Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 23

Episode twenty-three of Hetalia: Axis Powers introduces us to yet another new country/character - This time around it's Liechtenstein, a tiny country sandwiched between Austria and Switzerland, and in the context of this particular anime's parlance we see a cute female Liechtenstein both relying on and wanting to be like her big brother Switzerland in every way (yet still looking distressed when she's mistaken for a boy).

Italy hogs the limelight with some throw-away hilarity for the remainder of the episode - First mentioning a disgusting pizza he ate before revealing (quelle surprise) that it was made by England, before sharing a bed with his brother and making a phone call to Germany that could (and in this case was) misconstrued in all the wrong ways. Yes, I have a filthy mind too so it made me chuckle.

Yet again, what we have here is another improved episode of Hetalia, complete with a couple of gags that made me laugh - What more can you ask for in a five minute running time?

Shangri-la - Episode 13

After a brief reminder of Kuniko's rise to the head of Metal Age over the series so far, we're granted a rousing speech by the new girl in charge as she prepares to lead an all-out assault on Atlas - So begins episode thirteen of Shangri-la. Unlucky for some perhaps?

The subtitle of this particular episode is Flying Girl, and if I'm quite honest a flying girl would most likely have been more believable than many of the facets of the plot of this particular instalment. After some of the usual banter between Momoko and Takehiko (with the latter threatening to throw the former out of a thirteenth floor window - Is there some kind of fund we can contribute to so that actually happens?), the big game changer for Kuniko's plan is revealed - A stealth fighter. I tried my best at this point to figure out how on Earth Metal Age have enough money to buy (or even hire) a stealth fighter, or how they'd manage to do so without somebody of import noticing, but such thoughts were soon banished to the back of my mind as Kuniko began her offensive against Atlas... In broad daylight. Now, I'm no military strategist, but I can't help but feel that using a big black stealth fighter on a sunny day isn't really the best deployment of your assets - Needless to say, it isn't long before the plane is caught on camera by Atlas' defence forces, bringing about some inept use of missiles and machine guns from said forces.

If the plausibility quota for the episode was already stretched thin, then it was soon taken into the red by Kuniko's incredible ability to run along the wings of her rented stealth fighter without any problems, while also throwing her boomerang around like a mad woman. This then progressed to jumping between fast moving airborne objects, and the liberal use of jet packs. Oh yes, I forgot to mention all of the Metal Age "troops" involved with the operation had their own personal jet packs to use. With the amount of money spent on military hardware in this episode alone, why didn't Metal Age just put that cash into building their own version of Atlas, but complete with hookers and blackjack?

As I think the above has amply demonstrated, this particular episode of Shangri-la works best if you switch off your brain, remove it, pickle it and donate it to science - As pure out and out action goes it had something going for it, but I really couldn't help myself but to pick holes in perhaps the worst invasion plan short of stealing a single tank and trying to invade Paris. Still, as episodes of Shangri-la go this was certainly fun-filled if action is what you seek, and for that I can be thankful as at least the adrenaline-fuelled thrills and spills can cover up for the plot holes you could drive a fleet of buses through.

Minami-ke Betsubara OAD

Complementing the release of the final volume of Minami-ke Okaeri on DVD came this single episode OVA (or OAD as they like to call them these days) as something of a bonus episode to the series. Seeing as I've religiously watched the Minami-ke franchise through good times and bad, it would be remiss of me not to check it out.

The episode begins with Hosaka once again looking for a way into Haruka's heart, and as per usual food is the answer that he comes up with. What follows is perhaps one the funniest moment of the episode, with Hosaka espousing the wonders of the much-maligned carrot in the middle of a supermarket, in front of a bemused Chiaki. Still, it's enough to get her to start eating carrots at last, filling Haruka with joy in not quite the way Hosaka would have intended as it gives her free reign to create as many carrot-related dishes as she pleases. Ninjin loves you yeah!

From here we get some more gender confusion angst from Mako, who worries that Yoshino has discovered his secret, a concern not exactly helpoed by Kana who manages to persuade him that Yoshino is clearly some kind of sadist who is deriving pleasure from inflicting psychological torment upon our hapless lad in a dress. By the time this chunk of the episode is out, gender confusion has simply turned into outright confusion, leaving us with a final Valentine's Day related segment to the episode. To cut a long story short this state of affairs ends with what is quite possibly the happiest moment of Fujioka's life as he receives some chocolate from Kana - Sadly for him, what he views as Valentine's Day chocolate is in fact "eat when tired" chocolate, with Kana forgetting what day it is completely. Oh well, free chocolate is never a bad thing no matter the circumstances.

Overall, this episode was pretty typical Minami-ke fare - Not wall to wall laugh out loud funny, but with a pretty likeable bunch of characters and a few amusing moments to see it through. Indeed, the overall properties of this OAD fits into the modus operandi of the series it accompanies perfectly - As I'm sure I've said before this franchise is no Lucky Star or Hidamari Sketch, but there are less entertaining ways to while away half an hour or so. Speaking of such things, it's time to go and watch some more Shangri-la...

Monday, 29 June 2009

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 12 (Completed)

By the end of episode eleven, Hatsukoi Limited couldn't really be any better placed to wrap up and resolve most of its various relationship issues. Who will end up with who? This being anime, will anybody end up with anyone?

One thing we do discover very quickly is that while the girls are having a whale of a time at a hot spring while chasing their counterparts across the country, things couldn't get much worse for the guys themselves, with only one sleeping bag between them and no money to do anything but camp outside, and their food supply soon dimished entirely thanks to some surreptitious overnight snacking. Yet despite all this, they soldier on with their roadtrip, reaching what I suppose you could call a point of enlightment (although I'd just call it cheesy) where all three of them feel liberated enough to shout out to the world about their loves at the edge of the ocean. If only they'd looked over their shoulder first, to see the inevitable bunch of girls stood behind them....

What follows from here is a succession of "Ahhhhhhh" moments, as everything comes good to some degree or another with our troupe of characters - No scenes of absolute happiness and bliss (this is first loves we're talking about after all), but moments that definitely count for something in the grand scheme of things.

So, all's well that ends well, as we come to the conclusion of what has been an intriguing little series really - It's pretty rare for a show such as this which fills itself with fan service to exhibit any real emotional depth, yet at times Hatsukoi Limited actually managed to make a pretty good fist of doing just that. Sure, I'm still not entirely convinced by the Kei-Kusuda relationship which made up a pretty big chunk of the series, but even then I can't particularly fault the way their particular dynamic was depicted, while some of the side stories featuring the likes of Dobashi and Chikura were not far short of wonderful as standalone tales which got the old romantic within this cold, hard exterior quite misted up.

When all is said and done the show's closing thought that what's on the inside is more important than looks is idealist in the extreme but hey, I'm not going to argue with (or complain about) the concept itself as there's a lot to be said for it. That aside, where Hatsukoi Limited perhaps excelled is in its portrayal of a first love itself - It feels like the most important thing in the world at the time, but in reality it is usually nothing more than an experience to be enjoyed, savoured and learned from; a grounding for the trials and tribulations of human relationships to come. Somehow this series managed to show this side of a first love without either belittling the emotions behind it or overplaying them as anime so often does into making a first love seem like an only love. That more balanced view of young love, if nothing else, is worthy of praise, and J.C. Staff delivered it here in an occasionally compelling way. That it managed to do so with panties and breasts on show as well is perhaps one of the more confusing juxtapositions of content that I'll have to get my head around this year.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 13

After receiving a "unique" welcome from their teacher last episode, it looks as though the Elric brothers confession that they attempted human transmutation is likely to put an end to the aforementioned reunioin, as Izumi expels her pupils and sends them home. However, with a little prompting, they soon remember what they came to Dublith for and realise what they need to do, and it isn't long before that particular relationship is restore.

Izumi's advice to help the brothers regain their original bodies is to look deeper inside Alphonse's memories, as they most likely hold the key to the "truth" of alchemy that Ed and his teacher both saw glimpses of.

It seems that they aren't the only ones with that idea though, as the brothers find themselves under the watchful eye of some distinctly interesting characters - Namely Greed, a Homonculus, and his band of Chimera followers. This group set out (and succeed) first at capturing Al, before luring Ed to their den in the hopes of finding out the secrets he holds regarding the transfer of a human soul between objects. Needless to say Edward is none too forthcoming with this information, and despite the danger to both himself and his brother he engages in what is one of the more spectacular fight sequences to come out of this series so far, with Edward taking on Greed despite the latter's regenerative abilities and a handy side-line in "armour" of his own.

With the introduction of Greed comes the beginning of a pretty major story arc, and although the plot progression comes thick and fast in this instalment it never runs away with itself - Indeed, the pacing of the episode works nigh-on perfectly to offer up an action-packed instalment with a natural focus on the Elric brothers, but not without neglecting the progress of either Scar or Roy Mustang. The only real disappointment here is the animation quality, which seemed to take a pretty major dive in places, but that aside this proved to be a most entertaining episode, even if we're a week or two away from some truly new storylines as Brotherhood finally looks to depart from the original TV series and follow the paths laid by the manga.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 13

I suppose given that Natsu no Arashi (rather bizarrely) began with a filler episode, it's only right and proper that it should end with a filler episode too - What do you know, that's exactly what we get, complete with plot aspects that you won't be entirely unfamiliar with if you've seen that opening instalment.

Of course, this series wouldn't be daft enough to bring us an entire episode based around a strawberry "bomb" again, oh no.... This time it's a cherry "bomb". Thankfully there's more to this episode than just that, with the now almost infamous discussion about spoiled milk and what happens to it if you take it back in time reaching new and even more mind-bendingly hilarious heights. That aside, we're also granted the sight of the main cast members in a number of ridiculous (and a few rather alluring) costumes, for reasons that are probably beyond explanation (although Jun certainly reverting to dressing like a girl at the cafe goes equally unexplained, which to my mind is a far bigger question).

It's difficult to know what to say about this episode beyond these rather oddball goings-on, which mix in with the occasional jump through time to close out the series in a way that I suppose I can only really label as "different".

I suppose "different" is probably a pretty decent label for Natsu no Arashi as a whole, being as it is a series that has little difficulty in breaking with convention. Indeed, this show almost constantly felt like it didn't know what it wanted to be, moving from comedy to a very different take on time travel through to the horrors of war in a surprisingly effortless (and occasionally effective) way - These constant switches arguably made the series a jack of all trades and master of none, but you have to give it points for effort if nothing else. Above all, Natsu no Arashi will probably live long in my memory for a depiction of wartime Japan that was the most beautifully and starkly rendered since Grave of the Fireflies (albeit in a very different way, of course) - Seeing the horrors of firebombing raids through the eyes of first Hajime and later Jun were harrowing yet incredible moments that really defined this series as more than a fun little comedy series, and some of the human aspects of the war which went alongside such scenarios were also well played.

Those juxtapositions of comedy and seriousness, mixed in with Shaft's unique visual style, really does mean that Natsu no Arashi defies summarising in a snappy and concise way - Thus, I'm not even going to try; it's a fascinating series that you really have to experience for yourself to cast any kind of judgement on.

Saki - Episode 13

With Hisa's game over, episode thirteen means that it's finally time for Nodoka to step up to the plate in the fourth round of Kiyosumi's qualifying game, where she finds herself pitted against an arch-rival (despite being decidedly unaware of that fact herself).

However, despite the high-profile billing of this particular round, it ends up largely proving itself to be a war of attrition, with nobody able to gain a definitive upper hand and plenty of exchaustive draws witnesses as nothing goes the way of any one player. Having said that though, it's Nodoka who slowly, surely and efficiently ekes out a lead for herself, proving to be the only player to win any hands outright once she gets into "the zone". The game isn't quite over as this episode finishes however, meaning that there's still room for Touka Ryuumonbuchi to get her much yearned for moment in the spotlight. Meanwhile, Koromo talks as though she's swallowed a copy of Lord of the Rings on occasion, as she waits for her own game against Saki and the final round of this qualifier.

If this episode has demonstrated one thing to me, it's that I still haven't got a clue about the game of Mahjong and how it works - You'd have thought I might have picked up a thing or two by now, wouldn't you? That aside, the actual playing of set game is still pretty compelling, lost as I am with its nuances, and it seems that no amount of stupid flashes, explosions and fan service fantasies can really detract too much from the core tenet of the series, which remains oddly exciting to me. I'm starting to wonder just how much can be fitted into a twenty-five episode series though, given that we're still not at the end of the qualifying tournament for the national finals - Are Gonzo angling for a second series of this show?

Saturday, 27 June 2009

I liked Eden of the East so much...

...I made a t-shirt.

(Apologies for the terrible picture by the way, but I can't be bothered to take anything better right now)

Friday, 26 June 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 12

After putting together arguably one its less coherent plots last episode, it's time for Valkyria Chronciles to explain its reasoning, which I suppose it does in this twelfth episode in fairness... somewhat at least.

The last episode saw both Princess Cornelia and Alicia (of course, when does she not get into trouble at every turn?) kidnapped as part of some kind of conspiracy, and this time around we learn the reasoning behind it - To fake the princess' defection to the Federation, thus cementing a relationship between Gallia and said Federation. While this does make sense in its own terms, it's rather confusing given how well the two sides were getting on in the first case, leading me to wonder why they'd bother with the risky business of a kidnapping and destroying that relationship entirely in the first place? This state of affairs also goes some way to explaining the prescence of Selvaria and Radi at the party, although again you have to wonder why they were initially willing to sit back and merely observe a chain of events which would have disadvantaged the Empire.

Anyhow, with Alicia missing, Welkin is naturally keen to go after the kidnapper pair, and with some information from the unlikely source of their sworn enemies, he ends up suggesting a "symbiosis" between the two, asking for their help to rescue both Alicia and the princess for their mutual benefit. Radi agrees, and so they set off in what was a pretty run-of-the-mill "find the kidnappers, engage in a car chase, jump between vehicles and stop them just in the nick of time" scenario, punctuated only by Alicia managing to convince Princess Cornelia to fight for her own fate and future rather than simply accepting it. So, all's well that ends well for both our favourite group of militia soldiers and the Empire, and they all live happily ever after. Or do they? Things just got one Hell of a lot more tense between Welkin and Faldio...

As you've probably noticed, I'm not entirely convinced by the plot progression of this particular story arc - It would be unfair to label it as full of holes, but it does seem to walk along the tightrope of plausibility while coming dangerous close to crashing down to the ground at several points. It seems that this series does making military operations seem fun better than it does domestic terrorism and conspiracy. Still, the human elements of Valkyria Chronicles are certainly getting more interesting thanks to the last couple of episodes, so it isn't all bad, and perhaps we can get back to some "real" fighting (or at least about as real as this series gets) to celebrate the show reaching its half-way point.

K-ON! - Episode 13 (Completed)

With the series proper finishing last week, K-ON!'s "extra" thirteenth episode treats us to one final slice of life with the girls of the light music club... Although there seems to be a rather melancholy feel in the air, with everybody preoccupied with something or other.

Indeed, the situation is so severe that even the opportunity for a hotpot on a cold winter's day at Yui's house is turned down by the rest of the gang, all of whom have other things to do. This then gives us a rare glimpse of the girls on their own and doing their own things, in many cases trying to be that little bit more mature than perhaps they are - Thus, Mugi gets a job, Asuza tries to look after a friend's kitten, and so on.

If nothing else, this episode is masterful at reminding us just how much life has been imbued into the show's characters over the course of the series - It was actually really quite upsetting to see things going wrong for the girls, before of course they all pull back together in a final scene of abject happiness.

Really, that point is probably the biggest one in favour of K-ON! - Marketing machine it may be at its core, and I know some have felt disenfrachised with it as an actual piece of entertainment as the weeks have drawn on, but if nothing else the series has succeeding in pulling together a group of lovable characters even ignoring those much-discussed "moe elements". Cute figureheads of that aforementioned marketing machine they may be, but beyond that they also exist as characters that you'd really quite like to spend some time with as genuinely fun characters. It's that sense of fun that permeates through K-ON! from beginning to end, making it an enjoyable slice of life series in it's own right - Yes, this show is no Haruhi (and indeed I think the return of that particular franchise has thrown this show's capabilities into sharp relief in recent weeks), nor is it a study of up and coming musicians as some seemed to expect; it certainly isn't KyoAni's best work, but is watching a series just because it leaves you with a warm, fuzzy feeling and a handful of good laughs every week such a bad thing? I would suggest that it isn't, and measured by those terms K-ON! is nothing if not a relative success.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Season 2 - Episode 3 (aka Episode 13)

I'm sure we've all had one summer that we wished could last forever, but what if that period of time really did last forever more?

After having my wrists slapped by commenters on my last entry regarding this series for calling it "filler", despite being dimly aware that something was afoot beyond simply filling up an episode slot, so the true story behind that episode comes to light here, as we go through the entire thing again, with Kyon noticing an odd sense of deja vu during the various fun activities being undertaken by the SOS brigade.

The reason for this is that is that Kyon and company have been doing the same things over and over again... Thousands of times in fact, living out that endless summer dream until the moment of realisation where the whole thing becomes a nightmare. Of course, Kyon's experience is probably nothing compared to Nagato's - Not only has she been through those activities tens of thousands of times, she remembers every single occurrence too. Still, more fool her for not thinking to mention it to anybody, despite her orders only being to observe any goings on.

So, with the scene set, this leaves us with a delicious question for the coming episodes - Will the other SOS brigade members find a way to break out of this endless summer, and if so how? Who knows (well, if you've read the relevant light novel then I suppose you do know), but as always Kyon is no doubt the key.

I suppose some kudos has to go to KyoAni for what must have been a difficult episode to script - You have to make everything basically the same for a large chunk of the episode to give the viewer a realisation of what is going on, but without reaching the point of boring them. This was actually achieved pretty well, thanks to slowly blending in that realisation via the vehicle of deja vu (and of course those signs of Nagato's boredom which did rouse my suspicions somewhat last episode), while also using some excellent changes of colour palette to accentuate the change in mood as the truth behind this loop in time comes to light. Beyond that, there's little more to say about this episode, as really it serves simply as a foil for the real story to come. I for one can't wait for more of it.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 25

With Leopard on the rampage and Nerval looking to save the inhabitants of Kirkwood, it looks like it's all change as we reach the penultimate episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo.

It doesn't take long at all for us to reach a full-on conflict between these two giant brain colonies, and while Nerval might normally have been expected to triumph, this fully upgraded and decidedly evil version of Leopard has plenty of power at his disposal, enough to do some serious damage to his rival. With Imoko still at Nerval's side however, Akiha once again makes a rash decision, racing off to try and save her friend with nary a thought of the consequences, with Honoka and Itsuki having to reluctantly follow her to back up her foolishness.

After the briefest of reunions, Akiha and Imoko are separated once again, with the former ending up face to face with Nami, who it's fair to say is still in none too pleasant a mood. Thus, Nami attacks her sister, and comes close to finishing off Akiha before extraneous events turn things around until eventually she simply has to turn tail and run. She'll be back soon enough though, this time with the backing of Leopard as Akiha finally accepts her position as "the girl who leapt through space" of the series title.

So, we're all set up for a grand finale that has blurred the lines between good and bad palpably in some cases to leave us wondering just who we should be rooting for. Personally, I'm thoroughly looking forward to see how the series it pulls everything off, given how its improved throughout its run so far - Let's hope that it goes out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 23 (Completed)

After finally (after one abortive attempt) finishing off the series proper last episode, what wonders does this final instalment of Kurokami hold for us?

A recap episode, pure and simple... To be honest, I've never quite fathomed why they bother with these things, as there's something vaguely depressing about seeing the twelve or so hours of your life you've sunk into a particular series shrunk down to about twenty minutes. In fairness, this particular offering did offer up some new animation, and slightly different takes and points of view of key events, but trying to squeeze so much into a short time frame was always going to feel rushed and jumpy, and so it proved to be here. Still, it did also serve to tie up the series final loose ends, albeit via the rather surprising revelation that Kuro doesn't seem to age at all - Either that or she's a rather sexy pensioner.

As for Kurokami as a whole, it's been very much a show of two halves - The first half of the series was frequently rather ponderous and seemed to lose its edge almost entirely after a bright start, not helped by Keita's moodiness and constant whining. Once we fast-forwarded six months into the second half of the series however things became much brighter, and Kurokami found its groove as a relatively stylish action series which delighted in ever more ridiculously large battles and set pieces that meshed into the story that was being told quite nicely. Certainly, you could argue that this series has never been anything other than generic, but when it hit its run of form it pulled off the succeeded in all of the ways you'd expect for just such a show, eventually making for a pretty enjoyable experience all in all. Kurokami might not be a classic, but if action-oriented shows are your thing it's certainly worth a watch if you can take a deep enough breath to plough through that slightly off-form first half.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Basquash! - Episode 12

After all the build up in the last episode, this twelfth instalment of Basquash! brings us to the beginning of the Open City Basketball tournament... Not that there's much point referring to it by its official name, as everyone has taken to calling it Basquash anyway.

This particular episode is actually split into two sub-episodes, for no reason other than to be cool and different I suppose. Anyhow, the first half of the instalment chronicles Dan, Sela and Iceman Hotty's first game, against a set of triplets who rely upon magic and illusion as their primary tactic. Although Dan and Sela are drawn in by their slight of hand, Iceman Hotty sees through it all, thus thwarting their opponent's plans at the last moment and turning the tables to allow them to grind out a 1-0 victory. Not the most thrilling of games your likely to see despite the attempts to be clever, that's for sure.

The second half of the episode is billing as Eclipse's debut in the tournament, but as they win before the credits on this section even finish rolling there's nothing to see here. However, there's more than a slight suggestion that both Eclipse's prescence and the entire tournament are simply part of some wider (if unbelievable) plot going on in the background. What could the plot in question be? I have an idea or two, but we'll have to wait until the next episode at least before we can say for sure. That is, assuming that Turbine City can stay standing long enough to complete the tournament - It's certainly taking a pounding at the moment...

As Basquash! episodes go, this was a pretty average affair - It wasn't bad, but the whole thing seemed somewhat shorn of its usual dose of attitude, taking on a rather more sedate and thoughtful aura which is rather at odds with its subject matter. Indeed, this was even reflected in the tactical nature of the Basquash game depicted in the episode, which was more "Code Geass meets basketball" than the kind of high octane stuff we're used to from this series.

Unfortunately, this is also coupled with the fact that the visual aesthetic of the series has definitely slumped in the last couple of episodes - Although this instalment wasn't quite as terrible as episode eleven was in place, it still feels like a far cheaper production than the almost sumptuous animation quality we've been used to with this show. Overall then, I fear that the staffing changes to this anime are leaving it to hang out to try, breaking the formula which seemed to be working so well for the series and replacing it with something far more bland and generic. Fingers crossed I'm wrong about this though, it would be a real shame to lose the "real" Basquash! to market forces.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 22

Well, it looks like I was slightly premature when it came to labelling Kurokami's main, over-arching storyline as over - No sooner was Reishin dead, and the Masagami seemingly dead with him, than those pesky evil spirits find yet another way to come back to life.

The good news about this turn of events is that it gives us one final action packed chunk of episode, complete with literally chopping the Holy Land to bits and even more ridiculously over-blown yet ultimately enjoyable to watch events. This time the Masagami are laid to rest properly, and the world returns to normality as everybodies Tera is restored. Hurrah!

Wait.. not quite, because we still aren't done with this series. Despite defeating the Masagami, the Doppeliner system still proves itself to be in full effect, right in front of Keita's eyes no less. The cause of this? The fact that Kuro is still alive, with the Doppeliner system only really dying along with her. Of course, if Kuro dies so does Keita, leaving us with difficult decisions all around... Until the series decides to forgo all of those tough decisions and instead just make up some other stuff that doesn't even vaguely fit in with what we'd been told just five minutes earlier.

Yes, that's right, once again we have the curse of the anime cop-out rearing its ugly head (which in turn looks set to treat us to a filler episode to end the series), as the sands shift from Kuro needing to die to lift the curse of the Masagami to her jiust needing to pack her bags and go away. It makes no sense, but no major character dies, so this is apparantly "a good thing". Not to my mind it isn't it has to be said, but I guess that's why they don't get me to write scripts for these things as I'd probably cause depression rates to soar amongst anime viewers.

So, that's Kurokami done and dusted to all intents and purposes, but I'll save my final thoughts for the last episode proper and hope they don't get contaminated by what looks likely to be nothing but fluff to please the fans.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 24

So, not only did the last episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shuojo manage to cop out somewhat by revealing that Imoko isn't actually dead at all, but now it makes us feel like idiots by pointing out how ridiculous such a concept would be? Seems like this series didn't intend to pull any punches when it came to pointing out that particular point.

Anyhow, despite my still finding her survival unlikely, Imoko finding herself alive and well and under the care of Nerval (along with Nami) certainly serves to keep things interesting here - Naturally, Akiha's first thought is to go and see Imo, a move which would almost certainly put her in danger from Nerval, thus causing Kazane to lock her up within Leopard rather than risk her safety. Ignoring the logic of this move however, both Honoka and Itsuki look to rescue her from her captivity and help her in turn rescue Imoko.

However, this idea ends up being put on the back burner as Leopard... well, goes a bit loopy really. With all of his upgrades in place, the ghosts of his past come to revisit him in the form of Leopard's "evil" side. Yes, it's a big fat cliche, but it leaves us with a new look Leopard who cares little for his human "cargo", and even less for Benkei who passes by to return a mirror to Leopard. Come the end of the episode, Leopard has rashly made his way to Kirkwood, only to be faced by Nerval in a decidedly The Empire Strikes Back-esque moment...

I have to confess that a few holes are beginning to appear in the plot at this late stage, between Imoko's survival and Leopard "turning bad", but thankfully the series is also moulding these aspects of the story into something intriguing in its own right - Indeed, this episode in particular has effectively turned the tables on our expectations, with Nerval seemingly playing the "good guy" who wants to co-exist with humans (although he really does need to drop the whole box thing if he's going to do that) while Leopard now cares only for his own powers. Throw in a handful of wildcards such as Akiha and Nami, and we could be in for a fascinating final couple of episodes.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Shangri-la - Episode 12

After Karin's period in the spotlight last time around, the main focus of episode twelve returns to Kuniko, the new leader of Metal Age. It isn't too long before she has yet further reason to take action against Atlas either, as the new Prime Minister Ryoko goes against her initial promise regarding moving people into Atlas, suspending the settlement programme to instead focus on building Atlas first. An unelected Prime Minister going back on promises made only a few weeks before? You'd never see such a shambolic state of affairs here in UK politics, that's for sure...

So, with anger rising against Atlas, Kuniko reveals her plan for a full-on attack of the settlements. Naturally, such an audacious plot is going to require some serious hardware, which means a trip to Akihabara. No, please, anywhere but there! Sadly, despite my protestations we get another dose of those annoying cosplaying shop-keepers (although they have put together a nifty Kuniko figure, which is pretty sweet), although thankfully they manage to keep the stupidity to a relative minimum this time around.

Kuniko isn't the only one on a shopping spree in the district as Karin, buoyed by the events of the last episode, goes out herself, albeit disguised as a bear in the hope that nobody will talk to her. Probably not the best plan I've heard recently, but never mind... After trying to buy Akihabara itself, she ends up running into Kuniko, before running away - I'm sure that won't be the last time those two meet, and indeed that thought is backed up by Sayako paying a visit to Ryoko to inquire about Lady Mikuni's status as the future ruler of Atlas, only to be told that she isn't the only candidate for the position. Hmmm, I wonder who the others could be? Oh, and of course all this is without Momoko finally escaping her captors, thanks to the help of an old friend.

In all fairness to Shangri-la, it does at least seem to have got a grip on itself over the last few episodes, pulling itself up by the bootstraps from the utter ridicule it was facing to present something slightly less ridiculous for the time being. Yes, Lady Ryoko and Sayako are both tiresomely cliched evil characters (although I did enjoy the latter's hacking attempt using only the opening titles to Blockbusters for guidance), and the whole plot of the series is messy at best, but perhaps Shangri-la has done itself a favour by being so terrible for so long - Now it's just "quite bad", in relative terms it almost feels like a quality effort.

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 11

I think it's fair to say that the end of the last episode of Hatsukoi Limited left us with Kusuda not so much putting his foot in his mouth as his entire body and soul, blurting out (completely falsely) his hatred for Kei without thinking. To make matters worse, rather than apologising properly himself, he chooses to run away instead. Has this guy learned nothing from Shinji Ikari?

Of course, Kusuda isn't the only one feeling the pinch of a love story gone horribly wrong, with Zaitsu and Sogabe, who are both still well and truly in the doldrums from their own problems. Before they know it, the trio of depressed males have decided that there's only one thing for it... To go on what can only be described as a "road trip". However, if there's one thing that can be guaranteed of a hastily arranged men only holiday, it's that it'll be shambolically organised, and so our intrepid trio set off with no money, no idea where they're going and nothing but snacks for food. Funnily enough, it's a bit difficult to "find yourself" when you're been chased by wild boar too.

If only the guys knew who else was chasing them - After finding all three absent from school, and furthermore learning about the letter Zaitsu had left for his brother, Ayumi, Kei, Koyoi and Chikura set off (with a few clues as to their whereabouts) to find the boys and bring them back, with Kei in particular having something important to say to Kusuda despite everything that transpired between them before.

If nothing else, this episode sets us up for a very interesting finale to this series, most likely bringing together three of the major male characters with their respective crushes, while also throwing myriad spanners in the works regarding some of the show's other pairings. Indeed, it seems that only Dobashi and her relationship will remain safe from being shaken up in some shape or form. I really have no idea how things are going to turn out in Hatsukoi Limited's climax, and that in itself should make it an enjoyable watch, even if this particular episode didn't have quite the emotional impact that we've seen from some previous instalments.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 22

After taking up portions of so many previous episodes, the conclusion (well, for now at least) of Italy and the Roman Empire's love affair is the sole focus of episode twenty-two of Hetalia.

After so much time simply looking at one another from afar, the Roman Empire's farewall before leaving Italy turns into something from a romantic novel... Well, assuming you can find a romantic novel that features the line "I've liked you since the 900s" and the giving of a wooden brush as a sign of affection. And they say romance is dead...

Those two surreal yet amusing moments are easily the highlight of this particular instalment, but they do go some way to show how this series has improved both its comic sensibilities and sense of timing as the show has progressed. I wasn't so sure that Hetalia deserved a second season even fairly recently, but I'm certainly starting to warm to the idea of more of the same.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 12

With Yayoi able to walk again and Kanako overjoyed as a result, surely we've reached more or less the natural conclusion of Natsu no Arashi by this point? Well, not quite, for there are still two more episodes to go including this twelfth instalment of the series.

Of course, with Yayoi and Kanako back in the present, the top priority is to save Arashi from fading away entirely, which the pair do, but seemingly at the cost of their own ethereal lives. Despite being prepared to make that sacrifice, the power of Arashi and Kaya and their respective "contractees" means that they have power to spare, leaving us with a happy situation where all of the show's ghosts can remain alive and kicking. But how can Kanako and Yayoi repay all the kindness and help that has been bestowed upon them? By working as maids in the cafe of course!

From here, we drift off on threads of love and jealousy - Firstly, in an entirely fictional form as Jun's friend (and fellow model) Youko drops in to the cafe, posing as Jun's girlfriend in the process and thus causing Hajime to unleash his wrath upon Jun for "cheating on" Kaya. However, Hajime than faces some similar problems of his own, as Arashi bumps into a guy who swears he recognises her and invites her out on a date - A state of affairs which Hajime is none too pleased about, but all's well that ends well, leaving us with a happy ever after scenario come the end of the episode.

Realistically, and right down to the "fin" in the closing titles, this both looks and feels like the final episode of Natsu no Arashi proper, leaving the final episode to be a "bonus" instalment of sorts no doubt. It's certainly been an interesting ride as anime series go - It has to be said that it's been a pretty hit and miss show at times, but generally speaking its concepts, characters and aesthetic have all grown on me since those early episodes where I was none too impressed by what I was seeing, bringing me to the point where I genuinely found myself looking forward to new episodes each week. As an overall body of work Natsu no Arashi is no classic, but on an individual basis it's provided both some fantastic episodes, as well as some stunning scenes within those episodes. I'll reserve my final judgment for the complete end of the series, but my overall feelings at this point are more positive than negative.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 12

Despite their distractions during the last episode, the twelfth instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood finally sees the Elric brothers meet up with their master in Dublith, a woman who is of course thrilled to see them. Or perhaps not. Meet Izumi Curtis, alchemy expert and tsundere supreme.

In many ways, this visit to their former alchemy tutor is simply one disturbing revelation after another, starting with Izumi informing her pupils than an alchemist going by the name of Hohenheim had paid her a visit, iscussing the Philosopher's Stone in the process. Who is this mysterious man? None other than Edward and Alphonse's father, that's who. The episode concludes with (for the brothers at least) an even bigger revelation, as their master confesses that she too has broken the tabboo of human transmutation in an attempt to resurrect her stillborn child, thus explaining her constant state of illness and ability to perform transmutations without a circle.

Inbetween all this, Ed's memory floats back to the brother's first meeting with Izumi, as they desperately beg her to take them on as students, followed by the month long period where they were abandoned on a deserted island by her and left to fend for themselves, with the use of alchemy banned. After struggling initially, they eventually learn how to live and forage for themselves, and in turn come to understand just how the "circle of life" (cue songs from The Lion King) works.

Once again, it's difficult to really rate or criticise episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood such as this one as it continues to simply retread the paths already laid by the original series. After threatening to get a bit too over-bearing on the comedy side of things early on, this instalment ended up settling down into a solid bit of story-telling, complete with emotional climax that actually worked quite well. I'm never a huge fan of flashbacks in anime as it can be a lazy plot device, and arguably the memories which surface here didn't require an episode to themselves, but it still flowed reasonably well while leaving us looking forward to some juicier morsels in the next episode.

Saki - Episode 12

Given that she hasn't really had much attention cast upon her, it was nice to see club captain Hisa get some time in the spotlight, and that continues to some degree in episode twelve of Saki as we take in the second half of her particular round of the qualifier.

Having said that, there isn't all that much Mahjong to be played here, with Hisa using the intimidating presence she built up in the first half of the round to good effect, effectively grinding her way through to keep Kiyosumi in the lead until the end of her portion of the match without ever really going on the attack.

Elsewhere, Nodoka's penguin gets repaired and returned to her (putting an end to my sleepless nights worrying about the fate of Etopen), and her concerns that Saki hadn't even bothered to wake up to watch her forthcoming round of the qualifier is assuaged at the last meaning, setting us up for some even more intense gameplay in the next episode. That aside, a little more of the relationship between Hisa and Mihoko is revealed (although I do worry about that girl's eye sight - Keeping one eye closed all the time can't be good for you), and Koromo's past and circumstances also have a little light cast on them.

Do I care about any of this though? Not all that much to be quite honest... Just keep on playing Mahjong so that my slightly bizarre interest in a game I don't understand can continue unabated!

Friday, 19 June 2009

K-ON! - Episode 12

As we reach the final "proper" episode of K-ON! (next week's bonus episode aside), so we also reach yet another school festival, meaning another big performance for the light music club now officially known as After School Teatime. However, illness continues to deprive the club of an important member when it comes to rehearsing for the big day.

After Ritsu's absence last time, now it's Yui who is suffering in bed with a cold (although she does at least benefit with feverish dreams of delicious eyebrows by way of compensation), and with the festival only days away there's concern as to whether she'll be fit and healthy again in time. Thankfully, such worries seem short-lived as Yui turns up at the club that very day... But what's this? A Yui who can play the guitar flawlessly? Methinks there's an imposter afoot.

With Ui's identity revealed, the actual Yui staggers through the door, but still too ill to play - Thus, she begins her race against time to be ready for the big show, and I'm sure it isn't too much of a spoiler to say that she makes it, albeit after one more obstacle in her path.

This was always going to be a pretty saccharine episode I suppose, and thus this episode didn't disappoint, really pumping up the importance of the girls friendship to their musical dynamic and in turn helping to remind us why they're such a lovable bunch. We actually got rather more by way of seeing the girls actually playing at the gig this time too, for which I have to finally give KyoAni some kudos after complaining about it for most of the series. This may have not been a laugh out loud finale from beginning to end (although it did have a couple of great comic moments), preferring instead to simply be cute and sweet.... to be honest though, that's the target that K-ON! has been aiming for all along.

Eden of the East - Episode 11 (Completed)

Amongst my list of favourite stock phrases, "from the ridiculous to the sublime" is up there as one of the best. However when it comes to Eden of the East, and in particular its final episode, both ridiculous and sublime sums it up perfectly.

With the plot to fire sixty missiles at Japan uncovered, the real question posed in this finale is how (or indeed if) Akira can save the countless people who would otherwise die this time... or perhaps the real question should be whether he even wants to given how we was betrayed last time around?

If you were a little confused as to what had happened on and around Careless Monday before this instalment, then it all becomes patently clear here thanks to Saki's explanation of exactly what Akira did and how the 20,000 NEETs fit into the picture, right down to why they hated him and why he shipped them all off to Dubai. Of course, those NEETs have now returned, giving the rest of the Eden team a bit of a problem having left the laptop containing the data sent by Itazu in the midst of the freshly returned (and thoroughly naked) crowd now rampaging through Akira's shopping mall. So commences some hilarious scenes, not least those as Saki and Mikuru made their way into the mall to try and do their bit to stop the attack.

As it turns out, Akira has it all under control, and the moment of truth as the build up to the missiles being fired really pins down what this series is all about - Making use of the best and brightest people on offer, even if they don't fit into what is societally accepted as "the norm". Thus, the NEETs save the day... on this occasion at least. But what is to become of Akira, and indeed Saki? Well, looks like we're going to have to wait for the two movies for the answer to those questions. Regardless, Mr. Outside's game is far from over (and who else wants to put a bet on that taxi driver that took Saki and Mikuru to the mall being Mr. Outside?).

So, ridiculous and sublime pretty much sums up this closing episode of Eden of the East, but if you're looking for a one word appraisal then "magnificent" would have to be that word. This series hasn't always got it right, but you can't doubt its ambition, nor can you doubt the fact that this is one of the finest anime series to see the light of day in recent years. In a way, this final instalment is a testament to the series as a whole, shifting effortlessly from farcical comedy to touching emotions (the scene where Saki offers her hand to Akira without saying a word was beautiful in its simple intensity), from insane conspiracy theories to even more insane conspiracy theories that come true, and at the heart of it all lies a firm yet even-handed message on 21st century modernity. Is modern technology isolating us from one another in society? Yes. Is it redefining the way people think, behave and make decisions? Yes. Is this a bad thing? It doesn't have to be, and Akira's unswerving confidence in the NEET "hive mind" he assembles couldn't make this point any clearer.

Whether you agree with the show's core perspective or not, Eden of the East is a stunning spectacle in pretty much every way you look at it - Visually, conceptually and in terms of story, it currently reigns supreme as the best series of 2009, and it's going to take a lot to supplant it. The first Eden of the East movie simply can't come soon enough.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Season 2 - Episode 2 (aka Episode 12)

New episodes of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya are like buses - You don't get any for years and then they all start turning up at once. So, with Kyoto Animation still intent on maintaining chronological order for all episodes, we've had to wait a little while from that first new episode (episode eight of the series in full) until the second brand new instalment titled "Endless Eight", which slots in here as episode twelve of the show as a whole.

While it may be brand, spanking and indeed new, I think it's only fair to classify this particular episode as filler - With school out for summer, there's nothing at all for the SOS Brigade's members to do to pass the time... Until Haruhi intervenes that is. With a couple of weeks of the holiday left, she assembles the group with an ambitious plan of fun (yet surprisingly normal) activities for them to partake in until the end of the summer.

So, we get to see Haruhi and company at the swimming pool (read: fan service), catching bugs, going to an Obon festival, messing around with fireworks (kids, don't shoot fireworks from your bikes!), playing baseball and so on. In essence, this is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya as a slice of life series - It's almost as though an episode of K-ON! has somehow been injected into it. Surprisingly, this also seems to make Haruhi very happy despite its lack of weirdness, although there is an melancholy to the end of the episode, leaving us with the feeling that there are still things which Haruhi wished to do.

As filler goes this was a passable episode, but after the joys and wonders of that first new episode I found it a little difficult to get too enthused about this effort. Still, this should mark the beginning of a concerted period of new episodes, so the next few weeks should (if the rumours are correct) sate our The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya for a while well and truly.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 11

It's party time for Alicia and company in episode eleven of Valkyria Chronicles, as they find themselves invited as guests to a most important and high-class engagement. Yes, I know, this does sound like prime filler material at first glance, but fear not because there's more to this episode than first meets the eye.

For starters, we get to meet the Gallian princess Cordelia, who I can only really describe as Clannad's Kotomi Ichinose cosplaying as Flipper. That aside, the real story begins as we see Selvaria and Radi Yaeger all dressed up and ready to attend the party too, albeit in "disguise" - And I use that term loosely complete with inverted commas, because this really is quite possibly the worst attempt at a disguise ever mustered. Incredibly, nobody seems to notice two of the Empire's top soldiers waltazing into the palace of the country they're at war with... At least, not until they bump into Alicia, who recognises Selvaria immediately. However did she see through that cunning disguise?

These concerns are quickly forgotten however as the speeches and giving of medals (to Welkin and Faldio for their sterling work over the bridge at Vasel) begin - However, it soon becomes clear that the Empire's prescence here is about more than simply getting some free booze out of Gallia, as the episode ends with a kidnapping taking place, complete with help from "the inside".

I have to confess that I'm still trying to wrap my head around firstly the fact that nobody recognised Selvaria or Radi at the party aside from Alicia (inside job or not, there's some pretty shabby security there), and secondly the fact that Alicia, Welkin and company did nothing about it, preferring instead to continue with the festivities. If top members of the enemy are in the building of your royal family, shouldn't you put down the champagne glass for two seconds and, you know, raise the alarm? Someone take Welkin and Faldio's medals away for being utter morons in the face of duty, and punching a big, fat plot hole in what was otherwise a pretty forgettable episode. Please guys, don't start turning this series into the new Allison to Lillia...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Hatsukoi Limited - Episode 10

After that really quite beautiful episode last week, the tenth instalment of Hatsukoi Limited returns to more traditional fare, with a focus on rivalries. Oh, and breasts. We can't go forgetting those, can we?

As this episode covers two different individuals and their troubles, so both stories are underpinned by the aforementioned cleavage. On one side of this episode we return to the world of Meguru, who is still having some issues relating to the size of her breasts. This is only made worse by the appearance of her younger rival "Q" - No, not from James Bond, it's the nickname for Kyuma, a girl who is determined to beat Meguru at something. Her choice of event for this momentous win is swimming, which only serves to further knock poor Meguru's confidence, leaving her to wonder what she has left in her life. After trying to live her life making the most of her ample bosom, she finally (and thanks in no small part to her crush Watase) finds her comfort zone, albeit in a slightly cheesy fashion.

The real interesting stuff however comes in the form of who else but Kei and Kusuda, with the latter seemingly set to be lured away by the top-heavy president of the drama club, who is looking for someone to play a kappa in a performance for the school's freshman, and what better man than "the kappa" himself Kusuda to play the role? Naturally, Kei Enomoto is none too happy at the thought of "her" kappa being snatched away, building up another rivalry while Kei swings predictably to extremes in her love/hate relationship with Kusuda, almost ruining everything completely before possibly saving the day by apologising while looking over-bearingly cute. Don't you just hate it when girls manage to do that, leaving you powerless to reject their apology?

Anyhow, while this episode was entirely too breast-centric for my liking (indeed, I'm sure I've never written the word "breast" so many times in three paragraphs in my like), and both sides of the story told were a little cliched (particularly compared to the fabulous previous episode which will live long in my memory), there were some moments to enjoy here, not least the comical attempts to lure and ensnare Kusuda using a trail of cucumber. Even at its most ridiculous (and yes, I still say they'd never last together although I know some may disagree), the Kei-Kusuda relationship is pure car crash anime viewing, as you're always guaranteed some drama as everything goes off the rails and ends in disaster, only to be reeled back at the last moment. Not a classic episode of this series then, but a passable effort from a show that can do much, much better than this when it really puts its mind to it.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Basquash! - Episode 11

It's probably a little early to start discussing what impact the change in director and the reshuffling and replacement of various other staff members on the Basquash! project will have, but one thing is for sure - There were some occasionally disastrous lapses in animation quality here that were truly jarring against the normally superlative inducing quality we've come to expect from this series.

Thankfully, these issues don't seem to have extended to the actual plot itself too much, although this is admittedly a slower episode than we've been used to seeing from the series. After resolving his issues last episode, Dan and the rest of the team have been on a roll, tearing up teams left, right and centre and well and truly cementing their place in the public psyche. The net result of this is an invitation for them to play in the OCB at Turbine City, a city.... well, full of turbines basically, relying as it does on wind power to generate vast amounts of electricity.

So, while "Alan" is scouting out the town and trying to get to grips with its unique nature ready for the forthcoming matches, so everyone else seems somewhat distracted - Sela has some history to revisit in the town (despite her denials that she's ever been there before), while Iceman Hotty once again finds himself with a need to go back on some history of his own, visiting Falcon for some reason or other. Indeed, Dan seems to be the only one unfazed by the anything, casually wandering around basketball in hand, and only really showing any interest when the prize for winning the OCB tournament is revealed - A chance to play in the Lunar League.

In all honesty, this episode was only ever going to be about scene setting ready for the big tournament, and it manages to do this pretty well (thanks once again to some gorgeous backdrops for this instalment) while also delving a little more into Sela's previously unknown past and adding a little more frisson to the rivalry between Iceman Hotty and Falcon. So, no complaints on that front, but I really am disappointed by those aforementioned lapses in animation quality on show in this episode - Not what I wanted to see the week after an announcement that the character designer for the series is no longer working on the show. Will we be seeing more cost-cutting from this series? After so many episodes of top-notch animation it is perhaps inevitable, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, and even by normal standards the drop in quality here was a step too far.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 21

Episode twenty-one of Hetalia: Axis Powers has managed to cement a place in my heart for one reason and one reason alone - It features Sealand at the centre of much of its subject matter!

Whilst it's a bit of a push to call it a country no matter what its owners might say, I've always held a bit of a curiosity and love of the underdog about the place, so I got a real kick out of seeing it feature Hetalia style - Not to mention that the part about it always springing leaks isn't so far from the truth given that the real Sealand has suffered from fires and the like in recent times. Anyhow, in this episode poor old Sealand tries to do its bit at a world conference, but forgets that no other country recognises it as a nature - A sad day indeed.

That aside, we get a brief return to Chibitalia at the start of the episode, with the Roman Empire struggling to leave Italy behind, and Italy showing its true spirit as Germany goes off to Russia in World War II... By surrendering. Who cares though, this episode is all about Sealand.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Shangri-la - Episode 11

After shocking and amazing me by delivering an episode that wasn't bad last time around, it seems that Shangri-la has decided to play it safe for the duration of episode eleven by boring the pants off me lest I find anything to make fun of.

As the episode begins, it seems that once again an attack on Medusa has been foiled, with Kunihito and his crew left stranded on a life raft for the entire episode after their ship was sunk. Now, if only they had Takehiko around to help them - He'd soon have dug a tunnel to save them from their current perils.

However, the main focus of this episode is Karin, who finds herself first coming into the possession of a cat which appears from nowhere, before receiving a mysterious visitor who urges her to go outside and break free from her current life stuck in the front of a keyboard all day every day (hmm, that sounds familiar to me...). After a couple of visitations, Karin takes this advice, and we get to see the birdcage in which she's been trapped for so long. Indeed, the bird and canary references run throughout this episode, in what turned out to be a pretty lazy theme for this instalment. That aside, we're also beginning to see some further evidence that ties the major characters (Kuniko, Karin, Mikuni and Kunihito, as well as Karin's strange visitor) together, although again this felt like a rather clumsy and/or lazy addition as presented in this episode rather than anything worthy of real intrigue or deep plot development.

Really, it seems as though Shangri-la has swung from one extreme to the other - While previously it tried way too hard to pack in the action, adventure and plot progression, now it almost seems to be scared to move things forward, instead preferring to frame everything in simple terms and throwing in the odd important moment just to keep things ticking along. In short, it remains a horribly badly paced series that feels like it doesn't know what it wants to do with itself, and thus ends up making a ham-fisted attempt at everything that it turns its mind to.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 11

After the sadness and shock of Maes Hughes' death in the last episode, we were arguably in need of a rather lighter pick-me-up for this eleventh instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and that's basically exactly what we get here.

This entire episode takes in the Elric brothers and Winry's stop-off on the way to Dublith at the behest of the latter so that she can take in the joys of Rush Valley - The Automail equivalent of Tottenham Court Road. Or something. Naturally, Ed's own Automail gets more than a little attention from the locals... A little too much attention, as he soon realises that the pocket watch which denotes his status as a State Alchemist has been stolen. Our trio soon take off to try and catch the culprit, a young girl with some nifty Automail of her own named Paninya, and before they know it they end up in this hospitality of a family including an Automail mechanic genius and a pregnant wife. It's the latter that causes all of the problems however, going into labour in the middle of a storm and leaving Winry having to rely heavily on what little she remembers from her upbringing amongst parents who were doctors.

While this probably can't strictly be labelled as filler episode (it brings us a few important smidgens of character development, not least for Winry), it's hardly hugely vital to the story at this point, although as I mentioned at the start of this entry the need for something a little happier after the goings-on in episode ten should probably be most welcome. I do worry sometimes that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is almost laying on the humour a little too thick in recent episodes (and certainly its joke to outright laugh ratio is pretty small), but then again perhaps it would all be too despresingly dark without it. At the end of the day though, this isn't really an episode that you'll kick yourself for missing in the grand scheme of things, although it has been nice to see a bit more of Winry in recent episodes.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 11

From being threatened with a knife by Kanako to zipping back through time to World War II with a mentally and physically unstable Yayoi - This must almost be the definition of "out of the frying pan and into the fire" for young Hajime?

Anyhow, this is exactly the scenario that he faces, after accidentally connecting with Yayoi and the pair of them being sent back in time to an unknown year. This is all too much for Yayoi, who already holds so much terror from that time in her heart, and she passes out, leaving Hajime to wheel her around while going it alone. Things only get worse out in the open, as a Yayoi comes around to plead with former friends to escape their future fates (demonstrated and delivered in typically unhinged and terrifying style by Shaft's animators), before ening up face-to-face with the Kanako of that time, at a period before the pair were friends.

What follows however is a chain of events which literally changes the course of history, cementing the otherwise non-existent friendship between Yayoi and Kanako (thanks in some small part to Hajime) while also allowing Hajime to get a glimpse of the actual World War II era Arashi - Interestingly, she seems to recognise him... Could this foreshadow something from a future episode, as this era's Arashi would never otherwise have known him?

It really does seem like Natsu no Arashi is getting better by the week at the moment, and I found myself both enjoying and moved by this episode. We're so used to series where changing the course of history has catastrophic effects, and it's that which makes this show something of a breath of fresh air, presenting a world where changing history makes it a better place. A lot of respect should also be directed at Natsu no Arashi's depiction of World War II, which drills in to the psychological toll it takes more than relying on the physicality of its destruction - An interesting route to take, and one that is pulled off with aplomb here. It feels almost surprising to talk in such terms about a series that has been so frivolous during other episodes, but such is the unique nature of this show - Perhaps this juxtaposition of humour and more serious topics isn't a bad thing, but it certainly makes Natsu no Arashi hard to describe or classify.

Saki - Episode 11

We haven't really seen anything much of the club president Hisa in terms of actually playing Mahjong, but this episode makes up for that deficiency in spades, featuring as it does her attempts to overturn the deficit currently facing Kiyosumi in their qualifying match.

First and foremost, this means that we get to find out about her playing style, which is a mix of logic topped with a hefty dose of what seems to be utter superstition, picking some of her moves at what would normally be the worst possible time in each hand. Superstition, super power or whatever, this confusing style of play wreaks havoc with her opponents, and before we know it (and at the half-way point in her particular round) Kiyosumihave jumped from last place on the leaderboard to first. Not bad going, all things considered.

Meanwhile, much ado is building up over Etopen, Nodoka's cute, fat penguin mascot who was snatched from her while she napped and is now doing the rounds passing from hand to hand in some kind of flightless bird equivalent of pass the parcel. This insanity soon takes on an even more serious air, as an argument over poor old Etopen leaves him sans a wing. Disaster!

So, once again I find myself cheering along this series simply on the basis of its oddly compelling Mahjong action - Thankfully, Hisa's "special power" seems somehow in the realms of believability which also assuages any irritation I may have with such things, leaving me to really rather enjoy this episode. With a few more little flashbacks into the background behind some of the characters, there's really nothing I can complain about in this episode, although I swear that Nodoka's shirt has somehow shrunk since she started her nap last episode - Does she really grow that quickly?

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 10

After our little Empire-related interlude last episode, the tenth instalment of Valkyria Chronicles brings us right back to the activities of Welkin and Alicia - And within seconds they find themselves in a tight spot. Just what have they gotten themselves into this time?

We then rewind to the scenario leading up to this state of affairs - A scouting mission postponed by an impending snowstorm, leading our intrepid duo to find a nearby abandoned hut for shelter. Of course, in an inevitable turn of events the two of them wind up sharing a blanket to weather the storm, followed by some deep and rather maudlin conversations about their respective families (or lack thereof) before the two come somewhat close to sharing a kiss before Welkin decides that sleep is more important.

This rather cosy state of affairs is rudely interrupted by the appearance in the hut of an enemy combatant, complete with rifle and grenade with the pin pulled on it, causing a rather nervy and protracted stand-off between himself, Welkin and Alicia. Eventually, Alicia's sheer persistence wears down this soldier (you can make your own jokes about men being worn down by a woman's persistent nagging here, I value my life too dearly), who allows the wounds he's carrying to be treated by her while still grimly holding on to his grenade. As the cause of this soldier's wounds become clear, so the mood between the trio changes, and all is resolved amicably and happily for all concerned in the end. Well, apart from the soldier who dies of his wounds, but ho-hum - That's what you get for not being a major character in a war-based anime.

As episodes go this was a pretty decent little affair, which serves primarily to warm up the dynamic between Alicia and Welkin considerably while also showing how relatively well they can work as a team despite their obvious personality differences. If only the stand-off between them and the enemy soldier had been infused with a little more dramatic tension somehow though - It never really felt like there was any genuine danger in the situation, although perhaps that's the fault of this series as a whole and its rather warm and fuzzy portrayal of armed conflict.

Evangelion 1.11 - You Are (Not) Alone

Seeing as I afforded plenty of time and space to voice my thoughts on Evangelion 1.01, I'm not going to spend too much time dissecting the Blu-Ray release of Evangelion 1.11 - You Are (Not) Alone for obvious reasons, namely that basically all of my points made on that occasion still stand with this release.

It probably sounds obvious to say this, but seeing the Evangelion universe and characters in full 1080p is an awesome experience - One or two scenes which looked a little wobbly or less well mastered aside, the entire viewing experience is undoubtedly enhanced by Evangelion 1.11's High Definition treatment. Even some of the CGI scenes which I previously expressed doubts about having watched 1.01 seem to blend in and work far better here - No question about it, this is the best-looking Evangelion yet.

As far as the additional scenes thrown into this release are concerned, I can't really compare them with the changes between 1.0 and 1.01 as I never saw the original theatrical release, but for me (and I was as surprised as anybody to feel this) they all actually helped tremendously with both pacing the story better and sewing up loose ends with a view to the forthcoming movies. While 1.01 occasionally felt as though it was skimming over certain points, 1.11 tries harder to make everything feel like part of Gendo's and/or SEELE's grand plan - Revisionist history you could argue, but it somehow helps justify the more ominous tones that You Are (Not) Alone exhibits against the early episodes of the original series.

Evangelion nut that I am, I was never really going to complain about yet another excuse to watch my favourite anime in its latest incarnation, but I seriously have to say that this 1.11 release does the job better (albeit subtly so) than its predecessor. With 2.0 on the way very soon (with lots of changes I feel a great deal of trepidation about), hopefully this will see an end to anybody messing with 1.x any further - It's a shame that the US release coming soon appears to be sticking to the original 1.0 release, we'll be missing some good stuff.

Eden of the East - Episode 10

For a few episodes now, I've been questioning how Eden of the East can answer all of the questions it has posed in what little time remains of the series proper (assuming it doesn't all spill over into the expected movie, which I'm imagining it will still have to) - Well, I guess this is how... In short, episode ten was packed to the rafters with mind-blowing revelations.

After receiving his mysterious phone call at the end of the last episode, Akira remains on the platform as Saki and Mikuru board the last train. Again, this gives us some fantastic moments which sum up Saki and Akira's current relationship without uttering a word - Saki moves forward to step off the train and stay with Akira, then changes her mind and lets him go alone while seeming to instantly regret her decision. This seems to be enough to finally give her the impetus to call him and voice her concerns, to which Akira has no real answers - Regardless, he advises her to stay on the line and listen to his next moves to see what transpires.

What does transpire is an invitation from Seleção number I (the man responsible for killing Itazu of course), who promises to reveal the truth about Akira's lost memories and even the identity of Mr. Outside. As you might have expected, Mr. Outside's real persona is suspected to be a wealthy buisinessman with huge political influence, but what you may not have expected is the revelation that he is most likely already dead (in the eyes of Seleção I at least), with the gain continuing apace despite its creator's demise. In essence, number I's plan is to win the game by becoming Mr. Outside himself, a plot which he is following with the help of two other Seleção, not least the man responsible for Careless Monday.

This is where things get really interesting, as the plot unfolds for another, larger scale missile attack on Japan from these Seleção, while Akira finds out why (or at least partly why, I suspect there's more to it than simply one thing) he wiped his memories. The issue, as posited by Seleção I, is that Akira was betrayed by the people who he saved from those missiles - Despite going out of his way to ensure nobody was killed, the populace still wished for something bigger and "better" (or worse, depending on how you look at it) to happen in their lives. Even all of these revelations are without the sudden appearance of a ship loaded with crates of naked men outside Akira's shopping complex...

With so much going on in this single episode, it's difficult to know where to start, but all I can really say is that I loved every second of it. There are so many intriguing ideas brought in via this episode that you could probably write a book on them alone, from Seleção I and his cohorts plan to improve Japan by essentially wiping out the elderly and the lazy (an evil scheme if ever I've heard one) to the feelings of entitlement and/or helplessness felt by the country's younger generation, right through to the concept of Akira being betrayed by the people he saved as they still weren't satisfied despite escaping death. This latter point is what really threw my mind into overdrive - With wall to wall news coverage of disasters, bad news has to all intents and purposes become entertainment, to the extent where we actually welcome huge disasters as a way to break up the everyday mundanity of life and let us live vicariously in a world of danger and sadness.. with this in mind, is there a subconscious part of us that revels in and enjoys watching these horrors unfold through our TV screens and web pages, feeling safely distanced from them even when they occur in our back yard?

So, with one episode to go, there still seems like a lot to cover, but I'm feeling a little more comfortable that this final episode should be able to shoehorn in a reasonable amount - I'm sure we'll be left hanging for the movie (such is the nature of the cogs within the marketing machine), but I now feel like I almost know enough about what is going on in this series to be satisfied with that outcome. Whatever happens in the finale of this series, I'm ready and waiting to come along for the ride wherever it's going to take us.

Friday, 12 June 2009

K-ON! - Episode 11

As another school festival rolls around once again, it seems like the light music club are lurching from one crisis to the next as they prepare for said festival.

For starters, and as per club tradition, Ritsu has forgotten to hand in the paperwork to book the auditorium for the band's performance, which in turn raises another question - Just what is their band called anyhow? There's little time to worry about that though, as Azusa notices the shocking state of Yui's guitar, which is in dire need of some maintenance. So, off to the guitar shop the group trudges, leaving Mugi to save the say once again on account of Yui's... err... "lack of common sense", let's just politely say.

So, Yui's guitar is fixed, but the same can't be said for some of the relationship's within the club, as Mio and Ritsu's friendship becomes strained seemingly to breaking point, until one day Ritsu simply stops turning up to the club. Have things really gotten that bad between the pair of them? This is K-ON!, of course it isn't that bad!

It may be lacking in the actual music department, but once again this (seemingly penultimate) episode of K-ON! contained everything you could ask for from it, giving you that wonderful warm and fuzzy Friday feeling in which it delights while also serving up some genuinely funny and/or sweet moments during the course of the episode (with my personal highlight this time around being Yui's revelation that she dresses up her guitar... like you do). It may not be a classic in the same way of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya or Lucky Star, but in its own way K-ON! is proving itself worthy of its intense fan adoration much of the time, not just for being "moe", but for being a genuinely warm and funny slice of life series. Now, if they can just finish it off with a closing episode depicting the girls school festival performance, in full and without cutting away to anything else, then we can all go away exceedingly happy. How's that for a deal, KyoAni?