Monday, 31 May 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 59

Fullmetal Alchemist is a franchise that loves its moral dilemmas, and we (or rather, Colonel Mustang) were certainly left with a classic one come the end of the latest episode - Does he agree to perform human transmutation to save Hawkeye but possibly condemn his country, or resist and see her die before his very eyes?

Luckily for Mustang, that's a decision which is taken out of his hands thanks to a little help from his friends - Namely, May Chang and the chimera, which allows them to snatch the crazed doctor and set to work taking down all of the Bradley wannabes. Oh, and saving Hawkeye from bleeding together... can't forget that one.

Of course, nothing in this show is ever simple, and no sooner have those troublesome foes been despatched do we find Mustang and company faced with another problem, in the form of the less savoury elements of the Bradley family, aka Wrath and Pride. Although Colonel Mustang might have avoided performing human transmutation against his will, it all stands for naught when he can still be forced to do so against his will, and thus in the end it appears that his destiny is simply unavoidable, as he's dropped before the gate of truth, forced to pay his particularly cruel dues for what has happened, and then left as the fifth sacrifice before Father's mercy.

The battle for the future of the country isn't over yet though, with May Chang (thanks to Scar and the others) fighting her way through to help the other "sacrifices", although in the meantime Alphonse faces a dilemma of his own when confronted with the choice of regaining his original, weakened, body or continuing to use his current strength to help his friends and brother. No contest really...

Seeing as every week my post about Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood involves singing its praises, let's shake things up for a moment by saying that this episode was terrible...

...and now that moment is over, let's return to reality and state that this was another superb episode, with the twists and turns that we've come to expect and love (even when they seem a tad unlikely) coupled with an almost malicious dark streak that runs through the series, robbing Mustang of his sight at a point where he seems the most likely saviour of the entire cast. Malicious or not, it adds another delicious dollop of unpredictability to this series as it enters the final straight, leaving me even more on tenterhooks for the next instalment. As always, I just can't get enough of this show.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

House of Five Leaves - Episode 7

After avoiding meeting the Elder during Masa's convalescence, a little white lie or five from Ume finally convinces Yaichi to pay the Elder's house a visit... a trip which finally gives us a little insight into the Five Leaves leader's past.

In short, it appears that Yaichi used to work under a man named Kuhei for a group of thieves and the like known as Bakuro - A group which has since seen all of its individuals save Yaichi either imprisoned or exiled, although the rumour is that they will be returning to Edo soon, which would surely be bad news all-round. As for Yaichi himself, he's clearly rather tetchy about this aspect of his past, particular when Masa (as always) put his foot in it by pressing him about it. Yaichi claims to have changed and that he's living for the present and not the past, but can he be trusted? The Elder certainly doesn't seem convinced, warning Masa to be on his guard and to learn what he can about Yaichi to see if he truly has changes his ways and allegiances.

Meanwhile however, Masa is still burdened with his own particular struggles - While he may have recovered in body, his mind is still flagging, and an impromptu face-off with another ronin sees him making a run for it in the face of the laughing and sneering faces of the watching crowd. This in itself gives us a flashback to Masa's past, and a sense of shame which is surely the reason for his unwillingness to return to his home town. Certainly, Masa's inability to fight with people watching looks likely to be a liability to both himself and others, and a real handicap when you consider we've seen him handle situations with a fair amount of skill when he hasn't had the consequences of his rather shy personality to contend with.

After feeling that the last episode of House of Five Leaves was taking things just a little too languidly, this latest instalment felt a tad better - It was never likely to break out into an orgy of action and violence (and indeed I wouldn't want it to), but there was a sense of pacing and progression to this episode that gave it a much-needed shot in the arm, largely via some important character development and progression all around. Those moments of progress have also opened up some interesting new doors for the remainder of the series, which gives me hope that we're going to be seeing far more moments of interest from here on in... with any luck, my hopes will bear fruit this time and we'll see House of Five Leaves continue to move in the right direction.

Angel Beats! - Episode 9

Having absorbed the multitude of clones she created come the end of the last instalment, it isn't really much of a surprise to find Kanade out for the count in a hospital bed as episode nine begins. The big question is, will she ever wake up, and if so will she be the more friendly Kanade of more recent times or the "evil" Angel as we were more used to earlier in the series?

For much of the episode, this question is relegated to the back-burner, as we instead concentrate on Otonashi at Kanade's bed-side as the full horror of the experiences which led to his death come to light. This makes for what must surely be the darkest overall episode of Angel Beats! yet, as we discover that Otonashi and numerous others didn't die instantly in the train crash, but instead found themselves trapped in a vast tunnel with no means of escape, little food and water, and no ability to even call for help. From here, we witness Otonashi taking the lead, using his medical knowledge to help the other victims while clearly realising that he's badly injured and suffering internal bleeding himself, before we see the injured struggle on through a week of agony, dehydration and starvation before a moment of clarity marks the end of Otonashi's life but, ironically, rescue for all of those he helped.

Still, this isn't simply an excuse to paint a bleak picture to try and move us emotionally, as it all ties in with Kanade's awakening and Otonashi's realisation that's she's actually been trying to help everybody to deal with their regrets, enjoy their second chance at "life" and then move on to whatever comes next. Thus, by the end of the episode the lines of battle have been redrawn once again, with Kanade taking on her role of Angel and student council president for a second time while Otonashi works "undercover" to help Yuri and company to "see the light".

Overall, I was really rather impressed by this episode - Despite being hugely different from the largely light-hearted stuff Angel Beats! has treated us to of late, it still worked really well despite its dark and depressing subject matter, while very much painting Otonashi as the man who gets things done; a role he will need to fulfil for the rest of this series if his and Kanade's plan is to succeed. Speaking of which, Kanade's role as revealed this episode is hardly a surprising one, although Kanade's clumsy attempts at helping her school mates "pass on" is almost a little unbelievable. Still, with yet another change in gear for the series surely the tone has now been set for the rest of the series for the first time that it began - Will this turn it into a formulaic effort or give it a sense of pacing and progression that lets it soar to new heights? Only time will tell...

Giant Killing - Episode 9

Watching East Tokyo United fall behind in a match has become par for the course with Giant Killing thus far, and by the end of the last episode we saw them do so yet again, this time being found out from a set piece despite the overall quality of their play improving.

As episode nine begins however we see the final whistle blow, bringing the curtain down on a fifth consecutive defeat - This is the kind of thing which sees a manager being shown the door before he's barely got his foot in it. Indeed, that seems to be the way things are going for Tatsumi, as we see the club's vice chairman's frustrations about the team's results clearly indicated, while things aren't looking much better amongst the fans, who block in ETU's team bus to demand to speak with the manager. In the end it's general manager Goto who diffuses the situation, although not before Tatsumi looks ready to take the fall on behalf of his players - Always the sign of a good boss.

As if the pressure of five consecutive defeats isn't enough, Tsubaki is still holding himself responsible for the team's poor form (selfishly so, as Murakoshi points out), while their next game is against high-flying Nagoya Grand Palace, the current home of the former ETU manager. Such match-ups always have a certain amount of additional needle to them, but with what seems to be a huge gulf in quality between the two sides (and with Nagoya boasting a trio of Brazilians who seem to live in some kind of perpetual Nike advertisement) surely there can only ever be one outcome? At least, you might think that unless you know a bit about football and the surprises that it regularly springs upon us all...

I have to confess that this was never likely to be one of my favourite episodes of Giant Killing solely for the lack of on-pitch action, and particularly in a day in which I had to sit through an abysmal England performance only to see them win thanks to two own goals, the kind of luck ETU would die for no doubt! Still, that said there was still a lot to like about this episode, in particular Tatsumi's willingness to "take one for the team" and his growing belief in his players, and the understanding of Tatsumi's body language shown by the female journalist who is following the team. There are plenty of other interesting little moments sprinkled throughout the instalment, but never mind that... Now I have to wait until next weekend to get to the big name that I'm on the edge of my seat for!

Friday, 28 May 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 9

Last time out we saw Joey seemingly out for the count as Kogorr appeared to gain the upper hand in the battle of the planets... Does the defeat of Joey also mean the end for Heroman himself?

Initially it seems so, with our hero... err, man... left inert once Joey is rendered unconscious, although of course in truly heroic style Joey somehow manages to find the strength and spirit to find on... at least for a little while, before being smacked around some more by Kogorr and finally succumbing to defeat.

At this point something changes however, with Heroman "catching fire" and going beserk, a new mode of operation which sees him give the evil Kogorr the thrashing he deserves, almost literally beating him to within an inch of his life and threatening to "do a Unit 03" on him (sorry, there goes my Evangelion obsession again. At this point Joey comes around again in time to stop Heroman from doing something apparently un-heroic, giving Kogorr a temporary second wind until he's defeated, seemingly for good this time.

Naturally, defeat for this evil mastermind can mean only one thing... Time to set off that handily installed self-destruct mechanism. This leaves Professor Denton and company with a race against time to stop the spheres traversing the planet before the entire place blows sky high; something they achieve, frustrating Professor Minami's own plans to impress the world in the process. So, the Skrugg command centre blows to smithereens, the invasion is over, and the world is a safe place once again... or is it?

If I'd been in charge of choosing the English episode titles for this series, I think episode nine would have been headed as "Why won't you die?", as that seemed to be a recurring theme throughout - Just how many times could Joey and Kogorr be beaten to a pulp before they actually die? Are they both Homunculus or something? Who knows, but this was perhaps a more unwelcome old-school cartoon cliché in an episode where there were plenty to choose from. This wasn't really helped by Joey's bizarre insistence upon Heroman not going berserk on Kogorr, depite being quite happily to see him kill numerous henchmen across the course of the series without so much as a flicker of guilt - Is ripping someone's face off really worse than punching their head off? Apparently so in the bizarre moral maze that is Joey Jones' brain.

All joking aside, I guess this was pretty undemanding fun once again, although in concluding the alien invasion arc so quickly it does threaten to run out of the steam from this point forth - After all, what can top evil aliens? Sure, we have our future bad guys all laid out (I'd place bets on Nick making a return now, if I were you), and some Skrugg technology conveniently left behind, but is it going to be as interesting as spaceships and weird spheres? I can only hope so, as the blend of entertainment and cheese is still working better for this series than it perhaps should.

Durarara!! - Episode 20

Thanks to the sighting at the end of the last episode of Selty and "the Slasher" together as she raced to rescue Anri from the Yellow Scarves search, some kind of link between the Slasher and the Dollars is now firmly embedded in Kida's head, and throughout this episode we see him exploring that possibility.

His first port of call is Kadota, who tries to help him out as best he can be assuring Kida that there's no link between the Dollars and the Slasher, while also trying to put to bed (with some "interesting" help from Walker and Erika) any thoughts that some off-shoot of the Dollars, or even former Blue Square members, could be involved. Eventually, Kadota at least relents enough to give Masaomi the telephone number of someone who knows the identity of the Dollars' leader, and of course this turns out to be none other than one Izaya Orihara.

The big question from here is - Just what is Izaya going to tell Kida? The answer, which is either surprising or not dependant upon your point of view, is the absolute truth, as Izaya tells Masaomi straight-up that his good friend Mikado is at the top of the Dollars' tree. This naturally throws Kida into a full-on dilemma - For now, his loyalty appears to be towards his friend as he instructs the Yellow Scarves to stay away from any conflict with possible Dollars members. The trouble is (and as Kadota astutely noted earlier in the episode), Masaomi's sphere of influence over the Yellow Scarves' members isn't what it used to be...

As episodes of Durarara!! this was a bit of a slow-starter, not really helped along by Walker and Erika's narration during this instalment which didn't really sit well with me - While there were some mildly interesting thoughts to be derived from their use of anime and manga as a replacement for reality (and it was fun to see much love for J.C. Staff shows too), it's not an aspect I can relate to or associate with in terms of my own interest in those areas. Aside from that however, things picked up once Kida goes to see Izaya, who once again handles and manipulates everything going on around him with a chillingly cold expertise to fit his requirements, and come the end of the episode we're closer to the "war" that he's looking for than ever. Despite this instalment's shortcomings (it looked a little shabby in terms of animation too, unless it was just me), Durarara!! still manages to bring about the feeling of a run-away train that is gathering pace here - Last week we saw Anri struggling to put the breaks on her side of the triangle, and this episode most certainly suggests that neither Mikado nor Masaomi will have sufficient clout to keep tabs on their own respective organisations. That, of course, is what is going to make the coming weeks very interesting indeed....

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance

The fastest selling Japanese Blu-Ray release of all time? It can only be Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance... and boy does it look fantastic in full-on High Definition.

While Evangelion 1.11 was quite content to be a simple "remaster" of the first half dozen episodes of the classic TV anime, Evangelion 2.22 sets out its stall right from the off that this isn't your Dad's Evangelion, introducing us immediately to Mari, a new pilot complete with her own prototype Eva and a battle against the third Angel which was conspicuous by its absence in the first movie. Come the end of this impressive set piece opening, the Angel is destroyed and with it Unit 05, while Mari escapes to give us an interesting new face who looks set to match Ryoji Kaji when it comes to throwing a cat amongst the NERV pigeons.

No sooner have we caught our breath from that, and regained our composure via Shinji and father visiting his mother's grave, than we find ourselves in the midst of another Angel attack punctuated by the appearance of Unit 02 and one Asuka Langley Shikinami (yes, she's had a name change). Needless to say, Asuka dispatches her opponent with little effort but lots of style, before opening the way for some touches of slapstick comedy - Not a first for the Evangelion franchise, but this time around the attempt to get laughs seems utterly genuine, and perhaps necessarily given the dark tone of things to come.

Indeed, with the seventh Angel despatched, Evangelion 2.22 finds itself with plenty of time to probe and prod its characters and the dynamic between them, which in itself reveals a rather different Asuka to the one we remember - Although outwardly her tsundere service remains intact, she's far quicker to open up and both admit her deficiencies and directly acknowledge her loneliness. Yes, she's still a bundle of contradictions, but on this occasion it feels like she knows it and is almost brazenly unashamed of the fact. Similarly, the Rei of Evangelion 2.22 is a different beast as well, growing and maturing away from the "doll" Asuka sees her as into a more emotional creature - Indeed, Rei's part here and her character within the movie are absolutely instrumental in the story as it unfolds towards its climax.

As you'd probably expect from anything Evangelion, I could easily write a book about its characters and their inter-relationships, so I won't dwell too much on this side of things, but we also delve deeper into the bonds between Misato and Shinji (although not quite to End of Evangelion's extreme) while the links between Shinji, Rei and Asuka are both visually and verbally displayed in a far clearer fashion than they ever were in the TV series.

With all of those dynamics put into place, and with Mari literally dropping out of the sky to make her covert return, all of the pieces are in place to do what Evangelion does best.... Spend an hour or so completely fucking with your head until it hurts. After blowing Unit 04 and another NERV branch sky-high, Unit 03 is shipped to Japan for testing, meaning that Unit 02 goes into stasis and Asuka is assigned as test pilot for the newly arrived Evangelion. Yep, that's right, this time it's Asuka who has the auspicious job of taking Toji Suzuhara's place in Unit 03 as it morphs into an Angel, and Shinji once again quite rightly loses his head as Unit 01's newly installed Dummy Plug system goes beserk, destroying both Angel and (very nearly) Asuka. clearly delights in its misdirection before placing Asuka into Unit 03, doing everything it can to lead you to believe that Toji will be its victim before pulling the rug out from under you just seconds later, although the movie's biggest mistake is perhaps its choice of music as we see Unit 03 destroyed and literally ripped to pieces. Were Studio Khara and Hideaki Anno trying to soften the blow of what we were seeing on screen? It feels like it, but it seems hard to believe when it's put up against the rest of the Evangelion franchise.

Regardless, with Shinji walking out on NERV once again and Asuka quarantined and "damaged" both physically and mentally, we enter the "what the Hell just happened phase" of the film, featuring another deadly Angel, Mari in a "hackable" Unit 02, Rei's suicide mission with an N2 missile, and Shinji's return to save Rei, and perhaps the world.... or is he about to destroy it with his actions? Make sure you keep watching after the credits roll, or you're going to miss something rather important.

To call Evangelion 2.22 an incredible cinematic experience is, quite honestly, a huge understatement - Just like 1.11 before it, this is a simply beautiful film visually (brutally so at times), which shines and impresses in every scene almost without fail. This is matched against a plot that is sharply paced and produced for entertainment value as much as, if not more than, its shock value - Lessons have clearly been learned from past iterations of Evangelion here, and the simplified character development and addition of larger doses of humour are evidence of this. Despite using Pen-Pen (and a straw) as genuinely funny comic relief and wallowing in its moments of balletic action, Evangelion 2.22 doesn't forget the fans however as it equally thrives on delving into incomprehensible pseudo-scientific babble which serves as an excuse to serve up all sorts of insanity before blowing up the world and then changing its mind about doing do. You have to wonder what kind of deranged mind could imagine some of this stuff, but then you realise that you're glad that such minds exist and sit back to enjoy the ride.

In fact, "sit back and enjoy the ride" is probably the best advice I can give to anyone watching You Can (Not) Advance, particularly if (like me) you're a die-hard Evangelion fan. When I first watched 2.0 in the cinema just last weekend, I found myself fretting over the changes in character and the faster development of those characters compared to the longer, more analytical descent into madness and depression of the TV series. Truth be told, I still prefer that original treatment overall in those terms, but upon a second viewing I have a lot more appreciation for the things that Evangelion 2.22 does do better, as it highlights some of those inter-dependencies between characters that the original never really got to grips with properly.

Beyond that, now is simply the time to take a step back and treat the new Evangelion as a completely different work - It's brought us new elements to the Evangelion themselves, a new pilot in Mari who is (thankfully) fascinating far beyond her glasses and chest size, and there's clearly a whole, whole lot more to come in the third movie. As I said at the start, this isn't your Dad's Evangelion, so try not to compare it to the series you remember - Instead, take a deep breath and appreciate the jaw-dropping spectacle that Evangelion 2.22 represents. It seems wrong to refer to a world of such brutality, violence, death and danger as beautiful, but on further consideration perhaps that is what makes Anno's latest vision a beautiful world after all.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge - Episode 8

The last episode of Arakawa Under the Bridge ended with about the closest this series can come to a cliff-hanger, with Kou seemingly recognised by a couple of individuals from outside of the world under the bridge... an undesirable state of affairs for our protagonist, for obvious reasons.

The two people in question turn out to be Kou's secretary and his assistant, which of course makes life even more awkward for him, and brings this particular situation comedy to an episode that is a staple of the sitcom diet - The inevitable instalment where Kou tries to get everyone around him to act like they're part of another business that he's set up.

Of course, convincing anyone that the inhabitants under the bridge are business men and women was never going to be easy, particularly when they try using your secretary's balding pate as a mirror, pulling a gun on him, or chasing dragonflies when you're supposed to be a secretary yourself. Luckily for Kou, his secretary Takai's real interest isn't in him as a successful businessman, but as a surrogate son of sorts, and so as the "truth" about Kou and Nino's relationship is unveiled and becomes clear (culminating in a first for Kou), so Takai is actually happy rather than disappointment despite any lies he's been told. The same cannot be said of his assistant Shimazaki however, who looks set to provide the evidence that will cause a whole lot of pain and heartache between Kou and his actual father.

Putting to one side for a moment that this is another laugh out loud funny episode of Arakawa Under the Bridge (and my God is it funny in places), this episode also manages to be all kinds of wonderful in myriad other ways. For starters, it's fascinating to watch Kou throughout this episode, from the opening pre-credits scene which flashes back to a rare moment of rebellion from a young Kou towards his father, through to the rest of this episode where his original creed of not relying on anyone but himself goes entirely out of the window - Witness how he spends the entire instalment relying on others to help him out, do him favours, serve him breakfast, and indeed notice how he calls out for help as he gets swept away by the tide late in the episode. This is a very different Kou from the one we met in episode one, that's for sure.

This episode also proves to be a rather sweet tale on the importance of having others around you who you can trust and confide in - Kou's determination to go it alone clearly struck sadness into Takai's heart, which is finally assuaged by seeing him fitting in amongst a group of people, no matter how oddball, while even the distant, loner that was the young Kou had no idea how his mere presence brightening the life of a lonely man who had lost his wife and was looking for someone to recognise him; a precious piece of validation that he'd only previously found through his work.

It isn't very often that you find a series that you can mark out as both intensely funny and packed to the rafters with well-realised social commentary - That Arakawa Under the Bridge manages both and appears to do so in a sharper and sharper fashion by the week is worthy of the highest praise indeed if you ask me. You know what? I think this episode might just have sealed this show's place as my favourite series of the spring season.

K-ON!! - Episode 8

It's Wednesday once again, which means that it must be time for another episode of Hanamaru Kindergarten. Wait, what? This is K-ON!!? But it looks like... with the little... and the.... Oh, I see what's going on here.

Yep, although this eighth episode sees the girls of the light music club (Asuza excepted) thinking about their futures, so this also serves as a neat little opportunity to flashback to the past. More specifically, we find both Ritsu and (predictably) Yui having more than a little trouble filling in their school's forms regarding their future careers and schooling prospects - Just what would these two "unique individuals" be good at exactly? Certainly not speaking the "filthy" English language, that's for sure...

As Yui and Ritsu are called away to see Sawako on account of not having made any future plans, so Nodoka is given the opportunity to indulge those present in an account of how she met Yui and how she used to behave back in her formative years - Pretty much exactly the same as she does now in case you're wondering, with the possible exception of trying to eat crayons. Similarly, upon Ritsu and Yui's return from a discussion with Sawako, Mio and Ritsu shares stories of how they first met and ended up as friends, with the latter helping the former over at least some of her shyness, albeit in a rather forceful way. Finally, we segue back to the future, with some genuinely funny imaginings of how Yui would cope with certain career choices (i.e. badly) as she continues to struggle when it comes to picking out a career for herself.

Although this isn't going to count as one of my all-time favourite K-ON!! episodes, even I have to yield somewhat to the cuteness of seeing a kindergarten Yui trying to eat crayon and a grade school Ritsu being... well, Ritsu. Or a pineapple. As I just mentioned, the best segment of the episode was easily seeing a future Yui in various jobs (which could probably make up a decent series in its own right, like some kind of dysfunctional Hataraki Man), but as a whole the flashbacks did make for a nice little change of pace while still retaining that inevitable K-ON!! fluffiness. Even when it isn't a laugh a minute, this show still manages to relax me at the end of a long day where I managed to generate a couple of thousand e-mails that I didn't want. Go me.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Senkou no Night Raid - Episode 6

It's been a while in coming, but as we hit the sixth episode of Senkou no Night Raid we finally find ourselves delving more deeply into the political mire the surrounds the series and, more importantly, the time period in which it is set.

These politics leave us with a conflict between two very different ideas - On the one hand, you have a Japan buoyed by recent military successes who are looking to capitalise on their rising stature by extending and embracing Western ideals to increase their own power in Asia, whilst on the other you have rival Asian nations and groups (even from beyond Asia indeed going by this series) who want to see Asia as a whole come together under the umbrella of Pan-Asianism to create a serious rival to the West based upon their own ideals.

Away from all of that, our team of "super-heroes" find themselves tasked with finding and infiltrating a meeting that will involve a number of individuals who subscribe to the Pan-Asianist ideal... Not least Yukina's brother, Takachiho Isao, who is clearly heavily involved with this particular political movement. However, Isao is more than just a mere man and former soldier, and so Aoi and his colleagues find themselves one step behind throughout this episode, while even their particular powers prove to be more limited than those of their direct rivals who possess abilities of their own, setting the scene for even more difficult times ahead... although of course they could always defect and join Isao's own group.

While the movement towards the real meat of Senkou no Night Raid's story is a welcome one, to be perfectly honest with you this episode was a mess - A jumble of scenes and stories that jumped around in a stuttering and stilting fashion that only succeeded in making the entire endeavour almost completely inaccessible. As a political drama this episode had no teeth, lacking the kind of depth or insight of, say, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, while the action side of the episode occasionally teetered dangerously close to being funny rather than exciting or stylish. Add to that some moments that almost fell like plot holes in the way that they sat unsteadily within the episode, and come the end of it all I was left with eyebrow raised and a feeling of intense dissatisfaction. There is so much on show here that could have made for a good series, but at this juncture it seems as though it's almost all been wasted entirely.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 8

For an anime named Giant Killing, we've seen nary a scratch on those referenced giants thus far from East Tokyo United, sitting as we have been through their disastrous start to the season while aspects of the team threaten to implode entirely. Indeed, come the end of the last episode we saw Kuroda walking away from training - Could this be his last act for the club?

Thankfully not, as it happens, although his displeasure couldn't be greater when he learns from defensive counterpart Sugi that even the club's first-choice goalkeeper Dori thought that the pair were right to be dropped.

Sitting out yet another game, the reasons for their relegation from the team start to become clear to Sugi as he analyses things a little closer - In short, himself and Kuro, as long-standing members of ETU, had been so cowed by defeat after defeat that there were scared of losing, and scared of making mistakes. This left them defending far too deep and not only making their own jobs more difficult but those around them, as sitting inside their own eighteen-yard box all the time meant that counter-attacking opportunities were also few and far between. Finally, Kuro also begins to see the light in his own unique way, realising that you have to forget your mistakes and failures and move on with confidence no matter what.

Not that all of this is helping East Tokyo United in terms of results, as we see them losing their first Japan Cup match and falling behind in the next (is this some kind of group stage of the tournament?) despite improvements in the overall quality of their play. Are things really coming together for ETU when they're still struggling to score, and with players like Tsubaki trying their best but seemingly doing little more than treading proverbial water on the field?

Once again, this episode illustrates beautifully everything that is great about the game of football - The mental attitude and aptitude required at both individual and team levels, the tactics, the surprises that can be thrown up even for a good side playing decent football which have to be overcome and fast, and of course the need for a top-notch manager who can sew all of these requirements together. Whether Tatsumi is the ideal man to embody all of these requirements is still open to debate, but things are moving in the right direction for the team... but are they moving fast enough? As viewers we're yet again caught up in the impatience for results, feeling the drama of a penalty kick and the disappointment of yet more soft goals conceded and games lost, and positing that the manager simply isn't doing enough (or quickly enough) to turn things around. Personally, I'm now almost at the point where Tatsumi needs to win me over to his cause all over again, and I think the only way to do that is with some better results.

God, look at me, talking about East Tokyo United as though they were a real team and my own local side! When I start getting more impassioned about Giant Killing that an England pre-World Cup friendly, you know there's either something wrong with you or you're watching a seriously good sports anime.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

House of Five Leaves - Episode 6

With the reasons for Ume's place within the Five Leaves laid out in episode five, this sixth instalment of House of Five Leaves brings this particular story arc to a close.

Despite Ume helping his former gang-mate Senkichi out in terms of finances so that he can in turn pay off Denshichi, things clearly still aren't going well, with Denshichi still not allowing Senkichi to "walk free", before following him to Ume's bar in the hope of finding out the real source of his funds so that he can effectively cut out the middle man when it comes to receiving protection money.

To protect Ume, Senkichi instead points in the Elder's direction as the source of his cash, which sends Denshichi knife in hand to confront him. Of course, little does he know that Masa is still recuperating there, thus giving us a brief and rare opportunity to see his swordsmanship in action as he protects his host from attack, risking his own life in the process before Senkichi himself puts an end to the whole mess in a decidedly bloody fashion. This might not be the end of the story however, as Denshichi's gang is still at large, which leaves the Five Leaves with some additional work to do. Putting that aside however, the visit of Yaichi suggests that he's somebody who is already more than a little familiar to the Elder....

Try as I might to like House of Five Leaves, it seems to be struggling more and more to keep my interest. Although this episode ended well enough, it remains far too muted to really be effective - Its drama is underplayed, and its characterisations make up for this to some degree but not enough to be truly compelling. Indeed, it's difficult for me to really express any emotion either positive or negative for the series at this juncture, leaving it to occupy what I can only describe as a "neutral" place in my heart - I certainly don't dislike it, and I have a certain appreciation for the way it handles itself, but it's at risk of being too subtle and slow-burning for its own good. It's almost as though House of Five Leaves is so determined to go against type within the samurai genre that it point-blank refuses to do anything that might see it lumped in with more typical shows of its ilk; a stubborn streak that risks allowing the entire endeavour to sink into the mire of mediocrity.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 58

It would take a lot to top the big, fat cliffhanger we were left with at the end of the previous episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, with both Elric brothers and Izumi Curtis simply disappearing right in front of their comrades... yet, somehow, episode fifty-eight of the series manages to do just that.

Following on from the shock of that last episode, what we're greeted with here is easily one of the darkest instalments of the series yet, with death, blood and tears from the outset, and all three quite frequently occurring at the exact same time. With Fu already dead, Buccaneer soon follows, while the epic battle against King Bradley finally seems to be ended as he's shot and ditched in Central's moat before Greed goes on the rampage at Ling's behest to ensure that the "rebel" forces manages to hold their ground against those still loyal to Bradley.

Meanwhile, Edward, Alphonse and Izumi find themselves meeting a decidedly odd-looking "Father", who now also has Hohenheim in his clutches - While their fate remains unknown, it appears that further sacrifices are needed; a fact which puts Colonel Mustang in a situation which is quite literally the stuff of nightmares, and bringing us a bloody and shocking conclusion to a horrifically brutal episode.

Horrifically brutal yet utterly brilliant, that is - Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood's pull no punches treatment has frequently been a joy to behold, and once again watching the series refusing to shrink from death, sorrow and violence adds a lot of power to both its story and characters. That it manages to bring us death and near-death to much-loved characters without ever over-blowing the emotional aspects of what we're seeing adds even more to the viewing experience, as we're left feeling the raw emotion of the characters on-screen in a way that never seems forced or thrust upon us - It's simply there, and you can't avoid it try as you might. As per usual, I'm left cursing the fact that I have to wait an entire week to get my next fix of the series - Goodness knows what I'm going to do once it's all over.

The Tatami Galaxy - Episode 5

So, the time has come for Watashi to join yet another new university circle as his life is rewound once again, and this time our protagonist chooses a decidedly friendly-looking softball club with a decidedly tempting male to female ratio (not that he'd make a decision based upon that alone, oh no). What could possibly go wrong in this kind of lovely environment?

Quite a lot, as it happens, as Watashi soon discovers as his particular take on the world sees him shunned by the environment-conscious and health food-addled members of the club. Oh, and did I mention that this softball club is run as a PR exercise for a health food company?

While Watashi would normally run a mile from such things, he finds himself drawn in to the circle's true purpose by the beautiful daughter of the company president who he ends up yearning for, to the point where he buys huge amounts of pointless health food made from Royal Jelly to the point where the amount of time he spends working to pay for the stuff makes him ill. Nonetheless, his dedication to the cause sees his role within the softball circle elevated to the point where is eventually invited to company headquarters, only to find himself slap-bang in the middle of some kind of cult; a bizarre mix of Christianity and Scientology that have even built their own "ark" in the form of a hot air balloon for the forthcoming end of the world. Ironically, it's that ark that both allows Watashi to escape but also causes him all sorts of trouble courtesy of Ozu (who else?).

To an even greater extent than the last episode, this instalment of The Tatami Galaxy diverges from the status quo set up by the first three episodes - Yes, we start out with Watashi joining a different club, but Akashi's influence here is minimal to none and even Ozu's impact is negligible... until he crashes the "ark" into the Honwaka headquarters. Thus, Watashi's problems are almost entirely self-created (as has been more and more the case every week), before we reach an ending that is both utterly bizarre yet, I would wager, another point that will be used to inter-link episodes as the series progresses.

Still, this instalment was an improvement for me over the past episode, with its relatively amusing take on over-zealous near-pyramid selling, obsessing about healthy living and its natural progression towards some kind of cult when you combine the two. On the other hand, it still hasn't succeeded in climbing back up to the dizzy heights of those opening episodes when this series was fresh and the jokes seemed funnier, which leaves me wondering whether it has the steam to make it through eleven episodes. At least things seem to be shifting and changing as the series progresses, which is enough to keep my curiosity piqued for now.

Katanagatari - Episode 5

Although we missed out on the meat of Shichika Yasuri's fight with Sabi Hakuhei last episode, we were at least treated to the arguably far more fascinating revelations surrounding the abilities of his sister Nanami, which was more than entertaining enough in its own right. For this fifth instalment of Katanagatari however, we return our focus well and truly to Shichika and Togame's journey.

With four swords under their belt and Japan's strongest swordsman defeated, Togame and her human weapon are beginning to find that their reputation precedes them; right from the off we see a woman named Princess Hitei who already has prior knowledge of Togame plotting something, and as she arrives with Shichika in Satsuma so Togame also finds that her next target is already aware of their presence.

The target in question is Azekura Kanara, the captain of the Yoroi Pirates (who are actual pirates, not some kind of sports team in case you're wondering) who holds Kiki Shikizaki's defensive blade which isn't actually a sword at all, but rather a powerful suit of armour. With no access to its occupant, this certainly looks likely to be a fight that will test Shichika to his limits, and things take an interesting turn as Kanara approaches Togame with a deal at which she finds herself at its heart.

Rather than concentrating on swords and fighting, a large portion of this episode deals with the relationship between Togame and Shichika, as they both dance around one another in their own unique ways without ever actually admitting that they've grown closer to one another during the course of their journey. So, we see Togame flirting blatantly with her companion and getting nowhere, while Shichika exhibits obvious moments of jealousy without even realising it, which takes us through to an ending where Shichika goes beyond merely relying on his Kyotouryuu techniques after being spurred on by Togame.

Unfortunately, none of this saves this particular instalment of Katanagatari from being by far the dullest yet - Even though I'm used to this show being dialogue-heavy by this juncture, said dialogue lacked any kind of sharpness here most of the time (aside from a couple of decent comedic moments), and the character development I just spoke of is predictable and half-hearted rather than giving us anything of interest. With no action, excitement or genuine intrigue to fall back on, Katanagatari is little more than an empty shell when the impact of its spoken words fails, and sadly that's exactly what's happened here. I want to like this series in so many ways, but when it puts together efforts like this one I'm left with the taste of disappointment in my mouth.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Durarara!! - Episode 19

After the previous episode of Durarara!! left Anri on the run from the Yellow Scarves after witnessing with her own eyes the real truth regarding their leader's identity, this latest instalment takes a bit of a step back for a while to show us this exact chain of events from Anri's perspective.

Thus, we get to see Anri's suspicions increasingly aroused regarding Kida's behaviour as it becomes more erratic, with him spending less time both with herself and Mikado. This suspicion certainly isn't helped by Izaya stoking the fires as per usual, as we see him planting information in the direction of both Anri and Mikado during the course of the episode to ensure that these particular pieces in his bizarre and dangerous game continue to move effectively under his will.

Eventually, Anri uses Saika's power to confirm what she already knows deep down - That Kida is indeed the leader of the Yellow Scarves. This traumatic mental state of affairs seems to push Anri dangerously close to allowing Saika to take control of her... indeed, it may well have already pulled her into this state despite the best efforts of Selty to help her as something of a kindred spirit when it comes to fighting both with your past and the sense of being somewhat "otherworldly". So, the bonds that previously bound Kida, Mikado and Anri together continue to do so ever more tightly, expect those bonds are rapidly beginning to represent nooses around their respective necks.

Although you could probably argue that positing so much of what we already basically knew from Anri's perspective was superfluous to requirements here, it nonetheless worked well in establishing her as a major player in what is to come, as well as drawing the lines regarding who her allies and enemies might be as we roll towards the climax of the series. Similarly, Izaya's hand can now be seen everywhere and in every decision, and it seems increasingly improbable that any one party will be able to reverse this state of affairs before its too late. All of this means that Durarara!! is getting more fascinating by the week, and I can only hope that there's enough time left within the series for a thorough and comprehensive resolution to this story arc which is warming up tremendously.

Angel Beats! - Episode 8

While the appearance of a second Angel made for quite a surprise ending to the last episode of Angel Beats! (not to mention a bloody mess), in the cold light of morning everything actually starts to make a little sense surrounding this particular state of affairs.

After what ended in some hot Angel on Angel action, it's clear that this second Angel is in fact a clone created by Kanade's "distortion" skill, as seen on her computer in a previous episode. With Kanade herself out of commission for the time being after finding herself attacked by her own clone, it's left to Yuri to try and restore normality by altering the computer programme with which this particular ability was created.... a task which leaves Yuri resorting to the time-honoured tradition known as "RTFM".

While the code has been changed, it's too late to stop Kanade being kidnapped by her clones... Yes, that's right, I said clones in plural, as it appears that these clones can also copy themselves. So, the members of the SSS head off into the depths of Guild where they believe Kanade is being held, in a process that really turns into some kind of mass kamikaze exercise in an attempt to reach their target... A process which eventually works, but at what cost to Kanade?

Of all the things I enjoy about Angel Beats!, I have to admit its ability to change the tone of an episode on a whim is perhaps the most impressive. From the somewhat serious start of this instalment, we soon have some mild comedy as the SSS try to act normally within school without soaking up too much information, before things reach a peak of outright hilarity as they find a need to throw themselves at these Angel clones (under duress in one case) so that their comrades can prevail until we hit a serious ending and another big, fat cliff hanger. All of this makes for a fascinating entertaining mixture which once again is brilliantly animated throughout - Who knew watching people die could be so funny? I still have no idea where this show is headed (in a sense it seems to have lost its way as far as any kind of big picture is concerned), but when it's this captivating I don't particularly care.

Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance at the London BFI Anime Weekend

Last night I was lucky enough to spend the evening in London watching both Evangelion 1.11: You Are (Not) Alone and (more importantly) Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance on the big screen for what proved to be a fan-fucking-tastic anime double bill.

While I'll hold off on writing a proper, full-on review for this 'blog until I get my grubby mitts on Evangelion 2.22, I've now published my (hopefully) spoiler-free thoughts on the Rebuild of Evangelion project and Evangelion 2.0 for UK Anime, so if you want to take a look then check it out!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 8

The climax of the previous episode looked like it might have been the end for Joey and Heroman... but we're nowhere near the end of the series yet, so of course it isn't!

For a while however, we transfer our attentions to Psy and Professor Denton - and we aren't the only ones either as the Skrugg forces also pinpoint this duo as their next target. While an upgraded version of Denton's sound amplification device can hold off the enemy for so long, things take a turn for the worse as their leader Kogorr decides that it's time for him to join the fray directly.

Luckily enough, this just so happens to be the moment where Heroman and Joey return to the scene, after sending Lina off with her injured brother to escape from this enemy territory. I'm sure it goes without saying that Kogorr proves to be a much tougher nut to crack than your average Skrugg soldier, and while Heroman finds himself at a distinct speed advantage we see Joey making up for this shortfall by revealing that he has an additional trick up his own sleeve. Is it enough to beat the might Kogorr however? Possibly not...

As episodes of this particular series goes, this is exactly what we've come to expect and secretly (or perhaps not-so-secretly) enjoy from HEROMAN - Plenty of action and faintly ridiculous power-ups sandwiched into one big fight scene face-off before a powerful hero (or combination or heroes) and villain, complete with moments of joy and despair. I have to admit that I still get a kick out of Heroman's big appearances to save the day, and similarly Joey's turn of speed this episode was as enjoyable as it was faintly ridiculous. As per usual then, no prizes for originality are going to be handed out here, but the fact that this show makes me occasionally punch the air is proof enough that HEROMAN is doing alright for itself.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge - Episode 7

Lines I thought I'd never hear in anime: "It's not like I just want him for his chloroplasts!" Seriously, was kind of twisted genius is Arakawa Under the Bridge, and how does it make me laugh louder every week?

Anyhow, I digress - After figuring out his vocation under the bridge last week, episode seven of the series sees Ric start up his school, although admittedly the first day's attendance doesn't look too promising, comprising at it does Nino and the Brothers. Of course, trying to teach this menagerie anything proves to be rather tougher than Ric perhaps imagined, as magnets are viewed as superpowers and Nino considers the possibility of taking a trip on a bottle rocket so that she can return to Venus, without even mentioning the difficulty in making a distinction between a distinction and a... err... distinction. Things aren't exactly helped by our favourite "kappa" and Star, with the latter in particular rushing off to pen one of his wonderful songs after being forsaken by Nino once again. I, for one, can't wait to hear the finished version of "Fuck off you student fucker" - You don't get snappy titles like that from some light music club.

Ric's "school" gets interrupted further by a visit from Stella, who is a terrifying as ever, although this actually doubles as a nice bit of character development for her, as we begin to understand why she takes on this tough mafia persona (aside from hanging out with Sister too much, that is). With classes over, Ric also has to pay an almost lethal visit to the hapless P-Ko, where he finally cottons on to her feelings for the Mayor while she actually ends up delivering a lesson to Ric on what life is really all about, shattering his illusions of common sense at what looks to be the worst possible moment.

Above all else, I can't help but focus on Arakawa Under the Bridge's sense of humour, which seems to be getting sharper and more polished by the week - There were so many big laughs here that everything else almost fades into irrelevance under the light of this kind of surreal comic genius. That said, there is more to this episode than just jokes alone, with Ric's final conversation with P-Ko really laying bare what we've been seeing for ourselves throughout this series so far - Kou thinks that he knows everything about how the normal world works and what is and isn't "correct", but finally he's coming to realise that being different doesn't necessarily make you certifiably crazy... in fact, just living your life the way you want to the best you can is arguably the definition of common sense in comparison to a world where you do a job you hate and associate with people you don't like just to fit in with society. Yes, "be yourself" is the kind of horrible cliche American movies love to churn out ad infinitum so its central message is nothing new, but damn does Arakawa Under the Bridge manages to do it with style. Style, and bringing the insult "student-fucker" into my vernacular.

K-ON!! - Episode 7

I know some people have been eagerly anticipating the coverage of this particular storyline within K-ON!! ever since its second season was announced and now, finally, here it is.

As we join this instalment we find Mio in a rather jittery mood... Not because of barnacles or skulls, but because she feels like someone is watching over her, stalking her even. We soon learn that this isn't the first time that she's had this feeling either, which throws us into full-on flashback mode as we see the exact circumstances of Mio's last stalker experience, and how it relates to the then student council president Sokabe - A girl who also just so happens to be the founding member of the "official" Mio Akiyama fan club. Yes, they have membership cards and everything.

Anyhow, even though Sokabe has now moved on and gone to college, Mio's fan club continues to thrive despite the apathetic nature of its new president - An attitude which changes as said president requests the chance to hold an official fan club event. So, Mio's fan club tea party is born (from the ideas of the other girls of course, Mio has little input), coming to live as a full-on event featuring a question and answer session, a slideshow of Mio's childhood and even some music... new music at that - I guess Kyoto Animation's swimming pool of money must be looking a little empty, so it's time to roll out a new single. Despite her natural reticence to being in the spotlight, Mio somehow ends up at least somewhat enjoying the whole thing, and thus they all live happily ever after, as you would expect from this show.

Really, it's difficult to find new things to say about K-ON!! from week to week - Once again, this episode was fun, almost touching at times, and had enough genuinely good jokes to make me laugh a few times as it went on its merry way. This must also easily be the most self-referential episode from this franchise yet, as we can easily equate Mio's fan club and their reactions and tendency to buy tacky merchandise to some of her character's own otaku devotees, which brought a wry grin to my face in itself. K-ON!! thus far also really seems to have made looking towards the future a recurring theme of its episodes too, which makes you wonder what they're planning as this series continues - Would they dare to take the adventures of the light music club's girls past and beyond the world of their high school? This is KyoAni we're talking about, anything could happen.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

A close-run thing

Given the fact that this 'blog and my rivals are pretty much polar opposites in terms of content and writing approach most of the time, I suppose it was inevitable that our second round Aniblog Tournament match-up was going to be a close and hard-fought contest... and so it proved. Just how small can the margin between victory and defeat be?

Thus, Hanners' Anime 'Blog progresses once again, this time to a seemingly impossible match-up against some kind of extinct animal wearing a silly hat. Will this 'blog prevail once again? Keep your eyes peeled for the next round, but for now - Many, many thanks to everyone who took the time to cast their vote in my favour over the past week (and shame on the other 1,000 or so regular readers who didn't, I know you're out there!), and above all if you're ever looking for something a little different to my episodic fare in the anime community, why not drop on by We Remember Love? You won't regret it, I'm sure.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Senkou no Night Raid - Episode 5

It's been a while since I last managed to snag an episode of Senkou no Night Raid... not that I was in a desperate hurry after that awful fourth instalment. Nonetheless, episode five at least returns us to more interesting matters than photographs stolen by an errant feline.

This time around, it's Kazura who is the real focus of the story, as he spots a familiar face while developing some photos taken by Aoi, managing to learn where he took them but remaining reticent as to why he's so interested in the matter. From here, he takes things into his own hands, trying to track down this fellow named Nishio; an investigation which leads him into big trouble and an uncomfortable night of torture before being bailed out.

Despite all this Kazura still can't let the matter go, and continues to talk with Nishio's girlfriend who still loyally waits for the missing man, before finally catching up to him as he makes his (temporary) escape from an arms deal which is intercepted by the authorities, with a little help from the organisation that Kazura and company works for.

If all of that sounds like compelling stuff, then I've obvious done a far better job of summarising it than Senkou no Night Raid did of actually delivering it. While there were some nice and subtle touches when it came to denoting the relationship between Nishio and Kazura, that did little to spruce up what was otherwise an utterly dull tale which swung the spotlight on a character who is reticent to talk at the best of times and thus left any kind of interesting story development utterly wanting. There might be certain aspects of this series that I can admire a little, but that's nowhere near enough to paper over the cracks of yet another weak episode. At least it was better than that horrendous previous instalment though, I suppose...

Giant Killing - Episode 7

After all the positive vibes of their pre-season game and Tatsumi's "interesting" speech at the media event, East Tokyo United's first league game seemed to have started well enough despite a freak goal from the opposition putting them behind. Surely a single lucky goal would never put the skates under a top division side, right?

Wrong. By the time one of ETU's hapless fans makes it to the ground late during the second half, he arrives to find that his side have collapsed totally, ending the game 4-0 down and in a complete shambles. This is no one-off either, as league game number two sees another (admittedly less heavy) defeat, with the strain already beginning to show in terms of inter-player relations both on and off the pitch.

At the centre of much of this strain is Kuroda, whose loud-mouthed nature and tendency to boss everybody around certainly isn't helping, with his frustration manifesting itself more and more in his vocal criticisms of everybody... apart from himself of course. While Tatsumi seems to have little interest in either current results or his players (he's very much a man of few words in this episode), a training game of football tennis with a "grand prize" on offer sorts out the winners from... well, Kuroda and his best buddy Sugi, who refuse to take part. Next thing we know, Kuroda is dropped, and with another defeat for ETU he hands in a transfer request... is this the reaction Tatsumi was looking for though?

Well, if anyone was expecting pure Roy of the Rovers stuff from start to finish, I think it's safe to say that this episode of Giant Killing puts paid to that, and I suppose it shows how I've come to enjoy the shenanigans of East Tokyo United already when I actually find myself feeling, much like the fans, a little pissed off from seeing them lose three games on the trot. Similarly, even my patience is wearing thin with Tatsumi's seeming lack of interest in what's going on in front of his eyes - Is he simply taking his mind games too far? It certainly feels that way, but that engendering of passion on my part is exactly what makes this show so enjoyable - If you're not a football fan but you're watching this series, perhaps this is giving you a glimpse of the joys and pain of this particular vice, as it puts you in situations where a man or group of individuals you respect are at odds with your impatience in the face of things not going to plan. Tatsumi's hijinks might be unlike anything you'll see on a real football field, but the viewer's relationship with the team and its results is absolutely bang on the money here.

UK Anime TV - Episode 4

I'm not really sure why I haven't mentioned it here before, but as well as 'blogging here and writing for UK Anime, I also compile a section for the aforementioned web site's "UKA TV" effort, a monthly mix of news, reviews and relevant gaming stuff for which I contribute the "First Look" section, discussing some of the new streaming anime available within the UK each month.

Today sees the release of episode four, which discusses everything from censorship of Code Geass R2 in the UK onwards, while from 03:11 onwards in the video you'll find my effort, where I talk about HEROMAN, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou and Hetalia: Axis Powers. Check it out and see what you think via the embedded video below!

If you enjoyed that, you can also take a look at episode three of UKA TV, where I talk about Baka and Test: Summon The Beasts and Dance in the Vampire Bund, while the episode as a whole reviews Evangelion 1.11 and the like.

I would link to episode two here as well, when I covered Sora no Woto and Durarara!!, but the audio quality is horrible (it was my first attempt at doing this and I didn't have a decent microphone) so I think I'll spare you.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 57

Although Fu's return in an attempt to dish out revenge on King Bradley was doubtless met by cheers from many a viewer last time around, it appears that he isn't the only one making a return to the fray as episode fifty-seven of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood begins.

That said, it is Fu who makes it his business to go all-out against Bradley, who needless to say is more than matched by his current opponent despite Greed adding an additional layer of threat to proceedings. As you might expect, this is typical Fullmetal Alchemist fare, with a fair few twists and turns in the midst of the action as the fight waxes and wanes... and it isn't even all over yet.

Speaking of Bradley, this episode also sees Edward Elric, Mustang and company come across one of the men responsible for his "creation", an individual who also happens to have control of a number of men who were "wannabe" Führers brought up alongside Bradley - While these people didn't quite have the fortitude of the country's eventual leader, they still prove to be a very tough obstacle indeed, holding back our heroes while the gold-toothed doctor at their head completes his despicable part in the Promised Day, bringing about a scenario which could well have dire consequences for Ed, Alphonse and Izumi Curtis... not to mention the rest of the land, of course.

If the last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was as close as this series can come to bring run-of-the-mill, then this instalment was another piece of scintillating entertainment. Its action sequences might not have been the best animated we've seen from this show but they were still fast, fluid and engaging, while those aforementioned twists and turns bring the kind of surprises that you can't help but love. Talking of surprises, the ending to the episode must be one of the cruellest anime cliff-hangers of all-time, and I have a nasty feeling we might have to wait beyond next week to find out what's really going on to boot. The fact that I don't want to even consider the notion of waiting that long for the next episode tells you everything you need to know about the entertainment juggernaut that is this series.

House of Five Leaves - Episode 5

After coming down with so-called "Edo disease" last episode, this fifth instalment of House of Five Leaves finds Masa recouperating on the outskirts of the city with the Elder who helps out the group from time to time - Not that this stops him taking an important role in proceedings, from a character progression viewpoint at least.

While we watch the rest of the Five Leaves take out their vengeance on a guy who tried it on with Ume's daughter, this draws us in to an opportunity to learn a little more about Ume himself - His past, his motivations, and of course the generous streak beneath that seemingly harsh exterior he carries around; an exterior that Masa seems keen to penetrate as he continues to show an interest in the various members of the Five Leaves despite still being torn as to whether to actually join their merry little band officially or not.

Perhaps it's just because it's a Sunday evening and my brain isn't quite switched on properly, but this particular episode of House of Five Leaves felt really quite disjointed. Although this instalment continued the show's admirable trend of growing its characters subtly and quietly without huge revelations or explanations, the down-side of such a technique is that things can become sedate to the point of actually being quite dull on occasion, and at times here even the supposedly more dramatic moments were at risk of toppling over and falling a little flat. I'm not asking for House of Five Leaves to suddenly become some samurai action show, but perhaps it needs a more concrete central thread running through it to give it a little more direction; something which it increasingly seems to be lacking at the moment for all of its more enjoyable quirks.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

The Tatami Galaxy - Episode 4

With the clock rewound once again, episode four of The Tatami Galaxy sees Watashi join yet another different circle, although this one seems to be the most pointless yet.

In fact, at the outset the club in question appears to be completely pointless, with Watashi being dragged into a circle looking for "disciples", and headed by Higuchi (he of the massive chin... no, not Bruce Forsyth) who is joined inevitably by Ozu, Akashi and another girl named Hanuki who likes to drink like a fish and lick people's faces. Doesn't every university group have a girl like that?

Anyhow, the sole purpose of Higuchi's band appears to be to tailor to his whims while keeping him from getting caught for the huge library fines he's built up over the years, coupled with fighting some kind of nonsensical "masochistic proxy" war with Jougasaki (who of course we last saw in episode two). It's this war that becomes the focus of the story as time goes on, with Watashi finding himself doomed to become the heir of this nonsensical war while, as always, Ozu plays the role of devil's advocate... or just plain devil, I suppose you could say.

Having enjoyed The Tatami Galaxy thus far, I can't say I particularly liked this episode if I'm quite honest - While the previous instalments at least managed to echo student life in some admittedly overblown but amusing ways, this episode seemed hell-bent simply on being a bit weird and surreal between its mystical scrubbing brush and musical interludes. Okay, so it had a few mildly amusing moments, and the subtle links between this episode and previous ones works in a kooky kind of way, with even Watashi's feeling of loss and missing opportunity with Arashi not really coming out to any great degree in the story. I really hope this isn't a sign of this series running out of steam, so with any luck The Tatami Galaxy still has stories to tell, but this certainly wasn't a tale to grab me with.

Angel Beats! - Episode 7

After being the bad guy last time out, come episode seven Naoi returns as the newest member of the SSS... That must have been quite some hug from Otonashi. Mind you, he still claims to be God (which I guess is useful considering the SSS also have a member who insists on being called Christ), and he also still hasn't entirely grown out of the habit of using his powers of hypnosis to get the upper hand from time to time.

That said, it's Naoi's abilities which are called upon by Yuri early in this episode, as she looks to deploy them to bring back Otonashi's previously missing memories. Naturally, our protagonist is a little unsure about going down this route but eventually agrees anyway, and thus the first half of the episode takes us down the same path as we gain our glimpse into his past life.

Essentially, the "old" Otonashi prior to his death was a guy who pretended to care about nothing and nobody, while actually doing little more than protecting himself from his worries over his ill little sister, who he visits on a regular basis. As time goes on he gradually opens up his heart regarding her as her condition deteriorates, and after her death a period of mourning is followed by his realisation that this may be his time to help others, causing him to study hard and enrol as a medical student before his untimely demise puts paid to that idea.

With all of that out of the way, it's time for a spot of fishing for the SSS and its members (talk about a lighting-quick change of tone), while Otonashi persuades Tachibana to tag along - A good thing to, as the episodes decides to jump the shark at this point. Well, jump the giant fish at least.

Sitting her trying to write this immediately after watching the episode, I find myself torn in my feelings about it. For starters, Otonashi's past felt like little more than a pasted together amalgam of Clannad's best bits, complete with boy who pretends not to care about anything but ends up caring about a sick girl who meets her end. Yes, there are a whole bunch of differences between the two stories besides the Key connection, but of all the flashback stories thus far this felt the least interesting.

On the other hand, seeing Otonashi's story has also set things up nicely with regard to behaviour towards Kanada, as she effectively takes his little sister's place as the girl he wants to help and make life better for. It also opens up an interesting can of worms regarding Yuri, who seemed keen to distance herself from Kanada during the fishing scenes even before the mind-bending cliff-hanger that makes my brain hurt ever so slightly. I can't really entirely defend an episode that suddenly pulls a giant fish on us, or indeed the "sick little sister" trope, but somehow Angel Beats has redeemed itself somewhat on this occasion with some more decent moments of humour, a little bit more depth in terms of character interactions, and of course that mind-bending twist at the end which I've almost come to expect of this series now.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Durarara!! - Episode 18

With Masaomi Kida stepping back into his shoes as the leader of the Yellow Scarves at the end of the previous instalment, it was always clear that he was going to be very much the focus of episode eighteen, and so it proves as we finally get some insight into the inner turmoil of this outwardly bright and breezy character.

This particular story doesn't really dwell on exactly how Kida built up the Yellow Scarves, but it does clearly come from a feeling of inadequacy and loneliness on his part, as he admits that all he wanted was to be appreciated and loved, and running this gang was as close as he could get... Until he met Saki Mikajima that is.

Saki's role in the whole affair is an intriguing one indeed - She appears in front of Masaomi effectively at the behest of Izaya, and once she starts to hang out with him she frequently encourages him to seek Izaya's council despite Kida's reservations about doing so. Is she just a plant as part of some grand plan by Izaya? It seems likely until she confesses to him and the two start dating, while Kida even gets over his unease about associating with Izaya.

As with all good things however, disaster strikes eventually as Saki is kidnapped and badly injured by a rival gang, while Masaomi simply isn't brave enough to do what is required to save her - A state of affairs which is the cause of his initially leaving the Yellow Scarves, but also a deep mental scar in his psyche which has left him trapped between past, present and future, unable to escape what he's done and move on whilst not actually wanting to do so at the same time.

What this leaves us with is a simply fantastic episode of Durarara!!, with what is arguably the most "human" story we've seen yet. Masaomi Kida's emotions are vividly showcased throughout but never in too "cartoonish" a fashion, leaving his inadequacies clearly exposed before his growing self-belief is manipulated by both Saki and Izaya until it slowly gets the better of him, to the point where he simply forgets that he's a mere middle school student and ends up way over the head in his capacity as the Yellow Scarves leader.

This tale is made all the richer by those aforementioned roles of Saki and Izaya - For starters, we know nothing about what connects the two of them, nor do we know how genuine Saki's feelings for Kida either were or are now. Indeed, we don't even really know how Izaya feels about Saki's injuries, although it seems pretty fair to assume he feels no guilt or concern judging by his actions throughout the series so far. In terms of leaving the viewer satisfied yet wanting to know so much more, this is pretty much a master class, even before its ending which will surely set the cat amongst the pigeons in terms of the three "tribes" Izaya is looking to bring to war against one another. The second half of Durarara!! may have been a little sluggish to get moving at times, but now it well and truly has my rapt attention.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 7

While this episode of HEROMAN begins with the sweet dreams (or should that be nightmares?) of Nick and, more specifically, Will as he continues to be "repaired" and upgraded (including a shot which shows us exactly why Psy is somewhat disabled), Doctor Minami's appearance in front of the American President looks set to cause a change of plan at the top of the tree as an alternative option to pushing the big red button is unveiled.

Aside from some hints as to exactly what this "plan B" is, seemingly holding the notion that capturing one of the Skrugg's spheres would be a good idea, our main concern this time around is with Joey and company as they look to take their fight right into the heart of the invading Skrugg forces' spaceship, which they look to do via the sewer system to avoid detection before going about their way looking for the control centre which seemingly drives those aforementioned spheres.

Predictably, from here Nick and Will soon enter the fray, leaving Joey, Heroman and Lina to try and ensure their own survival without hurting their two semi-human foes until they can find a way of freeing them from the Skrugg's mind control... although that is labouring under the assumption that their actions are entirely dictated by the Skrugg in the first place, which appears not to be the case universally come the end of the instalment.

To be frank, I think the word "predictable" could probably used to sum up this episode from beginning to end, particularly once we got inside the Skrugg headquarters - It was inevitable that they'd end of facing off against Will and Nick again (how cool/funny were their eyebrow upgrades though? Good work Skrugg design team!), and even more inevitable that at least one of them would come to their senses and end up fighting the good fight once again. Even more predictable was the obvious comparison of Joey and Nick and how they used their respective powers - Despite arguably coming from similar backgrounds as far as not being "alpha male" individuals, one chooses to be kind and helpful and use his new-found powers for good while the other relies on material possessions to lure in so-called friends before grasping enough power to make life comfortable for himself no matter the cost. It's certainly old-school superhero stuff, that's for sure.

Not that that makes this a bad episode, mind you - I was amused by the attempt to deploy Heroman quietly, and the instalment as a whole sped by quickly enough to suggest it was entertaining. As we've already discussed, HEROMAN isn't here to be a cerebral story, so as mindless fun it continues to be... well, fun. Mindlessly so.