Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - Episode 8

After a bit of a slow start, I now can't imagine a week that isn't lit up by peeking in on whatever ol' blowfish cheeks and her friends are up to, even if it means waiting a little longer to enjoy her randomness on occasion.

Episode eight of Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru beings with Hotori, Tatsuno and Kon stranded outside a shop in the middle of a sudden down-pour, an event which brings lots of the usual snippets of weather-related pleasantries we're all used to, together with some rather more left-field ideas (from Hotori of course).  Come to think of it, why don't weathermen have an equivalent of batting averages?  With the girls' clothes soaked and them handily standing outside a laundrette, Hotori suggests that they dry their clothes in said establishment - a slightly crazy idea that becomes inevitable thanks to the misfortune that descends upon them soon after.  With clothes somewhat dry and avoiding the continuing torrent of rain in mind, we end up exploring the alien vending machine technology and the like on offer within this laundrette - only SHAFT could make a series where talking about vending machines is genuinely funny, I would wager.

For the second half of the episode, we enter the inevitable world of the school culture festival, and although Hotori's class doesn't have an event planned for said festival an opportunity soon presents itself courtesy of Kon looking for some additional members to join a makeshift band she's putting together to perform on stage.  If you've seen the end credits to this series (you have watched them, right?) then you probably know what's coming next, with Hotori offering her services playing "something a bit keyboard-y" while Tatsuno manages to provide "something a bit like a guitar".  But not a triangle, though.  Anyway, all of this really just leads up to an excuse for the girls to play the B-side to the recently released Maids Sanjou! single; a performance which goes down well with the watching crowd, whilst also proving that Hotori isn't useless at absolutely everything after all.

Maybe it's just the mood I'm in (I've been cracking jokes all day at work), but I couldn't stop laughing at the first half of this episode - lots of generally mundane yet still highly amusing observations on life, the weather and vending machines that goes to show the power of putting this series' three main characters in a small space together and just letting them chat.  If you haven't noticed the decent and growing character dynamic between Hotori, Kon and Tatsuno, then this is the episode that arguably proves its worth, even in the second half of the episode which has less laughs but still proves entertaining enough while also shifting Tatsuno's relationship with Hustleryuki.... sorry, Sanada.  Anyhow, another fun episode from a series which grows on me a little more every week.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Bakuman - Episode 9

Episode eight saw our two wannabe manga artists making significant progress towards achieving their dream, but still not enough to satisfy them as they just miss out on a Tezuka award.  Still, all of this was overshadowed by the goings-on at the end of the instalment, with Akito's temper boiling over and landing him in trouble.

Unsurprisingly, Akito's punishment for punching a schoolmate is a one week suspension from school, although Akito himself seems quite happy to look on the bright side of this - it does give him plenty of time to write ideas for the pair's next manga after all.  The other arguably good news to come from this is that Akito and Moritaka's manga writing exploits are now known by all and sundry, making them small-time heroes around the school - not that this particularly seems to please Moritaka, who is still stinging from the thought that it was his artwork that denied them a shot at winning a Tezuka award.  Indeed, it's Moritaka's depression that becomes the focus of this episode initially, until some words immortalised in manga form by his uncle (let's ignore the fact that said words are meaningless bullshit, shall we?) give him renewed hope and confidence.

With such worries out of the way, Moritaka finally decides its time to visit Akito's home while he remains suspended from school - only to walk into what can only be described as some tense moments before the outbreak of World War III.  It seems that Akito's moment of madness has finally brought the simmering feelings of a couple of girls to a head, and unfortunately for him both Miyoshi and Iwase have chosen the same moment to pay him a visit.  Akito's attempts to talk himself out of this mess aren't exactly the stuff of legend, but somehow the situation resolves itself surprisingly easily (although not without a bout of violence) in the end, leaving Akito with a tricky customer of a girlfriend to contend himself with.

Although it threatened to spend a little too long on Moritaka feeling sorry for himself, this was a pretty fun episode of Bakuman all in all - no real progress on the manga making front, but it was a more light-hearted instalment than I was expecting after Akito's violent affray last episode, and it gave us the measure of a few of the show's other characters to round them out a little bit.  That might not make for the most memorable twenty minutes of anime ever but hey, it was likeable enough to satisfy me, and it looks like we'll be seeing a whole lot more of Ayase going forward.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - Episode 9

After losing its way in rather spectacular fashion last week, normality returns to Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai for episode nine with nary a mention of Kirino's successful book turned anime, thank goodness.  Instead, we find Kirino on tenterhooks, jumping every time anyone so much as approaches the front door.  She is, of course, waiting for a delivery - the delivery of her The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Blu-Ray box set.  Wait, no she isn't... sorry, I'm projecting myself onto an anime character again.

Instead, Kirino is eagerly anticipating the arrival of the latest little sister-centric eroge she's ordered, and rather perfectly it turns up on a day when her parents are out of the house, allowing her to luxuriate in its goodness - not a tricky task given its installation time.  For much of this episode, we simply get to watch Kirino playing the game, enjoying her reactions as she plays through it (sometimes ironically so; witness her frustration at the tsundere little sister who refuses to give her brother a break for one second for most of the game) as over the top as they might sometimes seem - mind you, some of her outbursts of frustration and happiness reminded me of my teenage game-playing self, so coupled with her inevitable argument with Kyousuke there was a certainly feeling of reality grounding her reactions most of the time.

Aside from Kirino's day of eroge enjoyment, we also get to sneak a look into the daily lives of Kuroneko (can I start calling her Ruri yet?) and Saori, with the latter's home life proving to be not quite as surprising as I imagine it was designed to be while Kuroneko turns out to have an adorable little sister of her very own, who she somehow manages to keep happy while also carrying on with her otaku life of imaged witchcraft and Maschera role-playing.  Even Ayase gets a quick scene in this episode, although it's rather forgettable compared to Kyousuke calling Kuroneko to ask if she wants to hang out with him.  I sense some fraught times ahead on that count, although personally I can't blame the guy.

I suppose no matter what this episode offered up I was just glad to get away from last week's disappointment, and this instalment certainly delivered - there was no overblown drama or crazy antics here, but instead we simply got to enjoy a normal day in the life of a bunch of otaku.  It was fun, it was generally relaxed, and it had a little of something everyone can probably related to - that counts as "mission accomplished" in my book.  Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai is at its best when it just focuses on otaku being otaku; I just wish it would stick to doing just that without side-stepping into melodrama or flights of fancy.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Star Driver - Episode 9

High school hijinks, bit of melodrama, giant robot fight, episode closes with a revelation.  You know the Star Driver drill by now, right?  I almost wonder whether there's any point still 'blogging this show but oh well, here goes.

After the "delights" of a bath scene featuring Takuto and Sugata, this episode gives us a proper introduction to Mizuno You, a rather oddball girl (which is nothing new for this series) with a fascination with animals and little (if anything) in the way of shame or self-consciousness.  This means that for Mizuno, running into the boy's bathroom is no big deal, and it's here that she meets Takuto, falling for him straight away not just on account of his good looks, but also because he saves a falling baby crow, the mother of which Mizuno is "friends" with.  Next thing we know, Mizuno has joined the drama club, largely on account of the Vice President's presence but also due to Takuto being part of said club no doubt.

Meanwhile, with the head of the Glittering Crux's Vanishing Age division on vacation, the brigade has a new leader - the previously unknown and far from convincing Manticore.  However, for all her quirks it seems as though this girl is the one likely to usher in the "third phase" for the group, thanks to her Cybody which can supposedly scan for and find the Western maiden, although there in lies a twist in this episode's tale.  Anyhow, with other members far from convinced about Manticore's suitability, one of them decides to take on Takuto and Tauburn in battle - and promptly loses.  What did you think was going to happen?

To be honest, it's getting to the point where episodes of this series can be watched on auto-pilot, to the point where I know exactly when we're going to shift from a school or island setting to the Glittering Crux, and then on to Zero Time and the inevitable battle sequence.  Frankly, this predictability is getting beyond boring now, and this episode didn't really help by doing little to shake things up before its big (and admittedly tantalising) revelation at the end of the episode.  One line does not a good episode make though, and aside from that finale this was a pretty yawn-worthy instalment.  What's worse, there's little sign of Star Driver breaking out of the groove it's stuck in either.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Shiki - Episode 17

Every time we think that Shiki has reached rock bottom in terms of the rise of the... well, Risen, so we find that the next episode pulls us even deeper still into the mire.

For a large portion of this episode our focus moves to follow Seishin Muroi, who aside from having nightmares following stumbling across Ozaki's experimentation on wife is also finding himself with numerous other problems to contend with.  Arguably topping that list is the disappearance of his sickly, elderly father from his room - he soon comes to realise just what's happened to him as he finds a copy of the letter sent by his father to the Kirishiki family, inviting them to come and visit him but explicitly telling them they don't have permission to visit anybody else in the house.  In other words, he knows exactly what is going on, as one might have expected from his behaviour not so long ago.  If that wasn't enough to confirm to Seishin that the Risen are real, he bumps into and engages in conversation with Tohru, before also finding himself visited by a distraught Kaori, who seems to have lost both her sanity and the will to live with her parents dead and her brother missing.  But what is Muroi's answer to everything he's now heard and seen?  At first glance, it may not be what you expect...

While all of this is going on, things aren't exactly getting better elsewhere in the village, with the Risen now living unashamedly around town and happily attacking those who have not yet been drained of their blood.  These attacks eventually reach the staff of Doctor Ozaki's clinic, with Kiyomi kidnapped (for some reason - guess someone must have liked her in her lingerie...) and Ritsuko attacked by the Risen as she attempts to held her colleague and friend.  Come the end of the episode, even Ozaki himself isn't safe from the attentions of the Kirishiki house...

It may not have laid out its moral questions and probing like last week's instalment, but this was another gruesomely entertaining (and it feels almost wrong to use that word) episode of Shiki - I can't help but wonder just how deep the hole we are travelling towards is going to get before things turn around (assuming that they will of course), but the series is handling its increasingly relentless tone of hopelessness and depression well, creating some horrific and creepy moments while keeping its story moving apace and in an increasingly fascinating fashion.  If nothing else, it's nice to be able to enjoy a series which leaves you with no real feel or assumption for how it's all going to end, and it seems pretty certain that there will be some major twists and turns before this show is through.

Friday, 26 November 2010

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 8

The concept of a school-based anime series without a sports day episode is preposterous; so it goes that this latest story arc of To Aru Majutsu no Index II begins with this franchises version of just such an event - a massive, Academy City wide sports day involving all of the schools within said city known as Daihaseisai.

Although this sounds like an excuse to throw in a filler episode, it isn't entirely filler-based - instead, we're drawn into a story of magicians entering Academy City thanks to the loosened security surrounding Daihaseisai and its many guests, with a view towards trading a sword known as "Stab Sword".  Yes, it really does have a daft name like that, I didn't just pull that out of my ass no matter what you think.

That said, references to this deeper storyline are relatively isolated in this instalment (yet still too important to skip the episode, in case you're wondering), leaving us to spend much of the time enjoying Touma in various fan service-related shenanigans while he isn't getting second billing on-screen to Mikoto's tsundere behaviour or Index's insatiable hunger.  Still, we do get to meet Misaka's mother briefly, if that helps thinks along at all.

At the risk of sounding prudish, I'm starting to get a little tired of the ramped up fan service in To Aru Majutsu no Index II - yes, it's titillating and sexy, but it's reaching the point of becoming distracting from the rest of the show, and I don't remember the franchise's first series going to anything like these lengths to grab its hardcore audience.  That aside, this episode was okay - I can't otherwise fault it as a blend of fun but inconsequential filler than still has a sufficient eye towards a bigger picture, ready to mix the two elements up next time around.  How this story arc as a whole will fare is still up in the air as a result, but I would wager a lot of it will depend on whether it can move its focus away from its various large-breasted characters to actually concentrate on the plot for a while.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - Episode 9

No anime is complete without a beach episode, and of course that axiom goes for Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt too - this series being what it is, we skip virtually any preamble and get straight on to the serious business of the show's two titular characters wearing swimsuits.

However, Panty and Stocking aren't the only ones who have a day at the beach planned, as who else but Scanty and Kneesocks also turn up, laying claim to the beach all to themselves.  With the rules set in stone as far as they are concerned and with no intention of fighting, there's only one way to settle matters - with a good old game of beach volleyball.  Cue ever crazier volleyball antics, a brief opportunity to riff on South Park for a few seconds, and an inevitable ending involving everyone's clothes falling off and an octopus Ghost giving Stocking a pat-down that even the TSA couldn't hope to match.

While the second half of this episode is, as per usual, all about a Ghost, it takes a rather different angle in delivering its story, as we see Stocking inexplicably falling in love with a slovenly and decidedly disgusting Ghost that repulses everyone else around him.  Somehow this becomes a serious relationship for Stocking as the two begin dating, and no matter what Panty does to try and change things it looks as though nothing will split up this decidedly odd couple.  This takes us on to what is actually a slightly poignant ending to the episode - not quite the kind of thing to leave a tear in your eye or lump in your throat, but it was oddly sweet in its own decidedly Panty and Stocking-esque way.

Although this episode didn't do anything spectacular, I somehow found myself enjoying it a little more than other similar instalments of this series - the second half of this episode in particular managed to be fresh simply by moving away from the usual frenetic pace of the show, while the first arguably worked simply on account of its simplicity, not worrying too much about any semblance of a plot so that it could just goof around for a bit and mix some slick moments into its otherwise decidedly Abode Flash-esque animation.  This instalment wasn't up there with any of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's best moments to date, but it wasn't half bad either.  Besides, a Stocking love story?  Awwwww.

Kuragehime - Episode 6

After deciding upon his task of transforming the Amamizukan residents from nerds into beauties capable of taking on whatever normal life throws at them, this sixth episode begins with us seeing the final results of that transformation - and it has to be said that those results are pretty impressive.

With all of the residents dressed up, Kuranosuke takes them all out to a café to enjoy whatever refreshments they require; although it does take a while for them to warm to the place given their dislike of being out in public and their preference of their usual home comforts.  Still, the prospect of free food and drink paid for by Kuranosuke finally wins them round, while moving out to one of the establishment's terrace tables gives them all a fantastic view of the scenery to further seal the deal.  The trouble is, Tsukimi is looking rather too cute for her own good, causing Kuranosuke both confusion and consternation as he tries to figure out why he's so worked up about that fact - perhaps he isn't as bright when it comes to relationships as he likes to make out?

While all of this is going on, brother Shuu finds himself at the mercy of the manipulative Shouko Inari, who uses the return of his umbrella as a chance for him to take him out for a drink, spike said drink and then frame him into appearing as though he slept with her.  Despite this and her holding the upper hand overall, Shuu's reaction once he comes around isn't exactly what she was expecting - then again, she didn't know what we letter learn from the family's driver about just why the elder Koibuchi brother is all but allergic to women.  Just what Shuu is doing come the end of this episode, when he goes to see Tsukimi briefly, is lost on me somehow, but there's certainly no shortage of issues piling up for both of the Koibuchi siblings come the end of this instalment.

This episode might not have dazzled quite so much as previous instalments in terms of its multi-layered, character-driven story telling, but that doesn't mean that it wasn't a whole lot of fun.  Kuragehime might have simplified and narrowed its focus for large portions of this episode, but that didn't stop it from throwing out a couple of big revelations in the midst of entertaining us via both Shuu's predicament and the Amamizukan girl's night out, both of which were played out nigh-on perfectly in terms humour and making the most of the show's characters.  In short, it was enough to keep Kuragehime sitting pretty towards the top of the pile of "must watch" shows for this season.

Amagami SS - Episode 21

Now that I've had a week to get over leaving poor Rihoko in the lurch, it's time to embark upon another new Amagami SS story arc, with the focus of our attention this time turning towards class rep Tsukasa Ayatsuji, after reminding us once again of Junichi's love-lorn heartbreak from a couple of years previously.

Tachibana's opportunity to get closer to Ayatsuji comes from a rather surprising place, as we find him volunteering to help his over-worked classmate out as a member of the Founder's Festival Committee - not, as you might thing, with the express purpose of getting to know her, but rather to leave him with no excuses when it comes to slouching around in a pool of his own self-pitying misery come Christmas.

So, we follow Tachibana around as he learns the ropes of preparing for this festival from the ultra-organised Ayatsuji, while even the clichéd moment of getting stuck in a store room with her brings little more than idle chat and pleasantries between the two of them (although it does also provide us with a wonderfully timed bit of comedy courtesy of Miya).  In short, and despite her obvious irritation when Tsukasa bumps into her sister Yukari while Junichi is in tow, Ayatsuji seems like your pretty typical nice, smart, hard-working and likeable girl.  A set of attributes which makes the final scene of this episode all the more deliciously intriguing...

I have to confess, that final turn-around has left me dying to watch the next episode (which has to be a first for this series), so teasing is its nature - it's certainly given a lift for what was otherwise a decidedly run-of-the-mill affair which was setting its scenario up quite nicely, albeit in an unspectacular fashion.  Just as I was preparing to write this arc of as a "nice girl meets slightly dim boy but falls for him anyway", so it throws in a moment to confound those expectations.  Let's just hope it can do something good now it's managed to grab my attention.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

The World God Only Knows - Episode 8

Having mopped up Kanon's "loose soul" to close off that particular story arc last week, it's filler time again for The World God Only Knows as it hits its eighth episode.

While the series last filler effort proved to be an excellent and decidedly amusing affair that has proved to be a highlight of the series so far, sadly this time around we're left with a rather more mundane outing.  The story revolves around poor old Elsie's continued attempts to cook for her "divine" brother, with her devilish concoctions hardly currying favour with Keima, bringing with them a barrage of cutting remarks from our protagonist.

Elsie sees an opportunity to redeem herself courtesy of one of her school friends showing her a rather delicious looking cake recipe in a magazine, and so Elsie sets out to try and bake this cake for herself.  Needless to say, her rather unique take on the ingredients required and how to cook them causes chaos, bringing forth demonic monsters and all sorts as everything goes awry.

To add a little frisson to proceedings, we actually get to view this particular day's events from three different angles, starting with Elsie's take on things before viewing the story from Keima and finally his mother's viewpoints.  Of course, all of these angles of what went on add a little more to the overall story, but as the saying goes you can't polish a turd and there really wasn't anything to make this episode stand out as anything other than filler in the purest sense, with the arguable exception of yet another insert song for the series to boast.  Bring on the next story arc proper, and let's hope it duly arrives next week, as this particular instalment was utterly mediocre in both plot and execution.

Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - Episode 8

Judging by Arakawa Under the Bridge x2's "clock", we're due a serious episode of the show this week... well, at least as close as this series can claim to come to being "serious" at least.

This particular episode is driven entirely by the reappearance of Amazoness, as she turns up announced at Ric's outdoor classroom to indulge in her own unique blend of silly schoolgirl behaviour coupled with her decidedly... well... unfeminine look.  While Ric is thrilled to see that he didn't dream up his first appearance with her in a moment of madness, any such relief is soon turned to dread as Amazoness confesses to him, before pointing out that he already has a girlfriend leaves her in tears.

Still, it looks as though all is well once again in Ric's world despite Amazoness insisting on coming to his school despite her rejection... at least, it appears to be well until Amazoness' Tengu manage to hypnotise Ric into falling for her "unique" and (ahem) "delicate" charms.  Before he knows it, as despite P-ko's best efforts to keep Nino in the picture, Ric has married Amazoness, standing Nino up for a date in the process before asking to break with her.  It probably doesn't take much of a leap to figure out how Nino reacts to this, demonstrating an impressive violent streak before setting out on a decidedly childish game of proving who loves Ric more with the Amazoness.  Oddly, it's left to Star to choose whether or not to take up the mantle of hero of the day, although it seems that Ric beats him to it by breaking out of his hypnosis via his own will to return relative normality to the world.

While this episode is clearly a case of mission accomplished in demonstrating Nino's feelings for Ric (and vice versa), it also held up extremely well in the comedy stakes - the Amazoness is built for comedy (and for hauling heavy goods vehicles, but I digress) and building this particular scenario around her was frequently funny without even trying too hard as she texted, flirted and acted like a delicate schoolgirl despite the obvious, while still showing some genuine emotional frailties to boot.  Nino didn't allow her new love rival to steal the show though, courtesy of a few great moments before her wonderful misunderstanding of what marriage it all about - having been married myself, I have to say I prefer the sound of Nino's version.

So, we're left with an episode that told its story, developed a number of its characters, and managed to be both funny and entertaining throughout.  Good work Arakawa Under the Bridge, as per usual for the series these days.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Amagami SS - Episode 20

Wow, time flies when you're watching a girl eat constantly.  Here we are, already at the end of Rihoko's story arc - but is it going to be a happy ending for this sweet yet food obsessed girl.

To be honest, and in keeping with the rest of this arc so far, there's barely a hint of romance in this episode, as it spends most of its time concerned with the future of the school tea club with Tachibana still unsure about whether he should join as graduation for the senior members nears, leaving poor Rihocchi as the sole member of the club.

It truly seems as though nothing will wake Junichi up to the deeper feelings held by his childhood friend, and even the possibility of Valentine's Day love blossoming over some cream buns fails to materialise - perhaps these two are simply too comfortable around one another, and without any awkwardness there's no room for any realisations of love to develop?  Or perhaps I'm just trying to make excuses for this series leaving Rihoko hung out to dry as the sole member of the cast of female leads not to get her man come the end of her story arc?

Yes, that's right, after decidedly conclusive endings to every other girl's story, Rihoko pretty much gets lumbered with the "childhood friends forever" tag - very much a "bad end" if ever I saw one.  Considering how likeable she was throughout, with no real emotional baggage or penchant for drama to speak of, and given her relaxed and entirely compatible demeanour with Junichi it seems almost criminal to leave things as they are - as a result, I can't help but feel dissatisfied with the climax to this story arc, and without that feel-good ending somehow the rest of these past few episodes suddenly feels so much more mundane.  There's simply no justice in this world sometimes... now, if you don't mind I'm going to go and comfort eat some cream buns as mark of solidarity with poor, poor Rihoko Sakura.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - Episode 8

From a shoddy, messy wannabe writer last episode, suddenly Kirino is a best-selling author, and what's more a production company are interested in turning her work into a full-blown anime series.  Let's just brush this ludicrously massive flight of fancy aside and run with the concept for now, shall we?

While Kirino is excited by this possibility, she's equally nervous about the whole thing, and thus when the first meeting with the anime's producers comes around she drags Saori and Kuroneko along to offer some moral support - not that she seems to need it as she reels off her massive list of opinions, desires and hopes for the anime, which has clearly panned out in her head as a full on twenty-six episode series.

Unsurprisingly, the production team see things rather differently, as they plan for a thirteen episode series produced on the cheap to fill in for the cancellation of a more high-profile show than some one-shot light novel adaptation.  Thus, cheap yet profitable is the name of their game, with a desire to change the book's female lead to a male one on the top of their agenda - a concept which shocks Kirino and, coupled with her exhaustion from working so hard on notes for the meeting, causes her to collapse and fall ill once she returns home.

With Kirino sick, it's left once again to Kyousuke to clean up the mess, as his irritation about his sister's treatment turns to action as he drags Kuroneko and Saori to a second production meeting, blagging his way into said meeting to try and turn things around.  Things certainly aren't going well until first Kuroneko and then Kyousuke make impassioned (and rather forcefully rude in the former's case) pleas to stick with Kirino's original vision as closely as possible, which eventually turns the tide in their favour.

Although this episode is entertaining enough in places, it's really holed below the surface simply on account of its concept - the idea of middle school girl Kirino turning from a bad writer into a best-seller staring in the face of an anime adaptation is simply unbelievable, and turns the show from a reasonably studied slice of otaku life into the realms of fantasy and wish fulfilment.  This shift in the delicate balance of the show removes basically all of the humour and "me too" elements of the series, while there isn't enough insight into the workings of the anime industry to make up for it, and the whole thing isn't helped by some irrational behaviour from Kyousuke who continues to roll out comments about how he hates his sister when he clearly doesn't.  It may not be the "siscon" element suggested by Kuroneko at the end of this episode, but it sure as Hell isn't hatred either.

I'm not going to call this a bad episode of Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - it isn't even a poor one, truth be told.  However, it's shifted too far away from what has made the series so fun to watch thus far, which leaves episode eight within a sea of mediocrity on this occasion.  Let's just hope this is a one-off rather than the future direction of the remainder of the series.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Bakuman - Episode 8

While their first effort at creating a full on manga manuscript wasn't the immediate success they might have hoped for, Akito and Moritaka's next goal is an even more grandiose one - a Tezuka Award, which probably needs little explanation as to its importance within the world of manga given its name.

Given the importance of that goal, it's no surprise that Bakuman's eighth episode focuses solely on the boys efforts towards that prize, with Takagi throwing out concepts and ideas like a madman, only to see most of them vetoed by Mashiro.  After what seems like a ridiculous number of notebooks packed with ideas, a suitable concept to be made into their next manuscript finally presents itself (and another genuinely pretty cool idea in its own right), meaning that it's time for the pair of them to put their all into creating the finished work for submission.

With the manuscript completed, the boys once again head off to see editor Mr. Hattori, who is impressed by the improvements made and gives them the nod for a Tezuka Award submission, suggesting that their next aim should be a work in Shonen Jack's NEXT publication.  A nice idea, but Moritaka and Akito find themselves too distracted by the wait for the Tezuka Award nominations, particularly when they learn that they've made it into the final eight.  Of course, nothing in life is that simple, and they don't make the final cut for an actual prize; a dashing of their dreams that having their work published doesn't seem to even begin to make up for.  With Moritaka beating himself up over his artwork being the cause of their inability to win and award, and finding himself teased at school because of it, it looks as though there are still rough times ahead for our enthusiastic duo.

As seems to be par for the course with this series now, Bakuman continues to be uncomplicated and simple entertainment - the pure pleasure of seeing people working hard on something they love and being rewarded to some degree for it, coupled with the tension of seeing whether they can succeed to the levels that they dream of; a scenario which makes for some surprising "squeaky bum" moments as we wait for a phone call or for the opinion of an editor.  While I wouldn't want to call this episode perfect by any degree (surely the boys would still have been thrilled to see their work in print?  We never really get to share that thrill, indeed it gets turned against them immediately), it's still doing enough right to keep me hooked, helped along by placing it within a "real world" scenario which is happy to mention Naruto and Bleach rather than placing it in amongst entirely fictional series.  Hopefully it can continue to keep up this state of simple pleasures, something which I do worry might be spoiled by Eiji Nizua judging from what we've seen of him so far.

Star Driver - Episode 8

Sugata might have been spared his life-long coma in Star Driver's previous episode, but something was still clearly not right with this all-important part of the show's trio of main characters following both his ordeal and the kiss from the Glittering Crux member known as "Scarlet Kiss".

If Sugata's behaviour after these events could be viewed as a brief aberration, from the opening of this episode it becomes clear that something far more serious is going on, as Sugata gives short shrift to Wako's concerns at school before walking out of class while others speculate on whatever fight has developed between the two of them and Takuto.

Meanwhile, our girl in the birdcage with a penchant for writing Squid Girl fan fiction finds herself released from captivity, choosing to leave the island for pastures new.  As she sings to herself on the boat leaving the island, so the brewing conflict between Takuto and Sugata comes to a head... just in time for the inevitable Zero Time fight sequence, which sees Sugata take over Scarlet Kisses' Cybody to take on Takuto and Tauburn.  Impressive fight ensues, Tauburn wins, rinse, repeat, come back next week for the same all over again.

Herein lies the major problem with Star Driver as it continues on its merry way - no matter what happens to the major characters within the show and no matter what developments emerge, it seems like the series is Hell-bent on keeping its episode format intact.  This makes for a tiring and predictable viewing experience where we know exactly what's coming, but we still have to sit and wait for most of the episode for it to happen.  This wouldn't be so bad if the build-up to the giant robot scraps were packed to the rafters with fascinating drama and character development, but this is rarely the case, instead leaving us with some rather overblown stuff that doesn't have any real impact.  Sugata's plight should have made for a huge amount of potential, yet here we are with that part of the story seemingly resolved and yet virtually nothing was made of it.  No matter how much I want to like Star Driver (and those fight sequences really are increasingly impressive), it just seems to disappoint me every time I try to give it another chance.

Macross Frontier: Itsuwari no Utahime

I know, I'm a little late to the party here, but given the apathetic and luke-warm opinions at best coming from elsewhere since its Blu-Ray release, it's taken a while for me to muster up the courage and motivation to sit down for an afternoon with the first in the pair of Macross Frontier movies, Itsuwari no Utahime (or The False Songstress if you prefer).

This opening theatrical outing certainly wastes no time in getting things moving - there's no slow build-up of Ranka and Alto's relationship, instead dumping the two together as friends right from the outset, and similarly Sheryl Nome turns up on Frontier and kicks off her first big concert in short order.  This takes us to the first major set-piece of the film, with Sheryl getting a stunning, new-look and heavily CG rendered concert while the Vajra make their opening attack on Frontier as chaos ensues with Alto, Sheryl and Ranka in particular getting caught up in the bloody and destructive crossfire.

After that blistering start, Itsuwari no Utahime slows down notably as it goes through the motions of really cementing the Sheryl/Ranka/Alto love triangle, while this movie notably ties the two girls closer together as it progresses than the TV anime ever seemed to.  It's really Sheryl that gets the most attention here though, as she hangs out and goofs around with Alto, before Ranka finally gets her small but significant break as a singer just as Alto kicks off his intensive training after joining SMS.

All of these prevarications start to gather importance of rumours of Sheryl working as a spy for Macross Galaxy come to the surface, before news of a Vajra attack on Galaxy comes forth and is quashed by the powers that be, leaving Sheryl to pay SMS to try and save anyone they can as a private mission.  This brings us to the second of the major sequences which book-end the movie, as the Vajra jump from Galaxy to Frontier, attacking on account of Ranka's singing (why we haven't had an alien invasion interrupt The X-Factor I'll never know) and treating us to yet more wonderful music soundtracking lots of big explosions, transforming plane and giant robot action.  This is Macross, after all...

Come the end of it all, Itsuwari no Utahime is a curious beast - for a retelling of the TV anime it's not particularly forgiving for anyone who hasn't watched that series (I have, in case you're wondering), and it's frequently happy to pander to the fans (well, the Sheryl Nome fans at least) with a far few hefty dollops of fan service.  Yet despite this, it still clearly tries to set up its story for those new to the franchise, albeit in an occasionally clumsy and sometimes rushed fashion, perhaps understandably given that these two films are trying to squeeze over twelve hours of anime into around four.

This film is similarly hard to pin down on its aesthetic - visually it often feels less "defined" and more sloppily animated than its TV counterpart (although perhaps that's just my selective memory), while the additional CG work and effort put into some of its battle and concert scenes pay dividends in making for some great visual spectacle.  Indeed, it almost feels as little as though the middle hour of the film was a bit of an "Ohhhh, if we have to do these bits again" effort from the production team, with all of the real focus on the beginning and end of the movie which were clearly a labour of love and prove to be suitably spectacular to boot.

It's these two segments that really define Itsuwari no Utahime - they get to show off the frenetic action and brilliant music that have become the hallmark of the Macross franchise, and they do so with aplomb, although the TV series arguably still does it better simply because of the time constraints of this theatrical offering.  Truth be told, you could probably sleep through the middle hour of this film and not miss much - it doesn't have the energy to build up its characters as the original series did (and occasionally skips that build up entirely in the case of Michael and Klan), preferring to just go through the motions, but provided your a fan of the franchise already it's worth persevering with just to enjoy its spectacular finale.  Oh, and that awesome music, of course.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - Episode 7

No week is complete without another dose of Hotori Arashiyama's slice of life... thank goodness then for episode seven of Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru.

As this episode begins, it appears that Hotori isn't the only one to pay any attention to TV fortune-telling predictions, as Sanada dismisses a blood type-based piece of advice telling him to take a short trip with a loved one to cement their relationship.  This seems like a nonsensical thing to say to him on a school day, but when he bumps into a sleepy (and surprisingly early) Arashiyama on the bus only to have her fall asleep on his shoulder (a dream scenario in itself), he decides to take this advice and deliberately misses their stop for school to instead skip class and spend some time hanging out with Hotori instead.  This only serves to fulfil more of Sanda's dreams, as he gets to hold Hotori's hand while they explore the town at the end of the line they've ended up at (purely from Hotori's instinctive reaction on account of having siblings mind you), and it seems that no amount of punishment from the powers at be at school will dissuade him from having made this particular decision.

The second half of the episode finds Hotori's younger brother unable to sleep on account of some dodgy concoction providing to him by his sister, and so when he comes to her room complaining of said insomnia Hotori decides to allow him to wear off his excess energy courtesy of a late night walk around town.  While Hotori wanders around in the middle of night as though it's no big deal, her brother is amazed by this previously unknown world that he's suddenly been introduced to, finding himself fascinated by the smallest of things in these previously unheard of hours.

Although this episode didn't have as great a laugh to scene ratio as some of its previous instalments, it was nonetheless a very entertaining and amusing offering to watch.  There were certainly some simple pleasures to be enjoyed from both halves of this episode that proved to be evocative of memories from my own past, whether it's ditching whatever you're supposed to be doing to hang out with a girl you like on a whim or those heady days where you get to wander the streets in the dead of night for the first time - this is anime I can relate to, given an additional coating of humour thanks to the ever-wonderful Hotori's comments and behaviour to spice things up.  What's not to like about a series that reveals that the perfect crime can be committed via the use of a frozen banana?  In short, Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru is continuing to exceed my expectations, and from some rather unexpected angles to boot.

Friday, 19 November 2010

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 7

It was hard not to get excited about a To Aru Majutsu no Index story arc that revolved around Mikoto Misaka (as they tend to bring out the best in this show), and so last week's instalment duly managed to put together a far more fascinating storyline than the arc which preceded it managed overall.

While the wider picture for this arc is all about Misaka as she works to prevent the resumption of the cloning and related experiments which featured so prominently in this show's first season, the sharper focus here is really on Shirai Kuroko as she takes the battle forth on her room-mate's behalf.  Thus, much of this episode concerns Kuroko's rematch with fellow teleport ability holder Awaki Musujime, as the former tries to stop the latter's plan to make a new Tree Diagram supercomputer.  Indeed, the dialogue (yes, there is a lot of it) goes some what towards explaining why Musujime is so keen for this to happen, as the two teleporters go face to face in an occasionally impressive and often painful battle.

While all of this is going, we see the third-person narrative spouting Misaka sister tracking down Touma, allowing him to find Mikoto Misaka so that they can join forces and rescue Kuroko from her current predicament.  To round things off, Accelerator appears back on the scene, using his reduced but not inconsiderable powers to put paid to Musujime's efforts in relatively spectacular fashion.  So, the danger has passed, but there are still a lot of threads left unresolved, hinting to further developments in this particular aspect of the series further down the line.

As is to be expected of this series by now, this episode of To Aru Majutsu no Index II did find itself bogged down in its own dialogue during the pivotal scenes between Kuroko and Musujime, although thankfully they were at least pretty interested and added relevant details to the plot which, when blended with some quick bursts of half-decent action, actually worked quite well.  What didn't really work so well was the second half of the episode, where Touma's introduction felt rushed and his subsequent rescue mission with Misaka felt inadequately covered and altogether too convenient... just a little more build-up would have worked wonders for both these moments and Accelerator's part in proceedings.  I hope this is just a case of J.C. Staff keeping their powder dry for later in the series, but it certainly made this episode feel clumsy in places, enjoyable though it was overall.  Again, such criticism just serve to remind me how much slicker much of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun was at making the most of its assets in comparison to this show, even though I still enjoyed this particular story arc overall.

Kuragehime - Episode 5

Given the goings-on last episode, it's probably not really surprising to find Tsukimi still dwelling on her aquarium trip and what happened with Shuu during it, leaving her wanting to forget the incident clearly not wanting to forget it at the same time.

However, there's little time for such distractions as it soon becomes clear that Amamizu's future is very much in doubt, with Chieko's mother having decided to sell the property inhabited by the "Sisterhood" and a lot of the other opposition to it seemingly collapsing.  This calls for desperate measures from the boarding house's residents, involving (shock, horror!) actually going out, in the name of attending a presentation on the area's redevelopment.

Needless to say this doesn't exactly go well, with the girls over-powered by the good-looking woman running the presentation before they've even entered the room, while Tsukimi is distracted by the presence of Shuu, who once again fails to recognise who she is and brushes off her sole attempt at striking up conversation.  Depressing times all around then as the Sisterhood leave the presentation early in various states of bedraggled depression, headed up by Tsukimi as she sees Shuu leaving whilst sharing an umbrella with the aforementioned beautiful (yet canny and manipulative) organiser of the event.  Finding this state of disarray before him, it seems that it's left to Kuranosuketo rally the troops and teach them how to make their voices heard in the modern world, setting the wheels in motion for another major step forward for the show's plot (coming thick and fast as such steps are).

Although this episode didn't hold either the comedy or the emotion of last week's instalment, there was still plenty to enjoy as Kuragehime's plot and various character inter-dependencies move on apace.  While it does take a leap of faith to believe Shuu's inability to recognise Tsukimi, this increasingly tangled web of love and misunderstanding remains pretty compelling and heart-felt stuff, while digging a little deeper reveals yet more social and anthropological commentary that marks the series out as more than just another romantic comedy or show about otaku for otaku.  In particular, the importance of looks and external impressions is becoming a more and more pivotal part of this show, and I'm more than a little curious to see in what direction this point is headed - when such things are blended in with some good characters, laughs and story-telling it certainly continues to impress.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - Episode 8

I'm sure I don't need to tell you that zombies are the in thing these days (actually, never mind these days, they have been for quite some time), so I suppose it's inevitable that Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt would look to get its teeth around the genre at some point.

So it goes that the first half of episode eight brings us a typical zombie apocalypse scenario... well, typical until it comes to using the inventory of a sex toy shop as anti-zombie weaponry that is.  While Panty and Stocking try to get a handle on the situation in their "one day only" role as police officers, we learn that the source of the zombie outbreak is none other than Scanty and Kneesocks, as everything goes to Hell in a hand-basket as you might expect when you mix the brain dead together with... well, some zombies.

From here, the second half of the episode brings us a trial by television, as Panty and Stocking find themselves accused of the murder of an innocent Ghost; the loyal husband to a wonderful wife who also happens to be a Ghost, and a pair of character who look more than a little familiar to anyone who has ever watched Ren and Stimpy before... Throw in a monkey defence lawyer and Tom Cruise on the prosecution and you have your plot, as Scanty and Kneesocks again become involved while we build up to the inevitable Phoenix Wright "objection!" joke that becomes basically the highlight of the episode before our pair of titular characters get their moment of pole dancing and ass kicking.

After the wonders of episode five, the action-packed awesomeness of episode six and the loving Transformers parody of episode seven, this felt like a real let-down; a far weaker episode that slipped back into the cliches of earlier instalments with a first half that relied mostly on swearing and "ooh look, zombie movie reference" moments, while the second half arguably had some social commentary going on behind its tepid concept that did at least spawn a couple of funny moments, even if you could see one of them coming a mile off.  I suppose it's inevitable that Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt is going to suffer from variable quality given its structure, and after three good episodes on the bounce I'm willing to let this one go - let's just hope it returns to its dizzy heights (whatever they might involve) sooner rather than later.

Shiki - Episode 16

Just as Doctor Ozaki looked as though he had run out of options, so I bolt from the blue has put him well and truly back in the frame when it comes to ridding the village of the Shiki menace.  However, that's something to keep largely on the back burner for the duration of episode sixteen, as our roaming eyes wander elsewhere.

Indeed, this particular instalment really turns things around somewhat by primarily focusing on some of those Shiki themselves during the course of this episode - perhaps most prominently, we get to hear Sunako's story and come to realise just how central she is to what is going on if we hadn't fathomed it already.  Just as (if not more) importantly in terms of adding a little more texture and thought-provoking material to the show, we also see the moral and emotional dilemmas that torture the Risen as they find themselves conflicted between their instinct to survive and their morals, topped off with the results of an almost over-bearing loneliness.  Of course, we've already seen some of this on Tohru's part but things certainly aren't getting any easier for him, while Nao Yasumori finds herself in a very dark place and Akira and Kaori's father is left torn as his requirement to find his way in the world as one of the Risen manifests itself.

Indeed, it'sYoshikazu Tanaka's actions which set the wheels in motion for the second half of this episode, as his first attack upon his wife to feast on her blood leads to Akira and Kaori realising that what remains of their family is in danger.  Akira swears to avenge both Natsuno and his father and is the first to take action as he sets about planning how they should defend themselves, before a throwaway comment within the village puts him onto an attacking footing as he learns the whereabouts of one of the Shiki - a rather knee-jerk reaction in hindsight which could well have severe consequences...

All of this adds up to another excellent episode of Shiki - it succeeded in being creepy and worthy of a shudder or two as it went about its business, but it also gained a lot from giving us an alternative perspective on the lot of the Risen for a while, mixing just a tiny edge of sympathy towards these serial killers who are given very little choice in what they do; if you haven't asked yourself the moral question "what would I do if it were me?" yet, this is the episode that outright prompts you to do so.  Throw in some intriguing developments regarding Akira on the one hand, and Natsuno and Ozaki on the other (Natsuno in particular is going to become a hugely important and influential character from now on, it seems), and I'm once again left impatiently waiting for the next episode as this show's payload really starts to pay dividends - and how...

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

The World God Only Knows - Episode 7

After setting up this current story arc's "final event" with Kanon going missing before her big concert last episode, it was inevitable that a not inconsiderable chunk of this latest instalment would be devoted to Keima finding her.

Before that however, we're treated to a flashback from Kanon's time with her former group Citron, before flashing back forward to the cause of her sudden disappearance - an intense bout of self-doubt about whether she can make it through the concert without messing up, leaving her in abject fear of being abandoned by everybody and left alone.  So, she takes off into the evening, causing mass panic amongst her staff as Keima and Elsie race around randomly trying to find her, only to remember that Elsie can scan for Loose Souls easily once enough of the episode has been wasted on their fruitless search.

Eventually then, finding Kanon is easy enough, and capturing her Loose Soul doesn't look like it will be much more difficult.  Surprisingly though, Keima turns down the opportunity to get the job done easily, refusing her advances on account of her needing someone to recognise and support her and (quite rightly) telling her than she should have the confidence to live life for herself without worrying about others seeing and listening to her.  Coupled with her realisation that she's succeeded as an idol all on her own, Kanon sees the light as shown to her by Keima - a revelation that almost looks as though it's blown his chance of "conquering" her, but of course all's well that ends well as Kanon makes it to her concert while Keima succeeds in this latest quest to bring this story arc to a close.

Compared to everything that has gone before, it has to be said that this was easily the best animated episode of The World God Only Knows we've seen yet, coupled with the most accomplished direction we've seen so far to boot.  This alone managed to lift the episode, if only slightly, beyond the mediocre to make something a bit more touching which also flowed rather well in terms of its story.  Top it all off with Keima actually doing something more than acting like an ass and you have an ultimately satisfying episode - Hell, I almost feel like I owe the guy an apology after slating him last episode, only for him to "man up" somewhat this week.  Still, I'm sure he'll be back to his same old self by the next episode, but it just goes to show what a little human compassion can do to make a lead male character feel way more likeable.

Anyhow, this was a much improved end to an okay but far from magnificent story arc, which gave it a much needed boost while also enhancing my enjoyment of the series quite nicely.  If only every episode of The World God Only Knows had been this polished.

UKA TV reviews - Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, The World God Only Knows

Just to shake things up and a little variety here (it's the spice of life and all that), I thought I might as well link to my latest offering for UK Anime's UKA TV segment.  For this video, I take a look at a couple of streaming anime shows in the form of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt and The World God Only Knows.

Any thoughts or feedback to help make these better in the future would be much appreciated!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Arakawa Under the Bridge x2 - Episode 7

As per what has become pretty much the default layout for Arakawa Under the Bridge x2, last week's semi-serious (okay, so it wasn't really serious at all) and more character-focused affair gives way to outright comedy for episode seven - otherwise known as "the best bit" of the show around here.

The inspiration for this instalment comes at the very start of the episode, with Whitey and the Mayor having a chat which invariably turns to health, and before you know it the two of them are arguing over who is the healthiest of them both.  Thanks to Ric's contacts, he manages to get hold of a bunch of medical testing equipment, and so it's time for all of the under-bridge residents to get a health check.  While this brings us some rather expected fare courtesy of P.ko's overbearing worries about her weight, it also offers its fair share of hilarity, not least Stella's rather, err... "unique" BMI reading, as well as the secret of how the Mayor keeps cool in that kappa suit.  Come the end of this part of the episode, chaos reigns as Ric and Star in particular decide that being sickly really isn't that bad if it means you have Nino fawning over you, only to realise that anyone suffering with any kind of illness is going to be left at home when the shuttle to Venus leaves.

Speaking of this trip to Venus, it's decided at this point that further testing is required to figure out who is suitable to make the journey with Nino, which leads to the second half of the episode seeing first all of the girls and then the boys locked in a basement for a week with nothing but one another's company to test their ability to coexist and cooperate.  You'd probably expect the female side of the cast to breeze through this test, and that they do... for six days anyway, before Maria's need to tease people and Stella's need to beat seven shades of crap out of them become too over-bearing.  Mission failed.  This seemingly leaves the men of the bridge an impossible task, not least when it turns out that the Mayor has let someone take his place, but amazingly they all make it through the entire week physically, if not mentally, intact.

I think it's pretty much par for the course these days to mention just how funny Arakawa Under the Bridge can be when it's on form, and so it proves again here - while it doesn't fill this episode with wall-to-wall laughter, it has more than enough laugh out loud moments of absurdity, visual comedy and snappy one-liners to be hugely entertaining; the kind of thing that plasters a smile onto your face at the end of a long, hard day in the office.  It's almost hard to remember the days when this show was looking set to be a bit of a failure when the original series started airing - my, how it's grown and matured into an almost clinical comedy effort when it wants to be.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Katanagatari - Episode 11

Wow, are we really already at the penultimate episode of this series?  It seems like only yesterday that I was complaining about this series for its wordiness and lack of vibrancy, yet in the intervening months Katanagatari has evolved, grown and blossomed and very much for the better, making for an almighty piece of compelling viewing as we reach this juncture.

With just a couple of swords left to collect, we start out by back-tracking a little... well, a lot in the case of the episode's first scene, which sees a certain swordsmith talking to a wannabe young swordsmen who shows no potential with a blade in his hand - No need to guess who these two individuals from several centuries past are.  We then slip straight back to the show's present, as the only two remaining Maniwa heads soon find themselves tracked down by Emonzaemon at the behest of Princess Hitei.  Again, Emonzaemon seems to know all about at least one the ninjas he is pursuing, even claiming to be Houou Maniwa as the pair come to blows.  What is originally set-up as a battle free of specialist weapons is complicated as Pengin tosses the Deviant Blade Dokutou Mekki into the mix - the sword is caught by Houou, and chaos ensues.

This brings us back to where we were at the end of the previous episode, with Togame and Shichika (who are already thinking of their futures once this sword-hunting quest is over) coming across a barely conscious Pengin and rescuing him to find out what has happened.  This sets them off an a search for the now seemingly insane Houou, and it doesn't take them long to find him at the Maniwa's current village, leaving Pengin in the "safety" of their hotel - not that anywhere is safe when Emonzaemon Souda is on your tail.

So, Shichika and Houou face off with the latter now believing that he's Kiki Shikizaki, bringing with him revelations as to the true nature of his Deviant Blades and why they were created.  After a battle that is surprisingly brief given its potential importance, Shichika and Togame find themselves one blade short of completing their collection... or is it two blades?  There is one sword that is still yet to be perfected, but the climax to this episode and the horrifying cliffhanger that it leaves soon puts paid to that thought.

After making so many leaps and bounds as this series has progressed, rather oddly this episode of Katanagatari almost threatens to slip back into its overly verbose ways from time to time courtesy of some decidedly hefty chunks of dialogue.  Thankfully, there is a lot to explain at times during this episode, so such scenes are both passable and acceptable, although as a result Shichika's big fight for this episode is rather more brief than you might have expected.

Of course, the reason for all of this is made clear in the final moments of the episode - the agonising, horrifying, open-mouthed, heart rending moments which are unveiled superbly yet gruesomely to set up the cruellest of cliffhangers and explain everything that the last couple of episodes in particular (if not the whole series) has been building up to.  There's so much power contained in those two short, simple minutes of anime that it serves to justify so much of all that has gone before, leaving with it a tantalising subject for the final series of what has become and increasingly admirable effort.  I realise we're going to have to wait for this dénouement, but December needs to start, and fast.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - Episode 7

Despite being snubbed by Kirino during the "Ayase situation" a couple of weeks ago, it seems that her decidedly odd friendship with Kuroneko is still going strong, with the two debating the virtues of their particular anime-related industries as vehemently as ever.

Indeed, these same old arguments have become so frequent that Saori has suggested that the two of them have an anime "screening" session, where they can watch one another's favourite shows and voice their opinions more fully and easily.  The trouble is, by the time Kyousuke walks in on what is supposedly the start of this screening session at his home, the two of them are already not on speaking terms before so much as firing up the DVD player (what, no Blu-Ray Kirino?) having each upset the other with their critical thoughts on a novel that the other has written.  Of course, it's up to Kyousuke to play piggy in the middle, eventually coaxing the screening back to life (which Saori attends via phone - sounds like the kind of thing I'd do) for a few minutes at least before another heated argument interrupts proceedings again.  Aren't friendships great, huh?

For the second half of the episode, we move forward to find that Kuroneko's criticism of her writing hasn't dampened Kirino's interest in penning a novel - indeed, she's been at it again, with her second effort amazingly praised by the editor of a mobile phone-based novel publication company.  However, because she doesn't want to revisit her magnum opus about a planet full of little sisters (which is fair enough, I mean how could you improve that concept, right?!), Kirino decides to embark upon a new project, about a post-apocalyptic city full of little sisters instead.  Oh, and Kyousuke has to help with "research", as punishment for looking at porn on her laptop.  Cue big brother being dragged around town, asked to buy Kirino stuff or be hit by a car to help her research, all in the name of being a good sibling.

I have to say, the first half of this episode showed off this series at its best - it was funny, its depiction of the three characters it revolved around and their interactions was nailed on perfect, and its sideways look at anime and its fandom via both Meruru and the two girl's novels was superb.  Really, if this entire series were just Kirino and Kuroneko watching anime and arguing about it (with the occasional impression of one another thrown in for good measure) I think they'd have a huge hit on their hands.

After such wonders, I have to admit that the second half of the episode fell off a cliff somewhat - Kirino's transformation from novel writing idiot to finely honed story-teller, to the point of getting a novel published, was a little too much of a stretch for me not to raise my eyebrow at it, and Kirino's "research" on her next novel again took us dangerously close to stretching the boundary of her relationship to Kyousuke on one occasion via a throw-away comment even if we ignore the whole "love hotel" bit.  Still, I suppose this episode did sum up Kirino's personality quite nicely - an animated, bouncing girl when it comes to things she likes and getting her own way, but really quite a bitch when things don't go to plan for her.  That combination certainly offers up plenty of comedy and drama which this series grasps with both hands, and it is mostly highly entertaining and amusing - I just hope it doesn't go off at the deep end too far with its story-telling now that we've reached into the second half of the series.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Bakuman - Episode 7

With their first manuscript given a more successful evaluation than we might have been expecting, episode seven of Bakuman allows our thoughts... or rather Moritaka's thoughts... to drift towards Azuki.  Not a difficult leap given that they're now sat next to one another in class.

While putting these two side-by-side proves initially disastrous for this nervous pair, leaving them feeling physically sick with nerves, once Moritaka has gotten over this shock he actually finds Azuki to be very receptive to him as he begins to scribble notes for her during class, succeeding in making her laugh and learning a few basic things about her.  This all goes awry however when he suggests they shouldn't have to wait to fulfil their respective dreams before getting closer, a throw-away thought that makes Azuki cry in class.  Oops.

Then again, it seems like Azuki will cry at pretty much anything at the drop of the hat, as Moritaka regains her favour by turning down the opportunity to e-mail her she deliberately presents him with, instead opting to wait until after they move seats again at least while also suggesting they'll have all the time in the world once he accomplishes his dream.  Speaking of dreams, despite the news that their first manuscript didn't make it as a finalist of Shonen Jack's monthly awards, Moritaka and eventually Akito eventually decide that their next goal is no less than to win a prize at the next Tezuka Awards - no small feat, as the name suggests.  Meanwhile, Eiji Nizuma's start continues to rise...

Although I far prefer Bakuman when it concentrates on "the manga bit", this wasn't a bad episode in terms of entertainment value provided you can get over the daft promise between Azuki and Moritaka as well as the former's ability to burst into tears at the slightest provocation.  The initial note-showing scenes between the pair of them were actually quite sweet, and more importantly this episode really kept the dynamic between Akito and Moritaka running nicely as these two budding manga artists manage to discuss things and share opinions without breaking into arguments, making them a likeable pair of characters.  Bakuman still isn't blowing me away as much as I expected given all of the praise for the manga, but I'm continuing to enjoy it quite a bit nonetheless.

Star Driver - Episode 7

Just as Star Driver was threatening to become a little too predictable for its own good, up popped episode six to give it a shot in the arm and shake things up a bit by revealing some all-important information about Sugata and then throwing the poor guy into a coma from which his predecessors have never recovered.

Needless to say, the reverberations of this development are felt heavily throughout this episode, with Wako distraught and the normally out-going Takuto pondering his own responsibility in goings-on and his true place in the lives of both Wako and Sugata.  Even the Glittering Crux members are unsettled at what has happened, eventually deciding that the only way to proceed is to ensure that Sugata is killed to make sure him and his King's Pillar are no longer a threat to them.

Than in turn means that this weeks Zero Time battle takes place earlier in the episode than usual, as the girl who was responsible for last week's attack steps up to the plate in an attempt to do the job properly.  In the midst of this battle against Takuto and Tauburn, Sugata begins to come around, spurring Takuto to ends things quickly before racing off with Wako to see Sugata back in the real world.  All is still not well for this all-important part of the trio however, as we see the King's Pillar activated once again before the Glittering Crux members manage to get to a missing Sugata before Takuto, seemingly planting a seed that is going to cause Takuto and Wako yet more trouble in the near future.

Although this episode didn't provide quite the high drama and change of pace I was hoping for, bringing Sugata well and truly into the fray rather than leaving him as "that nice bloke no-one worries about too much" has certainly helped to move Star Driver along a little, and this progress only looks set to continue given how this particular instalment came to a close.  While its giant robot action continues to impress, it still feels as though there's something missing from this series that I can't entirely put a finger on - at the end of the day, it's still yet to really make me care about the fate of any of its characters (no matter which side they're fighting for), and without that all of the impressive and pretty action scenes in the world can't draw me entirely into this show.  Things are certainly getting better, but Star Driver has a way to go yet.

Kuragehime - Episode 4

The previous episode of Kuragehime pretty much finished off setting up the various aspects of its main characters and story, leaving this fourth instalment as pretty much the first time the show can let loose and really start working on those core tenets.

This begins via what should be a fun occasion of roasting potatoes on a bonfire, but it's an event which brings back some tough memories for Tsukimi regarding her sick mother... not that she's given too much time to dwell on this as the Sisterhood are interrupted by a panicking Kuranosuke who has finally learned of the plan to demolish his new friends building in the future.  If he was expecting this to set off an all-out panic amongst said building's residence then he's in for a disappointment, as the only response he gets is one of general apathy and the assertion that those who can be bothered to protest against the development will sort things out.

From here, the rest of the episode is all about Tsukimi, or more precisely her part in what is fast becoming a love triangle between herself and the two Koibuchi brothers, as a simple trip to visit the jellyfish at an aquarium to sooth Tsukimi's frayed emotions turns into a rather more complex affair thanks to a blend of Tsukimi not wearing her glasses (allowing her to be herself in front of Shuu for the first time), her emotions getting the better of her as memories of her mother resurface, and Kuranosuke finding himself feeling an unexplainable jealousy when he witnesses Shuu comforting Tsukimi as a result.  Come the end of the instalment, it seems like everyone's emotional stability is thoroughly messed up in a number of ways - which is exactly what we like to see in the name of comedy and drama.

As per my comments last episode, it's actually really quite hard to explain how a series that has such a deceptively simple story manages to be rather deep in so many ways - away from its slapstick comedy (Banba's hair gets all the good jokes this week, it's going to need its own spin-off series at this rate) there's a lot of emotional and psychological depth to be explored here, whether it's Tsukimi and how a mixture of not wearing glasses and visiting an aquarium puts her into her element (which felt surprisingly familiar; put me into a scenario where I can talk about stuff I'm interested in and I'll yak anybody's ear off whereas you'd be hard-pressed to have such a conversation otherwise) or Kuranosuke's predictable but still nicely realised jealousy and emotions throughout the episode.  It might not seem like it at first glance, but there's so much going on here with these characters you could probably write a book on each of them, and processing all of this subtle information beneath a fun romantic comedy is incredibly entertaining and fascinating in equal measure.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Shiki - Episode 15

After subjecting us to the horrors of Ozaki's experimentation upon his dead wife Kyoko last episode, it's tempting to expect this next instalment of Shiki to offer Ozaki immediate recompense for this hardship given the knowledge that it has granted him.

If that is what you're expecting from episode fifteen however, think again.  For starters, Muroi's reaction to walking in on Ozaki after his experimentation upon Kyoko is probably not what he was hoping for, and his subsequent efforts to get other influential village members on his side also fall upon deaf ears as logic and common sense rule over the seemingly crazy things coming from Ozaki's mouth despite his own stature amongst them.

Thus, this episode is really all about Ozaki's isolation from the rest of the community, as his invaluable knowledge proves to be useless as those around him either fail to understand or simply refuse to acknowledge what is happening to them, while the increase in the population of the "Risen" means that they're exerting an ever greater influence over everything that happens within the village, from their overly flamboyant funeral home (a rare moment of comedy in all these recent dark episodes) through to controlling the reports of deaths in the vicinity, which is now officially recorded as zero thanks to their clever manipulation.  Does this leave Ozaki all alone to deal with the problem?  Not quite, as on individual appears out of nowhere to suggest that he still has at least one individual on his side...

After really getting its fangs (sorry, bad joke) into a bit of truly horrific and unsettling story-telling last time around, episode fifteen of Shiki concerns itself with getting to the heart of the village's current psychology - something that it does pretty well by following Doctor Ozaki around and seeing him ostracised despite the information that he holds which could save them all.  This allows the show's recent trend of portraying a relentlessly dark and depressing scenario to continue, before granting us a tiny slither of hope come the end of the episode - by this point it's probably fair to say that the series has a lot of us drawn in hook, line and sinker with this strategy, as we wait and hope for what is surely the inevitable turn-around to allow a triumph for good over evil.  Needless to say, I'll be eagerly tuning in to see just how (and indeed if) this pans out.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 6

Having finished off its slightly convoluted storyline last episode, it's time for a new story arc for To Aru Majutsu no Index II's sixth episode, beginning as it does with a rather clunky way of pointing us in the direction of Academy City's usually reliable weather reports as they prove to be less accurate than would be normally expected of late.

From this point onwards, we might as well be watching an episode of To Aru Kagaku no Railgun, as the episode focuses entirely upon Mikoto Misaka and Shirai Kuroko, with the latter leading the way for this particular instalment.  After some of the usual light-hearted banter and one-sided flirtation between these two, we get to the real heart of the matter as Judgement and more specifically Uiharu (yep, she's now part of the cast for this series too) pick up on a rather odd robbery within Academy City. 

After analysing video footage of the event, Kuroko heads off to use her impressive teleporation skills to stop the culprits in their tracks, only to find that she soon meets her match in a fellow teleportation user... indeed, this particular individual can teleport items without even touching them, putting her one step ahead in this field.  More intriguingly, this woman knows all about Kuroko, and more to the point more about Misaka and why she's so rarely at home these days, as she explains to a confused Shirai a situation involving the Tree Diagram supercomputer, so-called "Remnants" of which are being recovered and thus posing the possibility of the experiments involving Mikoto and her "sisters" being restarted.  While Misaka is trying to handle this alone, Kuroko is determined to do her part to resolve the situation, setting us up for a decidedly interesting story arc.

Having espoused my preference for To Aru Kagaku no Railgun over this series from which it was born, it's practically music to my ears to be able to enjoy an episode that relies so heavily on Railgun's cast that it could almost be that show to all intents and purposes.  Of course, this is still very much To Aru Majutsu no Index at its heart in terms of the continuation (or rather, rebirth) of perhaps the best arc from the original series, but either way this was a great and slickly presented episode that's left me excited for more.  Let's just hope it doesn't flounder around from time to time like the story arc which preceded it.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - Episode 6

Expecting Hotori Arashiyama to buy anything approaching a decent birthday present is pretty much a guarantee of disaster, so when she rolls into a nearby antique shop on the hunt for a gift to give Tatsuno you know things aren't going to end well.

While the gift she ends up having foisted upon her (a locked box with no key) is bad enough, things only get worse when Hotori forces Futaba's date of birth out of her... only to find out that it's the day of the party currently being held for Tatsuno.  Cue an awkward silence and an upset Futaba, while Arashiyama's attempts to make things better really don't help at all.

For the second half of the episode, Hotori and Toshiko's class are given an IT assignment to design a web site, allowing Arashiyama to kill two birds with one stone by using it as an opportunity to create a page advertising the cafe.  With no computer of her own however, she decides to rely upon Sanada's goodwill and PC to help her complete the project - a snap decision which causes Sanada some heartache as he finds himself torn between his collection of downloaded porn and his good standing with the apple of his eye Hotori.  Perhaps inevitably his love for Hotori wins the day, but the whole thing is for naught ultimately anyway due to Sanada's lack of scanner and his slightly less thorough hiding of some dodgy magazines.  All of this takes place against a backdrop of a rampant cold doing the rounds, which seems to be striking everyone except Hotori.  Hmm, how does that saying about idiots and colds go again?

Overall, this was another good episode of Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru, making full use of Hotori's oddly charming idiocy coupled with plenty of snappy one-liners from elsewhere to make for laughs aplenty.  Even when there are plays on words that don't really translate well (in a literal sense at least), the general sense of amusement carries this episode through with a stash of good gags both visual and verbal.  When Arashiyama is kept at the centre of things Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru continues to be quite a riot, and it remains one of my surprise favourites of the season.

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - Episode 7

Before we start this entry, a quick note about me - I'm a huge fan of Transformers.  Not the Michael Bay abominations of recent years, but rather the proper Transformers cartoon, comic and toys.

With that in mind, the first half of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt's seventh episode was clearly made for me, as two asteroids land on Earth in the midst of some usual arguing between our two titular characters.  One daft (and admittedly quite funny) little plot twist later, and Panty and Stocking have transformed into obvious parodies of Optimus Prime and Megatron respectively - after transforming their bedroom furniture into respective robots, they set about continuing their rivalry in a number of pitched battles a la the Transformers cartoon.  Of course, the original robots that set this chain of events in motion turn out to be a Ghost, finally snapping Panty and Stocking out of their robotic reverie to do something about it.

There was probably a second half to this episode too, but who cares, let me wallow in my enjoyment of a Transformers parody in a 2010 vintage anime....

What's that, I have to cover the second half of this episode?  Oh, okay then... for the second chunk of episode seven, Garterbelt finally reaches the end of his tether with regard to Panty and Stocking's extravagant living habits, causing them to declare that they're prepared to go off and earn $3 million in three days.  Needless to say, they try to do this via a variety of jobs which end in utter failure (although most of them were sexy failures, it has to be said), before realising that the casino is the easiest way to earn some dough when you have the luck of an angel.  Things aren't quite that simple however, as we soon get to find out just who the duo running this casino are behind the scenes...

Although the second half of this episode quite rightly brought back Scanty and Kneesocks after last week's episode (and threw in some fun little references to a global financial crisis and the like), this was all about the Transformers parody for me, a loving take on that kid's favourite of yesteryear that was absolutely perfect in every way from immediately trashing the robots from the new movies through to its character designs which blatantly ripped on all the old favourites from the 1980s cartoon.  Everything was perfect about this almost affectionate nod towards the show, complete with laser battles that perfectly captured the ridiculous in hindsight fights of the cartoon, the eyecatches between scenes and moments that were clearly created with Transformers: The Movie in mind.  Those who have never seen the original series will probably be lost, but for me it was an absolute riot which makes this probably my favourite episode so far.  It's a very personal reason to love something so much, but who cares?