Saturday, 30 April 2011

Moshidora - Episode 5

Moshidora reaches its half-way stage as the high school baseball team at its centre embarks upon their brave new journey of trying to innovate in the world of baseball at this level via their "no-bunt, no-ball" strategy.  Uh-oh, is this the point where my complete lack of baseball knowledge starts to give me a headache?

Certainly, it takes a while for the show to really explain this strategy in its entirety, although effectively it concerns the pitcher focusing only on delivering strikes, while the fielders are expected to work harder and stand closer to the base to deal with the inevitable hits that are going to come from such a strategy.  With a college side featuring several national-level players as their first opponent of this strategy, it's going to be a tough test, while Yuki is undergoing a stressful experience of her own as she goes into surgery that same day.

With this major experiment in place, needless to say the match itself is the main focus of this episode (with Drucker's Management taking a back seat), and perhaps equally inevitably this new strategy initially seems to be a disaster with our team getting the proverbial pants thrashed off them by their opponents.  However, as the coach tells his players before the game, he doesn't expect instant results and that he should be the only one to blame if things don't work out, and with a determination to stick to their plan this new strategy eventually bears fruit - it might be too little too late to win the game by a long shot, but it proves that the team are making progress and that there is still hope for their new tactics.

After all of the management-centric discussions of this week's instalments of Moshidora so far, it was actually a nice change of pace to focus on an actual game for once, and I'm always grateful to sports anime that doesn't certainly turn a losing team into serial winners instantly after one quick change or alteration - these things are much more believable when any such changes take time.  Although I did feel a little thrown under the bus by how slowly the series explained its new strategy I managed to make it through somehow (and let's face it, I do live in a country where baseball effectively doesn't exist, so I'm not exactly the target market here), and my interest remains piqued as to where this series is going to head next week in the dual names of baseball and business management.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Gosick - Episode 15

Having done perhaps a better job than any other previous story arc in building up its plot and the mysteries surrounding it, it's time for Gosick to close out its latest story arc... and hopefully with a bang, rather than a whimper.

For starters, Victorique continues to get to grips with Leviathan's story, as we follow in a little more detail his supposed exploits as they pertained to alchemy and the service of the country's royal family - a story which ended in the murder of the king's son and the eventual mysterious disappearance of Leviathan himself.  Meanwhile, Kujo confronts Brian Roscoe within the clock tower, via a conversation that ties Mr. Roscoe to Victorique in an interesting fashion, while a brief flashback gives away even more about his origins and his true place in matters.

In the end though, this story is all about Victorique's explanation of the deaths in the clock tower and everything else surrounding it, as Leviathan's true identity ties in to the songs still sung by children in the area, and with his ability to produce gold explained away without the need for flights of fancy such as alchemy.  Indeed, the whole story slots in between the first and second World War tidily, while also shedding even more light on Victorique's father and how he came to sire a so-called Grey Wolf.

Overall, this wraps up what is easily the best story arc of the series so far - it kept its proverbial powder dry throughout (even if it didn't offer much opportunity for the viewer to try and solve everything themselves, as per usual for this series), and the fact that it ties into so many other major elements of the series as a whole, and doubtless forthcoming story lines, is very satisfying indeed given the possibilities it opens up.  If only the series had its head on straight and packaged up more of its tales like this from the off this could have been a classic series, but as it is it only just seems to be hitting is stride.  Still, better late than never I suppose.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 3

Having spent time with Anaru catching Pokemon last episode, is Jinta going to keep the promise she asked him to make and start attending school again?  It seems as though the answer is no, until Menma's ghost gets involved and manages to persuade him to go under the auspices of it possibly being her wish.

However, Jinta's attempt to make it to school doesn't last long, as he bumps into first Anaru and then her friends, the latter of whom's biting comments make him change his mind and decide that it's a waste of time after all, returning home to find Menma attempting to make muffins which trigger past memories of his deceased mother and happier times.  Meanwhile, it seems that Jinta isn't the only one who can see Menma after all, as Poppo also seems to have glimpsed her - an event which causes him to redouble his efforts in trying to help fulfil her all-important wish.

His first gambit along these lines is to arrange a barbecue, inviting all of the old gang to come along and bring some food.  Perhaps surprisingly they all decide to show up, albeit with a distinct lack of any food to speak of until Yukiatsu shows up late and causes a commotion as he suggests that he just that second saw Menma wandering around nearby - a comment designed to "test the faith" of his former friends above all else, I would wager.

At last though, we have the main cast reunited, even if it's only uneasily - this could well be a key turning point in the series, and boy is it started to need it.  As it stands, it's becoming increasingly hard to really invest anything in the show's characters - they're either dead and annoying, or some combination of moody, cowardly and bitchy, making for a rather tough bunch to like in the process.  In fairness, the whole key tenet of the series might be for these former friends to ponder where they've gone wrong in their relationships with one another and the wider world (but without reverting to the child-like wonder I fretted about last week), but they need to do something more than simply milling around and brushing against one another like so many limp handshakes to prevent Ano Hana from being filed in the "pretty yet uninteresting" category.

Moshidora - Episode 4

With a new training regime implemented, things are looking up for Moshidora's central baseball team... yet they still aren't consistently getting good results, and their latest match suggests they're still some way off the kind of quality required to win the nationals.  So, what next for this Drucker-inspired side?

The next suggestion to catch Minami's eye is that of "innovation"; to (quite literally in the sense of baseball) to something game-changing in the hope of getting a step up on the competition.  While the end-game of this is obviously rather grandiose, we do see innovation coming in a more subtle form in this episode courtesy of Nikai.  Despite not being the best player on the team in practical terms (indeed, he can't even break into the first team) he clearly has an eye for the technical aspects of the game together with a fair bit of business acumen himself - thus, after some self-searching he decides to hang up his boots as a player and join the team's management.  I can't help but feel that the team has entirely too many management-level individuals now, but oh well...

As a result of this change, the team finds ways to interact with other relevant clubs within their school in the hope of gaining an all-important edge by the specialist training that other clubs can provide - thus, they assist the home economics club in the hope of improving their diet (although we only see them eating cake, worryingly) and hold sessions with the track and judo clubs to improve their speed, strength and so on.  All of these moves are pretty innovative in their own right, and certainly good ideas, but Minami and company aren't done yet, as they have even bigger fishes of on-field innovation to fry...

I know you're probably going to get bored of hearing me say this every day (talk about intensive 'blogging!), but I'm continuing to enjoy Moshidora as a quietly entertaining and mildly thought-provoking affair.  It might not be the most intensive management training you can imagine, but it does throw some important concepts out there without either over-complicating matters or being too preachy, so as a digestible slice of something to ponder every day it continues to work wonders.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 3

Despite being surrounded by utter oddballs, Makoto seems to be getting into the swing of his new every-day life as enter Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko's third episode, as gets up to all of the usual kind of stuff you'd expect a student to - the drudgery of school, a meeting with new friend Ryuuko on a "date" of sorts outside of it.

However, despite leading what seems like a pretty decent life in his new location, Makoto is clearly bugged by one thing and one thing alone, that being Erio; whether it's her past, her present or her future, it's clearly gotten under Makoto's skin as he tries to piece her together in his head while asking his friends questions that are clearly related to her.

Despite those concerns, even Erio's mother is keen to warn Makoto away from getting too close to her daughter, although it seems that even Meme's past is a fluid, confused mass when it comes to her pregnancy with Erio, making this entire subsection of the family seem more than a little mysterious.  Despite Meme's warning, Makoto still refuses to leave Erio alone, which ultimately leads to him devising the ultimate test to prove without doubt that she isn't an alien - an attempt to make both of them fly using Erio's old bicycle that ultimately leads to a The Girl Who Leapt Through Time-inspired scene, and a moment which looks as though it might just have cracked Erio's outer shell...

Even three episodes in I can't really pin down my exact feelings for Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - when it's on-form its witty dialogue voiced by crazy characters is hugely entertaining, and at other moments its darker, bitter-sweet edge comes through in a fascinating way that keeps me gripped in a fashion that I can't quite find a voice for.  In a word, this series is interesting - I still worry that it doesn't know what it wants to be and that its whole pack of cards will come tumbling down as a result, but as long as it can keep these balls in the air I'm very much signed up for more of the same.

Highschool of the Dead - Drifters of the Dead OVA

We could definitely do with some more Highschool of the Dead if you ask me, especially with the series proper left hanging, so does this OVA fit the bill of giving us another zombie killing fix?

Err.... no.  This additional episode, subtitled Drifters of the Dead, sees the gang finding their way to a small, uninhabited island somewhere in their attempts to escape the zombie hordes.  This, of course, can mean only one thing - a beach episode.  Lo and behold, it takes no time at all before the entire cast (including its male number) are decked out in swimsuits.

After all of the usual splashing around in the water, an attempt to collect and cook food goes horribly wrong, with the hydrangea leaves unwittingly used to cook the food causing hallucinations for all concerned.  Although I'm not sure this is technically accurate (yes, it is a poisonous plant but I'm not sure about it causing these symptoms), that's of little concern, as you can probably see where the episode is headed next, with each character "indulging" in their own delusions for the titillation and entertainment of the viewer.

While some OVAs are well worth taking some time out to watch, I can't really pretend that this additional episode of Highschool of the Dead is one of them - its animation budget concerns itself only with bouncing female flesh with little time taken on anything else, and any semblance of a plot is cheesy, nonsensical and outright ridiculous.  If you only watch this series for the fan service then this is probably some kind of gift from the heavens for you, but if you're more interest in the way it blends those elements with slick, jaw-dropping action then there's nothing to be gained from watching this bonus instalment.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Moshidora - Episode 3

Despite seeming borderline disastrous and a sign of an impending implosion, the big row at the end of Moshidora's second episode has in fact galvanised the team thanks to that airing of all of its proverbial dirty laundry.

Thus, what we see as this third instalment begins is a baseball side full of motivation and willingness to trail and improve... until exam time rolls around and practice stops.  Ten days later, a very different set of players return to practice, with their motivation shot to pieces and the hard-working atmosphere that went before replaced with one of relaxation and apathy; indeed, some of its number are barely even turning up at all while others pay more attention to other classes.

So, how to fix this malaise?  Eventually, Minami realises that the problem is that (in Drucker's terms) the team has lost its "consumers" by failing to provide for their needs and requirements - in short, something needs to be done to make practice sessions feel "fresh" and more interesting once again.  For this task, Minami recruits Ayano to siphon ideas from the team coach (as these two individuals understand one another better), and the result is a slew of concepts surrounding the idea of splitting the team into three sections and effectively having them compete against another as well as them themselves.  The result is a reinvigorated interest in practice... at least, it is for all but Yunosuke, whose previous failures for the team still haunt him until some serious persuasion from Minami.

All in all, this was another enjoyable episode of Moshidora - its core concepts are certainly important material for any business (where keeping people from going stale is far, far tougher than it is running a sports team), and the idea of making good use even of failure is something that gets forgotten about and passed over way too over in my experience where people are too busy to sit down and ask exactly why something didn't go to plan.  In a similar vein, trying to remove the fear of failure to enable a person to perform better and live up to their potential can be very difficult indeed at times, especially when the stakes are perceived as high for whatever reason.

Thinking about it, I rather wish the average business was as easy to turn around as Moshidora's baseball team; we'd probably all be wealthy people if so.  Regardless, this series is still feeding my mind and making me think about things I probably wouldn't otherwise, which is enough alone to make watching the show feel like a positive experience.

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 2

After effectively literally forcing him into the Financial District at the end of the first episode of C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control, it's time for Kimimaro to learn the rules of this strange new world in what soon becomes almost literally a baptism of fire.

As soon as he arrives in the district, Kimimaro is thrust straight into his first deal, and what is effectively a life or death fight against another member of the Financial District.  This isn't something that he has to face alone however, as he's granted an Asset to work with - a kind of magical being of some description to fight on his behalf and protect him.  In Kimimaro's case this Asset is Mashu, a feisty fairy for want of a better description who finds herself on the end of quite a battering as she works to protect her confused and downright terrified owner from instant defeat - quite a task, by all accounts.  Whether it's by luck or judgement, eventually fate smiles kindly on this duo and, more by luck than judgement, they manage to win their first Deal - a rare occurrence in the Financial District and one which catches the eye of Mikuni Soichiro.

With victory established, it's back to the real world for Kimimaro until his next bout in a week's time - although the world he returns to is rather different as not only is his bank account positively bulging but he soon notices that Japan's currency is, in fact, two currencies, with the Yen existing alongside the Financial District's own "Midas" money in a way that can only be seen by members of the district.  How this will effect Kimimaro's life is perhaps supplant by the interest that other dealers seem to have in him, with Mikuni in particular making himself known to the youngster.

Although this episode, much like the first, was largely constructed to establish its core concepts, tenets and characters, it also proved to be hugely entertaining - the dynamic between Kimimaro and his Asset Mashu holds promise right away (although Mashu also seems to be the show's fan service vehicle judging by this instalment), the set-up of the action-based portion of the show equally feels like it could have quite a lot to offer, and there's still very much a feeling that there's more to this show than meets the eye.  Ignoring the clunky use of CG (I swear some scenes reminded me of Miku Miku Dance) we have ourselves a solid package, topped off by the usual gorgeous soundscapes of Taku Iwasaki to make for a show that catches the ear perhaps more than it does the eye.  [C] could still fall flat on its face at any moment, but as of right now it most certainly has my attention.

SKET Dance - Episode 4

Continuing down its episodic path, SKET Dance's fourth episode again finds itself split into two discrete story lines for our delectation.

The first of these two plots concerns a girl named Roman Saotome, a lover of old shoujo manga who seems the world through screen-toned spectacles, living out her life as though everything before her is out of some romance manga.  This is the case when she has what seems like a fateful meeting with a kind, good-looking stranger, and thus Roman heads off to the SKET-dan to ask for their help in tracking him down.  Of course, it turns out that this stranger is closer to home than we might have otherwise assumed, in an episode that makes more of its fourth-wall breaking comments than anything else.

After that actually half-decent slice of fun, the second half of this episode suddenly seems all the more terrible, with a poorly hashed-out story of a missing prize-winning lollipop wrapper that involves the girl's softball team captain, a ridiculous excuse for hunting for the wrapper in question (albeit deliberately so) and the delinquent who was responsible for the whole "paint throwing" thing in the show's opening episode.

If this instalment of SKET Dance does one thing, it's demonstrating just how hit and miss this series is looking likely to be.  Okay, so the first half of this episode wasn't the most memorable thing you're likely to see, but its self-referential jibes were occasionally amusing and the stupid twist in the tale at the end worked okay, only to be completely cast aside without any kind of proper ending to the story, such is this show's disposable nature.  The second half however... well, it was terrible.  Utterly, abjectly awful.  Sure, some of its awful nature was deliberate, but the whole thing was clumsy, predictable, unfunny and just plain stupid - and feel free to put that quote on the Blu-Ray release, Tatsunoko.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Moshidora - Episode 2

A baseball team managed by a girl who doesn't like baseball any more doesn't seem like the best of starts for any outfit, but things are about to reveal themselves as being a whole lot more complicated as we hit episode two of Moshidora.

First things first, I should probably mention that nothing more has been said about Minami's dislike of baseball in this episode, which I find a bit odd, but oh well... with the decision that the high school team needs some marketing work, Minami teams up with bed-ridden Yuki to interview the entire squad and staff and find out their feelings for the team, from what they hope to get out of being part of the team through to any dislikes they have.  This arguably doesn't get off to the best of starts, with quiet girl Ayano reduced to tears as we learn that she only joined the team in the hope of making friends, and as the interviews progress we build up a picture of a team with myriad problems - some individuals full of self doubt, others with a waning interest, and topping the bill a complete breakdown in the relationship with the team's coach and their star pitcher Asano.

The issue between said coach and Asano is an instantly recognisable one - here we have two guys who are, to all intents and purposes, speaking different languages, with the coach living in a world based around logic and statistics while Asano plays and makes judgements with his heart over his head.  Courtesy of Drucker's management, Minami realises that she needs to act as the interpreter between these two sides, and following their first game of the season things only get worse as other players turn on Asano without understanding what his real issue is.  This disintegration of further relationships within the team finally persuades the coach to speak up and back Asano, but it is too little too late for the team?

In terms of the management aspect of this episode, it was certainly fare that I'm more than familiar with - working in a technical position means having to translate my own thoughts from the cold, hard logic of that kind of role into something more easily comprehended by higher level management and customers (and more broadly, to understand that different people think in very different ways that you can break down into three or four groups and pick up on by the way someone behaves) - something which isn't always as easy to judge as it sounds.  It's a shame really that having posited this need to "interpret", this episode left Minami unable to do anything but look on - perhaps it's too early for me to expert her to come out and take charge but it seemed to almost undo the educational moral of the story by seeing it relegated to a back seat role.  Still, it made for an episode of Moshidora that was fascinating enough to watch - it might not be as exciting and nerve-wrenching as Giant Killing, but I'm still interested in what it has to say for itself through the remainder of the series.

Steins;Gate - Episode 4

For all the imagined conspiracy floating around within Kyouma Hououin's head, it appears as if our slightly unhinged protagonist has finally stumbled upon the real thing, courtesy of "assistant" Daru's surprising simple job of hacking into CERN's network.  Say, you haven't been messing with the PlayStation Network this past week have you, Daru?

Anyhow, with some disturbing references to a dead human amidst talk of time travel experimentation found within CERN's records, any further investigation is hindered by the main database which seems to be linked to these experiments proving to be indecipherable by normal, modern means.  Indeed, one would need a very specific type of computer to get to grips with the programming language used... an IBM 5100, no less.  Thus, Kyouma's hunt for the 5100 begins as he attempts to get in touch with John Titor and other contacts while also bumping into Kurisu Makise, who continues to be oddly fascinated by what she's seen and experienced despite being in denial about the whole microwave incident being in any way related to time travel.

Kyouma's hunt for the key to the current mystery before him really only serves to underpin the weird juxtapositions in his life - on the one-hand he's tackling what appears to be a genuine conspiracy, but on the other he's doing so while also fighting with problems like laundry and an equally deluded girl in a maid cafe (aka Feyris) who might just hold the key to his hardware requirements.  This mixture of elements does make for a slow release of the vital conspiracy elements of this series, but add just the right dose of frivolity and absurdity to stop the show from becoming bogged down in its own high concept self-importance.

Of course, Steins;Gate is probably going to have to take a dramatic leap figuratively at some point in time to fuel its story, but at the moment it has plenty of time to worth with (ironically) and seems quite comfortable with taking things slowly and making the most of its key elements while also tantalisingly throwing out important titbits such as Makise's insistence that time travel is impossible and the creeping feeling she might know more than she's letting on.  For what it's worth, I'm more than happy to see the series continue to go down this path, and it's certainly continuing to entertain me at this point in time.

Now, if only I could change the SMS tone on my iPhone; Mayuri's cries of "Doo-da-doo" seem built for just such a purpose...

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 3

With Nichijou doing anything but impressing me and little other comedy on show this season, it's to Maria†Holic Alive that I turn for my weekly dose of laughs - thus far, I have to say that it hasn't let me down either.

This time around, Kanako's plans for a day in town looking out for flustered office girls is ruined when she realises she can't fit into her clothes saved for just such a special occasion.  What on earth is going on?  With even her scales showing far too large a number for her liking, it can only be Maria's tempting snacks or the evils of the pâtisserie and the sugar cane at fault.

Nonetheless, the only way forward for Kanako is to go on a diet - a task she attacks with entirely too much gusto whether it's chewing on marbles or otherwise trying to starve herself entirely - a tough task when the student council meeting is about updating the cafeteria menu, although thankfully she's largely saved by her complete ignorance to all the foreign names, only to be caught in hungry reverie by the council presidents croissant-esque hair.  Come the end of her starvation, Kanako is relegated to chewing on dogs to satisfy her hunger before finally seeing the light and taking on a proper diet, although this being Maria†Holic it is of course all in vein.

This was actually a bit of an episode of two halves for me - I absolutely loved the first half of the episode from the cutting open of chef's hats through to the ubiquitous "melons" gag, but after that it actually took the whole dieting and hunger joke a little too far and it became (to use a food pun) a little bit stale and over-worked, to be saved only by Maria's pyramid selling spiel at the end.  However, I can forgive the episode for over-egging (sorry, another food joke) its proverbial pudding simply for the fact that before it ran out of steam the various diet and fat-based jokes were hilarious even if it's the kind of plot device that's been over-used by comedy anime in the past.  Don't stop doing what you do Maria†Holic Alive, you're a lone pool of humour in my comedy-starved spring line-up.

Moshidora - Episode 1

You know you've been in middle management for too long when you even start getting excited about learning management tips from your anime - such is the position I find myself in as Moshidora finally makes its hotly-awaited debut.

Moshidora is the story of sixteen year-old Minami Kawashima, a high school girl who has decided to embark upon a journey as the manager of her school's baseball team in lieu of her sickly best friend and former manager Yuki, with the hope of achieving her ultimate goal of taking her team to the nationals.  There are two problems here however; firstly, Minami hates baseball.  Secondly, whilst looking for baseball-related management books she ends up instead with a copy of the much-vaunted Drucker's Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices - a tome about running a business, not a sports team.

Nonetheless, Minami forges on as she begins her formative attempts at applying the concepts of this book to the baseball team - in this opening instalment she learns that integrity is supposedly the key to being a successful manager (a bit of a problem for a baseball team manager who hates baseball, huh?) and tries to figure out what the purpose and goals of her "business" are.  Just as importantly, we also delve into the relationship between Minami and Yuki, which also reveals that the former's hatred of baseball wasn't always the case - indeed, it seems that she was rather an astute player in her younger days.

Come the end of this first episode, I'm still as fascinated by this show's concept as I was before watching the opener.  Certainly, there's an interesting mix of slice of life elements and an obvious attempt to put across some management "training" (for want of a better word) in a single package, and I kind of admire the series at this early stage for that if nothing else.  Will this blend work for a ten episode series?  Who knows, but for now I'm still on board, and at least if nothing else I can kid myself that I'm learning something while I'm watching the series.  Maybe I can even get away with watching it in the office?

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai - Episode 14

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai's Kuroneko focus has certainly been well received by most (it's almost as if people don't like Kirino), and thankfully these bonus episodes of the series continue to proffer plenty of everyone's favourite opinionated "fallen saint" with nary an irritating sister in sight.

After all of the commotion in the school game development club last episode, the senior members of said club see fit to pose a challenge to their juniors - to submit concepts for a game of their own, the winning entry of which is to be submitting into an online competition for such efforts.  Thus, Ruri and Sena are pitted against one another with an expectation of teamwork between the two of them once the best entry is chosen, with Kyousuke simply coming along for the ride... or rather, throwing a massive spanner in the works right from the off by suggesting that they both work on creating an eroge.

Then again, both girls final presentation to the game development club's seniors aren't all that far off just such a concept - Sena's idea for a dungeon exploring RPG seems like a sure-fire winner before Ruri's concept is even out the gate, but as is so often the case with these things the devil is in the details - the explicit, homoerotic details inspired by the club's male members to be more precise.  This leaves Kuroneko's concept as the clear winner, even if it is (to use her own words) as an exercise in "self gratifying masturbation material" designed solely to piss off people with differing views.  This decision leads to Sena leaving the club in tears never to return as Ruri and Kyousuke soldier it on alone with development of the game, before reaching a point of no return where only one individual can fix the game's numerous bugs in time for submission to the contest...

As has been the case with this series throughout, this is another hugely fun episode - hilariously and almost tastelessly hysterical at times but actually rather sweet at others as the relationship between Kyousuke and Ruri continues to be the major focus, with the latter clearly having grown considerably thanks to the support of others to give a slightly heart-warming undertone to the story.  It's the show's sense of humour that really wins me over personally though, and as per usual this instalment of Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai managed to provoke numerous laughs from me - I didn't expect to be saying this when the show began (or even on occasion during it), but I'm going to miss it once it's all over at the end of its next, final, episode.

Monday, 25 April 2011

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 3

With Kasuga's Loose Soul captured and our previous target now petting kittens by the dozen, it's time for Keima and Elsie to turn their attentions to a much bigger task, although not before running into a fellow demon and former classmate of Elsie's called Haqua.

Compared to Keima's bungling partner in crime, Haqua seems to be a model member of the Loose Souls team, already promoted to section chief and boasting the capture of ten souls already to back up her braggadocio and superiority complex.  At least, she claims to have captured ten Loose Souls, but as Elsie is put on high alert due to a major demon on the loose Keima is quick to pick up on the fact that the truth about Haqua's abilities and record so far is anything but spectacular.

In the hope of "completing the game" as quickly as possibly, Keima chooses to join forces with a reluctant Haqua in an attempt to capture this latest demon in short order, in the process learning some of the tricks of the trade that Elsie is yet to master as well as picking up the missing segments of the story of why these demons and Loose Souls crop up in the first place - she might not be much good in the field, but academically Haqua knows her stuff.  Come the end of the episode, our hero (and heroines of course) are face to face with this grown-up, fully matured demon threat - but what to do with it?

Between Haqua's appearance and the change in focus from capturing a girl to catching a "blobby thing" (no, I don't mean a character from K-ON) this episode actually gives the series the break and breath of temporary fresh air that it perhaps needs - I wouldn't want the show to follow this kind of plot every time, but at least it's a step back from all of the stereotypical female conquests of the series so far.  This still doesn't make for a series that raises the bar of any genre it purports to slot itself into, but it's fun enough to watch so it gets no real complaints from me right now.

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 4

Now that its main dynamic between Kotetsu and Barnaby has been very much established, it's about time Tiger & Bunny turned its attentions to some of the show's other superheroes - something it duly does with this fourth instalment as Blue Rose is put under the spotlight.

Blue Rose, real name Karina Lyle, couldn't really be much more different than Wild Tiger - while he works as a hero with saving people as his only true end goal, Blue Rose is a far more apathetic hero who is only fighting as a springboard to a career in music, and someone who is more than a little irritated when saving lives gets in the way of her social life or her work as a singer.  This sense of apathy is only heightened when Blue Rose finds herself confronted by a machine gun-toting maniac on her latest mission, the embarrassing fallout of which seems to have set her down the path of quitting as a hero.

Naturally, this leads to Blue Rose being left with a straight-up choice between a gig at a local bar and her work as a hero, and just as inevitably the hero work she decides to skip just happens to be a rescue mission on a fiery oil rig where her ice-based powers would be just the ticket.  You can probably also guess what happens from that point forth but hey, I won't spoil the episode for you entirely if you haven't already figured out how it's going to end.

Thus, this particular instalment of Tiger & Bunny is about as predictable as it gets (simply knowing it focuses on Blue Rose gives away the entire plot, it's that obvious) and you could argue it also lacks a bit of the sparkle of previous episodes in terms of its character dynamic as the series as a whole carries the clear and present danger of falling into such tired and well-worn plot devices.  Luckily, its slickly presented action scenes and Wild Tiger's constant interference in... well, pretty much everything, allow the series to continue ticking along in a reasonably entertaining manner, but I do get the feeling that this show is going to need something to shake things up a little sooner rather than later, lest it get bogged down in over-used mediocrity.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 2

With the appearance of superhuman powers saving him from a fate equal to death at the end of episode one, Ganta has lived to fight another day in his new "home" - but can this kid really last much longer, especially given that last week's "accident" was anything but?

For starters, young Ganta could really do with learning the rules of Deadman Wonderland - something he does during the course of the episode, from the "candy" that he has to eat to counteract the poison which seeps slowly into every inmate from their collar, or the requirement to enter events to entertain the public in the hope of winning the required prison currency to buy food and the like.

Ganta learns a lot of this information via Yoh Takami, the lad who was slashed across the chest mercilessly last episode but who has somehow lived to tell the tale... although it appears that there's more than meets the eye even to his character.  On top of all this, Ganta's first event is the "dog race", a lethal affair (especially when the organisers decide to turn up the difficulty) which puts him head-to-head with Kazumasa Kouzuji, a former athlete who is enjoying a new career as a nutter and prison bully.  With the dog race proving to be literally a matter of life and death, only Shiro's antics manage to save Ganta's bacon on numerous occasions, leading to him returning the favour and saving Shiro at the end of the game rather than taking victory for himself.

Perhaps the biggest problem facing this second episode of Deadman Wonderland is that its shock tactics didn't work quite as well as I would wager they were intended to - we've seen the "literal game of life and death" template used numerous times both within anime (Gantz et al) and out, which makes the whole affair less horrific than it perhaps should be; a situation not helped when characters stop to have a chat or long-winded conversation in the middle of what is supposed to be an incredibly hostile environment.

In fairness, this wasn't particularly a show-stopper for me in enjoying this episode - I'm still interested in its concept and where it's headed, and indeed in its characters and their histories, so on this occasion I can put some slightly clunky delivery to one side.  That said, I hope we move away to more intriguing prospects than simply dangerous fairground games soonish, as even at this early juncture this feels like a story that needs some more flesh on its bones to live up to its billing.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 4

Last week's instalment of Hanasaku Iroha caused a split between those viewing the series which surprised me a little - some loved it (i.e. myself) while others hated the change in tone and the way it dished out some fan service no matter how playfully and in the name of humour.

Moving on to episode four however, it's Ohana's first day at her new school - a new beginning which looks like it's going to be tough going until she mentions the magic word "Tokyo" in her introduction, which sees her suddenly turn from an annoying newcomer into some kind of cool princess of fashion.  Perhaps more surprising is the may that Minko is viewed within the school, as despite that scathing tongue of hers she seems to have more than her fair share of admirers and guys lining up to confess to her - all for naught I should mention, as her interest lies well and truly elsewhere.

Away from such things, we see Ohana and Nako finally getting on much better in the wake of episode three's incident, with the latter revealing quite a few things about herself and her motivations, as well as some other pressing matters such as the rather comical tale of how Minko got her nickname.  Speaking of Minko however, Ohana's lack of tact and outright dumbness when it comes to certain things still isn't helping her relationship on that front, as she makes a pig's ear of trying to engage Minchi in conversation by slagging off Tohru before belatedly (very belatedly) figuring out her feelings.

Although it didn't quite have the all-out, madcap comic focus of the previous instalment, this was still an entertaining and amusing episode of Hanasaku Iroha as it continues to grow its characters in their increasingly slice of life style setting while also throwing the odd chunk of drama into the mix to keep things interesting.  It's really Ohana's character itself that carries this blend along almost perfectly - she makes for great comic relief as well as serving as the voice of the viewer when it comes to stating the obvious (usually out loud) or engaging in her frequent doses of wide-eyed wonder, while also having a few hefty slices of drama to worry about herself.  Even if the animation quality did drop off slightly for this episode (albeit mostly in its early stages), the series as a whole still has plenty in its arsenal to keep me hooked.

Nichijou - Episode 4

Another week, another twenty minutes of me staring at an episode of Nichijou wondering whether I'm genuinely supposed to be laughing at this stuff.

I'm honestly not too sure what to write about the series any more - even in terms of an episode synopsis there isn't really a lot to discuss other than "some random stuff happens which is clearly supposed to be hilarious but entirely fails to live up to that billing".  Once again, the only remotely noteworthy moments of this week's instalment feature talking cat Sakamoto, whose battle between his demand for respect from his relative juniors is almost shot to pieces by his natural instinct to play with anything that moves or even looks vaguely interesting to play with.  It's cute, it's a great examination of the feline mindset, and it's actually kind of funny to boot.

Aside from that, everything is as you'd expect, with Mai being weird and playful in an indecipherable way thanks to that monotone, Nakanojo (he of the mohican hairstyle) having some hair-related dilemmas (which I confess were quite funny too) and so on.

I really, really should drop this series by now - one or two full-blown laughs out of five episodes (including the OVA) is an incredibly poor return on the time I've invested into the series thus far, and that depressing scoreline doesn't look set to improve any time soon.  Yet, despite that for some reason I still find myself wanting to check out the latest episode every week - perhaps its the well-crafted animation (although even aspects of that are beginning to become repetitive), or maybe I'm just desperately clinging on to the fact that it can only get better and that surely it'll pull itself out of this bottomless comedy ravine at some point.  Either way, I think I'll call it a day after next week's episode unless something spectacular happens.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Gosick - Episode 14

The opening to Gosick's second half certainly put us back on track as far as the show's murder-mystery focus is concerned, with a story involving alchemy, death and kidnapping... indeed, just who is it than was all set to snatch Victorique at the end of the previous instalment?

In fact, we can actually write that kidnapping off as something of a false alarm, as it's actually the result of Cecile seeing Victorique out and about and deciding that it's time she introduce herself to her classmates... something that Victorique is none too happy about, incidentally.  So, after some awkward introductions, Victorique is seated in front of a jealous Avril next to Kujo - a position which leads to Avril winding up her new classmate to the point where she practically has a table thrown at her.

With this raucous seemingly putting an end to the class for the two girls and Kujo, thoughts turn once again to the mysterious death in the clock tower last episode, as we discover that this isn't the first such death by any stretch of the imagination.  After a falling out between Victorique and Kujo on account of the former's refusal to apologise to Avril, these three characters set out down their own investigative tracks to try and get to the bottom of things - a trail which brings Victorique into contact with Brian Roscoe for the first time as he continues to hang around the area.  While Victorique is convinced that alchemist Leviathan is a fraud, there are still plenty of unanswered questions as this instalment ends.

As per my comments last week, it's nice to see Gosick taking a little more time with its mysterious elements, letting them bubble under the surface to give them more potency while adding some more fuel to the fires of the unknown.  While this episode doesn't exactly douse these mysteries in proverbial gasoline, it does keep things ticking over while having some fun with the new-found love rivalry between Avril and Victorique while also finding time to progress things somewhat.  If nothing else, the increased prominence of Mr. Roscoe lends some credence to the fact that things are getting more interesting within the confines of the series, but we shall have to wait and see how the remainder of this story arc pans out to really get a handle on it.  So far, so interesting however for Gosick's second half.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 2

The opening episode of Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko did a pretty good job of asserting that its setting was full of crazy people... or, at least, one crazy family with daughter Erio taking after mother Meme Touwa in the "what the Hell is wrong with you?" stakes.

If that duo isn't enough for you however, episode two introduces us to another couple of female oddballs.  Firstly, we have Ryuuko Mifune, an energetic and enthusiastic girl who is nonetheless one spoke short of a full bicycle wheel.  Then there's Maekawa, a tall girl with an aversion to putting her arms above her head for ten seconds yet with a penchant for bad jokes and dressing up as a giant sandwich at night.

Away from this new additions to the character roster, Erio herself is still acting as bizarrely as ever, whether it's discussing her role as an alien to an ever-put upon Niwa or diving into the sea while wearing her futon with an assertion that she can fly out of trouble any time she likes.  Against this daft personality comes a slightly more sobering tone to the episode, with the story of how Erio disappeared for six months, returning to drop out of school while claiming first that she was abducted by aliens before switching her story to insist that she is one herself.  Is Erio simply trying to hide away from the reality of what happened to her, is she simply bonkers or is there some truth to her story?

Putting the more serious matters at hand to one side, Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko is invariably entertaining in that kind of easily witty way that suits SHAFT's style down to the ground - Niwa Makoto makes for a perfect foil for the weird girls around him, full of snide comebacks and one-liners that rarely fail to amuse and are occasionally laugh out loud funny, as is the behaviour of the aforementioned lunatics around him.  I'm certainly not sticking with this series in the hopes of it having any real depth to it, and to be honest I don't care what direction its story moves in as long as it continues to be effortless fun to watch, giggle at and shake your head over.  This isn't going to be a classic, but it's doing its job reasonably well right now.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 2

The opening episode of Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai offered up a premise with plenty of potential, offset by the season's most irritating character in the form of back-from-the-dead ghost Menma.

Thankfully, Menma's input is far less in your face and annoying for this second instalment as she becomes almost secondary to the show's other characters (despite being foremost in all of their minds), beginning with Jinta's old friend "Poppo", who has been using their group of friend's secret hideout as a home from home when he isn't travelling the world.  While everyone else seems to be doing their best to avoid Menma's memory (and thus Jinta as a result), Hisakawa (to use his proper name) actively encourages discussing her, offering to help Jinta fulfil Menma's wish and her reason for re-appearing to him in the first place.

With Jinta unsure of exactly what wish he's supposed to be fulfilling, his train of thought eventually turns to Pokemon (let's not dally with the false name attributed to it in-series) and Menma's desire to capture a particularly rare creature within an edition of the game.  The trouble is, not only is the game a few years old now, the Pokemon in question can only be captured with the help of a friend, thus meaning that Naruko ends up being dragged into this game-playing treasure hunt... not that she minds really, as we delve a little deeper into both her own attraction to Jinta and how she looked up to Menma as kid in your typical love-hate relationship kind of way.

Overall, this made for a pleasant episode (not least because Menma largely kept quiet) that was well-produced and nicely realised, while at the same time never really breaking out of its comfort zone at all - everything occurred exactly as you'd expect it to without any real emotion or drama to it beyond what had already been soundly established or at least strongly hinted at in episode one.  That pretty much sums up my major worry about the series - that it's simply going to pull all of its major characters together under Menma's memory via a reversion to their "child-like" states without exploring why they've grown up, grown apart and changed since her death.  It's too early to start fretting hugely about this concern admittedly and the potential (necessity, perhaps - this is a noitaminA show after all) remains for it to do a whole lot more, but perhaps this episode's biggest disservice was that advertisement for Wandering Son within it that only served to remind me how much more that series achieved with its first two episodes.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 12 (Completed)

So here we are at the end of it all, and what's more the potential end for Madoka, Homura and many others in the face of Walpurgis Night.  With Homura seemingly defeated, where do we go from here?

Shocking though it might be that it's taken so long, the inevitable finally happens and this timeline's Madoka decides that her only recourse is to become a magical girl, much to the despair of Homura.  Of course, this timeline's Madoka also has an advantage that perhaps none of her previous iterations did in terms of the information before her, and it's this which allows her to make an ostentatious yet carefully crafted wish... to destroy every witch in existence before it is born.

As wishes go, this is pretty major league stuff - enough to effectively alter the laws of the universe, and sufficient to turn Madoka from a mere mortal into what is practically a god; a being that transcends time and space with the ability to move within and alter history at will.  So it goes that Madoka achieves that wish, using the massive power and the hope that has built up within her to extinguish the despair from century upon century of witches.  The down-side of this is that she ceases to exist as a human being, and indeed even as a memory, with only fleeting recollections of her left within Homura (in particular) and her family.

I could probably write so much more to describe the events of this episode, but to be honest it's such a grandiose, high concept that I feel like I haven't entirely gotten to grips with it myself yet.  Perhaps what's more important from a series that worked hard to highlight the importance of human emotion is how I feel come the end of the episode - it was certainly an emotional (and genuinely tear-jerking) but ultimately satisfying end to the series.  Madoka's sacrifice doesn't create a perfect world - far from it, it's a world where magical girls still exist and give up their safety to fight demons that appear from within the confines of the human condition - but it saves those important to her or at least gives them peaceful closure, making for the kind of incomplete, emotionally charged and indelibly human wish that we would expect from a show that has cherished this kind of thinking above all else.

When a series proves to be so good, so impressive and so exciting to those who watch it, no ending will satisfy the hungry masses - a problem that is perhaps more keenly felt in Puella Magi Madoka Magica's case given the delays which allowed the hype around its ending to built impossibly high.  Given that, there will always be a twinge of "could they have done it better?" surrounding this final episode, but I will say this - it's a grandiose, brave and wide-reaching conclusion that exceeds the scope I imagined the series to have; it was a final, ultimate shattering of my pre-conceptions of both the series and the genre it represents in line with the smashing of my assumptions that it's been gleefully revelling in since that fateful third episode.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the story of the human condition, and what it is to "feel" something; to experience and express an emotion based on those feelings.  The fact that my feeling towards this final episode is one of love and that your own instinct towards it might well be something very different is, in essence, perhaps the most important thing to take from the series.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 11

Every once in a while, something emerges that plants its seed in the history of the medium it represents, and occasionally that seed's growth is only strengthened by entirely unrelated events which wrap around it.  You could well argue that this is the case with Puella Magi Madoka Magica, as a series that had already gripped so many come the end of its spectacularly delivered tenth episode only saw its stock grew in the wake of delays and real-life disaster.  However, its work is not yet done, which brings us to the first half of this double-bill which is the show's finale.

After the trip through Homura's history that was episode ten, we return to our present for this penultimate episode complete with all of the pain which that entails, most notably the funeral of Sayaka whose death is little more than a brief headline on the news before it moves on to other things... a brief scene that ties into Kyubey's continued insistence that worrying about a single human being is illogical compared to looking at the big picture, a point which he illustrates by demonstrating and arguing the effect upon human kind of his own race's meddling in human affairs in the name of generating energy.

By this juncture, Kyubey also seems to have figured out the true cause of Madoka's vast potential as a magical girl, with Homura's constant recycling of time in an attempt to save Madoka ironically giving rise to her greater peril in the first place.  To complete this bleak outlook, Madoka's mother also frets about what is happening to her daughter, as she realises that she is going through something that she is simply unable to help with... in short, her child is growing up, as Madoka's teacher points out to her.  So, onwards we move into Walpurgis Night, and Homura's desperate attempts to ensure that this time she gets it right, even explaining her actions to date to Madoka as she works to save both her and the city with far less interest in her own well-being.  As the episode closes however, it seems as though she's failed once again...

While nothing could really match the near-perfect execution of episode ten, and that long wait for this instalment has perhaps tempered the upwards curve of excitement for the series as a whole, this is nonetheless another well-executed and emotion-packed piece of work that ties Homura and Madoka's fates closer together while summing up the despair and darkness surrounding pretty much everything at this juncture - Kyubey's talk of human history benefiting from the actions of his kind is really secondary to the relationships between Madoka and Homura and, perhaps more importantly, a rapidly maturing Madoka and her mother.  So, the scene is set for the grand finale to Puella Magi Madoka Magica - but first, my breakfast...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

SKET Dance - Episode 3

When you have a past as something of a delinquent and a near-legendary reputation to go alongside it, I suppose it's inevitable that your history will catch up with you sooner or later - such is the problem facing Hime Onizuka in this third episode of SKET Dance.

Everything seems pretty normal (or at least as normal as it gets for the SKET-dan anyway) as this episode begins, with Hime finding herself forced to deal with a trio of troublemakers and wannabe delinquents, before going on to help the school softball team by taking part in their match the next day.

It's here that things take a turn for the worse, as rumours which reach her ears about a girl known as "Onihime" (Hime's old nickname) causing trouble soon leaders into more serious problems as Onizuka's trademark hockey stick weapon is switched out of her bag before those aforementioned delinquents return to get their revenge and take Hime to the mercies of their leader.  Of course, it's up to Hime's fellow SKET-dan members to save her, which they duly do with a surprising ease before Onizuka herself is faced with the prospect of returning to her old ways.

Following the improvements in episode two (which still weren't exactly stellar in all honesty), this was another decidedly average episode of SKET Dance - it managed to be mildly amusing on occasion with its fourth-wall breaking and daft antics, but this was offset by an incredibly predictable plot that screamed "seen it all before" from every pore while trying too hard to be sweet and inoffensive to give said story any impact.  That pretty much sums up SKET Dance so far as a whole - an effort which almost feels like it's been written by pinching old scripts from other series, toning them down markedly and then twisting them to fit this show's characters.  The result is about as blandly mediocre as you can imagine, and I'm sorely tempted to drop this series while it appears to be going nowhere noteworthy.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 3

It the prospect of a microwave than can teleport bananas doesn't excite you, then it's probably fair to say that Steins;Gate simply isn't for you... for the rest of us however, it's time to start digging a little deeper into just what so-called "mad scientist" Kyouma Hououin has stumbled across.

Luckily, just the right person to do this happens to have stumbled into the "Future Gadget Lab" at the moment of this bizarre discovery, with Kurisu Makise turning up on the doorstep only to find herself being drawn into this strange scene - of course, Okarin and assistant Hashida only make this scene all the stranger, sending any conversations around the houses until Makise finally gets down to the crux of the matter; just what happened to that banana?  Some further experimentation involving said microwave attached to a mobile phone seems to suggest only one possibility - time travel; a possibility that sends Makise running from the "lab" never to return incidentally.

From here, Okarin's attentions return once again to John Titor, and more specifically his claims that in the future CERN hold a monopoly on time travel devices amongst other things (again mirroring the real-world story of John Titor online outside of the series), and also that it's CERN's creation of a mini black hole that would bring about the discovery of time travel in the first place.  This assertion leads to Okarin asking Hashida to hack into CERN - something he manages to some degree with ease, only to uncover evidence that seems to back up John Titor's claims...

If one thing has surprised me about Steins;Gate to this point, it's that it increasingly feels like a bit of a slow burner of a series - it isn't rushing to drag us into its massive conspiracies and mysteries, instead letting everything evolve at its own, occasionally luxurious, pace.  Luckily I don't actually mind this too much on this occasion, as the show's sense of humour and the feeling that it isn't always taking itself too seriously gives it more space to breathe - in particular, the early interactions in this episode between Makise and the "Future Gadget Lab" staff are amusing and entertaining enough to carry things along even when there are perhaps more important questions at stake.  Certainly, watching Steins;Gate requires a monumental suspension of disbelief (although crazier things than a nerd hacking into CERN have happened before), but somehow its very nature aids and abets such disbelief.  I'm still not entirely sure what to make of this series at this juncture, but I do know that I'm still enjoying watching it.

Monday, 18 April 2011

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 2

Having introduced the hard as nails (at least outwardly) Kusunoki Kasuga last episode, it's time for The World God Only Knows to throw her straight into a date with Keima as this second instalment of season two begins.

Oddly enough, said date doesn't exactly go swimmingly, with Keima taking Kusunoki to a nearby game store while Kasuga's choice of prime date location is a martial arts shop.  Eventually things get somewhat back on track via a session (of gaming, you perverts!) in the arcade and an opportunity to catch a movie, but although Kasuga's cute "alter-ego" appears on a couple of occasions it isn't enough to cure Keima's latest target of what ails her.

In the end, it appears that there's only one thing for it - the utter, depraved debauchery that is sharing an ice cream cone.  This shocking display of public hunger finally splits Kasuga's duelling elements clean in two, at which point they... well, duel.  Who will win - cute, girly Kusunoki or tough, manly Kusunoki?  There's only one way to find out... watch the rest of the episode!

Having complained about the predictable and (more importantly) clichéd nature of Kasuga's character last week, I have to confess that I actually rather enjoyed this episode - finishing the story arc in two episodes left it pretty much perfectly paced and ensuring its scenario didn't get too dull, and the way Keima's "date" and ensuing conflict was played out was well-presented enough to be entertaining.  In other words, I really can't particularly complain about this week's instalment - as a nicely produced slice of fun with a soft centre it worked pretty well, and with another demon now on the loose perhaps we'll be getting a break (or at least a shift in balance) from the show's usual fare.

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 2

There's nothing worse than being stuck inside on a rainy day.  Wait, scratch that, there is something worse... being stuck inside on a rainy day when everybody but you has their own card game to play.

At least, this is the Kanako's latest nightmare as presented by episode two of Maria†Holic Alive, as flood warnings leave her sharing her room with Maria, Matsurika, God and Ryuuken, the latter of which turns out to be a huge Romance of the Three Kingdoms fangirl - a scenario which makes Kanako feel rather intellectually deficient as it seems that even Yonakuni has read it.  From here, the other characters all roll out their own card games, and even Father Kanae makes the first in a number of unwelcome appearances in an attempt to help Miyamae out.

From here Kanako finds herself pondering other issues of the day - namely, why her side of the room is so slovenly compared to Maria's shining fortress of cleanliness (the answer, of course, is Matsurika), before going on to wonder why she can't treat herself to something luxurious under the pretence of improved grades, much like Sachi's purchase of some very specific screwdrivers (the girl is clearly considering setting up a Nintendo Wii repair outfit).  Needless to say, such ponderings only end in further pain and hardship for her protagonist, such is the way of Maria†Holic.

In a season that has been a bit light on truly decent comedy thus far, Maria†Holic Alive has been a surprising ray of light in such murky times in its opening couple of episodes - once again, this instalment brought forth some shrieks of laughter (not shrieks of "tonfa") from me and generally amused me from beginning to end.  Yes, it's largely stupid in terms of plot and characterisation, but really - who cares when it's so damned funny?  In fact, I dare say that the humour within Maria†Holic Alive so far has surpassed that of the first season, and I can only hope that it continues to do so.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 3

With our intrepid, titular crime-fighting duo not exactly in sync when it comes to... well, pretty much anything really, the last thing neither Barnaby nor Wild Tiger need is a camera crew following them around whilst recording a documentary on the city's newest superhero.

After an abortive practice session that sees Tiger "killed", a large chunk of this episode sees Barnaby's every move followed by the aforementioned documentary crew, and while the subject of the piece seems to have little trouble when it comes to looking good for either the camera or his fans, Wild Tiger is finding it entirely more difficult to appear amenable and friendly to his work partner even if it's just for show.

Naturally, it takes a crisis to bring the best out of the duo, and Tiger and Barnaby are faced with just that when a promotional visit to the brand-new Fortress Tower is subjected to a bomb threat - while Wild Tiger's instincts actually prove useful for once in tracking down the bomb, there's still the question of what to do with it, and even Barnaby's skills in bomb disposal don't quite cut the mustard, leaving us with a decidedly clichéd "which wire do I cut moment", before Wild Tiger decides that the best way to solve the problem is with some good, old-fashioned brute force.

Even it Tiger & Bunny's core elements are starting to look more predictable and traditional as the series goes on, that doesn't stop it from being fun - seeing a bunch of superheroes working as corporate shills for their sponsors and masters somehow still hasn't lost its charm while their behaviour still evokes some decent touches of comedy.  Even Tiger and Barnaby's relationship holds few surprises at this juncture but still proves entertaining in a slightly cheesy yet fun way... "Sunrise creating something fun but cheesy?  You don't say" I hear you all murmur.  Anyhow, on top of these largely episodic stories there is a feeling that something deeper is going to emerge from the undercurrents of the series - hopefully Tiger & Bunny will pace such developments sufficiently well to take the reins when the other aspects of the series start to become stale (as they surely will).

Gosick - Episode 13

After a couple of episodes of dallying to some degree, Gosick kicks off its second half by drawing us into a longer and more convoluted story arc... a story which looks set to finally bring another important character into proceedings to boot.

First things first though, as this instalment opens with Avril and Kujo going on a "date" (as far as the former is concerned anyhow) which involves taking in a horror movie - a film which reminds Avril of a story she'd heard about a clock tower close by.  This memory also serves as a handy excuse to drag Kujo around a little longer as she ensures he tags along to investigate the tower, relating the story of a supposed alchemist named Leviathan who lived there before the pair of them are chased out of the building by their teacher.

Elsewhere, Victorique too finds herself taking an interest in Leviathan as she literally bumps into a copy of his memoirs in the library (fashioned as a pop-up book rather wonderfully - definitely something on my "to do" list were I ever to write an autobiography).  Said tome even contains a challenge within it to get Victorique really fired up, leading to her enthusiasm bubbling over in the wake of Kujo having an encounter with an oriental man who wanders into the clock tower in question before dropping dead - just the kind of mystery which suits her down to the ground.

Despite some rather convenient elements to get this story arc going, and ignoring the fact that I couldn't help imagining some kind of Fullmetal Alchemist crossover in the midst of all this talk of alchemy and a Philosopher's Stone (even the dead guy looked a bit like Greed...), this was a pretty good opening to the latest arc and a lesson to the wider series about exactly how you should go about building up a little intrigue, mystery and suspense.  This episode asks plenty of questions without answering anything or giving away too much information, and traversing that path has already made me far more impatient for the next episode than I usually would be - I just hope the show isn't going to blurt everything out in the first two minutes of episode fourteen and instead concentrate on running with what it's managed to build thus far.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 3

After allegedly "losing" the draft work of the inn's esteemed writer last episode, it seems as if Ohana has managed to get herself in even more trouble after discovering said masterpiece and, more importantly, its subject matter as we reach episode two's cliffhanger.

Indeed, as this instalment begins Ohana is nowhere to be found despite her promise of cooking a "revenge breakfast" for Minko and Nako, and given last week's cliffhanger it's no surprise to find our protagonsit kidnapped at the hands of said writer.  That said, Ohana is a surprisingly helpful captive, giving useful pointers to her would-be hostage taker about how she should be tied up before ending up giving him advice on his writing, seemingly unaffected by the fact that he's been writing erotic fiction about her and her mop in an effort to pay the bills.

Of course, by this point the entire building is on the hunt for Ohana, and it's only a matter of time before Jiroumaru is caught in the act, leading to him stealing the hotel's truck and escaping in what is perhaps the most orderly car chase ever recorded.  This pursuit ends up (inevitably) at a cliff top, with Jiroumaru threatening and then attempting to end his life, only to be rescued by Nako before his dashed dreams as a writer are somewhat retrieved by Ohana - although it seems that winning over Minko will be a rather more difficult task.

If I hadn't been won over already by Hanasaku Iroha's first two episodes (which I was anyhow, for the record), this third instalment sealed the deal - despite its dramatic set-up, this episode was clearly configured with comedy in mind, creating a surprisingly hilarious and perfectly delivered instalment as a result.  From Ohana's time as a captive through to that aforementioned car chase on beyond, this entire episode was a lesson in reserved, smartly captured comedy derived from its small touches rather than grandiose gags (Nichijou take note).  On top of all that, Ohana is as brilliant a character as ever who light up every scene she appears in and sets this show apart from its spring rivals under her own steam most of the time - never mind wanting to sparkle in the future, you're doing it right now...

Nichijou - Episode 3

Nichijou continues on its random and slightly surreal way for its third episode - but never mind that, can it actually extract a laugh from me this week?

Perhaps the most important development within episode three (although "development" isn't really the right work for a comedy series such as this) is the appearance of Sakamoto, the talking cat who was the only real highlight of the show's OVA episode.  Throughout the episode we follow his origins as a normal (albeit caged) pet, before his accidental mistake leads him into the hands of Nano and the Professor which sees him kitted out with a scarf which allows him to talk.  Needless to say, he's as full of himself as you'd expect any cat to be.

Aside from that, a lot of the focus of this episode is upon Yuuko - a good job too as at least she's mildly interesting, if only on account of her energetically determined brand of stupidity.  Thus, we see Yuuko fretting over exactly what she's done to upset Mai, trying to walk the line between being active in class yet not actually called upon to answer any questions and proving to be less than proficient when it comes to arm wrestling Mai.

Once again though, all of these goings-on are almost entirely devoid of actual laughs - yes, I smiled a few times and even chuckled once or twice but for all its polish and interesting shots nothing can really hide the fact that this series is working with some exceedingly weak material.  In fairness, some of these jokes are clearly lost or watered down in translation, but more often than not it's more of a case of this series assuredly equating randomness with humour and lazily throwing such random outbursts at the screen without ever stopping to think that there's more to comedy than that.  It's sufficiently visually pleasing to watch that I don't really want to drop it, but I think at this juncture I'm going to give up on hoping to get any laughs from Nichijou each week to avoid further disappointment.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 1

Life seems pretty normal for Ganta Igarashi as this new season big-hitter kicks off, with him casually sitting in his classroom talking to best friend Mimi about a forthcoming school trip to a far from normal place - The show's titular centrepiece, Deadman Wonderland, an amusement park-cum-prison block built from the ruins of what is left of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo.

This rather odd centrepiece soon because important to Ganta for an entirely different reason, as his (and his classmates) peaceful life is ripped asunder by a sinister floating being that destroys the classroom entirely, wiping out all of its occupants save for Ganta before embedding some kind of weird crystal (a Philosopher's Stone perhaps?) deep within his chest.  As the sole survivor of the incident, it's no real surprise to see Ganta fingered as the prime suspect, although it appears that there's more than a simple assumption of guilt at work as Ganta is quickly handed out a death sentence for his alleged part in this crime complete with evidence that he has no knowledge of.

From here, it's off to Deadman Wonderland itself, a weird compound that is part circus for the general public and part high-security prison, with the inmates used as the primary attraction in said circus in return for their survival... assuming they can make it even that far surrounded by dangerous inmates who are largely allowed to roam free.  With suggestions that all involved want to see Ganta dead, he finds himself with one friend alone - the decidedly odd but appropriately named Shiro, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Mimi.  Is this going to be enough to ensure his survival in such a harsh environment though?

If there's one accusation we can't throw at Deadman Wonderland, it's one of the series dawdling around - this opening episode tears through events at a rip-roaring and frankly breathless pace, and without having read the manga to compare it to I have to say that from my point of view it's all the better for it.  Arguably we could have been given more time to get into Ganta's head after the incident which killed his classmates, but in truth it was so brutally depicted that I think we got a good grasp of that immediately, leaving us ready to go on to the more important aspects of the story.

All you can ask of an opening episode is for it to draw you into its world and feed you compelling reasons to continue watching as it does so - Deadman Wonderland achieved this absolutely for me with this first instalment, setting up a tantalising presence and some interesting characters (even if Shiro is kind of annoying thus far) that leaves me well and truly ready for more.

Friday, 15 April 2011

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 1

As if we weren't already all painfully aware of it, recent years have proven one thing across the world - money matters.  Given that, it's hardly surprising that the aftermath of a global financial crisis that still holds sway over economies across the world has given rise to a series that has money and its importance as its primary focus.

More specifically, C's first episode introduces us to the Financial District, a near-literally magical world away from the prying eyes of normal human beings and an Alice in Wonderland-esque place where fortunes can be won or lost for those willing to put their entire future at stake.

This world seems a million miles away from the every-day goings-on of Kimimaro, an economics student with little cash but an absolute determination to come good under his own steam and on his own terms.  Kimimaro shows no outward interest in becoming a billionaire or the like, aiming only for a simple yet secure life... at least that's the plan, but a decidedly odd visitation followed by the appearance of half a million Yen in his bank account soon ensnares him as the latest new Entrepreneur of the Financial District whether he likes it or not.

Essentially, this opening episode of C sets its scene and nothing more - we get to know Kimimaro and what ostensibly drives him, see his love interest Hanabi, and of course get a small taste of the Financial District.  Where does the series go from here?  Lord only knows, but there's no mistaken this series raised eyebrows towards the banking industry, with C's Financial District and its impenetrable nature to outsiders, as well as its seemingly alchemical and magical principles, serving as a clear and obvious allegory to the overly secretive and cut-throat world which caused the financial meltdown we're still all feeling the pain from.  For that reason alone C feels like an important work, and an anime that seeks to be representative of its age and point in time - only future episodes will dictate whether it can actually move beyond feeling and towards acting like such a seminal piece or not.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 1

With his parents moving away for work and no way for them to take their son with them, Makoto Niwa is sent out of the countryside and into the city to live with his aunt and attend school there.  Yes, it's a pretty typical opening gambit for an anime series - something Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko makes no bones about admitting straight from the mouth of its protagonist.

Needless to say the aunt in question, Meme Touwa, looks young beyond her years and has a cutely energetic personality that seemingly defies the position of responsibility over Makoto in which she has been placed.  That aside, she seems reasonably normal apart from making mention of the fact that the area she resides in is renowned for UFO sightings... oh, and she also shares her home with a girl who is constantly wrapped in a futon who she claims is her daughter but refuses to pay attention to or speak of at all.

This scenario only serves to pique Niwa's interest, and so he soon strikes up conversation with Erio Touwa, said "chikuwa" in a futon, only to have her respond to his questions and comments in a decidedly odd way which suggests that she isn't quite of this planet.  Come the end of this first episode, Makoto has finally coaxed the girl out of her futon, only to find this beauty claiming herself outright to be an alien, leaving Makoto to assume that her lack of coherent brain cells to rub together can only be to offset her good looks.

Really, judging by this opening episode Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko couldn't have been more of a perfect fit for the SHAFT treatment if it had been called SHAFT: The Anime; it simply has everything you'd expect from on of their more typical outings, be it the smart-alec protagonist full of one-liners and sharp comments, the utterly weird female character who everyone humours because what the Hell else are you going to do with her and the overly-cheerful comic relief aunt.  Throw in even more outright weirdness and you have Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko.  I seriously can't make my mind up what to think of this opener to the series - it gave me a few laughs, but at the same time it occasionally feels like it's trying too hard, and more importantly I can't really get a feel for exactly where the series is going to go from here.  In short, it's done enough to keep me watching for now, but I hope it has more to its bow than "oh look, the girl wraps herself in a futon all day" jokes.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 1

It's new noitaminA season time again... and new "incredibly long title for an anime" time as well in the case of Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai.  Still, let's just hope that its plot is more memorable than its name.

This opening episode introduces us immediately to two of its characters - a boy named Jinta who clearly aims to keep himself to himself, something that he appears to be singularly failing to do as a girl known as Menma clings to him and bothers him at every turn despite the summer heat.  So far, so typical... except Menma isn't actually alive, making her little more than a ghost; a half-forgotten memory; a root of the stress which has seen Jinta all-but drop out of school.

So we're introduced to the cause of all Jinta's problems, centred around Menma's death which he still feels responsible for and the subsequent break up of the childhood gang of which he was effectively the head.  We meet numerous members of this group throughout the episode, seemingly all of whom have changed in some way, shape or form, and all of whom are clearly effected by Menma's death no matter how thoroughly they try to hide it.  We also know of Menma's wish - to see all of her friends reunited again.  But is that even possible considering how far they've drifted apart?

I have to admit that I'm not hugely enamoured of the way Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai has set up its principle at a base level - relying on Menma's ghost feels like a bit of a cop-out before we've even started, and the fact that said character almost feels like "Nessa Mark II" after last season's Fractale doesn't particularly help.  On the other hand, I am interested in the show's premise on multiple levels, from the psychological down to the more simple question of whether a group of old friends can rekindle their relationships after so long removed from one another - there's clearly a lot of potential for drama, emotion and so on inherent within that concept, and Menma's presence and the way she seems to be more than simply a figment of Jinta's imagination could also serve as a positive twist on things if it's used well.  Above all else, it's a noitaminA show so at least there's the promise of something outside of the norms of anime - let's hope it's more of a Wandering Son than a Fractale for the spring season though, shall me?

Thursday, 14 April 2011

SKET Dance - Episode 2

After serving up perhaps the spring season's most mediocre opening episode thus far, SKET Dancewas in dire need of improvement after setting its scene and moving into its second episode, something it does via two stories rolled into a single instalment.

The first half of this episode introduces us to a wannabe samurai with an irritatingly semi-olde world way of speaking who comes to see the SKET-dan for help - in short, since changing his position in the kendo club's fighting order he's gone from an undefeated head of the team to a poor excuse for a kendo club member who can't buy a victory.  What's the cause of his malaise?  Cue some quick-fire, gag-heavy attempted fixes before the final solution to his problem presents itself - the wonders of strong mint sweets.

The second half of episode two sees the SKET-dan tasked with looking after a monkey by one of the students, and conversely put in charge of disposing of a "bomb" created by their advisor and school chemistry teacher.  Needless to say these two requests merge together with dangerous and comedy-driven consequences which themselves align with the irritation of another of the school's teachers with the club; a chain of events that may has well have been written up on screen in massive letters, so obvious was the path this chunk of the episode was all set to take.

Compared to that hugely lacklustre first instalment, this week's SKET Dance is a big, big improvement.  Admittedly, this isn't enough to make it a great episode or even anything close to that, but it did have a few decent jokes and made me laugh a handful of times, while its over-the-top energy and pace managed to carry it through to some extent even when it wasn't proving to be quite so successful.  SKET Dance's biggest problem still seems to be the fact that the way it goes about its business is hugely unoriginal and equally entirely predictable, but at least this instalment has proved that there is some life to the series even if its heavily reliant on any given episode being given some good episodic meat on its proverbial plate to work with.