Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 4

If Jormungand: Perfect Order's first story arc was all about Koko, then the start of a new arc also seems to have turned the show's focus back towards Jonah.

First and foremost though we catch up with Koko's brother Kasper, who seems to be having rather a rough time in his dealings which is in turn causing him to go through a troublesome dry spell.  Needless to say, there's more to this state of affairs than Kasper's ability as an arms dealer, and it's clear that some unknown entity is pulling the strings to prevent HCLI from doing business in certain regions.  Unusually for this powerful organisation, they don't seem able to muster any concrete information as to who is responsible, although that hasn't stopped Kasper from doing some investigating of his own.

Ultimately of course, Kasper wants to do more than simply investigate what's going on - he also wants to do something about it, which leads to him calling Koko to Japan while he sets the wheels in motion of dealing with the mysterious organisation standing in his way.  This also leads to a reunion between Kasper and Jonah which, after a rather long recap of their history, sees them set off to prove the well-being of Jonah's fellow orphans who were saved at his behest.

Aside from its long and arguably needless retreading of Jonah's story from effectively its very beginnings (in the show's own terms at least) through to his prior meetings with Kasper, this looks like an intriguing and promising start to this new story arc - Kasper's poker face makes exactly what's going on at any given time hard to pin down, and switching the focus back to Jonah for a while is arguably much needed after having him obediently follow Koko around for quite a while now.  The chess pieces seem to be moving into place, so hopefully the coming episodes can deliver something as striking and notable as last week's instalment.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Joshiraku - Episode 12

Joshiraku reaches its penultimate episode in a typically celebratory mood - celebrating not only the new Year but also the opportunity to roll out some of its previous gags again for another run-out.

That aside, the turn of the year sees the group, and more specifically Kukuru, fretting about that all-important first dream of the year - of course, being good friends the others try to lull her to sleep in an ineffectual manner (arguing about what the plural of "sheep" is never helps) before attempting to make her dreams come true in a fashion that could be better described as nightmarish.

Next up, it's off to Roppongi, the home of the wet towel amongst other things - oh, they have quite a few sculptures there too.  Eventually the talk leads to reminiscences of the Japanese economic "bubble", leading to Marii taking a trip to the past of sorts via a washing time machine (hey, if Steins;Gate can do it with a microwave, why not?).  Finally for this episode, attempts to save energy in the heat of summer leaves the air conditioning-less rakugo girls looking (and acting) like ninjas and painting the proverbial town blue in an attempt to cool down, while also name-checking some classic anime characters and pondering which is scarier - ghosts or politicians?

All in all, this makes for a fun episode of Joshiraku - business as usual in other words.  It might not be one of the show's absolute best but it still has more than enough entertainment value to match or beat other anime comedy offerings, and its nods to pop and socio-political culture mixed in with some surreal lunacy always go down pretty well provided you have a vague knowledge of what is being referenced.  With only one episode to go now, hopefully Joshiraku can go out with a bang, preferably the kind of unique one which only this series can deliver.

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 5

If there's any excitement to be had from seeing a so-called Balloon Dog in the flesh, it's certainly short-lived given the group's current dilemma as Shin Sekai Yori reaches its fifth episode.

Indeed, the beast in question arguably surpasses even its legendary status, and the ensuing chaos does away with Rijin to leave the children quite literally powerless and with creatures popping up all around them.  When a little bluffing and bravado doesn't work, it's time for the group to make a run for it and split up in an attempt to evade their pursuers - a split which doesn't last long in Saki and Satoru's case as the former falls and injures herself only to meet the latter.

With Saki unable to run, it isn't too long before this pair are captured, and in their makeshift prison we see some more of the claims of the library from the last episode seemingly verified before an opportunity to escape presents itself, demonstrating Satoru's cunning the process.  On the run again it seems as if their enemies are closing in from all angles before an unlikely rescuer comes to the couple's aid - a Rat Monster, who looks to save Satoru and Saki in the hoping of gaining their assistance in a tribal war.  Unaware that these children are now powerless, events once again contrive to offer up an opportunity of escape - but can they make good on it this time?

After a rather excellent episode last week, this latest instalment of Shin Sekai Yori felt a little odd - for starters its animation style felt different and more heavily stylised than we've seen before (leaving it a little reminiscent of Casshern Sins in places), which in turn left it feeling like it was struggling to pull together its budget quite frequently while also occasionally appearing a little off in depicting character's emotions.  The episode also felt a little disjointed, stuttering and jumping this way and that in a way which was understandable to some degree against the backdrop of a chaotic chase, but nonetheless in a way which wasn't all that satisfying to watch.  It makes me worry that we might be in for a rather uneven ride from this series after the good work of some of its previous episodes, but perhaps now we're on the crux of reaching into the heart of the story this was simply the cusp of something more substantial.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 4

Given that their career in Shounen Jack is on the line and dependant upon them beating +NATURAL in the rankings, this week's Bakuman is surprisingly swift at delivering its verdict on Ashirogi Muto and their future.

Needless to say, the speed of that judgement makes it pretty much a given that the final news is positive - for Akito and Takagi at least, but decidedly less so for a defeated Iwase.  With their future working for the magazine secured and PCP safe from cancellation, it seems as if life is getting better and better for our two protagonists, with news of a drama CD (and no prizes for guessing who one of the voice actresses working on that will be) and novel adaptation of their work quickly following.

As all of this success floods over them, thoughts naturally turn towards what seems to be an inevitable anime adaptation - but is PCP really suitable to such a switch?  In Hattori's opinion, no, as PCP is the recipient of frequent complaints thanks to its real-life premise and the possibility of kids imitating it.  It's a body blow to our two manga artists as their ultimate dream seems to be dashed (and little do they know of the offer which has landed on the chief editor's desk), so how do they work around it?  Mashiro begins to formulate a plan, only to find that even this looks set to be swallowed up by other events transpiring around him.

Thus, another week brings another entertaining episode of Bakuman as it continues to benefit on keeping its focus largely away from the romance angle to focus on the industry chatter and the hurdles that face our young manga artists (and their assistants on this occasion) - it's a simple but effective formula that I can't help but love as I devour it with a combination of interest in watching its glimpses into the wiring under the board and entertainment at the way it spins so much pure drama out of its concept.  Given the interesting twists and turns brought about by the events of this episode, that opinion doesn't look like changing in the near future either.

Little Busters! - Episode 4

After introducing us to another new character, Finnish transfer student with a poor grasp of English named Kud, at the start of this episode... the rest of this week's Little Busters has absolutely nothing to do with her.

Instead, our focus returns to Komari Kamikita - while heading to the rooftop to hand over a reward to be given to Komari by Rin to thank her for helping out an injured cat, Naoe overhears Komari talking about her big brother in her dreams.  What's unusual here is that Komari is an only child with no such brother, despite having a recurring dream about him reading a book, the exact contents of which she can't remember, to her when she was younger.

Prompted to search for the book she remembers as a result of discussing this dream, Komari stumbles across some shocking information - not the contents of the book itself (a quite literal chicken and egg story) but rather the fact that it's signed by one Takuya Kamikita.  Does Komari really have a brother that she's simply forgotten about?  Any thoughts of this are placed to one side as Komari spends her Sunday helping out at an old people's home with the assistance of the other Little Busters assembled so far, but when Naoe refuses to take no for an answer when it comes to helping one belligerent old man who is a patient at the hospital, he might just have stumbled onto something very relevant regarding Komari's family.

Having expected Little Busters to continue to build up its cast judging this week's episode by its opening scenes, it now seems that we're going to enter what you could call the first "proper" arc of the series - and it certainly feels like pretty typical KEY stuff given its layout and obvious eye for human melodrama.  Not that this is a bad thing, mind you - these guys know how to pull on someone's heartstrings - but at the moment it'll have to do a little more than it's succeeded with from this episode, which turned out to be a slightly tepid and decidedly by the numbers affair aside from a couple of sparkling moments of comedy.  It would be unfair to dismiss this particular plot arc straight away, but it isn't the most compelling of beginnings for this aspect of the show's story.

Space Brothers - Episode 30

The countdown to launch is drawing painfully close, but the whole thing is all-but forgotten as a more pressing concern comes to the fore - where has Apo gone?

After disappearing from the pillar restraining him thanks to the "good deed" of an errant kid, all of Mutta's friends quickly join the search for Apo once they learn that he's missing while worrying about the possibilities of where he could have gotten to, whether it's being hit by the shockwave of the launching shuttle or being eaten by crocodiles.

Luckily, it doesn't take too long before Mutta finds Hibito's dog - but who is this strange old man about to drive off with him?  After catching up with him, we learn that the man in question is a NASA employee, and after mistaking Mutta for someone else he still insists upon taking him for a drive into what seems to be the middle of nowhere, but actually turns out to be a spectacular spot to view the shuttle launch from via an old NASA blockhouse.  As the countdown hits zero, it's finally time for Hibito to get one step ahead of his brother and enter space...

After really worrying that this episode of Space Brothers might be a bust (not to mention a distraction from the real business of the shuttle launch), the series actually succeeded in handling this instalment pretty well - sure, the stuff with Apo was kind of frivolous and pointless, but it led into some nice moments with Mutta as he got to watch the launch from a more secluded location, in turn allowing him to reconcile some of his emotions about Hibito's launch.  More importantly, the final countdown to the launch itself was an absolute triumph for the series, somehow managing to concentrate all of the excitement, tension, exhilaration and overflowing emotion of those final agonising seconds quite beautifully - scenes matched by our view of the final minutes before launch of the astronauts themselves as they waved goodbye to their final human contact before the launch and prepared themselves in their own ways.

It's those scenes that really reminds me of the power of Space Brothers in capturing the reason why we're so engaged by space exploration from both a human and technical perspective - it's wonderfully achieved here and now we've finally seen the Mars I launch I hope it's the beginning of this series exploring some fascinating material as surely it has to at this juncture.

My Little Monster - Episode 5

With the promise of a date on the cards, Haru is already thinking ahead to what that date might involve.  In fact, he's probably thinking about it a little too much...

That aside, it's the second term of the year, and as all and sundry return to school Shizuku seems as determined as ever to best Haru in any test results as we learn a little more about exactly why the latter is so smart despite never studying and missing virtually the entirety of his middle school years.  Any thoughts of dates are quickly extinguished however at the appearance of Haru's older brother Yuzan once again - despite Haru making good on his escape, it seems that it's Shizuku that Yuzan is after.

While teasing his younger brother mercilessly via text message as he hangs out with Shizuku, we learn the real reason for Yuzan's appearance on the scene - put simply, Haru's father wants him to return home after kicking him out for being a disgrace to the family during those aforementioned difficult middle school years.  However, given that he's now attending school and making a decent fist of things, Yuzan feels that the time is ripe to prove that Haru is more than capable of staying where he is, while also realising just how important Shizuku's role in Haru's "rehabilitation" is.  Thus, his plea is for Shizuku to effectively look after Haru; a plea which does nothing to dissolve the sense of trust the younger sibling has for his elder.  Just when it seems as if everyone's goals are aligning, has a rival appeared to challenge Shizuku?

For all of its pretty traditional shoujo plot points and concepts, this felt like a strong episode of My Little Monster.  I know I've mentioned it before a few times now, but in particular Shizuku is often a breath of fresh air within this genre - sure she still swoons over Haru a little, but never to the point of allowing herself to be manipulated and told what to do by him, proving herself to be a strong and decisive character who can make her own decisions and figure things out for herself rather than becoming a simpering wreck without the male lead around to help her out.  I think it's this that really makes My Little Monster a joy to watch - I could take or leave a lot of the other characters, but I can't help but root for Shizuku's happiness as she figures out the new feelings and experiences which are arriving thick and fast for her, making for a journey that is proving to be pretty fascinating to watch for the most part when the show is focusing sufficiently upon her.

Joshiraku - Episode 11

It's been a decidedly long time since I last got to enjoy some Joshiraku, but rather like buses episodes seem to suddenly start turning up all at once.

This eleventh episode of the series sees our rakugo girls taking a much-needed holiday abroad... or at least, that's what they'd like to be doing, but a paddling pool and some posters in the dressing room is about as close as they can get to achieving that.  Given that the girls are all dressed for the occasion, the conversation quickly turns to the topipc of swimsuits - school swimsuits more precisely, and their set in stone design in contrast to Japanese school uniforms.  From here our discussion turns to education, Gan's maternal instinct and just how many girls you can fit into a single oversized swimsuit.

As per usual, we hit the road for the episode's second segment, hanging out in Musashi-Sakai to moan about how confusing its train station is while enjoying its place as the arguable noodle capital of the world despite Kigu's reluctance to eat at a place named "Dong".  Finally, it's Christmas as the group enjoys a decidedly low-budget start to their Christmas party, before the pitfalls of online shopping enter the discussion.  Once some of those pitfalls are ably demonstrated by Tetora and an order of a hugely over-sized Christmas tree, things get crazy even by this show's standards with Marii impersonating in turn Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer and Rambo, while Predator and Apocalyse Now also get name-checked in the ensuing insanity.

In a way, I'm glad there's been a bit of a delay in getting hold of some of the later episodes of this series, as this is actually the kind of show you end up missing quite quickly from your viewing schedule.  Thus, this instalment fills a nice comedy gap in my current line-up, managing to get laughs from both its pointed discussions of cultural topics and its ability to go off on ridiculously crazy tangents at will, all of which is helped by a cast that seems to bounce off one another better with every episode.  With a couple of episodes still to go, I'll continue to look forward to checking them out.

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 3

After just one night of training from her big brother, Medaka and Zenkichi are ready to face the former's "date" with the wanna be ruler of the world Miyakonojou.

Between proving themselves to be effectively immune to his command voice and with Hitoyoshi, striking out surprisingly effectively with an attack of his own, Miyakonojou is at least impressed enough to reveal a little more about the so-called Flask Plan - a plan filled with the Abnormals of Class 13 as its subjects, but also one which ultimately looks to use the whole of Sandbox Academy as its testing ground.  It's this news that really sets Medaka's mind on the task at hand - getting to the core of the Flask Plan to find out all she can about it, and then quite possibly to destroy it.

Rather than involve the entire student council (which is currently run ragged with complaints about Class 13's members from students anyway), Medaka and Zenkichi choose to go it alone... or at least they would have done were it not for the interference of Shiranui in telling the other two council members what is going on and pointing them in the right direction.  They arrive not a moment too soon, with Medaka easily passing the first test of the Flask Plan's laboratory complex by entering a code of a million combinations correctly and leaving Hitoyoshi to pass through using his own abilities - a task which leaves him wavering until the others show him how its done.  A simple door is about to become the least of their problems however, as they reach their first true test within the complex...

After a sluggish and overly wordy first half that adapts the original manga faithfully but adds no frisson to account for its animated nature, I was a little worried that this series was going to start slipping in quality again after a decent enough start - thankfully, the second half of this week's instalment felt a little more energised in terms of both its subject matter and presentation to make things just that bit more compelling.  The real test for Medaka Box Abnormal is how it handles events to come however - this could just be the time to shine for this series, so it needs to make a convincing job of it.

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 4

From bad weather to glorious sunshine, such is the beauty of the relatively random nature of Hidamari Sketch's timeline - more importantly however, this week sees us introduced to Yamabuki High's swim meet.

Despite being a free event which allows its students compete, watch or simply stay at home, there's a good turn-out to watch proceedings, for reasons not at all to do with Yoshinoya wearing a school swimsuit.  Meanwhile, despite learning to at least float, Yuno still isn't up for playing an active role in the meet, and thus acts as one of the "recorders" tasked with taking photos; something she does with relish and with an occasionally worrying flourish, in spite of the expensive camera in her possession.

Meanwhile, Nori, Sae and Miyako are Hidamari Apartment's contestants in various disciplines, with Sae's heat in particular creating a surprising bond between Hiro and Natsume as her cheerleaders.  At the end of the day there's good news all-round for the main characters involved, with their role in helping their class to victory proving to be more important than some of the younger students had realised, while Yuno's photographic efforts are very much appreciated, and displayed (quite literally) in all of their glory on the school web site.

Sure, this wasn't one of Hidamari Sketch's best episodes, but it still brought out a number of laugh out loud moments while being vaguely fun and reminding us once again of how much bigger this show's budget is now than during its first season, ensuring that it looks the part as well as delivering a decent chunk of humour.  No matter where its subject matter lies, it seems like this show always has one or two gems to deliver, and this week's instalment is no different in that regard.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Robotics;Notes - Episode 3

With a working robot and an innovative control system created to use those of video game Kill-Ballad, it's off to the Robo-One tournament we go for this week's Robotics;Notes.

No sooner does our dynamic duo (plus their teacher) arrive in Tokyo than we hit our first obstacle - their lack of budget means they have nowhere to stay, and thus nowhere to sleep.  Still, Aki and Kai endure and come the next morning they're ready for their first match-up bright and early... a match against a former finalist of this tournament, no less.  Thanks largely to Kai's abilities and his familiarity with their robot's control system, he breezes through this first match while making a fool of his opponent, and before we know it robot after robot is being crushed by Kaito's ruthless abilities and tactics.

With interest in the Tanegashima High School robotics club growing, and some seemingly high-powered onlookers watching over the whole thing (including Aki's sister, no less), it's time for the grand final against the flamboyant Mister Pleiades.... someone who looks decidedly familiar to Kai once you strip away the mask and the dumb outfit.  Although the final of Robo-One ends in defeat for the robotics club, it isn't completely without merit - not only does Kai put in a spirited display, but he also shows some rather unique abilities in the heat of battle that seem to be closely related to Aki's own medical condition, and more importantly this meeting with Mister Pleiades makes for a perfect opportunity for a little blackmail to ensure that the club isn't terminated by the school's headmistress.

Despite not focusing on the actual robot fighting side of things quite as much as I might have expected or enjoyed, this was another fun episode that still took enough time to give you a feel for the Robo-One and draw you sufficiently into the tournament to be engaged in its big finish.  This is all largely secondary however to the fact that the elements that seem likely to make up this series in the long-term are starting to come to the fore, between Aki's sister and her role in things and the arrival of a seemingly celebrity stranger on the island at the end of the episode.  In short, things are starting to warm up nicely for Robotics;Notes, and although it might not be quite as instantly enjoyable as Steins;Gate it's still doing a pretty good job of things thus far.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 3

As their D-Day approaches, the heat is well and truly on for Ashirogi Muto as the duo's entire career hinges on the next few chapters of their PCP manga.

With a seemingly hefty blow delivered by their rival's cross-over of +NATURAL and Crow, things are looking tough for Hattori's two young charges, although as their editor looks over the numbers to try and figure out a strategy he sees a positive side to their current situation in the form of a large audience of untapped voters thanks to the magazine's ballots only allowing votes for three series.

In the face of tough competition and such a difficult situation, Takagi proposes a potentially dangerous move - a five chapter story arc (rather than PCP's usual episodic fare) in the hope of drawing in the maximum number of votes for the denouement of that arc.  But what should it feature to make it suitably spectacular?  After spending a long, sleepless night writing the plot for this arc, Takagi has three chapters in the bag, but no idea of exactly how to finish things up in those all-important final two chapters.  It's here that he looks to both his past and his present for suitable inspiration to create a perfect ending - but has he succeeded?  That's a question that we'll have to hold over until the next episode.

As per usual, Bakuman is at its best when it's focusing squarely on the struggles to create a successful manga series, and watching this show's pair of fictional creators at work is a whole lot more entertaining than perhaps it should be, especially when some of their ideas have a decidedly Death Note-esque feel to them in regard to their twists and turns.  The series also knows how to play up its cliff-hangers, leaving us waiting to see if their brave gambit has succeeded or failed, and I wouldn't be surprised if it takes us beyond even the next episode to find out... Bakuman knows how and when to be a tease, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 3

It's tough for a schoolgirl to get some shut-eye when there are tanks roaming around the place, and so it goes that Mako's precious afternoon nap is disturbed by a close encounter with Miko and company's vehicle.

Luckily, it seems that Mako is rather quick on her feet when push comes to shove, and after managing to avoid being crushed while boarding the tank in the process, she goes on to prove herself to be a rather proficient tank driver after briefly perusing the manual - a good job too, with the group seemingly surrounding and threatening to be stuck on a rickety bridge.  A few well-placed shots later, we have our victor in the Tankery club's first practice match.

With many lessons learned and this first encounter with tanks out of the way, it's time for some much needed upgrades to these vehicles.... not in terms of tread, armour or weaponry, but rather with the addition of custom paint jobs, cushions and slippers to stop the inside getting dirty, which I'm sure is an entirely historically accurate series of concerns for tank operators.  These cushions will soon come in handy too, with the announcement of an official match between our new Tankery heroines and the much-vaunted St. Gloriana Women's Academy.  With a full complement of members and Miho voited to take charge of the whole endeavour, we're all set for a big match-up in episode four.

As per last week's episode, Girls und Panzer is best summed up as "dumb but fun" - it's premise makes entirely no sense, but who cares when so much fun can be derived just for watching a bunch of (beautifully rendered and animated) tanks tearing around fields and taking pot shots at one another?  Given how enjoyable a pastime this is, I can somewhat forgive the clichéd and broadly rather dull characters at this point; although I'm sure nobody will be believe me I really am watching this show for the tanks and not the girls.  Honest.  Stop looking at me like that, I really mean it.  Mostly.

Psycho-Pass - Episode 3

With most of its concept now successfully dumped out into the open air, Psycho-Passfinally has some room to focus a little more centrally on its storyline, and this third instalment takes us into some pretty episodic territory via a specific investigation for the Public Safety Bureau.

The call comes to the team with the news of the third fatal accident in a year to occur at a plant responsible for building robots - a fully automated process with the exception of the testing process which comes at the end of the production line, which is handled by a relatively small number of staff who effectively work around the clock and live, eat and breathe within their workplace.  What's more, to avoid hacking the entire building is effectively an "air gap", cut off from the Internet and online communications.  Yet despite all of this, the Sibyl system is showing that everyone within the company are calm as cows.... how can this be possible in that climate?

Eventually, spending some time around the factory floor throws up and answer, with the department consistently making use of a "sacrificial lamb" who is used for the other employees to literally take out their frustrations upon before replacing said "lamb" once he's outlived his usefulness.  This time however, the target of this bullying has remained with the company from a date which coincides with the first "accident" - the team have their culprit, but are they actually going to do anything about it?  Ginoza seems happy to turn a blind eye to things, only to find himself shouted down by Akane, who along with the Enforcers has a more elaborate yet dangerous solution.

Perhaps inevitably, this week's episode of Psycho-Pass still doesn't live up to the wonders of that first episode (spouted exposition and all), but it still brought us a pretty good one-shot detective drama story told within its unique (well, unique-ish) universe.  It still has clumsy moments and plot holes (the Dominators can suddenly shoot robots?), and moments of needless explanation of things which are either already clear or could be illustrated better, but the crux of the story this time around had plenty to keep my interest while still offering a little more food for thought about its concept of automated psychological analysis in a world where human values seem decidedly skewed.  In short, this is still one of the autumn's better series at this juncture.

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 3

Operation Undershaft looks all set to capture Koko Hekmatyr within its jaws, with the traitorous R on one side and Hex on the other.... but is one of those parties about to spoil the fun for the other?

With R realising Hex's true intention - that being to kill Jonah - suddenly his view on the entire mission is turned around entirely, and not just because the thought of using a child as a sacrificial lamb disgusts him.  More to the point, R sees Jonah as the leash which is keeping Koko from becoming someone indescribably more dangerous, and thus sees the possibility of the boy's death as a potentially fatal mistake that will cause Koko to cast off the last vestiges of the young girl inside her and become a beast of some kind.

Although his pleas eventually win Bookman over, it looks as though it might be too little too late as Koko and Jonah are set upon by Hex and her assailant, with Jonah the target of the group's actions.  Luckily, Jonah is a little more savvy than even Hex's men expects, which in turn buys him and Koko enough time for R to enter the scene - with Bookman also lending his powers to aiding in stopping Hex carrying out her plan, there's eventually an opening for the duo to escape, but at a high cost.... a cost that sees Koko take some decidedly terrifying and disproportionate action in retaliation.  Has the beast within Koko been released despite R's best efforts?

For all of its good moments and nice ideas, this was easily Jormungand at its best - not perfect by any stretch (Bookman's behaviour throughout was a little hard to believe as credible), but still a superb episode.  Of course, much of the quality of the instalment revolved around Koko herself  - while still as enigmatic as always, seeing her reactions as events unfolded in front of both her and us was in turn moving, distressing and terrifying, and a superb tour de force of characterisation in such a short period of time.  With its ever-insistent soundtrack and some decidedly solid action scenes to back it up, this week's episode of Perfect Order has set the bar high for the rest of the series - I'd love to think that future episodes can clear it.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 4

The Far Eastern Magic Nap Society of Summer is now very much open and with a full roster of members.... but exactly why has Nibutani decided to join this domain of insanity?  That's certainly all that Yuuta wants to know as this fourth episode of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai begins.

While Rikka and Dekomori make the most of the club in their search for the "Ethereal Horizon", which seems to involve lots of elaborate lighting, a desk fan and plenty of flour, and Kumin naps her way through after-school life to ensure that the napping quotient of the society is met, Yuuta continues to fret about why Nibutani is even vaguely interested in the club.  Could it be that the real focus of her interest is in himself?  When she asks to come and hang out with Yuuta at his place that Sunday, it seems as if his wildest dreams are about to be confirmed.

With Rikka packed away on an important "quest" and nobody else home, it seems like this is about to be a perfect day for Yuuta.... until reality hits home and he realises that Nibutani's interests lay elsewhere entirely.  More specifically, Shinka is looking for something... something which Yuuta has in his possession and something which Nibutani really wants to destroy to hide a dark secret from her past.  You can probably guess where this is headed...

After an unsure start, I have to admit that Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai seems to be improving by the week now that its character roster and premise is more settled.  Sure, Dekomori is incredibly irritating and occasionally threatens to be a blight on the whole endeavour, but that aside there are no shortage of laugh out loud moments this week (and I always appreciate a good Slayers reference) and even the twist in Nibutani's tale was delivered in a fun and entertaining manner.  It might not be my favourite show of the autumn season at this point, but I will admit that I'm beginning to enjoy Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai for what it is, which I think is pretty much all that can be asked of it in all honesty.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 4

If we weren't already aware of just how different Shin Sekai Yori's world is from our own, the unique appearance of a decidedly unusual library is surely more than enough to confirm it.

While this walking, talking, animal-like library is strictly programmed only to divulge its information to certain qualified people, it seems that it isn't entire immune to threats against its physical well-being, leading to it agreeing to divulge any information asked of it.  What follows is a shocking and huge dump of information about the history of humanity in the intervening period between our present day and the far flung future.  In short, the discovery of psychic powers hugely changed the fabric of society, and as the number of people with such powers increased so did the numbers looking to abuse those powers to criminal ends, in turn turning the rest of the populace against them and ultimately leaving to devastating wars which decimated the populace while those with powers evolved at an alarming rate.  From here, the remaining humans, split into numerous factions, waxing and waning all the way through to the current day.

As our group of youngsters try to come to terms with all of this and begin to understand where they stand in the wider world-view, their education session is interrupted by the destruction of the Minoshiro that was guiding them through this history lesson.  The culprit is a monk named Rijin, who seems to know all about the children and has no hesitation in informing them that they've broken a number of laws before sealing away their powers.  As he attempts to take the kids back to his temple to face whatever punishment and questioning awaits them, it seems that Rijin and his charges have attracted some unwanted and violent attention from Monster Rats and even more dangerous beasts...

Although I've complained quite recently about certain shows (I'm looking at you, Psycho-Pass) vomiting exposition at the viewer with little regard to wrapping it up more subtly into its narrative, and although Shin Sekai Yori's huge wall of knowledge must have worked much better in novel form, the back story told here is thankfully more than compelling enough to be worth sitting through all of those monologues and explanations - indeed, it was really quite fascinating to hear the whole story of mankind over the past 1,000 years, and it offers plenty of food for thought regarding what is to come... food likely to be supplemented by the curious and violent goings-on after Rijin's appearance on the scene.  Things are hotting up in this series, that's for sure.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Finale - Episode 2

If the Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu story looked like it was always going to present a foregone conclusion, the first episode of its Finale OVA threatened to throw a spanner in the works - not just by being rubbish, but also by seeing Shiina confess her love to a shocked Yuuto, and right in front of Haruka herself no less!

Given the situation, what is Yuuto to do?  While common sense would dictate that his feelings would be pretty clear-cut by this point, he's instead thrown into turmoil by Shiina's confession, leaving him avoiding both Shiina and Haruka as he tries to figure things out in his head (otherwise known as "the worst thing he could possibly do").  This state of affairs also leaves Haruka trying to gauge the exact strength of her feelings, as she ponders whether her love for Yuuto can compare to Shiina's.

While all of this is going on in the midst of their school trip, Shiina is quick to make her move by inviting Yuuto out sightseeing while Haruka fumbles over what to do herself.  As Yuuto and Shiina run off to frolic together, Haruka is left distraught as the full strength of her feelings and everything she's been through with Yuuto flash before her (and rather handily for the episode's budget, our) eyes - luckily for her Yuuto also seems to be thinking about his past with Haruka, which ultimately leads to him making his decision at last.  Although that should arguably make for the end of the series, we still have two episodes left of this OVA....

If there's one positive thing I can say about this episode, it's "a proper mutual confession, at last!" - I realise it's hardly unusual to have romantic comedy shows hedging their bets on the main couple getting together for as long as possible, but given the main pairing's compatibility this was painful even by anime standards.  The real question here is... why am I even watching this?  Wait, no, I mean the real question is where the series goes from here to end its story - it seems as if we'll be at least somewhat returning to the show's otaku roots before engaging in some family drama, which can surely only be better that the tepid love drama that made up the first half of this OVA... right?

Little Busters! - Episode 3

They may be one member closer to forming a full baseball team (and arguably one screwdriver short of a full toolkit, if you know what I mean), but there's still a long way to go until the Little Busters achieve their goal.

After the return of Naoe from his bout of narcolepsy (which really gets rather short shrift this week given how dramatically it was presented previously), the group start thinking about how and who is next on their hit list of potential team members.  While Kyousuke is on the look-out for a third year to join the group, this seems rather unlikely with entrance exams and the like coming up - so who could they get to join their merry band?

While this episode also introduces us to Haruka Saigusa, the real focus of the instalment is exactly the kind of girl that Kyousuke seems to be looking for - the bored genius who also happens to be a classmate of Naoe's, Kurugaya.  With a proclivity towards playing practical jokes and generally poking fun at other people, she certainly seems rather well suited to the Little Busters, even more so when she happily takes on Masato in one of the show's already well-established "fights with random objects", which she loses on a technicality (if kicking someone in the face counts as a technicality, anyhow).  It also seems that joining this makeshift baseball team is exactly what Kurugaya needs to satiate her boredom, meaning that by the end of the episode we have ourselves another team member.

All of this makes for another pretty fun episode of Little Busters - despite it being obvious what's coming from the outset, it's hard not to giggle at its silly goings-on and glean an overall sense of enjoyment from the whole thing, even if the setup is already threatening to become a little repetitive at this point.  Given my viewing of all of Key's previous works in adapted anime form, I'm curious to see where the series will head once we have the Little Busters completely assembled - at the moment though, that feels a little way off, but I'm willing to just sit back and enjoy the ride for now.

Space Brothers - Episode 29

It's the day before Hibito's launch, and the tension is ramping up for everybody (except the unflappable Hibito, it seems) as a result.

With the Mars V shuttle making a successful take-off and Mars I to follow, the countdown to launch is well and truly on, to the point where even Mutta and Hibito's parents are starting to feel the tension in a major way as they begin to fret about their son and the danger of his forthcoming mission.

As we move to launch day itself, the weather threatens to put paid to the launch thanks to some heavy and ominous-looking clouds despite Hibito's confidence that all will be well come launch time.  As for Mutta, his emotions are torn between excitement for his brother on the one hand, and jealousy and envy on the other, the latter of which leaves him feeling a little disappointed in himself.  With the media circus surrounding the launch now in full swing and the weather clearing up, this probably isn't the best time for a helpful child to "free" Apo from the repression of a nearby post....

Having enjoyed Space Brothers almost without question up to this point in time, I'm really starting to worry a little that the show is starting to drag its heels too much - I was hoping this episode would end on the brink of the launch or somewhere very close to it, but instead it seems that we're about to be sidetracked by a missing dog and other such minutiae that the show really doesn't need right now.  As the "big finish" to an episode that didn't really leap out at me in the first place, it's a little disheartening, but hey... I'm sure we'll get back to the good stuff eventually.

Monday, 22 October 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 4

Now that what seemed to be a fast-growing love has been cast into confusion, it's time to effectively start all over again in terms of Shizuku and Haru's relationship.  But how will she even start wooing him over?

It certainly seems that giving him handy advice isn't the best way to grab his attention, as her assertion to him that he should smile more to stop people being so scared of him all the time works entirely too well - the next thing we know Haru is the apple of every girl's eye as they realise that he isn't quite the violent beast that they assumed him to be... most of the time, at least.  Needless to say, this leaves Shizuku experiencing her first bout of jealousy as she feels left out in the midst of all of the female attention directed at Haru.

In the midst of all this comes school sports day, with some bullying of one particular girl bringing out Haru's darker side as he brutally attacks everyone involved in picking on the girl in question, causing Shizuku to jump in to the rescue.  Indeed, we spend much of the second half of this week's episode digging a little deeper into Haru's personality, whether it's his propensity to violence at times like the aforementioned example, or his hatred of (and seemingly odd relationship with) his brother.  In short, Shizuku realises that she knows next to nothing about Haru, and as he's largely reluctant to talk about himself in the slightest it seems that he's going to be a tough nut to crack.

After feeling disappointed with last week's episode as it seemed to undo some of its earlier good work, this latest instalment felt a bit more like it - there were only flashes of humour here and there but they were all worthwhile and well received on my part, while the promise of digging in to the mysteries of Haru's behaviour seems promising provided there's something sufficiently substantial behind it all.  All that aside, Shizuku's refreshing frankness and overall demeanour continues to make her one of the autumn anime season's best characters, and the show is almost worth watching for her alone.  Ultimately though, we need a little more depth to our male lead in My Little Monster, and the series feels as if it's ready to provide it.

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 2

Now that the Flask plan is out of the bag, things are about to get a lot tougher, and not just for Medaka Kurokami...

Indeed, it's Hitoyoshi that runs into trouble first as he encounters Oudo Miyakonojou - a majestic member of class thirteen and the Flash Plan who seems himself as ruler over all and sundry, to the point where those around him are completely immune to resist his commands.  While it's no surprise to see Zenkichi kneeling before Oudo at his command as he tries to ascertain the location of the suggestion box, it's entirely more surprising to see Medaka herself brought to her knees at his behest.  What's more, it seems that Miyakonojou has taken rather a shine to our protagonist, wanting to take her as his wife and thus asking (or rather, commanding) her to go on a date with him the following days.

If it wasn't already obvious to Medaka, it's now clear that she needs some serious additional training to cope with the problems about to be flung her way, and there's only one man up to the job of getting the best out of her - her brother Maguro.  Known as a wizard and a genius when it comes to management, strategy and maximising the potential of anything and everything, Medaka goes to Maguro in search of help despite his... "overbearing" affection for his sister.  Is he the man to suitably train both Medaka and Zenkichi in time for the former's dare with Oudo and to give them the tools they need to crush the Flask Plan?  Quite possibly...

Having dished out a fair dose of action and craziness to kick off Medaka Box Abnormal, things slow down a little here as a pre-cursor for what is to come - thankfully, even without any real action to speak of this still feels like a much improved effort over the show's first season, with some much-improved humour and, well, a feeling that GAINAX are actually making an effort in terms of animation quality and story-telling this time around.  Perhaps my having read the manga up to its current point in the gap between seasons is helping, but right now Medaka Box Abnormal seems to be simmering quite nicely - hopefully the next couple of instalments will well and truly bring it to the boil if this second season really can prove itself to be a cut above the first.

Psycho-Pass - Episode 2

In case you're wondering where I've vanished too over the past few days, the answer is Scotland Loves Anime 2012 - I'll probably make a separate post outlining all the screenings I reviewed while I was there, but for now rest assured that I'm back!  Until Friday when I'm away for the weekend again, at least...

Anyhow, after delivering arguably the autumn season's most compelling opening episode, this second instalment of Psycho-Pass takes us to the morning after the night before for young Akane, as she continues to fret after a sleepless night about whether her actions during her first ever mission were correct or not.  Luckily for her, the rest of her life proves to be decidedly easy thanks to modern technology, and she also has friends who have no qualms about talking down any doubts she might have about her choice of career path given her aptitude and mental fortitude no matter what life throws at her.

Come that evening, the time for any doubts to be put to one side arrives as Akane takes on her second shift, and no sooner does it begin than she finds herself called to another incident.  This time around, Akane's frustration proves to be less about her actions and more about her inaction, as she finds herself outsmarted and outpaced by her Enforcer team-mate Masaoka, who can spot a would-be criminal a mile off without any reliance on technology.  So, is Akane really in the right job, and can she really make a difference to anything in her current post?  It's the recipient of her unique sense of justice last time around, Kogami, that persuades her that she might have what it takes - perhaps now she can move forward with a new-found confidence...

After that intense opening instalment, this week's Psycho-Pass is a much quieter affair that prefers to hand out huge gobs of exposition via its dialogue (Akana is effectively a genius, we get it already!) while building up its main characters a little more.  Sure, some of it is decidedly ham-fisted, but thankfully I'm still fascinated by the show's world itself and its pondering of how the justice within that world works (or more importantly, how it doesn't work).  My main worry at this point (clumsy dialogue aside) is that the series is going to find sufficient ways to explore these ideas to fill the whole series - having flagged the flaws in its system right from the off, I'm curious about how the show's story is going to move forward.  Hopefully those gobs of exposition will turn into gobs of potential and allow Psycho-Pass to live up to the hype.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Robotics;Notes - Episode 2

Although Aki has provisionally secured the funding she needs for her Robotics Club, the provision is comes with is a decidedly hefty one - winning the prestigious Robo-One tournament, which is a big ask at the best of times, but even more so for a club which doesn't even have a suitable robot to compete with.

Or does it?  Aki has a plan, and it involves pulling out and dusting down the previously victorious robot used by the club (and her sister) eight years previously.  Needless to say, the years haven't been kind to Tanegashimachine-3 (the robot in question), in terms of both its technology and more practical problems, like the fact that it has a flat battery and no charger.  Repairing the robot is going to take money, but Aki is determined to get it up and running again no matter what.

Although her friend Kai's place in helping with all of this goes beyond the apathetic, behind the scenes he searches out information that will at least allow them to get a discount from "Doc", the seller of the parts that the robot requires, and even when this fails it is he that promises to pay for some of the parts offered to them with the winnings from the tournament - a brave move which gives him some kudos with Doc if nothing else.  From here, Aki works herself into the ground rebuilding the robot and getting it ready to fight in the tournament to the point where it brings on a bout of her rather unique illness.  But whose going to operate it?  Kai's disinterest leaves it in Aki's seemingly incapable hands until she persuades him otherwise.

Following a solid first episode, this second instalment of Robotics;Notes could be described in similar terms - Aki continues to be a character that you can't help but cheer on and get behind, and even if Kai is a bit of an asshole with his attitude much of the time at least we get to see an occasional softer side to him here.  In terms of story, things are still progressing at a decent clip, and there are clearly some very different directions for this show to go in once we reach and move on from the Robo-One tournament.  It's also worth remembering that Steins;Gate was a slow burner initially, so I'm willing to be patient with it for now.

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 3

With the summer break about to end as Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb and its ever-jumbled timeline reaches its third episode, Yuno and Miyako have big (albeit ill-defined) plans for the final day of their holiday.

Unfortunately, little do either of them realise that there's a typhoon on the way, and cvome the next morning any thoughts of going anywhere or doing anything are blown away on the high winds.  What's more, there isn't even any food in their apartments, leading to them (and the other residents) to make a beeline for the one person who is always going to be well-stocked no matter the weather - Hiro.  Cue a half episode of hanging around in Hiro's apartment, eating, playing cards and generally having a lazy day of fun indoors.

With their holiday now over, it's back to school for the first day of the new term - a day dominated largely by a fire drill and test evacuation of the school.  If nothing else, this gives us an opportunity to see some of Hidamari Apartments resident's special skills in action, whether it's Sae and Hiro's ability to communicate no matter what, Nori's smart attempt to save Nazuna from an embarrassing predicament, or Miyako's innovative solution to the problem of not having a hankerchief.  Oh, and Yumo gets to "enjoy" experiencing an earthquake at first hand.

From its slow start and a better second episode, this week's instalment of Hidamari Sketch feels like the series has gotten up to full speed now, with a great vein of humour running throughout it with great jokes and amusing moments aplenty.  Sure, I'm a big fan of the series so I'm terribly biased from the outset, but this still felt like some of the better material this show has to offer when it's firing on all cylinders, and as a result I enjoyed it immensely.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 3

One month on from the start of high school, Yuuta seems to have settled in nicely and become just another face in the crowd, which is more than can be said for Rikka as her delusions continue to get in the way.

If the possibility of joining a club might seem like a perfect catalyst to move Rikka's interests elsewhere, think again - while at least one of her classmates is contemplating joining the light music club, Rikka's immediate thoughts are to start up a club of her own in line with her own delusional interests.  With little initial interest apparent in the "Far Eastern Magic Society", even with the inclusion of napping as an addition to their remit, Rikka's eyes (well, eye) is turned by the prospect of cheerleading or joining the drama club, albeit not for long.

Ultimately, Rikka simply won't give up her idea of having her own club, even roping in online friend and fellow sufferer of delusions of grandeur Sanae Dekomori to bolster the club's numbers.  When even this proves insufficient, Rikka rolls out cats, invisible friends and split personalities, none of which fly with the group's teacher.... of course, this series would go nowhere without its club setting, so eventually agreement is reached to allow the circle to open, after which point they even gain an unlikely new member - the lovely Shinka Nibutani.

As the series progresses I find myself increasingly unable to particularly criticise Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai's sense of fun - although its physical slapstick humour is wearing a little thin already more often than not, it still has enough snappy lines and comebacks to make up for such issues while sailing along with its ever-growing cast of daft characters.  If you take away the fact that this still doesn't feel like a Kyoto Animation show (I'm genuinely starting to think I might have gone easier on it had it been an AIC work, for example) and my ponderings that they're only animating it as an excuse to enjoy those gorgeous action scenes which have popped up towards the end of the last couple of episodes, then I guess this is a pretty decent slice of entertainment.  It just doesn't happen to me one that grabs my interest as much as I had perhaps expected it to.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 2

Having caught everyone by surprised with its final pull-back and reveal at the end of the first episode, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Girls und PANZER might take a little time to explain just why this town exists aboard what looks more akin to an aircraft carrier.  However, think again, as this situation gets nary a mention in episode two.

Instead, our focus is largely upon finding some tanks for the girls before the arrival of their instructor the next day - with one tank safely holed up in the club's garage, it's time to go hunting around time to find the other tanks used by the former Tankery club of years previously.

With those vehicles found successfully in short order, and with Miho gaining a new friend in the form of admirer and blatant tank otaku Yukari Akiyama in the process, the flashy (and probably rather expensive) arrival of the new class instructor Captain Ami Chouno means that it's time to start learning how to drive and operate these newly-found tanks.  Captain Chouno certainly doesn't seem to be a believer of taking things slowly, sending all of the groups of wannabe Tankery experts (or wannabe volleyball players in the case of one of the teams) straight out into the field to partake in a mock battle.  Probably not the best place to go and take a nap then...

Despite its scenario becoming ever more ludicrous between some of its characters and the entire setting of a town atop an aircraft carrier, there's a heady blend of outright fun and educational content that actually makes this instalment surprisingly enjoyable to watch.  It perhaps speaks a lot of the show's clichéd characters that it's the tanks themselves which are the stars of the show - learning a little about them and how to operate them is a pleasure in itself - but there are also some decidedly smart snippets of humour within this episode as well.  If nothing else, this show has the average Internet conversation nailed, with a request from one of the girls for some pointers on driving a tank veering between "Google it you idiot" and "start by taking off all your clothes..."  It's these little moments that add another dimension to the show at this juncture, and although I'm not sure whether its idea has the legs required to last the whole series as it currently stands I'm still enjoying it thus far, meaning that I might have to make tracks if it proves me wrong.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 2

With enemies seemingly closing in all around her, we continue to build up to the chaos that Jormungand: Perfect Order seems ready to unleash at some point by taking a look into the past of some of its current notable characters.

For starters we have R, one of Koko's supposedly loyal troops who is actually working for "Bookman", the reasons for which are outlined in this episode against the backdrop of the Balkan war.  Then we have Hex, and a vivid flashback to illustrate her hatred for both Koko and full moons - ironically, the incident which haunts Hex also haunts Koko to some degree herself, bringing us to a viewpoint of a much younger arms dealer who also proves to be far less hardy than the current female boss that we all know and love.

With rumours swirling and reaching Koko's ears of both the CIA and Hex's interest there's no doubt that she's aware of the danger moving ever closer to her, but is she aware of exactly how far and wide that threat reaches?  Quite possibly judging by her decision to re-equip all of her troops with newer equipment, switching everyone to using weaponry which can share the same 9mm ammunition as the group trains hard for whatever missions are coming up next.  There's even the possibility that she suspects R as she questions him about his knowledge of both Chief Black and Hex - then again, it's quite possible that R's allegiance might be about to waver in the light of a shocking request which arrives from his superior.

Overall, this week's Jormungand just about manages to survive what is a rather messy instalment that jumps here and there to cover both the back story and current situation of its four main players.  ALthough it doesn't make for the most thrilling episode ever, it does deliver the kind of moments of action, bloodshed and "military porn" which you'd expect from the series, and the growing feeling of tension as things threaten to close in around Koko at any moment is bubbling away nicely.  Will all hell break lose next week?  I rather hope so.

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 3

After another flashback into the past of its world, and a plucky (and seemingly successful) attempt to assassinate the emporer of its time, we travel back a millenium forward from our current time to rejoin the main thread of Shin Sekai Yori.

As promised by its discussion last time out, this week's episode sees our group of kids allowed to roam free on a camping trip, giving both us and them an opportunity to check out the sights, sounds, flora and fauna.  It's the fauna that really drives this instalment for the most part however, as an evening camp-fire chat amongst the group inevitably turns into supposedly scary stories told by resident troublemaker Satoru.  Given how ridiculous his descriptions of "Balloon Dogs" and animals that will cause all who view them to die is, nobody is willing to take his tales seriously despite his protestations.  Nevertheless, their current locale at least offers them an opportunity to confirm any such scepticism for themselves by going in search of these mythical beasts.

While we're regaled by narrative voice-over suggesting that not only are these mythical creatures real, but that they're also freaks which exist outside the realms of evolution and alongside the growth of the human subconscious, the group makes the decision to straw further than they'd previously been given permission to do by grown-ups - it's a risky decision but one that seemingly pays dividends as they quickly find themselves glimpsing a "Demon Minoshiro", the aforementioned deadly creature previous mentioned by Satou.  Despite having some distinctly unnerving properties, encountering this beast doesn't seem to be fatal, emboldening the group to attempt to capture it - something which could well by the first leap down a massive rabbit hole as the true nature of the beast proves to be something entirely unexpected.

For a little while early in this episode, I was worried that things were threatening to stay too sedate and slow-paced for this third instalment of the series, but although things didn't accelerate massively during the course of its running time they nonetheless dangled some decidedly juicy carrots before us with its discussion of the origins of some of the world's weird and wonderful creatures followed by a fascinating revelation into the true purpose of the "Minoshiro".  This feels like it could well be the precursor to a major inflection point in Shin Sekai Yori's story, and it's grabbed my imagination so much that I really can't wait to see what it's going to do with it.  With any luck, we're on the brink of seeing a hefty chunk of the show's potential being realised very soon...

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 2

Things were very much on the up for Ahirogi Muto and PCP as this third season of Bakuman began.  But can it last?

Of course not, and with +NATURAL once again proving to have the momentum to overtake its rival series, concern begins to mount for Hattori that there's a very real prospect of the series being cancelled and Mashiro and Takagi being cast out of the magazine as per their editor's wager.  But what can they do to improve?  With both Nizuma and Iwase wanting to continue their artistic battle at the top of the industry, both individuals have their own ways or urging the duo on while also finding ways to up their own game.

For PCP though, it isn't Takagi's writing that comes under scrutiny this time, but rather Mashiro's artwork, leaving him striving for a lighter, more shounen-esque aesthetic that has immediate results, even allowing Ashirogi Muto's series to overtake +NATURAL briefly.  Nizuma Eiji isn't exactly the sort to take this kind of thing laying down however, delivering what is virtually an invitation of open warfare to Mashiro via a chapter of Crow.  That isn't the half of it either - just as PCP looks to have a great chance to claim a victory via a full-colour spread, Iwase and Eiji conspire to deliver a massive and unexpected body blow to their rivals.

I feel like I've said this kind of thing before, but this is exactly the kind of stuff I watch Bakuman for - a bunch of artists duking it out on the printed page out of a determination to make it to the top of their industry.  It's simple stuff, and the formula is pretty much set in stone by this point in the series, but that doesn't make it any less compelling as its twists and turns pan out via an industry which is fascinating to ponder in its own right.  If this third season of Bakuman delivers a lot more of this kind of material as it moves towards its finale, I'm going to be a very happy bunny indeed.

Monday, 15 October 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 3

With both of its major parties confessing their love for one another, it seemed as though things were moving entirely too fast to the point where even Felix Baumgartner couldn't hope to break their speed records.

"Thankfully", that state of affairs is soon resolved, with Shizuku retracting her confession under the pretence of having lied about it, and Haru suggesting that he was relieved that she was only joking in the first place.  It's back to square one in other words.  Despite this, Shizuku's outlook on life has certainly changed in a way that can't be hidden, as she allows herself to be dragged into a weekend outing with Haru, Natsume and Sasahara to buy a coop for the show's resident rooster, who is now about to become a class pet.

This "mission" is in danger of being severely disrupted however, as Shizuku finds herself running straight into the bullies who had been bugging Haru back in episode one - a scenario which looked to turn nasty before things were turned around to at least some extent by Shizuku, who took advantage of their insistence that they wanted to talk and make up with Haru to use them to build the self-assembly chicken coop by themselves.  A day's work well-done, Haru and Shizuku head home together, leading to yet another confession from the latter with no signs of a retraction... but does Haru really love Shizuku in that way?  He seems unsure, but a promise to start over again and give him another chance to confirm his feelings from Shizuku seems like a perfect solution - at least, it does until something, or rather someone, prevents him from going home at all.

After a decent start ("that" comment aside) and a reasonable second episode, this third instalment of My Little Monster had some really sweet moments and some funny little asides, but also slid a little deeper into typical shoujo territory by halting the quick romantic progress of its main protagonists in favour of confusing things and slowing the pace markedly.  This may prove to be a wise decision in the long-term, but at the moment it seems a little disappointing; a disappointment which only gives us any comfort via Shizuku's continuation as a wonderful character and a feeling of progress when it comes to Haru's behaviour and attitude (as well as some relatively subtle filling in of his vulnerabilities).  I still like its characters for the most part, but it feels as if the show's story is starting to slip away from its grasp - something that it needs to rectify if it wants to do anything memorable.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Little Busters! - Episode 2

With their leader having decided on a whim to set up a baseball team, it's time to start finding some potential recruits to ensure they create a memorable and winning side.  What better first port of call then than a clumsy, dim girl with a love of sweets?

Naoe's first port choice for a potential recruit is Kamikita, who is just such a girl - although there's no faulting her enthusiasm, she doesn't exactly seem like a natural when it comes to playing baseball.  Nonetheless, Naoe invites her to join the Little Busters, safe in the knowledge that she's unlikely to bite on that offer.

In the meantime, Rin's avoidance of her classmates and after-school duties to play with the local cats sees her passed a message by one of her feline friends - a pair of notes promising to let the finder in on a secret inherent within the world provided certain tasks are completed, the first of which is to clean up the storage room for the boy's dorm.  For whatever reason, Rin feels to compel this task, roping the other boys into doing likewise before Kamikita joins the group to offer her baseball playing services.  Realising that she isn't really cut out for such sporting endeavours, Kyousuke decides that she needs to pass a test before being allowed to join... a test which she aces thanks to Kyousuke's rather unique worldview.  It's to Naoe that our attentions return as the episode ends however, as his narcolepsy comes back to haunt him.

After two episodes, this certainly does feel like a Key visual novel adaptation - from its flashes of well-timed good humour through to its oddball characters that teeter expertly on the verge between annoying and lovable, and with the first suggestions of some darker times ahead sprinkled throughout, this seems to be a solid adaptation so far that is hitting all the right notes.  It's far too early to discern its eventual destination (as someone who has never played that visual novel, at least), but it feels as if it should be a fun journey, and it's one that I'm mildly enjoying so far.

Space Brothers - Episode 28

Although the countdown to Hibito's launch is well and truly underway, this week's Space Brothers instead concerns itself largely to a flashback into the Nanba brother's past.

More specifically, this instalment largely takes us back to the aftermath of Mutta and Hibito having seen the UFO which was to set them out with their future thirst for space exploration, where it seems that Mutta's claims have attracted him some unwanted attention in the form of a group of kids who set out to bully him on account of his unsubstantiated claims.  Although Mutta tries to keep this bullying hidden from his younger brother, Hibito figures it all out soon enough, although his siblings insistence on not resorting to violence seemingly leaves him powerless to help out Mutta.

Or does it?  In his own inimitable style, Hibito decides that the only way to help out Mutta is to record some proof of the existence of this UFO himself, and in lieu of the real thing he works hard to create an elaborate (but obvious) fake - the contents of the DVD-R which Hibito has been asked to take to the moon base with him.  This makes for rather a touching story as a lead-in to Hibito's launch as it now looms large over the series.

Although this week's episode could really have been skipped entirely without the series missing a beat, I have to confess that this was still a pretty good effort as "filler" goes - although I'm impatient to get to the real thrust (with every pun intended) of the show's story as it currently stands, I can't help but appreciate the side-story shown here as a pre-cursor of things to come and a further explanation, and demonstration of, the tight bonds between our two "space brothers".  I do hope that we reach Hibito's launch sooner rather than later however, as it's been built up more than enough now for me to be keen to see exactly where this series is headed next without too many further distractions.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Medaka Box Abnormal- Episode 1

For all of the hopes placed upon it, Medaka Box turned out to be a decidedly poor and broadly dull showing from GAINAX - with better source material ahead and a second bite at its proverbial cherry, can this second season fare any better?

Following on directly from the first series, Abnormal's first episode brings us to the aftermath of Medaka Kurokami's defeat of Unzen, leaving a hefty chunk of the school requiring rebuilding and a gap normally filled by Unzen's role... not simply in the school disciplinary committee, but also in the secretive "Flask Plan" made up of members of the mysterious Class 13.  Called to the office of Hakoniwa Academy's chairman, Medaka is regaled to a brief explanation of the Flask Plan's existence, with Chairman Shiranui (yes, he is related to that Shiranui keen to get Medaka on-board as one of the purported "Abnormals" that the plan is looking to find and perfect.

Unsurprisingly, this doesn't exactly sound like Kurokami's cup of tea, and thus she refuses - a decision which is about to put her into a whole lot of danger when it comes to her interactions with the other Abnormals of the Flask Plan.  Before that however, it seems that Medaka has a direct rival for her place within the Flask Plan - Myouri Unzen's sister Myouga, a girl who wears (and attacks with) iron balls and chains and literally talks in numerical form.  With Medaka insisting on taking a pacifist stance in the face of what she sees as Myouga's unprovoked attack, things aren't looking good for the student council president... luckily for her Nabeshima has no such qualms about getting involved in an unnecessary fight, which sees her face-off against Unzen via her own unique style.

Only one episode in, Medaka Box Abnormal already feels like it has far more life to it than its predecessor, with more action and a plot far more interesting than simply answering requests in a suggestion box.  That isn't to say that this episode is a resounding success - it still feels as if GAINAX are "phoning in" the series in terms of animation quality and the like, which is a real worry as the show's action quote looks likely to ratchet up in this second season - but it at least has a lot more going to it from its insanely quirky characters through to the glee with which it compares itself so knowingly to other shounen offerings.  While even this show's source material can be a love/hate affair at the best of times (yes, I have read through the manga to date between the end of the first series and the start of Abnormal), simply recreating those feelings would be a definite step up from the dislike most people felt for the show's first season.

Friday, 12 October 2012

Robotics;Notes - Episode 1

In the near future within a very specific divergent timeline, robots have become a huge obsession all around the world thanks to an anime (which mysteriously was never entirely broadcast - it must have been a SHAFT production) named Gunvarrel that enjoyed immense success.  Success that I imagine Production I.G. can only dream off with this adaptation of visual novel Robotics;Notes.

Anyhow, zoom in a little on this world of mechanical obsession and we come to Central Tanegashima High School, a relatively quiet school with an equally quiet Robotics Club - a club which consists of only two members in fact, and even that statement is a bit of a stretch.  While the club is headed up by the energetic and passionate Akiho Senomiya (Aki for short), her partner in crime couldn't be much different, with Kaito Yashio showing more interest in a Gunvarrel derived combat game for his tablet (at which he is incredibly proficient) than actually involving himself in club activities.

Against this backdrop, it seems that any attempt on Aki's part to persuade the school to grant her club a budget will most likely fall upon deaf ears, but that does nothing to dampen her spirits as she continues to give her all at everything she does.  This provides us with some light at the end of that particular tunnel by the end of the episode, as said budget is dangled like a carrot before Aki, with the only condition to secure it being.... the almost impossible task of winning a robot-centric contest just a couple of weeks away.

There isn't really a whole lot to be said about this opening episode of Robotics;Notes - it did a very good job of introducing its major characters, its world and premise, and sprinkled just a little mystery and malice on top of that particular blend.  Certainly, both characters and setting feel sufficiently strong to hold plenty of potential - now we just have to sit back and wait to see what it can actually do with them; a position of pressure for those producing the series in the wake of Steins;Gate's critical and popular success.

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 2

It's as you were for episode two of Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb, as Sae and Hiro continue their class trip in Hokkaido while their fellow apartment dwellers carry on without them.

Of course, this means that Yuno is still fretting over ways to make herself useful or more accommodating to her juniors - a concern which brings about dangerous times with chairs, a period of stalking and ultimately a trip for the gang to the local bathhouse so that the remaining quartet can check out the delights within... that being Miyako's breasts mostly, it seems.

Meanwhile in Hokkaido Hiro and Sae continue to check out the sights and try their hand at the foodstuffs of the region - a period of enjoyment tempered only by the realisation that this marks another step towards the end of their high school lives and, perhaps worse, exams.  Still, at least Natsume seems to have finally made some progress in her pursuit of Sae...

After its unspectacular opener, this felt like something of a return to form for Hidamari Sketch, with far more well-crafted jokes and amusing moments in the midst of the usual slice of life fare, and with perhaps the slightest hint of some more emotional times ahead as Sae and Hiro's time as high school students draws towards its inevitable conclusion.  Thankfully though, we get to enjoy their presence for a little while yet, as things simply aren't the same without the full Hidamari Apartments crew in attendance.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Psycho-Pass - Episode 1

Against an impressively detailed futuristic backdrop, two men rather helpfully name one another for the viewer's education in the midst of a short but slick action scene - but exactly who are Shinya Kogami and Shogo Makishima?

That question is quickly put on hold, as Psycho-Pass' first episode quickly introduces us to our real protagonist - rookie police inspector Akane Tsunemori, who is fresh out of the academy but thrown into the midst of the short-staffed Public Safety Bureau of the Criminal Justice Department.  In this dystopian future, George Orwell's concept of "thought-crime" is a reality, with the entire region constantly policed by a system on the look-out for so-called "latent criminals" - those anticipated to be more likely than the average person to commit a crime, making them ripe to have justice served upon them whether they've actually committed a crime yet or not.

In the case of this opening episode, Akane and the team of "Enforcers" (latent criminals given positions as "hunting dogs" for those like them who need to be brought to justice) find themselves giving chase to an unexceptional man who has been driven to drastic measures after being picked up by a local scanner as a latent criminal, leading to him deciding that there's nothing for it but to live up to his billing and make the most of his final moments of freedom.  While catching this individual presents its own problems, it's as of nothing to the real issue on-hand here, as the mental state of this latent criminals victim makes for a nightmarish start to Akane's career as an inspector.

I'm really not sure what I can say to sum up Psycho-Pass' opening episode other than - brilliant.  While it's aesthetic is nothing original (we've seen it a million times before post-Blade Runner) it still utterly looks the part in depicting its grimy but technology-fuelled future, its character designs are instantly recognisable once each individual has been introduced, and the show's hook is sold to the viewer in a hugely compelling fashion here.  If anything, it's almost worrying how well this first episode nailed its premise in terms of the moral and ethical dilemmas it presents to the point where you can't help but wonder where the show can go from here.  If it can even come close to matching the energy, pitch-perfect pacing, intelligence and slick production values of this instalment, then we might have just found ourselves the best anime of the year so far.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 1

There are few cooler human inventions in this world than tanks.... so how about a series featuring cute girls driving, err, cute tanks?

That said, it seems that the protagonist of Girls und Panzer really wants to stay as war away from tanks as possible, and despite some rousing opening scenes as we watch some female tank-driving teams trying to outmanoeuvre one another, we're quickly brought back to earth by following the clumsy yet cheerful Miho Nishizumi as she embarks upon her life as a high school student.  Despite being the only girl from her particular neck of the woods at her new school, luckily for her she soon makes a couple of close friends in the form of Saori Takebe and Hana Isuzu, who duly take their new buddy into their charge.

However, even these bonds of friendship are quickly put under strain once the school's student council enter the scene, insisting to Miho that she take up "Tankery" on account of the heritage of her family as accomplished tank drivers.  Of course, this is exactly the pastime that Nishizumi joined this school to avoid, and things only become worse as her friends become enthralled by a promotional video inviting as many girls as possible to join the school's Tankery club as an elective subject.  Even when her friends swallow their ambitions to support Miho, the student council are having none of it, and ultimately it seems that our heroine has no choice but to become a tank driver once more - a high-pressure decision for her, as the only person with any kind of experience in the Tankery group.

In spite of its utterly daft premise (made even more insane by the final establishing shot which closes out this first episode), this opening gambit for Girls und Panzer actually seemed kind of fun. Some of its elements are as bizarre as its concept - Nazi girl, half-missing glasses moe and all - and its slice of life aspects are sickly sweet, but there's some real promise in its "girls and tanks" idea underneath it all, and moments like those opening scenes and the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek Tankery propaganda video sold me on what this series could offer on top of some pretty and colourful animation.  Hopefully there are some fun times ahead, and even if all else fails - well, tanks are still cool.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 2

While Rikka and Yuuta are enjoying some very different respective delusions as this second episode of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai opens, any semblance of peace is soon disrupted by Rikka revealing that she's found herself a chimera familiar to accompany her on her various missions.  In other words, she's found a stray cat.

From Yuuta's part, refusing to look after this feline on Takanashi's (owing to her sister's allergy to such "chimera") seems like it's done and dusted, allowing him to continue with his normal life - a life now so normal that he's even decided to become a class rep; a decision which is surely in no way related to gorgeous classmate and fellow class rep Shinka Nibutani's presence.  Of course, any hope of improving his relationship with Nibutani is soon spoiled by the arrival of Rikka on the scene.

Still, at least this encounter between the three of them might just have found the owner of that aforementioned stray cat - a girl in the year above Yuuta and Rikka named Kumin Tsuyuri.  Heading back to Takanashi's house to see if this stray is indeed the cat in question, all and sundry find themselves drawn into Rikka's delusions... or rather, they all get drawn into going on the run from Rikka's sister after it becomes apparent that she has compromising evidence about Yuuta's past.  Not that Tsuyuri seems to mind the flight of fancy which ensues - in fact, I'd go as far as to say that she downright loves it.

After an opening instalment which did little to catch my imagination, this second instalment was most certainly an improvement, with some sharper comedy and snappier dialogue on show even if a lot of the former is still rather too reliant on slapstick for my liking.  The show is also quickly building up a roster of likeable characters, which is an important sign of progress in itself, but I still can't shake the feeling that the series is still ostensibly nothing noteworthy wrapped up in some fancy packaging.  When I start thinking about what Kyoto Animation could do if they put their mind to leveraging moments like the action scenes in this episode in a more serious or engaging fashion, I start seriously thinking that working on a show like this could be a waste of their talents, broadly fun thought it is.  In other words, I think I'm pining for another series of Full Metal Panic.