Wednesday, 30 June 2010

K-ON!! - Episode 13

It's still very much summer - Not just here, but also in the world of K-ON, as we return to the light music club girls after their Summer Fest adventure last episode. However, this post-festival time is proving to be a rather boring one for Azusa, who is left feeling tired and with nothing to do while the rest of her band-mates get down to the serious business of studying at this important time in their school lives.

Luckily for Azusa she still has Ui and, later, Jun, to hang out with, although her tiredness means that such scenes are intermingled with trips into the wonderful world of the littlest light music club member's head - One can only wonder what substances Azusa partook in the consumption of during the Summer Fest juding by what we see here, from Yui's watermelon eating fantasies through to Mugi's desperate desire to win a pack of tissues and the new craze sweeping the nation that is navigating water slides at the pool while holding a bowl of yakisoba. Actually, now I come to think about it none of these things really are that bizarre when you place them into the context of Yui and company.

Anyway, as per usual K-ON manages to make something out of nothing, taking a character's boredom and yet making it both funny and oddly relaxing to watch after a long day at the office. It's also quite nice to get a bit of a break from the regular girls and give the younger characters another outing, which helps to keep things fresh over what's going to be a pretty long season for a series of this ilk. The only downside to this particular instalment is that it reminded me of a certain other Kyoto Animation series that decided to repeat a similar set of summer activities eight times. Now that was a long, long summer.... KyoAni knows what I did last summer, but I'll be damned if I'm taking part in the sequel!

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

House of Five Leaves - Episode 11

As we reach the penultimate episode of House of Five Leaves, so we also enter what seems likely to be the last ever job for the Five Leaves themselves, with Yaichi leading a plan to kidnap the son of the one of the Shogun's direct retainers. The knowledge that this could be their last job seems to leave the gang members with mixed feelings - On the surface, the earnings from this final job should see them good for some time, thus rendering the group unnecessary, yet the bonds between the members themselves are clearly harder to break than that.

However, with the kidnapping completed successfully, it appears that there's a spanner about to be thrown into the works when only half of the ransom is delivered, along with a message to kill the boy as he isn't wanted by his family. Oddly, this seems to be almost exactly what Yaichi wanted to hear, as he tells the kidnapped boy of his situation with a mixture of disgust and relish - Something which Masa duly notes.

From here on in, we see Yaichi's life, and more importantly his past, unravelling and presenting itself in front of an astute Masa, who now knows enough to fill in almost all of the blanks about his friend and comrade. We also get to see a little more of Yaichi's past (before he took up that name) during his time in the Bakuro gang, which also tells us a little about why that past is threatening to catch up with him.

While this episode is ostensibly all about Yaichi, it's really Masa who interested me the most throughout this instalment - From the clumsy, uncertain, shy and socially awkward character we were originally introduced to, he really does seem to have blossomed amongst the Five Leaves - Come this episode we get to see a far more impressive man, not only in the way that he stands up to defend Yaichi despite what he knows, but also in his astute and sharp train of thought when it comes to his friend and what drives him. These traits aren't new to the character per se, they are simply a sign of a man coming into his element, and it's this kind of thing that makes these later episodes of House of Five Leaves - For all of the drama and history of the situations portrayed, it's really the characters and the behaviour of those individuals that wins the day in terms of the series as a whole. This makes for a pretty fascinating viewing experience, and also one that is as different from your average Edo/samurai series as this show initially promised.

Bakemonogatari - Episode 15 (Completed)

It's taken over a year, but here we are at last - The much-delayed final episode of Bakemonogatari. It's been a particularly long wait considering the cliffhanger of sorts we were left with last time too, with Hanekawa (or rather, the oddity in control of her) professing her love for Araragi.

Naturally, Araragi simply refuses to believe that this is true despite the fact that it makes perfect sense, and not for the first time we get a grade A example of our protagonists naivety - Just because Hanekawa told him that she never lied he believed it hook, line and sinker, and it takes quite some convincing from "Black Hanekawa" before he finally begins to realise that yes, Hanekawa had fallen in love with him but simply wasn't the type to bring it up, even going to the lengths of helping him out in regards to Senjougahara despite her inner pain and stress.

If you're expecting an episode filled with Araragi agonising over a choice between Hanekawa and Senjougahara, think again; regardless of the scenario facing him, Araragi simply refuses to budge in his love for Senjougahara - Good job she took him on that date, otherwise I would wager the outcome might have been a little different. So, with that out of the question, and with Shinobu missing, how do you go about solving Hanekawa's oddity problem? "Black Hanekawa" has an answer....

...kill Araragi. Thus, not for the first time in this series, our hero finds himself in mortal danger, although this time there's nobody around to help him despite all those who he's helped in the past. Or is that really the case? Just when all hope seems lost, out of the shadows pops one of Araragi's fan club to save the day in the nick of time, bringing a relative return to normality and allowing us a happy ending with love, friendship and something of a goodbye to the disappearing Oshino.

So it comes to the end, and although I'm glad that we've finally been delivered this final episode (better late than never) I still feel oddly sad that the whole endeavour has at last come to its natural conclusion. Certainly, this instalment was a fitting end to the series - Lots of sharp dialogue, nice little moments and solid characterisation to make for a surprisingly tense end to it all that felt far more unpredictable to the viewer than it actually was. Overall, Bakemonogatari has been a joy to watch in almost every way than an anime series can be a thing of beauty - It's characters are memorable to the point of being timeless, the dialogue is fabulous, the jokes sharp and repeatedly funny, and the whole thing is backed up with top-notch voice acting, a good soundtrack and a stunningly stylised art style. Sure, it took the Blu-Ray releases to really polish many of the episodes and these delays to the final instalments have been frustrating to put it mildly, but boy was it worth it.

I'm not normally one for pleading, but please can someone in the West license this series? On Blu-Ray too, naturally. Please? Please? I'll do anything...

Monday, 28 June 2010

Shakugan no Shana S - Episode 3

After a couple of incredibly weak couple of episodes which made up the first half of this Shakugan no Shana S tag, the second half of these releases can surely only get better? Then again, maybe that's just the melon bread I had at the weekend talking...

Anyhow, the start of this episode sees Shana at her Flame Haze finest, meeting and destroying a Torch in her inimitable cold and calculating manner so that she can take on said Torch's existence as part of an on-going investigation she is undertaking.

The girl whose entity she now imitates is one Junko Oogami, and this state of affairs has come about so that Shana can look into the activities of a Tomogare - Something which seems to be linked to the reappearance of a famous model an entire decade after he first went missing. On the surface this looks as though it should be a simple task, but Shana soon finds herself both bogged down and confused by the personal issues which surround Junko as she enters a household still somewhat unsettled after an argument between this girl and her mother just days earlier. The row in question was over a boyfriend, Yukio Hamaguchi, and it's via him that Shana begins to piece what's been going on together, although not before finding herself drawn a little deeper into the lives of both Junko and her mother.

Certainly, compared to what has gone before in Shakugan no Shana S this was a breath of fresh air - A solid story with far more potential than mere comic relief or frippery, and one which hasn't been closed out in a single episode either. While this was no classic in terms of story-telling and Shana's character has a tendency to wear a little thin without Yuji around to bring out the "dere dere" to her usual "tsun tsun", it manages to carry enough interest to at least make itself watchable, with a human element that helped to carry the episode along in spite of Shana's lack of interest in such things. As I've said before, I'm not a huge fan of Shakugan no Shana in general, so perhaps I'm being too negative, but to my eyes this still seems some way off the heights of the show's first season despite being an improvement over the rest of this OVA so far.

Sora no Woto - Episode 7.5

You'd be pretty hard pressed to find a modern anime of any note that doesn't bundle in some goodies or other to try and tempt Japanese otaku to buy the DVDs and Blu-Rays, and this frequently takes the form of additional episodes that slot somewhere into the continuity. So it goes that some months after Sora no Woto ended, we find ourselves with the first of two extra episodes, in this case sandwiching itself into the middle of the series.

With this position in the middle of proceedings, it goes without saying that this isn't exactly a vital storyline to the wider series as a whole, no matter how much ominous portent is offered by the words of Kureha as the episode begins.

In short, this story is one of how Kanata learns about the secret manufacturing of alcohol going on behind closed doors with the other girls of the 1121st Platoon, after a chance meeting with Rio outside the supposedly jammed shut door which hides this operation. To deflect Kanata's questioning, Felicia spots an opportunity - One which naturally involves spiking the tea of the girls (including the visiting and ultra-religious Yumina), before suggesting that they all participate in a mock battle, with Kanata having all their secrets revealed to her if she should win. What follows is a slightly drunken contest which sees all of the girls taking things far too seriously, although the alcohol also softens the blow of any revelations to Kanata before the whole thing turns into an exercise in drunken debauchery. Not that that's always a bad thing, mind you...

So, with nothing of importance to add to the series, this bonus instalment of Sora no Woto is as filler-esque as it comes, alternating between being fun and slightly cringe-worthy while also teasing the fans with thoughts of things that they never get to see (although it's doubtless enough to get the dounjinshi makers working feverishly). As a ploy to get people to buy Blu-Rays I guess it might work, but if you can't be bothered to watch this episode then you really aren't missing anything, although a drunk Yumina is surprisingly entertaining in her own right now I think about it.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 63

The previous episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood brought us to the brink of victory for a newly regenerated Edward Elric (now with all original limbs intact) against the original Homunculus in his God-like form; but of course, this series being what it is, the battle isn't quite over yet.

With defeat imminent, Father makes one last grab for power via the Philosopher's Stone of Greed, leading him to depart from Ling Yao's body, although not without a fight from the latter, still keen to hold the powers of that stone for himself. However, Greed's departure is anything but a greedy one, using his powers to further weaken his new host to the point of no return, leaving him ready for Ed to deliver the final blow.

With all danger now gone, thoughts turn to Alphonse, and how exactly to return him complete with his own body from beyond the Gate of Truth. The prospect of using a Philosopher's Stone in proffered but quickly refused, as is the thought of trading Hoenheim's life for that of his son. Of course, something has to be traded in return for Al's life, and eventually Ed is struck with exact what could be given up in return for this brother as he sends himself off to make this very personal trade.

So Al returns, original body and all, and so the mainstay of the story ends with happiness pretty much all around - The Elric brothers have their original bodies, Mustang takes control of Central by weaving his previous tales of a coup against Bradley with his and Selim's death, and even Hoenheim finally manages to find peace from his many years of wandering. Perhaps all that is left now for the final episode is to see what becomes of Winry, who seems to be the only party left unattended at this juncture.

After the previous episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood was absolutely fantastic in its treatment of the story at hand, so this penultimate instalment found itself with time for a more slowly paced, emotional and thoughtful treatment, bringing the subtitle of the series to the fore with the relationship between people clearly becoming a key tenet of the show. Really, this was as good an ending as you could have hoped for - Emotional without being overly soppy, and happy without feeling like too many compromises were made to reach that happy ending. All that's left now is for the final loose ends to be tidied up, and that is perhaps the biggest sadness of all - That this absolutely wonderful series is about to come to an end after this intense journey which has taken over a year. I'm starting to miss it already, and it isn't even over yet.

Angel Beats! - Episode 13 (Completed)

No more shadow monsters and no more Angel means no more threat as Angel Beats hits its final episode, leaving us with the simple task of clearing everything up as everybody says their goodbyes and moves on to whatever comes after this limbo of sorts.

Well, I say everybody, but as this episode begins three days after Yuri's battle to end both the reign of the shadow monsters and her own inner demons, we find that all but a handful of characters have disappeared and moved on already - I guess you know you're only a side character when you don't even have your back story or resolution of that storied aired on-screen, so we might never know what ailed TK.

To handle these last goodbyes for the final five members, they hold a faux graduation ceremony, complete with a suitable cute anthem devised by Kanade and the handing out of certificates, before Naoi, Yuri and Hinata alldo their part and disappear from the scene, leaving just Kanade and Otonashi alone.

What happens next is initially unsurprising, as Otonashi suggest that he and Kanade stay behind to help anyone else who might stumble into a sequel... err, I mean stumble into this world - A decent enough idea, which Otonashi ruins by professing his love for Kanade. It isn't that this feeling is reciprocal, but rather that Kanade's admission of such would be the cause of her disappearance; something which happens eventually anyway, although not before a revelation that makes absolutely no sense unless we're also going to throw a little Doctor Who-esque time travel into the mix. Either that or Otonashi, spent some of his life doubling for the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz.

Funnily enough, this final scene exhibits a problem that recurred throughout Angel Beats - Its plot often resembled Swiss cheese... the kind of Swiss cheese with holes you could drive a bus through. While some series would get destroyed by me for exhibiting such disregard for continuity and common sense, this show managed to avoid that largely on account of being one Hell of a lot of fun to watch. However daft its premise and sub-stories became, Angel Beats never stopped being entertaining, frequently progressing thanks to its ability to mix drama, action and humour with gay abandon; when you're laughing or simply drawn in by the on-screen happenings, it's hard to start dissecting problematic plot points.

So, Angel Beats is no classic, and if we're honest it could have been so, so much more. But hey, as anime goes I think it's perfectly alright for us to accept and show a little love for its flawed existence, so that it too can graduate and move to its next life - Who knows, maybe it can come back as something that is greater than the sum of its parts, rather than simply being a handful of admittedly entertaining parts whose sum was a rather slapdash affair that didn't quite know how to combine them all.

Giant Killing - Episode 13

Sometimes it's one of the joys of football to be able to watch a bunch of over-played, under-performing and egotistical players get their comeuppance... but that's enough about England's second round elimination from the World Cup, let's get back to Giant Killing!

Despite finally treating us to a goal last episode, the game still wasn't over, so with twenty minutes left we looked likely to be left to sweat it out for another instalment to see if East Tokyo United can finally record their first victory of the season. It certainly looks in danger early in this episode, with Itagaki finally deciding that simply trying to beat Kuroda isn't working, leaving him to adopt a "shoot on sight" policy that threatens to play dividends.

However, there's another twist in this game yet, and it comes via the goalscorer Tsubaki, who is certainly having the game of his brief career so far. While much of his early influence in this match was defensive until the goal, this time he gets to show his attacking potential, using his pace, a little strength and some trickery to beat even Carlos and bear down on goal... only to find himself dispossessed at a key moment. Fear not though, for Gino finds himself free to make the most of the loose ball and slam home the second to make it 2-0 with less than five minutes remaining - A scoreline that even a desperate all-out attack by Nagoya Grand Palace can't alter. So, the final whistle blows, and our zeroes of previous games become heroes with Tsubaki taking most of the plaudits, from the man of the match award through to the respect of the opposition's Brazilian trio - Not that he knows what the devil is going on in the latter instance.

I've said it before with this series, but I'll say it again - Giant Killing does a great job of capturing and distilling the atmosphere and excitement of football, to the point where finally getting to see that sweet ETU victory has softened the blow of another atrocious England performance. Anyhow, that aside this episode didn't have quite the tension of previous instalments but it still managed to be entertaining, while also giving us a great exchange between the two managers, with Tatsumi's defeated opposite number actually making a great point about the key to success in league football (i.e. being a good team in your own right rather than only relying on the weak spots of opponents) as opposed to cup competitions and other tournaments. That said, some teams can't even seem to find inspiration or motivation from the knock-out stages of the biggest competition in the world... now, whoever could I mean with that statement?

Friday, 25 June 2010

The Tatami Galaxy - Episode 10

After seeing our protagonist finally receiving some hints as to his seemingly Groundhog Day-esque fate last episode (not that it helped him find his rose-tinted campus life), episode ten (and indeed the penultimate episode) of The Tatami Galaxy turns the entire world... no, the entire universe on its head.

This time around, Watashi eschews all possibilities of social interaction, instead deciding to lock himself away in his 4.5 tatami room day after day in the realisation that there's no such thing as a perfect and wonderful university life. This all seems pretty dull, until he awakes one day to find that this room is now literally his life - No matter what he does to try and leave, be it smashing walls, floors or ceilings, he always ends up in the exact same room, over and over again.

Or is it? As Watashi explores further simply to stay alive, so he begins to spot subtle differences in each room; in its paraphernalia, the books on the shelve and the clearly slightly divergent life lived within that particular room. For this is not a never-ending maze of identical rooms, but rather a seemingly infinite stack of parallel worlds, each one following one of the choices made by our protagonist. Of course, this is a fascinating discovery, but it still begs one question for Watashi - How the Hell does he get out?!

After seemingly setting us up for episode after episode of Watashi's life being "reset", this instalment certain proves to have thrown us all for a loop, introducing us to a key tenet of the series that perhaps should have been obvious when he look back on it via with the benefit of hindsight - Now the meaning of the oddities that we explained away or simply shrugged off earlier in the series have become clear, making me feel a little bit stupid yet leaving me loving this feeling of naive stupidity at the same time.

It's actually rather difficult to pinpoint just what's so great about this episode of The Tatami Galaxy - It isn't simply the reference to Franz Kafka's work, the use of parallel worlds or the markedly changed animation style which makes heavy use of "real" backdrops and scenery to far more notable effect. Instead, it's a combination of all of these things, coupled with a certain je ne sais quoi that ties everything together and makes the entire experience fascinating yet still oddly impenetrable. Here is a world that makes no sense, yet at the same time it makes perfect sense, while also unveiling much social commentary about modern expectations of one's life and a person's requirements to live it in a fulfilling manner. I don't own up to this often, but my simple 'blog can't do this episode, nor this series concept, justice - It needs a more concentrated and fastidious approach, for I suspect you could probably write a book about it. To be honest, I'm starting to hope that somebody does just that.

Durarara!! - Episode 24 (Completed)

So the roller coaster that is Durarara!! comes to an end, but not before its penultimate episode left us with a big old cliffhanger, with all three of the show's main protagonists (four, if you count Selty too) dumped into a room full of angry and violent so-called Yellow Scarves members.

While these four prepare to defend themselves, it turns out that they don't have to as, out of nowhere, a civil war erupts between the Yellow Scarves/Blue Square members... except they aren't all members of that group at all, as we soon see that Kadota and a number of Dollars members have infiltrated the meeting, and make the most of this opportunity to make their presence felt.

This gives us a bit of time for Masaomi, Mikado and Anri to apologise for their various secrets and find that their friendship has endured regardless of these problems, giving us the first of what proves to be numerous warm and fuzzy "awww" moments. While Izaya escapes Anri's clutches, he fails to avoid having a hefty punch landed upon him by Simon as punishment for his part in proceedings, while he also loses Saki who finally disobeys him to set herself up for a life with Masaomi - an opportunity he also takes by leaving for pastures new with her. Even Selty seems to have forgotten about her head issues as she finally seems to settle down with Shinra.

While this is all good and well, and I can't begrudge the series a happy ending, this finale does leave far, far more questions than it does answers - in short, it's resolved very little. For starters, has the Izaya that has proved to be an expert judge of character and behaviour really just suddenly lost his touch at a pivotal moment? Certainly, the much-touted all-out war in Ikebukuro never emerged, and what of Selty's head? Both Izaya and Selty no longer seem quite so interested. While I'm in a questioning mood, what about Shingen Kishitani, who disappeared as quickly as he arrived? And how about Anri's future, continuing to hold Saika's being as she does?

Perhaps this all means there's room for a second series, but I can't pretend to be anything but a bit disappointed with the way everything has been wrapped up here, precisely because virtually nothing has been - It's an ending that gave me the odd smile, but hasn't left me ultimately satisfied (even in terms of animation quality which seemed to take a drop here), and that's a little tough to swallow after twenty-four episodes. Then again, the montage of great scenes which accompany the closing credits to Durarara!! reminds me that I've had a fantastic number of great moments during the course of the series - I've laughed, I'm shaken my head at outrageous excess, I've been fascinated and I've been turned this way and that by the series. When I start thinking back to all those moments, my disappointment is assuaged quite heavily, which I imagine is exactly what the producers wanted - You may not have given me my ideal ending Durarara!!, but you did give me one hell of a ride.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 13

After the joys of his date with Lina last episode, as we reach the half-way mark of HEROMAN that joy quickly turns to despair as it becomes clear that Joey's involvement with the "Ghost" that is the centre of the NIA's attention has been revealed, leaving him with little choice but to make good his escape while he still can.

Thus, Joey meets up with Psy and Professor Denton in the dead of night (although not before informing Holly that he'll be gone for a while, but not explaining why), where's he learns that the NIA have painted Heroman as the bad guy in the recent staged incident with Doctor Minami's supposedly out of control robot. With Center City soon crawling with agents and law enforcement on the look-out for Joey, escape from the city is his only option, as difficult as that might prove.

Even with Psy and Denton on-hand to help Joey out, it soon becomes clear that every escape route is blocked, leaving the group little other option than to use Heroman's powers as part of their break-out - A plan aided by the fortuitous placement of a coal mine which allows Joey to avoid the clutches of a circling helicopter so that he can finally lose his pursuers and make a clean break for freedom and whatever that might bring.

Before we go any further, let me get this off my chest - Why on Earth would the NIA and the US government go to such lengths to alienate the very entity which saved them from an alien invasion?! While caution in dealing with such a strange power would be understandable, the basis of this latest story arc makes absolutely no sense at all even if you're amongst the most crackpot of conspiracy theorists. There are numerous off-shoots of this basically bizarre behaviour that infect this episode, but at the end of the day it all stems from that single oddity.

That said, Joey's new status as a fugitive on the run from secret agents certainly gives the series the shot in the arm that it needed, proving to be entertaining despite being the kind of story we've seen plenty of times before. A change of scenery and some new threats to deal with (coupled with new opening and ending themes) have left me feeling oddly refreshed and ready to take on more of HEROMAN where I was previously concerned at its twenty-six episode schedule - Amazing what a bit of a shift in perspective and story can do, even if it comes at the cost of some head-scratching plot concepts.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge - Episode 12

After Kou well and truly revealed the extent of his fear of his father by the end of the last episode, it would perhaps have been asking too much for the residents under the bridge not to give him a hard time about it, and lo and behold he soon finds himself to be something of a laughing stock with everyone... aside from Nino that is, who points out that everybody is scared of something - If only we could get a handle on what Nino herself is afraid of.

Of course, with Ric showing a moment of weakness Star sees an opportunity to muscle in on his territory with the smooth-cum-cheesy line of telling Nino to wish upon a star to make everything better - A suggestion that she eats up, of course. The trouble is, saying pretty much anything is dangerous in Maria's company, and after she clarifies that it's a shooting star you're supposed to wish upon you can probably guess where things are headed; before we know it, both Star and Ric (with the latter borrowing the former's mask) are repeatedly thrown from the top of the bridge to allow those below to wish on whatever they desire.

Still, this appears to be more effective than you might think, as we soon see Kou's father informed that his contruction project and the entire bidding process for it has been stopped, with even Mr. Ichinomiya's threats to cut off funding to the ministry responsible falling on deaf ears. This seems like a huge risk to take in the face of such a powerful man, but it appears that there's someone even more powerful who has entered into this particular political sphere. The weird thing is, he sounds a bit like a certain Mayor who lives under a bridge wearing a kappa suit....

Of course, Kou's father knows nothing of this, and so goes to confront his son, only to be left suffering a similar fate to Kou at the start of the series. This state of affairs, complete with a run-in with Nino, gives us some brief yet clear glimpses into the mindset of Kou's father, why he has distanced himself from everybody around him and even why he was determined to break up Kou's life under the bridge. When that mask slips for a moment we get to see a more human side to Kou's father - Not that it lasts long though. Still, this entire chain of events leads to a sweet finale to the episode, as Kou's feelings towards Nino are honestly revealed in an unexpected fashion.

Once again, while Arakawa Under the Bridge's focus has been upon its over-arching story and resolving aspects (if not all of) that story, the humour has taken a back seat to a certain degree, retaining its sense of the absurd but not really pushing it to the same hilarious heights as we've seen earlier in the season. In its place, we've found ourselves with more of a study of some of the key characters of the series, and more specifically the fears which both drive and disable them. In a way, the scene between Nino and Kou's father was a perfect example of this - At the end of the day, these are two people whose entire life (and indeed lifestyle) has been driven by their fear, albeit in very different ways; Kou's father has dealt with loss and the fear of losing something precious again by relying only upon himself and nobody else, while I get the feeling that Nino's life under the bridge came about for the exact same reason. Yet, despite this, both individuals have very deliberately left chinks in their proverbial armour in the hope that it will let somebody in - In Nino's case this has now clearly succeeded, but for Kou's father the future is less certain.

Regardless, it's nice to see something with a little depth which can provoke a little thought coming from a comedy series that can equally delight in simply being daft or obtuse - It's a tough blend to pull off, and Arakawa Under the Bridge hasn't always managed it perfectly, but overall it's done a fine job with only one episode left to run.

K-ON!! - Episode 12

With the gates opening at this year's Glastonbury festival today here in the UK, it's nice to see the girls of K-ON! celebrating with their own tribute to this most fabulous of events.

Okay, so they weren't exactly celebrating Glastonbury, but oh well... close enough. Anyhow, I digress - It's the summer break as we hit episode twelve of the series, and despite Sawako's reminder as homeroom teacher that studying and doing some thing productive are requirements of this time, Yui's mind is clearly elsewhere.... with thoughts of another training camp more specifically. But where to hold it this time? The beach? The mountains? Or, how about at Summer Fest, a yearly rock concert? With Sawako providing the tickets, that's that settled.

From here on in, it seems as though poor old Azusa is liable to be the only voice of sanity when placed between a hungover Sawako, travel sick Yui and Yakisoba obsessed Mugi - Even the normally sensible Mio appears to have lost her mind somewhat amidst the promise of so much live music. Still, once at the event itself "normal" service is resumed (at least as normal as you can get with this bunch), be it an obsession with food or Yui's other "special" qualities.

There isn't a huge amount to say about this episode really - It wasn't as laugh out loud funny as other recent instalments and it was a pretty strong example of an episode of this franchise where "stuff just happens". Then again, on a hot day with the aforementioned Glastonbury on the horizon and the sun shining into the room this episode just felt very, very "right", which it made it pretty enjoyable in its own way, even if that saccharine ending was ever-so slightly cringe-worthy. It does make me wish I was at some kind of festival myself this summer though, notwithstanding the festival of football currently being served up to us every day.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Death Devil - Love (K-ON!! insert single)

Really, what kind of a band name is Death Devil? They sound like the kind of group that should be supporting Spinal Tapor something. Anyhow, I guess I'll let them off the hook on that one considering they are supposed to be a light music club high school band after all.

Anyhow, as a big of a break from the serene pop goings-on of Ho-kago Tea Time, the latest insert single to come from the K-ON!! juggernaut is courtesy of Sawako's light music club band of years gone by, the aforementioned Death Devil.

Needless to say (and as the band name suggests), Death Devil's musical approach is rather different to those of their contemporaries, preferring hard and fast rock music to a light and fluffy time... although if I'm honest and you listen closely, you can see obvious similarities in the song structures and sensibilities of the two. Who'd have thought, it's almost like they're written by the same people!

Anyhow, the two tracks contained within this insert single, Love and its B-side Genom respectively, can only be described as "fun" - They're hardly the kind of serious rock that will have hardcore Black Sabbath fans eschewing Ozzie Osborne for Sawako or anything, and they arguably try a little too hard to be rock songs, but no matter how much effort they put in the pop sensibilities are still there for all to see. Not that this is a bad thing - While neither track is the kind of enduring fare you'll want to listen to over and over, they are pretty entertaining, and quite the change of pace from K-ON!'s normal fare.

If nothing else, I'm quite curious to see how well this single sells in Japan - Are otaku out there really buying anything K-ON! related, or will they draw the line at this particular release? I know where my money is...

Monday, 21 June 2010

House of Five Leaves - Episode 10

For all of his quiet reluctance to talk about himself or allow anything much about him to be revealed to his "house-mates", there's clearly a lot of history behind Yaichi's character in House of Five Leaves, and as we hit this tenth episode so some large chunks of this character are revealed.

For starters, we find out from whence Yaichi obtained his name (for, of course, Yaichi isn't his actual name), a discovery made via some first-person scenes which see us join a younger Yaichi within the Bakuro gang. This in turn allows us to tie Yaichi's past in with that of police chief Yagi... something which was clearly foreshadowed in previous episodes but is an intriguing development in itself, particularly considering how Yagi has become the next potential target of the Five Leaves.

Similarly, we hear first-hand from Yagi about his memories of a certain boy who he clearly believes to be (and later confirms to be via Masa's ineptitude at lying) Yaichi, and the relationship which was fostered between the two of them - Something which takes us all the way back to the opening scenes of the first episode of this series, if you can remember that far back.

Throw in to that the returning Bakuro gang member who is looking for vengeance against another former member of that group and his own intriguing relationship to Yaichi, and you have the scene set for what could prove to be a fascinating final couple of episodes. Of course, we know it won't all end in large-scale and spectacular battles as that simply isn't this show's style, but there's so much character-driven drama just waiting to be resolved that it's bound to be explosive in its own far more quiet and reserved way. Who says cliffhangers have to be about edge of the seat tension? Even this more subtle building of interest in various characters and the bonds between them can do the job just as effectively, and I for one am more than a little curious as to where it's all headed.

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 62

Father's plan to use an entire country as Philosopher's Stones to give him an unimaginable amount of power might have been thwarted, but despite this he isn't exactly someone to be trifled with, and as he heads to the surface the danger is obvious - Even if he can't create more stones en mass via his original plan, he can still do it on a near-individual bases, person by agonising person.

So, it's up to Hoenheim, his sons and company to stop this virtual god from rampaging any further - A task which is easier said than done considering the still not inconsiderable powers available to Father. He's hardly afraid to use these powers either, responding to Hoenheim's goading by "giving birth" to a handful of supposed human beings before literally blowing away half of Central with a single blast.

Although our heroes all survive this blast which is aimed at them, it leaves both Hoenheim and Alphonse in dire straits as they use their bodies to shield their comrades while the others find themselves in anything but tip-top condition. Luckily for them, the remaining soldiers from Briggs refuse to flinch in the face of any enemy, and thus we see them launching attack after attack upon Father with virtually no let-up, regardless of how ineffective it seems. However, with Father's Philosopher's Stones being used rapidly by this constant barrage, the path to victory becomes clear (albeit difficult), and we soon see every man and woman left standing taking their part in the onslaught against their new enemy. Even Greed gets in on the act, fooling Father and forcing him to drop his guard and finally allowing for attacks to break through his previously impenetrable defence. With defeat in sight, Father makes a last desperate attempt to continue his life, looking towards Edward as his first victim - A situation which leads to his brother taking desperate action to save his sibling...

Well, what can I say about this episode? In a word, it's breath-taking; an absolutely stunning barrage of bloody violence, gunfire and explosions that is regularly dazzling to watch. These pyrotechnics aren't just for show either, with any blow having a purpose in not only defeating Father but also reinforcing humanity's greatest strength - It's ability to unite and work together in the face of even the most terrifying threat, and the importance of friendship, comradeship and... well, brotherhood, in the whole thing. On top of this we have a plot that was an incredible mixed bag of emotions - Heart-wrenching at times, rousing at others, all the way through to that magnificent moment where Al puts his trust and power in his brother to both save him and push him on towards victory. Really, words almost fail me - I know I've been labelling this show as AAA stuff for some time now, but this particular instalment was just something else. Quite simply anime at its absolute, unbeatable best.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

The Tatami Galaxy - Episode 9

After finishing its previous triangular story arc last episode, The Tatami Galaxy is once again free to reboot itself in whatever direction it desires, and within a minute of this latest instalment opening we see a money-obsessed Watashi stealing an entry to a birdman competition and getting a well-deserved slap from Akashi into the bargain.

What on earth has brought about this change in personality for our protagonist? This time around we see Watashi joining the "Lucky Cat Chinese Restaurant", a college circle which has little to do with either food or fortunate felines. Instead, this secret society is just that... a shadowy organisation that handles everything from terrorising those who don't return library books to the mass theft of bicycles. Despite his misgivings Watashi joins the organisation, and perhaps unsurprisingly numerous disasters follow, usually caused in some way, shape or form by Ozu, who soon manages to get promoted within the organisation while Watashi languishes.

Eventually however, Ozu usurps his direct superior to take control of the "Lucky Cat" for himself, putting Watashi in charge of the bicycle corps and leading to the money-grabbing person we see at the beginning of the episode. Once again then, Watashi sees the error of his ways far too late, although this time around we don't see the clock reset at the end of the episode, and our protagonist also has a most enlightening conversation with the rather odd and hugely-chinned Master of previous episodes, which suggests that pursuing this so-called "rose-tinted campus life" if nothing but an impossible folly which has caused more misery than the sparkling happiness it promises. Is it these revelations that have prevented the clock turning back, or is something else going on here? With a series like this, I wouldn't dare hazard a guess.

No matter whether you "get" where this series is headed or not (and I'm not entirely sure myself beyond the obvious ending where the protagonist ends up with Akashi), you can't help but marvel at it sometimes - This episode in particular is almost beautiful in the way it weaves in aspects of the previous eight episodes and the stories that they've told into its narrative to an almost head-spinning degree if you try thinking about it too much. This gives us a story that, by this juncture, has seen Watashi play a part as virtually every hero and every villain as his and others roles chop and change - Indeed, Akashi seems to be the only constant in the whole affair, although even she was implicated in Ozu's plotting last time around.

While this episode of The Tatami Galaxy felt pretty light on humour from my standpoint, you can't help but be drawn to the series as whole like a moth (sorry Akashi) to a flame - It's so innately confident in its own delivery and its final destination that I end up finishing each episode simply trusting this show on faith alone that it will deliver come the end of it all. I can't even entirely put a finger on why it fascinates me so beyond its intriguing concept and the way it depicts said concept, yet here I am singing its praises yet again. I would imagine The Tatami Galaxy is an acquired taste (even I wasn't always so sure of its charms), but its certainly threatening to become quite an exquisite dish as it reaches towards its finale.

Giant Killing - Episode 12

After having had to sit through England's abysmal performance against Algeria on Friday night, I'm starting to think that the best possible training for the squad might be to sit them down in front of a few episodes of Giant Killing, and this particular instalment should quite possibly top the bill, featuring as it does something that England couldn't achieve during that turgid game - A goal.

The goal in question comes about as we return to the second half of East Tokyo United's match against Nagoya Grand Palace, with the home team still attacking relentlessly but proving unable to break down ETU's well organised and determined defence. However, as the game wears on Carlos, one of Nagoya's trio of Brazilian superstars, begins to realise why things aren't going their way - In short, as something of a midfield general for the side whenever he gets the ball his passing options are being closed down to effectively prevent him from playing his usual game.

Carlos' solution to this is simple - Play further up the field so that he can provide shorter passes to his Brazilian compatriots without the risk of those passes being intercepted. However, Tatsumi has already accounted for this change in the team's make-up from watching previous Nagoya games, instructing his players relevantly and telling them that as long as they make sure that striker Pepe doesn't get the ball everything will be fine.

So it proves, as Carlos' first foray upfield nearly ends with an opportunity for Pepe which is neatly cut out by the ETU defence, and now with Carlos well out of his normal position to take up any defensive duties of his own, the path is clear for a rare counter-attack for the away side. They make the most of this, and even when it appears that this chance of a goal is gone who else should pop up by Tsubaki to tuck the ball away and make it 1-0 to East Tokyo United. So, ETU now have the lead, but can they hold onto it?

The answer to that question is simply "we don't know yet", because this particular game is going to take up yet another episode of Giant Killing. Indeed, this particular instalment clearly runs slower than real time, with the whole episode only constituting about five minutes or so of match time. This is dragging things out a bit by anybody's standards, but on the other hand I can't really argue with the important placed upon the goings-on we see this episode - The goal is obviously worthy of note, but Carlos' decision to move further upfield (complete with plenty of justification as to why this is important from various angles) and Itagaki's reaction to his team going behind are both equally important to the match. I suppose it just goes to show that while I was happy for Giant Killing to take its time while the score in this game was 0-0, now "my" team are 1-0 up I want the match to be concluded as quickly and without incident as possible - Further proof that watching this series can be just a little bit like watching the real thing.

At least, that is, when the real thing doesn't include an embarrassingly amateurish and leaden-footed performance by England. When it comes to some games Giant Killing is clearly the hands-down winner, even over actual top-level football.

HEROMAN - Episode 12

Although Joey's date with Lina was deferred thanks to the arrival of the former's sister Holly on the scene last episode, we knew it was coming and here it is - The inevitable date episode, now with added beach scenes!

To be honest, if you've ever seen any anime series which has people going on their first date before, then you should know the drill by now - The couple gets stalked by a bunch of their friends and hijinks ensue, at least the female of the couple will get top wear a different outfit (yes, that's right, Lina doesn't wear her cheerleader outfit on her date, nor does she wear it in the sea), and yet the pair of them both end up enjoying their date anyhow and everything ends happily despite any disruptions which might occur.

In this particular case, that disruption comes via not only Joey and Lina's quartet of stalkers, but also a news report that Dr. Minami's robot has gone out of control and is about to go rampaging through the city. Needless to say, this causes Joey to temporarily postpone his plans with Lina so they he can deal with the threat, using Heroman to easily defeat this particular opponent despite his misgivings that the whole thing is yet another trap. Of course, these misgivings are entirely correct, bringing about a situation that hasn't just revealed more to the NIA about Heroman, but has also unmasked Joey has Heroman's "owner" - A revelation that is about to prove more than a little problematic for our protagonist.

Given those important moments in the latter half of the episode, I suppose I'm not really allowed to call this instalment of HEROMAN filler any more, but it was certainly headed that way until Doctor Minami (who seems to be incredible stupid for a supposed scientific genius) and his NIA-sponsored plan turn up. Still, I guess it was nice to see Lina in a swimsuit, but that was about as exciting as things got in another episode that did everything is set out to do without ever really being particularly spectacular - Even seeing Heroman in action just isn't as exciting when he isn't being set loose against evil aliens. In short then... bring back the Skrugg! No matter how well animated and polished, Heroman and Joey taking on a bunch of humans just isn't anything like as much fun.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Angel Beats! - Episode 12

The previous episode of Angel Beats! seemed to pretty much set up the final couple of episodes with everything which needed to be resolved, although I could only question whether two episodes would be sufficient to get the job done. Well, here goes anyway....

As this penultimate episode progresses, we see the number of shadow monsters which make their appearance increasing at an alarming rate, to the point where the entire school complex seemed to be packed out with them. Despite everyone going away to make their own choice about either fighting on with Yuri or going down their own path towards "graduation" and moving on from this world last time around, that doesn't mean that anybody is ready to abandon their comrades just yet, meaning that we soon see most of the usual suspects fighting off these shadow creatures together.

Together, that is, apart from Yuri, who pursues the origin of these beasts by moving into the bowels of Guild once again in the hope of finding their source and creator... something which isn't easy when there are monsters patrolling these tunnels too. Despite her not inconsiderable skills, Yuri soon falls victims to these monsters, pulling her into some kind of school life which seems like some kind of paradise for Yuri - A paradise that she rejects on account of it being both too perfect and too simple, coupled with the return of Otonashi, Kanade and others to help her out in her own particular quest.

This assistance allows her to finally find the source of these shadow monsters, powered by a large number of computers and what appears to be some kind of artificial intelligence NPC who controls it all at the behest of his "master" who is now little more than an NPC himself. While this AI knows little about the world of this series as a whole, it does know the trigger which sees these shadow monsters activated - Love. But just whose love is it? Finally, all is revealed about Yuri, and why she resides in this world, but are even Yuri's own realisations about herself mean that she can leave this place?

For all of its plot holes that you could arguably drive a double-decker bus through, and despite its occasionally almost schizophrenic blend of humour, drama and emotion, Angel Beats! has been nothing if not a wonderfully entertaining and fascinating ride, and this episode summed up that blend nigh-on perfectly. While it didn't have as much time for cracking jokes as most episodes of this show, it managed to mash together stylish action, human drama and some intriguing twists and turns that were compelling despite the obvious Lost and Matrix trilogy comparisons. My only concern is that the series has peaked slightly too early, leaving the final episode as effective an elongated goodbye to your favourite characters. Then again, this series has thrown up so many surprises and last-minute twists that I wouldn't want to trust my instincts until the very last second of the very final episode.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Durarara!! - Episode 23

The climax to the previous episode of Durarara!! left everything in a most definite downward spiral, from Mikado's decision to wind up the Dollars to the perhaps more pressing vision of Shizuo laying face-down in a pool of his own blood having been shot by a member of the Yellow Scarves.

Although (rather predictably given his history) Shizuo's wounds aren't fatal, this downward spiral otherwise threatens to continue as episode twenty-three kicks off, with Kida finding himself deposed as the Yellow Scarves leader by the now gun-toting Hosoda, while Anri hears first-hand (albeit erroneously) from Shizuo that Masaomi ordered his killing, sending her running to take action for herself. Izaya aside, it seems that only Selty really has a handle on what is going on between these three major players, but does she have the power to stop it?

Her first target in trying to put things right is Mikado, who she appraises of the situation, and thus he joins Selty in their search for Anri and/or Masaomi, as the latter finally loses the fear that crippled him when Saki was kidnapped in the past - A loss of fear which perhaps isn't in the best interests of either himself or his friends. Still, Kida's appearance at the Yellow Scarves hideout reveals a group now taken over by former Blue Square members, leaving the odds stacked well and truly against him... not that he seems to care about his own well-being as other desires, be they from his past or present, overtake him.

While everything moves apace throughout this episode, it's still a little hard to believe that this is the penultimate episode of Durarara!!, leaving us as it does with so many important issues not even close to resolved and with so many loose ends still dangling like nooses in front of the major characters. Can the series really wrap everything up in a single, fabulous finale? Judging by both the quality and plot progression of this episode quite possible, and I can only hope they do so as this series is well and truly deserving of such an epic ending. For now though, we just have to marvel about the inter-relations between characters that have been so carefully built by Durarara!! just for this very moment, pitching three former friends into a single (and rather hostile) room before lighting the blue touch paper. I can't help but feel that not only will their final struggle be as psychological as it is physical, but that it's also going to come about with a fair amount of help from third parties. I hate to think of the next episode of this show as the last, but by the same token I'm utterly psyched up and ready for next week's finale. Bring it on!

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge - Episode 11

Having moved fast to snap up construction rights for the area under the bridge, it's looking like the end of the road for the Ric and his handful of not-so new-found friends... even the under-bridge residents all appear to have given up their home without so much as a fight.

All, that is, apart from Nino, who point blank refuses to be budged from her current home - An impassioned plea which moves Kou into action against his father. His plan is a simple one, using his own powerful company to put in a rival bid for construction of the area in question; a bid that he's confident that he can win simply by catching his father and his firm unaware. Of course, given the psychological distance between father and son, it's perhaps understandable for Kou to underestimate his father, and indeed that's exactly what he's done, as come the end of the episode we find that his plan is already on decidedly shaky ground as contractors refuse to work with Kou's company against the Ichinomiya group. It appears as though there's only one option left... For Kou to speak to his father directly. But is he man enough for that challenge?

Despite the more "serious" (and I use the term loosely - This is Arakawa Under the Bridge after all) subject matter of this episode, thankfully there was still time to inject some madcap humour into the instalment, the highlight of which was easily the poor contractor who was mistaken for a returning Kou, only to be "greeted" with a combination of raw fish, a guitar solo from Star and a "massage" from Stella... A combo attack that I wouldn't wish upon anyone. The returning Takai was also on top form, if only for the mention of his new business cards that give his position as "more than the CEO's secretary, but not quite his daddy".

Away from the show's natural turn to humour, it was Nino who stole the show here, reminding us again of what an enigma she is - What exactly did she mean by saying "I don't want to be chased or pulled away any more"? There's a clear suggestion of Nino's history here, and it rears its head a few times this episode, but we still have no direct view of what that history is. This also puts a little further spin on her relationship with Kou - We see her evidently missing him throughout this instalment as he leaves the bridge to deal with business, yet at the same time she struggles to hold any real memory of him. Is it Kou that Nino loves, the fact that Kou is willing to fight for her place under the bridge, or simply the idea of having someone like Kou beside her? As ever, the simple folk of Arakawa Under the Bridge are proving to be anything but, and I can only wonder how many (if any) of these questions will be answered explicitly before the episode ends.

K-ON!! - Episode 11

It's hot! No really, the sun is shining down on us here in England's south coast today, which makes this latest episode of K-ON!! at least somewhat relevant.

The reason for this is that it's hot in this show's world this week too, leaving the members of the light music club even less inspired than usual to get on and actually practice playing music. But how do you cool down in such terrific heat? Needless to say, the girls try plenty of things (some more sensible than others), and indeed Mugi and Mio actually give going to the other extreme a try in the name of weight loss via sweating, but nothing will do the job.

This concern for the hot weather is only broken briefly when the girls come to the decision that everyone's favourite turtle Ton-chan is in need of a bigger home to aid his growth, and with Mugi claiming that she has a larger tank at home their path is clear... apart from the need for Sawako to help collect said tank and bring it back to the school for them.

Once this is over and done with, heat becomes the issue yet again, bringing the club members to the realisation that what they really need is some air conditioning... air conditioning that they could already have had if only Ritsu had actually been paying attention for once. Still, opportunity knocks and before we know it our fab five have their AC - Except there's a catch, as always...

Despite lurching about all over the place and effectively containing three different sub-stories, there's little change in this episode when it comes to delivering the usual lashings of charm. Forgiving the instalment its incredibly cheesy gag at the end, there were a fair few decent laughs throughout (be it Mio and Mugi trying to play instruments in animal costumes or otherwise), while there's something oddly fascinating about watching these girls goofing off and larking around - Perhaps worryingly, it reminds me of some of the more bizarre moments during free periods towards the end of my own school days. No, we didn't try playing the guitar in school swimsuits, but these kind of small-scale conversations and captors of our attention were certainly the order of the day, making K-ON!! almost feel a little nostalgic at times. Then again, I say "almost" because things were never quite that fun at school.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

House of Five Leaves - Episode 9

For all of his indecision about becoming an official member of the Five Leaves, Masa's actions when it comes to Matsu's kidnapping certainly speaks volumes when it comes to portraying which side of that decision he has come down on.

While the last episode saw Masa employed as a bodyguard by Matsu's kidnappers (although I'm not quite sure kidnapping is the correct word considering he broke into their property in the first place, regardless of the reason), so this ninth instalment sees him making good on this position when it comes to releasing Matsu from captivity and returning him to safety - A job well done, even if it costs Masa yet another job in the process. Indeed, come the end of the whole affair, even the wooden tags that started this mess end up back with their rightful owner, thanks to Masa's friend and police chief Yagi.

Of course, it probably goes without saying that the other Five Leaves members, and in particular Yaichi, aren't all that enamoured with one of their ilk hanging around with a high-profile policeman, and thus it appears that Yagi is to be the group's next target - A rather dangerous one I would imagine, even discounting his relationship with Masa. As if this information isn't problematic enough for our protagonist, he also has to deal with a visit from his younger sister, who has escaped the clutches of her family for a while alongside one of their servants to pay a visit to Edo.

Between all of these goings-on, we've actually seen more of Masa and the various sides of his personality than I can ever remember noticing previously - Of course, we're used to him thoughtlessly speaking out of turn and asking questions that he shouldn't, but this instalment also saw him delicately walk the line between deception and caring for his friend while dealing with Matsu in front of his "fellow" bodyguards, while he also shows a far more forceful and inflexible side when it comes to his sister. Apply what we've seen here to the Five Leaves' plans for Yagi, and we could be facing some interesting times ahead, even before we factor in some impending trouble for Yaichi. The fact that all of this has been done with nary a sword drawn or an action scene in sight tells us everything about the quiet, thoughtful treatment on which House of Five Leaves thrives - A treatment which hasn't always worked all that well, but one that seems to be going from strength to strength at present.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood - Episode 61

Come the end of the last episode, it seemed that it was all over for the heroes of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, with Father's plot having seemingly succeeded and brought about Third Impact... well that's what it looked like, right?

In fact, what we were actually seeing is Father using the combination of Moon and Sun created by the solar eclipse which fell on the so-called Promised Day to effectively create and/or capture "God", absorbing this immense power into himself and holding it in his "container" using the power of the vast Philosopher's Stone created using all of the people of Amestris. Surely then, this is game over, with only one winner?

Well, not quite, for this is where we learn of exactly why Hoenheim left his sons and wife to wander the land - In fact, his entire endeavour from that point forth was a direct attempt to stop Father, using the souls implanted within and their respect for their carrier and his goal to create his own vast transmutation circle capable of reversing the effects of the circle created by the Homonculus.

Beyond even this, Scar too has his role to play as the big finale of his battle with King Bradley pans out, leaving him to put his desire for revenge and hatred of alchemy to one side to use his brother's research to unlock the full power present in the world of alchemy - Power that is very much needed given the still not inconsiderable abilities present within Father and his "God", even if that power threatens to burn out at any moment.

Given the huge and seemingly catastrophic end to the previous episode, it was actually rather surprising to see everything turned around so quickly come the beginning of this one - but then again, this was an episode full of surprises and twists that never failed to leave me in a state of wide-eyed awe and fascination. Yes, the whole thing is unbelievable to the extent that it goes off the scale, but you know what? It doesn't matter - this is a series about alchemy after all. For all of my smug Evangelion comparisons over the past couple of instalments, in truth Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood as a whole couldn't be more different from Hideaki Anno's oft-revisited masterpiece, eschewing deep psycho-analysis and provocative imagery to offer up a tale that is far simpler in terms of its goals and morals, while proving to be no less wonderful to watch because of it. Indeed, this series is almost beautiful in its simplicity sometimes, albeit brutally so - It knows how to reel you in and keep you in rapt attention, and I have to hold my hands up and say it has me hook, line and sinker no matter what these final episodes bring us.

Giant Killing - Episode 11

After watching Japan open their World Cup campaign with a narrow 1-0 victory over Cameroon, it's time to see if East Tokyo United can show a similar spirit and tactical nous in their crunch game against Nagoya Grand Palace.

With play stopped briefly at the end of the last instalment due to an injury to Sera, both coaches have an opportunity to pass some impromptu instructions to their players, with Nagoya's manager picking some choice words in an attempt to motivate Itagaki. Once Sera is back on the field, play resumes pretty much as it was before - Lots of defending from ETU with constant probing attacks from their opposition. When it finally looks as though the home side has broken through, an unlikely hero comes to ETU's rescue in the form of none other than Tsubaki who deflects a goal-bound shot away for a corner, albeit rather unknowingly. It appears that Tsubaki is under specific instructions to use his pace to cover that space should anyone get goal-side of the back four, and it's a role he manages to great effect on three occasions during the period of the game we see during this episode.

Yes, I did say "period of the game", for even come the end of this episode we barely enter the start of the second half - Giant Killing is certainly intent on making the most of the various battles of character and skill going on within this particular match. Personally, I honestly don't mind, as somehow they all remain as compelling as ever, giving us glimpses into the psyche of Kuroda and Tsubaki amongst others while building up the feeling that this is a game on a knife-edge for East Tokyo United, but one that they might just be able to snatch a victory from if lucky shines on them for once.

Then again, maybe watching East Tokyo United defending doggedly like this while hoping to grab a goal from somewhere is simply making me reminisce about the days of George Graham's Arsenal, and residing in the North Bank at Highbury chanting "One-nil to the Arsenal"... They aren't days I'd wish to rediscover in terms of sheer footballing entertainment, but they were certainly never short of drama and tension, much like this current segment of Giant Killing.

Summer 2010 anime preview

The sun is shining and there's football or tennis on the television all day long, which can mean only one thing - Summer is here! Of course, this also means that it's nearly time for a new season of anime, and as always I've compiled a season preview over at UK Anime, complete with trailers for every series where possible as well as the usual run-down of what's what. If you want to take a peek, then check it out at the link below!

Sunday, 13 June 2010

The Tatami Galaxy - Episode 8

Having explored Kaori and Hanuki's sides to this current triangular story arc, episode eight of The Tatami Galaxy brings us to what we assume to be the final face of this section of the series as we explore the exact origins and conclusion to Watashi's relationship with pen-pal Keiko.

As with all such relationships, everything starts innocently enough (although slightly oddly, admittedly), with Watashi finding Keiko's details in a book lent to him by Ozu. Being the kind of soppy romantic that he is, our protagonist writes to said address to discuss the book in question, and soon finds himself greeted with a response. So, a regular exchanging of letters between the two becomes the order of the day - Of course, the trouble with letter writing as an art form between people who have never met is that it tends to promote embellishment, and in no time at all Watashi is some kind of man of the world with a penchant for fast cars and skiing. Not entirely accurate, I'm sure you'd agree....

As the story unfolds, so Watashi eventually eschews the other girls within his grasp and races off to find Keiko. But who is Keiko exactly? Of course, it's none other than another of Ozu's "little" practical jokes, except this particular bit of tom-foolery has a twist in the tale - The author of the letters is none other than Akashi. With Watashi and Akashi having met previously when the former saved the latter from harrassment while dressed as Mochiguman, the two actually hit it off despite their two years of lies and untruths to one another in letter format. This seems like an ideal opportunity, but our protagonist is nothing if not a bundle of missed opportunities, so as the clock rolls back once again we close with Watashi stuffing his face with cake while very much alone. Again.

While I saw the twist surrounding Ozu being Keiko's true origin coming pretty early on, Akashi's involvement slipped past me right until its revelation, which made for a fascinating ending to proceedings which once again leaves us cursing Watashi's inability to see the good thing right before his eyes, much like the toy mascot which dangles above his head every episode. Personally, it still fascinates me how this show's happiest ending for our "hero" so far has been one where he pushes all the women in his life away and embraces his life alone - Does this mean that we'll never see the "happy ending" we've all been expecting and hoping for with Akashi? Indeed, what is it that makes Akashi the girl we're rooting for throughout when relatively speaking she's commanded so little screen time across the series so far? It's these little curiosities, coupled with some decidedly sharp delivery and solid story-telling, that makes The Tatami Galaxy such a fascinating slice of anime viewing.

Durarara!! - Episode 22

As the delicate dance between Masaomi, Mikado and Anri continues, by the end of the previous episode Anri found herself in trouble once again (something which seems to have become a habit of late) as she attracts the attention of a group of Yellow Scarves members.

As information about what is going on reaching the Dollars, so Mikado changes his tune from one of regretting that the Dollars had ever been formed into using the powers that this group brings to save Anri from danger (oblivious as he is to the fact that Anri is probably perfectly capable of saving herself) - Thus begins a fantastic madcap chase between Anri and said group of Yellow Scarves members that involves a number of people and a rabbit costume.

This stop-start chase soon takes another turn, as Kida steps into the fray as mobiles are buzzing from all angles, confronting Anri in a rather accusatory manner about why she was spying on him, accusing her of being in cahoots with Mikado when of course this wasn't the case at all - Thus another piece in Izaya's plan falls into place as Anri gives Masaomi the slap he deserves, before finally being picked up by Selty and taken into the safety of her and Shinra's abode. Such safety is, of course, only temporary, with the tension between Yellow Scarves and Dollars accelerating rapidly, with both Masaomi and Mikado effectively abandoning their respective factions, but far, far too late to actually do anything about the escalating situation.

Although time seems to be running out to resolve everything satisfactorily within this series, this was a simply wonderful episode - I think I could watch the antics of Dollars members as they respond to Mikado's requests all day long in their own right quite frankly, and the feeling of intensifying pressure on the three main characters is carried off almost perfectly with a subtle blend of characterisation and story-telling. Put simply, this was Durarara!! at its best and most enjoyable - A stark reminder of the fact that a big part of me really doesn't want this series to end.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Angel Beats! - Episode 11

I suppose we should have seen it coming that Angel Beats! progression towards some kind of "happy ever after" ending wasn't going to last long... in fact, it didn't even last as along as the next episode preview.

So, despite this episode beginning with Otonashi finding himself joined by Hinata and Naoi, both of whom now know what he is trying to do alongside Kanade, things soon take a turn as Naoi finds himself attacked by some kind of strange, binary-coded shadow monster which appears out of nowhere. Otonashi and Hinata combined manage to fend off this assailant, but something clearly isn't right, and this clearly isn't the first time such an attack has occurred in recent days either...

After a meeting between Yuri and Kanade satisfies the former that Angel has nothing to do with this new appearance, an effective truce between the two comes into unspoken effect as more and more of these shadow creatures begin to appear, with Yuri realising that they appear to be "sprouting" from NPCs themselves. For all of their efforts, it's too late to save Takamatsu, who is "eaten" by one of these monsters only to reappear as an NPC, unaware of his past - A fate worse than death indeed.

With these attacks intensifying, Yuri eventually decides that her only course of action is to give everybody a choice in how to proceed, allowing Otonashi to reveal his and Kanade's thoughts on how to leave this odd world they're stuck in so every man (and girl) can decide for themselves. As for Yuri, she continues along her own path as her suspicions about the origin of these computer-generated creatures develop.

By rights, a series with as many twists, turns and complete 180 degree switches as should be a complete mess by this point, yet somehow this series has remained both gripping and entertaining throughout, with even this episode finding time to lace itself with a respectable dose of humour in the midst of its more serious plot progressions. Indeed, rather than Angel Beats! succeeding in spite of its twisting, tangled story, it's compelling viewing because of it - It's rare to find an anime where it's so difficult to second guess what's coming next, yet that's often exactly the case here and even when you do get it right it isn't before many moments of self-doubt about your guesswork.

My only concern at this juncture is how Angel Beats! can possible expect to close our its story in a satisfactory manner in just two more episodes - However they play things out from here surely one aspect of the story or another is going to end up rushed? Unless they're planning on a second season, we could be left disappointed, although having enjoyed the series so much to this point I really hope that isn't going to be the case.

Friday, 11 June 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 11

While the government's NIS agency are still hot on the trail of their so-called "ghost", Joey finds himself with something arguably even more troublesome to concern himself with - The return of his sister Holly after four years. It's funny how characters in anime never mention their siblings until they turn up out of the blue, isn't it?

Anyhow, Holly's return is a rather belated reaction to the Skrugg invasion of Center City, butof course in no time Joey's older sister is up to her old tricks, causing all sorts of minor irritations for Joey by stealing his time in the shower and making herself at home in his room.

Meanwhile, NIS agent Hughes is still on the hunt of the mysterious white being which has been helping with reconstruction efforts around the city in the dead of night, and ends up at the door of Doctor Minami to request his thoughts and assistance. With this done, he lays a trap for Heroman, simulating an incident where he would be called into action to help people, only to be left meeting our "friend" from the NIS himself. Luckily for Joey he manages to remain unsighted, giving both himself and Heroman an opportunity to escape... although not before Holly catches a brief glimpse of Heroman in action, enough to persuade her to stay in town a little longer to find out what's going on for herself.

So, another week goes by and here we have another rather run-of-the-mill episode of HEROMAN, complete with the appearance of a problematic older sister out of the blue who takes up a lot of the episode without actually achieving anything in particular (apart from an excuse to release a HEROMAN insert single and make some more cash, I suppose). Still, this instalment does at least grant us a little equally predictable progress in the story of the government's interest in Heroman, which looks set to peak in the next episode - Just in time for Lina to get a change of clothes too! While HEROMAN remains enjoyable enough in its own generic way, I still can't help but think they'd have been best to let the series end with the defeat of the Skrugg; this whole endeavour feels like continuation for continuation's sake at the moment.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

K-ON!! - Episode 10

We've been hearing non-stop complaints and protestations from Sawako about her life as a single woman throughout K-ON!, but is the light music club girl's homeroom teacher hiding something? Heated discussion in public and irritated responses to mobile phone call certainly seem to suggest so.

Thus, the girls turn detective to find out what is really going on with Sawako, following her after school (with inevitably hilarious consequences) only to find that she's meeting with a woman to talk about something. Who is she, and why those fiery discussions?

It turns out that the woman in question is Norimi, another former member of the school light music club back in Sawako's time. As one of their former school friends is getting married, Norimi is trying to re-unite the members of Death Devil for a performance at the wedding reception, something which Sawako is point-blank refusing to take part in lest it sully her reputation as a squeaky-clean and much-love school teacher. Can the light music club girls change her mind, or are they condemned to having to take part in the festivities by filling in for Sawako's position within Death Devil instead?

After the previous episode of K-ON!! proved to be pleasant but forgettable, this week's instalment succeeded in taking its place as one of the best episodes of the franchise yet - It was nice to have a little more focus on Sawako (who is often side-lined within stories as a natural side-effect of her position), but more importantly the way the whole chain of events was played out was fantastically funny, with plenty of great moments and outright laughs before the final denoument of seeing the light music club girls kitted out with some ridiculously cute approximation of punk fashion. When K-ON!! does things well, it really does them well, and this particular episode is probably a perfect example to the doubters as to exactly what makes this franchise what it is. For all of the dreamy slice-of-life where nothing happens, this show can be hugely funny and entertaining, and this effort was certainly both of those things.