Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 9

Last week's episode was a little heavy on its philosophising about class and freedom, and in particular how these issues pertain to Camille and her relationship with Claude, and it's this train of thought which continues into episode nine of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée.

Of course, we can't get through an episode of this series without at least some token input from Yune, thus we're quickly treated to herself and Alice and their own differing takes on a Japanese tea ceremony before delving into the instalment's main business, that being a look back into the youth of Claude and Camille to help understand the current state of affairs between them and how it came to be so.

In truth, all of this is pretty much what you'd expect, with Camille and Claude becoming good friends, aided by the family's staff as they keep Claude a secret from Camille's parents, while their conversations only serve to highlight the class divide between the two of them.  As time goes on of course, it's an issue of freedom that ultimately comes between these two youngsters, as Claude wants to show Camille exciting parts of the world outside of her immediate surroundings, while Camille is simply unable to leave, bird in a gilded cage that she is.  Rather than explain this, Camille simply shuns a bewildered Claude before the truth eventually comes to the fore, but even after learning of all this there's clearly a certain distance developed between them two of them, relative grown-ups that they are now.  Is there room for that distance to shrink, particularly with Yune in the picture?  Who knows, but it looks as though we will be turning to more fun and frivolous matters next week at least.

After being so heavy-handed with its metaphors last episode, this week's instalment of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée managed a much better way of telling us basically the exact same thing through the vehicle that is the flashback - no need for tortured euphemisms here, we simply had to watch and see Camille's childhood and friendship with Claude develop and all became perfectly clear.  This is a show that is much better at showing than telling, and thankfully this episode was a big improvement as a result, even if it was largely shorn of Yune and what her character adds to any goings-on.  At least we can now class last week's episode as an aberration, and go back to enjoying our time in 19th century Paris... for a few more weeks, at least.

Sacred Seven - Episode 9

From the moody, unlikeable guy we were introduced to at the start of Sacred Seven, it's fair to say that Tandoji has changed a fair bit as the series has progressed - something reflected on at some length in this ninth episode of the series.

As Arma struggles with his work-life (well, work-work) balance due to intensive training from Kagami and company seriously effecting his opportunities to keep up with school work (despite Ruri's best intentions in helping out), so others comment on the changes they've seen in our protagonist as he becomes an ever-more popular member of the school.  But what exactly is it that's changed him; was it Wakan's invitation to join her club or Ruri's attentions that have made him a more personable individual?

Such ponderings are cut short however as our attentions are grabbed by the appearance of not one but two Darkstones, creating a rather unique problem for Ruri, Kagami and their maid army... and for Arma himself of course.  While Tandoji is tasked with tackling supposedly the "simpler" of the two enemies, his brother lays waste to any efforts from the massed forces of the Aiba Foundation by quite literally eating up everything they throw at him.  Despite ending up in rather a tight spot himself, and in that cheesy way which so often happens in cartoons, Arma's determination to protect his new-found friends gives him the energy and strength he needs to destroy not one but both Darkstones, while still having enough in reserve to thwart their final combined attack as the whole thing is proven to be a feint towards achieving a greater goal.

As average as this episode was in terms of story, plot and character development, I can't deny that it still has an eye for an action set piece when it wants to, with the entire elongated fight against the duel Darkstone threats proving to be one of the more entertaining things to come out of this series of late, no matter how cheesy its ending might have been.  To be honest, Sacred Seven would probably be better served sticking to this "monster(s) of the week" strategy rather than anything more ambitious, as it's certainly what the series has done best more often than not - the second half of this week's instalment was almost a poster child for decent, mindless anime action, never mind all the blather about friendship and so forth.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 22

Although the choice between Mayuri and Kurisu has become crystal clear to Okabe, with no means to escape having to decide the fate of these two individuals, that doesn't exactly make life any easier for our protagonist as decision time looms for him once again.

As we enter episode twenty-two, this leads to some frank and forthright conversations between Okabe and Makise as they shelter from an unexpected rainstorm - while Kurisu admits to finding herself holding vague memories of her death in the beta worldline, together with fleeting recollections of Okabe's struggles throughout, she seems to have accepted the inevitability of her death and how, ultimately, it's more important for Okabe to save Mayuri than anything else.

For his part, Okabe is still determined to find another solution, even if it means seeing Mayuri die in front of him over and over again as he tries to do so - a decidedly unhealthy state of affairs, as Kurisu rightly points out.  As Makise's philosophical take on existing in multiple world lines clashes with Okabe's rather more literal interpretation, it seems that there is at least one thing the pair have in common, bringing us to the conclusion of a not entirely surprising but still hugely touching love story, if only a fleeting one.  From here, it's time for Okabe to make his painful yet necessary final move towards the beta worldline... that isn't the end of the story though of course, as an interruption to the ending credits for this episode reminds us.

Although I tuned into Steins;Gate from the very start while expecting many things from it, I have to confess that I wasn't quite ready for this - love, passion, and some touching and genuinely heart-rending moments as the episode progressed; you'd have to be a man of steel to watch Okabe trying badly to hide his raw emotions beneath his "mad scientist" without letting your own emotions run out of control.  As with the half-way point of the series, this episode expertly made use of the time its spent ensuring that these characters and their unique foibles grow on us, to create an intense and touching instalment that might not have been what we were expecting from a series promising time travel and pseudo-science - but boy am I impressed with what it's achieved.  Let's just hope the show's big finale over the next couple of episodes live up to everything that has come before.

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 9

Although Utao and Kirio's little public skirmish might be long forgotten to most, it most certainly hasn't been forgotten by Kuuko's detective of a father - a bit of a worry, especially given that Utao isn't exactly the kind of girl to stand firm under impromptu questioning.

Although this continuing investigation into the mysterious "dolls" flying around Tokyo comes back into focus a few times throughout the episode (with both Kuuko and her father taking more than a passing interest in it), the rest of this week's instalment is a scattershot affair.  Moyako's appearance as she follows Koushirou and Kirio in tow to complete repairs on the latter's Seki drives some of this instalment's other occurences as she discusses Kirio's well-being and plays at least a small part in encouraging a meeting between him and Utao to make amends for their earlier scuffles - events which in turn sem to forge at least some slightly closer relationships in general between the Hyuga and Kuga clans, with our male protagonist in particular seemingly being pushed towards having to make some big decisions in the near future.

The big problem here is that we're fed crumbs of various storylines and occurrences, but none of it really meshes together in a particularly satisfactory manner - indeed, it feels rather like a mess as it jumps from one topic to another and then back again without any clear goal in mind, before dumping yet another new female character into the midst of proceedings out of the blue as the episode finishes.  Given that we only have a few more weeks of this series yet to run, this almost cries from the rooftops that nothing much will be resolved before it comes to an end, suggesting a disappointing finish to a series that has promised much but delivered little so far.

Monday, 29 August 2011

YuruYuri - Episode 9

On a hot, hot day in the world of YuruYuri, what better way to distract yourself from the heat than by sharing spooky stories?

Well, judging by this episode there are probably plenty of better ways to pass the time, as we drift through this and other random conversations without anything particularly amusing to catch our eyes or ears.  With all lines of conversation duly exhausted by the girls, its time to decamp to the student council room and its promise of air conditioning.

However, once there we seem to encounter a real life ghost of our own... or is it?  Of course - it is in fact the hitherto unseen student council president Matsumoto, who proves to be unique in her own particular way, that being that she's virtually mute (which also just so happens to be number one on my list of annoying anime character tropes - yippee!).  Thankfully, the second half of this episode also introduces us to the school science teacher Nishigaki, who proves to be far more entertaining as she looks for people to experiment with her latest concoctions on (so-called "explosion friends") while asserting that "explosions are the foundation of success".  Matsumoto's appearance does however bring us back to the subject of ghosts, and more importantly just where Akari has been for the entire episode...

Aside from a couple of decent moments featuring Nishigaki, this was generally a pretty dull episode with nothing in particular to mark it out or make it memorable at all - surprisingly so, since I was expecting more given the introduction of the student council president, who already seems to be a pretty insipid one-joke wonder.  I think we can probably file this one under "least funny episode of YuruYuri" at this juncture, which is perhaps saying something seeing as this wasn't the most hilarious of shows in the first place.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 22

Never mind the marriage of Takako and Enishi, there are more dramatic events at stake for this twenty-second episode of Hanasaku Iroha - if you thought that things had come to a head between Ohana and Minko last week, you haven't seen the half of it.

First and foremost though, Takako certainly seems determined to get as much mileage as possible out of Kissuiso's staff in the run-up to the wedding, waking them up at 4am to give them the maximum possible preparation time.  Meanwhile, Yuina, Ohana and Nako succeed in completing Takako's wedding dress - the only trouble is finding a suitable person to try it out on.  Minko seems like the perfect candidate, but it's fair to say that her mind is elsewhere to put it mildly...

Thus, when Minko's bad attitude in the face of being presented with the dress flares up, so we enter another outright cat-fight between herself and Ohana as they both shout from the rooftops about their respective crushes and what they want to and should do about them.  The trouble is, Minko doesn't realise that Tohru is watching the whole thing, letting the cat (to continue the feline metaphors) well and truly out of the bag.  Even worse, Tohru doesn't wish to reciprocate Minko's feelings beyond  having some respect for her, although at least with the air cleared Minko can refocus and decide what she wants to do next with her particular one-side crush.  This means that all is well come the day of the wedding and everything runs perfectly to plan - although once it's all over and Kissuiso returns to normal, its manager has a rather shocking announcement to make...

After setting up some pretty aggressive drama between Ohana and Minko last week and continuing it this, at least this instalment of Hanasaku Iroha had the common sense to put an end to it all without everything boiling over, effectively restoring the status quo in the kind of way you'd expect at the end of a teenage squabble over love.  That aside, there isn't really a huge amount of interest to discuss as far as Enishi's wedding is concerned, with all of the focus inevitably falling on the possible closure of Kissuiso at the end of the episode - a threat which will surely hang over the remainder of the series as it comes towards its natural end.

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 22

Whenever Kotetsu claims that he "has a plan", it's usually best not to expect too much of it - but has he really got what it takes to prove his innocence to his fellow heroes to turn around his current predicament?

Despite turning up in his old hero suit in a bid to jog the memories of his comrades, it seems that Kotetsu's plan is simply to make them remember their old friend before its too late by proving his knowledge of their personal secrets and quirks right in front of them - it isn't the most all-encompassing of plans, and all in all it really doesn't work too well as glimmers of recognition from the other heroes are soon replaced with yet more doubt and determination to catch this most shameful of criminals.

At this point, enter Kaede, who thanks to the most ridiculous of coincidences is now the only person with the power to unlock the buried memories of all those who came into contact with Maverick - something that she duly (if unwittingly) does to save the day.  Thus, the heroes suddenly find themselves confused as to why they were hunting down Wild Tiger before Kotetsu fills them all in on the details.... all of them except Barnaby however, who happened to be elsewhere at the time.  This means that Kotetsu's trials and tribulations are still far from over, as Barnaby refuses to listen to anybody has he seeks to wreak revenge upon who he believes to be Samantha's murderer while Kotetsu again has to try and prove his true identity to this former friend.  As for the other heroes, it seems that they have a new problem of their own to deal with...

By rights, this episode really shouldn't be any good - some of its major points of plot development are contrived almost to the point of being ridiculous.  Note the use of the word "almost" however - for all of its slightly ham-fisted way of forcing the story forward, this turned out to be another expertly concocted blend of action and humour that was hugely entertaining to watch, largely on account of Kotetsu himself, although the entire cast did their part to add to proceedings.  From beginning to end, you could argue that Tiger & Bunny is a show which utilises elements which shouldn't work together without descending into an embarrassing lump of cheese - it's borderline alchemy that the show continues to work so well, remaining as it does a firm favourite amongst the offerings currently being broadcast.

Nichijou - Episode 22

This week's instalment of Nichijou could probably be subtitled "Tsuyoshi's bad day", given that he fatures quite heavily throughout while generally having a rather rough time of things.

This instalment begins with our Mohawk-sporting friend trying to prove that ghosts don't exist in discussion with a priest by trying to open up a conversation that he can debunk with science - when this doesn't go well at all, things take a turn for the bizarre, ending up with a couple of great bits of slapstick comedy that bely the insipid stupid of their setup.  That aside, Tsuyoshi is also getting a rough time from his dad as he's forced into following in said father's footsteps and dressing as a Daifuku - indeed, so eager is his dad to ensure that he complies that said outfit is even booby-trapped...

Away from he of the instantly recognisable haircut, this week's episode serves up a real mixed bag, with other highlights including the Professor deciding to take Sakamoto for a walk only for them to find themselves surrounded by dogs - terrifying prospect assuaged only by the appearance of Mio and Yuuko who assure her that these dogs won't bite - at least, that's their assumption.... Probably my favourite sketch of this particular episode however involves Fe and Weboshi, with the former trying her best to show off a positive outlook on life in light of her friend dropping her meat bun, only for any such positivity to collapse against the over-whelming odds of misfortune.  I think it's pretty safe to say we've all had days like this.

The longer this series goes on, the more convinced I am that Nichijou is funniest when it's playing with simple slapstick gags - Kyoto Animation seem to get such jokes spot on visually and most of the funniest portions of recent instalments have revolved around just such moments right the way through to this week's episode, where only Yuuko and Mio's slickly animated over-reactions to being beaten even come close to besting such gags.  It still isn't enough to really life this series even close to the upper echelons of comedy, but I've learned by now that you have to take what you can get from this series.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 8

It's dragged on a little longer than it perhaps should have done to the point of outright overstaying its welcome, but Kami-sama no Memo-chou's current story arc finally comes to a close as of this eighth episode of the series.

Despite Narumi and Alice being seemingly on top of their investigations as they pertain to Renji and Soichirou, it seems that their revelations and plans have come just a little too late as news reaches them that Soichirou has been attacked by a group from a rival gang - no prizes for guessing who organised that attack.  With Soichirou in hospital and his minions thirsty for blood, it appears that all of the hard work which went into preparing the forthcoming live event is about to go to waste - luckily, Narumi has what it takes to step up to the plate and quell and immediate threats of retribution, while also proving to be surprisingly insightful (more so even than Alice) when it comes to reading Renji's moves and future plans.

This unerring ability to get inside Renji's mindset means that Narumi and company can lay a trap of their own at the literal gates to the live event, luring Renji in to a corner so that they can "assault" him with the truth - and what a shocking truth it is too as it relates to his beloved Hison, what happened to her on that fateful day and exactly why Soichirou has been keeping those events a secret from his former friend for so long.  With Soichirou himself also staggering in on proceedings, none of this is enough to stop the two of them slugging it out for reasons which are beyond me apart from offering a shrug and a contemplative "well, boys will be boys", but all's well that ends well as Narumi somehow succeeds in proving his worth once again.

Although I have to give this episode of Kami-sama no Memo-chou a small slice of kudos for introducing at least one unexpected twist (that being the current identity and whereabouts of Hison), this was a rare sparkling moment in an otherwise rather flat piece of story-telling - by this juncture I simply wasn't all that bothered about Renji or Soichirou's story any more, and even Narumi and Alice's moments of insight didn't particularly hold enough tension or wonder to really carry the story.  With a baseball episode next week, it looks as though this is one series that won't be living up to the potential exhibited by its opening episode, which really is a crying shame.

Blood-C - Episode 7

Saya's friends were dropping like flies in last week's Blood-C, as both Nene and Nono found themselves falling victim to the Elder Bairns - unsurprisingly, these developments have a troublesome effect on Saya's psyche as she questions her ability to protect those who are close to her.

There are, however, deeper questions than this being posed of Saya in this episode - exactly who did she make the promise to protect everybody and defeat the Elder Bairns to, and moreover what ends did she go to in an attempt to ensure this wish comes true?  It's at this point that we introduce our little dog friend to proceedings - last week we learned that he could speak, and this week we learn a little more about the reason for his presence, that being a rather odd tale about him running a shop that grants wishes and explaining his presence around Saya as part of ensuring that a particular wish is fulfilled.

As the episode progresses, so Saya's life and memories seem to be called ever more strongly into question - her teacher's strange behaviour continues to arouse suspicion, while a violent encounter with another Elder Bairn proffers more than a passing suggestion that Saya isn't who she thinks that she is at all.  So who, or what, is Saya?  Who knows, but it certainly seems that we're moving closer to the truth by the episode.

Having been genuinely impressed by the previous episode of Blood-C as it seemed to get almost everything right, this week's instalment felt a little wobbly again - its action scenes at the end of the episode felt horribly clumsy and clunky in terms of their animation (a shame given that this has tended to be one of the show's strong points at times), and the periods of exposition and building upon the core tenets of the story weren't exactly hugely compelling either, even if that's largely because it's hard to take a cute, talking dog seriously.  My interest in Saya's past and the truth behind it still interests  me and there are aspects of the show I continue to enjoy, but I can't help feeling that certain elements of this particular episode could have been handled a little better.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Sacred Seven - Episode 8

You didn't really think I'd forgotten about Sacred Seven, did you?  Okay okay, so I was a little tempted to erase it from my memory, but I'm not one to drop a series this far into its broadcast run so I was bound to get around to this eighth instalment sooner or later.

That said, this particular episode turns out to be rather a fluffy one - aside from some brief references towards the Ruri Foundation (and more specifically Kagami) investigating Kenmi and his organisation in the light of Knight's recent accusations, this particular instalment is really all about the bond between Ruri and Arma, weak though it seems to be.  While Ruri looks to bridge this gap by offering Arma a contract (no, not like Kyubey) to work for her, Hellbrick decides to intervene with a rather more "personal" ploy.

In essence, Hellbrick claims that to repair him from his current split in two state requires the procurement of a particular stone which also needs to be imbued with a certain amount of "devotion" - in other words, it's a slightly lazy ploy to get Arma and Ruri to go out on a date.  This they duly do, with Arma seeming as disinterested as ever while Ruri frets about all and sundry in a situation which finally comes to a head and allows the pair of them to clear the air (well, mostly at least) between one another and move a little bit closer as a result.  Hurrah!

Give its fluffiness, there isn't exactly a lot to this episode that couldn't be achieved elsewhere in the series, leaving us instead to do little more than try and extract some enjoyment from watching Ruri in a less elegant and decidedly more everyday scenario while wallowing in the deep and magical wonders of Megumi Nakajima's voice... although that last part might just have been me.  It's another pretty mediocre episode that underpins an average series, and there isn't a lot more I can add beyond that - there's only so many ways I can say "this series is okay" before I run out of ideas.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 7

We now know the background to Ringo's obsession with Tabuki and what she believes is the eventual goal laid out in her "diary of fate" - so, with that information in hand, it's back to watching everyone's favourite stalker going about her business.

As she continues to camp out below Tabuki's house, it seems as though Ringo might finally have made some progress, as she receives an e-mail from him inviting her out for a night at the theatre.  Is this her big chance to go on a date with her beloved?  Well... not quite, given that the pair are (of course) both guests at the behest of Yuri Tokikago, meaning that not only does Ringo have to put up with a couple of hours of decidedly corny acting, but she also finds Yuri accompanying them both to a meal after the performance.  Still, at least putting up with all of this does land her an invite to a forthcoming party being held by Yuri, although even this is tempered by the fact that she's told to bring Shou along with her.

Naturally, this is no normal party, but an event held by Yuri to not only announce her retirement from the theatre, but also to announce her engagement to Tabuki.  Cue shock from Ringo as she realises that the "killer whale" that is Yuri has now well and truly snatched her man.  Not that Ringo is going to give up at this point however - far from it, as she concocts an odd but ultimately fruitless occult scheme to win Tabuki back, before deciding to resort to even more desperate measures come this end of this episode; on that count at least she seems to be in sync with the equally debased train of thought coming from Kanba, who himself seems to be drawing himself ever deeper into this whole "Penguin Drum" business.

While this episode progresses the show's current plot and story arc another step forward, perhaps more importantly it does so in a hugely entertaining fashion, full of visual flourishes and tight, snappy scripting that make it a joy to watch as it goes about its frequently daft business.  It's at times like this where I almost don't care where Mawaru Penguindrum is headed, because its heady mixture of slapstick penguins, crazed yet oddly slightly lovable stalker and put-upon brothers is simply so enjoyable to watch.  If it can keep that up without jumping the shark in terms of its core concept, then I can only see my love affair with the series to date continuing.

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Usagi Drop - Episode 8

It's a hot summer's day as we hit episode eight of Usagi Drop, a state of affairs which seems to be water off Rin's back, which is more than can be said for some of the show's grown-ups who really don't seem to take so well to such high temperatures.

Nevertheless, the real news to come from this episode is that we finally get a little more time to watch the behaviour of Rin's real mother Masako, starting out with a visit to her studio as she struggles with deadlines and the possibility of more projects being piled upon her in her work as a manga artist.  It's actually difficult to say how well she's coping with this pressure given her detached, nonchalant attitude to most things, but given her over-reaction to her assistant/boyfriend fussing over her and her state of intense tiredness it's probably fair to say that she isn't doing too great.

More importantly, a visit to the grave of Rin's father by Rin and Daikichi gives the latter a shock when he finds that it's been freshly decorated with a flower in an ink bottle and with the tips of drawing pens scattered around - a sure sign that Masako has just visited.  Leaving Rin to tend to the grave, Daikichi manages to track down Masako, offering her a chance to see her daughter (albeit from afar) as the growing girl that she is; indeed, this day also happens to be her birthday.  Masako accepts this invitation, commenting on her daughter's similarity to her father in her usual, slightly ambiguous fashion.

It's really Masako's behaviour that dominates this episode (although of course the dynamic between Rin and Daikichi is as wonderful as ever), and I have to confess that I find her fascinating.  She's such a bundle of contradictions, barely concealed self-loathing and confusing, enigmatic statements that she's the kind of girl you can't help but want to understand and get a handle on even if it means getting your fingers burned in the process.  Well, maybe that's just me, but nonetheless she's an intriguing addition to an already brilliant series, and I hope her character continues to be developed further to add another feather to the plumage that already exists upon the show's proverbial cap.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 8

With Yune back on her feet and fit again after her illness last week, there's more good news to come from this eighth episode of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - namely, the introduction of cats to proceedings.

Truth be told, the cats in question are purely and simply a metaphorical device around which to base this instalment, as we more specifically find some of our characters compared to stray cats against others who are shut in their homes.  All of this comes to the fore as Yune pays a visit to Alice to thank her for her help in recovering from that aforementioned illness; a visit which sees her accompanied by Claude, therefore giving us an opportunity to delve into the prior relationship between himself and Camille as hinted at earlier in the series.

While Claude himself seems to have little to say about the matter when he finds himself spending some time with Camille during Yune's visit to see Alice, Camille herself has plenty to say as she reveals a slightly darker, butter and jealous side to her personality - one which she also lets show through to some extent when talking to Yune in what is ultimately a bittersweet exchange between the two of them.  Ultimately though, and following on from Yune's comment Camille's way of dressing (referring to it was "like a bird cage") earlier in the series, the real story here is one of freedom versus captivity, with Camille in particular very much a hostage of her own class system and position.

Although I continue to coo over the frequently gorgeous aesthetic and animation of the series, I'm not so sure about it's attempt here to delve a little deeper into some of its characters and their circumstances, mainly on account of the fact that it felt a little as though it were trying too hard to force its point home.  I can't quite put my finger on why, but something simply didn't feel natural about what we saw here, and the overall experience suffered as a result - not to the point of being bad or unwatchable; it simply didn't have the same draw as the rest of the series prior to this point.  Given how enjoyable those previous instalments have been however, I'm willing to forgive it an off-day, although it looks as though the Claude-Camille dynamic will be further explored next week...

Steins;Gate - Episode 21

To say that Okabe's realisation at the end of last week's episode of Steins;Gate gives him a small dilemma to ponder would perhaps be the biggest understatement ever to grace this 'blog (well, that or "Star Driver is rubbish") - but never mind that, just what is our resident mad scientist going to do about this new predicament?

Quite simply, the answer is "he doesn't know".  While Okabe's immediate reaction is to put a stop to Daru's cracking which would remove the final D-Mail and return the world to its original timeline, the fact that doing so would also result in Makise's death leaves him unable to do so.  Thus, Okabe ponders and formulates, trying to find a solution to the problem alone with no input from Makise for fear of telling her what will become of her... as a result, he has to face up to Mayuri's death once again.

Another time leap later, Okabe has even more time to ponder his next move - again, he tries to go it alone, but eventually there's nothing else for it but to tell a visibly shocked Kurisu what the future in the changed timeline in question will mean for her.  We don't really get any particular feel for her thoughts about such a scenario beyond that immediate reaction, instead continuing to focus upon Mayuri as she worries about Okabe's readily apparent suffering while mulling over what she can do to rectify the situation.

While recent weeks have seen Steins;Gate hold a very tight focus, this is perhaps the first episode in quite a while that has slowed things down somewhat - although this is slightly frustrating from the point of view of eager viewers desperate to see where the series goes next, it does give us time to really soak up the emotional impact of what's going on.  In particular, at a point where Mayuri has had diminished screen time in deference to Makise, all of a sudden we're hit hard by how impossible Okabe's current situation is in heart-rending fashion as Mayuri delivers perhaps some the saddest, most heartfelt monologue of the series so far.  As I seem to be saying every week at the moment, I have no idea where the series is headed from here - all I know is that this week's instalment left me with a bit of a lump in my throat.

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 8

With their business in Karakami village finished and Kyohei's recounting of his and Aki's past completed, it's time to head back to Tokyo for episode eight of Kamisama Dolls... albeit not for long.

No sooner have they arrived than we see Hibino, Kyohei and Utao heading off for a trip to the beach courtesy of an acquaintance of Hibino's father who runs a boarding house.  Unfortunately for our trio, they've chosen the middle of a typhoon to pay the area a visit, and thus spend half the episode fending off high winds and rain and all of the dangers which come with it as a tree crashes in through the hotel and the power goes out.  Don't worry though, they still manage to shoehorn in some shots of Hibino in a swimsuit and Utao in the bath though in this otherwise filler-ific sub-episode.

We do somewhat return to the show's main plot at this point, as a trip to the library for first Hibino and then Utao ends up as an impromptu meeting with Aki, who warns Hibino about the danger lurking within Kyohei before he (and his kakashi) end up in a scrap in the park with Utao's kukuri.  It's a state of affairs which leaves Hibino irritated and upset - and little wonder too, I'd be kind of pissed if I had to meander through so many mediocre episodes in the knowledge that most people are only paying attention because of my boobs.

Really, this simply wasn't a good episode of Kamisama Dolls - its first half was filler, pure and simple, and its second half simply wasn't that interesting, with some subpar action in the midst of a clumsy and slightly contrived plot which felt glued together rather than a seamless attempt at story-telling.  It seems strange to have filler content in a series that is going to run out of episodes pretty fast at this rate, but in all honesty Kamisama Dolls' real crime is wasting the potential inherent in what seemed like a pretty cool concept for a series.  Of course, it still has time to make its mark (and we've seen in past episodes that it can have its moments), but it needs to apply itself more evenly if it's going to even come close to doing so.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 7

The Renji versus Soichirou saga continues as we reach episode seven of Kami-sama no Memo-chou - rather disturbingly, it still isn't over yet either, meaning that we have to look forward another week before this particular story arc comes to its conclusion.

Anyhow, as Narumi engineers a meeting with Renji, we finally get to the bottom of his grudge with Sou - we already knew of their past friendship, but now all of the sordid details emerge (as Renji understands them, at least) complete with tales of a love triangle surrounding a woman named Hison and an allegation that Sou used her as a human shield as part of another gang rivalry incident, leading to her death.

Despite this shocking news, Narumi refuses to give up as he swears there is more to this falling out than meets the eye - with little hope of turning Renji's line of thinking around, his attentions again turn to Soichirou in an attempt to persuade him to ask Alice to help with uncovering the truth.  After initially refusing he eventually agrees, and despite continuing to insist to all and sundry that he caused Hison's death the truth is, in fact, far more complicated - indeed, it appears that Sou's lies are actually an attempt to protect Renji's feelings.  It's a nice idea, but one that suddenly looks set to take a decidedly dangerous turn....

From a glass half full point of view, this is the strongest episode of this story arc so far - it finally gives some meaning to all the ambling around of the past couple of weeks and puts some colour into the black and white picture that had been painted with good effect as the layers of truth are eventually revealed.  While I appreciate these aspects of the episode's story-telling, it's in danger of being over-whelmed by the slow and sometimes downright ponderous pacing - there feels like too much fluff getting in the way of the interesting parts of the story and what it's trying to say, and my interest in the whole thing ultimately suffers as a result.  It's a shame really, as there are glimmers of what made me fall in love with the show's opening episode, but after so much mediocre material from Kami-sama no Memo-chou of late, a glimmer here and there just won't cut it any more.

YuruYuri - Episode 8

Time flies when you're an under-aged borderline lesbian... at least, that seems to be the case in the world of YuruYuri, as we move from last week's Christmas episode to this week's instalment which begins on April Fool's Day.

Given the date in question, Chitose sets Ayano a task - to detect and filter out any lies she makes during the course of their conversation as they sort out the student council's archives.  It looks as though Chitose is a terribly liar as she reels off numerous outlandish things... or does she?  You can probably guess the punchline to this particular sketch without too much effort.

Amongst the facts brought up by Chitose is that she has an identical twin sister, and lo and behold said sister quickly makes an appearance here as she finds herself bugged by Kyoko in the library as everyone assumes her to be Chitose.  From here, we're eventually introduced to this twin sister, who goes by the name of Chizuru - they may look alike, but in terms of personality they're very different.  Well, mostly, different, with Chizuru being the shy, reserved bookworm type, unless it comes to taking off her glasses and fantasising (because we really needed two characters who do that in this show) or assaulting Kyoko as she continues to try and bug/make friends with her.

There really isn't much to say about this episode, as YuruYuri's tried and trusted route of slightly risque hints and lesbian fantasising roll on unabated.  The trouble is that in an episode such as this one, there isn't much that's sufficiently amusing to balance those proclivities out as we've managed to find from other instalments, and when it comes to the crunch that makes things rather dull overall.

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 21

To say that Kotetsu was in a tight spot come the end of the previous episode of Tiger & Bunny would be to put it mildly - framed as a wanted man by Maverick and with none of his hero colleagues or those related to his work able to remember him thanks to Maverick's NEXT powers, where does our protagonist turn next?

For much of this episode, Kotetsu's thoughts are trained solely on surviving the next five minutes without capture as his former hero friends set out to catch Stern Bild's "most wanted" man - a trick but not impossible task, even as the realisation dawns that none of his new-found foes even remember his name or face.  The one possible exception to this is Blue Rose, who wavers as Kotetsu recounts stories that stir memories in her mind that nobody else but the real Wild Tiger would know - sadly, such progress is soon ruined by the appearance of the "real" Wild Tiger, complete with upgraded power suit.  If you can't figure out the secret behind the new-look Wild Tiger, then you've either missed or forgotten about episode fifteen...

As an aside to all of this, Kotetsu's daughter Kaede is finally told the truth about her dad's real job and identity - a major shock to her of course, and one that sends her shuffling through her back catalogue of magazines in an attempt to find understanding in what she's been told.  Not only does she find this, but it also spurs her decision on what to do next, as she takes off for the city in an attempt to help and protect her father as he has always sworn to do for those close to him.  As for Kotetsu himself, the appearance of his old friend Ben sets a plan of his own into motion, while he's also found himself with another unlikely friend in the form of Lunatic...

Clumsy though reaching this point might have been in places, and predictable thought it undoubtedly is, you can't deny the entertainment value of Tiger & Bunny during an episode like this, which makes top-notch use of everything available to it while stringing together its plot and characters expertly before topping it off with a helping of Kotetsu's inimitable personality.  I am still hooked to this series, foibles be damned?  You bet I am.

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 21

Love is in the air this week at Kissuiso.... well, love mixed in with the odd frighteningly potent dose of hatred, by the look of things.

Starting with the more upbeat side of things however, this instalment opens with Enishi announcing that he will soon be marrying Takako - rather a sudden surprise even given their earlier dalliances, but it seems that they're now really rather close... Hell, Takako even has a cringe-worthy nickname for her husband-to-be.  As for Enishi's mother, her poker face is as steady as always, but she does agree that the couple can be married with her blessing as long as they do so via a proper ceremony.  Of course, given the finances involved this seems like an impossibility - at least, it does until the rest of Kissuiso's staff suggest the idea of holding the ceremony at the inn with them helping out.  The budget is still ridiculously tight, but all of a sudden the whole thing seems like a distinct possibility.

Meanwhile, matters of the heart are proving to be more troublesome for Minko, as some throwaway comments by Tohru again throws her into one of those fits of jealousy of which she is so prone.  As per usual, the subject of this anger is a bemused Ohana who has no idea what's going on (nothing new there, to be fair).  This time around though, things really do seem to have taken a turn for the worse in this bizarre love triangle, with Minko telling Ohana to go out with Tohru while still finding herself unable to say anything about her feelings to Tohru himself.  This will never end well...

Although we've moved from simple, fluffy fun to some more serious moments of drama, Hanasaku Iroha is continuing to work well.  Okay, Takako and Enishi seem like an implausible couple (and marriage so early doesn't really fit too well with the story up to that point), but the end of episode cliff-hanger is suitable "ooooh" worthy, and outside of that coupling Minko's ferocious jealousy has been fantastically played here.  Throw in some more great one-liners and facial expression comedy and its ever-entertaining character roster, and I'm once again reminded of how much I'm going to miss this series when it comes to a close.

I probably should have bought the Hanasaku Iroha cider and prints on offer at the Ayacon charity auction after all...

Nichijou - Episode 21

So, I'm back from Ayacon and the unexpected expenses it brought my way - I'm absolutely knackered and haven't slept a huge amount over the past three or four days but hey, let's get my priorities straight and catch-up on some anime first!

As per usual, Nichijou gleefully jumps around all over the place for this twenty-first episode, starting with Yuuko thinking she'd gotten away with not doing her homework only to be proved very wrong in a fashion which was admittedly very funny as slapstick comedy goes before the gag was run well and truly into the ground - another case of this show needlessly elongated a decent joke until it isn't funny any more.  From here, Misato has her friends around, resulting in a discussion which invariably turns to boys before her so-called friend Fe makes one of those "you really didn't think about what you were saying before you opened your mouth" comments.

Teachers also feature heavily in this episode, with Takasaki getting overly excited (to an incredibly annoying degree) about meeting Sakurai by chance during a shopping trip, and also managing to charmingly destroy science teacher Nakamura's latest plot to kidnap Nano.  We also pay another visit to Yuuko's airship dream world, which this time sees Mio herself going in search of her missing wooden cubes.  It's only at the end of the episode where we get our (well, my) first laugh out loud moment of the week, as Sakamoto gets caught out unexpectedly by the Professor's genius in a smart little snippet of comedy.

I only wish that I could say there are more such snippets of comedy on show here, but generally speaking this was a bit of a dull episode in terms of humour - as always, its fascinating to watch as far as animation techniques and ideas are concerned, but most of the actual material simply doesn't seem to be that good.  Once again, it's the story of this series from beginning to end, more or less.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Blood-C - Episode 6

Having left us with a big, far cliff-hanger a couple of weeks ago, we've been left hanging on the fate of Nene and Saya as they both find themselves caught unawares by the unexpected appearance of an Elder Bairn.

Despite being unarmed, Saya still tries her best to protect her friend - not that Nene is much help as she runs around and generally acts like a headless chicken in the face of this danger.  Actually, the phrase "headless chicken" probably isn't the best choice in this scenario, as Saya's dash for a katana leaves her friend exposed for long enough for the Elder Bairn to.... well, let's just say it's been getting its attack ideas from Puella Magi Madoka Magica's Charlotte.

Needless to say, this gruesome (and censored) attack on her friend leaves Saya in shock, and eventually it's left to her dad to step in and send her off to sleep.  When she awakes, she finds herself confused and disoriented and unable to properly recall what has just happened right in front of her eyes - an uneasy feeling which hasn't dampened as she returns to school the next day, and a sensation exacerbated when it's announced to the class that Nene is missing and the school is set to be closed for the delay at the request of police.  As she makes her way home, things get even more surreal, between a talking dog and an appearance from Nono, which brings about another session of blood, cuts and gruesomeness as Saya is again forced into action as her psyche threatens to further disintegrate - a threat which may well reveal more truths about her past.

If you've been tuning into this series for its blood and guts, then despite those early cake and coffee-laden episodes we now certainly have plenty going on in that department, and I have to say that this episode's darker moments were genuinely shocking and disturbing (even with its TV broadcast censorship in place), so mission accomplished on that front.  There's still a question mark over whether there's sufficient plot in place to back all of this up, but things are certainly moving apace in the right direction, and at this half-way point in the series Blood-C is threatening to turn into quite the unexpected monster, and compellingly so.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 6

We might have had a week's break from Mawaru Penguindrum, but that intervening period has suddenly done nothing to temper Ringo's fate-based delusions as we reach episode six of the series.

First and foremost though, Kanba finds himself the object of unwanted attention from the mysterious Natsume - as we saw last episode, the "girl in the red heels" Asami was the subject of an assault from her supposed friend, and here we soon realise that this attack has wiped Asami of any memories she might have of Kanba.  As he digs a little deeper into who sent him the message claiming that they know what he's looking for, so a further couple of members of his "fan club" (or rather, former fan club) are given the same treatment, with a blow to the head courtesy of Natsume's rather unique brand of weaponry putting paid to their memories of Kanba.

Elsewhere however, our focus leans heavily upon Ringo as she sets out on her latest crackpot plan to ensnare Tabuki, or "Project M" as she likes to call it.  It's left to the hapless Shou to help Ringo in this task with the promise of a look at her diary as a reward, although it appears that this particular brand of assistance requires little more than a ludicrous amount of heavy lifting as Ringo prepares herself to spend her first night with Tabuki in her own inimitable fashion.  Unfortunately for Ringo, her usual delusions are supplemented and aggravated by the fact that she's coming down with a fever, although rather importantly this does allow us a rather significant window into her past - it's thanks to this we learn that Ringo has (or rather had) an older sister named Momoka, and due to the trauma of her death upon the family and said older sister's own relationship with Tabuki before her passing we seem to have found ourselves the root cause of Ringo's desire to be with Tabuki.  Put simply, she wants to become her sister in the hope of reunited her family and ensuring that fate as she sees it for those around her comes to pass.

While we're getting fewer and fewer snatches of penguin-led comedy as Mawaru Penguindrum goes on, it's certainly weaving an intriguing web in its stead.  Ignoring the entirely pointless "survival strategy" segment this week (it felt like an excuse to fill some time), we now have a complete handle on Ringo's mindset, which itself raises an interesting question - is Ringo anything to do with the Penguindrum at all, or just a damaged girl following her own decisions about what the right thing to do for her family is?  The climax to the episode (namely the mention of Project M by Natsume) suggests not, but the flashbacks we see posit Ringo as creating her diary of fate by herself - is she simply being helped along somehow in the same way that Himari's life is prolonged by the weird entity within her hat?  Beyond that, we know even less about Natsume and her mission, although it seems fair to assume that she may well be in competition for the Penguindrum.... so many questions, and so much time left to answer them, but it's fair to say that I'm still hooked by this series and more than a little curious about what it's trying to achieve.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Usagi Drop - Episode 7

A lazy day for Daikichi and Rin brings an unexpected and unannounced visitor to their home - Daikichi's cousin Haruko and daughter Reina, who seem to have decided to drop by out of the blue.

Well, when I say "drop by", it seems that Haruko has actually decided to run away from home in the face of a husband who is always at work and doesn't really seem to care, and in-laws who they share a home with who she very much considers "the enemy" for a variety of reasons.  Given that tough situation to live in, it's little wonder that she's upset and looking for an escape, a means afforded to her as Daikichi lets Haruko and Reina stay for a few days (even if it does threaten to cause a momentary issue in his growing relationship with Yukari.

During the course of Haruko's stay, Daikichi finds himself with quite a few questions to mull over, not only with regard to his raising of Rin but also about some wider points - the importance and difficulties of marriage and the role of a father in caring for children.  Still, despite Haruko's complaints come the end of the episode she returns to her normal life, while Daikichi notes what a strong woman she has become from the crybaby that he knew from his childhood growing up alongside her.

Although its focus was a little different perhaps from what we've seen from Usagi Drop so far, this was another great episode - Haruko's situation was played straight without soaking it in too much drama, and really the whole scenario was relayed more as an exercise to provoke thought in Daikichi and, by extension, the viewer.  Essentially, it distilled so much of what is hard about every day life, particularly as it pertains to a thirty-something - the constant struggle between having to behave, act and think like an adult while wishing you were a younger person and could still act like one, and the simple fact that raising a family really isn't any simpler if you're married compared to doing it alone.  There are plenty of far more subtle points on those and more topics to the point where you could probably spend a day discussing, but putting them to one side again this episode's best moments were when its kids came into the frame, whether it's Reina's knowledge of exactly what is going on between her parents even though Haruko thinks she knows nothing, and Rin and Reina's discussion of those "weird" grown-ups and their whimsical worries about relationships.  It's those moments which throw the grown-up topics of the series into relief, and it proves to be as entertaining as it is considered and thoughtful to keep this series ticking along perfectly.

As a side note, I'm off to the Ayacon convention here in the UK starting from tomorrow until Monday, so don't be surprised to see sparse or non-existent updates on this 'blog between now and then!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


After what seems like an endless stream of hype and an even longer period of time in production (which began pretty much before I was even what you'd term a "proper" anime fan), Redline is finally here in physical form - well, for Japan at least, us UK types have to wait until November and the US even longer to see what all of the fuss is about.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the core concept of Redline is neatly summed up in its opening twelve minutes, as we're treated to its a "warm-up" race for the film's titular event - the Yellowline is a race to the finish (and quite possibly to the death) that is best described as Wacky Races meets Cannonball Run; a dangerous, colourful and high octane no holds barred road race that eschews the hover cars widely used in this futuristic, space-age setting in deference to good old fashioned wheels and engines.  More specifically, we join the race following a young man with a rather dashing haircut named JP as he carves his way through the field towards the lead of the race.  As the contest turns into a straight two horse race between JP and the gorgeous Sonoshee McLaren, so we see a twist in the tail - JP's duty is to throw the race, and his mechanic Frisbee is in on the deal and more than happy to "help" him fulfil this duty; something that he duly does as the race reaches its break-neck finish.

Despite having his race sabotaged, JP's luck is in as he still finds himself drafted into the Redline as others drop out for a reason that soon becomes clear - this year's event is held on the planet of Roboworld, who aren't exactly too keen on having a bunch of rebellious racers trailing across their stockpile of military secrets while half the world watches on via television.  Before that however, Frisbee has a Redline-winning car to build, while JP contents himself with taking more than a passing interest in Sonoshee - an interest which takes us all the way back into his past.

All of this leads on to the main event - the Redline itself, and nigh-on forty minutes of ridiculously overblown racing action complete with vehicles, missiles, guns, land mines, an out-of-control bio-weapon and the collision of these various elements with one another as the Redline racers take on both themselves and anybody who stands in their way while Roboworld's military proves to be increasingly incompetent in doing anything about the invasion of their turf.  Oh, and there's a love story in there too.

While I realise that this is going to sound like a cop-out, Redline is hard to write about - not because of the complexities of its plot (there aren't any) or due to its deep, over-arching moral fabric (it has none), but simply because this isn't an anime movie made to be de-constructed; it's made to be experienced.  The first dozen minutes of the film make this perfectly clear - almost every scene is a blaze of colour and expressive movement, best summed up by the nuanced facial expressions that convey the discomfort, pain and adrenaline pumping excitement of the race even before the super-elongated shots to convey the insane sense of speed required by such scenes.  While it's tempting to coo over the vehicles (and they really are things of beauty), it's really the human element that makes Redline's action scenes what they are - even in its ridiculously over-the-top world of racing, it perfectly captures that moment of a perfect gear chance; the feeling as your foot punches down on the accelerator; the instinctive skill of braking into a corner before giving the car some welly as you hit its apex.

Redline is a movie book-ended by two segments that you really could watch over and over again without ever becoming bored of them, that being the Yellowline at the start of the film and the Redline itself at the end - however, just some random racing does not a decent anime make and Redline knows this.  Sure, the middle segment of the movie could be cut out entirely and you might not miss it explicitly, but it still serves up some entertainment of its own - aside from filling in JP, Frisbee and Sonoshee's stories and some other points of note, it also has a rich vein of comedy blowing through it as it gleefully introduces the Redline's other racers in a faux TV style that markedly funny and a sign of the humour that runs through a film which doesn't take itself too seriously as a whole.

Ultimately though, it's the film's visceral package to which we return again and again - the thick lines and pitch black shadows used throughout proves to be the perfect accompaniment to the film's mood and style in animation terms, and as I've already discussed the expressive depiction of human emotion via facial expressions and body language is key to investing you in a movie that isn't exactly going to win you over via character depth.  This is, however, only one part of that package - as if setting fire to your eyeballs via the products of a crazed, supercharged imagination isn't enough, Redline also assaults your ears with a soundtrack that only ever serves to accentuate what's going on perfectly, but never encroaching on the roar of engines or medley of explosions that accompany the action.

There are lots of ways in which anime can be beautiful or otherwise jaw-dropping to watch, and Redline is perhaps the most striking example of this we've seen it some time.  Thankfully it's backed up by a concept befitting that spectacle - it isn't highbrow or thought-provoking, but as an experience rather than a piece of social commentary or philosophy it works perfectly.  Hell, in its own unique way it almost is perfect to all intents and purposes.

The visual flair and "wow" factor of Redline has understandably seen some credit this movie as the potential crest of a wave that will ensnare a new generation of anime fans in its clutches, just as certain high-profile films gobbled up my generation of fandom - this is, perhaps, the only place where I find myself disagreeing with the more outspoken lovers of the film.  While Akira and Ghost in the Shell are the perfect start to a close, long-term relationship with anime, Redline feels more like a one-night stand - hot, heart-pounding, raw, frantic and exciting, so much so that you want to get right back to experiencing it all again straight away.  However, the lustre of a one-night stand soon wears off without anything more to sustain it, and I fear that without the depth of those aforementioned films, Redline may prove to be little more than a quick but satisfying fumble in the back seat of a Trans-Am.

For now though, let's forget those who may be blind to the wonders of anime and what it can offer and say this - watching Redline is a jaw-droppingly stunning experience that you've probably never seen the likes of before, and may never see the likes of again.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 20

Having found Moeka Kiryuu, Okabe once again has sight of the IBM 5100 at last thanks to a hint she gives him as to its location.  Much as he's tempted to just go and take it by force from its current hiding place however, Makise promotes a smarter method that takes into account the fact that he needs to undo all of the D-Mails that have been sent in the proper order to ensure that he can reach the correct world line to save Mayuri.

Thus, it's time for Okabe to play a waiting game as he stakes out the locker containing the much-needed computer - a task in which he's eventually joined by Moeka herself, keen as she is to catch sight of her beloved FB.  Eventually, the computer is collected, and Okabe and Moeka follow its trail (with a little help from the occasional D-Mail when things go awry) across the city all the way to Narita airport, before it's packed on a plane and shipped off to SERN as the starting point for their future domination of the world.

The IBM 5100 might be gone from this timeline, but following its progress uncovered one important link in the chain of its movement - none other than Okabe's landlord Mister Braun.  Needless to say, Okabe (along with Kurisu and Moeka) waste no time in quizzing him on his role, only to find that he is the much vaunted FB, and little more than a puppet upon the strings controlled by SERN after taking a job with them to pull himself out of destitution.  While this revelation is seemingly unhelpful, and what occurs next downright shocking, it does allow Okabe to ultimately undo the D-Mail he requires to reset the world-line at little closer to its ideal - a reversion that also gives him access to the IBM 5100.  Now, it's simply a case of removing some data from SERN for Okabe to reach his goal... but at what cost?

Never mind jumping back through world-lines, my thoughts on Steins;Gate increasingly resemble an infinite recursion of time as week upon week I heap praise upon the series for its smart plot and cunning twists and turns.  Once again, this episode has plenty up its sleeve to surprise you and keep you on your toes - some of it arrives rather out of left-field admittedly, but that's forgiveable against a backdrop that becomes more tangled and fascinating by the week.  I'd love to say long may it continue, but with just four episodes to go time is running out for this excellent series.

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 7

In case you'd forgotten in its late blaze of bras and wet blouses, last week's episode of Kamisama Dolls ended with Hibino asking Kyohei to recount the story of what exactly happened between himself and Aki.  Cue this episode, which recounts the whole sordid tale for both Hibino and us, the viewer.

Thus, this episode takes us back into the past, and a time at Karakami village where Aki was no longer a Seki and bereft of a kakashi amidst concerns about his violent mental state - a decision which saw his Seki status passed on to his step-brother Atsushi.  As we join this story, the latter is all set to put some serious smack down on the former using his Seki, Kuramitsuha, only to be interrupted by first a newcomer to the village, and then Kyohei and his own kakashi at the time Kukuri.  The newcomer in question is Chihaya Senou, a new teacher in the village who soon proves popular with both the younger children while arousing more than just the interest of Kyohei in particular.

However, Senou's positive start in the village soon turns sour as Atsushi looks to have his way with her and finds himself rebuffed, leading to him unleashing a hate campaign that sees the villagers and children turn against their formerly beloved teacher.  As Atsushi tries his luck again in violent fashion, it's Aki who saves the day, leading to Senou sleeping with him and putting the final nail in the coffin of her employment.  Atsushi still hasn't finished his fun however, as he kidnaps Senou to lure Aki to him, before his attempt to kill his step-brother goes badly wrong, instead leaving Senou dead before a beserk Aki regains control of Kuramitsuha and goes on the killing spree which led to his discovery by Kyohei and later imprisonment.

So, there we have it - the back story to Kamisama Dolls has now well and truly been filled in. Although the whole story felt a little ropey in places (Senou's reasoning for sleeping with Aki in particularly felt a little "off"), it's a solid effort overall that benefited from its adult, pull no punches tone while filling in everything we needed to know about Aki, and perhaps less than we need to know about Kyohei.  Now, the real question is where the series goes from here - your guess is as good as mine on that front...

Monday, 15 August 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 7

Given all of her exploits and adventures in recent weeks, you can probably forgive Yune for feeling a little under the weather for this seventh episode of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - not that she's going to admit to feeling poorly to anyone, mind you.

Despite having no appetite and not feeling so great, Yune does her best to carry on as normal, even running out of the shop to greet and talk to the young lad who stole a candlestick a couple of episodes previously - an encounter that gets her an overly harsh reprimand from Claude as they clash over the correct way to treat children.  I'm sure Yune would have sorted out those looters in London in no time...

After a chat with the always-energetic Alice (who seems to have gotten the wrong idea about all sorts of Japanese contraptions), Yune has another meeting with the young boy in question, where she says her goodbyes and tells him they can't talk again only to be spat out by an angry Claude once again.  After this contretemps, Yune finally succumbs to her illness and collapses in the hallway, causing more than a little consternation to Claude as he holds himself responsible for her feeling ill to the point where he even runs begging to Alice for a doctor to help her out.  Of course, such ailments are only fleeting, and by the end of it all not only have Claude and Yune made up, they've grown just that little bit closer once again.

While this week's instalment of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée perhaps wasn't quite as relaxing as some of its previous offerings on account of its subject matter, this particular episode managed to find a rather touching vein running through it.  Once again, a difference in cultural outlook was the catalyst for the episode, but beyond that the way everything panned out was far more personal than cultural and worked all the better for it, to the point where you couldn't help but get worked up worrying about and then sharing Yune's emotions yourself.  In other words, this is another expertly crafted episode from a wonderful little series.

YuruYuri - Episode 7

It always feels a little awkward when a summer season anime has a Christmas episode but oh well, what can you do?  This week it's YuruYuri's turn to spread a little Christmas cheer at entirely the wrong time of year.

More specifically, the mainstay of this episode gives us Kyoko's idea of what makes a real Christmas treat for her friends - that being a "date lottery", where numbers are picked out of a box to pair up the various girls so that they can go on dates together.  Even though the lottery doesn't seem to be rigged, Kyoko ends up going out with Chinatsu with a surprising degree of success, while Akari gets on pretty well with Chitose, Sakurako and Himawari continue their usual love/hate relationship (well, mostly hate really), and Yui and Ayano... well, they just sit there really.

Of course, after Christmas comes New Year, and to close off the episode we visit the main quartet of characters as they go about their business receiving new year greeting cards, money and so on, even if only one of these items is of any interest to Kyoko.

Despite a somewhat shameful premise as this series continues to focus almost solely on the "yuri" part of its title, this was another solid and occasionally amusing episode - Akari's opening was the funniest thing on show (you can't beat a bit of "colliding with the camera" slapstick), but there were a few wry smiles and giggles to be had throughout.  Again, YuruYuriis a million miles away from becoming a classic anime comedy, or even a memorable one to sit alongside the likes of Minami-ke and Mitsudomoe, but it has improved as the series has gone on and it's gotten to grips with its characters, to at least help to while away the occasional summer evening.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Sacred Seven - Episode 7

With Ruri still in the clutches of Knight and his sidekick Fei, it's time to ramp up the search for his hidden base, thanks to a handily-placed transmitter which might help to lead the way.

Although Kagami is adamant that it would be dangerous for Tandoji to play any part in this search, needless to say our protagonist isn't really the type to site and around and do nothing, leading to him defying this request and eventually getting the go-ahead from Kagami to help with the hunt.  As for Ruri herself, she uses her feminine wiles and that age-old excuse of needing the toilet to overpower Fei, only to find that there's no escape from their underground lair anyway.

More importantly however, first Ruri and then Tandoji are given some shocking news about Kenmi and the truth about the work that goes on at his laboratory - work that involves experimenting on people like Knight, to the point of death in the case of Fei's brother... at least, as far as Fei knows.  Just as this story is beginning to sink in, so both Kenmi himself and the Darkstone we saw last episode appear, making for an action-packed finale to the episode which brings a big shock for Fei, before all parties eventually escape unscathed.  But was Knight telling the truth about Kenmi?  We know the answer to that already, but it remains to be seen what side of the fence Ruri will come down on.

Once again, Sacred Seven manages to be utterly traditional and predictable, yet it still retains enough of an entertainment factor to be worthwhile viewing.  It certainly isn't a series that requires much thought while you watching it, making it something of an undemanding action series that does its job well enough via decent production values and the odd cool moment here and there.  And sometimes, that's all you need.  Well, that and Megumi Nakajima's voice...

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 20

Minko and company's school festival plans might be in jeopardy thanks to our wannabe chef's brusque and uncooperative manner, but you wouldn't think it to look at her - as she promised last episode, she simply steps up to the plate (both literally and metaphorically I suppose) to buy all of the food for her class' cafe and looks set to prepare it all herself.

Enter Ohana at this point, who can never resist an opportunity to help out even if it means facing the wrath of Minchi, and before she knows it even Nako joins in despite not even being a part of their class to lend a hand.  With the group of girls with whom Minko had argued with also in a suitably apologetic mood, things soon get back on track, and thanks to Nako's own omelette rice-based nightmare of late her suggestion for what to eat on the group's lunchtime break serves up what proves to be a surprisingly conciliatory dish that reaches the approval of all concerned.

Come then big day then, the class "Princess Cafe" goes along without a hitch, proving to be incredibly popular while even Tohru pays his promised video to check out Minko's cooking - a visit which nets him a surprisingly bold personalised dish from his admirer, even though other events conspire to ensure that he doesn't even realise it himself.

So, another hugely fun and entertaining arc of Hanasaku Iroha comes to an end - no real drama or tension to speak of here, just a bunch of great characters bouncing off one another even if this episode threatened to turn into some kind of cooking guidance show for a little while.  This is another one of those instalments which really underpins what works about the series at large, with its gorgeous animation accentuating characters and stories which "just work" in an undemanding yet massively enjoyable fashion.  Goodness knows what I'm going to do with my Sundays once this show comes to an end...

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 20

Thanks to the previous episode of Tiger & Bunny, we finally learned the real, unadulterated truth about the killer of Barnaby's parents - indeed, Barnaby also learned this very same truth, although sadly it seems that he isn't going to be able to remember it for long...

With the truth about Mr. Maverick briefly out in the open before a little mind-altering NEXT ability ensured that Barnaby wouldn't be able to hold on to the truth for more than a fleeting moment, Maverick turns his attentions to the only other person who might know more than would be comfortable for him - that being Kotetsu.  Thus, with Barnaby supposedly missing to the minds of the other heroes, Kotetsu is called to Maverick's office with the intention of rewriting his memories as well - a plan which quickly goes awry as his attempts to drug Kotetsu's coffee goes flat (he should swap notes with the science teacher from Nichijou) before he's called away by Barnaby's housekeeper Samantha on account of the information she holds which could pin down the true killer's identity.

From here, it's left to Maverick to pull the strings in an even more grandiose fashion, as he uses his subordinates to engineer a terrorist incident  to keep Tiger and company busy, and while this goes on he kidnaps Samantha to prevent her from talking.  With Kotetsu deciding to look for Samantha after his impromptu mission is finished, Maverick has ample time for the most dastardly part of his plan - wiping the other heroes of their memory of Kotetsu, and framing him as Samantha's killer, leaving him as nothing other than a fugitive.

Although I'm still decidedly lukewarm on this sudden revelation surrounding the killer of Barnaby's parents and the "inside job" going on within Hero TV, I can't help but put that to one side and admit that it's led to the delivery of a pretty intriguing and fast developing plot.  Maverick's machinations make for compelling stuff in and of themselves, but once you factor in Kotetsu's precarious position and the question of whether a well-known hero can suddenly be wiped off the map (even if almost everyone who knows his secret identity have had their memories altered) and you have some exciting times ahead for Tiger & Bunny.  I always look forward to catching this series every week, but on this particular occasion I'm not sure I can actually wait a week for another instalment (especially given that I'll be away next weekend and probably unable to watch it for a while).

Nichijou - Episode 20

Given its somewhat frequent appearances throughout the series thus far, it is perhaps a relief to see that Mio's particular abilities are now out in the open as she happily admits to her friends that she draws manga.

However, what isn't such a smart move is inviting Nano, Mai and Yuuko to help her meet a particular deadline for her work - while Nano is quickly taken out of commission merely by the content of the manga in question, asking Yuuko and Mai to help with such a task is foolishness in the extreme.  Lo and behold, while Mai takes her own very unique view of working on backgrounds (which effectively means "fill it in with something more interesting" in her parlance), Yuuko turns to be a walking diaster zone in her own right thanks to a painful mistake with a pencil which for once makes the most of Yuuko's over-reactions to hilarious effect, followed by a rather major ink spillage which she tries to rectify rather than simply telling Mio what's happened.  This sketch book-ends the episode, as a trip by Yuuko to buy more suitable paper turns out into a long, lamenting monologue recalling the scenario by Mio.

Away from that, there isn't really a lot else to mention within this episode, with Mai's dog Pyon providing one of this show's very occasional "yeah, that happens to me too" moments while we also follow a game of hide and seek featuring Nano, Sakamoto and the Professor where the latter (of course) has something unexpected up her sleeve.

Still, it has to be said that this episode's manga drawing sketch is probably one of the better fully-fledged offerings we've seen from this series to date - it did threaten to overstay its welcome during Mio's monologue, but the first segment was full of great gags that actually made the most of Mai and Yuuko's foibles rather than simply making them irritating as so often seems to be the case.  This second half of Nichijou certainly seems to have been an improvement over the first thus far, even if it remains hit and miss in its own right.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 6

In last week's episode, Narumi made himself a new friend in Renji Hirasaka at the exact same time trouble began to develop in the midst of Hinamori's group and their efforts in music promotion.  Of course, there couldn't possibly be any link between these two things, right?

As Narumi bumps into Renji once again, the two chat about various things as they further cement their friendship, before the latter tries to dissuade the former from heading back to "work" at a nearby music club.  The reason for this?  Someone is about to try and burn the place down, as Narumi soon witnesses as he arrives there slightly late to find the building evacuated and, eventually, an anxious Alice on his case.

Despite all of this, it seems that Narumi wants to protect Renji for some reason, an emotion that is only increased as he hears about the past links between Soichirou Hinamori and Renji; links which were ripped asunder by reasons as yet unexplained.  Even when Narumi and Ayaka find themselves attacked by Renji's thugs, Narumi still doesn't want to do anything to jeopardise his friend's safety even at the risk of his own.  Thus, he looks to take matters into his own hands with the insistence that he can resolve this dispute himself, despite Alice alternately imploring him not to get involved and helping him out as best she can, even if that only means lending him a stuffed animal.

I can't really sugar coat this episode of Kami-sama no Memo-chou, because to be perfectly honest it was rather dull.  Narumi's behaviour throughout the episode borders on the irrational, while a lot of the developments this episode seem to serve only to push him closer in his relationship to Alice - not a bad thing itself, but it still feels clumsily achieved.  Ultimately, there just isn't anything to get excited about to my mind in this story of turf war and a ruined friendship, and I'm more than a little dismayed to see it stretching out into a third episode.  Perhaps its finale will prove differently, but at the moment this particular story just doesn't feel worthy of the time afforded it.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Usagi Drop - Episode 6

It's time for Rin to begin elementary school as we move into Usagi Drop's second half - not, as you might expect, a time for tears and tantrums, but simply one of taking photographs to remember the moment.

As Rin and Daikichi go about their new-found everyday life, with the former discovering the confusing wonders of breakfast cereals, Daikichi brings up the prospect of planting a tree to commemorate Rin starting school properly, harking back to his own childhood where a tree was planted when he was born.  Of course, Rin loves this idea, and so said tree is planted much to her delight and excitement.

Accompanying Rin on her early forays into elementary school is Kouki, who proves to be your typical young boy as he somehow manages to end up looking scruffy no matter what he does while leading Rin astray on his own flights of fancy, belying a deeper instinct to look after his classmate when really required to, even if mistakenly.  Of course, Daikichi knows exactly how Kouki's mind works having been a young boy himself, meaning that he works rather well as a father figure to him, even if Rin is more like a mother to both of them at times.  Ultimately, this episode finds some time for poignancy when Rin catches herself pondering whether there was a tree planted for her when she was born - a slightly depressing question given her family situation which leaves Daikichi kicking himself for ever mentioning the whole tree thing before managing to find out about the existence of a tree for Rin thanks to her mother.

So, another week goes by, and Usagi Drop is as charming as ever - there really isn't much more I can say about it than that as it goes about its business.  Rin and Daikichi's characters are both as fun, heart-warming and occasionally touching as always, while Kouki's prominence this episode adds an extra dimension to proceedings.  Certainly, it seems that nothing is going to know this series from its perch as one of the summer's best for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 6

In a week where mindless idiots have destroyed, set fire to and looted a number of parts of England, I think we can all be forgiven for wishing we were somewhere else... like nineteenth century France, perhaps.  Thank goodness for Ikoku Meiro no Croisée then, which really couldn't have come along at a better time.

This week, we find Alice on the prowl once again as she decides that she wants another slice of Yune - this time with a view to having a photograph taken with our petite Japanese visitor.  Although Yune is more than a little tempted by the prospect of getting a photograph that she can send to her sister back home, she nonetheless insists that she has to finish her housework first, leaving Alice waiting while she polishes off (with every pun intended) that chore.

With her work completed, Yune heads off with Alice to be enveloped in the world of French photography and fashion, eventually switching clothes with Alice to be pictured wearing her traditional garb for a 19th century French lady while Alice learns at least a little about the proper way to wear a kimono.  It's another of those delightfully simple culture clashes that this series has excelled in delivering thus far, although it also lends a tinge of sadness to its affairs, with Alice's older sister Camille making some more than slightly vague references to her life being akin to existing in some kind of captivity, while she also seems to have some kind of unspoken history with Claude that will doubtless be explored at some point.

Overall though, this was another gorgeously animated and downright entertaining episode of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - an undemanding little slice of simple, relaxing enjoyment that also had perhaps a surprising amount of depths bubbling under the surface.  The suggestions surrounding the history between Claude and Camille is clearly building towards later episodes, while there's also a fair amount of socio-political commentary to be found in Claude's feelings about painters, photography and the relationship between rich and poor.  In fact, it echoes and proves to be strangely pertinent towards some of the commentary and comments coming from those riots around the UK - the more things change, the more they stay the same, as the staying goes...