most incompetent prison guards and security known to Man - Guards more than willing to give inmates dynamite in return for a quick grope, guards who allow inmates to run off into the woods with kettles and mirrors, and perhaps most incredibly of all guards who let inmates sew together and bury a huge frickin' patchwork hot air balloon under the prison's exercise yard! I have a feeling these generic guards would struggle to get a job even working for Dr. Evil as predictable henchmen, but obviously "no qualifications required" is a staple part of the job application process for this particular prison.

Given this kind of lackadaisical security, it's hardly surprising that Momoko and Kuniko's grandmother really didn't give a monkeys about her forthcoming execution, easily slipping her some lipstick containing nanowire to aid with her escape from the firing squad - I guess it's a bit more innovative than a hacksaw in a cake, at least. All they were really missing was a CD of Yakety Sax for her to play while the guards were fumbling around and being generally useless.

Of course, at this point you'll probably be pointing out that it appears that Ryoko and company wanted Kuniko to escape and show her ingenuity, and you might have a point, but that still didn't make the whole thing feel any less laughably weak to me - If you want to give Kuniko a challenge, at least present to be vaguely competent.

Come to thing of it, laughably weak seems to sum up this episode pretty well, it's the kind of thing that would have even MacGuyver shaking his head in shame. Not only that, but this episode didn't even bother trying to ramp up the obvious tension that should have surrounded Kuniko's death row status - The blase attitude of those closest to her might as well have been a printed message on the screen saying "SPOILER: SHE ESCAPES", which made the entire farcical build-up to said escape a complete waste of time. Now that the balloon has been dug up, I wonder if there's space to bury the rest of this series in the prison yard wherenobody will find it?

Basquash! - Episode 8

Dunk Mask and company may be on the run after their shenanigans which pretty much put paid to Open City Basketball last episode, but as far as Haruka is concerned that's all part of the business plan as they take to the road looking for new matches to particpate in. Little do they realise that Princess Flora is following close behind, keen to join them on their travels.

Flora eventually ends up managing to meet Dan and company, althoug hardly in optimal circumstances, being knocked unconscious by some escaping Basquash players who had had enough of Iceman Hotty's "over-zealous" style of play.

It's this issue which makes up the crux of the remainder of the episode, as Iceman runs into some of his former team-mates who have a score to settle with him, finally giving Haruka the chance to arrange the match she had been so desperate to secure. Once again though, Iceman Hotty's behaviour threatens to destroy everything both figuratively and literally - Just what is he playing at? Despite the guy being clearly unstable, it seems that not everything he does is impenetrably insane.

All things considered, I think this may well have been the best episode of Basquash! so far - It was frequently funny throughout, and there was plenty of Basquash action to enjoy throughout the second half of the episode - What's not to like? Aside from Iceman Hotty, Princess Flora is also proving to be more and more of an enigmatic presence, but the inter-relationships and verbal jousting between various characters is highly entertaining even without this. Once again the visual aesthetic and top-notch animation of the series serves as a cherry on the top of this hugely enjoyable show that seems to be really finding its groove again at the moment.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 8

Following their shocking discoveries last time around, the Elric brothers embark upon their investigation of Research Laboratory 5 in the hope of finding more evidence and information regarding the creation of a Philosopher's Stone... Of course, an investigation like that is never liable to go entirely to plan.

It isn't long at all before both Edward and Alphonse come up against impressive adversaries, all of which are former death row inmates who have been given "the Al treatment" - That is, their souls have been affixed to suits of armour. While this gives Ed a lot of problems in physical terms when it comes to fighting (not helped by issues with his Automail), Al's issues are more psychological, as his opponent hits upon the younger brother's deep seated paranoia about his existence. So, while both of them survive the ordeal, both are left damaged in their own different ways, while Ed also finds himself face to face with a couple of characters he'll soon become far more familiar with, before being saved from a collapsing laboratory by an unlikely source.

Overall, there isn't too much to say about this episode, serving as it does as a more action and fighting-centric offering than anything else, while sewing the seeds for an uncomfortable time between the Elric brothers as the fallout from this particular little adventure takes hold. That said, as action focused instalments go this worked pretty well, offering up some stylish action and keeping things simple without every letting anything drag on too long. Of course, much of this particular aspect of the series was extremely familiar to the original anime, so we're still very much following in the footsteps of that series in many ways, leaving us counting down the episodes until we can leave that road and turn off to our desintation marked "new stuff".

Eden of the East - Episode 7

Just when you think you've got your head around Eden of the East, what it's doing and where it's headed, along comes another episodes to blow most of your expectations our of the water again. So it goes with episode seven of this constantly surprising series.

After doing a deal with Akira last episode, the "Eden" development team now have more important fish to fry, namely locating the whereabouts of the missing Ohsugi who is continuing to enigmatically post for help from his current plight via an online bulletin board. The Eden of the East search engine does a fine job of pulling some more information for them to work with from the clues left by Ohsuhi itself, but of course Akira has an even more powerful tool at his disposal...

Thus we're left with the rather awesome scenario of Seleção fighting against Seleção, as Akira uses his status to track down Ohsugi and attempts to stop Roppongi Hanako from getting to him first. This results in an almost comical series of more grandiose requests from both parties, much like those kid's cartoons where two characters pull out bigger and bigger weapons against one another ad infinitum.

What Akira doesn't seem to have realised however (or has he?), is that he's left his phone on through much of what follows this battle of wits from a prior conversation with Saki, so as Akira meets and talks with the "Johnny Hunter" after tracking her down she hears everything. Who knows what this will mean for how this series develops down the line, but all I will say is that the climax to the episode is a literal mindfuck that really defies explaining or discussing at this point in time. Akira is turning out to be one very cunning guy though, that's for sure.

Yet again I know I'm going to risk sounding like an Eden of the East fanboy, but it continues to defy expectations at every turn - Indeed, this particular episode defies many things, not least the thought of only watching it once... I almost get the feeling that I have to watch this episode again just to get a complete and entire grasp on its ending. I suppose you could suggest that such a state of affairs is a sign of sloppy story-writing or plot development, but I'm not buying that - Instead I'd suggest that the story and the way it's presented is just so damn clever that you may need a second viewing to pick up on everything that you've missed before.

Once again then, Eden of the East is working well in so many ways, from its mysterious overtones right down to that ever-intriguing relationship between Akira and Saki, the latter of whom really nails her feelings to the wall in this episode in her reactions to events. Really, if you only watch one new series this year, I'm seriously starting to believe that Eden of the East should be it.

Saki - Episode 8

After getting their first game out of the way and setting the girls off to a winning start in their opener, I was looking forward to a quick leap forward to their next match to decide whether Kiyosumi can grab a place in the National finals.

Well, so much for that idea. I have no idea how any series can make an entire episode out of going home after a day at the tournament... Oh wait, yes I do, it's called filler, and episode eight of Saki is nothing if not full of filler. Beyond some brief forays into the Mahjong playing history of a couple of characters (most notably Nodoka) I can't really think of anything of much importance that was revealed here, and certainly nothing that justified an entire episode to itself. This instead left us with a rather dull instalment that was almost painful in the way it tried to drag things out with little to show for its running time.

Perhaps I'm just sore not have actually seen any Mahjong played here (as I've mentioned several times before I've found those sections to be surprisingly exciting), but to my eyes this seemed like pretty much the worst kind of filler, which served as nothing more than a big noticeboard that says "Hey, the important stuff is next episode, so come back next week". The contents of that noticeboard has been duly noted, and I'll certainly be looking forward to a return to the action next time around, but said noticeboard has no right to needlessly take up twenty minutes of my Sunday if you ask me.

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 8

Natsu no Arashi continues upon its variable way courtesy of episode eight, returning more towards the comedy-based roots that kicked off the series in its opening instalment... Albeit funnier than that particular offering, thankfully.

Once again, Jun's gender is at the centre of much of the comedy on show, although not before a quite frankly hilarious discussion regarding whether out of date milk will be safe to drink if you take it back in time to before it went out of date - There's some twisted logic in there somewhere, and Arashi and Sayaka seem to possess it in spades.

That aside, the main body (Hmm, "body" is a pretty apt word for this instalment) of the episode involves a nasty accident which ends with Hajime and Jun swapping bodies. When this happened, I have to admit that I was the first to roll my eyes at the rolling out of this tired old plot device, but with Jun's gender such a well-kept secret there was of course plenty of room for humour. Thus, a trip to the toilet takes on a whole new and confused meaning for Hajime in Jun's body (culminating in the classic line "maybe you dropped them?"), while I could only laugh at the efforts of Jun in Hajime's body trying to convince Kaya not to talk to Jun about the secret that Hajime doesn't know about... It works better in the conventions of the episode than on paper, trust me.

So, despite using a concept as old as the hills to pass an episode (and I can't really complain about the lack of reality in a series about ghosts and time travel), somehow Natsu no Arashi manages to pass it off pretty well - It isn't the funniest thing you'll ever see, but it's probably the wittiest episode of this particular series thus far, and despite my preference for the show's time travelling, World War II adventures I still ended up enjoying this particular instalment, which keeps this series going as a little bit of a sleeper hit with me.

Friday, 22 May 2009

K-ON! - Episode 8

For some bizarre reason, K-ON! versus The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya seems to have turned into some kind of contest for some sections of anime fandom, and I can't for the life of me figure out why (KyoAni connection aside) - Could you pick two more different series to compare? Well, okay, you could, but you get more point, and we'll be having no such comparisons here thank you very much.

Anyway, episode eight of K-ON! brings us to the start of a new school year, which begins with some good news in the form of Ui joining her older sister's school. Not that you'd be able to tell which is the elder sister from the way the two behave, but never mind. The news is also good for most of the light music club in that they get to join the same class.... All except poor old Mio, who is left feeling isolated until she at least finds herself in the same class as Nodoka for company.

That aside, a new school year means it's time to try and recruit some new members for the club, an effort that you could say the light music club try entirely too hard at, largely thanks to some "help" from Sawako - Who knew that dressing in large animal costumes isn't the best way to attract members to the club? Luckily, the girls also have a performance up their sleeve to try and tempt some newcomers, giving us some actual footage of the girls performing this time around (no cut-aways to music videos here) right the way down to Yui's overly verbose attempt at MC'ing between songs. This performance hardly sets the world alight in terms of their recruitment drive, but it appears not to be a dead loss, attracting as it does an additional moe stereotype to add to their ranks.

I should probably create some kind of script to randomly enter the word "fun" into my entries about K-ON!, but fun is exactly what this series, and of course this episode, is all about. In terms of episode eight specifically it did have a few little laugh out loud moments, not least the song title "Love is a Stapler" (a title worthy of Spinal Tap if you ask me), while I have to continue to complement this series for giving the girls live performance a raw and unpolished air which suits the series far better than the perfection which normally greets us with such performances in anime - A much-appreciated touch of realism if you ask me, which actually adds to the character of the show without detracting so much from the fluffy yet reasonably competent tunes.

So, in closing - "Fun". Yes, K-ON! is still fun to watch, and that's all you need to know.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Season 2 - Episode 1 (aka Episode 8)

In case you've been trapped under a rock for the past twenty-four hours or so, and that rock has somehow blocked all Internet access and crushed your cell phone beneath its immense weight, allow me to be the first to tell you that Haruhi Suzumiya is back, back, back!!! In keeping with the typical kind of KyoAni and Kadokawa craziness when it comes to this franchise, a brand spanking new episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya has appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the current rerun of the original series on Japanese TV. In fairness, this all makes sense as this brand new episode, Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, actually takes its rightful place in the show's chronological order, although this means that we'll be returning to old episodes for a while again before any new Haruhi goodness comes our way.

Anyway, this particular episode has us join Haruhi and company on Tanabata, an occasion which Haruhi herself appears to have thought far too much about, calculating how long it would take the wishes which are typically made as part of this celebration to reach their respective Gods and using that as a basis for any wishes made. This state of affairs also seems to be most unsatisfactory to her, putting Haruhi into one of her legendary states of depression.

If only she knew of Mikuru Asahina's ability to travel through time... An ability that she has the need to show Kyon on this occasion, jumping back exactly three years in time with him. While present day Asahina seems to have little clue as to what's going on here (soon falling asleep in the process), furure Asahina knows exactly what is required, and before we know it present day Kyon is face to face with past Haruhi as she prepares to embark on creating her school ground signeage that was explained way back, right at the beginning of the story.

From here on in, the episode develops exactly the kind of mindfuck propensity that you'd expect from this series, as Kyon's interactions with Haruhi in this time appear to change her future, while Yuki Nagato's need to help Kyon and Mikuru return to their own time is equally mind-bending.

When a massive franchise like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya makes a big and much-hyper comeback like this, there's always a danger that it will fail to live up to that hype. At the risk of sounding like I've been swept away by the current wave of excitement, this new episode of the series doesn't disappoint at all after a slightly slow start - If anything, it's an utterly brilliant episode that not only fits into the chronology of the original series well but adds a lot to it into the bargain. I recently wrote a review for UK Anime of the original The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya light novel in which I posited that the concept of the franchise is of more important and interest than its (arguably quite shallow) characterisation, and I'd like to think that this episode proves the point I'm trying to make. Beyond the inevitable "moe elements" there's nothing hugely innovative or deep about Yuki, Mikuru or Haruhi, or even Kyon (however much I love his deadpan delivery), but once the actual story and the ideas behind it get moving it soon becomes utterly compelling. So it is with Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody, and so I find myself waiting impatiently for the next dose of new Haruhi to land upon our screens.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 19

Leopard may have lost his mirrors last time around, but buoyed by his reason success and surge in popularity, it doesn't take him long to track them down and grab them back, restoring him to full health... Well, somewhat at least.

Despite regaining those mirrors, he still hasn't restored power to all parts of the colony, leaving a fair few disgruntled refugees... However, such trifles are of no concern to Leopard, who is far more interested in rescuing Dead Leaves... sorry, Akiha... after her kidnapping at the hands of Aleida last episode. Regardless of those assertions however, the first half of this episode is more concerned with exploration of Leopard and getting things together within his colony (and not at all to do with seeing Kannagi wearing only a towel).

With that out of the way, we finally get to catch up with Akiha, and to a lesser extent Nami, who are rapidly becoming two sides of the same coin. That's not really Akiha's primary concern however, as she regains consciousness only to find herself trapped aboard Xanthippe amid a sea of boxes, leaving her to find an old friend only to be betrayed and left to what seems to be her inevitable fate.

After a first half that could arguably be described as slightly filler-esque, we get back into the swing of things for the second half of this episode, with Akiha and Nami both seeing the fruits of Nerval's plans, while the latter seems to be starting to form plans above and beyond her expected jurisdiction. As per usual with the series I have no idea what's going to happen next, but yet again I find myself looking forward to finding out a little more each and every time as the show develops.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 7

After impressing once again with its blend of modernity and World War II time travelling last episode, Natsu no Arashi anchors itself in the present day for the latest instalment of the series, while keeping its mind firmly affixed on Jun, Kaya and the relationship between them.

For starters, we finally find out how Jun ended up ressing as, and being mistaken for, a boy in the first place, although to be honest the more we see and learn of her the more appropriate her choice of attire becomes in a way. Indeed, much of this episode is once again Jun's struggle with her hatred for women and the way they behave, personified by some modelling friends who she meets out on a shopping trip.

However, it's these feelings which put her at ease with Kaya, a girl who is herself struggling with the modern world she now exists in which has thrown away all of her concepts of purity and "correctness", leaving her feeling frequently uncomfortable. This doubtless explains her connection to Jun, who seems to have a similar desire for purity herself, although it is the latter who now looks to drive Kaya on to admit her true feelings of love towards the man left behind in those fatal World War II air raids.

I'll be the first to confess that Natsu no Arashi is really at its best when it has that time-travelling, war-centric focus to juxtaposition with the more light-hearted troubles of modern life, and this means that when an episode lacks those features it simply becomes harder to really ramp up any enthusiasm towards it. While this episode wasn't bad by any stretch of the imagination, and worked to extend Jun and Kaya's characters further, it can't draw me into the kind of rapt, horrified fascination that the series trips back to war-torn Japan provided me with. They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder though, and it appears that this is true both of the object of Kaya's love and, in terms of Natsu no Arashi, the lack of jumping back to World War II Japan. No doubt when it happens next, I'll be all the more impressed for its lack in this particular instalment.

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 6

First K-ON! and now Hatsukoi Limited - It must be the week for Christmas-themed anime episodes. Much like K-ON!, that also means that the focus of the latest instalment of this particular series if also a Christmas party, albeit a hastily arranged one on Hiroyuki's part in an attempt to spend some time with Chikuru.

However, ignoring that particular pairing for the time being, this episode is all about Kei and Etsu Kusuda, acting as a continuation of the odd but budding relationship between the pair of them during the school festival episode a few weeks back. With those goings-on in mind, it's probably no surprise to say that this episode is full of misunderstandings between the pair of them, not helped at all by either Kei's acerbic tongue or Kusuda's propensity to sulk at any given provocation. The whole thing comes to a head when the two bump into one another while shopping for Christmas presents for the party, and the insults that fly as a result cast a shadow over the build-up to the party.

Just when it seems that things couldn't get any worse, the rest of the invitees to said party go AWOL for various reasons, leaving just Kei and Kusuda to spend Christmas Eve together. It's fair to say that this doesn't exactly go swimmingly, although it does at least end in some kind of awkward return to a vague understanding between the two of them.

While the whole relationship between this pairing couldn't be a more blatant case of opposites attract, and arguably a ridiculous one juding by the way Kei doesn't really seem to have pinned down any likeable characteristics of her object of interest, the two of them do actually work quite well together in their own odd kind of way - The pair of them clearly understand how the other's mind works (which is never a good thing when it comes to arguments, as it only ever causes the maximum amount of emotional damage to be dished out), while they both somewhat play off one another's weaknesses when it comes down to it. Thus, the normally "spoilt princess" that is Kei ends up eating at a downmarket restaurant and hanging out in a park, while Kusuda at last has someone to remind him to be a little more sensitive and thoughtful in his behaviour. Is this the start of something beautiful then? I very much doubt it.

Anyhow, now Hatsukoi Limited is getting into its groove it has improved notably, despite its propensity to drift into blatant fan service quite needlessly at times. Whether you can believe in any kind of dynamic or relationship between Kei and Kusuda here is probably a big factor in how you judge this episode, but despite my raised eyebrows at such a mismatch it works kind of well in its own eccentric way, and although I still think the series needs to give more meat to Kei's interest in Kusuda to at least explain her train of thought, beyond that the actual portrayal of a girl who tries to look and act mature but is still as much a lovestruck teenager as the next girl actually worked pretty well. I'm not sure whether there's much more life in that particular pairing, but it looks like we're moving on to pastures new in the next episode anyway.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 7

You'd have thought that the regular military in Valkyria Chronicles would have learned their lesson by now, but it seems that they're up to their same old tricks when it comes to handling the Militia. Thus, when it comes to attacking an important point, they bring in the "real soldiers" to handle the job, dumping Squads 1 and 7 on a scouting mission in the middle of nowhere in the process.

Of course, typically for both Welkin and Faldio, they really don't mind at all, and amidst the baking of break and card games the two squad leaders are involved in a heated discussion about Darcsen history, and the so-called "Darcsen Calamity" which occurred in the area they're patrolling around two thousand years ago. Equally typically for these two, this debate turns to action, as they head off (along with Alicia, Isara and Ramal) to take a look at what is left after this incident for themselves, a rather impressive monument built by the Valkyrur of that time.

However, the bad news for our heroes is that they aren't the only ones on a "sightseeing tour" of this ancient building - It seems that Lelouch vi Brittania is there as well. Oops, sorry, I mean it seems that Maximilian, no less than the Commander-in-Chief of the Empire is there too (it's so easy to get the two confused once Jun Fukuyama's booming voice enters the equation). It seems that the Empire have their own business with this monument, and inevitably the two groups end up meeting, with cliffhanger-tastic results. Lucky for Welkin and company that Isara and Ramal chose to stay behind to repair the vehicle that they were using...

I have to admit that, although I can't really call this a confusing episode at all, it does veer so far away from what we've become accustomed to with this series that it took a little getting used to, as we seem to be entering something of a realm of swords and magic rather than tanks and guns if this instalment is anything to go by. I'm not sure how I feel about that to be quite honest, so I'll reserve judgement until we see how it all pans out next episode. Still, I'm noticing more and more of Alicia's infectiously enthusiastic charm filtering through in this series, which is actually doing a lot to keep things going during those otherwise slower moments. I'm not too sure where the series is headed next (aside from beginning to explain the show's title), but I'm happy to sit patiently until next week to find out.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 17

After its big old deus ex machina moment last episode, linking together Kuro and Keita's Tera into some infinite loop, things only got even weirder as every non-Mototsumita or contractee passed out, seeing their Tera drained away by the reappearance of the Holy Land and, of course, Kuro's home.

Despite Keita's concerns about Akane's safety, and despite Yakumo's own injuries, both parties follow Kuro to the Holy Land in an attempt to investigate what's going on. Inevitably, this means the reappearance of some old faces which we probably weren't supposed to be expecting, but it was always pretty clear that they'd come back at some juncture, and this appears to be that time.

However, along the way they run across Nam, a Mototsumita assigned only to record history (which sounds like a pretty cushy job to me), and it is she that acts as narrator somewhat as we're given the full "creation story" of both humans and Mototsumita, right the way through to the advent of the Doppeliner system whichi turns out to be more about a curse than control. In short, the "God" of this world is named Masagami, and it is he who is locked away in the Holy Land, sparking a free-for-all amongst less desirable elements who wants his powers now that all Hell has broken lose in the world.

Thankfully, the quasi-religious stuff is soon knocked off as we get around to dealing with those aforementioned less desirable elements, courtesy of some more grandstanding action sequences - Not the best that this series has offered admittedly, but pretty entertaining in all fairness. While the religious angle doesn't really do much for Kurokami (aside from making the show's title make a little more sense), and while this isn't the best the show has given us in recent weeks (including in animation terms, with a bit of a drop in quality here), it does at least keep up the tradition held by the second half of this series of proving to be far more interesting and watchable than the first half dozen episodes. With all these returning characters too, there's doubtless going to be some big set pieces on the way in action terms too.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 17

The last couple of episodes of Hetalia: Axis Powers have been teasing us about this American-centric episode, so at last here it is, although it only gives us part of the "America's storage cleaning" story arc promised.

Indeed, this portion of the episode gets shoved to one side for a while by America's attempts to diet after notice that his continuous consumption of hamburgers isn't really doing his weight much good. A suggestion that Americans are overweight? I've never heard such a scurrilous rumour...

That aside, the main part of the episode deals with America's reminiscences of its history with England, from the good times through to its rebellious teenage phase, before coming across a scratched old musket. I'm sure you can see where this is headed if you know your history...

Not a particularly funny episode all in all, so I'm not sure what to say about it - Perhaps its just that the "fat American" jokes feel a bit tired to me though, so your mileage may vary.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Shangri-la - Episode 7

Tragedy, Compassion, Love, Hatred is the title of episode seven of Shangri-la - Well, I suppose two of those four words wouldn't look out of place in my discussions of this series thus far...

Anyway, after her various misdemeanours during the course of the series so far, I suppose it was only a matter of time before the various factions who have something of a dislike for Kuniko would go out to take her back into their custody, and that's exactly what happens at the very start of this episode. Quite why arresting a teenager needs the use of armoured trains and a veritable army is beyond me, even with Kuniko's abilities in mind, but better to be safe than sorry I suppose. However, this time she doesn't go to jail alone, as her friend Tomoka goes with her after slapping one of the men sent to arrest her - An act she commits for reasons we learn later in the episode, and which relate to Kuniko's last period of incarceration.

While Kuniko is expecting another easy ride in jail, it seems that plenty has changed since her last stay - Not least the frankly bizarre and entirely ridiculous introduction of Lady Ryoko as the prison warder, who I assume must have decided to take some time off being a company president to do some kind of job swap. If that isn't bad enough, Ryoko has obviously been watching too many bad war movies, and spends the entire episode dressed as some kind of Nazi prison warder - Only Shangri-la could do this kind of thing with a straight face.

So, the rest of the episode is all about Kuniko's prison hardships through to a shocking conclusion, while in the meantime her Metal Age friends have decided to rescue her from jail. By digging a tunnel. Using a couple of shovels. Jesus Christ you guys, she's going to be 400 years old by the time you've dug far enough to rescue her! Again, it appears that The Great Escape has been playing entirely too many times on Japanese TV, to the detriment of this series.

Really, I simply don't know what to say about this series beyond Ryoko in a Nazi prison warder uniform and Metal Age digging a tunnel to rescue Kuniko - Two items which could have come straight out of the cheesiest, most stupid Saturay morning cartoons imaginable, and two plot points which make light work of destroying any semblance of serious scripting or portraying the severity of Kuniko's situation. It's almost like this series wants to be some kind of laughing stock, but I fear that the truth is probably a pure and simple lack of imagination of the script writes and animation teams part, and it's really starting to show in a big way, further sacrificing what could have been an interesting series and story to the God of Cheap Stupidity.

Basquash! - Episode 7

Compared to the usual positive and agressive attitude put forth by Basquash! so far, the first half of episode seven proves to be an oddly subdued affair. Despite Dan being showered with diamonds and all but guaranteed a place in the Open City Basketball league, the living legend that is Dunk Mask is still unsure of his path, torn between his normal rebellious nature and the riches which would take him to the moon and repair his sister's legs with ease. But is that what Coco would really want?

It isn't just Dan who is feeling torn, as many of the other street basketball players are beginning to feel hard done by with the second phase of try-outs for Open City Basketball nearing, as they begin to realise that they are only there to be crushed by the professional Bigfoot Basketball players - A case of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss" if every there was one.

So the night of the try-outs swings around, and these concerns all prove to be well-founded, as the lawless street basketball of old gets turned into a "proper" game, complete with a court and rules, and calling pretty much everything the street basketball players try to do a foul. This is where Haruka steps in, putting paid to James Loan's plan with a cunning scheme of her own, while Dan delivers his verdict on James' offer and the prospect of playing Open City Basketball in his own inimitable style.

While the first half of this episode surprised me with its tone, that isn't to say that I disliked it - Far from it, Dan's inner turmoil about what to do actually proved itself to contain a rather emotional crux to it which caught me unawares, showing Basquash's rare and previously unseen sensitive side in all its glory. Of course, such introspection was never likely to last long, and come the end of this episode the series is back to doing what it does best, throwing all of its fury into the in-your-face anarchy that has been its hallmark so far. Impressed though I was by this instalment's soft centre, it's that tough anti-authoritarian streak delivered with style and panache that has made me love Basquash so far, and it's that side of this episode that had me swooning and its wonders in terms of both visuals and attitude once again here.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 18

It's time for another episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, and the action really is getting packed into each new instalment of this series these days. Episode eighteen is no exception, with plenty going on to keep the show's plot moving.

To be frank, after the appearance of Leopard just as Nami was about to attack the collected refugees from Kirkwood, I was expecting some grandiose battle between the two factions, but as soon as Nami sees Leopard materialise she cuts her losses and runs, referring to him as a "black God" (a name of which I'm sure he'd approve), despite Akiha's attempts to give chase. However, it isn't all good news for Leopard, as Bonapart uses the confusion to snatch a couple of Leopard's mirrors for his collection before disappearing off into space.

While the arrival of Leopard means a new home for Kirkwood's refugees, the bigger issue is persuading Leopard to reconnect to his colony, which he still point-blank refuses to do no matter what after his previous psychological trauma. Cue some hilarious attempts to persuade him to reconnect, before Akiha (with some prompting from Kannagi) finally manages to succeed by appealing to both his heartstrings and big head... well, and giving him a literal kick up the backside too.

With that problem solved, there's still plenty more to come, from an attack by Xanthippe and the abduction of Akiha, while it also appears that something is up with Honoka too...

At the moment Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo seems to be growing on me on a weekly basis as its storyline has grown and picked up the pace - Its overall plot and animation both continue to have a very "old-school" feel which has been appealing throughout, but we now have some seriously interesting story threads to complement that and make for a genuinely enjoyable and entertaining series rather than one which is watchable merely on account of its "kitsch" factor. It's no Code Geass, granted, but Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo is reaching the point where it can proudly stand on its own two feet as a decent little show in its own right.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 7

With their "wounds" healed, the Ed and Al are back on the road in their hunt for information about the Philosopher's Stone in episode seven of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, complete with the information given to them by Marco. However, it takes scant seconds on this episode to see that potentional information disappear before their very eyes.

In short, the Central Library has been razed to the ground by the Homonculus, who have clearly decided that the Elric brothers were getting a little too close to their goal. However, they reckoned without the former librarian Sheska, whos passion for books and former employ of the Central Library means that she remembers the tome containing Marco's research in its entirety. It turns out that this book is simply filled with recipes, but Edward soon realises that there's more to this volume than meets the eye and sets about decrypting it, running into shocking discovery after shocking discovery in the process.

Away from all of this, the Homunculus have been up to more than simply burning down the Central Library, as they also run into and attack Scar, wounding him in the process and setting the wheels of tracking him down on the part of the State Alchemists back in motion.

Considering the darker facets of this particular episode, it might be a little surprising to hear that this episode is arguably one of the most light-hearted of the series so far, with the instalment packed to the rafters with comedy aside from the relatively brief moments where the Philosopher's Stone and its requirements are being discussed. Given the amount of dark material in this series, this more humourous take was actually rather welcome and much needed here, and what's more it actually managed to be funny on occasion rather than simply as some rather run of the mill comedy. Having not been much of a fan of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's attempts at humour up until this point, I wasn't expecting to think much of these fripperieseither, but I actually ended up enjoying them rather a lot, making this episode another good one in the grand scheme of things, even if the show's pace does continue to be breakneck at this juncture to avoid boring the Fullmetal Alchemist die-hards.

Saki - Episode 7

The first round of the school prefectural competition continues in episode seven of Saki, and all eyes turn to Nodoka as it's her turn to take the table. Well, Nodoka and her penguin, who seems to garner just as much interest as the girl herself.

After a slow start, Nodoka soon picks up the pace to the levels previously only seen from her when playing Mahjong online, which eventually causes problems for her opponents and leaves her walking out the winner of her round. This leaves only Saki left to play, but unfortunately we don't even get to see her leg of the competition, learning only that she breezed past her particular opponents to take Kiyosumi through to the second round.

The action really dries up at this point as we don't get to see any of the second round action at all, instead turning our focus to the two hottest competitors at this stage of the tournament, Ryuumonbunchi and Kazekoshi high schools respectively, both of which make light work of their second round ties while Kiyosumi also make it through to the next round. In the case of Kazekoshi, we see the girls in their team working for a coach who is beyond a hard taskmaster, providing the inevitable "evil coach" stereotype that I suppose I should have been expecting from this series at some point.

As per usual with this series, I find myself oddly drawn to and mesmerised by the actual Mahjong action, but not so much by the show's over the top personalities and background drama. I suppose Saki would soon become rather too dull without at least some of the latter, but for me this episode was all about Nodoka's turn at the table, and I was actually genuinely disappointed not to see anything of Saki herself in action, which I'm sure is something that will be put right pretty soon. Still, despite the utter predictability of this series so far, it has been watchable fluff for the most part with a fair amount of oddly compelling action now we're well and truly rolling through the tournament stage.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Eden of the East - Episode 6

I have to apologise if you're getting a little tired of browsing around various 'Blogs and finding nothing but abject praise for Eden of the East, but to be quite honest it does continue to be something intriguingly special, so you won't be finding a dissenting voice in this entry.

After propositioning Saki to come and stay with him last episode, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was a simple romance/sex thing on his part, but it appears that there was far more to their conversation than just that - Although Saki turns down the invitation to go straight back to Akira's shopping ball, she doesn't go home either, instead stopping off at Micchon's place before meeting up with the rest of the gang of friends we've seen a few times earlier in this series. Of course, Ohsugi is missing from this line-up, as he's rather busy what with being handcuffed to a chair wearing a gimp mask, under the threat of losing his "Johnny" at the hands of Shiratori, the Seleção we were introduced to last episode. What is it with this series and the name "Johnny" anyhow? Yet another mystery to unravel there methinks...

Anyhow, aside from Saki, it appears that Akira also has an interest in the company she frequents, for we learn in this episode that she was part of a team that developed a simply incredible search engine of sorts, which allows you to meta-tag any image and build up a database that can be accessed in real-time on a cell phone, performing image recognition via the camera to pull up the tags for any given item. Thus, simply catching a person in your view finder will give you a list of items of import that have been associated with that person - A terrifying prospect in one sense, but fantastic in another. Facebook would kill for this kind of technology.

In short, Akira wants to fund this company using his Seleção money to help them on their way, and so meets with Saki's colleagues to put together a deal. What does this mean for the rest of the series? Such thoughts may have to be put on hold, as Ohsugi uses a message board to call for help from his current predicament.

It may not have balls to the wall action or a deep pool of emotion to draw upon, but Eden of the East continues to be singularly and really rather intellectually fascinating. After discussing the view which this series seemed to be taking on society and its future last episode, we get more of the same this time around, with Akira explaining his fascination with NEETs in a suitably thought-provoking way, and really summing up the crux of the issue at hand - Yes, being socially awkward or reclusive may be negative in terms of old-school business and management, but this insular nature has in turn created a whole new generation of people who are able to think individually and thus create compelling and innovative products, while their unwillingness to communicate in "meatspace" has also brought forth a generation of services which means that you no longer need to interface with people on a human level to find out what you need to know about one another. Given all the "Facebook and Twitter are bad" coverage we seem to get in the press these days, it's both fascinating and refreshing (particularly for myself as an avid technophile) to see somebody actually "get it" and put forth some compelling points for a more technology and information-centric lifestyle.

That these points are put over so clearly without ever bludgeoning you to death with them or embarking upon long Ghost in the Shell-esque monologues speaks volumes for the capabilities of both the writers and animators here, and although I still have absolutely no clue where this series is headed it's already brought forth enough fascinating points and topics for discussion that it simply can't be beaten within this anime season, even at its half-way stage. That, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should take some time out to watch this series if you haven't already.

K-ON! - Episode 7

It's Christmas!! Play, okay, it's actually the middle of May but bear with me, as it's Christmas in the world of K-ON! at least.

After being treated to a small flashback segment of Yui and Ui's childhood (complete with a rather "unique" white Christmas engineered by the former), it's time for the light music club to down instruments and prepare for their own Christmas party. Tsumugi's place is "booked" for the day, so it ends up being left up to Yui to provide the entertainment... Good job she has a reliable sister.

So, the day of the part rolls around, and somehow Sawako manages to gate-crash the event, bringing an "interesting" atmosphere to proceedings from her choice of present for the gift exchange down to her arranging of a scarily depressing version of pass the parcel. Funnily enough, it's largely Sawako that brings this episode up from the depths of mediocrity, providing more amusing moments than the rest of the cast combined.

Perhaps it's just difficult to get into the Christmas spirit in May, but this was probably one of the weaker episodes of this series thus far, saved only by Sawako's appearance as I mentioned earlier. Still, you can't really deny how adorable the Yui-Ui sibling relationship is played here, and the show's sense of fun still remains throughout out, so if nothing else we can consider that some more checkboxes in the moe database ticked off before hopefully returning to the musical side of things just a little next time around.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 5

Hatsukoi Limited continues at its constant pace of introducing us to a new girl or guy and their dilemma each episode (although we do get a little bit of catch up on Misao and Yamamoto's love problems into the bargain), and this time around it's class president Meguru Watase to have all eyes on her, which may be a bit of an issue given her particular predicament.

While she may seem like your typical "girl with glasses", studious class president type, Watase actually holds quite a surprising secret - She is in fact a hugely accomplished swimmer, who was even touted as a possible Olympic star before giving up the sport at the end of middle school, vowing never to don a swimsuit again. The reason for Meguru's start change of heart is a simple, physical one at its core, brought about by the fact that... well, let's not beat about the bush here... she has massive breasts. However, Watase's problem isn't so much aerodynamic as psychological, leaving her avoiding swimming because she hates the feeling of being stared at.

This issue really comes to a head as she suddenly finds herself pursued by a former swimming club mate from middle school named Takei, a guy with what can only be described as a swimsuit fetish who hilariously follows her around everywhere dressed in only Speedos in an attempt to persuade her to join his high school swimming club - A plea that becomes even more important when this club drops below its required membership of five people. If only they'd joined the light music club, which only requires four members. Oops, sorry, wrong show...

I have to admit that this has been by far the funniest episode of Hatsukoi Limited thus far, if only because Takei's swimming trunk wearing antics never ceased to amuse me throughout its duration, although there were a few other good one-liners thrown in there too to make for a better episode in pure comedic terms. While the entriely breast-centric stroyline of this episode made for an obvious fan service frenzy, it did also present a surprisingly different side to the bra size debate compared to most anime - While show after show trots out "bigger is better" as its mantra, this episode goes completely against the grain by depicting the negatives of having a heaving bosom. I'm really not qualified to discuss the intricacies of this argument from a feminine perspective(missing as I am the required... err... "components"), but it certainly seems like a refreshing change from where I've sitting. All in all then, this makes for perhaps the best episode of Hatsukoi Limited to date, from the subject matter right the way down to an ever-so-slightly more definitive ending to its particular story arc - Simply put, it's done enough for me to regain some enthuiasm for this series after it's ebbed away over the past couple of weeks.

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 6

After the "serious business" of the last episode, it's another instalment of downtime for Squad 7 in episode six of Valkyria Chronicles - Well, it is for everyone except Alicia at least, who as always has rather a lot on her plate.

The cause of her consternation this time around is the arrival of Irene Ellet, a hot-shot female war journalist who has arrived to do a piece on Squad 7. Normally this would be no big deal, but Alicia is mortified at the thought of what an interview with Welkin would do for the Militia's reputation, so she sets out on a battle of wits with Irene to prevent her getting an interview with Welkin at all costs, while her worries about damaging information being leaked out elsewhere in the squad proves to be entirely unfounded as, quite frankly, they're a bunch of idiots.

Of course, cunning journalists like Ms. Ellet always get their interview no matter what, even if that means hiding out in the toilet. All's well that ends well however, as Welkin gives his interview without making too much of a fool of himself (I'm sure it goes without saying that he's smarter than Alicia thinks), and manages to secure a barbeque for both his own team and Squad 1, even side-stepping the fight that ensues.

I really wasn't expecting anything from this particular episode of Valkyria Chronicles given its filler-ific nature, but in all fairness it turned out to be greatly entertaining for the light fluff piece it was meant to be. There's always plenty of comic potential in both Alicia and Welkin, and with Alicia getting to show off her full facial emotional tour de force, the good animation quality also helped to drive this daft but enjoyable little episode on to its natural conclusion. In a way, Valkyria Chronicles almost serves itself better when it's treating its "downtime" with such a sense of fun compared to when it tries to do the same (slightly inappropriately you could say) to its episodes based in the middle of a war zone.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 16

I was just thinking last week that we hadn't seen anything of China yet in Hetalia: Axis Powers, and what do you know the very next episode up pops China!

The episode in its entirety documents the relationship between China and Japan, giving them a big brother/little brother dynamic with the latter seeming rude and (initially at least) less well developed, but making fast progress into a rather smart if quiet sibling. My Asian history isn't really even close to being up to snuff enough to comment on that beyond noting that this was a relatively straight-laced episode, which does gain bonus points for featuring a panda, which can never be a bad thing.

We're also left this episode with a second trailer for "America's shed cleaning", which will apparantly be the focus of the next episode. Who knows what bizarre trails of history this will take us down? Mind you, said "trailer" does give us a pretty good hint...

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 17

After finding themselves stranded yet again, orbiting Jupiter this time, it isn't long (mere seconds in fact) before the action kicks off again in episode seventeen of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo, with Leopard once again left falling towards the surface of a planet, as he so often seems to end up doing in this series.

The trouble is, on this occasion Leopard wants nothing to do with his Brain colony, and with the rest of the gang out of ideas its the turn of Sakura Shishidou's hat to take the incentive. No, I'm not kidding, and as a deus ex machina of sorts, it turns out that Sakura's headwear is in fact a rather smart alient named Yupitan, who saves the day by putting Benkei in charge of steering Leopard's colony out of danger, while Akiha and company have to put their QT-Arms to good use finishing the job. In a further fortunate turn of events, Yupitan also points the crew towards an abandoned space station orbiting Jupiter which can provide them with all the energy required to hyperjump back to where they need to be - Once again though, Leopard's brush with Existence and subsequent mental trauma has left him straight-out refusing to "drive", meaning that Benkei has to take the proverbial wheel again.

Away from Leopard's colony, some of the surviving and "unboxed" students are still trying to escape from Kirkwood while Nami tries to wind them up, but more importantly it appears that Nerval has finally found where the refugees from this colony are hiding, putting them in grave danger and setting us up for some important (and no doubt action packed moments) in the next episode. After a slow episode sixteen, this latest instalment is right back to where it should be, and I'm actually finding myself rather hyper up for the next episode in particular, which promises to be a potential cracker. Who can tell when it comes to this fun little series though?