Tuesday, 30 July 2013

WATAMOTE ~No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys Fault I’m Not Popular!~ - Episode 4

No matter how popular you are (or aren't), at least your dreams are a place where you can let loose and live our some crazy fantasies.  Except it seems that Tomoko can't even get this right...

Not only does some online advice about how to have sexual dreams not work, it makes for sleepless night for Tomoko, meaning that instead she doesn't finally drift off and find the lewd dreams that she was looking for in the middle of class.  It's body matters which dominate this episode, as Tomoko contemplates why she seems to be the only girl that never gets molested on the train.  Yes, I really did just type that.  After much pondering about why she's left untouched, it seems as if he "dream" finally comes true, only to turn into a nightmare that is, of course, nothing more than a case of mistaken identity.

With no attention coming her way, it's clear that there's only one barrier between Tomoko and popularity - her underwear.  Thus, it's shopping time as Tomoko joins friend Yuu on a hunt for the perfect panties, in a journey that leaves her not just with some new underwear, but also a Boys Love game and a massager, albeit entirely coincidentally in the latter case.  Again, misunderstanding are the order of the day as our protagonist has to suffer some further cases of embarrassment to further shatter her damaged psyche.

Even if it hasn't frequently been the height of amusement for me, I've given WATAMOTE something of a free pass as it seemed to at least have its heart in the right place - however, this week's episode has me wondering whether I've been giving it far too much credit.  For all of Tomoko's maladjusted misadventures, even I have to draw the line at a girl wanting to be molested, and this kind of male gaze fantasy scenario unfortunately serves the purpose of tainting the entire episode with a suspicion that it serves only to sexualise its female characters (and primarily Tomoko of course) over and above anything else, all while taking that step back from the bring that anime so loves to do with an innocent look on its face.  This isn't enough for me to give up on the series entirely, but it's certainly made me seriously re-evaluate where it's coming from and who it's aimed for after an instalment that made me feel uncomfortable about its goals in entirely the wrong way.

Monday, 29 July 2013

il sole penetra le illusioni ~ Day Break Illusion - Episode 4

Yume Higashiyama is the kind of girl who is made to be envied - she has a wealthy and influential father, a promising and burgeoning artistic talent, and a boyfriend.  No surprise then, that some look upon her life with more than a passing sense of jealousy.

Classmate Kiyone might be a quiet girl, but as time goes on so the envy within her burns brighter and brighter out of both a dislike for Yume's attitude and a genuine belief that she's a better artist than her feted cohort.  It's these emotions that are ultimately prayed upon by a mysterious fortune teller, who proffers Kiyone a Tarot card and suggests it might help her the next time jealousy strikes her.  Once Kiyone spots Yume kissing the boy she herself likes... well, you can probably guess what happens from there.

So it goes that Kiyone gets at least some of what she desires with Yume out of the picture, but this isn't enough and before we know it she's gone berserk and transformed into a full-blown Daemonia, meaning that it's time for our team of magical girls to attend the scene.  Having had another spat about the nature of Daemonia and their origins, Akari and Seira are still somewhat at loggerheads, although this battle also allows Luna to witness that Akari can indeed hear the voices of the Daemonia.  Once again, this makes little difference when faced with such out of control insanity, with Seira delivering the final blow in spite of Akari's protestations as she again laments the abilities which she has at her disposal.

While I could certainly make an argument for this being the strongest episode of Day Break Illusion thus far, it still really isn't all that satisfying.  As per previous instalments, a fair amount of the story setup feels forced, and although things feel a little more interesting as a whole now sufficient layers of the story have been peeled back and revealed to us I can't help but feel like the show is already becoming a little formulaic in its presentation.  Some nice visual touches here and there aside, there's nothing that really hooks me into the series or any of its characters, and without that emotional connection Day Break Illusion is little more than a colourful shell.

Space Brothers - Episode 67

T-38 flight training continues apace for Mutta, but despite his boasts to brother Hibito it seems that he's still struggling to get to grips with the whole thing.

More specifically, Mutta is surprised to find himself struggling with the multitasking required to fly the jet - surprising, given that multitasking is something that he usually finds to be one of his fortes.  This isn't helped by Deneil's incessant chattering in the cockpit, as Mutta's tutor loves nothing more than to spend all of his time quizzing his student on various random and frivolous thing or otherwise engaging in idle banter.  Mutta's mood isn't helped by the fact that all of the other students seem to be having a far easier time behind the stick than he is.

Little does Mutta realise that all of this is part of Deneil's cunning plan - by overloading his student with information at all times, and by pushing their limits with constant aerobatics and the like, individuals who can actually cope with the early rocky days of this overload ultimately come out ahead, just as Deneil promises, finding themselves far more capable of handling the multitude of instruments and thought processes required to fly a jet with mental capacity to spare.  There's a sobering side to the hardships of this training too, in the form of some prospective astronauts who never made it to achieving their dream as accidents at this stage of their progress cost them their lives.

This is another of those instalments of Space Brothers that really serves as a reminder of what this show is so good at - its core tenets are so simple, yet so effective (and indeed affecting) that you're quickly drawn into the trials and tribulations of characters both new and old to the series while watching their progress and personal growth with a sense of satisfaction and fascination that is second to none.  It doesn't always hit the mark, certainly, but episodes like this one deliver in spades, pure and simple.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

The Eccentric Family - Episode 4

The Shimogamo family have managed to acquire their rather less than leisurely "leisure liner" just in time for the festival, ensuring an evening of celebration that is (hopefully) free from any shame brought about by rival tanuki families.

Despite his protestations, even Professor Akadama comes along for the ride, even if his appearance involves a little charade on his part to make it seem coincidentally, and even though he's quite clearly only there for the booze anyhow.  Unfortunately for Akadama, much of that alcohol is used to fuel the teakettle of the inner parlour which acts as their craft to keep it sky-borne, leaving his glass to be somewhat neglected.

With the family having been regaled of the tale of their father's cunning and sense of mischief which has gone down in legend, neither mother nor two of the three brothers are prepared to be usurped by the Ebisugawa family - they may have a proud and almighty vessel which dwarfs their own little flying shack, but bombarding the Shimogamo craft with fireworks really isn't cricket.  With the realisation that Benten is enjoying herself on the Ebisugawa boat not exactly helping the mood either, it's only a matter of time before things escalate... and boy do they escalate, with fireworks soon becoming munitions in this undignified battle over the skies.  Perhaps Benten hasn't quite picked sides as blatantly as it seems however, as she appears to have left something of a "secret weapon" for Yasaburou...

I still can't quite pin down what it is that's so wonderful about The Eccentric Family, but wonderful it most certainly is - the series is still meandering without any real sense of what its broader purpose is, but I can't say I mind that too much when it treats us to such wonderful visuals while springing forth a real sense of fun from its fantastically well-built world.  From its regaling of old stories through to its childish battle with fireworks, I was engrossed from beginning to end - even if it doesn't have a grand plan, this show really seems to be onto a winner with the elements currently in its possession.

Blood Lad - Episode 4

The next step in Staz's tour to find out how to resurrect a human has been set, and it's fair to say that it's a destination that our protagonist is really not thrilled at the prospect of visiting.

The place in question is the Demon World Acropolis, home of various elite demons reside - demons including Staz's very own brother.  With Bell and her ever-handy portals on-hand, travelling there is a breeze - or rather, it would be had Wolf not pushed his friend into said portal too early.  Instead, Staz ends up in Bell's bedroom, where he eventually finds himself regurgitating his life story - how he was used as little more as a guinea pig by his brother, who finally sealed Staz's magic inside him using a bullet to the heart.  If there's one thing Bell can't stand it's things being locked away, so she makes Staz promise to get the key to this lock from his brother while he's visiting.

The trouble is, Staz's homecoming very quickly turns out to be far from happy one - let's just say that his little sister is far from thrilled to see him, leading to Staz being thrown away and locked into a prison.  On the bright side, there is one route of escape available - an opportunity to challenge some rather tough-looking fellows who have never been beaten.  Meanwhile, things aren't going too well for Fuyumi, as a lack of bllood from Staz is causing her ethereal form some rather severe issues, by which I mean "my legs seem to be disappearing" kinds of issues.

Having ragged on this series somewhat over its early episodes, I feel like the show has leveled out into a strange level of mediocrity where it's just about interesting enough to keep watching, but not quite dull enough to drop.  Blood Lad looks set to be the kind of series that's "just there" - it does nothing offensive (unless fan service really gets your goat) but nothing spectacular or particularly funny; perhaps it's for the best that it airs on a Sunday evening when I'm often in need of something entirely undemanding.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is what I believe they call "damning with faint praise"...

Attack on Titan - Episode 16

With any research underway severely dented by the murder of the two captured Titans, so the search begins for the culprit behind these killings.  Perhaps more importantly, this incident raises the question of whether that culprit killed the two Titans out of hatred of them alone, or out of hatred for humanity instead?

As it becomes clear that there's no obvious evidence as to who was responsible, so thoughts turn to the current crop of trainee soldiers, as the time comes to choose whether to sign up to the Survey Corps, the Garrison, or (for a luck and select few) the Military Police.  For the likes of Armin and Mikasa this decision is a no-brainer thanks to their unwavering support for Eren, but for other members of their number this decision is an entirely more difficult one, compounded by the recent deaths of some of their close friends in previous skirmishes.

Nonetheless, for a core group of our main cast of trainees their own individual reasoning and a stirring if brutally honest speech are enough to persuade them to risk their lives for the good of humanity within the Survey Corps - a possibility which will present itself soon enough, with that aforementioned speech also giving details of the basement at Eren's home which may hold the secrets of how to defeat the Titans, and the plan in the making to reach this location by winning back Wall Maria.  There are, however, some unusual elements in place for the first planned outing of the Survey Corps with their newcomers in place - could it be that there's more to this particular mission than simply fighting back against the Titans?

This week's episode of Attack on Titan is another of those slower instalments primarily focused on shifting gears as it takes us to a new aspect of the series - you could certainly argue that some of these elements could probably be compressed a little, but as a whole there are still enough strong moments and a sense that we're moving into more exciting territory to ensure that the episode remains compelling to watch, and there are certainly no shortage of fascinating moments ahead if the setup exhibited here is anything to go by.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 16

Having tasted his own blood, and near-defeat, for possibly the first time it's fair to say that Accelerator is angry - so much so that suddenly the entire city is endangered by his wrath.

Thanks to Misaka's realisation of what's going on and her use of the Sisters and their network to dissipate this threat, that danger soon passes - however, this only returns Accelerator's focus to Misaka and the injured Sister alongside her instead.  We already know that there's little chance of Misaka besting her opponent here, so it's perhaps fortunate that a badly injured Touma is still able to rouse himself back to consciousness to finally finish the job he started.

So the arc comes to an end, and we spend the second half of the episode tidying things up, as Misaka spends time and talks with her injured Sister as both parties come to terms with what has happened and their relationship going forward, and also figures how to thank Touma for his assistance.  Ultimately though, it's a happy ending for all and sundry.

Although you could certainly suggest that a little fat could have been trimmed from it here and there, this was a top-notch rendition of the source material's strongest story - a Level 6 of a story arc, if you will - that has been satisfying all-round in its delivery of emotion, action and the occasional comic turn.  There really isn't a lot more to say about it than that - both visually and in terms of narrative A Certain Scientific Railgun S thus far has barely skipped a beat, and hopefully it can carry than energy into the remainder of the series as a  result.

Genshiken Second Season - Episode 4

As a special visitor flies in from overseas, final preparations for Comiket are, quite literally, getting a little manic at Ogiue's apartment.

After a number of sleepless nights to get all of the necessary work on the offerings in question finished, it seems that the president's team of hard-working assistants are at the end of their tether, and Hato's concerns about the fact that he might be starting to grow a beard are enough to send the whole endeavour catapulting into outright madness.  The next thing we know Yajime is in cosplay while Hato borrows her clothes so that he can dress as a boy and thus resolve any beard-induced trauma, and it isn't long before the entire crew is cosplaying for reasons that nobody really seems to comprehend any more in their sleep-deprived states.

Still, when push comes to shove all of the necessary work is completed in time for Comiket - unfortunately, it seems that Ogiue has pushed a little too hard and brought herself literally to the point of collapse, meaning that she doesn't make it for the opening of the big event and thus misses an outpouring of appreciation for her work.  When the president does finally put in an appearance, it's just in time to catch up on some unwelcome memories from her past - luckily, it seems that Ogiue is too feverish to even comprehend what's going on, which looks set to bring her Comiket to an end - possibly not a bad thing, with more complications looming on the horizon.

As I've mentioned in previous weeks, Genshiken Second Season seems impressively comfortable with not only adapting its original manga faithfully, but also in terms of making it work on the small screen - once again, this week's instalment brings some precise comic timing and an ability to illustrate the events at hand in a way which surpasses its source material for the most part to continue its role as an enjoyable examination of otaku culture that distances itself not inconsiderably from the original series of Genshiken.  Indeed, this episode in particular is a great demonstration of just how quickly and proficiently the new cast have gelled while replacing the old, allowing this series to shine it its own right - and at this juncture, it most definitely deserves to.

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Servant x Service - Episode 4

Never mind the pretenses of teaching her sign language, Hasebe seems to be getting rather close to Yamagami.  Could it be that he's trying to get.... her to cosplay?

Certainly, this is the concern of Chihaya, who has decided to not just hate Hasebe and accuse him of sexual harassment at every opportunity, but also to treat him as he rival - after all, surely it's her job to fit Lucy out and initiate her in the ways of cosplay?  Unfortunately for her however, it seems that nothing is going to stand in Hasebe's way, and it's a shock to all involved when he actually asks Yamagami out, even though he gets instantly rejected.

However, in spite of this rejection Lucy's stance towards her colleague seems to be softening somewhat, and before we know it they are going out for meals together after work - strictly as workmates, of course.  This revelation is but nothing to the real news that comes from this episode, as we're introduced to the group's section manager - a talking stuffed rabbit no less, who is impressively adorable for a curmudgeonly fifty-something it has to be said.  Both of these pieces of information come to the fore as a department night out leads to Lucy getting drunk on a cocktail, and (of course) ending up in a love hotel...

Although it's perhaps been rather quick to escalate some of its character relationships in the past couple of weeks, it's actually rather satifying to see Servant x Service making something of the interactions between its characters rather than letting their relationships stagnate and atrophy as per so many other anime series.  Having a stuffed rabbit as a boss may be stretching the show's credibility as a whole, but when said rabbit's mannerisms are so damn cute, and in the face of its other promising developments, I'm willing to give it a pass - not least because I now want a stuffed animal boss myself.  This episode may not have had as many laugh out loud moments, but the series as a whole is continuing to build up in an enjoyable way that is somehow winning me over more by the week.  Rather like Working did, now I think about it...

Monogatari Second Season - Episode 4

Such is the rate that Hanekawa's version of events for this story arc is skipping chapters that even she is now very much aware that something is amiss with her perception of these events, albeit in that very fourth wall-breaking manner.

A little more sleuthing makes it clear - Black Hanekawa is on the prowl while actual Hanekawa sleeps, seeking to relieve whatever stresses and strains she's currently feeling.  Satisfied that she at least vaguely knows what's going on and that her transformations are currently under control, it's back to business as usual.  Or rather, it would be were it not for a chance meeting with one Mr. Episode, an individual who previously tried to kill her, and a woman named Izuko Gaen who not only claims to know everything (in itself a stark contrast to Hanekawa, and in keeping with a certain other character in last week's episode...) but actually seems to have a pretty handy ability to back up that claim as she spills a number of beans about Tsubasa's life, as well as some choice information about that pesky tiger and the destruction of the cram school.

Needless to say, a lot of this information sends Hanekawa into a spin - having seemingly been provided with the name of the Tiger and the news that she'll soon have to face it, her research into this phenomena bears no fruit, and likewise her pondering of what the two burned down buildings that have been destroyed in recent days also weighs heavily on her mind.  As comments from Senjougahara and a discussion with the Fire Sisters eventually reveals as our protagonist for this arc pieces them together, it might just be Hanekawa's sense of envy that's at fault here - and whatever it is, it seems that she also now knows what she must do next.

Although the appearance of a character who I feel like I'm supposed to know but am certain that I don't managed to throw me somewhat, this was my only black mark against another entertaining episode - following this story arc through Hanekawa's eyes has been endlessly enjoyable and a breath of fresh air from Araragi's typical viewpoint, and even when it threatened to become hard to follow I still get a real kick out of the show's dialogue, conversations and textual asides-cum-inner monologue.  Couple that with the continually wonderful (if blatantly obvious) visual language of the show, and it's a real treat for the senses that I'm hugely enjoying partaking in each week.

Danganronpa - Episode 4

With their numbers falling and having seen the punishment meted out to the first killer in this brutal game, it's fair to say that Naegi is in need of a little time to mourn the loss of those around him.  But never mind that, here's a rhythm game!

Anyhow, having correctly identified that first killer, the rest of the group's reward is to find the next level of their accommodation unlocked, replete with a library and swimming pool, the latter of which has its access carefully controlled using the gang's digital notebooks.  What's more, the group have some free days ahead for them to enjoy at their leisure, although the free time seems to be sending some of the group a bit loopy, not least Fukawa, who seems to have taken a strange liking to Togami, the one person who seems intent upon playing this sick "game" to its fullest for all its worth.

None of this bizarre behaviour is enough to placate Monokuma, who decides to up the ante by threatening to reveal a personal secret from the past of every student if a murder isn't committed in the next twenty-four hours.  Although these secrets really don't seem to be the kind of things anyone would deign serious enough to kill for, come the next morning lo and behold some investigation reveals a body in the girl's locker room.  With the initial clues bearing a striking similarity to those of a serial killer on the loose before this crazy game even started, could it be that there's already a bona fide mass murderer within the academy?

Despite leaning a little too hard into its attempt at slightly zany comedy to depict the group's free time, this is otherwise another strong episode of Danganronpa that does a good job of leading the viewer down the path of all sorts of assumptions before defying those assumptions by taking a sharp turn and heading in another direction entirely.  With tantalising and brain-teasing clues, and some decidedly odd character behaviour, to consider, having to wait until next week for the courtroom episode which reveals all may be a painful one, which itself proves where the strengths of this series lay.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Silver Spoon - Episode 3

In this week's Silver Spoon, we learn that piglets are adorable.

Okay okay, so there's far more to this episode than that - indeed, this entire instalment of the series has a pretty consistent focus upon the harsh realities of farm life, whether it's the runt of a pig's litter being condemned to a life of only having access to the weakest teat on the show or a racing horse being considered as good for nothing more than a place in next week's Findus lasagne if it doesn't get results on the track.

It's an uncomfortable and inconvenient truth that Hachiken really doesn't like one bit - for all of his excitement at the prospect of Mikage's horse winning its race, he certainly isn't keen on the losers suffering for their lack of results.  This ultimately leads to Hachiken revealing at least a little more about his life and his desperation to leave home and move far away as soon as possible, and even pulls him into an argument with Komaba due to his belief that nobody has it worse than him.  Little does he know that Komaba has his own difficult circumstances to deal with, giving him some perspective on his own troubles and the strains put upon those around him.

This week's episode of Silver Spoon is a perfect example of why the series has been so enjoyable so far on two counts.  Firstly, its honest take on agricultural life is both educational and thought-provoking, and it's really nice to see a series based around a specific field provide such a warts and all view of the discipline; it would have been so easy for the show to descend into leaning on cute animals and not pointing out the hardships for both those creatures and those that care for them.  Secondly, the show's cast is simply superb, both as well fleshed out and naturalistic individuals and in their interactions with one another.  If finishing an episode and being able to look back on moments laughter and some twangs of emotion, all while having learned something, isn't a sign of a great series then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

WATAMOTE ~No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys Fault I’m Not Popular!~ - Episode 3

Tomoko is having a bad day in this week's WATAMOTE.  Yes, that's right, again....

While our protagonist doesn't really have to worry about boys seeing her when the damp weather has messed up her hair, there are more serious problems at hand - first, forgetting a text book and not having anyone to borrow one from or share with, then having a number of issues related to the heavy rain which lands up with Tomoko, umbrella broken, having to share her personal space with (shock, horror) a couple of boys in a similar situation.  Cue some decidedly awkward attempts to strike up conversation.

Things aren't much better the following day, as Tomoko experiences the ultimate shame of a PE session where everyone splits up into teams, but nobody picks our poor anti-heroine.  Having failed to figure out a way to feign illness to skip school, she still somehow manages to find a way to leave early, and once home sets her sights upon catching her brother's cold.  Given that the following day is Friday you can probably figure out how this works out, bringing about a miserable weekend for the hapless Tomoko.

As this series progresses, I really can't fault it for the feeling that it's having a lot of fun with its subject matter as it references Saki and Kuroko's Basketball while going about its not entirely merry business with an energetic eye for miserable loneliness.  This approach succeeds in getting some laughs too, although I continue to feel like some of its material is spread a little thin and would be better served were it more tightly condensed.  Still, this might not be one of my picks for the season but it's still a decent watch in its own unique way, so I can see myself sticking with it for the duration.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Blood Lad - Episode 3

Bell has given Staz a rather important clue as to the whereabouts of the Book of Resurrection; now all he has to do is go and get it.

The trouble is the supposed current owner of the book is Wolf, a rival territory boss renowned for his strength and with an impressive land mass to his name.  Oh, and it just so happens that he's a childhood friend of Staz.  Thus, there's nothing for it but to set off and ask Wolf for the book - simple, right?

Having found their target more by luck than judgement, they find that Wolf doesn't actually have the book, nor is he willing to use his clout to aid in its search - at least, not without some kind of recompense.  So it goes that a challenge is laid down - a face-off between Staz and Wolf, with Fuyumi as the prize.  Even though the focus of the challenge is moved from bowling to boxing, seemingly to Staz's disadvantage, there's still no stopping our vampiric protagonist when push comes to shove - but is this entire endeavour in vain?  It seems that the all-important book was closer at hand all along; the trouble is, the only person actually capable of reading it is the one individual Staz really doesn't want to deal with.

Three episodes in, Blood Lad keeps on rolling in unspectacular fashion - it might raise the odd smile but its comedy rarely hits the mark, and there's just something irredeemably dull about the show's setup and the way it progresses things, not helped by Fuyumi in particular more of a walking pair of breasts than an actual character.  I should probably drop the series at this point, I know, but for some reason I feel compelled to give it at least another episode or two just to see where it's headed next.

The Eccentric Family - Episode 3

It's almost Fire Festival time in Kyoto, and that means a day of celebration for more than just humans, as tanuki also have their own festival traditions, that being flying so-called "leisure liners" through the sky as they take their party into the clouds.

This does, however, pose a problem for the Shimogamo family, namely the lack of a suitably craft to call upon.  In the past, this would be their father's domain, but in his absence even the normally reliable Yaichirou has failed in his attempts to bag a suitable vehicle for the occasion.  Thus, there's nothing for it than to leave Yasaburou in charge of procuring a liner in time for the big event.

Although Yasaburou things he has the perfect plan in mind to overcome this dilemma, it seems that he's made rather a big miscalculation, as the flying "inner parlour" he was planning to borrow from Professor Akadama has been given away... given away to Benten, no less.  Thus, off head Yasaburou and his terrified younger brother to try and persuade this enigmatic lady to loan them this inner parlour for the festival.

This week's episode of The Eccentric Family might not have had quite the same impact upon me as last week's instalment, but it's still immensely satisfying in ways that it's a little hard to put into words - somehow, the entire endeavour works really well as a character-driven vehicle, filled with fascinating or just plain likeable characters who fill the screen with their presence, only occasionally stepping aside to let the show's backgrounds and locations take some of the applause.  So varied and beautiful are these locations that they also add a whole other dimension to proceedings, creating what is quite simply a joy to watch.  I still feel like I'm not entirely sure what I'm watching, but I do know that I'm enjoying doing so a whole bunch.

Attack on Titan - Episode 15

Having succeeded in winning custody of everyone's favourite human-cum-titan, Eren is now effectively the property of Levi and the Survey Corps to do what they will with him.

In the first instance, this means taking Eren outside of the city walls where those fearful of him may do him some harm to an old castle that used to double as a Survey Corps barracks.  Now disused, the building is being pressed back into service as Eren's new home - the bad news is, he's going to have to do a lot of cleaning to get it spic and span again.

However, a potential saviour from a lifetime of cleaning arrives in the form of Hanji - as the head of experiments against any Titans captured alive, of which she currently has a couple, Hanji is keen to make use of Eren in her continued testing.  Unfortunately, Eren seems to have underestimated Hanji's enthusiasm for her job, leading to his questions bringing forth a grisly discussion of the minutiae of this experimentation and Hanji's clear adoration for her job.  This discussion quite literally takes all night, but come the following morning there's shocking news to be found - someone has killed the two captured Titans and fled...

You could probably call this another slow episode of Attack on Titan - it certainly doesn't have any real action to speak of - but I'm still very much engrossed in the show's continued world-building as we take in more and more of the city, its military, their foes and the situation surrounding them.  With some clear indicators that it isn't only beings outside of the city walls that could be considered a threat, it's clear that there will be new paths opening up in the series in due course, so hopefully it can continue to get things right (in spite of some continued moments of clear cost cutting and time saving in the animation department) as we journey through this second half of the series.

Genshiken Second Season - Episode 3

He might not strictly be a member of Genshiken at this point, but it's Madarame who takes centre stage for this week's episode of Second Season.

Having decided to enjoy his lunch break in the club room for once, Madarame finds himself alone, albeit not for long as Sasahara's sister decides to pay an unexpected visit to the club.  It's thanks to this that Madarame learns an inconvenient truth, that being that everyone knows about the light he holds for Saki Kasukabe; it's a thought that is mortifying to him as he denies it fervently, but unfortunately for him it's a feeling that isn't as well-hidden as the photos behind the desk in his apartment.

Speaking of that apartment, it seems as if Hato is spending more and more time there changing, and thus he keeps running into Madarame.  Having perhaps consumed a little too much Boys' Love manga, Hato is beginning to brew up fantasies of himself and his senior as he goes about transforming himself, and the chance to enjoy a drink and a meal with Madarame himself threatens to send some of these thoughts boiling over and pouring out of his mouth; not that Madarame seems to be fazed by the whole thing in the slightest.  Then again, maybe he'd be more concerned if he knew that Hato has also discovered his stash of photos of Saki in cosplay...

Once again, Genshiken Second Season seems to be doing a frighteningly perfect job of adapting its source material to the point where it's actually even more enjoyable than watching the manga - admittedly I'm a sucker for Monogatari references, but even beyond that it's just so much fun watching the show's cast bounce off one another while sharing the same kind of enthusiasm for all things otaku that... well, that I presume we all do, otherwise why would you be reading this?  It's this which is really Genshiken's crown jewels - it simply does such a good job of depicting what it means to be enthusiastic about these activities that you can't help but relate and love its characters no matter what, and thus far this series has done a nigh-on perfect job of bringing this second generation manga to life.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Monogatari Second Season - Episode 3

Does Hanakawa really love Araragi?  Just who is Hanekawa deep down anyhow?  Tune in for this and more in this week's Monogatari Second Season!

Having dropped that bombshell last week, Senjougahara continues to wax lyrical about her take on her friend's personality, suggesting that she's too "white" and too pure in her dealings with those around her, always assuming the best even when she really shouldn't, unlike Araragi who has a darker, gritter side within that helpful exterior.  It's a possibility that Hanekawa finds herself pondering, interrupted only by a meeting with Kanbaru, now sporting twin-tails and excitable on account of a message she's received from Araragi asking to meet her.

It's a message which sparks a little jealousy and a need to resist the temptation to interfere from both Hanekawa and Senjougahara, who instead choose to leave Araragi and Kanbaru to their own devices.  This instead allows them to ponder another problem, that being where Tsubasa should stay now that Hitagi's father is back from work and there's no room for her.  Thankfully, Senjougahara has the answer to this, having skipped school to find a temporary home for Hanekawa - that home is none other than the residence of the errant Araragi and his sisters, who allow her to stay in their brother's room given that it's currently unoccupied.  Once night falls and Hanekawa sleeps, it's time for "Black Hanekawa" to raise her head once again, and it appears she isn't the only oddity in the room as Shinobu also puts in an appearance.  This, however, isn't the real shock which comes from this episode...

It probably says something about this franchise and its characters that whenever one of the regulars appears for the first time I feel the need to clap or cheer, such is the enjoyment that comes simply from seeing that pop up like a cameo from a star on a sitcom.  Beyond this however, Monogatari continues to offer up engaging animation to fill those long, long scenes of dialogue, even though all that dialogue doesn't really need covering up when it's filled with amusing references and smartly placed chit-chat that you can't really find pulled off quite this well anywhere else.  With a big reveal at the end of this episode to boot, the Monogatari juggernaut shows no sign of halting.

Servant x Service - Episode 3

Never mind his young charges, is their overseer Ichimiya up to the job?  Given the... err, "unique" qualities of those working under him, you can't really blame him for not being sure if he's proving to be a worthy supervisor when he's always seemingly usurped by them, especially given that he always has his little sister to worry about.

Elsewhere, Lucy finds herself having to contend with a "wardrobe malfunction" - an incident involving her bra hooks that simply can't be fixed.  Given her proportions, there's nothing for it but to carry on as though nothing has happened; the trouble is, her predicament is plain to see for everyone else in the office, even if nobody tell her they've noticed less she be upset by their attention being drawn to her chest, sensitive flower that she is.  Luckily, someone provides just the kind of out of the box thinking that you might not expect from a civil servant to help Lucy salvage a day of embarrassment without causing too much hassle or distress for anyone else involved.

For the second half of the episode we follow Hasebe, largely on account of his desire to learn Lucy's phone number to add to his collection.  The trouble is, he has a tendency to forget to ask for it whenever confronted with an opportunity to do so (not surprisingly considering the distractions that she packs.  I mean her hair, naturally), and no matter how many situations he manoeuvres himself into he never remembers until its too late.  Still, all of this does allow us to learn more about Hasebe and his many, many talents, alongside the fact that he's actually rather a nice guy when he isn't being a master of sexual harassment.

Perhaps now that we're familiar with the cast Servant x Service is beginning to warm up nicely, as this was by far the best episode of the series so far - it had enough variety in its scenarios and gags so as not to be too repetitive, and it had a handy stash of one-liners and comebacks to provide a decent number of laughs.  I still feel like it'll need to do more and more to shake things up as the series goes on, but for now things are looking up in terms of this series turning out to be a fun and entertaining little comedy series if it can continue in this vein.

Space Brothers - Episode 66

After his delayed start to this aspect of his training, it's finally time for Mutta to take his first flight T-38 flight.  But why does he have to wear an anti-g suit when none of his fellow trainees are?

The answer, of course, is that this is because Deneil Young is his trainer, and he wastes no time in giving Mutta a (thankfully not literal) crash course in what these aircraft can do.  It's a flight that Mutta surely won't forget and its after-effects are obvious, but can he follow in the footsteps of his brother and jump straight back into the plane after that experience?

With that first flight over with, much of the latter half of this episode is a montage of Mutta's training, punctuated by his continuing thoughts about Aunt Sharon as he learns to fly using instruments alone, aerobatics and other such skills.  The dual concepts of using training to improve even in the face of tough situations, and the importance of pushing forward and doing what you can no matter what, prove to be the two key concepts as this training progresses.

There isn't a whole lot to say about this episode - to some extent it feels a little like it's going through the motions as it skips relatively quickly through Mutta's flight training, distilling things down to a few key moments and filling the rest with montages.  Then again, we clearly aren't at the end of this stage of Mutta's training yet so there's clearly still more to come, and thankfully the pairing of Mutta and Deneil is plenty entertaining in itself, so even if it does feel somewhat arbitrary at times it isn't hugely to the disservice of the wider series.

il sole penetra le illusioni ~ Day Break Illusion - Episode 3

Having learned at least some of the sinister undertones beneath her new "work", Akari has decidedly to leave the school that would train her and give her shelter to strike out on her own.  But is there any escaping this establishment, and more importantly is there any escaping the Daemonia which will target her wherever she goes?

Having stumbled across just such a Daeomonia as it goes about its evil business trying to kill and destroy, Akari can swear that she can also hear it's plaintive cries for help, which prevents her from doing anything to stop its rampage - when some of her fellow students appear on the scene, she even does her part to stop them attacking the Daemonia, allowing it to escape.  The same can't be said for Akari herself, as she's forcibly returned from whence she came.

After being informed that leaving the academy simply isn't an option, Akari finds herself locked in the establishment's dungeon to consider what's she done, giving her time to roll everything she's seen, learned and done in her head as she tries to reconcile her supposed destiny with her desire not to harm others.  It turns out that she isn't the only girl with such doubts in her mind, and upon returning to active duty and facing a second crack at defeating  the same Daemonia, she again protects it to try to learn more about it, only to learn that all the former person within that demonic shell wants is for an end to be put to their life.  Is Akari's destiny really to function as executioner?

There's certainly nothing wrong with a series setting out to be dark, but Day Break Illusion is trying so impossibly hard to do so that it threatens to descend into farce at times.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of the threat presented in the second half of this week's episode, as a cart full of children is placed in front of a fast-moving train to create what should be a high moment of drama that instead turns out to feel laughably desperate - I'm surprised the Daemonia didn't kidnap a screaming woman and tie her to the rails instead.  It's this kind of heavy-handedness that continues to plague the series, detracting from some interesting concepts that I can only hope are better explored as the series progresses.  Certainly, something needs to give this show some direction and a sense of focus rather than just throwing "things that are dark" at the viewer like some kind of cheap death metal music video.

Danganronpa - Episode 3

The Hope's Peak courtroom is now in session - can the group come to a definitive answer as to who was responsible for Maizono's grisly fate?  Just as importantly, can Naegi save his skin given that he's currently the prime suspect?

With this week's episode focusing purely on courtroom drama, needless to say there are no shortage of twists and turns to be found as the evidence and suspicions of the group are unraveled.  For starters, was Maizono really a pure and innocent victim, or was she a would-be murderer who simply had the tables turned on her?

As things proceed and Maizono's true intentions become clear, the question still remains as to who her murdered was.  However, it seems that Naegi is slowly but surely beginning to form a picture in his head of exactly what happened, and once his theory lands upon the truth the subject of his accusations becomes decidedly uncomfortable - not as uncomfortable as when said individual is receiving their punishment, having been correctly identified as the killer, mind you...

Although some aspects of its trail of evidence and the revelations surrounding them felt a little forced or otherwise unsatisfying, as a whole this week's episode of Danganronpa was exactly what I've been tuning into the series for - creating some murder-mysteries in the midst of its insane scenario before unraveling them and potentially giving the viewer enough clues to do likewise.  Although I wonder whether it's going to have enough time to continue in this vein from beginning to end, I'm still very much enjoying the series, uniquely cheap visuals (which occasionally work surprisingly well) and all, and hopefully it has more than enough twists and thought-provoking turns left to keep me entertained throughout.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 15

No matter how hard she tried (and when your definition of trying hard is "wreck a bridge during an argument" you can't really fault her for lack of effort), Misaka has proved unable to dissuade Touma from taking on Accelerator - but can he even reach the next experiment battleground on time?

By the time Touma arrives on the scene, the latest clone to be subjected to these "experiments" is already in pretty bad shape and on her last legs, and needless to say Accelerator isn't too happy that his fun is being interrupted by some unknown civilian.  This irritation turns into downright confusion as he lays into Touma with whatever he has at his disposal with no sign of retaliation in sight - why is this powerless loser taking him on in a fight he has absolutely zero chance of winning?

Of course, all of this is to reckon without Touma's right hand (insert your own jokes here for that one), and once Accelerator gets in close to finish the job so the perfect opportunity to make use of that "anti-ability" to rain blow after blow in on our antagonist.  The experience of pain and having seven bells beaten out of him is a new one for Accelerator, but rather than putting a stop to his violent disposition it only pushes him on to further his powers and use them in an even more grandiose fashion - something which only Misaka and her "sisters" have any chance of combating.

After all of the mostly well-placed and judged build-up, we're finally here at the final battleground for this arc, providing us with an action-packed and satisfying instalment.  The biggest issue the arc faces at this point is that anyone who has watched A Certain Magical Index knows what's going to go down, but regardless this episode is afforded a slick and evenly paced treatment that hits all of the right notes.  Besides, seeing both Touma and Accelerator getting beaten up surely offers something for everyone, right?

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Silver Spoon - Episode 2

Another day begins (albeit sluggishly) for Hachiken, but I think it's fair to say that he still hasn't exactly gotten used to life as an agricultural student.

Whether it's that painful 5am wake-up and the hard work that follows it, or coming to terms with eating the animals that you've previously seen living and breathing, and then seen again with blood pouring from where their heads should be, life doesn't seem like it's going to get any easier for our protagonist, and there's only further confusion to be poured atop all of this as Hachiken learns of Tamako's unlikely relation to another member of the school.

Still, all of these things must be put aside in the name of deciding upon an after-school club - having almost been dragged forcibly into a club of upperclassman with an appreciation of the beauty of the female form in spite of its depiction like cattle in magazines (yes, they're part of a club who love Holstein cows), Hachiken seems to have set his sights on the equestrian club.  Of course, this comes not out of a love of horses (far from it in fact, not that they seem to like him too much either), but rather out of a fascination with the lovely Mikage.  Any dreams of romantic canters through the woods are quickly dashed and replaced with mucking out stables, but everyone has to start somewhere and before we know it Hachiken is finally sat proudly atop a fine steed - what's more, he's about to find himself with an opportunity to spend more time with Mikage as Golden Week approaches...

Even shorn of the unique feel that comes from a first episode of a series that doesn't fit into most of the typical anime moulds, this second instalment of Silver Spoon still does a wonderful job of carrying on where that opener left off - its sense of place is second to none, and its eye for comic timing, reactions and construction of that comedy is unerringly good to ensure no shortage of laughs once again.  Perhaps more importantly than all this, the show has quickly built up a lovable set of characters that walk the tightrope between caricature and realism from teachers and the school principle through to the students - even the hapless Hachiken is a good guy when push comes to shove, and there's clearly also plenty to be explored with these individuals as the series progresses.  In other words, I can't wait to watch some more.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

WATAMOTE ~No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys Fault I’m Not Popular!~ - Episode 2

For all of her foibles, even Tomoko isn't completely friendless - bleak though her high school life might be, she still has a good friend from middle school to hang out with if nothing else (although even she isn't exactly a regular part of Tomoko's life).

Having agreed to meet up for the first time since Tomoko and Yuu began their respective high school life's, our protagonist naturally frets about what she's going to tell her friend given how uneventful her life is.  Given that her grand plans to become some kind of class moe character really don't work out well at all, Tomoko is instead relegated to small fry incidents - sharing a sick bay with a boy suddenly counts as sleeping with one, and Tomoko is left thoroughly delirious by a cute picture that a boy drew of her as a portrait in art class.

Upon actually meeting Yuu however, the geeky, bespectacled girl she remembers is nothing like the beautiful young woman she finds before her at her meeting place.  Still, looks are only skin deep, and Yuu clearly hasn't changed deep down as the pair chat about anime, go to the arcade and so on.  What's more, Yuu seems to be equally frustrated as Tomoko with her high school life; the trouble is, her problems are on an entirely more normal level to Tomoko's...

Having not been particularly impressed with its opener, I have to confess that this week's WATAMOTE grew on me at least a little - its pacing felt just a little tighter, its eye for comedy a little sharper, and Tomoko just a little more like an actual person than a hideously exaggerated character.  Much of what the show delivers is very predictable, even at this early stage - it's almost like a teenage anime comedy version of Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em in that sense - but predictability isn't always a huge problem for a show of this nature, and perhaps it has a little more heart than I initially gave it credit for judging by this episode.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Eccentric Family - Episode 2

If you feel that there wasn't quite enough eccentricity in the opening instalment of The Eccentric Family, fear not - you ain't seen nothing yet.

For starters, we're introduced to the mother of the Shimogamo family, who seems to enjoy spending her time in human form dressed as a "prince" and taking on all-comers in a local pool hall.  This week also sees us introduced to another of the Shimogamo children, Yajirou, who has decided to shun life as a tanuki and instead become a frog that sits at the bottom of a well considered as one of the de facto spots to go for good luck and to wish away your problems.

Speaking of problems, this seems to be something that this tanuki family have rather a lot of - alongside the more historical issues that come from the importance of their deceased father and the impossible expectations upon them because of that, poor Yashirou is being bullied by a pair of "rival" tanuki brothers at his workplace. This threatens to boil over when a freak thunderstorm leaves Yashirou and his fellow brothers rushing to their mother's side given her tendency to be terrified and do something stupid during storms - a prospect that turns even the normally reliable Yaichirou into a panicked mess.

I wasn't too sure what to make of The Eccentric Family's opener, and it certainly didn't grab me like it did others - however, the same cannot be said of this second instalment, which was simply terrific - in turns funny, sweet and touching, while doing plenty to move the show's broad points of interests forward into the limelight and giving the delightful feel of a heart-felt comedy about a dysfunctional family whose heart is well and truly in the right place.  The series also feels like something of a love letter to Kyoto, which almost becomes a character in its own right here thanks to its detailed and wonderful backdrops and locations which play a part in the story of this episode as it pans out.  I'm still not quite ready to call this series an unqualified success, but if it manages to engage and entertain in the way that this week's episode succeeded in doing, then I'm confident it'll rank amongst my favourites come the end of the season.

Blood Lad - Episode 2

It's off to the human world we go for this second episode of Blood Lad, as Staz seeks to honour his promise to return Fuyumi to life and resurrect her body.  Of course, he doesn't have any ulterior motives for visiting the human world at all...

Rather handily, the curtain to the human world leads directly into Fuyumi's world, although Staz is decidedly disappointed by how clinical and bare it looks.  Still, there's little time to consider this, as Fuyumi tries to return to her normal life only to find questions everywhere about where she's been and who the Hell the creepy guy now hanging out with her is.  Luckily, Staz has an answer for this, that being his saliva in distilled form, which allows him to exert his will over anyone in range of a spray of said spittle and make it seem as if Fuyumi was never away.

Although is this really what Fuyumi wants?  She thinks not, but Staz's heart is certainly in the right place, and with her demonic body unable to stand long in the human world without disappearing entirely Staz is the only one capable of sustaining her.  There are only more problems rather than solutions on the horizon however, as Staz and Fuyumi run into the original owner of the portal they used to travel to the human world, Bell Hydra.  Although the portal was stolen from her, that doesn't stop her from kidnapping Fuyumi and getting Staz to run errands for her - then again, it seems like she might also have some useful information that will be of interest to Fuyumi and her hopes of becoming human again...

While its low budget animation quality certainly doesn't help (at times this show looks more like a Flash animation than anything else), there also isn't really anything else much to sink my teeth into (with every pun intended) from this series thus far.  It's successful humour is pretty thin on the ground, Fuyumi is perhaps the most boring female character ever to grace an anime adaptation (although at least her stupidity is used for at least one decent gag), and although its plot is fast-moving, that doesn't really deflect from the fact that it feels arbitrary and by the numbers at this point in time.  Perhaps it'll find its feet as it extends its cast, but I'm not holding out much hope at present.

Attack on Titan - Episode 14

After last week's recap instalment, it's back to business with this week's Attack on Titan, as Eren agrees to join Levi and the Survey Corps.

However, life is rarely that simple, and as word spreads about the story of a Titan who fights for, not against, mankind, so public opinion suffers a divisive and potentially dangerous split - some see this development as the appearance of a "saviour", others as a menace which must be wiped out completely.  This disagreement extends all the way up to the top of the political and military tree, with the Survey Corps keen to keep their hands on this new "weapon" while the military police want nothing more than to execute and dissect such a potentially dangerous individual.

In the end, the decision comes down to just one man who oversees the entire military operation, and as Eren is dragged into the military court so he becomes the centrepiece between those arguing on both sides of the divide about the potential or mere potential for danger that he offers.  With those seeing Eren as a valuable weapon quick to realise that they are at a distinct disadvantage in this argument which is more about hearts than minds, they equally realise that it'll take a particularly drastic event to influence the final decision.  Thankfully for Eren, Levi is not a man to be trifled with, and his sheer force and will (coupled with a fair few boots and fists to Eren's face) convinces those present that he is the man to tame Eren, and what's more that the Survey Corps have a perfect plan to further ensure that Eren isn't a threat that will pose no danger to those inside the city walls.

Even though this week's episode is more courtroom drama than action-packed event, it still feels like another pretty strong instalment of the series that makes decent use of the setting and some of the show's main personalities to provide a few twists and turns before setting the story on its next course.  Once again, I remain very much on-board with where the series is going, so hopefully it won't disappoint.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Genshiken Second Season - Episode 2

In the name of keeping the club active, Ogiue is playing editor with plans for the Genshiken's members to make up a mini-magazine where they all get to introduce themselves, draw something and talk a little about what they like.

However, it's Hato's presence that once again dominates proceedings, particularly via the view of Yajima, who continues to be both uncomfortable with and baffled by Hato's cross-dressing.  This comes to a head as her room ends up becoming the location of an after-club meeting featuring herself, Yoshitake and Hato, ostensibly in the name of completing these aforementioned profiles but really masterminded by Yoshitake to find out a little more about the other two.  After a few drinks however, Yajima can't help but compare herself unfavourably to Hato's hard-won beauty, and once she starts wondering whether Hato really is a guy things only go downhill.

With these profiles eventually completed, and Hato providing an "interesting" illustration for his entry, things are side-tracked by news that Ogiue has had a one-shot manga accepted for publication.  The bad news is that the deadline for this conflicts with Comiket, meaning that a mad dash will be required to complete this work without impinging upon preparations for said event.  Thus, the rest of the gang volunteer their services as assistants to help Ogiue finish her manga, even if distractions are ever-present between continuing curiosity about Hato and Ohno's dedication to cosplay in any given situation.

Overall, this all made for another broadly entertaining episode - not as laugh out loud funny as the opener, but still largely amusing and capable of making good use of its cast members new and old as it goes about building up their personalities and relationships.  The focus upon Hato can be a bit too relentless at times, as per the original manga, so hopefully we can get a broader view of the cast as the series progresses.

Monogatari Second Season - Episode 2

It's time for Senjougahara and Hanekawa to take a shower.  Together.  What happens in the shower, stays in the shower though.  Well, mostly...

Anyhow, after that refreshing experience it's time to ponder sleeping arrangements, which ultimately leaves Hanekawa with no choice but to share Senjougahara's futon - a decision which works better than either of them imagines as they awaken early in the afternoon after a deep sleep.  The problem of Hanekawa's long-term arrangement still exists until her parents find some permanent accommodation of which she can be part however, but this isn't the only problem facing our narrator for this particular story arc.

It's no real surprise when you think about it, but the massive stress caused by her house burning down has also seen the re-emergence of "Black Hanekawa", as the oddity within her surfaces once again as a conduit for and relief to that stress, with appearances the also explain the skips in Hanekawa's own telling of the story.  While Hanekawa may have no idea what the tiger she encountered last episode is or how to deal with it, the oddity within her is entirely more willing to take it on, even if it proves to be something not to be trifled with.  Speaking of not being trifled with, our focus eventually returns to Senjougahara as she greets the returning Black Hanekawa without batting an eyelid, before using the next morning as an opporunity to press "normal" Hanekawa on her real tastes and personality, including her actual feelings when it comes to Araragi.  In short, Senjougahara's question is; "does Hanekawa really have genuine strong feelings about anything?"

As per last week's opener, this latest episode of Monogatari Second Season again seems to be this series doing what it does best - it's totally at ease with long, winding conversations between Senjougahara and Hanekawa, and quite frankly I could watch them at it (talking... I mean talking) all day.  There is, however, still a plot to be progressed here, and that also gets just enough attention to remind us of its existence and important in the grand scheme of things, as Hanekawa's character is thrust well and truly into the spotlight once again.  Given the comedy, sparkling dialogue and fascinating conversations that said spotlight brings, it can stay there as long as it likes as far as I'm concerned.

il sole penetra le illusioni ~ Day Break Illusion - Episode 2

After proving to be slightly confusing in its opening episode, Day Break Illusion has its second crack of the "making any sense whatsoever" whip this week.

After being caught up in some kind of strange, magical battle at the end of last week's episode, Akari awakens to find herself in another strange place - a place which, it turns out, is a training ground for a team of magical girls whose abilities correspond to Tarot cards.  Needless to say, Akari has just what it takes to become one of this number, and before we (or the series, it seems) knows it she's co-opted into the school via its front as a place to train apprentice fortune tellers.

Although school life itself seems to be very standard, with regular lessons and pretty regular classmates and teachers to boot, things soon change when the alarm sounds and the group of girls we're following are sent on a mission.  So it goes that Akari joins some of her cohorts in her first foray into the supernatural world of their enemies, the Daemonia - but it's an encounter which brings back a horrific memory forgotten by Akari and others around her, that being the death of Fuyuna.  It's a revelation that quickly pulls back the curtain on the darker side of Akari's new role and life; is it really something she'll be able to accept?

If nothing else, this second episode of Day Break Illusion has managed to build its world a little further and add another interesting layer to its story as it progresses - I just wish it could have done so in a batter fashion.  Much like its opener, this second instalment often feels rushed in a "blink and you'll miss something important" way, while other aspects of this progress simply feel clumsy in their execution.  You could say that the series is trying too hard to be "dark" and inject this darkness into everything it portrays - perhaps this will level itself out as the series progresses and gets into its stride, but for now Day Break Illusion is still very much in the "heart in the right place, but suffering from poor execution" pile.

Space Brothers - Episode 65

Having reached at least some sense of being able to put Sharon's illness behind him, it's time to refocus on his jet pilot training again having fallen behind the rest of the group already.

While the others prepare to take their first flight, Mutta is still stuck in a classroom taking his make-up test to prove he's capable of moving on to the next level of training - an issue which also puts him at the back of the queue when it comes to being assigned an instructor.  While most of his Japanese peers are assigned to the top ranking T-38 instructor, Alexander (who boasts a haircut not entirely dissimilar from Mutta's), our protagonist finds himself assigned the least popular instructor... one who is at least a familiar face.

In others words, that very instructor is Deneil Young (not Neil Young, I hasten to add), who Mutta last met during the launch of Hibito's shuttle to the Moon.  Despite being somewhat wheelchair-bound certainly hasn't quashed Young's need for speed, and it's his thirst for that kind of speed and performance that is directly responsible for him being an unpopular instructor, given that few of his charges can cope with his way of flying.  One notable exception to this is Hibito, however, who was also trained by Deneil - perhaps finishing bottom of the class in the initial exam isn't such a body blow for Mutta after all...

Having at least somewhat put its depressing recent fare to one side, we can now at least concentrate on what could be another fun and fascinating arc as T-38 aircraft pilot training begins in earnest.  I do worry slightly that the series is caught in a repetitive spiral of "team Mutta up with an eccentric failure, only to find that he's actually a kindred spirit and something of a genius" given this is how the previous arc panned out, but it feels like we're nicely set up for some entertaining weeks ahead if the early interactions between Mutta and Deneil pan out throughout the remainder of this story arc.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S - Episode 14

In spite of her promise to Kuroko, there's no sign of Misaka returning back to the dorm as another day draws to a close.  As Kuroko frets over what to do and exactly what is going on in Mikoto's life, it seems like at least some of the answers to these questions has literally just arrived on her doorstep.

After inviting Touma in to wait for Misaka with a view towards quizzing him about what's going on (and perhaps more importantly for Kuroko, what his relationship with her beloved roommate is), circumstances intervene to prevent her from doing so - circumstances which also allows Touma to happen upon all of the documentation about the Sisters project kept to hand by Misaka.

Now with a full realisation of exactly what's going on, Touma sets off immediately to track down Misaka, and it's this meeting which towers above all else in this episode - Mikoto is now determined that the only course of action to bring this project, or at least her own suffering, to an end is to confront and be immediately defeated by Accelerator to confound the scientist's predictions.  Of course, Touma is having none of this and refuses to allow Misaka to sacrifice herself, neither refusing to stand down nor to attack her friend to prevent her from doing so.  But does he really have a better plan to end this nefarious scheme?  Well, yes, he just might actually.

In terms of its emotional impact, this is the obvious high point of this story arc, and once again A Certain Scientific Railgun S delivers absolutely in terms of translating it from the original manga into animated form.  It's a decidedly simple episode where not much happens in absolute terms, but everything that does happen is so heavily weighted with importance that it makes for an intense instalment that makes full use of an equally intense turn from Misaka (and of course her voice actress) to deliver the despair and sense of hopelessness that comes with it.  One of the things that makes this series as a whole something special is its ability to leverage its characters to drop an emotional payload when required, and this week's episode is absolute proof of that as it adds to its roster of superb offerings that do their job almost perfectly.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Danganronpa - Episode 2

Like it or not, Naegi and his fellow cohorts at Hope's Peak Private Academy have no choice but to settle into their new "home", even with the prospect of being murdered by their fellow students and an increased urgency to escape playing on their minds.

For Naegi himself, concerns about the state of his bathroom door are soon interrupted by a visit from first Monobear, closely followed by Maizono, who is in quite a straight after what seems to be attempts to break into her room.  With the idea of the two sharing Naegi's room together off the cards, it's instead decided that the two will swap rooms for the night, which seems to pass uneventfully.

At least, it looks that way until Maizono doesn't turn up for breakfast the next morning, only for Naegi to find her stabbed to death in the bathroom.  It's clear that the first murder of this "game" has taken place, but who is the culprit?  Although anyone who kills another is promised a "graduation" from the academy, there's another twist to this tail - they'll only succeed in being released if they can pass a trial of their peers without being fingered as the murderer.  Unfortunately for Naegi, he's the obvious suspect given the location of Maizono's death, but does he have the evidence required to clear himself from this charge as the trial looms?

After setting up its premise with an enjoyable start, this was another equally entertaining episode to expand upon the show's concept and show us how the series is going to work.  There's a worry that things could become too formulaic in the long run, but as someone who loves a good murder mystery and equally loves the idea of some kind of survival game as a key tenet of a series, this seems like a near perfect combination.  If the series can prove to be as smart as it clearly thinks it is in presenting these cases and their resolutions, then I simply can't wait to devour more of this series over the coming weeks, flaky animation be damned.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Servant x Service - Episode 2

It's time to return to the office where no work gets done... no, not my office you cheeky buggers!

While Miyoshi continues to have problems in the form of incessantly chattering old ladies (to the point where she takes to hiding under the desk - a work tactic that I should perhaps try more often), we learn a little more about Chihaya.  More specifically, we learn that she's something of an otaku (because we have to have one of those in every anime, right?) with cosplaying proclivities, to the point where she's actually a temp so that she can wander off to events to cosplay on a whim.

While this is all good and well, an emergency soon presents itself to all present in the office - the appearance of Toko, a high school girl with a terrifying knowledge of the ins and outs of the welfare system, otherwise known as the kind of girl the Daily Mail would have a field day writing about.  While Toko's terrifying presence doesn't phase everyone - Hasebe almost literally has her number within minutes - it does prove to be a substantial disruption.  Although the true cause of her constant visits soon becomes clear thanks to her close relationship with Ichimiya, just how do the staff figure out a strategy to deal with her?

Overall, this second episode of Servant x Service really carried on where the first left off - it's pretty fun, it occasionally gets to the crux of the cause of some genuine office humour or despair, and there's a simple enjoyment to be found from watching it.  However, I do worry that there isn't enough depth to its scenario or characters to make the series work in the long-term - perhaps it can continue to build up its cast and their personalities as Wagnaria did, but it still feels like its core characters simply aren't as strong, which could prove to be a problem in the long run.  Hopefully I'm wrong and the series can find new directions to move in, but only time will tell for now.

Silver Spoon - Episode 1

This season's sole brand new entry into Fuji Television's noitaminA programming block is an adaptation of the latest manga to come from Hiromu Arakawa of Fullmetal Alchemist fan.  So, we're all set for another epic, action-packed fantasy show, right?

Wrong.  Instead, this series borrows heavily from Arakawa's own upbringing and education as part of a family of farmers - at the centre of the show is Yugo Hachiken, a young lad who really couldn't seem more out of place at the agricultural college within which the series is set.  Right from the off, he finds himself chasing after a calf and needing rescue, and things really only go downhill from here....

This opening episode of the series largely follows Hachiken's eventful first full day at the college - after that embarrassing calf incident at the orientation session, the tough life of a wannabe farmer soon becomes clear as our protagonist wakes up early for a shift in the barn, only to be sidetracked by some escaped chickens, before helping out with collecting eggs from said chickens complete with the horrific realisation of where they come from (yes, he really is that much of a sheltered city boy) and finding his day elongated by another emergency at the facility's greenhouse.  Still, at least he seems to have a good group of fellow students around him, even if his inability to fit in is accentuated further by their lofty goals, compared to his simple relief that he's getting to stay in a boarding school.

There's something rather masterful about the way this opening episode of Silver Spoon goes about its business - it doesn't do anything brash or showy and plants itself firmly in the midst of the realities of an educational at an agricultural institution, which is exactly what makes it so great.  The author's own knowledge of farming and everything surrounding it shines through, not just in the depiction of the everday but also with the knowing eye of somebody who realises that, for most people, this kind of lifestyle is anything but ordinary.  Taking this "commoners" view and mixing it in with some more traditional humour makes for an incredibly entertaining and laugh out loud hilarious blend that is an utter joy to behold.  Having previously read Hyakushou Kizoku, Arakawa's more directly autobiographical tale of her farm upbringing, this series is shaping up to be everything I hoped it would be and more.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

WATAMOTE ~No Matter How I Look at It, It’s You Guys Fault I’m Not Popular!~ - Episode 1

Tomoko Kuroki is popular.  No, really she is... she's spoken to guys at least half a dozen times during middle school, so high school should see her all-but ending up with her own personal harem, right?

This, of course, is merely the self-justification Tomoko reassures herself with on the cusp of her high school life - in reality, she's effectively friendless, and fast-forwarding a couple of months into the school year that shows no signs of changing given that nobody talks to her and any attempts at conversation anyone might try to strike up will only be met with a garbled, stammering response anyhow.

So goes this first episode of WATAMOTE, as Tomoko tries her best to avoid becoming a total recluse by firstly trying to make herself look cuter, and then by brushing up on her conversational skills.  Of course, these efforts end in misplaced disaster on her part, as her fashion sense is suspect at best and using her brother as a conversational partner doesn't really have much going for it either.

Having read a chunk of the original manga for this series, I knew what to expect from WATAMOTE, yet somehow it still manages to largely disappoint.  Yes, some of its characterisations of chronic shyness are right on the money (figuring out how to leave a fast food restaurant without classmates seeing you're there on your own was a particular example of that unerring accuracy), but this rarely translates particularly well into actual humour - jokes take too long to build up for too little pay-off, and Tomoko herself just... well, she just isn't very likeable for the most part.  Without a main character you find yourself rooting for, this opening episode floats through a sea of mediocrity that certainly does a top-notch job of adapting its source material panel for panel, but that doesn't have anything new to bring to the table.  Still, at least it managed to eke a couple of smiles out of me if nothing else.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Attack on Titan - Episode 13.5

Given all of its production issues and corner-cutting, not only was a break inevitable within the midst of Attack on Titan, it was absolutely required.

So here we are, at this .5 recap episode, and it's an instalment that plays everything pretty straight give or take some cludgy attempts at writing the whole recap into existence via Eren's dreams when calling a spade a spade would probably have worked better.

There isn't really anything more to say here - this quick-fire journey through the story so far, like so many recap episodes, probably doesn't serve the dedicated fans who remember everything so far anyway, nor does it do sufficient justice to the high points of the show to suitably impress newcomers who were somehow living under a boulder left behind by Eren for the past three months.  The only real winner here is the show's soundtrack, which managed to gain even more prominence for its bombastic sounds in recap form, which most certainly is a bad thing.

So, in short - don't bother watching this episode, no matter who you are.  Unless you're a horrible completest.  Like me.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Blood Lad - Episode 1

Staz is one very modern vampire - not for him a life of sucking blood from human females; why do that when you can just lounge around in the demon world enjoying your fill of Japanese popular culture?  As far as he's concerned, he's living the dream as the boss of a territory in the demon world and all of the anime and manga he could read.

However, life suddenly promises to get a whole lot better for Staz as he receives a report from his henchmen that they've found a human girl who has somehow managed to wander into the demon world entirely by accident.  Again, blood-sucking is secondary in Staz's mind as he salivates over the prospect of meeting an actual living, breathing human... and a girl nonetheless!

Unfortunately, this chance encounter is cut short by some trouble in Staz's territory, and by the time he's dealt with it he returns to find that a remnant of that plant-based mischief has eaten his precious new lady-friend Fuyumi, who is now little more than a naked ghost.  Far from impressed by this development, Staz swears to return Fuyumi's body to her - an idea that only becomes more appealing once it's clear that this will also involve Staz visiting the human world.  So, off we go into the unknown, as Staz and Fuyumi begin their adventure to bring the latter back to life.

Blood Lad arguably occupies an unfortunate place coming so soon after the marvelous Hataraku Maou-sama, a position not helped by the fact that self-referential otaku comedy has also been done to death by this point in time.  Still, this opening episode does what it can to make the whole thing appealing - a little fan service here, a carefully controlled smattering of otaku humour that works just about perfectly, and an oddly likeable cast.  Perhaps these positives will be enough to sustain it even in the face of low-budget animation and a tendency (in this opener at least) to rush through things to move the plot forward - only time will tell whether the series can progress to new heights or at least keep a level of consistency to its comedy and narrative, but as opening gambits go this was a mildly fun and inoffensive little slice of comedy if nothing else that has at least managed to quickly set up its main premise without too much fuss.

The Eccentric Family - Episode 1

Kyoto is a magnificent city, but in the world of The Eccentric Family (aka Uchouten Kazoku) it isn't a city solely reserved for mankind.  No, this version of Kyoto is also the home to both tanuki and tengu, who do... well, whatever it is they do largely away from the prying eyes of humanity.

As the series opens, we follow a young tanuki named Yasaburou Shimogamo - although you'd be hard pressed to identify him as such, as he prefers to spend his time shape-shifted into the form of a cute high school girl, much to the chagrin of both fellow tanuki and tengu alike.  Still, in spite of his cheeky demeanour Yasaburou does still seem keen to do his duty, which on this occasion involves paying a visit and bringing food to one Professor Akadama, a grumpy old tengu with a decidedly dodgy back.

In spite of this, Akadama seems to have more than a passing interesting in human-cum-tengu known as Benten, or Suzuki Satomi; a mischievous girl who seems to have some potentially dangerous contacts known as The Friday Fellows.  Having delivered a love letter from Akadama to Satomi in his own inimitable style, it's via Yasaburou that get to see just how predictable she can be.

Much like one of yesterday's new season shows Day Break Illusion, it's decidedly tricky to get a handle on how The Eccentric Fanily is going to pan out in a wider sense, as this first episode was strictly limited to world and character-building above all else.  Thankfully (and rather unlikely Day Break Illusion), this series proved to be pretty confident and accomplished at doing what it set out to, providing an entertaining framework that draws us into its world enough for us to want to see more, but without giving too much away.  My only worry is that the series finds enough in the way of interesting topics and concepts to handle during its run rather than slumping into lazy story-telling like Tsuritama, for example.  I'll certainly be sticking around to see what it plans to do with its core premise though, so hopefully it won't disappoint, and its busy visuals and setting have certainly caught my imagination so far.