Sunday, 30 March 2014

Wizard Barristers - Episode 12 (Completed)

Wizard Barristers hasn't exactly been a series with a realistic eye for legal proceedings, but surely even in this world a defendant asking the subject of his crime to be his defence barrister is highly irregular?

Regardless, this is exactly the position that Cecil finds herself in at the behest of Makusu, although to her surprise he reveals that the reason for this is that he wants to make amends and admit all of his crimes, including those surrounding her death and her mother's subsequent trial, while she looks on.  If this sounds too good to be true, then you'd be exactly right, and it soon becomes clear once the prosecution enter the scene that they're keen to push for many of the charges to Makusu to be dropped, to the point where they're even claiming that a fine would be sufficient punishment.

All of this comes to a head when he reach the trial itself, with Makusu insisting that he knows nothing of summoning magic, or why Cecil was unconscious in his apartment - when push comes to shove the true extent of his malice is revealed as he tries to frame Cecil for his son's death into the bargain, in the knowledge that there are no other reliable witnesses.  Thankfully for our protagonist, Butterfly Law Offices have an ace up their sleeve, and in time-honoured courtroom drama fashion they burst in at the last moment to reveal this trump card; the one man who knows everything of Makusu's plan, starting six years previously.  Then we have a courtroom battle sequence to close things out because heck, why not?!

While Wizard Barristers started quite strongly and certainly had its moments, it ultimately didn't really succeed in making the impact it might have hoped for - its take on courtroom drama was mostly terribly written to the point of being laughable (as depicted by this episode, which was ludicrous on many levels), some of the build-up towards its main story was equally bad, and its big action set pieces were too few and far between to save it.  I don't want to be too harsh on the series as it did have a certain charm to it, and in places its action was stunning, but its intriguing premise could clearly have been so much more compelling given some a better plot and writing.

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 12

Last week's episode of The Nationals saw Kiyosumi finally pulling into the lead as our titular character's own monstrous power came to the fore - but is that lead going to stay in place as we reach the final hands of the match?

Of all people, it's the supposedly ordinary Suehara who finally brings Saki's winning run to an end, shifting them into second place.  With Kiyosumi now effectively guaranteed top spot unless they play directly into someone else's hand, all eyes turn to Iwato and Toyone as the onus shifts to them to pull out a sufficiently substantial win to lift them into second place.  Unfortunately, that focus neglects to understand Saki's own modus operandi, and it's her who wins the final hand, leaving Kiyosumi and Himematsu as qualifiers for the next round as winner and runner-up respectively.

With the match over, it's time to tidy things up (literally and figuratively) and move forward, with Eisui's girls bemoaning their choice of gods to unleash for this match having saved some of their trump cards for later rounds that they'll now never see (individual tournament notwithstanding) before deciding not to worry about it and hit the beach - a decision which eventually sees Miyamori's group agreeing to join them for some much-needed relaxation.  For the other two teams there's less time to goof off, with their next match approaching fast and both teams with some important lessons to learn and improvements to make.  That, no doubt, will be a story for Saki's next season though.

Having finally hit its stride in last week's episode, it's decidedly unfortunate that everything was over in short order this week, with no further stunning moments or revelations as Kiyosumi ease to a win before we wind down towards what will doubtless be a frivolous season finale.  This further reinforces my feeling that there simply isn't enough "good stuff" in The Nationals, and it really needs to fix its pacing if it wants to bring back the old Saki magic - an impossible request most likely given the equally slow pace of its source material.

Space☆Dandy - Episode 13

What on Earth (or beyond Earth, more importantly) could drive a robot to drink coffee?  As somehow who loathes the stuff, what would possess anyone to drink coffee?  One of these questions, at least, is proffered by the season finale of Space Dandy.

Of course, the robot in question is QT who, having spent some time bemoaning his colleagues wasteful human traits, finds himself entranced by a sleek, beautiful and slightly clumsy coffee maker with a velvety voice (Aya Hirano's, in fact) named... well, Coffee Maker, of course.  In robot terms this is love at first sight, and so QT spends day after day visiting the cafe in question to meet his Maker, and it seems as if the feeling might be mutual.

Unfortunately for those concerned, this is a planet where any kind of emotion expressed by an AI is frowned upon, and one night both Coffee Maker and her cash register work colleague are rounded up and taken to the landfill site which serves as a graveyard for machines who have committed the sin of feeling.  The denizens of this junkyard have used their time to together to discover two things - firstly, how to hold a decent rave, and second, the technology required to overthrow and destroy humanity.  It's something neither QT nor Coffee Maker want to see, but can our vacuum cleaner hero do anything to stop them?  Maybe he can, thanks to another of Dr. Gel's bungled experiments.

For all of its episodes that failed to hit the mark, it was great to see Space Dandy close out its first season with a terrific episode that was delightfully funny in places but also carrying an undercurrent of continual amusement that served it in good stead throughout.  Once again, this week's instalment was also sumptuously animated, and it's this element of the series that has really made Space Dandy stand out as a show worth watching, as every single week has been a feast for the eyes.  It's a shame that the same can't quite be said of its episodic story content, which hasn't always hit the mark as it intended to, but it can at least boast some wonderful standalone episodes to its name - perhaps the show would have been better served sticking to thirteen episodes and offering up only the best of the best of the content in its cache, but we'll see what the continuation of the show can offer in the summer; I'll certainly be watching it with interest, if only to drink in its visuals some more.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 12 (Completed)

Where there's blame there's a claim, but no amount of compensation is going to help Yoppi overcome the ankle injury which looks all set to ruin both her and her group's chance in the Idol Festival final.

Naturally, Yoppi herself tries to put on a brave face and hide her injury from her colleagues, but it quickly becomes clear that something is wrong during the group's rehearsal, and there's nothing for it but to reveal the truth to them as they're about to cotton onto the problem anyhow.  The only question from there seems to be whether the group should pull out entirely or soldier on without Yoppi, but of all people it's a member of I-1 Club that comes to the rescue, bringing with her members of the group's medical staff to patch up and strap up Yoppi so that she might at least be able to survive her performance.

So, the day is saved, and with a little tweaking to their routine it's time for the Wake Up Girls to strut their stuff... something which they find themselves doing in front of a decidedly hostile audience filled with disapproving murmurs based mostly upon Mayu's appearance as part of their unit.  This soon starts to dissolve as their performance goes on however, winning over the crowd to an unbelievable extent to leave them with a standing ovation come the end of their routine, even if standing seems to be beyond Yoppi at this point.  It isn't enough to lift the Idol Festival trophy, but in the eyes of some at least it's an utter victory, and a performance that looks set to propel them on to greater things.

Given its starting point as a demonstration of everything that's wrong with the idol industry, it's been decidedly odd to watch Wake Up Girls morph into what it initially seemed determined to avoid, and come this final episode the show was effectively just another idol series geared to provide a feel-good ending and a drive to buy copious amounts of merchandise.  This isn't a terrible thing in itself - a good idol anime can be a lot of fun to watch - but between its rickety animation, lack of any defining characters and inability to follow up on some of its initial promise the result is a forgettable one.  For a show that seemed dead set on being anything but forgettable, that's the biggest disappointment of all.

Nisekoi - Episode 12

Just when it seemed like Raku had discovered and confirmed his "promised girl", up pops another - so is it Kirisaki or Onodera who's the girl he made a promise with ten years previously?

For all of her tough talk about how it couldn't possibly be Ichijou, Chitoge is clearly keen to find out whether Raku is the subject of her cherished (albeit mostly forgotten) memories, and after some prevarication it's time to put things to the test by seeing if her key fits his lock.  All is about to be revealed... until Kirisaki manages to snap her key in two, jamming it inside the locket.  With that plan foiled, Raku is left more confused as ever, although an appearance from Chitoge's father does at least explain one thing - it seems that both Kirisaki and Onodera were childhood friends that summer ten years ago, as they all met as part of a series of meetings between Raku and Chitoge's respective fathers.

Although this answers one query, it still leaves the big question unanswered - who, exactly, did Ichijou make his promise with?  Such is his preoccupation with those past events that he perhaps isn't entirely aware of how things are going in the present - Kirisaki is acting decidedly oddly and struggling to keep up the appearance of her relationship with Raku, while Onodera is once again getting the wrong idea about Ichijou's interest in Chitoge.  Perhaps the answer to Raku's big unanswered question is closer than he could have imagined, though?

Thankfully there are still a decent number of funny moments and visual quirks to be found in this week's Nisekoi, as this otherwise feels like the first time I've found myself feeling a little frustrated in the show's heavy leaning on misunderstandings and that all-important promise.  Perhaps it's simply that I feel this show would work perfectly well just relying on bouncing its cast off of one another at this point, or perhaps (more likely) the series simply works better when the whole promise conundrum ticks over in the background while current events occupy most of its running time.  Either way, I still had fun watching this episode, but it certainly didn't quite feel like Nisekoi at its best.

Sakura Trick - Episode 12 (Completed)

It's nearly time to say goodbye to Mitsuki and those in her year as graduation time rolls around... but not before a farewell party at her house!

Although this whole event is supposed to be a surprise party, Mitsuki is already very much aware of what's going on, even if she perhaps wasn't expecting for herself and Sakai to be provided with an entire bucket filled with green tea pudding.  As the festivities continue, Yuu disappearing into the kitchen where Haruka is already present and cooking sees Mitsuki's concerns as to what they might be up to flare up, and although (for once) the pair of them aren't kissing it somehow manages to end with a tug-of-war over Haruka between the two sisters (which Haruka seems to be enjoying far more than might be appropriate) before Mitsuki confesses her love for Haruka.  This girl doesn't mess around, it seems.

In fact, Mitsuki really doesn't hang around, as she's arranged to meet Haruka after her graduation ceremony to receive her response - a response that, surprisingly, confirms that Haruka loves Mitsuki.  Although this sounds great, the trouble is that it soon becomes clear that Haruka really doesn't know or understand what love is (at least, not Mitsuki's definition of it), and once this dawns on them both it's obvious that the relationship Mitsuki is looking for with Haruka is one already enjoyed by Yuu.  Then again, maybe Mitsuki has other admirers to consider, as one school year ends and another begins to round out the series.

Although it sagged a little for a week or two in the middle, Sakura Trick has proved to be an entertaining weekly distraction throughout the winter season - funny often enough to be worthwhile and rather sweet at times, while bolstered sufficiently by its Hidamari Sketch-lite visuals to give it some aesthetic flavour... the azuki beans hidden within the show's proverbial bucket of green pudding, if you will.  This may not go down as one of those much-loved slice of life comedies that lives on in viewer's hearts for years to come, but it's nonetheless a proficient series that moved its characters and their circumstances forward enough to make up for some of its elements which might otherwise have become repetitive.  I'd like to say that lesbian proclivities have rarely been this much fun, but that probably isn't true - that isn't a statement that should detract from the fact that Sakura Trick has been an enjoyable viewing experience though.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 22 (Completed)

Sawada seems to have Samurai Flamenco on the rails, but can he break Goto to fully realise his plan?

After flashing through Goto's experiences immediately following the disappearance of his girlfriend to explain why he messages himself as her and - more importantly - why he cherishes one particular message of hers, we reach the crux of Sawada's plot.  Put simply, he wants either Goto or Hazama to kill him in the hope of creating a new, "dark" back story for Samurai Flamenco.  Y'know, like Batman.  Although Goto is initially having none of this insane idea that he might shoot Sawada, his tune soon changes once that precious message is deleted from his phone.

Right on cue, this is also where Hazama puts in appearance, and it seems that he too has a plan - to combat Sawada as himself rather than his superhero alter-ego.  A naked Hazama grappling with him certainly undermines Haiji's plan, and once Goto frees himself it seems that our star has a similarly unorthodox method of talking Goto out of shooting Sawada.  With a little help from Flamenco Girl, this menace is apprehended, and all is well again... but is Hazama going to make good on his proposed plan to marry Goto?

After the bonkers majesty of its earlier story arcs this finale was never going to live up to those lofty heights, but it still made for a suitably silly and entertaining way to close out the series at least.  On a wider note, Samurai Flamenco was a show that started out as a lot of fun, and just as it threatened to turn repetitive suddenly seemed to imbibe a whole lot of illicit substances, locked itself in a room with nothing but a TV and a pile of tokusatsu DVDs, and then started churning out its rather unique form of genius.  Here is a show that was dumb, knew it was dumb, and poked fun at both its own dumbness and that of its influences and parodies, all while keeping an utterly straight face from beginning to end.  In that sense, it's the delivery of Samurai Flamenco that is the key to its success - it never let on that it was being knowingly stupid in the assumption that if you really had to ask what it was doing then you weren't in on the joke in the first place.  Of course, that served to alienate those who didn't get the jokes, or wanted a return to its earlier, more sedate episodes, but for those who embraced the series and came along for the ride (and what an utterly terribly animated ride it was too), the rewards were rich and many.  Not many other recent shows have made me laugh as long and hard (and more importantly, as consistently) as Samurai Flamenco, and that alone marks it out as something worthy of praise.

Kill la Kill - Episode 24 (Completed)

The Original Life Fibre's journey might have been brought to a grinding halt, but the final battle is still a daunting one, with both Ragyo and Harime determined to see their plan to subjugate humanity succeed.

Not only that, but they also seem to hold a lot of the cards - with these "final bosses" seemingly unassailable and the mechanics of their plan protected by a vast barrier, is there any way to stop them?  Once the massed ranks of Goku uniform wearing students are stripped of their powers and effectively disabled by Ragyo's "Absolute Submission" power provided by Shinra-Koketsu, it seems as if the answer is no, with no human possibly capable of standing up to the villain of the piece.  A good job, then, that Ryuko isn't exactly human.

Thanks to her efforts, and even more importantly those of Senketsu as he comes to a major realisation about his purpose in life, Ragyo's power to blunt the Goku uniforms that might be use against her is disabled, meaning that the counter-attack can begin.  The gang has reckoned without Harime however, who appears to be an ideal backup plan to relaunch this attempt to instruct the world's Life Fibres to overthrow their wearers.  Cue an epic finale fought just outside of the Earth's atmosphere, as Ryuko takes on all of the powers of her friend's uniforms, and more besides, to ensure that her mother's plan ultimately ends in failure.

Having worked itself into a position where it seemed impossible to screw things up, this was absolutely the rip-roaring finale of Kill la Kill that we expected, and exactly what the show deserved - pushed along at a lunatic pace with a constant spirit of one-upmanship, with some actual animation this week (which is always nice), and with some surprisingly touching moments in the midst of its insanity, one of which was then re-purposed for hilarious comedy within seconds.

Its fan service occasionally crossed the line into discomfort, but this is pretty much the only negative I can throw at Kill la Kill, a show that started off great and then just got better and better every week.  At one point I was convinced that its wider narrative wouldn't be able to match its moments of one-off action and comedy, only to be proven utterly wrong as it provided a plot that perfectly fit the show's goals and desires like... well, like a well-tailored outfit.  You will see better looking anime this year, let's not kid ourselves about that, but will you see anything so brashly, confidently, enjoyably in your face and as assured in its delivery as Kill la Kill?  I would wager that we won't.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 12 (Completed)

Rikka and Yuuta's "contract" might finally be settled and set in stone now Shichimiya is out of the picture, but it seems that this isn't the end of the matter for Rikka.

After some puzzlement as to why she isn't acting like her usual self around Yuuta, it's Satone who breaks the news to Dekomori and Nibutani - Rikka wants an "enhanced" contract with her boyfriend.  As it turns out, this isn't quite as lewd as some might initially think from its description; in fact, Rikka just wants to advance to kissing Yuuta.

Clearly, this isn't something she can progress to alone, leaving it up to Nibutani to get at least some admittance of what Rikka wants out of her before agreeing to assist her in her quest to kiss Yuuta while ensuring that she doesn't run away at the last moment.  This proves to be easier said than done, as even when Rikka has come out with her desires to Yuuta she still does everything in her power to back out at the last, before circumstances conveniently intervene anyhow.  Not that any of this seems to matter to Yuuta, who is still happy to take things at a glacial pace without a care in the world.

This closing episode of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions' serves up both the best and worst of the series in microcosm - it's occasionally funny and can be sharp with its physical comedy, but what feels like an increasing over-reliance on its "chuunibyou" angle is both irritating and frustrating, and only serves to ensure that its main relationship between Yuuta and Rikka goes nowhere.  For all of the talk of progression, the two of them really haven't moved forward in their lives at all (if anything, they've regressed), ensuring that the already tenuous thread of their relationship feels even harder to believe.  Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions can certainly be funny and deliver entertainment - it's just a shame that it can't do so more often, and that the very core of its premise compromises so much of the story that it wishes to tell.  Cut the delusions out of this series, and it could probably deliver something far more compelling than the marketing tag it saddles itself with in the name of Blu-Ray sales.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Golden Time - Episode 24 (Completed)

Just as he'd expected, Banri Tada's memories are about to vanish as if they were never there, and the end of the school festival sees all of his life since his accident simply dissolve as he returns home with his mother, leaving nothing more than a distraught group of friends in his wake.

Although Banri has plenty of notes from his "other" self, upon returning home he seems more than happy not to pursue any recollection of those missing memories - after all, what's the point of trying to rebuild something you can't even remember, and what would the use of that be?  Thus, the only carry-over from that period of his life is Linda, who continues to see Banri even if she, too, seems to be stuck in time from the moment of his accident and her missed meeting with him.

If Banri isn't going to chase after his recent past though, perhaps it might just chase after him instead?  A knock on the door as the New Year approaches sees Koko paying Banri a visit under the auspices of returning a DVD.  Although Banri has no idea who she is, and makes a (mistaken) blind guess at who she might be, a certain effect upon her person seems familiar, and upon further inspection Banri's memories of his former girlfriend come flooding back.  It seems that this is the moment to make good on his promise to her, if he can only catch her before she leaves town...

Having made what seemed like such a final statement of intent in last week's episode, I have to admit that I wasn't really expecting to be served up a happy ending here, but I can't really begrudge it for going down that path rather than just shrugging off the past six month's worth of viewing as forgotten memories.  In a sense, this finale was a good representation of Golden Time as a whole - something funny, sometimes hugely emotional, sometimes a complete mess in the delivery of important elements of its plot, but somehow just about coherent and entertaining enough to remain satisfying.  Make no mistake, this is no Toradora, but it does manage to rise above its use of the tired old amnesia cliche to bring life and purpose to such a concept, and with some characters who you couldn't help but root for into the bargain.  It may not be one of the highlights of the past two seasons of anime, but Golden Time is still a worthwhile show that had plenty to offer viewers willing to forgive its moments of insanity.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 11 (Completed)

Hachiken's dreaded return home to pick up some of his brother's study notes for Mikage all seems to be going smoothly - he's bumped into and managed to impress some former schoolmates, and it seems that his house is empty leaving him free from bumping into his father.

Of course, a boy's luck can only run for so long, and before leaving he finds himself not only meeting his parents but being implored to stay for a meal - a delicious meal at that, but one soured by one of Yugo's father and another of his brusque remarks, this time regarding Hachiken's attempts to help Mikage study despite having failed an entrance exam himself.  To his mother's surprise, this cause Yugo to flare up and argue back to his father, suggesting that treating failure as an absolute and the end of the road would make him less important than livestock before storming out of the house.

Recounting this story back at Ooezo nets him plenty of sympathy, with the exception of Tamako who suggests that perhaps Hachiken's father had a point - rather than getting back on the proverbial horse and risking failure again, is he actually simply living vicariously through Mikage by helping her study?  It's a prospect that rocks Hachiken to the core and leaves him racked with guilt, although his apology to Aki proves that it isn't as big of a deal as he thinks he is.  Then again, this all comes at a time when there's joviality all around, as a surprise visit from Yugo's mother so that she can find out at least a little of what his school life is like turns into something of a feast of locally-sourced produce.  It's the kind of evening that leaves all and sundry pondering their future with positive thoughts in mind, leaving us with a happy place to end this second season of Silver Spoon on.

Well, at least it's as happy as you can be when a series that you really don't want to end comes to a close - once again, Silver Spoon has been an absolute joy to watch this week and unceasingly brilliant in its execution.  Its comedy continues to be pinpoint accurate almost without fail, and its drama and emotion is so measured that it can be subtle when it needs to be but hit you with the force of a sledgehammer when it wants to, thanks in no short part to its wonderful cast of characters.  It would be criminal for this anime adaptation not to continue in the future, and I for one will doubtless be missing this show hugely until it (hopefully) returns.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 25

The Ofunehiki is drawing ever closer, but in a sense that almost takes a secondary importance in this week's Nagi no Asukara as its cast finally begin to properly sift through their tangled emotions.

It's Miuna who seems to be the week's emotional punching bag once again however, as having to rescue Manaka's pendant containing her feelings from the sea after it was dropped in there by Akira leads to confirmation beyond all doubt of Manaka's feelings for Hikari.  Earnest girl that she is, this only leads to her pushing even harder for Hikari to admit his own feelings, both to himself and others, even at the cost of her own intense emotional pain.

Elsewhere, last week's events regarding Saya seem to have given Kaname a new lease of life, as he sits down with Tsumugu for a heart-to-heart that allows him to finally fully pursue Chisaki while battling through her layers of resistance.  All of this is put on hold for the Ofunehiki, however, with even Uroko tagging along to help - once again, this ceremony produces dangers of Biblical proportions, and it seems that the feelings of both Manaka and Miuna will be its centrepiece this time around.

By a combination of necessity and its currently on-going plot, this week's Nagi no Asukara felt like it had to rush through some of its major romantic shifts where it could perhaps have given them a little more time to breathe - thankfully, these moments were still handled well enough overall, and the over-arching drama of the love triangle between Manaka, Miuna and Hikari is understandably taking centre stage to provide plenty of strong moments in the latter half of this week's episode.  On a personal level, I hate to think that Miuna might be the one to lose out on everything come the end of the series next week, but on the other hand the fact that I care at all is a testament to what the show has done so incredibly well throughout its second half.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 11

Her normal role is that of playing defence, but when the going gets tough, the shrine maidens get supernatural, and Iwato is about to unleash the full extent of her powers upon her unsuspecting opponents.

While some may usher their abilities in quietly, the extent of Iwato's influence soon becomes clear, as first one then another tile set seems to vanish from the board for the other players, leaving them with no tiles of that kind either in their hand or discarded while Iwato hogs them all - a turn of affairs which leads to consecutive hands and nobody else too sure what to do about it.

However, with Iwato "stuck" in her offensive mode, perhaps Himematsu's Suehara has the answer thanks to her time spent engaged in three-player mahjong, and lo and behold she comes back to win a hand of her own... albeit with a little help from one Saki Miyanaga.  With the limits of Iwato's power now apparent, it's suddenly Saki's time to shine as she steps into the limelight and practically obliterates her opponents, showing some variety to her ability to create rinshan kaihou hands as well as proving that there's more to her arsenal than this trick alone.  We leave the episode with Kiyosumi back in the lead, but can they make it stick with only a few hands left to play?

It's taken a bloody long time to get there, but for all of my (still valid, in my opinion) criticisms of The Nationals I can't deny that watching Saki coming into her own and demolishing all before her remains thrilling to watch no matter how inevitable it might be.  Admittedly, this week's episode still struggles to really make its tension stick, compensating with its feel-good factor of finally having our leading girl take the limelight in a satisfying fashion.  Hopefully the climax to this particular match can build on this to at least make for a memorable end to the series.. assuming, that is, that the final instalment is spent with the cast in the bath.  Again.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Wizard Barristers - Episode 11

Time is running out (and so is the animation budget) in this week's Wizard Barristers, as Macal's sinister plan to summon Lucifer kicks into full force.

For Butterfly Law Offices, this means that it's their turn to be invaded, where it quickly becomes clear that resistance will be futile.  What their brief resistance does allow, however, is for Cecil to gain some further distant from her pursuers - unfortunately this is but a temporary reprieve before Shizumu tracks her down and makes it clear that he'll take no prisoners when it comes to, well, taking Cecil prisoner.

Thus, Cecil is captured, and the ritual begins to summon Lucifer with Cecil as the body presented to him - what Makusu doesn't know however is that summoning Lucifer to the Earth is a pointless request, as Lucifer is already there.  What's more he (she?) has taken more than a passing interest in Cecil, and intends to impart all of the powers that come with the job upon her to see what she does with them.  Before this is completed, Shizumu hijacks the ritual in an attempt to save Cecil, which leaves her instead having to face-off against a murderous Makusu in an attempt to both save herself and, of course, bring him to justice.

Whether this week's instalment ran out of production time or money, there were some decidedly painful corner-cutting elements on show today in Wizard Barristers, which served only to significantly reduce its impact whenever they occurred.  Outside of some half-baked visuals, the show's grand finale (not counting next week's trial of Makusu) didn't really live up to its billing either - its twists were largely predictable, and somehow the world never felt in peril as it perhaps should have done from a fallen angel being called to Earth.  In a way, this episode sums up the series as a whole pretty well - impressive in brief flashes which threaten to be underwhelmed by a clunky and ill-prepared framework, and ultimately not as jaw-dropping as it clearly wants to be.

Space☆Dandy - Episode 12

Dandy and company bringing in low-rent aliens to Scarlett for payment is nothing new, but now these new alien specimens are so pathetic that they payout is less than the administrative costs of handling them.

In light of this, Scarlett suggests that Dandy shouldn't come back until he brings back a suitable impressive alien; something like, oh, I dunno... a Chamelonian.  Of course, our hero is always going to take that kind of bait, which sends him off on the hunt for what he mistakenly assumes will be little more than a large chameleon.  Misguided though this is, it does at least allow QT to discover the joys of fishing (QT Hartley, anyone?) - a passion which inadvertently and unwittingly nets him an actual Chamelonian.

You can probably guess what happens here... a normal nice on the Aloha Oe turns into a confusing day as the realisation dawns that there are now four people on the ship, while trying to catch the culprit becomes all the more difficult when the alien in question starts wandering around resembling everything from inanimate objects through to the crew itself.  When the Chamelonian finally decides to mimic Dandy himself, the two simply can't be told apart - not that Dandy seems to mind there being two of him, nor does he seem too worried that he isn't even sure who is any more... a problem that is about to afflict a certain rival of his as he attempts to capture his prey.

This was perhaps the most predictable episode of Space Dandy yet, but that didn't stop it from being pretty entertaining and amusing as it went amount making use of its setup with gusto to create a fun little instalment that may not be the best this show has to offer, but is also far from the worst.  As ever, the episode was colourful and pretty well animated, to add some sheen to a solid package - it still leaves me wondering whether Space Dandy needs or will benefit from having twenty-six episodes when it's already starting to feel a little light on content, but I guess I can't complain if it keeps me entertaining like this.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Sakura Trick - Episode 11

There's a new student council president in the house in this week's Sakura Trick, and whaddya know she's a bit of an oddball.

"Sumisumi" as she's known (although don't call her that to her face, Sumi Otokawa is her actual name) is more than a little disappointed that the school doesn't have any budget available to do anything as a thank you to the departing third years, but it comes to her attention that perhaps they don't need any funding from the school as Haruka is already on the case, albeit arranging something mostly for Mitsuki's benefit.  Thus, Sumi and Haruka join forces - but what do the third years like that would be a good basis for a party?  The answer seems to be pudding, although Sumi's interests lay with something else bouncy, soft and delicious entirely, it seems...

All of this becomes of secondary importance to Haruka however, as the cat is finally out of the bag - after all of those suspicious moments, Mitsuki has finally caught Haruka kissing her sister.  Needless to say she's none too happy about the entire business, and does everything in her power that Haruka and Yuu don't get any more private time together under any circumstances - something which proves almost impossible, especially when the pair have a dance class together.  But is Mitsuki really trying to protect her sister, or is something else driving her insistence to keep her sister and Haruka apart?  The truth, when it dawns upon Mistuki, rocks her to her core.

This wasn't Sakura Trick's funniest episode (over-reliant on boob groping that it was), but it has at least brought us to a point where we might be able to resolve some of its more tangled relationships now that they're out on the open - I have no illusions that we'll end with a dramatic resolution of the Haruka-Mitsuki-Yuu love triangle, but we may at least get some kind of closure from it.  If not, hopefully we can get another fun episode to round off what has been a broadly fun series that has made up for a lack of any real originality with some sharp visuals and likeable cast.  Besides, if everything else goes pear-shaped, maybe we can just have an entire episode of Yuzu dancing?

Nisekoi - Episode 11

Chitoge and Raku are now on first name terms, but in the latter's case at least it still doesn't exactly trip off the tongue - especially when Onodera's around...

Such thoughts are interrupted by Tsugumi, who appears bringing word of an important event - namely Kirisaki's birthday.  What's more, she's arranging a surprise party for her "master", and of course all of our usual suspects are invited.  Never one to miss an opportunity to thrust Ichijou and Onodera closer together, Ruri pounces by suggesting that she should go, dress casually and then meet up to go shopping for a birthday present together - an arrangement that most (in anime-land, at least) would consider "a date".

So it goes that the two of them enjoy a whirlwind shopping trip, ending with Kosaki taking the initiative in a surprising fashion by showing Raku her secret spot (no, not that secret spot, get your minds out of the gutter).  In the wake of all of this, some of Onodera's words sound shockingly familiar to Ichijou, and such is his shock that his attempt to ask her when her birthday is ends up with him asking whether she's the girl he made a promise to ten years previously.  "Yes" seems to be the answer here, but Tsugumi interrupts things as Chitoge's party at her opulent home beckons - an event that is about to throw Raku's poor mind into even further confusion as to how he made a childhood promise to in the first place.

No matter which way I try to slice it, Nisekoi continues to be so much fun that I can forgive the egregious stupidity of its characters and their behaviour simply because it helps to keep the show ticking over in all of the ways it needs to - its comic timing continues to be spot-on, aided and abetted by both its visuals and a cast that are likable in spite of their inability to put any coherent thought into their relationships.  In fact, all of the characters seem to be smart apart from when they're thinking about their own relationship dilemmas - oh well, I guess I'll just blame the hormones and get back to laughing out loud at this show on the various occasions when it hits the spot every week.

Space Brothers - Episode 99 (Completed)

Yes, it's true, this is the end for Space Brothers... at least, it is for now, but with a prequel movie on the way surely this story is one that we'll revisit further again in the future?

Anyhow, Mutta's concerns for his missing brother have escalated to the point where his primary concern should probably now be his own future, after a major lapse of judgment caused a critical issue during a training session that a simply "Oops, sorry" won't really fix, in turn causing Mutta to get both barrels from Vincent.  Decidedly fed up, Mutta finds himself invited out for a bite to eat by Nitta, who updates him on the latest news with his own younger brother, who it just so happens is suffering from a similar turn of poor fortune to bring a run of good luck and success to an end.  In short, Kazuya also finds himself at the short end of an employment decision based upon his history rather than his present, much to Nitta's chagrin.

It just so happens that after this meal, Mutta finally does receive contact from Hibito, who shocks his brother by stating that after a lot of thinking and wandering America alone he's decided to quit NASA.  This isn't the end of his space adventure however, as he still has plans elsewhere... Russia, to be precise.  Freed from this worry, Mutta can concentrate on his own career once more, building the bridges he requires with Bold and ensuring that, six months later, he's successfully on-hand as CAPCOM for the next shuttle launch.

Short of both brothers standing on the Moon together apropos of nothing, no ending to Space Brothers was really going to be satisfying, and this final episode did feel like it had to rush a fair few things (what are Vincent Bold's family like?  How did Mutta win them over?) to get to a relatively clean place to close things out.  The door is clearly open for more, and I really hope that we get it - Space Brothers is a unique and fascinating series (beyond the simple fact that it isn't filled with high school kids!) that has not only grabbed my attention week on week for nigh-on two years, but it's also rekindled my interest in space and space exploration, which is no mean feat.  It hasn't always hit the mark, but across its ninety-nine episodes its succeeded in its storytelling far, far more often than it failed, and that's no mean feat.

In short, life won't be complete until we get to see Mutta on the surface of the moon, but for now I'm happy to look back upon the fond memories of what this series did bring us, and all of the joy, tension and emotion that came with it.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 11

They've made it to the final of the Idol Festival in Tokyo to stake their claim as an official rival of I-1 Club, but now the Wake Up Girls have to face up to the fact that none other than I-1 Club themselves have effectively pinched their best song.

Just as both group and management are pondering the ways they can detach the devious Hayasaku limb from limb, up pops the man himself to declare what he's been up to, which effectively comprises of making an even better song for Wake Up Girls to perform in the final to blow everybody away, and what's more this track will feature Yoppi as the group's centre.  With just one month to prepare, it's time for another hard slog learning the song and its choreography to the point where Hayasaku is as happy with it as he's ever likely to be with anything.

With preparations complete, off we go to Tokyo alongside a decidedly nervous group of girls, none more so than Yoppi herself as they face up to the magnitude of both the city itself and their task at the I-1 Arena.  It's clear who calls the shots here as I-1 Club get preferential treatment throughout, but the girls remain determined not to lose their focus - they might be about to lose something else however, as an accidental trip by Yoppi could put all of their hard work in jeopardy.

These recent episodes of Wake Up Girls certainly seem like a far cry from its early reckoning, with its cynical take on the idol market largely (although admittedly not completely) replaced with happy faces and near instant success for its titular group.  It feels like an odd decision in one sense, although perhaps a narratively necessary one, but it has left the last couple of instalments of the series feeling like "just another idol show", albeit one without any decent production values to crow about.  Perhaps its ending will have something insightful to say, but at the moment it looks like it might just be another "victory against the odds" fare to square the circle on the forced drama introduced in this episode.

Kill la Kill - Episode 23

It's time for the final showdown - well, the almost final showdown - so it's all hands on deck to prevent Life Fibres from taking over the world.  And by that, I mean that even Mako is on-hand with her rebuilt Goku Uniform to lend a hand.

If Mako makes the early running in protecting the Naked Sol from invading Covers look easy, the bad news is that things only get tougher and tougher as she threatens to be overwhelmed - luckily for her the Elite Four are about to receive new, improved Goku Uniforms of their own, which appears to be more than enough to turn the tide.

At least, it would be if it the Original Life Fibre didn't choose that moment to make a detour in the direction of the Naked Sol with a view to devouring it, making Satsuki and Ryuko's already difficult task of trying to destroy it and fight Ragyo all the more impossible.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and a surprising show of strategic nous from Ryuko devises the perfect plan for the others to distract Ragyo while she puts paid to the Original Life Fibre - with a little help from Mako, of course.  This isn't the end of the battle though (although it does leave time for a nice cup of tea), as Harime's masterpiece is complete and Ragyo is still very much alive and kicking to wear it to provide a final foe for our collected heroes to fight against.

The setup of its final struggle meant that there isn't a whole lot of room for Kill la Kill to surprise the audience at this late juncture, but it still manages to provide a few highly entertaining (and/or amusing) twists and turns along the way regardless to bring us towards what will surely be a satisfying finale next week to end it all.  With a couple of final baddies for us all to rail against while we cheer on our favourite characters, we'll hopefully be left with one last thrill ride to end the weekly dose of colourful insanity that this show has provided with such a aplomb.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 11

Shichimiya's battle with herself was almost won... but Yuuta had to come back and ruin it all, leaving her running from the scene in tears.

In fact, Yuuta has himself a handful in terms of pretty much all of the girls around him - in the wake of that little slice of drama, a rain-soaked Rikka has been left with a cold but refuses to sit still as she seeks to go somewhere that she point-blank refuses to tell Yuuta about.  Then there's Nibutani, who is hassling Yuuta to bring Satone's lovelorn malaise to an end, even if she can't offer any pointers as to how he might go about that.

Of course, Satone herself - after a period of sulking alone - is determined to continue playing her usual cheerful role to prove that everything is okay in her world, even if this isn't the case, although Yuuta's attempt for a heart-to-heart with her is ruined by news that Rikka has gone missing when she should be resting.  It's thanks to Satone that we finally get to the bottom of what Rikka is up to - in short, she's been searching for the last of Yuuta's "buried treasures", largely out of desperation to have one of these tokens of her bond with Yuuta for herself.  This actually leaves Yuuta with a perfect opportunity to resolve all of the issues that face him - any jealousy Rikka might be feeling, any lingering hopes that Shichimiya may have, and also a firm resolution of his own feelings for Rikka.

Although this is more of a personal complaint at this point than a fault with the series (which is tried and tested in its outlook at this juncture), the over-reliance on its characters "delusions" as the crux of this week's episode succeeding in breaking it for me, making for a love story that it was impossible to relate to.  Given that the entire episode was supposedly an emotional one, the result was an instalment that looked pretty (as always) but left me cold - an issue that this series has had all too often, if I'm honest.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 21

Haiji Sawada's reign of terror continues in this week's Samurai Flamenco, and having already struck at many of Hazama's allies his next target is an obvious one - the members of Mineral Miracle Muse.

Although Mari escapes unscathed, her two group-mates aren't so fortunate as both are caught up in a coffee poisoning incident.  The better news for Hazama is that Kaname has regained consciousness after his "accident" at Sawada's hands, and he has some important advice for Hazama - All you need is love.  Then again, maybe he's just been listening to too many Beatles records (if such a thing were possible).

The trouble is, this advice has left Hazama stumped - just what is love exactly.  Ishihara tries to explain it to him, but ultimately the only answer is that it's something that one must experience for oneself to understand, while also suggesting that Sawada's behaviour is simply a misunderstood and twisted interpretation of his love of Samurai Flamenco.  Either way, Goto is the next target for Haiji's terror campaign, so Hazama is going to need answers fast if he hopes to save his long-standing friend.

This final story arc of Samurai Flamenco still feels like a step down from its previous fare in terms of how ludicrous is attempts to be, but I remain interested in where this particular tale is heading and what it wants to say - I'm beginning to suspect that its true remit is to turn a mirror on a certain obsessive minority of otaku and what their twisted love as part of that fandom can drive them to do, but perhaps I'm reading too much into a show that has largely been more about straight-up parody than moralising.  If nothing else, it remains broadly entertaining even when it isn't at its best, which has been a hallmark of the show from the start to keep it ticking along throughout.

Golden Time - Episode 23

To compound Banri's misery at being dumped by Koko, she's now about to walk out of the festival club too - something which he simply can't countenance.

After chasing her down, he correctly guesses the real reason for their break up, that being that Koko simply can't stand the thought of being around and in love with a Banri who disappears along with his post-accident memories.  With this all out in the open, the pair agree to remain friends, with Koko also remaining in the festival club - unfortunately, Mitsu isn't so easily placated, as he refused to talk to Banri and makes himself scarce both inside and out of classes.

In an attempt to rectify things as Banri becomes more spaced out and Koko seems more upset by the day, Satou suggests another get-together for this group of friends - once again though, this meeting is short-circuited by the loss of Banri's recent memories once more, this time right in front of Koko, leaving it to Linda to pick up the pieces again.  With things clearly getting worse, Banri realises that it's time to return home and to seek medical attention, but not before one last hurrah at the school festival before all of these memories look set to desert him forever.

As flimsy as its amnesia plot point continues to be, I can't really deny that it's used to create some harrowing drama in this week's episode in particular - the idea of both losing cherished memories or knowing that a loved one might lose them, and even worse seeing them forget who you are right in front of you is hard to countenance and equally hard to watch.  Even Banri's acceptance of his fate doesn't really help with this, and I'm now interested to see how the final episode deals with things as they're left here... it feels like this may be a closing episode that resolves nothing in terms of the relationships between characters, but we shall see.  For now though, I will certainly give Golden Time credit for running with what is on the surface a lazy narrative conceit but managing to make pretty good use of it.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 10

Having finally urged Mikage to be honest with her family about her own dreams and future career plans, we're somewhat cruelly left hanging until the end of the episode to see exactly how that conversation panned out.

However, in the immediate aftermath as this week's instalment begins, it's clear that Mikage's parents have accepted that she doesn't want to take over the ranch.  So, what next?  Mikage's plan to offer Komaba the ranch doesn't work out, but her primary concern is that she's agreed that instead of taking on the ranch she's going to need to work towards a place in higher education instead with a view towards a career working with horses.

There is one major snag to this plan, however - as her parents so succinctly put it, Aki is an idiot.  While this is a little harsh her grades certainly aren't great, so it's Hachiken to the rescue as he offers to help her study, which largely involves him figuring out how to tie subjects she doesn't like into her love of horses to make them easier for her to remember.  For all of Hachiken's nous when it comes to studying, he does have one hefty gap in his own arsenal - knowing what it takes to apply to a university.  Reluctantly, the only person he can turn to is his brother, and what's worse is that said brother's notes from that period of time are back at his parent's place.  It is perhaps telling of Hachiken's feelings for Mikage that he's even willing to brave a visit to his parents to help her out.

After the serious fare of the past couple of episodes, this week's Silver Spoon was really about renewed hope and enthusiasm, as Mikage finally gets to pursue her dream while Hachiken indirectly gets to pursue his dream, that seemingly being Mikage.  I'm continuing to really enjoy the relationship between this leading pair a lot - its uncertainty isn't founded on misunderstandings or outright stupidity so much as the fact that there are more important issues at hand for both of them, and watching them grow closer almost without realising it has been decidedly satisfying.  I can only hope that never week's finale isn't the last we see of Silver Spoon in animated form, because I simply can't get enough of it.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 24

Although it wasn't exactly as Tsumugu might have planned it, his feelings for Chisaki are finally out in the open, leaving him little choice but to follow through and explain them to her in detail.

Unfortunately for him, that isn't enough to make Chisaki fall into his arms - far from it in fact, as she rejects him entirely and runs off.  But is Chisaki simply lying to herself?  It's Kaname (of all people) who tackles her and gives her an outlet for her feelings, which seem to be more predicated upon guilt that she spent all this time awake above the surface while her friends were sleeping, and that as a result she doesn't deserve Tsumugu's love if someone else - i.e. Manaka - should be its true recipient.

In typical Tsumugu style, he doesn't sit and mope in the wake of all this - instead, he focuses his efforts into a plan that might stave off the slow calamity likely to befall the surface while also retrieving Manaka's ability to love.  In short, this plan involves organising and carrying out another Ofunehiki, complete with an Ojoshi that is decked out with the necklace that originated from the Red Sea Slug assumed to have been used by Manaka.  With Uroko agreeing to help in the matter, Tsumugu succeeds in reuniting those involved in the Ofunehiki five years previously, although with all of our major players in close proximity there were always likely to be some emotionally difficult moments ahead, and it's Kaname and Saya who experience the most intense of these in the wake of some more heartbreak for the former regarding Chisaki.

It's that scene between Kaname and Saya that provides another stand-out moment for this increasingly excellent series - not only was it superb within the confines of this series, it was arguably one of the greatest scenes of its kind I've seen in a long time, even to the point of making fantastic use of the now over-used passing train visual motif.  Aside from this, there was still no shortage of strong character moments - Chisaki continues to be a tremendous (if self-destructive) character, this week's episode provided another reminder of Hikari's growth, and Miuna's current path of behaviour is an emotional timebomb waiting to go off.  From modest beginnings, Nagi no Asukara has certainly cemented itself as a must-watch show in recent weeks.

Spring 2014 anime preview guide

As per usual, I've written and compiled a new season preview guide over at UK Anime for the Spring 2014 season, and also as per usual I've nearly forgotten to link it here.  So, to resolve that - here's a link to my spring 2014 anime preview guide!

As spring seasons go, it's a pretty quiet one in terms of stuff I'm really excited about, but there's a good ten or so shows that I'll be aiming to watch so I'm sure there'll be enough to keep me busy over the coming months!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Space☆Dandy - Episode 11

Whether you're the leader of an evil organisation or not, forgetting to return a library book is always a concern.  The goods news is, when you're the leader of said evil organisation, you can just invade and destroy the planet bugging you with reminders to return the book.

This is no ordinary book however, and what's more it's been stolen, which is in no way related to the super-rare alien Dandy is touting to the powers that be - an alien that is worth an absolute fortune, but one that is currently enclosed inside a box as anyone who sees it will instantly forget all about it.  Although this sounds like a great scam, it seems that it's not inaccurate, as opening the box causes a bout of mass amnesia that leaves Dandy and his crew with nothing more than a book and some kind of bookmark which eventually seems to be a free trip (with free food, more importantly) to the library planet of Lagado.

Unfortunately, this also happens to be the planet that Admiral Perry is intent upon destroying, which once again brings Dandy into contact with a rather distracted Dr. Gel - not that it matters too much as a higher life force is at play in the force of The Secrets of the Cosmos For Dummies, which has more than enough of those secrets up its sleeve to repel any invasion and send Dandy and company safely on their way, throwing a little gift their way into the bargain.

In what seems to be a bit of a trend in recent weeks, this was a reasonably enjoyable if far from memorable episode of Space Dandy that seemed more interested in exploring its admittedly interesting visual aesthetic than anything else.  There were a few mildly amusing moments and entertaining ideas on show here, but it didn't quite coalesce in quite as competent a fashion as it perhaps could - or even should - have done, resulting in another episode that passed me pile with a smile and the occasional chuckle, but left me scouring my memory for what happened during segments of the episode mere minutes after watching it.  Throwaway entertainment paired experimental animation and use of colour palettes seems to be the order of the day here, and to fair that isn't necessarily a bad thing at all provided you aren't looking for anything more enduring.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 10

Toyone Anetai has been towering over her opponents - both literally and figuratively - as part of the final set of matches in this current game, but with the object of her attacks focused upon Himematsu's Suehara Kiyosumi find themselves not too far behind in second place as the first half of this game comes to an end.

Given Toyone's propensity for "chasing" the riichi calls of others, it seems as if her ability can be easily mitigated however - or at least it would be if that were her sole ability.  Any assumptions that she won't be able to call on any tiles discarded by others are soon blown out of the water in spectacular fashion however, as she starts calling on every discard to leave herself with a so-called "naked wait" before pulling the winning tile to emerge victorious once again.

In a breather from all of this, we flash back to see Toyone's first game with her current teammates (who unsurprisingly are unable to best her), and how she was head-hunted to transfer into Miyamori Girls' School on account of her talents.  The big question in the here and now is whether anyone can stop her as she propels her team to the top of the table, relegating Kiyosumi into third place in the progress.  Although it isn't what she was positioning within the team for, Eisui's Iwato is going to at least give it a shot...

Perhaps I'm a horrible person for thinking so, but I'm being increasingly frustrated by Saki's flashbacks to fill in backgrounds of characters - it never ceases to break the pacing and tension of the match and would be far better slotted in before each game, particularly in instances such as this one where it doesn't seek to explain or give any more details on said character's powers.  As a result, my interest in proceedings was broken once again this week, leaving me needing to draw myself into the match again just in time for the end of the episode.  Maybe we can focus on the mahjong itself next week, but I somehow doubt it.

Wizard Barristers - Episode 10

Come the end of last week's Wizard Barristers, Cecil seemed to have landed herself in decidedly hot water as rival forces swirl around her, leading to her trying to escape from Shizumu with some assistance from Kiba Sameoka, even though she really isn't sure who or what she's meant to be running from.

It's ultimately Moyo who saves her from both factions as their magical battle threatens to get seriously out of hand, in turn forcing all and sundry to regroup.  For Shizumu's part, this means arresting Sameoka under what he purports to be accusations of human trafficking, although the constant questions of his superior Quinn as to his recent actions are a thorn in his side that he ultimately finds himself having to deal with.

As Shizumu's movements expand to shut down and search Shark Knight's offices, it's left to Shibuki Kujira to deliver the truth to Cecil - a truth that includes her death six years previously, and her importance as the "catalyst" to whatever the dangerous faction of magic users known as the Macal are plotting.  Cecil may be safe for now, but danger is never too far away - then again, it seems that even Shizumu's taste for involving Cecil in the unfolding plan seems to be wavering, so she may have some aides in unexpected places.

Although its animation quality took a dive, offset by some well-crafted action scenes, this was a busy and pretty decent episode of Wizard Barristers - its somewhat tangled plot perhaps isn't exactly its strong point and the show always feels like it might trip over its own narrative feet at any moment, but we seem to be moving towards an interesting conclusion to the series over its final couple of episodes now that we know the overall gist of what is going on and the allegiances of those involved.  Hopefully it'll involve lots of magical explosions to boot, as that certainly seems to be one of the show's strong points.

Space Brothers - Episode 98

In the wake of news about his future as an astronaut, Hibito has simply gone missing without a word to anybody - a state of affairs which might be more worrying for Mutta were it not an occurrence that he's had to deal with before while growing up with his brother.

Nevertheless, it's a worrying turn of events that naturally distracts Mutta from his all-important CAPCOM training, which in turn earns him something of a dressing down from Bold.  Determined though he is to follow his dream, Hibito's whereabouts are still Mutta's primary concern no matter how much he tries to hide his worry to those around him.

As time goes by with still no word from his brother, this sense of concern spreads to Butler himself, who calls Mutta to see if he can shed any light on Hibito's whereabouts while also informing him of the full extent of the situation - even with four respected astronauts petitioning to put Hibito back on the roster for future space missions, it seems that programme manager Gates is still having none of it.  As the situation gets all the more hopeless, is Hibito going to return at all?  Well, he only has one episode left to do so...

Having had Space Brothers at the heart of my weekly viewing for two years now, it's sad but not entirely shocking to hear of it coming to an end (for now, at least), but beyond that this was a bit of a slow-burning episode that never quite managed to latch on to any real sense of worry about Hibito's disappearance - there was no urgency to anybody's actions for the most part, and the entire thing felt a little odd.  Hopefully the series can at least end with the resolution of this story, while leaving plenty of scope for the show to return in the future - something that, much like Hibito, I most certainly hope it does.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Nisekoi - Episode 10

Continuing with their school trip, and following on from last week's bathhouse incident, it's time for Nisekoi to continue its run of highly original ideas with... a test of courage!

While Raku's heart is pounding the next time he sees Chitoge the morning after the night before, Kirisaki herself seems to be as cool as a cucumber - or rather, she's simply better at hiding her nerves.  Regardless, thoughts soon turn to the day's big event, a test of courage in the nearby woods where all of the students will be paired together as boy and girl via a lottery.  It's no secret who Ichijou and Onodera want to be paired with, but will fate conspire to bring them together?

As it happens, fate doesn't need to conspire as Ruri is more than capable of taking on that role, dropping a massive hint to Raku as to what number of should be looking out for.  Lo and behold, that's exactly the number of picks, opening the door to a tense and nervous bout of hand-holding as the event begins.  Or at least, it would if this wasn't the point where Kirisaki goes missing - having volunteered herself to take the place of a sickly "ghost" in spite of her hatred of the dark, she's left in the middle of the dark woods without a working torch, which isn't exactly her idea of a good time.  Knowing her fears, Raku races to the rescue - an event which seems more than a little reminiscent of incidents in Kirisaki's past.

It's so easy to harp on about how predictable and cliched everything that Nisekoi does is, but in a way this only makes me more amazed at how it continues to be successful at what it does - this was another really fun episode that didn't hold any surprises but entertained with every scene in spite of it.  Helped along by its visuals, I continue to look forward to Nisekoi each week, as a series that perhaps proves that sometimes the old ideas are the best.

Sakura Trick - Episode 10

In contrast to some rather mild and enjoyable weather here, it's a cold day in the world of Sakura Trick this week... cold enough for snow, in fact.

This unexpected meteorological arrival fills Haruka with excitement - a little too much excitement perhaps, leading her to suggest that maybe they should eat their lunch outdoors.  Rather more sensibly, the rest of the group dismiss the idea without a second thought... all, that is, except for Shizuka, who also seems sold on the idea.  At least, she is until they actually start trying to eat in the freezing cold, but even at this point Haruka refuses to budge - indeed, after talking with Shizuka a little and remembering her situation with Kotone, she becomes all the more determined to drag the others out there with them, even if it's for a snowball fight rather than food.  Speaking of snowballs, a throwaway suggest from Kaede to Mitsuki that Haruka and her sister might be dating could itself snowball into an avalanche if she takes the suggestion seriously.

Moving into the second half of the episode, there's a little concern about Kaede's behaviour as she doesn't seem to be her usual self (after tackling Mitsuki about her sister's relationship, unbeknownst to the others) - not that this lasts long, as she soon rolls out some practical jokes against Haruka.  In fact, the joke is on Haruka throughout here, as her attempts at using a skipping rope end in disaster, before her promise to clear up after the class ends with her locked in the gym storage room.  You know, I'd love to see some research on how many Japanese teenagers have really been accidentally locked in school storage rooms...

Having recovered from a mid-series slump, Sakura Trick now seems to be in a place where it can just let its characters do their thing and it broadly works - even when it isn't at its funniest its pleasant and reasonably enjoyable to watch, and its character interactions are solid enough to keep things ticking over.  I'm curious to see whether the show ends with some drama surrounding "outing" Haruka and Yuu's relationship, but even if it doesn't this remains a fun little series.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Wake Up, Girls! - Episode 10

After all of the recent tensions, it seems that everything has been resolved between the various members of Wake Up Girls, and not a moment too soon with the Idol Festival organised by I-1 Club's head honcho looming.

As a result, much of this week's episode deals with the preparation for the Tohoku region's preliminary round of the contest, as the group practice doggedly, organise their outfit for the big day, and fret over exactly what it is that makes them appealing to fans, while of course, the fans themselves also have preparations to make.  In the midst of all this, Mayu decides that it's time to sit down and try and explain things to her mother, even inviting her to the concert in the hope that she can finally understand why she left I-1 Club.

Away from all of this, the group also have to worry about their rivals for this round, perhaps the most eye-catching of which are the Demons of Oga, who seemingly mix their song and dance routine with comedy.  Oh, and big demon masks too... maybe they just want to be Super Sonico's manager?  Anyway, Yoppi isn't one to be cowed by this rival group's beligerence, and come the event itself everything goes surprisingly well for the Wake Up Girls - heck, even Mayu's mother turns up to watch her daughter perform.  The stage is all set for the group to head to the grand final in Tokyo, but before all of that there's another fly in the ointment to sour any positivity in the group's mood...

Ignoring some really ropy moments of animation, this was an okay but unspectacular episode of Wake Up, Girls that seems to have decided to do away with any real hardships for the group and suddenly turn them into a sufficiently accomplished unit to fend off their local rivals and look like pros at the festival - a decision that frankly isn't all that interesting and feels dangerously close to being a jarring shift in the group's abilities.  Beyond that, this sudden bout of success just doesn't feel all that interesting, but again this is probably down to my lack of investment in the characters at this point which I'm not sure the show can do anything to resolve.  Well, apart from creating a spin-off that follows the Demons of Oga, perhaps...

Kill la Kill - Episode 22

Against all odds, Ryuko has managed to break free of the uniform-turned-prison that is Junketsu, turning the tables once again in the battle for the future of humanity.

It seems, however, like Ryuko might have made one miscalculation in her recovery - pinning Harime to a wall with her half of those infamous scissors.  Far from dead, Nui is simply angry, and now that she has both halves of the scissors in her possession she holds the means to slice Senketsu to pieces before Ryuko can don him again.  That's the plan, at least, but Senketsu himself has other ideas, and once reunited with Ryuko there's no stopping this pairing as our protagonist sets about rendering Nui quite literally armless.  If Harime was angry before, she's now apoplectic with rage, although there's nothing for it but to make good her escape under the circumstances.

This in turn offers our ragtag crew of saviours of the Earth to regroup and resupply, which in this case means saving some of their former comrades from the Covers that have swallowed them, collecting Life Fibres for new Goku uniforms, and for Ryuko and Satsuki it's time to put their rivalry to bed.  With Harime put back to work at completing Ragyo's plan, while Ragyo herself returns to Honnouji Academy with the Original Life Fibre as part of that scheme, it's time for the final battle for the future of the planet to take place.

Having changed allegiance more times than she's changed her clothes (well, as many times as she's changed her clothes, technically speaking), I'm actually a little relieved that we have Ryuko back on the right side again, and we seem all set for some rip-roaring final episodes.  There were, as is the norm for this show, some great moments sprinkled throughout this week's instalment, even if some of its notable moments swang a little too hard towards the direction of comedy violence for my liking which in turn reduced their impact.  These quibbles aside, Kill la Kill still knows what the viewers want and certainly seems to know what it's doing - my biggest hope now is that they have sufficient budget left over to treat us to more animation akin to its earlier episodes before things started looking cheap.

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! REN - Episode 10

She might have been slow to realise is in spite of all of her interactions with both Yuuta and Rikka of late, but a shocking fact has suddenly come crashing down upon Shichimiya - the realisation that she's in love with Yuuta.

Given Yuuta's "contract" with Rikka, Satone knows that there's nothing that she can do about the situation and thus tries to rid herself of her thoughts and feelings towards Yuuta in her own inimitable style - the trouble is, Yuuta just keeps on popping up everywhere she looks, while Rikka continues to look towards her, be it for advice or perhaps her own realisation that she has a potential rival on the horizon.

It seems that Toka is also quick to dial in to Shichimiya's feelings, which she then relays to Nibutani, Dekomori and Kumin in the hope that they can do their bit to resolve any issues which might arise.  Certainly, confronting Satone forces her to own up to her feelings, both to herself and others, but even then it becomes clear to her that only hearing Yuuta's feelings for Rikka from his own mouth will put her own feelings for him to bed.

For an episode that was tackling an important element at the heart of this second season of Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions, much of this week's instalment felt disappointingly clunky as it jumped around in search of all of the plot elements that would make for an - admittedly touching - end to the episode.  Even if framing everything through a chuunibyou lens continues to irritate me - even Yuuta is at it when he expresses his feelings for Rikka - there is some underlying emotional power beneath it all and this episode did a good job of tapping into that; I just wish it had been a little more coherent in its build-up to those moments.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Samurai Flamenco - Episode 20

He might have faced off against Prime Ministers and aliens, but Samurai Flamenco might be about to meet his toughest opponent yet... a middle school kid.

Certainly, Haiji Sawada makes an instant impression by blowing up Hazama's apartment before introducing himself properly as the building burns.  It seems that, having met Samurai Flamenco in his formative crime-fighting days, Sawada was fascinated by this man and his crazy yet honest and somewhat truthful proclamations - rather than taking him as a role model however, Sawada has spent the past year working to become Hazama's nemesis, and he's more than prepared to target not only the man himself but also all of his associates, including the Flamengers and beyond.

But is Sawada even real?  Some checking by the police suggests that he died a year ago, there are no signs of explosives in Hazama's apartment, a supposedly poisoned curry appears to be anything but, and put simply nobody else has ever seen him.  When even Goto casts aspersions on Hazama's sanity and suggests he might simply be seeing things, our hero seems utterly alone, and when events lead to the pair falling out even the man himself begins to wonder if he's at the end of his thread.  Maybe Haiji Sawada doesn't exist after all...

Although I'm still not convinced by this current story arc as a way to finish Samurai Flamenco, I will admit that I'm still intrigued in it and where it might head nonetheless - it's light on comedy relatively speaking, but its running with its idea in an interesting direction that could spin off in any number of directions knowing this series.  I certainly hope that it can pull a surprise or two out of the bag to match what has been a fun show which has delighted in defying expectations throughout, as it would be a shame to see it fizzle out at this late juncture.

Golden Time - Episode 22

Given how quickly it has come, surely Banri's life - or at least his relationship with Koko - isn't going to fall apart so quickly just like that, even in light of Banri running away from his meat party turned heart-to-heart with his friends?

Banri himself is certainly convinced that despite having irrefutably just dumped him, Koko will be back soon enough.  However, his long wait shows no signs of Kaga's return, and when someone does appear it's her father to give him a lift home and suggest that perhaps her discovery of his anti-anxiety drugs is behind her decision.  After a long chat with neighbour Nana things at least seem a little better for Banri, and by the next day Koko is running up to him to apologise for her over-the-top behaviour.  Thus, all is well in the world of Tada.

At least, that's what Banri assumes, but no, Koko gathers all of his friends to confirm that she has in fact dumped him but decided to apologise just so that they could remain friends.  This is all news to Banri, and in the aftermath of all this it becomes clear that Koko is nowhere near as calm about this whole affair as she seems, while the duo's friends are simply at a loss for what to do.  If Chinami takes the news of this break-up badly (as it seems that the Okamera is at least partially responsible for the whole thing), then Linda's reaction is on another level entirely, and before we know it Tada's good-natured request to ensure that Koko doesn't leave the festival club leads to a full-on slanging match complete with physical violence as both Banri and Linda pour out their frank feelings in an encounter that is simply baffling to those looking on.  With Mitsuo amongst those witnessing this, it seems as if Banri might just have lost himself another friend - not that he seems to care, resigned as he is to losing his current self.

Although some of its twists and turns seem jarring at first glance, the scary part about this week's Golden Time is that it still all feels entirely believable (Banri's amnesia aside, perhaps) - Koko's shifting language from all but spitting on Banri to acting as though nothing happened to revealing her true feelings beneath it all feels like some unwanted recollections of my own, and Banri's argument with Linda also matched some of the other organic-feeling arguments that this series has delivered.  It could maybe have done with being spread out over a longer period of time to allow the impact of events to sink in, but this was nonetheless kitchen sink drama at its, well, most dramatic, and it feels like another episode that delivers on what Golden Time has always promised as a result.

Silver Spoon Season 2 - Episode 9

Hachiken has finally had enough of being left out of other's conversations and problems for his own good, and with Mikage clearly suffering in the wake of the news about Komaba's farm being declared bankrupt it's time for him to put his foot down.

Try as she might to dissuade him from getting involved and further hurt by her family's predicament, Hachiken simply won't budge on the matter, insisting that even if he has little agricultural knowledge to call his own he's still more than willing to listen and talk things over even if he can't help, and that what's more as a fellow only child he has at least some understanding of the difficulties and expectations of that scenario.  In the face of his earnest offer of help, Mikage can't really refuse - besides, it's what she lo... really likes about Hachiken anyhow.

With that out of the way, Aki opens up to Hachiken about her worries and the latest on the current situation, and when the news breaks that Komaba's farm are about to sell all of their cattle Hachiken is not only the first to know, but also offers to go and see the cows off with Mikage.  Saying goodbye to these old friends is hard enough, but seeing Komaba abandon all of his dreams and ambitions is a terrifying sight for Aki, who realises that she too might have to do just the same to take on the family farm and steer it out of debt even though losing those dreams is the last thing she wants to do.  Cue Hachiken to persuade her that she can't simply give up on these ambitions, while also offering her the moral support than she needs to final explain this to her parents.

As anticipated, all of this made for another highly powerful episode of Silver Spoon, made all the more so by the way it was expertly interspersed with occasional moments of strong comedy to avoid the whole thing becoming too downbeat.  Beyond its agricultural setting, this was also a story that anyone can relate to - the fear of disappointing your parents, offset against the fear of losing a dream that you hold dearly - and when coupled with a narrative being told through the lens of characters we care for dearly, it has a real impact.  Add to that the beautiful subtlety of how Mikage and Hachiken's relationship is developing in such an organic way, and my love affair with Silver Spoon continues unabated.

Nagi no Asukara - Episode 23

The revelation that Manaka has lost the ability to love, alongside her memories of who she might once have been in love with, is clearly not good news - what's more, it also opens up a period of open reflection from all of those around her.

For Hikari, his thoughts all remain firmly focused on what he, or anyone else, can do to resolve this issue for Manaka - unfortunately, this coupled with his own emotions leaves him with a massive blind spot as to who Manaka's love might have been directed towards, as he asserts over and over again that it must be Tsumugu who was the object of her interest.  It's a thought process which leaves Miuna unsure of what to do given her own feelings, putting some further pressure on her own conflicting desires to be with Hikari and ensure Manaka's happiness.

In the midst of all of this, the rest of the group find themselves considering whether living without the ability to fall in love is actually a bad thing at all - Chisaki certainly doesn't seem to think so, and neither does Kaname, much to Sayu's chagrin.  It's a prospect that certainly sets things in motion for a number of characters, as Sayu swears she's going to confess to Kaname, Hikari steels himself to tell Tsumugu to get on with it and date Manaka, and Tsumugu himself ends up making an inadvertent confession of his own which has major consequences for both himself and, possibly, Chisaki.

If last week's Nagi no Asukara was a relatively quiet one, this week's instalment was packed with seismic activity to shake up the goings-on amongst its cast - it isn't the kind of episode that will cause sudden outbursts of tears from the viewer, but it does a wonderful job of setting its tone and contemplative, slightly melancholy mood which it then follows through on as its story continues to twist and turn like the emotions of its characters.  The show is going to have to start wrapping things up soon given the tangled web of relationships now at its core though, so I hope that it's left itself sufficient time to do so.