Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 12 (Completed)

I'm not really a big fan of tomatoes in food, which probably puts me at something of a disadvantage when it comes to enjoying the final episode of Hidamari Sketch Hoshimittsu. Hell, who am I kidding, of course it doesn't!

In a departure from most episodes sported by this franchise, this finale sticks to just a single day and a single story to close things out, with the Hidamari Apartments crew picking the now-ripe tomatoes planted in their shared back garden and then deciding how to cook them to make for a bumper meal. Thus, the rest of the episode is spent in preparation for said meal, with even the apartment block's landlady getting an invite to enjoy the feast. So, much fun is had and good food is enjoyed, which pretty much sums up everything that Hidamari Sketch is all about.

While this final episode perhaps isn't an example of this franchise at its absolute best in terms of comedy (although Miyako's onion-chopping getup was priceless), it does sum up what the series delivers on a "deeper" (if that's the right word for it) level - A world of uncomplicated pleasures where food and friendship is all you need, and everyday worries drain away within seconds on the rare occasions when they crop up. It's this attitude which makes Hidamari Sketch so relaxing yet enjoyable, as an idealised world where you can cut loose from the every-day stresses of life for a while in an environment that always makes you feel welcome and as if you somehow "belong", even though we're simply a fly on the wall in the lives of these ordinary girls. It's perhaps an odd concept and franchise to fall so deeply in love with, but Hidamari Sketch has always had me hooked from the very start, and Hoshimittsu has done nothing to change that opinion despite taking the arguable risk of shaking up its core character set.

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 25 (Completed)

So, it comes to an end at last, with Sawako and Kazehaya closing out their year, and this series, together for their New Year's shrine visit.

Needless to say, a large portion of this episode is dedicated simply to the dialogue between and inner thoughts of this particular pairing, although Kimi ni Todoke's finale also doesn't forget to move things on just a little between Chizuru and Ryuu while also finding time for the usual brief doses of comic relief.

In a way, it needn't have worried about the comedy, as were all watching in rapt attention to see what (if anything) would happen between Sawako and the apple of her eye - Of course, this series being what it is we don't get some heady conclusion, yet all the same it feels at least somewhat satisfying as progress if nothing else, with the lots of genuinely sweet dialogue mixed up with the odd moment of head in hands stupidity when Kazehaya opens his mouth before entirely engaging his brain. Still, we've all been there and done that, and overall the series closes out leaving us with the warm and fuzzy feeling we were most likely looking for from this particular show.

It has to be said that I wasn't expecting too much of Kimi ni Todoke when I began watching it six months ago - Sawako seemed like exactly the kind of girl I'd have little interest in cheering on through life and love, yet somehow this series managed to play me like a cheap fiddle and within weeks I was welling up with tears at Sawako's sorrow and grinning with joy at her small but notable successes as her life was turned around. Kimi ni Todoke managed to do this with a simple blend of great characterisation and beautifully plotted episodes that managed to introduce drama and emotion that felt so tangible and real you could almost touch it - Something often forgotten by series of this ilk in favour of cheap thrills and more intense story lines. Even though I couldn't always relate to the characters and what they were going through I could still understand their pain or happiness, and at times the way it was portrayed was breathtaking in its simplicity, forgoing dialogue for nothing but silence or crashing waves at a dockside.

In short, this is how romance should be done in my book - Not just in anime, but in any visual medium. If you ever find yourself feeling cynical about love and human relationships, sit down and watch Kimi ni Todoke; it might not make everything alright, but it could just serve to remind you that life can be beautiful, even if it isn't as often as we might like.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

ISML 2010 - Aquamarine Period - Round 5

It's International Saimoe day again, with the aquamarine period hitting round five of seven. How torn was I between Minori and Mikoto today? As ever, my picks are in blue.

ARENA 01: Tōsaka Rin [Abstained] Ikaros

ARENA 02: [Fujibayashi Kyō] Maria

ARENA 03: Sakurano Kurimu [Fujibayashi Ryō]

ARENA 04: [Sunohara Mei] Fate Testarossa

ARENA 05: [Fukuji Mihoko] Nakano Azusa

ARENA 06: Takamachi Nanoha [C.C.]

ARENA 07: Furude Rika [Nagato Yuki]

ARENA 08: Hiiragi Kagami [Saten Ruiko]

ARENA 09: Louise Vallière [Shiina Mafuyu]

ARENA 10: Shiina Minatsu [Ichinose Kotomi]

ARENA 11: [Senjōgahara Hitagi] Hiiragi Tsukasa

ARENA 12: Sanzen'in Nagi [Abstained] Furude Hanyū

ARENA 13: Akaba Chizuru [Furukawa Nagisa]

ARENA 14: [Suzumiya Haruhi] Okazaki Ushio

ARENA 15: [Aisaka Taiga] Saginomiya Isumi

ARENA 16: Shana [Kawashima Ami]

ARENA 17: [Asahina Mikuru] Katsura Hinagiku

ARENA 18: Ibuki Fūko [Saber]

ARENA 19: [Sengoku Nadeko] Haramura Nodoka

ARENA 20: Misaka Mikoto [Kushieda Minori]

ARENA 21: Minami Chiaki [Izumi Konata]

ARENA 22: Hirasawa Ui [Holo]

ARENA 23: [Akiyama Mio] Illyasviel von Einzbern

ARENA 24: Konjiki no Yami [Sakagami Tomoyo]

ARENA 25: [Hirasawa Yui] Nymph

ARENA 26: Maetel [Abstained] Nausicaä

Monday, 29 March 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 50

With the sun having risen on the so-called Promised Day, we all know that things are about to start rapidly hotting up within the world of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as we hit episode fifty, and I for one can't wait...

Certainly, this episode doesn't disappoint, proving to be a grin-inducing affair from beginning to end as we see the rebels numbers growing and giving the conventional forces of Central's military more and more problems - First, via Mustang's rabble of former comrades who work together without killing any of their former colleagues, before those who have been in hiding from Briggs join the fray, albeit with slightly less scruples when it comes to the body count. Even the Major General Armstrong isn't likely to sit around idly at such a time, and thus even she gets involved in the "festivities".

Meanwhile of course, Alphonse remains locked away with ride who does nothing but drum out a beat on the headpiece of Al's armour (which is rapidly beginning to seem less pointless than we may have first thought), while Ed and his own band of merry men accompany Hoenheim to quite literally get to the root of the country's problems. With May Chang returning to Central with Envy in tow however, and with all sorts of additional chaos about to be unleashed, there are a multitude of flies threatening to land in the rebellion's ointment.

I'm sure by this point I don't really need to put into words just how phenomenal Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood continues to be, with this episode proving to be a real highlight for the reasons I mentioned earlier - Seeing the good guys finally put their plan into action in full force is an air-punching, "yeah!" shouting pleasure of the highest degree that even the best and most patriotic Hollywood war movies would struggle to replicate. Even despite the clear-cut enjoyment to be had here, the series never forgets its darker perils laying beneath the service, and for all the flag-waving and cheering on the good guys there's always a healthy dose of foreboding lurking beneath this episode to make the prospect of what is to come all the more delicious. If this series gets any better, it's going to seriously start to scare me - Nothing this good can be healthy, surely?

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 11

Come the end of the previous episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund, Akira found himself in a decidedly tight spot on account of vampire queen Mina Tepes, with the clans who are effectively pulling the strings behind her continued existence deciding to each send their own assassin after Akira as part of a wager to win Mina's body while simultaneously subjecting her to a degrading purity check of her own.

Thus, this latest instalment is effectively all about Akira fight to survive against these trained killers, while a message sent by himself to Mina also gives her the renewed vigour to throw her own weight into the on-going wager under the assumption that Akira will manage to survive. But, with yet more players rumoured to be entering the game it certainly isn't going to be an easy one for our male protagonist.

However, despite the action and threats on show here, the real focus of this episode soon turns to Akira's memory... or rather, his lack of it, with the one piece of his missing memories from before his amnesia hit proving to be vitally important to all those concerned, with the clans in particularly seemingly keen to know what this information might be. While Akira himself seems to be coming towards enlightenment on this matter as the episode progresses, does he really even want to remember what you can't help but feel will be a shocking truth?

All in all, this was a pretty solid episode which, as now seems to be par for the course with this series, does everything that it sets out to do but without ever really raising your pulse or interest levels to any notable degree. While the unravelling plot and the secrets held within Akira's head are interesting to some degree, it isn't enough to hold together an entire episode on its own, and unfortunately the action side of the series equally continues to be decent but not spectacular. Still, it's all still a definite improvement over much of the first half of Dance in the Vampire Bund, and with only one episode left to go everything is in place for an interesting finale if nothing else.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Darker than BLACK II OVA - Episode 2

As we join this second episode of Darker than BLACK's Gaiden OVA, so we also rejoin Hei and Yin as they continue their attempt to escape from their seemingly numerous pursuers, who remain on their tale even though they've succeeded in leaving the mainland and making it to Hong Kong.

As Hei involves himself with the kind of shady dealings that they need to survive and goes on the hunt for fake passports for the pair of them, so Yin's behaviour takes a decidedly odd turn, with the normally lifeless Doll speaking up in rather scathing terms about Hei's plan one minute, before being unable to remember any of the conversation she's just had minutes later.

This is a set of circumstances which repeat themselves throughout the episode, as Yin concocts a plan involving releasing rumours that she is to be sold to draw the parties interested in her out of hiding so that Hei can go on the attack for once. As you might expect, this involves going toe-to-toe with the usual band of dangerous contractors, in a situation which slowly starts to unveil exactly what is going on with Yin in a fashion which begins to bind this OVA with the major storylines of Ryuusei no Gemini.

Certainly, this second episode of the Gaiden OVA is once again everything we've come to expect, know and love about Darker Than BLACK - The world of contractors and dolls is as fascinating as ever, the action is razor-sharp and fantastic to watch, and the twists and turns on show here are looking set to be a great intermediary between the two full series of Darker Than BLACK, to the point where I can't help but feel that watching this OVA first would have made Ryuusei no Gemini a more enjoyable experience. Regardless, with the usual set of crazy yet cool contractor powers being showcased and the relationship between Hei and Yin proving to be more fascinating than ever, this is great stuff.

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 12 (Completed)

After finishing the series proper last episode, this final instalment of Ookami Kakushi was left free to cut loose and do whatever it likes, which almost inevitably leads us down the road of a light-hearted comical filler episode to close out the show.

This particular episode is split in two, each of which regales us with a pointless tale of the upmost stupidity, whether it's Nemuru's creation of some bizarre and dark rabbit world after getting the wrong end of the stick in a discussion with Mana about some cute mascot, or the story of a "phantom waiter" that is little more than an excuse to dress up some of the cast (yes, including Hiroshi) in waitress outfits. All in all, it tries way too hard to be funny throughout, and thus ends up falling flat on its face the vat majority of the time to the point of being downright irritating in places.

Overall then, this is a decidedly auspicious finish to a decidedly average series that promised much but delivered little aside from a generic mystery series that ran out of steam once most of its secrets were unveiled. As I've said before, it's most certainly no Higurashi, and when put up against its luminaries like that it simply pales in comparison.

ISML 2010 - Aquamarine Period - Round 4

International Saimoe's fourth aquamarine round of voting is now underway, and here are my choices (in blue) this time around.

ARENA 01: [Asahina Mikuru] Ikaros

ARENA 02: [Hirasawa Yui] Saber

ARENA 03: [C.C.] Hiiragi Tsukasa

ARENA 04: [Furukawa Nagisa] Okazaki Ushio

ARENA 05: [Aisaka Taiga] Nakano Azusa

ARENA 06: Akiyama Mio [Sengoku Nadeko]

ARENA 07: [Holo] Shana

ARENA 08: Maria [Abstained] Konjiki no Yami

ARENA 09: [Fukuji Mihoko] Saginomiya Isumi

ARENA 10: [Nagato Yuki] Sakurano Kurimu

ARENA 11: [Suzumiya Haruhi] Fate Testarossa

ARENA 12: Fujibayashi Kyō [Sakagami Tomoyo]

ARENA 13: Louise Vallière [Abstained] Takamachi Nanoha

ARENA 14: [Hiiragi Kagami] Sanzen'in Nagi

ARENA 15: Sunohara Mei [Shiina Minatsu]

ARENA 16: [Senjōgahara Hitagi] Shiina Mafuyu

ARENA 17: [Kawashima Ami] Minami Chiaki

ARENA 18: [Ichinose Kotomi] Furude Hanyū

ARENA 19: Tōsaka Rin [Abstained] Katsura Hinagiku

ARENA 20: Haramura Nodoka [Kushieda Minori]

ARENA 21: Furude Rika [Fujibayashi Ryō]

ARENA 22: [Hirasawa Ui] Illyasviel von Einzbern

ARENA 23: Akaba Chizuru [Saten Ruiko]

ARENA 24: [Ibuki Fūko] Nymph

ARENA 25: [Misaka Mikoto] Izumi Konata

ARENA 26: Tabitha [Abstained] Hecate

Friday, 26 March 2010

Durarara!! - Episode 12

If you perhaps thought that the previous instalment of Durarara!! explained too much and tied up too many loose ends, then think again, as this twelfth episode sets the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons by quite literally turning the series on its head once again.

With Mikado being threatened by an understandably none too happy Seiji, it's up to Celty to regain her composure and stand in his way - Before we know it, Celty's head/Mika appears on the scene to protect Seiji from Celty's wrath, and thus the whole truth about a particular sequence of events in spilled in full. Talk about a twist in the tale...

Indeed, this whole episode is a series of twists and turns that, in their own very human way, all come to nought in the short-term as everyone goes back to their normal lives, whether it's Celty and Shinra despite what the former learns about the latter, or Mikado despite his wonderful show of strength in numbers last time around. After taking a bit of a back seat last time, Izaya seems to be back to his best when it comes to controlling the "game" going on around him, and indeed we also get more revelations about his own role in the growth of the Dollars as he also seems to be taking rather a keen interest in Celty's head.

You know a series is something special when it manages to make you think you know everything, before turning it all around in a way that doesn't feel at all contrived and yet still leaves you grinning at the fact that it's just made you feel stupid. Durarara!! manages to pull this trick off effortlessly here, before continuing on its merry way as though nothing had happened just like its characters after the insanity of the night before. As much as I enjoyed the broad range of stories earlier in the series, this show is really benefiting from its tighter focus on the major issues at hand right now, which it continues to develop and present in a hugely compelling fashion. So many series start to feel as though they're dragging a little by this half-way stage, yet like a well-paced marathon runner Durarara!! still feels as fresh as a daisy even at this juncture.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

ISML 2010 - Aquamarine Period - Round 3

Another day, another round of International Saimoe voting - So who did I pick this time around?

ARENA 01: Sunohara Mei [Saten Ruiko]

ARENA 02: Fukuji Mihoko [Aisaka Taiga]

ARENA 03: Maria [Sakagami Tomoyo]

ARENA 04: Haramura Nodoka [Shana]

ARENA 05: Kawashima Ami [Holo]

ARENA 06: Tōsaka Rin [Asahina Mikuru]

ARENA 07: [Nagato Yuki] Fujibayashi Ryō

ARENA 08: [Izumi Konata] Illyasviel von Einzbern

ARENA 09: Sengoku Nadeko [Kushieda Minori]

ARENA 10: Saber [Abstained] Nymph

ARENA 11: [Hiiragi Tsukasa] Louise Vallière

ARENA 12: [Ichinose Kotomi] Sanzen'in Nagi

ARENA 13: Saginomiya Isumi [Nakano Azusa]

ARENA 14: Minami Chiaki [Misaka Mikoto]

ARENA 15: [Hirasawa Yui] Ibuki Fūko

ARENA 16: [Akiyama Mio] Hirasawa Ui

ARENA 17: Ikaros [Abstained] Katsura Hinagiku

ARENA 18: [Fujibayashi Kyō] Konjiki no Yami

ARENA 19: Furude Hanyū [Okazaki Ushio]

ARENA 20: Takamachi Nanoha [Senjōgahara Hitagi]

ARENA 21: Furude Rika [Sakurano Kurimu]

ARENA 22: Shiina Mafuyu [C.C.]

ARENA 23: [Hiiragi Kagami] Akaba Chizuru

ARENA 24: Fate Testarossa [Shiina Minatsu]

ARENA 25: Furukawa Nagisa [Suzumiya Haruhi]

ARENA 26: [Excel] Niche

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 24

I think it's fair to say that Sawako is having a pretty good birthday so far, and as Kimi ni Todoke hits its penultimate episode surely it can only get better thanks to Yano and Yoshida's carefully engineered plans?

With Sawako left alone with Kazehaya, everything looks all set for the pair to get closer, but if there's one word to describe the first half of this episode it would be "awkward", with Kazehaya singularly failing to do anything right and simply wandering around rather sullenly with Sawako in tow. It takes a phone call (and a moment of utter hilarity) from Chizuru to at least somewhat bring him to his senses, and as the couple warm up thanks to some amazake, so the mood also warms up as the two actually start to converse.

From here on in, a similar one-word description of the second half of this episode would be "sweet", with Sawako and Kazehaya starting to have some (admittedly still slightly stilted) discussions which make for some good old-fashioned bonding between the two of them as they both begin to open up to one another.

While this episode is perhaps slower in its pacing than previous instalments, once again the entire scenario was given a sumptuous treatment - I've rarely seen an anime make such good use of simple silence to convey emotion, but this episode of Kimi ni Todoke manages to do it again here, while time is still made for some genuinely amusing comic relief away from Sawako and Kazehaya's "date". While the start of this episode is immensely frustrating on account of Kazehaya's clumsy reticence to so much as say a word, it feels oddly believable and brings both relief and a warm, fuzzy feeling once the two begin to communicate and get on with one another. Quite simply, it's adorable to watch, and I make no bones about getting all mushy over it myself. It's quite rare to see quite this level of clumsy yet elegant romance in anime, and to be honest I've been eating it up almost from the very start.

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 12 (Completed)

After leaving us hanging with the school sports festival that looked set to resolve the battle for a date with Hino between Selnia and Tomomi, virtually all of Ladies versus Butlers! finale is concerned with the final outcome of said event.

Indeed, when all is said and done it comes down to the final cavalry battle so beloved of Japanese school sports festivals (or at least so anime has us believe), and inevitably it's the players in this love triangle that are the last left standing as the event draws towards a close, although not before dishing out the usual dose of fan service before revealing who wins the day.

While the victor in the event might have taken the spoils on this occasion, both Saikyou and Flameheart swear to continue their constant bouts of one-upmanship; a vow which probably isn't such a bad idea as the clueless Hino manages to ruin the whole thing at the end anyway by playing the nice guy as always.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that this series opted for such a cop-out ending, and at least it jokingly admitted to itself that it was weak, but even with that self-referenital humour I feel a little cheated - Why does anime have such trouble bringing closure to a series like this? Of course, I know the answer to that question perfectly well, but it still feels most unsatisfying. Come the end of it all, Ladies versus Butlers! has held a rather odd place in my viewing schedule for this season - At times I've rolled my eyes at the senseless bevy of fan service, but at others I've actually quite enjoyed it on account of Hino's eminently likeable character and some half-decent female leads. This certainly wasn't overly emotional stuff, but for a show predicated on fan service first and foremost it made a reasonable account of itself in places; not enough to make it a recommended series or anything like that, but it was fun enough to pass the time, and I suppose I can't ask for much more from it than that.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 10

Episode ten of Dance in the Vampire Bund begins with a nightmare for Akira - Always a pretty bad sign of forthcoming peril in any visual medium, and of course things are no different here.

However, away from Akira's subconscious things actually seem pretty quiet in the Bund, to the point where Mina Tepes even has some free time to spare to relax, enjoy herself and spend a little attention on Akira... or at least she would if he didn't have other plans.

Thus, while part of this episode turns into Dance in the Vampire Bund's swimming pool episode, so Akira meets up with Mei Ren, who when she isn't flirting blatantly with him also gives him some cryptic advice of the dangers headed his way. These dangers certainly seem to turn up sooner than you might expect after this warning, as Mina is visited by the Three Clans - A trio of individuals who may be the closest she has to family, but their arrival is far from welcome. The reason for this soon becomes clear enough, while also shedding a not inconsiderable amount of light on Mina's real role and power within the vampire hierarchy, and it's her expected role in particular which is about to cause a massive amount of trouble for poor old Akira.

Once again, this episode of Dance in the Vampire Bundmanaged to do everything that was required of it, but never to the point of bringing me to the edge of my seat. While the revelations about Mina and the expectations of her from her "relatives" where a genuine surprise, the rest of the episode really just ticked along with a certain inevitability, being knowingly cryptic without being clever and delivering action sequences that never quite feel as though they really mean business. SHAFT's visual touches are certainly becoming more welcome within this series by the episode (even above and beyond the fan service moments) to add a certain something to this particular concoction, but as an overall story it's still struggling to really grab me beyond the odd moment of fleeting interest here and there.

ISML 2010 - Aquamarine Period - Round 2

It's time for another day of Internation Saimoe League voting - Here are my picks (in blue) this time around!

ARENA 01: Shiina Minatsu [Fukuji Mihoko]

ARENA 02: Asahina Mikuru [Sakagami Tomoyo]

ARENA 03: Furude Hanyū [Akiyama Mio]

ARENA 04: Hirasawa Ui [Ichinose Kotomi]

ARENA 05: Takamachi Nanoha [Fujibayashi Ryō]

ARENA 06: Fate Testarossa [Kawashima Ami]

ARENA 07: [Shiina Mafuyu] Saginomiya Isumi

ARENA 08: [Nagato Yuki] Okazaki Ushio

ARENA 09: Suzumiya Haruhi [Kushieda Minori]

ARENA 10: Konjiki no Yami [Abstained] Katsura Hinagiku

ARENA 11: [Haramura Nodoka] Furukawa Nagisa

ARENA 12: Hirasawa Yui [Sengoku Nadeko]

ARENA 13: [Aisaka Taiga] Louise Vallière

ARENA 14: Akaba Chizuru [Minami Chiaki]

ARENA 15: Illyasviel von Einzbern [Abstained] Sanzen'in Nagi

ARENA 16: [Holo] Nakano Azusa

ARENA 17: Sunohara Mei [Shana]

ARENA 18: Saten Ruiko [Misaka Mikoto]

ARENA 19: [C.C.] Nymph

ARENA 20: Ibuki Fūko [Hiiragi Kagami]

ARENA 21: [Hiiragi Tsukasa] Saber

ARENA 22: Tōsaka Rin [Fujibayashi Kyō]

ARENA 23: Sakurano Kurimu [Izumi Konata]

ARENA 24: Furude Rika [Senjōgahara Hitagi]

ARENA 25: Ikaros [Abstained] Maria

ARENA 26: Kōsaka Tamaki [Abstained] Miyazaki Nodoka

Monday, 22 March 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 49

Episode fourty-nine of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood sees that battle against the new-look Pride (now with added Gluttony!) continue, and things certainly aren't getting any easier for our heroes now that this particularly dangerous Homunculus has "levelled up".

Indeed, it seems as though the gloves are finally off as even Edward Elric looks set to receive some rough treatment at Pride's hands, while the rest of his group are faring little better. Meanwhile, Alphonse has finally come back around from his own experiences at Pride's hands, leaving himself alongside his father to devise what turns out to be both a spectacular and cunning plan to deal with his threat - The kind of great set piece moment that helps to make Fullmetal Alchemist what it is.

With Pride dealt with (albeit temporarily), there are still plenty of other things to worry about, from Greed taking advantage of the situation to make a move back to Central while the success of Mustang's plan hangs in the balance while Bradley's whereabouts remain unknown. As the sun rises on the so-called Promised Day, things are only going to get even more intense as we move forward...

I probably don't even need to say it any more, but as always this was a great episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, featuring the usual blend of great action topped off with some great little twists and surprises, but without ever forgetting to keep the plot moving along at a decent pace and somehow managing to juggle the ever-growing raft of characters without it feeling like a burden on the series. It frequently seems as if BONES can do not wrong with this show at present, and let's hope it stays that way as we move towards the show's final straight.

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 9

With the last episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund bringing Mina Tepes a new baddie to play with, so this ninth instalment of the series reveals exactly what Hysterica's ploy is.

In short, it's all about terrorism, with Hysterica looking to send out her minions as suicide bombers around Tokyo, detonating them all at the same time via a mobile phone signal - The kind of storyline which will doubtless have the Daily Mail proclaiming the headline "SICK CARTOON PROMOTES SUICIDE BOMBERS" or something equally nonsensical.

Anyhow, needless to say Mina sets out to stop this atrocity, using Akira and his werewolf pals to sniff out the suicide bombers while she deals with Hysterica herself. This adds up to some pretty smart efforts to foil Hysterica's plan with some good timing and clever thinking, while we're also giving a fair old slice of action for a series that has arguably shied away from some good old fight sequences a little too frequently. Eventually, everything ends well for all involved, assuming you ended up on the side of the good guys of course.

Overall, this particular episode of Dance in the Vampire Bund manages to continue the show's steady upward rise beyond being merely dull into something rather more acceptable. It certainly isn't blazing new trails or making us marvel in wonder at its storylines, but as a piece of entertainment it does a good enough job at expressing what it wants to, and it's finally starting to feel as though SHAFT have got to grips with animating and pacing this series. There are worse ways to spend twenty minutes than watching this particular instalment, that's for sure.

Sora no Woto - Episode 12 (Completed)

With the appearance of Aisha, the injured Roman soldier, last episode, things were only going to go downhill for the girls of the 1121st Platoon as they look to shelter their supposed prisoner of war from harm, and as this finale to Sora no Woto begins things are looking really rather dire for them.

Indeed, within the first minute we have two wide-eyed "oh shit" moments, not least Felicia pulling a gun on the Colonel and taking him hostage in order to protect her charges, in the short-term at least. However, even at gunpoint the Colonel can still attack Noel as we learn the exact truth behind her past; a revelation in front of her friends which all but destroys her at that point in time, and a shock only allayed by Aisha's words of forgiveness.

It is however Kanata who sets the wheels for what is to come in motion, swearing that she's heard a trumpet signalling a cease fire, which she then tries to relay on with understandably little joy from the war-hungry Colonel. This forces drastic action once again from the girls, which needless to say involves the mechanised tank Noel has been working on throughout the series as well as last-gasp intervention courtesy of the return of Rio.

While that ending might well have been rather predictable when all is said and done, that shouldn't detract from the fact that this was actually a pretty powerful episode - A fascinating set of circumstances which took the girls from bravery to foolishness to fear while reinforcing the bonds between them in a way that felt altogether natural, and delivered in a way that was at times quite moving. Indeed, the emotional impact of this episode can probably be traced back to the way Sora no Woto has built up its characters throughout, with those moments that perhaps felt frivolous at the time have combined to create characters that you end up caring about - An important cornerstone of a series such as this, and one that should probably be remembered by others who have tried to weave similar tales to this show and failed. Sora no Woto may not be the most memorable series ever, but it's provided some stunning episodes set against a backdrop that was frequently fun - An odd but heady mixture which worked really well for it in the end.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

ISML 2010 - Aquamarine Period - Round 1

As a bit of a change of pace and for something a little different for this 'Blog, I figured I'd chart my voting progress for the International Saimoe Leage 2010 - In other words, a posh way of voting for which female anime characters you like in the hope that you aren't the only one who gives two hoots about them. Today was the first non-preliminary round of voting, and here are my choices for the day - You can see my choices highlighted in blue, while those I eschewed are not, and any abstentions are shown up in red.

Just don't hate me for my choices!

ARENA 01: [Shana] Fate Testarossa

ARENA 02: [Fujibayashi Kyō] Ikaros

ARENA 03: Shiina Minatsu [Holo]

ARENA 04: [Sakurano Kurimu] Takamachi Nanoha

ARENA 05: [Asahina Mikuru] Konjiki no Yami

ARENA 06: [Shiina Mafuyu] Aisaka Taiga

ARENA 07: [Sakagami Tomoyo] Katsura Hinagiku

ARENA 08: Tōsaka Rin [Abstained] Maria

ARENA 09: [Izumi Konata] Akaba Chizuru

ARENA 10: C.C. [Hirasawa Yui]

ARENA 11: Nagato Yuki [Senjōgahara Hitagi]

ARENA 12: [Akiyama Mio] Sanzen'in Nagi

ARENA 13: Illyasviel von Einzbern [Abstained] Furude Hanyū

ARENA 14: [Suzumiya Haruhi] Saber

ARENA 15: [Haramura Nodoka] Fujibayashi Ryō

ARENA 16: [Kushieda Minori] Okazaki Ushio

ARENA 17: [Sengoku Nadeko] Furukawa Nagisa

ARENA 18: Hirasawa Ui [Fukuji Mihoko]

ARENA 19: [Hiiragi Tsukasa] Ibuki Fūko

ARENA 20: Nymph [Minami Chiaki]

ARENA 21: Furude Rika [Saten Ruiko]

ARENA 22: [Nakano Azusa] Ichinose Kotomi

ARENA 23: [Misaka Mikoto] Hiiragi Kagami

ARENA 24: [Kawashima Ami] Sunohara Mei

ARENA 25: Saginomiya Isumi [Louise Vallière]

ARENA 26: Akeno Mihoshi [Abstained] Noda Megumi

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 11

Hidamari Sketch Hoshimittsu's eleventh episode couldn't really have started in a more appropriate way, mirroring the rainy and miserable day we've "enjoyed" here in the UK with one of its own - A state of affairs which hampers any plans the girls of Hidamari Apartments might have otherwise had on their day off.

When a quiz question crops up on TV which requires you to go online to find the answer, of course only one person can help, and so Yunocchi and Miyako head over to see Nori, only to be left rather disappointed by the answer to said question. Still, this little fact-finding mission seems to have sparked an interest in the Internet on Yuno's part, and thus she gets a bit of a crash course (almost literally on one occasion) in computer use and what you can do online. As an IT geek myself there was much to enjoy here, and I'm sure I wasn't the only one.

Watching the second half of this episode was a rather odd experience for me, as it contained a segment which I'd just this morning read in the fourth volume of the Hidamari Sketch manga, as the seniors graduate and get to show off some specially made pieces of artwork wherever they like around the school. It's hard to judge the effectiveness of jokes you've read just a few hours previously, but even despite that this was entertaining enough, and it's interesting to compare how some of the gags actually work out better in animated form than they do on paper, while others arguably go the other way.

Still, once again this was a fun episode as is par for the course with Hidamari Sketch throughout, with just the right blend of comedy and other items of interest to keep things balanced out. It's actually sad to think that there's now only one episode to go of this series - This truly is the kind of show that I always find myself missing quite badly for weeks after its run has finished, and I'm sure Hoshimittsu will have the same effect.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 24 (Completed)

With Harumi and Telestina reversing roles as hero and villain respectively, and after a fantastic penultimate episode of the series, we were all set for a rip-roaring finale to To Aru Kagaku no Railgun. But can it deliver a memorable ending?

Certainly, in terms of the first half of this episode, this was To Aru Kagaku no Railgun at its stunning best - A relentless and non-stop cornucopia of action which made the most of Kuroko and (in particular) Misaka's capabilities, while also finding a place for Mitsuko Kongo in proceedings. Really, spectacular doesn't even begin to describe this particular segment of the episode, with all of the major characters teaming up to do their bit in helping Harumi find the missing children against Telestina and her assembled forces.

From here, the second half of the finale takes on what could be termed a more predictable feel, with the tables seemingly turned back in Telestina's favour after Harumi and company find what they're looking for, until Telestina's tendency to monologue (as is so often the case with villains in any form) proves to be her downfall as Saten takes the opportunity to rise to the particulars of this unique occasion. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that everything ends well and everyone lives happily ever after here - Yes, it's clichéd, but what else were you expecting from the end of this particular series?

Overall, To Aru Kagaku no Railgun has been a bit of a mixed bag in terms of its quality - The first half of the series was frequently excellent, even when it wasn't concerning itself too seriously with its major story arc, while the second half struggled to find anything worthwhile to fill its time with before the final Poltergeist arc came along. In fairness, it turned out to be well worth the wait thanks to a couple of excellent closing episodes, but as so often seems to be the case with longer anime series perhaps thirteen episodes would have been enough to cover the major plot lines without running out of steam somewhere in the middle? At the end of it all it's a net win for this series, which has been thoroughly entertaining more often than it's been dull, but a few of those poorer filler episodes have sullied the final reputation of the show as a whole slightly.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 11

With Sakaki having clearly gone completely bananas and deciding to flood Jouga village using the nearby dam, it's up "those pesky kids" to stop him. But can they reach him in time?

Needless to say, almost the entirety of this episode is first the race to reach Sakaki before he does some serious damage to Jouga and its residents, before the even more inevitable face-off between Sakaki and Nemuru, Hiro, Isuzu and company - A point in which our bananas villain suddenly becomes less of a cold-blooded killer and more of a luke warm, slightly fuzzy one, especially when it comes to despatching any of the major characters.

It's difficult to know what to say about this finale of the series proper (with the final episode looking like it was penned after an afternoon of recreational drug use judging by the preview), as it's simply so obvious in the way that it panned out that you could probably have guessed exactly what was going to happen last week. While it finished everything off nicely enough, there was nothing to really get excited about here, and the whole thing ended up turning into some kind of mushy morality tale on how we should accept people who are different to us - Not really something we need anime to teach us in parable form, I'd like to think.

This ending does however sum up Ookami Kakushi quite succinctly, as a series that never really pushed the boundaries of its characters, story or plot, preferring to plod along as a run-of-the-mill mystery that ran out of steam entirely once some of its secrets were revealed. It's certainly a far cry from the more shocking and complex world of Higurashi, to the point where it would be an offensive comparison to even call this effort Higurashi Lite. Come this final "proper" episode, it felt more like Scooby Doo with knobs on than anything truly noteworthy.

Durarara!! - Episode 11

The last episode ended with more than a subtly change in Mikado's attitude and behaviour, as everything seemed to suddenly click into place for this previously mild-mannered teenager. So, just what is the secret that he's been hiding throughout the series so far?

Before this is revealed however, the new-look Mikado has some work to do - Namely, brazenly calling up Namie Yagiri to tell her that he knows where the girl she's looking for is and that he wants to make a deal. Thus, Namie heads out into the middle of Ikebukuro, where Mikado lays out his simple demands to her - In short, he wants the truth, about both Mika Harima and where her current head has come from.

Needless to say, Namie isn't going to play ball this request, particular for a scrawny kid, and it's at this point where the magic happens, as a simply e-mail from Mikado's phone turns the tables in a massive show of strength that is beyond merely impressive. From here, we have to flashback to before Mikado moved to Tokyo to find out exactly what's going on, as he is revealed as the near-inadvertent "mastermind" behind the Dollars, a viral online experiment of sorts that has grown beyond its wildest dreams, and a source of power which he now finally has to call upon to help him out in this particular time of need.

Even if you feel a little short-changed by the way Mikado's true nature has been revealed by Durarara!! (and personally, I can't say I feel that way at all), you can't help but admire the fantastic way in which the layers were pulled away over the course of this episode. Quite simply, the entire scenario which unfolded here was one of those classic moments which helps you to remember why you love anime - It's clever, it's effective, it's audacious, and it leaves you both gawping and grinning at the same time as the hero of the day plays his trump card. It's fantastic stuff, set against a story of the Dollars which genuinely resonates in these times of viral marketing and the power of online media, be it social networking or otherwise. In many ways this was perhaps the simplest and most tightly focused episode of Durarara!!, but it most certainly didn't suffer from it - Far from it, it was everything I could have hoped for it and plenty more besides.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 23

Christmas might be over, but it seems like for Sawako I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day has become something of a reality, as she awakes to find that she's still overjoyed at her latest presents from both her parents and, of course, Kazehaya.

However, as it's now the last day of school before winter break, Sawako is preparing herself for a relatively lonely time, even though New Year's Eve is her birthday... of course, she still hasn't quite gotten the hang of this whole "having friends" thing, so she remains as surprised as ever to find that Yano and Yoshida still want to hang out with her outside of school.

As soon as this pair find out about Sawako's birthday plans, and after Chizuru invites her along for the traditional New Year shrine visit, a rather more cunning plan is hatched by the duo - To get Sawako to invite Kazehaya along, and then make sure that she gets to spend some quality time with him while looking as eye-catching as possible. So it goes that their plan swings into action effortlessly, leaving us hanging come the end of this episode as Sawako and Kazehaya are left alone to visit the shrine as a couple. I feel so girlie getting excited about this prospect, but I just can't help it!

Away from that rather sweet little ending (aside from Kazehaya's complete inability to complement Sawako on her looks - There's shyness, and then there's being a bit of an ass), this was perhaps one of the most happy, fluffy and generally funny episodes of Kimi ni Todoke we've seen - Almost the entire episode was spent just enjoying Sawako's looks of utter glee and joy as her life comes together splendidly, a far cry from some of the emotional hardships we've had to watch with damp eyes earlier in the series. This made for a rather joyous occasion, full of amusing moments that really lighten the mood after a long day, while I think I actually soaked in a big chunk of vicarious happiness from seeing life going so sweetly for the show's female protagonist. Now I just have to wait with abject impatience to see how Sawako and Kazehaya's impeccably crafted "date" goes....

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 11

The love triangle between Hino, Flameheart and Saikyou was left well and truly established by the end of the last episode, leaving this penultimate episode and next week's instalment to (hopefully) reveal the eventual winner of the male lead's affections.

While Sernia and Tomomi are already facing off against one another in as direct a way as they can without admitting their own feelings, things only become more complicated as Hino comes into possession of a pair of tickets two a water park - So, just who is he going to take with him? Luckily (or unfortunately, you could argue), just as this argument is becoming even more heated, the school principle announces a school festival out of the blue. What better way for this series to deliver a metric tonne of fan service... err, sorry, I mean what better way to decide which of these two girls gets to go to the park with Hino?

The trouble is, it's hard to keep a secret on campus, and before we know it everyone is clamouring over the grand prize of a day with Hino - Understandable in some cases, but rather odd comparing how many girls at the school supposedly live in fear of him. Anyhow, never mind all that, because there's little in the way of plot to concern yourself with for the rest of the episode - Aside from stoking the fires between Saikyou and Flameheart on occasion, the sports festival itself is (as you can probably imagine) a carnival of bouncing breasts, accidental exposure, under-aged looking girls taking overly large sausages into their mouth (I'm not making this up you know), and other perversions of a simple school sports day that you perhaps never thought possible.

Having almost forgotten that Ladies versus Butlers! is first and foremost a fan service show in recent weeks, my selective amnesia was certainly brought to an end with a bump here... or rather a lot of bumps as it happens, all jiggling seductively within gym shorts and shirts. Yet, here am I wishing that they'd done more to move forward with the plot and the love triangle rather than tantalising us with a cliff-hanger for the final episode, revelling in the few genuinely funny moments provided by this instalment while paying little heed to the rest. Still, despite all this I can't wait to see how the series ends deep down, complete with the probably vain hope that it'll all end perfectly happy for Hino, one of the best male leads I've ever seen in any harem anime.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 48

The return of Lan Fan in the last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was certainly a moment for much cheering and punching of the air, but despite her re-emergence there's still a lot of unfinished business with the Promised Day just scant hours away.

However, with such a big action set piece just beginning, this latest instalment is dedicated almost in its entirety to the battle featuring Pride and Gluttony on the one hand and Ed, Lan Fan, Greed et al on the other. Certainly, it seems as though the good news have a notable upper hand for much of the fight at hand, with the darkness current ensconcing the forest disabling Pride's ability while Lan Fan and Ling can make use of their own specialities to handle Gluttony in the pitch black surroundings in which their foe can see nothing and only relies on smell.

However, it was inevitable that light would return sooner or later one way or another, and thus Pride soon becomes a major threat once again - Even though Edward has planned for this eventuality, even he and his comrades are shocked by Pride's next course of action as he looks to regain the initiative. Away from this particular battleground, we also see Roy Mustang reunited with his old comrades for their current mission, and watch it being as their planned coup begins to take shape in the face of certain dangers.

While I have to admit it's hard to hold back my impatience when it comes to what this series is building to, I really can't begrudge it an episode dedicated almost entirely to a particular fight scene, particularly when it throws together some brief yet stunning action sequences with the kind of smart progression we've come to expect from all things Fullmetal Alchemist. Yes, it is perhaps indulgent to spend so much time on these particular events, but when it remains so entertaining then is that such a bad thing? Certainly, it looks as though there is still plenty more to come from Pride in this particular scrap before we can really move on towards this show's big day and what it could mean for all and sundry involved within it - A prospect which regularly leaves me on the edge of my seat in its own right.

Spring 2010 anime preview

The year seems to be flying by, and that means that yet again we're at the cusp of a new season of anime to rub our hands in glee over and generally get excited about. But what is going to be worth watching this around? As usual, I've compiled a new season preview over at UK Anime outlining all of the new series that should be hitting screens just a few short weeks from now - Check it out, and let everyone know what shows you're looking forward to!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei Bangaichi - Episode 2 (Completed)

The second half of Zan Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei's OVA begins with a full-length rendition of the show's opening theme (complete with suitably insane visuals) - Quite the treat in and of itself, but this only paves the way the usual blend of the bizarre and razor-sharp wit that this franchise offers.

First up, we're introduced to the dysfunctional defibrillator, which can extend the lives of things that are really better off dead. After running around reviving things that are really already well past their sell-by date, a freak accident brings us a full-scale zombie incident... only this time the biggest concern is that the zombies are bringing back terrible 80s fashions and politically dead concepts.

Next up for discussion is the ease with which the Japanese can get swept away by certain things, which gives this episode a chance to poke some fun at Ponyo and Hetalia amongst other things, before perhaps inevitably being swept away on its own tangents. Still, with a new semester starting, the final topic for discussion is the frequent use of phrases which "soften" otherwise unpleasant goings-on or concepts to make them sound more palatable. My personal favourite here is the softening of a "massacre" to be called simply a "big Higurashi", but there are plenty of other great lines, some of which are provided by a rather errant subtitle translator. Of course, Kiri has to turn this around by looking for even harsher words rather than softer ones, with subtitles of her own which if nothing else help her to get her own way in terms of her relationship with our favourite teacher of despair.

While it's no secret that I love pretty much everything that comes from Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, this was still a genuinely good episode by any stretch - Yes, it's still as hit and miss as any comedy series is want to be, but there were so many laugh out loud moments that the scales were well and truly tipped in its favour. Whether it's lampooning anime, politics or social mores, this episode was frequently as sharp as you'd hope for, and it's that precision when it comes to hitting its targets that makes Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei such a thing of beauty. Will we see another series, or has the franchise run its course? I'd like to think there's still life left in this relatively old dog yet.

Sora no Woto - Episode 11

The last episode of Sora no Woto arguably surprised by waving goodbye to one of its lead characters, and so this eleventh instalment sees the 1121st Platoon shorn of Rio's unique qualities as she goes off to fulfil whatever destiny she might hold.

With Rio gone, it soon starts to become clear that the rumours surrounding the current peace talks going badly are more than simply that, with the girls of the platoon told in no uncertain terms to ensure that they complete all of their patrols - Isn't on just such a foray that they find the body of an unconscious soldier laying in the snow. It isn't just any solider however, but a Roman... The enemy of the Helvetians in this particular war.

Of course, this finding gives Felicia quite the headache, as she finds herself torn between her duty as a soldier and her more human nature as to whether to turn this captive soldier in or not - A decision that is ultimately taken out of her hands as circumstances overtake her. Meanwhile, the Roman soldier in questions appears to be in Seize on more of a tourist trip than a scouting mission as she admits that she was looking for the "angel" that we saw underwater way back towards the start of the series. Perhaps most importantly of all, Noel's past begins to come to light, complete with an absolutely shocking revelation to bring this particular episode towards its climax.

From a slightly slow-burning start, this instalment certainly did an excellent job of slowly ramping up its dramatic tension to a head while also carefully and strategically revealing major plot points to keep things very interesting indeed. Once again, the futility of war is clearly well within the sights of this series, with a stark message as to how similar the two factions are once you overcome any prejudices and language barriers (and who knew my A-Level in German would come in handy for this series?). Even if such sentiments hold no interest to you, then Noel's story certainly looks as though it could be a compelling one, while it will surely be fascinating to see what happens when the girls of the platoon are thrown into war, as is most probably going to be the case next episode. Once again, Sora no Woto has succeeded in exceeding its light and fluffy expectations, but without entirely shedding the innocence of those early episodes.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Ookami Kakushi - Episode 10

Although the previous episode of Ookami Kakushi almost felt like a natural place to end this particular series in some respects, there is still a fair amount of unfinished business to attend to in the show's final few episodes, with the Hassaku Festival about to start and Sakaki still at large despite the failure of his previous plan involving Nemuru and Hiro.

Needless to say, the Hassaku Festival is the next target in Sakaki's plan of action, as in the midst of all the enjoyment he unleashes a beserk "demon" that shows all and sundry attending the festival the truth of Jouga's old town, thus sowing the seeds of distrust and dissent between old residents and new and bringing the situation to the brink of a "civil war" of sorts. However, even that isn't quite evil enough for Sakaki, as he also reveals the next part of his plot that puts the entire town in dire jeopardy.

Unfortunately for Sakaki, his evil streak also tends him towards some of the bad habits that bad guys always seem to have, meaning that he reveals his plans to a dying man only to have them relayed to the entire town and somewhat putting the brakes on the distrust he'd managed to build up just moments before. Oops. In fact, speaking of Sakaki it's a bit difficult to get a proper grip on his motivations full stop, as they swing from vengeance on behalf of his dead girlfriend to the opportunity to make some money - I suppose having dual motives isn't a bad thing, but it does feel a little odd here somehow.

That aside, this was a reasonably solid episode of Ookami Kakushi that didn't really deliver any huge shocks, thrills or spills but still progressed its plot simply and effectively enough - The trouble is that now all of the mystery has gone from the series there isn't a great deal left to prop it up beyond some kind of old-fashioned race against time premise to stop the town from being flooded. Given the lack of truly distinctive characters within the series, turning it into some kind of poor man's Atlantis doesn't seem like such a terrible idea either, although it does leave me wondering why Ryukishi07 has such a bee in his bonnet about dam construction between this series and Higurashi. Maybe the guy's allergic to water or something?

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 52

At last, the second season of Hetalia: Axis Powers comes to a close... Just in time for a third series to begin in a couple of weeks or so. Will this thing never end?

This particular instalment begins with another chapter in the relationship between the Holy Roman Empire and Chibitalia (and you thought you'd seen the back of this particular storyline), as the former frolics naked in the water with his dog, but blanches at the thought of being seen naked by Chibitalia on account of the on-going (and perfectly understandable) gender confusion surrounding said representation of country.

Away from that, we get a brief glimpse of America enjoying all things Japanese to an exaggerated degree (as well he might), while Canada is still suffering from being mistaken for America on a regular basis, not least by Cuba, which is probably not the most pleasant experience it's fair to say.

So, that's this season of Hetalia over officially speaking, which means that we'll soon be launching into yet another season of this series. Considering they already seem to have well and truly run out of ideas for this show months ago, I can't even begin to comprehend how they intend on filling up another twenty-six episodes, but I guess we'll begin to find out soon enough. Let's just hope someone provides them with a new barrel of content so that they can stop scraping the bottom of the current one.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ - Episode 10

Losing the key to your apartment is easy enough at the best of times, but somehow Yunnochi manages to turn it into something of an art form in this tenth episode of Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ in a convoluted ballet involving the school toilets.

With no key and her spare locked in her own room, Yuno turns to the landlady to help, only to find that she's having quite the struggle finding the additional spare key herself. It's a good job then that Hidamari Apartments is full of so many kind souls, with all of its residents offering to let Yunnochi stay with them, giving Yuno something of a tour of the entire apartment block over the subsequent days as well as the characters within.

This particular plot device actually made for a hugely enjoyable episode from beginning to end, mixing in the slice of life goodness that this series and its characters provides so well with some equally great moments of humour, from Miyako's Dali send-off paintings through to Hiro's ever-more terrifying morning hair.

Somehow this all blended together to make an instalment that was as heart-warming as it was funny, matched up with some of the best animation we've seen of this series of late to sneak itself a place in my heart... Not that Hidamari Sketch ever really needs to sneak into my heart, seeing as it has a huge place reserved in there for it already. Still, credit where credit's due for a particularly wonderful little episode.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun - Episode 23

With Harumi Kiyama's latest plot which looked set to put Academy City in danger foiled, and the comatose Child Errors seemingly safe and sound under the care of MAR and Telestina, it appears as though all should be well in the world of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun. But if that's the case, why does nobody seem happy? From Uihara to Misaka and beyond, there seem to be doubts all round that the Poltergeist case is firmly closed.

These suspicions are soon proved to be entirely correct, as when Uihara goes to visit Haruue (along with Harumi, having convinced her to tag along) she finds both Harumi's research and access to her friend blocked by Telestina for reasons that soon become clear. This leaves Uihara understandably distraught to the point of incoherence, and it takes some pretty drastic action to snap her out of her depression on Kuruko's part.

In the midst of that particular drama, Misaka once again tries to take things into her own hands, leaving alone to confront Telestina in what proves to be a decidedly ill-advised course of action - Indeed, she's only saved from a far worse fate by the coincidental presence of Mitsuko Kongo in a close shave that (thanks to Saten) reminds all of the girls as to the importance of the group's friendship.

Having complained about all the filler throughout much of the second half of this series, I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that this was by far the best episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun so far, surpassing everything that has come before to a notable degree. What really sealed this episode's place in my heart was the way that the four major characters bounced off of one another throughout in a way that felt absolutely genuine by way of its emotions, reactions and interactions - It would simply splendid to watch, and was beautifully realised in terms of animation, voice acting and characterisation. Add to that the smart re-emergence of "Capacity Down" with some equally well animated action sequences and a story that brought a lot to this particular arc of the series in its own right, and I can easily forgive some of the weaker points of the episode (the over-the-top "mad scientist" depiction of Telestina, mostly) in favour of the general sense of enjoyment that this episode bestowed upon me. If only every episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun had reached these dizzy heights.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Durarara!! - Episode 10

Mikado Ryugamine doesn't want to live a boring and ordinary life, even though he seems to be just the sort of guy who is destined to inhabit one.. at least, it seemed that way until he helped some strange nameless girl escape from Selty's clutches at the end of Durarara!!'s previous episode.

As the show's tenth instalment opens, we get to see Mikado's rescue of the girl with Selty's head sewn to her body (really, I'm not sure what to call her for the benefit of this 'blog) from his own perspective, and of course come that evening once said girl is asleep he calls upon Masaomi Kida for help. Equally predictably, Kida is absolutely no help whatsoever, and very nearly gives away Mikado's secret at school the next day were it not for Mikado's seemingly dull personality. Still, all of this is forgotten soon enough as Masaomi takes Mikado to meet a member of the Dollars named Takiguchi who goes to their school (thanks to a rare moment of astute thinking from Kida), thus introducing another little thread to the tangled web of the series.

It's after school where life becomes more complicated still for Mikado, as he's first confronted by the girl who had her mobile phone stamped on by Izaya earlier in the series and her boyfriend, before then finding himself followed home by both Izaya and Selty. Eventually plucking up the courage to ask what Selty wants with him (and more importantly the girl currently in his charge), Mikado learns everything about Selty and her missing head, and so looks set to do his bit to help her before things become more complicated still, with the episode closing to what can only be described as a "new-look" Mikado looking ready and raring to go in his role as one decidedly interesting person.

For all of its moments of important plot progression, this particular episode of Durarara!! was first and foremost incredibly funny throughout, from pretty much everything Masaomi and Izaya do through to Mikado's nightmarish daydream of a "yandere" stalker Anri. Throw in some completely random reference to To Aru Kagaku no Railgun and Biribiri, and a frightening display of road rage caused by nothing more than a pebble chipping some paintwork, and I found myself laughing throughout. Again, this really serves to display the versatility of this series, as it moves from more serious and focused story-telling through to far more light-hearted efforts that still manage to remember to keep the plot moving at a reasonable pace. It's a heady mix that really helps to keep all of Durarara!!'s proverbial balls in the air, and I can't help but admire it for making something so potentially difficult look so simple (and appeal so whole-heartedly) to the viewer.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Ladies versus Butlers! - Episode 10

Life never seems to be easy for poor Daichi in this series - When she isn't hiding her true gender from everyone around her, she finds herself the object of the affections of one of the girls at the school, leading to her receiving a love letter and putting her in an awkward position.

Of course, this love letter soon becomes the talk of the school amongst all and sundry, with even Flameheart and Saikyo struggling to feign their disinterest in all of the talk of love as their own feelings creates a tension between the pair of them that you'd be hard-pressed to cut with a heavy-duty knife.

That is, however, something of a story for another day, as much of this episode concentrates on the specifics of Daichi's dilemma - Obviously she has to turn her admirer down, but despite this her servant compatriots aren't exactly a great help as they seem more interested in teaching her all about the nuances of love. In the end it's only Hino who steps forth with anything approaching good advice; advice which not only serves Daichi in good stead, but also leads her to a realisation about her own feelings and who has captured her heart.

You know, it almost feels weird to be saying this, but I'm really warming to Ladies versus Butlers! more by the week at the moment. This episode actually managed to offer up a couple of funny moments and a bundle of likeable characters despite its fan service-laden nature, doing a good job of not allowing one element of the series to ruin the other as it did earlier in its run at times. Again, Hino's nice guy nature is a big help, but somehow even Flameheart and Saikyo's rather clichéd character traits aren't off-putting at all now that this series is entering its business end. I didn't think I'd find myself liking this series at any point when I began watching it, but somehow it's wormed its way into my affections like some kind of cross-dressing butler.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Kimi ni Todoke - Episode 22

With Chizuru's issues more or less resolved last episode, Sawako gets to re-take centre stage in episode twenty-two of Kimi ni Todoke... and just in time for Christmas too.

However, this festive season ends up bringing something of a dilemma for Sawako, as she finds herself torn between spending Christmas with her parents (something that they love to do, largely on account of Sawako's birth being due at that time of year) and a party with her classmates arranged by Kazehaya for all and sundry to attend. In the end, her parents win out simply on account of the fact that she feels that she can't let them down, but it's a decision she finds herself unable to make without holding a plenty of regrets. Eventually all's well that ends well however, as it turns out that Sawako's parents have recognised her need for independence more than even she's realised, and thus she also gets to at least meet Kazehaya and exchange Christmas presents if nothing else.

Despite its pretty simply premise, this is again a genuinely enjoyable episode of that does a nigh-on perfect job of mixing humour and emotion without ever getting too bogged down in one camp or another, and while once again moving Sawako and Kazehaya's relationship forward another small step into the bargain. It seems like this series has gotten better by the week of making the most of even the smallest plot points by playing them out almost perfectly, and despite starting out watching Kimi ni Todoke with little interest in Sawako's life, I now can't help but find myself rooting for her week in, week out, and enjoying every minute as I do so. With only a couple of episodes left to go however, you can't help but wonder how they're going to finish this series.

Katanagatari - Episode 3

Katanagatari third episode sees Togame and Shichika Yasuri on the hunt for the third sword in their quest, and we join them three months after the end of their last battle in this third month of 2010.

This time around, the sword that is the object of their attentions isn't actually a single sword at all, but Sentou Tsurugi, a collection of one thousand swords currently in the possession of a shrine owner known as Meisai Tsuruga - Herself a master in a fighting style known as Sentouryuu, and potentially a mortal rival to Shichika and his own Kyotouryuu style. Meisai has seeded her thousand swords out to a thousand shrine maidens who live at her temple, and as the episode progresses we learn just why these maidens are armed and how Meisai is trying to use the powers of this particular sword or swords to help them.

Whatever altruistic uses this sword has, this is of little concern to Shichika's rather simple-minded ways, while Togame's negotiations in an attempt to take the sword without force fails, leaving her instead forced to accept a compromise - That Sentou Tsurugi will be hers if she can identify the "original" sword from the collection of one thousand, and only then if Shichika can also defeat Meisai Tsuruga in battle. Even this plan looks to be in tatters when another Maniwa ninja, Maniwa Kuizame, appears, but his cameo ends up being an incredibly short-lived one as the story continues on its merry way with nary a backwards glance in his direction.

While previous episodes of Katanagatari almost chose to forgo much of their central plot in favour of long segments of dialogue and conversation, this third instalment keeps a tighter focus on its plot... albeit with huge amounts of dialogue once again. This is both a blessing and a curse for the episode, as its more focused attentions make it perhaps the most interesting episode of the bunch, while the dialogue itself isn't as sharp or witty as a result, and even interferes in proceedings a little at times. Again, you can't help but be slightly amazed that a series about swords and fighting contains so little in the way of action, with the quick despatch of the Maniwa ninja a telling point in how this show treats such scenes - If this had been Naruto, the battle between Kuizame and Meisai would have lasted about four months, but instead a single blow decides it in about twenty seconds flat.

As you can perhaps tell from that previous paragraph, I'm actually not entirely sure what to make of Katanagatari at this point - While I'm increasingly enjoying its colourful aesthetic and the dialogue and humour does hit the spot on occasion, it just doesn't feel "right" as an overall viewing experience. The pacing and story-telling often seems skewed towards the wrong areas, and much as Shichika is a unique action hero in terms of his personality it sometimes seems as though there's something missing that would help push the series up to the next level somehow. That said, the introduction of some more hints and queries about Togame's past and who she really is has added a certain extra dimension to proceedings, while Shichika's throwaway revelation could also bring some extra depth to his character, so when moments like that are coupled with the oddly addictive art style that this show houses I certainly won't be giving up on it any time soon.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Shakugan no Shana S - Episode 2

The first episode of the Shakugan no Shana S OVA certainly underwhelmed with its predictable storyline which went nowhere of any particular note, so despite not being a huge fan of the franchise I was at least hoping for something with a little more substance from its second instalment.

Well, so much for that hope... This particular episode sees Shana behaving rather oddly - Coming home late from school, avoiding Yuji and not really talking to Wilhemina much at all. Of course, this soon arouses the suspicions of Carmel, and with nobody else to turn to she looks to Yuji to help her track down what Shana is up to and why.

I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that a large part of the reason for Shana's behaviour is to surprise Wilhemina with a party of sorts, as she knows that a date that is important to her is coming up even though she knows not what that date represents. However, as an off-shoot of this, Alastor also sees an opportunity to remove any tension and distrust between Carmel and Yuji, and thus uses the whole operation to give them a little time to work together and bond - A plan which sees to work pretty well, in all honesty.

However, such successes don't exactly hide the fact that this episode was largely as dull as dishwater - As per the first episode of this OVA, the base premise of the surprise party was blatantly obvious from the very first minute, and to be honest this isn't the kind of franchise that works particularly well when it's dealing with dull everyday stuff and clichéd old plot concepts. Sure, there were a couple of amusing moments, but they certainly weren't anywhere near enough to make up for what feels like a wasted half an hour, particularly when you consider the obvious potential that is always inherent in Shakugan no Shana and its premise. Perhaps the hardcore fans will lap it up, but for me this was another huge disappointment.