Monday, 30 November 2009

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 9

It's time for another episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza and shock, horror, Haruka has asked Yuuto out on a date! Well, that only took twenty-one episodes.... Not counting all the other dates that weren't actually dates because they weren't explicitly thought of as dates that is, if that makes any sense.

Of course, in anime land there's only one place you can go on a first date and that's an amusement park, and so much of this episode is filled with the predictably clumsy attempts from Haruka and Yuuto to do what couples do, taking in the usual haunted houses and spinning tea cups before ending the day on the Ferris wheel, where the usual shenanigans of freak gusts of wind and car movements cause some romantic tension between the two. Equally predictably, our possible big kiss scene is spoiled by a phone call on Yuuto's phone at the vital moment - I should probably label that as a spoiler, but come on, you knew it was going to happen before the episode even started didn't you?

Thankfully, to keep things at least somewhat interesting there's actually a bit of an aside to this date, in that Haruka obtained the tickets for the amusement park from Kayahara, the idol manager we first met a few episodes back. While this seems like a simple bit of generosity on her art, of course Kayahara has hidden intentions, which begin to come to the fore as she ropes Haruka into an impromptu photo shoot. Just what is she planning, and what will this mean for Haruka and Yuuto's relationship, and indeed the rest of the series?

While the progress of this episode was about as easy to guess as they come (no tea leaves or crystal balls required), once again Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu manages to stand up pretty reasonably purely upon the dynamic between Yuuto and Haruka themselves - Ignoring the moments of fan service and outside interference, this pairing's clumsy fumblings towards love are somehow always quite fun and cute to watch, adding entertainment value where otherwise there would be none. Sure, this is hardly enough to push this series very far above mediocre territory, but it does make it quite enjoyable in its own particular and surprisingly gentle way.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Nyan Koi! - Episode 9

I've often asserted that no anime series (and in particular no comedy-led anime) is complete without a swimming pool episode, and despite it being the middle of winter Nyan Koi somehow manages to shoe-horn just such an instalment into half of its ninth episode. Thank goodness for indoor swimming pools, I guess.

Of course, this means that there's a fair amount of swimsuit related fan service on show for the first half of the episode, with some "impeccably" chosen camera angles to make the most of it, while all of the main girls from the series just so happen to be at the pool on the same day. In the ensuing ruckus from having all of these girls around, Junpei does at least get to feel Kaede's breasts, albeit at the cost of a bang on the head in the process (and to be fair, he was just trying to be chivalrous and save Mizuno from falling in the water in the first place). Indeed, everything seems to be going pretty well for Junpei, as he finds himself even able to help a cat who had somehow wandered into the swimming pool and found himself unable to escape.

The problem is, helping said feline to find its way out of the pool leaves Junpei with a cold, and for the second half of the episode Kanako manages to force her way into delivering Junpei an upcoming exam paper and taking the opportunity to play nurse for him for a while. Naturally, Junpei is completely clueless as to her motives, and finds himself more concerned with a visiting fat cat who has come to ask his assistance, which elicits a surprisingly emotional outburts even by Junpei's standards.

Compared to the impeccable comic timing and technique of the last episode, this instalment somehow felt a little flat to me (feel free to insert a breast joke here) - The swimming pool half of the episode felt rather forced and thus unfunny to boot, and things were only really improved by a second half which actually made a good fist of showing Sumiyoshi's conflicted nature regarding whether she should pursue her feelings towards Junpei or simply stand aside and let things take their course with Kaede, a conflict which actually somehow serves to make her a far more likeable character for perhaps the first time this series. Overall though, this certainly isn't one of Nyan Koi's better episodes, yet it still remains entertaining enough as a whole to continue to be watchable. If nothing else, there's always at least some amusement to be derived from fat cats...

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 22

While Sayaka still hasn't managed to wrap her head around why time travel won't solve the problem of her out of date foodstuffs, what she doesn't realise is that her rather warped train of thought has actually opened up a genuine possibility for making life taste better, a thought suddenly pounced on by Yayoi - Why not take food that needs time to mature back to the past, giving it the time it requires so that you can enjoy it to the fullest immediately. It's a long way from using time travel to save victims of World War II, but oh well...

Thankfully, that's more or less where the light-hearted side of things ends, as episode twenty-two of Natsu no Arashi finally stops playing around with pointless filler to take us into a proper story arc which might actually be worthy of our time. This particular scenario comes about largely on account of Jun's ever-increasing curiosity about Hajime and how his relationship with Arashi is working out, a curiosity which leads to flat-out interfering as she breaks the news to Hajime that once Arashi's summer is over, she'll vanish until next year, which naturally comes as quite a shock to his system.

Thus, after dragging Arashi out on a late night "date" while still finding himself unsure of what to do, Hajime eventually confronts her about the truth of what Jun has told him, while also spilling his true feelings for Arashi despite her assertions that he won't remember her come next summer for a variety of reasons. Come the end of it all Hajime runs off in tears, and Arashi is hardly thrilled with the way things have gone, and despite their best attempts to continue as though nothing has happened there's clearly something seriously wrong between the pair - Something which goes beyond a sipmle uneasiness around one another.

If nothing else, it's simply a relief to be able to write about an episode of Natsu no Arashi without having to talk about complete nonsense and drop the dreaded "f" word (filler, that is) now and again. While this episode didn't really stand out for me in any particular way, it does at least offer the promise of a focused story arc that has at least some potential for delivering up some of the depth of character and emotion that's been sorely lacking from the second half of this series so far. I have a horrible feeling I know exactly how the remainder of this story, and indeed the series as a whole, is likely to progress, but to be honest if it can at least attempt to move me in a way recent episodes have singularly failed to even try then it'll be a big improvement. Come on SHAFT, you've got yourself a story to work with at last, don't let us down.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Macross Frontier ~Itsuwari No Utahime~ insert album - Universal Bunny

I know, I don't very often cover soundtracks and the like on the hallowed pages of this 'blog (more because of lack of time than lack of listening to them), but come on, how can I simply ignore the existence of a new Macross Frontier mini-album to support the release of the new movie Itsuwari No Utahime. The answer, of course, is that I can't.

Thus, we come to Universal Bunny (not the kind of title a manly man would want to ask for at his local record store), an album featuring no less than eight tracks as sung by Sherly Nome (or May'n, if we're talking living, breathing artists). Indeed, it is Universal Bunny itself that makes up the title track of the album, wasting no time in dragging you into a swirling electronic and orchestral soundscape that pulls you towards the high tempo pop/rock that the track encompasses. There's little doubt that this track will at the very least get your foot tapping within thirty seconds, and May'n's voice works as well as ever for this kind of powerful track. A top-notch way to kick off the album, that's for sure, although I somehow find the restart after the "false" ending to the track rather unsatisfying - The way the song seemed to close was perfect to my ears, why extend things further?

That takes us on to Pink Monsoon, a song that has already done the rounds as a single as well as featuring on some of the trailers for the movie. I have a bit of a curious relationship with this track - It caught my ear immediately when I first heard a snippet of it within trailers, then didn't really like the full song when the single was released. Now I've changed my mind - Pink Monsoon is a fantastic slice of pop that could easily sneak into the US charts if you changed the name Sheryl Nome to Britney Spears and somehow managed to convince people that all the lyrics are English, honest. As a song it works wonderfull, and in a subtly more mature way than anything I can remember from the Macross Frontier TV series soundtracks.

With the big hitters arguably out the way, the album shows no sign of letting up with Gira Gira Summer, an anthemic little number which I admire just for its quirky opening (which reminds me of Slayers oddly) if nothing else. Couple that with a chorus that makes you want to jump up and down with glow sticks, and I guess you can tick off another box in the "awesome J-pop" box. That it manages to do this for five full minutes and actually get better and better as the song goes on is testament to the solid writing and production values of the track.

Next up we enter more rock-oriented territory with Izorado. There's quite a lot to like about this track in isolation, yet somehow when you put it all together (song, arrangement and vocals) it doesn't really work for me. This is probably one of those tracks that will work a whole lot better within the confines of the movie itself than as a stand-alone track to listen to just for the Hell of it.

From one extreme to the other, Aenai Toki takes us into the world of the ballad - A world which I rarely find enjoying spending my time in personally, to be honest. It's a solid enough track, but it doesn't make me want to cry my eyes out (maybe when I see the movie that'll change) or start swaying from side to side holding a cigarette lighter, so it's a forgettable song to me and my cold, dead heart.

Eien Ni comes next, swinging back towards a pop/rock arrangement that starts well before losing its way a little bit and entering a rather generic phase that didn't hold much interest for me. Again, there are elements to like, but they don't quite combine to become a Macross Frontier classic.

That is, unlike Obelisk - If one song does everything within its power to channel the Macross Frontier TV show's soundtracks, this song is it. From the mix of the orchestral, guitar and pop beats through to the lyrics and the flow of the tune, this could be lifted straight from the original series, and that alone is enough to make it a work of brilliance.

Last but certainly not least we have the "Universal version" of Tenshi ni Nacchatta (previously found in a more bare bones and shorter version on the Pink Monsoon single), which to be honest feels like it should probably have been recorded for Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex in places to me on account of some of the electronica burbling away in the background - Not that this is a bad thing. Aside from that this is a slow but steady track that is actually enhanced by its generally simplicity rather than stunted by it, which also makes it a perfect way to close off the album. Now, all I have to do is sit and wait for what might be a million years until I can watch Macross Frontier ~Itsuwari No Utahime~ for myself.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 9

With the last episode finally drawing us properly into the "Level Upper" story arc which has been slowly building in To Aru Kagaku no Railgun's background almost from the start, this ninth instalment of the series sees Kuroko continuing her investigations into exactly what's going on.

This investigation starts with a discussion with the "stripping lady" from earlier in the series, who in fact happens to be a specialist caring for those potential Level Upper users who have suddenly become comatose. Of course, on a hot day with the power out due to the electrical fault caused by Mikoto last time out, that leaves plenty of room for comedy based around the inappropriate removal of clothes in a public setting, but other than that little more is learned about Level Upper's powers or possibilities.

Indeed, while Judgement are still scrambling around trying to get a handle on things, it's actually Ruiko Saten who holds all of the cards, having found Level Upper herself. This means that much of this instalment is focused around Saten herself, as she finds herself torn between telling her friends what she's found and actually using Level Upper to leave the world of life as a level zero behind. While her initial thoughts are to tell Uihara about her findings, this shifts as the episode goes on, particularly when she finds herself unable to help either another wannabe Level Upper user being beaten up or Kuroko when she comes to the rescue.

It's Kuroko's scrap with a trio of Level Upper users, and one rather powerful user, in particular that makes up the action-oriented climax to the episode, in a scene that actually works very well within a series that hasn't always focused that much time or effort on any fighting and skill usage thus far. Away from that, things are certainly getting interesting with regard to Saten's dilemma - I was assuming it would get resolved one way or another this episode, but it appears that the series is quite happy to leave us on tenterhooks for another weekwithout really knowing whether she's going to take the Level Upper plunge or not. As has been the case from week one of this series onwards, I can't really proclaim this to be a fantastic series of highbrow intellectualism or anything, but who cares? It's fun to watch, it's certainly highly entertaining, and the animation quality remains largely sumptuous week in, week out - Enough to put it up there amongst my favourite series for the current season.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 8

After a bit of a flashback to more pleasant times for Suou in her pre-contractor past, episode eight of Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini sees Hei walking straight into trouble once again no sooner had he rescued Suou from her own self-inflicted troubles (however noble her aims) last episode.

This time around, Hei's major problem finds him on the train to Ikebukuro, in the form of Tanya and her current employers, who are also looking to capture Suou in the hope of him leading them to Shion and/or her father. Initially however, this comes simply by way of a proposition to Hei to come and work for them - A seemingly logical deal, but one that he refuses hands-down. What's more, he soon learns enough about his opponent to escape from the group's clutches, although not before Suou has been kidnapped by Tanya, leaving him needing to go and rescue her once again, although ultimately Suou roves herself at least somewhat capable of handling herself before the episode comes to an end with at first a mysterious, but then rather surprising climax.

While you really can't ignore Ryuusei no Gemini's continued short but frantically fabulous bursts of action, once again this episode is really seeking to engage the viewer in deeper, more emotional territory in this episode - From Suou's flashbacks at the start of the episode, we see some fascinating moments between herself and Tanya which reveal both the happiness and hatred of friendship during the course of the episode aided and abetted by Tanya's logical, literal status as a contractor. Hei's own motivations are again called into question here too, although as usual his true thoughts are decidedly difficult to read when it comes to his relationship with Suou as he continues to say one thing but do another.

All of this may be interesting stuff, but once again it's further revelations about Yin/Izanami that really ramps up the intrigue of the show's story - Surely they're going to have to start moving things on pretty fast before we run out of episodes though? Either way, Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini seems determined to tell its story in an unhurried and calm fashion, and to be quite honest it suits the series well - For now, I'll simply have to trust BONES' judgement when it comes to the show's pacing while I continue to enjoy the ride.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 8

When Ken Sugisaki turns up at the student council with a rather young girl in tow, the other council members are quick to leap for their phones and call the police - Given his reputation and behaviour throughout this series thus far, you can hardly blame them either.

Thankfully, Ken hasn't taken quite such a perverted turn just yet, as the girl in question is in fact Elise, the younger sister of journalism club member Lilicia (who you may remember from an earlier episode) who apparently and conveniently needs looking after, a job with which Sugisaki is somehow saddled.

What follows is quite easily the funniest episode of Seitokai no Ichizon - Even after the calling the police gag I just mentioned which got a laugh out of me from the off, Elise's behaviour as she plays various children's games in a decidedly odd fashion proved to be amusing from beginning to end, from her version of playing "Doctor" which could give Casualty a run for its money through to playing with dolls in... well, a rather disturbing fashion really.

Of course, council president Sakurano eventually gets fed up of all these interruptions, and her attempts to pull rank on Elise fall rather flat, particularly when it comes to proving her intelligence (which also gives us some genuinely funny moments in itself, including a Kyouran Kazoku Nikki reference). We eventually end up with the predictable and eye-rollingly pointless sentimental moment between Ken and Kurimu, but you can't expect this series to suddenly get everything right I suppose.

Quite frankly, I hope this particular episode of Seitokai no Ichizon is stored in a pickle jar and used as the basis for all future episodes of this series as it was leaps and bounds above pretty much anything that it's delivered previously - It was sharp, the gags hit the mark far more frequently and perhaps more importantly the jokes had a little more thought behind them beyond just throwing out random anime and manga references here and there (although even when it did, those references simply seemed funnier). I hold little hope of this being the start of a new dawn for Seitokai no Ichizon, but at least I've finally found a good reason for sitting through the series thus far in the form of this solitary ray of sunshine from the midst of the show's broader mediocrity.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 8

As we reach episode eight of Kimi ni Todoke, so we see a whole new slew of rumours doing the rounds about Sawako... Except what's this? They're all positive rumours? From talk of curses and bad luck, it seems that Sawako's revision notes have become infamous, but not as much as her true smile, which is now rumoured to bring good luck to anyone fortunate enough to see it. Of course, getting Sawako to actually smile like that isn't exactly easy.

This good news in Sawako's ever more pleasant school life sets us up for another instalment which is, above all else, incredibly fun to watch. We get to see her make more new friends for starters, despite her naive struggle to start calling her friends by their first rather than second names (one of those issues it's still hard to appreciate the importance of sometimes from living outside of Japan), and even the announcement of the upcoming sports festival can't ruin Sawako's day, as she ends up getting to play (or rather, try to play) football with her new-found friends, before Kazehaya eventually comes to the rescue as she looks to find a way to practice after school so as not to let the side down. Mind you, Sawako spends so much of this episode just starting at Kazehaya and spacing out, I'm not sure any such practice will actually be particularly helpful, but never mind.

Off to the side of all this fun stuff however we do get a proper introduction of sorts to Kurumi, who is well and truly teeing herself up as Sawako's soon to be love rival when it comes to grabbing Kazehaya's attention. Although she manages to get to spend some time with him via the school sports committee this episode, at the moment Kazehaya clearly only has eyes for one girl, as well he should.

I mentioned last episode how that particular instalment of Kimi ni Todoke left me with a huge smile on my face, and this eighth instalment of the series is no different - Aside from being fun, watching Sawako's progress and the increasing acceptance of her foibles by those around her is truly heart-warming and pleasing to watch, while Kazehaya is the kind of guy you find yourself rooting for without a second thought. I really didn't imagine that I'd find myself enjoying this series quite this much, but every week Kimi ni Todoke ends up being my biggest highlight - I just can't get enough of it, and at the moment it seems simply unable to put a foot wrong.

White Album - Episode 21

Come the start of White Album's twenty-first episode, it seems that all is as it should be in our mid-1980s world - Yuki is still being decidedly wishy-washy when it comes to handling Touya, who is himself still carrying on with Yayoi at regular intervals and being as much an asshole to his hopsitalised dad as ever, while Menou is on the run from her production company yet again, seemingly looking to hang out with Touya into the bargain.

After his episode of madness last time around, it at least appears that Eiji has regained his composure, looking to sell his collection of pictures (aside, ironically, from the original that he defaced only to find its by far the most expensive part of it) and getting back to work on propelling Yuki to stardom, which he seems to be doing a pretty good job of as her latest single makes its way up the charts, blocked from the number one spot only by Rina's latest number.

While Eiji's madness has calmed since last time, it seems that his bout of insanity has infected Mana, as it's her turn to fly off the handle in this episode. This comes as her mother (President of M3, of course) discovers the true identity of Mana's tutor (Touya, naturally), and the ensuing argument between those two sets Mana off into a destructive rage which ends with her leaving the house and not returning overnight.

This particular happening is perhaps the stand-out moment in an episode which drifts all over the place, hopping from character to character like some hungry sparrow trying to grab every morsel it can, and thus not affording much time to explain seemingly important plot developments regarding Yayoi's mystery photographic stalker - Points which I'm sure will be explained in future episodes but just seem a little disjointed in the way they're presented here. In a sense, this whole episode feels like it's trying to squeeze too much into its running time, and thus nothing really gets the attention it deserves to make for a quick-fire instalment of soap opera that seemed a little unsatisfying, rather like a snack when you were expecting a full meal. Hopefully those pacing issues will resolve themselves as we entrench ourselves yet further in the tail-end of this series, as the story lines which require closure seem to be growing by the week.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Episode 13 (Completed)

Zetsubou shita! The end of another series of Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has left me in despair! Still, at least this final instalment at least went out on a relatively positive note, with a fair few laughs to be had.

First on the agenda for this concluding episode was the issue of small, inconsequential errors being spotted while people tend to miss the huge, glaring mistakes at the same time. From hanging famous paintings upside-down through to baseball errors and missed Thierry Henry handballs (okay, maybe that last one wasn't mentioned), we end with a suitably bizarre revelation of what we've missed throughout that section of the episode ourselves.

This episode really hits its stride for its mid-section however, as Kiri Komori loses her security blanket - An absolute disaster for obvious reasons. Thus, Nozomu employs the help of his class to look for the missing blanket (which they do by walking around calling out to it by name, which made me laugh out loud in itself), only to find that it's ended up being blown into the middle of a political meeting where its presence sends shock waves throughout Japan's policy makers. Before we know it, comfort blankets are made and distributed to all of the populace to give them the security they need to spend their stimulus money with fantastic effects, to the extend where even foreign countries want to steal the idea (and you just know Gordon Brown would try something like this). The whole thing is ruined when it's pointed out that being a civil servant is a position of security in itself, and before we know it Japan is turned into an impoverished nation where everybody is a civil servant. The political satire is so sharp here it could cut you, and it naturally makes for top-notch material.

Unfortunately, the final chunks of the episode are a little weaker, from the appearance of a buzzword general (thanks to a play on words mistakenly brought forth by Maria) which turns out to be a bit of a wasted opportunity - I love making fun of marketing buzzwords and the like, but the comedy on show here was somewhat sparse. The big finale of the series is also a play on words, with the hymn Silent Night becoming an individual named Kiyohiko who has his own night but no clue what to do with it, unprepared as he is for such a bad pun. It's funny in its own ironic way, but again I'm sure more could have been done with it.

As ever, this latest series of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei has been hit and miss as you'd expect from any sketch-based comedy series, and I'll leave it to others to argue the percentages and thus which series is "better". Personally, all that matters to me is that when Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei got it right it proved to be as hilarious as ever, and as per previous series some of the jokes and moments it brings forth will live long in the memory - A definite sign of good comedy if you ask me. Will we see further series of this franchise in anime form? Who knows - Every time I declare it to be done and dusted, up it pops again, and I can't help but both hope and feel that it'll be back soon enough.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 8

To use the phrase "poor old Yuuto" in an episode where he's invited to spend some time within an all-girls school perhaps doesn't sound quite right, but to Hell with it... In Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza's eighth episode, poor old Yuuto finds himself the subject of intense scrutiny as he visits the all-girls school attended by Mika Nogizaka.

Once there, he soon finds out that he's quite the celebrity amongst Mika's classmates, who it appears have been told all about him by Mika himself, and before he knows it he's being poked, prodded and bombarded with questions about his life and experiences at a mixed-sex school.

With that ordeal out of the way, Mika takes Yuuto to pay a visit to the drama club which she runs (well, it has a fancier name than that, but drama club will do), ostensibly so that he can act as a guinea pig for a magical girl play both penned by and starring Mika herself. From there, we run through some pretty familiar anime romantic comedy territory, from Mika having to watch as Yuuto looks set to kiss another girl (calm down dear, he's only acting!) and hiding together in a closet in a compromising position.

After enjoying some rather sweet little episodes of late, this particular instalment seemed determined to shoehorn in some unnecessary fan service whenever possible once again, while I suppose my overall enjoyment of the story as a whole is tempered simply on account of Mika's attitude towards Yuuto - Sure, she likes him, but is it really prudent to come on so strong to someone who is practically your sister's boyfriend? I know, I know, this is just anime and it shouldn't (and doesn't) surprise me, it's just that the whole premise doesn't work as well for me as, say, Shiina's efforts with Yuuto last episode, which feels far more like a justifiable love rivalry between herself and Haruka. I suppose at the end of the day, the biggest problem here is simply that it's always the episodes which rely on the Haruka/Yuuto dynamic which work the best - While that fact doesn't make this a poor effort per se, it was all rather predictable even by this show's usual standards.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 33

By the end of the last episode, the destination for various important parties to the Fullmetal Alchemist story had been set, and that destination was North on all counts. So it goes then that this episode chronicles that journey, setting us up to see the results as the series progresses.

Essentially, this instalment is split into two halves - For the first part of the episode we see Scar's continuing journey alongside Doctor Marcoh (or is it?), with Crimson Alchemist Kimblee in hot pursuit despite Scar's best efforts to throw anyone off their trail. Needless to say, these two parties soon come face to face in the kind of whirlwind of nightmarish memories and hatred you'd expect, making for a relatively brief but intense battle between the two that was only ever going to end in bloodshed one way or the other. Meanwhile, May Chang's journey looks to be somewhat easier, as she reaches her particular goal without any such military attention in her way.

For the second half of the episode, it's time to see how the Elric Brothers are coping on their own journey as they head North towards Fort Briggs - While their trip to its proverbial front door is straightforward enough, things soon prove to be tricky once it comes to both finding and entering Briggs itself. From a hulking brute of a soldier with some decidedly impressive automail at his disposal through to Major Armstrong's "big sister", who is chalk and cheese compared to her curmudgeonly brother, Ed and Al have plenty of difficulties of their own set before them, leaving few clues as to what the immediate future holds for them.

While all of this is just a continuation of last episode's story building in many ways, it keeps that easy yet occasional brutal viewing experience that makes Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood watchable - If nothing else, it's well worth checking out if only for the brief scrap between Scar and Kimblee which has been holding some promise for a little while now. With some of the pieces in this latest round of chess coming into place, no doubt things will only continue to become more interesting, and as always I look forward to see where we're headed in the grand scheme of things.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 21

Natsu no Arashi has been missing the target more often than Emile Heskey of late, so can it turn things around with its twenty-first episode? Err, no, to be quite honest.

This latest instalment brings us to a swelteringly hot day at the Hakobune café, and after yet another predictable instalment of Kanako and Yayoi getting an order completely wrong on account of the latter's forgetfulness, we go on a hunt for the remote control needed to operate the café's air conditioning. Just like any modern building, naturally there are myriad remote controls lying around, bringing us a mildly amusing sequence involving trying them all with varying results.

This need for the correct remote control becomes all the more important as we see the heat beginning to get to Arashi, with (according to Kaya) potentially devastating results. As Arashi takes leave of her senses, so we somehow randomly end up in some underground cavern underneath Hakobune, which only serves to make her condition worse in the long run, before the gang return to the café just in time to find the correct remote... or do they?

While I have to admit I laughed at the ending to this episode (for a couple of reasons that I won't spoil, it's one of those things you have to see for yourself), that doesn't really paper over the fact that this was another daft yet largely uninspiring episode that acts as further proof that this series has simply run out of ideas - I'm all for randomness in anime, but it helps if it's funny, and this instalment of Natsu no Arashi was found largely wanting in that category. Certainly, it doesn't look like there's much room left for the series to carve out anything of note for itself during its remaining episodes, but once again I'm left sat here hoping that next week will prove me wrong.

Kūchū Buranko - Episode 6

The latest patient to hit Doctor Irabu's proverbial couch in Kūchū Buranko is a high school student named Yuta Tsuda - A young man with an absolute addiction to using his cell phone. I guess he missed his casting call for Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei...

As you might expect of this series, to call Yuta's problem a simple addiction to cell phones is a gross over-simplification, as his particular problem ties in to anxiety problems which leave him feeling the need to be in contact via his mobile at all times. What's more, Yuta is using his cell phone as a crutch for his own shyness, lack of self-esteem and inability to communicate, trying to make himself popular using his phone in the first place rather than using it as a way to keep in touch with those who are already truly his friends. Needless to say this ends up back-firing on him in the long run, leaving himi even more alone.

While this doesn't make for quite as interesting an episode of Kūchū Buranko as some of the other instalments we've seen thus far, it does have some interesting things to offer. For starters, we learn that both Irabu and Mayumi are loners in their own right, while the episode itself seems to suggest that not being surrounded with friends all the time isn't such a terrible thing in many ways. As per most previous episodes, we're also left with a pretty vague ending which can't really be seen as a solution to Yuta's issues per se, although they are perhaps a step in the right direction. It's these kind of touches which have made Kūchū Buranko what it is so far, although its reliance on a good story and main character to go with the psychology and philosophy is amply demonstrated by instalments such as this when there's less to get excited about in terms of the episode's protagonist.

Nyan Koi! - Episode 8

Within seconds of Nyan Koi's eighth episode beginning, Junpei has already managed to upset Kaede yet again - What on Earth is he up to this time?!

Naturally, we can't be left in such a state of confusion for long, and thus the episode backtracks from here to show us just how this embarrassing set of circumstances came about, and it probably goes without saying that a cat is involved. More specifically, Junpei finds himself being asked for help by a fat cat who is too unfit to catch any birds - Not the kind of thing you'd expect a human to be much good at training a cat in to be honest, but nonetheless Junpei tries his best... for a little while at least.

This training soon comes to an abrupt halt as his attentions are drawn by Mizuno, who is quite the fitness freak herself, and before he knows it Junpei is helping her out at the track team's boot camp, playing various sports and generally getting into shape. Fun times for Junpei as he gets to spend some quality time with the girl of his dreams, but all of this progress looks set to be ruined as the disgruntled and abandoned cat Micchi looks to take his revenge in a most effective fashion.

Once again, without doing anything spectacular Nyan Koi actually manages to make a really good showing of itself here - Even when it seems to be skimping on the animation budget on occasion it delights in providing its characters with some great lines which are delivered with such gusto and great comic timing that you can't help but laugh out loud. Add to that some great scenes (of course Micchi the cat got a training montage sequence, and of course Metal Gear was referenced for no particular reason other than it being genuinely funny) and you're left with that warm, contended feeling of a series that has worked through its potential shortcomings to deliver something genuinely enjoyable. While it's been a bit hit and miss at times, in all honesty this was probably one of the best episodes of Nyan Koi yet, and as long as it can keep serving up episodes of this ilk I imagine my respect for it will only grow.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 44

Switzerland and Liechtenstein kick off Hetalia: Axis Powers' forty-forth episode - After a brief vignette about how border control between these two countries works, we see Switzerland trying to teach Liechtenstein about the dangers of the world, a lesson made rather difficult by the distractingly cute nature of Switzerland's illustrations.

From here, we jump to a very brief section where Japan marvels at the cultural differences between himself and America when it comes to create gaudy-looking food with unappetising names (he has to snap a picture of it, of course), before Canada comes to give America a ticking off for his bad behaviour (which naturally always ends up coming to bite Canada) but fails miserably to do so. Understandable when America is wielding a chainsaw and laughing madly, it has to be said.

I don't think there's actually a lot to say about this episode really - I was oddly interested and educated by that opening (which I'm going to assume is correct, I'm sure I've heard it before someplace), but the rest was pretty standard Hetalia fare, no matter how cool America looks while handling a chainsaw.

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 7

It may be the school's summer break, but for some reason the student council members are all still spending their days in their meeting room, finding themselves not only bored but feeling too hot to do anything of note. Of course, there's only one answer to this bout of lethargy - It's time for a field trip, to Tokyo no less.

So, and in a bit of a change from the norm, we get to see some more of the student council outside of the same old four walls of the council room, starting with the long overnight train journey to Tokyo (for Sakurano has no time for aeroplanes). This brings us plenty of opportunity to reinforce the characters of the various council members, from the lecherous Ken through to the gaming obsessed Mafuyu. To be honest, it's Mafuyu who gets all of the best material here, from her suitcase packed to the rafters with gaming consoles through to some mildly amusing RPG references which hit the spot better than most of the fare this series has to offer.

Once the train journey is done with, our quintet of council members find that their Hokkaido backgrounds had done little to prepare them for the heat of Tokyo in summer, leaving them trapped in their hotel rooms and unable to venture out into its searing temperatures. Thus, time is passed by telling ghost stories, which scare Sakurano so much she gets her revenge by making the other council members dress up and add extra words to the end of their sentences. All pretty standard fare here, with only Chizuru's transformation into some kind of moe sheep having any real comedy value to share with us before the episode closes out.

As episodes of Seitokai no Ichizon, this was certainly one of the better efforts so far, although in terms of humorous anime in general it still offers little compared to numerous other series I can think of. It's major problem seems to be that it's so stuck on the shallow, two-dimensional archetypes of its main characters that it's left with little room for manoeuvre, thus limiting its comic potential hugely. Compare and contrast to the Hidamari Sketches and Lucky Stars of this world, and the different is night and day - And certainly not in Seitokai no Ichizon's favour either.

White Album - Episode 20

Oh Touya - Just when I think you can't make me loathe you any more, you somehow manage to raise your game yet further and fill me with yet more hatred. I suppose it's quite a talent if you think about it...

Of course, the last episode of White Album saw Touya confronted with Menou on his way home, and as is his passive nature he ends up buying her beer and letting her shower at his place before she finds herself dragged off back to her production company. From here, a large chunk of episode twenty concerns itself with Eiji Ogata who, quite simply, has gone bonkers.

Why so? From all of the talk of paintings in previous instalments, we finally fin out the truth about this situation - Namely, that Eiji doesn't even remember the painting he saw which inspired him all of those years ago, and since that point he's been collecting what in his mind are identical paintings, but which are in fact all completely different. It takes Yuki's naivety to come forth and tell him this when she sees these paintings, throwing Eiji completely off-kilter before he seemingly recovers his composure later on in this episode.

Aside from that rather bizarre turn of events, we reach the reason for the addition of another notch on my Touya "hate-o-meter", as he goes out on a date with a woman from the student union, only to leave her hanging at the table while he "goes to the bathroom" - Touya's euphemism for going to hang out with Yayoi again, in truth. Add to that yet another message left on Yuki's answerphone as though nothing is wrong, and you really have to start wondering what this guy's problem is.

I suppose getting annoyed at Touya is at least good stress relief if nothing else, but that aside this was a bit of an odd episode really - While Eiji's mental breakdown wasn't entirely unexpected the nature of it was really quite weird and out of left-field, and deciphering Touya's thoughts and actions at all is a nigh-on impossible challenge in itself. Perhaps it's simply reached the point where I prefer the pure soap opera of White Album to its harder to fathom moments, but this episode certainly didn't have quite the zip or zing of previous instalments. If nothing else, it's getting decidedly tough to figure out where this series is seeking to head for its remaining episodes.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 8

Given the subjects of several of this series previous story arcs, it was only going to be a matter of time before the urban legend that is the "Level Upper" came to the forefront of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun's attentions, and so it is that this eighth episode takes us down this exact path.

Discussion of said legend originates from Kuroko's musing over recent cases where individuals have exhibited powers well above their classified level, most notably in the case of Kaitabi Hatsuya and his use of gravitons over the last couple of episodes. Even though Uihara is laid up in bed with a fever, she still has some useful information to offer which might serve as a lead to those who know of this mysterious Level Upper possibility and how it all works.

Of course, Mikoto and Shirai head straight out the restaurant which supposedly acts as a meeting place for those in the know about Level Upper, with the former taking the lead in trying to extract the required information from them. This soon turns ugly however, forcing Mikoto to defend herself from a number of pretty unskilled thugs before coming across the boss of the gang, who turns out to be a rather more difficult prospect.

With no information gleaned from this gang it looks like we've reached a dead end, only to discover that all of the individuals who have exhibited abilities beyond their expected levels have fallen unconscious with no sign of coming around. Just what is going on? That's a question for the next episode...

As an introduction to getting to the heart of the Level Upper matter, this episode works pretty well without ever offering anything spectacular, although it was great to see some action between Mikoto and an opponent worthy of her abilities - There hasn't really been enough of that from To Aru Kagaku no Railgun thus far in honesty. Aside from those moments of action and the revelations towards the end of the instalment, this is really just a warm-up for what is to come - Let's hope it can live up to the long and gradual build-up which the series so far has worked towards.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 7

Episode seven of Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Geminii certainly wastes no time in throwing some surprising information our way, opening with a scene which suggests that Suou and Shion's father is still alive and well (and at large in Tokyo no less), while examination of the brain of the person assumed to be said father only contained a day's worth of information. Some curious goings-on to get you thinking, no doubt about it...

Of course, the sighting of Shion's father in Tokyo has sent a number of agencies in a scramble to find him, and of course one way those agencies hope to get to him is via Suou, which leaves Hei and company (as always) in danger. With patrols and checkpoints all over the place, it's a struggle for our quartet of heroes (is anyone a hero in Darker Than BLACK really?) to leave their current location in Hokkaido - This leads them to hire the help of a professional to get them back on track on their journey.

Of course, nobody can be trusted in the world of this series, and so it goes that the individuals hired by Hei actually have another agenda, namely the kidnap and capture of July, Dolls being the valuable commodities that they are. While Hei is happy to give July up as lost, Suou will have none of it and thus abandons Hei to try and rescue him for herself. This leads her into the hands of a particularly nasty contractor, a man whose brutal tendencies before he became a contractor show themselves vividly in his remuneration. So it's left for Hei to save the day in one of those short but spectacular action set pieces so beloved of the Darker Than BLACK franchise.

While the plot development exhibited by this episode is hugely intriguing in its own right, I can't help but think that Suou's character development is continuing to be the most fascinating aspect of this series. Once again here, we see her veering from between relatively normal human emotions (there's certainly arguably not much logic to setting out to rescue July, particularly alone) and the absolute cold-heartedness expected of a contractor which almost leads her to murder someone without a second thought (although again you could argue the logic of this move in the circumstances). This internal struggle of sorts also continues to bind her own way of thinking and acting to Hei in many senses - As Suou grows closer to July does it mirror Hei's need to protect Yin.

There's so much we could sit and discuss about almost every episode of Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini (I haven't even mentioned Kirihara here) that it's hard to know where to start, so instead let's just salute it as the excellent series that it is. It perhaps still hasn't captured my heart to quite the same extent as its predecessor, but that doesn't make Ryuusei no Gemini any less eminently watchable.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 7

Aside from the odd brief appearance here and there, we haven't really seen much of Shiina throughout the course of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza so far... at least, not until this seventh episode, where she finally gets her chance to take centre stage.

The episode begins with Shiina musing over her New Year's fortune, which promised her some surprising romantic developments, and no sooner has her musing finished then who should walk past but Yuuto? From getting a chance to walk with him, Shiina ends up losing a precious hair clip in a local stream, and of course Yuuto proves to be the overly-helpful guy that he is by spending hours fishing through the icy cold waters until he finds it with her.

Yuuto's kindness continues after Shiina manages to injure her foot at home (while daydreaming about Yuuto, naturally), as he visits her along with a couple of her other friends to keep her company while she's cooped up at her house. This somehow ends up turning into probably the most erotic massages ever seen in anime, and Yuuto also ends up spending the evening at Shiina's place as he worries about her fending for herself alone at home - Bless him. When he falls asleep at her place, it seems like Shiina manages to steal a kiss from him as well, although we don't actually get to see whether she does the deed.

As episodes of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu go, this was pretty run of the mill really - It just worked its way through the required plot points without ever really breaking a sweat or sending viewers into rapture. Of course, perhaps the most impoprtant item on the agenda here (aside from reminding us what an overly nice guy Yuuto is, as if we needed such a reminder) is the re-establishing of a love rivalry between Haruka and Shiina, and I have to confess that I'm a bit torn on that front personally, liking both characters as I do. Still, Haruka got there first so Shiina's actions do seem a little selfish on reflection, but even such considerations don't really paper over a decidedly average episode of anime that is suitable neither for praise nor criticism particularly.

Kūchū Buranko - Episode 5

It's time for Doctor Irabu to turn his attentions to another new patient for Kūchū Buranko's fifth episode, and this time the subject of his case is surprisingly close to home, in the form of another psychiatrist.

The doctor in question is one Tatsuro Ikeyama, a seemingly uptight and straight-laced guy who is married to the only daughter of the head of the institution at which he works. Being in such an enviable position sounds pretty great to most people, so what is Tatsuro's problem?

Essentially, his elevated and enviable position is the problem - As Tatsuro explains his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, which manifests itself as destructive delusions in which he gets to play pranks and generally do crazy stuff, so we learn about his past as a pretty fun guy who was always quick to pull pranks and be the centre of attention when it comes to joking around. Of course, responsibility has changed him, but it appears that this process of maturing has drained the life out of him completely. Irabu's answer to this is to encourage Tatsuro to embrace his delusions and fun-loving nature, from getting him to fart in a lift through to changing the channel while the family (his boss included) are watching the opera to catch some baseball.

Of course, the subject of delusion is a near-perfect one for any visual medium (but perhaps animation in particular), and so this episode of Kūchū Buranko delights in occasionally playing fast and loose with what is real and what simply occurs in Tatsuro's head. Ultimately, this all blends together rather nicely to the episode's conclusion, where Tatsuro comes to terms with what is and isn't acceptable - Watching baseball instead of opera every night is fine, and laughing at his bosses hairpiece in private is fine too, but setting off emergency alarms and generally being a moron isn't.

As always, Kūchū Buranko seems to really have the knack of taking an extreme situation yet somehow making it feel like it's providing some useful pointers for the public at large - I'm sure we've all struggled to find the right line between being a fun person and acting serious at work, with in-laws and so on, and Tatsuro's story is really just that constant internal struggle writ large. This ability to capture the Zeitgeist of the average person while remaining entertaining is quite a knack, and one that this series seems to have genuinely gotten the hang of pulling off week after week - Add to that the interesting way the various episodes so far are cross-referencing one another with no hint as to whether it's even relevant or not, and you have yourself a fascinating little series.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 7

After a few episodes of rampant emotion, misunderstanding and worry, I suppose we were actually rather overdue a simpler and more relaxed instalment of Kimi ni Todoke, and that's exactly what we get as of episode seven.

Of course, the last episode finally gave us the reconciliation between Sawako, Yano and Yoshida, with the promise of some after-school ramen for the trio of new-found friends. However, come the start of this instalment, we learn that this never happened properly due to the ramen shop being closed - However, the good news is that Sawako gets invited to eat out the following Saturday, much to the delight of her parents, astonished as they are that she's finally found a friend.

So, off goes Sawako to eat with her friends, and as the episode progresses so they are joined by Ryuu, before the girls suggest that he invite Kazehaya along so that he doesn't feel left out. Eventually, this all-important phone call is left to Sawako to make, and needless to say Shouta wastes no time in coming to join the festivities.

While this might all feel like a bit of an anti-climax after the raw emotion of recent episodes, this was another wonderful instalment of Kimi ni Todoke, albeit in a very different way. Most notably, the dynamic between the set of friends portrayed here is genuinely fun to watch, from Kazehaya being teased mercilessly (and struggling with his jealousy) through to Ryuu's deadpan delivery and all the way onwards to Sawako's naive yet adorable excitement and enthusiasm when it comes to all of the new experiences she's taking part in. Quite simply, it's enough to leave you with a big grin on your face, and that's exactly what I was left with come the end of this episode. This might not be the kind of episode you think back upon and remember with fondness (I've found myself thinking about the past couple of episodes of this series and getting a lump in my throat a few times of late), but in its own right it's a beautiful and gentle thing - Once again, it seems that Kimi ni Todoke can do no wrong in my book.

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 20

Episode twenty of Natsu no Arashi sees the series continuing upon its recent run of what I can only politely describe as inconsequential instalments which feel rather too much like filler for my liking.

This time around the subject of the entire episode is an antique 10 million Yen cup which somehow found its may into the Hakobune cafe, but which has since been mislaid by the owner. Of course, the obvious answer to finding this expensive relic is a spot of time travel, and so we see all of the usual suspects sent back three days to recover the cup.

What follows is a distinctly low budget affair (the animation quality in particular really suffers at times) in which we don't even get to see the direct results of all the time travelling that occurs, with this episode preferring to take on an almost slice of life-esque air based around the conversations of the returning parties as their attempts to retrieve the cup become ever more complex and confused. While this series has often done some pretty cool and fun things with its time travel aspects, it didn't really entertain in quite the same way here for me, and even Sayaka's new-found ability to link and time travel with Yayoi felt a bit throw-away.

Add to that the repetitive gags which were once so funny but now seem to be increasingly overused (from pass the salt to the convoluted process of remembering things usually rolled out by Kanako and Yayoi) and you have a series which rapidly seems to be running out of ideas. It's a shame really - Natsu no Arashi has treated us to some fantastic episodes at times, and equally some pretty fun outings, but perhaps thirteen episodes was a better length for a series of this ilk, as it feels more and more like it's outstayed its welcome by the week.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 43

Following on from the last episode of Hetalia: Axis Powers, this latest instalment of the series continues its focus upon Russia and the trouble he has with his siblings. Of course, this means more disturbing footage of Russia with breasts look-a-like Ukraine, although I am highly amused by the breast jiggling sound effects employed throughout. Yes, I am that easily pleased sometimes.

In essence, this episode covers the Soviet Union's break-up, and Russia's subsequent feelings of loneliness despite the loyalty of Belarus who returns to his side - On account of his reputation, making friends outside of his that particular sister looks like a hopeless task, as all and sundry quake before him. But what is the answer? Seduction, says France predictably.

Really, I'm not sure what to say about this particular episode - All I can think about is those Ukranian breast noises (who would have bet on me ever using the phrase "Ukranian breast noises" in this 'blog by the way?). If only Benny Hill were alive today, I'm sure he'd be raving about this particular instalment of Hetalia.

White Album - Episode 19

Having been laid-up with illness in a pretty big way over the past couple of weeks, for some reason White Album dropped towards the bottom of my "to watch" list - So, now I'm on the road to recovery let the catch-up begin courtesy of episode nineteen.

The last episode certainly left us with an interesting proposition - Rina and Touya kissing, with Yuki arriving just too late to see what happened... but is she going to figure out what's going on? Surprisingly for her, yes, although to be honest Rina is hardly quick to deny either than anything happened or her feelings for Touya. What follows is some pure, classic soap opera, as Yuki weighs up what she knows and suspects about her boyfriend, Yayoi and Rina - A series of thoughts which unsurprisingly drives her into a fit of self-harming despair, while Rina talks of her inability to judge her own emotions and the like.

Of course, everyone's favourite idiot is completely blind to all of the chaos he's just caused, leaving Yuki a cheerful message to tell her how he found time to go and "lend his support" to Rina, and relaying how he'll be working as her assistant from now on - Talk about rubbing salt into the wounds. So, as Touya takes on his new role working alongside Rina at her new production company where she finds herself operating in decidedly reduced circumstances, so he finds himself grabbing the attentions of Menou as well... how does this guy do it? I sense a book entitled "How To Be A Complete Bastard Yet Still Get All The Girls" in his future...

If this particular episode of White Album made me realise one thing, it's this - For the entirety of this series so far, I've been trying to look beyond the surface at the motivations and deeper emotions of the characters to figure out their true feelings and intentions, and at this point in the game I'm beginning to suspect that I've got this series wrong big time. In particular, I've often suspected that Rina is "up to something" in some shape or form, when in fact I'm now of the opinion that what you see is what you get - She's not playing with anyone's heart or emotions for her own gain, she's simply an emotionally stunted idol getting by in love and friendship as best she can. Ergo, what we see in White Album arguably doesn't require any analysis - It is what it is, drama and (slightly trashy) soap opera, pure and simple. Truth be told this is no bad thing, and perhaps I'm beginning to appreciate this series a little more now I'm not trying to see things that simply aren't there with this series... It works best as sensationalised entertainment.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 32

As episode thirty-two of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood begins, it seems like everyone is searching for someone - Ed and Al Elric continue their search for May Chang in the hope of learning the secrets of Eastern alchemy, Central's military are hunting down Scar once again (now with Kimblee at the helm of that particular "project"), and Roy Mustang seeks out Lieutenant General Grumman as perhaps his last hope of finding an ally to take on the corruption that has pervaded the military from top to bottom.

For a number of these characters, it appears that these searches and their individual paths look set to converge, with May Chang headed North and Scar (with Doctor Marcoh in tow.. or should that be Doctor Scarcoh now?) also eventually headed in the same direction. Meanwhile, the Elric brothers set off North as well, thanks to a tip relayed to them by Mustang via Major Armstrong.

Before this however, Alphonse and then Edward end up having a chance meeting with Selim Bradley, King Bradley's adopted son. While the importance of this meeting is a little difficult to gauge at this point, it does make for some wonderfully tense and barbed scenes between the brothers and the Fuhrer himself, mixing Bradley's seemingly domestic bliss and his dark secrets and plans in a most unsettling way.

Despite perhaps not being the most important plot points of this episode, those scenes certainly stand out in an instalment that was otherwise more about moving the pieces on the proverbial chess board tactically, putting characters where they need to be for the next stage of the series. While this doesn't make for an episode quite as rip-roaring as we're perhaps used to with Brotherhood these days, it would be unfair to refer to it as a "lull" in the series - Even in its quieter moments, it manages to pull enough together to remain compelling on a week by week basis.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Nyan Koi! - Episode 7

It's school field trip time for Nyan Koi's seventh episode, which means that it's time for Junpei and the rest of his class to take a trip to Kyoto for a few days... surely a chance for him to build up his burgeoning romance with Mizuno, right?

Of course, this wouldn't be Nyan Koi if Junpei's curse didn't get in the way, starting with a request from a cat to be taken back to Kyoto with him to make for a cheap return trip for said feline. Although this is a simple enough request, that cat then decides to tell all and sundry about Junpei's "power", and before he knows it the poor guy is bombarded with requests from cats as his infamy grows, giving him little time to spend enjoying himself.

Things only go from bad to worse when Junpei gets caught peeking at the girls at the hotel's hot spring (in a surprisingly fan service free scene, a refreshing change for this anime season), before even his final day of free time which he plans to spend with Mizuno ends up turning into more feline-related activities.

There isn't really a lot to say about the content of this episode - It's all very run-of-the-mill and traditional, with basically no twists, turns or surprises... everything here is exactly as you'd expect it to be. That said, there is some room for praise when it comes to this episode's sense of comic timing - Some relatively basic jokes and visual gags are actually turned into smile or laugh-worthy moments due simply to good timing in terms of both the delivery of lines and the way the animation for such punchlines are mapped out. If ever proof were needed that the oldest jokes can sometimes be the best, this is it - Sure, it isn't cutting-edge comedy, but it does bring this episode up from the realms of mediocrity to create some moments of genuine amusement and entertainment to keep this quirky and enjoyable little series ticking over.

Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini - Episode 6

As bad parenting goes, Darker than BLACK: Ryuusei no Gemini's Michiru must win some kind of prize - Becoming a contractor and abandoning her only son, returning very briefly to bake him a cake before leaving again, and then coming to an untimely end virtually in Norio's arms. Such is the world as depicted by this series.

Although Michiru's story and family takes up a reasonably hefty chunk of this episode, the real intrigue comes from Hei and company's continuing mission to destroy "Izanami". Of course, it probably goes without saying that said mission hardly goes smoothly, as Hei finds himself caught up far too easily in a trap laid for him by Kirihara - Even this pales into comparison however with the revelation as to exactly what (or rather, who) Izanami is, a discovery which causes Hei to call off any attempted mission to destroy the entity, instead choosing to let it be taken away before pursuing it on its way to Tokyo.

The truth of Izanami's identity (and I'm trying not to spoil things for people who haven't watched the episode here) hangs heavily over much of this episode, notably shifting how both Hei and Suou in particular behave as the instalment progresses, with Hei seemingly lightening up and perhaps reforming his alcoholic ways while Suou becomes both more intrigued by Hei and simultaneously somewhat jealous towards his past relations with others.

All in all, this makes for another fascinating episode which is all about progressing the plot rather than straight-up action; something which it does as easily as ever while keeping more than enough mystery for us to chew on and mull over for quite some time. There looks to be interesting times ahead for Hei and his colleagues, that's for sure...

Saturday, 14 November 2009

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 7

Following on from the graviton acceleration-led bombings last episode, needless to say this seventh instalment of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun perseveres with that particular story arc as Judgement try to get a handle on exactly who is carrying out these increasingly dangerous and powerful incidents.

The trouble is that put simply, they don't even know where to start when it comes to tracking down the individual involved - There is nobody matching the powers in use here in their database (probably a noteworthy point on its own, as this isn't the first time this has been the case in this series), and at first glance there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the locations chosen for the attacks.

Finally however, things start to fall into place, although unfortunately only a point where Uihara finds herself in danger as the exact modus operandi of the attacker (who I imagine most of you guessed the identity of last episode anyway) is revealed. Indeed, it's left to Touma to make yet another cameo appearance to save the day, preventing a number of people from being injured using his own unique powers.

To be honest, I was quite surprised to see this story arc closed out in two episodes, as it felt like it was building up to something a little bigger than the quick conclusion reached here (although to be fair there are aspects of the story that may well run through into future episodes). Similarly, the appearance of Touma as deus ex machina felt a little unsatisfactory, although overall I suppose I can't complain too much with the way that particular scenario was presented, and it is actually quite cool to see Touma making frequent appearances at all. While I get the feeling this episode achieved everything that it intended to, I suppose I was just expecting a little more from it for some reason; it's a feeling that leaves this story arc looking a little simplistic, but maybe that's unfair considering that To Aru Kagaku no Railgun hasn't exactly been focusing on complex narratives from the very start.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Seitokai no Ichizon - Episode 6

As Seitokai no Ichizon continues on its madcap way, it's time for the student council to consider the theme for the school's forthcoming festival. But what should it be?

Needless to say, the suggestions from all of the student council members are pretty easy to guess if you've been keeping up with this series at all, from Ken's suggestion of "sexual" as a topic through to Chizuru's "pain". All of these suggestions are, however, thrown into relief against a surprise announcement from Minatsu - Namely that herself and her sister Mafuyu will be transferring to a new school on the mainland shortly due to their mother getting married.

Well, I say "thrown into relief", but this big news does nothing to stop the quick-fire gags from coming thick and fast as the festival suggestions continue, although for a while it seems as though some kind of Power Rangers send-off becomes the main topic of discussion in an attempt to placate Minatsu and persuade her to stay.

I've mentioned before that Seitokai no Ichizon really doesn't work when it tries to bring emotion into proceedings, it simply doesn't fit a series of this nature, and so it proves here - The thought of the sisters departure does little to actually alter the tone or content of the series, making it a bit of a pointless façade that is, of course, inexplicably resolved by a "touching" moment from Ken. I probably wouldn't complain about these plot points were it not for the fact that the series remains relatively unfunny - Sure, there is a bit of a kick to be had from Haruhi references, on-going in-jokes and some mildly amusing Power Rangers stuff as I mentioned, but even for a hit-and-miss series such as this there are simply far too many misses to make it genuinely funny, while the hits bring forth a smile far more often than they do a laugh. Thus, once again I find myself harking back to those first few minutes of the opening episode and the potential that it showed but has since singularly failed to deliver upon.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 42

Episode forty-two of Hetalia Axis Powers introduces us for the first time to Russia's two sisters - Ukraine and Belarus. And rather a disturbing turn of events it is too...

For starters, Ukraine looks suspiciously like Russia in drag with huge breasts (complete with comedy sound effects every time they move), while even Belarus looks a little too Russia-esque for my liking even before proving to be a rather unhinged individual in her own right who obsesses over being together with Russia.

Of course, ultimately this all turns into a very brief history lesson on these two countries which feels oddly educational even for this series, although I fear that any pertinent information will have been swept clean out of my head by the nightmarish vision of Russia with big, audibly bouncing breasts....

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Purezza - Episode 6

Following on from all of the Christmas-related shenanigans of the past couple of episodes, I suppose it was inevitable that New Year would be the next big landmark on the Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu calendar, and so it is that this sixth instalment focuses on a traditional shrine visit for Yuuto and Haruka, although the latter's mind is more on taking Yuuto to visit Ouse-Misaki, a beauty spot described by her parents at which a New Year's kiss is supposed to bring a couple a lifetime of happiness.

Of course, this being the series that it is, actually making it to Ouse-Misaki is more difficult than it might seem, with Haruka dragged away by a bunch of her friends/fans for much of the time, before the actual walk to this beauty spot seems to bring about one problem after another. Most notably, Yuuto (as is his habit) bumps into some strange girl at one point who you should recognise from the opening titles, and no doubt this chain of events will provide plenty of material for the second half of the series. Of course, we also get inevitable moments of Haruka tripping over or generally being clumsy, causing Yuuto to catch her, and on one occasion this clumsiness also gives us what seems to be the required weekly dose of fan service for this series.

When all is said and done, this particular episode of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu is about as traditional as they come - You can almost feel yourself checking off the "things a romantic comedy anime series has to depict" check boxes throughout, and if you're looking for an innovative take on the genre then you can be guaranteed not to find it here. That said, this episode does manage to carry itself off somewhat simply on account of the lovability of the two lead characters - You can't help but want them to get together and be happy, to the point where you wish the series would just stop teasing us and get on with it in all honesty. With that in mind, I suppose we can mark this one down as a "feel-good" episode if nothing else, which certainly makes it a cut above some of those ridiculously fan service-centric earlier instalments.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Natsu no Arashi - Episode 19

After the lightweight frivolity of the last episode, Natsu no Arashi's nineteenth instalment returns us to the serious business of... err, cold noodles?

No, I'm not kidding - This entire episode is an attempt by the café's staff to create a cold noodle dish, using Arashi's memories of said dish from her youth as a basis for their efforts. Needless to say, most of these efforts fail miserably, until it seems like Jun finally happens across the perfect combination of ingredients... or has she? Throw in some confusion caused by others adding their own "finishing touches" to the dish and a quick-fire session of crazed time-travelling, and it soon becomes impossible for anyone to tell exactly what's what.

I'm not really sure what counts as filler within this series any more (it hardly has a strict rule for what stack up as major plot points these days), but this certainly feels like it no matter how you dress it up - Truth be told, it all felt rather predictable and like the kind of stuff we've seen from Natsu no Arashi too many times before, leaving what might once have been at least mildly amusing to be a little tired and unfunny. Much like those cold noodles, the whole thing felt like quite the anti-climax by the end of it all, and no matter how much fun SHAFT has animating these episodes it can't really paper over the wafer-thin content.

Nyan Koi! - Episode 6

Just when you thought that Junpei's harem couldn't get any bigger, up pops yet another girl come the end of the last episode to complicate things a little further. Wait, did I just say "another girl" in a singular sense? Make that two girls.

Yes, that's right, Nyan Koi's sixth episode deploys a pair of identical twins onto the scene, guaranteeing confusion aplenty, especially considering that one of the pair, Kotone Kirishima, seems to have fallen head over heels for Junpei and his misfortune while the other, Akira, is only interested in keeping him away from her sister. To top it all, these girls are the daughters of the head priest at Jizou's shrine, which seemingly gives them both the power to "see" Junpei's curse, while their own cat, Noir, is currently in the middle of a major falling out with the priest's cat Tama.

To be honest, the whole "helping cats" thing really takes a bit of a back seat to the other shenanigans on show here (and I don't just mean the fan service, which I'm going to try to ignore), as Junpei's ever-growing collection of girls which hang around him causes yet more misunderstandings and confusion between himself and Mizuno, undoing much of the good work of the last episode.

After admiring the last episode for seemingly breaking with harem tradition, we seem to have gone right back to the roots of said genre this time around - Did we really need any more girls to confuse Junpei's life further? Apparently so according to the writers on this show - Although the introduction of these twins does little to really damage Nyan Koi's place in this season's line-up as an enjoyable yet vacuous series, I guess I was hoping for a little more in the way of initiative this time around. Still, the show's madcap pace does remain fun to watch in its own way, so it isn't all bad.

Kūchū Buranko - Episode 4

Another episode of Kūchū Buranko means that it's time to be introduced to another new character suffering from his fair share of troubles. This time around our subject is one Shinichi Bando, an all-star baseball players of many years who is well-respected by many. However, as the high-profile mistakes on the field begin to pile up, is it time for Bando to retire and hand over his glove to a younger face.

In essence, it's this aspect of competition from a fresh-faced young rookie which ails Bando, causing him to forget how to throw when all is said and done - A psychological problem known as "Yips". Of course, this crisis sees him sent off to see Doctor Irabu, who after giving him the obligatory vitamin shot spends plenty of time playing catch with this baseball star as he looks to get to the root of his problems.

Of course, as the episode goes on, so it becomes clearer as to what Bando's problem is - He rediscovers his throwing talent upon hearing that his new rival Suzuki is out injured, only to lose it again when that injury turns out to be less serious than first feared. Eventually, it seems that a chance meeting with Suzuki on a night out plays a major part in clearing up Bando's "Yips", as he realises that this young upstart baseball player is under just as many pressures as himself, a revelation that somehow allows him to get on with doing what he does best, even if it may be too late to prevent Suzuki from snatching his place in the team.

Compared to the rather more complex and less clear-cut episodes of recent weeks, this seemed like a rather straightforward instalment of Kūchū Buranko (although there is a hint of more to come) - Bando's problem seemed obvious from the outset, and nothing was done to dismiss that train of thought throughout. While this state of affairs still allowed for a reasonably solid story-telling experience in its own right, it wasn't quite up there with the more highly detailed and thought-provoking affairs I've come to expect from the series - Not a disappointment so much, but certainly a slight play against the core concepts that I'd felt this series had built up over the past couple of instalments in particular.