Thursday, 30 June 2011

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 11 (Completed)

With the Japanese Yen collapsing around its own proverbial ears, the fate of the country rests on Mikuni and Kimimaro's final struggle for control of the Financial District.  But which is better, the present or the future?  There's only one way to find out.... fight!!

What this really brings us is a long, protracted argument between these two characters as they run around fighting for their competing philosophies - an argument which turns from the theoretical to the personal once Mikuni's sister gets involved in the discussion, a debate which even extends to the pair's Assets.  While all of this is going on, confidence in the Yen hits rock bottom as most businesses refuse to use said currency, switching to use of the Dollar instead.

Indeed, so huge is the drop in confidence in the Yen that it also renders Midas Money as pointless as per Taketazaki's plan, thus putting an end to the battle between Kimimaro and Mikuni as the latter accepts defeat and hands control of the Financial District's rotary press to the former.  With "C"'s return having no impact on Japan thanks to the Yen's collapse, Kimimaro turns back the clock on all of the futures "borrowed" by the Financial District to return Japan to normal...or has he?  With no sign of the Yen anywhere, and the future on show seemingly different from what he remembers, is this really what Kimimaro fought for?  Indeed, is his struggle even over as the Financial District promises to carry on unbridled despite his efforts.

I suppose there was really no other way to resolve [C]'s major plot points other than an all-out scrap between Kimimaro and Mikuni, but somehow it all felt a bit arbitrary and simply a rehashing of the arguments we'd seen building throughout the series anyhow.  Still, this brought us a decent enough ending, and at least the positioning of the Financial District as a force for neither good nor evil but simply a cipher for the desires of those who use it felt like a reasonable closing position for the series to take.

Overall, that leaves [C] to be labelled in my eyes as a series that was brave with its concept and subject matter (making economics interesting is a big ask no matter what you try to bolt it onto) and with plenty of fascinating concepts behind it, but also a series that didn't really seem to know how best to handle those concepts.  In short, it never really felt confident in its delivery, and thus none of the points it set out to present to the viewer were realised in a forceful enough way to make you actually care about them within the context of the series and its characters.  Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly glad I watched [C], and a time of protracted financial crisis it posits some important points for debate and consideration.  Conversely though, perhaps that's why I was hoping for so much more from the series - with subject matter so close to the hopes and prospects of the entire populace, it feels all the more vital that it was presented in a way that gripped all and sundry within its confines, and on that count it most certainly didn't succeed.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 13

To call the end of last week's episode of Steins;Gate a bombshell would be putting it mildly - needless to say, that's only the start of it, but beware of spoilers in this entry if you haven't watched episode twelve yet.

With the sudden appearance of Moeka and an armed gang as the bad guys of the moment, and with Mayuri killed in cold blood by Moeka as she looks to capture the rest of the Future Gadget Lab's mainstay, things have clearly taken a turn for the worst - cue the reappearance of Amane to show off some impressive fighting skills and generally cause enough disruption to allow the others some time to escape... or rather, to allow time for Makise and Okabe to set up and use their time machine so that the former can "time leap" a few hours into the past in the hope that the knowledge he has can save Mayuri and stop these terrible events from happening.

Although this time leap works flawlessly, the rest of the plan proves to be rather more difficult - although Okabe cancels the forthcoming party and races off to find Mayuri, he neglects to factor the shut down train lines into his escape plan and thus, eventually, the horrible chain of events that lead to Mayuri's death occur once again, albeit in a very different way.  On this occasion, Okabe makes good his escape from his pursuers, giving him the chance to time leap once again and have another crack at saving his long-standing friend - even third time isn't the charm in this scenario however, as it seems that it's simply impossible to save Mayuri no matter what he attempts to do...

Having found myself to be more than a little excited at the prospect of Steins;Gate getting to the real meat of its already delicious proverbial baguette, my excitement has proved to be entirely justified as things take a turn for the serious with the beginning of the show's second half.  If the shock of seeing Mayuri die wasn't brutal enough, this instalment somehow manages to keep the tension high during Okabe's successive rescue attempts, giving you the feeling that he really can making it before dashing those hopes on the rocks of anime misery.  It's compelling stuff despite its recurring iterations (are you watching, Endless Eight), and absolutely top-notch in its delivery.  It's almost scary to thing that this is only effectively the beginning - we still have so much more to learn about this show's characters and circumstances (although the flashback to Mayuri and Okabe's formative friendship was actually a great addition this week), and that prospect doesn't just leave me on the edge of my seat, it leaves me planted firmly on the floor with an expression of blank yet rapt anticipation.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 13

Having taken out three of the city's heroes, it's finally Barnaby's turn to take on Jake and try to avenge his parents... oh, and to save a few million people from certain death, of course.

While Barnaby takes to the stage as the latest opponent to the maniacal Jake, behind the scenes a plan is in action to disable the radio link to the mechanised robots which are in place to destroy the pillars that hold up Stern Bild at the drop of a hat - as the scrambling mechanism for this signal is activated so the remaining fit and healthy heroes set out to do their part to destroy these machines - except, of course, things aren't that simple, as said machines all have a self-defence mechanism in place if their signal to the "boss" of the operation is lost.

With this option seemingly exhausted, attention returns to Barnaby, who is having just as much of a torrid time trying to take on Jake as his counterparts, finding himself unable to land a blow on his rival.  However, as those watching learn that Jake has not one but two special powers, Kotetsu starts to put the pieces together as to what that second power might be, and despite his injuries he sets out to help his partner turn the tide via some subterfuge and the provision of just the weapon required to for Barnaby to win the day.  This he duly does, landing all-important blows upon his nemesis to set off a sequence of events which sees Ouroboros' plans left in tatters, the city safe once more and our group of heroes lauded yet again as Stren Bild's true protectors.

Although aspects of this episode and the way it progressed were blindingly obvious long before they happened, that doesn't stop this instalment from being an eminently satisfying one that delivered a good, old fashioned finale to this story arc which saw the bad guys comprehensively defeated in a slightly rushed but ultimately hugely satisfying manner.  Much like a lot of what Tiger & Bunny has succeeded in doing from the start, it "just works" via a mixture of characters, concepts and plots which are undemanding as they entertain and presented slickly enough to be thoroughly enjoyable.  Overall, this first half of Tiger & Bunny has barely put a foot wrong, and I can only hope that its second half manages to keep things moving along in a similar fashion now that its first major story arc is over and a lot of the immediate tensions surrounding it have dispersed.

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 12 (Completed)

With Nagase arc concluded last episode, The World God Only Knows gets to say its goodbye (while very much putting money on a third season, it seems) with a filler episode to round things off.

Of course, without any Loose Souls around to worry about, Keima has plenty of time to focus on his gaming, which brings him to a curious title with utterly horrible artwork concerning a goofy-looking girl with huge eyes (cue comments about Key visual novels here).  However, despite its aesthetic horrors and for some unknown reason, Keima finds himself hugely drawn to the game's story of a girl named Yotsuba Sugimoto, finding it to represent some kind of dating sim nirvana for him.

During his time playing the game, our God of Conquest is the recipient of an e-mail from the game's developer, asking for his input on their next title which is in development - a request which finds Keima torn with regards to what actually makes a good game - is it the girls, the mechanics, the niches it looks to fill, and so on.  In the end, he effectively comes to the realisation that to create a so-called perfect game for everyone is impossible, leaving him simply to conclude that dating sim fans should stick together under a common banner and not worry too much about what makes a good game, as it's all about the girls in the end anyhow.  Or something.

As final episodes go, this felt like a quickly thrown together affair; a lumping together of various facets which had a few genuinely funny moments (from a quick The Girl Who Leapt Through Time parody to a dig at buggy games that over-extend themselves) but not enough to hide the fact that this was effectively a cheap and dirty episode to fill the show's quota while still finding time to dangle the season three carrot in front of fans.  As for me, I'm not entirely sure whether I'd sign myself up for a third season of The World God Only Knows - overall, I'd rate this series more highly than the first perhaps as it did succeed in freshening things up from time to time (notably with Haqua's introduction), but as a whole it still relied too heavily on Keima's trickery and character tropes to progress when it had some genuine opportunities to do something fun with its premise.

Of course, having said all this I'll doubtless still find myself watching a third season because I'm a glutton for punishment (I did watch Star Driver all the way through, after all), but even when I'm having fun watching this series I'm always plagued by this nagging feeling that it should be doing much, much more with the core concept it presents to the viewer, even if that isn't necessarily the fault of this anime adaptation as much as it is its source material.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 13

Hanasaku Iroha reaches its half-way point with the impending visit of Ohana's mother Satsuki - a visit perhaps less eagerly awaited than one from the Grim Reaper, I would imagine.

Upon her arrival, it isn't really surprising to hear Satsuki noting how nothing has changed with Kissuiso, and pointing out numerous things which could be done better or differently - although of course said tips could well prove to be invaluable, or at least they would if her grandmother and the inn's manager had any interest in hearing them.

Then again, Shijima has some plans of her own up her sleeve; given both her and Ohana's knowledge of Satsuki's personal preferences they have ample possibilities for catering to her particular desires, favourite foods and so on, just as they would for any other returning customer.  As the visit progresses, so things seem to shift from being an evaluation of Kissuiso into a more family-oriented affair, culminating with Satsuki inviting both daughter and mother to join her in her room for drinks and a chance to catch up with one another - an opportunity that allows Ohana to reveal her feelings about both Ko and moving back to Tokyo, while Shijima unknowingly reveals a dream of her own.  Come the end of her visit, Satsuki has a largely positive review of Kissuiso to give to Ohana, although she still seems to have her own fish to fry as her thoughts continually turn towards Ko.

Having thrown so much drama (and a fair amount of comedy) at its recent instalments featuring Ohana in Tokyo and her fracas with her mother, this particular episode perhaps felt a little dull exactly because of what went before - it didn't have the zip or sparkle of previous instalments, which left its thawing in relations between the three generations of women to feel a little arbitrary while there wasn't really much else to write home about, with even the threat or potential of Satsuki's visit as a critic falling a little flat.  Still, given how much this series has entertained me so far, I suppose I can forgive it a slightly "off" episode in the midst of so many beautiful visuals and otherwise great moments.

Nichijou - Episode 13

It feels a bit like it's been an eternity, but Nichijou reaches its half-way mark with the closest the series has come to a contiguous plot point yet.

This progression comes courtesy of the Professor and Nano, with the latter still dreaming of having a normal (well, as normal as you can get with this series) school life, even if there seems to be little chance of that between the Professor and the fact that she has a screw in her back,  As the episode goes on, so we see a number of occasions with this duo behaving as per their usual selves (is it me, or is the Professor getting more annoying by the week?) culminating in a stormy night which scares both of them witless, yet in turn also seems to persuade the Professor to let her charge go to school.  Cue a new mine of comedy to be explored for the second half of the series, I would assume.

Away from this particular duo, much of the rest of the episode focuses on Mio and Yuuko - perhaps the best sketch of this instalment involves a clearly ill Yuuko struggling into school just so that she can show her friend some magic tricks, only for everything to go horribly wrong through her haze of illness.  To be honest even this isn't exactly laugh-out loud comedy, but it is at least well timed and presented enough to raise a smile, which is about the best this episode has to offer.

The possibility of moving Nano into a high school setting is perhaps the most promising part of this episode, as the rest of the instalment seems proof positive that the series really needs to do something fresh as it appears to be largely stuck in a rut of predictable and unfunny attempts at humour give or take the odd moment here and there.  I wouldn't go expecting any miracles from the second half of this series, but the change might do it some good at least.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 11

Having fallen out with Shiro and with Scar Chain's plans in tatters, Ganta is distraught at the thought of his own shortcomings.... yeah I know, I know, what else is new?

Still, at least this time around Ganta has decided (albeit through his tears) to do something about it, which leads him to the proverbial doorstep of Crow in the hope of learning about the supersonic manipulation of his own Branches of Sin ability.  Given Ganta's determination, Crow is happy to help, even if it involves destroying all of Ganta's candy in the name of motivation.  Despite this, and with little help coming from his introduction to Sakigami Toto aka Mockingbird, Ganta seems unable to show any progress in the use of his own Branches of Sin as anaemia threatens to overcome him, until one final effort sees his "Ganta bullet" breaking the sound barrier.

That may be mission accomplished, but with a drunken Shiro wandering around after scoffing too many liqueurs and Karako choosing to go after a still-missing Nagi alone, needless to say these two end up getting themselves into hot water with the Undertakers who manage to overpower them both easily - who is left to save them now?  With the rest of Scar Chain focusing on their own mission and leaving Ganta to his own devices, it's up to our whiny hero to save the day... something he looks set to fail miserably at only to saved by Minatsuki before he really does threaten to come a cropper on account of that aforementioned anaemia after using his Branches of Sin too readily with Crow.  Still, at least Nagi is alive, well and perfectly sane.  Actually, it proves that perhaps there are times when it's better not to be sane in Deadman Wonderland....

Somehow, after so many daft goings-on in recent episodes it almost feels as though Deadman Wonderland has gotten everything out of its system (well, discounting getting drunk on liqueurs perhaps), which makes for a solid if overblown (as always) episode that worked okay without entering the realms of the spectacular.  The biggest problem for the series at this juncture looks set to be the fact that it's simply going to run out of episodes - with only one instalment left to go, it seems hard to envisage things being left in any state that could be called satisfactory when the series ends next week, leaving fans to play the "pray for a second season" game.  Certainly, it'll be interesting to see if there's sufficient interest in Japan for another season to get the green light - I imagine a lot will be relying on sales of those uncensored Blu-Rays...

Friday, 24 June 2011

Gosick - Episode 23

With Victorique under the control of the Ministry of the Occult and Kujo held hostage to ensure Victorique remains compliant to their wishes, could things get any worse?  Oh yeah, there's the outbreak of a world war on the horizon so yes, I suppose they could.

While it initially looks as though Saubreme has once again positioned itself to avoid any hostilities itself, de Blois and the Ministry of the Occult soon put paid to that by outing the architect of peace, Jupiter Roget, as a Grey Wolf himself to effectively remove him from power and destroy any confidence in him.

With this achieved, the Marquis is perfectly placed to have the King's ear, and soon persuades (or rather, blackmails) him into agreeing that war is the only way forward for the country, signing an agreement allying itself with Germany in the process.  Thus, de Blois continues to grow his power using Victorique's status as a supposed "Monstre Charmant", while Kujo finds himself forced into the army up north which needless to say isn't the most pleasant of sojourns.  With the Marquis promoted to President, he intends to use Victorique's reputation to further strengthen his hand... a decision which could well prove to be a fatal mistake.

After spending much of its episode pushing the pieces of its proverbial (and literal) chess board around into position in a slightly dull fashion that isn't quite as powerful as it perhaps should have been, it all proves to be worthwhile thanks to a quite literally explosive pay-off come the end of the instalment, turning things on their head multiple times in a volley of surprises and plot twists.  No, I'm still not sure why there are two Brian Roscoes (ohh, the doujinshi I can imagine coming from this...), so I'm hoping they at least resolve that in the final episode, but things are certainly set up for a compelling finale even if we did have to sit through some tedious stuff to get to those rip-roaring final few minutes.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 11 (Completed)

Their firework may have been launched as the culmination of a lot of hard work and tears, but come the end of it all Menma is still well and truly with us - what next to get rid of her... err, I mean, what next to help her pass on?

Although fulfilling Menma's wish of making a firework at least had the side-effect of reconciling her family, there's clearly still more work to be done, and this comes to a head that very same night when Yukiatsu calls out the rest of the gang for a late night meeting to discuss what to do next.  As those present delve a little deeper into why this particular piece of wish fulfilment didn't have its desired effect, the truth begins to seep out about the selfishness of those involved as they worked to help Menma primarily for their own ends - indeed, even Poppo has his own reasons that he finally reveals, although to be honest that particular side revelation isn't really explored as much as it perhaps should have been.

While all of this is going on, what the group don't realise is that Menma is disappearing - thus, by the time everyone decides that they need to make peace with her properly it's almost too late, resulting in a race against time as Jinta tries to get Menma to the gang's secret base before she vanishes entirely.  By the time he arrives Menma is still present but even Jinta can't see her, leading to a painful night of Menma keeping up the pretence of playing hide and seek while she crafts her own proper goodbyes to her friends and leading into a heart-rending and poignant finale for all involved.

After expressing my frustration with this series on more than one occasion, I have to step up and say that this was a fantastic finale, which managed to turn a lot of its negatives from prior episodes on its head (namely the selfish nature of all the characters bar Menma) before drawing every single ounce of emotion to create a powerful ending to the story that was a mixture of cruel disappointment and beautiful closure for all involved.  Perhaps its final little slither of genius was turning this climax into a line in the sand for all the remaining characters to "grow up", which goes some way to washing away their frustrating and occasionally downright stupid behaviour throughout the rest of the series.

Ultimately then, this final episode to Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai has somehow managed to allow the series as a whole to equate more than the sum of its parts - for much of the series it seemed Hell-bent on blowing its big moments of drama and importance, and even in this final instalment it throws out important moments as though they were nothing, but come the end of it all it rose above all of that to create a hugely emotional tale that managed to pull on my heart strings significantly harder than I expected it to be capable of.  If that isn't the sign of a good drama, then I don't know what is.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 10

Mikuni may have deflected the onrushing "C" from taking too big a hit on Japan in the previous episode, but at what cost to the future of the country and those within it?  More pertinently, the threat of this financial tidal wave isn't even over yet after all...

We join this tenth episode of the series as North America sets itself up to deal with the current crisis - something that it does easily with its power and wealth, but with little concern for the rest of the outside world.  Thus, their reaction only serves to hit other currencies hard, effectively turning the "C" back on itself and moving it towards Japan once again - a move which sees Mikuni headed straight for the Midas Money printing press once again, Japan's future be damned.

The prospect of seeing the country's future damaged and destroyed further spurs Satou and Kimimaro into action, with seemingly only one possibility before them to turn things around - defeating Mikuni and taking his "Darkness" card which only he possesses, as this is the key to controlling the Financial District's money printing.  Obviously, this isn't exactly a simple task given Mikuni and the Starling Guild's power when it comes to Deals, and for that reason the duo hire Taketazaki to use his information network in an attempt to cause hyper-inflation to the Japanese Yen, in the hope that its intrinsic link to Midas Money will cause that currency's value to collapse as well and in turn strip Mikuni of much of his power.  While Kimimaro is tasked with taking on Horii, Satou saps with Mikuni himself - needless to say this is never likely to end well for all concerned, but does Kimimaro really have what it takes to win back Japan's future?

There's certainly no doubting that we really reach the crux of [C]'s matters in this episode - Kimimaro finally mans up and decides what he needs to do, even if it is for ultimately entirely selfish reasons related to his feelings towards Mashu.  Again, the allegorical side of the series to matters of real-life finance are both entertaining and thought-provoking as they strike against living, breathing concerns and problems - however, things seem to start tripping up as the episode progresses, culminating in what effectively feels like a deus ex machina with credit cards which cheapens the entire approach of Kimimaro and Satou with an "oh well, that plan failed, but you win anyway by some kind of arbitrary decision which doesn't make much sense" kind of ending which felt deeply unsatisfying, even if it does create the require battle for Japan's future to take up the final episode.  It's the kind of clumsy scripting which has plagued [C] throughout but feels far more readily apparent at the "business end" of the series, and it's really a shame to see it dissolving the intensity and importance of a fantastic concept.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 12

The nearing completion of their time leap machine, with the ability to transfer human memories back in time by up to forty-eighty hours with a little help from the Large Hadron Collider, should be a time of celebration for the Future Gadget Lab... in fact, it is a cause for celebration, except Okabe isn't exactly in the party mood.

Indeed, while life carries on as normal (well, as normal as it gets for this group), Okabe continues to fret about the recently received threats on his phone, to the point where he decides to take a step back when the time comes to test this new time leap machine, deciding instead that they should hand their work over to a relevant organisation rather than experiment using it themselves.

With Mayuri in particular exceptionally relieved by this, the group's time to celebrate seems to well and truly have come, although the festivities are tempered somewhat by Amane's appearance as she once again labels Makise a spy and suggests that she knows more about this fellow lab member's future actions and intentions than even Makise herself.  Still, after all this flashes over the fun continues, until things suddenly get decidedly weird - the trains in the area stop, as do both watches and other timing devices in Okabe's "laboratory".  This weirdness is nothing however compared to the appearance of a team of armed men just after Amane makes a panic-driven escape - a group seemingly controlled by a familiar face, and moreover a face who has little problem in bringing this instalment to a shocking conclusion.

Really, it's hard to know what to say after the climax to this episode - we knew something was coming, but I think it's fair to say that I wasn't quite expecting that.  Still, at last we've reached the "serious business" stage of Steins;Gate, and as enjoyable as though Okabe and company's daft antics have been this is, ultimately, what we're here to see.  I wouldn't even want to begin to second guess what's going to happen next (or even the relevance of Mayuri's opening monologue this week and whether it should be taken literally or simply as a dream), but I do want to see the next episode.  Now.  You cruel, cruel, wonderful cliff-hanger making bastards, you.

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 11

As Kanako's long, hellish summer of extra lessons drags through the summer, the monotony of all this additional instruction is broken as she receives a visitor to Ame no Kisake - her younger sister, Miki.

Needless to say Miki couldn't be much more different than Kanako, proving to be a far smarter and more reserved girl than her older sister - she also seems to have more in common with Mariya, proving to be more than a little devious and cruel as she dishes out a copy of Kanako's elementary school graduation essay for Mariya to read and enjoy, causing her sister more than a little mental anguish in the process.

Anyhow, it's this relationship between Miki and Mariya that comes to the fore as the episode progresses, as we learn how the former met the latter long before this visit to Ame no Kisaki, and how this admiration has grown and blossomed into something far greater than just that over the years.  Of course, the realisation that Miki has fallen for Mariya fills Kanako with despair, and thus before she knows it she's blurted out the biggest secret of the bunch - the truth about Kariya's gender; not a smart move when said individual is stood right behind you.  After managed to ruin any chance of brushing her comments off as a joke, it seems that Miki is phased not one jot by the fact that Mariya is a boy, and come the end of the episode she vows to return as a student in the future.

With as much of a focus on plot and character development courtesy of Miki's arrival as Maria†Holic was ever likely to muster, this episode was somewhat limited in its opportunities for humour as a result, only getting one big laugh from me courtesy of Kanako's elementary school dream of being a "copy rider".  That aside, there were a few amusing moments and the episode as a whole was reasonably entertaining, but not really anything that can be termed a "classic" within the series.  With only one episode to go and nothing particularly tying it down in terms of story, hopefully this fun little series manages to go out with a bang rather than a whimper.

Monday, 20 June 2011

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 11

As its final story arc proper comes to an end, things aren't looking great for student teacher Nagase as she continues to fall into the same old problem which inflicted her youth, seeing her early exuberance turn into a tiring and forceful affair in the eyes of the students.  Still, at least she has a ticket to a nearby pro-wrestling show to cheer her up.

Indeed, cheer her up it does to some degree, despite the fact that Katsuragi has (of course) conspired to use this as an opportunity to further his own agenda and conquest by ensuring that he "double books" (or rather, creates a duplicate ticket for) Nagase's seat, forcing her to sit right next to him throughout before he delivers his killer blow as she admonishes him for not listening to her attempts to drag him away from the world of games.

Even Keima's harsh words aren't enough to change Nagase from her path however, as she then goes on to sign up the entire class in her charge to run a marathon as a "bonding exercise" - a decision guaranteed to push her students over the edge, as it inevitable does.  It's here that Keima pulls a complete one-eighty by allying himself with Nagase instead and assuring her that she is on the right path and that she should continue to do with what she thinks is right, while also manoeuvring the students into a place where they start to sympathise with her.  The only question which remains is whether this is sufficient to have Nagase fall for Keima... well, I'm sure you can guess the answer to that part.

After such a promising start to this particular story arc, The World God Only Knows has again falling into its old ways of Keima manipulating everybody around him to get his way while even contradicting himself to push Nagase in the right direction - something which continues to make me feel a little uncomfortable somehow as he works his "magic" by fooling girls into falling for him.  Yes, I know it's the point of the entire show and its core concept, but given that this arc started in such a different way with hunter effectively becoming hunted, I just expected a little bit more than a return to the norm within the very same arc.  It isn't a complete disappointment, but it leaves me with the feeling that this particular section of the series could have brought so much more to its proverbial table.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 12

While it's fair to say that Ohana's return visit to Tokyo hasn't exactly gone swimmingly so far, she does at least find herself in safe and familiar company as this episode begins, courtesy of Tohru and Minko's arrival to pick her up.

Of course, the primary mission of Ohana's visit in her eyes was to persuade her mother to rethink her article about Kissuiso, and given her refusal to either rewrite the review or visit the inn for herself, there's clearly only one logical course of action left - to kidnap Ohana's mother.  Needless to say, Minchi and Tohru aren't exactly sold on the idea, but it seems that the latter is more interested in playing cupid as he suggests that he'll only go along with the plan if Ohana brings Koichi along too.

So, while Minko and Tohru go to check out Tokyo's food scene rather too aggressively for the former's liking (indeed, it seems like quite the nightmarish first date), Ohana makes a beeline for Ko - except he isn't answering his phone, and a visit to his workplace only sees her admonished by Ko's co-worker and admirer.  By the end of all this, and when she does finally get hold of Ko, it seems that even Ohana has lost the will to "fest it up" as she wallows in her own self-pity and perceived selfishness.  However, it seems as though Ohana's trip isn't entirely wasted, as another visit to her mother's workplace (on Tohru's insistence) finds said mother ready and raring to visit Kissuiso after bagging a few days off work.  Mind you, that suggests there will be even more drama for Ohana to deal with next time around, not less.

As per last week's episode, I'm currently thoroughly enjoying Hanasaku Iroha's trip into human drama territory, as Ohana continues to blunder through life with a blend of genuine mixed-up teenage emotions and her larger than life personality.  Perhaps even more interest here is the dynamic between Ohana, Minko and Tohru - is Minchi's reading of Tohru's behaviour as worrying/caring about Ohana correct, or is she over-thinking his actions?  It makes for an interesting aspect to the series that looks likely to run and run, and I can already imagine the growing arguments when it comes to "shipping" Ohana or Minko with Tohru - personally, I've actually warmed to at least the plausibility of Tohru's interest in Ohana of late if nothing else so, as per the rest of the series, I'm very much interested in where it's all headed.

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 12

Come the end of last week's episode of Tiger & Bunny, Origami Cyclone seemed to be in rather a tight spot as the infiltrator of the recently released Jake Martinez's secret hideout, and this indeed proves to be the case as episode twelve kicks off.

Despite having been found out, his sterling efforts have at least revealed the home of said secret hideout, and while the powers that be wait for a further report from Cyclone (unaware of his current predicament), the other heroes are dispatched to the area on standby, while Barnaby is sent in to check out the layout of the area alone.  At least, that's the plan, except Wild Tiger doesn't trust his colleagues short temper when it comes to the man who killed his parents, and thus his meddling sees the heroes cover blown as Jake makes good his escape.

Then again, "escape" isn't really the right word, as Jake Martinez'snext target is too kill his imprisoned henchman Chuck before paying a little visit to the Mayor with his next demands - an opportunity to eradicate the heroes he sees as an embarrassment to the name "NEXT" via a series of one-on-one fights with Jake himself - all broadcast live on television to the whole of Stern Bild of course.  Given the seemingly all-encompassing nature of Jake's powers, it seems impossible that anyone can defeat him, with Sky High, Rock Bison and Wild Tiger all trying and failing.  Next on the list of opponents is Barnaby.... can he really be the man to save the city as the stakes are raised yet higher?

It might use ideas and concepts that feel decidedly old hat and like the cartoons of your youth at its core, but that doesn't stop Tiger & Bunny from being utterly compelling viewing at times like this as it ratchets things up for a tense mid-series climax.  This is helped somehow by the whole concept of everything of note within the series being broadcast live on TV, which adds more to the show's scenario than it perhaps should, adding to the natural tension of these one-on-one battles between heroes and the current villain of the piece.  It's great stuff with plenty of entertaining value, unoriginal or otherwise.

Nichijou - Episode 12

What's this?  Stop the presses!  Yuuko has actually remember to do her homework!  Except, of course, she's forgotten to actually bring it with her.  Cue more over-reactions to kick off Nichijou's twelfth episode post-credits, although at least it also brought one laugh-worthy moment with it.

From this point forth, we're treated to the usual blitz of quick skits and sketches - it takes a while before we reach anything broadly amusing however, and perhaps the most bizarre and blatantly rigged shooting game you'll ever find at a fair, complete with eggplants and caramel as its only prizes.  This well-paced and controlled sketch is followed by the nightmare not of losing your own wallet, but dropping somebody else's - a nightmare experienced by Mio, and duly hammered into the ground by (who else?) Yuuko's reaction face.

After a brief but uncomfortably reminiscent sketch showing what happens when ditzy customer meets ditzy assistant, the best visual gag of the episode comes via the Professor deciding to spend a day as Nano - an idea that quickly goes out of the window in the first instance when the difficulties of everyday life with a screw attached to your back quickly materialise.  A few sketches barely worth of mention later, we're done with another episode.

Now that we're almost touching the half-way point of Nichijou, it has to be said that the series finally, finally feels more comfortable in its own skin - that doesn't make it wall-to-wall funny by any degree (it remains very much a case of picking out diamonds from the rough), but it does feel better paced as a while so even jokes that fly over your head or leave you stony-faced like Yuuko with a missing wallet tend to fly by relatively quickly to try and amuse you with something else.  That better pacing also tends to make the funnier moments more genuinely funny, as they aren't over-used... with the exception of all those reaction shots and exclamations of course, which remains the bête noire of this show's comedy for me at this juncture.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 10

Deadman Wonderland's last episode saw Scar Chain's plans thrown first into disarray and then tatters, as Rokuro revealed his deception, Nagi had a decidedly uncomfortable meeting with an Undertaker and Shiro had to save the day once again by throwing away the so-called data chip that was in fact nothing more than a time bomb.

The trouble is, nobody involved in that particular event seems to know this... certainly, Scar Chain's members seem too dumb to realise that a USB key that causes a massive explosion might not be a USB key at all, and so the blame falls squarely on Shiro's shoulders for "ruining everything" - so much so that Ganta contracts temporary Kamijou Touma disease and punches her squarely in the face as they have a rather major falling out.

Still, despite this failure (and Ganta's incessant whining), a decent chunk of Scar Chain's members are still alive and kicking - not least Karako, who inexplicably survived a fall to her death, while Nagi is still in the land of the living but serving as a "guest" to the Undertakers who want him to join their group.  This is something they're willing to go to any lengths to succeed at, as they drug Nagi while Rokuro and some more rather grisly Undertakers set out to take Scar Chain members hostage and systematically kill them until Nagi submits to their request.  This side of the plan, however, doesn't quite go to plan, as Crow takes on Shiro's "saviour of the week" mantle to pop up and kill the Undertakers in question, demonstrating a nifty new ability (which makes no real sense, but hey ho) in the process.  Still, at least Shiro has herself a new friend, albeit (surprise, surprise) another hugely mentally unstable one.

Whilst there are quite a few items of interest "in flight" as we move towards the final episodes of Deadman Wonderland, any sense of intrigue has rather been tempered by the ridiculous nature of so much of what we see now - both characters and situations are overblown to the point of near parody, becoming either ridiculous (Rokuro's behaviour this episode) or plain stupid (the abandoned baby turned monster Undertaker).  You know you aren't really supposed to be laughing at this series most of the time, but you just can't help it - to be fair, Deadman Wonderland is still fun to watch, just perhaps not in the way it intends to be fun to watch I would wager.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Gosick - Episode 22

It's Christmas time!  Okay, well it isn't actually Christmas time obviously, but it is in the world of Gosick as of episode twenty-two, so bear with me here.

Of course, this particular time of year means celebrations and silliness aplenty, both of which are on show at the academy with a Christmas party in full swing and all and sundry dressed up in various costumes.... except for Kujo that is, upon whom these customs are somewhat lost.  Thankfully, Cecile has a spare rabbit costume on hand, which leads to a recounting of an old folk tale about a creature known as Monstre Charmant and its rabbit protector - a story which is a very obvious match to Kujo and Victorique's relationship and situation.

If all of this sounds like filler, then think again, as dark forces are at work in the background here as the world slides ever closer to war.  For Kujo, this means that he finds himself marched away by "men in black" as all foreigners in the country are slated to be sent home - something which Kujo doesn't want to do for obvious reasons, meaning that he manages to clip away from his captors at an opportune moment so that he can find his way back to Victorique.  To do this, he employs the help of Grevil - little does he know however that in doing so he's just become a hostage for the Ministry of the Occult to ensure that the otherwise stubborn Victorique does their bidding.

It's been foreshadowed throughout much of the series (quite clumsily in the case of the prophecy that has been replayed over and over), but at last we reach Gosick's big finale... and it looks decidedly promising.  From a beginning that felt a little like "Christmas special" filler, we ended up getting down to the heart of the matter - what seem to be the dual destinies of Kujo and Victorique, and an absolutely heart-rending finale to this instalment that puts its weight on everything that the show has built up in terms of the relationship between the two main characters from the very start.  It's a smart move too, as it works excellently on a deep, emotional level that the series has sometimes forgotten to mine - on this occasion however, I'm left with what has actually been quite a rare feeling for this show - a desperate desire to see what happens next.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 10

With the mission to create some impressive fireworks for Menma now reaching their close, it seems as if it's finally time for the living Super Peace Busters to say goodbye to their ghostly friend.

Thus, the night before the fireworks launch gives the group a chance to get together, say goodbye and generally celebrate.  At least, that's the plan, but as has been the case for much of this series other issues get in the way of anyone threatening to have a good time.  In this case, Yukiatsu is the mastermind of melodrama (yes, again), forcing everyone to recreate that fateful day that is credited as eventually leading to Menma's death.  This time however, Jinta doesn't dodge the question of whether he likes Menma and truthfully answers that he does, while Poppo prevents him from running away from his actions to boot.  So, we're left with one happy Menma, and an outpouring of misery from, primarily, Anaru, together with Tsurumi as she pours out her feelings for Yukiatsu to her fellow sufferer.

Having confessed his feelings however, Jinta's over-riding problem is that he no longer wants Menma to go to heaven - even if nobody else can see her, he wants to stick by her side, and seems at a loss to understand why she still wants to "pass on" despite his professing his love.  As the day of the firework launch arrives, we find a group not banding together for the good of Menma, but rather five individuals each with their own agendas - Jinta wants to stop Menma from disappearing, Yukiatsu wants to see Menma taken from him, while Anaru and Tsurumi both see her departure as the only way of getting what they want.  It's arguably only Poppo who has any genuinely good motive in his heart - but is this event really goodbye for Menma?

As penultimate episodes go, this was a polished, well timed and slickly delivered instalment that had a fair amount to cover and managed it all decently, right the way through to the "will she, won't she" question of Menma's disappearance at the end of it all.  Leading into the final episode, there's only one thing I can say for sure - I no longer like any of the characters in this show.  I'm sure it's kind of the point, but this episode proved without any doubt that here we have a bunch of teenagers who care only for their own feelings and desires without giving a second thought to how those around them feel.  As social commentary, it's really pretty depressing, and even Poppo (the arguable saint of the piece) succumbs to peer pressure at one point in ratcheting up the pressure on Jinta.  Still, I can't help but respect the series as being a visually impressive and suitably dramatic affair, and that has to be worth something regardless of my personal feelings for those embroiled within it.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 10

Who knew playing baseball whilst wearing a space suit would be so difficult?  Well, I suppose we all did really, but that doesn't seem to stop the esper-cum-alien who appeared for Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko's second city versus shopping district baseball game from doing just that.

Despite this handicap, Makoto finds himself on the losing team once again, but more importantly said esper continues to take more than a passing interest in Erio despite her reformed ways as an alien herself - thus, it's left up to Makoto to chase this particular problem away, only to find it returning that evening as Makoto and Erio look set to do a little star-gazing.

Still, the ensuing conflict of futon versus space suit at least reveals first the face, and then the name, of our esper - Yashiro Hoshimiya, a decidedly rude yet determined young girl.  Eventually, Yashiro seems to depart the scene, leaving Makoto to enjoy a telephone conversation with Ryuuko as she informs him of her forthcoming baseball game, and possibly a "date" at the forthcoming festival were he to cheer her on to victory.  Come the next morning however, it seems that getting rid of Hoshimiya wasn't as easy as it first seemed, with Meme inviting her in for breakfast before leaving Makoto to take this rumoured runaway to what she calls "home", albeit via a diversion to a local pool and a suggestion that there is perhaps something to Yashiro's claims of special powers after all...

Never mind the vagaries of its plot, watching Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko has always been about having a fun time and enjoying its characters, and this episode to me personifies that sense of what the series is all about - Makoto continues to be a sharp and witty male lead who has a handle of pretty much everything around him (aside from Meme perhaps), while on this occasion his phone conversation with Ryuuko felt wonderfully natural and believable from beginning to end.  Hoshimiya's introduction potentially adds another angle to proceedings, although it remains to be seen exactly how she fits into things as we move towards our final two episodes with a feeling that nothing much is going to get resolved before the show finished.  Luckily, I don't really mind too much at all as long as though remaining instalments are equally entertaining and outright fun.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 9

The South-East Asian Financial District is about to collapse, wiping out the likes of Singapore with it, and there isn't a single thing anybody can do it about it.  However, what is still possible is the opportunity of minimising the effects of this collapse upon other Financial Districts, and so Mikuni and the rest of his Starling Guild look to save Japan from the worst of the "C" that is rapidly heading their way.

The trouble is, minimising any effect of this collapse on present day Japan is an expensive business, and the only way to fund it to any useful degree is with a significant amount of collateral - in this case, the country's future, which Mikuni readily sacrifices to avoid any huge effects on his homeland in the here and now.  While this action saves Japan from a disastrous crisis, it also has huge ramifications of its own as the debt Mikuni has created is settled, quite literally robbing the country of its children and thus its "future", while even the likes of Hanabi seem to be on the brink of being snatched away as part of this repayment.

Away from all of this, Kimimaro is initially focused on more personal matters, as he frets about Hanabi and perhaps more importantly learns about the likeness between his father's Asset and his own Mashu - a resemblance which suggests that they both held decidedly similar futures.  Still, such concerns become almost secondary in the light of what's happening to Japan, which leads to Kimimaro joining forces with Satou in a bid to "take back the country's lost future", again prompted questions of whether the present or the future is more important, not least from Mashu herself.

After rather a damp squib of an episode last week, this was a definite improvement - okay, it had some ropey English ("I've heard of it" followed by "nobody has ever heard of it" from the same character in subsequent lines) and the impact of "C" wasn't exactly a visual or emotional tour de force, but the question of present versus future remains a fascinating one that is being tackled from both personal and political angles and the series has finally reached a point where it can ram these two ideologies against one another at full force for the remaining pair of episodes.  It's still frustrating that Kimimaro isn't the strong lead character the series could have done with, and the lack of visual polish is disappointing in the extreme, but at least [C] has the possibility of a strong finish to paper over some of its cracks.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Summer 2011 anime preview

With the summer anime season fast approaching, as per usual I've locked myself in a dark room for a day or so to produce a new season preview article for UK Anime - always an interesting prospect that leaves me picking up more new series for the forthcoming season than I'd initially planned.  Anyhow, for trailers, images and discussion of all these new shows, make sure you check it out!

What are you guys and girls looking forward to this coming anime season?

Shiki - Episode 20.5

If we're honest, Shiki isn't the kind of series that really needed any bonus episodes - its main story was delivered more than proficiently, and it certainly isn't the kind of show that has room for a slice of life spin-off it's fair to say.  Nonetheless, here we are with the first of two additional episodes, with this particular instalment slotting in between episodes twenty and twenty-one of the series proper.

This brings us to the point in the series where the townspeople are now all too aware of the threat of the Risen, and thus are slap-bang in the middle of exterminating them all one by one.  More specifically, this episode tackles this cat and mouse pursuit from two angles - that of Nao Yasumori on the side of the Shiki, and from the viewpoint of café owner Hasegawa on behalf of the living.  While the opening to the episode flashes back to see the former chatting merrily to the latter whilst drinking coffee, we soon move back to the present to find Nao and her group of Shiki cornered in a series of underground drains beneath the village.

From this point forth, the episode brings you everything you might expect from the latter segment of this series, as we see the initially wary villagers sent to flush out the Risen in the tunnels gain first confidence, followed by a blasé attitude towards those they have to drive stakes into the heart of to the point where some of them actually begin to enjoy this opportunity to settle old scores and the like.  On the flip side of this, the initially frightened Shiki have no choice but to attack their pursuers as they find themselves cornered, before even this fails and Nao in particular is left as little more than sobbing wreck of regret and sorrow, although even this isn't enough to overtake her simple, overbearing will to live.

Having come into this episode cold after six months without watching or even really thinking about this series, the full horror of Shiki and what it depicts hit me... hard.  As it progresses and its violence more bloody, brutal and eventually tortuous so I found myself more and more emotionally affected and disturbed by it - and not just by the horrific scenario, but also by the fact that the reactions of the characters we see here feel so believable.  I never really noted it while watching the series proper, but this particular episode really struck me on account of how I could genuinely imagine this kind of scenario playing out in a given set of circumstances, where even former friends could take enjoyment from seeing one another killed in the name of being different.  As is also par for the course from Shiki's later episodes, there are also plenty of moral questions to ponder here, most pertinently surroudning Hasegawa - yes, he perhaps respectably in comparison to his comrades, but does his unwillingness to see the Risen suffer mean anything when he quietly lets those around him commit atrocities without a word?  It's food for thought, but for the unprepared by warned - it's a tough chunk to swallow.

Steins;Gate - Episode 11

Despite all of the accumulated confusion for Okabe in the light of the various world-shifting changes caused by the various D-mails sent by the Future Gadget Lab, he and his group continue with their experiments apace.

With a 42" CRT television in the workshop downstairs identified rather bizarrely as the "lifter" for the Microwave TIme Machine, Makise starts to put her next theory together - that rather than looking into sending an entire human being back in time, they should instead look at sending a person's memories back in time in the same way as data within a D-mail as their next experiment.

Given that neuroscience is Makise's speciality, the data transfer part of her theory shouldn't prove too difficult at all, and it's left to Okabe to go out and procure the necessary components to do this.  During this shopping trip, our wannabe mad scientist has some interesting encounters - first with Moeka, who seems to have been hoping that the lab's experiments had stopped, followed by Amane, who suggest that Makise is working for CERN; a suggestion laughed off by Okabe in light of Makise's inability to keep even the simplest things secret.

So, the group appear all set to attempt this so-called "Time Leap" using somebody's memories, while Makise seems to have at least somewhat shelved the issues she discusses with Okabe about her father - however, are they now treading a little too close to the line between enthusiastic amateurs and a group about to enter an almighty conspiracy?  With concerns that CERN are watching and threats appearing on Okabe's phone, things really do look set to get interesting now...

For all of its nonsensical constructs centred around time travel using a microwave and a CRT television, it feels like that slow build up to Steins;Gate is really ready to pay off big time - while this episode had plenty of fun and amusing moments to go around, it now also feels well-placed to explode something big in the next episode or two as we move towards the half-way point of the series, which looks likely to move us on to the "next level" from the hugely entertaining but occasionally plot progression light episodes we've been used to.  I, for one, can't wait to see where all this is headed.

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 10

Being given a gift by Matsurika is such a rare moment that it's one that should probably be treasured for the rest of your life, particularly if your name is Kanako and you're more used to being mercilessly insulted by her.  Thus, our protagonist is more than a little thrilled to receive a rosary as a gift from her friend... except, of course, it turns out to be a cursed rosary from Matsurika's father.

Before she knows it, Kanako is having nightmares about a little girl and simply not getting any sleep at all, while her friends don't believe a word of it - not that they're willing to take on the rosary in question for themselves.  After numerous nights of nightmares (and thus lost sleep for Maria), Father Kanae is called upon to resolve the issue, although his rather dubious efforts to help Kanae get to sleep (I'll never think of a capybara in the same way again) leave Maria with no choice but to simply gift him the cursed rosary herself to move it on to a new recipient.

Having been rid of her curse, Kanako finds herself with a hole in her heart and no way to fill it... a cursed, adorable little girl shaped hole, no less.  Cue a search for other cursed items that might allow her to have "nightmares" more befitting her proclivities, and equally cue Matsurika who offers up items that allow Kanako to dream about tsunderes on aeroplanes and the like in easily the most hilarious series of sketches from this season so far.

When this doesn't fill Kanako's needs, she instead turns to Father Kanae in an attempt to get her cursed rosary back, except he doesn't much fancy losing the adorable little girl in his nightmares either.  With this impasse reached, it's up to the real owner of the rosary to step forward and resolve the issue - no prizes for guessing who that is.  Thus, we close the episode with any such curses resolved, and a chance for Kanako to obsess over the napes of girls necks (which I can kind of understand) as they head out, complete with yukatas, for a festival at the school.

Although its second half wasn't quite as stellar, the first two segments of this week's Maria†Holic Alive wrung laughs aplenty out of me, with some great comic timing and the kind of random humour that just works, reaching the pinnacle of Kanako's airborne dream which absolutely slayed me.  Although this series can't always keep up this level of comedy, I'm certainly going to miss it when it ends in a couple of weeks, particularly given thatv it's been my sole go-to series of note for anime comedy this spring.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The World God Only Knows Season 2 - Episode 10

The introduction of student teacher Jun Nagase has certainly thrown a cat amongst the pigeons for Katsuragi - as if "conquering" a teacher (even a student one) isn't a tough enough task, Keima now finds himself almost serving as the hunted rather than the hunter as Nagase tries to cure him of his constant gaming ways.

With this in mind, Katsuragi decides that there's only one thing for it - to try and piss off Nagase as much as possible with his behaviour; not just rebuffing her attempts to help him, but being a complete pain in the backside into the bargain.  However, not only do most of these attempts backfire on him, but Nagase also seems completely unaffected - indeed, before he knows it Keima is the one who ends up getting angry while Nagase is confused at best.

As he's making no progress, Keima decides that the only way forward from here is to conquer this "route" the old-fashioned way, but to his mind the only way he can do this quickly is to ally himself with someone in a position of greater power than Nagase herself - in this case, Keima's actual teacher Miss Nikaido.  Of course, even this proves to be more than Katsuragi bargained for, as Nikaido is no normal teacher, and he ends up learning nothing about his target.  Ironically, this should have been the moment that he was carefully watching Nagase instead, as her overly passionate attitude begins to show its deep-seated and painful cracks.

Having thoroughly enjoyed the opening to this story arc as it somehow felt a little fresh and different, it feels a little as though this instalment allowed the arc to slip into more traditional territory as it went on - come the end of the episode, we seem to be back to the usual story of troubled girl who Keima needs to rescue, which is far less interesting than Nagase's aggressive push to understand and help Katsuragi in the first place.  Still, that might not necessarily be a bad thing if the series manages to finish up this particular "conquest" strongly, and who knows, maybe there's still room for its remainder to revert to playing its dance of characters against type again?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 11

With the Ouroboros revealed via a particularly dastardly plan which literally threatens to collapse Stern Build in upon itself (the designer of which clearly never played Sim City), our batch of superheroes have been stitched up like kippers, unable to do anything with the entire city taken hostage with the leader of the group demanding that the killer of Barnaby's parents (amongst others no doubt) Jake Martinez be released.

So, what to do in this scenario?  After a lot of sitting around waiting, Blue Rose and Sky High at least get to head out and try and protect the citizens as Ouroboros destroy the first structure that holds up the city, whilst an increasingly frustrated Barnaby can do nothing more than impatiently watch.  However, things take a turn for the better as a member of Ouroboros waltzes into the mayor's meeting room to try and hurry things along - at last, our superheroes have a plan...

At the centre of their attempt to turn the situation in their favour is Origami Cyclone, who at last gets to make good use of his abilities to impersonate the captured Ouroboros member, piloting the helicopter which picks up Jake Martinez as the mayor announces his release.  From here, they fly back to their secret base while the mayor looks to regain the support of the people by announcing the full story of Barnaby's plight to the city.  Although Martinez's release hasn't seen the armoured units ready to destroy the city at will retreat just yet, it seems as though the powers of good for Stern Build have the upper hand.... or do they?

After setting up its stall in a reasonable but slightly unsatisfactory way last week, Tiger & Bunny certainly made the most of its setup this time around, meshing Barnaby's personal grudge into the city's wider worries very nicely in a surprising twist, while there's a huge amount still left to be revealed about both Ouroboros and Jake Martinez before what will surely be some kind of showdown between himself and our titular Mr. Bunny.  In short, we're all set up for a rip-roaring climax to the first half of the series.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 11

It's the moment of truth for Kissuiso as episode eleven of Hanasaku Iroha begins - exactly how did they fare in the review of their establishment as it's finally published in the magazine in question?  The answer is that they scored a whopping five stars.  Out of ten.  Oh.

Needless to say, Kissuiso's staff are rather unhappy at this scoring, in particular the way the hotel was referred to as being beyond retro and with criticism of their bland food.  Still, it seems that they weren't the only inn to suffer, with all of the other hotels in the area also receiving low scores and largely critical reviews.  While most of the staff and establishments look to just "suck it up" and learn from the experience, Ohana simply won't accept what she sees as unjust criticism, and heads off on a "holiday" to confront the writer of the review directly.

Upon arriving in Tokyo however, it soon becomes clear that the writer of the article is none other than her own mother, writting without even visiting Kissuiso.  Of course, this makes Ohana even more furious, as she confronts her errant parent and demands that she re-write the review after actually visiting Kissuiso properly; something that her mother refuses to do even in the face of a one-girl sit-down protest outside her offices.  If this isn't bad enough for Ohana, her decision to catch up with Ko also backfires as she visits him at his new job at a book store only to see him being clung to by a girl he works with who is interested in him - although it seems to be a case of unrequited love, Ohana's confused emotions meld into a big, fat mess - a good job then that Minko and Tohru just happen to be on-hand to pick up the pieces.

I remember writing a fair few weeks back about how Ohana in particular somehow manages to perfectly straddle the line between a slightly ditzy, spontaneous and offbeat girl while still somehow also succeeding as an utterly believable portrayal of a teenager, and for me this episode shows off that ability fully.  This instalment of Hanasaku Iroha succeeds in throwing all of Ohana's confused feelings about love, work, parenthood and life in general into a big, tumultuous melting pot, leaving the poor girl in tears that she can neither comprehend nor explain.  If that isn't being a teenager at times to a tee, I don't know what is, and its arch and excellent portrayal that shifts from the hilarious to the surprisingly moving proves to be another notable feather in this great show's proverbial cap.

Nichijou - Episode 11

It's Nichijou time again, and whaddya know, this week's instalment is book-ended by Yuuko finding herself in a tricky situation as she recovers from a cold and a few days off school just in time to take some tests she knows nothing about.

Of course, there's only one thing for it in this kind of situation - write some poems... wait, no, I mean try to bring back your receding cold by immersing yourself in icy water and sleeping with the air con turned down.  As none of this works, Yuuko's final attempt at getting the day off is perhaps the episode's best gag, as she tries to use a match against the thermometer to feign a high temperature, with obvious results.  Come test day, things aren't much better, mostly courtesy of her teacher's bizarre illustrations.

Away from Yuuko, we get a taste of the wealth of the school soccer club's president, follow a grandfather who is having a decidedly tough time, and of course we drop in on the Professor and Sakamoto as the former decides it would be fun to make some super glue ("It's huge." "Because it's super.") - the rest of that sketch writes itself, making possibly the best pay-off its oozing (almost literally) into the next scene featuring these characters.

Once again, this is a hit and miss episode of Nichijou, featuring some pretty long periods that struggled to find any particularly rich veins of humour, punctuated by a few genuinely good laughs that felt entirely more organic in their creation and delivery from the efforts around them.  As per usual, this really comes down to the series simply trying too hard to be wacky, whether it's via those huge over-reactions or its overall sense of randomness - still, the few laughs this instalment did grant me at least felt like some kind of pay-off for watching.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Deadman Wonderland - Episode 9

Nagi's plan started to swing into action in the previous episode, but Deadman Wonderland's ninth instalment brings us to crunch time in Scar Chain's attempts to escape the prison with a data chip believed to hold all of the evidence they need to prove that the establishment is corrupt to the core.

Things were already getting off to a decidedly tricky start thanks to the small matter of robots that fire acid at people - a predicament that (after a brief and pointless flashback) leaves Karako splitting off from the rest of the group to keep said robots at bay no matter what.  With the rest of the group carrying on thanks to this, attention then switches to Nagi and Rokuro as they set about controlling the freight elevator needed to take their comrades to the surface... least that's the plan, except of course Rokuro is not as fervently on the side of Scar Chain as he seems; something which becomes clear as he refuses to trip the elevator's switch as Nagi becomes embroiled in an intense scrap with the diminutive and polite little Undertaker known as Daida Hibana, a young girl with a penchant for lopping people's flesh from their bodies bit by bit as punishment.  Somehow, Nagi manages to best this Undertaker, albeit as a considerable cost, only to send his colleagues into dire straits.  Come the end of this instalment the death toll is decidedly hefty, and even the data chip left in the care of Ganta proves to be nothing more than a booby trap itself - it seems that it's game over for our slightly whiny hero, for now at least, although thanks to Shiro he lives to fight another day once again.

If nothing else, at least Deadman Wonderland seems to know what it wants to do now - that being to throw as much outrageously over-the-top violence, torture, blood and guts at the screen as possible, most other plot elements be damned.  I can't really fault it for doing this in a sense, and it certainly reminds me of the good (or is that bad?) old days when virtually all the anime released in the UK was on account of its blood and boobs.  The trouble is that I want Deadman Wonderland to do more than just play the "see how debased and violent we can be" game - it has the plot elements and premise to do it, but too often it falls into the trap of being dumb so that it can shoehorn in more people being attacked with acid or flame-throwers, seemingly ignoring the fact that it can be both violent and smart if it were just to try a little harder.  I certainly can't knock this show as a slice of mindless, crazy fun, but that's really all it can boast at present.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Gosick - Episode 21

Although she now has some freedom to roam in her investigation, the pressure is still on for Victorique as the expectations upon her to prove her worth as a Grey Wolf remain very much at the fore, with the Marquis expecting a solution to the Coco Rose murder case in short order.

Thanks to Kujo's help, another piece of the puzzle is now in place, and as episode twenty-one begins that element is explore further as the grave of Nicole Lulu is exhumed to reveal a perfectly preserved but headless corpse... a corpse complete with a locket, within which is a trump card that Victorique hides away for her own ends later on.

After this, it's off to the theatre for a performance of The Blue Rose of Saubreme... although I say theatre it seemed more like a pantomime given the amount of shouting from the audience, I was almost waiting for someone to yell "he's behind you" at some point.  Anyway, I digress - as the performance goes on, so Victorique adds the fruits of her own labours to the story that unfolds before them, explaining that Coco Rose's death in fact occurred over a decade before it was officially registered as having taken place, with a lookalike (Nicole, of course) taking the queen's place for that duration.  However, Victorique claims that she can't identify the murderer of Coco Rose, for reasons we only learn at the end of the episode, while a meeting with a fellow Grey Wolf in the form of Science Academy head Jupiter Roget reveals some further revelations about the life and so-called death of Coco Rose.

Overall, this made for a smart and satisfying end to this story arc, although I'm still not quite sure why the Marquis let Victorique off without actually naming a killer for Coco Rose so easily, while I feel a bit unsure as to just what Jupiter Roget's importance is in the grand scheme of things (although I get the feel that part is just me being a bit dim).  Still, those minor loose ends aside this felt more like a proper piece of murder-mystery storytelling, and it's for that reason that I enjoyed it more than some previous arcs that have been in too much of a hurry to spout the solutions to their mysteries without giving the audience a chance to think of themselves.  Now the big question is exactly how the series plans to end, and with something a little filler-esque seemingly filling next week's instalment it looks as though it'll only have a couple of episodes to really sink its teeth into whatever kind of finale it has in store for us.

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai - Episode 9

After all of those weeks of Jinta's old friends thinking he was either a. nuts or b. attention-seeking, the climax to last week's Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai finally proved that he was neither and that Menma's "ghost" really does exist - "about bloody time too" was my response, and I know I wasn't the only one.

While the fact that Menma has now been revealed makes certain aspects of the relationship between the gang easier (even if seeing disembodied muffins floating around is creepier than you might imagine, it seems), deep down it only makes things worse if anything.  This is particularly true of Yukiatsu, who is even more enraged at the fact that Jinta is the only one who can see Menma to the point where he frequently loses his rag.  Anaru isn't really doing much better herself as she sees herself as unable to compete with Menma for Jinta's heart - a depressing fact that sees her seemingly edging a little closer in her relationship with Yukiatsu, which in turn puts Tsuruko's nose out of joint.  Even Poppo isn't immune to having regrets and worries about the fateful day when Menma died, even if he's better at hiding it beneath his jovial exterior than the rest.

Aside from these seemingly ever-worsening interactions between the gang, on the positive side some literal grovelling by Yukiatsu means that the "project" to create fireworks for Menma can finally go ahead at full tilt in the hope of fulfilling her final wish.  The trouble is, does Jinta even want this wish to be fulfilled any more?  At the moment it seems not, as he finds himself not wanting Menma to disappear, so accustomed has he become to her presence.

Having thrown my hands up in frustration as the conclusion to last week's instalment with a cry of "why didn't you do that weeks ago?!", this episode did at least try to answer that question even if it was only a ham-fisted effort at doing so - it's the thought that counts though, right?  Still, now everyone is on the same page and knows that Menma is real it finally feels as though we're actually getting somewhere, as we being to drill down to the core uncertainties and insecurities suffered by all of the characters, in turn allowing any resentment and worries to surface as a result.  What this means for the final couple of episodes is hard to read right now, but it feels like we're set up for something suitably dramatic regardless - let's just hope the series doesn't screw up any remaining pivotal moments it has up its sleeve this time.

Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko - Episode 9

The summer break is here for Makoto as Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko's ninth episode kicks off, which seems like the perfect time to build up adolescent points aplenty.

Certainly, he has no shortage of things to enjoy during the course of this episode, as he gets both Ryuuko and Maekawa's phone numbers, with the former asking him to cheer her on in any basketball games she plays for the school club during the break while the latter invites Makoto to come and play basketball with her local team while she dresses as a giant fish in the name of comedy.

Of course, we can't forget Meme and Erio in the midst of all this, with Makoto's aunt being as... well, "interesting"... as usual, while Erio spends her time on astronomy and stargazing until Makoto's talk of baseball leads to her plucking up the courage to play with the team herself.  This second game of baseball for Makoto proves to be rather an eventful one - not only for Erio's appearance, or even for Ryuuko to pop up and sulk about not being invited along, but more for the random appearance of a person in a spacesuit who joins in with the game until a stray hit from a ball struck by Erio leaves them cold.  Is this another oddball to add to our collection?  It certainly seems to be, so perhaps the bigger question is what they know about Erio...

In truth, we really can't pretend that this particular episode of Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko is all that much more than an excuse to watch cute girls doing cute things in a cute fashion - a label you can apply to the whole series in all honesty, but one that seems to stick that much more firmly on this occasion given the amount of borderline fan service it has to show for itself.  That aside however, Makoto's one-liners and interactions with those around him remain as entertaining as ever, as does the sheer randomness of a series that has a classmate dressing as a fish, a visit from a "spaceman", and a character called Hanazawa for entirely obvious reasons as soon as said character opens her mouth to speak.  It's daft, but it's pretty to look at and fun, and that's plenty for me to enjoy to the fullest on a Friday evening after a tough day in the office.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control - Episode 8

For all of the fruits members of the Financial District might have seen during the course of this series, episode eight of C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control delivers what is perhaps a much needed reminder of the fragility of such economic systems.

This fragility is demonstrated by the neighbouring South-East Asian Financial District, which sees its value begin to plummet - a state of affairs which has a deleterious effect on the real-world to boot, with the risk growing that an entire country might disappear were its associated Financial District to collapse.  With disaster looming, Mikuni and his Starling Guild look to save the stricken district; a mission which includes a marked shift in tactics as they go from taking a small profit from their Deals to working to make as much money as possible in the hope of effectively "bailing out" the South-East Asian region using the funds they gather.

Meanwhile, Kimimaro is continuing to have a far more personal struggle with the Financial District in more ways than one - unbeknown at this point to him, there are suggestions of a connection between Mashu and both his father and his family, while his more present concern is once again with his teacher Ebara, who is now suicidal in the wake of the disappearance of his children after his defeat to Kimimaro in a Deal.  Kimimaro is determined to find a way to make amends in the hope they will bring these missing children back, but to no avail as Ebara takes his life before he manages to find any way of doing so - in a world where people are simply disappearing without a trace to a greater and greater degree, this episode leaves Kimimaro distraught and burning his Midas money in the middle of the Financial District - a futile gesture against the massed wealth of the powers that be.

As seems to be my regular comment about this series to date, episode eight of [C] is a case of "great concepts, clumsily implemented".  The attempts to show the real world impact of the impending collapse of a Financial District should be powerful and shocking, harrowing even, but instead they feel confusing if anything and shorn of any power by the way they are depicted - even at the end of the episode when we see the Financial District itself fall it's tough to feel anything much for an area and individuals we know nothing off; of course, maybe that's partially the point but regardless it didn't really work for me.  Kimimaro's own journey also continues to feel wishy-washy, as he mooches from one decision to the next with no real path in sight, leaving him looking far from the interesting character he's supposed to be.

Given how red-hot and tantalising its concepts are, this episode should have been the pinnacle of some powerful and thought-provoking drama - instead, I'm left trying to pull the good ideas from the rubble of its poor execution and plot development.  It's a real shame, as the potential of the series to do something special is genuinely tangible.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 10

While sending D-mail to the past had only caused relatively small upsets to the world around Steins;Gate's Future Gadget Lab up until last week's instalment, Feyris' use of the system caused a seismic shift by effectively wiping Akiba off the map as a centre of otaku culture.

Although this change and everything that flows from it takes quite some time to sink in for Okabe, things eventually seem to settle down and return to normal... at least briefly, until Ruka unveils a bombshell (or rather, a lack of a bombshell I suppose you could say) of her own.  Despite Okarin's struggles to keep up with the changing time lines, you could say that this is rather a "lovey-dovey" episode - Mayrui reminisces about Okabe's childhood (which itself brings a suggestion that Okabe has been able to "feel" changes in time lines since he was a boy), and both Makise and Amane find themselves feeling warm and fuzzy about the friendly and light-hearted environment of the Future Gadget Lab.

It is however Amane that takes up a big chunk of this particular episode - although we don't learn perhaps everything that we would like to about her, we do find out why she's a "part-time warrior" and what she's waiting for, namely an opportunity to meet her errant father.  Touched by her story, Okabe suggests sending a D-mail to her father so that he never leaves his daughter in the first place, but as this plan falls flat so he ends up sending a D-mail to himself to ensure Amane doesn't leave the area without a word.  Never mind that though - is someone watching Okabe?  Besides, just who is Amane's father really?

If nothing else, Steins;Gate continues to have a riot with its time-altering aspects, finally turning Ruka into a girl to comical effect while thoroughly enjoying confusing the Hell out of Okabe at every turn - add in the amusing introduction of some other gadgets created in the lab, and you certainly have plenty of comedy entertainment on show.  Away from that however, the series continues to move slowly, mustering only the slightest hint of a threat to Okabe and his work in this episode while only revealing a few more bare basics about Amane's past without tackling the real question of her dislike for Makise.  While my heart is still loving Steins;Gate for amusing me so, my head feels ready to move on to deeper, more serious matters - perhaps the biggest question is whether this series plans to yield to the desires of my brain any time soon rather than toying with my heart.

Maria†Holic Alive - Episode 9

If you didn't expect Kanako's enforced punishment of an episode of silence to take effect this week then... well, you must be new to watching Maria†Holic I guess.  Although Kanako's voice may not be required however, she still has her part to play in the goings-on of this tenth episode.

On that note, this weeks instalment of Maria†Holic Alive sees a visit to Ame-no-Kisaki from a young, precocious and self-important ten year-old boy named Tota... a boy who also claims to be Ryuken Ishima's fiancé, a fact which (coupled with the suggestion that she is less than beautiful) doesn't go down too well with Kanako.

Unsurprisingly given his age, Tota's obsession with Ryuken (which turns out to be little more than a joke that he took too seriously) is matched or even surpassed by another passion of his - collecting stag beetles.  It's here that Kanako spots her opportunity to challenge this usurper, while also allowing Maria†Holic to carry on in its usual random fashion, this time with the addition of commentary from Rindo and God thanks to the lack of speech from Kanako.

Overall, this was one of those episodes that was almost too random to the point of distracting from some of the things that make watching the series fun, although this was made up for to some extent by some of its other diversions, not least Rindo and God's commentary on proceedings, while Tota also had some amusing lines of his own.  Still, things just aren't the same without Kanako opening her mouth and spewing forth stupidity, so I for one will be glad to see her regain her voice next week.