Monday, 29 April 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 4

After his outburst in front of the entire class defending Nakamura against accusations of stealing, it seems as if Kasuga's stock amongst his peers really couldn't sink any lower - neither, indeed, could his self-esteem.

However, it seems that his moment of unexpected bravery has struck a chord with somebody - Saeki no less, who commends him for being brave enough to stand up for Nakamura in such a situation.  Of course, these brief words of praise from his "angel" send Nakamura into rapture, so much so that even Nakamura's continued insistence that he abide by their "contract" doesn't particularly phase him.

Although that outburst has seen him ostracised by the rest of the class, another chance meeting with Saeki after she does her bit to show her support for him once again leads to the two chatting and, ultimately, arranging a date for that Sunday.  A joyous moment that nothing could spoil, surely... at least, not until Nakamura hears of the date.  Of course, our antagonist wants to put her own unique spin on this situation, and thus arranges to meet up with Kasuga before said date to force him into another uncomfortable and potentially compromising "dare"....

As if Flowers of Evil hasn't been uncomfortably enjoyable enough already, this week's instalment of the series really steps things up a gear by shifting Saeki from unobtainable angel to potential girlfriend material - a little too fast one could argue, but understandably so for taking us into another realm of Nakamura's twisted thinking and the abject discomfort that comes from it.  Cringing at what's developing on-screen has never been so much fun...

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 4

As Attack on Titan hits its fourth episode, we reach the cusp of graduation for the military recruits we saw in the previous instalment, as they face up to their final round of training and tests to decide who will cut the mustard.

More specifically, these individuals are all being scored to decide upon the top ten graduates who get to enjoy a life within the city's inner walls as part of the military police, serving the king and enjoying the security and relative plenty that comes from that particular environment.  Thanks to some comments to Eren served up the group's "lone wolf" Annie, our protagonist suddenly realises just how ludicrous this situation is, with the most skilled fighters battling to be kept as far away from the action as possible, leading to an environment where everyone is struggling not to do their part to defeat the Titans, but for their own security and safety.

Of course, Eren himself if having none of this, and despite scoring within the top ten students when graduation time comes he instead opts to drop out of the military police and join the Recon Corps.  While those around him think that he's nuts, his impassioned and stirring rebuttal of their questioning of his sanity has a surprising effect far beyond simply convincing Mikasa and Armin to join him (as if there were any doubt that they would), and as their new careers start Eren finds himself confronted with a lot of familiar faces.  Not every recognisable face is a welcome one come the end of the episode though....

After a short, slick and punchy introduction to the characters that we'll doubtless be following closely from now on, this was another hugely enjoyable episode of Attack on Titan which mixed up its action, socio-political story-telling and comedy nicely before dropping a decidedly juicy hook to bring us back for next week's episode.  This latest instalment also made me realise just how superb the show's soundtrack is, as it did a great job of pushing the episode along as required while accompanying it perfectly.  It's time for things to get serious within this series, and I really can't wait to see how it pans out.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 4

In seeing off the pirate threat last time around, Ledo has certainly proved his usefulness for the time being, allowing him a place to stay and everything he needs to get by for the time being.  However, the question of such usefulness still seems to be very much playing on his mind throughout this fourth episode of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.

Although Ledo continues to do his best to help out when it comes to moving cargo around and the like, it's really Chamber that is doing all of the legwork, and once someone else takes over control of Chamber to do this more efficiently he's left with literally nothing to do - a rarity for a man from a culture entirely geared for war and nothing else, and where anyone who has no use in helping to win that war is simply cast aside.

Against that backdrop, Ledo cannot even begin to comprehend why Gargantia allows its kids to roam free and play, or why sickly individuals such as Amy's brother Bebel are provided for when they add nothing to the "greater good" of the fleet.  It seems that no amount of explaining from others amongst the fleet, be they doctors or even Bebel himself, can really bring home the difference in attitude exhibited here, although it's Amy's brother who brings back a memory for Ledo that perhaps suggests even to him that this is the right way for life to be lived.

Overall, this week's episode of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet was far more like the kind of thing I was expecting from the series - digging in to Ledo's expectations and past and setting it against the very different values of his new home.  Even without any of the action of previous instalments, or perhaps even because of that lack of action, this made for enjoyable fare with a surprisingly impactful emotional pay-off towards the end that made the whole endeavour well worthwhile.  No doubt the series will have to keep mixing it up to remain compelling, but I'm definitely on-board for more of this kind of content, which is satisfying despite being rather obvious in its nature.

Space Brothers - Episode 55

After all of his recent endeavours, Mutta has come down with a fever at the worst possible moment, with the final day of their survival training about to get underway.  I suppose that's the price you pay for all of those recap episodes...

With Mutta laid up and seriously in need of some rest, there's no sign of NASA going easy on them, instead giving them a simple choice - give up and drop out, or ensure that the entire group finishes the course.  Needless to say, there's really no choice to made there, and after being provided with some medication Mutta joins the rest of the group in heading off on their final day of walking, allowing them to complete the course but at a pace which means that they finish dead last.

Unfortunately for the team, this performance also has a knock-on effect on their next text - the so-called "Comeback Challenge" which involves launching a small rocket to deliver a rover created by the group before said rover automatically finds its way to its destination.  Each team is offered a choice of engineer to act as support to the group, and coming in last Team E are left with only a solitary choice - the unkempt, lazy and disinterested Pico.  Are there hidden depths to this man, however?

I'm sure most would admit that the whole "survival training" arc of Space Brothers hasn't been the best, so I'm excited to see the series move on to a seemingly more cerebral and fascinating challenge, complete with an equally fascinating character in Pico, who will hopefully come into his own as things progress.  If nothing else, it's nice to see normal operation resumed after that trio of recap episodes that have deprived us of new Space Brothers for a few weeks now.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 4

As we reach this fourth episode of Oreimo's second season, Kirino is looking to allow a friend of hers from her time in the US stay over while she visits Japan, which can mean only one thing for poor Kyousuke - trouble!

So it proves, as the visit of the energetic Ria sees Kyousuke getting blamed for all sort of shenanigans which aren't even his fault by Kirino, while Ria seems more than happy to wreak havoc and play "little sister" to Kyousuke's big brother.

After a little sightseeing which takes the trio to - where else - Akihabara to give Ria a taste of Kirino's interests, we come to the crunch of Ria's visit - an opportunity to pit herself against her former roommate in a race, to get revenge for Kirino's single victory over her before she returned to Japan.  With Kyousuke present to cheer her on, can Kirino ensure that the status quo remains, or will Ria's natural talent allow her to go home on a high note?

After a first half to this episode that couldn't have been any more generic a fan service-led comedy if it tried, the second half of this week's instalment did at least improve somewhat by offering up a little emotional meat to its panty shot bread and butter.  It's still a far cry from the Oreimo I know and love (heck, it doesn't even look as good at this juncture), and I'm seriously starting to fear that those halcyon days simply aren't going to return at this point, but maybe this show is finally making some baby steps in the right direction.  I can hope, can't I?

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 16

With the national team final about to get underway, we have to sit on our hands for this week's episode of Chihayafuru as it instead decides to recount the story of this second season so far.

To be honest, most of the show's subject matter really doesn't compress well into this format, and aside from one or two moments that serve as enjoyable reminders of some of the highlights of the series a lot of it feels far too brief to derive any enjoyment from, and if (heaven forbid) you haven't been keeping up with the series this most certainly isn't the best way to try and enjoy it.

Thankfully, regular viewers are at least regaled with some mildly amusing and self-referential comedy skits scattered throughout the episode, which comment on the show's lack of budget while generally having the cast poke fun at themselves or one another.  It probably isn't enough to make this instalment worth watching even if you're a well-versed Chihayafuru fan though, so I guess we'll just have to take a deep breath and wait a little longer to see how the grand finale turns out for Mizusawa.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 3

Misaka might have ignored and written off the rumours swirling around a Level 5 cloning project carried out within Academy City, but the reality of the matter seems determined to meet her head-on as her chance encounter with Nunotaba Shinobu suggests that there is more than a grain of truth to the stories.

Although Shinobu refuses to say anything specific on the matter beyond the fact that her cash card deployment scheme was set up to stop some experiments, moreover suggesting that Misaka simply isn't strong enough to attempt to do anything about it, our protagonist is still determined (at least outwardly) to laugh off the ridiculous premise.  However, with her concerns nagging at her, some digging into Shinobu's background soon suggests that she's telling the truth and that there is more to this cloning "urban legend" than she might want to acknowledge.

With the location of Shinobu's former place of employment secured, it's time for a little breaking and entering for the Railgun, as she enters the laboratories where it seems that some of these experiments were taking place by using all of her skills and a little fortune to find the deserted lab at the heart of the cloning project.  Lo and behold, the documentation still stored there acknowledges that there was indeed a project to mass-produce Railgun clones - however, with none of those clones sporting anything close to Level 5 powers the project was abandoned.  This is music to Misaka's ears as she heads off home in relief, unaware that the information she has uncovered is only part of the sinister story unfolding within the city...

As its first major story arc continues to build, A Certain Scientific Railgun S certainly feels like a top-notch production - the animation quality and aesthetic of the show is a cut above the original series, and you can't help but feel the confidence of the story-telling as it builds up its premise slowly but surely.  The best is still to come, of course, but three episodes in this certainly feels like everything you could hope for from a second season of this franchise.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 4

In the wake of the previous episode's not-so natural disaster, a now safe Emi finds herself thinking back upon her past - in other words, it's time for us to be regaled of her back-story; of how Emilia became a hero and the true depths of her hatred towards Maou.

Along these lines, much of the first half of this episode is filled with thoughts on how people can be faced with a choice between doing good and evil, and how their circumstances at that exact moment can influence their decision to take a path of light or dark.  In spite of this, Emi still can't really wrap her head around Maou's change in attitude since arriving in the human world, and ultimately she breaks down and demands to know from him why he's suddenly running around helping people and being diligent as opposed to his previously nefarious behaviour.

Unfortunately for all concerned, that question is never fully answered thanks to the appearance of Chiho, who immediately mistakes Maou and Emi's discussion in the former's apartment for a sign of their relationship before running off crying.  This in turn leaves her vulnerable to the same forces which caused the subway collapse previously - a danger which Maou's landlady seems to know far, far too much about...

Although it's actually managed to pull it all off in a reasonably satisfactory manner, I have to admit that I much prefer this series when it's playing its premise for laughs rather than dealing with the serious business of what makes a person good or evil or instigated supernatural rebellions against the main cast - maybe I'll warm to this aspect of the series as it goes on and becomes more overt, but I worry that it runs the risk of becoming too predictable and self-serious, which could well drain a lot of the entertainment from the show.  Hopefully it'll at least be able to balance this against its light-hearted fare, as if nothing else this episode has made me realise that I'm already actually rather attached to the main cast of characters, so I'd really rather like to spend more time watching them goof around over the coming weeks.

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 4

If a reminder were needed that Hibiki and company aren't playing a game in their current roles with JP's, the fatal ending to their previous skirmish was surely it.

As Hibiki laments his inability to protect or save Keita, there's little time for reflection as an Angel... sorry, Septentrion... heads straight for the JP's base.  Although Kuze is keen to go and tackle it, he's instead told to take his place as the last line of defence against this behemoth as others go to tackle it head on - a decision which leads to a bloodbath as it crushes everything in its wake.

Eventually Hibiki simply can't take any more, and breaks ranks to head out and face-off against the Septentrion directly - another decision which looks to be ill-advised, as it becomes clear that for all of Byakko's power it's effectively useless against this particular enemy.  Not that Hibiki is the only one wielding any kind of notable power, as he finds himself replaced as the last line of defence by Nitta, who seems to have exactly what it takes to stop the Septentrion in its tracks for Byakko to finally do it some damage and win the day.  But our these school kids even fighting for the right team?

Once more, Devil Survivor 2 works well largely because of its break-neck pace - there's little time while watching to process whether the show or its plot is being stupid, as there's death, destruction and an ever-changing situation on the ground to keep track of instead.  The result is a pretty entertaining one, that admittedly rolls through a lot of cliches but still proves enjoyable in spite of them with its blend of action and drama, especially now that the stakes have been raised and it's clear that death is always just around the corner.  Again, there aren't any signs that this will be a memorable show in the long-term, but for throwaway enjoyment it's hitting the right notes.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Red Data Girl - Episode 4

It's off to high school we go for this fourth episode of Red Data Girl, and even before classes begin at Houjou Academy it seems as if Izumiko has made herself some friends in the form of twin siblings (and two of three triplets, the other being deceased) Mayura and Manatsu Souda.

However, it seems that not everybody at the academy is quite so friendly - although top student Takayanagi seems aloof but otherwise harmless, Izumiko soon finds herself noticing those tell-tale menacing black shadows which are always a sign of trouble in her eyes, and as a result she struggles to keep her composure in their presence, especially when one of them is situated in her very class.

When the foreign transfer student who is the "owner" of this sinister black figure (which even Izumiko knowingly worries is simply her own prejudices coming through) tells our protagonist to meet him after school, it's clear that this isn't going to be some kind of love confession, and luckily for her Sagara tags along to protect his charge when things go south.  With the two Souda siblings also revealed as having powers of their own which fit into this world's supernatural elements, it seems that Takayanagi might be about to get his comeuppance.

Even four episodes in, I continue to be unsure in my feelings for Red Data Girl - I appreciate some of what it's trying to do, and it continues to build up some reasonably interesting constructs around its broader narrative, but that doesn't really stop the execution of those constructs from being kind of bland.  All of the characters are so matter of fact, and take everything so seriously (exploding web sites and all), that there's no feeling of joy to be had while watching the show, while conversely and moments of tension are quickly drained before gaining any real power.  Thus, the potential remains for Red Data Girl to explore some interesting avenues, but for now it seems to be doing so in a forgettable and mediocre fashion.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 3

To Kasuga's immature and inexperienced eyes, his life is pretty much ruined as this third episode of Flowers of Evil begins - his reputation with Saeki is dirt, Nakamura has enough dirt on him to hold him hostage to her whims, and even his attempts to dispose of the evidence of his misdemeanour prove unsuccessful.

If he thinks the talk about the missing gym clothes are going to go away, then he's also mistaken, as it remains a hot topic thanks to reports reaching the teaching staff that a suspicious character was seen in the area around the time that said clothes went missing.  Of course, Nakamura is having a ball with all of this, and when Kasuga fails to write an essay on his feelings that she demanded of him she seeks to abuse and embarrass him yet further, despite still wanting him to hang out with her after school.

Thus, this episode is really a look in on the decidedly weird relationship shared by Kasuga and Nakamura - one of hatred and distrust (for themselves, each other and the wider world in general), but with an odd and almost inexplicable sexual undercurrent running through it.  Come the end of the episode, Kasuga is even standing up for Nakamura in front of the whole class in the wake of another possible theft - is this love, friendship, or merely the Stockholm Syndrome at work?

It's this aspect of the show which ensures that Flowers of Evil remains decidedly fascinating - our two main characters are a psychologist's dream, and the rapid, lunatic twists and turns in their relationship is the kind of thing that you could dig into an analyse for hours.  For now though, I'm more than happy to just sit back and watch them play out against this enduring atmosphere of reality with surreal tinges; even when I find myself internally criticising a character's actions, part of me is both willing to accept and glad that they are the way they are, as it's this which lends the show its compelling nature.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 3

It's time for military training to begin in this week's Attack on Titan, and that can mean only one thing - the introduction of a belligerent drill sergeant!

Thus, our groups of new recruits find themselves getting a verbal, and occasionally physical, bashing - at least, most of them do, with only those who have clearly already seen plenty of the horrors that the Titans can serve up being spared a tongue-lashing.  Even the toughest of military minds can be rendered speechless in certain scenarios though - enter "Potato girl" (she has a proper name, but who cares?  Potato girl it is), who hungrily chows down on a spud in the midst of this dressing down of all and sundry, with her only reaction being to offer half of said potato to her mentor as he tries to wrap his head around what the hell she's doing.

With these early introductions out of the way, it's on to an aptitude test to see if the group are up to using the innovative 3D manoeuvre system used by the military to combat the Titans.  Although most of those still at the camp (with a number having left at the end of day one) have little trouble getting to grips with the harness and the balance required to make use of it, Eren is having a nightmarish time and simply can't figure out how to stay upright.  Of course, this leads to much mockery from his peers - especially given his bragging the previous day about how he plans to kill or Titans - but this soon turns to help and advice from some of those around him as they realise how earnest he is.  Not that any of this seems to help, although it appears that there's a rather more fundamental problem that had been standing between Eren and passing this particular test.

Having been assuaged with scenes of gruesome violence, depression and misery throughout its opening act, it was actually really refreshing to see this episode of Attack on Titan add some levity to proceedings, proving that it has a pretty sharp sense of comedy when it needs to and offering a change of pace for some of the episode as a result.  With this training episode proving to be just that, a single episode, rather than risking outstaying its welcome, it seems that we're already moving on to the next stage of the series - given its promising final scenes this week, I simply can't wait.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 3

In defeating a band of troublesome pirates, Ledo has certainly shown what he and his machinery can do - however, if he's expecting his current hosts to be pleased at this show of strength he's going to be in for a surprise...

Needless to say, nobody is too thrilled at the fact that Ledo has annihilated a whole bunch of people, enemies or otherwise; not only from a moral standpoint, but also in the knowledge that this will simply stir up a thirst for vengeance against other pirates to boot.  Of course, this theory proves to be entirely correct, with a fleet of pirates from the area headed up by a particular notorious character known as Lukkage.  This leaves the fleet and its leadership in a tough spot when it comes to what to do with Ledo, but in the end it's Bellows who suggests that perhaps the best course of action is to further engage the help of this newcomer and his technology.

Thus, the scene is set for a face-off between Ledo, his hosts and Lukkage's pirates - a conflict which seems to be incredibly one-sided given Ledo's abilities even if he's operating under strict instructions not to kill or injure the enemy.  However, this particular group of pirates are not to be underestimated, as they look to gain an upper-hand by deploying submersibles, innovative Yuboroids (which, quite frankly, look like Sharkticons - not that this is a bad thing) and... errr... a surfing lobster.  Ultimately none of this is a match for Ledo and his flying machine however, meaning that the fleet is once again safe from pirate attack.

Although this series still hasn't quite managed to get its hooks into me entirely (it feels like there's a piece of the puzzle missing that could be the difference between me enjoying the series and loving it), it continues to be accomplished in building and utilising its world, while also making for some impressive set pieces and bursts of action without entirely ignoring the crux of Ledo's struggle to understand and begin to fit in with those around him.  Okay, some of the machinery at the pirate's disposal seemed a little too outlandish in comparison to the wider world the show has built, but if you can put that to one side this was an entertaining episode that hopefully gives us some breathing space for more thoughtful fare to come.

Space Brothers - Episode 54

At last, we come to the end of our triumvirate of recap episodes in this week's Space Brothers, meaning a return to normality from next week forward.

Rather oddly, we actually take another step back after last week's instalment detailing Hibito's near-lethal misadventure on the Moon, instead focusing upon the remainder of Mutta's path towards becoming an astronaut to this point.  To be honest, it's the kind of content that doesn't really work that well shrunk down and stuffed into a single episode, and thus one or two fond memories aside there really isn't anything much of note going on here until we reach the very end of the episode and receive our setup that will create some more drama for the end of Mutta and company's survival training.

At last, we can start looking forward to Space Brothers again!

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 3

A surprise visit to Saori's home turns into a major surprise (for Kyousuke, at least) as this week's Oreimo begins.  Cue flashbacks...

In essence, this episode is all about Saori Bajeena, or to use her real name Saori Makishima.  As the younger of two siblings, the young Saori is a quiet and reserved girl without any specific friends or interests and with a weak constitution that prevents her from really getting out into the world.  This is in stark contrast to the elder of the two sisters, Kaori, and after a few years of pursuing outdoor activities Kaori's interests have shifted, in turn taking her to a point where her sister can get involved in her activities and circle of friends.

However, rather than joining in with a love of the things that interest Kaori (guns mostly, as it happens), she instead falls in with one of Kaori's friends, a budding manga author named Kanata.  In essence, it's her who throws Saori headlong in the world of otaku-dom, only to leave her devastated as Kaori goes off and gets married which in turn ensures that the circle of friends around her slowly drifts apart.  Ultimately determined to one-up her sister, Saori seeks to make her own circle of friends - cue the meeting which started this entire series.

Rather than offering up any particularly zany or comically rich scenarios, this episode was really about filling in the gaps in Saori's character, pure and simple - it's something that I can't fault the series for doing as it certainly needed to be tackled, but it still means that we're now three episodes in without succeeding in recapturing much of that old Oreimo magic.  It's a bit of a worry, in all honesty - has the series simply lost its mojo, or does it have nothing interesting left to do with its characters?  I hope it's simply that it's building up a head of steam slowly and that more interesting fare is on the way, but my confidence in the series is waning after these tepid beginnings.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 15

The national team final is upon us as we reach this fifteenth episode of Chihayafuru's second season - although to some extent, this instalment is all about those who aren't playing in the final.

For starters we have Kana who, having stepped aside to let Tsukuba play, reveals the true cause of this decision as it seems that she's been hiding a hand injury for a little while now to keep her place.  Even after making this sacrifice, she spends the rest of the episode regretting her decision as the true enormity of the final, and perhaps more importantly the selection of reader, comes into view.  Then again, at least she had a conscious choice in the matter unlike opponents Fujisaki's line-up, who see one of their stars switched out of the line-up in the final and replaced with a first year club member by their no-nonsense coach.

Indeed, Fujisaki are a very different beast to Mizusawa in all sorts of ways - brimming with personal confidence and self-assured mannerisms, but not really anything that you could call a "team" in any real sense, with all sorts of in-fighting and clashes between club members bubbling under the surface.  Perhaps none of this will matter as the game begins however, with Mizusawa well-briefed by the ever-accurate and reliable Tsutomu, and some unexpected faces appearing to cheer them on...

Even without a single card flung across a room in anger, Chihayafuru still knows how to produce some compelling content - anyone with an interest in any sport will be able to relate to the abject disappointment of missing out on a final, and there was an enjoyable blend of comedy, character profiling and interactions between individuals throughout all the way through to Arata, who has arguably become a spare wheel too often within the show.  Of course, this is but an appetiser for the main course, which we'll have to wait until next week to hungrily devour.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 2

As A Certain Scientific Railgun S gets its teeth into its first proper story arc after last week's introductory episode, we begin with a flashback to Misaka's youth, and a promise made to doctors to allow them to map the young Railgun's DNA in the same of advancing medical science.

This incident from many year's previously is little more than a distant dream for our present-day Misaka however, as she has other things to contend with - Kuroko's advances for example.  Indeed, it seems that even a shopping trip can't be a regular event for Mikoto, as she and Shirai come across a cash card left hidden in a small alleyway, something which has been happening with a strange regularity around Academy City to the point where it's become an urban legend that people are actively hunting for, not least Saten of course.

Any semblance of a normal day is really put to a halt for Misaka when she overhears some ruffians discussing the possibility that they've discovered the source of the person distributing the cash cards - something which they want to use to their advantage by pinching the lot, of course.  Misaka is having none of this, and so tails them with a view towards bringing their nefarious plan to a halt while also finding the person responsible for hiding the cash cards - then again, it seems that the culprit has no problems in dealing with a bunch of unskilled thugs herself...

After that pretty rip-roaring anime original opening episode, we're now well and truly on the track of a "proper" story arc - I'll be the first to admit that some of its attempts to push the plot forward are a little clumsy (especially the heavy-handed hints about cloning - why not be more subtle about it rather than spoiling your own story for newcomers to the franchise?), but as a whole this was a pretty solid episode which again blended its elements well to make for a satisfying setup for what is to come overall.  Of course, perhaps it's easier to say that as a reader of the original manga, so it would be interesting to see what those unfamiliar with the source material make of it.

Friday, 19 April 2013

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU - Episode 3 (Dropped)

Try as he might to play tennis (well, if you can count hitting a ball against a wall "playing tennis") during gym class, it seems that Hikigaya simply won't be left alone, which drags him into another of those youthful "adventures" that he hates so much.

His problem comes courtesy of a friend of Yui's named Sai, a rather feminine looking tennis player and member of the school's tennis club who is looking to do whatever he can to improve.  Although Hikigaya isn't particularly interested in helping out, once Sai puts his request to the Volunteers Club he effectively has no choice but to offer his assistance.

One training montage scene later, conflict arises when a dispute breaks out over the right to use the tennis courts between Hikigaya and company and Yumiko and her boyfriend Hayato.  There's only one way to solve this conflict and that is, of course, to have a tennis match to decide who's in the right - a match which sees Yui pick up an injury, leaving Yukino to step in and bring the group to the bring of saving the day before  allowing Hikki to work his particular magic - not that it gets him any plaudits, mind you...

For a show that loves to poke fun at the generic romantic comedy and depictions of the wonders of youth, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU sure is... well, incredibly generic.  There were absolutely zero original ideas or even moments of interest in an episode that felt like a piece of IKEA furniture built by monkeys - there was no doubt as to what it was, but everything about it was ill-fitting, clumsily assembled and ultimately not really fit for purpose.  It seems like there's really no way out for this series at this point - its cast is dull, and the bright possibilities of its premise and characters seem to have been entirely ignored, leaving us with perhaps the season's most mediocre series (that I've watched at least).  Sometimes, mediocrity is even less enjoyable than watching something painfully bad, so rather than subjecting myself to more instalments of excruciating nothingness, this show is headed for the "dropped" pile.

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 3

Money troubles aside, things seem to be going pretty swimmingly for Maou - not only is his job going well, but he's also been invited out by co-worker Chiho Sasaki.

If only the same could be said for our hero of the piece Emi, who follows up her night sleeping on the floor of Maou's ramshackle apartment with a call from a mysterious individual who clearly knows who both she and Maou are, threatening to destroy them both as their homeworld no longer requires their services.  In the wake of this, the last thing she needs is a call asking her to bail out Maou and Ashiya as the former's abandoned bike following the "shooting" incident the previous night comes back to revisit him.

Still, with this over and done with, at least Maou has a date to look forward to - a date which ties Chiho in surprisingly tightly with Maou and company's "visit" to the Earth, as it seems that she's been hearing things that relate directly to his current situation.  While this threatens to be forgotten once Emi arrives to interrupt this date buy having a blazing row with Sasaki, they're soon jolted back to their very twisted reality as a major earthquake takes place...

Once again, I find myself really rather enjoying Hataraku Maou-sama in a lot of ways - some of its comedy moments are great, its primary cast consists of strong, fun characters (even Chiho is anything but a simpering love interest when push comes to shove), and the wider scenario of the series still offers up some fun moments.  The real question at this juncture is whether that sense of entertainment can persist now that the series is beginning to enter some more serious territory - I seriously worry that the show will lose its charm with this introduction, although I sorely hope that I'm proved wrong by the series continuing to play to its strengths even with the introduction of an evil (or should that be another evil) force.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 3

Having decided to sign up to this whole "saving the world" business along with his friends, it's off to Osaka for Hibiki and company for their first real mission as Summoners.

Here, they meet up with another pair of fellow newbies, Hinako and Keita - not that there's much time for introductions, as first one of them goes wandering off to do a little demon slaying in preference to searching for Professor Kanno, before Osaka's JP bureau comes under a concerted cyber-attack by an unknown entity.

With the organisation's firewall crumbling like a Cadbury's Flake and the magical barrier which protects the entire city reliant upon it, finding the source of this cyber-attack is the order of the day, and although early signs point to attacks coming in from across Japan some smart thinking by Hibiki soon tracks down the real source of the culprit, which just so happens to be close by.  With Keita's life also in danger by this point, it's a race against time to save him and stop the cracker before Osaka's defences are laid bare, although sometimes even the best laid plans aren't enough to challenge fate...

Now that we're three episodes in, Devil Survivor 2 certainly seems to be a solid and confident video game to anime adaptation - it lacks the character of Persona 4 certainly, but this instalment shows the series' willingness to pull the rug from under the viewer rather than becoming overly repetitive, and the entire package is delivered swiftly and slickly, complete with a suitably nifty soundtrack to drive it along.  It might not be shaping up as one of the spring's most talked about series, but that doesn't prevent Devil Survivor 2 from being an entertaining show in its own right so far.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Red Data Girl - Episode 3

A return to the mountains also means a return to normality for Izumiko and Sagara as this third episode of Red Data Girl begins, although of course the knowledge gleaned from that visit and Izumiko's unveiling as the "carrier" of Himegami.

Still, if nothing else the whole trip seems to have markedly improved the relationship between our protagonist as her protector, and all continues to be well for the return to school after that Tokyo excursion.  At least, all is well until Wamiya enters the frame.  Having been offered up a gift by Izumiko, brought by some of her friends, Wamiya seems to be far from thrilled by the fact that Izumiko made the trip to Tokyo - indeed, he's behaving decidedly oddly while also showing himself to have more than a passing grudge towards Miyuki.

Of course, we ultimately learn that Wamiya really isn't what he first seems, and after controlling some of his classmates to attack Sagar we get to see exactly what kind of powers he holds as he uses them to chase after both Sagara and Izumiko.  One car chase later, this results in a showdown between Wamiya and, it turns out, his creator, who shows a surprising moment of strong-willed defiance to browbeat her pursuer.  It seems that Izumiko has a steely side beneath her meek exterior, and she might just need it as we fast forward to the start of her life in Tokyo at Houjou Academy.

Even three episodes in to Red Data Girl I still feel like I'm not entirely sure what to make of it - take many of its aspects in isolation, whether it's the show's characters or the broader setting and concept, and it all seems pretty interesting, but as a whole it somehow still struggles to be as compelling as it perhaps should be.  For now it's doing just enough to hold my interest, and the skip forward in time at the end of this episode might help it, but rather like its main character it certainly needs to find a better sense of self if it wants to really impress.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 2

With temptation laid before him, life is about to get very difficult for Kasuga - after managing to initially resist that temptation, his desires get the better of him before the pressure of having someone walk in on him leads to him unthinkingly stealing the gym clothes of classmate Saeki.

No sooner has he done this than Kasuga is wracked with guilt about his actions - feelings made worse when an announcement is made to the entire class (with a tearful Saeki standing at its head) that her gym uniform has gone missing.  Unsure of what to do next, Kasuga is left in a near-constant state of panic when he isn't lamenting his actions, and things are about to get even worse...

Whether it's true or not, after school the day following the incident Kasuga finds himself running into Nakamura, who wastes no time in telling him that she saw him steal the uniform, trying to use it as leverage for him to take her where she wants to go.  Although that plan doesn't quite work out - Kasuga simply runs away screaming - it certainly lights a fire under our protagonist.  The trouble is, doing the right thing and returning the clothes is easier in principle than in practice, and in failing to do so Nakamura's plan really begins to swing into action as she threatens to take away something precious to him - that something seemingly being Saeki.

So ends another deeply atmospheric episode of Flowers of Evil, which seems to be more than making up for the pitfalls of its visual techniques with superb sound design to bring menace or malice and a feeling of threat to every scene.  It also does a surprisingly good job of fleshing out Kasuga as a character - yes, he's stupid in all sorts of ways, but his predicament still manages to eke out a slither of sympathy towards him as a viewer as things go from bad to worse.  It might not look the best, but in terms of story-telling and its slow, careful build-up so far, I'm still eager to see more.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 2

There's little time to grieve for Eren and Mikasa as we enter this second episode of Attack on Titan, as the Titan's incursion into Shinganshina means that the top priority for all concerned is a mad race to safety.

It's a race that many won't win either - as the Titans run amok in the isolated Shinganshina gate district, there are only limited boats and little time to reach the safety of the city's inner gates.  Even any attempts to slow or stop the Titans using cannons prove to be ineffective, with some of the larger creatures terrifying mankind proving to be simply too big and too fast to stop as they break through further gates and ensure that the death toll rises higher still.

Even for those that make good their escape, which includes Eren and company, there's a whole new world of problems and misery to be dealt with - the influx of surviving refugees within the higher, better fortified Wall Rose means that the already short food supply is stretched to breaking point, and with the blame for this largely foisted upon those very same refugees it is they who are effectively forced into slave labour; first being set to prepare land and forage for food, before being shipped out en masse to fight a fruitless war against the Titans in a foolish attempt to regain the territory within Wall Maria.  Of course, the children at least are spared this, meaning that we can fast forward to the start of Eren, Mikasa and Armin into the military, with Eren in particular thirsty for vengeance against the Titans.

After a great start, this was another top notch episode of Attack on Titan, which did a great job of continuing to establish the scope of its world while balancing its depiction of the horror, the violence and the very human side of the crisis at hand masterfully.  Thus, the scene is well and truly set for what is to come, and although you could argue that some potentially fascinating content in its own right has been raced through to reach this point, I'm very much hooked in to seeing what comes next in what is looking like a very strong show in a strong season.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 2

Ledo now knows what planet he's on thanks to his little escape attempt at the end of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet's first episode, but given the failure of that escape he's now left in an uncomfortable stand-off with the local populace.

Thankfully, the locals at least seem willing to engage in dialogue rather than simply trying to kill him, although they don't exactly seem to be too convinced by Ledo's story of his existence as a soldier fighting in a war against an alien race; nor, indeed, do they buy the idea that his mech is talking fluidly without anyone inside it.  That aside, the big question on everyone's lips regards what they should actually do with these "guests", with the general consensus being that they're an unwanted and potentially dangerous distraction.

It's only Amy who seems to have any kind of affinity towards Ledo (despite the whole kidnapping thing in episode one), and it's her who actually goes to some lengths to befriend, talk to and actually understand Ledo's situation - while she soon feels comfortable enough to trust him, the same can't be said for those in higher positions within the water-borne fleet of which she's part.  When some space pirates pay the fleet an unwelcome visit with a view towards plundering some of said fleet's more valuable recent finds, Ledo sees an opportunity to take out these enemies and endear himself to the natives... is he only going to succeed in making them even more afraid of him, however?

As an exercise in world-building, this was most certainly a really good episode of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - it's remained patience in its depiction of the language barrier between Ledo and the native humans where other shows would have given up or written around it, and the series' Waterworld-esque setting is sufficiently rich to hold plenty of potential in its own right.  Add in the various other elements which are making up the series so far, and things are looking hugely promising - I just hope it goes down such promising routes rather than taking the more cliched path which is also clearly available to it.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Space Brothers - Episode 53

It's recap episode time again this week (and next week too, incidentally) in Space Brothers - this time around, our focus is upon the Moon, as through the lens of Hibito's rehabilitation we look back over the incident on the moon which nearly killed him.

While squeezing all of that drama into a single episode can't possibly hope to generate the same kind of horrifying tension as things went from bad to worse to the impossibly depressing, this episode does as good a job as you could hope and I did find myself being caught up once again in Hibito and Damien's plight all the way through to its uncomfortable to watch moments before help arrives.  I have to need for these recap installments, but as a brief excuse to revisit some fantastic story-telling there are worse things that I could be doing.

I really hope that next week's recap episode the last however - I'm starting to feel a real hunger for some good new Space Brothers right now.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 2

While you might typically expect Kirino's return to be met with nothing but joy from best friend Ayase, it seems that she's once again having some problems with some of the more extreme otaku proclivities demonstrated by Kirino - thus, it's Kyousuke to the rescue once again!

More specifically, Ayase's problem is with Kirino's obsession with a new dating sim, which has seen her talking to her PS Vita (which is clearly nonsensical and unrealistic - there are no PS Vita games) and using her phone to send text messages to her virtual girlfriend.  Doing a little digging at Ayase's behest, Kyousuke learns that the game is called Love Touch, and having seen a full demonstration of Kirino's obsession with it he soon understands Ayase's problem.

Thankfully, even Kirino knows that she's getting a little too into the game, and thus lends it to Kyousuke to look after her virtual girlfriend while she takes a break from it.  The trouble is, Kyousuke himself is soon also hooked, although it does allow him to understand that even his sister's Love Touch obsession is at least indirectly related to her friendship with Ayase - something which he tries to demonstrate to her in a not entirely successful, but ultimately fruitful, way.  Then again, maybe Ayase is taking some aspects of the game a little too seriously for her own good...

Although I'd love to say that this is the moment that Oreimo returns to form, something felt seriously "off" about this week's episode.  Most notably, Kyousuke simply doesn't feel like the same character any more - to have the detached and slightly snarky elder brother we've come to know and love replaced with another drooling otaku dating sim addict both stretched credulity and broke one of the important aspects of the show, that being Kyousuke as the every-man surrounded by rabid otaku.  That aside, on a more positive note there were still some funny moments here and there (including Ayase's hilarious final take on using Love Touch to impress Kirino), and little touches which perfectly capture the otaku condition (Kirino tilting her head trying to peek under a virtual girl's skirt was uncannily accurate), but I hope the series has more in its arsenal than simply that moving forward - if nothing else, it really needs to remember what made the first season so enjoyable, which it seems to be in danger of forgetting at the moment.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 14

Arata might be missing the big semi-final that his Mizusawa-based friends are taking part in, but that doesn't mean that he can't get to at least hear about their progress thus far, as news reaches him that they've successfully made it through to the semi-final of the national team tournament.

Of course, our attention soon shifts back to that gripping ding-dong semi-final between Mizusawa and Akashi Girls school as it reaches its crucial final stage.  After Akashi take first blood with Nishida suffering defeat, things are quickly leveled up in the match as Kana wins her game to make it one apiece.  Once Taichi makes it 2-1 to Mizusawa, all eyes turn to Chihaya's game against Megumu as seemingly the natural climax of the match which everyone is now watching.

If you think this is where the game is going to end however, think again - after losing her most precious card to a surprising turn of speed from Megumu, the psychological balance arguably shifts away from Chihaya, while Megumu herself seems to have quickly built up some new techniques simply from playing against such a strong opponent.  It's this new-found speed of taking cards which ultimately leads her to a win, and us to a gripping finale, with Tsutomu and his opponent left with one card each and a luck of the draw ending which Mizusawa's database wins with, all of things, a touch of superstition.

It's this second half of the episode which once again shows Chihayafuru at its most powerful - glimpsing into the teetering psychological tug of war between players, bringing high drama by engineering a few surprises and a tense finale to a match, and showing us the raw emotions in the aftermath of such a game.  It's a heady blend of elements that work brilliantly at drawing in the viewer and leaving them on the edge of their seat, and it'll certainly interesting to see what spin the team tournament final will have given the strength of Mizusawa's opponents.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 1

It's about time we returned to Academy City to catch up on the adventures of Mikoto Misaka and friends - if you'd forgotten why it was so important that we be treated to more of this particular manga adaptation, then I'm pretty sure the first couple of minutes of this opening episode of A Certain Scientific Railgun S should set you straight.

After that fantastic reintroduction to our main quartet of characters and how they typically go about their business, this opener spends a little time introducing a character who will be important further down the line - another of Tokiwadai's level 5 ESPers, the telepathic Misaki Shokuhou.

"Hello, can I order a copy of A Certain Scientific Railgun on Blu-Ray please?
What, it's DVD only?  Ehhhhhh?!"
Such thoughts aside, the mainstay of this episode sees the girls joining Uiharu's friend Erii Haruue as she pays a visit to her hospitalised friend Banri (remember them?)  Of course, trouble is never too far away wherever Misaka tends to wander, and before we know it another section of the hospital is the subject of a breakout by another patient who also happens to be some kind of radical.  Once Haruue gets caught up in the ensuing escape attempt, there are no prizes for guessing who comes to her rescue.

So there we have it - a rip-roaring start to A Certain Scientific Railgun S that hit basically all of the right notes - from the moment that pounding electronic soundtrack kicked in during the opening scene it was like the gate to all my fond memories of the first series came flooding back, and from there it didn't take too long to fall in love with its cast all over again as the episode effortlessly flitted from comedy to overblown but still hugely enjoyable action and back again at will, exhibiting exactly the blend of elements that we've come to know and love from this series.  Roll on episode two, and I simply can't wait until we hit some of the original manga's meatier material.

Friday, 12 April 2013

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU - Episode 2

Yui might have made herself a friend (well, kinda) in Yukino thanks to her place as the the first "customer" of the Volunteers Club, but it seems that she's still looking for acceptance from others - a stark contrast to Hikigaya's detached observation of the world around him.

The trouble is, it seems like Yui is looking for friendship in all the wrong places, falling in with a vacuous beauty of a classmate who is clearly using her as a kind of servant while refusing to countenance the fact that she might actually have friends other than her.  With Yui placed into an awkward situation which even Hikki can't find the right moment to interrupt, it's time for some of Yukinoshita to delever some of that sharp-tongued and acerbic commentary of which she is so fond to diffuse the situation.

With that out of the way, the second half of this week's episode sees the Volunteers Club visited by another customer - a delusional fellow who seems to have taken a shine to Hikigaya after warming up with him during gym class, and who wants to have his light novel critiqued by the group.  You can probably see where this is heading, with his "work of art" being ripped to shreds before Hikki somehow resolves the situation by deflecting the fact that this light novel is actually worse than Sword Art Online.  Or something.

Even though this episode seems better thought-out in its deployment of Yukino's biting commentary and tries to deliver some more meaningful character-based plot progression, My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU remains... well, pretty dull.  It doesn't have enough humour to be a comedy nor does it do enough with its drama and emotional content to produce anything notable, leaving it floating in a miasma of mediocrity that it seems to have little interest in escaping from.  I'll give it another episode I suppose, but this series certainly feels like one for the "subpar light novel adaptation" pile - an amusing prospect given how it riffs on light novel authorship in this particular installment.

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 2

Never mind all of the demons and stuff, this week's episode of Devil Survivor 2 is called "Monday of upheaval" - I'm pretty sure we all know how that feels.

Anyhow, having survived the strange attacks that have caused chaos across Japan, our trio of friends (well, two friends and random classmate who happens to be a busty, cute girl) find themselves effectively under arrest by the Japan Meteorological Society (or JPs for short).  Rather than the kids themselves, it's their cell phones which are the real item of interest thanks to their procurement of the demon summoning app which saved their lives - a technology similar to that available to JPs, yet far more advanced than anything they can conjure up in their Orwellian basement lair underneath the Diet building.

Thanks to Hibiki's summoning of the powerful demon Byakko, he also becomes an item of interest to JP as they look to the power at his command to help defeat the demons known as Septentrion currently rampaging across the country - a battle that would involve the small issue of defeating six major level enemies in six days to prevent the entire world "disappearing".  Being a high school student and all that, Hibiki is rather luke-warm to the whole idea, although a demon encounter at an emergency evacuation shelter changes the outlook of both him and his friends in relatively short order.

With another reasonably swift episode under its belt, Devil Survivor 2: The Animation continues to feel pretty accomplished, putting in the effort when it comes to some on-screen action when required while pouring out just the right amount of exposition for us to be completely up to speed with what's going on, leaving us free to enjoy the rest of the series moving forward.  My only real worry here is the show's cast of characters - compare it (as you invariably will) to Persona 4: The Animation and there's a striking difference here between the instantly likable cast of that show and the rather bland individuals within this one so far.  Hopefully this is something that'll change as we move forward, as the series may begin to struggle if it can't call upon us to empathise or cheer on its characters as we enter the real meat of the show.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 2

As if life isn't already tough enough for our alternate world Satan in his new home on Earth, now he has to deal with the very Hero he was fleeing from to wind up here in the first place.  Mind you, somehow even the toughest of heroes is rather less intimidating when they're sacred sword has been replaced with a knife from a 100 Yen store...

Having followed Maou and his assistant through the portal to another dimension, the hero of the piece Emilia has found herself in effectively exactly the same situation as those she was pursuing - trapped on Earth with little magic and no choice but to blend into the local culture to get by.  That said, she has at least done a little better on the career front, working in a call centre rather than a fast food restaurant.  Although threatening to kill Maou with the aforementioned knife doesn't quite go to plan, Emilia (or rather, Emi Yusa to use her new name) has no plans to leave her quarry alone.

After a few nights of trying to follow Maou as he undertakes what she assumes to be defarious deeds, but which ultimately turn out to be visiting the local baths or buying sale items, it seems as if Emi simply can't figure out what's going on in her opponents head - does he even want to return to his homeland?  It doesn't seem like it at first glance, although more pressing issues soon lead their rivalry to be suspended, albeit temporarily, as a magical attack from an unseen opponent and Yusa losing her purse leave the pair in league for the time being.

Although its premise is already showing the first signs of being a little well-worn, this was nonetheless a really fun second episode of Hataraku Maou-sama - there are some decent gags and snappy one-liners to be found, the voice acting cast sound like they're having a ball, and the relationships between the main characters are nicely played for maximum effectiveness throughout the episode.  I still doubt the series has enough legs to keep me amused from beginning to end, but right now it's doing an impressive job, so I really hope it can prove me wrong and keep this up.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Red Data Girl - Episode 2

Izumiko might have her "manservant", but it's certainly done little for her nervous disposition even if her friends seem to be enjoy the presence of this sporty new male newcomer in their midst.

Of more concern to Izumiko is the forthcoming school trip to Tokyo, which certainly isn't her "thing"; it's a situation made worse when she receives a mobile phone together with a letter from her mother imploring Izumiko to come and meet her during said school trip.  Rather than going it alone (especially given her propensity for blowing up electronics), it's left up to Sagara to accompany her on this particular excursion.

If a flight to Tokyo seems like a simple task, it proves to be anything but when you have Suzuhara in tow, as she quickly finds herself seeing things - black, shapeless beings that seem to be following her everywhere she goes.  Although Sagara dismisses this as a flight of fancy, when the duo's meeting with Izumiko's mother falls through along with a warning that "they've found you", and their subsequent journey to her house presents all sorts of unexpected obstacles it appears that there's more to what Izumiko is seeing than mere paranoia.  Once safe, we even get a glimpse into why our female protagonist is so important to those who protect her too...

I was expecting to see a little more exposition than we were ultimately given by this second episode of Red Data Girl, but then again that isn't necessarily a bad thing - we've once again been fed just enough to up the ante in terms of the show's intrigue, and P.A. Works certainly know how to create a creepy atmosphere when required so the show remains planted in my "interesting enough" bucket.  It feels like it might be a slow burner, but it's doing a decent enough job of working with the relationship between its main two characters to add to the overall sense of mystery to hopefully grow into something that will reward the viewer for sticking with it.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 1

It's certainly been the most talked about opening episode of the spring season so far, and not necessarily for the right reasons, but as a good boy who has been waiting for Crunchyroll's legal stream to appear I've been able to watch the drama unfold before dipping into the world of Flowers of Evil for myself.

On one level, this opening episode of Aku no Hana (to use its Japanese title just this once) is simply a story of ordinary school life, as we're introduced to the quiet and decidedly plain bookworm Takao Kasuga and watch him as he hangs around with his small but tight-knit group of friends - friends, it seems, who are initially oblivious to his fascination with female classmate Nanako Saeki, who is herself the brains of the class.

At the other end of the scale we have Sawa Nakamura, a stern and bespectacled girl who, quite frankly, doesn't give a damn about school or what anyone thinks about her, leading to her having no compunction about leaving a test paper blank or calling her teacher a shit-face.  Of course, even as somebody who hasn't read the original manga it's clear to see who our main players in this particular tale are...

Although it's easy to simply write off Flowers of Evil within minutes of its beginning as a pile of junk on account of its rotoscoping technique over the use of "proper" animation, and everything that brings with it both good and bad (and some of it truly is bad here, I'll openly admit), instead let's talk about the atmosphere of this opening episode of the series.  Thanks to its accompanying soundtrack which cuts in and out and intersperses itself with slithers of Kasuga's everyday life, the combination of music with the episode's odd look and Kasuga's own behaviour makes for a discomfiting and sinister viewing experience all the way through to its frankly unsettling closing theme - everything we're seeing is utterly normal, yet at the same time things are clearly not right in this particular world or some of its characters, and even without a single real point of interest happening we're still left in no doubt that we're about to enter some uncomfortably territory (as if you hadn't guessed from a series named after and taking influence from poet Charles Baudelaire's most famous and controversial work).  Yes, it looks downright ugly in places, and for every aspect of the episode's aesthetic which works there are just as many that don't, but hopefully the overall mood of the series sets a promising tone for what is to come.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 1

In the far-flung future, humanity has spread out into space, with its so-called Galactic Alliance of Humankind centred around the utopia known as "Avalon", a floating city that was named after a Roxy Music album.  Or something.

Of course, flitting around the universe always has its perils, and in this particular world that peril is known as the Hideauze (you see what they did there?), an evil menace which has to be obliterated at all costs.  As part of the massed forces tasked with doing just this, we join a young pilot named Ledo as he awakens from cold sleep (and a spot of jingoistic brainwashing) to take part in what is being considered the final, massed battle against the Hideauze.

When the Galactic Alliance's entire plan goes horribly awry, Ledo is caught up in the aftermath - failing to make it back to the mothership before its retreat, he and his mech fall into the wake of said ship's jump through space and end up... well, who knows where.  After six months in cold sleep, Ledo is awoken by his AI to find human-looking folk with primitive tools trying to force their way into his craft while speaking a language he doesn't understand.  Biding his time, Ledo tries to make good his escape at the first opportunity, only to find himself cornered at gunpoint at the exact same moment that it becomes clear that he has fallen to a planet which simply shouldn't exist...

Having sat through half an episode of generic space gubbins (I'd love to commission a series called Generic Space Gubbins, incidentally) to set the scene, it's only when Ledo awakens after his little incident that we really end up anywhere interesting in terms of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet's narrative - the whole galactic war against evil organic creatures idea has been done to death and then some, but the prospect of seeing this young Ensign dumped alone onto a strange planet with only an AI for company seems rich with possibilities that I really hope the series will explore.  It's far, far too early to call what or where this series intends to go, but for now I shall keep my counsel and play the "wait and see" game.  Oh, and start writing the script for episode one of Generic Space Gubbins.  Watch out Urobuchi, here I come...

Space Brothers - Episode 52

Our group of astronaut candidates are still out in the middle of the desert - so, what better time to start on some recap episodes?!

This first instalment of what I assume to be a pair of recap episodes takes in the early days of Mutta's journey from car designer to boss headbutt expert to prospective astronaut as his brother reminds him to follow his dream.  And that's pretty much that - nothing particularly noteworthy or out of the ordinary here, just a common, bog standard recap episode.  But hey, this series has been airing for a year now, so I guess it deserves one of two of these for anyone who hasn't been keeping up with the show.  Shame on them for not watching such a great show, though... I'm not sure you can really distill everything that's great about the series into a couple of digest instalments either, for that matter.

Little Busters! - Episode 26 (Completed)

After his initial reluctance to join their merry baseball-playing band, it seems that Kengo has warmed to being a part of the Little Busters, to put it mildly.

Meanwhile however, Naoe is still trying to come to terms with the fact that Kyousuke has asked him to take over as the group's leader - after dismissing it as a joke and Kyousuke poking fun at him, it soon becomes clear that his decision to hand over the reins to our protagonist was an absolutely genuine one.  But is Naoe really cut out to be a leader?  He certainly doesn't think so, despite Kyousuke's assertions that he simply hasn't realised what he's achieved already, and that he can easily surpass his mentor.

As Naoe frets over tactics and strategies for the group's forthcoming baseball match, it's time for his friends to repay some of the debt of gratitude they owe him, by reminding him how in some sense or another he "effectively" saved them all from their various moments of darkness, and that all they can ever ask of him is to be himself and to lean on them whenever he needs them.  Thus, Naoe's worries are assuaged, and the baseball game proves to be a huge success.  That, of course, isn't the end of the story though....

So it goes that Little Busters ends without really ending at all, and merely setting us up for the Refrain sequel that covers the rest of the events in the source material.  The trouble is, do I even want to watch more Little Busters after this tepid outing?  The honest is no, not particularly - save for the end of Kud's arc, the series had none of the emotional or dramatic power of other Key adaptations, and even the promise of better material second time around makes this a hard sell.  While it would be easy to blame everything on JC Staff here, I can't help but feel that the material they were working with simply wasn't powerful enough to compare to other similar works, as its execution was solid if unspectacular and didn't seem to be at fault for the most part.  My decision to watch Refrain (or refrain from doing so - see what I did there?) is one to be held over for another day, but for now I can say most assuredly that Little Busters was one decidedly mediocre anime series.

Attack on Titan - Episode 1

It's the year 845 in the Shinganshina District, and after an entire century of being protected from the mysterious yet horrifying and deadly beings known as "Titans" by the fifty foot walls which ensconce them, it's fair to say that this pocket of humanity has become rather complacent in their relative security.

With those guarding the border spending their time eating and drinking, and while the Recon Corps who venture outside to look into how to defeat the Titans are seen largely as little more than suicidal maniacs, there are few who want to concern themselves with the Titan threat and fewer still who actually have any thirst to venture outside - unsurprising, since any discuss along those lines is banned by the government anyhow.

This brings us to out protagonist, Eren, who sees things rather differently - he views the walls around his home as a cage rather than a shield and wants nothing more than to join the Recon Corps, much to the distress of his mother in particular, and the disappointment of his adoptive sister Mikasa.  For all of his big talk of stepping out into the wider world however, Eren isn't really ready for what happens next - the appearance of a massive Titan who rips a whole in Shinganshina's walls with ease, allowing his fellow being to run amok amongst the human populace.

So begins one of the spring's big-hitters, and in some style too - after placating those looking for non-stop action with a little taste of what is come, we're treated to an episode largely comprised of scene setting which nonetheless proves to be compelling; in particular, it's human angle on a populace that is complacent for the most part aside from the traumatised survivors of the Recon Corps gives us a quick yet satisfying view of the world, and the first scenes of the Titan attack are brutal yet framed in a way to ensure that they're emotionally powerful as well as horrifically violent.  Judging by this first impression the series has everything it needs in place to live up to the reputation of its source material, and I for one can't wait to see more of it.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 1

Kirino Kousaka is back!  But first, a flashback to her and Kyousuke's childhood, a more innocent time when things were.... not actually that different at all, actually.

Anyhow, Kirino's return to Japan following the "true route" of the first season is done and dusted as we return to the world of Oreimo; not that Kyousuke can expect any thanks from his little sister for his part in those proceedings, as she's far more interested in catching up with her old friends and putting her life back together than spending any time on him.  Then again, Kyousuke has other problems of his own to occupy his time, most pressingly what to do about Kuroneko and the relationship between the pair of them as he tries to piece together her feelings for him.

Is Kyousuke is also pining for some good old-fashioned life advice session with his sister though?  You bet he is, and such an opportunity pops up soon enough, even if it isn't quite what he expects, as "life advice" on this occasion is more like "take me to Akihabara to see the trailer for the new season of Stardust Witch Meruru and then trail around while I buy loads of stuff".  In other words... Kirino Kousaka is back!

Overall, this was rather a lukewarm opening to this second season of Oreimo - it was really all about reestablishing the various characters and their circumstances into a comfortable setting and setting things up for the episodes to come, which was perhaps necessary but wasn't particularly fun (or indeed funny).  So, while I'm very happy to see this show return, I'm hoping it has more up its sleeve over the coming weeks to bring back the sense of fun and entertainment that pervaded much of the first series.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 13

The closing moments of last week's Chihayafuru brought us what could be a pivotal moment in Mizusawa's semi-final battle against Akashi Girls School (who I keep wanting to call Achiga Girls School - wrong show, Andy).  But is this really the moment where everything turns around for Chihaya and company?

Maybe, if our protagonist hadn't been so distracted by celebrating this big win that she ruins her own flow and concentration.  Still, this isn't the only twist in this particular tale by any means, as the entire episode sees the advantage wax and wane between the two teams across their various matches, focused largely around Chihaya's face-off against Megumu.

Aside from pure skill and ability alone, there's a rich vein of psychological warfare going on here - some of it verbalised but just as much of it expressed through reactions and body language, as we try to grip on what Megumu is thinking and just what drives her onwards to being the karuta player that she is, while her friends and team-mates also seem to be trying to get a handle on the centrepiece of their side.

It's this amalgamation of the abilities and attitudes of the individual against the wider dynamic of the two teams that makes this such a fantastic episode that arguably sits amongst Chihayafuru's best - while the tension of drama from the games toing or froing is palpable, the aforementioned psychology of proceedings is utterly engaging to watch throughout as we see the innate understanding between Mizusawa's players and what they can bring out of both themselves and one another, set against the more focused but perhaps less concrete relationships between Akashi's team.  It's such compelling material that you could probably make an entire series out of this one match alone, but either way this was another delicious serving of this series at the peak of its powers.

My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU - Episode 1

If there were a prize to be handed out for cynicism, Hachiman Hikigaya would surely be a contender - here is a young man who looks towards the concept of youth and all that goes with it with a raised eyebrow, and as a result has little time for his classmates or making the most of the so-called "youth" which he has come to distrust and despise.

Beautiful though a little cynicism can be, it's clear that Hikigaya has issues, and after turning in an essay exhibiting this disdain for youth to his teacher he finds himself forcibly dumped into the "Volunteers Club" a one-man (well, one-woman) club founded and presided over by Yukino Yukinoshita, a sharp-tongued girl with little time for formalities... or, it seems, for Hikigaya.

While the premise of the Volunteers Club is to help out people in need, there don't seem to be many takers, nor is there much help being dispensed towards Hikigaya - still, the arrival of a girl named Yui Yuigahama with a rather pronounced baking deficiency problem  perhaps offers the first steps towards a solution for all three character's problems.

If I had to sum up this first episode of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU (and yes, I'm going to be using the official English title for this one, so deal with it) in a sentence, I'd call it "a less colourful, less humorous version of Haganai".  I imagine this series will branch off in its own direction soon enough, but for now it's hard to get over the fact that in many ways this feels like a less accomplished version of that particular light novel comedy anime - I love witty, cynical and world-weary characters, but neither of the two leads are any good at the "witty" part, and with that important element removed the rest of the show's pack of cards teeters on the brink of falling in a tumbling tempest of apathy.  I'll be sticking with the series for the time being to see if it can stamp itself with something original or entertaining enough to become noteworthy, but judging by this opener I'm not holding my breath.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 1

What would happen is Satan ended up in a human body and wound up working at McDonalds?  It's a question that pervades my every waking hour (okay, not really, but humour me), and it also just so happens to be the topic of Hataraku Maou-sama!

With apologies to White Fox, the series starts with a long and actually quite impressive depictions of all sorts of fantasy-based gubbins to set the scene for the series to come - however, none of that stuff is actually important because I've basically summed up the only critical bit in my opening paragraph; in short, Maou (aka Satan) and his assistant find themselves transported to modern day Japan as they escape defeat at the hands of their world's hero.

The focus of the show's comedy from here on is pretty self-evident and on full display in this opener - unable to use much (or any) of their magic, the duo have to figure out the language and culture of their new home, before coming to realise that money is what makes this particular world go around.  Thus, while sidekick Ashiya looks for a way to return their magic and return them to their homeland, Maou himself takes on a job at McDonalds to make ends meet - a job that he proves to be surprisingly passionate about.  Come the end of the episode however, things are about to get a little trickier for our two visiting demons.

Although its direction and the source of the show's amusement is predictable from the get-go, I have to confess that I was satisfyingly entertained by Hataraku Maou-sama's opener - its comic timing was sharp from beginning to end and although the references it threw around occasionally were pretty arbitrary they also hit the mark for the most part.  I'm not sure it'll have the legs to keep me this entertained for the entire series, but as a cross between Working and Saint Young Men (albeit without quite the charm of either of them at this point) this might just hit the spot for the spring season at least.

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 1

Hibiki Kuze and Daichi Shijima might be complete opposites personality-wise, but are they are regardless the best of friends in spite of these major differences.  It's a friendship that proves to be both their undoing and their saviour as this anime adaptation of Ninetendo DS title Devil Survivor 2 arrives this spring.

Everything seems wonderfully normal, as you might expect, as the series begins, until Daichi introduces his buddy to a "Dead Face" web site called Nicaea - a site where you can snap a photo of a friend, and at some point you'll receive a message showing said person at the time of their death.  Ghoulish thought it is all and sundry assume this to be little more than a piece of technical trickery in spite of urban legends that the service seems to be actively predicting people's deaths.

Naturally, it isn't long until Hibiki and Daichi get to see the Nicaea's true purpose for themselves - after both receiving messages showing a video on the other's death at the very underground station at which they are standing, the exact same events unfold right before their eyes, killing them both.  That isn't the end of the story however, as they're both offered another chance to live, in turn being provided with a so-called "summoning" app.  No, the series doesn't turn into another season of Baka and Test at this point, but instead the massive natural disaster that has caused the train accident and untold damage across Shibuya also brings with it the appearance of all sorts of monsters.  Confusion reigns in the wake of these strange goings-on, but it soon becomes clear that this summoning app is the key to survival for our two male protagonists and fellow student Io Nitta, while a government agency known misleadingly as the Japan Meteorological Society are also taking action of their own in response to the unfolding situation.

All in all, this was a pretty strong opening episode of Devil Surivor 2 - it introduced its characters quickly and succinctly, wasted no time in throwing us into the midst of its premise and then constructed enough action, drama and intrigue around the whole thing to hook the viewer in for the foreseeable future.  In this sense, it's following very clearly in the footsteps of Persona 4: The Animation (for obvious reasons) which is certainly no bad thing, and with a concept that feels rather like Persona 4 meets Gantz I'm certainly keen to see whether the series can continue to keep its delivery slick, and of course whether it has a strong enough story to back that up.