Sunday, 28 February 2010

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 21

At last, the previous episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun brought us back to the realms of a proper story arc, with the inevitable fleshing out of the earthquakes that had been mentioned in a few previous episodes into a plot proper. However, one of these "earthquakes" almost had serious consequences for Uihara and new transfer student Haruue, with the pair saved only by a timely intervention from the MAR (Multi Active Rescue) team and one of their rather handy mechas.

In the light of this latest so-called Poltergeist incident, Misaka finds herself pondering who could be responsible for these goings-on, naturally thinking back to the vaguely similar Level Upper incidents despite the fact that the perpetrator of said case is still supposedly safely locked away. The next suspect is of course Haruue herself, taking into consideration the location of the various Poltergeist incidents in relation to her own, and with that in mind Kuroko and Misaka do a little digging into her abilities, in the process finding some information which only serves to concern them further.

These concerns seem to be well-justified as yet another incident occurs with Haruue seemingly at its epicentre, although Kuroko's attempts to point out this possibility causes shockwaves and another rift in itself, as Uihara simply refuses to believe that her new-found friend could be responsible in any way. Some official testing seems to back up her beliefs, but there's still something clearly not right here, and come the end of the episode Misaka's suspicions are again well and truly roused by what she sees...

After all of those weeks of waiting for the filler to end, it certainly feels as though that wait was worthwhile now we've returned to the realms of a proper storyline for To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, with the series notably upping its game again for this major arc. Quite simply, it's vastly more interesting than what has come immediately before, and everything from the relationships between the various major characters (notably Kuroko and Uihara) to the unravelling mysteries of the Poltergeist incidents themselves make for a genuinely watchable affair. Is this To Aru Kagaku no Railgun back to its best? You bet it is, and hopefully this peak can now continue on until the end of the series.

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 8

Kana certainly paid the price for her deep interest in the supernatural, and more specifically Jouga wolves and just what those entities might be, during the last episode of Ookami Kakushi, and as the show's eighth instalment begins she remains incarcerated on account of her proclivities. Lucky for her then that Nemuru is on-hand to use her influence to see to it that Kana is released, under the promise that she does no more research on the subject.

However, even Nemuru's influence appears to be waning, largely on account of her interfering when it comes to those close to her, and the final straw comes when she helps first Mana and then Hiro avoid capture by the "pack of wolves" who are looking to move their nefarious plans (whatever they might be) forward. This sees Nemuru relegated from her position, while Kaori appears all set to take up her role and another "handyman" is also employed to do some of the dirty work, not least when it comes to capturing Hiro.

However, the handyman in question is none other than Shuuichirou Sakaki acting as something of a double agent, and thus he plans the various factions off against one another in order to wreak his own revenge against those who destroyed his life, or more specifically that of his loved one. What does this mean for Nemuru, and indeed for Hiro? Given Sakaki's maniacal laughter and behaviour, the forecast doesn't look particularly good for either party.

While there was plenty going on in this episode, there's something increasingly unsatisfying about the way this series is progressing its story that I can't quite put a finger on. Perhaps it's the fact that it's deliberately withholding information just to be mysterious, or perhaps it's simply that everything that is revealed seems a little trite and obvious, but as the weeks go by so the joy and curiosity of watching this series continues to dissipate. Now, that doesn't make Ookami Kakushi a bad anime by any stretch, but it does point to it being a little tired and unimaginative when its put up against other similar shows which have done a similar job rather better in terms of both plot and characterisation. There's still time for redemption for Ookami Kakushi, but it is beginning to run rather short.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Bakemonogatari - Episode 14

It's been a long (and I mean looooong) time in coming, but Bakemonogatari's penultimate episode is finally upon us, with Araragi left having to deal with the appearance of the so-called "Black Hanekawa" and her feline form - A form he didn't expect to see again after it's previous Golden Week appearance.

While it's clear that the emergence of this oddity is related to Hanekawa's stress levels, Araragi is (rather naively) completely unable to comprehend what could have caused her sufficient stress for this to happen, and to make things worse the only other obvious solution to the problem is also no longer immediately available to him, as he learns that Shinobu has gone missing. What's a poor boy to do?

With Hanekawa seemingly under control, Araragi decides to make it his priority to find the wandering Shinobu, calling in all of the Hachikuji, Suruga, Nadeko and (of course) Senjougahara. Thus commences a handful of conversations which work out pretty much as you'd expect them to, packed full of the humour and amusing moments we've come to expect from this series while Hitagi steals the show by being both stubborn yet incredibly astute at the exact same time.

Oddly enough, it turns out that even "Black Hanekawa" wants to help with the search, and so ends up wandering the streets with Araragi to look for Shinobu, leaving the door open for plenty of the dialogue that has marked out this series, complete with a not-so-surprising (unless you're Araragi that is) confession come the end of the episode. What does the guy who always wants to help everybody do when helping one person puts him into direct conflict with another? I guess we'll be finding out in the final episode.

Although this episode perhaps took a little while to warm up (although maybe I just took a little while to slip back into my proverbial Bakemonogatari evening gown and pipe), it soon settled into the kind of rhythm we've grown to love from this series, with dialogue and conversation that shifts between the enlightening to the outright hilarious almost effortlessly. While it can sometimes be frustrating to be two steps ahead of a show's protagonist in understanding what's going on, somehow Bakemonogatari manages to make it delightful as we watch Araragi flounder and/or entirely miss the point of what people are trying to tell them, shifting between the nice, helpful guy and sex-centred pervert in the process. It's a delicate balancing act, but somehow this series has managed to pull it off consistently, and it's all the better for it. Roll on the final episode, and the conclusion to one of the most entertaining shows of recent years - While I'll be sad to see it end, that finale can't come soon enough for me.

Durarara!! - Episode 8

It's an extremely rare day off for Celty and Shinra as we enter Durarara!!'s eighth episode, much to the excitement of the latter. For Celty herself however, a chance to kick back and relax doesn't hold much appeal as her thoughts continue to be consumed both with her missing head as well as the wider connotations of her past memories and present experiences.

In fact, the dual themes of memory and searching for things you have lost reverberate throughout this episode, be it via Anri's shoes (lost as the bullying against her at school continues) or Shizuo's inability to remember the purpose of a building that was recently demolished. This latter example was perhaps the most oddly poignant moment of this episode - A reminder of how easy it is to forget things which we deem unimportant without a second thought, yet how a single memory can prove to be so harrowing via either its loss or its refusal to vanish.

Once again, this instalment delighted in tying the threads between various characters and goings-on ever closer together, occasionally in rather ironic ways with Shinra visiting the establishment that most likely is involved in Celty's missing head in some way, while in turn linking the mysterious girl with the neckline scar to these goings-on in the process. Speaking of mystery, we once again get some further small hints as to Masaomi's "other side", as he suggests that he knows something about the source of Anri's bullying.

However, it's Celty that really grabs the spotlight here in numerous ways, as we finally get a bit more of a grasp on her personality and emotions via her own commentary on this episode's happening, be it a rather surprising revelation of her thoughts about Shinra, the fact that even she finds herself drawn away from worrying about her head when something in her present demands her full attention, or something even simpler such as her willingness to cook for Shinra on her day off. With this episode subtly laced with comedy and some other rather sweet moments, once again Durarara!! manages to excel at doing what it does best - Even when it tones down the blistering pace of city life we've seen in earlier episodes, it never fails to deliver when it comes to providing us with fascinating characters to watch and consider.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 20

While it outwardly seemed as though Chizuru was unaffected by the news about Ryuu's brother last episode, it hardly took a genius to figure out that all was far from well in her world after seeing the guy she loved announcing his engagement to someone else out of the blue right in front of her.

Despite her inner melancholy however, Chizu finally grabs enough initiative to at least go and give Ryuu his present after his brother is gone.... only to be met by some seemingly snide and snarky comments that throw her into an upset rage. Thus, the rest of the episode consists of an uncomfortable silence between the pair of them, only to have everything flare up again into yet another row (well, as much as anyone could "row" with Ryuu, it's always a pretty one-sided argument) when Ryuu finally tries to confront her about things.

In the midst of all this, there isn't exactly a rainbow of happiness from Ayane and Sawako either, as they both spend their time fretting about their heart-broken friend and beating themselves up for being useless and unable to do anything about the situation, a depressing state of mind that only some kind words from Kazehaya help to dissipate, albeit only slightly.

While this episode's humour was laid on a little thick and in an over-the-top fashion at times (quite a rarity in itself for this show, which normally gets the balance just about right), there was still plenty to like here when it came to both the emotional and inter-personal aspects of the instalment. Both Chizu and Ryuu were really "filled in" as characters during the course of this episode, with the former exhibiting all sorts of frailties beneath her seemingly care-free nature while Ryuu's outward simplicity gave way to a far more complex, honest and awkward character who is all but begging to be misunderstood.

In a way though, Kimi ni Todoke's real aim here was a take on friendship in difficult circumstances, and it's here that the episode really shone through - I'm sure we've all been the "helpless friend" who feel we can do nothing to console someone we care about at some point in time, all the while forgetting that simply being there as and when required is what's really needed, and letting someone have at it with their emotions rather than being "cheered up" constantly is often the best medicine. It's this aspect to episode twenty that will probably stick in my mind for longer, with Chizuru's finally breakdown genuinely moving me too (again, I think we've all been there as well), with that particular scene being played almost perfectly. It seems that even when Kimi ni Todoke doesn't quite get everything right, it still knows what it's doing when it comes to that emotional, human touch.

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 8

Even though its summer vacation, it seems that everyone still has some school work to do, with the upper-class ladies and the various maids and butlers made to team up and spend three days and two nights together so that the former can learn just what the latter has to do for a living.

The trouble is, Sernia Flameheart wasn't really paying too much attention to those instructions, and thus chooses Hino to be her partner in the hope of teaching him a lesson in how to adjust his attitude, only to be deflated when she finds out she has no real control over him for this task at all.

To be honest any semblance of work seems to soon go out the window however, with this episode taking in a spell on the beach (of course, you didn't think Ladies versus Butlers! would go by without some kind of beach episode did you?), playing chess, and Hino getting drunk on a single liqueur and behaving in a decidedly inappropriate (yet admittedly vaguely humorous) manner. Things become a little more fraught when Tomomi pops by for the day with Daichi in tow, increasing the tension between herself and Flameheart when it comes to being the subject of Hino's affections.

Once again, this particular episode of Ladies versus Butlers! manages to be at least somewhat engaging despite both its tendencies towards fan service and its predictable plot set pieces - Although the drunkenness on Hino's part was unexpected, the later "CPR gag" has been so overused that I'm amazed they managed to drag it from its rocking chair in a nearby retirement home. To be honest, it's almost incredible that this show is actually starting to build up its characters and a proper love triangle at last, something which it showed little interest in doing up to this point - This most certainly isn't a bad thing and is succeeding in making the series more enjoyable rather than just an excuse to shoehorn some breasts into the frame, although I must confess it doesn't make it some kind of anime classic either. Still, it's more watchable than I thought Ladies versus Butlers! might be by this juncture, and that's got to be worth something.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 45

The last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood left us with quite the cliff-hanger as the new-look Greed's wrath set him off to confront... well, Wrath.

What follows as this latest instalment opens is a short but jaw-droppingly spectacular fight between the two that ends with Greed making his escape before things become too dangerous for him - and probably not a moment too soon with Pride quite literally lurking in the shadows.

From here, there are plenty of important movements to cover, starting with a conflict as to who will be the heir to the Armstrong family home, giving us yet another scrap between siblings as Alex and his sister battle things out as the rest of the family take a vacation out of the country - A state of affairs arranged to keep them safe from their own country's impending doom, of course.

Elsewhere, Edward looks to meet his brother at a spot that he imagines Al would make for, but finds himself disappointed... at least, that is until Ling Yao turns up, having wrestled his body back from Greed for long enough to dish out some juicy information before Greed snatches it back. While Ed makes a seemingly reckless decision to follow Greed rather than continuing on his own path, the information garnered by Al makes its way all across the land thanks to the growing network of "rebels" looking to put a whole in King Bradley's plans.

As ever with this series, this episode was everything that it needed to be and much more besides - The opening fight sequence was beyond spectacular, and from there it's always a pleasure to watch the show's story developing in such a well thought-out and satisfying manner. There's lots to like here, and I'm starting to come to the realisation that I'll truly be sorry when the Elric brother's journey comes to an end again, although thankfully we still have a little while to go before that happens.

Sora no Woto - Episode 8

I'm not sure that anything could match the shock and oddly majestic horror of the last episode of Sora no Woto, which sent my expectations for what the second half of this series could deliver through the stratosphere. Perhaps thankfully then, this eighth instalment of the show doesn't try too hard to match or better what came immediately before.

Instead, this episode focuses largely on the story of one girl and one telephone, as Kanata is left in charge of the emergency telephone which is due to be tested at some point during that day. As time passes so all of the other girls are called out on business in some shape or form (aside from Noel who is asleep all day, naturally), leaving Kanata more or less to her own devices. Unfortunately, at the end of a surprisingly tough day when your own devices involves drinking far too much cider and then finding yourself torn between abandoning your post to relieve yourself and standing your ground, things are never likely to end prettily.

While much of this instalment is naturally focused on having a bit of fun at Kanata's expense and engaging in slapstick comedy throughout, once again Sora no Woto doesn't forget to further its story and history in what could almost consider a throwaway fashion. Thus, we learn from one discussion that there are still peace talks in progress which supposedly aren't going well, whilst more importantly Rio's position and role in the grander scheme of things is hinted at ever-more heavily, suggesting that she's going to become a major part of the story in some shape or form as we move forward over the coming weeks.

Either way, this blend of fun against some far more serious topics continues to work surprisingly well, and the fact that Sora no Woto can mix up a shockingly depressing episode with light-hearted fluff and hold my attention on both counts has to be saying something. Right now, it's tough to speculate where this series is headed, but I for one can't wait to follow it on its weaving, bobbing way.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 7

The previous episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund closed with one of those moments of abject stupidity which only ever seems possible in a fictional medium, with those who had chosen to fight against the vampires within their school opening up the doors to the church they were holed up in after specifically being told not to open those very same doors to anyone.

Needless to say, this decision doesn't really work out too well for those inside, and as we rejoin that particular scenario we find all and sundry attacked and turned into vampires, with only Sister Laura and Yuki left to enjoy that "pleasure". While this is going on, we also see exactly what Akira is up to, as he stocks up on weapons for his (now not so) merry band, before being confronted by both his own father and a Marquis named Alphonse who he last met just after the "accident" that wiped his memory... although in all honesty I was rather expecting this Marquis to start trying to sell Akira some Russian sushi.

Once all pieces are in place, and with Mina Tepes getting ready to play her part, we reach a pretty action-packed second half to the episode which also does much to reveal why some vampires have been following a very different path from those who have been following Mina Tepes - A much needed explanation, truth be told. Even when this rebellion is quashed with relative ease, there's still plenty of unfinished business between Mina and Akira, business which Yuki has to witness first-hand....

Speaking of unfinished, this is another one of those classic SHAFT unfinished episodes, with red or black screens, still shots and other oddities shouting from the rafters that they simply ran out of time to finish animated this particular instalment. Unfortunately, this does mean that we actually miss what should have been a lot of the best and most important visual moments of the episode, although somehow even despite all of this it still proves to be easily the best instalment of Dance in the Vampire Bund thus far. At last, a lot of the key tenets of the series are explained (while still leaving enough questions unanswered to keep the rest of the show entertaining hopefully), some important issues are resolved, and you're left with a sense of satisfaction that everything which went before wasn't a complete waste of time after all. While it's hard to really judge this episode completely given the fact that... well, it isn't complete, for the first time I actually found myself taking more of an interest in the stories it was trying to tell, and that can only be a good thing. I just hope this will in turn make for a more entertaining second half of the series, although it seems we'll have to live with a recap episode to give SHAFT some catch-up time before we enter that.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 20

After what seemed like endless weeks of filler of late, To Aru Kagaku no Railgun's twentieth episode finally sees us begin a new story arc proper; needless to say, it focuses on the cause of all of the earthquakes we've been seeing in recent instalments by way of foreshadowing this particular tale.

It probably also goes without saying that these "earthquakes" are in fact rather more than simply that, and we see this demonstrated at first-hand in Mitsuko's bedroom as some decidedly freaky things occur around the same time as one of the earthquakes. Of course, she isn't the only one to see this, and so rumours begin to spread of supernatural phenomena and poltergeists causing these strange happenings, causing both excitement and (in the worried minds of Antiskill) some panic amongst Academy City's students.

Before you start hoping for a Mikoto/Ghostbusters cross-over however, members of Judgement and Antiskill are called together to have the real reason for what has been happening explained, as these "earthquakes" are put down to RSPK Syndrome, a situation where a number of espers losing control of their powers at the same time and thus cause strange happenings to occur. Is this really the reason for these events however? Konori isn't convinced, and continues to investigate, even while the rest of the girls have an evening out at a fireworks display along with Uihara's new room-mate, a shy, clumsy and simple girl named Eri Haruue who certainly has something odd about her....

After all those filler episodes, I think any "proper" new story arc in this series is bound to feel like a work of William Shakespeare, but even so this instalment did feel like a return to To Aru Kagaku no Railgun's "good old days", providing us with a far more interesting plot that looks set to bring us some far stronger episodes as we move towards the climax of the series. It's a little early to say how this arc will fare against the first half of the show's Level Upper saga (which was certainly built up to far more smartly and slowly than our Poltergeist story here), but the early signs are promising, so here's to a return to the series we knew and loved

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 7

It seems that the early morning exercise bug which has been present throughout Hidamari Sketch Hoshimittsu has even managed to catch Yoshinoya and the Yamabuki High principle in its grasp, as we see them both having a bit of a work-out while the girls of Hidamari Apartments have even more exciting things to look forward to over the next couple of days.

The source of all that excitement is a visit from Sae's sister Chika, who gets to meet the newcomers Nori and Nazuna for the first time and (perhaps inevitably considering they're the same) hits it off with them pretty much instantly. That aside, this episode has all of the usual facets of a visit from Chika, which means Hiro dishing out even fancier meals thatn usual, a bit of sibling rivalry between Sae and her younger sister, and a visit somewhere a little different to make Chika's visit worthwhile.

A little oddly, we don't actually get to follow the girls on their day in the park complete with picnic, and even more oddly not tagging along actually works pretty well, as instead we simply get to soak up the conversations between the girls after the event as they recount what they talked about, including such important topics as "if the residents of Hidamari Apartments were animals, what would they be?". Someone needs to get these girls on Question Time....

As per last week's episode, this particular instalment of Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ wasn't particularly high in terms of laughs and great jokes (although it still had a few), instead taking us down a route of abject relaxation - The anime equivalent of a soak in hot, soothing bath to take away the aches and pains of a week just gone by. That said, this episode was also the first occasion where Nori and Nazuna really seemed to fit seamlessly into the Hidamari Apartments dynamic, with the former reminding me of myself with her habit of looking up useful snippets of information on her smartphone to pass on to the group, while the latter's shyness is at least starting to seem offset by her otherwise friendly demeanour.

The other thing I noticed here is that, with these new younger characters on the scene, it really feels as though the original four Hidamari girls have genuinely grown up a little... well, apart from Miyako maybe). From the way they all dressed up to the discussions they had during their day out compared to the younger girls, there was a definite stamp of maturity there, which I admire simply because it's actually quite rare to see characters age in any discernible sense in animation of any form. It's these little touches that make Hidamari Sketch stand out, even when it isn't on top comic form.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 7

After all the excitement of the last episode, Hiro is more than a little surprised to find himself waking up in his own bed come the start of this seventh instalment of Ookami Kakushi. Was it all a dream? When his father tells him he was found collapsed outside the front door, and the day at school brings no sign of either Nemuru or Isuzu, it soon becomes clear that everything that happened back there was very much reality.

Whilst trying his best to remain grounded in normality, it seems that Hiro's classmate Kana has been doing rather a lot of research on the Jouga wolves, compiling some important and seemingly accurate information about the legends and beliefs surrounding their town. Of course, getting too close to the truth in a situation such as this is never a good idea, especially if you're about to visit the local library to do some more investigating on your own...

Meanwhile, Kaori's condition continues to worsen to the point where she tells Hiro's sister she can no longer give any more violin lessons, while the mysterious man who met Kaori previously introduces himself to Hiro as Shuuichirou Sakaki, as they share what little they know of the murders and overall insanity bubbling underneath the town's surface. While all of this is going on, Hiro's name appears to be attached to some kind of important list, but what could it mean?

As per previous episodes, Ookami Kakushi just about manages to keep the sense of mystery ticking over here, throwing the occasional proverbial log onto the story-telling fire to keep things moving but never breaking into much more than a trot in terms of significantly moving the story forward. To be fair, now I've become used to that particular pacing and the obvious Higurashi no Naku Koro ni similarities I don't mind it too much, and although this series remains as unspectacular as ever my desire to know more about what's going on is still in place even at this point. Let's just hope it doesn't all end in abject disappointment a few weeks further down the line.

Durarara!! - Episode 7

Shizuo Heiwajima doesn't like violence.... No, really he doesn't, as he's all too keen to point out as he gets his episode in the spotlight for the duration for Durarara!!'s seventh instalment.

The trouble is, not liking violence isn't much help when you have such a short temper that it compels you to do insanely violent things at the drop of a hat; something which clearly afflicted Shizuo from a young age, as we see him in his youth preparing to throw a refrigerator at his brother before his small body gives out under the weight. Indeed, for every act of disproportionate assault undertaken by young Shizuo it seems that something or other within his body would break, although these injuries only appear to have made him stronger every time until he reached the point we see today in modern Ikebukuro.

As we travel through Shizuo's history we get to learn more about his relationship with his brother (now a famous actor), as well as the source of his incredibly fractious relationship with Izaya which has clearly been going on for sometime. His friendship with Shinra and Celty also gets revealed here, thus tying some of the bonds between the various characters within the series yet further.

In a way, this particular episode of Durarara!! is actually a little difficult to talk about here, largely on account of Shizuo's narration. This isn't actually a criticism but rather a simple fact, as Heiwajima's narrative is as sparse as his usual conversational habits, keeping him well and truly in character. This means that the episode as a whole relies far more on the visual side of things to tell its story, illustrating Shizuo's mistakes, regrets, pain, love and anger with nary a word spoken. The way this is carried out is actually surprisingly effective in places, and it's illustrated best in the relationship between the two Heiwajima brothers, both of which hardly speak yet manage to convey the bond between them in every scene in which they both appear.

The sparse narrative also keeps plenty of mystery alive where required as well, particularly when it comes to Izaya and his motives - Does he simply taunt Shizuo for the fun of it, or is there something more to it than that? Knowing this series I'm going to hazard a guess at the latter, but either way although this instalment perhaps didn't hit the dizzy heights of the last episode it still proved to be hugely enjoyable, while also continuing this show's burgeoning tradition for offering us something pretty different in terms of content and style each week. Long may it continue as well, as Durarara!! remains one of the bright lights of this season.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 19

After the last episode set the scene for our shift in focus towards Chizuru's relationship with both Ryuu and his older brother, so this instalment follows through on that storyline with rather predictable consequences.

Before that however, there's some excitement for Sawako in the form of her first ever sleepover with Yano and Yoshida, although this excitement is tempered a little by Chizuru's mood on account of some ill-thought words by Ryuu, who tells her to "stay away from his place" for a couple of days - An attempt to save her from the upset of what is to come, but expressed in the worst possible fashion.

Eventually Yano, Yoshida and Sawako go to pay Ryuu a visit, only to find that there's already a small party in full swing which includes the presence of Kazehaya. The party is soon halted however as Ryuu's brother Tohru puts in an appearance a day early... Along with his fiancée. So, the reason for Ryuu's concerns for Chizuru become clear (if they weren't hinted at heavily enough already), yet outwardly she appears to recover from the shock incredibly quickly and remains largely her normal quirky self. On the inside of course, things aren't quite so simple, although it's from Sawako that the first tears of sadness actually flow as she gets to see the pitfalls of unrequited love in front of her own eyes.

While this episode was handled pretty well, perhaps the revelation of Tohru having either a girlfriend or wife-to-be was made a little too obvious last time around, which only served to make this particular instalment overly predictable as we could see what was coming a mile off. This rendered a lot of this episode as somewhat moot, although it did still have some great moments of comedy and interplay between various characters (with Yano in particular standing out), and Chizuru's reactions throughout had a genuine feeling of realism to them against the sometimes overly dramatic stuff that anime can get dragged into on occasion. Still, it appears that the Chizuru and Ryuu story arc isn't quite over yet, so we'll have to wait and see what the next episode holds - At least we can be pretty certain that it'll be less predictable than this one proved to be.

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 7

I suppose it's somewhat inevitable that something magical girl related would crop up at some point during Ladies versus Butlers!, and so it proves that this seventh episode introduces us to one Pina Sfolmklan Estoh, a member of royalty from a foreign country and also a self-proclaimed otaku with a love for a particular magical girl anime.

The trouble is that poor old Pina has nobody to discuss her love of anime with (oh, how we all know that feeling well) in a school packed with refined ladies who are learning to talk about opera and other supposedly more highbrow pursuits. However, thanks to a freak meeting with Hino (as happens every episode with this series), she subsequently discovers that the school's principle is also quite the otaku as well, and the subsequent discussion convinces her that it would be great if she could submit her own dounjinshi for a forthcoming event.

Of course, all of the usual suspects get dragged into creating said doujinshi, which ends up as a cosplay photo shoot by way of an excuse for a bit of nudity (I say a bit as it's all pretty brief compared to previous episodes of this show) and a lot of dressing the characters in ridiculous outfits. Much of the focus of the instalment plot-wise is about Pina's attempts to get Mimina involved, which is probably supposed to bring some emotional resonance to proceedings or something.

Sorry, did I just use the words "emotional resonance" in a synopsis of Ladies versus Butlers!? Needless to say, there's not really anything much noteworthy going on here in terms of plot or character depth, and to be honest even the fan service was pretty light this time around, which was nearly a refreshing change in itself. There are still certain aspects of this show to like (I'm still a pretty big fan of Hino's character), but they're not really enough to paper over the big cracks that surround the series as a whole. I'll leave it to you to make your own "big crack" jokes about this show.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Sora no Woto - Episode 7

If you've bought into all the talk regarding Sora no Woto being all about cute girls having fun, then you'd be well advised to watch at least the opening couple of minutes of its seventh instalment before revising your opinion appropriately.

This particular episode brings us the town's Obon festival... or rather, the Fête des Lumières, an opportunity to remember the dead and appease their spirits by sending a paper lantern bearing their name downstream. Of course, such an occasion was always likely to have plenty of resonance in a series set in the aftermath of a vast and terrible war, but in terms of this particular episode it's Felicia who becomes our focus, as we live through some of the horrors she saw during her time serving in the army while the war still raged.

Compared to much of the light and fluffy scenes we've seen from this series so far, Felicia's story is truly a harrowing one, as we see her injured and the rest of her squad-mates killed in an attack, leaving her to trapse through the war-torn landscape to reveal yet more horrors strewn throughout. This story also gives us more of a grasp on how the war which has wrecked the country progressed, with evidence that the conflict was an extremely long-running one where much of the damage was done by some kind of super-weapon which reduced those left to fighting with relatively traditional arms instead in the wake of rumours that mankind was entirely doomed anyway.

Of course, all of this is offset against the Felicia we see before us now, and although she still struggles with those ghosts of her past she has clearly found a present which suits her, making for some emotional closing scenes as she does her bit to soak up the emotions of the other girls, all of whom appear to have lost something precious during the war (with the exception of Noel perhaps, the only one not to send a lantern downstream?).

Overall, this was an episode that could easily be marked as superb if only on account of it being so surprising - While I've suspected from the start that Sora no Woto wanted to be more than "K-ON! meets the army", even I wasn't expecting such a harrowing and frankly upsetting portrayal of war as this. There's certainly no sugar-coating on show here, leaving us instead with a raw portrayal of a world on the brink of destruction and the devastation that humanity has wreaked upon itself, a fact that can't be escaped even when we move from Felicia's past back to the present only to be faced with the loss of her current charges in the cruel world left behind. Of all the things I expected of Sora no Woto, bringing me to the brink of tears wasn't on the list, but this episode succeeded in doing just that. It's been a while since I've seen such an absolutely brutal portrayal of war in anime, and kudos to this series for taking that brave step.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 44

The end of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's previous episode brought us a surprise meeting between Alphonse and his father in the town of Lior - A meeting which makes for a rather awkward reunion initially, as you might imagine.

However, once those initial stumbling moments are over, the irrepressible bond between father and son soon rears its head, as Al gets to work helping out rebuild Lior just as his father has been doing; an activity which soon stops when it becomes clear that Al and his father have a lot of information that they need to share regarding what is going on in the country at present.

For Hoenheim in particular, this means sitting down and regaling one of his sons with the long story of his life which we were party to four episodes back, tale of immortality and Philosopher's Stones and all. It's a story which Al accepts surprisingly willingly, as thoughts soon return to how to stop the current plot being built towards right under their feet.

Of course, ideally Hoenheim wanted to spill out his life story to both of his sons, and his enquiry as to Edward's whereabouts finally gives us an excuse to catch up with his current situation, where we see him on the run from the military flanked by the chimera who saved his life while he tries to figure out exactly how to go about rejoining his brother despite having no idea as to where he could be.

As if that wasn't enough to be getting on with, the new-look Greed's violent reunion with old friend Bido takes a turn for the worse, with Greed left torn between his remaining memories and his current self to such an extent that he's left vulnerable to... well, who knows what? Whatever is happening within his mind, it looks set to make for a rip-roaring next episode.

Speaking of rip-roaring, there was certainly plenty to enjoy within this instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood once again. Al's meeting with his father was played out excellently - A wonderful juxtaposition of the human nature of such a relationship (especially such a dysfunctional one) against the business of "saving the world". On a more visceral level, Ed's re-emergence was fantastically portrayed in terms of action, car chase and all, while Greed's inner turmoil was brilliantly depicted to make for an intriguing cliff-hanger if ever we saw one. As per usual for this show, this was anime par excellence.

And finally, because I know some people will be unhappy if I don't include this screenshot in some shape or form...

Sunday, 14 February 2010

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 19

It's time for the Tokiwadai school's Midsummer Festival, which means.... well, it means yet another filler episode from To Aru Kagaku no Railgun basically. Sorry everyone.

This particular festival basically doubles as an open day for the school, allowing anyone invited to come and take a look around the premises and see all the incredible things that the girls there have learned during their time at the school - No, not teleportation and generating electricity, but flower arranging and cross-stitching. Needless to say Uihara and Saten both get invites to the event, with the former more than a little excited to get to look around the school of her dreams, while many of the other usual characters also crop up in some shape or form, including both Touma and Index to continue their run of occasional cameos.

As the episode progresses, so it's revealed that Mikoto Misaka will be giving a performance on stage as part of the event, and as the excitement builds all around the school so Misaka finds herself suffering rather from performance anxiety - Although to be honest I'd have thought she'd find a violin recital as little more than a trifle compared to having to dress as a maid for most of the day. Oh, I didn't mention that all of the students had to dress as maids for no particular reason, did I? I guess I've just stumbled across the entire point of this episode then...

As time goes on and the episodes drift by, I'm seriously starting to wonder why To Aru Kagaku no Railgun was made into a twenty-four episode series at all - We've been regaled with so much filler material now that surely all of the major story arcs could have been condensed into a shorter, and thus more interesting series. Yes, it does appear that there's something more important on the horizon to explain all of those minor earthquakes in recent episodes, but that doesn't really make up for the fact that the second half of this series so far has been a bit of a waste of time. I'll openly admit that there were a few funny moments sprinkled throughout this episode, but even that isn't really enough for me to give it a free pass when I think back to how much better the first half of the show was, even when it drifted towards filler itself. Here's to hoping that things pick up quickly before the series simply runs out of time and episodes.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 6

With Valentine's Day just around the corner to coincide with the broadcast date of this episode, it seems only right that love should be in the air for this sixth instalment of Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆.

When Yoshinoya all but leaps into her classroom while celebrating the joys of spring, it reminds both Yunocchi and Miyako of the last time there was a drastic change in season the previous autumn - A time which brought about a very different reaction from their teacher. So, for the first half of this episode we jump back to that period, and find ourselves looking at a pensive, melancholy and rather distant Yoshinoya who seems to be constantly checking her mobile phone every chance she gets. Just what is she waiting for... could this be some kind of unrequited love on her part? All four of the Hidamari Apartment girls believe this to be true, but of course this series being what it is (and Yoshinoya being who she is) the actual reality turns out to be altogether quite different.

We're back in the present for the second half of this instalment however, as first Yuno and Miyako and then Sae and Hiro spot Nazuna in conversation around school with different boys. Could it be that this quiet girl is so popular with the male members of her class? With Miyako (rather unfortunately) leading the way, eventually the other girls all confront Nazuna to find out all about her own popularity, only to discover that (as always seems to be the case with her) it's actually a double-edged sword, and she seems to hate pretty much every minute of it.

As episodes of Hidamari Sketch go this was probably the weakest of this latest series so far, simply because it didn't hook me in in quite the way I'm used to with this show. That said, there were still a fair few funny moments, and even an off-form Hidamari Sketch can knock a lot of other slice of life anime into a heart-shaped hat, so I can forgive it those moments when it still manages to make me laugh out loud a few times.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 6

Following Issei's "disappearance" last episode, it seems that recent goings-on have unearthed a certain amount of panic in the midst of certain factions - Coupled with a poor Hassaku harvest due to the hot weather, demands are growing for even greater action to be taken against whatever ills are ailing the town. It appears that there's one individual at the centre of much of the perceived problems, and I get the feeling we can all guess who that is...

Meanwhile, Isuzu is understandably struggling to come to terms with the loss of her brother while trying to keep up her usual sunny exterior, and her inner turmoil also appears to be bubbling up from beneath the surface when it comes to her feelings for Hiro... and we all know what happens when feelings of affection become a little overbearing in this series.

So it goes that Isuzu ends up going a little bonkers as she declares her undying love for Hiro, a state of affairs which leads to her facing off against Nemuru in a rather impressive little physical battle that ramps up some further clues as to exactly what is going on in this town, although plenty of questions still remain - Not least with the town doctor, the medication he's been dishing out and his own part in proceedings.

I get the feeling that by this point most of you will have well and truly decided whether you love or hate Ookami Kakushi, as it's certainly well and truly set out its stall when it comes to very slowly revealing its many mysteries while traversing a path that already feels rather well worn by the likes of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Indeed, the crazed Isuzu we see this episode could easily have been Rena from that series without too much of a stretch; an odd juxtaposition of love so great it almost turns to hatred.

To be fair the deeper mysteries of this show are, once again, keeping me watching, but beyond that I have to confess that Ookami Kakushi is starting to look pretty run-of-the-mill in many ways - It doesn't have anything in particular that you can really get excited about, so if the secrets of Jouga haven't grabbed you then nothing else about the series will. Then again, those unravelling mysteries are kind of the point, so perhaps you could argue it's simply delivering exactly what it always intended to.

Finally, perhaps the biggest mystery of all this week should perhaps be the following - How did Hiro's bleeding arm manage to heal itself, and his bloodied shirt clean itself, within mere moments during this episode? Perhaps official Ookami Kakushi washing powder is just around the corner in terms of series merchandise...

Durarara!! - Episode 6

It was just last episode that Masaomi Kida asked some of his friends to tell him everything they know about the group known as the Dollars, and in answer to that query we have ourselves this sixth episode of Durarara!!, told through the eyes of one of those friends; Kyohei Kadota (aka "Dotachin", whether he likes it or not).

Indeed, Kadota's tale turns out (perhaps surprisingly) to be a first-hand example of the Dollars in action as he, alongside Erika Karisawa, Walker Yumasaki and Saburo Togusa are in fact members of said gang themselves. In fact, compared to the rather dark stories we've heard thus far, the truth about the Dollars seems like quite a pleasant and dare I say ordinary one, although whether this is also true of the wider organisation remains to be seen.

Anyhow, the focus of this episode is upon something known as the "Kaztano incident", and involves the group of kidnappers we saw back in the opening couple of episodes up to their usual tricks again. It appears that this group aren't the only kidnappers roaming around either, with rumours surfacing about humans being kidnapped for experiments, or even to be used as food - Rumours that his episode seems to back up with some of its material. The Kaztano to which this incident refers is a friend of Togusa who becomes the victim of these kidnappers, sending our intrepid quartet of Dollars to rescue him and search out the culprits.

What follows is a criminal farce of which Guy Ritchie in his Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels era would be proud - At its highest level, this episode is a fantastic example of taking a dark subject and making it utterly hilarious, be it via our inept kidnappers or our unlikely heroes who choose their torture methods via volumes of Ladies versus Butlers and the like (as if reading Ladies versus Butlers wouldn't be torture enough on its own). In keeping with my Guy Ritchie comparison, this instalment also throws out some fantastic dialogue and one-liners which had me laughing out loud, while even the bizarre use of Nessun Dorma and Kadota getting caught in mid-narrative monologue where simply fabulous.

Of course, this being Durarara!!, there was also plenty of opportunities taken to link various characters and events in an almost exhausting fashion - I could try to explain some of them here, but it feels almost like everybody is linked to everybody else sometimes so I'm going to stop thinking about it for a while before my heads starts hurting. Instead, I'll just leave it as read that this was another excellent episode of the series - By far the funniest this show has offered so far, but it's a little unfair to rate episodes against one another this way considering how different each instalment has been up to this point.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 6

After finding himself and Yuki attacked by vampires last episode, it seems a little like Akira is perhaps losing patience a little with the vampire race as a whole - A train of thought exacerbated by the appearance of Meiren as this instalment begins.

Meiren's revelation that Mina Tepes' first meeting with Akira which reunited them and everything that transpired afterwards was carefully stage managed unsurprisingly shakes up our male protagonist somewhat, and things only get worse when he not only finds himself barred from seeing Mina to question her motives for himself, but also finds out about her plot regarding the kidnapping of the Prime Minister's grandson. Combine all of these points and it's safe to say that Akira's trust in his "princess" is beyond dented.

When he finds that there are still yet more vampires prowling the school, Akira finally gets to confront Mina, who hardly does a good job at assuaging Akira's concerns - A situation which sees Akira turning to an unlikely new ally in the school's student council, as he vows to help them rid the school of vampires. If this really even possible? Between Akira and the council members a plot is formed, but as you might expect things aren't quite as simple in reality as they are in the heads of a few bright high school students.

If I had to find one word to describe this sixth episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund, then the word would be "disjointed". While previous episodes have suffered a little from not moving things forward enough, this instalment seemed determined to pack so much in that it jumped all over the place without giving either the viewer or the story time to settle and establish itself properly. The whole thing felt almost like a Toyota with a brake failure, careering along with no opportunity for consideration - A real shame when you consider how much was revealed over the course of the episode.

Maybe it's just my attitude towards this series reflecting back upon me, but I can't help but think that the whole of this series thus far feels a little half-hearted - There's no real life or verve to it, leaving it depicting "a bunch of stuff that happens" rather than a story in the truest sense of the word. Even the depths and conflicts within Mina's character are getting rather short shrift when they should make for a rich vein of material, to the point where I'm struggling to find anything positive to say about Dance in the Vampire Bund at all. Am I just missing something?

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 6

I have to confess that I still haven't quite forgiven Ladies versus Butlers! for throwing away a decent story concept last episode in the name of fan service - Can episode six of the series assuage my frustrations with an unlikely stroke of genius?

This time around, the show's focus is upon wannabe butler and room-mate of Hino, Daichi. Of course, we learned last episode that all is not as it seems with Daichi, as that good old fashioned anime concept of a girl pretending to be a guy raised its not quite so ugly head, and so it goes that this episode deals with poor old Daichi's attempts to hide her true form from all an sundry - Something that proves to be a problem in a series where being naked as much as possible seems to be the status quo.

On top of that, this episode sees the school's principle announcing a ball, in which the butlers will have to dress as maids and the maids as men, an announcement which churns up all kind of conflicted feelings for our heroine of this instalment - She went to this school to become a man, yet deep down she still wants to look beautiful and be noticed just like any other girl. Oh, what dilemma!

For a concept that is pretty standard fare in certain anime circles, it's not exactly a surprise that this particular episode of Ladies versus Butlers! is similarly run of the mill. Again, it wins some points from me for some of the decent moments of humour which it has managed to sprinkle throughout the series thus far, but aside from that everything was as predictable as you'd expect from the inevitable fan service onwards. Still, at least the breasts and nudity fitted into the wider plot more seamlessly this time around, which somehow allows me to at least give it a little grudging respect, and once again Hino's likeable character manages to give me some justification for feeling a little warmth towards this show that comes from my head and not any other region of my body.

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 18

"So near but yet so far" could pretty much have summed up the climax to the previous episode of Kimi ni Todoke, but after teasing us with the near-kiss moment this eighteenth instalment of the series takes a rather different approach.

After having spent so much time focusing on the budding yet rather naive relationship between Sawako and Kazehaya, it's been easy to forget the trials and tribulations of some of the other major characters when it comes to love, and it's these goings-on which occupy the lion's share of this particular episode.

In sharp contrast to Sawako's blossoming feelings, Yano's relationship with a college student has long since passed that point, to where it's now reached the inevitable time where she's fed up of the guy. While this particular scenario only gets some brief moments of exposure during the episode, it's a stark contrast to all the idealised love and happiness floating around in Sawako's head, and serves as a much-needed anchor for the show's romantic leanings as a whole.

Yano's problems are pushed into relief however as Sawako concerns herself more with the relationship between Chizuru and Ryuu - Of course, Sawako already knows the latter's feelings towards Yoshida, but as the episode progresses she soon begins to learn that the relationship between this particular pair is far, far more complicated than she could possibly have imagined, and it appears as though things are only going to become trickier still next time around as Ryuu fails to find an opportunity to tell Chizuru something important.

While Yano and Yoshida's relationships simply aren't as interesting or unique as Sawako's for various (and mostly obvious) reasons, getting to spend some more time watching and analysing the pair of them, and Chizuru in particular, was actually quite refreshing; if nothing else, it goes to show how likeable these characters are as an important part of Kimi ni Todoke's cast. I can't pretend to get as excited about Yoshida's uncomfortable love triangle as the one between Sawako, Kurumi and Kazehaya, yet I still want to see it through to its conclusion, which I suppose is proof enough that this story arc is working on a fundamental level. If you're dying for more progress between the two lead characters this episode might prove to be a frustrating one, but personally I don't mind too much.

Katanagatari - Episode 2

After a slightly slow-burning start, Katanagatari's opening episode turned out to be a deeply pleasing affair, although admittedly perhaps not in the way you'd expect from a series promising swordsman and ninjas.

If you were put off by the prevalence of dialogue over action in that opener, then you won't be any more satisfied by this second episode - Although it sees Shichika Yasuri and his "employer" Togame the self-styled strategist head overseas, first to Kyoto and then on to Inaba to find the second of the twelve swords Togame is searching for, in reality the dynamic between these two lead characters is the real focus of the day.

Thus, before we even reach the remote castle where this second sword known as Zantou Namakura is held, we're taken clothes shopping by Togame, before a long and drawn-out discussion which involves trying to figure out a catchphrase and a way to inject a little more character into the rather plain and strait-laced Shichika. Indeed, it's Togame that does the vast majority of the talking throughout this episode, leaving Shichika with little more than the occasional quip in return. Of course, this all turns around when it gets to the serious business of actually retrieving the sword from its current owner, a swordsman who can allegedly draw faster than the speed of light - Here Shichika comes into his own, with some cool lines and even cooler moves which (and I don't think this is too much of a spoiler) allow him to win the day.

Having watched this second episode, I'm actually finding it a little difficult to get a true handle on my feelings for this particular instalment of Katanagatari. On the one hand, the episode's villain wasn't really fleshed out as much as he probably deserved, and the action was as sparse as I've already mentioned (despite being arguably worth the wait). On the other however, I have an odd love for both Shichika and Togame's characters, with the former acting almost as a breath of fresh air in an anime world packed with cocky, mouthy male leads and also forming a genuinely interesting partnership with the latter, who happily blusters and talks her way through life, sounding smart but ultimately proving herself far less capable of formulating any kind of strategy or genuine thought than her partner in crime.

Then there's the animation, which somehow manages to be both lavish and simple at the same time - I love it for its colourful nature and simply for being different from your average anime, even if you could argue that it's less expressive than that more traditional 21st century style.

Overall then, I guess it's a net win for Katanagatari in terms of winning me over so far - Certainly, as a character study I really rather like it, and I think I'd probably follow Shichika and Togame's journey anywhere no matter how boring it may be in terms of an actual plot and story-telling. That thought does however bely this shows biggest weakness so far - Beyond that lead character dynamic it currently doesn't really have a bold or exciting enough plot to really hook me in, with a story that feels almost secondary to the entertaining dialogue. Compare and contrast with that other recently animated NisiOisiN work Bakemonogatari, which also sported sparkling dialogue, but coupled it with some top-notch stories within which to utilise its verbose characters. I can only hope that as Katanagatari progresses it will inject a little more of that smart and sassy story telling into its own mould.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Sora no Woto - Episode 6

Episode six introduces a wonderful, wonderful day in Kanata's working life, and one that I'm sure a lot of us remember ourselves - The first pay day. Ahh, the beauty of opening that envelope and finding the reward inside, your mind racing with just how to spend all that beautiful moolah...

Anyhow, in her excitement (and naivety no doubt) Kanata never stops to ask just how come she's been paid on time, and in cash no less - This post-war world clearly isn't usually one where money becomes readily available quite that easily, even if you've earned it. So, as Kanata goes racing off into town on market day to spend her earnings, so the other girls turn to their "other job" - The one that actually allows them to make a living.

In a sense, this particular facet of the story had already been hinted at by the bottle of wine used as a gift last episode, and in appears that the girls in fact have a whole cellar of the stuff to sell and trade as they wish, while the wine itself has an ironic connection with Rio, and more precisely her mother. On this occasion however, it isn't so much selling the wine that is their job as making sure a local Mafia group don't get their hands on it - Truth be told, I suspect this is just a vehicle for us to see all of the girls (except Kanata) dressed as gangsters, but to be frank I can't really complain about that seeing as it actually looked rather awesome.

While the first half of the episode concerns itself with these gangster-related goings on, so the second half rewinds to view the day from Kanata's angle, as she goes out shopping but ends up doing something far more important in the form of helping an orphan named Mishio who gets herself into a spot of bother. This side of the story is rather nicely weaved and intertwined with the other half of the story we've already seen, which adds a little to the entertainment value before dumping some big globs of raw emotion over the proceedings.

Even though I wasn't quite so enthralled with this episode as I have been with previous instalments of Sora no Woto, there was still a lot to like here. The animation quality proved to be excellent once again (did I mention how awesome the "gangster girls" looked yet?), and the more frivolous aspects of the story were nicely balanced by more emotional or important moments which further revealed the world in which the show is based, giving us an understanding of both its economies while also delving into some of the atrocities of the conflict and how it destroyed so much. The episode even found time to leave a few potential avenues to explore in future episodes, which is always good to see - If nothing else, it suggests that both this series and the story its trying to tell has a very well defined path ahead, which once more reminds us that this is more than some slice of life series about a bunch of cute girls; a depth which I'm growing to appreciate more by the week, even when it only appears fleetingly at times.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 43

With Drachma about to take on the might of Fort Briggs with a massive army of their own, you could be forgiven for thinking that this forty-third episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood would depict the long and drawn out conflict that is about to take place.

Well, you'd be wrong - Drachma is crushed easily before Fort Briggs takes so much as a scratch. What was the purpose of that little charade then? To allow Kimblee to create his "blood crest"; clearly another most disturbing part of the Homunculus' current plans.

Speaking of the Homunculus, Envy finally gets to catch up with Doctor Marcoh, which seems like it can only be bad news both for himself and the rest of the group he has been travelling with. However, while Envy initially appears to have the upper hand, in fact he's simply blundered into an elaborate trap created specifically for him to be lured into, and even when it appears that any attempts to take on this almighty Homunculus has failed it's Marcoh himself who has the last laugh, sowing the seeds for a victory that also serves as an opportunity for May Chang to return to her own country with renewed hope of a solution to its particular problems.

If Envy's defeat is the "headline act" of this episode, there's still plenty of other business to be getting on with; Bradley reveals that he knows all about Hawkeye's knowledge of Selim, Major General Armstrong is given a tour of an underground store which holds a shocking secret, and Alphonse returns to Lior along with Winry to find that his old friend Rose has a most surprising guest on-hand helping out.

While this more thinly spread coverage of important events is perhaps slightly less compelling than focusing on one or two more grandiose plot points, I do mean it when I say "slightly" - The entrapment of Envy was a fantastic visual and story-telling tour de force no matter how crazy it seemed at first (in fact, I suspect it's still a slightly ridiculous plan, but who cares?), and once again we find ourselves satiated by the sheer quantity of story progression served up in a single episode. There's certainly no time to dawdle of waste with filler in Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, and that goes a long way to making each new episode one of my most anticipated moments of the week these days.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 5

When everyone starts worrying about dieting around Yamabuki High, that can mean only one thing - It's time for physical examinations!

While Yunocchi is fretting far too much about both her height and weight, it's almost inevitable that one person at Hidamari Apartments will be suffering even more, and so it proves, with Hiro's brief crash diet proving to be a little too much for her. However, come the examination itself Hiro gets some good news to see her through the rest of the school year, although things aren't quite so positive for Yuno - It appears that she's actually shrunk.

With this ordeal out of the way, after-school discussions (coupled with lots of freshly baked goodies from Hiro, naturally) turn to the time Yuno left her mobile phone in the school's art room, and it's this anecdote which kicks off the second half of this episode, as she meets up with the senior who found her phone during a late after-school drawing session. This particular segment of the episode isn't so much played for laughs (although there are gags here, don't get me wrong) as it is a bit of inspiration for Yuno with an eye towards her future, and to be quite honest it's all rather warm-heartedly adorable. Somehow Hidamari Sketch can get away without being outright funny and yet still have me glued to the screen with rapt attention.

All in all, I suppose that's all there is to say about this episode really - There are some great jokes as always, but as I've just mentioned even when it isn't trying to be funny I find myself entranced by the series. While Nori and Nazuna were somewhat sidelined once again in lieu of the major four characters, I continue to have nothing but admiration for this gentle and kind-hearted series, particularly when those little SHAFT animation and presentation touches somehow manage to lift it out of the realms of the ordinary into something genuinely special.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 18

It seems that Kuroko will never learn when it comes to attracting the less than welcome attention of her and Mikoto's dorm manager, and come the beginning of this latest episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun Shirai is left out in the cold after her usual shenanigans, and in more than a little pain by the look of it too.

Thus, when Kuroko spots said dorm manager heading out into the city one day she can't help but follow her, under the assumption that she's meeting for some kind of marriage interview. Of course, she's got entirely the wrong end of the stick.... well, almost entirely the wrong end of the stick anyhow. In fact, the real reason for her trip is to go and work with a bunch of (rather cruelly named, I must say) "Child Errors" - Orphans to you and I. That said, she clearly has eyes for a young man who also works at the orphanage, and so it goes that the four main characters end up clubbing together under Kuroko's direction to become cupids in this particular situation.

From here on in, everything gets a little predictable - The girls do everything in their power to push the dorm manager and the apple of her eye together, it all goes horribly wrong, yet she eventually manages to win his respect and admiration by dropping her previous act and simply being herself. Then, of course, they all live happily ever after... or do they?

In many respects, this particular episode is simply a continuation of the weak filler story arcs that we seem to be suffering from with To Aru Kagaku no Railgun of late - There's nothing particularly great about this instalment, although to be fair it does have its moments as a comic vehicle for Kuroko's character on occasion if nothing else. We also get a couple of little teasers towards future (and doubtless less trivial) story arcs further down the line - Twice now we've witnessed earth tremors in recent episodes (this time followed up by a comment upon how many there have been lately), and Mikoto's flashback to the climax of the "Level Upper" saga is perhaps a reminder that there are still more important tales to be told yet by this series. At the moment however, those more vital tales can't come soon enough - While this series seemed to almost thrive on putting together genuinely fun yet frivolous episodes at times during its first half, it's most definitely lost that knack for the time being during the second half of this series so far.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 5

The previous episode of Ookami Kakushi finally looked set to really get the ball rolling in terms of the mysterious goings-on in this series, with Hiro ending up as a witness to some of the insanity and bloodshed which seems to be running unbidden through his new hometown.

Of course, come the next morning there's no trace of what Hiro witnesses the night before, while his friend Kana tells him that she knows nothing of legends about a girl with a big scythe and listens to his tale only to assume that he's making the whole thing up. Little does Hiro know that Nemuru was listening in on his conversation, which probably hasn't done his future prospects too much good...

Almost equally odd to Hiro is the fact that Isuzu is absent from school, although of course we gain far more insight into the reason for this, with her brother increasingly suffering from whatever madness afflicts him while his family appear to be under threat by a group of unknown men on account on this. While the pieces of the puzzle regarding the pills we've seen Issei taking slot into place a little further, Issei himself manages to break out of the confinement of his own home and goes on the run, once again attacking Hiro before his activities gain the attention of others.

While Ookami Kakushi is certainly looking a million miles away from being any kind of classic series (I doubt it'll be placed into the same league as Higurashi either), in fairness it is at least starting to build up the pace of its plot and managing to keep things moving while also fostering enough of a much-needed sense of mystery to keep me suitably intrigued. Let's face it, this particular show would be nothing without its carefully guarded and slowly unveiled revelations in story-telling terms, so I have to give it some kudos for keeping its powder dry and not proving to be too obvious with the way it's progressing. If you like a bit of mystery from time to time, there are probably worse anime shows around to watch than Ookami Kakushi.

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 5

After awakening from a dream (or was it merely a memory?), Akira finds Mina in his bed... again. There's no time to dwell on that however, as it's time to join the vampire queen for some high school hijinks!

Thankfully, the slice of life school stuff (well, as slice of life as you can get when it involves a vampire) doesn't last for too long in this fifth episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund, but it does give us a glimpse of Mina's intellect as well as the odd juxtaposition of popularity and fear her presence instils within her classmates. As she undertakes a cooking class, it's left to Yuki to partner with her - A decision which seems to lead to a bit of good olf-fashioned love rivalry when she spots Mina sporting a ring given to Akira by Yuki herself.

Aside from all of this, Mina also has some political problems to attend to, as Japan's Prime Minister announces that he'll be turning down the vampire's "offer" (if you can call it that considering it's far closer to blackmail) as an opportunity to inscribe his own place in history and leave a legacy for his family. With any possibility of compromise severed, it's perhaps no surprise to see Mina and her band of merry vampires turning to less savoury tactics to get their way, in a plot point which I'm assuming will continue to develop beyond this episode alone.

If Mina is having problems, then the same can be said for Akira, as he finds himself set upon by a group of vampires boasting the uniform of his school - An assault he seems unable to fend off (most likely because he doesn't want to reveal his true werewolf form to Yuki) until help arrives from another quarter entirely.

You know, the more I watch Dance in the Vampire Bund the more it confuses me - There's nothing wrong with it per se, and it seems to be pretty solid in more or less everything it tries to do, yet despite all this it's simply unable to grab me. I'm not sure whether it's the characterisation, the voice acting or the story itself (or perhaps a combination of the three) but there's nothing here which manages to excite me or draw me into the world it's trying to depict. It almost feels at times like it's trying to be a jack of all trades and thus ends up as a master of none - It does school drama and romance but without any real feeling, political intrigue but in far too shallow a fashion, and action too sporadic to really get your fangs into. All things said, maybe the series just needs a more definite direction from the viewer's perspective, something which I suspect is sorely lacking at the moment. Considering my hopes for this series (despite having never read the manga) I have to confess that I'm disappointed.

Durarara!! - Episode 5

In that tradition much beloved of some more complex anime series, the fifth episode of Durarara!! actually begins virtually at its end, as we again find ourselves following the tracks of Selty Sturluson, albeit briefly - However, despite all we learned about her last episode, it seems that even this immortal Dullahan can have a bad day, as she finds her latest mission hijacked by some crazed individual who puts even the normally passive Selty into quite a state.

Aside from that however, it's Masaomi Kida who takes up narration duties for this particular instalment; an episode which gives us a huge amount of insight into not only his character, but also Mikado's. To be quite frank, I could easily sit and write a 'blog entry about this aspect of the episode alone, as we learn of Kida's own interest in Anri Sonohara and the developing love triangle there and his rather more fractious relationship with Mikado than we've been able to grasp previously. More importantly, both Kida and Mikado's personalities are really fleshed out here, with the former's outgoing character proving to be something of an act while Mikado's seemingly naive persona hides an incredibly perceptive guy underneath it all. Throw in some secrets which Kida seems to be hiding (or just plain avoiding) and my fascination with these two major characters has well and truly jumped up a notch or two.

Of course, this series being what it is we don't simply focus on two characters here - Instead, we learn of Anri's relationship to a girl named Mika Harima, her association in turn with Seiji Yagiri, and a whole bunch of other slender threads which tie together the various individuals that make up this show's world.

It's this almost dizzying interlinking of characters that is making Durarara!! - Despite giving so much away about Selty last episode, we're still left with so many mysteries and unknowns that it's difficult to know where to start, and it's genuinely fun to let the conjecture run wild as to who is who, what they're doing and how they're related to another. Throwing this melting pot of fascinating individuals into a bustling city is also proving to be a work of genius, as despite its excesses it still somehow manages to "feel" authentic, and the fact that it's becoming so easy to like, or at least want to become closer to, the major characters only helps the show yet further.

Really, there's so much to consider and discuss here that my "stream of consciousness" style of 'blogging feels like little more than a rabbit trapped in the headlights here - How can I possible dissect and devour everything that this episode brought to us just minutes after watching it? Of course, I simply can't, and in a way that's what I love about Durarara!! so much right now. It knows exactly what it's doing, and it's revelling in it, as am I. It even manages to sum itself up in a single sentence towards the end of this episode: "The things happening in this city may look like they're unrelated, but they're probably connected somewhere."

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 5

This fifth episode of Ladies versus Butlers! starts out with a flashback to what I suppose you could call a calmer time, as Flameheart and Saikyo meet for the first time at the start of their current school careers - A meeting of equals as you like, with this particular pair both holding identical records as the school's two highest scoring newcomers.

Of course, putting two relative intellectuals with a desire to be the best is only ever going to cause conflict, and thus throughout this episode we see Flameheart's anger at being beaten once again by Saikyo in their latest exam (one which Hino has to resit incidentally) while Tomomi fumes at Flameheart's supposedly superior body and physique. This is all framed against flashbacks to earlier days in the relationship between these two characters as their budding rivalry grew.

Of course, while examining character dynamics is great news for the average series when it comes to creating a compelling episode, it isn't really what Ladies versus Butlers! is all about, and thus half-way through the episode is suddenly turned into some kind of hot springs nudity-fest thanks to some paper-thin excuse for shoe-horning said hot spring into the show. I've been relatively happy to ignore all the nudity and fan service within this series until now, but this particular instalment really does take the biscuit, dropping pretty much everything it seemed to be building up to in favour of some good old-fashioned use of naked girls in increasingly compromising positions.

Truth be told, this is a real shame, as I was quite enjoying the build-up (and breakdown, you could say) in the relationship between Flameheart and Saikyo - It was being played reasonably well and worked nicely to flesh out their characters. What a shame then the fleshing out of characters turned to just plain flashing of flesh; a point in which all interest in what little remained of this episode's story was lost for me. I probably should simply drop the series at this juncture, but somehow I'm loathe to do so after making it through five whole episodes, especially given that I actually find myself rather liking some of the main characters when they aren't flashing their bits.