Thursday, 31 May 2012

Tsuritama - Episode 8

Sibling quarrels are always heart-felt affairs, and thus it's no surprise that Natsuki lashing out at his sister Sakura has led to her disappearing.  But where has she gone?  As this week's Tsuritama begins, friends and family begin their search for the errant girl.

As it turns out, it doesn't take all that long to find her - cue a happy family reunion.  This event also turns into something of a revelation for other characters, as it leads to them all taking a look at themselves, what they're missing in life and what their friendships have allowed them to achieve that they wouldn't have otherwise.

In the specific case of Akira, he decides that it's time to come clean to Haru and Koko and admit his affiliation and true mission, that being to monitor JF1 (aka Haru's) movements.  As a result, we get to learn exactly why they've come to Earth, and of course it all revolves around so-called Bermuda Syndrome and the strange goings-on around the Enoshima fishing reef.  With Haru deciding to take up fishing again it seems that our extra-terrestrial visitors are all set to resolve the issue with their sea-bound brethren, but with a tropical storm whipping up a whole new escalation of their problems and "Duck" deciding to make an offensive move in their operations, things are about to get decidedly fraught.

By "fraught" of course, I mean "slightly less dull" - this was another dry episode that did little to further foster any personal interest in its main characters or their situation, not helped by the fact that the alien problem threatening the world involves the possibility of some boats being moved around and making people dance against their will, which sounds like the plot of a particularly camp production of War of the Worlds.  In addition, Haru continues to grate on me more and more by the week to leave me as cold as.... well, a damp fish I suppose.  While other series feel like they're going to end far too soon with a few episodes still to go, this is one spring season show that already feels like it's overstayed its welcome for me.

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 9

You can't have a proper, old-fashioned circus without a freak show, and it's just such an event which is the focus of Lupin for this week's Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna.  Hell, he's even brought Daisuke Jigen with him, not not just because he wanted somewhere to share a day trip with.

Instead, our master thief's attention is focused upon a rather unique member of this freak show - a woman raised and used as nothing more than an artist's canvas, with a body that is quite literally a work of art.  Needless to say, this is no normal treasure, and as a result Lupin isn't the only one with designs towards it - lo and behold, in no time at all Fujiko herself is soon on the scene in an attempt to snatch this precious woman for herself.

Or is she?  Compared to her normal cunning strategies, this Fujiko seems hurried and manic as she gives chase to Lupin and Daisuke, and as her pursuit progresses she becomes more and more violent.  Does Fujiko really want to steal this woman, or kill her, and why?  The answer, once again, seems to stem back to Fujiko's own disturbing past, and by the end of this episode she seems to be left a broken woman in the face of Lupin's blunt but precise psycho-analysis of past and its effect on her current actions.

Despite having already sat down to watch so many great episodes of this series, this week's instalment of Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna is quite possibly the best yet - extremely simple in its premise, but wonderfully delivered (the show's animation style doesn't really make for great action sequences, but it still proved effective on this occasion) and with both the soundtrack and background to really make the most of Fujiko's despairing, crumbling psyche as the episode progresses from standard madcap robbery into something far deeper and more pronounced.  This instalment was one of those rare occasions where you find yourself so lost in a story and its fast-paced progression that the episode is over before you even know it, leaving you with no recourse but to sit back, take a deep breath and mull over what you've just watched for a while.  It takes something special to do that, and at this point this take on Lupin III certainly seems to qualify for that "special" category.

Kids on the Slope - Episode 8

Following their impressive, impromptu turn at the culture festival, it's no surprise that both Kaoru and Sentarou are now being treated like outright celebrities by the rest of the school's pupils - something which Kaoru in particular really isn't used to.

With a number of girls taking more than a passing interest in our bespectacled one, it isn't surprising to find some jealousy manifesting in others around the attention he's getting - however, the source of this jealousy is a decidedly interesting one considering the way this series has played out thus far.  Meanwhile, we Jun's return continues to intrude upon the lives of Sentarou and, more notably, Yurika - while the former worries that his previous outburst has chased him away, Yurika's persistence in winning over her man is aggressive, as she determinedly puts herslef up front and centre in his life despite his breakdown and current family issues stemming from his descent into the hotbed world of 1960s student politics.

Thus, it's the love triangle between Jun, Yurika and Sentarou which is brought to its climax and then (for the latter at least) dashed on the rocks while Yurika's behaviour causes concern from both classmates and parents alike - and that isn't the half of her problems by the end of this episode.  As for Sentarou, it's clear that the game is up for him as far as Yurika is concerned, but some rather blatant hints from Kaoru insists that he has exactly what he's looking for in terms of romance much closer to home.  But is Sentarou smart enough to spot this?  Besides which, has Kaoru just ruined his big chance with Ritsuko at the most inopportune time possible?  Expect more romantic hardships than ever in the weeks ahead, it seems.

Unsurprisingly given my enjoyment of this series thus far, I absolutely loved this week's Kids on the Slope once again - Jun and Yurika's relationship could be lifted out of pretty much any drama series (not least one from this kind of time period) but it's still played out exceedingly well and given an edge by its references to the student protests of the era, while Sentarou and Kaoru's own friendship continues to be a wonderfully complex but realistic affair when it comes to its frequent entanglements with matters of the heart.  Put simply, it just works, and in doing so with such a great cast, soundtrack and the unique feel of its period setting it continues to mark itself out as a cut above the anime norm.

Medaka Box - Episode 9

Given everything we've learned about Sandbox Academy to date, it probably shouldn't surprise us that there's a class made up of the school's most "superhuman" students, known as Class 13.  It also shouldn't surprise us that one of the members of that class is Medaka herself.

Of course, Medaka isn't alone in her membership of that class (although she's one of the few to actually bother turning up to school at all), and she shares her nigh-on unique position with the chairman of the school's disciplinary committee, Myouri Unzen.  It seems, however, that the latter has little time for the former, and when both individuals set out to solve a problem with excessive noise coming from the school's music room we soon get to see their unique traits in action.

Of course, we already know all about Medaka's peaceful way of solving things, and it couldn't be more different than Unzen's intensely violent approach - an approach which is soon turned upon Medaka herself.  Although she seems willing to tolerate this, the news that her fellow student council members are in danger sees Medaka pull out all the stops, leaving Shiranui to handle Unzen as she races off in impressive fashion to rescue her comrades from the clutches of their would-be assailants.

Overall, this emergence of a new and powerful enemy of the student council has made for by far the best episode of Medaka Box yet - and by that I mean it was an average episode in comparison to every other series I'm watching this season.  There's certainly some fun to be had from Medaka not holding back and giving it her all, but the result is almost too over the top to the point where suspension of disbelief becomes difficult even within its already stretched confines for this series.  Wipe away some of the "sheen" (and I hesitate to use that word given Medaka Box's production values), and this was pretty much just typically shounen action taken to a ridiculous extreme - not a bad thing in itself, but not the kind of thing to bring me renewed excitement about this series personally.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Jormungand - Episode 8

It's off to merry England we go for this week's Jormungand - and no, that doesn't mean we spend the entire episode sitting and watching Koko and her crew getting increasingly fed-up at border control.

Instead, after a jaunt through the Sussex countryside that sees Jonah give Lutz a lesson or five in a paintball-fuelled game of capture the flag, we move onto the serious business of trying to sell some UAVs (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles if you'd rather) in the wake of escalating unrest between the imaginatively named Country A and Country B.  It's as if the writers aren't even trying with their naming schemes any more...

With a lot of money up for grabs, Koko finds herself up against her toughest opponent yet - ageing former actress Amalia Tolokhovsky, a rival arms dealer for the Euro group with a reputation for being quick off the mark.  True to form, by the time Koko arrives at each and every one of her contacts with an interest in these UAVs, she finds that Amalia has beaten her to the punch and sealed the deal, leaving our protagonist almost literally tearing her hair out in frustration.  Of course, Koko isn't one to give in quite that easily, and with the realisation that she's being spied upon she attempts to lay a false trail for her rival.  It might not be enough to throw Tolokhovsky off the scent, but it's only the opening gambit in a fierce rivalry that lays Koko's ruthless nature bare, even if she does ultimately go a little soft on her direct rival.

After all the (occasionally overblown) insanity of recent story arcs, this week's Jormungand sits firmly in the "simple but effective" camp, eschewing any real action or pitched gun battles in favour of a more cerebral take on the combative nature of arms dealing in the show's world.  For the most part, this approach actually worked pretty well - we already know that Koko can carry this series quite respectably on her shoulders, and although Amalia was perhaps a little too eccentric for my taste she made for a decent foil and adversary to create a nice change in pace that might not be the most memorable piece of story-telling in the world but it filled its time well enough.  Now, back to your originally programmed insanity...

Monday, 28 May 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 5

Episode five of AKB0048 sees us move forward a month after the current group of understudies began their training at Akibastar... and whaddya know, it's a day off for them too just as they were getting into the swing of things.

So, what do you do when you finally get a precious day off from your idol training?  Well, that depends who you are - while Chieri goes off shopping, Sonata is determined to have some fun in the bath (no, not like that, get your minds out of the gutter) and some of the other girls find themselves dragged into some kind of training or other, whether it's to try and make them sexier or try to toughen them up a little and make them less feminine.

In the midst of all this, Sonata is coaxed into helping Suzuko investigate the identity of the mysterious director of AKB0048, known only as Sensei-Sensei - so good they named him twice.  Of course, this proves to be beyond our young wannabe sleuths (cats are so distracting, aren't they?).  Elsewhere, we learn the hard work that goes into becoming the successor to Tomochin in what is possibly one of the creepiest things I've ever seen in anime - a family who looks to protect their bloodline by ensuring they always have daughters that look identical and with the exact same traits, right down to marrying men who look like Tomachin themselves to ensure this.  Out there someway, an idol producer is making mental notes about a new way of printing money...

I have to confess, I'm not entirely sure what the point of this episode was - aside from the information dumps noted in the paragraph above it made for a pretty unspectacular affair, whether it was trying to hit the slice of life angle or something completely different.  Maybe it's just that I don't care enough about any of the characters to feel privileged to have learned a little more about them, but it seems too early in the series for this kind of episode when there's still so much training and the like left - events which would potentially increase my interest in the characters enough to be interested in the asides delivered here.  As it is, AKB0048 continues to be pretty polished but ultimately empty more often than not... it's just like being a pop idol really, I suppose.

Hyouka - Episode 6

Now that Chitanda's queries about her uncle have been well and truly resolved, what next for the classics club?  And why can Houtarou hear Chitanda arguing with a teacher in the next classroom?  These two questions become inextricably linked as we reach episode six of Hyouka.

In fact, it seems to be rather an argumentative day all-round, as we soon encounter Ibara giving Fukube more than a mouthful of abuse on account of something he'd done in a non-stop tirade against him which only Oreki seems to know how to stop (despite Eru's best efforts).  This leads into a discuss on how Chitanda manages to never get angry, before expanding into a wider discussion into the merits and otherwise of the seven deadly sins.

All of this serves as a reminder for Chitanda, as she first completely forgets why she was arguing with a teacher in class, before remembering what it was all about and relating it to her friends, allowing us to learn that her class' maths teacher had yelled at a number of pupils for not knowing the answer to an equation containing something they hadn't even learned yet thanks to an error on his part.  But how did a teacher normally so meticulous in his preparations make such a basic mistake?  It's this question which Chitanda demands an answer for from Houtarou - an answer which, of course, he delivers in due course.

Much as I feel like skipping over our usual discussion about how great this episode looks, it's actually rather hard to within an episode like this which relies so heavily upon it to drive an otherwise mundane storyline, spicing it up with interesting shots and visual cues together with some rather innovative ways of relating theories of descriptions of events to the viewer.  Is this enough to get over the fact that we are, effectively, watching a twenty-minute episode about some mixing up of letters of the alphabet?  To be honest, I'm not entirely sure - this episode was driven pretty well by its characters and their way of relating and thinking about things, so I enjoyed it enough for it to get a passing mark, but can we really carry on through another fifteen episodes of similar incidents?  Looking at it from that angle, the series really needs something more substantial to nourish both itself and its viewers.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 9

Despite training to become one himself, it's still rather a shock to think of the danger and fragility of life as an astronaut - it's enough to give a guy nightmares, and understandably so.

Thus, as Mutta flies home to Japan, he finds himself plagued by thoughts of his brother having written a will while forced to consider the danger both himself and his brother may be put in by their dream.  More specifically, he finds it rather odd that nobody around him seems to have the same concerns - Mutta and Hibito's parents are (outwardly at least) nonchalant about the whole thing, and although family man Kenji has worries of his own about the future, his concerns are rather different.

Still, there's little time to sit and ponder such big questions, as Mutta's return to Japan sees him join his fellow wannabe astronauts, both those who failed and the handful who passed, in a celebration of the success of Mutta, Kengi and Serika (plus a couple of others).  This party gives Mutta something else to chew on too, as Serika relates her desire to board the International Space Station despite its teetering on the precipice of obsolescence.  While the reason for this isn't immediately obvious, particularly when the other astronauts are aiming for the Moon or Mars, once Mutta learns the reason for her particular dream he begins to doubt his own motivations and goals for reaching space as they pale in comparison.

Although the setup of this particular episode didn't bring us any major drama, it worked well in a very different way as it led us down the path of pondering some almost imponderable questions such as the balance between achieving a dream and coping with the risks involved in doing so, and what counts as a "worthy" reason for pursuing a goal.  It's deep stuff if you start thinking about it, but presented in a simple, friendly and mostly entertaining way thanks once again largely to the screen presence of Mutta, who continues to carry out his role as the central point of this show with aplomb.  It isn't breaking new ground or providing any memorable scenes at the moment, but it continues to offer up a compelling mix of the coolness of space travel with the more human elements of what such adventures entail.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 7

Generation Bleu's headquarters are under attack by the shape-shifting being known as Truth - even though he sounds like a reject from Fullmetal Alchemist, this is no time to worry about such things...

As Truth continues to wreak havoc throughout headquarters, the powers that be have a number of concerns - not just for the IFOs and their pilots, but also for something hidden away within the depths of building... just when will organisations stop hiding their darkest secrets in the basement?  As Truth does the rounds searching for, well, the truth, it seems that the depths of Generation Bleu isn't his goal at all - indeed, he's looking for someone rather than something, and he seems to find it when he comes across Ao about to escape in his IFO.  Despite being shaken by Truth's knowledge of Ao's mother, he still tries to make good his escape in Nirvash, only for Truth to follow before showing what might just be his shocking true form.

Things take rather a strange leap from here, as we return to Okinawa and find many of the usual suspects there - with the island becoming a profitable haven on account of its Scub Coral, most ideas of resistance have vanished, and Naru is up to her usual tricks of sneaking around despite her illness.  Even Ao is present on the island, taking Naru to see the Scub Coral... but is that really Ao?  Of course not, as the "real" Ao appears and gives chase - this all seems to be in vein however, as Truth showing himself in his terrifying other form gives Naru the information she needs to decide to follow him, no matter what Ao tries to do.  All of this seems like nothing but a nightmare as Ao comes around in a Generation Bleu hospital room, but unfortunately for him truth is equivalent to his dreaming fiction in this instance.

Although Truth's place within Eureka Seven AO still feels a little "off" within the show's world as a whole, he's certainly put to good use here in terms of shifting the focus of the series substantially - his place in the first half of this episode makes for some good explosions if nothing else, while the second half is disjointed and a little confusing initially before everything wraps around the shell of the story nicely to make for an episode that is ultimately satisfying.  In fact, "ultimately satisfying" probably sums up Eureka Seven AO thus far quite nicely - it still needs to cement and solidify its ultimate goals even at this stage of the series, but everything it's done to move in that direction thus far has been enjoyable to watch so it seems to be achieving what it's set out to thus far.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Tsuritama - Episode 7

After a summer of hard work, Yuki finally has the money he needs to buy his own fishing gear.  It's a daunting task... but more importantly, why is Haru suddenly not even vaguely interested in fishing?

While their "Bermuda Triangle" incident seems to have been enough to put Haru off the hobby for life, Yuki, Natsuki and Akira carry on fishing whenever an opportunity arises - indeed, we've now reached a point where Natsuki is leaving Yuki to make his own decisions and decide upon his own strategies rather than teaching him how to go about catching fish.

More importantly than such things however, news reaches us via his sister that Natsuki's birthday is coming up, with his family planning to celebrate the big day by - you guessed it - going fishing.  With his friends also brought along for the ride, it looks all set to be a great day, but that would of course be reckoning without the fractious relationship between Natsuki and his father.  As this comes to a head, and another strange incident at sea threatening those upon the captain's boat, a number of relationships are thrown into turmoil as the strange behaviour starting to manifest itself around Enoshima becomes an ever-greater problem.

As I've mentioned over previous weeks, my main issue with Tsuritama continues to be its reliance on fishing as the central arbiter of everything it does - every piece of drama, every argument and each moment of plot progression is carried out with a fishing rod in close proximity, and it does nothing but suffocate the otherwise well-played family drama exhibited by this episode to the point where it significantly weakens its impact.  Alongside this, the presence of Haru and the whole "alien thing" has also done little to move on the other elements of the show up to this point, although it seems as if these oddities are finally going to come to the fore over the next week or two.  I'm still trying my best to like Tsuritama, but at this point it seems like it's something of a lost cause for me.

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 8

Fujiko Mine is at it again, but this time around the subject of light fingers is a decidedly interesting one, belonging as it does to a fortune-teller proclaiming to have a rather unique ability - the ability to predict the day of someone's death.

Unlikely though it seems, the abilities of the man in question - Shitoto Chandler - seem to match with the cold, hard facts of the corpses left in his wake.  What is perhaps even more interesting is that all of these individuals are former victims of Lupin himself, creating interest from numerous angles from those simply interested in the lithograph that is the basis of Chandler's predictions through to the police in their continues attempts to track down and capture Lupin himself.

With Daisuke Jigen dragged into the mix to boot, we're once again served up twists and turns aplenty as Jigen runs straight into a trap meant for Lupin, before the man himself helps to bust Daisuke out of police shackles.  Ultimately, the truth behind Chandler's ability remains a little uncertain, but what we do know is that he has links to Fujiko's past, which is becoming an ever-more integral part of the series above and beyond her proclivity for stealing shiny things.

Having suffered arguably its first misfire last week, this feels like Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna getting back to what its best at - a simple but tightly written story with twists and turns aplenty and a smart premise at its core, further bolstered by the increasing focus upon Fujiko's childhood as we progress through the series.  It's this broader storyline that's actually becoming the most intriguing facet of the show at the moment thanks to its enigmatic handling, and I really hope it's all leading somewhere that isn't a dead end.  Even without that, the blend of art style, setting and premise remains deliciously compelling for the most part, and now we've steered away from faux history back towards the franchise's roots this is once again a great little viewing experience that succeeds in standing out from the crowd.

Medaka Box - Episode 8

While the student council handles all of the suggestions and elements of student relations, someone has to keep law and order around Sandbox Academy, and that job falls to the school's disciplinary committee, otherwise known as the student police.  Or, judging by the first half of this week's Medaka Box, the fashion police.

At the forefront of all of this is Harigane Onigase, a hard-nosed disciplinarian and a stickler for the rules.  When the lax dress code of the student council comes to her attention she goes bananas, and before we know it Hitoyoshi and Akune have been properly dressed and Mogana has been stripped of her swimming costume.  That leaves only Medaka herself who, of course, refuses to budge when it comes to changing her uniform.  Similarly bull-headed, Onigase looks to take matters into her own hands, be it by fair means or foul - the trouble is, trying to understand Medaka's mindset is beyond even the smartest of students, so our disciplinary committee member has no chance, leaving us to chalk up another victory to Medaka.

Things take a turn for the clichéd as we enter the second half of the episode with a continuing focus on Harigane - this time, an attempt to arrest Shiranui for eating on school property ends with her handcuffed to Hitoyoshi in typically slapstick style, making for a rather unique walk of shame back to the disciplinary committee office.  Things only get worse once Medaka herself gets involved, as we end up with the student council president added to our handcuff train, in turn making for distractions aplenty from the task at hand as Medaka goes about interfering in everyone else's business.  Still, at least her presence saves Onigase from her toughest foes, while also providing the answer to how to bust out of those pesky handcuffs.

Another week goes by, and Medaka Box still shows no signs of breaking into anything other than predictable and shallow storylines - still, at least this episode's offerings managed to prove themselves as passably entertaining and mildly amusing rather than leaving me writhing in my seat while I waited for the episode to end.  This is, of course, me damning this series with faint praise yet again, which says a lot about how big a disappointment this show continues to be - Nisio Isin isn't exactly my go-to man for forgettable story-telling, but between this and Nisemonogatari his association with anime is fast becoming anything but a "must-watch" label when it comes to choosing shows.

Kids on the Slope - Episode 7

His childish tantrum has certainly but some distance between himself and Sentarou, but in other respects Kaoru's life seems to be going rather well as he becomes increasingly comfortable in his own skin, bringing him some surprising new-found popularity amongst his classmates and the like.

Despite this, there's still pain to be found in the rift that has developed between himself and his friend, who continues to rather half-heartedly carry on with his own classmate Matsuoka's band in preparation for the culture festival.  If this isn't tough enough for Sentarou, things are about to become a whole lot more problematic, as the love triangle between himself, Jun and Yurika comes to a huge head; a proverbial wave which crashes upon the shore and breaks everything to some degree or other.  We can even pretty much trace the exact date of this incident - around July 17th, 1967, the day of jazz composer and saxophonist John Coltrane's death.

Even with those relationships in tatters, and no sign of the fallout between Sentarou and Kaoru healing, the show must go on, with the latter working as part of the student's committee to organise the festival while the former finally takes to the stage with his new band-mates to give his big performance.  It all seems to be going pretty well too, until an unknown problem cuts the pwoer to the band's equipment, leaving them floundering.  As Kaoru is roped in to help track the source of the problem, he overhears the real reason for Sentarou's taking part in the band - just the spur that he needed to realise his own selfish foolishness.  With no sign of the technical hitch being resolved, Kaoru decides to buy time with an impromptu piano recital... quite the event in its own right for the onlookers, and even more so once Sentarou joins in to turn the whole thing into an impromptu jazz session.  Before we know it the whole school is trying to crowd into the hall to catch a glimpse of what's going on - nothing heals old wounds like good music, it seems.

After throwing so much melodrama at us over the course of this episode and part of the last, Kids on the Slope was certainly setting itself up to require a big pay-off - and boy did it get one.  Kaoru and Sentarou's impromptu session is pretty much the poster child for "simple but effective" - a basic, and even rose-tinted idea, but one which carried so much power and hope upon its shoulders that it worked utterly to make for a beautiful resolution to some of the current elements of its story.  The blend of likeable characters and great music carried off the whole idea with aplomb, always keeping it believable ("keeping it real" if you'd rather), and backing it up with animation to match.  If you want to know why you should be watching this series, the last five minutes or so of this episode lays it out more vividly than my words could ever hope to.

Jormungand - Episode 7

The mission in hand may be all about beating Chang's troops in the race to reach Doctor Miami, but for Valmer things have just gotten decidedly more personal.

Once she spots Chang's assistant, and more specifically her combat style, something breaks in Valmer as it takes her back to a turning point in her life - a turning point which, of course, came in the middle of a warzone as she saw her troops wiped out in front of her eyes... well, eye, as this same incident also was the moment which gave birth to the need for her trademark eyepatch.

Meanwhile, Koko is having to keep tabs on things from a more diplomatic perspective, all the while seemingly unknowingly under surveillance from Scarecrow and his current assistant Chocolade.  Although our impatient arm of the law is hoping to get some juicy evidence of illegal dealings under his belt, it seems that he's reckoned without Ms Hekmatyar's cunning, and before he knows it Scarecrow is forced into acting as Koko's escape plan as Chang receives word that his plans have gone awry, cutting short both his attempt to capture Minami as well as losing any hope of wreaking revenge on Hekmatyar.

These two elements combined to make for a pretty decent episode - I'm still not convinced by Jormungand's action credentials in terms of animation quality but it worked well enough on this occasion, and the episode was more notable for some smart but low-key little twists and turns to keep its story interesting.  Then again, there's something a little frustrating about the end of this arc, as we're still none the wiser about Koko's plans as they pertain to Doctor Minami, which leaves the viewer feeling as though they've missed something rather important... important like the whole point of this particular story arc.  Still, Koko's headed off to England yet - watch out K-ON movie, you've got competition!

Monday, 21 May 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 4

Now that their war games are over, it's time for the wannabe future members of AKB0048 to meet their real immediate futures - training hard as successors to the idols they so love.

The first performance the group gets to see upon arrival at their new home for the foreseeable future also provides a stark tale of how not every story here is a success, as a performance by the group themselves is preceded by a warm-up act by an idol duo who are known as the only survivors of a "cursed generation" - unable to progress and become full-fledged members of AKB0048 themselves, and with all their fellow idols having left, these two individuals are left in limbo.

What's more, one of this pair - Kanata Shinonome - happens to be the sister of Sonata, and given her position she's unsurprisingly not too happy to see her younger sibling.  As her complaints fall on deaf ears, the episode progresses to tell us a little more about Kanata - most importantly, her drive to become a member of AKB0048, which is one of vengeance rather than a love of song and dance (which is what you get for having a final audition based upon military strength rather than singing, I would wager).  With no heart for her work, and the stress of having her sister around, it seems as if Kanata is going to crack - but can the power of music save her?

After threatening to do something hugely interesting with its premise last week, AKB0048 enters more predictable territory this time around - melodrama based around the desire to become a successor to the idol group's existing members, ever-more ridiculous positioning of entertainment into an environment where military force is used against those who support such "deviant" art forms, and CG that jars against the rest of the animation whenever dance routines are required.  It's the schmaltzy resolution to this week's drama that really irked me the most though, as it proved to be as predictable as it was contrived, turning around years of hatred with just a single song.  Even AKB48 aren't that good, and it signals the moment where I can officially expect nothing worthwhile to come out of this series.  Lightsaber microphone notwithstanding, that is.

Hyouka - Episode 5

It seems that Houtarou has done it again as a brief, concentrated period of ponderance brings forth the most likely solution to Chitanda's queries about her uncle... or most of them, at least.  As Houtarou ponders his own future and whether he'd rather have a "rose-coloured" life like Jun Sekitani, a rare phone call from his sister makes him realise that there's more to this story than his theory thus far has uncovered.

More specifically, the comments from Houtarou's sister suggests that Sekitani's "hero" status isn't as clear cut or obvious as it might seem, leading to a re-evaluation of the evidence gathered so far.  Although the true meaning of some of the writing concerned is ambiguous, Oreki quickly picks up on an important clue that's far better than any written source - the identity of the author of the introduction to volume two of Hyouka.  What's more, she's still an active part of their school...

Thus, one trip to the library later we're on the cusp of answering all of Chitanda's questions - the truth about her uncle's place as the leader of a revolution in the face of cuts to the school culture festival, the exact reason for his expulsion and why the entire experience far from the "rose-coloured" exit the group might have imagined.  This still leaves one question unanswered - what did Sekitani say to reduce the Chitanda of her childhood to tears?  The answer lays within the name of the Classics Club's anthology, Hyouka, and with it a rather ropey play on words which explains everything about Sekitani's feelings during the incident in question.

After last week's episode ran a little too slowly and kept its powder rather too dry, this latest instalment of Hyouka is a far better example of how to do a lot with relatively little.  It almost goes without saying that the series is packed with visual flourishes and outright gorgeous animation throughout (with some surreal moments that feel more like SHAFT than KyoAni), but on this occasion the actual story-telling does an expert job of building tension and mystery despite its sedate pacing and setup to the point where you actually end up caring about the big reveal towards the end of the episode.  The biggest obstacle facing the series now is where it goes now that its first major story arc is over - can it survive with solving low-key mysteries, or does it need to ramp things up and aim for something a little more spectacular?  To be frank, even I'm not sure what the answer to that question is - perhaps its one for the lazy yet genius mind of Houtarou to ponder...

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 7

It really is crunch time for the Achiga Girls mahjong team in their second round tie - Ako's hard work have put them in an all-important second place position, but with two games still to go everything is still very much up for grabs.

Up next then is Arata Sagimori, sporting a bowling glove to represent her grandmother's bowling alley (or possibly just because it looks kind of cool - more so than bowling mahjong tiles, which could have somebody's eye out... bad Arata!).  Although Sagimori seems to have a jump on some of her opponents on account of her hard to fathom playing style, making her more of an enigma than Achiga's other players, things don't quite go to plan, and with the final game on the horizon Achiga slip into third place as their semi-final credentials fade.

Thus, we move on to the final game for this round, and it's up to Shizuno and her never say die attitude - an attitude that she's going to need in spades as, with the final hand of the round coming up, Achiga find themselves in third and with a hefty disadvantage over second-placed Kentani school.  With plenty of opportunities to win the hand, but without the points required to qualify, passing her buy, Shizuno is determined to sit it out until the match comes to her - and come to her it does, making for a famous victory and a semi-final place for Achiga.  Any celebrations are short-lived however as the full weight of their semi-final challenge dawns upon the girls: a match featuring Senriyama (once again) as well as the fearsome Shiratodai schools.

Despite having another "fast-forward moment", with Arata given little time at the table before we moved onwards, this was made up for by the nerve-wracking tension of Shizuno's game.  Much like watching a football match where a single goal will make all the difference, it was surprisingly gripping stuff that played its cards (err, tiles) right from start to finish.  It looks like we'll have a little more forced drama and a whole bunch of character introductions from the original series to come next episode (which airs the week after next, incidentally), but now Episode of Side-A is well and truly in the swing of things I can't wait.

Oh, and I wasn't the only one to get a kick out of Stealth Momo's appearance, was I?

Space Brothers - Episode 8

There comes a point in some people's lives where "bad luck" doesn't even begin to describe their misfortune - a moment which seems to apply to mutta as he finds himself staring down the nozzle of the infamous fire extinguisher-wielding robber.

However, the next thing we know the normally hapless Mutta is a national hero appearing in front of the masses on American television, as security camera footage shows him finding his way through the thick smoke caused by the extinguisher to tackle and take down the assailant with his trademark "special move" - a well-placed headbutt.  Is this really the story however?  Mutta seems to know better and is all ready to confess the truth of the matter, before catching sight of some lovely ladies in the audience leads him to reconsider, deciding that maybe "going with the moment" is for the best after all.

It seems that even Ozzy, who called Mutta out as the hero in the aftermath of what happened, knows the truth of the event but has decided to gave his buddy a bit of a lucky break - and what a break it is too, with word of Mutta's heroism quickly reaching JAXA.  Needless to say, the director of the facility can spot some good publicity when it lands right in front of him, and barely a word needs to be said before Mutta is shifted up the list and on to the list of qualifiers for the next round of astronaut training.  Fantastic news without a doubt, but Mutta is also beginning to get a taste of the more serious side involved in becoming an astronaut.

Yet again, this was a rather corny and predictable episode of Space Brothersthat managed to get away with being incredibly cheesy simply by fully leveraging Mutta's personality and place within the series - in essence, the guy is so likeable that you can't help yourself but to cheer him on and get wrapped up in his world and situation no matter where it might take us.  The result is thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end, as we watch Mutta stumble from crisis to infamy with a massive slice of good luck which nobody who has been keeping up with this series would begrudge him.  It's a surprisingly basic formula, but boy does Space Brothers continue to be entertaining against the odds.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 6

As if there wasn't enough important stuff going on come the end of last week's Eureka Seven AO, we now have ourselves an entirely different threat to concern ourselves with, as episode six's opening scenes introduce us to a decidedly deadly character who has more than enough blood on the hands judging by the flashbacks to previous misdemeanours to which we're treated.

Meanwhile, things are looking pretty dire for Medon and the Goldilocks team as their attempts to tackle the latest Secret go awry, leaving Ao and company having to scramble to pick up the pieces.  They soon discover that there are rather a lot of pieces to pick up too, with all of Goldilocks pilots injured with their IFOs broken, while the fate of the Medon itself is even more gruesome still.

While the injured are tended to and Ao enjoys a much-needed if impromptu nap, the Secret changes course, making a bee-line for some nearby Scub Coral - in other words, its back to action stations, with Fleur and Elena opting to leave Ao behind to tackle the problem themselves.  Upon awakening Ao is not exactly too thrilled about this, feeling ignored once again before being forced to face facts; that being that he's left behind as a form of protection, not to be forgotten.  Regardless, Ao still feels he has something to offer in this particular battle and so it proves, as it's his strategy which once again wins the day.  There are however, even more direct dangers afoot...

As seems to be the norm for this series so far, Eureka Seven Ao is very much at its best when its delivering its mecha action - the fight to down the show's latest Secret stood out against some of the other elements of exposition and plot progression which felt a little messy in places, particular in terms of the introduction of a major new threat to Generation Bleu which felt like it had been pulled out of somebody's orifice on a whim simply due to the way it was brought into proceedings.  I'm still not entirely sure about this particular shift in the show's focus and how it'll pan out, but for now I'll be continuing to watch with plenty of genuine interest in where the series is headed.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Tsuritama - Episode 6

It seems that everything is coming up roses all of a sudden - he's gotten to grips with fishing (and duly loves doing it), his summer job is going swimmingly, close friendships have been forged, and to top it all of his grandmother is about to be discharged from hospital.

Given that final piece of good news, it's no surprise that Yuki wants to do something special for her return home, and his choice of homecoming gift is... some freshly caught tuna.  Cue a session in learning how to catch these decidedly tricky critters, and the unique techniques required for a successful operation along these lines.

As well as knowing how to catch tuna, actually tracking them down is a trick in itself - a trick made more difficult by the local's staunch refusal to use Akemi, a local fishing reef simply teeming with the things.  Although Ayumi refuses to take them anywhere near it, the availability of Akira's boat offers a perfect opportunity to help Yuki catch his precious tuna.  The trouble is, it seems that the rumours surrounding Akemi are at least somewhat true, as Haru goes haywire and chaos ensues once they're in the vicinity of that area.  Luckily for those involved, help is soon at hand and little real damage is done - perhaps more importantly, we're finally getting to the crux of exactly what Haru and his sister are seeking.

In line with my weekly thoughts on Tsuritama, I still utterly fail to be taken with it.  Yes, we're coming towards a pivotal point in the series where all is (hopefully) revealed regarding Haru, and perhaps even Akira, but with another half episode taken up with fishing tips and not a lot else to speak of beyond more examples of the importance of friends and family, I'm finding it almost impossible to hold any interest or excitement in any revelations which are just around the corner.  I'm sure that Tsuritama isn't a bad series - it just singularly fails to do anything to hold my attention, leaving me to simply go through the motions each week in the hope that this will suddenly change.  There's certainly no sign of that at this point though, sadly.

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 7

For this week's Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna, we journey to the crux of the Cold War to relive the Cuban Missile Crisis, Lupin III style.  Or should that be the Carib Missile Crisis?

In the midst of the Communist revolution in the country of Carib, we find Fujiko herself working as a journalist as she follows enigmatic leader Fidel Castro... sorry, Fiadel Kestro... as he leads the revolution and prepares himself to face the UN and confirm his country's place in the future of the world.  Needless to say, Fujiko's presence means that she actually has another goal in mind, with an official remit to assassinate Castro (let's stop with the stupid pseudonyms, shall we?) with the help of Goemon.

There are plenty of other parties with a dislike of Castro of course, not least the Americans, who continue to fund Cuba's old regime and assisting them with their attempts to regain control of their country as the threat of Communist missile bases on Cuban soil edges closer to reality.  Once Castro takes to the air to journey to the UN, events reach a critical point with the world literally hanging in the balance, mere seconds from an all-out nuclear war.  Just who is going to step up to the plate to save the planet from this horrific fate?

After having to take a few deep breaths to get over my excitement at seeing the Cuban Missile Crisis played out in animated form (being as it is one of the most fascinating, albeit almost macabrely so, periods of history to me), this is probably the closest Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna has come to falling flat.  For starters, the show's animation style really didn't suit the story-telling or locale of this particular instalment and looked decidedly ropey as a result, while the episode's script frittered away an interesting concept by draining it of any particular tension to speak of.  Add to that a ludicrous climax to its pivotal moments, and you get the feeling that this setting and scenario simply wasn't suited to a Lupin III episode - reality doesn't sit well against its world of comic book heroes and villains.  The result isn't a terrible episode, but it's easily the weakest Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna has had to offer so far by quite a margin.

Kids on the Slope - Episode 6

It's time for another school year to begin after their summer adventures, but it seems that Kaoru and Sentarou aren't going to be able to enjoy one another's company in class this time around - while Ritsuko and Kaoru continue to share the same class, Sentarou is moved to a different class on account of his... "energetic" personality.

This may be new territory for Sentarou, who has always shared a class with Ritsuko, but for the most part nothing has changed - Sentarou still gets himself into fights and coos over Yurika, while recent events have given Kaoru a more laid-back outlook on his feelings towards Ritsuko, to the point where he shifts his attentions towards pushing her towards Sentarou while simultaneously trying to keep him away from Yurika.

So much for that idea of course, as Sentarou is still both smitten with her and completely oblivious to her obsession with the errant Jun.  This isn't Kaoru's only concern however, as his jealousy quickly bubbles up as a new classmate of Sentarou's, Matsuoka, threatens to woo him with the toxic combination of telling people what they like to hear and lending them Beatles records.  Is Sentarou's head really going to be turned by the Fab Four?  It's this concern which leads Kaoru to needlessly lose his head, as his past experiences with lost friends cause him to over-react when Sentarou offers to drum for Matsuoka's makeshift band for the school festival.

Although it didn't do as much to mark itself out in terms of comedy or (until its final scenes) drama compared to previous instalments, this was still another hugely enjoyable episode of Kids on the Slope.  By this point, the main characters are so well-established that you get the feeling they effectively write themselves, and the chemistry between them certainly helps to carry the show even when it doesn't seem to have all that much to say.  When it comes to the crunch and the time for drama however, the series still knows what it's doing - Kaoru's childish tantrum is a perfect example of a teenager who thinks he's grown-up but is still hampered by his immature outlook on certain aspects of life, and it's another strong point in a show which somehow always manages to remain believable no matter how hard it has to work to drum up (with every pun intended) some dramatic tension.  Is this still my show of the season?  There are a few seeking to stake that claim, but Kids on the Slope is certainly very much amongst them.

Medaka Box - Episode 7

Money is no longer an issue now that the student council has Mogana Kikaijima as their treasurer - her presence in the council office does, however, prove some rather different problems for Hitoyoshi.

As if walking in on Kikaijima in the middle of changing isn't bad enough (and having to pay a fine as a result), the awkward silence which follows is almost unbearable, with our newcomer to the council unsure of how to go about making new friends while Hitoyoshi also struggles for anything to say in his particular scenario.  Cue some rather awkward attempts at social interaction; a spell which is broken only by the appearance of Shiranui, who has a little blackmailing to do.  This does, when coupled with the subject of Medaka, get Hitoyoshi and Mogana talking at least, although it seems that the latter still has some work to do when it comes to making friends.

Onwards to the second half of the episode, we're introduced to an artist who goes by the name of Yubaru - in search of a model for his latest masterpiece, there can of course only be one choice... Ms Kurokami Medaka.  The trouble is, how do you depict the beauty of perfection in any art form?  GAINAX certainly haven't managed to figure it out given Medaka Box's animation quality... Anyway, I digress - after calling upon and then shooting down a number of the school's most striking beauties, it seems that Yubaru has a rather particular eye for this particular piece of artwork, meaning that his eventual model is a decidedly unlikely one; or rather, an entirely likely one as this particular story couldn't make its final pay-off any more obvious from the outset if it tried.

Although the second half of this week's instalment was uniformly terrible and an excuse for another dose of fan service at best, I will confess that the first half of the episode got a few laughs out of my thanks to some snappy dialogue and decent gags to at least paper over its otherwise predictable premise.  Simply making me crack a smile is a major improvement for this series, so a couple of outright laughs is stellar progress - of course, for any other show this would be par for the course, which shows perhaps just how far Medaka Box has fallen (if it even occupied a lofty enough height to fall from in the first place).  I don't hate this series by any stretch of the imagination... but imagination is exactly what it's lacking in spades at the moment, and frustratingly so.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Jormungand - Episode 6

The trouble with spending time at sea in the region of Africa is those pesky and seemingly ever-present pirates.  Then again, when you come across Koko Hekmatyar suddenly piracy on the high seas doesn't seem so appealing any more.

When Koko and company come across a band of rather well-armed pirates, Koko has little time for going easy on them, and thus this week's episode of Jormungand begins with her crew decimating their hapless opponents with a blend of skill and raw firepower.  Even a child soldier much like Jonah is given short shrift by Koko, although he does at least get to escape with his life and a buoy to help him swim to short for his troubles.

With that little distraction out of the way, we reach Africa just in time for a weaponry expo attended, naturally, by a number of arms dealers.  There is, however, another reason for Koko's visit - it seems that she wants to catch up with esteemed scientist and robotics expert Doctor Amada Miami.  The trouble is, Miami is a little bit... easily distracted.  More specifically, she's quite literally crazy (a shock for this series, I know) about butterflies, and even a meeting with Koko isn't enough to distract her from a butterfly catching session up in the snowy mountains.  It seems that Ms. Hekmatyar isn't the only one interested in Miami, as a Chinese dealer named Chang and his beautiful yet deadly assistant also have their own "to do" list - a list which not only involves Miami, but also revenge against Koko's brother Kaspar in any way possible.  As if that wasn't enough to deal with, as the bullets being to fly Valmer is distracted by a blast from her own past...

White Fox might absolutely suck at delivering action scenes within this series, yet despite this it still works when push comes to shove - Koko's troops' handling of pirates at the start of this episode was fantastic to watch, and the action towards the end of the episode worked well too.  In the middle of all this, things are a little bit messy and poorly mapped out, only coming together towards the end of the episode. This is most certainly not helped by the fact that literally everyone in this show is utterly batshit crazy - something which was fun to start with, especially in the case of Koko who has to be crazy to do her work, but it's now getting old very fast indeed.  I'll hold any full judgement of this particular story arc until we get a better feel of where we're heading (although it already seems clear in some ways), and I'm still kind of enjoying it, but there are also increasingly areas where it falls significantly short of what we might like it to be.

Monday, 14 May 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 3

Now that the girls we've been following have reached the safe haven of the AKB0048 auditions, we should be all set for a happy, sparkling world of song and enjoyment, right?

Well, you might think that, but it seems that the first task for these wannabe idols (including stowaway Sonata) is to learn how to defend themselves using assault rifles - not quite the kind of idyllic training any of them had in mind.  Exhausted and demoralised at the end of their first day, some of the girls set off to find the group's manager to demand an end to this crazy training regime, while Nagisa and Yuuka get a chance to witness the tough training the existing AKB0048 members have to put themselves through to be their best, and what it means for them to work as a group.

Odd though it may seem, there is an ultimate goal for this training of our young hopefuls - to protect the group themselves using any means necessary during their next guerilla concert against any forces that might choose to attack them in the name of preventing entertainment.  Thus, our group of kids are thrown into the midst of what quickly becomes a warzone, with disastrous consequences for most of them which puts paid to any dreams that they might have.  In the midst of this, Chieri's attitude comes to the fore, as her self-centred actions look set to be anything but the correct way forward.

If you were expecting AKB0048 to be dumb and formulaic, then this episode might just hit the pause button on such thoughts - okay, it was ultimately all a cleverly crafted setup to have you thinking that the series was "doing a Madoka Magica" before turning on the lights and revealing the trick behind the curtains at the last moment, but it still made for a surprisingly dark episode of an anime which is ultimately a big advertisement and marketing vehicle for an idol group.  Once you get over the surprise of what the episode seemed to be trying to do for a while, admittedly there's nothing particularly exciting to be found here - lots of platitudes about teamwork and how to get along with others, some whiny wannabe popstars and not a lot else - but if it can pull some more stunts like this one then it might manage to be at least somewhat more interesting than many (myself included) expected.

Hyouka - Episode 4

After all of that effort to find the Classics Club's previous anthologies, it appears that volume one is missing, and with it the vital information that will solve Chitanda's mystery surrounding her uncle.  Although all hope appears lost, Houtarou suggests that the best way forward for his club-mate is for Eru to tell Mayaka and Satoshi her story and enlist their help.

With that extra brainpower on board, Chitanda takes control and gets her three friends to go away, do some research and return for a session at her house to review their findings and any theories that have come from it.  This they duly do, with Chitanda herself coming up with a bare bones theory which is both somewhat shot down and then fleshed out by Ibara, and then furthermore by Fukube.

Ultimately, all eyes turn to Houtarou himself - rather unfortunately for him, as his research is sparse and he doesn't have any kind of theory to unveil to his waiting audience.  Decidedly more luckily, a combination of rain and an excuse for a toilet break gives Houtarou some time to think - time he puts to good use in outlining what ultimately seems like the most likely theory, built from the research all of the others before him have presented.  Thus, it's another victory for the brilliant mind of Houtarou... or is it?  The cause of Eru's childhood distress remains on her mind, so perhaps this mystery isn't quite wrapped up just yet.

I think it would be something of an understatement to call this week's Hyouka verbose - it had a lot to say, describe and lay out with no real changes of scenery to help it along, something which no amount of gorgeous visuals or smart gimmicks can resolve.  As a result, this was certainly a very "dry" instalment, which is something I can deal with for the most part given the interesting history and the like unveiled by the episode, but it certainly feels like a segment of the show's story which is far better suited to its original novel format than animation - it doesn't even have the quirkiness and sharp writing of other verbose efforts like Bakemonogatari to fall back on, making it a tough one to sell from a visual perspective.  This has, I have to admit, taken a little of the sheen away from Hyouka after a pretty decent couple of episodes - it isn't time to man the lifeboats or anything, but there's a definite need for an upturn in the show's story (and story-telling) to push it along in the next week or two.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 6

Kuro might have had a disastrous hand in the first match of Achiga's vital second round game, but there's still a long way to go as sister Yuu steps up to the plate... err, I mean table... as she vows to win back the points her sister has lost to pay her back somewhat for all the times her sibling has helped her in the past.

Yuu certainly gets off to a good start, but this looks set to be short-lived as the other teams, and Senriyama in particular, confirm that just like her sister Yuu has a very clear and easy to counter playing style.  Or does she?  While a cursory look at her statistics seems to tell her rivals everything they need to know, her decision-making is actually stranger than it first seems as she targets only "warm" tiles.  Thus, come the end of her match nobody has quite nailed down Yuu's methodology, allowing her to claw back at least some of the deficit left by the first match.

With two players down, it's up to Ako to lead the charge next - and what a fine job she does of it too, racing away to win a number of hands and pick Achiga up off the bottom of the match leaderboard.  Although she eventually meets her match, once again courtesy of Senriyama as they look set to run away with the lead, come the end of match-up number three we see Achiga promoted all the way up to second place in a game where you could throw a towel over three of the four contenders.  Proverbially that is, not to hide the fact that they aren't wearing underwear.

Given how many weeks I was calling for it and complaining about the decided lack of it, I can only rejoice once again at an episode of Saki that prostrates itself almost solely at the altar of mahjong action.  It still doesn't match the original series in terms of drama and tension, in no small part due to having less interesting characters and individuals with less fascinating gameplay characteristics, but it's still good to watch and fun to follow so I can't help but get excited at it.  This is, after all, what I've been tuning into this series each and every week for, so it would be churlish of me to complain once it finally provides it in spades.

Space Brothers - Episode 7

When the going gets tough, the tough get going... except in Mutta's case, it seems that they bury their head in the proverbial sand.

As we quickly learn from this episode, when times are tough for Mutta he chooses to ignore his problems by almost literally flooding his brain with information, multi-tasking with all his might to push out any worrying thoughts from his head.  Given his current situation with regards to the astronaut selection procedure, it's no surprise then to find Mutta reading the paper, listening to the radio and watching television at the same time, all while eating his breakfast.

Of course, Hibito knows exactly what this means despite Mutta's assertions that there's nothing wrong, in turn leaving Hibito worrying about his younger brother.  Is it this that causes him to fail the latest aspect of his training when he normally breezes through everything?  Perhaps not, but either way Hibito seems to determined to find out what's bugging his brother, who finally relents somewhat and admits that his chances of qualifying for the next stage of the astronaut selection procedure are slim, even if he won't elaborate on why.  As Masa tries to fight Mutta's corner while JAXA try to whittle down their chosen parties to qualify for the next round of astronaut training, maybe all of that random data input into Mutta's brain will finally come to some use after all?

Although Space Brothers continues to be as blatant, and frequently cheesy, as it goes about its business of relaying Hibito and Mutta's stories, I still find myself more than able to forgive it such foibles.  Okay, since its more subtle hints way back in the first episode its become more and more aggressive in promoting Mutta's innate abilities, and sure it's lazy and downright clumsy at times in progressing its story (culminating in this week's story of a spate of robberies), but its characters and our love for them are strong enough to help it traverse such obstacles intact - even though we roll our eyes occasionally we still want to know what happens to Mutta and Hibito next, both as individuals and as siblings.  I'd be the first to admit there's a risk that this clumsiness could threaten to override the show's feel-good factor if it continues along these lines, but for now its still doing its core job of making me care about what's going on decidedly well.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 5

Now that Ao is more or less a proper member of Beneration Bleu (unless you get hung up about ID cards and the like), it's off to their rather impressive Swiss headquarters to find out what life is like as one of their IFO pilots.

Of course, Ao isn't the only one along for the ride - as well as Noah, we also have our three stowaways Gazelle, Pippo and Han, and as the Triton is unloaded it doesn't take too long to find that particular trio.  Although this looks set to mean big trouble for them, the information and knowledge they have on hand appears to be enough to secure them jobs of their own, although we still don't know exactly why.

As for Ao himself, this week's episode is really all about introducing us to HQ, getting to know another team of IFO pilots who go by the codename of "Goldilocks", and finding that Fleur and Elena still don't exactly seem too sure what to make of their new comrade as they fluctuate between welcoming him and leaving him well and truly out in the cold.  They don't seem to be the only ones with reservations either, as the leader of Goldilocks' team has no qualms about advising him to go home to his loved ones - words which may well be batted straight back at him as his team runs into severe problems on a mission to intercept a Scub Burst and the Secret that comes with it.  When backup is required as a result of these issues, who ya gonna call?  Pied Piper.

After a pretty slow episode last week, this latest instalment of Eureka Seven AO is similarly a little pedestrian out of necessity so that it can introduce us to more fully to Generation Bleu, their headquarters and how they work, whilst also filling out their roster of characters and pilots somewhat.  Thus, this particular episode just "is" - there's really not a huge amount to say about it as it goes about its business with a little food for thought and/or humour sprinkled here and there via some accomplished but far from mind-blowing chunk of exposition.  Let's talk again next week, which is where things should really get interesting, and we may finally be able to get more of a feel for where Eureka Seven AO is planning to head.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Tsuritama - Episode 5

Now that Yuki has well and truly caught the fishing bug, it's time for that shocking revelation that comes with pretty much any hobby - being enthusiastic about any interest is an expensive business.

Much as he'd love to buy his own equipment and gear, Yuki simply can't afford such luxuries at the moment, meaning that it's time to find himself a part-time job.  Luckily for him, there's a job at hand that will allow him to both earn money and increase his knowledge of fishing, courtesy of an opportunity to work on the boat of Ayumi (aka The Captain) alongside Haru, helping out tourists looking to do a spot of fishing out at sea.

Of course, having to deal with strangers, being at sea and numerous other things is a huge stress for Yuki, causing him to screw up on his first day to the point where he feels that he doesn't deserve his pay cheque.  On Ayumi's insistence however, he reluctantly takes the money, and as time goes on both his confidence and enjoyment grow - he becomes a better, more self-assured person, and he enjoys spending time around his new-found friends even more.

While all of this is somewhat satisfying to watch, it isn't exactly gripping viewing - Yuki's growth as a person makes for a nice centrepiece for this episode (and the series so far as a whole), but it only serves to increase the feeling that the more bizarre elements of the series are just there for show, and it isn't enough to cover up the fact that fishing is (to me at least) incredibly dull.  Kudos to Tsuritama for running with fishing, and in terms of animation and overall presentation it's done an incredible job of making it as vibrant as humanly possible, but ultimately from my personal perspective it's a bit like trying to make an anime series about eating celery interesting - no matter how you frame it, it isn't going to work.  Thus, Tsuritama remains in the realms of "pleasant, but towards the bottom of my watch list" for the season at the moment, not helped by the impressive company it keeps of a Thursday - I still get the feeling that might change, but unlike Yuki there's no sign of it breaking out of its shell just yet.

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 6

For this week's instalment of Lupin III, we find Fujiko Mine taking on the role of a teacher at an all-girls school - needless to say, her ability to seduce anybody in her presence doesn't simply extent to men...

While Fujiko's charms work their magic on her entire class to some degree or other it seems, both our own and her focus seems to be on one particular pupil - quiet, bookish transfer student Isolde.  Although we quickly come to realise what Isolde wants, it takes a little longer to reach the subject of Mine's own desires - a pendant which is part of a greater (and more valuable) equation.  The path to reaching this pendant seems easy for someone with Fujiko's talents, but all is not as it seems when it comes to the truth about Isolde...

So begins a second half to this episode full of the smart and sneaky twists and turns which have become one of the hallmarks of this series, as Lupin himself enters the fray while the tables turn this way and that between our two titular thieves and those who would look to prevent them from committing their crimes and have them locked away.  It's a battle of wits rather than strength, and somehow the outcome is all the more satisfying because of it, even though it only seems like a small battle which is likely to lead to a much bigger war between its opposing forces.  All this is without mention of another brief, confusing and surreal dive into the mind of Fujiko herself, which is surely going to be given more traction as we reach the second half of the season.

Perhaps it isn't as striking as some of its earlier episodes, but this is yet another hugely accomplished episode of Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna; one that teased a predictable male wish fulfilment "girls at single sex schools are all lesbians" before, much like Fujiko herself, turning the tables on its viewers and heading off in a rather different direction.  It isn't incredibly clever in its story telling, but it remains sufficiently so to be both great fun to watch as it makes the most of its characters throughout while still keeping you guessing as to where it might head and (more importantly) how it'll explain that progressing.  Although I keep expecting it to trip up and fall flat on its face at some point, Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna staunchly refuses to do so as it hits the heights as my favourite anime, episode for episode, of the season thus far.

Medaka Box - Episode 6

Having kicked off (or rather, splashed off) its latest story arc last week, we return to complete the inter-club aquatic meet for the latest outing of Medaka Box, with a fair old wedge of cash on the table for the winner.

With two events down, next up is an underwater three-legged race - with Medaka sitting out this particular event to try and make things a little fairer, it's left up to Hitoyoshi and Akune to do the business; something they look surprisingly capable of doing despite their complete lack of teamwork.  This is, of course, reckoning without the all-powerful swimming team who have a decidedly dangerous but ultimately successful technique up their sleeve to ease them to victory.

Thus, it all comes down to the final event - an underwater cavalry battle, with the added spice of points being awarded based upon the current rank of the team you snatch it from.  Although the swimming club are all set to take a tactical approach to matters, Medaka's preaching manages to goad them, and in particular Kikaijima, into a head-to-head battle with the student council.  Even here it seems as if our trio of swimmers have an obvious advantage, but never reckon without Medaka's ability to pull off the most ludicrous of manoeuvres to save the day and prevent the swimming team from gaining victory.  Despite this, even Medaka is powerless to stop the eventual (and decidedly sneaky) winner of the day, while her throwing away her own money on school matter sees her pressed into adding another member to look after the financial side of the student council.

After complaining thoroughly about last week's episode, I will admit to at least some level of improvement in this week's Medaka Box - given how utterly lifeless episode five was this isn't really difficult, but at least the show managed to muster up some energy and interesting twists (no matter how ludicrous) to make things a little more entertaining this time around.  Does that suddenly make this a good series?  Goodness no; there's still little to make me want to recommend it to anyone, but at this point in the game simply not boring me to tears is an improvement worth noting, and this week's instalment is the first to succeed in that for a few weeks.

Kids on the Slope - Episode 5

After his mis-steps with regard to Ritsuko last episode, it isn't exactly a surprise to see Kaoru well and truly in the doghouse with her as this fifth instalment of Kids on the Slope begins - even with Sentarou's constant prodding and interfering, Ritsuko simply refuses to talk to Kaoru under any circumstances.

Oddly, it's actually an impromptu play session with one of Sentarou's siblings that finally opens the door to discussion between Ritsuko and Kaoru, with the former admitting that she can't stay mad at the latter, but at the same time asserting to him that she likes someone else.  Of course, to a lovesick teenager her forgiveness for his actions are obliterated by her rejection of him, and thus he hides himself away or blanks her at every given opportunity in response as he seeks his own depressing solitude instead.

It isn't all bad news for our protagonist however, as he's handed a letter by his father - a letter containing the address in Tokyo of his errant mother who he hasn't seen since childhood.  With his father giving Kaoru an open opportunity to visit her, he ultimately decides to do just that, although he unwittingly ends up with Sentarou in tow, much to his chagrin.  Ultimately however, the two have quite the little adventure together before finally meeting Kaoru's mother - a sedate but ultimately emotional reunion which heals the wounds caused by Kaoru's rejection, if nothing else.  But what of the missing Jun, the love triangle involving himself, Sentarou and Yurika?

Despite having a lot to cover in this week's episode, this week's Kids on the Slope managed to carry it all off pretty admirably - Kaoru's selfish, "wounded animal" behaviour in light of Ritsuko's rejection is pretty much a perfect example of the kind of realistic character traits that are easy to empathise with in this series, lending that sheen of believability that supports the series throughout.  This was carried through in Kaoru's meeting with his mother, which was heart-achingly touching to watch at times and again felt very authentic in its depiction, Sentarou's tagging along for the ride perhaps not withstanding.  Overall then, another beautiful blend of drama, romance and humour wrapped in expertly as a coming of age tale that continues to be simply unmissable as amongst the best this spring has to offer.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Jormungand - Episode 5

The middle of the ocean looks set to provide some respite for Koko and her crew as we hit episode five of Jormungand (assuming, of course, that the Lagoon Company don't show up) - however, it proves to be anything but, particularly for Jonah as another aspect of his past catches up to him.

Initially however, it seems to be Koko herself who is the most concerned by the news she receives, becoming surprisingly flustered and ensuring that Jonah is hidden away as she finds herself visited by a rather special guest - her elder brother Caspar, who also happens to be an arms dealer.  While these two siblings shoot the breeze with talk of Chinese Triads and so on, Jonah is kept well away from Caspar - that is, until an ill-timed toilet break brings the two into contact with one another, and all Hell breaks loose.

It turns out that this isn't the first time Caspar and Jonah have met - a revelation that throws us well and truly into flashback territory and Jonah's time as a child solider.  Living alongside a group of orphans in the "care" of the local military, Jonah loses his cool when one of his number is taken away and used as a human "minesweeper" by a visiting arms dealer.  Swearing vengeance, Jonah tools up and almost literally decimates the place, killing everyone in his path before getting his sweet revenge on his intended target.  The trouble is, the man in question is an employee of Caspar's, and although his boss is largely unperturbed by losing one of his men he does seem intent upon teaching Jonah a lesson - or is it simply a test before handing off this child soldier into the care of his sister?

The one feeling that I couldn't really shake throughout this episode of Jormungand was just how contrived it was in setting us up for its flashback into Jonah's past, introducing Koko's brother and explaining the link between Jonah and the two siblings.  Beyond my irritation with this, I have to admit that there's a pretty solid episode to be found here - it's intensely disturbing it its depiction of children being used and abused in a war zone (as it should be), to the point where even Jonah's "Rambo moment" is unsettling to watch (again, as it should be) which makes for a powerful viewing experience at times and should be largely commended for the way it's handled here.  In a way this makes its fumbled "wrapping" feel even more frustrating, but as long as the candy inside is tasty enough I guess I can let it pass on this occasion.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Un-Go - Episode 0

It already feels like an age since I watched (and largely enjoyed) Un-Go and its smart take on the detective genre - now, it seems that it's finally time to plough my memories of the series by revisiting its origin story, aka "episode zero" of the show.

In short, this double-length episode, which got a Japanese theatrical screening to kick off the show before an eventual physical release at the end of the series proper, explores the life of Yuuki Shinjurou and how he came to wind up wandering around with the decidedly odd creature that is Inga.  The story effectively begins with Shinjurou (although this wasn't his name then) as a young boy with no parents, determined to make his mark on the world to repay those who had looked after his during his childhood.  But how to do this?  It's his inability to "make a difference" no matter what he tries that haunts this young man, even more so when he becomes the impromptu driver for a band who perform in war zones in the midst of an escalating conflict.

When their van comes under attack, everything changes for all of those involved, and for nobody more so than our protagonist as he "meets" Inga - he isn't the only one to have had a supernatural encounter as we flip back and forth between this scenario and the near future to find that the deity Bettenou has also been awakened by another member of the same party.  But who is making use of Bettenou, and to what ends?  Besides which, what of Inga and his relationship with his cohort?  So goes the birth of a detective....

In a sense, the timing of this release is rather unfortunate, as it feels as though it's come just at the point where Un-Go has slipped out of my consciousness, thus leaving me having to dredge of my memories of the series to get back into its groove.  Given that my main driver for watching the series was the show's mystery angle, I have to confess that episode zero isn't the most satisfying of instalments from that viewpoint as it has plenty of other fish to fry, including a contrived romance angle which really didn't feel believable to me.

From a more positive point of view, this episode certainly manages to fill all of the more frustrating gaps left by the story-telling of the series proper, so as someone who enjoyed the show I certainly welcomed this episode of animated Polyfilla.   There were also some nice ideas on show here above and beyond those we got to enjoy in the rest of the series, particularly with regard to Shinjourou's place as a man lost and without a true purpose, and the irony of his literal soul-searching to find that purpose turning out to feed that very desire - this was the icing on a broadly well-written cake provided you're willing to overlook the odd flaw or two.  If only this episode (perhaps split into two episodes) had been aired within the context of the series proper, I may have warmed to it even more.

AKB0048 - Episode 2

Despite the risks in doing so, Nagisa, Orine and Yuuka are on their way to the AKB0048 auditions - a journey which seemingly involves a trip on a rather luxurious looking spacecraft.

It probably goes without saying that this trio aren't the only ones headed to the auditions, and lo and behold we soon meet up with some more wannabe idols on the same flight - energetic stowaway (and failure in the first round of auditions, but she's still tagging along anyway regardless) Sonata, quiet but smart Suzuko, and easily worried Makoto Yokomizo.  As it turns out, there's one more would-be idol on the flight as well - our main trio's old friend Chieri, who has done a runner from her family to attend, in turn causing a massive search operation given her place as the heiress to the Zodiac Corporation.

That said, Chieri seems like a rather different character from the chirpy girl we met in episode one, with a steely-minded focus on her goal and an insistence than anyone else taking part in the auditions is nothing but a rival.  This philosophy is well and truly put to the test as their ship is invaded and boarded by the DES, who seem to have no qualms at firing machine guns at little girls in the name of crushing the entertainment industry (these guys make the MPAA seem even-handed).  Luckily, who else but AKB0048 themselves are on hand to save the day, repelling the attackers with their patented Taser hair ribbons and lightsabers, while they perhaps teach Chieri a little lesson in the importance of working with others in the process.

As per much of its first episode, the vast majority of this week's AKB0048 is undeniably daft, with plot holes you could drive a bus through - indeed, it seems that you could run over Chieri with that exact same bus and she'd come out unharmed judging by how she makes it through this episode.  Its characters are dumb, its plot is dumb, and there's quite clearly nothing you should even consider taking seriously about it - and that's exactly why it kind of works.  As pure, popcorn entertainment, AKB0048 is currently scraping by on the skin of its teeth as a piece of colourful, jaunty and mostly well presented piece of fluff - whether it can last the course on that alone is another matter entirely, but despite finding myself pointing and laughing at it (rather than with it) on a semi-frequent basis I can't find it in my heart to deride it too heavily.  Maybe I just have heart shapes in my eyes or something...

Hyouka - Episode 3

Having clearly harboured an agenda with regard to the Classic Club from the start, this third episode of Hyouka begins with Chitanda finally explaining exactly what the "personal reasons" behind her place in the club are.

In short, the entire story revolves around Eru's favourite uncle, who has since gone missing during a trip to India - it seems that he rather enjoyed regaling Eru with tales of the Classics Club (of which he is a former member from many years ago), but with one notable exception when Chitanda asked a question about the club which he was reticent to answer, and with an eventual response that reduced the young Eru to tears.  So what was the question, and what was his reply?  Chitanda simply can't remember no matter how hard she tries, and thus it's to Houtarou she turns in the hope that he can unlock this little mystery.  Needless to say, Oreki himself isn't exactly enamoured at the work that this could cause, but nonetheless he offers to be as helpful as he can if something comes along which may advance her search for the truth about Chitanda's missing uncle.

Rather serendipitously, no sooner are mid-term exams over than Houtarou receives a letter from his sister, who just happens to mention the location of the Classics Club's previous anthologies - a potential lead for Chitanda to follow.  Unfortunately for our protagonist, the club has moved club room since his sister's time, meaning that he's going to actually have to move to find the damned things - not only that, but there's a rather unfortunate obstacle in the way of actually obtaining the old anthologies, that puts Houtarou's simple but effective problem-solving abilities and "least cost route" of resolving a problem to the test once again.

If I was wavering on my thoughts about Hyouka up to this point, I have to confess that as of this week's episode I'm almost totally sold on the series - aside from its great direction (to the point where it occasionally tries a little too hard to be striking within otherwise ordinary scenes), I've somehow been drawn entirely into Houtarou's world and mindset; probably out of some degree of sympathy with his way of going about things, if I'm honest.  It's a characteristic that powers the series as a whole wonderful, making the most of its mundane mysteries and somehow making them fascinating in the process, while we now have more of a solid central plot to keep things moving alongside this.  Hyouka is undoubtedly gorgeous to look at, but it's fast becoming equally entertaining to watch in its own quiet but incisive and well-planned way... rather like an amalgam of its pair of main characters, now that I think about it.