Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 17

The battle for Boreas may have been won by the Allied forces, but there are still plenty of pressing concerns for those fighting under Augusta's flag, not least the prospect of in-fighting between previously rival factions.

Perhaps understandably given their history, there's quite some tension between the remaining Glacies forces and the newly joined Third Fleet under the command of Ourang, bringing differences to the alliance that threaten to undermine their entire endeavour.

This worry certainly bears fruit when the Federation's First Fleet come calling at Boreas - although the Alliance's forces have more than enough air power to repel the intruders, they reckoned without some decidedly unsporting behaviour on their opponents part, with the First Fleet suggesting that they're in cahoots with their former comrades in the First Fleet.  Of course, this plays upon the Glacies' forces paranoia, turning them against their own side and allowing the Federation the upper hand in the subsequent chaos... at least, that is, until an old friend in the form of the Silvius puts in an appearance.  This latest battle still isn't over however, as the next phase of the Federation's plan to take Broeas swings into action - a plan halted by a bit of good, old-fashioned diplomacy of all things.

It's this ending to the episode which stretches the credulity of this week's Fam, the Silver Wing rather - after almost twenty episodes of war-mongering, conflict, death and destruction, all of a sudden a bit of paper from Augusta stops everything.  Couldn't she have done that in episode one, or at numerous other points during the series?  Following some more epic aerial battle scenes, this sudden resolution leaves the second half of this episode feeling rushed - as if the production team remembered that they're running out of episodes, put down the CG aircraft and rapidly scribbled an ending on a nearby napkin.  Hopefully there's more to it than that (and if nothing else Luscinia's plans are yet to be revealed), but this still felt a jarring twist too far in an otherwise great and gorgeously animated episode that ultimately left me a little disappointed.

Chihayafuru - Episode 21

If karuta has taken a back seat to exams in Chihaya's life, it isn't for long - no sooner has pencil hit desk at her final exam than her thoughts return to her real passion, although her hard work in terms of study does at least pay off and see to any concerns her teacher may have about her academically for the time being.

With that done and dusted, it's time to start preparing for the Eastern qualifying tournament - although only Nishida and Chihaya are involved as the club's Class A participants, the others still seem keen to learn all they can from the experience, with Taichi in particular seemingly keeping his rivalry with Arata close in his mind.

By the time the first round of the tournament starts, Chihaya (who takes all of our attention here) finds all of her focus dissipated between one thing and another, with even her hair under threat if she can't outperform Sudo, who does a fantastic job of winding up his rival.  If that isn't bad enough, her first round opponent is a surprisingly tough one - she might be a little kid, but the fact that Ririka is already in Class A herself speaks volumes.  In many ways, this young girl mirrors a young Chihaya in terms of karuta ability, using speed and good hearing above all else.  This proves to be a perfect test for the "new-look" Chihaya, as she looks to reign in her speed and play the game tactically - an approach that brings mixed results before her teacher takes the reigns off and lets her go all-out in her usual style to blitz her way to the finish.  That's one game down, but still plenty more to go on her way to the national finals.

Although this was a pretty karuta-focused episode above all else (and I realise it sounds a little daft saying this, but Chihayafuru's focus often lays elsewhere), it was still those magic moments that often came outside of the game which made this episode fun to watch, often due to Taichi's actions as we witness a man torn between friends and love.  Of course, Chihaya herself also continues to entertain, as we see her grow both as a person and a karuta player, to ensure what could well be an engaging final straight for this wonderful little series.

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 8

What are the high school boys getting up to this week? Despatching violence against one another for much of the early part of this episode, it seems.

Thus, many of the initial sketches this week are either punctuated by physical violence or entirely reliant upon it, whether it's the shame or your family finding your porn collection (we've all been there), Hidenori's attempt to draw manga that better reflects the life of the average teenage male, or indeed the aforementioned youngster's attempt to live out a manga cliché for himself.

Thankfully, things very much take an upward swing from here via some wonderful observational humour, such as the difficulties of being short-changed at a cash register against ruining the hapless employee's day, or even his career maybe.  Then there's that awkward moment when you have to extract something that's stuck in a tree, which eventually boils down to throwing even more things at it and hoping that they don't also become lodged in its branches.  The rest of the episode sees a birthday treat go decidedly awry, the horrors of an accurate horoscope and the trouble with insects, before our high school girls round things off by being overly competitive and getting entirely the wrong idea when it comes to shortening skirts.

Overall, this week's Daily Lives of High School Boys was a bit of a mixed bag - an improvement over last week's episode with at least a couple of genuinely good sketches to make up for some of its weaker content.  Again, those weaknesses tend to come from repetition above all else - I'd be the first to admit that teenage boys are always over-reliant on physicality in terms of both self-expression and comedy, but such slapstick is only funny so many times when... well, when you're a grown-up basically.  Despite such qualms however, the series remains worth watching for those moments where it breaks out into some great observational comedy, which is more than enough to keep things ticking over.

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 21

The time for bumbling along with their current work is over, as Ashirogi Muto succeed in getting their way and having Tanto ceased, under the proviso that they provide a work suitable for serialisation, and surpassing Nizuma no less, in the next six months.

While wrapping up Tanto is easy enough, and with everybody from Miyoshi through to the duo's assistants on-board with their decision (even if it makes for some uncomfortable financial home truths), the question is simple - what next for Ashirogi Muto?  Sirprisingly enough, it's Miura who comes up with what seems to be a great idea - an extension of their previous Money and Intelligence project, but with the addition of appearance to its system where such traits can be traded to the highest bidder.  It sounds fantastic (Hell, I'd love to see it), and both Takagi and Mashiro are thrilled with their finished work, meaning that it will surely....

....be summarily rejected by the serialisation committee, much to their shock.  The duo's next tact again comes via Miura, who suggests that they take on the realms of the mainstream fantasy anime - an idea which gets a less than lukewarm reception from Takagi in particular, but again he beavers away at making the best work that he can in creating a simple yet engaging tale.  Surely this work will succeed in meeting the demands of the committee?  Errr.... no.  With only one shot left at regaining a berth in Shounen Jack before being kicked to the kerb, it's time for Ashirogi Muto, via Miura, to turn to an old associate to deliver them the advice and assistance that they need.

It's ironic really that while the dual protagonists of this series work tirelessly to get a successful manga serialised, Bakuman works best when its leading duo are out of work but trying desperately hard to get an idea of theirs into print - thus, there was a lot of fun to be had in watching them try and fail to do just that from various different angles, without allowing the show's romantic elements to intrude overly and making the most of the tension that comes from their self-imposed deadlines.  This kind of effort is, for me, exactly what Bakuman is all about, and why I've stuck with it through thick and thin.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 8

Thank heavens for alcohol... at least, if you're Kaito that is, as he doesn't have to worry about Kanna remembering bearing witness to his almost-but-not-quite-kiss with Ichika.

Of course, Kaito himself has no chance of forgetting such a thing, and Ichika is struggling to keep her mind from it too having returned from Okinawa.  While there have been no seismic shifts in anyone's relationship status as a result of that break, both Kaito and Mio have clearly changed on account of their encounters and experiences during that period - if they haven't noticed it themselves, then those close to them most certainly have, with Testsurou and Kanna both realising that something has changed with their friends.

Still, such worries are put aside as it's festival night in town, giving everyone within the group a chance to let their hair down and have fun together - that is, until Remon shows up.  Of course, her appearance can only mean one thing - another session of arch manipulation of the emotions of those around her, and this time that comes by challenging the group to a good old-fashioned test of courage.  The entire event proves to be an elaborate, theatrical play, as she carefully matches up her "actors" and then ensures that the scenario develops to show everyone's true feelings.  Surely even Remon hasn't accounted for what eventually transpires however, as Rinon's recent panic proves ultimately to be well-founded as Ichika's secret and recent happiness looks set to come crashing down around her.

Yet again there's an easy, simple joy that comes from watching Ano Natsu de Matteru as it focuses week on week upon bouncing its major characters off one another in their tangled web of love and friendship.  This makes for some beautiful moments and times and heart-rending scenes at others - I think my heart actually broke when Kaito runs off to leave Kanna in the darkness to see to Ichika, while his determination to save Ichika from her fate no matter what was rather beautiful in its own way.  Such is the simple formula of this series - if you love its characters, then you'll be emotionally invested in everything that happens to them, and with that in mind Ano Natsu de Matteru is well and truly doing a number on me each and every week.  From the scheming Remon through to poor, poor Kanna, I adore each and everyone in this series and as a result, just like them, I don't want their summer to end.

Another - Episode 8

When you've recently been drenched in the blood spurting forth from the arteries of your classes teacher, what better way to wash it all away than a visit to the beach?

While a trip to the beach sounds great, it is nonetheless carried out with a serious goal in mind - to meet Matsunaga, the man who claims to have stopped the curse of Class Three fifteen years previously, while also leaving a clue for future generations to heed in the process.  But will he remember anything useful to the current year's pupils?

As frayed nerves relax once the party leaves Yomiyama (and hopefully the curse) behind, the news that Matsunaga isn't currently available gives all and sundry some downtime - an opportunity to relax on the beach and generally goof off for a while, whether it's building sandcastles, fishing or playing volleyball.  Eventually, Matsunaga gets the message Reiko and comes to find her, although sadly his memories of fifteen years ago seem as hazy as hers.  Worse still, just as he begins to recall the location of the clue he left behind for others to find, a freak gust of wind leads indirectly to disaster.  Still.... nice boat though.

I have to admit that, despite being a rather pedestrian episode for the most part (not to mention a blatant attempt to sandwich a beach episode into this series - what next, disaster at a hot springs resort?), I really rather enjoyed the way this week's instalment of Another played with the viewer's expectations, producing scenes that threatening to turn everything upside down in an instant while never doing so until its final tragic delivery at the episode's close.  Given that we've learned very little from the episode however, with the episode end again delivering a somewhat predictable violent death as its cliffhanger, much of the instalment felt more like a beautifully produced filler piece than anything more substantial.  Given its visual polish I have to admit that I'm quite happy to watch pretty much anything P.A. Works has to offer just to soak in the beauty, but despite its smart moments there's still something missing from Another, and I fear that the missing element is simply finding a reason to care about its characters and their predicament, which seems to be rather lacking at present.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 20

Despite bringing us the shocking revelation at the close of last week's episode that Yuno isn't actually who we believed her to be at all, there's little time to consider what this means or Gasai's true identity as more pressing matters come to the fore in this ever-more dangerous survival game.

It's Sakurami City's mayor, Eleventh, that is the cause of all this upheaval, as he uses the fact that he now has Eighth within his fold to start his own revolution with the people of the city at its core.  Essentially, Eleventh sees the future of his city as a place where everyone owns a Future Diary, and of course the Server Diary belonging to Eighth is the perfect embodiment of this once connected to a sufficiently powerful supercomputer.

Unsurprisingly, Uryuu has explosively different ideas about this plan and sets out to destroy the HOLON supercomputer - easier said than done when you're up against a mayor who has co-opted the police force into his plans, while also holding a diary with a considerable amount of power for himself.  Although she might not like to admit it, Uryuu is lucky to find herself joined in her struggle by Nishijima, who seems to have taken more than a little shine to Minene, to put it mildly.  It's his actions that not only help Uryuu out of a tight spot but also puts a dent in Eleventh's plans - it's going to take a whole lot more to stop either him or the HOLON supercomputer however, and despite finding out the secret to Eleventh's diary and drafting him some help things are about to get decidedly dangerous for both Uryuu and Nishijima.  Sad news this may bring, but it's a case of "just as planned" for other players within the game...

What can I say about Mirai Nikki that I haven't mentioned already?  As per usual, this week's twists and turns were a delight to watch, with double-crossing and surprises around every corner as things move rapidly towards the show's denouement.  My only real criticism here is Uryuu and Nishijima's relationship, which is posited within this episode in a way that doesn't feel believable (which itself is fine given the contents of the series) before going on to make little real use of it emotionally - a couple of tears and a bit of shouting aside, there was no emotional impact to the way events panned out here when I felt that perhaps there should have been.  Then again, maybe it's simply that this show has made me into (more of) a heartless bastard that refuses to shed a tear no matter what happens thanks to its wicked ways - not that I'm complaining, mind you.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 20

Now that the culture festival is over, what are our group of friends going to do in its immediate aftermath?  Most of their plans are put paid to by Narukami needing to look after Nanako for the night, but it seems that all is not lost as Yukiko (rather involuntarily) invites the whole gang to spend the night at her inn.

Yes, that's right, after ticking off the culture festival we move on to a hot springs instalment!  You can probably guess most of the rest of the episode from here, with the boys stumbling into the girls bath on a couple of occasions (even if it turns out to be justified) while worrying about whether there room is haunted and making yet another error as they try to join the girls in their room on the floor below.

Okay, so there is some evidence of how Yukiko has changed since confronting her Shadow, and a hugely important letter received by Narukami at the end of the episode, but that's about all you get in what is otherwise very much a run-of-the-mill filler episode.

That's pretty much all there is to it really - a couple of minor laughs and that important post-credit ending don't really make up for an episode which felt a bit lazy, truth be told, and not up to the same glowing standard of entertainment that much of the show has delivered.  It's something I can forgive seeing as we seem to be launching right back into the thick of the story next week though.

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 8

Now that all of the differences between them are resolved, everything seems to be going swimmingly (or should that be flyingly?) between Madoka, Lan and Muginami both on the ground and in the skies.  With no immediate danger in sight, this is surely the best time for the chairman of the Novumundus council which holds ownership over Pharos to pay a visit?

Rather than put in an appearance himself, we're instead treated to a flying visit from the chairman's great-granddaughter, a diminutive girl who is no less feisty for her youth and small stature.  The real reason for this "inspection" is, perhaps predictably, the incident involving Madoka's Vox Aura during Villagiulio's last appearance - a strange happening which seems to concern Novumundus rather a lot, tying into the legend of which we've heard murmurings previously.

As this legend is still of some concern to Lan, she pulls Madoka to one side (with Muginami in tow of course) to explain exactly what this legend is, revealing the story of an ancient and advanced civilisation which lived on Earth 20,000 years ago, only to be forced to escape to the stars in the wake of the Vox Aura and its ilk causing the obliteration of the planet and life upon it.  Essentially then, Lan and Muginami are still descendants of humankind, but more importantly recent happenings with the Vox Aura sees Novumundus ground the craft and its pilot rather than see this legend come to pass again.  It's the kind of decision you might expect to see Madoka fighting against, but instead it's only her two fellow pilots that kick up a fuss, with Madoka herself taking a decidedly mature and reasonable view of things.

Although all of this makes for rather a slow episode of Rinne no Lagrange, it's also rather important in terms of filling in a critical part of the show's back story, while its closing scenes also suggest some decidedly fluid loyalties between various individuals within the supposedly conflicting organisations within the series.  Couple this with Madoka's intriguingly grown-up behaviour this week (a far cry from her enthusiastic self earlier in the series), and things are as fascinating as ever within the series - it does, however, feel like we're a little overdue something more major to kick things up a gear, although I feel that hoping for too much action from the series is perhaps a futile one.  Still, for now Rinne no Lagrange remains reasonably enjoyable without pushing itself too hard.

Nisemonogatari - Episode 8

While this week's Nisemonogatari may officially bring us the start of the show's Tsukihi Phoenix arc, episode eight still prefers instead to devote its attentions to elder sister Karen.  Lots of attention in fact.... *clears through* - a decidedly large amount, you could say.

With his studying disrupted by a demanding Karen, Koyomi is rather concerned that his sister is being bullied - I mean, why else would she be wearing a skirt... a skirt "borrowed" from her sister no less?  We don't really get an answer to this question, but Karen seems unusually eager to please her brother, and eventually perhaps we come to the crux of the matter - Karen wants to meet Kanbaru.  It seems like a pretty reasonable request given their shared interests, and they'd probably get on like a house on fire... which is exactly what worries Koyomi given Suruga's sexual proclivities.

Thus, to dissuade his sister, Koyomi agrees that he'll allow Karen to meet Kanbaru if she wins his game - and this is where things become a little odd.  Essentially, Koyomi's challenge to his younger sister is for her to allow him to brush her teeth, which he seems assured is something that will make her feel too psychologically uncomfortable to endure given its intimacy.  It seems, however, that Koyomi has underestimated his sister... and indeed himself, as they both end up enjoying this situation far too much - a rather awkward admission once Tsukihi walks in on them, to her disgust.

It isn't too often that I'm left speechless on this 'blog, but I simply don't know what to say about this episode of Nisemonogatari.  Okay, okay, so I do know what I want to say about it: My first thought is "what's happened to the series I love in its Bakemonogatari form?" - that kind of quirky, witty and smart story-telling certainly feels like a thing of the past in comparison to what this instalment offers.  Or is it?  On the flip-side of that coin, there's such a knowing nod and wink to Koyomi and Karen's incestuous behaviour that it's almost delivered as piece of clever, post-modern fan service - a line in the sand which posits that nobody would be sick enough to derive enjoyment from watching a girl writhe sensuously while her big brother brushes her teeth, while depicting this very event with such erotic force that it effectively defies you not to be aroused by it.  The result is... well, awkward really - something horribly and completely wrong, but still visually arresting at the same time.

The kicker for me however is how this scene closes - Karen and Koyomi's implicit desire to continue down the same path even haven been given the opportunity to say "hey, that was a mistake" destroys some of the "magic" of what came before.  It crosses the line that the episode itself has drawn, crossing from embarrassing, flirtatious and erotic folly into something far more creepy and unpalatable.  Looking back at how Bakemonogatari is remembered by many for those beautiful scenes as Araragi and Senjougahara talked under the stars, I hope that Nisemonogatari isn't going to be instead going to be remembered simply as "that anime with the incestuous toothbrush scene".  At the moment though, it feels as if that might be the case.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Guilty Crown - Episode 18

They may have broken out of the physical and psychological Hell that was their high school prison of recent weeks, but now it seems that Shu has outlived his usefulness as the "king", with the return of Gai to intercept the escaping party rendering him 'armless.  Wait, I used that joke last week didn't I?  Sorry.

With Gai stealing Shu's Void extraction power (and his arm with it) for himself, our new-look returning hero also demonstrates his own unique take on that power, combining a number of Void powers together into one giant weapon with no care or concern for the fate of those whose Voids he wields.  With this show of strength putting a rapid halt to the UN's decision to obliterate Japan, there's no doubting who the new king is, and Gai quickly finds himself followed by the likes of Arisa as she even goes against her own grandfather to support him.

With Shu seemingly rendered useless with neither power nor motivation, it's Inori that seems to preoccupy Gai the most - but why does this seemingly uncaring individual want her to return to his side?  After hints in recent episodes and some more blatant pointers this time around, we witness exactly what Inori is hiding behind that quiet, innocent facade - a "monster" with terrifying offensive capabilities, albeit not enough to take on Gai and win it seems.  With another piece of the plan slotting into the puzzle being completed by "new Gai", just what does Japan's future hold now?

Having questioned previous instalments of Guilty Crown for making stuff up as it goes along in recent weeks in particular, this week's episode certainly brought similar questions out in force, with Gai adding yet further extensions to Shu's Void extraction power as perhaps the most blatant example of bending the world's rules to fit the plot rather than vice versa.  While the show also seems to have lost a little of its visual lustre of late, I still haven't completely lost faith in the series - yes, it's dumb and ill-suited to its noitaminA time slot, but as popcorn entertainment its nonsensical twists and turns continue to hook me in to a sufficient degree to keep me watching.

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 8

Having quite literally missed the bus last episode, Kaoru and Junichi look well and truly stranded as the second half of their follow-up story arc begins.

Luckily for them, it isn't too long until a truck driver tilts up at the service station they've been left behind at, and kindly fellow that he is he offers the couple a lift, if only to the nearest station.  With time getting on however, he eventually plumps for dropping Junichi and Kaoru at a hot springs hotel - a potential paradise on paper, but one that turns out to be decidedly creepy for the most part.

Still, for all of its terrifying qualities, the hotel does at least provide our couple with a decent night's sleep - not that it seems to help they're mood, as the realisation that Junichi has lost his purse (carry a wallet for heaven's sake man) and all of his money with it leaves them with little in the way of funds to make their way home.  By the time they get lost on their way back from the hotel the pair of them have very much fallen out, although thankfully it isn't long before normal service is resumed, before a decidedly daft final twist grants them the route home that they very much need.

After really enjoying the first half of this particular story arc, this week's Amagami SS fell a little flat - a lot of the previously fun dynamic between Kaoru and Junichi was lost or took a back seat, and there wasn't much room for decent comedy either as much of the instalment was filled with clichés.  From threatening to be a new high point for the series so far, this week's episode leaves Kaoru's arc feeling decidedly weaker overall than some of the others - a shame given how well the two characters seem suited to each other in general terms.

Black★Rock Shooter - Episode 4

Whatever happened to her last episode, basketball club captain Kohata doesn't seem to have been too badly affected by her collapse, as we see her alive, well (sprained ankle aside) and as bright and breezy as ever as this fourth instalment of Black Rock Shooter kicks off.

Indeed, Kohata doesn't seem to be the only one who things are looking up for, as Kagari also puts in an appearance as she starts life at school, in Yomi and Mato's class no less.  Although the horrors of her old attitude have been put to bed, her sheltered life still leaves her appearing both shy and abrasive - not that this seems to bother her class mates, who take to her immediately.  Before we know it, Kagari has a number of close friends and is even co-opted into the school's cooking club.

While this may seem like good news, it's anything but for Yomi - already feeling like a third wheel in Mato and Yuu's friendship, Kagari no longer needing to rely on her for anything leaves her hugely upset; emotions which she then has no hesitation in taking out on those around her at every opportunity.  As things worsen, Yomi stops coming to school altogether much to the concern of Mato, Kagari and even Yuu - when Kagari spends an entire evening outside in the rain trying to persuade Yomi to see her, the latter believes that perhaps Kagari's former reliance upon her as return, only to find that what Kagari has been waiting for say is about to break her completely.

If previous instalments of this series have seemed a little heavy on the melodrama, this week's episode of Black Rock Shooter lays it on so thick that I can only assume they had to haul an industrial strength mixer into the production studio to do so.  If Kagari's madness early in the series seemed at least somewhat plausible, Yomi's is anything but, with a paranoia that almost literally borders on the insane.  The trouble is, with so much bitchiness and the like floating around the show, it's come to the point where I don't like anybody within it - Mato and Yuu are rather wooly friends to Yomi, and every other major character is a different shade of bonkers.  Alongside that, the show's alternate world continues to be arbitrary and there simply to use the Black Rock Shooter name rather than anything more revelatory, and it's only the mystery of the world's worst student counsellor and her "powers" that really hold any kind of intrigue at this point.  It seems that my worst fears about Black Rock Shooter are coming to pass, as it increasingly shows us its true colours as a clumsy tie-in to the franchise and concept that gives it its name - stripped of its title, there's nothing but overblown drama and mediocre animation to this show.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Steins;Gate - Episode 25 OVA (Completed)

Had it not been for a certain magical girl series, Steins;Gate would easily have been my favourite anime series of 2011, so I'll certainly never turn down the opportunity for more of the same - a good thing too between the movie in production and this bonus episode OVA on the TV series' final Blu-Ray volume.

Taking place after the events of the series proper, this instalment sees the gang granted an opportunity for a trip to America courtesy of Feyris as she heads off to participate in a Rainet tournament.  This is, of course, a perfect opportunity for everyone's favourite mad scientist Hououin Kyouma to conquer the US and bring it to its knees - although it's probably best not to tell the guards at Homeland Security that.  Still, with that misunderstand cleared up, Okabe gets to meet once again with Kurisu, who seems to be more than a little curious about the dreams she finds herself having courtesy of the fragments of memories remaining in her mind of the many world lines her own adventures have traversed.

While these visions of a life she never lived continue to bug Makise, Okabe himself finds himself distracted by the appearance of a girl bearing a remarkable resemblance to Suzuha, causing him to give chase to find out if she's somehow entered his timeline earlier than anticipated.  Of course, this proves not to be the case, but Okabe isn't completely off-base in his recognition of Suzuha's visage at least...not that it's going to help him to get back to civilisation when he's stuck in the middle of nowhere with a dead cell phone and only 67 cents in his pocket.

Considering how perfectly Steins;Gate wrapped everything up, this extra episode was also going to be a bit fluffy, and that does indeed prove to be the case here - it gives us some proper closure on the relationship between Okabe and Kurisu but that's about it, otherwise preferring to spend its time having a bit of fun with its characters.  This is no bad thing of course, much of the first half of the series proper did exactly this with joyous results, but there's no doubt that this episode isn't quite as sharp on account of its stand-alone status.  Still, it managed to make me laugh out loud a few times and generally entertained me, so I can't knock it too much - I just hope the forthcoming movie has something more ambitious lined up than a mere recap or something along these lines.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 20

Hattori may be having some minor problems, but they are as of nothing compared to the dilemmas currently facing Ashirogi Muto at present.

With an attempt to create a catchphrase for Tanto not exactly going swimmingly and Takagi having more and more of a struggle to write content despite his wedding and honeymoon coming up, things aren't exactly going brilliantly as their serialisation continues to chug along in a safe but hardly stellar ranking.  With word reaching the pair that Natural is up for anime, live-action and even film adaptations, and perhaps worse news that even Nizuma Eiji has stopped reading Tanto, the suspicion that they're currently traversing the wrong path grows ever stronger.

If that isn't enough to set Mashiro in particular considering his future direction, then what happens next certainly is - firstly, Hattori's deliberately glossing over Tanto in a speech at Takagi's wedding leads to a stand-off between Mashiro and his former editor, who finally concedes that he doesn't think that his former protégé's current work is up to much.  The real straw that breaks the camel's back however is a TV appearance by Nizuma, who directly names Ashirogi Muto as his rival - an idea which lights a fire under the desire of Mashiro and, eventually, Takagi that takes them all the way to the top in a bid to have Tanto cancelled so that they can begin creating a work worthy of that rivalry.

Much like Ashirogi Muto themselves, Bakuman has been sat comfortably churning out episodes without really pushing itself of late, so this clear uptick in pace is good news for the viewer indeed, bringing some much-needed drama to its main story of manga artists over their love lives and the like.  With only five episodes left to go of this season (although of course a third has already been green lit), it's going to be interesting to see where the series takes us to before leaving us high and dry for a while - hopefully it'll be just what the series needs to reignite and move forward.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 7

High school boys have to make their daily lives go faster somehow... so why not tell each other gags and have an "indoor adventure", Dragon Quest style?

This ever-more complex indoor RPG proves to be one of the pillars of this weeks episode, as the ever-hapless Tadakuni tries his best to keep up with the weird and wonderful world woven for him by his friends.  Ultimately, this ends with them looking stupid in front of Tadakuni's sister once again, to the point where the trio's female siblings look to Hidenori's big brother in the hope that he can help them to grow up - fat chance of that, of course, he's little better himself...

That aside, we're introduced to the "Literature Girl" once again, as she somehow manages to demonstrate just how clumsy (and not to mention unlucky) she is while Hidenori shifts between wanting to help her and laugh at her, with the latter winning out before his own misjudgement makes for an awkward finale to the "ballet" that went before it.  Easily the highlight of the episode is when the time rolls around for the class to hand in forms detailing their future career plans - this isn't something you can expect teenage boys to take seriously at the best of times, so hilarious answers abound; I may well be putting "science entertainer" on any such appraisal forms I receive in the future.  After mercilessly (and also mistakenly) poking fun at Mitsuo for a while, no episode would be complete without a skit from the funky high school girls, as they try and learn to be dumb enough to appear "cute" to the opposite sex.

Apart from the career planning piece, I have to say that this week's Daily Lives of High School Boys simply didn't gel with me.  It wasn't unfunny, but it didn't make me laugh either, giving off the impression of a series already running out of both ideas and proverbial steam.  There's only so much of guys goofing around you can take before something more substantial is required, and some of the material here felt pretty tired and like gags we'd seen deployed weeks before, as if this series has said everything it can muster about its subject matter to the point of feeling pretty clichéd and almost a little sexist by the time we reached our trio of girls trying to learn how not to look smart so guys would like them.  There's a thin line between poking fun at a genre and beginning to ape it too closely I suppose, and I'd hate to see Daily Lives of High School Boys cross that line at this juncture.

Chihayafuru - Episode 20

The tournaments just keep on coming as we move gradually towards the final straight for Chihayafuru - however, for once other more pressing issues threaten to take over playing karuta, for some of the Mizusawa club's members at least.

With the final warm-up tournament for the Master qualifiers up that weekend in Yoshino, focusing expressly on Class A and B players, you'd expect Chihaya, Taichi and Nishida to attend.  That almost certainly would be the case too, were it not for Chihaya's precipitous place in terms of her study, having dropped down the class rankings to the point where she might even have to retake the year.  With her future under threat, Ms. Miyauchi forbids her from entering, instead setting her up for a weekend of study with Tsutomu - a session which Nishida also opts to join out of concern for his own exam scores.

Thus, it's left to Taichi alone to travel to the tournament in Yoshino, where he finds himself running into none other than Arata as he makes his big comeback into the world of karuta.  Despite his best intentions not to be distracted by this, Taichi finds himself knocked out of the tournament relatively early, while Chihaya slips away from her tutorial to cheer Taichi on despite arriving just a little too late.  She does, however, get to meet Arata, however briefly, in a reunion that proves to be emotional both for herself and Taichi.  Seeing the dynamic between this trio with his own eyes, Taichi's tutor Harada offers his pupil the opportunity to be promoted to Class A despite not having won a Class B tournament - an offer which is perhaps to underestimate Taichi's own motivations for playing.

It may be more subdued than a lot of its recent instalments, but once again it was the small moments in Chihayafuru this week that stole my attention and my heart.  More specifically, it's the relationship between Taichi and Arata in particular that's so strike - a fascinating blend of rivalry (both on and off the tatami) offset by friendship and mutual understanding.  It's a potent and confusing mix, as can be seen from Taichi's reactions to Arata and their reunion, particularly once you bring Chihaya into that mix given her own unique take on things, as even she seems to be starting to catch on to her own emotions at this juncture.  Regardless, it feels as if everything is coming into place for an excellent end to this wonderful series, so hopefully it'll all end in a satisfactory manner without leaving us hanging.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 7

One of the staple parts of the winter anime season so far has been Ano Natsu de Matteru's weekly "wait, you can't leave us hanging there!" moments, and last week's instalment served us up another doozy - Mio interrupting Arisawa's fervent pursuit of Tetsurou in shameful fashion while Ichika stumbles across Kaori's confession to Kaito without really getting the full gist of the situation.

By the time the gang reassemble to recommence filming, none of these issues have been directly resolved (unless you count Mio putting some pants on), meaning that once again Remon gets to oversee a recording session that is electric with tension far beyond mere acting at her contrived movie script.  It's clear that something has to give, and it seems as though most of the parties involved in proceedings are determined to push things forward no matter what.

Thus, the show's various romantic permutations continue to be juggled for all except poor Kanna, who is left behind in their chalet with nothing but Remon, cosplay and lots of beer to keep her company.  Meanwhile, Tetsurou goes on the run from Arisawa again before finding himself helped by Mio - a development which turns into an almost literal tug of love scenario before mention of Mio's perversions leads to the poor girl pouring out her life story... and a confession to Tetsurou.  Who knows where that relationship is headed next.  Meanwhile, Kaori's message to meet Kaito in town is pre-empted by Ichika meeting her first, getting the full low-down on the situation she ran into during last week's cliff-hanger and finding her path to Kaito clear if she so wishes.  Even Kaito himself seems emboldened by recent events into making his feelings clear, even if his big moment is interrupted once again.  He might want to hurry, as there's an impression that all involved may be living on borrowed time right now.

Sure, it's packed to the rafters with youthful, romantic melodrama to an almost insane degree, but Ano Natsu de Matteru continues to work wonders with its characters and content - almost every sentence is rich with meaning and possibility, and it's genuinely hard not to be swept up in the moment over and over again this episode from Mio's breathless confession through to Arisawa's tears, and from Kaito and Ichika's growing closeness to poor Kanna's distance from the rest.  It really is utterly, utterly compelling, mostly on account of its likeable characters - you want to cheer them all on, and I can see there being plenty more smiles and tears to come if the series carries on in this wonderful vein.  Between you and me, I think this might just be my favourite show of the season now - a far cry from its uninspired and disappointing first episode.

Another - Episode 7

When you're in the midst of a series of unusual, "cursed" deaths, the last thing you want to see is your teacher walking into class looking deranged and wielding a knife.

Luckily for those remaining in class three, the only life teacher Mr. Kubodera had any intention of taking was his own, turning the knife on himself in gruesome fashion in front of his shocked pupils.  Following his death, we learn that the stress Kubodera was under wasn't merely limited to his life as the tutor of class three, but also his home life via another grisly discovery.  Are these deaths that can really be chalked up to the curse itself, or just the psychological pressure brought to bear because of it?

Of course, such questions seem to be irrelevant for those directly involved, as their sole interest is in ensuring that further deaths are prevented - with Misaki and Kouichi "reinstated" into class three after being ignored had no effect, they seem to be amongst those leading the way in trying to find a way to stop the madness.  Eventually they settle upon the same plan as the class teaching assistant, as she plans a school trip similar to one which seemed to stop the deaths fifteen years previously.  But what was the secret behind that trip?  Besides which, who is the "extra" student for the year - are Kouichi's fears founded that it could be him who is really dead?

After a shocking but slickly delivered visceral opening to the episode, this week's Another fizzled out a bit - its subdued pacing and story-telling sometimes (wrongly) gives off the feeling that those inside its world don't really care about the curse or their own potential demise.  In fairness, this was offset by some creepier moments - Misaki still has the aura of something decidedly ethereal while Kouichi's nightmares were plenty horrific enough in their own way - but with the aforementioned trip threatening to turn partly into a beach episode and some of the characters seemingly enjoying their youth rather a lot given the constant threat of death, the show's atmosphere seems to be waning somewhat, and time is running out to put it back on track even as the story continues to progress at a solid pace.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 19

After all of their trials and tribulations, it seems as if Yukiteru and Yuno are about to be thrown out of the Future Diary party simply for being late to a meeting - that Deus ex Machina sure is a taskmaster.... Luckily for First and Second, they put in their appearance just in time to avoid elimination from both the game and the universe.

Indeed, the pair's tardy appearance isn't out of laziness - rather, they've been busily finding out the true identity of Eleventh.  It's a search that takes them right to the top, as their final rival to be unmasked is none other than the city mayor himself - a tough cookie to take on, for obvious reasons.  With the mayor in question, John Balks, named and shamed, it's Yukiteru who leads a group of diary entries comprising himself, Yuno and Eighth with her minions to take on Eleventh in a strategic plan to ambush him.

At least, that's what it's made to look like - in truth this new-look Yukkii, hardened towards death and any kind of empathy with others, makes no bones about setting out to slaughter Eighth by double-crossing her as soon as it's advantageous.  Despite taking out all of her lackeys, Eighth herself escapes with Eleventh, leaving Yukkii and Yuno to give chase - a pursuit made difficult by the ability of Balks' diary, then made impossible by a huge revelation about Yuno as we learn the true identity of the third body found at her home.  It appears that young Gasai has some explaining to do...

By this juncture, I think it's safe to say that Mirai Nikki has little to fear in terms of criticism from me as long as it continues to delight in being bonkers, and this episode manages to deliver that with almost clockwork regularity.  Let us not question how Yukiteru is such a proficient driver (or marksman for that matter), and let us instead revel in his transformation into one of the "cool" diary owners (albeit via careful scriptwriting by Yuno) as he goes about double-crossing and killing to get his way in the name of becoming God.  Things only look likely to become more messed up next week however, with Yukiteru's relationship with Yuno coming under strain... it says a lot about this series that we can focus on what the series intends us to without giving so much as a hoot about the holes in its plot and logic.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 16

We head back to the future for this week's instalment of Fam, the Silver Wing after our dalliance with the original Last Exile previously, as preparations for the militarily important Fort Boreas are well underway.

Given that Augusta and company's rebellion has effectively seen former friends become foes, it's not too surprising that there's reticence on both sides as the time to fight dawns - more particularly, on the Federation's side there's a clear and widening gap in the thinking between leading men Soroush and Ourang.  While the former is happy to go along with Luscinia's plans in the name of creating a quick and lasting peace, the latter's loyalty to Augusta and lack of conviction that violence is the best way to bring peace continues to gnaw away at him.

As battle commences, we find that Fam is also having troubles of her own, as military combat simply isn't suited to her style or mentality, making for a short-lived journey in a combat equipped vanship before she trades it in to return, along with her direct comrades, for their signature vehicles and tactics as they try to gain the upper hand in the struggle for Boreas.  Ultimately however, it's Augusta's presence that proves to be the difference between the two factions, with Ourang unable to betray his monarch, leading to him turning on his own friend and leaving him to go it alone in the battle against the rebels - a battle that he can never hope to win in isolation.

Its action may not have been quite as breath-taking as we've seen in previous instalments of Fam, the Silver Wing, proving to be heavy-handed and functional rather than anything particularly grandiose, but it nonetheless set the tone for a similarly solid episode that made good use of its characters in portraying their emotions and the turmoil that war has brought upon them all in their own ways.  With even Augusta now effectively on the front lines, it seems that these emotions towards the conflict currently in progress may prove to be even more important as the series moves towards its end game, although with both factions now looking likely to have an Exile in their hands it may well still prove to be a wholly violent finale to proceedings.

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 7

The finale to last week's Rinne no Lagrange gave us a closer glimpse of the Vox Aura's power - not just pretty flowers, but some kind of unknown power source it seems.  The trouble is, it's so unknown that even the craft's owners don't seem to have any idea how it works, or if they are then they certainly aren't telling.

Speaking of fallout from last week's episode, Madoka is still feeling decidedly hurt by Muginami's words in the heat of the moment - was she really acting on her own selfish desires in attacking Giuvigiuvio... sorry, Villagiulio... or was she earnestly trying to help and protect her friend?  Speaking of Muginami, a large chunk of this episode gives us a near-silent flashback into her own past and how an abandoned girl on the fringes of a miserable penal colony ended up rescuing and befriending a prince at a time when he was far more kindly and caring than the man we see before us now.

With both Madoka and Muginami feeling that they're in the wrong, the only real question is who, if anyone, is going to apologise, although this only really comes after witnessing a bout of girls writhing around in a swimming pool full of eels (as you do).  Even after making their peace with one another, Muginami still seems determined to leave, unable to forgive herself for her actions thus far - luckily for her she has a surrogate "family" who are more than willing to forgive those mistakes and make a fresh start, which finally seems to seal away any tension in the relationships between Lan, Muginami and Madoka.

Once again, it seems that Rinne no Lagrange really enjoys mixing the serious and the frivolous - after learning about Muginami's past and piecing more of the current intergalactic political situation as a result of both this and Lan's discussions with Madoka, we move on to see eels jumping down girls tops and bathing naked on the beach at night.  The result of this particular blend of elements is predictably a bit of a mish-mash of brazen fan service and important stuff, although once again Madoka's character seems to carry much of it along to the point where you simply can't complain about it, such is her entertainment value alone.  Although, with the episodes moving on apace, it would be nice to get back to "dealing with the space issues" again sooner rather than later.

Nisemonogatari - Episode 7

Despite her curse/illness, young Karen still seems determined to settle things with Kaiki for herself - something that brother Koyomi simply can't abide.

Luckily for him, tracking down and catching up to Karen doesn't prove to be too difficult - middle school kids still need to travel everywhere by bus, after all.  Of course, finding Karen is one thing, but persuading her to stand down quite another, and despite her overall sense of lethargy she has no qualms about standing off physically against her big brother.  Indeed, it seems that Koyomi is rather lucky to have vampiric remnants in his blood, as Karen's brute strength proves to be quite impressive - her mental resolve is, however, not so strong, and ultimately Koyomi has what it takes to persuade her to leave Kaiki to him.

With that worry out of the way (and both Fire Sisters prevented from leaving the house in typical Araragi style), it's time for a final face-off with Kaiki for both Araragi and Senjougahara.  If you're expecting something epic from this meeting however, prepare to lower your expectations, as Kaiki wastes no time in apologising for everything, promises to stop pedalling charms to middle school kids and agrees to leave town in short order while also informing Koyomi that his sister will recover from what ails her in a few days at most.  Of course, the big issue here is - how do you trust a con man?  As the conversation continues, so the lies pile up, interweave and mingle with one another until the prove becomes indiscernible - is Kaiki telling the truth about Senjougahara's past, them man who tried to rape her or her feelings for him?  Is he really nothing but a fake when it comes to dabbling in the supernatural?  As Kaiki himself says, there's no such thing as the truth... although his departure from town and the resolution of the current set of problems certainly seems to have been resolved.

So ends the first of Nisemonogatari's two story arcs, and as per its build-up this climax was a bit of a mixed bag.  On the one hand, its big finish felt rather like a damp squib with nothing particularly remarkable to mark it out, but on the other it was a great example of Nisio Isin's twisting, tangled style of writing at its best, with monologues and conversations that leave you coming out confused yet simultaneously understanding what's going on while still leaving plenty of food for thought.  The show's visual style also worked well here, breaking out into some nice snippets of action as Karen and Koyomi scrapped and proving enough to keep your interest when things slowed down and became far more dialogue heavy.  Yet despite all this, it still feels as if there's "something missing" - a dash of magic which Bakemonogatari had which is frequently lacking here.  Perhaps, as Kaiki suggests of Senjougahara, the series has simply become too normal and boring?  That would be a harsh judgement, but rather than fulfilling me entirely this whole Karen Bee arc has ultimately left me wanting somewhat despite providing a number of great moments.

Friday, 17 February 2012

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 19

It's a well-known fact that Japanese law states that no high school anime can be completed without a culture festival episode... so whaddya know, here's Persona 4's culture festival episode!

Compared to the ordinary fare normally offered up as such events, it seems as if there's a al to push everybody's limits at this particular festival, with the gang's class somehow voting to stage a "group date" event of some kind, while the surreptitious entry of the girls into the beauty pageant is soon reciprocated by the boy's being entered into a cross-dressing beauty pageant.

Against a backdrop of Rise continuing to face her own issues as they pertain to her celebrity status, and with Narukami making friends with a wannabe musical girl with little outright talent to offer, the general goal of this week's instalment is very much a comedic one, with Yuu revelling in an opportunity to explore his feminine side while the festival also plays host to a fortune teller who is more than a little familiar to our protagonist...

It's at times like this that I find it hard to remember that Persona 4: The Animation is a murder-mystery story at heart, simple because it proves to be so marvellously adept at producing hilarious filler episodes such as this one.  Despite a huge drop in animation quality for the most part (it really does look terrible more often than not - was it "let your child animate an episode of anime" day at AIC?), and even without much grounding in the rest of the series, I couldn't help but laugh my way through this episode as it deployed its humour consistently and amusingly.  In terms of using its characters and using them well, I get the feeling that this series simply can't be beaten, and although it should maybe be focusing on its proper storyline at this point I simply can't get mad at Persona 4 for not doing so when it gets me laughing so often.

Guilty Crown - Episode 17

With Loop 7 ever closer to being crushed entirely, it seems that there's no choice for the remaining students of Tennozu First High School but to follow "Bad Shu" (you can tell he's evil because he wears a dark scarf)... or is there?

While we learn exactly what Inori got up to last week, we also come to see that Arisa's survival from that attack is simply another step down the road to another revolution as more and more people look to turn against their "king" for a variety of reasons.  Once the truth is leaked about what happens if your Void were to break by being used, the deal is sealed and Shu is living on borrowed time as even Yahiro begins to question his power and decision-making.

Despite this, with the walls literally closing in around them Shu is still the only man who can act as the centrepiece of the student's escape plan, and thus his now farcical reign extends long enough for this plan to swing into action, bringing another round of bloodshed (and a completely unexplained new upgrade to Shu's powers, unless I missed something) but, it seems, victory and release from their recent hell.  It's at this point that the oppressor becomes the oppressed, as those who Shu has trodden on along the way come back to get their revenge in the midst of an armed rebellion.  As if this wasn't bad enough enough, Inori's life hangs in the balance while Shu's own future looks decidedly grim as a familiar face comes back to haunt him, rendering him harmless ('armless, even) in the process.

Compared to previous instalments, this week's chunk of action within Guilty Crown felt a little predictable and pedestrian despite its effect on Tokyo Tower, in an episode that once again starts to fall apart logically once you put it under scrutiny, not least when you start giving your leading man extensions to his powers out of nowhere.  Still, the series as a whole looks set to move to another level once again, with the tables turning on a number of individuals well and truly... who knows where our story is headed next, and if nothing else that unpredictability coupled with the excellent visuals keep me coming back for more.  Guilty Crown?  More like Guilty Pleasure.

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 7

It's time to put away the combs and brushes for a couple of weeks, as the fly-away hair of Kaoru Tanamachi makes its return to Amagami SS for its latest follow-up arc.

Once again, we jump six months in the future, to find a Kaoru and Junichi who are certainly very friendly and at ease with one another... but perhaps that's exactly the problem with their relationship.  Although they're officially dating, it seems that nothing has changed in the dynamic between them - they still hang out at the same places and do the same things, acting more like good friends than a proper couple.  When Kaoru's friend Keiko suggests the two of them take a summer holiday together, she might just have struck on a great idea.

The trouble with holidays is, of course, being able to afford them, and thus our two hopeless lovebirds end up working what seems like a pretty fun job amidst the staff of a "super sentai" show at an amusement park.  This is all well and good, until Junichi gets ideas above his station, which sees them fired and given only half of their pay.  With any grandiose vacation ideas out the window, Kaoru happens across a coach tour which seems right up their alley (or within the confines of their wallet at least), granting the opportunity to spend some time alone together.  However, some time-keeping confusion means that they might end up spending that time far, far more alone than they'd initially planned.

I feel like a bit of a two-timer (well, four-timer at this juncture in the show) at the moment, as it seems that every story arc has me aching to declare the current girl my favourite in some shape or form.  Certainly, Kaoru's carefree energy and enthusiasm is really enjoyable to watch, and this goes some way towards this episode offering up some of the best comedy we've seen with the series thus far - again, there's also a solid dynamic between Junichi and Kaoru to keep things ticking over while also leaving you cheering them on.  It might have plot points you can see coming a mile off (and you have to wonder how Kaoru isn't easily besting Rihoko in the flab department given all the snacks she consumes), but Amagami SS+ is still really fun to watch most of the time despite its generally unspectacular nature.

Black★Rock Shooter - Episode 3

Given how much delight it took into bringing us to a cliff-hanger full of melodrama last week, the result of said cliffhanger is surprisingly mundane as we enter Black Rock Shooter's third episode.

In short, Kagari's seeming descent into madness is more of as descent into sleep, and Yomi finally standing up to her seems to have given her sister the opportunity she needs to try and stand on her own two feet, both literally and metaphorically.  As a result, Yomi is now freed from her sister's obsessive way of thinking, meaning in turn that she can spend more time with Mato - however, it seems that Yomi has some jealousy issues of her own as she repeatedly casts envious eyes over Mato's relationship with childhood friend Yuu.

Aside from this particular dynamic, the focus of this show also shifts somewhat to focus on Kohata, the captain of the school's basketball club.  An enthusiastic, hard-nosed slave driver in the vicinity of the basketball court, it seems that Kohata has a softer side as we see her confessing to a boy who attends the same school.  There's nothing wrong with that of course, but upon returning from a training camp Kohata finds her confession letter posted up on a school noticeboard, while both the letter and the gift she bought her would-be boyfriend are openly mocked.  Kohata laughs this off outwardly, but in truth she's stung by the reaction of those around her - not that a visit to the school's counsellor helps, as this only shunts more distress on her.  Is it this that pushes her towards breaking point come the end of the episode however?  While counsellor Saya's behaviour is increasingly odd, the actions of Black Rock Shooter herself in her netherworld also take a decidedly sinister tone as this episode progresses.

Given that last week's big finale turned out to be a pretty huge damp squib, I almost don't want to read too much into this week's cliff-hanger - still, it has at least cast an interesting shadow across the weird "dream" world of the series while also perhaps introducing some closer links to reality.  On the other hand, the crazy turns shown by the series' student counsellor (she must be evil if she serves black coffee, right?) were a clumsy way of introducing her importance to proceedings, leaving me not sure what to make of things as they stand.  The show seems to be moving in the right direction in general despite its slow build-up this week, but I get the feeling it's going to have to try and be more than the sum of its parts if its going to create anything genuinely interesting.  For now though, my interest in Black Rock Shooter remains piqued, and that has to mean that it's doing something right.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 15.5

It's recap time again for Fam, the Silver Wing, in an episode which has broadly been labelled (in the show's number-free episode titles) as episode 15.5.  However, as you know I don't do things by halves, thus I'm sticking with calling this episode seventeen and done with it.

Rather than simply recapping recent happenings however, this particular instalment goes rather further and instead recaps the original Last Exile series - something we could probably have done with a whole lot earlier in this new show to be honest, given how long it's been since I last watched that series.  Anyhow, we're reminded here that Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing introduced us to a world at war, with its artificial homeland the subject of a violent conflict between Anatoray and Disith.  Once again, an Exile is at the heart of the conflict, with its powers giving it an almost God-like quality.  It's into this scenario that a vanship piloting team by the names of Claude and Lavie are drawn, as they take over an attempt to transport a girl named Alvis Hamilton - a girl who is the key to the Exile.

Unsurprisingly, you can't really recreate what was great about a full, twenty-six episode series in one twenty-odd minute recap, but in all fairness this effort did a pretty decent job of jogging my memory, both about the original Last Exile's story and why I enjoyed it.  This episode was also fascinating as a comparison of how far CG effects in anime have come in the last decade, with Last Exile now looking a little dated and very much a product of its time compared to the grandiose mass battles that we've enjoyed in Fam, the Silver Wing.  Say what you like about the modern anime industry and how things were better "back in the day" (when we had to walk uphill both ways to the video store and back to watch our anime), but let's be honest - this latest effort is far, far visually superior.

So, this week's episode turned into an enjoyable little nostalgia trip that leaves me tempted to break out my Region 1 DVD box set of the series - I do wish that it had been placed much earlier within the framework of Fam, the Silver Wing however, as I get the feeling it would have increased my enjoyment of it markedly with the reminders this instalment brought me.  Still, I suppose this just goes to show how important the events of the original series might prove to be for the remainder of this new tale from the Last Exile universe.  In fact, speaking of that DVD box set...

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 19

Serialisation means great news for Takagi... or is it bad news?  Either way, he's now all set to marry Miyoshi - provided he can get the blessing of her parents, that is.

It turns out that convincing Miyoshi's dad isn't as tricky as you might think, as his own youth ties in to that of Mashiro's uncle Nobuhiro, giving him an understanding of the demands of both love and manga that come of that particular profession.  Impressed by his meeting with both Takagi and, ultimately, Mashiro, his consent to marry is given.

From here, we whip through proceedings at a fair clip, with the Shounen Jack New Year party seeing Ashirogi Muto ignored in favour of the current hot tickets of Nizuma and Iwase and thus further lighting a fire under our protagonists as they swear that they won't lose to +Natural.  The trouble is, such brave words look rather feeble against the massive hype and unprecedented sales of Jack as this new series is introduced, and lo and behold Tanto can't even best it with its opening chapter.  As we fast forward further, Ashirogi Muto's efforts create a stable series that's much-loved by kids, but is that really enough to satisfy the hunger of our authors for success?

I was worried where this week's episode was going after its latest ludicrous developments from a romance angle - I'm not sure why the series felt a need to link Miyoshi's and Miho's love interests in with those of their parents, but thankfully this was ultimately glossed over rather quickly to get back to the serious business of making manga.  Although there's nothing fresh about the formula by this juncture, it still remains interesting to watch if only in preparation for the moment when Ashirogi Muto break out of mediocrity and do something spectacular - until then, the show is carried pretty well by its characters and overall scenario, provided it stays away from delving too deeply into the lovey-dovey stuff.

Chihayafuru - Episode 19

Chihayaa aside, it's crunch time for the rest of the individuals that make up the Mizusawa karuta club, as all four of them find themselves caught up in their respective finals at their current tournament.

As per the end of last week's episode, it's the Class D final between Komano and Ayase that grabs our instant attention in a game of statistics versus style.  However, a couple of mistakes by Desktomu sees him end up on the back foot, which only pressures him into further errors.  At this point he'd normally just give up and wait for the next game to come around, but given that there is no next game on this occasion he almost literally throws all of his eggs into one basket with some irregular tactics to try and win back his current deficit.  He might not quite pull it off, but his efforts and place in the final deservedly see him promoted alongside his team-mate.

All of this excitement has led many attending, and not least Chihaya, to complete ignore the on-going Class B final between Taichi and Nishida- a match that has literally come down to a sudden death, luck of the draw situation with both competitors only having one card remaining.  In this scenario, it's usually up to both players to defend their own card so that the winner proves to be whichever card is read first, but this is a convention that Taichi seems to have little time for as he desperately searches for his win.  Understandably, the immediate aftermath of such an epic match causes a little bad blood between the two, but this is soon resolved and only leads to strengthening the friendship between the pair of them... and the rest of the team for that matter, as they look forward to some more opportunities to play together as a single unit.

Having not been hugely drawn into the action by last week's episode, I have to confess that this week's Chihayafuru turned things around by capturing my attention hook, line and sinker - the emotional end to the Class D final worked perfectly, while the stand-off at the climax of the Class B tournament had all of the tension of a penalty shoot-out before once again leveraging its characters perfectly in the aftermath of those nail-biting events.  It's those wonderfully observed character interactions that keep me coming back to Chihayafuru week after week, and this series staunchly refuses to let me down in this regard.

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 6

Everyone's favourite high school boys are back for another instalment of fun and frolics, but never mind that - there are more pressing questions at hand.  For starters, why are there no such thing as magical boys?  Or does Harry Potter count as one?  Enquiring minds want to know.

With that little aside kicking off proceedings, we're treated to another menagerie of short skits this week - we have what pretty much amounts to a public safety announcement as to why you shouldn't ever ask a girl why she's always on her own at Christmas (or Valentine's Day for that matter), a bit of retro gaming discussion interrupted only by a rather massive administrative error on the school's part and some boy problems for Tadakuni's sister - a problem she seems all too keen to use violence to resolve.

In fact, come to think of it girls take up rather a large portion of this week's Daily Lives of High School Boys - Ringo comes to the student council problems with concerns about her size before almost being distracted by the mere prospect of a cat being in the vicinity while our "funky high school girls" attempts to arrange a boyfriend for one of their number goes horribly wrong.  Back with the boys, new entrant Mitsuo attempts to show off his footballing prowess to no avail, while the student council's overly helpful nature continues to be a pain in the backside for them.

Given that last week provided perhaps the pinnacle of this series thus far, it's inevitable that this week's instalment of Daily Lives of High School Boys wouldn't quite be able to live up to the high bar set by its immediate predecessor.  Even so, this episode still provides a smattering of decent laughs and yet more sharp and biting digs at its high school girls as it posits them as being incredibly bitch, a little dumb and incredibly violent - all facets which are hopefully an indicator of stereotypical high school male assumptions about them and insecurities towards them rather than anything more malicious.  Still, even when it isn't firing on all cylinders this show continues to be a pretty fun and entertaining one to watch, although I do worry that it might start to run out of steam before the series is up.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 6

Kanna might not have the guts to confess to Kaito, but it seems that Tetsurou has no such qualms about letting his friend in on the secret - whether it's for his own gain or out of a sense of loyalty for Kaito is, however, another question entirely.

Still, any such worries are soon put on the back burner as our group of friends run into a bit of good fortune in the form of a bunch of tickets for a holiday in Okinawa, much to the excitement of Ichika in particular.  Yes, that effectively means that it's beach episode time for Ano Natsu de Matteru, but there's much more to it than simply bikinis and beachballs.

Things really get shaken up when Kaito runs into a childhood friend of his named Kaori - a childhood friend who he'd also promised to marry in that impetuous way that kids do.  It's a revelation that sets a cat amongst the pigeons as far as Kanna and Ichika are concerned, while Kaori's friend Arisawa does a similar number on poor Mio thanks to her instant interest in Tetsurou.  As if an afternoon of this wasn't hardship enough for both guys and girls, of course Remon can't resist playing the latest in her series of devilish games by inviting the two girls to join them for filming - if it's part of a plan to get everyone concerned to confess their actual feelings, then it certainly seems well-poised to work come the end of this week's episode.

All I can really say about this latest instalment of Ano Natsu de Matteru is that it's a whole lot of fun - now that we're well and truly in on all of the inter-relationships between characters it's enjoyable just watching their reactions to developments, and although its melodrama is clichéd that doesn't stop it being great entertainment.  On top of all that, the great thing is that all of the major characters are so likeable - as I mentioned last week, they're flawed and very human right down to the alien interloper, but they're all equally lovable in their own ways to leave you just as torn about who deserves a happy ending to this tale as those directly involved.  No matter how things pan out, and even with its moments of fan service, I'm certainly deriving a vast amount of enjoyment from watching it happen at the moment as we reach the show's half-way point.

Another - Episode 6

After filling its early episodes with mystery, much of what we needed to know was revealed by the end of last week's episode thanks to Kouichi finding himself set aside from the rest of class three as another "non-existent" student, thus bringing forth the full story from Misaki about her own experiences.

For the vast majority of this episode, this pair of characters share and discuss information and spend their time together in lieu of any contact or attention from anybody else - the kind of scenario that might ordinarily be sweet if it wasn't so melancholy on this occasion.  Despite having played witness to several deaths, Kouichi simply can't stop picking at the scan that is the so-called curse, continuing to investigate its history as it seems to dig even deeper into his family, seemingly claiming his mother as one of its victims in the process.

Of course, the one mystery which is still in place is who the "extra" student who shouldn't be there might be - Misaki's odd relationship with her mother and general demeanour still marks her out as an oddball, while there are some heavy hints this week that there's something not quite right about Kouich's own story and his memories of his life to date.  Then again, thanks to the end of this episode we have to wonder whether there will be many students left at all to see us through to the end of the series.

With so much revealed last week, this was always going to be a bit of a slow-burner of an episode, and so it proved - its story is certainly be laid out carefully and almost meticulously, that's for sure.  The trouble is, that we're still wading through things so slowly doesn't always prove to be particularly entertaining, with this instalment in particular proving to be very dialogue heavy but with little to show for it aside from a seemingly random madcap cliff-hanger which was pulled out of nowhere.  I absolutely admire Another's presentation in terms of visuals, audio and even some aspects of its story-telling, but at the moment it feels like it's struggling to hold up a story that perhaps isn't quite worthy of that much attention to detail.  My fingers are still very much crossed that it'll prove me wrong, however.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 18

To kick off episode eighteen of Mirai Nikki, we step backwards a year to a simpler time, where Yukiteru had no concerns about death or danger and Yuno Gasai... well, she was still batshit crazy.

More specifically, this little aside brings us to the formative stages of Yuno's obsession with Yukiteru, as she does everything in her power to stop him delivering a love letter to the apple of his eye at that time, class representative Moe Wakaba.  Unfortunately, things don't go particularly well for Yuno as Yukkii and Wakaba are selected to go and buy materials for the forthcoming culture festival, leaving Gasai with no choice but to follow them in a terrifying pink rabbit suit to try and prevent any kind of confession from taking place.  Yes, I did say rabbit suit - don't expect to take this flashback entirely seriously, although it does take a decidedly dark turn as we get a glimpse of the circumstances that caused Yuno to murder her own parents.... but just who does that third body in her house belong to?

It's back to the present for the remainder of the episode, as a distraught Yukkii finds his pleas to Deus ex Machina to save his mum fall on death ears, before his diary informs him of the culprit of her murder - not a moment too soon, as his father returns home at that very moment.  Desperate to find evidence to prove his guilt, Yukiteru follows his dad around, only to find that he's seemingly changed his tune and is truly repentant for what he's done.  This latest reconciliation is soon cut short however, and before we know it it's back to murder and bloodshed aplenty, this time eventually coming from a surprising direction.  It's game on in the battle to become the new god of time, verily.

For all of its stupid plot points, watching Mirai Nikki is still an utterly entertaining and occasionally thrilling experience, with this particular episode demonstrating what the series can do in a variety of ways - its flashback segment was downright hilarious before visiting some decidedly dark territory, while Yukkii's decision to finally fight back and fight for the goal in this crazy game left me unsure whether to cheer him on, be disturbed by his effortless turn to the dark side or something else entirely.  So I just stuck with cheering.  When you're faced with two of the most messed up kids in the history of anime, what else can you do?

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 6

Enemy or otherwise, there was something distinctly out of order with the way Muginami was cast aside by her "brother" last episode, and it's the anger borne from this that sees Madoka determined to go on the offensive in the light of Villagiulio's threats.

At least, that's Madoka and Lan's plan, although of course the powers that be aren't exactly about to let a teenage girl rule the roost and tell them when, where and whom they should be attacking.  That kind of decision can only be made via the joys of a meeting... which, of course, gives Madoka and Lan the go-ahead to attack in a few hours time once everything has been prepared.  Meanwhile. it seems as if Muginami herself will have a new role to play in proceedings...

Eventually, it's launch time for our two Vox Aura pilots as they get a chance to strut their stuff in their mission against Villagiulio - however, it's fair to say that nobody was expecting quite the level of opposition that they come up against, with vast swathes of enemies making their appearance to create a decidedly tough job for Madoka and Lan, even if they now have some weapons of their own to play with.  Perhaps luckily for them, this is the point where Muginami puts in her appearance via the third Vox Aura available - what follows is a rather strange ballet of conflicting emotions, as Muginami's thirst for revenge is dispersed by her near-obliteration, while Madoka's own assault on Villagiulio sees Muginami choosing to protect him, leading to a war of both physical blows and words which leads to an effect upon Madoka which changes everything...

What all of this adds up to is an episode which is slick in terms of its presentation - visually the series feels more accomplished by the week, and its soundtrack is simply perfect in terms of accentuating (although occasionally threatening to overbear) what's going on.  The series also continues to have no qualms at mixing humour into the most unlikely places, which makes for some oddly compelling moments when its comedy comes seemingly out of the blue.  The trouble is, this habit also tends to trivialise the show more than it perhaps wishes to be - it's hard to believe we're watching a fight for the future of the planet when the girls are having childish arguments amongst themselves and characters are obsessing over energy drinks, not helped by the fact that we still don't really have a handle on the show's factions or politics and what they truly represent.  This leaves us with a curious little show - I have to admit that I'm enjoying it for the most part, but I'm still not quite sure what it's trying to be or do.  Hopefully such queries will only be cleared up as its mysteries continue to unravel.

Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos

I think it's fair to say that come the end of its broadcast run, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood had simply blown me away time and again in terms of both its story and the way it was presented.  Even though that made for a perfect ending to the series, I was more than a little happy at the idea of visiting a new theatrical side-story for the Elric brothers shoe-horned into the midst of that show.  The result?  The Sacred Star of Milos.

The film certainly wastes no time in introducing us to the new facets of its particular story, as we see a relatively well to-do family rescued from the midst of  massacre - a family with links to alchemy, which quickly sees them targeted and the parents of the unit killed mercilessly.  But what becomes of their children?  It's here that Edward and Alphonse enter proceedings, courtesy of a prison break-out in Central by a man known as Melvin Voyager - someone who manages to hide his abilities as an alchemist until making good his escape just months before his release from jail was scheduled.  Why would someone do such a thing?  The timing and circumstances of his escape lead them to the release of a girl named Julia Crichton, imprisoned for illegally entering a place called Table City.  Putting two and two together, the Elric brothers set off to investigate.

One massive train-centric set piece later (Thomas the Tank Engine this ain't), we arrive to chaos at Table City, with the escapee Melvin and a group known as the Black Bats both fighting over possession of an escaping Julia.  As Ed and Al are dragged into this mess, we end up in a deep valley surrounding Table City, and learn of its people - despite inhabiting an area known as Cleta, they are in fact the put-upon last surviving inhabitants of Milos; a story linking us in to those opening scenes as brother Ashley and sister Julia work to bring a new beginning to the people of the area.  The main goal of their efforts revolves around something called the "Star of Blood" - an items which bears more than a passing resemblance to the Philosopher's Stone...

So goes the basic story of The Sacred Star of Milos, although of course there are more than a few twists and turns along the way.  With its series proper completed, it's clearly quite difficult to create a story that doesn't disturb what comes before, and this leaves the film with almost an overly light touch, particularly in terms of the characters it deploys - with no Scar, Lan Fan or Homunculus on show, nobody really greedily gobbles up their screen time as some of the more fascinating characters of Fullmetal Alchemist are want to do.  Similarly, the story has a bit of a "seen it all before" feel to it - there are some clever twists for sure, but there's nothing that really makes The Sacred Star of Milos stand out from the crowd, and it certainly never lives up to some of the jaw-dropping revelations within the series itself.  As a whole, its story is functional rather than spectacular.

In essence, much of the movie seems to be built around a pair of (admittedly impressive) set pieces - the aforementioned train-led scenes, and of course the culmination of the movie as the desire for the power of the Star of Blood reaches its climax.  As a whole, the film's animation seems to aim towards fluidity and movement throughout over detail, and that serves it best during these action scenes as chaos reigns in the midst of destruction and blood-shed aplenty - it's something that Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood never failed to pull off with aplomb, and this is again the case here.

Overall, it was perhaps always going to be impossible for The Sacred Star of Milos to match the intensity of Brotherhood, and there's no doubt that it does indeed fail to do so.  That doesn't make it a bad film, but it does feel like a bit of a wasted opportunity given how limited its scope is and the way it criminally under-utilises some of its characters (Mustang, I'm looking at you).  Fans of the franchise will be happy to see more of the Elric brothers I'm sure, but beyond that this is a decent effort that does little to be memorable in the long run beyond serving as a couple of hours of half-decent entertainment.