Sunday, 30 December 2012

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 12

Nanamine's career as a manga artist (if you can call him that) might be on the ropes, but he isn't quite done yet - in spite of being fund out, his final chance to shine is set up via a direct face-off with Ashirogi Muto, as both artists publish their own spin on the same story in the same issue.

Although he's already lost a number of the "collective" who brainstorm his works for him, Nanamine is rejuvenated by the prospect of this all-important showdown with his rivals, although with his series already in the doldrums he seems to be coming at this battle from a distinct disadvantage even before you consider the old adage that too many cooks spoil the broth.

It's assistant Nakai who pours poison into said broth however, luring Nanamine away from his computer to converse with his collective and tell them the truth about their manga's current ranking - a truth which most certainly doesn't go down well, in turn convincing those remaining who were previously loyal to Nanamine to quit as well.  With nobody left to back him up, Nanamine almost literally falls to pieces, and his inevitable defeat to Ashirogi Muto only serves to add insult to injury.  But can editor Kosugi finally make a mark on his charge and convince Nanamine of his own talent?  He certainly gives it a try, even if cancellation is a formality.  Meanwhile however, it seems that Ashirogi Muto are going to be subjected to some unwanted attention of their own...

After fretting a little that this particular story arc of Bakuman was going to turn down the "happily ever after" route, I was rather pleased to see Nanamine getting his comeuppance but without going too over the top about the whole thing, and the setup for what's to come from here seems to hold a lot of promise.  In short then, this final season of Bakuman continues to deliver and shows no signs of abating along those lines.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 12 (Completed)

With all of her cards on the table, it seems as if Jormungand is ready to be unleashed, and Jonah's decision to defect from her ranks is going to do nothing to change that.  Or is it?

This finale to Perfect Order sees us fast-forward by two years, and there's no sign of Jormungand being put to use to stop war, death and destruction around the world.  Indeed, if anything the intervening period has simply proved Koko's point, with a third World War drawing ever closer on a planet wracked with terrorist incidents, civil wars and conflicts based around everything from religion to the need for water.  It seems that the Jormungand project isn't dead however - Koko has used the intervening two years miniaturising her quantum computer so that it can be operated from the "safe haven" of a satellite orbiting the planet, thus perfecting her world-changing device.

Against this backdrop, Jonah seems to have tired of spending time with Kasper and has decided to move on once again - a decision that, ultimately, takes him back into Koko's fold.  Does that mean that he now agrees with her methods on the eve of Jormungand's activation?  Hardly, but faced with a lunatic world and a lunatic individual, Jonah seems to have made his choice.

Having masterfully set up its finale, and after opening this episode with a chillingly believable look at a world heading for ruin and a global war, Jormungand feels rather like it has copped out at the last moment by shifting its focus back to Koko and Jonah's relationship rather than showing the fruits of Koko's labour, for better or worse.  With Kasper vowing to continue to deal arms no matter what Koko tries to do but the CIA seemingly on-board with her plan, we were left with a genuinely intriguing setup and a future world as evisaged by Koko that I'd love to be able to look into, but instead this series plays it safe and leaves the rest to our imagination.  As endings go it's hugely unsatisfactory, but it doesn't hide the fact that as a whole I appreciated Perfect Order far more than the first series, and that I appreciated its grandiose plot thread to end the series even if it didn't make full use of it.  It might not be a classic, but I have to give at least some kudos to Jormungand for the way it leveraged its characters and certain aspects of its story if nothing else.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 12 (Completed)

With its major story arc completed and the Flask Plan defeated, but with no time to move into its next major story, Medaka Box Abnormal doesn't so much break the fourth wall as smash it to pieces with an almighty hammer in the name of explaining what follows in its final episode - a side-story featuring the newly introduced Misogi Kumagawa before his transfer to Sandbox Academy.

Thus, after that odd introduction by Najimi Ajimu, we join Fishtank school's student council president as he looks to help out his council colleague Saki Sukinasaki after an abrupt colour to the change of her hair causes her untold hassles in her school life.  Given that she didn't perform this colour change herself, it doesn't take long to find the true culprit - Fude Ezumachi, a loner with the ability to control colour and bend it to its will, and a boy with a bit of a grudge towards Kumagawa after his heavy-handed removal of the previous student council president.

The lines are drawn henceforth, as Fude looks to make Kumagawa suffer using his ability while Kumagawa himself looks to use his All Fiction to win the day in the name of.... well, protecting the colour of girl's panties for the most part.  The whole conflict pans out with Kumagawa also looking for someone with the potential to defeat Ajimu (aka Anshin'in), but it seems that when push comes to shove little can stand in the way of All Fiction, especially when this ability to undo absolutely anything even extends to removing entire colours from the world.

All in all, I'm a little torn about this finale to Abnormal - in some senses I appreciate the way in which it's introduced Kumagawa into the show, and as a stand-alone episode is arguably did a better job of presenting itself for the small screen than most of the series proper from a viewpoint of "this wouldn't have worked as well in manga form".  On the other hand, I'm not sure quite how well this introduction of important characters sits against doing it "by the book" (the manga book, in this case), although time will tell on that note - assuming we ever get a third series, that is, and that prospect must surely be up in the air after a second season that has been an improvement over the first, yet still lacklustre in the grand scheme of things thanks to a lack of real energy or flamboyance to its adaptation of the original manga.  As someone who tends to enjoy watching anime more than reading manga even when the former is based upon the latter, it's rare for me to hold a definitive preference towards the written original material, but that's exactly what Medaka Box has succeeded in doing so far, which sadly is far from a glowing reference for what GAINAX have done here.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 10.5

Another recap episode wasn't exactly how we wanted to see out the year in Tankery, but I'll take what I can get to tide me over until the final proper episodes of Girls und Panzer air in 2013.

Needless to say, this was another episode designed to (full time and) retread the story since the first recap instalment, while also spending a little more time introducing the stars of the show - not just the characters, but also their tanks.

It's actually some of the technical details that stand out and come some way towards making this tacked-on episode worthwhile - in the midst of the action it's been hard to really get a full grasp of the hardware being used by the various teams, their strengths and weaknesses and so on, and getting a second opportunity with some additional notes to be able to better understand the mechanical beasts that these girls are driving around with is actually pretty fun in its own right.  Whether it's enough fun to make this must-see viewing is far more debatable, of course.

Still, if a reminder were needed as to how hugely entertaining Girls und Panzer has been, this served pretty well as just that reminder - it perhaps wasn't quite as sharp at picking out the "best bits" as the first recap, and that aforementioned technical eye made it a bit more of a dry viewing than episode 5.5, but there have been worse recap episodes created to fill time.  Besides, this instalment has reminded me that I should grab my camera and pay a visit to my local tank museum some time soon...

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 38

Nothing was ever likely to match the beautifully depicted emotional exhiliration of finding out Mutta's fate in last week's Space Brothers, and as a result this latest episode is more focused upon basking in the afterglow of those moments than anything more complex.

Not that there's really much time for Mutta to reflect upon his success, as he's whisked immediately off to a press conference unveiling these new astronauts - after meeting some of the wannabes who didn't quite make it, he finally gets to meet his fellow new astronauts in a group that includes Kenji, Serika and Nitta.  Surprisingly for Mutta, he manages to make a pretty good fist of this press conference without saying any of the daft things that enter his head - perhaps he's turned over a new leaf in this department?

After the press conference is over, there are no shortage of old friends queuing up either in person or via e-mail to congratulate Mutta, once again allowing him to reflect upon the strength of some of the friendships he has forged on this path to becoming an astronaut.  As for Hibito, he seems pretty thrilled at his brother's success to boot, although it appears that he'll have other things to occupy his time with soon enough...

Following its masterful previous episode, this latest instalment of Space Brothers was always going to struggle to live up to its direct episodic predecessor, and thus this was a pretty solid yet still enjoyable affair that simply decided to spend some time basking in the contended joy of the success it revealed the previous week.  It's a moment of joy we might be glad we basked in too, as things look likely to take a far more serious turn in the coming weeks.

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 13

As if our group of youngsters weren't already in enough trouble, Mamoru's decision to do a runner threatens to lead them into yet further danger as the others ditch school to set off in pursuit of their friend across the snow-coated landscape.

Thankfully, the presence of that snow means that it isn't too long before Saki and Maria pick up a trail, spotting sledge tracks that look likely to lead to Mamoru.  Things take a turn for the worse however once these tracks are joined by some decidedly non-human footprints, before all of the tracks cease entirely at the edge of a cliff.  The discovery of Mamoru's sledge buried deep in the snow only worsens the outlook for the group's friend, but some further investigation sees him turn up safe and sound... for now.

Thanks to the Monster Rat which Saki saved earlier in the series, Mamoru is alive and well, but we soon discover the exact reason for him going on the run - the appearance, not once but twice, of the Trickster Cat in his vicinity.  In short, it seems as if Mamoru has been short-listed for "removal" from his community for whatever reason - a fact which flies in the face of Saki's recent knowledge, but more importantly one which begs the simple but seemingly impossible question, "what now?"

After explaining itself so eloquently in terms of Saki's conversation with Asahina and the difficult decisions made for the safety of the town that we've seen previously in the series, we're one again thrown the uneasy and sinister feeling that there are darker forces at work in this week's Shin Sekai Yori, and this time around it seems that nothing will fix the problem or allow the group to return to their normal lives.  Despite a bit of a dip in animation quality again this week, it's a delightful piece of story-telling that manages to expertly blend the kind of fables and myths that come from childhood with a sense of reality and genuine threat that makes those urban legends so much creepier - once again, its ultimate finale to the episode leaves me, much like its cast, wondering what will happen next, and that alone is enough to keep me watching this series week after week.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 13 (Completed)

Following a satisfying New Year for Haru and Shizuku, but a decidedly less satisfying one for Natsume, it seems as if everything has settled down and normality has returned for this final episode of My Little Monster, with Shizuku studying and some rare piece and quiet in her household.

That is, until Haru comes barging in on a hunt for something - not, for a change, something to punch, but something else entirely, although he doesn't have time to explain what and leaves his mobile phone behind in the ensuing confusion.  So begins a series of meetings between Haru and other major characters, each of which is a little more crazed than the last and each which sees Haru leaving something important behind.

Once it emerges that resident rooster Nagoya had gone missing, it seems that the subject of Haru's hunt is now clear, but given that Nagoya has now been found where is Haru himself?  Although Shizuku doesn't seem too worried about searching for him some of his other friends do go to the trouble of hunting around for him, she eventually runs into him only to find that the cause of his impromptu hunt is rather different than anyone had previously anticipated.

In a way, this final episode sums up the good and avoids most of the bad of My Little Monster quite deftly - it has some great, loveable characters who (for all of their flaws) you simply have to root for through thick and thin, and at times the situations and contemplative scenarios those characters are put into are either insightful or at least entertaining.  On the flip side of that, the wider series has some major male characters (not least Haru) who seem Hell-bent on ruining the entire series whenever possible by being generally detestable human beings.  No matter how much of that is down to the series trying to rely on its typical shoujo tropes, it still makes parts of My Little Monster unwatchable while others are greatly spoilt by the presence of some idiotic characters.  It's rather a shame that this finale was a bit of a half-baked affair which did nothing to resolve Natsume's dilemma or really put Shizuku's relationship to bed, leaving us hanging.  But would I want more of this series?  Honestly, I'm not sure, so torn are my opinions on My Little Monster as a whole.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 13

It's been a long time - too long, July in fact - since we were served up a dose of mahjong action from this Saki side-story, but here we are at last to begin the climax to Achiga high school's time at the Nationals as they look to achieve their goal of meeting, and playing against, Nodoka Haramura at said competition.

If you've forgotten what had happened by the climax of episode twelve, then... me too!  However, with a little time my memory pieced together Toki Onjouji's virtual life or death intervention to stop Teru Miyanaga's aptly terrifying rampage across the scoreboard, in turn bringing that round of the semi-final match-up to an end.  As Kuro is put straight into special training to "revive" the Dragon-based ability upon which she relies, sister Yuu takes the hot (although not hot enough for her) seat to try her hand at taking on some of the brightest mahjong stars.

In particular, her focus is upon Shiratodai's Sumire Hirose, a veritable "archer" within the game who selects her target and takes her out with precision.  However, knowing Sumire's trick and the signs that she's about to deploy it allows her not only to dodge such attacks but also then go on the offensive to win some hands, keeping Achiga in that all-important second place as their opponents fail to make any real impact.  This brings us on to Ako's turn at the table, which looks to be overshadowed by the tomboyish Sera Eguchi - however, Ako is well aware that the most dangerous player at the table could just be the quiet, bespectacled Takami Shibuya of Shiratodai, who might just have something substantial up her sleeve for the final round of their match-up....

After almost a six month break, I could really have done with a recap or something to ease me back into Episode of Side-A and where everything stood within the series and its national tournament; without it, the early minutes of this first special episode were rather a hard slog until my brain caught up with everything that was going on.  Once I did get back up to speed, I was soon returned to the Saki I love - ridiculously overblown "special powers" and secret moves somehow served up in enough of a believable fashion to make a tile-based game into edge of your seat all-or-nothing fare.  It's an oddly heady mix whose power rarely wanes, even if Episode of Side-A's characters largely have nothing on the wider Saki cast - hopefully after this long wait it can deliver a fitting finale from it's last couple of episodes without running into any further hitches.

Little Busters! - Episode 12

Although their current set of members all seem to have settled down nicely, Naoe is still considering Nishizono and her current situation - a fleeting thought given greater impact by his sighting of a girl who likes like, yet clearly wasn't (to his mind), Nishizono in town one Sunday while the rest of his comrades were goofing around.

When Naoe next stops Nishizono to invite her once again to join the Little Busters (this time as the team's manager), he's rather surprised to receive an affirmative response, only to find that she has in fact gotten completely the wrong idea about what he's asked her to manage.  Still, even when he does explain that he actually wants her to act as manager of their baseball team, her agreeable demeanour remains, and thus she becomes the final member of the Little Busters even though her constitution means that she can't serve as a player, leaving them one man (well, girl) short.

Once surrounding by her fellow members, it seems as if Nishizono fits in with the rest of the group rather easily as they teach her how to use a mobile phone, and follow some ideas to further integrate her into the group via the creation of poetry thanks to an idea by Kyousuke.  However, for Naoe the feeling persists that there's something a little "off" about Nishizono's behaviour and emotional state, and her subsequent discussion with him about his books as a way to effectively "cheat" her mortality amidst a desire to read every book ever created confirms this.  What's more, something still doesn't sit right with our protagonist about the girl resembling Nishizono that he previously saw in town, which leads us neatly into the crux of this latest story arc...

If nothing else, this arc feels like it has a little more meat to it, which might make for some more substantial fare than we've seen of late from this series - a prospect which can only be a good thing.  Beyond that, and some reasonable yet verbose building of that story arc, the series continues to totter along at its own place without any sufficiently strong characters to make you sit up and take notice or particularly invest your self in them.  Perhaps the deeper feeling that emanates from Nishizono will change this, but given what's come before in this series I'm not entirely sure that will be the case.

Robotics;Notes - Episode 11

The GunPro-2 has been given the green light by the powers that be, but for Kai and Koujiro still have other fish to fry, with the latter in particular showing more than a passing interest in the Kimijima reports no matter how crazy their contents might sound.

Thus, the duo set out to unlock the third Kimijima report, which involves more long-winded and boring AR and geo-tagging related tasks before it can be unlocked.  While Kai is waiting to complete one particularly laborious task to unlock one of the required "flags", he finds himself beating the world's number one Kill-Ballad player - quite an achievement, but nothing compared to someone managed to infiltrate Koujiro's monitor system to look for cheats with a virus, which sees her deciding to send her Tokyo contacts to check up on this particular player.

From here, strange things soon begin to build up one after another - the completion of the required flags allows Kai to unlocked the third Kimijima report, revealing more about a conspiratorial plan to use the sun to destroy the planet, before rumours of a leak of that feted final episode of Gunvarrel leaking online turns into a reality, with the footage from that episode showing that the series took a leaf out of End of Evangelion's book for its finale in depicting... well, a plan to use the sun to destroy the planet.  With the top three Kill-Ballad players all revealed to have died several months previously despite their continued online presence, and with calls to Kai from all around (including Aki's sister) to stop looking into Kou Kimijima and his theory, something decidedly malicious appears to be afoot.

At last, it feels like the disparate elements of Robotics;Notes are on collision course in quite spectacular fashion, while still retaining plenty of mystery as to what's going on.  Although it isn't quite the same moment of jaw-dropping shock that brought us to the halfway point of Steins;Gate, it does feel like a moment where the series has "arrived" after perhaps being less direct than it could have been up to this point.  Tense times are likely to be afoot as we move into the second half of the series, and they couldn't have come at a better time.

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2012 - Honey and Clover

It's Christmas time, and that can mean only one thing.... turkey!  Wait a second, it's Christmas time, and that can only mean two things... turkey, and the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa project!  For the third year running I've taken part in this marvel of modernity, and having been presented with three potential series to watch by my particular secret Santa I found myself watching... Honey and Clover, a series that I've been meaning to watch for years, and we all know that there's no time like the present!

For anyone who complains about the relentless output of the anime industry focusing upon high school hijinks and the misadventures of young teenagers, Honey and Clover is one of those rare but important shows which pushes its focus back a little, instead taking us onwards to college life for a handful of students as they go about their studies and everything that comes with college lifestyle.  Needless to say, that involves some complicated relationships and love triangles, and also the terrors of figuring out what you want to do with your life as well as who to do it with.

If this all sounds like standard stuff, where Honey and Clover stands out is in its characters and in the treatments they receive, blending some relatively normal young men and women with decidedly larger and life characters, and occasionally throwing them some equally larger than life scenarios to suit.  Along these lines, it's the versatile yet bonkers Morita that steals that particular show as he lunges from tomfoolery to Hollywood, but the diminutive genius Hagu and the rest of the cast also have their moments.

At times, this reliance on the surreal or crazy threatens to devalue the deeper facets of the show, as cases of unrequited love or struggling to find your own place in the world find themselves walking against a torrent of slapstick gags and general insanity.  Somehow, the series just about manages to pull off this dangerous balancing act - at times it can prick your eyes with tears, and at others those tears come from laughter at the most terrifying game of Twister ever committed to screen for example.  Not that Honey and Clover is a perfect series - sometimes its attempt to be soul-searching feels empty in its attempts to foster a feeling of contemplative depth, and at other points in the series its particular brand of humour can become decidedly tiresome or simply miss the mark completely.

This leaves me of the opinion that Honey and Clover doesn't quite live up to the rather fearsome reputation it has built up in the years since its broadcast - its uneven and arguably even runs for too long when it could resolve (or at least move on from) some of its plot points far quicker.  That said, it's still a decidedly good series that takes strong characters and puts them into situations that take those characters out of their comfort zones while entertaining (or just plain amusing) the viewer.  It's a romantic drama that wears it heart on its sleeve and manages to get its hooks into some issues that we'll all recognise from our own lives and pasts, be it unrequited love or the age-old question of "what the Hell do I do with my life next?!", and it's the ability to do that above all that makes Honey and Clover a series well worth watching, even if it isn't the classic in my book that others may wish to argue the case for.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 11

The end of last week's Jormungand saw Koko finally reveal her masterplan, and what a deliciously bonkers one it was too.  However, it seems that Jonah isn't exactly buying into this particular scheme....

Although Jonah can't actually verbalise his disagreement with Koko's plans, clearly her idea of world peace no matter the costs to humanity doesn't sit well for him no matter how well she puts across her argument about preventing a future third world war and the untold destruction it would certainly cause.  Thanks to that inability to argue with words, Jonah does the only thing he can - he runs (or rather swims); a journey which brings him straight to Kasper, who hires him to join his team instead.

No matter how upset she is by Jonah's defection, Koko still has the rest of her crew on-hand and thus it remains business as usual in terms of both continuing to build Jormungand towards its ultimate goal while carry on her day-to-day business as an arms dealer.  However, there are some obstacles that clearly need to be removed from her path, or at least moved into the right positions on the board - enter an audacious plan to push Bookman into an impressive demonstration of what she can do with a quantum computer at her disposal; a plan which also fingers the troublesome Plame as part of some kind of international conspiracy.  Has Koko just reached checkmate in her game to create a new world?

As lunatic as its main plot point now is, Jormungand continues to operate at the zenith of its powers as this second season comes to a close - Koko makes for a believable righteous-but-insane protagonist, and although the whole quantum computer idea veers a little towards serving as a deus ex machina it's nonetheless a compelling principle that's leveraged superbly here.  With Jonah now acting as a fascinating wildcard and the series' soundtrack at its most insistently menacing, I simply can't wait to see what the show's finale has to offer - my only concern is that a single episode doesn't really seem like enough to do the grandiose plan at the centre of it all justice.

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 12 (Completed)

Another season of Hidamari Sketch comes to an end in an episode of new beginnings - New Year beginnings, to be more surprise.

In fact, this finale of Honeycomb is a pretty by the numbers New Year's Eve/Day episode, involving lots of sitting around eating under a kotatsu before paying a visit to the nearest shrine and with a visit to a bathhouse shoehorned into proceedings.

Within this setup, we get to enjoy Nazuna mix up what she's saying and what she's writing on some New Year greeting cards (a rare moment when I get to empathise with her, which has to be worth something), the younger quartet fret about not stressing out their seniors amidst thoughts of final exams and them moving on from Yamabuki (or not, as the case may be) which of course only makes things worse, another bout of terrible luck according to Yuno's fortune, and a chance for Natsume to say Happy New Year to Sae.  Awww.

As always with this show the devil is in the detail, that particular detail being some well-crafted humour, and while this wasn't the funniest episode of the series is once again generated some laughs while being generally relaxing and fun at the end of a really rough week - exactly the kind of scenario that this show is designed to act as a salve for.  On a wider note, this series perhaps wasn't as sharp as Hoshimittsu and suffered from what almost seems to be the traditional slow start to each season, but on the flip side of that it also offered up some of the funniest jokes that the series has ever crafted to leave me dying with laughter on a few occasions, and proved that it has an emotional core that is beyond solid by utilising the pending graduation of its seniors in a massively tear-jerking fashion.  At its heart though, I still adore so much about this show - even though Honeycomb delved a little too far into fan service territory at times it still holds a sense of innocence about it for the most part, and at this juncture each season is like being invited to spend some time with a few good old, long-lasting friends - you know their foibles and the stuff they do that might bore you, but you're willing to see past that and simply enjoy the good times instead.  Roll on season five... or at least some more special episodes to go with this season's Blu-Ray release.

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 11

Now that Medaka is back to normal (or as close to it as you could possibly go when it comes to defining her as "normal"),  it's time for the final basement showdown in the battle to destroy the Flask Plan.

If Oudo Miyakonojou wasn't a tough enough final boss as it is, it appears that he's been hiding another technique almost literally up his sleeve - the ability to steal the techniques of others, something which he demonstrates brutally on Koga, in turn reducing Naze to a bawling mess as she goes back on all of the tenets that she's been living by.

If it seems as if this is going to be too much for Medaka, you might have reckoned without her War God mode, but then again it seems that Kurokami also has another trick up her own sleeve; an alternate version of this very same War God mode that is entirely under her control, rather than the out-of-control version that occurs when she flies into a rage.  Couple that with her ability to learn and perfect any technique she sees only once without needing to steal it, and it soon becomes clear who the winner will be, even before Oudo tries to snatch Medaka's abilities from her only to be pushed back by the sheer horror of the darkness she carries within.  Thus, the day is won, and the Flask Plan dismantled, so all's well with the world - until the group reach the first floor again, at least...

After spending so many weeks bemoaning the fact that Medaka Box's anime adaptation has rarely added anything of note or interest to the original work, this week's episode was at least an example of how seeing things unfold in animated form can be more powerful - with some decent visual flourishes, a small sprinkling of action and a powerful soundtrack, this episode did a great job of depicting the climax to this particular story arc in an enjoyable and relatively gripping fashion.  If only the rest of the series had managed to do likewise, we might be talking about this series far more, although with the next major arc of the manga now set up it seems that GAINAX are already betting on a third season getting the green light.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Psycho-Pass - Episode 11

Reinforcements may be on their way, but will they arrive fast enough to rescue Kogami from the decidedly dangerous game in which he is now embroiled?

Once he has a Dominator in his hands thanks to the first of those reinforcements, it seems as if the balance of this game has shifted in Kogami's favour, but in the midst of this "hunting ground" and up against an experienced opponent with a shotgun that isn't necessarily the case.  Thus, it takes all of Kogami's wits to win the day, albeit not before he takes a few bullets in the progress - however, taking out Tenguchi is only half of the story...

With Kogami incapacitated, it's time for Makishima to take a more direct role in things, snatching away Yuki once again (who is now a shoe-in for a "most kidnapped character in anime 2012" award) and going on the run.  As Kogami's comrades arrive on the scene, it's inevitably Akane who gives chase in the hunt to rescue her friend, and once she runs into Yuki and Makishima it seems like dispatching with this suspect in a number of criminal cases will be a piece of cake with a Dominator at her disposal.  However, for some reason Makishima's crime coefficient isn't high enough to activate the device, and even drops further the more aggressive Makishima's behaviour becomes.  Providing her with Tenguchi's shot gun to give her the opportunity to save her friend of her own volition outside of the rules of the Sibyl system, a disbelieving Akane is faced with an almost impossible choice....

If nothing else, that was quite a spanner to throw into Psycho-Pass' works, carving a swathe out of the system around which everything is constructed thanks to a single, human anomaly before reminding us just how ruthlessly bloody this series can be.  It's certainly a heavy way to end the first half of the series, casting Akane's fortitude into doubt and potentially also turning her career on its head in the ensuing chaos.  As a result, Psycho-Pass continues to be gripping and occasionally tense stuff, and I look forward to more of the same from the show's second half.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 10

Last week's GIRLS und Panzer left us with the cruellest of cliffhangers... although given that there were still three full episodes to go, it perhaps wasn't quite as much of a cliffhanger as it might have been, and it's still nothing on the several months of waiting we'll have to do before we can see the climax to this series.

Anyhow, as you might have guessed, Ooarai have managed to see off Pravda's threat against the odds and by the narrowest of margins to book their place in the final, and a showdown against Miho's old school, Kuromorimine.  With up to twenty tanks allowed in the final however, Ooarai are at a massive disadvantage (what else is new?), meaning that their preparations for the big match involve seeking out more tanks and upgrading what they can of their existing firepower.  With a cool (yet hugely unreliable) Porsche tank run by the Automotive Club and another vehicle to be put in the charge of a trio of online tank game-playing friends, Ooarai's arsenal is suitably bolstered.  But will it be enough?

With Saori passing a communications exam, Hana and Mako both resolving their personal family issues and the entire school getting behing and rooting for their Tankery team as much as possible, Ooarai are as well-prepared as possible - but are Miho's plans for the match about to become quickly undone under the sheer firepower and know-how of their opponents?  Find out next March!

Light on action it might have been aside from its closing minutes, but once again this a hugely fun episode of GIRLS und Panzer - its sense of comic timing remains impeccable, its characters might be shallow but they work perfectly well in their given setting, and you can feel the love the show's production team has for military hardware oozing out of every relevant scene but without ever becoming over-bearing upon the wider entertainment value of the series.  It seems ridiculous to call this series one of the best of the year, but.... well, it is, even factoring in the technicality that it now won't be finishing until some way into 2013.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 12 (Completed)

Yuuta's outburst towards the end of the penultimate episode of Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai was always going to reverberate through things in this finale somewhat, but nobody would have imagined those reverberations would be so widely effecting.

While Dekomori has decided to hang up her pigtails, as it were, and set aside her delusions in the wake of Rikka's decision to do likewise, so Kumin seems to have "inherited" the Wicked Eye and is now wandering around school wearing that  trademark eye patch and bandage.  As for Rikka herself, Yuuta has heard nothing of her since her last meeting, and his worry turns to outright horror when he realises that Rikka has outright moved away.

Thus, it's time for Yuuta to stand up and do what Rikka needs him to do... but what is that exactly?  Surprisingly, it's Kumin who seems to hold the answer to that question, revealing that it was in fact the Dark Flame Master who "inspired" Rikka even before Yuuta had actually met her face to face, and that it was his world of fantasy and its influence upon Rikka that allowed her to carry on living after the death of her father.  In other words, it's time to dust off the Dark Flame Master's schtick one last time to snatch Rikka away from her mundane reality and give her an opportunity to say the one thing she'd never been able to... goodbye.

Although it dug into me with all of the right emotional hooks and made for a satisfyingly sweet and sappy ending to the series, I'm not too sure what to make of this finale from a logical point of view - it ultimately asserted that daydreams and fantasies are a-okay (and they are, of course), but that didn't quite sit straight against the over-reliance on them that Rikka exhibited to the end.  Still, perhaps I'm over-thinking things - this is a light novel adaptation, after all - and from an emotional standpoint this felt like a good ending, to close out an impressively strong final few episodes to the show.  Given how its comedy worked pretty well initially before becoming repetitive and tired, Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai feels very much like a series which sagged in the middle as it seemingly struggled with its direction before finally finding its footing again.  That the show managed to get away with that sag to some degree says a lot for what Kyoto Animation get right time and again, but this isn't one of their classics in terms of overall entertainment value no matter how strongly it finished.  More importantly though, it's no Nichijou either, and for a while I was concerned that it would turn out to be just that.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 12

Being called before the head of the town's Ethics Committee seems like a sure sign that all of Saki's exploits have finally caught up with her, whether said head of the committee is a relative of Satoru's or not - indeed, the only question seems to be exactly what her punishment might be.

It is, therefore, a decidedly huge surprise to find out that Tomiko Asahina has actually invited Saki to see her because she views this girl as a potential successor of hers for the future, having seen her ability to handle traumatic truths with relative ease compared to most, while also showing the leadership skills required of a high-ranking position.  Such is Asahina's trust in Saki that she explains why the reasons which currently govern the town are in place, relating the disturbing tales of a boy who became an "Ogre" and killed countless people through his thoughts and will alone, and also the story of a girl not unlike Shun who, unable to control the leakage of her powers, ended up destroying everything around her during her descent into a karmic demon.

It's these events that saw Monster Rats employed to pre-emptively kill anyone who might show traits that would later lead to them becoming an ogre, while laws were changed to allow the powers that be to terminate anyone under the age of seventeen that exhibited signs of Power leakage that could end with their becoming a Karmic demon.  It's a lot to take, and on top of it all Asahina refuses to restore Saki's memories of her missing friends (until she becomes the head of the Ethics Committee herself at least), but there's little time to dwell on all of this information in the wake of news that Mamoru has gone missing.  With his friends setting out to find Mamoru, it seems as if more danger is in Saki and company's near future.

As we head towards this halfway point of Shin Sekai Yori, I have to admit that I'm now decidedly impressed with the world that it's built for itself - a world that at first seemed idyllic, then seemed to be the home of institutional evil, before throwing the whole thing up in the air with the thought that perhaps these less than ethical deeds are being performed with very good reason.  It's a morally dilemma that looks set to underpin the remainder of the show, and it's one that I hope isn't lost within a series that seems to want to explore many things - for all of its weaknesses up to this point however, I too want to explore this world further along with the series, which must surely count as "mission accomplished" for the show at this juncture.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 11

We enter all-out manga warfare as this third season of Bakuman reaches its eleventh episode with Ashirogi Muto promises to "crush" the young upstart Nanamine in short order, and using their expertise to position their series PCP with the best possible timing to do so.

However, things are already starting to run away from Nanamine almost as soon as he's begun, with the first chapter of his (well, his team's) series only nabbing the number two spot, much to his chagrin.  Rather than looking at how to improve things, Nanamine decides that the only way forward is to dumb his series down under the assumption that Shounen Jack's readership are too stupid to "get it" (this guy should comment on anime 'blog posts, he has all the tried and trusted excuses down already).  With his "secret weapon", background artist Nakai, joining the endeavour for its second chapter, even Takagi and Mashiro begin to wonder whether they can actually live up to their promise to their rival.

They needn't have worried, as things soon begin to tank badly - Nanamine's decision to overrule some of the online "council" producing his manga causes them to leave, while others enter a state of open revolt, with Nanamine himself still self-assured that he knows the best path forward for the series.  As things get worse still, details of Nanamine's scheme leak out to other Shounen Jack editors, and with ratings sliding dangerously low Nanamine starts looking towards ever-more dangerous plans as creating a successful manga are overtaken with the mere desire to beat Ashirogi Muto.  With everything at rock bottom, is it finally time for Nanamine's editor Kosugi to prove his worth, and give the young man in a charge a final opportunity to redeem himself?

I have to say, I wasn't expecting Nanamine's fall from grace to be either so fast or so spectacular - I thought we'd see a longer period of initial success to really bolster his pride before the fall.  Having set this "villain" up so perfectly however, seeing him plummet like a stone in a single episode as his plan falls apart was hugely entertaining and made for another really good episode - I'm not sure how I feel about the idea of offering him a chance to redeem himself, particularly from a believability perspective - surely no magazine or its employees, particularly in Japan, would take such a massive risk with leaked documents about one of their "stars" out in the wild?  Still, I'm willing to suspend that disbelief to see what comes next, and I can't deny that it offers up the possibility of some more juicy twists and turns to its current story.

Monday, 17 December 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 12

Although Shizuku's relationship is hardly all wrapped up with a bow, it is at least in a stable state at long last (further helped along by a little bribery on Shizuku's part to keep him from interfering with her time at cram school) - that leaves us free to explore things from Natsume's point of view for this penultimate episode of My Little Monster.

To some degree, it seems as if Natsume is caught between a rock and a hard place - setting aside the fact that she's fallen hard for Mi, on the one hand she still finds herself immensely irritated whenever there are guys on the scene, but whenever she's away from the crowd (and more specifically her friends) she feels overwhelmingly lonely; something that no amount of time spent online can resolve.

Luckily for her, a random phone call from Shizuku offers Natsume exactly the chance that she needs to invite herself over to her friend's place for the New Year, dragging Haru along with her to boot.  Eventually, the trio wind up meeting up with the rest of their friends for the traditional New Year shrine visit before taking to the batting centre roof to see the sun rise - a night which confirms Natsume's reliance upon her friends, but also an event which brings home her concerns about what Haru and Shizuku getting together will do to their friendship with him.  With her love for Mi looking ever more unrealistic in nature and her friends potentially drifting away from her, it's a decidedly despondent Natsume that we see closing out this episode.

With so much focus on Shizuku, we haven't really had a chance to dig in to Natsume's deeper personality, and thus this week's episode is arguably a much needed one which really gets under her skin and brings us another fascinating character - flawed, almost tragically so, but still fundamentally a girl who you can't help but sympathise with and root for.  With only one episode to go, I hope that her story gets some kind of conclusion, but it's hard to imagine the focus shifting anywhere other than back to Haru (who offered the only low points of this instalment once again) and Shizuku.  The fact that it has a number of strong characters to mine speaks volumes about the strengths of the show as a whole, which makes it all the more of a shame that other aspects of the series occasionally managed to undermine it so spectacularly.

Space Brothers - Episode 37

It's been a little while in coming, but at last it's time for Mutta to receive his fateful phone call from JAXA in this week's Space Brothers.

Not that Mutta knows that his wait is almost over, as he continues to fret about the good luck he's burned over recent days and how that luck has suddenly taken a hefty turn for the worse at the least appropriate opportunity.  While he's worrying, we have time for a quick visit to the Moon, before getting to enjoy the unlikeable Mizoguchi get his comeuppance as (unsurprisingly) he learns that he hasn't made the cut.  He had a bottle of wine at the ready and everything, poor fella.

So, onwards to Mutta, and when his phone call does come around it's decidedly unorthodox - not only because of Mutta's greeting, but also because rather than being told the result over the phone he's invited to his local park to meet a JAXA representative.  Is it because they bring good news, or so that they can deliver a fatal blow to Mutta's dreams face to face?  Well, this isn't the last episode of the series, so....

It's really the moments when, and immediately following, the split-second where Mutta learns whether he's made the grade or not which utterly make this episode what it is - it's a beautifully raw bit of emotion that we get to share utterly, not only thanks to its portrayal here (although that is a big part of it) but also thanks to the journey we've followed him on up to this point.  Making a viewer cry tears of happiness isn't easy, but Space Brothers manages it admirably here, continuing its first-rate ability to get its portrayal of its characters nailed on and thus get under the viewer's skin with consummate ease.  With the press waiting to get a view of the second Nanba brother to be selected by JAXA as this episode ends, we know where things are headed next, but this seems like an opportunity for the series to reach even greater heights - and I don't just mean the Moon.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Little Busters! - Episode 11

Little Busters allows itself to get somewhat distracted this week, as another Kyousuke's bright ideas crops up to ensure that the group deviates from their current baseball-related goals.

Instead, Kyousuke has decided that the time is rip for a test of courage, and after gathering the whole gang (including a decidedly reluctant Rin) he sets them off on a test which involves collecting a number of talismans that he's placed around the school building.  Of course, he's also placed a number of traps in the hope of scaring his comrades witless - something which proves successful to varying degrees dependant upon the teams caught up in the trap in question.

Things take a worrying turn however when some incidents clearly not in Kyousuke's original script take place, and once some crazy black blob starts darting around the place Naoe is quick to discern that this isn't his doing.  Thus, the test of courage turns into a spot of ghost busting, as all and sundry work together to corner and capture the supernatural phenomenon terrorising them... except it doesn't turn out to be supernatural at all, aside from some strange goings-on in the principle's room which is another story entirely.

So ends another episode of Little Busters that was okay but nothing more - it was a solid enough instalment and its particular side-story had some promise, but there was little in the way of real laughs, tension or drama to make it feel particularly worthwhile in any real fashion.  It's an issue which is fast beginning to plague this series, spending as it does more time being mediocre than doing anything notable with its cast or concept.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 10

The circle of life as it pertains to manga artists rolls around again in this tenth episode of Bakuman's third season - in other words, it's time for the serialisation meeting!

While this means the end of the road for Shiratori and a disappointment for Hiramaru's new manga, the news is far better for Aoki and (you guessed it) Nanamine as they both find themselves serialised.  Given editor Kosugi's reaction to the news, Hattori is quick to guess that something is up when coupled with Mashiro and Takagi's reaction previously, but although Kosugi refuses to say anything he isn't going to give up on learning the truth and thus goes to the artists in his charge themselves to find out the story.

Suffice to say, Hattori is as repulsed and disappointed with everyone else once he finds out about Nanamine's "croud-sourced" manga, but somehow he too manages to be persuaded not to go to his higher-ups and instead let Ashirogi Muto fight "toe-to-toe" with Nanamine - a very personal head-to-head battle given the similarities between the two series.  With their rival already losing a couple of members of his team while Takagi puts his back into creating a story to match and better their new rival, could the disadvantages of Nanamine's approach be stacking up?  Either way, it seems that he's found a new "secret weapon" which he believes will give him an upper hand in terms of the art style of his work.

Thanks to Nanamine's interesting way of doing things and his detestable, easy to hate character, this continues to be perhaps the best arc Bakuman has delivered at any point - an old-fashioned "good versus evil" story, but one that is no less gripping for that fact.  With cracks appearing in one part of Nanamine's armour while others are strengthened, we seem to be well set up for some great stuff just around the corner, and provided you can compartmentalise Hattori's strange decision not to go straight to his superiors about Namamine's behaviour (thus risking the reputation of the magazine as a whole were word to leak out) there should be some fun times ahead.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 11

Helping out your teacher might seem like a good way to gain some kudos with them, but as you might expect when it comes to Yoshinoya there is more than a visit to her home to help collect some art books than might meet the eye.

Aside from needing to sign an NDA and give up any devices containing cameras, simply collecting these books for donation to the school also ultimately includes arranging them all, removing the classes first artistic endeavours from the midst of the books pages, and dealing with Yoshinoya's "unique" alarm clock.  There's also the shock of seeing her being greeted by a man and his child, only to find that it's actually her older brother and his son.

For the second half of this week's episode, all of Natsume's Christmases come at once - almost literally, as she's officially invited by Sae to the Hidamari Apartments Christmas party (hey, where was my invite?!).  Overcoming her shyness and tendency to babble randomly in Sae's presence, Natsume makes it along and has a whale of a time with all of the residents as they eat, drink and exchange presents, the latter of which leaves Natsume having to carry Longcat home on the train.  Natsume even plucks up the courage to admit to Sae that she reads her writing religiously - an awkward but sweet moment to end their evening.

Even if it didn't win the award for bringing the most out-loud laughter from me for this series, this was still one of Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb's most fun episodes, bringing both Yoshinoya and Natsume to the fore a little more than usual to great effect, particularly in Natsume's case as she suddenly feels far, far more fleshed out than just a tsundere comic relief character - I'd be all for seeing her making more frequent and prolonged appearances in future as another likeable member of a lovable cast.

Robotics;Notes - Episode 10

The first activation test of the GunPro-1 had hardly been a resounding success, so what next for Aki's dream of completing this robot?  Judging by some analysis that Subaru has thrown together, it seems as if she may have to finally accept that finishing this robot simply isn't a viable proposition.

Before that however, Kai again seems to be the centre of some unusual goings on - just as Sister Centipede is relating news of a new experiment carried out on her part, so something rather unique falls from the sky right next to him.  The item in question is (according to our AR-produced friend) a "monopole", that being a magnet with only a single pole - something that simply doesn't exist in the known world.  Whether or not Airi is correct in her analysis of the object, the promise of more similar items falling from the sky keeps Kai (joined by Subaru and Aki) waiting fruitlessly for just such an occurrence before giving up on the idea come the evening.

Indeed, the whole monopole thing seems to be quickly forgotten as attention returns to the future of the Robotics Club and what to do with their current project - an issue which demands a difficult choice of club president Aki.  As they return to JAXA to discuss things, Subaru makes a convincing case for abandoning the idea of creating a fully working GunPro-1, while others in the group offer up a decent way to get the best of both worlds by using AR to "cover up" what otherwise looks likely to be an ugly robot design.  Torn between completing GunPro-1 and reaching the Expo, Aki has to concede that working on what she dubs as "GunPro-2" is the only sensible way forward - assuming that other issues don't get in there way of course.

So, Robotics;Notes continues its slow and steady progress - its lack of any real focus on either the robotics or the conspiratorial side of the story makes it difficult to enthuse about this episode as a whole too much while it hedges its bets, and even ten episodes in it feels like we've barely scratched the surface of some of this stuff.  Perhaps next week's episode will be the one that turns it all around a la Steins;Gate?  It feels as though the show certainly needs an injection of something at this juncture, even if I'm not sure exactly what that something is.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Medaka Box Abnormal - Episode 10

With the brainwashing of Medaka complete, what sort of monster has emerged as a result?  Certainly, this isn't the Kurokami that we've grown used to...

Instead, this new revision of Medaka is far more embracing of her talents, and wants nothing more than to rejoin the Flask Plan and join their quest as the head of their attempts to create a perfect human being - a human being who would, of course, be Medaka herself.  As she dismisses the student council and pays little heed to their woes, it seems as if all is lost...

...but if that's the case, why is she crying?  As Zenkichi refuses to stand down and instead faces off against his former childhood friend, we get to look into Medaka's past and the dark side of her genius as it pertains to her relationship with others, all the way through to her first meeting with Hitoyoshi which turned everything around for her.  Even this doesn't seem to be enough to overcome her brainwashing until, although ultimately the realisation that Zenkichi also remembers that first meeting is enough to turn her around, putting us back on course for a final battle to put an end to the Flask Plan.

In terms of story and plot, this was another pretty decent episode of Medaka Box - over-the-top and dumb to a point, but knowingly so and somehow able to roll with it to create a suitable narrative.  Again though, it's hard to put a quantity on what the transition from manga to anime has brought to that story, as there's so little effort put into that animation that you aren't gaining anything from partaking in this version of the series.  At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it feels as if GAINAX simply aren't making any effort with the show, and it's a shame to see a relatively big name series given such a treatment.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Psycho-Pass - Episode 10

Being a detective can be a dangerous job - not just for the individual themselves, but also for those that they care about, and when Akane receives what appears to be an e-mail from one of her friends before disappearing, it seems as if somebody has a bone to pick with her....

...or do they?  Needless to say, the first thing Akane does is call upon Kogami to help her out in visiting the meeting place of her friend noted in the e-mail - it's thus Kogami who undertakes the search for her in a derelict part of town that couldn't scream "It's a trap!" more if it was a scene from Star Wars looped over and over.  Lo and behold, a trap is exactly what it is, with Kogami ushered onto a subway train and transported goodness knows where while any tracks or evidence to show where he might have gone are removed.

This spells bad news for Kogami and Akane's friend Yuki Funuhara, who is alive and well within the subway carriage, as they find themselves dumped into the middle of a quite literal hunting ground - no prizes for guessing who this particular technological "fox hunt" belongs to.  It's up to Kogami to find a way for them both to escape, and rather oddly it seems that he's been given more than a sporting chance in proceedings to boot, offering him ample opportunity to show what he can do when his back is against the wall, and ultimately giving him a chance to contact his colleagues and request their assistance.

In one sense, I'm not too sure what to feel about this week's Psycho-Pass - it lacks any of the intriguing discussions or concepts of previous instalments, but on the other hand it gives us a better view of Kogami in action, which in turn made for a reasonably compelling episode in its own right.  Of course, this whole scenario also furthers the current wider plot arc as a whole; perhaps not quite as quickly as one might have liked, but it still seems to have plenty to offer in a broader sense.  This wasn't Psycho-Pass at its best then, but given the quality of the series as a whole I'm willing to give it a, err, pass.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 9

The Ooarai School girls and their exuberance managed to get themselves into rather a tight spot last week, surrounded as they were on all sides and left sheltering within an abandoned church.  Perhaps not the best time to inform Miho that defeat would literally spell the end of their school....

Of course, that revelation changes things substantially - an honourable surrender is no longer on the cards, which means that Miho has to make the most of the temporary stalemate to formulate a plan to somehow break out of their current proverbial cage and turn the match around, while simultaneously raising the morale of her team-mates as they succumb to cold, hunger and the possibility that this could be the end of their school.  If nothing else, I hope that Miho's tactics are better than her motivational gambit...

Ultimately, there's no more time for prevarication, and having performed some sneaky reconnaissance it's time to break through the barrier that is Pravda's massed forces - cue half an episode of non-stop Tankery action complete with explosions and power slides aplenty, as Ooarai fight against the odds with everything on the line all the way through to an incredibly tense cliffhanger to end the episode.

In other words, this is another demonstration of everything that GIRLS und Panzer does well - it has no shortage of laugh out loud moments, its action is superbly realised and occassionally edge of the seat stuff, and even when its characters threaten to grate on you (we get it volleyball club, you're the volleyball club!) there's enough going on to ensure that the broader experience is a huge amount of fun - and fun is quite clearly the name of the game with this series.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai! - Episode 11

Now that their romance is well and truly set in stone, and with her sister leaving and her mother moving in to contend with, it seems as if Rikka has finally decided to set aside her delusional ways, remove that trademark eyepatch and embrace reality.

Needless to say, this is a pretty tough ask for a girl who has been ensconced in her own fantasy world for so long, but it seems as if her struggles are nothing compared to those of Sanae, who staunchly refuses to give up on her friend and the world that they created together.  With even her strongest pleas falling upon deaf ears, Rikka continues to rehabilitate herself by making new friends, ditching all of the weird and wonderful paraphenalia in her room, and even going so far as to disband the club she started.

But is this what Rikka really wants?  Even Yuuta seems unsure of this, seemingly missing Rikka's previous vibrant self on one level with simultaneously finding himself to be relieved that she's discovered normality at last.  When her mother invites Rikka to visit her father's grave with her, it seems as if this is the final make or break moment in Takanashi's future, with her decision either pushing her back to her delusions or moving her onward to fully accept the loss of her father.  Is Rikka ready for this, and is it what's best for her?  Dekomori is convinced that it isn't, but Yuuta... well, deep down he simply doesn't seem to know.

What a turnaround this week's Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai has been from the rest of the series to date - almost entirely bereft of comedy, it focused hard on the emotional fallout of Rikka's decision to embrace reality and what it means for both herself and those around her.  There's a wonderful subtlety to both Rikka and Yuuta's behaviour throughout the episode - so many words left unsaid; so many thoughts left unspoken.  Even Dekomori's typically brash actions centred entirely around her fantasy world have strong undercurrents of realism - she knows that the life she's living is utterly daft, but when it comes to the crunch she's simply trying to protect and help her best friend.  All of this makes for a heady emotional mix which has a surprisingly strong kick to it, continuing the feeling that the series has reach another level over the past few weeks now that its slapstick comedy has been put on the back burner.  It's almost like watching a different series - let's call it Chuunibyou: After Story - and to be honest I like this take on the show's premise much, much more.

Jormungand: Perfect Order - Episode 10

Even by Koko's standards, kidnapping someone from Guantanamo bay is pretty, well, loco.  Can her men really pull it off?

After a good start (that being succeeding in their kidnap of Rabbitfoot), the gang soon find themselves reaching the attentions of "Night Nine", a crack unit who certainly aren't prepared to take any prisoners in despatching with their opponents and taking back Rabbitfoot.  Things look to be taking a turn for the worse as Lutz gets shot (in the ass, naturally), and in the resulting attempt to escape both himself and Jonah end up sliding down a cliff... slap-bang into a landmine.  Although she isn't present on the battlefield, Koko has a few tricks up her sleeve to help out her subordinates however, first downing the surveillance plane watching over the action before making her first use of "Jormungand" itself to send Night Nine on a wild goose chase by undetectably hacking into their positioning systems.

With Rabbitfoot successfully secreted away as the group escape to South Africa, it's finally time after a lot of teasing (particularly towards Jonah) to unveil the master-plan that is Jormungand - a plan to achieve world peace by forcibly using technology to stop all land, sea and air movements, be they civilian or military.  It's the plan of an ill-adjusted lunatic, but Koko is convinced that this is the long-term way forward for humanity no matter the short-term costs - the trouble is, Jonah seems to see things very differently...

If last week's episode of Perfect Order was great, then this week's was entirely brilliant - the first half was a tense and fascinating slice of action punctuated by Tawu Iwasaki's soundtrack at its most insistent, while the second finally laid bare Koko's grand plan for changing the world in all its insanity; a plan so bare-faced and implausible that, when coupled with the concept of quantum computing, seems somehow believable.  From such a broad stroke of its story-telling brush, we seem to be set up for a far more personal ending as it relates to Jonah and Koko's relationship, but no matter which direction the series heads for its finale I really want to see where it ends up.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 11

Shun may be no more, but despite Saki's experiences in last week's episode is seems as if everything has returned to normal as this latest instalment begins - school carries on, and the only tension around is who is going to be paired up for who for the various duties required of the establishment's pupils; a ritual designed more around establishing who likes who within the school hierarchy.

With a boy named Ryou taking more than a passing interesting in Saki, he finds himself meeting a rather distant girl - to the confusion of everyone else, Saki has things on her mind, and it's nothing to do with love.  Although Shun has been forgotten by all and sundry, Saki included, she can't shake the uneasy feeling that something within her memories doesn't add up, and Ryou's claims that he went on that fateful summer camping trip with her and that nothing untoward happened only serves to increase this unease.

As time goes on, so Saki's conviction that something is amiss increases, and after cornering and question Ryou she no longer has any doubts that something, or rather someone, is missing from her memories.  Calling together her friends to compare notes, it becomes clear that she isn't imagining things, as the conspicuous holes in everyone's memories reveal that someone is missing from their group of friends, in turn causing hazy memories of another missing individual to surface.  This also ties into Saki's continued belief that she has a sister, discovering evidence to back up this claim.  Not everyone thinks that digging into these beliefs is a good idea however, and they might just be right, as the interest of the town's Ethics Committee seems to have been roused....

After that weird yet fascinating episode last time around, this week's Shin Sekai Yori does a pretty good job of nailing and progressing the concept of brainwashing/memory removal within the show - the early sense of unease was palpable, and watching Saki and later her friends slowly realise just how far the wool has been pulled over their eyes (and their reactions to it) was equally interesting and well realised.  It feels as if Saki's own story is really going to begin in earnest at this juncture, so I'm duly intrigued to see where things are headed - then again, I feel like I've said "this is where the series really starts" before while watching this series, so hopefully this isn't a false start.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Finale - Episode 3

Now that it's decidedly protracted love triangle is done and dusted, just a couple of episodes remain to allow Haruka and Yuuto to get all lovey-dovey with one another...

On the other hand, they could just spend all of their time making an adventure game for their doujinshi circle, which is indeed exactly what they do with another Comiket around the corner - despite some misunderstandings from Haruka's sister and staff, there's nothing but game development going on in that bedroom.

Still, you can't deny the two of them some fun times as a result, but just as everything is looking perfect when Comiket opens, up steps a trio of blasts from Haruka's past - some so-called friends from her former school who shunned her when it was revealed that she was a closet otaku.  Needless to say, Haruka is mortified to see them again and runs off rather than having to deal with things in a situation that even Yuuto openly admits he can do nothing about - upon facing her fears in fact, Haruka discovers that these former classmates are here to do anything but make fun of her, and thus happiness is restored.  Just as a happily ever after finale to Finale looks set in stone however, a new revelation emerges...

After a couple of pretty much downright terrible episodes, you couldn't really get more run of the mill than this third instalment of Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu Finale - the few gags in the show are so over-used that they were labelled as old hat when seen in cave paintings, the "oh no I've fallen on you" moment is actually the copyright of primordial soup, and the overall plot was as easy to predict as night following day.  That this was an improvement over the first two episodes says a lot about the quality of this OVA but hey, an improvement's still an improvement, right?

Monday, 10 December 2012

My Little Monster - Episode 11

In this week's episode of All Men Are Horrible (If This Series Is To Be Believed), Yamaken continues to show more than a fleeting interest in Shizuku, even if he can't quite figure out why himself.

For all of his grandiose positioning of himself as some kind of elite who could get any woman he wants, there's no questioning where his true feelings lie, maybe for the exact reason that Shizuku is the one woman that he can't get.  Certainly, even his vaguest attempts to get closer to Shizuku are either cut off by the leading lady herself, or failing that quickly put paid to by Haru as he continues to stalk his sort-of girlfriend despite her repeated requests that he not do that.

As this scenario continues, we eventually reach an opportunity to delve into the past of both Yamaken and Haru from their childhoods, complete with some violent encounters and the revelation of some more light upon the relationship between Haru and his brother Yuzan, further explaining the former's insistence upon avoiding the latter.  With Shizuku turning up just as Haru is dwelling upon such things, it seems that this is the perfect time for him to spill out at least some of his feelings - the trouble is, it only serves to further baffle Shizuku as she realises just how "out of sync" she is with Haru.

If ever a series seemed to be trying really hard to make me feel bad for being a member of the male species, My Little Monster would surely be it - Haru is, in spite of the odd sensitive moment, an ever-more loathsome character as he ponders ripping off Shizuku's arms and legs to keep a hold of her (I kid you not) while generally continuing to act like a creepy stalker who won't take no for an answer, making him the kind of guy that would set alarm bells ringing in any normal person.  This makes Yamaken seem like a prince in comparison - just an egotistical one whose head probably wouldn't fit within the circumference of Saturn.  No matter how much I really enjoy the show's female characters, these kind of issues with the lead male cast are reaching the point where I'm not sure I can just ignore them or brush them aside any more - they're genuinely disturbing and just wrong, wrong, wrong in a romance-led series, shoujo or otherwise.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 36

The wait for that all-important phone call is starting to get to Mutta, but he's going to have to wait another week at least, as this week's Space Brothers turns its attention to Serika's story as her name comes around in the list of candidates to call.

In essence, Itou's story is a very simple one, of a happy family devastated by Serika's father being diagnosed with a brain disease with no hope of anything beyond a slow paralysis and death.  It's a disease which gives Serika's desire to become an astronaut a different focus as her studying shifts her in the direction of becoming both a doctor and an astronaut, with a view to working on the International Space Station to find a cure for her father's illness.

Of course, it's too late to save her dad now, but Itou's desire to pursue this dream is still burning as her make or break phone call arrives.  For the most part however, this episode is more focused on the younger Serika's life as her father is hospitalised and the true seriousness of his illness is revealed to her, leading to her distress and ultimate inspiration.

In all honesty, this particular episode of Space Brothers was kind of needless - we were already fully aware of the circumstances behind Serika's drive to become an astronaut, and it arguably didn't need to be reiterated.  However, I can forgive this repetition for one simple reason - this was a fantastically moving and affecting episode that treated its subject matter both sensitively and directly.  It continues to be one of the wonders of this series that it can turn its slow pacing to its advantage, and this is perhaps another example of exactly that.  As much as I want to move on to whatever the series deigns to do next, I really can't do anything but praise the quality its bringing forth even during these less directly important moments.

Little Busters! - Episode 10

Their first baseball game is coming up, but the Little Busters are still one member short of a full team.  And no, I don't mean that as a euphemism for them being dumb, although now you mention it...

Of course, there are no prizes for guessing whose job it is to find this final member, but surely it can be no coincidence that the very next practice session for the team as it stands ends with the ball hitting an innocent classmate and proffering an opportunity for Naoe to talk to her.  The classmate in question is bookworm with a parasol Mio Nizhizono, who unsurprisingly doesn't enjoy being hit by a baseball too much, and isn't exactly the warmest or most talkative of conversationalists at the best of times.

This isn't the kind of thing to put Naoe off however - indeed, he seems rather drawn to Nishizono given how her behaviour as a loner who nobody else even seems to notice reminds him of his own past, and thus he finds himself spending more time with her, with an eye towards possibly inviting her to join the baseball team even though she's as far from the sporting type as you could possibly get.  Ultimately, Naoe is co-opted into the search for a book that's precious to Nishizono, and in spite of Mio and Naoe's assumption that it's probably been stolen or otherwise hidden for nefarious reasons it turns out that there's actually a completely innocent reason behind the whole thing.  With the gap between the two of them at least somewhat closed, it seems that Nishizono is willing to watch the others play baseball as a result, if nothing else.

So goes another passable yet unspectacular episode of Little Busters - Nishizono isn't really the most exciting of characters, and the potentially interesting parts of her story are as-yet not revealed, so what we're left with this week is a pretty run of the mill introduction to her while moving another step closer to a full baseball team.  If nothing else, this could signify the fact that we're getting closer to the interesting part of the series - at least, I hope that's the case.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 9

As if Ashirogi Muto didn't already have enough rivals to cope with, another one has appeared with the much-vaunted arrival of Nanamine, who is himself a fan of this dynamic manga-writing duo.  However, there is a dark secret to his almost unbelievable early success...

In short, Nanamine is creating manga by "crowd-sourcing" his ideas from it, selecting no less than fifty individuals online to provide him with ideas, suggestions and so on.  The idea of even doing this leaves Mashiro and Takagi apoplectic, but Nanamine makes no apology for his behaviour in the self-assured belief that this way of creating manga is far better suited to creating a masterpiece than the tried and trusted system of using editors employed by Shounen Jack.

Given that they decide to keep their discovery about Nanamine's true nature quiet, their former fan turned artist continues his prodigious and prolific work, amazing the editorial who have no idea what's going on despite their questions as to how he can churn out high-quality work so quickly.  It's an impressive feat that takes him all the way to the brink of serialisation as he uses his money to shape, imbuing him with such confidence that he even confesses what he's bneen doing to his editor while simultaneously blackmailing him to keep quiet.  They say that pride comes before a fall, but is anybody going to be able to strike his down?

As I wrote last week, the introduction of a villain at this juncture is a great move for Bakuman, and it continues to be so this week - Nanamine is sufficiently unlikeable from the outset to be someone to root against, yet his work and way of doing things are simultaneously fascinating enough that you can't help but throw a little credit his way.  Provided that you can suspend your disbelief that both Ashirogi Muto and Nanamine's editor would be willing to keep quiet about what he's up to, there's some compelling and fascinating stuff here that has added a new dimension to the series just as it threatened to become a little stale.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Robotics;Notes - Episode 9

It's festival time as we reach episode nine of Robotics;Notes - and perfect timing it is too, on the eve of the final assembly of GunPro-1 and the final realisation of Aki's (and her sister's) dream.

Not that all of the members of the club are present at the festival - having been sent to collect Kuojiro to bring her along, Kai is instead dragged into another session of hunting down cheaters in Kill-Ballad amongst other things, while he also begins to at least start sharing some of his recent discoveries on the island with her given its possible ties with the death of her own mother and the mysteries surrounding it.

Aki also has to suffer without her full crew as the upper and lower halves of the GunPro-1 are finally merged, leaving them with a completed robot to play with at long last - come the next day, it's time for the machine's first activation test which, thanks to some comprehensive marketing from their sponsors, brings out quite a crowd.  Surely they will be nothing but awed by this behemoth activating and walking for the first time?  Err, not quite.... while the original design of the GunPro-1 was perhaps something quite spectacular for its time, almost a decade later its glacial movement and clunky internals do nothing but bore the crowd, before the robot breaks down entirely when its diesel generator gives up the ghost.  It's a tragic end to Aki's ambitions, especially given that her sister isn't responding to any of her photos showing the GunPro-1 in action, and it leaves some rather large questions as to where she and the rest of the robotics club go from here.

In some ways, this week's Robotics;Notes was a bit of a slow-burner - the first half of the episode didn't really take us anywhere significant and simply reinforced what has gone before. Thankfully, things picked up in the second half to deliver us the bitter-sweet construction and activation of the GunPro-1, which actually worked pretty well and at least went some way to suggesting that the show has done a half-decent job of fleshing out its characters to the point where we actually care about them and their endeavours.  Once again, we're left in the dark as to where the series goes from here, but it certainly has no shortage of directions to make full use of.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb - Episode 10

Synchronise watches!  Just as we roll on through December here in the real world, so Hidamari Sketch also makes its way onwards towards Christmas in this week's episode.

For starters, that means some snow for the the Hidamari Apartments gang to enjoy, and although Yoshinoya's latest outfit isn't particularly conducive to enjoying the cold weather Yuno and Miyako seem to know how to make the best of it, even if it involves making up a game that involves both a snowball fight and studying at the same time.  Indeed, from this point forth, it's studying that takes the drivers seat, as we get to enjoy some of the apartment block's relationships as they pertain to studying, which includes Nazuna making herself useful for once by keeping Nori off the Internet.

Moving onwards, our focus shifts towards Hiro and Sae as once again their final year of high school looms large - indeed, even a visit from Chika doesn't detract from this, as she brings news of Sae's test exam results while also questioning her choice of colleges to apply to as they seem to suggest concern for both Chika and her family's finances over Sae's own well-being.  While the other residents quite literally offer to cheer on Sae and Hiro as they move towards their graduation, we finally get to see a softer side of Chika and Sae's relationship which feels far more sisterly than the veiled emotions of previous meetings between the two of them when push comes to shove.

After making me laugh harder than ever over the past couple of episodes on occasion, this week's instalment was always going to have to work hard to do the business - thankfully, it did still make me laugh a number of times, even if it wasn't quite to the same extent as previous outings as once again more serious matters and the prospect of the group being broken up loom large in a decidedly bitter-sweet way in the latter half of the episode.  Still, it's nice to see Hidamari Sketch tackling the issue head-on rather than aiming or hoping for some eternal high school days, and if nothing else it truly adds a different dimension to the show which is pleasing in a very different way to everything that has come before within the franchise.