Friday, 31 August 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 18

Ao's defection to America and the Allies at the end of last week's episode of Eureka Seven AO begged plenty of questions, but as far as Generation Bleu was concerned there's no time for such questions as they need to make up for their lost pilot.

As a result, we see Fleur and Elena testing, and ultimately failing, to make use of the Third Engine of their IFOs - a baffling problem given the ease with which Ao succeeded in using it.  Speaking of Ao himself, he's "enjoying" all of the formalities of switching sides, including vast swathes of paperwork.  Oh, and jellybeans.

The stress of Ao's defection inevitably causes friction between his former fellow pilots, and both Fleur and Elena seem to be struggling with his decision, creating emotional turmoil between the two of them which eventually causes them to come to blows while also revealing at least a little more about their personalities and feelings.  With nobody else to turn to, both parties end up making the same decision - to head out and face up to Ao to ask him what he's playing at, regardless of the fact that he's currently situated in the middle of a heavily fortified American aircraft carrier.  Having already learned some more about the cause of Ao's defection, it's perhaps unsurprising that Elena and Fleur's appeal for his return have an instant effect and an equally instantaneous decision for this pivotal player in a battle which is fast becoming far more than a struggle between humanity and the Secrets.

So another week brings us another polished, well-plotted and paced episode of Eureka Seven AO.  Although there is still so much left unsaid, it was great to see the series dig at least a little deeper into the behaviour of its three major child pilots - Ao's decision-making process in defecting away from Generation Bleu seems almost unbelievably flawed until you remember that he's only thirteen and hardly capable of making such big decisions logically, while both the friendship between Fleur and Elena and the secrets they both hold has made them all the more fascinating.  Add in the fact that the series is turning more towards a tale of humanity clashing with itself, and there's rather an Evangelion-esque feel to the subject matter of the show at this point - it's a comparison that Eureka Seven AO can never hope to win in absolute terms, but existing in its own animated bubble it's no bad thing and I'm more than happy to see it continue in a similar vein moving forward.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 9

It's a lovely day for a trek out in the country - a good job too, as Shimao continues to make full use of Hazuki's body by taking him out to the one spot he can remember taking an outing with Rokka, unaware that his wife is in hot pursuit of him in the midst of a confused state of her own.

Unfortunately, it takes us most of the episode to reach the meeting between these two characters, as the episode instead spends much of its time engaging in yet more flashbacks to Shimao and Rokka's past before the former's death, while Hazuki continues to meander through the fairy tale world in which he's trapped.  While some of these elements (such as Shimao's entry into the Ministry of Silly Walks when he runs) prove to be pivotal to the latter part of the episode, a lot of it simply feels like this series spinning its wheels some more.

Eventually though, Rokka not only catches up to Shimao, but realises exactly who he is to the point where Shimao himself can do nothing to deny it as his plan has spiralled way, way too far out of his control to do anything.  Is it time for him to step aside and let Hazuki have his own body back, or is Shimao's selfishness about to reach a new level now that the game is up and a tearful Rokka has realised exactly what is going on?

That cliffhanger is really one of the few saving graces of an episode which is an exercise in frustration - every now and again you get a glimpse of what Natsuyuki Rendezvous can do as it delivers some poignant musings on a shrinking lifetime with a serious illness and the horrible decisions it forces either you or your loved ones to make, but much of this threatens to be lost in unnecessary flashbacks and prevarication which do little to nothing to advance the story.  I'm beginning to think that this series would have been better served as a shorter OVA - trim the fat and cut out swathes of needless exposition and backstory and you'd have a tightly focused and incredibly emotional story that would blow anyone with a heart away.  In its current form however, Natsuyuki Rendezvous feels like a prime example of wasted potential; a series with lots of important things to say, drowned out in the minutiae it insists on surrounding those key story beats with.

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 9

With Hasegawa's unwilling French adventure still continuing, it seems that she's finally decided to unleash her secret weapon upon the poor, unsuspecting Ryuuta - drunk Haruka.

Needless to say, this is rather a shock to the system for Hasegawa's soon to be husband, which in turn affords her some peace and quiet to go sight-seeing by herself the next morning.  With even Ryuuta's driver seemingly on Haruka's side as he warns her that this is likely to be her final morning of freedom, she decides that she has no choice but to do a runner, and so tracks down Misato and Kawahama to make good on that escape.

While Misato is (rather awkwardly) left in charge of looking after Haruka, Kawahama heads back to the group's "base" - namely Marie's home, where she's currently waiting for the return of the others with Sawaki.  This allows us to dig a little deeper into Marie's relationship with her father and the exact reason behind her refusal to take on the family's wine-making business - a decision that is far, far more complex than her simply having a dislike for that lifestyle; far from it in fact.  Thanks to Sawaki's ability to talk to microbes, he also comes to realise that Marie's father is struggling as the current successor to the business, giving him another problem to ponder as well as what to do about Hasegawa's escape.

Having fallen rather flat last week, this was a far more entertaining episode of Moyashimon - funnier, more snappily paced and generally enjoyable as it had enough faith to let some of its characters bounce off one another without feeling the need to force any of the issues at hand.  It's increasingly feeling like Haruka's "escape" will see us through to the end of this series, which is perhaps a shame in a sense as there's still so much left unsaid and otherwise unresolved back in Japan, but for the most part I'm certainly enjoying this series far more than I'm lamenting its slip-ups.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Joshiraku - Episode 7

Just what is the modern pentathlon about?  And why doesn't the biathlon involve playing karuta?  These are just some of the important (and thankfully still vaguely topical) questions asked by this seventh episode of Joshiraku.

In rather contrived fashion, pondering the point of certain Olympic events evolves into worries amongst our rakugo girls about being left single forever.  There's surely only one way to alleviate that concern and ensure marriage at an early age - become a delinquent.  Naturally, it's to Marii the other turn for the definitive guide to becoming a true delinquent, whether it's from using overly complex characters or creating a suitable legend to confirm your delinquent status - a Legend of the Galactic Heroes, perhaps?  Wait, that can't be right...

For the second segment of this episode, we visit a fish auction for some reason, admiring the voices and movement of those working there before the topic of conversation evolves into discussing dream vehicles - whatever you do, never let Kukuru near an industrial crane.  Some nattering about names later, we move on to the final segment, and concerns from the boss about a high electricity bill.  But where is this high electricity usage coming from?  Certainly not the sumo wrestler trapped under the floor, nor the rats infesting the roof, so what on Earth is the problem?  And besides, can't the electricity companies just use other means to generate more electricity, like a shady "love café" or something?

So concludes another inevitably hit and miss episode of Joshiraku, but one that hit hard and succeeded in causing some great laugh out loud moments when it hit the spot.  Inevitably, the language barrier is what stopped certain segments of this particular instalment from being even funnier, and there are times when it feels as if the series is almost threatening to become over-reliant on Marii as the butt of all the jokes, but Joshiraku remains an entertaining prospect even if it seems to be growing more surreal by the week.

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 26 "True Ending" OVA (Completed)

I remember a time when a Director's Cut release meant something, but these days they mostly seem to be more or the same with the odd new scene or moment shoe-horned in here and there - so it goes with the Director's Cut of Persona 4: The Animation's twenty-fifth episode.  Still, at least it served as a reminder before delving into the real meat of this particular offering - the additional bonus "true ending" episode to the series, subtitle No-one Is Alone.

After beginning by teasing us with some brief shots of what appears to be a battle between protagonist Yu and the Velvet Room's Margaret, we return to normality, jumping forward in time from the events of episode twenty-five to see Narukami joining the gang in preparations for his farewell party.  Indeed, all seems to be as normal as the usual suspects goof around... but is everything really as it seems?  Something appears to be up, and a letter received by Yu from Adachi confirms it - the Midnight Channel's rabbit hole goes deeper still...

More specifically, the whole thing leads to the first meeting Narukami had after arriving in Yasoinaba, and lo and behold Yu soons confirms his suspicions as he finds the true mastermind between both the Midnight Channel and his own powers.  With Narukami in a vulnerable state as he laments the fact that he's about to lose his friends, this new suspect puts him through the wringer as he points out that the rest of humanity will take none too kindly to our hero doing his part to dissolve the fog that previously enveloped the town, thus stripping people of the opportunity to pruriently see the weaknesses of their fellow man.  Just as all hope is lost, and with Narukami seemingly prepared to accept an illusory happiness rather than his reality, it's Margaret who arrives to save the day and remind Yu of the importance of the truth in everything that he's done up to this point.  This time the struggle really is over, and they all live happily ever after.  Probably.  Who knows, I live in the UK so I can't even play Persona 4 Arena...

For all of my quibbles with the original ending to Persona 4, it still did a pretty good job of rounding things off to the point where this "true ending" didn't really feel necessary beyond the fact that it was part of the original PlayStation 2 game.  Having watched this episode, I'd really rather it had been left out to be frank, as this additional episode was a clumsy, muddled and disjointed affair - sometimes deliberately so admittedly, but it never really seemed to add anything particularly of value to everything which had gone before.  On top of this, it feels as though ever expense was spared in the production of this episode, with decidedly shaky animation quality which only added to the feeling that the whole thing was hurriedly stuck together in the name of boosting Blu-Ray sales.  I guess it's good for fans of the game to get a feeling of closure from the series thanks to it covering all of the angles of its source material, but as someone who hasn't played the game from beginning to end, part of me wishes that they hadn't bothered with this OVA in its current form.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Tari Tari - Episode 9

Now that Sawa's problems are resolved (or at least sufficiently abated to allow her life to return to normal), it appears that it's Wien's turn in the emotional spotlight for this latest arc of Tari Tari.

As our Viennese friend spaces out and frets over the return of some undelivered air mail letters, Miyamoto seems to have conjured up some particularly grandiose ideas for the forthcoming White Festival - a full-on musical drama, complete with costumes and all.  The trouble is, putting on such a spectacular show costs money, and where are they going to get that from?  What's more, Wakana is struggling hugely with how to go about writing a song without her mother to guide her in the right direction.

Still, at least the group's money worries seem to be resolved easily enough, as our quintet of club members are roped into a rather unusual gig by Sawa's mother - dressing as superheroes to promote the local shopping market.  This is exactly what Wien needs to be pulled out of his current funk, and our superhero-lover wastes no time in arranging everything with so much passion that it soon becomes clear that something is wrong, as he spills the beans to his friends about a young boy back in Vienna with whom he's lost contact.  While Wien looks upon his turn as a superhero as a chance for redemption of sorts, it seems as if even the higher-ups in the school are having to face up to problems of their own...

Although it has a fair few different plot threads to run with, this week's Tari Tari was a bit of a mediocre affair - it had its moments, but didn't reach any of the peaks we've seen earlier in the series in terms of either comedy or emotional content.  At this point in time, Wien's troubles feel like weak sauce compared to those of his friends, leaving the unspecified troubles featuring the school's principle and vice-principle as our main hope of something suitable dramatic as the show enters its final straight.  For now though, this feels likely to be the weakest story arc of the bunch so far, although maybe next week's instalment can somehow succeed in proving me wrong.

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 9

In case we'd already forgotten, this ninth episode of YuruYuri's second season begins by reminding us of Chinatsu artistic "talents" - I think it's safe to say that particular joke is well and truly done now.

As the episode proper begins, it's studying time for a number of the girls as they gather at Akari's house for a cram session... well, most of them gather for that reason, but it seems like Sakurako is more interested in snacking and larking around - no change there, then.  It seems as if she's also found something of a kindred spirit in Kyoko, who certainly has rather a lot in common with her fellow pupil.

With that done and dusted, Chinatsu finds herself in a tight spot when she inexplicably decides to hide in the girl's club room as she hears the others coming - not a simple situation to explain your way out of, and the longer she waits and more preposterous ways of making her escape form, it seems that there will be no easy way out.  Chinatsu also features in the third segment of this week's episode as she sleeps over at Akari's house - not that much sleeping gets done thanks to a horror DVD and, perhaps more importantly, the previously unseen terrors of Akari's sleeping face.  Finally, we close out with a handful of random meanderings, including  an ice cream disaster for Akari and further evidence as to just how disconnected from reality Sakurako seems to be.

As another hit and miss episode of a hit and miss series, this week's instalment of YuruYuri again managed to deliver a few laughs while continuing its trend of making far better use of its characters than its earlier episodes - it does still occasionally find the need to lean upon its character tropes but does so far less frequently, which is both something to be commended and a big part in the show's recent improvement in terms of actually entertaining me.  It's almost at the point where I'm starting to develop a bit of a soft spot for the show... I said almost you hear, almost!  It isn't quite there yet, although the season still has a few more weeks to run...

Hyouka - Episode 19

Houtarou is waxing lyrical again, which can mean only one thing - it's time to watch Hyouka!

This week's episode confines itself to a single room, as Oreki and Chitanda share Classics Club duties after school with seemingly little to do.  Their small talk quickly morphs into Eru providing gushing praise to Oreki about his mystery-solving abilities, while for his part he insists that it's simply luck rather than talent that has allowed him to solve the issues which have confronted him thus far.  To prove this, a challenge is laid down - for Chitanda to find a mystery for Houtarou to put his mind to, with the latter planning to come up with a suitably ludicrous solution to prove that he isn't all that when it comes to solving a mystery.

Fortuitously, it's at this moment than an announcement comes over the school tannoy system from the head teacher himself, asking anyone who shopped at a particular stationary store the previous day to come to the staff room immediately.  This is, of course, perfect problem-solving fodder, and so Oreki is tasked with putting together a theory to match this vague announcement.  From pondering the possibility of students being called to the staff room for a positive reason through to shoplifting and onwards to money counterfeiting, Oreki is confident that his final solution is suitably outlandish to prove that he doesn't always get it right.  Of course, it doesn't take a master of deduction to figure out how incorrect that belief ultimately proves to be...

Despite not even leaving that single club room and featuring yet another relatively mundane and every-day mystery, this week's instalment of Hyouka carried itself largely off the back of the dynamic between Houtarou and Chitanda, which is in turns amusing, touching and vibrant.  It certainly isn't a tour de force of classic story-telling or anything like that, but much like Oreki himself it's hard not to be charmed by Hyouka's easy-going nature and willingness to stick doggedly to making mysteries out of the simplest aspects of school life, even when a pretty hefty suspension of disbelief is required.  In short, it really shouldn't work, but for the most part it somehow still manages to do so in a way that I imagine even Houtarou couldn't fully explain.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 8

Now that inter-galactic peace has now been restored (for now, at least), we can focus our attentions on the all-important Jersey Club for a little while.

As this episode begins (and having been left adrift somewhat by the recently released Kamogawa Days OVA which I haven't yet seen), the Jersey Club finds itself in trouble - never mind the fact that its members feel as though they're being followed, the future of the club itself is in jeopardy as its unofficial status means that it may be stripped of its club room.  Thus, there's only one thing for it - to do what every other high school club in an anime series does right at the start of its run, and somehow find enough members to fulfil the complement of four required to make an official application.

Amazingly, it takes no time at all to find a new member - an enthusiastic girl named Reiko Miki, whose enthusiasm sadly isn't matched by her sense of balance as she proves to be clumsy in the extreme.  What's more, we ultimately discover that she isn't sticking around as a fan of the Jersey Club as a whole, but with a different desire - to pilot a giant robot, just like the other members.  Of course, this simply isn't going to happen, but at least the advent of the Tanada Night Festival (which is broadcast across the galaxy, by the school's broadcasting club rather bizarrely - you'd have thought they'd get NHK to handle an inter-galactic broadcast wouldn't you?) gives Madoka an opportunity to let her new charge down gently.  It's only come the end of the episode that we return to the task in-hand (you know, inter-planetary destruction and all that), as the sinister Moid finally reveals his hand.

There's no real way around it, this week's episode of Rinne no Lagrange was utter fluff, and not even the kind of amusing and entertaining fluff that the first series of this show seemed so good at delivering.  It's almost as if the cessation of hostilities has drained all meaning and energy from the series at this point, leaving it as an empty shell packed with talking heads that have nothing particularly meaningful to say - aside, of course, from Moid's revelations at the end of the episode, which look set to play a big part of the show's end game.  Oh well, I shall just console myself with a fantastic-sounding insert song in this episode (which had better be released as a single, and soon) and pretend that this instalment never happened apart from that.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 17

In the wake of Generation Bleu's audacious attempt to rid the world of its plethora of Secrets, the appearance of the so-called "Quartz Gun" might just have changed the world... quite literally.

Despite nobody quite believing Ao's insistence that Generation Bleu once housed a team of pilot's known as Goldilocks, a number of individuals are beginning to realise that something odd is going on with the world which causes them to suspect that somewhere along the line time itself has been altered.  This all leads to back to Johansson's book claiming just this courtesy of Truth's story, and lo and behold with a little digging Ao manages to track down Team Goldilock's members, all of whom have walked a very different path rather than becoming IFO pilots due to the lack of Scub Coral in Norway.

Elsewhere, we have Naru saving a man from death before running amok amidst some Scub Coral, while Elena and Fleur have to deal with an even more serious threat - the possibility of the Team Pied Piper anime series being cancelled (yes, Eureka Seven has suddenly become that meta).  The reason for this possible cancellation is simple enough - in the wake of the revelations that Generation Bleu were stockpiling Quartz, and with the captured Secret and its claims being taken as literal gospel by many, it seems as if our Scub-bursting heroes have very quickly turned from heroes to villains.  All of this comes to a head as Pied Piper look to extract Quartz from a Scub Burst in the middle of the ocean, only to find them staring down the barrels of some UN-owned guns.  This probably wasn't the most politically expedient moment for the Quartz Gun to gain a mind of its own and demand to be shot, even flying into the hands of Nirvash to do so; although Ao learns of the possibilities inherent within that gun his willingness to shoot it wavers as he finds himself caught in the midst of a tug-o-war for his allegiance.

If Eureka Seven AO hasn't fried your brain to a greater or lesser extent by this juncture, then I applaud you - it has bitten off so many things at this point (and we can now add alternate worlds to that list if it wasn't already on there in some shape or form), yet it somehow manages to be chewing them all to a greater or lesser extent without vomiting the whole lot up into a disgusting heap.  I still worry that there are simply too many things in flight at one time for the series to ultimate resolve in a satisfactory fashion, but that aside it continues to be a fascinating mess of idea, plot points and characters that works better than it probably should that has dragged my enthusiasm for it along rather impressively up to this point.

Kokoro Connect - Episode 8

Things are getting tough for our quintet of club members as Kokoro Connect's current story arc really gets into full swing - not only is Yui staying at home, but Taichi's row with Inaba after the latter gave Kiriyama both barrels has opened up another hole in the group's relationships.

This situation certainly doesn't improve as episode eight begins - with both Kiriyama and Inaba absent, a discussion amongst the three remaining members soon turns into a major argument between Taichi and Aoik... and all of this is before their inner desires start kicking in and doing some real damage.  The next thing we know, the club has effectively been disbanded, with none of its members turning up after school while the in-class relationships between the group are also decidedly frosty.

As a school field trip looms over the horizon, this fracturing of the group's relationship becomes clear even to those outside of their little club, coming to a head when Inaba refuses to share a group with Nagase when the time comes to choose such things prior to the trip.  Although Inaba's hand is ultimately forced by class representative Fujishima, it seems as if everybody knows that something is up - a situation which at least gives Taichi the opportunity to make a vague request for advice from Fujishima, while the simple fact that others are worried about himself and his friends does wonders for assuaging his current worries a little.

After bringing things to a head so early on in this episode, it felt a little as if this week's instalment floundered a little beyond that - its ultimate point was established well enough and the plot as a whole was progressed naturally, it just wasn't anything like as fascinating as previous episodes of the series, which ultimately is to its detriment.  Still, Kokoro Connect seems determined to really dig deep under the skin of its characters and their circumstances, and that continues to be laudable and a worthy effort overall even if it didn't quite bring its "A" game to the table on this occasion.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 8

Thanks to his actions in last week's episode, is the truth about Hazuki's current state finally about to become apparent to Rokka?

Quite possibly, as she returns to her flower shop to find a lot ofg clearly recognisable flower arrangements laid out around the place, while all of Shimao's tools and his sketchbook are missing, as are items from his room which was previously left untouched after his death.  Although Rokka calls up Hazuki and accuses him of stealing, it seems as if she is getting more than an inkling as to what's going on.

As for Shimao himself, he decides to use his continued occupation of Hazuki's body as an opportunity to go on something of an adventure, drawing out the money left untouched in his bank account and heading off to who knows where.  We quickly realise who knows where - Rokka herself, as she too sets off in pursuit of the "thief".  While all of this is going on, Hazuki is beginning to find his memories drawing him in and threatening to trap him in his current surreal picture book world, suggesting that he needs to take action sooner rather than later if he is to regain control of his body and, perhaps just as importantly, control over his love life.

Having delivered another notable high point in last week's instalment, this was another episode of Natsuyuki Rendezvous that failed to really live up to those dizzy heights - it never really managed to make the most of either Rokka's confusion and anguish or Shimao's sense of stubborn desperation in situations where there was clearly far, far more drama that could have been drawn out of the scenario with which we've currently been presented.  Instead, the episode relied on relevant but far from interesting flashbacks, and spent too long prodding at Hazuki's psyche when it continues to be one of the less interesting aspects of the series as it stands.  Given its inconsistent delivery upon its premise however, who knows what we'll have proffered before us next - I just hope it manages to exhibit what's fantastic about this show rather than the layer of mediocrity under which it's been buried all too often.

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 8

As the search for Hasegawa continues with Sawaki and company hot (well, lukewarm) on her trail, this week's episode of Moyashimon Returns sees our little jaunt in France take us to Burgundy.

As well as offering up a perfect opportunity to learn a little about the French wine industry and wine production in general courtesy of our tiny microbe friends, it also sees our trio of brave agriculture students out of water to run into a rather surprising individual - a stunning blonde French girl who happens to speak Japanese.  While this is great news for the broke students, being run over by her car is perhaps less so, but she does at least give them a lift, first to a nearby monastry as they search for possible locations where Haruka's wedding might be held before travelling onwards to a nearby vineyard.

Speaking of fortuitous circumstances and coincidences, said vineyard also happens to be playing host to a wine-taking banquet organised for a seemingly arrogant guest - you can probably guess where this is heading, and with Sawaki and company working as waiters in return for a roof over their heads they're reintroduced to a surprised Haruka just in time to ruin her prospective husband's meal before explaining why they're in France to a bemused and confused Hasegawa.  In the midst of all this Marie, the aforementioned blonde girl, reveals herself to be be more than a little similar to Sawaki in her place as the disgruntled heir to an alcohol production business.  This is just an aside to the shifting sands between Haruka and her prospective husband however...

Although the series decamping to France continues to be somewhat refreshing (and microbes saying "Bonjour" is strangely adorable), this episode was... well, pretty dull for the most part.  The introduction of Marie certain adds some, err, charms to the series, but there wasn't a whole lot for us to get our teeth into, with even the episode's drama feeling pretty flat - when the height of tension involves soy sauce, it's hard to find any fervour while watching a show.  Hopefully things will take a more interesting turn next week, as joking aside the relationship between Marie and Sawaki could head in some really interesting directions if allowed to continue, and Haruka's immediate plans could certainly see some much-needed sparks flying.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Finale - Episode 1

If I had to explain the worst thing about being a horrendous completest, I imagine that Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu would perhaps be a perfect example of the woes of such an attitude.  Despite a hardly stellar first season and disastrous second, here I am again to take in the final death throes of this light novel to anime franchise, and I simply don't know why I'm bothering.

Of course, as we rejoin this series things are the same as they ever were - Yuuto and our titular star Haruka are still crazy about one another but too terrified of voicing their feelings to let one another know properly, while poor old Shiina watches on as this hapless couple makes a pig's ear of everything - goodness knows what she sees in Yuuto to be honest.  However, perhaps her big chance is about to arrive, courtesy of a school field trip to Hokkaido - first though, there's time for a meeting to discuss said trip which turns into a party for all concerned... and you can't have a party in Japan without playing the King's Game.  The rest of this particular aspect of the plot writes itself.

From here we head off to Hokkaido, with Shiina determined to voice her feelings to Yuuto - provided she can actually find some time to spend with him that is, as he sticks around Haruka the entire time, proving that she is also unable to take a hint.  Still, while Haruka is taking a bath Shiina spots her chance and drags Yuuto out to confess her feelings to him - but whaddya know, Haruka just happened to show up to hear the whole thing.  Drama!  Roll the credits! Wonder how they're going to eke another three episodes out of this formulaic crap!

Really, I can't think of anything nicer to say about this opening episode than "formulaic crap" - it's such a by the numbers production that even Yuuto's voice actor doesn't seem to be trying too hard, while the plot is typical harem-esque romantic comedy stuff with mild fan service here and there, and stronger fan service that gets blotted out by the unique way in which light in Japan reflects off the female body in given situations.  Its characters are dull and two-dimensional in every meaning of the phrase, but worse still its plot is one-dimensional - yet here I am, knowing that I'm going to be sitting through the rest of this show.  It seems safe to assume that those remaining episodes aren't going to improve in the slightest.

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 8

Never mind the opening, this week everybody will doubtless be talking about YuruYuri's closing credits, featuring the artistic endeavours of Chinatsu.  Don't have nightmares, kids...

Speaking of Chinatsu's artistry, this latest instalment begins with Kyoko fretting over a Comiket deadline as she struggles to complete her latest work in time - thank goodness for good friends as a time like this, as they all leap in to offer their assistance.  The trouble is, how does Kyoko keep Chinatsu away from her work to avoid her ruining it?  The answer involves some depressing songs and a lot of tea.

Speaking of singing (man, I'm on fire with the links today!), the next segment of this Christmas-themed (no, I don't know why either) episode of YuruYuri sees the gang enjoy a good, old-fashioned karaoke session with all of the goings-on which you might expect to the point where the only real highlight is Kyoko trying to sing with her mouth full and choking on some rice.  Speaking of rice (what?!), there's no rice involved in the last segment of this episode, as Yui invites Chinatsu for a day out as a belated thank you for the Valentine's Day gifts received earlier in the series amongst other things.  Of course, Chinatsu takes this invitation somewhat the wrong way, although her attempts to woo her would-be lover at a horror movie goes rather horribly awry amongst other things.

After a decent record of successively improving episodes over recent weeks, this latest instalment of YuruYuri fell a bit flat - after a great opening segment, and ignoring its amusing end credits, the rest of the episode didn't really have a whole lot to offer and generally ran a little thin on humour.  Still, even here it continues to feel like a big improvement over the first couple of episodes, so out-of-season Christmas theme aside there are worse ways to spend an evening than watching this.  For example, you could still be watching Nakaimo...

Tari Tari - Episode 8

Last week's instalment of Tari Tari left us with quite the shock, as Sawa's ill treatment of her own body leads to a spectacular fall from a horse during a competition.

Luckily for her, there's no lasting damage, although the doctor who checks her over notes some signs of malnutrition.  Given this information, Sawa really has no choice but to face up to her parents, admitting that she's effectively been starving herself in the hope of coming within the weight guidelines for the riding school she wishes to join.  Even with her dad once again insisting that this is the time for her to think about her future education and job opportunities, Sawa still staunchly refuses to give up on her dream.

Although she quickly returns to school, even her friends soon see that something isn't right with Sawa, as she snaps at some of the other students and absent-mindedly goes through the motions the rest of the time - Miyamoto assumes that her friend is still lovesick, but eventually the truth comes out here too, with Sawa unable to accept even the guidance of her friends in this particular case.  As the rest of the makeshift choir club once again have to face up to the vice principle's obstinance in trying to ruin the club's chances of performing at the forthcoming festival, Sawa has an important role to play in proceedings, but will she even turn up?  With her friends and family both proving how much she means to them, perhaps she can finally find the strength to move forward.

In spite of being overly saccharine in some places and utterly daft in others, Tari Tari undoubtedly has its heart in the right place and once again this episode goes a great job of tugging at the heartstrings as and where required.  Sawa's story of a dream tumbling before her eyes is one that pretty much anyone can relate to in some shape or form and share in the heartbreak of, while its her parents unspoken desire to do anything they can for their daughter's happiness which was ultimately the most moving part of the whole episode - it isn't the kind of thing you see in anime perhaps as often as you should, which only served to make it more notable.  It's these simple things that keep Tari Tari punching above its weight relatively speaking, and coupled with its unceasing visual polish it continues to be a decidedly entertaining and occasionally touching viewing experience.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Hyouka - Episode 18

Now that the culture festival is over, normality returns to the Classics Club, although it isn't long at all before the group find themselves embroiled in another everyday mystery.

This time around, proceedings are kicked off by a helicopter passing over the school, which causes Oreki to reminisce about a middle school teacher he remembered as liking helicopters - the trouble is, it isn't a memory that Mayaka and Satoshi particularly share despite attending the same school, and in Satoshi's case he specifically remembers a scenario that disproves said teacher's love of helicopters.  Throw in another anecdote about Mr. Obi, the teacher in question, being struck by lightning three times and something seemingly clicks in Houtarou's head - something so major that he even wants to investigate this line of thought for himself to satisfy his piqued curiosity.  Could Chitanda's influence be rubbing off on him?

As Satoshi and Mayaka are too busy to help, it's up to Chitanda to help Houtarou by accompanying him to the local library, where a search through the local newspapers soon helps to solidy and clarify Oreki's train of thought - namely that Mr. Obi didn't like helicopters, but was pleased to see one on the particular occasion he remembered for another reason entirely.  All is revealed in what is ultimately a rather melancholy fashion, but it does show a different, more sensitive side to Oreki that neither ourselves nor Chitanda have seen before.

This focus on character over outright story-telling has pretty much become Hyouka's raison d'être by this point - although this one-shot episode was nowhere near as compelling as much of the culture festival story arc, the way its characters bounced off of one another was largely satisfying while the miniature mystery itself held just about enough interest to keep the episode moving.  This series certainly does continue to be an odd beast in its outlook and the way it handles its setup, and it's certainly no classic, but I find myself increasingly unable to complain too much about its warm and heartfelt way of doing things, no matter how mundane those things might be.

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 7

As Yurikano disappears into the ether, it's time for Madoka to give both Dizelmine and Villagiulio for being stupid enough to have paid no heed to Yurikano's feelings and generally making a pigs ear of everything.

So strong are Madoka's words (and perhaps more importantly her fists) that these two members of royalty and the heads of their respective planets see that they have no choice but to put aside their differences and work for the good of all concerned - an emotion that carries through all the way to the Polyhedron Intergalactic Conference where they announce that Le Garite and De Metrio will be working together to solve the "Polyhedron Problem" before it occurs again.

Naturally, how they'll actually go about doing this is another matter entirely, but to everyone present it seems as if absolute peace is now guaranteed, while Lan and Muginami are both given the green light to stay and study on Earth with friend.  Cue some discussions about studying and love, and a vow never to use the Vox in combat again.  If all of this seems too good to be true, then you might just be right, as work on deciphering the stone artefact which tells the story of the past of the Vox and its enormous power hits incredibly close to home for Asteria.

Once it worked through its quick resolution to some of the major inter-galactic problems which have been the focus of this entire series so far in incredible short order (that must have been quite a punch, Madoka), this week's Rinne no Lagrange felt rather like it was simply spinning its wheels until it reached its climax and the ability to build some new worries for our pilots to face moving forward (although only after a little slice of life filler fun by the look of the episode preview).  In other words, this was a forgettable instalment for the most part, but it does at least leave me intrigued as to where the end-game of the series is headed now that it seems to have resolved some of its major rivalries in a substantial fashion - you certainly can't accuse the series of being predictable during moments like these.

Space Brothers - Episode 21

It's crunch time for our wannabe astronauts, as their third selection exam finally comes to an end.  With Mutta and company taking the inevitably oddball idea of choosing who should go forth to become an astronaut via a game of rock-paper-scissors, who is going to win out in this ultimate game of chance?

Rather cruelly, this week's episode has little intention of filling us in as we see the participants released from their two weeks of confinement and back out into the real world, which was closer at hand for the duration of the test than any of them had imagined.  As normality returns for all and sundry, we slowly begin to learn of at least a few individuals who didn't get automatically selected, although with additional places still potentially up for grabs hope isn't lost for anyone involved at this point.

While a conversation between Kenji and Mutta suggests that neither of these two individuals qualified automatically, much of our time in this episode is spent following Furuya, another loser in that all-important rock-paper-scissors game.  It's this story which holds the bulk of the episode's emotions, as Furuya pays a visit to the man who is in many ways responsible for enabling and encouraging him to attempt to become an astronaut by inventing the spacesuit which ultimately solved Furuya's height problem which would previously have prevented him from becoming part of the space programme.

Much like its candidates as they step back out into the sun for the first time in weeks, this instalment of Space Brothers feels like a breath of fresh air after spending so long contained within those self-contained testing pods.  Despite teasing us mercilessly with the simple information surrounding who passed the exam we've spent all that time observing, I genuinely enjoyed following Furuya's story and how he was drawn towards space - perhaps this proves that all that time spent on the previous exam was a sensible move, as it felt more like learning more about an old friend that a needless side-story; a triumph that has consistently occurred in this series thanks to its unerring focus on strong characters.  It looks as though we're going to be kept on tenterhooks a little longer before learning Mutta's fate however, so I expect some more gripping but simple cliff-hangers in the near future.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Shinryaku!! Ika Musume OVA

Although few things are worse than dropping your Nintendo 3DS and breaking it beyond repair, it isn't quite such a big issue when you're a genius MIT graduate who can make your own handheld games console at short notice.  Thus begins this Squid Girl OVA bundled with the latest volume of its Japanese release.

The trouble is, our "Three Stooges" seem to have taken most of their time in making the console in question indestructible, leaving the quality of its games to be rather less impressive like some kind of reverse Gizmondo.  When even powering on the console is a test of strength, you expect a decent gaming experience out of it, but it appears that the phrase "learning curve" is lost upon our alien-obsessed geniuses in a story that is worth watching for its final punchline alone.

For the second segment of this traditional, three-part episode, Chizuru finds herself in the same boat as Squid Girl herself - that is, being labelled as a non-human being on account of that fact that Ayumi can talk normally to her while she finds herself tongue-tied against actual humans.  But what can Chizuru do to make herself seem more normal with everyone watching her closely?  Even her attempts at slipping on a banana skin in a naturalistic way backfire, but thankfully for her she isn't the only one with some impressive abilities...

Finally, this OVA sees Squid Girl deciding to play an impromptu game of hide and seek in her guest's family home, largely in the hope of getting to see just how much they miss and fret about her in her absence.  Of course, this doesn't work out too well for her, and it's only when Takeru joins in the game that she sees any kind of concern from her buddies.

I'm not sure that any reminder was needed as to how fun Squid Girl can be in animated form, but regardless this OVA episode provided it anyway - admittedly its final segment was pretty weak sauce, but the other two segments were both pretty fun, and the whole "video game parody" concept rarely seems to fall flat in anime such are the riches to be mined from such an idea.  Is this bonus instalment enough to convince me that a third season of Squid Girl would be a good idea?  You know, I think it probably is - if nothing else, this OVA proves that the series still has legs (not to mention tentacles) and feels like it could probably support plenty more well-written episodes.

Kokoro Connect - Episode 7

With a new set of worries on their collective minds, it's time to see what Japan's unluckiest group of high school kids have to face next under the constant threat of their normally suppressed desires running out of control.

Inevitably, things aren't working out particularly well in terms of keeping those desires hidden - in Taichi's case, his subconscious desire to sleep means that he simply doesn't have an option of over-riding what he wants, while Iori's desperation to lighten the mood when anything serious is in play leads to her making a fool of herself in front of the entire class.  All of this seemingly pales into comparison with Yui's problems, as she continues to refuse to go to school at all after her run-in with the police last episode.

Despite assuring everyone that she'll be back at school soon enough, a visit from her club-mates shows that she really isn't handling the current situation, and more specifically her concerns about doing someone some serious damage on a whim, very well at all - the trouble is, Yui's decision to hide away really hasn't impressed Inaba at all, and her emotions become such that she can't stop herself accusing Yui of "playing the victim", driving a wedge between herself and her friend in the process.  Come the next day, even Iori and Taichi aren't immune to losing her temper, but it seems that it's Inaba who is once again taking the brunt of everyone's problems upon her shoulders with the group's friendship threatening to break down entirely.

Having introduced its premise last week, this was a pretty good start to the story arc proper, using its concept in a fun and entertaining fashion to start with before escalating the problems which arise from blurting out what's on your mind in the second.  Come the end of the episode, it's Taichi and Inaba that once again prove to be the most fascinating characters, with the latter in particular almost begging for more attention to allow us to delve a little deeper into her personality, but overall the cast of characters mixed in with the current scenario holds so much promise that recent weeks have seen Kokoro Connect move from one of my summer season also-rans into a must watch for me.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Joshiraku - Episode 6

After the "success" of her graduation in the previous episode, it seems that poor Gan is left out in the cold (semi-literally) as we commence this sixth episode of Joshiraku.

With their senior out of the picture, the remaining four girls ponder how four is the magic number and the secret to many of the best things in life - although, as a voice behind the door reminds them, there are also negatives to be found in the number four (they never taught us that on Sesame Street...)  Naturally, conversation turns to four-panel manga at some point, giving an opportunity to poke fun not only at that genre as a whole, but also some more specific titles such as (inevitably) K-ON.  Of course, it's only a matter of time before Gan gets her revenge by proving that sometimes you really need to be in a group of five, although an interloper ruins even this opportunity of redemption for her.

Following a poorly organised meet-up exhibiting the problems of similarly named train stations, Gan makes her return to the fold, albeit as the junior member of the rakugo team - be careful how much you abuse our glasses-wearing friend however, as her "helpfulness" can become overbearingly terrifying if pushed too hard.  Indeed, so ferocious is her desire to back-handedly help people that it's suggested that maybe she should become a public servant - a suggestion which only demonstrates how difficult it is to win any kind of election, be it in Japanese politics or to become a humble student council president.  Perhaps looking to the stars is the only way to progress in this field...

Despite watching two episodes of this series in relatively close proximity to one another, I see no signs of becoming tired with Joshiraku's way of doing things - as a blend of cultural references, political satire and blatant fun poking at the anime and manga industry it works incredibly well no matter how heavy-handed those references and discussions might be.  Although this instalment perhaps wasn't quite as on the mark as episode five for me personally, it still got plenty of laughs out of me, and let's face it - that's the entire point of series such as this.

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 16

Now that the Olympics are over, we can return in its stead to the scheduled insanity which is Eureka Seven AO - thankfully, it didn't take me long at all to remember what a tantalising cliffhanger we'd been left upon previously.

In short, the previous episode of the series left us in chaos, with Scub Bursts occurring all over the place and Secrets emerging from every corner to the point where even the resources of Generation Bleu couldn't possibly hope to handle them all.  With the odds of fighting off these Secrets looking more minuscule by the moment, it's going to take a hugely risky and arguably irresponsible plan to turn the tables - in this case, a plan involving jettisoning the Quartz collected by Generation Bleu from space and sending it on a slow descent to the Earth, attracting the Secrets before wiping them out in a massive explosion at the North Pole.

Despite suffering from a lack of sleep and decidedly odd dreams when he does doze off, Ao joins his Pied Piper team-mates in escorting the descending Quartz capsule and keeping the growing number of secrets in check - something which inevitably proves to be difficult, particularly once Truth decides to shake things up a little to make them even trickier.  Once Truth's efforts succeed in knocking the capsule off course and sending it crashing towards Northern Europe, only Pied Piper can rescue the situation, but it quickly looks as though it'll be beyond even them.... enter Ao, whose suicidal intent to save casualties on the ground somehow manages to shift in his favour, giving him just the weapon he needs to save the planet and wipe out the massed Secrets... but is there more to his success than meets the eye?

If I thought that maybe I'd lost interest somewhat in Eureka Seven AO after a break of a couple of weeks, I was quickly proved wrong - after jolting my memory of the current scenario into life, this week's episode offered up a solid instalment which cruised along more than successfully simply on the strength and relative tension of its story coupled with a dose of the surreal within Ao's mind, before taking us into a mood of more outright surprise with a dash of action as we reached the episode's climax, leading into another intriguing and unexpected cliffhanger.  We might have seen better anime series arrive on TV this year, but Eureka Seven AO continues to be polished, proficient and confident enough to prove itself to be consistently fascinating, and its return from a brief hiatus is hugely welcome as we get back into the thick of whatever it's trying to do.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 7

If you thought that Rokka's sudden confession at the end of last week's Natsuyuki Rendezvous was going to bring Hazuki back into possession of his own body, think again - as this seventh episode begins, our guest Shimao seems to be very much here to stay.

Needless to say, Rokka's confess only really serves to compound Shimao's unhappiness - despite deriving some choice from hearing her talk about him as her first and only love prior to this point, the fact that he's ultimately "lost" to Hazuki is inarguable.  This would perhaps normally be the moment where a better man would step back into his rightful place, but instead Shimao seems insistent to keep his current charade going, instead taking Rokka on a trip to the seaside and eventually taking advantage of Rokka's love for Hazuki at the end of it all while the "real" Hazuki is left trapped inside Shimao's subconscious.

Come the next morning, Rokka awakes to find Hazuki/Shimao gone, with only a note saying that he'll call her in his wake - a note that rouses her suspicions as it bears a marked resemblance to the kind of thing that Shimao would write.  While Hazuki learns from the Rokka within Shimao's make-believe world about the dead husband's "last words" which should have been discarded but were instead found by Rokka, it seems that Shimao himself, it seems as if Shimao has finally come to understand his own place in current proceedings and how to do what he can to resolve the mess which has developed around him...

After a number of frustrating episodes of this series for me, this week's Natsuyuki Rendezvous finally managed to hit the high notes again, bringing with it the same kind of emotional tension and understanding that we last saw properly in episode two - okay, Hazuki was largely relegated to the sidelines, but we really got to grips with the depth and intensity of Shimao's emotions in a moving and almost difficult to watch way as we saw a man whose love has torn him between selfishness and doing the best for his wife.  All of this is without even touching upon Rokka herself, who is also put through the wringer as her love for her deceased husband butts heads with her feelings for Hazuki in a painfully realistic way.  The only real fly in the ointment is that it's still difficult to see what Rokka might even see in Hazuki for the most part - something that I only hope the rest of this series can resolve now that it finally feels as though it's gotten right back on track in almost spectacular fashion.

Joshiraku - Episode 5

To say that Kukuru is feeling down isn't exactly a shocking revelation to begin this entry for episode five of Joshiraku with, but even by her usual standards her currently malaise is unusual to the point of being notable.

Given her depression, there's only one thing for it - a Christmas party!  Who cares that it isn't Christmas?  Discussion then turns to the current financial crisis and how it's up to the populace to buy as much crap as they possibly can to bolster the economy before going into more religious and spiritual (read: bonkers) territory.  From here it's onwards to Harajuku, and a discussion about Hayao Miyazaki, the negative connotations of the word "back" and tongue twisters, before Marii has a few things to say about the current state of the crepe industry.

For the episode's final segment, the girls discuss the unique properties of their various skin types (who knew Kukuru would be great for - and excuse the pun - grating wasabi on?), ultimately leading to the formation of a super sentai team... if you think my pun was bad, check out the Power Rangers gag here.  All of this goes by way of some decidedly subpar attempts at creating a tattoo for Marii.

Once again, Joshiraku delivers the good - some smart puns, some ultimately stupid ones, amusing (but admittedly cheap) cultural references and a fair number of decidedly bizarre moments all combine to make for a quickfire comedy experience that hits its target often enough and causes enough outbursts of laughter to tip its scales very much in its favour.  If you're not a fan of Kouji Kumeta's style of humour, this series won't be doing anything to win you over, but as a fan of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei I can't help myself but to lap it up for the most part.

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 7

After all of their hard work and efforts, the harvest festival comes to an end with some stalls scrabbling to get rid of the rest of their stock to end its final night as per tradition, while those behind "Aoi's Bar" have a chance to enjoy the feeling of superiority that comes from winning the contest to be the most profitable stall as they plan on who will be involved in rescuing Haruka, and how.

At least, that's the plan... however, it seems that our group of students weren't exactly acting in an entirely above board way in terms of creating their popular brews for the festival - a fact that even Professor Itsuki is unwilling to deny, seeing Aoi's Bar stripped of its winning place at the festival, while moreover its rule-breaking culprits Misato and Kawahama find themselves suspended from the university for twenty whole days.  As if things couldn't get any worse, the two downcast students are about to be sent on an errand by Professor Itsuki to buy him some wine and cheese....

...from Paris.  With Sawaki also provided a ticket so that he can tow along, it's off to France we go (via a microbe-packed aircraft of course) with the unspoken mission of finding Hasegawa and doing what it takes to save her from her current nightmare.  That said, there's still plenty of time to enjoy a little French cuisine and take in the sights, although Kawahama's ideas about what passes for the everyday in Paris seem to be decidedly off the mark, meaning that funds are soon running desperately short and leaving the trio with little choice but to abandon any pretences of tourism to look for their missing advisor.

After some recent stutters, this week's Moyashimon Returns was pure, simple fun as it put aside some of its educational content in deference to just goofing around with its characters and their current situations - something which worked decidedly well thanks to the change in location to Paris and the behaviour of the trio chosen to undertake such an "operation".  Although this was far more of a "straight" comedy take on proceedings than this series is perhaps best at, it was still greatly enjoyable and provided a number of laugh out loud moments to make for worthwhile viewing.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Tari Tari - Episode 7

Having overcome the doubts which previously plagued her, Wakana now finally finds he place as a fully fledged member of the choir/badminton club - and not a moment too soon, with the school's culture festival just around the corner.  Or is it a white rhinoceros festival?  I forget.

As if choosing what the club should do for this festival isn't difficult enough as it is given their disparate interests, the news that the school's vice principle will be choosing which clubs are allowed to perform on-stage only makes their choice even tougher as the group searches for inspiration wherever they can find it.

All of this, however, pales into comparison with the issues that one of their number faces, as the dramatic spotlight turns its gaze upon Sawa.  Having already been regaled of her falling out with her father when it comes to future career plans earlier in the series, it's no surprise to see him hitting the roof as she continues down the path towards becoming a riding professional, leaving her to come to verbal blows with the rest of her family.  But just how great an effect is this argument and Sawa's desires having upon her?  As she stops eating and even worse, it soon becomes clear to her friends that something is very much amiss with their pale and disinterested friend.  But whether they'll be able to figure out exactly what's wrong seems altogether a different story, especially with Miyamoto's "love radar" seemingly malfunctioning.

Having served up a surprisingly sharp dose of emotional drama over the past couple of weeks, this latest instalment of Tari Tari looked all set to return to a more light-hearted and fun outlook via an episode that was delivering laughs aplenty as its main cast bounced off of one another wonderfully.  Enjoyable though it was, such moments were short-lived, and we've soon found ourselves sinking deeper into Sawa's emotional turmoil - a depression and lack of self-confidence that was decidedly well-realised in its nature and progression across the course of the episode right through to its (spoiled by the next episode preview) cliffhanger.  After dealing with Wakana's grief and guilt so well previously, I'm really hoping Sawa's problems will get a similarly well-written treatment, and so far the signs are good that the coming episodes could provide just that.

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 7

This week's YuruYuri is, ostensibly, all about sisters, meaning that I could have started up this entry with an opening gambit like "sisters are doing it for themselves".  Lucky I never write cheesy lines like that,eh?

Anyway, it's the main characters relationships with their siblings (all of which, creepily, are female in this girls-only world) which book-end this episode of the series - first up we have the ever-energetic Sakurako, who lives with both a younger and elder sister who seem far more refined and sensible than she; indeed, the latter is more or less a blonde Hitagi Senjougahara - not that this is a bad thing, mind.  Elsewhere, Himawari and Yui get on with their sisters in their own fashion, while Chinatsu and Akari both have elder sisters who are decidedly obsessive, albeit in different (and in the latter case alarming) ways.  Oh, and then there's Chitose and Chizuru... the less said about them and their fantasy-fuelled lives the better, I suspect.

In the midst of all this we find Himawari worrying about her weight, and as a result turning to Sakurako for help.  This possibly isn't the best ideas in the world as she isn't exactly the most helpful of people, but she does at least comes to her friend's aid when her attempt to diet becomes rather over-bearing.  But is Himawari really getting fat, or is she just... err... "developing"?  I would wager that Sakurako really doesn't want to hear the answer to this question.

Overall, this second season of YuruYuri is continuing to keep me just sufficiently entertained to make for a worthwhile watch each week - there were a few giggles once again, and the time spent away from the show's main quartet of characters again freshened things up and allowed the episode to strike out in some different ways (and no, I'm not just saying that because of Sakurako's elder sister).  It still isn't hilarious comedy, and occasionally its characters and setups can be grating, but as a colourful slice of throwaway comedy I can't deny that YuruYuri is doing its job with increasing efficiency each week.

Hyouka - Episode 17

With the Juumoji incident about to reach its climax, the Classics Club are also going out to make the most of the situation as Chitanda takes to the radio for an interview with Panty & Stocking's Brief to place her organisation at the centre of this mystery's finale.

If nothing else, Chitanda's infectious enthusiasm certainly does the job, as she invites as many people as possible to come along to the Classics Club's room to help guard the manuscript from theft, and before they know it copies of their anthology are flying off the shelves (well, the table) at an unprecedented rate in the packed out room.  Besides which, surely there's no way that Juumoji can strike and nab the manuscript which is the object of his thieving ways in the middle of such a crowded place?

Well, think again, as our culprit achieves his goal in spectacular fashion to bring the incident to an end with the person responsible never identified by anyone.  Well, not quite anyone... rewind a little and we soon learn that Houtarou already has the culprit's proverbial number; rather than going to the lengths of outing them however, he instead corners the suspect to verify his train of thought before offering a surprising compromise - to assist in helping Juumoji complete his task in return for the purchase of most of the remaining volumes of Hyouka.  It's a delicious piece of blackmail, especially coming from such unlikely quarters, and it also plays its part in squaring the circle for various other characters as their culture festival experiences prove to be both a little fun and suitably educational.

In spite my reservations about where this story arc was going and how long it was taking to get there (is this the longest culture festival story arc in anime history?), I have to say that this finale to said arc confounded all of my expectations and proved to be utterly brilliant.  On one level, there's a simple pleasure to be had from watching Houtarou ape the classic mystery novels that the show references by cornering a suspect, explaining his reasoning and have them confess and explain - it's hugely enjoyable in a very effective way that never seems to get old.  There is, however, a deeper enjoyment to be derived from this arc as a whole and its finale in particular, as it digs deep into the hearts of a number of its characters in what is almost a lament to those deigned never to be labelled a genius - whether it's Satoshi or Mayaka all the way through to the Juumoji culprit, the pain and frustration of looking on at someone with true talent and seeing them not make full use of that talent can be galling and is excellently depicted here.  I really hope that this is something that the closing episodes of Hyouka use to good effect, as Houtarou still seems at least somewhat blind to that fact that he is the target of Satoshi's frustrations, and it feels like there's still a lot to be said and discussed down that particular path.

Putting that aside for now however, Kyoto Animation's velvety animation has proved to be a beautiful backdrop to a story arc that has been a whole lot of fun to watch before really pulling out all the stops for its denouement, as something of a reminder as to why we patiently sat through the occasionally fluffy events that came before in the knowledge that at the end of it all this story would be capable of delivering something both entertaining and substantial.

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 6

Body-swapping seems to be the in thing in anime this summer, although I'm not entirely sure that either Madoka or Yurikano will be singing its praises from the rooftops judging by this week's episode of Rinne no Lagrange.

Mind you, there isn't really any time for this odd state of affairs to sink in from the aftermath of this transfer, as the "experiment" and its disruption has managed to cause chaos, with crystalline shards penetrating the ship all over the place like some kind of pink out-take from Guilty Crown.  In the midst of all the confusion, Muginami grabs Madoka (who is really Yurikano of course) to lead her to safety while some of Dizelmine's men ensure Yurikano (really Madoka) is safe by jettisoning her from the ship in an escape pod.

All of these goings on also quickly lead to a space-borne fire-fight between Le Garite and De Metrio troops - a battle which Muginami and Lan try to prevent as their own mechs appear, while Yurikano also gets involved.  Of course, it's Madoka who somehow manages to blunder her way into resolving the crisis by inadvertently hitting the emergency intercom within her escape pod before pondering and waxing lyrical as to Yurikano's situation, making some surprisingly astute observations as to the romantic inclinations of her host body.  As the contrivances continue, first Yurikano's body and then her personality come face-to-face once again with Dizelmine, solidifying the feelings apparant between the two just in time for Yurikano to vanish into thin air.  Now that's resolved, is there a new hope of peace between Le Garite and De Metrio?

The first thing that springs to mind about this week's Rinne no Lagrange is that it's a bit of an odd beast - in terms of pacing, it covered so much that it could easily have been expanding out to fill three episodes at least, making it feel almost rushed in its execution - a prospect not helped by perhaps some of the sloppiest animation this series has delivered so far.  It's actual story is, as I've already mentioned, hugely contrived in a number of ways as it racked up its coincidences and moments of luck to steer its story in the right direction.  I can forgive a certain amount of this on account of the show's jovial nature - here is a series which doesn't take itself too seriously - but it still felt like it was stretching its credibility a little too far with some of the shifts in this particular episode.  If I didn't know better, I'd say the series is trying to rush through aspects of its current story so that it can get back to goofing around with its main characters, but perhaps it simply has a lot more left to say over the second half of this series.  Either way, this left us with a curious sixth episode that I didn't dislike per se, but that felt like it could have been handled far, far better in some pretty fundamental ways.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 20

At last, we reach the final day of the current astronaut selection exam - mind you, that doesn't stop this series from continuing to drag out this particular story arc rather.

Although Mutta's parents seem to have forgotten what this date in their calendar is about entirely (as parents are wont to do when their kids reach a certain age), there's no chance of those directly involved forgetting what they need to do as the requirement for each team to select two of their party to choose as astronauts of the future looms large.  If anything, a final day of allowing each group to do whatever they like only makes things worse, as it allows everyone (in Team A in particular) to reminisce over the good times and the bonds that they've formed with others.

No amount of happy memories will delay the inevitable though, and ultimately the time looms where a decision has to be made.  How are Team A and B going to decide their fates?  Who is going to finish cleaning the blood of the walls of Team C's "capsule"?  It seems that we'll never get the answer to that second question, but as you might expect from Mutta he has a decidedly unconventional idea for solving his team's crisis on who to vote for, while Mizoguchi is still preparing one final opportunity to get one over poor Makabe.  As for who will prevail, it looks like we'll have to wait for next week once again...

It might just be my impatience talking here (can't I wait for just one more week?) but I really felt like at least the voting portion of the current round of selection testing could easily have been the focus of this week's episode, rather than yet more sentimental (and admittedly successfully so in places) reminiscing and regrets.  Everything this episode did worked well enough, but it was all a little bit predictable, particularly in the case of Mutta's behaviour and solution to problems, which surely proves that we're really in need of some fresh subject matter for the series to tackle having spent almost as long as the wannabe astronauts within their confined environment.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 6

Having survived the shocking twists and turns of last week's episode, everything appears to have returned to normal for the main cast of Kokoro Connect - three weeks after the harrowing events surrounding Iori, there's been nary a sign of any body-swapping, and thoughts soon turn to other relatively mundane items like work for their after-school club.

Of course, we're nowhere near done with this series yet, so more trouble is naturally just around the corner, and what a way it chooses to first manifest itself too - a normal after-school conversation between Taichi and Inaba suddenly leads to the latter trying to seduce the former, and the aftermath of this sees Yui smashing a table with her bare hands.  Something is clearly amiss, and when Iori and Taichi feel compelled to see or call one another that evening in an uncontrollable fashion we soon get to grips with what's going on.

Lo and behold, as Yui and Aoki get themselves into a tight spot with the law, up pops Heartseed to explain what's going on - this time around, his crazy experiment seems to involve having his group of five "test subjects" left unable to control their deepest desires to the point where they'll unconsciously act upon them.  In many ways, this is far more risky than any kind of body-swapping shenanigans, and Inaba rightly points out that the group are either going to have to let loose and go with the flow or figure out some other kind of counter-measure when such desires arise.  Although Inaba is acting as leader once again in the face of this situation, she is also yet again seemingly the one the most in the need of some assistance, while this whole state of affairs could threaten to quickly put the skates under Taichi and Iori's burgeoning relationship.

After noting that despite being thoroughly impressed with last week's episode of Kokoro Connect that it's the kind of trick you can only pull off once, I'm almost pleased to see the series headed off in a different direction and leaving its initial body-swapping premise behind.  Admittedly I think there were still at least some legs remaining in its original idea, and I very much hope this chance isn't just going to be a "rinse and repeat" recycling of all of the drama of previous episodes but with a new gimmick at its centre, but given what we've seen so far I'm vaguely hopeful that it can pull it off in interesting fashion.  If nothing else, the show has enough fascinating characters within its roster to give it plenty of legs moving forward - I just hope it continues to use them rather than going down the more predictable routes that it would be so easy to lazily mine.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 6

Thanks to their body-swapping shenanigans (which seems to be the in thing this summer), Shimao is continuing to enjoy life within the body of Hazuki.  Well, I say "enjoy", but it's proving to be tougher than he perhaps imagined in a number of ways.

Most notably as this sixth instalment begins, Shimao seems to be having trouble reconciling his own feelings for his wife/former wife with the fact that he's inhabiting Hazuki's body - on the one hand he seems determined to push her away while on the other he wants to get closer to her.  As this particular issue continues to build, it seems as if Shimao is almost ready to accept that Rokka has fallen for Hazuki, but he still can't quite bring it upon himself to help that particular relationship out.  All the while, Hazuki is still prevaricating in the fairy tale world in which he current resides.

For the second half of this episode in particular, we see things from Rokka's own eyes as she too struggles with her present feelings, and of course how they relate to her feelings for Shimao, unaware of the fact that her former husband is arguably causing her even more troubles along those lines.  The more she thinks about her situation, the more the blame for the current confusion seems to rest upon her own shoulders, leading to her finally making a decision and confession that might be exactly what is needed to shake the real Hazuki out of his dream world.

Even into the second half of this series, Natsuyuki Rendezvous is difficult to pin down in terms of both tone and quality - its characters seems to swing one way and then another emotionally so often it actually becomes pretty tiring to watch as they change their minds more often than my cat when asked to choose between two of his favourite foods.  At time these changes can be well-realised and almost defining for the episode in their sensitive and smart handling, but at others they almost feel arbitrary.  This leaves me feeling increasingly frustrated with the series as a whole - I can clearly see what it could be, but even elements like the fairy tale world in which Hazuki currently resides feels like wasted potential, while the characterisations of the main characters are too indecisive to give you any real emotional sway to get behind and cheer on, instead leaving you not really caring how things end up.  That isn't really good news for any anime which has romance at its centre, and although I still hold out hope that better things are right around the corner I'm beginning to wonder if it's a little too late to expect this series to start grabbing my attention on a more regular basis.

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 6

As we return to the harvest festival for this sixth episode of Moyashimon Returns, we find the first day of said festival coming to a close, with "Aoi's bar" having proved to be a roaring success thanks to the intervention of Aya to keep things running smoothly.

This is, however, only the beginning of the event, as once the doors are closed to the public there's a whole other show in town - in this particular case, a show which involves a prospective professor at the university duking it out in a boxing ring against the existing professor who blocked their application in the hope of restating their claim for that position.  In this year's case however, our wannabe contender's opponent has a rather unique way of looking to seal his victory...

Besides all of this however, the truth is now emerging amongst her friends as to exactly what's going on with Haruka - thanks to some rather dastardly digging in high places from Professor Itsuki, it's now known that she's all set to be married in France, with Itsuki himself planning to head out there to do... well, something.  Can the rest of her buddies do anything to stop her from being dragged into unhappiness?  Maybe they can courtesy of the harvest festival, and all and sundry put their backs into earning the money required to send at least some of their number to Paris, from dressing up as a bunny girl (oh my, bunny girl Oikawa, my week has been made) to offering a "creative" prize at a student led auction which puts some of the creepier prizes at anime convention auctions I've attended to shame.

Having enjoyed some of its earlier episodes for other varying reasons, perhaps the most enjoyable facet of this week's Moyashimon Returns is the face that it had no qualms about being largely balls to the wall bonkers, with boxing against robots, crazy bugging devices, spitting pop idols and bunny girl Oikawa (sorry, I have to keep talking about bunny girl Oikawa).  It's that variety that is not only the spice of life, but also the spice of this show to a large extent as it mixes together education, friendship and insanity into a surprisingly heady cocktail that almost defies definition at this stage in the series.  In short, you never know quite what you're going to get with this show, and to be honest I rather like it that way.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Joshiraku - Episode 4

It must be annoying when your glasses fog up... wait, don't hit me, please!

Joshiraku's fourth episode begins with lots of in-depth discussion about glasses, and what it is to wear glasses - for starters, is Ganykou violent because she wears glasses, or does it just give her the upper hand in a fight?  Perhaps more importantly, what would have happened had Kim Jong-Il's glasses fogged up in the middle of a nipple poking party?  It doesn't bear thinking about, especially when even Gankyou proves to be fallible in the nipple prodding department once her glasses are sufficiently fogged up by a table packet with bubbling hot pots.

With such worrying thoughts pushed to one side, a train ride sees Kukuru suffer from travel sickness, which is never fun for anyone involved, and it seems that the other girls can think of nothing aside from disembarking from the train to solve her problem.  Still, at least the early departure from their journey gives them a... "unique" opportunity to visit the Fuji Television studios and the myriad individuals therein.  Finally, this episode ends with an evening of viewing the full moon - not the actual full moon mind you, but one projected inside their dressing room.  But just what can one make out from the patterns on the surface of the moon?  It's probably best not to ask Gankyou... or indeed the giant and terrifying rabbit which is later unleashed upon them.

For all of its inconsistencies in terms of quality, this episode of Joshiraku is a great example of everything that this series can bring to the table - some nearly incomprehensible moments of cultural references and wordplay, some utterly bizarre moments (if you didn't think the nipple poking was bizarre, then I worry about you), and a hilarious moment which sees JC Staff riffing on a whole bunch of their previously produced works.  You won't understand it all, but it's still entertaining and treads the line between being self-aware and too knowing excellently to ensure that this remains the summer's most enjoyable comedy, in my personal summer line-up at least.

Monday, 6 August 2012

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 6

It's Monday evening, which means that it's time for another episode of Mirakurun!  Actually, I wish it was, as it tends to be more amusing than YuruYuri itself...

Anyhow, this week's episode kicks off with a guest spot (opening theme and all) for everyone's favourite(-ish) magical girl parody, which this time sees Mirakurun facing off against some disappearing balls (no sniggering at the back) in a plight that turns surprisingly violent before becoming less surprisingly random.

All of this is little more than a lead-in to this second season's inevitable Comiket (let's not mess about and use the in-series name for it) episode, as Kyoko this time sets out her stall having gone as far as to make her own animated work, aka the Mirakurun production we saw at the start of the episode.  It says something when a schoolgirl's doujin anime is better than the show she appears in, huh?  Anyhow, this gives rise to some good old-fashioned cosplay jokes as Chinatsu struggles to get into character throughout at her first Comiket, while poor old Ayano is left out in the cold entirely.  With this storyline done, we close the episode at the end of the summer holidays with our main quartet hanging out and playing another of Kyoko's dumb games to pass the time.  Oh, and pancakes are made too, which in turn has made me hungry.  Thanks girls.

Once again, this is a passable episode of YuruYuri - it always manages to have fun with its magical girl parody sessions, and the whole Comiket skit always manages to work its magic on the otaku crowd - namely, me.  It won't be winning any awards for originality or cutting edge comedy, and a lot of its jokes and set-ups simply feel lifted from the first season at this point, but at least the series seems to have a little more energy to it after a decidedly bland start, to the point where I no longer dread having to sit down to watch the show each week even though I rather enjoy ragging on it.