Sunday, 31 January 2010

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 4

After revealing the existence of vampires in somewhat spectacular fashion in this series opening episode, it probably goes without saying that the world's reporters all want to snag an interview with the supposed queen of the vampires Mina Tepes herself. Thus, as this fourth episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund commences, so a press conference is being arranged for the world press to have their chance to put questions to Mina.

As the preparations for this conference commence under strict security, we gain a glimpse at some of the politics which affect the vampire world. This comes courtesy of the appearance of Juneau Dermailles, a Marquis who is the head of a family who have served the vampires for generations; a position which sees him demanding that his own men are put in charge of security and protecting Mina, rather than the "dirty" werewolves that he clearly has little time for.

Perhaps surprisingly, Mina accepts this request, but at the episode progresses this initially appears to be an ill-judged choice, as one of Juneau's men (a vampire himself) goes missing, taking a bomb held by the vampires with him. With the press conference about to begin, it's pretty obvious why the bomb in question would be stolen and to what end, but can anything be done about it? This dangerous situation gives Akira a chance to step up to the plate, not only proving his own worth but those of the werewolves in general as he almost literally defuses the situation.

Once again, I find myself struggling to really immerse myself in Dance in the Vampire Bund as much as I might have liked by this juncture in the series - While it does still hold some interest on account of the myriad mysteries it is keeping under its hat without explanation (for example, why did the vampires have a bomb in the first place? What is the bigger picture of Mina Tepes' plan for a Vampire Bund? Have the vampires built an underground city just because they love Neon Genesis Evangelion?), that somehow doesn't make the story-lines that we are presented with any more compelling. In this particular instalment, it very quickly became obvious that everything that transpired in this episode was a case of "just as planned" on Mina's part, which deadened any sense of drama or excitement and made the whole thing predictable (although I suppose some people will have enjoyed seeing a CNN reporter receive a stake through the heart). It's hard to put an exact finger on it, but there's just something about this series thus far which simply isn't satisfying to watch - It has plenty of interesting elements in place, but at the moment they aren't meshing together to create something suitably interesting, leaving us instead with vampires operating merely as opportunistic capitalists which, to be honest, is rather unexciting. There's certainly still hope for this series considering how much of the story is clearly hidden away from the viewer right now, but it needs to start moving a little faster to grab my attention sooner rather than later.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 17

A new story arc for To Aru Kagaku no Railgun brings with it a focus upon another different character within its world, and this time the subject of its attentions is Antiskill's Tsuzuri Tessou.

All things considered, I think it's fair to say that Tessou is having a rather bad day... in fact, more than just a bad day, the hard slog of life in general is rather getting her down. Even though its summer break for all of Academy City's students, Tsuzuri is still working hard in her day job as a teacher, grading papers and the like, before racing off to complete her Antiskill duties where she's expected to help out with tasks normally reserved for Judgement due to the pressures upon them during the summer. All of this means that she has no time to cut loose and do anything that she enjoys - It's hardly surprising that she's feeling depressed in all honesty.

Despite trying her hardest, it seems that nothing will lift the dark cloud over Tessou's head, despite advise from her work colleagues and friends, until eventually a chance meeting with a young student who happens to share a passion for a game she used to love playing herself inadvertently reinvigorates her. And they all lived happily ever after. Or something.

After the rather disappointing previous arc of this series, I was hoping for something with a little more meat on it this time around, but if anything this seventeenth episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun felt even weaker than the last - Tessou herself is a pretty "flat" character in terms of personality, of the kind we've seen many a time before, and her story was a rather mundane one in all honesty that wasn't helped by the sweet but somewhat predictable twist to its ending. It feels a little harsh to label this episode as pointless, but if I'm honest that's almost exactly what it was - There was no heart or real story-telling emotion to it, and those points combined to leave me feeling as apathetic to everything as Tessou herself come the end of this instalment.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 4

Episode four of Ookami Kakushi begins with what is a pretty typical scene of discussion between a dating couple (well, typical for anime anyway) - But, this series being what it is, there's more to this simple scene than meets the eye, as befitting an episode subtitled "foreboding".

To be honest, foreboding pretty much sums up Ookami Kakushi in its entirety thus far, and that doesn't change throughout this episode, starting out with Kana doing some research into local urban legends such as the supposed "red fireflies" through to (perhaps more importantly) Issei's continuing spree of bizarre behaviour, be it having another crack at seducing Hiro, his apparent concern at the lack of whatever medication he's taking at the local hospital, or his reaction when a girl he knows confesses that she likes him. Indeed, this latter point seems to be of particular importance when we consider what we saw at the very start (and later the end) of this episode, Nemuru's warnings to Isuzu earlier in the series, and now Issei's reaction to that just-mentioned confession.

Once again for this series, even normally every-day happenings are laced with a feeling of threat and fear, with Hiro and Mana's meeting with violinist Kaori and her subsequent meeting with a young man doing some research both hinted at none too subtly at having more to them than meets the idea. Come the end of the episode however, Hiro finally gets more directly involved in the bizarre goings-on around town at night, witnessing first hand whatever insanity is gripping the place in a rather grisly fashion.

It might have taken a while, but at least it finally seems as though Ookami Kakushi is getting into the swing of things, opening up its plot and story beyond simply suggesting that all is not well beneath the sweet exterior of all and sundry within the series. On the other hand, all of the plot exposition thus far seems pretty run of the mill for this kind of story-telling genre, but I suppose it remains to be seen how effectively it can continue to build up its story over the coming episodes. For now, let's just be grateful that things are finally moving forward and hopefully bringing some much-needed pace to the story.

Durarara!! - Episode 4

Durarara!! continues with its theme of having a different character act as narrator for each episode, and for this fourth instalment that particular task is left to underground doctor Shinra Kishitani. As if that isn't an interesting enough claim to fame, he also just happens to be living with the headless motorcycle rider who everyone around Ikebukuro seems to be so fascinated by.

Thus, this particular episode is largely dedicated to the story of said rider, as we learn that her name is Selty Sturluson and that the reason she's in Japan is to search for her missing head. Selty is a Dullahan, a being of Irish legend and a headless horsewoman who traverses the land looking for people close to death, backed up by an equally headless horse. However, from spending her days travelling around with her detached head carried under her arm, it appears that twenty years ago Selty managed to quite literally lose her head, leaving her to regain consciousness to find herself shorn of her memories. Is the missing head the secret to regaining these memories? Who knows, but nonetheless Selty makes for Japan to hunt for her noggin, "upgrading" her horse to a motorcycle.

This episode also reveals just how Shinra came to know and end up living with Selty, which is actually a bit of a twist in the tale in its own right, while this particular instalment also begins to introduce subtle bonds between several previously disparate characters as it goes along its way.

While I was actually a little surprised to see so much revealed about the show's previously mysterious central character so early on in the series, this episode certainly made for a nice change in pace from the bustling and madcap city shenanigans of the series so far, instead taking a much more personal turn to explore Selty's world in a simple yet genuinely interesting way. Whether knowing so much more about her at this early stage detracts from or increases the intriguing aspects of the series is difficult to judge at this juncture, but either way I'm left wanting to find out more about the search for her missing head and who (or what, I suppose) might have it... which makes this another successful episode of Durarara!! in my book.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 16

If you were hoping for more continuation of the joys of Kimi ni Todoke this week, then the bad news is that you're going to have to make do with a simple recap episode this time around, as this sixteenth instalment recounts Sawako's story. Through the medium of drunken midgets, naturally.


Considering how much praise I've heaped on this series over the past three months, I'm not going to do so any further on this particular occasion, but needless to say this recap offers at least some reminder of the kind of tear-jerking and heart-warming moments that it's provided up to this point.

The trouble with episodes such as this however is that trying to condense around five hours of material into closer to twenty minutes is almost always an exercise in futility, and thus we really do only get to see the bare bones of the story here, which takes away a lot of the emotion and power of the main characters and their various trials and tribulations quite frankly. This makes for some pretty weak sauce even by recap episode standards - Put simply, you'd be far better off sucking it up and taking the time to watch the entire series so far, as this instalment only skims the surface of what Kimi ni Todoke is all about. Trust me, it'll be five hours well spent.

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 4

It's probably no surprise to say that mere seconds into this fourth episode of Ladies versus Butlers!, Hino has managed to get him into a tight spot which, naturally, involves a female in a state of undress.

However, even by his standards, Hino is really in a pickle this time, for the female in question is none other than the high-class lady known as Ayse Khadim (don't worry, I promise not to make any "Ayse Ayse Baby" jokes. Apart from that one, cut me some slack here) - A girl from a family whose rules seemingly state that any man who seems a girl's flesh must marry her without fail. This in itself might be something you could talk yourself out of if said lady wasn't accompanied by a manic, split personality, sword-wielding maniac of a woman.

With that particular plot device teed up, it is of course time for the usual dose of fan service that is this show's primary goal, and indeed this series seems to be ramping up the nudity by the week, with the otherwise practically mute Ayse spending much of the episode absolutely naked. Throw in some changing room shots, a pair of lesbians and Ayse's seduction techniques, and you have pretty much everything we've come to expect from this series by now.

To be fair, once again there are a couple of smile-worthy slapstick visual gags, but that's pretty much all there is to be found within an instalment otherwise entirely designed to titillate and subscribe to some male fantasy or another. I have to continue to admit that this series is at least better than Kanokon somehow (which I dropped faster than an Apple iPad pre-order), but then again that's not exactly saying much - Slightly better than terrible isn't the kind of tagline this show is looking for, I'm sure.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Katanagatari - Episode 1

Considering the massive critical and popular success of the anime adaptation of Bakemonogatari, it's not surprising to see a rush to translate more of NisiOisiN's works into an animated form, and thus 2010 is set to bring us monthly instalments of Katanagatari.

At its heart, Katanagatari is your typical samurai action epic... Except its protagonist not only doesn't use a sword, he wouldn't even have a clue how to. The boy in question is one Shichika Yasuri, the son of a rebellion leader who was exiled to a deserted island alongside the rest of his family for his part in that rebellion. Thus, Shichika leads a simple life on this island along with his sister, while he continues to practice the swordless fighting art known as Kyotouryuu, following in his father's footsteps as the head of the family.

It's this ability which leads Togame to the island - As a strategist for the Shogunate she's been tasked with organising the recovery of twelve priceless, and extremely dangerous, swords created by a man named Kiki Shikizaki which the Shogun worries could be used to power a revolt, and she's chosen Shichika's father to do it - However, as he's passed away some time before, Shichika himself will have to do.

In this opening instalment, we see the first of these twelve swords literally turn up on Togame and Shichika's doorstep, as our rather dim protagonist finds himself propositioned to help with the mission which has been outlined to him in the face of a rather dangerous ninja and the suggestion that Togame herself is not all that she initially seems.

The first thing that stands out about this opening episode of Katanagatari is its rather unique aesthetic - For starters it's a riot of colour, which is a far cry from the subdued pallets of many a samurai anime series. Then there's the unique character designs, which take a little getting used to and are occasionally not as expressive as I might have liked, but they soon grow on you if you'll give them ample opportunity to do so.

Beyond that however, NisiOisiN's writings which are the basis for this series will stand out for anyone who has watched Bakemonogatari - In short, it's hugely dialogue heavy, which can be both a blessing and a curse for this particular episode. Make no mistake, there are some great lines and exchanges here, and all of the dialogue is present with good reason so I have no complaints about its quality, but at times the action takes a back seat perhaps a little too heavily for what is after all a series about swordsmen and fighters. On top of that, the dialogue as presented here occasionally feels a little rushed, with the voice actors racing through their lines like a supermarket cashier throwing your goods down the conveyor belt so that she can go on her lunch break. It never entirely ruins the flow of the episode, but it does jar a little on occasion.

Overall though, you can't help but be impressed by this opening episode of Katanagatari as a whole - The visuals and character designs are certainly eye catching, the story and dialogue are as razor sharp as you'd hope for, and the promise and potential to do far more with these elements in future episodes is plain to see. If this once a month series of episodes can settle down and find a good pace to run with its story, then it could turn out to be a huge success in its own right - The tragic part is, we now have to wait another month just to see what it can turn out next.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 41

Although the blizzard which left Edward Elric and Major Miles stranded has passed come the beginning of this forty-first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, the real storm is only just beginning as some of the pieces of this ever-more dangerous chess board find themselves free to move again.

While Kimblee sets out to search for the missing Scar and his "hostage", so Miles makes the decision that now is the time to act with force, planning to kill Kimblee and his men while he has the chance. Unsurprisingly, Ed disagrees with this approach, preferring to avoid such unsavoury tactics wherever possible, and indeed it's Ed's intervention that arguably plays a part in allowing Kimblee to escape the attentions of Miles' snipers.

The resulting confusion leaves Ed himself to deal with another couple of Central's chimeras, which he eventually manages to do despite being put at an immediate disadvantage to them, although even this victory appears to be short-lived as it puts him face to face with Kimblee himself. - Hardly the simplest of opponents considering that he has a Philosopher's Stone at his disposal.

Thus, this episode soon becomes something of a perilous crossroads for both of the Elric brothers, as Edward risks his life against Kimblee while Alphonse finds himself struggling with the whims of his soul. Is this the end of the road for our faithful duo? With the news that Fort Briggs is no longer a safe haven for Scar, Winry et al also coming into play, there's certainly little in the way of good news come the end of this particular instalment.

Even after such a dark episode, I can't help but find myself continuing to enjoy Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood more and more - Just as this series is happy to throw light-hearted moments around as and when it pleases, so it isn't at all afraid to go down the blood and guts route when it needs to, fully illustrating the pain, suffering and bravery on show this time around in an uneasy yet compelling manner. Add in some further quiet but important revelations about the Elric brothers' father, and you have yourself another top-notch episode - But have we come to expect anything less from excellence from this series by now?

Monday, 25 January 2010

Sora no Woto - Episode 4

If the last instalment of Sora no Woto could be considered "the Rio episode", then this particular episode puts much of its focus on the previously all but monosyllabic Noel.

This particular instalment sees Noel and Kanata sent out into town to pick up various provisions - A trip which of course fills Kanata with her own unique brand of wide-eyed wonder as she gets to see the town properly for the first time. Perhaps even more impressively, Noel proves to be a font of information about... well, pretty much anything really, packing quite a smart brain beneath that normally quiet exterior. You can't help but get the feeling that there's more than just intellect behind her quiet nature however, as she seems conflicted about her role in maintaining and repairing the machine she loves on the one hand but seems scared by the power to destroy it holds on the other, while there seems to be a deeper sadness beyond even that hinted at in her behaviour.

All that aside, the girls eventually visit a glass factory which is working to provide Noel with the required lens for their tank's sniper rifle scope, a task which is proving exceedingly difficult. As the master glass-blower works on his latest effort, he also gives Kanata some valuable advice about her trumpet playing efforts, which finally allows her to see why she's struggled so much thus far in what is quite a heart-warming little revelation for her.

From not being entirely sure about Sora no Woto from its opening trio of episodes, this fourth instalment has finally convinced me that there is something rather special about this particular series. Not only is it frequently beautiful to watch, but it also seems to be succeeding at balancing a juxtaposition of the cute, girly shenanigans of Kanata in particularly with a some far more melancholy moments, moving us effortlessly from Kanata's childish wonder at the dolphin statues in a shop (she should visit my local town, where we have a reputation for creating very similar dolphin statues) to the shock of being rebuked by an orphan who lost his parents in the war. This mixture of everyday joy and deeper sadness reverberates throughout the episode, from Noel's personality to the suggestion, once again, that Kanata is being kept in the dark about something important just around the corner. It makes for a headily fascinating mix, and one that could well propel Sora no Woto to become more than the sum of its component parts.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 3

Episode three of Hidamari Sketch My God It's Full of Stars takes us to the first day of a new school year proper, which naturally holds all of the usual landmarks of such an event at Yamabuki High School, from the Principle's glass-shattering rant into the mic about Yoshinoya through to said teacher's rather spectacular (and spectacularly ill-timed) introduction to the school's students.

However, this episode as a wider entity is all about decisions, with the first chunk of this instalment in particular leaving Yunocchi with a tough decision regarding what to take for her elective classes now that she's started her second year. After getting some sage words of wisdom from Sae and Hiro, Yuno is determined to decide for herself without asking Miyako what she's chosen to do - Probably a sound decision in itself given Miyako's favoured manner for deciding upon such relatively important things.

As per the last episode, the second sub-story here takes us back to the previous school year, with Yuno bumping into Sae at a local book store. While the first part of this episode was perhaps a little short on humour, this part of the instalment was packed with great laugh out loud gags that I won't spoil here, as they're very much of the "you had to be there" variety. Regardless, this particular part of the episode was another fine example of Hidamari Sketch at its very best, from the humour through to the wonderfully portrayed relationships between the various characters it involved.

My only surprise with regard to this episode is that once again Nori and Nazuna are relegated to bit parts within the episode, meaning that we still haven't really had anything but the most cursory of introductions to them and their lives. It's hard to believe that this is likely to remain the case throughout the course of Hidamari Sketch Hoshimittsu as a whole, but who knows? In fact, I'm almost tempted to ask "who cares?", considering how well the dynamic between the original four girls worked in the past, and continues to do so throughout this latest season so far.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 16

After the last instalment dropped some more than subtle hints about Mii Konori's past involvement with the "real" Kurozuma Wataru, episode sixteen of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun finally reveals all about the ties that bind this particular pair despite the different walks of life which they now traverse.

Needless to say, this particular aspect of the story is rather predictable in many ways, as we learn about how Mii became something of a delinquent in her youth for a while when she hit the "ability wall" as a young Level 2 esper, falling for the romance of the Skillout gang known as Big Spider (who were in fact more a bunch of friends larking around than anything too serious), and more specifically Kurozuma himself, even hiding her esper powers so that she could be part of this particular in-crowd. It was only what seemed to be the death of Kurozuma that allowed her to move on to her current life, and the sudden reappearance of this old flame sees Konori drifting away from Judgement in a haze of memories.

When the four main girls hear all of this story, Mikoto Misaka in particular seems more than a little perplexed by it all, as she finds herself simply unable to come to terms with why Konori is so concerned by something from her past - A sense of confusion which she only comes to terms with when she finds and confronts Mii and also ends up running into Kurozuma, which in turn allows her to see what needs to be done to resolve this situation to the satisfaction of all parties. In short, this means another action-oriented set piece, as we finally get to see Konori's esper ability in action why the two Kurozuma's face off with a raid by Antiskill just moments away.

I can't quite put my finger on what it is, but there just seemed to be a certain something lacking from this particular story arc - Perhaps it's simply the aforementioned predictability of Konori's situation (which was easy enough to guess from the last episode), but while I enjoyed the animation quality and style which certainly stood out from time to time in this instalment, and indeed the action set piece which rounded things off, emotionally the whole thing felt a little too "dry" for my liking. I suppose at the end of the day it could be that To Aru Kagaku no Railgun simply works better when it focuses primarily on its four major characters, marking this shift away from them as a "failed" (well, failed is a little harsh... inconclusive may be better) experiment. Certainly, if nothing else these past two episodes have been rather miss-able compared to some of the episodes we've seen before from this series.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 3

It's time for a bit of a day trip in episode three of Ookami Kakushi, with Issei taking his sister, Hiro and his sister and Kana to enjoy some natural beauty and a barbecue off the beaten track.

All of this goes pretty much as you'd expect (including some swimsuits and fan service - yes, even this series manages to at squeeze at least something of a swimsuit episode out of its storyline), although some of Issei's behaviour seems a little odd at times.

While much fun was had on this day trip, poor old Hiro's plunge into some icy waters while still fully clothed doesn't do him much good in the long term, leaving him with a cold by the time he returns to school. Thus, at Isuzu's insistence he visits the local hospital, where he's checked up, given a prescription and has his blood taken. A blood test for a simple common cold? Something isn't right here either, and even Hiro is a little surprised at this particular insistence. Considering the doctor in question is related to Nemeru, he's probably right to be suspicious...

Things get even more bizarre as Hiro goes to leave the hospital, with Issei waiting outside to give him a lift in his car before attempting to molest him once they're in a suitably quiet spot - Only the smashing of his Hassaku air freshener puts an end to the ordeal, but is Issei a little boy crazy or is there something more sinister at work?

After a pretty dull opening couple of episodes, at least we're finally beginning to move towards something a little more interesting here - While Issei's behaviour seems to be simply his sexuality kicking into overdrive on the surface there's almost certainly more to it than that, while the goings-on at the hospital are equally disconcerting. Besides all of this, just what do these Hassaku fruit and their harvest have to do with anything, and what about the odd rivalry between the old and new parts of the town? There are still lots of unanswered questions, and while Ookami Kakushi is still hardly proving itself to be particularly stellar at present it's those questions that are certainly keeping me watching with interest. It isn't building up the suspense and mystery quite as well as I'm sure it would probably have liked, but for now it's doing a passable job. I do wish Hiro would stop gawking at surprising events like a wide-mouthed frog though.

Durarara!! - Episode 3

Being a strapping great black guy trying to sell Russian sushi in Japan has to be a pretty tough gig by any stretch of the imagination... Thank goodness then that Simon also has a second job narrating episode three of Durarara!!

Anyhow, that aside, this instalment of the series sees our protagonist Mikado Ryugamine feeling a little blue as city life seems to be getting him down - All this despite the fact that he's just been made male class representative alongside Anri Sonohara, who (through Mikado's eyes) seemed to be all but imploring him to raise his hand and take the job. Any such vibes seem to disappear as quickly as Anri does when he tries to talk to her however, only serving to darken his mood a little further.

From here, the remainder of the episode is a rather madcap meandering through Ikebukuro, as Masaomi's hunt for women to seduce (unsuccessfully, needless to say) turns into talk about the various factions of "Dollars", gangs which roam around the city. Next thing we know, Mikado and Masaomi come across Anri being bullied by a bunch of girls and an absolutely hilariously stereotypical gangster - A scenario which has Mikado dreaming of rescuing Anri in a blaze of glory, before his role in that particular production takes a rather less spectacular turn as Izaya Orihara does his bit to save the day instead. Throw in an angry Shizuo Heiwajima (who in turn throws in several dangerous objects of his own), our free-falling coloured Russian friend, and all Hell generally breaking loose, et voila! One episode of Durarara!!, served up on a steaming hot plate for you.

After feeling a little unsure of what this series was about last episode, this third instalment makes me feel as though I finally "get it" - Tokyo is a huge city, and both Durarara!! and its characters are a human representation of everything that a modern city is about; it's manic, it's sprawling, it's insane, it's inviting, it's frightening and it's energising.... quite frequently all at the same time. Somehow, this single episode manages to represent all of these aspects of city living in a fabulously entertaining way, to the point where it doesn't matter whether you know what they Hell is going on or not - Even if you don't have the slightest clue, it's still jaw-dropping to watch. With the animation backing up that city feeling, the soundtrack kicking ass, the humour working perfectly, the larger than life characters making the most of their screen time and the little Yozakura Quartet homage making me smile, this was the kind of thing I was hoping for from Durarara!!, and boy did it deliver.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 3

Come the end of the last episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund, the amnesiac Akira finally remembered a rather important part of his life, that being that he's actually a werewolf, which is always handy to keep in mind I would imagine. Anyhow, with Akira saving Mina Tepes from her attacker, we're all set for episode three... and Mina deciding to join Akira's school.

Yes, that's right, the old transfer student cliché has come to pass once again, with Mina joining Akira's class at the school much to the shock of all and sundry - In particular, the school's student council, who protest long and loud about this development. However, what they don't know is that Mina actually owns, and indeed founded, the school within which they stand, which rather makes any of their points somewhat moot. Despite this, Mina still offers a deal with the council, agreeing to leave the school if they can manage to capture Akira during the course of the afternoon' a bet which sends the whole school into a frenzy trying to find and catch him.

Of course, the first thing I thought of at this moment was "didn't Code Geass do this sort of thing a couple of times?", and sadly Code Geass' takes on this kind of romp around the school were more amusing and downright fun than this rather stale affair which really lacked any kind of excitement. Thankfully there were at least some new plot points to mull over, from the appearance of what seems to be another vampire within the school, some suggestions as to Akira's relationship with Yuki prior to his memory loss, and some wider glimpses of Mina's plans for the vampires moving forward. It's perhaps the last of these points which might well make or break this series - At the moment Dance in the Vampire Bund feels like a bit of a jumbled mess with no coherent structure to hold it together; it's almost crying out for some major plot points to be revealed to glue things together somewhat, and whatever plans the vampires have in store is the obvious candidate for that. I'm still hoping that this kind of shift in focus will turn this series into something special, and right now it really needs it - When an episode of anime leaves you counting the things you've seen done better in other series before, then it clearly needs an injection of something fresh above and beyond SHAFT's animation tricks alone.

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 3

Episode three of Ladies versus Butlers! gives us a proper introduction to Mimina Ousawa, who had a rather harrowing appearance in the first episode but gets fleshed out (in every sense of the word, this series being what it is) more fully here. Oh, and she's really nineteen years old... Honest. No, really, she is, so seeing her naked is fine. God, who am I kidding?!

Anyhow, as this instalment begins Hino finds himself approaching a practical exam as part of his training, and for this particular test he needs to be given a card from one of the ladies in the school's upper education system so that he can take part. Luckily for him Saikyo is on hand to let him use her card, much to the poorly-disguised disappointment of Flameheart.

When the subject of the exam in question is announced as simply following your master's orders, all kinds of evil thoughts flow through Tomomi's head, but eventually she settles to task Akiharu with looking after Mimina until the test finishes. This allows us to glimpse into what appears to be a simple life of drawing whatever she pleases, but which turns out to be rather more stressful than all that for the poor girl. After shunning Hino for most of the time they spend together (and indeed trying to avoid him outright for much of it), eventually it is he who manages to understand her feelings and needs, and therefore win her over into his harem. Probably.

You know, part of me wants to write about how the fan service and titillation in this episode wasn't delivered to the same extreme as either of the opening two instalments, but I'm honestly not sure that I can do that with a straight face - This is Ladies versus Butlers! after all, and there were still a fair few panty-shots and some under-aged breasts to ogle if that is somehow your thing. Except Mimina is nineteen of course, sorry, I keep forgetting. Anyhow, despite all that there was less of the blatant Carry On-esque behaviour this time around in general terms, although to be honest that fact didn't really succeed in making this episode seem any better - It was okay at the most, but generally speaking it proved itself to be rather dull, with Hino's turn as a likeable male lead neutralised by the fact that Mimina's character is as dull as dishwater. Once again then, it's only the hint of some grand plan on Tomomi Saikyo's part that keeps this series interesting from a story-telling perspective, so unless that or flat chests grab you then this is an utterly miss-able effort.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 15

Episode fifteen of Kimi ni Todoke continues the tear-fest that ended the last instalment, bringing us back to the sight of Kurumi and Sawako still in tears after the recent revelations and tribulations endured by both parties.

As this pair's conversation continues, so we see the rather odd juxtaposition of hatred and kinship felt by Kurumi towards Sawako, who finally finds someone she can talk all about Kazehaya with while simultaneously hating said person for taking his focus away from her.

That aside, we also find ourselves taken back to Kurumi's past and what could be seen as a glimpse of some of the goings-on which moulded her into the girl she is now, as she finds herself the centre of attention not for her personality so much as her popularity; a blessing which becomes a curse when it backfires on her before showing her Kazehaya's kind side in a scene which doubtless cemented her love for him.

Sawako's thoughts and opinions clearly have something of an influence on Kurumi as we return to the present however, as she eventually finds herself meeting Kazehaya to explain about the misunderstanding surrounding Pin, before she even finds herself plucking up the courage both to confess her feelings to Kazehaya and to let him see her "real" self for the first time.

Scene for scene, this episode of Kimi ni Todoke managed to be almost perfectly realised in every way, from its animation through to its dialogue and on to its sense of plot progression - Every emotion and every moment was simply compelling to watch, and occasionally really quite beautiful with it. As has often been the case with this series, there are plenty of great moments that promise to live long in the memory, and each one was expertly played, be it Kurumi's confession or Sawako's predictably odd positive response to being called a "rival". Once you dig down beyond the animation and story alone, the major characters also play a huge part in driving this series along so well, with all of them (apart from Kazehaya himself, arguably) showing both depth and a realistic streak when required of them - An important facet in a world where too many romance-based anime series tend to go off at the deep end with unrealistic stereotypes. This series, on the other hand, feels at least something like the school days that I remember, and that in itself adds yet another element to the interest that I can't help but feel towards this wonderful show.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

K-ON! - Live House! OVA / Episode 14

If you thought that Sora no Woto would be your sole outpost for cute girls with an interest in music for this winter season, then you clearly reckoned without the appearance of K-ON!'s fourteenth episode in OVA form, subtitled Live House! and bundled with the final volume of the show's release on Blu-Ray.

This episode sees a friend of Ritsu's, who is also a drummer with a band, inviting the girls to try their hand playing a New Year's gig at a proper music club - An exciting time that Mio and Asuza seem keen to avoid before being swayed to agree to take part by the rest of the gang.

From here, we see the the light music club's quintet thrown in at the deep end somewhat as they find themselves preparing for arguably their biggest gig so far, complete with lights and a proper, paying crowd. From backstage passes through to farcical moments at the rehearsal, we get to enjoy every bit of their experience from beginning to end.

Indeed, it's that infectious enthusiasm which absolutely and completely carries this episode - You can't help but be swept up in Yui's excitement about even the smallest of things, while of course there's a fair old dose of occasional light-hearted humour to raise the odd smile, and even a laugh at times (Yui's microphone incident in particular cracked me up for some reason). In short, this is everything that made the series proper of K-ON! enjoyable in the first place, and both the animation quality and the content of the episode itself bodes well for the green-lit second season of the show. Sure, it's light and fluffy with nothing but a soft centre in the middle, but could you ask for anything more from this series? It's fun to watch, and that's all there is to it... In fact, that's all there should be to it, and this K-ON! OVA delivers quite admirably.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 40

The mysterious disappearance of Lieutenant General Raven was never going to go unnoticed without suspicion for too long in reality, and come the start of this fortieth episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Major General Armstrong is called to Central to face the music in front of no less than King Bradley. Is the game up for her and Fort Briggs?

Whatever happens, Armstrong certainly can't be accused of lacking guts, as she openly admits to Bradley that yes, she did dispose of Raven, but spins the tale in her favour by remarking about his loose tongue when it came to talking about the country's future, and putting herself forward to take his place - A deal Bradley accepts without hesitation. Has Armstrong gained the upper hand, or is this simply another move in the game of chess between the two factions which now divide the military? Either way, it appears that the rest of Fort Brigg's personnel aren't willing to lay down without a fight either.

After a chance meeting between Hawkeye and Mustang allowing the former to inform the latter about Selim Bradley's true state, the rest of this episode takes us into a hugely important flashback to the past, where we meet a young slave known only as "Slave Number 23" - The boy whose blood is used to create what appears to be the first Homunculus. A meeting between this slave and the creation formed from his blood sees the Homunculus (confined to a mere jar) name the boy van Hohenheim, granting him the knowledge he needs to become an expert in alchemy. From here, the story takes in exactly what happened at Xerxes, before we see both how van Hohenheim and the Homunculus gained their immortal bodies. Needless to say, it's not particularly pretty in human terms.

I'm not usually a big fan of the flashback as plot device, but on this occasion it was not only inevitable but absolutely vital to the development of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's story, so I not only forgive this episode for taking that route but positively welcome it. Although it perhaps felt as if a few more minutes could have been taken to smooth the passage of that section of the episode (it jumped about a little too much for my liking early on), it proved to be an explosive bit of exposition that unwraps another layer of the mystery surrounding the series in a shockingly delicious way. It seems like every time you assume this series can surprise you any more, it manages to one-up itself and do just that, and as per usual I'm loving every minute of it.

Sora no Woto - Episode 3

As we rejoin the girls for Sora no Woto's third episode, we see Kanata settling in nicely to life with her squad mates and working hard to do her bit, even though her trumpet playing still leaves a lot to be desired.

With supplies running low at the base, it's left to Rio and Kanata to hold the fort alone while the rest of the girls go to collect the necessary provisions, and this allows for the pair of them to put in some much needed tutoring and trumpet playing practice respectively, while Kanata also reveals her reason for joining the military to Rio (predictably, it's all about playing an instrument and nothing else). However, any tutoring is cut short as a fever which Kanata has been bravely trying to struggle on with finally overcomes her as she passes out.

This unexpected turn throws Rio into a panic as we see flashbacks to her past and her inability to help what we assume is her mother at a time of illness. After racing around like a headless chicken in search of some mediciation on the base, Rio eventually swallows her pride and goes out into town for help. Thankfully, Kanata's illness is none too serious, and with some rest and fluids she's soon on the mend - This takes us to perhaps the most important part of the episode towards its climax, as a link between Rio and the girl who inspired Kanata to take up music is revealed against a backdrop of the (clearly American) mechanised tank in the squad's possession.

While much of this instalment was pretty run-of-the-mill stuff, including Kanata's fever and Rio's panic at said illness, I have to give kudos to the ending of the episode and the way it was carefully built up to, from hinting about a link between Rio and the mysterious soldier from Kanata's childhood to cementing it without telling the whole story, and even going on to add an extra little twist to the tale with it's closing lines. It's this kind of extra layer of depth which I'm hopeful will lift Sora no Woto above and beyond simply being "another series about a bunch of cute girls doing random stuff", and if nothing else it's almost a relief to see at least Rio being lifted up beyond her clichéd character archetype into a slightly more rounded personality - It'll be interesting to see whether the other major characters receive a similar treatment in future episodes.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 15

After a couple of decidedly filler-esque episodes, To Aru Kagaku no Railgun's fifteenth instalment finally returns us to the world of the proper story arc, in a story which begins with Kongou Mitsuko surrounded by a bunch of unruly-looking delinquents. Such trifles should be of little concern to a level four esper, but when Kongou suddenly finds her head hurting and her powers not working, it's left to a mysterious man to step in and save her from being attacked.

It turns out that the gang in question are part of "Skillout", a bunch of thugs with no esper powers who have therefore chosen to hang around in large groups and use their numerical advantages as a way to pick on those who do hold esper powers. More specifically, it appears that Kongou's assailants are part of a sub-group of Skillout known as "Big Spider" - A name which seems to bring back some major jolts of past memories for Judgment's Konori.

With attacks from Big Spider on the increase, it is of course up to Judgment to do something about it, but with Konori supposedly busy it's left to Kuroko and Mikoto to visit the makeshift "headquarters" of Big Spider to see what they can do about bringing in the group's ringleader, a man who calls himself Kurozuma Wataru; another name that clearly rings a bell with Konori.

As their investigation progresses, Kuroko and Misaka find themselves saved not once but twice (once needlessly, but the second time when they find themsevles in dire straits) but a mysterious milk drinking man; the same man who saved Kongou earlier. Just who is this guy with the spider tattoo on his back? Why, he's also Kurozuma Wataru - The real one this time.

Although this isn't shaping up to be To Aru Kagaku no Railgun's finest story arc from the looks of this particular episode, it's a pretty solid offering that at least promises to give the otherwise neglected Konori some time to establish herself, while it also gave us at least a little of the action quotient which has been so lacking from the past two episodes, with Kurozuma's "return" proving to be a stylishly brutal affair which was probably worth the price of admission alone. Maybe I'm just getting a bit soft in my old age too, but for once I actually found myself laughing at Kuroko's antics with regard to Mikoto, whereas that whole scenario is normally one I simply find tiring. Anyhow, hopefully any revelations about Konori's past in the next episode can serve to make this story arc more interesting still, but I have my suspicions that it might all end up being rather predictable...

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 2

The opening episode of Hidamari Sketch Hoshimittsu swelled the ranks of Hidamari Apartment's tenants to six with the introduction of Nazuna and Nori, so needless to say episode two of the series gives us at least a little more time to get to know this pair of new characters.

This (surprisingly brief, to be honest) introduction comes courtesy of what now seems to be a Hidamari Apartments tradition, with the new girls invited to a welcoming party which (of course) features sweets and cake aplenty... although not as many strawberries as first planned. Thanks for that, Miyako.

To break the ice, Miyako has cunningly devised what I can only call "the dice of conversation", inciting topics such as hamburgers and other random things. From this, we get a good idea of just how shy and unsure of herself Nazuna is, while Nori waxes lyrical about PCs and related subjects even though nobody else in the room can understand her. Nori, I feel your pain, welcome to almost every day of my existence. Anyhow, all of these little titbits pale into comparison to the big news which is revealed after the freshmen's opening ceremony - Nazuna isn't actually attending Yamabuki High as an art student at all, but rather for general education purposes instead. Nazuna then explains the exact series of events which led to her attending this particular school, while asserting that she's useful at pretty much everything that one needs to be good at to live alone - An admission that even seems to leave the other girls a bit stumped for what to do.

For the second half of the episode however we rewind back to the previous summer, and the pre-Nori/Nazuna days, as Miyako sets fire to her hair in an unfortunate barbecuing incident, leading to a decision by Yuno that they should both go and get a haircut. Off they head then to a local salon (complete with discount vouchers provided by Hiro, the queen of the store reward card) run by a pair of twins, and a period of haircut-related hilarity ensues. If nothing else, this serves as proof that Miyako can be quite the beauty with just more frequent use of conditioner.

So, here we are at the final paragraph, aka "the bit where I gush like a shocking fanboy about Hidamari Sketch". Again. Once more, this franchise seems to get everything just right, keeping its pacing sedate (but never overly so) while throwing in enough great visual and verbal gags to make an episode well, worth watching and watching again, be it Yunnochi's seemingly never-ending trip upwards in the salon chair or the wonders of Miyako's question game. To be honest, I thought this second episode would be dominated by newcomers Nazuna and Nori, but they were actually given quite short shrift here, and although their roles in the show have perhaps been cemented a little further it's still tricky to see exactly how they're going to fit into the grand scheme of things - The fact that Miyako had another round of her game ready to go for when the newbies left perhaps somewhat echoes the viewers sentiment that "hey, isn't it more fun when it's just us regulars around with nobody else to bother us?". Then again, sometimes I wonder if anything could possibly ruin Hidamari Sketch for me; it certainly seems like a pretty tall order at the moment.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 2

Ookami Kakushi's second episode opens with Hiro's father relating an old legend about the "Jouga wolves" which are said to reside on Jouga mountain - It's clearly a story which Hiro and his sister have heard many a time before so they pay it little heed, but it's a tale which is clearly going to be of increasing importance as the series continues.

Away from all that, Hiro find himself to be as ridiculously popular at school as ever, with everybody crowding around him and Isuzu continuing to cling to him like some kind of limpet. As ever, it's only the quietly threatening Nemuru who pays him no heed, although she does seem to have some important things to say to Isuzu, leading to an argument which we see but don't hear which ends with the latter vowing to protect Hiro. But protect him from what?

Meanwhile, Hiro finally finds someone else who is apparently concerned by Ogasawara's sudden disappearance last episode in Isuzu's friend Kana, although to be honest she seems more interested in talking to Hiro's father on account of her burgeoning interest in the occult. It's while Hiro is set to take Kana to see his father that they, along with Isuzu, bump into Isuzu's brother Issei, whoe tags along with the visit and eventually proves to be quite knowledgeable about the Jouga wolves himself. While all of this seems sedate and ordinary enough, we're reminded that there's more than meets the eye to this town as we see what appears to be a flashback another woman mercilessly killed after being accused that she is a "fallen wolf".

Seeing as I'm currently playing through the first chapters of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (if you can call it "playing"), the Ryukishi07 (who also created the game around which this series is based) is becoming increasingly obvious, bringing us what appear to be pretty mundane activities but somehow leaving it with enough of a feeling of threat and danger beneath the surface to make even the most innocent statements and gestures questionable. In all fairness, that atmosphere actually works reasonably well here when it comes to fostering a constant feeling of suspicion... or maybe I'm just the paranoid sort who trusts no-one anyway, who knows? While I'm still not convinced that this aura alone is enough to carry the series when it doesn't appear to have anything else outstanding to offer, it does at least continue to hold my interest as I wait to see what developments it has in store as the story is slowly unravelled piece by piece.

Durarara!! - Episode 2

With so many characters showing up in its opening credits, it remains safe to assume that Durarara!! is going to be a pretty sprawling and wide-ranging series in terms of its story telling. However, despite all of that episode two of this new season show actually takes us on a journey which is basically an alternate view of some of what we saw in its opener.

In short, after a brief introduction that sees Mikado and Masaomi starting their first day of school term (an opening which also brings us another rather odd character who we'll doubtless be seeing more of further down the line) we return to the story of Rio Kamichika, the girl who we saw being kidnapped and then rescued last time around.

This particular tale takes us right through some major turmoil in Rio's life, as she learns that her father is having an affair, before leaving the evidence of this for her mother to discover only to find that nothing changes. Feeling ever-more depressed with her life, Rio turns to Nakura, a person she has befriended via e-mail, and eventually he suggests that they meet so that they can "disappear together". It's this invitation that leads to Rio's kidnapping and resuce by the mysterious headless rider; both events organised by "Nakura" (in reality one Izaya Orihara) to toy with Rio's emotions before further pressing her to the point of jumping off a building. While Izaya seems to have no interest either way as to Rio or her well-being, our mysterious rider once again steps in to save the day, seemingly without a request from anyone else to do so this time.

I'm sure nobody was expecting quick answers about any of the goings-on in Ikebukuro from this series given its length and the sheer number of individuals it has to play with, and with that in mind Durarara!!'s second instalment certainly doesn't disappoint, layering even more questions on top of any we may already have held over from episode one. While we now know that the headless rider around which the show is centred appears to be for hire to pretty much anyone, that doesn't really answer much by way of the mysteries which surround her, while the emergence of Izaya Orihara as a decidedly bizarre individual with a strange interest in the human condition also looks set to be a recurring theme which keeps on coming back, as you can only imagine that there is a greater purpose to his presence than praying on insecure teenagers.

All of these questions make it hard to really mark out Durarara!!'s quality or otherwise at this very early juncture - While this episode perhaps tried a little too hard at times to be philosophical with its constant voice-over discussing the nature of reality for any given person, it was once again a slick effort that you couldn't help but be drawn into as you found yourself equipped with just enough knowledge to second guess what was going on without ever getting ahead of the game and figuring out the bigger picture. This kind of tantalising yet slow story development has left me yearning to know and find out more, so I guess that makes it mission accomplished for this particular episode - Oh, and did I mention how absolutely fantastic the opening credits are yet?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 2

I think it's fair to say that I was hardly enamoured by the first episode of Ladies versus Butlers!, so can its second instalment impress me any more? Given the appearance of some breasts within mere seconds of the episode starting, probably not.

After their rather "interesting" first meeting last time around, a lot of this episode makes the most of the love-hate relationship between new transfer student and wannabe butler Hino and upper-class lady of the future Sernia Lori Flameheart - To be fair this actually produces some mildly amusing moments, from Hino's "efforts" to serve Flameheart and her friend which naturally turns into a disaster through to the latter's attempt to save Hino from drowning which goes horribly wrong.

Of course, while all of this is good and well this series wouldn't be what it is without some utterly ridiculous fan service, and thus we're greeted with naked breasts from the off before moving on to some more "traditional" and teasing fan service such as maids in full uniform in swimming pools (no, really), and accidents which somehow involves a girl sitting on Hino's face for a while. "Wait, didn't they do that last episode?" I hear you cry - Well, yes, they did, but that doesn't mean that they can't do it again this time around, and indeed probably for every episode of the remainder of the series to be honest.

Still, for all of its eye-rollingly implausible and utterly predictable fan service, Ladies versus Butlers! does at least have some humour at its core - Sure, it isn't laugh out loud hilarity, but it at least raised the odd smile out of me during some of its more amusing moments. Whether that's enough to prevent me from giving up and finding a more wholesome outlet for my anime watching remains to be seen, but for now the light-hearted humour and my wider interest in just what Saikyou's character is all about is doing just enough for me to persevere.

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 2

Dance in the Vampire Bund's opening episode seemed to get a pretty mixed response from those who watched it, but personally I really rather enjoyed what it did, or rather how it attempted to it. An introductory episode is, however, just that, meaning that this series has to try all over again to keep my interest in this second episode.

This particular instalment shifts our focus somewhat towards Akira Kaburagi, who made a brief appearance in the first episode but has his particular story massively fleshed out as we begin the series proper. Come the start of the episode, Akira seems to be a pretty typical high school student (and how many times have I written that on this 'blog before?!), albeit one who gets a strange feeling whenever the topic of vampires comes us - Something which is happening increasingly often after Mina Tepes rather spectacular introduction to the world on national television.

The reason for Akira's unease soon becomes clear as he ends up face to face with Miss Tepes herself, a meeting which leaves Akira with a splitting headache and Mina in tears - Clearly there is a history to this pair, and of course by the end of the instalment we learn properly just what this relationship is. In the meantime however, this episode delights in building this relationship between Mina and Akira, while also interspersing these moments with brief but intense bursts of action, as shadowy forces make clear their intent to kill Mina Tepes; intentions which only serve to hasten the return of Akira's memories and instincts.

It's actually a bit difficult to know what to make of this second episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund in many ways - In some senses it all feels very typical and run-of-the-mill, but at the same time that (thanks largely to some excellent and borderline break-neck pacing) didn't stop it from being utterly entertaining, helped along its way by those occasional but inevitable SHAFT flourishes that gave the episode a visual edge. Of course, with so many questions about the series and the direction it's headed still to be answered, it's too early to make any real judgement on the value of the show just yet, but if nothing else this episode sets out Dance in the Vampire Bund's stall as a series that should at least keep things moving at a fast enough pace to avoid too many long and protracted periods of boredom.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 14

With Kurumi finally unveiled as the "mastermind" behind the rumours which swirled around the school earlier in this series, it's time for Sawako to face up to Kurumi's true nature. But how on earth is this naive girl new to the whole tangled web of human relationships going to react?

Needless to say, her first reaction is one of disbelief, as she falls back on her tried and trusted assumption that such problems are simply misunderstandings that can be simply and quickly rectified. However, Kurumi is in no mood to deny her part in the rumours which she spread, nor is she in any frame of mind to go easy on Sawako, and so it dawns on her that Kurumi really was responsible, even if she still finds herself unable to fathom out the rather obvious reason why.

Despite that betrayal, Sawako still asks Yano and Yoshida not to tell Kazehaya about what Kurumi has done, and from here much of the remainder of the episode leaves Sawako continuing to ponder what the entirety of her "friendship" with Kurumi meant - Was it all just a lie from beginning to end, or was there something beneath that cold, calculating exterior that actually vaguely resembled friendship. If nothing else, Sawako decides that she has to at least tell Kurumi that she's fallen in love with Kazehaya, which leaves us with a rather odd (and decidedly tearful) blend of hatred, rivalry and friendship that you'd be hard-pressed to pick apart in all honesty.

Given Sawako's nature, this episode was already bound to be some kind of demonstration of denial, confusion and sympathy on her part, while equally Kurumi's behaviour fitted her as a character perfectly, making this episode a believable progression of the show's story if nothing else. In a way, I suppose that level of predictability almost works against Kimi ni Todoke on this occasion, leaving us almost wishing to see some anger or hatred from Sawako herself - Nobody is so perfect as to not feel such emotions, even if they're the kindest and calmest human on the planet, and this was a perfect opportunity to see something beyond simple naivety and good nature on her part. Then again, I suppose I'm just projecting my own values onto the series now, so I can't really criticise this episode for the direction it took, and at least we're set up for some proper, no-holds barred love rivalry as the second half of the series progresses. No prizes for guessing who everyone will be rooting for on this occasion though...

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 50

As Hetalia: Axis Powers hits its half-century of episodes, so it also gets to celebrate having its US distribution license snagged by FUNimation - An achievement that perhaps makes this instalment's focus on Japan's enlightenment once again all the more appropriate.

This time around, most of the episode is spent with America showing Japan the ropes when it comes to the "fortune telling" game that is table turning - A fun distraction that all gets a bit serious when Japan ends up revealing his worries about fitting in with this new world and his new friends, making for a surprisingly melancholy mood for this series compared to its usual fare.

Come the end of the episode though, we're treated to Japan frolicking with a rabbit and a guinea pig, so things don't get too heavy, although once again there's really very little to talk about regarding this series in terms of comedy or anything along those lines. Is this series really going to be a hit in North America? It's going to be interesting to see how it fares.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 39

While the last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood left us with Winry captured by Scar, who is on the brink of escaping his the clutches of his would-be captors once again, you couldn't help but feel that there was rather more to this scenario than first meets the eye.

Come this thirty-ninth instalment, those feelings are confirmed, as we're taken back a little way to see just what happened in that otherwise abandoned building before Scar's "escape". Needless to say those inverted commas are there for a reason, as Scar's big show of carrying off Winry is just that - A show to allow them both, along with Doctor Marcoh and May to escape from Kimblee and company's clutches.

While this plan appears to be successful (thanks in no small part to a rather well-timed blizzard which stops any pursuit Kimblee might otherwise have taken part in), once again that game of chess which has been shifting this way and that across recent episodes means that there's another sting in the tale for the Elric brothers, with news that Scar and friends' promise to escape to Fort Briggs might well be a death sentence in itself given the changed situation there. All hope appears to be lost, with no way of giving chase to let Winry and the like know what's going on... or is there? Sometimes being a soul attached to a suit of armour has its uses, and I guess a blizzard is one of them, although it seems that Alphonse is going to have more on his plate than just snow as he finds himself confronted with a decidedly uncomfortable vision.

While this could be thought of as a slower moving instalment after recent weeks, it is none the less full of fantastic moments - Winry's scene with the captured Scar was played out almost perfectly, the developments regarding Al and his body are a very interesting development, the game of chess between Bradley and his cohorts and the Elric brothers and their supporters never ceases to fascinate and entertain, and we even got a glimpse as to who the main players in the game being enjoyed by the Homunculus and their creator might be. In other words, the New Year break has done little to dim Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's lustre.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Sora no Woto - Episode 2

After spending most of its opening episode following Kanata, Sora no Woto's second episode naturally takes at least a little time to introduce us to the names and characters of the rest of the squad to which she's been assigned.

So, we have the kindly captain Felicia, sergeant Rio (who we also got a pretty good glimpse of last episode), monosyllabic engineer Noel, and perpetually angry private Kureha. It's Kureha who enjoys a lot of the focus this episode as she's tasked first with giving Kanata a tour of their base, before being sent off on an all-important mission with her later in the instalment.

Kureha's tour also serves to give us something of an idea of just how important the 1121 Platoon is in the grand scheme of this world's military organisation... not very, to be quite honest. Thus, this remote outpost is left without a working tank (they don't even have a manual for it) and a hotline to the capital that never rings, a state of affairs which outwardly annoys Kureha despite her clear inward love for her comrades and surroundings.

Any frivolities are put on the back burner however when Noel claims to have seen a ghost in a disused building on the site, a sighting which Kanata verifies from something she saw herself - This leaves the two privates in charge of investigating these strange goings-on, which serves to further affirm both Kureha's true nature and the rather ramshackle military machine that is the 1121 Platoon.

In a way, this second episode of Sora no Woto serves up a very similar dish to the first in terms of its overall feel - On the surface, it's all fun and frolics, but there are once again definite nods to something a little deeper and more serious going on beneath the surface, most likely with regard to the assignment of Kanata to the platoon. That doesn't stop this instalment from serving up the odd great little visual or verbal gag (the long, and indeed longing stare at the hotline that never rings was a particular highlight), while also proving its hand as the cute and occasionally fluffy show it also claims to be. I have to admit I'm not too convinced by the tired old character tropes exhibited by the main five girls who we'll be following for the course of the series, as they're hardly innovative and I can't say I've particularly warmed to any of them yet, but if the overall elements of the story remain good and actually succeed in building upon the depth they've hinted at thus far then this could still well prove to be a pretty decent series.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 14

After treating us to that "swimsuit special" over Christmas, we still haven't exactly resumed normal service with this fourteenth episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, leaving us with another stand-alone instalment which focuses primarily on Saten.

If anything, this particular episode acts as something of an epilogue to the whole "Level Upper" arc, as all of the students who used said method to gain or increase their powers are called together for a special lesson on what would otherwise be a day off. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Saten herself still doesn't really seem to have recovered completely from her Level Upper experience, and she certainly doesn't appear to be her usual self throughout much of the episode.

While many of the pupils present see this special lesson as punishment for breaking the rules, Saten in particular seems quite determined to give it her all, and even finds herself standing up to some of the delinquents on-hand when it comes to putting her particular point of view across. None of this is enough to make Saten truly find her "personal reality" and thus lift herself above her current Level 0 status during the course of the lesson, but perhaps it's a precursor to her finally "finding herself" in terms of her powers?

Despite that future possibility, I have to admit that this was a rather flat episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - While I can see the point of it, and while it brought forth a couple of nice cameos from teacher Komoe (of To Aru Majutsu no Index fame) and eyebrow-scrawling Jufuku (who has clearly taken quite a shine to Saten), there was no real heart to what it tried to deliver. While the emotional intensity of this series actually surprised me when it came to Saten and Uihara's exchange on the phone a few episodes back, there were no such signs of emotional depth here, leaving an instalment that simply went through the motions with seemingly little interest in the story it was trying to tell or character progression it was trying to bring about. Maybe Saten discovers that she's important to a lot of people here, but sadly the same can't be said for this episode itself, which will doubtless be quickly forgotten.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 1

Hidamari Sketchis back, and that's pretty much all I need to say in all honesty - Anyone who has been following this 'blog for any length of time or who knows me personally will surely know my love for all things that emanate from Hidamari Apartments.

As you'd probably expect, normal service is resumed by Hidamari Sketch ☆☆☆'s first episode... To start with at least. For the opening chunk of this instalment, it's Spring time, which also means exam result time for the two freshmen before Spring break begins. However, any excitement about said holiday is tempered as Yunocchi finds herself failing her English grammar exam, thus putting paid to any thoughts of fun and frolics. Of course, this being the heart-warming show that it is, the other girls from the apartments are all quick to lend a hand in their own unique ways, ensuring a happy ending all round.

For the rest of the episode, we're treated to a bit of tension and build-up for once, with the news that two new girls are coming to rent the two previously empty rooms at Hidamari Apartments. So, we see the girls (and the landlady's efforts) to clean up the rooms, before impatiently awaiting the newcomers arrival... at least, that was the plan, before the four girls go out for a meal with the parents of one of those newcomers after dropping off her belongings, leaving both of the newbies to be greeted by an empty apartment block.

I'm not going to apologise for gushing about this series on almost a weekly basis, because although I realise Hidamari Sketch is an acquired taste (it's probably up there with Aria on the anime Marmite scale) I frankly can't think of a better "pure" slice of life anime in existence. This opening episode of Hoshimittsu (in case those stars are getting on your nerves) showcases everything that is great about this franchise - It manages to make the most mundane things (retaking tests and dropping plates) fun, it has some killer laugh out loud gags (of which Miyako seems to get all of the best lines), and it makes you feel incredibly warm and fuzzy inside, with ever visit to Hidamari Apartments feeling like taking some time out to relax with old friends. I can only hope that the introduction of new characters Nori and Nazuna doesn't upset the perfect balance that this show has so often demonstrated, but with any luck they will deliver the extra freshness that this third full series perhaps requires to carry on the success of its predecessors. Add to that what seems to be the slickest, most fluid and beautiful rendition of this show yet (although it could just be the High Definition treatment that does it) and you can safely say that I'm one very happy bunny right now.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 1

Considering that this new season anime is based upon a PSP game penned by Ryukishi07 (of Higurashi and Umineko fame), it probably isn't too much of a secret what to expect of Ookami Kakushi, and the opening episode of the series certainly isn't afraid to lay its cards on the table from the outset, kicking off with a young couple and an odd blend of declarations of love and something rather more sinister. Oh, and someone wielding a massive scythe.

However, for now it appears that such horrors are merely a flash forward, as we soon return to what appears to be normality. It's here that we're probably introduced to the show's protagonist, Hiroshi Kuzumi, who is moving to a new town along with his father and his wheelchair-bound sister Mana. No sooner has he arrived at the new family apartment does Hiro find himself leapt upon (quite literally) by Isuzu Tsumuhana, a girl who seems to take an instant liking to him, and much of this episode seems to be spent with Isuzu clinging to Hiroshi be it at school or on the way to and from it.

In fact, it isn't just Isuzu who has taken a shine to Hiro, as the entire class at his new school seem almost addicted to him despite his decidedly average looks and personality - Everyone that is except Nemuru Kushinada, a quiet girl who everybody seems to be avoiding, and who has no problem in telling Hiro that he annoys her. While all of this seems straightforward enough, there's plenty of foreboding built up throughout the episode even if you ignore that opening scene to the series, from the crackling car stereo through to Nemuru's effect on her fellow pupils and the story of how the new and old town where Hiro now lives are deeply divided. Oh, and there's that girl with the scythe again, which I suppose goes a little beyond foreboding and into the realms of "err, Dad, can we move again please?".

If there's one thing that has to be said about Ookami Kakushi from its opening episoide, it's that its visual novel roots show through very strongly throughout - The characters, the plot development and even the music all scream "visual novel" with every ounce of their being. Of course, this in itself is no bad thing necessarily, and I'm still suitably intrigued by whatever is going on within the show's machinations, but it could make for turning Ookami Kakushi into a bit of a Marmite show that you'll either love or hate as time goes on. At the moment I'm on the fence until I get a few more episodes under my belt, but the potential is certainly there for something that can at least be entertaining provided it doesn't forget itself and manages to focus on its key story without being distracted by fripperies.

Durarara!! - Episode 1

With a slick and stylish set of opening credits that throws more characters at us that you could probably find in half a dozen other anime series, Durarara!! certainly sets out its stall from the very first moment to prove that it means business. But there's more to anime than just putting together some drool-worthy opening titles, of course...

From here, we're introduced to the world of Durarara!! via the eyes of one Mikado Ryugamine, a fifteen year-old who has never left his home town before until now, where he finds himself thrust into the midst of a heaving Ikebukuro, a place set to become his new home as he looks to start school there. The reason for his decision to leave town and start life in a new place comes largely on account of Masaomi Kida, a childhood friend who moved to Ikebukuro several years earlier, but who insisted that he should give a particular high school there a shot.

So, this opening episode uses Masaomi giving Mikado a tour of his new surroundings as a perfect way to introduce us to at least some of the characters who will surely become bigger players in the the series as it progresses, be they a large black chef or a couple of Masaomi's friends who are wandering around with a cardboard cut-out of Spice and Wolf's Horo (a nice touch from Brains Base; it made me laugh anyway). As the episode progresses however we find our viewpoint shifting briefly from Mikado to witness the kidnapping of a teenage girl, only to see her rescued by a person who is the stuff of urban legend - A motorbike riding "monster" who wears a crash helmet but supposedly has no head.

Thus does Durarara!!'s first episode end, serving (as you would expect) as more of an introduction to the series than anything else so as to prime us for whatever is to come. As anime goes, it has to be said that it does a pretty good job of this - Mikado's fresh-faced awe and nervousness about everything is a perfect foil for the viewer thrust into this new series which makes for an exceedingly simple way to introduce a few characters, while this episode also hasn't forgotten to give us at least a little action and excitement courtesy of said headless biker, who certainly has some abilities worthy of serious tension. Above all else, this first episode simply oozes cool, class and style, making for a great-looking series that captures the feel of a bustling city for a new visitor quite exquisitely, and it's perhaps this above all else that leaves me yearning to see more of Durarara!! already. Who said this was going to be a poor season for anime?