Monday, 30 June 2014

The end of an era...

When I fired up this 'blog on a whim at the start of 2008, the world was a very different place - Crunchyroll and legal streaming were still largely irrelevant (particularly to someone based in the UK such as myself), fansubs still ruled the roost, and Twitter barely existed in anything like the hugely popular form that it does today.

It was that environment that led to the creation of this imaginatively titled affair - put simply, I had nowhere else to talk about the latest anime, or to store my thoughts in a manner that I could easily refer back to for my writing work elsewhere when circumstances demanded me to recall some forgettable series that somebody had unfathomably licensed for home video release. Although this was a place for public consumption and discussion, my aims were always personal; I just needed a repository for my stream of consciousness, so that I could easily grab an image for a series or remember that episode x of series y was a particularly good one.

Although having this information to-hand is still undeniably useful to me, times and circumstances have changed. The UK now gets to enjoy the vast majority of content legally streaming online, and material that doesn't stream to the west at all is becoming rarer and rarer - this in turn gives me an outlet to write about the latest anime both in my capacity for the UK Anime Network, and also now in a regular monthly streaming anime column in MyM Magazine (which you can buy and read on iOS devices too, don't you know).

These opportunities have also brought me to a realisation - that to properly facilitate my work for those publications I need to work smarter, which ostensibly means watching more, writing less and making what I do write cover the latest anime in a broader sense. In other words, episodic blogging simply doesn't make sense to me any more, nor is it a good use of my time when I can throw some images and comments into storage elsewhere ("the cloud" is a dumb buzzword but cloud storage is a beautiful thing), offer up some immediate thoughts via Twitter and then save my full musings for writing about batches of episodes or series as a whole elsewhere. Worse still, at times over the past year in particular I've found myself not watching particular shows simply because I don't think they'll be interesting to write about episodically - a corruption of my enthusiasm which I'm sure you'll agree is fucking insane.

It's a harsh reality that I've been pondering for a couple of months, but now seems like the time to stop prevaricating, make my decision and retire Hanners' Anime 'Blog with immediate effect at the end of the spring season, having completed writing about every spring show (apart from M3, but fuck that series).

The site will stick around forever, of course (by which I mean until Google go bankrupt in some kind of fireball of a technology bubble bursting or something), and it might even spring back into occasional life if something which doesn't legally reach the UK absolutely demands that I write about it, but to all intents and purposes this is the end of a journey that began over six years and 3,800 posts ago. For those of you who followed my musings, be it casually or regularly, thank you all for reading - if you feel even the slightest inkling that you might miss all of this nonsense as much as I'll probably miss vomiting it into a WYSIWYG interface, then you should probably follow me on Twitter or keep up with my long-form writing at those links further up the page.

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 13 (Completed)

The Love Live is over (and there are no prizes for guessing who won), which leaves just the small matter of graduation to be tackled by both third years and the student council alike.

As you might imagine, Honoka's attempts to write a graduation speech to deliver as student council president proved rather torturous and led to some last-minute panic, but otherwise everything is in-hand and organised, leaving Honoka free to offer some comforting words to Eli before delivering that graduation speech, which of course actually turns out to be a graduation song instead.

With all of that done and dusted, there are still some final things to tidy up - literally in Nico's case as she packs up her club room paraphernalia, but also figuratively as the Idol Study Club now needs a new leader... a role to which Hanayo seems perfectly suited despite her protestations.  A final tour of the school for the graduating girls takes in all of their familiar haunts - the stage, the alpacas (who have a surprise of their own, it seems), and of course the rooftop that turned from makeshift practice arena to the group's home from home.  Saying goodbye to all of this is a sad moment, but Honoka eventually realises that, just as she promised at the start, she and her friends followed through on their dream to the very end.  But is this end though? Not when there's a bucketload of cash to be made from a Love Live movie it isn't... place your bets on what that will involve, but my money is on an international Love Live tournament.

So ends (for now, anyway) Love Live - I know I've compared it to K-ON a number of times over this second season, but it certainly sits in a similar position for me as a light and fluffy story with a decent dose of comedy that can nonetheless tug mercilessly at the heartstrings when it really wants to. The proof of quality for a show of this ilk is in its emotional payload, and although it never quite reaches K-ON's level is certainly delivers surprisingly well in that regard in its later episodes including this finale, while still piling up the colourful fun and frolics leading up to those moments, even as someone who doesn't care all that much for the show's music. In other words, even putting aside the obsessive aspects of its fan base, it isn't too hard to see why Love Live has been a major success even in an ever-more crowded market of idol-based anime.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 12 (Completed)

Now that Momo and company have been rescued, it's time for the gang to make good their escape and take on the "final boss" in this finale of Mekakucity Actors.

With the entire cast assembled, the group has no shortage of special powers to use to get to where they want to go, whether it's Takane's hacking ability (and not an iconic cap in sight) or... well... Takane's abilities with a gun in her hand. Eventually, and again thanks to a spot of special power utilisation - this time from Hibiya - the group finally find what they're looking for in the form of Mr. Tateyama's lair.

Although Tateyama - or at least the entity controlling him - wasn't expecting visitors so soon, he was expecting them regardless, and it seems that he has a few tricks up his sleeve to boot. For starters, he's quick to indulge in spilling the beans about Marry's true nature, suggesting that she's trapped within a cycle of despair that is triggering this entire series of events because of her desperation not to lose her friends. What's more, Tateyama also spies an opportunity to take on the body of the indestructible Haruka to further his plans yet more - however, it seems that he's reckoned without the power of Marry and her friends to remain steadfast in ensuring that his plot can't possibly succeed.

Truly in keeping with the rest of this series, nothing made much sense in this final episode of Mekakucity Actors - it felt like key plot points were missing entirely, with a series that has been dragging its feet for much of its running time suddenly having to race through things at a deeply unsatisfying pace to the point where even its (lazy) resolution felt like an afterthought.  The real shame is that there were brief flashes of what this series might have been on show in this finale - when the Mekakushi-dan are working together as a team it's actually pretty entertaining to watch, and that it's taken twelve episodes to reach that point is just one damning aspect of a show that has made a complete shambles of telling anything approaching a coherent story.  Is Mekakucity Actors the biggest disappointment of the spring?  You know, it almost certainly is.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 12 (Completed)

Taking the fight to a massive Gauna hive was always going to be a "do or die" mission for Sidonia's Gardes, but as the situations worsens it seems as if only the "die" part of that statement has any chance of coming true.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and with Benisuzume scything through the platoon and an anti-planet missile well on its way, the decision is made to blow a whole in this Gauna hive using Sidonia's Super Hyggs cannon. The only question is whether anybody will still be alive at that point to take advantage of the route this should open to the hive's "master" Gauna, and with this in mind Nagate offers himself up to take on Benisuzume to give what remains of his platoon an opportunity to defeat the Gauna and escape the onrushing anti-planet missile.

Even for a pilot at skilled as Tanikaze, taking on this monstrous enemy with so much "borrowed" knowledge from Hoshijiro, and it all seems about to go awry as he's knocked unconscious in the eschewing battle. Enter a terrified Izana to come to the rescue before he meets his certain demise, only for Izana's craft to be knocked out into space in the resulting chaos. With ammo out, the game looks to be up for Nagate... except he has one last trick up his sleeve, provided to him in the hope that he might exact vengeance in the place of one of the Honoka clones.  Thus, victory belongs to Sidonia as the Gauna is destroyed in the wake of Tanikaze's personal victory, ensuring the safety of those on-board once again and giving Tanikaze an opportunity to try and make peace with Kunato in particular. Even more dangerous threats remain however, which is one way of saying that a second season is on the way later in the year.

If last week's episode of Knights of Sidonia was all about white-knuckled tension, the series finale was far more about balls-to-the-wall action - something which wasn't quite as gripping as what came before but fare that was deftly accomplished all the same with just enough moments of peril and drama to work into the ultimate triumph which bookends the series. These final instalments are also a study in just how far this series has come from some faltering beginnings - its initial episodes were clumsy at setting up its major characters (although admittedly they did a great job of world-building instead), but somehow events have organically ensured that putting these characters in danger elicits exactly the right emotions from the viewer, and coupled with what feels like some major improvements to its animation quality and a narrative that grew stronger by the week, we've been left with a terrific series which I'm more than happy to know there'll be more of.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 11

Last week's episode taught us a lot in terms of filling in the gaps within Mekakucity Actors (aside from the most important gap of all, of course, that being the reason why this show is garbage), so now that we have our "bad guy" in sight what's next for the Mekakushi-dan.

The most pressing issue however is to prevent Hibiya from doing anything foolhardy, and eventually Momo and Kido catch up to him and manage to persuade him that he's best served working with them - a thought that itself takes a back seat as all three of them end up being captured by... I dunno, people, I have no idea who they are or what they're doing.

Meanwhile, returning to flashback-land, we square the circle of Ayano's fate as we learn that her demise was a deliberate decision to thwart her father, or at least that of the entity possessing him, as preventing him from using the source of her power would theoretically put a stop to his plans. It's a theory that seems to be unfounded, but perhaps her sacrifice isn't such a final one after all, and Shintaro certainly seems to have a plan to bring her back having learned much of the truth himself. Now that Takane has her body back (how this happens is glossed over), the others all race to the aid of Momo as she uses her ability to make her current predicament known to all and sundry by singing like a Vocaloid.

Even by the already poor standards of Mekakucity Actors this week's episode was an absolute mess - an episode that felt like a number of disparate scenes had been accidentally dropped onto a cutting room floor and then pasted back together in a hurry with little regard for whether all of the pieces had even been picked up, let along stuck together in the right order. This inattention has turned a dull, poorly executed series into one bordering on laughable, and I for one really can't wait for the final episode simply so that I can be rid of it as soon as possible.

No Game No Life - Episode 12 (Completed)

Try as they might to twist the game in their favour, it seems that Blank simply can't be beaten, leaving Izuna on the brink of defeat in the decidedly Japanese virtual world that makes up the game created by the Eastern Federation.

This isn't the end of the matter however, as Izuna has a trick of her own up her sleeve - the rare Warbeast power to surpass her own normal physical limitations. Thus, the game has changed again - Shiro is unable to predict where Izuna will be or what she'll do next, and the pair which make up Blank have nothing left in the tank except to run and run until they can't run any more. Once Sora's last-ditch effort falls flat, the game is up and the Eastern Federation victorious... or are they?  Everyone has reckoned without Steph of all people, who has been cunningly moved into position thanks to some intelligent use of the game's NPCs and other counter-measures to the Warbeast's "mind reading" abilities.

In other words, it is in fact Elkia who have won the game and thus all of the Eastern Federation's territory - a prospect which leaves Izuna inconsolable until reassured that her defeat won't cause any death or distress to her people. There remain issues to iron out even in the wake of this victory for Sora and Shiro however, as the Warbeasts have moved most of their technology and important persons off the continent, ostensibly to lure Elkia into another game in the hope of instant revenge, or at least an opportunity to secure self-government for their people. Tired of convoluted games, Sora's suggestion to resolve this issue is simple - a coin toss, and one that he manipulates into a draw to ensure that Elkia keeps their territory and the Warbeasts keep their self-sufficiency. With all of this resolved, Blank can reveal their ultimate plan to take on Tet.. oh, and call upon the world's number one-ranked Exceed.

Much like Nanana's Buried Treasure last week, No Game No Life ends on a note which has me clamouring for a second season, but even if it never emerges (and let's hope it does) that shouldn't overshadow the fact that this show has been a tremendous success overall. At times is pandering to fandom and fan service has been a little over-bearing, but when it manages to put that to one side or integrate it into the story a little more tidily it's provided easily some of the most entertaining episodes of any series in 2014 via some spectacularly grandiose tales told in a fashion befitting of them. These episodes and the glorious twists and turns surrounding them have been what has won me over here and interesting, colourful visuals and an enjoyable soundtrack have simply been the icing on this devious little cake.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 12

Now that the future of their group has been decided, judgement day is nigh for μ's.  No, not that judgement day, but rather the Love Live itself.

With Nico having fortuitously drawn a prize slot for the event, giving the group the final slot in the competition (which doesn't seem like such a great draw to me, I've seen how Eurovision works), focus has to return to one last practice session, which the girls soon realise is literally their last practice session together.  As a result, the group really doesn't want to part company with one another, finding time to visit a shrine before hanging around without actually wanting to go home.

It's clear that there's only one thing for it - to spend the night before the Love Live together at school, eating and sleeping together (get your minds out of the gutter, you know what I mean) before waking up bright and early and preparing for the show of their lives. What a show it is too, which concludes to rapturous applause and calls for an encore which they duly provide.

As this season of Love Live has progressed, it's been increasingly clear that a bittersweet feel-good story was the direction in which it was headed, and this is no bad thing when it's delivered with the sense of fun and emotional undercurrents running through it as this episode - it didn't do anything spectacular, but then again it didn't really need to other than provide a satisfying culmination of the entire series so far, which it duly did. This is mission accomplished for the show, pure and simple.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

One Week Friends - Episode 12 (Completed)

There may have been no dramatic fallout between Hase and Kaori, but the very obvious cooling in their friendship is visible to all and sundry within their class as time goes by.

Of course, it goes without saying that Fujimiya is more keenly aware of this change than anybody else, and it's Kiryu to whom she turns looking for advice - advice that he can't readily give beyond explaining that Hase is probably worried about inadvertently becoming responsible for her losing her memory again at some point in the future, suggesting that she should talk to him herself is she wants any real answers. Clearly, this issue will be less simple to solve than the awkwardness between Saki and Kiryu, which is quickly resolved by the latter bawling her eyes out while explaining her concerns before receiving an apology from him.

The faltering relationship between our two leads ultimately leads to them both making excuses when the winter holiday rolls around, as they both claim to their friends that they'll be going away with family, leaving them with nothing to do when the time comes. In a pique of serendipity, this decision leads to the two bumping into one another on a random walk, leading to them spending some time together chatting. Eventually, a shrine visit sees Kaori spill out her emotions about how much she wants to spend time with Hase like they used to, while Hase finally realises what an idiot he's been in shunning her out of a determination not to cry again. Thus, all is well once again as the series ends with friendships mended across the board.

Having expected to find One Week Friends filled to the rafters with highly emotional drama from the offset, I've been genuinely surprised and impressed with the quiet, introspective take it has instead had on its characters, using the amnesia plot point carefully and increasingly sparingly and instead using it to simply lead in to adolescent relationship troubles which were far easier to relate to. These more subtle turns were no less impactful for that quieter delivery, and coupled with its gorgeous yet equally understated visuals the series delivered everything that I'd hoped of even if it wasn't in the manner that I expected, to serve as one of the spring's better shows that was well worth watching.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour! - Episode 12 (Completed)

Ritsu's new friend has provided her with a journey of discovery as to what friendship is all about, but is it about to lead her into a sticky situation as she's thrust into a karaoke party mixer when all she was actually expecting was a quiet day at the library.

In a blue of frantic worry, Usa opts to borrow Mayumi's phone to check in on whether Ritsu is okay, and although she isn't okay and is enduring a nightmare of a time it's nothing that she can't handle, although Usa's message is both appreciated and gives her a perfect reason to make her excuses and leave. This event, however, is the final straw in Ritsu's budding friendship, and thus she has to find a way to put it to an end - a decision which is it as hard as it sounds, although ultimately it only seems to cause any real emotional harm to Ritsu herself as she finds herself assuaged at sadness that she maybe wasn't considered to be such a special friend after all.

In this situation, there's only one thing for it - to get drunk. Although this probably isn't a deliberate decision on Ritsu's part it's how things end up, and it seems that drunk Ritsu is something of a loudmouth who has no problem telling all and sundry exactly what she thinks of them, or indeed for sulking about a lack of cakes. Ultimately, and in a rather roundabout way, it does seek to close the gap between Usa and Ritsu a little further, as the two finally swap phone numbers of nothing else to give us the closest to a happy ending this series was ever liable to.

Now we're at the end of the series, it's probably fair to say that The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour boils down into two aspects - the bits with Ritsu at their centre, and the rest. Watching Usa and Ritsu's relationship develop (for better or worse) always provided the show's most enjoyable moments, and in these times the rest of the cast did a great job of moving things along with their one-liners and snarky quips. However, when those individuals became the main characters, the series never had quite the same air about it, as the humour became predictable and the entertainment value dipped - not excruciatingly so, but enough to become noticeable and even a little frustrating on occasion. That isn't to take away from the fact that I enjoyed watching the series overall - it succeeded more often than it failed, and even its weakest episodes still had their moments, to make for a fun comedy in a season which didn't really have too much of the stuff to offer as a whole.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Riddle Story of Devil - Episode 12 (Completed)

Haru has survived all of her assailants and passed the test designed specifically for her - or has she? It seems that there is one final peril that has decided to know its face.

That danger is, of course, Tokaku herself, who seems to have taken upon itself to unleash her ability to kill now that it resides within her on her one-time friend. All is not as it seems however, as Haru is saved from impending death by... Tokaku? As her friend whisks her away, confusion gives way to a realisation that it was in fact Nio, not Azuma, who was out to kill Haru, as the overseer of the assassination game has turned assassin herself using her own unique ability.

That isn't to say that Azuma doesn't want to kill Haru as well though, and as the two Azuma's battle it out it becomes clear that they both actually have the same ultimate goal, albeit for different reasons. Unlike Nio, Tokakau wants to kill Haru to prove that she isn't under the control of Haru's ability as a Primer, which she sees as the only way to validate both their friendship and her decision to protect Haru - a rather dire way of going about things, but there you go. Ultimately, all's well that ends well however - Haru survives, Azuma finds the truth she's looking for, and the other members of the Black Class all find happiness. Or run around killing nuns, which I guess is pretty much the same thing.

Trying to end a series like Riddle Story of Devil with a montage of the cast living happily ever after (more or less) is a pretty weird decision, as was its twists surrounding Azuma in this final episode, although it worked reasonably well for the most part in truth. Still, that lingering sense of slight dissatisfaction shouldn't detract from a series that initially looked like being a tired "assassin of the week" story without much to keep it afloat, yet somehow managed to find some surprisingly compelling stories to make its setup work well and deliver drama and even some tears with some genuine heart that surpassed its over-the-top characters. Coupled with increasingly assured animation quality to match the growth in its story-telling and a decent soundtrack, Riddle Story of Devil managed to ultimately present itself as a surprisingly well-told tale that was eye catching in both visuals and story, above and beyond (yet still capable of leaning upon) the silly insanity it initially promised.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 11

The path of a giant craft journeying through space never did run smooth, particularly if that craft happens to be named Sidonia, as this space-faring behemoth suddenly finds itself dwarfed several hundred times over by a massive Gauna hive; one so big that its consumed a dwarf planet to use as its placenta.

It also seems that the phrase "the bigger they are, the harder they fall" won't apply here, as Sidonia's first course of action - to simply evade their enemy - falls short as their opponent proves to be just as maneuverable as they are. Thus, there's nothing for it than to bring out the big guns - a planet-destroying missile, experimental weapons and two platoons of frames, including (of course) Tanikaze and Izana.

The plan is simple enough - to destroy the Gauna surrounding the dwarf planet before Sidonia's missile hits and destroys it. The plan is simple in theory, but upon arrival at their target the pilots are soon faced with a barrage of enemy fire in already difficult conditions thanks to the dwarf planet's gravitational pull, and once a Gauna which once again apes the movement and abilities of Sidonia's frames appears things go downhill incredibly fast, leading to some desperate measures to be enacted by Midorikawa on the Sidonia's bridge.

All of this combined to make for an absolutely terrific episode of Knights of Sidonia - action-packed, but more importantly jam-packed with tension as the impossible odds stacked against humanity were laid bare and then brought to bear in compelling fashion. Again, this week's episode was also an advertisement for the benefits of the show's CG treatment, as it packed every frame with detail from Sidonia's architecture through to the assault on the Gauna hive and its response. All of this leads into what should be an equally thrilling finale to a series that seems to have really found its way and provided some fantastic fare as it's done so across the course of the series.

Nanana's Buried Treasure - Episode 11 (Completed)

The face-off between the Adventure Club and their former member Ikusaba seems to have taken a dark, violent and decidedly dangerous turn - is there any way out of the mess Juugo and company have found themselves in?

Yes, as it happens, but not before our protagonist is left with a fractured elbow and collapsed lunch by Ikusaba. Of course, the solution comes via our resident master detective, who claims to know the truth behind Ikusaba, threatening to reveal it and thus render it redundant unless he steps away and lets his rivals leave. After some pause for thought, Ikusaba agrees, leaving the Adventure Club members to recover and make good their own escape as it turns out that Tensai was actually bluffing (or rather, making an educated guess) all along.

In fact, Tensai's efforts involve a lot more than simply diffusing this situation, as she also procures the piece of the Nanana Collection to return to Nanana herself, which in turn leads to a bet as to whether Juugo would use the piece if presented with it in spite of his previous promise to her. As it turns out, Juugo does have some morals and does in fact turn down the opportunity presented to him - what's more, he seems to be decidedly worried about what Nanana really wants for her future; an issue made all the more important than her attempts to avoid answering that quesiton until forced to do so.

So ends a series that teases us with the possibility of future events that we'll never get to see (unless we're lucky enough to be granted a second season), but one that was nonetheless incredibly entertaining for the most part - it had a great roster of characters (including Juugo himself, who blows your average run-of-the-mill anime protagonist out of the water), some excellent action and great animation to depict both this and the show's intricate, Uncharted-esque puzzles. Some of the treatment of its characters and their personalities was a little inconsistent, and its pacing waxed and waned on occasion, but that doesn't detract from the fact that Nanana's Buried Treasure most certainly exceeded my expectations and then some on every count, and I certainly wouldn't say no to more of it.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Selector Infected WIXOSS - Episode 12 (Completed)

Ruko has, to all intents and purposes, decided her upon her wish, but will having to face up to a determined Hitoe and LRIG Yuzuki quickly derail her plans?

As their part in Iona's "battle royale" rumbles on, it becomes clear that Hitoe is fighting against the very curse that afflicted her thanks to her last round as a Selector - her memories of her friends has returned, and in spite of the pain its causing her she's fighting to regain those friendships no matter what. Its this heartfelt dedication that only serves to further spur Ruko on in her convictions that her wish to save all of her friends could effectively break the system, and she's more than willing to beat Hitoe to do it.

With this duly done, it's onwards to face Iona herself, who seems more than a little pleased that it is indeed Ruko that is her final opponent. A daunting prospect she might be, but Ruko's demeanour is ice cold throughout - she isn't even having fun any more, she simply has to win. It seems that somebody is none too thrilled with her plan however, as the mysterious girl previously encountered by Yuzuki pays Tama a visit, trying to persuade her that Ruko's plan would leave her in the cold and that she should seriously consider not completing her oath with Ruko to avoid her friend becoming an Eternal Girl. It seems that this is a plot which also plays directly into Iona's hands, bringing about some seismic shifts as this first season of WIXOSS comes to a close.

As I'd suspected, this finale to Selector Infected WIXOSS was ultimately a massive cliffhanger to lead us into the autumn and Selector Spread WIXOSS - then again, I really don't mind as this series has become stronger by the week, and from wondering whether it has the legs to be a split-cour show I now find myself very much looking forward to it, especially given the shifts and changes brought about by the end of this season and its potential suggestions that the world of Selectors is about to have a whole lot more impact upon the real world than simply messing with the wishes of some teenagers. Admittedly this finale had ti break some of its own rules (particularly pertaining to Hitoe) to get there, but all in all Selector Infected WIXOSS has provided an impressive bout of story-telling that harboured all of the drama and emotion that it required, wrapped up in a compelling overall package.

Ping Pong the Animation - Episode 11 (Completed)

Hoshino's defeat of Kazama has sent reverberations not only around the arena in which the tournament is being hosted, but also the wider world as word spreads online via the media and social networks.  For those involved however, this is all ancient history already, as our focus zooms in on the final between Peco and Smile.

Amidst worries about Hoshino's knee, Tsukimoto remains adamant that he'll happily play to his opponents physical weakness, perhaps buoyed by his tutor's experiences which had previously been relayed to him. After wondering whether he'll even show up at all, Peco finally makes his grand entrance, and the match begins at the kind of blistering intensity you might expect given the skill level of those involved.

Put pressure on his week knee Tsukimoto might, but Hoshino is still no slouch as he struts his stuff. In a way though this doesn't even really matter to either of the competitors involved - all that is important is that they're having fun, and for perhaps the first time in a long while Smile finds himself feeling alive and defying his nickname as the intense game continues against a backdrop of flashbacks to his and Peco's youth.  When the game is done, we skip forward in time to see what has become of the main player's in the cast, to provide us with a happy yet grounded ending to events.

So ends a series that wavered very occasionally but was for the most part utterly fantastic, with this episode once again justifying its animation style as it came to the fore in depicting the speed and passion of the game it seeks to represent. There's more to Ping Pong than "just another sports anime" however - while most series use a sport either as a mere background to other events and dramas, as some kind of super-powered spectacle or as a passion above all else, Ping Pong treats table tennis as both an intensely personal journey of growth and maturing into adulthood as well as a piece analysing the driving forces behind these sporting endeavours.  The result is touching, fascinating and occasionally thrilling, and although its presentation falters at times it ultimately delivered a wonderful series that is memorable in terms of visual, audio and story.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

M3 the dark metal - Episode 9

Akashi and Heito's venture into the Lightless Realm didn't exactly go swimmingly, and as two entered only one returns, with Akashi just about making it out before collapsing, with his colleague nowhere to be seen.

What's more Akashi now point-blank refuses to pilot the Argent again having learned at least some of its secrets as they pertain to his brother - the trouble is, the powers that be are having none of it while Heito, and more importantly his Sable, are still lost within the Lightless Realm. But can he be persuaded?

Perhaps the contents of the data recorder recovered by Akashi is the key, holding as it does video footage of what seems to be the final moments of his older brother as he succumbs to the effects of the Lightless Realm. This, however, is not the end of the story - Akashi's brother did return from the Lightless Realm, only to ultimately become the LIM that now resides within the Argent. It's a revelation that, coupled with further data of his time in the Lightless Realm, leads to Akashi changing his tune about about piloting the Reaper again.

As we move closer to its half-way stage, M3 the dark metal continues to be a series with a decent story that is increasingly let-down by its execution - whether its dialogue or the presentation of its characters, there's nothing that manages to make events within the series feel compelling. No series is going to come well out of Evangelion comparisons, and that certainly applies here, but even beyond that there's nothing satisfying about this show; a real shame as there remains clear potential within its core ideas.

No Game No Life - Episode 11

The game is afoot against the Warbeasts, and although Shiro and Sora have effectively been placed on "home territory" as the nature of the virtual reality they'll be playing in is revealed, it seems like it really couldn't be any worse for our pair of shut-ins; in fact, it's fair to say that a game set in Tokyo is the last thing that they wanted.

However, Sora in particular is quick to recover once he's been suitably reassured that this indeed only a game, and once you look at it as being like Steins;Gate then things don't seem so bad and he can even live with a little direct sunlight. Thus, it's onto the game itself, which - let's make no bones about it - is basically Gal*Gun with a twist or two, giving the players guns that shoot hearts and marauding NPCs who want to drain them of their love energy given half a chance. The game ends when either Izuna or Blank and their team have all been shot and their hearts "captured" by the other, which seems unfair given that it's four against one.

Of course, that turns out not to be the case. Izuna is incredibly proficient at the game in every way - a little too proficient to the point where it's clear that cheating is actually involved, albeit in a way that's impossible to prove. So, instead Blank have to play with the odds stacked against them, using their brains and more than a little of Shiro's FPS skills to try and get the upper hand - something which seems futile, yet might just be anything but.

After all of that build-up, this was another sensational episode of No Game No Life - hilarious in its referencing of various games in an admittedly lazy way that was no less enjoyable for it, and once the game itself started absolutely stupendous in its delivery and depiction of its high-octane heart-shooting (and panty-dissolving) action. It almost feels like this was the episode that the entire series was crafted around in terms of this anime adaptation - its aesthetic suited the scenario down to the ground and there was a wonderful energy about everything that it had to offer which was born from that. If it can deliver a strong finale then this will probably be my surprise of the season - a series that I began watching while rolling my eyes somewhat (which admittedly the show continues to make me do from time to time), but one which I'm now decidedly in love with.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 11

The results of entrance exams are on show at Otonokizaka High School, and crowds have gathered to see who made it and who missed out.  The news is good for both Eli and Honoka's sisters, but of course the prospect of new students also means that it's almost time for some of the third years to depart.

When mentioned by Honoka's sister, this prospect hits μ's leader like a lead weight as she finally has to face up to a prospect that has been left buried by all of the group's members until after the Love Live. With Arisa and Yukiho both keen to join the group, they certainly wouldn't be short of new recruits, but do the remaining six girls even want to countenance the prospect of carrying on without Eli, Nozomi and Nico? Even those graduating can't agree on how they'd like to imagine the future of the group, and despite further attempts to push back thinking about what happens until after the Love Live, the issue simply won't go away.

It's actually Yukiho and Arisa who finally bring Honoka to her decision, as their eagerness to join μ's gives way to a realisation that they only love the group in the first place because of the unit of nine unique people that it consist of, and that without just one of them it wouldn't be the same.  It seems that this consensus is eventually reached by the other remaining members too, and thus Honoka makes the most of a day off to give everyone a day together to remember, visiting one place which each member wanted to visit before finally announcing that the Love Live will also be the swansong of μ's.  Cue lots of tears, and not just from the show's cast...

Even though I've largely been tuning into Love Live for its sense of undemanding fun, I have to give it some credit for the soft centre that it's displayed over recent weeks - thanks to its lovable cast of characters its easy to get swept up in their sadness at the end of an era, and even if it doesn't come close to matching K-ON's episode which attempted similar it still packs enough of a punch to be memorable and rather beautifully bittersweet. Now we just have to see how μ's journey ends over the next couple of weeks, but hopefully there are some laughs (and maybe more tears) in store before we say goodbye.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

One Week Friends - Episode 11

Following that rough time thanks to the loss of some of Kaori's memories again since Kujo's appearance, things have settled down and returned to their normal routine for Kaori and Hase, even if Saki is still stuck in a rut regarding her relationship with Shogo after recent events.

There is still something gnawing away at both Fujimiya and Hase surrounding the former's unexpected meeting with Kujo at the crepe shop, although even this is sidelined by Saki's friends uniting around her in an attempt to resolve her own current issues.  It's thanks to this that Hase finds himself with an opportunity to talk to Kujo himself to verify exactly what happened on that day, and although he doesn't seem too sure himself he knows just the right people to fill in the gaps.

Decamping to a nearby family restaurant, Kujo explains his elementary school relationship with Fujimiya to Hase, and when some of his friends from that time arrive they can indeed fill in the blanks - that Kujo arranged to meet Kaori alone before he moved away, which in turn caused tension with some of their mutual friends who bullied and shunned Kaori as a result, leading to her running off and ultimately becoming involved in an accident. In the worst piece of bad timing imaginable, this explanation occurs just as Kaori enters the exact same restaurant, leaving her in tears before she leaves with her friends. Surprisingly, Fujimiya herself recovers from this trauma surprisingly easily (at least outwardly), while it's Hase who seems hell-bent upon beating himself up about the whole thing and distancing himself from Fujimiya as a result.

It would take a lot to dampen my overall enthusiasm for One Week Friends at this point, although I have to admit to being completed baffled by Hase's actions at the end of this week's episode - there's no real logic to them, and even in his current emotional state his actions go against his previously persistent character to the point where they feel manufactured for the sake of bringing some drama to the series. I suppose I can let it slide if everything is resolved and given an enjoyable ending next week, so it isn't exactly a black mark against the series, but it is perhaps the most contrived fare that it's delivered so far.

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 10

Our perspective shifts once again for this week's Mekakucity Actors (who saw that coming?), as we witness a woman and her daughter waiting for the return of the latter's father... something which, it seems, may never happen.

This suspicion in confirmed when the home of the family in question is raided and the mother openly shot in front of her daughter - not that this is the end of the matter, as the mysterious red eyes sported by the woman, hunted here as a "monster", soon allows her to save her daughter and wreak vengeance upon those responsible. Realising that her powers are only going to cause further pain for her family, she disappears, and we fast forward to see the daughter become a mother with a little girl of her own - Marry, no less.

Again, the terror of this family of so-called monsters leads to tragedy and the death of Marry's mother, and after some glimpses into the world which has imbued some who should have died on a very particular date with red eyes and the powers that accompany them, we return to the present and Marry as she awakens to find herself alone, before venturing out and running into Haruka, who she then befriends as they set off to find the rest of Marry's friends.

This week's instalment of Mekakucity Actors at least worked a little better as a standalone instalment for the most part, but there's still something deeply unsatisfying about the way it jumps around and the structure of its narrative - even though most of the pieces of the puzzle have now coalesced into something approaching a story, it still feels flat and far from interesting, which with just two episodes left to go is a disastrous state of affairs. I'll certainly grant it points for effort, but this series continues to be very much a case of style over substance.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour! - Episode 11

We're now very much familiar with the cast of The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour and their various foibles and weaknesses... except that is for Sayaka, who remains hidden beneath a mask of makeup and her abrasive personality.

However, the unexpected arrival of an old female friend of Sayaka's might hold the answer to all of these questions, and what's more she's looking to spend the night before heading to a high school reuinion the next day. Sayaka is understandably none too keen to have her friend stay over, but the other residents jump at the opportunity and spend the evening plying her with alcohol and questions about their mysterious housemate, learning some fascinating facts into the bargain. This is nothing compared to the revelations that Usa later learns, as he discovers Sayaka's one major weakness and also what she looks like sans makeup.

For the second half of this week's episode our attention switches to Ritsu, who actually seems to have made herself a friend within her class - another girl with a love of literature who is happy swapping recommendations with Ritsu. The next thing we know the two are spending all their time together - much to Usa's disappointment as he finds himself shorn of any time with Ritsu himself - but is this what Ritsu really wants? With no time to read, having such an over-bearing friend seems to be stressing her out, and those stress levels are about to come crashing through the roof as she's invited out for a day.

Its sense of humour has worn a little thin at this point - although it does still have its moments here and there - but I am at least hoping we get some kind of satisfying (if inevitably not decisive) ending to this series that tidies up the relationship between Usa and Ritsu in a satisfying way; it's been by far the best element of the series, and it deserves at least something worthwhile beyond the often cheap jokes at its disposal.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 10

Concerned by his obsession with his new Hoshijiro-esque placenta friend, Midorikawa and Izana have both had the idea to drag Tanikaze away for a day to distract him from this item of interest - little did they realise that they'd both be accompanying him on a day trip together.

It seems that Midorikawa's agenda is about more than just distracting and cheering up Nagate however, as she's somehow managed to get hold of a key to an otherwise accessible area of Sidonia, rumoured to be the home of the research of a scientist named Ochiai who was ultimately branded a heretic for his work pertaining to the Gauna. This isn't exactly an ideal holiday destination, but nonetheless our trio set out to investigate, quickly finding themselves running into a group who really don't seem too happy to see them as a result.

Rather than killing them or anything of the sort however, it seems that this chain of events has all occurred with an over-arching desire in mind - to use Nagate to test pilot an experimental weapon which might just give Sidonia the upper hand against the Gauna. Conveniently this is also the exact moment that another Gauna appears, setting its sights upon a ship packed with emigrants who have just left the Sidonia. Tanikaze will broach no thoughts of leaving them to their fate, instead insisting upon using this experimental weapon which he'd unwittingly trained in the use of during his youth - a decision which saves the emigrants from their fate. As life goes on, with placenta-Hoshijiro learning to write Nagate's named and Izana becoming a fully-fledged pilot, there are bigger problems emerging on the horizon - a problem 8,000 times bigger than Sidonia itself, to be precise.

After a weirdly jarring shift from "fun day out" to "get sedated then asked to use an experimental weapon" which seemed exceedingly clumsy, this week's Knights of Sidonia still managed to provide plenty of fascinating fare. As well as continuing to literally and figuratively grow the placenta of which Tanikaze has become so fond, it also ramps up events elsewhere in both personal and broader terms before landing us with another almighty cliffhanger to finish the instalment and ensure that I'll be impatiently waiting for next week's outing. In turn this leaves me wondering where this first season will end things, as it seems to be ramping up to something which it may not be able to finish in its final couple of episodes.

Riddle Story of Devil - Episode 11

Now that Hanabusa defeated, the Black Class' fatal game is over, which means that it's time for the truth about the real reason for its existence to be unveiled.

As was already becoming increasingly obvious, the Black Class was not created with the intent of seeing Haru killed, but rather as an initiation to see if she's suitable to become a "Primer" - a woman capable of using her charm or whatever other power compels people to follow and aid her, thus making her a valuable asset who could oversee and bring together numerous clans. Of course, Haru is having none of this - as far as she's concerned she has no special powers or anything of the sort, and she wants nothing more than to lead a normal life now that her ordeal is over.

These revelations have, however, left Tokaku feeling both confused and upset - was Haru really her friend, or simply somebody manipulating her (consciously or otherwise) simply for the sake of their own survival? With news also breaking to her that the riddles she's been receiving are nothing more than nonsense to which there is no true answer other than her own personal feelings, Azuma is left reeling, and takes it upon herself to affect some drastic actions while Haru continues to insist that she wants nothing to do with taking up a role within her clan - perhaps this assassination game isn't over yet, after all...

It doesn't have the immediacy of its content up to this point, and the "revelations" about Haru and her place within the game she's been embroiled in were hardly shocking given how heavily they'd been foreshadowed, but by this point I'm sufficiently invested in the show's cast (or at least what remains of them) for this week's episode to sidestep those problems and instead leave me focused on what will become of the relationship between Haru and Tokaku; all of which is helped by on by the wonderful Nio as ringmaster, of course. Again, the end to this week's episode is no huge shock, but it does serve as a nice cliffhanger as we enter the show's penultimate episode with everything placed on the line once again.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

M3 the dark metal - Episode 8

The sudden and unexpected discovery of a signal belonging to a recording device assumed lost within the Lightless Realm means that its time for the Gargouille crew to swing into action once again in spite of - and in fact because of - recent events.

As the two Reaper pilots, it's left to Akashi and Heito to take up the job of entering the Lightless Realm using Argent and Sable to retrieve this recorder before its data is corrupted forever - a mission which relies on them sticking close together and ensuring that the mental link between them prevents their psyches from being corrupted; rather a tall order given the recent history between the two of them. The mission at hand also proves to be one of particular importance for Akashi, as the recorded in question was lost due to the death of his brother when trying to retrieve it previously, leaving him treading in said brother's footsteps - a topic about which others seemingly have important, but ultimately unspoken, things to tell him about.

Unsurprisingly, things don't go all that swimmingly once the mission begins - Heito and Akashi's relationship could still be best described as frosty, as the pair soon find themselves split up within the Lightless Realm. Without one another's protection, both individuals find themselves assailed by an assault on their psyche, with Heito remembering some uncomfortable childhood memories while Akashi comes to realise the truth behind what drives his Argent and why he's the only one who can pilot it.

Once again, this week's M3 had some fairly interesting (if predictable at this point) content on offer, but its delivery remains as flat and dull as ever in terms of both story and animation. It remains nigh-on impossible to care about the show's characters given that they act like bland cardboard cut-outs or over-the-top cliches, and that robs those more interesting elements of the show of any real drama or passion - for a series that is trying to be dark, the harshest thing about it is the thought that it's going to go on for another four months.

Selector Infected WIXOSS - Episode 11

With Hitoe still hospitalised, Ruko remains in possession of both Yuzuki in her new LRIG form and Tama, and the discussions which ensure seem to be finally propelling her in the direction of figuring out the wish she wants to make as a Selector.

As you might expect, this wish involves putting an end to this whole Selector nonsense, by wishing that all LRIGs and Eternal Girls are returned to their original states and bodies.  Although this seems like a sensible enough idea, Yuzuki is unsure that it will be possible thanks to her conversation with the mysterious girl who seems to be at the centre of events - however, Tama seems to feel that this wish could possibly be granted, and that she may somehow have the ability to do so. Is this linguistically challenged LRIG the key to stopping this game?

Either way, Ruko has made her decision and thus sets her sights on attending Iona's "fan event" - a decision driven even further by Hitoe insisting that she'll only speak to Ruko again at that event. It probably goes without saying that this event, held in the derelict tower currently under construction, is in fact little more than a tournament between Selectors, with girls battling out to reach the final and a match against Iona herself. It isn't clear what Iona wishes to gain from all of this exactly, but the tournament tree does eventually set Ruko and Hitoe against one another yet again.

I'll admit that I'm a little disappointed by the predictability of Ruko's wish when it came (and it again channels some of those inevitable Madoka Magica comparisons), but I suppose it's really the only way to progress the series at this point in time, and it does lead in to what should be an interesting finale to this current series. As a whole, I'm continuing to enjoy the way that Selector Infected WIXOSS sets out its stall, making good use of all of its characters and leaning heavily on that side of things rather than the game of WIXOSS itself, which has stood it in good stead. Now, we just have to see whether there will be any kind of finality to next week's episode, or simply a massive cliff-hanger...

Nanana's Buried Treasure - Episode 10

The race is on to grab a particular piece of the Nanana Collection, with the Adventure Club's combined forces determined to beat Ikusaba to the punch thanks in no small part to some important hints given to them by Nanana herself.

It's thanks to these hints that the group very quickly compile the required knowledge and key to reach the exact location of the treasure. However, they have to wait until that evening to actual unlock the area within which it's contained thanks to its location slap-bang in the middle of a shopping mall, which in turn leaves Juugo facing more questions from Nanana about why he's in such a rush to retrieve this particular item of treasure.

Come the evening, it's time to tackle the numerous puzzles between them and this piece of the Nanana Collection - of course, this proves to be none too difficult with Tensai at hand to figure it out, although a mixture of impatience and missteps means that this cerebral traversal to reach the treasure is mixed with some more simple fast reactions. With just a final puzzle left to be solved, who else should appear but Ikusaba, who shows no intention of letting his fellow treasure-hunters get away with the prize at hand, leading to an epic bout of fisticuffs powered by other pieces of the Nanana Collection.

Its waxed and waned over the weeks, but this was most certainly a great episode of Nanana's Buried Treasure - its puzzle-solving, treasure hunting elements were simple but enjoyable, and once again this show proves to be incredibly proficient when the fists start flying in what proved to be a fantastic action set pieces that had brains to match its brawn. It isn't over either, as things have taken an even darker turn to lead us into the series finale, which I really can't wait to see at this moment in time.

Ping Pong the Animation - Episode 10

Smile is holding out for a hero, but will Peco's injured knee to hold up to provide it? Even without his injury, facing off and defeating the ping pong monster that is Kazama.

Then again, Hoshino has never been the type to be easily flustered even in the face of a tough opponent, and even on this occasion against the toughest of the tough he's cheekily brought along a new bat and some different strategies that he's never employed before as if it's nothing. Between his opponents' words and actions, Kazama is now well and truly riled up, and with so much fire in his belly he looks set to obliterate Hoshino, roaring into a substantial lead which it seems that his opponent simply can't come up with an answer to.

Indeed, it's actually Peco's attempt to come up with an answer that is ultimately holding him back, as his easy-going and free style of play is cramped by his attempts to out-think Kazama. Ultimately he realises this, and freed of these burdens Peco suddenly begins to play the kind of unreadable, fast and energetic game of his past - a sight which brings Kazama memories of a time when he played table tennis because he enjoyed it, not out of a sense of duty or a single-minded will to win. This, coupled with Peco's impending victory as he turns the match around, is perhaps exactly what he needs to free him and give him wings - it seems that Hoshino has become a hero for more than just his long-standing friend.

I've mentioned previously how Ping Pong's unique animation style is best served when it comes down to depicting the game of table tennis itself, and that was certainly proven again in this week's penultimate episode of the series, with a fantastic vibrancy on show that did a great job of depicting the speed and power of the game at hand. Look a little deeper than the game itself and Ping Pong also continues to be a wonderful tale of sporting endeavour - what drives a person to compete and strive for the top, the demons that come from those desires and how they can be defeated. In a broad sense much of this is nothing new for a sports anime, but the way this particular series handles it is far more all-encompassing and understanding of the sporting psyche, and it's this ability to get under the skin of its characters that has made it so utterly compelling and beyond the norms of the genre.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

No Game No Life - Episode 10

Having somehow managed to pull of his latest dangerous game, Sora now has Zell and - perhaps more importantly - her elven colleague Fil on-board in his forthcoming game against the Eastern Federation.  First, however, it's about time these new additions to the crew get to know their comrades.

As it turns out, Zell is actually Fil's slave strictly speaking, with Imanity families looked down upon and used as servants by the Elf race. This particular elf, however, struck up a friendship with Zell as children, making a promise to never leave her alone which she continues to live by to this day in spite of her high position within her kingdom. With this information out of the way and some recriminations between Fil and Jibril but to bed, it's time for this plan on getting to know one another better... by sharing a bath.

Of course, thoughts eventually have to turn to attending the Eastern Federation's game - a high profile affair given the stakes, with Imanity's populace angry at their entire race being put up as collateral, while Fil and Zell are on-hand to bear witness to the electronic game the Eastern Federation have in store to ensure that nothing underhand is involved.  It seems as if there's no need to cheat to defeat Blank on this occasion however, as the location of the game just happens to involve the pair's worst nightmare...

After another bout of silliness (which I'm finding myself increasingly forgiving of), we're now getting down to the serious business of No Game No Life again for what I assume will be its final story arc via an episode which showed some more brief flashes of the elements of the series which I love most - unexpected twists and little flashes of genius from Sora. Hopefully we'll see a whole lot more of both next week to deliver a strong finale to a show that has genuinely surprised me the most this spring.

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 10

The New Year is almost upon us in this week's Love Live, allowing the girls to enjoy some of the festivities and celebrations of the season.  Oh, and they won the preliminary round to qualify for the Love Live itself, by the way.

Having somehow defeated A-RISE in a way that neither group seems able to comprehend, thoughts quickly turn to the Love Live itself for the μ's girls, where they can compete in a completely free-form fashion in terms of song selection and so on. However, there's a more immediate question on the girls lips, as each competing group in the Love Live is able to select a catchphrase that represents them - so what should μ's catchphrase be?

Apparently "we're not the soap" is immediately off the cards, but the girls are otherwise struggling to comprehend what it is they represent or a phrase that reflects them as a group considering their varying personalities and disparate backgrounds. It's something that seems impossible to figure out, until it looms into view that it is perhaps their journey to the Love Live, and the story that it represents, that is the real heart of what sums up μ's as an entity.

Even though it only had a simple idea at its core, it doesn't take much to fuel Love Live's sense of humour and fun, and that was certainly the case here - this wasn't the series at its most hilarious or touching, but it boasted the kind of easy sense of entertainment that has become a hallmark of the show. Given its propensity to dedicate episodes to every aspect of the girl's preparations, I have to wonder whether we'll actually reach the Love Live itself within this series, but no matter how they spin things it seems pretty likely to be a fun ride.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

One Week Friends - Episode 10

After a period of everything going so well between Kaori, Hase and their wider circle of friends, it feels like everything has been shattered and destroyed by the appearance of transfer student Hajime Kujo and one single word - "traitor".

With his name and this one word causing Kaori's memories to reset, it seems that everything is back to home it was at the very start - Fujimiya still has her diary to remind her of who Hase is, and still has some weekly learned knowledge of others around her, but all of the little memories that gave substance to her relationship with Hase is seem to have disappeared into the ether, leaving our protagonist struggling to cope in its aftermath.  This isn't exactly helped by Kujo's cold attitude towards him and others - he reveals that he attended elementary school with Kaori but nothing more, which seems at odds with his previous utterance.

Nevertheless, and in spite of a clear shift for the worse in the dynamic of their relationship, Hase once again soldiers on in trying to rebuild the bridged broken between himself and Fujimiya, with Saki also playing her part in trying to help as she frets over the prospect of being left alone again.  As Kaori waits to meet Hase outside of school one day, we finally get a glimpse into the cause of the former's mental trauma - suggestions that she and Kujo were once dating, and and that this had had repercussions for her relationship with other members of her class. This is something Kaori runs from and Kujo is unwilling to talk about, but even without this knowledge Hase seems determined to keep moving forward somehow.

The decision to spend so many weeks building up the friendship between Kaori and the others around her prior to this point was well and truly vindicated by this latest instalment of One Week Friends, which was all the more powerful for the extent to which it was capable of pulling the rug out from under this cozy group of friends to provide some quietly devastating drama as a result. Although a lot of this drama could probably have been negated by someone talking properly to Kujo about what was going on from the very start, I can't bemoan the episode some powerful and moving fare before finally reaching that point, giving it ample opportunity for the kind of character-centric drama that I love.

The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour! - Episode 10

Fed up of his continuing label as being the ringmaster of a freak show, Usa is proving keen to quit his job working at a rather unique coffee shop, but until he does so he seems determined to make full use of his workplace garb to impress Ritsu.

Usa is also quick to pounce when another opportunity to impress her presents itself, with the cafe looking to fill some newly acquired bookcases but not having sufficient suitably old books to do. Given that Ritsu's room is a makeshift library full of just the right kind of material, Usa suggests that she loan some of he rbooks to the cafe in return for being able to read their whenever she likes. It's a great plan that works well, tempered only by the reappearance of Usa's former "friend" Hayashi, ostensibly to apologise to him for her treatment of him previously.

While there however, Hayashi finds herself encountering a kindred spirit, which leads to her spending more time at the establishment, much to the irritation of Ritsu who gets entirely the wrong idea about the whole thing.  This irritation comes to the fore as Chizuru comes by to play with Shiro, which ultimately leads to her quizzing Ritsu on why she isn't dating Usa - questions which eventually lead to Ritsu spilling the beans as to how Usa isn't interested in her romantically, and using Hayashi as an example of the fact that he'll happily look after anyone a bit odd.  Nobody seems willing to correct Ritsu on this point, and thus Usa takes another step back in his relationship with her.

I don't think I'll get bored of watching Ritsu being moody yet frequently adorable, and Hayashi's return worked pretty well in this week's episode to provide at least some highlights in an instalment that felt a little like it was going through the motions - it still can't escape the fact that much of its humour is stuck in the same ruts on account of its cast of characters, and that becomes more of an issue the longer the series goes on. That isn't to say that I'm not still broadly enjoying The Kawai Complex Guide to Manors and Hostel Behaviour, but it needs to change things up a little more markedly to avoid running out of steam entirely.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 9

Mekakucity Actors has already woven a decidedly tangled web with its story thus far, and you can expect even more entanglement in this week's episode as Ayano steps up to reveal her angle to the story.

In short, it's Ayano's parents who seemingly discovered and researched the initial members of our group of red-eyed superpowered kids, taking them in as orphans at which point Ayano became a big sister to them, looking after them and helping them to overcome the fears caused by their abilities to integrate to some extent into the normal human world.  Ayano's parents were, of course, Mr. Tateyama and his wife, the latter of whom was later killed in a landslide.

Much later, Ayano discovers a notebook containing much of her mother's research, complete with some disturbring details on the possible origins of the strange powers sported by their adopted children - what's more, it seems that those powers have spread to her father, albeit only awakening at night to control him with a view towards creating a new "Medusa" using all of the world's snakes (I'm not making this part up, I promise).  As we switch from Ayano's own view of this story to one being related to Ene by Shuuya; a story that ultimately seems to reveal the location of Takane's actual body.

I'll admit that I'm hooked in by the reveal at the end of this week's Mekakucity Actors, but I really wish that the rest of the episode was up to that level - even ignoring its terrible CG opening (which I assume was rendered on an original PlayStation), the rest of the episode was an almost interminably plodding affair that had nothing to liven up its ceaseless monologues. It remains both disappointing and surprising that SHAFT, a studio that can traditionally somehow make the most verbose of stories engaging, have missed the mark so widely here, but I suppose you can't win them all.

Riddle Story of Devil - Episode 10

Only one final foe stands between Haru and safety, and given that it's the demure Hanabusa surely there isn't too much to worry about?

Indeed, any immediate worries about her hatching a plan look as if they might be unfounded, as an envelope which she hands to Haru contains not an advance notice of an assassination attempt, but an invitation to a tea party - in fact, Hanabusa has even provided an extravagant dress for Haru to wear for the occasion.

Upon arriving at the top floor of the school, which has been especially redeveloped just for this little party, it soon becomes clear that this is not just an opportunity for a nice cup of tea and a chat - Hanabusa has assembled puppet replicas of the other girls of the Black Class, aside from a living, breathing (but strait-jacketed) Takechi.  With an advance noticed now delivered, the fun can really start with Hanabusa providing a room full of weaponry before revealing the surprising (well, partly surprising at best) truth about her own body as she attempts to take out Haru while Tokaku is locked away from the action, before Azuma's quick thinking means that she has to deal with Haru's bodyguard first.  Having done this, it's left to Haru to show off her own impressive survival instincts to avoid her fate and emerge safe and sound.

I was expecting that this week's Riddle Story of Devil might be a bit more of a slow-burner, but boy was I wrong, as it deliver a Terminator-esque final boss with no shortage of weaponry and craziness to deal with. Admittedly, the show's animation struggled with this a little at times but it still made for an episode that was compelling and a whole lot of fun to watch in a simple yet effective fashion. With three episodes still to go there's clearly a lot still to cover - not least more about Haru's background - but I do worry a little that it may struggle to match up to a series that has grown increasingly enjoyable by the week of late.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Selector Infected WIXOSS - Episode 10

The truth is now out regarding the roles of Selectors and their LRIG and what winning the chance to be an Eternal Girl really means, but any further discussion of this scenario is quickly put on hold as Hitoe collapses in the midst of her Selector battle against Ruko.

Having called an ambulance and seen her admitted to hospital but stable, Ruko is finally in place to listen to the rest of Yuzuki's story - how she was tricked by Hanayo, which led to her meeting the mysterious Mayu before being "recycled" as a LRIG herself. Given the situation, Yuzuki quickly understood why Hanayo didn't tell her the truth about her situation, and indeed she herself followed a very similar pattern with Hitoe, attempting to persuade her to battle while sounding her out on a potential wish, all born out of a selfish desire to be freed from her prison, but conversely a desire also seeded with a genuine desire to help the Selector in her charge.

Of course, Yuzuki is also finding it incredibly difficult to ignore her previously life - not only is she unsure of whether she even wants to escape into a new body, but she's also curious as to what Hanayo is doing with her new occupation as Kazuki's brother, leading to Ruko helping her to spy on the two of them to discover that she has indeed granted Yuzuki's wish.  All of this seems to be bringing Ruko at least a little closer to an understanding of her own desires, and not a moment too soon as a challenge goes out on Twitter that seems designed to ensnare her.

Having hit the high point with its big revelations over the last week or two, it's going to be interesting to see how strongly this series of Selector Infected WIXOSS can finish - this was certainly another good episode that made good use of the pain of those embroiled in its most insane of card games, and in particular Yuzuki's understanding of why Hanayo had deceived her was a strong point given that the series could so easily have just gone ahead and had its cast try to "break the game" for the greater good.  I awaiting the final couple of episodes with bated breath to see what the ultimate goal of the series is, although given that it'll be returning in the autumn (most likely, at least) I imagine all we'll be left with is a big fat cliffhanger.

Knights of Sidonia - Episode 9

Having successfully acquired a fully formed Gauna placenta (which just so happens to take the form of Hoshijiro), there's an opportunity for Sidonia's EBD scientists - or at least one of them, Numi Tahiro - to do a little experimentation with this incredible find.

Of course, it's Nagate that Tahiro turns to for help with this, as she's curious as to how this Gauna offspring will respond to him given that it seems to have been cloned from Hoshijiro.  As it happens, this creature certainly responds to both Tanikaze's voice and appearance, albeit by seemingly trying to attack him, which quickly brings the experiment to an end. With talk of emigration rife across Sidonia and some nefarious business occurring in the basement of the traumatised Kunato's home, there's plenty of other concerns to be found across the ship too.

Regardless, Tanikaze's only real interest seems to be in "Hoshijiro", and after returning for a second, more successful experiment where he proves that this placenta recognises him by name, he spends more and more time stopping by to visit and watch it, much to the concern of his friends. Not that it seems to be affecting his performance as a pilot, however, as Kunato's "vacation" has left Nagate as a squad leader, a position which he takes on with aplomb as the ever-increasing number of sorties thrown the way of the ship's pilots all end in success. In fact, you'd be forgiven for thinking that things are going a little too well, and it might just be the apple of Nagate's eye that is about to play a part in the next bout of chaos that Sidonia will have to face.

Even though my eyes roll a little whenever Knights of Sidonia so much as brushes against its romantic harem possibilities, these brief moments don't detract from what is continuing to be a fascinating and very competent hole - the touches of politics interspersed into matters (this time around revolving around population numbers and emigration) add some very noticeable flavour to the world, and the progressing story regarding the Gauna as they relate to Tanikaze's relationship with The Placenta Formerly Known As Hoshijiro is both compelling and the provider of another tremendous cliff-hanger; something which the series continues to be good at, to keep me hooked week after week.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

M3 the dark metal - Episode 7

The appearance of a Corpse outside of the Lightless Realm has caused panic amongst those whose job it is to protect humanity, leading to their demanding that the Argent be deployed within said realm forthwith to prevent any further such incidents.

Quite reasonably, those in direct charge of the project point out that this would be extremely dangerous, and thus insist upon waiting until they find a suitable pilot for a second prototype "Reaper".  The director of the project seems keen to test Heito in the cockpit, but he remains elusive after Emiru's death, leading to Raika hopping into the cockpit first, only to last less than a minute under the intense mental strains caused by this machine.

It seems that nothing is taboo when it comes to finding the right pilot for this unit, and thus a scheme is concocted to bring Heito and Akashi together, letting the sparks fly between them, in direct contrast to the odd relationship between Akashi and Sasame, and in turn her own relation to Minashi, which seems to suggest links in the past between those in Gargouille.  Once Heito's hatred boils over, his anger soon turns into an attempt to do bodily harm to Akashi... how fortuitous that someone has left this new protoype mech in his vicinity, only to find that he has the ability to pilot the machine with ease while also giving us some clues as to the origins of these monstrous devices.

For everything that M3 the dark metal gets right (which isn't all that much, admittedly), it gets a whole lot more wrong. Its over-the-top "bad guys" are still incredibly irritating rather than the dark faces of humanity that they purport to be, and while I'm grateful that the series is piecing together its elements in ways that are obvious to the viewer without being overly forced down our throat at this point that doesn't really do enough to make the actual narrative compelling beyond some vague feelings of "ooh, it's trying to be a bit like Evangelion" - something that you could be said about so many shows it doesn't exactly make it unique either.

Nanana's Buried Treasure - Episode 9

The appearance of Hiiyo Ikusaba in town has ruffled the feathers of all and sundry who have encountered him, and this shows no sign of changing as this week's Nanana's Buried Treasure begins.

Then again, Juugo has other things to preoccupy himself with for a while, namely a "date" which is in fact an opportunity to hang out with Tetsu and Yun amongst others.  Ironically, even this fun day out is almost spoiled by Ikusaba's presence (not to mention Juugo forgetting to buy putting for his flatmate), but it seems that his attention is elsewhere as he comes to blows with the Adventure Club's Kagetora - an encounter which doesn't end well for him, incidentally.

However, Yun soon finds herself at the centre of Ikusaba's interest as this day out comes to an end for reasons which aren't immediately clear, with even Tetsu struggling to protect her as things escalate. As various factions seem to be moving down the same path regarding their thoughts on Ikusaba, we learn of his history within the Adventure Club from mere member to self-centred president, which ultimately led to him sacrificing one of the club's "minions" for his own ends, while Tensai returns with news of a case she's been involved in which is more than a little closely tied to his other movements.  It seems that Ikusaba is interested in acquiring a particular piece of the Nanana Collection - one that Nanana herself is willing to give out a hint regarding, on the proviso that Juugo not use the treasure's powers under any circumstances.

Although this week's episode was very much centred around building towards the show's final two episodes, it was still enjoyable enough - the series manages to keep things moving even when its web of events and characters threatens to get a little tangled, and Juugo remains a likeable and sometimes fascinating lead backed up by a solid cast of supporting characters. In a way, the story being set up at present feels like perhaps the most "normal" thing the series has done (at this juncture anyhow), yet I'm still looking forward to how it develops in a series that has rather surprised me with its overall quality for the most part.

Ping Pong the Animation - Episode 9

Kong's defeat at the hands of Hoshino have sent shock-waves reverberating through the national tournament qualifiers, but for our Chinese visitor's part he remains pretty sanguine in spite of the pain of his defeat while, of course, the tournament moves on apace.

On paper, Tsukimoto is all set to face his first real challenge of the tournament in the form of Kaio's Sanada, and as the game begins his reputation as a top player looks to be well deserved as he races into an impressive early lead against Smile that leaves him wondering where all the fuss about this supposed prodigy has come from.  He finds out the answer to this soon enough though, as it seems that Tsukimoto was simply feeling out his opponent, and having completed this task he wastes no time whatsoever in dispatching Sanada in a flurry of consecutive points.

As the tournament progresses, Peco also continues to make his way through the tournament, albeit with increasingly less of a flourish as his injured knee begins to hamper him, while Kazama continues to play like a champion even if he seems decidedly preoccupied; a state of affairs not helped by an old passing acquaintance stopping by to quiz him on what exactly he plays table tennis for.  It seems that there is no such confusion when it comes to answering that question for Peco, as he refuses to stand down for his semi-final match against Kazama no matter the state of his injury purely because he feels that he has to compete for Smile's sake.

Those final minutes of this week's episode really reflect what's great about Ping Pong - for all of its occasionally outlandish moments, the series really understands that it's the characters that drive it and how to use those characters to maximum effect as their emotions and sporting endeavours intertwine in some surprisingly compelling ways. Not only that, the end to this week's episode also finally gives us a reason to cheer on a character, which adds even more frisson and important to its final episode as the tournament qualifiers reach their climax.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

No Game No Life - Episode 9

No sooner did Sora announced his intention to embark upon another game as part of Imanity's attempted conquests than he disappeared entirely - not just the man himself, but all memory of him from the minds of all and sundry.

All, that is, aside from Shiro, who continues to remember her brother as we're regaled with the story of how the two of them first met.  Such are the convictions of those around her that she's lost a game and somehow been implanted with false memories as a result that both Steph and Jibril seek to play a game Shiro with a view towards reversing and removing these memories - an idea that she almost assents to before changing her mind at the last moment.

Newly convinced that there's nothing false about her memories, Shiro begins to piece together her brother's disappearance, eventually piecing it together with his desire to get an Elf on-board with his quest, which in turn leads to the realisation that Sora's vanishing is actually part of the game itself, and what's more Shiro is another player on the board. Are the two siblings really so in touch with one another's thought processes that Shiro can complete the game Sora has started without knowing any of the rules or what has transpired so far?  Why, yes. Yes she can.

It still didn't even come close to beating "materialisation shiritori", but there was a lot to like about this week's No Game No Life - the treatment of Shiro's distress and the accompanying changes to colour palette were predictable but worked really well, her piecing together of her brother's strategy was enjoyable, and Blank's final triumph was both emotionally satisfying and entertaining. Stretch the plausibility of its concept it might have, but it's the kind of thing that this series can get away with thanks to its overall premise, and as a result No Game No Life continues to be a lot of fun that surprises with its flashes of intelligence and emotion.