Friday, 28 February 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 8

Now that their group is whole again following their tough times revolving around Airi, the pressure is quickly piled on the Wake Up Girls once again as not only are they entered into a competitive idol festival, but also asked to learn a brand new song and dance routine for the event.

With Hayasaku's work with the unit now common knowledge, even amongst all and sundry within I-1 Club (who are themselves working hard to ensure they aren't bested even if they aren't explicitly competing at the festival), that pressure is only intensified.  In fact, this state of affairs is only ramped up further because of the continued interest in Mayu's place as the group's centre, leading the media to speculate that the Wake Up Girls may be the festival's dark horse while I-1 Club's current centre sees fit to meet Mayu personally to give her some needle about the need for her to compete against what I-1 has to offer.

All of this pressure inevitably builds as the girls rehearse and get their hopes up, only to have them dashed by Hayasaku who suggests that they are neither working hard nor long enough, echoing Mayu's own suggestions that they aren't putting in anywhere near as much effort as she's used to from her time at I-1 Club.  These constant references to her former group eventually irks some of the others, and leader Yoppi in particular, bringing about more rows and retributions - not the best festival preparation, particularly considering that one of their number is already all set to leave to take a different career path.

Its characters are still bland and its animation on a downwards slide, but it is at least still somewhat refreshing to see an idol group having to suffer for their art rather than everything being easy peasy from the outset.  This state of affairs does threaten to become both repetitive and frustrating thanks to a lack of traction in terms of the group's ability, but perhaps the festival will be a turning point that will make it all worthwhile in terms of character and story-building.  Then again, I've been hoping for that for a while now with no real improvement in sight, so maybe it's merely wishful thinking on my part.

Kill la Kill - Episode 20

Now that we now know the full truth about Ryuko, her origin and true nature, there's even more reason to detest Ragyo and everything that she stands for.

Although Nudist Beach, the Elite Four and Ryuko are united in their acknowledgment that Ragyo must be stopped, our protagonist couldn't be much more distant from the others as she finds herself entirely consumed by self-loathing, shunning Senketsu and even ignoring the advice of Mako in her determination to go it alone - after all, as far as she's concerned, she is entirely alone at this point.  While she heads off to Honnouji Academy without a second thought, everyone else takes a more considered approach to how they should tackle Ragyo and her army of clothing, ostensibly with a view towards rescuing Satsuki as their new final hope of victory.

Luckily for Nudist Beach, they just so happen to have a state of the art battleship on-hand, and once it becomes clear from a little spying that Satsuki is up to something the Elite Four are keen to return to the Academy themselves to rescue their mistress and, just maybe, turn the tide in their favour.  Meanwhile, Ryuko's main goal is simply to wreak havoc and kill Ragyo, something that proves easier said than done on two counts - firstly, Nui Harime is again on-hand to make herself a nuisance, while Ragyo herself has designs upon outfitting Ryuko with a new garment... new to her at least, in the form of Junketsu.  Has our heroine now been turned into a villain?

The biggest problem with Kill la Kill is that such is the incredible strength of its recent episodes that anything even slightly lesser feels like a disappointment.  On account of this, the first half of this week's episode feels a little predictable - neatly delivered with its usual flourishes, but not a provider of the kind of breathless wonder we've been spoiled by of late.  Boy does the second half of the episode make up for it though, with a blitz of action with a few twists here and there, that sets up a conceit for the next episode that is again predictable, but in the best possible way by once again leaning on the strongest rivalry in the entire series.  As always, next week can't come fast enough.

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 18

Another layer of Samurai Flamenco's world has been peeled away thanks to his latest victory, only to reveal... Alien Flamenco!

Although the populace of Japan - or at least Mari - seems to be growing rather bored of the constant bombastic, booming pronouncements of doom and pending invasion, it's nonetheless up to Hazama to face this new threat as he and his comrades find themselves beamed into a virtual representation of this alien race's world.  Alien Flamenco, however, wants to speak to Samurai Flamenco alone, and it's here that their plan is revealed - they don't want to take over the Earth, but to assimilate humanity in the name of evolution and universal peace.

Tempting though that may sound (well, not really), Hazama is having none of it, and even though he can't explain why he's adamant that no such thing will happen on his watch.  Of course, this rather irritates Mr. Alien Flamenco, who turns into a giant and tried to stomp Samurai Flamenco.  Who then also turns into a giant.  And gets punched to the Moon.  After flinging Alien Flamenco into space, it's time for Hazama to learn the truth of the world - everything he has experienced is indeed real, albeit brought about to satisfy his lust for justice, and his choice is to continue fighting or return to a quiet reality, while his achievements will be chronicled as video entertainment for those in parallel universes to wonder at as though it was fiction.

Although I now have no idea how it's going to fill its final episodes, this week's Samurai Flamenco was another slice of comedy genius - utterly silly in so many ways, but played with its traditional straight bat and with the added frisson of explaining away how its adventures tie into all of the shows and genres its parodied over the past few months.  It's really the laundry list of great one-liners that make the show what it is much of the time, knowing just when to throw a ludicrous proclamation or monologue into the mix in a way which parrots the subjects of its loving piss-take while still showing a keen eye for comedy.  It's still divisive amongst those who yearn for its "realistic" early episodes, but I can't think of another series that's made me laugh so loud, so often in recent times.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 8

Things have changed in the clubroom during the duration of Yuuta and Rikka's school trip, but if this isn't evidence of some kind of seismic shift in the universe itself then perhaps Dekomori's getup and behaviour is.

Following on from that whole Mori Summer web site incident during the aforementioned field trip, it seems that Dekomori has gone further down the path of getting to know this (supposedly "real") Mori Summer, and her garb and behaviour is on account of the fact that they're about to meet.  Despite Nibutani's desire to shed this delusional image of herself, she isn't ready to give up that name to an imposter just yet it seems, leading to her following Dekomori to see what this fake is all about.

To give this Mori Summer some credit she certainly looks and sounds the part, and having destroyed all evidence of her past life there's not a lot that Nibutani can do to prove that it's her whose the real deal.  However, something is decidedly fishy about this new Mori Summer, and even Dekomori - for all of her loud proclamations - seems to be desperate for Nibutani to do a little more to fight her corner.  Eventually, and thanks to some foresight on Kumin's part, Nibutani is persuaded to fight - not so much for her namesake as for the good of Dekomori, as Kumin's suspicions about the true intentions of this Mori Summer prove to be well-founded.

Predictable though it might have been, this was still a reasonably fun episode of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions - the relationship between Dekomori and Nibutani was pretty well played throughout, there was a funny line or two to be enjoyed and its ending was oddly sweet in a way.  There's still a certain suspicion that the series is continuing to spin its wheels with no real ultimate end goals in sight, but this was at least some enjoyable fare in what has been a rather scatter-shot second season so far overall.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Golden Time - Episode 20

Thanks to his discussion with Linda regarding her feelings for Mitsuo, it seems that Banri has landed himself in the doghouse with Chinami for reasons that he can't quite fathom.

Still, at least all is still going well between him and Koko, even if Tada continues to be unsure of what to do about giving her his mother's ring, and of course even when he does manage to be decisive in that regard it just so happens to be the one opportunity where he's forgotten to bring it with him.  Things are certainly going better here than they are for Mitsuo however, as his efforts at the festival club still fall flat in terms of any hope of getting some kind of audience with Linda.

There isn't much time for talk of leisure of any kind however for our main couple, as another festival wings their way to demand their full attentions.  On the big day and the commencement of the event itself however, Banri finds himself assuaged by moments of sheer terror as his own memories are replaced by those immediately before his accident, leaving him confused and frightened until, slowly, his current memories return.

This week's Golden Time didn't delve instantly into some of the territory I thought it would, but it still had some enjoyable fare to offer up - having Chinami simply avoid Banri or talking about him feels a whole lot more realistic than delving into instant resolutions for their particular conflict, and Banri's confusion as to what giving Koko a ring might mean to her served as a fun and entirely believable show of his naivete.  I'm not too sure what to make of the end of this episode and Banri's memory crisis, but if it's handled well then it could make for some interesting stuff moving forward when mixed in with what is going on elsewhere, so overall even an episode such as this which was relatively quiet until its final goings-on was still enjoyable.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 7

Hachiken hasn't quite recovered from either his exhaustion or the frustration of missing out on the school festival, but there's little time to dwell on such things as normal school life returns with a vengeance.

There is, however, one other thing that Hachiken has to worry about - whether his "date" with Mikage is off the cards after his school festival collapse.  Luckily for him the answer is no, it very much isn't, and when a free afternoon off normal equestrian club duties rears its head it seems like the perfect opportunity to make the most of this rare event and pounce on this chance for the two of them to spend some time alone together.  The trouble is, Hachiken's choice of venue and timing happens to coincide with the rest of the equestrian club, making the whole thing decidedly un-date-like despite the best efforts of others.

While all of this is going on, a significant distraction to normal studies is taking place, as the school's baseball team - with Komaba as star pitches tasked with closing out games - fight for a place at the Nationals.  As the team progresses through the tournament in impressive fashion, so confidence amongst those playing and simply watching on the sidelines increase... but perhaps that confidence can too easily turn to over-confidence, as the semi-finals see their dream shattered at the last.  Perhaps now we can start to learn what secret is binding Mikage and Komaba...

Perhaps one of the great joys of this second season of Silver Spoon is how varied its story-telling has managed to be - as well as mining typical fare like school festivals with aplomb, this week saw the series practically turn into a baseball anime for a big chunk of the episode, which it did to great effect.  Alongside this, I'm really enjoying the rapport between Hachiken and Mikage, which feels utterly natural at this point, and with the promise of delving deeper into what's going on in the latter's head soon there could be some more top-notch material still to come by the look of things.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 21

The last of Shioshishio's group of friends has now awoken from her slumber - so now what for all of those concerned?

Compared to the feelings of confusion, ennui and the like felt by the others who awoke from their five year sleep, Manaka really doesn't seem fazed by how things have changed at all - far from it in fact, she revels in every little difference she encounters, even if most of them are "snow" or "more snow".  Of course, the same can't be said for others who are facing up to Manaka's return - Miuna continues to be torn but copes with the situation gracefully, whereas Chisaki seems to be struggling massively with how to respond to the return of not just a friend, but perhaps more pressingly also a love rival.

Despite those initial impressions, it still seems as if something if bugging Manaka, as we later see her spaced out and in a world of her own.  Besides which, are her memories of the Ofunehiki and the time directly surrounding it really as hazy as she makes out, or is she simply avoiding any difficult issues?  Such questions may need to be put on hold, as Tsumugu's continuing research and his plan to start drawing up his ultimate findings seemingly makes him the target of Uroko's rather unique idea of how to curse someone.

As has been the case quite often with this series of late, there's a lot to be enjoyed from the subtlety of Nagi no Asukara's story-telling - now that we know all of the intricacies of this tangled web of relationships, we can understand a lot simply from body language or what a given character doesn't say, without them needing to verbalise their every thought or feeling.  This turns to intrigue when we take a look at Manaka, whose straightforward nature belies her own worries and issues that she has to get to grips with, and coupled with some further turns into the wider story of what is going on in this world there's once again plenty for us to get our teeth into over the coming weeks.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 7

It's been a fraught start for Hisa in her own national tournament campaign, but now that she's settled down and gotten her feet under the table things are beginning to shift, if only a little, in her favour.

Given the quality of the opposition on show, even her abilities and patented technique of using bad waits isn't going to power her into the lead however, and with Hiroe once again taking the lead by posting up a positive score to take Himematsu to the top of the match's leader-board all Hisa can really do is end on a high note with a solid hand to ensure that Kiyosumi go into the fourth match of the game in second place.

From here, it's time to pass the baton on to the famous Nodoka Haramura, although she too has some fearsome opposition to face off against, from Eisui's Hatsumi Usuzumi - who literally teleports into the arena, much to Nodoka's terror - through to monocle-sporting Sae Usuzawa, and of course not forgetting Hiroe's sister Kinue.  While she normally takes a whole to "warm up", Nodoka shows no intentions of wasting any time here and slips straight into her terrifying "Nodocchi" phase... but is this enough to counter the immense and quite literally God-like power of Hatsumi?

Unlike Haramura, I'm not yet in my own fully-fledged Saki "zone" - I'm not yet sat on the edge of my seat gripping the armrests on account of the tension - but there was some fun to be had from this week's episode as it ramps up its characters to ever-more bizarre levels, from monocles through to teleportation.  This should be the point where the actual action at the table should start ramping up significantly, so I'm hoping that this is the point where my enjoyment of the series is completely rekindled rather than just reveling in one or two of its dafter moments.

Wizard Barristers - Episode 7

We head off to Boston for this week's Wizard Barristers, as Cecil and company do a little international training and swapping of advice between law offices in Japan and the US.

With this training completed in short measure and with time still to spare, it's suggested that perhaps Cecil should make a "quick" trip over to Canada to visit her father - something that she's incredibly keen to do, but has neither the money nor the plan tickets to carry out.  There's a simple solution to this problem however, as Hotaru is volunteered to hire a car and accompany her on the long drive from Boston to Canada.

Given the strained relationship between these two girls, it's not a big shock that this doesn't initially prove to be the most enjoyable road trip of all time, with Hotaru's temper never far from fraying and issues with the car breaking down and petrol-buying difficulties only adding to the tension in the car.  It takes a third party to truly break this cold war, and that saviour comes via a hitchhiker who just happens to be both female and a would-be wizard barrister herself - with this friendly girl in tow, both Cecil and Hotaru find themselves opening up to one another, before ending up embroiled in some more criminal activity as a meal in a diner goes awry.

I imagine it'll go on to rack up a lot of its major coincidences as part of the conspiracy surrounding Cecil (at least, I hope it does), but that doesn't really stop this week's Wizard Barristers from being... well, pretty dumb.  Admittedly it was about time Hotaru's character was broken down a little and brought closer to Cecil - there's only so much you can do with her being constantly miserable, after all - but that aside this week's episode was a lot of setup with next to no payoff, which left the whole thing feeling like a bit of a waste of time.  Perhaps next week's episode has enough in store to restore the current imbalance, but after last week's equally lacking effort I'm starting to wonder if Wizard Barristers is losing its magic.

Space☆Dandy - Episode 8

Dr. Gel has himself a rather nifty tracking device - so nifty that it'll even play music while it's going about its business.  Every silver lining has a cloud however... said device also inexplicably fires missiles when its music playback is activated.

Meanwhile, Dandy and company have found themselves exploring a planet made entirely of junk - let's just call it Junkion and start pretending that Space Dandy inhabits the same universe as Transformers - a place which has supposedly not been visited before and so must surely be inhabited by an undiscovered species of alien, right?  Well, there's certainly something on the planet... an elderly dog that enjoys the final flourishes of its life as the subject of Dandy's adoration.

With said dog's passing, little does the Aloha Oe's crew realise that this mutt played host to exactly the kind of rare species that Dandy was looking for - a pair of brothers who are, to all intents and purposes, fleas.  Once it becomes evident that these parasites are now on board Dandy's ship, chaos ensues, leading to the death of one of the brothers at the hands of Dandy's comb which in turn sees the other try to avenge his fate by taking over QT.  By the end of this skirmish, yet another planet has been destroyed, and poor Dr. Gel has once again seen his plan to capture Dandy thwarted.

It's a little difficult to balance my thoughts on this week's Space Dandy - in a sense it felt rushed, as it didn't have sufficient time to really build much emotion into the life and death of its brief canine star, and the aliens at the centre of the episode also played a role that wasn't exploited as fully as you might have expected.  Then again, the subject matter of the episode certainly wouldn't justify filling a longer running time, so it makes sense to limit it to its twenty minutes or so of fame, and there were some great laugh out loud moments scattered throughout the episode.  Not enough to make this one of Space Dandy's better episodes, admittedly, but it did make for a slightly sharper comedy turn than the past couple of instalments as the show sticks doggedly (do you see what I did there?) to its standalone format.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Nisekoi - Episode 7

There's a new transfer student in class, and one that has gotten jaws wagging - certainly, the female body of students can't help but show more than a passing interest in the introduction of the decidedly dish Seishirou Tsumugi.

What's more, it seems that Tsumugi has a long history with Kirisaki, explaining that they were childhood friends who haven't seen one another in quite a while.  Certainly, Tsumugi is beyond doting towards Chitoge, and shows more than a passing interesting in her relationship with Raku - indeed, while Tsumugi's public words are laced with praise for him in private things couldn't be more different.

With Ichijou trying his best to stay "in character" as Kirisaki's boyfriend, he inadvertently riles Tsumugi further and further as the latter espouses a desire to protect Chitoge no matter what, and the next thing we know the two have agreed to a dual over who gets to keep watch over our favourite blonde tsundere.  If this sounds like the gentlemanly thing to do then think again, as Raku brings absolutely nothing to a gunfight as Tsumugi uses her real role as an expert hit-man to unleash an arsenal of weaponry against Raku.  What our protagonist lakes in brawn he makes up for with brain however, and after luring Tsumugi into an unexpected dip in the school swimming pool we learn why this dual wasn't the least bit gentlemanly - that being because Seishirou isn't actually a gentleman at all.

Another progression in Nisekoi's plot brings with it another slew of anime cliches - yet it remains way more fun to watch than it has any right to be.  For every moment I find myself rolling my eyes at a scene, there are two or three where I laugh, giggle or grin like an idiot at things as they unfold, helped along by SHAFT's colourful and occasionally outright bizarre presentation.  It continues to win no points for originality, but sometimes originality isn't what you need to have fun.

Space Brothers - Episode 95

Now that Eddie Jay is in charge of his backup crew of astronauts, it's clear that a little team-building is essential - so what better way of doing this than letting them talk openly about themselves to the others?

It's Betty who becomes are focus within this activity as her story is clearly the most unique, and also a new one to Mutta.  In short, as well as a prospective astronaut herself Betty is also the wife of Tuck Ravel, one of the three astronauts killed alongside Brian Jay in the re-entry accident which has already had a pivotal role to play in other aspects of the series.  Following this disaster Betty shelved her dreams of reaching the Moon largely so as not to worry her and Tuck's young son, but as his love of space showed no sign of waning even after his father's death she has decided to get back on the proverbial horse and once again plunge into life as an astronaut.

Meanwhile, Vincent Bold continues to be his usual detached and impatient self, while friend and engineer Pico makes a return as he gets to demonstrate a rather innovative new spacecraft design to both main and backup crews on the next lunar mission, in turn fulfilling a promise that both Bold and Pico made to their lost friend.

These two points combined to make this a great example of Space Brothers at its best - even though the crux of Betty's tale was immediately clear from the offset that didn't make it any less heart-rending in both story and execution, and the mixture of stand-out characters and smart engineering ideas depicted in the episode's second half are also one of the things that Space Brothers does incredibly well.  Even though it can misfire on occasion it's efforts like this that serve as a perfect reminder of why I love the series even nearly one hundred episodes down the line, and if it can afford similar treatments (albeit understandably less dramatic) to the rest of Mutta's crew-mates then things are looking up once again.

Sakura Trick - Episode 7

In case you haven't already noticed, Haruka and Yuu will kiss pretty much anywhere - something which threatens to become a problem when they do so while forgetting that Kotone and Shizuku are still in the room!

Having avoided too many awkward questions under the auspices that Haruka was "only trying to undress" Yuu (admittedly not the most helpful of reactions in those circumstances), we can now continue to the culture festival's after-party, which takes place at Kotone's rather luxurious indoor swimming pool.  While the group gets to enjoy the pool and both Haruka and Mitsuki find themselves press-ganged into learning to swim, some unexpected drama appears in the form of Kotone's little sister Shinobu.  Unsurprisingly, she's none too happy that her big sister is now effectively living with Shizuku, especially given that she's apparently engaged, although both Kotone and Shizuku's misery at the prospect of the former being forced to return home is obvious.  Thus, there's only one thing for it - a swimming contest between Shinobu and Shizuku to decide Kotone's future.

With that problem out of the way (while also demonstrating the disadvantages of swimming with a stuffed toy animal on your back), it's a rather less urgent problem that Haruka has to deal with in the second half of this episode - namely, Yuu's desire for a particular scarf, the last of which has been bought by Shizuku.  This calls for a shopping trip and a hunt for a suitable alternative scarf - although perhaps all that's required is to ask an assistant whether they have more stock out back?  Then again, with as fickle a nature as Yuu has maybe another scarf entirely will fit the bill after all.

Having felt a little like my enjoyment of Sakura Trick has run its course after a couple of middling episodes of late, this week's instalment really did the... err, trick... of winning me over again.  Although its drama was resolved incredibly quickly and in an ill-paced fashion, bringing Kotone and Shizuku's relationship into the limelight was a refreshing change from the constant focus on Haruka and Yuu (who, let's face it, have the least complex relationship in the series), which in turn allowed our dose of the show's main pairing to concentrate on some pretty enjoyable humour and sweetness without feeling too much like more of the same.  If Sakura Trick can continue to put sufficient focus into the rest of its cast in this fashion, it stands a far greater chance of keeping things fresh and entertaining, so I'll certainly be hoping for more of the same from the rest of its second half.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 7

At the end of last week's episode, new temporary manager Hayasaku left the girls with a simple choice - cut Airi from the group, or they'll all be fired.  So what will their decision be?

In exactly the kind of display of uncertainty that Hayasaku was expecting, the girls find themselves pondering what to do, with some seriously considering that perhaps Airi should be let go while others are willing to quit.  Eventually, after some heated moments, some semblance of common sense prevails and the group decides to do the right thing - go and persuade Airi to rejoin their number, while similarly persuading Hayasaku that she should be allowed to do so.

While Mayu and Yoppi head to Airi's house, some of the other girls take up their case first with Tange and then with Hayasaku himself, finding him at a local arcade where he sets up a rather strange goal - to win him three toys at said arcade's crane game before he'll reconsider his position on Airi.  Put simply then, the word of the week is "perseverance", as that trio's crane game challenge comes to fruition after numerous attempts while Airi is finally persuaded to rejoin the group largely after Yoppi finally comes clean about her own self-doubt and worries and these are issues that they all need to face together.  Thus, the Wake Up Girls are whole once again... just in time to face another new challenge!

For all of its attempts at drama and emotion, there really wasn't anything surprising about this week's Wake Up, Girls - crane game as metaphor for perseverance aside, there were no surprises in store during the episode and as a result the whole thing felt decidedly flat without anything to really punctuate its narrative or message.  For a show that promised to dare to be a little different in its early running, this felt like pretty typical stuff that even the likes of AKB0048 managed better, if only through sheer force of personality - that being that it actually had some.  As long as it struggles to make anything of its cast - and its character-building drama seems to be failing to do much of exactly that - Wake Up, Girls continues to descend into the realms of "just another middling idol anime".

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 7

For all of the lack of romance in their relationship, it seems that Yuuta and Rikka are at least destined to spend a day of their school field trip together to enjoy some time as a couple - an event made even more likely by Nibutani's pre-occupation with the mysterious web site purporting to be hers which is, as it turns out, not another of Dekomori's stunts after all.

But, of course, we can't have things going too smoothly between these two, and after a little wandering around exploring they encounter none other than Shichimiya, who just so happens to be on a school field trip in the city of her own.  How convenient...

What's more Shichimiya has lost her way and lost her bag, meaning that Yuuta can't resist offering to help her out.  By the time he's succeeded in tracking down the bag and retrieving it from a mischievous monkey, Rikka is sufficiently ticked off what what she perceives as flirting and the like between Yuuta and Shichimiya to go storming off - a state off affairs which leaves Satone feeling sufficiently contrite to go to some lengths to put things right, ultimately meeting Rikka to explain her own history with Yuuta and how it will have no effect on Yuuta's interest in her.  With that out of the way, Rikka can enjoy the rest of the day free from worry... a good thing, as it's her birthday no less.

This was another reasonable episode of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions that brought a few smiles and chuckles out of me, but on the other hand it fell decidedly flat with the main thrust of its story - the coincidence of meeting Shichimiya on a school trip which happened to be to the exact same place was laughably forced, and Satone's story of her feelings for Yuuta ending with what was effectively a simple "I decided to stop liking him like that" didn't exactly feel like quality story-telling either.  It continues to look pretty good and provide fun moments here and there, but episodes like this serve as a reminder that the series is hardly a tour de force of good writing.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Golden Time - Episode 19

Banri's back in town, which means there's little time for him to consider his strange incident involving his "ghost" at the tail end of his trip back home, as he instead finds himself surrounded by his friends.

As Tada and his group of friends head out to lunch, it's a perfect opportunity for Mitsuo to finally reveal his interest in Linda to them, ostensibly to gain a favour from Koko and Banri - an opportunity to film their festival club in action as part of his own film club activities, although this is in fact just a thinly-veiled excuse to see Linda given that she's been avoiding him.  Following this, Mitsuo also quizzes Banri on whether he's hiding anything about his own past history with Linda, although he soon backs away from this line of questioning before Tada even has a chance to spill the beans.

There are no such problems for Banri and Koko, even if the latter's attempt at a romantic evening "climbing the stairway to adulthood" goes pretty badly awry.  With this couple enjoying a solid dose of happiness, our attentions quickly return to Yana and his attempts to woo Linda, as the latter talks with Tada about how and why she feels uncomfortable about the whole thing.  Indeed, Banri finds himself assailed by a prcoession of angry girls, as Linda taking out her frustrations about Mitsuo on him is followed by some angry words from Chinami, who of course has her own agenda when it comes to Yana whether she'd admit it or not.

With "ghost Banri" back in his cage, this was another very enjoyable episode of Golden Time - its cast continue to bounce off one another in a very satisfying way, its comedy is mostly spot on and its emotional content is also easy to empathise with while also showing us some facets of both Linda and Chinami that were perhaps previously hidden.  It's more than enough to make me glad that I persevered with the series during some of its clumsy beginnings, as it continues to be fun to watch, warts and all.

Kill la Kill - Episode 19

As close as it might have come, Satsuki's attempted coup against her mother has ultimately failed, with the so-called Covers beginning their reign of terror over humanity by literally gobbling them up, while Ragyo has a quite literal heart-to-heart with Ryuko to inform her of her true heritage.

Fast forward a month, and things are in a mess - Covers are roaming across Japan swallowing up all opposition at academies across the country, the Elite Four have defected to work for Nudist Beach against their common enemy and both Satsuki and Matoi are out of commission.  For Ryuko's part she's alive, albeit only just - physically healthy, but in a coma from which she shows no signs of awakening.

Where there's life there's hope however, and Nudist Beach - bolstered by their new allies - continue to take the fight to the Covers, including the development of new weaponry designed to free individuals from the slavery of the parasitic clothes which consumed them.  Of course, things aren't done and dusted for Ragyo either, as she continues to work further towards achieving her grand plan - a plan that will involve Satsuki whether she likes it or not.  As Nudist Beach begin to enjoy some small success in their fight, it takes the awakening of Ryuko to show how it's really done... although it seems that this is hardly the girl that we've known.

Skipping a series forward in time to any degree can often be a risky proposition that can dilute or otherwise derail a series if it isn't handled probably, but once again Kill la Kill seems to be in safe hands, delivering another compelling and pretty fast-moving instalment that continues to move the series in some interesting directions.  This episode so easily could have spent a lot of time dwelling on some of last week's revelations, but instead it ensures that its pace doesn't drop and keeps on trucking in satisfying ways to remain one of the current must-watch shows.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 20

Hikari seems utterly confident that Manaka will soon awaken after her return to the surface at his hands - however, one week later there's no sign of this actually happening.

Regardless, Hikari remains upbeat and confident that her spiritual return isn't too far away, while also spending much of his free time in Shioshishio trying to track down Uroko in the hope that he may hold the key to Manaka's comatose state, helped all the way by Kaname and - increasingly - Chisaki.  In fact, Hikari's preoccupation with finding Uroko sees him run himself to the point of collapse from exhaustion, if there were any doubts as to his devotion to Manaka.

With this trio of underwater residents seemingly closer than ever, those outside of that circle find themselves feeling a little left out, particularly in the case of Miuna and Sayu.  It's Miuna in particular who finds herself suffering a crisis of sorts, as she increasingly comes to realise that perhaps deep down she doesn't really want Manaka to wake up after all given the effect she knows this will have upon any chance of Hikari noticing her romantically.  This comes to a head when Sayu suggests that perhaps Manaka could be awoken like some kind of Snow White; it's left to Tsumugu to assure Miuna that she isn't alone in her feelings, as it's a prospect that he's all too familiar with thanks to his own situation with Chisaki.

It's this focus on Miuna that has proved to be one of the strengths of Nagi no Asukara's second half - she, along with Chisaki, makes for a fascinating centre-point for so much of what is going on within the series, and her emotional turmoil has driven a lot of the best moments of the show of late, including in this episode where her discussion of her feelings with Tsumugu are a simple but effective high point.  By the end of the episode, things are about to get shaken up once again thanks to an understated and humorous finale, which should promise more similar moments as Nagi no Asukara continues to play to its strengths.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Wizard Barristers - Episode 6

If Cecil has been given an easy ride by her employers when it comes to racking up fines thus far, it seems that this honeymoon is well and truly over as she finds herself having strips torn off her for her repeated infractions as this week's episode of Wizard Barristers begins.

Although there aren't many supportive voices on Cecil's side in the office (not helped by her blaming everybody but herself), Tsunomi at least offers an opportunity for her to cheer up via a mysterious day out at the weekend.  However, it seems as if Cecil simply can't get a break, as even this simple trip in to town ends with her being caught up in an attack by a group of terrorists with a giant flying creature who ultimate take her, and a bunch of school children, hostage.

So, what do these villains want?  To conquer the world, so they say, in lines that sound suspiciously like those espoused by a TV villain.  Speaking of which, it seems that Tsunomi's idea of "fun at the weekend" is cosplaying as a super sentai character with Cecil, and as news breaks about the hostage situation she takes her cosplaying a little too seriously, setting off to save the day.  In the ensuing chaos, the police also storm the building, and it takes all of Tsunomi and Cecil's power (with a little help from Sasori) to win the day... although, it seems that this entire setup was yet another attempt to provoke Cecil into activating her magic; a conspiracy which reaches ever further into society.

Given how much I enjoyed the conclusion to this week's episode of Wizard Barristers, it's somehow all the more frustrating that everything before that point was so clunky - while it's fine to make the hostage situation seem oddly pointless as a hint as to its true aims, it didn't do anything beyond making the much of the story feel horribly twee and generally a bit silly until the impressive action kicked off.  In a sense, this is perhaps the wider problem with the series - its unending focus on its end-game as it relates to Cecil seems to be seriously compromising elements of its build-up, and although it's far from a complete disaster it does take some of the sheen from the show's more positive moments.  Still, the ending to this episode and some of its revelations have certainly more than kept my interest, so taken as a whole Wizard Barristers is still accomplishing its mission.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Space☆Dandy - Episode 7

If you want to get on Dandy's bad side, there's probably no better way of doing it than usurping him while making an appearance at Boobies.

It's certainly just such a scenario that puts a young man named Prince onto Dandy's radar - no, he isn't a pop star but a rather dashing space racer.  Thus, there's only one thing for it in Dandy's eyes... to take on this new nemesis in the Redline... err, sorry, I mean the Magellanic Nebulae Grand Prix.  Dandy might not have a ship that boasts high speeds, or a talented crew (as the race's announcer goes to great pains to point out), but he does have a number of secret "last resorts" up his sleeve...

...last resorts that almost universally entail Dandy blowing up his ship in some shape or form.  As is typical of the man however, all of these plans seem to work perfectly, much to the disbelief of Prince who finds himself pushed to the limit in his quest for victory.  Even the presence of some decidedly unusual fuel in the tank and the threat of an opponent who isn't even registered for the race fail to stop Dandy as he makes for the finishing line - an event which ultimately transcends mere victory or defeat entirely.

Although I mentioned Redline in jest earlier, there is a certain sense of Redline meets Wacky Races about this week's episode of Space Dandy - mind you, I kind of like to imagine that Redline occupies the same universe as this series anyhow.  The result was another riot of colour and imagination which was fun far more than it was outright funny - a few laughs aside, it was pretty typical fare all the way through to the now almost expected bonkers ending to the episode, meaning that its visual flair was perhaps more important than its contents.  In a sense, this is part of what Space Dandy is all about - it wants to be a feast for your eyes more than your brain, and it often feels like that's the primary goal of the show over and above its comedy, and although I will admit that I'd rather laugh heartily throughout while marveling at its animation, I'm not averse to just soaking in its colourful universe to the exclusion of most other things.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Nisekoi - Episode 6

With Kirisaki continuing to grow closer to both Miyamoto and Onodera, some lunchtime discussion (including a packed lunch over and above what any ordinary person would have on Chitoge's part) fills in a surprising blank for her regarding her swimming meet incident and how Ichijou saved her from a fate equal to death.

Much as she loathes the prospect, Kirisaki feels that she really should thank Raku for saving her, and thus seeks him out to say both thank you and sorry for her behaviour at the time.  Unfortunately, she isn't so good at this whole thanking people business, and after a couple of aborted attempts even her best efforts lead to a rather major misunderstanding that leaves her angry and Raku nonplussed.

In the wake of all of this, and given Ruri's doubts about the true extent of her relationship with Ichijou, Chitoge decides to come clean about their false romance to both Miyamoto and Onodera on the proviso that they don't tell another soul about it.  If nothing else, this opens the door for Onodera to finally come out and confess her feelings to Ichijou... assuming she can muster the courage, that is, and her attempt is ultimately thwarted by a stray baseball.  Her hesitation might prove fatal for her relationship on two counts to boot, as Kirisaki starts to remember a promise similar to Raku's that she made as a child, while her bodyguard Claude seems set to take some desperate measures to remove Ichijou from her life.

With another episode gone, Nisekoi continues along its merry path of being predictable at every turn, but no less fun because of it - from misunderstandings to botched confessions, you always know what's going to happen next yet that fact rarely manages to dampen the viewing experience to any notable extend thanks to the show's lovable cast and bright, breezy sensibilities.  Perhaps the shake-up promised by the end of this episode will take the show into more original territory to seal the deal, but I somehow doubt it, and to be honest I'm quite happy for the show to continue down its current unoriginal yet amusing route.

Space Brothers - Episode 94

We're already well aware of how dysfunctional Mutta's new crew mates are, but such is their inability to work together that even simple tasks like waking up on time in the morning, cooking meals and going for a morning run together seems to be impossible.

In light of all this, Mutta decides that it's up to him to take charge of this motley crew - an idea which falls on deaf ears, and is also quickly proven to be redundant as Eddie Jay joins the group as their new captain.  As Mutta ponders, given how groups of delinquent schoolboys are usually given hard taskmasters of teachers to work with, is adding the laid-back Eddie to their number really the answer?

While the powers that be fret over how disjointed the group is, realising that they'll never be sent on a mission in their current state, it's up to Eddie Jay to make a difference - but can he do it?  It seems as if he's going to take bringing the group together one step at a time, beginning with changes to the routine for those aforementioned early morning runs...

It's been a tricky start for this story arc given its decision to fill its roster with a bunch of characters that it's tough to warm to, but at least this week's episode is showing signs that it could do some interesting things with it thanks to Eddie Jay's entrance onto the stage and the challenge he faces to get them working together.  To some extent it's the kind of thing we've seen before from the series, but there's still seemingly enough here to ensure things stay interesting as we immerse ourselves further within this current scenario, so hopefully it won't let us down.

Sakura Trick - Episode 6

It's the eve of the culture festival, and with lots of work still to do on their outfits for the group's production of Snow White, there's nothing for it but to stay at the school overnight to ensure that everything is completed.

This does pose a challenge for two of the girls however - in Yuu's case, the thought of a dark and largely empty school is a little frightening, while for Shizuku it's her first time staying at school overnight.  Although she claims this is because overnight stays before a culture festival weren't allowed at her middle school, the real story is somewhat different, that being her never having friends to stay behind with in the past, whereas now she has the others, and Kotone in particular, to egg her on.  While Shizuku and Kotone discuss this, Yuu and Haruka make the most of their alone time in the classroom which started it all in their usual fashion.

Once the festival is underway, it's time for the girls to take to the stage to perform their dramatic reading - an event which goes off without a hitch.  The same can't be said for the aftermath of the event, as Yuu goes off to check out the food stalls with her sister much to Haruka's dismay, leaving her instead to pass the time with Yuzu and Kaede as we learn a little more about her relationship.  Of course, any falling out between Haruka and Yuu is strictly short-term, and before the day is out they don't so much kiss and make up as they do make up and kiss.

By this point in the series I don't really have anything much fresh to say about Sakura Trick - it continues to deliver gentle, mildly entertaining slice of life with a side-order of girls kissing, which is far less engaging now that it's lost its luster but still does just enough with its moments of sweetness or comedy to keep it moving along reasonably well largely thanks to the strength of its characters and their relationships.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 6

Following that disastrous live event, it could be argued that the Wake Up Girls need a lucky break... and whaddya know, they might just have one.

The name of the lucky break in question is renowned composer Hayasaku Tasuku, who works for I-1 Club amongst others.  It seems that Tasuku is a little bored of life at the top and wants to test his skills with some "potatoes", as he calls them, to see if he can refine the Wake Up Girls into a success in their own right.  In light of this, Tange is really in no place to argue with the idea of him taking on the group, especially seeing as he's willing to dump money into them with no return beyond a few conditions surrounding his complete control of the unit for a limited time.

So it goes that Tasuku takes charge of the girls, putting them through a grueling schedule of physical training and days of three back-to-back concerts in an effort to shape them up both physically and mentally.  After a period of this back-breaking regime, despite the complaints of the girls it seems that Hayasaku has a pretty positive feeling about most of them as potential successes, with one exception - Airi.  He isn't afraid to tell her to her face either, at a time when even Airi herself is beginning to see a gulf between her own abilities and those of her group-mates.  In the face of news that she might be cut from the group however, she crumbles under the pressure, making an even bigger error in a live concert as what seems to be the final straw.  When she doesn't turn up to the group's next training session, it's up to the other girls to choose - to abandon Airi and continue without her, or for the whole group to be fired.

As a whole, this was probably the most solid episode of Wake Up, Girls in a little while - unbelievable though Tasuku's entrance on the scene is, and as laughable as I-1 Club's depiction as some kind of villainous sweat shop might be, the episode as a whole worked pretty well at delivering what was required of it.  Once again though, the big gap in the story came from a lack of character - we really know nothing about Airi, her real motivations or anything beyond vague monologues about her intentions or feelings, and this drains much of the interest out of her story; it's hard to care to any extent about a character we barely know.  It's the same old story which continues to undermine Wake Up, Girls, which is a shame given that its offer of something beyond your typical, fluffy idol anime could have made for a far stronger selling point.

Kill la Kill - Episode 18

After so long butting heads with Ryuko and Nudist Beach, Satsuki's grand plan has finally been revealed... and it couldn't be more different than it outwardly appeared.

Rather than joining forces with her mother Ragyo to subjugate the human face beneath the glory of the Life Fibres, it's actually Satsuki's intention to free mankind from being ruled over by their clothing in a coup that sees her seeking to kill her mother - a mission which is easier said than done naturally.  While the Elite Four face off against Nui Harime, Satsuki puts her plan into action, with her mother captured and the original Life Fibre seemingly frozen to prevent its activation.

What follows is a blur of action and shifting sands, as battles rage between Harime and the Elite Four, Ragyo frees herself from her impromptu crucifixion and turns Satsuki's troops against her before turning her attention to Matoi and doing likewise, Ryuko faces off with Satsuki's briefly before freeing herself from Ragyo's control and then... well, things get even more bonkers.  By the end of the episode, we seem to have a shocking revelation about Ryuko's origins while the Life Fibre invasion looks all set to begin in earnest - and are there even any heroes or heroines left to stop it?

I think I've lost count of the number of times that I've cited an episode as being Kill la Kill at its best, but there's no point in backing down now so I'm going to say it again here - this was Kill la Kill at its best.  With so much going on throughout the episode the effect of it all is outright dizzying, and what's more the actual content of those goings-on made for an incredible roller coaster as the plot twisted turned back on itself, then shifted and moved some more.  In short, it's an episode that made full use of the show's insane premise to deliver the kind of fare that would look ridiculous if attached to another show, stacking up wide-eyes moment after wide-eyed moment to leave you breathless and decidedly impressed.  If nothing else, Kill la Kill certainly knows how to up the ante on a regular basis, as this is another high watermark that the series has to attempt to best as it moves towards the finish line.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 6

The prospect of a school field trip is always an exciting time... unless you're Rikka Takanashi, that is, in which case you'd probably rather spend your time roaming around like some two-bit knock-off of Sam Fisher.

Having managed to get her to put down the night vision goggles for long enough to pack and prepare, Yuuta settles down for a pleasant trip with Rikka - a trip that proves to be a little trickier than either of them anticipated, as they both find themselves constantly being quizzed as to the status of their relationship, or otherwise seen as a couple when neither of them is quite ready to openly admit that fact.

Not that they're the only ones being quizzed, as Nibutani is also grilled on her love life (or lack thereof), which leads into discussion of her "past life" at middle school - a discussion made more awkward by another of Dekomori's little labours of love.  Still, this is small fry compared to what Yuuta has to go through, although thanks to Rikka's wanderings after-hours in the group's hotel the pair are granted an opportunity that brings them a little closer together, and also some more confidence to embolden their relationship which in turn allows them to spend the final day of the trip together.

Aside from its rather sweet ending and a couple of nice moments of comedy during the episode, there wasn't really much that jumped out for me from this week's episode of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions - although it seems that there's more to come, it didn't really do a whole lot with its theme beyond the usual suspects for this kind of episode, which left much of it feeling a little flat.  That said, I am grateful for the prospect of some proper movement in Yuuta and Rikka's stagnant relationship, so it certainly isn't all bad.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Golden Time - Episode 18

Koko was never likely to cope all that well with Banri leaving her behind to return home for a spell over the summer, but even by her standards she seems to have gotten herself embroiled in some "interesting" adventures, as her decision to take a look inside Banri's apartment ultimately leaves her at the mercy of Nana and her nefarious plans.

Meanwhile, it's time for Banri himself to face up to his forgotten past thanks to the school reunion he's decided to attend with Linda - a prospect that understandably terrifies him given all of those missing memories that leaves him unable to discern who he was back then.

However, it seems that Tada's former classmates are well-prepared for their former classmates' visit, and do everything in their power to make him feel comfortable, whether it's wearing named shirts under the auspices of a game of Dodgeball or peppering with stories about his past.  Such is their dedication towards helping out Banri that the event ultimately becomes about him, and what's more it seems to work in making him feel more comfortable about himself, who he was and who he is now.  Filled with this confidence, Banri visits the bridge where all of those memories were effectively lost - an experience which in itself threatens to trigger the reemergence of some long-lost memories.

It had some fun moments, and some rather sweet ones to boot, but I'm not really too sure what to make of this week's Golden Time as a whole - Banri's final experiences within the episode were confusing in their own right, Koko's shenanigans were amusing but not sufficiently formed to be all that memorable, and the stuff in the middle worked okay in service of developing Tada's character but still left our ultimate impression of him to be decidedly scattershot.  Although this is somewhat excused by his amnesia, it's starting to feel like the show's biggest hurdle, and I hope it's one that the series can overcome as it certainly feels like there are still some twists and turns left in this tale.

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 17

Cornered and with all hope slipping away, Hazama needs a friend... thankfully, he's realised that he has one just in time to turn to Goto for help in this time of need.

It seems that our favourite policeman has been waiting for just this moment too, and with some further assistance from Harazuka and his ever-reliable stash of gadgets Samurai Flamenco lives to fight another day... a day which involves a visit to the Diet to pay a little visit to the Prime Minister, whose approval rating continues to soar as he looks all set to pass a law banning all heroes as supposed vigilantes.

Although Hazama's plan is simply to talk with the Prime Minister, the man himself has other ideas, and after removing the press from the Diet and cutting any audio feeds of proceedings he reveals a shocking secret - he, too, is a superhero with a Flamenco-related name of his own, complete with a special, Iron Man-esque suit that is powered by his public approval ratings.  With this rating edging ever closer to 100% it seems as if this man is unstoppable, and there's nothing that Samurai Flamenco, Goto and his alter-ego of Flamenco... err, Policeman... and the Flamenco Girls can do about it.  Or can they?  Once again, luck (or destiny, perhaps?) seems to be on Hazama's side, although once again another layer of the series' conspiratorial onion is peeled away to reveal even more danger ahead.  Well, overhead, actually.

I've doubted it many times, but I'm just going to come out and say it - Samurai Flamenco is a work of genius.  Utterly, batshit crazy, dumb genius, but that's actually what makes it so - this series knows that it's being stupid, but it's real craft is in playing all of its insane goings-on and escalations with a straight face while simultaneously making it abjectly clear that it's in on the joke and that you should be laughing at what you're seeing.  Oh, how I laughed too, at this beautifully ridiculous story that sneaks a few little pointed jabs in the direction of politicians and the like in its midst.  Admittedly this show hasn't always got it right, and a few times it's threatened to go off the rails, but when it gets serious about not being serious there are few series that can boast more entertainment value.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 6

The culture festival is about to begin at Ooezo Agricultural High School... not that Hachiken is going to be around to enjoy having literally worked until he dropped to prepare for the event.

Needless to say, Hachiken's cohorts are decidedly worried by Hachiken's collapse, but with the festival opening its doors the last thing they want to do is let down the gathering crowds - or Hachiken and all of his hard work - and so the show must go on, aided by a little showmanship from guest star Minamikujou.  The results are enjoyable and impressive in equal measure, with both the equestrian event and Ban'ei racing going down a storm.

Meanwhile, things are entirely less enjoyable for Hachiken, who awakens in hospital to find that his only visitors are his teacher followed by his father, the latter of whom only seems to have turned up to lecture his son yet again on his failings and suggesting that he only attends Ooezo so that he can look down upon its less academically adept students - heck, the heartless bastard can't even admit to enjoying bacon.  By the time he finally arrives back at the school, Hachiken is convinced that he's a worthless nobody who hadn't even been missed - a falsehood that mere words can't correct, but one that a guest book left for visitors to comment upon speaks volumes in dissolving.

Another episode provides another laundry list of reasons as to why this series is so successful at what it does - this week's instalment could so easily have been a precursor to weeks of depression, introspection and darkness on Hachiken's part, but instead the series is quick and to the point in resolving his malaise, culminating in a truly beautiful and tear-jerking yet incredibly simple moment that caught me off-guard and brimming with tears in an instant.  This ability to combine comedy, some human drama and such moments of sweetness ensures that Silver Spoon remains endlessly engaging as it continues to probe, shift and bring its characters closer together, and it rarely ceases to be anything other than wonderful.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 19

Manaka's return to the surface seems to have rekindled an old memory in Chisaki's mind, as she recalls a time when both herself and Manaka were found and rescued by Hikari having become lost on some kind of expedition.  Some things never change, it seems...

Back in the present, Manaka still hasn't regained consciousness after several days on the surface, although as far as the doctor is concerned she's perfectly healthy so it's more a matter of "when" rather than "if" she'll come round, much to the relief of all concerned.  Indeed, the theme of this week's episode as it pertains to Manaka's reappearance is that it's finally time for the proverbial clock to start ticking once more for the cast now that all and sundry have been reunited.

Of course, that ticking of the clock might not necessarily be a welcome one in all quarters - Miuna's hopes of attracting Hikari's attention seem dashed now that Manaka has returned, and for all of her grown-up posturing Chisaki ultimately has to admit that deep down she still has feelings for him too, in a realisation that comes when her own attempt to return to see Shioshishio almost goes awry.  Meanwhile, Chisaki remains at least somewhat oblivious to Tsumugu and Kaname's butting heads over her affections, perhaps at least somewhat distracted by the fact that an untold aspect of the tale of the Sea God and Ojoshi may in some way relate to Manaka, and more specifically the disappearance of her Ena.

Although this episode is another slow burner in terms of building up (or rebuilding, rather) its relationships and tangled web of affections, by this point its cast of characters are so strong that simply bouncing these sometimes tricky inter-relationships off of one another can easily fill an entertaining episode.  Although perhaps a risky decision, allowing Chisaki to grow up while her friends stayed the same age in the wake of Shioshishio's hibernation really pays dividends in an episode such as this, with any focus upon her giving us a unique outlook that adds another dimension to this enjoyable show.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 6

The second game of the match at hand is now over, but before the third can begin... it's time for lunch!

After a little catching up with various individuals and teams involved in the tournament, from some of the commentators through to Achiga Girls' School (remember them?), it's time for Hisa to take centre stage.  Well, actually, it isn't time for that at all, as she rolls up to the table fifteen minutes early - a period of time which is nothing more than a blur to her as the full scale of what she's about to embark upon suddenly hits home.

Unfortunately, this is enough to destroy Hisa's concentration entirely, and when she's informed that she's inadvertently showing a tile to talkative opponent in the form of Himematsu's Atago Hiroe her confidence is shattered too.  Once the game begins in earnest, it's Hiroe who goes on a tear, taking her team from last through to first while the exact opposite is true of Hisa.  As the game reaches its halfway point however, a throwaway comment from Hiroe allows her to realise exactly what's going wrong here - she's forgotten that she's supposed to be having fun.  With her outlook duly adjusted, Hisa starts to make inroads into retrieving the situation, but can she do more in the second half with her opponents now also seemingly warming up to the fight ahead.

Save for one or two moment, Saki - The Nationals still feels like a series with pacing issues - its constant asides and distractions away from the main match at hand kills its tension and momentum far too frequently as it tries to cram its huge roster of characters into shot at every turn.  Perhaps I'm simply an outlier here, but for the most part I'm not interested in the characters as much as the games themselves and the dramatic tension that comes from them, superpowers and all.  Thus far, there's been far too little of that for my liking, and I can only hope that changes as the current match moves towards its pivotal period.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Wizard Barristers - Episode 5

This week on Wizard Barristers - "When bowling goes bad"... in a rather delicious slice of irony for those at Butterfly Law Offices, it's an individual from the rival Shark Knight office that needs defending in light of accusations of murder after a vengeful prank by one of their number appears to have culminated in the murder of a bowling alley manager.

It's to Cecil that the group looks to defend their colleague, Shibuki Kujira, from this allegation, and Cecil finds herself paired with the elderly Kamakiri for the duration of this particular case.  While Kujira admits that he did indeed use magic to get his revenge on the manager in question after being made a fool of at the bowling alley, he insists that his actions were nothing more than a prank, and certainly didn't extend towards stabbing the man to death.  But can Cecil find the evidence to back this up?

It's a big ask, and one that doesn't seem to be helped by Kamakiri, who proves to be more hindrance than help thanks to his ponderous and easily distracted nature.  With Kujira's indictment approaching and then passing by, Cecil still has no evidence that could be used to clear him, and all hope seems to be lost - with time running out however, our old-timer finally comes good, revealing the evidence that suggests that one of the alley manager's work colleagues was the real culprit.  To prove it, the use of Kamakiri's magic is required, but even the illegality of this is something that he can cover in his own inimitable style.

Yet again, here was an episode of Wizard Barristers that felt like it needed far more time to breath.  Cecil's investigation was little more than a brief montage used more to showcase her hardships working with Kamakiri than anything else, while the real reasoning behind the manager's murder was glossed over in the extreme.  I really that this was probably the point, in service to focusing more on Cecil's character and interactions with Kamakiri, but as these moments weren't all that interesting it left the episode devote of anything particularly noteworthy.  With no real action or the like to speak of either, and only a quick throwaway reminder that there are more important matters closing in around Cecil, there simply wasn't a whole lot to enjoy in this episode.

Space☆Dandy - Episode 6

A planet called Eden might not sound like the place to find rare aliens, but QT is convinced it's the perfect place to do a little alien hunting.  Never mind those vast geysers.  Or the war that's been raging for 10,000 years.  Or the no-fly zones.

Ultimately, QT's bout of forgetfulness leaves the Aloha Oe crashing to the planet's surface and in rather a mess, and while QT is tasked with repairing the craft Dandy and Meow go exploring, only to find themselves caught up in the most bizarre of wars - a conflict predicated entirely on preferences in undergarments.

While Dandy finds himself captive of the last remaining wearer of underpants, Meow is fortuitously left with the only surviving vest-wearer on the planet - they may both be the last of their kind, and they may not even know why the war started in the first place, but neither party is willing to surrender and they both have a spot of Mutually Assured Destruction waiting in the wings were they to be defeated.  Managing to appeal to their better natures however, it seems as if peace is only a ceremony away... unfortunately, that ceremony involves the swapping of each faction's most prized possession, which was never likely to end well.

After a couple of truly memorable episodes, it was going to be touch for this week's Space Dandy  to live up to those heights, and so it proved - this week's instalment was entertaining enough, but pretty predictable and by the numbers in nature; the whole "pants versus vests" plot point can only take yiou so far.  Thankfully, the show still has some wonderful, colourful animation to back it up when its story is falling flat or its humour isn't igniting the flames of comedy, so even on a bit of an off day Space Dandy is a visual feast worthy of your time, but this is certainly one of its lesser efforts thus far.  You can't win 'em all, baby.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Space Brothers - Episode 93

Mutta has been assigned to a group of misfits as the backup crew for the next lunar mission, with an eye towards being the full crew in the mission after that, but who will captain this selection of oddballs?

For his part Butler seems to know just the man to lead them to the Moon, but can he convince that person to take the job?  It's already been rejected once by the candidate in question, but for now Butler needs to put his mind elsewhere, and Sharon and her delegation of astronomers arrives at NASA to present and submit their revised plans for a lunar telescope.  With Mutta named as an astronaut who'd have a vested interested in working on building the telescope itself, all of the pieces seem to be falling into place for this particular space brother.

So, back to the matter at hand, who is the proposed captain of Mutta and his crewmates?  The answer is none other than the older brother of Brian Jay, Eddie.  However, Eddie isn't exactly a hungry, young astronaut any more - he's a man whose done his time (and then some) on the International Space Station, and with his advancing years in relative terms the Moon seems a step too far for him.  However, has his thirst to step onto the lunar surface his brother once occupied really diminished?  Butler thinks not, and is more than willing to prompt him to rethink his decision.

Although I'm still a little wary as to how the series will handle its misfit astronauts, this was another pretty strong episode of Space Brothers - the prospect of Eddie Jay entering the scene is an interesting one, and his personality does indeed seem pretty well suited as an overseer of a bunch of oddballs.  As I mentioned last week, I have faith in this show's ability to deliver even when it seems to set itself some impossible challenges, and this instalment seems like another example of what could turn out to be some good use of normally frustrating characters.  Only time will tell, of course, but if it plays its cards right this could be another example of the series doing what it does best in terms of character development and interplay.

Nisekoi - Episode 5

Ruri's plans to bring Onodera closer to Ichijou in last week's episode ended up backfiring somewhat thanks to that whole "trapped in a storeroom" incident involving Kirisaki - however, she isn't done with her attempts to play cupid by any stretch of the imagination.

For starters, she makes sure to talk loudly about Onodera's key, and how it pertains to a boy she was in love with a decade previously while Raku is in earshot to make sure he's aware of it, and then steps things up a gear by inviting both Ichijou and Onodera, alongwith Kirisaki, to practice for the school's swimming meet.  Although the competition is an all-girls affair, Ichijou's job is a "simple" one - to teach Kosaki how to swim.

Aside from ogling the girls in their swimsuits (and boy does this episode do a lot of that), this whole setup provides Ichijou with some other heavenly experiences, but most importantly of all it gives him a change to see if Onodera's key will fit his pendant.  Only he picks up the key to the girl's locker room instead.  Oops.  Once again, any attempts to bring Ichijou and Onodera closer together ultimately backfires as Kirisaki winds up in need of rescue at the meet itself, which again resets Kosaki's expectations.  Ruri, meanwhile, is still trying to get a handle on the exact relationship between Raku and Chitoge as it makes less and less sense in her head.

Another episode of Nisekoi goes by, and it's another episode that is entirely predictable in everything that it does - so why is it still so enjoyable?  I'm frankly a little baffled as to why I like this show as much as I do - SHAFT's layer of presentation certainly helps, and the show's cast is likeable enough, but week after week the series continues to be greater than the sum of its component parts.  Perhaps in an era where so many shows try to hide or otherwise subvert tropes of old, some degree of reverse psychology makes this series seem fresh, but regardless of the reason I'm continuing to have a lot of fun watching Nisekoi - I just wish I was able to ascertain exactly why in a more verbose manner.

Sakura Trick - Episode 5

Falling asleep at her desk isn't exactly new territory for Yuu - what is unusual however is her awakening to find that Haruka has left without her.

Unbeknownst to Yuu, it seems that Haruka has some business with her sister, taking her (amongst others) to a nearby coffee shop - not the smartest idea it seems, as the place is teeming with students who have all had a similar idea.  The reason for this visit is simple enough - Yuu had discussed a wish to do something with her sister at what would be Mitsuki's last culture festival, and their class' school play seems like a perfect opportunity to rope her in.  Mitsuki, however, seems a little reticent to the idea, and between Yuu's arrival at the shop and Haruka's mind wandering elsewhere the opportunity to ask her outright soon passes.

Thankfully, this isn't the end of the matter, as Mitsuki's continued attempt to keep an eye on what Yuu and Haruka are up to leads to her being spotted as the group argues over who should play what role, and ultimately Mitsuki is talked into agreeing to take part in the production herself.  But who should she play?  Mitsuki doesn't much fancy the idea of playing Snow White herself... at least, until the prospect of kissing a "prince" who might just end up being Haruka enters the equation.

As per my thoughts on last week's episode, now that Sakura Trick has lost some its sense of uniqueness now that we're a few episodes into the series, it's become a light-hearted, mildly amusing and somewhat charming little series that doesn't seem to have anywhere much left to run but remains just about entertaining enough to get by nonetheless.  Given its subject matter, that's pretty much fine for a series of this nature too, provided it can continue to keep the laughs coming on something approaching a regular basis.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 16

Now that the Prime Minister's plan is in full swing, the Flamengers and Kaname are under arrest while those around them are most certainly under suspicion.  Only one man has managed to evade capture thus far... Flamen Red, Hazama himself, of course.

While Hazama roams the streets alone in a continued attempt to evade his captors, our focus shifts for a while take in what has become of the Flamenco Girls - and what a sorry sight it is too, with Mari lashing out once confronted by her colleagues out of a mixture of genuine loathing and self-pity.  Moe and Mizuki are having none of this in their own unique ways, but with no signs of a resolution Mari storms out, making straight for the source of her pain - King Torture's lair.  It's an odd decision, but one that ultimately lets the girls kiss and make up - quite literally, as it happens.

Meanwhile, things are getting desperate for Hazama as he wanders aimlessly with nowhere to go, and no sources of water.  Although stealing the food he desperately needs could be an option, he simply can't bring himself to do it, and it soon all becomes too much for him as he falls asleep on a park bench, only to find himself taken into the care of a homeless man - a man whose outlook on life was changed by Samurai Flamenco, no less.  Despite Masayoshi's protestations, this man assures him that it's perfectly okay for Hazama to seek out help from those close to him, even if it may cause peril for them in the long run - no prizes for guessing who Hazama turns to in light of this advice, of course.

Strip all of the humour and larger than life insanity of its story away from Samurai Flamenco (as this episode largely did), and it soon becomes clear that you don't have a lot left to work with - this show thrives on its bonkers premise and the execution of that craziness, bolstered by a really sharp line in comedy.  Without any of that, things quickly become dull, and this episode was certainly one of the show's most boring - although some of the drama surrounding Mari was pretty well-realised its conclusion was an anti-climax, and Hazama's plight never really felt as dangerous as it should have considering he was Japan's most wanted criminal.  This isn't really the time for Samurai Flamenco to start taking itself too seriously, so hopefully it'll lighten up rather than become bogged down in its current story.

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 5

The Wake Up Girls have themselves a second song, and now they have themselves a second concert.  There is one slight problem with this however - it takes place on the same day as one of I-1 Club's events in Sendai.

Still, the group's members aren't to be deterred by this, and set about working hard on learning the song, choreography and ensuring that they do the best they can with the opportunity that's been presented to them, while also figuring out ways to bolster their set list and the like.  While all of this goes on, Mayu's past with I-1 Club continues to be the elephant in the room that everybody skirts around; indeed, she even seems reluctant to engage with it herself when she meets a former I-1 Club colleague.

Of course, hard work will only get you so far, and on the day of the concert the Wake Up Girls learn two things - one, that they're still a long, long way from being a polished idol unit; and two, that any thoughts they might have had around giving I-1 Club a proverbial black eye were downright delusion.  When Tange invites them to see I-1 Club in action at their purpose built Sendai theatre, the girls get to see for themselves how wide that gulf really is.

So ends another episode of Wake Up, Girls! that doesn't really do anything wrong, but doesn't do anything particularly notable either.  I still can't remember any of the girls' names apart from Mayu, which says a lot as to how disposable they all are, and Mayu's I-1 Club controversy continues to be danced around more and more clumsily - just like the girls on stage, as it happens.  While it's nice to see an idol unit not becoming instantly successful and proficient with little effort, it feels disjointed to see the group regress from the competent performance in the show's movie outing to the bumbling routines depicted here, and there isn't really enough on show here to lend weight to any broader narrative.  As Twinkle suggested to the girls, perhaps they need to start arguing a bit more?  It might make things a little more interesting...

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 5

You know how it goes with school clubs in Japan - someone is always looking to get you shut down, whether it's for not having enough members or not participating in sufficient activities.

It's just this threat which hangs over the gang's after-school club in this week's Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions - with room for clubs sparse, the student council has decided that some of them simply have to go, and is thus inviting club leaders to congregate to tell them what their specific club does exactly.  Given that Rikka is the Far Eastern Magic Nap Society of Summer's official leader, this activity is never going to end well, and so it proves, with the club told to prove their worth or be... well, banished from this world.

Ironically, it might just be the napping part of the club's make-up which is their saviour, as it's revealed that napping is, in fact, a competitive sport that has a number of similar clubs dotted around the world.  Thus, the club's advisor sets them up against a rival school's own napping club in a sleep to the death that gains even more importance once Rikka foolishly promises to disband if they lose.  Can Kumin's clubmates learn the inner secrets of napping from their senior and win the day?

Even by this show's usual standards, this week's episode of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions was daft.  With a capital "F" - that's how daft it was.  That said, it was also kind of enjoyable in its own way - a relaxing trifle that managed to avoid the more irritating aspects of the show's cast and premise to focus on other aspects of its silliness in a mildly amusing way.  It's not exactly memorable stuff, but at this point the second season of this series almost feels like it's trying to willfully avoid anything that could be construed as "serious".

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Golden Time - Episode 17

Everything is just peachy again for Banri and Koko after their issues in last week's episode... the trouble is, nobody else seems to have cottoned on to that fact.

More specifically, their fellow club members are still laboring under the misgiving that the pair have broken up, and thus both Banri and Koko are treated decidedly oddly by their relieved yet creepily supportive clubmates until they managed to straighten things out.  Then again, these two aren't the only ones to suffer from the conclusions the group have jumped to, but this is soon forgotten when Linda puts in appearance, proving that things are even more relaxed here as Banri gets to talk and joke about his forgotten past with her in front of Koko without issue.

With the summer still stretching out in front of them and Banri making plans to visit home, Linda springs upon him the prospect of attending a high school reunion - something which he's unsure of, unlike Kaga who happily signs him up for it confident that he can handle it.  Although Banri's past as it relates to Linda and Koko might be comfortably resolved, it seems that there's still room for it to become an issue as it relates to Mitsuo, as he hangs around Linda and becomes decidedly inquisitive as to both her hometown and Banri's past.

Following a dull and slightly forced first half to this week's episode, the second segment of this latest episode did a reasonable job of shaking things up again, bringing Mitsuo back into the tangled web of relationships as we gain a little more insight into his association with Linda, which in turn is clearly still an issue to some degree for Oka.  I'm decidedly interest to see how all of this pans out, especially coupled with both Linda and Banri returning home at the same time, which seems like a chain of events which could see more dramatic sparks flying as a result.