Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Kanamemo (Completed)

Here's another series that I've been watching alongside my normal 'blogging viewing with a view to a review of the entire series - This time around the subject of my thoughts is slice of life comedy anime (or underage girl groped by an older woman anime, if you prefer) Kanamemo.

You can click the link below for the series review in full.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 36

There's only a single point of focus for this thirty-sixth episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers, as we join America and Japan just after Christmas an observe their actions.

Of course, culturally this post-Christmas time couldn't be much more different for these two countries generally speaking, and thus we see America lazing around, having nothing to do and generally trying to avoid going out to keep away from the cold, while Japan busies himself with preparations for the new year.... Which appears to include a New Year's Eve of reading manga and eating ice cream, which I'm pretty sure isn't that traditional but hey, it sounds good to me!

Altogether, this was a mildly amusing episode in its own way - No classic by any means, but a decidedly watchable brief interlude to help close out a busy day.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Taishou Yakyuu Musume - Episode 11

After their training camp last episode, it appears that all of the girls hard work has born fruit, with Ouka-kai thrashing their opponents in their final practice match before the day of their big showdown with Asaka secondary school.

Of course, it would be foolish of us to expect the run-up to this big game to go smoothly, and so after many months of keeping her activities hidden a visit from one of Asaka's players to her families restaurant blows the doors wide open on Koume's baseball playing proclivities.

However, despite the anger of her father (seemingly more about her lying to her parents rather than the baseball side of things itself) Koume is still allowed to go and join her team mates for the big game... Which is more than can be said for Akiko, who has been locked in her room by her mother after a big blow-up row about the match. With time running out before the referee forces the girls to forfeit the game for having too few players, it's up to Koume (with the help of the Ogasawa family's driver) to effectively break Akiko out so she can take her place in the game.

With this obstacle successfully traversed, we're treated to the first few innings of the match itself, and all is going swimmingly for Ouka-kai up to this point, thwarting Asaka's offensive opportunities perfectly while also putting away a few runs for themselves. But with Asaka's players getting wise to Akiko's "magical" balls, how much longer can their advantage last? That's for us to find out in the final episode.

After having been shorn of too much in the way of actual baseball of late, it's actually quite nice to finally get to the big game which has been the aim of this series throughout, and much as Saki managed to ramp up the tension when it came to the actual mahjong action when it mattered so it proves to be quite exciting to watch for the outcome of the game. While the first half of this episode was arguably just going through the motions in creating some drama, it was well worth sitting through to take us to the baseball game itself, and I'm actually pretty keen to see how it all pans out in the series finale.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 25

Like some kind of twisted version of the song about the old woman who swallowed a fly, so the last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood left us with the Homunculus who swallowed... Well, a pretty major portion of the show's cast really. Thus, this episode begins with both Edward Elric and Ling Yao trapped deep in the bowels (quite literally) of Gluttony.

Of course, strictly speaking it isn't exactly his stomach, and as the episode progresses Envy (who was also swallowed whole) appears to explain exactly where it is that they're trapped without hope of escape, while also admitting to playing a part in the incident which started the Ishbal war - Not the kind of thing you want to admit in front of Ed considering how it all ties in with Winry and the death of her parents. In the ensuing fight, Envy takes on her true form, and it ain't pleasant... Or easy to defeat, for that matter.

Outside of Gluttony's innards, Al is trying to figure out what to do himself, eventually deciding to persuade Gluttony to take him to his "father", which should be interesting... Then we have Roy Mustang, who having learned how deep the Homunculus' rabbit hole goes in terms of the military finds himself well and truly outmanoeuvred by Bradley. Finally, Scar offers his hand in helping May Chang find her missing petite panda pal Xiao-May, who is in fact hanging out with Alphonse at present.

Thus concludes another top-drawer episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, with this episode once again managing to perfectly balance plot progression, humour and the darker aspects which pervade this series quite expertly. Sure, this episode is pretty light on the action, but that doesn't make it dull - Far from it, there are enough revelations and items of interest here to well and truly keep my interest as this series continues to go from strength to strength.

Taishou Yakyuu Musume - Episode 10

I'm pretty sure that it's all but a physical impossibility for a sports-related anime series to go an entire run without a single training camp episode - There's probably a law against it or something. So it goes that episode ten of Taishou Yakyuu Musume takes us on... guess what? A training camp!

Despite the promise of first-class food and accomodation alongside the equally ubiquitous hot springs, a recent rainstorm puts paid to the first two aspects of the camp, with the property Akiko was hoping to use unserviceable, and leaving the girls instead to sleep in an assembly hall for their two week stay. Mind you, this isn't really the primary concern of Kyouko, who spends all of her time worrying about how to get closer to Tomoe instead.

Thus begins an episode filled to the brim with gentle yet genuinely entertaining humour, as all of Kyouko's plans go awry for various reasons, culminating in a test of courage that ends in disaster but does at least show Kyouko a way forward to at least progress and succeed when it comes to baseball. Oh, that's right, baseball, I almost forgot... There was some of that here too.

Anyhow, despite using up its allocation of anime tropes for at least a month, Taishou Yakyuu Musume continues to be a great fun series to watch, with its bright and breezy characters proving to be entertaining throughout while the period setting of the show adds an extra element to both the visuals and the story itself. Ground-breaking certainly isn't a word that could be levelled at this series, but who cares when it never fails to leave a smile on your face?

Bakemonogatari - Episode 12

With all of the focus on Tsubasa Hanekawa last time around, you'd be forgiven for thinking that she'd also take centre stage in this, the final TV broadcast episode of Bakemonogatari. Well, you'd think wrong, as this episode closes out the broadcast series by returning to concentrate on the relationship between Senjougahara and Araragi.

In short, that means a full episode which gives us nothing short of the pure, unadulterated awesomeness that is Hitagi Senjougahari, as she bluntly and (to be frank) rather hopelessly invites Araragi out on their first date... A date to which they travel via a lift from Hitagi's father. Can you say awkward? However, for all of those tense and embarrassing moments, Araragi is well and truly compensated thanks to a beautiful starry night sky and... well, Senjougahara.

In all honesty, I can't tell you how much I loved every second of this episode, as it rolled along as first a masterpiece in situation comedy, and then a beautiful study of blossoming yet akward first love. Of course, Senjougahara stole the show with nearly every line as she teased and ordered Araragi about, fondling him, whsipering utter filth into his ear and deferring Araragi to her father whenever he used her surname rather than her first name in conversation. Aside from being utterly hilarious, it also brought the various aspects of Hitagi as a character into relief, from her naivety ans possessiveness on the one hand to her sharp-witted and biting humour on the other - A fascinating concoction that made for one of the best dialogue-heavy episodes of anime you'll see this side of Spice and Wolf. There were no oddities or strange goings-on here, just too teenagers who don't really know what they're or doing or why but going with the flow because it seems like a good idea.

Really, this episode sums up the series so far perfectly, veering as it did from top-notch animation to missing cuts, and with fantastic dialogue between intriguing complex characters at its core that just leave you wanting more and more and more. Thankfully, some more is exactly what we'll be getting once the final few episodes appear online, although when that will be I have no idea. It can't come soon enough that's for sure - How else is a guy supposed to get his Senjougahara fix?!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 11

Seeing Nozomu without his glasses is a pretty odd experience in itself, but this is exacttly how episode eleven of Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei opens, with our favourite despairing teacher eschewing his glasses (which were supposedly stolen by ghosts) for a pair of contacts.

Of course, this won't do at all, so the class chips in to buy him a new pair... Except Kafuka decides to buy Nozomu a pair of tinted glasses for some reason. If that wasn't funny enough by itself (and to be honest, seeing Nozomu wearing tinted glasses got a bit laugh out of me on its own), these glasses also lets him see the world through... well, tinted glasses. Thus, the prejudices come thick and fast. A visit to the shop where these glasses were procured brings forth numerous pairs of glasses with different tints, and even tinted headphones. Just make sure you don't look in the mirror whilst wearing a pair of these glasses, it isn't pretty...

The second segment of the episode is a rather odd little story of Rin buying up properties adjoining her house just so that she can go and eat ramen without leaving her own home. As you do. With that gone (for now at least), we enter the ever-increasing number of scenarios where people look to be deliberately provocative (or "trolling", if you want to switch the whole thing into online terminology). From politicans who fall into stupid traps set for them through to game developers who "mistakenly" leave in a bug that removes the pixellation (you know what kind of games we're talking about here, don't be coy), the usual surfeit of examples get covered before Chiri gets involved and everything becomes a bit surreal.

Aside from a few odd moments (and a great bit of product placement for the iPhone), this wasn't the funniest of episodes, with the first "tinted glasses" segment also easily proving to be the funniest while the rest of this instalment fell a little flat. You can't win them all though...

CANAAN - Episode 13 (Completed)

For all of the rather hit-and-miss elements which CANAAN has thrown our way during the series, the end to the last episode was a pretty compelling one, albeit providing a cliff-hanger that rolled a few well-used cliches from ticking time bombs to tense stand-offs on a train. Still, beggars can't be choosers, and this looked set to offer up some action which fit perfectly with CANAAN's particular formula.

Thankfully, we do get some pretty rip-roaring action out of this episode, as Canaan and Alphard face-off against one another - While it looked as though the latter had the upper hand at the end of the last episode, Canaan's unswerving belief in Maria allows her to find enough strength to take on Alphard, as they take their fight to the roof of the train, and briefly aboard a helicopter's rope ladder. This again leaves this portion of the show to end with a big old cliche, with Alphard hanging from the side of a fast-moving train as Canaan holds on to her for dear life while monologuing her heart out, such as the shifting sands of this pair's relationship.

With all of that over, we're left to close out the series with a lot of deep thinking on Maria's part as she leaves Shanghai, although to be frank most of it seemed pretty uninteresting. This is perhaps CANAAN's biggest failing by far - I've been enlivened by its action sequences (which are really unsurpassed in terms of recent anime I'd say), but rather bored with all of the other machinations that the series tried to offer to explain such sequences (and there were plenty of "excuses" on hand). This show has often felt like one that has nothing that it wants to say, yet tries to make some stuff up anyway in an attempt to sound knowing and interesting. Perhaps there's an important lesson to be learned here - If you have animation staff capable of creating sumptuous artwork and action scenes that are worth of the highest praise, you should stick with those strengths and not try to bad things out or otherwise unnecessarily complicate them. Maybe I wouldn't be saying this had I played the 428 video game which this show spins off from, but without that as a frame of reference CANAAN is little more than a visual feast which has been rather spoiled by someone trying to dump too much story-based seasoning upon it.

Saki - Episode 25 (Completed)

Ohh Saki, how you tease us so in this final episode of the series... In more ways than one in fact, given that this is a training camp episode to finish off the series which just so happens to be held at a hot springs.

With that in mind, of course there's plenty of fan service (with lots of room for even more fan service on the DVD) on offer here, as all of the show's main characters gathered together in the name of getting naked in a bath. Oh, and to help Kiyosumi practice for the national championships as well. I almost forgot about that part.

It turns out that having all of these other top players from the qualifiers is going to do Kiyosumi a great deal of good, with Yumi Kajiki stepping up with some detailed statistics on many of the players who will be attending the nationals, while some of the girls who made it to last year's tournament also share their thoughts on who are the girls to watch. This leads to a mention of one Teru Miyanaga - Saki's sister, of course, which brings out some mixed feelings on her part which are only assuaged by Nodoka and the two girl's deepening friendship.

As if all the fan service wasn't enough of a tease, we're then taken right to the bring of the national tournament, and even given a few tantalising glimpses of Kiyosumi's opponents in action and the like, before having it swiftly snatched away from us by the end of the episode, and thus this series. As the graphics at the end says however, "we're just getting started!". Indeed we are.... Let's just hope Gonzo survives for long enough to deliver what looks to be the inevitable second season of the show.

Overall, I have to give it to Saki for absolutely exceeding my expectations - My early opinion of it was far from positive, with the show seeming to be a bit daft from beginning to end, but once the actual mahjong tournament started it had me in its claws from the moment on - Who knew that a simple game delivered via the medium of anime could be so compelling and generate so much edge-of-the-seat tension? But deliver it did, to the point where even those crazy mahjong "superpowers" seemed cool, and I ended up enjoying every second of the competition segments of the show. Even at the half-way point of this series I didn't think I'd be clamouring for a second season of Saki... Now it simply can't come soon enough.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Basquash! - Episode 24

Come the end of the previous of Basquash!, things weren't looking to good for the world this series had created, withe Earthdash and Mooneyes moving ever closer to colliding, and Dan left unconscious with little sign of revival. What to do in such a Doomsday scenario?

As far as Slash and Mooneyes goes, the obvious answer is to carry on looking for a legend without Dan, introducing the Legend League (which inclues the re-emergence of Iceman Hotty) to try and find somebody capable of stopping the calamity which has already annihilated numerous cities and towns on Earthdash.

Meanwhile, Dan is cared for as both Team Basquash and Eclipse head for the ruins of the legends of times past; while Rouge does her part to look out for Dan, it's Mizuki who takes more affirmative action, which ends up reviving him - and not a moment too soon, bringing forth some hope with just a couple of episodes of this series to go.

As we reach that final straight, I think it's fair to say that this series has developed a lot of the typical facets of a Shōji Kawamori series, with music taking an important role within the development of the plot while Dan's legendary status bears more than a passing resemblance to the "destinies" of Macross pilots of years past. To be fair, this all comes together reasonably well within this particular episode, fitting in nicely to the tension and worry of two worlds about to come to an apocalyptic end and finally giving us the possibility of seeing Dan and company on Mooneyes in the very near future. I'm still not convinced by the direction this series has taken from its early episodes (as I'm sure I've already mentioned plenty of times before), but at least there's still hope for a decent ending, with this instalment proving to be mysterious in its spirituality yet generally quite pleasing to watch.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 25

Come the end of the last episode of Valkyria Chronicles, things were looking up for Gallia, with Selvaria defeated by Alician and Maximilian's supposed plans of marrying Princess Cordelia in tatters. With two episodes left to go though, you didn't expect things to be that simple did you?

Of course, there was more to Maximilian's plans than just marriage, and as squad seven desperately try to fight their way towards the Dreadnought he crashed into the palace, all is revealed - He is in fact there to pinch the huge Valkyrur spear that just so happens to be part of the castle, affixing it to his vehicle to create an ultimate weapon above and beyond what even Alicia is most likely capable.

With this super-weapon (with unsurprisingly nuclear-esque tendencies) at his disposal, just what is Maximilian fighting for? This is the question that Jaeger finds himself asking, with a simple answer - Power, and lots of it. Inevitably, come the end of the episode this new weapon leaves the Empire facing off against Alicia, and leading us into an action packed finale with the latter requiring rescue.

Come this point in a video game inspired series, I find it's best not to take things too seriously, as with an action title like this one in particular things tend to turn towards epic, action-packed final battles at the cost of any subtlety and emotion. So it goes with Valkyria Chronicles, which dumps some of the surprising emotional depth of earlier in the series for lots of big explosions, gunfights and an over-the-top villain, with Maximilian doing his best to make Code Geass' Lelouch look like a shy, retiring train spotter. If you can forgive this shift in focus, then this episoe was entertaining enough beyond some pretty half-hearted animation, but by the same token it was also utterly predictable, leaving you all but counting the seconds until Alicia's arrival to save the day, and again counting down until she required saving herself. It's pretty much as I expected of this series as a whole, so it's just about doing okay in those stakes (albeit hanging on by its fingernails to its recent mediocrity) even if it can't live up to earlier episodes.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Spice and Wolf II - Episode 12 (Completed)

Just as Lawrence's deal seemed to be going so swimmingly (for once), so everything suddenly threatened to fall apart in the climax to Spice and Wolf II's penultimate episode, with a revolt instigated by the town's fur traders in the wake of the announcement of the fifty-man meeting's results.

While blood is being spilled and fires burn all over, Fruhl is confident that the deal can still be done and so carries on as before; Lawrence on the other hand is still clearly having doubts on account of the true nature of the statue he saw last episode - Doubts that Horo quickly picks up on, but Lawrence point blank refuses to tell her about. Furthermore, his suggestion that she's in a win-win situation no matter what he does results in a (quite deserved if you ask me) slap from Horo... The beginning of a long episode of violence against our favourite merchant.

Once Horo is given away as insurance as that particular part of the deal, Lawrence confronts Fruhl and so the whole truth of the matter comes out, from her plans through to her reasoning for it. Come the end of it all, it seems that Lawrence is left alone and without any money, but Fruhl does at least come good on one part of her end of the deal, leaving him the deeds for the old man's inn.

So, does Lawrence accept those deeds gracefully and set up shop in town? Of course not... Instead, he uses the deeds to effectively buy back Horo, and despite some more physical violence against the hapless chap normal service is resumed come the end of the episode, and indeed the series. Well, not quite normal service, as Lawrence finally gets to voice his true feelings in some emotional scenes towards the end of the episode.

You know, at first glance I actually too sure what to make of this final instalment of Spice and Wolf II - Perhaps it's because I was actually nervous as to how it would all end, envisioning a tale of death and sorrow, but in the end such nerves were banished by a climax that leaves the door well and truly open for a third season; a result which I certainly have no qualms about. However, after sitting down for a few minutes and letting my memory of the episode wash over me, I'm starting to realise that it was in fact yet another brilliant example of Lawrence and Horo's relationship at work. To see Lawrence actually express (and arguably actually properly realise) his feelings was a great moment in itself, that was thrown into the mix in the kind of understated fashion you'd expect from him, while Horo's flustered and emotional responses before she eventually reigned herself in were priceless.

Perhaps this isnt the ending I'd have chosen personally (simply because I hadn't really thought of it working out this way for some reason), but overall it was a great end to an absolutely brilliant series, and anything which gives me hope of being regaled once again with the joys of Horo, Lawrence and some decidedly confusing economics can only be hailed as a good thing.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 35

It's time for a G8 summit as we join this latest instalment of Hetalia: Axis Powers... but wait, someone is missing! Who could it be? And who is that weak guy who looks a bit like America?

The country in question is, of course, poor old Canada, a country who finds that even its "pet" bear can't remember who it is, yet a country who equally finds itself getting mistaken for America and bullied by the latter's enemies on a regular basis.

Away from all that, we also see the reasons behind the birth of the modern Olympics... Apparently, it's something to do with France wanting to see lots of naked men running and jumping around. Umm, okay.

Overall, this wasn't the funniest episode of Hetalia by any means, but oh well.. Thank goodness it's only five minutes of my day lost.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - DVD special

For all of its good and bad points, Shikabane Hime: Kuro ended in a rather odd fashion, leaving us with a cliffhanger of sorts that really felt like it needed resolving. Thus, when I heard that a "thirteenth" special episode would accompany the DVD release of the series in Japan, I was hopeful that it would tie up those loose ends to leave me feeling a little more satisfied with the whole thing.

Well, so much for that idea... Rather than carrying on where Kuro left off, this additional episode instead takes us to a time before Makina became a Shikabane Hime, and equally before Ouri new anything about his future path. Instead, the focus of this episode is on the contracted priest Shuuji Isaki, as he takes on his contract with Minai Ruo.

This allows us a glimpse into the respective backgrounds of these two characters who never really had their characters built up particularly within the main body of the series, and to be honest it's a shame they were never given that opportunity earlier on - This episode reveals that Minai is a woman who committed suicide after murdering her abusive husband, while Isaki's entire reason for taking up a contract with Minai (even lying to do so) is in the hope of killing his brother who he hates for a variety of reasons. Ironically, it's the concept of this pair as sinners that eventually goes at least some way towards creating the required bond between them which was previously lacking, although the story is then ruined somewhat by shifting it back to some shared childhood memories the two had together, which to be quite honest is far less powerful a storytelling device.

Indeed, that's probably the biggest problem when you look at this episode as a stand-alone offering - It built up its story well enough, but then felt like it didn't really have enough time to see it through and just dumped us with a rushed and somewhat unsatisfactory conclusions. Hmm, just like Shikabane Hime: Kuro itself then, I suppose. While this was a passable episode in its own right then, it felt like something that would have been better delivered as part of the series proper, where this particular story could have been complemented by further progress and revelations in additional episodes to build things up nicely. But hey, I don't work for Gainax, what do I know? Maybe I'm just sore that I didn't get my proper ending to Makina's story....

Monday, 21 September 2009

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 10

What came first, the chicken or the egg? It's a classic question, but (if you inhabit the world of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei) it's also a question that can be posited in numerous other walks of life. For example, what came first - idol groups, or fans of idol groups; tea, or tea time? The answer might seem obvious, but with enough twisted logic you can never be sure, and if nothing else such bizarre logic made for a few laughs here (not least my own amusement at the portrayal of the emergence of the Great British tea time).

We then move on to the problem of a Japan that is rife with spies and secret agents, looking to destroy the country from the inside with every action; from having a big head at the cinema through to fiddling with change at the checkout, these agents of evil are everywhere! They must be stopped! Particularly when they're stood in front of me in the queue...

The final major chunk of this episode brings us a return to the golf "range measuring" game of last instalment, where we remember that Kiri really shouldn't be let out of the school building lest it collapse, while Kafuka teaches us all about the importance of using a "driver" within this particular game. To be honest this was probably the least amusing part of the episode, but as per usual with this franchise you can't win them all.

All in all, this episode definitely had some great gags (the idol one in particular made me laugh out loud, while there were a couple of nice moments of topical political fun-poking too), while I also got some amusement out of SHAFT's own despair regaring their current workload which kept cropping up throughout (and with work ongoing with this series, Hidamari Sketch and Negima OVAs and Bakemonogatari, and with Natsu no Arashi's return on the horizon I can hardly blame them), before the weekly Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei review's selection of "readers letters" (some of which I can fully believe were real) brought forth the wonderful advice to basically "go and watch Evangelion 2.0 if you don't like this series". If only I could SHAFT, if only I could... But for now, I shall make the most of my time by continuing to enjoy this show's irreverant and topical humour.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

CANAAN - Episode 12

Last episode, I put forth my thoughts as to how CANAAN has been missing something that I couldn't quite distinguish; with just two episodes left to go has it managed to find it?

With all of the excitement, sorrow, death and necrophilia at the research building over, you might think that life is about to return to normal for Maria, Canaan and company. Okay, actually you probably wouldn't think that to be fair, this show was hardly likely to become a slice of life series at this juncture. Anyhow, after a brief stay at a hotel it's time for everyone to head back to Shanghai... Except their car won't start, leaving Maria, Yun-Yun and Canaan to take the train back while Minoru tries to get it fixed.

Now, if there's one thing we know from action-based anime series, it's that nothing good ever comes of a train journey, particularly when you're sat in an empty carriage. So it proves here, with military types stopping and eventually over-running the train killing most of its occupants, while Canaan races off to the source of this ruckus only to leave Maria unprotected and thus falling right into the hands of Alphard. To cut a long story short, we end up with Maria shot and wounded, a bomb counting down on the train (another reason never to catch one in an action anime show) and Alphard and Canaan facing off against one another.

In fact, perhaps it's that final point which answers the question as to what much of CANAAN has been missing - I'd almost forgotten how absolutely fantastic this show's action scenes can be, but once again when it comes to the crunch this series delivers with some brief but brilliantly balletic fight scenes that were truly breath-taking, against yet another episode that was simply beautiful to watch in purely aesthetic terms. That aside, this episode has also set us up nicely for an interesting and potentially emotional finale, albeit via some rather clumsy means, with Canaan's mental state being portrayed in a particularly cliched fashion. It's this kind of juxtaposition of the majestic and the mundane which makes CANAAN so hard to discuss - I really want to like it and there's aspects of the show that shine through week after week, but once you drill down beyond that it still seems as though there's something fundamentally missing from its DNA.

Bakemonogatari - Episode 11

With Nadeko's problems solved (or at least shifted elsewhere) by the end of the last episode, it's time for a new (and final for the TV broadcast episodes) story arc within Bakemonogatari, and this time around it's Tsubasa Hanekawa that gets to be our focus.

In a sense, there's two aspects to Hanekawa's story in this particular episode, but aside from even that we also get some extended dialogue between Koyomi and Nadeko following on from the lifting of her curse. There are some moments within these exchanges, more specifically within Araragi's behaviour, that are decidedly hard to pin down here as to whether they hold any greater significance within the arc as a whole or they're simply quirks of the storytelling on show here, although knowing this series I'm going to assume the former.

That aside, the episode is split between the present and flashbacks to Golden Week - A period where Araragi learns of Hanekawa's difficult family situation (to put it mildly), while also covering the period where she was "possessed" by a meddlesome cat which caused her to attack and drain the energy of her parents. This state of affairs was fixed simply enough by the judicious use of Shinobu, but as the whole thing was stress-related on Hanekawa's part the suggestion is there that the problem could return, fitting in to the headaches we've seen Hanekawa suffer in both previous episodes and this one.

Meanwhile, the present day Hanekawa is, apart from that headache, largely satisfied to talk to Araragi about Senjougahara, noting how many are talking about how she's changed since meeting Koyomi and how she thinks that this is a good thing. It all seems pretty straightforward, but this being Bakemonogatari I rather doubt that's the case.

Compared to some of the straight-up fantastic episodes this series has delivered, I'm not too sure what to make of this particular instalment - Sure, it wasn't bad, and if anything the animation was well and truly back to its best and beyond compared to episode ten, but in terms of dialogue and characterisation it felt a little "empty" without a Kanbaru or Senjougahara to turn things up a notch. The scene has clearly been set for "something" (although we don't know yet what), just not in as compelling a fashion as I might have expected given the quality of previous story arcs. Hopefully my criticisms will be made to look foolish come the next episode...

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 24

The previous episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was really a delicious blend of everything that is good about this series when it hits all of the right notes, while also setting itself up nicely for more of the same this time around.

So, come the beginning of this instalment, we see the wrath of Gluttony (do you see what I did there?) in his range against Colonel Mustang, which brings him to display a new form that we were previously yet to see of this Homunculus. Eventually all that's left to do is to try and escape, which most of those present succeed in doing, leaving only the Elric brothers and Ling Yao to handle their hungry (and not to mention angry) problem.

As if that wasn't bad enough, before they know it Envy is also on the scene; although the Elric brothers are still too important to be attacked, Ling Yao is in danger, and the resulting fighting between those present ends in what appears to be disaster for all but Al and Gluttony himself. Meanwhile, Roy Mustang chooses his own course of action, trying to bring Bradley's true nature to the attention of some of the military's top brass - A plan which itself looks set to back-fire spectacularly....

Overall then, this was another good episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, tempered just slightly perhaps by the reappearance of that imbalance of humour during dramatic moments, which actually served to detract from such moments rather than complement them. Still, the story is progressing apace and in increasingly fascinating directions, and even though the animation quality appeared to take a dip here it remains compelling viewing for anyone interested in the franchise.

Saki - Episode 24

Saki reaches its penultimate episode with qualifying for both the individual and national team tournaments complete, which leaves us with a bit of a mahjong shortfall to fill those final two episodes... At least it looks that way until the Ryuumonbuchi mahjong club receives a letter. "Dear Ryuumonbuchi High School mahjong club" it reads, "we appear to have run out of things to show in this series, so would you be interested in joining us on a fillerific adventure to at least make the final episode a little more interesting? Yours faithfully, Gonzo. P.S. Please bring money, we're a bit short this month".

Of course not! Instead, the letter in question was one extended to a number of schools by Hisa, in an attempt to give Kiyosumi some tough opponents for a forthcoming training camp that she's preparing in lieu of the forthcoming nationals. Needless to say, the three schools in question all agree to participate for their own varying reasons, which I suppose means that the content of the final episode is now well and truly sealed (although it sounds like the kind of plot that could have extended over several episodes in all honesty).

That still leaves the remainder of this particular instalment however, which is taken up by two things. Firstly, there's Yuuki, who has managed to fail one of her end of term exams and thus needs to swat up for a resit which, if she fails, would mean her missing out on the camp (which of course if no good for anyone on the team at all); thus, Saki and Nodoka both do their bit to help her through, although arguably without much success. Secondly, there's a summer festival going on (you didn't think you were going to get away with a filler episode without one, did you?), so of course there's the prospect of some of the girls in yukatas to look forward to as well.

What more can I say about this episode? It's pure and utter filler, but after all the great mahjong-centric episodes I've enjoyed via this show I suppose I can forgive it that, and I'm actually looking forward to the training camp finale which promises to be pretty interesting in its own right. Roll on next week then, although I'm seriously going to miss this series once it's finished no matter how well placed it appears to be for a second season at some point.

EVE no Jikan - Episode 6 (Completed?)

A young boy, upset with his father and blaming him for what appears to be the break-up of their family shares his troubles with a household robot which he's named Tex, who similarly responds and weighs in with its own (naturally logical) thoughts on the issue. The boy's name is Masaki, and so begins this final(?) episode of Eve no Jikan.

Fast forwarding to the present day, and Tex (officially known as THX, a nice little movie reference in its own right) no longer speaks... Indeed, he never has since the night of the conversation between it and Masaki in question. This all seems like small fry however, as we also see plans being put into place by a Robotics Ethics Committee, which is staunchly opposed to the growth in interactions between humans and androids, and sets out to investigate reports where this kind of thing has been going on - Something which they ironically set out to achieve using androids to take up the bulk of the investigative workload.

Of course, the CIO of this Ethics Committee is none other than Masaki's father, and so the whole episode ties itself together quite nicely, bringing us the reasons for Masaki's own distrust towards robots and androids throughout this series coupled with the reasoning behind his fathers action and anti-android advocacy.

This wouldn't be EVE no Jikan if it wasn't thought-provoking however, and so as per usual the items on that particular agenda come thick and fast. Perhaps the most interesting viewpoint this episode throws up is a comparison between Misaki and "Tex" - Misaki resents his robot (and thus robots and androids as a whole) on account of it following his father's command not to speak any more, a command which clearly causes Tex some decidedly conflicted anguish. This in itself is an interesting point of debate (is Tex "upset" on an emotional level, or simply because he cannot perform the duties which he was designed for to their fullest extent?), but it also throws up a mirror to Misaki's own life, as he too is conflicted - He now understands that it's his father's order that has stopped Tex from speaking, yet he still ignores that and instead focuses his disdain upon others. In essence Misaki, just like Tex, is "programmed" to obey commands from his father over his own wishes and knowledge, and it's this struggle which both entities share which serves to provide the heavy emotions on display in the latter half of this episode. It's a conflict that neither party ultimately resolves in the course of this episode, all we see here is simply progress towards an unknown resolution.

Speaking of unknown resolutions, this episode also puts the future of the Time of Eve cafe under thread, and despite Tex's fantastic battle of logic to remove an investigating android from the cafe (while simultaneously using that same logic as a hint to Misaki regarding what is going on) we still don't know what the future holds, which points very heavily to a second series, particularly when coupled with an unfolding revelation about cafe owner Nagi...

I'm sure I've waxed lyrical enough about the fantastic quality of this occasional series from the very start, but I make no apologies for doing so again here - As anime goes, this has to be up there as amongst the most pleasingly thought-provoking shows I've ever had the pleasure to watch. At its core, it asks a basic question of discrimination - Should we react differently on any kind of level towards an android or robot that can speak and otherwise express itself? It's the same question asked by recent Hollywood movie District 9 (albeit handled in a very different way), and at a more fundamental level its really asking us whether we should treat anyone who appears to be different from ourselves in another manner to that reserved for those "like us". Should we feel sad for a robot who is lost or lonely? EVE no Jikan never answers the question itself, but my own emotional responses to the stories presented by this series with its near-perfect and sharp blend of humour and drama (again wonderfully illustrated by a couple of juxtapositions of the two in this episode) suggest that yes, it is okay to cry over a robot. It might not be enough to make an android human, but such anthropomorphism and ability to relate to such things is what makes us human.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Basquash! - Episode 23

Just as we reached the brink of affirming Dan's place as Earthdash's much-needed legend, so Yan's scurrilous plan went into full swing, shooting Dan down and kicking off what turned to be an all-out coup and power grab - A risky and violent business that also appears to have possibly claimed the life of Navi, right in front of a distraught Sela.

Putting all of that to one side however, there are far more important things at stake - Namely what appears to be an impending apocalypse, with Mooneyes all set to crash straight into Earthdash in just a matter of days as part of Yan's scheme; a plot which no longer appears to require Dan according to his calculations. Of course, Yan also believes that he still has the former members of Eclipse (well, two of them at least) on his side, despite his plans to destroy the moon to save Earthdash, a belief that proves to be entirely mistaken.

So, for the rest of the episode we're left with Eclipse's attempts to save a still unconscious Dan (with more than a little help from James Loan), while Slash announces the beginning of a new baseball league to try and find another legend in Dan's wake.

Of course, many of these plot points from using a basketball league to save the world through to Rouge's method for restarting Dan's heart (pleasant though it doubtless was) are completely ridiculous, and there really isn't much more to be said about a plot that's becoming increasingly daft by the week at the moment. Unfortunately, the animation quality was equally thin this time around which didn't really do much to help things, but I suppose at least I'm still curious as to how the series is going to end, so the plot isn't a complete mess just yet. While I'm not at all convinced that this was the right direction to take a series that started out with so much attitude and verve, I'm stuck here for the ride now so I can only hope that Basquash reclaims at least a little decency over the next few weeks to make it feel like less of a big disappointment than, truth be told, it seems to be at the moment.

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 - Episode 11 (Completed)

Come the end of the last episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, Mirai had finally come to realise the truth about Yuuki's death - I'm sure it goes without saying that such a revelation would be difficult for anybody to handle, and thus of course much of this episode is taken up with Mirai's struggle to come to terms properly with everything that has happened.

That said, Yuuki's part in this story isn't done, as we see him urging a reticent Mirai on all the way until she reaches her home and is reunited with her mother in an inevitably emotional reunion - Indeed, perhaps you could argue that Mirai's mental state immediately after Yuuki's death was as much her own way of getting home to her family as it was simple denial to cope with losing him.

With the family fully reunited, we get to see just how important those bonds are when it comes to dealing with the grieving process, with open words and tears that can never heal the wounds of losing a loved one, but at least allow for all those concerned to accept what has happened. This is naturally more difficult for Mirai than her parents, and after some difficult times it's a visit from Mari that puts her in the right direction (although surely even Mari's story of when she lost her husband is not even close to being analogous to Mirai's grief) in what was as happy an ending as you could expect from a series like this - As we see Tokyo very slowly being rebuilt, yet with scars and memorials that will never go away, so Mirai learns to cope and carry on with her life despite knowing that the pain and feelings of loss will never entirely go away.

I think it's fair to say that I'm probably not the only one to be caught by surprise from the emotional impact of the final few episodes of the series - From depicting largely the technical details of a massive earthquake (albeit with an eye always on the human drama and impact), we really left all of that behind to focus entirely on the human tragedy of such an event. Perhaps Yuuki's death and our view of this from Mirai's eyes deviated from those technical scenarios, and perhaps it could have been shortened to some degree rather than keeping the "is he or isn't he" question alive for so long, but I defy anyone to say that they didn't shed a tear or two during these episodes - My eyes were damp from the very opening scene of this final episode, and it didn't get any easier from there.

Overall then, above all else I have to take my hat off to BONES for daring to take this series in the directions they chose to - They could easily have made it a pseudo-documentary with a focus on facts above all else, but as well as worrying about the details of the earthquake itself they also managed to zoom in on the real human cost of a natural disaster in a brave and very different fashion. They gave us a bleak view of a terrifying disaster, yet they also gave us characters that we could cry for and over as their lives fractured and were repaired just like the city around them, and those tears most certainly don't lie when it comes to discussing the quality of this series.

Aoi Hana (Completed)

This is something a little different from my usual episodic 'blogging, but I figured I'd link to it as it's still a new series that just finished airing in Japan so it seems relevant to the remit of this place. As this season is ramping down, and with it the number of shows I need to watch here is going a little quiet for a couple of weeks, I'm finding myself with time to revisit some of the series which are legally streaming in the UK via Crunchyroll from this season, but that I didn't have chance to watch on an episode-per-episode basis at the time, to review over at UK Anime.

The first such series along those lines is Aoi Hana; not the kind of thing I'd typically consider watching, but I like to stretch the boundaries of my interests from time to time and truth be told I'm rather glad I did in the end. Anyhow, click the link below for my review of the series in full.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Taishou Yakyuu Musume - Episode 9

Thanks to Noe's efforts (and some hard work from Koume, to be fair) Ouka-kai are now kitted out with plenty of information about their future opponents at Asaka school, and not a moment too soon, as they finally record a win (and comprehensively so) in one of their practice games. The trouble is, Koume has left a photograph from said notes floating around, which leads to problems and misunderstandings aplenty this episode.

In short, Koum's parents assume that the photo they find of Takahara means that Koume is dating (or at least intending to date) him, and so we enter a row between Koume and her parents based entirely upon misunderstandings... a state of affairs which ends up spreading to Saburou, as the whole thing gets completely out of hand.

Meanwhile, following their improvements and practice victory, Ouka-kai send off an official challenge to Asaka - One which is summarily rejected by the head of the school against the wishes of the baseball team there. It takes some people in high places applying pressure to change the head's mind, so the game is now on, leaving the girls needing the summer break to train and improve further still.

I'm really not quite sure how this series does it, but Taishou Yakyuu Musume has somehow just about managed it again - Taking a horribly cliched and over-used concept (the old talking about different things and misunderstanding one another deal), yet actually making it quite fun to watch both by making the entire state of affairs rather adorable and also giving us characters (Koume in particular) who you can't help but want to get behind and cheer on. Yes, this might well have been the least inventive anime plot of the current season so far, but I suppose it shows that even tired old ideas can work okay if you weave them into the right story with the right characters.

Spice and Wolf II - Episode 11

An important deal going exactly to plan from beginning to end? In Spice and Wolf? Surely not. However, for the majority of this episode "just as planned" seems to be the phrase du jour for a change.

The episode kicks off of course with Lawrence and Fruhl's meeting to do the deal which was laid out last episode, complete with Horo (acting as demurely as possible) on-hand as insurance. Despite the big numbers on offer financially, this meeting goes surprisingly smoothly, with a deal agreed and only a slight reduction in the price the pair were aiming for in the first place.

After this meeting, and with the atmosphere feeling at least somewhat relaxed, Fruhl spills the beans about her own life and upbringing, as well as what drives her as a merchant. But is it all true? Horo teases Lawrence briefly for not asking her just that question, but for now we really can't be sure; if nothing else, the true purpose of those supposed religious icons Fruhl used to sell the church is very much in doubt.

All of this pales into relative insignificance however compared to the bombshell that Horo drops following the meeting, with the suggestion that perhaps the time has come for herself and Lawrence to part company. This also leads to her explaining exactly what it is that she's scared of - Essentially, it's the thought of the wonderful relationship that they currently share fading with the ravages of time rather than that of her simply outliving Lawrence. Naturally, Lawrence is far from happy at the idea of their journey ending here (although typical merchant that he is he refers to it in terms of his "contract" with her over and above anything else), but the strength of this pair's relationship and how it's grown recently really shines through in what happens after - No long periods of angst, awkward silences or despair, they simply go straight back to how things were, with the usual teasing quips and sharp retorts throughout. That alone, you could argue, is enough to prove Horo's concerns as unfounded - How could she (or indeed, how could we) ever get bored of this?

Even without its big, fat cliffhanger ending this was an excellent episode as per usual - Fruhl's character is an interesting one in its own right as an even sharper and more cunning merchant than Lawrence, one who you can never quite pin down the true face of, with Horo and Lawrence's interactions with one another require no further discussion - We're all well used to the joys and crises of their relationship as we continue to love and thrive on the rollercoaster of emotion with which it presents us.

Personally, it would probably be foolish and selfish of me to hope that the journeys which Spice and Wolf takes us never end - As we know, anime series can't just keep getting better just like real relationships. However, as of right now I can't imagine a point where I could ever get bored of this, it's simply too magnificent in its own unique and special way.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 24

Come the end of the last episode of Valkyria Chronicles, we were all set up for a final, epic struggle between Selvaria and Alicia... The trouble is, it seems that Gallia's heroine's heart simply isn't in it this time around.

Whereas Alicia overpowered Selvaria with relative ease the last time they met, this time it's Selvaria who has everything to fight for, while Alicia's perceived loneliness only serves to weaken her, making her seemingly easy prey. Meanwhile, Welkin finally makes a decision about what he needs to do (with the eventual support of Squa 7 of course), just in time for a change of heart from Alicia herself, who finds what she requires to survive, live on and emerge victorious just in the nick of time.

However, in a sense this isn't even the major story of this episode, as Maximilian pays a visit to Princess Cordelia to table a surprising offer - A truce, on the condition that the two of them marry. This moment also allows Maximilian to indulge in a full-on Lelouch vi Brittania-esque monologue, complete with over-the-top hand gesticulations... Oh, how we miss Code Geasseven now. Anyway, Maximilian's suggestion is not so much rebutted as ruined entirely by Cordelia's own revelations, which leaves Maximilian to resort to plan B. I'm not sure exactly what plan B actually is just yet, but it seems to involve forgetting to put the handbrake on on his nifty mega-tank-thing.

Joking aside, this was a reasonably good episode all things considered - The animation quality seemed to swing from top-notch to looking decidedly cheap throughout, but the important plot points were told well enough, an bonus points have to be given for that aforementioned Lelouch-esque monologue. Somehow Valkyria Chronicles still doesn't seem to be as accomplished at depicted these more action-oriented affairs that the more emotional stuff we saw earlier in the series, but it does well enough to remain watchable if nothing else.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 23

The previous episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood might have brought about a brief respite in the Elric brother's battle against Scar as Winry became involved in the fray, but as of this episode it proves correct that a brief respite was indeed all that they could "enjoy", as we soon return to that particular piece of action come the start of this latest instalment.

Of course, it isn't only Ed and Al fighting hard at this juncture, with Ling Yao and the injured Lan Fan still doing their best against the Homumculus duo of Gluttony and Bradley, with the latter taking drastic measures to save them both from certain doom; a measure which turns the tide to a sufficient extend to allow Ling Yao in particular to take the fight to the Homunculus for once, capturing Gluttony in the process.

Come the end of that period of rip-roaring action, it's left to the Elric brothers to see off a still-upset Winry, who at least finally begins to understand both her purpose and her own feelings come the end of the episode, while Roy Mustang and Risa Hawkeye continue their own efforts away from prying military eyes as it starts to become clear just how deep the rabbit hole they have uncovered goes....

It has to be said that I really can't fault this episode all things considered - The action sequences we got to enjoy here were arguably some of the best yet from this new series of Fullmetal Alchemist, proving to be truly a joy to watch before being offset with a brief dose of the humour typical of this series and some more emotionally-driven content as the wheels were set in motion for the next episode and beyond. If anyone has been holding out on watching this series based upon those early episodes which so closely mirrored the original anime, then now really is the time to return to Brotherhood - It simply couldn't be much more different that the franchise's first animated effort at this juncture, and that shift towards the manga's storylines is now helping to deliver some truly compelling anime week in, week out almost without fail.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 34

Episode thirty-four of Hetalia: Axis Powers brings us quite a mixed medley of humour and joviality this time around, starting off with Italy admiring his "combat career" so far - Certainly, there seemed to be many major conquests on show, more than you might expect from Italy that's for sure...

From there, we get to see Germany taking a break in Italy (where his attempts to blend in really don't go to plan at all... at least, not if you're an Italian greengrocer anyhow), Japan offers up some Axis-themed bentou (which is great unless you're Germany) before inadvertently creating a dish better than even the might of an English stew (impossible in reality, I know), and America gets to show off his "fabulous" drawing skills.

Following on from that pretty decent last episode of Hetalia, this latest episode also seems to continue the show's upward swing in terms of humour and comedy, once again raising a few smiles from me after so many rather tepid weeks when there wasn't all that much to enjoy. Long may in continue is all I can say on that count really.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Shangri-la - Episode 24 (Completed)

I'm sure all of us have watched anime series that we simply didn't want to end; shows where we reached the last episode and found ourselves wishing it could go on forever, allowing us to enjoy and grow with the characters and stories ad infinitum. Well, Shangri-la isn't one of those shows.

Rather, Shangri-la is an anime of the "Hallelujah, thank God it's over!" variety, although upon saying that I have to give it kudos for finishing its twenty-four episode run with the most unintentionally hilarious twenty minutes of anime I've seen in 2009. Where do I start with it? Perhaps with Kuniko using the wind from a boomerang to cushion her fall? Or the fact that Kuniko and Mikuni are really sisters? Or perhaps that they're clones of Hiruko? That's a fair few snigger-worthy moments, and we're only about two minutes into the episode.

From here, MEDUSA's attempts to create a nuclear winter are prevented... because MEDUSA didn't realise he was only hacking into the UN's weapons systems in a virtual world, and not a real one, before then drowning in a virtual sea. But MEDUSA has a baby, which is a good thing apparantly. Huh?

Oh, and Kuniko wins the day using a giant jet-powered boomerang which just so happens to have been invented and manufactured just in case she needed to beat an evil computer within Atlas which is actually Kuniko as well. The computer in question is also Ryoko, which I suppose means that Ryoko is Kuniko; convenient, considering that Ryoko wants to steal and inhabit Kuniko's body.

As a final denouement of stupidity (well, I could go on all day, but let's just skip to the funniest part), Lady Mikuni's inability to tolerate sunlight and her proclivity to tie people she doesn't like into knots are both healed by the ghost of Miko, who has become a ghost to look after the dead children of Atlas, and she returns to Mikuni briefly to cast a transsexual magic spell on her. No really, I haven't been drinking while writing this, it's actually how the series ends. Wait, come back, I'm not insane. Really!

I know times are tough for Gonzo of late, but if Shangri-la suggests anything it's that these guys really need a break (be it enforced or otherwise) to get their heads together and stop producing utterly stupid trash like this. Sure, it had a few reasonable episodes, but beyond that the vast majority of both the plot and characters of the series were complete tripe of the highest degree possible, and much as I occasionally enjoyed giggling and shaking my head at such daft and incoherent attempts at storytelling (particularly towards the end of the series, as referenced above, where the story didn't so much jump the shark as leap to the outer edges of the universe to avoid it), I can't pretend that it wasn't utterly awful. Let it be duly noted for the records that Shangri-la is to 2009 what Allison to Lilliawas to 2008 - An utterly shameful effort.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

CANAAN - Episode 11

It seems fair to say that things weren't exactly going the way of "truth and justice" by the end of the last episode of CANAAN, and in all honesty things don't really get much better for the majority of this eleventh episode of the series.

Despite discovering those frozen Canaan clones, Alphard has no problem in letting Maria and Yun-Yun escape, while she also seems more than happy to give the Snakes research data on the Ua virus and their attempts to create a "Canaan army" to Natsume, who then in turns calls in the military and US Special Forces to destroy the site.

While Canaan returns to the building despite knowing of this impending attack to rescue Hakko, so our own interest switches to Liang Qi, who faces off against Alphard only to lose the plot completely... not that she had much grip on her mental faculties from the very start. Her emotional rollercoaster (not to mention her fighting with knives in lingerie) is ended as she takes some experimental pills designed to give Ua virus sufferers synaesthesia, which finally drives her over the edge in a blur of love and hatred for all things Canaan.

As if that whole state of affairs wasn't bizarre enough, we also have Hakko having sex with a dead Santana, before Canaan is forced to make her escape from the factory before it's destroyed - The good news is that she carries Yun-Yun's medication with her, but the bad news is... well, pretty much everything else really.

You know, for all of my fluctuating thoughts and feelings towards CANAAN I can't help but feel like it's missing something, although I can't quite put my finger on what. The last episode did a pretty good job of delivering as required, and this episode also seemed to do everything that was needed of it, yet I still don't feel genuinely gripped by the story it portrays as I feel I should be. Yes, I can marvel at the consistently impressive animation quality and the like, but when it comes to anything deeper I'm left feeling a little empty - I'm not sure whether it's the characters or the story itself, but I just feel as though the entire show just needs something else to bring it from the depths of mediocrity; a certain something which it hasn't managed to consistently capture since those early episodes when everything still seemed fresh and intriguing.

Saki - Episode 23

The last episode of Saki saw the eponymous hero of the series facing off against her own club president, with Hisa seemingly holding the upper hand before Momoko's "stealth mode" started to take effect.

Just as things were looking all over for Saki, in that match-up at least, so she found her way back into the game, rather ironically on account of training prescribed to her by Hisa, using her experiences at the club's training camp playing online mahjong to see through Momoko's tricks and snatch a win in the last hand in her usual fashion.

This then took us on to the last round of matches, which thanks to some rather fortuitous draws saw a number of the series big-name characters facing off against one another in the fight to make the top three on points scored and thus qualify for the nationals. With Nodoka well-placed and Mihoko all but guaranteed a place in the finals, it's Saki who gets much of the focus of our interest for this round as well, most particularly as she faces off against South wind expert Nanpo. Once again, Saki starts off very slowly, but proves herself to have a burgeoning reputation as something of a comeback queen, fending off Nanpo's usual dominance of those South wind hands to fashion herself a victory... and, of course, a place in the finals.

There's probably not a lot more to say here against what I've already discussed at length about Saki - I never fail to be thrilled by the mahjong action when it gets going, and while these individual qualifying tournament episodes haven't had quite the same edge of your seat qualities as the team tournament it's still been great stuff to watch, ridiculous mahjong superpowers and all. With a couple of episodes still to run I suppose we're going to have to live with filler to close out the series but hey, this series has been increasingly fun to watch over the past few months so I suppose I can cut it some slack... I just hope Gonzo can survive to work on the second series which this franchise is clearly crying out for.

Bakemonogatari - Episode 10

The last episode of Bakemonogatari left us not so much with a cliffhanger as a slight sense of embarrassment, as we found ourselves wondering where to look in the face of a naked middle school girl. With scales. Regardless, it appears that it's time for Araragi to come to the rescue of a damsel in distress once again.

Of course, young Nadeko is the damsel in question, and for once with this series it seems as though everyone has got the situation more or less correctly appraised even without Oshino's assistance - Nadeko has been cursed by a snake (a constrictor no less) on account of upsetting a friend by rejecting a guy who liked her, and Nadeko has been trying to lift the curse by going around and killing snakes at the shrine we saw last episode. The trouble is, she's been going about lifting the curse the wrong way despite doing broadly the right thing, so Oshino explains the proper procedure to Araragi and urges that Nadeko needs to perform the required ritual as soon as possible as her life is in imminent danger. Of course, lifting curses is never as simple as it first seems within this series, and while Nadeko's curse looks set to be lifted so complications arise that force Araragi to take drastic action.

While Nadeko may be the enabler of this particular Bakemonogatari story arc, there can be no doubt as to who the centrepiece of this story is - Quite simply, it's all about Koyomi Araragi. So the last episode saw Hanekawa chastising him for getting too close to Kanbaru and not understanding Senjougahara sufficiently, so this episode showcases Araragi's weaknesses all the more succinctly. For starters, he appears completely and absolutely oblivious to Nadeko's true feelings, missing all the obvious pointers as she discusses the "other guy" that she likes, how she used to admire Koyomi and so on, before not so much as raising an eyebrow as Nadeko implores him to "look at her" before starting the cleansing ritual. If that isn't bad enough, Araragi later endangers his own life by trying to tackle a problem in the name of trying to save everybody rather than simply accepting that he's helped Nadeko and that this is the limit of his abilities on this occasion - Almost an exact carbon copy of his reckless behaviour when handling Kanbaru's problems in the previous story arc despite his dressing down by Hitagi on that occasion.

All of this makes for yet another fascinating character study at the hands of this series, the kind which begs more questions than it answers - Is Koyomi a good guy for caring about everybody and not wanting anyone to ever get hurt, or is he naive to the point of doing more harm than good? Similarly, is his inability to understand others feelings towards him a side-effect of his good-natured manner, or is it actually hurting the very people he claims to be helping and protecting? I'd be really interested to see how this story arc affects people's perceptions of Araragi, as it turns him into a character that I imagine people will love or hate dependant on how you view his actions - Be sure to let me know what you think after watching this episode, as I'd be fascinated to hear it.

That aside, this was another brilliant episode all things considered, although I did feel like budget constraints were evident throughout, particularly during what would have been more action-packed scenes which were reduced to a number of simple "cut" sequences instead - I'm all for SHAFT's artistic interpretation and the way they love to play with everything they depict in such ways, but on this occasion it actually detracted from what was going on and started to grate a little. What it didn't do however is detract from the story, and thankfully that was strong enough to shine through an episode using only stick figures, let alone the largely polished effort we see here, thus continuing to allow Bakemonogatari to hold its place as my favourite show of this season.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 33

Ever been to a cafe or restaurant and hated every second of your visit? Just this kind of issue is what bookends this latest episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers.

Of course, the firs of those two cafes is run by none other than Germany, whose rather strict tone and rules are never exactly likely to endear him to his patrons. On the flip side of that coin, Spain's incessant chatter to a depressed customer does little to help matters either.

Away from that, we see Germany and Italy camped out on the front lines in Africa, where they seem to be doing rather a lot of retreating. To help the situation (with an alarming degree of success) Italy wishes on a shooting star, although Germany's attempts to do likewise are asking rather too much of a single star....

All in all, this is probably the funniest episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers we've been granted in a while - Not hugely laugh out loud funny perhaps, but consistently amusing enough to raise a few smiles and chuckles while keeping my attention for the scant few minutes of its running time.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 - Episode 10

With the end of the last episode of Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 pretty much sealing the deal for anyone who still had doubts over the future or otherwise Yuuki, this penultimate episode of the series handles Mirai's unravelling mental state.

As she continues her journey home on the back of a truck carrying the wounded, we see Mirai wrestling with (but again denying) Yuuki's death, and as the return to her hometown coincides with her meeting school friends and class mates of Yuuki, so we see her still unable to let go of the fact that he's there, even though she can only see him when nobody else is around.

On the more positive side of things, we hear from one of Mirai's friends that both of her parents and alive and well, with her father injured in hospital but generally okay and her mother sheltering at the nearby elementary school. With her Mum away from the shelter to get more clothes for a while, Mirai ends up wandering around with Yuuki's friend Itsuki, as Mirai's mental state even begins to become clear to him before an aftershock and its fallout seems to bring her, finally, to the realisation of what really happened with Yuuki collapsed, and so we too learn what was a dream and what was reality within the confines of that episode a couple of weeks ago.

While part of me can't help but feeling that Mirai's mental state has been allowed to go on a little too long in terms of the story as a whole, I can't help but be impressed by the way her realisation of Yuuki's death was depicted come the end of the episode - Despite the fact that we've been on the outside looking in with our own knowledge of the circumstances, seeing Yuuki's death once again as an absolute truth was honestly painful to watch, and thus gives at least a fraction of the understanding of what a young girl like Mirai would have to go through in such a situation. It's this ability to focus on the human damage of a major earthquake over merely the technical details that has really brought Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 to life, making it a cut above your average disaster movie or documentary. This show isn't about the faceless victims of a major disaster, it's truly "real" and in your face in terms of how it handles such tragedy.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya - Season 2 - Episode 14 (aka Episode 24) (Completed)

The previous episode of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya finally gave us an opportunity to talk about a new instalment of this franchise in terms above and beyond dismay and controversy, which in itself made for a refreshing change after all the (justified) negativity of weeks past. Now, as this run of new episodes ends, so does the Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya arc (full movie screening aside).

Of course, the first item on the agenda for this episode is the origins of Shamisen the talking cat, and it probably goes without saying that there's always comic potential in talking animals, which gives us a reasonably amusing little distraction for a while.

From here, the big issue to be tackled is how to get Haruhi to understand that everything in the movie that they're filming is well and truly within the realms of fiction - A requirement that becomes ever more pressing as more and more out of place occurrences take place. However, even this state of affairs is overshadowed by disagreements which surface between the other members of the SOS Brigade as to what Haruhi actually "is", with Koizumi and Mikuru both vocal in their own understandings and beliefs about what Haruhi represents and exists as.

Regardless of such philosophical debates, as per usual it's left up to Kyon to resolve the whole mess, which he does in his usual inimitable simple yet effective style, before the end of the episode gives us an amusing little dénouement to this batch of new episodes.

So it is that we reach the conclusion of all of the episodes which make up the second season of new Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya episodes, and what more is there to say about it that we haven't already discussed to death? After the brilliance of the single episode of Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody looked ready to set the tone for a new season of wonder, so Endless Eight wore us down with its pointless and overblown repetition, wasting week upon week to irreparably scar the reputation of both this franchise and KyoAni as a whole. After that came The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya (perhaps ironically mirroring our own sighs during Endless Eight), a fleshing out of concepts we'd seen to some degree the first time around, and even this took quite a while to warm up, only truly coming to fruition for its last two episodes.

However objectively we try to look at it, Endless Eight has stained and overshadowed anything to do with this series - No doubt it'll be talked about for years to come (and certainly watching and then 'blogging about those episodes was a unique community experience all of its own) while the rest of these new episodes will be forgotten. The fact that, Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody and a few smidgens of The Sigh of Haruhi Suzumiya aside, the rest of these new episodes were largely forgettable in the first place certainly doesn't help, and that point probably shouldn't be ignored in the larger brouhaha surrounding those infamous eight episodes. If we're honest, this wasn't The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya at its best, and it'll be interesting to see what the fallout from this particular series will mean for the Haruhi franchise further down the line.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Valkyria Chronicles - Episode 23

The last few episodes have seen Alicia transform from a normal girl into some kind of ultimate weapon (with apologies to Saikano's Chise), and her role as the new forefront of the Gallian army's efforts to win back their country continue as this episode begins, with the Empire pushed further and further back, in turn reducing Maximilian's waning influence and power all the more.

Of course, Alicia's new role and post as a Captain means that she's no longer allowed to fraternise with the likes of the Militia, and Squad 7's decision to pay her a visit ends in a brawl, even roping Welkin into the fray eventually as his patience is tested by the continuing references to Alicia as a monster. While Welkin and Faldio both find themselves well and truly outside of the military's "in" crowd, so Princess Cornelia does everything she can to help them out, from releasing them from their respective imprisonment to allocating Squad 7 to protect her in the next major battle at Alicia's behest... a battle which looks set to see the two Valkrur face off against one another once again.

Given the natural way this episode was bound to progress, I suppose it was inevitable that it might feel somewhat like it's simply going through the motions - As we build up towards the show's final episodes, there really wasn't much real meat to get our teeth into here as various scenes were set for the run-in to a big finish. The only real news of note here is the change in Welkin's normally passive temperament into a more pro-active role when it comes to Alicia - As his feelings towards her have developed and been revealed, so we finally see him taking action to protect and communicate with her where previously he has done nothing. Of course, this is big news in and of itself, but in isolation it wasn't enough to carry any kind of huge emotional core within the episode as a whole, leaving it feeling a little empty compared to some of Valkyria Chronicles instalments throughout its second half.

Spice and Wolf II - Episode 10

The last episode of Spice and Wolf II left us not so much with a cliff-hanger as a case of "What did you just say?" - A preposterous offer made to Lawrence against Horo, surely?

Well, with a bit of explanation, the concept of "selling" Horo seems far less preposterous, albeit still risky - In essence, what is being proposed is to use Horo as insurance against the loan of a large amount of cash, using her as a fake daughter of nobility to make her suitably profitable. The reason for acquiring this cash is the conclusion of the fifty-man meeting, which decided that foreign traders could buy furs, but in cash only with no credit or other forms of trading allowed - Of course, this effectively cuts off that trade in all but name in theory as nobody will have sufficient cash to make any large purchases, which is why Fruhl and Lawrence can smell a huge profit from getting hold of enough money to buy up as much fur as they can.

Now, you might well expect Horo to be far from pleased at the suggestion that she be used as a bargaining chip, but far from it; instead, she berates Lawrence for losing his usual profit-driven focus simply on her account, instead urging him to take the more exciting path of going ahead with the deal assuming that everything else is as it seems. Indeed, Fruhl's grasp on the current situation appears to be largely true, but Lawrence's investigations bring forth some interesting information regarding power struggles within the church and some additional information about Fruhl's work as a merchant, while the woman herself seems more than a little nervy as the deal with Lawrence is agreed, just in time to give us a sense of foreboding for the episodes ahead.

While I spend much of my time here praising Spice and Wolf for its sharp and highly entertaining dialogue (and I could easily do so again here, with plenty of great dialogue and superb lines on show), this series ability to spring surprises at times probably shouldn't be under-estimated either - While I was expecting Lawrence to make a decision based on profit over Horo's well-being and end up being spat out by her, what we ended up with was the exact opposite, the kind of turn-around that keeps us as viewers guessing while also keeping the ever-shifting dynamic between those two main characters as fresh as a daisy. For all of my love of the characters, I have to recognise that this series of Spice and Wolf, more so than its predecessor, has been far more focused with its deployment of major storylines to grab our attention beyond dialogue alone, and with only a couple of episodes left to go it appears that we've again been left in the throes of nervous curiosity as to what will transpire next - Let's face it, counting down the days and hours until the next episode each week can only be the hallmark of a classic series.