Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 9

There can be little doubt by this juncture in Steins;Gate that the Future Gadget Lab's microwave time machine is a success when it comes to sending so-called "D-mails" into the past - but what of the consequences?

While Okabe is already dreaming up his next scheme, involving the physical time travel of humans, it's starting to become clear that the side-effects of altering the past are starting to build up in some decidedly inconvenient ways.  Most notably, Okabe no longer has the IBM 5100 in his possession - a decidedly unwanted side effect of the groups' messing with time despite not directly doing anything involving the computer in question, meaning that its disappearance is down to the so-called "butterfly effect".

As the episode progresses, things only get more confusing - Okabe spots "Shining Finger" Moeka and catches up to her only to find her both distraught and disinterested in him, while this in turn allows him to realise that the other lab members now remember Moeka again to some degree; another unexpected side-effect of previous D-mails.  If all of this seems important, then things really get shaken up when Feyris asks the group if she can send a D-mail of her own to the past having heard about their time machine via an earlier conversation.  We don't know what she sends, but whatever the contents of the message it's enough to transform Akiba as we know it...

Steins;Gate certainly shows no signs of departing from its slow and steady pace, but it remains as compelling as ever by shrouding the entire series in so many unknowns that nobody appears to be quite as they first seem while every character has a certain sense of mystery hanging over them.  This ever-growing body of the unknown is offset quite nicely by the show's turns of humour, whether it's Daru being... well, Daru, or Makise accidentally letting her mask slip and turning out to be just as much of a geek as the rest of them.  That the series can be both intriguing and fun continues to be its biggest selling point, although the longer it goes on the less sure I am of where it's headed - not that it seems to matter too much when just drifting around in its current ball of pseudo-science and craziness seems to work so well for it.

Gosick - Episode 19

It's Christmas time in Saubreme - but never mind, Christmas Day also happens to be Victorique's birthday, making for a double dose of celebrations for Kujo.

As he muses over what kind of presents he should get for his friend, he ends up being waylaid by Sophie on a trip to buy some tickets for a forthcoming production of a play - "The Blue Rose of Saubreme".  It's against the backdrop of this event that the remainder of the episode plays out, acting ostensibly as an opportunity to flesh out the back story of Cordelia and (to a lesser extent) Brian Roscoe.

Needless to say, this isn't a particularly wholesome tale to tell, consisting as it does of Cordelia being kidnapped, forced to bare a child against her will and then cast out into a mental institution.  Despite all of this, her relationship with Roscoe persists, and it is this which leads to her eventually making that fateful first meeting with her daughter, who she now watches from afar once again as Victorique finds herself tasked with solving an age-old mystery as events threaten to tear herself and Kujo apart once again.

Essentially, this particular instalment is really just all about setting up the final required elements of the story before letting it gallop out of the gate to its finale - something it does in a suitably moody and depressing way, but via story telling that was never really going to set the series alight.  Still, we're now most definitely stood at the precipice of everything Gosick has been building up to, so this is the moment where it will either prove itself or fall flat on its face like Victorique trying to run in a frilly dress.  Let's just hope it's the former.

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 8

Having conquered Chihiro, it's a chance for some downtime and a filler episode to give this second season of The World God Only Knows a bit of a breather.

This particular instalment is effectively split in two, with the first segment of the episode seeing our "Divine One" tipped off about a rare first edition of a particular dating sim that sends him off excitedly on a trip to buy said game.  With the store stocking the title closed until 1PM upon his arrival, Keima has little to do until checking out another game store reveals a retro gaming fair taking place at the same time as the first store's opening.  What to do?  With time to kill, Keima decides to give Elsie a lesson in the history and important points of dating sims before sending her off to buy this rare first edition game on her own.

Part two of the episode grants us a visit from Haqua, as she looks to create a report on the events which transpired during her last attempt at capturing a Loose Soul.  Seeing as she can't remember all of the details for obvious reasons, Elsie and Keima are roped into helping with the report creation via a rather nifty model recreation of proceedings - needless to say, everything goes horribly wrong once the disagreements about who did what when start...

While most series usually elicit little more than a groan once they enter filler territory, The World God Only Knows often seems to produce its best material under these conditions and once again this was a frequently funny episode that is arguably far more entertaining than watching Elsie and Keima chase around after Loose Souls.  The first half of this week's episode in particular was great, with plenty of amusing moments and laugh out loud one-liners, while the second half wasn't short of funny moments either.  It's almost enough to make you wish that every episode of The World God Only Knows was like this.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 9

Poor old Dragon Kid has had pretty much no exposition over the course of Tiger & Bunny so far - indeed, it feels like every time we've seen her she's been either directing traffic or people to safety.  Still, apparently she's also a rather handy NEXT in her own right complete with the power of electricity, even if she is very much a stubborn tomboy.

Dragon Kid's character slots into our episodic story for the week surrounding the young child of the city's mayor, and with a requirement for someone to babysit him cropping up in the face of a spate of child kidnappings its left to our superheroes to do the job.  The trouble is, the child in question is a NEXT itself, and it seems that he'll only accept Dragon Kid as his surrogate parent for the duration.

Thus, our young Chinese girl and her Kill Bill inspired getup finds herself hanging out with both Tiger and Barnaby on babysitting duty, before both child and babysitter get kidnapped by a trio of NEXT with unusual powers to smell out money, danger and lies between them (which is probably why you never see them hanging out with Ryan Giggs).  Who is going to save the day on this occasion?  Regardless of those final machinations, Dragon Kid learns a little more about how to understand her parents way of thinking while Barnaby's continued hunt for the killer of his parents takes another twist towards the end of the episode.

It feels like I say this every week, but once again we have an episode of Tiger & Bunny based around a concept that is as old as the hills, yet once again it doesn't really matter.  I'm not entirely convinced that Dragon Kid quite got the character-building treatment she deserved here (it certainly pales to that given to Blue Rose and the Origami Cyclone), yet the instalment as a whole pulled off its usual fun blend of action and comedy whilst also weaving some more aspects of its over-arching story as it pertains to Barnaby into the mix.  It's perhaps this ability to mix quick blasts of largely harmless and mindless fun in with something more important and long-term for the series that stands it in good stead, and even when it's plumbing the depths of "seen it all before" story lines it still continues to work its magic to some extent.

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 7

As horribly, cringe-inducingly poor Minatsuki's introduction to Deadman Wonderland was, it looks as though she's here to stay as she continues to flit in and out of the show's seventh episode.  Never mind that though, as this latest instalment opens with some shocking (and slickly revealed) revelations about the true nature of the mysterious Shiro - a truth that I'm pretty sure Ganta won't want to hear given how his memories about her and their childhood together have manifested themselves in his brain once again.

Anyhow, these revelations also tie in to a massive "earthquake" suffered by the facility itself and caused by Shiro's sparring with the establishment's director - an event which sees Yoh coming to the rescue of his sister, not that he gets any thanks for it.  Still, this event also rouses further suspicion on Makina's part, meaning that it appears that she will soon be going off on a rampage/fact-finding mission of her own.

That aside, the real focus of this week's episode is introducing yet more characters - on the one-hand we have a bad-ass "ultra-priest" who has a guitar the doubles as a fun (this is daft, yet it is also awesome), and on the other we have ourselves a rebel faction within Deadman Wonderland known as Scar Chain; a resistance movement that shows what kind of influence they have by fixing Minatsuki's penalty game in her favour.

After an almost laughable episode last week, I have to be fair and say that this week's instalment was a big improvement - yeah, it's still amusingly childish or simply lazy in the way it introduces things in places, but Minatsuki's character feels a little less out of place this time around and those revelations about Shiro really make the entire episode far more interesting to me even if they weren't given much time within the episode.  It still feels like the focus is too heavily upon the blood, guts and sex over the actual story more frequently than I would like, but every time I think I'm losing interest Deadman Wonderland manages to drag me back into its world somehow, so I can't be too harsh on it.

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 8

Although it's almost time for Ame-no-Kisaki's summer vacation, it appears to be literally a case of no rest for the wicked as far as our protagonist Kanako is concerned, as she finds herself involuntarily lined up for a packed schedule of extra lessons on account of her dismal performance in previous tests.

On the other hand, the good news is that most of the other students are also going to be attending at least some of these classes, giving our "heroine" a chance for some more fantasising about a summer in the midst of her "harem".

Before all that however, there's the small matter of Sachi Momoi's birthday - an event which is almost religious in the way it's celebrated.  Still, at least it finally allows us to learn just how Sachi manages to have everything including the kitchen sink on hand when required, with her kind and friendly demeanour seeing her lavished with ridiculous and elaborate (and mostly damn funny gifts)... from everybody except Kanako of course, who has let her own perversions getting in the way as she attempt to give Momoi a revealing cosplay outfit as a present before Mariya intervenes and confiscates the gift in question.  This leads to a rare moment of soul-searching from Kanako as to how she's let her good friend down, before Mariya saves the day by turning another of Kanako's kinks as they pertain to Sachi into an impressive gift.

To be honest, I can't ask much more out of Maria†Holic Alive each week than a few out-loud laughs, and as per usual this episode delivered between Kanako's pervertedness (which seems to be used far more satisfyingly than it was in the first season), the odd moment of fourth-wall breaking and the utter randomness of Sachi's birthday presents and the stories of her kindness.  It isn't breaking any new ground or otherwise impressive with its story-telling, but who cares when it makes you laugh at oil tankers and speed guns?

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 9

Hanasaku Iroha hasn't really delivered us a proper two-part story to speak of until this particular story arc, with episode eight setting the scene for Ohana to set up to the plate in her grandmother's stead and do the right thing for Kissuiso.

Most immediately, Ohana's concern is to find Tohru at the wedding he's attending - something that is easier said than done when you don't know whose wedding he's attending or even his full name, and something which is even more difficult when.... well, when you're Ohana.  Cue some rather slapstick moments of comedy as hapless Ohana falls about the place in her failed attempts to find Tohru.  Just when it seems that all hope is lost, a phone call from Ko gives Ohana the push she needs to carry on, with her male friend effectively telling her to carry on muddling through as she always does.

While this might not be the best piece of advice I've ever heard, it does spur Ohana on to achieve this particular goal, before making the rush back to Kissuiso with Tohru to save the day and leave them with an inn fully of largely satisfied customers.  But what of that alleged mystery reviewer?  Of course, we're given a pretty heavy hint of who the person in question is come the end of the episode, in a reveal which proves that Ohana's desire to make sure that all of their customers left satisfied was the right call to make.  All of this is ultimately and arguably secondary to the biggest points to take from the episode - a potential love interest who isn't Ohana for Ko (whose trip to see Ohana is dashed throughout the episode), and a closing of some of the distance in Ohana and Tohru's relationship.

As per much of Hanasaku Iroha in recent weeks, this episode carried itself well on a mixture of the sheer energy of its story and the fact that Ohana, for all of her foibles, is an eminently likeable girl.  My only real bugbear here is that last week's instalment set us up with a perfect opportunity for Ohana's character to show a little growth and maturity as she took it upon herself to do the right thing for her workplace, only for this episode to willingly revert her to being a clumsy, headstrong girl who gets things done more by luck that judgement.  I might be nitpicking, but this seems like rather a harsh reversion to type after the willingness to take charge and get things done in the previous episode.  Oh well, despite that aspect of this story arc irking me slightly, I still thoroughly enjoyed the episode, so roll on more Ohana shenanigans!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 7

Thanks to Anaru's circumstances and the rumours flying around her, we now have two of Ano Hana's main characters skipping school - what's more, Anaru has also now run away from home to live in the gang's former "secret base", as this episode begins with one of those typical "oops I slipped and now we're face to face and feeling awkward" anime moments.  Does that ever even happen in real life?

Anyhow, with Jinta, Poppo and Anaru hanging out at the base, it's finally time to check out Menma's diary, something which they expect to give them the answer they need to that pressing question - just what is Menma's wish that she cares about so much?  While much of this diary gives them absolutely no hints whatsoever, eventually they stumble across something which could give them a clue - an entry which discusses a visit the gang made to Jinta's sickly mother, which itself brings recollections of an attempt they made to create a firework so that they could send a message to God asking for Jinta's mother to get better.  Whatever happened to praying?

The trouble is, buying or creating a firework of note is restricted by two things - age and money.  While our gang don't even qualify from that first hurdle, a friend of Jinta's dad seems to offer them a way around it, leaving them with only the second concern to think about.  Cue Jinta and Poppo taking on every job they can to raise the required cash, including working at the same video game store as Anaru.  Whether this is even going to bring them close to their goal of creating a firework is one thing, but more importantly is it even the true form of Menma's wish at all?  Some information withheld from the others by Yukiatsu suggests perhaps not.

Ignoring the odd moment of utter cliché (that "oops, I slipped moment, and another stupid outburst from Jinta), this was a decent episode in terms of building Jinta's character a little by both holding up a mirror to his own selfless attitude (after lambasting Menma for the same thing last week) and letting him "find himself" somewhat from the hikikomori shadow of a person that he was when we first met him.  Of course, running alongside all of this is Anaru's feelings for Jinta, which were portrayed in obvious ways that don't necessarily make it any less interesting.  Again then, this was an episode of Ano Hana that threatened to slip into stupidity at the wrong moments, but still manages to muddle through on its likeable characters and the fact that we still don't really know how things are going to end for either Menma or this bunch of friends.

Nichijou - Episode 9

I may still be harking back to the heady days of Nichijou's sixth episode, but hey, what have we here?  Another pretty decent episode of comedy hijinks, truth be told.

After a mildly amusing scene of insane over-reaction to the end of an exam, this episode gets into its groove via Mio's eminently random sister - on this occasion, her penchant for placing Shogi pieces on Mio's expensive snacks.  There's something funny about seeing a strawberry replaced with a chess piece as it is, but Mio's elaborately animated reactions and her sister's counter-reaction only add to the skit's humour.

After a hilarious brief session of marking an illustration-based test at school which alludes to an earlier episode, we reach perhaps the most "real" sketch the series has attempted yet, with Yuuko paying the price for ordering something unusual from a restaurant menu and having to wait an eternity as a result.  We've all been there... From there, Yuuko's mosquito battle is another brilliantly animated piece that works alongside her constant over-reactions for once to reasonable effect, while the Professor and Nano add a touch of the adorable to proceedings before Mio's stint as a Daifuku mascot goes horribly wrong and we see what happens when Nano falls flat on her back; a piece of simple yet hilarious visual comedy in its own right.

Overall then, this was another episode of Nichijou which was well worth its entrance fee - it wasn't as hysterically funny as episode six, but it had enough laughs and random gags that actually worked to keep my interest whilst it actually made better use of its heated over-reactions and other comedy vehicles for a change rather than running them into the ground until they become repetitive and dull.  More of the same over the coming weeks would be warmly welcomed, but Nichijou  certainly feels like its getting closer to finding its feet.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 7

As if there isn't something innately suspicious about somebody leaving a crate of soda outside of your workplace, doing so complete with a note that says "don't worry, it isn't poisoned" doesn't really do much to help - unless, that is, you live in the world of Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko, in which case all's well that ends well.

Anyhow, our randomly gifted crate of cola does rather clumsily set up an opportunity for this series to do some major plot progression, with Maekawa at the centre of moving things forward after finding said soft drinks left outside of her workplace.  Her assumption is that this can only be the act of whoever is firing plastic bottle rockets into the sky on a daily basis, and so she eventually decides to find out where they're coming from to find out what it's all about.  This proves to be simple enough, and thus Maekawa ends up chatting with a man who doesn't look entirely dissimilar to Makoto - the next thing she knows, she's being offered the opportunity to build bottle rockets for money, a mission she accepts, although not before dragging a few other people into this particular fray.

Those people are, of course, Makoto, Erio and Ryuuko, all of whom seem to have pressed into this action at the suggestion of Meme.  So, plastic bottle creation takes place, as does a little home cooking (thus reveal one of Ryuuko's deficiencies) before a sleep-over with all parties concerned grants Makoto a few more of his much-coveted adolescent points.  But never mind that, who is "plastic bottle rocket man", and why is Meme trying to get Erio and Makoto involved with him?

On the surface, those final questions seem quite obvious, but there's still enough mystery and further questions to spring forth from those queries to keep things very interesting indeed, delivered by an episode that wasn't as sharp as this series at its best but was still a fun piece of viewing regardless.  Indeed, a lot of this entertainment value came from the relationship triangle which exists between Makoto, Ryuuko and Erio - a triangle which was excellently played on here, and resolved to a minor extent one could argue by the end of an episode which once again seems to value its character dynamics over all else; not a bad thing at all, judging by this series so far.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 6

So, Kimimaro has finally opted to join Mikuni's so-called "Starling Guild" as of last week's instalment of C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - indeed, he seems to be doing pretty well under said guild's strategy of only taking marginal winnings to avoid their Financial District deals making any real-world impact, setting himself on a winning streak via strategies which seem to be working rather well.

However, Kimimaro's next Deal seems him put up against a tricky challenger - the incredibly rich philanthropist Ko Sennoza, a pairing which also sees the interest of Jennifer Satou towards Kimimaro yet further.  Even more interestingly, Kimimaro and Mashu's first meeting with Sennoza sees the latter putting a proposition to the former - if Kimimaro backs out of the deal, Ko will pay the fee necessary for him to do so (half of his wealth, which is a simple transaction for someone with Ko's cash flow).  While Kimimaro goes away to mull this offer over, he finds himself kidnapped by Satou, who comes to reveal the real core tenet of this week's episode.

Essentially, the focus this time around is on the present versus the future as it pertains to the Financial District.  While Mikuni's guild is working hard to minimise the impact of Deals to stabilise the country as it is as present, Sennoza takes a different view, that being that Mikuni's dealings simply pump more Midas money into the real world and thus further limit the future opportunities of Japan to progress and move away from the Financial Districts clutches.  It's a fascinating dilemma to mull over, and needless to say it's a tough one for Kimimaro as he finds himself torn between Mikuni and Sennoza's positions on what is the "right" thing to do before his hand is effectively forced by his own indecision and what turns into a harrowing Deal that leaves him little choice but to act.

As seems to be increasingly the case with this series, this episode of [C] blended a great (and dare I say fantastic) concept with a delivery that ranged from the pedestrian to the clumsy.  The use of Satou to deliver the concept was horribly done in many senses, while Kimimaro's indecisiveness and complete reluctance to choose a side in the question that was raised was hugely frustrating - add in some clunkily animated and/or progressed scenes and transitions and the whole endeavour felt "cheap".  This is a real shame when the very same episode also offers up some powerful scenes to chew over - Mashu's agony during the final deal was palpable and chilling, only to be frittered away with an unbelievable turn in Kimimaro's fortunes which rendered it as little more than a side-note.  Overall then, I'm still thoroughly enjoying this series for the concepts that it brings to the table, fascinating and relevant that they are - I just wish they were being delivered in a more forceful and polished fashion.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 7

Having done a surprisingly good job of linking together recent episodes, this seventh instalment of Maria†Holic Alive takes us back to some events from the first season of the show - namely, the oh-so precious school swimming meet, and the "flying top" produced by an unfortunate Shizu courtesy of Kanako's usual over-exuberance when it comes to anything involving female flesh.

Thus, having embarrassed Shizu in front of a whole host of Ame-no-Kizaki's students, Kanako decides to head off to the Shido's home to apologise... only to be ensnared by another of servant Rindo's man-traps.  Still, after being humiliated and poked at for a while Kanako gets to make her apology and all's well that ends well, until Kanako finds herself faced with a further surprise - Shizu is spending the following day taking Mariya's place, due to it being her schools turn for a swimming meet; obviously a problem given her gender just as it was for Mariya previously.

Needless to say, the presence of Shizu sends Miyamae into a frenzy of fantasies and nosebleeds until she can barely unravel where her dreams begin and reality ends, before deciding that the only way to ensure that Shizu's stay in the female dorm is a permanent one is to ensure that an "accident" faces Mariya in his swimming meet.  This being Maria†Holic however, I think it's fair to say that Kanako's plans don't go at all to plan...

It's actually been a while since this series dedicated an entire episode to Kanako's perverted mind, and it is perhaps this absence of constant lesbian horniness that made this episode so funny in places - some of Kanako's dream sequences were so overblown and fantastical that they were laugh out loud funny for that very reason, and once again this series continues to know when to break the fourth wall and similarly when to throw out the sharp one-liners about 1:1 scale Gundam models and... well, anything Matsurika says basically.  All in all then, another hugely fun episode of a decidedly fun (and funny) series so far.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 8

According to Juiz... sorry, John Titor, Okarin's unique talents allow him the possibility of becoming a "messiah" - certainly, his ability to remember changes to world-lines in the face of his Future Gadget Lab's time machine is impressive, but what on earth are they going to do next with it?

The answer is, quite simply, further experimentation.  After their lottery success (well, of sorts - they didn't actually win anything), their next experiment is arguably a far tamer one, as they try to send a D-mail into Daru's past to see if they can influence him to win the Feyris Cup.... and nothing happens.  It seems that something rather more grandiose is required to actually branch off a new world-line, and eventually it falls to Kiryuu to attempt this, as she sends a D-mail to the past telling her not to change her mobile phone.  Sure enough, Okarin feels that decidedly odd feeling that comes with shifting to a new world-line, and rather than simply changing her phone Moeka appears to have disappeared from the collective memories of the rest of the group entirely, leaving Okabe as the only one to remember her at all.

After that affirmation of what Okarin already knew, their next experiment comes from a rather strange place - cross-dressing Ruka, who having overheard a previous conversation about the microwave time machine decides that she wants to have a go at sending a D-mail herself.  However, this is a request with a difference - Ruka wants to send a D-mail to her mother at the time she was pregnant with her in the hope that he will be born a girl rather than a boy.  Can this experiment possibly hope to succeed, especially considering the message has to be sent to a pager rather than via mobile phone.  While the immediate result of the experiment doesn't seem positive, something has clearly changed from Okarin's point of view... but what?

Although I was really expecting Steins;Gate to kick on in a big way after the events of the previous episode, I can't say I'm incredibly disappointed that it has pretty much decided to stay where it is for now, mixing some big moments of importance (what happens with Kiryuu now?  When are we going to get to the bottom of Amane's hostility towards Makise?) with more frivolous and fun goings-on that again make the most of the show's characters and the dynamic between them that never seems to get tiring.  In fact, who needs time travel at all when you have Okarin's daft delusions and Daru's perverted one-liners?  Okay okay, so it would be nice to get a little deeper into this show's mysteries, but once again I can't get too angry with Steins;Gate as it stands while it continues to be as entertaining as ever.

Monday, 23 May 2011

2,000, not out...

It's come along a little faster than I anticipated (thanks to some OVA episodes and Moshidora mostly), but here I am already at 'blog entry number 2,000.

It doesn't seem like over three years ago when I started this 'blog on a whim back in early 2008, and I certainly wasn't sure it would last the course but here I am, still enjoying dumping my thoughts on every new episode I watch as and when I watch it.  It's certainly been an interesting few years, and it's allowed me to meet and get to know some great people over the past year in particular when combined with the joys/obsessions of Twitter.

I'm not even sure how many shows I've covered in their entirety on this 'blog any more, so let's just leave it at "a lot" and continue this brief celebration with some tea, cake and an obligatory Madoka Magica image...

Needless to say, this is the point where I get to gush about how I wouldn't still be here if it weren't for those of you reading this - although I suspect I actually would still be here, this being little more than a vanity project anyway.  Regardless, I'm thrilled that people do read and enjoy this 'blog, so thanks to all of you for your support, comments, lurking and input over these 2,000 posts so far.  Anyone want to make a bet on when I'll reach 5,000?

Gosick - Episode 18

Following the chaotic ending to events at Beelzebub's Skull, Victorique and Kujo seem to have made good on their escape via the waiting train and are now well and truly back on their way to safety and the familiar surroundings of their school.  Oh, who am I kidding, of course their journey home isn't that simple...

In the packed carriages of the train, our dynamic duo soon find themselves keeping some interesting company within their compartment - a mysterious orphan, and some other individuals who refer to themselves only as the "scarecrow", "knight" and "woodcutter".  Clearly, these are all people who were involved with the Phantasmagoria at Beelzebub's Skull, and furthermore they all seem to have some kind of agenda - a point that Victorique quickly picks up on, although not before our female "scarecrow" has been stabbed and thrown from the train in a scuffle with the "knight".

Things soon get decidedly crazy from here, with poisonings, shootings, stabbings and the threat of a bomb blowing up and/or derailing the train to contend with as the truth about the individuals involved all reveals itself.  The object of all of their interest also happens to be something of importance to Victorique's current quest - a memento box which seems to be the first step down the path which will allow our diminutive heroine to save herself.

I'm not sure what I can say about this instalment of Gosick other than to simply point out the obvious - that it was a cracking episode, and probably the best the series has offered yet.  It might have been jumbled at times but even this served to the episode's advantage, while it wasted little time in ramping things up and making things hugely interesting as it threw its various elements together in a blur of action, mystery and against the clock danger that somehow ended up turning Victorique into an extra from Gunslinger Girl.  Sure, its a bit of a stretch to call its events believable, but then again that has never been Gosick's plan anyhow and when it's this entertaining, quite frankly who cares?

Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt - OVA (Completed)

Never mind the popularity of Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, GAINAX were clearly having so much fun simply producing the series that you just knew there would be more of it, and that's exactly what the show's fifth Blu-Ray volume release gives us - okay, so it's only about eight minutes, but hey - it's better than nothing, right?

Rather than create one whole story for this OVA, GAINAX have simply let loose and instead created a whole bundle of very short (and largely utterly bizarre) skits - and you know what?  It works.  It really works, to the point where I wonder if this could be the future direction of a Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt spin-off in its own right.

After kicking off with a sketch that revolves entirely around some Japanese wordplay based upon the words "pitch" and "uterus" to set the tone, we get a follow-up to Panty's zombiefication within the series, a tour of Daten City hosted by Garterbelt (no prizes for guessing the kind of locations that takes us to), an utterly fantastic new Chuck to the Future segment (think Super Mario. Super Mario with cocks), the reason why you should never, ever eat Hula Hoops again, a haircut for Stocking and what would happen if Terry Gilliam got hold of Panty and Stocking's transformation sequence during his Monty Python pomp.  Oh, and if you've ever wondered what Garterbelt gets up to in the bath, here's your chance to find out.  Whaddya mean you don't want to know?  Seriously, watch it, if there's one piece of utter genius within this OVA that segment is it.

In brief (do you see what I did there), this is eight and a half minutes of fantastic insanity - its funny, it gets to go places where the TV series wouldn't dare, and it's quick-fire nature means there's never a dull or inoffensive moment.  It's a little slice of puerile comedy gold that fans of the series should absolutely lap up.

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 7

It's almost confession time for Chihiro as Keima sets the date for her to pour out her love upon her latest crush... but will she really go through with it?  While our "God of conquest" continues to work hard, Chihiro herself seems to be more and more ambivalent towards the whole thing.

Given her attitude, it's no shock that things soon come to a head as the fated day itself arrives, with Keima's carefully prepared notes coming up against a blasé reaction from Chihiro as she ponders whether she should even both to confess at all.  If nothing else, the exchange that follows gives light to Chihiro's real problem - she's ordinary and she knows it, and her pursuit of guys is only really to try and find someone to make her own star shine a little brighter.  What's more, her association with Keima has become close on account of her seeing him as a kindred spirit - a concept that seems to be dashed upon the rocks given Keima's harsh response.

Of course, Keima himself doesn't take long to realise that he's made a mistake and read between the lines, and thus it's up to him and him alone to rectify the situation and handle the Loose Soul with Chihiro - something he eventually manages to do by convincing her that she still holds the potential within her to shine, or at least to have one Hell of a lot of fun trying to.  As Keima steals both the initiative and a kiss from Chihiro, it's mission completed for this story arc, albeit only after ripping up Keima's proverbial rule book and even making him consider his own place in the world.

Having really enjoyed last week's episode, I have to say that this felt like a slightly weak ending to the story arc overall.  It was great to see Keima re-evaluating his own life and values somewhat, but his final showdown with Chihiro felt pretty weak from both sides and with any of the drama or emotion that it perhaps should have had - instead, it was very much a case of simply going through the motions and getting on with it.  Perhaps this is, ironically, down to Chihiro's ordinary nature that it brought about an equally ordinary retort to her worries (effectively, stop worrying and have some fun), making for a decent character that brought something different to the table but one that was perhaps less effective in the final straight.  Still, it wasn't a bad story arc overall to continue the shows run of being throw-away fun, and The World God Only Knows will continue to do what it does best whether I lavish it with praise or not.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 8

The heroes of Stern Build now have a new force to worry about - a self-proclaimed champion of justice who metes out punishments by killing criminals and murderers to make them pay for their sins.  So, just what does the appearance of Light... sorry, Lunatic, mean for the future of Hero TV and its stars?

With public opinion seemingly turning against them in deference to the hard-line but inarguably effective policies of Lunatic, and with the sponsors of our heroes worried about the decline of interest and enthusiasm towards Hero TV, it's decided that what is needed is some good PR out in the community.  But is picking up litter and helping old ladies cross the street really going to be effective in the face of a criminal killer?

In the case of Wild Tiger, Barnaby and Origami Cyclone, their part in the PR offensive is to help train some wannabe heroes of the future - while all three of them are reluctant to do this (unsurprisingly; these aren't exactly the brightest future heroes of the bunch in their charge), Origami Cyclone is particularly down in the dumps as he questions whether he should even be a hero at all.  The reasoning behind this is eventually revealed, citing Ivan's friendship with a former superstar pupil at the very same academy which ended with a rescue attempt gone horribly wrong, with Ivan watching his friend accidentally murder an innocent woman in the process.  Rather predictably, this event has led to the friend in question choosing to seek revenge on Origami Cyclone for the perceived injustice of the situation - and speaking of which, it seems Lunatic is more than happy to serve out some justice on this case himself, making life even more difficult for Tiger and Bunny.

It seems to be almost a weekly event that I mention the predictability of aspects of Tiger & Bunny's story, yet by the same token it seems that just as frequently I really don't mind as whatever "seen it all before" tale the show serves up is presented with verve and just the right tone to make it eminently watchable.  While this particular instalment isn't the best encapsulation of that, it is still pretty fun to watch, while also advancing the story as it pertains to both Lunatic and Barnaby somewhat.  What's more, we now have a better handle on another one of the show's heroes, and it looks as though next week's episode will be more of the same - definitely a worthwhile furrow to plough given the potential for interesting stories to spring from its characters.  My only hope is that this whole Lunatic saga manages to find a different path to walk down than that of the blatant Death Note rip-off, but given its superhero elements I'm more than a little hopeful it will do just that.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 8

While Kissuiso worries simply about how to attract customers to their inn at all, local rival establishment Yunosagi has some far more preferable problems to concern themselves with - namely, the upcoming visit of journalists from a hot springs magazine to review and rate the hotel.

Then again, maybe Kissuiso's staff do have to worry about such things after all, with the inn suddenly finding itself subject to a massive influx of bookings.  It couldn't come at a worse time either, with Nako and Tohru both taking days off quickly followed by Ohana's grandmother falling ill, depriving them of both her guiding hand and willingness to work.  In her absence, Enishi calls upon management consultant Takako to lend her brains to proceedings - a decision which leads to her deciding that Kissuiso must also be subject to some "mystery guests" looking to review the inn, and thus deciding that those individuals need to be weeded out and given preferential treatment.

With the pressure on and the heat turning up uncomfortably in the kitchen, Ohana finally shows what she's made of for once - thanks to some comments about an account book from her grandmother she realises how much pride the manager places in looking after all of her customers equally, and thus decides that the only way to get through this busy period is for everyone to roll up their sleeves, get on with the task at hand and give everyone the same treatment.  With Nako dragged in from her day off, Ohana heads off to find the uncontactable Tohru... a potential problem from her further down the line with Ko arriving at the station to pay her an unexpected visit.

As another week goes by, so it serves up another broadly entertaining episode of Hanasaku Iroha - okay, it doesn't hold the top-notch comedy of last week's episode or the outright drama of that first instalment, but it still works hard to pace itself well, serves up some drama and tension with over-blowing things and still manages to throw in a fair few amusing moments to create a fun viewing blend overall.  What's more, this episode could just mark an important moment in the growth of Ohana, as she breaks out and does her own thing without sounding idiotic or causing chaos - indeed, it's almost as if she's channelling her grandmother at times as she faces down Takako.  Character growth is perhaps the one missing element from Hanasaku Iroha thus far; if it's managed to add that to its arsenal then it could become an even more worthy series as it strides towards its half-way point.

Nichijou - Episode 8

There's nothing worse than having the start of your day ruined by your hand flying off into the distance unnecessarily, but it's just such an event on Nano's part that kicks off and gives at least a little direction to Nichijou's eighth episode.

Once again though, what we have here is a decidedly hit-and-miss episode that misses its target far, far more often than it hits it.  Perhaps the writing is on the wall with its first sketch proper, which (as happens far too often) proves to be over-reliant on Yuuko's massive over-reactions to everything that happens as her jokes aimed at Mio and Mai fail to hit the mark.  In fact, this single sketch could probably be representative of Nichijou itself - lots of random jokes that try far, far too hard to hit their target and end up leaving the viewer looking blank-faced and unamused by it in return.

The only real saving grace of the episode is within its brief Helvetica Standard segment, and an embarrassing moment for a retiring footballer when it comes to swapping his shirt at the end of his final game, knowing full well that the vest underneath contains a bombastic slogan which seems more than a little out of place given the fact that he didn't manage to score and display said slogan during the game.  Sakamoto also gains some points for his decidedly cat-like behaviour as usual, although even this joke is looking a little well-worn now.

Overall, the most intriguing section of the bunch was Kyoto Animation's treatment of a scene which sees Yuuko, Mio and Mai stuck in a lift - a scene which works quite well in its own rather strange way, helped along by that experimental treatment of its composition.  This alone isn't really enough to entertain however, as two many aspects of the series feel as though they're stuck in a rut - effectively running the same jokes over and over again with a different outer coating in the hope that they'll stick somehow.  I know that exact same tactic works for other comedy series (anime or otherwise), but it simply isn't cutting the mustard here.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 6

Thanks to Yoh's machinations as he searches for the person he's searching for, we got to see another side to Shiro at the tail-end of last week's episode, as her cuddly yet strong demeanour turned into something that was outright terrifying as she laid to waste to all around her.  Luckily, it seems that this is just a temporary state for her, as she soon passes out in the wake of said destruction.

This leaves Yoh free to find his target - a girl named Minatsuki.  Ironically, we soon get to meet her for ourselves - not thanks to Yoh, but instead via Ganta as he saves a cute and vulnerable girl from having her flower devoured by an errant inmate.  And no, that isn't a euphemism for anything.  Anyhow, Ganta ends up hiding from said inmate with Minatsuki, where she relates to him the horrors of her past and how she ended up killing her father in self-defence before ending up at Deadman Wonderland and taking part in the Corpse Carnival as a Branches of Sin user.  Ganta eats up her story hook, line and sinker, vowing that they should escape together - a plan which is quickly foiled.

Of course, Minatsuki isn't all that she first seems, and this is soon revealed at the next Corpse Carnival match which just so happens to be a fight to the death between her fighting name of Hummingbird against Ganta's Woodpecker.  In truth, Minatsuki is a hardened criminal with a fetish for tricking people, using and abusing them and then beating seven shades out of them - a revelation which at least makes Ganta's decision on how to play this Carnival Corpse match easy... or at least it would be if it were not for the appearance of Yoh, who also seems to have been taken in by the tricks of Minatsuki (who is his sister, naturally) - a state of affairs which brings us to the first ever episode of Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Yandere Wake ga Nai as she whales on both Yoh and Ganta before the latter finally manages to turn things around with some clever use of his power and a massive headbutt.

You know, I just have to come right out and say it - this episode of Deadman Wonderland was stupid.  Not just any old stupid, it was laugh in the face of supposed drama stupid.  Minatsuki's mum ran off with some flowers and left her daughter to die?  I'm sorry, but that really was hilarious even if it probably wasn't supposed to be a laughing matter.  Indeed, Minatsuki's entire behaviour was so overblown from beginning to end that much of the second half of the episode in particular was mired in the ridiculous, reaching epic proportions once Yoh appeared and disintegrating any remaining suspension of disbelief.  On the positive side we did at least learn a little more about Shiro this week, but my goodness Deadman Wonderland, what kind of cringe-worthy junk was this excuse for an episode?

Friday, 20 May 2011

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 6

After failing to make it all the way there last time around, it's take two of Jinta's attempts to kick-start attending school once again, no doubt in the face of Menma's tearful reaction to Poppo's thoughts last week.

While suddenly turning up at school again looks set to see Jinta as the centre of attention, he finds himself upstaged courtesy of Anjou's love hotel "antics", which it seems were spotted by a member of the Parent Teacher Association and reported to her school - a scenario which makes her the establishment's hot topic, needless to say.  Although this is initially perhaps a relief to Jinta, it soon turns to concern as he realises that Anaru is wilting under the pressure of the idle banter surrounding her; thus, he decides to deflect it by making a spectacle of himself, in a scene which once again suggests that this series is Hell-bent on ruining some of its most dramatic moments by making them overblown ot the point of being ridiculous.

Anyway, the fallout of Jinta's outburst sees both himself and Anaru escaping school, with the latter not wanting to face her parents and thus deciding to stay in the "secret fort" for the time being.  Next thing we know, Jinta is being rather dragged along on a trip to visit Menma's mother, where she allows the group to take away Menma's diary and perhaps open up the possibility of finding out what her wish is - indeed, it seems as if even Yukiatsu and Tsuruko are considering the issue deep down.  As for Menma, she's more than a little upset at her mum having memories of her dredged up - although is that how she really feels given how she's stated that she wants to be remembered by those close to her previously.

Once again, Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai continues to move slowly, but at least it feels as though we're finally moving towards a scenario where this group of former friends piece together what has caused Menma's appearance before Jinta, courtesy of the rather clumsy seeding of the idea that she called them together and had something to say to all of them before her death.  Speaking of clumsy, Jinta's performance in class to save Anaru's embarrassment really was a terrible piece of hammy drama/comedy, not so much in concept as implementation as it suffered from the same cringe-worthy overblown nature as Yukiatsu's cross-dressing previously.  It's another blot on a series that is still relatively watchable and interesting to boot, but also a show that feels like it should have so, so much more going for it.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 6

It's Ryuushi... sorry, Ryuuko's... turn to get an episode in the spotlight for this sixth instalment of Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - and whaddya know, she spends rather a lot of her time fretting about Niwa.

Her thoughts and concerns about Makoto only increase when she runs into both him and Erio at the latter's new job in the sweet shop - as her friend questions whether they should simply stop going there on account of Erio's presence, so Ryuuko worries that Niwa is setting himself up to a world of isolation and loneliness if word were to get out about how close he is to his oddball cousin.  Thus, Ryuuko decides to stake out the shop the following day to warn Niwa of just this, running into Meme in the process but nonetheless getting her point across in her own inimitable fashion.

Of course, Ryuuko's words resonate with Niwa himself, leaving him to ponder what he should do about the situation in pretty vague terms - any time available for such ponderings are cut pretty short however as first Maekawa and then Ryuuko end up inviting themselves to his house after school.  As if the pair of them aren't enough trouble on their own, Erio's presence at the same time makes for an exhausting ordeal for poor old Makoto... an ordeal which looks to have been elongated once Meme returns, deals out a big hint about who Ryuuko has a crush on and then leaves again, taking Maekawa with her.  The word "awkward" springs to mind...

Although this week's episode wasn't really as sharp as some of its previous instalments have been, there's still a fair amount of fun to be found in Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko as always as it throws out some great lines and manages to carve some fun scenarios out of the simplest of things - Niwa's exasperating time in his room with three girls in particular is as believable as it is amusing as they all vie for his attention, and while Ryuuko occasionally infringes upon "annoying" territory rather than simply being energetic from time to time the cast as a whole carry the episode pretty well.  I'm not sure where the series is going, or if it's even going anywhere, but hey - I'm still enjoying it.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 5

Having seen what Mikuni Soichiro can do when it comes to manipulating a Deal to suit his interests last week, episode five jumps straight into showing us what his fellow guild members can they do, as they employ similar tactics to eke out small victories over their opponents that keep the real-world impact of any victories or defeats to a minimum.

Impressed by what they are capable of, Kimimaro sets off to try and learn such tricks for himself - something which he soon finds is easier said than done, as what looked set to be a narrow victory turns into both a small defeat and an injury to Mashu, while the aftermath of this Deal reminds Kimimaro that there is potentially a price to pay for failure, no matter how small the margin of defeat.

Away from this however, we get to see just how great the extent of Mikuni's ambitions to protect Japan and its people from the Financial District are, as we learn that he's quite literally propping up its government by buying up their debt, thus allowing them to increase spending.  However, even he doesn't have complete control over the Financial District via his guild, and in the wake of a huge Deal featuring Mikuni's opponent last week and another big hitter it looks as though the real world is about to take a massive hit via the collapse of a major pharmaceuticals company... it's Soichiro to the rescue once again then, as Kimimaro finally begins to understand what Mikuni is trying to do (or at least what he appears to be trying to do) and thus signs up to his guild in the hope of making a little difference himself.

If nothing else, this is certainly the most action-oriented episode of [C] thus far - we got to see plenty of Deals being done, which meant quite a lot of imagination on show on the creator's part to the point where we can almost forgive the bad animation.  Outside of that, the series continues to fascinate me purely upon its concept alone as it literally sweeps up everything in its socio-economic path before it as literally everything from Japan's birth rate through to its financial position is filed under the list of problems caused by the Financial District.  Certainly, the shows machinations as they pertain to Mikuni and the IMF have plenty of room to make things interesting for the second half of the series - the only question is where Kimimaro fits into all this, as it seems that the longer the series has gone on the less of an impact he's making upon... well, anything really.  Fine, why Mikuni is so interested in him is explained in this instalment and that's fair enough, but it doesn't really hide the fact that Kimimaro is becoming a duller and duller character who hasn't been afforded enough time to develop as the series has gone on so far, and there's a concern on my part that he might detract from what has been a curiously thought-provoking series to date.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 7

The Future Gadget Lab's burgeoning roster of staff gained another new member last week in the form of Moeka Kiryuu (even if it is just in the hope of borrowing that IBM 5100), so what next for their experimentation with sending e-mails to the past?

Okarin being who he is, his next suggested experiment isn't particularly surprising in that he wants to use the group's microwave-cum-time machine to try and change the past... indeed, it's even less surprising that his plan to test this is to see if he can send the winning lottery numbers to the past (I like his style, now I come to think about it).  Despite the suggestions of Makise in particular that this isn't really a good idea, and in spite of getting cold feet about aiming for the grand prize in the lottery, the experiment goes ahead.  That, in fact, is where things start to get really interesting....

After suffering a decidedly odd experience upon hitting the save button, Okarin returns from what seems to be little more than a daydream to discover that he's the only person who has any recollection of the projected experiment, with the rest of the group recalling that they never got any further than discussing it before Kyouma raced over to the microwave out of the blue.  Sure enough, the lottery ticket in question was bought (although a mistake robs Okarin of his relative riches), and further investigation suggests that the experiment never took place - it seems that our protagonist really has changed the past, and been moved to a different timeline as a result.  But why can he remember all of this?  It's a question Okarin is keen to put to John Titor (at the suggestion of Amane), and one that yields a decidedly fully-fledged response that sets even our delusional "hero" aback.

After mentioning my hopes for the series clicking up a gear soon following the previous episode, I get the feeling my hopes have been answered well and truly here - yes, Steins;Gate continues to have a huge amount of fun with its various characters, particularly early in this episode, but we're now moving on to another plain entirely in the light of Okarin's latest experience.  It's an experience which harks all the way back to Makise's "death" in episode one and now begs even more questions about what happened on that occasion, while both Amane and Kiryuu's behaviour becomes more intriguing by the week.  As if I wasn't already, Steins;Gate is now very much on my list of currently airing series I simply don't want to wait to watch the next episode of.  If only my future self could send an e-mail to me to let me know what happens next.  In fact, if he could just send over the next week's Euromillions winning numbers too...

Monday, 16 May 2011

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 6

Despite all his previous conquests, it seemed as though Keima has finally met his match in "normal" girl Chihiro, a character with seemingly no unique personality traits but with more than enough vim and vigour to chew Keima up and spit him out to the extent where he retreats from the world entirely to his gaming "safety bubble".

Of all people, it's Keima's first conquest Ayumi who snaps him out of his funk, plying him with food and, after pleading with him to make up with Chihiro, organising an after-school clean-up duty featuring only the two of them in the hope of it resolving the issue.  Amazingly, this finally gives the pair of them an opportunity to bond, as Chihiro's fawning over her next romantic target gives Keima a chance to preach about his knowledge, eventually persuading Chihiro that he might just be of use to her.  With Keima also realising that his targets don't necessarily have to fall in love with him, it seems as if our "God of Conquest" is well and truly back on track.

So begins Keima's regime of training and assisting Chihiro in her efforts to win over Yuto, the boy in question, using the tricks and techniques he's learned to bring the two closer together with a surprising degree of success.  However, despite all of this there remains a sense of loneliness and a certain detachment in Chihiro's behaviour and actions, suggesting that there are still some major twists and turns to come in this particular story arc.

I suppose it's this sense of mystery and the fact that we don't seem to have quite gotten to the bottom of Chihiro's character that is making this particular arc of The World God Only Knows seem all that more compelling - her "blank slate" status now feels less like a gimmick and more like a genuine gap in her life, while Keima's behaviour and Ayumi's role in proceedings add even more question marks into proceedings.  In other words, this feels like far away the most interesting story arc to come from this series so far, and with any luck it has an ending to its tale to match up to what it's served up thus far already.

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 6

Courtesy of Kanako's week of revision in an alternate dimension last time around, episode six of Maria†Holic Alive back-tracks to fill in that gap in time and explain in more detail the decidedly odd goings-on of that week... although shorn of its usual protagonist it seems that Matsurika has seen fit to hijack the series for herself, bringing us the first ever episode of Matsurika†Holic complete with altered opening credits.

Despite that rather promising new title, we actually don't get to see any more of Matsurika than usual this episode sadly, as the first half of this instalment focuses first and foremost on that trading card game that becomes the school obsession during Kanako's period away - it's probably no surprise to hear that this is mostly spurred on by Maria in the name of making a hefty profit with a business plan that would leave even Lord Sugar impressed.  That aside, we also learn where those weird and wonderful hairdos came from, and also the reason for Kanako's "blinged up" desk via the episode's most hilarious gag where her friends initially decide to spruce up her empty desk by outfitting it with a single flower and a photograph of their missing classmate.

It's this decision which single-handedly powers the second half of the episode, with the misunderstood meaning of those actions (i.e. as a symbol of Kanako's death) setting the scene for lots of the usual blend of concern and lust from Father Kanae, who particularly finds his world turned upside down when a visit to Mariya's home introduces him to Mariya's "brother" Shizu, bringing with it yet another love at first sight moment - on this occasion, one that seems entirely inappropriate for a man of the cloth.  Before we know it, Kanae is wandering the school grounds in a bath robe to close out the episode, more confused than ever about his emotions.

While I do wish that this episode really had been an entirely Matsurika-centric one, what we got instead was an instalment which did flag during its second half from Kanako's absence (Kanae's schtick has been over-played for me now) but still had enough great little jokes and one-liners to be thoroughly entertaining more often than not.  In particular, the flower on Kanako's desk was the funniest thing I've seen in a while (helped by the delay between my brain comprehending the scene and what it represented) while Maria's Apprentice-esque endeavours in producing and marketing the card game in question hit an amusing peak as she ended up surreptitiously competing with "God" for the rights to it.  In a word this episode was, once again: fun.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 7

Just as Barnaby looked as though he'd found a lead in the hunt for his parents, so it was cruelly snatched away by a mixture of dilly-dallying and the interference of an unknown fire-brandishing NEXT who literally burned said possibility of evidence to a smouldering crisp.

Needless to say this whole chain of events leaves Barnaby in an emotionally fragile state - a state which he takes out on Wild Tiger before storming off with an insistence that he doesn't need anybody's help.  Come the next day there's still no sign of "Bunny", leaving Kotetsu to team up with Blu Rose for a bit of charity villain-bashing before his partner finally returns at the behest of their company's CEO - an arrival which comes just in time for their next big mission.

This outing arrives in the form of a live Hero TV broadcast, and more importantly the discovery of a hideout used by a criminal gang - with all of our heroes poised to pounce upon the complex, Barnaby is the most fired up of the bunch as he hopes to find some further links to Ouroboros, but once again his bette noir appears at just the right (or wrong) moment to kill virtually all of the criminals present while escaping Tiger and Bunny's attentions and announcing his real intentions - to brandish his own style of "justice" upon Stern Bild.  Put simply - He's Light Yagami in some kind of elaborate cosplay.

Aside from giving away the real identity of Lunatic (with our two titular superheroes not even noticing he's stood right in front of them!) which is actually a pretty disappointing move, there was regardless a rather nice twist in the tale of this episode that moves its current story arc away from being simply Barnaby-centric into something far more all-encompassing.  Okay, so it's basically Death Note with superpowers, but on the plus side... well, it's Death Note with superpowers, and that sounds like a pretty intriguing road to go down for this series as it also continues to show some great glimpses of humour and carries on making some interesting suggestions about Hero TV as it goes.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 7

It's Tomoe's turn to get an episode in the spotlight as we hit this seventh instalment of Hanasaku Iroha - although for a while it looks as though it might also be the head waitress' swansong at Kissuiso.

The reason for this is that Tomoe finds herself under pressure from her parents to return home and attend a marriage meeting, with her mother worried about her current single status - although Tomoe doesn't want to admit it, she does feel as if her life is little more than a daily grind of working at the inn with little time for fun or relationships.  This depressing thought isn't exactly helped by the return of some regular visitors to the inn - a group of "survival gamers" who take their hobby entirely too seriously to the extent of making an operation out of following Nako around and trying to peek into the baths whenever possible.

With Tomoe seemingly on the way out of Kissuiso, she decides that she might as well accelerate any such departure by raising Hell for these guests and so sets about mistreating them wherever possible by waking them early, stopping them eating the "rations" they've brought with them and disrupting their "operations" while having entirely too much fun in the process of doing so.  You can probably guess what happens next however... the guests in question love these attempts to "whip them into shape" and prevent their activities, seeing it as a challenge and thus being well and truly fired up for their return visit, while Tomoe herself realises that working at Kissuiso can actually be pretty fun if she only puts her mind to it.

Okay, this was an incredibly predictable episode of anime from the moment the "survival gamers" were introduced into its scenario.... but that doesn't stop it from being hugely funny throughout.  Tomoe's fleshing out as a character was both entertaining and much needed, while Ohana and Nako in particular were on hand to deliver some fantastic one-liners against a backdrop of utterly ludicrous scenes that were incredibly fun to watch.  I'm sure that those who tuned in to this series for its everyday drama alone will be wailing and gnashing their teeth at this week's instalment, but despite being attracted to that sense of drama myself I know good comedy when I see it - when Hanasaku Iroha hits top form like this it simply can't be beaten in terms of pure entertainment value this season, while this particular episode also easily took it back to the top of the chart for the season's best-looking series.

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 5

As is perhaps befitting of a death row prisoner, Ganta sure doesn't get any lucky breaks as a new inmate of Deadman Wonderland - thanks to his new blood-based powers, his latest ordeal is a fight to the death against Senji Kiyomasa in the latest Corpse Carnival which takes place for the entertainment of those with a suitable fetish for violence.

Although Ganta has learned a little about how to use his Branches of Sin power, he clearly hasn't really thought things through too thoroughly as the match begins as he starts throwing his blood around as a weapons... a recklessly strategy as the loss of blood quite literally goes to his dead, leaving our Woodpecker at the mercy of Crow who wastes no time in tearing into him.  As we enter flashback territory and a vague suggestion of why and how Shiro knows Ganta from their past, so we learn the one cool thing about the otherwise whiny Ganta - he doesn't know how to lay down and accept defeat.  Of course, this leads to the inevitable turn-around that sees Ganta win the day, and without killing anybody to boot - a pyrrhic victory as losing in the Corpse Carnival without dying leads to a penalty "game", if you can call it such.  For once, I was actually a little relieved to see some censorship on-hand, squeamish about eyes as I am.

Away from this battle, Shiro continues to follow Yoh around, in a scenario that adds even more questions about these two characters to our card.  Firstly, it appears that Yoh is looking for somebody within G-block himself, and as he received more information to this effect so he uses Shiro's stupidity as a decoy to fulfil his own interests - a decision which peels away another layer about the sheer potency of Shiro's own abilities when cornered, although it makes her mere existence all the more mysterious.

I can't really pretend that I didn't quite enjoy this episode - as per the rest of the series so far it certainly wastes no time on frivolities as it races through its material at break-neck speed, and this fast pacing certainly works in its favour.  On the other hand, there are rather a lot of cliched elements starting to come together within the series - Ganta's Carnival Corpse battle was pretty much "generic shounen battle #5478575623", while the handling of both his and Shiro's story seems like the same kind of thing we've seen many a time before, only with more blood and guts (or at least, we assume so beneath that censorship).  This tends to give Deadman Wonderland the feel of your typical anime designed to use shock tactics to exploit the sensibilities (or lack thereof) of teenage males - not a bad thing necessarily, but I still feel that there are deeper veins to explore within the show that I'm worried are going to be put to one side in the name of creating a gore-fest.

Nichijou - Episode 7

Last week's episode of Nichijou finally managed to break out the laughter for me (hey, it only took six episodes), but it appears to be a return to relative mediocrity for the series for its seventh instalment.

This episode kicks off with a fantasy story telling the origin of the wooden cubes Mio wears in her hair - at least, the story as dreamed by Yuuko's decidedly over-active imagination.  It's a lot of build-up with very little pay-off, but as is so often the case with this series it feels more like Kyoto Animation playing with the animation possibilities of the scene rather than any attempts to inject humour into them particularly.

The only real notable moment in terms of making me laugh out loud is this episode's quick "rock, paper, scissors" skit with Nano and the Professor - a little touch of quick-fire comedy genius that's timed and played out impeccably - although Nano is also involved in the other more satisfying moments courtesy of her baseball-pitching technique (in a scene which also involves Sakamoto being an awesome feline, as always) and a meeting with a stranger (to Nano anyway) who takes more than a passing interest in her screw.

Aside from these moments, Nichijou seems to be growing ever-more reliant on its over the top reaction shots to every joke and punchline in the hope that such reactions will somehow boost the comic potential of the scene - put simply, it doesn't work, and if anything it detracts from what you've just seen, yet it's something the series series seems determined to persevere with it.  To be honest I knew that nothing was likely to live up to last week's episode, thus I wasn't expecting much and its return to being far less funny was anticipated - still, this particular instalment was probably just about worth watching just on the basis of that "rock, paper, scissors" gag alone.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Gosick - Episode 17

Seemingly everything is at stake for Victorique and Kujo judging by the opening to its latest story arc, with our dimiutive genius squirreled away by the Marquis who "owns" her while Brian Roscoe and her mother are also involved in a plot which sends magic and science crashing against one another.

First things first however, and having found Victorique it's time for Kujo to help her escape - something which comes via a meeting with the supposed watch-maker Kujo met on the train to Beelzebub's Skull before taking in some of the magic on show at the unfolding event taking place.  Said magic is, of course, little more than simple trickery, but nonetheless our watch-maker Hunt's attempts to debunk one particular trick ends his death, just as the everything threatens to go to Hell in a handbasket via an accident involving the hallucinogenic gas used to fool visitors before the dam attached to the complex bursts in a cataclysmic "accident".

Before these final events take place and lead to a quick evacuation of the nunnery to a waiting train, we witness a triumvirate of important meetings - one between Victorique and Brian Roscoe where the former debunks the latter's part in the "miracle" which earned the location its reputation in World War One, and two for Kujo; the first of which sees him bump into Victorique's mother Cordelia as she gives him some important messages for her daughter, while the second sees our "Reaper" come face to face with the Marquis himself.

It's actually almost impossible to make a full evaluation of this particular episode of Gosick, simply because it appears as though it will be leaning heavily on the instalments to come to fill in the gaping holes currently open within its story.  Indeed, these gaps feel unsatisfyingly large against the backdrop of an episode which gave away little and felt almost rushed at times in its execution - what seemed likely to be an offering full of answers only opened up even more questions.  Hopefully (and it certainly seems that way) this is the entire point of the episode, and all will be revealed to my impatience mind in due course.  If this week's instalment isn't simply more preparation for the important plot points to come however, this series is in big trouble right now... thank goodness that my confidence in the series of late is pointing me towards the former.

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 4

Now that Kimimaro knows about his father and his fate as a result of bankruptcy within the Financial District, just what path is he going to choose on his own money-making road?

Certainly, our protagonist has little time to think about such things as he finds himself facing off against, of all people, his own teacher in his second Deal.  If nothing else, this gives us a glimpse into said teacher's reason for operating in the Financial District - to provide for his two children, with a third well and truly on the way.  Scenes of Mr. Ebara's pregnant wife chatting with his students is interspersed (perhaps a little too liberally) with scenes of the battle raging within the Financial District, in a Deal which ends with Mikuni effectively bailing Kimimaro out in a set of circumstances with ultimately leaves Ebara not only as the loser in the Deal, but also bankrupt.

Just as this Deal teaches us a little more about the Financial District's rules of engagement, with a system of Stocks operating alongside your Asset which can be bought and sold to those watching in the hope of picking a winner and sharing in their profit, so it also teaches us more about what happens to the losers in these Deals - in Mr. Ebara's case the true loss is not so much financial as personal, as his children simply vanish both physically and from the memories of everyone except Ebara and Kimimaro.  It's perhaps the cruellest of fates, in turn explaining Mikuni's philosophy which has led to the creation of a guild led by him within the Financial District; a guild whose members agree to enter Deals looking only for modest profits that won't bankrupt their opponent in the hope of minimising real-world effects such as though experienced by poor Mr. Ebara.  Is it a smart move?  More importantly, is it the path Kimimaro will choose to take?

For all of its flaws (and this series does have flaws, from poor direction down to increasingly shoddy animation at times), C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control is certainly ramping up the thought-provoking aspects of its scenario - by this point, its position as an allegory of the real-world banking system isn't even thinly veiled any more as it tries to drill home the real costs and damages of business; people might not literally have their children disappear on account of some bad trading, but homes can be lost and lives ruined by loss of money.  The very nature of business and banking is competitive and combative, but is there another way?  Mikuni Soichiro seems to be the embodiment of a more "humane" method of financial dealing that is safer for all parties involved, but it's going to be interesting to see how his philosophy pans out as the series progresses, while of course we'll be watching closely as to what path Kimimaro chooses to follow.  In other words - this has proven to be a hugely thought-provoking and fascinating episode which seems to set the scene for the rest of the series to come; if only its visuals and story-telling were a little slicker to really back up this ever more noteworthy plot, it might have lifted the series towards a place as a real classic.

SKET Dance - Episode 6 (Dropped)

Out of sheer pig-headedness I've been determined to stick with SKET Dance to the bitter end - I mean, it's not that bad, right?  So what's the harm?  Well, the damage of too much mediocrity has now been done and I just can't take any more.

After introducing the student council fully last episode before having their vice president barge in on the SKET-dan's proceedings at the tail-end of the episode, we come to the unsurprising hook of this week's instalment - that the student council want to see the club shut down, viewing it as they do as pointless and (perhaps more to the point) a magnet to delinquents like Momoka to hang out at.  Just as the two groups are arguing the toss about this, the SKET-dan receive a request for help.  Their task - to put on a play to entertain a bunch of little kids that have been let down by the drama club who were supposed to be putting on a show for them.

Thus, this assignment soon turns into a contest between the SKET-dan and student council to see who can entertain the children more (what about us? we need entertaining too guys!), with the former group choosing to act out Snow White while the student council ropes the drama club president into helping them with a performance of Peter Pan.  In a fit of pique, it's this same drama club president who smashes up the SKET-dan's props and costumes - an act that the student council entirely disagrees with, leading to them declaring the contest null and void only to find out that the SKET-dan's membership hasn't been put off by this setback at all....

As has been the case pretty much from day one, SKET Dance is utterly safe and, equally, utterly mediocre - it exists in a world where even the bad guys are nice really and at times it's almost sickeningly twee.  I have no bones with shows that try to be light-hearted at all times (I have a Hidamari Sketch character as my avatar for heaven's sake), but if you're going down that route then don't pretend that you can create drama and tension from the scenarios you create because you simply can't.  Even worse is that this episode, like many earlier instalments, was incredibly predictable - we knew instantly that the SKET-dan would win their contest, but more importantly it was also immediately obvious as to how it would pan out, and so it proved.  A lack of drama coupled with a lack of imagination leaves this series as the digital equivalent of yesterday's paper that you'd use to wrap your fish and chips in - it's old news, and what might have briefly entertained you before has become useless for anything but menial tasks.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 5

He's been playing the smart, sensible guy with an absolute poker face, but the climax to last week's Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai brought that particular pack of cards crashing down around Yukiatsu's white one-piece dress and feminine wig in spectacular fashion.

Ridiculous though this whole scenario is, it does lead to a face-off between Jinta and his former friend - a blurry mess of guilt and relief on Yukiatsu's part that quite clearly needed to be put out into the open for the good of all concerned, while the following scenes also explain a little more of Yukiatsu's feelings of guilt (and his obsession with Menma) while also offering up what could be solid proof of ghostly Menma's existence to Yukiatsu.

Is Yukiatsu's cross-dressing outburst looked likely to be the moment of alleviated tension which fixed everything for this group of characters then think again, as they soon fragment as per before, with Anaru in particular half-heartedly going back to hanging out with her current clique of friends - a decision which almost leads to some decidedly dangerous moments for her before Yukiatsu (of all people) comes to her rescue before embarrassing her, asking her out and probing her feelings towards Jinta.  Meanwhile, we perhaps finally come a little closer to getting a handle on Menma's feelings and why she "exists" at all.

Altogether this was another quite decent episode of Ano Hana, with the emphasis on "quite" - even after its big reveal at the end of the last episode and the beginning of this, the series continues to insist upon simply bouncing all of its characters off one another without ever really progressing or shaping their dynamic or their own actions to any great extent.  Perhaps this is the entire point of the series as it tries to move things along carefully and subtly, but at times it feels dangerously like inactivity (particularly on Jinta's part, given that he is our protagonist), and given that it doesn't exactly have a huge episode count to work with something major needs to happen sooner rather than later to shift things up a gear.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 5

You might not credit it, but it appears that Meme Touwa has just turned forty... I would say that this could be a sign of an impending mid-life crisis but you can't help but feel she's already slap-bang in the middle of one anyhow.

It seems that this particular period of time isn't only Meme's birthday, as the next thing we know we see Makoto fretting about what to buy Erio for her own birthday.  While Ryuuko refuses to help pick out a present for obvious reasons (obvious to anyone who isn't Makoto anyway), Maekawa does prove more helpful - okay, her choice of present is decidedly odd, but her prediction that it will thrill Erio proves to be entirely well-founded.

Speaking of Erio, her return to relative normality is seen to continue here, as she spends some proper mother-daughter time with Meme before announcing to Makoto that she wants to "return to society" by finding a job.  Between her shy persona and the fact that her reputation precedes her this is a pretty tall order, and her first job interview couldn't really have gone much worse, but as seems to be the case with everything Meme knows just the person to send Erio to for work - enter another alien-obsessed nutter for Makoto to have to deal with.

While Meme's antics can be fun at times, I have to admit that I'm starting to get a little tired of them at this juncture - this week in particular they seem over-bearing over the rest of the series, and being cute can soon turn to being irritating in the blink of an eye.  Still, putting that to one side this show's dialogue continues to be broadly amusing and its characters more fascinatingly mysterious than perhaps they should be, while Erio's plight has some obvious comparisons to the plight faced by NEET individuals in Japan thanks to their tendency to be shunned by society before they've even really entered it.  Which aspects of its story the series will toy with hence forth remains to be seen, but fingers crossed it doesn't involve too much of Meme rolling around on the floor.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 6

It's now been five days since the satellite which punctuated Steins;Gate's opening instalment came crashing down - I'm actually rather glad the series saw fit to remind me of it too since I'd kind of forgotten about the whole thing up to that point.

Anyhow, while the early portion of this episode also sees Kurisu glared at intently by Amane yet again, the real focus of the Future Gadget Lab is to finally perform some further experimentation on their rudimentary time machine... although there's something even more pressing to do before that of course, that being figuring out a name for these e-mails which are sent to the past.  In the end, and after much debate, they settle on the name "D-mail" - I'm glad we got that sorted, anyhow.

From here, the gang (and Kurisu in particular) begin to pin down the exactitudes of how this microwave-cum-time machine works in sending these "d-mails", and come the end of the episode it's established how to control how far back in time a message is sent as well as the limitations of the system in terms of the quantity of data in can send.  Meanwhile, Moeka Kiryuu returns to the picture, with her irritating habit of communicating via text message coming to the fore as she checks out, and then asks to borrow, the IBM 5100 currently in Okarin's session via a visit to the lab that sees everyone else casually leak the news of their time machine to said visitor, leaving Okarin with no choice but to invite her to become a lab member herself.

Actual major plot progress might remain slow-going in Steins;Gate even though we're now a quarter of the way into the series, but somehow it continues to get away with this by sporting some great character dynamics that add sufficient humour for such tardiness to be forgiven.  To be honest, at times I think we might even be best served with a spin-off series that just locks Okarin, Daru, Makise and Mayuri in a room together for comic effect, such is the way that this quarter bounce off one another.  Still, despite those momentary thoughts there is still a deeper, darker plot hiding away within the series, and its one that continues to hold lots of promise.  Even I have to admit though that it's probably time for some of this promise to start showing through to move the series up a gear sooner rather than later.