Thursday, 30 September 2010

Durarara!! - Episode 12.5

Despite its somewhat disappointing ending, it still almost goes without saying that you can't have too much Durarara!! - if nothing else it knows how to tell a story and make it entertaining to boot, so the prospect of additional one-off episodes certainly isn't something to be sneered at.  Such a one-shot offering is exactly what we get here, and although the episode number denotes perfectly well where it fits within the show's wider continuity, to be honest it really doesn't matter all that much.

With no particular need to worry about the intricacies of on-going plot points, episode 12.5 of Durarara is free to play with its story-telling devices to its heart content, and this is does with the aplomb you'd expect of this series, kicking off with some UFOs trailing across the sky (at least, that's what narrator for the episode Walker would have us belief), before slowly taking us back through the prior escapades that led to this incident little by little Memento-style.

Anri's disappointment from losing to Mikado at playing noughts and crosses on Kida's face is palpable
The escapades in question centre around a number of red bags, all containing very different contents, but of course the coincidental similarity of these bags appearance means that chaos soon ensues as everyone ends up chasing pretty much everyone else like some kind of madcap gangster movie.  In reality, the contents of these bags are pretty much superfluous to the story, but it does give us a chance to hang out with all of the usual cast of characters, with Selty racing around at the centrepiece of much of the shenanigans while Kida drags his friends to a non-existent summer festival but still ends up having a ball anyway.  Throw in Shizuo being his usual agreeable self (while also getting the best scene of the episode via his efforts to shake a ne'er-do-well out of a tree) and of course Walker and Erika getting over-excited about aliens (complete with Men in Black references, and was that a nod to Asobi ni Ikuyo I heard too?), and what more could you ask for?

While this instalment could never really hope to be as memorable as some of the show's "proper" episodes (it is just a bonus outing after all), it did at least display Durarara's trademark ability to tell a story in a fun and compelling way that allows its writers to enjoy themselves without becoming overly self-indulgent.  The whole "backwards story-telling" idea certainly isn't new or fresh these days, but it was deployed to good effect here and actually spices up what would otherwise have been a less interesting story I would wager.  You could argue that a lot of the show's main characters really didn't get to do much beyond playing a small part in keeping things moving, but again this is more due to the nature of the episode rather than a fault in its efforts to my mind so I can't fault it for that either.  If nothing else, this whole episode just served to remind me that another season of Durarara would be a welcome one in my book.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 13 (Completed)

If last week's episode of Occult Academy seemed like a natural end-point to the series, then think again - although the show's wicked witch was defeated, the future still looks as bleak a wasteland as ever, so something somewhere has clearly gone awry with any plans to destroy Nostradamus' Key.

The reason why everything has gone pear-shaped soon becomes clear as Fumiaki prepares to return to the future, and Maya lands a surprise on him - she's booked for Bunmei and his mother to come and perform at the school's end of year closing ceremony.  It appears that for all her love of the occult, Maya has clearly never watched any time travel-based science fiction, as we all know that meeting your past or future self can have all sorts of nasty consequences, as is the case here.  So we learn that this meeting of Bunmeis from different times is the real cause of the alien invasion which all-but wipes out humanity, all in the name of a family reunion of sorts.  Oops.

No matter how hard they tried, the invading aliens couldn't wipe out Earth's hat industry
Equally bizarrely, the powers that be from the future agree to allow Fumiaki one more day in the future before he has to return, before extending this yet further when Maya tells Bunmei's mother his services are no longer required.  This seems like a pretty risky game to play with the entire Earth in the balance, and of course these decisions are guaranteed to go horribly wrong once young Bunmei decides to sneak away and check out Waldstein Academy for himself without his mother's knowledge, while Maya all but pleads with Fumiaki to stay in the past with her.  Needless to say, Bunmei junior and senior end up coming face to face and aliens duly invade via the hold in space-time created as a result - but this isn't quite the end of the world as we know it, as a moment of madness and bravery from Fumiaki somehow manages to stave off the invading forces (don't ask me how, I couldn't quite get my head around it either) and save the world.  Hurrah!

So there we have it, via a final episode that pretty much sums up Occult Academy in a nutshell - some of its plot points and goings-on were basically ludicrous and stupid while others simply didn't make sense at all, but boy was it fun to watch.  Aside from those two episodes where the series really dropped the ball (there was no episode nine or ten of this show, right?), Occult Academy demonstrated a barmy yet deft ability to leverage its zany humour to maximum effect, creating a number of laugh out loud funny episodes which seemed as though they'd forgotten about the big picture until the show reined itself in to deliver some mind-blowing, eye-popping instalments to finish things off in a broadly satisfactory fashion.

I'd probably slate other shows for ending with an episode so full of logical craters and moments of stupidity from its previously eminently sensible main characters, but somehow it just fits the flawed genius of this particular series perfectly.  If you're looking for a show with internal logic that matches up throughout then Occult Academy will infuriate you on a regular basis - throw such concerns out of the window and simply strap yourself in for the ride however, and you'll have a riot.

Giant Killing - Episode 26 (Completed)

After spending so many episodes giving us a blow-by-blow account of ETU's game against Osaka Gunners, Giant Killing's final instalment rattles through as many matches at it possibly can before it reaches the final whistle of the series.

Luckily, brevity usually means that East Tokyo United are on a winning streak, and so this proves here, with ETU running out 1-0 winners against Oita Triplex in a game which also shows just how well the side are playing as a team now, with Gino, Tsubaki and Akasaki linking up nicely to create the winning goal for Natsuki.

ETU's annual arm-wrestling contest contained a surprise finalist
This particular match seems to be the final performance which seals Akasaki a place in Japan's national side for an Olympic qualifier (where the vast majority of players have to be under the age of twenty-three incidentally) - great news for ETU and their burgeoning reputation, although with Akasaki missing for one game while Kuro is also suspended the doors are opened to some new blood on the pitch... not that they do much with it, scraping out a 0-0 draw.  Still, Akasaki impresses for the Japanese side, so that particular cloud certainly has something of a silver lining.

With a full strength squad once again, we then see ETU winning a cup game 1-0 to take them from the preliminary round into the tournament proper - another mark of progress for the side, although it seems that some of the regulars (or at least Gino) are starting to tire from the constant pressure of high-octane games.  Sensibly, this sees Tatsumi decide that it's time for the player to take a brief break, via an event which he also turns into a chance for everyone involved with the club to mingle by way of a "curry party".  This gives us some closing scenes to the series which really sum up just what Giant Killing has been all about - presenting to the viewer the notion that a football club is much more than just the men on the pitch, or even their manager; indeed, a club would be nothing if it wasn't for players, fans, management, canteen staff, and so on.  It's certainly a concept which some English Premier League clubs would do well to remember...

Which brings us to the end of Giant Killing, a series which has helped me through the barren football-free weeks in my everyday life, punctuated an entire World Cup and eased me into the start of a new football season.  I'm not sure what I can say about this show that I haven't alreadty, except that it's delivered a fantastic representation of the football fan's experience, be it the on-field tension and drama or the off-field characters and man management required to get the best out of them.  All of this has been expertly blended to make for a fantastic show that even non-football fans seem to have enjoyed, which is surely testament to its abilities.  It'll be a cruel, cruel world that doesn't see a second series of this restrained little gem commissioned - come on Japan, give the underdog a chance to take on the big boys again, so that we can witness some more feats of Giant Killing!

Friday, 24 September 2010

Amagami SS - Episode 13

Now that Sae Nakata's story arc is now over, I can finally take off those ear protectors lest her voice irritate me any further... well, until she crops up and gets a couple of lines in this episode, at least.  This leaves our favourite pervert Tachibana to pursue a new girl, albeit only after going through his moments of misery from Christmas past yet again, although on this occasion he nearly runs into a girl excitedly running home with a Christmas present for her brother...

Junichi doesn't seem to realise it, but that girl is Ai Nanasaki, a classmate of Miya's who he next runs into (and catches a tantalising glimpse of) at a park while he's running to the nearest toilet - yes, that's right, this arc's first meeting between its soon to be lovers is pre-empted by a full bladder.  And they say romance is dead.

This caption just writes itself, doesn't it?
From here on it, the rest of the episode is pretty much a near-constant stream of coincidental meetings between Nansaki and Tachibana, be it at the school canteen, outside the swimming pool where Nanasaki is training for a tournament, or at a water fountain after Miya has scribbled something about a trip to Hawaii on her brother's head.  All of these meetings culminate in Tachibana helping Ai with her shopping, and then sharing the 500 Yen lottery ticket winnings which result (no Hawaii trip for you, Miya!) while walking on the beach - a state of affairs which was actually threatening to get a bit romantic until Tachibana started chasing litter around like an excitable puppy.  Maybe Haruka had him pegged right after all?

Anyhow, it's really a little too early to get any feelings for this arc from this first episode - Unlike Sae who annoyed me instantly, I don't dislike Nanasaki, but although I'm starting to warm to her I wouldn't go as far as to say I like her either.  At the moment there isn't really a lot to her aside from the glint in her eye when she catches Tachibana looking at her in that way, and her personality seems to be a little all over the place which makes her hard to pin down (oh stop it, I don't mean it like that).  So, this is a mediocre start to the story arc for me with little of note to speak of, but hey - At least I don't completely hate the girl involved this time around, which has to be a promising start to proceedings.

K-ON!! - Episode 25

The main event of the girl's graduation may have taken place in last week's episode but fear not!  For K-ON isn't through with us just yet, treating us to a pair of "extra" episodes to make up for having us all blub like... well, graduating school girls, on a couple of occasions of late.

Of course, these extra episodes serve up their delicious side dishes as if they were a main meal by going back in time a little - in fact, we figure out exactly so far simply by Yui's haircut (which places us between episodes twenty-one and twenty-two for continuity freaks).  The focus of this particular story begins as Azusa finds a promotional video created by her cohorts prior to her joining the light music club - a reasonably slick piece, culminating in Mio in a nurse's outfit, which probably tells you who helped out with this effort.

Crouching Ritsu, Hidden Drumkit
This discovery leads to the decision that the club needs to create a new, improved video to help Azusa recruit new members to join her in the future, which of course leads us through plenty of madcap and genuinely funny ideas and concepts, from the more obvious (Azusa being cute with cat ears) through to the rather more surreal (such as murder mysteries and Hollywood-style trailers).  With the threat of revealing costumes from Sawako hanging over them, it's eventually left up to Azusa to take the script writing reins for this outing - a decision which led almost directly to my brain exploding, as we watch this slice of life anime turn in a scene where the light music club girls record themselves going about their business in a slice of life fashion.  In the end, mixing together some interviews and concert footage leaves them with the slick(-ish) marketing material they need - a promotional tool which will surely beat out those animal costumes of past years?
After all the emotional stuff of last week and the slow, relentless march towards the moment of graduation for all of the girls bar Azusa, we really needed some light relief and boy did we get it here, with a sparklingly funny episode that packed in great gags and in-jokes aplenty.  The Hollywood trailer and film spoof material was always liable to be funny, but it's other moments such as the over-enthusiastic Mugi, Nodoka's attempt at becoming the "voice" of Ton-chan and most of all Yui's hammy acting during their slice of life recording (accentuated all the more by Ui's unwavering use of the camera to focus on her sister) that really made this episode.  If this was to be the first episode of K-ON you ever watched then you'd miss at least half of the jokes, but for us stalwarts it was comedy gold.  Can't we just travel back in time like this every week for another fifty episodes or so?  I hardly dare contemplate that next week this show really will be over, no more extensions...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 26 (Completed)

A series such as this one was never likely to reach the end of its penultimate episode without some kind of "oh, woe is me!" cliffhanger, and the show's titular hero seemingly destroyed is about as rough as it could get for just such a cliffhanger.  Can Joey really hope to defeat Kogorr alone?

Whatever the obvious answer to this, something happens in the fallout of Heroman's defeat that changes Joey - not just mentally, but quite literally changes him, into a big glowing red ball of anger which also grants him a whole bunch of additional powers which he's seemingly decided to use to finish off Kogorr at all costs, including a suicide attack.  Of all people, it's Heroman (okay, so not a person) who stops him from doing this, and not a moment too soon as he finds himself joined by first Holly and Lina, then Psy and Denton as the cavalry arrive to put the Professor's plan into action, and give both Heroman the power and Joey the confidence to save the world and defeat Kogorr with ease; a little bit too much ease if you ask me, but I digress.

Did Joey just go Super Saiyan?
Aside from the basic physical goings-on of this finale, the episode also spent a fair amount of time dissecting Joey's mental state, introducing us to how he saved Lina the first time they met as kids (although Joey doesn't seem to think he saved everybody) through to his continued misunderstandings about his father and the events surrounding his death.  It's this misinterpretation of his father's death which ends up being the pivotal point of the episode emotionally, as Joey finally comes to understand that being a hero doesn't mean doing things alone, nor does it mean sacrificing everything including yourself for the perceived good of others.  Argue the moral and social merits of that "life lesson" all you will, but it actually worked rather well as a turning point in an episode that was threatening to spiral out of control in terms of believability before being reigned in somewhat by events.

While this wasn't the best ending possible to the series (as I just mentioned, it threatened to drift too far outside the rules it had set for itself earlier in the show, while the big finish itself was a little too convenient), it was nonetheless a good ending after last week's rip-roaring penultimate instalment, which again went to show that HEROMAN did it best when it focused upon the main characters kicking alien ass and not bothering to take names (because let's face it, Kogorr is a stupid name anyway) rather than bogging itself down in troublesome humans and love interests.  I suppose the really interesting questions for this series begin here - by all accounts the show has flopped terribly in Japan, but can it get itself syndicated on US kid's TV?  I'd like to think so, but my gut instinct is that it won't - a shame, as HEROMAN at its best has evoked those wide-eyed cartoon watching days of my own youth, and it at least deserves a chance to see if it can do likewise to the current generation of wide-eyed cartoon watchers, because when HEROMAN got things right it was really quite awesome in its own simple way.

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 12 (Completed)

No sooner had the final plan to defeat the Neuroi over Romagna been unveiled in the previous episode we found ourselves picking out obvious flaws and dangers with such scheme, and so it was hardly a surprise to find that the Neuroi-fied (and now flying) battleship Yamato malfunctioned at the critical moment, just as it was supposed to destroy the Neuroi hive into which it had just not-so subtly crashed.

With all of the other witches having exhausted their magical powers, the otherwise incapable of fighting Sakamoto finds herself left as the only hope in defeating their enemy, meaning that of course she sets off to use her remaining magic to power the Yamato's engine back up despite the cries of protest from her colleague. Despite her waning powers she does enough to make it to that Yamato and restart the engine, allowing for the decisive blow to be struck against the Neuroi hive... least, that's how it initially appeared. Next thing we know Sakamoto is the captive of a massive Neuroi core as they begin their counter-attack, using Mio's shield generation abilities to protect themselves. The only remaining hope is a massive attack of magical power, and at this point what happens next should be easy enough to predict - of course it's Miyafuji who steps up to put her life on the line, somehow finding the power within herself to take off towards the enemy (and in turn persuading her comrades to find the courage to do likewise) before retrieving Sakamoto's sword Reppumaru from the deck of Yamato and using the last of her powers to unleash the "true" Reppuzan upon the Neuroi, destroying it completely and saving Sakamoto. So, all's well that ends well - The Neuroi are defeated, Romagna is saved, and the 501st Joint Fighter Wing is disbanded, albeit not before the complete collapse of the world's skirt and trouser industries I would wager. Oh, and there's room for a third season and a bevy of new characters, of course.

No matter your thoughts on either this series or the Strike Witches franchise as a whole, you'll probably find yourself having to tip yhour hat at least somewhat to this finale to Strike Witches 2 - quite simply, it was tremendous. Clearly a hefty chunk of the show's animation budget was spent here to create a visual feast which was impressive in its own right, while the story itself allowed for the required doses of emotion, tension and exciting action without ever over-extending itself, making for a gripping bit of entertainment that you couldn't help but be drawn into. This is exactly the kind of thing that Strike Witches can do when it really puts its mind to it - never mind the daft aspects of its premise, it knows how to dish out the action and spectacle and coupling it with a bit of heart. This ending alone arguably lifts this second season above its predecessor in a series which has followed the template of the first series a little too closely for my liking at times - for fans of the show, this was undoubtedly a highly polished product that did everything which expected of it, and as a result it's hard to be too harsh in my criticisms of it. Let's just pretend that episode seven never happened and call it a pretty good show, shall we?

Monday, 20 September 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 12

After paying at being a kind of zany Ghostbusters-esque affair for quite a while before drifting off into goodness knows what territory for a couple of episodes, Occult Academy enters its finishing stretch as some kind of magical girl series on crack, complete with Mikaze now unmasked as some kind of dark witch while Chihiro gets to play at being the heroine somewhat after seemingly railing against Maya all series.

What this boils down to is largely a non-stop cavalcade of action that this series certainly hasn't seen up to this point before, with Mikaze and Chihiro duking it out in the sky above the town while Maya makes her escape from the onslaught before drawing Kozue, Ami, JK and Smile into the chaos; cue that latter pairing using their spanner and dowsing rods to fend off evil demon grannies from Hell.

Although Chihiro finally succumbs to Mikaze's sheer power, she doesn't wilt before freeing Fumiaki from his frozen state and telling him something very important... something which is revealed as we reach our bit climax at Waldstein Academy itself as Maya is left facing Mikaze alone until Bunmei's appearance turns the tide in their favour. So, that's it - Nostradamus' Key has been discovered and destroyed, and the world is saved forever. Except this isn't the last episode is it? Things are rarely that simple...

While I was expecting this episode to step up to the plate somewhat to brings us toward's the shows climax, I wasn't expecting this much of a breathless roller coaster - set piece after set piece that could happily have adorned the most-actioned packed anime or Hollywood blockbuster with ease while still fitting effortlessly into the zany and often light-hearted feel of the show that has served it in good stead throughout. Quite simply, this was a minor masterpiece in all sorts of ways, telling its story well enough via utterly compelling visuals and developments. Colour me well and truly impressed; this was certainly a million miles away from that lacklustre story arc of a few weeks ago, and hopefully it can retain some of this energy to give Occult Academy a fitting send-off.

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 12 (Completed)

As if zombie apocalypse isn't bad enough, the end of Highschool of the Dead's penultimate episode decided to throw a spot of nuclear apocalypse into the mix for good measure. But surely this series isn't going to end with humanity in its entirety wiped out in a thermonuclear fireball?

Of course it isn't - luckily for most of Japan's inhabitants three of the four missiles destined for its shores are intercepted safely, leaving only one to worry about - just as fortunately, this happens to be a high altitude warhead designed more to disrupt everything in its range via EMP - something which is certainly does with aplomb, blowing out mobile phones, computers and cars aplenty. Of all people, it's Shidou's bus of fun that proves to be one of the most important dominoes in the stack that cascades for this series finale, with its engine cutting out thanks to said EMP blast and causing it to crash into and wreck the barricade so carefully positioned by the Takagis.

The good news is that the ensuing zombie stampede upon their mansion home, that overcomes even the house's iron front gate, makes for a balls to the wall action-fest to close things out, with plenty of guns, swords and ridiculous stunts to remind you what this series is all about at its best. This turn of events also seals the deal when it comes to our group of students and ditzy teacher making their own way in the world once again, courtesy of a Humvee that just happens to be resistant to EMP attacks (Marikawa's friend really does think of everything) which allows them to leave Takagi's parents to their own devices as they return to their search for Rei and Komuro's family. This open-ended finale also leaves us well and truly of the mind that this is more of an au revoir than a goodbye for Highschool of the Dead, with a final scene that might as well have included a sign which read "please commission a second season... please?!".

But, until that time, Highschool of the Dead is done and dusted for now, so what to make of it? When this series got down to what it did best, it could easily count itself as the most visceral and breathtaking show of the year so far - it did a fantastic job of ramping up the tension when required, its action was ridiculous yet absolutely jaw-dropping and more than capable of leaving you with a big grin on your face, and it's fan service mostly worked somehow even when it was clearly over the top. If only there had been even more of those elements to keep things moving at a hectic pace - to be frank, pretty much every attempt at character development throughout the series fell flat on its face while its humour sometimes jarred with its poor timing, before we even mention that pointless recap episode.

Overall though, Highschool of the Dead was more of a victor in its outlook and modus operandi than it was a failure, and for every episode or scene that left me rolling their eyes there was another that left me drooling for one reason or another. My God this show was stupid on a regular basis (surely the bullet time breasts will never be forgotten) but would I watch another series of it? Yes, in a heartbeat. If cinema-goers need their trashy popcorn movies to enjoy every summer, what's wrong with us anime fans having our own popcorn shows to watch from time to time?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Giant Killing - Episode 25

After what felt like countless episodes of agony, watching everyone's favourite fictional Japanese football team struggling against the countless waves of the Osaka Gunners, last week's episode finally took pity on us as the fruits of Tatsumi's labours and his master plan finally blossomed, with East Tokyo United pulling one goal back, seeing predatory forward Hauer booked, and Kubota and Hiraga dead on their feet.

What's more, the previous episode left us with the ever-energetic Tsubaki winning a free kick in a dangerous position thanks to the aforementioned fatigue of Hiraga - a foul which finally wakes Osaka coach Dulfer up to the fact that things really aren't working out, and forcing him to make two further defensive substitutions in the hope of holding onto their 2-1 lead. However, these changes are reckoning without the dangers of ETU's free kick just outside the box, and moments later a dummy by Akasaki and a beautifully delivered ball into the box from Gino sees centre-back Sugi leap like a salmon (oh, how I've been waiting to use that phrase in my Giant Killing posts) to thump home the equaliser with his head. Cue delirium in the crowd, and this writer jumping out of his seat in celebration.

With the tide turned and any momentum now well and truly in their favour, the remainder of the game couldn't be more different from that first half of constant Osaka attacks, with the visitors desperately wasting time and trying to hold possession to stop East Tokyo United from exposing them with further attacks, while even their rare attempts to counter are soon snuffed out by the robust tackling and interceptions of their opponents. With the ninety minutes up, it looks as though time might have run out for the home side to grab a shock winner, but four minutes of injury time means that the game isn't up just yet. Enter Sugi - still filled with self-doubt about his abilities (or lack thereof) from earlier in the series yet, as Tatsumi explains, the player's knowledge of his limitations is actually what makes him a useful and instinctive player on the field. So it proves, as with literally the last kick of the game a near-suicidal diving header onto a loose ball bouncing around the box snatches a last-gasp goal for ETU, and a 3-2 win that leaves opposing coach Dulfer fuming but with no choice but to acknowledge his own errors in sticking with his attacking instincts for far too long when that game was already up for his team.

So, we still have one episode to go, but I can't think of a more satisfying way to end this particular story arc and penultimate instalment - two goals, a little more introspection from key players, and a well-rounded glimpse at the live football experience as we snatch reactions not just from players and coach, but also the fans, journalists and cameramen dotted around the ground. This particular way of delivering a "realistic" experience isn't one I've covered or concerned myself with too much during this series (although it's always been present), but on this occasion in particular I have to acknowledge it for doing its bit to ramp up the tension and differing viewpoints throughout the stadium. Above all, in a weekend where I had to watch my own team drop two points to a 94th (practically 95th) minute goal, it was nice to watch a game where the "right" team snagged the incredibly late goal to turn things around. Being stuck with "real" football alone once this series is over is looking quite depressing, really.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Shiki - Episode 11

Just as Shiki finally broke into more than a simple trot and threatened to deliver us some seriously good episodes, we find ourselves having to say goodbye to the show for a little while as it goes on hiatus for a few weeks. Before we get ahead of ourselves however, we have episode eleven of the series to content ourselves with as Shiki reaches its half-way point.

As we should probably have learned about this series by now, it doesn't always rush to resolve its cliff hangers, and so it goes here as Natsuno's fate is left hanging in the balance until the end credits and what seems to be a glorified preview for the second half of the show. Instead, we find ourselves following Ikumi, that crazy old witch of a lady who, on this occasion, turns out not to be quite as bonkers as she suggests, blaming the Risen for the spate of deaths and planting the blame squarely at the door of the Kanemasa house.

While Ikumi goes around charging for scrolls and scriptures before shouting like a banshee about her theories to anyone who will listen, Ozaki is taking a very tact despite its more substantial (and substantiated) knowledge, keeping what he knows to himself while almost coldly planning how best to tackle the problem of the Risen and, more importantly, how to persuade the other villages that he hasn't gone crazy. For Ozaki, the only way in his mind to do this is to catch a Risen when they first rise from the dead, show said individual to the residents, and then experiment upon the captive to find out what makes them tick... or more precisely, what stops them ticking.

These differing attitudes on how to approach the current problem end up with a face-to-face encounter between Ozaki and Ikumi, leaving the first to shrug off the second's tale of the Risen as fantasy in front of a gathered group of villagers. Nonetheless, Ikumi continues her single-minded tirade against the Kanemasa household, turning up at their doorstep with her accusations no less. At this point we see exactly why Ozaki has been keeping his powder dry, as the head of the household turns out in broad daylight and allows Ozaki to verify that he is very much alive and kicking, leaving Ikumi to seem like the nutjob she outwardly appears to be. So, what next for Ozaki? And what of Natsuno? All in good time my friends, all in good time...

After really getting into the meat of its story over the past couple of instalments, this episode did feel like it slowed the pace a little, but necessarily so given the points it wished to make and cover, and I really can't deny that it did it all effectively even if it wasn't as gripping as recent events by any stretch of the imagination. So, this wasn't the most memorable way to leave us hanging for a few weeks until the second half of the series kicks off.... at least, it wouldn't be if it wasn't for the merciless teasing of what we can expect when we return to Shiki during the end credits, which suggests that it'll be worth every second of that long, long wait.

Amagami SS - Episode 12

After a successful first date last week, the final episode of Sae Nakata's arc sees her really ramp up her plan to ensure that Tachibana falls for her - not that she needs to worry too much, as his biggest problem appears to be actually getting over his fears and saying something.

Still, their next date turns out to involve eating some kind of giant parfait which (so legend, aka stuff Miya probably made up on the spot, has it) will ensure that they stay together forever if they share it - quite the cunning one, is our Sae. This of course leads on to the school's Perfect Couple competition which the pair of them entered in the last episode, an event which sees Sae and Junichi beat out some stiff competition from Umehara and a fish (no, really) but sees them end up in second place against who else but Haruka... that girl really does seem Hell-bent on elbowing her way into everyone else's story arcs at every turn, doesn't she?

Then again, second place does guarantee our almost perfect couple a movie screening in a private room (which seems far plusher than my local cinema, but I digress, where the closest you get to luxury is a seat where your feet don't end up stuck to the floor) which seems pretty swish, and finally allows Junichi to do his manly part and confess to Sae, albeit via an accident which leaves me wondering why the back of a sofa in a private room at a cinema would ever tilt back so far. So, our couple is now complete and they all live happily ever after - happily ever after in this case seemingly involving Sae romping around in a penguin suit, which for the record is absolutely fine by me.

I think it was pretty evident from the outset that this was going to be the weakest story arc of Amagami SS for me thus far - I enjoyed Haruka's arc to some extent just because she was absolutely crazy in the coconut, and I like Kaoru's arc because she was actually a fun and decent girl despite her moment of overblown drama. Sae on the other hand did little for me; even though I got used to her voice, there was nothing much to her personality, and although I admire her for taking the lead with Junichi despite being the shy type (and did I mention the penguin suit?) her overall demeanour left me a little cold. Still, with that arc done it's straight on to the next in episode thirteen, and what couldn't be a more contrasting change in characters for Junichi to be pitted against by the look of it. Besides, now that this arc has thrown us a curveball with its with its "fish nibbling on toes" fetish element, surely all bets are off for what kind of erotic weirdness this next girl will bring our way?

Thursday, 16 September 2010

HEROMAN - Episode 25

The Skrugg are back, Kogorr is alive and well once again, and Washington is looking very much the worse for wear - I think it's fair to say that the world is in a pretty tight spot once again, and it's asking a lot for Joey and Heroman to do anything about it as the series hits its penultimate episode.

Despite having all of those various elements set up last week, there's still more to come from this instalment to really finish setting the scene, not least from Kogorr as we find out what has really driven him to attack the Earth in the first place - he's hungry. Not hungry for wealth, power or Earth women... just plain hungry, in that he wants to eat everything. This appears to include not only his own minions but also those mysterious black spheres, as they return to melt into his giant saucepan like some kind of ominous alien pancake for Kogorr to digest and use to grow.

On the other side of the fence Heroman also has some new tricks up his sleeve, revealing his newest power this episode (although I'm not really sure what it actually did...) while Professor Denton explains his intriguing concept for keeping Heroman powered using lightning. To add to the good guy's arsenal, Joey also manages to find a rescue Will, who of course is as cold towards his rescuer as ever despite joining in this final battle against Kogorr.

Once all of this is in place, we finally get to the serious business of five minutes or so of slick, intense and generally pretty awesomely animated action, as our intrepid trio race to reach what they believe to be Kogorr's weak spot. Just as though it looks as though the job has been done however, of course Kogorr has the last laugh, leaving us with an even more heightened sense of peril and impending doom as we enter next week's series finale.

Although I was really hoping for an entire episode of full-on action this week, HEROMAN still wasn't quite ready for my demands here, but to be honest those desires were fulfilled just as well by the relatively brief period where the action did kick in to top gear, which gave us a satisfying run of the good guys doing their bit in impressive fashion before being thwarted (for now at least). This somewhat makes up for some of the other clumsier elements of plot progression (particularly surrounding those spheres - why send them around the world during the first invasion when they were snacks for Kogorr?) and a first half to this instalment that wasn't paced as well as it might have been, but the end of this episode leaves everything deliciously poised in typical superhero story style for what should be a fantastic send-off for this series. "Should be" are the operative words here of course; let's hope that finale delivers on its promise to send the show out with a bang.

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 12 (Completed)

Just as Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi started with what seemed like a random confession of love, with Morino "stalking" and then saying his part to Ryouko, so the series also ends with what seems to be an equally random confession on the surface.

This time around it's Ryoushi who is on the receiving end of such a confession, as it's dished out by class mate Machiko Himura (who I was expecting to start drumming at any moment, which is what I get for seeing this episode directly after K-ON!!), although in truth it isn't quite as random as it first seems - the hard-up Himura has seen Morino with his pedigree dogs and seemingly expensive house, and has decided that it's the perfect opportunity to marry into a wealthy family. So, she goes about winning over Ryoushi, in ways that are largely cliched (the girl has clearly been playing too many dating sims or watching too much anime) but also a little sneaky, as she uses Morino's position at the Otogi Bank to get him to come on a date as a request by her.

While this is all well and good, such a turn of affairs doesn't sit too well with Ryouko, although oif course she wouldn't admit this to anybody, even when it comes to following Morino on his date along with Ringo "just in case something happens". As it turns out though, something does happen, as Himura's father's debts catch up with her and leaves Ryouko and Ryoushi having to fight off a bunch of generic thugs, the likes of which we've arguably seen far too often this series. With that imminent danger passed, Morino works hard to ensure that Himura's debt is paid and she's given a new home, in turn causing her to genuinely fall for him, although of course by this point she's realised that she has a love rival she can never hope to win against, even if Ryouko still can't confess her feelings properly come the end of the series.

With the dust settling and this series done and dusted, I can only praise J.C. Staff for doing the best possible job with the source material as you'd tend to expect from them - however, on this occasion it was never really enough to push Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi beyond the realms of mediocrity. While the deployment of a narrator for the series will split opinion in two amongst viewers, personally I sit in the camp that feels that her quips and talking over other people's lines actually enhanced the series, particularly in terms of comic value, adding an extra layer to a show that could genuinely be funny when it got everything right. Sadly, getting things right wasn't something this series ever did with any consistency, deviating too frequently from Ryouko and Ryoushi's burgeoning relationship (by far the most interesting point of the show courtesy of a couple of likeable lead characters) in the name of pursuing side stories that were really quite dull, to the point where the main over-arching plot of the show came to a rushed and unsatisfactory conclusion that feels like it was designed for a second season that (on this showing) might never come. At no point did I hate Ookami-san or what it was trying to do, but that alone isn't enough to stop it from being an instantly forgettable series.

K-ON!! - Episode 24

I'm not sure whether I've been looking forward to this moment for the past few weeks or dreading it utterly - probably a mixture of the two - but finally here we are at the day of graduation for four out of five members of the light music club. This might not quite be the end of K-ON!! as a series, but it's certainly the end of an era.

Of course, whether you're beginning or ending an era you can pretty much guarantee Yui to be late for it, and so naturally she ends up causing the other girls to almost show up late for their own graduation, before a hole in her tights causes further chaos. Not that she's the only accident prone person on the day, with a preoccupied Azusa walking into a wall....

As if showing up late wasn't enough, Yui also causes all sorts of worries for Sawako during the graduation ceremony itself as she hides (unbeknown to Sawako) a gift for their form teacher under her jacket throughout - cue a hilarious bit of Chinese whispers, as Mio tries to warn Yui that she's acting suspiciously.

With the grauduation ceremony itself out of the way and Sawako's gift handed out, we get to the moment we've all being waiting for and simultaneously dreading... the big goodbye. After building up to it all episode we end up with poor Azusa in tears and in desperate need of a hug, although you could argue that what she gets is even better as the other girls unveil and perform a song that they'd written just for her (and for KyoAni to make money from another insert single, but let's not ruin the mood). Awwww.....

After the incredibly moving final live performance which was episode twenty, this instalment actually proved to be a little less emotionally charged for me, perhaps because I knew what was coming and had already mentally prepared for it (although I have to confess my eyes were just a little damp once Azusa's waterworks started). While this second season of K-ON has almost transcended its simple slice of life comedy roots towards something deeper and more emotionally attached to its viewers, it was actually really nice to see that it hadn't entirely forgotten its comic roots, slipping in a few funny moments before getting in to all the sentimental stuff. Thankfully, and perhaps also easing the emotional charge of this episode, we aren't done quite yet as there are still a couple of episodes to go before K-ON!! really does end entirely, with at least one of these instalments looking set to focus on what Azusa does next. I guess that means I don't have to worry about getting withdrawal symptoms from this shows disappearance just yet then.

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 11

As we reach the tail end of Strike Witches 2 (I could make a "tail end" joke here but I'll leave that to you lot), so we naturally also enter grand finale territory, with plenty still to be won and lost in the latest phase of the war against the Neuroi.

Before we even consider such things however, Sakamoto's condition becomes the main focus of concern, with her magical power seemingly waning at an alarming rate, the reasons for which are alluded to when Yoshika holds her sword Reppumaru for a moment, only for it to drain her almost instantaneously of all her power and earning her a stern telling off from her superior.

Sakamoto's state of mind isn't helped when she learns of the military's plan for the final push against the Neuroi hive over Romagna - rather than taking the lead, the Strike Witches themselves will be mere escorts for the real centrepiece of the showdown, that being the battleship Yamato, now kitted out with the ability for it to effectively turn into a Neuroi itself for a ten minute period.

Despite not liking these orders, the 501st Joint Fighter Wing has no option to comply, performing their frantic task of protecting the Yamato with speed and skill despite Sakamoto's near-exhausted magical abilities. It seems as though they've done enough as the Yamato completes its "Neuroification" and makes directly for the Neuroi hive, although the fact that this is the penultimate rather than the final episode should tell you that their master plan doesn't exactly go to plan...

If you're the type who complains when Strike Witches lacks a central plot to focus itself on (and I'm probably talking about myself here more often than not, truth be told), then you certainly can't argue that such storylines are lacking here. The trouble is, if you've also watched the first season of Strike Witches you'd be justified to note how similar so many aspects of this plot are to that initial series, from Sakamoto's loss of power, her disagreements with Minna over said loss of power, and of course the military relying on Neuroi-esque technology to win the day in preference to the Witches themselves. That said, this time around the action is slicker, the stakes higher and the drama thicker and more persuasive and before, so if you can get past those similarities this episode showcases pretty much everything that is good about this franchise when it works well and doesn't become too bogged down in fan service and whimsy. You still won't want to take the show too seriously, and it doesn't exhibit the same level of tension as other shows with such designs for their finale, but by the same token it isn't half bad either.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Occult Academy - Episode 11

After allowing itself to get sidetracked well and truly with a rather pointless side story over the past couple of episodes, this eleventh instalment of Occult Academy throws us right back into the serious business of Nostradamus' Key. What, you didn't really think they'd forgotten all about it, did you?

While Maya is already planning their next potential target from the world of the occult which could be the key they're looking for, Fumiaki finds himself once again at the mercy of the ever-more seductive Mikaze. Indeed, as she turns the flirting dial up to eleven we finally get to the crux of her interest in Fumiaki - she (and her band of like-minded individuals) want him to kill Maya, claiming that she is in fact the cause of all the odd goings-on, which in turn points to the fact that she is, in fact, Nostradamus' Key herself.

This claim leaves Fumiaki torn as he beats himself up over what to do about Maya, before eventually revealing to her what he's been told before changing his mind again and refusing to let Maya photograph herself with his camera again as he can't bear the thought that she could be the key.

From here onwards the entire episode goes, to put it bluntly, batshit crazy - Maya is murdered, seemingly by Chiriro, except she isn't actually dead as the whole thing was staged by Chihiro, who is really a white witch protecting Maya from harm at the request of Maya's father, who still appears to be alive and well in the future incidentally. Oh, and Mikaze is a dark witch who wants Maya dead for her own nefarious ends. There, did you get all that?

After the drab story-telling of the past two instalments, this was certainly a very different Occult Academy once again, even dumping its unique blend of humour in favour of a rollercoaster of twists and turns aplenty which would probably have taken up half a dozen episodes in other shows. I can only really commend this outing for not pulling any punches, be it sexually, emotionally or in terms of its plot, to make for a breathless viewing experience which certainly doesn't come along very often. While I will admit to preferring Occult Academy when it was being funny and zany, we had to move on to the "proper story" eventually, and judging by this episode the series is ready to do so with aplomb and a crazy spark of insanity in its eye.

Katanagatari - Episode 9

It's incredible just how far Katanagatari has progressed on its journey so far - not so much in terms of the plot and its sword collecting premise, but rather in how its turned from an overly verbose and slightly dull series into something that I genuinely look forward to the next instalment well in advance. So, here we are at episode nine, with Outou Nokogiri the next target for Togame and her human sword.

This particular Deviant Blade can be found residing with the current head of the Shinou Issou dojo, Kiguchi Zanki, a woman who seems to be quite the stickler for doing things right, refusing to fight against Shichika on account of his lacking the requisite sword and armour. Of course, to the head of Kyotouryuu family, trying to use a sword is a huge impediment, and thus Shichika is defeated in two seconds flat. Fortunately for himself and Togame, Kiguchi eventually realises that this made for a rather unfair bout, and offers a rematch, but only after training Shichika in the sword arts practised by the Shinou Issou school.

If Shichika's attitude towards Kiguchi Zanki was enough to make Togame jealous (and of course it was, it doesn't take much to rouse her jealousy it seems), then Shichika's daily training with Kiguchi sends this jealousy into the stratosphere, courtesy of a few unfortunate incidents which occur in time-honoured anime fashion ("oops, I tripped and fell on the pretty girl in an awkward position", and so on) just as Togame happens to be looking in on her comrade, leaving her more enraged and upset by the day.

However, credit has to go to Togame as she turns things around to become the real genius and star of the remainder of the episode - first, by using her feminine charms to manoeuvre Shichika into the position she requires, and then secondly by proving her strategic genius via some decidedly underhand yet incredibly successful tactics that allows even the inept Shichika to win largely by using a sword rather than himself. Thus, another sword is now tucked under the belt, but things are only going to get more difficult still from here... not least with the remaining Maniwa ninjas now holding a Deviant Blade of their own, Dokutou Mekki, while Emonzaemon continues to do Princess Hitei's bidding in his own frighteningly cool and accomplished manner.

While this episode of Katanagatari was never likely to compete with its direct predecessor in terms of action by its very nature, it did provide something that no previous episode has managed in such depth - A feast of all things Togame. While this cute yet scheming and slightly unhinged girl has been a larger than life character from the start, we get to see the full gamut of her wide emotional range here, taking her from seductive to angry to jealous to cunning in the blink of an eye. Everything about this instalment might as well have been a Togame tribute, with every shot, extreme close-up and camera angle designed to capture everything about her and the highs and lows of her experience on this occasion. Although this meant that the episode lacked the grit, action and relative depth of the past couple of outings, and while it employed some rampant clichés (and at least one terrible pun), it was nonetheless outstandingly fun to watch. Togame has been growing in stature throughout this series from a seemingly clumsy strategist who was getting by on luck and little else - whether she was simply hiding her real abilities early on or whether Shichika's presence has altered her, the Togame of recent episodes is far more of a force to be reckoned with, no matter who you are. Given that growth, she deserved an episode in the spotlight, and boy did she get it.

Highschool of the Dead - Episode 11

As rain and storms descend over the city, things are getting decidedly dark within what is left of Highschool of the Dead's humanity itself, whether it's upon Shidou's bus as its occupants reach cult-like proportions and what seems to be a rapid attempt to repopulate the planet, or those who have been saved by Takagi's father as they seek to turn against his violence ways and opt for a peaceful way out of the current chaos, whatever that might be.

While our group of high school students have unanimously decided upon Takashi as their leader, there's also some tension here, namely between Rei and Saeko - although nothing explicit is spoken about that particular love triangle, all of Rei's works to both Takashi and Saeko seem to be dripping with meaning, suggesting that she's more than a little aware as to what went on between the two of them while they were on their own together.

Mind you, love is the least of Rei's worries as Shidou and his troop of subservient students arrive on the doorstep of the mansion they're staying at - it's at this point we learn exactly why Rei hates this teacher so much, and surprisingly it isn't as perverted as you might have initially thought, with Shidou responsible for holding Rei back a grade at the behest of his father, a corrupt Senator with a dislike for Rei's father and his position within the police force. Seeing Shidou's face again causes Rei to fly into a rage, threatening him at knife point, while Soichiro Takagi is quite happy to allow her to make her own decision as to whether he lives or dies before he leaves, angry and disgraced. Not that it's going to matter where anybody goes, judging by the depressing final few scenes which look set to lead us towards a brutal ending for the series.

After all of those episodes with a hefty dose of outright action to enjoy, this was another instalment that was remarkable for featuring exactly zero action, focusing instead on various relationships much like the episode which preceded it. The trouble is, some of these encounters went on too long while others were unsatisfying in their brevity - the fallout of Rei and Shidou's face-off felt like it deserved far more than simply seeing him thrown back on his bus and out of the compound given how it had been built up throughout the series. That slightly skewed pacing and lack of action aside, it seems as though Highschool of the Dead now firmly has its eyes set on its end-game - and what a gruesome (if perhaps fitting) finale it looks as though it might be.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Tamayura - Episode 1

I really should stop just picking up shows to watch and 'blog about on a whim, but here's another one - mind you, it's easy to make an excuse for watching a new anime when it's just a four-part OVA with a fifteen minute running time per episode, and even more so when said OVA is directed by Junichi Sato of Aria fame.

Given that previous work, it's no surprise to learn that Tamayura is a gentle slice of life affair, which I'm absolutely not going to call "K-ON with photography" because it really isn't anything much like that at all. The OVA's protagonist is Fu Sawatari, a rather oddball girl with a passion for photography, to the point where she's even going around framing shots while her camera is away being repaired. Speaking of which, said camera is an old 35mm piece without even so much as auto focus capabilities, a quaint far cry from your modern digital camera.

After the death of her father, Fu's family have moved to the quiet, sleepy town of his childhood, where her only friend is a girl named Kaoru Hanawa. I should probably mention at this juncture that all of the characters in this show are oddballs - Kaoru has a thing for how places and people smell, while a girl who they bump into and befriend later in the episode speaks almost exclusively in whistles, like some kind of moe Clanger. No, really she does.

Being a "healing" anime as it is, there isn't really a lot else to say beyond this - the show is deliberately set out as a light and fluffy affair free of drama or anything that would threaten to raise the pulse, even more so than Aria I would argue. The biggest problem with Tamayura so far is that it's almost trying too hard to make its characters strange outsiders in normal society - this does set it aside from other slice of life shows, but having a girl talking in whistles is already grating on me after only a few minutes of screen time. When something starts to grate in a series designed to chill you out and make you feel better about life, that can only be a bad thing, although I suppose at least the other girls strange personalities are a little more within the realms of plausibility. Overall though, this opening for the series is as forgettable as it is inoffensive.

Giant Killing - Episode 24

The previous episode of Giant Killing left us with possibly the cruellest anime cliff-hanger of all time, with Natsuki's shot cannoning off the underside of the bar and the loose ball falling to Akasaki, before cutting to the end credits just as he lets his shot loose.

Thankfully, we leap straight back into where we left off as episode twenty-four begins... just in time to see Akasaki tuck a neat low shot into the net to make it 2-1. After all the tension of recent weeks, we get a fair amount of time to savour this goal and enjoy it to its fullest thankfully, as do all of the ETU players... all that is apart from Gino, who looks as displeased as ever, while Natsuki is still fretting about his own responsibilities to the team despite seemingly coming to something of a conclusion about it in his head.

Anyhow, with that goal pulled back, the rest of this instalment allows us to luxuriate somewhat in seeing various areas of Tatsumi's tactical master-plan come to fruition. For starters, immediately after ETU's goal we see Osaka's Kubota substituted; a necessary change as he's clearly exhausted from the greater than normal exertions Sugi has forced him into during the game - Kubota may be a great player, but he still lacks the stamina and experience when it really counts.

That said, Kubota isn't the only one looking leggy at this juncture - Osaka Gunners' captain Hiraga is also virtually dead on his feet, as it finally dawns on him that Gino hasn't been misplacing his passes; rather, he's been playing balls into space to force him to constantly compete for balls with the pacy Tsubaki, wearing him down throughout the game. With Hiraga flagging, but his team with no natural or trusted substitute in that position, Osaka's attacking player down the left-hand side thus has to withdraw into a more defensive role to help out - a move which Tatsumi further exploits by bringing in a new left-back of his own to overload this new weak spot in their opposition, and a change which looks to pay big dividends almost instantly before Tsubaki is blocked illegally on his route to goal; a frustration we can empathise with as it also brings the end of another episode for us poor viewers.

The other aspect of Tatsumi's plan which finally pays dividends here regards Kubota's marking of Hauer - the former's physical and verbal style of play has been riling his opponent throughout but at last he snaps, resulting in an off the ball shove on Kubota that would earn him a straight red card in any game that I can think of, but inexplicably only results in a yellow here, with ETU's players not even complaining about what is an incredibly lax piece of refereeing.

Aside from my complaint that more should have been made of this incident during this episode (it would be a big deal and hugely controversial in a real game), this was a fantastic instalment which finally paid back our patience of watching this game develop for over a month in our viewing time. We got a goal, we got the turn-around in ETU's on-field fortunes that we've been waiting for, and the entire thing was pulled off with a sense of realism that can only be commended. It's clear now that this game is going to be the final one of Giant Killing's reign on the airwaves for now - Hopefully the show can make a comeback much like the one East Tokyo United are on the brink of here.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Eden of the East: The Movie II - Paradise Lost

At last, it comes to an end... After dazzling us with its TV series and rather underwhelming us with its first movie, Eden of the East wraps up with a second movie in the form of Paradise Lost - but is this an anime paradise lost to boot?

After a brief but surreal dream sequence, this second film kicks off more or less where the first ended, with Takizawa and Saki landing back on Japanese soil, with the former's request to become a "king" leading to his being labelled as the illegitimate child of the recently deceased Japanese Prime Minister. Needless to say this revelation has brought plenty of interest, if not from the media then from the NEETs who still have a strange love/hate relationship with the "Air King", as well as from parliament and the dead Prime Minister's family of course.

While Takizawa deals with this attention in his own inimitable style, so he sends Saki off to do a little work of her own - namely, tracking down Akira's true mother, who he believes that he saw during the chaos of Careless Monday. This she succeeds in doing, but while the woman seems reluctant to give away any information, Saki and Ohsugi stumble upon even more interesting evidence that suggests that perhaps Takizawa's claim to be an illegitimate son of the former Prime Minister isn't far fetched at all... in fact, it could actually be the truth. With the dead Prime Minister's wife taking a DNA sample from Takizawa, confirmation is forthcoming either way...

As all of this rumbles along, various machinations lead to "Pants" having to abandon the old Eden of the East haunt while Akira steals his own Seleção truck (and I's vehicle for good measure) before eventually heading to the home of the former Prime Minister's wife, where he's eventually met by Mononobe. It's here that Paradise Lost really sheds its skin and shows its (and the entire show's colours), turning into a rich and considered discussion of the current political climate, with a particular eye towards Japan of course. While you could fill a whole book with the theories espoused here, effectively we're faced with Mononobe, already an experienced politician who believes that the people of the country need to be subjugated (albeit cunningly so they don't realised) to do the will of the government and thus improve the country and move it forward. On the other hand, Takizawa believes that the people should be free to choose their own path and that ultimately they will make the right choice and do the right thing if they're given a full and proper opportunity to do so. This belief leads on to Takizawa's final commands to Juiz - to hook him into ever phone in the country to urge the older generation to give Japan's youth a chance to grow into their shoes and thrive, and for those young people to step up to that task and do something with that opportunity, before giving every person in Japan a single Yen as a starting point.

Throw in the discovery and appearance of Mr. Outside at last, as well as why he chose Takizawa as one of his Seleção (a fascinating political statement in itself incidentally), and you have yourself one fantastically thought-provoking second half to Paradise Lost which takes all of the budding ideas of Eden of the East's TV format and allows them to grow and bloom into full-blown ideologies and beliefs.

Sure, it isn't action-packed and as full of twists, turns and intrigue as some might like (although it manages a few of them), but that really isn't what this film is trying to achieve - instead, it effectively sets out to throw the spotlight on the current state of Japanese (and arguably world) politics, deconstruct why it doesn't work and offer possibilities of what the future could, or perhaps should, hold. How well the concepts expressed stack up depends on your own political views, and its ending is certainly an idealistic one, but it crams in so many concepts that to my eyes its a fantastically thought-provoking piece that references the student demonstrations of years past, explores the positives and negatives of Japan's youth and NEET culture, and also queries the responsibility of the older generation when it comes to bringing a new generation into the country's bosom rather than alienating them with simple tags and accusations.

If you have no interest in politics or the machinations therein, then Paradise Lost will likely also be the point where Eden of the East as a whole loses you as it enters its own world of deep thinking to the point where it even effectively loses interest in some of its own characters. If you love such ideological debates and discussions however, and have sufficient grasp of Japanese and world politics to appreciate it, then Paradise Lost in particular is an arch examination of the subject that arguably makes it one of the most important anime creations of the past decade.

Shiki - Episode 10

Despite putting Natsuno in a tight spot a couple of episodes ago, last week his plight was largely ignored in favour of focusing on events as they panned out for Doctor Ozaki and his patient Setsuko - events which didn't turn out favourably for his patient's well-being, it has to be said.

With that part of the story tied up neatly, episode ten of Shiki thus has plenty of room to adjust its focus back to Natsuno while also tying its time-line in with the events of the previous instalment for good measure. With Tatsumi running operations in light of the discovery of what is going on in the village by both Natsuno and Ozaki, his primary concern is of course to silence and/or intimidate these knowledgeable voices. While Ozaki escapes with his life on this occasion, Natsuno's fate looks far less certain, leaving Megumi Shimizu torn but ultimately more than a little upset at the prospect of her unrequited love being killed.

Although Tatsumi refuses to let Megumi attend to their business with Natsuno, after handling affairs at the hospital with Ozaki she rushes to his home anyway, only to find that she's been beaten to it... by Tohru at all people, who is of course himself horribly conflicted about what to do with Natsuno, confronting him but unable to attack him in a fit of shame and emotion. Of course, Megumi volunteers to do the job that Tohru couldn't, but while Natsuno searches for Tohru after his initial shock of seeing his dead friend looking veyr much "alive" he finds himself confronted and outnumbered by Megumi and Tatsumi - and that isn't even the worst of it as this episode reaches its seemingly terrible climax...

After its steady climb of improvement in recent episodes, this tenth instalment of Shiki has certainly raised the bar as high as we've seen it so far - the cat and mouse game between Natsuno and the "Risen" was interesting enough in itself (especially once his "hippie" parents were thrown into the mix), but things have now taken a far, far more fascinating turn by throwing him into the mix with the girl who loves him that he hates and his best friend, both of whom are gunning to literally take a bite out of him with a hard to decipher mix of love and lust... which I guess it what vampires are all about at the end of the day.

It's the emotional side of the Risen and their goals which is what really makes this episode interesting - Megumi knows that Natsuno dying and coming back to "life" would bring her closer to him, yet if he doesn't come back to life then he's lost forever - a tough call for a girl to make, especially when she also needs to drink someone's blood just to stay alive. Tohru's dilemma is arguably even tougher - he clearly doesn't want to do anything bad to his friend, yet doing nothing leaves him at the mercy of the other Risen. Judging what actions these characters will take and why is what has suddenly twisted Shiki from "just some wannabe horror anime" into something much, much more fascinating; I just hope it continues to explore this path now we've finally reached the crux of matters.

Amagami SS - Episode 11

We might now be into our third episode of this particular story arc, but as it begins Sae is still being trained by Tachibana for her waitress job interview - seriously, how long could it possibly take?

Thankfully, eventually Nakata plucks up the courage to go for said interview, and shock of shocks she actually succeeds in passing the interview and getting the job. Fast forward a little later, and she actually proves to be pretty proficient in her role as she's visited by Tachibana and friends, although as for Tachibana himself he's still trying to wrap his thick skull around her comment about not wanting to be like a little sister to him - not that Haruka's thoughts on the matter (will that girl ever stop reappearing every episode?) help him much.

For the rest of the episode, things rumble on pretty much as you'd expect, with one rather major exception - It's always Nakata taking the lead rather than Tachibana. Thus, it's Sae who invites him to an amusement park as a thank you (only to be kidnapped by some cheesy and somewhat perverted hero show villain, but I digress), Sae who suggests that they both enter a forthcoming "Best Couple" contest being held over Christmas (hardly a subtle suggestion, but Tachibana still doesn't really get what it means) and Sae who requests that they hold hands.

While I don't have a problem with Nakata's growth in confidence and determination (after all, getting a job and working with people is liable to do that to a person), you have to wonder what happened to the shameless and confident Tachibana of the last couple of episodes, as he withers completely in the face of blatantly obvious advances from this girl that he spends all of his time hanging out with, turning into your typical tepid dishwater of a male protagonist that seems to go with the territory of visual novel adaptations. This takes a lot of the shine from this episode really, as Tachibana's blindness to what is going on feels like too much of a character change mid-arc, which only serves to elongate this story to its four full episodes where three would arguably have done the trick. Still, at least I've gotten over finding Sae's voice incredibly annoying (well, most of the time at least), which makes it more bearable than it seemed a couple of weeks ago.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi - Episode 11

With the lion's share of the Otogi Bank's members falling into one trap or another during the last instalment of Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi, things are looking pretty tough as this penultimate episode begins even before you factor in Ryouko's kidnapping, which of course is the most important piece of Hitsujikai's master plan.

Well, I say master plan, but it all turns out to be a little bit flawed really - rather than doing anything sensible with the other kidnapped members, they instead tease them with their supposed weaknesses, only to leave themselves wide open to counter attack. Thus, before we know it pretty much the entire Bank staff have regrouped, and thanks to all of the debts accumulated by their recent 30% off sale they also have a handful of important extras to help them out along the way, while our cat-eared friend of the last episode also comes along to a lend a hand.

Ultimately though, we're left with a face-off between a furious Morino and Onigashima student council president, which is exactly what the latter was hoping for in the supposed knowledge that he could beat the current apple of Ryouko's eye to a pulp right in front of her. In a blitz of nicely animated action (I'm guessing the work of animator Seiya Numata from the style), this does indeed look to be the case until Morino remembers his recent training to land a nicely-timed punch... just in time for the Otogi Bank's president to crop up and call a halt to things. This appears to be simply the end of a battle rather than the finale of a war, but with happiness restored and only one episode left surely they won't be running with this particular rivalry any further this series?

Somehow, I'm left feeling a little torn about this episode. For all of its satisfying (but of course far from final) resolution, the feeling of danger which was built up in the last episode was frittered away far too trivially here - yes, I know this isn't exactly a deadly serious show at the best of times, but surely they could have put the Otogi Bank's members through a bit more of a challenging and perilous escape than those they ultimately had to face? Still, there was a fair amount of satisfaction in seeing Morino stand up for his girl and ultimately end up looking rather cool, for a little while at least, and my soft spot for his pairing with Ryouko does at least ease my broader feelings of unhappiness with aspects of the episode. To be fair there was more good than there was bad when you look over the instalment in balance, but I still can't shake the feeling that there has always been more potential to this series than it's ever ultimately delivered upon.

K-ON!! - Episode 23

As this series slides inexorably towards the end, so we shift ever so close to the girl's graduation - the day before, in fact. While most normal kids would avoid school like the plague on a day where they don't have to attend, somehow the light music club girls end up using the day as a chance to gather and relax at school regardless.

With normal school life carrying on around them, there really isn't a lot for the girls to do, meaning that a lot of tea drinkage is in order when they aren't otherwise trying to entertain themselves by clearing out their old desks, hanging out with Nodoka (who does actually have a valid reason to be there as former student council president), trying to create a light music club themed version of Snakes and Ladders (another merchandising opportunity for this show, no doubt) and so on. You can tell boredom is rife when the highlight of the girl's day is cleaning the club room.

Eventually, once school is over and they're actually allowed to play their instruments without fear of disturbing anybody, the girls do strike upon a decent idea - to record their performance for posterity, which they duly do in their own cheap and cheerful fashion.

In what was largely a dull episode, the theme of "leaving something behind" was the only thing which really struck a chord with me - it's something that I guess we all want to do in life as a whole (whether it's via writing or whatever), but at school it tends to be both important and yet simultaneously very hard to actually do; I certainly don't remember leaving any kind of notable legacy anywhere I attended. This also inevitably tinged the episode with a slight unspoken sadness, which is as much a reverberation of the last few instalments as much as anything else - it's left me almost dreading the end of this series, tear-fest that it seems almost guaranteed to be. Even when it's somewhat off-form in terms of humour and entertainment value like this episode, I'm still sure that I'm going to miss the series when it's gone.

HEROMAN - Episode 24

With the Whitehouse overwhelmed by evil tentacle things and what remained of the Skrugg now growing in power and attempting to resurrect their leader Kogorr (why? He wasn't exactly very good at being in charge last time around, nor was he the kind of nice boss who would make his staff tea when they were busy, you'd have thought they wouldn't want him around again), Joey and Heroman look set to have a busy time in Washington as we roll towards the climax of the series.

Indeed, by the time they hit the ground things are looking even more difficult, with the whole city threatening to be overwhelmed by these new-look Skrugg forces - lucky then that Heroman is now equipped with all kinds of awesome new gadgets courtesy of the NIA, allowing him to cut a swathe through his opponents on the way to their real goal. In the meantime, Professor Denton has been flown out to Washington alongside Psy, Holly and Lina to offer his own unique brand of assistance, which he endeavours to do using all of the powers now at his beck and call.

From here, it's really all about Joey and Heroman kicking ass for most of the episode as they race to the Whitehouse, while Joey's place in proceedings is outed for the world to see thanks to the media. Of course, by the time they arrive Kogorr is about to be resurrected, while those ominous black spheres from earlier in the series are on the move again as they head for Washington. Cue cliffhanger...

Ignoring some rather odd plot holes (why are those slow-moving spheres from before now fast and airborne - if they could do that in the first place why not use it during the initial invasion? I'm also still not convinced that there's any point resurrecting Kogorr either, but maybe he'd promised them a good Christmas bonus or something), this was HEROMAN back to what it should be - a boy and his robot friend kicking seven shades of backside week after week in an attempt to save the world. It certainly beats beach episodes and even worrying about a crazy evil genius, that's for sure, and it looks like we're all set for an action-packed, entertaining and popcorn-chewing finale.

Strike Witches 2 - Episode 10

The 501st Joint Fighter Wing's recent saving of the battleship Yamato clearly hasn't gone unnoticed by those higher in the military food chain as episode ten of Strike Witches 2 begins - Although this allows Minna to submit her petition for the Witches to push on in defeating the Neuroi, it appears that they will have to return the favour by engaging in something of a publicity stunt by working together with a high-profile Witch for their next mission.

The girl in question is one Captain Hanna Marseille, another Witch from Karlsland who is already familiar with both Barkhorn and Hartmann as a result having fought alongside them both in the past. Unfortunately, this makes for an uneasy relationship between the competitive Marseille and Barkhorn in particular, as they not only come to blows but the former also refuses to work with the latter on their next mission, instead leaving Hartmann to pick up that particular task.

Unfortunately, that competitive streak displayed by Marseille is even more pronounced when up against fellow flying ace Hartmann, meaning that any hope of teamwork between the two is a remote possibility despite the best efforts of Minna to ensure that they work together. Come the day of the mission, even the normally placid Hartmann has been goaded into competing outright with her new comrade, although this doesn't actually seem to make any difference when it comes to defeating the Neuroi threat of this particular mission even if this rivalry spills over into the two shooting at one another after the battle itself is over.

As with the rest of its character line-up, Strike Witches has made the most of tying its new addition into actual Second World War history, with a clear nod to real-life pilot Hans-Joachim Marseille - a neat touch which is always an enjoyable bit of education alongside the frivolous nature of the series, although heaven only knows how fast these pilots would be spinning in their graves if they knew they were now only recognised as cute girls with animal ears and a penchant for not wearing pants. Anyhow, throwing another character into the mix also freshened up the episode somewhat as it offered up everything we've come to expect from the series - a couple of top-notch and well choreographed action scenes, a bit of personal drama between characters and an arbitrary discussion of breast size. It's just the kind of unique blend which makes Strike Witches 2 pretty fun to watch, so it's a case of mission accomplished on this occasion I would say.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Break Blade 2: Ketsubetsu no Michi

The first instalment of Break Blade was a solid but decidedly unspectacular affair, with a nice concept (in terms of the way its mecha are powered at least) blended into what otherwise looked like pretty standard giant robot anime fare.

Predictably, the first half of this second episode delves a little more into the politics of the conflict which has developed across its world, leaving Cruzon at the mercy of far more powerful military forces than it can possibly muster, with the danger only intensified by other lands working together to effectively sell it down the river to grab a share of the quartz which is so plentiful in the country.

However, it's pretty clear that any politics are only really secondary to the real focus of the series, that being the tangled web of relations between protagonist Ryugart, former friend turned enemy Zess and Cruzon royalty Hodr and Sigyn. The biggest bouncing of these characters off one another comes courtesy of a stand-off between Ryugart and Zess in the form of an attempt to negotiate by the former with the latter - this serves to reveal that Zess is clearly none too happy with the current course of military action being undertaken, but he sees himself with little choice but to follow orders given his lack of sway with the higher powers of Athens. With no chance of negotiation and Cruzon's token belligerently incompetent general jumping the gun, the two end up coming to blows via their respective Golems before Ryugart retreats, running off into the desert into a position which only causes more problems in the long run...

Before we know it, Ryugart ends up involved in a scrap with another of Zess' troops, Lee, which turns out to be a deadly one... not for Ryugart himself but for the soldier that comes to rescue him (with a name and rank like Private Dan, it was pretty clear that he was not long for this world - they might as well have given him a red shirt) and eventually Lee herself - a death which looks set to reverberate harshly into future instalments of the show. Witnessing these deaths at first hand and feeling responsible for them both (which he is, truth be told), Ryugart decides that he's had enough and looks all set to leave before a sudden and inevitable change of heart come the end of the episode.

After a pretty mediocre opener that didn't deliver much on its promise, this second instalment of Break Blade (and in particular the second half of this episode) was a pretty big improvement - the action felt slicker, we're now a little more attuned to what Ryugart's strange Under Golem is capable of without giving too much away, and most importantly the plot itself is now in a far stronger position after the events of this outing with tension, a lust for vengeance and the like bubbling up everywhere. Although the story itself still feels pretty generic by mecha anime standards, complete with reluctant pilot who looks all set to walk out on his role before a last minute change of heart, that isn't enough to stop this being a pretty entertaining affair at times. It's the third episode which will most likely make or break the series however - all of the pieces are in place, and it's now up to the show to deliver by making the most of them.