Friday, 30 September 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 12

With another brief monologue on the subject of fate to kick off proceedings, Mawaru Penguindrum reaches its half-way stage with a very real example of the ties that bind at least some of its characters together as it continues the discussion from last week's episode.

After Ringo revealed the fate of her sister and how it ties into not only the day of her birth but also those of Shouma and Kanba, we now learn exactly why Shouma suggested that Momoka's death was all his (or rather, his family's) fault.  In short, the Takakura siblings parents were directly responsible for the subway attacks which resulted in the death of Ringo's sister and many others as some of the higher-ups in the organisation which planned and carried out the bombings (as they seem to be depicted here despite the obvious correlations to the Tokyo sarin gas attacks).

The exact relevance of this is pushed to one side somewhat however, as Himari collapses once again - this time, it seems that even her penguin hat isn't enough to revive her.  Cue an emergency trip to hospital and a rather long-winded story about Mary and her three lambs from Shouma.  While it seems that nothing will save Himari from her fate this time, it doesn't stop Kanba trying in what seems to be a transfer of his life force to Himari's "parasite" - it appears that it isn't the first time he's done this either.  Is this really the end for his sister though?  It seems that way, but who knows what other tricks this series has up its sleeve...

Another episode brings us even more questions rather than answers, with references to black rabbits abounding while Kanba's past seems deeper and darker than ever in itself.  I am beginning to worry that we're looking at a series that's all style and no substance on account of its constantly side-stepping big issues, but hopefully the second half of the series can start delving into things a little more deeply rather than piling on more and more flashbacks and chunks of back story.  Until it starts to do so, I have to admit that my interest in the series is beginning to wane a little as it becomes increasingly impenetrable, but the time seems ripe for some far more interesting stuff so I shall still be eagerly awaiting next week's episode.  Except I'll be in Nottingham next Friday, so chances are I won't be able to watch it for a while.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 13 (Completed)

For all of my murmurings of "why are they dallying about with this show's plot, they'll never have time to finish its story", we now know exactly why Kamisama Dolls has been rather lackadaisical in its story telling - it has (or at least hopes that is has) a second season up its sleeve.

Anyhow, before we get into all that, we have the far from small matter of a battle between an out of control Magatsuhi and Kukuri to deal with, as the latter sets out to deal brutal damage to the former, cutting Hibino and an unconscious Kyohei free of their otherworldly captor in the process.  While Hibino is fine as all concerned make their escape while Magatsuhi is seemingly obliterated entirely, it takes Kyohei a while to come around - a period of unconsciousness which fills in a few of the gaps regarding his time before leaving his home village, and a situation which provides an enlightening outburst regarding Kyohei's feelings for Hibino.  Ultimately, it seems that Kyohei has himself a girlfriend...

With all of this lovey-dovey stuff resolved, the big two questions posed by the remainder of the episode are the future of Kukuri, who no longer seems to respond to Utao's commands despite being effectively undamaged from its battle (hmm, I wonder why that could be, Kyohei?), and Aki's next move (remember how he was important to the show at one point before we started worrying about Hibino all the time?).  While the first of these points is utterly spoiled for those too dim to guess it already by the trail for a second season, the latter sees Aki heading back to Karakami amidst rumours that the strange kakashi which attacked himself, Kyohei and Mahiru in their youth is now in the charge of the village's leader.

So, as we may well have predicted, very little is resolved as Kamisama Dolls comes to a close, leaving the door not so much open for a second season as flashing "Coming Soon" in neon lights while a scantily-clad girl drapes herself over its frame.  But do we really want a second season?  In truth, Kamisama Dolls has been a hit and miss affair that has suffered on account of clumsy and roundabout story-telling that has frittered away a lot of the obvious potential inherent in its story and set-up.  Perhaps a more focused second season can turn things around, and I certainly believe the series still has something to offer if handled properly, but it's going to have to do a Hell of a lot more than simply offer up some big boobs and slick kakashi battles over Tokyo to keep my interest in the future.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 1

Ahh, Squid Girl - the only anime series where every episode is a beach episode.  Despite not 'blogging about its first season here, Squid Girl was a bit of a rarity for me - a series that I initially decided not to watch, but picked it up for review at UK Anime and ended up watching it every week on account of the enjoyment I derived from it.  Thus, it would be dumb of me to make the same mistake twice, meaning that this time around I'm on board the good ship Ika Musume from the very start.

As you might expect, little has changed in the world of Squid Girl, as it introduces us to the same character roster while splitting each instalment into three sub-sections to bring a little variety to proceedings.  Thus, this first episode brings us a Squid Girl who has been watching two many movies and thus sees everything and everyone as a threat to her half-hearted "invasion", Sanae gets a serious bout of jealousy as Squid Girl hangs out with Kiyomi and the friends from her club, and a jellyfish problem on the beach evolves into a full-on jellyfish collecting competition in which surely Squid Girl's tentacles cannot be beaten... or can they?

Although Squid Girl has never quite been a laugh out loud series (although such moments do crop up from time to time), it does largely succeed in allowing a sense of fun to pervade its every pore, and little has changed in those terms judging by this opener to season two.  The terrible yet endlessly snigger-worthy squid-based puns are there, the menagerie of normal and decidedly subnormal characters are present and correct, and the colourful art style is the icing on a cake that is far more entertaining than it probably should be.  In a way, it's hard to figure out quite why Squid Girl is so engaging, but engaging it is, and I for one am more than a little happy to see it back.  Bring on the next squidding episode already!

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 26 (Completed)

It's festival time as Hanasaku Iroha comes to a close - but will Kissuiso be closing with it despite the best intentions of its staff to "fest it up"?

In a word - yes.  Despite their misgivings regarding its closure, come the end of the festival it seems as if all parties have accepted that this is the end for Kissuiso, albeit a temporary one as Enishi promises to learn his trade and come back a better, stronger person to reopen to inn, with assurances from all of its staff that they, too, will return once it goes back into business.

But is this really true, or is Kissuiso simply a marker on the way to those involved with the inn achieving their goals?  For all of the talk of a return and all the emotional goodbyes, the show's closing montage makes it hard to believe that any of the inn's former staff could be in a better place as we see them getting along swimmingly (quite literally in Nako's case) in new roles.

There isn't a whole lot to say about this final episode, as it proves to be a fitting and rather touching finale to a series which has been unreservedly gorgeous in terms of its visuals from beginning to end, and with entertainment value to match more often than not.  I'll be the first to admit that the second half of the series didn't quite live up to the quality of the first, but nonetheless it still had plenty of fabulous moments of comedy coming from various sources, offset by a bunch of characters who were lovable to a man (and girl) which kept pushing the show along even when it threatened to derail.  This is the kind of show whose foibles can often be glossed over by the quality of the package as a whole, and so ingrained in my Sunday afternoons/evenings has this show become that I'm not sure what I'm going to do without my weekly dose escape from reality with Ohana, Minko and company.  I just hope someone here in the west sees fit to give it the Blu-Ray release it deserves.

Nichijou - Episode 26 (Completed)

It's occasionally felt like it's going to drag on forever, but finally here we are at the last episode of Nichijou.  Is it wrong to feel more than a little relieved that it's all over?

Despite being the final episode, there's nothing particularly out of the ordinary (or rather, this being Nichijou, there's nothing particularly ordinary) here, with Yuuko, Mai and Mio planning a surprise birthday party for Nano, Nakamura looking for her missing cat who happens to be rather a familiar face, and Nano seemingly on the brink of finally losing that pesky key in her back - but does she really want to get rid of it after all this time?  These larger sketches and plot points are offset with smaller affairs, the higlight of which is perhaps Mio and Yuuko's attempts to smash a pumpkin; another outing that gives KyoAni the chance to have some fun with the show's animation again.

It's perhaps this experimental bent that the studio have taken with animating and presenting parts of Nichijou that will live longest in the memory - in these terms, this is very much Kyoto Animation's Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, giving them the opportunity to try a few different things.  Certainly, it has to be said that Nichijou is a real triumph in terms of its animation, standing out as one of the good-looking shows of the year without too much trouble.  If only its humour could have matched up to that, with the show's comedy content producing a handful of stand-out moments which threaten to be lost in a sea of unfunny mediocrity.  Had this been a twelve or thirteen episode series we might have been left with a concentrated and memorable series full of laughs, but as it is Nichijou will go down in my book as a rare mis-step for its production studio that simply went on far, far too long, which in turn diluted some genuinely great moments.  Here's hoping that the autumn season will have more promising fare to fill my proverbial comedy boots.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 12 (Completed)

Although little can be done for Ayaka, Narumi is still determined to get to the bottom of the addictive Angel Fix drug consuming the city - a desire which only becomes even greater as the creator of said drug, Hakamizaka, uses Ayaka's mobile phone to taunt Narumi for himself.

Given the use of Ayaka's phone, it doesn't take long for Alice to track down the device's GPS signal - more precisely, she pinpoints the location as a nightclub owned by the Hirasaki Group, which means that both Soichirou and Alice's band of assistants arrive only to find that the entire thing was a red herring, with Hakamizaka giving the phone to one of his cronies to throw them off the scent.

With their trail now cold, where does the investigation go from here?  A realisation by Narumi about the "angel's wings" often described by users of the drug leads him to the conclusion that the only way forward is to try the drug for himself - a harrowing experience given his already somewhat depressive state but one that does, nonetheless, ultimately lead them straight to Hakamizaka's "headquarters".  As the creator of the drug is busted (and left mentally broken by Alice for good measure), so Narumi also gets an opportunity to vent his frustrations upon Ayaka's brother Toshi in brutal form - scant consolation for his lost friend, as the final details of emerge of exactly how and why Ayaka came to jump from the school roof.  The case is solved, but even this knowledge won't bring Ayaka back - although in true cop-out anime finale tradition, all hope might not quite be lost for her future...

Just as it began, so Kami-sama no Memo-chou ends on a high, with every pun intended.  In all seriousness this was by far the strongest arc of the series after its excellent double-length opener, which made the most of the emotion poured into its scenario to keep the viewer's interest and bringing those emotions to the fore courtesy of Narumi as he struggled to cope with his own grief over the past couple of episodes.  While this story arc wasn't perfect (some of the aspects of plot progression here were a little too much of a leap for my tastes), it was still relatively powerful stuff despite its aforementioned cop-out of a final scene.  The real tragedy here is that the rest of the series failed to live up to the show's strong ending and climax, bringing us so much abject mediocrity when its setup held so much promise - promise that clearly could be fulfilled with just a little more effort, as its first episode proved.  Overall then, this is a series that will be filed under the "wasted potential" category.

Blood-C - Episode 11

After all of the blood, guts and slaughter of recent weeks, come the end of Blood-C's previous episode Saya had to face up to something even more shocking and disturbing - Nene and Nono are still alive!

From this alone it becomes clear that all is not what it seems within Saya's world, and thus this episode focuses solely on blowing the lid on much if not all of the truth of the scenario.  In short, everything we've seen in the series to date has been a "game", an act if you prefer - the entire town in which Saya lives is little more than a set, with Saya herself as the star, her close friends as the main characters in the story, and everyone else around her as expendable extras.  While the main players have been protected from the hunger of the Elder Bairns (who are real, it seems), the extras weren't quite so lucky.

So what's the goal of this rather elaborate, Truman Show-esque set up?  For the actors in this ambitious play, it varies from money through to avoiding the consequences of criminal actions on to a genuine interest in the folklore that surrounds Saya and the Elder Bairns.  For the individual running this whole "experiment" however (and it isn't a massive surprise when we learn who is pulling the strings here), there's clearly a deeper motivation - although we learn about the reality of Saya's past as a "monster" in human form prior to her capture and insertion into this creep "game", the ultimate end goal of the experiment remains up in the air, despite Kanako's attempts to force the issue and having Saya's memory resurface by making her drink the blood of an Elder Bairn.

If nothing else, this is a decidedly ambition twist in the tale that is Blood-C, and although it requires more than a hefty slice of suspension of disbelief it actually works pretty well as a smart revelation to turn the show on its head at this late stage.  Even though this episode is almost entirely dialogue and idle chit-chat between the main players in the town's ensemble cast, it's mirthful and malicious disregard for Saya's feelings and emotions no matter what she might be casts a chilling shadow over the rest of the series thus far.  It still isn't enough to make us forgive all those interminably long coffee-drinking scenes and other nonsense, but I have to commend Blood-C for at least having the balls to finally back up its bloody, visceral elements with something altogether more surprising.  The big question now is how it plans to carry these revelations into its finale - suddenly, this feels like a series without enough time remaining to it to finish telling its story properly.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 11

After Natsume's games brought her very much to Kanba's attention last week, it seems that it's time for our wannabe lothario to pay her a visit in the hope of finding out what she's really after.

As has now become pretty much Mawaru Penguindrum, what he does find out doesn't really provide any obvious answers to what's going on.  What is clear however is that, just like Ringo and Tabuki, Natsume is intent upon stalking Kanba as part of her own "Project M", courtesy of an infatuation that seems to go back some time into both of their pasts.  Of course, this isn't just about Natsume, as we're introduced to Mario's, Natsume's very own penguin hat-sporting director of survival strategy.  Who is this girl?  We have no real idea, but what we do learn is that Natsume seems, in fact, only to be in possession of half of Ringo's highly-sought diary.

Speaking of Ringo, it seems that even the loss of her diary won't put a stop to her own "Project M", as she sets out on her latest hair-brained scheme to win over Tabuki - another frog-centric plan which, incredibly, actually works, setting Tabuki into raptures over his new-found "princess" and filling Ringo's heart with joy... or does it?  Despite her assertions that she wants, nay must, win over Tabuki for the sake of her lost sister, her heart appears to be wavering somewhat, and as Tabuyki's lust grows even greater to the point where Ringo has to flee, Yuki's return brings the answer of just why Ringo might be hesitating at this critical moment.  Finally, as the episode comes to a close, we get a little closer to what might be the core tenet of the series - an incident in 1995 that caused the death of Ringo's sister Momoko, on the same day as the birth of both Ringo and the Takakura brothers.  Take your pick from the two major incidents which rocked Japan in real-life that year, although the allusions throughout the series to date suggest that the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway is the incident in question.

If nothing else, Mawaru Penguindrum certainly seems to be enjoying its sense of mystery, dealing out facts and plot points in a decidedly miserly fashion to keep us guessing and leave almost everything in a decidedly uncertain state.  Not that this is a bad thing - it continues to do enough to keep my interest, even if it is deliberately dancing around anything which might give us a major clue as to what's going on in a suitably stylish manner.  With the half-way point of the series hitting next week though, perhaps this will be the moment where the show really moves on to its next level?  It can't dally around for ever surely, fun though that might sometimes be...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai OVA

Despite the show's title (which translates into English as "I Don't Have Many Friends"), our male protagonist as we first meet him in this brief OVA for the autumn's light novel adaptation Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai seems to have no trouble in the friends department.  In fact, the guy has a veritable harem of girls with various character tropes at their disposal as they hang out on the beach, play games, go to karaoke and generally have a whale of a time.

Of course, all of this is a dream, and eventually we get a small glimpse of the real-life nightmare that is Kodaka Hasegawa's existence - a nightmare which, on this occasion, involves a decidedly dodgy looking hot pot and an equally oddball cast of girls around him.

So goes this brief introduction to Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai which does little by way of either introductions or impressing newcomers to the franchise.  To be honest, it's a rather dull short episode that doesn't really showcase anything beyond the show's character designs... although maybe that's the entire point.  In fairness, you do get the feeling that there is potential for this series as it kicks off properly from its cast and circumstances even if you have to dig rather deep to see it - it's popularity seems in little doubt before it's even begun, but it has a lot of work to do to become a critical success judging by what we've seen here.

Autumn 2011 anime preview

As thoughts turn to the new anime season, it suddenly struck me that I completely forgot to cross-post my usual new season preview for UK Anime here on this 'blog - so, without further ado here's my complete run-down of everything you might want to watch (and some stuff you'll undoubtedly want to avoid) this coming autumn.

Want to know what I'll be watching (and 'blogging, of course) next season?  Well, you'll find out soon enough.  In fact, you'll find out one of the shows on my hit list in the very next entry...

Let me know what you guys are looking forward to this autumn (or fall for you American types) though!

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 12

To say that Hibino is having a bad day in this week's Kamisama Dolls is perhaps a contender for "understatement of the decade" - almost raped, threatened at gunpoint, thrown from the roof of a building once or twice and at risk of being crushed to death by a kakashi.  Yeah, I think that's probably a cue for me to stop moaning about my bad day where the tea urn stops working...

Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself here, as this episode begins with Hibino at the mercy of her rather unsavoury captor, only to find herself saved by Kuuko of all people, who seems to spend much of this episode doing a passable impression of Jack Bauer as her efforts involve stunning people, kicking them in the stomach and wrestling an armed gunman in the form of Hirashiro, who seemingly meets a sticky end before Kuuko frames his assistant and then runs off with him.

Meanwhile, Hibino is left to escape via the outside of the building - a route which brings her straight into contact with an angry (when isn't she?) Mahiru, who is more interested in discussing the intricacies of Kyohei's relationship with Hibino than the gunfire sounding off inside.  Eventually, Mahiru's short temper leads to Magatsuhi throwing her from the building, although luckily for Hibino it's at just this moment that Utao, Kyohei and Kukuri make their appearance to save the day.  Despite some attempts at reconciliation, before we know it Utao and Mahiru are facing off, with an almighty battle between Kukuri and Magatsuhi seeing the latter going on a rampage outside of Mahiru's control - a berserk frenzy which means extreme danger for Kyohei and Hibino in particular.

Once again, Kamisama Dolls seems to hit its stride when it makes the most of its kakashi and quite literally bounces them off one another - in this case the reason behind Kukuri and Magatsuhi's battle is largely pointless (let go of the broken cookies, Utao!), and even Mahiru's terrifying love for Kyohei feels a little forced, but it does make for some tense action as the episode progresses and the fact that a lot of its characters are stark-raving bonkers in some shape or form certainly keeps things entertaining.  We also seem set for an interesting (if slightly predictable) ending, which at least gives us hope of the series ending on a high note when it occasionally seems to have forgotten what the entire point of its story was.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 12 (Completed)

From her early days as a stranger in a foreign land, it appears that Yune is very much an integral part of her surroundings as Ikoku Meiro no Croisée comes to its conclusion - not that Yune quite seem to have grasped how well appreciated her mere presence is in the midst of the Galerie.

A lot of the reason for her confusion is undoubtedly down to the attitude of Claude - inviting one moment and cold the next, he shoos her out of his workshop as the ghosts of his father once again weigh down very heavily indeed upon our moody sign-maker.  Of course, despite admonishing her once again Claude immediately knows that he's made a faux pas, and thus panics when he realises that Yune is nowhere to be found, either at home or in the confines of the Galerie.

Before we know it, the entirety of the Galerie's occupants are mounting a search for young Yune, with Claude fretting over the possibility of her having run away - of course, the truth is rather more mundane, with Yune's quest to find a missing (and effectively theoretical) cat leading her to the building's roof, with all of the dangers that entails.  Indeed, when Claude does find Yune, he's more than a little well-placed to informed Yune of the dangers of her situation, as the truth about his father's death finally comes flooding out as history threatens to repeat itself for Claude.  All's well that ends well however, and there's plenty of time for smiles and tears of joy as this rather lovely little series comes to an end.

In fact, I think "lovely little series" sums up Ikoku Meiro no Croisée quite nicely - a visually beautiful affair that managed to be heart-warming more often than not thanks to both its scenario and characters.  You could certainly argue that the show struggled a little when it came to trying to inject drama into proceedings, making for some slightly forced storylines and interactions between individuals, but luckily things flowed reasonably well for most of the series and there was always a relaxing and whimsical air for most episodes to fall back on when all else fails.  This is certainly a series to be added to the "great to watch after a tough day at work" pile, and in those terms it succeeded marvellously - there's probably little more that can be done with its concept, but it doesn't matter when what it did achieve was so enjoyable, making Ikoku Meiro no Croisée one of the summer's hidden gems.

YuruYuri - Episode 12 (Completed)

It would be disappointing not to see YuruYuri end with a bang - thankfully the presence of science teacher Nishigaki ensures that we have no such worries on that front.

Anyhow, the show's finale focuses on a sleepover in the tea club / amusement club room featuring all of the members of said group as well as the entire student council and the aforementioned science teacher, who I guess was there to oversee any activities but was largely anonymous throughout.  Cue a lot of the usual sleepover fare coupled with YuruYuri's unique take on things throughout, whether it's eating chocolates or wearing cute pyjamas.

In this instance, the show's "unique take" on things consists largely of Akari's continuing role as official series punching bag, most notably when her attempt to bathe in a drum filled with water ends up with her taking a trip into some kind of canyon - a cruel fate that is nonetheless the episode's stand-out laugh out loud funny moment.  That aside, we have Kyoko dressing in tomato pyjamas (no doubt the official merchandise will go on sale shortly), some interesting games to pit amusement club and student council members against one another, and the dangers that come from introducing Chitose to chocolate, which basically involves her sexually assaulting everybody in the room until she runs out of energy.  Yes, that does mean that Akari ends up ruined for marriage.  Again.

So ends another school-based comedy that seems to have become rather more popular than I can fathom given that its content is largely pretty run of the mill at times and downright repetitive at others - it should enter the annals of mediocre anime comedy without another words, but I have a weird feeling we haven't seen the last of this show yet.  For what it's worth, I found YuruYuri to be amusing on occasion to the point of being genuinely laugh out loud funny; amusement that was frequently offset by its over-reliance on sexual humour and over-use of character tropes.  This left us with a series that certainly wasn't bad, but nor was it great - hopefully its direct replacement in the form of a second series of Squid Girl will show us how it's done.  De geso~.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 25

It seems as if nothing will reverse Sui's decision to close Kissuiso as soon as the festival over, but that doesn't stop the remainder of Kissuiso's staff from trying their hardest to make their own point as said Bonbori festival draws ever closer.

While the staff ignore their manager's decision to stop taking reservations as they continue to pile additional customers on to their workload, Ohana seems to be the only one wavering at this decision - although she doesn't want to close Kissuiso either, she seems to have come to understand that there's more to the inn than simply making profit and crunching the numbers.  Although this leaves her isolated even from her friends, as the episode progresses it seems as though Ohana might just be right, as the stresses and strains of overwork begin to fracture the bonds between staff members under the pressure of the situation.

This pressure only looks to be ramped up further as a freak accident leaves Tomoe with a sprained ankle to put yet more pressure on Kissuiso's already over-stretched resources - with no prospect of union help, aid eventually comes from an unlikely source, with Sui herself offering herself up to work as a waitress while a surprise visit from Ohana's mother Satsuki also sees her taking up a temporary role on the staff.  These new additions to staff on the ground turns a would-be disaster into a success, and Sui in particular even seems to rediscover a little lost love for her own inn by working directly in contact with the guests, but as the festival itself begins the future of Kissuiso and its staff remains very much up in the air.

Although Hanasaku Irohahas struggled a little with its dramatic content during the second half of the series in particular, something just seemed to click in this particular episode when it came to delivering an understanding of its various characters and their motivations.  This is doubtless a mixture of the way we've followed these individuals for so many weeks now coupled with the exposition of Sui's own take on Kissuiso in the previous episode, but regardless its emotional core nonetheless felt far more solid and easy to grasp here, in turn making for a more enjoyable viewing experience despite some of its more unlikely turn.  Of course, all of this still leaves us in the dark as to what the final episode is going to deliver, and it might well be the finale next week which really decides how (or even if) this series is remembered in the future.

Sacred Seven - Episode 12 (Completed)

Kenmi is on the rampage and hungry for power as we reach Sacred Seven's finale, but has anybody got what it takes to stop him given all the strength he's gained?

While Arma seems like the obvious candidate to go toe to toe with this powered-up Kenmi, it's Knight who takes a first crack at his ferocious opponent, while Kenmi himself wastes no time in using Fei as a literal human shield  - a decision which ultimately leaves Knight broken and Fei for death.  This means that it's Tandoji's cue to save Fei from Kenmi's clutches, although not before the experience sees Fei slipping towards playing her own part as an angry, vengeful Darkstone herself.

With Fei now on the offensive, you might be forgiven for thinking that the tables had been turned against Kenmi, but Fei's attacks only see him granted further power still - a scenario which seemingly makes him indestructible, until Arma's full power manages to find a way through his defences and leave him a ruined man.  With Kenmi's plans in tatters, he passes his "legacy" onto an unwitting Fei, whose anger looks set to destroy the world in its stead, leaving it up to Tandoji and Knight (with a little help from a now-awakened Aoi) to prevent a catastrophe and bring us our happy ending.

So goes a reasonable end to a reasonable series, with Sacred Seven serving up all of its best moments when it came to outright action (which was almost always superbly animated) which far outstripped a far more dull and uninteresting storyline.  Quite frankly, it was difficult to get too excited about Tandoji and Ruri's individual desires or quests at all throughout the entirety of the series, leaving us with an emotional shell that did little to add gravitas to those aforementioned excellent action scenes.  What that leaves us with is a show that is decidedly average, utterly forgettable but reasonably entertaining on its day - very much a "fire and forget" series that was worth watching in the here and now but one that won't be vying to be rewatched by most of its viewers I would wager; a problem that no amount of Megumi Nakajima's dulcet tones can resolve.

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 25 (Completed)

It might be game over for Kotetsu after his rash but brave actions to assist in bringing down H-01 at the end of last week's episode, but there's little time for crying over spilt blood as the remaining heroes turn their attention towards Maverick.

Although it might seem that they have this old man cornered, they've reckoned without the existence of yet more androids - a veritable army of H-01 models which Maverick wastes no time in unleashing upon his opponents, with obvious consequences.  Just as it looks as if it's game over for our heroes however, Saito's work in the background finally pays dividends by deactivating the machines, before Maverick's final desperate attempts to escape seem him first outed on Hero TV as a villain while an attempt to use Kaede as a hostage is quickly put to bed by the return of a fast-returning phoenix from the proverbial flames.

So, the day is saved, and it's decision time for some of the heroes of the day as to their futures before we fast forward a year to see if and how the city of Stern Bild has changed.  Needless to say, there are still criminals to be apprehended, while the second-string heroes find themselves with at least one new addition to their family.  But what of Maverick, and perhaps more importantly what of the Ouroboros organisation he created?  While the former is relegated to a dribbling old man in his final attempt to avoid justice before arguably finding it ultimately at the hands of Lunatic, Ouroboros' future still appears to be woven into the city's everyday life...

I mentioned last week (and I'm sure it isn't the first time I've said it) that Tiger & Bunny has frequently been greater than the sum of its parts, and that trend rings true all the way through to its final episode, which sports some ridiculous twists and turns yet never really suffers because of them.  Anime fans are often loathe to call the subject of their passion "cartoons", but in a sense Tiger & Bunny deserves just such a label, and not even slightly in a derogatory way - its characters, scenarios, heroes and villains are all preposterously larger than life, while many of them are simultaneously so likeable that it doesn't really matter that their predicaments defy belief, because we still love them no matter what.  This is, perhaps, animated entertainment in its purest form - it doesn't claim to be highbrow, but nor does it pander to the lowest common denominator.  Instead, it focuses every ounce of its energy upon entertainment value, be it via humour, drama or action, and quite often through a combination of the three.  That it has managed to blend these elements into a single package so effortlessly is worthy of the highest praise, and surely there can be no higher plaudit than this - I want to see a second season of Tiger & Bunny, and I know I'm not the only one.

Nichijou - Episode 25

This penultimate episode of Nichijou begins with a moment of typical tsundere madness from Misato that reverberates throughout much of the rest of the instalment.  While those tsundere proclivities are no surprise, perhaps the fact that some genuinely funny moments are born from it is.

After accidentally breaking Sasahara's glasses and thus feeling duty-bound to help him around the school, there is of course a sting in the tail for Misato after her decision to help him out proves to be in vain.  Furthermore, while hanging on to his arm Misato and Sasahara are spotted by none other than Mio - cue the traditional anime trope of running away from the scene of such heartbreak tearfully, but this being Nichijou it's taken to new lengths which involve not just leaving the school grounds but taking on moving trains, helping out old ladies and swimming.  It's fantastically presented as we've come to expect from this series, and at times it's pretty damn amusing to boot.

This state of affairs also indirectly leads to Nakamura stumbling across Shinonome Laboratories, which is of course Nano's home - a dangerous place filled with security bots, traps and electronic guards and with Homunculus patrolling the corridors.... at least, it seems that way if you're Nakamura anyhow.  This week's instalment even manages to end on rather a touching note, as Mio's friends rally around to try and cheer her up with a sweet reminder of their friendship.  Awwww...

Yes, that's right kids - what we're looking at here is a rare but completely bona fide good episode of Nichijou.  The quality of this show's animation has never really been called into question, but this week we see it complemented by much improved comic pacing, a sharper eye for humour and knowing when to wind a joke down before flogging it to death with repetition.  If only Nichijou had managed to achieve this every week, we'd probably be talking about it in revered tones - as it is, we can at least pick out the highlights of the series from episodes such as this to remind ourselves that the series isn't a complete dud, despite all of its flaws.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 11

The climax to last week's episode of Kami-sama no Memo-chou brought us the cruellest and most shocking of cliff-hangers as Ayaka's emotional turmoil in the face of her brother's actions finally seemed to take its toll upon her.

Perhaps even more cruelly, we learn as this penultimate episode begins that Ayaka isn't actually dead at all, but rather comatose with virtually no hope of recovery bar a miracle - news that leaves all of the members of the NEET detective agency shocked, but which understandably has its biggest effect upon Narumi, who is practically paralysed by the situation before him.

Eventually though, Narumi finds his way back onto his feet, and upon doing so his first instinct is to go and ask Alice for help - something which she readily agrees to as it seems that she, too, is bothered by the specifics of Ayaka's final actions and the reason for them.  Sure enough, it doesn't take much investigating for Ayaka's brother Toshi to enter the picture, as his drug-selling appears to have involved his sister in far more direct ways than anyone had initially foreseen.  As Narumi's investigation turns to a hunt for Toshi, exacerbated by Soichirou and his staff's own hunt for him, so it begins to emerge that the cause of Ayaka's fate may even extend above and beyond her brother's influence...

It's amazing what a more personal and insular storyline can do for this series - after its hard work building up the dynamic between Narumi and Ayaka a little further last episode before shattering the whole thing in seconds, this week's instalment becomes a far tighter, more emotive work as a result that plys its emotional core for all its worth early on moving on to the "proper" detective work side of things.  Whether this arc will ultimately prove to be a stand-out moment for the series in comparison to its opening episode remains to be seen, but if nothing else its proof positive of what the series is capable of - if only it had managed to achieve anything close to this level of story-telling during the rest of its run.

Blood-C - Episode 10

Seeing almost your entire class slaughtered followed by an ill-timed confession of love from one of your few remaining classmates is probably the dictionary definition of a bad day, but it isn't over yet for Saya as we hit Blood-C's tenth episode.

As Saya continues to struggle with the question of who (or perhaps even what) she really is, so any such train or thought is interrupted by the appearance of yet another Elder Bairn, one that can probably be best described as an offshoot from the never-released game, Bayonetta: Whee!  I'm Just A Floaty Head and Spine.  Said monster spares to time in teasing Saya while it monologues about hunger, the broken convenant and so on, only pausing to quickly munch on a returning Tokizane to push the show's body count a little higher.  Eventually (of course) Saya defeats her latest opponent, but it does little to assuage the questions currently milling in her head.

After passing out once again, everything seems to return to relative normality once more, as we have to endure another session of coffee drinking and marshmallow eating set against the uneasy feeling that all is far from well; a feeling only further amplified by the fact that even Saya's father is currently nowhere to be seen.  When Saya's teacher Kisaragi visits the cafe and implores Saya to take a look at the books locked away within the shrine, we know that something big is about to be revealed, and come the end of the episode it seems as if we might finally be at the doorstep of blowing the lid on the strange goings-on we've witnessed throughout the series.

Much like last week's instalment, this episode of Blood-C is another hit-and-miss affair that seems comfortable and accomplished and delivering its action scenes yet clumsy and bumbling when it comes to the more mundane stuff of plot and character development - a little like Saya's everyday clumsiness compared to her prowess in the heat of battle, you could say.  After a slick first half to the episode this time around, it felt a little as if this instalment was playing for time as it plied us with coffee until it was an opportune moment to deliver its closing revelations - revelations which admittedly bring us tantalisingly closer to finding out what's going on within the series, which continues to be a point of fascination regardless of the show's habit of misfiring on a regular basis.  The fact that I'm still interested in Blood-C's story beneath the surface proves that it isn't a complete write-off, but hopefully now it can put down the marshmallow on concentrate on the important stuff for its final instalments.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 10

After its deviation into the weird and wonderful world inside Himari's dreams last week, we now return to our scheduled programming to catch up on Sho's fate after his little "incident" a couple of episodes back.

The good news for all concerned is that, somehow, Sho has survived being hit by a car with nary a scratch on him, much to the relief of both his siblings and Ringo, the latter of whom of course feels rather guilty about the whole affair given the events leading up to the accident.  Although Sho is alive and well however, he isn't quite out of the woods yet, as malicious forces are at work deep in the hospital's basement...

The force in question is, of course, Natsume - having gotten her hands on part of Ringo's mysterious diary by force, she now swings into action with a plan to retrieve the rest of this all-important tome, drugging and kidnapping Sho and using him as a hostage in return for the diary.  While Ringo is all set to give up her precious chronicle of fate immediately, Kanba has other plans as he considers the importance of the diary to Himari.  However, Kanba's plan to bluff Sho's captor out into the open backfires immediately, leading him on a far from merry wild goose chase which seems intent on delving into some long-buried memories of him, while Ringo is successfully targeted and forced to hand over the diary.  But what is Natsume's relationship to Kanba, what's her take on Project M, and exactly how many penguin hat-wearing "survival strategy" co-ordinators are there?

Although Ringo's part in this story and her own version of "Project M" are clearly still far from over, it now at least feels that the series is moving deeper as it shifts towards its next level.  More specifically, our eyes now seem to be turning squarely upon Kanba - after his intriguing actions throughout the series ever since the "takeover" of Himari's body, it now seems as though a particular element of his past as it pertains to Natsume is about to trouble him.  But are Natsume's goals her own?  From the end of this episode is seems as if she, much like Kanba and Shouma, is working to protect and assist someone else as she works towards her own "Project M".  The questions about what's going on within Mawaru Penguindrum certainly continue to pile up, but as long as they continue to do so in this well-paced, slick and stylish manner, I certainly have no complaints, especially now the series feels ready to kick on and move away from the danger of repetition inherent in its previous tight focus on Ringo.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Usagi Drop - Episode 11 (Completed)

Last week's penultimate episode of Usagi Drop brought us about as close as this series can get to a cliff-hanger, with Yukari falling ill with what was quite possibly Rin's cold - quite the trauma when you're a single parent, especially with a son like Kouki.

Still, at least Yukari has Daikichi and Rin to help out with the shopping, and although the latter feels a little guilty that her cold might have been passed on to Yukari such worries don't last for long, and Yukari herself seems to be doing well enough in terms of both fending for herself and keeping up with Kouki as she returns to health quickly enough.

With that little slice of drama out of the way, it's back to more simple worries for both Rin and Daikichi, as thoughts turn towards loose teeth and school skipping contests as Daikichi finds himself spending more time with his new parent friends while contemplating how amazing most adults are at handling the massive changes that come from having children and how he's adapted even as a relative newcomer to such things.

In the end then, this was a heart-warming little finale to a wonderful little series, that perhaps sensibly stuck to its simple blend of slice of life fare with the occasional and largely understated moment of drama rather than trying to race through to the end of the manga from which it is adapted.  If nothing else, Usagi Drop probably has most parents wishing actual kids were more like Rin and those of us without kids deciding that we'll only spawn children exactly like her - in other words, it's perhaps a slightly whimsical take on what it's like to be a parent, but it's no less entertaining for that as it still manages to weave plenty of home truths and moments that will provoke memories from our own childhoods into the bargain.  Even its initially scruffy art style ultimately turned out to be a charm point for a series that has been just that from beginning to end - utterly charming.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 24 (Completed)

Just when it seemed that all hope was lost, and with Okabe about to give up the ghost, up pops his future self with a foolproof plan to save the world and the girl.  Put can Hououin Kyouma, mad scientist par excellence, really pull it off?

While it takes a detour to the Future Gadget Lab to assemble the final piece of the puzzle, Okabe is soon ready to go back in time once again in the hope of saving Kurisu while simultaneously fooling his past self into thinking she'd been stabbed and killed - it'll be his one and only shot and success too, with Amane reporting that her time machine only has the energy for one more round trip.

So, Okabe sets about putting everything right to avoid the pitfalls of other timelines, only to find that his plan is about to go seriously astray in one core area.  With the liquid he'd brought with him to simulate Kurisu's blood tried up over time, what's he going to use to convince himself of Makise's death?  Desperate times call for desperate measures as Okabe takes a potentially sacrificial action for the greater good - a decision which not only pays dividends in the short term, but also pays the way for an ultimately happy and completely satisfying ending.  All's well in Steins Gate, it seems.

So there we have it - an excellent, complete ending to a fantastic series that would probably get my vote for the best show of the year were it not for a certain SHAFT-produced magical girl anime.  Despite its slow start.... in fact, no, because of its slow start, we became so drawn into the world of Okabe and his menagerie of friends and follows that as the shock twist of the show's half-way point hit we suddenly realised that, just like Okabe himself, we were in too deep with no hope of escape.  From there, the twists and turns of the series have thrilled me each and every week as the intelligently crafted, knowingly written story unfolded before us - I really can't express enough how strong the story-telling was in Steins;Gate throughout, helped along by some great characters and plenty of snappy dialogue from beginning to end.  So powerful and intelligent is this show, that I wonder if it isn't the creation of some kind of mad scientist... I just hope The Organisation don't try to block any plans to release the series on Blu-Ray in my native UK - this is an anime series par excellence that I simply must own and watch again.  El Psy Congroo.

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 11

After relaying much of the incident surrounding Kyohei, Aki and Mahiru during their childhood last episode, this eleventh instalment of Kamisama Dolls opens by concluding this tale of how Kyohei practically "lost his mind", although to be honest the part of the story that Kuga can't remember isn't exactly as shocking as you might have expected beyond serving as an example of Kukuri's power.

Anyhow, the rest of the episode from this point forward sees Mahiru on the warpath, largely thanks to Aki as he deliberately antagonises her by claiming that Hibino is Kyohei's girlfriend.  Needless to say, the Kyohei-obssessed Mahiru is none too pleased to hear this, and so does what any woman would do in such a scenario - kidnap her love rival.

After snatching Hibino away during a shopping trip with Moyako, Mahiru locks her away in the penthouse apartment that has been rented for her while she takes issue with Hibino's "bouncy castle" and generally acts like the jealous little brat that she is.  While taking her leave to go and invite Kyohei on a "date" of sorts, Hibino is left with other concerns to worry about, although it seems that Mahiru will be returning sooner rather than later after an utterly abortive attempt at talking to Kyohei that leaves her even more flustered and angry by the time she makes her literal whirlwind departure.

Had this been relative early in the series, I probably wouldn't be too harsh on this episode of Kamisama Dolls - some of its humour was pretty decent and Mahiru's Tasmanian devil act has a certain energy to it that the series perhaps needed.  However, this isn't relatively early in the series - we now only have two more episodes to run, yet the various plot points of the series are now scattered all over the place as though they've been paid a visit by Mahiru themselves.  Given the grand conspiracies going on both in Tokyo and back at their home village, this doesn't seem like the time to be kidnapping Hibino to grope her boobs or worry about trivialities such as who is or isn't dating who, yet that's exactly what we're doing here.  It's also exactly why Kamisama Dolls is proving to be such a disappointment, as it leaves its more intriguing elements on the sidelines so that it can paw someone's tits and concentrate on pointless stuff for a bit.

Monday, 12 September 2011

YuruYuri - Episode 11

The penultimate episode of YuruYuri begins with a blast from the past, as we take a trip down memory lane courtesy of the show's main trio of characters.

These reminiscences come as Chinatsu looks over an old photo album the girls have while they relate tales from their childhood - a surprising time when Akari was almost more interesting than she is now (note, I said almost) and Kyoko was quite the crybaby who spent most of her time hiding behind Yui who seemed to be the de facto leader of the group, and a bit of a violent one at that.  That said, her vicious streak pales into comparison with that of a young Chinatsu, who unbeknownst to all those involved had actually bullied the other trio in their dim and distant past.

If seeing Kyoko as a young crybaby was a shock, you'd best steel yourself for the second half of the episode, which sees a bang on the head completely change her personality - yes, it's that old chestnut, it's been a while since an anime comedy played with this old plot line.  Anyway, gone is the zany and energetic Kyoko, to be replaced with a serious, studious girl - an alteration which seems ideal initially, but soon becomes boring for her friends (and the viewer, I would venture).  Still, nothing a good crowbar to the noggin won't fix, right?

Personally, I think this episode of YuruYuri might just be the epitome of mediocrity, a cavalcade of all things average that dazzles in its ability not to dazzle me.  Its jokes and concepts were kind of old hat but not offensively so, and the whole thing just really meandered along in unspectacular fashion.  Yep, that's YuruYuri alright, as we head on towards the final episode of another anime comedy that's unlikely to be remembered for long.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 11

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée's penultimate episode looks all set to grant Yune another exciting day out with Alice, as she invites her diminutive Japanese friend on a trip to the Grand Magasin, complete with a visit to her brother's exhibition about Japan that has just opened.

Although Yune is clearly excited at such a prospect, Claude's return from working with a client soon puts paid to her happiness, as he forbids Yune from going anywhere near the Grand Magasin - a demand which Yune and Alice both reluctantly cede to.  While we know that Claude views said department store as "the enemy" of his own livelihood and workplace, Yune is quick to realise that there is something deeper-seated to Claude's reticence to allow her to visit.

Out of guilt from depriving Yune of her trip, Claude instead suggests that they do something else, and ultimately the two of them and Oscar head off for a picnic in the park instead, with the rain clearing up long enough for them to eat while Oscar manages to get Yune a little tipsy with his "water of life".  As the alcohol causes Yune to dream of her past and life back at home, so it soon emerges that Claude isn't the only one burying and hiding away her emotions, as she ends up recounting a tearful story of how she feels responsible for her sister's frailty and loss of eyesight, even if her initial motivations as a child were entirely pure.  Is this outburst going to give Claude the confidence to confide his own hidden emotional wounds, and indeed will it spur him to perhaps allow himself to open his heart to Yune a little more?  Maybe those are questions that the final episode can answer for us.

Overall, this turned out to be one of the more emotional episodes of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée which kept its humour to a minimum to focus primarily on Claude and Yune.  While we now know about perhaps Yune's deepest fear, that she is responsible for her sister's condition, what ails Claude mentally is still something of a mystery despite our knowledge that it involves his father.  Thankfully, we're invested enough in all of the characters at this juncture to actually care about these things, so whether the show's final episode chooses to be fun or deadly serious I get the feeling we should be well served by this little summer season gem that has rarely failed to entertain from beginning to end.

Sacred Seven - Episode 11

As we enter the final straight of Sacred Seven, things very suddenly and unexpectedly get tough for Ruri, as her Aiba foundation finds itself at the centre of a tax evasion scandal which sees both her and most of her team of maids arrested.

With Kagami pretty much the only Aiba Foundation employee to avoid the police's attention (although goodness knows why), it seems that it's left up to himself and Tandoji to somehow rescue Ruri and find out what's going on.  It probably doesn't need to be mentioned that the mastermind of this plan is Kenmi, and as his own personal forces look set to capture Kagami and Arma to complete his plan so a surviving fragment of that aforementioned maid army come to their rescue in spectacular and well-equipped fashion.

With any doubts as to who is responsible for what's going on eliminated, it's to take on Kenmi and his facility to save Ruri, with Knight also appearing to lend his own strength to proceedings - a necessary addition it seems as Kenmi beings his "experimentation" on Ruri; a state of affairs which leads to her  body taking the same actions as her sister when confronted with danger.  As our motley crew of heroes storm the building, it seems that success is in sight as Tandoji reaches Ruri - but Kenmi isn't done with his own plans just yet...

We knew that everything was going to kick off in this week's episode of Sacred Seven, but I have to confess even I wasn't expecting quite such a rapid jump-start to get things moving for this final story arc as it dumped us practically straight into the thick of things.  Not that this is particularly bad news, as the series seem to operate best on a break-neck pace, and thus this week's instalment is a predictable yet pretty satisfying affair with plenty of action and smatterings of plot progression to fill out the episode nicely.  There really isn't a lot to say beyond that  - Sacred Seven is pretty good at just doing its job without dropping your jaw and free of any bells and whistles, to make for a simple yet half-decent series; certainly, I don't see next week's finale changing that much.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Hanasaku Iroha - Episode 24

While the probable closure of Kissuiso rumbles on in the background, Ohana's trip home to Tokyo brings her an unexpected opportunity to deal with another of the problems in her young life - exactly what to do about Ko.

Then again, when confronted with her supposed one-sided crush, pretty much all Ohana can do is burst into tears before finally regaining her composure enough to stop him monologuing so that she can tell him exactly how she feels.... well, sort of, in that typical roundabout Ohana way.  Still, even if Ohana perhaps doesn't quite realise it, it seems that she got her feelings through to Ko a little better than she might think.

Upon her return however, it seems that Kissuiso has had a sudden boost in its popularity as the staff are rushed off their feet - but why?  Well, it seems like a certain someone has written a certain magazine article singing the establishment's praises and causing a flurry of bookings.  Even this isn't enough to change the manager's mind however, as she continues to insist that Kissuiso will be closed after the festival despite the protests of her entire staff.  As the episode progresses we begin to get a handle on the reason for this decision - a mixture of realisation that the dreams held by Sui and her husband have effectively melted away to nothing, coupled with a worry that the burden of their love for Kissuiso will cause undue harm to Enishi and those under him were he to take up the reigns.  Regardless of what she thinks however, it seems that those in her charge have no desire to go down without a fight...

Given how much potential its opening episodes had in this regard, it's been surprising that Hanasaku Irohahas often struggled the most when it's come to delivering drama over straight-up comedy and more frivolous storylines.  This continues to be the case here, as this week's major talking points all end up feeling a little muddled and indistinct from an emotional point of view, which does little to garner any feelings from the viewer about what we're seeing.  Admittedly, it isn't a complete disaster in this regard, as both Ohana and Sui's vulnerable sides are depicted pretty well, but there's still something indefinable "missing" here that would turn this current arc into something much more powerful.  Not that this was a bad episode (Hanasaku Iroha has delivered barely any of those), it just falls a little short of its potential - a shame, especially as we're entering the show's final straight.

Tiger & Bunny - Episode 24

With most of our heroes locked away with explosives strapped to their necks and Wild Tiger and Barnaby facing off against the ridiculously powerful (if unimaginatively named) H-01 robot, times are looking tough as we enter this penultimate episode of Tiger & Bunny.

While Kotetsu and Barnaby are preoccupied with simply staying alive for long enough to allow their powers to recharge, the other heroes find themselves questioning one another's intentions as they know that any one of them could choose to release themselves from death at any time, thus sacrificing the rest of them.  While Rock Bison seems the most likely to crack, some clever manipulation of the video feeds makes it look to the others as though Sky High is about to push the button, although of course little do they all know that their captor is planning on killing all of them anyway.

Eventually, Wild Tiger and Barnaby's powers return, but it still looks as though it won't be enough to fend off their opponent - their last-ditch strategy succeeds only in depriving H-01 of one of his weapons, leading him to unleash another on both of them.  Just as it seems as if all hope is lost, Kotetsu manages to grab hold of H-01, leaving Barnaby to use that previously discarded weapon to finish off their opponent... but at what cost?  As Kaede makes use of her own abilities as a NEXT to do her part in saving the other heroes, it seems as though the day has been won - but what of Maverick?  What's more, what of Kotetsu?

After Kami-sama no Memou-chou yesterday, today it seems that it's Tiger & Bunny's turn to shock us and tug at our heartstrings as its brings an episode to a seemingly morbid conclusion after yet another instalment of this series proves to be greater than the sum of its parts - despite the daft mind games played against the other heroes (surely they aren't dim enough to believe that Maverick would let one of them survive?) and the clichéd ending to the fight against H-01, this was still pretty compelling, energetic and entertaining stuff.  Indeed, it's probably a lesson in simple but effective story-telling that other, lesser, series would do well to learn - and what's more we still have plenty in store for the show's finale next week.

Nichijou - Episode 24

It's a bit of a Sasahara special in this week's Nichijou, as our favourite cultured weirdo finds himself at the centre of attention on several occasions this time around.

Of course, at least some of this interest is thanks to Mio, whose calm, focused exterior (for a change) is put to the test as Yuuko's tale of seeing Sasahara helping Nano carry some books is somehow embellished into a story about naked debauchery in the courtyard in an attempt to seem less dim than she quite clearly is.  Come the end of the episode, Mio also has a run-in with Sasahara herself as he seeks to purchase a beverage from a vending machine only to suffer from the cruel twists of fate which only such devices can bring upon us.  It isn't just Mio's head that is filled with thoughts of Sasahara either, as Misato continues to bring both plenty of "tsun" with a sprinkling of "dere" to proceedings.

Away from Sasahara, Nano tries to make the Professor eat her onions (don't give in, Professor!), Nano herself continues to be the object of Nakamura's interest, and perhaps most importantly Helvetica Standard was actually funny for a change - stop the presses!  Oh wait, this is a 'blog, it doesn't require a press does it?

As episodes of Nichijou go, this is probably some of the better fare we've been served of late - a few laugh-worthy moments and decent snippets of comedy still don't make this a must-watch series, but it was entertaining enough to just about get by without complaint from me thanks to its reigning in most of the complete over-the-top reactions and sticking to more enjoyable stuff.  Even given this improvement, I have to confess that I'm still looking forward to saying goodbye to this series in a couple of weeks time.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Kami-sama no Memo-chou - Episode 10

It's time for a new story arc as Kami-sama no Memo-chou, and what I also assume will be the final major arc of a series that has disappointed more often that it's proved to be a success so far.  But with this particular tale remaining a little closer to home for Narumi, will it impress where previous efforts have lacked?

The catalyst for this episode's events are all due to Ayaka's brother Toshi - a fantastic gamer who spends far too much of his time hanging out at the local arcade who is otherwise something of a drop out and a bit of a troublemaker.  What's more, despite his sister's obvious concern for her brother's well-being Toshi doesn't have a good work to say about his sibling, to the point where he warns Narumi that he's simply acting as his "replacement".  More crucially for the wider story here, Toshi also seems to be dabbling in a drug known as "Angel Fix" - a drug responsible for a growing number of deaths in the area.  But is Toshi a dealer in said illicit substance, or simply a helpless, addicted bystander?

As Alice begins the investigation into the drug, needless to say Ayaka is kept well away from any mentions of it while Narumi is similarly side-lined due to the risk of the case, leaving him instead tasked with looking after Ayaka - something which, it has to be said, he does a terribly job of initially as his poor efforts at concealing what he knows about her brother lead to a falling out between the two of them.  Although everything is patched up and eventually returns to normal between Narumi and Ayaka, is Toshi's brother really doing as well as she outwardly seems, especially as she begins to gain knowledge of Alice's current investigation?  There is clearly more behind her smile than meets the eye...

I have to hand it toKami-sama no Memo-chou - after plenty of slightly listless and mediocre fare, at last we have an episode which really packs a punch.  While the duration of this episode seems to be nothing particularly dramatic with its story of drug dealing and the personal relationship between Narumi and Ayaka, the whole instalment ultimately proves to be built to a very careful yet utterly shocking and unexpected climax to shake you from any assumptions you might have had about this story arc by turning things on there head.  This makes for a risky episode of character and relationship building that has ultimately paid dividends big time thanks to the heavy (if admittedly slightly hard to believe) impact of its final denouement, which in turns leads us to what will hopefully be a deeply emotional final couple of episodes.  Proof positive that Kami-sama no Memo-chou can have an impact when it really puts its mind to it.

Blood-C - Episode 9

With an Elder Bairn on the loose at school, the climax to last week's episode of Blood-C brought us the beginnings of a bloodbath.  Can Saya really hope to keep her promise of protecting everyone?  Well, maybe if she stopped dithering and actually got on with it she might have a chance...

As this ninth instalment begins, Saya finally springs into action against the Elder Bairn, but despite her best efforts she seems near powerless to stop it from quite literally devouring everyone in its path - no matter what she tries, classmate after classmate is slain in brutal fashion by the monster as it continues its massacre.  Eventually Saya does take down the beast in question, but not before it's almost literally torn her entire class to pieces, leaving the class president Itsuki as the only survivor, Saya aside.

With their seemingly unconcerned teacher appearing after all of this has gone on to dryly lay the blame for the mess in her classroom at Saya's feet, we return to the core questions drifting around within Saya's psyche - just who did she make a promise to to protect everyone?  Indeed, who is Saya at all?  These are questions that she still can't answer despite her talking dog friend's insistence that she needs to find those answers, and quickly, while her thoughts are also distracted by the appearance of a safe and healthy Tokizane to make perhaps the most ill-timed confession in history; I'm surprised he didn't answer Saya's question of "what do you like about me?" with the response "well, you're not dead".

For all of the (quite justified) criticisms of Blood-C's pacing and story-telling, you can't deny that it's pretty damn good at delivering breath-taking, bloody and gruesome massacres - even with its censorship in place, it's still an well-realised yet unsettling sight to see a monster chomping and smashing its way through a bunch of students with little regard for who they are.  As a result, the first half of this week's episode was the kind of thing you simply couldn't help but keep your eyes glued to as it gleefully went about its ugly business, before presenting us with the side of the series that doesn't fit so well - Tokizane's slightly daft confession, and repetition of the same old questions that we know about but don't have the answer to.  It's a good job that the positive points of the first half of this episode outweigh the negatives of the second, and it's the show's visceral and blood-soaked side which seems like its most compelling even at this stage in the series.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 9

Despite leaving us with that cruellest of cliffhangers (or cruellest strokes of fate, if you prefer) last episode, this week's Mawaru Penguindrum seems in little rush to further pursue the well-being of Sho as its attention shifts to other matters.

Indeed, this entire instalment is an introspective opportunity to shift through the life and key emotional points of Himari as we enter a rather Alice in Wonderland-esque dream - rather than a rabbit it's a penguin than we follow into the depths of a world that seems normal on the surface, but hides something rather more unusual behind it - a massive, monolithic library of... well, of who knows what?

What we do know is that the curator of this library, whoever he may be, has access not just to many books but also many of Himari's memories, and it's this ability that allows us to delve into her back story.  The story in question is a tale of a trio of girls determined to become idols as children - a dream which binds which them, but also a dream which causes Himari to become needlessly selfish (in that way that only kids can) towards her mother, in turn leading towards an inadvertent accident which leaves her mum scarred.  While this event only reinforces the bonds between the three childhood friends as they stand up one another even under pressure, Himari's inability to attend school leaves her cut cruelly from this trio to watch from the sidelines as they achieve everything that they ever dreamed of and more.

What does this story mean to the grander sentiments and concepts of Mawaru Penguindrum?  Despite leading to some further questions on the meaning of fate, who knows?  We never really get to grips with this mysterious library curator and his true identity, nor do we really learn anything about the being which possesses Himari (this is a dream after all, can anything that we do see in this episode be trusted?) and come the end of the instalment it feels like we've been pencilling in minor parts to the background of the show's doodle rather than anything incredibly significant.  This leaves me a little unsure as to how I feel about this episode - it was stylistically slick and interesting enough, but perhaps it was a little too forced and sterile in its telling of Himari's past and too wilfully obtuse in the structure of its dream world, to the point where it feels rather like something was missing from the experience.  Maybe I simply need to watch the episode again and pay more attention (it has been a long week, after all), but my impatient nature is shouting at me that the immediacy of things like Sho's situation, Kanba's machinations and Ringo's current state are all more important than what we saw here.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Usagi Drop - Episode 10

It's culture festival time for Usagi Drop's penultimate episode - although this series being what it is, we don't get the usual focus that we might be used to from your typical anime take on such an event.

Indeed, our look at Rin's culture festival comes mostly through the eyes of Daikichi, as he finds himself looking on with something of an outsider's eye at his fellow parents - some of whom make him feel decidedly inferior to but most of whom he ends up getting along with.  As some of the mothers present discuss their children catching the 'flu, so we settle in our real focus for this episode, and the very unique problems that come from being a single parent (particularly a single working parent in Japan) when your child comes down with even the simplest of colds.

Of course, it's Rin herself who proves to be our demonstrator in this case as she begins to develop a fever, and although it doesn't seem to be influenza it does happen to be a particularly nasty cold, one which leaves her having to stay home from school, and of course by extension Daikichi too has to take time off work.  Having never seen Rin in anything other than the picture of health before, Daikichi finds himself panicking at her worsening condition and high temperature - cue Yukari to the rescue, as she not only talks Daikichi down somewhat from his constant fretting but also provides everything that Rin needs to recover comfortably thanks to her greater experience of such things.  Thus, all's well that ends well - for Rin anyhow.  But what happens when a single parent gets sick?

Despite serving up such a simple premise ("Rin gets sick" sounds like a pretty dull episode on paper, right?), this proved to be another emotive and touching episode of Usagi Drop - even those of us without kids probably know what it's like to fret too much over a sick loved one even if it is just a cold, and Daikichi's worries given his unique circumstances were not only palpable but also passed on to us as we found ourselves worrying about Rin's well-being ourselves - evidence of just how smart this show (and more importantly its characters) have been at worming its way into our affections.  But with only one episode left to run, it seems that we won't be reaching the end of Rin and Daikichi's story this time around - a prospect that certainly isn't bad news if it means we can look forward to more Usagi Drop next year perhaps?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Steins;Gate - Episode 23

Last week saw us wave an emotional goodbye to Kurisu Makise and return us to the beta world line as we enter the final straight of Steins;Gate - but there's little time for Okabe to reflect on what he's just achieved, and lost, as he's called straight into action in his new "home".

That call to action comes from none other than Amane, who is alive and well in this new time line and just so happens to have dropped by in her shiny time machine to pick up Okabe for a mission that will (she hopes) prevent World War III from breaking out in the future by transitioning the world to its ideal world line - the so-called "Steins Gate".  While Okabe is reluctant to do any more time travel given everything he's been through, the objective of the mission soon grabs his interest, for its goal is quite simple - to save Makise.

Thus, Okabe returns to the scene of Makise's death, avoiding his other self (because as we all know, that would be bad news) and setting out to both find out the identity of Kurisu's killer and prevent her murder.  He certainly succeeds in the former of these two tasks, and it would be an understatement to say that the killer's identity is unexpected.... so much so that it renders saving her life impossible.  With visions of his impossible struggle against Mayuri's death in the alpha world line still fresh in his memory, Okabe resigns himself to a similar intractable problem involving Kurisu here - however, it appears that for once our unlikely hero is giving up too soon, as someone out there has this all planned out...

After the emotional denouement of last week's instalment had me a little worried that Steins;Gate had peaked just a little too early, here am I being made to eat those words by an utterly fantastic episode that gloried in its ability to turn everything on its head multiple times in that wonderful way that the series has proved capable of throughout; surprising us while leaving us baffled that we hadn't thought of these latest developments ourselves.  After showing impressive moments of restraint and tension-building into the bargain, we're now left holding our breath-excitedly for the show's final episode - and I'm genuinely not sure I can wait.  Anyone have a time machine handy?

Kamisama Dolls - Episode 10

Last week's instalment of Kamisama Dolls ended with the flourish of introducing us to a new character, bringing forth many a cry of "hang on, we only have a few episodes to go, what are you doing?".

Anyway, saying no more about the logic of introducing a character this late in the game, the girl in question is one Mahiru Hyuga - yet another individual to add to Kuga's "harem" and, of course, an important part of the Hyuga clan.  Mahiru also happens to have an impressively short temper, and as everyone around her immediately tells her to butt out and go it doesn't take long for her short fuse to be exhausted, causing her to go on something of a rampage with her kakashi Magatsuhi.

Eventually, it takes the combined effort of Utao and Koushirou's kakashi to take down Magatsuhi, but before we know it Mahiru is on the move again to her next appointment - a chat with a Tokyo politician currently running for re-election.  The man in question, Takeshi Hirashiro, is no ordinary politician though, as he too hails from Karakami village, and given his knowledge of said village's secrets he feels that the time is right to exploit those powers for his own ends.  With this in mind, Hirashiro has more than a passing interest in both Aki and Mahiru, although both individuals are surprised (and decidedly unimpressed) to find that they've been summoned with the same goal in mind before the latter's temper again gets the better of her.

With the dust seemingly settled on her outdoor skirmish, we do at least get to learn a little more of Kuga's back story, with a tale from his youth (and happier times hanging out with Aki) that leads to him bumping into both Mahiru and a particularly terrifying kakashi that can operate without human intervention, the latter of which Kyohei believes was responsible for "breaking his brain".  Is this the case?  Will it even have any bearing upon the remaining episodes?  Who knows...

Despite my misgivings about introducing a new character this late in the proverbial game, I have to admit that Mahiru's introduction has spiced things up a little within the series, if only for the short term by bringing us some more of the cool kakashi-led action that has really been the stand-out aspect of the show from the very start.  Drifting into yet more back story was perhaps not the most advisable way to follow this up however - it was a decent little tale in its own right but it felt shoe-horned in given all the exposition we'd been treated to a few episodes back, and it continues the suspicion that this manga adaptation has been slightly clumsily handled at times.  Goodness knows how Kamisama Dolls is expecting to resolve everything that it now has "in flight" in three episodes (I'm assuming it isn't going to even try to), but I suppose at least it has plenty to be getting on with as we head towards its finale.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Sacred Seven - Episode 10

After his impressive feats of power and endurance towards the end of the previous episode of Sacred Seven, Arma's influence seem to have spread further than he might have imagined, with Ruri's sister Aoi's coma/crystal shattering and dissipating.  Thus, Ruri is happy, the series is over, and they all live happily ever after.

Oh wait, we're not done yet?  Oh, okay then.  So, while Aoi's crystal "prison" has vanished, there's still no sign of life from Aoi herself, while even Arma with his powers can't see any sign of a change from her.  Still, given Ruri's continuing distress, he does at least have the decency to ask her to recount the story of exactly what happened to Aoi to put her into her current state.  That's right kids, it's flashback time!

From here, we've sent back into the childhood of the two sisters (and indeed a young Makoto) as we soon note that Aoi is very much the loud, brash and bossy one compared to her quieter sister - more specifically, we visit the girls family on the cusp of Christmas, with excited preparations giving way to a falling out between Ruri and Aoi over a broken decoration and present for their parents.  Thus, Ruri chooses to stay behind with Makoto to refashion this gift while the rest of the family leave for their holiday home - a decision which ultimately saves her life, as the rest of her family are killed by an attacking Darkstone aside from Aoi, who saves herself using her powers but ends up in her current comatose state.

As recaps go, this was a pretty dull and rather predictable affair - I can't really deny its importance given that we only have a couple of episodes left to run and it was about time the whole story of Kenmi's actions as they pertain to Ruri and her family was explained, but that doesn't stop what we were presented with from being a bit yawn-worthy.  As last week's episode proved, Sacred Seven is at its best when it's doing balls to the wall action rather than emotional drama or any kind of deeper story-telling - I just hope it's planning an action-packed finale rather a straight-out dramatic one as a result.

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - Episode 10

After delving into the history of Claude and Camille's relationship over the past couple of weeks, we return to the show's equivalent of the present day for Ikoku Meiro no Croisée's tenth episode - at least, we mostly do...

With Claude away for the day on business, Yune is left at a rare loose end after seeing him off from the Galerie's gates, and after some scenes which allow us to appreciate just how much she's integrated into that locality her determination to get things done even without Claude around finds her cleaning out the shop's storeroom - a decision which leads to Oscar finding some items of interest that he'd forgotten all about.  The objects in question are a slide projector and a "Mutoscope" of sorts, and with Alice happening to drop by both herself and Yune are amazed by these contraptions ability to display static and moving images respectively - before we know it, the whole Galerie seems to be summounded to an impromptu show utilising multiple slide projectors as Oscar  and company recreate the original Star Wars trilogy.  Or something.

While Yune recounts her childhood and the time she spent playing with shadows along with her sister, it seems that she isn't the only one with shadows in mind, as Claude finds himself burdened by the reputation of his deceased father - on the one hand, he wants to surpass him but on the other he's determined (stubbornly so) to be his own man freed from the legacy his dad has left him.  How he resolves this conflict remains to be seen, but it's another interesting window into Claude's life.

This mixture of personal matters, reminiscences and a little slice of history via old technology sums up pretty much everything that works well within Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - it makes for a fun blend of elements to watch, and this episode in particular gives us a real feeling for how Yune and even Alice have grown and development into part of their community, be it willingly or otherwise.  That all of this is served up in such a delicate and relaxed way only serves to make it all the more enjoyable, and this has certainly been my singular, laid-back pleasure of the summer season to date.