Friday, 30 April 2010

Senkou no Night Raid - Episode 4

After building in some fascinating twists, turns and revelations to Senkou no Night Raid's overarching story, I was looking forward to seeing where it would lead in episode four. Was being very much the operative word on this occasion.

Rather than continuing where the last instalment left off, we're instead dumped into a pointless side story involving Aoi and Kazura, as they first photograph a bunch of food for the restaurant owned by the girl who puts them up (or should that be puts up with them?) before losing the undeveloped film containing not only those shots but also those of their bosses holiday. Thus, the pair of them race around, using their connections and the like to find the likely culprit for the theft of the photos, only to find that they'd been taken by a cat. No, really. I'm sat here watching a series set in a controversial time in Chinese and Japanese history and featuring special agents with super powers, yet I've been presented with an episode about photos of food being stolen by a cat. Why do you do this to me, anime? Why?! Why?!?!

Of course, I could make excuses for this episode by mentioning how it depicts the relationship and dynamic between Kazura and Aoi, or point to the brief discussion where Aoi makes his disdain for Japanese actions in China apparent, but such trifles simply aren't enough to save an episode that was quite frankly a waste of my time - It was exceedingly poor at comic relief, and there certainly wasn't much more that it could offer beyond that, while even the animation took a nosedive. It's almost as if the producers wanted a week off and simply didn't care about this episode, and by extension neither did I. I know I rail against filler in anime often enough, but this was poor even by filler standards - Just extending those still shots of food to fill the entire episode would probably have entertained me more than this drivel.

Durarara!! - Episode 16

With what appears to be the current incarnation of the "slasher" cornered, all soon seems to be well in the world of Durarara!! as Shizuo quickly puts paid to this particular assailant thanks to the handy use of a ripped off car door. With Selty taking careful possession of his blade, assumed to be Saika, it seems like a job well done.

However, rarely in life is anything quite as simple as it first seems, and in this case the complexity in question first manifests itself in the form of a visitor to Anri's doorstep - Haruna Niekawa, a former student of Nasujima, the teacher currently "interested" in Anri the same way he was Haruna previously. Indeed, it's Nasujima who is the entire reason for the decidedly odd Haruna's visit, as in her particular case its clear that the teacher's longings were being reciprocated... at least until he got bored and dumped her. Thus, the Haruna we see is consumed with a mixture of love and wrath, and Anri is an obvious outlet for her attentions when channelled through Saika's power.

As if that isn't bad enough, the wider truth about Saika soon comes to light - In short, Saika has been "giving birth" to "children", in the form of those who have been attacked and stabbed, creating what is in effect a zombie army. While those stabbed by Haruna have inherited her particular love, so those attacked by her father have absorbed his fascination with Shizou, sending a large number of them to search him out. Shizuo himself has already come to the conclusion that Izaya is involved somehow, but perhaps more importantly the time comes to reveal the "mother" and bearer of Saika herself, which is something that has been foreshadowed for a couple of episodes now.

While I'll be the first to admit this whole "slasher" story hadn't really grabbed my imagination hugely until now, this episode has well and truly snatched my attention in a most impressive manner. Yes, the whole "zombie army" thing is a little tired, but otherwise this instalment was excellently played, treading the thin line between revealing too much or too little to the viewer almost perfectly to keep the tension reasonably high without suddenly landing something nonsensical upon us. If anything, this episode allows me to appreciate the last couple of instalments all the more, as the groundwork laid out within them comes to fruition, while despite the macabre tone of much of the episode there's still time for a little humour, not least a reference to some Shizuo-Izaya "BL" that is as ironic as it is amusing. Regardless, it'll be tough for Durarara!! to top this episode next week now it's played its biggest cards, but somehow I wouldn't be at all surprised if it goes ahead and does just that.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 5

Come the end of HEROMAN's last episode, we got to see our robot hero power up yet again, while their victory in seeing the area evacuated was short-lived as yet more of the Skrugg's giant marbles appear throughout and start wreaking their various paths of destruction. What can Joey, Heroman and company do in the face of this latest threat?

Run, that's what. With no immediate plan of action available, the group retreats back to Professor Denton's laboratory so that they can figure something out - An idea which is easier said than done when even your most powerful weapon won't scratch those aforementioned spheres. Eventually, and with no better ideas in sight, Joey takes it upon himself to rejoin the fight as the news television stations report a massed Skrugg army on the move. Psy agrees to join him, and ends up finding himself kitted out with a weapon created by the Professor from Skrugg technology to use the power of music to gain victory... the guy has clearly been watching too much Macross.

Hugely outnumbered, Joey and Psy take to guerilla tactics to try and reduce the Skrugg's numbers, using hit and run attacks and hiding out in wrecked buildings to gain their advantage. This seems to be working well enough, but inevitably the Skrugg have some surprising tactics of their own up their sleeves.... Except they don't really have sleeves, but stop picking holes!

By this juncture HEROMAN has well and truly set out its stall in terms of its tone and aims, and this fifth episode simply continues in the same vein of mindless fun and action, although to be fair I was at least slightly caught out by the twist in the ending of this instalment which makes for an interesting cliff-hanger next time around - I was wrongly assuming that particular card would be played either later or entirely differently by the Skrugg. Anyhow, after feeling a little jaded by the last episode, somehow this week's effort worked a little better for me - In short, it was simply more entertaining, bizarre guitar weapons and all, and as we've already discussed entertainment is about all you can ask for from this particular show.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Senkou no Night Raid - Episode 3

After seeing him first mentioned last episode, this third instalment of Senkou no Night Raid sees Yukina seemingly contacted via letter by her brother, who gives her a time and a place to meet, and thus setting off a chain of actions which sends the series in rather a different direction.

With doubts as to the veracity of the letter in question, Yukina instead goes shopping for a new fountain pen at one of the four major department stores in Shanghai - Just in time to see one of them, still under construction, go up in flames as part of a terrorist bomb plot. News soon filters through that there are three more devices, each located in a different store, and primed to go off at different times, meaning that our group of special individuals are soon called into action to stop any further damage being done.

As if hunting down bombs wasn't a difficult enough task, it appears that they aren't the only espers in town as they soon come across an individual who can more than match their own abilities, which makes life decidedly more dangerous as the ties between this incident and Yukina's brother come to the fore in a manner that will doubtless set the tone for the rest of the series.

After that rather slow and austere second episode, this instalment of Senkou no Night Raid was certainly closer to what I was expecting from the series, and it's also introduced some decidedly interesting plot twists by equipping other factions with espers and tying them to the group we've been following via Yukina and her brother - Some juicy plot progression that added to an already half-decent episode that exhibited a far more engrossing self-contained plot in its own right. If I have a gripe about this show, it's how convenient all of these superpowers seem to be - Despite their limitations, the group always seem to have just the right blend of abilities to handle any task without getting their hands too dirty, which does tend to remove some of the dramatic tension. I suppose setting espers against other espers remedies that to some degree (it certainly helped ramp up the excitement on this occasion), but it still holds the danger of making otherwise complex missions a little too simple at times.

Arakawa Under the Bridge - Episode 4

It took a bit of doing, but Recruit finally convinced Nino to go on a date with him come the end of the last episode, even if it's little more than a stroll to the mouth of the river. Still, progress is progress, and as episode four of Arakawa Under the Bridge begins so we get to catch up on the result of this date.

As this date progresses however, you have to wonder who is the more certifiable out of the pair, as Ric comes up with some decidedly skewed ideas of how a relationship should progress (thanks to reading too much romantic manga by the look of it), culminating in his absolutely hilarious attempt to carry Nino like a princess, which is probably the funniest thing I've seen in quite a while. Still, humour aside we also get some more serious moments here, as we see Nino yet again using the "I'm a Venusian" line to deflect questions about her past, while Ric's attempt to free Nino's grass boat so that it can continue on its way genuinely touches both her and, to a lesser extent, the viewer.

With this date over, we're introduced to a couple of new characters. Firstly there's Stella, an English orphan and friend of Sister who speaks perfect Japanese (because we all learn Japanese from an early age over here, you know), but also has an impressive sideline in multi-hit combos when it comes to bare-knuckle fighting. Yes, quite the charming girl indeed... Then there's Maria, the owner of the river's very own farm (as if that isn't surreal enough), and a beautiful woman with the voice of Selty and the conversational gambits of Hitagi Senjougahara. You didn't think we were going to be introduced to any normal characters in this series, did you?

While previous episodes of this series have been amusing and edged with some interesting concepts and underlying thoughts that clearly ran through its DNA, this is the first instalment of Arakawa Under the Bridge that consistently made me laugh out loud, throwing in plenty of hilarious moments and making full use of its surreal setting where anything goes. I also can't help but notice that Recruit really seems to be blossoming into quite the nice guy amidst the riverside's inhabitants - While he's still as clueless as the rest of them, his edge of superiority has largely dissolved already; something which I thought would take a whole lot longer throughout this series. Hell, he even seems to be starting to win Nino over, which is no mean feat - Just learn how to carry a girl like a princess properly, for heaven's sake!

K-ON!! - Episode 4

It's school trip time for the girls of the light music club (minus Azusa of course, who is in a different year), which means a chance to head out to Kyoto for a couple of days. I wonder what made Kyoto Animation decide to base an episode in Kyoto? I really can't imagine...

Anyhow, with that concept in mind this episode probably writes itself, as the entire instalment follows the four light music club girls on their adventure, with Mio becoming increasingly exasperated by Yui and Ritsu's childish behaviour, which even Mugi joins in on at times, while Sawako ends up beyond exasperation with their antics as Ritsu and Yui charge about the place generally making a racket. All's well that ends well however, and come the end of the trip even Mio ends up in the holiday spirit, although it seemed from here a little more like she'd gone slightly bonkers by the end of the episode.

After really enjoying the previous episode of K-ON!! immensely, this latest instalment felt a little too predictable to me somehow - Yes it was kind of fun, and there were a couple of funny moments that got a laugh out of me, but the rest of it was just the girls living up to their characters without ever surprising us or doing anything different; indeed, even the brief moment of peril wasn't really utilised as much for comic potential as it could have been and previously has been by other shows such as Lucky Star. Still, K-ON!! remains nothing if not light-hearted and enjoyable, so against that measure it wasn't a bad episode, and if you're getting Azusa withdrawal symptoms then at least you have an episode centred around her to look forward to next week.

Monday, 26 April 2010

House of Five Leaves - Episode 2

With the end of the first episode revealing Yaichi's true intentions and "profession" to introverted samurai Akitsu, it seemed as though our protagonist was dead set against having anything to do with the group who make themselves known as the House of Five Leaves of the show's title.

However, despite his best intentions it seems that Akitsu simply can't stay away, be it with the promise of free meals or the opportunity for some rare company for this normally shy loner. When even some work as a labourer doesn't exactly work out for the hapless fellow, it doesn't take much to see him naively and slowly drawn into associating himself with the group yet further, and before he knows it he's accompanying barkeeper Ume as he hauls hostages around, and even finds himself getting paid in the process. It seems that the group are Hell-bent on ensuring that Akitsu joins their ranks, but why? Even Yaichi doesn't seem to be entirely sure, beyond a fascination with this rather unique character.

Come to think of it, that last phrase pretty much sums up my own feelings about House of Five Leaves up to this point - I'm not entirely sure why I'm finding myself increasingly drawn to it, but Akitsu's character and nature are certainly a not inconsiderable part of it. If nothing else, this show is looking set to be the antithesis of the standard samurai anime template, and the fact that it's so carefully, slowly and teasingly revealing its characters and their motives around the borderline idiotic protagonist is actually oddly compelling. Akitsu himself is a weird blend of a genuinely likeable guy who can't get a break and a moron who is naive to a fault, making him oddly fascinating to watch even up against the smooth and street-wise Yaichi; add to this the growing feeling that there's something far bigger going on here than what we've seen so far, and I find myself wanting to know more. While all this teasing might only be able to hold my attention for so long, it's certainly working so far.

Giant Killing - Episode 4

With all of the early controversy and training camps out of the way, episode four of Giant Killing finally takes us towards some real football, courtesy of East Tokyo United's first pre-season friendly against the reigning champions Tokyo Victory. I wonder how they'd both fare against the newly promoted AFC Bournemouth?

With the erratic and flamboyant playmaker Gino as captain and young Tsubaki in the side, both crowd and opponents are more than a little surprised at the line-up for the new manager's first game in charge, but of course there is a method to his madness, and we soon get to see exactly what he's been thinking as Gino takes up a role as playmaker while Tsubaki's pace proves to be the key to unlocking the holes in defence left by Gino's movement. While this pays early dividends for East Tokyo United, Tokyo Victory's captain and manager both soon realise what's going on and start to mix things up to thwart this plan, while a touch of what referees like to call "simulation" puts Tokyo Victory back in the game.

Away from the game scenario, this episode also gives us a bit more insight into Tsubaki's personality, with his quietly and retiring outward nature hiding the determination that he holds inside - A determination that Tatsuki looks to unlock prior to setting him loose with the first team for this opening game.

I think it's fair to say that making drama out of an actual football game in a context that isn't explicitly about football is harder than it might sound, yet this episode of Giant Killingactually makes a pretty good fist of it. While the hardcore footie fan might question some of the scenes and the feel of certain elements of the game as depicted here (the overly exaggerated role of the captain, for starters), overall the effect is a very positive one, with the tactics, mind games and foul play all the kind of thing those of us who watch the game regularly are more than used to seeing. At the end of the day, the proof that Giant Killing's work is done in terms of entertainment is the fact that you can't help but cheering on the team and players; while the elation of seeing them score and the disappointment of watching them concede isn't anywhere like as strong as it is from watching your own team in real-life, it's still tangible, and that's actually pretty impressive for a show like this.

Hanners' Anime 'Blog - Victorious in round one!

After my plea for your votes in the first round of the AniBlog Tournament, the votes have been pouring in over the past week, and now that the poll is closed I can officially reveal the final results in this 'blog's first round match-up:

I think it's fair to say that we've cleared the first stage of the tournament! Many thanks to everyone who voted, and even if you didn't then thanks for visiting regardless! Needless to say I'll keep you primed when the next round of the tournament rolls around and we find ourselves facing off against an even more mighty opponent.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 54

While the fabulous previous episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood left Envy on the brink of defeat, Riza Hawkeye's entry into the scene looked set to confuse things in a big way, leaving us with a stand-off between what seemed to be herself and Mustang. But who is who? Is one of them Envy?

Before we deal with that, we actually get a little more of the back story between Hawkeye and Mustang via a scene from the end of the Ishbalan war, before returning to see our queries about whose who answered most definitively, allowing Mustang to continue with his vengeance against Envy, literally burning him to a crisp. However, with the others recognising Mustang's descent to the brink of madness, they eventually step in to stop him falling into that particular abyss, before leaving us with what is an oddly poignant and emotional farewell to the Homunculus in question. Only Fullmetal Alchemist could leave you feeling sorry for one of the show's most prominent enemies...

With this particular battle over, we then get chance to return to see what the Armstrong siblings are up to, as their own requirement for a show of strength continues in the face of the dual threats of Sloth and the zombie army unleashed upon this. Unlike Mustang's conflict, this particular skirmish isn't resolved this time around, although once again it appears that the tide has turned in our heroes favour as yet more friendly faces (do soldiers from Briggs count as friendly? That word doesn't quite seem appropriate) appear on the scene.

While nothing could match the absolutely masterful turn put in by the previous episode, this was once again a highly enjoyable instalment of Fullmetal Alchemist, that retained enough action to keep everyone happy while also delving a little deeper into a few characters to bring a little more development to that side of things too. As I've already mentioned, wringing so much emotion out of Envy's situation is impressive in itself, but couple that with Mustang's recent madness and it really sums up everything that is great about this series on a wider scale - No matter how clearly defined the lines between good and evil might be on the surface, there are always constant reminders as to how short the distance is when crossing that line. Even without the fantastically realised action, there is a whole lot more to Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood than flashy alchemy and fighting alone.

Senkou no Night Raid - Episode 2

After introducing us to its core concept and characters for its first episode in an action-packed fashion, this second instalment of Senkou no Night Raid proves to be a relatively sedate and slower-paced affair in comparison.

Slightly removed from its main plot, this episode does find time to give us a little more history regarding the region and the main players that this series deals with, and also delves into the back stories of a few of the characters to varying degrees, giving us snippets from their pasts which don't always make absolute sense in the grand scheme of things right now, but are clearly designed to snap into the wider story as the show continues.

That aside, this particular episode sees our quartet of "super-powered" individuals tasked with confirming and stopping a spy - A guy named Sergei Krainev, a violinist who is suspected of providing information against the Japanese, and a man who has a fantastic ability for memorising information which makes him perfectly suited to the task. So, as the episode progresses, we see the group using their powers to discover the truth about whether Krainev really is a spy, before putting a halt to his plan to share some important but otherwise unknown information with his employers.

The trouble is that after the spectacular rescue depicted in the first episode, there's far less action to be enjoyed here, with brains overtaking brawn in this particular case to win the day, while even then their victory in stopping Krainev's plot can hardly be considered flawless. This slower pace isn't helped by the fact that the story also unfolds rather unevenly while we stop to take in those aforementioned back stories and the like, meaning that although we're supposed to be left feeling sorry for Krainev and his circumstances we never spend enough time with the man to really get any genuinely feel for either his character or his plight.

Still, at least thematically this proved to be quite an interesting episode, with the violin operating as a centre-piece which tied a number of characters together, while the question of whether a special ability (be it supernatural or otherwise) is a blessing or a curse also raises its head. However, this second instalment of Senkou no Night Raid never really managed to rise above mediocrity to stand out in any particular fashion, but there's still potential in the wider series as a whole so it would be unfair to write it off on the basis of one less stellar episode.

Ho-kago Tea Time - Go! Go! Maniac and Listen!!

Do I even need to introduce Ho-kago Tea Time? Unless you've been living under a rock of late, and love them or hate them, you'll know all about K-ON! (and its more recent sequel, complete with additional exclamation mark) and the way said franchise has turned into a marketing and merchandising anime powerhouse. Much of this potential is released in the form of the music of the show's light music club band members, and so it's no shock to see both K-ON!!'s opening and ending songs gain quick single releases.

First up is Go! Go! Maniac, the opening track which could give Alvin and the Chipmunks a run for their money in the squeaky-voice stakes. Compared to the opener for the original series, it has to be said that Go! Go! Maniac simply isn't as good, although its title is certainly apt for the manic speeded-up tune and lyrics that it deploys. The trouble is, this particular tune actually sounds even worse as a full four minute single, as it loses any of its TV sized charm when extended over such a long period. It is admittedly catchy as all Hell (how many times have I found it stuck in my head in recent weeks?), but it's easily one of the weakest major tunes to come from the franchise thus far.

Oddly then, the real news here is that the single's B-side is much, much better - Yes, Genius...!? doesn't have the energy of its A-side, but it's a far better constructed tune that also manages to work pretty well with Yui's vocals (which can't be said of a number of other tracks from K-ON!). Quite frankly, I can't help but think that this should have been the opening theme of the second season rather than the quirky at best Go! Go! Maniac.

Needless to say, tracks three and four take in instrumental versions of these two songs, and to be fair Go! Go! Maniac is slightly improved when shorn of its lyrics - if you can somehow flush Yui's voice out of your head while listening to it. Conversely, Genius...!? sounds better in its entirety, although at least as a tune it's more suited to singing along to if you're so inclined, sounding as it does almost a little too simplistic as an instrumental as its flaws are revealed.

This takes us to Listen!!, the beautifully animated and altogether more awesome closing single for K-ON!!, complete with the far more accomplished vocals by Mio. It might not capture your attention immediately musically in quite the same fashion as Don't Say Lazy (which, let's face it, is pretty much peerless in many ways), but it's still a great song and perfectly built to work as a full-sized track as well as a TV-sized sound bite. So it goes that the song as a whole works excellently - It's fast-paced, compelling and a great slice of well-crafted pop rock.

In terms of its B-side however, Listen!! is basically a polar opposite of Go! Go! Maniac, with its second track Our MAGIC disappointing hugely. It's overly synthesised (to the point where it doesn't sound much like something from K-ON! at all), and it's generic to the point of being genuinely boring. It's light and fluffy, but not in the same kind of way that makes so much of this show's music so enjoyable to listen to. Once again, tracks three and four consist of instrumental versions of the two songs - Track three is great although predictably less so without its lyrics, while track four is weak no matter what you do to it.

If nothing else, these two singles are further proof that the multimedia juggernaut that is K-ON! shows little sign of abating, and to be honest I wouldn't have it any other way right now - Even at its weakest the girls of Ho-kago Tea Time can produce a frighteningly catchy tune, while at its best it simply can't be beaten in terms of anime-derived pop/rock. Oh, and the anime isn't half-bad either...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Angel Beats! - Episode 4

After the last episode of Angel Beats! brought us some interest twists to its particular tale, you'd be forgiven for expecting more along the same lines as we enter episode four. What we get instead, however, is baseball.

Aside from Yui's audition to take over Iwasawa's spot as singer and guitarist of Girls Dead Monster, the real focus of the episode is Yuri's latest plan to enter some guerilla teams within the school baseball tournament, in the hope of using it as an exercise to beat Angel at something fair and square.

From here, we follow Hinata as he tries to put together a team, discovering that you don't in fact always know who your friends are before ending up with a rag-tag assortment of some of the more... shall we say "unhinged" members of the SSS. The whole baseball tournament also seems to tie into Hinata's biggest regret from his life... but does that mean he's going to disappear just like Iwasawa if his team wins the tournament?

Considering the relative depth of the last episode, this particular instalment of Angel Beats! feels oddly shallow along those lines, and even a little odd in places as it seems to have simply been taken as read that Iwasawa disappeared because she made peace with the personal issues from her life - Surely if they've figured this out now then why are they still fighting against Angel? I suppose you could argue (and this episode hints at) being scared of effectively dying and facing the unknown again, but Hinata's case he seems to want to move on, so why carry on fighting the system?

Although this episode did little to enhance the overall story of the show, it was at least entertaining and actually downright funny in places - Yui's "death metal" audition amused me, although not as much as Otonashi and Noda's on-field rivalry, while some of the other jokes almost felt lifted straight out of Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu (which is arguably more surprising than it is bad). Certainly, Angel Beats! is doing quite a good job of wringing humour out of the character's ability to feel pain but not die, but all in all this felt almost a little like a filler episode after the more interesting moments of the previous instalment - With so much mystery still surrounding the show in which this world resides, I hope we get back to that side of things over cheap laughs and brief yet uninteresting character flashbacks sooner rather than later.

Friday, 23 April 2010

The Tatami Galaxy - Episode 1

It might be the last new season series to hit the small screen, but you know what they say about the best things coming to those who wait, and with its place in the niotaminA time slot Madhouse's The Tatami Galaxy (or Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei if you prefer) certainly holds the potential to live up to that old adage.

Before we even begin, we find our protagonist for this series, Watashi, sat at a mobile ramen shop and ending up in conversation with a decidedly odd fellow who claims to be a God of match-making. Nonsensical though this seems, said fellow offers Watashi a contract - Either he can find happiness with a girl named Akashi, or he can defer said happiness to his friend named Ozu.

With that scenario set, so we get a little more background on this entire state of affairs - In short, Watashi is a university student who was expecting his student life to be filled with love and happiness, only to find his introverted nature crippling when it comes to being anything but a loner who is left out of any activities despite his best efforts and joining the campus tennis club. Eventually, Watashi at least finds himself a friend of sorts in Ozu, a strange-looking guy who sets himself (and furthermore Watashi) as some kind of "black cupid", a prankster who loves nothing better than to humiliate those who are already in a relationship.

While Watashi seems to outwardly hold quite the dark side himself after having his heart broken early in his university career, inwardly he clearly still yearns for some affection and romance, and the greatest potential for this seems to come the aforementioned Akashi, a girl who isn't exactly the easiest person to get to know or make small talk with by all accounts, leaving her as just as much of a loner as Watashi judging by what we see. For all of their respective eccentricities, this pair look like as good a match as any, and doubtless much of this series going forward will focus on the awkward symbiosis that exists between the two.

There are two things that become very obvious very quickly about The Tatami Galaxy. Firstly, the art style is (as you might expect of a noitaminA show) decidedly unique, providing a simple yet occasionally oddly spectacular aesthetic to this opening episode that takes a little getting used to but ultimately fits in perfectly with the fluid yet oddball world of the series. Secondly, the dialogue employed here is fired out at high-speed throughout, which can make the show hard to follow without some serious concentration on the viewer's part.

Thankfully, any concentration afforded to The Tatami Galaxy's opener is well rewarded - While this isn't a comic riot or anything of that sort, it "just works" on a rather different level that I can't really express in words. The whole thing takes on a genuinely fascinating air thanks to its trio of weird yet still believable main characters, and a story that races along without giving you a pause for breath, let alone thought. The final feeling of this episode is almost a mix of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei on the one-hand and the work of Natsume Sōseki on the other, particularly when it comes to Watashi and the duality of his isolation against his yearning for happiness and company. This makes for an absolutely fascinating blend of story and character, and if it can keep this up for its entire duration then The Tatami Galaxy could prove to be something very different, and equally something really quite special indeed.

Durarara!! - Episode 15

Durarara!!'s fifteenth episode takes its narration from initially appears to be a rather obscure source, in the form of the journalist who tried to quiz Shizuo in the street some time ago and inevitably got to experience his strength first-hand.

Now, six months later, we watch this same journalist working towards an article on Ikebukuro's strongest person, interviewing his way around a number of characters in the process from Simon to Selty in search of both the answer he's looking for and, increasingly, a chance to meet and talk to Shizuo (who bizarrely impressed him despite almost killing the guy) himself.

Of course, the story of this episode is nowhere near this simply, and as we progress so this instalment of Durarara!! follows its beloved habit of taking every seemingly inconsequential plot point and carefully interleaving it with the show's more major goings-on. Thus, as the episode goes on we see this journalist tied into Anri's life, while Izaya's part in the on-going Slasher incidents is hinted towards - All elements which slowly merge together as we reach a climax that brings these seemingly disparate elements face-to-face, setting the scene for what could be a very interesting next episode indeed.

After feeling rather disappointed by episode fourteen, this felt far more like Durarara!! moving back to its best - While this instalment didn't jump out and grab you by your collar like some episodes, it nonetheless built slowly, surely and in a sufficiently compelling fashion to keep you thinking and wondering throughout, while still having time to laugh at the occasional moments of humour sprinkled throughout (including a reference to Yotusba&! of all things). If the last episode made me feel that the series had lost a little of its lustre, then this instalment has more than restored any lost sheen to this exceedingly smart show, thus renewing my love affair with Durarara!!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 4

After kicking sufficient Skrugg ass to save his grandmother from their warpath of destruction last episode, Joey and company return to the supposed safe haven of the city's school hall which is now doubling as a shelter, only to find out that not only Will but also Professor Denton have disappeared and wandered off to do their own thing.

In the case of Will and his friend whose name I always forget, their decision to try and play at being heroes themselves soon gets them into trouble, as they sneak into the alien base in the hope of stealing their weaponry only to end up captives of the Skrugg. Given said aliens aims of destroying the human race to take over the Earth you would assume that capture would also mean instant death, but predictably it looks as though that won't be the case here.

Meanwhile, Professor Denton is trying to make sense of another Skrugg weapon retrieved from Heroman's battle outside his lab - An intellectual battle which Denton unsurprisingly loses, while Joey refuses to allow him to dismantle Heroman in the name of his research. Any such thoughts are soon put on the back burner however, as the Skrugg decide it's time for a good old-fashioned game of pinball, using the surrounding landscape as their table while singing along to Pinball Wizard. Okay, I might have made part of that up, but either way it's up to Heroman and Joey to save the day before this giant sphere crushes the building houses those sheltering from the invasion.

I have to confess that after finding the last couple of instalments of HEROMAN rather exciting, this episode fell a little flat, while descending even further into that predictable Saturday morning cartoon" mode of operation that I keep mentioning with regard to this city. Sure, this episode was as polished as ever in terms of presentation, and we saw Heroman himself get another deus ex machina-esque upgrade, but fighting against a giant marble just isn't all that interesting, while Will's dilemma is similarly hard to get caught up in any excitement about. Hopefully this is just a temporary blip before we get back to some more heated action, but this episode does back up my concerns that any interest in HEROMAN might prove to be short-lived if it can't shake things up a little more from time to time.

Girls Dead Monster - Crow Song insert song single

If you don't know who Girls Dead Monster are already, then... what's wrong with you?! In all seriousness, GalDeMo (in their shortened form) are the four-piece all-girl band which inhabits the world of Angel Beats! Given that this foursome have already strutted their stuff in the show's opening episodes to great effect, I suppose it's none too surprising to see their popularity cashed in on quickly via the release of this insert song single.

The CD kicks off with Crow Song itself, the song showcased most impressively by the show's opening episode. After a pretty generic pop-rock start to the track, things really kick off around forty seconds in with a fantastic refrain which catches the ear enough to carry the track onwards and upwards. While it admittedly loses its way and slips back towards the generic at times, the general effect is of an uplifting and oddly addictive effort that still manages to sound suitably amateur to fit Girls Dead Monster's status within the show itself.

Following up on that early success is the show's supposed fan favourite tune from the band, Alchemy, which does certainly manage to sound more polished and coherent than the first track. While it doesn't quite carry Crow Song's energy it does manage to carry a catchy tune to make for another eminently enjoyable effort that admittedly probably won't live as long in the memory as its immediate predecessor.

Finally, the disc closes out with a huge change in tone courtesy of the solo ballad My Song, performed in-series by the band's lead singer Iwasawa, and marking a major turning point in both her brief story within the show and for the series as a whole. It's actually difficult to gauge how effective the track is when its association with the scene which accompanies it within Angel Beats! is still so fresh in my mind, but if anything that memory makes the song all the more powerful in my head. I'm not particularly a huge fan of ballads (particularly within Japanese pop music), but this is perhaps as good an example as any, threatening to tug at your heart strings a little as it does with its powerful lyrical performance.

Considering that my first thought upon seeing the opener of Angel Beats! was "I wonder when we'll get these songs on CD", I'm certainly more than a little happy to see my request answered so quickly, and all of the three tracks on show here are likely strong enough to be listened to plenty of times without boring. Of course, the natural comparisons will probably be how Girls Dead Monster compares to K-ON!'s Houkago Tea Time, but to be quite frank it isn't even vaguely fair to compare the two, if only on the tone and content of the music itself. I'd be the first to admit that K-ON!'s uber-catchy saccharine pop-rock sticks in the mind more easily, but that doesn't diminish the enjoyable qualities of Crow Song one little bit.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

K-ON!! - Episode 3

We're only three episodes into K-ON!!, but already there's potential for a full-on band crisis, as Ritsu makes the shocking revelation that she doesn't want to be the drummer any more.

So, what is the reason for this sudden change of heart? Put simply, some DVDs of previous performances have brought to her attention the fact that she's hidden away in the shadows behind her drum kit all the time, meaning that she doesn't get any of the exposure or attention afforded the other girls. So, Ritsu takes it upon herself to try out some of the band's other instruments, with a short but quickly abortive attempt at playing guitar (which reminded me rather too vividly on my own attempts to be taught to play a few chords by friends in the past) and a rather more "successful" (or at least entertaining) stint with Mugi's keyboard. As for Mio's bass, she won't let anyone touch her position in the band, so that's off-limits from the outset.

Of course, it's no spoiler to say that all's well that ends well and come the end of the episode normal service has been resumed after a second change of heart from Ritsu, but the intervening period is by far the funniest and best episode of K-ON!! thus far for me, and possibly one of the better episodes of the franchise overall in terms of comedy. Almost from beginning to end, this instalment was packed with funny moments and great little one-liners, the likes of which the series occasionally forgets to employ but used almost perfectly here without losing the usual light and fluffy touch that we've all come to expect from the series. If you're really looking to be critical then you could argue that we could have delved into the deeper reasoning behind Ritsu's crisis behind the drum kit than we did here, but at the end of the day this is K-ON!!, and I'm pretty confident in saying that nobody is sitting down to watch this every week for deep character introspection - Nor should they be, this was the franchise at its funniest and most fun.

Oh, and this episode references both Keith Moon and the The Who, which makes me a very happy man indeed.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge - Episode 3

Now that Arakawa Under the Bridge has introduced us to what appears to be pretty much its full suite of characters, we're already started to see a little friction between Recruit and some of the others on account of his apparently close relationship with Nino.

This becomes even more of an issue due to Nino's habit of sleepwalking into Recruit's room in the night to sleep before leaving in the morning - A scene which leaves Star barking up the wrong tree and getting more than a little upset about it in the process. However, with some intervention from the truth-seer that is Sister it becomes clear that nothing untoward has been going on, which pushes Star's reaction to the other extreme as he berates Recruit for being useless and gay amongst other things.

With this love rivalry ignited, Recruit decides that there's only one thing for it, and that's to take Nino out on a date, complete with flashy cars and expensive dinners. There's only one problem - Nino doesn't even know what a date is, which makes things awkward to say the least. Still, eventually a compromise is reached, and maybe once again Kou has learned a little more about himself in the process.

As per the rest of the series so far, Arakawa Under the Bridge continues to be both amusing and fascinating on both macro and micro levels - On the one hand the bizarre world and characters which the series consists of makes for some obvious and frequently surreal humour on the surface, yet beneath all of the insanity there's actually a lot of really quite subtle material to be sifted through, which again largely revolves around Recruit's materialism and inability to understand those around him and their feelings. This is a disability that does seem to be lessening as each episode progresses however, as here we see him eventually beginning to consider why Nino doesn't want to leave the river and actually letting her make decisions for herself rather than acting like some kind of control freak.

It's this kind of character development that is often a hallmark of a great series, so I can only hope that it continues here without losing the obvious (or perhaps not so obvious, you could say) humour that comes from Kou's circumstances - It's a big ask, but time will tell whether it can deliver.

Hanners' Anime 'Blog needs you! (To vote for it)

As you may or may not have read in recent days, there's currently a knock-out tournament going on between various anime 'blogs, of which this very 'blog is one. Today is thus Hanners' Anime 'Blog's day to shine in the first round, and to ensure that it progresses then I need your votes. Never mind the UK General Election, this is your chance to make a difference to the future direction of the 21st century. Or something.

All you have to do is make your way over to this poll page and cast your vote - If you want to know more then check out the Aniblog Tourney site as a whole, while the wonderful blackbluesock (aka Janette) has already predicted my victory over here.

Of course, this is just for fun so I won't quit or fly into an Internet rage if and when I lose, but if you do choose to vote for me then your support is much appreciated.

Don't forget - Cast your vote now right here!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 3

After setting the cat amongst the pigeons early on by showing up the regulars with some of the team's younger players, things were only ever going to be shaken up even harder by Tatsumi's decision to give the squad free reign to practice however they liked for the start of East Tokyo United's pre-season training camp.

Thus, Tatsumi sits back and watches while the squad all goes off and sleeps with one another's girlfriends.... oh wait, sorry, this isn't about Chelsea is it? Instead, Tatsumi sits back and watches while the squad implodes, or rather fractures, into its various cliques, all of whom have a different idea of what training should be about, before taking away all but one ball and watching as chaos descends and we're left with little short of a training ground brawl.

Not only that, but the new manager also has another interesting predicament to ponder in the form of "Gio" (or "the Prince" as he prefers to be known thanks to that wonderful footballer's habit of choosing their own nicknames) - An undoubtedly talented and skillful player, but also a huge primadonna who has no qualms about turning up late for training and doing whatever he likes. With the club's first pre-season friendly coming up, the proof will soon be in the pudding that Tatsumi has concocted in his own unique way, and with this opening match against the local champions of two years in succession it's hardly the easiest start to a managerial career either.

Even when the football itself is at a premium, Giant Killing continues to be oddly entertaining thanks to its blend of characters that might be clichéd, but oddly still feel quite realistic when set up against you're average top-flight football team (in England at least). Even Tatsumi himself could be seen as an interesting blend of Sir Alex Ferguson's mind games and Jose Mourinho's arrogant yet entirely justified self-confidence, while I could spend all day thinking up suitable comparisons for the various players given focus by this series. It's this mixture of Roy of the Rovers and Match of the Day which is keeping me absolutely hooked - I have no idea how non-football fans will be finding the show at this point, but personally I'm really rather loving it, and I can't help but finish this episode with a wry smile of satisfaction on my face. It's certainly more fun than watching Arsenal concede three goals in ten minutes, that's for sure...

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 53

As the waxing and waning of the current war between the military establishment and homunculus on the one hand and Mustang and company on the other continues, something needs to be done by the latter to regain the upper hand as life becomes increasingly difficult in terms of moving around Central. Especially when you don't have a tank handy like those crazy people from Briggs.

So, it's to a little bit of propaganda that Mustang's men turn, using Bradley's wife on a live radio broadcast to paint themselves as the heroes and the establishment as the opportunists staging a coup in the absence of their leader. Needless to say, this works admirably, turning the general populace in Mustang's favour and giving the military yet another major obstacle in their attempts to quash the resistance against them.

That said, all of this is going on without Mustang himself present, as both himself and Hawkeye find themselves reuniting with Edward Elric and his own unlikely band of colleagues as they try to fend off the "immortal" army created by the Philosopher's Stone. Not only that, but Envy soon also returns to the scene to create yet another stand-off between good and evil, although in the ensuing half an episode the line between the two becomes distinctly blurred as we witness a side to Mustang that we've never seen before in terms of both his attitude and the raw power at his disposal.

Now, I know I've raved about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood so much that I've run out of adjectives by this point, but let's be clear about one thing - This episode was incredible. From the smart plot twist brought about by that aforementioned radio broadcast through to the stand-off between Envy and Mustang, this was a lesson in everything from story pacing through to emotional range, all animated in a fantastically expressive manner that brought every moment and every movement to life. It was thrilling, amusing and entertaining one moment, and blood-curdling, disturbing and unhinged the next - Everything that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood should be, distilled into a single episode of near-perfection.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Katanagatari - Episode 4

Cheerio! It feels like it's been a while, but episode four of Katanagatari is upon us to continue its overly-verbose tale of powerful swords and the collection thereof.

With three swords in the bag, it's time for Shichika Yasuri to make a bid for blade number four, which is currently in the hands of one Sabi Hakuhei - Supposedly Japan's strongest swordsman. If that sounds like we're all set for an epic battle between an ultra-strong swordsman and Kyotouryuu expert, then.... well, tough luck, because we don't get to see any of it.

The reason for this is that there's something far more interesting going on alongside Togame and Shichika's quest this time around, which comes in the form of yet more employees of the Maniwa Corps, and more precisely their "insect squad", which takes floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee to a whole new level. The trio of ninjas which make up this squad have been tasked with stopping Shichika's progress by kidnapping his sister Nanami and using her as a hostage - A sound plan on the surface, and a gloriously simple one at that.

However, this plan has been drafted without any knowledge of Nanami's own abilities, and so as their confrontation with her begins so we gain a first-hand demonstration of just what she's capable of - Never mind the sweet and mild-mannered girl we saw back in episode one, Nanami seems to be shooting for the top of the "yandere" league once she's confronted with any sort of hostile danger. I won't spoil things any more than that, but needless to say she makes for a more impressive foe than first meets the eye.

Of course, despite all of this fighting and use of ninja techniques, Katanagatari's real focus continues to be on its dialogue, which can make for an overly elongated affair at times, with far too much use of monologue and dialogue where actions would speak louder than words. Then again, on the other hand Nisio Isin's writing continues to be delightful on occasion, so for all of that verbal diarrhoea we do get some genuinely excellent and hugely funny moments, coupled with the kind of nice little plot twists that manage to make things most entertaining indeed.

This does however confirm my suspicions that Katanagatari would probably work better as a more traditional anime series with twenty-minute episodes rather than the format it makes use of here - Despite those great moments they're simply too few and far between much of the time, leaving you looking at your watch occasionally wondering when the next "good bit" is likely to come along. Luckily the best bits are most certainly worth waiting for, and this episode as a whole was oddly fascinating on account of Nanami's turn as nothing short of some kind of demonic big sister, but those dialogue-induced frustrations do continue to take the sheen of some of this series better points, particularly when it teases us about a major fight by simply chatting about it for five minutes over some dumplings.

Angel Beats! - Episode 3

Another episode of Angel Beats! means another mission for the delinquent SSS in their continued battle for the truth surrounding their situation, and this particular mission looks set to be the most dangerous yet, with Yuri setting her sights onto breaking into Angel's "headquarters" - Although it hardly looks like some kind of evil lair, truth be told.

To do this, Yuri has secured the services of your typically nerdy hacker type, who frightens the less intelligent squad members with his impressive knowledge of Pi while failing miserably to get anybody to refer to him by his hacking "handle".

That aside, the real story this time around is regarding Iwasawa, the singer of the GirlDeMo band we saw in the first episode - Just as we did with Yuri last time around, this instalment lets us glimpse into the life of Iwasawa before her death both good and bad, giving an understanding of what drives her and why she loves her music so. With GirlDeMo scheduled for another guerilla concert to distract the masses during the SSS operation, Iwasawa's feelings come to a suprising head which could well turn what this series is really about one-hundred and eighty degrees.

Once again, the production values of this series were readily apparent here, particularly in the band concert scenes - How can Angel Beats! afford so much more attention to the band sequences than even K-ON! has ever mustered? In terms of the story there are certainly some interesting revelations here too; one led by Iwasawa, while some data revealed about Angel's abilities provides the other, all sandwiched between the rather more light-hearted and frivolous exterior that much of each episode seems to enjoy. This blend of more casual fan and something rather intriguing is a difficult one to really get a handle on in a critical sense, and it's hard to see what direction the series is headed, but it certainly looks as though it intends on putting some serious and emotional stories together as well as having some fun with its core concept. Right now these potentially uneasy bedfellows seem to be sharing their proverbial pillow quite comfortably, and it'll be interesting to see for how long that can continue.

Friday, 16 April 2010

House of Five Leaves - Episode 1

Manglobe may be better known for their work on Samurai Champloo, but at long last a new season of noitaminA shows begins with a very different take on the Edo-era samurai genre in the form of House of Five Leaves.

The series starts by introducing us to some family turmoil courtesy of a child named Sir Seinoshin - An adopted son set to be the heir to his adoptive family's position despite being seemingly loathed by his mother and with a bit of a complex over some scars on his own body.

As a revelation in this particular story is thrown our way, so we move on to find ourselves entering the world of Masanosuke Akitsu - A guy who is most certainly not your typical ronin or samurai, despite desperately looking for work in this field. Compared to the bluff and bluster of most fighters, Masanosuke is brutally self-aware and painfully shy, to the point where he finds himself running from an individually when he finds himself catching their eye. Ironically, it's this retiring personality which finds him hired by Yaichi, a man who is effectively looking for a cowardly bodyguard to help him with a spot of bother he claims to have gotten himself into.

As the truth surrounding Yaichi's intent becomes clear, so Masanosuke finds himself thrust into the world of the Five Leaves... but does he really want to continue working for Yaichi once it's revealed what he really does for a living? It's a dilemma that leaves our protagonist torn between the need for money and his own ideals, with no clear path forward in sight as the opener comes to a close.

Much like its lead character, House of Five Leaves is setting itself up from the outset as a very different samurai anime series. Compared to the stylised action, blood and guts we're used to from the likes of Sword of the Stranger (and of course the aforementioned Samurai Champloo), this series looks set to deliver a far more personal and subtle take on the Edo period and the characters that inhabit it with individuals that shout from the rooftops in terms of how different they are of the normal men and women we'd expect from such a series. Even the animation style of this opening episode dares to be different, with an oddly "neutral" look and feel that somehow manages to work pretty well while occasionally stepping over into being outright stunning.

House of Five Leaves is most certainly not a show to be judged on a single episode so I wouldn't dare to do so - It certainly looks like an interesting prospect however, and its noitaminA credentials suggests that we should expect at least some degree of delivery upon the potential that it holds, to the point where I'm really looking forward to seeing what direction it takes.

Durarara!! - Episode 14

With Anri and the so-called "Slasher" coming face-to-face at the end of the last episode, word of this latest attack soon leaks out onto the Internet... and of course straight into the laps of Mikado, Selty and Izaya online, causing the first of this trio to become more than a little concerned for Anri's safety, even though he need not fret.

While some substantial information about the Slasher and its origins are revealed this episode, much of this particular instalment sees the focus return to Selty's head - Despite her intentions to effectively forget about it in lieu of her love for Shinra, as you might expect ignoring the existence of your own head is more than a little difficult. Of course, unbeknown to Selty more and more parties are taking interest in her noggin, from Izaya through to Shinra's father, who also reveals himself to have had a direct hand in Selty losing her head in the first place... a chain of events which in turn leads us back to the Slasher.

While there's still a fascinating story going on here via some excellent characters, I have to admit that the second half of Durarara!! thus far feels a little flat compared to what came before - While the first dozen episodes were a wonderful madcap ride through Ikebukuro that brought the entire series to life, this tighter focus on particular points of importance actually drain a little of that colour from the show at this exact point in time. That said, there's still some great moments of both character and comedy here, from Selty's reactions and how they're conveyed visually through to Shingen's behaviour throughout. It's hard to really be critical of a show that still has so much going for it and certainly contains plenty of promise moving forward; I suppose I just can't help but pine a little for those earlier moments of wide-eyed wonder when Durarara!! was still fresh and new.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 3

Although the last episode of HEROMAN finished by giving us the opportunity to see our new giant robot friend and his owner kicking some serious ass, if one thing was clear it was that the battle against the invariably evil Skrugg had only just begun.

So it goes then that this episode concerns itself entirely with the full force of the Skrugg invasion, as we see their troops landing on Earth and then laying waste to it as the populace flee in horror. Inevitably, even the armed forces are left powerless in the wake of the alien technology and firepower they find themselves facing, leaving nobody to stand in the way of the destruction of the human race. Apart from a certain boy and his toy robot, of course.

Speaking of Joey, his primary concern is to check that his grandmother is safe and rescue her from any immediate danger, a task which puts him into some sticky situations, some of which he manages to avoid before being left no option but to deploy Heroman and, once again, kick some serious ass. While Joey is playing out a role as a reluctant hero however, Lina's brother Will is trying to be a hero in a far more direct manner... and I'm sure we can all guess how that's going to turn out.

While the first couple of episodes of HEROMAN delighted in offering up their Saturday morning cartoon look and feel, I have to admit that this third instalment sees the series running the risk of diving headlong into full-blown cliché, with an alien invasion that pinches aspects of Independence Day and War of the Worlds but without anything like as much drama or excitement. Aside from that, we have our reluctant hero and our traditional American jock bully to add little in the way of innovation in the characterisation department. Still, even with these failings there's still a certain amount of fun to be had from the episode, and seeing Heroman himself strut his stuff is genuinely pleasing, helped along by some solid production values on BONES' part. As long as you aren't expecting some kind of unique and innovative take on the time-honoured alien invasion story, then there are worse ways to spend your time than with HEROMAN right now.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

K-ON!! - Episode 2

After two years of using and abusing the same club room, it's inevitable that a certain amount of clutter is going to accumulate, and this is certainly the case with the girls of the light music club as their time of hoarding stuff in the store room comes back to haunt them.

Thus, it's clean-up time as this episode begins, although sorting through the detritus of the past couple of years also brings the girls to a fortuitous discovery - An old guitar belonging to their teacher Sawako from her own time as a music club member, and an instrument which she allows the girls to sell to fund the club.

With money on their mind and on their way to sell this guitar, the girls stop off at a home improvement store to look for some shelves to tidy up the clutter of the club room, which is typical K-ON!! style somehow ends up becoming quite the adventure, with almost all of the girls getting far too excited about some element or other of the store - Indeed, Mugi in particular seems enamoured with pretty much everything it has to offer. With that shopping trip done, the guitar is sold, but for a price that stretches beyond the girls wildest dreams. Their hesitation in telling Sawako the true price of the instrument eventually puts paid to their thoughts of impressive riches, but it does at least succeed in bringing Asuza the new club member that she's been longing for.

Really, this series being what it is it's a little difficult to know what to say about this second episode of K-ON!! - It's simply more of the same harmless, frivolous yet vaguely fun and entertaining slice-of-life shenanigans that we're used to. While things don't feel as fresh as the first season, and this episode certainly didn't make me chuckle quite as much as the last, it remains enjoyable to watch and impeccably animated - The perfect anime to put your feet up and de-stress to at the end of the day. K-ON!! is undemanding stuff, and to be honest I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 2

After a weekend where Portsmouth dumped Tottenham Hotspur out of the FA Cup to take a berth in the final, it seems all too apt to sit down to another episode of an anime named Giant Killing. Besides, anything that lets me gloat over a Spurs defeat can only be a good thing, right?

Anyhow, in the first episode we saw new manager and returning legend Takeshi Tatsumi shaking things up right from the off in his new position at East Tokyo United, using the results of some fitness and sprinting tests to turn the first team into the reserves and vice versa before setting the two sides off against one another in a training match.

Of course, the result of said training game is pure Roy of the Rovers stuff, with some Alex Ferguson-esque mind games and other tricks bringing the pacy, fitter reserves to a resounding victory over the regulars, before Tatsumi creates even more unrest by publicly announcing that he's dropping fan favourite Murakoshi as captain. But is there a method to his madness? Of course there is!

For all of its occasional, and I suspect unintentionally, amusing moments (the crows at your average English Premier League game don't invite their players to go eat at their restaurant, that's for sure, while simply choosing players based on pace and stamina only works in FIFA 10), there's still a lot to like about Giant Killing thus far. Simply the fact that it's about football has me hooked with relative ease, but Tatsumi's Jose Mourinho like attitude towards both the press and players is eminently watchable, while the the whole thing is both enjoyable fare while also proving to be pretty polished when it comes to actually showing the game being played - Okay, it isn't that realistic compared to the real thing, but it isn't too bad either. All in all then, Giant Killing is rising up the table of shows to watch this season.

Arakawa Under the Bridge - Episode 2

After introducing us to the fast-changing world of Kou Ichinomiya... sorry, Recruit... last episode, this second episode of Arakawa Under the Bridge sees Ric beginning to settle into his new and unique home.

Indeed, it has to be said that Kou has made a pretty nice home for himself already, but this all becomes rather immaterial as his thoughts turn to sheer panic when he finds himself left alone with Nino for the first time, having never had a girl in his room before. Besides, just what is a guy supposed to talk to a girl from Venus about anyway?

From here, we learn the intricacies of taking a bath when you live under a bridge (which also gives Ric the opportunity to reminisce about his past a little more), see Ric enjoy a welcoming party which suddenly becomes rather less welcoming when he mentions his relationship with Nino, and perhaps most impressively of all we get introduced to the wonderful religion practised by those who reside under the bridge, served up by a "sister" who would probably be better suited to an appearance in Black Lagoon. Still, you can't go wrong with a religion based largely around guns and cookies.

If the first episode of Arakawa Under the Bridge was merely a taster of what this show is going to be all about, then this was the real deal - A bunch of vignettes that are occasionally as funny as they are surreal, while also serving as a fantastic character study of Kou and, perhaps, a broader commentary on what is wrong with the world as a whole. While Recruit sees himself as surrounded by crazy people, it leaves him completely unable to understand his own idiosyncrasies, while his interactions with those around him shows how little his status and power actually mean out in the world of ordinary people, leaving him unable to converse with Nino or even to talk about himself without a reference to said status. It's this which is perhaps the sharpest point of the episode, positing our protagonist as a kind of non-lethal Patrick Bateman for the 21st century - A man more concerned with brand names than anything of interest, and only interested in his own role in the working world than what he actually "is" as a person.

This mix of surrealist comedy and social commentary works exceedingly well, and if I was hedging my bets after the first episode I think this second instalment has me hooked.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Dance in the Vampire Bund - Episode 12 (Completed)

As Dance in the Vampire Bund finally reaches its climax, so said finale begins by giving us a look at what Akira had seen before his memory loss that was the interest of so many parties in the last episode - A series of sights so shocking to him that it seemingly forced him to block out his own memory lest it alter his perception of Mina Tepes and his feelings towards her.

However, with these memories now restored to Akira's mind as he finds himself patched up and ready to face his current challenge once again thanks to the work of a "fangless" doctor, his loyalty to Mina still remains, as he finds himself needing to face off against someone who he believed to be an ally until this point - Mei Ren.

So, much of this episode concerns itself with this final battle, set against the backdrop of the secrets of the pair's respective "masters" and what it all means for the world of vampires as a whole. It probably goes without saying who wins the day come the end of it all, although not before we're left with enough to get out teeth in to were a second season of this show ever to appear.

While Dance in the Vampire Bund could never be considered a bad series by any stretch of the imagination, it somehow also never managed to rise above the mediocre - It had its moments, but in general terms everything that it tried to do seemed to almost have been attempted without much conviction, while also feeling like the kind of thing we've already seen countless times before. Of course, this wasn't helped by the series suffering from such a sluggish start - The first half of the show frequently threatened to stall entirely, and by the time things started picking up and SHAFT got their teeth into both the visual and story-telling requirements of the series it was almost entirely too late to do much with it, making these final episodes feel almost as rushed as the early ones were languid. Above all else this poor pacing was the final nail in Dance in the Vampire Bund's proverbial coffin, leaving us with one entirely forgettable anime that... well, I can't say anything more about - Looks like I've forgotten it already.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 52

With things hotting up for all and sundry last time around, it's no surprise that episode fifty-two of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood consists almost entirely of wall-to-wall action.

A large chunk of this action focuses upon Alphonse, who rather fortuitously came into the possession of a Philosopher's Stone last episode, which he uses to great effect to enable him to fight the dual menaces of Pride and Kimblee. Even with the additional power that this grants him he still needs a little help from his friends however, and luckily for him some of them make an appearance at just the right time to add their own varied abilities to the fight.

Elsewhere, the Armstrongs are still in the line of fire with regards to Sloth, who gets to show off some more of his own particular powers, while Mustang and his comrades look for a way into Central and Edward and his posse continue the seemingly fruitless fight against the Philosopher's Stone-created army that simply won't die. Add to that May Chan's troubles against the newly regenerated Envy, and that covers pretty much all of the major factions involved in the current state of affairs.

While this episode is perhaps rather light on major aspects of plot progression, it certainly serves up an impress action-packed instalment for us which can be enjoyed in its own right - Yes, it does pull off the old trick of a friendly face appearing "just in time" to save the day a few times too often, but that's to be expected of any series like this at this particular juncture, and even with that in place you can't help but enjoy some of those twists and turns as they pan out in front of us. Even though this isn't the meatiest episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood you'll find, it still doesn't pull any punches when it comes to the gore and horror of the situation it portrays while still managing to be quite breath-taking on occasion when it comes to the action on show, meaning that it remains as watchable as ever.

Angel Beats! - Episode 2

After its opening episode did a pretty solid job of introducing us to the world of Angel Beats! and what it's all about, so this second instalment of the series takes us deeper into the nuts and bolts of SSS... quite literally.

With ammunition running low, it's time for the members of this rebel organisatio0n to make a trip to a place known as Guild - An underground factory where weapons and the like can be manufactured for those up top to use in their fight against Angel. Although Yuri calls ahead to let them know that they'll be on their way, and asking them to reactivate the various traps which should stop Angel from entering Guild, as they begin their journey it soon becomes clear that these traps have been re-activated, a sure sign that Angel is about to infiltrate the place.

What follows is a pretty humorous take on your typical trap-laden secret lair, with the usual laser beams, rolling boulders and moving walls being deployed against our occasionally hapless SSS members, who perhaps don't take things quite as seriously as you might expect on account of being unable to die. While having a batch of effectively immortal heroes probably shouldn't work as a staple part of any anime, it seems to do the job here pretty well as a slightly crazed blend of action and comic relief.

In terms of plot progression however, it's the second half of the episode where all the important stuff happens - Namely, we learn about Yuri's life prior to her death (as she seems to be a rarity in that she still holds all her memories from that time) and her motivations, as well as exactly what those who reside within the Guild are capable of and why it's so easy to mass-manufacture weaponry. To close things off we're treated to a final slice of action, as Angel appears within Guild, thus requiring the intervention of Yuri amongst others.

If the first episode of Angel Beats! was solid as I mentioned earlier, then this second episode proved to be a thoroughly entertaining affair which threw plenty of different items and tones of story-telling into the pot and somehow managed to make them all work. From the comical side of things to the action, and even with regard to Yuri's quite harrowing story of her actual life, everything merged together well to create a compelling episode which taught us a little more about at least some of the characters as well as the world they have to work in. If it can continue in a similar vein, then Angel Beats! promises to be one mightily entertaining series.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Durarara!! - Episode 13

After a week-long break, Durarara!! returns to kick off the second half of the series, while also bouncing us forward six months from the events that ended the show's opening half. Of course, those six months means that everything within Ikebukuro and the world of its various characters has returned to normal.... Well, normal apart from all of the things that are clearly anything but.

For starters, ever since the now infamous Dollars meeting instigated by Mikado, someone nicknamed "The Slasher" has been going around randomly... well, slashing people. With a katana. Nobody knows who the perpetrator is, but of course Selty's public appearance and outburst at around the same time has attracted plenty of attention in her direction - Not least from the police, who have hired a new bad boy named Kuzuhara Kinnosuke, tasked specifically with taking Selty into custody. Surprisingly, Selty is terrified by these new police tactics, while we can also clearly see that she's grown closer still to Shinra over the intervening months.

Speaking of Shinra, his father also arrives on the scene this episode, while we also briefly catch up with the lives of a number of other characters. Narration duties however are handled by Anri, and it's through her eyes that we learn about her own feelings, confusion and naivety when it comes to dealing with Masaomi and Mikado (and Mika Harima for that matter), before she finds herself caught up in the city's big story... and it seems she isn't the only one to become involved in the Slasher case in some shape or form.

After having built up so nicely throughout its first half, it's almost a little tricky to adjust to what almost feels like a partial reset of Durarara!!'s world, but thankfully all of the wonderful and colourful characters are still there to bring life to this show, with a couple of new additions to boot. That aside, I think we're going to simply have to wait and see what the second half of the series has chosen to bring us, as it's too early to make any real comments about it either way. Still, this particular episode did a good a job as you could have hoped of getting things rolling, with some nice touches of humour and also of character development to give the feeling that time has moved on rather than stood still for the six months we've been away. I can only hope that we can once again scale the dizzy heights reached by the first half of the series.