Monday, 31 October 2011

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 4

I was tempted to start this entry by suggesting that the end of the last episode of Mirai Nikki revealed the true extent of Yuno's craziness - but let's face it, we already knew she was a knife short of a carving set didn't we?

Of course, finding out that the girl who is stalking you might also be a serial killer is never a good thing, not least when her Future Diary is monitoring your every move, meaning that Yukiteru can do little but wait for detective Kurusu to come by the next morning.  Even this isn't enough to save him from Yuno's attentions however, as she ensures that she's present to stop him passing any unwanted information onto Kurusu before all three of them set off in the continued hunt for Uryuu.

Thanks to Kurusu's own diary, tracking her down proves simple enough as she's been taken into the custody of a cult know as The Sacred Eye - a cult headed by Tsubaki Kasugano, a girl whose eyes are not exactly worth of reverence but (you guessed it) an individual with a Future Diary of her own to support her power.  However, with Tsubaki having come across a "dead end" in her own timeline, she's looking for help from Yukiteru in return for handing over Uryuu.  The true nature of the attempt on Kasugano's life soon becomes obvious, in a spiral of bloody and violent confusion which threatens to cause our cult leader harm from a different source, before Yuno's brutal proclivities actually come to good use in terms of preventing their equally crazed opponent from reaching checkmate.

After a lull in last week's episode, we're back to the good stuff again with this latest instalment of Mirai Nikki, as it goes back holding a place as one of the more deliciously twisted shows I've seen in recent years.  Yes, almost everything about it is utterly, utterly ludicrous, but somehow that insanity simply fuels the series and its equally insane character roster as they go about their grisly and mentally disturbed business.  Looking at its component parts in isolation, Mirai Nikki should probably read like jumbled fantasies of a middle school kid who has played too many violent video games, yet somehow when you throw all of its elements together you're left with a series that is as "yandere" as its female lead - it's utterly, dangerously nuts, but that isn't enough to stop you falling in love with it.

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 5

After a one week break, it's time for Squid Girl once again.  You know the drill by now - three sub-stories squeezed into a single episode for our enjoyment and entertainment.

The start point for episode five sees Takeru rejoicing over his recent purchase of a remote control car - a toy which equally impresses Squid Girl herself as she takes it for a spin.  However, the confines of the house just aren't enough to satisfy her, and against Takeru's wishes she eventually sneaks it outside to spend some proper time with it.  The rest probably writes itself from here - Squid Girl wrecks the car and has to confess to the error of her ways, while an attempt from the MIT's "Three Stooges" to fix the car produces some... interesting... results.

For part two of this episode, Squid Girl learns about the customs of Tanabata, and needless to say she wastes no time in trying to figure out wishes to serve her own ends.  The trouble is, when there are so many things you want how do you choose one?  After an entire day of struggling with her choice, it's the wishes proffered by others which eventually make her decision a whole lot easier.  Finally, the end of summer homework for Takeru gives him the chance to hang out with his friends at last... except they're all busy.  Cue Squid Girl to try and teach him how to have fun on his own, from finding everything on television hilariously stupid (she is watching Japanese TV to be fair, so she's probably not too far off the mark) to watching ants going about their business.  "But why don't Squid Girl and Takeru just play together instead?" I hear you cry.  Well, that's exactly the point.

As ever, Squid Girl succeeds simply be keeping its formula simple and being a whole lot of fun - there are occasional laugh out loud moments, and the rest of each episode just amuses or entertains enough to make for a worthwhile watch.  This particular instalment does also showcase some of the emotional investment in its characters however - Squid Girl's upset at having broken Takeru's toy which he's spent so long saving for is truly a bit heart-rending before shifting back to comedy for its final pay-off as a reminder that we do actually care about its major characters even though they spend most of their time goofing around.  Let's face it though, we wouldn't have it any other way, right?

Hidamari Sketch xSP - Episode 1

Asking me what I think about any episode of Hidamari Sketchis effectively a redundant question given my love for the series - thankfully the fact that I can't get enough of this show seems to continue to be well served, with two special episodes paving the way for a full-on fourth season next year.

As per series tradition (and after a wonderful set of opening titles), this additional episode is further split into two sub-stories.  The first of these sees the entire gang of six residents from Hidamari Apartments paying a visit to a museum/art gallery, where they try to wrap their heads around modern act and the meaning of various pieces while just hanging out and goofing off as usual.

While the second half of the episode sees Sae and Hiro having to attend classes, the other residents have some time to themselves, which sees them paying a visit to a local swimming pool - ostensibly to help Miyako practice for her part in a forthcoming school swimming meet, but it also gives Yuno in particular the chance to practice in the water in the hope of becoming less of a "hammer".  This she succeeds in with some minor degree of success, although the effort of doing so means that she doesn't get much of an opportunity to enjoy the subsequent pyjama party held by all the girls as she nods off pretty much as soon as it starts.

There really is absolutely nothing I can say about Hidamari Sketch that hasn't been said before, and as per usual this special is a blend of relaxing, satisfying slice of life fare sprinkled with a seasoning of laugh-out loud humour.  The only criticism you could perhaps have of this instalment is that it leaned a little too heavily on its CG and gimmicks from time to time, but even that can't really detract from the simple, undemanding happiness that can come from watching this series.  I genuinely can't think of a better way to relax after a hectic weekend in London.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 16

Given that she's been an important part of the series for a little while now, I suppose it's about time that Masako Natsume got an episode largely to herself to delve into her particular background a little more - an what an "interesting" episode it is too....

In short, this week's instalment gives us a window into Masako's current place at the head of her "clan", and perhaps more importantly how she came to be there - left in the care of her grandfather on account of her father not agreeing with his own dad's way of doing things and moving away, Masako becomes determined to pave the way for her father's return no matter the costs.

At least, that's the plan in her head, although in reality her attempts at removing her grandfather from his role prove to be little more than dreams.  Ultimately however, this company president engineers his own downfall by preparing his own blowfish (don't try this at home kids) - or does he?  Perhaps he lives on within the body of the sickly Mario.  More importantly however, the question remains as to just what is expected from Masako by the ever-mysterious Sanetoshi, and although we get a few glimpses of Masako's formative relationship with Kanba there is still much yet to be learned as to his shadier dealings.

This rather strait-laced synopsis however hides an episode which was utterly, utterly bizarre and more than a little surreal - it played some of its aspects for comedic purposes with glee, including a somewhat twist take on its "survival strategy" motif and Masako's attempts on her grandfather's life, to the point where this almost felt like a filler episode for a while before the realisation sunk in that important plot points where also being made here.  The problem here is that so layered in whimsy and dream sequences is this episode, that come the end of it you're not entirely sure what you should and shouldn't extract from it - this is, perhaps, the point but it's a little hard to swallow from a series that already occasionally threatens to become impenetrable on account of its numerous unanswered questions, while its light-hearted nature threatens to trivialise some of the potency of the show's story in places.  I just hope this is a one-off, rather than this series picking up more of Revolutionary Girl Utena's bad habits...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Guilty Crown - Episode 3

After impressing in terms of the power and organisational abilities at their disposal, Shu might have thought that he could finally distance himself from the Funeral Parlour group - at least that was the plan, until Inori appears in his class as a new transfer student and a red mark appears on my face thanks to my palm hitting it out of the clichéd stupidity of these development.

Of course, this isn't all that Shu has to put up with - not only is he going to have to share his classroom with Inori, but it also appears that he'll have to share his home with her two as she invites herself to stay in that detached, plain-speaking manner of which she is so fond.  There is, to be fair, a reason behind her entrance into Shu's life like this - during their previous operation, Gai identified a witness to their work outside of his control, and more importantly that witness is also a member of Shu's school.  So, how is he expected to find the culprit?  By extracting their Void and finding one which matches Gai's description (his power, incidentally, being the ability to know the shape of a person's Void before it is drawn from them).

Of course, this causes Shu not inconsiderable grief in the pursuit of their suspect, as not only does he have to memorise the rules of Void extraction (including the obligatory "you can only perform it on someone under seventeen" rule), but he also has to learn to make eye contact with people and, perhaps most importantly of all, not get caught doing it.  After some initial failures which turn his reputation to dirt around the school, Shu gets the hank of this whole Void extraction malarkey... but who is the witness to his deeds last episode?  Not only does his discovery of the culprit prove to be a personally difficult one for him, his fondness for the person in question could prove fatal...

After a really good episode last week, I'd probably best describe this third instalment of Guilty Crown as "functional" - it does its job in terms of progressing the plot and setting out a few important points and rules that the series will continue to carry throughout, but the way this information and progression is presented veers from the irritatingly clichéd (i.e. pretty much everything Inori does) to the pointlessly comical, with only its final scenes delivering an impressive kick to the teeth which makes some of what we've just seen worthwhile.  Still, even Code Geass had episodes like this, so as long as it doesn't make too frequent a habit of it I'm not going to let this put me off Guilty Crown majorly for the time being.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 4

Having spent its first three episodes concentrating on Yozora and Sena as they pertain to our protagonist Kodaka, it appears that it's time for some new characters to be introduced to the show's Neighbours Club - a task which this fourth instalment approaches with gay abandon.

For starters, we finally receive a brief opportunity to meet the club's moderator, sister Maria Takayama - a girl who turns out to only be ten years old for no easily explained reason.  More importantly however, this episode sees a couple of newcomers join the club - the first of these comes as Kodaka is convinced that he's being stalked around school, a conviction that eventually leads to him quite literally bumping into Yukimura Kusunoki, a person of hard to determine gender who has seemingly been following Kodaka in a bid to learn to become more manly and avoid what he regards as being bullied.  Of course, the truth of his "bullying" isn't quite what it seems, but nonetheless before he knows it he's a part of the Neighbours Club, with Yozora using her own unique "insight" in tutoring her new charge.

The club's next addition comes from Kodaka saving a girl in the science lab as she collapses after a science experiment gone wrong.  The girl in question is Shiguma Rika, a loner but scientific genius with a decidedly perverted streak - particularly when it comes to mecha it seems, as demonstrated by an amusing Evangelion Unit 2 x Gundam example.  Beyond her obsession with science and robots however, Rika naturally also ends up taking quite a shine to Kodaka, with her brazen attitude towards him looking likely to upset the club's balance with very little effort at all.

I suppose we had very quickly reached the point that Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai needed some fresh blood in its character roster to shake things up, although the way these new individuals have been presented really just makes them seem like fodder for the otaku database rather than living, breathing characters - rather a shame given that Sena and Yozora at least feel somewhat fleshed out at this point, although perhaps these newcomers will receive similar treatment over the coming weeks.  For now though, the slightly uncomfortable feeling that you're being "exploited" and otherwise deliberately targeted by the way this show and its character traits are panning out continues, offset by some great snippets of dialogue that assuage the guilt somewhat of watching a show that's almost trying too hard to pander to the proclivities of its audience.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Un-Go - Episode 3

With a couple of solved mysteries under it's belt, we enter a two-parter beginning with Un-Go's third instalment, via a story that introduces us to a rather oddball but formerly influential family.

We meet the family in question seven years to the day from the death of its former head, Komamori Sasa, an influential yet secretive (to the point of never showing his face to anyone) genius in the world of AI and androids whose life was seemingly cut brutally short in an explosion at his home, coinciding with the banning of his devices and research in war-torn Japan.  After his death, the role as family head was controversially passed on to his adopted son Kazamori, an introverted and strange individual, yet undoubtedly something of a smart person in his own right.  When Kazamori runs from his room aflame on the anniversary of his father's death, is this the work of a curse, spontaneous human combustion, or something altogether more sinister?

Of course, it's up to Shinjurou and Inga to investigate this state of affairs, and as they pay a visit to the Sasa household they soon find their investigation joined by those of Rinroku Kaishou, between them pondering who would have most to gain from the family head Kazamori's demise.  For Shinjurou however, there's an entirely more important question to be asked, and it's left to Inga's powers to lift the lid on what interests him most - just who is Komamori Sasa really?

It's almost a little unfair to cast any judgement on this particular episode of Un-Go given that it leaves us effectively half-way through its story with its main mysteries still unsolved - but hey, that's never stopped me from having my say in the past!  I'm genuinely a little torn about this instalment - parts of its setup felt clumsy or downright pointless (although some of them may prove to be less so come next week), and the episode simply doesn't have enough time to properly build up all of the family's motives for murder to give us an opportunity to figure things out for ourselves, but the general idea is portrayed solidly enough and despite Inga's transformation and power continuing to be gimmicky I must admit it gets the job done on occasions like these.  Ultimately though, much like other shows of a similar ilk such as Gosick, my biggest frustration is that murder-mystery stories in anime always seem to be rushed to the point of dissolving any real "whodunnit" element for the viewer - a critical piece of the puzzle that Un-Go may eventually leave us crying out for.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 3

After seeing your school blown largely to smithereens and most of your classmates blended into mush by the explosions responsible, there's only one way to relax - go on a date to the local amusement park!

At least, this is where Yukiteru and Yuno end up as this third episode begins, enjoying the usual attractions to be found there such as rollercoasters, haunted houses, and getting to feel your girlfriend's boobs pressed against you in the swimming pool.  While this all seems fine and dandy, there is actually a little more to this than meets the eye (and no, I'm not talking about Yuno's breasts), as our pair of diary owners are actually acting as bait on the behest of detective Kurusu as he continues his hunt for Minene Uryuu.

While Uryuu struggles with her injured eye and finds that her escape from the locked-down town is problematic despite the special properties of her particular diary, it seems that help is at hand in the form of a good Samaritan who offers to help her.... but what's his real goal?  Meanwhile, Yukiteru's attempt to find out a little more about Yuno don't go particularly well - at least, they don't until he's invited into her home, and his hunt for the bathroom leads to him making a far, far more shocking discovery which almost literally looks set to turn the world within this series on its head.

After the break-neck pace and sheer brutal force of last week's instalment, perhaps taking things down a notch was required of Mirai Nikki's third episode, although that doesn't really hide the fact that much of this episode is pretty run-of-the-mill as it engages in its depiction of the typical anime amusement park shenanigans topped with a dose of fan service.  It's only as we enter the final stretch of this instalment that things suddenly become interesting again, courtesy of Uryuu's dilemma and, more importantly, Yukkii's discovery which is clearly going to shake things up big time - a perfectly placed hook at the end of an otherwise mediocre episode to drag me right back into my fascination with the series thus far.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 4

Having used its first three episodes to great effect to set its scene and establish the relationships between its main three characters from their youth, we now return to the present day and both Chihaya and Taichi's current circumstances.

While Taichi might be luke-warm towards karuta these days, Chihaya is (as we saw in episode one) still as obsessed by it as ever, although we learn here that she has still only managed to move up the "B" class at her local society, much to the teasing amusement of Taichi.  Thus, Chihaya makes a bet that if she can move up to the "A" class in a forthcoming tournament within her society, she'll force Taichi to make a karuta club with her at their school.

With the pressure on, Chihaya has to prove both her dedication and application as Taichi watches on, while we also get to fill in the gaps a little regarding Taichi himself as he's clearly drifted away from karuta in pursuit of a more "normal" life, complete with a girlfriend and aspirations of joining the school football club, even if his reasoning behind this is simply the realisation that he could never compete with Arata's ability in the field of karuta.  However, is that really true?  The intervening years might not have seen Arata turn into the karuta master he promised and dreamed of becoming after all...

Despite a pretty hefty drop in animation quality this week, thankfully Chihayafuru's story hasn't taken the same kind of nosedive even though we've moved back to the present in terms of plot.  With our shift forward in time, we still find our female protagonist to be as quirk, spontaneous and determined as ever, only now offset with the added awareness that comes with growing up - at least somewhat, although she still seems to have no clue as to how she affects those of the opposite sex, not least Taichi.  This lends another angle to the already compelling character-driven aspects of the show, while Taichi also brings his own traits to the table and come the end of this episode it appears that we have a lot more to learn about Arata.  Couple this with some surprisingly tense scenes of Chihaya in action during her karuta tournament (which also allows us to assess how she's changed and matured over time), and you have yourself another decidedly enjoyable episode of Chihayafuru.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 4

From a positive start and a third place ranking in its opening chapter, Shady Detective Trap's fall to eighth place in the rankings with its second instalment has Moritaka and Akito more than a little worried.  The good news is, this means that we get an episode devoted entirely to the creative process within in their industry of choice this time around.

As results for chapter three of their manga come in, things only get worse for Ashirogi Muto, as they drop an additional place to ninth in the rankings - not a place low enough to cause real fears of cancellation at the upcoming serialisation meeting at Shounen Jack, but it's still a precipitous slide towards the trap (with every pun intended) door.

As expected, our protagonists series survives the serialisation meeting, but the news that both Nakai and Fukuda have had their respective manga serialised convinces Takagi that there's only one thing for it - to change their approach.  Despite impending deadlines, he puts this opinion to editor Miura, who is even beginning to have doubts himself in the midst of heated debate within the office about the best future direction for Trap.  Is this the time to strike out and do something different or have faith in the creative abilities of the artist to draw in readers over the long-term?  It's a tough call, especially given Moritaka and Akito's obsession with the survey rankings, but come the end of the episode a definitive decision is made.

While I haven't minded its dalliances with other issues quite so much in this second series thus far, this episode is the kind of thing that I signed up to Bakuman for, and once again it does a great job here in depicting the constant struggle between aiming for artistic merit, good story-telling and entertainment value against what is deemed popular and most likely to succeed, together with the various questions that come from that debate.  This was provided in a toughtful and thought-provoking fashion here, showing that whether you're an artist or editor no two opinions are the same, and even with its relatively basic premise for this episode it still succeeded in putting us through the emotional wringer somewhat as we continues to cheer on our heroes.  Hopefully we'll be able to enjoy a lot more of this along similar lines over the coming weeks.

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 2

The opening episode of Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing was certainly a busy piece of work, taking us from piece to war in a broadly satisfying fashion in a single episode.

With Turan and Ades now very much in a state of war, and with the people of Kartoffel and the Space Pirates lending their services to Turan's forces (at a suitable price, of course), the big question is what to do next.  While Princess Millia is sent back Iglasia to tend to her sick father and provide him with plans for the defence of the land, sister Liliana has a plan for dealing with Ades, and quite the precocious (some would say suicidal) plan it is too, involving a full frontal attack with the flagship of their fleet, the Lasas, directly taking on their opposing number.

While this plan swings into action, it's up to Fam and co-pilot Gise to transport Millia back to Iglasia, from which point they're paid and given instructions to take Millia onwards to the relative safety of a far-away villa - a plan which soon falls into disarray on account of the failure of Liliana's plan.  With this elder princess kidnapped, Millia implores Fam to save her sister, leading to a daring raid upon the vast flying fortress that is Ade's Impetuous - a raid which proves to be in vain as Ades' head honcho Hafez has yet more cards up his sleeve...

After a decent start, this second episode of Fam, the Silver Win proves to be downright excellent - grandiose in both its scope and animation (provided you can forgive heavy usage of CG, which works fine for me) and with a break-neck pace that barely leaves you time to breathe as it twists and turns at speed without ever leaving you feeling lost or out of touch with what's going on.  If this comeback for Last Exile can continue in this vein, it might even be capable of surpassing its predecessor if it can prove to be suitably intelligent at progressing its story from this point forward.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 2

The game is very much afoot now that Yukiteru and company know all about the so-called "future diaries" and the survival game into which they have been co-opted - and with the third diary owner dead at Yukiteru's own hands (well, at his darts at least), our protagonist is of course the prime person of interest for the others involved.

Initially however, Yukkii's primary concern is whether Yuko is stalking him or not, although I'd say receiving over forty text messages in one night is pretty clear evidence of that.  Anyhow, come the next day Yukiteru is torn about what to do given the shocking revelation that he's in the midst of a life or death game - by the end of the day though, that's going to be the least of his problems.

Before he knows it, Yukkii has made the acquaintance of the ninth diary owner, Minene Uryuu, who first reveals that the serial killer who he despatched last episode was actually his form teacher before turned out to be a crazy lady with a penchant for blowing things up that would make even Michael Bay envious.  Thus, Yukiteru finds himself trapped in a school packed with motion sensing bombs and other incendiary problems - thankfully, pooling together his future diary (which exhaustively describes his surroundings) with Yuno's (which catalogues everything that happens to Yukkii in detail) keeps them safe for the most part, although even this information has its holes which Uryuu succeeds in exploiting.  Add a detective with his own Future Diary into the mix and things get really interesting - and by interesting, I mean utterly insane.

Quite frankly, Mirai Nikki has proved itself to be absolutely bonkers thanks to this episode, with all of the death and violence (not to mention an annoying wishy-washy protagonist) of a slightly toned-down Deadman Wonderland, but thankfully with a much smarter and far more interesting plot at this juncture.  This instalment delights in the twists and turns which its premise allows it, while having no qualms at delving into the realms of the ludicrous when it suits the story - this admittedly risks chaining together too many eyebrow-raising moments to the point of questioning the credibility of the series, but on this occasion is just about pulls it off on account of having so much information and action that it can throw at the viewer.  For all of those moments of stupidity, I have to confess that I'm completely hooked on Mirai Nikki right now.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 15

With Yuri suddenly thrust into the limelight as a major player in the increasingly crazy world of Mawaru Penguindrum, where next for this series?  Indeed, what else could possibly happen to poor Ringo over the course of the show?

Having been drugged by Yuri as she seeks to take advantage of her as a replacement for her love of Momoka, Ringo still has her wits about her enough to phone Shouma, even if it is only to babble nonsense at him.  However, it's this which allows Sho to realise that he is, in fact, in the same inn and right next door to Ringo and Yuri's room - a hugely contrived occurrence even by this series standard, but it does allow him to break up this pair's "coupling" in a decidedly clumsy way.

With this all over (for now at least), it's time to take a flashback into Yuri's childhood - a youth ruled over by her artist father who insists that both his former wife and daughter are simply too ugly for his creative genius to put up with, leading to a violent and abusive childhood that leaves Yuri both physically and emotionally scarred.  Believing her father's words that she's an "ugly ducking" who can only be made beautiful by his artistic proclivities, it's a chance meeting with Momoka that shakes (if only slightly) these ideas of who and what she is.  Not only does Momoka ultimately claim that she can "shift" or otherwise change people's fates thanks to the diary that she owns, she even goes as far as to do so to save Yuri from death at the hands (or rather, chisel) of her father despite it causing her injury in the process.  It seems that Yuri's fate wasn't the only one changed by Momoka either, which lends a different angle to her disappearance compared to what we already know of her fate.

Ignoring the horrible clumsy and downright stupid introduction of Sho as the saviour of Ringo (how badly plotted was that?!), the introduction of Yuri's past backs up her emergence as a major character nicely, and perhaps more importantly it really brings the importance of Momoka's diary back into focus - not only with regard to its power, but also in terms of what that power has been used for by Momoka to date.  Just who else did she save or otherwise change the fates of, and is that really tied into her death/disappearance during the terrorist attack carried out by the Takakura sibling's parents?  Again, we're only left with more questions come the end of this episode even as other quandaries are answered - if nothing else, this is an anime series that takes great enjoyment in keeping us guessing, but I can live with that as long as keeps up with these more interesting elements to its story.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Working'!! - Episode 4

What a tangled web Working manages to weave within its restaurant setting, and this fourth episode of its second season certainly does little but make this proverbial web even more complicated.

Starting out with what one would imagine is quite a regular occurrence, that being Kyoko eating all of the cream in the restaurant, turns into a trip to buy some more which leads to a a meeting with a woman named Haruna; a housewife who has somehow managed to end up hopelessly lost after going out to buy milk.  Sounds a lot like Otoo's missing wife, doesn't it?

However, it seems that the only person to realise this potential connection is Yachiyo, although the distraction that it Kyoko's bosom prevents her from saying anything - a decision which leads to much guilt on her part, and reverberates around the entire cast.  Starting out with Sato's own concern, before we know it Inami, Poplar and then Takanashi end up involved as we see some accidental progress in a handful of the show's relationships before Otoo returns briefly before setting off to find his wife once again.

Overall, this is possibly the funniest episode of Working that I can ever remember watching - it's first half in particular was an almost non-stop serving of bizarre and laugh out loud humour which featured lots of great dialogue while also making the most of its characters.  This series is always fun, but for once this episode transcended that into a protracted period of outright hilarity that I just couldn't stop laughing at - it's a rich vein of form that I'd love to see carried over into future episodes, that's for sure.

You and Me (Kimi to Boku) - Episode 3 (Dropped)

After her episode of bullying Shu last episode, it seems that Masaki is going to continue hanging around our group of friends from time to time as we reach this third instalment of Kimi to Boku - however, she isn't the only newcomer to the group.

This time around, the new addition to the ranks is Chizuru Tachibana - a transfer student returning after studying aboard.  No sooner has he taken his place in the class than he swears that he's met and hung out with Yuki before during his childhood - something which Yuki himself simply can't remember, causing him to be more than a little frustrated as Chizuru insists upon hanging around him at every given opportunity.

Of course, the question is raised as to whether Chizuru is simply mixing up Yuki and Yuta, although neither of them can remember this otherwise instantly recognisable blonde-haired kid - so is he completely mistaken or did he really play with one of the two twins as a kid?  Eventually, both brother's memories come flowing back, and we have ourselves another character in the show's roster.

Although Chizuru's introduction does shake things up a bit, it's a little like shaking a bag of uncooked rice - you've clearly done something, but it makes no real difference to the end product.  Kimi to Boku is by no means a bad series, and it's clearly set out its stall for what it wants to be - unfortunately that stall has proven to be entirely dull and uninteresting to me to the point where I simply can't justify spending any more time upon it.  With a main quartet of characters that I simply don't like very much, no additions to the line-up of individuals available to the series is really going to rescue this one for me or imbue it with the required dosage of comedy it needs, so onto the rather rare "dropped" list of mine it goes.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 3

After her appearance on Midnight Channel at the end of the last episode, concerns turn towards the well-being of Yukiko as we enter episode three of Persona 4: The Animation - concerns which most markedly affect her friend Chie Satonaka, as she finds herself unable to get hold of Yukiko.

Although this turns out to be nothing more than a false alarm as Yukiko was simply busy with work at her family's hotel, that night sees her turn up once more on Midnight Channel, and what's more she's acting decidedly out of character as she discusses hunting for guys and effectively building her own harem.

Lo and behold, after this appearance Yukiko has indeed gone missing just as a distraught Satonaka feared that she would, and after a few unexpected hold-ups it's time to visit the world within the Junes television set along with Hanamura and Narukami in the hunt for her friend.  Just as it seems that finding Yukiko might be in sight, Satonaka finds herself faced with a more pressing problem - herself... or more to the point, her dark inner emotions, which point towards Chie as feeling worthless and thus befriending Yukiko to make her feel better about herself.  As per last episode's focus on Hanamura, it's up to Satonaka to get a grip on her emotions and inner turmoil and, with the help of her friends, win her own Persona to help in the struggle ahead with Yukiko's whereabouts still unknown.

After last week's instalment, it pretty much went without saying that this would be a rinse and repeat affair to bring Satonaka into the Persona club, so I can't really complain about that too much - it's where the series goes from this point forwards that will be more interesting, with Yukiko still missing and clearly suffering from some turmoil of her own.  Although it perhaps tries too hard to squeeze frivolous moments from the original game into this episode it was still an entertaining instalment once you get past the truly horrible art style (which I think I'm liking less by the week rather than more), complete with a solid roster of characters - hell, even Narukami's boring personality is actually played for laughs this week, which was much needed to paper over that particular issue.  All in all then, it might not be my favourite show of the season, but Persona 4 continues to hold my attention.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 3

After her dalliance with gaming and visual novels in the last episode, it seems that Sena has moved onto "the hard stuff", as this third instalment of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai sees her trying her hand at eroge.

Despite her protestations that this is stuff of art and not mere titillation, her inability to read out loud some of the raunchier scenes from her game's obvious take on The Sacred Blacksmith somewhat proves Yozora's point that perhaps this isn't the most highbrow use of her time.

Still, all of this is an aside as Sena reveals something else to Kodaka - that she can't swim.  Thus, our protagonist gets to put any troubles with his otaku younger sister to one side as he attempts to teach Sena how to swim; something which proves ot be incredibly easy given her natural aptitude for learning new things, although her social skills still prove to be decidedly lacking as evidenced by her inability to properly handle a few pushy guys that corner her at the swimming pool, leaving Kodaka and his rather fierce looks to deal with the situation.  With his relationship with Sena moving in some interesting directions however, it's to some old memories of his that the closing segment of this episode turns, suggesting that Kodaka and Yozora have a history which goes back much further than simply the beginning of this series.

Come the end of this third episode, I genuinely find myself torn in my thoughts on Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - on the one hand, it's a horribly exploitative piece of work that does everything that it can to coax anime fans into its world by catering to their desires as frequently and forcibly as possible.  On the other, there's some great dialogue on show once again in this week's instalment, while I can't help but get caught up in its characters and the situations they find themselves in - even the belligerent Sena  manages to hold my interest somehow or other.  This leaves me without much explicitly positive to say about this series - it looks nice and has amused me well enough - but I can't help but feel a little uncomfortable at the way it's playing me like the proverbial fiddle with its characters and setting.

Guilty Crown - Episode 2

Shu Ouma's ordinary, boring world was turned up upside down come the end of Guilty Crown's opening episode, equipping him with quite the impressive power in conjunction with Inori - power that he has little choice but to immediately wield in the midst of the battlefield in which he finds himself.

Thanks to this power, the Funeral Parlour group manage to win their immediate conflict, taking care of the Endlaves they were pitted against with only minimal casualties themselves - however, their wider mission is considered a failure by leader Gai on account of the fact that the so-called "Void Genome" they'd stolen for him to use via Inori is now ensconced within an ordinary school kid.  Not exactly what they wanted from the "Power of Kings", to be honest.

Still, with the Antibody group seeking to take their revenge by capturing a large number of refugees in a supposedly safe underground garage hostage with a view to interrogating (and moreover exterminating) them, Gai decides that this might just be the time to make a stand with a show of force using their new ally and power - thus, a complex plan is devised within which Ouma and his power is particularly vital, culminating in an ambush and some calculated risks that would make Lelouch vi Brittania laugh maniacally.

In fact, that Code Geass reference isn't entirely accidental, as this episode of Guilty Crown (much like the first instalment) feels very much like it owes a debt to the aforementioned series in some ways, and certainly when it comes to pulling off a seemingly reckless plan thanks mainly to the special powers bestowed upon the show's protagonist.  Beyond simply comparing this episode to other anime (and goodness knows we could match up similarities to numerous other shows), it has to be said that Guilty Crown is an utterly gorgeous visual feast - surprisingly fan service-laden for a noitaminA show, but utter fantastic to look at from beginning to end.  Thankfully, this second episode also had some brains to back up its visual brawn, delivering some tasty action and smart set pieces that felt engaging while holding just the right amount of dramatic tension.  The only thing which breaks this spell is the horribly cliched ending to the episode - do we really have to go down the whole "mysterious girl who I've just found alongside has suddenly transferred in to become my classmate" route?  It was done to death decades ago, and it takes the sheen off what was otherwise a great episode.  Guilty Crown doesn't particularly feel like a noitaminA series at this juncture, but who cares when it's such a luscious viewing experience that with an exciting plot to boot; if this episode is anything to go by at least.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Working'!! - Episode 3

While Takanashi's youngest sister Nazuna begins working at Wagnaria as part of a work experience placement of sorts, our lover of all things small and cute must be wishing that his other siblings were just as... well.... normal.

As if Kozue insisting on visiting the restaurant to spill her latest tales of being dumped to anyone who'll listen while demanding alcohol that the place doesn't even have, Takanashi's real problem (although he may not completely realise it) is Izumi.  After seeing a mobile phone picture of Poplar and mistaking her for her brother's girlfriend, Izumi is thrown into a fit of worry about what he's doing going out with what seems to be such a young girl and, more importantly, fretting about who'll look after her once his attentions shift to his "girlfriend".

With this thought eating away at her, Inami goes on a "journey of discovery", which only takes her as far as Wagnaria before she becomes weighed down by some nearby cats.  Although a chat with Inami, who happens to be passing, makes her feel better, her continuing misunderstandings about her brother's relationship status soon brings her back to her so-called slump.  As for Nazuna on the other hand, she continues to breeze through her working life, even when it comes to dealing with the troublesome Yamada.

Overall, there weren't as many laughs on show this week as in Working'!!'s previous instalment, but I did giggle once or twice and there are enough lovable characters to carry the show through even when not much is going on and the skits aren't setting the world alight with their comedy.  Much like Squid Girl this season, even in its lulls (that's lulls, not lulz) there's a sense of fun that pervades proceedings and makes it enjoyable to watch even at its weakest points; something too often overlooked by other anime comedy series.

Un-Go - Episode 2

Having set its tone and premise via its opening episode, it's time to join Shinjurou and Inga as they investigate another crime, flying in the face of officialdom as they do so.

The episode begins with our crime-fighting duo checking out the queue for the latest release by a Dol-pli, this futuristic world's evolution of Vocaloid.  However, with all media including music tightly controlled in this post-war era, the release of a highly anticipated track is cancelled and prohibited by the powers that be and their censorship laws.

All of this seems initially unconnected with the death of an investor named Hisako Osada whose body is found dumped in a suitcase and delivered to the victim's own home - a murder which is assumed to be the work of the victim's cross-dressing former boyfriend, Aramaki, as far as information gatherer Kaishou is concerned.  Of course, Shinjurou has other ideas, and upon meeting Hisako's daughter and discovering her talent for singing, links begin to form in his mind to the Dol-pli music which opened the episode.  Before we know it, we're knee-deep in the story of a band named Yonagahime who rode to fame on the back of one of their members who was killed in a terrorist attack, and a government conspiracy to gee up the population in time of war - a combination of elements that once again sets Shinjurou's version of the truth in this murder case against the official story of what happened.

After holding a few reservations about Un-Go following its first episode, I have to admit that this was actually a pretty good murder-mystery yarn that told its story in a tempered, well-paced manner.  I'm still not sure exactly what purpose Inga serves to the series (surely Shinjurou is smart enough to get information out of people without relying on a walking deus ex machina), but even with his "unique" input this was an eminently satisfying episode, not least because this time Shinjurou's victory was more than just a pyrrhic one in the face of officialdom.  I'm not sure that Un-Go has what it takes to be a classic, but I'm certainly warming to it nicely.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 1

I think it's fair to say that I'm not the only person with fond memories of Last Exile, arguably the pinnacle of Studio Gonzo's career before things all went a little bit pear-shaped.  Now, Gonzo have returned from near-death, and even better they've brought the Last Exile franchise back with it.

Rather than simply carry on from where the original left off, Fam the Silver Wing introduces us to a bunch of new characters as we take to the skies once again, primarily via a pair of female Sky Pirates who go by the name of Fam (of the show's title) and Giselle (or Gise for short).  This rather accomplished partnership seems to love nothing better than leading the way in allowing their group of pirates to snatch their usually wealthy prey, aiming to be first to unleash their harpoons upon their unsuspecting victims.

All of this is set against an unstable backdrop, with the rival Kingdom of Turan and Ades Federation seeking to sign a peace treaty above the Great Lake which they both revere - at least, that's what the Kingdom of Turan believe is about to happen, but what actually transpires is the first act in a war instigated by Ades using their massed forces against what little resistance Turan's princesses have available to them.  While the result of this particular battle seems to be a foregone conclusion, the Ades forces have reckoned without the reckless Fam and her Sky Pirate comrades, as they offer their assistance to Turan's princesses before setting about the business of leaving the Ades fleet in disarray, largely thanks to the abilities of Fam... oh, and a certain someone named Dio who might be familiar to fans of the original series.

All in all, this makes for a thoroughly entertaining first episode which draws you in via its wonderful setting (as per the original Last Exile) coupled with plenty of airborne action.  This focus on the exciting stuff does mean that some of the moments of exposition and explanation are a little rushed or almost arbitrary in their delivery, but that can be forgiven in the midst of an otherwise well-realised opener that leaves us gasping for more.  Last Exile is back, and from these first impressions it doesn't look as though it's going to disappoint - its largely well-animated, sports a great soundtrack (even if it threatened to be slightly over-bearing in places), and looks set to have plenty to offer in terms of its story and characters.  What's not to like?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 3

After a fractious start to some of their relationships, by the time we reach the start of this third episode of Chihayafuru Arata, Chihaya and Taichi seems to have struck up quite the friendship based around their now mutual interest in karuta.

To this end, the three of them go to check out a local karuta society - a decision which soon allows the two less experienced individuals to get a feel for just how serious competitive karuta is taken.  Despite being the youngest people there, our trio soon find themselves thrust into their first game - a team match no less, with our three principle characters working together against another relatively young trio in an attempt to make them take back their initial disdain for these inexperienced newcomers.  Well, I say "working together", but it's Arata who does enough winning for all three of them, although Chihaya in particular still finds her own little slithers of excitement from proceedings.

With all three youngsters deciding that they want to continue attending the society, they're also encouraged to enter a forthcoming tournament for their age group, which requires them to enter as a team but play individually - a scenario which means that the only road to victory will be via a lot of training from Arata.  As the contest draws closer however, other issues take precedence, as first Taichi and then Arata reveal that they'll be moving away from the area for various reasons once they've graduated from elementary school; news which leaves Chihaya distraught as she faces the prospect of losing both her two friends and the only people she can play karuta with...

With so much ground covered by this single episode, I can't help but think that there might be enough important content here to justify the events depicted here being spread over two instalments to maximise both its entertainment and emotional value.  Having said that, this still proves to be another wonderful episode of Chihayafuru, which makes the best of its characters (with Chihaya herself dominating every scene she's in of course) before throwing us into the emotional wringer with its tearful realisation that this brief, happy time in the lives of its main trio is about to be torn asunder amidst the revelation that nothing lasts forever.  When a series can make you smile then turn around and bring a tear to your eye in a single episode, you know it's doing something right, and Chihayafuru continues to be pretty masterful at its particular art.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 3

So, the early results for the first chapter of Ashirogi Muto's Shonen Jack debut are out....

...and they "only" placed third, not quite the dizzy heights of first place that our pair of artists were hoping for.  Despite the assertions of their manager that this is a good thing, Mashiro and Takagi struggle to hide their disappointment, but vow to carry on working hard regardless.  Little do they know that even tougher times are ahead come the release of chapter two.

For now though, the rest of this episode actually deviates its focus on Mashiro and Takagi, and instead drifts off in the direction of some of the other manga creators we were introduced to in the first season.  More specifically, we catch up with what Aoki is up to, as she shifts her attentions from Shonen Jack to Jack Square in an attempt to find something which better fits the demographic for her work, while her next step is to team up with musician turned mangaka Koogy.  Of course, this move proves to be a big shock for Aoki's previous partner in drawing Nakai, and with Aoki claiming that it's his subpar artwork that is at fault he sets out to prove that he can get better in his field by literally drawing all night, every night outside her house, come cold or snow.  The word "stalker" springs to mind, but maybe it's just what Aoki needs to see to understand her own shortcomings...

Although I'd rather stick with Moritaka and Akito's story at this juncture, this was a reasonably good change in focus, if only by allowing us to catch up with some of the regulars from Bakuman's first season.  The episode also managed to avoid going for the same cliff-hanger as last week (where it left us hanging on the results of the popularity survey in Shonen Jack), if only barely, which is a relief - after spending some time with this outside distraction, I'm looking forward to getting back to the heart of what this series is all about in episode four.

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 4

Language barriers can be a pesky thing, can't they?  This is exactly the problem that faces Takeru when he runs into an American tourist looking for directions only to find that he didn't understand a word of what he was saying.  There's only one thing for it - it's time to learn English!

Upon hearing of Takeru's request to learn to speak English, Squid Girl decides that she wants in on this opportunity too, although cynics could point out that she hasn't entirely mastered the Japanese language just yet. That said, our favourite invader from the sea picks up English pretty quickly... as does Takeru... and, well, pretty much everyone except Eiko under the tutelage of Cyndi.  Cue lots of language barrier-based jokes, as the normally perfect Japanese speaker Cyndi suddenly mistakes everything Eiko says as being English in suitably humour fashion.

For the second segment of this week's episode, Squid Girl learns what tickling is all about - a subject I'm amazed that Strike Witches never broached, now I think about it.  Anyhow, suitably impressed by its powers, Squid Girl goes on a tickling frenzy, only to meet her match in Chizuru who tickles her so much that she gets hiccups.  But how do you cure a squid of hiccups?  Finally, a trip down by the river with Takeru and friends sees Squid Girl learn how to make a bamboo boat to race against her buddies - of course, given her track record as a bad loser the others are none too keen to see her defeated, allowing her boat to travel rather further than expected as a result.  All you need to know about this final chunk of the episode however is that it features the brief return of mini-Squid Girl.  Oh, and John Lennon.

Yet again, we have ourselves another immensely fun episode of Squid Girl - its English-speaking section was surprisingly proficient and actually really funny in places if you can suspend disbelief at Cyndi's sudden descent into stupidity, while the whole tickling idea was daft but silly fun, as was the bamboo boat sketch which was perhaps rescued from being slightly dull by the appearance of mini-Squid Girl and a beach-side John Lennon tribute cafe - the kind of moment of surreal madness which makes this series so damn lovable.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 14

We haven't really seen much of Yuri during the course of this series so far beyond her place as the "arch-enemy" of Ringo in her pursuit of Tabuki.  However, it appears that we're going to be seeing a lot more of her during the second half of this series.

Indeed, this episode even begins with quite the revelation, as we see Yuri in bed with another woman; another lover and her co-star in the play she is currently enrolled in.  Although this is also the moment where we see Yuri put an end to this relationship, it sets the tone of the truth about her partnership with Tabuki, while also suggesting that there is far more to Yuri than meets the eye, an ugly side to her that we've not yet seen.

Meanwhile, Yuri isn't the only one troubled by her lot it seems - Shouma refuses to do anything but ignore Ringo after learning that her sister was killed as part of his parent's terrorist attack, asserting that even his existence is only hurting her without realising Ringo's true feelings towards him.  Kanba, on the other hand, continues to do whatever it is he does to finance the medicine required for Himari's continued existence - work which puts him into direct conflict with Natsume as she tries to prevent him going about his business, even offering to pay for Himari's treatment herself.

Ultimately though, it's to Yuri that we return, as she picks up a distraught Ringo from the city and takes her away for a "girl's night out" to help her forget her sorrows.  At least, that's what she claims as her modus operandi - in truth, her desires are far more nefarious, as Yuri reveals her own friendship to Ringo's sister Momoka while admitting that her marriage to Tabuki is simply a requirement of the hands of fate in her mind.  Come the end of the episode, it seems that it's no longer Ringo who desires to be Momoka as much as it is Yuri who desires her to become so, no matter the lengths she must go to as she chases that cause.

After some arguably frustrating episodes of Mawaru Penguindrum of late, this feels like something of a return to form for the series - yes, it's still piling up answered questions by the minute, but Yuri's emergence on the scene as a major part of what's been going on is a tantalising and fascinating one.  On the other hand, we are at least moving closer to an understanding of Kanba and Natusme and what both bonds and separates them, with a suggestion that they are effectively from rival families with some shared underground interests - quite the Romeo and Juliet couple, if only in Natsume's eyes.  So, with things seemingly becoming altogether more threatening as we move through this latter half of the series, my interest has been well and truly restored by this week's events.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 1

Yukiteru Amano is a loner with little interest in actually spending time with people - he does, however, love nothing better than to observe and chronicle the world around him in a diary that he keeps.  That aside, Amano makes up for the gap in his life where friends would normally reside via an imaginary friend of his own construction, a supposed god of space and time who goes by the name of Deus Ex Machina.

When Deus Ex Machina promises to create an interesting game to be played, Amano thinks nothing of it - he's used to such conversations within his mind.  Even when he wakes up the next morning to find his diary already filled out with entries for the day ahead, Amano assumes that he'd simply done it while still half asleep... at least, he thinks so until all of the entries in his diary prove to be true, including those about a mass murderer on the loose in the area.

Such trifles aside however, Amano soon begins to enjoy his life where the future is always mapped out for him - it makes school tests a cinch, and avoiding the bullies that come from his academic success equally so.  This wonderful gift that has been bestowed upon him soon takes a sinister turn, as he discovers that he isn't the only owner of a "future diary" - others have it too, and at least one of them is out to kill him as part of the survival game initiated by Deus Ex Machina.  Much of this is learned by Amano's classmate Yuno Gasai, who seems to be dead set on helping him as she ensures that Asano sees off his first major threat - however, you just can't help but shake the feeling that there's something altogether more sinister about her...

All of this makes for a great opening episode of Future Diary, as it introduces its characters, concept and the direction the series is heading in an effortlessly entertaining fashion.  Admittedly, Amano does risk proving to be another weak and wobbly male anime protagonist, but this could well be offset by Yuno's "interesting" qualities, and between an awesome concept and high stakes to play for right from the start, I have very high hopes for this series indeed.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 2

The "Neighbours Club" now has itself three members looking to traverse the path towards finding and forging friendships - it would probably be better if its two female members weren't constantly bitching at one another, however.

Still, Yozora at least has plans for the club, and the first of these is to learn how to find friends via the medium of the video game.  Their first port of call along these lines is a co-op multiplayer game of Monster Hunter on the PSP - although once Sena and Yozora become involved, it's probably a bit of a stretch to call it co-operative in any sense of the word, and by the end of it the term "deathmatch" would probably be a more suitable one to use.

Given then failure of this attempt, perhaps something more sedate is in order, and thus Sena's effort for the club involves bringing in a PS3 and a visual novel to play through.  Certainly, it helps Sena to make lots of female friends.... unfortunately, they all happen to be 2D ones, while her and Yozora's rationale behind their in-game decision making proves to be questionable at best.

After a decidedly ordinary first episode (and a decidedly awful OVA), this second instalment of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai turned out to be a really fun one - yes, it's obvious otaku pandering with its pair of gaming girls getting excited over visual novels and the like, but beyond that it featured a fair few funny moments while also putting the rivalry between Yozora and Sena to good use.  The trouble is, I'm not sure that this rivalry really has the legs to power the entire series, so hopefully we'll see more characters added sooner rather than later - if nothing else though, this week's episode proves that with a bit of decent writing and production, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai might not be a complete write-off in comedy terms after all.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 2

Having awakened the powers within them and gained a key to visit the so-called "Velvet Room" (which isn't a dodgy nightclub, even if it sounds like one), it's time for Narukami and his friends to beat a hasty retreated from the weird world within the television of Junes' department store - something they succeed in doing thanks to their new-found bear friend.

If those involved think that this is the end of the matter however, they're sorely mistaken, as the very next morning we see another body hung up from a telegraph pole.  What's more, this time around the victim of this latest murder is none other than the apple of Hanamura's eye, Saki Konishi.  With shock spreading around the school, Hanamura deduces that her death must in some way be linked to the urban legend of the Midnight Channel and their journey into the television, and so he and Narukami set off to return to this strange, topsy-turvy world in search of answers.

In those terms, the trip is quickly a success - the aforementioned bulbous bear within the television relates his tale of someone dumping people inside "his" domain, and it seems entirely likely that both murder victims so far were amongst those thrown into this strange place.  What's more, our two brave individuals also stumble across the probable reason for their deaths, as Hanamura runs into his "shadow"; a being containing his deepest darkest thoughts and fears who quickly throws the real Hanamura into turmoil with his talk of what really drives him and his friendly demeanour.  With Hanamura's alter-ego turning into a full-on Shadow, it's time for Narukami to put his Persona to use once again while Hanamura himself has his own part to play in winning the day.  But what next for the strange goings-on in this town?

After a reasonable first episode, this second instalment of Persona 4 manages to up the ante in terms of delving deeper into what its premise is basically all about, and does so in a pretty succinct and direct fashion to boot.  The episode's big Persona battle started off well but turned into a bit of a damp squib, and speaking of damp things Narukami continues to be the show's proverbial wet lettuce personality-wise, but despite this Persona 4's core concept and the intrigue around it does shine through sufficiently to keep my interest provided it doesn't become overly formulaic over the coming weeks.

Guilty Crown - Episode 1

After an opening blitz of action, music and the theft of some unknown entity which seems to be rather precious to its initial owners, this season's other noitaminA show, Guilty Crown, introduces us to its own take on modern Japan - this time around, we have a country decimated by some kind of biological terrorist attack; a virus whose spread was only halted thanks to the help of myriad international forces... forces which seem unwilling to relinquish their grip upon the country now that they have more than a slice of it.

As we enter this world, we find ourselves tagging along with Shu Ouma, a pretty dull lad who just does what is necessary to keep his friendships just about ticking over, just as his country keeps itself up and running by the skin of its teeth.  Any hopes of normality soon vanish for Shu however as he finds his usual haunt inhabited by an injured girl after her escape from that aforementioned spot of burglary - the girl in question, Inori, seems to be known to him on account of her singing voice above all else, but there's little time to reflect on such things as she's dragged off by military forces who rather dumbly seem to leave the key to her earlier theft behind.

So, it's up to Shu to nail his colours to the mast from here - does he run from his predicament or face up to it?  Of course, it would be rather a short series if it was the former, which means that Shu soon comes into contact with Gai and a number of Inori's other acquaintances, before finding himself in the midst of a pitched battle as military forces look to wipe out everything in the area as vengeance for Inori's unwillingness to talk.  Just as it seems that nothing can stop them, fate conspires to "upgrade" Shu from a mild-mannered kid into something rather more dangerous...

Before we mention anything else, it has to be said that this opening episode of Guilty Crown is visually gorgeous, enough so to make it pretty watchable in its own right.  Beyond that, the biggest hurdle that the series is going to have to clear is the obvious comparisons to other much-loved shows, with this opening episode swinging from Code Geass to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex via Revolutionary Girl Utena and a host of other comparisons.  This in itself isn't an issue if Guilty Crown's story and characters hold up to scrutiny, and this fast-paced introduction certainly hasn't done it any harm - now it needs to go out and stamp its own authority on matters so that we can begin to enjoy it outright rather than playing "spot the similarities to other anime" throughout its running time.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Un-Go - Episode 1

Politics, corruption, police investigations and a party featuring some of the country's most powerful people all in one place - sounds like the perfect setting for a murder, doesn't it?

Of course, this is exactly where this opening episode of one the autumn's two noitaminA series, Un-Go, takes us - after an unexplained opening snippet which seems to hint towards the past of its main protagonist, we're soon thrown headlong into that aforementioned world of politics, as we learn of a man named Kanou Nobuzane whose power looks set to be taken from him, with an arrest expected any day on account of allegations that he's been embezzling funds.

Amongst the others attending this party is Rie, daughter of Rinroku Kaishou, a much vaunted detective of sorts with an impressive track record; and our stars of this show Yuuki Shinjurou and his sidekick Inga - a detective far less vaunted, to the point where he's become known as "the defeated detective" on account of his unerring ability to get his deductions wrong.  When Nobuzane is murdered on stage in the midst of his own party, both Rinroku and Shinjurou set out to make their deductions, but whose going to get it right?  Besides which, who is the strange woman who dresses suspiciously like Inga and holds the ability to ask a single question that her subject simply cannot refuse to answer?

All of this makes for an interesting blend of elements to kick off Un-Go - Inga is a mysterious soul with an almost Code Geass-esque power (the questioning, not the turning into a woman), the show's setting is your typical post-war stuff, and the murder-mystery portion of this opener is exactly what you might expect of such a series, even if this is no bad thing as other recent mystery-oriented shows have actually neglected any real detective work.  Perhaps the most interesting facet on show here is the "rivalry" between Kaishou and Shinjurou, which turns these two characters reputations on their head in the midst of conspiracies and arguably doing what's necessary to keep the country running.  Hopefully the series can do something with this element of the show to make things interesting, as to be honest it's the only truly stand-out aspect of an episode which otherwise felt a little disjointed and messy as it threw characters at us at break-neck speed before giving a slightly unconvincing motive for its murder.

In short, Un-Go has plenty of promise, but it needs to do more with its premise, characters and setting to really prove its worth - in those terms, this first episode is not bad as a starting point, but there's little more to it than that.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 2

Assistants, parties, free televisions.... everything seems to be going swimmingly for our newly serialised duo of manga artists now that Bakuman's second season has taken us into the swing of things - of course, life would be boring if everything went that smoothly.

That said, for much of this episode things carry on as per what has become their new norm for Mashiro and Takagi- although there's a rather heavy atmosphere when they and their team of assistants are hard at work, everything is getting done in a timely fashion and with sufficient quality, while Miyoshi also makes an appearance to help out.  With thoughts already turning to their fourth chapter, the only real question is how successful the opening instalments of the Shady Detective Trap manga will be - a question set to be answered next episode it seems.

The fly in this otherwise successful ointment however comes via Miho - while her career as a voice actress seems to have been coming along nicely, a request to take part in a swimsuit shoot for a photo book leaves her torn; doing the shoot will give a boost to her career, but is it really a path she wants to go down?  This conundrum leaves Miho introverted, in turn worrying Moritaka - a state of affairs which eventually boils over to the point where manga creation takes second stage to Miho's well-being, in turn leaving Akito with no choice but to interfere himself to ensure that everything returns to normal with a minimum of disruption.

Although I've never been too keen on the romance angle of Bakuman, and particularly the way things play out between Moritaka and Miho (and I know I'm not the only one here), on this occasion the situation between the two of them actually worked very well - for once Miho's character came out as something over and above a generic love interest, and the way things panned out between herself and her would-be boyfriend felt genuine and valid while making for some well-realised drama.  Thankfully the show's bread and butter wasn't forgotten in the midst of all this, leaving us with another manga creation-centric cliffhanger while the episode also gave us a little more insight into Ashirogi Muto's team of assistants.  All in all then, another top notch episode that was very enjoyable indeed.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 3

Although most of the humans around her seem to have gotten used to Squid Girl, judging by this week's episode the same can't quite be said of individuals of the canine variety.

The real problems come courtesy of Sanae's dog Alex, who sports some rather vicious jealousy towards Squid Girl for taking away his master's attention.  Having decided that letting Squid Girl take Alex for a walk might ease their tense relationship, this pairing both learns a little about one another along the way - not that it does anything to ease Alex's jealousy.

Next up, Squid Girl happens across a group of kids performing calisthenics on the beach - a "ritual" which she finds fascinating and can't get out of her head, problematically so when she begins to ape those moves at work.  Even more dangerous is her attempts to join the children in their radio exercises the next day, as it seems that tentacles and vigorous head movements simply don't mix.

The episode closes with Squid Girl finding herself invited to become a lifeguard by Goro - a decent idea given her unique abilities, but one that she takes rather too seriously to the point of spoiling everybody's fun, even if she does still prove to be quite literally a life-saver when push comes to shove.

As episodes of Squid Girl go, this was yet another fun instalment, marked out by the absolutely hilarious scene where its titular character tries to join some kids in their exercise, which is the funniest thing I've seen in quite a while.  Add to that a few other laugh out loud moments and a general sheen of colourful animation and good entertainment, and it's no surprise that Squid Girl's fan base is growing, especially when Crunchyroll's subtitles continue to prove to be giggle-worthy in their own right, bad puns and all.

Chihayafuru - Episode 2

Despite having no plans to pick up this series, Chihayafuru's first episode managed to wend its way into my affections immediately thanks to a good first episode - the best news at all is that this same sense of quality also seems to pervade its second instalment.

Despite the warnings from her friend Taichi that hanging around with loner Arata would see her ignored by the whole class, Chihaya continues to associate with him no matter the price - a decision which soon leads to an argument, and before we know it a boast from Chihaya as to Arata's karuta abilities turns into a bet from Taichi that he'll be able to at least snatch a single card from our karuta playing genius during an upcoming school tournament.

Of course, Taichi makes this bet before having actually seen Arata play karuta, and having done so it quickly becomes clear that he doesn't have a chance.  With his pride at stake, and even worse with his demanding perfectionist mum watching in the audience, Taichi resorts to foul means to win his game, as practical jokes turn into the theft of Arata's glasses to ensure he can't even see the cards he's playing with.  This, couple with some more sleight of hand from Taichi, ensures that he has little chance of winning - enter Chihaya, who takes Arata's place in this all-important match and somehow contrives to win via her own unique brand of gamesmanship.  Come the end of the episode, even Arata and Taichi seem to have let bygones be bygones under the umbrella of hyperactive fascination that is Chihaya.

With that previous sentence in mind, I can't really stress enough that it's Chihaya herself who makes this series what it is - her sheer energy and passion for pretty much everything is as admirable as it is compelling to watch, especially when it occurs in the face of the complete indifference of the rest of her family.  Indeed, parental issues seems to be a theme with both Chihaya and Taichi, both of whom have clearly been moulded somewhat from their experiences within their family, as perhaps has Arata.  This adds an extra dimension to this series that we don't see often enough from anime (parents are usually absent or never mentioned), and paired with its other elements Chihayafuru continues to be both entertaining and fascinating in equal measure.

Monday, 10 October 2011

You and Me (Kimi to Boku) - Episode 2

After a tepid opening episode, can Kimi to Boku improve with its second instalment?  No... no it can't.   Can I go home now?

Essentially, this week's entire story revolves around random animation of cats - or at least, I wish it did.  Instead, what we focus upon is Shu offering a plaster to a young girl with a grazed knee, only to find that her response to this is to bully him and accidentally, his friends) mercilessly as a result.

Why does the girl do this?  Because she doesn't like accepting people's help, and moreover because she knows that Shu help her because she's special but because he's a nice guy.  If this idea hadn't been hammered into your skulls already, Shu's kindness to a fault is demonstrated by a flashback where he tries to save some tulips from the cold and snow without even thinking that they might be hardy enough to stand up for themselves.

While this might give us a nice, tidy little wrap up to this episode's story, it doesn't hide a more pertinent truth - that this entire episode was incredibly boring and almost unfailingly humourless.  While I can sympathise with its female star's lament about someone acting in a friendly and kind fashion towards you when you know they act this way around everybody but wish their eyes were only focused upon you.(a pertinent dilemma indeed), it's delivered in a boring and predictable way that does nothing for it, and perhaps more importantly does little to make any of its characters any more interesting.  Unless there's a sea change coming up, it feels like Kimi to Boku is already irrevocably holed beneath the water, and it isn't going to be too long before it sinks beneath the weight of its own dull, uninteresting niceness.

Working'!! - Episode 2

Thanks to its pre-airing of episode one, it's been over a month since I first checked out the opening episode of Working's second season - luckily, such gaps prove to be no problem when so little changes episode to episode within the series.

So it goes that this episode meanders this way and that as it goes about its merry-making, whether it's Yamada pining for some attention from Takanashi, or Inami pining for some attention from Takanashi... wait a second, I can see a theme developing here.

Then again, Inami seems quite happy with her lot with Takanashi, while a brief period of stalking Souma is soon put to an end before Yamada finds some brief happiness thanks to the return of Otoo.  Elsewhere, Taneshima hasn't quite got the hang of teasing Satou, while her attempts to play cupid aren't exactly much better.  Still, at least she can manage to look cute with a couple of flags stuck in her hair...

Despite continuing to play to the unique aspects of each character's personality, you can't deny a couple of things about Working'!! - one, it's pretty well animated, even when it's toying with its characters in super-deformed... err... form.  Secondly, no matter how generic its ideas get it still manages to throw out a decent number of laugh out loud moments most episodes, and this instalment was no different in this regard as a few one-liners, quips, stupid comments and facial expressions got me giggling.  This might not be a spectacular comedy par excellence, but it knows what its good at and manages to be fun even when it isn't being downright funny.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 1

As if the blonde hair and angry-looking eyes were bad enough, turning up late on his first day as a transfer student in a new school and the misunderstandings that follow means that before his new school life even begins Kodaka Hasegawa is thought of as a dangerous delinquent.  As a result he's shunned by his peers and left friendless... then again, he isn't the only one.

Returning to his classroom after school one day leads him to bump into Yozora Mikazuki and her friend as they idly chat by the window - except he doesn't bump into Yozora's friend.  Because she doesn't exist.  With no actual friends to call her own, Yozora has instead opted for having an imaginary friend, the wonderful Tomo.  Despite this, even she has to admit that she'd like some real friends, as would Kodaka, and in the blink of an eye the premise of the show is set, as Yozora creates the "Neighbours Club" - no, not a club to talk about the latest goings-on in Ramsey Street, but rather a group for fellow friendless individuals to come together under a united banner of loneliness.  Hell, even the club supervisor at this religious school is a lonely teacher/nun.

The trouble is, the first proper entrant to join Yozora and Kodaka's merry little group isn't exactly what the former was hoping for after all - a popular (with guys anyway), beautiful girl named Sena who loves nothing better than to use and subjugate guys yet still has no proper friends.  To say that Yozora and Sena hit it off would be a massive over-statement, so it looks as though Kodaka has some headaches to contend with before we've even really started.

After that dull and rather off-putting short OVA, this was a somewhat better opening gambit for Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - it wasn't good exactly, and it's already running around with more anime clichés and tropes than I'd care to mention, but it's nicely animated and it has at least the occasional slither of snappy dialogue.  Hopes that this series might follow in the footsteps of Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai seem like nothing but a pipe dream right now, but hopefully the series can find something to offer beyond what its presented us with so far.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 1

Yes, I'm back!  After a long weekend hanging out with friends in Nottingham, normal service will be resumed here on this 'blog... until Thursday, when I head off to Edinburgh that is.

Anyhow, I should probably start this entry with a disclaimer - I've never played the Persona 4 video game (indeed I've barely played Persona 3 at all) so my thoughts on this series are very much the views of a Persona franchise virgin.  That said, the basic starting point for the series is hardly freshly-trod ground, as we meet a transfer student named Narukami who has been sent from the city to a sleepy town called Yasoinaba on account of his parents going to work abroad.

Not that things stay sleepy for all that long - no sooner has Narukami found himself a couple of potential friends in Chie Satonaka and Hanamura than news breaks of a gruesome murder on the school campus, with its victim left impaled on a television aerial.  Coupled with rumours about a "Midnight Channel" that allows you to see your soulmate if you turn on your TV at midnight, and you can see the focus of the series begin to emerge - lo and behold, the next thing we know Narukami finds that he can reach inside a television screen... although being accidentally pushed wholly into it and taking his friends with him perhaps wasn't quite part of the plan.

Thus, we're introduced to a strange world featuring a talking bear-like creature, some creepy shadows and, most importantly of all, a hidden power which Narukami seems to hold within him that gives him the ability to control some other being and fend off the aforementioned nasty creatures.  What the Hell is going on?  That'll be for episode two and beyond to handle...

For an opening episode, there's certainly plenty of ground covered to give us quite a lot to chew on in terms of plot and story - certainly a good thing for a newcomer to that story such as myself I would wager, and it seems interesting enough to make me want to watch more (which, let's face it, is all you can ask of any opening episode).  On the downside, Narukami is your typical dull as dishwater video game adaptation protagonist, with all of the charisma of an abandoned slipper on the side of the motorway, and the animation quality is ropey to say the least - this isn't the kind of series you'd necessarily expect to see animated on the cheap.  Still, with any luck Narukami's character will grow and develop somewhat and I'll get used to its animation foibles - if so, Persona 4: The Animation could have quite a bit to offer.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 13

Having had her life saved (or at least extended) by the "magical" penguin hat over the course of the series, is this really the end for Himari as her brothers and Ringo watch on helplessly?

Perhaps not, courtesy of the appearance of a mysterious doctor who goes by the name of Sanetoshi - a man who also happens to be the same mysterious man we met in the library back in episode nine.  Sanetoshi arrives bearing apples/phials of "medicine" which are as equally mysterious as their provider, but prove to be the means to reawaken and bring life back to Himari... but at what cost?  Both Kanba and Natsume seem likely to be those who are now indebted to this man, who we learn little about other than the fact that he seems to be attempting to test and perhaps even change the universe as it pertains to the concept of fate.

Meanwhile, this episode is also set against more flashbacks surrounding the Takakura family, and focusing upon the day the sibling's parents were taken into police custody, turning the lives of their children upside down as a result.  As our present day brings us to the tenth anniversary of the replacement subway system constructed after the incident brought about by the Takakura's, will history be repeating itself, or is Natsume's desire to crush related to something different entirely?

Once again, Mawaru Penguindrum provides an episode which continues to revel in teasing us as it refuses to explain Sanetoshi's appearance in little more than the vaguest of terms, while concentrating a lot of its time on flashbacks which we could probably have extrapolated for ourselves - it's hardly shocking to think that the Takakura sibling's life was thrown upside down by the arrest of their parents, nor the affect this might have had on Himari.  Perhaps the most notable element of this episode (aside from Himari's "resurrection") is that the end of this week's instalment felt almost like it was writing Ringo out of the story, bringing her some kind of peace in her own battle against fate and seemingly putting her on a more even footing.  Her diary, of course, remains at large, and it seems that we'll be introduced to yet more individuals in the search for its missing half - hopefully the series won't forget to close the myriad other questions its posed while doing so.