Sunday, 31 October 2010

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 4

After throwing various factions into the melting pot and then turning things on their head by shifting the true purposes of those factions somewhat, To Aru Majutsu no Index II seems to have set itself up with a somewhat hefty and twisting plot as we reach its fourth episode.

As this instalment begins the truth about what's going on has pretty much emerged however, with the Amakusa proving themselves to be the wannabe saviours rather than captors of Orsola Acquinas, while the Roman Catholic church turns out to be the villain of the piece after all (dare I make a comment about real-life resemblances here?).  However, with Orsola gone the Anglican church and Stiyl's part in proceedings is no more, leaving them happy to walk away - not so for Touma however, who is still burning with the injustice of it all.  So, as you'd expect he sets off alone to try and rescue Orsola from one of her own churches where she's held captive.

After a pretty long monologue from Sister Agnese (long needless discussions in this show?  Who would have thought!) we finally get to the crux of the matter, with Touma preparing to face off against the numerous Roman Catholic sisters alone before he finds that Stiyl, the Amakusa and Index have all turned up for the ride, while the cross which Touma gave Orsola last episode gives the Anglican church the perfect excuse to intervene.  Cue lots of pretty brutal action and fighting, while even Index comes in handy for once, although it appears as though the Roman Catholics have a plan to deal with her danger.  Throw in yet another organisation that seems to be willing things along from the background, and life certainly doesn't look like it's going to get any easier for our main characters.

Going from watching that To Aru Kagaku no Railgun OVA earlier today, you can't help but notice how much slicker that series feels to To Aru Majutsu no Index, which almost becomes bogged down in things as it threatens to over-complicate and/or over-explain matters too much.  Once it comes to the crunch things run smoothly enough, but again here we had to wait almost fifteen minutes for the action to kick off, complete with at least some dialogue that felt a little unnecessary.  It isn't enough to ruin this series, but it does take a little of the sheen off of its sense of overall fun.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - Episode 4

I make no secret of rather liking Hotori Arashiyama and her irrepressible character within Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, but while she still has plenty to say and do in this fourth episode her teacher Mr. Moriaki manages to steal the show too, if only on occasion.

This episode begins with Arashiyama in a good mood on account of a TV love horoscope talking of a fated encounter with the person you love... mind you, she did have to channel surf through countless other programmes to find it.  Anyway, it appears as though the horoscope is correct on this occasion, as Hotori does indeed end up with a fated encounter with Mr. Moriaki, in the form of an additional after-school lesson as she runs the risk of flunking maths and having to retake a grade entirely.

From here, we get a lot more focus on Natsuhiko Moriaki himself, from rumours about how he turned away a student who fell in love with him by responding to her love letter with a simple formula (of course, Hotori has a smart-ass formula of her own to combat that with), through to a magnificent moment where he sees Pi formed from the milk in his coffee and onward to his entirely over-zealous concerns about whether or not he ends up sitting in the staff room's faulty chair in front of Hotori.

This certainly wasn't as funny an episode as last week's instalment, but despite that it still managed to raise a fair few laughs - despite the fact that I share Hotori's mathematical ineptitude, the maths-based jokes were all genuinely funny, and Arashiyama's incredibly stupidity (which sometimes seems to wrap around into genius) still seems to be a long, long way from getting old.  I have to admit I wasn't expecting anything much from this series when it started airing, but it's really won me over as something of a surprise hit - it looks as though SHAFT have got two solid comedies on their hands this season.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - Episode 5

Wow, I go away for a few days and this happens... Just when I thought that there would be nothing new to say about Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt the second half of the show's fifth episode comes along and blind-sides me.

Before all that however, the first half of this episode is everything we've come to expect from the series from this point, with an obvious gross-out factor from its plot that sees the latest trend in Daten City involving picking your noise, a turn for the ridiculous as the inventor of this technique holds a party within an airship that can only be flown to using the participants feather-light boogers, and a sexual element featuring what can only really be described as nasal sex.  Of course, the aforementioned inventor also turns out to be a Ghost, leaving our two anti-heroines needing to use their usual abilities to save the day before this airship crashes into the moon.  There are a few laughs laced throughout this sub-episode to be fair amidst all the eye-rolling over the top craziness of it all, so I suppose I can't write it off completely.

Here's here that everything is turned almost complete on its head for the second half of the episode - rather than following Panty and Stocking as they swear, sex and eat up a storm, we instead join an ageing man within Daten City named Taroa in his dead-end job as a salaryman towards the bottom of the career ladder as he's sneered upon by his colleagues and pitied by his boss.  Despite being a devoted father, things just seem to get worse and worse for Tarao, and when he picks a decidedly odd present for a female temp in his workplace, leaving her in tears, he's forced to join the office for a drinking session and despite not touching alcohol normally he then finds himself with no choice than to drink a mountain of beer - a state of affairs which leads to the creation of a vomit-induced ghost, which Panty and Stocking duly arrive to despatch.

Simply from reading the above, you'll probably get a very different feel for that sub-episode from anything we've seen from this series before, and so it proves - the animation style is vastly different, swapping the colourful Flash-esque normal animation with a slightly surreal yet dreary and grimy world which is Tarao's home and changing the pace and tone from break-neck frivolity into a slow and brooding analysis of the Japanese office worker and the stressed, strains and social crosses he has to bear in every-day life just to get by.  It's an arch piece of social commentary that sits entirely outside of the confines of the mainstay of this series, yet the two are beautifully merged as Panty and Stocking appear in their normal art style (albeit slightly muted in terms of colour) to win the day, standing out so much for once you can understand why they are the cities heroes.

It's really hard to know what more to say about the second half of this episode - it's so striking and fascinating I want to see more of the same, effectively telling tales from the Ghost's point of view as it reaches its point of inception, but at the same time this sub-episode would have been far less striking and fascinating has it not been from the lowbrow insanity which preceded it.  Have Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's four and a half episodes of gross-out and sexual comedy all been building up to this moment?  I very much doubt it, but either way it's just sent my interest and feelings about this show up a notch, so it's an intriguing move by GAINAX.

Amagami SS - Episode 17

Now that the serious business of this weekend's MCM London Expo (the closest the UK gets to a major anime event) is over for another six months, it's time for me to ramp up working through my viewing backlog... again.  Of course, I couldn't help but put the possibilities of a new story arc of Amagami SS towards the front of that pile, if only to see what bizarre goings-on it might bring us this time around.

For this latest arc, Rihoko Sakurai is the star of the show, giving us that all-important "childhood friend" angle which has been lacking thus far.  This arc also differs a little in that Rihoko is already in love with Junichi, but has never done anything about it since the time she thought he'd invited her on a date only to find he wanted her to help him choose a present for his girlfriend.  Of course, we all know how that one turned out...

In fact, this episode as a whole switches things around a little by focusing far more on following Rihoko herself than I remember seeing with any of the previous girls and their story arcs, setting up its premise when she gets stuck under the fence which has become her regular short-cut to school which leaves her requiring the assistance of Tachibana to be saved.  This event, coupled with Junichi's comments, lead Rihoko to decide that it's time for a diet - and this isn't the first time she's thought so by all accounts.  Still, we get to watch her fight between a love of food and concern over her weight, while Tachibana is as oblivious as ever to the girls around him and their attractiveness because he's a complete dolt.

Although this episode has all been very much as you might expect, I've got to say that I really liked a lot of the aspects of this opening to Sakurai's arc.  For starters, the fact she's interested in him from the outset makes a refreshing change from the previous girls and their stories, while the dynamic between Rihoko and Junichi means that the pair are practically made for one another - they're both up-front with each other most of the time, and they're both slightly dim but ultimately nice, good-natured people, which leaves me liking them rather a lot.  Even though Tachibana has been a bit of an idiot at times throughout this series, his actions towards the end of the episode to help out Rihoko made me smile.  So far so good then, even though this is threatening to be a more generic love story than previous arcs judging by this instalment.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun EX OVA (Completed)

Like many I suspect, I sit firmly in the "To Aru Kagaku no Railgun is better than To Aru Majutsu no Index" camp (not that I dislike the latter), so the chance to watch another episode of this fantastic female foursome is always quite alright in my book - enter this EX OVA which attempts to deliver.

This one-shot episode enters the fray after all of the events of the main series itself, finding Misaka as somewhat the centre of attention as a heroine of Academy City, although as ever she seems to be equally adept at getting herself into scrapes thanks to her short temper.  Still, even her steely nerves are jangled as she feels what seems like someone's stare boring into her back after one particular incident - a discomfort not helped by Saten's discussion of an urban legend doing the rounds about someone going around watching people; not an unusual feeling in a society where surveillance is rife, mind you.

Urban legend or not things only get worse for Mikoto as she becomes more and more disturbed and paranoid by this feeling that someone is close by; a paranoia that understandably worries her friends.  While we're treated to delights such as an inevitable bathhouse scene, Kuroko and Uihara are hard at work tracking down leads and piecing together what they increasingly believe to be a genuine threat that Misaka has picked up on.  This leads us into a final ten minutes where the villain of the piece and their motivations are revealed, followed by a short chase sequences before they're caught and the day is saved, even if Kuroko's victory for the day appears to be somewhat short-lived...

Ultimately, this is everything you'd probably expect from an OVA - a little fan service and some pandering to the desires of fans overall, sandwiched into what is actually a pretty solid story that would have sat quite happily within the main series itself.  More time could arguably have been spent both building up to and then apprehending the story's criminal to match up with this interesting story, as revealing her motivation in particular was incredibly brief, but I suppose that's only to be expected from a one-off episode like this.  Still, there's plenty here for To Aru Kagaku no Railgun fans to enjoy and revel in, and let's face it - that's entirely the point of this episode.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Kuragehime - Episode 2

With a first episode that covered everything that needed to be conveyed to set up its story of Tsukimi, her house mates and her randomly encountered "princess", Kuragehime looks all set to start having fun with its premise as we enter its second instalment.

Indeed, this episode wastes no time in making of the most of Tsukimi finding herself with a cross-dressing man in her room - a care-free and free spirited one no less, who pays no attention to Tsukimi's panic as he makes himself at home while his host frantically tries to hide him from everyone else in the building.

Despite some close shaves, it seems as though Tsukimi has escaped with her reputation and place in the house's "Sisterhood" intact, and normality returns as the group plans and shops for their weekly hot pot.  Such an illusion of normality is quickly shattered however, as our cross-dressing friend pops by to say hello and help herself to said hot pot.  Needless to say, this doesn't go down well at all around the "unique" residents of the house and their rampant aversion to such fashionable types, and things only go from bad to worse once a casual query as to whether they are all nerds comes into the (incredibly one-sided) conversation.  It's this throwaway comment that eventually leads to our guest being effectively kicked out of the house, leading Tsukimi to learn a little more about this strange guy (most of it incredibly surprising), while our cross-dresser himself manages to find his way at least partly back into Tsukimi's friends affections courtesy of some prime meat for a new, improved hotpot.

After enjoying the first episode of Kuragehime I had high hopes for this next instalment, and I have to say I wasn't disappointed.  Sure, the initial comedy of Tsukimi trying to hide someone in her room has been done a billion times before but it was still played out really well here, and the rest of the episode kept things running perfectly with plenty of humour without forgetting to play on various undercurrents that will run through the series with a focus firmly on Kurashita and Koibuchi and the unspoken similarities that bond them together, even if neither of them has realised yet.  It's still too early to trumpet it too loudly, but Kuragehime is definitely looking like one of the winners of the autumn so far.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ Specials - Episode 2 (Completed)

After getting all excited about a new episode of Hidamari Sketch at the weekend, what's this?  Another new episode of Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆?  Be still my beating heart...

This second (and sadly final) special episode for this particular series starts out with a bit of a change of pace - at least as far as a slice of life show such as this one can have a change of pace, that is.  This is achieved via a flying visit home to her parents from Yuno, although said parents are more than a little disappointed to see Yuno making in-roads to pet cat Nyanta over them, a sight which tickled me because I've done just the same myself on more than one occasion.  Anyway, the remainder of the first half of the episode largely follows Yunocchi simply enjoy some time with her mum and dad, which brings with it the usual opportunities for some great gags and punchlines, while even a single day away from Hidamari Apartments sees Yuno keeping in touch with her friends by phone.

From discussions about the girl's forthcoming summer break, the second half of this episode takes us to the fledgling days of that holiday, with Miyako fishing a barbecue out from the depths of the apartment's storage shed.  Shopping for food and charcoal and a chance meeting with Natsume later, it's barbecue time, with the usual range of meat and fish on offer as well as some more unusual experiments, one of which (from Miyako, inevitably) turns into a decidedly smoky affair.  Still, fun times for all, and Natsume fans get their second dose of love from these special episodes into the bargain.

Wow, me really enjoying an episode of Hidamari Sketch, who would have thought it?!  As always with this series, it left me laughing out loud plenty of times, while the moments that weren't filled with laughter still elft me with a huge smile on my face.  I can't really describe just how soothing and satisfying watching these simple tales of a bunch of friends doing normal things are, but this is one of those series that can brighten the darkest mood and introduce some sunshine (do you see what I did there?) into the bleakest day.  Normally I'd be happy to suggest that an anime should come to an end after three series lest it start to burn out, but right now it feels as though Hidamari Sketch's star is burning brighter than ever, and there's nothing I'd love more than to see a fourth season of it appear.  And a fifth.  And sixth...

Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - Episode 4

With Arakawa Under the Bridge's penchant for slightly pretentious yet ultimately not particularly meaningful beginnings to its episodes, it seemed safe to assume that their P-ko-starring faux film trailer could be filed similarly as pretty but generaly irrelevant.  Well, think again...

Instead, the first half of this episode reveals that P-ko has written her own movie script - a tale of love and rivalry starring (who would have thought?) P-ko as the star of the piece as various men fight after her affections.  With Ric directing and Takai handling the camera work, it looks all set to be a huge success... except this is Arakawa Under the Bridge we're talking about, so invariably the whole thing takes a turn for the bizarre sooner rather than later.  While Nino impresses in her uniform she fluffs her lines, but at least she's actually read her lines unlike most of the remainder of the cast.  Still, even all of this looks decidedly professional once we get to see exactly where the focus of Takai's camera has inevitably been for the entire duration of filming.

The remainder of the episode sees the residents under the bridge setting up a haunted house - they certainly seem to have plenty of facilities at their disposal to pass the time, don't they?  Of course, the main aim soon becomes to scare Recruit as he makes his way through said haunted house, and just as inevitably Ric ends up getting scared in very, very different ways than those imagined by the others.

It almost goes without saying that Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 is hugely funny by this point, as the series continues on its merry way while barely putting a foot wrong in terms of its content.  This episode's movie filming scenario was always guaranteed to be funny by design and so it proved, while the haunted house segment was perhaps a little less sharp but still had a few laugh out loud moments.  From its opening credits right down to its ending song, this show is proving to be an unqualified success.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The World God Only Knows - Episode 4

With two girls liberated, and goodness knows how many more to go.... The World God Only Knows takes something of a break in what can only really be described as a filler episode.

This instalment sees Keima hard at work as always on conquering a new game, while also demonstrating some impressive feats of multi-tasking, be it answering questions in class or avoiding traffic while continuing to play.  However, even this self-proclaimed god of gaming is powerless in the face of one thing and one thing alone... horrendously buggy games.

However, even with the title he's currently playing getting stuck in a loop after being asked to make a particular decision, Keima refuses to be completely defeated, roping Elsie into noting down every path that he takes in the hope of finding a route which doesn't trigger the buggy loop in question - an epic task for a game that also has broken save game functionality.  If this seems like a lot of effort to go to for a simple game, Keima explains his dedication by expounding on the importance of the two-dimensional heroine who he wants to rescue from her life of being eternally trapped behind that bug - a nice monologue perhaps, but not quite my idea of a well-rounded (or entirely sane) personality.

Although I've described this episode as filler (because it is), I have to confess this was a genuinely funny episode of The World God Only Knows at the same time, if only because watching this ridiculously buggy game being played was often hilarious (and often also painfully close to the truth in comparison to some games that were genuinely released in a similar state), matched perhaps only by the way it was marketed.  The picture would have been completed had they named the developers of the game as something that sounded close to 0verflow... So, considering how many laughs it gave me, I can well and truly let this particular instalment off failing to move the show's plot forward at all, and if anything I've warmed to the series a little more now that I've seen hard evidence that it can boast some impressive moments of humour when called upon.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Bakuman - Episode 4

It may have effectively taken three whole episodes to reach this point, but appears that the time is now finally upon us for Akito and Moritaka to being pursuing their dream of becoming manga artists in earnest.  Of course, their path isn't going to be an easy one, with this episode serving to show us just some of the difficulties they're going to have to face up to very quickly.

Perhaps topping the bill in terms of difficulty is the struggle Moritaka is already having in balancing his school life and attempts to draw manga, leading to him falling asleep in the middle of tests and forsake studying for exams in deference to sharpening up his manga skills.  Despite having some pretty obvious natural talent, even the drawing angle isn't as easy as you might think, as we're guided through the difficulties of using the right pen as well as just how much effort and how many steps need to go into every single page of manga.

Although you might think it would have bolstered their confidence a little, the boy's determination is shaken a little by news that a lad of just fifteen has won the much-touted Tezuka prize, giving way to the realisation that there's a lot of competition out there for our upstarts.  This series of events leads Moritaka to decide that something will have to give if he really wants to chase his dream, and thus he decides to lower his expectations when it comes to his targets for entering high school, with Akito soon promising to do likewise - it's quite a sacrifice to make for both of them, but then again they both seem to be more determined than ever not to compromise on their dream.  It's enough to make you feel a little envious really.

While Bakuman admittedly seems to determined to move things along at its own slow pace, I honestly enjoyed this episode rather a lot, if only as an education as to just some of the difficulties facing a wannabe manga artist.  That all of this was presented in an interesting way and woven into the story as a whole only served to make it more entertaining, while this instalment has also seem some more intriguing characters introduced to provide a little friendship and/or rivalry for our dynamic duo.  Part of me really wants to encourage Bakuman to hurry along now we have the show's ground rules and targets set in stone, but another side of me is quite happy to continue taking this slowly and allowing us to savour and understand just what these guys are putting on the line for their passion and art.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see what's around the corner... at least, those of us who haven't read the manga will, anyhow.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - Episode 4

With all of the drama served up by last week's episode of Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai, it's perhaps something of a relief to see everything returned to normal in the Kousaka household as this instlmanet begins - as least, as normal as it can get when you have an otaku sister and her disinterested older brother around, with the former lambasting the latter over his continued lack of skill when it comes to playing eroge.

Still, such things have to be put on the back burner for Kirino, as some of her "normal" friends pay a visit the next day, leaving Kyousuke under strict instructions to make himself scarce in their presence.  This is all good and well until a delivery man turns up at the door with a package (what? Parcel deliveries on a Sunday? Is this true, Japan?!) addressed to Kyou, but in a box purporting to come from some expensive cosmetics manufacturer.  Of course, Kirino sees this, assumes it's for her and grabs it to show her friends, unaware of the truth - It's actually a box filled with doujinshi from Saori, leaving Kyou to stop Kirino opening the box and leading to the most blatant and frankly shameful bit of fan service from this series so far.  Still, despite that huge embarrassment, Kyousuke still ends up getting the number of Ayase Aragaki, one of the friends in question.

To make up for shaming her in front of her friends, Kyousuke is tasked with taking Kirino out somewhere during the summer as compensation, which brings us to the inevitable Comiket episode of the series - to be honest this doesn't seem to quite capture the intensity and crowds of such an event as well as Lucky Star, Genshiken et al, but then again it seems more content with building upon the various dynamics between the attending Kirino, Kuroneko, Saori and Kyousuke.  Come the end of the day it seems as though everyone has had their fair share of fun.... but there's still one twist left to this particular tale as we reach the end of the episode.

Unnecessary fan service moment aside, this was another fun episode that kept things ticking over pretty nicely in terms of the characters on show (with the possible exception of new arrival Ayase, it just felt odd her giving Kirino's brother her number just like that - and no, I'm not jealous) - the relationship between Kirino and Kyou is still sat perfectly on that love-hate brink of most sibling relationships (did I mention that I'm ignoring that fan service moment yet?), while the odd friendship between Kuroneko and Kirino also feels strangely solid.  There's really not much more to say except I'm still genuinely enjoying this series right now.  Apart from that horrible fan service moment, which I'm not sure I covered here.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Katanagatari - Episode 10

As our monthly journey through Katanagatari's world reaches double figures, we also reach the point where we know the location of all of the Deviant Blades that its various parties are searching for, with the latest aim of Togame's efforts a blade known as Seitou Hakari, a sword owned by a holy man who goes by the name of Higaki Rinne.

Despite calling him a holy man, as we meet Rinne we find him to have the body of a girl, although the reason for this is explained soon enough, for he acts simply as a "mirror" to those who meet him, forcing them to see aspects of their past that they've been trying to avoid or forget about previously.  Thus, the Rinne we meet has the physical features of Shichika's various regrets and feelings of guilt, while his personality takes on the regrets of Togame.

Indeed, it's Togame who arguably has to do the fighting for much of this episode, as it proves to be more of a battle of the mind to gain Seitou Hakari rather than any kind of physical fight.  For Togame, this means revisiting painful and locked away memories about the death of her father which she struggles massively to come to terms with while digging deep into the ground for the sword which has been discarded and buried by Higaki Rinne.  That isn't to say that Shichika is free of responsibilities for this episode, as he too finds himself with a surprising amount of guilt and regret to face up to, not least concerning his sister.  Rinne also teaches him a lesson about his own fighting nature, and how his skills can leave him at a disadvantage against weaker opponents in some situations - arguably a lesson which is tied into some of the guilt he was feeling from previous encounters.

What this leaves us with is another episode of Katanagatari that proved to be very different from those before - it still managed to squeeze in a couple of bouts of impressive action (which this show seems to have mastered after a clunky start), but it was far more interested at taking us inside Togame's head to give us some insight into what drives her while still retaining a fair amount of her sense of mystery.  In comparison to this, Shichika's own trials and tribulations were perhaps less interesting, but still important to his progress as a character as a whole, before this episode landed us with a couple of twists in its plot that put the final pieces of the puzzle in place to prepare for what could be a dazzling last couple of instalments.

This accomplished bit of story-telling, plot and character progression certainly exhibits just how far Katanagatari has come since its early episodes, even in the way that it's shifted the balance of power within the show from Shichika (who was initially a force of strength despite Togame's frequent strategic errors) to Togame over recent instalments - let's just hope it can finish things off in a worthy fashion as both this series and 2010 move irrevocably towards their endings.

Star Driver - Episode 4

From its first three episodes, Star Driver seems to have set up its episode plan in a pretty formal way - frolic around with some high school drama and comedy, reveal a minor point or two about the wider plot, then finish the episode with a short but satisfying burst of giant robot fighting action.

In fairness to episode four of the series, it does succeed in shaking things up slightly.  After a little taster of what is to come, we jump back to those everyday school goings-on courtesy of a drama club meeting where things get a little awkward for various reasons, be it Takuto not answering a question about his feelings for Wako or Wako's rather "interesting" imaginings about Takuto and Sugata.  However, as this conversation goes on we realise that something is amiss elsewhere in the drama club group, and we soon find out why, as Tiger Sugatame is kidnapped on account of her own interest in Sugata; a love which means that removing both Wako and Takuto would be in her best interest.

From here, we see Wako waking up to a world where everyone else appears to have vanished... except Takuto of course.  After chatting for a bit and going through the inevitable anime trope of "oh no, we got caught in the rain, let's strip off in the same room and try to avoid gawping at one another", it starts to become clear that this is neither a dream nor some kind of odd occurence in the real world, but rather a unique kind of Zero Time, hence Takuto and Wako being the only ones present.  Despite this, Takuto finds himself unable to call upon Tauburn until things start to look dangerous with the appearance of a Cybody finally confirming their suspicions, at which point his giant robot appears and chases away their opponent who is, of course, Tiger.. Sugatame that is, not Woods, otherwise I imagine Wako's seal would have been broken by now.  Ahem.  While this seems like a happy ending for the pair of them, it appears as though this was just a part of the Glittering Crux Brigade's real plan - so what are they plotting?

I have to admit that this instalment of Star Driver has done more to fire my interest in the series and its plot than any of its previous episodes - while it wasn't great, at least it mixed things up a bit and broke out of its own staid narrative conventions to some degree, while the shifting sands of the various parties involved and their plans are also beginning to look a little more fully formed, or at least more intriguing.  From appearing as though it was going to fall into its own repetitive trap, Star Driver suddenly feels a little more fascinating again as it returns to the precipice of genius and stupidity.  Now, we just have to wait and see upon which side of that fence it falls.

Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ Specials - Episode 1

Sometimes, I wish for a world where every week brought me a new episode of Hidamari Sketch.  Sometimes, between all of those special episodes, DVD releases and so on it feels as though I'm a little closer to that world than is actually true.  Regardless, more of this wonderful franchise is always a good thing, and thus the appearance of the first Hidamari Sketch x☆☆☆ Special is quite the birthday treat for me.

In keeping with the kind of intense drama always provided by the series, much of this episode focuses on a huge piece of plot development for the show - the opening of a new family restaurant nearby, complete with flyers that include coupons!  Of course, the girls decide to check it out after school, a decision made even easier by the fact that they only have a half day; in keeping with that "dropping by after school" element, they don't even bother changing out of their uniforms to pay it a visit - that's just how rebellious the Hidamari Apartment girls are.

We probably shouldn't be surprised to find that the girl's landlady is working as a waitress at this apartment, nor should we be surprised to see Natsume putting in an appearance and eventually irritating Sae as always, but all of this weaves into a gentle, cheerful and mildly amusing narrative, all beautifully animated via SHAFT's inimitably unique style.  As a showcase of why most people watch Hidamari Sketch, this isn't the funniest episode segments ever, but it's still very much entertaining.

Speaking of Natsume, any fans of hers are given a real treat as the final segment of this special episode takes us right back to her first day at Yamabuki High - a potentially disastrous day as her mother can't make it to the opening ceremony, delays on the trains make her late, and she very nearly can't find her locker until a certain girl named Sae saves her bacon by pointing her in the right direction.  Of course, Natsume is immediately taken by this tall, smart girl, but the next time they meet properly Natsume walks right into the midst of a conversation between Sae and Hiro which leaves her feeling confused and jealous, and thus the Natsume we know all too well throughout this series is born - this girl really needs a hug.

I'm not really sure that I need to conclude this post - you probably all know how much I love Hidamari Sketch so it goes without saying that I also loved this episode.  The Natsume section of the episode was carried off excellently (arguably better than even the original manga managed), and the family restaurant scenario which preceded it was fun enough to watch to.  Now, I guess I just have to be patient and wait for the next special episode, which will hopefully be followed by Sentai Filworks announcing that they've licensed the series on Blu-Ray... pretty please?

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - Episode 3

I have to admit, the first episode of Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru left me expecting one thing, before episode two suggested that it wasn't going to be quite as linear and entirely story-driven a series as I'd perhaps anticipated.  Thankfully, episode three continues in this vein, as this series continues to look more and more like a typical SHAFT series as a result.

This instalment begins with an almost unthinkable turn of affairs, with teacher Mr. Moriaki coming to see Hotori to ask for her help - has he gone mad?  Well, quite possibly, but regardless Arahiyama's homeroom teacher is looking for her thoughts regarding some paintings he's inherited from his deceased grandfather; namely, two self-portraits both named "Eyes", but with one showing the old man with two eyes (as you'd expect) while the other depicts him with four.  Moriaki asks his student to solve this conundrum on account of her love of detective novels - probably still not the smartest of choices, but amazingly Hotori manages to figure out the answer to this confusing state of affairs all too easily, so perhaps we should never have doubted her.

Indeed, those moments of intellect couldn't seem any further away as we next see Arashiyama being primed for another shopping trip, with a specially created shopping list to help her remember what she's supposed to be buying (although I can't help but think creating the "Oniorrot" is the best way to do this).  While on this occasion Hotori proves to be perfectly capable of remembering the required foodstuffs (well, just about), she ends up being distracted by a young pretty boy who is trying to coax his cat out of a narrow alleyway.  This leads to plenty of bizarre snippets of conversations, most of which inevitably emanate from Hotori's mouth before the cat in question is "rescued" and the boy goes on his way... except he isn't actually a boy at all, but rather a girl who goes to the same school as our protagonist.  Oh, Hotori...

Well, three episodes in I have to admit that I'm enjoying Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru more by the week - although some of the Japanese wordplay is lost entirely in translation, this episode also had enough funny moments to see it through, backed up by a visual style which suits this kind of comedy pretty well more often than not.  You also can't help but get caught up a little in Arashiyama's energy as she goes about her business of being completely dumb most of the time, making her an incredibly fun character even if her taste in men is more than a little unhinged to boot.  So far, Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru is shaping up to be one of those shows that is no classic, but it does succeed in serving up a decent dose of comedy to keep me entertained each week.

Black Lagoon: Roberta's Blood Trail - Episode 2

The first episode of Black Lagoon OVA Roberta's Blood Trail certainly did what it intended to in terms of reintroducing deadly maid Roberta to the fray, but despite that there was a certain something missing from that instalment and the way it was presented.  Can this second part of this five episode effort do any better?

If nothing else, episode two of Roberta's Blood Trail certainly ramps up the complexity ten-fold - while Roberta's "young master" Garcia has come to Roanapur along with trainee made Fabiola to ask for Rock's help in tracking down their crazed servant before she ends up putting heads with the US forces who despatched of Garcia's father in a bombing, there's far, far more to it than that.  While Rock is initially recitent to help he's eventually coaxed into agreeing, and sets about working on his theories on how best to get Garcia to Roberta before all hell breaks loose - a tricky requirement, given the numerous cartels and organisations with a vested interested not so much in Roberta, but rather the entire future of Roanapur; a future put at risk by a visit from over-zealous armed US forces with an eye towards finally ending the drug trade of the town.

With so many possibilities to consider, this second episode of Roberta's Blood Trail is very much a slow-burner, with Rock pondering over and weighing up the possibilities while the various Triads and cartels do likewise when considering their own response to the threat posed by the forth-coming one woman war Roberta looks set to bring.  In a way, Roanapur itself becomes the main character for much of this instalment, as its seedy depths and dark corners, and the understanding of them, become central to the various parties and their plans for dealing with what is to come.

This instalment also takes a little time to add some further depth to the relationship between Rock and Revy, which proves to be as fascinating as ever - come the end of this episode, we come perhaps as close as ever have to the two of them acknowledging their reliance upon one another, with Rock in particular coneding that Revy is the gun to Rock's bullet in a conversation that finally brings around the reticent Revy to helping Rock with his seemingly suicidal mission.

I have to admit, I have a certain respect to this episode for adding so much depth to its surroundings, characters and the relationships between them - Black Lagoon may be most fondly remembered for its cartoon-esque villains and over-the-top action, but that has sometimes allowed its underlying complexities to be forgotten.  This instalment works hard to bring them to the forefront, although in doing so it does lose any sense of the adrenaline-pumping excitement which can normally be had from watching this series, leaving it devoid of any action-packed set pieces at all.  This does leave me with a certain empty feeling that has me torn in terms of this episode as a whole - my heart is disappointed but my head is filled with interesting thoughts to consider, which isn't what I was expecting from this OVA when I started watching, that's for sure.  Then again, after two episodes of build-up it seems that we're nearly ready to unleash hell upon all parties, so beyond the more thoughtful tone on show here we still seem to be progressing to more visceral times featuring a drug-addled, blood-thirsty lunatic butting heads with an entire army.

Amagami SS - Episode 16

After three episodes of finding Ai Nanasaki to be quite likeable but via a story arc which never managed to get "under her skin", so this latest arc comes to an end via two good, old-fashioned anime tropes - a school festival, followed by a hot spring.

With Tachibana and Nansaki both working behind the counter at the girl's swimming club's oden stall, we get to see all of the "drama" unfold... at least the closest a school festival can come to drama, via some tea club members and their demanding taste buds and a drunken teacher.  Oh, and an out of control Gundam, but that didn't really get as much screen time as it probably deserved.

Anyhow, come the end of the festival the oden stall proved to be a huge success (it was sold out in fact), and with some time to spare at the end of the day Ai drags Junichi off into the middle of nowhere... and a secret hot spring which she just happens to know about.  You can probably figure out the rest from here - Nanasaki confesses to Tachibana, he accepts her feelings, and they all live happily ever after.  Probably.

With this story arc now closed, I still stick by my assertion that they simply didn't do enough with Nanasaki's character to really bring anything to the table other than her being a genuinely nice girl - after bringing her younger brother into the discussion in earlier episodes, he was effectively dropped from proceedings just as quickly, removing the only potential difficulty in Ai's life and making the rest of the arc one of incredibly smooth sailing.  It also struck me that this arc never really gave us the feeling that Tachibana felt anything more than friendship for Nanasaki until he accepted her confession of love - despite his saying that he'd fallen hopelessly in love with her, his actions prior to that point never really gave that impression, with the possible exception of the diving in the pool incident last episode (another piece of drama that seemed to have been forgotten about as quickly as it was brought up).

Thus, Amagami SS continues its run of being occasionally crazy, more infrequently funny, and unfortunately not all that proficient at telling a compelling narrative of the girls Junichi meets and why they fall in love with him.  Rather oddly, Nanasaki is probably my favourite girl from this show so far, even though her story was the least interesting of the bunch, but that probably says more about my preferences than the series itself.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 3

After spending almost all of its second episode on plot build-up and exposition (before seemingly losing interest in all of that and finishing up with a hefty dose of fan service instead), you'd expect this third instalment of To Aru Majutsu no Index II to get right down to business, and thankfully it does more or less exactly that.

With Touma and Index finding themselves working alongside both Stiyl and a bunch of Roman Catholic nuns, the latter act as a decoy while the other parties can work to find the missing Liber Al vel Legis and Orsola Acquinas, both of whom are assumed to be under the watchful eye of the powerful Amakusa.  This means that it isn't too long until we get hit with a bout of action, with Touma in particular left to his own devices, leaving him needing to both despatch some of those Amakusa members before fortuitously running into Orsola herself.

From here, we quickly progress to what you might have expected to be a major skirmish between Touma, Stiyl and the Amakusa's leader Tatemiya Saiji, but in truth this particular battle is over relatively quickly thanks to Touma's unique ability and a little bit of clever tactical teamwork.  However, the story is far from over here, as Saiji suggests that it's the Roman Catholic church that are the bad guys in all of this, and that it is they who have set out to kill Orsola rather than the Amakusa.  While Touma finds himself torn as to whether or not this is true, goings-on around him soon suggest that he's had the wool pulled over his eyes in a major fashion.  Throw some talk of Kanzaki into the mix, and you have yourself your completed episode.

After losing its way last week, this was a definite improvement for the series which managed to keep things moving without getting too bogged down for too long in dialogue, throwing us just enough action to hold our interest before adding in a tasty plot twist for us to chew on.  While I'm still not entirely engrossed in this current story arc, it has a fair shot at providing a decent story as long as it can knuckle down and not find itself distracted from the big picture or moving its plot forward to often.  To Aru Majutsu no Index tends to be at its best when it just runs with its concepts and lets them flow, so hopefully it'll allow this particular story arc to do just that as it moves forth.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - Episode 4

With that sweet tooth and constant chocolate eating, it's a bit surprising that the Stocking of this show's title isn't the size of a house by now.  Oh, wait a second...

Perhaps inevitably, the first half of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's fourth episode turns to the subject of dieting, with Stocking's obsession with all things sweet seemingly catching up with her at last as she starts to gain weight.  Cue a montage sequence as she works hard to work off those extra pounds in all of the usual fashions, only to find that things are only getting worse, until she does literally end up the size of a house.  It's at this point that we learn about the latest Ghost in town, a nipplerific monster who is creating cakes designed to cause women's weight to balloon - cakes which Stocking has not so much indulged in but gorged herself on to commiserate over her failed diet attempts.  So, it's up to our two "heroines" to defeat the ghost and save the day - not that Stocking it much help on account of her size even though she tries her best, going as far as to run us through a less spritely than usual transformation sequence.

The second half of this week's episode sees Panty and Stocking spending a boring night fine-tuning their weapons, although naturally this doesn't last for long as Panty has hers eyes on attending a "Lingerie Run" event - no need to guess why she's interested in that of course, and similarly Garterbelt's presence as the event organiser probably requires little explanation to anyone who watched last week's episode.  An event that involves everyone running around in their underwear has also attracted a Ghost to the vicinity, this time an individual who enjoys stealing and devouring said underwear.  You can probably guess the rest - nudity, penis jokes and underwear references aplenty end in said Ghost being defeated.

As seems to have become par for the course with Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt by now, each episode manages to pull out a few laugh out loud moments in a sea of relative mediocrity.  To be fair, the first half of this particular episode was one of the best yet in terms of well built-up comedy, leading up to some hilarious fat Stocking moments that were worth the wait while also coming the closest we've seen yet to a "family friendly" instalment of the series.  Sadly, the second half of this episode returned to its old habits of relying on smutty jokes and underwear over anything more entertaining, and as a result it simply didn't work as well - kudos though to Crunchyroll for managing to work the phrase "mass naked student events" into its subtitles; doubtless a homage to a certain infamous bit of fansubbing from yesteryear.  Still, it says it all when one knowing bit of subtitling is the funniest part of an episode...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Star Driver - Episode 3

If there's one thing I can say about Star Driver from its opening two episodes, it's that it barely makes the tiniest bit of sense.  Yet still I persevere, doubtless frying my brain a little more each week in the process.

This third instalment of the series introduces us a little more comprehensively to "high school wife" Watanabe, a woman married to a much older man who is only interested in her for one thing, although on the plus side he is also filthy rich, to the point where he can happily give his new wife a hulking great nice boat as a present.  Watanabe's acquired wealth also proves to be a potential boon for Takuto, who is suffering having lost all his money during his swim to the island - something that he can redress when Watanabe asks if he wants to clean her swimming pool (that isn't a euphemism for something by the way... I think) to earn some cash.

So Takuto and his friends (including the cute vice president) head on over to clean this pool, which just so happens to be the home to an alligator... or was it a crocodile?  Oh, who cares, it makes no difference, as the whole thing is really just a clumsy and rather dull set-up to bring us to the real deal, involving Takuto fighting his next opponent first in the "real world" (where neither party puts in much effort) before transferring their rivalry to the crazy world of Cybodies as the Glittering Crux Brigade continue to look for a way to defeat Tauburn to advance their plans.

Well, we're now three episodes in, and Star Driver remains little more than a pile of nonsense that doesn't know what it wants to be in terms of its plot.  One minute it's a high school comedy, the next its some kind of harem show, then it's a drama of sorts before we move to the week's admittedly impressive action scenes where we get to watch some big robots fighting... now with added swords!  I keep telling myself that there's something big, clever and more intricate in terms of the show's story just around the corner but I'm beginning to wonder - Star Driver is increasingly looking like some kind of "robot fight of the week" anime with little else to say for itself to the point of being wilfully obtuse.  Right now it's only those admittedly wonderfully animated action scenes that are holding my attention in the midst of all the fluff - I care not for either any of the characters or the scenario they have been placed within, and that's going to need to change pretty sharpish for this show to really hold my interest to any notable degree.

Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - Episode 3

While Arakawa Under the Bridge has often enjoyed employing slightly touching yet ultimately meaningless little introductions to its episode, this third instalment of x2 starts out with some random platitudes that actually turn out to be at least a little prescient, via an episode that is perhaps the most important in developing the relationship between Kou and Nino yet.

The whole thing begins as Recruit and Nino return to their original rooms after their ineffectual swap a couple of episode ago (not that this stops the latter using the former's room to dry out fish, mind you), a switch which leads to Recruit finding a cassette player and a bunch of tapes belonging to Nino (complete with an amusing reference to the Voyager spacecraft).  Of course, knowing as little about Nino as he does he can't resist listening to this new discovery, only for Nino to walk in on him just as we're about to reach a crucial moment.  The shock of this is enough to send even the normally placid Nino into what seems to be a rage, as she races away to sulk and fume at the top of a bird-infested telegraph pole, and try as they might Recruit and friends simply can't find a good way to coax her down, until Ric finally says what seems to be the right thing before suspecting that he's actually made things worse.

Anyhow, Recruit finally gets to listen to the tape in question, only to find that it's been recorded over by Star (of course, I should have seen that coming a mile off), but Nino is still seemingly in a daze from the whole experience, and the other female under-bridge dwellers group around their friend to protect her seemingly fragile feelings, suggesting a pyjama party to cheer her up.  With P-ko in charge we certainly learn quite a lot (too much, you could say) about what she likes in a man, but Nino remains silent throughout until Ric returns with a tape of his own embarrassing moments which proves to be shameful for entirely different reasons.

By the end of all this, we reach a surprisingly touching and actually quite emotional moment, as Nino explains the reason for her actions and Recruit apologises profusely, while still leaving us none the wiser about her past - that said, she does at least finally reveal that she does indeed have a past that she's afraid to tell people about, not least Kou for fear of losing him; surely that alone can be considered progress?  It appears we may also have ourselves a major focus for the rest of this series... beyond making me laugh like an idiot, that is.

After going for outright hilarity for its first two episodes, this was actually a welcome change of pace for Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - that isn't to say that this instalment wasn't funny, but its gags were far more targeted and were thus perhaps all the funnier for it.  Beneath all the laughter however, there was a real current of development running through this episode in terms of Ric and Nino's relationship, which again is arguably much needed after allowing it to drift on following the end of the show's first season.  It's easy to forget there are so many unanswered questions about Nino when you're simply having a ball watching the series being zany and downright hilarious, but a gentle reminder that we still no next to nothing about the "real" Nino was much needed; all of a sudden, this show has got me thinking and musing over one of its main characters again.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Iron Man - Episode 3 (Dropped)

As episode three of Iron Man begins, we see Tony Stark's lab working on some kind of EMP device, which Mr. Stark complains about because it "looks boring".  Yes, that's right, engineering genius Tony Stark is completely disinterested in this invention because it doesn't look pretty enough.  Maybe he's angling for a job at Apple...

This particular exchange basically sets the tone for this entire episode - that tone being "stupid".  The mainstay of the plot revolves around a number of professors who have been attacked and killed by tornados... not the aircraft, but the weather anomaly.  This makes for an instalment featuring lots of stuff getting blown around and incredibly dull action, while reporter Nanami does her usual thing of investigating a story whilst basically just getting in the way of danger at every possible opportunity - cue a meeting with a friendly professor who later turns out to be bonkers, and who also happens to own a laser gun for absolutely no reason, with a background story that has something to do with creating a system to mess around with the Earth's magnetic fields, but one which the script writers clearly didn't actually give a shit about enough to make it sound either plausible or interesting.

So, come the end of this instalment, I have to say that this was an incredible experience - it's incredible that anyone could have taken a successful, action-packed Hollywood franchise and turned into into such a dreary, unimaginative mess.  This episode in particularly showcases everything that is wrong with the series thus far - just about every character is an asshole (a stupid asshole, more often than not) who probably deserves to be sucked into a tornado before dying horribly, while that whole tornado plot seems like something that probably got rejected by the makers of some crappy Saturday morning cartoon for being too stupid.  There are so many things wrong with the plot and the way it's presented that it's hard to know where to start.... actually, wait, I know exactly where to start - let's just laugh at it for being so pathetic.  I've been patient up to now, but I can be patient no more - Iron Man is just terrible.

The World God Only Knows - Episode 3

Last week's episode introduced us to a new story arc and a ergo a new girl - Mio Aoyama, a posh, spoiled rich girl on the surface who is in fact living a lie.  The start of this episode fills in the gaps about Mio's situation, with her rich father having passed away leaving their family with nothing but a small apartment which her mother has to work tirelessly to keep up while Mio does little more than waste money on keeping up her pretence as a rich girl.

Of course, this information plays perfectly into the hands of Keima, even more so when Mio discovers him outside her flat and realises that he knows her secret.  From here, Keima puts his plan into action, setting out to help Aoyama by acting as her new chauffeur with a little help from Elsie to create ever more luxurious (and eventually ludicrous) carriages to help Mio feel comfortable.

Despite doing this, Keima still can't "break" this particular girl, until he eventually realises that there's one final obstacle between her and her growing love for Keima.  So, our protagonist sets out to bury those ghosts from her past so that he can win her over and complete his current mission, which he does almost too effectively you could argue.

Certainly, after that disappointing first episode this is far more like what I was hoping for from The World God Only Knows - it established a far more interesting plot and "conquest" for Keima, it slipped in some great moments of humour (including a tongue-in-cheek version of that famous and often wrongly attributed "let them eat cake" quote), and it actually finished in a bittersweet way that I didn't mind too much.  I do still have my reservations about this series (it's hard to like Keima and the way he goes about his business, which worked on this occasion only because Mio wasn't exactly a bright light herself), but the past couple of episodes did enough for me to shelve those misgivings, if only temporarily at least.  Who knows, maybe the next story arc can put those worries to bed entirely?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Kuragehime - Episode 1

Alongside Shiki's continuation for the autumn season, Fuji Television's expanded noitaminA slot also gives us another, brand-new series to look forward to - Kuragehime.  If its name seems a little odd then this is explained in double-quick time by the show's opening episode, as we see our female protagonist in her youth marvelling at a particularly beautiful jellyfish while dreaming of looking like a princess of sorts in the future.

Fast forward to that future and we find that those dreams couldn't be further from the truth about budding illustrator Tsukimi Kurashita, who is a shy female nerd lacking in self-confidence and living with a number of equally geeky female housemates, each of whom have their own unique obsessions and prefer not to venture out into the outside world if they can help it at all.

Jellyfish are, of course, Tsukimi's particular oddball passion, and that combination with her talent as an illustrator means that her room is packed to the rafters with drawings and sketches of said creatures.  Funnily enough, it's this love of jellyfish that starts Kuragehime's ball rolling, as Tsukimi finds herself needing to pluck up the courage to talk to the man behind a pet shop counter to join out that two jellyfish which shouldn't be sharing a tank together and have been lumped into the same living space, with potentially fatal consequences.  Her animated attempts to convey this information to the apathetic store clerk leads her to a meeting with a beautiful "princess", who kindly steps in and helps Tsukimi by buying the endangered jellyfish.  Next thing she knows, this woman is crashing out on the floor of her room back at home, and come the next morning it becomes clear that this princess is anything but....

Although this opening episode of Kuragehime hasn't had the opportunity to set its scenario up entirely, we can pretty clearly see where it's headed and I have to say this was a pretty enjoyable first episode so far.  Tsukimi herself is a fascinating choice of main character - a girl you can like, admire and sympathise with, often all at the same time.  Of course, throwing her together with a very different kind of eccentric as this episode does holds plenty of promise for the rest of the series, especially once you factor in Tsukimi's housemates, and hopefully that potential will be realised.  For now though, this was a fun and nicely paced way to start things off, so I have pretty high hopes for the series from what I've seen so far.

Shiki - Episode 12

Probably the last thing Shiki needed just as it was hitting its stride was a three-week long break, but that's exactly what it got to allow itself to realign with the new autumn anime season for its second half.  So here we are again, ready to return to the world of the Risen with gusto.

After putting Natsuno in a decidedly tight spot a couple of episodes ago, it's about time we revisit him, and understandably we find him looking a little peaky at best as he meets with Akira and Kaori only to urge them both to leave the village - something that they point-blank refuse to do despite the fact that they must realise they're in almost as much danger as Natsuno himself.

Although Natsuno still has the strength to escape or protect himself, he nonetheless finds himself torn as to how to deal with Tohru, while Tohru himself seems equally troubled by the thought of having to ultimately kill Natsuno.  This results in a tense face-off between the two, with Natsuno looking set to use crosses and wooden stakes against his friend but finding himself unable to go through with his plans, while Tohru's wavering emotions are soon pushed aside by his instinctive hunger.

With Natsuno weakening, his father also proves to be a further obstacle to any chance of his son's survival on account of his refusal to believe in the village's superstition - a believe set further bolstered by both his wife (who appears to be the subject of some Risen blood-sucking herself) and the head of the Kanemasa family, as they agree that there's no place for such stupid ideas as part of their own agenda.  Thus, Akira and Kaori are pushed away from helping Natsuno, while their own father looks set to "teach them a lesson" at the behest of Tatsumi.

So, despite those few weeks on hiatus, Shiki has come out swinging by continuing with its darkening tone and delivering another excellent episode.  Refocusing on Natsuno's plight was always liable to make things interesting, and so it proved here as he stoically tries to help his Risen friend while also staying alive in the hope of finding an answer that will allow both parties to benefit and survive - quite the idealist is our Natsuno.  While things still aren't moving particularly quickly within the series, we're now at the point where this slow build-up of tension and a seemingly hopeless scenario for those remaining is adding to the sense of the series worth rather than detracting from it, and by the look of things there's a whole lot more fascinating and horrific things to come.  Bring it on!

Bakuman - Episode 3

After overcoming the first hurdles on the way towards his goal, things are looking pretty good for Moritaka Mashiro - he now has the blessing of his parents to become a manga artist, and what's more he now has a studio to work from, thanks to his grandfather keeping his uncle's old studio apartment as if in preparation for just this moment.

With the excitement of this revelation, both Moritaka and Akito waste no time in racing to take a look at this apartment, marvelling at its massive collection of figures, manga and manuscripts while discussing the first step in starting to create what they hope will be their masterpiece.  With the pair seemingly on the same wavelength in terms of the kinds of manga they like, and with Moritaka's father offering some rare words of encouragement to his son, it appears that we're all set and ready to go with their project.

However, there's still one further distraction in Moritaka and Akito's way before they really get down to business, as the pair of them find an intriguing box in the back of Moritaka's uncle's studio.  Within it are a bunch of letters exchanged between himself and the girl that he liked - not love letters per se, but rather dull discussions of everyday mundane goings-on, but the intent behind the correspondence was clear to see.  As the boys read through these letters, they finally reach their sad conclusion, with the girl in question Miyuki Haruno announcing that she's about to be married - an announcement that came a couple of years before Moritaka's uncle finally made it big in his career.

This is where things get really interesting, as it eventually dawns on the boys that Miyuki Haruno is quite possibly none other than Azuki's mother, in a scenario that pays more than a passing resemblance to Azuki and Moritaka's current relationship.  Understandably, the two of them want to verify the truth of this, and thus the next day they set off to quiz Azuki's mum about the whole thing, finding her to be surprisingly supportive in the process.

I have to admit that the first half of this episode worried me a little - it seemed to be taking far too much time on things which felt like they could have been covered for more quickly; I suppose I was just eager to move on to the real meat of this series where the manga creation begins in earnest.  Thankfully, my concerns proved to be short-lived, with the second half of the episode throwing a bit of a curve ball in bringing Azuki's mother and her relationship with Moritaka's uncle into proceedings.  Yes, it's all pretty implausible (although perhaps less so compared to Azuki and Moritaka's own pact), but it does add an extra layer and background to the wider story that it arguably needs, and it was done in a rather sweet way that I ended up enjoying, so I certainly can't be critical of it.  Hopefully now we can move on to the show's "serious business", as that seems to be where a lot of the clear potential in terms of both comedy and drama is stored for the series - we've seen flashes of it throughout these opening episodes, now it's time to step up a gear and really let Bakuman shine.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - Episode 3

After last episode's leak meet-up, things seem to be going pretty well for Kirino in her new-found life as a fully functioning otaku, as she's able to chat (or rather, argue) away on the phone with new friend Kuroneko whilst also spending time playing eroge, where it's nice to see she has a similar technique to playing such games as myself - although I guess everyone probably makes liberal use of the save game function that way in truth.

So, the first half of this episode serves pretty much as a celebration of Kirino's liberation as she hangs out and chats with her new friends, leaving Kyou free to do as he pleases with his own time (although I'm not sure as to whether he's oblivious to Manami's advances or simply ignoring them.

Of course, this peace and tranquility can't last forever, and it's duly shattered as Kyou and Kirino's father spots one of the latters eroge - this leads to the inevitable father-daughter talk where the formerly effectively bans the latter from pursuing her hobby any further, leading to her running out of the house; amusing not so much on account of her own treatment, but rather her father's assertion that anime and eroge as useless.  Thus, it's up to Kyou to come to the rescue again, courtesy of a rousing speech to persuade their father to let Kirino's otaku leanings slide, before even taking the fall himself as the "worthless" owner of the eroge that started the whole argument.  So, Kirino's hobby is safe for now, while Kyou seems to have seriously burned some family bridges in terms of his relationship with his father.

I have to confess I wasn't expecting this "discovery" episode to come so soon within the series, nor was I expecting it to be over quite so quickly - in a way it's probably a good thing that it wasn't dragged out or held over Kirino's head too long, as let's face it watching her in a state of otaku glee is one of the more entertaining things about this series.  Certainly, this made for another pretty decent episode, from the fun of watching Kirino doing her thing with her new friends, before turning the spotlight back on Kyou as he effectively saves his sister while quite rightly defending her need to make friends and the importance of accepting every part of her and her interests.  Sure, it was maybe a little cliche in places, but I couldn't help quietly cheering him on in my head - perhaps it's because I've just spent a weekend with like-minded anime fans who revel in those rare chances to talk with other people who love the same things I do, as I did over the past few days.  It was also nice to see a little balance here, with the other girls openly celebrating their otaku interests with no real interference from parents - we don't all have to hide our figures and DVDs in the closet, you know.

If there's one thing that Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai has going for it so far, it's that it understands its target audience - not just how to push the right buttons within the otaku database, but also how it feels to be a fan of anything that is out of the mainstream, and it's how this is conveyed that continues to impress me the most about this series.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - Episode 2

After a first episode that sort of worked and sort of didn't, occasionally at exactly the same time, we return to possibly Japan's worst maid cafe for episode two of Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru.

While I'd love to pretend that there's a plot to speak of, this particular instalment is really all about Hotori Arashiyama running around and stirring up trouble with her ebullient personality and, let's be frank here, rank stupidity when it comes to most things.  Luckily, these two traits offer up room for a fair amount of comedy, be it Hotori's rather odd and sudden obsession with her teacher, accusations of sexual harassment or oddball ideas for how to better promote the cafe to attract new and more sophisticated customers.

Of course, all of these ideas fall flat on their face for some reason or another but you can't help but get carried away by Arashiyama's near-frenzied excitement and passion about pretty much everything, which actually makes her a rather appealing character despite her being a bit of a rude and obnoxious loud-mouth at times.  Here, this combination makes for a rare individual who you can both laugh at and sympathise with at the same time, and it's perhaps this that does a lot to make this episode feel more fun and lively than the show's opener.

This episode also feels like it fits far better into what SHAFT do best - some neat visual and wordplay gags, expressive and flowing animation, quotes from Akira and well realised moments of humour make for a far more entertaining episode, plot or character progression be damned.  Thus, my initial misgivings about Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru have been lifted - for now at least, although deep down this early inconsistency does make me wonder whether we're looking at the next Natsu no Arashi here; a series which can occasionally be brilliant, but all too often falls flat on its face.  A little bit like Hotori herself, you could say.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 2

The first episode of To Aru Majutsu no Index II certainly hit the spot for me, seemingly learning from the more heavily-criticised issues with the first season and delivering a neat, well-placed story which was more or less self-contained.

However, with a more full-on and complicated story arc beginning I suppose this was only ever going to be a short-lived state of affairs for the series, and low and behold this episode is packed to the rafters with loads of exposition and dialogue to set up said story.  Effectively and boiled down as simply as possible, this arc focuses on a magical book known as Liber Al vel Legis - a tome that is indecipherable even to a walking library such as Index.  Indeed, only one person can translate the book - a Roman Catholic sister named Orsola Acquinas, who worryingly has gone missing at the same time as Liber Al vel Legis.  This sets the scene for a face off between the Roman Catholic church and the Amakusa, a group with what seems to be a rather more diverse religious doctrine - not to mention a far less strict dress code by the look of it.

While I really have no idea how (or rather why) Index and Touma are involved in all this given the former's inability to decipher that all-important book, of course they are both dragged into this whole mess by Steyr, seemingly at the behest of Archbishop Laura Stewart, and Touma being what he is manages to accidentally run into Orsola before even knowing who or what she is.  Throw in some more nuns and a dollop of fan service complete with Index biting Touma on a few occasions, and you pretty much have this episode all wrapped up.

While I'm willing to forgive this series an episode of wall-to-wall exposition, there's something that just didn't quite feel satisfactory about the way it was done.  Aside from the fact that some things were mentioned pointlessly two or three times (we heard you the first time guys!), the way the whole thing unfurled didn't really do a lot to build up any tension or set the pulse racing, and even the kidnapping of Orsola (which surely should have been a huge deal) was allowed to drift by as something of an "oh well, we'll worry about that next episode" moment.  This really isn't the way to build interest in a plot, and drifting off into comedy and fan service after that juncture doesn't exactly help either.  Thus, a lot of the good work of episode one has been undone pretty rapidly here, but then again To Aru Majutsu no Index has always been about enjoying the good episodes and story arcs and just bearing up to the not-so hot ones with a sigh of resignation.  So, all together now everyone...


Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - Episode 3

So, now I'm back from Scotland it's time for my catch-up process with this 'blog to begin in earnest - and what more disgraceful fashion to begin than episode three of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt?

As per previous instalments, this episode is actually split into two individual stories, spoofing Fight Club and Pulp Fiction in their introductory cards respectively but having nothing to do with those particular movies otherwise.  The first sub-episode out of the gate sees Panty and Stocking at loggerheads as is so often the case with sisters, with a row about some pudding instigated by Stocking descending into a full-on falling out.  This becomes a major problem when the latest Ghost pops up, with Stocking going it alone and inevitably getting herself into trouble, requiring Panty to bail her out while their continued bickering almost puts them both in trouble.

Of course, all's well that ends well, pushing us over into the second half of the episode and probably the most ludicrous and deliberately crude plot so far.  After an admittedly quite amusing take on Saving Private Ryan which replaces the Allied forces with sperm and the enemy with tissues, we move to a story where Daten City is suffering a major tissue shortage, which of course causes all sorts of problems in its own right.  So, Panty and Stocking duly investigate, where they find the paper plant which produces said tissues.. err.... "gummed up", by a clutch of seminal Ghosts.  Cue lots of double entendres before a rapidly resolved storyline.

Even a couple of weeks back after the first episode, I was expressing concerns that Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt was looking like a bit of a one-trick pony, and I think this instalment confirms my fears - the series doesn't really know where to go before lots of sex jokes, bodily fluids and sex-based plays on words.  In fairness, this does work at times - that aformentioned Private Ryan spoof was actually quite funny, and there were a few other sharp one-liners, but when they come thick and fast with nothing to break things up it all ends up getting a bit boring eventually.  Come the end of the episode, even my enjoyment of the animation style and amusement at the show not caring what topics it brings up (I don't think I've ever heard phimosis mentioned in anime before, that's for sure) has been deadened with overuse - fair play to GAINAX for sticking their neck out and trying this, but it's really in need of a little more variety to keep it moving in my opinion.  At least the soundtrack is pretty awesome though.

Scotland Loves Anime - Day 3

Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity (or rather, the time) to write this post yesterday, as I was too busy writing my review for UK Anime of the highlight of Edinburgh's final day of Scotland Loves Anime - The European premiere of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, and what a fine three hours of movie-going they were too.  Anyhow, the good news is that The Disappearance of Andy Hanley is almost at an end, as I'm writing this on the train home at which point I will start the mammoth task of working through my anime watching backlog.  The things I do to myself.... Anyhow, on with a few brief comments on my final day in Scotland's capital city.

The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya - As just mentioned, I've already reviewed this movie more thoroughly for UK Anime, so you're better off checking out that piece if you want my more comprehensive thoughts.  That aside, all that really needs to be said is that this is a triumphant return to form for the anime that went badly off the rails with Endless Eight and its second season in general with a few exceptions.  A smart yet fun and entertaining storyline went a long way towards this success, but perhaps more importantly said story leveraged the show's major characters fantastically well - with Nagato in particular having a lot to gain while Kyon's quips and one-liners were perfectly placed to keep things moving.

Making a three hour movie feel like it was only ninety minutes or so long is quite an achievement, but it's one that Kyoto Animation pulled off with relative ease here, complete with their characteristic visual aplomb (and even one scene that looked more like SHAFT than KyoAni territory).

No doubt this movie will be available to the masses by Christmas (and very likely before) if you're willing to go down the fansub route, but trust me - it'll be worth the wait.

Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not Advance) - I've already talked about Evangelion to death, and I've discussed the 2.22 release right here on this 'blog, so there's really nothing more for me to say here other than pointing out that this movie is as awesome at the fourth time of watching it as the first.  Seeing Evangelion on the big screen is certainly a great experience too, and thankfully Edinburgh had a far better to transfer to hand than the BFI in London did earlier this year - put simply, it was digital versus analogue, so no surprises who won there.

Akira - Last bit not least is a classic that probably requires no description; if you haven't seen Akira, then something is seriously wrong.  That said, on the way in to see this screening of the film I did meet a guy who lived and was brought up in Japan, and he was an anime fan, yet this was his first time seeing the movie!

Anyhow, after picking up my jaw from the floor at that revelation came my biggest disappointment of the whole event - rather than using the shiny new, remastered transfer available via the film's Blu-Ray release, we were instead stuck with good old fashioned film reels from the movie's original UK screenings which took place god knows when.  As a result, parts of those reels were effectively torn to shreds in terms of popping, crackling, dirt and dust, which combined with some decidedly ropey subtitles took away a lot of the excitement of seeing the film on the big screen.

Sure, it's still Akira, so it's always worth watching just one more time, but if only this film had been given the love, attention and viewing experience it deserved here.  Just to make things worse, the festival's Art of Akira exhibition was taken down a whole day too early, meaning that I missed that too.  Gah!  I did get to take a quick peek at the Disappearance of Haruhi cels and sketches that were on show though, which made up for that disappointment somewhat I suppose.

Altogether though, this was one absolutely fantastic weekend, and something that I'd urge UK fans to look out for in future years - surely there will be future Scotland Loves Anime events too, considering how every movie was either sold out or pretty close to it, with Redline oddly being the worst attended movie of the bunch.

There's something about the shared viewing experience of watching a film with a couple of hundred other like-minded people that simply can't be beaten, whether it's staring bug-eyed at the vibrant insanity of Redline or laughing at the unintentional hilarity of Professor Layton's English dub, building up to the shared excitement and tension of that Haruhi premiere.  Perhaps even more satisfying is being able to chat to those other like-minded fans before and after the screenings (often during the pre-film commercials which were identical every. Damned.  Time.  If I see that kid spouting crap about Willy Wonka to try and sell Volkswagens one more time...) - new friends were made, great discussions were had and amusing anecdotes were shared. 

Weekends like this are why I'm an anime fan - compelling content, and great people to share it with.  Hopefully we can all do it again next year!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Scotland Loves Anime - Day 2

I'm writing this under the influence of a couple of pints of beer (is 'blogging under the influence an offence?) so I'll keep this brief, but the second day of Scotland Loves Anime in Edinburgh meant another three movies for me to enjoy.  What was on the menu this time around?

Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva - Unusually compared to the rest of this festival's offering, the Professor Layton movie was screened using its English rather than its Japanese dub - and it was terrible.  I feel a bit like it's unfair to comment on the movie without seeing the original Japanese version, but this screening was frequently unintentionally hilarious, with its supposedly more moving moments often proving to be its funniest.  A true English gentleman would never publicly criticise a film, but I'm no gentlemen, so this sucked, although at least it entertained me for all the wrong reasons.  It was certainly a far cry from all the positive reviews I've read of the movie.

Summer Wars - I've already talked about Summer Wars on this 'blog, so I won't do again here.  Needless to say this movie is just as good on a second viewing, and actually gains a little by being viewed alongside a full house audience (as you could probably say for most films, truth be told).

Trigun: Badlands Rumblebi - Again, it's confession time here: I've never seen more than a few episodes of the original Trigun anime series.  Although Badlands Rumble is one for the fans, it's also designed for those not familiar to the series to some extent, and thankfully my knowledge of the franchise was great enough to be able to pick up and run with this movie without too much difficulty.  With that in mind, this movie has everything you would expect of it - bullets flying and explosions, plus a rich vein of humour which inevitably comes from Vash the Stampede as he steals almost every scene he appears in via his rather unique take on proceedings in this Wild West of sorts as they pan out.  The overall movie is a lot of fun and has a lot in common with what I have seen of the series, but there are some outstanding gags within the film (visual gags in particular, this being a very visceral film) which deserve being remembered and talked about for a long time to come.

So, another day is over, and tomorrow brings me the moment I've been waiting for - A European premiere of The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, as well as big screen outings for Evangelion 2.0 and that old favourite Akira.