Friday, 29 June 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 11

This week's episode of Eureka Seven AO sees us heading off the Manchester, and the world-famous Cavern Club.  Wait... shouldn't that be Liverpool?

The subject of this little jaunt isn't to do the Smiths tour or reminisce about Joy Division, but to get to the bottom of a question that haunted us briefly earlier in the series - who is the singer named Miller, what's her relation to Generation Bleu, and most importantly of all what is her relation to Elena Peoples?  Although it seems obvious that the two of them are the same person, there's much more to this theory than meets the eye, and it's a question that this episode deliberately seems to answer before taking a step back and toying with it a little further.

Much of this ties in directly with the Pied Piper crew's latest engagement with a Secret - at least, they try to engage the Secret expected of an Australian Scub Burst but find no sign of one.  This makes for what seems like an incredibly easy mission, offset only by the fact that in this desert setting the sand gets everywhere... but what if that sand was the secret?  Before we know it Team Goldilocks, Ao and Elena are on a hallucination-driven rampage that, in the case of those latter two individuals, casts further doubt on the truth about Elena's identity.  Just who is this girl, and why are so many interested parties putting so much effort into finding out?

If there's one thing that can be said about Eureka Seven AO, it's that it certainly knows how to use its situations to create deliberate confusion and doubt in plot points that would otherwise be simple - we saw it previously in the case of Truth and Naru during the latter's kidnap, and it rears its head again to throw doubt over Elena's identity and activities this time around.  Though it might not be fresh idea-wise, it certainly keeps things interesting in an instalment which is based almost entirely around the premise of Elena's past and motives, and it sets the scene for what could be some interesting progression of her story moving forward.  Between this and an increasingly fantastic soundtrack, the lack of action wasn't too troublesome here as there was enough to be getting on with to keep things enjoyable - it still concerns me a little that we don't have a real focal point for the series yet even at this point, but at the moment Eureka Seven AO seems to be getting by just fine.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 13 (Completed)

With Fujiko literally coming face to face with the core of her strigiform demons, does she have what it takes to defeat them or will she find herself beholden to them once again?

While Fujiko's own resolve appears not to be strong enough to tackle the overbearing influence of Luis Yu Almeida, luckily for her Lupin and Daisuke are soon on-hand to help her out and keep her from falling into his psychological clutches.  It's here that the twists start coming thick and fast, as the Almeida who seems to have been mentally torturing Fujiko proves to be nothign more than a dummy.  Moving further into the catacombs of this building, we find a puzzle controlled by a disembodied electronic voice which could give Portal's GladOS a run for her money - a voice which seems to belong to another of Almeida's victims.

Or does it?  Initially perhaps yes, but the woman in question - Aisha - is in fact a victim turned torturer herself, and it was she who invaded Fujiko's mind in the hope of both ensuring that the fear of her former keeper stays alive and giving her a chance of vicariously living the life which she never could.  Unfortunately for Aisha, most of the subjects of her brainwashing experiments quickly committed suicide, leaving only Fujiko, a former maid, to show Aisha her dream life.  While Aisha believes this is as a result of her experimentation, the truth is rather different, and things only unravel further once we learn the true face of Minerva.  As everything comes crashing down in flames, Fujiko is granted freedom from the demons which have plagued her, and even Aisha is offered a final glimpse of the outside world she never got to see.  But does Lupin get his woman?  Well, not quite...

Things were always likely to end on a complex note as Lupin III delved further and further into madness throughout the series, but this proved to a wonderfully twisting, turning and mind-bending finale to the series - the way the episode's revelations stacked upon one another was delicious, and even when it was obvious what was coming next it was hard not to delight in its reveal.  The series also excelled at ensuring that all of its main cast of characters remained largely true to themselves to the end, despite all the twists in the path laid in front of them, to prove that the show's characterisation was equally as strong as its storytelling.

While I've enjoyed a few shows this season, none really stick out as strongly for me as Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - I was initially reticent about its art style, but as time went by it seemed to become more and more accomplished at using it to its benefit, and as the more surreal psychological drama of the show came into play so the dark tone of this artwork really came into its own.  Of course, visuals are nothing without a story to back it up, and save for episode seven's jaunt in Cuba this series was a triumph week upon week - its early episodic affairs were great fun to watch and compelling in their own right, and as we were dragged further into Fujiko's psyche and the events of these earlier episodes were linked into the bigger picture it became increasingly clear that here was an intelligently planned, plotted and paced body of work.  Quite simply, nothing else I've seen this year so far has come close to matching Lupin III in making me sit up and pay attention, and from some humble beginnings from my point of view as someone with no prior experience of the franchise it speaks volumes that this is currently my most beloved series of 2012.  I'm not sure whether to hope for more of the same in the future, or simply feel satisfied with what we have here as a one-off work of excellence that could, or maybe even should, never be repeated.

Tsuritama - Episode 12 (Completed)

A full-strength typhoon, their precious and legendary lure broken and all hope seemingly lost - where next for oursea-faring friends as they attempt to fish JFX out of the ocean?

It seems that the only option left is for Haru to sacrifice himself for the greater good, but as he says his rather protracted goodbyes Yuki is having none of it, racking his brains in a desperate last-gasp search for an answer... and whaddya know, he finds one.  This couldn't come as a better moment either, as time finally runs out in terms of keeping Duck's barrage of missiles at bay.

Ultimately, Yuki's idea is a simple one - rather than having Haru sacrifice himself, why not simply use him as a lure?  This makes for one of the show's more satisfying scenes, as Haru has fishing line tied tightly around the neck before he's dumped into the ocean.  Joking aside, this is just the ticket when it comes to catching Haru's alien comrade, and as JFX is fished out of the sea the bad weather breaks to reveal sunshine as fish rain down across the town and we're introduced to the true nature of the threat which has hounded Enoshima of late.  From here, it's happy endings all around, as even Haru and his newly-caught friend quickly make a return to Earth after saying their goodbyes.

This plethora of happy endings for all and sundries, including the re-emergence of the "transfer student" trope to resolve everything as positively as possible, is broadly fitting of the twee nature of Tsuritama, which continued to be colourful and fundamentally cheerful even when it was throwing explosions and missiles around.  The sense of the surreal and ridiculous never really sat well with me, especially when coupled with the insistence upon viewing everything through the lens of fishing, which frankly left me cold.  As a result of all of these things, I never found myself caring about the characters or the situations befalling them - a huge issue for a show predicated almost entirely around you feeling for its characters and their relationships.  While Kids on the Slope was a runaway success for me this season, Tsuritama is easily the spring's biggest disappointment for me - beyond its colourful shenanigans it could do nothing at all to catch my eye.

Kids on the Slope - Episode 12 (Completed)

Despite his best attempts to stop it from happening, last week's penultimate episode of Kids on the Slope saw Sentarou flying the nest and disappearing goodness knows where - needless to say, this is something that can only have a huge impact upon those around him.

Despite showing improved grades and with lofty ambitions for his future, Kaoru is anything but happy during the remainder of the period until his graduation from high school which the first half of this final episode follows - keeping his distance from others around him who look to include him in their activities, he even goes so far as to be wilfully destructive in his relationship with Ritsuko with a mix of anger, scorn and self-loathing which proves to be a noxious mix.  With Kaoru leaving for Tokyo, it seems that those heady school days will never be resurrected, and even the fact that Ritsuko sees him off on the train (albeit belatedly) is nothing if not bittersweet.

Fast forward eight years later, and we find Kaoru working as a young doctor in Tokyo, working too hard to think about his past... at least, that is, until his past decides to come and find him.  After seeing one old high school buddy on television, the next thing we know Kaoru bumps into Yurika - with "bump" being the operative word for the pregnant young woman.  More importantly however, Yurika is in possession of a rather intriguing photograph - a picture from a friend's wedding which contains a priest who looks almost unmistakably unique.  Despite those eight long years since their last meeting, Kaoru jumps at the possibility of being reunited with his close friend, and he isn't the only one as we're treated to a saccharine, feel-good ending to the series.

As closing episodes go, this could almost be considered as two separate stories - the first half is dressed in the grim garb of reality, and a world where school life ends and everything you enjoyed during that time is gradually lost; friends drift away and move elsewhere, and things you held incredibly dear to you simply up and leave.  Compared to this, the second rapidly cashes this prospect in for a flight of youthful fancy, ditching everything you've been working towards for years to reunite with those you once loved to find that they still feel exactly the same about you.  It's a strangely unrealistic end to a show that has revelled in its realism, and while I can't begrudge either the series or its characters a happy ending it isn't for me - the cynical, world-weary human within me can more readily embrace the harsh reality of waving goodbye to somebody and knowing that it really is a goodbye rather than a more hopeful "au revoir".

Then again, my dissatisfaction with the reversion to a slightly cheap happy ending does nothing to dispel the massive impression that this series has left upon me - it's engaged me both visually and with its characters as their stories played out, balancing its sense of comedy and drama most excellently.  Backed up by both its visual and audio aesthetics, everything about Kids on the Slopehas charmed me and shone bright - tugging my heartstrings on the one hand while making me laugh out loud with the other.  This is, quite possibly, the best noitaminA series we've seen for quite some time, and it's one that I could happily rewatch multiple times.  Roll on the North American Blu-Ray release.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Jormungand - Episode 12 (Completed)

With Dominique and his dangerous duo well and truly on the case of Koko and her own band of troops, has our enigmatic arms dealer finally met her match?

Of course not - after a brief flashback into the origins of former Mafia man Grego amongst her number, we quickly see the tables turned on Dominique's henchmen, before the boss man himself is put out of commission in the ensuing car chase as Grego looks to escape and ensure Koko's safety.  The danger over, the only real question here is who hired these goons to take out Koko?  With so many enemies in high places, the answer isn't likely to be anything other than a worrying one.

With this resolved in short order, our attention can return to Valmer, who does her utmost to shake the attentions of Jonah before heading off to complete her vengeance.  There's no prizes for guessing her target, as she turns up at the gate of the Daxinghai Company's pipeline plant and has no hesitation in laying waste to all those present as she searches out Chen Guoming, albeit not before finding herself reliant upon the help of Jonah as he finds his comrade once again.  Her mission completed, there are some final twists in this particular tale - twists that threaten to prove fatal for some of those involved.

Despite marking the series as completed, this is in fact only the half-way point of Jormungand, with more to come in the autumn - something which I'm ultimately looking forward to.  Don't get me wrong, the series has a number of flaws - it's overly insistent upon depicting all of its major characters as intensely deranged in some shape or form, and it often struggled to depict and animate gunfights with any kind of panache, which is a pretty big issue for a show so filled with gunplay and heavily armed individuals.  In spite of this, the show as a whole kept my attention with some compelling scenarios and storylines (although even this is arguably a little repetitive with its "assassins of the week" nature), but above all thanks to the enigma which is Koko Hekmatyar, perhaps the spring season's stand-out character.  While it would be easy to write Koko off as another deranged character within the cast, her portrayal actually hints at far more than that - we see a certain, twisted sensitivity to her and evidence that she can be shocked by the brutality around her behind the facade of a tactical and psychological genius beyond compare in her field.

Even at the end of this series is still feels like we know so little about Koko and her family, but she's someone I want to know much, much more about - a simple fact which will have me tuning again for her continuing adventures later this year, even if this show is no Black Lagoon.  Come on, I couldn't finish this piece without mentioning it at least once...

Monday, 25 June 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 9

It takes more than an assault in space to stop an AKB0048 concert, and despite the troubles that closed the end of the previous episode their event on the far from welcoming (as its name suggests) Tundrastar is all set to go ahead.

Given her injuries from that aforementioned battle, it seems inevitable that Takamina is going to have to step aside for the concert, with Kanata lined up to take her place despite her superior's qualms about the switch.  Things are less complicated for the other stand-ins however, as they find themselves with some spare time to head out and play in the snow - a trip which leads them to see the hardships that the people of this planet are having to endure (clearly not, as the girls seem to think, solely because there's a ban on entertainment - nobody has ever had to suffering rationing on account of a lack of saccharine J-pop), while also introducing them to a group of enthusiastic youngsters who instantly recognise these understudies, proving that the group's guerilla concert can possibly do some good in this wasteland of a country.

Indeed, watching these youngsters romping around has given Mariko... sorry, I mean Tsubasa... an idea - to hold multiple live events at the exact same time to sow the seeds of confusion amidst the DES forces before unleashing the real concert upon the public.  Thus, it's left to the stand-ins to make themselves known throughout the town with their opponents in hot pursuit - little do they know that at the main stage Takamina has taken it upon herself to drag herself from her hospital bed to take Kanata's place in the line-up away from her at the last second.  It's a risky move that causes an uneasy freezing over of the pair's relationship, although seeing Takamina in action as she pushes herself to the limit seems to assuage any frustrations within Kanata's heart as they well and truly make up come the end of the episode.

Despite some flawed moments (the whole "they must be poor and starving because they have no entertainment" concept may be giggle a little), this was an unspectacular episode of AKB0048 that nonetheless worked pretty well, giving us plenty of concert footage - something which it has oddly shied away from quite frequently given its origins - and a mix of bitchiness and friendship between Takamina and Kanata that felt quite believable.  It's not something that will live long in the memory, but it made for a colourful slice of entertainment that I can't particularly fault no matter how I might want to poke fun at it; instead, I actually found myself having a little fun watching it, even if the show isn't as grandiose as I suspect it might think it is.  Besides, we got to see another outing for the glow-stick homing missiles - how can you not enjoy that?!

Hyouka - Episode 10

Having shot down everyone else's ideas in some shape or form, Houtarou now finds himself at the centre of Irisu's attention as she seeks to ensure that the culture festival movie production under her management is completed successfully.  Indeed, you could go as far as to say that Houtarou has always been the centre of Irisu's attention in this regard.

Such are her stirring words that we soon find Houtarou heading into school of his own volition, buoyed by her impassioned thoughts that solving this "murder" is something that only he can do.  Even Satoshi seems to be a little jealous of the way Houtarou's mind works as they head to school together before sitting down to rewatch the incomplete movie together with Ibara.  Before he knows it however, both of these individuals have been dragged away (quite literally in one case) to other important tasks, leaving Houtarou to ponder the answer to this mystery alone.

Aided by some interesting notes made by Satoshi and left in his care, Houtarou ponders all of the possibilities before ultimately presenting what proves to be a compelling solution to an initially sceptical Irisu - in short, there was a seventh character within this production, and that seventh character had to be placed in the one position that could pull off every aspect of this locked room murder mystery with easy... the cameraman.  Ultimately, everything seems to add up with his idea, and Irisu not only accepts it but allows Houtarou to choose a final name for the production - something he duly does, before getting to enjoy a positive reaction from the film's culture festival screening.  Thus comes to the end another job well done for our lazy and decidedly amateur sleuth... but in his fervour, has even he overlooked one very important point involving this production?  Mayaka certainly seems to think so.

Although we can't quite call this the end of the current story arc thanks to its cliff-hanger ending, this week's instalment of Hyouka still made for a staid but satisfying conclusion to the mystery which has been pondered over previous weeks.  You can only be fair to the story and its presentation in saying that all of the clues were left in place for viewers to figure things out for themselves, which goes a long way to making its final reveal enjoyable surprising (for those of us who aren't super-sleuths already, anyhow) when backed up by the consistently gorgeous and occasionally striking visuals of the series.  It still isn't the kind of thing which is ever likely to be a memorable classic, and you could argue that Kyoto Animation are being a little ponderous in the show's treatment, but it continues to hold a mild yet undoubted grip over my interest as it goes about its business, for which it should be commended.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 11

While it increasingly feels like this series should be subtitled The Rampage of Teru Miyanaga, someone is going to have to do something quickly to halt the run of victories building up for Shiratodai's ace, and it's Toki Onjouji who seems to have the best opportunity of doing this as she pushes her ability to the limit.

After failing to gain an advantage from looking two turns into the future, Toki feels compelled to do it again despite the risk that it poses to her body - even then, she can do nothing but watch on powerlessly as Teru continues to rack up the points.  In the meantime, we take a look into the back story of Shindouji's Hanada - a girl placed as the first player for her school's team as a "sacrifice" to allow the other members to do their thing, and also an individual who is more than happy to play such a role, making her aim to minimise losses and avoid going "bust" and nothing else.

Not that this is proving to be an easy task with Teru Miyanaga set across the table from her, and eventually it comes down to Onjouji playing against type that finally puts an end to the tyranny of Miyanaga (whose sister is trying to avoid watching her play at all costs).  Even this still only serves as a temporary respite, as Teru has one final shot at playing as the dealer left - lo and behold, that means another round of ever-increasing victories for this terrifying player.  As Toki all-but passes out in a blaze of memories of the actions of her friends which allowed her to be at the tournament, are those thoughts enough to give her a second wind and a further upgrade to her powers to allow her to turn the tide in this one-sided game?

Although I should probably be bored of all the focus on Onjouji by now... I'm honestly not.  After spending so much time with the largely uninteresting Achiga girls, it continues to be a breath of fresh air to take in the show's more interesting characters and their circumstances in a little more depth.  This is complemented nicely by the ever-increasing sense of dread as the seemingly unassailable Mahjong Terminator that is Teru Miyanaga continues her rampage, which also continues to be fascinating to watch no matter how one-sided.  This is certainly a far, far cry from those stilted early instalments of Episode of Side-A, and the show is almost infinitely better for it.

Space Brothers - Episode 13

Back in the confines of their testing environment, the challenges continue for our three teams of wannabe astronauts, while at least one member of these groups has realised that the wristbands they're wearing are far more than simply "lucky charms", and rather are yet another way of monitoring each individuals performance and response to any given situation.

Such concerns seems to be far from the minds of Mutta and some of the others as they go about their testing - running on a treadmill while answering simple (well, simple if you want to be an astronaut) mathematical questions, typing out long reams of text to evaluate their concentration and endurance, and so on.

Where things really get interesting is in the group's next big challenge - a request for each team to write and submit a letter of protest to a TV news anchor who is publicly skeptical about the point of spending so much of taxpayers money on space exploration.  Of course, this is a topic that all of our applicants feel strongly about, and they all have their own take on the need to explore space - Tomii from Team B crafts a response based around the thoughts of Richard Dawkins and eminent scientists, whereas Mutta ponders a metaphor used by another astronaut, Soichi Noguchi (who incidentally voices himself here, real-life astronaut as he is).  As some, but not all, of our participants clamour over what is the "correct" answer, others wonder where there is such a thing - indeed, Mutta's eventual assertion is that protesting at all is pointless, and that ultimately the eventual long-term accessibility of space travel to all and sundry will eventual change the opinions of those still of the belief that it's a waste of money.  Although all three teams ultimately submit a letter, Mutta's thoughts seem to have left a mark upon JAXA's director, if nothing else...

Although there wasn't quite as much here to grab us as previous episodes of Space Brothers, this week's instalment nonetheless came into its own thanks to its discussion as to the importance of space travel - the kind of thing which I could happily hear being endlessly debated, even if the responses within this series were naturally rather one-sided.  It's these little windows into the world in which we live now that do their part to make this show both enjoyable and accessible, and this is a great example of this, proving to be at least a little thought-provoking while also having some fun and taking care to slowly build its characters.  Put simply, Space Brothers shows no signs of running out of steam as it reaches for the stars.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 10

After a week off on account of Euro 2012, Eureka Seven AO returns by dumping us straight into midst of the emergence of another Secret.  Worse still, the critter has shown up as a result of a Scub Burst in America - Phoenix, Arizona more precisely.

While this sounds exactly like the kind of job Generation Bleu were created for, the powers that be within the US are... less keen to deploy their services, which see Rebecka up against a former colleague of hers turned politician from a high-profile PR company as she tries to broker a deal to let the crew of Pied Piper handle things before a disaster emerges.  This confrontation gives us a little glimpse into her, and ultimately her chief Ivica's, past, while further extending the sense of political unease which permeates the show.

While all of this is going on, the Chief himself makes an unusual decision, choosing to head into the thick of the action while accompanied by Ao in the hope of organising an opportunity to fight back against the Secret himself.  This proves to be ill-advised - not because of the army's presence and interests, but because it seems that much of what is going on is again at least somewhat under the control of Truth, who is using civilians as "sacrifices" to lure it out.  This leaves the Chief and Ao right in the thick of things, with the latter seemingly taking the mental brunt of what transpires around him while the former makes better use of the skeletons within his closet, culminating in taking on a pivotal role in the defeat of the Secret as the rest of Pied Piper belatedly comes to the rescue.  Are we a step closer to discovering the truth about the Secrets and their relation to humanity?

After some entertaining instalments here and there, this week's Eureka Seven AO was okay - no more, no less.  Without any real mecha action to speak of, the episode relies instead on some important points of plot progression and characterisation, and in the latter field it really struggles - more specifically, I simply couldn't get a handle on Ao's emotions throughout this episode as he went from sane to batshit bonkers mental breakdown to cunning plan-meister to bonkers again to saviour to cool pilot.  What?  Just... what?!  It was a hugely clumsy attempt to breathe life into an otherwise staunch but unremarkable episode, and it does leave me worrying (perhaps prematurely) that this entertaining show could be headed in the wrong direction.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Tsuritama - Episode 11

Despite an inadvertent missile strike against the port as the typhoon, and more importantly JFX's control of the Duck reinforcement vessels, takes hold, our group of friends are still determined to catch this alien before it does too much damage no matter what.

Thankfully, although the Captain is injured his fishing equipment (and even more importantly his boat) are still intact, meaning that the plan to capture JFX is still well and truly on.  That is, provided they can get past Duck's opposition, as their leader makes one final attempt to bring Yamada back onside.  Once this fails, Akira uses his surprisingly proficient fighting techniques to buy them the time the group needs to take to the sea on the trail of their opponent.

From here, it's really all about Yuki and his attempts to fish out JFX in the midst of stormy seas as the typhoon reaches the cusp of hitting the area.  Can he catch it in time?  He's going to need all of his nous to do so, but despite all of his planning and forethought it still might not be enough to save the day as the world's media look on.  Is Haru going to have to sacrifice himself for the greater good in his stead?

Now that it really has some solid drama to get its teeth into, this is at least a solid episode of Tsuritama, even though it still struggles to really generate any excitement out of a pivotal moment that involves catching a fish, no matter how big.  Again, things maybe different if you have more interest or empathy with its characters, but I simply don't - Natsuki aside, none of the individuals within the show resonate with me in the slightest.  There are some nice touches here - Yuki using his way of replaying events in his head to his advantage was smartly done in particular - and the show is certainly above average compared to a lot of anime fare, but not by much and not in a way which engages me on a personal level.

Kids on the Slope - Episode 11

I'm sure I wasn't the only one expecting this to be Kids on the Slope's final episode, so it's rather a pleasant surprise to find that it's actually running on into next week - it's most definitely a case of the more the better with this show, however.

With the return of his father imminent, Sentarou has taken it upon himself to leave his home in the dead of night given the rocky relationship between father and son - luckily perhaps, Kaoru now knows Sentarou well enough to figure out what's up, and duly ambushes him as soon as he decides to leave.  Having created a sufficient ruckus to wake the rest of the household, Sen has no choice but to stay, and upon his father's return things have perhaps changed for the better, with Sentarou's father even going to the lengths of giving his eldest child an expensive gift.

Thus, all is wonderful in the world of our main characters as they begin the hard work of preparing for their latest school festival appearance, with their only real worry being the possibility of being outshone by Seiji's group - a problem swiftly resolved by press-ganging Ritsuko into singing duties for their own band.  So, life seems to be perfect... however, life also has a habit of sticking a proverbial leg out and tripping you up just as everything seems to be perfectly placed, and so it goes that an accident brings about a life-changing state of affairs which looks set to rob Sentarou of everything.

Ignoring my glee at the fact that this series has another episode still to run, Kids on the Slope once again managed to deliver everything that it aimed to here in spades - even after a surprisingly quick resolution to Sentarou's plan to leave home (in the short-term at least), this week's instalment managed to deliver plenty of joy and beautiful moments of friendship on the one hand, and sadness on the other.  Where other shows may trip up in offering such a wide gamut of human emotion in one hit, Kids on the Slope managed to balance it perfectly, melodrama and all, creating a stand-out episode of an already superb series.  I'm both excited that we're still not done with the series yet, but sad that the end is still nigh.

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 12

It's time for Lupin IIIto reach its end game, as its final arc promises to reveal the real story of the woman named Fujiko Mine - but is it a story we can believe in, or simply another layer of untruths and falsehoods?

Following the disappearance of Oscar, Detective Zenigata has himself a new assistant, but more importantly it seems that he has little time for messing around in the wake of recent events, arresting Fujiko with ridiculous ease.  Although his primary task is still her capture however, Zenigata's interest lays elsewhere, and as attention turns towards Glaucus Pharmaceutical and Luis Yu Almeida so Fujiko turns from captive to partner as both herself and Zenigata head off towards Glaucus Park.

This derelict amusement park proves to be a suitable discomfiting and surreal setting for what is to follow, as our unlikely duo find themselves drawn towards the park's "House of Fujiko" - a ride which threatens to strip bare the truth of Fujiko Mine's story, life and purpose which inevitably sends her into a paranoid tailspin while the mastermind behind it all, Fujiko's "Papa", pulls the strings.  It isn't just Zenigata and Fujiko herself who are here however, as the rest of the main cast also assemble at the park for various reasons as they themselves realise their place in Fujiko's story.  But are they too simply puppets whose strings have been pulled throughout, and if so can any of them break free from this control to effect change upon their circumstances?  It's this question which hangs heavily over all and sundry as this penultimate instalment comes to an end.

If I had any concerns over this series falling flat towards the finishing line (and I'm not sure that I did to be honest), they were quashed by yet another superb instalment of Lupin III.  Okay, so the surreal, menacing theme park idea is far from a fresh, new one but it's still user excellently here to bring us some literal roller-coaster action scenes while simultaneously providing the unsettling sense that all is not right with this world.  As we reach the climax of the series, the narrative also becomes playfully meta in its delivery, treating Fujiko's life and the role of its other players as a "story" abstracted from the series itself - a concept which works surprisingly well at adding a thoughtful tint to everything that has gone before within the series.  This leaves us with another episode that has been utterly compelling as it makes use of both its characters and art style to deliver what it intends to with maximum effect - if it can just bring us a finale to match, this will undoubtedly be one of the animated triumphs of 2012.

Medaka Box - Episode 12 (Completed)

After her decidedly intense run-in with Unzen over the past few episodes, even Kurokami Medaka needs some time off school to recover and heal, leaving the remainder of the student council in a new, makeshift office and in rather an unusual position for them - one of complete and utter tranquility.

As those assembled ponder whether this state of affairs compared to the usual insanity surrounding the council is akin to the case of a genius provoking more crimes or simply that said detective is just better at finding them, it's pointed out that the remaining members should probably actually check the suggestion box, being their job and all.  Upon doing this they discover that they do indeed have a request, albeit a simple one - the oddball shogi club president (any who feels the need to hold her head on so it doesn't drop off counts as oddball in my book) Mochibaru Sasae wants to find a missing shogi piece in her clubroom.

Thus, our student council trio head over to the filthy clubroom to take a look for the missing piece, to no avail.  Sasae is adamant that the piece must be in the room, but there's clearly more to it than that despite her denials, and once Akune spots that all of the club's shogi sets are missing the same piece, the truth eventually comes out.  Rather than simply going missing, these pieces have been stolen by Miri Natayama, a rather special genius and expert shogi player who has recently left the club after being passed up for its presidency.  It's then up to the council to investigate and confirm their suspicions and bring this dispute to a peaceful end - something they do in a style and manner of which Medaka herself would be proud.

So comes to the end probably the biggest disappointment of the spring season - a much-hyped manga adaptation that has frequently been akin to pulling teeth to watch as it morosely trawled through its subject matter with little in the way of flair or conviction.  This left much of the show feeling like it had been "phoned in" by those responsible - possibly a worse crime than simply making a bad series but at least trying to do something different.  Although there are glimmers of hope towards the end of this series, comprising of one slightly stronger story arc and finally some motivation to warm to its major characters with a view towards a now-confirmed second season, they are just that - tiny slithers of hope in the midst of a dull, uninteresting mess.  Despite this, I'll still be watching the show's continuation whenever it might air - not because I'm looking forward to it, but because I'm a hopeless completist who doesn't know when to leave something well alone.  Don't follow my example however - I'd advise that anyone still on the fence about this series should steer well clear of one of the most uninspired shows I've had cause to watch in quite some time.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Jormungand - Episode 11

A new (and final) story arc for Jormungand sees the gang embarking on a simple mission to provide a few lorry-loads of guns to an Italian mafia group.  What could be easier?  Of course, nothing is truly simple in the world of Koko and company.

This is particular true at the moment of Valmer, who we find staring off into the middle distance as Koko unveils the group's latest job.  After flashing back to Valmer and Koko's first meeting, when they were both much younger and the latter persuaded the former to join her merry band in what we assume to be its formative period, we see rather a surprising sight - Valmer taking her leave and heading off alone.  At least, she plans to head off alone, but little does she realise that Jonah has decided to keep her company.. rather, he was sent to keep her company by Koko.

In the meantime, we're introduced to a trio of unusual assassins as they go about their grisly business, before following them on their next job, which (of course) involves taking down Ms Hekmatyar, while Koko finds her bad day getting worse as losing Valmer is compounded by her mafia friends trying to pay her off in drugs - not something that Koko is willing to deal with, causing a decidedly one-sided fire-fight as a result.  With two members of her crew missing, it's no surprise that the aftermath of this is when Dominque and his two killer henchmen (well, henchpersons) decide to strike, with seemingly deadly consequences.

All of this adds us to what looks set to be a rip-roaring finale to Jormungand - this episode was a little muddled in places (a criticism that I feel can be aimed at the show throughout as it tries to cram too much information into too short a timeframe), but Valmer's back story and her hunt for vengeance is interesting enough, while the troubles facing the rest of the group seems like a genuine threat compared to all of the "easy meet" they've been put up against up to this point.  Stealing the show once again though is Koko herself, as we get yet another viewpoint on this enigmatic woman as she opines on her relationship with Valmer while still having no qualms about taking her bad day out on a mafia member via a bullet to the face.  Has there been a more complex, unfathomable yet fascinating character this spring season?

Summer 2012 anime preview

You people know the drill by now - a new anime season on the horizon means me writing up a hefty preview article for the UK Anime Network, complete with as many trailers as we can possibly compile together with my thoughts on what could be hot and what most likely will not over the coming few months.  Thus, behold!  The summer 2012 anime preview, which is all yours to click upon at the link below!

What are you guys going to be watching for the summer season?  I've already made my picks, but as always I'll keep you in the dark about them until they start airing.  Unless you look at my MAL "to watch" list, in which case you already know.  So much for secrecy...

Monday, 18 June 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 8

After all of last week's build-up, the start of this week's AKB0048 sees our new stand-ins make their début in concert - and it isn't just them who impress, as it seems that all of the other newcomers have been hard at work practising and learning new songs alongside those stand-ins despite not being selected for the gig.

This hard work hasn't gone unnoticed either, and those involved soon find themselves "rewarded" (if you can call it that) with a place in the line-up at the next AKB0048 guerilla concert.  The reason for those inverted commas is that said concert just so happens to be at a planet which currently has a complete ban on entertainment, which clearly marks it out very specifically as one of the most dangerous places in the galaxy to go about your business as an idol group.

Of course, this does little to dim the excitement of the girls, nor does it extinguish the anger of the generation of understudies which came before them as they remain oblivious to the reasons why they've been overlooked.  This is particularly true of Megumi from within that group, who clearly has a chip on her shoulder against anyone who has advanced their career further than her - an attitude that even a head-butt (yes, a head-butt) from Suzuko won't dislodge.  Speaking of the reasoning behind who gets chosen and who is left behind within the group, the current Takamina's knowledge of the selection process and the dark art behind it continues to haunt her, as she's caught between following her own dreams and making way for those of Kanata - not the best distraction to have in your mind when DES forces attack the group's spacecraft with vicious force.

Having toyed with various aspects of its story and structure during its first half, it seems as if AKB0048 is finally settling down into its groove - an unspectacular groove, admittedly, but one that largely works for it as it puts its own spin on the hardships of this idol group and the system its individuals are brought up in.  It's certainly more entertaining than the entirely saccharine and happy, airbrushed series I was worried it might be, so although it isn't likely to live long in the memory (and it's certainly no Macross Frontier) I'm not sorry that I've been watching it.  Besides, where else can you see cute anime girls head-butting one another?

Hyouka - Episode 9

It would be tough to describe the Classics Club's efforts to get the bottom of an unfinished, class-produced mystery movie as "serious business", but nonetheless our club foursome sit down to ponder the potential endings and theories provided by a trio of the production's staff in this week's Hyouka.  We can tell that this is a big deal, as Chitanda has brought chocolates.

Unfortunately, the chocolates in question also happen to contain whiskey - something which most of the Classics Club members, and indeed their theorising guests, quickly cotton on to and thus give said chocolates a wide berth.  Not so Chitanda herself, who gleefully munches away for the entire episode - you can probably figure out where that plot point is headed, and a wonderful thing to behold it is too.

That aside, rather less wonderful are the theories put forward by the production's assistant director, props manager and publicity manager.  The first of this trio puts together a simple proposal as to the potential killer and how they implemented this seemingly locked room murder - they just used the window.  Once this is blown out of the water, our second theory seems rather more plausible if a little plain, involving abseiling down from the window of the floor above - again however, this doesn't work once you ponder the logistics of the situation.  Finally, the owner of our third theory is more interested in turning the film into a horror-esque bloodbath than a more traditional mystery, locked room be damned.  Thus, we're left with three less than satisfactory arguments, and still no ending for the film in sight.  However, a chance encounter (or is it?) for Houtarou might be about to resolve the situation...

If nothing else, this current story arc within Hyouka is certainly keeping its powder dry as it wilfully keeps Houtarou's acumen at bay to let idiots flounder around with their theories as he looks on almost entirely passively.  As a result, it's Chitanda, and her alcoholic proclivities, which dominates the episode, lending a comical tone to an instalment that would otherwise have proved rather dull as we leave the episode barely any further forward than we started it.  Whether that alone is enough to label this episode as enjoyable is a debatable one, but accompanied by its ever-stunning presentation Hyouka does somehow manage to be a little greater than the sum of its parts.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 10

This week's instalment of Saki - Episode of Side-A begins with Nodoka dreaming of her former friends Shizuno, Ako and Kuro - could this be a sign?!

Not if the current goings-on at the mahjong table are anything to go by, no.  Despite managing to interrupt her winning streak as dealer in the first half of their opening semi-final game, Teru Miyanaga shows no signs of letting up following that solitary lost hand, and when Teur is drawn to be the last dealer for the second half of the game things certainly don't bode well for her opponents.

Lo and behold, Teru continues to win hand after hand, with any attempts to stop her only becoming more desperate as she gets hold of the dealer's position and looks all set to embark upon a run to obliterate all before her.  With close to a 100,000 point lead already opening up over the second-placed school in this match, can anybody stop Miyanaga?  Although Kuro and the Achiga girls now understand a little more about Teru and the way she plays (which is similar in a certain sense to Kuro's own style), actually doing something to block her progress seems to be beyond her, which leaves us once again looking towards Toki Onjouji for inspiration.  Can she extend her ability to look one turn into the future to take in a second turn?  Despite the risks, she seems willing to give it a try in this desperate situation.

Although its pace has slowed down a little (partly because of the importance of this semi-final, but partly because of the additional episodes now afforded the series I would wager), Episode of Side-A continues to be pretty compelling stuff now it's focus is firmly planted on the nitty-gritty of its mahjong tournament - sure, it's as utterly ridiculous as ever in terms of the "mahjong super-powers" of its girls, but somehow that doesn't make it any less exciting to watch, while the introduction of more interesting characters like Teru Miyanaga and Toki Onjouji have breathed new life into a series that has suffered on account of featuring some pretty dull main characters prior to this point.  With a cruel, and crucial, cliffhanger in place to close out this week's episode, I'm once again left hanging for my next weekly dose of mahjong catnip.

Space Brothers - Episode 12

Now that all our would-be astronauts are locked away in their "sealed boxes", they've been faced with a deceptively challenging first task - figuring out what time it is.

While most people have pegged the current time at around the same place based on the same calculations, Mutta has struck out in a different direction - but how did he come to that conclusion?  Our protagonist proceeds to reel off some impressive workings, including a glance at the odometer on the bus at both ends of the journey and a calculation of its average speed, much to the astonishment of his team-mates.  If only it were true... the reality is far simpler, if no less accurate in its final result - Mutta simply looked at the clock on the dashboard of the bus before he disembarked.  Still, the final answer is correct, making Mutta's crew one of two teams to supply the correct answer.

After a few hours of sleep (and a lot of stomach grumbling from Serika), the teams awaken with a task to prepare breakfast and decide upon a designated cook, while time also allows the members of Mutta's team to introduce themselves to their colleagues-cum-rivals for this latest part of the selection process.  More specifically, we focus in upon the origin of Serika's name - or rather, the lack thereof - as a gentle aside before things move on apace with the current round of testing.

Although the whole tale surrounding Serika's name really wasn't very interesting at all, and arguably didn't even have that much relevance as it didn't even really dig into the relationship between her younger self and her father, this episode was largely carried (once again) by Mutta himself.  The strangely powerful mix of this observant and intelligent clown works incredibly well, to the point where you can forgive or even revel in his grandiose show-boating on account of his demeanour and the fact that his skills and observational abilities deserve a lucky break.  Between himself and Serika's more interesting moments, and coupled with the other characters within the make-up of their current team, there seems to be plenty available here to power Space Brothers on in a similar vein over the coming weeks.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Tsuritama - Episode 10

Although the DUCK organisation seems to have everything pretty tidily wrapped up in both their hunt for "JFX" and to protect Enoshima's residents from the forthcoming typhoon and everything that entails, not everybody shares their enthusiasm or the way they go about their business.

Thus, as this penultimate episode of Tsuritama progresses, we see an increasing "rebel" faction emerging from Enoshima's residents - no prizes for guessing those involved.  As this group assembles with a little help from Akira, it becomes clear that they'll have to enact their own plan to capture the alien undersea menace in perhaps the world's most dangerous fishing trip.

Luckily, their number is soon to be bolstered by Yuki, who manages to return to Enoshima against the odds, ostensibly to search out and find Haru and, quite literally, slap some sense into the guy... or rather, fish.  With everyone they need reunited, all that is required now is to grab the correct lure, find a boat and go fishing.  Surely things couldn't be quite this simple though?  Of course not... as the typhoon breaks, things start to get decidedly more difficult for our would-be heroes.

As you'd expect from this late point in the series, Tsuritama is finally starting to come to life somewhat, although even here it tends to be rather ponderous in its setup, taking far too long on aspects of its plot that arguably don't require such a time-heavy treatment.  Of course, in my particular case the biggest issue is still that I don't care about any of the characters, so what should probably be an emotional reunion between Yuki and Haru leaves me cold, and the continued reliance on fishing as the answer to everything still leaves me rolling my eyes.  Still, at least it's all over next week and I can stop grumbling about my dissatisfaction with this show!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Kids on the Slope - Episode 10

Given the last-gasp romantic drama of last week's Kids on the Slope, there are no prizes for guessing who is the talking point of the school as this penultimate instalment begins.

With Yurika's elopment to Tokyo the talk of the town, Kaoru's first concern is for Sentarou's mental well-being - a needless worry it seems, as after a small moment of melancholy he's back to his usual self, if only outwardly.  This allows Kaoru to turn to his own problems, and more precisely the question of the mysterious mittens - were they really meant for him, and are they a proper present or simply some "left-overs"?

Even when he figures out that yes, they are a proper present, Kaoru still doesn't seem bright enough to realise what Ritsuko is trying to tell him as he ponders why she would possibly have given them to him - something that he asks her directly, which isn't exactly a good move and causes Ritsuko to simply walk away.  Such is Kaoru's tendency to feel sorry for himself following Ritsuko's earlier rejection that he looks set to both jeopardise his position and Ritsuko's feelings for him before finally redeeming himself with an impressive (albeit cold-ridden) confession.  Fast-forward to summer and this appears to be about as far as Kaoru and Ritsuko's relationship has progressed, but all of this looks likely to become secondary as a ghost from Sentarou's past comes back to haunt him and his siblings...

You know the drill by now, and I'm not sure there are any more relevant superlatives I can use for Kids on the Slope as it continues to deliver sharp, emotional drama as it twists and turns throughout its story.  Admittedly its sudden time-jump forward from the cusp of spring to the midst of summer felt a little jarring and too quick for my liking, it is but a small complaint amongst much top-notch characterisation, direction and delivery with plenty of moments to leave you practically gasping for breath amidst its emotional intensity right through to its big cliff-hanger to take us into the series finale.  Let's just hope it can deliver a fitting end, as it still has rather a lot to cram into a single episode.

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 11

Having effectively broken Fujiko the week before last, and messed heavily with Lupin's last time around, this week it's Oscar's turn in the psychological spotlight.

After a brief introduction to his chance meeting with Zenigata as a boy which saw him taken under the inspector's wing, our attention quickly refocuses on Fujiko Mine's current stealing spree, as she races around stealing gaudy but expensive items and even going so far as to leave calling cards informing the police where she'll be visiting next to taunt them.  All in all, it seems like very un-Fujiko-esque behaviour, and once we witness Fujiko herself still in a decidedly unhealthy mental state under the supervision of Goemon it seems clear that somebody else is the clumsy mastermind behind these robberies.

Of course, there's only one man that desperate to be the centre of Zenigata's praise and attention, and as this attention wanes so "Fujiko"'s crime spree escalates all the way to murder.  Zenigata has quickly realised that Fujiko isn't the individual behind these cases, and he isn't the only one as a number of parties act to stop the insanity, while Oscar finds himself the object of our owl-loving friends who seek to use him as the catalyst for a new chapter in Fujiko's "story".  With his actions taking an even-more sinister turn as a result, what length will Oscar go to in the hope of getting the attention of his mentor?  By the time he's realised the true extent of his actions, the only way of undoing what he's done could have fatal consequences...

Having expected him to be nothing more than a side character at this juncture, it was something of a pleasant surprise to see Oscar and Zenigata's relationship explored so frankly in this week's instalment of Lupin III, while also using him as a driving force for both Fujiko's mental state and Lupin's actions to boot in another smartly written and directed piece whose only flaw is arguably the unbelievable lengths to which Oscar goes during the course of the episode.  That aside, this was once again a hugely enjoyable and visually striking affair from a series that has barely skipped a beat over the course of the spring season.  With a couple of episodes left, it's going to have to start wrapping things up quickly to ensure for a suitably memorable finale to an already excellent show.

Medaka Box - Episode 11

As if all his previous machinations weren't bad enough, Myouri Unzen has now managed to commit the ultimate sin - pissing off Medaka.  As our titular character goes out of control and takes leave of her normal, human-loving demeanour, it looks as if the game might be up for Unzen.

Of course, the top man on the student's disciplinary committee isn't exactly the type to walk away from a fight either, and aside from a brief flashback courtesy of Hitoyoshito discuss the last person to sent Medaka into this state, the entire episode sees Unzen and Medaka facing off both physically and ideologically.

Although Unzen has some more sneaky super-ball tricks up his sleeve to literally immobilise and tie up Medaka, even this isn't enough to stop her current rage, as she'll quite happily (and again quite literally) move the entire school building if she has to to reach her prey.  With half of the building collapsed and Unzen trapped, it seems as if his days are numbered, and even trying to talk his way out of the situation isn't going to work against an angry Medaka who has no real interest in seeing sense.  Luckily for him though, a reprieve is at hand, courtesy of Medaka's fellow student council members...

After finally (and let's face it, this has come far too late) turning this around and offering a more interesting denouement to the series, this remains easily the strongest story arc of Medaka Box - ultimately, it's pretty much as clichéd a piece of shounen action as you can get, but underlined with some smart and knowing dialogue to smooth those rough, predictable edges somewhat and create something just a little bit smarter and more fun to watch.  It still isn't anywhere near enough to change my opinion of the series as a whole, but it's clear now that GAINAX are shooting firmly with an eye towards a second season of Medaka Box, so maybe that will be where everything comes to fruition provided they can actually persuade people to watch it after a first series that has mostly been a decidedly poor showing.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Jormungand - Episode 10

Although it probably goes without saying never to mess with a bad-tempered militia boss like Dragan Nikolaevich, it's probably equally fair to say that you should never act like a needlessly violent jerk around Koko Hekmatyar either.

Thus, Dragan's attempts to intimidate his opponents backfire spectacularly, and before we know it we have a full-on gunfight at point-blank range on our hands.  Somehow, these Balkan Dragons seem to be a decidedly incompetent militia who fail to inflict a single casualty on Koko's men, whereas her troops wipe the floor with this militia shower.  Only Dragan himself manages to escape the slaughter (albeit with a serious hand injury), taking the leader of the doctors being transported by Koko with him.

Despite surviving the immediate threat, the next question for Koko and company is how to get off the ground and escape in one piece given that Dragan will be looking to shoot them out of the sky as soon as they take off.  It's here that Mao comes to the fore, commandeering a canoon and strapping it into the plane to use as a line of defence against the milita's surface-to-air armaments.  This is more than enough to allow them to escape unharmed when combined with the other defensive weaponry at Koko's disposal, but what of the missing doctor?  With both a huge bounty on Dragan's head and her honour at stake, Koko's work isn't quite done yet, as she manipulates Scarecrow into coughing up the bounty while doing the legwork of capturing Dragan using her own forces to ensure that everyone comes out a winner - provided you aren't a supporter of Balkan militia groups, that is...

Overall, this was probably one of the strongest episodes of Jormungand we've been able to enjoy - action-packed to its core and with a storyline that neatly tied everything up in a hugely satisfying manner.  White Fox continue to struggle a little with animating gunfights, but this was nonetheless an improvement over what we've seen earlier in the series and ignoring the incompetence of their rival militia there was enough tension in the midst of the action to pull it off, bolstered further by Koko's increasingly terrifying abilities to manipulate and strategise to her advantage.  Heck, they didn't even go down the obvious route of killing or injuring Mao, which seemed like a given from his introduction last week.  There are still a couple of episodes to go, mind you...

Monday, 11 June 2012

AKB0048 - Episode 7

If you thought that meeting fans for a handshake event was too much, too soon for our training AKB0048 members, hold on to your hats as things are going to start moving even faster in this week's episode.

With the group invited to a meeting to promote piece, and perhaps assist in moving a step closer to a time where entertainment isn't heavily regulated and beaten down with military force, it's clear that somebody will have to stand in for the members sent to said meeting during the concert which happens to clash with it.  In a change from the usual protocol, on this occasion understudies will be granted an opportunity to serve as stand-ins, meaning that some of our wannabes are going to get their big chance on stage.  Most notably, Chieri, Mimori and Kanata are chosen to take up such a role, much to the disgruntlement of some of the previous generation's girls in Chieri's case in particular.

As the stand-ins begin the harder than ever training to take the place of full members of the group, and with the rest of the girls at a loose end, it isn't particularly surprising that things get a little bitchy, and it's Chieri who catches the flak for this as others finally realise the secret of her parents and their place at the forefront of supplying the anti-entertainment DES forces.  Accusing her of being a spy sends Chieri into a depressed tailspin as she hides away and neglects even turning up to rehearsals, leaving it to Kanata to find her and win her round.  Speaking of Kanata, some nosiness from a handful of AKB0048 members reveals the truth behind the selection process for successors, while also delivering some uncomfortable truths for those who stumbled upon it...

To its credit, things are moving pretty quickly within the world of AKB0048, which at least gives the series a sheen of tension and excitement as a result.  While I'm hardly on the edge of my seat for any of its latest developments, and for all of its dafter elements, the progression of the show's story is solid enough and doing just about enough to hold my interest - assuming it's going to follow through on taking us through the first concert of some of these understudies things could get pretty interesting next week.

Hyouka - Episode 8

Another week means another new small-time mystery for the Classics Club to attend to.  But to where will they be turning their attentions this time?  Why Eru feels the need to correct of all her spelling mistakes in an online chat session, maybe?

Regardless of their task at hand, Houtarou is understandably none too thrilled at being dragged to school in the midst of their summer break at Chitanda's behest, and it's here that the other club members are introduced to that reason for their visit - an opportunity to look over a movie filmed by one of the school's classes.  While this seems like a pleasant enough invitation, there's more than simply a chance to take in an amateur film at stake here as Fuyumi Irisu, one of said class' members, wishes them "good luck" on their viewing.

Having watched this decidedly amateurish production which comes to an abrupt halt, the real problem soon becomes clear - the film has no ending.  What's more, its script writer has been taken ill and so not only has the movie's conclusion not been filmed, it hasn't even been written!  Thus, it's up to the Classics Club to figure out the culprit in the half-finished mystery film they've been presented - something which Houtarou clearly has no real interest in.  Of course, Chitanda's response to this call for help is a very different one, and before he knows it our protagonist is roped into speaking to the school's detective club to evaluate their thoughts on the mystery at hand.

I'm sure you pretty much know the drill by now - Hyouka continues to look gorgeous, even when its being deliberately amateurish as it portrays this homemade mystery movie with some wonderful attention to detail (actors talking too loud, fiddling with their head, out of focus shots and so on).  It's also pretty fun to watch for the most part - slow-paced, certainly, but suffused with some great moments of humour as the main characters interact and play off of one another to bring some energy to a story which is determined not to hurry its delivery.  It's most certainly an acquired taste, and I'm still not entirely convinced by it, but despite my reservations I have to confess that I'm slowly begin to warm towards the series the longer it goes on.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 9

Episode of Side-A may have been granted some additional episodes to play with (the series has now been extended out to fifteen episodes in total), but that doesn't change the fact that it's very much crunch time for the girls of Achiga high school as they kick off their semi-final against some ferocious opposition.

While Kuro is up first for Achiga, this episode prefers to keep its focus on two of the other individuals at the table for the first round of the semi-final.  Unsurprisingly, up front and centre here is one Teru Miyanaga, although the first hand seems to suggest that her fearsome reputation is overblown.  This single hand is, however, the only real respite the other players get to enjoy, as Teru simply uses this time to stare deep into the mahjong-playing souls of her opponents.

From that moment forth, it's a case of seeing Teru racking up victory after victory, with an ever higher score with each hand she unveils to her despairing rivals.  It's at this point that Toki Onjouji's own special abilities look ready to come to the fore - the ability to see a single turn into the future, thus allowing herself to influence the game by changing that future.  Unfortunately for Onjouji, it seems that even this isn't enough to stop the Teru juggernaut, as she simply shifts her strategy to win by another means.  With Teru enjoying the benefits of winning as a dealer and the additional hands that provides, can anyone stop her before she destroys the opposition in the first round of the match?  Just as Toki despairs, the plucky Kirame Hanada steps up to the plate to break Teru's flow with the pluckiest of hands.  It's only as the episode closes that we return out attentions to Kuro - can she retrieve anything from this most difficult of match-ups?

With such a major match to cover, this is once again an opportunity for Saki to do what it does best - deliver compelling, tense and exciting mahjong action while somehow making its most ridiculous sporting superpowers (seeing the future, looking into the soul of opponents and so on) weave into the narrative to the point of seeming natural... well, almost.  Regardless, it's great fun and more enthralling to watch than it probably should be, and after such a slow, slow start to the series I'm suddenly more than happy that we'll be able to enjoy a few additional weeks of Episode of Side-A beyond its initially programmed run.

Space Brothers - Episode 11

Now that their long, enclosed bus trip to an unknown location is over, it's very much time for the third round of torture... err, I mean tests... to begin in earnest for the selected group of wannabe astronauts in this week's Space Brothers.

After a trek through some long, narrow corridors, the group is given thirty minutes in what JAXA dubs "the last room" - a final opportunity for the applicants to eat, drink and smoke to their heart's content before entering the next round of testing.  If that sounds like fun however, even this is a double-edged sword, accompanied as it is with a viewing of video footage showing the last moments of NASA astronauts before a fatal accident.  With a waiver sat in front of them ready to be signed, is anyone going to back out with the possibility of their death floating in front of them?

Despite that harrowing prospect the answer is, of course, no, and our final fifteen candidates are then split into three groups of five to work together over the coming weeks, and ultimately reach a consensus as to which two members of the group should move forward in the selection process.  No pressure there then... With each group led into their own sealed "spacecraft" to begin testing, there's a hard road of teamwork with a hugely competitive edge in front of them.  First though, a challenge to all of the applicants.  What time is it?

I think it speaks volumes for how engaging Space Brothers can be when the simple question of what the time is manages to be wonderfully spun-out into a genuinely compelling cliff-hanger - it goes to show just how absorbed and caught up in the show I currently am.  It really is a remarkably simple blend of elements, but thanks mainly to its scenario its utterly enthralling to watch, making great use of the its "how to become an astronaut" angle while not forgetting to deliver likeable characters into the bargain.  It feels like we're reaching a high point of the series at the moment, so I'm genuinely wishing that the answer to the trainee's question is "it's time for next week's Space Brothers", because it really can't come soon enough.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 9

As one of the major players within Eureka Seven AO's political machinations, it can never be good news to see ideological fractures within Japan's defence ministry - while the status quo is to make the most of the fragile peace currently offered, there are clearly some who want to improve the nation's foothold in the world by utilising the power of both IFOs and Secrets.

Regardless of these divisions, one thing Japan does seem Hell-bent upon is producing Quartz from the site of the Sub Burst which decimated Tokyo so many years previously.  This is, of course, not good new for anybody else - in particular Generation Bleu, who quickly call up Pied Pier from their relatively relaxed standing to head out and tackle the problem.

However, as per usual Ao's response to the orders given to him is nothing short of rebellious - while Generation Bleu's plan is to retrieve the Quartz the Japanese are using and nothing more, hopefully dissipating the issue with a now marauding Secret with it, Ao refuses to run the risk of letting people die and thus sets off on a mission of his own to stop the Secret.  Given the problems which come from fighting underwater, where both this particular enemy and the Japanese experiment are taking place, this proves to be easier said than done, although in the process of fighting this particular Secret we do seem a step closer to understanding what draws out their appearance.  Such interesting observations may have to wait for another day however, as Truth seems to have his own designs towards the Japanese powers that be, and given his proclivity for killing people and generally blowing things up this surely can't be good news.

While elements of Eureka Seven AO still hold what is very much a "monster of the week" feel as our IFO pilots are sent to dispatch a new Secret every time, this still manages to mesh rather well with the wider plot elements of the series which, although still rather disparate, seem to be building into a more cohesive whole the longer the series goes on.  It still isn't the kind of story-telling or concept that will blow your mind, but it remains very much an entertaining affair which is making decent use of both scenario and characters the more it builds upon its premise.  Aside from continuing to feel very different to the original Eureka Seven, this continues to be a pretty accomplished show.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Tsuritama - Episode 9

With a typhoon on the way and the scope of so-called "Bermuda Syndrome" spreading, Enoshima and the world beyond are having to face up to a fate worse than a second season of Nichijou - an entire planet, doing the Enoshima dance, forever.

As the situation becomes increasingly dire, Duck organisation forces are quickly on hand to try and take control of the situation using waterproof chemical suits, a copious amount of hair-driers and a ban on the use of water that English councils could only dream of in their wildest fantasies.  Despite Akira arguing to the contrary, Haru (or JF1) is still one of Duck's top targets of the cause of the problem currently gripping the sea.

For Haru's part, himself and sister Koko (no, not the loco one) set off to try and capture their relative before it's too late, albeit to no avail - with Koko seemingly lost, and "JFX" still very much at large, Haru decides there's nothing for it but to go it alone, using his water pistol and trademark batshit craziness to drive the populace of Enoshima away from the area using whatever means necessary.  Of course, this sudden change in Haru's tone and behaviour confuses Yuki in particular massively, leaving it to his grandmother to patiently put him on the right track again.  With Natsuki and Akira also seemingly determined to do something to save, or at least help, Haru, you can probably see where the series is headed from here...

I think it's common knowledge by this point that I'm simply not invested in Tsuritama, so even upon reaching this crunch point in the series I can't particularly feel for Haru or any of his friends as they go about wringing overly simplistic emotion from the scenario at hand - its wacky surrealism doesn't really sit well against its tale of friendship at the best of time, and the entire affair threatens to become borderline patronising when it comes to explaining what's going on in Haru's head to the clueless Yuki.  Now that we're all set for a sweet "friends unite to save the world by fishing together" ending, I'll just be glad to get this series out of the way and shelved in my decidedly small "noitaminA shows I wished I'd never bothered to watch" pile.

Lupin III: Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - Episode 10

As we reach the head-twisted core of Mine Fujiko's story, that can mean only one thing for this week's episode of Lupin III - owls aplenty!

With the "head owl", Luis Yu Almeida, attempting to coax Lupin into making good on his promise to "steal" Fujiko, and despite Lupin's disinterest in following through on this promise (at the behest of a third party, at least), we end up essentially right back where we started at the beginning of this series, with the strange cult and the narcotic power used to subjugate its followers coming to the fore as it ties in to the all-powerful organisation which is inextricably linked to the past of Fujiko herself.

The trouble is, our entry into this world is a surreal, drug-induced one, leaving us stumbling through a topsy-turvy story where reality and fiction are frequently indistinguishable - what does seem certain however is that Fujiko was part of the experiments used to try and find fear inducing drugs, seemingly experimented on by her own father in the search for the right concoction before the laboratory and factory of which he was part was closed down after an emergency.  What that means for Fujiko herself is unknown, but having dragged at least Lupin and Detective Zenigata into this mystery, there's no shortage of mysteries for the closing episodes of this series to resolve.

Although it arguably teaches us little, and what it does reveal to us could have been done so far more simply, there's no denying the style and panache exhibited by this week's Mine Fujiko to Iu Onna - I'm always a sucker for a hallucinogenic, confused block of exposition, especially one such as this which refuses to place neat boundaries between the show's own reality and drug-induced fantasy, and along those lines what was delivered here was superb in every way - visually engaging and suitably mind-bending to boot.  It's the kind of thing that certainly isn't for everyone, and I'd be the first to admit that this week's instalment bordered upon either the pretentious or the overly elaborate at times, but that doesn't stop me from loving it as another marvellous addition to an almost entirely excellent series.

Medaka Box - Episode 10

With his disciplinary committee in disarray and his plan in ruins, things certainly haven't gone as expected for Myouri Unzen after Medaka decided to intervene and save the day - but who was she saving, her subordinates or those who had set out to harm them?

It's this question that rattles around in Unzen's mind, thanks to largely to a hefty dose of bluffing from Hitoyoshi, but such musings are short-lived as he soon decides upon his next course of action - to track down and face-off against Medaka and company once again.  He arrives to find Medaka describing to her colleagues exactly how Unzen amplifies and uses his unique attacks - something which he achieves thanks to the judicious use of Super Balls, although it soon turns out that this is only part of his strategy...

As Unzen waxes lyrical about how he sees both himself and Medaka as two polar opposites of the same monstrous coin, Hitoyoshi quickly deduces that he's simply buying time to unleash something upon them... but what?  That question is soon answered, thanks largely to the eagle eyes of Medaka, but it's too late to stop the ensuing explosion which rips the student council office (and some of its surroundings) to shreds.  This would normally be enough to wipe out all of those present in the room - but of course neither Medaka nor Unzen are normal, ensuring that everybody escapes relatively unscathed.  That doesn't look likely to be the case for long however - remind me to never, ever get Medaka Kurokami angry, lest she begin to live up to her family name.

Although it isn't over just yet, this is certainly the best story arc that Medaka Box has foist upon us thus far - not that this is saying much, admittedly.  Although the series still doesn't feel like anything much to write home about, we are at least beginning to see some of the sneaky and occasionally smart twists and turns that Nisio Isin works normally promise, this time glued into the midst of their shounen setting.  At last, I finally feel vaguely interested in the show, its major characters and the direction in which they're heading - it's probably too late to save my opinion of this series as being anything other than mediocre, but at least it makes watching it feel like slightly less of a waste of time.  I'm damning the series with faint praise, I know, but that's pretty much all it deserves despite some improvements.

Kids on the Slope - Episode 9

The times, they are a-changin', and they're changing decidedly fast for the characters of Kids on the Slope as we had inexorably towards the climax of the series.

As if Jun and Yurika's relationship isn't fraught enough already, the former has now received an offer to return to Tokyo to word for a former friend and comrade's publishing company - an offer he has no intention of refusing, no matter the ramifications for those close to him right now.  This development naturally becomes a major part of this week's episode, not just for Yurika (right the way through to the stupendous finale brought forth by her and Jun's "goodbye" scene) but also for Sentarou, who faces up to saying goodbye to his "big brother" in his own inimitable style.

With this particular storyline effectively put to bed by the end of this instalment, we're left to keep an eye on the other major romantic development to come from the series, that being the love triangle between Kaoru, Sentarou and Ristuko.  While Kaoru is absolutely determined to stay well out of the way of what he sees as a budding relationship between his two other friends, little does he seem to realise that he's actually alienating Ritsuko just at the point when her own feelings have begun to sway.  Thus, Sentarou finds his own burgeoning feelings shot down as Ritsuko's own objectives shift, perhaps bringing us a little closer to the core of her character into the bargain.

All of this builds up to another excellent episode of Kids on the Slope - it may not be breaking new ground or anything like that, but it's still chock-full of utterly compelling human drama that words incredibly well with the characters available to it, ensuring that you care about each and every one of them and find yourself suitably invested in their personal (and indeed inter-personal) journeys.  It's that alone which continues to mark Kids on the Slope as one of this season's best, although with most of its major issues seemingly resolved at this point I hope it still has enough left in the tank to do more than simply cruise through to its resolution.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Jormungand - Episode 9

Our ninth episode of Jormungand begins with some much-needed downtime for Koko's crew as they await their next mission, giving them the opportunity for some time at the beach and all that involves - mostly seeing how far anyone can throw Jonah and exploring the possibility of groping Valmer, however inadvisable that latter course of action might be.

As this state of relaxation continues, we get to learn a little about one of Koko's troops, Mao - the sole member of the crew with a family back at home, who is working for Koko despite telling his loved ones that he's travelling around in an official military capacity so that they don't learn the truth about what he's doing.  Unfortunately for Mao, the guy's also carrying around a photograph of his family which he happily shows to Jonah - we all know that the language of film insists that such characters die a painful death at the next possible opportunity, so I guess we can pretty much write him out of this show sooner rather than later.

Anyhow, onwards to the gang's next mission, and a simple cargo drop by air in the imaginatively named Republic T (known to you and I as a former Yugoslav republic) is made vastly more difficult by the addition of some extra inventory to their shipment - a group of humanitarian doctors refused access to the country via normal means.  With her hands tied, Koko has little choice but to accept this mission, doctors and all the risks they bring included, which makes for a decidedly tense landing too offload their original shipment of arms.  Fraught soon switches to outright disaster as the notorious warlord of "Autonomous Area X" comes to pay a visit - and he certainly isn't turning up to exchange chit-chat with Koko....

Ignoring a horribly clumsy close to the episode (it felt like someone had forgotten to cut the music properly, leading to a horrible jump to the end credits instead) and deciding simply to live with the lazy exposition surrounding Mao (you can't make us care about him by bringing him in almost out of nowhere and telling us he has kids), this feels like it's shaping up to be really good story arc for Jormungand - its scenario and characters feel eerily genuine thanks to the arc's real-life basis, and for once the arc's major new over-the-top character works well within his role.  As long as they don't jump the shark next week and gives this arc a fitting finale, I'm definitely looking forward to seeing in what direction it heads.  I'm certainly looking forward to it more than Mao will be, that's for sure...

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Another - Episode 0 OVA

There are so many jokes I could make about this being another episode of Another, that I simply don't know which one to choose.  Except I guess I just made that exact joke.  Oh well.

As its name suggests, this OVA instalment acts as "episode zero" to the series, taking place before (and apologies for the spoiler) everything went batshit crazy and pretty much everybody died.  In this happier, simpler time, we spend most of the first half of this episode watching the estranged Misaki twins enjoying one another's company, chattering and generally hanging out together.  However, when the Misaki we know well sees an odd vision via her false eye, it suggests that something terrible is about to befall her sister.

With that knowledge floating around in her head, Misaki is determined to protect her sibling no matter what as they head off to a theme park the next day, protecting her from suspicious-looking people and fretting as they take to the park's rollercoaster.  Just as it seems that there's nothing to worry about, the Ferris Wheel of all places threatens to be a violent end to their outing, only for any such worries to be dashed.  There is, however, something even more dire waiting around the corner in the very near future for the fated Misaki...

Following what was practically a slice of life beginning to this episode (and a slightly fan service-laden one at that), this OVA clearly delighted in building up its anticipation of more bloody, violent death; playing that tension to breaking point before letting it drift away on breeze of false expectation.  That clever play on the viewer's prior knowledge makes the final twist of the proverbial knife all the more shocking, and horrifying in a rather different way - it's something that the mainstay of Another managed to do only occasionally, but it was perhaps one of the strong points of a series that managed its creeping sense of horror rather well until it let the handbrake off during its second half.  Still, this is a pretty solid OVA to round off the series and square its story-telling circle, so to my mind it makes for a decent addition to a half-decent anime.