Wednesday, 30 April 2014

No Game No Life - Episode 4

Blank have their opponent on the ropes in this very unconventional game of chess, but with Zell showing no sign of backing down to they really have enough in reserve to win the safety of Imanity for themselves?

As it happens, they do - while Steph finds herself amazed at the newcomers policy to win this match without attacking (a wise policy which seems to match that of her late grandfather), this is simply another step in the duo's strategy to undermine Zell and her actions.  Just as it looks as though it's a plan that might be doomed to fail, so outside influences sees her king fall; a trademark of despots and dictatorships the world over.  Thus, Sora is the new king.  Or is it Shiro?  With only a single ruler allowed, the two try to decide who gets the hot seat via a game played between the two of them... a match-up which inevitably ends up as a stalemate.

Eventually, the powers that be acede to allowing both members of Blank to be king, at which point the problem of spies and ne'er-do-wells is put paid to by the simplest of games, and the rest of the country's problems are nothing that Sora hasn't encountered before while playing Civilisation.  Once all of this is settled, it's time for the new king(s) to introduce themselves fully to the populace and declare the next phase in their plan - to win back the nation's lost land by going to war.  If this seems like insanity, it is at least a carefully planned moved, and one that this world's god Tet seems particularly thrilled by as he sets out the full rules of the game his subjects are playing.

It still delves into pandering silliness on occasion, but thankfully such moments don't overshadow the fact that No Game No Life continues to be mostly decidedly fun to watch.  It does struggle to live up to its own momentum here and there - the end of the chess game in this episode felt terribly weak in comparison to what had come before - but Sora and Shiro have become oddly likeable as the series so far has progressed and their journey is a pretty compelling one that twists the usual concept of strangers from another land fighting to get home by having the pair of them clearly make this world their new home with no intentions of leaving.  If it can keep up its current energy and outlook without getting too mired in fan service, there seems to be plenty of entertainment left in the series yet.

M3 the dark metal - Episode 2

While those involved recover their senses from dealing with the Admonition and Corpse they spotted in their first mission, this week's episode of M3 sees us introduced to Heito Isaku, a you man who is a little disturbed.  How do we know this?  Because the first we see of him is his merciless beating and torturing of a security guard, which makes perfectly clear that he is a bad person.

With that squared away in our heads, we return to Kukunochi Academy, where Emiru is still trying her best to attach herself to Akashi (even though he repeatedly tells her that she stinks), and all and sundry are despairing at their trainer's constant threats and sexual harassment.  When said teacher suddenly goes missing however something seems amiss, and lo and behold it doesn't take long for him to be found in a bloody (and decidedly dead) heap.

Concerning though this is, perhaps the real question here surrounds Mahmu Yuzuki, who predicted this whole chain of events in her writings which are discovered by Emiru.  What's more, she also refers to the "Reaper", which leaves Emiru demanding to know more... it's a reference which also proves to be closer to the truth than perhaps any of the students has realised, as the two girls are confronted first by Isaku, and then another previously unseen Vess which goes berserk once he tries to pilot it.  No prizes for guessing who has to step in and save the day, and it seems as if this new machine - known as the Argent - has "accepted" its new master.

Having given the first episode of M3 the benefit of the doubt, I'm starting to wonder if that was wise - this second instalment was pretty terrible for the most part, with bland animation supplementing a bland lead character who would be the worst protagonist of the season were it not for his being saved by The Irregular at Magic High School.  At present, none of the elements the series offers are being handled well - its violence feel gratuitous, its action plodding, and its story and world-building off-kilter.  Perhaps it can turn things around with a big reveal or two, but I could well be tempted to jettison the series sooner rather than later unless it has something suitably impressive up its sleeve.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 4

Now that all of the preliminary round performance are complete, it's simply time to nervously wait for the results to come in to see whether μ's have qualified.  The news when it comes is shocking... they've failed in their goal.

At least, that's how Honoka envisaged everything panning out in a dream she had - in reality, μ's squeeze into the fourth qualifying slot for the second and final preliminary round.  With no wriggle room left in their rivalry with A-RISE in that second qualifier, as only one idol group will go through, it's time for the girls to up their game in terms of practicing... except Nico is nowhere to be found, and when they do finally track her down she does a runner.  Just what is she playing at?

The truth starts to emerge when the rest of the group happen to run into one of Nico's little sisters, who refers to them as "backup dancers" and, when pressed, eventually tells the tale of her sister the "super idol" who lives in a waterside apartment provided by her agency.  To say that this isn't quite true is an understatement, and eventually Nico can't run from her group-mates, leaving her to at least hint at the reason for these untruths - in short, after losing her previous chance to be a school idol she didn't want to let them down by telling them the truth, thus entering an ever-spiraling tissue of lies to keep up appearances.  Rather than out her, Nico luckily discovers that the other μ's girls want to help her out, providing her with a chance to perform and show her super-idol self to her siblings which also doubles as a chance to meld her story back into a truthful one.

Once again, this was a great episode of Love Live - funny with numerous laugh out loud moments, and doing just enough to add a little depth of character and work with it to make for a satisfying ending to the instalment.  The series continues to be effortless in its attempts to be fun to watch, throwing out gags and great lines whenever it feels like it as part of its colourful and entertaining package, most of which is powered by the glorious interactions between its main cast of characters.  That it also manages to cheekily surprise the viewer here and there is just the icing on a particularly delicious cake.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

One Week Friends - Episode 4

The advent of rain means that Hase and Fujimiya's usual rooftop lunchtime spot has to be foregone in favour of merely sitting on the stairs, but this appears to be the least of the pair's troubles in this week's episode of One Week Friends.

Even though it's Hase who is Fujimiya's close friend, somehow the ever-turning school rumour mill has gotten wind that Kiryu is buddies with her, causing much excitement within the class once Kiryu himself confirms that this is the case in usual straight-talking fashion.  True though it somewhat is, this riles Hase a little - why haven't they noticed that he's Fujimiya's real friend?  These thoughts bubbling under the surface come to a head when Fujimiya spends much of one lunch break talking about Kiryu, and Hase's accusatory tone as he suggests that maybe she has feelings for him and that talking about him is boring is enough for Fujimiya to storm out and leave school early - a chain of events that leads to her both losing her diary and coming down with a cold.

By the time Fujimiya returns to school the following Tuesday, Hase is faced with a terrifying reality - that Fujimiya no longer remembers him, nor indeed does she have any memory of keeping a diary; in fact, the only person she does know in any real sense is Kiryu.  Assuming that she's deliberately wiped him out of her life, Hase assumes the worst, leaving it to his friend to give a more reasoned voice to what has possibly transpired - thoughts which ultimately prove correct, as Fujimiya eventually assembles at least enough of her memories to find Hase frantically searching for her diary.  Disaster is averted, and friendship restored... strengthened perhaps in the aftermath of their first falling out.

Four episodes in, One Week Friends seems to be going from strength to strength - the use of the flaws of its main cast makes for some perfectly placed and decidedly believable drama (who hasn't been an overly-jealous kid at some point?), and although it has to jump through a few hoops to make full use of it the result is a touching tale accentuated by the fact you can't help rather liking the show's earnest characters as they try their best but often get things wrong.  With drama that is never pushed too far or over-egged, the quiet maturity of a story where immaturity often gets in the way of relationships can't be over-stated, and it's turning the series into easily one of my favourites of the spring.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour! - Episode 4

Thanks to Sayaka's carefully weighted words, Usa is now convinced that he needs to be the person who can save Ritsu from her own loneliness, leading to him trying to spend time with her whenever possible.

Resisting her hints that she doesn't particularly want him around, circumstances conspire to suggest to Usa that perhaps he's making a breakthrough and getting closer to his senior - however, his reading of the signals she's giving off really couldn't be much more wrong, and ultimately enough is enough, leading to her basically telling him to get lost, which leaves him something of a broken man and her concerned that she's gone too far.  This whole scenario is made worse by the lead-up to this outburst, which saw Ritsu bumping into a couple of old middle school acquaintances - an event seen by Usa, and again misinterpreted.

The whole problem only comes close to being corrected when our protagonist overhears Ritsu sharing some of her woes with Shiro - in short, she has nothing against other people, but she wishes that they'd stop with the needless small talk sometimes to let her simply be herself.  This comes as something of a revelation to Usa, who tries a new tact of giving Ritsu some space, the only question being how much space to give a girl who missed several changes of lights at a pedestrian crossing because she's so immersed in a book.  Perhaps it's a blend of giving her some personal space and acting like his usual self that will finally allow Usa to get closer to her?

Given that she's by far my favourite character in this series, a whole episode dedicated to Ritsu's personality and an opportunity to delve a little deeper into it is exactly what the doctor ordered - this perhaps wasn't the funniest episode of the series (although it had its moments), but it did offer up plenty of sweet character-centric moments and some pleasing developments between Usa and Ritsu.  Hopefully this is the kind of thing that the series can continue to build as it progresses, rather than resetting the status quo every week, as it does mark it out from other anime sitcoms thanks to its soft centre and willingness to use its personalities as more than just the butt of jokes.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 3

Momo Kisaragi's popularity continues to be a major problem for her, and even having avoided the crowds she inadvertently ran into at the end of last week's episode of Mekakucity Actors, it seems that there is yet another person who wants a piece of this young idol.

This person, however, is no ordinary girl, and after claiming that she's just like Momo she sets about proving it - although, to be more precise, this girl named Kido is in fact the exact opposite of Momo.  Thus, while Momo has a power which allows her to be noticed and to attract all and sundry, Kido's power effectively makes her invisible to everybody.  Seeing Kido flit around like a ghost to prove her point is all a little too much for Momo, and the next thing she knows she wakes up at the base of Kido and others like her, as they explain that the phenomenon she's known since birth is actually a power that she can learn to control.

Thanks to one of these other super-powered individuals, Marry, and an accident involving a lot of juice and a mobile phone, Momo needs to go to the shopping centre to get said phone replaced - a serendipitous event which leads to her first spotting her brother, before the entire building is hijacked and taken hostage.  Yes, we've now wrapped around to events from episode one, which we now see from the point of view of Momo and her new-found group of friends as they set about using their powers to help Shintaro and thwart the baddies taking innocent shoppers hostage.

Having left something of an unfavourable impression from its first episode, I must admit that it's a relief to see Mekakucity Actors improving by the week - although this latest instalment doesn't quite allow me to forgive that patchy opener, and although it still feels like the lowest budget SHAFT series we've seen in rather a while, I am at least now invested more in its characters and setup.  Of course, the show is still keeping its powder dry about its wider ambitions and plans, but now that the cast and their abilities have been introduced it seems like there's no shortage of interesting things that can be done with them, while Momo makes for an entertaining and grounded centrepiece for these goings-on assuming she continues to function as the protagonist of the series.  In short, the series still has plenty to prove, but it's well and truly heading in the right direction.

Nisekoi - Episode 16

It's no surprise that Ruri has lost any faith in her friend's ability to snare Ichijou given all of her failings thus far, but perhaps Onodera still has some surprises in store, as she reveals that the start of summer vacation will see Raku coming to visit her at her house.  How forward!

What Onodera neglects to mention is that she's actually invited Ichijou there to do some part-time work for her family's sweet shop given his abilities in the kitchen; not that Raku is going to say no to such an invitation from the apple of his eye regardless.  He's in for rather a shock once he arrives at the shop however, as Kosaki's mother couldn't be much more different than her demure daughter, straight-talking, hard-headed businesswoman that she is.  After initially showing no interest in letting a young lad loose in her kitchen, Kosaki eventually persuades her to give Ichijou a chance, and by the time he's proved his worth she's seriously keen on having him married into the family as soon as possible.

It's probably with such thoughts in mind that Mrs. Onodera leaves her daughter and Raku to their own devices as she goes off to run errands, and when a typhoon hits to leave all and sundry stranded there's clearly nothing for it but for Ichijou to spend the night with Kosaki - a prospect which leaves Onodera unable to wipe the grin off her face, while Raku just about manages to keep some level of decorum.  Not that either of this pair are liable to do anything rash - it's a struggle for them to even make conversation, but they ultimately settle down and have a fun time chatting before realising that the typhoon has veered off-course and the weather has cleared up.  An opportunity missed, perhaps, but it does at least grant Raku a chance to swap e-mail addresses with Kosaki.

You know the drill by now, and once again this week's Nisekoi was packed to the rafters with cliches and predictable events that it still managed to spin in a fun way thanks to some decent slices of comedy and plenty of nice visual touches to help it along in spite of the constantly awkward state of affairs between Raku and Kosaki in comparison to most of the rest of the cast.  I continue to feel like I shouldn't really like this show as much as I do, but to be honest I just can't help myself.

Riddle Story of Devil - Episode 4

In spite of one failed assassination attempt, life carries on as normal (for the most part, anyhow) for the members of the Black Class, with tests occupied much of their time and thoughts and the only distraction coming from stories of the school's mythical "wonders", which duly fascinate Haru.

Of course, an attempted assassination is never far away, and this time around it's Kouko Kaminaga who is sharpening her proverbial (and literal, most likely) knives with a view towards offing Ichinose.  However, although she's clearly a highly intelligent girl who is an intricate thinker and planner beyond compare, Kaminaga's practical skills aren't up to snuff - a problem that she dwells upon but is determined to surpass as she leaves a note of her intentions for Haru as per the "game's" rules.

With one attempt involving explosives in the refrigerator quickly put paid to by Tokaku's keen eye, it's to those aforementioned school myths that Kouko turns for her next trap, planting explosives in the school's library to match up with a story about a secret book that can bring happiness if checked out of the establishment.  Of course, all this book really brings is an almighty explosion, and it's once again up to Azuma to save her roommate and foil Kaminaga's plan, which ironically also thwarts her desire to be rewarded by bringing an end to her work as an assassin.

What is effectively its episodic setup at this point is simple, but broadly speaking it still works in Riddle Story of Devil's favour - I was perhaps expecting for some more grandiose assassination attempts, but there's still something oddly compelling about watching crazy people trying to get along while also competing to kill someone.  None of its characters are deep in any real shape or form, but that doesn't matter when the show clearly has more basic fish to fry, and although it clearly isn't going to match the insanity of the likes of Mirai Nikki its still more entertaining than it perhaps has any right to be.

Friday, 25 April 2014

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 3

With a frame tournament going on in Sidonia, the fact that Tanikaze's injuries prevent him from competing is a disappointment to more than just the man himself - still, at least the festival that coincides with said tournament offers plenty of food for him to take his mind off that fact.

The aforementioned tournament also boasts some surprises, with hotly-tipped favourite Kunato bested thanks to some smart thinking by opponent Akai Mochikuni, who seems to have learned the trick of the trade that brings him his victory from Nagate's fight against the (now-returning) Gauna.  However, all of this is missed by Tanikaze himself, as his mission to find good food is helped along by Hoshijiro, before a tussle between Shinatose and a decidedly pissed off Kunato brings any merry-making (or sulking, on Shinatose's part) to an abrupt halt.

In fact, the fun is very much over outright (aside from a brief trip to the "sea" that is Sidonia's massive reservoir), as it's time for us to move on and watch Sidonia's best frame pilots embark upon their sortie to take out the Gauna which is now pursuing them through space.  The plan to tackle the Gauna is a simple one that looks all set to be effective... until Momose is caught by the monster's tentacles.  From this point onwards, the mission quickly goes to pot, as boyfriend Mochikuni seeks to save her before ultimately sacrificing himself so that she can escape - something which she has no interest in doing having seen him devoured by the Gauna.  Before we know it, the entire four-person squad has been wiped out... what next for Sidonia?

After feeling like it was merely spinning its wheels for the most part, Knights of Sidonia once again proves that it knows how to close out an episode to keep you coming back for more - as per episode one, it gleefully decides to throw some characters under the narrative bus to shake things up, and the series feels all the better for it.  With the promise of some epic destruction and trauma ahead, hopefully this is the point where the show really takes off and pushes some of its harem nonsense into the background for a while, as it's clearly much better at handling its monster-driven space crisis than romantic comedy in both animated and narrative terms.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Nanana's Buried Treasure - Episode 3

With the Adventure Club's most important member now officially part of the organisation, it's time for the club to start doing what it was created for - seeking out parts of the Nanana Collection, via the so-called "Ruins" within which they're hidden.

Of course, it's left to Yuugo to extract the information about the first ruin from Nanana, a painful experience for both body and mind but ultimately a successful one, which leads the club's members to the middle of a crowded shopping centre - not exactly the kind of place you'd expect to find "buried treasure", but I guess that's the beauty of hiding something in plain sight.  Then again, there's more than that to how this ruin is hidden, with some sneaky tricks with mirrors ensuring that the room in which the treasure is stored is safe from the eyes of passers-by.

Nothing gets passed our master detective Tensai however, who quickly identifies the room that comprises the ruin before Isshin cracks the passcode on the door.  From here, a labyrinth made from the web spun by a mechanical spider is the dangerous challenge the trio who enter must face, and again it's up to Tensai to crack the best way to approach this maze of destroyed and reconstructed tunnels to make it to the centre and the chest containing the treasure.  An impressive treasure it is too once they reach it - unfortunately for Yuugo and Tensai however, Isshin has no intentions of sharing this disovery, instead making off with it to leave his cohorts to their fate.  An auspicious start for the club if ever there was one, and potentially bad news for the wider world given the powers that the cane now in Isshin's possession is capable of.

I'm still not sure entirely what it is (aside from Nanana herself, who is pretty awesome as ghost girls go), but there's something enjoyable about Nanana's Buried Treasure - when it isn't trying to bend itself into a particular otaku-pleasing shape and just gets on with its story as per this episode, its little, quickly solved puzzles and fast-moving nature makes for a pretty fun viewing experience.  It doesn't really have any depth at this point in time, which makes it an oddity of a noitaminA show in a lot of ways, but its visual polish and sense of fun more than make up for that at this juncture.

Selector Infected WIXOSS - Episode 4

Yuzuki's defeat at the hands of Akira clearly haven't done her state of mind any good, although this is something that she's determined to hide as she chooses to stay the night following that battle at Ruko's house while seeking to avoid her brother as much as possible.

In her upset state, Yuzuki also can't resist letting slip some of the elements of her wish were she to become an Eternal Girl to her friend, which allows Ruko to quickly fill in the blanks.  Still, such moments of angst seem to pass relatively quickly, and soon Yuzuki finds herself properly introduced to, and befriending, Hitoe, allowing the three to form a trio who can play WIXOSS whenever they feel like it - minus their LRIG cards, of course, to avoid engaging one another in proper Selector battles.

As a result, it seems as if things couldn't be much better for Ruko - she's made some friends, she gets to enjoy playing games with grandmother, and she's even getting better at WIXOSS as a result.  However, burning within her is a desire to battle other Selectors, and although Yuzuki in particular tries to protect her when Akira comes calling on the hunt for more "prey", secretly she really wants to engage her in battle, even though she doesn't have a wish to fight for.  When it seems like she's about to get her wish however, circumstances interfere, leading to Ruko meeting another Selector who is not at all impressed by the fact that she's battling for no reason.

The longer it goes on without drawing back the curtain on some of the truths behind its setup, the stranger Selector Infected WIXOSS feels - it has moments that feel like pure card game commercial (constant references to how much fun playing WIXOSS is), which is increasingly jarring against the unsettling tone the rest of the show plays with without yet delving into why its ramping up its ominous atmosphere, especially when the series doesn't prove to be particularly proficient in doing so in a subtle way.  Every time it seems as if we're about to be exposed to some big secret it's snatched away from us, and that can only go on so long before it becomes frustrating - perhaps, now that Ruko seems to be diving deeper into the world of the Selectors, we'll finally be allowed down the rabbit hole.

Ping Pong the Animation - Episode 3

Having thrashed his teacher to the point of collapse by the end of last week's episode, it seems as if something has awoken within Tsukimoto beneath that dour exterior of his - what a time for it emerge to, with the Kanagawa qualifying round of the high school table tennis championship about to begin.

As you might expect however, it's Peco who appears the most outwardly confident in the build-up to the tournament, even if he has some potentially tough opponents ahead in his bracket - then again, his route to qualification for the national tournament looks like each street compared to Smile who, all being well, will be drawn against Kong Wenge in the third round.

With other parties still very interested in Tsukimoto's performance, and happy to rile him up before his first game, we see the full terrifying extent of his abilities in the early rounds - after Kong destroyed his first, Smile upped the ante by obliterating his, and with both of them progressing to their third round match-up Tsukimoto seems unusually confident.  Even after a heavy defeat in his first set, there's still an air of casual confidence surrounding our protagonist, and it soon becomes clear why - once he's got the feel of his opponent's tactics, he sets about dismantling them utterly until a frustrated Kong is left on the brink of a shock defeat.  Then, out of nowhere and with his opponents entire career seemingly on the line, Tsukimoto reverts to his usual defensive manner, giving Kong the upper hand and progression in the tournament - it seems that he can't shake his old compassion for his opponent quite so easily after all.

As per last week's episode, Ping Pong once again produced another great instalment here - heck, it even had finished opening credit animation!  Somehow, the series is managing to play all of its super-serious table tennis talk with a straight face, but with just enough of a nod and a wink to stop it from stifling the show's entertainment value or sense of humour.  This episode remains at its best during actual matches however, where it lets the action (and a slice of inner monologues) do the talking, all of which works incredibly well - particularly in terms of giving us some interesting glimpses into Smile's psyche - while also bringing forth some of the passion and drive required of any sports series.  With this episode leaving us in an interesting place narratively, it'll be interesting to see how the show progresses from here.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

No Game No Life - Episode 3

Kurami Zell is about to be crowned the king of Imanity, having exhausted any opposition that faced her.  Well, almost all opposition that is, as a certain interloper still has designs on ensuring she fails in her plan.

Although it's too late to do anything about Zell's cheating in her poker game against Stephanie, barging in on her coronation to accuse of her cheating still works wonders, especially when Sora can not only claim that she was working together alongside another race to use magic to fake her way to victory, but can also unmask the helper in question as as a young Elfen woman.  Once Sora has deflected any counter-accusations, the whole commotion leaves Kurami with little choice than to suggest a match against Sora to prove her abilities beyond question.

Rather than poker however, it's to chess that Zell turns for reasons that eventually become clear - this is no ordinary game of chess though, but a match played with pieces which each have a life and will of their own.  Leaving chess master Shiro to start the game, it soon becomes obvious that this is no ordinary game of chess - in fact, it isn't really a game of chess at all but rather a test of the player's ability to imbue confidence and growing morale amongst the "troops" on the board.  Once this is revealed, there are twists and turns aplenty as "Blank" and Zell wrestle for control of the board and its occupants.

After last week's frustrating instalment, this episode of No Game No Life was a far more positive example of what the series can offer - some of its twists (and more importantly some of Sora's outbursts) are ridiculous and feel light typical light novel fodder, but in spite of this the build-up to and aspects of the execution of its "chess" match prove to be compelling and allow the episode to fly by in an entertaining fashion.  I imagine we'll be seeing plenty more of this kind of inconsistency from the remainder of the series, but if it can keep pulling out episodes somewhat akin to this one then I can probably more easily forgive the show its foibles.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

M3 the dark metal - Episode 1

Humanity, it seems, is in a tight spot (although when it isn't it in anime?), with those that remaining living on the outskirts of a darkness known as the Lightless Realm which has swallowed up everything and everyone in its path, and continues to expand.  From these dark depths come strange creatures known as Admonitions, and guardians of the realm known as Corpses.

It isn't all bad news though, as a company named IX seeks to reconstruct what they can in a place known as Kawadahara City as a refuge from the Admonitions, an area which includes a school named Kukunochi Academy.  It's here that IX seems set to train up and look to somehow take back the Lightless Realm using trained pilots and machines known as Vess, capable of travelling into that realm where humans have previously been unable to tread without certain death.

Heading up the trainees selected to be part of this scheme is the talented but dour Akashi Saginuma, who is selected alongside an existing active pilot and a bunch of other kids who are also signed up for reasons which seem inexplicable even to them.  After an initial period of training, Akashi and fellow trainee Emiru are sent out for what should be a safe, initial exploratory run in their Vess units... of course, things prove to be anything but safe as an Admonition attacks Emiru, with subsequent events providing some important pointers as to the origins and driving forces behind these strange creatures.

As with most anime series, it's hard to really gauge M3 from its opening episode.  Its animation doesn't exactly look great, which is a bit of a worry for a first episode, and its exposition is frequently delivered in a less than satisfying fashion, but the world that it's built seems as though it could be interesting especially if it manages to flesh out its characters from the boring slate of cardboard cut-outs that seem to be from this first instalment.  There's arguably more going against the show than for it at this very early stage, but that could mean nothing if it settles down into a good rhythm - something I hope that M3 does as the only mecha show that even vaguely interests me this spring.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 3

They have themselves a song and costumes, now the next question for μ's as the Love Live preliminaries begin is... where should they perform?

The world is their oyster as far as the regulations go, as each group's performance will be live streamed from their chosen location with viewers able to vote and rate the various groups, with only the top four going through to the Love Live finals.  With A-RISE a clear favourite to claim one of those berths, there's only three spots left to scrap over in the Tokyo area, which leaves the group fretting over selecting a location that will be suitably novel, or in the case of some of their number simply fretting about performing in front of the massed crowd that is the Internet.

In terms of choosing a location, help comes from a surprising quarter... that of A-RISE themselves.  With their leader having "kidnapped" Honoka, μ's assemble at UTX High School to find themselves lavished with praise by their rivals, who it seems have been watching them closely since the first Love Live.  Not that all of this praise means that A-RISE are going to go easy on them, but such is the friendly nature of their rivalry that they are willing to share the custom-build stage at their school for the preliminaries.  Duly accepting this offer, it's time for μ's and A-RISE to face off in front of their adoring crowds - but who will win the day?  I guess that's a question for next week...

This week's episode of Love Live gave us another showcase of what this series does well - it doesn't go in for major drama or deep-seated rivalries, instead depicting a rather idealistic world where everyone gets on with one another and any rivalries are set up with a smile and a promise of friendship.  It may not add depth to the show, but it does allow it to get on with being pure, simple and undemanding entertainment, which is succeeds in once again here thanks to some decent music (which seems to be improved from the first season, in all honest), decent animation and a simple sense of fun that runs through it.

One Week Friends - Episode 3

One month on from their first proper meeting, and Hase and Fujimiya's friendship is still going strong, even after she bombards him with more egg rolls than any one man could ever hope to eat in a single lunchtime.

Although all is very much well between the two of them, Hase remains somewhat concerned by Fujimiya's relationship with the rest of her classmates - thanks to her stony-faced behaviour in class, everyone thinks of her as either aloof or weird (or both), and much as Hase is tthrilled to have her all to himself as a friend he knows that this probably isn't particularly healthy.

In an attempt to change this, Hase invites Shogo to join himself and Fujimiya on the roof one lunchtime, promising her that she can trust his friend with her secret.  While this is true, his forthright behaviour and cynical eye make this an awkward first meeting, as he openly suggests that she could be lying about the whole thing - a claim which creates a schism between him and Hase that looks unlikely to be resolved as the week comes to and, much to the upset of Fujimiya who feels responsible.  However, Shogo's bluntness does have its advantages as well, as some more chatter behind Fujimiya's back from others in her class leads to Shogo opening up an opportunity for Fujimiya to explain herself - although she doesn't exactly make good use of the opportunity, it leads to Hase and Shogo reconciling, while the following Monday brings some good news for Fujimiya's memory.

Three episodes in, there continues to be something really rather enjoyable about One Week Friends - its main two characters and their relationship remains pretty simple, but you can't help but root for them, and adding both the good and bad aspects of Shogo's personality to the mix helped to carry this week's episode forward for the better into the bargain.  The result of all this has left me very much invested in its cast, which looks likely to be something that the series tries to leverage in next week's episode, which I'm now most certainly looking forward to as the series shows some very encouraging signs of progression.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour! - Episode 3

They've been living in the same apartment complex for a while now, but Usa still doesn't seem to be having any success at getting closer to Ritsu.

In fact, if anything the distance between them only seems to be growing - a thought which proves to be all the more painfully realised once Usa splashes out his savings on a new bike.  With room for someone to ride on the back, Usa is quick to offer Ritsu the chance to have a lift to school; however, Kawai's response is to shoot him down even more rapidly, much to his distress.  As it happens, Ritsu's intentions weren't exactly to be so merciless in their destruction of Usa's feelings, leaving her feeling the need to apologise, bringing new hope into Usa's heart.

For the rest of the episode it's more overt romantic troubles that dominate - first, Mayumi is contacted by her ex-boyfriend seeking to reconcile their relationship, which she seems all set to fall for until she actually meets him and remembers what an inconsiderate idiot he is.  On the flip side of that coin, Sayaka's manipulation of men almost comes back to bite her, only for her to deflect that bite onto a hapless Usa until Ritsu (of all people) steps in to save the day by literally throwing the book at his assailant.

It continues to be flawed, with characters that can test my patience quite regularly (Mayumi, I'm looking at you), yet there are still enough good jokes, laughs and moments within each episode of The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour to keep me coming back for more.  Admittedly, this is largely thanks to Usa and Ritsu, and in particular the inscrutable personality of the latter, but the cast as a whole interact well enough to produce a fair number of entertaining moments.  It certainly isn't the most consistent comedy you'll find, but it's well presented and produced to make full use of the material at hand, ensuring that it's worthy of at least some praise.

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 2

Another episode means another very different story for this second instalment of Mekakucity Actors, as we explore the life of another character in the form of Momo Kisaragi.

Put simply, Momo is a superstar who is recognised everywhere that she goes - not surprising considering the fact that she's plastered over televisions, billboards and goodness knows what else all around her home city in spite of only being a first-year high school student.  By all accounts, it looks as if she might stay that way too, as a discussion with her teacher after turning up late to school confirms that she's far from the sharpest tool in the box - if it isn't knowledge about manga, Kisaragi probably doesn't know it.

Although she outwardly seems to be your typical, cheerful idol type, there is a sadder side to Momo's story - having lost her father at a young age, she proved herself capable of winning the plaudits of others in a multitude of disciplines.  However, the flip side of this is that she's been left friendless as a result, as others with more obvious talent have always been frustrated by her easy way of winning people over and grabbing their attention without really doing anything noteworthy at all - a fact which has followed her all of the way through her life to her career as an idol.  It also emerges that Momo is being watched by somebody, which in turn ties into some of the events surrounding episode one beyond the fact that she's Shintaro's sister.

If nothing else, this second episode of Mekakucity Actors was at least an improvement over the first - Momo's character is both easier to like and to engage with than Shinataro, and alongside this the episode itself was more compelling in terms of both SHAFT's visual flourishes and the story that it told.  How this services the wider narrative of the story remains to be seen, but I am a little buoyed by the this more accomplished effort when it comes to hoping for something more interesting from the series as a whole, even if parts of it still felt a little like a low-rent Bakemonogatari.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Nisekoi - Episode 15

Now that Marika has revealed some of her true self (or at least her true accent), the pieces of the puzzle are finally starting to fall into place for Raku regarding who this latest female addition to his life might actually be.

As a result, we're regaled with the full story of their meeting that feted summer, with Marika convalescing on account of her weak constitution out in the country before a chance meeting with Ichijou led to the two of them spending day after day together, to the point where Marika's father suggested that perhaps the two of them should become engaged - something that he could pull the strings on given his history with Raku's father.  With this cat out of the bag, it's finally time for our three leading ladies to be brought together to discuss the situation - not that it really helps up the whole "lock and key" business, as Marika only remembers her own promise to marry Ichijou and nobody else is any the wiser about any other events that occurred that summer.

Perhaps buoyed by this, Marika continues her dogged pursuit of Raku, insisting that she come along and meet her father.  Under pain of death from Chitoge to call off any plans of engagement and make the fact that he has a girlfriend clear to said father, Ichijou finds the man himself to be an intimidating presence, although eventually he does at least manage to put his side of the matter across... not that it does him much good, mind you.

Besides the simple pleasures of some random Evangelion references (well, not quite random given that Marika's father shares a voice actor with Gendo Ikari), things remain as you were with Nisekoi - it really couldn't be any more predictable if it tried, but that doesn't stop it being fun watching Raku contort himself in light of the female whirlwinds swirling around him, aided and abetted by SHAFT's presentation which continues to half of the fun in its own right.  It may not win any points for originality, but I've come to realise that I'm certainly going to miss this series once it's done and dusted.

Riddle Story of Devil - Episode 3

Now that the die has been cast and Azuma's role as Ichinose's protector has been decided and agreed upon as valid by the powers that be, the deadly game featuring the members of the Black Class is very much afoot in this week's episode of Riddle Story of Devil.

First out of the gate in an attempt to assassinate Haru is Otoya Takechi - after leaving Haru an anonnymous note of her intentions she sets about befriending Ichinose by seemingly sharing her tastes and even claiming to have a similar birthday.  Although Tokaku is instantly wary of this budding friendship, Haru is insistent that there's nothing nefarious about Takechi's actions - after all, she's befriended Azuma, so why can't she befriend all of the girls and ensure that they all get to graduate together as a group of best buddies?

If that sounds like idealistic nonsense, then... well, it is.  In truth, Takechi is a serial killer who can only be turned on by brutally murdering people - in fact, even her proposed reward if she were to successfully kill Haru is a lifetime of being protected from being brought to justice for her murderous ways.  Having tried to shift the blame for any forthcoming assassination attempt onto her roommate Shiena, Takechi makes her move, drugging Haru so that she can have her wicked (and sadistic) way with her - can Azuma rescue her new friend before it's too late?  Well, this is only episode three...

Although Riddle Story of Devil continues to be decidedly overblown in its treatment of its characters - we didn't need to see Takechi messing with a butterfly to understand that she enjoys killing things, it's pretty clear from the fact she's there as an assassin - its over-the-top drama and characterisation is actually one of the aspects that makes it enjoyable.  It's utterly trashy in its subject matter and how it plays out, but its low-rent insanity is a lot of fun to watch as it pans out thanks to the way it shamelessly embraces its base elements.  Whether that's enough to keep things moving throughout the entire series remains to be seen, but as an undemanding way to pass some time this isn't bad at all.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 2

As first sorties go, you can't get much worse luck than Tanikaze, as our protagonist faces the appearance of the Gauna in the midst of the mission - their first appearance in the vicinity of Sidonia for a century.

Badly injured and seemingly dead, even this seems to be a better stroke of luck than squad-mate Yamano, who is introduced to us via a few flashbacks before... well, she gets eaten.  With things rapidly turning south, the powers that be have no choice but to take drastic measures to keep the Gauna at bay, no matter what that might mean for the well-being of those still on the ground.  Somehow, Tanikaze manages to revive out of nowhere to launch his own attack on the Gauna before being lifted to safety by his escaping teammates.

Understandably given the circumstances, Tanikaze finds the aftermath of this incident difficult to cope with - he can't eat, and anything that provokes thought of the Gauna attack leaves vomiting or worse.  With the Gauna having recovered from its temporary incapacitation, it's going to take some of Sidonia's finest to put paid to the terror it could unleash... is Tanikaze one of the individuals best suited for the job, or is he going to be too busy fending off the attention of an ever-growing number of females?

Much like its first episode, this instalment of Knights of Sidonia is an odd one to sum up - its world-building is fascinating, even if a lot of the facts about said world are thrown out apropos of nothing, but its story-telling is disjointed and flits around in a frustrating fashion.  Throw in the weird way in which the show is setting Tanikaze up as some kind of harem comedy lead at times and it feels like the show is turning its focus in all the wrong directions.  There's clearly a great series fighting to get out here, but between the narrative frustrations and the struggles of the show's CG to look anything other than terrible a lot of the time it's a fight that it's currently losing.

Nanana's Buried Treasure - Episode 2

Now that he has some knowledge of Nanana's history and the sphere of her influence, it's not all that surprising that Juugo has found himself picking up a particularly interesting trinket to bring back to show his ethereal flatmate.

As it happens, this strange jewel is in fact part of the Nanana Collection, and what's more he's actually snatched it from under the noses of those who were intending to steal it for their own ends.  While those directly responsible are baffled by the disappearance of the jewel, Yama finds himself the subject of investigation by "master detective" Tensai Ikkyuu and her maid assistant Daruku Hoshino, who quickly not only deduces that it was he who found the jewel but also manages to embarrass him thoroughly in the process.

Although Ikkyuu's attempt to return the jewel to the police doesn't quite go to plan, she - alongside Daruku - nonetheless chooses to transfer not only into Yama's school but also his class.  In fact, Yama seems to have a constant stream of oddballs taking an interest in him at present, as the president of the Adventure Club also makes his acquaintance with a view towards him joining.  Given that the club relates closely to Nanana, her treasures and her eventual death, Juugo gives joining some serious thought - but first, he must pass a tricky initiation test, which is where our resident detective gets to strut her stuff.

For all of the pandering nonsense that this series throws at the viewer (why do we need two characters dressed as maids?  Why is one of them a "trap"?), there's also rather a lot of fun to be had with this week's episode beneath the surface - it has some good comedy moments, Nanana is rather lovable as a laid-back lead female character, and there's already a good rapport amongst the show's growing cast.  It doesn't feel like a noitaminA show in the slightest, but put that to one side and I found myself rather enjoying this episode of Nanana's Buried Treasure, which hopefully bodes well for it provided it keeps heading in the right direction.

Selector Infected WIXOSS - Episode 3

This week's Selector Infected WIXOSS is a tale of two battles - and they really couldn't be any more different...

Having finally caught up with her, Akira has successfully managed to press-gang Yuzuki into a battle - even with knowledge of her opponents dirty tricks and tactics and the ability to circumvent some of them, it all becomes too much when Akira starts looking into not only Yuzuki's cards, but also the wish that she's fighting for.  Needless to say, this provides Akira with psychological ammunition aplenty, and despite being warned to steel herself for it it's enough to push Yuzuki into making a disastrous mistake in her rage, clocking up another victory for Akira in the aftermath; a precursor to our seeing with our own eyes exactly what she's fighting for, and against whom.

Meanwhile, Ruko finds herself challenged by Hitoe - having seen her lose to Akira, we now learn that this was actually her first battle, while she admits that she's picked Ruko for her second because she "seems weak".  In comparison to the heated, aggressive battle between Akira and Yuzuki, this skirmish is entirely more sedate, with Ruko quite happy to let herself lose to help out Hitoe.  Once her opponent realises this however she isn't best pleased - if she's going to win, she wants to do it properly.  Once Ruko starts taking the game seriously however, she's anything but the weak player Hitoe expected her to be, leading Tama to her first victory and an opportunity to evolve, as her owner seems to be rather hooked on the feeling of playing WIXOSS properly.

Even three episodes in, Selector Infected WIXOSS is mostly keeping its powder dry - we're getting to see more of its characters and their motivations, and the emotional drama which stems for this, but there's clearly still more about the game of WIXOSS itself to be revealed.  It's that promise that is keeping me watching the show - I still like the presentation of its card battles (soundtrack and all), even if the way battles pan out is impenetrable, and its characters are overblown but functional, thus ensuring that the show is doing just enough to keep my interest intact for now.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Ping Pong the Animation - Episode 2

With a now somewhat broken Peco left reeling after being thrashed utterly by star Chinese player Kong Wenge, perhaps this is Smile's time to shine?

If nothing else, it seems as if everyone has suddenly taken an interest in this quiet, sullen lad - Kong himself is still desperate to play against him, but more importantly for Smile his ping pong club overseer Koizumi has decided that Tsukimoto is a ripe talent that simply must be developed.  Thus, Koizumi tells Smile to start coming in for training at 5am every morning - something Smile himself has no intention of doing - and as time goes on his pursuit of the student becomes more and more all-encompassing until Tsukimoto really can't say no.

The fact that a formidable former middle school champion is also seemingly head-hunting the bespectacled star-in-waiting only serves to further confirm his potential, but for his part Smile really couldn't care less - all he wants to do is have some fun and enjoy himself, not work hard to win matches and competitions.  None of this reasoning sticks with Koizumi however, as he pushes his pupil harder and harder, culminating in a one-of-one match between teacher and student with Tsukimoto's future on the line.  Even here, Smile is happy to just go through the motions, but as the match progresses and Koizumi's lead becomes greater, something changes - snaps, even - in Tsukimoto's head, and suddenly we see the real force of nature that he can be expose itself in spectacular fashion.

After a solid opening episode, this week's instalment of Ping Pong felt - much like Smile's own transformation - like the moment that this series spread its wings and took to the sky.  It manages to blend taking parts of its subject matter seriously with some deft touches of humour, and its unique animation style works incredibly well once it's put to use depicting a ping pong match itself to make for some compelling stuff that is hugely enjoyable to watch.  If the series can continue in this manner now that it's set up its characters and their core motivations nicely, this could well be everything that I hoped it would be as my potential stand-out show of the spring.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

No Game No Life - Episode 2

Having landed in their new home, Shiro and Sora have certainly made a quick impact upon those who have come into contact them, and none more so that would-be king Stephanie Dora.

Not that this impact has been an entirely positive one, as Stephanie is furious that having given her a hint that her opponent in the game determining the kingdom's next leader was cheating, Sora didn't expound upon why, instead leaving her to her defeat.  For his part, Sora is unrepentant, although he does offer to explain why her opponent was cheating - as well as doing anything else she desires - if she can beat him in a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors that isn't as simple as it first seems.  Of course, Steph (as she quickly becomes known) fails to win the bout, and instead finds herself instructed to fall in love with Sora... rather a problem when it becomes clear just how potent the rules binding the games of this world are.

In the aftermath of all this, Sora and Shiro now have themselves a place to stay, while we learn what happens if the two siblings are separated (it's fair to say that it isn't pretty) and find out some more about the world into which the pair have been dropped.  Key to this exposition is the news that humanity - or rather, Imanity - are on the bottom rung of the world's social strata thanks to their inability to either use or recognise magic.  It's this which has seen their kingdom shrink - a state of affairs that Steph was determined to put an end to, but something which seems entirely beyond her abilities.  Perhaps she now has an ally who can make that dream come true, however...

Now that we're two episodes in, No Game No Life is a truly frustrating viewing experience - it contains some wonderful moments, whether it's the actual gamesmanship on show in even the simplest of games, or some of its slithers of comedy, but this is offset by a male protagonist who is a complete asshole, an over-reliance on a combination of fan service and typical tropes which spring from that, and a tendency to run some of the aforementioned comedy into the ground to the point where it becomes irritating.  If Sora was less of a self-righteous prick of a self-insert character I might be able to give some of its other issues a free pass, but at the moment my experience of watching this series veers almost schizophrenically from being entertaining by it to grinding my teeth in frustration about what's playing out on the screen.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 2

Honoka has finally been persuaded to take the helm of μ's in the all-new Love Live, but there's already another crisis to be dealt with!

The issue in question is that this new-look contest is insisting that only new songs are allowed in the competition, so any previously aired or performed tracks are out of the window (goodness knows what this will mean for A-RISE, who only seem to have one song in the first place).  With this in mind, there's only one thing for it... it's time for the group to decamp to one of Maki's many homes to get the creative juices flowing.  Aside from some early disasters (leaving Honoka on the train, an unintended dip in a lake for Nico and Rin), the real issue is some serious mental blocks for the main creative team within the group.

In light of this, those three creators - Maki for music, Umi for lyrics and Kotori for costumes - split themselves into larger groups in the search for motivation.  Although it initially looks unlikely to help, it's the interactions between the girls in these groups that ultimately bear fruit, moving μ's just that little bit closer to the prospect of Love Live success.

After a decent enough start, this week's Love Live proved to be a good distillation of what works about the show - watching its now well-established cast of characters bouncing off of one another is fun, there were some well-place moments of laugh out loud humour early on, and its sweet moments never crossed the line into the overly saccharine.  The result is a simple, colourful and energetic bundle of fun, which is pretty much exactly what most come to a series like this for - a case of mission accomplished on this occasion, without a doubt.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour! - Episode 2

While the landlady's away her tenants can play... except she's ensured that Ritsu will be watching over them all and reporting back to her, which negates any possibility of doing anything even vaguely outrageous.

Not that this seems to be stopping Shirosaki, who quickly starts to concoct some plan involving rope and glycerine... luckily, it isn't as kinky as it sounds, as his plan basically involves larking around in the garden and making bubbles - an endeavour that entrances and cheers up the depressed Mayumi, and even grabs Ritsu's attention.  Although this bring some joy into Usa's life as he gets to see some of Kawai's cute side, this joy is quickly turned into pain once Ritsu realises what is specifically interesting him.

From here, laundry day for the residents turns into a surprising moment that allows Usa to actually get on Kawai's good side for once as one of his gags hits home splendidly, before a horror movie viewing night (which again brings out a little of Ritsu's adorable side - can you see a pattern emerging here?) leads into the revelation of what might just be a real-life horror in the form of the complex's final resident, Sayaka Watanabe.

All of this combines into what is a hit and miss episode, that allows me to excuse some of its "misses" because of the genuine laughs that its good gags provided.  Aspects of the series are already looking to be disappointingly one-note (there are only so many "virgin" jokes one can take) and some of the characters can be irritating as a result, but Ritsu's personality hasn't bored me just yet and I'm continuing to enjoy Usa's acerbic humour and ability to stand up for himself to some extent, so when coupled with some lively delivery and visuals I'm enjoying more of the series than I'm frustrated by at this juncture.

One Week Friends - Episode 2

After a week of friendship with Hase, just as expected Kaori remembers nothing of her classmate's status as a new-found friend.  Shock to the system though this might be, Hase has no intentions of giving up and thus starts all over again by asking Fujimiya to be his friend.

This request out of the blue (from her perspective) doesn't exactly go down well, but as she realises that she has no recollection of her lunchtimes from the previous week it becomes clear that something precious to her must have happened during those breaks - thus, she comes to realise that Hase was indeed her friend of the week before, and as a result she once again allows him into her life.

Forewarned is forearmed in Hase's case, and to avoid a repetition of these events he suggests that perhaps Kaori should keep a diary (why has nobody suggested this to her before?!) - something which she dutifully does, chronicling every little thing from Hase's preference in sandwiches through to an abortive visit to a crepe restaurant than instead turns into an enjoyable karaoke session to end the week.  Armed with her diary and a note telling her to read it before school (complete with a reminder that Hase is her friend), Kaori is all set to start a new week, although it's not her own difficulties but Hase's expectations that prove hard for her to bear...

While One Week Friends could have been filled with huge, overblown drama, there's a serene subtlety to what it relies upon instead - after bringing Hase and Fujimiya together again for another week of enjoyable chit-chat and a day about, it makes use of quiet, understated moments to reveal Kaori's pain regarding her situation, be it the knowledge that memories of an important day for her with vanish or (perhaps more notably) her desperation to please Hase by assuring him that she hasn't forgotten everything about him even if it isn't the least bit true.  Whether the series can continue in this vein throughout is another question, but for now it's a pleasing way to frame the series helped along by characters who you can't help but warm to, making it a far cry from the recent Golden Time in its handling of a similar (although far from identical) subject.

Nisekoi - Episode 14

As if Raku doesn't have enough girl troubles to contend with as it is, the end of last week's episode also saddled him with a fiancée to worry about - it isn't a problem that's going to go away easily either, as it seems that the reason for this engagement is another matter of convenience for Raku's father.

You can probably guess what happens next - the girl in question, Marika Tachibana, transfers not only into Ichijou's school but also his class, immediately introduces herself as the fiancée in question, and chaos ensues... chaos that leads to the presence of riot police, for Marika is none other than the daughter of the local police commissioner.  Try and Chitoge might to argue her place as Raku's girlfriend, Marika is not going to take no for an answer, and quickly arranges a date with her "fiancé".

Equally predictably, this is a date that sees all of the other interested parties in Ichijou's life tag along in disguise in the hope of getting to grips with what's going on here, although it's Kirisaki who succeeds in getting close enough at the pivotal moment, as Ichijou refuses to ditch his "girlfriend", even in return for Tachibana spilling the beans about that much-vaunted promise from ten years ago.  However, Marika also have some secrets about herself that she's trying to keep under wraps, and for all of her feminine charms and beauty there's a rather different personality hidden away beneath it all...

If one thing is for certain about Nisekoi it's that it never ceases to be utterly predictable about everything it does, but if there are two things for certain about the series it's the show's ability to be entertaining in spite of that predictability, which continues to be aided and abetted by SHAFT's visual treatment of the whole endeavour.  I still worry that Marika's introduction is going to throw off the careful balance of the show's cast, but for now she's an amusing addition to Raku's "harem", if only for her ability to incite reactions from the rest of the cast, and this show continues to be something of a guilty pleasure as I can't stop myself loving it in spite of how tired and daft its premise is.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 1

After an introduction that gives us a glimpse of some approximation of what is about to unfold - or at least who it's going to unfold via - we return to the beginning of our story for Mekakucity Actors opening episode.

That beginning involves a young man named Shintaro Kisaragi, a shut-in who spends his days watching anime and making himself known on Internet message boards.  Not that Shintaro is entirely alone, as he's accompanied on this daily trawl through cyberspace by a virtual girl with no feet who calls herself Ene - a girl who appeared to Shintaro via an e-mail two years previously, and who views him as her "master"; not that this stops her provoking and poking fun at him at every turn.

Shut-in he might be, but an unfortunate incident involving a keyboard and a bottle of soda leaves Shintaro with no choice but head out into the horrors of the outside world to replace it - a trip which has a visit to an amusement park bolted onto it thanks to Ene's demands.  However, this little trip is derailed as the shopping mall Shintaro visits finds itself turned into the site of a hostage situation, with our protagonist amongst those held hostage in an attempt to extort money.  Finding himself tied up alongside a couple of rather interesting individuals who seem keen to look to Shintaro for a plan to escape, can this shut-in surprise us and foil the villain's plot?

Well, yes he does (otherwise this would be a short series), but unfortunately this doesn't really help to give me any grounding on what they heck Mekakucity Actors is about, as it isn't even scratching the surface of what the series seems to be planning.  That means that there really isn't a lot to say about this opener beyond the fact that it doesn't exactly look like SHAFT bringing their "A-game" visually thanks to some ropey moments of animation.  It doesn't bode particularly well when coupled with an episode that took a long time to really go anywhere, but perhaps it's simply keeping all of its surprises in store for episode two.

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 1

In labyrinthine corridors deep underground, a young man shows his piloting abilities in a VR simulator, before hunger forces him to forage for food... a decision which kicks off a chain of events that sets this new spring season show well underway.

With nothing else available, the young man in question decides to help himself to some rice being processed in the vicinity of his "home" (if you can call it that) - a major error of judgement, after an accident leaves him injured before his attempt to escape from those who catch him in the midst of his theft only brings further pain upon him.  Awakening to find himself in hospital, a further escape attempt also goes awry, although it seems that some kind of guardian angel is watching over him, as instead of imprisonment (or far worse) he instead finds himself signed up as a trainee Frame pilot, joining fellow students as they learn how to both pilot and combat their enemy, the alien Gauna.

Now that we're fully introduced to the lad in question, Nagate Tanikaze, it's time to be introduced to a little more of the world around him, as he meets some of his fellow trainees, learns a little about this world's gender politics (there are three genders now, incidentally) and find that the Frames he's used to piloting in simulators have long since been superseded - in other words, a lot has changed on the surface while he spent his time living underground with his now-deceases grandfather.  In no time at all, Nagate is sent out on his first sortie, where he's even outfitted with a Frame of the era which he's used to - a good job too, as what should be a routine mining job quickly goes south...

There's certainly a lot to take in this opening episode of Nights of Sidonia - some elements of its world are simply thrown out there as-is with no explanation, and even Tanikaze's place as an outsider doesn't grant us as much insight into the location of the series as you might expect.  Still, what we do get to see is certainly compelling and interesting enough, and the show wastes no time in finding a way to hook the viewer into things by the end of the episode, which hopefully bodes well for it as a whole.  This leaves us to discuss the elephant in the room that is Knights of Sidonia's visuals, a CG affair that, like many of its brethren, is incredibly hit and miss.  Some of its action and first-person perspective shots lend a video game-esque feel (albeit one running at a horrible frame rate) to proceedings and the mechs and short battles scenes largely garner a feeling of excitement as a result, but any attempts to deal with human expressions and movements inevitably fall flat on their face, perhaps even more so than other recent efforts like Arpeggio of Blue Steel.  Whether the series can rise above these issues remains to be seen, and I'm decidedly conflicted by what this first episode has had to offer, but the end of the episode at least kept me hooked in for more without considering taking a pair of scissors to my eyes, so it's a start.

Riddle Story of Devil - Episode 2

After introducing us to a number of weird and wonderful Black Class members in its opening instalment, the rest of this unique class' roster is unveiled as we enter Riddle Story of Devil's second episode with things threatening to get serious.

Compared to those outwardly lunatic girls we met initially, this new batch of supposed students seem far more normal and down-to-earth, even if one of them does insist upon being the representative of everything that she can get her hands on before even taking her seat.  Of course, if these girls appear to be normal that most certainly isn't the case, and once the entire classroom minus Haru and Azuma is invited to a special meeting at midnight that night what we already knew becomes clear - all of these girls are assassins, and Haru is their target.

Although the mission isn't supposed to begin until the ground rules have been laid out at that aforementioned meeting, it seems that one of our female assassins has decided to take the initiative and jump the gun - Azuma shows little interest in Isuke Inukai visiting her and Haru's room for tea, leaving her roommate to it before others nudge her in the direction of considering that this may not be the smartest decision in the world.  Lo and behold, Azuma returns to find Ichinose drugged (revealing a shocking number of scars all over her body), at which point she makes the decision to fend off her rival, stopping just short of killing her as a memory from her pasty disrupts her train of thought.  As it becomes clear that Haru is well aware of the harm that others wish to do to her thanks to her place in a hugely important clan, the more important question is what Azuma's plans are - as this assassination "game" begins, she turns things on her head by swearing to protect rather than kill Haru.

Now that it's set up its rules (although goodness knows why assassinating an unarmed girl needs rules) and Azuma's place in proceedings is cemented, it seems like Riddle Story of Devil is all set to begin in earnest with next week's episode.  With the promise of some decent enough action and no shortage of deranged characters, the potential of the series in terms of sheer entertainment value is evident, so all it needs to do now is execute on it - something it's shown mixed abilities to do thus far, with some clumsy exposition offset by some decent little moments of tension and action.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Selector Infected WIXOSS - Episode 2

Ruko might not have any wishes that would drive her on to become an Eternal Girl, but she still seems pretty taken with the game of WIXOSS, spending an entire night staying up to play it with her grandmother.

Meanwhile, Yuzuki may have decided against battling Ruko but she's still very much on the hunt of other Selectors to put herself against, and serendipity leads to her learning of just one Selector - an upcoming model named Akira who goes to a nearby school.  Ditching classes to track her down in search of a battle, Yuzuki finds herself beaten to it by a young girl named Hitoe - a lucky break for Yuzuki, as it turns out, as herself and Ruko watch Akira absolutely decimate her opponent before leaving her in tears.

Much as they might want to avoid battling Akira herself, the winner of that battle isn't one to take no for an answer, and won't let Yuzuki leave until she has her e-mail address.  It's clear that Yuzuki needs to get stronger if she's to have any hope at defeating players like Akira at WIXOSS, and with that in mind she's reluctantly cajoled into visiting a card store by Kazuki to upgrade her deck.  The reason for her dicomfort in this shop eventually becomes clear, tying as it does into Yuzuki's one wish, but perhaps the more important questions at this point revolve around Ruko, who not only seems to be displaying a natural aptitude for WIXOSS knowledge but is also showing small signs of being a potentially heartless combatant in battle.

Having hooked me in with a pretty decent first episode, this week's Selector Infected WIXOSS felt a little more like the kind of attempts to sell a card game to viewers that I was worried about, albeit one tinged by some pretty low-key drama surrounding Hitoe's upset at losing a game and Yuzuki's incestuous desires.  As a result, next week's episode may be a make-or-break one for the series - it looks like a point where a lot could be revealed about the future direction of the series, and I for one hope that direction is more intense emotional drama and less edgy commercial.

Nanana's Buried Treasure - Episode 1

A state-of-the-art, purpose-build location specifically for students and researchers, Academy City... sorry, Nanaejima Island is an impressive seat of learning, all ensconced within one off-shore island.  It's also the new home of Juugo Yama, who seems more excited about moving out of his family home than he is about specifically gaining a place on this island.

Needless to say, Yama's first port of call is taking up his place of residence, an apartment which has oddly insisted upon him paying an entire year's worth of rent up-front with no refunds.  Surely that couldn't be anything to do with the game-playing, pudding-eating ghost girl who he'll have to share the apartment with, right?

Surprisingly, the fact that this girl was murdered in the very room he's now living in doesn't particularly faze Yama, and nor does his supernatural roommate - in fact, he's happy to let her dislocate his shoulder just so that he can get the slightest touch of ghost-boob.  She might seem like a simple, carefree girl, but Yama comes to learn that there's more to Nanana (for that is her name) than meets the eye, as a manual left by a previous tenant leads him down a path of learning her true place in the history of Nanae Island as well as a little about the buried treasure of the show's title.

Taken as a whole, this first episode of Nananai's Buried Treasure is a bit of a strange beast - it has some interesting conceits, not least surrounding the death of the titular character some ten years previously, but these potentially dark prospects are eclipsed by the show's cheerful, light-hearted and mildly perverted demeanour.  If the series somehow manages to balance the two I'll be impressed, but at the moment I can't help but feel that too many aspects of its wider story are simply poorly glued together in a distinctly unbalanced and roughshod way in service of its ultimate goals, and unless those goals are impressive enough to mitigate its clumsiness it may well fall flat on its face sooner rather than later.

Ping Pong the Animation - Episode 1

Having already enjoyed a live-action theatrical adaptation over a decade ago, Taiyou Matsumoto's manga gets an animated outing this spring courtesy of the directorial hand of Masaaki Yuasa.

At the heart of the series are two seemingly talented, but very different, table tennis players - the quiet, emotionless and expressionless "Smile", otherwise known as Makoto Tsukimoto, and his long-standing friend, the outgoing and carefree "Peco", Yukata Hoshino.  The only link between the two is an overwhelming love of ping pong, with the cocky Peco always willing to show off his skills even if he's rather less interested in training with the fellow members of his school club.

What really interests Peco however is news of a Chinese exchange student who will be coaching youngsters at a rival school - "China" as they know him, although his actual name is Wenge Kong.  Skipping practice once again, Peco persuades Smile to join him in a bout of "spying" on this Chinese newcomer as he takes on his first session at his new assignment - an adventure that leads to Peco playing one-on-one against this highly skilled opponent and, to his shock, finding that his own abilities aren't what he believes them to be.

Its animation style may take a little getting used to, bastard child of The Tatami Galaxy and Kick-Heart that it is, but once you settle into its rhythm it's a perfect match for Ping Pong, especially once any bouts of actual table tennis begin as it offers a certain style and fluidity that suits it well.  That aside, this was a decent enough first episode, introducing as it did our main three characters and setting up the ground work for what is to come.  This isn't a show that's going to shout its intentions or abilities from the rooftops - it's more Smile than Peco in that sense - but there's a calm confidence to the this opener that bodes well for the series as a whole.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

No Game No Life - Episode 1

Urban legend has it that there's a team of four gamers who can take on and beat absolutely anybody - a group so powerful that they can take on a team of 1,200 rival players and still emerge victorious, and a group so assured that they don't even need a name, leaving nothing but a blank space where their title should be in the games they play.

In truth, "Blank" are little more than a brother and sister shut-in team consisting of brother Sora and little sister Shiro.  There's no doubting their ability when it comes to playing games - even when it comes to a game of chess - but in contrast their life skills are simply non-existent.  Thus, when the pair are asked if they wished for a world where everything was decided by games, of course they liked the idea - little did they know that at that very moment they'd be whisked away into just such a world; a land known as Disboard.

Rather than Ten Commandments, the ruler of Disboard - a boy named Tet - has ten simple rules which effectively revolves around ensuring that robbery and murder and outlawed, and that everything in life must be decided by challenging others to games with rules and rewards which both parties deem fair.  There's also a rule about not cheating, namely that it's against the rules to be caught cheating while a game is in progress, meaning that cheating is fine as long as you don't get caught.  This is something that Sora is quick to catch on to, giving him an early leg-up in this dog-eat-dog world.

Although it occupies a clear space in the world of shows trying to piggy-back on the popularity of Sword Art Online, this first episode of No Game No Life at least feels like it occupies its own space in the "games and real life collide" genre.  Its lead characters have a certain charm to them and the world into which they're flung certainly has some potential... the trouble is that so much of what it does starts to unravel once you start thinking about it.  Sora and Shiro's successes should feel like an achievement in some shape or form, but instead they feel like arbitrary victories merely to advance the plot, while Sora's persuasive demeanour is at odds with his supposed social maladjustment.  Add it all up and he suddenly appears to be little more than a self-insert character "sticking it to the man" and the man's horrible world of 3D pain, which in turn makes the entire endeavour seem entirely less interesting.  Perhaps I'm being too cynical here, but from a series that seems to have potential and shows some nice flashes of humour and personality, I fear that it'll go off the rails sooner rather than later.

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 1

Kids, everything that you've heard about peer pressure is true - it can force you down some truly shocking paths that you would never have seen yourself traversing otherwise.  Like watching Love Live, for example.  Having decided to welcome, rather than ignore, the constant chatter in my Twitter timeline as its second season began, I figured I should watch its first series to see what all the fuss was about.  Then I finished in two days.  Then started on season two.

Anyhow, having explained how I got myself into this mess, it seems that our protagonist Honoka is going places - the role of student council president, no less.  After a less than expertly delivered welcome speech, still fresh from the exciting news that their school will no longer be closing, Honoka has to settle into her new role and the absolute slew of paperwork and other activities that it involves.  Given her propensity for being distracted from such important tasks, you'd assume the breaking news of a new, second, Love Live event would be music to her ears, particularly given a change to its qualifying format...'d think wrong, however.  Although the rest of the girls are beyond excited at the prospect of taking part in the event - albeit with the realisation that the new regional qualifying round would put them straight up against current champions (despite seemingly only having one song) A-RISE - Honoka is lukewarm at best about the idea, and seems quite happy to skip entering the contest entirely.  Both worried and confused about this unexpected turn of events, the other girls alternate between trying to get to the root cause of Honoka's attitude and flat-out convincing her to change her mind - perhaps inevitably, the true reason behind her actions resides in how their attempts to reach the previous Love Live ended...

Although Love Live isn't a series that's liable to blow you away, it has a certain easy-going attitude to its story and comedy that is not entirely dissimilar to K-ON in its ability to feel welcoming and to imbue its characters with enough personality for them to feel like more than just a hastily thrown-together group of reasons to make character songs and, as a result, lots of money.  Oddly, it's often the music that is by far Love Live's weakest component, and this looks likely to be the case in this second season - its tunes are forgettable, but this doesn't matter too much when its cast are sufficiently pleasant and fun to watch to create a simple but enjoyable show.  With the actual Love Live event left ultimately unexplored by season one, there's also still plenty for this series to get its teeth into, so hopefully all of that fun will translate into whatever μ's have in store for us this spring.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Saki - The Nationals - Episode 13 (Completed)

Having won their match and a place in the semi-finals, the time seems ripe for Kiyosumi's finest to sleep in... except there are other mahjong games to be watched.

More importantly, Nodoka and Yuuki are both keep to see in Hanada in action - a desire which sees Haramura also spotting some old friends in the form of the girls from Achiga's tea.  In light of this, Nodoka decides to forgo watching the match on television in favour of a trip to the auditorium, with both Yuuki and Saki in tow, although the latter quickly drops out as some uneasy memories rush into her mind on account of those currently playing.

Once inside, Nodoka gets to meet her old Achiga friends (matching up with the end of Episode of Side-A, of course), provides some goodies for Hanada, and both hets to watch some of the match while finding herself quizzed on her links to Achiga by the journalist who helpfully offers up the press room for her to view the game.  With one semi-final now completed, it's time for Kiyosumi to take to the stage once again to fight for a place in the final, while we have to sit on our hands until the inevitable continuation of The Nationals is announced.

Saki - The Nationals certainly had its moments, but for my money they were far, far too sparsely sprinkled throughout this series, which rarely managed to produce much of the show's traditional magic as it got bogged down in its vast character roster and pointless journeys into the back stories of that huge cast.  It's a real shame, as I still like the show and what it does even at its most ludicrous, but I'm here for the "sport" and the dramatic tension inherent within it rather than the decidedly samey tales of friendship which run through the series.  Perhaps the prospect of a national semi-final for Kiyosumi can bring those important elements back to the fore, but we'll have to wait and see on that one - for now though, I have to mark The Nationals down as something of a disappointment overall.