Sunday, 31 July 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 18

Although making the decision to quit as a hero before his powers dwindle and diminish entirely might have been simple enough for Kotetsu, I think we all knew that actually telling his felling heroes of his plans would be another matter altogether.

So it goes that Wild Tiger's problems are soon pushed into the shade by Barnaby's needs, as Kotetsu's return happens to coincide with Krieme coming out of the coma she had been in ever since the climax of the incident with Jake.  Needless to say, Barnaby is keen to find out more about the death of his parents, but as Krieme relates her tale of Stockholm Syndrome taken to an extreme with regards to her relationship with Jake a shocking revelation closes the conversation permanently - Jake wasn't the killer of Barnaby's parents after all.

While Barnaby refuses to believe this at first, as the evidence mounts that this is indeed the case (and you'd have thought he would have noticed this stuff sooner given all the investigating he'd been doing) so one of our pair of titular heroes is thrown into turmoil as his memories choose to have betrayed him.  So who did kill Barnaby's parents?  Once more than question looms large over the series, elbowing Kotetsu's needs out of the way in the process as his partner looks set to be overwhelmed by the same emotions that caused him so many problems in the first half of the series and then some.

While it was obvious that something was all set to overtake Barnaby's decision to quit, part of me wishes that it wasn't a return to the whole "who killed Barnaby's parents" argument - I was fully expecting something new to come to the fore, so the prospect of more "Bunny angst" doesn't particularly excite me, especially given his irrationality when it comes to both convincing himself that Jake was responsible for his parents death and his sudden descent into madness just because those memories are playing tricks on him.  It all feels a little forced to me at this point in the series, but hopefully Tiger & Bunny will prove me wrong and pull something decent out of things as they stand.  Goodness knows this show has proven me wrong enough times before...

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 18

In comparison to the rest of Hanasaku Iroha's main roster of characters, you could probably argue that Nako has been relatively underutilised in terms of examining or fleshing out her character.  Well, argue no more, for episode eighteen is very much a Nako-fest.

More precisely, this week's instalment introduces us to a very different Nako - the confident, outgoing girl who manages to keep her home impeccably organised as she marshals her siblings and even her parents while doing the cooking and so on and so forth.  This "home" Nako is quite simply a world aware from the girl we see at Kissuiso and elsewhere, and she knows it, comparing her situation to that of a mermaid on dry land when she's outside of the confines of her own house, and more to the point it's something that she wants to change.

This opportunity to come out of her shell has perhaps arrived alongside Kissuiso's pay day, as Nako finds herself granted a raise which she assumes must be an attempt to coax her into working harder.  With that in mind, she allows herself to be led along in some very un-Nako-esque directions - buying extravagant and sexy clothes, and even getting hit on by a bunch of almost admirably "unique" guys.  Still, all of this doesn't really assuage Nako's feelings of insecurity, and to be honest her attempt to go about her business as Kissuiso "acting normal" doesn't work much better.  The moral of the story?  An utterly cheesy "be yourself"; particularly when being yourself checks a handful of boxes in the moe database, I would wager.

Anyhow, slightly auspicious moral to the episode's story aside, this was one of those episodes that really boils down and distils Hanasaku Iroha into the reason why I enjoy the series so much - the dynamic between all of the major characters were played off against one another perfectly, and alongside that there were plenty of fantastic moments of humour no matter how larger than life some of them were.  I'm not even particularly fussed about Nako as a character, but she was certainly given a suitably warm treatment here to leave you cheering her on and (in my case at least) empathising with her curse of a lack of confidence.  Overall then, a hugely entertaining episode to put the slightly damp squib that was this show's previous story arc out of both sight and mind.

Nichijou - Episode 18

After her coffee shop embarrassment a couple of episodes ago, it seems that Yuuko still hasn't forgotten that particular ignominy - thus, as episode eighteen of Nichijou opens it's Mio's turn to be placed in the same scenario to see if she passes the coffee shop menu test.

This opens up an episode that mostly jumps around from one place to the next at high speed, whether it's more attempts to catch Nano from our school "mad scientist" or some seemingly pointless book excerpt.  Perhaps one of the highlights of the episode is (another) bad day for Yuuko, as her train journey to see Mai in the pursuit of free sweets makes her look stupid on multiple occasions in a variety of believable manners.  Her chief tormentor here is a younger student from another school who can barely contain her mirth at Yuuko's screw-ups - a student who turns out to be the younger sister of weapon-toting Misato, who makes a few appearances this week.

This leads us into the episode's grand finale, a return to the scenario first introduced way back in episode seven as we find ourselves back on the airship which houses Princess Starla.  More specifically, it seems that Starla's minions are being lined up to try and entertain the princess - a task which not only proves to be difficult but downright deadly when faced with this hard to please member of royalty.  Perhaps Britain's Got Talent should consider hosting future series on an airship complete with trap doors....

Much like a lot of Nichijou, this particular episode frequently threatened to be jettisoned through the proverbial trap door of bad comedy itself, to be saved only by a handful of mildly amusing moments.  Yuuko's train-based shame had a ring of truth to it that is far funnier than the show's normally downright random comedy, while the Professor's latest biscuit-powered robot also got a giggle out of me.  After a slow start though, the final sketch featuring the princess ended up coming up trumps in the end, with some impeccable moments of comedy timing towards the end that somehow made it all worthwhile, right the way through to its decidedly surreal ending.  They're only small moments in the grand scheme of things, but at least they stop watching Nichijou from feeling like a complete waste of time.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 4

Kami-sama no Memo-chou breaks out of its two-part story arc format for this fourth episode of the series, as it brings our ragtag band of NEET detectives a mystery right on their front doorstep.

More specifically, this episode grants us a couple of mysteries to chew over - the first is with regards to a sunglasses-wearing gentleman who frequently visits Min's ramen shop, only to take a single sip of the soup and then leave without eating another bite.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Min is none too pleased about this negative reaction to her ramen, and before he knows it Narumi is pulling continuous all-nighters as she tries to win over this most difficult to please of customers.

Such concerns seem to take a back seat however when Narumi finds himself face to face with an intruder during one of these all-night cooking binges - an encounter which is later revealed to have become a regular occurrence for Min, as she seems to have a stalker, and one with more than a passing interest in her sarashi no less.  Of course, this seems like just the kind of case that Alice and company can assist with, and after eventually obtaining permission from Min they set about catching the culprit - or rather, culprits plural, as these two oddities come together in a combination of the bizarre and the utterly personal.

In all honesty, I'm not sure what to make of this episode - part of me quite enjoyed it in a funny sort of way, but at the same time I can't pretend that its overall plot and story progression were laughably stupid and full of holes, whether it's regarding Min's father or the lingerie obsessive that turned out to be the ultimate cause of the instalment's goings-on.  Having mentioned previously that this is a series that might live or die based upon the quality of its stories and the mysteries served up to us, this is a little worrying, although hopefully it's little more than a temporary blip.  Regardless, that compelling double-length opening episode feels like an eternity away right now.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Break Blade 6: Doukoku no Toride

Despite his foolish solo "mission" to his home village almost ending in disaster, somehow Rygart is still alive and his Delphine more or less intact (albeit out of juice) - then again, his rescue did come at a hefty personal cost on both sides of the on-going conflict which has underpinned the series.

As this final Break Blade movie begins, Binonten has been changed from a thriving city to a ghost town as its residents evacuate, and with good reason given that Borcuse and his battalion of troops are marching on the capital apace.  On the other side of this conflict, we have General Baldr and his remaining troops, who are hoping to do their part to stop the invasion while also carrying a sullen-shell-shocked Rygart and his powerless Delphine with them.

As Borcuse's troops arrive at Binonten's front door and begin their assault, it seems as though nothing will stop them - not that this is going to stop Sigyn in particular from trying, as she continues to develop and craft a weapon for Rygart to use under the assumption that he'll return.  It's probably not really a spoiler to confirm that yes, Rygart does make it back to the capital, and not a moment too soon as he finds himself facing off against Borcuse directly in what proves to be the series final, all-important showdown in the midst of numerous other minor skirmishes and the escape of Cleo from her decidedly comfortable spell in captivity.

As endings to a series goes, Break Blade did a pretty solid job while (of course) still allowing for the fact that it's based upon an on-going manga, leaving it with a necessity to leave certain things up in the air.  As the main attraction of the entire franchise to me was its clunky, weighty, "realistic" mecha, the final assault on Binonten which occupied most of Doukoku no Toride's running time was exactly what I was hoping for - a little confusing or hard to follow in places admittedly, but generally speaking a fitting finale underpinned by the almighty scrap between Borcuse and Ryugart which felt pretty satisfying without ever pushing over into the outright spectacular.

In fact, "satisfying without ever pushing over into the outright spectacular" pretty much sums up the entirety of Break Blade - it has plenty of decent, fleshed out characters who you can either get behind or at least by fascinated by, with plenty of rivalries and the like to go with it, but once again it's the mecha that make this series.  I'm not a huge fan of giant robot anime exactly because too much of it involves super-charged mecha with ridiculously super-powered weapons and abilities, and in comparison to that Break Blade's fighting machines feel grounded, hefty and very much subservient to the laws of physics, with even Rygart's Delphine (the closest the series comes to an outlandish machine) feeling both fallable and eminently destructible.  If there were more mecha anime along these lines (and I include the possibility of more Break Blade itself within this wish), then I'd certainly be more than happy to watch it.  I shall now sit back and wait for the slew of "haven't you ever watched series X?" questions and recommendations which ensue.

Blood-C - Episode 4

By the end of last week's episode of Blood-C, I was beginning to think that the "C" of its title stood for "cake", such was its obsession with coffee and snacks.

Thankfully, the Elder Bairn's final words telling Saya to "honour the covenant" finally seem to have kicked the series up a gear, as we rejoin Saya while she ponders these words and exactly what they're supposed to mean despite the dismissive approach of her father when she mentions them to him.  Even as Saya's decidedly normal school day carries on, wavering doubts and what seem to be ever-stronger flashbacks plague her consciousness, while we as viewers are finally, perhaps, allowed a glimpse into her inner psyche with the suggestion that Saya's love for all and sundry is little more than a veil over something much darker.

With that suggestion still spinning around in our minds, Saya finds herself with another Elder Bairn to take on and more people to protect - something she manages with a varying degree of success in easily the bloodiest battle we've seen in Blood-C yet; so much so that it brings out the censors to cover certain scenes in swathes of black.  Aside from a tough scrap against three opponents, allusion is made to the fact that Saya is little different to those she fights against - merely a cog in the wheel or a tool of a greater force, as she's once again reminded to "honour the covenant" amidst the suggestion that something is amiss with her current duty.

Compared to what's gone before, it isn't really too difficult for this episode of Blood-C to claim a place as the show's best so far - all it needed to do was trim the fat of too many cakes and lunch dates and it suddenly feels like a much tighter, more focused series.  Beyond that, it finally seems as though there is more to the action portions of the series than meets the eye - we have a hint of a disturbing past on Saya's part, and more importantly some kind of pending conflict between her duty to protect the town from the Elder Bairns and other forces involved, be they her father or otherwise.  All of this adds up to a series that suddenly feels like it has far more potential than I've previously credited it with above and beyond its admittedly impressive, visceral action component - it's just a shame that it took us four episodes to get there.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 4

So, Himari is now friends with Ringo - a twist of the fate of which this series is so fond that at least makes life easier for Shouma and Kabna when it comes to following their "target".

Indeed, come this fourth episode of Mawaru Penguindrum the two brothers have Ringo's plans laid on a plate for them, as she looks to Himari to help her plan a bird-watching "date" with Tabuki and, more importantly, create a suitably fabulous lunch to win him over with.  While Kanba seemingly has other fish to fry, it's left to Shouma to accompany Ringo for the day in the hope of finding out more about the Penguindrum.

Unfortunately, pretty much all Shouma finds out during the course of this "date" is that the entire world seems to be conspiring against Ringo's plans, whether it's an escaped skunk, hungry crows or pesky caterpillars.  Still, even all of these setbacks don't appear to halt Ringo's enthusiasm for her task, and despite Tabuki being accompanied by the beautiful Yuki Tokikago and summarily ruin all of Ringo's well-planned delusions she still follows her "destiny" through to the bitter again with the aim of getting a kiss from Tabuki by 4PM.  She certainly gets her kiss at the prescribed time, but unbeknownst to her it isn't from quite the party she was expecting....

As another episode drifts by in a largely entertaining but faintly ridiculous fashion, we still really aren't too sure where Mawaru Penguindrum is actually heading - Ringo's diary remains something of a mystery, and one which gains distinctly malicious overtones as this week's instalment draws to a close.  If nothing else, it seems that fate is binding Ringo, Kanba and Shouma together in some intriguing ways that don't look likely to become any simpler any time soon.  Still, that's fine by me as I continue to be amused by our slapstick trio of invisible penguins, and even Ringo's disintegrating delusions had some comedy value to them - even if any deeper analysis of fate and destiny all proves to be for naught, we can't say that the journey along its various stops so far hasn't been fun.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Usagi Drop - Episode 4

If there's one thing you can be sure of with young children it's that there's no such thing as an off-limits conversation, and tact is a word which is both literally and figuratively missing from their vocabulary.  With that in mind, it's no surprise to see Rin's nursery school classmates finding themselves a little confused as they quiz her on her family situation.

Luckily for Rin, she isn't quite alone, as her classmate Kouki is himself the child of a divorced couple who now lives alone with his mother - a piece of information which serves as a flag towards a potential love interest for Daikichi as the these two parents (well, one parent and one guardian I suppose) end up meeting up quite frequently at events related to their children.

While Rin moves forward apace towards taking a place in elementary school, so Daikichi's search for Rin's mum also makes great strides forward as his theory that she is his grandfather's maid seems to be proved correct.  A little more digging and Daikichi finds out a little more about her and her circumstances, before hitting a big payload in the form of her telephone number.  The big question is, what should he do with this information, and does either Rin or her mother really want to see one another again?  In the midst of such dilemmas comes plenty of wonderful slice of life material, as Daikichi has to come to terms with the opinions of his co-workers about his departmental transfer be they good and bad, while the preparation for Rin's future life as an elementary school student also brings about some interesting firsts for Daikichi.

Once again, everything within this episode is superbly played - utterly believable despite its outlandish aspects as they concern Rin's true parents, and even more utterly heart-warming and enjoyable to watch throughout.  It's actually rather hard to do the series so far justice in words - it's the kind of show you have to feel and experience rather than verbally dissect and discuss.  Still, those limitations don't prevent me from throwing a few more adjectives around regarding Rin's adorable turns where nary a line she says is wasted, or Daikichi's mature yet decidedly human personality as he does a surprisingly good job of "playing Dad".  It's almost enough to make you want to have kids.  Almost.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 17

With nothing but bad news concerning his quickly dwindling NEXT powers, Kotetsu decides that it's time for him to take a break away from being a hero so that he can go back home and visit his family while he figures out what to do in his current situation.

Needless to say, walking back into his family's life after so long away doesn't run entirely smoothly, as he seems to get short shrift from his brother, nothing but concern from his mum, and as for daughter Kaede... let's just say she's in her difficult to handle teenage years rather early.  After rather a lot of prodding and probing, Kotetsu finally reveals his current problem to his brother, who doesn't really have any advice for him per se beyond the obvious reiteration that the loss of his NEXT powers isn't the end of his life.

As Kotetsu continues to fret about his situation, so his worries are soon shifted to other matters as his mother collapses, in turn sending Kaede into her own brand of despair - a turn of events which at least allows him to finally understand his daughter's worries and concerns.  When an incredible stroke of bad luck hits Kaede that same day, it's up to Kotetsu to save the day, bridging the father-daughter gap in the process and giving Kotetsu the platform he needed to see what he has to do next.  Speaking of NEXT, his daughter ends the episode with a bit of a surprise for her old man...

Although breaking away from the goings-on in Stern Bild felt a little odd (especially when things were becoming so deep, dark and engrossing), this week's episode of Tiger & Bunny worked pretty well overall with the exception of the disaster that struck Kaede, which was so overblown as to be bordering dangerously on the hilarious.  That aside, this glimpse into Kotetsu's worries and home life did what was required of it in a solid enough fashion, while also seemingly laying his path out clearly before him, so despite not being one of this show's stronger episodes it's very much a case of job done while continuing to build on one aspect of its story as we progress through its second half.

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 4

With Aki on the loose and a number of Seki now seemingly running roughshod around town, we discover that there's something of an on-going power struggle going on between rival factions back at said Seki's home village - something to be aware of as the series progresses no doubt.

This information all comes as a precursor to what we saw at the end of episode three, with an unconscious Aki being dragged off by a more than slightly curious Kuuko after refusing to join the so-called "Hyuga" group during his latest skirmish.  Elsewhere, Utao and Kuga compare notes as they reveal their disparate encounters with other Seki, although not before one of those inevitable "walking in on the girl you like naked moments".

Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) for all and sundry, Kuuko's big mouth tips off her new-found "guest" to Hibino, who in turn tells Kuga of her concerns - this of course brings us another encounter between our two former best buddies, and one which sees Kuga lose his rag ot a shocking degree in the process before Aki makes good his escape.  While Kuuko still hasn't given up on Aki and the mysterious power he wields, so Kuga and Utao find themselves with something or the more confusing and downright worrying to concern themselves with....

After a stop-start opening three episodes, this week's Kamisama Dolls at least found a little rhythm to its story and pacing, with plenty to be getting on with interspersed with far briefer moments of light-hearted comedy.  This made the episode as a whole far stronger - okay, Aki isn't quite the cold-blooded maniac we'd assumed from episode one all of a sudden, but the other Seki introduced properly here have put some suitably fascinating flesh on the show's bones while Kuuko has turned from an irritation into an interesting forward character who looks set to be the show's loose cannon.  There's still a way to go before I can start raving about Kamisama Dolls, but this was at least an enjoyable and occasionally tense episode to suggest that it might have some legs to it after all compared to the damp squib we've endured prior to this point.

Steins;Gate - Episode 17

Although it appears that Amane's attempts to secure the IBM 5100 failed, and as a result the world line hasn't shifted over to its hoped-for "beta" value for Okabe, but has enough changed to at least save Mayuri?

Well.... no - although her fate is delayed a little, it remains inevitable with the world in its current state.  So, is there really no hope for Okabe?  As far as Kurisu is concerned, the game isn't up just yet, as she believes that all that is required is possession of the IBM 5100 to win the day, and that the easiest way of getting hold of this is to effectively "reverse" all of the D-mails that have had a major effect on the timeline previously.

With that plan in mind, the first D-mail which needs to be undone belongs to Feyris - a mission which finds Okabe aiding her with her escape from some unsavoury (and unlikely) individuals before he even gets to quiz her on his true concern, that being just what she'd sent to her father to change history so massively.  Despite her initial reluctance, Okabe's persistence as he explains the alternate world he remembers complete with its moe-centric Akiba finally strikes a chord with Feyris, even causing her to remember that initial timeline and eventually leading to her spilling out the whole truth - a complicated story which weaves together many of the issues facing our misfit of a hero, and more importantly one which makes any decision to "reverse" her D-mail all the more difficult.  Eventually however, we do move one step closer to Okabe's goal - so what next?

Although aspects of this episode felt a little flimsy compared to what we're used to with Steins;Gate (the guys chasing Feyris felt like the stuff of a pointless visual novel sidestory and didn't add much apart from a lot of running around, and Feyris' eventual ability to remember her alternate world line somewhat spoils the unique nature of Okabe's "gift"), this was still a smart and well-considered instalment overall that was impressive in its nature as it managed to make its tangled web of machinations all the more complicated as it pertains to the "real" past and that all-important IBM 5100.  It's this ability to weave those complexities together so smartly that is making the second half of Steins;Gate so compelling when added to the already stellar character dynamics and mixture of humour and drama - it looks like we can expect a fair bit more of that as Okabe continues his attempts to reverse past D-mails.  It isn't the direction I expected the series to take at this juncture, but now it's begun I'm all for it.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 4

Although Yune has spent quite a bit of time trying to get used to French food (and particularly cheese), we haven't seen much effort in the other direction from Claude - however, despite his protestations and concerns over the smell of soy sauce, it seems he's been convinced to try his hand at Japanese-style beef stew.

However, before this culinary treat there is something more important at hand, with Alice's butler arriving to invite Yune to visit her for tea.  At Claude's suggestion, Yune refuses, only to find herself visited by Alice directly in an attempt to persuade her... indeed, upon seeing her, Alice seems to have decided that she'd rather like to keep Yune to herself.  Not that I can blame her, to be fair.

Although Claude, with Yune in tow, tries to escape from this particular fate, eventually Yune's polite nature means that she decides it's only fair to spent some time getting to know Alice, leaving her to be carted off to Alice's posh surroundings while a sullen Claude is left to assume that he's lost his new friend for good - after all, how can he compete with the luxurious lifestyle of the Galerie's owner?  Such a train of thought is, of course, patently unfair and unappreciative of Yune's mindset, and despite some decidedly underhand tactics from Alice, Yune eventually returns to her rightful place at the shop.

Even with a little tension injected into the episode, and despite a drop in animation quality in places this episode, Ikoku Meiro no Croisée remains a lilting, relaying and enjoyable viewing experience.  Okay, so Alice is a bit irritating, but then again that's kind of the point, and somehow it never becomes overbearing as the whole thing is kept grounded by Yune (who is growing by the episode into far more than just a generic "cute Japanese girl abroad"), complete with Claude's grugg but well-meaning nature to back her up.  It's pretty clear that nothing much is going to happen in this series, but who cares when it takes you away to a fascinating time and place and leaves you in such good company?

Sacred Seven - Episode 4

It's school festival time as we hit Sacred Seven's fourth episode - an event which is usually code in Sunrise language for "this episode is going to be a bit daft".

While Ruri is looking forward to said school festival immensely (perhaps a little too much, you could say), the threat of Darkstones is never far away, and Hellbrick soon has some bad news for Kagami, as it seems that a Darkstone has just infiltrated the school grounds.  Thankfully, it's only a small and relatively weak one, leading Kagami to decide to take it on alone rather than alarming his master and raising the possibility of the school festival being cancelled.

Eventually, Alma also gets wind of the issue at hand, and thus chooses to lend his own powers to the hunt for the Darkstone, having to con Ruri into powering him up in the process.  From here, the race is on to find the Darkstone in question before it does any real damage, while both Kagami and Alma have to do their darndest not to have the truth about them revealed in front of the whole school, leading to a rather elaborate process to cover up the issues which inevitably arise from them chasing around the school with a "power suit" and a mecha.

As per any correct assumptions based upon its featuring a school festival, this is a slightly wacky episode of Sacred Seven that keeps any real sense of threat to a bare minimum so it can have a little fun with its characters and school setting while also really pushing hard at progressing the relationship between Ruri and Alma a bit.  Oddly, this actually worked quite well, making for an unspectacular but fun episode that arguably worked better than the series taking itself too seriously as it has been up to this point.  Then again, maybe it's just that I'm a sucker for Megumi Nakajima's voice so I'm more willing to let silliness slide.  Oh well, back to my Ranka Lee art book...

YuruYuri - Episode 4

YuruYuri's fourth episode returns to much of the material seeded during its second instalment - namely the rivalry-cum-romance between the student council president Ayano and Kyoko.

More specifically, with exam season beginning Ayano is well and truly focused on winning her bet with Kyoko to be the higher scoring of the two in these tests, even if she isn't exactly sure quite what she's fighting so hard for.  While all of her efforts pay off as she tops the leaderboard with her test scores, it all turns out to be something of a Phyrric victory thanks to Kyoko making no effort at all as she has more important things to worry about - namely working on doujinshi.

With this immediate rivalry somewhat resolved, it's time to move on to the inevitable beach episode - it's almost shocking that it actually took them four episodes to reach this point in the series, truth be told.  Of course, there are breast comparisons to be made and lesbian fantasies to be indulged in by Chitose as they play games, splash around and enjoy some fireworks, even if those aforementioned lesbian fantasies do result in some major blood loss for the student council vice-president.

If nothing else, I have to commend this episode for its self-aware, fourth wall breaking moment when "we" (or our cameraman) reaching for a tissue when the first hint of a beach episode arrives early in the episode - it somehow almost made delving down this clichéd route acceptable, especially given that said tissues were on hand in a similarly fourth-wall breaking fashion for the entirety of that segment of the episode.  Aside from that, there were a few smiles to be had, but again this was an episode that didn't have a huge amount to offer that we haven't seen done better elsewhere before, and probably done better without so much tiringly repetitive sexual content either.  YuruYuri might be more consistent in its comedy and overall outlook than Nichijou, but that doesn't make it a good comedy anime in its own right either - not that I'm sure it's trying to do much more than plough its mediocre furrow for all that it's worth.

Shiki - Episode 21.5

As per the first of its two special Blu-Ray only instalments, episode 21.5 of Shiki (which slots between episodes twenty-one and twenty-two, in case you hadn't figured it out) takes on a side story from the main events of the show's final few episodes to add some individual flavour (albeit a decidedly brutal one) to proceedings.

While episode 20.5 dealt with its immediate chronological surroundings, this second bonus episode takes a broader view as we follow it mostly through the eyes of Motoko Maeda.  Indeed, before we know it the clock is turned back to before the threat of the Risen was anything more than a folk tale, as we soon learn that Motoko is a doting mother - perhaps overly so as she frets over the safety of her offspring and generally worries too much as a whole.

It's this personality trait that looms large over the episode as it progresses and the "epidemic" begins to take hold in the village - first Motoko's father dies, but it's only when her husband is taken ill and passes away do things really begin to unravel.  As time goes by and the rest of her family succumb to the Risen (unbeknownst to her of course), so Motoko breaks down, teetering on and then passing the brink of insanity as she almost literally loses her mind.  By the time the truth has been outed to the village and the hunt for the Shiki begins, she's little more than a vengeance-fuelled husk who blames her father for everything and cares about nothing more than somehow getting her revenge.

Although this episode doesn't have quite the same sharp, non-judgemental analysis of the human condition as it relates to both the living and undead, this second bonus instalment is nonetheless another grotesquely compelling take on its core scenario powered along by its largely individual focus to produce a disturbing and occasionally downright chilling depiction of a woman's complete mental breakdown.  As such depictions go it is perhaps a little over-the-top, but it nonetheless adds another layer to the show's horror mantel to prove its worth as more than just a frivolous bonus episode, and again coming into the episode "cold" rather than as part of a week by week viewing of the series itself only serves as a stark reminder of just how brutal and unremitting the series could be.  I'm sure I've said this before, but Shiki really is horror "done right", and these additional episodes have certainly been a powerful reminder of what it is capable of achieving.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 3

Between Meo's foolishness and Narumi's tendency to engage his mouth before his brain is in gear, everything is looking a bit messy as we enter the second half of Kami-sama no Memo-chou's current story arc.

With yakuza now sniffing around and threatening the ramen shop which serves as Alice and company's base, things are taking a turn for the dangerous - a problem not helped by Meo's decision to do a runner and try to do a deal with the group in question herself, offering to hand over the 200 million Yen in return for her father.  It's a deal the group agree to but clearly a bargain they have no intention of keeping, leaving Narumi to try to make amends by saving the day only to find himself being beaten up by said gang.

Enter Hinamori and his own forces to save the day and both Narumi and Meo's bacon - an event which makes Narumi realise that he's in no real position to protect anybody, which leads to him suggesting that he become Hinamori's "brother" by effectively joining his group.  With this piece of ceremony out of the way, it's up to all those involved to figure out how to get Meo's father back safely; an occasion which leads to Narumi stepping up to the plate to deliver an utterly reckless plan, but one which can't be bettered by anyone else present, leading to a game of bluff against the yakuza group holding Meo's father so that they can eventually free him.

Although there were some snappy segments to this episode as it went about its violent business, it never really showed the same kind of smart storytelling as its first episode managed so well - Narumi's bluff was a smart idea, but it stood out in the midst of a sea of dull punch-ups and an ending which felt far too simple and ultimately undermined the supposed threat of the yakuza group our NEETs were going up against.  I can't go as far as to say that I didn't enjoy it, as the first half of this arc was pretty solid and this instalment wasn't a complete write-off, but I'll certainly be hoping for something more akin to episode one from the next story arc so I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it has some good source material left to mine.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 17

From the unbridled excitement of having a movie filmed at Kissuiso, and including its staff no less, the previous episode of Hanasaku Iroha ended with what seemed likely to be a rather ominous phone call to spoil the party.

Lo and behold, the phone call in question was indeed a bad omen, calling into question the legitimacy of the movie filming about to take place.  While the tip-off comes from none other than Ohana's mother, Satsuki finds that her own mother really isn't too interested in the information she provides, instead leaving Enishi to do things his own way no matter the cost.

Although the initial "warm-up" filming seems to be great fun, not least for Ohana and friends, come the day of actual filming nobody shows up and the so-called producer of the movie isn't contactable - it appears that the wool has indeed been pulled over Enishi and Takako's eyes.  Rather oddly given the finances involved, nobody else really seems to care too much, with Kissuiso continuing as usual while only the pair directly involved in signing the contract concerning themselves with what to do next.  Thus, the remainder of the episode focuses squarely on Enishi, his rather odd way of thinking, and effectively his suitability at taking over as Kissuiso's manager one day.

After an entertaining enough start to this story arc, things took a rather disjointed turn once the movie filming was exposed as nothing more than a fabrication - it almost felt as though this week's instalment couldn't decide whether it wanted to look at Enishi's feeling for Takako or his place in the family heritage.  Instead, the episode straddled both of those issues and didn't really resolve either satisfactorily, giving the whole venture a rather empty and insignificant climax that was lacking in all of the things that usually make Hanasaku Iroha enjoyable.  Still, with next week's instalment looking decidedly bizarre from its preview, it certainly looks as if the series isn't going to become dull any time soon, so for now let's just put this episode down as a clunky mis-step.

Nichijou - Episode 17

Having entertained me a little more than its typically been capable over the past weeks, Nichijou picked a bad day to try and amuse me given that I'm not really in the best of moods.  But hey, give it your best shot...

After kicking off with the Professor catching a crow (no, I'm not sure how she managed that) and giving it Sakamoto's scarf to find that it's actually a rather polite bird, we move on to one of those moments that finds Kyoto Animation at their most experimental, via a sketch largely involving Yuuko and Mio trying to build a card pyramid - a sketch which is delivered using music alone to accompany the animation, with not a word of voice acting in sight.  If nothing else, it's nice to have Yuuko shut for once I suppose, even if the pay-off of said skit isn't all that great.

Truthfully, the only laugh this episode extracted to me is effectively a repeat of a joke from the last episode, with a ridiculous yet funny exchange between Takasaki and Annaka which becomes ever more silly and ever more quick-fire with its exclamations.  Come the end of the episode, we see Yuuko trying her best to avoid being the "straight man" to Mai's constant comedy efforts - something she not only fails to do but ends up realising that it's a role she revels in, leaving all parties to be summarily satisfied.

Overall. this is probably one of the weaker episodes of Nichijou we've seen in a while - perhaps due to the cold open and subsequent lack of full opening credits it felt like an overly long instalment that dragged on too long, and to put it more simply a lot of what we saw simply wasn't funny.  Then again, maybe I'm just being a miserable git today and I'm somehow failing to spot plenty of hidden comic gems within.  Ah well, such is the inconsistency of both life and anime comedy I suppose...

Blood-C - Episode 3

Are we sitting down to watch Blood-C every week to watch a discussion of cakes and coffee?  Of course not - if only the series would actually wake up and realise that...

As it is, this third instalment once again suffers from the ravages of "Star Driver disease", as it spends the entire first half of its episode following Saya as she eats with her dad, plays with that dog which keeps cropping up again, chats with her teacher and then goes off to eat cake of Guimauve with her friends.  Yes, Saya leads a double life, we get it Production I.G.

Finally, the last ten minutes of the episode brings us to the point of the episode - a missing baker from the neighbourhood, who seems to have been the latest target of the "Elder Bairns" as they lure him out to a delap;idated train station and then chop him to bits for whatever reason.  Rather oddly, Saya makes no attempt to try and save the "hypnotised" man, instead leaving him to his gruesome fate before choosing to take on this week's monster, which she despatches in bloody fashion naturally.  The dying beasts seems to make a proclamation to Saya before shuffling off its mortal coil, but what does it mean?

In fact, what does anything going on in this series mean?  At the moment, all of its action is just there to look cool whilst almost completely stripped of any context, while all of the slice of life stuff seems essentially pointless at this juncture as we know exactly what Saya and her circumstances are like, so to call it flogging a dead horse is charitable.  Unless things get fleshed out pretty damn quickly, Blood-C is looking set to be the summer's huge disappointment - just looking pretty and throwing together some half-decent action scenes does not a good anime make.  But hey, at least it has one of the summer's cooler opening tunes I suppose.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 3

Despite spending the whole of the last episode tailing Ringo Oginome in the hunt for this so-called "Penguin Drum", it seems that Kanba and Shouma still aren't exactly convinced of the true identity of the being which possesses their sister via that rather adorable hat - indeed, even drinking a bunch of milk won't convince them, leaving said hat no choice but to briefly kill Himari again to make her point.

That done, it's time to set out in pursuit of Ringo again, while the girl within their sights reveals another frighteningly overbearing obsession of hers - curry.  It seems that her latest plan is to feed the man she loves (and the man she stalks) Tamaki her curry as part of her strategy to find love and happiness with him.  The best way to a man's heart is through his stomach, after all.

Having missed Ringo as she sets off for school, Shouma and Kanba do the next best thing - they break into Ringo's apartment for a snoop around, only to be caught out by her return which leaves them both hiding behind her sofa.  Eventually she leaves, curry in hand, for the home of her unrequited love.... and a meeting which quickly ruins her plan.  Rather, it somewhat ruins her plan, but at her mad and delusional best Ringo somehow manages to twist things in her favour both mentally and physically, before a decidedly bizarre accident featuring a fish, a penguin and curry leads her to the home of the Takakura family.  But where next for Ringo's supposed "destiny", and what of the Penguin Drum?  Hell, what is the Penguin Drum?

Certainly, this particular episode of Mawaru Penguindrum raises more questions than it answers - in short, we still don't really know what's going on, what Ringo has to do with any of it or what is likely to happen next.  Thankfully, the light-hearted treatment of these wholly mysterious elements as they toy with the concept of fate is half of what makes the series fun - the other half being the show's spot-on sense of slapstick humour, particularly as it pertains to those ever-wonderful penguins (who steal every scene here as always) and their equally oddball owner who, if all else fails, could easily find a part in Arakawa Under the Bridge.  I guess at some point I'll start demanding answers to all of those questions, but for now I'm more than happy for this series to carry ploughing its colourful, nicely animated and incredibly amusing furrow.

Usagi Drop - Episode 3

As the realities of Daikichi's new "acquisition" continue to bite in his working life as he races between the office and Rin's nursery, so he continues to have quandries about Rin's own happiness.  In other words, it's just another day in the life of parenthood, surrogate or otherwise.

In terms of Daikichi's working life, he soon becomes friendly with a female co-worker who took a demotion to give her more time with her child thanks to a new post that meant not working any overtime - a decision on her part that gives him some food for thought, if nothing else.

Meanwhile, a visit to Daikichi's family gives Rin the fun of a trip away from home, only to be met with the same sullen faces seen at her father's funeral - cue an ear-bashing from Daikichi about how they're not helping and preventing Rin from expressing herself which turns things around and sees her become just another part of the family by the end of her enjoyable visit.  Indeed, Daikichi seems to be doing pretty much everything right, as he even begins to gain an understanding into Rin's bed-wetting while also making some progress in tracking down her mother, even if it looks unlikely to yield him any kind of help in the long term.

It is, of course, the dynamic between the two main characters that steals the show again - Rin is frequently a perfectly positioned demonstration of childhood as she misunderstands situation, acts shyly around strangers and asks difficult, nigh-on unanswerable questions as she tries to come to terms with her situation; Daikichi on the other hand generally seems to "get it" when it comes to what Rin needs, even if he's left floundering at some of the more practical aspects of parenthood despite realising in this episode that he isn't the only one to struggle with the issue of work-life balance.  Once more, this is a near perfect blend of humour, human drama and really, truly touching moments that warms my heart and entertains me no end - and I don't even like kids...

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 3

If the first two episodes of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée have been more about Yune learning about French culture, then this third instalment turns that on its head somewhat by paying more heed to the customs and way of life in our diminutive central character's native homeland.

Much of this interest comes from Claude, who is desperately looking for inspiration for a sign he's been commissioned to make. Although his attempts to learn a little about life in Japan leave him baffled, he does eventually find the artistic "eureka" moment he's been searching for when he spies Yune writing a letter home to her sister, leading to a conversation where he asks her to write out and explain the meaning of her name - et voilà, a perfect idea for the music shop sign he's working on.

Away from this little slice of success and the enjoyable wander around Paris that follows Claude's success coupled with Yune's desperation to bring him an umbrella, we see the continued delapidation and increase in empty shops at the Galerie du Roy, while also finding ourselves introduced to its new owner - a young girl named Alice who had the establishment bought for her as a birthday present.  Perhaps more importantly, Alice is also a rabid Japanophile and the current owner of the kimono sold by Claude in episode one - and you can probably guess where this particular plot point is headed....

Despite these slithers of depression and looming hard times for Claude's shop, this is another incredibly soothing, visually gorgeous and pleasantly enjoyable episode of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée to watch.  Yune's character just about fits the bill perfectly when it comes to fitting in to the series without being annoying or overly twee, whilst those around her are equally likeable and the dynamic between Claude and Yune is becoming more watchable by the week.  My only concern is that the introduction of the brash Alice will spoil things somewhat, but then again I suppose we can't just have Yune being adorable all week, every week right?

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 16

Although repairing Amane's stricken time machine might be priority number one, Okabe and company are also very much invested in helping her find her father before she leaves.  Have they just discovered a major lead in this quest?  Well, yes and no...

Although tracking down the buyer of the badge in question did eventually reveal its owner (after yet another time leap for Okabe), the whole thing turned out to be a red herring, and an unnecessary one at that as it's later Mayuri who expertly pieces together the puzzle to reveal the true identity of Barrel Titor.

With this question solved (albeit a little awkwardly for those concerned), it's time to say goodbye to Amane as she heads off to 1975, with fingers crossed that her mission will be a success.  Thanks to the very nature of her journey, it doesn't take long to find out the results of her efforts, as the episode takes a turn for the emotional before putting the onus back upon Okabe as the man with the ability to change the future - something he does without a second thought, to create a preferable but still far from perfect present day reality for himself.

Given the sheer number of potential spoilers for those who haven't watched it yet, I've had to keep things brief in the synopsis, but what I can say is that this was another absolutely terrific episode that made the most of the twists, turns and surprises it had up its sleeve to deliver perhaps the most emotionally powerful instalment of Steins;Gate so far.  Couple that with its typical sprinkling of humour and solid character dynamics, and this series simply keeps on trucking with little sign of stopping.  The only real question is - where does this show head next?  We've reach what can be considered the end of its current story arc, but there's still plenty of other angles to cover, and I wouldn't want to be the one to second guess what it might target.

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 3

After teasing us with the decidedly fast and imminent return of Aki at the end of the first episode, this third instalment of Kamisama Dolls kicks off with a rather more graphic and prolonged portrayal of Aki's escape from his captors.

This dark and violent tone is soon seemingly forgotten as we return to a dose of slice of life-esque fluffiness, courtesy of Utao's attempts at working as a waitress to help out the Shiba family who are kindly putting her and her brother up.  The next thing she knows, Utao finds herself being teased mercilessly by a friend of Hibino's, before Hibino invites her for a day out (coupled with some training in her use of Kukuri of course) the next day.

It's here (after another dose of "oops, I messed up" led comedy involving Kukuri) that things start to get a little serious again - the returning Aki bumps into Kyohei, leading to a conversation that peels away another layer or two regarding their relationship as well as the shared events that set the two of them down their disparate paths.  Ultimately, this meeting also leads to the unveiling of another Seki who seems to have joined the race to recapture Aki, while it appears he isn't the only one as a mysterious appearance elsewhere leads to an accident that is only prevented from becoming a complete tragedy thanks to Utao and Kukuri's intervention.  To top all of this off, Kuuko makes an appearance - as well as being up to her usual less than legal tricks (she's clearly angling for a job with News International), it appears that she's about to be caught well and truly in the troubles which are increasingly swirling around Kyohei and his sister...

Although its extended "oh, look how adorable Utao is" section was a pretty hefty waste of this episode's running time, we do at least get the feeling that Kamisama Dolls is going somewhere at last - aside from her depiction as a clumsy kid Utao is at least proving herself to be somewhat proficient as a Seki, while there's a big bundle of intrigue now surrounding the truth about Kyohei and of course the entire question about the goings-on in the village of his origin also loom large.  That seems like plenty to be getting on with it, so hopefully Kamisama Dolls can get a handle on these points and begin to impress where it has conversely disappointed thus far - its potential is building; one can only hope it improves alongside Utao's skills with Kukuri.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Sacred Seven - Episode 3

As episode three of Sacred Seven opens, so we join Ruri on the hunt for some more important stones to aid with her (and perhaps more importantly Arma's) mission - regardless of how important said stone is, remind me never to let Ruri borrow my eBay account....

Anyway, we're soon introduced to this story arc's major players - a doctor who goes by the name of Kenmi who is being assisted and escorted by the Aiba Foundation as we first meet him, and a Darkstone known as Knight Kijima.   Cue a scrap between these two that Kagami is powerless to prevent; a fight that Arma ends up wandering into as he senses their powers, even if he has little to do in the ensuing chaos himself other than collapse in a heap.  Still, the battle ends with no casualties, allowing us to learn Kenmi's role in proceedings as the head of a research institute that deals with trying to prevent Darkstones from becoming irrevocably changed into their powerful form while generally keeping them away from the public and the chance of causing danger or harm.

It soon transpires that Kijima is a former "patient" of Kenmi's - a Darkstone with power that matches Arma's, and a human existence only kept in check by drugs provided by Kenmi's lab until his escape from their clutches.  While Kijima might be out "in the wild", it's inevitable that he will return for more of the vaccine he needs to survive in his current state - knowledge that leaves Arma and company laying in wait for his return in the hope of apprehending him.

Overall, this is probably the most solid episode of Sacred Seven so far - it still doesn't do anything particularly unique in terms of its story or characters, but it's entertaining enough and there are sufficient points of moral reasoning and room for conspiracy to keep things interesting as well.  The animation quality has slipped a little already by this juncture (or rather, it simply avoids animating anything too taxing in what should have been the most intense action scene of the episode), but to my mind there's enough going on here to keep my interest beyond Megumi Nakajima's voice alone - perhaps now my expectations for the series have been sufficiently lowered it's easier to enjoy the series as a slightly cheesy chunk of action fare that isn't going to wow anyone but yet still manages to hold my attention.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 16

With their school field trip over, it's back to the daily worries about how to make Kissuiso (and the wider town of Yunosagi) profitable once again as we hit episode sixteen of Hanasaku Iroha - despite her occasional brainwaves on the matter, when it comes to Ohana to give her thoughts to the local committee of inn owners about what young people want from an inn, her ideas are... largely unrealistic, let's say.  Unrealistic, and cake-based.

Anyhow, this all seems like a trifling matter in comparison to Enishi's latest plan - an idea which shockingly Kissuiso's manager agrees to, deciding to let her son take the lead for once.  The plan in question is an ambitious one too it seems, involving allowing the use of Kissuiso as the location for filming a movie while allowing members of the inn's staff roles in said film - even Jiroumaru finds a place in proceedings as a writer for part of the script, which perhaps isn't the best idea in the world given his proclivities, but oh well.

Thus, for the rest of this episode excitement descends upon Kissuiso as those involved work hard to prepare the inn whilst pondering their possible acting roles - even Minko can't help but get a little caught up in it all, even if she is only pondering the prospect of seeing Tohru on the big screen.  Behind all this is arguably the more serious matter at hand within this episode - Enishi's desperate bid to be noticed and acknowledged by his mother, possibly surpassing his errant sister in the process.  All of this could well be put to one side however, as you can't help but feel that there's some drama just around the corner come the end of this episode.

While it's all a bit far-fetched and hard to believe, this is another of those episode of Hanasaku Iroha that gets by simply by being kind of fun as we watch its characters scurrying around and largely enjoying themselves.  Where this story arc is headed next is anyone's guess, but as is so often the case with this series it doesn't seem to matter too much while it's all being carried so adeptly by its cast between its blend of comedy and more serious fare.

YuruYuri - Episode 3

The previous episode of YuruYuri seemed to get rather obsessed with the "yuri" side of its title to the detriment of everything else within this slice of life series - thankfully, its lesbian tendencies seem to have been reigned in somewhat this week.

After avoiding arriving for class late but nonetheless getting into trouble for forgetting her homework, Kyoko finds herself at the centre of a dicussion about how to remember things which somehow ends up with her pondering about Chinatsu's and (more importantly) Akari's hair, with the latter taking a decidedly Azumanga Daioh-esque turn.

From this point forth, the remainder of the episode revolves around the revelation that Yui is now living alone in her own apartment (not much of a revelation as it seems to be the normal amongst kids in anime, but anyway...), which of course leads to the Kyoko inviting herself around to take a look before the others are also invited along for an afternoon of general joviality at their friend's place before Kyoko decides that spending the night would be the natural, friendly thing to do.

After losing itself in sapphic lust last week, this third episode is at least a return to form for YuruYuri - okay, it's hardly twenty-four carat comedy gold, but it raised a few smiles and the series as a whole seems a lot more fun when it isn't constantly obsessed by forbidden fantasies, relegating it to the odd moment here and there this week which makes it all far more palatable.  Of course, this isn't really enough to promote the series above the realms of "just another slice of life schoolgirl comedy", but it might just be enough to keep it out of my dreaded pile of dropped anime for the time being - let's see what it can muster over the next week or two.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 16

For all of its light-hearted moments interspersed throughout the series, it appears that darker times are ahead in Tiger & Bunny, with episode sixteen kicking off with a flashback that shows just what happens when domestic violence and NEXT powers come face to face.

As the episode progresses (even though it was pretty clear from the outset), we learn the exact implications of this domestic and to whom it pertains - while this state of affairs goes a long way to explaining Lunatic's work and his particularly twisted and vicious sense of justice, it also adds another layer to Kotetsu's concerns as his superhero powers continue to diminish speedily despite his best efforts to hide it from his comrades.

While Barnaby continues to lap up the plaudits and enjoys the fruits of breaking a point-scoring record established by Mr. Legend, so this much heralded hero of yesteryear's past hangs heavily over much of the proceedings - Wild Tiger's problems catch up with him alongside some depressing revelations about the man he idolises, while this same person continues to haunt Lunatic's decision-making processes.  In short, it's all pretty depressing stuff save for the odd snippet of humour which Kotetsu continues to provide even in these tough times for him.

Certainly, compared to the largely light-hearted nature of Tiger & Bunny up to this point even when its dealing with a city under threat, criminal masterminds and so on, this episode brings us some really heavy stuff rife with alcoholism, domestic abuse, rape and murder.  It's a darker tone that works surprisingly well even in the midst of the garish hero costumes and larger than life action, perhaps because we're now so comfortable in the shoes of its characters that we actually care about this downward turn.  There are some interesting elements at hand and building up for the second half of the series as it progresses apace, and judging by what we have before us this side of the show is going to be as eminently watchable as the first.

Nichijou - Episode 16

Buying coffee can be a stressful experience it seems.... well, I suppose almost everything is a stressful and overwrought emotional experience if you're Yuuko Aioi, but I digress.

Anyhow, Yuuko's coffee confusion proves to be an amusing opening to the episode, albeit one almost spoilt somewhat (as is so often the case) by Yuuko's over-reactions which only serves to detract from the fact that the sketch was actually pretty funny.  A similar criticism could also be levelled about the next major sketch, which sees Mio put into an uncomfortable situation with the police as she's asked if her bag can be searched - something she really doesn't want to happen at any cost given what she's carrying, and bringing us one of those slickly animated slices of daftness of which the series seems so fond.

Of course, this episode also finds time to focus on Nano's continuing efforts to avoid being "outed" as a robot - an attempt which proves to be in vain once Yuuko decides to visit her house, only to be greeted by the Professor (who, of course, isn't very good at the whole keeping secrets thing) and a certain talking cat... not that Yuuko seems to care ultimately, seemingly indicating that Nano's school life is about to get a whole lot easier.

As episodes of Nichijou, this week's instalment seemed to pack in more genuinely funny humour than usual - yes, its reaction shots were over-bearing to the point of distraction at times, but there was generally a solid vein of humour running throughout the episode while using Nano to "ground" the series around a central axis to some degree continues to make watching each episode feel more coherent and satisfying as a whole.  When Nichijou uses its characters and their traits well (as demonstrated by the "eraser borrowing" sketch or Yuuko's visit to Nano's house in the main) it definitely has quite a lot to offer, which makes the occasions where it gets things wrong all the more frustrating.  Thankfully, this particular instalment is generally light on such moments of frustration.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 2

After a rather long gap since we enjoyed the opportunity to check out its first, double-length episode, it's finally time to dig back into Kami-sama no Memo-chou and another case for our NEET detective and her crew.

This time around, the case which comes to Alice's attention arrives via a Thai girl living in Japan named (or rather nick-named) Meo, after receiving a phone call from her father telling her to take a bag from a safe in their house and go on the run.  Needless to say, Meo's primary concern is with finding her father, but it doesn't take much investigation from Alice to find links between our missing man and the yakuza, and even less investigation to find that the bag being carried by Meo contains a ridiculous sum of money.

It's at this point that things begin to get a little more difficult (and might I say dangerous) for the gang, as they try to pinpoint exactly what the role of Meo's father is within the yakuza, and more importantly for who, with Narumi in particular finding himself in some rather intimidating circumstances when he isn't helping remove porn-induced malware from one yakuza gang's PC.  Come the end of this episode, Meo's desperation to see her dad threatens even greater danger for all involved, while Narumi's attitude and decision making when it comes to dealing with the group's client is also found to be wanting.

After that really rather excellent opening episode that benefited greatly from its longer running time, episode two of Kami-sama no Memo-chou has a lot to live up to.  Its story is certain interesting and solidly laid-out enough to hold my attention, although having to split the story down episodically means that this particular instalment feels a little all over the place as it jumps around somewhat rather like Alice's thought processes.  As it took until the second half of episode one for things to really click into gear, I think the proof of this particular story arc's putting while be in what episode three delivers - for now though, a couple of great moments of humour interspersed within a decent story framework means that this remains a very watchable viewing experience thus far.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Blood-C - Episode 2

Having established its key concepts quite methodically over the course of its first instalment, episode two of Blood-C wastes no time in putting Saya into the midst of some more "Elder Bairn" monster slashing as we see her in the heat of battle once again.

With this latest scrap over however, episode two of Blood-C somehow happens to waste lots of time on irrelevant nonsense - plenty more random singing is just the start of it, as we watch the series indulge in long discussions about sweets and how Saya takes her coffee.  In a slightly more relevant fashion, Saya's blatant love interest (that everyone but Saya has spotted of course) is also brought more clearly to the fore while the mysterious and gruff Tokizane's future is entwined a little more closely with Saya's while huge neon lights flash in the background shouting "hey, doesn't this dude act like a bad guy?"  Okay, I made up the flashing neon lights part, but they might as well be there.

It's only come the end of the episode that we're treated to some more action, with Saya taking on another decidedly creepy Elder Bairn (who seemed rather like he'd lost out in an audition for a part in Half-Life) in a flash of blood and... well, more blood, mostly.  By this point however, I think I was just thankful that something was happening which didn't involve singing or eating.

While many seemed tepid towards Blood-C from the very start I rather enjoyed episode one and felt like it did everything required from it to set things up for the rest of the series; such positive thoughts seem to have been dashed upon the rocks of reality this week however, as it's become clear that episode two is suffering from what I'm going to call "Star Driver disease" - the key symptoms of which are a delusional insistence upon a formulaic episode structure, coupled with a rash of slice of life silliness that can be found spreading across the midriff of each instalment, in turn leaving only the extremities untouched and functioning normal as an action anime.

I'm not going to say that Blood-C sucks just yet ("hey, maybe it's just building up to something big really slowly?" the wellspring of positivity in my brain is suggesting cheerfully), but unless something drastic happens sooner rather than later the prognosis is not good - Star Driver disease currently has no known cure, and the initial test results are worrying.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 2

Kanba and Shouma might have their sister alive, kicking and completely healthy thanks to the mysterious extra-terrestrial-cum-hat that has somehow taken over her body to initiate its rather bizarre (and overly showy) "Survival Strategy", but I would wager neither brother had realised just what a pain in the backside their payment for this miracle would be.

As the legs on the ground in the search for the mysterious "Penguin Drum" of the show's title, the brothers first task presented to them is to follow a girl named Ringo Oginome who is purported to be in possession of said item.... at least, she might be.  Possibly.  Who knows, you can't expect a penguin-alien-hat thing to know everything now, can you?

Anyway, off traipse our two brothers to trail Ringo, backed up by their adorable penguin helpers who absolutely and unequivocally steal the show from beginning to end as their invisibility to everyone outside of the Takakura is put to good use as Ringo goes to school, makes a trip to a lingerie shop and does some bird watching.  It's here that we reach a twist in the tail, as the normal and seemingly innocent Ringo's darker and downright creepy side is exposed - is this anything to do with the Penguin Drum or are we just being dragged along on an intriguing but ultimately fruitless wild goose chase?  This story arc isn't over yet, so we shall have to wait and see where this particular track is taking us.

While I'm sure I should be caring about some of the deeper implications of this episode, be it Ringo's proclivities or her particular take on the role of fate and destiny in her life and how that compares to those of the Takakura brothers, all I really have to say about this episode is that its trio of penguin helpers are the most adorably hilarious thing I have ever, ever seen.  Simply every scene in which they appear is stolen by these cute little critters as they waddle about whilst acting goofily and generally being pretty rubbish at whatever objective they are tasked with, and I absolutely love it.  It's almost as if someone has delved into the recesses of my mind, pin-pointed exactly what will make me shout "Awwwwwww" out loud between bursts of hysterical laughter, and then distilled it into animated form just for me.  Yes, other stuff happens in this episode and all that, but who cares - give me episodes of cute little penguins trying to do undercover work and I'm utterly smitten.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Usagi Drop - Episode 2

Whether it's fate or mere folly, Daikichi has now well and truly lumbered himself as Rin's guardian for the time being - is he really up to the task of looking after a little girl?

Certainly, some of the difficulties of Daikichi's task quickly become obvious - while clothes shopping is simple enough and he seems to be getting on well enough with Rin, suddenly the prospect of needing to work and find a nursery school for Rin to attend looms large into view.  Cue a panicky phone call to Daikichi's cousin, Haruko, to ask for advice.

While Daikichi manages to find a suitable temporary nursery to care for Rin during the day, as an additional problem to his already fraught daily commute it's an extra layer of hassle that he could really do without, to the point where he almost forgets about Rin's feelings at being dumped some place else given her history of abandonment.  So we go on, with Daikichi trying to juggle work and playing at being a dad, to the point where inevitably both sides of this nigh-on impossible work-life balance begin to suffer.

After a touching opening episode, this second instalment of Usagi Drop shows a similarly deft touch in melding moments of light-hearted fun and humour (with a fantastic rapport between the two main characters already developing) with some more emotional yet never overblown fare.  Just two episodes in you can't help but love both Daikichi and Rin for all of their foibles (although arguably the latter is a little too well behaved for any kid), and even at this early point in their journey I've found myself enraptured and charmed by the whole thing, leaving me very much looking forward to more of the same.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 2

The opening episode of Kamisama Dolls was certainly a case of "nice idea, badly implemented" as it went slightly clumsily about its business.  Still, can it improve now that it's gotten those awkward, tentative first steps out of its system?

The answer to that question is "hmmm, not really", as this second instalment goes about setting up a slightly pointless disaster involving a school clubroom, a Bunsen burner and bunch of chemicals solely so that it can demonstrate the power and potential for good of a kakashi, as all of this just so happens to occur near to where Kyohei is training his little sister Utao in the hope of improving her ability in controlling Kukuri.

This episode also serves to put Kyohei (and by extension Utao) in some further awkward situations, with irresponsible club president (and cause of the aforementioned disaster) Kuuko spotting her otherworldly rescuer during the incident, while it's also revealed that she is the daughter of the detective in charge of investigating the goings-on at Kyohei's apartment in the previous episode.  It seems that all of this is about to pale in comparison to the problem coming the Kuga siblings way however... no prizes for guessing who that might be.

To put it bluntly, everything about this episode felt far too forced to really be interesting - the way a chance to show off Kukuri was introduced and created felt horribly contrived, as did the introduction of the detective investigating Kyohei's case and his daughter.  It wasn't quite cringe-worthy, but it wasn't very far off.  Surprisingly, the best moments of this episode of Kamisama Dolls came from its attempts at humour, which actually worked particularly well, particularly when it came to Utao's loss of concentration at the last moment of her rescue mission, which made me laugh harder than I have all week.  The trouble is, I'm not tuning in to this series for comedy, and the other aspects of the show just aren't cutting it at this moment in time.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 2

Now that we've established that Yune speaks French, thus removing the sole irritation present in its opening episode, Ikoku Meiro no Croisée can get on with letting our adorable fish out of water run free in 19th century Paris.

Well, perhaps "running free" is a little too much to ask of Yune at this juncture, as she still comes to terms with some of the simpler cultural differences between Japan and France such as the use of a spoon or simply delicacies like coffee and cheese, the latter of which it seems no amount of attempts will please the palate of Yune.

This episode also gives our adorable companion a chance to explore the outside world a little, whether it's queueing for bread at the nearby bakery or a trip further afield to a local market and yet more wonders that Yune has never set sight upon before.  If it's a contiguous plot you're looking for, then this instalment also reveals the eventual destination of the kimono of Yune's which was sold last episode - an on-going headache for Claude it seems, as it's been bought by the owners of a nearby department store which threatens the livelihood of numerous business in Claude's vicinity.

I can only really find one word to sum up Ikoku Meiro no Croisée so far - delightful.  Our tour of 19th century French culture, architecture and so on is beautiful to look at and soothing to watch, while Yune is, let's not beat about the bush here, absolutely adorable in pretty much everything she says and does.  This must be the most relaxing anime series I've watched in a long, long time, and boy does it massage out the stress of a long, hard day with its period aesthetic and enjoyable characters.

Steins;Gate - Episode 15

From reaching the depths of despair, it seems as though there's light at the end of the tunnel for Okabe as first Makise lends a hand, and then Amane pulls quite a surprise out of the bag regarding her circumstances.

As episode fifteen begins, so Amane's full story is revealed, explaining not only why she ended up in Akihabara in 2010 but also the future destinies as they currently stand of both Okabe and Makise.  Of course, now that we know that Amane is the "John Titor" of this series, the question still stands as to how and where she can get her hands on that much-prized IBM 5100 - a journey which looks set to take her to 1975, only for her to find that her time machine is currently not operational.

However, just as Okabe can see light at the end of the tunnel thanks to the help of others, it's now Amane's turn to find likewise as the other members of the Future Gadget Lab are pressed into action by Okabe with a little help from the Time Leap machine to give them longer to work with.  While Daru is tasked with fixing Amane's time machine itself, the rest of the gang set about looking for Amane's father in their various ways with what seems to be little success, until Okabe seems to find a lead from a slightly surprising place...

After the almost agonising circumstances of recent episodes, we perhaps needed something to lighten the burden of Steins;Gate somewhat, and although there is still plenty of serious stuff to attend to throughout this episode there's also time for some fun and light-heartedness too - it's this side of things that the episode arguably excels at, from Mayuri's plan to find Amane's father through to Okabe's use of the English language.  As has been the case with much of the series throughout, the balance of entertainment and "the heavy stuff" is pretty much spot on, keeping Steins;Gate at the forefront as the most compelling show to watch that's currently airing.

Monday, 11 July 2011

YuruYuri - Episode 2

Having established its main characters in its first instalment, episode two of YuruYuri adds some more individuals to the mix courtesy of the school's student council, a body which tends to be so beloved of shows like this.

The president of said school council is a girl named Ayano, who has rather a problem with jealousy towards Kyoko given that she's the only person who consistently outscores her on tests; something which she manages to do despite making no real effort whatsoever when it comes to school work.  Alongside Ayano is vice-president Chitose, a glasses wearing and softly spoken girl that belies her proclivity towards drifting off into lesbian fantasies at the slightest provocation.

While much of the episode revolves around Ayano's decidedly tsundere tendencies towards Kyoko, we also get to see an on-going love/hate rivalry in progress between the two other student council members, Sakurako and fight for the right to be the next student council vice-president whilst regularly expressing their dislike for one another despite helping one another out when push comes to shove.

There isn't really a lot more to say about this episode - once their character archetypes are revealed then the jokes for the rest of the episode basically write themselves, and even when they spew forth like some kind of half-baked comedy nosebleed they aren't exactly anything to write home about.  After a mildly positive start, YuruYuri already seems to have found the niche for incredibly dull slice of life comedy vacated by A Channel the season before, and it's really looking rather snug in that capacity come the end of this second episode.  I somehow doubt things are going to get much better either, but I guess I'll give it another episode (out of my duty to review the show for UK Anime mostly) to see how it shakes out.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 15

The recently born media and marketing juggernaut that is Wild Tiger and Barnaby continues unabated as we enter this latest episode of Tiger & Bunny - in fact, between modelling and interviews and recording advertisements for cleaning products, our dynamic duo really aren't getting much time to do the whole "superhero" thing.

If only the same could be said for Sky High, who is having a tough time having seen himself usurped as both the king of heroes and the king of marketing opportunities to leave him rather out in the cold as he has to look on and view his friends enjoying (in Barnaby's case at least) their success.  Still, it isn't all bad news, as he finds himself falling in love, albeit rather bizarrely, with a woman who does a rather good impression of an automaton...

...or is it an impression?  As an android with a deep-seated hatred for heroes thanks to a malfunction goes on the loose, Sky High is oblivious to the true identity of this robot - probably a good thing too as it would have made slicing it into little bits with his power that much more difficult.  So, the day is saved and Sky High finds new inspiration as a hero, but in the meantime it seems as if it might be Kotetsu's turn to find something rather important to fret about.

In a way, this was rather a tale of two episodes - while some aspects of this week's plot managed to avoid too many huge clichés (I expected Sky High's meeting with the out of control android to be one of those cheesy "I loved you, but now I have to destroy you" moments), other segments felt horribly forced; namely Barnaby's sudden revelation that his parents worked in robotics, which considering he had such a complex about them you would have expected him to mention at least once in the preceding fourteen episodes rather than suddenly bring it up in an interview with some kids about ten minutes before finding himself face to face with an evolution of his parent's work.  Still, it's this odd juxtaposition of old school plot ideas given a fresh lick of paint that often works so well for Tiger & Bunny, and this wasn't a bad episode as it went about wringing a little excitement and humour out of its circumstances.  There are, however, bigger fish to fry in Stern Bild, and it looks as though we're going to be getting back to such important matters in short order thankfully.

Sacred Seven - Episode 2

The opening episode of Sacred Seven was a pretty fun and action-packed watch, but it certainly didn't feel like it had anything "fresh" to offer, and its closing gambit was so horribly clichéd that I think I literally cringed at it.

Still, there's nothing much I can do about that, so as episode two begins so Ruri Aiba hasn't enrolled in Arma's class, but rather taken over his entire school, giving it a rather nice paint job in the process.  Of course, all of this is in the hope that Arma will help her achieve her goal when it comes to combating the so-called "Darkstones" - a goal we learn the origins behind as this episode progresses, while we're also filled in on the reason why Arma ended up with his reputation as a violent delinquent in the first place.

All of these plot elements naturally trace back to the core origin of the series, and a series of meteors which landed across the Earth before dispersing their various special powers (the "Sacred Seven" of the shows titles) to mingle with and alter human DNA, giving rise to individuals like Arma or, more importantly, his mother.  While Arma is still undecided about how he should react to Ruri's goals, his hand is practically forced by the appearance of a massive Darkstone which causes sandstorms and untold chaos while he also gets to see first-hand just what Ruri is fighting for.  Queue an action sequence which sees Arma face off against this Darkstone in a style more reminiscent of Eureka Seven that Sacred Seven, although it's admittedly nowhere near as cool.

In what seems to be almost its episodic habit, this second episode of Sacred Seven concludes with another cringe-worthy revelation, this time playing the "childhood friend" card out of the blue to send my palm hurtling towards my face at terrifying speed.  It's a generic end to a pretty generic episode - again, it looks quite pretty and the action is decent enough, but there's not anything to really grab your imagination or win over your heart here, leaving the series to feel a little empty in terms of making any kind of connection with the viewer at all.  Given the way its plot has been laid out I don't see that changing, threatening to leave Sacred Seven firmly in that "oh well, it could be worse" category.