Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 13

With their recent differences settled, all is well between editor Miura and his pair of young charges as we dig into the second half of Bakuman's second season, meaning that it's back to the grindstone and the serialisation game for Ashirogi Muto.

With agreement finally reached by all parties to focus on a gag manga, Mashiro and Takagi still have two conditions - firstly, that they want to create another new work to consider for serialisation, and secondly that it should cater towards a broader range of ages than TEN.  With Jack NEXT chosen as the testing ground for another one-shot piece, it's full steam ahead once again, as it's left to Takagi to come up with suitable ideas.

However, one thing is bugging the writer in our manga-making duo, and that's how to write a believable female character.  Getting advice from the tomboyish Miyoshi seems out of the question, and so it's Aoki to whom Takagi turns after serendipitously bumping into her at the zoo while hunting for inspiration.  Seeing as Aoki is herself in need of some male perspective for her work, this seems like a match made in heaven as the two spend their evenings making long phone calls and comparing outlooks on life in general... one could say that they almost get on too well.  If this isn't bad enough, Takagi's possible harem grows further by the reappearance of Iwase - a girl who he rejected in the past but who still harbours feelings for him.  Despite the confrontational nature of this meeting, it seems as if things are about to take a decidedly upsetting turn for poor, hapless Miyoshi.

Although it's effectively become tradition to have a moan whenever Bakuman enters romantic territory, I actually rather enjoyed the dynamic between Takagi and Aoki - okay, that's probably mostly because I've grown rather fond of the latter character in recent weeks (and I'd wager she took up almost the entire animation budget this week so I'm clearly not the only one), but somehow the whole thing works rather well, especially given the tension surrounding Miyoshi's place in all of this.  Sadly, the same can't be said of Iwase's character here, as she simply doesn't come across as believable (or if she is, she's a grade A bunny boiler) and feels out of place in a cast with plenty of believable and relatively strong female characters.  Still, overall this was an enjoyable episode that has given us plenty of drama going into next week - I just hope that Iwase isn't going to be too much of a regular fixture for the series going forward.

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 10

After a pretty needless filler episode last week, Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing resumes its normal service this week, and boy does it have plenty to cover.

The important moments begin right from the off, with Millia officially signing up to an alliance between Turan and Anatoray - another step closer towards rebuilding her devastated homeland.  What's more, Dio has a guest to introduce in the form of Alvis Hamilton, a girl with the ability to control an Exile just live Millia's sister - an ability which will doubtless come in handy later in the series, but for now the information forthcoming as a result suggests most definitely that Liliana is alive.

Indeed, no sooner is this possibility mooted than we're granted an audience with the returning queen (as she now is herself), as she makes rather a grand arrival with a Federation fleet in tow.  Rather than a subjugated captive, Liliana seems to be well in control of her own faculties, although despite this her appearance in front of her remaining forces is only to announce the cessation of hostilities and a new era of peace with Turan under the control of the Federation.  Is peace really worthwhile without freedom?  Millia doesn't think so, going against her sister and sticking to her guns - quite literally, with those guns belonging to Anatoray.  Of course, such a bold decision doesn't exactly impress the Federation, and the Sylvius in particular finds itself the target of their forces in more way than one, leaving Fam in charge of making good Millia's escape.

After the damp squib of that recap, this was another great episode of Last Exile - extremely fast-paced (arguably too much so in a way, to the point of Liliana's arrival feeling contrived) and with plenty going on to keep you hooked from beginning to end.  It wasn't simply all action this time around either, with enough politics and other goings-on to bring a little variety to a series that has threatened to become a little too action-centric at times.  It may still feel a little too simplistic at times to challenge for greatness, but there's still a lot to like about Fam, the Silver Wing at this juncture now that it's gotten its teeth into the material at its fingertips.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 12 (Completed)

All good things must come to an an end, and today sees us say goodbye to Squid Girl for the second time - is she also going to say goodbye to one of her most treasured friendships however?

The mainstay of this episode concerns itself with a falling out between Squid Girl and Eiko in the wake of the former over-writing the latter's hard-earned save game.  Once the argument escalates to the point of the two of them refusing to speak to one another, it seems as if nothing is going to repair the rift - indeed, attempts by the likes of Chizuru to resolve things ultimately only make it worse.  Even an evening out at a nearby festival doesn't resolve the issue, until Squid Girl manages to get herself lost in a sudden downpour, and Eiko finally shows her true colours as she rushes out to rescue her hapless friend.  Thus, all's well that end's well as her friends reflect upon how Squid Girl has invaded their (and our) hearts.

Before all that however, this final episode does begin with some outright comedy, as Squid Girl and her "invasion club" seek to train those around them in how to deal with an actual, invasion - a potentially pressing problem with no Chizuru around.  Of course, Squid Girl's real goal here is to train herself for her real invasion of the land, although as per usual it seems that things don't quite go to plan, whether it's because of a zombie uprising or other more practical problems.

As episodes go, this wasn't quite Squid Girl at its best - it wasn't a bad episode, but its emotional payload felt a little flimsy (in contrast to the first season, which I seem to remember made me cry) and its reliance upon it in turn reduced the comedy output of the episode.  Still, this can't detract from the fact that this was a decidedly fun second series - much like Working I fretted about it running out of steam, but also like Working it managed to keep finding enough entertaining premises and ideas to keep me laughing or at least smiling from beginning to end.  Even when you look beyond all the squid puns introduced by Crunchyroll's subtitles, there's a lot of easy-going entertainment and comic value within Squid Girl, making it a simple but effectively little show with a heart of gold that has done exactly what it set out to from beginning to end.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 12

Which is worse - shooting a man in the stomach, or eating the doughnuts meant for a comatose child in front of his distraught mother?  Such is the kind of moral conundrum that Mirai Nikki brings to us.

Then again, doughnut eating etiquette is hardly at the forefront of Yuni, Yukkii and Uryuu's minds as they find themselves surrounded in a hospital as Kurusu does everything in his power to hunt them down.  Even holding his wife and child hostage at gun-point does nothing to sway Kurusu from his goal of becoming god, as he sends forces swarming in to take down these so-called "terrorists".

So it goes that this week's episode largely becomes one of stand-offs - first between Kurusu as he grabs Yukiteru as hostage in the midst of a gun battle with a grenade-wielding Yuno, before the tables are turned and it's Yukkii who is left in a decidedly difficult situation while Kurusu holds Yuno at knife-point.  There can only be one victor eventually however, and with Uryuu also holding some tricks up her sleeve, Kurusu finds himself decidedly outnumbered and ultimately defeated.  Thus, a semblance of normality returns for our leading couple as the police investigation against them is dropped and they have one less diary owner to worry about - of course, it seems unlikely that such peaceful times will remain for very long.

While Mirai Nikki has occasionally astounded with its ability to deliver twists, turns, action and insanity, this episode rates more as simply "good" rather than anything quite so spectacular.  Perhaps it says more about how batshit crazy the series has been thus far rather than this instalment in particular, but everything felt strangely predictable and par for the course here - there were still some great moments of tension, but nothing that made you laugh with glee or exclaim loudly at what you'd just seen.  Still, this was a solid ending to the current story arc so I don't really have any cause for complaint, and we can surely rest easy in the knowledge that more insane things will be happening in this series again very soon indeed.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A very Merry Christmas from Hanners' Anime 'Blog!

So, tomorrow is a day of celebration; the one truly unique day each year that we should all remember the true meaning of, that true meaning being to take a break for one day and do something other than watch large quantities of anime - a day more widely known as Christmas.

With that in mind, there's nothing further for me to do here than to wish you all a very Merry Christmas indeed - I hope you all have a great time eating, drinking and being merry or whatever else you might be doing tomorrow.  So, for now, take care, and to help you celebrate Christmas in style here's a festively dressed Taiga, Minori and Ami for your delectation!

Once again, Merry Christmas, and I'll be back and 'blogging away again very soon!

Working'!! - Episode 13 (Completed)

We might be at the end of this second season of Working, but it's a time of crisis at Wagnaria, with major revelations which only grow in their immensity as the episode progresses.

In fact, speaking of growing it's exactly this issue that plagues Takanashi and Sato in particular, as word reaches them of a shocking development, that being Taneshima's new-found ability to reach the accident report form taped to the office wall.  The prospect of Poplar growing immediately throws Takanashi in particular into turmoil, and Sato doesn't deal with the idea all that better - just who is he supposed to tease mercilessly on account of their small stature?

From here, things only go from bad to worse, as Inami's fretting about Takanashi's depression in turn causes Yamada to try and find out the problem from Taneshima herself - after pushing her to thing of what's bothering her, Yamada eventually comes to the (typically misguided) conclusion that Poplar is about to leave, which she then hurriedly announces to the entire staff.  Cue much sadness and tears from all and sundry, while the result of Yamada's probing causes even Taneshima herself to start considering her future - is it really right for her to stay?  Of course, all's well that ends well for the series, in an episode where even the ultra-normal Matsumoto gets some decidedly rare screen-time.

This certainly made for a fun ending to a fun series - it hasn't been wall to wall hilarity perhaps, but overall I'd argue that it's actually been stronger than its first series, albeit perhaps only because both ourselves and the writers and more familiar with the characters, allowing both parties to get the best out of them.  Either way, it made for a show that's a pretty good example of anime as situation comedy - it rarely ventures too far outside of the walls of Wagnaria, yet somehow it's found enough material to fill twenty-six episodes with plenty still to spare.  It won't blow your mind, but as per its first season Working'!! has served up plenty of tasty entertainment to make for a show that's well worth watching.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 12

It seems as though we have the killer in our grasp through the eyes of most people, with the decidedly odd Mitsuo handing himself in to the authorities.  Is he really the killer though?  Such questions are only reaffirmed as he becomes the latest person to make his appearance on the Midnight Channel.
  With a view to apprehending him as much as rescuing him in mind, our Persona-wielding team set off to find and take Mitsuo from the world beyond the television screen, finding themselves dumped into the video game world created by Mitsuo's Shadow in the process. 

While Teddie has enough vim and vigour to see off most of the challenges in their way alone (well, more or less), the others can concentrate on Mitsuo himself as they ponder whether they're at the cusp of catching the killer.  Is this really the end of the group's journey together?  It's this thought which drags Narukami into the mindset of their opponent's Shadow, as we're thrown into an alternate reality where the end of the murder investigation sees Narukami's new-found friends slowly but surely drifting away from him, leaving him isolated and powerless.  Luckily for him, he's rescued from this overwhelming ennui just in time to deal with the actual business before him of defeating this Shadow, something that only he can do with the plethora of Persona at his disposal.  So, the murderer has been plucked away back to the real world and confessed to all his crimes - is that the end of the story?  Of course not, we're only half-way through the series, silly.  Perhaps the biggest issue facing this episode of Persona 4: The Animation was how to depict Narukami's situation as brought about by Mitsuo's Shadow - it's a tough thing to depict at the best of times without either treating the audience as dumb or giving the game away too soon.  In all fairness to the series it didn't go down either of these routes, yet there was still something unsatisfactory about the sudden sideways leap taken by the episode which is never fully explained when it comes to an end.  Still, to make up for that we were granted possibly the slickest and most ambitious action scene the show has granted us yet, as well as some great little sprinklings of humour that has become as much (if not more) of a part of watching Persona 4 as the murder mystery element of the series itself.  Either way, I'm more than a little interested as to what this series is going to deal us next, and that's praise indeed given its stumbling start.

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2011 - Night on the Galactic Railroad

For my second and final selection from the trio of offerings served up to me as part of Reverse Thieves' Secret Santa, I'm actually genuinely curious as to the exact reason why Night on the Galactic Railroad ended up on my list of recommendations.  On the one hand, I'd like to think that my Secret Santa picked up on some subtle Tweets discussing the Bungaku Shoujo movie (which relies heavily upon Kenji Miyazawa's original novel as the heart of its sustenance), but on the other hand I suspect it was simply because this movie depicts almost all of its characters as cats.  Mind you, I'm fine with either option - as the much-loved meme states, a cat is fine too.

Anyhow, onwards to the actual point of this piece - my thoughts on the 1985 animated adaptation of the aforementioned novel.  As is perhaps befitting of its ultimate subject matter, right from the off there's a clear disconnect between visuals and the tone of Night on the Galactic Railroad - sure, all of the characters are cats and its undeniably quite cute to see them going about their daily business at school and around town, but this is offset by the nagging, unsettling sensation that something isn't quite right here.  Perhaps aware of this, the early part of the film in particular is in no rush to set its scene and get things moving, as we spend plenty of time with its protagonist Giovanni - a boy teased and borderline bullied at school on account of his errant father who is seemingly away on exploratory business, with his only real friend counted as the quiet, thoughtful Campanella.

With an ill mother and his father away, life is clearly touch for Giovanni as he tries to earn money to makes end meet and help out with everyday chores, a far cry from Campanella's much more straightforward existence.  However, all of this counts for nothing when out of nowhere these two friends are whisked away on a train to who knows where upon the Galactic Railroad of the show's title.  This takes the pair on a journey which introduces them to both visions and people they would otherwise never have seen, with the human element in particular taking on ever more importance as simple encounters take on a more fatalistic turn thanks to a meeting with what seem to be victims of a disaster at sea.  It's this which shifts Night on the Galactic Railroad towards its true goal - a consideration of life, death, the relationship between the two and what is most important in the case of the former.

I think the only real word that can be used to describe Night on the Galactic Railroad is "fascinating" - throughout the film that aforementioned tone of foreboding continues, accentuated by the use of music, camera angles and pans and facial expressions, with the latter in particular adding a layer of discomfort as even mundane conversations are deliver in a strange, expressionless style.  The only point at which this feature (which may be down to poor animation or voice acting as much as a deliberate directorial decision, it's hard to tell) becomes a detriment to the work is at the end of the movie - scenes which should be filled with emotion are instead left feeling stilted, as if scripted by a repressed Englishman who doesn't dare show any emotion.

It's issues like this that keep that "fascinating" tag in place over anything more appreciative - while some moments of the film are perfectly positioned, such as that aforementioned scene which is clearly a reference to the Titanic and I found hard to watch as it laid out the scene of its helpless victims, others aren't given the gravitas they perhaps required to create the thought-provoking piece that the film (and its original novel) is intended to be as it reaches towards its climatic treatise on life, death and the important of selflessness.

Still, despite that occasionally glaring flaw, Night on the Galactic Railroad is certainly a film well-worth watching. It's carefully crafted in general, slow but confident for the most part, and above all else it's an adaptation of an incredibly important work - it's no accident that I watched this in a week that saw Mawaru Penguindrum not so much lean on Miyazawa's story and the morals behind it as fall directly upon it in a confused and drunken heap, while I've already mentioned the use of the novel's story as part of the Bungaku Shoujo series.  Thus, whether it was chosen for me for the cats or the relevance to other works of interest to me, I'm glad that my Secret Santa pushed me in the direction of watching this useful and important piece.

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2011 - NieA under 7

Never mind gift-giving, mistletoe, snowmen and all that jazz, there's only one true meaning of Christmas - the anime 'blogosphere's Secret Santa!  Kindly organised once again by the smooth criminals at Reverse Thieves, the Anime Secret Santa gives entrants the opportunity to pick three hitherto unwatched anime series or movies for an unwary recipient, which said recipient can then watch and 'blog about before the arrival of Christmas itself.

This time around I was handed a trio of decidedly tasty morsels, all of which I was keen to watch, but time being what it is I only found the opportunity to watch two of the Secret Santa choices proffered to me - without further ado then, on to choice number one!

Given my love of Serial Experiments Lain (to the point of literally buying the t-shirt) and my general sense of apathy towards Haibane Renmei, I found myself chomping at the bit to check out another of Yoshitoshi ABe's works when NieA under 7 appeared on my Secret Santa list.

After the complexities and serious nature of Lain, NieA under 7 is clearly a very different kettle of fish at first glance - a slice of life comedy of sorts... if that life involves living in a Japanese town where an alien mothership has crash-landed and extra-terrestrials quite happily live and integrate themselves alongside the human populace.

We're introduced to this world via Mayuko Chigasaki, a bright and diligent but poor student who lives in a room within a bath house that used to be the home of her parents - a room who she shares with NieA, an ill-regarded alien who really couldn't be more different than her room-mate.  While Mayuko spends her days toiling over either her studies or the various jobs she works to make ends meet, NieA prefers to laze around like some kind of over-sized cat, always on the look-out for a free meal and only occasionally foraying out in the hope of collecting enough junk to use in her latest UFO-building project.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given this chalk and cheese leading duo, the first half of NieA under 7 is all about comedy, and decidedly madcap much of that comedy is.  The energetic and brash NieA's contrast with the courteous yet short-tempered Mayuko works perfectly in itself, but the show is often stolen by the series supporting cast, not least some of NieA's alien cohorts who range from a haughty girl whose signals received from her antenna often get scrambled with a nearby Chinese takeaway to a wannabe Indian who can't quite grasp the fact that "nice jugs" isn't the kind of compliment to throw into polite conversation.  Couple this with some more grounded employees at the bath house and Mayuko's UFO-loving friend Chiaki, and there's plenty of room for hearty laughs - something that the series delivers on capably with its episodic structure making the most of its set-up to deliver comedy.

If you're preparing yourself for laughs all the way however, be prepared for a shock as the series enters its second half, and things suddenly become far more melancholy out of the blue.  Slapstick largely goes out of the window at this juncture, replaced by Mayuko's ennui in particular as her constant daily grind gives way to those timeless questions: "What's the point of it all?" "What am I doing with my life?" "Where does my future lie?" and so on.  This slump also negatively impacts upon Mayuko's relationship with NieA, who has some problems of her own to confront about her identity and place in the world.

This surprising and sudden change in tone works better than you might expect - Mayuko's dilemma in particular is one that it's easy to identify with, and her inability to properly voice her emotions or the importance of her friendship with NieA is both heart-rending and believable right the way through to its conclusion as Mayuko manages to find some peace to her emotional turmoil.  You could argue that the series is lazy in not making the cause of Mayuko or NieA's troubles explicitly clear, but contrarily the fact that the show doesn't feel the need to spell things out to you grants it a maturity and trust in the audience that's all too rare in anime.

Overall, NieA under 7 feels like a series that deserves more than single review - its first half is a wonderfully frivolous comic romp that hits many of the high notes of good comedy anime, while its second half is an introspective piece that has a lot to say about both society as a whole and how the pressures of that society impact upon people on a personal, individual level.  There are few other series (Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei aside perhaps) that can boast success on both of those levels, which makes NieA under 7 a gem that I'm very much glad I was prompted to watch, and a show that is perhaps deserving of wider recognition than it's been afforded in comparison to ABe's other works.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Toradora! - OVA (Completed)

I will broach no argument with the following statement - Toradora is the best anime romantic comedy of all time.  Needless to say, this opinion has left me veritably frothing at the mouth with the prospect of rejoining Ryuuji, Taiga and company for this one-off OVA to accompany the show's Blu-Ray box set release.

Unsurprisingly given the way the series (and its light novel origins) closed off, this OVA is very much a standalone "filler" piece which slots somewhere into the middle of the series, which means time for some everyday high school hijinks.  More specifically, Ryuuji is the main focus of this episode as he finds himself faced with a rival in the boxed lunch making stakes in the form of Kitamura's grandmother, who produces a more than lavish meal for him while his parents are away on business.

Never one to be bested at such things (in no small part thanks to his OCD in such circumstances), Ryuuji sets out to make a "winning" bento box to show what he's made of, but it seems that no matter what he tries he simply can't best Miyo's concoctions.  So intently focused is Ryuuji on producing the perfect lunch that he completely misses one rather major point of preparing any meal when someone else is involved - their preferences and enjoyment in terms of what they get out of the meal is far more important than what you put in.  Needless to say, it's Taiga who (albeit unwittingly) teaches him this important lesson, as another little sign of their relatively compatibility.

Although I would have loved to see this OVA try and focus after the end of the series (and surely there was a fair amount of scope to do so), any new Toradora material is good material to me, so it was great to be reintroduced to what feels like a group of old friends, however briefly and frivolously.  Even without its romantic overtones for the most part aside from the off flicker here and there, there were still some signs of the old Toradora magic here - some great lines and set-ups that made for joyful and amusing comedy that played to the strengths of its characters.  If anything, and even though I rewatched it in the summer, it simply makes me miss this series even more - maybe Ano Natse de Matteru can fill this gap in the forthcoming winter season?

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 12 (Completed)

It took the poor guy long enough, but at last Kodaka is faced with the realisation that his old friend Sora from ten years previously is in fact Yozora - quite the tear-jerking reunion, isn't it?

After Yozora's new, short haircut springs this surprise on him, we take a pause - or more precisely, we rewind to take a look at some of the show's early events from Yozora's point of view.  Although this gives AIC the chance to recycle a fair amount of footage, it actually makes for a nice little touch as we're exposed to Yozora's inner thoughts as Kodaka comes blundering back into her life.  With that out of the way, the obvious question is what next for this pair of individuals? 

After a little more stumbling around the issue and some further exposition on the circumstances which led Taka and Sora to part without saying their goodbyes, we return very much to the established status quo between Kodaka and Yozora, as they return to "normal" life at the Neighbours Club and a place where the only real item of interest is Yozora's boyish haircut.  That aside, it's very much a return to business as usual in the madhouse that is the club room.

Despite a pretty stale finale to this episode, the ending to this series itself was actually rather sweet - no real angst or declarations of love, just a couple of people more or less shrugging off their memories of a decade before to focus on the present and their friendship in the here and now, which is a pretty satisfying way to end things overall.  From a broader perspective, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai was almost a series of two halves - ferociously funny at times when it was on-form (and to be honest, this largely seemed to involve video game parodies), but depressingly fan service-centric and overly concerned with Yozora's bullying, abusive tendencies at others.  It's that latter aspect to the series which sticks in my mind most markedly, if only due to the way the series progressed and slid into these bad habits, to cast a shadow over an offering that was entertaining more often than not when it managed to keep that less respectable underbelly hidden away.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 24 (Completed)

Going into its final instalment, Mawaru Penguindrum has an absolutely colossal amount to sort out of its tangled mess of plot threads and concepts - can it really squeeze everything into under twenty-five minutes?

The answer is, ultimately, "kinda".  Offset against some ill-explained flashbacks which sees Shouma and Kanda imprisoned in boxes as children, this episode is effectively the final showdown of fate itself - is it time for Himari to pass away, will Kanba's plot to save her at huge cost to the wider population succeed, or can someone else save the day?  While Shouma concentrates simply on avoiding the atrocity Kanba is about to unleash, the arrival of Ringo on the scene changes things, as she seeks to transfer Himari's fate on to herself.  Sanetoshi is convinced that she isn't in possession of all of the "spell" required to do so - he's obviously not a fan of Double-H, who have in fact provided her with just that.

So, as the episode shifts into full-on visual spectacle mode, the question effectively becomes one of who will accept whose fate - a question to which the answer it, quite simply, love, with the two Takakura "brothers" both effectively taking responsibility for the respective girls they've bonded with the most, accepting and transferring their fate into the process to spare Himari and Ringo from death.  Not that this is exactly the end for Shouma and Kanba, mind you - perhaps it's only the beginning for them as all is resolved and well in the world come the end of the series, aside perhaps from Sanetoshi's eyeing another opportunity to engage in his plan.

I suppose the first thing to say about this episode is that it was a visual tour de force - striking and with an oddly fascinating juxtaposition of the beautiful and macabre that's often difficult to pull off but worked almost flawlessly here.  That aside, it's at least a little soothing to see this shows finale boiled down into such a simple concept - ignoring the horribly contrived fact that one person's fate suddenly became two for the purposes of plot convention, what was delivered here was essentially a story of love and self-sacrifice saving the day in a concept lifted directly from Night on the Galactic Railroad.

Is it enough to assuage my frequent complaints about this series of late?  Yes and no, to be honest.  As series finales go this did a passable job and at least drew a line in the sand as to the show's ultimate goal and aims, but where does that leave the rest of the series?  There's no doubt that Mawaru Penguindrum had plenty to say, which makes it that much more a shame that so much of it was either drowned in a sea of flashbacks and symbolism or worse, delivered via heavy-handed allusion - this show's world is one where most men are either greedy and/or vain, and the Child Broiler as a socio-political allegory on the treatment of unwanted children felt like the work of a pretentious high school art student in particular.  It's this that has ultimately left me disappointed with Mawaru Penguindrum - it had so many wonderful ideas to play with but overcooked the most crucial while ignoring others entirely.  So it goes that the show's penguin humour was run into the ground while some prominent elements were ignored or left unexplained and character's personalities were turned on their head to the point where you wondered whether each episode was written by someone who hadn't read the script properly the week before.

Ultimately, Mawaru Penguindrum did plenty of things of which it should be proud - it provided some of the year's better episodes of anime outright when it was on form, visually it was always inventive and simply the fact that it's an original work striking out from a lot of more predictable output should be commended.  It's this final point that probably makes me such a harsh critic of the series however - after promising so much, the fact that a large portion of the show teetered on the brink of the incomprehensible does damage to the idea that intelligent anime can reach out to the masses, and in a year when the likes of Madoka Magica, Un-Go and Steins;Gate have turned clever concepts into far, far better and more accessible series, that can only lead to me marking Mawaru Penguindrum as a brave disappointment which fell well short of the lofty goals it set itself.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Guilty Crown - Episode 11

"Lost Christmas, I gave you my heart, but the very next day"... oops, sorry, just trying to get into the Christmas spirit.  So, Lost Christmas' second coming, eh?  Not what any of Japan's civilian population wanted that's for sure, but it's exactly what they get as we move towards the half-way point of Guilty Crown.

With some of GHQ's powers that be rebelling for reasons that aren't yet quite clear, the organisation's supreme commander gets to feel the wrath of his son Daryl who finally gets some payback for being the show's punching bag, while the cancerous virus at the heart of the show spreads like wildfire amongst all and sundry be they the public, GHQ staff or, in Funeral Parlour's case, Gai.  With said "terrorist" organisation not only decimated but also used as the scapegoat for the coup underway, there seems to be little hope for them.  Unless, of course, help comes from an outside source...

The source in question ultimately turns out to be not one but two members of the Ouma family - with Haruka holding an important scientific role in the building which has become the centre stage of the chaos, her escape from the rebelling forces leads her straight into the path of an escaping Inori and virus-ridden Gai - a serendipitous set of circumstances given Haruka's knowledge in treating said virus, and Inori's innate ability to act upon that knowledge.  Meanwhile though, our real focus is Shu, whose mental imbalance of last week turns to anger as he sees his former Funeral Parlour friends framed for the current chaos.  Thus, he forms a surprisingly confident and daring plan, inviting particular fellow friends and students on a dangerous rescue mission as he reveals his ability to them and explains how their Voids can help him to rescue those dear to him.  Cue an impressive (and decidedly physics-defying) rescue mission that, coupled with Inori and Haruka's work, seems set to put paid to the virus' ravages if nothing else, before another twist comes along to bite not only Shu, but also Gai and Inori in the process.

As has been the case throughout Guilty Crown, there are plenty of things we could criticise here - the ease with which Shu convinces his friends to go on a death-defying mission to save some terrorists is a little tough to swallow, and the manner in which they progress in that rescue mission even more so, but despite that there's a certain enjoyment to be had from watching Shu turn things around, especially when coupled with such an impressive set piece.  In conjunction with another week of mostly gorgeous animation, and helped along by some almighty and unpredictable twists and turns, this was a fun episode to watch right the way through to another major cliffhanger to ponder as we look towards the second half of the series.  It still doesn't feel even vaguely like typical noitaminA material, but there's no denying that Guilty Crown has some pretty slick tricks up its sleeve to at least attempt to make up for that.

Un-Go - Episode 11 (Completed)

With Rinroku Kaishou dead, it seems as if Un-Go's finale is all set to turn our "defeated detective" Shinjurou into an eventual victor.  But is his rival really deceased at all?

If last week's episode didn't drop enough hints that Rinroku is still very much alive, then the arrival of invitations to the remains of the television studio supposedly handed out by the man himself only serves to ask further questions of what's going on.  With all of the main players gathered in true, time-honoured detective series fashion, it's time for some truths to be outed - or for everyone to kill one another with the weapons provided by the organiser of this little party.

When this fails and Shinjurou starts to probe, pry and dissect his current train of thought, a commotion leads to the introduction of this shocked audience of Kaishou himself, who then proceeds to point the finger of blame squarely at Shinjurou as the true mastermind of it all.  Not only that, he also has Ingo on-hand to back up his claims... except little does he realise that Shinjurou has no need to answer Inga's question, nor has he been fooled by the true culprit.  Thus, the truth is revealed, culminating in an attempt by the guilty party to kill themselves while Inga and Bettenou reveal their true form in the mother of all scraps.  All's well that ends well though, and Rinroku's name is cleared of any wrong-doing... although of course that doesn't mean that he's an entirely innocent party in the grander scheme of things.

Having built up significantly to this finale over the past couple of weeks, Un-Go certainly delivered in spades here to bring the series to an impressive close.  Okay, so there were some odd moments - Bettenou and Inga's fight felt a little out of place, and the real Rinroku Kaishou wins an award for "worst disguise ever" - but otherwise, there was a near-perfect placing of twists, turns and "what, really?!" moments to make for an episode which stuck very much to detective series conventions while remaining hugely compelling for the most part.  This was topped off by a smart ending that reminds us that the line between a man who exposes the truth and circumvents it is so thin as to often by indefinable - an important thought on which to close the series, complete with enough to open up the possibility of a second season.

This makes for a great ending to a show which looked set to falter initially, only to find its feet and come to focus in on its strengths as it gained in confidence and found more time to develop its stories across multiple episodes.  Un-Go is a long way from perfect, but it has so many strengths and played to them so smartly that its flaws are easily forgiven, making way for an intelligent, relevant and occasionally thought-provoking take on the detective mystery genre.  A worthy fit for the noitaminA time slot, in other words.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Winter 2012 anime preview

A New Year means new anime to watch, meaning that as always I've sat down and compiled a season preview article for UK Anime, detailing each show along with images and trailers to give us a flavour of what we have to look forward to (and perhaps dread on occasion) come January.  Why not check it out at the link below?

What series are you planning on checking out this coming winter season?  Let me know what's hot and what's not in your opinion!

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 12

After winning their tough and all-important regional tournament at the climax to last week's instalment, it's only fair that Mizusawa's newly-crowned champions get a little more time to enjoy their glory, trophy and all, even if that joy is offset against the devastation felt by some members of the losing finalists.

Despite their achievement, it feels like a very quick return to earth for Chihaya in particular however, as the school karuta club's advisor takes little more than a fleeting interest in their victory compared to the exploits of the tennis club, while her parents still dote over her sister's every moment in the spotlight to the point of having no real time for their other daughter.  However dark and depressing this may seem on the surface, there's actually more to both of these stories than that as the episode progresses - Chihaya's parent's aren't completely ignorant to her efforts and achievements after all no matter how bad they may be at verbalising it, while even the club advisor eventually comes around to the hard work and effort the karuta team have been putting into their hobby.

That aside, this week's episode also whips through preparations for the big national tournament at Omi Jingu, with the karuta clubs members training at local societies as well as with one another and generally working hard to make their appearance at the finals a proud and worthwhile moment.  That said, with even Chihaya suffering from a rather intense bout of pre-tournament nerves as she feels the fear of possible failure for perhaps the first time, it might not be an easy journey for Mizusawa's finest.

For starters, I have to give Chihayafuru some credit for keeping its pacing so rapid throughout the series so far - it hasn't allowed itself to sink into a rut of filling time or dragging things out in the name of either tension or bulking up episodes, and instead chunks of time like the pre-tournament preparation here are squeezed into a single instalment nigh-on perfectly.  What really ensures that this series carries on its winning streak however is its simple but effective human touch - the story of Chihaya's family and her ultimately incorrect assumption that her parents care not for her achievements is as realistic as it is touching, and stands out as a great example of what this series manages to achieve without ever being too heavy-handed.  It's wonderful, compelling stuff, and doubtless there's still plenty more of the same to come.

Monday, 19 December 2011

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 9.5

As Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing hits what is effectively its half-way point, so it also delves into one of those time-honoured television anime conventions - the recap episode.

Aside from its closing moments and the promise of a visit to Fam and Gise from the latter's father, there's effectively absolutely nothing new here, simply a voice-over explanation from Gise and Millia as to their story and circumstances so far.

In fairness, this does serve as a nice showcase in terms of snippets of action and some of the more impressive scenes the series has brought us so far, but it is perhaps telling that its focus is very much on Fam and company and their actions rather than any of the politics of the Federation and their goals.  In short, there's nothing to see here really, so unless you suffer terribly from short-term memory loss you won't miss much by skipping this week's instalment.

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 11

When Sanae thinks she's figured out the power of hypnosis, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out who she most wants to use it upon - watch out, Squid Girl...

Of course, Sanae's hypnosis isn't quite as effective as she might like to think, a problem not helped by the others at the restaurant playing along with her whims.  When Squid Girl turns up with some truly impressive hypnotic powers however, it's a different matter entirely, although of course ultimately it appears that her ability is nothing more than another of "The Three Stooges" crazy inventions.

Speaking of which, it's The Three Stooges that also feature heavily in this week's second segment, as they join forces with the owner of the beach's rival restaurant to create the ultimate Squid Girl robot clone - a terrifying but nonetheless quite impressive beast.  When beating Squid Girl at working in the restaurant turns into an outright beach-side battle, this machine proves to be equally impressive, leaving our titular character on the proverbial ropes.  It's lucky then that there are some rather important limitations to this mechanical squid girl which allows her to turn things around.

From here, the final segment of this penultimate episode sees Squid Girl doing her darndest to be evil to people - something which seems to constantly backfire, even when it comes to annoying the normally terrifying Chizuru.  When Squid Girl is invited for a day out by Chizuru it seems as if she's about to get her comeuppance for her earlier errors of judgement - but maybe she's just lonely?

This was one of those episodes of Squid Girl that seemed to do everything right, and effortlessly so to boot - its core plot points were rich in comedic potential and mined equally well to make the most of them, with visual gags and one-liners meshed into a well-animated episode that was a joy to watch.  This comes as part of a series that has been pretty strong throughout overall - we're going to miss you when you leave our screens again after next week, Squid Girl.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 11

It seems that we have a new and unlikely alliance in the world of Mirai Nikki as episode eleven begins, with detective Keigo Kurusu seeking out the help of Minene Uryuu of all people.

With that deal seemingly done and dusted, Kurusu uses his cronies to bring Yukiteru and Yuno in for questioning - although Yuno soon gets antsy about the possible danger Yukkii figures there's nothing to worry about given the alliance and trust they have with Kurusu.  Besides, what could possible go wrong a in police station?

Well, how about an impromptu game of Russian roulette?  This dangerous "game" between Yukkii and Kurusu soon brings Yuno to the interrogation quite literally with all guns blazing, and in the subsequent attempt to escape Yukiteru shoots a police officer in the chest.  Thus, our pair of lovebirds find themselves on the run from the cops and an injured Kurusu, and what's worse they now also have Uryuu's explosive attention to deal with.  But is Uryuu really on Kurusu's side or not?  Her actions suggest that she's still looking to pull a fast one over her old rival, but who knows with this series?

After an arguably necessary slower episode last week, Mirai Nikki returns to our usual programming and the expected dose of insanity that it brings this time around - Yuno in particular is as uncontrollably violent as ever, while Yukkii's near-constant state of confused terror actually leaves him as the more dangerous of the pair when it comes to wielding a gun.  After some great set pieces which are as bombastic as ever and even some time for a quick slice of impromptu comedy, we seem to be beautifully placed for yet more crazy twists and turns next week, and to be honest I simply can't get enough of it.  If it's wrong to watch Mirai Nikkievery week with a huge, twisted grin on my face, then I don't want to be right.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 12

Despite all of their hopes and the assertions of others, and even given the opportunity to publish two one-shot pieces in consecutive issues of Jack, there's nothing but disappointment in the survey results which come from those two outings.

Still, despite only charting in tenth and ninth place respectively, at least Mashiro and Takagi seem to have proved their point regarding the strength of their serious story-telling, as defined by Future Watch, over going down the comedy route a la TEN.  Or have they?  Despite winning their "bet", as it effectively was, Miura is still certain that a gag manga is the route to go down, and so he sets off on a week-long crusade to prove it, putting together as much data as he possibly can to back up his argument and help out his charges.

So, when Takagi and Mashiro turn up to a meeting with the latest storyboard for Future Watch, they're both shocked and disgruntled at Miura's rejection of it in favour of a continuation of TEN.  While Takagi appreciates the data and what it shows (that a gag manga has a better chance of lasting the course), Mashiro is still adamant that it's the wrong way forward.  Before we know it, the argument has become heated, with Miura suggesting that Takagi could simply find a new answer to work with.  Needless to say, this is a bad idea, and the editor-artist relationship plunges to rock bottom.  Still, Ashirogi Muto aren't the only ones having a tough time at least, with Aoki also having a tough time in her own latest bid to be serialised.

With its inherent drama ramping up to a new degree, once again there was a lot to keep my interest in Bakuman this week - the juxtaposition of "scientific" data against artistic merit versus gut instinct is always going to be an interesting one, while the viewer has been well and truly left to make their own mind up about the true status of Miura as an editor, and whether he's a smart cookie or a failure (or somewhere in-between the two, more likely).  It's these relatively simple yet well-fleshed out plots and stories that make this show a continuing joy to watch - entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.  Given that it's already had its third anime series given the green light, I'm clearly not the only one that thinks so either.

Working'!! - Episode 12

Not only is this the penultimate episode of Working's second season, but it's also a record-breaking one, as Inami celebrates a new achievement in terms of the number of days she's gone without punching anybody!

Despite this new landmark in her androphobia, Inami still wants to test herself and push herself to the limit - but how to do it without endangering the lives of the men working at Wagnaria?  The answer seems simple enough - to dress Inami as a guy.  Sadly, this doesn't quite have the desired effect, but at least Inami's relationship with Takanashi continues to improve, to the point where they're ready to exchange texts; a scenario which offers some of Takanashi's siblings both joy and concern at the same time.

After a little aside to prove Yamada's incompetence and inability to do anything of note by herself, it's Inami's plight (or rather her improvement) that continues to be the focus throughout the episode, with the only potential blemish upon her recent record coming via a tour of Wagnaria's men-folk which sees Soma almost coming a cropper before Daisy "steps up" to take the physical punishment on his behalf.  Still, it's a worthy sacrifice for Inami's happiness, right?

I'm sure it's already become pretty clear that episodes involving Inami tend to be my favourites within this series, but I'd like to think that even without that link this was amongst the best episodes of Working in general, and this second season in particular, that the show has had to offer.  In terms of both visual and verbal humour it worked a treat throughout, with loads of great lines and situations that wring ever last bit of entertainment out of the scenarios in question to leave me almost breathless with laughter on occasion.  It can be easy to forget how effective this series is when it hits top gear, but this penultimate episode was a great reminder of that, and enough to leave you regretting that it's almost at an end once again.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 23

As we reach the penultimate episode of Mawaru Penguindrum, we begin with a flashback.  Wait, that isn't really news is it, it would be more comment worthy if we didn't begin with a flashback, right?

Anyhow, after exploring the showdown between Momoka and Sanetoshi on that fateful day in 1995 which seemingly put paid to both of their lives, it's back to the present day to find that Himari isn't dead just yet, but she isn't far off shuffling from this mortal coil either.  After last episode's drama, the same can be said for Natsume, until her death is avoided by a bit of "magic" from the ghostly Sanetoshi.  How can he achieve this?  It's best not to ask questions, to be honest...

Of course, Sanetoshi's trickery is more than enough to convince Kanba that the only way forward for himself and, more importantly, Himari is to wreak the destruction within his capable hands, but first he must destroy the diary which stands between this plan and success - a simple enough task, as he snatches back Himari from the hospital before luring Ringo into a position where the diary that has been oh-so important during this series is destroyed utterly.  Only Shouma can stop his "brother" from treading down the path upon which he is well and truly set, but can he do it?

Given how all over the place a lot of the series, and its second half in particular, has generally been, it's no shock to see these closing episodes scrabbling to tidy things up - we're still no closer to an answer to the core questions posed early on in the show, and we now seem to be residing in a world of ghosts and the like (which isn't much more of a stretch than bodily habitation and Penguindrums I suppose), but "things" are happening, I guess.  The trouble is that it's hard to care any more, such is the good will that this series has frittered away week after week with its increasingly convoluted and scatter-shot story-telling.  Indeed, what or who are we even supposed to care about any more?  Himari has been killed or close to it too many times now, the original point of the series is lost, and even Sanetoshi's musings on the human condition feel forced into the confines of the show's structure, like an over-sized Christmas present shoe-horned into... well, a small box.  It's going to take one hell of a finale to rescue this anime, that's for sure.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 11

The summer holiday may almost be over, but with a week still to go time remains for one last fun club activity before those involved return to everyday school activities.

In typical anime fashion, that final jaunt is a visit to a nearby festival, albeit a visit disguised by the need to check out the local takoyaki rather than daring to admit that a festival might actually be fun.  So, off the group traipses the next day, with rental yukatas available for those who don't have their own, and only Yozora refusing to wear one outright.

From here, it's all pretty typical fare, with all and sundry enjoying the delicacies of such an event before moving on to check out the other attractions and games, and with Yozora and Sena's fierce rivalry unsurprisingly stoked by the challenges before them.  The night ends with some good old-fashioned fireworks, spoiled only be a rather unfortunate accident involving fire and Yozora's hair - although this actually turns out to be a rather serendipitous turn of events, as when the new-look, short-haired Yozora returns to school a week later it triggers a rather important memory from within the depths of Kodaka's mind.

Having had plenty of negative things to say about recent episodes of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai as it shifted from entertaining comedy into slightly irritating fan service vehicle, the good news is that this week's effort is far more palatable.  Not good, admittedly, but at least inoffensively entertaining with odd moments of amusement.  Of course, the end of this episode leads into the series finale with a question as to how Yozora and Kodaka's relationship will change now that their past has finally come to light, which could make things interesting, but for now we can at least content ourselves with a cessation of the show's slide into the doldrums, even if it's visual reference to OreImo only reminds us of how poor it looks in comparison to that relatively more illustrious company.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 11

No matter how impressive their efforts in rescuing potential victims from the strange netherworld beyond the television, it seems that Narukami and company still aren't capable of saving everybody, as we find ourselves with another body strung up by a television aerial in Inabi.

This time around the victim is the teacher of some of our Persona-wielding crew, Mr. Morooka - a moron he may be, but his untimely death leaves all and sundry wondering whether they've been barking up the wrong tree with their investigation thus far, even if it's nothing that lamenting over a bowl of udon won't fix.

Murder aside, this episode still brings its fair share of surprises, not least the visit of Teddie to the real world - not only that, but it seems that he's spent the intervening period growing his own real-life, human body to strut around in - and rather dashing it is too.  Meanwhile, we have a couple of other oddballs to concentrate on - the boy with the cap who has been loitering around the area previously introduces himself as Naoto Shirogane, a young detective working on the murder case himself in an official capacity.  Then we have Mitsuo, the weird guy who asked Yukiko out earlier in the series who has only taken a turn for the creepier since then.  Indeed, Mitsuo even insists that it's he who is the murderer, seemingly putting an end to the quest to find the killer - but surely things can't be that simple, especially given that the Midnight Channel has fired up once again...

It might not grab the attention quite as much as recent episodes coming as it does between rescue arcs as it does, but if you'd almost forgotten that there was a murderer on the loose to worry about (as I admittedly had for a while back there) then this brings that concern back to the front and centre of the series via some interesting developments which hold more than enough interest to power the episode.  Add to that the show's growing confidence in terms of humour and leveraging its characters, and Persona 4: The Animation is still going strong.

Guilty Crown - Episode 10

Despite the actions forced upon him last week, this tenth episode of Guilty Crown sees Shu right back in the thick of things with another mission.  Or does it?  Perhaps not...

Given what he's been through, it's probably fair to cut Shu's less than stellar mental state some slack, as he hides away from both school and his home while distancing himself at the same time from the Funeral Parlour, relying only on Hare's kindness to keep him ticking over.  Put simply, the boy is shot to pieces psychologically after having to put an end to the life of Yahiro's brother to the point of being occasionally delusional, and this time around no attempts at persuasion will turn him around, forceful or otherwise.

This leaves Gai and company a little short-handed as they take on their next actual mission, which sees them having another crack at stealing the rock responsible for Lost Christmas that they failed to nab a couple of episodes ago.  Just as was the case on that occasion however, Gai isn't as ahead of the game as he thinks, leaving him to lead his comrades into the midst of a meticulously planned trap - one that will have a massive impact not just on Gai himself, but upon the whole of Japan, nefarious as this particular scheme appears to be.

If nothing else, you have to hand it to this episode for closing things out in spectacular fashion - we knew that something was afoot, but I doubt many were expecting a cliff-hanger with quite such a broad and shocking scope.  That climax adds a little sheen to an episode that was otherwise okay but not spectacular - it perhaps spent a little too much time on Shu's understandable but occasionally overblown moping depression, while the links between himself and some big political players within GHQ feels a little forced and implausible.  Guilty Crown is certainly managing to remain watchable even if it isn't a sensation, and for that I can only be grateful - thanks to its closing set piece it certainly finds itself in a situation where it can carry plenty of potential into the second half of the series if it plays its cards right next week.

Un-Go - Episode 10

With death, explosions, murder and conspiracy in the air, you couldn't really ask for a more charged atmosphere as Un-Go enters its penultimate instalment, complete with a governmental hearing that effectively sets Shinjurou and Kaishou against one another.

While Rinroku deflects the initial questions surrounding whether his company is involved in developing and selling arms, and possibly the very arms used to attack the television station on which he was appearing, easily enough, Shinjurou's line of question is instead directed at daughter Rie, bringing to light her memories of her father actually being at home while everyone else thought he was at the studio.  If this doesn't cause enough of a ruckus, cue Inga to make her entrance against Shinjurou's wishes, with her question which cannot be refused opening a whole other can of worms about Kaishou's company, JJ Systems, and its behaviour and activities dating to before the war which decimated the country even started.

With the hearing in uproar, Rinroku Kaishou takes leave of the media circus which increasingly surrounds him, only for his car to explode in a fireball, killing both driver and passenger.  Or has it?  Needless to say, Shinjurou has his doubts given Rinroku's suspected links to Bettenou, and so he sets off to find out the truth, albeit seemingly without Inga's help on hits occasion.  But will he come across any kind of real truth, or just his variant of it?  In a world where everything people see or hear is so fluid, and with Bettenou still at large, who knows?

With a number of tis plot threads coming together nicely, this was a great little episode of Un-Go - not too heavy on its theory or philosophies but with enough to add some spice to proceedings, while making good use of its main characters and their abilities to put together a tale which twisted and turned in an unsurprising but satisfyingly organic way to set up its finale next week.  In a way, it's increasingly becoming a shame that Un-Go was such a slow starter - if it has managed this level of pace and story-telling from the start we might be talking about it as one of the better series this year, but its tepid beginnings have seen it forgotten by many.  Perhaps its finale can go a little further towards putting that right.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 11

They made hard work of it, but Mizusawa's karuta team have made it to the regional final while also gaining a lot in terms of understanding the teamwork and togetherness required of them to progress... and not a moment too soon, as the final is about to get underway.

After a period of fretting about how they should line-up given the strengths of their opponent, Chihaya has a rare moment of inspiration as she comes up with a suggestion of her own - why line up your players in fear of your opponent when you could instead line them up to the make the most of their own strengths as a team?  Thus, Chihaya's choice of line-up becomes that chosen by Mizusawa for the final - and as it happens it sees the stronger players on each team face off against one another.

So the final begins, and each player has their own battle to fight - for Chihaya, she has to make her way past an opponent with a flair for putting off his "enemy" with his actions, while Nishida's biggest enemy is his own demons surrounding seeing the boy opposite him who was once his junior threaten to surpass him, and Taichi simply has to grow into his role as club president and lynchpin.  This makes for some tough match-ups, but at the end of the day there are tearful celebrations from Chihaya and company as they win the day with literally the last morsel of Chihaya's strength - a victory which even offers up some vicarious excitement for the errant Arata at his book store workplace.

As episodes go, this was simple stuff - a winner takes all final match - yet it was presented so wonderfully that it managed to build and maintain its tension and delve into certain aspects of some of the main character's psyches  as it went about its business quite wonderfully.  In fact, the course of this episode seemed to fly by at a rate of knots as it drew me into its whirlwind before spitting me out twenty minutes later feeling almost as emotionally charged as the Mizusawa team themselves.  How does this series manage to make a game which seems so dull on the surface this charged with tension, importance, emotion and charm?  Who knows, but it's a dark art which Chihayafuru seems to have perfected absolutely.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 11

Ashirogi Muto are well and truly playing a tactical game as this week's Bakuman kicks off, submitting their Hitman 10 storyboard for serialisation while trying to short-circuit that very same process by entering another manga, Future Watch, as a one-shot competition entry.

Unsurprisingly given the relative lack of competition, Future Watch storms the judging of the one-shot competition, with Nizuma Eiji spouting praise aplenty for it even if he did point out that its protagonist isn't the most likeable character in the world.  Despite this however, Miura and the rest of the editorial team continue to push towards Hitman 10 (now renamed simply Ten) as the manga of choice for the serialisation meeting.

Thus we return to the waiting game for Takagi and Mashiro as the serialisation meeting rolls around, and with both of their prospective series finding themselves under discussion.  The final decision is certainly a unique one - both series will be run as one-shot manga in consecutive issues, pitting them both against other new serialisations including Takahama's newly serialised offering.  The next question is, of course, how these two series will rate in the reader surveys - Mashiro in particular has his eye set on a high finish for Future Watch, but come the end of the episode there's yet more disappointments in store for our manga-writing duo.  Have they lost their touch, or is editor Miura wringing the talent out of them?

Although this part of the series as it stands feels a little "rinse and repeat", as we've been through this whole serialisation process before, this episode at least has the common sense to whip through it at a decent clip, keeping the story coming with little time to take a breath while also finding opportunities to slip in a little comedy.  There's certainly no Roy of the Rovers style return to glory from this series either, as it seems determined to show how hard the path to success in the manga industry can be - a decision which makes the series all the more compelling, thankfully.

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 10

When you're sat between Squid Girl and Chizuru, what chance does a girl have of getting their chopsticks on any grilled meat?  None whatsoever, as Eiko learns to her disappointment at the start of this week's Squid Girl.

Try and she might, all of her plans to grab some tasty beef for herself  fail to the point of backfiring on her in some instances, and come the end of it all it's Takeru who gets to enjoy the juiciest meat of all.  For the week's second segment, Ayumi gets taught some self-defence by Chizuru - not a bad idea at all given her abilities, although it turns out to be less of a good idea on Goro's part to volunteer as her demonstrator for these lessons.  Not that he seems to mind given that Chizuru ends up nursing him back to health after all of his injuries.

Finally for this week, it's time to inject a little festive spirit into the show, as our three MIT stooges come up with a machine to control the climate on a day so hot that the beach is deserted.  From nicely cooling the restaurant, things get a little over-the-top when it's mixed with a snow machine, and before we know it the gang have moved from enjoyable pursuits like building a snowman and igloo to fighting their way through an outright blizzard as the machine goes out of control.  Eventually normality returns, but just where has that pesky snow machine gone?  The national news seems to have the answer to that one...

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this week's Squid Girl was a lot of fun - just like every week's episode, in other words, with a few big laughs to fill out the overall sense of amused satisfaction that comes with this series.  With only a couple of episodes left to run, I'm certainly going to miss this series when it comes to an end just after Christmas.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 10

Episode ten of Mirai Nikki begins with Yuno digging a decidedly big hole (literally, not proverbially) - but to what end?  Hold that thought, as we'll return to it later.

In the mean-time however, the first half of the episode proper shifts our focus to Minene Uryuu - more specifically, it's a flash back to her relatively recent past as she finds herself taking on Third and his murder diary to no avail.  However, like fated lovers (because Murmur has been reading too much shoujo manga) she comes across her prince and saviour to rescue her from danger - okay, so he's actually just trying to arrest her, unaware of Third's true identity, but never mind - an attempt which shows us a slightly girlie side to our dynomaniac villain.

After this aside, we return our attentions to Yukiteru and Yuno, as the two of them get conned in different ways into spending the day together at the behest of Akise.  The trip in question is the stuff of dreams for Yuno, but that of nightmares for Yukkii - a bridal event for wannabe married couples which allows them to eat luxurious foods, dress for the part and even try out a wedding rehearsal.  It's almost enough for Yukkii to forgive Yuno her literal skeletons in the closet, but such thoughts are quickly pushed to one side as they return to Yuno's home to find that Akise has been enjoying an opportunity to have a snoop around.  There's not a corpse in sight however - just one massive, massive hole, as large as Yuno is deranged...

It seems that every episode of Mirai Nikki these days takes pleasure in cranking up Yuno's craziness another notch, and the big hole in the back garden is certainly the cherry on top her delicious cream puff of insanity (wait, that sounds wrong, doesn't it?) in an episode that was otherwise a little run of the mill, with both halves of the episode feeling a little like they were pandering to fans of both Uryuu and Yuno respectively by giving them an opportunity to be cute.  Then again, we probably need these occasional breaks in the insanity to ensure that our own sanity is left intact, so perhaps we should be grateful for such temporary distractions, and things don't like they'll be returning to normality within the series any time soon.  Whatever you do though Yukkii, don't marry a yandere, take it from me.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 9

After what can relatively be regarded as a victory last time around (and certainly, there are few victories more precious than "not dying"), you'd think that all would be well in Fam's world, especially given that it's both her birthday and an opportunity to celebrate the fulfilment of her contract with the captain of the Sylvius.

However, things aren't quite that cut and dried for our heroine - yes, she's captured fifteen battleships which leaves her free to do as she please, but while Gise is all set to leave and return to their home Fam is less enamoured of the idea.  This fact inevitably leads to raised voices on both sides and a falling out between these long-standing friends, and what's more Fam can't even find Millia to talk to.

As work gets underway both to make the Sylvius airworthy once again while retrieving the rest of Fam's booty from their last battle, Gise is given the difficult decision of deciding where her true feelings lie - back at home, or with her friend?  As all around her ponder Fam's current depression, eventually only one answer emerges - that both Gise and Millia want to make Fam happy, leading to a decision from the former to stay on-board while they both work hard towards giving Fam a surprise party to remember.  But whose this who has decided to gatecrash the festivities?

After the fantastic action of last week's episode, this latest instalment of Fam, the Silver Wing worked well in a different manner, finally making the most of Gise's unease that has been bubbling beneath the surface for a couple of weeks now and giving us something more tangible to worry about.  As seems to be par for the course for this series the emotional and plot transitions on show here weren't the cleanest or tidiest, but they did the job pretty well and the blend of emotion and more frivolous times made for an instalment that was enjoyable even if it was slightly fluffy at times.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Working'!! - Episode 11

It seems as if people are always going missing in and around the Wagnaria restaurant, and this latest episode of Working adds Daisy to the list of those missing in action.

"But who is Daisy?" I hear you ask - well, that's the name of Yamada's teddy bear gifted to her by Soma, and so distraught is she when said bear goes missing that effectively the restaurant's entire staff goes on the hunt for it.  Of course, such items are always in the last place you look (even Yamada isn't dumb enough to keep looking for something she's found), and they also tend to be in an obvious location that you've never thought about looking in for some reason.

With Yamada's problems solved, a quick segue-way involving Nazuna trying to learn how to become a better, more grown-up sister for her brother from her siblings (which is a bad idea on two counts, given her brother's proclivities and her sister's "unique" characteristics) gives way to some major worries for Yachiyo, as she overhears Sato and Mitsuki talking - in true anime style, Yachiyo mistakes Sato declaring his interest in her as his declaring an interest in Mitsuki, which throws her head into all kinds of turmoil.  This show being what it is, the misunderstanding at the core of all this is far from resolved, but normality is at least restored albeit in a slightly muddled way.

Having spent some time on other relationships within the restaurant of late, I suppose it's only fair that Yachiyo and Sato got their turn, no matter how convoluted that particular plot came in terms of refusing to resolve its misunderstanding.  Still, that aside this was a fun enough episode even if it was no classic, which perhaps didn't do itself any favours by parading its most entertaining section first - it's hard to hate Working simply for being itself however, so I can't be too harsh on it for only being mildly amusing this week.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 22

Remember Double-H, the band that would have been Triple-H had Himari been involved with them?  Well, they turn up to offer Himari a present as this week's Mawaru Penguindrum begins in return for the scarves they received from her.  But where is Himari?  Is this idol duo even vaguely important to the plot?

While the answer to the second question seems to be "no", the first question is rather simpler to answer, as Himari remains with Kanba primarily in the hope of convincing him to stop whatever nefarious scheme he's currently involved in.  Of course, this is easier said than done - no matter how much Himari conveys her belief that it's okay for her to die, and certainly preferable to the suffering of others and in particular Kanba, her "brother" simply won't listen.  Indeed, so swept up is he in his mission that he might not even be around to learn of her sister's eventual demise.

In many ways, this episode is the tale of two sisters, as Natsume also tries her best to dissuade Kanba from his current course of action as the police net closes in around him with alarming speed.  It seems as if Kanba is beyond saving however, as he happily destroys both life and property with abandon, with a view only to achieving his goal no matter the cost.  At least, it appears this way until Natsume's life is put in danger, leading to a split second decision which proves that her brother isn't completely a lost cause, even if it threatens to be the last action that he ever takes...

With so much still seemingly left to cover, it's amazing that Mawaru Penguindrum is still toying with new ideas (witness Shouma's post-credit appearance in captivity) alongside all of its other twists and turns - very much a case of brinkmanship with just a couple of episodes to go.  It seems that Ringo's diary, the Penguindrum and half of the show's plot are in danger of being torched and discarded so that the series can focus on some of its other key elements - a shame then that it's the less interesting elements that are getting all of the screen-time, with this week's instalment in particular feeling more like soap opera than anything else.  It remains an interesting show certainly, but every week I become more convinced that its early outings pulled the wool over my eyes while it slipped a very different, arguably braver but undoubtedly clumsier series under my radar.  There's still just about enough time for it to prove me wrong, of course...

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 10

Following discussions surrounded it last time around, it's time for the almost inevitable training camp episode of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai this week, and equally inevitably Sena just so happens to have a large summer house by the beach available for the exclusive use of the Neighbours Club.

Of course, our collection of loners struggle somewhat with the normal traditions of such a club, which turns the usually spontaneous cries upon reaching the beach into an overly-considered damp squib, while much of the rest of the camp is spent in typical Neighbours Club style by really not doing any much.

In fact, "nothing much happens" is pretty much the synopsis for this episode - Yozora continues to act like a bitch towards Sena whenever possible while her attempt at telling a ghost story is clearly a thinly-veiled jibe at a still-clueless Kodaka despite being head and shoulders better than anyone else manages to muster in terms of actually scaring people.

While it wasn't quite the pure fan service-fest I thought that it might be, there still isn't a lot to write home about from this episode of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - most of the characters aside from Sena, Yozora and Kodaka are largely peripheral while this week's instalment doesn't really do all that much to tackle the love triangle of sorts between them.  It's Yozora's role in proceedings that bothers me most however these days - she's a horrible, sadistic and mean-spirited bully who I now simply can't stand to the point of all-bit grimacing every time she comes on-screen; a far cry from the slightly mean but sharp-witted character who nabbed most of the good lines in the show's early episodes.  I'd hate to overthink a show with such simple goals as this one, but there's something a little bit disturbing to me about Yozora's behaviour as the show has progressed, and I don't like it one bit - it's another sign of the slow but sure rot that has crept into the series over its duration, sadly.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 10

Despite identifying Rise as the next likely victim of Inaba's killer, it seems that the Persona-wielding gang can do little to prevent her from being dumped into the world within the television, as before they know it Risette's turns on the Midnight Channel take on an even more risque form.  Shame that record button didn't work huh, Narukami?

Anyway, with Rise kidnapped, there's only one thing for it, so it's time for our now five-strong team to find Teddie and chase down Rise and her Shadow.  Thankfully, tracking her down is little problem, and we soon find ourselves outside a decidedly shady club where a whole phalanx of Risettes are strutting their stuff, complete with bodyguard Shadows to protect the main focus of our concerns.

While Kanji's sheer strength is enough to see off the bodyguards, Rise's Shadow itself is a different kettle of fish - a being with the ability to analyse the powers of the Persona it fights against, making defending herself easy while her offensive abilities leave the gang with no room to retaliate.  Just as it seems to be all over, help appears from an unusual quarter - Teddie himself, who shows what he can do by single-handedly defeating Rise's Shadow before she finally finds room in her heart to accept her exhibitionist tendencies and desperation to be accepted and loved by others.  It seems that Rise isn't the only one with such problems however, as any celebrations are cut short by the appearance of Teddie's own shadow, representing his frustrations and uncertainties surrounding his lack of past memories.  It takes a finally push from Narukami and Rise in particular to help Teddie overcome his Shadow, meaning that we now have two more additions to the Persona ranks.

While the climatic battle with Rise's Shadow felt a little rushed and short-lived, and as a result quite anti-climatic, the reason for this soon became clear, with the revelations surrounding Teddie offering a surprising twist to the story while adding another aspect to proceedings into the bargain.  What this means for the show going forward is unclear, but as episodes go this offered us a fun ride that proved that it still has the power to turn the tables to avoid the risk of becoming overly formulaic, and that can only be good news.

Guilty Crown - Episode 9

A week away on business for Gai seems to offer up a rare week for normal, everyday activities in Shu's world - not that these possibilities last for long as Yahiro returns to the scene, complete with his extremely ill brother Jun.

Indeed, Shu and Yahiro's uncomfortable reunion comes as quite the coincidence, with the latter escaping from GHQ forces having escaped their facility with his brother, while the former is out on an impromptu "date" with a smitten Hare.  Of course, Hare is dumped for more important matters as the two boys have far more important things to discuss, and thus we're brought up to speed with Yahiro's situation and how the facility treating Jun decided to "put him down", leading to the sibling's escape.

Shu being who he is he can't leave the situation alone despite Yahiro's previous betrayal of him, and so he looks to call in a favour with the Funeral Parlour to take in and harbour the two siblings.  Little does Shu know however that his movements are still being followed by GHQ, meaning that he sends all concerned into the midst of a trap which spells danger for all of them.  Just as things are looking dire, Jun's "infection" surprisingly turns the tide, stopping Daryl (who is now clearly this show's punchbag) and his Endlave in its tracks before setting it against the other GHQ forces.  However, this transference of power not only puts paid to Jun's real body but also his reason, leaving him to beg Shu to stop him before he kills his own brother.  Has Shu really got the mental fortitude to kill someone though?

After being a bit crap last week quite frankly, things at least took a turn for the better with this week's Guilty Crown, offering up some interesting twists with regard to Lost Christmas and the infection which signalled its beginnings if nothing else.  The big problem here is that a lot of the potentially smarter ideas to come out of the episode were rather ill-explained or carried through, leading to a jumpy and stilted progression of events which followed all the way through to its climax, which reintroduced Hare to proceedings almost out of the blue.  It's such clumsiness which continues to threaten to derail this series despite all its hard work and good looks, although despite all this is still somehow remains pretty watchable for the most part, which leaves me torn in my opinion of the show overall.