Friday, 31 May 2013

Kotonoha no Niwa (The Garden of Words)

After striking out from his comfort zone with Children Who Chase Lost Voices, 2013 sees Makoto Shinkai return to what he arguably does best - a love story, in the form of The Garden of Words to use its English title.

Of course, cut and dried tales of romance can be pretty dull, so instead this short film introduces us to two characters who are struggling to fit into their assigned roles in the world.  On the one hand we have Takao Akizuki, a high school student who has little interest in following the well-trodden paths of others, and instead desires nothing more than to learn how to design and make shoes.  On the other we have a mysterious woman who prefers to spend her days skipping work so that she can drink beer and eat chocolate in a local park rather than do... well, whatever it is she does.

Despite maintaining that sense of mystery about her, the region's rainy season sees Takao and Yukino, the woman in question, meeting ever more frequently, and as time goes by a connection develops between them - although Takao knows little about this woman he can't help but fall for her, while Yukino is racked with guilt and worry due to her own circumstances.  As time goes by and the rainy season comes to a close it seems as if the world has conspired to keep these two individuals well and truly apart, but sometimes love is a little stronger than that, even when such a romance seems to be simply impossible.

Let us being by saying this - The Garden of Words is one of, if not the, most visually sumptuous anime every created.  Taken as a whole, the entire short film is simply beautiful - making raindrops and greenery look gorgeous is one thing, but taking the clutter and minutiae of everyday life and giving it a similar treatment deserves high praise indeed, and as a result this movie is too beautiful for words alone to convey.  Of course, visuals are only one aspect of a story, and in terms of the film's wider narrative The Garden of Words is less of a lesson in perfection - at times its pacing seems rushed, and at others its hard to get into the head of its characters.  However, as a whole The Garden of Words is as satisfying emotionally as it is visually - the dynamic between the two main characters is believable throughout, and the guilt and worries which come from the age gap between those two individuals is strikingly authentic.  Heck, we even get something approaching a happy ending by Shinkai's standards, leaving just enough up in the air for the viewer to make their own mind up without feeling like a disappointment.

Given his body of work, it would be harsh to single this out in particular as a masterpiece, but nonetheless Kotonoha no Niwa is a superb work that deserves a viewing in the best circumstances possible visually, while also delivering a story that has just the right balance of emotion, realism and entertainment to be immensely satisfying.  It's a tough call to label this Makoto Shinkai's best work, but it certainly runs his previous efforts close in that regard.

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 9

Now that Alcor has showed his hand and revealed his relation to the Septentrion, it is perhaps fortuitous that he's decided to stick around to watch the progress of our group of human survivors, and in particular Hibiki.

If nothing else, it seems as if Alcor is rather taken with Hibiki, to the point of championing him to "do the right thing" in the struggles to come; a stark contrast to his disappointment in Yamato and the decisions that he's made up to this point.  Making the right choice is clearly the theme of the week here, and the pressure to do just that is only going to get greater henceforth.

As if to illustrate this, another Septentrion attack means that we return to battle stations once again, with Airi and Hinako chosen as the best suited to stand at the forefront of this particular face-off against a stratospheric, airborne Septentrion.  In comparison to previous skirmishes, taking out the enemy in question seems shockingly simple, and lo and behold it also proves to be deceptively simple - yes, defeating the Septentrion is simple, but preventing it from crashing down on Sapporo and the massive death toll which doubtless results from this is another matter entirely.  Is this further evidence of Yamato's selfishness, or was the decision made for the greater good?  As he lays down the facts of how things will progress a few short days from now, Yamato certainly isn't shy of laying his philosophy on the table.

After all of those Persona 4 comparisons early in the series, this week's Devil Survivor 2 felt more like Neon Genesis Evangelion Super-Lite, with an Angel-esque enemy dropping from the sky, the fallout of said enemy's drop from a great height, and all sorts of talk about the future of humanity and the diverging paths and choices that mankind must decide between to survive and prosper.  Of course, this series isn't Evangelion - it doesn't even come close - but I am continuing to enjoy what the show is trying to do, and to at least some extent it's succeeding even if it's having to squeeze a lot of content in tightly.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 9

Hero she might be in her own world, but here on Earth poor Emi finds herself being dragged from pillar to post by friend and work colleague Rika Suzuki, who is determined that her friend is ensnared in some kind of love triangle over the mysterious Maou.

To that end, Rika takes Emi and Suzuno to Maou's workplace, before deciding to stop off at Sentucky Fried Chicken for a "strategy meeting", which brings the group into contact with Ashiya in the midst of his undercover mission to find out as much as he can about this new fast food joint.  Faced with joining in Emi's attempts to explain herself to her friend, Ashiya concocts a hugely impressive allegory for the conflict between Maou and Emilia, portraying them as rivals in two construction companies to explain their strange rivalry and the reason for Maou (and to a lesser extent Emi) falling on hard times.

While this certainly works in cowing Rika's assertions about Emi's romantic inclinations towards Maou, it also serves to make her even more keen to meet him as some kind of hotshot entrepreneur - a vision which proves to be rather disappointing for her when she actually comes face to face with the man himself.  Nonetheless, Rika wants to see what Maou can do to turn the tide for McRonalds against SFC, and after a few abortive moves our favourite overlord finally shows his mettle by producing a masterstroke which brings the customers pouring in.

Even in an episode that doesn't shout from the rooftops in terms of its over-arching plot, Hataraku Maou-sama continues to be effortless amusing and entertaining as it throws out great setups and dialogue between its growing cast of likeable characters who bounce off one another with ease.  There's a confident straightforwardness to the show's writing that makes for easy viewing, accentuated by the animation and attention paid to facial expressions that continues to mark the series out from the pack.  Put simply, nothing else has made me laugh this long or hard this spring anime season, and sometimes that's all you can ask for from a show.

Red Data Girl - Episode 9

It's school festival time in this week's Red Data Girl, with the theme of choice being the Warring States period - a period which too much thinking about seems to do Izumiko very little good...

This isn't really the best time for our protagonist to be feeling the exertions of her summer however, as the school festival also means that the academy will be open to the public, in turn meaning that any barriers erected around the premises will be lifted throughout the duration of the event.  With Takayanagi at large again and the potential for threats which come from that lifted barrier, Sagara in particular is feeling rather nervous at the thought of someone using this opportunity to get at the Himegami.

These nerves are only frayed further when Izumiko is press-ganged into modelling some traditional clothing from the Warring States period, which also entails her removing the braids which (supposedly) keep the Himegami in check - although this seems like it could be a perfect setup to cause trouble, everything goes without a hitch... at least, until after the bevent when the Himegami suddenly puts in an appearance to cause Sagara some hassle and a difficult decision to make between assisting the Himegami and following Izumiko.

In fairness, this was an improved episode of Red Data Girl, in that it was only mildly dull for the most part - its humour still lacks any bite more often than not, and the plot and the way it develops remains incredibly unsatisfying to the point where it almost feels cobbled together on a whim.  As a whole, it's still hard to feel anything to hold onto as an example of what the series does well - this isn't to say that it's getting anything horribly wrong, but it doesn't seem to know how to make you sit up and pay attention, be it visually or in terms of its narrative.  Still, only three episodes to go...

Flowers of Evil - Episode 8

Having laid waste to their classroom in an orgy of self-destructive, and indeed self-obsessed, insanity, Kasuga and Nakamura find themselves returning home in what can only be described as a "walk of shame" of sorts.  Not that there seems to be much shame involved, particularly on Nakamura's part...

With that long, silent traipse through down as sunlight breaks across it taking up almost half of the episode, the rest of the instalment brings us to the inevitable fallout of the pair's moment of madness, as the next morning sees classmates and teachers shocked at the havoc that has been wrought upon class 2-1's room.  Inevitably, Kasuga is left feeling more than a little uneasy at the prospect of investigations and being found out (having fortuitously had his name scrawled on the blackboard blocked from view by the paint thrown around the room), but perhaps there is something even worse than being confronted by the teachers - having Saeki herself realise that Kasuga is involved in both this wanton vandalism and the theft of her gym uniform.

When an episode spends eight full minutes allowing two of its characters to walk around slowly hand-in-hand, it becomes hard to verbalise just why it's so great, but having been reminded of the madness of the previous week's instalment that time was well justified as an opportunity for us to try and get our heads around Kasuga and Nakamura, both as individuals and in terms of the relationship between them.  Given Kasuga's inscrutable personality it's genuinely hard to tell whether these events really are his mask slipping to reveal his true nature, or simply a weak personality exploited by someone with malicious intent.  Regardless, it makes for a continuation of the show's superb blend of drama and an unwavering focus on the manifestations of teenage angst, and no matter how uncomfortable it might become I simply can't tear myself away.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 8

Mikasa may have lucked out in the conclusion to the previous episode of Attack on Titan, but is the mysterious giant that is more interested in attacking its fellow Titans thank chowing down on humans the answer to all of the problems currently blighting the forces trying to fight back the latest Titan attack?

Certainly, Armin seems to think so as he sees the potential of this newcomer to the battlefield to be used to fend off the other Titans currently swarming their headquarters, and thus Mikasa leads the charge in terms of luring this particular Aberrant to HQ - and not a moment too soon, as things are starting to get decidedly dangerous for those massed inside the building.

With a decent fighting force now amassed and some old military police rifles at their disposal, the next problem is taking back the storage depot which has a clutch of "small" Titans wandering within it - cue Armin to come up with another ingenious plan to rid the building of these pests and thus allow the remaining forces to resupply at their leisure.  All the while, the area is being kept safe from further Titan incursions by this mysterious Aberrant, but even this powerhouse can only last so long against concerted opposition, and when this Titan finally falls it has an even more shocking secret to reveal...

Yes, those final scenes of this week's Attack on Titan are absolutely batshit crazy, but hey - this is a series about massive humanoid giants running around eating people and appearing in flashes of lightning, so if you've managed to suspend your disbelief that far why not swallow a little more insanity to top it off?  It's this feeling in my mind that somehow manages to keep this series ticking over even though parts of my brain are screaming "this is bonkers and makes no sense!" - well, that and the continually kick-ass soundtrack and sense of satisfaction that comes from seeing this ragtag batch of humans fighting against the odds.  We might be moving closer to a point where I can suspend my disbelief no further, but at the moment there's still enough gas in my canister to keep said disbelief suspended fifty foot in the air.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 8

With Fleet Commander Fairpoint breathing his final breaths in the midst of an alarming split within Gargantia, things are looking decidedly fractured as we enter this eighth episode of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet.

Even as the former commander's funeral begins, his elected successor Ridget has all sorts of worries to cope with as the scale of the exodus from Gargantia becomes clear - it seems that the prospect of potential prosperity and relative safety is too much for many to resist.  Joining that exodus is Ledo, who has been lured into leaving by Pinion by the possibility of being taken to the whalesquid nest with an opportunity to destroy the entire colony of the supposed Hideauze within, in return for Pinion taking whatever treasures also lay within that nest.

With the broad lines between those remaining and those leaving drawn, the rest of the episode gets to focus on the fallout of these decisions, as all and sundry have to consider their own personal desires and the importance of the people around them when it comes to deciding upon their own futures.  In those terms, there are few more awkwardly placed than Amy, who finds herself torn between staying to look after her brother and following her heart and with it Ledo, who continues to insist that, if anything, his decision is to protect those who he has befriended upon Gargantia rather than betray them.

In spite of being arguably the most slow-burning episode of the series so far, this was another top-notch instalment of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet that continues to fascinate - even though it was Ridget who was the centrepiece of the instalment, it remains Ledo who fascinates as a counterpoint to all of those around him as he insists upon working to his own set of morals and value judgement even when they fly in the face of others.  It's his capacity to be both potentially correct in his own convictions yet blind to what those convictions mean in the short-term for others that is worthy of much analysis, while the current situation has also moved the show's narrative into new areas which I'm keen to see the payload from.

Saki - Episode of Side-A - Episode 16 (Completed)

After taking what might have been a million years, we finally reach crunch time and the final rounds of the national mahjong tournament semi-final to bring Episode of Side-A to a close.

As things kick off in this instalment, it's Awai Oohoshi who is the real threat as she rolls out double riichi win after double riichi win - a particularly problematic set of circumstances once she becomes the dealer and attempts to set herself up for a seemingly never-ending stream of victories.  It takes the best that Shindouji's Himeko Tsuruta has to offer to put an end to this run, while Himeko also has some powerful hands up her sleeve thanks to her symbiotic relationship with Mairu Shirouzu to give herself a fighting chance of ensuring her team to progress to the final.

With Ryuuka channeling Toki's ability to see into the future, it seems as if Shizuno is about to be overwhelmed by the talent and assembled oddities facing her, but that would be to assume that Shizuno doesn't have an ability of her own, which manifests itself around the "mountains" of tiles which make up the wall in mahjong.  From the seeds of a small victory grows something far more substantial, as Achiga come from seemingly nowhere with a view to marching on towards the final...

As per my complaint with all of the previous few episodes, it's really tough to warm up to Episode of Side-Aafter a long break between instalments, as you find yourself forgetting who is playing, what they're capable of and (perhaps more importantly still) even the score.  Once you're settled back in to the show's rhythm however, it's a whole lot of fun, and although at times this final episode felt liable to run away with itself on account of its break-neck pacing it managed to summon enough tension and fascination to be enjoyable as it took us through to the climax of Achiga (and their tutor) achieving their dream.  Taken as a whole, Episode of Side-A has never managed to match mainline Saki in any way, shape or form, but as a side-story it still served up a sufficiently delicious snack to leave me smacking my lips for the main course of a full second season of Saki itself.  It might not be Chihayafuru by any stretch of the imagination, but who says it even wants to be?

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Space Brothers - Episode 59

Having set out its stall last week, our dive into the back stories of Pico and Vincent Bold continue in this week's Space Brothers to teach us an important life lesson.

Put simply, the story of these two characters revolves around their friendship with fellow space-lover Rick - after all of their failures working on homemade rockets, it seems as if the harsh realities of life are about to be brought to bear on them as thoughts of careers and the future loom large.  At least, this is the case for Pico and Bold, whereas Rick refuses to have his dreams cowed - a decision that leads to friction and ultimately a fracturing of this previously close relationship.

Of course, this being anime Rick dies soon afterwards in an accident, leaving Bold and Pico to live with a lifetime of regret, yet simultaneously the realisation that there is no time in life for simply getting by and doing whatever you feel you have to do rather than what you want to do - motivation that ultimately has led them both onto their current paths.

With this evening of drinking and socialising done, it's back to the Comeback Challenge, and even with Azuma about to take over from Hibito on the Moon there's little time for excitement as this challenge offers up an unexpected and potentially hugely problematic issue for Mutta's team.

Overall, I'm a little torn on the flashback which has dominated the past couple of episodes - while I absolutely love the sentiments and philosophy it discusses, it brings them about via a narrative that is a little too heavy-handed for my liking; I'm sure Pico and Bold could still have found their motivation without the death of their friend.  In the grand scheme of things, this is perhaps a minor gripe for a series that absolutely has its heart in the right place, and with a return to the present day it seems as if we can enjoy our fascination with Mutta and his team's current challenge again next week.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 20

The team national karuta tournament has been won, and one of Chihaya's most fervent dreams fulfilled - between that and a reunion with Arata, it seems like everything is going swimmingly for our protagonist on the cusp of the individual tournament... least it would be if Chihaya's hand injury from that team final wasn't proving to be more problematic than initially expected.  Come the end of the match and the dishing out of medals and the winner's flag, Chihaya's finger has swollen alarmingly, and so it's off to a nearby clinic to get it checked out.  While Chihaya is being informed that the staff at said clinic really aren't too sure what the problem is while advising her to avoid anything which may be strenuous to her finger (like, y'know, competitive karuta), the reunion of Taichi and Arata is bringing up mixed emotions for the former amidst a blurring of the lines between their friendship and rivalry.

Of course, the second half of the episode turns into a "will she or won't she" story regarding Chihaya's participation in the individual tournament, and just as she's about to admit defeat and stand down up pops motivation after motivation to keep her playing in spite of her injury, to the point where she even decides to play as best she can left-handed.  With another Class A player set to face her in the very first round, it seems as if there is no hope for our heroine given her handicap - we shall, of course, have to wait until next week to see if she can pull something out of the bag.

Although it was frustrating to see this episode delve into montages on a couple of occasions where they really weren't necessary (with the second of the two covering events that had only happened in the past week or two!), thankfully what new material there was to be found was satisfying enough in serving as the preamble to the individual tournament - there are so many delicious rivalries and friendships on difficult ground amongst those taking part that it's almost disappointing to think that we only have five episodes to go.  Hopefully those remaining instalments will be as rip-roaring as everything that we've seen up to this point to ensure that, if nothing else, Chihayafuru can claim a place as one of the champions of sports anime.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 8

Now that Kuroneko and Kyousuke are officially dating, Ruri certainly seems to be taking her role of girlfriend seriously... perhaps too seriously, it could be said.

While Kirino is very much keeping her council after her brother announces that he's dating her friend, Kuroneko is pulling out all the stops from creating new outfits to ensuring that Kyousuke learns as much about her as possible... indeed, it's almost a little creepy how much of their relationship Kuroneko already has mapped out.  Maybe she should change her name to Ringo...

As the summer persists, so the pair spend as much of their time as possible together, despite some potentially interference from Kuroneko's sisters and the uncomfortable feeling that Kirino is now little more than a spare wheel in proceedings - not good news considering that Kuroneko seems determined to ensure that Kirino and Kyousuke end up happy in one another's company.  But what lengths is Ruri willing to go to to ensure the happiness of her friends?

The answer to that question seems to be "incredibly crazy lengths" judging by the final scene of the episode, which is a bit of a downer after a really enjoyable instalment - Ruri's sisters (and the family's middle sister Hinata in particular) were great, and Kuroneko herself did a lot to ensure the episode's entertainment value in spite of some odd behaviour on her part.  I'm intrigued to see how this behaviour is explained, but I fear I might not like it - still, I'm not going to let that eclipse perhaps the most fun episode of this second season of Oreimo so far, that finally managed to seem to remember how its characters are supposed to act.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 7

Mikoto Misaka is a girl on a mission, and you don't want to mess with this particular Level 5 when she has  task set in her sights.

While Misaka goes on a controlled rampage of each and every facility associated with the Sisters project with a view towards bringing it to a halt, our focus for this particular episode instead shifts to Kuroko as she sees her friend and dorm-mate spending all of her time away "taking care of some stuff" while clearly bothered by something that she feels unable to talk to those around her about.

As Kuroko ponders what to do about this whole situation, her short-term solution is ultimately to throw herself into her work as news builds of fire at laboratories across Academy City.  Whether Kuroko puts two and two together between these incidents and Misaka's behaviour is unclear, as she instead finds herself wrapped in a spin-off of the earlier cash card incidents via a child who is looking for a "lucky" card to give a friend who is about to move away.  With an understanding of what such a close friendship entails, Kuroko ultimately ends up helping said kid in achieving their goal, albeit in a less dangerous fashion than searched dark alleyways for cards.

Although I appreciated the focus upon Kuroko and her emotions in the wake of Misaka's ultimately rather selfish behaviour, that still doesn't mean that this was anything other than rather a fluffy episode that simply kept us away from some of the most interesting material to come a little longer - it's hard to get fired up about searching for a four-leaf clover when Misaka is running riot around the city, and without Mikoto's place within the main cast's dynamic there's something of a gap left in her wake.  Still, I guess that means we can sit back and wait for what should be a stellar episode next week....

Friday, 24 May 2013

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 8

Lunchboxgate continues as we begin this week's episode of Hataraku Maou-sama, with Chiho continuing to fret over the homemade lunch provided for Sadao by Suzuno - a concern not helped by the fact that she and Emi visit Sadao's home to find Suzuno cooking for them.

Chiho's mood isn't exactly helped by Sadao suggesting to Suzuno that she consider working with them both at McRonalds to make ends meet, seemingly oblivious to how his diminutive yet large-chested friend might feel about that.  Thankfully, Chiho at least has the guts to eventually set him straight and pour out her feelings about Sadao to him... although she perhaps wasn't intending to do so right in front of Suzuno.

It's Suzuno herself who becomes the focus of the second half of this week's episode - aside from her hilarious attempts to get used to life in modern Japan, we finally learn of her true name and purpose.  Needless to say, she's an inhabitant of Ente Isla, and with a real name of Christia Bell and a mission to ensure that Emilia the Hero isn't now working alongside the Overlord.  There's only one way to definitively prove that she hasn't defected of course; to work with Christia and kill Maou.  It's a request that Emi manages to brush off in the short-term, but it's an issue that will surely raise its head again - assuming that Sadao hasn't become too deeply embroiled in the escalating battle with Sentucky Fried Chicken, that is.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, once again this week's Hataraku Maou-sama was a huge amount of fun, blending its elements wonderfully to offer up plenty of comedy in some shape or form while still pushing forward the show's narrative substantially.  Suzuno's character has already managed to integrate into the rest of the cast's dynamic nicely, so the series shows no signs of losing its footing, and with some great potential for comedy and serious business on the horizon it looks like there's still plenty to look forward to in the coming weeks.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 8

The time for arguments and divisions are seemingly over, if only temporarily, as this week's Devil Survivor 2 leaves us with the prospect of a three-pronged Septentrion attack on a trio of cities across Japan.

With three teams dispatched to see off these threats, humanity certainly has individuals capable of seeing off their opponents, but these landmine-like enemies prove to be decidedly tricky foes thanks to their ability to regenerate, meaning that they can only be defeated via a concerted and co-ordinated attack on their three disparate cores simultaneously.  It's a goal which is within the grasp of those tasked with carrying out the attack, but perhaps inevitably it isn't achieved without some further losses....

These deaths are perhaps as of nothing compared to the greater threat about to face mankind, as Alcor reveals more about his nature to Hibiki as a rather unique Septentrion who has a central role in overseeing the trial facing humanity and set up by Polaris, the entity at the true heart of the devastation we've seen so far.  As the true severity of the Void and what its spread means for mankind come to light (or rather, to darkness), it seems that all eyes are on Hibiki and the choices that he has to make with the entire planet's potential disappearance hanging in the balance.

The first half of this eighth episode of Devil Survivor 2 perfectly demonstrates everything that this series has been good at thus far - fast-paced and well-presented action that movies at an engagingly enjoyable clip but without glossing over any of its important moments.  Naturally, this sense of speed drops off in the episode's second half as the episode takes on a more thoughtful tone that doesn't suit its premise quite as well, but still succeeds in raising the stakes for what is to come.  It's just about enough to work around the largely uninteresting cast of characters, provided you can swallow the show's action without caring about those carrying it out too much.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Red Data Girl - Episode 8

After the death of his horse, a distraught Manatsu has disappeared onto another plain to be with his brother, out of the reach of even sister Mayura.  Is there any way to bring him back?

Of course this show would be even more dull if the answer was "no", so there is of course one possibility - to channel the power of the Himegami to reach Manatsu and persuade him to return.  Although Izumiko isn't entirely sure how to go about it, she nonetheless manages to make it to this other plain, where she meets Masumi and is pointed in the direction of her missing friend's location...

...or is she?  As she attempts to reach and rescue Manatsu, it seems that all is not as it seems with this scenario, and Masumi is actually using the situation as a possibility to engineer his escape to the real world, bringing with him the entity of which he is part.  Even though this plan is foiled, it doesn't stop the entity in question from breaking out of its cage; something which can only be halted using the full power of the Himegami.  How fortuitous then that a person able to wield that power has arrived at just the right time.

So, how do I sum up this week's episode of Red Data Girl?  Hmm, I know, how about "packed from start to finish with conveniently sculpted bullshit in an attempt to drive the story arc's plot"?  This entire episode feels horribly written and delivered, with twist after twist and development upon development delivered in a way that screams out "who gives a shit?" - none of it feels satisfying, none of it particularly makes any sense, and the upshot is one of the most terribly forced episodes of anime I've watched in a long, long time.  We're now at the point where I think I'm just watching this series so I can poke fun at it each week - there's certainly little entertainment to be found here beyond that.

In case you haven't guessed from the previous paragraph - this series is becoming increasingly terrible by the week.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 7

The opportunity to meet Saeki in her own home might have been rather sullied by Nakamura's comments to Kasuga which sets his mind racing, but there's no escape now that Saeki's mother has answered the door.

If you're expecting Nanako to spout off a tear-filled explanation of why she was off school and how Kasuga was at fault for the whole thing however, think again - instead, she calmly asks Kasuga what he thinks a relationship should consist of while asking him if he's hiding anything from her.  Missing an opportunity to come clean on all or some of his misdemeanours up to this point, he insists that he has nothing to hide - something which Saeki duly expects.

All of this is enough to send her protagonist into another headspin, to the point where he begs for Nakamura to tell Saeki about the whole gym clothes incident so that he can "atone" for his sins.  Sensing this moment of weakness as an opportunity for some more enjoyment at Kasuga's expense, she insists that he meet her at midnight before leading him on a jaunt to their school classroom with a view towards making him admit to his deeds by way of a written confession on the blackboard.  This isn't exactly what Kasuga had in mind when he imagined freeing himself from his guilt, but after another manic rant from Nakamura it seems that her lunacy is rubbing off on him somewhat, and before we know it the pair of them are trashing the classroom in what can only be described as the throes of near-orgasmic delight.

Every time I think that Flowers of Evil has reached its high point, it raises the bar a little further, somehow managing to make the ever more insane goings-on feel natural and in keeping with its cast of characters, and even making you doubt your own sanity as you begin to detect threads of common sense in what Nakamura is saying at times as she berates Kasuga for looking for an idealistic escape from his guilt.  The entire thing remains fascinating to watch scene by scene, and by the end of the episode its final scenes stand as a perfect embodiment of the mixture of emotions which come from adolescence, be they emotional, sexual or some noxious blend of the two.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 7

Mikasa's performance notwithstanding, things are looking dire for the military forces currently tasked with facing off against the Titans as this week's episode of Attack on Titan opens.

While elements of rebellion within the ranks begin to surface, the more pressing problem for those on the front lines is that, quite simply, they're running out of gas - given that Titans are also currently over-running the supply building that would provide more of said gas, most of those still alive within the breached city walls are resigned to their fate and seemingly without hope.

When word reaches Mikasa about Eren's death, you'd be tempted to suspect that her resolve will also be broken as a result, but far from it - instead, she attempts to rouse her comrades into a final do or die assault before racing off to take her pain out upon any Titans in her way.  Such is her fervour however that she quickly runs out of gas, leaving her at the mercy of the Titans herself.  Cue a moment of clarity as she regains her will to survive, followed by a moment of sheer, exhilarated confusion as a Titan appears and starts systematically attacking and murdering its own.  Perhaps all is not lost for humanity after all...

Every time I worry that Attack on Titan might run out of gas (do you see what I did there?) it somehow manages to find more life - Mikasa's "promotion" to protagonist has worked better than I might have expected, and given the insanity of the show's entire premise throwing in a Titan-killing Titan seems within the realms of plausibility.  This leaves the floor open for another episode of outspoken emotion, shocking violence and bursts of slick action, all given a lift by that striking aesthetic and insistent soundtrack.  No matter your thoughts on it, Attack on Titan is certainly an experience, week in and week out.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 7

Never mind all of that introspective pondering, the Hideauze are back in the forefront of Ledo's life as his training kicks in once he and Chamber detect an enemy within their sights... but is it really the Hideauze?

As far as the inhabitants of Gargantia are concerned, the creature in question is a whalesquid, but even salvaging partner Bellows can do nothing to prevent Ledo from going all out and quite literally crushing the life out of the creature.  The trouble is, the whalesquid is seen as a sacred beast by many within the fleet, which means that Ledo once again is the subject of much suspicion amidst the residents.

If you think this will give Ledo pause for thought, think again - no matter the local opinions on the matter, he's determined to exterminate anything and everything that has anything to do with the Hideauze no matter what, and DNA analysis of the whalesquid only serves to further drive this agenda in the face of everyone else around him.  His concerns even look like they may be justified for a moment as a horde of whalesquids approach the fleet, although they pass by safely with nary a scratch upon its craft.  The whole commotion has, however, awoken the opportunist in some members of the fleet, and let by Pinion this close-knit community could be on the verge of breaking up before our eyes.

All of this makes for an excellent instalment of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - as over-the-top as Ledo's reactions towards the whalesquids/Hideauze might be, you can also appreciate the logic and emotions behind his reasoning, while the entire affair also brings up wider questions about whether these creatures simply are passive Hideauze which could rise up and attack at any moment or not.  What's more, there are more fascinating times ahead, as it seems that the fleet itself is now in danger of splitting into factions, which makes for another intriguing facet of the episodes to come.  With so many tantalising possibilities on the table, this series seems to be getting better by the week presently.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 7

Now that all the chaos and confusion surrounding Kirino's little boyfriend "stunt" has settled and everything is back on track within our groups of friends, Kuroneko has an important proposal for Kyousuke.  And by that, I mean a confession.

Amazingly, Kyousuke decides that he needs some time to think over the prospect of becoming Ruri's boyfriend (really, what is there to think about here?!), and so goes off to ponder matters with a deadline of giving her his answer by the end of their reconvened post-Comiket party the next day.  Not that there's any shortage of advice for Kyousuke to mull over, as the school rumour-mill seems to work much faster than our protagonist's head, ensuring that everybody is already up to speed with what's going on.

With relations between Kyousuke and Kirino back to normal and the latter all-but giving her blessing for her brother to accept Ruri's confession, the pair finally go ahead and become a couple.  But what do they do now, exactly?  It's that question which ensures a sleepless night for them both, although thankfully while Kyousuke's head is filled with more... well... physical questions about what is to come, his girlfriend has a more practical and romantic view on proceedings which looks likely to set them down the right track.

Although it's still missing some of the magic that seemed to have been worked upon its first season, and while Kyousuke still has moments that feel entirely out of character for him, this was nonetheless another pretty fun episode of Oreimo as the series continues its recent trend of improvement now that it's settled down somewhat.  Now that Kyousuke and Ruri's relationship seems set to take centre stage, hopefully the progression into new pastures will give this second season the injection of life that it needs to strike out and make its own mark.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 19

Two games down and on the ropes, it looks as if the wheels are about to fall off of Mizusawa's national team tournament campaign.  However, with passion still burning strongly in the three remaining members of the team whose games are not yet decided, the match as a whole is far from a foregone conclusion.

With the end of the match in sight, this week's episode of Chihayafuru ramps up the tension to eleven, pure and simple, starting with a focus upon Taichi as he eschews some of his teachings and goes for broke to force his way back into his game - something which he manages to go with a mixture of mind games and (unusually for him) blind luck.

Meanwhile, Chihaya has finally gained the upper hand against Rion, and she forces home her victory to make it 2-1... not that she has time to celebrate when there's sleeping to do.  With Nishida also coming back from the brink in his game, we're suddenly all set for a nightmarishly tense finale, with the two deciding games coming down to the final card and a luck of the draw face-off.  Given their previous experiences however, this time around Mizusawa have done everything right to put themselves into as healthy a position as possible - from there, it's just up to the heavens to decide on which way the drawing of cards should fall.

You really couldn't ask for Chihayafuru to bring this particular tournament to an end in a more compelling fashion than this - much like onlookers within the episode itself, I could barely watch the final moments before the game came to a close, and the outpouring of emotion when it was all over was also something I ended up sharing with the on-screen cast, such was the power and thrall it had held over me.  As I've mentioned previously, when it wishes to do so this series can engender emotions that fans of any game or sport will be able to recognise, and it's this ability which is one of Chihayafuru's strokes of genius, bringing us the equivalent of a penalty shoot-out and dragging us into all of the tension and emotion that goes with it.  It's stupendous stuff, and it works wonders on a pure, emotional level.  What other series could make you cry at the end of a game of la-di-da Snap?

Space Brothers - Episode 58

Considering how neither Vincent Bold nor Pico had particularly taken a shine to Mutta initially, it's a sure sign of progress that he finds himself invited out drinking by the latter and as a result spending some time chatting with the former.

Bold being Bold of course, the drive to the bar where this pair are scheduled to meet Pico is in itself a challenge for Mutta, as Vincent tries to unnerve his guest with his trademark fast driving (which doesn't seem to faze Mutta at all), while quizzing him on who he considers to be an "enemy".  In Bold's case, it seems that anyone who isn't willing to accept that manned space flight is important is an enemy, which confuses Mutta somewhat as he sees anyone with a genuine interest in space as being on the "right" side.

All this aside, much of the episode concerns itself with looking into the past of Bold and Pico - of course, the two of them are childhood friends, and we delve into their time building rockets together in their youth with another mutual friend.  While this is all well and good, it still isn't seen as a worthy of pursuing as a career path by either Vincent's parents or anyone involved with the group's school, as they are encouraged to set more achievable goals.  Of course, we know how this ultimately pans out, for two of the trio at least...

Just as things were getting interesting, I'm a little down-hearted to see us headed off into another arc that concerns itself with filling in back stories - I can't help but feel that Pico and Bold's presents are more interesting than their pasts beyond some cursory examination of how they reached this stage in their lives, but instead it seems that this is going to be covered over several episodes.  That said, the episode's damning view of the pair's parents and school in their disdain for the two of them having lofty dreams struck a chord with me - I'm sure I'm not the only person out there who was told time and again that I'd never achieve any of my desires or career goals, yet here I am having achieved them all.  The idea of not giving up on a dream is an important message that it's nice to see Space Brothers espousing, if nothing else.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 6

Having met and spent some time with a member of the so-called "Misaka Network", it was only going to be a matter of time before the real deal was inadvertently dragged into the experiments of which these clones are an integral part.

Thus, having seen her "sister" brutally attacked by the centrepiece of this project to create a Level 6, Misaka understandably loses her cool as she goes all-out against said clone's assailant.  However, this only brings about a scenario which our Level 5 is rather unaccustomed too - one of relative weakness, as even her most powerful and vicious attacks don't so much as scratch her opponent, and indeed most of them are simply deflected right back at her.  "Why would somebody with so much power already search for more?", she wonders aloud, to which the response is a chilling one.

With nothing left in her arsenal, it looks as if the game is up for Misaka - but then again, there are benefits to having thousands of siblings, as the Misaka Network brings the cavalry to rescue her, if only physically.  Mentally, the entire experience has left Mikoto battered, defeated simply unable to comprehend what she should do next, although another meeting with Shinobu at least regains her resolve to fix the problem.  As her friends rally around her in spite of not knowing exactly what's going on, it's time for Misaka to try and put an end to the Hell unfolding around her.

Having brought such harrowing final scenes to close out last week's episode, this instalment of A Certain Scientific Railgun S ensured that it made the most of its emotional payload, leveraging all of the time we've spent with its protagonist and her usual confident, breezy nature to really hit home the emotional toll of the cloning project that originated from her own DNA.  This also leads us nicely into what should be some action-oriented episodes to come alongside that emotional turmoil, as this series continues to do a thoroughly accomplished and entertaining job of adapting its source material.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 7

Thanks to the world's most dangerous flight of stairs, Maou seems to have made himself another acquaintance - what's more, she's also Maou and Ashiya's new neighbour.  But who is this polite, attractive girl who brings gifts consisting of copious amounts of noodles?

Well, we learn this girl's name for ourselves soon enough, but beyond that little is known about Suzuno Kamazuki aside from a recommendation from the landlady to get any help that she needs from Maou after moving in from "somewhere far away".  With Emi continuing to stalk.. sorry, "stakeout"... Maou's every move, she too is curious as to this newcomer to the neighbourhood and her exact intentions, before deciding that she seems to be nothing more than yet another innocent girl who has mistakenly fallen in love with our demonic protagonist.

With that issue put to bed in Emi's mind, both herself and Maou find themselves with new rivals to contend with.  In Maou's case this takes the form of the opening of a new fast food restaurant across the street (Sentucky Fried Chicken - come on guys, you aren't even trying here) which coincides with his first shift in a management role, while for Emi her staking out of McDonalds sees her caught up in an attack which initially seems to be a robbery but soon turns out to be something entirely more personal.  While Maou and Chiho have matters of the heart to contend with, it seems that Emilia is the target of some nefarious characters this time around.

Once again, the disparate elements of this series come together magnificently to create a hugely enjoyable whole, with frequent laugh out loud moments and a great cast of characters that bounce off one another beautifully with the kind of dynamic that is usually the reserve of a top-notch sitcom.  There really isn't much more to say beyond that - the storylines which keep the series moving are almost secondary to the sheer joy of seeing the cast interact and go about their business, while still holding enough to keep things interesting in their own right.  I keep expecting this series to go off the boil, but every week Hatarku Maou-sama continues to defy me - at this point in the season, I really hope it never stops.

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 7

Although certain parties still seem to insist that avoiding death after having your "Dead Face" posted online is impossible, there can be no doubt that Yamato was instrumental in saving Hibiki's life at the end of last week's episode.  Not that Yamato did it because they're friends, or anything...

Perhaps more important than Yamato's unexpected late appearance in the fact that the mysterious Alcor also seems to have popped along to enjoy the show, bringing with him some demons that he can chat with and control without having to use a mobile phone.  Just who or what Alcor is remains shrouded in uncertainty, and what he has to say seems to fall largely on deaf ears as news of the next likely Septentrion attack means that it's going to be all hands on deck, with an assault expected on three cities at once.

In light of this, even Ronaldo has to concede some ground for the time being and agree to help out JP's forces along with the rest of his men, as manpower will be all important in the coming battle.  Before all that however, we get a little downtime - or at least as close as the current scenario allows, as those about to engage in this latest skirmish along with the remaining JP's employees have to sit down for a routine medical. With Hibiki and his friends tasked with repelling the next attack aimed at Osaka, we look all set for a return to action next time around, although it seems that Io suddenly has more to concern herself with than everyone else...

Given how breakneck its pacing has been up to this point, I suppose it's about time that we were served up some slower, more light-hearted fare before ramping things up for the remainder of the series - although this leaves us with an episode that had little to write home about, the show as a whole continues to keep a few intriguing concepts in the air, with more than enough uncertainty as to some events and the driving force behind certain characters to make me want to keep watching.  It might not be highbrow or genre-defining, but for a slice of slightly mindless streaming fare Devil Survivor 2 is still doing everything that it needs to ona  weekly basis.

Red Data Girl - Episode 7

There's danger in the air as Mayura turns on Sagara with a view to testing him and his abilities, using the ethereal Masumi to do so in the process.

As per prior episodes of Red Data Girl however, any sense of tension is relatively short-lived, as the situation is soon diffused by a moment of insight from Izumiko which brings this "contest" to a close.  Of course, Mayura was only testing her new friends; never mind that this seems like an incredibly bitchy thing to do.  With thoughts returning to their current camping trip, bad news soon strikes Manatsu, who leaves as word reaches him that his horse Tabi is gravely ill.

Calling up the excitable Masumi to take over Manatsu's role at the camp causes Sagara in particular all kinds of headaches, but this is little more than light relief as Manatsu and Mayura's concerns about their horse takes a troublesome turn in light of the worst possible news about its fate - the resulting conflict of emotions set Manatsu off on a path which leaves his sister mortified and distraught.

Try as I might to care about all of these goings on, I simply can't do it - for me, Red Data Girl now feels like a show where things most certainly happen, but none of them leave me with any attachment to, or interest in, either the scenario or its characters.  I'm not sure whether it's due to this or simply sloppy story-telling but the whole thing feels jumbled and without direction to boot, leaving me stuck within a vicious circle of apathy.  In fact, this series is probably a perfect example of what it does badly, given how it spends much of its running time almost literally flogging a dead horse...

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Space Brothers - Episode 57

The "Comeback Challenge" continues apace in this week's Space Brothers, and things still aren't going all that well for Mutta's gang, with a number of problems not helped by overseer Pico's continued determination to keep his own counsel, although at least his interest seems to have been somewhat piqued by Mutta's knowledge.

With the group having problems with both navigation of their rover and those pesky parachutes about which Pico knows so much, Mutta once again impresses his overseer with some real technical ingenuity to solve one of their many problems - such is the impression left upon him that even Pico can't resist chipping in with some advice on their design, while also pointing out the flaws in a rival group's plan that our team were left cooing over for a while.

With some radical design changes planned out, it's montage time as the team work tirelessly to affect these changes, and their relationship with Pico thaws as time goes on - all of which is set against the backdrop of a change in personnel on the Moon, with Hibito due to come home, a journey which will of course involve the deployment of Pico's parachute design.  In particular, Mutta and Pico seem to have developed quite an understanding, leading to our protagonist gaining on opportunity to learn more about Vincent Bold into the bargain.

All of this adds up to a simple but effective episode of Space Brothers - watching the group tackling the engineering challenge set before them and making progress with them is vicariously satisfying in its own right, and when that is spiced up with some wonderful character development and genuine emotion bubbling under the surface it showcases so much of what this series does so very well.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 6

Ignoring the whole water incident and the fact that, from the outside looking in, Kasuga and Saeki's first date looked disastrously bad, all seems to be well in the fledgling relationship between this unlikely couple - indeed, even a mixture of rumours, teasing and exclamations of disbelief aren't enough to put Nanako off the idea of admitting that yes, she is dating Kasuga.

Thus, everything is rosy in Kasuga's proverbial garden... at least, it is until he sees Saeki talking to Nakamura, which immediately sets off alarm bells.  However, it seems that even this isn't a big deal, as the two girls simply seem to have become friends, with Nakamura offering her support for the couple's relationship with earnest.  Maybe she's turned over a new leaf?

Yeah, right... of course this is only the next stage in her plan to terrorise Kasuga at every turn, asking Saeki what she's do if her boyfriend turned out to be a pervert over lunch in front of Kasuga before later torturing him with suggestions that his pure and perfect "angel" might just be dying for a roll in the hay with him.  It's the most delicious kind of conundrum for Kasuga to confront, but perhaps his bigger problem is a more direct one - the fact that Saeki has seen him and Nakamura at close quarters with one another during one of these sessions of bullying before getting the wrong idea entirely.  Given a chance to go and see Nanako at her home thanks to one of her friends after she takes the following day off sick, perhaps this is a chance for him to set the record straight; an opportunity which could prove difficult thanks to the  ever-present Nakamura and her wicked way with words.

For all the enjoyment of this series that I've had so far (and I use the term "enjoyment" in a decidedly twisted way given the show's proclivities), this feels to me like the best episode of Flowers of Evil so far.  As well as more wonderfully uncomfortable moments and conversations and the agonising realisation of what Nakamura is up to while Kasuga prefers to think positive for once, the real genius of this episode is the way Nakamura hits a bullseye in exposing the hypocrisy of Kasuga himself.  On the one hand, he places Saeki on a pedestal of purity and innocence (essentially denying her nature in the process), yet on the other... well, he's a teenage boy, so the rest writes itself.  Even ignoring the duality of his attitude and how that could so easily be tied into the hardcore of otaku-dom, be it towards anime or idols, it's still a scathing exposure of some very human traits - it's that which makes this episode another uncomfortable yet hugely enjoyable slice of drama to watch as its concepts seep into your brain.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 6

As we might have predicted in spite of all the bragging and bluster, when push comes to shove the assault to stop the encroaching Titans in their tracks soon turns to Hell in a hand-basket, as the military's new recruits are decimated in the face of their opponents.

Of the group that we were following towards the end of last week's episode, only Armin has survived, although even he is hardly psychologically intact even if he's escaped physical injury.  He isn't the only one either, as most of those on the front lines are in pieces in some shape or form it seems.

Not so Mikasa however, who is seemingly in her element and not in the last bit daunted as she swoops and zooms around, slashing and killing Titans as though it were the most natural thing in the world.  What kind of upbringing could have created this individual, one of her colleagues ponders.  Well, we soon find out, flashing back into Mikasa's childhood, the gruesome death of her parents as Mikasa herself is kidnapped to be sold into slavery, and how her relationship with Eren was first forged in the bloody aftermath of said kidnapping.

It's this delving into the back story of Mikasa that really confirms the dark, blood-stained depths that Attack on Titan occupies - a world alarmingly preoccupied with death, murder and horrific violence.  The concern here is that this is beginning to stretch towards the edge's of the show's credibility - Eren's ability to fend off and kill two grown men with no explanation as to how or why is tough to swallow even in a show featuring giant, man-eating humanoids.  Still, for now there's no doubting the power of the show's narrative thanks to its bleak outlook, so the questions as to whether this can sustain it in the long run can be left for another day in the face of another episode that was compelling in spite of its gratuitous nature.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 6

As well as wrestling with the question of what he should do to make himself useful within the community in which he has found himself, it seems that Ledo is also not entirely sure what to do with the fruits of his labours - how is one supposed to spend money when you don't need to pay for oxygen, and where currency amounts to more than just meal tickets?

With a festival about to start, it seems that this is the perfect time to learn a little more about spending money for pleasure - not only that, there's also an opportunity available for Ledo to join the ranks of fishermen aboard the fleet, although it seems that trying to pilot an archaic Yunboro without any AI assistance underwater is a little too much for our protagonist after years of training with top-notch technology.

Leaving it to Chamber to try his hand at catching fish, Ledo instead finds some time to take in the pleasures of his current locale, whether it's the local cuisine or Amy's part-time job as a stripper... well, kind of.  Such are Amy's charms that they're enough to distract Ledo from talk of money, food and the possibility of working with either Bellows or Pinion doing salvage work, and his personal reverie is only interrupted by the appearance of the Hideauze... or rather, the delivery of some octopus to his table.  Whether it's a genuine error or the Hideauze are somehow related to aquatic life on Earth, it's a sense of confusion that kicks in to the full once Ledo begins his work performing undersea salvage with Bellows...

Trying my best to ignore its increasingly over-bearing insistence on injecting fan service into the show wherever it can (Amy has a nice body, I get it already!), this was another hugely enjoyable episode of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - it's really very simple in its mechanics of allowing Ledo to roam around this strange culture and try to come to terms with it after a lifetime of vastly different experiences, but somehow it works wonderfully, and watching him grow and mature as a character from week to week provides much of the delight to be had from the series.  Come the end of this week's instalment, we also have an intriguing scenario to propel the next episode forward to; more good news for a series that seems to be hitting a lot of the right notes.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 6

Comiket has brought with it a chance meeting between Kirino and an acquaintance of hers - but who is this rather dapper chap who goes by the name of Kouki Mikagami?

Well, what we do know about Kouki is that he works as a model and designer for the same company that have been pursuing Kirino of late, and that he's also an otaku who is selling some of his wares at Comiket.  Beyond that, the exact status of the relationship between himself and Kirino is rather vague, but they certainly seem to be getting on well enough.  It's an issue which troubles Kyousuke, albeit perhaps not quite as much as being handcuffed in Ayase's bedroom and quizzed on why he was out on a "date" with Kirino.

It's matters of the heart which loom large over this entire episode, as an interrupted confession to Kyousuke by Ruri is followed by Kirino unabashedly unannouncing that Mikagami is, in fact, her boyfriend - a revelation which causes chaos in the midst of what should have been the gang's Comiket after-party.  When Kirino invites said boyfriend to meet her parents, things inevitable come to a head - never mind her father's drunken ranting locked away in his bedroom, Kyousuke's initially cold treatment to Kouki followed by a proclamation that he isn't going to let just anyone take away his little sister is the moment that breaks the dam between the two siblings, allowing them to vent their frustrations and return everything to (relative) normality.

Although I'm all for Oreimo making the most of its characters to dramatic ends now and again, boy was this week's episode overblown, with layer after layer of needless conflict brought about simply because the series was capable of doing so rather than with any real sense of character development in mind.  Speaking of which, I continue to feel let down by Kyousuke's character in this second season at times, as he vacillates jarringly from the normal guy who we knew and loved from the first season into a creepy wretch whenever Ayase is involved.  In short, I miss the days when this series was mostly played for laughs, and the drama was just the window dressing for the series.  Y'know, like you did in last week's episode, which managed to be the best instalment of this second season so far by a country mile.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 18

Mizusawa might have fallen behind in all of the games that make up their team final at the national tournament, but that doesn't mean that their collective spirit is broken - far from it in fact, as fire burns in their bellies stronger than ever before.

As the match rumbles on, so this grand final is told in a generally personal fashion, taking each match-up and the characters involved with them on an individual basis, as they face up to their various faults, worries and foibles to battle against their own psyche just as much as their opponent across the tatami.

Throw in other elements such as Chihaya's hand injury, which seems to be increasingly problematic for her, and some glimpses into Shinobu's back story and why she loves to hate team karuta, and you have yourself a heady mixture of an episode which once again manages to cover a vast amount of ground over a large number of characters without ever feeling too fragmented or "messy".

Of course, sitting tightly beneath all of those narrative elements sits a good old-fashioned sports anime, which does a superb job of relating the tension of this final in a way which is palpable and lending an edge of the seat quality which accompanies the more cerebral elements of the show.  With Mizusawa's current state in the game teetering on the brink of failure, it's fair to say that this episode succeeds at leaving me teetering on the brink of my chair as I once again contemplate waiting until next week to see what happens next.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 5

Never mind all of the rumours and evidence of a cancelled project, Misaka is now face-to-face with one of her clones - but how does one deal with such an encounter?

This is a particularly baffling question when said clone is more interested in rescuing a kitten stuck up a tree than explaining the intricacies of the project to which she's attached, and even when Misaka presses said clone more firmly for information she's firmly rejected - big sister or not, she doesn't have the required security clearance to be furnished with such knowledge.  Assuming that this clone will ultimately take her back to the heart of its creation, Misaka tries to tail... well, herself, I guess - something which doesn't go all that well thanks to this easily distracted instalment of MISAKA.

Eventually, MISAKA's assertion that she's returning not "home" but to an experiment leaves Mikoto deciding that they should part ways - a decision that she comes to regret after some help from Uiharu and a little hacking reveals the new and even more horrific truth of the Sisters project and its new goal - to act as proverbial chicken feed in the name of allowing another individual to reach the much-vaunted Level 6.  Having realised the scope of this nightmarish scenario, Misaka rushes to save her "sister" - too late to do anything but wreak her revenge, but is she even capable of that?

I imagine you'll be hard-pressed to find a more chilling shift in tone than this episode of A Certain Scientific Railgun S this year - after half an episode of watching Misaka trying to fathom out her oddball clone and finding herself conflicted in her feelings towards it, such light-hearted fare as rescuing cats and eating ice cream is replaced with bloody, dismembered limbs and a desperate struggle for life.  Even with prior knowledge of these events, I have to admit that the final scenes of this week's episode were genuinely affecting - having quickly brought us closer to Misaka's clone, seeing the horrific end to the experiment in which she is involved is pretty gut-wrenching, which validates all of that fun-filled preamble.  Perhaps even more important, we're now all set for some action-packed instalments now that the truth is out and in Misaka's hands; fasten your seat belts everybody...

Friday, 10 May 2013

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 6

The race is on to save Hibiki... but does he even need saving?  Either way, things are about to get serious in Nagoya.

After their search and brief sighting of him last time around, Shijima and Nitta don't take too long to catch up to Hibiki, but if they expect for him to agree to go straight back to Tokyo with them they have another thing coming - conflicted though he might be in his allegiances, he has no intention of returning back to JP's at this point in time given what he's seen and experienced previously.

Meanwhile, it isn't only the friends of our protagonist who have found the now-insurgent run Nagoya base, as  Airi and Jungo make a rather less than grand entrance right in the midst of said insurgents.  Before we know it, these two factions are at loggerheads via their demons, although this battle is interrupted soon enough by the inevitable arrival of a Septentrion.  With an aim to disrupt the power, and thus the magical barrier protecting Nagoya, things quickly get decidedly dangerous, and it looks as though Hibiki's friends aren't going to be capable of preventing Hibiki's foretold death.  Enter a surprise appearance from Yamato - not just to save Hibiki, but also to utterly destroy the Septentrion threat before him.  Not that this is enough to cool the hostilities between Yamato and Ronaldo; nor is it sufficient to quell Hibiki's anger towards Hotsuin.

With all of this going on, Devil Survivor 2 rarely looks like letting up its pace - it slows a little here and there, only to catch its own breath and return to its usual breakneck programming soon after.  Although the Persona 4 comparisons become more marked by the week (come on, they're even summoning creatures that we've seen in that game now!), it still lacks the genuine sense of character of that series; nonetheless, even as a poor man's Persona 4 this show remains more than entertaining enough anyway.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 6

While Maou is celebrating a very human achievement - that being a promotion to shift manager - things are looking a little less cheerful in Ente Isla, as news of Satan and Emi's existence on Earth reaches the higher-ups who are left in an embarrassing position... having claimed that both of them are dead, do they renege on their announcement or ensure that their original statement comes true?

With that issue floating in the background of this episode, our focus is instead on Maou and Ashiya looking for ways for the former to replenish his now almost entirely depleted magical powers - something which they do with the help of Lucifer, who now calls himself Urushihara, although equipping him with a PC to do so perhaps isn't the best of ideas considering how quickly he's discovered online shopping.

Still, in the hope of regaining this lost power, the main focus of this search is upon reports of mysterious goings-on which might well be somehow connected to Ente Isla, and rather conveniently Urushihara finds just such a mystery close at hand - within Chiho's school in fact, an establishment with the traditional "seven mysteries", one of which is a so-called "forbidden classroom".  Of course, where Maou goes Emi ultimately ends up following, but is this visit really driven by reports of mysterious goings-on, or the needs of Urushihara to play a game?

Once again, Hataraku Maou-sama has managed to turn out something rather delightful, via another fun episode that brought plenty of smiles and a few giggles out of me, and one fit of laughter at a relatively throwaway gag that meant I couldn't breathe for a while.  It's this easy manner that's topped with more serious plot points where required that makes for such great viewing, as it knows exactly how best to make use of its characters and scenario and succeeds in doing so far more often than it fails.  I keep expecting the series to descend into dull nonsense at any point, but somehow Hataraku Maou-sama just keeps on trucking.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Red Data Girl - Episode 6

Never mind the big news of last week's episode, as this sixth episode of Red Data Girl sees us heading off on a trip, with our main pair of characters joining Mayura and Manatsu on a trip to Nagano.

The first port of this call for said trip is the home of the siblings, where they get to meet the rest of the Souda family via a gathering which sees Izumiko taking in entirely too much alcohol-laced punch.  The next thing she knows, a drunken Izumiko is "dreaming" of floating around the Souda house at night and meeting the deceased Masumi in the process - exactly the kind of thing Sagara was worried about his intoxicated charge doing in the first place.

From there, the group moves onwards to their next piece of business, that being a meeting of the student council executive committee.  This is where the real meat of the episode lays, as we come to realise that there are several factions involved in something of a "war" to gain influence and followers around the academy - it's a battle into which Mayura has thrown herself, with a determination to unseat Takayanagi from his position - a determination so bold that she even sees Sagara has a potential rival, leading to her challenging him in the hope of finding out what he's truly capable of.

No matter how much more entertaining alcohol makes Izumiko's character, I have to say that I'm tiring of Red Data Girl as a whole - for all of the potential it flaunts here and there, no aspect of the series has managed to grip me, and this episode largely made up of talking heads and internal academy politics was probably the last thing I needed to try and win me over as the whole thing left me cold.  It still looks pretty enough, but this series is currently proving to be far too self-serious placid to engage me; were it not be for my dogged refusal to give up on shows after this many episodes I'd probably be putting it to one side and never thinking about it again.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 5

A date with Saeki should be nirvana for Kasuga, but given his current circumstances brought about by Nakamura - that being attending said date while wearing Saeki's gym clothes under his own - it's understandably hard to focus on what should be an enjoyable day.

Still, as time goes by our protagonist seems to be managing to set his worries and discomfort aside, and by the time they reach the book store that Kasuga had promised to show her he's positively brimming within enthusiasm as we finally get to see him in his element for the first time while he waxes lyrical about books and the like, even going as far as to buy a copy of The Flowers of Evil for Saeki.

With things going so well, it isn't too long until Nakamura stops simply trailing the couple and watching them from afar, and pulls Kasuga aside with another demand - that he kiss Saeki before their date is up.  This sends our hapless main character into another tailspin, and when the chance presents itself to try and steal that kiss at the end of the date Kasuga finally decides to ignore Nakamura's demand and instead goes to the opposite extreme, asking Saeki to enter an entirely platonic relationship with him.  This is an idea that Saeki seems keen on, but Nakamura is quick to pour cold water over - quite literally, by dumping a bucket of water over Kasuga's head (cue Nichijou-esque replays from every possible angle).  Knowing what he's wearing under his now-soaked clothes sends Kasuga into a panic as he runs off with nary a goodbye; perhaps this is enough for Nakamura to leave him and Saeki alone though?  Yeah, right...

Thus ends another instalment of gripping, uncomfortable viewing from Flowers of Evil - although it perhaps plays up Kasuga's negative traits a little too much (it's hard to like him or accept Saeki's feelings for him given how irredeemably awkward he is), the weird tension that the series manages to build and hold in place is admirably and gives bite to an already edgy story.  The result is fascinating stuff; a barb-covered car crash of adolescent emotions and sexuality that I simply can't tear myself away from.

Space Brothers - Episode 56

The trials and tribulations of their survival training might be open, but it still informs Mutta and company's next task as they set about building a rover as part of the so-called "Comeback Challenge".

Having finished last from their time in the desert, the group are faced with not only no choice of engineer to assist then, leaving them with the unmotivated drunkard that is Pico, but also a smaller budget than other teams.  Even with Mutta's engineering know-how, can they really hope to succeed at this task?  Pico certainly seems prepared to write them off immediately, but just what is his deal anyhow?

Needless to say, this episode takes us through Pico's story, explaining that he isn't a direct NASA employee but rather a sub-contractor who is in fact the project manager of the parachute system tasked with ensuring that the Orion capsule lands back on Earth safely.  Pico was also heavily involved with creating a parachute system for the mission which ended in Brian Jay's fatal accident, but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that, no matter his own feelings, it wasn't actually Pico who was at fault.  Regardless of this, there's still a rover to be built, so can anything motivate Pico to actually help his charges?  Mutta might just be the man with the ability to do just that...

Perhaps unsurprisingly, another week brings another terrific episode of Space Brothers - the unraveling of Pico's story was superbly engineered, bringing a sting in its tale that was emotionally affecting and cast an entirely different shadow over Pico's character, while there's plenty to be interested about in terms of the current challenge facing Mutta and his comrades to boot.  In other words, Space Brothers is back to its best yet again; but did we ever doubt that it would be?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 5

As per five years previously, humanity is once again face-to-face with a titan among Titans - more specifically, Eren finds himself staring down the creature which punched a hole in both the wall and his entire world in that prior attack which robbed him of his mother.

This time however, Eren has his training and 3D manoeuvre equipment at the ready, and in spite of the size of his opponent he has no qualms of taking it on with a view towards destroying it.  However, this colossus vanishes as quickly as it appeared having done its damage, thus leaving one of Wall Rose's gates with a whacking great hole in it.  Needless to say, it isn't long before Titans begin to stream in through this hole, with a battery of cannons able to do little more than slow them down slightly.

In light of this new assault against humanity, it's all hands on deck amongst the city's military forces, including its newest recruits regardless of where they were supposed to be stationed starting from the very next day.  Even after years of training, many of these youngsters simply aren't mentally prepared to face the Titan threat - not so Eren, who is more than ready to fight and has some stirring words for those whose hearts and minds are wavering.  Talking is big is one thing of course, but acting likewise is quite another, and for all of the talk of slaughtering the invading Titans reality turns out to be very, very different... horrifyingly so, in fact.

Having not read any of the original Attack on Titan manga, I think it's fair to say that I wasn't expecting the outcome of this episode - having seemingly set up Eren and company for at least some measure of brave victory in their first battle against the Titans, the reality is a gut punch that left me gawping, slack-jawed, at what transpired instead.  It's a fantastic sucker punch that completely shifts my expectations of what to expect from the series moving forward, and coupled with that stirring soundtrack and some brief but notably fantastic snatches of animated action, it's going to be a frustrating wait until next week's episode.  My only gripe about this instalment was that the aside about Titan history and biology should have been placed earlier in the series but hey, it's a minor quibble against an increasingly fantastic series.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 5

Following on from his attempts to help and discussions in last week's episode, this latest instalment of Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet continues to see Ledo pondering how to make himself at use aboard the fleet that has become his new home.

The trouble is, there's really very little call for a military man in the midst of this particular community that already has its fill of employees in pretty much every position you could ask for.  Even when the fleet comes to a standstill on a calm day to offer some downtime for all but its technicians, Ledo struggles to relax thanks to his concerns about not being useful.

It's this discomfort that Pinion plays on as an attempt to get an outdoor grill party running (yes, this is as close as Gargantia can get to a beach episode in lieu of any actual beach) hits a snag due to a lack of power, and just as pressingly a lack of knowledge on how to cook food probably on Chamber's part.  While waiting for these grilling problems to be resolved, Ledo is sent out on an important task which takes him through some of the more "interesting" parts of the fleet's community.  Thus, by the end of the episode we have the answer to an important question - what sauce would Amy prefer in a sausage sandwich?

Silly though parts of this episode were, and cliched though others threatened to be, that didn't stop the instalment as a whole being a whole lot of fun - it really played wonderfully into the personalities of its main characters and the relationships between them, and found no shortage of ways to use the situation of Ledo and Chamber in particular for comic purposes.  This isn't the kind of thing I want to see Gargantia doing every week, as I'm sure it has bigger fish to grill... err, fry... but as a one-off this was a genuinely enjoyable episode that perhaps brought us a little closer to the fleet's inhabitants.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 5

Kirino needs a boyfriend, and only Kyousuke will do it seems as this week's episode of Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai kicks off.

Of course, rather than an actual boyfriend, Kirino is merely in the market for a fake one in the hope of putting off a rather over-exuberant contact from a modelling agency who simply won't take no for an answer.  Such is the fervour of this individual that Kirino and Kyousuke end up spending an entire day out on a date in the hope of finally convincing her that Kirino is most certainly not available.  This is all well and good, but it causes no end of confusion when the duo invariably run into their respective friends, including a baffled Manami and Kuroneko during their day out.

Still, at the end of it all Kirino is free from this pesky modelling agency, although a throwaway comment suggesting that she also has a real boyfriend throws Kyousuke into a spin, even if it's one that's relatively quickly forgotten as Kirino's otaku group decides to create a book for the upcoming Comiket - something that they duly achieve with great success while also giving us another glimpse at the relationships at play within that particular group.

Although the core premise which kicked off this episode was ludicrously forced, it did at least lead in to a surprisingly fun episode of Oreimo which felt somewhat like a return to the energy exhibited by the first series.  For all of the stupidity inherent across the episode, we finally seem to be focusing in on the main cast again, which is where the series does its best work.  While this instalment was no classic, in comparison to previous episodes of this second season it was a clear improvement, so maybe I can actually go back to looking forward to watching this show of a Saturday evening again rather than dreading it as I have been for the past few weeks.