Friday, 31 December 2010

The Hanners' Anime 'Blog Air Pie With No Pastry Awards 2010

So here we are, with 2010 about to bow out already, marking the end of another year and the terrifying realisation that twelve more months of me 'blogging the Hell out of virtually everything anime-related that passed in front of my retina has occurred.  I guess the fact that I've been doing this for almost three years now means that I'm here to stay, and although 2010 hasn't been my most prolific year of writing here ("only" writing about 570 posts a year counts as slacking in my world evidently) it has been the most rewarding.  This is largely thanks to the fact that I finally feel at least slightly more like part of the wider anime 'blogging "family" courtesy of a combination of Twitter, other "events" like the Aniblog Tourney and getting to meet a few you at real life venues in the UK such as London Expo and Scotland Loves Anime.

Naturally, the end of the year means that it's time for that traditional, wistful look back on the past year, dishing out the non-existent (or absolutely frighteningly real, depending on how you look at it) Air Pie With No Pastry Awards that I like to throw about on New Year's Eve like so much slightly musty confetti.  So, what have I loved and loathed during my 'blogging experiences over the course of 2010, the year which made me wish I could roll my "R"'s?  Allow me to share them with you, dear reader....

Best opening titles - Perhaps it's just a sign of my worsening descent into anime otaku-dom this year, but I seem to have found myself paying more attention to (and shock, horror actually enjoying) various anime opening credits this year.  I tend to just watch most of them once and never think of them again, but 2010 has seen me happily sitting through a number of opening animation's week in, week out, and not just because I can't be bothered to skip forward on the stream or hit the "next chapter" key.

In absolute terms, it's hard to beat Durarara's first set of opening credits for their slick and eye-catching character introduction montage backed by an awesome piece of music that fits said montage perfectly, and it would probably have been the run-away winner if it weren't for the fact that... well, it's basically a copy and paste of the admittedly equally gorgeous opening to Baccano.  So, points deducted for lack of ingenuity there.

That leaves the field clear to be dominated by one production company alone - SHAFT, who seem to have developed quite the knack for eye-catching openings over the years.  Runner-up for this category goes to Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, which succeeded in being the only opening to make me laugh every week (when Hotori gets buried under an avalanche of teacups, incidentally) while also being a beautifully choreographed piece of work set against a song that wasn't one of my favourites for the year but one that was as warming and soothing as a brandy on a cold day.

The winner then can only be the "proper" opening to Arakawa Under The Bridge x2, a title sequence that is such a riot of colour, movement and all-round beauty that it wins hands down even before Yakushimaru Etsuko's delicious voice sits perfectly atop it all.  Even when the show itself is misfiring, Cosmos versus Alien never puts a foot wrong.

Best closing titles - While I had a bevy of opening credits to choose from this year, any of which could have won, choosing my favourite closing titles was far easier.  This isn't to say that there weren't some notable entries in terms of either music and/or animation - Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt's wonderful closing song ticks all the boxes for the former while Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru again gets a notable mention for the latter.

There was only one end credit section that I watched over and over this year however, even when I wasn't watching the series, and that was K-ON!!'s second ending.  To be honest, it could have won this category on the basis of its music alone - No Thank You is the only track from the franchise to not only step out of Don't Say Lazy's shadow but arguably surpass it, while the grittier, more broody visuals are a refreshing step away from the norm for this series that is simple yet breath-taking all at once.  In fact, I think I'll go and watch it again right now...

Best soundtrack - Alongside all those awesome credit sequences, it's also been a pretty good year for anime soundtracks in general, with a few outstanding and noteworthy efforts that are well deserving of a mention.

For all of its on-screen mediocrity at times, HEROMAN's OST was top class almost from beginning to end, with lots of superb electronic background music which fitted the show perfectly as well as a sterling set of opening and ending themes.

Then there's Hanamaru Kindergarten, a show which I didn't actually 'blog about here but watched for UK Anime - while the series itself didn't do much for me, I loved its eclectic selection of ending themes, and thus I was suitably impressed when they were all bundled together onto a single disc; lots of great listening to be found here for sure.

Again though, there can only be one winner and this time around our champion is a rare case of a soundtrack which lived entirely up to its hype - people have been looking forward to Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's soundtrack since the show's very first episode, and when it sneaked into our hands just after Christmas it didn't disappoint.  Almost every track is a winner, and it's such a refreshing departure from your average anime soundtrack fare that it deserves to be held high and worshipped - what better way to do that then with a pointless anime 'blog award?

Worst soundtrack - To be honest, I can't actually think of any anime soundtrack that was so bad that it detracted from the series I was watching this year, so let us just express relief that this is the case and say no more about it.  Let me know if there were any terrible soundtracks that I somehow missed though!

Best character - This category was so easy last year courtesy of Bakemonogatari's Hitagi Senjougahara - in fact technically I could cheat and just give her the award this year too, but that's not how I roll.  Besides, she barely even appears in the episodes which aired in 2010.

Thus, we must find a new recipient for the 2010 prize.  Ignoring more ensemble-led works that had great characters by the boatload, there a few noteworthy characters who made 2010 fun - Occult Academy's Maya made being tsundere cool again (wait, did it ever stop being cool?), and Nanami Shichika of Katanagatri's twist from doting little sister into demonic genocidal maniac was easily one of the most eye-catching character-centric moments of the year.

My personal pick for the year however is Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru's Hotori Arashiyama.  The reasoning behind this is simple - for me is the anime equivalent of Homer Simpson; dumb, outgoing, opinionated and with a skewed outlook on life which makes pretty much everything that comes out of her mouth hilarious for one reason or another.  This makes her a hefty dose of pure, comedy gold - and that can't ever be a bad thing, right?

Worst character - 2010 thankfully isn't a year that's left me wanting to punch the screen any point from irritation throughout any of the shows that I've watched, but of course no year would be complete without an dislikeable male lead character for a series.  Enter The World God Only Knows' Keima Katsuragi.

Let's be frank about this - Keima is an asshole.  He cares only for himself and his misguided and embittered disgust with the real world and those within it - not exactly the kind of thing that makes you want to cheer him on throughout his various conquests.  Keima doesn't even treat these girls he needs to "free" any better, manipulating and manoeuvring them like so many pieces of meat at a butchers, something he does with such arrogance that the final pay-off where he wins the day feels both unbelievable and rather disappointing, thus imploding the whole premise of the show.  Yes, Katsuragi makes a change from the tame, "lapdog" male leads of other harem anime series, but it's hardly a change for the better.

Best filler episode - For all of his frustrating character traits, there is one area where Keima Katsuragi fits naturally into his environment, and that's when he's playing the visual novels and dating sims of which he is so obsessed.  It's this single-minded dedication to completing every game that comes his way that grants us my favourite "filler" episode of the year.  The World God Only Knows' fourth episode takes a break from hunting down Loose Souls to follow Keima as he tries to complete perhaps the world's buggiest visual novel, a game so bad that nobody else has managed to finish the game.  This allows the series to spend a lot of time poking fun at the ridiculously buggy game in question, which proves to be a whole lot of fun, as does Keima's dedication to persevering in the face of such problems.  Soppy ending aside it's a hilarious take on the visual novel for anyone who has played them before and well worth the price of entry as a stand-alone episode - if only all of The World God Only Knows has been this good.

Best individual episode - One of the reasons most of us watch anime obsessively is to capture those fantastic, memorable moments where a series does everything right, if only for one fleeting episode, and creates something which you'll be hard pressed to forget for a long time whether it takes your breath away or reduces you to tears.

On the former side of that spectrum, episode four of Katanagatari (what is it with fourth episodes this year?) surprised and enthralled courtesy of the aforementioned Nanami Shichika as her murderous rampage began in one of the most eye-popping turn-arounds of the year, finally putting the show on the right track and making it something both worth talking about and watching again.  A handful of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's episodes could also easily be placed into this category - if only you hadn't been so inconsistent, GAINAX.

On a more emotionally powerful scale, Sora no Woto's seventh episode is well worthy of a mention, but even such wonders pale in to comparison to our winner however, and the moment that proved what a number of us already knew - that the slice of life genre, constructed properly, can offer far, far more than just "cute girls doing nothing".  This is an accusation that has been levelled at K-ON!! more times than I can remember, but the show's twentieth episode (and its thirty-fourth across the anime franchise as a whole) was the moment where all those weeks of following its group of girls larking around and having fun suddenly reached a natural, and brilliantly realised, crescendo.

This was provided via the light music club's final high school performance together, and while previous gigs have been given fleeting coverage within an episode this time around the focus was entirely on the event itself - its build-up, the performance, and most importantly the emotional rollercoaster following the gig.  It's hard to describe in simple words how well this was accomplished, with the concert itself teetering on a precipice between emotional breakdown and exhilaration, taking the viewer along for the ride every step of the way before the inevitable realisation that this is it - the fun is over, and it can never be recreated again.  It's hard to appreciate this episode without looking at it within the context of everything that has gone before, but for those who followed K-ON doggedly throughout it was an unforgettable inflection point for the series and everything that it stands for.

Worst individual episode - Let me get my snarkiness out of the way early on this one, as I nominate every episode of Star Driver for this category.  After all, every episode is basically the same, right?

However, even Star Driver hasn't yet plumbed the depths exhibited by episode four of Senkou no Night Raid, a series which spent three episodes building up to a tense crescendo as its major story developed... then binned the lot for a while so that two of its major characters could chase after a cat.  A cat that might have stolen something admittedly, but not some top secret blueprints - oh no, the cat had stolen some holiday photos.  If you're wondering why anyone watching this show would give a shit about such a trivial thing, the answer was that they didn't; this wasn't just filler, this was incredibly pointless, tedious and nonsensical filler, from a series that I never managed to get around to completing in the end anyhow.

Best series ending - It's been a year of solid endings to anime series relatively speaking - at least, there haven't been too many horribly duff finales that have made us feel like we've just wasted hours of our lives building up to it.

2010 has seen finales that ranged from the arguably brave (with Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru killing off its main character, albeit temporarily) to the sweetly romantic (Arakawa Under the Bridge's first season) and from the predictably excellent (yes, I'm looking at you Bakemonogatari) to the smart and self-confident with The Tatami Galaxy and Shiki.

The series which most impressed me for keeping its head until the very last however is Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - after over sixty episodes of gut-wrenching action, emotion and conspiracy it seemed as though the series couldn't put a foot wrong, and yet despite its near-perfection throughout (if we ignore the first handful of episodes), yet it still managed to up its game as it rolled along to a vast and gripping finale filled with sufficiently huge set pieces to give its major storyline the send-off it deserved, before still making time to tie up some loose ends in a satisfying yet not overblown way.

Worst series ending - It's perhaps harsh to pick on a series that made no sense in the first place for having an ending that made no sense, but somehow I can't at least mention Angel Beats in this section for making me shout "What?  WHAT?!" at the TV.  After all of those twists and turns, this show left us with a final revelation that made my head hurt - not only because it didn't add up in my head, but also because the ending was given away both in the name of the show and its opening title song.  You bastard Jun Maeda, you sly, smug bastard... don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with Angel Beats and I don't really begrudge anything it attempted but still, that ending...

My real ire however is reserved for a show which I otherwise loved almost unconditionally - Durarara!!  Seriously, what was with that half-baked ending?  As angling for a second season goes its open-ended finish is understandable, but as a resolution to the show and its major plot points it was hugely unsatisfying, asking even more questions than it answered - not in a way that left you begging for more, but rather in a fashion that left you feeling a bit disgruntled and fed up, thanks to the knowledge that it simply could have done things so much better.

Best series I haven't actually watched - At the risk of sounding big-headed, I'm not sure that I missed any of the big hitters of 2010; at least, none that I can think of.  Sure, there were shows I didn't cover here but watched for UK Anime (Squid Girl being one of the most recent), but there's certainly nothing unwatched from 2010 on my current "must watch" list.

Worst anime series - Well, this was an easy one - Take a popular MARVEL character with plenty of personality, a successful movie franchise and all the trimmings and place him into a Madhouse-produced anime and you have a sure-fire, cast-iron great series, right?

Wrong.  Iron Man was terrible.  Everything about it was terrible, from its animation through to its characters, its setting, its plot, and worst of all its protagonist - how can anyone get Tony Stark's character so wrong?  It wasn't even the kind of show you could watch simply to laugh and poke fun at; yes, it was that bad, and I won't be touching Wolverine with a sixty foot pole next year unless I hear of a good reason to.

Best anime series - I could probably name check countless shows for this final, cream of the crop "best anime" category, but to do so would only devalue my opinions (which, let's be honest, are hardly packed with value in the first place).  So, instead I shall move straight on to the winner, and a show which closed in 2010 far more impressively than it arguably opened in 2009 - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood.

Without waxing lyrical too much, episode for episode this is one of the greatest anime series I've ever seen period, never mind in 2010 - in short, it has everything, from action to drama, emotion to elation, and character development aplenty from a cast already packed with compelling, interesting and believable characters.  Filling sixty-four episodes is a big ask for any series, yet this series managed to do so almost faultlessly, and occasionally in a breath-taking fashion.  Let's just hope that its forthcoming movie doesn't ruin that legacy, but for now Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is going to take some shifting from a place in my all-time top five anime.

So, there you have it, my thoughts and opinions as we close out 2010. I hope you all have a great New Year, and I'll see you all again in 2011. But until then, this is the point where you get to flame away in the comments section. Go on, you know you want to...

Kuragehime - Episode 11 (Completed)

I mentioned last week that Kuragehime had too many loose ends to possibly tie up in a single, final instalment, and so it goes that the series comes to an end (bonus DVD-only episode aside) without cementing or closing off most of its major plot points.

Of course, the most pressing matter facing this finale is Amamizuka's future, courtesy of last week's cliff-hanger which left the building covered in scaffolding and ready for demolition.  Well, fear not, for it turns out that this was little more than an administrative error, although that said the fact that buildings practically next door are finding themselves bulldozed serves to add some more urgency to proceedings.

While Tsukimi's reaction to this impending "doom" is to create more of her jellyfish-themed dolls, Kuranosuke has far more faith in Tsukimi's abilities as a dressmaker (albeit a jellyfish otaku dressmaker), seeing that instead as the best way forward towards making enough money to buy the Amamizuka building before it's too late.  From here, the rest of the episode races through Tsukimi's surprising rise to fame (well, relative fame at least) as Kuranosuke enters her dresses to a fashion competition, seeing them net all of the top prizes into the bargain.  Come the end of the episode and despite this development, Tsukimi and company's home is saved, and we see little progress in any of the relationships between the major characters, although it appears that Inari's feelings for Shuu have taken an interesting turn if nothing else.

As endings go, I have to say that this felt pretty rushed, just as I feared as we moved towards the end of the series with little sign of most of its threads being resolved.  That lack of resolution is exactly what we were left with, although luckily it was at least delivered within an entertaining package - it was neither as funny nor as charming as its earlier episodes, but it remained fun and certainly wasn't a total disaster.  That "not quite as good" feeling does take a little of the sheen from what was initially an excellent series, but despite that Kuragehime was a thoroughly enjoyable viewing experience throughout which worked well in everything it did and brought both laughs and smiles aplenty.  If only it had been given more time to develop to a more fitting finale, it would have been an unmitigated success.

Shiki - Episode 22 (Completed)

So, at last we reach the end-game for Shiki, with the Risen on the brink of being wiped out completely; with Sunako on the run and Muroi injured, it seems like there's nowhere left to run for the remaining major players in this story.

This is certainly the case for Megumi - having introduced us to both the series and the village it resides in, we see her "life" brought to an end in a torturous and painful fashion that it's almost impossible not to wince at whilst watching it.  Is it a fair end for such a self-centred individual?  Well, that's another discussion to add to the huge amount of philosophical discussions one can have about this series.

By the time of Megumi's demise, we're also well aware that a raging fire has started at Yamairi, and it quickly becomes clear that its fast spread and direction means that it's going to wipe out the village that Ozaki and company has fought so hard to protect.  In short, the climax to the series looks set to be the destruction of everything in near-absolute terms, with no real silver lining to this cloud.  As things wrap up however, we still have a final face-off between Natsuno and Tatsumi to consider, while Sunako's fate also hangs in the balance until the very end and a timely intervention by Muroi; one which grants us one of the few positive moments to come out of this climax, if indeed you can view it as a positive at all.

Depressing and difficult though it is to watch, this finale of Shiki is a fantastic example of what the series as a whole has achieved - a single story which can be interpreted and (more importantly) reacted to in a number of different ways.  Do we cheer the defeat of the Shiki and mourn the destruction of the village?  Do we see both of these developments as a horrible loss driven by the bestial instincts of humanity?  Do we breathe a sigh of relief that the small village and its intolerant ways are destroyed and ponder whether the Risen would have been hunted down and slaughtered by a more "liberal" society?

The most fascinating part of this all is that right now I can't even answer that question for myself, let alone anybody else - the end of this episode just leaves me feeling sadness with no concrete explanations as to exactly what aspects of this ending are responsible for it.  I feel no joy at Sunako's escape, yet I would have felt no joy at her death... does that make me an apathetic member of modern society, or simply a misguided idealist who wants the best for everyone even in a scenario where that clearly isn't possible?  Certainly, Shiki seems to be a series that is ripe to be watched again and again - it was incredibly slow to start and get moving, but the reasons for this soon became clear in the latter half of the series where much of its power was reliant on that intimate relationship with its setting and characters.  Once that base was set and things really started to progress, Shiki proved to be one of the most startlingly fascinating anime offerings of recent years - it all seemed to simple as it set vampires against humans, but ultimately proved to be anything but to leave a melting pod of philosophies and emotions that are hard to compartmentalise and rationalise.

Thought-provoking anime is always something which should be treasured and rewarded, and Shiki has the ability to provoke thought and discussion by the barrow-load.  Its quiet, steady way of doing so may not see its name shouted from the rooftops but, to be honest, it ultimately deserves all the plaudits we see fit to throw at it.

Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - Episode 13 (Completed)

While our thoughts were turning to Venus as Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 drew to a close, it seems as if the series itself was going off at a different angle entirely, stretching its "King Game" out into a second episode.

Thus, the show's finale begins as we focus upon what looks set to be a fight to the death between Sister and Maria, with everyone so desperate for the former to win (or rather, to ensure that Maria didn't win) that Ric is even willing to give blood to replenish Sister's dwindling levels.  From here, we get an action-packed few minutes (SHAFT really seem like they've been wanting to work on an action series with this show of late) before the inevitable end to this battle where Maria' razor-sharp tongue wins the day.

Luckily for most of the residents, Maria's decree isn't as bad as they had feared, with her request consisting simply of the others helping her to make clothes for her chilly sheep... apart from the men that is, who have to act like dogs and heard said sheep around.  Still, even this is preferable to most of the things you might have expected Maria to dream up, and come the end of the episode everyone happily sends their written down wishes downstream, leading to a cosy little finale between Ric and Nino.  Still no mention of Venus though, mind you.

It's this move away from tackling "the Venus issue", and with it the hope of revealing any more of Nino's back story, that has been the great disappointment of the second half of Arakawa Under the Bridge x2.  While its first season was slow to warm up before finishing incredibly strongly after improving by the week, this second season has almost reversed that trend - it started off as a great mix of hilarious asides and moments of character development, but then slid back into a world of increasingly surreal obscurity and less and less funny jokes.  That isn't to say that it's been a disappointment, as it's still been incredibly funny and also quite sweet at times, but by dodging the biggest question that the series itself posed just weeks early, its finale feels cheap and a little empty, whilst also making some of its prior instalments seem less relevant than we perhaps hoped they were.  On its day, Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 offered some great entertainment and hearty laughs though, so I can't find it within myself to be too harsh on it.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Bakuman - Episode 13

Much as Azuki's parting words at the end of the last episode looked set to draw a line under the romantic aspect of things with Moritaka somewhat, needless to say this side of Bakuman's story isn't forgotten completely as we hit episode thirteen of the series.

Thankfully, this does actually mean some quite significant progress for this aspect of the show, as Morikata finally sends Miho her e-mail address, albeit only under duress from Miyoshi and after finally polishing off their debut work for Jack NEXT.  Of course, Mashiro being who he is, his first e-mail to Azkui ends up being a huge and rambling chunk of text which receives a rapid (and amusing) TL;DR response from Miho, who seems to be the queen of the short yet cute e-mail judging by their electronic conversations from this point forth.

With that hurdle out of the way, we can concentrate once again on Moritaka and Akito's attempts to break into the manga industry, as they submit their piece for NEXT and get some extremely promising feedback from the magazine's initial questionnaire results, only to be denied at the last as the "real deal" results sees their début work pushed down to third place.  While this would be great news for most aspiring mangaka, it's a huge blow to Moritaka in particular, who rips up the name that the duo had created to continue their "Money and Intelligence" story in the assumption they'd win this round against Eiji Nizuma and swears to create a more mainstream work that will grab them more fans than their first offering.  Will this approach work given its prior failure?  Well, that's what the rest of the series is for, I guess.

As has been the case throughout much of this series, Bakuman really shows its stuff when it comes to the closest it has to a cliff-hanger moment, as you suddenly find yourself on the edge of your seat for a brief moment prior to an important announcement (the questionnaire results in this case) amidst the realisation that you actually care what's going on here.  That aside, watching the manga creation process is as oddly compelling as ever, while moving Miho and Moritaka's relationship onto a virtual plain thanks to her moving is probably only going to be benefit both the viewer and the story-telling process in the long run.  In short, and as someone who hasn't read the manga, I'm still finding this show entertaining to watch as it hits its half-way mark.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Star Driver - Episode 13

This week's Star Driver puts Benio Shinada, aka Scarlet Kiss, into the spotlight once again as we hit episode thirteen.  I can barely contain my excitement, and I seemingly can't contain my sarcasm at all.

Anyhow, this soon episode gets into the swing of things by introducing Shinada as a kendo expert and recent winner of some tournament or other - no sooner is this established do we see her turn up to challenge Sugata to a duel; once which he defers only is she succeeds in beating Takuto in a kendo match.  She does this, only for Sugata to tell her to try and beat him one more time, causing her to storm off in a huff.

Easily the most important aspect of this episode is that we finally reach the point where the Glittering Crux test out their ability to regenerate Cybodies, and of course it's Shinada who volunteers to be the guinea pig in this experiment.  This also gives us an excuse to explain the link Benio has with Sugata, while the wider episode also explains her particular position within the Glittering Crux Brigade.

With the regeneration of her Cybody completing successfully, that means it's mecha action time again, and what do you know?  Takuto wins again with ease and barely needing to break a sweat.  So, another copy of the previous eleven episodes then... yawn.

I really have nothing new to say about Star Driver now - it's utterly dull and lifeless, and the plot of this particular episode was plain to see within the first five minutes of the episode, making Takuto's eventual victory even more of a foregone conclusion then it was already.  With no peril, danger or intense action to this show's name, what is the point exactly?  Answers on a postcard please, I promise to forward them on to the creators of the series in the hope it actually gives them a clue as to what they should do with this dead horse they insist upon flogging until the spring.

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt - The Original Soundtrack

As I was discussing on Twitter just last night, I can't remember a more hotly anticipated anime soundtrack than Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt's.  Well, it's now here, so can it live up to all of that anticipation?

In a word - yes.  Sometimes a much-hyped track can prove to be disappointing when it's removed from the context of the show and (more importantly) strung out from a brief snippet within an anime into a full-length track, and I've lost track of the number of times my eyebrow has raised into a "that's it?" position when checking out an eagerly anticipated tune in full for the first time.

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt's OST manages to avoid this with aplomb on two counts.  Firstly, it doesn't overly elongate tunes that work best as short pieces, such as the show's opening theme where thirty seconds is quite enough thanks, or tracks such as Pantscada or Juice that don't overstay their overly sexual and pornographic welcomes.

Where the real magic happens is with the show's most beloved tunes - Fly Away is probably the single most anticipated anime insert song of the decade, and it doesn't disappoint, leveraging everything that made it drop your jaw within its animated setting and blending it with other elements to perfection; it isn't overly repetitive, yet its unfamiliar elements slot in to the autotune'd, electronic aesthetic excellently.  D City Rock on the other hand is a track we're already familiar with, and it does its job slightly less well without that awesome MTV-style music video to back it up but it's still far from a poor track.

As the soundtrack progresses the awesome tracks really just stack up and up, whether it's the slightly chiptunes-inspired Cherryboy Riot, the unhinged Technodildo (yes, there is a track called Technodildo of course) or other fan favourites in Theme for Scanty and Kneesocks and Corset Theme, the former of which seems to differ slightly from it's TV counterpart thanks to a slightly less "harsh" countenance.

To be honest, virtually every track could be name-checked under the "awesome" banner or close to it, as it's effectively impossible to pick any genuine duds out of an album filled with so much energy and confidence; so much so that I'm not even going to try.  There are occasional tracks here that could (with a little tweaking) probably sneak into an early Prodigy or Orbital album, and this is a good thing indeed which affirms not just the quality of the content but also how successfully it integrates into the western "tone" of the anime itself - perhaps the main reason why this album has been so hotly anticipated from the moment the series began broadcasting.

The soundtrack as a whole also demonstrates the ability to change things up whenever required, with tracks such as CHOCOLAT (Stocking's "love theme" in the series) or the simply gorgeous end credit song Fallen Angel adding a smoother, less frenetic side to proceedings and again proving that these tracks are equally proficient in their full-length formats as the TV sized versions we were previously treated to.

This is the point where I should probably just stop gushing and come right out and say it - this is the best anime soundtrack of the year, period.  Sure, it's very different from your average OST and its content certainly won't be for everyone, but anyone who sat up and found themselves drooling ever-so slightly at the music utilised by the series simply have to pick this up and give it a listen - you won't be disappointed in the slightest.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - Episode 12

This may be the penultimate episode of Arakawa Under the Bridge x2, but it still has no time to dally with Nino and company's forthcoming trip to Venus (or wherever the Hell they're actually going), instead going off at a complete tangent in the name of comedy; as expected from this series, arguably.

The tangent in question involves an idea of the Mayor's to play a "king game" between the residents under the bridge, with the winner getting to request a single "royal decree" which the other residents have to ensure comes true.  So begins an epic (and of course absurd) battle between all of the residents to see who can come out on top of the tree.

Despite some seemingly fierce competition, the preliminary round of the contest ends with a surprising winner, with P-ko claiming some impressive scalps by first targeting Jacqueline (taking Billy out of action in the process) before unintentionally putting paid to both Star and Ric's chances of progressing.  This sets her up for a far less savoury place in the ring next time around, up against the likes of Sister and Stella - it's okay though, only one weapon is allowed per competitor.  Come the end of the episode, only two are left standing, which means we have to wait until next week for the climax to this battle royale.  Hey, hang on a minute guys, what about Venus?

In fact, that question does hang over this entire episode somewhat - seriously, what about Venus?  I'm hoping there's at least some effort made to wrap up this all-important plot point next episode given the build-up that it's had, and it seems to odd to ignore it given the way the first series panned out and ended with so much time afforded to its major storyline in its final episodes.

Still, you can never be too sure exactly what Arakawa Under the Bridge intends to throw at us next, in this second series in particular, and putting that to one side there were a few big laughs to be had from this episode as it proved to be entertaining throughout.  Now, about that whole Venus trip thing...

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Angel Beats! - Episode 13.5 / 14

Hmm, more Angel Beats - could this be an addition to this series which makes it less nonsensical?  Of course not, but just like my enjoyment of the series despite it making very little sense, I'm not going to let such trifles get in my way.

Before moving on to the main course, we have to start by mentioning the final Blu-Ray release's alternate ending; Another Epilogue if you'd prefer - it's only a couple of minutes long, but it closes the final to the series by placing Otonashi as Angel's replacement after her disappearance rather than following on after her.  Whether this is a preferable ending to the original broadcast epilogue is for you to decide, but personally I think it works equally well (or badly, depending on your point of view) either way.

Which brings us to that main course, a special OVA episode that slots in to the early episodes of the show, and featuring another hare-brained plan by Yuri.  The plan in question is labelled "Operation High Tension Syndrome", a plot devised to force Angel into checking in with her superior (aka God) by the SSS' members acting as though they're having a whale of a time in everything that they do; behaviour which (in Yuri's mind) is bound to alarm Angel once those ecstatic individuals don't disappear and move on thanks to that sheer happiness.

What this means in reality is an episode of everyone on the show's cast (with the exception of Angel, mostly) overacting and generally acting like idiots as they pretend to be incredibly excited by everything that comes their way, whether it's a history lesson or the chance to play some baseball.  Somehow thanks to the far from enthusiastic Otonashi we end up with some kind of school sports festival before this plan all goes pear-shaped - but who cares about the plan when much of this episode is simply ridiculous to the point of being funny, ably assisted by the episode's "Tension Meter" which somehow made everything just that little bit more amusing.

If you were expecting any additional depth or explanation to the world of Angel Beats from this bonus episode, then it probably goes without saying that you're going to be very disappointed indeed.  Personally, I always appreciated the series more for its sense of humour and the sense of fun that came along with it, so I was actually rather pleased to see it traverse the path that it did even if ALL THE SHOUTING GOT PRETTY OLD AFTER A WHILE.  In a way, this episode sums up everything that was Angel Beats in a nut-shell - it was daft, it didn't always know what to do with its premise, and it was actually at its best and funniest when it was just enjoying itself with no particular end goal in mind.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Shiki - Episode 21

Shiki's penultimate episode begins with people going about their business; laughing, chatting and eating together as people are want to do.  This wouldn't be quite so chilling if these same people weren't casually handling masses of bloodied bodies, some still twitching with life, while they do so.  Thus begins another day in the current life of this village's inhabitants.

As is unavoidable by this point, episode twenty-one of Shiki is a bloodbath, plain and simple - on the one hand you have scared yet confrontational villagers willing to do anything to protect themselves and their way of life, and on the other you have the remaining Risen who are desperately continuing their struggle (their insurgency, if you like) in the face of the force now massed against them.  Throw in what seem to be wild cards in the form of Seishirou and Natsuno (the latter of which we don't see this episode), and you have yourself... well, even more bloodshed, basically.

The violence only accelerates further with the escape of Yasuyo, who is in turn able to let Ozaki know where she's come from, turning the massed hordes of remaining humans to tear the place apart and add another huge pile of bodies to the Risen "dead again" count.  While some voices (well, one) cry out for this to be the end of the slaughter, there's nothing to stop this runaway juggernaut now, and the hunt for Sunako soon reaches its peak as the possibility of a hidden basement at Kanemasa dawns on some of the residents.  This leaves Muroi in charge of Sunako's escape while Tatsumi distracts their would-be assailants, but even this angle of the series doesn't look likely to end prettily as it causes yet more brutality and pain to heap on to the pile.

It's tough to know what to say about this episode of Shiki - it's masterful in what it does, but it's also relentlessly depressing just as it sets out to be.  After all those weeks of despair at the growth of the Risen, as we hoped for a way back for those remaining, now we have that way back to normality for the village only to find that it's one which involves sister killing brother, living humans being torn apart as "traitors" and mass destruction all around.  What makes it all the more depressing is that this is simply the way it has to be - kill or be killed and hunter versus hunted is pretty much nature in a nutshell, and it's only a bit of luck and evolution that has allowed humanity to break that cycle somewhat.  So, what should we think or feel as Shiki comes to a close?  Honestly, I'm not sure, but I'm thoroughly enjoying trying to figure it out thanks to this eminently cunning series.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 12

After a few hours of relaxation and Christmas festivities, it's back to the 'blogging grindstone again... oh, who am I kidding, I love it really.  Anyhow, onward to To Aru Majutsu no Index II and the continuing search for the Croce Di Pietro (which still sounds like some kind of delicacy to me, but I digress).

After doing some pretty serious and unnecessary damaga to Himegami last episode, it doesn't take long this time around to assert that all is more or less well with her once again - while still injured, it seems that Stiyl has done enough to save her life.  This turns our attentions back to the search for Oriana, meaning (yep, you guessed it) more random and occasionally aimless running around from Touma and company.  Oriana's own meanderings bring forth further questions about exactly what she's plotting, and this is unveiled as the episode goes on and we learn of the conditions required to activate the Croce Di Pietro.

Away from all of this there are brief moments in the spotlight for Misaka, Index, Touma's parents and so on, but none of these matter at all, serving merely as distractions from the bigger picture which only really steps up a gear as the episode comes towards its climax.

As the fifth episode of this story arc, you'd have thought there would be more going on by this juncture but we really don't seem to have recovered from the "lots of running around" disease that this set of episodes has demonstrated from the start.  This wouldn't be so bad if it felt like it had some kind of purpose or entertainment value, but really nothing interesting happens in this episode at all, and the only reason to even bother watching it is to be drip fed an extra little morsel or two of information to explain things which really could have been done last week without wasting this instalment on pointless bullshit.

If you can't tell by now, I'm officially bored with this story arc of To Aru Majutsu no Index II by this point - hopefully next week's instalment will be more interesting but even then I think I'm at the point of no return for this story; can we just move on to something more action-packed and exciting please?

Merry Christmas from Hanners' Anime 'Blog!

So here it is, Merry Christmas, everybody's having fun... except I seem to be writing a quick 'blog post instead.  Nonetheless, this brief message is to wish all of you reading this a great Christmas which hopefully fulfils all of your expectations and much more.

So, kick back, relax and have an awesome day of eating, drinking and being merry!

Kuragehime - Episode 10

It may be the morning after a night's sake drinking for Tsukimi, but luckily it appears that she isn't hungover as this penultimate episode of Kuragehime begins - a good job too, as Kuranosuke is up bright and early as he aggressively pursues his dream of creating a jellyfish-themed dress.

Of course, knowing a lot about what clothes to wear is very different to actually making them; not that this stops Kuranosuke as he pushes forth regardless.  Needless to say this ends in what initially appears to be a disastrous attempt to make a skirt, and even a little sewing assistance from the master of this particular art Chieko can do anything to save it... however, this lifeless effort is soon saved by Tsukimi's jellyfish otaku proclivities, as she determinedly sets about making it more jellyfish-like, with some surprising results.  Cue a visit to the Koibuchi residence to finish the job, although Chieko and Jiji both have to be bribed to do so simply so that they can force Tsukimi into going against her will; looks like she's still far from over those revelations about Shuu last week.

Speaking of which, the older Koibuchi brother is still well and truly under the thumb of Inari, who continues to press all of the right buttons to lead him along and causing him all sorts of panic.  That said, it's a little difficult to discern Shuu's actual feelings and emotions here - while his daydreams of a simple life with Tsukimi are interrupted by Shouko at one point, his concern for her well-being throughout this episode seems to go further than simply worrying about his own career.  Of course, this being the next to last episode means that the future of Amamizuka well and truly hangs in the balance come the end of this instalment.

With so little time left for the series, this episode was quite surprisingly leisurely in going about its business - rather than rushing through things it continues to be steady in its pacing and build-up, which allows us plenty of time to focus on some of its major characters and points as we build up to the closest this show has come to a cliff-hanger alongside another revelation about the real reason for Kuranosuke's cross-dressing.  This made for an enjoyable instalment once again (with Hanamori now seemingly entrenched as the show's superb comic relief character), but I can only wonder how Kuragehime hopes to tie up all of its loose ends in a single episode.  We shall just have to wait and see, I suppose.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - Episode 12 (Completed)

When you see Hotori Arashiyama using a hacksaw, you know that things aren't going to end well... mind you, even I wasn't expecting the chain of events which kicks off Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru's final episode to end this badly.

Anyhow, we're getting ahead of ourselves, as this piece of DIY "genius" involves Hotori combining a magnifying glass and a fountain pen - something which seems like the pinnacle of achievement to the star of the show, but like a horrible waste of time and resources to everyone else given that such devices already exist, while the fountain pen in question looks as though it was hardly cheap.  Never mind though Hotori... here, have a whistle to blow on.

With the realisation that she's just needlessly destroyed a perfectly good pen, and as she finds herself invited to see her uncle (the provider of said fountain pen) in the summer, Arashiyama needs to find a replacement and fast.  There is clearly only one way to go about fixing this dilemma - by winning a writing competition in a mystery magazine to win enough money to buy one.  Hotori immediately sets about writing her masterpiece, although I'm sure it goes without saying that her writing skills are approximately analogous to her inventing abilities.

Getting rejected in the initial round of this competition pales in comparison to what happens next however, as Hotori dies in an accident.  No, really, and apologies to the spoiler - she dies and goes to heaven.  Of course in the name of comedy we follow her journey, leaving room for some nice bits of social satire on what the Japanese segment of heaven would be like, and some outright jokes about what passes for entertainment up there.  On a whim the mood turns from light-hearted to depressing however as we get to zoom in on how much everyone from her parents onwards misses Hotori - it's a good job then that there's still a route back to the land of the living for her then.

While that unexpected turn for the final segment of the episode is the one that grabs you by the shoulders and shakes you in a "oops, my eyes seem to be a bit damp" kind of way, I can't really ignore the outright comedy that came before it - the comic timing and utilisation of the random production of a whistle to give to Hotori forced me to pause this episode just so that I could find time to breathe again, and Arashiyama's so-called detective novel was amusing in its own right.  It is, of course, that final segment that dominates this finale though, and what a brave and beautifully executed ending it was, never forgetting that this is a comedy at the end of it all while also playing with the viewer's emotions and managing to surprise us at the same time.  It is perhaps a cunning trick to remind the viewer that hey, without a second season of the anime Hotori Arashiyama will be dead to us too, never to return, but it was a well-played one regardless.

To be honest though, personally I didn't need such drastic measures to feel a measure of loss at the end of this series.  Sure, it was a slow starter and it loses its way when it delves into camp mystery stories, but it's quickly grown into one of (if not the) comedy highlights of the season - Hotori is an absolute comedy gem and one of my favourite characters of 2010 as a result, and when this show was hitting the right notes it leveraged both her and those around her to devastatingly humorous effect.  So please don't die Hotori; my week just won't be the same without your blowfish cheeks and astounding stupidity.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - Episode 13 (Completed)

After meandering seemingly aimlessly (not that this is always a bad thing) for much of its broadcast run, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt finally got serious last week with the opening gambit of its two-part finale.  Well, kind of serious, anyhow.

With Stocking back in Heaven and Panty restored to her virgin state and thus powerless, it seems as though Corset has won the day as he disappears with Brief and the Hellsmonkey key that he packs.  Indeed, in a desperate bid to run from the sex she sees everywhere, the next we know Panty is living a chaste life on a farm somewhere, helping out an old lady and frolicking in the woods.  At least, she enjoys a simple life until a gang kill everyone else, and said old lady's dying words make Panty realise that she still has things that she needs to do.

Cue a final showdown between the show's three titular characters (don't pretend you didn't expect Stocking to reappear) in what initially appears to be a successful gambit against Corset's plan, only for it to go wrong at the last moment with possibly devastating consequences.  Even Garterbelt is powerless when it comes to out-bondaging his rival, and surely with his demise all hope is lost?  Not quite - never underestimate the power of a credit card, and moreover Panty and Stocking's hilarious incompetence at a pivotal moment that somehow wins the day.  So, Daten City is safe, and Panty and Stocking are re-united as the credits roll.  But is that the end?  Possibly not.  Is there really a second season in the works?  Hmmm....

You know, it's hard to know what to say about this show's final instalment as there's simply too much for a single human brain to take in - some of it was a bit pointless, some of it was a slick riot of colour and movement, all of it was exquisitely soundtracked (of course) and the ending was suitably fucked up both for a GAINAX series and the show's subject matter.  The climax of the battle with Corset in particular was hilarious; a highlight in the midst of so much insanity that it was hard to keep it all together in my head without bits of it oozing out of my ears.

Of course, understanding or de-constructing Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt isn't really the name of the game - I suspect even its thoughtful moments in this finale were more a sneaky nod to American cartoons than a genuine attempt to dish out life counselling.  It's this disregard for anything and everything that has, at times, make this series a huge success - episode five's second half will live long in the memory, I'll forever point any Transformers fan in the direction of episode seven, Stocking's love story came close to coaxing an improbable tear from my eye, and then of course there was that music video.

It's these highlights that make Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt so infuriating in a sense, as those moments were scattered in the midst of some decidedly average stuff.  That said, I'm more than glad that GAINAX took the risk of making this series, because it did enough to be remembered and talked about for years to come, proving that animation doesn't have to be visually complex to be breath-taking and that sometimes the simplest of things can bring the most pleasure.  At a time when the anime industry looks less willing than ever to take risks, it should be commended that here we have a show that thumbs its nose at certain elements of otaku culture and instead delivers a lewd but loving homage to American cartoons and culture.  Sure, as experiments go it wasn't an absolute, cut and dried success but hey - isn't that what experiments are for?

Amagami SS - Episode 25 (Completed)

After traversing all of its major arcs, Amagami SS finally comes to a close with a one-shot effort that I shall dub "the Gary Numan" arc for reasons which should become clearly shortly... if you have a clue what I'm on about, at least.

Given its single episode format, this instalment wastes no time in getting straight to the crux of the matter - the girl of the moment Risa Kamizaki confesses to Tachibana, and he accepts despite not really knowing anything about her despite the fact that they share the same class.  Well, he is a guy after all.

However, it soon becomes clear that something is amiss in this relationship, as Kamizaki is only happy to meet her new boyfriend in an unused storeroom, and doesn't want Junichi to tell anybody about their relationship either.  Although Tachibana accepts this blindly without asking any questions, we soon learn the reason why and in rather a bizarre fashion at that, jumping across all of the different timelines we've seen thus far as though they were one, with Risa using a doctored photograph to persuade them that Tachibana already has a girlfriend so that she can keep him for herself.

You probably already know where this is headed and you'd be absolutely right - Risa is also the reason for Tachibana being stood up two years previously, meaning that if Kamizaki didn't exist none of this series would have happened at all!  A mind-bending thought indeed, ladies and gentlemen; to think that this simple could could have deprived us of all this back of knee licking, fish toe nibbling, turning into miso soup goodness.  Anyhow, despite all these misdemeanours and admitting them all to Tachibana (although was her story about Makihara and that date from two years ago true, I wonder?), somehow their fledgling relationship survives and they all live happily ever after.. until Risa gets interested in another guy and starts stealing his underwear, probably.

With the series at an end, I will admit one thing - it's been quite a fun journey.  At times bizarre, at others unintentionally hilarious, there's certain been no shortage of talking points from this series, normally accompanied by the raising of a single eyebrow at whatever insanity has just passed for drama or comedy.  On the other hand, you can't help but feel that Amagami SS never really made the most of any of its characters or their situations, to leave the series feeling rather tame as it went about its business, while ironically leaving its most believable and heart-warming story arc with no conclusion at all.  Still, this series entertained me enough to make me glad I watched it, but to be honest it's probably destined to a place on the "just another dating sim to anime adaptation" pile by this time next year.

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2010 - Pani Poni Dash!

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, I'm writing out this stupid song 'cos I don't have much to say, hey!   Ahem, sorry about that... in the spirit of Christmas and all that other wonderful stuff, here's something a little bit different to while away your Christmas Eve - my entry for this year's anime Secret Santa project, organised by those lovely Reverse Thieves.  In case you're not familiar with the idea, here it is - everyone involved throws their name into the ring complete with a link to their MAL profile (or similar), each person then gets that information randomly assigned to another individual, whose job it is to pick out three anime series or movies they feel that person may enjoy.  We all then get to choose one of those shows (or more if we wish) to watch, cogitate and then discuss.... which is why this post exists.  It's kind of like a Secret Santa but for watching anime, see?

Anyhow, my three assigned shows were an intriguingly mixed bag.  On the one hand I was dealt Bamboo Blade (which I ignored as I was already half-way through watching it via the UK DVD releases for UK Anime), and on the other I had Kobato (the plus side of which is Kana Hanazawa, the down-side of which is CLAMP).  This left me with proof that whoever chose my Secret Santa shows knows me scarily well, for my third pick was a SHAFT produced, Akiyuki Shinbo directed comedy series - Pani Poni Dash!  Yep, that pretty much fits the bill for "stuff I would watch without a second thought" pretty well.

So, here we are, talking about this oddball 2005 comedy effort from SHAFT based on an on-going manga.  Indeed, the first thing of note as a fan of recent SHAFT efforts is just how far they've come since 2005 in terms of animation quality - it may only be five years old, but this series is already showing its age quite badly if you ask me, while the show's animation budget looks decidedly cheap and cheerful even compared to SHAFT's usually sparse but snappy efforts.

That said, there are obvious pre-cursors here to what we've later seen from the likes of Hidamari Sketch and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - the use of generic  characters to fill up classrooms here is more than a little reminiscent of the former, while the background gags sprawled on blackboards and the like was picked up to an even greater degree in the latter.  Even in terms of Pani Poni Dash's voice acting cast we find precursors to Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei in particular - Ai Nonaka's turn as Ichigo is an almost eerie forebear to her part as Kafuka Fuura in that later show.

As far as the actual content of the series itself goes, Pani Poni Dash continues that tradition of anime comedy that loves to reference other works, be they anime, manga, video games or movies - right from the off, we're greeted with a spoof of Planet of the Apes, and the references only come thicker and faster from then on.  The trouble here is that the series frequently tries way too hard to shoehorn these in almost as a substitute for well-crafted humour, and that insistence on piling on these sight gags and parodies ended up turning me off for large chunks of some episodes.

Married to that is the rolling out of tropes and catchphrases for the various characters - yes, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei does this too but it does so with style, a nod and a wink to the viewer if you like, whereas Pani Poni Dash frequently leverages those phrases and personality traits out of what seems to be laziness.  Throw in frequent, hefty and incongruous moments of fan service, and you have a rather irritating blend.  When even the premise of the series (an eleven year-old genius gets a job as a teacher, while also being monitored by aliens orbiting the planet) seems arbitrary and pointless, you begin to wonder whether the series has anything going for it at all.

Luckily, it isn't all bad - some of the show's running gags remain funny throughout, such as the weird cat who lives in vending machines and dishes out cans of drink warmed to body temperature, or even more so unlucky rabbit Mesousa's complete inability to hold anything due to a lack of fingers and thumbs.  SHAFT's visual panache does also shine through on occasion, merrily toying with the fourth wall by showing sets and production staff milling around at frequent intervals to break things up a little.  Away from these regular highlights, the comedy is far more hit and miss, and more often than not (in my admittedly subjective opinion) it misses way more often than it hits the mark squarely.  Perhaps I just didn't "get" a high enough percentage of the references made to enjoy it fully, but c'est la vie.

To sum up then, watching Pani Poni Dash was an experience I'd class as "interesting" rather than "enjoyable" - I don't regret sitting through all twenty-seven episodes (OVA included) and I'd be lying if I didn't say that it got a number of laughs out of me along the way, but it tickled my funny bone less than any other SHAFT produced comedy I can remember (with the possible exception of Natsu no Arashi's second season - this series wasn't that bad) and I get the feeling that it's only going to age poorly more and more as time goes by.  Still, as a view on something a little older from one of the studios I tend to gravitate towards for my anime viewing each season, it was an enlightening and educational experience.

So, with that I shall bid you all adieu and wish you a very merry Christmas.... in fact, I'd go as far as to say I hope you all enjoy an Ichijou Feast tomorrow and have an omega merry Christmas of the year.  Mahohohoooooo~.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Kurenai OVA - Episode 2 (Completed)

Watching the first episode of this Kurenai OVA back in July was a bit of a tough one in many ways, with a hugely different art style from the anime I fondly remember while the story's manga form has clearly moved on a long, long way from where the anime left off.  Nonetheless, I kind of enjoyed the experience, so here I am again for the second of these two OVA episodes.

As per the first half of the OVA, this half hour instalment is split into three.  The first of this trio is the most vaguely serious of the bunch, with monosyllabic and shy killer Kirihiko deciding to pay Shinkurou a visit at school, only to bump into Murasaki who has ditched her own school in an attempt to do exactly the same thing.  Cuo a montage sequence of this unlikely duo goofing around at school, before a slightly ridiculous moment involving blowing out a school wall with a knife from Kirihiko in the name of saving a falling Murakami.  Aww, isn't friendship grand?

The rest of the OVA is played purely for laughs, first via a search for the cause of a leak sending Shinkurou's "fan club" rifling around under his sink and finding what seems to be a "treasure trove" of "interesting material", leading the group to try and test him out to see if the magazines in question really do belong to him.  A handful of misunderstandings later, everyone is seemingly in a worse position than they started off in mentally, not least Shinkurou himself.  Finally, the last segment of this episode sees Murakami taking on a job as a counsellor of sorts after getting the idea from TV, interviewing all of her friends about what is troubling them before thinking up a rather convenient solution which again drops Shinkurou into all sorts of problems.

So, almost all of this episode (and most of the OVA as a whole) turned out to be pretty light and fluffy, and it certainly had none of the intriguing elements of the initial TV anime, yet at the same time there's a certain charm to Kurenai and its cast of characters that you can't help but be drawn in by - for all its simplistic slice of life-esque fair, it can be pretty fun and the character interactions work surprisingly well however predictable they may sometimes be.  It's almost enough for me to wish for another full series of the anime rather than this simple spin-off of a manga which has clearly moved and changed a lot in the past couple of years.

The World God Only Knows - Episode 12

After finishing its last proper story arc last week, we knew we'd be getting some filler to close off this first season of The World God Only Knows - then again, judging by at least one of the early filler instalments for this series that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

While the end of his quest to free Shiori from her Loose Soul should give Keima some down time, it only serves to show him just how much gaming he's missed in the interim while he's been chasing around after real-life girls - in short, the guy has a backlog, and as an anime 'blogger I know exactly the kind of pain a hefty backlog can bring to a guy's spirit and level of satisfaction.

With Keima determined to catch up on his gaming, we finally get a glimpse into his bedroom, and what an impressive sight it is too - with racks and racks of consoles, and a huge cache of Xbox 360s (because lets face it, with that kind of failure rate you need one).  Indeed, Keima has pretty much every gaming system known to man, and even more impressively his abilities allow him to play up to six games at one time without skipping a beat.

From here this episode is really little more than a loving homage to old games and (more importantly) games systems, from the current generation of consoles right back to the days of the NES (Power Glove and all) and even further into the past towards the era of having to load games on cassette - an era that I not only remember but actively participated in, which makes me feel really old.  Thanks a bunch, Manglobe.  So, while this episode was pretty dull overall, I did get a kick out of the console and game references as well as the playful way that the episode was animated (including an awesome scene which nailed its film effect brilliantly), so at least that gave me something to coo over in the midst of... well, not very much actually happening here.

In a way, I suppose that almost sums up The World God Only Knows thus far to a tee - it's technically quite proficient and does everything that it sets out to, but it turns out not to be very interesting beyond that.  Given the hype and the wonderful things I'd heard about the source material, I can't really hide my shock at just how run of the mill and ordinary this series is; it doesn't subvert the dating sim-cum-anime genre at all really, and to all intents and purposes it's little different to, say, Amagami SS but with some back story tacked on to explain it all.  Given the aforementioned hype I'll just comes out and say it - this show has been the season's biggest disappointment for me by far.  It certainly isn't bad, but it hasn't done anything memorable either, and that is the Divine One's biggest sin.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Bakuman - Episode 12

We're practically at the half-way mark for Bakuman's first season (with a second seemingly already confirmed), and it certainly seems that Moritaka and Akito are going up in the world as they find themselves treated to a meal out by their editor Hattori before being similarly treated to a taxi ride home after a long meeting to discuss the nitty-gritty of their NEXT submission.

With the boy's work on that effort rumbling away in the background throughout, our thoughts for this episode again turn back to romance, and once again we're less than surprised to see problems brewing in the already dysfunctional relationship between Miho and Moritaka.  For starters, the latter still hasn't given the former his e-mai address, but there's more to it than that - with graduation coming up fast the days of sitting next to one another are about to come to an end, but even worse Miho is about to move away, something which she hasn't told Moritaka about yet.  In fact, it seems as though she doesn't even plan to.

Thus, the rest of this episode is spent with Miyoshi in particular running around and sticking her nose in to try and do something, anything to bring Miho and Moritaka closer together before they graduate, only to find her plans of dates and romance closed down by one party or another, largely because the parties in question are ridiculously idealistic morons.  Good grief you two, you both like one another so get a room already and let's stop all this "only when we've achieved our dreams" bollocks, seriously...

In essence, that previous sentence again exposes the biggest problem with Bakuman once it shifts away from its nifty manga creation angle into the mysterious world of the human heart.  While Miyoshi (and her relationship with Akito) has come on leaps and bounds in the last few episodes with or without the help of some "interesting" shorts, Miho and Moritaka remain an obstinate pair of useless fools whose folly began as a kind of cute and romantic ideal, but has increasingly become as irritating as its concept is stupid as the series has progressed.  We're now at the point where their non-interactions has me rolling my eyes, and in short it simply doesn't work for me, with Miyoshi's far more grounded approach offering the only salvation from the stupidity of the other main pairing.  Let's get back to the manga stuff please, before I cringe myself into an early grave...

Monday, 20 December 2010

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - Episode 12 (Completed)

So, here we are, at the end of what feels like the first of 752 planned endings to Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai... and what's this, a scene of normal, everyday family interaction, with Kirino at the head of it all?  Something is clearly amiss with this picture...

Needless to say, Kirino's friendly demeanour towards Kyousuke has him rather worried, to the point that he even asks Ayase about it when he bumps into her, but even that conversation leaves him none the wiser as to what's going on.  What should perhaps have been obvious from the very start is that Kirino is buttering up her brother for a favour - to attend the midnight launch of a new eroge and buy it for her.  Good brother that he is, Kyousuke duly agrees to this favour, lining up for the midnight launch and bumping into a surprising familiar face in the process - it seems that he isn't the only one with his particular set of problems.

Upon returning with this new game, Kirino forces him to stay up with her half the night playing it, which brings us to the big climax of this particular ending - Kirino has one last, big secret that she's kept from Kyousuke, and it's revelation leads to a violent row and thus a strange cementing of the relationship between big brother and little sister that has grown throughout the series.  So, all's well that ends well, and they all live happily every after... or something.

As endings go, I'll be the first to say that said revelation was a bit contrived and borderline nonsensical in places (would an entire family really not think to let Kyousuke into the loop on such a major decision, even if he is viewed as a black sheep?) but its sentiments were in the right place without veering into uncomfortable territory, which was a relief if nothing else.  While we now have to sit and wait to see what other "alternate" endings the series brings (hopefully with much more Kuroneko), this was a decent finale to what has been a thoroughly entertaining series - yes, it's had a couple of major missteps along the way and it's female lead is, let's face it, a bitch, but the series as a whole has been a success despite those issues.  It's been laugh out loud funny on numerous occasions with some sharp comedy and observations on otaku culture that rival Genshiken at their peak, and it was mostly delivered in a spirit of fun and with a dose of polish to make it an eminently watchable series.  I'm sure I wasn't the only one who picked up Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai in the expectation that it would give me something to mock and poke fun at for a few months, but it turns out that the only think I can really mock come the end of it all is my own unfounded prejudice for being stupid enough to judge a book by its cover.  I should have known better, and that lesson is duly learned - for now, anyway.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Star Driver - Episode 12

As if she didn't seem to be hogging too much of this series already, Kanako Watanabe finds herself at the centre of episode twelve of Star Driver.  Ooh, I wonder what will happen this episode?  Will it be a mixture of school-based comedy, drama and/or romance followed by some mecha action, perchance?

Well, whaddya know, this episode begins with a slice of comedy powered by Kanako's predeliction for kissing people through the glass of the classroom window - it also amuses me slightly how the rest of the class are bored of her repetitive, attention-seeking actions, which sounds rather a lot like a certain anime.  Anyway, Mrs. Watanabe's interest in Takuto still doesn't seem to have diminished, and she ends up inviting him on a rather low-key date to pass some time.

Away from such trivialities, the ability to repair Cybodies appears to be on the brink of completion for the Glittering Crux Brigade, although testing this technology could well prove to be risky given that the process requires the libido of its pilot to succeed, and may suck them dry if it fails.  Wait, I probably should have worded that better...

Anyhow, come the end of it all, Kanako tries to persuade Takuto to stop fighting her group, before taking him on head-to-head in this week's action sequence, complete with a boxing theme and yet another ability for Tauburn that Takato pulls out of nowhere just as things threatened to get interesting for a split second.

While the comedy for this episode of Star Driver was far sharper than anything we've seen from the show of late, that's really all it has going for it as per usual - it got a few laughs, but was otherwise as dull and lifeless as ever.  There are brief hints of movement courtesy of Kanako meeting and conversing with Mizuno, but considering we're effectively at the half-way point of this series it would be nice to see something other than the odd glacial snippet of plot progression.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

To start, a disclaimer... or perhaps rather, a chance to show off - the recent Blu-Ray release isn't the first time I got to see The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as I also got to enjoy the film at its European premiere in Edinburgh back in mid-October - and what a fantastic occasion it was too.  Still, seeing the film on the big screen simply fired my desire to see its Blu-Ray release even more, and so here I am again having been able to watch it through a second time.

After an opening to the movie that sees everything looking as normal (or rather, abnormal) as ever for our protagonist Kyon in the face of her arranging an SOS Brigade Christmas party, all is as it should be in the build up to the festive season - a relatively normality that soon feels like nothing more than a pleasant dream for Kyon, as the very next day he wakes up to a decidedly different world.  While the previously healthy Taniguchi's now raging cold doesn't ring alarm bells and Haruhi's absence from school is surprising but not hugely noteworthy, the fact that all is not well soon steps up right in front of Kyon's face in the form of a blast from the past that he really didn't want to see.  With nobody having even heard of Suzumiya, Asahina not even knowing who he is and Koizumi's classroom having vanished entirely, it seems as though Nagato is Kyon's only hope... only to find that although she recognises him, she's a far cry from the cold, expressionless alien entity he's used to.

What has happened to Kyon's world and his bizarre normal life?  It seems as though it's lost forever, until a clue drops into his lap, setting him off on a journey to assemble the components required to return the world to its former state; a journey which takes in time travel and an ever-more elaborate set of circumstances which overlay some of his previous adventures, while simultaneously adding a further layer which is wide open for future exploration.

Anybody who knows me well will probably be aware that I'm a huge fan of the Haruhi franchise - its first season had me captured in rapt fascination from the outset, its second season had some excellent material within it, Endless Eight never existed at all (it was all just a bad dream, right?) and I own all of the translated light novels thus far.  Given that, it's unsurprising to hear me gush about this movie in absolute terms - it's a glorious effort that restores everything great about this franchise that was lacking from its second televised season, and then some.

Perhaps the most impressive feat for the film is that it takes its running time of dangerously close to three hours, and fills it in such a way that it never seems to drag, even on a second viewing.  The movie is extremely careful and methodical in the way that it sets up and unveils its premise, and does likewise in bringing it to its resolution, but never to the point of being ponderous - every time it threatens to go flat in story-telling terms, along comes the next clue or key event to shift things on once again. 

The movie is also a triumph in terms of characterisation, thanks to the original novel, in fairness.  Dumping Kyon outside of his normal comfort zone allows us to view him from a very different angle from the acerbic, quick witted guy we're used to, but without losing his charm at all.  The use of Asahina's adult version at a key point also removes the slightly irritating whiny nature of her youthful version, and of course there's Nagato, who grows more markedly than any other character as events swirl around both her "real" self and the normal, bookish girl who replaces her.

If you're not a fan of the franchise then there's really nothing new here for you that will turn things around I would wager, but for the existing fan this is quite easily the pinnacle of its story-telling (in anime form at least) thus far - its expertly driven at a character level, while its story also weaves in plenty of smart complexities but never to the point of giving you a headache or making you lose interest - indeed, a second viewing of the film allows you to appreciate some of the subtler hints, developments and moments that you can't spot the first time around.  I'd hesitate to call The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya perfect, but damn is it a close call.  Its running time makes it a long haul, but this film is worth every minute of that time.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - Episode 11

If you thought we'd seen the last of the Amazoness after losing her battle to gain Ric's attention with Nino, think again - she's well and truly back for episode eleven, where her behaviour dominates proceedings.

Her return begins as festival time begins for the under-bridge residents - one has to wonder how they can afford entire festival layouts for a handful of people, but I suppose it's best not to think about such things.  With the girls all dressed up and wearing yukata there's an understandable excitement coming from Ric and Star in particular, although this soon turns to dread and foreboding from the former once the aforementioned Amazoness shows up.  Of course, our less than girly girl does her best to grabs Ric's attention, before things take an interesting turn as Star's words of encouragement and praise (not to mention a winning ice lolly stick) turn her eye somewhat.

The rest of the episode from this point forth sees Amazoness torn between her old love and her new flame as her words and actions slip out of sync - next thing we know she's presenting Ric with a Star themed boxed lunch and chainmail before destroying both in a fit of confusion.  Of course, both Ric and Star are clueless to what this is all about, leaving it to Nino's female intuition... err, Venusian vibes rather... to figure out just what is going on and counil Amazoness appropriately.  Next thing we know her "Tengu" have even set up a beach to lure the apple of Amazoness' eye into, which leads to probably the highlight of this episode as a quartet of the show's male chararacters "behave like the girls" for a while on an empty beach.  Still, come the end of it all Star finally gets to know Amazoness' feelings, and accepts them too... kind of.

Compared to a number of episodes of this series, I have to admit that this instalment of Arakawa Under the Bridge didn't seem quite so sharp in terms of its comedy - luckily it warmed up as the episode progressed, and there were some laugh out loud moments, but it wasn't as consistent for me as we've come to expect from the series.  Still, a few good laughs are enough to make this a passable effort (even if it's slipped behind SHAFT's other comedy for the season in terms of humour of late), which also did a little to set us up for the "trip to Venus" which much surely be the intriguing culmination of the series.

Shiki - Episode 20

After turning thing around in favour of the remaining, living humans, Shiki's previous episode saw those who have survived thus far going on the hunt for the Risen in the hope of eradicating them all.

With the Kanemasa house now in Doctor Ozaki and company's hands, it's time to go about the brutal business of putting those Risen still within the building to the proverbial sword - something which most of those involved seem to feel uncomfortable with initially as you might expect, although such doubts and discomfort seem to dissolve rather quickly once the first stake is hammered through a Shiki heart.  What follows is a brutal cull of any Risen still within the building, with Ozaki seemingly needing to offer up a reminder not to engage in any further brutality once the "job" has been done on a particular individual.

That said, all the death and destruction isn't limited to the living, as Ozaki and his comrades return to the former's clinic to find Ozaki's mother violently murdered as a warning to those engaged in the current set of actions.  With daylight already upon the village, finding the culprit takes no time at all, meaning that justice is served by father upon son swiftly and chillingly.

Elsewhere, Ritsuko's fight with her new-found Risen nature continues, much to the growing distress of Tohru, while Tatsumi continues to look for a route out of trouble for Sunako and Muroi despite the worsening situation.  Throw in an appearance from Natsuno and Seishirou indulding in a little "sport" and you have plenty to occupy us this episode, rather the way through to an ending which suggests that the cycle of violence is only going to deepen and worsen beyond even the current hunt of the Risen.

Above all else, this twentieth episode of Shiki has to be applauded for not shirking from its subject matter at this point - we aren't denied any of the gore and horror of the task that Ozaki and friends decide (and arguably must) carry out, and these shocking scenes serve the remainder of the episode well as we begin to see signs that the end of the Risen isn't where the bloodshed will end, thanks to a growing thirst for revenge and to secure complete safety for the remaining villagers from any potential danger - a concept that you could debate for some time on a socio-political level alone I would imagine, even removed from the overall concept of this series.  That aside, there are still lots of fascinating unresolved plot threads which are shifted forward a step this episode as we roll on towards the end of the series, and you certainly get the feeling that there will be some twists, turns and uncomfortable moments as we hit those last two instalments.