Monday, 30 August 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 9

Although the house in which Maya used to live is about to be demolished (as we learn as this latest episode begins), there isn't much time allocated to worrying about such things as this instalment's featured lesson sees Chihiro giving a demonstration of summoning a spirit.

While the class decide upon the academy's former principle as their "victim" for this summoning (despite Maya's presence), when it comes to the crunch a rather different spirit emerges - that of a young, lost girl who is looking for her family home named Mayoi Hachikuji. Oops, sorry, wrong series... I meant a young girl named Akari.

Of course, you can't just have a ghost wandering around the place, so Maya and friends take it upon themselves to help Akari make it back to her home, except of course everything turns out to be far more complicated than that, as Akari turns into a full-on angry poltergeist and it emerges that she didn't exactly have the happiest and most caring of childhoods. The only solution to the problem is to find Akari's father and persuade him to intervene, but it looks as though this won't be a particularly simple task either...

Honestly, I don't know what's happened to the Occult Academy I've been watching so far all of a sudden, as all of the traits which have made it such an enjoyable series prior to this point have disappeared without a trace this week - you could almost say they've been spirited away. Aside from a couple of very brief moments, the humour that underpinned the entire show has vanished, replaced with a story which is suddenly taking itself far, far too seriously, which might not be so bad if the story was actually interesting and not a dull as dishwater sob story that is about as far from interesting as you can get. What's worse, this storyline is all set to roll-over into next week's instalment as well, which leaves me wondering what they're thinking at this point in time. Unless it proves to morph into something incredibly important next week this was a truly wasted episode and a huge disappointment in what has been a really enjoyable series so far.

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 9

While the fortuitous arrival of Takagi's mother has reprieved most of our bunch of feisty heigh school students from their fate, poor old Takashi and Saeko are left stranded from the rest of their party with little option other than to make their own way back to Takagi's home.

Realistically, I can't think of a better duo to be selected for this journey on-foot given their abilities, and indeed Takashi proves himself to be quite a smart thinker, stopping at a nearby motorcycle shop to find transport and provisions for them. Luckily for them this shop is stocking more than just bikes, and before we know it the two of them have a rather nifty little amphibious vehicle to make use of (available from all good bike shops in Japan, I guess), allowing them to make an escape via the river before later using the craft in a park fountain to distract nearby zombies. Some good thinking, that's for sure, although poor Saeko gets wet on numerous occasions throughout the episode in all of the connotations which the word suggests.

With just Takashi and Saeko left to their own devices, we get to learn some more about the latter, more precisely a little about what makes her tick. Despite her controlled and refined manner, it seems that Saeko is in fact a bit of a... well, psycho, enjoying the thrill of beating seven shades out of people with a wooden stick. Personally, I blame it all on video games. Anyhow, rather than admonishing Saeko's dark side, Takashi embraces and accepts it, allowing her to unleash her full ferocity on the zombies which surround them the next morning while also allowing Takashi to tick off another "route" towards his harem ending. Then again, I get the feeling that two-timing Saeko would bring us to an ending where that amphibious vehicle turns out to be rather a "nice boat", if you get my drift.

For reasons that I can't quite put a finger on, I didn't really enjoy this episode of Highschool of the Dead as much as I was expecting - perhaps I'd raised my own expectations too high for an episode of Takashi and Saeko kicking ass (and they did on a handful of brief occasions), but more likely I think I was just let down with regard to Saeko's revelations and the shift in dynamic of her relationship with Takashi. Our protagonist was right, Saeko was incredibly cool to watch in action and has been a pillar of the series from the very start, but it's exactly this which makes degrading her into a borderline psychopathic sexpot unable to think for or control herself so disappointing - it doesn't suit her, and it doesn't add a whole lot to the series as a whole when closing any distance between herself and Takashi could have been done in any number of more believable ways. I know "believable" doesn't sit well as a description of this series anyway, but regardless the developments of this instalment just didn't work for me.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 22

Yesterday afternoon, with 90 minutes already on the clock my local team AFC Bournemouth were 3-1 up at home against Notts County. Come the final whistle, the score was 3-3. If ever there was an advertisement as to why you should never give up and abandon a game for dead, that is surely it, and it's a lesson that East Tokyo United will undoubtedly have to put into practice here, as we rejoin them 2-0 down against Osaka Gunners at half-time.

Not surprisingly, the mood in the dressing room isn't the greatest, with Kuro looking liable to thump Sugi for failing to keep Kubota's talents in check - his anger does, however, spur the entire defence to take responsibility for their mistakes during the game so far, and hopefully in turn pushing them on to perform better still.

That said, after turning up for the half-time team talk late, Tatsumi doesn't seem too worried about the tactical aspects of the game beyond what he laid out to his players in training prior to the match - rather, his concern is that the players go out and "have fun". What could be more fun that turning around a 2-0 deficit to win? He certainly has a point, but will this really help the team? If nothing else it could serve to take the pressure off them and allow them a little more freedom to play to their potential, I suppose.

As the second half kicks off, Osaka go on the attack again immediately, with some obvious differences - Kuro now really seems to have Hauer under his belt, causing the Osaka forward to be increasingly frustrated, while Kubota is starting to have a rough time as Sugi gets more physical with the young, lightweight player to deny him the space and time he'd enjoyed previously. Even Gino is upping his game for the second half, although not everything is rosy in the ETU garden, with Natsuki looking decidedly ponderous and weighed down by his responsibilities in an attacking force which is decidedly lacking in communication.

I have to admit I'm not too convinced by Tatsumi's attempts at motivating his team on this particular occasion - telling a team to enjoy themselves is one thing, but not giving them any further reassurance seems like a dangerous game, seemingly made worse by his words to Natsuki before the match which are revealed at the end of this episode. Still, beyond that this episode certainly did the job when it came to raising the temperature and tension in a game that looked from the outside to be dead and buried for ETU while also giving us a little pleasure from seeing the team's central defence not only matching but outwitting their direct opponents at last, and next week will no doubt be where the magic really starts to happen. Let's face it, if there's one thing Giant Killing has done well throughout it's making me look forward to the next instalment, and this episode is no different in that regard.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Shiki - Episode 8

Following one of those ever-more frequent and somewhat highbrow conversations between Sunako and Muroi, episode eight of Shiki gets right down to the heart of recent matters, with Natsuno, Akira and Kaori getting down to the serious business of digging up Megumi's grave in their pursuit for the truth about the deaths occurring throughout the village.

In a sense, there's barely any need to dig up Megumi's coffin, as Kaori finds the present that she'd put in alongside Megumi's coffin at the time of her burial out in the open, but nonetheless they proceed and sure enough Megumi's coffin proves to be completely empty, thus confirming their fears about the "Risen".

In fact, that isn't all they should be fearful of, as Kaori finds herself dragged away from the scene by an unknown assailant, forcing Natsuno to come to the rescue via a solid shovel blow to the head. As it becomes clear that this attacker is not only dead, but was dead before he attacked Kaori, this only serves as further proof of their theory. Of course, at this point you might expect this trio to try and get some help, be it from adults or pretty much anybody else, but at this juncture they continue their investigations and planning alone - a decision which already looks to have put Natsuno in grave danger indeed, as a decidedly strange girl named Shizuka managed to get herself and her brother invited into his home...

This accelerating of (or, rather, sharpening focus on) the goings-on in the village as Natsuno et al finally unmask them almost unequivocally has certainly upped the pacing of the series, which has in turn increased the tension and feeling of threat surrounding the series from something rather vague into something decidedly more specific. This certainly makes the entire affair far more watchable, and hopefully this will continue to be the case now that things have gotten much more interesting. Shiki still isn't quite as "horrific" as I'd expect of its genre, but as long as it continues to warm up nicely my complaints about it thus far are slowly melting away.

Friday, 27 August 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 22

With their immediate enemy vanquished last week, episode twenty-two of HEROMAN finds a little time.... well, okay, plenty of time for teenage angst and worry in lieu of any major progress with its plot.

Most of this angst comes courtesy of Joey, who finds himself pondering the legacy of his father in light of his inability to save Psy from injury in their last confrontation. Thus, we finally get a full appraisal of how his father died after a mining accident where he saved all of his comrades at the sake of his own life. This seems like pretty cut and dried hero material in most people's book, but not for Holly who still seems to hate her father, giving this episode ample room to explore why she feels this way before resolving the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Lina is also feeling the weight of her worries upon her shoulders, not least regarding Will, who makes what he suggests is his final appearance to Lina for what seems like little more than another excuse to get in the way of any relationship between Lina and Joey, while also spilling the beans on the meeting between himself and Joey what seems like so long ago now.

While it's admittedly quite nice to explore these aspects of the show's back story, and it was all done pretty well and with the requisite amount of emotion, I can't help but think this wasn't really the best time to do it - with only four episodes to go now, it doesn't feel as if there's sufficient time to wrap everything up nicely, making this descent into "emo" behaviour for an entire episode seem a little wasteful. Hopefully I'm wrong and everything has been planned out impeccably, but after several weeks of episodes which have staunchly refused to join the dots I'm hungry for someone to take their pen and draw me the full picture. This appears to be all set up to occur next episode, so let's hope it isn't too little too late for the second half of this series.

Amagami SS - Episode 9

Now that Tachibana has had his wicked way with the back of Haruka's knee and Kaoru's belly button, it's time for another new story arc within Amagami SS, now complete with added narrator and fourth wall breakage as a result. Well, I guess if it's good enough for Ookami-san...

Anyhow, this latest arc begins with Tachibana spotting a girl in a school uniform other than his own establishments... or rather, he spots her chest - he is a teenager after all. When he loses his coin purse in a collision with Haruka (that girl just won't go away, will she?), it's this new girl who picks it up and shyly returns it to him before running from his further questioning.

Luckily for him, the girl is a new-found friend of his sister after transferring to their school, and thus he finally gets to introduce himself to her properly and find out her name; that being Sae Nakata. Thanks to a chance meeting involving a "scary" dog, Tachibana and Nakata end up sitting down at a nearby restaurant for a coffee, and when Sae mentions a desire to work part-time (largely on account of the cute uniforms sported at Kaoru's establishment), Tachibana takes it upon himself to help her find out about the job, and later train her up for the task. Needless to say, such training doesn't exactly go very well with comical consequences, as it appears that the insipid Sae even struggles with normal every day tasks such as breathing and putting one foot in front of the other.

If you haven't just noticed from that last sentence, I don't like Sae Nakata. At all. In fact, she's probably my most hated anime character stereotype, the two-dimensional female equivalent of fingernails on a chalk board. So, her introduction isn't exactly a good start to this story arc. Even attempting to put these feelings to one side for a moment, I can't find anything to like about this episode - Amigami SS' attempt at deploying a narrator is also incredibly annoying and unimaginative (if they really did steal the idea from Ookami-san then they obviously weren't paying much attention to why it succeeds within that series), and while Tachibana is pretty much an okay guy in this episode he hardly stands out from the crowd himself.

Overall, I get the feeling I'm not going to enjoy this story arc very much....

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 9

From being the one doing all of the helping throughout much of this series so far, it's time for Ringo's own issues to take centre stage for episode nine of Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi.

Ringo's specific problem appears to be with a girl named Himeno Shirayuki (the winner of the beauty contest earlier in the series, incidentally) and her seven dwarves... wait, not dwarves, what do they call those little people that wander around everywhere? Ahh yes, children. So, despite Himeno requesting that the Otogi Bank babysit her seven siblings while she goes out to work, and more specifically requesting Ringo to do this, Ringo instead leaves it to Morino and Ryouko to do while watching from afar in a state of agitation.

Of course, we soon come to learn the reason for this; a complicated family affair involving Ringo and Himeno's parents that effectively stripped the latter of her home, her father and his relative wealth. This has left Ringo filled with guilt ever since, to the point where she simply can't speak to her step-sister no matter how hard she tries, and despite Himeno trying to get the ball rolling herself.

Never mind all that though, this story only seems to serve mostly as a good reason to shoehorn in a swimming pool episode and the swimsuits that it brings in its wake, leaving us with much of this instalment's second half making the most of that before bringing Ringo in to save the day when Himeno almost drowns. So, that particular pairing lives happily ever after, and Ringo even does her bit to ensure her step-sister's future education.

While I was actually quite pleased to see Ringo take centre stage at last within this series, come the end of the episode I was left wonder whether they should actually have bothered - this was a pretty lifeless episode that never really had any feelings of emotion or fun, and by the end of it all I really couldn't have cared less what happened. As per usual with this series the show's narrator was the only real source of entertainment, papering over the gaping cracks in what was otherwise an extremely mediocre episode.

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 8

After all of the nonsense of the last episode of Strike Witches 2, we were certainly due some more serious fare from episode eight of the series and as soon as it became clear that we were skipping the normal opening credits it seemed that those prayers were answered and that this latest instalment would deliver.

The episode begins with Sakamoto practicing her Reppuzan; a practice session which Miyafuji walks in on and pleads to be taught this ability for herself in the hope that it would shorten the war against the Neuroi. Unsurprisingly, Sakamoto refuses on account of Yoshika's lack of experience, leaving her more than a little disheartened.

Despite Miyafuji getting herself back together with a renewed determination to do her best, she soon runs into an even bigger problem - Although her magical and healing powers seem to be as strong as ever, she's having more and more difficulty actually flying. Once this becomes clear during a practice session, Miyafuji is grounded until further notice, and with no problems with her either physical health or her Striker Unit nobody is sure quite where to turn next.

Of course, in these situations it never rains but it pours, and next thing we know the battleship Yamato is radioing in and reporting injuries after an explosion. Lynette and Yoshika volunteer their services, with the former having just about enough power to fly out to tend to the wounded, but when a Neuroi attack inevitably rears its head Miyafuji can't even take over, leaving Lynnete to handle it alone while the naval fleet escapes.

At this point, enter a rather hefty deus ex machina - A brand new prototype Striker Unit, created with the help of the letter received by Yoshika at the start of the series, and one which just so happens to be able to handle Miyafuji's burgeoning magical powers. So, Miyafuji saves Miss Bishop, destroys the Neuroi violently, and proves to be anything but the rookie Sakamoto made her out to be. Hurrah!

I suppose anything must seem like a vast improvement over the last episode, but if you can forgive that aforementioned deus ex machina then this was really a rather good episode which did a good job of portraying Miyafuji's emotional turmoil as her flying abilities dwindled and left her unable to help anybody before her magnificent return. Throw in some well-realised action scenes (although the CG is still a little too obvious a lot of the time) and a feel-good ending, and you have an instalment of Strike Witches 2 that stands out amongst some of the "fluffier" instalments its delivered of late.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

K-ON!! - Episode 21

With their last ever school festival performance out of the way, odd goings-on are at large as K-ON!! enters its twenty-first episode. For starters, Yui is certainly incredibly worried about her hairstyle, and then there's Azusa who simply can't stop spacing out...

While the latter's problem is simply a lack of post-festival motivation, the former's issue is even more easily explained. In short, it's nearly time for the older girls of the light music club to have their yearbook photos taken, and in typical girly fashion this has everybody worried about their looks. It's Yui in particular who is concerned however, having failed to "get it right" for previous yearbook photos during her school life so far.

Thus, we're treated to an episode of seeing Yui sport a number of different hairstyles (without mentioning Ui doing her spot-on Yui impression once again), before deciding that her bangs are too long and trying to shorten them by cutting her own hair in the club room... the rest probably writes itself on that front.

Away from all of the barnet shenanigans, Mio also makes a decision about her future education after leaving high school - a decision which isn't particularly surprising all things considered, although it does mean that the possibility of a third season of K-ON has just tripled. Would KyoAni really dare to take this series to a university setting?

Anyhow, it goes without saying that this episode didn't have a hope of topping last week's incredibly emotional instalment, so thankfully it doesn't even try - aside from Mio's change of plans which might have elicited a little "awww" from some, this episode seemed mostly concerned simply with being as funny as possible, which it managed to do a pretty darn good job of. K-ON isn't always exactly a regular laugh out loud franchise, but this instalment managed to coax laughter out of me on a number of occasions - indeed, I'm wondering if Yui's hair couldn't successfully navigate a comedy anime series all on its own, although some of her one-liners were well worth the price of entry too. All in all, it was actually quite nice to see the series getting back to being fun after going all tear-eyed on us last week, although it will still be interesting to see how it holds up as we move on towards the show's inevitable climax.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 8

After the slap-o-rama which added some surprising emotion to an episode which seemed like little more than light-hearted fluff, things still haven't returned to normal between Ami and Maya as episode eight of Occult Academy kicks off, with the two of them continuing to ignore one another at school the following day.

Things only look set to get worse when Ami invites Maya rather coldly to meet her at a nearby shrine after school, an appointment that the latter almost misses as her focus turns to something rather troubling - for all of the attention to detail lavished by Ami's father upon his little trick last episode, surely he didn't go to the trouble of mutilating an entire herd of cattle? Further investigation reveals that the blood has been sucked from all of these beasts, and we soon discover by who as a bunch of little green men appear on the scene to kidnap Ami and whisk her away.

However, these are no aliens but rather chupacabras, a fact which Maya of course knows without a second thought. After informing Ami's dad, a crack squad featuring said father, Maya, Kozue, Fumiaki and Smile are formed to deal with the problem.... except they don't actually know where they're going. Thank heavens then for JK and those trusty divining rods, which also turn out to be pretty handy at being down chupacabras, as the whole affair turns into something of an action movie leading up to Ami's rescue before dumping us into a muddy puddle of conspiracy as the episode comes to a close.

While it looked as though this episode was going to play things straight for quite a while this week, I should have known better than to be lulled into that false sense of security, as the brief and knowing training montage was followed by that wonderfully funny moment where Ami's father realises he has no idea where he's actually going to rescue his daughter. Throw in some actually pretty stylish action, and another great moment which happily pokes fun at its own predictable dialogue and how it fits into pop culture, and you have another wildly entertaining episode. It still doesn't bring us much closer to the central plot of the series if we're honest, but once again when it's this fun to watch then who cares?

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 8

Never mind our hardy bunch of high school students, surely there is little hope of survival for them when even the President of the United States is doomed, with Air Force One over-ridden with zombies and the President himself bitten. Add to that the talk of nuclear weapons and things don't look too pretty at all.

By contrast, our group of heroes and heroines are in high spirits as we join them the morning after the night before (what, no hangovers girls?), even finding the time to change clothes after crossing the river courtesy of that oh-so handy Humvee. Even better, there doesn't appear to be a zombie in sight as they make their way towards the first port of call, that being Takagi's house. With the sun shining and the cherry blossom falling, it seems like a beautiful, quiet day out on the streets... until they run into the inevitable massed horde of zombies that is.

From this point onwards things go from bad to worse, with some unexpected wire fencing putting an end to the Humvee's journey and unceremoniously spilling Rei onto the asphalt, leaving her at the mercy of said zombies. Takashi is quick to step up to the task of protecting her, complete with shotgun, but when the bullets run out it's up to the rest of the crew to do their bit - Hirano is naturally well prepared while Saeko always seems happy to lend a hand (not to mention a wooden sword), and even Takagi has a part to play. This all seems to be in vein however as their enemies are simply too numerous to count, leaving Takashi and Saeko to take desperate measures before another rescuer appears out of the blue to do the job for them - not before they find themselves stranded from safety and the rest of the group however...

While the previous episode of Highschool of the Dead mismatched its blend of action and fan service in my mind, this episode managed to restore the balance largely by making the entire second half of the episode a slug-fest of gunning down zombies in a way that held plenty of tension and impending doom while still finding time for feats of impossible fan service (breasts can't do that Saeko, they just can't). Yes, it's utterly ridiculous (not to mention a decade too late) in its use of bullet time before throwing in a last moment saviour out of the blue, but it's fun and it's tense which is exactly what the series is aiming for. Given that it achieves those goals, this time around I was quite happy to give the bouncing, rolling, rippling breasts a free pass again despite their physically impossible feats.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 21

It goes without saying that ETU's game against Osaka Gunners was never going to be easy, but the last episode left us with the home side suffering a hammer blow before we even reach the half-way point in the first half as Hauer soared above Kuro to head his side into the lead. Of course, wild celebrations follow, although they're a little too wild for Hauer, who is more concerned by the prospect of having his hair messed up.

Despite conceding this relatively early goal, thankfully the heads of the ETU player's don't drop, and after a few brief apologies, recriminations and half-hearted words of encouragement, the team kick off again with the same determination that they brought into the game. However, determination alone simply won't cut it, and with Gino still unable to find his form East Tokyo United look as unlikely as ever at carving out a scoring opportunity of their own, while the attacking threat from their opponents is always present.

As the game progresses it soon becomes clear to those watching just why Osaka Gunners are such an attacking threat, and that threat hinges to a large degree around young Kubota, who always seems to be on hand to clean up loose balls and use them intelligently to launch attack after attack, keeping the opposition under pressure until they can't soak it up any longer and crack sooner or later. At this point we learn that Kubota actually started out as a defensive midfielder; an odd choice of position given his abilities and build, but it has clearly allowed him to get a superb insight into how to read the game as it unfolds around him - now he occupies a more attacking role, this learned ability meshes perfectly with his instinctive skill and passing to make him a dangerous playmaker indeed. It isn't just creating goals that he's good at either... when the opportunity presents itself he can also score them too, as he demonstrates ably by scoring Osaka's second goal to leave East Tokyo United in big trouble with less than ten minutes left to go in the first half.

As per the last episode, this instalment is played out almost in real-time, taking us up to the half-way point in the game. This luxurious sense of timekeeping does threaten to become a little too pedestrian at times, but as always it manages to be strangely fascinating once it gets a player in its spotlight (even though I still can't get my head around anybody ever playing Kubota as a defensive midfielder), while at the same time refusing to lose sight of the bigger picture as it also finds time to look at the game and team performances as a whole.

As drama goes, putting our favourite team 2-0 down is going to require some serious faith and ability to turn things around, but the beauty of football is that even with ETU seemingly on a hiding to nothing there's nothing implausible about still holding out hope that they can come back to draw or even win the game. Just ask Fulham today - 2-1 down and having conceded a penalty, they ended up with a 2-2 draw against Manchester United. Just one example of the surprises that the beautiful game can throw up.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Shiki - Episode 7

Although it may seem like a flight of fancy to some, Natsuno's growing conviction that the spate of deaths surrounding the village is down to the "Risen" coupled with the strange Kanemasa mansion is starting to take hold with others; not just village doctor Ozaki, but also Kaori and Akira, who Natsuno finds staking out said house - it's a good job he does too, as he clearly isn't the only one watching them...

After explaining his thoughts to this pair, he convinces them that there's only one way to know for sure what is going on - to dig up Megumi's grave, a rather unsavoury prospect but one that all three agree to go along with, although as the time to carry this out draws nearer so Kaori's doubts grow ever larger. Meanwhile, Doctor Azaki is conducting his own tests on his theory, keeping a sick patient at his clinic where he can watch her day and night and perhaps even catch the "enemy" red-handed.

That aside, this episode also sees the return of Masao (sadly), who finds himself buried alive in his own coffin, which probably isn't the most pleasant experience to wake up too. It isn't too long however before he's dug up, at which point he learns that he has become a vampire himself. For all of its benefits (not being dead is always a good start), there are of course drawbacks, not least the need to drink human blood, which sees Masao meeting an early test of his staying power in his new, "improved" form.

So, things are certainly picking up the pace now seven episodes in to Shiki, yet it still doesn't really seem to be doing a good job of getting under my skin in any discernible way. Sure, it has content which could be deemed horrific in this episode, be it the thought of having to kill a child for its blood to survive or being buried "alive" in a coffin, but there's no real impact to these scenes that I can discern - they "just happen" and I can't find myself feeling anything much about it. It probably doesn't help that the victim of these terrible moments is the incredibly unlike-able Masao; maybe the impact would have been stronger had we seen a different character go through these new rites of passage? As it is though, Shiki is still failing to grab me and get its teeth into me (with every pun intended) as I was hoping and expecting it would.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Amagami SS - Episode 8

It's time for another of Amagami SS' story arcs to come to a close this episode, which in turn means that it's hardly a spoiler to point out that this is the episode where Tachibana and Kaoru finally get together.

This all happens surprisingly easily (by anime standards, at least); although a couple of their mutual friends do their bit to get the pair of them together, it turns out that Kaoru has already made her decision that she wants to spend her Christmas Eve with Tachibana... not that she seemed to have thought about telling him until he makes a ham-fisted attempt to ask her out on a date himself.

With a date all arranged, the whole thing pretty much turns into the two of them hanging out as per usual, aside from Tachibana's worries as he gets a glimpse of the huge erection that Kaoru wanted to show him (get your minds out of the gutter, people). Of course, no romance-based anime would be complete without a confession of love in monologue form, and so the normally tomboy-ish Kaoru shows her softer, more feminine side in confessing her love before Tachibana reciprocates. Thus, they all live happily ever after, and our protagonist even gets to spend the night with Kaoru, although sadly we don't get to see what her hair looks like in the more, which I was genuinely a little curious about.

After ending up kind of irked by Amagami SS' first arc, largely because Haruka was clearly crazy in the coconut, this second arc of the series certainly sat a little more easily with me simply because I actually liked Kaoru - she was fun, but not in a deranged way, and her dynamic with Tachibana made far, far more sense than Haruka's ever did. Unfortunately, it's perhaps the natural feel to this pairing that also made it rather vanilla - the drama injected into the story fell pretty flat and was forgotten quickly even by the story itself, and the climax to the arc as a whole was just very... normal. For a guy who was licking this girl's belly button in a public library a couple of weeks ago, a quiet and sane confession of love feels a little odd, but oh well, this arc was still an improvement even if it proved to be unspectacular.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 21

First Professor Denton, and now Holly; it seems as though the mysterious series of abductions which kicked off HEROMAN's current story arc are driving ever closer to home for Joey.

Naturally, the disappearance of his sister has left Joey in a fair amount of turmoil, to the point where he is even beginning to consider whether Will really is involved with what is going on. Surprisingly, it's Psy who backs Will, assuring Joey that he'd never be involved in such a thing, which in turn finally leads us to the tale of why Psy carries the leg injury which he does as well as why there was so much friction between himself and Will in the past. Needless to say, it's not quite what we were expecting to hear.

Thankfully for all involved, a breakthrough finally occurs when Joey stumbles across the soil samples which Professor Denton was collecting - samples which (thanks to some analysis by the NIA) quickly lead to the culprit's hideout. Joey, Psy and Heroman are sent inside to explore the mine while the NIA forces wait outside, leaving the three of them to discover what can only be described as some kind of Skrugg "hive", complete with a pair of rather tricky "security guards" which need to be dealt with. Of course, Heroman and company prevail in the end, and both Denton and Holly are rescued (along with the rest of the abductees), but it looks like that's nowhere near the end of the story...

Certainly, after a few pretty weak episodes it was nice to return to something with a bit more focus and substance, although in a way this actually felt rather rushed after spending so long on inconsequential things in recent weeks. Of course, by this juncture I wouldn't expect HEROMAN's action and plot to be anything other than pretty generic, but it works well enough while also holding back enough intrigue and mystery to keep the broader plot point ticking over nicely as we move inexorably towards the end of the series. The pieces are increasingly falling into place for a half-decent finish to the show, so let's just hope it can deliver.

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 8

As something of a "two for the price of one" affair, the main body of Ookami-san's eighth episode is sandwiched between a faux movie starring Morino, Ryouko and Ringo (and how, in the case of the latter two...) as they do battle against three "pigs" with a predilection for Twister and ending sentences stupidly. As per usual, it's the narrator who makes the whole thing just that bit more amusing and worthwhile... well, that and Ryouko and Ringo towards the end of this brief aside in a moment that will doubtless fire the imagination of numerous doujinshi authors.

Away from all of that, the main thrust of this episode's story is a job for the Otogi Bank requested by one Chuutarou Nezumi - A young old heir to a housing conglomerate and an all-round slightly annoying rich kid, who is trying to stick to the family tradition of having a marriage arranged by the time he turns twelve. Thus, the Otogi Bank as agreed to help him try and find a suitable bride.

This is a pretty tough ask as it is, and although Chuutarou himself seems easily pleased with pretty much any girl pointed out to him (hmm, I've already used up my John Terry joke quota for today, haven't I?) his butler (whose first name is Sebastian naturally) invariably finds some kind of hidden problem to these otherwise wonderful girls, normally managing to insult them in the process. It seems that even the girls of Toradora and To Aru Kagaku no Railgun aren't good enough for this particular heir, much to the relief of otaku everywhere no doubt.

Of course, in true fairy tale style Chuutarou's perfect girl ends up having been right in front of him all along, and they all live happily ever after and so on, although not before all of the spurned girls demand their share of cake from an increasingly hard up Otogi Bank president.

While part of me is disappointed that we've gone another episode without any further opportunity to delve deeper in Ryouko's character and her relationship with Morino, this episode was pretty amusing without being spectacular, and somehow managed to keep going even when the conversation delved into the subject of breasts for quite some time. If nothing else, this series does at least keep ticking over thanks to the narrator's quips and the odd decent one-liners or moments of dialogue when an episode could otherwise make it falter. Despite my hopes that this series isn't dead and buried in the pile labelled "mediocre" just yet, it certainly isn't going to gain itself classic status.

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 7

Given the fact that the original series of the already daft Strike Witches chose episode seven for its most fan service-laden instalment, and judging by its preview last week, I was very much expecting a similar ride for this seventh episode of Strike Witches 2. Along those lines I certainly wasn't disappointed. No, wait, I was disappointed - Indeed, this episode managing to top even its predecessor from the first series in terms of cobbling together a ridiculous plot.

The whole problem starts courtesy of Lucchini doing a little bit of early morning bug hunting outside, which includes her discovering a rather unusual and shiny little critter which she adds to her jar of goodies. Of course, this "bug" can only be one thing, and so it's no surprise when it escapes and starts tripping out the power all around the building.

What is surprising, and in fact makes no sense at all, is that this Neuroi bug also seems to have a predilection for crawling into the pants of any girl it can find, making it this show's equivalent of John Terry I suppose. Anyhow, this incredibly stupid plot point (coupled with a newly opened bath) serves as little more than an excuse for the girls to take their pants off a lot. Hurrah, I guess.

There really isn't anything more to be said about this episode - It was stupid (dare I say it was pants?), but if you watch this show for the fan service then you'll doubtless be delighted. If you're watching for the plot instead then... well, you probably shouldn't be watching Strike Witches 2 solely for its plot, but you'll be summarily disappointed anyway.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets - Highschool of the Dead

An anime which is simply but efficiently focused on entertaining the masses with boobs and blood arguably needs a similarly positioned opening theme, and as fitting tracks go Kishida Kyoudan & The Akeboshi Rockets' eponymous opening single fits the bill - It's simple, ear catching (and indeed catchy) and with sufficient pace and energy to match the action quotiant of the series it accompanies.

Stretched out into its full-blown form, Highschool of the Dead goes find itself with more opportunities to take a breather from its usual energetic blend of guitars, drums and insistent lyrics, but never lets up the pace too often, instead relentless following its own simple calls with surprisingly effective results. I have to confess that I wasn't a huge fan of the song in its TV-sized form (also thankfully present on the single alongside instrumental versions of both A and B-sides) the first time I heard it, but repeated listens have softened me to its approach to the point where it frequently gets stuck in my head for no particular reason. As soundtracks for driving like a mad person go, it does a pretty good job; I imagine listening to it while riding a Humvee dressed in only an apron would probably make it even more appreciable.

To be honest there's little real let-up between this titular song and its B-side, Ripple - If it weren't for the few seconds of silent between the two tracks, you'd be in danger of barely noticing they were different songs at all, so similar is the tone and treatment afforded it. Luckily, this means that if you like the mainstay of the single then you'll probably enjoy this just as much - if anything, it's a slightly more consistent song in its flow and application, even if it doesn't stick in the brain quite as easily.

While some opening and ending themes are a disappointment when strung out beyond those golden and oh-so precious ninety seconds, luckily Highschool of the Dead isn't one of them. Assuming you like the song as seen in the anime, chances are you'll find little to complain about once said song is extended to its three-and-a-half-minute duration.

K-ON!! - Episode 20

Remember how I've complained in the past about how K-ON has always had a habit of depriving us of the action whenever it has come to the band's concerts and school festivals, preferring instead to focus on the build-up to and aftermath of those concerts? Not this time - at long last, this franchise has nailed the importance of live performances to the show's entire raison d'être... and how.

What this means is that this entire episode focuses on Ho-kago Tea Time's latest school culture festival performance, giving us only a brief glimpse of those final last minute preparations before the girls go out on stage and pick up their instruments. It's as the curtain rises on the band that we realise this isn't "just another concert", as we look out upon a sea of students all wearing HTT t-shirts just like the girls themselves - a beautiful moment of celebration which catches in the throats of not just the band members, but also the viewer if my reaction is anything to go by.

Recovering from that surprise, we eventually launch into the concert itself, a blend of new songs (two to be precise, or three if you count the sound of cash registers across Japan once the singles are released) and the kind of goofy stage banter which only Yui and company could pull off, complete with ever-more meandering tangents and shouts from the audience. Indeed, the audience is a key part of this concert experience which adds hugely to the atmosphere of the episode - be it the camera flashes, cheering or mobile phones used as impromptu glow sticks, you're never allowed to forget that this event is something special, a memory that you would expect to stick in the hearts of all those present.

It's only once the whole thing is over though that the truth quietly, slowly dawns on both viewer and band member... for all bar Azusa that was it, the end of a three-year journey that sometimes sped by so fast you can barely remember anything about it other than the fact that it was a whole lot of fun. The realisation that these days can't and won't last forever ends, inevitably, in tears; a bitter-sweet blend of joy and sadness that is poignantly, beautifully and (perhaps most importantly) realistically realised.

As emotional moments in anime goes, this has to rank up there amongst the most masterful - a climax to an episode which was built up slowly, carefully and deliberately by allowing us to soak up the atmosphere and the sensations of the moments depicted while also looking over its shoulder at the time and memories gone by. Our heads filled with this heady mixture of nostalgia and wonder, we're given just enough time for those thoughts to sink in before the killer blow comes - those moments are gone, and we can never truly relive them again (because you know watching this episode or even this series a second time again won't feel the same). It made me cry... it's still making me cry; it was an episode that moved me as much as it entertained me while reminding my brain of similar moments in my own life - those school leaving parties which started out as celebration but ended in tears, hugs and a ridiculous determination not to let that part of your life ever end, with the light music club girls holding up a mirror to my own feelings on those occasions. To do this in such a believable and evocative way is not far short of genius - if you thought that K-ON was a pointless show about a whole lot of nothing, this is the episode that proved you wrong.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Katanagatari - Episode 8

The beginning of Katanagatari's eighth instalment sees us pay a visit to Owari, the homeland of the Yanari Shogun, and also the home of one horribly overblown and garish mansion. Just make sure you don't mention that fact to Togame though....

That aside, Togame and Shichika arrive at Owari to pay a visit to Princess Hitei - We already know how much these two females despise one another, but to call the often petty rivalry between the two of them "bitchiness" would be to put it mildly. Still, Hitei does have some information which Togame most certainly needs; namely the location of another of the Perfect Deviant Blades, Bitou Kanzashi, which is supposedly located at the site of Shikizaki Kiki's workshop at Lake Fuyou in Edo. This isn't exactly an ideal destination for business or pleasure, which this lake currently existing as little more than a wasteland, while it's also supposedly watched over by a guardian monster known as Biyorigou.

Once Hitei's ninja turned butler Emonzaemon has led the way (and left Togame and Shichika to their own designs as he pursues his own orders, facing off against another of the Maniwa ninjas), it's time to go looking for the next sword of interest, and it doesn't take long to find it - of course, Biyorigou itself turns out to be the Deviant Blade they seek, functioning as a wonderful kind of robot doll-cum-sword. From here, much of the rest of the episode deals with Togame's formulation of a strategy to defeat Bitou Kanzashi - A process that reveals new depths both to Shichika and his feelings for Togame, while also providing us with what is by a million miles the best fight sequences seen in this series thus far.

Indeed, "best thus far" could sum up a lot of aspects of this particular episode of Katanagatari. From those clumsy and dialogue-heavy early episodes, all of those wordy conversation are now put to far better use, be it for a touch of comedy or revelling in the obvious affection between Togame and Shichika. The plot also feels far stronger now that its handful of factions have been given time to breathe and grow without giving away too much about their motives or final game plans, thus making the whole sword hunt far more compelling than it seemed earlier in the series. Then there's the action, which has all too often been given second billing to other elements of the series in the past, but here the fantastically designed Bitou Kanzashi is done full justice as Shichika fights against it in some brilliantly realised scenes. If only this kind of care and attention had been afforded this series from episode one, it could well have been some kind of absolute classic - As it is, this slow-burning monthly series has turned from a bit of a drag into a potentially sparkling gem which will be made or broken by the next few episodes I would wager. If this instalment is anything to go by however, I can't wait to see what it brings us next.

Occult Academy - Episode 7

A chance meeting between Maya and Ami's father frames and sets up this seventh episode of Occult Academy - A man who remembers the occult-loving Maya of her youth who is more than a little shocked to see this "new-look" Maya who at best has no interest in matters of the occult.

We too get some glimpses into Maya's past as an occult fanatic during this episode - later in the instalment via flashback and, just notably, as Maya and Kozue hang out at Ami's house where she unveils some of Maya's old notebooks, talking of future trips to Loch Ness and the like.

However, these festivities are interrupted by news of a mysterious circle (a crop circle if you'd rather) which has mysteriously appeared overnight - A revelation that (to the eyes of Ami's father) has re-awakened the occult lover in Maya, whereas in reality she's more interested in helping Fumiaki uncover Nostradamus' Key. So, Ami's dad helps Maya to stake out the "mystery circle" that night, which turns into an all-out UFO chase with cattle mutilation and all. Unsurprisingly, this "UFO" isn't what it first seems, a fact which leads to an almighty falling out between Ami and Maya which looks set to reverberate into the next episode.

While this episode suffered from being overly predictable, with a twist in the tale you could see coming a mile off, and arguably bordering on filler, it still made the most of the subtly changing yet still hostile relationship between Maya and Fumiaki, while also reminding us how brilliant it is at being utterly daft to the point of hilarity, mostly when JK was on-screen and particularly when he shared that screen time with pudding to any degree. Yes, this was a pretty week episode of Occult Academy by its own standard, but it still got a lot more laughs out of me than other more focused comedy efforts this season.

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 7

After taking a fair bit of time out to concentrate on its fan service elements last time around, episode seven of Highschool of the Dead... well, carries right on with the fan service and all-round lack of clothing.

Once both ourselves and the series manage to drag their gaze from our sleeping (and wide-awake) beauties however, we're once again greeted with the harsh realities of this new, post-apocalyptic world; a place where the thought of saving others is akin to suicide, and where nobody is willing to take a chance on assisting another. This is graphically illustrated via a surviving man and his daughter, with the former banging on a door and shouting for help, if only for his little girl, only to find himself stabbed by the home's terrified occupants.

However, our bunch of heroes and heroines haven't completely lost their humanity just yet, and thus a plot is hatched to save the surviving girl from the zombie hordes. Cue Hirano's precision with a sniper rifle, Takashi's bravery which borders upon stupidity (and his handy abilities with a bike) and a Humvee full of half-naked girls to save the day and make their break from the "safe house" they had been using.

While I've broadly accepted the levels and frequency of fan service throughout this series so far, I have to confess that this felt like the closest Highschool of the Dead had got to getting the balance wrong, coming dangerously close to (and perhaps even crossing) the line where the action and tension of the series was dissipated or otherwise dampened by opting for a dose of fan service and/or comedy. Perhaps the worst example of that is Takashi's audacious attempt to rescue the little girl by walking precariously along the tops of available walls to avoid the zombies - the whole "I need to pee" routine complete breaks the tension here in what was a broadly nerve-inducing moment, and it's something which happens a little too often this time around for my liking.

Still, that gripe aside the action we did get was as over-the-top yet awesome as ever, and you can never say no to the introduction of a MELL insert song, right? Hopefully we'll be seeing more of both of those elements next week, and less of the bouncing boobs and nose bleeds encroaching upon it.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 20

While my Sunday afternoon was spent watching Arsenal's abject performance in their opening Premier League game against Liverpool, on more than one occasion my thoughts turned to one simple fact - "You know, I could be watching Giant Killing right now"... Perhaps those thoughts were well-founded too, as Osaka Gunners certainly look more dangerous than my own beloved Gunners...

Anyhow, this episode finally sees the kick-off of ETU's big match, and unsurprisingly Tatsumi's men find themselves on the defensive straight away given their opponents attacking outlook. As the game starts we also see that Tatsumi has made some interesting decisions when it comes to his team's man marking instructions, not least in pairing the physical but relatively diminutive Kuroda against the far taller and heftier Hauer. Elsewhere, Kiyokawa's matching against Osaka's Katayama makes sense given their matching turns of speed.

For most of this episode, these decisions seem to be working out perfectly - Although Kuroda can't match Hauer for height, his in-your-face approach clearly unsettles his opponent and while this target man of the side is decent in the air, he's easily outsmarted by Kuroda with the ball at his feet, limiting his possibilities as long as the centre back plays it right. This is, however, a dangerous game to play, as it only takes one good delivery to destroy a lot of that hard work... and what do you know, as this episode ends a combination of Katayama's intelligent play outsmarting Kiyokawa's reliance on speed, the instinctively skilful Kubota's inherent abilities and Hauer's height and strength link up to leave the ball in the net and ETU reeling.

Goal aside, it could be bad news all around for East Tokyo United - Although Tsubaki's pace and tenacity is the same as always, Gino's passing seems to be going astray, and without his abilities as playmaker no amount of hard work and organisation is going to turn this around, making this a massive test of the abilities of both Tatsumi and his squad.

Although moving into "big match mode" means that the pace of the series slows down markedly (this episode effectively occurred in real-time, taking us just nineteen minutes into the game), Giant Killing manages to be as fascinating as ever, pitting personalities against one another on the one hand and sound footballing tactical dilemmas on the other to make for another episode which as entertaining as it is thought-provoking for the wannabe football manager in me. It certainly makes a change for me to be cheering on the opponents of the Gunners for once, and one of the beauties of this particular show is that, just like real football, it's impossible to predict how the end result is going to turn out and why.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Shiki - Episode 6

It's time for another episode of Shiki, and still the deaths keep on ramping up - Hiromi is one of the latest to up the body count, while Masao is (thankfully) on his way out as we first join this episode.

Naturally, the continuation of this ever more horrifying trend of deaths is getting to local doctor Ozaki - A little too much you could argue, as he snaps first at a patient and then at Muroi despite the latter trying to help by mentioning the odd connections between these deaths and the number of people who have quit their jobs while others have skipped town entirely. The only ray of hope from Ozaki's point of view is one patient who seems to recover slightly after being given a blood transfusion, but even this improvement doesn't last for long before the same old symptoms and problems set in once again.

However, that isn't the only piece of progress made against this "epidemic" by any means. For starters, the end of summer postcard from Megumi discarded outside of his window by Natsuno has some pieces missing by the next morning, confirming in his mind (and indeed to our own eyes) that Megumi is still wandering around on the loose somewhere, somehow. On a whim after seeing this, he starts looking into vampires and the like, renting a bunch of horror movies before finding that, intriguingly, Muroi has already emptied the library's stock of vampire books. Come the end of the episode, Natsuno isn't the only one whose thoughts are traversing this path, as a throwaway comment to Natsuno by Ozaki suddenly clicks a number of pieces of the puzzle into place. Add in a couple of other characters seeing a supposedly dead man walking into that fancy house on the hill, and it appears that the tide of whatever is going on might well be turning at last...

Certainly, as these thoughts, theories and revelations begin to roll into place, so Shiki is starting to become just that bit more compelling - although it struggles under the weight of its sheer number of characters at times (no matter how many of them have died), it finally feels like a show that is beginning to rise above its slow start to piece together something genuinely worth watching with plenty of intrigue to back it up. It's taken six episodes to get here, but I now feel like I can officially say that Shiki is starting to warm up nicely for me - long may it continue.

Amagami SS - Episode 7

The previous episode of Amagami SS left us with a piece of random yet required drama, as Kaoru sees her mum meeting and wandering off arm in arm with another man. However, as we realise that Kaoru's mum is separated from her father, suddenly this doesn't seem like such a big deal any more - apart from to Kaoru of course, who wants to carry on life with just her and her mum living together (slightly selfishly it has to be said).

Anyhow, after making this shocking discovery Kaoru decides not to go home that night, spending it in a manga cafe instead, and furthermore she doesn't turn up at school the next day. This understandably leaves Tachibana worried, although he seems to be more concerned about whether his belly button kissing antics (which gets referenced numerous times) are responsible rather than anything else.

Once school is done for the day, he searches fruitlessly for her before learning that she's been spotted crying on the beach but misses her by moments. Eventually he catches up with her at her part-time job, and one heart-to-heart conversation later (and a phone call home to her mum) things seem to be on the up again for Kaoru, and come the next morning at school she's as bright and breezy as ever - at least outwardly.

Overall, this episode was so unbelievably ordinary that there's really nothing to say about it - shorn of any slightly odd body part worship, this instalment was predictable as they get be it Kaoru's behaviour or the inevitable closing of any distance in the relationship between her and Tachibana without actually falling into a full-blown relationship. If I had to describe this episode in a word, the word would be "bland" - the whole thing is seeming increasingly lifeless and spiritless at the moment.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 7

What's this? Ryouko and Ryoushi on a date? Surely not! Of course, this isn't some kind of beautiful blossoming of the relationship between these two, but rather another of Ringo's bright ideas under the guise of helping one of the Otogi Bank's clients.

The client (or I suppose you could say clients) in question are Jin Hanasaki, a quiet baseball ace who suddenly finds that he arrives home every day to a clean home and fresh food prepared by some mysterious stranger. Thanks to the Otogi Bank, he discovers that this mysterious person is in fact the strait-laced and shy Ami Jizou, who appears to have falled for Jin after he lent her an umbrella one time. Although this appears to be an entirely one-sided infatuation, Hanasaki is determined to repay Jizou for all the time she spent cleaning his house and so on, to which Ringo suggests he take her on a date of course, forcing Ryouko and Ryoushi to make it a double date to make things more comfortable for their clients.

Everything seems to go as smoothly as you might have expected (that being not particularly) until Ryouko takes it upon herself to rescue a kitten stuck in a tree. Next thing we know she's fallen into a pond, hit her head, and proves to be suffering from that cartoon classic condition which comes from a blow to the noggin - amnesia. More specifically, Ryouko seems to think that she's thirteen again, meaning that she behaves like the cute girl of her past rather than the tsundere who is desperate to hide her true self from everyone. Despite being treated to Ryouko at her most adorable, Morino is still keen to get her to a hospital - a task which ends up with Ryouko getting annoyed with him (an early demonstration of her younger tsundere side?) and an encounter with Hitsujikai which sheds a little more light on his past with Ryouko before she regains her current memories.

Although this episode manages to pile on cliché after cliché, from the awkward date to the inevitable amnesia, for some bizarre reason the whole package works really well to make for a funny and entertaining instalment that had be laughing and/or smiling throughout. I'm really not sure how J.C. Staff manage to do it, but they certainly seem to have a knack for making the bets out of even the weakest material, and this particular instalment must surely be as good an example of this as any, as Ookami-san seems to be on the up and up.

K-ON!! - Episode 19

It's day one of the much anticipated school festival as K-ON!! hits its nineteenth episode, which means no appearance from Ho-kago Tea Time... however, it does means that today is the day of that all important performance of Ro-Mio and Juliet.

Of course, the build-up to this big event is comprised largely of blind panic, be it from Mio and her usual aversion to public performances or more general concerns such as whether the scenery and costumes will be ready in time - indeed, Sawako seems to have rather over-extended herself when it comes to providing costumes for the festival; is there anyone she hasn't created something for?

Those involved in the play aren't the only ones with worries though, as Azusa is concerned at the lack of practice undertaken by the light music club, with their performance set for the following afternoon -luckily for her the latter part of this instalment sees the girls pull an all-nighter to get in the required practice (as well as larking around a fair amount, of course), although surely we're not going to be treated to a smooth live performance this time around after seeing some kind of problem or other plague every other event they've stepped up to?

Anyhow, the highlight of the episode is of course the class performance of Romeo and Juliet... or, more specifically, Yui's turn as "Tree G", which made me laugh every time she put in an appearance - there's something endlessly enjoyable about seeing her with her head stuck into the middle of a cardboard tree, although to be fair she does prove her range of acting abilities by also sticking her head into a cardboard bush. It's the oldest joke in the "school play" scenario book, but it was pulled off excellently here.

Away from that, the rest of the episode was pretty entertaining too, from the occult club and their talk on cattle mutilation through to the general ambience of the school festival, which makes me wonder if Japanese school festivals are really as awesome as they always seem in anime? Anyhow, you somehow couldn't be swept away with the excitement of the day with this episode, which allowed it to effortless breeze through an instalment that wasn't outstanding but worked well regardless to create a fun time for all before the main course that is the light music club's event next episode.

HEROMAN - Episode 20

Somebody is going around abducting things in Center City - first it was cows and other animals, but now it seems that actual people are its next target. After one particular man goes missing after a strange road traffic accident right in front of his young daughter (who sees a strange "demon" with red eyes), Professor Denton sets out to investigate, making sure Joey and Psy tag along to do all of the menial work.

Denton's focus seems to be on the soil around the area of the latest abduction, but as he races off to check out something else so the Professor himself goes missing. After a few days with no sign of him, of course Joey and Psy set out to investigate, only to find themselves "assisted" by the former's sister, Holly.

For all of the serious tone of that synopsis, it's hard to describe this episode of HEROMAN as anything other than filler sandwiched between two slices of plot. These abductions clearly look set to tie in to Will's re-appearance a few weeks back, and this current storyline is also preparing to bring Agent Hughes back into the fray, but to get to that we have to sit through a whole lot of Holly playing detective, and doing something of a good job despite goofing around and trying to drum up a little bit of humour throughout this instalment. Certainly, her detective work seems to be more impressive than her comic potential.

I really hope this story is going somewhere, as HEROMAN seems to have frittered away a lot of the energy it was carrying just a few short weeks ago. Those island shenanigans were okay albeit nothing to write home about, but this instalment was not far off being just plain boring. Hopefully now the show has gotten this out of its system we can get to the crux of the matter and start exploring some more exciting and interesting elements of the plot.

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 6

In what is rather a change from recent episodes, this sixth instalment of Strike Witches 2 wastes little time in getting down to the core (ho ho, do you see what I did there?) of its action, with Eila doing her bit to impressively pick off a large number of Neuroi drones. But what is controlling them? Oh, only a 30,000 metre high monolith of sorts...

Of course, this kind of altitude is way beyond the normal range of a Striker Unit, so it's time to return to base to formulate a plan involving the use of rocket boosters to reach the required altitude; a tricky affair, given that these boosters eat up magic at a vast rate. Sanya is chosen as the best member of the squadron to take on this mission, but she still needs a second person to travel with her to act as her defensive shield. Eila is naturally the first to volunteer, but is turned down in favour of Miyafuji as she's never actually used a shield in battle on account of her ability to see slightly into the future, which renders it unnecessary for her in normal combat.

Eila refuses to take this decision sitting down, but her attempts to learn how to use a shield prove to be abortive in the extreme, and on account of her giving up so easily a rare argument and falling out develops between herself and Sanya. Of course, we can't have such falling outs within the world of Strike Witches, and thus Eila redeems herself at the last in what is actually a genuinely rather sweet moment (helped along by a pretty decent insert song) as she takes Miyafuji's place and succeeds in protecting Sanya as she completes her mission.

After a few episodes where the Neuroi threat was more of an after-thought than the main course, this episode was actually all the better for centring itself around a military problem which needed to be solved. Of course, this was largely little more than an excuse to bring the relationship between Eila and Sanya into focus, but given its backdrop and the way it panned out it worked well to make for an entertaining episode that was actually enhanced by its inevitably happy ending. Add in some nice touches like the use of a bouncing bomb during the episode to continue those deliberate World War II parallels, and this series continues to keep on trucking without losing itself too deeply in the mire of fan service for the sake of it.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 6

After her carefully manufactured Near Death Experience last episode, it's fair to say that Kozue seems to be enjoyed both the ups and downs of its results. On the one hand, her previously terrible eyesight is now not far from perfect, but on the other she's now lost all of her previous enthusiasm and belief in the occult.

Unsurprisingly, this huge change in Kozue's personality is worrying her friends, and so they set out with various plans to bring back the "old" Kozue. Most of these involve proving (or at least pretending to prove) that the occult exists to revert her back to her usual self - This is attempted via a number of comical means, all of which naturally fail miserably. In the end, Maya even calls in Fumiaki to fake his spoon-bending tricks of old, but even this falls flat - Is this really the same Kozue at all? Eventually, Maya surmises that she has simply left her heart behind following that near-death experience.

Ergo, the only way to restore normality is for Kozue to have another near-death experience, alongside somebody else who can rescue her "heart" - let's not get into the plot holes of how two near-death experiences encountered by different people could somehow merge into a single reality, this is a show about the occult and an alien invasion after all. Anyhow, Maya volunteers to perform this rescue operation, only to find Fumiaki turning up and taking her place. This switch around allows all of those present to witness was a difficult life the child celebrity Bunmei led, and how that celebrity status was little more than a vanity project for his mother, before Maya and company also get to see the horrors of the alien invasion which Fumiaki has been sent back in time to stop. However, there's still enough time for Fumiaki to save Kozue's "heart", in what turns out to be a hilariously simple fix to her particular problem. Mission complete on this occasion, and witnessing Fumiaki's childhood and its parallels to her own seems to have fostered a new sense of understanding towards him from Maya. Well, kind of...

While I wasn't entirely sure why this particular story had been pushed out into a second episode, it all makes sense now, and in the end this proved to be another top-notch instalment of Occult Academy. As has been the case throughout this series, the sense of fun and humour which the show holds within all of its dealings is nigh-on perfect, from Maya's attempts to create fake occult goings-on through to Fumiaki's usual bumbling slapstick - throw in some amusing camera pans (seriously, this show even knows how to make camera movements funny) and an ending to Kozue's problem which was so ridiculous it's sublime, and you have a lot to enjoy from the off. Perhaps the real genius is how this is tied in so simply to the relationship between Maya and Fumiaki, with the former realising how they have both had to endure the hardships of a parental figure who is so caught up in their own self-interest that they have little time for their child - it's a realisation which is both obvious and subtle in terms of the way it's presented here, making it hard to miss yet still subtle enough not to feel condescending. We now appear to be headed back towards worrying about impending alien invasion in terms of the main story, but if it can continue to tell its tale as it has thus far then there's nothing for this show to worry about in entertainment terms.

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 6

The beginning of Highschool of the Dead's sixth episode gives us an intriguing test of our priorities as viewers of this series - Do we focus upon the TV broadcast reporting over two million dead in Japan and the evacuation of even television station personnel to an off-shore location? Or, do we concentrate on the various heroines of this series getting undressed for a bath?

Even if you weren't concentrating on the girls getting naked, you'll soon be able to as we're treated to a bath scene complete with the expected dose of nudity, boob groping, squealing and all of the other stuff you'd expect from a bunch of anime girls taking a bath, even if it is in the middle of some kind of zombie apocalypse. Not that the guys are missing out on their own dose of fun however, as Hirano and Takashi rifle through their teacher's friends home only to find a stash of ammunition and an impressive arsenal of weapons. Hirano in particular is delighted by this, and we learn here that he was actually trained in using live weapons for a month by a Blackwater employee, which is pretty handy it has to be said.

At least it would be if Hirano weren't so easily disabled by a kiss from Marikawa, as it appears that at least some of the girls have been a drop or five of alcohol to relax after a hard day's zombie-splattering, and their subsequent intoxication turns Marikawa into an impossibly flirty individual while Rei turns into an impossibly whiny one... actually she's always like that come to think of, so maybe the alcohol hasn't gone to her head. Still, Rei's current state of mind does eventually change the dynamic of her relationship with Takashi rapidly, from calling him boring and accusing him of not listening to her to being all over the guy who killed her boyfriend barely hours before. Is it the alcohol speaking or not? Either way, it makes for an interesting and potentially problematic development.

Not that this is the only development here, as this episode also keeps an eye on the goings-on at the main bridge crossing nearby, where things escalate out of hand at a frightening pace, from protesters gathering to accuse the current situation as a conspiracy caused by biological weapons through to the police receiving orders to do "whatever is necessary" to maintain order ads the situation worsens. Needless to say, "whatever is necessary" is not only very subjective, but decidedly brutal too as the world goes to Hell in a handbasket.

I have to confess that normally I'd roll my eyes as an episode of any series so dripping in blatant fan service, but to fair to Highschool of the Dead this was an expected development which was also not allowed to dominate the episode entirely as the plot continued to move forwards, even if the bulk of that progress was arguably away from the main group of characters and out in the wider world. Still, with the zombies finding a renewed interest in our heroes and that same bunch of characters now in possession of a ridiculous arsenal of weapons, the next episode has the potential to bring us back to that ridiculously over-the-top yet enjoyable action that has been the hallmark of the show thus far. It's that kind of action that I signed up to this show for, so I shall be awaiting episode seven with renewed anticipation.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 19

If you thought the Nagoya Grand Palace game was nerve-racking, then you might want to take a deep breath as we look set to enter another match of mammoth importance for East Tokyo United, this time against an even more fearsome opponent - Unbeaten Osaka Gunners, who enjoy a brand of "total football" which makes use of four forward players and which saw them run out 8-0 winners in their last game.

Against such tough, offensive opposition, you might expect Tatsumi to look towards an even more defensive formation that usual, but in fact the exact opposite would be true, with the manager unveiling his tactics to a stunned squad. Although we aren't afforded the exact details at this point, it's clear that this will be a more attacking ETU than the one we've been used to so far this season, although as Tatsumi points out their opponents have four attacking players and ETU will be sticking with a traditional back four, so they aren't short of numbers at the back on paper.

Now that the players have been appraised of the side's game plan, the rest of the episode concentrates with building up to this big match, taking in every element of the pre-game atmosphere from the fans entering the stadium, a handful of supporters spotting the Japanese national coach making his way into the ground (which offers up a club versus country argument of its own, with ETU supporters wishing they had a national player in their side while Gunners fans bemoan losing so many of their stars to international duty on a regular basis), and a meeting between the two opposing coaches as they try to feel one another out regarding their confidence and plans for the game via a few mind games hidden beneath their seemingly polite conversation. Come the end of the instalment we see the fans cheering each ETU player as the squad is revealed on the big screen, only to witness the shock of the fans as they realise that the team's normal 4-5-1 formation has been switched for a more attacking 4-4-2.

While I'm in a state of nervous tension waiting to get down to the actual football and for this big match to start, there was as always plenty to intrigue and fascinate here. From the little things like that aforementioned club versus country argument, there's also a whole plethora of things to consider from a tactical point of view that I could go on about at length but won't here - needless to say it could make for a nail-biting but entertaining spectacle when it comes to the game itself. However, arguably topping the bill this episode was the brief but oddly intense pre-match exchange between Tatsumi and Dulfer - we're all used to seeing the mind games of football managers in the press and before, during and after games while those individuals are in the spotlight, but what happens when those managers meet behind closed doors? It's something I've often wondered about, and I can't help but feel that it's probably a little less dramatic and laced in importance than Giant Killing would like to imagine, but it certainly makes for a continuation of this show's intriguing nature, and I can't gripe about that.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Shiki - Episode 5

Come the end of Shiki's previous episode, we were finally beginning to get to the root of the spate of mysterious deaths which have plagued its village, as we saw the seemingly returned from the dead Megumi putting in an appearance and getting her teeth (quite literally) into Tohru.

Or did we? Revisiting those events again, we see Natsuno waking up from what appears to be little more than another of his nightmares, in turn waking Tohru to find that everything appears to be just fine. Everything, that is, until Tohru stops turning up at school and instead spends his time lounging around in his room as though in a trance, before eventually dying like so many before him. Of course, Natsuno is still unable to properly connect his "dream" with the reality of the situation, and even the arrival of a postcard from Megumi doesn't seem to faze him.

Away from all of this, young priest Muroi is continuing to investigate these deaths himself, quickly noting an obvious connection between many of them, as it transpires that many of these individuals quite their jobs (or attempted to) just days before dying. How this ties into the deaths themselves remains unanswered, but it's suddenly another piece in the puzzle... as it seems will be Masao come the end of this episode, as his childish whining and attention-seeking look likely to be near their end, for which I am eternally thankful.

After that slow start to the series, things are certainly starting to move within this series, although still at a relatively pedestrian pace, much like a stingy friend dishing out sweets one at a time rather than giving you a handful to enjoy in a single hit. To be honest, for me personally it's still too early even now to decide whether those proverbial sweets are tasty enough to warrant savouring on an individual basis, but for now I'm willing to chew on them and wait to see if the after taste makes it all worthwhile. Anyway, enough of my confectionary-laden analogies; if nothing else I took great pleasure in seeing Masao get his come-uppance - an occurrence that can only make this series infinitely better, God he was annoying even in the realms of deliberately annoying anime characters. I really just hope that I have something rather more concrete to write about next episode, otherwise I'm going to have to find even more ways to compare Shiki to chocolate. Hmm... Maybe Megumi is like a chocolate bar that's past its sell by date - It comes back to haunt you days after you thought you'd gotten away with worrying about it?