Friday, 31 January 2014

Kill la Kill - Episode 16

Now that the first half of the series is officially over, it's time for a recap!  Fear not though, for this is a recap, Kill la Kill style... which I mean it's all over in a little over a minute.  Thus, the School Raid Trip is over and Satsuki's pitched battle with Matoi comes to an end - it's a battle that's taken more of a toll on Kiryuin than she was letting on too, as she struggles to keep control over the Kamui that threatens to take over her body at any moment.  Meanwhile, it's time for Mikisugi to finally show Ryuko the truth about Senketsu, Life Fibres and the how all of this relates to the death of her father... and Mako comes along for the ride too, naturally.

In fact, both Ryuko and Satsuki are introduced to the progenitor of their Kamui - in fact, this is a literal case of "clothes making the man", as it's revealed that Life Fibres are in fact extra-terrestrial, and came to earth as parasites of sorts whereupon they took it upon themselves to hasten the evolution of homo sapiens before laying dormant.  Now, the Kiryuin family, led by Ragyo, have managed to implant Life Fibres into clothing around the world, and seem all set to unleash their grand plan.  What that plan is we don't know, but it's up to Ryuko and Senketsu - a Kamui created by her father, a former employee of Ragyo, specifically for her to fight against this scheme.  But is Ryuko so easily swayed by this talk of ending the war?

Having satisfied itself by poking fun at the traditional recap episode, I was a little worried that having to spend an episode unraveling back story at this point could deaden the show's energy and pacing, but far from it - I'm now sufficiently invested in the series to revel in the story and ideas revealed here, and the result was entertaining with just enough comedy moments to keep the tone light.  Admittedly it does all add up to a very simplistic concept to focus upon for the rest of the series - it's up to Ryuko to save the world from aliens, to all intents and purposes - but that isn't necessarily a bad thing by any stretch considering the show's strengths.  Onward, then, to the Sports and Culture Festival...

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 15

Has Hazama met his match?  Yes, actually, in a quite literal sense having come face to face with his "brother", Beyond Flamenco.

So what is From Beyond's real goal?  As Beyond Flamenco himself puts it, they really aren't all that fussed about dominating the world, or even a single nation - after all, how would even their forces be able to subjugate billions of people, and what would be in it for them?  By extension, it becomes clear that there is something deeper at work, but Beyond Flamenco won't be drawn on what that something is - indeed, all he wants to do is to die, and take his comrades with him.  This victory doesn't stop the continuing ingress of the Destruction of Japan machine into the Earth's core, and of course only the Flamengers can stop it, even at the danger of it leading to their own death.

We know how such stories go, and thus Japan is saved and the Flamengers hailed as heroes by all and sundry for saving Japan once again.  Why, then, are armed police suddenly trying to arrest Hazama?  Captain America... sorry, Mister Justice, is there to not only help Hazama escape, but to explain all - in short, it's a government conspiracy, where From Beyond were mere creations to manipulate public opinion, and now that that has been achieved the heroes who inadvertently aided that situation need to be dealt with.

As per previous tonal shifts in this series, I'm not yet sure how I feel about the new direction Samurai Flamenco is heading it.  It certainly had a few laugh out loud moments once again (I'm waiting for the inevitable ten hour long "Justice Beam" YouTube video), and its conspiratorial elements and knowing jibes at the idea of evil organisations Hell-bent on ruling the world were appreciated, but I'm not sure how well these ideas will translate into the same sort of lunatic fun that has powered the series up to this point.  I'm guessing that the Flamenco Girls may well rise to prominence here, but I'll wait with bated breath to see what this oddly enjoyable show has up its sleeve next.

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 4

Mayu's return to the idol business may be a cause of celebration for some, but to most - or at least those participating in online discussion - her departure from I-1 Club, and perhaps more importantly the stories behind it, is unforgivable.

While things continue to progress for the Wake Up Girls themselves with the offer of a regular, named slot on a radio show (albeit at midnight), others have taken notice of the confirmation of Mayu's return to idol work - namely a journalist who spies a clear opportunity to dish the dirt on the truth behind her departure.  On top of the attitude of her mother towards her return to being an idol, life clearly isn't easy for the Wake Up Girls' star player.

As we gain a glimpse into the reality of the I-1 Club's dream machine - hard training, no right of reply for idols, and girls being dropped and replaced with fresh-faced young talent on a weekly basis as they prepare for their tour of Japan - so Tange's fervour grows markedly as she receives a call from a journalist in Tokyo looking to feature the group in a documentary.  Of course, unbeknownst to her, his real goal is an opportunity to press Mayu on the truth behind her quitting I-1 Club, which in turn only raises more questions amongst her friends as to what the real deal is here.

It's certainly nice to see Wake Up, Girls pressing this particular line of its narrative, as it's clearly one that's easy to relate to in regards to the actual idol industry and it seems to have a lot of potential to go places.  That said, there wasn't a whole lot to make this effort stand out - the episode perhaps tried a little too hard to demonise I-1 Club's leadership, and the show as a whole still suffers from a complete lack of any strong characters to speak of.  Mayu's secrets can only push the series forward so far, and if they aren't revealed soon then I fear it may turn into an exercise in flogging a dead horse - we shall see what transpires next week, of course.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 4

Nibutani is a girl with a dream - a dream of becoming the student council president.  Popular and attentive though she is, there's a deathly troublesome thorn in her side that seems set to stand in the way of her success.

That thorn, of course, takes the form of Dekomori, who continues to harangue her at every turn, leaving Nibutani's only available option as relying on Yuuta - or more to the point Rikka, requested by Yuuta - to distract Dekomori and keep her at arms (or hairs) length until the voting process is over.  This proves to be easier said than done, as even Yuuta's most convincing attempts to keep Rikka and Dekomori in his thrall prove fruitless in the latter case, doing more and more damage to Nibutani's campaign as a result.  All that might be about to change however, as another appearance from Shichimiya gives Dekomori the evidence she needs that Nibutani is indeed the mystical Mori Summer.

From here, Dekomori shifts to become Mori Summer's loyal servant, second only to Rikka - a position of which Nibutani takes full advantage by "hiring" her to assist in her campaign.  It's something that Dekomori proves surprisingly efficient at given her own popularity and a previously unseen thoughtful nature as she dotes upon her new master.  Of course, Dekomori's "affliction" is never far away, and it raises its head in public at the worst possible time to inflict disaster upon Nibutani's dream.

Overall, this proved to be another pretty fun little episode of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions - it continues to be a decidedly average show in both ideas and story bolstered by great execution, adding a little finesse to its slapstick comedy and obvious (repetitive, even) points of humour to result in something which is greater than the sum of its parts.  As one of the season's slices of throwaway comedy, there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Golden Time - Episode 16

Things early take a fatal turn, as a tiring day at the beach turns into Koko falling asleep at the wheel, only to be saved from major disaster by Banri... or, perhaps more importantly, his ghostly subconscious.

Although the physical damage is limited to a dented bumper, a bent crash barrier and a cut lip for Chinami, the psychological fallout of this accident is far greater.  While all of the group are shaken up for a spell in the aftermath of the incident, Koko shuts herself away from both Banri and all of her other friends, becoming uncontactable as they find themselves increasingly worried.

It's clear that some kind of intervention is needed, and thanks to Mitsuo her address is passed to Banri to pay her a visit.  Unsurprisingly she's in quite a bad way mentally, not only blaming herself for the accident but also seeing it as evidence of her immaturity in spite of her no longer being a high school student.  Worries soon turn to accusations and a full-blown argument between Koko and Banri as we get to the real crux of the issue however - Koko is terrified of losing him, and particularly scared by the prospect that another accident could erase his memory and see him up sticks and leave as he did with Linda previously.  A mixture of home truths and over-bearing misgivings combine as everything comes to the surface - probably for the best, as it allows for reconciliation and the chance to move forward.

Although "ghost Banri" saving the day irked me in last week's episode, I will give this week's Golden Time full credit for how it handled the fallout of the accident - from Banri's shaking hands through to Koko's realisation that, university student or not, she's still a kid in a lot of ways, there were plenty of moments that rang true, sullied only by Koko's father who went from horrific villain who slaps his own daughter to the ground to "generic comedy Dad" in a single episode.  The row that underpinned the second half of the episode was also fantastically well-written and framed, with simple words of comfort being misconstrued and turning into an ever-escalating to and fro of accusations and uncomfortable statements that ultimately cleared the air.  This is the kind of thing that I originally turned to Golden Time for, and even if it doesn't always deliver I'm certainly glad I stuck with it for those moments where it does get everything right and deliver a strong and interesting take on human relationships.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 4

Hachiken is all dressed up the nines and ready to take his place at the tournament in which his equestrian club are taking part.  Well, I say "ready", but perhaps that isn't quite true...

With the pressure ramping up, even Mikage is threatening to crumble beneath it - a scenario not helped by the appearance of an audacious girl (and childhood friend of Mikage's) by the name of Minamikujou.  This well-spoken and striking young woman seems determined to rub everyone else's faces in the dirt, which would be all well and good if she weren't in a lower riding class than Mikage, which ensures that their contest soon fizzles out.  Instead, Minamikujou turns her attentions to Hachiken - not that she's much of a challenge to him either, as her obnoxiousness leads to her disqualification once the event actually begins.

As the newcomers to the equestrian club all struggle with time or other penalties, it's finally time for Hachiken to strut his stuff.. assuming he can control his growing nerves that is.  If there's one thing our protagonist is good at however it's focusing, and with a steely heart and determination in his heart he races through the course flawlessly... until he spots his brother in the crowd and almost throws it all away once his concentration wavers momentarily.  Still, the end result of fourth place is a good one (even if Hachiken still can't hide his disappointment), and Mikage shows what she's capable of via a top three finish as we get a little further into the heads of what drives the two characters.

In all honesty, I was shocked at how quickly this episode flew by - the end of the equestrian tournament had me wondering what the second half of the episode would cover, only for me to realise that was the end of the episode.  In other words, this was a simple but highly entertaining affair, which thankfully just about avoided Minamikujou turning from comedy stooge into annoying distraction while providing some engaging sporting competition that still had something to say about its lead characters and their motivations.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 17

And then there were two.... having adjusted to live on the surface after five years of sleep, Hikari finds himself joined by Kaname, who saunters around wearing nothing upon reaching the humanity in his own inimitable style.

Just as Miuna was both excited and terrified by Hikari's reappearance in her life, so Sayu has to face the same emotional rollercoaster now that the boy she has pined after for so long has returned.  After one unexpected attempt to introduce herself to him goes awry, she swears off having anything to do with him and outwardly suggests her determination to be alone or at least simply give up on him - an attitude which puts her into conflict with Sayu, and ultimately with herself once Kaname approaches and speaks to her.

For Kaname's part, his biggest struggle is with Chisaki's current state, both in terms of her physical growth (although he's quick to point out to her that he's not concerned about that) and also her relationship with Tsumugu, which he instantly recognises as being close.  With Miuna's Ena having been revealed, and more importantly as researchers appear to have pinpoint a potential entrance to Shioshishio, relationships above the surface look likely to be parked as attentions turn to exploring the previously inaccessible underwater town to find out what has become of it.

After some stunning episodes of late, this week's Nagi no Asukara was merely "very good", perhaps mostly on account of the fact that the circumstances of Kaname's reappearance were less striking simply because of their broad similarity to those experienced by Hikari's return.  Still, Sayu's behaviour was enjoyable to watch as a twist on Miuna's own previous reactions, and now that we're returning beneath the sea it feels like this series still has some major surprises in store to keep me hooked.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 4

The rain may be falling, but it certainly isn't raining on anyone's parade as we (finally!) reach the business end of Saki - The Nationals with an actual mahjong game!

Of course, first up for Kiyosumi is their very own caped crusader in the form of Yuuki, who as you might expect wins the draw to be dealer and sets off on her usual East wind blitz of victories.  Even though at least some of her competitors are prepared for such an event, they find themselves initially powerless in the face of three consecutive winning hands from Kataoka to push Kiyosumi into an early lead.

That isn't to say that Yuuki's opponent's around the table should be underestimated however - Himematsu High School's Ueshige Suzu is well-versed in the abilities of her opponents, and this understanding eventually comes good to ensure that her team remain in the hunt; Miyamori Girls' Kosegawa Shiromi gives away her powers by hesitating on discards, a sure sign that she's building an expensive hand; and of course there's Eisui Girls' School's Jindai Komaki, a player expected to be ferocious even if she allegedly spends half of this round asleep before finally coming to her senses and waking up.  With Yuuki's early power seemingly spent in this prestigious company, it's time for the other girls to strut their stuff, but it still seems to be Jindai who is the one to watch and the game progresses.

After three episodes of moaning about the lack of proper mahjong, at last we're immersed in the tournament proper, and although we haven't reached the heights of tension that this series can deliver at its peak it's still far more satisfying stuff - a little stilted in places as it's broken up by various comments or interactions from outside of the arena itself, but relatively engaging and enjoyable as a whole while setting us up for some more spectacular events further down the line no doubt.  At last, Saki is back and doing what it does best!

Wizard Barristers - Episode 3

This week's episode of Wizard Barristers begins with some unpleasant memories for Butterfly Law Offices' Hachiya, as he recalls a case with ended in the death penalty for his client.

This nightmare proves to be a particularly prescient one too - having served as the prosecutor in that case who successfully argued for the defendant to receive the death penalty, he now finds himself in a new role as a wizard barrister, but faced with the girlfriend of the defendant in that case, who is now herself accused of murder.  Although this woman argues that she was simply showing off her powers, once it comes to light that her victim was the boss of her boyfriend and the ultimate cause of him being arrested this is quickly thrown into doubt.

However, with Hachiya serving as barrister, and with Cecil as his assistant, it's his job to make the argument that this connection is mere coincidence with no evidence to back up any stronger link - an argument that is easily won in the absence of any proof to the contrary.  This isn't the end of the matter however, as the accused Mayu Saotome has seemingly made a pact with Hachiya that will allow them both to come to terms with the events that haunt them - a pact that sees Hachiya release Mayu and her powers so that she can get her revenge on him.  This quickly backfires when it becomes clear that Saotome's thirst for vengeance runs deeper than Hachiya alone, and it's left to others to intervene in the courtroom before a bloodbath ensues.

Overall, this was a pretty compelling yet decidedly odd little episode of Wizard Barristers - it introduced Hachiya's character well and built on Cecil's personality, back story and abilities decently, but it was hard to really get into the swing of its story of guilt and revenge thanks to the way everything was played out within the courtroom in a way that eventually defied belief.  Of course, this is a show with magic and wizards so Law & Order it ain't, but I still felt like the story could have been built more effectively (and slowly over multiple episodes perhaps) in a different fashion.  Still, the show remains eye-catching and pretty unique in its ideas, so I'm certainly still enjoying it, but I do wonder if it needs to be a little more measured in the episodic aspects of its story-telling.

Space☆Dandy - Episode 4

It seems as if Dandy and company have landed themselves another jackpot, in the form of an alien that looks a lot like an known existing species but is still sufficiently different to surely by a unique creature.

Having been bitten by said creature, Meow starts to look a little peeky, and after brushing it off as just a lack of sleep for a while Dandy eventually relents and takes him to hospital only to find that, to all intents and purposes, Meow is dead.  A member of the walking dead, if you like.  You can probably guess where things go from here - by the time Dandy and QT return to visit their pal they find the hospital over-run with zombies, and desperate to escape Dandy decides that the non-organic QT is the perfect weapon to aid him in this situation.  Except, it seems that this particular zombie virus can also infect robots...

While this would normally be the end of the story, the delightful twist in this episode is that we continue to follow the adventures of the zombie-fied Dandy, QT and Meow - a journey of despair, raw meat, yogurt, visits to shopping centres and the joys of being able to claim on your life insurance while you're still around to enjoy the payout.  Although there are disadvantages to being a zombie (particularly when you're an alien hunter), Dandy seems to get along just fine as the zombie virus spreads across the universe.

 I'm sure I wasn't the only one to roll my eyes as soon as the prospect of a zombie apocalypse came about, and sure enough the first half of this week's Space Dandy was as predictable as you would imagine.  Thankfully, this was simply the build-up to a wonderful pay-off in the episode's second half, which was delightfully tongue-in-cheek as it followed the lives (or afterlives?) of the cast as zombies, poking merry fun at other zombie fiction as it went ("for some reason, we have the inexplicable urge to go to the mall") and taking the whole thing to its logical conclusion.  It's becoming one of the joys of this series that it doesn't really care much about continuity, happily killing off the cast or the entire universe here and there simply to make an entertaining climax to the episode at hand, and the result is another hugely entertaining episode that had me giggling along throughout its second half.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

World Conquest Zvezda Plot - Episode 3

Ignoring a "No Smoking" sign and lighting up can land you with a fine or being kicked out of the establishment... or, if you work for Zvezda, it'll entail the entire room being jettisoned at high speed.

Of course, it's the ever-rebellious Yasu who has caused this ejection has he lands himself in trouble once again.  This is just the tip of Kate Hoshimiya's wrath however - this is one little girl who really doesn't like smokers.  When a trip to a restaurant is almost ruined by a fellow lighting up during the meal, enough is enough - it's time to rise up and conquer all smokers, killing them if necessary.

After some initial resistance, the campaign takes off markedly when the general (non-smoking) populace join hands in agreement that they hate smokers and second-hand smoke, and in short order all remaining smokers are left as outcasts whose final venues that allow them to smoke diminish one by one in the face of patrols known as "Smoke Busters".  Ultimately, we reach a final showdown between Zvezda and the last bastion of smokers known as "Last Paradise" - a final battle interrupted by those meddling White Light types.

As per last week's episode, for a while there I was really enjoying World Conquest Zvezda Plot - the concept of applying a little girl's sense of justice surrounding a given topic while giving her all of the powers of a megalomaniacal organisation was fun to consider, but then the whole thing began to fall apart under a sheer lack of context and a disjointed treatment of the scenario at hand.  Without an understanding of who Zvezda really are, why they exists and the origins of their powers and goals there's nothing to anchor each episode's plot to, and the story-telling itself is horrendously disjointed, thus stripping any remaining enjoyment from the episode.  It's frustrating as there are some great ideas and moments on show here (not least Kate's brilliantly tongue-in-cheek transformation sequence), but the whole thing is collapsing under the weight of its ill-explained core tenets time and again at the moment.

Nisekoi - Episode 3

Never mind the perils of having to pretend to date Kirisaki, the real issue for Raku at this point is the fact that Onodera also believes that the two of them are going out.  Still, correcting one person's misunderstanding shouldn't be such a big problem, right?

Certainly, that would be the case if it weren't for the fact that the whole of Ichijou's class now seems to know about the whole thing, and with Claude watching and waiting in the wings Kirisaki and Raku have no other option than to run with it and continue to play the lovey-dovey couple even at school.  If Raku was hoping that there'd still be an opportunity to set Onodera straight after all of this, his plans are constantly scuppered, either by his own issues - namely realising that only telling her the truth couuld be tantamount to a confession - or by Onodera herself, not least her accidentally revealing a key that looks suspiciously familiar...

To add to these problems, Chitoge blows up at him when he suggests that letting a close friend in on the secret wouldn't be such a bad idea.  Although he's blind to why this might be a sore point with Kirisaki, it eventually becomes clear to him - that she'd doubtless happily tell a friend her secret if she actually had a friend to tell it to.  Lo and behold, he finds Kirisaki making notes on her classmates in the hope of finding a way to befriend them; something which Ichijou can empathise with completely.  Thus, the two have become a little closer once again, and unbeknownst to them they've also revealed a major hint as to the reality of their relationship to Onodera.

It continues to tread a well-worn path, but that still isn't enough to stop me rather liking Nisekoi - it's a series of simple charms that takes its concept and runs with it in an energectic, well-paced and broadly fun way whilst making no bones about its originality or otherwise.  The result here is another episode that blends simple comedy that can at least raise a smile with some rather sweet moments, all the while progressing its story far more quickly than your average romantic comedy arguably does.  Top it off with that traditional dose of SHAFT quirkiness (which still doesn't always fit the mood but gets it right more often than not), and you have yourself a simple but charming slice of entertainment.

Space Brothers - Episode 91

Thanks to the inclusion of not one but two so-called "Green Card" instructions, it looks as if Hibito's final test to prove his rehabilitation was about to go off the rails in a major way.

However, after a fleeting moment of panic, some rational thought of what he needs to do triggered by a look at his Pretty Dog mirror that makes for a lucky charm soon sets him straight and things quickly return to normal as he makes all of the right decisions to handle the carbon dioxide error thrown in his face by his space suit.

This isn't the end of the surprises, but thankfully from here things become far more pleasant for Hibito, as he's joined on the test by some of his former lunar mission crew-mates, not least the also recovered Damian who joins him for his "moonwalk".  If Mutta is at all worried about his little brother (and thanks to some prodding by Serika he ends up sprinting to catch the end of the extended test), it becomes clear that he had no need of such concerns when he arrives to find Hibito being congratulated by all and sundry.  It seems that we're now very much one step closer to reaching Space Brothers' true goal of placing its two titular brothers on the Moon together.

Although Hibito's final test could probably have been contracted down into a shorter running time overall, it was still good to be able to sit and watch his successful return to action, and the introduction of his former colleagues added to the feel-good nature of the end of a story arc that surely puts us close to the show's "home run".  It's further evidence of how well the series uses its characters that it can take a story that's effectively resolved but still carry it a little further to make it even more satisfying - roll on whatever Space Brothers has to offer us next as it rolls towards its hundredth episode.

Sakura Trick - Episode 3

This week, Sakura Trick introduces us to Yuu's elder sister Mitsuki, who also happens to be the student council president.

Despite Haruka being Yuu's best friend (and then some), Mitsuki still hasn't actually met the girl in question - Haruka only seems to come around when she's away or otherwise engaged, and all she really knows about the girl's appearance is what her shoes look like; a suspicious and curious affair, in her opinion.  This curiosity is soon to be sated however, as it becomes known that the school will be replacing its normal (and expensive) sports festival with a ball sports tournament instead - an upsetting turn of events for Yuu, who wanted to be part of a cheerleading squad and take part in a sports festival as part of said squad.  Thus, Haruka decides to cheerlead for her friend by joining the committee responsible for the event so that she can petition for the inclusion of cheerleaders - something she ultimately succeeds in, even if Mitsuki's view of Haruka is nothing but a blur on account of some broken glasses.  Any positive impression left upon Yuu's sister is short-lived however, as Haruka's next visit to Yuu's home leads to them being "caught in the act".

The second half of the episode sees Haruka and Yuu's class cleaning the pool, bringing with it all of the usual tropes of such an event - playing around with water, pondering a character's breast size, swimsuit-led fan service (complete with some rather embarrassing "additions" Haruka has made to her and Yuu's outfits) and making out in a storage shed.  When Mitsuki arrives looking for her sister, it only serves to further undermine her impressions of Haruka, which it seems might well become one of the show's running gags.

Although this episode veered off a little too far into fan service territory for my liking at times, it still exhibits some strong moments - there are some great gags here once again (in particular three consecutive laugh out loud jokes at the start of the episode), and the interactions between the cast of characters continues to be a lot of fun even when it's entirely predictable.  For all of its kissing and parading in swimsuits, there's still a gentle enjoyment to be found within Sakura Trick, and the fact that its leading girls actually make for a surprisingly cute couple certainly does nothing to damage that feeling.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 3

With their original management team now fully restored and not a swimsuit in sight (well, apart from the bit where, y'know, they have to wear swimsuits), it's onward and upwards for the Wake Up, Girls as they make their local television debut.

For this task, the group are split into two - one who have to do a piece on local food and gourmet in the area, while the others have to report on weather while immersed in scalding water.  Needless to say, only one of the two gigs appeal to the girls, and thankfully for those who draw the short straw a little persuasion changes the format of the weather report to involve wearing animal outfits rather than being tortured live on television.

Understandably, the early going for both of these segments is strewn with errors and dead air, but as time goes on and the group gain experience so their pieces to camera become more slick, and Minami even manages to bag herself a catchphrase while getting to enjoy her favourite past-time of eating a lot.  While her grandmother and her friends watch on with pride, Minami is carving out a place as a bit of a star within the group, and when the opportunity of a spot on a televised concert comes up the plan is to allow her to take a prime role in proceedings.  No prizes for guessing what happens next - Minami's grandmother is taken ill, and suddenly her appearance at the event is put into jeopardy.

As a follow-on from that uncomfortable previous episode, this felt like far more of an episode from a stock idol series - there are more suggestions of troubled times ahead for Mayu, but for the most part this was a dull "by the numbers affair", not helped by the fact that you could have dressed a bunch of bricks in animal costumes and I wouldn't have been able to tell them apart from the group here.  No, that wasn't me making a dig at the episode's animation quality either - all of the burgeoning idols remain as dull as dishwater, and no amount of associating them with cool animals is going to change that.  Again, perhaps this is in itself a commentary on the vacuous nature of the industry, but it doesn't help make things interesting, and I'd actually rather the girls just lean heavily on tropes rather than be complete non-entities as almost all of them currently are.

Kill la Kill - Episode 15

Osaka is burning, but still the battle rages on as the Tri-City School Raid focuses all of its attentions on a final, climactic battle.

But what will win the day, the influence borne of money or the powers of Satsuki and her troop's new Goku Uniforms?  You don't need to be a betting man to know where the money should be staked her, and although some of Satsuki's minions come a cropper when their opponent reveals his giant enemy crab, once Sanegayama enters the fray it isn't long before the final obstacle in Satsuki's path gets his butt kicked.  Or rather, poked repeatedly with a Kendo stick for massive damage.

It's at this point that Ryuko makes her appearance, and even without a functional Kamui she wastes no time in facing down Satsuki with a view towards regaining the final piece of Senketsu to make him whole once again.  As the pair begin sparring, things are made even more complicated by a raid from Nudist Beach - a case of "just as planned" for Kiryuin as it seems that flushing them out was the entire goal of this school trip.  While the Elite Four are left to deal with Nudist Beach's members, Satsuki and Ryuko restart their own pitched battle, with Matoi taking some desperate measures to bring Senketsu's power to bear in the hope of winning the day, with the trust and friendship between girl and uniform ultimately holding true to help them achieve their goal.  Now, perhaps it's time to learnt the truth about Ryuko's father...

Following on from that rip-roaring episode last week, the first chunk of this week's Kill la Kill felt a little staid in comparison as it failed to live up to what had come before.  This was, thankfully, only temporary, and by the second half of the episode my eyes were popped wide open once again as the show's visuals (including some animation that was actually great) and soundtrack merged around its high velocity pitched battles that were a joy to behold.  It's going to be interested to see how what looks set to be a dip into the show's back story works set against all these recent thrills and spills next week, but as of right now Kill la Kill continues to be on a real roll.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Golden Time - Episode 15

At long last it's time to hit the beach for Banri, Koko and friends!

Of course, holidays do have a tendency for swapping any idyllic fantasies of how things will pan out for the col, harsh truths of reality, and that's certainly how this journey pans out for the group.  While Banri and Koko opting to meet Takaya in the wrong place is a minor error and the car's malfunctioning air conditioning is little more than an irritation, delays in both reaching and then finding Oka before collecting Mitsuo and setting off are further built upon by vast traffic jams as far as the eye can see.  Add a downpour of rain and it looks like the entire trip is about to be rained off.

Still, at times like this Tada can always be relied upon to look on the bright side and make the best of the situation, and he duly does this here, dragging Koko out to goof around in the rain until the rest of the party join them.  Suitably soaked, the group heads off for food, and by the time they're done the sun is shining once again, allowing for the fun and frolics they originally made the trip for, playing on the beach, letting off fireworks and all.  By the end of the day all and sundry are exhausted, and with Koko taking up the driver's seat she's reliant upon Banri to keep talking and keep her awake.  Easier said than done, as the group's fatigue threatens to prove lethal...

For the most part I really enjoyed this week's Golden Time - having followed this group of characters for so long now, it was satisfying to see them get together and take a trip, and equally satisfying to be presented with a trip that is a far cry from the perfect blend of distilled fun that makes for the average beach episode in anime.  On the flip side of this, I'm a little wary of the show's reliance on "ghost Banri" at this point, who seems to have gone from a portion of Tada's subconscious to something being hinted at as a deity of Haruhi-esque proportions.  I really hope this gets ironed out and explained away as coincidence as it doesn't do Golden Time any favours - the events depicted in this episode would have worked perfectly well without his pseudo-supernatural presence, whereas his appearance threatens to derail any sense of the narrative being believable.  Putting that aside though, it does feel as if Golden Time has found its stride, so I really hope it doesn't slip over the coming weeks.

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 14

The government may want to keep it quiet, but Hazama can take no more and announces From Beyond's invasion plan on live television.  It seems that he isn't the only one with plans to make an important broadcast either...

While Hazama is trying to further explain his announcement on TV, thousands of phones start ringing amongst the country's most influential people - it seems that From Beyond have taken to cold-calling the media and politicians to inform them that they plan to attack the next morning, only serving to increase the panic and tension as it spreads to the general populous.  Of course, this panic leads to mayhem as people flood the roads trying to leave Tokyo - cue a calm, considered online broadcast from Hazama trying to reassure the citizens and persuade them to take less desperate action; a plea which works surprisingly well.

With that immediate issue resolved, it's time for the Flamengen to steel themselves and do what they can to protect the city in the face of impossible odds, while the city's police also prepare to do what they can to stem the tide of From Beyond.  As if dealing with over sixty thousand enemies isn't asking too much as it is, it also emerges that the group's grand plan is to force a detonation of Mount Fuji to destroy the city - can anyone stop this evil scheme?  Perhaps, as Kaname has returned... and he's brought a few friends!  There are still more surprises in store however, as Hazama comes face to face with the final, previously unseen, member of From Beyond...

There continues to be something highly entertaining about Samurai Flamenco that transcends its terrible animation - there's a lot to be said for the way it pretends to play its story complete straight when it's clearly not taking itself seriously at all, and its increasingly ludicrous enemies supplanted by an announcement that all of those dumb superheroes of various Japanese television shows are real is deliciously amusing.  All of this is all the more incredible given how the series also employs some genuinely dark moments in the midst of everything to leave you doubting whether the show is really being as light-hearted as you think - then it throws in a bonkers curveball of a cliff-hanger just to melt your brain a little further.  Its treatment may infuriate some, but I'm still loving the series and can't help but keep on coming back for more.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 3

This week's episode of Silver Spoon closely follows the goings-on in the school's equestrian club, and with the school festival approach it's time to decide what the club are planning to do to show themselves off to visitors.

With that perhaps in mind, and with all of its newcomers having mastered the basics of riding a horse, it's time for the newer riders to finally try their hand at some actually show-jumping.  Coming into such a massive undertaking cold, it's not exactly surprising that Hachiken is unable to even get Maron to jump over a low barrier, with this finicky creature instead preferring to walk around it.  This is no big deal until the rest of the newcomers clear their first hurdle with ease, before insult is added to injury by first Mikage, and then the other newcomers, also clearing the fence using Maron.

For Hachiken, his failure is all too reminiscent of days gone by, and his determination to improve quickly turns to desperation - a slightly ugly side to his character that is quickly shouted down by Mikage as the two become embroiled in something of an argument of the whole thing.  With tension still thick between the two of them, Mikage unexpectedly invites Hachiken out the following Sunday, which allows him to take in a proper equestrian tournament in her hometown - an event which, along with other things, helps him to understand the simple mistake that he's making when it comes to his handling of Maron.

If a reminder was even required, this episode of Silver Spoon does a great job of showing the strength of the show's characters - both Hachiken and Mikage, likable though they are, are also both utterly human and with flaws of their own, and getting to see them riled and how it ultimately strengthens their relationship a little is not only enjoyable but feels truly organic in its nature.  Backed up by a cast of similarly great characters, getting to follow Hachiken's trials and tribulations never ceases to be great fun, particularly when it's served with lashings of laugh-out-loud comedy as this instalment invariably was.  It may have had a change of director, but it's becoming clear that Silver Spoon is still in safe hands, and I really couldn't ask anything more of it at this juncture.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 16

Now that Hikari has recovered somewhat both physically and mentally from the situation that has confronted him since reawakening, it's time to head back to school, a return which puts him amongst both strange and familiar faces.

Not that Hikari seems to mind not knowing most of his classmates - in fact, he revels in playing up to his role as their senior as they bombard him with questions which he does little more than play the fool in response to.  Hikari's return also means that he's now sharing a class with both Miuna and Sayu, although only one of them seems to be particularly happy to see him back in their midst.

One thing Hikari is missing upon his return to education is a school uniform - something which he seems strangely against owning for reasons that we never quite fully get a handle on.  However, Akari is having none of this, and thus sends Hikari and Miuna into the city to have him fitted out for a new uniform - a trip which ultimately sees Sayu joining them.  Again, Sayu isn't exactly thrilled about this invite, and it soon becomes clear why as she's treated as little more than a third wheel as Hikari and Miuna chatter and goof around - this eventually comes to a head and all spills out into a heated argument, with Sayu feeling bitter that Kaname hasn't returned while Miuna once again seems to have gotten whatever she wants in her life.  The aftermath of this sees Miuna leaving alone while Hikari is left to try and escort Sayu home - having figured out where Miuna may have gone to let off steam however, he catches up with her only for fate to deliver another surprising twist in Miuna's life.

I'll openly admit that I can't quite get my head around the revelation regarding Miuna, which means that either I've forgotten something important or this is foreshadowing of some more widespread future revelations - either way, this is but a drop of confusion in another ocean of great drama, that managed to make the most of some relatively minor drama to reinforce its characters and their feelings in an affecting way that was enjoyable and occasionally touching to watch.  It's another positive for what has been a fantastic second half of the series for Nagi no Asukara thus far, and it still seems to have plenty up its sleeve to continue in a similar vein as the show continues.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 3

It's hardly unusual for Rikka to be excitable and demanding, but even by her usual standards things are a little unusual as Yuuta is woken from what might have become a beautiful dream by... well, Rikka hanging from his bedroom ceiling.

Of course, we know exactly why Rikka is being so skittish, but Yuuta is left clueless as to why she's so demanding of him, spending much of her time insisting that he needs to produce the "Dark Flame Dragon" from within his soul.  We have no idea what that means in actual terms, but for Yuuta it means lots of hassle and embarrassment as Rikka first defaces one of his t-shirts, then produces a magical girl outfit that she's carefully prepared for him - I can only assume that she's been watching Is This A Zombie recently.

Eventually, the cause of all of this trouble makes her appearance known, taking over the school intercom to invite Rikka into battle - cue another one of the show's great action sequences, before the whole thing is interrupted by a disbelieving Yuuta who, naturally, recognises Rikka's opponent.  In fact, the girl in question - Satone Shichimiya - is effectively the cause of Yuuta's own chunibyou behaviour back in Middle School, although while Yuuta is now mostly "cured" of his affliction Satone (or Sophie, as she likes to be known in her fantasy world) has gotten worse if anything.  As Yuuta learns that Satone now lives in the same apartment block as him and catches up on things with her, there's inevitably some jealousy that emanates from Rikka's part - jealousy that Yuuta is quick to quell, for his part.

Even though the excesses of its delusional behaviour still set my teeth on edge, this was for the most part another fun episode of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions - its comedy didn't always work but succeeded far more often than it failed, the one bonus of the show's delusional cast is those increasingly glorious action scenes, and Satone's addition to the cast might shift Rikka's personality enough to make her a more bearable character in the long run.  It's another solid addition to what has been an accomplished effort so far, ensuring that it's a broadly enjoyable watch even for someone like myself who isn't a huge fan of the series.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 3

Nodoka finds herself enjoying a blast from the past as this week's episode of Saki - The Nationals begins, thanks to the visit of a former middle school friend which leaves her remembering those early middle school days, as well as her first meeting with Yuuki.

The friend in question is Maho, who Hisa has brought to the training camp in the hope that she'll prompt all of Kiyosumi's players to improve themselves in some shape or form.  Her reasoning is simple enough - although Maho is a far from proficient player over all, who makes all sorts of basic mistakes and errors, she's still capable of learning quickly from the players around her with occasional but terrifying results, as Saki herself sees first-hand as a Rinshan Kaihou is used against her effortlessly.

There's little time for reflection though, as we quickly (and finally!) move on to the national tournament itself, giving us a glimpse of some potential future opponents and their powerful mahjong abilities, while also informing us very quickly that Kiyosumi have breezed through their first match, leaving them to rev up for their second and far more challenging match.  In other words, the series is really going to start now, and not a moment too soon.

I'm trying to be patient, I really am, but three episodes of build-up and training camp have done nothing for my enthusiasm towards Saki - the show simply doesn't have a whole lot to offer when it isn't involved in tense, must-win mahjong hands, and even training sessions can't recreate the rollercoaster of tension generated by those games.  Thankfully, the series has decidedly to fast-forward to the core of the national tournament at last, so all of these complaints should dissolve next week, right?

Wizard Barristers - Episode 2

Self-defence or otherwise, Cecil has managed to get herself into trouble before her feet are even under her desk as a wizard barrister, adding another hefty fine to an already troubled start to her working career.

Still, while there's nothing that can be done about that, there's still plenty of work to be done for her first case in proving that Kohinata was acting in self-defence during the bank robbery.  Although they have testimony from one of his former co-workers to that effect, it seems likely that this evidence will be shot down in no time, leaving the only real ray of hope to be some kind of confirmation from the No Face gang responsible that Kohinata is not one of them - a prospect that seems highly unlikely.

Little does Cecil realise that, in spite of her superiors insisting that barristers can't play at being police, that's exactly what this particular law outfit is happy to do if required in the name of justice, and thus Ageha sets about finding out the necessary information to track down No Face before she and Cecil head to their hideout to track down and "persuade" a member of the group to come and give evidence.  With the trial on-going whilst Cecil and the No Face gang duke it out with giant robots, time is at a premium to prove Kohinata's innocence before he's sentenced to death.

Although highly predictable as a crime procedural of sorts goes (even an animated one in a world rife with magic users), there's still something enjoyable about Wizard Barristers setup and execution.  Admittedly, it sometimes feels like everything else is really just there in service of some top-notch action sequences, but despite that the framework of the show and the way it goes about its business is solid, entertaining in its mixing of light-hearted and more serious fare, and ripe with potential now that it's laid out its ground rules and set the scene.

Space☆Dandy - Episode 3

Life is still hard in the alien hunting business for Dandy and company - it seems that nothing they snag will pass muster, and even trying to dress up Meow as a rare alien doesn't manage to bag them any money.

With nothing but food that's 10,000 light years out of date to eat, the only saving grace seems to be Dandy's Boobies loyalty card, with enough points saved for a free meal.  But, with only two hours until the card expires, is there time to make it to a suitable venue in time?

Of course, the answer to this is no, and Dandy's attempt to use his ship's broken warp drive only makes things worse, dumping them onto a supposedly lifeless planet in the middle of nowhere.  However, the planet isn't as uninhabited as first assumed - in fact, it's home to a beautiful woman trying to escape the clutches of some horrific monsters.  Dandy is quick to intervene and save this damsel in distress before looking at repairing his ship to escape this cursed planet - clearly, this is a man who has never heard that old adage about not judging a book by its cover though...

After a couple of mildly entertaining episodes that have been more fun to watch for their visual style than their content, this finally felt like the moment where Space Dandy succeeded in distilling what it does best into a single episode.  As well as looking great, this episode had me laughing out loud on numerous occasions and made full use of its cast and premise to deliver that comedy - it's still throwaway entertainment, but that's no bad thing and if it can keep up this level of laughs now it's seemingly found its feet then the rest of the series could prove to be a lot of fun.

Sakura Trick - Episode 2

After the adventures of the opening episode, all is well in Haruka and Yuu's world.  Well, aside from a decidedly unfortunately mistake involving Yuu accidentally writing her answers to a homework assignment in not only a book for the wrong subject, but also belonging to the wrong person!

However, it seems that things are a little more fraught amongst some of the duo's circle of friends - not that you'd believe it to look at Shizuku and her radiant smile and cheerful greeting.  The trouble is, this really isn't normal for Shizuku, suggesting that something is amiss, and lo and behold friend Kotone soon appears to explain the problem - after spending a lot of time living at Shizuku's house, it seems that a kiss on the cheek while Shizuku was sleeping wasn't entirely appreciated.  But is that really the issue here?  No, as it happens, and all is revealed and reconciled in the fullness of time.

For the second half of the episode, our thoughts return to studying, or rather Yuu's inability to do any of it - a problem which initially thrills Haruka as she imagines Yuu as her clingy junior, before she's reminded that the school will be closing after their graduation and that Yuu is more likely to be expelled rather than made to retake a year.  Therefore, it's time for a group study session centred around helping Yuu out for an upcoming test - the trouble is, all Yuu wants to do is sleep, and Haruka's attempts to think of ways to make studying more interesting for her friend soon turn into fantasies that would only make things more exciting for her.

Although I'm not sure how much longer Sakura Trick's obsession with bringing girls kissing into everything can last without getting tiresome, this second episode of the series continues to be an enjoyable slice of light-hearted fun - there are a decent number of funny gags and amusing moments scattered throughout, the presentation remains eye-catching (I promise I'm not going to harp on about Hidamari Sketch again) and the cast are likeable enough to carry it along as it goes.  This kind of comedy is always hit and miss at the best of times, but Sakura Trick is at least hitting the mark consistently enough to suggest it'll last the course.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Nisekoi - Episode 2

Pretending to be somebody's boyfriend is never likely to be much fun, and this applies even more so if the girl in question is part of a family of gangsters, even if you are part of a Yakuza family yourself.

With Raku and Kirisaki's fake relationship the only barrier likely to prevent an all-out war between these two rival factions however, it seems that there's little choice than to go along with the whole crazy scheme, and given that all of those involved on both sides of the issue turn up mere seconds after having this grand plan sprung on them our two youngsters have little choice than to throw themselves into playing the part, lest they otherwise be thrown off the nearest bridge wearing concrete boots.

Having dodged that initial bullet, any hope that things might settle down are dashed by Kirisaki's bodyguard Claude, who insists that his mistress really shouldn't be going out on a date with her beloved boyfriend of a weekend.  So it goes that Raku and Kirisaki try to fathom out dating etiquette with a bunch of thugs watching their every move from the shadows - as dates go it's largely disastrous, but Raku's attempt to save Kirisaki from a group of delinquents does at least net him some bonus points.  If playing the lovey-dovey couple is acceptable to Raku however, playing this role in front of his beloved Onodera is another matter entirely, which threatens to wreck the whole thing were it not for Chitoge's intervention.    Then again, it seems that Onodera has some secrets of her own that she's been keeping quiet about...

Having done a decent enough job of setting things up in its first episode, this second instalment of Nisekoi pretty much nailed its subject matter - this isn't exactly the most original of romantic comedies in its setup or the way it goes about its business, but it is a lot of fun in its original manga form and that sense of bright and breezy entertainment revolving around a surprisingly likeable main trio is carried off as well as you could hope for here.  Even SHAFT's traditional quirks seemed to fit better into the series here than they did last week, which also assuages my worries that it might become overbearing - if Nisekoi can continue in this vein then it should be one of my go-to slices of simple entertainment for the winter.

World Conquest Zvezda Plot - Episode 2

It's the morning after the decidedly crazy night before, but everything seems to have returned to normal for Asuta, meaning a day of school and what looks set to be another evening of worrying about where he's actually going to live, homeless as he is.

Such concerns are soon interrupted by what looks like a familiar face at the school gate - a face that he really didn't want to see again.  Despite his best efforts to make good his escape, Itsuka Shikabane isn't going to let her prey escape that easily, and before he knows it Jimon is dragged off to become part of Zvezda - something he could really do without, although conversely he has no qualms at the thought of them providing him with food.

Thus, Asuta is taken to the society's top secret headquarters (so top secret it has their name on the door), where he meets a number of weird and wonderful characters including a robot that speaks like a 56k modem and the little critters responsible for the monstrosity which surfaced in the opening episode.  At both the head of the dinner table and the organisation is, of course, Kate Hoshimiya, although it seems that Asuta has picked a bad day to swing by for dinner as it's Itsuka's turn to cook - an unforgettable experience so bad that it almost leads to the discovery of Zvezda headquarters by the society's arch-nemesis.

Having been left a little nonplussed by the opening episode of World Conquest Zvezda Plot, I was rather excited to see everything seemingly coming together nicely during the first half of this episode as it introduced some of its characters properly and seemed to start setting things up in an entertaining and competent fashion.  Sadly, the wheels seemed to fall off at the episode's midway point, leaving its second half feeling like a jumbled, disjointed and rushed mess that was as baffling as it was unfunny.  It's another unwelcome suggestion that this is a series that prioritises weirdness over telling a good or otherwise fun story, and I'm beginning to suspect that World Conquest Zvezda Plot could be showing signs of becoming the winter's big disappointment.  It's still early days though, and part of this episode showed promise, so I'd lvoe to be proven wrong.

Space Brothers - Episode 90

The all-important next stage of Mutta's training is about to begin, but for today all eyes are focused on brother Hibito, and his own all-important test to prove that he's once again ready to journey into space.

As was alluded to last week, this underwater test for Hibito whilst wearing a full spacesuit isn't going to be quite as simple as it otherwise would be, with Butler keen to ensure that Hibito really is ready to return to action by simulating the kind of incident which would most likely see his panic disorder make an unwelcome return.  Having successfully made it to the bottom of the testing pool and walked around underwater without a hitch, it doesn't take Hibito long to realise that the warning he receives of increasing carbon dioxide levels are a "green card" designed to test his reaction to such an incident.

However, what neither Hibito nor Butler anticipated was a second warning that the carbon dioxide readout was malfunctioning, and this additional pressure upon Hibito in the situation sends his pulse soaring and the first signs of panic beginning to set in.  As the person responsible for adding this extra twist to proceedings without the agreement of his superior takes his leave in the assumption that he's proved his point about Hibito's suitability, Hibito himself is saved somewhat by a rather hefty lucky charm provided to him by none other than Mutta.

Given its importance in the grand scheme of things, it wasn't too tricky for this week's Space Brothers to ramp up the tension surrounding Hibito's test, throwing in some curveballs that we knew would be coming but made for some nervous moments nonetheless.  All of this contributed towards a simple but effective episode, that has also chosen to leave us hanging for its conclusion until next week, preferring unstead to spend its final moments on the return of the still-unfunny Mr. Hibbit.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 2

The Wake Up, Girls have themselves a new producer, and it seems that there are going to be some fundamental changes as a result.

And by that, I mean fundamental clothing changes.  It seems that Sudo operates a strict "swimsuits only" policy when it comes to idols in his charge, and before we know it the group are booked to perform at a health club in the kind of getup that only Super Sonico would wear without shame.  Inevitably, the customers at this live performance are less interesting in the music and more interested in the... visual aspects of the performance, in perhaps some of the most creepy exploitation of an idol since Perfect Blue.

Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if this was the end of things but no, Sudo seems to have signed the group into a whole chain of ever-more cringe-inducing performances at the club, all of which involve swimsuits and leering men.  Once it comes time to play the King's Game, things quickly boil over to the point where Miyu ups and walks out on both the event and the group.  With company president Tange returning out of the blue, this phase of the Wake Up, Girls' career seems to be over as quickly as it's become, but it's still uncertain whether Miyu will return until her fans back at the Maid Cafe help her to come to a decision.

Having tried to walk the line between fan service and admonishing the viewer for taking any interest in said fan service in an unconvincing way, this week's Wake Up Girls perhaps did a better (although equally forced) job of making its point.  Watching the girls performing, posing, getting groped and generally treated like pieces of meat in swimsuits was hugely uncomfortable viewing, and Sudo's point that this is effectively no different to a gravure photo shoot drove the point that the episode was trying to make home unquestionably.  The biggest hole in the show's efforts (ignoring some moments of terrible animation) along these lines are still its flat, bland characters that don't evoke empathy aside from in the broadest terms - again, perhaps this is one of the points the show is trying to make about idol culture, but it still deadens some of the impact that the events shown here could have had when you can't even remember most of the cast's names.  Perhaps this will come in time, but having absolutely nailed its colours to the wall this week, there's no doubt that I'm very interested to see where Wake Up, Girls intends to take its story next.

Golden Time - Episode 14

We're fourteen episodes into Golden Time now, and Koko remains as paranoid as ever, although for once this paranoia actually results in some desirable results.

Having heard on the grapevine that Mitsuo might have himself a girlfriend, it seems safe to assume that the girl in question might be Chinami - a prospect that leads to Koko, Tada and Takaya heading off to do a little spying on Chinami's house to get to the bottom of things.  The trouble is, Mitsuo is nowhere to be found and Oka herself is simply having a lazy day, proving that Kaga's predictions were way off base.

The good that comes out of this series of events is that Oka has been left alone in her house as her parents have moved out, and rather than endure a lonely summer it seems perfect to invite her on the beach trip that the others thought was off the cards.  The bright mood which ensues from this threatens to be destroyed when the group spots Mitsuo and Linda out together, causing some conflicted emotions for both Banri and Oka.  Following this, and as the beach trip draws closer, it's time for Oka and Koko to get together for some all-important strategic planning around choices of swimsuit - a decision-making process that leads to some in-depth discussion about the state of Koko and Tada's relationship, and more importantly the former's concerns about the latter's feelings for her.

This heart-to-heart discussion between Chinami and Kaga actually made for a really great episode - for all of their earlier differences the two characters have a great rapport that is enjoyable to watch, and it's actually nice to see two female characters in a romantic comedy being friends rather than constantly being at each other's throats as is normally the case (even for earlier episodes in this very same serious!).  The series as a whole still doesn't have the kind of week to week impact that I'd like it to, but it continues to serve up enough interesting fare to make for a worthwhile watch each week even if it's stumbling in its attempts to reach any dramatic heights.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 13

The Four Kings have become the Sixty-Four War Gods... but just how deep does the From Beyond rabbit hole go?

Well, how about over 65,000 potential enemies for the Flamen Rangers to face?  As if the thought of taking on this many enemies one by one isn't bad enough, suspicions begin to grow that From Beyond is, in fact, planning to launch an all-out attack using all of their forces - an attack that even our group of heroes would have no hope of preventing.

As this possibility becomes a distinct reality, the news is delivered to the Prime Minister, who demands that nothing is done and no public announcement is made until the government, their families and other important persons are evacuated to safety.  In return, each of the Flamen Rangers are allowed to choose five people to be prioritized for the evacuation - a simple requirement for some, but not for Hazama, whose sense of justice means that he can't simply pick and choose who to save.  As the situation gets ever more dire, can this very same sense of justice really follow the demands of the Prime Minister and keep the impending invasion quiet from the populace at large?

Aside from a couple of moments of comedy (that I assume were intentional in the kind of goofy way in which this show seems to revel) things have certainly taken a serious turn in this week's Samurai Flamenco, and I'm not sure it's a tone that suits the series at this point - whatever it's trying to say about self-serving politicians barely needs to be said, and Hazama's moping and worries don't really cohere into a particularly compelling piece of the narrative.  Perhaps the fallout of his actions at the end of the episode will give the current storyline the injection it needs, but taken in isolation this feels like the weakest instalment of the series so far, as it threatens to lose sight of the knowing, self-referential comedy that has made things so entertaining up to this point.

Kill la Kill - Episode 14

An attack by Harime and Satsuki's latest devious plot have, quite literally, stripped Ryuko of Senketsu, leaving her for dead clutching what turns out to be the last remaining essence of her Kamui's life.

Luckily for her, Mikisugi is again on-hand to pluck Matoi to safety before it's too late, meaning that she can live to fight again another day... and fight she will, Kamui or not, as she sets off on a motorcycle to retrive the various pieces of Senketsu that have been spread across Kiryuin's minions in an effort to power them up to play their part in the Tri-City School Raid Trip.

It's this raid on rival schools in Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto that takes up the mainstay of the episode - Honnouji's students might have some substantial power in their hands, but these other institutions are no slouches either with their own selection of weird and wonderful hardware, be it weapons that literally shoot money or tanks armour-plated with Kobe beef to create the world's most delicious tank.  Of course, while all of this is going, Mako makes a detour from her duties in Osaka to do a little sightseeing and enjoying of the local delicacies, while eventually Ryuko catches up to prove her abilities have improved even without Senketsu's power to bolster her.  With almost all of Senketsu's missing "body" reclaimed, only one piece remains... no prizes for guessing who is in possession of that particular item, though.

If I've perhaps been a little reserved in my praise for Kill la Kill at times, I'm not going to go down that road this week - this episode was amazing.  In a sense, it feels like the fullest use of the show's lunacy by taking it outside of its normal confines and showing that, in Kill la Kill's word, everywhere is bonkers.  Every scene was played perfectly for either overblown action or comedy, Mako's comic turn in particular was joyous, and Ryuko's brief, understated part to play in proceedings only added to her character.  In short, this was a great distillation of, and arguably even improvement upon, some of the things that have captured the imaginations of so many within this series.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 2

He still hasn't got to the bottom of what's bugging Mikage, but there are other issues to occupy Hachiken's mind for the duration of this second episode of Silver Spoon's second season.

Most notably, a routine chore of cleaning up the rubbish which has been dumped around the establishment's field brings about a surprising discovery - a stray puppy.  While everybody fawns over the little critter, Hachiken instantly decides that he's going to look after it, before realising that he's going to have to get permission to allow it to stay at the equestrian club's stables... permission that's granted with surprising each.  Having never owned a dog before, Hachiken continues to wing his training of "Vice Prez" (as the dog quickly becomes known, to both the delight and horror of actual club vice-president, Hachiken himself), from figuring out how to afford food and vaccines through to training it.

Of course, university life continues alongside all of this, with excitement building for many (albeit not our protagonist) about the forthcoming school festival - a prospect that can't be overshadowed, even while dissecting chickens or learning the finer points of how to shove your arm up a cow's backside.  It's in the midst of the latter lesson that Hachiken's selfishness again comes back to bit him, as his attempt to save Kobama from a falling cow only lands him with an injury himself.

After providing some deeper and potentially darker points to consider upon the first episode of its return, this week's Silver Spoon chose instead to focus upon much lighter fare, doing a little more to cement Hachiken's character (if it were needed) while playing its content for laughs.  Thankfully, this is something that the series continues to do incredibly well, making full use of the more absurd points of life on a farm and somehow even making its silliest jokes stick.  Clearly, Mikage's troubles haven't gone away though, so there's certainly still some narrative backbone to keep the early efforts of this second season afloat, and after a hugely entertaining slice of fun I feel like I'm ready to dig into that particular story further.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 15

The reemergence of Hikari from the depths of the sea after five years might not, in itself, be a massive surprise - however, the fact that he hasn't aged a day since the Ofunehiki all those years previously is a decidedly larger shock to the system.

As a result, this week's episode is really all about dealing with the psychological fallout from that shock - although Hikari seems to be in high spirits and taking everything in his stride as he meets old friends and finds them desperate to help him catch up on everything that he's missed, in truth he's terrified by all of the change that he sees everywhere around him and wants only to shrink from it.  This is, of course, exacerbated by his final memories of Manaka from that night, and his concerns about what fate may have befallen her.

Meanwhile, we see two very different reactions to Hikari's return from Miuna and Chisaki.  In the former's case, she's quietly thrilled that the boy she fell for has returned, and what's more than she's now the same age as him; on the other hand, Chisaki is so scared by how Hikari might perceive her older self that she daren't even visit her old returning friend.  Ultimately, both characters inadvertently come to realise their own unique brands of selfishness - Miuna comes to understand Hikari's terror at being the only one stood still in a hugely changed world, while Chisaki's worries are assuaged somewhat when she does finally meet Hikari.  For his part, it's meeting Chisaki that finally gives Hikari the confidence to step forth and embrace his new present, perhaps unaware of the feeling of others swirling around him.

Having done a good job of setting up its post-time skip world last week, this latest instalment of Nagi no Asukara absolutely nailed its tone and content - Chisaki and Miuna's contrasting attitudes, coupled with Hikari's false bravado, all made for fascinating character studies in their own right, and once they were all brought together the perfectly delivered emotional fireworks which resulted were truly affecting.  It seems as if this series has plenty going for it to sustain its second half, and from being a series that I've quietly enjoyed throughout it feels like Nagi no Asukara is suddenly reaching into the stratosphere with its ideas and story-telling.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 2

It isn't exactly breaking news that Yuuta and Rikka's relationship is a long way from "normal", living together or otherwise - however, Nibutani seems to have rather overestimated the pair's romantic leanings as she proves to be determined to find out about their lovey-dovey domestic life.

With a little prodding and provocation, Nibutani has managed to persuade both Kumin and Dekomori to join her on a little spying session to see what happens between Yuuta and Rikka when they're alone together.  The answer is a depressingly obvious one - Rikka remains mired in her fantasy world most of the time, while Yuuta spends most of his time trying to steer his girlfriend in the right direction to keep her on track in reality.  Such is Nibutani's alarm at this situation that she pulls Yuuta aside and points him in the direction of "professional" help, in the form of a girl named Kannagi who purports to be the school's expert in love.

As far as Kannagi is concerned, there's a simple solution to this problem - Yuuta needs to make the first move and take Rikka out on a date, and before he knows it she's nabbed his phone and sent the invitation herself via e-mail.  So it goes that the pair set out for a date to the local aquarium - a day out which Rikka loves every minute of, and our leading couple even get to hold hands for a while.  However, Rikka confesses that she still has absolutely no clue as to what this whole love business is all about, and such is the extent of her concerns that Yuuta tells her - chuunibyou-style, of course - that she really shouldn't worry about it and just carry on as normal.  But has a threat to Rikka's status with Yuuta just appeared?

Having broadly enjoyed this episode (as I did last week's instalment to a similar degree), I can't help but wonder if this series would actually be better without the "chuunibyou aspect" at its heart at this point - Rikka's relative childishness and clueless behaviour works fine at this point without the irritating delusion aspect of her personality to prop it up, and I continue to find myself cringing whenever it crops up.  Beyond that, this was rather a sweet little episode with a few decent funny moments to stand up against some of the more entertaining episodes from the first series.  I realise it's unreasonable for Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions to lose two-thirds of the elements in its title so I'm clearly shouting into the wind here, but perhaps even a toning down of Rikka's personality would quash my continued reservations about that aspect of the show.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 2

All of the stars of the national mahjong tournament, from maids to... well, girls who aren't maids, are gathered ready for its start.  The tacos are heated, Kiyosumi have received a video from members of their school wishing them good luck, so it's time to....

...spend an episode or two on a training camp.  Kiyosumi's finest are joined by the teams of a number of other schools, including Ryuumonbuchi, to hone their skills in preparation for the challenges to come.  Indeed, with so many powerful players in one place, it seems that this heady mix of skills is having quite the effect on Touka and her already monstrous powers, leading to her destroying all before her for a few practice games before passing out under the strain.

In-between all of the time spent in the bath and playing mahjong, Saki is certainly hyped up and ready for the tournament itself, and given that her sister is in the other half of the competition's bracket she's going to have to make it all the way to the final to have a hope of meeting her.  That's a story for another day however, as the training camp is also visited by some former middle school team-mates of Nodoka, one of whom in particular is about to prove a fascinating challenge for some of Kiyosumi's number.

By this point in the franchise, I don't think it's any big secret that the quality of any given episode of Saki is directly proportional to the amount of mahjong contained within it - an equation that means this was another not particularly exciting episode of The Nationals that seems Hell-bent on continuing to remind us who a number of the major characters and their traits are rather than simply getting on with the tournament.  Maybe we can hope on some more interesting practice games from next week's episode before diving into the national tournament proper; my fingers are certainly crossed, otherwise it's going to be another long slog before we get to "the good bit".

Wizard Barristers - Episode 1

In a world where magic and those able to use it (known as Wud) are relatively commonplace, you need some kind of legal system in place to deal with those who abuse their powers.  Abuse such as blowing up a train and a helicopter to avoid police pursuit, for example.

As part of that legal process, those charged with committing crimes using their magic need some kind of representation - enter the Wizard Barristers of the show's title, who are tasked with defending those accused of misuse of their powers.  In particular, our interest lies with one particularly special barrister - seventeen year-old Cecil Sudo, the youngest of her kind and the newest employee of Butterfly Law Offices.

Before she's even arrived for her first day, Cecil finds herself caught up in work, attending the aftermath of a bank robbery that she just so happens to stumble upon and taking on the case of a bystander who has been arrested for murdering one of the robbers during the incident.  Convinced that this man's behaviour is no more than self-defence, Cecil immediately takes on his case, which seems more complicated than it first appears - then again, it seems that Cecil has no shortage of difficulties in her life, even she is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to using magic herself.

If you want to impress somebody in the first couple of minutes of your new, original series, then Wizard Barristers certainly knows how to get it done - by blowing shit up in spectacular fashion.  Indeed, this first episode has a handful of big action set pieces to impress with as it builds its world and, ultimately, reveals Cecil's powers.  Thankfully there's also a little more to this opener than merely big explosions - the prospect of a police procedural of sorts set in a world of magic is a tantalising one and Cecil's character works pretty well even if it feels the need to slot her into some well-worn anime tropes.  My biggest concern is that this first instalment arguably moves too quickly - things progress at a break-neck pace without any time to soak in what's happening and enjoy the peeling back of layers of the story.  Perhaps this is simply because there's a lot to pt together in this first episode, so hopefully it'll smooth this out as it progresses, but beyond that even if Wizard Barristers can just throw in a spectacular action set piece or two every week it might justify the price of entry without providing anything more substantial.

Space☆Dandy - Episode 2

The entire crew may have died at the end of the first episode but pay that no heed - Space Dandy is back for more and its titular bounty hunter and friends are very much alive and kicking.

The same can't really be said for their work however - times are tough in the alien hunting business, with rare species incredibly hard to come across, and anything that Dandy has managed to capture proves to be anything but rare.  With Meow eating him out of ship and home to boot, things couldn't get much worse, and when he takes Dandy's much-anticipated ramen for himself Dandy snaps and tries to flush him out of the nearest airlock.

It's a decision that it only rescinded when Meow mentions another incredibly rare alien of which he might have knowledge - or, more to the point, a particularly unique brand of ramen that is believed to be created by an alien.  Thus, the crew head off to sample the delicacies of as many ramen shops as possible in the hunt for this unusual flavour, absolutely oblivious to the fact that Dandy is still being hunted himself, aided inadvertently by Meow's over-eager use of Twitter.  It's an adventure that ultimately takes them into an alternate dimension, and an emotional tale of an alien's fall from grace.

Two episodes in, I'm still not too sure what to make of Space Dandy - it's certainly a visual feast that is worth checking out for its animation and visuals alone, a colourful and fluid affair that matches the show's particular brand of insanity perfectly.  That insanity itself is harder to pin down though - the show's comedy frequently lacks punch (made up for only slightly by its charm), and its story meanders in a not especially satisfying way from setup to conclusion.  It certainly has its moments, and bouts of self-referential fourth wall breaking help along those lines, but there remains a lingering feeling that the show needs some focus to really find its feet - focus that it certainly has the potential to grasp, if it so chooses.  For now though, Space Dandy is perhaps a little more fun to watch than it has any right to be, but not as fun to watch as I hoped (perhaps even assumed) that it would be.