Sunday, 30 June 2013

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 13 (Completed)

Now that Striker has been outed as a quite literal empty suit, the big question (beyond simply how to defeat it) is - why is it doing all this?

The short answer is that Striker believes that it's simply following Commander Kugel's grand plan having landed on Earth, albeit taking it to a rather more extreme extent by positioning itself quite literally as God.  Such is the reasoning spouted by Striker that even Chamber disowns his fellow support unit as something approaching delusional, stating quite rightly that becoming a deity and stripping humans of all of their rights to independent thought and action is actually the opposite of what such a unit should be doing.

While Chamber and Ledo face off with Striker above the skies, and with Ledo in particular taking some rather extreme measures to try and get an upper hand over their rival, it's very clear that they aren't alone in their fight.  Not only is Pinion continuing to do all he can to destroy the cult created by Striker using the technology he's retrieved, but Gargantia also has plenty of help to offer with Amy taking to the skies while the fleet's top secret weapon lays waste to the enemy with impressively flashy gusto.  Although Ledo is willing to give up his own life for the safety of Gargantia and those who have grown dear to him, it seems that Chamber has an entirely different idea about how his future should pan out as the series draws to a close.

Overall, I don't want to be too harsh on Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - as a series it had no shortage of ambition, and plenty of interesting ideas and concepts to discuss and flesh out as the series progressed; something which it did impressively well during its first half.  As things became more narratively complicated however, I can't help but feel that the show lost sight of the things that made it special, and by this final episode we were more or less being treated to a dumb action moving that occasionally paused to throw out half-baked musings in the form of dialogue that simply weren't all that satisfying.  Still, at least we were granted a firm resolution to proceedings without any wishy-washy back-tracking, and taken as a whole I enjoyed more of the series than I disliked, which ensures that this effort still sits towards the higher echelons of everything I've watched this spring, even if it could have been so much more.

Attack on Titan - Episode 13

Although it seemed as if all hope was lost in the audacious mission to win back Wall Rose thanks to Eren's Titan form, but Armin's words and actions are at least enough to stir Eren from his slumber...

For the rest of those tasked with protecting and/or fighting alongside him however, there are more pressing matters at hand - namely simply trying to stay alive, and assisting their comrades in doing likewise.  As Jean continues to struggle with faulty equipment, those close to him do everything in their power to aid his escape, even at the risk of sacrificing their own lives in the process.

In the midst of all this chaos comes a sudden realisation - Eren is back on his feet in Titan form, and having successfully hoist the boulder at the centre of the operation aloft is making his way towards the hole in the city walls to seek to plug it.  Thus, the focus of the mission shifts once again, this time to ensuring that nothing impedes Eren's progress no matter the cost - a potentially tall order as more and more Titans appear in his path.  Inevitably, more lives are lost in the name of this victory for mankind, and even as Eren succeeds in plugging the hole in the wall to stop further Titan incursions the subsequent clean-up job costs countless lives.  However, humanity has won an important victory, which means that it's time to plan the next faltering step in the fight back against the Titans - needless to say, Eren will again be expected to play an important role here.

After a few slow episodes of late, this week's Attack in Titan is very much back on track - tightly paced, action-packed, and for all of its continued production and animation time-saving (to the point where one or two moments almost became confusing) the strength of the show's core concepts still managed to shine through to make a gripping instalment that was great to watch from beginning to end.  Now, we get to sit back for a week via a recap episode - sorry, an episode chronicling Eren's hallucinated memories of everything that's happened so far - which will hopefully give the production team a little breathing room to make the second half of the series everything that it promises to be.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Space Brothers - Episode 64

Concerns about Sharon's health couldn't really come at a worse time, arriving as they do literally right before an important exam for Mutta - an exam that he struggles to concentrate upon at all.

With Mutta's results proving to be an abject failure on account of his wandering mind, unfortunately there isn't any happier news in terms of Sharon's diagnosis - although doctors can't immediately pinpoint the neurological issue that she seems to be suffering, Serika's suggestion that it could be amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (aka motor neurone disease) rings true with those doctors, and lo and behold further testing confirms that she does indeed suffer from this incurable neurological disorder.

Although Sharon puts a brave face on things as she returns to Japan still confident in her ability to complete the work she needs to carry out regarding her plans to build a telescope on the Moon, Mutta is left feeling despondent and wondering whether he'll make it to the Moon on time to play a part in achieving her dream, especially given his recent test result.  Unable to even find any comforting words to cheer up his "aunt", it takes an old anecdote about Sharon from his youth to allow him to find the phrase that he needs.

There really isn't a whole lot to say about this week's Space Brothers other than to repeatedly use the phrase "relentlessly depressing" - it's certainly a spot-on treatment of dealing with the diagnosis of incurable illness for a loved one, but it's such a joyless subject that it's hard to get enthused about it.  It's great to see an anime series tackling a real-world disease in this way though (and let's be honest, it's quite a rarity), so maybe if it encourages just one person to be diagnosed quicker with a similar disease then perhaps there's more to be said about this episode than simply its ability to afford some extra drama and to ramp up the importance of Mutta's goals.

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 13

As it reaches its last "proper" episode (prior to a trio of OVA episodes which arrive in August), Oreimo's second season changes tact for this finale by taking a look at the world through Kirino's eyes.

To be precise, this episode charts Kirino's relationship with her older brother from its very roots, meaning that we get to see a very different dynamic between a far younger pair of siblings.  As a young child, Kirino was in awe of her brother, who seemed like an amazing individual who could do anything that he set his mind to - so amazed was she at her siblings abilities that she'd spend time with him whenever possible just to soak in everything that she could about this wonderful person.

Of course, times change and so do individuals, and as the pair grow up so a distance begins to grow between the two siblings - Kyousuke wants to spend more time away from his little sister as hanging around with her becomes increasingly uncool, and what's more Kirino begins to see what she views as a change in her brother from the amazing all-rounder she knew and loved into a lazy, half-hearted slob who didn't want to put any effort into anything.  This ultimately all comes to a head, not helped by Manami commenting that Kyousuke was never the amazing person Kirino imagined him to be, leading to Kirino choosing to ignore Kyousuke whenever possible while molding herself into a person that could best even her idealised view of her brother.  Of course, her deep-seated feelings never went away, and her otaku proclivities proved to be nothing more than a way of venting them in a safe environment, until this became the issue which pushed the siblings closer together once again.

For all of this show's flaws (and boy are there plenty of them), this was actually quite a satisfying "final" episode.  Although it does nothing to gloss over the horrendous and now increasingly present incestuous angle of the series, there was something to be said for delivering Kirino's story in this manner and the result was a pretty engaging but suitably light-hearted one that (aforementioned incest angle aside) also felt like a satisfying representation of the two siblings at the heart of the show and their changing relationship.  It's a shame that something like this can even feature as a highlight of what has otherwise been a disappointing series, and by all accounts those final OVA episodes are going to do nothing to save the show - far from it in fact.  Roll on August, if only so that we can bring a franchise that has somehow imploded almost entirely during this second season to a close.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 12

While Touma and one of Misaka's many "sisters" ponder what to do about a stray cat, Mikoto herself has a rather more important fish to fry as she plans to take her attempts to stop the experiments going on using her likenesses by going to the very top of the tree, with every pun intended.

In short, with her attack on the facilities powering the experimentation surrounding Accelerator proving to have done little to dent their capabilities, Misaka instead decides to attack Tree Diagram, the sub-orbital supercomputer which calculates most of the research which goes on across Academy City.  To brazenly infiltrate and hack into such a facility seems like a tall order even for a high-ranking Level 5, but the sole facility which communicates with Tree Diagram that serves as Misaka's target proves to be surprisingly quiet...

While all of this is going on, MISAKA has somehow managed to persuade Touma to take in the stray cat that she's been taking care of to the best of her abilities, but even as the two hang out and Touma heads into a store to look for some books on cat care, another experiment featuring the sisters is about to take place - the proximity of which to Touma's location could be about to make things decidedly more complicated.

For perhaps the first time in this series, this week's episode of A Certain Scientific Railgun S feels rather stretched out and slow-paced - you could probably even suggest that it's badly paced, with the big revelation about Tree Diagram being squeezed into the start of the closing credits while a lot of the episode was lost to Touma and MISAKA cooing over a cat.  Now, I like cats as much as the next guy, but a lot of this dialogue and conversation didn't particularly feel like it added things to proceedings, which made things a little frustrating with so much more important material waiting in the weeks.  Thankfully, it looks like we'll be well and truly back on track next week though.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 25 (Completed)

All of the national tournament champions have been decided, but amidst the celebrations and congratulations Chihaya only wants to know one thing from Arata - how?  How can he remain so calm and impassionate no matter the occasion when it comes to playing karuta?

With prize presentations about to start there's no time to answer this question, and with the tournament over Chihaya has something a little more pressing to worry about, that being exactly what's wrong with her injured finger.  After moving up the chain of doctors and hospitals we get our answer - enchondromatosis.  Although this disease wouldn't normally be an issue for your average person, for Chihaya it means that the only way for her to continue to play karuta safely is to have surgery on the affected finger; a scary prospect no matter how you look at it.

Thus, much of this episode occurs while Chihaya is in hospital, either waiting for or recovering from her operation - although this prevents her from playing any karuta, it certainly doesn't stop her from thinking about the game, and the time to herself also allows her to talk to Arata on the phone and get to the bottom of where he finds his constant reserves of cool, detached sportsmanship.  In learning the secrets behind this, it seems that Chihaya also learns a little about herself, and more specifically her feelings for Arata - a change that Kana is quick to pick up on as she goes into overdrive cheering on Taichi.

With the series leaving us tantalising set-up perfectly for a third season, I can only hope that this decision proves not to be in vein - as per its first season, Chihayafuru has been simply wonderful week in and week out throughout this second series, melding its dramatic tension and high stakes "sports" with superbly affecting and tear-jerking emotional drama on and off the tatami.  It's a tough call, but I'd actually posit that this second season of Chihayafuru is stronger than the first - its comedy is more confident and assured, the new additions to the cast add just enough extra flavour to proceedings to keep things fresh, and the established cast continue to grow and thrive marvelously.  This really is an example of a sports anime that does everything right, and it's results are beautiful in almost every way.  If there's any passion within the anime industry beyond cold, hard sales figures, then we need to see a third series of Chihayafuru in 2014 without fail.

Ghost in the Shell: Arise - Border:1 Ghost Pain

In might not be in quite the format or with the staff many had hoped for, but nonetheless Ghost in the Shell is back!  Set before the events of any of its previous iterations, Arise gives us a chance to see Major Motoko Kusanagi at work prior to the hardened Section 9 veteran that we're used to.

Indeed, this first movie-cum-OVA starts by pitting Kusanagi against Section 9 as they attempt to investigate the murder of her commanding officer - a murder investigation which also doubles as an investigation into charges of corruption against the man in question, who happens to be an old friend of Aramaki's.  Initially seeking to stop Section 9 from exhuming the man's body, this priority soon changes when it becomes clear that this coffin doesn't contain a body at all, but rather a booby trap in the form of a cyborg "moving land mine".

With Kusanagi's future and independence on the line on account of her commander's death, our protagonist is keen to get to the bottom of his murder and any charges of corruption - an investigation that naturally takes her into dangerous territory as it becomes clear that his death is more than an unfortunate moment of misadventure.  But with Motoko's body seemingly malfunctioning from time to time and her unusual tendency to see things out of the corner of her eye can she trust her prosthetic body, and even more importantly the faculties of and memories stored within her cyberbrain, to lead her to the truth?

For anyone steeped in at least some of the history of Ghost in the Shell (aka pretty much anyone who has ever watched anime), seeing these new takes on the show's character designs in action can feel jarring initially, but as a whole this opening episode of Arise does a good job of capturing the feel and aesthetic of the franchise's world as it blends the present day with the decidedly modern - although its animation quality is variable, and it can put together some decidedly slick action scenes when it counts and the visuals as a whole are at least passable here.

Where the series has always done its best work however is in its story-telling and sense of place, and its ability to dig into the crux of the social, moral and practical issues that come from the technologies inherent in its world.  In that sense, Ghost Pain is a real triumph - although you could certainly argue that at times Tow Ubukata tries a little too hard to recreate iconic scenes and concepts from the original movie in particular here, his sensibilities are broadly in the right place.  As a result, this episode's examination on the unreliability of memory and the particular susceptibility of that memory in a digital world is an interesting topic smartly applied to the show's protagonist, and the introduction of some of the rest of the show's cast worked well for the most part even if it felt a little forced from time to time.

In a sense, bringing something new to Ghost in the Shell is an almost impossible job in a world where everyone is pining for more Stand Alone Complex or more of Masamune Shirow's original works, but if this opening gambit is a gauge to what Arise can achieve then the outlook is largely positive.  Yes, there's still a danger that Ubukata's love of the original material may turn the series into more of an homage than an original work, and some of its choices (those moving land mines particularly) feel a little outside of the principles of the franchise as a whole, but in terms of providing a thought-provoking and well-realised character-driven story that hit all of the beats you'd expect from something with the Ghost in the Shell name attached, this was an enjoyable effort that did virtually everything that I could have hoped for.

Unless, of course, someone has hacked my brain and I watched something completely different to everybody else...

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 13 (Completed)

Sariel's evil plans have been defeated, and although his removal from the world haven't quite got to plan (leaving him to make a detour into the McRonald's refrigerator) there seem to be other concerns playing on Chiho and Emi's minds.

With the former worried that her beloved Maou is going to up sticks and leave for Ente Isla and the latter still sure that Maou's evil intentions will resurface at some point, both of the girls' interest is piqued as Ashiya announced that he needs to take some "time off" for playing henchman house husband to Maou for reasons that he won't specify in polite company.

So, just what is Maou up to?  His suspicious behaviour and the arrival of all kinds of deliveries at his home arouses suspicions aplenty, but of course the truth is far more mundane - Maou needs money and fast to pay off debts racked up by Urushihara thanks to those tracking devices that he's bought, and he's had to find a second job to pay off those debts.  Little does he know that Urushihara has managed to get himself scammed out of even more money, leaving poor Maou seemingly hopelessly in debt - at least, until Emi gets involved to offer up a little expertise.

So ends Hataraku Maou-sama with more glimpses of what it does best - sitcom-style comedy as the show's cast battle against the difficulties of real life rather than fantastical enemies.  Although the second half of this final episode felt rushed, there were still a fair few laugh out loud moments and snappy one-liners, which is really the core of what has made this show the spring's surprise hit.  If only all anime comedies were this well written and delivered; although not perfect, Hataraku Maou-sama has an exquisite sense of timing for most if not all of its jokes and dialogue, and somehow manages to keep its simple concepts feeling fresh and fun when other series would have run those same ideas into the ground.  For a series that I was expecting to either not like out of the gate (with every pun intended) or quickly grow tired of, this has been the year's refreshing surprise in terms of pure entertainment.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 13 (Completed)

And then there were two - with everyone else eliminated, the future of humanity now rests on the shoulders of either Yamato or Hibiki.  But which is better?  There's only one way to find out.  FIIIIIIGHT!

While Yamato has no problems with attacking Hibiki to claim what he believes is his rightful place before Polaris, Hibiki is altogether more reticent about doing any damage to Yamato, instead trying to plea to his conscience as a friend.  Yamato has no need for friends however, and what's more he's kept a trick up his sleeve - the ability to fuse Personas... sorry, Demons... to create even more powerful allies.  That said, Hibiki has one last trick of his own, as he finds himself inheriting the demons of all of his fallen comrades, giving him an overwhelming amount of firepower for this final struggle.

So overwhelming is that gap in abilities that it's Hibiki who manages to claim the place in front of Polaris to remake the world as he sees fit, and you can probably guess where we go from here - a complete reboot of the world which effectively takes us back to where the series started, minus the Septentrion invasion and with the Nicaea site reimagined as something stupid but harmless.  However, it seems that not all of Hibiki's memories of his struggles have faded, and as they come flooding back he finds himself compelled to find Yamato and ensure that even this most antagonistic of friends has also received something approaching a happy ending.

It was probably inevitable thanks simply to the way things were set up, but this was a bit of a weak and entirely predictable finale to Devil Survivor 2 - there's nothing inherently wrong in going down the "reboot the world and live happily ever after ending", but the final conflict between Yamato and Hibiki really struggled to be anything like as epic as it should have been, and the additional mechanics thrown into that final battle felt shoe-horned in and more akin to something that should have reared their heads earlier in the series.  Still, as a whole Devil Survivor 2 did a solid job of entertaining me - it didn't break any new ground or knock me off my feet, but I enjoyed it week on week for what it was and always felt sufficiently engaged to want to watch each week's episode without forcing myself to do so.  It might not be a show that I would consider watching again, but in this throwaway streaming world it seems like perfect fodder to fill some time without ever feeling like that time was wasted.  Ultimately though, I imagine this series will forever be remembered as "that show that wasn't Persona 4".

Monday, 24 June 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 12

From the madness of his dreams, a shoot of common sense seems to have sprouted within Kasuga's mind as he finally begins to realise the toll that his actions have taken upon Nakamura.  It's something he realises needs to be rectified, and makes haste to do so... by writing an essay.

In another of those moments of adolescent naivety, Kasuga plans to simply give Nakamura the letter-cum-essay after school and be done with it, but of course Nakumura wants nothing more to do with him and simply ignores his attempts to hand her the note.  Even chasing down the street after her while reading the "essay" out loud doesn't help either - despite espousing a truth about how selfish he was in terms of his time previously spent with her, he remains completely blind to the selfish behaviour he's indulging in right then and there in an attempt to make himself feel better.

With this plan having failed, Kasuga instead heads off to Nakamura's house to leave the letter for her there, only to be greeted by and invited in by her father.  This leaves some awkward discussions to be had surrounding Kasuga's relationship with Sawa and the whereabouts of her mother, but their conversation does at least reveal that the Nakamura we see at school and in town is no different at home, right down to her decision to plaster the words "Keep out, shit-faces" on her bedroom door.  Of course, this is exactly the kind of thing that inevitably piques Kasuga's interest all the more...

Another slow-burner it might have been, but Flowers of Evil still continues to engagingly portray the follies of youth in a way that is simultaneously suitably dramatic and still easy to relate to for anyone with a memory of their teenage years - I'm intrigued to see where the series is planning to leave things, but I can only hope that it's a satisfying enough conclusion without having to rely on a second season which may never come.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 12

Kugel is on a mission to change the world and he wants Ledo to help - but will our protagonists beliefs in following his commander waver in the face of a planned assault to assimilate Gargantia into this almighty fleet?

Even if Ledo's final decision is uncertain, we're soon treated to signs of dissent elsewhere - pirate Lukkage has clearly tired of her role in the midst of this cultish fleet, and although Pinion is thrilled with his new role and the toys he gets to play with shoots of doubt begin to spring from his mind as well.  The true moment of clarity for all and sundry comes as we witness what can only be described as a "purging" of the elderly and unhealthy from the fleet - a shocking moment that makes it clear that there's no place for Kugel's ideals in this world no matter how closely it ties into the Galactic Alliance's own belief set.

Thus, the wheels are set in motion for a more full-scale rebellion - having made his decision to fight back against the injustice he's seen, Ledo sends Melty off to forewarn Gargantia of the planned attack so that they might escape while steeling himself to take on Kugel in a one-on-one battle.  Not that he's fighting alone when push comes to shove, as Pinion and the other members of his breakaway fleet do all they can to assist in overthrowing the commander.  With Pinion's efforts in particular serving to turn the tide of Ledo's airborne battle, it seems as if Kugel is cornered... but is he really even the mastermind behind the "cult" that follows him?

At the end of it all I'm a little on the fence about this week's Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet and where it's taken the show as a whole - I can't fault the areas that it's trying to discuss, whether it's a harsh treatment of the fleet's elderly populace or the dangers of religious cults, but all of this is brought into the episode with all of the subtlety of a sledgehammer, and come the end of the episode its big reveal is (for the first time in this series) something that I saw coming a mile off.  Perhaps the message is more important than its delivery you could argue, and the second half of the episode and Ledo's battle as the starting point of a rebellion were visually fantastic and great to watch, but no matter which side of the fence you sit on regarding your feelings about this episode you can't help but acknowledge that it's a far cry from the material which made the first half of the series so fascinating, for better or for worse.

Attack on Titan - Episode 12

Using Eren's new form as a weapon (or at least a tool) to win back some territory from the encroaching Titans was a brave decision, but it looks liable to fall flat on its face within seconds as the mission actually begins.

Rather than following his orders and taking a large boulder to plug the hole in the city walls, Titan Eren instead seems to be completely out of control as he lashes out at Mikasa and looks set to attack absolutely anything in his path despite her pleas and attempts to bring him back to some kind of state of rationality.  Such is the ferocity of Eren's attacks that before we know it both of his Titan's hands and face have been effectively vaporised with no sign of their regeneration, leaving his squadmates with no choice but to brand the mission a failure.

However, thanks to Mikasa's pleas (and more importantly, her decidedly threatening body language), her comrades at least agree to do everything that they can to protect Eren until he can be extracted as Titans begin to pour towards his prone Titan body.  Meanwhile, Armin sees the signal that something is amiss and goes on a lone charge to find Eren in his incapacitated state - while Eren himself is in a state of dreamlike reverie, Armin does everything that he can (including some rather drastic measures) to bring him back to a state of consciousness in the hope that the day isn't yet lost.  Even though Eren had previously ignored even Mikasa's voice, perhaps this is something which Armin is capable of doing...

As per the past couple of episodes of Attack on Titan, this was another slow-moving instalment in broad terms that didn't actually cover all that much material when you get to the heart of it.  However, it's far easier to forgive this when such slowing of its pace occurs in the midst of chaos on the battlefield, and we were treated to just enough human on Titan action (no, not in that way, get your minds out of the gutter) to make it feel worthwhile.  The series still feels like it needs to pick up the pace at its current juncture, but it is at least doing its job of keeping my interest proficiently at the moment.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 12

Although the entire point of his moving into his own place was to aid his studying for exams, it seems that there's still time in his busy schedule for Kyousuke to enjoy a housewarming party with all of his harem... I mean friends.

Of course, getting all of these girls into the same room is a dangerous proposition, and after an amicable start things soon go south thanks largely to Kanako throwing a fit over Kyousuke eating food prepared by other women.  The next thing we know, everyone is laying claim to our protagonist for one reason or another in the assurance that they can care for him best - it's Kirino of all people who puts a stop to this madness, telling them all to lay off him so he can focus on his exams before choosing to put Ayase in charge of looking after him for the duration.

While Kirino assumes that this is the best option due to Ayase's hatred of her brother, we know rather better about her feelings for him, so it's no surprise when she puts heart and soul into visiting him every day to ensure that he's well-fed and provided with a clean and comfortable living space.  Free from any distractions, Kyousuke enters his exams with confidence and aces them, bringing his time living away from home to an end and as a result bringing a confession of love from Ayase - a confession summarily rejected by Kyousuke as we roll towards the end of the series, give or take its final OVA episodes.

As per my criticism last week, I have to confess that I was rolling my eyes at the first half of this week's Oreimo - it really doesn't work well as a harem series, and the whole welcoming party setup was cringe-inducingly bad in its execution.  This is a series that works better in its one-on-one interactions between Kyousuke and other characters, and things improved once the episode's cast was whittled down to just himself and Ayase - not classic Oreimo by any means, but at least palatable and even mildly amusing once or twice.  Kudos to this episode for also having the balls to remove one member of the "harem" from the equation by its end, something which too many shows chicken out of doing whereas this effort was at least a little sweet.  Well, bittersweet perhaps, when you consider the path we're treading towards in the final episodes of the series...

Space Brothers - Episode 63

More hard work lies ahead for Mutta as he begins his jet pilot training, with a requirement to learn three week's worth of information in just three days prior to a written exam which will prioritise their future training... however, that isn't really the crux of this week's episode.

Instead, our focus remains squarely upon Mutta and Hibito's "aunt" Sharon, starting with some positive news as she finds a kindred spirit willing to assist and support her in her plans to have a radio telescope built on the surface of the moon.  With such a busy schedule and a a meeting with first Hibito, then Mutta and his trainee astronaut friends, it's certainly understandable that Sharon would be fatigued... but is that really the true cause of her dropping things so frequently?

When a freak accident at the Houston Space Centre finally persuades Sharon (with some coaxing) to visit a doctor, a quick check-up reveals no problem and puts her issues down to fatigue, much to the relief of everyone.  With any health issues pushed to the back of her mind, it's time for a fun evening with the Nanba family and friends - at least, it is until Serika sees the battered state of Sharon's phone, which brings back some uncomfortable but very important memories for her...

Even if it began in a rather conspicuous place (and the way this episode panned out makes me wonder even more what the point of Amanti's preminitions were), the way this particular story arc is mapping out broadly works in a dramatic sense, having done enough to illustrate the respect and admiration Sharon holds others for us to care about her well-being.  Admittedly, I'm still more interested in the challenges currently facing Mutta, but that isn't to say that the currently unfolding plot isn't a sufficiently interesting one in its own right as the show continues to throw obstacles into our protagonists path over and above those overtly offered by his current career choice.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 11

With all of the facilities on her list put out of commission, it seems as if Misaka can finally relax and reflect on a job well done as the Sisters project is surely put out of commission.

With that in mind, even the appearance of old "rival" Kamijou Touma on the scene is a cause for entertainment, as she decides to help him out with a problem with that vending machine.  Perhaps the timing of this is unfortunate however, as Kuroko's continued concern about her roommate extends to her discussing the issue with Uiharu and Saten.  It's a discussion that leads them to only one conclusion - Misaka has herself a boyfriend.  Cue Kuroko running into Touma and Misaka together, putting two and two together and coming up with 4.1 as the answer.

Once this distraction is out of the way, the tone soon turns serious as Touma and Misaka's reverie is interrupted by a visit from one of the Sisters.  It doesn't take long for it to emerge that in spite of all Mikoto's efforts the project and its malevolent experiments are continuing apace, leaving Misaka broken and distraught - a feeling not helped as some further research reveals that those in charge of the project have already requisitioned over 180 more facilities to continue the project.  As it becomes clear to Misaka that this project is being run with the blessing of those at the top of Academy City, so she begins to plot some extreme measures to put paid to these activities...

In a way, this week's episode of A Certain Scientific Railgun S is really a stop-gap to transition us from one major element of this current story arc to the next - its light-hearted first half was arguably much needed after the high octane events of recent episodes, while the second half is perhaps not the cleanest or most satisfying way to ramp the story back up again but it does the job nonetheless, and sets the scene for a big finish to this story arc which I'm very much looking forward to.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 24

Taichi's victory in the Class B final has reduced both himself and Chihaya (and the viewer, to be fair) to tears... at least for a moment, until Chihaya realise that she's now staring right into the face of another Class A rival.

There's little time to reflect on this moment between the two of them however, as another dilemma rears its head - should the pair of them go to cheer on Tsutomu in his final, or see the Class A final between Arata and Shinobu?  Once again, Chihaya is oddly reticent to watch the Class A match, seeming almost scared to lay eyes on it for reasons that she never verbalises.  Not taking no for an answer however, Taichi leads the way to take her to see the remainder of the game and eventually they make it into the packed hall.

After a recap of everything that we've missed courtesy of Nishida, we settle in to see Arata with an impressive but not insurmountable lead against the Queen - a lead borne from his mixture of ferociously competitive play and his cool outer demeanour, coupled with a fierce burst of speed - or rather acceleration - in taking cards when required.  Although Shinobu still has the overall edge in speed, and more specifically the coupling of that speed with unerring accuracy, it isn't enough for her to claw back her lead.  Thus, the Queen is defeated... but perhaps there's a little more to Arata's victory than just his abilities alone.

Engaging though this week's episode was, I still assert that Chihayafuru just isn't quite the same when its main cast of Mizusawa's team of karuta players are out of the spotlight - there were some nice moments to be found in the match between Arata and Shinobu, but the real star of the episode was Chihaya's face.  Her expressions and reactions throughout the match were priceless, and her largely wordless engagement with the match panning out before her was fascinating simply because it's so hard to gauge - is this really the face of a girl in love with the high-level karuta unfurling before her, or is there more to it than that?  It's these touches which make the series what it is, and equally it's what makes me sad that we're almost at the end of this second season.  It seems entirely too much to hope for that we get a third series of this show some day... doesn't it?

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 12

The final Septentrion has been defeated, and it's time for humanity to meet with Polaris to decide it's future.  Or is it?

Working on his own volition, it seems that Alcor has chosen his preferred candidate to meet Polaris - that candidate being Hibiki - and given that Yamato is never going to back down having come so close to reaching his goal there's nothing for it than for the two to fight to the death to see who gets to make that ultimate decision.  With Hibiki still in no position to interfere after his own earlier efforts, it seems that Makoto is the only one with any power to spare to assist in breaking up or changing the balance of the conflict.  While others would view Yamato's plans as vile, Makoto refuses to desert her superior, to the point where she'd even be willing to give up her life to aid him.

Thanks to this decision, which buys some all-important time for Yamato, it is he that triumphs and moves forward in the hope of meeting Polaris - by this point even Hibiki is no more than a nuisance for him, as he sets his demons upon his former ally to finish the job.  However, Io and Daichi are having none of that, and do all they can to assist Hibiki in also reaching his end goal, even as nothingness envelops and engulfs then.  With only Yamato and Hibiki left, whose ideology will win - more importantly, who is strong enough to defeat the other and seal their meeting Polaris?  Find out next week folks!

As you might expect from the series by this juncture, this week's Devil Survivor 2 hits all of the inevitable story beats on the way to its final showdown, making it a predictable effort which perhaps tries a little too hard to engender emotion in some of its scenes without ever quite getting it right.  Still, there are some decent (if also predictable) spells of action and an interesting contrast between our two remaining characters, so even though its finale seems to be entirely telegraphed this series continues to be more about some easy to dip into entertainment and how it reaches its climax rather than the minutiae of its story and characterisation.

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 12

Ashiya hospitalised; Chiho and Emi kidnapped; very little in the way of magical power to call his own.  Yep, I think it's fair to say that Maou and his friends are in a tight spot as Olba and Sariel weave their malevolent plan.

Of particular interest to Sariel is Emi's sword, which he's determined to tease from his captive by any means possible even if it seems that she simply can't produce said sword in his presence.  Although it seems inevitable that she can only hold out for so long in the face of his torture, this distraction at least buys Maou enough time to reach their location.  Here he finds himself faced by Suzuno, who has been tasked with bringing the underpowered overlord down - something that she's already conflicted about doing and ultimately gives up on in the face of Sariel's behaviour.

Thus, we're all set for a face-off between Maou and Sariel, although with the latter powered by the light of the full moon and the former... well, only wearing his pants... this seems like a mismatched fight.  However, Olba's decision to use magic to intensify the moon's power also creates more than enough fear and anguish from the populace to also power Maou up to his full strength, and as a result there's no contest as to who is the strongest here.  The day is saved, as are Chiho and Emi, and all before Ashiya even has time to put on his cloak - unfortunately, once again the collateral damage is going to take all of Maou's powers to repair.

At times I have to admit I've despaired at little at moments where Hataraku Maou-sama gets serious given how spot on its comedy is, but this week's episode is a perfect example of how to blend the two elements - Sariel made for a great creepy baddie, the episode's action scenes were superb, and the entire instalment managed to seamlessly blend in its unique vein of laugh out loud humour by making full use of the show's characters and setting to deliver perfectly timed quips, one-liners and comedy moments.  If there's one criticism to be made here, it's the plot's decision to lean on exactly the same factors as the previous major story arc - bad guys attack, create terror, Maou uses this fear to replenish magic, Maou wins - so it's hardly innovative stuff... but who cares when its so damn funny?  One thing is for sure, I'm going to miss this series once it finishes next week.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Red Data Girl - Episode 12 (Completed)

Thanks to Tayakanagi's efforts, Izumiko has finally lost her rag at his plotting and scheming... and trust me, you don't want to deal with Izumiko when she's angry.

As a result, the school festival is thrown into disarray as Izumiko's temper causes all sorts of strange results, not least blowing out all of the electrical devices in the area.  Oh, and turning Tayakanagi into a dog, which is probably the best result possible.  The trouble is, the loss of phones and other devices makes actually finding where Izumiko is decidedly more difficult - then again, when you're on another plane entirely I suppose no amount of technology will help you.

It's up to Sagara to navigate these plans in the search for Izumiko - a task which is easier said than done, and as it emerges that Masumi is the real mastermind taking advantage of what's going on it also becomes clear that he's set up some tricky to navigate traps as he seeks to use his infatuation with Izumiko to stay with him instead.  Ultimately, it's up to Izumiko to decide between Masumi's advances and her loyalty to Miyuki - no prizes for guessing which option she chooses, spurning Masumi's attention and the possibility of an easy life (or afterlife, I suppose) in favour of returning to the status quo.

Although it delivered a few sweet moments towards its climax, this final episode of Red Data Girl suffered from the same issue as much of the series as a whole - it felt like a show that was throwing things into the midst of the story with no real effort to explain or integrate them properly, and the result was inevitably a messy one that too often lacked coherence and focus despite having some good ideas and interesting characters to its name.  It's this sense of disappointment that is perhaps what's made the series so frustrating - it isn't a terrible show in relative terms, but compared to its potential and blessed with some really nice visuals it could, and should, have been so much more rather than squandering all of its promise in such a dull and stilted way.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Summer 2013 anime preview

Another new anime season is almost upon as again, and as per usual I've compiled a new season preview guide over at UK Anime - thus, in the sake of blatant self-promotion and cross-pollination I thought I'd also make people aware of it here!

Of course, I already know what I'll be watching for the summer, but what's grabbed your interest for the coming months?

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Space Brothers - Episode 62

There's relief and joy all around as Hibito safely makes his return to Earth - well, almost all around.  So just what is nagging at Amanti exactly?

Of course, the reason for this is immediately obvious enough - it's her premonition regarding Mutta that is very much still on her mind - but for a while this takes a back seat as Hibito readjusts to life back on Earth; an exhausting prospect having spent so long in low gravity before returning to find discover that even walking around in gravity six times stronger can be pretty exhausting.  After putting a brave face on it for the crowds gathered to witness the landing, Hibito and his fellow crew can finally get the rest they deserve.

This lets us return to Amanti's concerns as she finally spills the beans about her premonition - it seems that she's foreseen some considerable grief for Mutta, but witnessing Hibito's return has confirmed to her that it isn't he who will be taken ill by the circumstances she's predicted.  But who, then?  Mutta and Hibito's parents seem perfectly healthy, which leaves Mutta worried but flummoxed - however, a visit to the US from Aunt Sharon as she pursues her dream of having a telescope installed on the moon tells us everything that we need to know, and come the end of the episode are suspicions are confirmed.

I don't very often have cause to moan about an aspect of Space Brothers, but I have to say that Amanti's "psychic power" seems so at odds with the rest of the series and its scientific bent that it's decidedly hard to swallow, and now this storyline has fully come to fruition it simply feels like a needlessly clumsy way to introduce Sharon's illness when it could have been achieved in a far more organic way.  Still, with the promise of Mutta learning to fly a jet alongside this human drama, I'll forgive this clumsiness if the wider story beats bear fruit.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Flowers of Evil - Episode 11

Following all of the drama of last week's episode, its time for our three main players to "enjoy" the long drive home in a police car after their various escapades.

However, we don't dwell on the immediate aftermath of this for too long - aside from a cutaway shot to see the reaction of Takao's parents, both at the news that he's been found and when they learn of at least some of his recent activities, we zoom forward in time by a month for the remainder of the episode to see what has changed in that interim period.  On the surface, perhaps not much - Nakamura is still causing trouble, albeit to a greater extent than before, and Saeki is still viewed as an object of beauty by the boys.  It's Kasuga, however, who seems to have been completely broken by his experiences - hardly an extrovert before, Takao is now a dead-eyed loner who has nothing to say to anybody, whether it's Saeki or his parents.

In short, Kasuga has effectively given up on life and consigned himself to a lifetime rotting in a town from which, in his eyes, he can never escape.  With his parents paralysed by their inability to know what to do with him and with no distractions in this sleepy town, Takao is very much entering a vicious circle of self-loathing.  Even his dreams won't allow him respite from this state of affairs (as dreams are wont to do), bringing up knowledge that he has buried deep within his psyche about the damage he's done to Nakamura and her trust towards and relationship with him.  Perhaps Kasuga's subconscious knows just the right buttons to press to set him on the road to redemption however, no matter how painful...

I've spoken about this before with regards to this series, and this week's episode proves it again - Flowers of Evil is an absolute master at creating atmosphere.  The obvious highlight of this is Kasuga's dream sequence - surreal, aesthetically striking and rich in visual imagery, and backed up by a soundtrack that only accentuates this further.  Even before this however, the choices and positioning of shots do a wonderful job at depicting Kasuga's isolation and loneliness, as well as the emptiness of the town that traps him, and by the end of the episode you can't help but be drawn into his plight in a way that wouldn't be possible without the series working its craft in the way that it does.  Say what you like about this show's art style, but it knows how to use it, and every other aspect of the series, to maximum effect.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 11

It seemed like it was never going to happen, but at last Ledo finds himself faced with what appears to be the prospect of rescue thanks to the appearance of Commander Kugel on the scene - what's more, he seems to be part of a fleet of his very own, which raises some very obvious worries from Pinion and company as the threat of their "treasure" being taken from them looms large.

Invited aboard this fleet, Ledo soon finds that his commander has also been on this planet for some time, albeit confined to the cockpit of his mech due to an unspecified disease.  Despite this, it appears that his strategy upon landing in this world couldn't be more different to that of our young ensign - while Ledo went along with the way of life shown to him by his new hosts, Kugel has done the exact opposite and instead pushed the beliefs and systems of his home planet onto those he has encountered on Earth.  As a result, his fleet is supposedly efficient, but also redolent of a vast class gap between those with and those without.

What's more, Kugel is insistent that the entire planet needs to follow this strategy for its own future good, and it appears that Pinion and his fleet are the next in his sights - thus, Pinion is invited aboard, tested and qualified to become an engineering officer, leading to an invitation (read: demand) that his fleet merge with Kugel's own.  There's little choice but to comply with this, and while Ledo is keen to follow his old commander once again his opinions might be swaying as the next target of Kugel's assimilation comes into view: Gargantia.

Although this is a pretty good episode that takes us off in another interesting direction, I do worry that it's been a little heavy-handed in its execution - there are certainly no shades of grey between the mindsets of Kugel and those of Gargantia, and the commander is played up a little too much as being "evil" even if he's never explicitly depicted as such.  Still, it's perhaps Ledo's decisions that will really make or break the final couple of episodes, and I remain keen to see how things will shake out come the end of what has been a broadly entertaining and thoughtful series.

Attack on Titan - Episode 11

Eren, Mikasa and Armin have managed to survive the seemingly lethal distrust of their own comrades and superiors thanks to Commander Pixis, but what awaits Eren now seems to be even more uncertain territory.

Despite not being fully aware of the extent of his powers, Eren has nonetheless been press-ganged into trying to use a boulder to seal the hole in the wall through which Titans constantly pour - a dangerous mission for both himself and any troops assigned to assisting with the mission.  With a number of troops already in open rebellion at the prospect of another pitched (and not to mention uneven) battle against the Titans, the prospect of helping out an experimental man-turned-Titan doesn't really fill them with hope either.  However, Pixis is nothing if not a charismatic man when it comes to his use of language, and before we know it any immediate signs of insubordination are quashed.

From here, the real question involves the minutiae of the plan, with Armin stepping in to suggest that the mainstay of the military force concentrate on luring Titans away from Eren, with only a small elite squad assigned to protect him as he does his work with the boulder.  Although there are still doubts in the heart of everybody, with no other options for humanity there's no turning back, and so the plan begins.  Eren turns into his Titan form smoothly enough, but it seems as this is where the plan ends in terms of following the script.

As its pacing slows down and its production issues bite ever deeper into the series (just how many static shots were there in this episode?), Attack on Titan certainly feels like a show that's on the ropes somewhat at the moment - however, for the time being it continues to get by thanks to its stirring soundtrack and a plot which I just can't tear myself away from in spite of its occasionally surreal twists and turns.  Hopefully the series can at least find the time and budget to give the episodes to come what it seems like they will need, as we once again appear to be entering a phase of this series doing what its best at as it pits man (and woman, of course) against Titan once more.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 11

Having suddenly grown close in such a short time frame, Kyosuke and Kirino's parents are understandably worried about this sudden shift in the way the two siblings interact with one another - a concern not helped by that lovey-dovey sticker on the fridge.

With exams coming up for Kyousuke, his father has decided there's only one thing for it - to force him to move out.  This is, however, merely a temporary arrangement, provided that Kyousuke can score an A on this forthcoming test - something which may be easier said than done.  Nonetheless, off trots Kyosuke to his new apartment...

...not that he spends much time alone, naturally, as he finds himself visiting by most of the usual suspects - Kirino of course, but also Ayase, Kuroneko and Kanako.  While Kirino buys her brother a fridge (yes, you did read that right) and Kanako almost stumbles across the truth about Kirino's hobbies, it's the rivalry between Ayase and Kuroneko that really dominates as the two of them bitch, catfight and wage war over the attention and affections of the hapless Kyosuke.  With Manami planning a housewarming party for Kyosuke, it looks like there'll be no need to provide any fireworks for that event with all of these characters set to attend.

While there are some notably enjoyable aspects to this episode - Kirino becoming something approaching a decent human being is pleasing, and Kyousuke's interactions with Kanako in particular were some of the best this second season of Oreimo has managed in terms of comedy - the show is still missing too much in terms of its overall quality, as it continues to tread a path that feels more like fan fiction than what you'd otherwise expect of the series.  In other words, it just isn't as fun without its more otaku-centric focus - a complaint that I know I keep making, but it's something which is increasingly true (for me at least) as the series goes on.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 10

Misaka may be on her last legs thanks to ITEM's efforts, but with the rest of their crew dispersing and leaving just Mugino to deal with the intruder they've been paid to handle things are at least looking a little more even-handed for our protagonist.

If anything, this battle of the Level 5s sees its balance tipped in Misaka's favour thanks to another blunder by Frenda, who has left a slew of her doll-shaped bombs laying around the complex just begging to be used.  Thus, it's these props which take centre stage in the face-off between the Railgun and Meltdowner, with Mikoto refusing to give up on her plan of destroying this facility as she attempts to outrun, outgun and outsmart her opponent.

Having succeeded in outsmarting Mugino, Misaka reaches her goal and destroys the core of the facility in question, only to find that her victory against her opponent was an overly short one.  Thus, it's now time for an exhausted Misaka to try and make her escape against a now-furious Mugino - something that she succeeds in doing, but not before piquing her opponent's interest in exactly why she's so dedicated to her task.  With only one facility left to go, Misaka is on the brink of achieving her goal, and finding that facility empty and disused suggests that the job has been done and she can now get on with her life.

As per the past couple of episodes, this was another demonstration of A Certain Scientific Railgun providing its action-packed best, making good use of its two main players in this scenario and their respective powers to provide a fascinating and visually engaging match-up that, coupled with the personalities of the characters themselves, was simply great to watch.  Of course, this arc is far from over yet, and the appearance of a certainly Kamijou Touma is only the pre-cursor to further developments here...

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 23

Having been eliminated from the tournament, you might think that there no further big decisions for Chihaya to make as the national tournament comes to a close - however, you'd best think again.

In short, our protagonist now has two important finals to choose between watching - the Class B final featuring Taichi against familiar opponent Rion, and the meeting of karuta powerhouses that is the Class A final between Arata and Shinobu.  With Nishida making no qualms as to his allegiance (that being watching the Class A match), Taichi assumes and even hopes that Chihaya will do the same for the sake of furthering her own abilities - imagine his shock when she turns up to his match instead.

Ironically, Chihaya's decision initially proves to be counter-productive, breaking Taichi's previous no-nonsense move and setting him off over-thinking his final match in the hope of finishing it in time for Chihaya to see at least some of the Class A final.  Such distractions were only ever likely to be a mistake again an opponent as talented as Rion, and for a spell Taichi looks as if he's on the ropes.  Luckily for him, this is enough to bring him to his senses and put all of his knowledge and instincts into action to turns things around and post another success for Mizusawa and, perhaps more importantly, himself.

For a series that has been about so many other things aside from karuta underneath it all, this week's Chihayafuru felt surprisingly "pure" in comparison - of course, there was still a fair amount to say about the relationships between various characters, their motivations and so on, but at the heart of it all the two finals on show here were all about talent and technique as much as anything else.  Luckily, even this is still more than enough to ensure that the series is unceasingly entertaining, and come the end of the instalment we once again find ourselves with that trademark lump in our throats as elements of the plot come to fruition in beautiful fashion, serving as another potent reminder of why this series is so good.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 11

Hibiki is still out for the count having saved Nitta from her fate with what can only be described as a miracle, but this is no time to be sleeping as the final, all-important Septentrion attack looms large over the Earth.

As the rest of the demon-controlling gang cement their friendships as a group, any joy is soon turned to despair as they all receive confirmation of their worst nightmare - Dead Face clips showing each and every one of them perishing in the final Septentrion battle.  There's not much time to dwell on this however, as the alarm sounds for the arrival of this final foe, an all-powerful being which utilises all of the abilities that we've seen from previous Septentrion attacks.

With Yamato acting as a defensive shield, all of the other ragtag JP's members are free to attack the Septentrion at will, and initially it looks as though they may be suitably accomplished to achieve a simple, crushing defeat of their enemy.  Of course, such a battle is never likely to be that simple, and once the Septentrion effectively disables all of their demons by forcibly returning them to their phones the tables are turned.  Although this particular "spell" is quickly countered, it's too late to resummon these demons as Yamato takes matters into his own hands and goes on the offensive, effectively sacrificing the protection of his supposed comrades into the bargain.  While this means the end of some of them, the return of Hibiki from his forced slumber is enough to protect the rest... for a while at least.  Just as everything seems to be hopeless once again, an unlikely saviour shows their mettle to save the day.

As predictable as this episode was - you could see most of its twists coming a mile off - Devil Survivor 2 continues to be pretty accomplished when it comes to providing no-nonsense entertainment.  Once again, this episode's pace was more than quick enough to ensure that any semblance of boredom is avoided, and if anything it's rather surprising to see what was being billed as the show's final battle completed so easily, even if there are clearly plenty of other fish to fry for its remaining two instalments.  This series may remain a "fire and forget" affair that won't live long in the memory, but it's still proved capable of keeping me hooked every week while also providing just enough thought-provoking aspects to its story beats to avoid being a completely generic action show.

Hataraku Maou-sama! - Episode 11

After her meeting with a mysterious (well, not that mysterious to us) stranger at the end of the previous episode, Suzuno is consumed in thought for much of the first half of this week's instalment.

Thanks to this, we get to glimpse into her work back on Ente Isla, where she was part of an Inquisition (nobody expects the Suzuno Inquisition!) designed to deal with supposed heretics - of course, this setup wasn't exactly entirely immune from corruption and abuse, and it's this fact that Suzuno wrestles with as she considers the requirement upon her to eliminate Maou.  In the meantime Maou himself is, of course, blissfully unaware of all this as he concerns himself with selling junk sent from Hawaii on behalf of his landlady while Ashiya continues to suffer the ill effects of his recent dietary choices.

Ultimately, Suzuno's train of thought it bound to come to a head, and we end up having a stand-up argument between herself, Chiho and Emilia about whether or not Maou should be eliminated.  No prizes for guessing which side of this argument Chiho in particular comes down upon, and the prospect of having her memories wiped of anything to do with Maou and her new-found friends is only more upsetting still, and ultimately even Emi stands by Chiho when it comes to not doing anything to disrupt the current (and largely happy) status quo.  Emilia herself might have more important issues to consider however, as she's once again attacked by the mysterious (well, not tha... oh, you get the picture) assailant who attempted to corner her previously.

Given that I tune into this series week on week for the laughs, this was a decidedly serious instalment of Hataraku Maou-sama - not entirely devoid of humour thanks to one or two beautifully timed gags and one-liners, but all of this very much took a back seat to the conflict surrounding Maou's future and his wider intentions upon the Earth.  In fairness, it's an argument that was pretty well framed here, and it's a shuft in tone that is probably necessary as we move towards the end of the series - it still doesn't quite hide the fact that this show is at its best when its using its comedy chops to their fullest extent.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Red Data Girl - Episode 11

As the school festival moves towards its climax, so does this series, with Red Data Girl hitting its penultimate episode with expectations high that Takayanagi is going to use the event to pull some kind of trick or other.

Lo and behold, things soon begin to seem sinister, with the launch of a last minute weather balloon right above the academy (yes, the episode's big threat is a weather balloon), and before we know it Takayanagi appears to try and persuade Izumiko to join his faction.

Of course, Izumiko isn't exactly on board with either Takayanagi's plans or his way of doing things, but this seems to be rendered irrelevant as the next thing we know she's utterly compliant with everything that he and his merry band are doing.  With Sagara unable to make his way to Izumiko either, it seems as if Takayanagi might just have won the day, but that is to reckon without Izumiko's spirited streak when it comes to her buried memories of Miyuki.  Oh, and there are plans afoot for Miyuki and Mayura to set up some kind of sham marriage so that they can both pursue their true loves - probably not the best time to bring that up, in all honesty.

Taken as a whole, this episode of Red Data Girl exhibits both the best and worst that the series has to offer - on the positive side, watching Izumiko's character grow and then stumble in the face of uncertainties as to whether she can ever become normal is both fascinating and well-realised, but on the flipside of this the way Takayanagi's manipulation of Izumiko was depicted was simply terrible from a viewer's point of view, and that aforementioned marriage plot point also felt like it had been crow-barred into the episode by Gordon Freeman's less finessed brother.  That even one of the show's better episodes can have such major flaws says a lot about the quality of the series as a whole, and why it's been such a frustrating proposition ee=very week to watch.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Space Brothers - Episode 61

This week's Space Brothers is all about Hibito's return to Earth along with a couple of his colleagues, meaning that we spend our time building up to the big event before finally getting to see how it pans out.

Of course, Hibito's planned return means different things to all those involved - for Pico, it's an opportunity to finally remove the burden that has been placed upon his shoulders ever since the shuttle launched, and beyond that from the accident which killed Brian Jay; for Hibito's parents it's once again a mixture of excitement and worry; and for Mutta it's a strange mix of his new professional role which sees him shown around mission control as they build up to the capsule's re-entry, and of course his personal concerns about both Hibito's landing and his life from that point forth.

Crunch time finally arrives as the shuttle capsule hits the Earth's atmosphere and begins its re-entry, and we're treated to this scene in what is effectively real-time to make full use of its inherent tension, watching as the forces placed upon the capsule grow ever greater (and hotter), and in turn seeing the tension both inside and out of the capsule reaching a peak.  Ultimately however, re-entry goes without a hitch, and more importantly Pico's parachute system deploys beautifully, to the ecstasy and relief of all involved.

It's really those minutes surrounding re-entry and Hibito and company's landing that are the highlight of this episode of Space Brothers - wonderfully crafted to place a certain frisson of tension in the air and then ramp it up by the second in an almost imperceptible way.  It's only when the parachute deploys and you suddenly feel tension draining from your body that you realise that your stress levels and tension had actually been raised by the whole thing, proving your engagement towards the series and the characters contained within effortlessly.  If I didn't already know how much I dote upon this series, Space Brothers certainly managed to confirm it yet again - a fine piece of work, as always.

Flowers of Evil - Episode 10

Kasuga keeps on digging within the deep hole he has found himself, in that most typically teenage of ways, as we enter this tenth episode of Flowers of Evil and watch him and Nakamura choosing to "make a break for it" and skip town.

With no change of clothes, no money, and nothing to show for their snap decision but Kasuga's bicycle, it's pretty obvious that this decision to journey beyond the mountain which separates their town from the rest of the world is a figurative road to know - a realise that perhaps even Nakamura presciently understands as she talks of the world beyond that mountain as perhaps simply not existing at all.

As our two "escapees" find their progress halted by a mixture of Kasuga's exhaustion and a rain storm, they have somebody else hot on their trail - Saeki, who makes her excuses before heading off in pursuit of the errant pair.  Eventually she catches up on and discovers the two of them, and the results are explosive; a noxious mixture of all of the emotions that have built up over the course of the series acting as a powderkeg of a catalyst to the situation before them.  Ultimately, all eyes fall on Kasuga, and a simple choice for him to make - does he choose to follow Nakamura, or return to Saeki's side.  Even at this juncture it's a decision he simply can't make on account of his own self-deference to the idea that he is anything other than an empty shell - ironically, it's a show of indecision that might well leave him with nothing ultimately.

Although I've had plety of positive things to say about Flowers of Evil as a whole, this week's episode tops the lot - it's simply brilliant, both in its depiction of Kasuga and Nakamura's escape, and more specifically in the tempest of emotion which comes about once Saeki is adding in to the situation.  The result is almost a perfect distillation of the teenage condition - self-doubt; an over-riding desire and need to be loved and appreciated by someone, anyone; an insistence that you and only you are the freak in a world of normal people who you can never hope to be.  It's a powerful and affecting tale that, for all of its intense drama, still has moments that bring back intensely personal memories of an awkward youth of uncertainty and opportunities wasted by self-conscious indecision.  It's a love letter to puberty written in mud and excrement, but it nails adolescence better than any typical saccharine high school drama since Grange Hill.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet - Episode 10

The whalesquid nest has been utterly wiped out, leaving all of the materials and technology within this unlikely hiding spot to be salvaged by Pinion and his crew... but at what cost to Ledo's well-being?

While Ledo wrestles with the shocking information relayed to him in the previous episode, it seems as if this success has gone to Pinion's head - not only is he unwilling to share the technology and items he's salvaged with others outside of his fleet, but he also opts to send out a message to all and sundry advising them of his achievement and warning outsiders not to even think about coming close to his fleet lest they be obliterated.  Needless to say, some do try to do exactly that, but don't get very far against the firepower of Pinion's crew.

All the while, Ledo's frustrations are growing and growing as he tries to come to terms with everything that he knows - not so much out of disgust of all the (sort of) humans he's destroyed to this point, but more out of a concern that his "job" of fighting the Hideauze is now futile.  It's left to Chamber to try and point out that he does still have a purpose - once-human or not, the Hideauze are still an extreme race that will extinguish civilised humanity without pause, meaning that it still needs to be combated regardless of the origins of the race.  Such a train of thought is soon put on hold however - it seems that a familiar face has come from afar to pay Ledo a visit.

After the ludicrous and stupid twists that brought us to the end of last week's episode, this latest instalment of  Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet at least manages to get things back on track by deflecting a fair amount of its focus elsewhere thanks to Pinion's hubris, while also spinning the fallout of the revelations presented to Ledo in quite a surprising way by largely dodging the ethical questions in favour of taking on the theme that has run throughout this series - that being Ledo trying to figure out his place in the world and where he "fits in".  Thus, I'm now decidedly interested in where this series is aiming to go for its final few episodes again, especially as time seems to be running out for a resolution to some of its broader storytelling strokes.

Attack on Titan - Episode 10

To avoid being baked in the midst of an exploding cannon shell, Eren has managed to make use of his new powers to create a half-baked Titan around himself and his friends to protect them from the blast.  But what next now that he's given form to his terrifying new ability in front of all and sundry?

This is the predicament which dominates this episode of Attack on Titan, as Eren removes himself from the skeleton which he has created to find that his friends are safe but his options are limited.  Although the trio are still protected by a thick covering of smoke and the sheer shock of what has just happened on their aggressor's count, there still isn't much time to decide where to go or what to do next.

Ultimately, it's to Armin that the decision is left - Eren is determined not to cause any more difficulties for his friends and go it alone, but should he become a fugitive and go on the run, or is there still hope for someone to persuade the powers that be that Eren is an important new weapon in the fight against the Titans.  Having been filled with self-doubt previously, Armin has a moment of clarity which allows him to stand up to the troops surrounding them to make a final plea to their senses and the opportunity of turning the tide against the Titans - a plea which finally finds a receptive ear.  Now, the question is whether Eren can follow through on the claims that he might be a valuable secret weapon...

Compared to previous episodes of this series, this was a pretty slow-moving instalment of Attack on Titan, which made the most of the tension of the scenario set up last week and milked it for everything it was worth.  Perhaps this drop in the often frenetic pace of the show is required as a line in the sand between what has just gone and what is still to come while simultaneously giving the plot something of a much-required new grounding, but it does mean that this episode is more interesting than it is jaw-dropping or anything of the sort.  Still, I remain well and truly on-board in terms of enjoying the series.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai 2 - Episode 10

The Internet has been ablaze this week with apocalyptic tales of the final Oreimo light novel, but for now let us concentrate on the tenth episode of this second anime season.

Ayase gets to take centre stage for a while once again in this week's instalment, as we fast-forward through her interactions with Kyousuke during the whole Kuroneko affair, with Kyousuke telling her that he can't teasingly sexually harass her any more on account of having a girlfriend, before Ayase worries that it is she that's responsible for their eventual break-up - or at least, that's what she suggests is her concern, while the reality of the situation is readily apparent.

In the midst of all this tsundere behaviour, Ayase also all-but forces Kyousuke into attending the "Meru-fest" event to cheer on Kanako, who is taking part in the event on account of her stellar Stardust Witch Meruru cosplay.  Of course, this plan is scuppered somewhat, and by none other than Kirino, who is also supposed to be attending the concert but is held up on a delayed photo shoot.  Thus, it's Kyousuke to the rescue, as he races off to pick up Kirino (albeit with the worst possible choice of transportation) and bring her back to the event arena in time for the concert - something he doesn't entirely succeed at, but hey - at least he makes it in time for the frequently name-dropped appearance of ClariS, which oddly we don't get to see at all.

Aside from a couple of funny moments, Oreimo again underwhelms this week - by this point even the previously entertaining Ayase is increasingly little more than a simpering waif crawling at Kyousuke's heels, and the entire cast is starting to feel a little lifeless as we seem to have developed nothing more than a harem circling around our lead male.  This is perhaps the inevitable progression of the series, but it's still a world away from the fresh and snappy otaku comedy that made me fall in love with the franchise in the first place, and to be quite honest I really want that side of the show back, even if my wishes will never come to fruition.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 22

The gloves (well, bandages) are off in this week's Chihayafuru, as Chihaya finds herself matched up against reigning Queen Shinobu, offering her the chance of a rematch that she's desired ever since her defeat the previous year.

Having relentlessly watched video footage of her previous match against Shinobu, our protagonist knows everything there is to know about the Queen's style of play, but of course actually combating and playing against it is another matter entirely, and after refusing Shinobu's offer to play with her weaker hand to compensate for Chihaya's injury, we quickly see the terrifying speed and precision of this particular karuta star put to devastating use.

Although Chihaya isn't far behind in terms of speed, she's still just "slow" enough to be second best to every card, leading to her removing the final protection for her hand injury in the hope of getting that extra split second that she needs.  Even this isn't enough to take on the Queen however, and Shinobu (despite some inner turmoil on the subject) refuses to show any mercy to her opponent as she delivers a crushing victory.  Chihaya is, of course, deflated, but also elated that Shinobu allowed her to play against her without easing off, ramping up their rivalry and the unusual relationship which underpins it a little further.  With our heroine out of the tournament however, we still have some other big matches featuring member's of Mizusawa's finest to focus on however....

If you were expecting Chihaya and Shinobu's big match to be a major focus across multiple episode packed with twists and turns, then think again - one of the delights of Chihayafuru is that it still prizes a certain sense of realism, and thus pitching the Queen against a good but injured player ends as it should, with a landslide victory.  The real genius is how this match still proves to be compelling thanks to the two characters involved, and in particular Chihaya's determination and hunger to improve which carries you along with her own emotions throughout.  It looks like we'll be getting to focus on Taichi as he looks to finally move out of Class B next week, which will hopefully bring us another different set of circumstances to luxuriate in.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 9

Just as Misaka manages to get the better of her opponent and corner Frenda, so the cavalry arrives in the form of two of her fellow ITEM comrades, meaning a whole heap of new trouble for our protagonist.

As if Frenda hadn't been a tricky enough proposition, Mikoto is now faced with a showdown against fellow Level 5 and so-called "Meltdowner"Shizuri Mugino, leading to a cat and mouse game which very much puts our heroine on the defensive as she fends off her opponents attacks.  Normally, this might not be such an issue, but with Misaka's energy well and truly sapped by all her exertions and with Mugino making the use of ITEM counterpart Takitsubo to track her opponent's AIM field, there seems to be nothing for it but to plan an escape - something which Misaka single-mindedly refuses to do.

While Misaka is fighting this war of attrition to destroy her current location, Shinobu is indulging in a little terrorism of her own - having tricked her way into the hub of the Sisters project's operations, she seeks a rather less violent method of action by effectively reprogramming the emotions of the Sisters to shun conflict and open up all of the suppressed emotions within them.  Although even Nunotaba herself doubts this plot will succeed, she's still willing to give it a shot, although there's still one member of ITEM unaccounted for...

As this story arc progresses, A Certain Scientific Railgun S continues to build nicely - this was a satisfying action-oriented episode that still had enough going on to enter the realms of big explosions and little else, which is also managing to keep enough tension bubbling under the surface to boot.  There really isn't a lot to say beyond that as this arc continues to build carefully towards its climax - it remains enjoyable and arguably the best this franchise as a whole has offered for the most part, and it's still a vital part of my week to race to watch it of a Saturday morning.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Devil Survivor 2: The Animation - Episode 10

Humanity is edging ever-closer to the possibility of survival as we reach this week's episode of Devil Survivor 2, yet in doing so the human costs rise ever higher and become even more personal.

Nowhere is this more keenly illustrated than in the case of Io Nitta, who is advised that she is required to take centre stage in the next battle against the Septentrion - a battle which is guaranteed to kill her.  Faced with a choice between her own life and the destruction of all humanity, herself included, there really isn't much of a choice to be made, and so Nitta meekly surrenders herself to her fate while trying to make the most of the final day of her life... by eating a tasty breakfast.

Of course, once her friends realise what's happening as the next Septentrion attack begins they're apoplectic with rage, but by this point it's too late to change anything as Nitta takes control of, and effectively becomes, the powerful demon Lugh.  As expected, Lugh wins out against the Septentrion, but this god/demon isn't exactly thrilled to be used and abused by humans and seeks to wreak its revenge using what little remains of Nitta's body.  Although Yamato expects Hibiki to clean up this mess by destroying Lugh, of course he proves less than willing as he continues to hope that Nitta can be saved - and if anyone can perform a miracle, it's him...

It almost goes without saying that all of thisa builds to a cop-out ending where the impossible happens simply because Hibiki really wants it to, and brain-dead and physically destroyed Nitta is somehow brought back to the land of the living 100% healthy and intact.  The again, I can afford this decision at least a little leeway as it added some fairly decent emotional spice to an episode already hardly short of it, while the show's pace and willingness to just get on with things most of the time is still keeping me rolling along and broadly enjoying the viewing experience each week.  I doubt this is the kind of show that I'm going to remember for years to come, but for short-term entertainment it seems to have its story-telling balance just about right.