Thursday, 31 January 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 4

Everyone has their price, and in Kobato's case her price seems to be some limited edition anime merchandise.  Don't worry Kobato, you're not the only won.

Anyway, the reason that Kobato has to be bought off at all is that Sena has managed to snag some tickets for a theme park, and of course she wants to take Kobato along as a treat.  Thankfully for her, the rest of the group also expresses an interest in going so before we know it the entire thing turns into a day trip for the Neighbours Club - a trip which involves a mind-breaking trip on a roller-coaster as one of its highlights.

The day also provides another opportunity for Sena and Kodaka to get a little closer to one another, although of course Sena is so tsundere about the whole thing that no real progress is made on that front, even when the two of them are mistaken for Kobato's parents.  Once Yozora and Sena's rivalry gets fired up again, the aforementioned roller-coaster becomes their battleground, with.... nauseating results.  After (and let's not beat around the bush here) being spewed upon copiously by the two girls, there's nothing for it than for the group to head off to the baths (do Japanese theme parks usually have baths?  Genuine question) - a simple affair you might think, but one which reveals a shocking truth about Yukimura.  Okay, okay, so it's shocking to nobody but hey, our suspicions are now confirmed and Kodaka can now feel a little less guilty when his body runs away with him.

As it goes, this was another passable episode of Haganai - it managed to keep Yozora and Sena from tearing strips off of one another too much, and ignoring the suggestion that Yozora had rather a lot to do with Yukimura's gender confusion (which would be another low for an already disagreeable character) this was a relatively entertaining episode in terms of simply allowing its characters to bound off of one another.  The trouble is that we basically know all the jokes that this series can pull by this point, which makes the whole thing a little too predictable - unless the show can find some smart ways to shake things up (and no, Yukimura's gender doesn't count) then it has little hope of offering anything other than occasional glimpses of good humour.  I'm not hating watching this series - I'd have dropped it if I were - but its halcyon days were surely over long ago.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Tamako Market - Episode 4

It's festival time for the market district in this week's Tamako Market, giving us some reminiscences about Anko (sorry, An) and her own festival experiences as a younger kid.

It seems that young Anko is growing up as quickly as Dera is growing fat (and boy, is he growing fat), as this week's episode reveals that she seems to have developed something of a crush on one of her classmates.  Shy those she is around the boy in question, an ideal opportunity to spend some time with him seems to develop when some of Anko's friends invite both her and the lad in question to an afternoon at the local museum that weekend.

At least, it would be an ideal opportunity were it not for Anko's responsibilities towards her family's mochi store on that very same day; an extremely busy one given that it clashes with the festival in the district.  Even when Anko's grandfather figures out a way to allow her to get what is required of her done at the store so that she can also leave and visit the museum, it seems as if fate has ordained that she not make it as she finds herself sidetracked.  All's well that ends well though, as it seems that her crush hasn't forgotten about her despite her inability to turn up at the museum...

I feel like it isn't harsh to say this now that we're four episodes into the series, so here goes - I'm really not sure what the point of Tamako Market is any more.  Its first couple of episodes seemed well-placed to set the scene and put Dera into a position where he and his situation could work their magic upon the story, but since that point he's become little more than the comic relief in what is ostensibly just another sweet slice of life show.  There was ample room even within this for Anko's situation to be given some more interesting narrative to work with but no, instead we stay ensconced in our happy little world where any upset is strictly temporary.  Within an idealised comedy world (such as that of K-ON or Hidamari Sketch) it works just fine, but although there are a couple of pretty funny moments here Tamako Market sold us the initial promise that it was going to be something more - a promise that it can still deliver upon, certainly, but one that it's neglecting terribly at the moment.

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 14

Another long break between episodes has once again made it difficult to get back into the swing of Episode of Side-A (this series really isn't suited to big gaps between instalments, sadly), but let's see if we can remember what the Hell is going on in the Nationals semi-final.

This fourteenth episode begins with the final hand in Ako's match - not the most successful of hands for the Achiga girl, but it still marks a broadly profitable outing for the club's third player to keep them in second place in preparation for the fourth and penultimate pair of games to see who has what it takes to make it all the way to the final.

Inevitably, this means that a whole new world of mahjong madness is rolled out to meet Arata (as Achiga's representative for these hands), who has some rather particular tricks up her sleeve thanks to Harue's tutelage.  But is it enough to meet a series of rivals including one girl who can effectively pre-determine the results of her team's next player at Shindouji, and another who can effectively "fish out" tiles to build her hands to speedy perfection.  Arata's biggest threat might well be Senriyama's data-hungry Hiroko however, who is initially baffled by Arata's blending of her own style with Harue's, but is she on to this little trick already?

As I mentioned in the introduction, it's really tough to get fired up about this series when there are long breaks between episodes that destroy the natural flow of watching these high-stake games play out, but once you get back into the heat of the action it's hard not to enjoy the ebb and flow of the match even when its participants are boasting ever-more ludicrous "special powers" that are now beyond the realm of the subtle and safely into "bonkers shounen" territory.  Considering how ridiculous parts of the show are, it's hard to put a finger on exactly why it works so well - I'm not obsessed with the relationships between characters or anything like that, so I suppose it's just the expertly crafted tension imbued in the matches that keeps me coming back for more, and hopefully the final two episodes of this series will bring me back to the point of sitting on the edge of my seat or punching the air with glee, for that is what Saki at its best is all about for me personally.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 17

It's time to hit fast forward again on the world (or rather, the new world) of Shin Sekai Yori this week, as we take another leap forward in the life of Saki and company to rejoin her as a twenty-six year old woman.

As you would expect Saki is settled into a comfortable job at this point in time, working as she does for the "Department of Mutant Management", a division which handles relations between the various Monster Rat colonies for the most part.  It seems to be a curious job, involving handling paperwork when colonies want to attack one another, overseeing the resulting battles that they arrange and generally ensuring that some semblance of law and order is kept over all of the colonies, like some kind of high-powered United Nations substitute that deals with mutant colonies.

The reason that we rejoin Saki at this point in time is that something odd is afoot, with Satoru visiting his old friend to quiz her about an attack on a colony doing work for the department to which he has been assigned.  It appears that this attack is part of a turf war over the allocation of this work between the Giant Hornets who hold that position and our old "friends" the Robber Fly colony who would seek to take it over, but with no paperwork filed for the attack things are clearly going on away from the watchful eyes of humankind.  As Saki's department investigates, we get to dip our toe into the kind of lies, propaganda and conflicts now bubbling over between colonies, as well as seeing the extent of technological progression that some of those colonies now possess to give themselves an almost unassailable upper hand over any opponent.  It's a progression that clearly unnerves Saki, and it's an introduction to some far murkier waters for her by all accounts as this story arc continues.

While another jump forward in time may be a little disconcerting for a moment, one we regain our bearings this week's Shin Sekai Yori was another fascinating one - the politics of Monster Rat colonies probably shouldn't be all that interesting yet somehow manage to be just that, and the role of their human overlords clearly has plenty to say on a whole number of topics.  You can't shake the undoubted feeling that there is no shortage of social commentary at work here - never mind the so-called mutants, aspects of this episode are blatantly trying to hold a mirror up to humanity and the connections between war and politics while questioning the necessity of it all.  There's so much more to it than this that I could go on all night about it, but suffice it to say that there's a lot to chew on in this series and not for the first time - one of the reasons why it's so enjoyable to watch for the most part.

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 4

It's election night, but can David Cameron win a second term in office?  Wait, sorry, wrong elections...

The introduction to the AKB0048 General Elections already threw up a major surprise in tenth place in the voting, but not to be cowed by that piece of drama this entire episode is dedicated to running down the rest of the rankings while doing its darnedest to depict the drama and tension as events unfold.  Of course, while all of this is going on much of the tension is actually swirling around in Chieri's head, as she tries to come to terms with her father's influence over the election and voting towards her and what she should do in its wake.  Should she quit the group?  Would that mean letting down her genuine fans?

Ultimately, this question seems to answer itself on her behalf as Chieri finds herself occupying the number six spot in the rankings - a moment which she's built up to such heights in her own mind that by the time her name is read out she's a hyperventilating semi-conscious mess who barely manages to stumble on stage.  Rather than quit however, it seems that the entire experience as merely strengthened her resolve to reach the top - and she isn't the only one either, as even the normally meek Nagisa seems to have gained a fierce competitive streak from watching events unfold during the course of the night.

While this week's episode of AKB0048 is largely as far removed from the show's "space opera" setting as it could possibly hope to be, it actually proves to be all the more fascinating for it, shining a light upon the General Elections partaken in by the real AKB48.  Looking at it as an outsider on this particular group and their world, the obvious initial reaction is "wow, this is fucking weird" - a crazy and intense scenario that somehow manages to mix together friendships and rivalries, selflessness and hard-nosed ambitious into a single, heaving madhouse that contains enough tears to fill the oceans a thousand times over.  Then again, is this really any different from any reality TV show?  No, it isn't, and although that kind of thing isn't for me you can't deny that it isn't a piece of hugely smart money-making without compare in its sphere.

Anyhow, all of that is by the by when it comes to discussion of this episode in its purest terms, but it does speak to how this series has managed to capture at least some of the essence of its inspiration, and I think that's an important (and positive) feather in its cap that also managed to wring some decent emotion and drama from the midst of its relative insanity.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 17

Last week saw the end of an era within Bakuman, as Nizuma bowed out with his final chapter of Crow, only to refocus himself upon his next project and what he claims will be the best manga ever written.

If only Iwase could steal just a fraction of Eiji's confidence, as NATURAL continues its inexorably downwards slide towards cancellation.  Needless to say, it isn't something that she takes well, and unable to face up to her ability to rival Takagi and the like she shuts herself away while refusing to write any more.  When news of this reaches Takagi he realises that something needs to be done, and luckily himself and Mashiro know exactly how to push just the right buttons to get her back on track.

There are even bigger changes afoot as the episode progresses, as the opening of a new magazine sees some massive changes amongst the Shounen Jack editorial staff - most notably, it means a new position at the aforementioned new magazine for the chief editor, who decides to announce the news by visiting all of the authors in person and thanking them for their efforts.  This is particularly poignant in Mashiro's case, as the chief finally gets to unburden himself of discussions he'd previously had with Mashiro's uncle while confessing (to the surprise of his hosts) that it was this promise to look after Mashiro were he ever to become a manga artist that led to him being overly harsh in his demands on the pair.  Never mind all this soppy nonsense however - both Nizuma and Ashirogi Muto have new manga concepts on the brain!

With its latest major story arc put to bed last time around, there was a little time for Bakuman to luxuriate in shaking things up and turning them around before setting us on the track to what will surely bring us to the finale of the series.  If I had one wish here it's that a little more time was spent making the most of the magazine's editorial shake-up - it would have been great to have some time to focus on the editors and their rivalries for once away from the demands of the artists in their care.  Still, I'm suitably hyped for the next showdown between Ashirogi Muto and Nizuma Eiji, even if their respective ideas were starting to sound like Code Geass and Kore wa Zombie desu ka for a second...

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Little Busters! - Episode 16

Having taken a break from any real drama last week, we return to a proper story arc in this sixteenth episode of Little Busters, which finds Haruka Saigusa in her usual top-notch trouble-making form as she enjoys her usual round of practical jokes.

It isn't long before we get to see a different side of Haruka however, as she tells of her fondness for a particular school bench (I'm not making this up by the way) and the memories that it brings up, in particular the fact that Naoe was the first person to approach her with any sort of kindness.  Kindness certainly isn't something that is on the school's "public moral committee" chairman's mind however, as Kanata Futaki decrees that the bench be destroyed immediately with no regard for Haruka's distraught reaction to their attempt to do so.

This is but the pre-cursor for Futaki throwing the book at Saigusa via a disciplinary hearing which rolls off all of the various "crimes" which Haruka has committed.  Once Saigusa finds herself accused of one particular misdemeanour that she didn't even commit, her attitude changes from resignation to outright anger - in short, she flips her lid, and in takes the rest of the Little Busters to calm her down.  Come the next day however, rumours are beginning to circulate of a most dark nature - namely, that Haruka's father is a convicted murder.  It's a tale that is about to shed a whole lot more light on Saigusa's family history, as well as the overt antagonism shown towards her by Futaki.

Compared to a lot of Little Busters so far it wouldn't take all that much to constitute a major improvement in its story-telling abilities - unfortunately, it would be too much of a stretch even to call this episode a major step up over previous arcs, but it is at least a half-decent episode.  Provided you can get over the coincidental of all of these bad things happening to Haruka one after another, and assuming you don't mind the soap opera-esque revelations about her family, I'm at least a little interested to see where the series runs with this story, especially given that aspects of it have been foreshadowed for quite some time now.  I doubt it'll be enough to lift Little Busters out of its current "well, it's okay..." rut, but you have to take what you can get with this show at the moment.

Space Brothers - Episode 42

Rather than Space Brothers leaving me on the edge of my seat, the last couple of weeks has seen me perch myself on the edge of my seat before even starting the episode to save me needing to move later.

This seems to be a wise move as Hibito's nightmare continues - in spite of his best efforts to keep colleague Damien alive he seems to be slipping away as the cold penetrates his body ever further, while Hibito is having to consume more and more oxygen to keep moving in the hope of reaching the surface and sunlight in time.  Once again putting Damien's life first, Hibito stops to use his only flare - supposed to be deployed to let everyone know where he is - to warm Damien's body before continuing on his way and finally reaching the (temporary) nirvana of the sunlit-drenched lunar surface.

With NASA refusing to list to Mutta's hunch as to what his brother would do in this emergency and where he would end up, Hibito arrives outside of the ravine to find no signs of rescue, while those would-be rescuers have just reached the crash site.  Again, Damien comes first as Hibito does what is required to give him enough sunlight to warm his body, but not too much to the point where it could effectively boil him alive.  It's only at this point that it strikes Hibito just how alone he is out here on the lunar surface once again, although not as alone as he thinks he is as NASA have started receiving data from his spacesuit again even if they can't contact him directly.  Even this moment of relief is short-lived for all concerned, as the most terrible of truths come to light - Hibito has ten minutes of oxygen left, but rescue is at least twenty minutes away.  It's a scenario that Hibito himself also seems to have realised; just how should a man spend his final minutes of life on the moon?

Having already wrought so much tension and emotion out of its current goings-on, we're at the point where we know what to expect from the series right now, and once again it delivers - tension, drama and intense emotions rule the day here as we're again related a brutal depiction of the harsh reality of this planet so near, yet so far, from Earth.  It speaks to how engaged we are with Space Brothers characters that even in the face of the impossible you can't help but hope and cross your fingers that someone, something, anything saves Hibito - alas, I shall have to steel myself for another week - and perhaps even longer - to find out if those prayers will be answered.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 4

They say that variety is the spice of life, but in Minami-ke's case surely the most potent of added ingredients must be Hosaka?

It's that culinary theme which runs throughout much of this week's episode, which means that there's no shortage of the bonkers, shirt button challenged Hosaka - another attempt to give Haruka his home-made boxed lunch is sidetracked into thoughts about sweating and volleyball as the episode starts in an absolutely hilarious fashion, and after a deep and almost combative discussion with Natsuki about feeding his family and some discussions about how Haruka and friends like their eggs (or are they really talking about eggs at all?) the instalment ends with Hosaka moving his attention not to the food itself but the vessel in which it is placed, again with some decidedly funny consequences.

Sandwiched into all this is Hitomi's own interest in Natsuki (which also makes itself known via food for the most part), and the problems that come from trying to dry clothes in the rainy season, a problem exacerbated when Chiaki and her friends managed to get soaked in a downpour by goofing around.  Still, it isn't such a big deal running out of clothes when you happen to have a bunch of nun outfits laying around the house, right?

The use of Hosaka within an episode of Minami-ke doesn't always guarantee hilarity, but it does grant a dose of the absurd and surreal that always gives the series an extra dimension and this is certainly the case here.  After those quietly enjoyable early episodes the first half of this week's instalment hit all of the right notes in terms of getting laughs out of me, and there's no doubting that Hosaka and his obsessions of food, Haruka and going shirtless (not necessarily in that order) were the runaway highlights of the episode.  The series wouldn't work if Hosaka featured every week - like the best of spices, he needs to be used carefully and in limited qualities - but it makes the moments where Minami-ke nails down a rich vein of humour all the more delicious to savour.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 3

If you've been wondering "where's the karuta" for the first couple of episodes of this new season of Chihayafuru, then wonder no more, as this week's episode brings us the regional qualifiers of the national high school karuta championship.  Oh, and remember that guy named Arata?  He might just be putting in an appearance there too.

Let's not get ahead of ourselves however, as first there are those potentially tricky regional qualifiers to navigate before Chihaya and Arata have any chance to coming face-to-face, and with a couple of newcomers in there team there's a question as to how they should line up in their opening games.  Mind you, it's a question that seems to have an obvious answer - leave the first years on the sidelines - but with Tsukuba desperate to strut his stuff in front of his watching brothers (despite having never won a match in practive) and Sumire having some... charms... of her own, Tsutomu figures they might as well switch things up and try and use the newcomers to their tactical advantage.

With Chihaya, Taichi and Nishida leading the way, there isn't actually that much pressure on the two newbies to perform, but regardless both of them still show a competitive streak when it comes to the crunch.  While this is expected of Tsukuba (despite being pitted against a class A player), it's more of a surprise in the case of Sumire - as predicted by Chihaya, watching the club founder wiping the floor with her opponent in comparison to her the way her own opponent looks down on her as "just a cute girl" leaves her determined to make her mark and gain an unlikely (and ultimately impossible) victory.  With Chihaya seemingly playing better than ever, is she at a level where she can face Shinobu at the national tournament?  For Shinobu's part, she sees more interested in the return of Arata...

Another week brings us another incredibly enjoyable episode of Chihayafuru - pitting Mizusawa against the same clubs as they faced in season one was perhaps not the most exciting narrative decision, but it did offer us a chance to get to know the group's newcomers a little better and there's a whole lot of pleasure to be found in watching both Sumire and Tsukubua grow and develop under the nurturing gaze of those who have trodden in their footsteps before.  Plus, this week reminded us of Arata's existence - am I a bad person for having practically forgotten all about him?

Robotics;Notes - Episode 14

Chaos has suddenly descended on the world of Robotics;Notes come the end of last week's episode, with a blackout and robots rampaging in Tokyo, and Kona attempting suicide as her emotions run away with her back in Tanegashima.

Clearly, the pressure is on for Furugoori, as she appears to have been framed for the currently occurring rise of the robots (hey, someone should make a video game based around that title) - with a little more digging, it seems as if the culprit is also closer to home than she might like, as whoever has hacked into the systems used to operate all of the domestic robots currently going berserk on the streets has also hooked control of their hack into Kill-Ballad.  Fortuitously, they've also set up a CPU player as the key to controlling the system; defeat it, and you can shut the system down.

Needless to say, there's only one person who can possibly defeat the computer at Kill-Ballad and win the day, and that's Kai - but can he really beat a CPU player who cheats whenever his health gets too low?  The only thing for it seems to be for Kai to make use of his "slow-motion mode", but given that he has no direct control over it activating that mode is a case of easier said than done.  As Kai works his socks off to win this all-important game with lives in Tokyo at stake, we delve a little deeper still into Kona's psyche and what drives her.

I joked last week about the number of false starts this series has had in terms of putting the pedal to the proverbial medal, and after finally feeling hyped up about things from the previous episode I was once again left feeling disappointed by what was served up to us this week.  Having built in so many mechanisms to generate tension by virtue of what was going on in Tokyo, this week's Robotics;Notes somehow managed to squander all of that possible tension entirely, feeling rather leisurely until the closing minutes when it finally got to down to business, however briefly.  The focus on Kona's state of mind and line of thought was a valuable addition to the show thus far, certainly, but it all came at the expense of a feeling that the robot revolution and solar flare that were crippling Tokyo were really of little to no import at all - the episode itself seemed more interested in Kill-Ballad than the dance of destruction going on in the capital, which lent a weirdly disconnected feeling between two scenarios that were intrinsically linked together.  The longer this goes on, the more I begin to suspect that this series is going to be closer in overall quality to Chaos;Head than Steins;Gate...

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 3

This week's Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai splits itself down the middle, dealing as it does with a pair of shorter stories.

First up, Kodaka and Kobato find themselves with an unexpected (and in one case at least unwanted) visitor to their home - Maria, who has run away from home in the most convenient way possible having been shown where to go and how to get there by her sister Kate.  In other words, she's come for an uninvited sleepover with Kobato, who doesn't mind quite as much as she makes out.  Despite having not run away from home in the traditional sense, Kate is clearly worried about her younger sister - not that she needs to, as Kodaka has everything well in hand.

For the second half of the episode, the Neighbours Club find themselves wanting for something to do with exams over and the break beginning.  But how can they pass the time?  Rika's suggestion that they play the king's game strikes fear into the heart of those present given the personalities of those involved, but thankfully Kodaka is at least sensible enough to set up a lottery that ensures that anyone could receive any action, thus stopping things from getting out of hand.  Then again, when the inevitable instruction for a participant to kiss the "king" comes along, things threaten to get a little fraught.

So goes another pretty okay episode of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - no huge laugh out loud moments and only very occasional prods towards development of characters or their relationships, wrapping up in a colourful and mildly entertaining package that I'll probably have forgotten all about by lunchtime.  The series certainly feels far more palatable when Yozora's bullying (and Sena's reactions to it) are strictly limited, so if nothing else I can only hope for more of the same in the coming weeks as it's the one aspect that turns me off the whole series immeasurably.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - Episode 3

If last week's instalment of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai wasn't enough for you, then fasten your seat belts for a whole lot more of the same in this week's episode.

Having introduced us to the concept of the divine god Amaterasu last week, this third episode in the series focuses more upon Sasami's family, revealing that she was raised at a shrine with the explicit purpose of becoming a vessel for Amaterasu; a job which requires special powers, constant training and hardships and the kind of consistent DNA which only comes from... well, incest basically.  Thus, not only is Kamiomi the brother of Sasami, he's also her slave and protector, and when Sasami decided enough was enough and went on the run from her family it was Kamiomi she opted to take with him.

As Sasami reaches further conclusions about her brother being Amaterasu's current carrier, so an emergency "alteration" appears in the form of a third arm upon Sasami's chest, who quickly informs Kamiomi of his sister's reports, in turn causing him to return to the family shrine to offer himself up as what is ostensibly a sacrifice so that Sasami can continue to live her own life.  This kind of thankless and selfless sacrifice is exactly what Sasami doesn't want from her brother, and thus she sets out to rescue him - something which proves relatively easy when you have the real Ammaterasu and her spin-offs in tow, and something which becomes easier still when it proves that your original theory was way off-base.

If nothing else, I have to hand it to Sasami-san@Ganbaranai for even bothering to explain away every aspect of its story - it could so easily have just left some of its concepts be and done with it, but instead it dots every "i" and crosses every "t" in the name of explaining its world.  However, that doesn't really prevent this episode from being the least entertaining of the series so far; shorn of his humour and absurd sense of fun for the most part, all we're really left with is a bunch of stuff happening accompanied by explanatory monologues of what's going on.  I can only assume that this episode takes us to the end of the first light novel in the series from which this anime is adapted, so I'm certainly curious to see what direction it takes next - I'm not ashamed to say that with its "serious business" seemingly resolved for the most part, I'm hoping for more absurd fripperies moving forward as that seem to be where both the series and SHAFT's presentation of it are best suited.

Vividred Operation - Episode 3

Fighting aliens is all good and well, but it also comes with its downsides - namely, when said alien destroys your school entirely.

Still, life isn't so bad when you have a new school to attend with a dress code that requires the wearing of figure-hugging shorts at all times, and thus Akane and company set off for their first day with some excitement... or at least, they would if Akane wasn't running late.  Solving this problem seems simple enough - simply use her "Vivid System" to make up for lost time - but as the military's best-kept secret she soon blows her cover by running into kendo ace Wakaba Saegusa, who wastes no time in attacking her as an intruder.

Although Akane manages to fend off Wakaba, this is only the beginning of her problems - defeating Wakaba has only left her thirsty for a rematch with the mysterious girl who confronted her, and what's more Wakaba is actually the class representative of the class Akane is about to join.  It's hard for Akane to hide her identity, and Saegusa's insistence that she wants to challenge the girl who defeated her doesn't help matters.  Still, sometimes friendship can be born from rivalry, and the appearance of another Alone makes this all-but a necessity.

Having won me over utterly last week, this third instalment of Vividred Operation failed to live up to the expectations set by that episode, perhaps inevitably - the need to set up a new character was inevitably going to take us away from the action, and on the flip side of this the episode seemed even more determined to give us time to ponder how the various girls look in tight shorts.  Conversely, some moments of the episode also felt rushed - Akane's switch from hiding her identity to confronting Wakaba without a care in the world was rather too swift, and Saegusa's knowledge of how to use the Vivid System and Docking was baffling without any context to assure us that it had been explained to her.  Still, the episode looked pretty polished, and the previous instalment showed us what the series can do, so even at a lower ebb such as this one it's still a pretty watchable affair.  Hopefully its Strike Witches comparisons won't extend to only tackling action scenes at the end of each episode, as I'm not sure the wider story or its characters are ready to support that.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Psycho-Pass - Episode 14

Sibyl system or not, having someone just walk into a pharmacy on the hunt for drugs and kill a couple of people in the name of finding said medication just isn't going to happen, right?

Wrong.  When a strange, helmet-wearing man succeeds in doing just this, it's no surprise that the Public Safety Bureauare called to the scene.  Just how could such a blatant criminal breeze past all of the Psycho-Pass scanners installed as security, kill two people brutally and walk right back out again without anyone batting an eyelid?  It's obvious that the helmet is the key to all of this, but there's little time to dwell on the situation as reports soon come in of another murder - again, the culprit is with helmet, and this time he committed his crime in front of not just a Psycho-Pass scanner but also a crowd who simply looked on nonplussed.

It's Kogami who begins to put two and two together about these incidents, and as yet another crime is reported he takes his first major step towards identified the killer.  Once they've figured out who this person might be and where he lives, a visit to his home soon confirms his motives, while an initial attempt to stop him reveals the "trick" behind his helmet.  From here, it's a simple matter of shepherding the suspect where they need him to go so that they can bring him to justice - a fine piece of police work, but perhaps a drop in the ocean when the real mastermind behind it all is still very much at large...

I realise that it might be a little boring me saying this about the series every week, but this was another great, great episode of Psycho-Pass - as has so often been the case with this show, the core concept of what it was trying to do and the ideas it explored were obvious and pretty simple, but the execution and simply allowing things to play out without getting caught up in defending or demonising the politics of the world made for a top-notch standalone instalment even without the implications for the wider series as a whole.  In short, Psycho-Pass remains as good as ever, and a welcome addition to my week's viewing, somewhat gratuitous violence and all.

Tamako Market - Episode 3

Spring has sprung, but there isn't much spring in Dera's step as this third episode of Tamako Market begins - that's what you get for constantly stuffing your face with mochi, I guess.

Luckily for him, Dera has someone to catch him when he falls, in the form of badminton club ace Shiori Asagiri - a girl who now just so happens to be in the same class as Tamako and Kanna.  Never one to miss an opportunity to make new friends, Tamako looks to seek out Shiori's friendship, only to be given the coldest of shoulders.  When another plummet from the sky reunites Dera and Shiori however, the latter finds herself ended up at Tamako's before circumstances contrive to keep her there for dinner and bath-time.

After all this, it turns out that Shiori is just dying to make some friends and hang out with them like this, but her shyness and inability to verbalise her feelings and opinions leaves her isolated and alone, made worse as she chooses to avoid her shyness by ignoring people who try to talk to her, leaving Tamako assuming that she was overly familiar when she gets the cold shoulder again the next day.  It takes another contrived visit to Tamako's place and some wise words from Dera to allow Asagiri to open her heart to Tamako, and come the episode the two are officially friends.

Let's get the headline for this week's Tamako Market out of the way - it was boring as hell.  If you're playing anime cliché bingo, you probably managed to get a full house by the end of this episode between its character tropes and well-worn scenarios, while the contrivances pulled to keep Shiori's side of the story moving were mind-numbingly stupid.  On the positive side, there were some good touches of humour sprinkled throughout the episode which amused me suitably, but it really isn't enough to dodge the fact that there was nothing original or interesting about the episode, and without any particularly lovable characters (Shiori might as well be a cardboard cut-out) to invest in the whole thing falls flat.  This instalment also worries me that this series is going to turn into some kind of "problem of the week" affair for a while, where someone has an emotional issue that Dera somehow helps to resolve in some subtle way - if so, it's going to be a loooong winter.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 16

Their search for Maria and Mamoru was never going to be easy, but should Saki and Satoru even be continuing it at all?  Perhaps not, given the content of the letter written to them by Maria and handed to them by Squnk.

In short, the letter's contents amounts to "please don't try to find us", but Mari has plenty more to say besides this in what turns to be a rather large monologue - a fond look back upon her life and friendship with Saki, and something of a damning indictment of the village she called home for so long in light of the truth she and her friends learned about the populace, their history and the way they handle future generations.  Long-winded though it might be, it actually serves as a powerful summary of, and opinion piece towards, everything we've seen in the series to date, and it's worth watching just to soak in some further thought on those topics alone.

Despite initially steeling themselves to do as Maria asks and return to their elders to report that she's dead (and even considering an offer from Squera to create some fake skeletons for the bodies), Saki ultimately can't bring it upon herself to abandon her friend, and so their search continues.  The longer this hunt goes on, the more a depressing reality hits Saki - that virtually everything that she knew and loved has been lost forever.   That is, of course, to reckon without Satoru, but that aside it appears that the series might be about to take a new turn as a hauntingly vivid dream has some macabre requests to make of our protagonist.

Having hit plenty of high notes in recent weeks, this instalment of Shin Sekai Yori felt perhaps a little too meandering to be considered as suitable company for some of those better episodes - it just never quite managed to link some really interesting and impressive points of discussion and story-telling together in an entirely satisfying way.  Thankfully, there's still no shortage of good material to pick through when you take the episode scene by scene - its early segment was almost part-recap but still had plenty of interesting things to say, and Saki's inner thought processes and realisations are also fascinating on multiple levels, both within the core of the series and as a wider treatise on puberty and growing up.  With another leap forward in time seemingly on the cards starting with the next instalment, I'm once again intrigued as to where Shin Sekai Yori is ultimately heading.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 16

The final battle (for now at least) between Nizuma and Ashirogi Muto is upon us, and it seems as if our pair of heroes have something rather special up their sleeves to compete for the top spot in their final opportunity to dislodge their rival from his perch at the top of the tree.

Certainly, as Mashiro and Takagi unveil the manuscript for their latest chapter to Hattori, he seems delighted enough, and the presence of a colour spread which has been woven smartly into the story only serves to strengthen its appeal.  Is it really enough to beat Crow however?  While we're teased as to the preliminary survey results after the chapters in question hit the magazine, we don't have to wait for the final results to come through...

If you're hoping for some kind of happily ever after ending at this point, think again - Eiji wins the day in spite of an impressive performance by both PCP and Road Racer Giri, meaning that Nizuma gets his wish and ends Crow a few weeks later.  Not that this is the end of his manga career - there's no off position on the genius switch and it seems that he already has a number of top-notch manga that he's "doodled" while working on Crow laying around; what's more, Ashirogi Muto's comments printed alongside Crow's farewell chapter seem to have inspired him yet further, as he promises to create "the best manga ever seen" with his next work.  And thus, Onii-chan no Koto nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne was born....

If I have to express disappoint about anything in this episode, it's that Ashirogi Muto's "twist" in their search for top spot felt a little limp compared to all of the build-up and exclamations of amazement surrounding it - that aside, this was a good finale to a great story arc that has made the most of the simple pleasures of this series, that being a bunch of manga artists competing to be the top of their trade that carries itself courtesy of strong characters and well-paced storytelling.  Whereas in the past I'd be a little dismayed at a good segment of the show ending in case something less stellar was on its way instead, this third season of the series has left me feeling bullish about whatever direction Bakuman might go in next.  Hopefully it won't disappoint.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman - Episode 3 (Dropped)

He might be an arch thief, but Ishikawa Gojuemon's weakness towards women proves to be his undoing, as an encounter at a brothel leads to his demise when she takes control of Gojuemon by showing him the Boards of Canada album cover within her eyes.

Meanwhile, Roman and his group of helpers are investigating the case of a missing map - not just any old map either, but Japan's most detailed geographical record, a map which would be invaluable in the hands of an opponent looking to go to war with Japan...  Needless to say, recovering the map is a high priority (not least because it commands a handsome reward), and so off sets Roman on a train that leads him to... Ishikawa Gojuemon, of course.

Luckily this isn't where the trail runs entirely cold, as Roman's sister (and more importantly her dog) tracks down the map, allowing them to follow it to its new destination and a shocking truth - that it's about to fall into the hands of a foreign military force.  To try and prevent this, it's time for Roman to don his special armour and snatch the map back - the trouble is, he's reckoned without that aforementioned Boards of Canada album cover, a guest appearance from Catwoman, and a bunch of shit blowing up.

I really shouldn't so surprised at having to say this about a series born from a pachinko machine, but Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is dumb with a capital 'M' - this week's episode sees it completely incapable of finding a good way of introducing a character other than having a policeman shout his name, alias and who he is to the audience, the action scenes are pretty ropey (and never mind the fact that Roman's armour is unexplained, this show has zombies in it so don't expect logical consistency here), and the shocking twists that should punctuate the climax of all that action is laughably stupid and contrived.  Having said I'd give this series more of a chance last week I've now come to my senses... watching clips on Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman might pass off as a "so bad it's good endeavour", but I don't have the patience nor the masochistic streak to sit through any more of the bullshit that it makes up as it goes along.  Did I mention how dumb this show is yet, by the way?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 3

Chieri has done the seemingly impossible and made it into the top ten in the preliminary general election results for the group - so why does she look so miserable about the whole thing?

Given everyone's busy schedule there's little time to dwell on such things, as attention soon turns to a hand shaking event the next day which could well further influence results.  It seems that even this can't bring any cheer Chieri's way, as one of her fans regales her with praise about a recent noodle commerical she appeared in... except neither she nor the management sanctioned any such commercial, much to her irritation.

As the episode progresses we learn the real reason for Chieri's anger about this advertisement - not so much about the commercial itself but rather it's source, that being a company owned by none other than her father and the Zodiac Group, with footage compiled from that same group's coverage of her trial.  Indeed, Chieri learns that her father has seemingly had a change in heart about Chieri's career choice, and is now backing her to the hilt with all of the amassed resources at his disposal - of course, we know that there's more to this change in attitude than meets the eye, but that matters not to Chieri anyway as she sees all of her recent success as being nothing but underhanded and "cheating" compared to the hard work of her friends.  But is there really anything she can do about it as election night arrives?

Although I can't really fault this week's episode of AKB0048 in terms of progressing its story, it didn't really manage to run with the tension or nervous excitement that should have followed the whole general election plot point - don't get me wrong, it certainly tried to, but it fell rather flat for me in the end.  Still, the behaviour of Chieri's father and his organisation are still a major source of curiosity, and the whole Centre Nova thing keeps on trucking with some more little titbits here and there, so there's enough to keep me watching the series (and yes, the music is starting to grow on me as well, meaning that I've fallen into this series horrible, horrible trap) out of more than just doggedness.

Little Busters! - Episode 15

With Mio's arc over, it's time for Little Busters to take a quick breather before returning to its "serious business".

Although Naoe is all settled down for an evening in with the boys, he finds himself subjected to constant efforts to lure him away to the girls dorm with news that something "terrible" has happened.  After resisting some rather half-hearted earlier requests, a blunt text message from Rin finally causes him to throw caution to the wind and check it out.  So it is that Naoe finds himself kidnapped and made the centrepiece of a sleepover planned by the girls.

That's pretty much sums up this episode to be honest - Naoe gets plied with snacks and cakes, blindfolded and tied up while the girls are taking a bath and then dressed up as a girl after his own turn in the bath, before goofing around and making so much noise that the whole group almost comes a cropper at the hands of the the over-zealous student council.

As a fluffy, nothing episode, there isn't a lot to say about this week's Little Busters - it's hardly been the most jaw-dropping of series at the best of times, so it's even less notable when it journeys towards more frivolous fare.  So, while there was nothing wrong with this week's instalment there wasn't really anything to stand out about it either, and unless you've fallen in love with the cast (which I have to admit that I really haven't) then there's effectively nothing for you here.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 3

This week's Minami-ke begins with something of an homage to the funniest thing the show as a whole has ever produced - of course, it doesn't work quite so well this time around but hey, I'm certainly not going to knock the nostalgic reference.

Anyhow, that aside this latest instalment of Tadaima has all sorts of things to consider, for example how long one should take to have a bath.  Once lighting-fast bather Touma mentions that brother Natsuki spends forever in the bath, she inadvertently sets off a whole chain of events regarding Haruka and her friends which in turn propagates a number of misunderstandings.

Elsewhere, there's some discussion and scientific experimentation regarding the nature of airheads, some embarrassment as an argument about who has the nicest fingers between Haruka's friends turns into a hunt for a missing ring, and the mysterious case of the missing donut which leads to a depressing evening for poor Haruka.  Oh, and there are a number of maid outfits on show this week - I mean, everyone has at least one emergency maid outfit in their house, right?

All of this combines into another decidedly fun episode of Minami-ke Tadaima - funny in places, but providing light-hearted entertainment throughout courtesy of a lovable (if occasionally stupid) roster of characters doing lovable (if occasionally stupid) things.  I'm not sure how I feel about the shift of this series towards dipping occasionally into fan service-esque territory (and maybe I'm just misremembering the content of previous series of the show) as it feels a bit forced and needless for this kind of outing, but after a slightly tepid start I've warmed up to this return of Minami-ke pretty quickly to the point where I'm actually kind of glad it's returned to our screens.

Space Brothers - Episode 41

Having ignored all of the rules and risked his own safety in an attempt to save Damien in the aftermath of their unfortunate accident on the Moon, it seems as if this decision has backfired spectacularly (and not to mention dangerously) on Hibito.

The injured Damien can only watch on in horror as his colleague crashes to the ground after losing his footing trying to climb up and ensure his safety, and it's a horror that Hibito can only share once he comes around and both parties realise that his primary oxygen tank has been punctured, leaving him with only his backup tank for air.  Thus, the countdown begins until Hibito runs out of air.

Even in this scenario, it seems that Hibito's priority remains saving Damien - once he calms down from the initial shock and panic of his situation, he goes about resuming his rescue attempt as before with little regard for the fact that this is simply causing his oxygen supply to deplete further still.  Away from the scene of the accident, we flit between NASA and JAXA headquarters as they run through all of the possibilities and devise strategies to deal with whatever they find once Hibito and Damien's fellow astronauts reach the site.  Even Mutta has some input on where he thinks the rescue attempt should focus - input based not on the documented protocol for astronauts, but rather his own knowledge of his brother and how he'd think in such a situation.  But will NASA listen to what seems like such an off-base suggestion?

As per last week's episode, Space Brothers continues to nail down this current situation with aplomb - the tension of air running out or body temperature dropping too low, the simple human horror of finding yourself so far from home with rescue some way away, the nervous helplessness of being back on Earth with nothing to do but throw out ideas based on worst-case scenarios and so on.  It's perhaps inevitable that this is the most compelling stuff that the series has brought us yet simply because of the emotions involved, but even then the way Space Brothers is handling the entire thing is worthy of the highest praise.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Robotics;Notes - Episode 13

Work is progressing slowly but... well, just slowly really, on the GunPro-2 - a situation not helped by only Aki really showing any interest in the entire endeavour.

Certainly, neither Kai nor Koujiro both have more important things on their mind - in Koujiro's case she's now putting plenty of effort into piecing together more information about the death of her mother and how the leaked minutes of the cancelled final episode of Gunvarrel might hold some clues as to her fate.

As for Kai, his head is still buried in the Kimijima reports - although the fourth report makes little sense to him, he still goes about unlocking the fifth despite scoffing at its talk of a robot rebellion precipitated by massive solar flares due to the impending death of the sun.  Perhaps he's scoffed at such claims a little prematurely however, as it seems that in this world truth can be just as strange as perceived fiction - but is Frau Koujiro responsible for what's going on?

It seems like I've said "this seems to be the point where Robotics;Notes gets good" too many times already, so I'm rather wary of crying wolf at this juncture.  However, surely this is the pivotal point where the series clicks into overdrive - its final minutes were pretty much what we've been waiting throughout the whole series thus far for, so hopefully it can pick this up and run with it without being overly distracted by the show's other (read: far less interesting) elements.  It may be too late to save Robotics;Notes as a whole, but there's still plenty of time to ensure that its second half impresses.

Vividred Operation - Episode 2

Considering the marauding giant mechanical "Alone" that seems dead set upon destroying the Mainfestor Engine upon which humanity is so reliant, there could be no better time for the introduction of the "Vivid System", aka "use the power of science to make magical girls!"

It'll take more than just the energetic Akane's transformation to put paid to this mechanical menace however, and thus best friend Aoi is also co-opted into the Vivid System to make for a powerful combination as they look to protect the military forces engaging the Alone while providing some additional attacking firepower of their own.  Once it becomes clear that these girls are fighting on the side of justice, using the power of the Manifestor Engine under the direction of Isshiki, these forces combine to seemingly put an end to this particular battle.

Or have they?  The arrival of a mysterious girl who is Akane's equal in terms of backside pertness if nothing else signals the reactivation of the machine with even more power at its disposal - particularly bad news as Akane and Aoi's attempt at "docking" (no sniggering at the back) has failed due to one of them keeping a secret from the other.  Thankfully, this is eventually ironed out - nobody wants the world to be thrown into chaos over the taste of tomatoes - and our two heroines do indeed dock with one another (I said stop giggling) to form a single, uber-powerful girl who destroys their enemy in seconds.  All's well that ends well then - at least, until we see the swathe cut through the nearby town, demolishing the girl's school in the process.

It might still lack the overall charm of Strike Witches, and its similarities can be difficult to avoid (that robot might as well be a Neuroi, let's face it), but there's no faulting this week's Vividred Operation in terms of its ability to provide action and spectacular transformation sequences - the whole thing looked jaw-droppingly good from start to finish, to make this episode well worth watching for its visuals alone.  Whether the series can find its footing in its slower moments and in terms of building its broader narrative remains to be seen, but my reticence from its opener has at least partially lifted for now.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 2

Chihaya's dream of creating a karuta club dynasty seems to be well on its way thanks to a huge influx of interested members - at least, that's how it looks to Chihaya, but of course for most of these newcomers their interest lies elsewhere.

Thus, a classroom full of first year members soon becomes four and then becomes one, much to Chihaya's abject disappointment.  Still, this sole male newcomer is a decidedly interesting one, as Tsukuba not only has a genuine interest in the game but has also played (and mastered) an alternate version of karuta played in Hokkaido.  This means that he has a lot of "bad habits" that would be rule-breaking in the regular game, but the passion and basic knowledge is still there.

If only the same could be said of Sumire, who continues to have eyes for Taichi over and above karuta.  That said, there clearly is some growth in her interest in the game whether she likes it or not, and it's certainly more than Taichi alone that is keeping her coming back.  Not that this is entirely obvious thanks to her attitude, as she frets about her nails and her make-up rather than showing any focus on learning about karuta.  The whole thing comes to a head when Hanano blurts out about her interest in Mashima right in front of everybody - an embarrassing moment that somehow ultimately serves to create a surprising bond between Sumire and Kana.

If I was worried about this second season of Chihayafuru becoming stale (and I was slightly), then the introduction of these new first-year characters has really done a good job of shaking up these early episodes.  Although neither Tsukuba nor Sumire are all that likeable at this point in time, there attitudes and way of doing things has given an extra frisson to proceedings as a whole, and if nothing else it's been interesting watching the existing club members try to get to grips with how to handle these newcomers.  This leaves the series at this early juncture feeling like it has plenty of room for growth, both in terms of its individuals and as a group, which can only be a good thing moving forward.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 2

After a pretty forgettable opener, this second season of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai knuckles down to tackle some of life's big questions in episode two.

By "big questions", of course I mean questions such as "why did those two guys just kiss?", as a new-look Rika (sans glasses but still sporting a lab coat, of course) introduces the Neighbours Club to the world of homoerotic anime, via a movie based on a boys love game but, naturally, sanitised for television.  This magnum opus proves to be surprising popular and movie for most of the group, despite its passionate ending causing some confusion amongst some of its members.  As conversation then turns to comparing the joys of boys love and eroge, Sena once again finds herself on the wrong end of a heated debate.

Having escaped from all of that, Kodaka finds himself encountering another of his school's nuns, the nun in question being a woman named Kate, who just happens to be the elder sister of Maria.  Although I'd like to say that Kate is a very different and more mature personality than her little sister, this isn't actually the case at all, but she does nonetheless thank Hasegawa for his help in bringing Maria out of her shell.  Finally, the episode ends with Yozora prompting Kodaka into comparing answers on their recent exams - a conversation that heads south as soon as Sena arrives.

Having been really rather disappointed with its opener, this second episode of NEXT shows what this series is best at - self-referential humour.  There were plenty of laughs to be had of its depiction of boys love anime, and the world of eroge wasn't spared some withering put-downs and references either to make for some material that is blatant otaku fodder but no less funny for it.  Although NEXT also seems to have ramped up the fan service in the hope of keeping its audience on-board, I hope that it can at least continue to play to its strengths rather than mire itself in cheap tactics to impress its viewer.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - Episode 2

The Internet was filled with a cry of "what the Hell did we just watch?" after the opening episode of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - thankfully, Sasami herself is on hand to explain it all as this week's instalment kicks off.

In short (and according to Sasami, who could well be a decidedly unreliable narrator of course), the world of this series is one in which gods reside everywhere, and in everything to varying degrees and levels of power.  The most divine of these gods is Amaterasu, a god which currently resides in Sasami's brother after previously being attached to Sasami herself.  As the most divine being, Amaterasu can influence any gods below it at the whims of its holder, the result being "alterations" - alterations such as turning the entire world into chocolate, for example.  This brings us to the three Yagami sisters, unknown entities seemingly charged with stopping these alterations, thus squaring the circle of confusion that surrounding last week's episode.

That brings us to this week, and news reaching said Yagami sisters of an online role-playing game-cum-social network that seems to have tens of thousands in its thrall, to the point where a lot of them are no longer even turning up at school.  Determined to investigate this phenomena, they enlist the help of Sasami's plentiful stock of computers to jump online and take a look, much to the dismay of Sasami who neither wants to admit that she's a long-standing player of the game in question nor have the game shutdown by the Yagami sisters.  Is it simply a good game, or is an alteration ensnaring so many players?  You can probably guess the answer to that.

Ironically given the fact that it was referenced in episode one, the synopsis of this series now reads a little bit like The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya Lite, albeit with a few twists.  Thankfully, that barely matters when the series continues to display such an enjoyable streak of humour - the IT guy in me got a kick out of Sasami's frustrations when it came to taking care of laptops, and there were plenty of snappy lines or great moments of visual comedy to take in as well.  Mind you, that doesn't really cover up the fact that, stripped of the "what the '#$*?!" factor of episode one, in terms of actual content there wasn't anything all that much to get excited about other than the explanation of those events and the wider world in which the series is based.  This does leave me worrying that the series is going to run out of steam rather fast in terms of its wider narrative (in that grand light novel tradition) now that the cat is out of the bag; then again, if it can carry on having fun with its setup then maybe that won't even matter ultimately.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Psycho-Pass - Episode 13

After last week's aside, we return to the real business of Psycho-Pass this time around as our thoughts return directly to Shougo Makishima and the case within which he is now beyond a prime suspect.

However, Akane's experience when confronting Makishima is giving her boss Ginoza some serious headaches, with the powers that be concerned at her story of the Dominator not working even when confronted with a blatant criminal.  It seems that this isn't a surprise to them however - in fact, it's a known issue with the Sibyl system that last manifested itself in none other than the main suspect in the so-called Specimin Case; a case with which Makishima was also believed to be involved.  Of course, those same higher-ups ensured that the culprit in those cases disappeared so as not to upset the trust of the public in the system that governs their lives, and it seems that they are willing to tread a similar path with Makishima - an idea which looks likely to built on top of other stresses for Ginoza as he struggles to control the hue of his Psycho-Pass.

One person who seems to have no such problems is Akane, who is willing to take a potentially risky measure to further the hunt for Shougo, allowing her memories to be delved into to grab a definitive "photofit" picture of him.  The downside of this is that Akane has to relieve the entire experience of seeing her friend die at Makishima's hands into the bargain - a harrowing experience which she nonetheless manages to bear with little more than some short-term upset.  The net is closing in on our killer, but surely the investigation and capture of the culprit is going to be anything but simple...

In spite of a rather weird revelation (I suppose it isn't that tricky to imagine Masaoka as Ginoza's father, but it feels at odds with the series prior to this point) this was a slow but nonetheless interesting episode of Psycho-Pass, that gave us a good feel for the strength of Akane's psyche beyond mere lip service while also further exploring the Sibyl system, its deficiencies and the barriers put up to "protect" the public from the truth about it.  None of this is the kind of thing to shock and surprise the viewer - it's all par for the course in our typical dystopian future - but given Psycho-Pass' interesting concept exploring it further in this way is absolutely fine by me, especially when the actual detective and investigation angle of the series is also pretty strong in its own right.

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 15

Saki has been joined by Satoru in their mission to retrieve and bring back Mari and Mamoru with the promise that no harm will come to them - as you might expect, tracking them down could well prove to be decidedly more difficult than it seems on paper.

For starters, the missing pair seem to have done a particularly good job of covering their tracks since Satoru and Saki left them behind, meaning that their former hideout is nowhere to be found and, thanks to Mari's ability, they've left not so much as a footprint behind.  In lieu of any other information as to their whereabouts, Saki decides that they need to seek out Squnk, the Monster Rat who saved Mamoru in the first place.

Their attempts to make it to Squnk's home sees a freak accident lead the pair to the home of another old friend, Squera, the subject of Saki and Satoru's adventures from several years previously.  However, it seems that much has changed in Squera's world since those events, with the merger of a number of Monster Rat colonies building a massive populace, while the resulting group has seemingly embraced human politics, construction and more in the intervening period, although not all of it seems entirely ethical to our shocked humans.  There also seems to be a warmongering streak in this new colony, as they waste no time in coercing Satoru into attacking Squnk's colony as a show of power despite Saki and Satoru's peaceful goal - a goal which seems further than ever from being fulfilled, incidentally.

So ends another fascinating episode of Shin Sekai Yori, which seems to have so much that it wants to say of late that it's always difficult to know where to start.  The obvious focus of this particular instalment however is the Giant Hornet colony, in terms of both their behaviour and progression since we last saw this group of Monster Rats and how that progress is viewed by Saki and Satoru; an interesting mix of horror and disbelief which swings between the valid and the prejudicially insular.  You could spend hours deconstructing the human's view of the Monster Rats, and the Monster Rats view of the world and how to build their society, but that's not what this 'blog is all about - all I will say is that it's the kind of fare that is keeping me well and truly hooked to this show as it continues to impress me more and more after that wobbly start.

Tamako Market - Episode 2

For a talking bird, our feathered friend certainly seems to have integrated himself quickly into Tamako's family and circle of friends - thankfully for him the topic of this week's episode also seems to be his specialist subject.

The reason for this is that everyone is abuzz with the approach of Valentine's Day - a day of love, chocolate and more chocolate, usually followed by some chocolate.  For all of the excited girlie talk with her friends about who may or may not give or receive chocolate to whom, Tamako is disappointed to find a complete lack of anything suitably celebratory at the local market.  Of course, this simply won't do, and thus she submits a proposal at the market's all-vendor meeting to suggest that they spruce up the place with some Valentine's Day flavoured marketing.

It's an idea that goes down incredibly well with everyone present... everyone, that is, apart from Tamako's father, who is insistent that the idea is stupid.  Still, as a minority of one he can do nothing to prevent the cornucopia of colourful (well, pink mostly) decorations and the like which flood the market, topped off by the recording of an advertisement by Mochizou with helped from Tamako and her friends.

On the surface, this all adds up to another fluffy piece of slice of life fare that just so happens to feature a talking bird.  Look a little deeper however and there are some interesting undertones to the episode - Tamako's friend Midori is the focus of much of this, as Dera discusses the pain of hidden-away emotions that can't be described or understood and Kanna pipes up that it's okay to love anyone.  Add this to the video messages played back by Dera starring his master, and there are things going on here that are yet to be fleshed out, and you can't quite shake the feeling that they could all do so in an emotionally impactful way as the series progresses.  I certainly hope that is the case, as beyond that Tamako Market could threaten to be little more than a sweet little series with a line in funny little moments, high production values and not a lot else.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu - Finale - Episode 4 (Completed)

At last, we reach the finale of... err... Finale, and Yuuto has some work to do as the news breaks that his beloved Haruka has effectively been kidnapped with a view towards an impending forced marriage.

Luckily for Yuuto his rescue attempt isn't going to be a lonely one, as effectively the entire cast of the series to date crop up to lend him their support - very necessary support it is too, as Haruka is being heavily guarded in the run-up to her wedding.  Thus, most of the episode is spent with various members of the cast and groups "sacrificing" themselves in the name of protecting Yuuto and allowing him to continue his quest, while also confessing their love for him where appropriate (or, in some cases, mildly inappropriate depending upon how you look at it).

All of this leads up to a final "boss fight" for both Yuuto and Haruka as they face-off against Haruka's parents, at which point of course their love shines through and leads them to victory before it's revealed that this entire scenario was simply a test devised by said parents to ensure that this couple were suitable devoted to one another.  Because Haruka's parents are assholes, clearly.  Still, our main couple get to live happily ever after, and we get to finally put this franchise to bed - so everyone wins at the end of the day, right?

In fairness to Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu, at least it offered up a proper conclusion to its story without any of the doubts or cop-outs that tend to plague harem shows of this nature.  Of course, this doesn't stop the show as a whole from being anything but utterly mediocre with only occasional flashes of anything resembling fun, and even those moments were basically entirely absent from this OVA which simply piled some fan service on top of some utterly tepid story-telling in the hope that nobody would notice that the whole thing was a bit rubbish.  Sorry guys, but I did notice - then again, I watched over eleven hours of this series, so I guess those involved in its creation get the last laugh this time...

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 15

Now that the lid has been lifted on which manga series Nizuma is planning to cancel once he proves himself to be king of the Shounen Jack hill, both his rivals and the magazine's editorial department are fired up to do everything possible to knock him from his perch.

This means that all of the major creative players in the magazine's output are suddenly awash with new ideas - introducing new characters here, changing art styles there, and giving a debut to a new villain in Ashirogi Muto's case.  With colour front page spreads for some of these outings as well, confidence abounds that one of these contenders will be able to knock Crow off the top spot.

However, all of this confidence appears to be without merit - although the concerted effort of all of the artists certainly diminishes Crow's lead over the rest of the pack, that lead is still well and truly there and seemingly as unassailable as ever.  As those colour covers come and go, it seems that only PCP has an opportunity left to know Eiji from top spot before it's too late via a colour centre spread... but can Mashiro and Takagi come up with something suitably ingenious to make full use of that spread in the context of their wider story?

It almost feels weird looking back upon those days where Bakuman was a sedately-paced affair that meandered a little too often into its clumsy romantic territory - that era seems to be a thing of the past, as once again this week's episode offers up an almost blistering pace that progresses at an impressive rate and keeps you hooked from beginning to end with its rising sense of tension and a cast of characters who are almost universally likeable in various ways.  Put it all together, and you have a hugely compelling series that is undoubtedly on top of its game at the moment, to the point where it's disappointing to think that its end is just over the horizon.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman - Episode 2

Has Roman (or the reincarnation of Nezumi Kozo, as his night-time alter-ego seems to have become known as) met his match already?  It seems that way as he almost comes a cropper against a new addition to the law enforcement forces looking to put a stop to his activities.

The individual in question also proves to be rather a mysterious one - Suzuki Magoichi, who shuns the offers of his superior to go out drinking or for a meal, and keeps himself to himself with his emotions never showing.  He also happens to be the man who dropped by looking for Roman with a job in last week's episode, and this time around he gets to meet him properly (not knowing of his alter-ego of course) to offer a well-paid job tracking down a member of a performing troupe for reasons that he refuses to explain.

Without any knowledge of why Magoichi wants to find this man, Roman naturally refuses, only to find himself caught up in the whole incident as the man at the centre of this search, Yohei of the Ukigumo troupe, effectively lands on Roman's doorstep in a badly injured state.  It seems that Magoichi isn't the only one with an interest in this man, and ultimately Roman and his rival end up joining forces on this occasion to protect Yohei from some less scrupulous pursuers, although it seems that Suzuki's real goal isn't exactly a scrupulous one either...

Having produced the single most mediocre piece of anime I've seen so far this year (although 2013 is still young, dear reader), this second episode of Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman was a definite improvement - it wasn't great by any stretch of the imagination, as it still struggles to keep its story-telling focused and coherent and with finding ways to make its characters interesting (Roman sure is a dull hero), but the full introduction of Magoichi and his role in proceedings feels refreshing in comparison and the series is at least aiming towards some wider plot points which seem more promising.  I'm still reticent in assuming that this series is going to be anything other than average after its weak start, but an improvement is still an improvement so I'll be keeping my eye on this series for a little longer yet.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 2

Things are looking rosy for Chieri as we hit the second episode of AKB0048 Next Stage, with her appearance at the anti-entertainment trial that was broadcast across the galaxy making her the girl of the moment and seeing her taking part in a blaze of publicity, photo shoots and the like.

There's little time to dwell upon this for the other understudies however, as they're quickly requested to take part in their very own TV variety show - a cavalcade of stunts, talk shows and various dumb games, the likes of which you'd only ever see on Japanese TV (or, it seems, TV across the galaxy in this entertainment starved future).  Given their inexperience in this particular form of media, trying to impress the viewers proves to be a decidedly tricky task for all and sundry, with initially disastrous results.

Eventually though, Nagisa and company find themselves spurred on and motivated to give it their all even if they'd rather be taking part in concerts, and ultimately it seems as though they get the hang of things, particularly once they learn that their variety show is likely to be broadcast in places where they couldn't even hold guerilla concerts.  Come the end of it all, the first wave of general election results are announced to add some further drama to proceedings - needless to say, Chieri features in the top ten; it seems as if this is exactly what the Zodiac Corporation run by her father wants too, intriguingly enough.

Considering how much fun other shows such as iDOLM@STER had with their variety show segments, AKB0048's efforts felt rather stale in comparison - sure, they were trying to make the point that our understudies sucked at doing it, but surely they couldn't have mined their inability to perform for more comedy potential?  Still, a decidedly mediocre episode was saved to some degree by the tension of those early general election results, and the whole story as it pertains to the Zodiac Corporation looks likely to be one of the more interesting things that this series has done, so perhaps more exciting times are right around the corner.

Vividred Operation - Episode 1

What should be my final new season 'blogging selection for the winter is Vividred Operation, which wastes no time in introducing us to its veritable utopia - a world where science has solved any issues with power generation, and the entire planet is thus provided with all of the energy that it needs.

The mastermind behind this breakthrough is none other than the grandfather or our protagonist Akane Isshiki, a veritable mad scientist.  Such is his craziness that it appears that nobody has paid much attention to his claims about beings known by him as "Alone" (they're probably called Alan and he just misheard them) - a fatal mistake it seems, as a huge metallic, robotic object appears from nowhere one day and seems dead set upon attacking the Manifestor Engine responsible for creating all of that power.

None of this is really a concern to Akane however as she goes about her everyday business and looks forward to the return of her friend Aoi - when Aoi gets caught up in this attack on the Manifestor Engine it's a different story, leading Akane and her grandfather (who by this point is a stuffed toy weasel - it's a long story) to rush to the site of this assault to try and save her.  If this seems to be beyond a schoolgirl, even if she has a flying bike, you've reckoned without her grandfather's latest invention which has only just been completed...

Trying to set aside any Strike Witches comparisons for now (yes, our main character seems to prefer wearing cycle shorts to skirts whenever possible), and without cooing too much over a fantastic if fan service-y transformation sequence (then again, aren't they all?), Vividred Operation's opening episode falls very much into the category of "yeah, it's okay".  It certainly doesn't have the immediacy of Strike Witches - wait, I promised not to compare these two series, didn't I? - and its characters all feel a little cookie-cutter, but there is certainly potential within what ostensibly looks to be a science-based magical girl premise and there's not a huge amount to dislike at this early juncture, so perhaps it can grow on me over the coming weeks.  From what I've seen so far, I'm certainly happy to give it a fair crack of the whip.

Little Busters! - Episode 14

Mio's place in the world has now been taken over entirely by that of her "shadow", Midori, in this week's Persona 4... wait, I mean this week's Little Busters!

Naoe aside, it appears that everyone else has forgotten about the existence of the "old" Nishizono - even Kyousuke, who Naoe turns to for advice, doesn't really have anything particularly helpful to say on the matter as his own memories also seem to have waned.  Therefore, it's up to Naoe alone to somehow bring Mio back... but is it even possible?  Just as all hope seems to be lost, Naoe recalls one piece of physical evidence of Mio's life that might still exist - a poem she submitted to the school's tanka contest.  Indeed, the poem does exist, and its discovery gives even Midori second thoughts about keeping Mio's whereabouts hidden from our protagonist.

Once Naoe has found Mio hanging out at the local beach, we get the full story about her and her relationship with Midori - not so much a shadow as an imaginary friend brought to life by her willpower alone before the duo were torn apart by disbelieving adults who couldn't see said imaginary friend.  After seemingly vanishing completely, it's Mio's guilt that brings Midori back into being and beyond, leaving it up to Naoe to reconcile the feelings and desires of Mio and Midori to reach a conclusion that would make everybody happy.

Having set things up for an episode with a decent amount of emotional resonance, there's something weirdly unsatisfying about the second half of this week's instalment of Little Busters that I can't quite put a finger on - perhaps it simply feels too indistinct and wishy-washy to really make me care about its ultimate resolution, which also ends up being a little too convenient for my liking, and (much as I hate to keep harping on about it) it certainly shows how Key's works have improved over time in terms of satisfying storytelling.  It doesn't make Little Busters a bad series, but it certainly isn't all that it could have been at this point.

Space Brothers - Episode 40

The dangers of space exploration don't really need to be extrapolated on, but there's something terrifyingly human about the predicament Hibito and Damien find themselves in after the accident which closed last week's episode of Space Brothers.

With their buggy left careering down a ravine, both astronauts are thrown clear - not good news in this case as they find themselves separated in pitch darkness with no idea just how deep the hole they've fallen into goes, both literally and figuratively.  After some initial panic, Hibito's sense of logic kicks in and he goes about figuring out what to do in a calm, collected fashion, while the alarm bells ringing at NASA mean that the other members of the team on the Moon are quickly clued in on the fact that contact has been lost with their comrades.

Once Damien fires off his emergency flare, it seems as if all is going to be well - everyone now knows where the two missing astronauts are, and Damien is clearly not only alive but conscious.  However, once Hibito rushes to Damien's aid, things are rather less rosy - the buggy is in a non-operational state, and more importantly Daimen's in-suit temperature regulation is malfunctioning; couple that with a leg injury and in Damien's eyes the only thing for it is for Hibito to leave him behind and save himself.  Needless to say, Hibito is having none of this and sets about a rescue plan for his colleague and friend... a plan which could be about to plunge him into lethal danger as things go from bad to worse.

Having sung the praises of Space Brothers for so many different reasons over the course of the series so far, the show proves itself to be adept in some entirely new ways this week.  There's a primeval terror to the thought of being lost and dying a slow death alone many thousands of miles from people you know and love, and this episode taps into it incredibly well while still tying it very much to the human element of the series, yet without losing sight of the science and technological reality that its near-future setting dictates.  With another agonising cliffhanger to deal with to boot, Space Brothers really has been firing on cylinders