Friday, 30 March 2012

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 13 (Completed)

Having enjoyed his renaissance with all of the series' girls, it's time for Junichi to take a back seat for Amagami SS+'s finale so that the real star of the show can take  to the stage - that being his sister Miya Tachibana, of course.

That said, this particular episode is a chance to enjoy all of the show's leading ladies one final time, in the form of a good, old-fashioned hot springs episode.  With a lavish new hot spring complex opening nearby and sporting a special offer to visiting females, it's no surprise to find girls aplenty visiting.

What a hot springs resort it is too, with baths specially formulated to make your boobs bigger (I wonder if that bath is ever open to men?), a sauna for youthful rejuvenation and even a bath fashioned after ramen for... well, for people who want to bathe in their favourite foodstuff, I guess.  The rest of the episode writes itself really as a love letter to the female breast and the ever-present desire of their owners (in anime land at least) to make them bigger.  It's utterly, utterly daft even by Amagami SS' standards, but hey - what else did you expect from this episode?

So comes to a close this romantic comedy sequel series which pretty much proves exactly why most shows of this ilk end before any of its relationships become concrete or serious in any way - because it can be bloody boring to watch.  Okay, certain elements of each story arc were quite fun and it was enjoyable to revisit the particulars of some of the girls, but shorn of the "will they, won't they" drama of the original series Amagami SS+ struggled to manufacture any drama, tension or concern with the framework of its stories of otherwise perfectly happy couples.  Without those worries, there was ultimately very little to allow this series to stand out of the crowd - no kissing the back of a girl's knee, no girls turning into miso soup and so on - and as a result this was an utterly forgettable outing that serves as nothing other than entirely ephemeral entertainment.  Mind you, were we expecting anything else from the series?

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 21 (Completed)

Despite the action switching from outside of the Grand Exile to within its caverns and tunnels, the level of danger is as high as ever in this pitched, final battle between the Allied forces and Luscinia.

With the focus upon rescuing Sara from Luscinia's clutches, it's Fam and Gise who get a jump on the rest of their comrades in this department, tracking down Luscinia and Augusta within the bowels of the craft while the rest of their allies have to deal with the various threats presented by the Grand Exile.  This particular face-off is more verbal than physical however, as Luscinia relates the origins of the Grand Exile and its original purpose, before letting them take away an unconscious Sara without any intent of fighting at all.

It's at this point that Luscinia's true goal becomes clear - to act as a lightning rod for the emotions of the rest of the world so that they might unite behind him.  This is, truth be told, a pretty dumb plan given the massive loss of life it's brought about, and it would be hard to suggest that it's a "righteous" path by any stretch of the imagination, but there you have it.  With the Grand Exile collapsing around itself and Sara safely in the hands of Fam and Gise, it's time to make good their escape before the entire craft crumbles into ruin - something that all of the major parties involved manage to do in the nick of time.  Just as Luscinia hoped, the net result of this is a new era of peace for all concerned, with Fam's dream of another Grand Race becoming a reality in final scenes that even heavily reference the original Last Exile series.  And they all lived happily ever after.

Although it hasn't exactly roused the anime community into an outpouring of praise for the series, Fam, the Silver Wing has actually turned out to be pretty good for the most part.  Okay, perhaps Luscinia's final logic as demonstrated in this closing episode is rather "weird", but that's set against plenty of solid story-telling that was well-paced and generally cleanly and clearly delivered.  While its traditional animation was pretty forgettable, perhaps the real star of the show here is its use of CG, with some fantastic battle aerial scenes that really brought the grandiose nature of the series to the fore and served as the obvious highlights of Fam, the Silver Wing.  It might be a stretch to call it the best CG we've ever seen in TV anime, but its impressive nature can't be underestimated as it did a lot to bring the vast scope of the series to life in memorable fashion.

It's rather difficult to compare this series to the original Last Exile given how long it's been since I watched the original (and given that the inevitable "rose-tinted spectacle effect" is likely to kick in), but as a whole I'd say that Fam, the Silver Wing has quite a bit to be proud of in its own right.  It hasn't been an unqualified or outright success, but it's a brave and ambitious affair that has kept my attention well and downright wowed me from time to time, which seems like a suitable legacy for the this sequel to leave upon its viewers.  I doubt it'll be remembered as fondly as its predecessor, but such is the harsh mistress of anime nostalgia.

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 25 (Completed)

Ashirogi Muto finally has a series capable of competing with Nizuma Eiji, but there's still room for improvement - just how much better can they make it?

Substantially it seems - with Takagi now writing his story as a literal script and leaving Mashiro to do the storyboarding, their second crack at the first chapter of their new work shows a marked improvement.  There's still more work to be done however, with Hattori identifying the need for more striking character designs and names, and even a better title for the series to further improve their chances of success - all thoughts which our two manga authors take on-board as they strive to do their best, even going as far as missing the Shounen Jack New Year party to perfect their work.

As their efforts really begin in earnest, so Ahirogi Muto's new team of assistants arrive, and a rather interesting bunch they prove to be too, with a relative old-timer who has worked with the duo before joined by Moriya and Shiratori, two young artists with very different and almost fractious takes on what creating manga is all about; while one sees it as pure business and sales at the end of the day, the other regards fine art as the only way forward for a good manga.  Putting such debates to one side, all thoughts ultimately turn towards how the first chapter of Ashirogi Muto's new work, now called Perfect Crime Party (or PCP), has fared in the rankings.  The results make for an astounding way to wrap up this second season, although the threat hanging over their heads from the magazine's editor still hasn't disappeared entirely yet.

After fifty episodes (and another batch on the way later this year), I think it's fair to say that Bakuman is well and truly a known quantity by this point.  Not that this is a bad thing - well, okay, in terms of its often clumsy attempts at romance it maybe is, but there remains something oddly compelling about following Takagi and Mashiro as they try to achieve their dreams, feeling the elation or depression that goes along with their victories and setbacks.  Ultimately, that's what this series is all about - empathising with and cheering on its main characters as they go about their careers and vicariously enjoying their good fortune when it comes around.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with that, and I'll be looking forward to more of the same from season three - with UK license rights now snapped up for the series too, I may well be revisiting Ashirogi Muto's past triumphs into the not too distant future to boot.

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 12 (Completed)

Everything goes a little bit backwards as Daily Lives of High School Boys comes to an end, leaving us with a funky girl sandwich (complete with a wonderful brief K-ON movie parody to end the series) and our opening and ending titles switched.

That aside, it's business as usual for the first half of the episode - after answering some all-important trivia questions (such as "What is Twitter?", a question which is surely beyond me), it's off to the arcade where Tadakuni's sister shows how to defeat the crane game while Hidenori is left feeling rather ashamed by his desperation to win a Madoka Magica figure right in front of one of the arcade's employees.

After pondering how easily and frequently young Ringo gets hit on by guys, and witnessing the devastation and destruction that can be caused by an errant sausage on a cocktail stick, we take on a rather more thoughtful tone for the remainder of the episode as graduation time rolls around - a time to take stock of all you've learned and the friends you've made, and perhaps also the time to have the occasional nightmare about a terrifying experience from your past if you happen to be Tadakuni.

Thus ends a series that set out to break the mould of high school girl comedy series by revolving around high school boys, and actually working for the most part.  Compared to the disastrous Kimi to Boku, Daily Lives of High School Boys was largely a success - not the funniest comedy series ever, and it did fall flat from time to time, but overall it generated more laughs than it did frowns and put its unique spin on the slice of life comedy genre to good effect in terms of the humour it deployed.  I'm not sure it has enough legs for a second season (although God knows if YuruYuri can get one...) but I appreciate this series for daring to be different, and it was a decidedly entertaining proposition that leaves behind some fun memories of its efforts as a result.

Chihayafuru - Episode 25 (Completed)

After spending most of its penultimate episode focusing on the Queen match broadcast live on TV, it's the Master match that grabs our attention as its final instalment begins.

Then again, this particular match-up is so one-sided it doesn't actually occupy much of the episode, with the reigning champion wiping the floor with his opponent largely based upon his ability to pick out cards being read by their first syllable alone - an ability not entirely dissimilar to Chihaya's own unique ear when it comes to karuta.  Not that Chihaya herself actual clocks this ability however, leaving up to Desktomu to run the numbers from his statistical analysis and point it out to her.

From here, the rest of the episode pretty much becomes a missive for following your dreams - Taichi blazes new trails in his goal to become a "Class A" player, Kana finds a dream of her own to pursue (although she doesn't realise quite how hard achieving that goal is), and Arata finds renewed vigour with which to follow in his grandfather's masterful footsteps.  This finale even finds time to tantalise us in the direction of a second season (or at least an OVA), setting out the rules by which the karuta club must play if they want to keep their club room into the next school year.  Let's hope there's something rather more solid behind that than simple wishful thinking.

It might have had the occasional episode which was "off" (with last week's probably the weakest of the bunch), but overall Chihayafuru has been, for want of a better word, charming.  Despite centring around a game I had not a clue about, the series worked its magic thanks to a wonderful roster of characters backed up by near-perfect doses of drama, emotion, tension and comedy to create a compelling blend that has been entertaining to watch week after week.  There really isn't much more to say about the series than that - Chihayafuru has been a simple triumph of characterisation over flashy sports action, resisting the urge to go down the Saki route of pseudo-superpowers for something a little more grounded in reality for the most part.  That it's managed to keep its level of quality so high after twenty-five episodes is testament to its pacing and story-telling, and it's something that a lot of other series could learn from for its understated yet eye-catching presentation.  Put simply, it's a triumph.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 12 (Completed)

The gang thing they've tracked down the area which might hold the secret of the memories of Ichika and her kind - now the race is on to find it before our heroine is captured and returned home.

With drones aplenty on the look out for Ichika, it's up to the others to do their best to distract them using the surprisingly proficient technology at their disposal, and of course you have to look no further than Remon for the most destructive technology of the lot - her back story is explained in hilarious fashion come the end of this final episode.  Anyhow, all this hard work pays off, allowing Kaito and Ichika to make it to the train which takes them to their destination - lo and behold, it's exactly the place from Ichika's dreams.

The bigger question at this point is, of course, whether they can find proof that aliens have visited the Earth before, and they soon seem to find just this, only to have their hopes dashed at the sole evidence of a previous love affair much like Kaito and Ichika's proves to have been destroyed.  This means that it's time to get the hankies out as our two lovers are torn from each others arms, making for a bittersweet end to a summer that was more eventful than anyone could have anticipated.  Is this really the end of the story though?  Perhaps not, as Kaito's movie takes on a life of its own at his old school, complete with a final scene that suggests there was another, unseen chapter to this rather beautiful love story.

Although I was expecting a 100% conclusive happy ending from the show's finale, this was if anything an even better way to end the series, as a bittersweet tale of love and loss, but more importantly of everything that each character had gained from their summer experiences - sometimes life is hard, but those hardships serve as experiences which underpin the personalities and lives of each and everyone of us.  Of course, this episode couldn't resist finishing with a final little sweetener, but even this isn't something I can complain about, fitting neatly as it did into the narrative without feeling too forced.  Thus, this made for a great little ending to a series that has ended up as my favourite of the winter season - since the disappointment of its first episode it's done nothing but grab me by the collar and force me to love it with its blend of comedy, romance and great characters - I've laughed, I've laughed some more and I've cried a fair bit too, which suggests that it got its tone pretty much spot on after those early mis-steps.  It can't rival Toradora in terms of my favourite anime romantic comedy of all time, but Ano Natsu de Matteru is still well up there and a great, great series to watch that I can only heartily recommend for any fans of the genre.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 23

It's the end of the world as we know it, and Yuno feels fine....

With all of the other diary owners deceased, we're finally down to just First and Second (aka Yukiteru and Yuno) - very much a case of "just as planned" for our favourite yandere girl, I would say.  With Deus ex Machina effectively about to shuffle off his mortal coil, the end of the world is very much nigh, as our two remaining participants in this survival game look to make the best of their final days.

Of course, there's a rather fraught relationship to be found here, particularly on Yukkii's part as he understandably worries about quite literally being stabbed in the back - a suspicion towards Yuno that only upsets her more and more, until Yukiteru decides that she clearly loves him too much to be harmful to him as he opens up to her and relaxes around Yuno.  This is all well and good until Yukiteru decides to mention the final mention seen on Akise's phone before his life was extinguished - a suggestion that this Yuno Gasai has already taken part in and won this survival game once, and is now reliving the entire thing all over again.  Yuno doesn't exactly take kindly to this accusation, but it's Murmur who turns up to give Yukiteru the evidence he needs to believe this outlandish possibility.  So, now Yuno's true identity has been revealed, exactly what is he going to do about it?

While some series have suffered form their descent into lunacy, Mirai Nikkihas never done anything other than revel in it, and once again its crazy plot twists work perfectly against that backdrop to provide scintillating entertainment.  Indeed, this week's revelations are not far short of pure genius in terms of making the viewer jump from their seat in a more expletive-laden equivalent to saying "no way!" - a perfect twist in the tale that moves us onwards towards what could be a thrilling finale.  Even if Mirai Nikki does somehow manage to screw up its ending, it's certainly been one Hell of a ride.

Another - Episode 12 (Completed)

Between serial killers and the members of class three trying to off one another (and not to mention a massive fire), it's probably fair to label the school trip to visit a nearby shrine as "slightly unsafe".  It certainly isn't going to get any better, that's for sure.

With fire now ravaging the building, it's imperative that those left inside the hotel escape - a task which is easier said than done when you have a number of lunatics running rampage with sharp objects in the building.  Even those who are on the brink of escape have problems of their own to contend with, namely a chandelier and falling pillars - cue one of those moments where you know you shouldn't laugh, but just can't help yourself.

Even Akazawa isn't immune from the madness, jumping on the "kill Misaki" bandwagon in the conviction that doing so will end the nightmare and save them all, leaving the two (plus Kouichi) to scrap things out while the hotel around them burns, helped along a little further by multiple lightning strikes (because we all know that wooden buildings are the worst possible attractor for lightning, right?).  Misaki somehow manages to survive even this onslaught, and it's a good job too as it's time to finally unveil the real "extra" individual and the cause of all this calamity.  Just who is responsible for all this death and destruction?  The answer is closer to home that Kouichi could possibly have imagined, leaving him with a difficult choice to make...

Considering its slow, considered and careful start, these final episodes of Another couldn't have been further from those formative instalments, shifting away from its slow-moving, "creeping" horror in favour of an outright bloodbath of gore and insanity.  The trouble is, when you end up laughing at the most horrific moments a show is trying to offer up rather than... well, being horrified at them, I can't help but think that you've messed up somewhere along the line.  It's rather a shame in all honesty, as there are a lot of good things to be said about Another on one level - visually it's been fantastic throughout with a wonderful eye for detail, backed up by arguably the most brilliant use of audio I've seen in anime short of Arrietty.  Sadly, it simply didn't have the story to back it up, and by the end of it those shortcomings became painfully obvious as Misaki revealed hitherto unmentioned powers while the final twist in the tale felt pretty weak, before we even delve into the insanity of the final two episodes which should have burned and grown far slower than it actually did in the name of building tension.  As entertaining (and inadvertently hilarious) as it ultimately was, Another was holed beneath the water on several counts, and thus it's consigned to sink without a trace against other, more practiced horror anime like Shiki and (for doing utter insanity properly) Higurashi.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 12 (Completed)

It might need to get itself ready to sign off for a season before returning to our screens (notwithstanding an OVA outing), but that doesn't stop this final episode of Rinne no Lagrange's first series from beginning by jumping two weeks forward in time.

Thus, we're greeted by a return to normality for Madoka and company - well, at least somewhat.  Although Madoka and Lan are strutting their stuff for the Jersey Club as always, Muginami is conspicuous by her absence, and the arrival of a full-on fleet from Le Garite has caused quite a stir (and lots of political activity) from the Earthlings.  Not only that, but the appearance of Lan's brother means that it's time for her to make her way home with the Earth now safe from danger, for now at least.

In the way of Lan's leaving party, we finally get to rewind to where we left off last week to find out exactly what happened, even if a lot of it still leaves plenty to be explained.  After seeing her sister wounded, Madoka's connection to the Vox and the powers inherent within her trigger something akin to the effect we saw earlier in the series, albeit this time Madoka ultimately seems to have more control over the situation.  What happens next is left unexplained, but what we do know is that the Vox Aura "Midori" loses all power soon afterwards, with Le Garite's forces arriving just in time to prevent Villagiulio from attacking a defenceless Madoka.  If nothing else, it seems that our protagonist isn't quite the potential disaster many thought she might be within her Vox (although her abilities do seem scarily like those of Guilty Crown's Apocalypse Virus...), and even the person in the know about such things seems to be satisfied with the situation.  In fact, Asteria seems to know far, far more about being in that position than we might have given credit for - a fact to hold on to as the franchise moves onwards and upwards, I would wager.

Given its ending which (for now) leaves us dangling, I'm still not totally sure what to make of Rinne no Lagrange - its first episode left me disliking it, before the instalments which followed shifted my opinion of it entirely.  The series as a whole however has left me somewhere in between - Madoka's character is a perfect foil for those around her and a joy to watch in itself, and the unsteady, ever-shifting line between "good" and "evil" between the shows different factors actually stands it in good stead even if this did feel like a show that occasionally forgot what it was supposed to be about as it spent its time goofing off and having a giggle.  That lack of consistency could well frustrate hardcore mecha anime fans, but for my part I've found Rinne no Lagrange to be entertaining more often than not so I'm definitely on-board to see where it plans to head next.  It may not be perfect enough to elicit Madoka's catchphrase, but this has been a slickly presented and frequently fun series that hopefully can really kick on and deliver upon the foundations its built during that forthcoming second term.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 24

Having effectively hit the reset button on its major piece of Nanako-related drama next week, we're all set to focus simply on tracking down the killer as we reach Persona 4's penultimate instalment - first, though, it's time for Yu and Yousuke to have a completely pointless punch-up, while Teddie returns to the scene after vanishing last time out.

With these points of note out of the way, it seems that several members of the group have started to piece together worrying discrepancies relating to a certain individual close to the case.  Once confronted, said individual seems as generally harmless as ever, but as the pressing questions continue so we see that person becoming more and more skittish, eventually reaching the point where they can take no more and do a runner via the nearest television set.  The spoilers start with earnest after the following image, so if you haven't watched this episode yet and want to keep the surprise just that, look away now.

Giving chase to the culrpit, the gang find themselves in a strangely desolated, ruined approximation of Yasoinaba's shopping district - an area which seems to be presided over entirely by Adachi, or at least by his Shadow who they eventually track down thanks to Teddie, with his real-world alter ego nowhere to be seen.  Not that this stops said Shadow from confessing to Adachi's crimes, explaining how and why (well, if "because I felt like it" counts as a good reason why) he committed those initial crimes, and even how he egged Namatame along into committing his own misdeeds in the name of "saving" others.  That's our culprit fingered then - but can Narukami and company actually do anything to stop him, and perhaps more importantly the "fusion" between reality and the fog-laden netherworld that seems about to take place?

After setting off my "cop-out plot twist" alarm was set off at full pelt by last week's Persona 4, can I also confess to being a bit disappointed by this week's big reveal?  I mean, Adachi?  Really?  Really?!?!  I'm all for a shock revelation in a murder mystery story, and I wasn't expecting it to be anyone obvious (there wasn't even anyone obvious to suspect any more by this point), but they could have at least made for a more believable crazed serial killer, or at least thrown in more than one measly clue during the course of the series to tease people in the right direction.  Again, I realise that this is just the adaptation running its course, so it isn't the fault of the anime per se (and I have no bones with this episode for doing the best it can with that source material, it's another pretty decent effort), but simply picking the least likely individual to be the killer... well, it kind of sucks and feels decidedly lazy - even Nanako would have made for a more compelling final reveal.  Never mind a new ending for Mass Effect 3, is it too late to demand one for Persona 4?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 12

With both parents and Miya away, Junichi wastes no time in inviting Haruka over to enjoy such deviant acts as... playing at being husband and wife in an almost totally innocent way.

Despite Junichi's mind wandering somewhat during these proceedings, even his wildest dreams aren't prepared for Morishima's suggestion that she stay the night - an offer which he snaps up rather quickly, naturally.  After being teased mercilessly from footise through to a rather revealing choice of nightwear, it isn't all good news for Tachibana however, as Haruka suddenly hits him with the bombshell that she's leaving for England after her graduation.

Although I entirely approve of this as a Brit myself, Junichi is far less happy at the prospect of losing his beloved, and things aren't helped when Jessica tells Tachibana that she won't let him see or talk to her before her graduation.  Wracked with worry, Junichi ultimately decides that there's only one thing for it, leaving him unwittingly playing into the hands of Jessica in fulfilling Haruka's dream.

Aside from being alarmed by the way Haruka and Jessica effectively blackmail Junichi into a marriage proposal (which probably isn't the best way to cement a long and loving relationship - don't try this at home, kids!), this was another episode of Amagami SS which was okay at best, no more and no less.  Throwing the solitary moment of drama in at the three-quarter mark of the story arc was a bit of an odd decision which left little time to work with said drama, in turn leaving the pacing of the story as a whole feeling a little off in what was otherwise another fluff piece for fans of Haruka's character in the original series.  There's nothing wrong with that I suppose, but it doesn't really have a lot to offer in the long run.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Black★Rock Shooter - Episode 8 (Completed)

Given that Yuu's (or rather, Strength's) attempt to enter Black Rock Shooter's world to save Mato has failed, is there any way of returning things to normality?

As far as Strength is concerned, there's only one thing for it - to end her life and thus toss Yuu (aka Black Gold Saw) back into reality, which unsurprisingly Yuu herself is none too keen on.  Neither, for that matter, is Mato, and it's her reaction which turns this world decidely topsy-turvy.  Before we know it, Black Rock Shooter is facing off against herself in the form of Mato, with the latter individual's insistence that she's ready to take on any pain required to protect others being taken rather too seriously by Black Rock Shooter, who proceeds to knock the living daylights out of the poor girl.

Thus, much of this episode is effectively Mato's brutally violent fight against her alter ego, with the other characters whose lives Mato has touched regaining their memories of why she's so important to them enough to cheer on from the sidelines.  Ultimately, Mato defeats Black Rock Shooter and causes the world she resides in to explode with colour, meaning that the day is won and both Mato and Yuu can return to normality, even if Black Rock Shooter's world continues onwards as ever.  The moral of this story?  If you have a split personality, destroy it with a massive energy weapon.

If I had to sum up Black Rock Shooter in a word, that word would be "huh?!" - very little of its core concept felt particularly coherent, with overblown melodrama offset by stylish but largely pointless action in a world where none of the characters can die as a result of said action.  It's this horrible shoe-horning of drama and action that destroys any credibility Black Rock Shooter deigned to have, making it feel like the clumsy attempt to sandwich a popular character into an anime series that it clearly is.  Given how great the action component of the show frequently looked (some flaky CG aside), it feels like an utter waste of that particular art style and presentation, and I can't help but think the writers could have found a better way of introducing that world without all the overblown nonsense it relied upon here.  In comparison, even the Black Rock Shooter OVA felt a little more coherent, and that's really saying something.

Guilty Crown - Episode 22 (Completed)

For all of his grandiose entrance and efforts to reach Gai and Inori before it's too late.... well, it's too late by the time he reaches Gai and Inori.

Thus, Mana is reborn as per the plan of Gai and company, and although she's thrilled to see Shu the feeling is anything but mutual.  The reason for this soon becomes clear enough, as Mana undertakes a bit of ballet - not, in itself, the most horrific thing ever imparted upon mankind (that would be the Riverdance), but on this occasion it is the catalyst for the Fourth Apocalypse, turning vast swathes of the world to crystal while Gai shows his strength in beating down Shu and the rest of his gang struggle for their lives against their various opponents.

All hope isn't quite lost however, as Shu spots a lone, solitary crystal flower - the final vestige of Inori's being.  Grabbing hold of it using one of his many Void powers, Shu unlocks the key to reverse Mana's effect on the world, stopping the growth of the cancerous virus and also allowing him to turn the tables on Gai into the bargain.  With the world saved (and a glimpse into Gai's mindset as a bonus), it's time to finish the job and soak up the "sin" of the virus and Voids across the planet - something which Shu and Inori achieve together, although the latter has one final trick up her sleeve to save her beloved from his fate.

So ends Guilty Crown, a series forever tainted by its place in the noitaminA programming block to which it was rarely, if ever, suited - seeing this series presented in a slot for off-beat, thoughtful and decidedly different anime was rather akin to going to an independent theatre for highbrow, low-budget films and finding that they're screening the latest Michael Bay movie.  This is, to some degree, hugely unfortunate - Guilty Crown offered plenty of popcorn entertainment and spectacular action sequences that felt designed for a first or third-person shooter video game rather than an anime, set against a smart concept that never really had suitably intelligent writing to back it up.  It's for that reason that Guilty Crown has, for the most part, been my guilty pleasure of recent months - for all its dumb moments and plot holes you could drive a mecha through (and my goodness there was plenty of them), the series was entertaining for the most part.  The trouble is, it didn't entertain us in the way we expected it to engage us, and in those terms it will forever be remembered as a poorly scheduled, unfortunate failure.

Another - Episode 11

No sooner was the concept of killing the "extra student" in class three outed, it was pretty clear that inter-pupil relations were about to go to Hell in a handbasket - I'm not sure anyone could have predicted just how badly awry things might go however.

Even as the episode begins we have our first victim, as Teshigawara decides that his roommate's memories of their time together at elementary school are a little too fussy, leading to a tussle that sees said individual dumped unceremoniously from a balcony.  This is as of nothing compared to what transpires next however....

Before we know it we have another pupil stabbed, the hotel manager resembling a knife rack and a fire in the dining hall - with the fire alarms not working, evacuating everyone else seems like the top priority until we stumble across bloodstains and a general sense of panic throughout the hotel.  While some of the students discover a meat cleaver-wielding serial killer on the loose, others find a problem closer to home as Takako goes bat-shit crazy, deciding for herself that Mei Misaki is the "extra" student and gleefully trying to resolve the issue with a handy chisel.  When this fails, Takako uses the hotel intercom to announce to all and sundry that, to all intents and purposes, Misaki needs to be killed - cue utter chaos as the body count rises at a ridiculous speed... and we still haven't seen the half of it.

Given the plot point that Another had brought to the table with the mysterious tape and its explanation of how to solve the calamity befalling the class, I'm not sure why it felt the need to throw a crazed psychopathic mass murderer into the mix - Takako's descent into murderous tendencies would have held more than enough power on its own, but the addition of those extra aspects just seemed a little... well, silly, to be honest.  It's this over-egging of the pudding which shifts this episode of Another from a shocking horror gore-fest into something that becomes inadvertently amusing as death after death occurs with no time to soak in what's going on or why.  It all ends up like a particularly disturbing episode of Holidays From Hell, and without any pause to comprehend the cascade of death it effectively loses almost all of its power in favour of delivering a dumb blood-spattered B-movie horror feel.  It's all good and well if you like that kind of stuff, but I think it's fair to say that we were expecting something a little more intelligent from this series, and it certainly feels like a skewed pay-off compared to the build-up the show has utilised.

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 24

The previous episode of Bakuman seemed to leave us, cruelly, teetering on the precipice that was the end of Ashirogi Muto's career with Shounen Jack.  Is this really time for them to say their goodbyes to competing on an even footing with Nizuma?

Well, no, not really - despite the final vote as to whether Perfect Crime Club can oust Crow or +NATURAL from the top of the manga tree going against them by a single vote, the realisation of what this would mean amongst the core editorial staff quickly sees a spectacular U-turn, as most of those who voted in the negative change their mind to save Ashirogi Muto's career.  Thus, Perfect Crime Club is serialised, and the celebrations can begin.

This decision also corresponds to another change of editor for our manga writing duo - although when I say "change" I mean "putting things back how they were", as Hattori returns as Ashirogi Muto's editor while Miura has the decidedly terrifying job of putting up with Eiji and Iwase's foibles as the new editor of +NATURAL.  As Hattori decides to give it to his new charges straight when it comes to the editorial teams thoughts on Perfect Crime Club, both Mashiro and Takagi are determined to rewrite the story from the ground-up to create a series that can beat Nizuma's efforts without question.  The only real issue here is how to go about it, but once Hattori provides some understanding of where they're lacking compared to their rival, they soon begin to see ways to hone their already impressive style to close the gap between their own work and Eiji's.

Despite some rather "off-kilter" moments (baking a USB flash drive into a cake is never a good idea, and would a magazine really let a story that has been approved for serialisation be completely rewritten from the ground-up?), this was yet another instalment of classic Bakuman enjoyment, with its focus almost fully on the manga-making process and the more personal tales that go alongside that.  There is perhaps little that the series can teach us or fascinate us with anew at this point in time, but that doesn't stop it from being entertaining in its own right.  With its final episode likely to concern itself more with rounding things off for now, I can already see myself looking forward to its third season somewhat.

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 20

The penultimate episode of Fam, the Silver Wing brings us the ultimate stand-off to cap off this series, as Luscinia looks set to use the Grand Exile now at his command.

Of course, his demands while sat behind the proverbial wheel of this superweapon are simple enough - give in and lay down your arms, or be blasted into oblivion.  It isn't the kind of prospect to which anybody within the Alliance takes kindly, and thus they work tirelessly to bolster their forces and attack strategy as much as possible, even going so far as allowing Dian to pilot despite Millia's mixed feelings towards the girl who killed her sister.

As soon as the Alliance assault begins, the Grand Exile has a perfect opportunity to strut its stuff, with a handful of ridiculously powerful weapons at its disposal that makes your common or garden Exile look a little.... well, weak, in comparison.  It isn't all good news for Luscinia however, as the Grand Exile's most potent weapons appear to be decidedly single use affairs that literally fall off after providing an impressive blast.  As Millia sacrifices her own Exile to save Turan from further damage, the attacking forces use the gaps in the Grand Exile's defence made by that crumbling weaponry to invade the craft so that they can seek out Luscinia and, more importantly, Augusta.  Ultimately, it appears that Fam may well be the difference between peace and utter destruction as we move towards the show's final episode...

Given how well Fam, the Silver Wing has displayed its epic battles throughout the series, it's no surprise to see that it does a great job here once again - admittedly there's no real feeling of tactical thought throughout much of the episode despite its best efforts to suggest otherwise ("charge and fire" would just about sum it up), but there was enough in the way of sufficiently spectacular visuals both inside and out of the Grand Exile to pull off the feeling of a climatic battle pretty well.  In terms of the show's wider story, it's really entirely down to the contents of the final episode to decide its legacy - will we get a stupid, cop-out of an ending or something more solid and believable?  I'm certainly hoping for the latter, but only time will tell.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Chihayafuru - Episode 24

The hunt to become Queen or Master is over for all of our major characters as Chihayafuru enters its final straight, but that doesn't mean that we shift away from karuta for these final episodes - far from it in fact, as we tune in for a TV broadcast of those two big finals.

Although the presence of Taichi's mother at his home makes life more awkward than Chihaya and company might like, they manage to find some solace in the "small" 42" television in Taichi's room to watch the big matches.  But just what has happened to Shinobu Wakamiya in the intervening period since we last saw her?  To put it politely she's... err... fleshed out a little, seemingly in the pursuit of limited edition merchandise from an ice cream manufacturer.

Despite the dual handicaps of those extras pounds of flesh and the heavy kimono from her grandmother she's wearing, it seems to be business as usual for Shinobu - after winning the first game, a couple of early card losses in the second give us some opportunities to get under her (now ample) skin to see how she came to reach her current place at the top of the karuta ladder, with a story that Taichi could doubtless empathise with.  Regardless, Shinobu's love of the cards is clear to see, no more so than for Chihaya as she comes another step closer to understanding where her game is lacking as Wakamiya glides through to hold the title of Queen for another year.  That leaves us with just the Master final to watch, which could well hold some more secrets to unlock the full power of Chihaya's game.

Even though this episode does as good a job as ever of actually depicting the game around which it is based and adding as much tension as possible, the focus on previously secondary characters and the disconnect between us and their struggle via the medium of watching the game of television makes it difficult to be drawn in.  The result is an accomplished but ultimately rather bland episode - this should probably have been the time to explore the show's major love triangle and other such more personal matters, not ponder the intricacies of karuta yet further.  It seems that we can't really expect all that much more from the show's final episode either, which could well leave us with a slightly downbeat ending to a series that has entertained so thoroughly from beginning to end for the most part.

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 11

After all that build-up, it's time to fight for the safety of Kamogawa and possibly the world - but can Lan and Muginami really get the job done when they're one person short in their Vox team?

Not only is Madoka making her way over to Pharos and the Vox Aura as quickly as she can, but her mecha of choice is also helping to push for her reinstatement as a pilot by broadcasting Madoka's inner thoughts to her fellow pilots, much to the confusion of all concerned.  Such ponderings have to be quickly placed aside however, as Ovid forces swoop down to begin their assault in massive numbers - the Vox may have the technology to make mincemeat of individual units, but once they attack on mass it's an entirely different kettle of fish.  With Lan under a constant bombardment of fire and Muginami held at bay by Villagiulio, even Pharos' own shields begin to buckle under the full-on assault aimed in their direction.

In spite of this and evidence compiled by Kyono's sister, the Chairman still staunchly refuses to rescind her decision to ground Madoka - at least, she does until the very last minute, when she makes a U-turn that would have been usurped anyhow as Madoka takes to the skies.  With the Jersey Club reunited and their powers boosted as result, and equally importantly with the remainder of Kiss choosing to protect Kamogawa over aiding in the assault, it seems as if the day is won and the Ovid forces have been repelled.  However, things are about to go horribly wrong, shifting Madoka's mental state in the worst possible way and at the worst possible time.

This week's Rinne no Lagrange will hardly live in the pantheons of spectacular mecha action anime, but for the most part it still does things well enough, backed up by the season's most awesome background music once again.  If there's one real problem for this instalment, it's that everything feels decidedly predictable - we knew that Madoka would return to her seat within the Vox Aura to fight, and it seemed like a given that something would go horribly wrong with this.  It isn't the kind of predictability that holes the series beneath the water or anything like that, but it does detract from the freshness that the series occasionally exhibited earlier in its run.  Still, despite this I'm continuing to enjoy the show for the most part, and I only hope we aren't left with an overly cruel cliff-hanger next week while we wait for the second half of the series in the summer.

Mind you, even in that scenario the show's soundtrack is released next Tuesday, which should keep me a happy bunny for a few months...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 11

Papapipupepopa. Pipipopepapapo. Pipopopipapupepa.  Hey, if Daily Lives of High School Boys can start an episode like this, why can't I?

From those random beginnings, this week kicks off properly with a rather unique game of father-son catch, the reasons for which eventually become embarrassingly clear.  From there, we have another twist on the tales of our literature girl (who seems to have been usurped somewhat on this occasion) and an overly earnest game or two of "kick the can"... or, in its second instance, "kick the Gundam".

After a discussion on what makes a girl cute and what the ultimate form of that cuteness might be, the awkward decision of how to respond to a love letter in an all-girls school crops up and the power held by a girl when it comes to devastating a boy's psyche comes to light, even if the girl in question ultimately gets her comeuppance.  Finally, (and ignoring our funky high school girls for a moment) we witness the joys and frustrations of a close, long-standing friendship and the happiness and irritation (well, mostly irritation actually) that it brings.

Although it was short on laugh out loud moments, this week actually served up a pretty decent episode of Daily Lives of High School Boys that continually and consistently amused over and above delivering scatter-shot belly laughs - something which might not be to everyone's tastes but it worked for me, with just the right balance of real-life observations and the surreal (although I know it would annoy Hidenori no end to hear me call it such).  It's a solid reminder of what this series does well when it gets things right, and overall it continues to prove that Daily Lives of High School Boys is a cut above a lot of anime comedy even if it doesn't quite reach the dizzy heights of outright classic status.

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 11

It's always nice to have a surprise visit from a family member, especially when they've come all the way from deepest space - however, in the case of Ichika's sister, this welcome reunion soon turns out to be anything but.

While Ichika's tale of how she came to end up on earth, set off an emergency beacon and trash the rescue drone sent to find her is one thing, the fact that she now has a human boyfriend is quite another, and beyond sister Emika's surprise that such a thing could even happen there's one rather large problem here - that galactic law forbids their race from associating with a "Class F civilisation" such as humans.  Ergo, the only option from Emika's point of view is for Ichika to return home, no questions asked - something which Ichika herself is understandably more than a little reticent to do.

As Kaito tries to figure out a suitable solution to the problem and Kanna gives Ichika both barrels for resigning herself to her fate so easily, it's the ever-dependable Remon who comes to the rescue - while the whole group bands together to convince Ichika not to give in, it's Remon who has a plan ready to put into action.  In short, if the gang can find the location that Ichika has been searching for from her vision, herself and Kaito could be reprieved.  But can they really find it before time runs out and the rest of the search party track down Ichika?

I'll be the first to admit that the major plot point of this episode is something we've seen coming since pretty much the first scene of this series - it was inevitable we'd reach the moment where Ichika was forced to return home in some shape or form - but that doesn't detract from another outright fantastic episode.  From a quietly emotional first half that really caught me square in the chest without overtly pushing hard to do so, we were treated to renewed hope mixed in with some great action in the second.  If anyone steals this episode however, it's Remon, who once again controls things throughout while simultaneously increasing the sense of mystery surrounding her and proving to be downright awesome when it comes to driving a van.  We're all set for what is hopefully a beautiful ending to this wonderful series, and I simply can't wait, even if the end of this series is inevitably going to leave a gap in my heart.

Black★Rock Shooter - Episode 7

Saya's turn from villain to almost-hero in an attempt to save Mato from Black Rock Shooter's world seems to have failed, so what next for our protagonist as the fighting within that world continues?

Once Saya has given up any hope in her own rescue efforts, it seems that the only hope of bringing Mato back to reality lies with Yuu, and it's she who is next to enter the show's other world to call out to Mato.  Indeed, this move meets with some success, bringing some level of realisation from Mato as to her circumstances - however, while Mato wills the fighting to stop, it seems that Black Rock Shooter has other ideas and has no intentions of bringing her battle to an end, even if it means taking some drastic measures to do so.

As news of Kuroi's disappearance reach her school and begin to resurrect painful memories for Yomi and Kagari, so Yuu's dabbling in matters in the other world come to the attention of Black Gold Saw... or should we say, they come to the attention of Yuu thanks to the rather fluid arrangement of personalities between Black Gold Saw/Yuu and her "Strength".  If you thought that Yuu was a pillar of sanity in this series, think again, as she gets her opportunity to prove how bat-shit crazy she is on account of the pain and suffering levelled upon her.  Regardless, it seems that only a more powerful outside influence can save Mato now - no prizes for guessing who that is.

Despite its best efforts to explain a little more about the link between its two worlds, as well as how both Mato and (more substantially) Yuu fit into its equation, it doesn't really stop this episode from further backing up the idea that the series as a whole is a story-telling mess.  With no real threat of death from its action scenes unless the plot explicitly requires it, there's little tension in anything that we see on-screen, while the show's drama proves to be as overblown as ever as it desperately tries to wring some emotion out of a scenario that ultimately feels heartless at a fundamental level.  If we didn't know it already, this instalment seems like the final evidence that Black Rock Shooter simply doesn't work - it's an attempt to shoe-horn a story into a concept that was never created or designed to have one, and it shows.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 23

For all of their successful rescues throughout the series, it seems that when push really came to shove our gang of would-be heroes were left powerless to do anything about Nanako's fate, which makes for a decidedly maudlin opening to this twenty-third episode of Persona 4.

Understandably given the circumstances, the thoughts of many soon turn to vengeance in the wake of the events of the previous episode, beginning with Dojima's attempts to force his way into Namatame's hospital room despite his own injuries.  Although this attempt fails, it still leaves the rest of the group open to confront the suspected killer, and his room soon takes on a dark tone as many of said group's members increasingly bay for revenge against Nanako's killer, either directly or by throwing him into the world beyond the television.

Ultimately however, Narukami himself has a change of heart and spares Namatame, despite harbouring doubts as to whether he should have done so - beyond this, he soon realises that the only real way to find justice is to continue their investigation into the murders, and there's no better place to start this than with Namatame himself.  Thus, we're thrust into this suspect's back story, where we quickly learn that Namatame was little more than an ill-judged hero himself, who saw the initial midnight channel broadcasts and murders and decided to kidnap future individuals who appeared upon before keeping them somewhere "safe" in the strange world beyond the TV.  Essentially then, both Namatame and Narukami and company were both deceiving one another when it came to their logic and reasoning, creating a circle which surely saved lives but also made finding the real killer all the more difficult.  Of course, none of this will bring Nanako back, but then again maybe it doesn't need to...

After another great episode which leveraged its emotional impact fantastically for the first half of its episode before delivering a more measured, logical second half, the whole thing was rather ruined by the story pushing the reset button upon Nanako's death to deliver perhaps one of the biggest cop-outs I've seen in anime - it's a cheap trick to shift us towards an unqualified happy ending, and it makes those strong emotions which I mentioned at the start of this week's episode feel cheapened as a result.  I'm not going to say that this has ruined the Persona 4 experience for me or anything of that kind, because it couldn't be further from the truth, but it is a bit disappointing to see a series that's been so relentlessly superb for much of its story to employ such cheap plot twists.  Still, I'll be tuning in with bated breath next week, albeit with the resignation that it might see more characters inexplicably resurrected.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 22

As if there wasn't already enough urgency behind the actions within Mirai Nikki, the first signs that the world itself is beginning to disintegrate really brings the situation into sharp focus.

With the situation becoming critical, we're quickly granted an answer to one of the show's big mysteries - just who is Aru Akise and what is his purpose?  The answer is a surprising one, but just as it seems that his life is about to be extinguished by Deus ex Machina he finds the answer required to prolong his life... for now, at least.

The return of Akise to the real world comes not a moment too soon, as Yukiteru and Yuno set off to track down and kill Eighth - something that it initially seems Akise is willing to facilitate, only for the couple to find that they've been betrayed once they arrive.  With a decidedly meta Future Diary of its own, Akise seems to have crafted himself as Yuno's equal, but even he isn't prepared for the lengths she's willing to go to, while the rest of Akise'a group try to persuade Yukkii that even if he does become a god he won't have the ability to bring back the dead.  But who will Yukiteru believe - Yuno or Akise?  The answer is a bloody and brutal one as we reach the end-game of the series and the fight for the future of the entire planet.

To be frank, this week's Mirai Nikki can be summed up in a single word - fantastic.  Right from the off, this instalment brought its A-game to the table in terms of its big revelations, twists and turns, with more seemingly to come next week.  It also pulled no punches when it came to achieving those goals, providing us with a bloodbath set against a huge dilemma for our protagonist that did nothing to assuage his violent solution to the problem in front of him.  The only real question here is how the series is going to fill its remaining episodes given how close we seem to be to the show's climax, but if this episode is anything to go by it'll be one Hell of a roller coaster ride.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 23

After all of the trials and tribulations of this series, Ashirogi Muto seem to be onto a winner with their latest (and possibly final) offering for Shounen Jack, "Perfect Crime Club".

Despite some initial misgivings about the series and its seemingly frivolous topic, editor Miura is quickly won over by the combination of its realistic artwork and serious humour deployed within its relatively trivial setting.  Indeed, the experience seems to have lit a fire under Miura, to the point where he advises Takahama to give up on his current serialisation effort because it has no chance of competing with Mashiro and Takagi's work.

Miura isn't the only one to be worked up about the series, as Takahama himself visits to check out the storyboard and admits that he'll have to do far better if he wants to usurp his former bosses.  Given these reactions, serialisation seems to be a formality, as all and sundry within the editorial team's meeting on the subject gush over Perfect Crime Club.  However, their editor has no qualms about sticking to the original terms of his agreement with Mashiro and Takagi - if he doesn't think this work can surpass Nizuma Eiji's current works, then it means the end of the duo's manga-writing career for the magazine....

I've already cited recent episodes of Bakuman as a return to form for the series, and this opinion hasn't changed here - even though I don't personally love Ashirogi Muto's current work as much as previous series in terms of its concept, I couldn't help but get carried away by other's enthusiasm for it during the course of the episode to the point where I came to believe that it was a work of genius too.  Of course, this is exactly the situation the series wanted to squeeze us into, allowing it to ramp up the tension all the way through to a "yes or no" vote for the series before pulling the rug out from underneath us with its final breath.  It's exactly how this series should be, and its a great example of its power when it gets things right.

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 11

Marriage is in the air as we return to Haruka Morishima's story arc in Amagami SS+ - run for your life Junichi!

Of course, given the epilogue to this particular girl's original series arc, we know exactly how that turns out, but for now Haruka is content to simply "practice" getting married, pregnancy and so on, even if practising "the stuff that happens in-between" seems to have simply passed her by.  Inevitably, there's a reason behind her obsession with marriage, as both her grandparents and a relative of hers were proposed to at the time of their graduation - a time fast approaching for Haruka.

Coincidentally, the day that this all comes to light also sees the relative in question, Jessica (who just so happens to look identical to Haruka, albeit with blonde hair and green eyes), pays Japan a visit, and after meeting Junichi she seems determined to guide him down the same route as herself and her grandparents.  But is the dim-witted Junichi going to pick up on Haruka's desire for marriage quickly enough to suit her demands?  That's a question for the next episode.

Having never particularly warmed to Haruka Morishima in the first place, it's equally difficult to love her obsession with getting married and pregnant so quickly - truth be told, it feels a little selfish, and rather a dumb idea to boot.  It also didn't really develop that much in comedy terms, aside from a little of friend Hibiki's input it was all pretty mundane stuff that won't exactly live long in the memory, even by Amagami SS+'s own standards.

Nisemonogatari - Episode 11 (Completed)

Despite this show's title, last week's penultimate episode brought rather a shock as to the true nature of the "fake" in question, with Tsukihi's place in her own story arc becoming entirely clear.

As per the "Karen Bee" story, we quickly learn that the true nature of Tsukihi's supernatural being doesn't actually relate to that of a phoenix - in fact, she's more like a cuckoo with regards to her place in the Araragi family.  Such arguable trivialities aside, it's up to Koyomi to decide how to react to this surprising news - will he continue to defend Tsukihi no matter, or is this a rare opportunity for the eldest Araragi sibling to take a step back and admit defeat.

There are, of course, no prizes for guessing which course of action Koyomi takes, and after ensuring that Shinobu is sufficiently "powered up" by his blood both herself and Koyomi set out to challenge Yodzuru and Yotsugi to a good, old-fashioned brawl to sort things out.  While Shinobu's true power is clearly rather fearsome even in her current state, Koyomi has little to offer but sheer tenacity - but then again, is he even trying to win his particular battle?  Ultimately, Koyomi is there to trade opinions rather than blows, as he tries to convince his opponent Yodzuru to leave Tsukihi alone and safeguard his family as the series rolls to a close.

As a finale goes, this closing episode of Nisemonogatari offers everything that you might expect - lots of dialogue, and our protagonist ultimately trying to talk rather than fight his way out of a predicament to the point where he's happy to be beaten to a pulp to take the non-violent route.  A little too much censorship/corner-cutting aside, it makes for a reasonably satisfying ending, even if little time was given to really building up and resolving the Tsukihi Phoenix arc, but what of the series as a whole?  It's certainly a very different series compared to Bakemonogatari, which is a disappointment in itself; its presentation and constant attempts at titillation often making it feel more like slickly written fan fiction than an actual story given the way it handles its characters and scenarios.  While these side-stories and the show's gorgeous, symbolic visuals can work towards adding quite a lot to the show, its wider descent into smut and sexual content doesn't really do it any favours compared to its mostly quietly sexy predecessor.  Overall, the only word I can really find to describe Nisemonogatari is "interesting" - there's a lot to explore and consider within it and its framework, but such complexities tend only to try and hide the fact that they're propping up some decidedly weak and not particularly interesting stories.  Taken from that standpoint, Nisemonogatari is a huge disappointment for me given that it's the one show I'd been waiting with bated breath for this winter anime season.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Guilty Crown - Episode 21

As we reach this penultimate episode of Guilty Crown, so the goals of both Gai and Shu become clear, with the former looking to resurrect Mana for his own ends while Shu needs to stop him doing this at all costs.

With Gai's attempt to "transform" Inori into Mana ready to begin, the only real potential fly in his ointment is the presence of a massive UN military force who is all set to invade Japan at the slightest provocation.  At least, that's their plan, but Gai puts this idea to bed in short order thanks to the combined fire-power of a trio of Voids at his disposal.

That isn't the end of the matter however, as of course the remaining members of Funeral Parlour have plans of their own, revolving around saving Inori and thus putting paid to Gai and company's scheme.  This brings us a couple of action set pieces - first as Shu and his group break through the defences outside of the headquarters where Gai is situated (thanks largely to a little Tsugumi magic), before the decidedly trickier objective of actually finding Inori leads to Shu facing off against Daath's envoy, with the latter teasing the former about his potential place as the new world's Adam to Mana's Eve.  Once all of the talk and combat is out of the way however, can Shu make it in time to save Inori?  It certainly doesn't look like it...

Despite offering up some more slick action (which again feels perfectly laid out as a potential level of a first or third-person shooter video game), this episode drove home to me more than any other instalment of Guilty Crown that I simply don't care any more - not about its characters, nor about its wider setting.  Whether it's because of the various plot holes or overbearing requirements to suspend disbelief that have cropped up during the series, I just can't find a "hook" into the show's big climax, and to be left unmoved by the concept of a world and the lives of its people at stake is a pretty damning indictment of Guilty Crown as a whole.  While I've been able to find a fair amount to enjoy in the series over the past few months, engaging my emotions certainly hasn't been on that list, and the show is suffering for it at this late stage.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 19

The more things change, the more they stay the same - just as Fam's much-vaunted and cherished Grand Race ended in a death which created a downward spiral of violence, so the latest truce between the Federation and the Alliance set up to thwart them in Augusta's name falls apart thanks to the actions of Dian.

Having missed her intended target of Luscinia himself, it's instead Liliana that proves to be the victim of Dian's vengeance to the dismay of all and sundry - including, if he is to be believed, Luscinia himself, despite this assassination concisely proving his point that the only true hope of peace is to have a single entity ruling over all as one nation.

Despite any feelings of grief and remorse he may have, Liliana's death signals a resumption of the Federation's plans, and as disarray grips the Alliance he acts swiftly by commanding his own forces to leave, while taking the opportunity to kidnap Augusta and reclaim her as the Federation's own as part of his final gambit to awake the "Grand Exile" which, as the name suggests, is a fearsome weapon that is liable to make anyone who survives its onslaught tremble and kneel before it.  Is this the final victory in Luscinia's plan, or has he reckoned without Alvis Hamilton, the sole secret weapon still within the grasp of those who oppose him?

Aside from its final, immense display of firepower, this proved to be another tidily constructed and solid, if unspectacular, episode of Fam the Silver Wing - just as it was a case of all going to plan for Luscinia, so everything moved along as we would have expected it within this instalment which lent some predictability to events where it might have preferred their to be none.  Still, we seem well set up for a fascinating final couple of episodes courtesy of a true David and Goliath battle, especially now that even Fam seems to have noted the folly of her idealistic ways that have pervaded much of the series - a point of note which actually strengthens the show's take on war and the rights and wrongs of its factions within this conflict, which has grown into one of the most compelling elements of Last Exile over recent weeks.  Certainly, it may be far from perfect but I can't help but feel this show has been rather under-rated by many - it's no masterpiece but in many ways its a notable extension and new spin on the legacy of its forebear, provided it can back up what it's delivered so far with a worthy final couple of episodes.

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 10

Occasionally, daily life is fraught with perils and troubles - like to what to do when you're busting to use the toilet in a shop but someone is hogging it?

Such misfortunes, and some quite literal toilet humour, fill the opening portion of this week's Daily Lives of High School Boys, be it a lack of toilet paper or simply slipping on a banana skin.  Further down the line, we get an important public safety announcement on the dangers of eating mochi too quickly, as well as a demonstration as to why you should be careful when walking on an icy pavement.

Mixed in with all of this, our "literary girl" Yassan continues her oddly tsundere relationship with Hidenori, resulting in her chasing him half-way across town while he rather bluntly leaves a note asking for his jacket (left with her previously) back, while the theft of one of the boy's wallets provides a timely reminder that the student in question doesn't know how to ride a bike.

While not the absolute heights of hilarity, this was still an amusing episode of Daily Lives of High School Boys overall - it relied a little too heavily on slapstick at times (has anyone laughed at someone slipping on a banana skin since the early 1970s?) but there were still a fair number of smiles and chuckles to be had at the antics on show here, which continue to be quite a departure from typical high school anime comedy fare to grant this series its consistently, enjoyably fresh (and ultimately decidedly laddish) perspective.

Chihayafuru - Episode 23

Despite her best efforts, qualifying for a chance to take on the reigning Queen once again was simply a bridge too far for Chihaya, as her challenge came to a grinding halt against former Queen Yamamoto, teaching Chihaya some more important lessons about playing karuta in the process.

Not that this really helps Chihaya all that much - while previous defeats have still given her an opportunity to focus upon her game, the importance of this particular loss leaves her distraught as she shuts herself away in a nearby cupboard. So upset is she that even her karuta teacher Harada's efforts to save her hair from the perils of her earlier bet with Sudo fall upon deaf ears.  It is, of course, Taichi who tries his best to cheer Chihaya up and coax her from her hiding place, as even he has a clear understanding of his feelings towards her now.

Having watched the climax of the qualifiers and seen at close hand the pain that comes from a losing finalist no matter how hard you try to hide it, there's finally an opportunity for some downtime for the members of the karuta club, giving those within it a chance to experience the wider world and get to know some new people via their various class Christmas parties, with Chihaya even finding herself confessed to in an unlikely first for her - needless to say, Taichi was having none of that.  Ultimately though, Chihaya realises that there's only one person she'd rather have around her regardless of karuta - although it seems that Arata needs some more karuta practice of his own over and above any other considerations, meaning that he too misses out on the chance to become the year's Master.

I feel like I'm repeating this far too often these days, but this week's Chihayafuru was once again about its small but poignant moments - seeing the defeated wannabe Master contender under Haruda's tutelage break down in tears once his cheerful facade had subsided was genuinely heart-rending and a fantastic depiction of what it's like to lose in the final of a major event, and there were plenty of other small moments that caught the viewer off-guard to raise a smile or tug a heartstring effortlessly.  Although this is par for the course with characters we've followed for many months now, to do so with relative strangers as this series does at times is truly impressive, and it's a perfect example of Chihayafuru's understated yet powerful emotional hold upon the viewer that sums up why I love the show to a tee.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 10

Last week put one of the relationships in the tangled web that is Ano Natsu de Matteru almost literally to bed, but what of the fallout from this amongst the rest of the gang?

First and foremost, it's hardly surprising to find Kanna bawling her eyes out at every opportunity after confronting Ichika, but it's the otherwise cheerful Tetsurou who is arguably the one feeling the pain the most from seeing the girl he loves heart-broken yet knowing that her setback offers little room for him in her life in Kaito's stead.  Besides which, what of Mio, who in turn has to watch Tetsurou's heartache from a distance?

Surprisingly, it's Mio who perhaps proves to be the strongest individual of the group - confronting Tetsurou with her feelings once again and imploring him to do likewise with Kanna.  It's something that he duly does despite the bad timing of it all, and who else is there to pick up the pieces in the aftermath?  Mio, of course.  If nothing else, this chain of confessions is at least pushed onwards by Tetsurou's bravery, in turn prompting Kanna to race to tell Kaito her feelings despite knowing it's all in vain.  With everything now in the open, it's business as usual for our group of friends (and one couple), although it seems like that new couple is about to receive an unexpected visitor.

To be honest, I simply don't know what to say about this week's instalment of Ano Natsu de Matteru - it's an episode that I felt rather than watched as it yanked my heart-strings, prodded my memories and made me take in every line of dialogue, movement and expression with my gut.  For all of its melancholy and heartfelt suffering, there was really something beautiful underneath it all - the strength of mind that comes from unrequited love, and the confidence to accept your feelings and share them even in the face of guaranteed rejection.  Despite those rejections... perhaps even because of them... the actions of all of the characters here are something to be aspired to - not for this series the usual menu of unspoken words, misunderstandings and bundled confessions of your typical anime show. This is the real deal; tears, raised voices, defeat, pride - the whole shooting match.  Just like real love, there were tears and smiles to be had from this episode - an enjoyable experience in retrospect despite some feelings of overwhelming sadness at the time.  As my favourite episode of my favourite show of the winter season, this was a thing of absolute beauty.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 21

After a break last week, the assault on Eleventh commences, with Yuno doing an impressing job of drawing attention to herself while Yukiteru pulls the strings on the operation.

Between the pair of them, it seems as if nobody will be able to stop this duo as they rescue any hotages while generally making a mess of Eleventh's plans.  Or have they?  As Yukkii stumbles across a branch of the "Gasai Bank", it seems that the mayor of Sakurami City has another card up his sleeve - a huge, impenetrable bank vault which makes for a perfect hiding place from rampaging teenagers.  While Yukiteru and Uryuu make it through the first door of the vault easily enough, there's no way of breaching the second...

...which seems like the perfect cue for Minene to turn her gun on Yukiteru as vengeance for both Nishijima's death and the loss of her own eye.  Decrying Yukkii's plans to become a God merely to bring his parents back to life, Uryuu discusses her own life and childhood without parents as she corners and tracks down her prey - a side-track to her thought processes which proves deadly, giving Yukiteru the opportunity he needs to side-step her attentions and win this particular dog eat dog battle, much to Ninth's admiration.  This still leaves the problem of what to do about Eleventh, although our supposed imposter Yuno appears to have the answer to this, leaving only Eighth and, of course, Yuno herself seemingly standing in the way of Yukiteru's deification.  He'd better hurry though, as the entire world begins to collapse under Deus ex Machina's ailing health.

Although I'm tempted to write that this isn't a particularly crazy episode by Mirai Nikki's standards, that still makes it a crazy instalment by any other normal measurements so that's hardly a cause for complaint.  Once again, the signature twists and turns so beloved of this series were here to enjoy to the fullest, with the cat and mouse stand-off between Uryuu and Yukiteru working well for the most part despite being obliterated in terms of importance compared to the big questions once again brought about by this episode - just who the Hell are Akise and Yuno, and what are their true aims?  It seems like there's a lot to be revealed before this series comes to an end, and I have high hopes for a suitably epic (and of course suitably bonkers) finale.

Another - Episode 10

The body count is rising even before the prescribed class shrine visit - is there even going to be anybody left by the time it rolls around?

The answer is yes, there are still plenty of class members alive and kicking for said school trip, which the group celebrate with perhaps the most morose class photograph of all time.  Still, with everyone gathered, we do at least get a chance to hide away in a hotel room and listen to Matsunaga's tape in full as it details how the curse was lifted for his particular year - needless to say, the solution to the problem is a decidedly grisly one, and more importantly one that requires the identification of the "extra" student in the class.

As those involved in listening to the tape ponder the best way of discovering who the extra student is, an evening meal in the hotel used by the group becomes in turns embarrassing and then distressing, as first Akazawa forces a confession out of Misaki before generic student number 13 who has pretty much been screaming "I'm about to die from an asthma attack" all episode finally pops his clogs in noisy fashion.  As the rest of the class retire to their rooms to ponder, or perhaps even influence, their own fates, Misaki and Kouichi get together to discuss things, leading to some revelations about the former's abilities (courtesy of that false eye) that should make things a whole lot easier - let's just call it her "Mystic Eye of Death Perception", shall we?

Now, if only Misaki had imparted this information about her "cousin" and her ability earlier, we would have.... well, we wouldn't have had a series to make of Another at all as the issue would have been solved in two minutes flat, making her a hero forever more and providing her with a job for life as an overseer of class 3.  Instead, of course, she's waited until episode ten of this twelve week series to mention "hey, I can solve this right away", which is a rather flabbergasting oversight on her part.  Still, if you can suspend this almighty mass of disbelief from a suitably high building, this was another atmospheric episode of Another that made full use of its visuals and audio to ensure maximum creepiness, and even the occasional jump out of your seat moment, which continues to keep me sufficiently drawn to the show in its own right for all of its other foibles.  It certainly seems that we can expect a further bloodbath before this show is resolved - good job Misaki!

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 10

Never mind all of the important space politics and the fact that an invading alien armada is on the way - it's school culture festival time!

Thus, while the members of Kiss ponder their own course of action and what the right thing to do would be, our three-girl group of Madoka, Muginami and Lan get to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the culture festival, satisfied in the knowledge that they did a lot to help the school's various clubs as part of their Jersey Club duties.

However, as the festival goes on, we get to see just how far both Lan and Muginami have come in regard to their place within the school - both of them have made other friends, and end up being dragged away to help with various clubs, leaving Madoka drifting as little more than a spare part.  Despite bumping into Asteria (who seems to have taken quite a liking to Earth's food if nothing else), Madoka can't shake the depression which comes from being left alone, especially given how it's also reflective of her situation in terms of piloting the Vox.  These two disparate elements are brought crashing together, as Asteria informs her that the invading armada are on their way, meaning that it's Lan and Muginami's time to fight.  Is Madoka going to disobey orders and join them, or continue to act as a third wheel in this particular scenario?

Although this episode had some fun moments and was generally quite entertaining, a depressed Madoka doesn't make for a particularly big draw when set against a culture festival backdrop, leaving things feeling pretty run of the mill until the latter stages of the episode where important things really start to happen.  There's certainly no sign of the show's political machinations becoming clearer any time soon, with Asteria effectively talking Madoka into following her friends to pilot a Vox despite the dangers which caused her to ban her from the craft in the first place, and the individuals that make up Kiss that we've seen having rather fluid allegiances of their own.  Hopefully this will make for an explosive finale to the show's first half over the next couple of weeks - it feels like we've reached the point where we deserve one after some pretty casual outings of late.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 22

Nanako is in danger, and the culprit seemingly responsible for the Midnight Channel disappearances has been tracked down - are we entering the gang's final battle to solve this case?

First things first however, as Nanako's safety takes priority and a dip inside the world of the television brings us to a heaven-like vision brought forth by Nanako herself out of continued grief for her deceased mother.  Although Taro Namatame tries to make a run for it with Nanako in tow, he's soon cornered, with his insistence that he's trying to "save" those he's dumped inside the TV world falling upon deaf ears.  Such is Namatame's insistence that he ultimately finds himself surrounded by Shadows who bestow upon him the ability to control others and their Personas - a trick which makes life decidedly difficult once he takes control of Narukami.

Ultimately though, Yu manages to break this "spell" before later helping his comrades to do the same, and giving them to opportunity they need to take down Namatame and save Nanako.  With the former taken into custody and the latter rushed to hospital where she remains for some time before showing signs of recovery, it seems that the case really has been solved this time.  But is this really the end of the story?  With Yasoinaba finding itself blanketed by fog day after day, something is clearly amiss, and even Nanako's fate is still anything but assured...

All of this adds up to another great episode of Persona 4 - by this point it almost doesn't need to do anything special, as its story alone has enough in the bank to keep you hooked.  With a pretty slick action scene making up the first half of the episode before lulling us into a false sense of security on multiple counts during the second, we well and truly have the rug pulled out from underneath us in its closing moments.  Is its story really going to take such a cruel turn, and in what direction are we headed next?  It's these exact questions that has me on the edge of my seat as we wait for next week's instalment.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 18

After all of the fighting and epic battles that have underpinned Fam, the Silver Wing, peace was brought about surprisingly easily by those who wished for it - but can it last?

With all of the major political players in its world gathering together, it soon becomes clear that any peace is decidedly fragile, with Luscinia and Liliana insisting that their way forward is the correct one given the world's dwindling resources, despite the massive loss of human life their use of Exiles have caused.  Ultimately thought, it's a mixture of Augusta and Fam's childish insistence upon what is right that brings about an agreement that peace is the way forward for all and sundry.

Although this way of thinking broadly wins the support of the majority, there are still those who would look to shatter this fragile peace for their own ends, and it's this which dominates the remainder of the episode.  First of all, we have an attempt to persuade Millia to do away with her sister in the name of the greater good - a plot which is quickly picked up upon by Ades' finest bodyguards, although ultimately Millia is no threat to her sister despite having to face up to the difficulties of doing what is arguably right for the world as a whole against what is best for her own people.  Even if Millia has found it within her to forgive her sister, there are still other parties who are less forgiving of what has gone before - a fact which leaves a supposed celebration of peace to provide some unexpected and potentially devastating violence.

Even if Fam, the Silver Wing has generally been at its best when delivering airborne action above all else, I can't really knock it for focusing upon the show's politics for this episode, even if it could have made its main dilemma surrounding saving the world for everyone against protecting your own interests a little clearer a lot sooner within its framework.  Ultimately, this leads us to an episode that isn't hugely compelling, but still proves to be important in its own right while leading us into a final stretch that could twist or turn any way you can imagine.  There appears to be no easy solution to Last Exile's intractable problems at this point in time, and that alone could well hold plenty of potential for the end of the series.