Saturday, 31 July 2010

Shiki - Episode 4

As we join Shiki for its fourth episode, we soon see the death toll from the town's supposed epidemic ramping up and up, bringing us close to twenty fatalities by the latter half of this episode and with the medical professionals in the area still no closer to pinning down the cause of so many deaths.

Against the backdrop of this disease which seems to be striking at random amongst both old and young, relatives and strangers, Natsuno continues to have a struggle of his own as his dreams (or rather, nightmares) about Megumi become both more frequent and more terrifyingly real. No matter how he tries to escape or where he goes, these nightmares follow, and come the end of the episode (after some further hints earlier on in the instalment) we finally begin to see some light shed on what actually seems to be going on in this previously sleepy backwater.

As the son of a nurse of some years standing, I have to admit that I got a bit of a kick out of the overall technical accuracy of the medical jargon used this episode, with the show's doctors and nurses musing over the possibility of paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria as the cause of this spate of deaths amongst other things - It adds a little reality to the show and is most welcome in that sense.

Away from that, this instalment was almost left a little bereft of things to do or say aside from its final few minutes and another appearance from Sunako earlier in the episode - The continuing deaths in the series have reached the point where they have no emotional impact, while the question marks over their cause has also almost been going around in circles. Still, at least we finally seem to have reached a point where the story is going to kick up a notch and progress, and I have to admit that it couldn't come soon enough for me - I feel like I've lost any real empathy with the characters in the story by this point, and I'm certainly not feeling much of a sense of horror from proceedings so it's going to take something a little more special to get me back on board; I'm still hoping that Shiki can finally deliver that something before my patience runs out.

Friday, 30 July 2010

Amagami SS - Episode 5

Now that Haruka's arc is out of the way, episode five of Amagami SS brings us to a new story arc, allowing us to see what kind of crazy person is next on Tachibana's a la carte menu of femininity.

So, with the story effectively beginning again, we're reminded once more of how Tachibana was stood up by a girl a couple of years previously... although this time he has a saviour in the form of friend since middle school Kaoru Tanamachi, who seems him looking down on his way home and aims to cheer him up with the promise of Christmas cake.

Fast-forwarding back to the present day, we see that Tachibana and Kaoru are still close friends, with the latter seemingly having a penchant for nibbling on the ear of the former while he's caught unawares. Indeed, Kaoru's general nature seems to be both random and ultimately rather playful, although this can spill over into outright violence, as it seems that Tachibana has ended up in the school infirmary on her account on more than one occasion.

But is there more that simply playful friendship between these two? Well, obviously there is otherwise this would be a pointless story arc, but of course these two aren't exactly sure of that as of yet, at least until Tachibana things that Kaoru has called him to a quiet spot to confess to him; although that isn't the case, it does set what appears to be the beginning of a chain of events between them in motion.

As per the start of this show's first story arc, I really can't find much to say here - As episodes go, this instalment did reasonably well on the humour front overall, but it still feels oddly sterile and bland for a series about love and romance. Put simply, it feels a little too much like the major characters are just going through the motions in a decidedly predictable way, which tends to strip this effort of any kind of emotional impact or any thoughts towards the well-being or otherwise of the characters involved. This really mirrors what we saw in Haruka's arc, where only Morishima and Tachibana's oddball behaviour marked the story out as anything other than generic, and sadly I fear that this second arc is liable to go down the same route of trying to mask its inadequacies by shouting out "Hey look, weird stuff!" every now and again.

Break Blade

To be honest, I had no real intention of watching Break Blade, let alone 'blogging about it, but sometimes I like to be spontaneous and pick something up just for the sake of it even if I know nothing about it, and this is one of those occasions. Of course, it's easier to be spontaneous about something when it's available in 1080p too...

Anyhow, this first instalment of Break Blade gives us a pretty good idea of what one of its key tenets is early on, thanks to some good old giant robot action. However, this clearly isn't your typical kind of mecha show, as we see these robots making use of what appear to be pretty weak weaponry and moving under the power of their pilot. It's from here that we're introduced to Cruzon, a land rich in quartz and where the general populace can control this quartz to varying degrees; an ability that is invaluable when it comes to powering machinery, weapons and the like, and something which I would imagine would be a pain in the ass when it comes to wearing a wristwatch.

Anyhow, with that piece of back story set, we're quickly introduced to the one in a million guy who breaks those rules - Ryugart Arrow, a man with no ability to control quartz whatsoever. We first meet Ryugart collapsed in the middle of nowhere, but before we know it he's been whisked off to meet a king and queen, Hodr and Sigyn respectively, where it transpires that he was friends with both of them as students before the pair became married, with the latter marrying into royalty.

However, Ryugart hasn't been invited along just for some pleasantries - Instead, Hodr is hoping that he can shed some light on an ancient "Golem" (for that is what their giant robots are called) that has been discovered; a machine which seemingly refuses to react when anyone who can control quartz is behind its proverbial steering wheel. With his country facing an impending invasion from Athens (which of course prominently features another old friend of both Hodr and Ryugart), this ancient machine could be their last hope of preventing such an attack from succeeding.

You can probably guess the rest from here - Ryugart proves to be the only person who can control this ancient mecha (which just as predictably he learns of by accident), and thus the future of his friends and his country are left firmly in his hands going forward into future instalments.

I suppose I have to give Break Blade some credit for introducing a world where giant robots aren't uber-powerful, but instead actually prove to be both rather lightweight in terms of firepower and also heavily reliant on the power and ability of the pilot rather than the mecha itself. On the other hand, this state of affairs does at times leave this whole affair feeling a little like Code Geass with pea shooters, and to be honest it's difficult to get too excited about the action in general. That aside, as an opening gambit goes this proves to be a pretty solid one for Break Blade - It is, as I mentioned, generally rather predictable, but it does its job of setting the scene and leaving room for whatever twists and turns are to come without ever becoming too dull or bogged down in flashbacks. In terms of animation this instalment is also solid rather than spectacular - to be honest some of the animation actually looks downright weird from time to time, which threatens to detract from whatever is going on but never quite breaks down entirely, but at least the voice acting is decent and the whole thing ticks along with more positives than negatives.

I certainly can't pretend that I'm jumping out of my seat with excitement having sat through this first instalment of Break Blade, but it was good enough for me to want to see more and leave me curious as to how it might progress, so I guess that counts as mission accomplished. There are certainly worse ways to spend fifty minutes... by watching two episode of Allison to Lillia, for example.

K-ON!! - Episode 17

With the school festival fast approaching, it's time for the girls of the light music club to knuckle down and practice properly for once... except they don't have anywhere to do it, as it's revealed that the music room is out of bounds due to a problematic leak that leaves it in need of repair.

This gives us the comedy set-up for the vast majority of K-ON!!'s seventeenth episode, as the girls go on the hunt for a new ground to practice with. Despite Sawako's best efforts the brass band practice room is out (indeed, Sawako seems to have no luck at all persuading anyone this episode, perhaps her carefully cultivated image isn't all she thinks it is?), and an attempt to practice in a classroom is soon brought to a halt as the volume threatens to shake the entire building to the ground, never mind disturbing the other students. Using the school gym is also a short-lived affair, and with little other choice the girls end up at a professional recording studio for a session arranged by Ritsu but surely paid for by Mugi?

It seems that even having to pay for studio time doesn't get in the way of the girls goofing off however, as the entire session is spent drinking tea and the girls preening themselves in the studio's mirror - Thank goodness then that their club room is soon available for practice once again. This allows us to segue into the final chunk of this episode, which sees the girls trying to put together some lyrics for a new song, with Yui finding inspiration thanks to an illness to the normally infallible Ui.

While this episode was more settled into its groove than the previous instalment, that didn't make it any less entertaining or funny, as it managed to squeeze in a few laugh out loud moments in the midst of its more generally amusing perambulations. It seems like that mis-step of a couple of weeks ago is long gone, as once again this was K-ON!! doing what it does best - Throwing a bunch of girls into a relatively mundane situation and yet deriving plenty of fun and frolics from it. Who knew a character's sister getting a cold could be so heart-warming? What other anime could leave me considering which hairstyle I prefer on a particular character without feeling too weird about (Ritsu, I'm looking at you)? In fact, there aren't all that many series that would leave me frustrated about having to wait an extra couple of days before watching an episode, but I can honestly say my Wednesday just wasn't the same without a dose of this show.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 5

Another week means another story for Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi, although this time around the goings-on tie in to the happenings of episode two, with an eye very much on the show's wider story which appears to be unfolding.

Before that however, we're introduced to Momoko, a member of the school disciplinary committee and a bit of a man-eater... and woman-eater for that matter, given her overbearing interest in Ryouko. Anyway, if you can get your mind away from the inevitable doujinshi that this episode will inspire, Momo has a favour to ask of the Otogi Bank (that is what they exist for, after all), as it transpires that she wants to have a word with the president of rival Onigashima school's student council regarding the recent increase in delinquent behaviour coming from that establishment's students.

Of course, this is the same Onigashima school that caused such a ruckus in the show's second episode, so the likelihood of making a friendly appointment is pretty remote - Instead, with the help of Ryouko and Morino amongst others, it's up to Momoko to fight her way through to meet the new student council president. Despite being well-prepared (and ridiculously dressed all-round, quite frankly), this proves to be more difficult than even the Bank's members imagined, not least for Ryouko as we are again treated to some very brief insights into her past and how it influences her current personality and behaviour - A state of affairs which also seems to link directly into the student council president himself.

While that might sound interesting enough, to be honest there wasn't really much going for this episode - Boxing gloves and breasts that make meowing and bouncing sounds respectively really don't cut it, and the storyline as a whole lacked any kind of inspiration or real interest beyond providing the ability for some pretty half-hearted action scenes that were all eclipsed by those in the aforementioned second episode.

On the positive side, this instalment did have two plus points in its favour - Once again, the show's narrator adds a little spice and humour to an otherwise dry script full of predictable dialogue, while Ryouko herself continues to turn into a genuinely interesting character. The more than I watch this series, the more I find myself wishing that a lot of the other plot elements would "just go away" so that the focus can remain on revealing more about Ryouko and building her budding little relationship with Morino. I'm certainly not watching it for the otaku titillation and bouncing breasts, that's for sure.

HEROMAN - Episode 18

It looked as though Joey and company were in for even more problems by the end of the previous of HEROMAN thanks to Mrs. Collins coming into contact with the show's eponymous hero - But whaddya know, she's a big fan of Heroman too! I'm starting to think there could be some kind of HEROMAN spin-off romantic comedy harem series in the pipeline here...

Anyway, after the shock of coming face to face with Will once again last episode, it's time for a little rest and relaxation for most of the shows main players courtesy of the inevitable beach episode, thus ticking off that particular requirement of any anime series, closely followed by a ghost story scene (worth watching simply for Professor Denton's insane over-reactions to said story) and later in the episode a CPR scene. All they needed was a hot springs and they could have completed their anime cliché requirements in a single instalment.

That said, things take a turn when this supposed ghost story starts to look frighteningly real, although the odd goings-on come to a head when some random guy dressed like a scientist turns out wounded on their doorstep. Before we know it all and sundry are being attacked by tentacle monsters (another Japanese anime stalwart), destroying a big chunk of the island and separating the party. Where have these weird tentacles come from, and what are they doing?

Actually, scratch those questions - should we even care? At this point I'm not entirely sure that this current incident is related to the appearance of Will last episode, and if this proves to be the case then it'll be rather frustrating that we've veered off at a tangent so quickly after starting a new story arc. Of course, this whole plot could be part of a bigger picture, and I can only hope that's the case - at this point in time though, this particular episode feels a little disjointed amidst its surroundings, and aside from a few half-decent comic moments it just didn't quite work for me somehow after kicking off the latest story arc in solid fashion last week.

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 4

Propeller-based engines are all well and good, but if you want speed then surely it has to be a jet engine all the way? So it goes that episode four of Strike Witches 2 sees a prototype jet engine make its début within the franchise for the first time.

Of course, normally you'd expect Shirley to jump at the chance of piloting something newer and faster, and indeed she does seem keen until Lucchini jumps the queue to give it a try and gets a nasty shock. Put off by this incident, she cedes her place as test pilot of the jet-powered Striker Unit to Barkhorn.

However, although she loses out on that occasion this decision does little to dampen the overly competitive spirit between Shirley and Barkhorn, as the former tries to best the latter in numerous tests only to be overcome by the new jet Striker Unit's capabilities in terms of speed, altitude and the ability to carry a ridiculous weight. Prototype that it is however, this new Striker Unit is still far from perfect, and its effect on Barkhorn leads to use of the device being banned after it causes her to run out of magic and crash into the sea. Predictably, not long after this decision is made we see the appearance of a super-fast and agile Neuroi, and it doesn't take a genius to guess what it's going to take to beat the enemy on this occasion...

Once again, Strike Witches 2 somehow manages to get away with its penchant for fan service at every opportunity (complete with blatant censorship) by putting together an overall package for the episode in terms of story and characters which is undeniably fun to watch. The rivalry between Shirley and Barkhorn is old as the hills in anime story-telling terms yet it's not over-used here, and the same goes for Barkhorn's requirement to disobey orders to save the day - It's been done to death and we all know it's going to happen, but when melded into another series of well-produced action scenes it was both tense and enjoyable. I really can't quite get my head around how Strike Witches still manages to work its way into my affections so easily despite its almost abhorrent use of every trick in the book to grab otaku hearts and minds, but work its way into my head it does simply by being an absolute and undoubtable dose of fun to watch.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Darker than BLACK II OVA - Episode 4 (Completed)

After leaving death, chaos and a screaming baby in its wake by the end of the last episode, this final instalment of Darker Than Black's OVA which interconnects the two main series of the show takes a quick step back to show us exactly how those contractors met their demise, to some extent at least.

Of course, this state of affairs is all part of the awakening of Izanami within Yin, although she soon finds herself kidnapped and held to ransom as a "come and get her" call is made to pretty much anyone who would listen, which of course includes Hei himself and a handy fellow contractor for him to work with. From here, we enter a slightly complex set of machinations, as Yin finds herself sold to the highest bidder only for the resulting briefcase full of cash being thrown away, as the true meaning of this transaction was all about revenge. This all takes a back seat however as Izanami's awakening reaches new heights, eventually leading to an emotional face-off between Yin and Hei before the agency which holds the former captive throughout Ryuusei no Gemini step in to put a temporary halt to the massive chaos about to ensue.

Although this kind of story defies explanation in a snappy paragraph or two (and I'm trying not to delve too deeply into spoiler territory, just in case), come the end of this OVA the second season of Darker Than BLACK suddenly seems a little more comprehensible and worthwhile - This episode manages to frame many of the events of Ryuusei no Gemini in a reasonably solid and clear way, to the point where I'm almost tempted to go back and watch that series again to get my head around it a little better. Really, this only goes to show that (commercial reasons aside) this OVA really should have been released before Ryuusei no Gemini's TV broadcast, not afterwards, as the whole endeavour would have made more sense in light of this pretty decent effort, which ended with another slice of slick action coupled with plenty of reasonably compelling exposition. You could almost say this OVA was Darker Than BLACK back to its very best. Almost, but not quite, although "not quite as good as Darker Than BLACK" still makes for a good anime in its own right.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 4

With the search for a so-called "Tengu" getting Maya into trouble by the end of the last episode, this latest instalment of Occult Academy sees both herself and Kozue missing; of course, it's Fumiaki who is tasked with looking for them both by the disturbingly (and hilariously) infatuated Chihiro.

As luck would have it, Mikaze just happens to be part of the town's committee which is helping with the search for Kozue, and before he knows it Fumiyaki is whisked off at break-neck speed in her Porsche to look for the missing persons. This eventual leads them both to a shrine which unexpectedly gives up its secrets, revealing a maze of underground passages which lead into the mountain which folklore suggests is actually a pyramid.

Some more slapstick comedy later Fumiaki is separated from Mikaze but instead finds himself in the ever-friendly company of one decidedly lost Maya, who of course is simply thrilled to see him. Now that they're both lost, an attempt to find the exit leads them into even more trouble, revealing the true identity of this "Tengu" while also explaining what happened to Fumiaki's predecessor. Then there's Fumiaki himself, who is left with no choice but to reveal himself to Maya as a fraud who couldn't bend his way out of a paper spoon. Or something. In the end it's left to JK and Smile to save the day with a giant spanner and a keytar (really, I'm not making this up), while Chihiro's goons appear responsible for sealing the pyramid/mountain to close off this particular story arc.

I'm not normally much of a fan of outright slapstick in anime, but somehow Occult Academy manages to pull off daft and completely old hat jokes whilst still leaving them looking fresh - As a fall guy, Fumiaki is the perfect blend of idiot and... well, lovable idiot, while Maya's never-ending stream of violence and abuse still hasn't gotten old either. There's probably some important plot points in the midst of all this (not least my continued belief that Mikaze is clearly more than some waitress with a flashy car), but to be honest I find it hard to care, as I'm still quite happy watching the main characters romp around and getting involved in daft tales of the occult. Thankfully, I get the feeling that the writers of Occult Academy feel the same way, so I don't think we'll be getting too caught up with worrying about the forthcoming end of the world as we know it any time soon. Why would we when we can watch Fumiaki getting bounced about in that shiny new Porsche a bit more?

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 4

We might only be three episodes in to Highschool of the Dead as this instalment kicks off, but that doesn't stop us entering recap territory (interspersed with a couple of new scenes) for much of the first half of this episode. Of course, I suppose that's the only way we could possibly comprehend all of the subtle nuances and plot points of this incredibly highbrow show, right?

Anyhow, with that out of the way we rejoin Takashi and Rei on the day after the whole world fell apart from a zombie apocalypse as they continue to make their way forward both to check on their parents and meet up with the rest of the group from which they were separated. It soon becomes obvious that the relationship between these two are as strained as ever, but Rei proves herself to be almost brutally resourceful in looting weaponry from a couple of dead police officers (and some handcuffs? Oo-er missus) while Takashi takes the lead when it comes to refilling heir stolen moped with fuel, albeit after another argument.

However, we're quickly reminded that zombies aren't necessarily the only problem roaming the city in the ensuing chaos of current events, as Rei finds herself kidnapped and groped at knife point by some crazed thug, leading to a stand-off between himself and Takashi that all ends rather unapologetically violently.

To be fair, despite my poking fun at Highschool of the Dead for not being highbrow, it does at least work in throwing up the odd moral question here and there - Is shooting a living, non-zombie guy and leaving him to the undead hordes okay when he's a thug who tried to kidnap "your girl"? Answers on a postcard, but this series has no hesitation about allowing its major characters to become embroiled in behaviour that would be pretty questionable if society hadn't broken down. That is, of course, half the fun, and while this episode certainly didn't have the pacing, action or outright excitement of previous episodes it did once again manage to build some palpable tension during Rei and Takashi's predicament, which was suitably moody and no-holds barred. If only the remaining time available to this instalment had been used for something other than an unnecessary recap, I'd probably have been even more impressed by it, but said recap left it with little time to grab our attention beyond that single set piece.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Black Rock Shooter OVA

After what seems like an endless period of hype, promotion and teasing, the much-anticipated Black Rock Shooter OVA is here. Can a simply Vocaloid track and some neat character designs really make the transition into a full-blown anime?

Things certainly kick off with the promise of action aplenty, as we're thrust straight into a stylised conflict between Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master which is exactly the kind of thing we were expecting. It isn't long however before we're transferred back to the real world, and the first day of high school for one Mato Kuroi, an energetic but far from academic girl.

On that first day, Mato finds herself immediately entranced by one of her classmates, and after the school opening ceremony Mato approaches her to introduce herself. The two soon strike up a friendship, and before we know it Mato and Yomi Takanashi are doing everything together from sharing homework through to joining adjacent clubs - basketball for Mato and volleyball for Yomi.

As this pair reach their second year of school however things begin to fall apart, as the two first find themselves assigned to different classes before Mato ends up spending more time with new classmate and fellow basketball club member Yuu; a scenario which causes jealousy aplenty for Yomi, and quite probably the main reason for her disappearance, with Mato learns of via the police turning up at her home.

But what does all of this slice of life drama have to do with Black Rock Shooter I hear you ask? Well, that's a very good question, and it's one that is never really made apparent throughout this OVA. The entire instalment is interspersed with scenes featuring Black Rock Shooter and Dead Master even before the collapse of the relationship between their real-world counterparts, but we're never let in on either the chronology or the setting for this - indeed, it's only late in the OVA that there's any suggestion that what we see with regard to Black Rock Shooter is any kind of reality, although even then you could still argue that it's some kind of fantasy within Mato's head or a virtual world or something.

If this were the first episode of a series, or the first instalment in a set of movies or OVA, this sense of mystery would be perfectly alright, but the fact is that this is a one-shot story, and as such the entire thing is left feeling decidedly unsatisfactory. It's a shame really, because those action sequences have potential which is never realised thanks to their short-form nature and a complete lack of dialogue, leaving them to rely on impressive scenery and some fluid movement alone, while the slice of life side of things is a reasonably compelling story of friendship and jealousy. There are myriad ways these two components could have been interwoven via a decent narrative, but such a story is entirely lacking here, giving the two sides of the OVA a feeling of having been written by entirely different people.

After all the build-up and hype, the fact that the major pulling points of that hype have ended up being left almost entirely unexplored and under-utilised seems simply bizarre, although I suppose if they were trying to build up demand for a sequel perhaps they have succeeded. Certainly, Black Rock Shooter does need a second instalment to try and tie its disparate elements together - without so much as the promise of such explanation however, the whole thing is left feeling a little odd and empty.

Giant Killing - Episode 17

It isn't for the first time in this series, but the previous episode of Giant Killing left us with a possibly injury to Sera as its cliff-hanger, and it really couldn't have come at a worse time for the young striker with his goal-scoring form proving to be far from noteworthy while Natsuki is ready and raring to go having recovered from an injury of his own.

Thankfully, the long-term news is good for Sera - Although he's substituted in the current game (which goes on to end 0-0), it turns out that the only damage he's done is a mild sprain which should recover after a week's rest. However, this is hardly comforting news for Sera himself, who feels destined to lose his place in the team to Natsuki now as he continues to sulk somewhat about the whole thing. Of all people, it's Sakai who pulls him out of this funk, albeit in a rather tsundere manner by berating him for eating crisps before admitting that he understand's Sera's decision-making on the field before urging him not to give up in his own unique way.

So, it's a slightly more upbeat Sera that sits in the stands to watch ETU's next game at home to Urawa Red Stars, a side that they have lost to three years on the trot. We join the game in the second half at 0-0, and with Tatsumi looking to shake things up by introducing Natsuki to the proceedings in a tearful reintroduction to the game that I can only describe as some kind of reverse Gazza effect. This substitution certainly does turn the game.... in Urawa's favour, as they score a bit of a long-rang cracker on the counter-attack to go ahead. Ironically, this actually gives Natsuki even more of a chance to shine, which he does via a top-drawer goal of his own, finding the top corner from outside the box to equalise. So, with a final score from 1-1 everyone seems pretty satisfied by the result - Everyone, that is, bar Tatsumi...

I suppose if there's one negative about this particular episode of Giant Killing is that it's perhaps the first time that this series has been entirely predictable - It seemed rather obvious that Sera's injury would give Natsuki his chance, and that he'd score a notable goal on his return. Then again, sometimes football does pan out as though it's been written by script-writers, so this isn't necessarily a bad thing in itself, and Natsuki's comical behaviour in particular lightened the tone for a while to stop us getting too bogged down in the football itself. This current story arc certainly doesn't match the tension and excitement of the big game against Nagoya, but then again that's just like football itself, which is rarely balls-to-the-wall excitement every week. As Sera himself notes, the real battle hasn't even begun, and it could well be the next instalment which brings the jostling for position between Sakai, Sera and Natsuki to a head.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Shiki - Episode 3

Despite introducing us to characters by the barrel-load in its first two episodes, it appears that Shiki isn't done quite yet, as this third instalment brings forth another bunch of characters to add to the ever-expanding cast.

Some of these characters are met via our following Natsuno around, as we see a decidedly odd opening sequences which suggests that there is more to him than meets the eye, before we see how one guy named Tohru Mutou somehow managed to break the barriers Natsuno had erected around himself on account of patching up a flat tyre on his bicycle a couple of times. With Natsuno struggling to sleep (I know how he feels right now), Mutou becomes something of a crutch for Natsuno, much to the displeasure of another of Mutou's friends Masao, who seems to be a bundle of problematic teenage insecurities himself.

Meanwhile, Doctor Ozaki continues to struggle with the possible "plague" sweeping through his village, which sees it claim yet another victim, while equally importantly we're also introduced to the members of the Kirishiki family who have recently moved into the European-style house on the hill, only to find that they're a decidedly oddball bunch from parents through to their children - Of particular interest is young (although she'd hate me for calling her that) Sunako, who has in turn taken an interest in the priest Muroi and his writings... indeed, she seems to know everything about him regardless of his literary talents and her ability at comprehending said literature.

So, even three episodes into this series it's still nigh-on impossible to say anything much about where Shiki is headed - It's certainly keeping its cards close to its chest while also throwing out the odd clue (or are they simply red herrings?) about various characters as it goes along. Luckily this slow, pain-staking build up is still working pretty well for the series at this point as it's had plenty of characters and circumstances available to keep things moving, aided along by the polished and stylised animation, but I'm hungry for more at this point so hopefully the revelations will start to unravel themselves pretty soon. There's certainly plenty for this show to get its teeth into now judging by what we've seen so far, it's just a case of waiting for it to get said meat between its jaws for that delicious first bite.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Amagami SS - Episode 4

The previous episode of Amagami SS saw the distance between Morishima and Tachibana closing rapidly... and not a moment too soon, considering her story arc ends with this fourth episode of the series.

Anyhow, after a bout of Christmas shopping that leads Tachibana to bump into Haruka (where we learn that her middle name is Lovely and his is, and I'm guessing here, Dimwit), we enter one of those tired old tropes of romance anime - the "we met before in our past and made an instant connection, and now we've finally realised that our bond is complete" moment. This could have been an emotional and moving cornerstone of this story arc, but seeing as Tachibana reminded Morishima of her dead dog, it kind of lost a little of its lustre if I'm honest.

So, after all of that we end up with Haruka agreeing to spend Christmas Eve with Tachibana while also meeting with some of her relatives, although not before somehow managing to squeeze in some swimming pool scenes - I think you have to credit this series for managing to pull off some swimsuit scenes at Christmas. With that done, it's time to head up to the hotel room where Haruka has agreed to meet her relatives... except their flight has been delayed so it's just the two of them in a lovely hotel room together.

It's at this point that we're reminded of a very important fact - That Morishima might well be a beautiful girl with sparkling blue eyes, but that aside she's also crazy in the coconut. So it goes that Morishima chooses to take a bath while Tachibana waits for her in the room, before berating him for not peeking at her and getting upset because he only confessed to her twice. Of course, Tachibana doesn't spot these early warning signs of blatant insanity, and so they end up living happily ever after, complete with a jump ten years into the future to remind us just how batshit crazy this pair is.

You know, even though we've finished one story arc I still can't decide exactly how I feel about Amagami SS - I can certain appreciate its visuals and what it's trying to do, and to be fair its male protagonist is better than most visual novel escapees (White Album's Touya Fuji, I'm looking at you), but the fact that I spent more time laughing that "Aww"-ing or understanding why Tachibana has fallen for Morishima can't be a good sign. Come the end of it all I still don't understand why a somewhat selfish, vacuous, vain and clearly rather bonkers girl would hold such allure for a guy like Tachibana, and doing fun stuff and joking around will only get you so far. Perhaps the story arcs to follow will fare better, but for me a love story that I can't associate or sympathise with never really works, and this first arc of Amagami SS certainly falls into that category.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 4

After being saved from an errant baseball by Morino, the Otogi Bank's resident maid Tsurugaya Otsuu turns out to be somebody who simply refuses to be in debt to anybody. So, she moves in with a bunch of oddball characters under a bridge and has a plethora of madcap adventures with them.

Whoops, wrong show... In fact, rather than living under a bridge with crazy people Otsuu instead decides that she needs to be Morino's maid for the forseeable future to repay her debt to him, leaving the poor guy with neither privacy nor sleep. Then again, Otsuu herself is hardly doing her health any good, as is proved when she finally collapses from exhaustion after all of those continuous attempts to help out.

From here, we find out the real reason for Otsuu's fear of being in debt to anybody via the Otogi Bank's president, and needless to say it's a pretty typical sob story for this kind of series, the kind of thing that makes me worry that I'm dead inside for not reacting to it when in reality it's probably because it's a scenario that's been presented within anime a million times before. Anyhow, the club members gang together with a plan to load Otsuu with so much debt that she can't possibly repay it all, thus hopefully breaking her from the vicious cycle into which she has entered herself, meaning that she can live happily ever after.

I have to say that viewing Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi so far has been a pretty bizarre cycle in itself, with an opening episode that left me unimpressed before episode two had me fall in love with it, only to fall back out of love with it again last week. Thankfully, this forth instalment is an improvement again - Despite its boringly typical sob story and occasionally frustrating moments, the episode as a whole is much sharper in terms of both dialogue and story, perhaps because it once again returns at least some of the focus to Ryouko, who is turning into quite a likeable tsundere character all in all with a bit more depth and human interest to her than I initially expected. Overall then, I really rather enjoyed this episode, although of course judging by current form that means that episode five will suck...

HEROMAN - Episode 17

Despite consistently asserting that it wasn't as good as the initial alien invasion arc, I actually ended up rather enjoying the past few episodes with Joey and company on the run truth be told - does that make me tsundere for HEROMAN? It's not that I'm interested or anything, you understand?!

Anyhow, with their names cleared and the whole mess with the government cleared up, it looks as though life is returning to normal for Joey and Psy... at least, it is until Professor Denton turns up with some worrying discoveries. He reveals that a string of incidents have been taking place at research facilities across the Unites States, of all which involve companies that were handling and researching equipment left by the Skrugg. This villain's next target? Center City, and more prescisely a piece of Skrugg kit Denton had left squirrelled away.

With this new danger most likely on their doorstep, the Professor decides it would be best to lure them into the school gym, which personally I'd have thought would be the worst place to lure them - how about a disused warehouse? You know, the one you were using to train Heroman in the last story arc? Anyway, the plan succeeds, only to surprise our heroes (and myself if I'm quite honest) when the face of this new threat is revealed. Just what are they doing, and why? All will be revealed in due course no doubt, although not before Miss Collins discovers Heroman...

I have to hand it to HEROMAN, I genuinely wasn't expecting this particular revelation as to the identity of the next "baddie" (and I use that term loosely, as there were some more than slightly subtle hints that they are carrying out these actions for a good reason) - I had it penned in hands-down as being Nick, but I guess that's why they don't invite me to write anime because I'd be too boring and predictable. I'd probably also do something daft like trying to follow up this episode that kicks off the story arc with a beach episode too. Oh wait...

Anyhow, this was a pretty solid start to what I'm assuming will be this show's final major storyline - it certainly has me intrigued, and this can only be a good thing for a series whose major claim to entertain is offering up mindless, action-packed fun. Beach episode or not, I'm sold for whatever happens next!

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 3

With the 501st Joint Fighter Wing back in action and reunited after their previous victories in Brittania, it perhaps isn't too surprising that the six monht break in action which followed has left some of the Witches looking decidedly out of shape, and a return to training soon proves that Yoshika, Perrine and Lynette are all in need of something a little more intensive to get them back to their best.

So, Sakamoto packs them all off to see the Witch who was instrumental in her own training, an old woman who prefers brooms over Striker Units and soon forces her new charges to dispense with their new-fangled technology before setting them the seemingly simple task of fetching some water. However, with the only well some distance away and only brooms to travel on, the three girls soon find that this kind of task is far more difficult (and not to mention embarrassing) without a Striker Unit to rely on.

Of course, this test of their abilities and attitudes eventually reaps dividends, and the three girls eventually learn the best way to approach this problem just in time to find themselves caught up with a passing Neuroi who looks set to destroy their new tutor's home. Thus, bravery and teamwork is both required and employed in spades to see them save the day, and the old woman's home. Hurrah!

While the whole broom angle of this episode was clearly only in place for one reason at the end of the day ("Oh, how it rubs my crotch!" pretty much summing that up), this was oddly still quite a satisfying episode in other ways. Its slapstick comedy was unspectacular but still did enough to draw a smile out of me, while the eventual battle against the Neuroi wasn't as spectacular as that which we were treated to in the opening episode, but it was still pretty polished and did the job to give us a decent end to a reasonably entertaining episode. It was no classic but it was fun, which is about all you can ask of a show like Strike Witches 2, while this instalment has also taught us that old Witches do wear pants, for which we can only be grateful. I wonder what the cut-off age where skirts or trousers become a requirement is in the world of Strike Witches?

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

K-ON!! - Episode 16

Although we came to realise that the light music club spend little of their time actually concentrating on music about forty episodes ago, it appears that this fact is only just beginning to worry young Azusa as she tries to sell the club's virtues to Jun. By the way, am I the only person who genuinely wants Jun to join the light music club? Nobody else seems to like her.

Anyhow, given her concerns about the distinct lack of practice during club get-togethers, Azusa is determined to change her ways once she realises that she's slipped into the gentle, work-shy groove of the others... or at least, she is for a few minutes as such thoughts are soon relegated to the back of her mind once she finds Mugi alone in the music room. While that sounds like the introduction to some explicit K-ON!! doujinshi, what actually happens is that Azusa is distracted by Mugi being... well, downright adorable really.

From here we see Azusa facing similar struggles on the following days, first while sitting with Mio before being dragged off to Ritsu's house to help with some home economics homework (don't worry Ritsu, I suck at sewing too), then again (more predictably) with Yui who effectively persuades her to give up fretting about stuff like practising and just to be herself instead. So, with any worries thrown to the wind all is well in Azusa's world once again, even though the culture festival is coming up and the light music club don't seem to be doing a whole lot about it.

After perhaps the most disappointing episode of K-ON!! yet last week, this was a definite returning to form for the series, proving to be in turns funny and (more often than not) outright adorable; it's almost alarming how fast Mugi has shifted from "that other girl" into quite the centre of attention for this series in a way that rival's Yui for its craziness. Regardless, this was another slice of hugely relaxing yet enjoyable fun, which as always proves to be the perfect way to relax after a long day at work. Actually, come to think of it I have another meeting in under an hour, so my working day isn't even done. If only I had a sea turtle tank to clean instead...

Monday, 19 July 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 3

With a somewhat uneasy truce forged between Maya and Fumiaki (and lets face it, it's hard to forge anything other than an uneasy truce when the other party keeps throwing things at you), it seems that there are already important happenings to be investigated in town, with rumours of a Tengu supposedly running riot via a spate of kidnappings.

Despite Maya's alleged hatred of the occult, she deems it necessary to investigate in case this is somehow tied in to Nostradamus' prophecies, alien invasions and the like, and thus orders Fumiaki to do his thing and investigate what is actually going on, Tengu or otherwise.

The trouble is, it seems that our Bunmei is having a rather tough time keeping his mind on the job, whether it's down to the lure of Chihiro's bosom, homesickness, a good curry or, more importantly, a good woman. In fact, it's the aforementioned curry which leads to the aforementioned woman; a girl named Mikaze who seems a little too good to be true - She's beautiful, she's cute, she's friendly, she says all the right things and (most importantly for me) she drives a brand new Porsche with the control of an old pro. Fumiaki certainly can't resist Mikaze's offer to show him around town, and so he effectively derelicts his duty, leaving Maya to do a little Tengu hunting of her own - A state of affairs which looks set to land her in a tight spot.

Ironically, you almost get the feeling that Fumiaki isn't the only one to forget about the Tengu problem, as you get the feeling that this instalment of Occult Academy has either forgotten or doesn't care about it too much either, instead making the most of the opportunities Fumiaki presents when it comes to injecting some humour into proceedings. To be fair though, this actually works pretty well - Although this episode isn't the height of hilarity it did get a fair few laughs out of me, and I can only hope that there's a little more hidden depth to this episode than first meets the eye; certainly, it's hard to believe that a waitress can afford a new Porsche. In a way, I'm actually pleased to see this series not taking itself too seriously, as I think it would have been the death of it - This bring and breezy demeanour which barely seems to care about its only major plot points is rather endearing in a series about the occult, and although it still runs the risk of becoming tiring I have to hold my hand up and admit that I still enjoyed this episode all things considered.

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 3

By the end of the previous episode of Highschool of the Dead we were already well aware that the current zombie apocalypse reached some way beyond the high school which has been its centrepiece thus far, but come the beginning of this episode we're quickly treated with a round the world view that shows that this particular "pandemic" (if that's what you wish to call it) is a global one. Apart from London of course, where order was restored thanks to the liberal use of Jammy Dodgers and Earl Grey.

Anyhow, this leaves our survivors within the school to decide on their next plan of action, where it's agreed that the best way forward is to check on their various families before finding a safe place to move to from there. On their way to the front gate and the school's car park, we meet another bunch of survivors but don't learn any of their names - This is zombie movie code for "don't get comfortable, you're just meat popsicles here". So it goes that one member of this group almost gets everyone killed by making a lot of noise clattering his weapon of choice around before biting (see what I did there?) the bullet himself, leaving the others to fight and run their way to the safety of the school coach. This sees yet another bunch of survivors appear, including a teacher named Shido who might as well have worn a tie with "Don't save me, I'm evil" embroidered on it - Sadly, he wears no such thing and thus he's allowed onto the coach, much to Rei's disgust.

It's this disgust that leads to Rei and Takashi being split up from the rest of the group after a simple argument is interrupted by the two things that this series has been lacking so far - Explosions and zombies on fire. This scenario leaves the aforementioned duo to make their own way into the centre of the city while the remainder continue by coach, hopefully leaving us with twice as much awesome fun to concentrate on next time around.

To be honest, I've probably covered the most pertinent point of this particular episode in terms of its quality - In case you missed it, this instalment includes big explosions and zombies on fire. That aside, Highschool of the Dead continues to do everything right within its limited scope, ramping up the tension where it can while still serving up intense bursts of zombie (or occasionally human) splattering action, before throwing in the requisite nasty guy who wants to take charge and topping the whole experience with one lingering underwear shot before everyone forgets about the fan service. All of this makes for a rip-roaring dollop of tense excitement that doesn't suffer in the slightest from its predictable characters, quite simply because when the world is turned on its head it doesn't matter if you're smart or dumb, fat or thin, nice or nasty - If you get caught, you're dead meat, pure and simple. It's that basic rule that makes this show so scintillating to watch... oh, and did I mention the zombies on fire?

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 16

After spending so many episodes concentrating on the pressure being put on East Tokyo United as a whole in the wake of five straight defeats, their return to winning ways sees such pressures be felt on a more individual level, as Sera feels the weight of goal-scoring expectations for the team upon his shoulders as Natsuki's return increases the pressure upon his solitary berth up front.

With only one goal all season, Sera's hunger for more goals is as understandable as its effect upon his confidence is notable, and we're soon thrust into another game against Yokohama as the clock ticks down with the game remaining goalless against an opposition that has effectively "parked the bus" in tactical terms - Two men marking playmaker Gino and a rough right for Sera on his own up-front means that a glut of goals are unlikely. In the end it's Murakoshi who pops up to blast home from a corner and make it a hat-tricks of wins on the trot for ETU, but despite the celebratory attitude on the coach back home Sera can't get into the party spirit as his goal drought continues, made worse by finding himself substituted again later in the game. Mind you, he isn't the only one having a rough time, as Tsubaki is once again plagued by his old demons after that winning performance against Nagoya a couple of games ago.

With a return to cup football and a match against Shimizu Pulse next up, Sera finds that his place in the first team is still intact (despite his fears to the contrary), but as the game progresses any hopes of a goal look even more remote with ETU on the back foot for much of the game. As is so often the case for a player who is down on his luck, it never rains but it pours for poor Sera - Just when he finally gets his chance to bear down on goal, so a cruel twist of fate robs him not only of a goal-scoring opportunity, but potentially his place in the starting eleven.

Perhaps its the lack of football for me to watch now the World Cup is over, but the past couple of weeks have found me enjoying Giant Killing even more than usual. Perhaps that's because, once again for this series, Sera's story feels very real to any football fan - A striker is a curious beast whose confidence feeds on goals, meaning that a single strike can turn into a sudden glut while a single game without hitting the back of the net can start a chain reaction which ends with the player's self-esteem in tatters. This is perhaps especially the case for a player like Sera - Acting as a lone striker is never easy, especially for a relatively diminutive and not hugely skilful player such as himself, and it can be a soul-sapping task ploughing a lone furrow within a team with few attacking options.

Still, aside from the tactical and psychological analysis, this was another good episode - I jumped out of my chair when Murakoshi scored as I remain drawn into watching ETU as though they're "my team", and sharing the joys and frustrations of both players and fans (and manager of course - It's interesting to see that Natsuki is perhaps the first player to "get" Tatsumi despite having worked with him for no time at all) has become a weekly pleasure of mine. I just hope when the new Premier League season rolls around I don't forget who I support and roll up at the Emirates Stadium chanting "ETU! ETU!"...

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Shiki - Episode 2

The opening episode of Shiki brought us the fall and fall of Megumi Shimizu, culminating in this young girl's death after a brief disappearance which occurs with no real explanation, be it medical or otherwise. Things aren't helped by the Shimizu family's staunch refusal to allow Megumi to be subjected to a post-mortem, leaving the village doctor to do little more than guess at her exact fate.

Of course, following this death a portion of episode two is filled with Megumi's funeral, an event which even the distant Natsuno attends despite his dislike for the village and its continual gossip and talking behind people's backs; a trait noted even by Megumi's friend Kaori who also attends the funeral.

With this incident dead and buried (sorry, bad joke), you might think that it's time to move onto pastures new, but not so as the death toll within the area simply keeps on rising, with our doctor and his monk friend counting seven deaths during a two-week period while the reality is that even more people have kicked the bucket during that spell. For most of these cases the symptoms been the same, with a supposed "summer cold" bringing about lethargy and tiredness before things suddenly take a turn for the worse before death ensues. But what is causing all of this? An epidemic seems like the obvious suspect, but given that this is a horror anime we're watching and not an episode of Casualty I think it's safe to say that we know rather better....

Given its twenty-two episode length, I suppose it's sensible for Shiki to take things slowly and keep us guessing, and it's certainly doing this so far - Aside from some decidedly odd snatches here and there we really haven't been exposed to anything much beyond that experienced by Doctor Ozaki so our guess is as good as his. Luckily the series so far is polished and well-delivered enough to get away with its sloth-like pace to build things up, although I have to confess that I hope it doesn't go on for too long - There's clearly a lot of potential for this series, and I'd like to see some of it revealed sooner rather than later, impatient bugger that I am.

HEROMAN - Episode 16

After all those episodes on the run from government agents, the previous instalment of HEROMAN saw things turn around for Joey and his over-sized toy of a protector courtesy of Agent Hughes' efforts, as he uses his ability to catch the President's ear to reveal that it's Doctor Minami rather than Heroman himself who is the real threat.

The trouble is, having orders from the President doesn't much help when you're dealing with a rogue element anyway, and thus Hughes' attempt to stop the on-going battle between Heroman and MR-1 is incredibly short-lived before Minami restarts his attack on his perceived enemy. Thankfully, this is actually rather good news for us, as it allows us to enjoy an entire episode of two giant robots knocking the proverbial stuffing out of one another.

While Hughes' efforts seem to have been in vain, the same can't be said for the intrepid female news reporter who has been looking for her scoop, as she appears on the scene just in time to see Doctor Minami and MR-1's attacks on Heroman as they move from the surrounding forest into the middle of a working dam. The rest pretty much writes itself from here, with said dam coming perilously close to being destroyed by Minami's concerted attacks with MR-1 with little concern for the potential human cost, while Heroman all but sacrifices himself by using his powers to stop the dam being destroyed rather than on defending his own person. Thus, the world learns that Heroman is just that, a hero, while the handy proximity of a huge hydro-electric plant gives our white giant all the power he needs to feed off to win the day. The story arc is over, justice is served, and we can now sit back and wait for the story arc that I think we've all already guessed.

Although I've spent episode after episode complaining about how this series was better when we were dealing with Skrugg invasion, I have to hand it to HEROMAN on this occasion - This was easily one of the best episodes yet. Sure, it was incredibly simple in its focus and subject matter (the aforementioned robot-on-robot action), but it was carried off with plenty of visual panache and in a manner which I couldn't help but enjoy to make for a genuinely satisfying instalment. When you find yourself cheering Heroman's victory come the end of it all, you know you've just been dragged into a storyline more than you perhaps would like to admit to.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Amagami SS - Episode 3

After making some pretty substantial progress in turning his relationship with Morishima around last episode, it's perhaps of no surprise to find Tachibana in extremely high spirits as this third instalment begins, with our protagonist having found a new lust for life - It's funny what love can do to a person, isn't it?

No, really, it's weird what love can do to a person; at least when that relationship is portrayed within Amagami SS anyway. So it goes that a chance meeting between Tachibana and Morishima ends with the latter agreeing to allow the former to kiss her, but only if he can find somewhere quiet and get her there without anyone spotting them. With this mission accomplished, Morishima insists that Tachibana can't kiss her on the lips, leaving him to choose a suitable alternative. Of course, at this point with his male mind running riot, Tachibana does what any guy would do and chooses..... behind her knee?

To be honest the entire endeavour takes a downward turn from here - First we have some attempt at making a guy kiss behind a girl's knee erotic (it really isn't in this scenario, it's just rather unintentionally hilarious), before Morishima's musings about how to handle her enthusiastic junior next ends with her jumping on him while making meowing sounds before being fed by him in the school cafeteria while re-enacting some kind of bizarre kidnap fantasy. It takes all sorts.

All of this actually makes it rather hard to get my thoughts about this series so far, and particularly this episode, straight in my head - It's an almost ludicrous slice of male wish fulfillment no matter how you slice it (and assuming you have a fetish for kissing the back of girl's knees... seriously, all those possibilities and you picked there Tachibana?!) and both its major characters at this juncture are clearly batshit crazy in all sorts of ways, but at the same time it's actually rather fun watching two mental people making eyes at one another in increasingly ridiculous ways, especially when it's helped along by some high production values and the fact that you can watch it while laughing and smiling while wondering if you'd ever really want to get involved in a relationship as downright odd as this one. I suppose there are worse life choices to make...

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 2

After giving us our reintroduction to Yoshika Miyafuji, and in turn reuniting her with Mori Sakamoto, everything was left well and truly in place come the end of Strike Witches 2's opening episode to set them back into action against the new-look and even more powerful Neuroi.

Well, whaddya know, that's exactly what we get here. Despite Sakamoto's original plan being to lay low and outrun the attacking Neuroi craft which has them in its sights, it soon becomes clear that this won't be possible as the navy become involved and prove to be little more than sitting ducks in the face of this alien power. With the nearest known Witches half an hour away, it's up to Sakamoto and Miyafuji to save the day, although it soon transpires that even this is going to be decidedly difficult due to a malfunction with the former's Striker unit.

However, this means that we do get to see the new, improved Miyafuji in action - In particular her awesome defensive powers, which allows her to buy time for just long enough for Sakamoto to make her appearance and win the day with her newly forged sword in a series of scenes which bore more than a little resemblance to Asuka's victory against the first Angel to appear in Evangelion 2.22.

So, the day is one... or is it? Just as we congratulate ourselves on a job well done, so we see this Neuroi regenerating before our very eyes, complete with a mobile core just to make things all the more difficult. As Miyafuji goes into battle once again, it appears as though she's reached her limit... just in time for the rest of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing to crop up, joining forces with our intrepid duo to kick alien ass and save the day. Hurrah!

After a pretty decent introduction to the series last week, this second episode of the show really benefited from being able to ramp up the action side of things, with plenty of laser beams, big explosions, magical swords and so on the order of the day. This reliance on action even meant that we didn't find ourselves overly saturated with fan service... at least until near the end of the episode where AIC seemed to try to make up for lost time by piling in as many crotch shots as humanly possible. Still, all of the ingredients seem to be in place for a pretty good series - Its fun, the pacing is just about right so far, and the presentation in terms of both soundtrack and visuals are bang on the mark. My earlier comment will undoubtedly be the only time I ever mention Evangelion 2.22 and Strike Witches 2 in comparative terms, so make the most of it, but by the same token that doesn't stop this effort from being a pretty fun little series so far.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 3

After a decidedly average start, Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi seemed to have found its feet with its second episode, but with each instalment taking in a different story the big question is whether or not it can keep up that improved standard this time around.

This third instalment brings us a good, old-fashioned love triangle of sorts, with Tarou Urashima finding himself caught between the attentions of two fierce rivals. On the one hand you have Otohime Ryuuguu, a girl who used to be fat, dumb and bullied (earning her the nickname of "turtle" in the process) before Tarou's advice and attention allowed her to blossom, and on the other we find Mimi Usami, a rather more dimiutive character who is no less feisty for her "loli"-esque stature.

The focal point for this rivalry soon becomes the school beauty contest (because of course, all schools have beauty contests, right?), with Otohime putting a request in to the Otogi Bank to help her win said contest; a request which turns into an all-out information war as the Bank on one side and Mimi on the other battle to slag one another off in public until they both end up having their names run through the mud (along with a few other individuals). Thus, neither party manages to achieve their goal of winning the beauty contest, but despite this perhaps there is still room for someone to have their heart one over....

Perhaps its because of the shift in focus away from Ryouko and Morino, but this episode really struggled to interest me at all - Neither of its major female characters were really that likeable at all (with Otohime only winning in those stakes because she used to be bullied), and the entire endeavour became altogether too self-referential as it indulged in throwing around the loli or tsundere status of its characters, which only served to reduce those characters to the tropes they have been based up. From all of this, I think it's becoming clear that this is going to be one of those hit-and-miss series which depends heavily on the content of each individual story arc; the previous episode proved that it has the potential to do well, but equally this instalment suggests that it's unlikely to be able to do so in a consistent manner. Indeed, even some of J.C. Staff's usual animation sparkle seemed to be missing here too, to leave us with a pretty lacklustre episode.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

K-ON!! - Episode 15

After a few episodes of summer fun and frolics, it's back to school for the light music club with K-ON!!'s fifteenth episode. Although, perhaps "physical punishment" would be a better description that school, as it appears that one of the first events to befall the entire institution is a school marathon.

That said, calling it a "marathon" is a little over the top considering it's only around a five kilometre road race, but still it isn't something that any of the light music club members are particularly looking forward to. While Mugi tries to prepare for the event with some rather odd cullinary concoctions to improve her stamina, Yui goes a more... well, Yui-esque preparation, largely involving upside-down weather dolls in the hope of bringing rain.

Of course, rain doesn't come or even appear to threaten at any point, and so the so-called marathon begins with most of the light music club taking up a decidedly sluggish pace, bolstered only by Mio's panic at the prospect of coming last and attracting unwanted attention. So it goes that we watch the girls (as well as the likes of Ui and Jun) running their various races, before perhaps the closest K-ON!! has ever come to drama as Yui goes missing before being found again and setting up a comic finish. Well, two comic finishes to be precise.

Perhaps I just wasn't in a K-ON!! frame of mind today, but I have to confess that this episode bored me rather aside from its amusing finishing line shenanigans - Even by this show's standards there really wasn't anything much for us to get our teeth into, and a result any comedy or even a sense of fun was a little lacking. Let's be honest, there isn't much humour to be derived from the whole marathon concept, and although this episode tried its best it just failed to capture my interest at any point. It's a rare misstep for the normally impeccably calculating K-ON!!, but that's really all I can call it on a personal level.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Katanagatari - Episode 7

Normally, you'd expect a series that's about to enter perhaps its most dramatic storyline yet to promote said story arc without giving too much away, keeping its powder dry and its cards close to its chest. Not so Katanagatari, which happily told us the crux of what was going to happen in this episode last month.

That said, this latest monthly instalment of the series begins with the welcome (or is it perhaps bad?) return of Shichika's sister Nanami - After seeing her terrifying abilities a few episodes back before she set off on her own journey, the Nanami we meet here seems to be all the more terrifying, completely destroying the village of Shireizan and all who reside there so that she can take hold of one of the deviant blades, Akutou Bita, safe in the knowledge that her possession of it will soon send her brother and Togame in her direction.

As it turns out, Shireizan wasn't the only target of her journey, as she holes herself up in a holy temple for swordsmen (which she also decimates the population of), while also later revealing herself to be responsible for wiping out the Itezora who we didn't meet last episode... because they were all dead but for one. There's little time for sympathy however, as brother and sister are thrown into a face-to-face battle, with Shichika seemingly having little chance against his sibling and her power to memorise and use any technique that she sees only once with no practice. With this in mind, and with Nanami's use of Akutou Bita negating her normal bodily weakness, Shichika is understandably left defeated and dejected, sending him into a spiral of depression until Togame snaps him out of it. Eventually, we're built up to a rematch between the two, where Togame's worth as a strategist finally seems to be proved while Nanami also gets what she wants in a climax that takes her to where we knew we were headed, but not without some big surprises and revelations along the way.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise that after Nanami stole the show back in episode four that she does so again here; indeed, she proves to be all the more fascinating in this episode as she bubbles throughout with undercurrents that make her difficult to read in absolute terms. She seems driven by demons, yet her only real determination is to be killed, and it's equally hard to pin-point whether possessing one of the supposedly corrupting deviant blades has actually changed her behaviour at all, especially when you consider the contradictory nature of the acts she's carried out in order to reach her final goal. Put simply, she's a fascinating character, and it's actually rather a shame to see her written out of it at this juncture when she could easily have illuminated this series to the end.

Thankfully it isn't all about Nanami however, and watching the growing understand between Shichika and Togame also proves to be great to watch (albeit more comical at times) - From a pairing that it was difficult to care much about initially, they now make for an easy target to get behind and cheer (or, rather, cheerio!). The combination of these elements make for what is easily the best episode of Katanagatari thus far - Its plot, script and dialogue were all sharp and well-paced, and the animation team also had funny by throwing in some video game spoofs to break things up a little early on. If only all of Katanagari had exhibited this sense of knowing what to with its craft, for this was an instalment which put on glittering show all of the expectations I had for the series as a whole - Expectations which, in some cases, I'd argue it shouldn't have taken seven episodes to meet.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 2

The end to Occult Academy's first episode ended with a naked man being beamed down from the sky, Terminator style (well, okay, it was a little less stylish with that) - Of course, that might seem unusual to you, but let me tell you it happens down here on the south coast of England all the time.

Anyway, Maya's reaction to said random naked guy was the expected and understandable one - Scream and run, and despite this nude man giving chase eventually she makes her safe escape. With that little oddity out of the way, Maya returns to her plan of taking over Waldstein Academy from her father as laid out in his will, so that she can run the whole thing into the ground and put an end to this crazy occult academy.

At least that was the plan until a new history teacher who goes by the (false) name of Abe Minoru shows up - A teacher who also happens to be a renowned spoon-bender as a child (Japan's Uri Geller if you will), and more importantly the guy that dropped out of the sky wearing nothing but a vague smile. Of course, this isn't the most happy reuniting of these two characters, but it does let us learn both Minoru's reason for appearing and who those futuristic looking figures at the start of the first episode are. In short, it all boils down to Nostradamus' prophecies (doesn't it always?) of the world coming to an end in 2012, which takes in an alien invasion and Abe travelling back through time to 1999 to try and prevent this cataclysmic event. Throw in a mobile phone that can take pictures and translate them into that object's appearance in 2012 (take that Eden of the East!), and you're pretty much up to speed.

With all of that backstory out of the way, the rest of this episode is really just an enjoyable romp to bring Maya and Minoru's goals into line, making the most of both the occult setting and Maya's violent tendencies to kick things into life. It has to be said that after not being entirely convinced by the first episode, I'm now absolutely in love with Maya's character - Never mind that white dress or having her running around in nothing but a towel, she's a hilarious bundle of contradictions that is brilliant to watch, largely on account of her ever-changing facial expressions which is set off perfectly by Minoru's own demeanour. Despite its rather "heavy" plot of impending apocalypse and hints of decidedly unfriendly factions at work, Occult Academy still seems determined to have fun with its setting, bringing about a few laughs in the process while also managing to actually put together the odd moment of classic horror "what's going to happen" tension.

So far so good then - This has been one of the most enjoyable episodes of a summer season show I've watched so far, and although it's early days I'm already feeling a little pleasing with myself for picking up on the Ghostbusters-esque vibe this show holds; I really hope it can keep up that blend of comic action as the series progresses.

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 2

After setting out its stall well and truly from its fast-paced opening instalment, things quieten down a little for episode two of Highschool of the Dead - Well, for ten minutes or so anyhow.

After concentrating largely on the short-lived love triangle between Rei, Takashi and Hisashi, the opening half of this episode spends a fair amount of time introducing us a little more to other characters. For starters, it pairs up self-confessed (and decidedly bossy) genius Takagi with lardy otaku Hirano, while elsewhere school nurse Marikawa spends most of the episode as a walking breast gag as she finds herself defended by kendo club champion Saeko Busujima. Throughout the episode we flit between these oddball pairings (as well as Takashi and Rei) as they try to compose their plans for escape and beyond, finding that they're all rather effective in their own unique ways.

It's once these three duets begin their dance with death that the real fun of this episode begins, with a sequence of brief but high intensity bursts of action that are exhilarating to watch while still managing to carry with them the tension of the wider situation as a whole - A tension which is suitably ramped up in spine-chilling fashion come the end of the episode, as it becomes crystal clear that simply escaping the school grounds isn't going to be enough to survive.

If the first episode grabbed my attention, dumped me on the edge of my seat and wouldn't let go, then this second instalment certainly managed to do likewise - Yes, it started a little slowly, and Marikawa's appearance threatened to drag the whole thing into farce for a minute or two, but as soon as Takagi and Hirano started rifling through the school workshop for weapons while Rei and Takashi put a fire hose to good use we knew what we were going to get, and we got it in spades. Indeed, the action came so thick and fast for the second half of the episode that there was barely time for any underwear shots, leaving us with pure, unadulterated and captivating zombie slashing action that made perfect use of its characters to complement and even accentuate that action. There's nothing smart or original about Highschool of the Dead, that much is clear - But when watching this intensely visceral experience is so breath-taking, who cares?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Seitokai Yakuindomo - Episode 2 (Dropped)

Seitokai Yakuindomo just about managed to redeem itself with its opening episode thanks to a mildly amusing sketch towards the end of that instalment - Does ending on a high note last time around mean that this improvement will continue into episode two?

The fact that this episode manages to squeeze in an early sanitary towel joke within two minutes suggests that no, it won't, and to be honest it only gets worse from that point forth. A member of the school asking the student council about creating a judo club ends up becoming a string of sex-related jokes, talk of studying for exams turns into a sex-related joke, receiving the results of those exams turns into a sex-related joke, comparing boxed lunches turns into a sex-related joke, even suffering from dry eyes turns into a sex-related joke. Can you see a pattern emerging here?

Unless moving on briefly to a joke about underwear counts differently, this second instalment of Seitokai Yakuindomo has proved absolutely what I suspected from the first - That this series is a one-trick pony. Much like I panned Mitsudomoe for beating its toilet humour and gross-out gags to death, so this series suffers the exact same fate by thinking that just mentioning sex a lot is funny. When suggestive humour is done subtly, or even via ridiculous wordplay Carry On... style it can be genuinely funny, but what we have here succeeds in neither. Instead what we get is a bunch of non-existence jokes that somehow become jokes by mentioning sex or vaginas or whatever at some point - This quickly becomes eye-rollingly tedious, and no number of decent voice actresses can save the whole thing from becoming incredibly boring. The thought of an anime season without any decent comedy leaves me in despair, but with Seitokai Yakuindomo hitting my list of dropped shows just as fast as Mitsudomoe did, that appears to be exactly what I'm left with.