Friday, 30 November 2012

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 9

The girls of Hidamari Apartments might be winning the game of life, but can they win at The Game of Life?  This week we get to find out, as a competition prize won by their landlady is passed to the gang for them to play... provided she can join in of course.

Being artistic types however, Miyako and company aren't too interested in the game as it stands, and thus they decide to recreate it in their own image as a Hidamari Apartments-centric game of life.  In essence, this allows for the episode to reference plenty of in-jokes from previous series (in the days before Nori and Nazuna were on-board), to appeal to the long-term viewers (and readers) such as myself.

However, we do have Nazuna to thank for a forfeit that forces Sae to talk like a cat - a forfeit which just so happens to coincide with her sister Chika phoning, with inevitably humorous consequences.  Come the end of the game, we get to imagine Nazuna as Prime Minister, and Nori as a near-millionaire unemployed woman who owns Hidamari Apartments... a result which gets everyone wondering what their actual landlady does for a living, although it seems that she's determined to remain a woman of mystery.

As a Hidamari Sketch veteran, all of the references to days gone by at the apartments made for a pretty fun episode in their own right (watch the Blu-Rays if you haven't seen prior seasons of this show!), while there were some more direct laughs to be found to boot - indeed, the last couple of episodes have presented possibly the two best lines of the series ever, which is a real pleasure to see from a show in its fourth season; proof positive that there's plenty of life left in this series and its otherwise mundane goings-on yet.

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 8

If you're expecting a touching reunion between sisters in this week's Medaka Box, then expect away, because that ain't what you're getting.

Even though Naze's lost memories of her role in the Kurokami family seem to have at least somewhat returned, she still has no interest in either her (now ailing) brother or her sister, while for Medaka's part she seems happy to regard Naze as both an enemy and a sister (a concept to which I'm sure many people with siblings can understand).  Of course, Medaka's problem is that she's trusting to a fault, and when she offers to swap places with Maguro as Naze's guinea pig for her formula that suppresses abnormalities, Naze uses it as an opportunity to disable both of them.

Not that Medaka is brought down permanently that quickly, and she's soon back on her feet again regardless of "losing" her abnormality, meaning that Naze has to pull the exact same trick again, this time offering up an "antidote" to the previous jab which is, in fact, designed to wipe Medaka's memory.  This time around it seems that this is too much even for this all-powerful Kurokami daughter, and she's whisked away for brainwashing by Miyakonojou.  Is this the end of it all?  Possibly not, as the remaining members of the student council find themselves offered assistance from some unlikely sources... although with the so-called "Plus Six" arriving on the other side of the conflict, things certainly aren't getting any easier for our increasingly ragtag bunch of "heroes".

There was certainly no shortage of stuff going on in this week's Medaka Box, although dialogue-heavy as it is it remains pretty light on, well, animation for the most part.  There are some interesting things going on however, and the episode has a few snappy lines and jokes to boot, but if only GAINAX could find some visual panache to help things along a little further.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 7

If there's one thing I learned very quickly from watching Girls und Panzer up to this point, it's that any drama borne from the show's universe outside of tank battles tends to be very short-lived.  So it goes with this week's episode, as the news of Mako's grandmother's collapse is largely resolved in short order and with nothing much to worry about.

That leaves the rest of the episode free for preparation with an eye towards the next round of national Tankery tournament matches - preparation that takes on several facets over the course of its running time.  For Miho's part, she finds herself considering her family's insistence that she carry on their Tankery tradition, while we also finally get a full flashback to the incident which caused her to quit the sport in the first place despite her brave actions being potentially life-saving.

Also of concern for Miho is the fact that never mind a star of the school, she's now the centre of attention for all of her fellow club members, which leaves her inundated with requests for help and advice that she can't possible hope to field all of.  Luckily it's here that a little team spirit comes into play, with some of the other girls lending their own expertise to help out wherever they can.  Eventually this involves a hunt for yet more tanks on account of Miho's concern that their current line-up won't cut it in their next match - it just so happens that the Tankery club of years gone by has supposedly left some more vehicles just laying around waiting to be discovered by anyone with an inkling to do so, potentially giving them some more fire-power for the future.

Ignoring the largely pointless nature of its drama as it fails to do much for either the plot or the characters, Girls und Panzer doesn't have quite the verve away from the Tankery field as it does on it, but it still knows how to entertain and amuse in sufficient quantities to continue to be pretty enjoyable - at least, it produced a few laugh out loud moments for me and made me smile a whole bunch, so it must be doing something right.  This is but a stop-gap for what we're all really waiting for, that being a return to battle at the tournament - with next week's episode called "We're Fighting Pravda" surely such action will abound!

Psycho-Pass - Episode 8

As the bodies rack up and Rikako Oryo plans even more "works of art", the net closes around the all-girls private school she attends - but is that net trying to catch the right fish?

Despite supposedly being overly invested in the case at hand, Kogami seems remarkably clear in his thinking as he dismisses the prospect that the likely culprit of the murders which took the life of his former detective partner is the same assailant as the person responsible for these latest grisly deaths, most notably due to the lack of panache shown in the location of the bodies discovery.  To back up his theory, Kogami and Akane pay a visit to the prison which houses those with the highest Psycho-Pass ratings - the ones that are still alive anyhow - to mine one particular individual for information.

It's this information, and knowledge of her father's art works, that lead straight to the feet of Rikako - if his colleagues doubt Kogami's abilities in this case, his Dominator certainly doesn't lie when it outs Oryo's incredibly high Psycho-Pass rating.  The only remaining problem is how to catch her in a school full of supporters amongst both the students and elsewhere, and even after making some more disturbing discoveries within the school premises Rikako seems all set to make good her escape.  Unfortunately for Oryo, it seems that she is simply the monkey to the organ grinder and puppet master above her, and now that her usefulness is outlived so is her time, with the attention of her superior turning elsewhere... namely, towards Kogami himself.

Grisly and brutal though it might have been, this was a great ending to an excellent arc - provided that you can ignore its one massive plot hole (private school or not, why not just check the Psycho-Pass of every student and staff member in the school to find their criminal?) it was snappily paced and written before bringing things to a close as far as this arc is concerned while still leaving the wider story very much open and in an even more compelling position than when it started.  As long as you can stomach its rather graphic and pull no punches handling of its characters when push comes to shotgun, Psycho-Pass is still well and truly where it's at for the autumn season if you're looking for a series that you can get your teeth into.

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 9

From a reluctant member of the The Far Eastern Magic Nap Society of Summer, it seems that Nibutani is now basically running the show after leaving (or being kicked out of) the cheerleading squad.  What's more, she seems to have decided that the club need to do something for the upcoming culture festival.

Despite moving all the way forward from the summer to the autumn, it appears that the occurences of last week's episode are still hanging heavily over Rikka - she'll barely make eye contact with Yuuta, let alone talk to him, and according to her sister she's hardly eating alongside her usual sulky behaviour in fron of her sibling.  Is the spat with her sister and thinking about her Dad what ails Rikka, or is something else amiss?

Alongside planning some impromptu "guerilla" performances for the club at the school festival, Nibutani seems to have landed upon the real reason for Rikka's malaise - the girl's in love, and she doesn't know it.  Or does she?  Quizzing her a little in private makes it clear that she knows pretty much exactly what she's feeling, but she simply can't reconcile it with her delusional fantasy world.  In spite of this, Shinka decides that the time is ripe to act as cupid for Rikka and Yuuta - something which is far, far easier said than done when it comes to a girl like Rikka, although ultimately she seems to have landed on the perfect plan to move their relationship forward even if it doesn'tpan out in quite the way she had in mind.

I feel like I've been laying into Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai on pretty much a weekly basis recently as it felt like it had become stuck in a rut - thank goodness then for this week's episode, which finally felt like the first instalment in a while to do the scenario and characters of the show justice.  With some more restrained but better targeted humour, and with Rikka's behaviour leveraged to create some genuinely funny moments while also expressing her character and emotions well, the lead-in to the super-sweet and joyously adorable ending perfectly.  In a way, this almost feels like it would have been a good finale to the show, so I really hope it doesn't spoil things from here onwards, but in the knowledge it has a few episodes still to run it feels like my enthusiasm for the series has been restored somewhat provided the series learns from its successes here.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 8

Although we were already aware of the friendship between Koko and Doctor Minami Amada, this week's episode of Jormungand is quick to point out just how far this friendship extends, courtesy to a flashback to this meeting of minds as they discuss their top secret "world-changing" plan.

Certainly, when we return to the present day and another meeting between Koko and Dr. Miami to celebrate the opening of what is supposedly a toy robot factory and development laboratory, it's hard to think that this is anything other than another step towards this grand plan.  We aren't the only ones either, as it seems that all and sundry sit up and take notice all the way from Bookman and the FBI through to other arms dealers.

The theme of the episode as a result of this is very clearly the changing face of war and armed conflict, as Amada meets with an arms dealer who seems to have no purpose to this meeting other than to bemoan the fact that war and supplying arms is no longer about arming troops as much as it is about technology and "business intelligence".  This appears to be a gap that HCLI are about to fill and monopolise, as Kasper announces the "Hekmatyr Global Grid", a mixture of online logistics and procurement technologies backed up by its very own GPS network, with a view towards making invading foreign countries cheaper and easier than ever.  It's a chilling thought in its own right, but is this really the unveiling of Koko's grand plan, and if so why is she showing no interest in the announcement?  It appears that this global grid is only scratching the surface, if that, of her and Minami's true goals...

While I could probably pore over this week's Jormungand with a fine-toothed comb and pick holes in it, at the end of the day its succeeded in one pivotal way - I really want to know what Koko's real masterplan is, which is more than enough to keep me on tenterhooks waiting for the next episode.  That aside, the episode has involved itself in moving the various pieces of its proverbial chess board into place, while also taking a succinct, slightly heavy-handed but still thought-provoking look at the changing face of war as technology overtakes feet on the ground as one of the most important enablers in a conflict.  It's a chillingly, almost terrifyingly blunt and realistic view of the future face of war, and it's a sobering counterpoint to the "cool" factor that pervades Jormungand's take on the world of arms dealers that is much appreciated from my part.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 9

There was plenty of implied danger in Shun's words at the end of last week's episode of Shin Sekai Yori, and given his sorrowful and resigned tone there it's no huge surprise that we join episode nine of the series with Shun having failed to attend school for several days in a row.

Needless to say, this is a huge concern for his friends including the recently dumped Satoru - but can they do anything to find him, especially given his warnings that the group are being watched after their misadventures several years previously.  This isn't enough to deflect them from finding out what's going on however, and the group split up to begin the search for their friend.

In Satoru and Saki's case, their hunt takes them to Pinewind - an old haunt which seems to have been barricaded off from the outside world completely.  Although Satoru and Saki can make it through these cordons with no difficulty, the presence of Monster Rats as guards is only one of many hints that something very strange is going on here.  With the situation gnawing at Saki more and more, she eventually confronts her parents about it, effectively forcing them to give her at least some information about what is going on, bringing forth a suggestion of an "accident" at Pinewind.  This is as of nothing compared to Maria and Mamoru's experience as part of their search however, which suggests a far, far more grisly fate for Shun...

Having built up and threatened to explode into a storyline which will follow it through the rest of the series on a number of occasions, it finally feels like we've reached the crux of matters, with Shun's disappearance and the slow, creeping revelations that follow in its wake giving a suggestion of exactly how deep this discomfiting rabbit hole really goes.  With Saki now effectively on the run, I can't wait to see what Shin Sekai Yori has up its sleeve, and even if its story-telling up to this point (including this episode) has been rather uneven and even a little jumbled sometimes (as is its animation quality), it certainly feels like a series with a compelling over-arching tale to tell.

Monday, 26 November 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 9

Never mind love, Shizuku has something else to concern herself with at the beginning of this week's My Little Monster.  No, not the fact that Haru has let himself into her house through her bedroom window (although to be frank, she should probably worry about that too), but rather the fact that her father's shop has gone under.  Hey, the economy is tough right now, don'tcha know!

Far from being shocked, distraught or upset, Shizuku takes things in her usual unruffled and pragmatic style, calling her Mum to pass on the news before dragging her father off to get things sorted.  Then again, given that this is the sixth time this has happened I suppose preparedness also comes into the equation here.  With her Dad sorted out, Shizuku finds some time to join her friends in a study session, arriving just in time to be reminded that a month ago at the culture festival she's promised to think over her relationship with Haru.  Except she hasn't thought about it at all.  Oops.

Once Haru is suitably distracted with trying to catch a crayfish to impress Shizuku, our protagonist actually finds herself with some time to think things over - something which she ends up doing in her own inimitable style, that being one involving having diagrams drawn on paper to explain her psyche.  The provider of this explanation is none other that Yamaguchi who, in spite of himself, seems to be developing some feelings of his own towards Shizuku.  In fact, love is in the air all around, as Natsume suddenly begins to act very strangely as circumstances catch her unawares...

Never mind Haru or Yamaguchi, I think it's pretty obvious from my 'blogging of this series that I too am an admirer of Shizuku, and by this juncture I feel as if watching her get a grip on her feelings and relationships is actually more interesting and enjoyable than the love story angle of the show (although of course you wouldn't have much of one without the other).  Thus, I'm continuing to love watching Shizuku's self-analysis and occasional moments of surprised or insightful inner monologue, as the rather tasty meat to what is proving to be an entertaining and occasionally amusing sandwich, spoiled slightly only by Haru acting as some kind of tomato.

And that's why My Little Monster is like a sandwich.  Or something.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 34

As we saw at the end of the last episode of Space Brothers, Hibito is having a ball on the moon, skipping around the planet's surface like a kid and showing not a care when it comes to entering their lunar base while his comrades show more than a few nerves when it comes to removing their helmets and space suits for the first time.

Perhaps most intriguingly though, Hibito has already seen something strange catch his eye on the moon - something sparkling out of the corner of his eye which clearly is of more than a little interest to him given his previous encounter with UFOs.  That said, there's work to be done, so there's little time to do any more than briefly ponder this phenomenon for the time being.

Back on Earth, Mutta is facing some unusual experiences of his own, that being a surfeit of good luck.  Whether it's winning a supermarket lottery (although winning three months supply of toilet rolls is hardly the grandest of prizes), having his dropped wallet picked up by a pretty girl or something else entirely, everything seems to be going right.  Normally, you'd expect this to be seen as a good omen, but not in Mutta's case, as he worries that he's frittering his good luck away on frivolous incidents to leave him with nothing when he really needs some good luck - that being a few days later, when the results of the final JAXA selection exam are announced.

That's right, next week is going to bring us back to crunch time for our would-be astronauts as we finally get to find who has and hasn't been selected, although knowing this series I wouldn't be surprised if that's spread out over more than one episode.  Unfortunately, that build up to the big news moving forward left this week's instalment feeling a little empty - there were some fun moments on Earth and great pieces of tension-building on the moon (which continues to be where the most fascinating material lays overall), but nothing for us to really get our teeth into.  My molars are certainly gnashing for what's coming up however, so hopefully that will see Space Brothers back to its best once more.

Little Busters! - Episode 8

With the Little Busters growing in numbers, it seems like the group might just have found themselves another member - a talented one this time around too - from an unlikely source.

The person in question is Kudryavka Noumi, or Kud for short, and after seeing much-travelled transfer student playing with some dogs and a frisbee, it becomes clear that she's a pretty accomplished catcher - something she proves to be equally adept with when it comes to using a baseball instead.  Thus, the Little Busters have grown in number once again, much to Kud's delight.

Her excitement at being part of the group stems from one very simple problem - Kud is lonely; indeed, she doesn't even have a room-mate.  Clearly this is no good, and thus Naoe leads the charge to find Kud a room-mate in spite of the request coming at a time of the school year when everyone is settled down as far as rooming arrangements go.  As time passes, finding other girls who have nobody to share their room with is one thing, but finding a suitable room-mate is quite another - Rin is too shy, Kurugaya is too... well, perverted... and quiet class bookworm Nishizono has enough books to make sharing a room with her potentially fatal.  In the end, the room-mate Kud is looking fo comes from a seemingly unlikely source to save the day just as all hope seems to be lost...

Aside from some flashes of amusement here or there and speckled across the episode, this was a pretty run of the mill instalment of Little Busters - there was no great drama or emotional core, and no particularly wide-ranging opportunities for some comedy to leave us with an episode that was a little flat and uninspiring, to the point where there really isn't a whole lot to say about it.

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 8

After some pre-amble last week, it's time to really dive into the heart of the Yamabuki culture festival in this week's Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb.

Despite Yoshinoya's proclivities, we find Yuno and Miyako's class plumping for that age-old culture festival staple, the haunted house, while Hiro and Sae's group opts for an udon cafe, Nori gets involved in a decidedly unique version of Romeo and Juliet featuring two male leads and cows, and Nazuna's class offers up a balloon room.  A spanner is thrown into the works however when at attempt to make the haunted house even scarier lands Miyako with a couple of injured fingers that puts them out of commission for a week.

Still, nothing is going to prevent the girls from enjoying themselves once the festival itself rolls around, and after Yuno takes her time picking up as many pamphlets as possible due to her design featuring on the cover, we spend the rest of the episode soaking in the ambience of the festival, all the way through to an impressively scary haunted house and a visit from Yuno's parents.

Even though the whole culture festival thing has been done to death (and arguably presented in a way never to be bested by Hyouka this year), as per usual Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb provides a light-hearted but hugely fun and frequently hilarious take on it, complete with perhaps the best line ever to come out of an episode of this series.  That the show's sense of entertainment remains undimmed so far into its fourth series is high praise indeed, but praise of which Hidamari Sketch is entirely deserving for proving so consistently adept at what it does.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Robotics;Notes - Episode 7

Although Aki's symptoms of Elephant Mouse syndrome are nothing more than a passing worry on this occasion, the Robotics Club has suffered a massive blow thanks to Subaru's family troubles, and his Dad's insistence on him giving up on his robot-building ways has seen him stop coming to school full stop.

With any thoughts of entering the Robo-One World Cup fading fast, Kai finds himself somewhat removed from the stress of preparing for that tournament, which instead allows him to ponder his discoveries of recent weeks a little further... that is, when he isn't being called upon by Furugoori to help her track down cheats in Kill-Ballad.

Then again, Furugoori also has some interesting information to share when she isn't freezing Kai with icy cold air conditioning, as she dangles some tantalising information before him - namely, the reason why the final episode of the Gunvarrel anime was never aired; a story into which she seems to be personally involved herself.  Meanwhile, Aki is making great strides in getting the club's grand plan, the GunPro-1, off the ground - the only remaining question is whether she can bring Subaru back on board to take on an important role within its creation.  This may be easier than it seems, but it's beginning to feel like the club has attracted some unwanted attention somewhere down the line...

After an unevening opening half to this latest instalment, Robotics;Notes suddenly feels as though the pieces of its puzzle are coming together - I'd almost forgotten about the whole Gunvarrel anime thing until it was reintroduced this episode, but it seems like a juicy plot point all by itself, and when you throw in conspiracy theories surrounding the death of the sun and lethal solar storms there are some grandiose concepts at the heart of the series.  With its final scene suggesting a real turning point in what is to come, this feels like make or break time for the first half of the series at least.

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 7

Although even Akune at his finest as a "destroyer" was having a struggle despatching Naze and her cyborg sidekick Koga, is the appearance of master analyst Maguro on the scene really going to make any difference to this particular battle?

It certainly doesn't seem like it given his proclivities, and his obsession with Naze's underwear seems likely to be nothing but counter-productive as it turns into a wager between the two of them, effectively betting on Akune or Koga in a game of strip judo.  With knowledge of Koga's super-fast healing, Akune instead aims to dislocate her joints in the hope that this will stop her rampage, but even this is something that she can shrug off in short order.

Eventually, Maguro finally proves to be useful as he nudges Akane in the right direction towards figuring out Koga's weakness, and in the ensuing moments it appears that the day is won.  Rather than having her strip for him however, Maguro has something else in mind for Naze... making her remove her mask.  This in turn reveals the true identity of Naze - an identity that is a shock to even Maguro, as we're introduced to a member of the Kurokami family who treats said family's wealth and talent as a curse, instead pursuing a path of sheer Hell.  Given her unflinching attitude towards her brother in the aftermath of this revelation, could it be that Maguro has just made things worse for all concerned?

As appears to be the default for this adaptation by this point, this week's Medaka Box was again an utterly devoted transplant of the original manga to the small screen - something which certainly avoids it making any major errors, but also something which leaves it feeling drained of life, as scenes which work fine on the printed page are left feeling stilted by this adaptation.  With what feels like a decidedly low budget approach to the animation itself, this leaves us with little to really get excited about it - a disappointing fate for source material that arguably deserves better.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Psycho-Pass - Episode 7

Thanks to the appearance of a girl's body put on display in a very similar fashion to those of the "Specimen" murder cases in which Kogami is so invested, the Inspector turned Enforcer finds himself barred from any further involvement in the case thanks to the prejudices of those previous grisly murders.

With Akane tasked with keeping an eye on Kogami and ensuring he doesn't do anything untoward that might interfere with the investigation, our protagonist gets to find out a little more about Kogami's former partner in crime-fighting Sasayama, while also revealing some of the more recent leads that Kogami's scratching around had brought forth.  Although he's off the case, Akane certainly doesn't seem to be immune to helping him with the idea of proving his usefulness to his colleagues one way or another.

Meanwhile, this week's episode spends plenty of time delving into the world of the murderer herself - Rikako Oryo, the daughter of an artist whose oeuvre was depicting girls in decidedly sadistic poses despite said artist's morally sound real-world behaviour.  However, his insistence upon being of sound mind and morals appears to have been his downfall, as one of many people to succumb to the ill effects being overly concerned with ensuring that their Psycho-Pass results remain crystal clear be it through medication or other means.  Thus, it becomes clear that Rikako's macabre work is one of revenge while also making a statement about the world in which she lives... but how does it tie in to the Specimen murders, and who are those who choose to help her go about her grisly business?

This week's episode of Psycho-Pass was excellent on two counts - firstly, its murder-mystery story is gruesome yet gripping stuff that manages to make both the killer and the scenario surrounding her efforts feel grounded in some kind of in-world reality and oddly fascinating.  On top of that, this week sees us come to another crux point in the show's concept - that of mental well-being and the removal of stress gone mad, and the effects that this can have on both society as a whole and the individuals within it.  Although this was expressed via a long and slightly meandering monologue, it did little to lessen the impact of a thought-provoking discussion of what a world where stress is seen as wholly negative has created.  If I wasn't already entirely on-board with what this series is trying to do (which I am), this episode was yet another powerful reason to convince me that it knows what it's doing and seems intent on delivering with aplomb.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 7

Having received an award for reaching their fiftieth chapter of PCP, and with some ideas about their next big project beginning to bubble beneath the surface (an "unconventional battle manga" no less - do they mean Medaka Box?), things are ticking over pretty nicely for Ashirogi Muto following their recent tribulations... which means that it's time to shift our focus to some of the other players in the world of manga creation.

Despite Fukuda getting a little time in the limelight with the news that Road Racer GIRI has been awarded an anime adaptation, it's Hiramaru who gets the spotlight for this instalment - with Otters 11 finished and his one-shot in the "love fest" coming in second, he seems well poised to try his hand at another serialisation... but can he be motivated to do so?  It seems that the only thing that will persuade him to even consider it is a tea date with Aoki.

While Yoshida is intent on keeping Hiramaru well within his grasp and under his control, he seems to have underestimated his charge on this occasion as he switches cars, sends his old (and bugged) vehicle out on a random drive and whisks Aoki away for tea to an unknown location... well, unknown for anyone who hadn't been paying attention to either Hiramaru or Aoki's recent one shots.  Having succeeded to some degree in avoiding his "keeper", can Hiramaru confess, and will he do so without being shot down?

It's been said numerous times before (and not just by me) that Bakuman is at its worst when it deals with love and romance, and so it proves again here - as a frivolous aside I suppose this week's episode was okay, but the relationship at its centre feels dumb and forced and feels rather pointless for the most part, while also turning Aoki's previous strong-willed and quite interesting character into another simpering, doe-eyed female to a large degree.  Beyond even this, Bakumansimply isn't as interesting when it doesn't have Ashirogi Muto as its centrepiece, although with another rival looking likely to appear on the scene it looks like this week's aside will be a very brief one before we return to the real meat of the series.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 6

After that unplanned break to recap the series last week, GIRLS und PANZER is back back back.  Jesus!

Of course, that also means that we return to the midst of Ooarai's first national tournament game against the much vaunted Sanders College - however, now that their underhanded use of equipment to intercept their opponents communications has been rumbled it seems that the tables have been turned, with Miho using the knowledge of said interception to sell the Sanders team dummy after dummy to send them on a wild goose chase.  When one of Ooarai's number happens across the enemy flag tank, it seems as if the game is up.

That said, Miho and company's prestigious opponents aren't going to give up quite so easily, and with the Sanders College flag tank doing a runner the entire Ooarai team take up the pursuit, only to find that they too are soon pursued by a subset of the Sanders team (who rather honourably only give chase with enough of their team to match Ooarai in light of the aforementioned underhanded tactics).  Who can land the first blow on the opponent's flag tank to win the game?  It appears that Miho's luck has run out, but there's still one final, risky, opportunity for them to emerge victorious.

Aside from another dose of forced drama at the end of the episode (which may or may not add something to the show next week, in fairness), this was another utterly brilliant instalment of GIRLS und PANZER - it somehow manages to balance its loving attention to detail in terms of its tanks and some genuine tension in watching its Tankery battles pan out against an incredibly light-hearted backdrop that is full of larger than life characters, split second perfect comedy timing and ridiculous utterances.  Out simply, I can't get enough of it, and I feel as though I haven't been entertained this wholesomely by any other anime series this year.  It may not be a thought-provoking highbrow classic, but who cares when a series like this can be so god-damn fun?!

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 8

Now that the true cause of Rikka's delusions and behaviour have been laid bare, can she face up to reality and move on?

Of course not!  Thus, this episode begins with Rikka and her elder sister fighting once again, with Rikka's delusion conflict overlapping with Touka's desperate attempts to get her sibling to behave rationally and accept the difficult truth about their father and former home.  When Yuuta steps in to put his own spin on things, Rikka makes good her escape and is nowhere to be found until Yuuta realises what she's up to and finds her... on the train back home.

While Isshiki has some goings-on of his own to ponder regarding Kumin and the rest of the group continue to goof around on their summer vacation, Rikka and Yuuta are thus left to return home by themselves, and when it's revealed that Rikka doesn't have the keys to her home with her there's nothing for it but to let her spend the night at Yuuta's place - a decision which leaves them alone together.  Are the incidents that follow a further sign of Rikka's burgeoning love towards her friend?  Probably, but she appears entirely too childish to see it.

It's this refusal to allow her to ease up on her delusions that makes this growing love story out of the heart of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai a little awkward - at its most basic level it really doesn't work as there isn't any kind of grounding in place for such a romance, and the complete lack of character development exhibited by Rikka makes it hard to root for her and Yuuta in any way.  Stick that alongside what is now a well-worn groove of humour exhibited by the series (with one or two well-placed exceptions) and I continue to flounder in my attempts to get excited about the series.  Perhaps if it can take the brakes off and allow Rikka's actual personality to develop a little the latter third of the series might surprise me, but at the moment it seems to be singularly refusing to do so, which I believe is to its detriment.

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 7

It's time for another of Koko's HCLI henchmen to have the spotlight turned on him in this week's Jormungand, with "Wilee Coyote", aka William Nelson, getting a look in as the main main.

We start by learning the story of just how Wilee came to become part of Koko's group, a tale which begins in Kuwait in 1991 as he finds himself invited along on a mission with a number of Delta Force troops including Lehm.  With a degree in architecture, Nelson is widely regarded as an expert in demolition, leading to his place on the mission in question as it involves destroying a huge Iraqi chemical factory - something which he pulls off with aplomb while also demonstrating terrifying levels of concentration even under fire.

The reason for this story's emergence, aside from leading in to explain how Wilee joined Koko's merry band, is a return to Iraq to (of all things) escort the equipment needed for a school building project in the country.  If you're thinking "wow, that's awfully charitable of them", needless to say it's all just for some rare positive PR in their normally murky world of arms dealers.  When the group's mercenary escorts turn out to be crazy buffoons with over-active trigger fingers, Koko sends them packing only to see them later return to get their revenge - at least, that's the plan, but they've reckoned without the quality of Koko's own troops.

As a one-shot episode there was no broader over-arching story to get drawn into here, but in a way that made for a nice change of pace from the more grandiose fare we've seen of late, ultimately bringing us a good, old-fashioned showdown-cum-shooting match while also giving another character an opportunity to demonstrate his skills and fleshing out his personality in an enjoyable way.  In terms of its action and scenario, this felt like a far better realised effort than we've seen of late (albeit a little too close to home given its subject matter, perhaps), which in itself made for a more compelling outing once weapons were drawn - it's something that Jormungand can do pretty well when push comes to shove, and this episode is certainly a decent demonstration of the kind of thing it can do.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 8

After escaping from the nightmare that has consumed the past few episodes, this week's episode of Shin Sekai Yori flings us a couple of years further into its future as our group of kids edge closer to adulthood as they hit fourteen.

Of course, those two years can make a big difference in terms of a kids interests and attitude, and thus the first half of this episode is preoccupied by examining the burgeoning sexuality of the group as everybody starts pairing off and being alone suddenly becomes incredibly "uncool".  With thoughts of the "society of love" echoed by the Minoshiro-cum-library of a few weeks previously still rattling around in our heads, we see Shun and Satoru take more than a passing interest in one another, while Saki and Maria also become inseparable, partly as a reaction to their friends circumstances.

While these relationships wax, wane and threaten to become complicated, the visit of the supposedly most powerful of power users to the school, Shisei Kaburagi, causes quite the commotion.  What seems to be a routine tour and inspection of the school and its student seems to turn rather more sinister when Kaburagi comes across Shun - after doing "something" with his powers, Shisei storms out before the class is quickly dismissed.  From that point forth, we see a very different Shun, who eventually has a decidedly solemn warning for Saki that bodes ill for all of the group involved in the misadventure of two years previously.

Having hoped that episode five of this series had been a one-off in terms of Shin Sekai Yori's shifting art style, here we are again with an episode that looked, well, pretty rubbish for the most part as it frequently veered alarmingly off-model in some really off-putting ways.  Simply speaking, it just didn't work.  As for the content of the episode, the focus on the groups sexual proclivities was clearly an important follow-on to information dropped in our laps earlier in the series, and Shun's eventual reluctance to remain involved with Satoru is perhaps equally important along those lines - that said, perhaps a little too much time was spent on this, and when coupled with the half-baked art of the episode and a slightly heavy-handed treatment it did feel like it was veering into doujinshi territory for a while there.  We seem all poised for some more intriguing times ahead however, so I'm hoping that these artistic missteps and slightly misjudged slices of pacing aren't going to become too frequent in what has otherwise been a very good series.

Eureka Seven AO - Episodes 23-34 (Completed)

It's taken far longer than any of us might have expected, but at last Eureka Seven AO comes to an end courtesy of a double-bill for its grande finale.  Will we finally get to learn the truth about, er, Truth?

Having realigned myself with what was actually going on in the show when we left it (it has been a while, after all) we find ourselves with Team Pied Piper engaged in a pitched battle against Truth and an interfering Naru, who still insists that it's the Scub and not the Secrets that are "in the right" in the battle that has waged between them and more or less ruined the Earth into the bargain.  This makes life decidedly tricky for Ao, who seems entirely unsure as to where his allegiances should lay himself, with only the realisation that Naru's health could be in danger spurring him into action... and not a moment too soon, as Truth is swallowed up by a Scub Coral before revealing his true goal - reverting the world back to what he sees as the "correct" one - and turning on Naru in the process.  In the ensuing chaos, Ao fires the Quartz Gun, and once again succeeds in changing the world in a manner which seemingly obliterates Truth but also does little for Naru's health.

After quickly settling into this altered world and a perceived victory for Generation Bleu, any fragile piece is quickly disturbed by the appearance of an unknown IFO - an IFO that just so happens to belong to one Renton Thurston.  With Eureka making a ghostly appearance at the same time, we're treated to something of a family reunion before it becomes clear that the goals of father and son aren't about to align at all.  Ergo, while Renton is looking to ensure that the Scub Coral in the world vanishes completely, Ao simply can't accept this for two reasons, those reasons being that to do so would mean Renton giving up on Eureka, and just as importantly what the disappearance of the Scub might mean for those "infected" by or otherwise assimilated with the scub.  When push comes to shove, we're left with an epic conflict between father and son and their clashing ideologies to "do the right thing" in their own respective minds.

So, it finally comes to an end... although I imagine it's pretty much unanimous that Eureka Seven AO was no Eureka Seven - indeed, it barely felt like any kind of sequel at all quite a lot of the time - it still felt like a brave and largely decent attempt to extend the original show's scope and universe massively.  This didn't always work out perfectly, leaving us with entirely too many twists, turns, time travel and alternate universes to make for a simple viewing experience, and towards the end it leaned a little heavily on its Deus Ex Quartz Gun to provide those twists, but it was still a heady and far-reaching piece of story-telling that thrilled, emotionally moved and excited when it got it right.  How often it actually got everything right is a matter of debate that I can see raging for some time, but to my mind it worked more often than it failed miserably and still had plenty of fun with its characters early on in the series to leave me with an impressive of Eureka Seven AO that was, for the most part, positive.  Who knows, maybe we'll see this universe revisited again in another seven years?  Then again, we might just get a poor alternate world movie a few years from now instead, and nobody wants that...

Monday, 19 November 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 8

Although its school culture festival time, it seems that the main players in My Little Monster's drama are finding it hard to concentrate on their haunted house attraction thanks to, well, other attractions.

For Shizuku's part, our protagonist still can't really get her head around either her feelings or her actions, as one minute she lets Haru get closer to her before pushing him away - then again, Haru himself does a fantastic job of portraying all of the reasons that she might want nothing to do with him during the course of this episode between accidentally punching Shizuku in the midst of a jealous retaliation, threatening to "force" Shizuku to be with him and making a hostage of Oshima.

Revolving around all of this is Yamaguchi and Yuzan, who not only know one another but also have their own responsibilities for pushing Haru towards the aforementioned actions that he takes, while on the other side of the fence Natsume finds her heart practically punctured by a particularly cold shoulder from Shizuku after giving her some advice.  It's ultimately Shizuku who we return to in this episode, as she finally begins to realise where she's gone wrong on her part - an opportunity that she uses to confront Haru with her true feelings as they currently stand.

Just as watching Shizuku stumble through and learn from her experiences has become a weekly joy within My Little Monster, so watching Haru flush any good will towards him down the toilet is equally frustrating - no matter how many excuses you craft for him, his behaviour throughout much of this episode is downright abhorrent, with multiple counts of violence to varying degrees against girls and yet another effective threat of rape.  Although Shizuku clearly needs a foil to bounce off against in an "opposites attract" kind of way to help lead the show's emotion and drama, did they really need to set this intelligent girl off against quite such an unlikeable (to put it mildly) male lead?  I would wager they didn't, but so goes the world of shoujo anime I suppose....

Little Busters! - Episode 7

Tempting though it is to goof around and get into dumb fights and quarrels, the Little Busters still have a job to do - that being, to recruit more members for their baseball team.

Considering his success thus far, it isn't exactly shocking to find that Naoe is the boy tasked with this continued recruitment drive, and it takes him no time at all to run into another oddball that seems ripe for the picking in that sense.  The girl in question is Haruka Saigusa, a seemingly dim but lonely girl who spends most of her time dreaming up practical jokes which she then denies any knowledge of via some horribly bad acting.

Needless to say, the constant pranks have made Saigusa some enemies in high places, not least in the form of the school's disciplinary committee, who seem to hound her everywhere that she goes.  This is particularly true of the committee's leader Kanata Futaki, who seems insistent upon ensuring that Haruka never catches a break.  When Naoe and his fellow Little Busters stand up for her in the the face of some fresh accusations about her conduct, it seems that they have themselves another new member to add to their motley assortment of misfits.

Despite its attempts to be another dose of colourful fun, this week's Little Busters didn't really do it for me - it was passable but nothing more, and it feels as if it's relying too heavily upon its larger than life characters and not enough upon any form of interesting character development or story-telling.  As the previous story arc proved, none of that is entirely necessary to ultimately tug the heart-strings, but it would at least make the wait for each arc to bed down and find its direction a little more worthwhile than it currently seems to be.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 33

Following the joy of Hibito's successful ascent into space, it's time for Space Brothers to focus in upon an even more ground-breaking moment - Hibito's first steps on the moon, which in turn marks him out as the first Japanese person to walk on the planet.

Unfortunately, this means a 4am wake up time for anyone in Japan who actually wants to see history being made, but this episode otherwise flies by in a flurry of tension and joy (and some needless flashbacks to fill a little time, admittedly) as Hibito lands the lunar module before taking that all important first step upon the moon.

While the world looks on expecting some words of motivational wisdom from Japan's new hero, Hibito is feeling neither any pressure nor the need to say anything ground-breaking - in the former case this is thanks to Mutta passing on the word about Azuma's feelings about Hibito and his place on the mission, and in the latter it's simply down to Hibito getting lost in the excitement of the moment.  Indeed, is there any better word to encapsulate a man realising his boyhood dream and setting foot on the moon than "yay"?

It's this kind of thing which really sums up why Space Brothers is frequently so wonderful - that aforementioned tension and joy is thrilling and moving in its own right, and the series does such a good job of capturing the simple wonders of space travel and exploration, and the exhilaration of pushing the boundaries of what mankind can do when freed from the constraints of finances and politics.  You'd have to be heartless bastard or a rabid anti-space exploration nut not to crack a smile or breath a relieved or joyous sight while watching Space Brothers at the moment.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Robotics;Notes - Episode 6

Kai has certainly stumbled across some intriguing stuff as of last week's episode of Robotics;Notes, but was is going to do with the elements he's uncovered from here?

The answer - do a little more digging, as he quizzes AI Airi some more, finding out that she is in some way lined to Aki's sister Misaki, which in trun is the reason that Airi knows all about Kai amongst other things.  The more important question seems to be what exactly lies within the abandoned building where Airi "lives", and with a little more investigation the source of the strange signals Kai has picked up becomes apparent - a bunch of equipment that is, ostensibly, simply firing signals out into space.  The whys and whereforths of this revelation are yet to be revealed....

Away from all of this, things seem to be looking up for the Robotics Club - despite her misgivings, Daitoku pays the club a visit and soon turns into a regular guest/member of the group, while Subaru is finally making some headway with the incredibly awkward to deal with Furugoori in terms of persuading her to program the Kill-Ballad control system to work with his M45 robot.  With Kona now officially a member (albeit a "remote worker" as she still refuses to leave her home) and sponsorship secured, the future is bright... at least, until Subaru's father turns up and throws a massive wrench into the proverbial works as some family drama comes home to roost.

It's that dramatic aspect of Robotics;Notes which is perhaps the worst thing about this week's episode - it arrives apropos of nothing into this instalment, and feels decidedly clichéd in its construction to resemble the kind of stuff we've seen in anime a million times before.  On the plus side, we've scratched a little deeper into the surface of the mystery that Kai has been looking into, and the character roster is being fleshed out nicely (although I still can't decide if Furugoori is hilarious or incredibly irritating... possibly both), so there's certainly no shortage of stuff to keep my interest provided the show can pull its disparate elements together as it progresses.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 6

Following the trials and tribulations of recent episodes, a trip to the zoo seems to be exactly what Medaka Kurokami and company needs.

Then again, this is hardly a "trip" to the zoo, and rather the group stumbling across a makeshift zoo within the walls of the Flask Plan - while Medaka and Kikaijima clash over whether or not the animals or cute, more sinister goings on are afoot, and this time around it's Akune who finds himself in the spotlight as we stumble across Naze, the current mastermind of the Flask Plan as it stands, and her friend and experimental cyborg Koga.

In the midst of this latest battle, we endure flashbacks aplenty, explaining Akune's former role as the "Destroyer" and the its cause and effect relationship which resulted with Medaka herself during middle school, and Koga's place as the world's most normal girl until her encounter with the decidedly abnormal Naze turned her into what she is today - a mean, lean (and busty) fighting machine.  Separated from his friends, Akune isn't beyond showing some of the techniques that he still holds back from his time as the Destroyer, but is it enough to beat a genius and her cyborg sidekick?  Maybe not, but perhaps the appearance of Maguro out of the blue can even those odds...

To be honest, this week's Medaka Box was a little too heavy on its flashbacks, but then again it still continues to almost religiously adapt the original manga in that sense.  I'm not sure that Akune needed that much time to fill in his back story, to the point where it does begin to detract from and water down some of the stronger characters within the series upon their débuts within the show in animated form - interesting times are ahead however, and if this series is going to break out and do more than the bare minimum in adapting its source material the coming episodes will be the time to do it.  My hopes aren't high (in spite on some well-played moments of comedy this week), but stranger things have happened...

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 7

It was inevitable that the traditional culture festival was going to roll around again at some point, and so it goes that this week's Hidamari Sketch begins with a lead-in to the forthcoming Yamabuki festival.

In particular, the first half of this latest instalment sees Miyako and Yuno's class working on pieces to be judged and potentially selected as the cover of the pamphlet for the festival's brochure - an exciting opportunity, albeit not quite the "international debut" Yuno seems to think it is despite the winner getting their work featured on the Yamabuki High web site.  Although she frets about not having time to finish her work (bringing about memories of her unfinished piece for her first festival), not only does Yuno get the job done but she actually wins her place on the cover of the booklet, much to the delight of both her and her friends.

In the second half of this episode, Yuno again features prominently as she heads off for a day out with her old (and older, college-aged) friend Arisawa - aside from the inevitable misunderstanding by some of her friends as they assume she's going on a date on account of her dress, Yuno gets to enjoy an afternoon of chatter about college life, trash, her recent successes, trash and trash.  Beyond the fact that trash features prominently, it's also a reminder that friendships can endure even after high school life is over provided you make an effort to ensure that they do so - an important and welcome counterpoint to Hiro's malaise in last week's episode.

Having brought me to tears last week (albeit in a good way), it was actually rather enjoyable to get back to more traditional Hidamari Sketch fare, with a number of laugh out loud moments to punctuate a fun episode that didn't do anything spectacular but continued to hit most of the right notes while being gorgeously produced; the latter point still makes this particular a standout even in the midst of Hidamari Sketch's oeuvre - as a fan of the series, it thrills me to see this simple show given so much love and attention, to add some sheen to an already greatly enjoyable work.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Psycho-Pass - Episode 6

If you hadn't pegged Kogami as a character with a troubled past from the outset, then... what show have you been watching exactly?  Anyhow, as well as a glimpse into the cause of Kogami going off the rails and ending up as an Enforcer, it seems that the crime which caused his fall from grace could well be about to come back at haunt him.

First things first though, Akane is certainly more than a little intrigued by what she's learned about Kogami so far, particularly given that he too was a high flier and inspector before a particularly grisly murder case claimed one of his colleagues and sent him off the rails.  While asking around and doing some digging fills her in on the story, she still seems to be finding it difficult to correlate the scenario with Kogami's current status.

Meanwhile, previous plot threads such as the murders in the robot manufacturing plant and the cases of murder and identity theft in the virtual world come back to the fore as Kogami seems determined to link them to the unsolved case which took the life of former comrade Sasayama - his theory also seems to branch out towards the other main subject of this episode, that being an all-girls school created to protect those within it from unwanted influences upon their psyche; all well and good, except it seems that the biggest threat of them all is the leading light of the student body, Rikako Oryo....

Now that it has so many of its balls up in the air, I'm fascinated to see just how Psycho-Pass is going to try and juggle them - some aspects of its story are threatening to feel a little too unbelievable (sadistic killer lesbians in a private school, anyone?), but if it ties most of the show's cases so far in a suitably impressive way then I'd happily forgive it such qualms and end up decidedly impressed with the whole thing.  This feels exactly like the kind of episode that doesn't deserve to judged in isolation, acting as it does almost as a bridge between previous instalments and what is to come.  It seems to be carrying a lot of promise inherent in its plot that is growing exponentially in complexity (a trait that feels a little Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex-like in itself), which is a heavy weight on its shoulders, but could make it into one of this year's anime giants if it carries it all through to its goal without straying too far from its core ideas.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 5.5

No anime series needs a recap after just five episodes, and this is certainly true in the case of GIRLS und PANZER.  Regardless though, the production studio clearly does need a recap episode to buy them some time to work on the rest of the series, and given how much I've enjoyed the series so far I'm a-okay with that.

Of course, this recap is really very bog standard stuff, running us through the characters, scenario and story so far, arguably spending too much time on its main characters and not enough time on the tanks and action segments of the show, which are undoubtedly the best bit.

If nothing else, and in the name of making the best of a bad job, I did at least appreciate a more former introduction to the other Tankery teams running alongside Miho's - it feels like a lot of those characters have been virtually nameless up to this point, so a quick run through was no bad thing.  Similarly, an opportunity to focus a little more on the traits of the tanks we've seen in the show was pretty enjoyable in places too, especially when it planted its tongue in its cheek every now and then ("it has cute round doors"...).

Even with this, filler is filler, but the latter part of the episode at least reminded me (if it were needed) how much I'm looking forward to seeing episode six and more from the national inter-school tournament.  Bring it on!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 7

It's time for a summer vacation for Rikka and her older sister in this week's Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai, but it seems that the rest of the former's clubmates will be coming along for the ride too.

What a vomit-inducing ride it is too, at least for Dekomori and Isshiki, but as soon as we arrive at the modestly impressive home to Rikka and Touka's grandparents - and indeed even before that - it's clear that something isn't right with Rikka, as her usual banter is replaced by a sullen and almost wordless sulk.

So what exactly is Rikka's deal?  Some questioning by Yuuta certainly confirms that something is up, but Rikka's garbled explanation does little to help, and Touka is being similarly evasive as she looks to stop her sister doing this and that with no real explanation of why.  Eventually though, the whole story comes out - that of the death of Rikka's father three years ago, what a sudden occurrence it was from Rikka's point of view, and what a struggle it was for Rikka to live with her grandparents from her father's side given their nature having been left their by her mother.  It's a sad tale that puts Rikka's behaviour almost entirely into perspective, while raising a very real question regarding whether she can accept her father's demise no matter what feint hopes she continues to cling to.

Given the way it was revealed and explained, this episode of the series should have been an emotional tour de force, but somehow despite doing a lot of the right things in the right places and in a well-paced way, it lacked any real impact - perhaps its simply that such material doesn't work well set against all of the show's previous comedy, or perhaps even its concept as a whole, but although it feels that a lot has clicked into place regarding Rikka's personality and behaviour I can't find it within myself to be touched or moved by it.  I'm pretty sure I'm not a completely soulless husk (yet), but something about the series just fundamentally isn't working for me - I mentioned this last week in terms of its comedy and charm, but it seems that the same issue also assuages me when it comes to getting to the heart and soft centre of the show.  From an animation studio that always seems to know exactly how to pull on my heart strings in exactly the right way, it's a shame to see Chuunibyou doing what feels like a "by the numbers" attempt at something along those lines.

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 6

In the midst of Hino and his Japanese Special Research group's two-pronged attack on both Koko and Kasper in Japan and Jakarta respectively, it seems like there are more potentially deadly times ahead for HCLI's finest.  But isn't fighting off these forces in Jakarta proving to be a little too easy for Kasper's own troops?

This question is little more than a niggle as Koko prepares to meet at the arranged location in a shopping arcade restaurant with Hino - a meeting which unsurprisingly proves to be a trap.  With Tojo facing off against some of his former colleagues and just about managing to come out on top, things are looking more than a little hairy as the remaining forces set about Koko and company's armoured car in an undersea tunnel while Tojo and Jonah seek to catch up to add their own firepower to the mix - not that it's particularly required when you have a helicopter and three heavily armed personnel just waiting to ambush the remaining SR forces as soon as they leave the tunnel.

Tojo's injured shoulder and a messed up car aside, this skirmish also seemed to be suspiciously easy for Koko's troops, much to the confusion as Tojo himself.  This feeling of confusion is only further complicated as Hino fails to put in an appearance at all himself, instead effectively announcing that he's running away with the rest of his squad permanently out of commission.  In a rather enigmatic and somewhat unclear finale, it seems that Hino's goals when it came to tackling HCLI were very different to what Tojo assumed them to be, and indeed the entire life of this man who he believed he had pegged perfectly has proved to be little more than a carefully created hall of smoke and mirrors.

Quite frankly, I'm not sure what to make of this episode as a way of closing out the arc - I appreciate what it was trying to do with Hinoto's character and his motives, but the whole thing was made sufficiently indistinct to feel a little unsatisfactory ultimately as a way to polish off the story.  The episode also suffered from another of those terribly clumsy moments of action that White Fox have served up on a few occasions within Jormungand, a terribly realised scene of two men standing on open ground shooting one another front point-blank range - a clumsy and horrible affair that let down what was otherwise a far better crafted bout of high-octane action.  As a result, this was nowhere near Jormungand at its best - it felt a little disjointed and unsure of itself, but it still had its moments and enough of a smart streak to show glimpses of what it can really do when it puts its mind to it.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 7

With Satoru's power waning and himself and Saki being dragged into the heartland of the war they've been co-opted into by the Robber Fly colony, things really aren't looking good for these two kids.

That said, Satoru still has enough strength left to cause some temporary chaos in the midst of the Earth Spiders base, giving them some time to try and make good their escape - something which looks likely to be short-lived with their guide Squera captured an enemy forces still lurking everywhere.  Thank goodness then for reinforcements, which come courtesy of the Giant Hornets, a powerful and well-organised colony which has the closest relation to humans, and who make short work of their opponents as we get a glimpse into an ecosystem of slavery and a very clear "food chain" amongst colonies that is a little unsettling.

Speaking of unsettling, Satoru and Saki are convinced that there's no time to rest on their laurels, with the prospect that the leader of the Giant Hornets, General Kiroumaru, is liable to report them to their town at any time or worse.  Thus, the pair decide to make good their escape, and with Squera helping them find their way they're ultimately reunited with their friends.  Even though Kiroumaru quickly catches up to the fleeing group his actions seem anything but malicious, and by the end of the episode the kids have returned home and succeeded in unlocking their powers once again... and so, they all live happily ever after, right?  Of course not, we still have a long way to go in this series.

Having gotten this series well and truly back on track via last week's episode, this latest instalment of Shin Sekai Yori was really rather excellent as it went about conveying the tension of its colony-led warfare, the harsh truths of life outside the kids' town, the sense of innate distrust in everything and everyone fostered by the events which have befallen Satoru and Saki in particular, and the very clear notion that things aren't simply going to return to normal just because they've reached home.  There's something almost biblical about elements of the story as we reach this particular juncture of the series, an almost Adam and Eve-esque tale about this group who have eaten the proverbial tainted fruit that has opened their eyes to all kinds of elements of their lives that were hitherto unknown or misunderstood.  As a result, I'm genuinely excited to see where the story plans to head next again from this moment forth, and it feels as if Shin Sekai Yori's real potential could well be unleashed over the next few episodes.

Monday, 12 November 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 7

Shizuku might have made herself perfectly clear in terms of how she now views Haru (even if her words don't exactly ring true compared to her actions), but Haru isn't exactly the kind of person to take a hint.

Thus, any disappointment on his part is short-lived before he redoubles his efforts to win over Shizuku, confessing to her once again and following her around rather like he did earlier in the series to the point where Shizuku complains that he's constantly invading her personal space - something which Haru doesn't really take kindly too.

With the culture festival building up around them, the only thing to pique Shizuku's interest outside of studying is the chance to make some profit on the side out of her classes stall - an opportunity which requires a prime position within the school, but a situation which is ruined by Haru's usual quick temper when it comes to anyone so much as laying a hand on Shizuku.  As the festival draws nearer, Shizuku's feelings wax and wane despite her inner turmoil when it comes to Haru, and just when it seems that she's about to give in to her emotions up come those barriers again.  Haru certainly has his fair share of problems, but it's fast becoming clear that Shizuku has obstacles of her own in the way when it comes to being honest with herself.

Although I'm continuing to enjoy My Little Monster for a number of reasons (Shizuku, Shizuku and Shizuku being the top three, with Natsume also bringing a lot to this particular episode), I am a bit worried by Haru's revolution into a... "less than likeable" character - watching him invading Shizuku's personal space so insistently despite her making it clear that it made her feel uncomfortable is hardly the most edifying sight in the world, and it's another of those moments within the series that makes it hard to cheer on the main couple when one of the two parties is not really deserving of the other.  It's a good job that Shizuku's own forceful personality rescues this to some extent, but it does make her feelings for Haru hard to fathom overall, which in turn takes a little of the sheen away from My Little Monster's otherwise enjoyable viewing experience.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 6

To say that things are getting hectic as we enter this latest episode of Bakuman would be an understatement - with Takagi now working on the scripts for Rabuta and Peace alongside PCP, now Mashiro has decided to go all out and create a one-shot story for the so-called "Leader's Fest" all by himself in an attempt to extend his own abilities and understanding.

Without Takagi's help, Mashiro's first job is to actually settle upon something to write about - a tough ask for a kid who has pretty much always been obsessed with manga and little else (although maybe he should write a manga about manga artists?  Nah, that would never work).  So what does he love that could make for a good story?  The answer is, of course, his relationship with Miho, and thus Moritaka embarks upon the creation of a surprisingly good one-off love story.  Oddly, it seems as if love is in the air all-round, as all of his rivals for the Leader's Fest are also thinking along similar lines, to the point where the chief editor decides that they might as well just make it a "love fest" and call it quits.

With the two individuals that make up Ashirogi Muto now effectively dedicating all of their time to different projects, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before tensions between this pairing began to rise, and with neither side willing to either give up on what they're currently do or suggest to the other that they might be heading down the wrong path they both carry on to the bitter end, with Takagi effectively disappearing to seemingly do his own thing, much to the consternation of Mashiro and Miyoshi.  All's well that ends well however, as Takagi ends his work on Rabuta and Peace in the best way possible after it wins its bid for serialisation, and a good old punch-up clears the air and paves the way for Ashirogi Muto to get back to what they do best.

Although it occasionally dipped its foot into the silly bin (that punch-up felt incredibly out of character and forced, for example), this was another genuinely good episode of Bakuman that keeps this third season moving along very nicely indeed - it was interesting seeing the main characters desire to try something different and how they handled the problems inherent in doing that, while the actual rift between the two which grew from the whole scenario also felt both believable and compelling.  Sometimes it might try a little too hard to create drama from nothing, but I certainly can't knock Bakuman for its overall sense in how to tell its story and make the world of manga creation sufficiently fascinating to cover so many episodes.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Little Busters! - Episode 6

With a seemingly innocuous event triggering the kind of full-on breakdown for Komari that only female characters in Key titles can have, what are the rest of the Little Busters to do with her?

Now that all of her memories surrounding her brother have come flooded back, we get a glimpse into the root cause of all her troubles - a plea from said brother to imagine that the whole thing was just a dream upon his passing.  While his goal was surely one of kindness towards Komari, it has clearly instead twisted into a situation which causes her considerable mental turmoil whenever anything reminds her of his death, and on this occasion Naoe seems to become the cipher for her missing brother, in turn causing him even more pain.

But just how can Naoe and company snap Komari out her current situation?  Although he's assured that her condition will pass in a few weeks, Naoe wants a more permanent fix, and after much soul-searching he believes that he's found his solution - to write an extension to the picture book written by Komari's brother for her to assure her of a brighter future.  But does it work?  This series being what it is, of course it does, and come the end of this first story arc proper Komari is not only as right as rain but looking forward to her future without fear.

Despite its build-up being pretty contrived, and equally in spite of the resolution to this arc being a bit silly, this week's episode of Little Busters still made for a satisfyingly emotional climax to the arc that ticked all of the boxes that it needed to.  It still feels overly simplistic compared to some other Key adaptations, but that's forgiveable all things considered, and hopefully this is a decent point for the rest of the series to push on with in an interesting fashion.

Space Brothers - Episode 32

Now that Hibito and his colleagues have been successfully launched into space attention returns, albeit briefly, to the forthcoming results of the next astronaut selection exams.

While most of the prospects to qualify as astronauts return home to wait for that potentially life-changing phone call, Mutta remains in Houston to keep a close eye on his brother's progress, while Hibito himself seems to be having a whale of a time as he makes his way towards the moon in-between TV appearances and the like as the public gaze upon what is about to be Japan's first man on the moon intensifies.

In the midst of all this we resolve what was something of an unresolved issue a little earlier in the series - that being Azuma and his relationship with the Nanba brothers.  As he sits and eats lunch with his family at NASA's Houston base, Mutta decides to drop by his table to say hello - although little is said between them, what words are shared do wonders for Mutta's understanding of this enigmatic man, while a conversation with his wife also helps to affirm the fact that Azuma doesn't have a jealous bone in his body.  As we flash back into Azuma's past and his frustrations at the press' intrusion and relentless questioning following his return from a mission, it becomes clear that Azuma stepped aside to let the more relaxed Hibito take on the burden of being the first Japanese man on the moon.

Now that Hibito is finally in space, it feels like there's something a little more substantial to bolster the relatively slow pace of the series as a whole - every cut away to the unfolding mission offers up some kind of fascinating vignette or other to pepper the show with great little insights.  Mind you, even without that I was more than a little happy to see Azuma's story resolved here, as it had felt rather like an unspoken and unexplained (if not hugely relevant to the central plot) aspect of Space Brothers' narrative.  Ultimately, it was the kind of slightly saccharine feel-good stuff that the series is so great at offering up, but that is in no way to its detriment - indeed, Space Brothers remains a solid drama with enough lovable characters and intelligent undercurrents to make it absolutely enjoyable almost every week.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Robotics;Notes - Episode 5

As Aki continues her PR assault in the hope of sponsorship, Kai has other matters on his mind after his decidedly strange experience at the tail-end of the previous episode.

Thus, while the robotics club leader finds herself meeting some journalists interested in covering the club's adventures at Robo-One (at least, until Subaru shows up and becomes the new focus of their attention), Kai is looking into urban legends and the like which might explain his experience - to this end, he invites Daitoku along to point out some of the myths in the hope of tracking down the phenomenon which occurred to him.

This hunt in turn leads to some wider discussion of the world of Robotics;Notes - we already know a little about the trigger of Aki and Kai's illness, but it seems that other things are afoot with the climate and the like of the planet which are yet to be explained by scientists and the powers that be.  It's against this backdrop that Kai finally stumbles across and recreates his prior experience, and as he tracks it down further he finds what he's looking for - an errant AI which seems to know who he is, and imparts some very important information upon him.  Are solar flares and the impending death of the sun the cause of the world's meteorological mysteries, and is NASA spearheading a cover-up to avoid this information becoming publicly known?

It seems that we're now getting to the heart of Robotics;Notes conspiratorial story, via an episode that was slightly slow-going until it picked up markedly in its final third.  It's still hard to really fathom how the various threads of the overall story are going to come together, but then again that's half the fun, and for now the show is continuing to be pretty accomplished with enough moments of outright fun and entertainment (plus some reasonably smart use of its technological aspects) to be worth watching.  Besides, how can an anime which references the infamous UVB-76 possibly be bad?

Friday, 9 November 2012

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 6

Yuno and Miyako have been hanging out together for a pretty long time by the point that this latest episode of Hidamari Sketch rolls around - but just how much do they really know about one another?

It's this question which dominates the first half of this week's instalment, as the two of them use a class involving drawing their own hands and faces to ponder just how little they know about both one another and themselves despite all the time they've spent talking to one another.  It's enough to make them both want to spend even more time chatting, leading to a sleepover (and in-depth discussion of curry eating practice) and some rather surprising compliments flying from both parties.

For the second half of the episode, our attention turns to Hiro, who is behaving in a manner anything but her usual self as she largely forgoes food and keeps relatively quiet.  So, just what's bugging her?  Perhaps inevitably, her thoughts are turning towards graduation and her future... a future that she seems entirely unwilling to embrace at present.  So begins the single most emotional thing to come out of Hidamari Sketch - a reminder that nothing lasts forever and everything is fleeting, although such moments can be eased by good friends with good advice.

It's really the second half of this episode that stands out for me - as a reader of Yen Press' English releases of the original manga I knew this was coming, but Hiro's turmoil is an incredibly emotionally charged one on so many levels.  For starters, picking Hiro - normally the "mother goose" of the group - as the girl unable to face change is striking in itself; then, on other levels, her realisation that one day she'll have to say goodbye to her high school life echoes our own deep-seated knowledge that one day this series will have to end; on yet another level, her troubles evoke memories of having to say goodbye to good friends and good times in my own past.  To be honest, it made me cry in both manga and anime forms, and it's a beautifully quiet and subtle portrayal of something that everyone will most likely recognise from their own lives.  If slice of life anime does one thing well, it's reminding you how close you've become to its characters at moments like this, and for a series so focused on (successfully) getting laughs it's done an expert job of getting under my skin and pulling my heartstrings here.  It's a thing of beauty, but boy is it sad and poignant to consider - thank goodness that even these sad moments were also infused with just the right doses of considered, simple humour to ease us through.

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 5

Another week, another Abnormal, as the student council gang come across the next obstacle in their way towards the heart of the Flask Plan - Kei Munakata.

There's little doubting Munakata's threat once any pleasantries have been dispensed with, and he uses a sword to quite literally aim for the jugular in Medaka's case.  With our protagonist still recovering from her injuries in the previous bout of fighting however, it's up to Hitoyoshi to step up to the plate against this larger than life character as he demonstrates his absolute desire to kill anything and everything that comes close to him.

Certainly, Munakata has no shortage of concealed weapons to try and deal damage to his opponent with... the trouble is, he doesn't seem particularly proficient at using them, as we see Zenkichi deflect wave after wave of attack from swords to guns to rocket launchers with ease before seemingly putting him out of commission.  It's the moment where Hitoyoshi lets his guard down that Munakata's truly lethal nature comes to the fore however, meaning that Hitoyoshi needs to use his reserves of strength and one final trick up his sleeve to win the day.

As I mentioned after last week's instalment, functional seems to be the name of the game with Medaka Box - it doesn't have any particular visual tricks or cleverness to rely on, and instead concentrates on delivering the series with a straight bat (or at least as straight a bat as you could hope to use in an Nisio Isin work).  For the most part this works well enough in terms of delivering its story and the delicious twists and turns with their ironic nods to shounen manga as a whole, but it still feels a little empty and devoid of character to the point where you might as well be reading the manga to be quite honest given the lack of anything to make this medium feel in any way superior.  At the moment then, I'm enjoying the series more as a chance to take in the Medaka Box story again, rather than enjoying it in its own right.