Monday, 30 December 2013

Little Busters! Refrain - Episode 13 (Completed)

Riki and Rin have chosen to ignore Kyousuke's pleas to live on and prepare to move forward without their friends, but can they really save their classmates?  Before this can even be considered, Naoe needs to overcome his narcolepsy.

To do this requires him to revisit the very start of his troubles - not just the accident that claimed the lives of his parents which went on to cause his first bout of narcolepsy, but all the way through to his birth and the innate understanding that "to live means to lose".  Accepting that living your life means losing things dear to you gives Riki the confidence to awaken and face the difficulties before him, and thus he and Rin can go about trying to rescue their friends from the bus crash threatening to snuff out their lives at any instant.

Between their hard work and quick thinking, the pair manage to extract all of their friends aside from Kyousuke - first, from the immediate danger of the bus, and then up the hill to outright safety.  With Kyousuke's bravery having led to him plugging the coach's fuel leak with his own body, he's the last to be extracted, and not a moment too soon... although this trauma leaves him in a coma, we're ultimately left with a happy ending as the group are reunited and given the rest of their lives to look forward to.

While sudden happy endings often feel less than satisfying in anime, Little Busters actually felt agreeable in this regard - Kyousuke's sudden transition from coma patient to fighting fit aside (which was at least in character), the rescue of the group by Rin and Riki felt like a believable and worthwhile outcome to what had gone directly before.  Whether this strong ending is enough to justify everything that went before is certainly arguable, and the story as a whole still doesn't fit together in as satisfying a fashion as the likes of Clannad, Refrain did at least provide some powerful moments to justify all of its setup, even if it's perhaps the weakest adaptation of a Key work that I've seen.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

White Album 2 - Episode 13 (Completed)

Last week's episode of White Album 2 turned Hazuki and Kazusa's relationship on its head, and as the series finale begins we find the pair desperately trying to escape from black bars that are attacking them.  No matter how much they writhe around trying to escape, even shedding their clothes won't allow them to avoid the grasp of this darkness...

Wait, that is what's happening, right?  Anyhow, come the next morning, the black bars are nowhere to be seen, allowing Kazusa to stagger off to catch her flight while Hazuki is left sulking in his room.  Having ignored Setsuna's phone calls the previous night he seems equally set to shun her ringing his doorbell, but in her typical style Ogiso is having none of it, barging into his room but refusing to talk to him unless he agrees to join her in seeing Touma off at the airport.

This leads to the rather awkward fact that Hazuki now has to reveal his infidelity on the train - not that Setsuna is surprised in the slightest given what she already knew; indeed, she all but insists that she didn't particularly want Hazuki to be her boyfriend but saw it as the only way to keep the three of them together.  As lies go it's a pretty half-baked one, and it quickly falls apart when Hazuki's first response upon seeing Kazusa at the airport is to leap at her tearfully.  Of course, this won't stop Touma leaving for Vienna, but where does that leave Hazuki and Setsuna?  Well, you'll have to decide that for yourself...

Having at least kind of liked, if not exactly warmed to, White Album 2's characters initially, by the end of this final episode I instead ending up rather disliking them all as they all worked towards their own selfish ends with no real attempts to reconcile anything between the trio beyond mere lip service - a chain of events that at least let me feeling like they all got what they deserved, that being effectively nothing.  All of this did at least make for some reasonably dramatic final episodes, which probably could have been fleshed out better rather than spending so much time on the build-up to the school festival that told us little that we didn't already know.  With important parts of the two girl's back stories either left unexplained until late on or not tackled at all, I never really got a grasp on why we should be interested in these characters, which is pretty disappointing for a show with only two love interests for the male lead in the first place.  In a harem series the lack of depth might have been forgivable, but in this instance it felt like... well, a white album, with lots of unused space that resulting in an fulfilling, forgettable romantic drama.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 13

Last week's episode of Nagi no Asukara ended in a blitz of confessions and outpouring feelings - not that there's really a lot of time for anyone to consider these revelations given the impending hibernation and Ofunehiki festival.

Although both Hikari and Manaka find at least a little time to ponder their respective feelings, nothing is resolved as attentions turn fully towards those two major events, with many hoping that the Ofunehiki will appease the Sea God and resolve whatever is threatening to befall the surface over the years to come.  Having managed to more or less square their involvement in the event with their parents, all are present and correct as things get underway, complete with Akari as the token sacrifice.

The trouble is, the Sea God himself doesn't seem to be particularly interested in mere tokens of his subject's devotion, and any thoughts that this god doesn't even exist are soon pushed away by the appearance of a number of powerful whirlpools.  Before we know it, Akari has been sucked beneath the water's surface as a more literal sacrifice to the Sea God - although not if Hikari and Manaka have anything to do with it - while Tsumugu also gets caught up in things and also finds himself dragged away, only for Chisaki and Kaname to try and save him.  The resulting fallout of all this could have dire consequences for some of those concerned, as we wait to see what's happened to all of the individuals involved.

Although the Ofunehiki was obviously going to be a pivotal moment for this series, I wasn't expecting it to be quite that pivotal as it threatened to lay waste to part of the cast and leaves us unsure as to exactly what has transpired.  As a follow-on from the events of recent episodes it provides another strong instalment that certainly allowed for actions to speak louder than words, providing drama that will surely reverberate throughout the second half of the show to provide even more compelling twists and turns for the series.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Coppelion - Episode 13 (Completed)

Safety is almost in sight for all and sundry as their train makes its way out of the Zone... which is not really the ideal time for Kanon Ozu to come crashing after them with what remains of the 1st Division's mechanical spider.

To make things worse, Kanon's actions are being carried out with nothing but complete indifference towards her life, making her a decidedly awkward opponent - this is particularly true for Naruse, who remains determined to avoid any further loss of life during the course of this operation... in itself a tall order when you're armed with a rocket launcher.

Nonetheless, a mixture of skill and serendipity gives Ibara exactly the circumstances she needs to disable Kanon and her mechanical monster without killing her - but can she save her from the ensuing fallout?  If one thing is for certain it's that Kanon doesn't want to be saved, but upon seeing both Coppelion and humans working together to ensure her safety she soon changes her mind.  Add to that the birth of twin babies and, at last, rescue by the 3rd Division and we're left with as feelgood an ending as you could really hope for in the aftermath of a nuclear disaster.

If there's one thing that can be said about Coppelion, it's that it ended very different from how it began, with what looked to be a largely careful and considered take on the human effects of a nuclear disaster ultimately turned into a set of ever-more over-the-top action set pieces, mechanical arachnids and all.  Although this feels like a massively missed opportunity, given how clunky a lot of those early attempts at drama were (even when they managed to be surprisingly effective on occasion) it did at least leave us with a series that was mildly entertaining even if it wasn't exactly memorable.  Things waned a little as the animation budget and ideas ran out, but there were at least some fun moments to be found in a series that wasn't bad, but did fail to live up to its promise.

Little Busters! Refrain - Episode 12

It's time for Riki and Rin to face up to the harsh realities of the real world to which they're about to be returned - a challenge which is easier said than done.

As promised by Kyousuke, the pair awaken to find themselves in pain and aching all over, but ostensibly safe a suitable distance from the devastating bus crash which seems to have taken the lives of all of their friends.  Having picked themselves up and dusted themselves down, Naoe realises that they need to get away from the area before the bus's leaking fuel catches alight, but having made good his escape with Rin, Riki simply can't followed Kyousuke's instructions and worry only about his and Rin's own survival.

Thus, Riki turns and heads back to the crash site in the hope of saving his friends and classmates - a decision made all the more difficult by what looks set to be an attack of narcolepsy.  Meanwhile, having left Rin alone in safety she has to face her own emotional distress, as memories of how Kyousuke saved her from darkness and introduced her to myriad friends comes flooding back.  From trying to avoid and hide away from the terror confronting her, Rin uses these memories to steel herself and find a more positive outlook as she too returns to the crash site.  But can anything be done to alter the destiny of Rin and Riki's friends?

Having pitched its emotional content pretty much perfectly in its previous episode, I'd argue that this week's Little Busters! Refrain tries a little too hard to expound upon those emotions - it isn't entirely misplaced, but Rin's feelings are readily apparent without spending half of an episode focusing upon them and why they exist.  This results in the show's penultimate episode losing a fair amount of its emotional energy and slowing its pace, which leaves me curious to see where and how it's going to end with only a single episode left to run - hopefully it can find its way to deliver a strong climax, given that it still has a fair amount to work with.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2013 - Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still

One of the joys of the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa project is that it effectively holds a gun to my head and forces me to watch things that have been on my list of things to see for more years than I care to remember.  This is certainly the case with the Giant Robo OVA, The Day the Earth Stood Still - so frequently is it referenced in various discussions that it's almost criminal that it's taken me so long to get around to it.

Anyhow, this seven part OVA imagines a world where the search for a stable, lasting fuel source for the world has been solved thanks to the invention of the Shizuma Drive - a non-polluting and completely renewable source of energy that now powers effectively everything on the planet.  This energy source is, however, under threat from an evil organisation known as the Big Fire Group, who are Hell-bent upon world domination and destroying the status quo and are the masters of powerful individuals known as the Magnificent Ten who work towards that end.  Enter the International Police Organisation, and more specifically their team of super-powered Experts of Justice - a group which also includes the world's most powerful robot, the titular Giant Robo, and it's master the diminutive young Daisaku Kusama.

Ironically, Giant Robo himself is actually anything but the main feature of this series - if anything, he's more of a deus ex machina who is brought into the action as a last resort to save the day when all else fails, leaving him to play more of a cameo role than anything.  In a slightly different sense the same can be said of Robo's owner Daisaku, who really serves more as a foil for the rest of the cast, whether it's motivating them or exposing their shortcomings.  Thankfully the remainder of the cast are a fascinating bunch and the series' plot is equally up to the task of feeding their personalities, as the truth behind the creation of the Shizuma Drive comes to light as the motivation of many of the individuals concerned, taking us on a ride full of twists and turns as friendships are built and dissolved, while children face up to the responsibilities and expectations bestowed upon them by their fathers many years previously - responsibilities that, right or wrong, leave the fate of the entire planet hanging in the balance.

It's the heavy weight upon key members of the cast to "do the right thing" with the powers bestowed upon them by their parents that really makes this series what it is from a narrative point of view, lending this series something above and beyond the usual motivations to save the world or watch it burn - this is enhanced further by the way that bonds of friendship are grown and strengthened over the course of the struggle for Earth's future, which visits some decidedly dark places before largely shrinking back from some of those decisions rather disappointingly for the finale.  In fact, it's the final episode of Giant Robo that threatens to ruin so much of the good work it does in its first six instalments - when it turns out that the entire plan that is about to destroy mankind was built on a misunderstanding between father and son (it seems that "stop Shizuma" is a poor choice of final words when "plug these things in for me, will you?" would have been more successful) it beggars belief, and of course the hook for a sequel that never came is galling for entirely different reasons.

One area where Giant Robo deserves ceaseless praise is for its presentation however - visually its cleaned up Blu-Ray transfer looks gorgeous from beginning to end, and each episode is almost endlessly eye-catching from its character designs through to the detail afforded every aspect of the production.  The show's orchestral soundtrack is also glorious and a perfect accompaniment to the grandiose themes and setting of the series that really couldn't be any better.

For all of the flaws in its finale, it isn't hard to see why Giant Robo is held so close to the hearts of so many - it's a rip-roaring series that is a huge amount of fun to watch but also finds enough time and heart to explore some interesting themes, balancing the simple pleasures of an action-packed cartoon about saving the world with some philosophising about the nature of family and so on.  It might not be quite as much of a mecha series as its titular character hints at, but if anything it's all the stronger for it, and definitely well worth watching at least once to soak in it a visual style and atmosphere that very few anime series can provide to the extent on show here.  Much like Giant Robo itself, this OVA doesn't end up in the best shape by the end of its efforts, but you can't help but love it for trying its best and mostly succeeding.

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2013 - Dragon Half

Never mind all that "time for giving" nonsense, Christmas is all about laughing at stupid stuff - enter the first of two selections that I managed to watch as part of this year's Reverse Thieves Secret Santa project, and a series that was bizarrely re-licensed in North America just weeks after its selection dropped into my Inbox!  The series in question is Dragon Half, a nice and simple two-part OVA from 1993 to (hopefully) tickle my comedic taste buds.

As much as it's really a story about anything, Dragon Half is the tale of Mink, a half-human, half-dragon girl born of a father who abandoned being a hero to marry the dragon he was supposed to be slaying.  Oddly, given her family circumstances, Mink spends a lot of her time cooing over a dishy TV star-cum-pop idol-cum-dragon slayer who goes by the name of Dick Saucer, and it's this obsession which indirectly sets Mink on a path which pits her against another not entirely human girl named Vina, the king of the land who wants both Mink and her father killed, and ultimately Monsieur Saucer himself.

If there's one thing to be said for Dragon Half, it's that it doesn't hang about - the OVA's plot (or what passes for one) moves along apace from beginning to end, even if it only does so in service of creating more opportunities to cram comedy into its running time rather out of any semblance of deep story-telling.  Both its frenetic pacing and line in daft humour are a clear part of a long lineage of similar shows which scatter the history of anime - it's energetic, arguably a little lazy, but occasionally amusing when it hits the right spot with its self-referential humour.  Oh, and it takes the work of Beethoven, speeds it up considerably, and then throws Mink singing a manic song about cooking for a prospective boyfriend into the mix to serve as its ending theme - perhaps the closest the series ever truly comes to comedy genius.

End credits aside, I will admit that Dragon Half made me chuckle a couple of times, but two times in an hour isn't a particularly good ratio for getting laughs out of me.  While I can certainly understand the fondness that people who watched the show's two episodes back in the 1990s must have for it - a time when such quirky Japanese humour (and equally quirky animation) was harder to come by, and over twenty years before Teekyu could impress us with its terribly animated jokes about DLC cake with senpai - coming to it fresh in 2013 was hardly a revelatory experience.  If the goal of this Secret Santa selection was to make me reminisce about how "they don't make them like this any more", then I suppose it's a success... they don't make OVAs like this any more, but on balance I'd say perhaps that's for the better.  Unless we're comparing to Recorder and Randsell, in which case I'd concede that yes, if only they were making more Dragon Half instead.

Overall though, Dragon Half is certainly one for the "glad I watched it" pile - not a great series but no disaster either, and given its reputation definitely one to commit to the memory banks so I don't have to shift awkwardly in my seat out of a lack of knowledge whenever it crops up in conversation (which is more often than you might think).

Monday, 23 December 2013

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova - Episode 12 (Completed)

For all of her talk of abiding by the rules and codes of the Fog, it's fair to say that Kongou has gone a little.... "off the rails" as we enter Arpeggio of Blue Steel's first episode.

If anything further evidence were needed that she's gone bonkers, her first attack is not to take out Iona and her crew but to obliterate and effectively absorb all of her allies.  It's a move which leaves everyone baffled, but a discussion between Kongou and the other Mental Models soon reveals the true extent of her insanity - an all-encompassing hatred of what she calls "errors" who have somehow taken on human traits.  Now that she, too, is one of those "errors", she seems to have no qualms about destroying herself alongside her former comrades.

Iona is having none of this however, and pleads with Gunzou to let her talk directly with Kongou to save her - a request which requires actual physical contact between the two of them.  It seems like an impossible mission, but it's one that the crew take to with aplomb as Iona, freed from her ship, goes head-to-head with Kongou.  It's a discussion that is certainly far more physical than verbal, and one that Iona looks to have no chance of winning as Kongou sets herself up to obliterate them both.  Perhaps, however, Iona's "error" in the form of her feelings towards those around her are actually not a weakness, but her greatest asset when her back is against the wall...

Although it in no way tackles all of the ideas and issues set up across the duration of the series, this was still a pretty satisfyingly action-packed finale to the show - a little hard to swallow in places but with a pleasing sense of the theatrically grandiose and a visual scope to match.  It isn't the kind of ending to leave you thinking, and it could be considered lightweight and trivial, but then again that matches the tone of much of the second half anyhow.  That feeling of potential that was neither entirely squandered nor fully realised really sums up Arpeggio of Blue Steel as a whole - a series with some fantastic episodes that really made the most of its setting and premise, but not frequently enough to provide anything truly memorable beyond short-term entertainment value.  Still, with animation that seemed to improve by the week, if nothing else this does perhaps offer proof that you can make a pretty decent late-night anime using CG alone, which could well be a notable landmark that does leave us talking about the series in years to come.

Monogatari Second Season - Episode 25

Although not entirely a surprise, Hanekawa's arrival on the scene and her interest in Kaiki's current job is still an intriguing development, and what's more it seems that she has as keen an eye as Kaiki for Nadeko's true personality.

Hanekawa also has some knowledge of "the closet", although she doesn't seem to know what's in it and Kaiki is certainly in no hurry to enlighten her despite a temptation to do so.  With Tsubasa also seemingly happy to let Kaiki get on with his deceptive work, he carries on as he has been visiting the shrine and plying Sengoku with gifts until the start of February and the arrival of the promised day where he has to deceive her.  It's something which Senjougahara continues to be unusually grateful towards Kaiki for, and her assertions that she still hates him sound rather hollow when set against her other comments.

Alongside this, Kaiki finds himself further warned off his current course of action by Onjouji at Gaen's behest, which gives us some further insight into her concerns that he might fail in his task.  It seems that Kaiki's relationship with Senjougahara runs deeper than we might previously have been led to believe, and despite his protestations when spun in the right way his actions surrounding Hitagi, her mother's cult and more have a strangely charitable air to them.  Is Kaiki really in a fit mental state to deceive Sengoku given the importance of his plan's success?  We find out soon enough...

Like so many episodes of Monogatari, this week's instalment is very much reliant upon how much you care about the characters involved - for someone who has enjoyed everything it has to offer to a greater or lesser extent, digging into Kaiki's past with Senjougahara and continuing to ponder Nadeko's true nature are both fascinating areas for the show to cover, and at the end of all that we're left with a potentially tumultuous cliffhanger to lead into the series finale.  Monogatari Second Season might not be as accessible as the first, but week after week it seems to know how to press the buttons of its existing fans.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

White Album 2 - Episode 12

It seems as if Hazuki has done a pretty good job of ruining everything by the end of last week's episode of White Album 2, having soured his relationship with Setsuna by dodging her birthday party before getting a slap from Kazusa for kissing her.

In the aftermath of all this, it seems as if our protagonist is still hoping to both have his cake and eat it, as he continues to feign illness to a concerned Setsuna to avoid her suspicions whilst also finding the situation to be a perfect opportunity to wallow in self-pity.  What Hazuki doesn't realise is that Setsuna has already caught on to far more than she's letting on, suggesting little surprise when Touma pays her a visit to explain that she'll be leaving for Vienna before it's revealed that she'd also seen Kazusa's behaviour after the school festival so is entirely aware of Touma's feelings towards her boyfriend.

All of this comes to a head at the school graduation ceremony - a ceremony which Kazusa doesn't attend directly but has clearly dropped in on, even going so far as to leave a note for Setsuna in the process.  Once Hazuki hears of this, his true colours show as he ditches Setsuna to search high low for Touma, only to discover that she's nowhere to be found.  Luckily for him, she calls him that evening, purporting to be "far away" but in fact being anything but.  Thus, it's finally time for both parties to admit their true feelings to one another...

After the die had been cast at the end of the previous episode, it was more a question of "how" rather than "if" Kazusa and Hazuki would get together, and it's certainly panned out in a suitably messy way that should leave some interesting questions to be asked by the series finale.  It's a shame that the show's cast aren't equally interesting, but not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth I'm happy to make the most of what it's delivering in these final weeks of the series, even if it took a while to get there.

Space Brothers - Episode 87

As the Japanese trio of prospective lunar astronauts impatiently await the verdict following their NEEMO training by sharing a barbecue together with Kenji's family, our focus shifts back to Hibito as he continues to progress rapidly with his rehabilitation.

Much of this progression is framed through the continuation of Olga's story as Hibito watches the second volume of her family's DVDs following her progress - a disc chronicling Olga suffering a minor injury (a sprained ankle) before finding that her recovery time sees her simply lose her passion for dancing as the stress-free life of lounging around that her injury has afforded her suddenly seems far more alluring.  It's only seeing her father head into space and his achievements there that makes her passion return, and of course from there the rest of the story writes itself.

Buoyed by witnessing these events, Hibito breezes through the remainder of his rehabilitation, leaving him with just one major hurdle left to clear - organising a test in an EVA suit in front of NASA's directors to prove his suitability to return to proper work as an astronaut.  It's an exciting time but also a terrifying one, and having not told any of his colleagues about his troubles it also looks set to be something he has to face alone to boot.

This is another of those episodes of Space Brothers that manages to be engaging and a little touching despite not really progressing its story in leaps and bounds - it seems that Hibito's final test for his panic disorder will be the real story of next week's instalment, and of course things are also building up for Mutta as well over the coming weeks.  It says a lot about the series as a whole that I'm sufficiently invested in its cast to enjoy even relatively slow episodes, though.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Golden Time - Episode 12

Trying to work, especially under the auspices of studying hard at home, was never likely to end well for Banri when it comes to pulling the wool over Koko's eyes, and of course it isn't long before she realises that something is up.

Not that Tada is aware of this as he continues his cross-dressing turn working a birthday party - although Mitsuo might be the one getting most of the attention, some of the party-goers soon turn their minds (and cameras) to Linda and Banri in the search for memorable photos.  In the alluring atmosphere of this party, things between the two of them seem like they could get out of hand at any moment... and in a sense they do, as this also happens to be the moment where Koko somehow manages to find her way onto the scene.

If hitting Banri with the one-two punch of a drink followed by a slap to the face has made Kaga feel better, it certainly doesn't show, leaving Banri to lean up the mess by ushering her back to his apartment while he finishes his job; something which she does without a word of argument.  Upon returning, it's time for the truth about Tada's work and the reason why things ended up as they did... of course, this arguably isn't the real issue, and the argument soon turns towards Banri's past with Linda.  There's nothing for it here but for Tada to come clean - but is that even what Koko really wants?  Regardless, it does have the effect of clearing the air, although in turn Banri has to face up to the need to make a clean break from both Linda and his pre-accident past.

It's taken a while and it's been a bit of a rocky ride, but this week's Golden Time feels like the series finally reaching something close to Toradora at the peak of its powers - for all of my concern about the contrived nature of Banri's amnesia I'll be the first to admit that it's being used really well at this point in the show, and the same can be said of Koko's over-bearing personality.  As a result, the fallout from the party in this episode provided lots of really strong drama that left me both loving and loathing Koko and Banri in various ways as they both exhibit how well fleshed out their characters have become.  Add Linda into that mix, and you have plenty of possibilities for the second half of the series.

Kill la Kill - Episode 12

As Kill la Kill reaches its half-way point, it's fair to say that the appearance of Nui Harime has struck a raw nerve with Ryuko, and not because of her interruption of the battle against the Elite Four either.

Instead, Matoi's blood is almost literally boiling as she suddenly finds herself faced with someone who claims to be the murderer of her father, and who even has the other half of the scissors which Ryuko now wields as a weapon to prove it.  This allows us to flash back to the point of this murder taking place, and just as suggested it is indeed Harime who is our culprit.

It's no surprise then that Ryuko loses her rag at this point, attacking Harime in a futile surge of blind rage - although her Kamui can't be disabled quite so easily by Harime's tricks as a standard Goku uniform, it seems that her decision to incite Matoi's rage is far from an accidental one for reasons which soon become clear.  Once her rage has boiled over, Ryuko's Kamui simply goes berserk, taking over the body of its host to create an unpredictable ball of semi-human destruction that unleashes a whirlwind of devastation wherever it goes.  This clearly isn't something that can be allowed to go unchecked, and both Nudist Beach's members and Satsuki are willing to use lethal force to stop this rampage - perhaps it's time for Mako to return the favour and save her friend in a time of need, however?

It would take a lot to top the cliffhanger at the end of last week's episode, but this instalment of Kill la Kill was certainly a fitting continuation of said cliffhanger, with no shortage of surprises to bring to the table before an unexpectedly touching end to this particular story before setting things up for the start of the show's second half.  Although this week's animation didn't always feel up to snuff, it says a lot about the series' long-term prospects that it's beginning to serve up a really engaging story alongside its energetic ideas and visuals, and from simply enjoying the show for its boisterous insanity I'm now well and truly on-board with where its narrative is heading too.  Hopefully, the second half of the series can deliver a suitably fitting effort to cement Kill la Kill's place as justifying much of its substantial hype.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 11

King Torture has been defeated, and Hazama unmasked as Samurai Flamenco.... however, it seems that this whole ordeal was little more than a warm-up act for the real action to start.

Thus, at the same time as news cameras are training themselves upon Hazama, so a new threat pops up right in the middle of Tokyo bay - a mysterious but aggressive object of unknown origin.  This is also the moment where Kaname decides to make his presence felt, whisking Hazama away to show him the real fruits of his labours - a massive, secret organisation dedicated to fighting "From Beyond", the true force of evil that provided King Torture with his abilities.

Thus, Hazama has been picked out to become the leader of Samurai Squad Flamengen, known as Flamen Red.  Except his four squad mates also seem to have designs on being Flamen Red, and in fact were promised such by Kaname.  There's no time to argue however, as a particularly poisonous member of From Beyond has infiltrated the organisation's base and is roaming around killing everyone in reach.  With Kaname seemingly losing his life in an attempt to stop this fiend, it's left to the Flamengen to save the day... oh, and of course they have vehicles which combine into Voltron (let's not beat about the bush - it's bloody Voltron) to aid them in this task.

If it wasn't considered as such already, this week's episode is the moment where Samurai Flamenco utterly embraces its madness and descends into the absurd.  But, it's a beautiful absurdity - it never breaks the fourth wall, but it might as well be winking at it the entire time as it ups the game with its blatant super sentai rip-off pitched into the middle of its imagined world.  If this series were played straight it would be atrocious, but its carefully placed moments of humour and silliness makes it clear that this is both an homage and mocking dissection of the genre it apes, and if only it weren't so incredibly badly animated by this point it would probably be even more worth of high praise as a slice of pure, ridiculous entertainment.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Galilei Donna - Episode 11 (Completed)

The game is up for the Ferrari sisters, as their adventure to find the Galilei Tesoro, followed by the quest to collect all of Galileo's sketches, ultimately lands them in jail at the behest of the Adni Moon Corporation.

Yes, believe it or not Galilei Donna's finale is to all intents and purposes a courtroom drama, as Adni Moon not only try to prosecute the Ferrari sisters for the untold damage to infrastructure and human life (which, when you think of it, they actually have quite a strong case for) but also attempt to frame them for much of the methane hydrate theft that's been going on.  With a seemingly inept attorney at their side things might look bleak for the sisters, but this elderly man has a habit of pulling rabbits out of hats - first Galileo's sketches, then Hozuki's pendant, and finally some of the evidence required to indict Adni Moon.

I'm not going to like this series any more just because you're looking at me like that...
All of this looks set to be shot down as irrelevant, and when the sisters' mother takes to the dock to denounce her children it seems like game over... except this is all a ruse, as Sylvia has in fact been feigning her amnesia the whole time, while even Anna has in fact been double-crossing her employers.  Thus, Adni Moon and the case against the Ferrari sisters is left in tatters, leaving them free to discover the true secrets of the Galilei Tesoro and perhaps even solve the world's energy crisis.

I certainly can't ding Galilei Donnafor managing to tie up all of its loose ends in a single episode (something that I was sure it wouldn't be able to do) - what a shame it had to do so in such a laughably silly way, with more ridiculous twists and turns than a builder laying some crazy paving.  Although it all works in theory, the result is hardly compelling, and just adds another layer of disappointment to a series that started quite brightly before losing sight of its strengths (namely the relationship between the three sisters) and going off in a number of half-baked directions, none of which ultimately worked in the show's favour.  I'm not sure I can even call Galilei Donna a brave failure at the end of the day as much as it is a rather lazy one.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 12

As progress on setting up the Ofunehiki continues apace, the thoughts of many are becoming ever-more distracted by the forthcoming hibernation of those within Shioshishio and what that might mean for their various relationships.

This soul-searching brings about some surprising results too, in particular as it relates to Akari and Hikari's father who, it seems, has been harsh about the decisions of his children precisely because of his knowledge of the troubles which are now upon the world.  Having finally realised that such harsh words are fruitless against such determined offspring, he has instead decided to reconcile with Akari in particular as her marriage draws closer in what proves to be some touching moments.

Elsewhere however, the friendships between our main quartet of characters are about to be stretched to the limit, as the thought of hibernation for an indeterminate period leads to Kaname in particular wanting to ensure that everything between them is out in the open before its too late.  It's arguably a noble goal, but his forceful way of going about it leaves Hikari with no choice but to confess his feelings for Manaka, leading to chaos ensuing as Manaka runs from the difficult position confronting her, while Chisaki in turn feels compelled to reveal how she feels to Hikari.  With Tsumugu also being caught up in this fallout, can everything be resolved before the hibernation begins in earnest?

Following a slightly clumsy (if lovably so) comedic start, there was further evidence of this show's ability to produce some decent drama in this week's Nagi no Asukara - Akari's reconciliation with her father was heart-warming without being overly saccharine, while events between the main members of our cast have suddenly reached boiling point, which should make for some fascinating conflicts and changes moving forward over the next episode or two.  In other words, it's almost everything that I hoped this series might be, which hopefully bodes well for its second half.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Coppelion - Episode 12

The human (and not-quite human) cost might have been high, but the train is finally running - cue jokes about Japanese trains even running to time in the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse.

Even with this good news the mission is far from over however, as Ibara and her group still need to board the movie train before it leaves the city - something which is easier said than done when the Ozu sisters have once again returned to rampage despite both being badly injured.  Luckily, Haruto had prepared one final trap to be used if required before making good their escape, which seems to put paid to any attempts to stop the group from boarding - heck, Ibara somehow even manages to persuade the rest of the 1st Division to come along for the ride to rescue to boot.

With everyone assembled (aside from Haruto, much to Ibara's anguish), it's time to break through The Zone on the path to safety - a tense time, not helped by the fact that Ibuki's pregnancy has hit a complication which looks set to require a Cesarean section.  Still, it seems that safety is in sight and all is well - until a now-familiar face puts in yet another appearance to try and thwart those looking to survive.

This week's episode of Coppelion is a bit of an odd beast - an instalment with nothing inherently wrong with what it does, but with its story beats framed in a way that makes them seem nonsensical or simply daft.  This is in no small part due to the aggressive pacing of the episode, which leaves Ibara going from abject depression to hyperactive positivity in seconds as one of a number of examples of emotions or story beats shifting massively in an almost schizophrenic fashion.  It's enough to detract heavily from an episode that otherwise tried to blend action with more serious dramatic moments, but one that could really have done with two episodes to do so rather than cramming it all into one rushed instalment.

Beyond the Boundary - Episode 12 (Completed)

Akihito has managed to find his way to Mirai in the odd globe hovering above the town that is now Beyond the Boundary - but can he save her and defeat this most powerful of beings?

Between Mirai's ability and the fact that Beyond the Boundary was effectively born from Kanbara, just maybe, although it certainly isn't an easy fight as the pair struggle to make their way to the creature's core via myriad obstacles that stand in their way.  Meanwhile, things are also getting pretty heated back in town as Fujima and his plan are found out, leading him into a battle with Izumi in particular that lays bare both of their own dark secrets.

Eventually, of course, good triumphs over evil on this occasion, with Fujima thwarted and beaten while Akihito literally beats seven bells out of the youmu that formerly resided within him thanks largely to his understanding of the shared fears that they've both been living with all of this time.  However, things aren't looking quite so good for Mirai, or rather what remained of her when she previously fought Beyond the Boundary, which leaves Akihito feeling like all of his endeavours might just have been in vain.

Fear not though, because if anime loves to do one thing it's to deliver an incredibly lazy and ill-thought out cop out ending, and Beyond the Boundary is up there with the best of them, bringing Mirai back from the dead because... well, just because, okay?  She's a main character, what if they want to make a sequel or something?  So frustrating is this final twist that it threatens to undermine everything that has come before, while also bringing into relief some other rather lazy moments of conflict resolution - a shame, as up to this point the show's finale had delivered a lot of slick, well-realised action and a pretty solid ending to affairs.

In a way, this is the story of Beyond the Boundary as a whole - really rather good in places but let down by its weak points and with a tendency to rely on the same old character gags and lines to carry itself when it ran out of other options.  Like so many of Kyoto Animation's other recent series, it's almost a show of two halves - the insipidly dull on the one hand, and the inspired on the other, with not quite enough of the latter to justify all of the former.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova - Episode 11

Kongou may have been relieved of her duties as part of the Fog, but that doesn't mean that the I-401 (now combined with Takao) and her crew are on easy street as they look to take the all-important corrosive torpedoes to America - far from it in fact.

Faced with nearly two dozen enemy fog ships, Chihaya doesn't flinch, and in a single move making full use of both the supergravity cannon and torpedoes he takes care of the whole bunch in one fell swoop.  These craft, however, were little more than the red shirts of the fleet, and it isn't long before Iona finds herself pursued by her sisters, both of whom are keen to have one final crack at fathoming her behaviour only to come up blank against Iona's ill-described feelings towards Gunzou and why she has to fight for him.

With no chance of reaching an understanding, I-400 and I-402 resort to their more obvious strategy of attacking without question, although with a number of Fog vessels and his own tactical mind at his disposal Chihaya actually has something approaching the upper hand as he tricks, traps and ensnares the two enemy before downing them in a hail of torpedos.  Needless to say, it's a scenario that leaves Iona distraught as she's torn between fighting for both her and Gunzou's survival and sparing her sisters, but ultimately she abides by Chihaya's wishes.  Not that this is the I-401's final battle by any stretch...

I can't help but feel like the first portion of this week's episode of Arpeggio of Blue Steel was a bit of a wasted opportunity - taking on twenty-two opponents at once could easily have been an episode in its own right, allowing us another glimpse of Chihaya's tactical nous and calm demeanour under pressure, coupled with his ability to effectively use the now quite formidable allies at his disposal.  As it is, this was all waved away within moments in deference to battling Iona's sisters, which was also compelling in its own right as it blended its action with some more thought-provoking fare surrounding Iona himself, while also setting the show up with its "final boss" for next week.  Hopefully it's a fitting end to a series that hasn't always hit the mark but has certainly had a fair few strong moments to call upon.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Monogatari Second Season - Episode 24

We all have skeletons in our closets, but what is literally contained within Nadeko's?  Kaiki now knows the answer to this, but for now we'll have to leave that to our collective imagination.

For now though there's a more pressing issue for Kaiki, as returning to his hotel room he finds a hand-written note telling him to, quite simply, "stay out of it".  Who could have penned such a message, and why would they want to?  Having already been warned off, and agreed a payment with, Gaen it seems highly unlikely that she'd do anything like this, which leaves Kaiki to turn to Senjougahara to see if she has any ideas.  The answer, in short, is no - leaving a note isn't Araragi's style if he were to find out about her plot, and nobody else she knows would interfere.

Written warnings or not, Kaiki still has no intention of giving up on his plan to deceive Sengoku, although given some comments from Senjougahara he does make some alterations to the minutiae of this plot, including visiting her a little less frequently and changing up his usual monetary offerings while also bringing her some sake.  Having completed this latest shrine visit however, Kaiki encounters an unexpected individual in the form of Hanekawa, who seems to be in town almost solely to talk with him despite having no questions for him and seeming to know everything about what's going on.  So what, exactly, is Tsubasa up to?  That's a question left hanging as we head towards the end of this series.

As per a lot of Monogatari Second Season, this final story arc for the series is proving to be something of a slow burner, moving along at a deliberate pace but sprinkled with just enough moments to either entertain or hold the viewer's attention.  Certainly, Hanekawa's appearance on the scene has added a new dimension to the story, while the information floating around that we don't know seems likely to provide further big moments over the final couple of episodes of the series.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

White Album 2 - Episode 11

We continue to view things through Kazusa's eyes in this week's White Album 2, meaning that we're once again reliving those pre-festival events.

Just in case you weren't already entirely clear about it, we spend some more time establishing Touma's feelings for Hazuki and the reasoning behind them, as Kitahara gives her a gift for helping him to learn the guitar only for her to lose it and spend a rain-soaked night hunting for it.  We then move on to the immediate aftermath of the school festival, and a kiss stolen by Kazusa from a sleeping Touma, before she later learns of his confession to Setsuna and has to witness the two of them as a couple on their hot springs trip.

Thanks to Kazusa's reconciliation with her mother, she eventually has an opportunity to escape from seeing the boy she loves with her friend right in front of her, instead getting to move abroad.  However, things have gotten decidedly complicated, as Kitahara's argument with Touma after picking her up to take her to Setsuna's birthday leads in some unexpected (for Touma herself, at least) directions.

Although it spent far too long establishing things that we already knew between last week's episode and the beginning of this instalment, there was at least ultimately some value to be found in looking at things from Kazusa's point of view, all the way through to further evidence of Kitahara's sudden and almost inexplicable transition into an asshole as he doubles down on trying to make Touma tell Setsuna she's moving abroad by kissing her at a decidedly inopportune moment.  Regardless, it's certainly set things up for a fiery and dramatic final couple of episodes, and that's an aspect of this series that really can't come soon enough.

Little Busters! Refrain - Episode 11

The core of the Little Busters have been reunited, but time is running out as the truth threatens to encroach upon Rin and Riki's world.

With the rest of the school's populace gone and even the sky no longer moving, there's one last thing to be done - to play some baseball, of course.  For Naoe and Rin this is just another opportunity to play with their friends, but for the other trio this is an opportunity to say a last goodbye with a smile upon their faces.

Once Masato vanishes right in front of Riki, there's nothing for it but for Kyousuke to tell him the truth - the horrific bus crash on a school trip wasn't a disaster that befell another nearby school, it was a tragedy that befell them.  As their dying wish, Kyousuke and his friends desperately hoped for a way to allow their two most fragile friends to grow and mature enough to cope with the aftermath of an accident from which only they will survive, with their sheer will creating the world they now reside in - an endlessly looping semester which enabled Kyousuke to try and outfit Riki and Rin with everything that they needed to get along in the world in spite of the horror they have to face.  With the truth out, it's time to say goodbye to Kengo, then Kyousuke, as the world around the group finally crumbles entirely.

I don't think I have to elaborate on how many times my patience has worn thin with Little Busters as a whole, but I have to give it credit where it's due for this strong, emotional pay-off - an eye-catching twist and some heart-rending goodbyes ensures that it has no shortage of ways of pulling at the viewer's heart strings.  Whether this is enough to justify a lot of the less compelling content that came before is another matter entirely, but if the final couple of episodes can further build on the core of the story now that it's finally been delivered in an impressive fashion, at least Refrain has a good opportunity to claim a strong ending for itself.

Space Brothers - Episode 86

Mutta is the talk of the town (or rather, of NASA's management) thanks to his smart thinking during the latter stages of his NEEMO training, and this week we're filled in on the slice of genius which has led to all of this praise.

Having heard news of Sharon's lunar telescope plan being shelved by NASA, it seemed only sensible that he do likewise for his team's moonbase model, leaving the question of what to do with the materials provided.  While pondering the energy saving required within the underwater base and the frequent lack of light as a result, Mutta realises that the issue must be even more pronounced on the Moon, bringing him to an obvious solution - to use the reflective panels at his disposal to work as a natural, solar-based lighting system that could be deployed on the Moon to give astronauts more light in the base without requiring any power whatsoever.  No only is this a smart idea, it's also confirmed as entirely feasible as part of the existing base on the Moon, which must surely put Mutta in place as a front-runner for the next lunar mission.

This satisfying end to Mutta's training means that our attentions return to Hibito, who is doing his best to put up with the seemingly never-ending cavalcade of pointless meetings about astronaut safety so that he can focus on the true goal of his recovery from the panic disorder plaguing him.  Thankfully, this secret training seems to be paying off, granting Hibito some notable progress, although it seems that suspicion is growing as to exactly what he, Lowry and Doctor Olivia are up to.

Having given us the good news of the impression made by Mutta during his NEEMO training, it was satisfying to see this week's episode fill in the gaps as to exactly what had made such a splash with management, providing another of those pleasing moments that fits in nicely with the show's themes and ideals.  With Hibito's own training also moving on apace, it feels like we're getting closer to the brother's dream of standing on the lunar surface together, although surely there are still plenty of twists and turns still to come.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 10

It's time for Samurai Flamenco to face his final battle... well, his final battle for the time being, seeing as we aren't even quite at the half-way mark of the series yet.

As our leading man makes his way to King Torture's mountainous hideout, the villain himself makes sport out of his hostages Mari and Moe - in particular, Mari is the subject of Torture's vitriolic abuse as he lays bare the fact that she is no hero but merely a self-centred and self-promoting wannabe that doesn't even value the life of her friend over her own when push comes to shove.  It's a revelation that leaves Mari broken and laid bare, making Samurai Flamenco's appearance a rather timely one.

Of course, this leads us in to that final battle, as the true nature of King Torture is revealed - a boy just like Hazama, albeit one who grew up loving the villains rather than the heroes of super sentai shows, and as such spent his life researching and preparing for life as a baddie on account of finding them more entertaining.  However, rather than King Torture and his henchmen who were all willing to sacrifice their lives at the drop of a hat, Samurai Flamenco has associates made of sterner stuff, and it's left to Goto to do the real work when it comes to aiding Hazama and ultimately saving the city from King Torture's masterplan.  Justice has prevailed one again, but in the light of the insanity which has unfolded it might just be time for all of the heroes involved to reveal the faces beneath their masks.

So ends another thoroughly enjoyable episode of Samurai Flamenco, which somehow has managed to turn its descent into madness a few short weeks ago into a slither of genius, culminating in an episode that managed to play all of the super sentai tropes with its tongue in its cheek while also making some genuine points about the true nature of heroism and a few other things besides.  It also managed to be surprisingly effecting in a number of ways - the threat of torture early in the episode was hugely uncomfortable to watch (and more than a little reminiscent of a certain scene in Grand Theft Auto V), seeing Mari broken and faced with the her true nature was moving right the way through to her incredible tearful performance over the closing credits, and in the midst of all this was a sense of good, old-fashioned fun with a heart of gold as Samurai Flamenco did his thing and unsung hero (of course) saved the day.  Where this series goes from here I have no idea, but having pondered and fretted over this question quite a bit over the course of this show so far I now feel happy to sit back and let it run its course, as it certainly seems to be in safe hands.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Golden Time - Episode 11

Banri has more or less recovered from his recent exertions and the accident that resulted from them - probably a good job with a high maintenance girlfriend like Koko.

Although the pair's immediate thoughts are turned towards the festival their club are partaking in (which is particularly tricky for Kaga, who has now been labelled "RoboGirl" on account of her dancing technique, or lack thereof), both Banri and Kaga are really looking forward to the beach trip they've decided upon.  Being the man in this relationship, Tada feels that it's up to him to organise everything, and after asking some seniors it quickly becomes clear that he's missing some important things to make this a trip to remember, chiefly among them some hard cash.

The obvious answer to this is to find a part-time job, but this option is quickly vetoed by Koko, who doesn't want anything to detract from the time she wants to spend with Banri.  Although Koko is from a family rich enough to make money worries redundant, Banri remains determined that he doesn't want to let his girlfriend pay for everything, and so when neighbour Nana offers him a job opportunity that pays well and will only take up a single night he jumps at the chance, roping Mitsuo into the deal as well.  Needless to say, this job is a decidedly unconventional one, which leaves Banri working as a cross-dressing maid while Mitsuo wanders around in some budgie smugglers as they both work as waiters for a private party.  Given that Linda is also on hand in a similar role, and with Koko knowing nothing about this gig, you can probably see where all of this is headed.

Every week, I feel like I have to concede the fact that Golden Time really isn't all that great, yet I can't help myself but continue to be a little charmed by it - there's something about its characters and the crazy (yet half-way believable given that they're university students) scrapes that they get into that works better than it really should, and the cast is broadly likeable even when Banri is being a bit of a dick by working behind his girlfriend's back.  Still, it seems that chicken is about to come home to roost, which promises some interesting times ahead for a show that is still a long way from knocking it out the park but still refuses to be discounted completely in the entertainment stakes.

Galilei Donna - Episode 10

Time is running out for Hozuki as she seeks to go back to the future (hey, that sounds really snappy - it would make a great movie title) with the help of none other than Galileo himself.

For want of anything much else to do, this week's instalment is effectively a love story between Galileo and Hozuki as they work on refining, improving and testing the aircraft that will take her back into the storm that brought her into the past in the first place.

As they work towards this end, Galileo shares some of his theories and philosophies, and notes the feeling he gets that Hozuki is not exactly from his time, which she can only openly admit to.  Hozuki later learns that she is the first person that Galileo has been able to open up and shares his thoughts with, saving him from a time of loneliness and, of course, explaining some of the notes written upon his sketches back in the future.  All of this has to take a back seat to the trip into the eye of the storm, at which point Hozuki can return to the present just in time to see herself and her sisters from being blown to smithereens, even if it only appears to be a temporary reprieve with Interpol now closing in on them.

I'm hoping that the show's finale will do at least a little more to justify this trip back in time, as it hasn't really had all that much of a pay off beyond explaining things that were inserted only to lead up to this event in the first place.  As it is though, this week's episode in particular feels like a sweet little instalment that didn't really do anything to further the plot, and didn't impinge upon Hozuki's personality as heavily as it might have done at this stage.  It now feels as though there's too little time left to resolve everything that's been left on the table across the course of the series, which means either we'll be treated to a packed finale or an eminently frustrating one.

Kill la Kill - Episode 11

As all and sundry focus their attentions on the on-going contest, a small girl slips into town unnoticed.  Then again, why would you even pay attention to such a newcomer when Matoi is about to defeat a third member of the Elite Four?

Having further evolved with Senketsu to learn how to use her Kamui to take flight, Jakuzure now finds herself out-thought and out-outmaneuvered, and although she managed to prevent Ryuuko from taking a detour to attack Satsuki directly she can't stop herself being defeated.  Just like any professional musician however, Nonon is always ready for an encore, and what a powerful one it is too - not to be outdone, Matoi shows further smarts on the battlefield by matching, and ultimately besting, Jakuzure's final attack, ensuring that the day is won and Matoi's progress continues.

That means that its time for the last of the Elite Four to step up to the plate, bringing us a rematch between Ryuuko and Sanegayama... or does it?  Just as the fight is about to begin, that diminutive newcomer not only steps onto the field of play but actively gets inbetween the two combatants - an appearance that flusters eve the usually unflappable Satsuki.  Just who is this girl?  The answer is that she's Nui Harime, and not only does she have a frightening knowledge of how to target the weak spot of a Goku uniform, she's also in possession of something that will greatly interest Matoi...

There is a part of me that worries about Ryuuko becoming too ridiculously over-powered and somehow spoiling Kill la Kill - that part, however, is quickly shouted down and reduced to a quivering wreck by the brash, bombastic hunk of entertainment that is this series.  Yet again, this week's episode mixes comedy with action then adds just the right amount of "no way!" drama to make for a potent and hugely enjoyable mix that still manages to subvert its expectations in a cheeky way that leaves you yearning for more and leaving us with another impatient week of waiting for Thursday evening to arrive.  If wishing the weeks away just to get to watch anime isn't a sign of a good series, I don't know what is.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 11

With the prospect of disaster on the surface and a long sleep for an unspecified amount of time for those within Shioshioshio, it's hardly surprising that some minds have been focused with a view towards the future - especially so in Kaname's case, it seems.

His out of the blue confession to Chisaki aside, folks under the sea have set a date for their sleep to begin, and thus the fasting to thicken their ena commences.  All the while, Akari determinedly continues her new life on the surface, as the realities of the cold spell for those living around her begins to bring a sense of reality to the proclamations brought to them by Hikari.

Facing dwindling catches and rising prices, the fishermen's association finally crack, convening a meeting with Hikari to plead with him to help ensure that the Ofunehiki goes ahead - something that he's more than happy to do, although his hopes that this may avert the crisis are quickly shot down by Uroko who insists it'll make no difference to current events.  As the quartet of kids take it upon themselves to begin eating again in deference to the uncertainties of sleeping through the world's troubles, Akari makes a bid of her own to turn the tide by suggesting that she become the sacrificial Ojoshi that is offered to the Sea God during the Ofunehiki ceremony; an idea that she plans to combine with her wedding, which perhaps isn't the most romantic idea I've ever heard.  With everyone changing and moving forward to become stronger, perhaps it's Chisaki's turn to take a brave step forth...

It probably says a lot about how I've become endeared to the premise and characters within Nagi no Asukara that I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this week's episode above all else - the begrudging realisations that Shioshishio's tale of disaster on the surface might be right after all, and the tension all around at the seismic shift caused by the news on both a personal and community level.  All of this was delivered in a quiet but confident way that suited it down to the ground, building up to what looks likely to be a fraught instalment next week that I'm very much looking forward to.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Coppelion - Episode 11

Offering to act as a diversion is one thing, but one has to assume that Naruse and company weren't planning on tackling a giant mechanical spider as well as the trouble-making Ozu sisters.

Still, that's exactly the situation that they have to deal with now that the 1st Division's secret weapon is on the scene - thankfully, this mechanical monstrosity has a switch that allows it to turn off, although the trouble is that it requires reaching the highest part of the beast in question.  While Naruse distracts the Ozu sisters as best she can, it's left to Aoi to disable the spider - a seemingly impossible task, until she finally goes Super Saiyan... sorry, I mean until she finally shrugs off her role as a walking slapstick joke and puts her mysterious powers to use.

Although their diversionary tactics haven't proved entirely successful, time is running out and the train operated by the other group still hasn't arrived, leading to Haruto heading over to find out what the problem is.  As he moves to help Gojirou fix the power problem at the heart of their delay, we learn more about both Gojirou and the 1st Division's role in the "incident" and its immediate aftermath - a dark side of humanity which Haruto seems to be learning to ignore as he witnesses the inherent good of those around him, with evejn the 1st Division's chief redeeming himself at a pivotal moment as those aboard the train finally look set to make their mistake from the lethal winds blowing their way.

It's a little odd to watch this week's Coppelion try to shift from bonkers action featuring a giant spider to an appraisal on the goodness of humanity even in the midst of a man-made disaster from which so many other sins have sprung forth - the two elements aren't entirely incongruous, but they don't bolt together particularly well either.  It's also tough to feel anything much for either Gojirou (who hasn't been sufficiently developed as a character beyond playing a grumpy old man role) or the 1st Division Commander, which renders the revelations surrounding them a little impotent, bolstered only by watching Haruto's changing impressions of mankind at their hands.  Certainly, this series remains a decidedly uneven experience in every way possible - its animation moves from slick and fluid to borderline terrible, and its storyline veers from entertaining nonsense to overwrought drama at the drop of a hat.  This is a series that still doesn't seem to know exactly what it wants to be, and to be honest it really should have figured that out by now.

Beyond the Boundary - Episode 11

She may have been gone from the real world for three months, but Mirai Kuriyama is neither forgotten nor deceased - rather, she continues in her battle against Beyond the Boundary while a whole other world dangles unseen above the Earth.

Although nobody can see this odd phenomenon, Akihito can certainly hear it, even if he isn't sure what it is.  This isn't the only strange occurrence either, with Spirit World Warriors reporting a drop in their powers.  Something is amiss but nobody knows what, although perhaps if they were to look a little harder they would find that both Kuriyama and Beyond the Boundary's existences are being manipulated and meddled with by Fujima to his own ends.

From Akihito's point of view however, all he really cares about (beyond making up for three months in a coma without food and doing so with gusto) is finding Mirai or at least ascertaining what happened to her - a seemingly impossible task that leaves him decidedly depressed until the answer to his questions almost literally lands on his doorstep as Fujima's plan swings into full effect.  With some assistance and advice from his mother, Akihito has everything he requires to rescue Mirai... aside from the loss of his immortality that is; rather a major blow when you're trying to fend off an insanely powerful youmu, it has to be said.

Although a lot of this episode was really simply set-up for the grand finale to the series over the next couple of instalments, it felt like another strong outing - often stunning to look at and watch, and with a satisfying emotional core that was weakened only by some ill-advised forays into comedy courtesy of Akihito's mother which simply tried too hard to bring some levity to proceedings when something more subtle would have been more effective.  Even then, this series has certainly managed to turn itself around somewhat over the past few weeks - it isn't a resounding success all of a sudden, but it is at least a series that holds some emotional resonance and is making good use of its assets at last after far too long spent scrabbling around and focusing its attention in all the wrong places.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova - Episode 10

With the wool pulled over Kongou's eyes thanks to an effective use of Iona as a decoy, it seemed as if the wrath of the Fog fleet flagship had been avoided.  Chihaya had, however, reckoned without Iona's direct "sisters", a pair of submarines with no qualms about scuttling their kin.

Having been hit with a full-on assault, the I-401 is badly damaged as it sinks fast and begins to take on water, and to make things worse their opponent has succeeded in disabling most of Iona's ability to repair herself using nanomaterials - it seems that there's no escape from this situation as the submarine sinks, begins to collapse under the pressure and takes on yet more water.  Meanwhile, on the surface the duo's comrades both Fog and human begin the search for the I-401 when she fails to arrive at the rendezvous point, and with no sign of her they begin to fear the worst.  Without a similarly capable submarine in their number that could reach the depths inherent to this part of the ocean, a very real danger emerges that they may never find the I-401 regardless of the current status of its occupants.

Speaking of which, it's fair to say that Gunzou isn't exactly in the best of health, but rather than ensuring his own survival his commands ensure that Iona and the I-401 remain as functional as possible, even if that means purging the ship's oxygen system amongst other things.  With air running out and the temperature dropping rapidly, it seems like the game is up for Chihaya, as he orders Iona to prioritise her own survival and the mission at hand over his own life.  Ultimately, this is something that Iona simply will not accept when push comes to shove, as she shows a very human streak of selflessness in attempting to save Chihaya, while Takao in turn sacrifices herself to save both Gunzou and Iona.  With even Kongou's role within the Fog now under question however, this isn't the end of the battle by any stretch of the imagination...

After meandering into areas that really didn't work too well in my opinion, this week's Arpeggio of Blue Steel was at last a reminder of the kind of thing that its scenario can - and did on this occasion - deliver well.  The drama and tension of being trapped in a sunken submarine is a pivotal part of any movie featuring said craft, and this was brought to bear here alongside a sense of loneliness that not only pervaded the episode but also ultimately serviced its pivotal moment while making good use of Iona, and eventually Takao, as characters.  In a way, this feels like it would have been a satisfying (if bittersweet) end to the series, but there's still more to come, so hopefully we can get a little more top-notch naval action before this series is done too, allowing Arpeggio of Blue Steel to end as it began.

Plus, while we're at it, can they just hurry up and release this show's soundtrack already?  I don't want to have to wait another three weeks...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Monogatari Second Season - Episode 23

Having met with Nadeko - and more specifically her new Snake God form - Kaiki is keen to speak face-to-face with Senjougahara to update her on his progress.

Thus, the pair meet and head for Mister Donut, wherein Kaiki surprises Hitagi somewhat by stating that not only is everything in hand, but that tricking Sengoku into not killing Araragi, Shinobu and Senjougahara will be a piece of cake.  Essentially, such is the level of Nadekos' naivety and downright stupidity that he believes it will be no problem for him to befriend her and then inform her that Koyomi and Hitagi have died in a car accident - provided neither of them later reveal themselves to Sengoku at her shrine, that should be the end of the issue.  It's a big surprise for Senjougahara, and also a massive relief to the extent that her usual mask slips for once.

However, it seems that not everybody is quite so thrilled with Kaiki's work and activities, as he's later visited by Ononoki and warned off continuing down his current path - a message which comes all the way from Gaen.  Such is her eagerness for Kaiki to leave town and not disrupt the current status quo that she's willing to pay him a significant amount of money to do so - money that he's more than willing to accept, even if he has no intentions of giving up his work for Senjougahara.  But can he really trick Nadeko so easily?  And just what is hidden away in her closet back at home?

We're still waiting for any real payoff from this current story arc (unless its delightful opening animation which makes its debut this week counts), although it seems as if this may be on the way next week, and in the meantime this week's instalment again provides just enough wonderful character moments to carry it through.  Seeing some emotion from the normally deadpan Senjougahara is a notable moment in itself, Ononoki's appearances continue to offer some delightfully silly comedy, and above all else I'm still really enjoying following the story from Kaiki's perspective as a wonderfully dry and deceptive story-teller.  It may not be enough to recreate the magic of Bakemonogatari (and to an extent this series is still relying on those fond memories at times like these), but it's still hugely entertaining in its own right.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

White Album 2 - Episode 10

It's Setsuna's birthday, but it seems that Hazuki has something more important to do than attend his girlfriend's party, instead crying off by feigning illness in service of other ends.

In other words, it's Touma who has won out on this particular occasion, as Hazuki meets her at the airport to escort her back home out of the blue.  There is at least something of a method to his madness however - having met Kazusa's mother he now knows her future plans, and is insistent that Kazusa come along for Setsuna's birthday to explain these plans for herself, given that they involve her moving to Europe with her mum and thus breaking her previous promise to stick around with Setsuna forever.  Of course, Kazusa is none too keen on this idea - firstly because she's just finished a long flight, secondly because breaking someone's heart on their birthday is a bad idea no matter how you look at it, and thirdly because... well, the ensuing argument makes Kazusa's feelings for Hazuki totally clear, which he somehow has managed to be completely blind to the whole time.

With that out in the open, the second half of the episode takes a journey back to Kazusa and Hazuki's first meeting, as the former is moved away from the musical curriculum to be placed with the "riff-raff" - a move which doesn't impress her one bit as her history of poor attendance and lack of effort continues.  Of course, Hazuki is the exact opposite of this kind of half-arsed behaviour and wastes no time in pushing Kazusa into at least filling in the paperwork that she needs to - an effort which irritates her hugely, but one that she eventually warms to as more of Hazuki's personality comes into her view, ultimately leading to where we are now.

Although the normally likable Hazuki loses some major marks in this week's episode by acting like a jerk on several fronts ("Please ruin my girlfriend's birthday in the name of honesty, Kazusa"), this did at least make for perhaps the most emotionally charged moments we've encountered in this series - the row between Hazuki and Kazusa had a decent impact to it and worked well, which makes the needless descent into a flashback that spends half an episode explaining the bleeding obvious all the more frustrated.  It was already pretty clear how this pair's relationship had developed to where it now stands, so I'm not sure why we needed gaps that weren't really there filled in, and this ultimately served as nothing but a distraction at a point where I'm far more interested in what's going to happen next in the present.  Given his behaviour this week, I wouldn't be surprised if Hazuki breaks up with Setsuna before her birthday is over, then sets fire to her little brother in front of her just to finish the job.

Little Busters! Refrain - Episode 10

The core of the Little Busters have been reformed thanks to Riki's hard work, and it's time for the gang to pay Kyousuke a visit...

As the quartet head to Kyousuke's room, it's the main himself who becomes our guide and narrator for this episode, sending us into a recap of sorts that skims over all of the events of the entire series from his point of view.  In other words, this is the point where we finally get to see some of the wiring under the board and understand Kyousuke's place in proceedings.

As has already been made clear, Kyousuke has been a guiding hand throughout the events that Rin and Riki have been facing - however, it's the true scale of his influence that is revealed here, as he talks of effectively creating an entire world around the two characters and seeding that world with everything required for the pair to learn to grow, mature and outgrow their shortcomings.  When they failed, the world would be reset so that they could start over until they got things right - a plan which seemed to be working perfectly until Kyousuke's powers began to dwindle and his final attempt to ensure that Rin and Riki are ready for the true problems that face them goes badly wrong.  However, Riki's efforts to rebuild the Little Busters seem to have undone all of this damage - is it finally time for Kyousuke to claim victory and move on to reveal the secret of the world to his charges?

Although there's still plenty left to be explained, this proved to be a simple but pretty satisfying episode of Little Busters - sure, it was a little like a recap episode with a commentary track laid over it in places, but there were some striking visuals intermingled with this and narration that confirmed many of our expectations while still holding enough surprises or unexplained moments to keep some intrigue hanging in the air.  It seems as if the next couple of episodes will be the real make or break moment for the series, so we shall have to see what that offers to really pass any judgement, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Space Brothers - Episode 85

After some fraught and tense times that threatened to scupper both of their lunar ambitions, Mutta's flash of time-saving genius seems to have put things back on track for his and Kenji's team in this week's Space Brothers.

In fact, Mutta's inspirational moment has not only brought Kenji out of a period of shoe-gazing but also caused him to up his game markedly as he suggests and effects numerous time-saving measures of his own.  As the pair revert to their old ways and once again work in almost perfect harmony as a team, the building of their replica moon base continues apace.

As their time underwater comes towards an end, the only element missing is Mutta's lunar telescope - so what's the delay?  In short, Mutta has received word from Sharon that her current lunar telescope plans have been shelved by NASA, leaving her looking into alternative projects to file with the space agency.  Aside from his concern as to what this might do for Sharon's current well-being (which she does a very good job of covering up in her e-mails to Mutta), he also has to decide on any alternate plans to complete his own construction project.  Cue another moment of genius that gets even the bigwigs at NASA talking...

Having put two eminently likable characters at loggerheads as they fight over a single place on a lunar mission, it was really satisfying to see them put this to one side to work together and rekindle their friendship in this week's episode - another feel-good moment to add to the list of other such occurrences provided by this series.  It also provides a fitting (if far from dramatic) end to this story arc as we move onwards once again, and as always I'm keen to see what Space Brothers plans to serve up next.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 9

Now that the initial shock surrounding the appearance of King Torture and his minions has dissipated, any initial terror has faded to a sense of mere boredom of the regular appearances of these agents of low-key terror - and to be honest, when their nefarious plans involve giving people split ends it's  hardly surprising.

Such is the apathy towards these events that Flamenco Girl and her cohorts can't even be bothered to show up at all, while Goto rolls up lately merely to file the necessary paperwork and the news relegates any news of Samurai Flamenco's latest victory to that frivolous "silly story after the weather" segment of bulletins.  Thus, Hazama is effectively left to his own devices as the sole protector of the Earth from King Torture - a role which he doesn't seem to mind too much, even if he's increasingly resentful at being left holding the proverbial piranha baby.

As for Flamenco Girl, her bad mood and irritation at having no crotches to stomp on leads to her laying down a televised challenge to King Torture to up his game and give her a worthy fight - an outburst which might just be playing into this villains plans.  With Goto deciding he's had enough of Hazama's attitude and considering switching jobs, this fractured state of affairs plays right into King Torture's hands - it's time for him to escalate his efforts and start really living up to his name and reputation...

While some episodes of Samurai Flamenco have been enjoyable as pure comedy outings, this week's instalment is a little more dark and subversive in its sense of humour - asides from poking fun at Super Sentai shows as it has to some extent throughout, the nature of human apathy when something unusual and threatening becomes everyday seems like a pointed commentary on an era of 24-hour news media and the constant crowing about terrorist threats which leads to people ignoring situations until something really bad happens.  That all of this is delivered with a chuckle and a smile as the show sets itself up for wherever it plans to head next is rather delicious, and the added bite to an already entertaining show is certainly playing its part in keeping the series engaging.