Saturday, 31 October 2009

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 5

The word "railgun" might be in the title, but that doesn't mean that To Aru Kagaku no Railgun has to focus primarily on Mikoto all the time - Thus, this episode turns our attentions to the history between Shirai and Uihara.

This flashback takes place against an introduction where the two Judgement members find themselves at the scene of a car being broken into - Rather than waiting for backup as suggested by Uihara, Kuroko charges in without a second thought and ends up both letting the thieves escape while also putting both girls in danger. This in turn leads to a blow-out argument between the two, with Uihara (who expected her to get angry?) losing both her rag and her patience with Kuroko, particularly when the latter seems to have forgotten a promise that the pair made in the past.

This leads us nicely into the story of exactly how that promise was made, taking us back to a time when both Shirai and Uihara were at elementary school. When a robbery commences at the post office where both these characters are situated at the time (Academy City seems to be rife with crime, doesn't it?), once again Kuroko rushes into action without considering the potential dangers of doing so, endangering her friend's life and having to rely on some mysterious outside help to help her before she eventually triumphs over the robbers.

I've got to say, this was perhaps the most enjoyable episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun so far - For all of its lack of everyone's favourite railgun apart from some brief appearances, it was a well-paced and nicely told story that gave us a little more depth on both Shirai Kuroko and Kazari Uihara's characters, fleshing them out in a way that was arguably required to bring them forward from roles simply as "girls who aren't Mikoto" into interesting individuals in their own right. Stories that flash back to the past can occasionally be tired, plodding or just plain unnecessary, but what we saw here managed to avoid all of those pitfalls to deliver a genuinely decent story. While I rather enjoyed the fun "eyebrow drawing" story and even the more slice of life-esque opening two episodes, this is more like the kind of thing I was expecting from this series - My only concern is that it all still seems a little disjointed, taking us from what looked to be important scenes regarding Mikoto last episode to this. Still, even that isn't enough to dampen my enjoyment of this instalment.

Friday, 30 October 2009


Cencoroll is one of those rare anime projects that stands out before you even know anything much about it, on account of the fact that it's been written, designed animated and directed almost single-handedly - An impressive feat in its own right. Add to that some decidedly intriguing trailers, complete with a kick-ass theme tune (and excellent ending credits song, incidentally) from ryo, and I've found myself impatiently waiting to see this twenty-five minute animated feature for myself.

Right from the off, Cencoroll is one of those anime offerings that asks you to suspect your disbelieve and just accept what you're seeing from the off - No long, protracted explanations or hand-holding, you're just expected to "get it", understandably so give its short running time. So, from the very start we're introduced to a slightly odd guy named Testu Amamiya, and his even odder friend - A blob monster (for want of a better description) with the ability to change shape into anything it pleases. Of course, blob monster things need feeding, and as well as snacking on various odds and ends Tetsu and Cenco (for that is the monster's name) look to defeat and swallow up other similar monsters for sustenance, which all seems well and good until a huge creature appears from out of nowhere, raising the interest of the authorities for obvious reasons in a world where it seems as those these beasts are somewhat commonplace.

On the other side of the story we have Yuki, a girl who seems fascinated by the mere thought of these creatures where everyone else tries to avoid them, and to cut a long story short this natural curiosity ends up with Yuki meeting both Tetsu and Cenco in what proves to be a rather awkward relationship between the two. This isn't helped by the owner of the aforementioned huge monster turning up, and before Yuki knows it she's slap-bang in the middle in some kind of boy and monster turf war.

It's difficult to really get a feel for Cencoroll and everything it stands for in such a short space of time, and to be honest that's a shame - There's a great, fun concept on show here and a single twenty-five episode isn't enough to make the most of it, leaving this feeling more like a pilot episode than a stand-alone body of work. The dialogue is at times a little stilted and simple, but in a way I suppose that suits an anime that isn't really trying to teach you anything or let you in on its secrets so much as just aiming to keep your eyes glued to the screen. This is actually does reasonably well - The pacing its fast but not too fast, the film's facial expressions make up for some of that shortfall in dialogue (although I'm not too keen on the heavily posterised photographic backdrops), the action is functional and the comedy is suitably random (please tell me I wasn't the only one to laugh at Cenco turning into a giant pudding).

All of this makes for an entertaining twenty-five minutes, but the trouble is just like that giant pudding it leaves you hungry for more once it's finished - What are these monsters, who is the bad guy of the boys, how did they end up with these monsters, what happens after this film ends? So many questions that are probably well worthy of an anime outing in their own right, but will we ever get one? I suppose it depends on the DVD sales for this movie in Japan, but by all accounts its cinematic release was a bit of a flop, so this might well be all we get to see of Cencoroll's world, which is a real shame in my book as it has potential by the barrow load.

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 4

After giving us a bit more of a proper introduction (or rather, reintroduction) to Misaki Kirihara last episode, it's all change for Hei's "nemesis" as episode four of Ryuusei no Gemini, as she finds herself in the employ of Section 3, the same agency who has been sending contractors after Shion (and by extension, Hei) - Indeed, even her name has been changed, to Yayoi Ichinose. Thus, once again Kirihara finds herself on the trail of BK-201, complete with the mystery of his extinguished star and what that means.

Meanwhile, Hei himself has arrived in Japan along with Suou, Mao and July, and it appears that his first mission upon completing this journey is to train Suou up to become an agent in her own right. It's probably fair to say that Hei is quite the taskmaster here, whether it involves Suou learning to use her contractor powers or simply in a face-to-face fist fight. This all occurs against the backdrop of poor Suou herself, who seems to be struggling not just with her new-found status as a contractor (and boy does is this girl quick to pull out her huge rifle on people) but also with puberty and the emotional turmoil that this brings. This isn't really helped as she somehow ends up being the object of interest for a guy named Nori, who seems to be some kind of drifter happy to hang about on the streets of a Japan which appears to be still somewhat in ruins after the events of a couple of years ago.

While this episode is perhaps not the most important with regards to really pushing the show's plot forward apace, it does however have an important role in setting things up for whatever is to come - Aside from the obvious importance of Kirihara's new role and what this means in the grand scheme of things, Suou's emotional state is clearly also going to be a key tenet in forthcoming instalments. Away from this however, this episode didn't forget some of the touches that made Darker Than Black's initial iteration entertaining as well as intriguing, and so we get some nice little touches of humour at times, and of course some short action scenes that are no less spectacular for their brevity. Compared to a lot of the series we've been treated to this season, you never fail to feel the class of Ryuusei no Gemini bubbling under the surface, and you get the impression that it's only a matter of time before it explodes into something truly spectacular. Let's hope that this is the case, although even up to now this show is offering up a largely enjoyable ride.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Nyan Koi! - Episode 4

At the end of the last episode of Nyan Koi!, it seems as though Junpei did more than just upset Kaede with the latest set of misunderstandings to surround him - He also raised the ire of one Nagi Ichinose, who is more than a little peeved to see Mizuno so upset.

Thus, what Junpei hopes is a love letter left in his desk turns out to be a challenge to a dual by Nagi - A challenge which he duly avoids and forgets about, only to have it come back and bite him a few days later. Before he knows it, Junpei (along with Kaede and Kanako) is helping carry Nagi home after that individuals efforts prove to be too much, only to fin that Ichinose belongs to a bunch of Yakuza, and that isn't even the only secret this person holds...

Yes, that's right, it's gender confusion time again, although at least compared to Natsu no Arashi's Jun and her seemingly endless dilemma Nagi's true identity is revealed in relatively short order (although you'd have thought her name and the pretty envelope used for her challenge letter to Junpei would have been enough of a clue). Of course, come the end of the episode she's fallen for Junpei as well, bringing us well and truly into the murky realms of the harem anime.

For all of its flaws (not least... well, being a harem anime), Nyan Koi! actually manages to get away with quite a lot on account of its madcap, quick-fire nature - There's hardly time to pause for breath here as this episode throws as much material as it can possibly muster at you in the hope that some of it sticks. Thankfully for this instalment, there's enough adhesive material to make the episode funny on enough occasions to be enjoyable, while at times the simple million mile an hour insanity of the show is enough to amuse me in its own right.

I suppose in many ways its exactly what you'd expect of this genre, meaning that at this juncture is neither exceeds nor falls below expectations - I worry that the harem angle will get pushed too far and ruin everything, but for now Nyan Koi! manages to remain entertaining, which is good enough for me.

Kūchū Buranko - Episode 2

Come the end of the first episode of Kūchū Buranko (or Trapeze if you'd rather), I was rather left wondering what on Earth I could write to even begin to explain what I'd just seen. In all honesty, episode two of this show that defies explanation isn't exactly helping in that regard either.

Anyhow, as per the format of the first episode, this latest instalment introduces us to one Tetsuya Taguchi, a man with a problem (and let's face it, why else would you visit a crazy doctor dressed in a mouse suit?). This isn't just any old problem either, it turns out to be a rather embarrasing affair - Tetsuya has a permanent erection. Now before you start guffawing about how that "wouldn't be so bad, nudge nudge, wink wink", needless to say it's a bit of an issue whether you're wandering around town or sat in the office at work, and of course this episode puts our protagonist firmly (sorry, I had to put that pun in) into a number of awkward situations. But what is the cause of Tetsuya's problem? The obvious reason looks likely to be his ex-wife, who left him a few years previous and who still dominates his thoughts.

This is perhaps where Kūchū Buranko proves to be so fascinating, in that although this episode resolves the protagonists problem, it doesn't explicitly show us why. We see him inwardly unleashing his rage on his "slut" ex-wife, yet we also see him outwardly congratulating her on falling pregnant with her new man, and beyond even that the final scene shows Tetsuya finally asserting himself properly at work, to the shock of his colleagues. Which (if any) of these scenarios resolved his problems? That's left strictly to the audience to decide.

While I'm still not actually sure what to make of this series, or whether I even like it, I have to give it a certain amount of kudos for at least making it thought-provoking in that way - You could call it lazy were you being negative, but anything that makes me need to sit down and re-examine what I've seen (and doing so in such a way that you can't help but include your own life and attitude into the equation) is worthy of some praise. Couple that with something which is very visually "different" to pretty much any other series you're liable to watch this year, and you have a couple of potential hooks - I doubt either facet will turn Kūchū Buranko into a classic, but it certainly makes it an interesting little series to ponder and discuss late into the night.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 4

For the past couple of weeks, Kimi ni Todoke has been my little retreat of mid-week happiness. But what's this? Sad times ahead for Sawako? Noooooooo.....

After the climax to the previous episode left us with allegations that Sawako was responsible for spreading rumours about Chizuru and Ayane, it looked as though Sawako's brief spell of being the centre of attention and affection was going to come to a sweeping end, but in fact this isn't the case, as the two girls point-blank refuse to believe that Sawako would do such a good thing, and with good reason of course.

So the pairs faith in their new friend continues, but alas so do the rumours, and as fresh doubts enter their minds a mixture of Sawako's naivety and her generally indirect nature give them the wrong idea about she views them both, setting up a vicious circle where Sawako distances herselves further from those close to her without explanation and ultimately hurting all and sundry, herself included.

I commented in an earlier post about Kimi ni Todoke how it seemed to have a better, more realistic angle on teasing and bullying than most anime which tends to go off at the deep end regaring such topics, and once again that lightness of touch comes to the fore in this episode when dealing with the day to day dramas of school life and friendships. Rather than some huge blow-up arguments or issues based around a single, major misunderstanding, this episode gives us a much more natural (albeit no less painful to watch) viewpoint of a friendship as it breaks down due to nothing more than mistakes and misinterpretations - There are no rows here, just sleepless nights of worry, private anguish and tears as confusion turns to hurt, and draws a wedge between the parties in question.

It's this approach that gives some real emotional strength to this series, just as the way Sawako's friendships were built up made for such delightful viewing - Perhaps it's just me, but it feels like something I can relate to, if only on a micro rather than macro level, and that only serves to accentuate both the happiness of previous episodes and the sadness throughout the second half of this one. This isn't teenage behaviour write large, it's teenage behaviour how (in my experience) it often actually happens, which makes it an effortlessly compelling viewing experience.

White Album - Episode 17

After a bit of a slow start to this second half of White Album, the end of the last episode finally looked set to start bringing together the numerous disparate threads that have made up the series of late. Episode seventeen continues this trend to some extent, although I have to confess not quite in the ways that I was expecting.

While the last instalment seemed to give some credence to the possibility that Rina's threat to quit was simply part of a bigger plan to push Yuki's career in the right direction while also slitting her ties to Touya, come this episode it seems that there might well be more to it than that, with Rina seemingly genuinely looking to move on - A feeling that it seems no amount of tears on Yuki's part will change.

Elsewhere, we see jealousy and rivalries spring up elsewhere, with the situation between Haruka and Mana that has been bubbling under the surface coming out in force (although why all these girls are squabbling over Touya continues to baffle me, quite honestly), and it seems that Eiji's painting that he loves (or should that be loved?) so much is going to be used against him to extort money or other assets from him... again, it's tough to call who is outsmarting who here exactly.

While all of these goings-on are keeping things relatively interesting, I can't quite shake a feeling of unease that I've been having around this series of late - The almost but not quite sensation that they're simply making things up as they go along with no real plan in sight, throwing in new plot points when there is nothing else around to fill the gap and progress the story. In reality, I doubt that's actually the case, but it does suggest to me that perhaps the plot development and story telling used here could have been a little sharper and more concise. Still, as long as Rina is around to start making things interesting (as she invariably does) there are still reasons to watch White Album, even when the overall tone of its soap opera becomes overly frothy and spills out of its proverbial washing machine.

Wait, did I just make an anime/washing machine analogy? It's been a long week....

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 4

As if the fact that we're seeing Christmas commercials and advertising everywhere already before October is even out isn't bad enough, now it seems that our anime is trying to get us into the Christmas spirit early too! Witness episode four of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza, which takes place on Christmas Eve.

Of course, this instalment follows on from what we saw last episode, where Yuuto esperately tried to save some money to buy Haruka a Christmas resent, but failed miserably on account of an intervention by his guardians. So, come the start of this episode, he's working yet more jobs (although thankfully not involving any tsundere this time) to earn the money he needs.

From here, it's time for a Christmas Eve arty involving Yuuto, Haruka and the rest of the usual suspects, except Yuuto's previous exertions finally take their toll, and he passes out from all the fan service hard work he's been subjected to of late, which means that Haruka is tasked to nursing him back to health.

Oh, did I just mention fan service? After almost behaving itself for the first half of this episode, the second hald of this instalment ramps up the fan service to near-rampant levels, with more breasts and panties than you can shake a stick at (I'm not sure how many breasts and panties you can shake a stick at by the way, before you ask) - This really rather detracts from what was otherwise a sweet ending to the episode, again proving to my mind that the huge increase in shots designed to titillate the viewer is actually damaging some of the key tenets of the series itself. Even this can't cover up the fact that this is also a bit of a rinse and repeat episode in more general terms, particularly when it comes to any attempts to wring comedy out of the episode, with Haruka's father and Yuuto's housemates used in an entirely predictable manner. The predictability I can stand somewhat as long as the series is sweet and fun, but all the tone-lowering fan service is becoming increasingly off-putting for me.

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 4

It may have seemed like Seitokai no Ichizon's student council had escaped the worst attentions of the journalism club last episode, but come the beginning of this fourth instalment they're at it again, this time focusing on the President's height - A call to arms if ever there was one. But how can the student council fight against the school newspaper?

By using another medium to get their side of the story across, of course. The first port of call with that in mind is to write a novel (considering Seitokai no Ichizon started out as a series of light novels, I'm sure you can see what they did there), with suggestions ranging from something akin to Ouran High School Host Club through to poor old Ken being made to write a boys love story starring himself by Mafuyu and a tale of living as Chizuru's slave. Needless to say, Ken's own novel idea involved a harem and a big old bundle of fan service. Quelle surprise.

From here, we move to the council trying to create an anime (cue super-accurate Strike Witches parody), and a video game which nobody can start because of the ridiculously complex secret combination of button presses required to even start it. Oh, and of course what modern parody-drive anime would be complete without a reference to K-ON!, complete with more than a slight dig at the vast sales of said franchise's character CDs.

While all of this stuff has been done before and done better (remember Genshiken's boys love sequence? Actually, I'd rather not, it genuinely creeped me out), this did at least make for a slightly more entertaining episode of Seitokai no Ichizon than we've been presented with over the past couple of weeks - I actually laughed out loud at the K-ON! character CD dig, and it's the first time I've done so with this series since the opening minutes of the first episode. It's decidedly old hat material in the grand scheme of things, but this was at least more polished to the point of amusing me in places.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 40

After the last episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers introduced us to America at its discovery, so this latest instalment shows us the rivalry that built up between England and France as a result of wanting to claim America as its "little brother".

So, we see France and England at loggerheads, with the latter joining every war in which France is involved on the opposing side. Of course, ultimately England wins (hurrah!), but not for long before America goes its own way and gains its independence.

Again, this is almost an entirely unfunny episode of Hetalia (are they even trying to be funny any more?) but at least I got a kick out of the history this time around, being English and all. A small silver lining to this particular laugh-free cloud.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 29

After so many goings-on in the last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, a bit of a lull in the action was perhaps more than a little necessary to calm things down and let everything that is going on sink in, and that's pretty much exactly what we get in episode twenty-nine of the series.

While Ed and Al gain further realisation of just how inter-connected the military and the Homunculus are, they meet up with Mustang who is still "enjoying" the company of Wrath, aka King Bradley. While Ed looks to resign his post as State Alchemist, he is soon forced to change his mind on account to threats upon Winry's life, instead having to cede to letting the Homunculus continue with their plans in return for the Elric brother's being allowed to continue their search for a way to return to their own bodies.

Away from all of this, Scar finds Doctor Marcoh while still wandering around injured near the Homunculus lair, and Greed continues to occupy Ling Yao's body, albeit with the occasional minor "interruption" from his host, which is at least enough to pass some information on to Lan Fan as Al also reveals to her the whole truth of what happened.

Thus, come the end of the episode we're set up for whatever is to come next, with Lan Fan and May Chang meeting, Ed considering how Scar and May Chan's "different" type of alchemy could help them in their own quests, and Major Amstrong apparently about to go into full-blown flashback mode. It probably says a lot about how utterly fantastic previous episodes have been that this all seems a little sedate, but I'm happy to give it a pass on account of it being something of a necessity considering all those episodes that have been packed out with major advances to the story.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 17

After what seemed like a rare break last episode, this seventeenth instalment of Natsu no Arashi returns us to the familiar story of Jun trying to hide his true gender from Hajime. This time around, her dilemma comes to an invitation extended by Kaya for Arashi to come and visit as they all have a day off, but needless to say Hajime also decides to tag along.

What follows is probably one of the most highly improbable episodes of Natsu no Arashi thus far (and yes, I know it's a show about time-travelling ghosts so I can't exactly go too harsh on it in the improbability stakes), punctuated by Jun looking for something to wear in a panic, but ending up in a wedding dress. I think it's fair to say that the likelihood of doing that in any kind of panic when you were trying to cover up your gender is highly unlikely, but oh well.

I suppose the real problem here is that Jun's dilemma regarding Hajime has been done to death by now, and it's really reached the limit of what you can do with this particular story line - A bit of a shame as the entire scenario and the pair's relationship was evolving quite nicely, before being thrust back into the realms of cheap comedy.

That isn't to say that there aren't some good moments here - There's a neat little twist towards the end of the episode, and there are some genuinely funny moments, so this instalment isn't exactly a complete write-off. However, there's still so much more that this series can, and has, offered in the past, I can't help but feel that all of the obsession with Jun for the second season is wearing a little thin.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 4

Episode two of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun gave us our first Touma cameo, but if you were missing everyone's favourite special power nullifying bloke then he makes appearances aplenty in this fourth episode, as the series looks to tie the goings on in this show to some of the moments we encountered in To Aru Majutsu no Index.

Before this however, we see quite a lot of discussion between the four regular girls about urban legends, with Saten pulling out an ineffective "scary story" regarding a woman who strips off at random. This leads to further discussions of other urban myths, include one particularly preposterous one about some guy who can nullify anyone else's special powers. What a crazy idea...

Of course, Mikoto already knows different by this juncture, but from here we see her meeting Touma in various ways several times, while also bumping into the aforementioned stripping lady, a research scientist who you might just recognise from To Aru Majutsu no Index. Thus, the threads of the two series are weaved together, which certainly holds plenty of promise for future episodes as there's plenty to involve Mikoto with in such a case.

Once again however, it seems that To Aru Kagaku no Railgun primary motivation in this episode is to be fun, and in all fairness it is once again great fun to watch - Even without the kick of seeing Touma and some of his encounters with "Biribiri" again, there's still plenty to enjoy here, with all of the major characters acting to type to create a pleasing and entertaing affair. There isn't really a lot more to say to it than that - This was hardly going to be this autumn's "deepest" anime series, put that isn't necessarily a black mark against it at all. In fact, contrarily I'm enjoying it more by the week, relatively light-hearted fun though it may be.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Shakugan no Shana S - Episode 1

Before I start here, I have a confession to make... A couple of confessions in fact. Firstly, I haven't yet watched the second series of Shakugan no Shana (although by all accounts this is no bad thing in itself). Secondly, I didn't really enjoy the first series of the show all that much either. That's not to say I hated it, it was enjoyable enough, it just never lodged itself into my memory or garner any fondness with me worthy of mention.

Regardless, I felt somehow compelled to check out the opening episode of the new Shakugan no Shana S OVA. So what did I make of it? I'll answer that in just a second, but right now I've got the 1980s on the phone... Apparently they want their body swap concept back.

Yes, that's right, this first episode of Shakugan no Shana S sees Shana and Yuji inadvertently swapping bodies, after the latter discovers some kind of telescope with special powers as the pair hunt for something belonging to a Hunter. That's basically a summary of the entire episode's plot in a nutshell, so you can probably guess the rest - Shana gets annoyed at Yuji's subconscious moves to touch "his" chest, Yuji in Shana's body gets into embarassing situations such as walking in on a bunch of girls changing, and so on.

All in all, the entire thing is highly predictable, but to be fair the fact that it only lasts for a single episode keeps the idea just about fresh enough to make it fun without running into a dead end or overly abusing the potential for fan service. Perhaps more importantly, both Shana and Yuji's voice actors seem to have genuinely enjoyed the experience of voicing one another's personalities, and while neither party gets the others character quite right there was probably more amusement to be had out of Rie Kugimiya trying to play mild-mannered Yuji and Satoshi Hina trying to do "the tsundere thing" than the actual body of the episode itself.

I suppose if you're a big Shakugan no Shana fan, then this series is aimed at you from the start - I can't deny that there was some fun to be derived from this otherwise tired old scenario, but hopefully the remaining episodes of the OVA will have a little more meat to them.

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 3

The end of the last episode of Ryuusei no Gemini left Hei in rather a tight spot thanks to an odd contraption set up by some of what seem to be his ever-increasing number of foes. However, something decidedly odd happens at this point, which seems to be the catalyst of an enormous change for both Hei and, in particular, Suou.

All of this has to be considered later however, as the pair make their escape, and despite Suou saving Hei on this occasion there's certainly no real build-up of trust, as once Suou comes back around from their earlier "swim" she's bound up by him, before getting an almighty slap for suggesting that Hei would even kill his own family and lovers if he was told to - A touchy lad is our favourite contractor.

Despite Hei's vague distrust for Suou, it appears that a change of orders is on the way, and these instructions come from a familiar face... well, a familiar voice at least. Thus, the new plan is for the pair of them to set off for Japan and Hell's Gate, which it seems is the new destination of Shion. While catching the train seems like a logical way to make their next move, all Hell breaks loose as Tanya (let to Suou inadvertently by Nika) and a number of other contractors appear on the scene to try and thwart their progress. But why is Hei not using his contractor powers? And how come Suou can suddenly materialise a huge gun out of her body? And why is her flying squirrel pet talking? If you've watched this episode then I'm sure you already know the answers to all of these questions, but if not then I have to tease you somehow, right?

There probably isn't a lot to say in summary here apart from asserting that Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini takes some fantastic turns this episode, piling up the revelations and reintroducing old faces while simultaneously piling layer upon layer of mystery onto the series, from exactly what has happened with Yin upwards. Overall, it makes for a fascinating cocktail that I can't wait to sup from again next week, whilst this episode didn't forget to lay on the spectacular action for the second half of this instalment to keep my jaw glued wide open as the goings-on unfolded. It may not have quite the subtlety and lightness of touch of the original series of Darker than BLACK, but three episodes in Ryuusei no Gemini is proving to be extremely compelling in its own way.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 3

It really managed to sneak up on me in a quite unexpected way, but come the end of the last episode I had a new favourite show for this autumn anime season, and that series was Kimi ni Todoke. Did episode three do anything to dispel these thoughts? Absolutely not - If anything, it left me even more deeply in love with this heart-warming little story than before.

Following the rearranging of desks last episode, things are going swimmingly for Sawako, as she finds herself befriending those around her slowly but surely, with Kazehaya on hand sat right next to her as and when required - Indeed, while Sawako still seems to think that Kazehaya is entirely responsible for her changing fortunes, she seems to entirely miss the fact that she's also largely responsible in this change of attitude towards her thanks to her own efforts.

So, Sawako's circle of friends, or at least those willing to talk to her, increases and expands, yet we're still treated to some wonderful and amusing examples of her continued naivety, not least when Kazehaya passes her a note during class - Simple but effective comedy at its best. Of course, Sawako's innocent nature coupled with Kazehaya's rather shy behaviour around her isn't exactly helping to progress the relationship between the two any further than its existing level, but that's one for another day no doubt, and even with everything going so well for our protagonist it appears that she still has some hurdles to overcome judging by the final scene of this instalment.

It's a bit hard to sum up this series without gushing unnecessarily, but this really was a wonderful episode to watch - It had me smiling constantly from beginning to end (and much like Sawako, it takes a lot to make me really smile), it made me laugh, and it just generally filled me with a warm heart and a sense of well-being throughout, turning this lonely old git into a soppy old romantic. That's a good thing by the way, in case you're wondering. Anyway, as of right now I really can't get enough of this series, and I'm seriously starting to think I should check out the manga too - Something this sweet just shhouldn't be left untouched.

White Album - Episode 16

After a bit of a slow start to this second half of White Album, the drama really starts to pick up as we hit episode sixteen, with plenty of important goings-on to get our teeth into.

First and foremost, as Touya spends another night with Yayoi, his father collapses once again at home, which sees him rushed back into hospital as his heart troubles worsen. Even when he arrives at the hospital however, Touya seems determined to hide the severity of the situation from the likes of Misaki - But is it for the benefit of others or simply because he can't cope with the truth himself?

Meanwhile, Yayoi announces over breakfast with Touya that Eiji Ogata has had a change of heart regarding a long-term viewpoint that he's held previously, meaning that he'll be entering one of his production company's artists into February's forthcoming "Venus" music festival, a fabulous country-wide showcase which offers up a great opportunity for anyone who enters it. A bit like The X-Factor then I suppose, only with less talentless dimwits with any luck. Of course, the real key to this announcement is that any one company can allow allow one artist to take part, but will it be Rina or Yuki? At first glance, it appears that the decision has already been made and that Rina is naturally furious about it, but upon a second look it seems like that particular turn of events are nothing but a carefully staged charade with another motive entirely in mind, one which involves Yayoi and most likely Touya to boot...

After so much moping and general focus upon Touya at his useless worst, I was thrilled to see this episode moving away from that and into far more intriguing directions. If nothing else, the last few episodes have been crying out for more input from Rina, and the whole idol industry as a whole has far more potential for drama and bitchiness than Touya acting like an idiot (a pastime which admittedly I could write a whole book about regarding his personality and motivations by now). While I'm not too sure how Haruka and Mana are going to fit into the grand scheme of things, Menou's place in proceedings now seems pretty obvious, and all in all I'm now expecting better things from future episodes. Perhaps most importantly of all, is Touya finally going to get his comeuppance? The evil, vengeful person in me says "I hope so".

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 3

Seitokai no Ichizon continues on its fast-paced, merry way into its third episode... But has it already run out of ideas?

This particular instalment introduces us to Lilicia Toudou, a girl who finished just outside of the rankings required to join the school's student council, which leaves her with a very obvious grudge to bare. This grudge also just so happens to fit in with her position in the journalism club, allowing her to fill the school newspaper with scurrilous stories about the student council members that are almost always entirely unfounded. Someone should get the girl a job on Fox News...

Anyhow, Lilicia's latest article about Ken two-timing some girls in his pasts seems likely to be a complete fabrication, but somehow she ends up arranging interviews with all of the student council members in search of a story, and it is this portion that really presents us with the quick-fire attempts at humour which this series so loves. The trouble is, almost none of them hit the mark for me personally this time around, leaving me shrugging and wondering what all of the fuss is about.

What's more, I'm becoming somehow irritated by Seitokai no Ichizon's insistence on ending each episode in as saccharine a way as possible, on this occasion by turning Ken's hentai game harem obsession (one of the more amusing moments of this episode was Ken's admittal that most eroge are basically the same game with different pictures) into some kind of lovey-dovey world of ambition and happiness. Now I know this show is arguably catering to the otaku out there, but... what?! Fair enough, I'm not watching this show for realism in terms of human relationships, but I believe my biscuit has been forcibly snatched from me by this turn of events.

Having just noted how Hyakko failed to bring much laughter for a series primarily focused on comedy, I would probably level the insult at this particular episode of Seitokai no Ichizon that it actually amused me even less, leaving me stony-faced almost throughout even before its incredulous finish. The real problem is that once you dig down beneath the fast-paced dialogue there's really nothing of substance to draw you into the show or its characters, which in turn leaves the humour empty and void of meaning. There's still time and room for improvement, but as of right now Seitokai no Ichizon is headed in decidedly the wrong direction.

Hyakko - OVA

If there's one slice of life anime series that really didn't need an OVA treatment, then Hyakko is probably it - It was hardly a luminary of its genre after all. Still, at least this OVA in question is only around ten minutes long (bundled as it is with volume five of the manga), so it's hardly a major time sink.

Given its status as a freebie, I suppose it's probably fair to say that this short episode doesn't exactly have a stratospheric budget to burn, and thus this OVA is limited almost entirely to a single location and just two characters, with the effervescent Toraka and bookworm Touma visiting a new cake shop, largely on account of the latter looking for a new quiet place to read near her favourite bookshop after the cafe she used to use closed down.

As you might expect from a visit to a cake shop, the lion's share of the episode involves the pair eating cake, and to be fair this makes for a time to laugh ratio that actually surpasses the series proper. Then again, that was hardly difficult, and so the couple of amusing moments delivered by this episode are hardly the stuff of legend, no matter how much Torako's singing of itadakimasu in an operatic voice tickled me.

I suppose if you enjoyed Hyakko, then this little vignette may have satiated any desires you had for more (however briefly, as it certainly fits in with the mold of the series proper. For me though, it was more or less a reminder of the wasted potential of that series, and how it has consistently failed to live up to any such promise almost from beginning to end.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 28

Having effectively taken a break last week on account of the recap episode we were regaled with, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood seems determined to make up for lost time with its twenty-eighth instalment, bringing us more important goings-on in a scant few minutes than most anime would manage in a single episode.

It's pedal to the metal right from the off this time around, with Alphonse coming face to face with what seems to be his father, right before Ed, Envy and Ling Yao make their reappearance from the bowels of Gluttony in spectacular fashion.

So, is the father of the Homunculi really Hoenheim? It appears not, but that still begs the (as yet unanswered) question as to who (or perhaps what) this man is. Whoever he may be, he clearly has the power to use alchemy without equivalent exchange, and also seems to have the ability to stop others from using alchemy in certain circumstances at will. A formidable opponent indeed.

While Ed and Al's place as "human sacrifices" rotects them somewhat, Ling Yao has no such luck, and although he is saved from death it appears that he suffers a face far worse than that when confronted with a chance to snatch the prize he came to the country for in the first place. Add the appearance of Scar and May Chang to the mix, and you have yourself an episode of utter chaos within the lair of the Homunculus.

But what beautiful, breath-taking and action-packed chaos it is too... In fact, breath-taking probably isn't the word for it as I have a distinct feeling that I probably forgot to breathe while watching this instalment. There was simply so much of it to take in, all of it important and all of it absolutely compelling viewing - This is how anime should be, a not particularly subtle but perfectly balanced blend of gore, violence, intrigue, mystery, comedy, suspense, excitement, action... the list goes on and on, and right now Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. If I had to sum up this particular episode in a single word, that word would be - Wow.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 39

After a very brief (and seemingly slightly pointless) return to the birth of the Roman Empire, episode thirty-nine of Hetalia: Axis Powers takes us across the Atlantic to the past goings-on there.

The subject of the episode concerns Finland and Sweden, and their failed attempt to set up "New Sweden" in some newly discovered land, a plan thwarted by those pesky people from the Netherlands. With Finland more than a little upset by his defeat, he talks to England and France, and just so happens to mention a young boy freqeuently seen wandering around the land. Who on Earth could it be? He ends up befriending England (quite a shock in itself, considering how the poor guy has been treated up to now), and so a long-lasting but occasionally fraught relationship is born.

Once again, there wasn't really any humour on show here for this particular instalment of Hetalia, although I suppose at least the pseudo-history lesson made things more interesting. This show is most definitely in a bit of a lull at the moment though, that's for sure.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 3

With Christmas approaching, it seems that Haruka has decided that she wants to get a part-time job so that she can save up and buy Yuuto a Christmas present out of her own hard-earned cash. Not a bad idea at all that, and in the spirit of blatantly stealing your almost-girlfriend's ideas, Yuuto decides to do exactly the same. So it goes that our hapless hero ends up working for a while as the live-in butler of Rie Kugimiya.

Okay, so he isn't literally the butler for Rie Kugimiya, but rather one Touka Tennouji, the daughter of a rich family. Needless to say given the voice actress in question, Touka is a tsundere extraordinaire, ordering Yuuto around to her heart's content before being shocked by his genuine human compassion, something that she's never experienced before in her short life of being waited on hand and foot by staff who are only in it for the money.

While all of this is good and well as far as an episodic plot goes for a show like this one, in reality Touka's only purpose in this episode (aside from filling the obligatory tsundere archtype) is to show her panties as often as humanly possible. In fact, it's actually probably unfair to even level the accusation of her "showing" them at the character, as most of the glimpses we get of them are because, if this were a live-action production, the cameras would have been operated by Munchkins with dwarfism. Serioualy guys, if you're going for some kind of fan service record, at least be a little imaginative with how you get those shots into your episode.

While Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu has always had a slight element of the risque and fan service about it, I don't think there can be any doubt that it's gone into overdrive with Purezza, and to be honest it almost entirely ruins a lot of what was enjoyable about the original series - The Haruka-Yuuto dynamic was always more sweet and entertaining than anything the other aspects of the series had to offer, and now that Haruka's importance has been overtaken largely by underwear there really isn't all that much left to entertain us. I hate to be some kind of fan service killjoy or panty prude, but there's only so much a guy can take before it becomes eye-rollingly predictable, and sadly this episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza has fallen into exactly that trap.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 16

After focusing on Jun's gender dilemma for the past couple of episodes, we finally move away from that particular facet of Natsu no Arashi, in favour of what is to all intents and purposes two mini-episodes as part of the show's sixteenth instalment.

The first half of the episode deals with poor old Hideo Murata, who is starting to feel the strain of giving up his "life force" for both Kanako and Yayoi, leaving him feeling tired and lethargic - I know how he feels, but then again I'm not feeding my energy to any ghosts so I'm not too sure what my excuse with. Anyhow, the obvious decision that comes from this is that Yayoi needs to find someone to connect with, and so the crew set out to try and find a suitable customer. It soon appears that they've managed to find what they're looking for, but it seems that Yayoi's idea of a suitable "partner" is rather different to anyone elses...

The second half of this instalment sees Hajime dropping a bombshell about something that he got up to with Arashi not long after they met - But what's he referring to? Even Arashi can't figure it out, and so (using a sleeping Hajime to power her trip), she jumps back to that particular moment in time to find out, and of course messing with history in the process anyhow (although it didn't seem that she'd thought of that).

While neither half of this episode particularly screamed out quality, there were enough good moments to justify its existence thankfully, from the hilarious twisting of the Kanako/Yayoi dialogue that closed episodes of the first season of this series at the start of the episode through to the nod to E.T. at the end, and with a few amusing or generally random moments in the middle. While the first season of Natsu no Arashi never really seemed to be at its best when it was trying to be funny, it does seem to have upped the ante for the autumn - Okay, it may not be the most hilarious anime on the block, but it's just about getting by on its comedy as it stands, bolstered by a bunle of lovable characters in the process. I'm left wondering whether we'll be seeing any more of the serious stuff and returning to World War II, which thrilled me so earlier this year, this time around however.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Nyan Koi! - Episode 3

Poor old Junpei... From having plenty of time to ponder his unrequited affections for Mizuno, suddenly he has so much more on his plate - First cats needing his help as part of his curse, and then all sorts of trouble with Kanako... whatever next?

Needless to say, episode three builds up Junpei's ever-increasing "harem" yet further. This time around, he finds himself spending time with Chizuru Mochizuki, a part-time postal delivery person and college student. All I can say is that it's a good job this series isn't set in the UK, otherwise Chizuru would probably have turned up about three weeks too late and ending up actually being an overweight Scotsman or something.

Anyhow, I digress... As Junpei helps to show the geographically deficient Chizuru around, so he finds himself bombarded with requests for help from various cats, and worse still caught in compromising positions by both Kanako and Mizuno. Yes, it's all very typical and cliché for this kind of anime, but I have to admit that the vein of humour running through the episode was actually half-decent and got a few laughs out of me, so I can't really fault it too much for that.

Come the end of that day with Chizuru, Junpei reflects upon how he met Mizuno, giving us arguably be far the funniest scene from this series thus far, as well as how to clear up any misunderstandings about what she saw. Good luck with that while Kanako is around though...

I think the phrase "clichéd but quite funny" probably sums up this episode perfectly - Yes, we've seen it all before a billion times, and indeed we've seen it done better elsewhere, but some good lines of dialogue and predictable yet amusing scenarios somehow contrived to save the day and make this the best episode of Nyan Koi! thus far, which in turn makes for a decent piece of entertainment in its own right. Like so many of this season's offerings, it isn't a keeper, but it's really pretty good for passing the time on a cold Autumnal evening.

Kūchū Buranko - Episode 1

Kūchū Buranko is the last show (that I'll be covering anyhow) to make its debut on Japanese TV, as part of the much-vaunted noitaminA slot. But what on Earth can I actually say about it? Let's put it this way - If Andy Warhol were to produce an anime, this would be it, aesthetically at least.

This opening episode of the show introduces us to Kouhei Yamashita, a trapeze artists and stage manager for a travelling circus - To put it simply, he's not exactly having the best of times, as his trapeze act keeps getting screwed up as he finds himself unable to complete his most daring stunt, missing the hands of a fellow trapeze artist every time. This coupled with other stresses is stopping him from sleeping, and so at the advice of his boss he visits the nearest psychiatric doctor, one Ichirou Irabu.

What a doctor he is too... A boy, or is he a man, in a big mouse suit? With an injection fetish? And a sexy but rather apathetic nurse? And a Porsche? Yes, I think it's fair to say that, if you haven't guessed already, this is a big fat welcome to the world of absolutely bat-shit bonkers anime. It's genuinely hard to know how to even begin to describe, let alone sum up, this opening episode of Kūchū Buranko - Visually, it's probably best described as one of Sayona Zetsubou Sensei's more off-beat segments seen through the eyes of the aforementioned pop artists Andy Warhol, from the literal 2D characters that wander around the scenes through to the bright colours and posterisation effects everywhere. Beyond that though, the plot and concept of this anime is really impossible to pin down - I get the feeling it's trying to be rather anarchic in its delivery, perhaps even aiming a nod and a wink at otaku while suggesting that they're all mentally unstable but... well, I just don't know, I'm speechless.

I have to admit that there were a few moments that amused me, so if comedy is its aim it worked on that level, and I do appreciate the overall look of the show if only because it fits in so perfectly with such an utterly bizarre series. Beyond that, I find myself genuinely wanting to see more if only so that I can get a handle on what the Hell is going on, and to figure out if there's actually a point to this series rather than it simply being the pinnacle of random insanity. So, if that was their aim on any level, I guess they're winning this one so far. Tune in next week, when our crazy doctor deals with a guy with a penis problem. Seriously, I'm not making this up.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 3

After a couple of episodes of fun, frolics and fan services, episode three of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun promised to get straight down to business, as we see a girl from Tokiwadai school attacked in an empty street by another girl. But who is this mysterious person? And why are they consecutively attacking students of Tokiwadai?

Meanwhile, Saten and Uihara get to pay a visit to the Gardens of Education to hang out with Mikoto and Kuroko, and after a mishap with a puddle on Saten's part leaves her needing a change of clothes, she ends up wandering around town in a Tokiwadai uniform. The rest probably writes itself... needless to say, her "new look" leaves her as the next victim of this mystery assailant. So just what deviant acts is this person carrying out on her unconscious victims? Well, put it this way, my first assumption was that she was a member of the Tsumugi Kotobuki fan club...

Anyhow, the rest of the episode is of course concerned with catching that attacker, and of course revealing the reason for their vendetta - This is hardly stuff of the magnitude of To Aru Majutsu no Index's action-packed story arcs, preferring to take a far more gentle and less menacing, evil route, but you know what? I loved it. Aside from the fact that this is really starting to consistently look like the most sumptuously animated series I've seen this season, it's just outright fun, pure and simple. With a bunch of likeable characters with a decent dynamic between them and a story that kept moving at just the right pace (however frivolous it may have been), this episode proved to be a perfectly enjoyable romp... and to be honest, I'm not sure I can ask any more of a series like this.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 2

The opening episode of Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini did a pretty good job of quickly but concisely setting up the show's story, and of course come the end of that opening instalment we'd even been successfully introduced to the new-look, long-haired Hei.

Of course, Hei's appearance could hardly be heralded as good news for Suou, who despite escaping from the military forces out looking for her and her brother finds herself the centre of attention for numerous contractors. This brings us to some absolutely fantastic action sequences from the off in this second episode, which arguably knock pretty much anything the original series depicted into a cocked hat.

In the ensuing chaos Suou manages to escape from these numerous contractors, only to find that all of her friends have had all memory of her wiped... all that is except for Nika, who also finds himself on the run due to his association with girlfriend turned contractor Tanya. After quickly recovering from the trauma of all she's just been through, Suou goes on the offensive the only way she knows how, and before she knows it she's confronted by Hei, and other contractors, once again.

As I've just mentioned, this new series of Darker Than BLACK really seems to have its action scenes plotted to perfection - It's literally breath-taking stuff, and that alone makes this episode compelling stuff to watch once the contractors get their groove on, complete with some mildly amusing remunerations on show too. That aside, the plot continues to progress in a predictable way, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing (indeed it is perhaps saved somewhat by Suou's feisty nature) as there's still a lot left to be explained, particularly for fans of the first series - Why is Hei working for his current employer, what's happened to Yin, and so on. Those kinds of question alone, never mind the deeper questions surrounding the world depicted by this show, are enough to keep me excited for what's to come, and I'm looking forward to plenty more of the same.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 38

Much of this thirty-eighth episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers continues from where the last instalment left off, with Italy still worried that Germany's efforts to make friends with Russia will leave him out in the cold.

Meanwhile, with Japan cleaning up Germany's place, he finds Italy's letter to his best buddy, an indecipherable scrawl that Germany somehow manages to make sense of, and before we know it the two have made up and sworn allegiance to one another (a nice little segue into actual history), and all is well in the world.

We then switch to another G8 meeting, and more of the usual tomfoolery without anything particularly noteworthy happening... It's enough to make you wonder whether they're rapidly running out of fresh ideas for this series, as nothing of particular comic value has seemed to crop up in quite a while now.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 2

I have to confess that it took me a while to get a "feel" for the opening episode of Kimi ni Todoke - To start with, it didn't really grab me in any sense of the word, and I found it particularly jarring visually, but as I spent more time with that instalment and learned to appreciate what it was trying to do so I ended up warming to it quite nicely.

While the end of that episode took us to the start of the summer holiday from school, episode two skips straight forward to the autumn, meaning rainy days and a stray dog which is as scared of Sawako's looks as any human despite having her umbrella left behind to keep him out of the rain.

While rumours fly around the school suggesting that Sawako was rejected by Kazehaya at the start of the summer, we're eventually allowed to flash back to see what really happened, while the pair of them continue to enjoy one another's company at school to an event greater extent than before. Needless to say it's this dynamic which underpins Kimi ni Todoke, and to be quite frank it's a beautiful thing to watch. Sawako's naivety and honesty proves to be quite disarming for the usually unflappable Kazehaya, who seems to be equally clueless when it comes to his feelings and how to deal with them (Hmm, that sounds familiar...), and this alone makes for some great moments - Add to that Sawako's attempts to make friends and put out a positive side to disarm all of the negative rumours which surround her, and you're left with simply wonderful stuff.

There's really a lot to be said for the way this series takes a lonely, borderline bullied girl, and turns it not into a depressing tale of misery and woe but into one of hope and positivity... Even when things don't go Sawako's way (which is a lot of the time incidentally) she continues to look forward with a bright outlook and a certain sense of calm introspection which I find hugely admirable as both a personality trait for her character and as part of the wider story portrayed by this series; it really sits apart from the numerous anime where bullied girls end up as serial killers or vengeful types filled with hatred, yet this is show's response is somehow far more realistic to my mind.

This, coupled with Kazehaya's influence, leaves you rooting for the main characters right from the off, and as I observed last episode that's quite unique in itself these days - A far cry from the Itazura na Kiss's and White Album's of this world. In fact, I can't think of the last time a series like this left me with a constant smile on my face, and you know what? I really love Kimi ni Todoke for doing just that - Long may it continue.

White Album - Episode 15

Come the end of the last episode of White Album, it appeared that Touya was up to his usual tricks with Yayoi... Will that guy ever learn? Does he even want to learn?

Whatever went on, it doesn't stop Touya from managing his usual act in the midst of the various tears that follow - First those of Yuki who has a rare day off and sees Touya at his father's hospital, but breaks down because her singing lessons have been cancelled and out of some general feeling of responsibility for having a good time while others were suffering. While Touya finds kind words for her, he has nothing of merit to say when his father breaks in tears at the thought of his own demise... while his Dad is hardly the poster boy for good parenting, seeing Touya's cold reactions to his own father welled up a hefty dose of that good, old-fashioned Touya hatred that seems to come so easily with this series.

Even without the tears it seems to be misery all around this episode, with Eiji's depression only seemingly cured by a visit from Yuki, who he urges to go out and be happy. On the cusp of the New Year, this means getting to spend the evening with Touya, although even this meeting doesn't stop Yayoi arranging her next rendezvous with him. Meanwhile, Rina is working hard, Haruka and Mana are similarly training and cycling together a lot, and the hapless Misaki is trying desperately to fend off thelustful advances of Akira. All in a day's work for an episode of White Album, really.

If I have one issue with this particular episode, it's that it jumped around rather too much - We were given bite sized chunks of everyone's story here and there, but not enough of any one aspect of the plot to really get our teeth into. That aside, and for all my utter, utter loathing of Touya (which makes me a girl apparantly according to an anonymous commenter on my last entry for this series), I can't help but love the lightly tacky but oddly compelling soap opera this show serves up. For all of its flaws there's a certain energy of unpredictability about it, and with so many unlikeable characters (because let's be fair, Touya isn't the only idiot in this show in terms of character) even the bad news dished out like so much bread and butter is enjoyable in its own way. I wouldn't quite call watching White Album a "guilty pleasure", but it's probably not all that far off for me.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 27

I suppose Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's run of absolutely stellar episodes had to come to an end sometime, and so it goes that episode twenty-seven breaks that succession of rip-roaringly fantastic instalments - In all fairness though, this only happens on account of the insertion of a recap episode into this slot in the series.

As recap episodes go, I can't imagine it being much use to anyone who is completely new to both the series and the Fullmetal Alchemist franchise, jumping around as it does in a most confusing fashion for those not already au fait with the series and making it more of a "best bits" compilation than a genuine recap in my book - With all of those great moments (and there are so many to choose from) still relatively fresh in my head, it all felt a little superfluous from a personal point of view.

There is however at least some interesting material for those of us who've been following the series from the very start, with the entire episode framed against what appears to be a discussion between Hoenheim and a much younger Pinako; a discussion which turns out to be a vaguely nightmarish dream on Hoenheim's account. As well as establishing arguably the most important "moral" of the series (that of being able to triumph over any adversity with self-belief, dedication and persistance), it does also bring us some insight into the various facets of the character of the Elric brother's father in a way that we haven't really encountered before.

Still, at least with this out of the way we can now look forward to a return to the good stuff again next week as the story promises to continue its thick and fast progression, while maybe this week away from the action will see both Bones and the show's viewers returning even more hungry and raring to go. I'm certainly eager to back into the thick of things.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 2

The opening episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza seemed to take everything that was good about the first series, throw it out of the nearest window and then replace it with breasts. With that disaster still fresh in my mind, I can't say I was exactly thrilled at the prospect of a second episode named "Please put it in"...

Certainly, the early minutes of this episode didn't do much to dispel my prejudices, with a shower scene with more steam than... well, anything, really - Yet another example of the terrible and OTT censorship employed by this series (and ironically it's aactually one of the less blatant examples this time around too). After that, we're given a long scene with Haruka's maids (and her father) misunderstanding what is going on in room with Yuuto, complete with an illustration (with censorship aplenty, naturally) that wouldn't have looked out of place in your average dating sim.

Thankfully after it's got all this out of its system, we actually return to the Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu we know and love for most of the remainder of the episode (a couple of cringeworthy moments with Shiina aside), as Yuuto is invited to look after a table for a manga circle at a local comic festival, and Haruka gets to join in, complete with her own doujinshi on-hand to sell at the event. Needless to say, her artistic skills are "compromised" (to put it somewhat kindly), leaving her struggling to sell any copies of her work before Yuuto steps in as the knight in shining arm to both sell some product and teach Haruka the true importance of what she's achieved. Ahhhhhh....

This kind of gentle, light and fluffy nature is far closer to what I expect from this particular series, and ignoring the fact that this episode seemed to enjoy taking ideas on-board from Genshiken it was at least a somewhat sweet episode in its own right that had far more going for it than that sub-par opener. Still not classic anime of course, but a more watchable effort in general terms.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 2

Episode two of Seitokai no Ichizon sees Sakurano suggesting that everyone on the student council undergoes a study session on account of some upcoming exams. But with all but one of the council members already amongst the top-ranking students, is there any point? In fact, hang on a second, who is that solitary council member who isn't a top-ranking student? None other than Kurimu Sakurano, of course.

Naturally, this whole question of studying (or not studying) is really little more than a ruse to throw Seitokai no Ichizon straight back into its world of parodies, sly references and the like, and thus we get everything from Death Note through to NyanType. Of course, the trouble with such references is that a. They rely on someone "getting" the reference in the first place and b. Simply name-dropping can be a hit and miss affair at best. Thus, some of the references on show in this episode felt rather forced while others fitted in quite respectably, and to be honest I'm sure some passed me by entirely. What this series seriously lacks is material that ventures outside of otaku culture to bring a bit more balance to it - Instead, it tries to shoe-horn in too many "in" jokes while forgetting that sometimes a bit of slapstick comedy or a play on words can be equally, if not more effective. Just look at a show like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei or Lucky Star - Two series that are packed chock-full of nods to and jokes about pop culture, yet they still know when to drop jokes that pretty much anyone will understand and enjoy.

That, coupled with a lack of any real plot or progression, can make Seitokai no Ichizon a frustrating viewing experience - There just aren't enough funny moments to make it feel particularly worthwhile. Of course, I'll continue watcing if only for the sake of this 'blog and the fact that I do get a kick out of some of the references, but it's hardly the poster girl of its genre judging by the first two episodes, a few little gems (mostly contained in the first couple of minutes of the first episode) aside.

Basquash! - Episode 26 (Completed)

So, at long last, Basquash! comes to its end, leaving us with a finale where the future of both Earthdash and Mooneyes hangs in the balance as supposed legend-to-be Dan gets his game on it.

But is it going to be enough? Despite all of Team Basquash's efforts, and indeed those of Slash on the opposing side, time appears to be running out as Yan launches his "Legend Bullet" in an attempt to destroy Mooneyes and at least save his own planet. This leaves Slash making his final act to deflect said "bullet" from hitting the moon, while Dan finally apears to have achieved his legend-confirming dunk...

...or not. Despite all of his efforts, both worlds continue to collapse, and it appears that all hope is lost. Of course, despite some moments of self-doubt, Dan isn't the type to give up easily, and thus Iceman Hotty's call to him to carry on playing doesn't fall on deaf ears. Indeed, Dan's determination is the catalyst for all and sundry to carry on regardless, showing bravery and spirit which itself turns out to be the true legend of this story. To skip to the end, both planets are saved, and everybody lives happily ever after. Awww.

Perhaps it's a little unfair of me, but I think my major problem with Basquash! is that I painted it with my own dreams of what I wanted it to be. Those early episodes of the series were a wonderful (and fantastically animated and designed) care-free depiction of anarchy, and personally I never got over its shift away from that towards a more generic "let's save the world" plot, particularly given that it always had that feeling of being a bit of a Macross wannabe with its connotations surrounding the important of music (and basketball of course). It also took rather a long time to reach its end goal - Like so many full twenty-six episode series of late, I found myself wondering if thirteen instalments would have been enough, as we went through some story arcs that were either dull or perilously close to jumping the shark.

Indeed, that particular point could even be levelled at this final episode, which brought back a character who we'd assumed to be dead in rather nonsensical fashion, while avoiding killing off others for no particular reason other than to placate its audience. This simly added to the nagging lack of satisfaction come the end of it all; the feeling that the day had been won without anything being lost in a saccharine haze of happiness and Nike trainers. For a series that originally looked to be so brave in a way, it all ended up being rather generic, although at least the stunning backdrops and visual beauty of the series returned to send us off with something aesthetically memorable at least.

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 15

Following on from last week's beach episode, the end of that particular instalment took the gang to a hot springs, and it is here that we reside for the duration of Natsu no Arashi's fifteenth episode, thus filling another well-used anime cliche for the season.

Of course, the whole hot springs environment is only ever going to cause even more problems for Jun, particularly seeing as it was already decidedly that he'd be sharing a room with Hajime, and needless to say the entire event is pretty much disaster after disaster for her as she continues to try and hide her gender from him as set piece after set piece threatens to blow her secret wide open. Wait, those last few words sounded like a terrible double entendre, didn't they?

To be honest, it's becoming increasingly alarming to me that Hajime hasn't figured out Jun's secret by now, he seems to have groped or seen her naked often enough by now to have her figure permanently burned into his retina, and I have to confess that I really do think it's time to put an end to this particular part of the series now - It's run its course, they've done everything they could possibly do with it, and in my mind (and without having read the manga) it's the perfect time to come clean and see how Hajime and Jun's relationship evolves from there. Will this happen? Goodness knows.

That said, I did enjoy this episode again even if it wasn't to the same degree as the last instalment - There were a few good lines once again, there was some mahjong action that would make even Saki worry, I got a kick out of the School Rumble cameos as always, and Arashi's monologue about her never having loved and Jun's reaction to it was actually a little moving. In fact, Jun has now become a seriously interesting character in terms of her relationship with Hajime - Another reason I'd like to see it moved on to a friendship or relationship on a proper footing, rather than the constant need to hide her secret.

Oh, and how great are both the opening and ending title sequences for this series? Once again, my SHAFT fanboy meter is threatening to go off the scale if I'm not careful.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Nyan Koi! - Episode 2

As we hit Nyan Koi!'s second episode, I'm sure it goes without saying that Junpei's curse is still well and truly intact, leaving him desperately trying to do his bit to help the required number of cats to lift said curse. To make things worse, he's now told that he isn't allowed to tell anybody else about his predicament.

That aside, this episode sees a new character introduced to the proceedings - Kanako Sumiyoshi, a girl who likes to... err.... "power dress" (to put it politely) and a former childhood friend of Junpei's although that particular friendship appears to be on the rocks for reasons we learn about later in the episode. When Junpei is introduced to a cat who wants to thank the girl who has been feeding and looking after it (because, or course, cat's don't normally talk, leaving Junpei to do the work), of course we soon find out that it's none other than Kanako who he is tasked with thanking. But can he do it without making a fool of himself?

Despite being pretty run-of-the-mill in just about every way that an anime series can be, from the characters down to the use of a culture festival as a vehicle for this episode, it still proves to be reasonably enjoyable - Kaede's naive yet positive outlook on life lights up the screen no matter how well-worn in may be, and even Kanako's behaviour keeps things relatively interesting throughout.

All of that makes Nyan Koi!quite a difficult series to talk about in 'blogging terms - There's nothing outstanding to discuss nor is there anything terrible to poke fun at; the series itself blends into the general noise of a new anime season if I'm quite honest, and yet while you're actually sat watching it, the show proves to be perfectly entertaining and mildly amusing. This isn't the kind of series you'll ever want to revisit, but as a slice of fun for the here and now it actually does okay and has enough going for it to fill up twenty minutes here and there quite nicely.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 2

This second episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun kicks off with a brief cameo for To Aru Majutsu no Index's Touma.... However, a cameo is all it is, so don't go expecting too much based off that opening scene.

From here, the rest of the episode takes on a decidedly "slice of life" flavour, prferring to focus entirely on Mikoto and Kuroko on the one month "anniversary" of their becoming room-mates. Needless to say, this makes the episode all about Kuroko trying to find ways to seduce Mikoto and failing miserably, with her plans for a "quiet" night in with Mikoto ruined by the appearance of Uihara and Saten, in a state of affairs that leads to them both using their powers in the dormitory and being punished for doing so, moving the episode on to a bout of swimming pool cleaning where the two of them make up... well, somewhat at least.

There's not really a lot more to say about this particular instalment of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - I'd almost be tempting to label it as filler, but I'm not even sure what the actual goal of this series is yet. If it's going to be a simple, non-stop fan service-fest based around Mikoto and Kuroko then I guess this isn't a filler episode at all, but to be honest I'm really hoping that it has more strings to its bow than that.

I will concede however that this episode was actually quite fun to watch (dare I refer to it as "fan service done right"?) as a one-off in its own right, but if it's going to keep my interest then this series is going to have to remember the expert blend of fun every-day moments blended with bigger, more action-centric story arcs which To Aru Majutsu no Index frequently carried off quite effortlessly. I mean come on, you have a protagonist who can shoots coins at you at ridiculous speeds using the power of electricity, you can't just have her electrocuting over-excited fangirls for an entire series.