Thursday, 28 February 2013

Psycho-Pass - Episode 19

Kogami has gone rogue in his pursuit of Makishima, turning his former colleagues at the MWPSB into enemies - can he beat them in the race to his target?

In spite of struggling with some Psycho-Pass related issues of his own, Ginoza is determined to ensure that his department are at the forefront of efforts to put a stop to both Makishima and Kogami and whatever they're planning, and his stress levels certainly aren't helped by the knowledge that those around him clearly had some involvement in Kogami's disappearance.

For Kogami's part, his major hurdle is figuring out exactly what Makishima plans to do next, something which he searches for outside help to comprehend.  Needless to say, this comes via psychologist and friend Professor Saiga, an individual who helps Kogami gain at least a little understanding of both Makishima's personality and where he has similarities to Kogami's own train of thought.  It's these elements, coupled with a pointer to an anonymous bulletin board, that lifts the lid on what might just be Makishima's plan to ensure that the Sibyl system is crushed in a matter of days.

Having misfired somewhat last week, this latest instalment of Psycho-Pass was a bit of a slow-burner which ultimately demands the swallowing of a rather tough to swallow in-series truth about Japan's food consumption and production, which feels a little too convenient for the wider story as a whole.  I suppose a sufficient suspension of disbelief is required to accept the Sibyl system itself, but somehow this feels dangerously close to being a bridge too far - perhaps it can be woven into the current narrative so as to make it more palatable, but we shall have to see, and I'm really hoping that this isn't the kind of late misstep that might serve to undermine everything that Psycho-Pass has done so well up to this point.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 8

After a brief flashback that gives us some history on Akibastar's past and how it was rebuilt as a centre of hope and entertainment after being decimated by war, it's onwards to this week's AKB0048 Next Stage!

After bringing us into that flashback, it's Yuuko that dominates this episode - having seen her fellow understudy Mimori become the new Mariko, she seems more determined than ever to make the grade and thus spends every waking moment singing, dancing and practising as she strives to be the best that she can be, no matter what.  It's a determination that some of the others recognise as being redolent of the group's last Centre Nova, Acchan - and this, ladies and gentlemen, is what they call foreshadowing.

With Akibastar all set to host another AKB0048 concert, we finally get to the bottom of the Zodiac Corporation's ultimate goal - a goal that includes the resources squirrelled away beneath the surface of the planet, as well as the power of the Centre Nova, a power that the corporation want to bring forth and capture.  As it happens, the Zodiac Corporation knows exactly how to bring about the required environment to create a Centre Nova too - cue a massive assault on Akibastar which offers up some of the most spectacular fare that this series has yet delivered.

Having looked all set to be "just another episode" of AKB0048 (that being fun and steadily paced), the second half of this week's instalment was.... well, bloody fantastic actually.  And by fantastic, I mean "it felt kinda like Macross Frontier".  Blending its action and music against a dark and destructive backdrop worked wonders for the show, even when set up alongside its crazy weapons and ideas, and it was compelling stuff to watch as all of the parts of the show's puzzle came together in a visually engaging and gripping fashion.  I just hope this isn't the series peaking too early given that there are still a few episodes to go, but if ever I need to pick out a moment to document why I've stuck with watching this show through thick and thin, the second half of this week's instalment provides justification in spades.

Tamako Market - Episode 8

In case it hadn't been made absolutely clear during the series so far, Dera is getting fat, and in this eighth episode of Tamako Market the chickens finally come home to roost (sorry, I had to squeeze that pun in there) for our rotund bird of love.

The final straw for Dera is an attempt to clamber into Kanna's latest creation, a custom-made bird house, which proves to be more than a tight squeeze for the poor fellow.  Rather than any fault in Kanna's handiwork, it's clear that Dera has literally gotten too big for his boots, meaning that it's time for a strict diet to be put into place - a tricky prospect given Dera's obsession with Mochi, and his standing with the other members of Tamako's family in particular.

To keep him away from any food, Dera is thus press-ganged into being dragged around with Tamako and company everywhere she goes, which in turn leaves Choi following them in tow.  This involves both going to school with the other girls under the auspices of visiting as a transfer student, and enjoying a shopping trip with them as she seems to feel ever more at home in the area.

Having been so critical for so much of this series, allow me to throw at least some breadcrumbs of praise in this episode's direction - it made me laugh out loud a couple of times, with its opening scenes providing some superbly orchestrated physical comedy while the simple use of the compound word "birdmington" also gave me the giggles, lover of silly puns that I am.  It's a shame then, that this arrives alongside yet another episode where nothing happens - remember when we were trying to get a handle on Midori's romantic proclivities?  Or Tamako's admirer?  I hope so, because this series sure doesn't seem to.  Add in some far less well timed and targeted humour, and no amount of praise for its production values or those rare moments of comedy genius will sway me from my impression that Tamako Market is one seriously mediocre series.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 21

With everything going swimmingly and the first suggestions of an anime adaptation of Reversi, an opportunity presents itself of a much-needed break for Ashirogi Muto, with Takagi suggesting to Mashiro that he join himself and Kaya as they revisit the place they had their honeymoon several years previously.

Three would normally be a crowd with this kind of arrangement, but it seems that the trio enjoy an alcohol-fuelled but enjoyable New Year break that only serves to strengthen the bonds between them - a perfect fillip for their return to the grindstone and a continued push to make Reversi one of, if not the, flagship title for Shounen Jack.

Just when it seems that things couldn't get any better... things get better, with a formal request to create an anime adaptation for Reversi.  The trouble is, Zombie Gun is also on the cards for an adaptation, and perhaps more importantly Hattori is surprisingly torn as to whether the time is right for Reversi to hit the small screen given its creators decision to let it run through to its natural end without padding it out.  It's these problems that cause some major conflict for Ashirogi Muto as they learn about the possible adaptation, but by the time they've decided to throw caution to the wind and accept the offer will it be too late for Reversi?

Following a fluffy, idealised New Year break, we now seem to be well and truly in the home stretch of Bakuman, with an anime series well and truly on the cards and all of the pieces falling into place on the proverbial board.  The trouble is, our position within the series drains some of the tension from this week's episode as it seems clear which direction it is headed, although it still managed to eke a fair amount of excitement from proceedings by making full use of the fact that we've been vicariously pursuing Ashirogi Muto's dreams along with them for so long now.  I hope that these final episodes can apply themselves without feeling too inevitable, to bring a good ending to what has been a great series.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 21

There seems to be no let-up in the Monster Rats' invasion of Kamisu 66, via a number of innovative and downright sneaky plots to overthrow their human masters.  Surely they can't hope to challenge Kaburagi Shisei, however?

Although they do surround him, it's very much clear that the Monster Rats have no chance against the town's protector... but what about if they had an Ogre to back them up?  Saki and Satoru's worst fears are confirmed as said Ogre arrives on the scene to wreak utter havoc amongst the remaining humans, and what's more it has a somewhat familiar face... a thought that perhaps isn't the main concern as Shisei is easily defeated by the Ogre.

However, Shisei's actions at least buy enough time for Saki and Satoru to escape the rampaging Ogre, and once their escape brings them into contact with an injured Monster Rat they learn what we ostensibly already knew - this rebellion has taken place due to the dismissive attitudes of the humans towards the Monster Rats, treating them as slaves and little more than an irritation with not a thought for the intellect or emotions of this race.  Mind you, if this is enough to leave you feeling sympathetic towards the Monster Rat cause, you may want to steal yourself for the next revelation about Yakomaru's master plan... the building of an Ogre army powerful enough to overthrow the entirety of Japan, if not the world, by stealing young human orphans.

Just as I was worried that this week's Shin Sekai Yori was going to be an exercise in revealing the obvious, so it proved itself to have been underestimated by me just as the humans in this show underestimate the Monster Rats - a couple of twists were all it took to usurp my expectations and take the show as it stands into some even darker territory.  All of this aids in making the series increasingly fascinating by the week - whenever you find a grounding to sympathise with one side in this current struggle, so something comes along to make you question their morality, and it's these shifting ethical sands that have really driven so much of Shin Sekai Yori in such a vastly compelling way... provided you don't end up hating everyone with its narrative, that is.  We seem to be all set up for a big finale with Saki in particular at its centre, and for all of its slower moments it feels as though this show is all set-up to end as an utter and thought-provoking story-telling triumph.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 7

Despite Chihaya and her friends making it to the national karuta tournament once again, our protagonist hardly seems hyped up about the prospect as this week's episode starts - not only is she still ruing the club's defeat in the final, but perhaps more importantly she finds herself feeling responsible for that defeat on account of her "selfish" desire to win while imitating current master Shinobu's playing style.

Anxious to turn over a new leaf in light of such perceived selfishness, and with some parties still anxious to see the karuta club moved out of their current club room, Chihaya offers up the opportunity for the growing music club to take over the room above their heads regardless of the disturbances it might cause - of course, this decision all comes down to karuta ultimately, in the hope that it might allow a little luck to find its way to the group.

That aside, and ignoring some further evidence of Sumire's "tsundere" attitude towards karuta, this week's episode finds its real focus in the relationships of the Ayase family - things aren't going so great for Chihaya;'s sister, giving her second thoughts about her career path, while we finally see Chihaya getting some attention from her parents even if it seems to come at a time when Chihaya herself really doesn't want it.  From here, it's on to the nationals, although it's thoughts of love that preoccupy us before the tournament begins...

Although this week's Chihayafuru could easily have powered itself straight through to the national tournament, this was instead a great episode that once again showed how supreme the show as a whole is at getting the small things right - it was wonderful watching the mother-daughter relationship between Chihaya and her mum, underlined further by her sister's troubles.  There were also some great snippets of comedy to be found here - a self-aware reference around the show's title was hilarious on account of being so unexpected, and there were a number of other great lines to be found too.  Despite having none of the tension of its direct predecessor, this is another one of those episodes that proves there is far more to Chihayafuru than just drama.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Little Busters! - Episode 20

Everyone has a secret to unlocking their full potential, and in Rin's case it seems that seeing a cat being bullied is exactly what's required to turn her into a frighteningly powerful pitcher on the baseball field.

This is by the by however, as this week's episode instead involves itself with another mission giving to Rin (and by extension Naoe) via one of Rin's menagerie of cat visitors, requesting that she fix the lovesickness of another classes top student.  It turns out that the lad in question loves not just hip-hop, but also Rin's deadly rival Sasasasasa Sasami... sorry, Sasasegawa Sasami.  Hardly being an expert in matters of the heart, is Rin up to this particular task?

It quickly becomes clear that this mission isn't going to be an easy one - for starters, Sasami has her eye on Kengo, who really couldn't be more different than Rin's "client", Aikawa, which leads to an abortive number of attempts to impress Sasami whether it be via the power of hip-hop or getting the bookish Aikawa to defeat Kengo in battle.  For once though, maybe Rin's relatively blunt behaviour will actually have the desired effect in the long run, and she might just be able to make another new friend in the process.

Overall, this is probably one of the more entertaining episodes of Little Busters that we've seen of late, although truth be told even this is damning the series with faint praise - it was still lacking in any particularly notable comedy and got by more via being more direct than your average anime series when it comes to matters romantic.  Yet again, it's hard not to compare the show unfavourably to other Key visual novel adaptations, all of which have had a stronger vein of comedy running through them, while this animated version just doesn't seem to have found any ways of sprucing things up, leaving it feeling like the whole thing has been phoned in somewhat.

Space Brothers - Episode 46

It's off to Houston we go in this week's Space Brothers, although not before saying goodbye to any friends and family - an opportunity to delve a little deeper into the personalities and families of our two female astronauts to-be, while also turning an eye towards those loved ones left behind in their wake.

From here though, it's back to the astronauts themselves as they meet at the airport and ready themselves to set off for America - a particularly unique experience for Mutta thanks to another of Murasaki's pranks which has left him sporting his blue JAXA jumpsuit, turning him temporarily into some kind of celebrity.

Back in Houston itself, we're given some time to get an early feel for the man who will make or break the fledgling careers of the astronauts in training; a man named Vincent Bold, and a man for whom time simply won't wait.  Thus, Bold has no interest in niceties or padding conversations, leaving him to be a rather brusque individual who has little time for anybody.  Having already singled out Mutta as a probable useless candidate in his mind due to his looks and lack of military experience, it seems that our protagonist could have his work cut out for him here...

I was worried that this week's episode was going to be overly slow on account of its opening scenes, but although it didn't exactly fly by it still had a fair amount to offer in terms of warming us up for the next major story arc - Bold is an interesting but somehow believable character, and with other new astronauts about to be introduced hopefully there will be plenty of character-driven drama for the series to mine for.  Provided it can deliver all of this at a decent clip, we could be in for another treat or two from the series.

Robotics;Notes - Episode 18

After the heart-rending difficulties caused by recent events, Aki has proved determined to continue the GunPro-2 project no matter what, and come this week's episode the project has not only come to fruition, but it's sent our two remaining Robotics Club members to Tokyo to show it off to the wider world.

Before that however, there's the problem of a shared room with only one bed for Kai and Aki, and more importantly both individuals are trying to come to terms with recent events - for Aki, she is still worried by the lack of contact from her sister, while Kai is haunted by the wide spread across the Internet of the Kimijima reports, although not as much as he's haunted by Mizuka's death.

Still, all of this has to be put to one side once the Expo begins and GunPro-2 is unveiled - a debut which proves to be a hugely tricky one given the negative publicity currently surrounding Gunvarrel and how anime series ties into current events and public nervousness around robots.  There are still some moments of triumph for the duo as they allow the GunPro-2 and its AR interface to strut its stuff, but there are few real plaudits for their work so when a chance to speak to her sister greets Aki, she's keen to take it up... a decision that looks set to launch them into a whole new world of trouble for both siblings.

Once again, having seemingly found an interesting path this week's Robotics;Notesloses its way somewhat - sure, the completion of GunPro-2 and its exhibition is an important milestone in the show and its narrative, but it's presented in a way that feels rushed and doesn't really add anything to either the story or the development of its characters.  This again means that it's left to the big cliffhanger to drag us back to the show for next week - it certainly is a compelling cliffhanger too, but how many of those have we had now that have failed to live up to their expectations?  You'd probably need an AI to successfully calculate the answer to that.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 8

After a weekend of neglecting my 'blogging duties and (shock, horror!) enjoying myself, it's back to the anime grindstone, and what better way to get into the swing of things than by catching up on Hosoka's latest moments of insanity.

Needless to say, this insanity (and ultimately the entire episode) revolves around food, with Hosoka again daydreaming of a happy life of eating (and sweating over) curry with the Minami family.  However, perhaps there is a better opportunity at hand, that being the chance to organise a barbecue to which Haruka and company could be invited.  Unfortunately for Hosoka, it seems that everyone he knows to pad out this barbecue has already been invited to a rival event, thus shredding his plans - if only he'd done a little more digging and discovered that Haruka herself would be attending...

It's at this barbecue which we see Chiaki facing up against her old nemesis - vegetables.  Credit has to go to Natsuki and Haruka here for ensuring that she gets her fill of veggies by ensuring that their cooking is front-loaded during the barbecue process.  Although this works in the short-term, it clearly hasn't convinced Chiaki of the joys of eating vegetables, so perhaps an alternate strategy is required - how about a kid's TV programme that has an alarmingly successful way of encouraging children to eat vegetables?  Before we know it, we're being treated to a duet on the wonders of the vegetable carried out by Hosoka and Chiaki, in one of the most surreal moments ever to grace this series.

Mildly amusing though Hosoka's barbecue-based plans are, it's when this week's Minami-ke takes a dip into insanity that we end up with something truly memorable within this series, a bizarre tale that leaves almost the entire cast hypnotised into loving nothing but vegetables which of course brings out the musician within Hosoka to create the kind of thing that will probably take over YouTube for a while.  It's daft, it's stupid, but it's funny because it's both of those things - as I've said before, Minami-ke simply wouldn't work if it tried to put together crazy ideas like this all the time, but Tadaima certainly seems to be doing a good job of sprinkling them throughout the series to keep things interesting, of which I most certainly approve.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - Episode 7

After the joy of her mother's return, Sasami is now in a decidedly tight spot as her true intentions come to the fore - with our protagonist captured and all of her usual protectors seemingly out of commission, is there anybody left to save her?

Determined though she might be to have nothing more to do with the Tsukuyomi shrine, her mother certainly has different ideas and is willing to go to any lengths to return her daughter to her rightful role and place in the world - something which Sasami is in no state to fight beyond verbal objections, and even these look set to be shut down as drugs overtake her body.

To assume this is the end of the line however is to reckon without, of all people, Tama - she might be an idiot, but she still has the presence of mind to rescue sister Kagami and seek out the ruined shrine where Sasami is being held - a train of thought that offers just enough leeway for a recovering Kagami to proffer a vital piece of the puzzle to Sasami's brother to effect their escape.  When Juju looks to block this escape, it's time to Tama herself to show what she's made of when push comes to shove in a final bid to return her friend (and her sisters) to the life they'd been enjoying previously.

This episode, and indeed this series as a whole, might not be some kind of tour de force of great writing or ideas, but this was nonetheless a satisfying episode of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - it held just enough emotional power to take us to some really dark places before lifting us out of them with a slice of comedy and setting up an obvious but effective climax to this story arc.  It worked really well as a whole, leveraging its characters as well as you could hope for and offering a little meat to the show's wider narrative without ever over-doing it.  It's clear that the series will never return to its insane opening gambit, but maybe now I'm coming to terms with that there is still a fair amount to enjoy in what we've been left with in its wake when it produces well-structured episodes such as this one.

Vividred Operation - Episode 7

Saviours of the world or not, a magical girl still needs to study, and thus Akane and friends' slipping grades are the subject of debate as this week's Vividred Operation begins.

Given their need to improve at school, there's only one thing for it - a study session at Akane's place.  Being who she is, Akane is determined that Rei should be part of their group, and thus the entire team do their bit to try and invite their would-be friend along - needless to say, this falls on death ears, or at least it does until Rei realises Akane's relationship to the Manifestor Engine and its creator, and sensing a way to end her own personal predicament she eventually decides to tag along.

Although her hunt for information has some unexpected but ultimately fruitless twists, the whole thing is eventually disturbed by the appearance of another Alone - an alien equipped with some powerful EMP technology which disables all electronics in its path.  As it looks set to cut a swathe through Japan before reaching Blue Island, it's up to the girls to put a stop to its rampage as soon as possible, while for Rei this serves as another opportunity to fulfil her contract with the mysterious puppet master who is pulling her strings.

For the most part, this seemed all set to be another formulaic episode of Vividred Operation, as it went through its fun and frivolous first half before introducing its "monster of the week" and setting it up for a well-animated if predictable defeat.  However, we've been left with a tantalising sting in the tail which brings us a juicy cliffhanger - although I doubt this will ultimately make any huge changes to the direction of the show, it is both needed and appreciated in terms of spicing things up a little just as the show felt as though it might get stuck in a rut.  Whether it can pick up this currently small twist and run with it remains to be seen, but it's a step in the right direction to avoid things getting too dull, that's for sure.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 7

As we learned last week, Kobato's birthday is fast approaching, and there's nothing like some last minute shopping for presents when it comes to finding a suitable gift for our heterochromic little sister.

The trouble is, it seems that all the girls of the Neighbours Club have designs on shopping alone with Kodaka, so when he invites all of them along en masse none of them are particularly impressed, and it isn't too long before the catty behaviour starts.  Thankfully, fashion requirements see Rika and Yozora heading off in their own direction, leaving Sena and Kodaka alone to shop, buy saucepans (in Kodaka's case) and chat.

Once Kobato's birthday actually rolls around, a good time is had by all despite the groups uncertainty as to what makes a good birthday (and in spite of Sena's usual creepiness towards Kobato), and the good day is rounded off by a visit by Maria and Kate to the Hasegawa household.  It certainly seems as if Kodaka has managed to make himself rather popular amongst the ladies, but if Kate's comments are to be believed there's one particular lady who is the most obvious match for our protagonist.

For all of its moments of fan service and predictable stupidity, this was actually a pretty pleasant episode of Haganai - the easy relationship between Kodaka and Sena is actually pretty enjoyable to watch, and to be honest whenever Yozora is kept out of proceedings the whole thing seems to be far more fun outright.  It also seems as if (shock, horror) there's actually some romantic progression on the cards, although I fully expect any such developments to be short-lived or based around some kind of misunderstanding.  Still, a guy can dream, can't he?

Psycho-Pass - Episode 18

Makishima's time in custody has proved to be brief after he makes good on his escape in the wake of revelations to him (and ourselves) about the truth behind the Sibyl system, and all of a sudden it's the MWPSB's job to catch him again despite having been taken off his case previously.

With the instruction going out not only to recapture Makishima but also to ensure that Kogami is kept well away from the fugitive for Makishima's own protection, it's now clear to all and sundry that something highly untoward is going on.  But can anyone actually do anything about it?  In spite of the chief's absolute ruling, Ginoza proves himself to be more sincere to his beliefs than you might have believed by arranging for some sneaky shenanigans that will keep Kogami on the case.

The trouble is, that the chief (or the person currently acting as her, anyway) doesn't have the wool pulled over her eyes that easily, and she quickly moves not only to put a stop to Ginoza's plan but also to Kogami himself - a state of affairs that is only saved by some quick thinking by Akane to avoid everyone's favourite Enforcer meeting a premature fate.  With any pretence of Makishima being pursued in the name of justice now entirely out the window, it's now up to Kogami, and ultimately Akane, to choose their respective paths towards ensuring that justice is served.

Let's get this out of the way first and foremost - this week's episode of Psycho-Pass looks terrible.  Not just "oh, some of the animation is a bit sub-par" bad, but bad to the point where the poor facial expressions and detail were genuinely distracting from what's going on on-screen.  Another episode of this show might have got away with it somewhat, but given the slow burning nature of this particular instalment and its reliance on character over and above story for the most part it really hurts the narrative and what is unfolding.  That aside, I can't help but feel that the sinister side of the "chief" is overplayed a little in this episode (would this hive mind really be so blatant in their goals if they're so smart?), although on the positive side Akane and Kogami and their respective ways of reaching what is effectively the same goal continues to be a strong touchstone to drive the series forward.  Hopefully they can wrestle the animation jobs away from small children with crayons for next week's instalment...

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Tamako Market - Episode 7

It seems that ol' projector eyes has a visitor on the way - a visitor who turns up in short order as this seventh episode of Tamako Market kicks off.

However, it seems that neither Dera nor this visitor are particularly happy to see one another - for Dera's part, he seems downright terrified of the girl who arrives on the doorstep, while she isn't exactly thrilled by the bird's new, rotund nature.  It turns out that this visitor is a girl named Choi, and rather than a princess or anything of the like she's actually a fortune teller for the prince of her island, with Dera serving as her conduit for such fortune telling.

Having identified that Dera's Skype client is clearly faulty (I blame Microsoft), Dera is quick with the excuses to explain away his communications issues and... well... being a fat bloater, suggesting that Tamako et al tricked him into slave labour.  Needless to say, this changes Choi's thinking towards her current hosts, although in the face of their overwhelming kindness it slowly but surely dawns on her that Dera may not have been entirely straight with her.

To be fair to this week's Tamako Market, Choi's appearance has at least brought a little life to the show if only in terms of its character line-up - the series was crying out for a feistier individual in the midst of all these cardboard cut-out goody two-shoes, and she goes at least some way towards delivering that (by KyoAni standards anyhow).  Beyond that, what to say about this episode?  Everything it reveals or sets up is or has been horribly telegraphed, leaving Choi's love story and her marketplace allegory for her feelings to seem clunky, and no matter how much slapstick physical comedy it employs there's no hiding the fact that the show as a whole is as dull as dishwater.

Actually, I kinda enjoy washing the dishes, so that's probably a little harsh on the dishwater...

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 20

As if a Monster Rat rebellion wasn't bad enough, Saki and Satoru now finding themselves facing up to what could readily described by their worst nightmare - a nightmare which is currently actively pursuing them across the waters.

Although this apparent Ogre seems to have their number, some calm, rational thought and planning gives them a slim but possible opportunity of escape, and it's one that they grab with both hands - although it seems for a moment as if it's failed, their plan ultimately comes good and saves their lives even if it comes at the loss of their raft.

This isn't the end of the duo's dangerous encounters however, as a night's rest brings with it new horrors the following morning, as they come across another decidedly odd mutant which ultimately seems to have no goal in mind other than Saki and Satoru's extermination.  This leads into revelations as to the true extent of the Monster Rats - and more specifically Yakomaru's - intentions; to fight a guerilla war using Monster Rat soldiers as expendable resources, and with specifically created mutants acting as terrorist weapons of mass destruction.  It's a double whammy that fully exploits the hubris of mankind, and once you throw an Ogre into the mix there seems to be little hope for the remaining human.  Perhaps not the most preferable of times for Saki to be given a weighty position amongst the town's dwindling populace, then...

In places, this was one of those weird episodes of Shin Sekai Yori that takes a little of the sheen away from what it's trying to do - its animation quality was ropey at times, while other elements of the episode were either disjointed, slightly muddled or overly surreal to the point of distraction.  Unlike prior occasions where this heavily impacted the show however, at this juncture Shin Sekai Yori's story is sufficiently strong to get away with such problems to a large degree, and the unfolding plot's obvious links to the 21st century world hubris, terrorism and exploitation included add an interesting dimension to a show that has managed not to be too heavy-handed about such inferences despite not being shy about their inclusion.  Whatever next, now that humanity is up against the wall?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 20

After a bit of a crisis of confidence, Reversi is back on track as Takagi and Mashiro assert themselves in deciding that the best thing they can possibly do is allow the manga to run and full pelt and not concern themselves with it ending quickly.

Lo and behold, this decision (and the blessing of Hattori) sees Reversi rocket back to the top of the rankings, from where it refuses to budge - a good job too, as we something else to preoccupy ourselves with, namely Hiramaru's latest attempts to woo Aoki.  Although this doesn't seem like the best of times, given that her latest manga has just been cancelled, Hiramaru ups his game with an invitation to an amusement park, with an ultimate goal of proposing to his beloved.  It's a plan that is only ever likely to end in tears, but will they be shed out of joy or misery?

It isn't too long before our thoughts return to Ashirogi Muto however, and the release of the first compiled volumes of both Reversi and Zombie Gun.  With the former topping the magazine rankings, surely it's a shoe-in to boast bigger numbers here too?  Not so, as the draw of Nizuma's name and the more easily digestible en masse nature of Zombie Gun make it the bigger hit of the two.  With anime companies already tussling over the anime rights to the manga, have Mashiro and Takagi been left behind again?

You know, I'd almost forgotten just how clumsy Bakuman is at depicting most of its romantic elements until this week's episode, which felt as silly as it did far-fetched before going some way to rescuing that feeling of awkwardness with a genuinely heartfelt end to that little side story that was actually rather sweet in its own way.  Regardless, it still plays second fiddle to the rivalry between Ashirogi Muto and Nizuma, and it's clear that this is now where it's at in terms of driving the series through to its conclusion, no matter what it might be.  I just hope it can find enough twists and turns to keep this rivalry from becoming repetitive; an issue that it certainly doesn't look like bumping up against at the moment.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Little Busters! - Episode 19

Despite having travelled extensively despite her tender age, English is clearly not Kud's strong point - in fact, academic studies in general seem to be something of a disaster area for our dimiutive part-foreign starlet.

When entries are invited to the school's pupils for a proficiency test, this seems like Kud's worst nightmare, yet regardless she joins her friends in signing up to take the test, in turn prompting them to do everything that they can to help her study.  On top of Kud's own nervousness about her issues when it comes to taking tests, the expectations of failure from her classmates only serve to make things worse, as they find her struggle with language and school work to be "cute" rather than something they're willing to help her overcome.

In spite of the Little Busters' efforts to help their comrade out, it seems as if nothing will help her overcome her troubles - an odd state of affairs, as when it comes to other matters such as quantum mechanics and the like she's clearly some kind of genius.  Lo and behold, once the day of the proficiency test comes around, Kud makes a basic error which ruins all of her previous hard work, much to her abject disappointment - but hey, that's what friends are for...

For all of Kud's sweetness as a character, there was once again nothing much for us to get our teeth into with this week's Little Busters - its characters and their scenarios simply aren't interesting enough to glean any particular level of emotional investment, and although the comedic elements of the show occasionally pay off they aren't enough to power things on their own.  In other words, it's back to normality after a relatively strong story arc over the past few weeks, although it feels like we should be building towards some kind of "end game" for the series sooner rather than later, which might just give it the boost it needs.

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 7

Mimori's succession has been decided by the powers that be, but who will she replace, and what will happen to the Mimori that her friends know and love?

It's this question that lingers throughout this week's AKB0048, as Mimori's colleagues happiness as they learn that Mimori is now a successor, and as a result is going to get a celebratory concert in her name, is offset by worries that the experience will somehow change her core personality.  On top of that, there is of course a little jealousy to add into the mix for those who are still understudies, not least Kanata as she finds herself the last of her generation yet to make it into the group proper.

Kanata's frustrations in turn bring concerns from Minami, who continues to fret that she's effectively stealing Kanata's time in the limelight as she seems like a cut and dried successor to herself - thus, a recurring theme this week is the assertion that Kanata needs to be more selfish in pursuing her own dream, words that potentially sink in when spoken by the new Mariko at the end of her celebratory concert.

All of this makes for another decent enough if unspectacular episode of AKB0048, punctuated by further progression of the deeper story surrounding the Zodiac Group and the fate of the Centre Novae - two plot threads which have now become irreconcilably tangled into a single major focus of the story at hand.  I really hope that this side of the show starts to get more play in the coming weeks, as I'm more than ready for its progression to stop being punctuation and start being the main course (to mix my metaphors).  I get the feeling that this probably won't happen until near the very end of the series, but a guy can dream can't he?

Space Brothers - Episode 45

Hibito may be safe and sound, but there are still plenty of important questions for Space Brothers to tackle this week.  Questions such as "Which colour Power Ranger would Mutta be?"

I digress a little however, as first and foremost this episode kicks off with Mutta paying a visit to Aunt Sharon, who is more than a little shocked to learn just how close Hibito came to death on the Moon - a fact which is yet to be revealed to the public.  However, there is happier news for Sharon to recount to Mutta, namely the fact that go-ahead has been given for a telescope to be built on the Moon, both fulfilling a long-term dream of Sharon's while also offering the opportunity for Mutta to fulfil a childhood promise that he would be involved in the construction of that telescope - something which now genuinely seems to be possible.  For all of her professional interest in a lunar telescope, there's also a far more personal reason for her to be invested in its construction too....

From there, we return to JAXA for an important moment in the fledgling careers of our new astronauts - getting hold of their first (and hopefully not only, as that would make washing day a nightmare) JAXA jumpsuits.  Sadly, they only come in one colour, but that doesn't seem to deter the group of newcomers as they're told to prepare to head off to Houston and clearly what will be the next phase of the series as they find themselves working with (or against) other astronauts from across the globe.

After the adventures on the moon of late, anything that Space Brothers does is going to be something of a comedown, but there is still a fair amount to admire within this week's episode.  I particularly love the way that the show effortlessly mixes the grandiose nature of space exploration with the intensely personal - Sharon loves space and discovering more about it, but that there's still one tiny asteroid which means more to her than anything speaks volumes about what the series does so well, as does the thrill brought about by the simple receipt of a JAXA uniform.  We've also now been set up for an interesting shift back to the rivalry and intensity of training as we move back to Houston - something that the series will hopefully find a fresh take on having already tried its hand at similar scenarios a number of times up to this point.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 7

The summer is oiver and much fun has been had throughout... so what are these lingering doubts being felt by the gang?

Whether it's wishing they'd been to the beach or not being able to enjoy a trip and overnight stay, it's clear that the summer hasn't quite managed to hit all of the key expectations required of it, but fear not for Kana has a plan - to make those dreams come true in the cheapest way possible.  Mind you, I'm not exactly sure that wearing a swimsuit around the house or having a sleepover is quite the same as a day at the beach or an overnight trip, and even an attempt to create an authentic "night away" feel by telling ghost stories doesn't exactly set the world alight.

Another late summer problem continues to be the heat, something which Kana is successfully combating... until someone reminds her that it's hot.  And she has a cavity, so she can't eat popsicles.  Despite having won a free popsicle or two.  Life can be hard in the world of Minami-ke... in fact, just ask "uncle" Takeru, whose paid leave spent staying in the Minami household sees him not only attacked by a mosquito (and Chiaki), but also made to fork out for Sushi for the younger Minami sisters and their circle of friends.

All of this equates to another episode that was closer to the "fun" than "funny" side of the Minami-ke spectrum - its tale of the Vacuum Cleaner of Terror tickled me, but that aside the episode was more one of gentle enjoyment and amusement rather than anything else.  I still continue to be a little irked by this series' sneaking of slices of fan service into the mix, which never fails to feel gratuitous, but thankfully it's never quite intrusive enough to entirely spoil the flow of a show that continues to roll along at its own sedate pace.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 6

Nishida may have lost his game, but there's still plenty to play for in the regional final as the match between Hokuo and Mizusawa continues.

Despite that early surprise defeat for the school's Class A member, it seems that things are looking up for the rest of Mizusawa's team - Chihaya's switch towards her more typical speed-based style is wreaking havoc with her opponent Amakasu, and Tsutomu is proving just how far he's progressed over the past year by giving his rival a rough time.

Ultimately however, these remaining four games are so tight that all go down to the final two cards, an almost unheard of scenario where all four games are to be decided by what is effectively the luck of the draw - if the card on your side is read first, you win.  Unfortunately, Mizusawa's players are so focused upon their own games that they don't see the bigger picture, giving Hokuo the upper hand it seems... however, both Chihaya and then Taichi decide that there's nothing for it but to go on the offensive against the odds, effectively out-psyching their opponents in the process and setting the cat amongst the pigeons for a moment.  It's a strategy that ultimately proves to be in vain as the match is lost, but there are still plenty of positives to come out of the experience as a whole.

Chihayafuru might have many other reasons why it's such an excellent series to watch, but this episode in particular shows that it can create some fantastic drama and tension using its core concept of karuta alone - sure, the scenario which unfolds sounds pretty far-fetched in the grand scheme of things, but the build-up to it was great in continuing the theme of personal growth we've seen throughout the series so far, and once it came to the crunch those final minutes of the match provided nail-biting, edge of the seat stuff.  It feels like every week gives me a different reason to highlight about why I enjoy this series, which in itself speaks to one of the major strengths of Chihayafuru as a whole.  Now, roll on the nationals!

Robotics;Notes - Episode 17

After so much meandering story-telling, last week's Robotics;Notes certainly shook things up in a major way, meaning that this seventeenth instalment can content itself with picking up the pieces of its aftermath.

Needless to say, everything has changed for our main cast of characters, as the death of Mizuka reverberates around Kai and Aki in particular, whereas the injuries suffered by Subaru as a result of the accident with GunPro-2 has far wider implications, that being the disbanding of the Robotics Club and JAXA pulling their support and funding from their Expo dream.  For once, even Aki seems to have lost the vigour to fight in the face of adversity, meekly accepting the club's fate as she does.

As for Kai, he continues to struggle with what he should do about the final Kimijima report - a situation not helped by the appearance of further people who seem to know about both Kou Kimijima and Kai's past, while Misaki also continues to have a part to play in her decision.  Indeed, it's Misaki that is also responsible (albeit indirectly) for bringing Aki out of her slump, as she once again discovers her determination to catch up to her sister, which means completing the GunPro-2 no matter what.  But will anyone want to assist her after everything that has happened?

Now that the series has finally kicked up a gear or two thanks to last week's episode, this latest instalment was inevitably some of the better far we've seen from this show so far - there was no shortage of emotion to lean on and this was mostly pulled off in a satisfying manner, even if its left us where we started about fifteen episodes ago to some degree.  Having done justice to what is set out to over the past couple of weeks, hopefully the series now has the legs to bring us home to a decent finale rather than wallowing in mediocrity again for a few weeks before doing anything interesting.

Vividred Operation - Episode 6

It's time for the girls to enjoy a break from the norm as their school's summer camp rolls around - there's no rest for the wicked (and not-so wicked) however, as Doctor Isshiki decides that this is also the perfect opportunity to put the group's abilities and friendship to the test.

With their Ignition Keys handed over as soon as they reach the island that is the base for this summer camp, the girls are left without the ability to call upon the Vivid system if required, and once Isshiki captures Rei to use as bait for his plan, the game is afoot.  As sketchy as it looks, the group have no option but to fall straight into the trap presented them by the "Alone" (or rather, Alan) that has captured Rei, and head off into the hills to find her.

Its here that Isshiki has various obstacles laying in wait for the girls, all of which are mostly non-lethal once you look under the hood but at least pose enough of a threat to test the group - not that this exactly goes as planned as the girls go their separate ways, while Rei proves to be anything but a compliant a hostage.  It's enough to make Isshiki forget his original plan and go full-on mad scientist - a problem which can only be halted by Akane's swimsuit, it seems.

This week's episode of Vividred Operation makes no excuses of or apologies for, the fact that it's pure fluff that adds little to nothing to the show's wider narrative - luckily, it's just about enough fun to get away with the lack of real content as it makes the most of its free reign to throw dumb ideas into the episodes in a light-hearted and humorous way with just enough charm that I can forgive it its foibles.  Then again, the series is really at a point where it needs to start moving things forward substantially from this point forth, lest it risk becoming caught up too tightly in its own formula.

Friday, 15 February 2013

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - Episode 6

This week's Sasami-san@Ganbaranai begins with Sasami herself recounting a chance encounter with her mother - an encounter which is worrying for a couple of reasons, both of which are pretty immediately obvious despite the episode's attempts to obfuscate that fact.

When Sasami fails in an attempt to coax Kagami into going shopping with her (on account of the latter's need to care for her rabbit), what she anticipates to be a loan shopping trip to buy a bike turns into her running into her mother again, and an enthusiastic Sasami wastes no time in dragging her Mum along for a bit of mother-daughter bonding as they shop around, visit the arcade and enjoy some ice cream together in spite of said mother's staunch attempts to remain stoically unmoved by the wonders of the modern world.

When push comes to shove however, those aforementioned concerns come back into play - namely the fact that Sasami's mother is dead and she knows it, with the second being her dedication to the role of priestess at the Tsukuyomi shrine.  So it goes then that the real goal of Sasami's mum, and one which she has returned from the dead to perform, is to bring her daughter back into line as a priestess.  When Sasami's protestations look set to fall on deaf ears, Tsurugi and her "family" arrive to save the day - only they have nothing like the power required to put this situation right themselves.  Are the days of Sasami's normal life numbered already?  We'll have to wait until next week to find out, for that's what cliffhangers are for.

Although this was an accomplished episode for the most part, even if it was a little clumsy about hinting in a not-so subtle manner about the twists to come, I have to admit that I much prefer Sasami-san@Ganbaranai when it's playing its scenario for laughs rather than straight drama or plot development.  This week's instalment had a couple of great one-liners that made me laugh out loud, but the rest of the story didn't really strike me, proving as it did to be a little too predictable - it's a far cry from the mind-bending insanity which opened the series, and although I noted back then that that was a trick which you can't repeat very often, if at least had some energy to it which doesn't quite ignite here.  I'm certainly interested to see where this particular story arc is headed, don't get me wrong, but I'm not going to perch on the edge of my seat while I wait to find out.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 6

Thanks to Kodaka's "dream" in last week's episode, it seems that the cat is threatening to escape its confinement with regards to his childhood friendship with Yozora - surprisingly, Yozora herself is actually quite happy to simply spill the beans to the rest of the club members, which causes some awkward moments...

...until the next day that is, at which point everything seems to have been forgotten.  Helping this sense of collective amnesia is the fact that the school festival is coming around, and the suggestion that perhaps the Neighbours Club should do something for the event gets the group's thinking caps on.  Of course, it doesn't take long for the idea of a maid cafe to be mooted, bringing us half an episode of most of the cast dressing in a maid outfit, with varying degrees of success.

Once this idea has been written off, the next suggestion is that of a fortune telling booth - an idea which serves as a perfect opportunity for Yozora to bully Sena some more by filling her head (and let's face it, it's easily filled) with nonsense which gets her into yet more trouble with her father.  It seems as if this incident might be a final boiling over point in the relationship between the two girls, but all is soon forgotten once Kobato enters the fray.

I'm not really sure what else there is to say about Haganai - for all of its ever-more occasional fun moments, it's a brazen example of otaku pandering as it fills its time with hooks to keep them coming back for more (even if those hooks are largely pretty joyless) while ignoring the fact that it treats most of its characters like trash, particularly Sena who is now effectively animated as a walking pair of breasts whenever she's on-screen.  Trashy anime can be fun sometimes (see: Strike Witches), but Haganai is increasingly feeling uncomfortable to watch in its attempts to lure a crowd - a problem exacerbated by the feeling that it ran out of ideas long ago.

Little Busters! - Episode 18

As if life wasn't tough enough for Saigusa, now her twin sister is pretending to be her in a concerted effort to steal the few things that she has left in her life.

It's safe to say that the relationship between Futaki and Haruka is at an all-time low as a result of this, and even Naoe is going to have a hard time picking up the pieces given that neither party is willing to be entirely honest with either one another or themselves as they both insist that the situation is irretrievable at this juncture.

Dig a little deeper, and this mindset is unsurprising given the violence and obsessive mindset of the family to which both girls are attached, and even as the truth about the twin's desire to reconcile their relationship comes out it still seems impossible in the face of the power of those above them.  Eventually however, it's Saigusa who makes the big breakthrough by refusing to be cowed any further and deciding to do anything to put things right, in turn persuading Futaki to take the risk of enraging the family and taking the next step together jointly - that step being to find out about their true parents.

Although the ending to this episode didn't feel as fleshed out as perhaps it should have done to the point of appearing a little rushed, it is at least still pretty much the strongest story arc Little Busters has delivered - it's no classic in the wider world of Key works but it was at least mildly effective at bringing us some sympathy for its characters and a desire to see things put right.  That probably sounds like me damning the series with faint praise and... well, I guess it is, but I'll take what I can get for a series that has underwhelmed for the most part, and it was good to at least find some episodes that threatened to at least tickle my heart strings slightly if nothing more.

Psycho-Pass - Episode 17

The dust is settling in the aftermath of the riots, and in spite of the economic, physical and psychological damage done to the city it seems that it - and the Sibyl system - are safe in the wake of Makishima's attack.  But is this a system really worth saving?

Either way, it seems that the MWPSB aren't going to get a chance to evaluate Makishima's plans or goals, as Gino is soon informed that his department are being taken off the case and won't be given any access to the criminal - something which understandably doesn't go down too well with any members of the squad.  For now though, their thoughts have to turn elsewhere, namely tracking down the missing Kagari as his disappearance threatens to cause a whole new set of problems for the section.  Little do they know how deep that particular conspiracy actually runs....

This brings us to Makishima's "interrogation", which isn't in fact an interrogation at all.  After learning that even the Chief in charge of the Sibyl system is not who she purports to be, and isn't even a singular individual, we finally get to the crux of what drives the Sibyl system - not so much computational power as outright brain power, harvested from those with an unusual personality which separates them from their peers.  In other words, an individual like Makishima, who finds himself summarily invited to join the Sibyl system as one of those who exercises control and judgement over all and sundry.  Of course, this kind of thing really isn't Makishima's bag, meaning that everything is quickly turned on its head once again.

I have to hold my hand up and admit that I'm not completely sure what to make of this big reveal surrounding the Sibyl system - I suppose kudos should be due that it wasn't entirely what I was expecting, but I'm not sure how well it fits into the series as a whole at this point.  Then again, it does look set to make for a compelling story moving forward, threatening as it does to shift both Makishima and the MWPSB's perspectives markedly as the truth slips out - it is perhaps what the show does with its big reveal that is more important than the details of the revelation itself, so for now I'll give it the benefit of the doubt against the backdrop of a show that is clearly still going places and has plenty more left to say.

Tamako Market - Episode 6

With the heat of summer at its peak, things are quiet - too quiet - in the market district.  But fear not, for Tamako has an idea as to how to draw in the crowds... a haunted house!

Yes, I know that it doesn't really make any sense, but deal with it.  With the other occupants of the market caught up (as per usual) in Tamako's enthusiasm towards this project, they agree that it seems like a great idea and leave Tamako and her friends to create and market their masterpiece to the masses.  But is there a real curse which has struck the market?

The occupants certainly think so, and find themselves torn as to whether or not to tell Tamako as the "evidence" behind the curse amplifies - funnily enough, the hysteria amongst the shopkeepers seem only to be serving to bring more people to the haunted house once it finally opens.  It's almost as if the whole thing was some kind of smart viral marketing campaign...

As glad as I am that this week's episode at least ended with some progress as to Dera's task and background, with the news that he's about to receive a visitor, this was but a small consolation after around twenty minutes of dull, moronic slice of life gubbins that was as unfunny as it was tepidly boring.  This wasn't really helped by the fact that most of the episode was predicated upon everyone within the show being complete idiots, which was rather a stretch in itself to leave its "twist" to be utterly predictable.  While previous episodes of Tamako Market haven't exactly had me shouting from the rooftops, they were at least okay - in contrast, this week's instalment was really, genuinely bad.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 19

The Robber Fly colony of Monster Rats have seen the mainstay of their insurrection against the townsfolk of Shin Sekai Yori crushed, but is that the end of the matter?  As the healthy survivors of that rebellion go on patrol, there's an understandable sense of unease as to what exactly is going on.

As Satoru and Saki join a group of three such survivors, they begin to mull over the reality of what they've just witnessed - is this really the work of a single colony headed by Yakomaru, and why would he wage such an impossible war against mankind?  Satoru can only surmise that there is far more to the unfolding situation than this, and his own eyewitness account of another Monster Rat colony's involvement in the raid on there town seems to back this up.

Any such theories have to be put on hold as the group reach a nearby riverside hospital which has clearly been attacked during this uprising, and it doesn't take long for Satoru to discern that they've stumbled slap-bang into the middle of an ambush.  The waiting Monster Rats may not be able to contend with a bunch of human users with Powers, but they still have enough wiles to take out one of their opponents, and once inside the hospital the true and terrible extent of what the town is up against slowly comes to light... an impossibility that could threaten them all.

Never mind ethics, provoking thought or turning a mirror on the audience's world, this week's Shin Sekai Yori quickly turned into a session of survival horror - something which it proved to be surprisingly adept at as the tables were turned on our protagonists in a way which currently defies explanation but will surely both prove fascinating and further tie in to questions as to the ultimate fate of Maria.  The switch in focus here has ultimately shown itself to be another feather in Shin Sekai Yori's bow, as its second half continues to go from strength to strength even when it isn't at its intellectual peak.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 19

Now that their manga juggling between magazine has been set in stone, it's time for Ashirogi Muto to work hard on getting both PCP and new series Reversi to where they need to be in their serialisation lifespans... a task which is easier said than done.

Mashiro seems to be more than confident that he can create the required chapters of both series without trouble, especially now that he has a new assistant on board in the form of seasoned professional Ogata.  However, it seems that our artist has massively miscalculated just how much work is required to get things done, meaning that it's all hands on deck (and then some) to avoid some disastrous slippage of either of the manga series now in progress.

With this hiccup out of the way, it seems like a return to smooth sailing for Ashirogi Muto, as Zombie Gun's first week dominance is quickly turned into victory after victory for Reversi upon its weekly début, putting Nizuma in his place (that place being second) for three weeks running.  Eiji is not so easily cowed however, and just as Mashiro suspects he has some tricks up his sleeve which propel himback to the top spot, while Reversi runs into trouble on account of its core setup.  Is it something that can be fixed though?  Takagi seems determined to turn the series into a long-running powerhouse, which is to ignore the key tenets of what makes his work so good in the first place...

After the feel-good successes of recent weeks, the first half of this week's Bakuman was enjoyable simply for reminding us that the lot of the manga artist isn't all smooth sailing and high concept concerns - sometimes, it's simply a scramble to get stuff done in time while pulling impossible all-nighters.  From here, the episode's pace was perhaps a little too brisk to luxuriate in Ashirogi Muto's biggest successes before a new challenge posed itself, but that fast pace has become a feature of this third season by this point and the wider narrative is no less compelling for it overall.  With our protagonists returned to their usual state of underdogs once again by the end of the episode, it feels like this series now knows exactly what to do to keep the viewer's interest.

Monday, 11 February 2013

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 6

It's time for thoughts of succession to start forming in the minds of certain members of AKB0048's group of understudies, as rivalries intensify and some eyes turn towards the much-vaunted Centre Nova position.

Indeed, it's the rivalries within the group which occupies much of the early focus in this week's episode of Next Stage - Nagisa and Chieri's friendly but fierce rivalry is plain for all to see, while Yuuko looks on with burning ambition of her own.  However, it seems that the Chieri and Nagisa's rivalry is perhaps a little too powerful, overshadowing any radiance you might expect from them and the Kirara that gather around them.

While all of this is going on, the real news is perhaps that of Mimori's rise to prominence, as her hard work sees her struck down with a fever.  This is no ordinary illness however, but the pre-cursor to the Kirara choosing her as a successor.  But to who?  And can she make it through that night's performance in one piece?  The answer to that could also give a leg-up to Nagisa, who seems to be growing in terms of her belief in her own abilities...

If nothing else, things feel like they're moving on apace in AKB0048 of late - for a while it felt as though succession and the like had been pushed onto the back burner, but now it's very much at the centre of the show once again as Chieri and Nagia's rivalry takes (with all puns intended) centre stage.  The biggest question mark however continues to be the Zodiac Corporation's place in affairs - there are more vague hints as to their interest in what's going on but little more, and I can't help but feel that this is where the most interesting facets of the show's second half will come, entertaining though the more focused idol-based fare has been for the most part.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Space Brothers - Episode 44

Somehow, against all the odds, a major disaster has been averted on the Moon, bringing with it a sense of "relief" that this word does not even begin to express, whether it's for those directly involved, the group's Earth-bound overseers or us, the viewers.

With all that drama and tension set aside for a time being, this episode really deals with the "clean-up" for that incident - in the first instance, this means getting an already-recovered Hibito and the injured Damien back to the moon base for treatment, and after a good kip Hibito seems fighting fit, while his colleague is going to take a few months to recover entirely.

Once everything has settled down again, Hibito finally gets to speak with his brother, and after having been regaled as to exactly how things panned out in the wake of his accidents he's confident that three people were primarily involved in saving his life - Brian Jay, Azuma, and (of course) Mutta himself.  The dream of the Nanba brothers standing side-by-side on the Moon is still very much alive - a perfect note upon which to move this series into its next phase.

The problem with delivering so many gripping, edge of the seat episodes in succession is that the comedown is always at least a little disappointing, and while it would be harsh to aime the word "disappointing" against this week's Space Brothers - it's a much needed tonic to see everything right with the world after what has gone before - it has none of the power of those previous instalments to impress.  Despite that, there were still some wonderfully subtle moments to be found, mostly in Mutta's reactions to the news that his brother is safe and his first conversation with Hibito after the accident - it's that sort of human side to space travel and the relationships of the show's characters that Space Brothers has proved to be so proficient at, and it's the kind of thing that wins it praise even when it isn't firing on all of its dramatic cylinders.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 6

Kana seems to have created herself the perfect summer break schedule... at least, in her opinion, but Chiaki seems to have other ideas, most pressingly regarding the lack of any study time on that schedule.

Not that this stops Kana making the most of her summer - a visit to Riko's house might be off the cards, but visits to the swimming pool and beach are very much available to her.  Things aren't looking quite so good for Riko however, with a horoscope suggesting that she might drown - although with her lucky colour supposedly being blue, perhaps Fujioka can save her from her otherwise certain fate?  From here, discussion turns to the trials and tribulations of job interviews - a future problem that it seems that Kana is well and truly on top, thanks to her ability to act like a cute girl at the drop of a hat.

Next up, it's onwards to the beach, and it's Makoto who has some tough times to face - needless to say, wearing a girl's swimsuit is a tricky situation for him (especially once tan lines enter the equations), and his growing friendship with Chiaki also presents some longer term challenges.  Besides which, the presence of Haruka in a swimsuit offering to rub lotion on him is clearly the kind of thing that can break an impressionable young lad's brain...

As per last week's episode of Minami-ke Tadaima, this was by no means a classic instalment but it still proved to be just about fun enough to warrant its existence as it plays with its cast and their characteristics with a sense of easy-going enjoyment.  There remains a sense that this particular season of the show is a little more focused on fan service (a little too much so, perhaps) than previous instances of the franchise, but luckily even this doesn't detract too heavily from what is going on.  I suppose it goes to show that little can beat an episode of Minami-ke that features Hosaka, but you can't blame it for trying.

Robotics;Notes - Episode 16

It's been rather easy to forget that this series is supposed to feature robotics at times, but as we hit episode sixteen of Robotics;Notes our attention at last returns almost fully to the robotics club's work on GunPro-2.

Indeed, as we revisit this particular project we find it more or less complete and awaiting its first activation test - with monopoles raining from the sky of late and a nifty remote power provision "cannon" which uses lasers to charge the robot's batteries, it's a massive step up from GunPro-1, and once you add a little AR magic to it the result is a truly impressive one.

With their first activation test competed, necessity requires the club to take a bit of a breather, but even when the group is set to reconvene for further testing it seems that some of the club's members still have thoughts elsewhere.  This is most notably true in Kai's case, as he searches out the final Kimijima report unaware that other forces are becoming ever-more insistent that his efforts be brought to a halt.  Things are about to take a major turn for the worse however, as a blustery day threatens to be a lethal one while testing the GunPro-2, while an attempt from Misaki to put a halt to Kai's activities has an equally terrible outcome.

To sum up my reaction to this week's episode is simple - it basically amounts to "at last, something is actually happening!"  Admittedly, there's still a lot of explaining left for the series to do even at this juncture, but we're finally at a point where the conspiracies and danger threatening the world has come home to roost on the doorstep of the robotics club.  Everything is now in place for the series to finally pick up the pace and run with everything that it's constructed throughout the series so far - but how many times have I said this now?  Surely this must be the moment where Robotics;Notes moves into top gear, without fail.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 5

Chihaya and company are already through to the national karuta championship, as are their next rivals, Hokuo.  If you think that means that these two teams are about to go easy on one another however, think again.

Despite having secured qualification, both teams are still hungry for success - in Hokuo's case, it's more of a hunger for revenge having been beaten by Mizusawa the previous year, while for Chihaya a victory is simply another step towards their team becoming Japan's best.  With victory very much in mind, Hokuo look to gain the advantage thanks to Retro's ability to discern the opponents line-up with unnerring accuracy... however, it seems that Retro kun is looking to make this a fair and balanced fight rather than shooting for an optimal line-up to make for an easier win.

With both Retro's girlfriend and the matches reader offering surprises for Mizusawa, it's clear that this is going to be a tough game however, and we spend the remainder of the episode visiting a number of the games going on within this match to find Chihaya struggling on account of her determination to ape current Queen Shinobu, Mashima and Nishima having troubles of their own, and a triumphant rise for Kana.

In a way, it's a shame that this match was set-up with qualification already ensured, as despite its best efforts this does drain some of the tension from the match even from a viewer's perspective, and it simply isn't as gripping to watch this episode as a result, especially as it continues into next week's episode.  Then again, it's still enjoyable to watch the show's main cast, explore their motivations and thought processes and , in Kana's case, see their abilities grow markedly due to their interests.  Even during a relatively "weak" (and I use that term loosely) episode, Chihayafuru is still pretty darned great to watch, and hopefully the second half of this match next week can rediscover a little of that missing tension.

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - Episode 5

After another largely bonkers episode last week, Sasami-san@Ganbaranai returns to normality for this week's instalment.  And if you believe that, you'll believe anything...

That said, Sasami is all-set to kick off her high school life very belatedly and she's determined to make the most of it - the first step of this adventure into the normal however is making a friend.  But who?  Given her late entry into the school and her general circumstances, the only thing for it is to ask classmate and resident robot Kagami to be her friend, if only as "practice" for the real thing - a task which Kagami takes to with her usual relish, by which I mean she spends her time sleeping and making deadpan remarks to everything.

There is, however, a problem with becoming the friend of what is effectively the overlord of the entire world - you become the subject of unwanted attention from various other deities.  It's a major problem for Kagami (albeit a somewhat amusing one for us as viewers), but her increased distance to Sasami as a result of this issue leaves our protagonist distraught at her inability to make or keep a friend - little does she realise the struggle that Kagami has taken on for Sasami's sake.

Having missed the mark somewhat over the past couple of episodes, this felt like something of a return to form for Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - a heart-felt but fun instalment that managed to make the most of the viewer's connection to Sasami built up over its early episodes, while also leveraging some simple but effective physical humour.  It's no classic, but it had enough emotion and amusement to ease the episode along when coupled with its slick visuals, and if the series can keep up this kind of level of quality it can at least stake a claim as one of the winter's more entertaining offerings.

Vividred Operation - Episode 5

As the mysterious girl responsible for "powering up" the Alone over previous weeks, it's about time that this villain of the piece got some time in the limelight - enter Rei Kuroki, who also just so happens to be a classmate of Akane's.

Of course, there's more to this story than simply Rei serving as a force of evil - indeed, the first half of this episode might as well have simply consisted of a neon flashing sign saying "REI IS A GOOD GIRL REALLY", given how we follow her admiring birds, smiling at the thought of a camping trip and carefully tending to the parrot in her care at home.  In spite of this, Kuroki is a cold character when it comes to dealing with others, pushing Akane's advances of friendship away while keeping her distance from all and sundry.

So what is the story of Kuroki's involvement with the Alone?  While we don't learn everything about the source of her troubles, it's clear that she's being blackmailed in the promise of her parents returning to life if she only helps the Alone to complete their mission, that being the destruction of the Manifestor Engine.  Such is her desperation to succeed in this task that she's even willing to go it alone (Alone... geddit?), risking life and limb with dangerous consequences that also leads to the loss of the key which connect Rei to her family - an implement which quite literallt proves to be a possible key to a budding friendship with Akane and the gang.

As I've alluded to already, the first half of this week's Vividred Operation isn't exactly subtle as it goes about laying out Kuroki's character, to the point where it becomes unintentionally hilarious at times - I'm surprised they didn't show her cuddling an injured kitten and kissing a baby just to hammer the point home.  Beyond that, the episode was fairly decent in getting to the crux of what drives Rei's actions, in an instalment that was largely free of action but has set up another major aspect of the show's plot.  Perhaps we can drive forward towards something that breaks free of the show's current formula and really kicks things up a notch as a result.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 5

It's time for another uneventful session in the Neighbours Club, albeit initially at least, in this week's Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT, providing a sense of normality that is almost a relief as Yukimura's brush with the truth about her own gender seems to have left her drive to become a "real man" unaffected.

Somehow or other, the discussion turns to gaming, and with Rika having plenty of games laying around before we know it Yozora is playing an otome game.  After dodging a vengeful bullet after Sena tries to give the main character a crazy name (Charlie Tunoku or somesuch), Yozora predictably makes a hash at wooing any of the guys within the game as she spends all of her time worrying about her characters stats.  But has she found love in the form of the game's resident delinquent?  Of course, even this ends in tears, leaving us with a glimmer of hope that Yozora might actually have learned her lesson for once.

From here, our attention turns to Rika - not just her ever-changing hairstyles, but also her proclivity to make impressive but rather dull inventions.  At Kodaka's probing, Rika sets out to make a time machine - at least so she claims.  Using Hasegawa himself as a test for the system, he finds himself propelled back into his past and finding himself with an opportunity to set right his youthful mistake in moving away without saying goodbye to his childhood friend... a friend who was, of course, really Yozora.  While all of this proves to be nothing more but a dream once it all goes rather awry, the outburst made by Kodaka during his sleep has opened up a substantial can of worms which is going to take some explaining.

Not for the first time in this series, there was a lack of any particularly sharp humour on show in this week's Haganai - its visual novel focus feels like yet another rehash of something done before, and better, by the series, and the interactions between the main cast remain similarly predictable.  Thankfully, the second half of the episode offers a little more meat upon those otherwise bare bones, giving us the prospect of returning to one of the core tenets of the show's wider concepts; something which could give the series a much-needed boost, with any luck.

Psycho-Pass - Episode 16

Shogo Makishima's goals have taken him to the heart of the Sibyl system, hidden from the general public though its true nature might be.  Can the trio of Tsunemori, Kagari and Kogami put a stop to his plan, whatever it might be?

Right off the bat, things are further complicated by the fact that Makishima and his accomplices have split up, with some taking to the roof of the building and its radar antenna, while the rest have set off for the basement.  With Kogami in particular given explicit instructions to capture and arrest Makishima alive, he sets off for the roof with Akane, leaving Kagari in charge of handling the basement, which proves to be far more expansive than even the building's public blueprints suggest.

Purely and simply, the majority of this episode is a straightforward race to catch up with and stop the main instigators of the chaos currently ensuing, with Kagari finding himself being tempted to join the "dark side" by Makishima's hacker accomplice, while the relationship between Kogami and Makishima himself is far more simpler.  While goings-on in the basement offer us a couple of twists and turns, at the top of the building it's left to Akane to choose between her emotions and her ethics with Makishima at her mercy.

In the grand scheme of things, and compared to much of its output thus far, this week's Psycho-Pass didn't really have anything in particular that it wanted to say, leaving the episode open to some simpler entertainment as we watched our "heroes" set forth on their mission to stop Makishima's plan.  In terms of this goal, the episode succeeded - the action was pretty slick for the most part, we got a real sense of the depth of Akane's character in terms of her drive and determination, and we also gained some glimpses into Kogami and Kagari's psyche and why they are considered to be "latent criminals".  Where the series goes from here I have no idea - with some big reveals made and others clearly around the corner though, I remain hooked in terms of following through with whatever Psycho-Pass has in store for us next.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 18

Things are looking up in the world for many of the major players in Bakuman as this latest episode gets underway - Eiji Nizuma and Ashirogi Muto are both hard at work on the titles they hope will bring them new successes, while Azuki's career is also reaching a new pinnacle.

Our focus, however, is on our two rival manga artists as they put together their concepts for a pair of one-shot stories, with Nizuma's Zombie Gun and Ashirogi Muto's Reversi provoking plenty of excitement in the editorial offices of Shonen Jack.  This excitement proves to be well-founded too, as these two one-shots debut in consecutive issues of the magazine, and both prove to be record breakers.  Is this finally the moment where Takagi and Mashiro reach the top of the tree?

Given the incredible popularity of both series, it's clearly time to consider serialisation for both of them, which presents some unique problems.  In Mashiro and Takagi's case, the problem is an obvious one - can they possibly work on two series at the same time, with PCP also proving to be a continuing success?  The answer to this is to shift their new outing to the equally new Hisshou magazine - or is it?  Hattori clearly has an opinion on this, as do the artists themselves, and the final outcome is one that also looks set to spur on Eiji in his own goal of creating the world's best manga.

What all of this adds up to is a wonderful feel-good episode - everything is fresh and exciting, and that sense of excitement, potential and the fact that we're on the cusp of something special for those involved is genuinely infectious.  It might not have any massive drama or tension, but it's simply great fun to sit down and watch as we move on towards the "final battle" between our manga artists.  It's a climax that I certainly can't wait to immerse myself in, and this third season of Bakuman shows no signs of abating in terms of its quality.