Friday, 31 July 2009

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 4

After possibly the funniest episode of all time last week, I suppose episode four of Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was always going to struggle to live up to those dizzy heights. Not that this was a bad episode, mind you... It simply didn't force me to choose between laughing and breathing as episode three did.

The main reason for this is perhaps that this instalment was even more Japan-o-centric than usual - The first chunk of the episode in particular exemplified this with its talk of TPO, a frequently used Japanese acroynm meaning "time, place, objective"; in other words a broad comment on a person's given social situation. In short then, this segment dealt with inappropriate behaviour for any given situation, which of course with this being Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei was taken to the ridiculous (and not to mention amusing) length of playing dodgy erotic Nintendo DS games in the middle of Japan's "Warring States" period.

From here, we take in holidays that perhaps shouldn't be, pondering why Japanese prefectures who aren't directly next to water should celebrate "Sea Day". This soon melds into situations where celebrating can either be considered good or weird (celebrating a horse winning a race after 300 straight defeats for example) before introducing us to the concept of a "chimera holiday", which apparantly needs to be as boring as humanly possible. I'm pretty sure I've had a few of those actually...

Finally, we return to the concept of taking "excessive care" of things, from over-zealous copyright infringement lawsuits (oh, how I punched the air over that being mentioned, liberal despiser of modern copyright law that I am) through to the ever-increasing blight of health and safety (which sees the removal of all the fun things from a children's playground in this case). If the first two segments of this episode were a little too localised for your tastes, this is probably the one that had you nodding in agreement.

So, not a classic episode (particularly for the non-Japanese viewer) perhaps, but hey, if nothing else I feel like I've learned new things from this episode. And learning is a good thing, as we know, with your level of education only slightly less important in life than your ability to successfully complete the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei drawing song without creating a monstrosity. That particular gag, which closes off every episode of this series, should probably be getting old for me by now, yet somehow it makes me laugh out loud every time.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 - Episode 4

Having survived collapsing building and bridges and capsizing boats during the last episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, much of this fourth episode of the series prefers to centre around the more human fallout of the disaster.

To those ends, it's fair to say that Mirai is having a pretty rough time of things, from a desperate need to visit the bathroom down to a few encounters with the less savoury side of humanity in a time of crisis such as people cutting in line and others who don't even have the time to stop and say sorry. It's hard to imagine such things happening in ultra-polite Japan, but I can only assume that it does go on, and doubtless even more so at a time of crisis.

With Mari, Mirai and Yuuki finally safely back on the mainland, most of this episode is centered around their visit to a park which has doubled up as a centre to help the victims of the earthquake, providing food and rest facilities, and dishing out emergency packs to tide people over for the coming few days. Mobile phone signals are still out of the question, and it's this that proves to be the straw that breaks Mirai's proverbial back, causing an argument and tears aplenty for both herself and Yuuki. Eventually they calm down and make up, only to find one of Tokyo's most famous landmarks about to topple down upon them...

I suppose in many ways this broad change of pace and focus was probably needed for this episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 - After all, there is a lot more to an earthquake-based disaster than simply stuff falling down. When it comes to this kind of thing, Mirai and Yuuki's personal circumstances act as a good foil for allowing these kids (and they are both kids, no matter what Mirai says, as is excellently portrayed here) to show the circumstances of the situation free from politics or other concerns that might affect grown adults, giving us what is almost a wide-eyed and innocent view of such a shocking natural disaster. The spectacular collapsing landmark I just mentioned seems rather implausible for me sat here in the UK, but on that count I'll just have to take it as part of the supposedly well-researched simulations carried out from this series, and set against that knowledge I once again found that particular scene unnerving to watch.

So, my gut feeling is that this episode wasn't quite as strong as those that came before, but that "weakness" (although I don't really wish to call it that) is really an understandable one considering the nature of this show. Above all else though, Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 remains a simply fascinating series to watch, if slightly uncomfortably so at times.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Season 2 - Episode 8 (aka Episode 18)

I won't lie to you, this constant repetition of the same episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is having an adverse effect on my life. I wake up every morning thinking "Something was strange...", whenever I hear the phone ring I feel the need to call out "Kyon-kun, phone!", I end phone conversations with the phrase "OVER!" and as the sun sets and the stars come out, I mutter about "UFOs, UFOs...". All of this is without the time I was at the classified information with my classified information and then we decided to classified information in the classified information, but we ended up classified information instead. I wouldn't want that to happen again, that's for sure.

Anyhow, in case you haven't guessed this eighteenth episode of the series is yet another repetition of the Endless Eight arc - The seventh iteration, for those of you who have lost the will to count or otherwise fathom how much time you've spent watching almost the exact same thing repeatedly. I'm not really sure what more to say beyond that - This was perhaps one of the better iterations of this episode in terms of the soundtrack and the way some of the scenes were portrayed, but that's a bit like saying "Hey, that was the best session of waterboarding I ever had!". Indeed, even for those positives, some of the other scenes felt so overplayed as to be almost a parody of themselves... which I suppose they are in a sense. Even little jokes like the shop named "Endless" would have been funny had it not been for the fact that we've been going through this torturous state of affairs for almost two months now. The same could be said for those little lines and phrases I alluded to in my opening to this entry - Classic quotes in isolation, but now instruments of suffering to anyone who has been following this series week in, week out.

I suppose the big question now is - Will Endless Eight end with its eight episode next week? Honestly, I just don't know any more. I almost simply don't care any more, although it would be nice to come home from work to watch some actual, bona fide new episodes of this series.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Kara no Kyoukai 6 - Boukyaku Rokuon

While I haven't covered the previous five Kara no Kyoukai movies on this 'Blog, I suppose it's important for reference to start out by mentioning that I have watched said movies - Indeed, I took in the entire series up to that point a couple of months ago over the course of a few days, leaving me hungry for more and waiting for this sixth instalment.

This sixth movie, Boukyaku Rokuon, begins with an introduction via Azaka Kokuto, the brother of Mikiya (with whom she is in love) and an apprentice magus under the teachings of Touko. Quite naturally, she sees Shiki as her love rival, giving the pairing something of a fractious relationship initially; a set of circumstances not helped when Azaka and Shiki are teamed up to investigate some strange goings on at a religious boarding school.

The goings-on in question seem to involve fairies, who are capable of "stealing" memories, and are also believed to be responsible for the death of Kaori Tachibana, a girl who officially speaking commited suicide. With Shiki's eyes required to see the fairies, and Azaka on-hand to provide the magic (with some pyrotechnics and a glove, both of which Roy Mustang would be proud), so their investigation begins, taking in a teacher with more than a passing resemblance to Mikiya and a student council president who appears to have something to hide.

In essence, this entire instalment of Kara no Kyoukai is a study on the importance of memory, with all of the major characters upon which it focuses affected by a memory, or more frequently the lack thereof. Azaka finds herself trying to justify her illicit love of her brother despite not being able to recall why she fell in love with him in the first place, Shiki as we well know has something hidden away deep within her memories, and of course those aforementioned fairies (and later their "owner") are all about memory. If this movie were to be a question it would probably be something along the lines of "Is it better to forget the things which pain us?"; a question which it never really sets out to answer, preferring instead to let both the characters on show here and the viewer reach their own conclusions. However, to my mind the balance is tipped towards forgetting even bad experiences being a dangerous thing, given the ease with which certain people are swayed by the instigation of false memories (which could in itself be a commentary on the nature of faith and/or belief).

From another perspective, some of the conversations between Azaka and Shiki were fascinating to watch here - Despite the vast gulf between these two characters in terms of personality, their initially cold relationship actually melds into something rather close and almost sisterly, with the two developing an understanding of the other's motivations at times without a word spoken between them. This is perhaps the most important aspect of character development on show here, and it'll be interesting to see if or how it plays out into the final movie.

Of course, as with any series like this, Boukyaku Rokuon is going to be compared to the previous instalments of Kara no Kyoukai, and I'm sure I'll be neither the first nor the last to state that this episode does suffer compared to what came before - It has neither the bite nor the cutting psychological edge of any of the five movies that came before, which can leave it to feel rather plain in comparison. That said, this particular effort remains a solid one which becomes progressively deeper and more thought-provoking the longer you examine it, which arguably puts it on a slightly more level-footing with its predecessors. The final minutes after the credits roll which serve as a precursor to the final movie do perhaps point to what is missing here - The vicious darkness and insanity served up there is more what I've come to expect (and have previously commended in discussion with others) from Kara no Kyoukai. It feels like there's still a lot to be covered and taken on by this final movie, which could well make for a fascinating experience.

Spice and Wolf II - Episode 4

After the last episode of Spice and Wolf II, one of the replies to my entry posited that said episode's closing scene would go down as an epic one in anime history - While I think that may have been over-egging the delicious pudding of this series, the scene in question did nonetheless light a fire under this normally sedate show.

So, at the start of this fourth instalment, we have Horo still sulking in her room while Lawrence paces the street in a state of abject misery - However, if there's one thing to be said for this particular merchant, it's that he's not one to wallow in his own self-pity. Thus, with his wits regained, the rest of the episode sees him racing around town as he looks into every possible way in which he can force Amati to break his contract with Lawrence.

Lawrence's plan turns out to be an "assault" on Amati from several directions - Looking to crash the market for pyrite upon which Amati is reliant in his deal with Lawrence, while also creating another contract with Amati to give Lawrence the credit he needs to enact some of the other phases of his plot. I'm not going to try and sound smart here, so I'll come straight out with it and admit that the vast majority of these medieval economic manoeuvres fly straight over my head like a giant, enraged wolf - Still, I love to see a bit of cunning and devious behaviour from my anime characters from time and time, so generally speaking I rather like the cut of Lawrence's jib.

While part of me feels a little disappointed at the lack of Horo in this episode, and of course that chemistry that we're so used to between herself and Lawrence, this change of pace to the dynamic of the series is arguably much-needed in some ways. For starters, it really shows the strength of Lawrence's character as both a man and a merchant; something that can easily be forgotten when set against the wiles of Horo. Even more importantly, it also allows us to reflect upon the importance of friendship in more general terms, with Lawrence turning to fellow merchant Mark as a source of help and advice, and indeed almost taking things too far as he ends up asking Mark to take risks which would jeopardise his standing in the town. In a way, this is almost a pastiche on Lawrence and Horo's relationship in microcosm, with the two both engaging in give and take as part of their daily life, but occasionally one party simply takes or assumes too much.

Even with Horo largely missing from this instalment, she still manages to make a huge impact for the small amount of time afforded to her - Her reactions when watching both Amati and Lawrence from the window seem to speak volumes (and her reaction to the latter in particular felt uncomfortably realistic; I've seen that kind of look a few times post-argument), while the letter and contract she leaves for Lawrence at their hostel speak volumes for the kind of mixed messages and teasing in which she loves to partake. Regardless, at the end of it all I'm left impatiently waiting once again for the next episode, which will hopefully treat us to more Horo and a happy ending to this heart-rending little tale - I keep having to remind myself not to get too wound up about it all, so easy is it to become over-invested emotionally in these characters.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Basquash! - Episode 17

From the heights of the moon (or at least close to it) to the depths of Underground, the last couple of episodes have certainly seen a hefty change in fortunes for Team Basquash... Still, the good news is that it looks like Dan's made himself a new friend.

After being rescued by a mysterious Bigfoot last time around, after a quick game of Basquash we learn that this new appearance isn't actually a bigfoot at all; rather, the guy in question's name is Naviga, and he's a giant from the moon. So, we learn via Dan what Navi is doing here, and why him and others of his kind were brought to Earthdash to work - A tragic tale, but not sufficiently so to divert Dan from his sincere belief that Navi should take up playing Basquash rather than simply protecting the graves of his former friends.

Elsewhere however, there are perhaps more pressing matters at hand, not least the fact that bounty hunters aplenty are after the head of Dan. While most of these individuals would be no challenge to the team (particularly when their prey are kitted out in Bigfoots), one bounty hunter in particular is a cause for concern - A fact which Iceman Hotty would no doubt testify to as he divulges the history behind his artificial arm and leg. Turns out it was nothing to do with alchemy and human transmutation at all... Shows what I know.

While this wasn't a bad episode in itself, I'm still finding myself to be a little frustrated at yet another change in scenario and pace for the series - Although the developing plots on the moon clearly haven't been forgotten (and Eclipse do feature in this episode), we're still left to deal with this whole Underground story arc without too much of a clue as to whether it's even relevant to the mainstay of the story... I could well be wrong (it has been known), but at the moment it feels a little too much like a filler-esque distraction to me, and it's one that doesn't show any signs of finishing by the next episode. Hopefully some good can come of it in the long run, but having the moon snatched away in the manner seen in this series hasn't just been a frustration for Dan - It's equally frustrated me too. Just as it seemed like Basquash! was back to its best for a while, it seems to have sunk back into mediocrity for the time being courtesy of a story arc that simply hasn't captured my imagination.

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 17

Another day, another dangerous mission for Squad 7 to embark upon - Welkin and company just don't get any lucky breaks these days, do they? Mind you, when your Militia unit has put most of the Gallian army to shame I suppose you're just asking for such difficulties.

Anyway, this seventeenth episode of Valkyria Chronicles sees the squad given just such a dangerous mission, going on the offensive against an outpost of the Empire that leaves them without anything in the way of cover. Despite this threat however, you can't help but feel that Welkin's mind is wandering elsewhere somewhat, while Alicia all but avoids speaking to him whenever possible due to the fallout from that slightly emotional climax to the last episode. Set against the backdrop of a festival to celebrate friendship and the like, there doesn't seem to be all that much goodwill to go around amongst a number of the major characters.

If you thought the ending to the last episode was upsetting, then the conclusion to this instalment will probably plunge you into depression for the next week - That was one shock ending that I really wasn't expecting, although I have no idea where it'll take the series from here or how major an impact the circumstances we see in those closing moments will have. Still, between that major surprise and the return (finally!) to some actual battlefield action in this episode, there was more to like here overall than perhaps the last couple of instalments have offered up.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 27

Just when you thought it was safe to start taking history seriously again... Hetalia: Axis Powers is back to terrorise everything you thought you knew! I was going to say that it's almost as if it's never been away, but now I come to think of it, it has never been away.

Anyhow, episode twenty-seven of the series sees the Allies get hold of Germany's military diary, giving them a unique insight into his preparations and training; such vital information as his obsessive cleaning whenever Italy uses the kitchen, and of course Italy's complete ineptitude in the face of... well, pretty much anything really, which often ends with him being repeatedly slapped around the head or hit with sticks.

While all of this is pretty amusing in itself, the icing of the cake is Germany's own rendition of Hetalia's closing theme song, which made me laugh out loud. I'm not sure if it's going to be in place for the entire series or just this episode, but it's comedy gold - Not a bad start for the "return" of Hetalia (if you can call it that).

Shangri-la - Episode 17

The end of the last instalment of Shangri-la left us with Takehiko pointing a gun at Kuniko's head - Surely this would be a waste of a bullet, when most of the world would be calling for him to point it at Momoko's head instead?

Anyhow, we soon learn the reason for this treachery, that being that Takehiko is... well, a traitor. Rather unconvincingly, we learn that this manly man was in fact working for Atlas all along, employed as nothing more than a security guard to keep Kuniko out of harm's way. Why would they want this? We've known this for some time now of course... Kuniko is a AAA citizen. No no, she isn't a battery, it means she's a possible successor to Atlas. Takehiko wants to kill Kuniko because Atlas sacrificed her sister (I assume to become Hiruko at some point), although really this makes absolutely no sense in myriad ways from this being absolutely nothing to do with Kuniko (who has been fighting against Atlas all along, remember Takehiko?) down to the fact that Takehiko would also have to kill Mikuni and idiot boy... err, I mean Kusanagi... to truly topple Atlas' plan. Speaking of Kusanagi, it is he who saves Takehiko, who then takes a topple into a nearby river, no doubt to reappear when a deus ex machina is next required.

Meanwhile, Karin has moved into a new role as the owner of Akihabara, which also sees her putting up Lady Mikuni and her assorted freak show. This does at least give us the amusing scene where Karin hires staff from Akihabara's maid cafes to use as Mikuni's servants, which doesn't really all that well - It seems that our Lady has forgotten about being a nice kid and has gone back to screwing up women like bits of paper if they annoy her. Most pressing all of all though is the growth of the Daedulus mushroom things, which are starting to render parts of the country (including a Metal Age base) uninhabitable with their toxic payload. Considering how easily Kuniko seems able to cut them down with her boomerang, and I can't help but wonder why she doesn't buy some more boomerangs - Instead however, she's looking to purchase another bomber, so no doubt we'll get to enjoy seeing another stealth bomber flown in broad daylight just to mess with my head again.

I suppose you can't argue that there's plot progression aplenty on show in this episode of Shangri-la, although on closer inspection it seems rather more like simply a reshuffling of some chess pieces over any genuine movement; or, as I prefer to think of it, it's more like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. It seems that no matter how hard they try, the script writers for this show just end up looking stupid - Their attempt at building any kind of emotion vis-a-vis Takehiko fails miserably, just like Takehiko's assassination plan which is so poorly thought-out that I suppose you can argue that it was at least in keeping with his oafish character. Still, Karin's comic turn amused me somewhat, so I suppose at least this episode wasn't a complete wash-out.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 17

If you thought the last instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was dark and depressing, then you ain't see nothing yet, as episode seventeen takes us into even more dark and morally dubious territory.

With Maria Ross called into questioning regarding Lieutenant Hughes' murder last time around, it's clear that someone, somewhere is using their power to toy with the entire fabric of the State Alchemists organisation (and of course, we know exactly who that someone is), and despite evidence to the contrary a sufficient case is built up to charge Ross with the murder, to the shock and consternation of those close to her. However, before she is so much as sentenced it appears that help is at hand from a most unlikely source, helping her to escape..... For a while at least.

What happens next is, quite simply, a bolt from the blue, and one that shocks both of the Elric brothers as much as anybody. But were Colonel Mustang's actions purely motivated by revenge, or is there some deeper plan at work here? Further movements and actions after this shocking turn of events seems to suggest that latter case is correct, but just what is Mustang playing at?

All in all, I have to laud this as possibly one of the best episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist from either TV series that I've had the pleasure of watching - Having never read the manga (and I'm assuming this episode is continuing to stick close to it), I was swept away on the waves of shock and confusion that this instalment sent through me, and the whole thing has been played so perfectly straight and in such a seemingly up-front way that I really have no idea what the grand plan here is... and I love it. In a world where anime tends to be all-too predictable in the way that it goes about telling its story, particularly for a popular and relatively mainstream show, to actually finish an episode confounded and unsure as to what will happen next time around is like a breath of fresh air, especially when it's carried out with the kind of darkly knowing aplomb on show here. Right now, episode eighteen can't come soon enough... I just hope it doesn't disappoint.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

CANAAN - Episode 4

Three episodes in, CANAAN is safely proving to be this season's "series where I really can't figure out what's going on, but I'm enjoying it anyway" - I guess I must not be the only one, considering that it's now been announced that three movies will be derived from the series starting this October.

After Canaan and Maria parted ways in what could hardly be called a friendly manner last episode, this instalment focuses almost entirely on the fallout from that in some shape or form - While Maria locks herself away in a hotel room for much of the episode, Canaan muses on the pain of losing someone close to her once again, which in turn draws us back in time to her childhood and the training that came from it. This flashback segment shows us how Canaan was discovered hiding away in a basement, before being trained to fight and kill by a man named Siam - A man later killed despite Canaan's attempts to stop his death. So it goes that Canaan herself appears to be out for revenge for her part of the story, while Maria seems to have found herself a new (and unlikely) ally in the absence of Canaan.

Shorn of all of the intense action (or which there was only one short but admittedly impressive burst for this episode), this instalment of CANNAN was a bit of a slow-burner - The flashback to Canaan's past was both much needed and pretty well-handled, but this episode was somehow otherwise left without much of a spark to it, seemingly going through the motions without really giving us anything definitive to enjoy. Still, there's no doubting the high production qualities of this show, which at least goes some way to keeping my interest until we get back to something a bit juicier - I just hope that time comes sooner rather than later.

Saki - Episode 17

Episode seventeen of Saki takes us to the half-way point of the qualifying match's final round, but there's only one person at the table walking away for the break with a smile on their face, with Koromo having had a field day with her opponents, leaving them all looking decidedly depressed.

With that break underway, all three of Koromo's opponents find themselves being consoled by their team-mates, with Saki in particular getting some words of motivation from Nodoka as she finds herself lost on the way to the bathroom.

However, words can only do so much, and as we rejoin the action for the second half of this round things certainly don't get any better - Indeed, Koromo seems to be on a even more of a vicious run of form, targeting Kazekoshi relentlessly until she brings them to their knees with a total of zero points. Could this be Koromo's first major mistake however? Her choice to take Kazekoshi to zero points was at the expense of winning the game outright, and in the very next hand the situation is saved by some cunning play by Saki to bring the fourth-placed team back into the points; of course, as we already know from early in the series Saki is a dab-hand at losing points as well as winning them. Finally, Saki seems to have found something to enjoy in her game, which could spell trouble for the other prodigy at the table as the match continues next episode...

So, once again I've found myself getting caught up well and truly in the Mahjong side of this series, after some decidedly nondescript words of encouragement in that half-way break time. It was almost starting to get a bit dull watching Koromo wipe the floor with all and sundry (especially when coupled with her "moon power" or whatever which gave nobody else any chance of winning a hand effectively), but things have certainly taken an interesting turn right at the end to renew my excitement somewhat - Things could be about to get mighty competitive in the next episode.

Taishou Yakyuu Musume - Episode 4

After that crushing defeat in their practice game last episode, it's hardly surprising that the mood amongst the girls on the baseball team isn't at its best - However, a few long faces are nothing compared to some of the more deep-seated cracks that have already begun to appear ion the midst of the team.

For starters, they've lose one team member already to the pressure of being in two school clubs at once, while another is staying well away from practice after feeling responsible for that aforementioned defeat after making a mistake in that game. Most importantly though, Akiko hasn't been seen at school since the game, and although a visit to see her reassures Koume that there's nothing wrong, it starts to become clear that there's more to her "fever" than meets the eye.

This catalogue of setbacks looks all set to destroy the team before it's barely begun, but ironically enough it's the visit of Akiko's supposed husband-to-be to Koume's home that turns things around, and for the remainder of the episode we see a side to Koume that hadn't really emerged before now... Gone is the cheerful yet clumsy demeanour that we've been used to, replaced with a steely determination and persuasive language. Come the end of the episode, all is well once again and the team are ready to continue - Well, almost ready, but that's a story for episode five....

After complaining somewhat that the stars of Taishou Yakyuu Musume have been getting short shrift in the character development department thus far, this episode was (for me) a much needed journey into those territories - As I've already mentioned, Koume really gets to shine this time around in ways I wouldn't have expected prior to this instalment, while Akiko also gets fleshed out a little more alongside glimpses into the relationship between some of the other girls. These developments are definitely a step along the way to making this series both more interesting and more easy to invest your emotions in, supplementing the interesting angle of the whole "girls baseball team" story to (hopefully) build towards a more well-rounded series.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Bakemonogatari - Episode 4

After committing a not inconsiderable act of violence upon young Mayoi Hachikuji in the name of trying to help her, Araragi finally looks to make some proper, solid progress in helping this slightly odd girl find her way this episode - With plenty of help from Senjougahara of course.

While Hitagi should know this area well (as it's where she used to live) even factoring in urban redevelopment, the trio find themselves constantly missing the location of the address that they're searching for - Indeed, it's almost as though the address Mayoi has written down is changing all the time. Looks like Araragi has picked up another bizarre case that goes over and above his head...

So, as Araragi finds out who Mayoi is really trying to visit and why, and hears the whole story as to how this always happens when she visits said person, he then sends Senjougahara off to consult Oshino on the matter. As per the first story arc used in this series, the solution to the problem relies to some extent on a play on words; this time around, Mayoi's snail could actually be interpreted to be a cow. Whether that helps at all with allowing her to find her way thanks to some pending advice from Oshino remains to be seen however, so we're going to have to be patient until the next episode for that one.

I'll be the first to admit that this is arguably the weakest episode of Bakemonogatari so far - Perhaps unsurprisingly given how fantastic the first three episodes all proved to be. Things just seemed to move a little too slowly here somewhat, especially when coupled with the deliberate and dialogue-heavy pace of the last episode, leaving me wishing we'd got a little further into the meat of the story arc this time around. That isn't to say that this episode is a complete loss however - As per usual, Senjougahara has some fabulous lines to go with her killer attitude, Mayoi herself proves to be an amusing character in her own right (I'm not sure why, but her mistaken use of the name Arararagi made me laugh out loud), and there's something uncomfortably hilarious about watching Araragi beating the living the daylights out of Mayoi yet again. I suppose when it comes to the crunch, this particular episode just felt like it had lost a little of its early fizz - Hopefully someone will get hold of the bottle and give it a good shake in time for episode five.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Spice and Wolf II - Episode 3

It's the question that's been boring itself into my brain for the past week - Just what was the message to be passed on to Lawrence that had him running off like that? Thankfully, episode three of Spice and Wolf II answers that question without further ado.

In short, it's all about Amati, who has become so enamoured of Horo that he's cobbled together an intriguing proposal - In short, he's willing to sign a contract to pay of all of Horo's "debts" to Lawrence if he can raised sufficient funds by the next day, and in turn hopes to persuade Horo to go off and marry him. Of course, merchant that he is Lawrence can't resist this contract, seeing an opportunity to make some money (both for himself and Horo) while remaining supremely confident that under no circumstances would Horo leave him to find a new travelling companion, not least a husband, because let's face it wolf gods don't normally go in for that kind of thing.

To be honest I was expecting Horo to be more than a little angry at these two men toying over her future for money, but conversely she seems to love every minute of it, teasing Lawrence as per usual while using her position as leverage to get to enjoy the festival as it begins in the town (although this enjoyment is tempered on Lawrence's part as it causes him to miss out on what could have been some very lucrative business).

Just as all seems well however so Horo, and by extension Lawrence's, world is shattered, as the alledged truth about Horo's birthplace comes to her attention. This gives us a glimpse of a Horo that we haven't seen before; the real Horo if you like, a lonely and terrified soul who is petrified by the thought of being alone and seems willing to accept desperate measures to rectify that. She lashes out verbally at Lawrence who has no answer to many of her jibes - Is this the end of the road for their relationship?

As per usual, no matter what else goes on Spice and Wolf excels at sticking to the basics, that being the chemistry between the two lead characters. Indeed, this episode in particular gives us a full range of emotions, from the two joking and teasing one another, seemingly understanding one another, and then suddenly feeling as though they know nothing about one another (or indeed themselves) when the going gets tough. Never mind the tail and the ears, at its core this is about a very human relationship, and that final scene was heart-rendingly excellent in the way it was both presented and animated - We've probably all been in those situations where you know that nothing you say will dim the pain another is feeling, but by the same token saying nothing might just make things worse, and this was carried to near perfection here.

It says a lot about how much this franchise has built up my love for its main characters when I find myself almost wanting to talk down this episode here simply because I hated seeing Horo upset and Lawrence made to feel guilty and inadequate; they may be fictional, but for the running time of each episode and a little while after it's hard not to get caught up in their world and feel as though you are sharing their fate - Right now, I kinda wish I could just step into that world and give the two of them a hug or something.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 - Episode 3

With the heavy rain over and heat and sunshine appearing in its wake, it seems like life is about to get easier for the survivors of the massive earthquake in Tokyo. Of course, after such a major natural disaster appearances can be deceptive...

The first and most pressing issue for Mirai, Yuuki and Mari is how to get off the artificial island of Odaiba - Indeed, Mari questions whether the island will survive the predicted days of aftershocks at all, given that it is in fact an entirely artificial construct. With almost all of the main routes off the island either blocked or destroyed entirely by the earthquake, it looks as though anyone currently trapped on the island will have to stay there for a while, but this concern is soon relived by the appearance of the coastguard and organisation of boats to take anyone who needs to back to the mainland.

This in itself poses some additional problems. Firstly, with a mass of people wanting to leave Odaiba, it's easy for Mirai and Yuuki to become separated from Mari, and this problem only becomes worse as some vicious aftershocks cause yet more carnage to the surrounding area. This in turns causes even more of a rush for the rescue boats now on hand, with some individuals taking desperate measures to try and secure their trip off the island. Even once Mirai and her two charges manage to board one of these rescue boats, there are still dangers to be faced even before they reach the far shore...

As per the last episode, where this third instalment of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 really excels is in mixing the human concerns and tragedy of a large-scale disaster with the more typical and spectacular goings-on of the disaster itself - Thus on the one hand we have such seeming mundane happenings as a pushchair wheel stuck in an uneven bit of ground, and on the other we have buildings and bridges collapsing from powerful aftershocks. This mixture of worry that occasional turns to abject terror really adds to the feeling of reality that this series so clearly strives for (perhaps over and above even the personal stories of its main characters), as we find ourselves living through this nightmare scenario vicariously - I'm sure I wasn't the only one who broke out in a cold sweat at the imagery of the collapsing bridge and capsized boat towards the end of the episode. The animation quality may not be top-notch, but this series is absolute proof that brilliant artwork isn't necessarily a must-have to effectively convey the emotions and situations that you're trying to depict - One again, I'm left heavily impressed by this series, and I can only imagine what it must be like for an actual resident of Tokyo to sit and watch this; it's occasionally uncomfortable enough for someone living thousands of miles away in an earthquake-free country.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Season 2 - Episode 7 (aka Episode 17)

Hello one and all, and welcome to this week's session of the Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya "Endless Eight" self-help group. I know that times are still hard for you all, but if we work together to do our breathing exercises and share our worries then I'm sure we can all talk one another down from the precipices of anger, frustration and disappointment in which some of us may have found ourselves.

Anyway, I'm sure you all know the drill now... "Something was strange"... "Endless recursion of time"... "Classified information" "There it is again.... deja vu!" and so on. But ooh look, their clothes are different! And some of the lines have been changed! Excuse me while I find an industrial sized crate in which to contain my enthusiasm.

Oddly enough, this episode somehow felt even further away from a resolution than last week's instalment, perhaps because it's even beginning to sound like the show's voice actors are rushing through their lines so that they can race off to the nearest bar and drown their sorrows. Mind you, this change in delivery does put paid to my carefully constructed theory that the real reason for this constant repetition is that Aya Hirano has been captured by North Korea as a symbol of Japanese decadence, and that KyoAni are cunningly trying to keep this a secret until they can persuade Hideaki Anno to build them a real-life Evangelion out of washing-up liquid bottles and bendy straws so that they can rescue her. Come to think of it, that would probably make a pretty good anime... KyoAni, you seem a little short of ideas right now so if you want to license that idea for a series just drop me a line.

Last episode I asked whether anyone cared about what happens to this story arc any more and got twenty-two responses - Considering that I wrote about the episode as well, I suppose that means the answer is yes. Then again, my three reasons for continuing to watch this Endless Eight story arc are (in order of importance):

- To write about it on this 'Blog, because it's what I do.
- Because I'm a terrible completest so I can't leave it alone, like some kind of horrible scab on my nose that simply won't heal.
- Because I want to see if the arc finishes before my MyAnimeList score for the series hits 1. It's currently down to 2, so it's not looking good for KyoAni.

Anyway, to conclude this self-help session, just remember - One day we veterans of Endless Eight will gather to reminisce and laugh about this time, before having a group recital of the entire episode (because let's face it, most of us can remember the entire script after having seen the thing so many god-damned times).

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 3

A week just doesn't seem complete without a new episode of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei at the moment, so thank goodness a third instalment of Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is here to amuse me; in fact, is it just me or is this new series getting funnier by the episode?

This latest episode begins with a segment on the dangers of flipping switches, particularly when the switches in question pertain to people - This leads us on to some wonderful discoveries, such as the noise Meru makes when you hit her, and what happens when you touch behind Nozomu's ear; items which made for some hilarious moments.

Next up is the plethora of difficult choices we have to make in modern life - When faced with two preferences, which should we choose? Why, an entirely unrelated third option of course. Again, this train of thought gets taken to ridiculous extremes that had me crying with laughter, culminating in Nozomu "posting" himself into a baby hatch. It makes sense when you see it, trust me. Well, sort of.

Finally for this episode, Nozomu's double is on the loose again, as the real Zetsubou sensei laments the over-protective society in which we live - This is probably the least funny but the most accurate and biting satrical segment of the episode, although in this case being over-protective seems absolutely justified when there are snipers everywhere.

During Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's three series (and one OVA), I feel like I've used the "best episode yet" tagline entirely too many times, but for me personally I think this particular instalment must be up there with the cream of the crop - The fact that someone poked their head around the door mid-episode to ask what on Earth I was watching that was so funny after hearing my near-constant peals of laughter says it all really. The trouble is, I'm going to be remembering some of these gags and giggling to myself for another week now and making myself look like a lunatic in the process - Thanks Koji Kumeta and company!

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention how great this episode's title sequence was... A return to form after the somewhat disappointing credits used for the first two episodes.

Basquash! - Episode 16

With the moon literally in sight come the end of the last episode, Dan and company find that oh-so close dream snatched away from them at the last moment, as a mistake in the trajectory of the moon cannon sees them reach the far side of the moon; a place which seems to hold plenty of secrets and where nobody is welcome. Thus, before they know it our group of intrepid basketball players are unceremoniously sent crashing back down to earth.

Stuck seemingly in the middle of nowhere, discussions of legends about the moon follow (with some descriptions that sound more than familiar) as Iceman Hotty reveals a little more about both himself and his robotic arm and leg - No, it wasn't anything to do with his auditioning for Fullmetal Alchemist. At least, I don't think it is. Iceman then decides to take off on his own, with Dan choosing to follow close behind while the others have to sit tight and wait for Mizuki to repair their Bigfoots.

So, both Iceman and Dan end up in different parts of "Underground" - A place that the former seems more than a little familiar, while the latter finds himself caught in a life or death game played for the entertainment of the masses in this dirty earthly outpost with only his basketball skills on-hand to get him out of trouble.

Truth be told, I found this episode to be a rather cliché-ridden affair in many ways, from the sprawling underground city through to the gladiatorial battle that Dan is forced to participate in - This kind of thing has been done so many times by various anime series that it really doesn't hold anything of genuine interest. Indeed, apart from the sights seen by the crew on the far side of the moon, this almost feels uncomfortably like filler, although I suppose the revelations about Iceman Hotty and "Alan"'s true identity being somewhat revealed belie that thought. Still, after some really good episodes of late this felt like a very run of the mill episode of Basquash!, that seemed content simply to go through the motions.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 16

From battles in the field, episode sixteen of Valkyria Chronicles keeps us moored firmly in dealing with battles of the heart, as love seems to be pinging around the place in its various configurations like a bad case of swine 'flu.

Before all that though, we get a brief glimpse into how things are doing for the Empire since the defeat at Fouzen - I think it's fair to say that "bloody terribly" just about sums up the answer to that question. There appear to be plans in the pipeline to put the Empire back on the front foot, but those will have to wait for another day as we're treated to another bit of a flashback to the past of Selvaria when she first met Maximillian. The poor girl, she must be confused as to how she's grown and aged by about twenty years while he doesn't look a day older - I guess the Empire doesn't have a good line in anti-ageing creams.

Anyhow, with that out of the way, and with the odd glimpse of Rosie and Isara struggling with the awkwardness of the last episode, we move back to the real love triangle of the show, with Alicia trying to put her feelings about Faldio and Welkin in order, while Welkin simply sulks most of the time really. This leaves it up to Largo to try and talk some sense into him, but ultimately it doesn't really work, with Welkin's last minute indecision in the face of some questioning from Alicia leaving things in a worse position than they were at the start of the episode.

Generally speaking, there wasn't really anything out of the ordinary in this episode, to the extent where you could almost accuse it of going through the motions - Lots of dialogue, lots of flashbacks to old stories from a couple of characters, but nobody really saying anything worthy of note. However, the episode was largely rescued by that closing scene between Alicia and Welkin, which was oddly tear-jerking; coupled with the love and care afforded the animation of that scene, it allowed it to stand out in what was otherwise a mediocre instalment. Mind you, I'm not sure whether to berate Welkin at this juncture for being a coward or feel sympathy for the horribly difficult situation he's found himself in.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Taishou Yakyuu Musume - Episode 3

Episode two of Taishou Yakyuu Musume brought a full complement of players to fulfil Akiko's hopes of creating a girl's baseball team, which means that it's time to make things official and turn this makeshift group into a proper school club.

Surprisingly, this comes about relatively easily, thanks to the persuasive powers of the girl's teacher, a snappy name for the club (Ouka-kai, with a wider goal to encourage westernising the school), and an interruption from the school's headmistress. Indeed, it's this intervention that gives the club the go-ahead to do its thing, albeit without any funding and with nothing more than a run-down old shack to use as a club room.

Regardless, this new semi-official status means that the girls can practice properly, with some reasonably impressive results. Their next step from here is a practice game against a local boy's middle school, which also stirs up some questions of romance for both Akiko (as we learn just why she was so passionate to create this baseball team) and Koume (for whom an accidental meeting turns into a misunderstanding and a serious case of unrequited love). Needless to say the girls get thrashed, but not before showing some glimmers of future potential.

While I'm still left hungry for a little more depth of characterisation from this series (although I suppose Akiko's character is getting built up here to some degree), I can't deny that this was another fun episode that was pretty pleasurable to watch - The quick pacing of the episode from the creation of the club through to practicing and then onto an actual game meant that there was never time to get bored or wish things would hurry along, and choosing to portray the harsh reality of playing a against a team of better trained and better equipped boys rather than going for some magical victory or near-victory keeps things both interesting and realistic. All in all then, it's a net win for this series so far in terms of keeping my interest, although I don't see it progressing from the realms of fun into anything deeper in terms of drama or the characters on show, which you could argue is a wasted opportunity given the subject matter.

Shangri-la - Episode 16

With things finally starting to get interesting with regard to Karin and Medusa last episode, it seemed logical to follow up that interesting aspect of the story this time around. So logical in fact, that we hear absolutely nothing more about it in episode sixteen. Hmm.

Instead, what we get is Miko turned into the new vessel for Hiruko, which seemed like something of a relief (although it's a close-run thing between annoying transsexual and screaming banshee) until of course the tried and trusted old plot device of Miko's love for Lady Mikuni allowing him/her to overcome Hiruko's power kicks in, and we end up with... well, a kind of thinner, scrawnier version of Miko, basically. Oh, and did I mention that Lady Mikuni tried to invade Atlas with a few really rubbish soldiers and a hand-carried cart? Lelouch vi Brittania she ain't. This is all without mention the fact that Ryoko is invicible. Wait, nobody mentioned that before now? Ryoko is invincible - Even guns will jam in her prescence.

On the other side of the story, Kuniko returns home to the grateful cheers and hugs of all those she let down by calling off the attack on Atlas (clearly those hail storms have hit a few people rather too hard on the head), banishes her own granny to goodness knows where (real heroic behaviour that, regardless of the circumstances... besides, whose going to look after the server room now?), and then goes on the offensive against some giant killer man-made mushrooms. What, nobody mentioned those before either? Momoko is a trained botanist too. No, really. Stop laughing. Elsewhere, Kusanagi leaves the military (to stalk Kuniko, most probably) while Takehiko goes missing after losing all his manly credibility by crying into a little girl's shoe last week. All in a day's work for the Shangri-la script-writing team, who I can only assume have been consuming a few giant man-made mushrooms of their own.

Okay, I may be deliberately poking entirely too much fun at this particular episode, but I couldn't help but be amused at the numerous sudden revelations out of nowhere during this episode - Why did Momoko have no real interest in botany before this episode? Why is Ryoko invincible? Why had only young girls been used as Hiruko's vessel when any old fat guy will do? Why am I even asking these questions when I don't even particularly care any more? Will the question mark key on my laptop keyboard last the rest of this 'Blog entry

CANAAN - Episode 3

After being saved by Canaan in the last episode, this third instalment of the series gives Maria and her slightly odd friend a chance to kick back, relax and do some sight-seeing for once, although not before Minoru gets himself and Maria kicked out of a decidedly dodgy Japanese-themed nightclub and ends up meeting a strange but beautiful woman (aren't they always strange yet beautiful in these things?) who bears the weird mark that he's already seen far too much on his trip around Shanghai so far.

Away from all that though, the real focus here is upon Maria and Canaan's relationship, as we get some glimpses into a past meeting between the two which helps us to learn a little more about Canaan, before all Hell breaks loose as the power goes out on a ride the pair of them were enjoying. Of course, this is the cue for a slightly more action-oriented segment of the episode, as Maria finds herself kidnapped and a bomb seemingly strapped to her head by the young lad we saw last episode, while Canaan uses her synesthesia to track down both Maria and her assailant, a meeting which concludes in an almost inevitably bloody ending. However, this climax isn't before we find out more about both this boy, the crazed old man he was working with last episode, and (it seems) even more about the origins of Cannan itself.

In terms of the overall theme and texture of CANAAN, this series is still proving to be hard to pin down from me - One moment it's throwing cat-eared girls and fan service at the screen, the next it's exploring the friendship between two very different girls with some clear links between them, and then we find ourselves caught in a gleefully clichéd spot involving a ticking bomb and a countdown timer. Normally I'd raise an eyebrow at some of these more incongruous moments (indeed, I laughed out loud at the bomb on Maria's head), yet the whole thing seems to be playing out with such a knowing look that I really get the feeling that such moments of humour are entirely intended, which in turn leaves me to smile and my respect to grow for the series.

By this third episode I was hoping I might have grasped what the production team are planning to do with CANAAN, but at the moment I still can't see it - Maybe it's no bad thing, as for all of its oddities I'm actually rather enjoying just going with the flow and enjoying the visuals and moments of well-choreographed action at the moment.

Basquash! - Episode 15

Now that the qualifying championship is won, it's time for Dan and company to take some well-deserved rest before embarking upon their trip to the moon. Yeah, like that was ever going to happen...

While you might expect some kind of deeply high-tech spaceship to be on hand to take people to the moon, it appears that isn't the case at all in the world of Basquash!, with those with the appropriate passports delivered to the moon via... a huge cannon. This cannon is situated at the planet's closest point to the moon, a place known as Skybloom, complete with a beautiful marble city and more signs that begin with the words "Do Not" than you can shake a stick at. For all of its money and amazing amusement park, Skybloom is a pretty lifeless place at its core where the safety of the people (and more importantly the infrastructure) take priority - Kind of like Britain really.

Of course, there's no point telling Dan not to do anything, and despite rules about not playing basketball and especially not using Bigfoots, in town, he proceeds to do both and in no time at all finds himself behind bars, in a situation where even the political clout of James Loan and his lunar contacts can't help him. Thus, a plan is hatched to break him out and send him on his way to the moon, making for a tense but rip-roaring finale that takes Dan and some of his fellow travellers and team-mates to the brink of the moon - It appears that their journey is far from over yet though...

From its humble and seemingly simple beginnings, it seems like Basquash! is really trying to build up its story into something far more sprawling and important than a tale of a guy, his sister and lots of basketball. Indeed, this episode really opens up the story considerably, dragging Sela and her father's murder into sharper focus and hinting at "Alan" and the royal families involvement and knowledge of something big regarding Dan's status; something which seems to be confirmed by James, who suggests that Dunk Mask is more of a legend than even he realises. Whether this broadening of the story will improve the overall quality of this series or cause it to ultimately falter is still impossible to comment on, but after a shaky couple of episodes a while back it does seem to be on a far stronger footing again right now with a number of decent episodes in place, so I'm more than willing to sit tight and see what transpires.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 26 (Completed)

It seems almost perverse to call this the completion of Hetalia: Axis Powers with a second series due to follow immediately after, but officially speaking this is indeed the final instalment.

Anyhow, it's England who gets most (if not all) of the attention this time around, largely thanks to his rivalry with America which sees him criticising a new plane design from the latter, trying to catch him out by making him sit on "Busby's chair", a chair formerly used by a murderer and supposedly haunted (it's actually a real chair by the way, on show at the Thirsk Museum here in the UK I believe), and then trying to get him drunk but failing miserably (which pretty much sums up binge drinking in this country quite nicely).

Well, it has to be said that it took a long, long time to win me over to its charms (entirely half the series, to be honest), but eventually from my initial dislike of the show I found myself rather warming to Hetalia: Axis Powers. I'd be the first to admit that it isn't the funniest thing you'll ever watch, but as the series progressed the scripts got tighter and the jokes got funnier, to the point where a handful of episodes were well, well worth watching, especially considering tyheir brief five minute running time.

Can they keep that rising standard of work up for another twenty-six episodes? I'm sure we'll be finding out very soon...

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 16

After introducing us to some new characters and plot points last episode, this fifteenth instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood returns its focus back to the core characters of this series as Edward, Alphonse and Winry return to Central.

While Ed and Al head off to give a progress update to their superiors, so Winry goes to meet Maes Hughes and his family, leading this trio in two very different ways towards learning about the terrible truth of Hughes' death. While Colonel Mustang tries to spare the Elric Brothers the pain of learning about his death just yet (somewhat foolishly it has to be said), they soon find out for themselves just moments later, with Ed inevitably blaming himself and his pursuit of the Philosopher's Stone for the tragedy. Indeed, he even says so in front of both Gracia and Winry by way of an apology... Not that such a confession makes anybody feel better about the state of affairs.

Meanwhile, various wheels are still turning regardless of the Elric Brothers' grief, with the Homunculus checking up on Roy Mustang's plans in a number of ways before launching a plot to try and bend him to their will even further, while Mustang himself continues to inevistage what has been going on at the fifth laboratory and the like, even keeping Barry the Chopper stored away in a safe house for further questioning.

After the relatively light-hearted goings-on last week, the emotional content of this episode certainly hit home ever harder the further it progressed, with Winry's breakdown over a monologue about apple pie the heart-rending climax of the episode. Thankfully, these poignant moments of sadness were blending in quite well with keeping the main plot of the series moving, making for a good balance of the two which never got too bogged down in either one or the other. As per usual, I find myself looking forward to seeing what comes next, especially now we're well and truly breaking free of the "shackles" of the original anime series.

Bakemonogatari - Episode 3

With Senjougahara's crab-based weight problem done and dusted thanks to the work of Oshino last episode, it's time for the beginning of a new story arc as Bakemonogatari hits its third episode.

If you were worried that the apparent change in personality exhibited by Senjougahara after regaining her weight might put a permanent dampener on the rest of this series, fear not, because she's right back on for the entirety of this episode. This third instalment takes place on Mother's Day, and sees Araragi just sitting around in some random park, mainly so that he can avoid going home to his irritating pair of sisters and their mother who dotes on them both entirely too much. It's while sitting and musing over various things that Senjougahara makes her appearance, leading to a huge chunk of the episode consisting solely of dialogue between the two characters. This may sound dull normally, but giving Senjougahara lots of time to speak is a sure-fire winner for me and throughout the episode she sparkles with her quick-witted and frankly evil put-downs, while still somehow managing to belittle Araragi while showing concern and some extend of caring about him. Indeed, much of Senjougahara's dialogue is not far short of genius, giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

This flow is only interrupted by the appearance of a seemingly lost young girl at the park named Mayoi Hachikuji; a girl that Araragi tries to help out, with frankly hilarious consequences, coupled with a hint or two at what will doubtless be the utterly bizarre goings-on just around the corner in the next episode.

You know, it's really difficult not to get carried away in my praise for Bakemonogatari, as it continues to feel like a show that was almost "built" for me. Aesthetically it continues to hit all the right spots in terms of characters design, backdrops and locations (with so many of those wonderful touches we've come to know and love from SHAFT), while it's leading characters are utterly fascinating, feeling very much surreal in their behaviour and patterns of speech and yet still entirely human and really quite believable. This episode in particular also managed to blend in some fantastic humour, from some of Senjougahara's throw-away lines (I love a girl who can dish out smart-alec put-downs like they're going out of fashion) to Araragi's rather unorthodox handling of the sullen, aforementioned young girl. The only thing I can't really comment on this episode is the story, which appears to be somewhat in hiding until next week; to be quite frank though, who cares about the story when you have visuals, characters and dialogue like this?

Saki - Episode 16

If you thought that Koromo was far too quiet in the opening few hands of her round of the prefectural qualifier, then you can rest assured that this latest instalment of Saki gives us plenty of evidence of her actual capabilities and talents.

After a couple of initial victories for Saki, and a third attempt narrowly thwarted, it seemed that everything was going Kiyosumi's way, but that thwarted attempt seems to change the dynamic of the match entirely; Koromo then comes to life to win hand after hand while her opponents can't even get a few decent tiles together, with only a solitary win by Saki gifted to her in a desperate attempt to stop Koromo breaking the pattern at all. What's more, by the half-way stage of the game it seems that Koromo's powers are only increasing, making her an even greater threat as Ryuumonbuchi start looking set to streak away as the unchallenged winners of their qualifier. Of course, this being Saki I'm sure there are a few more surprises in store before this game is up...

After the tension and excitement of recent episodes, I can't help but find myself dragged down a little by the overbearing nature of a player's "special powers" - While I don't have an issue with Koromo as an extremely talented Mahjong player herself, the concept that the entire "flow" of the tiles is broken simply because of her presence actually detracts from rather than adds to any tension as it drains away some of the situation's natural competitive element. That's not to say that this was a bad episode, as it was still pretty enjoyable to watch; come the end of it though I simply didn't find myself perched on the edge of my seat as I have been for other recent episodes.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Spice and Wolf II - Episode 2

After delivering a sparkling example of the kind of beautifully witty dialogue between two characters that has become Spice and Wolf's trademark from virtually the very beginning last episode, this second episode of Spice and Wolf II actially deprives us of that fascinating Lawrence and Horo dynamic for much of the episode.

Despite the beginning of the festival in town, Lawrence ends up leaving Horo alone as he attends to business - Albeit a form of business that is anything but, as he spends time trying to learn the location of Horo's home in the north, Yoitsu. He does this courtesy of his guild contacts, who in turn introduces him to a darker side of town inhabited by alchemists, so-called witches and those of whom the church disapproves. Meanwhile, Lawrence leaves Horo in the capable hands of young Amati, asking him to show her around town - A request he begins to regret slightly when he hears a little more about Amati's reputation...

While this episode wasn't packed with dialogue and those wonderful moments between Lawrence and Horo, it was at least book-ended by their conversations, which gave us a suitable reminder as to what makes this series great; in other words, more of that fabulous dynamic between this pairing, accentuated by the quality of animation on show when it comes to Horo's facial expressions and body language, which are almost enough to let you get away with watching with the sound turned down. Luckily, the great dialogue here manages to extend beyond simply the two main characters, giving some of the supporting characters equal chance to charm and fascinate with their own relationships, while the drama looks set to be ratcheted up next time around by the mysterious cliffhanger left at the end of this episode. This might not quite have been Spice and Wolf at its very best, yet it still manages to have plenty to offer, and that endding alone has left me impatiently waiting for episode three.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 - Episode 2

The climax to the opening episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 took us to the brink of the massive earthquake that underpins this series, leaving this second instalment free to really let loose as the quake measuring 8.0 on the Richter scale does its damage.

Now, I'll be the first to confess that I've never experienced an earthquake so I'm not exactly qualified to comment on such things, but the earthquake as portrayed here certainly had what was very much a believable element to it - From footage I've seen of real life earthquakes, the swaying motions and physics of buildings collapsing and the like felt more or less spot on, making for an almost unnerving viewing experience.

Where this episode really excelled however is in its depiction of the aftermath of that initial earthquake - Rather than taking the Hollywood movie stance of panic and people running everywhere, all we see here is an eerie silence as people slowly pick themselves up, look around and come to terms with what's happening. There's no all-out mayhem here, simply everyone quietly evacuating and looking for safety. Everyone, that is, except for Mirai, who goes on a panic-stricken search for her brother who is still missing, eventually finding herself helped out by Mari, the woman we met briefly in the last episode.

Beautiful is most certainly the wrong word to use in conjunction with this episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, but there is almost a certain horrific beauty to the way the structural results of the earthquake are depicted here, with floors running at bizarre angles, floods and fires abound and the ever-present danger of powerful aftershocks. This episode doesn't really shirk from showing the human tragedy of this powerful earthquake either - It may not go for a blood and guts approach, but the quiet horror of seeing evidence of dead bodies trapped beneath the rubble was no less powerful for that.

Overall then, this instalment served as a perfect follow-up to that excellent opener, and seems to suggest that Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 is going to do everything that it needs to do, and everything that it promised to, in terms of both story-telling and realism - Even sat here in front of a PC, I found myself oddly immersed in the terrifying world that this episode managed to construct for itself. Perhaps the real challenge for this show is the one ahead though - With the main earthquake over and Mirai's brother safe, how interesting from both a factual and emotional stance can this series make the siblings journey home? I for one have absolute faith in them right now though, based upon what I've seen thus far.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Season 2 - Episode 6 (aka Episode 16)

In the latest episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya's Endless Eight arc, Kyon finally breaks the time loop in which the SOS Brigade have become trapped by bludgeoning Haruhi to death with a pickaxe.

At least, that's what I'd like to be writing here. Sadly, I can't be the bearer of such fortunate news, for yet again this episode of the series chooses simply to regale us with another recursion of the same old events that we've seen more times than I care to recollect now. I can only assume that KyoAni are hoping for some kind of anime equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome to have kicked in by now, leaving them with a loyal legion of fans happy to repeat this episode forever more (and, of course, buy all the DVDs) - Sorry guys, it's not working on this 'Blogger, and I've now reached a level of disinterest with this state of affairs that even Kyon would be proud of.

As per last episode, there are some smidgens of hope to be taken from this episode - Yet more air travel-based imagery (planes passing overhead and a butterfly namely), and as we reach those desperate moments of Kyon and Haruhi's final meeting we're greeted with numerous repetitions where Kyon gets to his feet but says nothing, which makes a change from it just happening the once. I suppose.

At least last week I felt a little tension and almost excitement as I hoped (albeit vainly) for Kyon to speak up and bring things to an end, but this time around I'm left, much like Nagato, feeling nothing - I simply don't care any more, I just want it to be over. While I'm sure KyoAni would be pleased to think of their fans associating themselves so closely with Nagato in this scenario, and they'd doubtless tout it as part of their grand artistic vision, I'm afraid boring the living daylights out of your viewers really isn't the best game plan no matter which way you look at it. So, does anyone out there care what happens next any more?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 15

Following on from the harrowing ending to the last episode of Valkyria Chronicles, it's unsurprising to see that the Gallian militia's troops are downbeat and fatigued; let's face it, in the face of such terrible loss and human suffering nothing is going to cheer everybody up. But what, what's this, a party? Forget about all that death and sorrow, let's sing and drink - Hurrah!

So goes episode fifteen of this series, although of course in pure plot and character development terms the aforementioned party is little more than a vehicle for the ever shifting dynamics within squads one and seven. Ergo, we see Isara asserting herself with Rosie after the latter refuses to sign in front of any Darcsens, which in turn takes us into Rosie's past and why she feels the way she does about said minority group. This in itself bolts in to the larger personality clash developing between Faldio and Welkin, with the former not only upping his pursuit of Alicia quite considerably but also proving more adept at solving some of the other social issues affecting the squad, be it forcibly using his position of superiority or otherwise.

Despite well and truly taking us away from the war and battle that feeds this series, this actually proved to be a pretty interesting episode simply because of those shifting character dynamics I just mentioned, with some moves that might have been rather unexpected all things considered. While Welkin was clearly never going to be the most adept of people when put under the spotlight in terms of personnel and personal issues, to see his hand so drastically weakened over just a couple of weeks against Faldio's rather brash decision-making process is a bit of a shock in character development terms, while Isara's newfound assertiveness is perhaps less surprising but still not entirely expected. Couple that with the closing moments of this episode which really shake things up and there should be some interesting times ahead in relationship terms, although this may well disappoint you if you're hoping for a bit more actual warfare, guns and tanks next time around.

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 2

After celebrating the return of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei to our screens last week, I've already well and truly settled into this series becoming one of the highlights of my week, and thankfully this second episode of Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei truly didn't disappoint.

The first topic under discussion this time around is the subject of people with multiple talents, and whether one of those talents actually enables the other or simply causes it to be hidden away. After a bit of a slow start, the jokes are soon flying thick and fast, with KyoAni getting caught in the crossfire on a couple of occasions along with a few other great gags. This chunk of the episode ends with Haruhi revealing her true self, freed of the immense burden of her glasses.

Things only get better from here on in in terms of the number of laughs per minute, with some thoughtful discussion of this world which is full of time lags - From medication not working to those moments where you remember a joke or something funny long after it's passed, causing you to laugh seemingly at random; something which this very series has caused me to do on occasion, funnily enough. Lastly, we return to the journey of self discovery, or rather self exposure, started in episode one, where we learn never to play a game that involves naming red things in the presence of Kitsu amongst other things.

If episode one was a good start to this series, then this second instalment was sparkling - I don't think I've laughed this hard or this often since... well, since the last series of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, quite frankly. As per usual, it's razor sharp yet equally capable of hitting various nails on their respective heads, provided that you're well-versed enough in Japanese culture to spot some of the more obscure gags.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 15

As promised, and after beginning down this particular path last episode, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is now well and truly placed to venture off towards pastures new, leaving behind the memories of the original anime series with it.

This deviation from that version of the show (and therefore also a statement of intent to keep in check with the manga) means that we get introduced to a few new characters here, all of which come from the nearby (well, somewhat, if counting a huge desert counts) country of Xing. On the one hand we have young Mei Chan and her cute panda travelling companion Xiao Mei, who runs into Scar (who incidentally is up to his old State Alchemist-slaying tricks again), and on the other we have Ling Yao, who Edward and Alphonse come across as they look to Winry to repair Ed's automail yet again. While these characters may have turned up in different locations, they all seem to share the same goal - To find the secret of eternal youth, which they hope to find via the Philosopher's Stone with help from the legendary Edward Elric.

This new story branch gives the series an opportunity to blend in all of the things it loves to do best - A little comedy, some cutesy moments, and a fair chunk of action with martial arts and alchemy aplenty. The whole thing blends together pretty well in the case of this particular passage without ever being exemplary, although simply the introduction of some new forces who never found their way into the original anime brings forth a little excitement from me personally (having never read the manga). The real key to the success of this series now is how well it makes use of these progressions, and I'm sure I won't be the only one eagerly waiting to see how they get on.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 25

Episode twenty-five of Hetalia: Axis Powers brings us a moment to focus upon poor old friendless England, who is left alone to allow his dislike for the rest of Europe to boil. It's almost as if people think that England doesn't like being part of the EU...

However, England gets a little respite from his troubles when he bumps into... Actually, I'm not sure who that was supposed to be. A little help here? Anyhow, said guest leads to the inevitable joke about British cooking and cuisine, although I can't help but feel outraged at the suggestion that fish and chips (with peas no less!) is "tasteless". I'd be a whole lot more outraged if that scene hadn't left me feeling really hungry for some good fish and chips. Damn.

With that out of the way, we return yet again to the relationships between Switzerland and Liechtenstein, with the former finding himself worrying about Austria far more than he would like to admit.

Okay, okay, so I did chuckle slightly at the joke about British food - That doesn't make me feel any less hungry for fish and chips though. With peas.... and lots of ketchup. Seriously, what's wrong with that Hetalia?!