Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Chi's Sweet Home: Chi's New Address - Episodes 1-2

I don't think there will be much in the way of a contest if I assert that Chi's Sweet Home was the most adorable anime series of 2008, bringing us a cornucopia of brief episodes showing us the life of this sweet, trouble-maker of a kitten. So successful was its depiction of living with a cat that here we are in time for a second season, subtitled A New Home (not to be confused with A New Hope, which is a Star Wars movie).

Naturally, I won't be 'Blogging about this series every episode (even I'm not that crazy), but I thought I'd cover the opening pair of instalments if only to remind myself how cute Chi is (and also why hearing Ushio's voice in Clannad - After Story for the first time made me laugh so much - They share the same voice actress). Needless to say, she doesn't disappoint, loitering with intent to sneak out at the first available opportunity and hammering on doors to be let out much like my own cat. With our poor heroine trapped indoors, her family need to make a tough decision regarding her future and happiness, leading to dreams (or should I say nightmares) about a Chi-free world...

In all honesty, a series like Hetalia should take a long hard look at Chi's Sweet Home, which manages to pack more fun and interesting moments into three minutes than it manages in five. Of course, you have to love cats (and preferably have owned one) to "get it", but if you do then this series becomes oddly gripping in its own cute little way.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 10

Whenever I consider the possibility of dropping this series, it somehow manages to make me laugh once or twice before fading back into nothingness, and episode ten of Hetalia seems to be one of those fading moments.

While, as an Englishman, there is a little smirking to be garnered from a discussion of France's military capabilities and triumphs, that aside the Chibitalia segment seems once again to have been written so as to be as dull and humourless as possible, leaving me with no particularly good reason to both with this episode. Once again, I find myself justifying watching the series on the grounds of short episodes over its actual content.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 12

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo has proved to be many things during its run so far, but one thing we haven't had up until this point is an episode quite as all-out action-packed as this one. Quite simply, episode twelve of the series is a sprint from start to finish, grabbing us by the collar and transporting us at breakneck speed through its goings-on.

Of course, at the end of the last episode we were left with Leopard seemingly on the brink of catching the mysterious mirror thief, which is of course related to Nerval and turns out to be another colony. Whatever would said colony want with all those mirrors though? We soon find out when this thieving colony, Benkei (formerly known as Bonapart apparently), uses it to turn Leopard's cannon against him, while also using the surplus energy stored from said attack to assist in making sure that all Hell breaks lose.

So, by the second half of this episode we're left with Leopard falling towards Earth (not for the first time this series), and the human colony captured by Nerval's associates. What does this all mean? Where do things go from here? As usual with this show, I really have no idea whatsoever.

Thankfully though, after an episode like this I don't much care, for this instalment was a great deal of fun to watch. There's something eminently cool about seeing a battle between two vast spacecraft as we did between Leopard and Benkei (with some pretty nice CG truth be told), and all the non-stop action doesn't really give you much time to sit back and ponder what all this nonsense is about in the first place. This episode still found time to throw in some good lines from Leopard (and a good hat too), just to keep the amusement factor in there to boot. After an auspicious start it has to be said that this series is improving - It's still very much an oddity in many ways, but I can't help but enjoy watching it more and more.

Monday, 30 March 2009

White Album - Episode 13

White Album's first half concludes with concert footage aplenty, as Yuki, Rina and... those other girls whose names escape me, compete to get bums on seats. Who will win? Never mind that, what stupid things will Touya do this episode?

Of course, the concert itself goes swimmingly for both Yuki and Rina, with the latter pulling off a fantastic stunt which allows her to sing live at both venues she had booked up in front of their respective audiences - If only she's had an eighteen inch Stonehenge replica to sing in front of. I did find myself feeling sorry for Yuki's backing band however, forced to perform behind a curtain as though they were at some kind of Gorillaz gig.

Anyhow, the gig over and Touya finally gets to meet Yuki backstage, yet he says very little and doesn't even respond to Yuki telling him that she loves him - Come on man, wake up a little! Still, at least after all that he appears to have a little fight in him, ignoring Eiji's attempts to dissuade him from seeing Yuki any more and actually properly pushing away Yayoi's advances for once.

For all the goodness of this appearance of a "new, improved" Touya, it doesn't actually seem to do him much good - He finds Mana on his doorstep waiting for him with a fever, and after Yayoi's dropped by to take her home Haruka visits and gets entirely the wrong idea, running away in tears at the thought that her best friend/wannabe boyfriend is a loli lover. As if that wasn't bad enough, Touya's father has collapsed... In fact, didn't he collapse about four episodes ago and they only just found him? To top it all, Misaki runs over Haruka's bike - Insert joke about women drivers here, because I'm certainly not doing it, I value my life too greatly.

It's a little difficult to sum up White Album really, considering we're now going to have to wait six months before we get to see its second half - Still, it has been a pretty entertaining series which has served up plenty of drama, even if its protagonist has been a loathesome waste of space for much of it. Yuki has also been a bit of a damp squib too, leaving Rina and Mana to at least offer up some action and a little agression in the series. I'll probably have forgotten all of this by the time episode fourteen rolls around however, leaving me shocked once again when Touya does a bunch of stupid things to annoy me.

Rideback - Episode 12 (Completed)

By the end of the last episode, I simply couldn't wait to sit down and watch the final instalment of Rideback, as it seemed to hold the promise of so much awesomeness. I suppose it's inevitable that given that kind of hype, it was never really going to live up to the wonders I'd envisaged in my head, but despite that it didn't carry itself too badly at all.

Naturally, this final episode is split between the terrorist attack on the GGP base and Rin's escape from the new, entirely automated Ridebacks that were pursuing her, and equally naturally, it's that latter side of the story that really grabs the attention. After taking the attention of the entire battalion of automated Ridebacks to save Tamayo, we get plenty of Rin at her best with a Rideback, performing acrobats aplenty to invoke thoughts of Mirror's Edge and just plain jaw-dropping coolness. Dance like you want to win!

On the other side of the fence, the attack on GGP is naturally plenty of big explosions and gunfire (with Tenshirou managing to take part in both this and Rin's battles with his own brand of cool abilities), ending with a showdown between Romanov and Kiefer that doesn't go quite the way you might expect, while GGP's militaristic powers are frittered away for reasons as the truth was revealed to the media about what they were up to. If only corrupt regimes always fell that easily, eh?

If there's one weakness of this final episode, it's that occasional tendency to resort to the unbelievable - GGP giving up their powers because the Japanese government asked nicely, Fuego breaking down with a fatal error then somehow coming back to life and working flawlessly and Tenshirou dodging an entire clip of semi-automatic gunfire without so much as a scratch. Still, despite all that, it did deliver those much needed "Ooooh" and "Aaaah" moments of Rideback choreography, with enough action to paper over the cracks of those plot holes.

Overall, I have to admit that Rideback has lived up to my expectations of it - Quality-wise it's been a little patchy, but it's provided some terrific episodes (Rin and Shouko's escape from the shopping centre in particular was breath-taking), it hasn't pulled its punches, and perhaps most impressively of all it managed to keep Rin largely intact as a plausible character. From the show's concept I was half-expecting her to take up arms and end up as some tough as nails terrorist, but instead of that she never really wields a weapon, preferring to escape using her athletic abilities and "connection" to Fuego to do the talking (which is why I keep talking about Mirror's Edge, a video game which actively discourages attacking play in favour of vision, skill and technique when escaping from sticky situations). It makes for a refreshing change from the typical modus operandi of such series, and that above all else is something that I have to commend. Rideback may not be a classic of 2009 let alone all-time, but it was still very much worthwhile watching.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Manga review: Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei - Volume 1

I have to confess that I'm not a huge manga reader (although I have caught the bug somewhat so it is growing on me), but if there was one series I was always going to pounce on it was an official translation of the (often thought to be untranslatable) Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei - Anyone who follows this 'Blog regularly will know how much I loved the anime, so I was more than a little keen to take in the manga that inspired it. With that in mind, I recently completed my review of the first volume of said manga, now available in the US, for UK Anime. Check it out at the link below:

Sayonara, Zetsubou Sensei - Volume 1 review

Friday, 27 March 2009

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episodes 13-14

Once again it's The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya time again, with another double bill of episodes on offer. Episode thirteen (rather aptly, all things considered) takes in Halloween, with Haruhi seemingly clueless as to how this particular event should be celebrated. So, what we end up with is an immensely scary prop, kitted out with a somewhat ruined pumpkin on account of Nagato's exacting nature. Oh, and real bats.

Episode fourteen on the other hand proves to be far funnier in its own bizarre way, with a balloon and blowgun fight between Kyon and Haruhi leading to the "death" of Mikuru. Never ones to let such opportunities go to waste, this state of affairs leads to a balloon art contest between the pair of them as they try to decorate the "tomb" upon which Mikuru is crucified. No, I don't know what's going on either in the script writer's minds either, but it's bloody hilarious.

But, of course, where would we be without Nyoron Churuya-san? Nowhere, that's where, and thankfully we're regaled with another new instalment here. It probably goes without saying that this is the funniest short segment of the day, but I really cannot begin to describe the hilarity that is the Churuya's Great Great Adventure video game displayed here. By the end of it I'd fallen off my seat in tears of laughter, it's utter, utter brilliance.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 24 (Completed)

It has to be said that Clannad isn't really something that can be summed up in a single episode, and thus with that in mind After Story's attempt to pull together forty-six episodes of plot in such a manner is probably a slightly ill-conceived concept. Needless to say, it's hugely rushed, and the attempt to pull it together as a monologue from Tomoya to Ushio starts to fall apart when he gets to "and then you died and so did I but we didn't really or did we?". It's nothing against After Story as a whole, it simply doesn't work in this particular form.

Speaking of that ending and how it has succeeded in confusing some, and seeing as I don't have a lot else to say about this particular instalment, here's a diagram (not drawn up by me, I hasten to add) of a Clannad "timeline" of sorts (click for the full-sized image):

Overall, I have to admit that in many ways I preferred the care-free schooldays of Clannad to the harsh realities of adult life that After Story frequently bombarded us with as far as sheer entertainment factor goes, but that's just me I suppose. Having said that, After Story did a very good job all in all of presenting the story that it had to work with, and really brought some beautiful and emotional poignancy to its hardest moments, which is well worth some kudos if you ask me. Even given my doubts about the projected ending, I was actually quite pleased to see it when it came about, which is probably about the best thumbs up I can give After Story really.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Toradora! - Episode 25 (Completed)

It almost pains me to say this, but that's it, it's done - Toradora! is finished. It's strange how some shows manage to weave their way so deeply into the fabric of your life, and this series has been one of them - What started off as "just another romantic comedy" has ended up becoming something that I've raced home after work to watch, that I've evangelised and praised to anyone who will listen (and a lot of those people have now taken on the series with a similar fervour), and in a sense it's even connected me to people who I would otherwise have known that little bit less about (or in some cases not known at all). I think, having just watched this finale, that final fact is something everyone who worked on this series would be more than a little proud of.

Anyhow, after the last episode largely consisted of Taiga and Ryuuji behaving like kids, making rash decisions and following after them with little thought, the tables are well and truly turned in the first half of this instalment, reminding us that we can all make stupid decisions, and we're also often too stubborn to admit we were wrong and go back on those choices. This particularly applies to Yasuko, as we learn the truth about her relationship to Ryuuji's father, and how that impacted her relationship with her own parents - A state of affairs resolved, ironically, in no small part due to Ryuuji's own rash decision.

Speaking of the whole "let's get married" plot which bugged me somewhat last time around, this is very quickly resolved and put to bed here, with Taiga very sweetly making her point that it's too much too soon, but without denying her love for Ryuuji in the process - A really beautiful and sensitive scene sealed quite rightly with a kiss. At this point you'd be forgiven for thinking that's that, and the happy ending is all wrapped up, but not so - While Ryuuji has the blessing of his family to spend his life with Taiga, she's left in a far more delicate situation, and again we witness the parents acting like the children and vice versa. Rather than taking this opportunity to run away, leave her family ties behind and start anew, she instead takes the braver path of resolving things with her parents first and foremost, transferring away from school (and of course Ryuuji) without truly abandoning them.

This allows the rest of the episode to get down to what is perhaps the real story of Toradora! over and above love - Right from the outset the series has been about friendship above all else, and that is allowed to shine through here from the class' reaction to Taiga's transfer through to the varied responses of Minori, Kitamura and Ami to the situation. Although Taiga's departure makes for a slightly bittersweet ending to the series, all's well that ends well when it comes to graduation day, to seal that happy ending for definite in case it was needed.

I feel that I've said so much about Toradora! over the six months (has it really been that long?) that I've been watching it that it's somewhat tricky to find anything new to say. Put simply, this series has been one of the best characterised and most emotional anime works I've ever watched - It's made me laugh with its slapstick humour, it's made me smile at its main players and who and what they portray, and it's made me cry at its moments of sheer emotional intensity. The end of the series almost feels like walking away from some good friends, such is the feeling of being invited into a group of people that Toradora! has somehow fostered, but like all good friendships it's left me with plenty of good memories that I'll be sure to revisit, and for those of us left behind by Taiga and company there will surely be plenty of "Hey, remember in Toradora! when..." moments. That, above all else, it what makes any cultural medium of value, and that is why Toradora! is such a must-watch series.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 12

I'm beginning to suspect that Minami-ke Okaeri is a bit like that old legend about versions of Microsoft Windows, where odd numbers are good revisions and even numbers bad. Thus, oddly numbered episodes of Minami-ke Okaeri have been pretty average at best, while even numbered instalments have been far better.

This theory certainly seems to work for episode twelve of the series, which manages to entertain and amuse in equal measure. The episode starts out with some kind of tag-team arguing contest with Kana, Maki and Yuka all trying to persuade Chiaki to leave her place in the sun and sleep elsewhere so that they don't have to be so quiet. This being Minami-ke, all bets are off once food becomes involved...

From here, we get a couple of top notch Minami-ke moments - First, Maki visits and expresses concern about the potentially debilitating affliction that is having a stupid sleeping face. Thus, Maki implores Kana to watch her sleep - Probably not the most sensible of ideas, as of course the ubiquitous drawing on the face of a sleeping person takes place, with highly amusing consequences. After that, we're witness to a clothing alteration accident which inadvertently sees Haruka's school skirt caught up in Kana's desire for a "new look" - An accident which goes unreported to the eldest Minami sister, building to a punchline that wasn't any less amusing for its predictability.

Finally, Kana worries that Chiaki has gone through some kind of life of being maltreated, and so tries entirely too hard to be nice to her, causing Chiaki more than a small amount of paranoia as to her real goals, especially coming as it does after Chiaki being a little overly rude and violent to her sister.

So, this probably wasn't the best episode of the series (and the animation quality was all over the place from the best I've seen this series in places through to the worst) in terms of humour, but it was well up with the better ones - Its best gags were blindingly obvious and old school ones but hey, sometimes the old ones are the best.

Viper's Creed - Episode 11

After those rather interminable filler episodes earlier in the series, the build-up to and arrival of the main story arc of Viper's Creed has been a most welcome one, bringing back much of the action so sorely lacking since that great opening episode and well and truly playing to the series strengths. This continues into episode eleven, although it has to be said that the plot takes a one-way trip to clichéville in the process.

For starters, more about the real villain of the piece, the female inspector who has clearly "looked a bit evil" from the start, is revealed, as we learn that she planned the entire thing from start to finish, BugMechs and all. Her only motivation appears to be getting the army back in control of things, something she's willing to do at any cost, letting the army run riot as they use terrorism as an excuse for their presence and care not for civilian casualties.

Meanwhile, Unit Viper are still fighting and sneaking their way to the TV station to broadcast the evidence behind this conspiracy (as well as proof of their own innocence), using the tried and trusted technique of sacrificing members of the team one by one. After Norma bought the farm at the end of episode ten, two more comrades fall this time around, hugely predictably leaving only Saiki and Sakurako (oh, and Ageha too of course) standing for the series final showdown. Ooh, I wonder what will happen in that episode...

Really, it's this obvious plot progression that is the downfall of this episode - While it works quite well from a purely action-oriented point of view, it feels like something that you've seen countless times before over the years, and the reintroduction of the shady underground character from that God-awful cooking episode has given me flashbacks to that terrible instalment didn't really help matters. As long as you're not expecting something innovative it works well enough, but from my personal point of view this episode felt rather tired and long in the tooth - Compare and contrast to my anticipation of Rideback's final episode, and you can soon see which series succeeded where the other failed.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 9

Well, we've been long overdue an episode making fun of America, and at last it arrives in episode nine of Axis Powers Hetalia.

I probably don't even need to mention the gags here, as it probably goes without saying that they're as stereotypical as they come, portraying America as geographically clueless and determined to play the hero in any given situation. I laughed out loud on both points though, no matter how predictable.

Away from America, Britain has bad food, France has overly extravagent dress sense, China is well organised and Russia has an underlying personality of evil brutality. Nothing cliched there either then.... While I have to admit this episode got a couple of laughs out of me, I still find myself wondering why I watch it beyond the fact that "its episodes are short". Not the most ringing endorsement of a series, it has to be said.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Rideback - Episode 11

If there were any doubts as to how seriously Rideback might be taking itself, the end of episode ten answered any such questions comprehensively, smashing a relatively important character to pieces in a shocking, no holds barred episode that turned an otherwise relatively mundane episode on its head, and surely setting the tone for the final couple of episodes of the series.

Needless to say, Suzuri's death hangs heavy over this episode - While the "terrorists" are planning their massive strike against GGP, so Rin (within their care) finds herself with entirely too much time to mull over what happened, blaming herself and questioning why her ambitions and desires always seem to end up with pain both for herself or others.

It's a question than Rin never really seems to answer in any meaningful manner, but when it comes to the crunch and she's about to be whisked out of the city along with Tamayo she finally makes a life-changing decision, backing away from her escape route and instead going back to find Fuego. Her timing couldn't be much better either, with a bevy of fully automated white Ridebacks storming the building at that very moment, and leaving Rin needing to get all Gordon Freeman on their asses so that herself and Tamayo can escape.

All in all, both the plot and emotions on offer here were very simple, yet they were actually pretty well played out - A very standard depiction of grief which actually helped to make it all the more believable. I feel slightly less satisfied at the reasoning behind Rin's decision to return to Fuego however - Of course we knew she was going to do it (it would have made for a rubbish end to the series otherwise), but there was no real pin-point moment for me that made that line of reasoning seem logical or natural for her. Sure, you can argue that she's done irrational things numerous times during the course of the show, normally when it comes down to helping those she cares about, so I'm guessing that the idea here was a similar one - It just wasn't depicted quite explicitly enough for my liking.

Still, episode twelve promises to be all kinds of action-packed awesomeness, the grand finale that I've been waiting for for quite some time now. I absolutely, 100% can't wait.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 11

It may not be quite baseball-esque in its randomness, but it does seem that every episode of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo tries to top the last when it comes to choosing what to put at the center of its storylines. Last episode was a girl in a box, and this time around it's someone stealing mirrors.

That isn't to say that "box girl" has been forgotten, as her rescue remains a top priority - Akiha on the other hand is told to carry on as per normal at school until a course of action is decided upon, but of course she ignores this and goes to see Leopard in the hope that he can shed some light on the disappearance of all these mirrors, a mystery which they hope will lead to said box girl. Akiha skipping school is prefaced by a hilarious scene where Imoko tries to mimic Kazane - It's a simple bit of humour, but is arguably worth the cost of admission of this episode alone.

Away from the whole box and mirrors sage, Nami finally gets to take something approaching centre stage in this episode - Feeling left out in recent goings-on, and all but ignored by both Akiha and Kazane, she runs away from home, only to inadvertently find that her modelling career is on the slide too. The despair that comes from these painful revelations leads her straight into the hands of the enemy, which could make things very interesting....

As ever, parts of Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo remain as indecipherable as ever, yet somehow it keeps at least a modicum of entertainment value with its colourful animation and character designs and a steady yet unspectacular pace - Certainly not the kind of series that you should consider picking up as it reaches its half-way point, but the kind of show that you just can't find it in your heart to drop once you begin watching it. Yes, it's average, but it's a fun kind of mediocrity to enjoy.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 11

Just before his Terra-deficient collapse last episode, Keita saw a face that he recognised, and so episode eleven of Kurokami focuses very much on this particular reunion.

The person in question is Sawamura, a person from Keita's school days who he believed to be dead, but who had in fact assumed a new identity after the death of one of his "subs", working for Reishin to achieve his goals. However, or at least according the spiel he affords Keita, he disagrees with Reishin's aims, and is instead looking for his own way to control the Doppeliner system.

After a pretty long segment which flashes back to the relationship at school between Keita and Sawamura (which seemed to be largely focused on telling us how much of an arrogant douchebag the latter is), we get to see Akane finally confess her feeelings to Keita, who seems to accept the whole thing with the kind of wide-eyed wonder you might expect from a sheltered kid who has just noticed the existence of breasts. That aside, Reishin opens up a path to the Holy Land, with Kuro determined to stop him from going any further, as both her and Keita make their way to said island while Akane is left in what soon transpires to be a highly dangerous situation...

Unusually for this series we're left with an action-free instalment here, concentrating instead on building the story - Something that it does well enough without offering anything spectacular. The flashback sequence featuring Keita and Sawamura seemed to be a little contrived however, taking away any vague semblance of surprise regarding his actions at the end of the episode on account of him being portrayed as not a very nice chap deep down in these schoolday segments. If nothing else, at least Kurokami has found its way to some extent again, after threatening to dissolve into a mess of Keita-centric angst and misery for a few episodes.

White Album - Episode 12

Poor old Touya.... Is probably how I'm supposed to start this 'Blog entry, but once again White Album's protagonist reaps what he sows.

Considering her look of utter shock last episode, Rina actually lets Touya off pretty lightly at first when it dawns on her what's going on between him and Yayoi, inviting him out on a date at Echoes (who really need some new background music in their cafe) out of what I suspect is a mixture of protecting Yuki and perhaps a growing desire that she has for him herself. Despite this invitiation, Touya decides to stand up Rina, instead going out with Yayoi and then ending up back at his apartment with her.

It appears to be this final insult that leads Rina (after seemingly trying to run off her worries) to read out the letter that Yuki sent to Touya via Yayoi, but which got way-laid as we already know. We hadn't properly seen the contents of this letter before, but in essence it was a sea of self-doubt on Yuki's part, spurred on by a mixture of her own hectic lifestyle and the little time it afforded her to spend with Touya, plus I would wager her suspicions that he's been avoiding her (which doubtless she put down to her own perceived shortcomings). To top it all off, and with Touya already in tears, Rina fires him as her manager. At this point Touya actually does something quite sensible and worthy for a change, leaving Yuki a message to let her know that he got her letter (although he unknowingly puts his foot in it by mentioning Rina) and to tell her that he's still going to her concert.

This brief moment of clarity doesn't last long however, as the moron never bought a ticket, and this close to the concert (and of course in these days before eBay) everywhere is sold out, and Touya predictably gives up without another moment's effort. So, once more we're left with the same old Touya who has to rely on everybody else to bail him out, in an amusing montage with leaves him with no less than three tickets to the concert. The episode closes with Yuki's debut concert just moments away from starting, although before that we're "treated" to Mizaki being stabbed (well, sort of) and another in-car romp between Yayoi and Touya (who had just been punched in the face by the owner of Echoes, thus living the dream of anime viewers everywhere).

While a fair amount of this episode was quite predictable in its own dramatic and entertaining way, and aside from its excellent sideline in comedy thanks to the whole "musical tickets" scenes, I get the feeling that the real story of this episode is between Yuki and Rina, with the various events we see here likely to drive a wedge between them for a variety of reasons, although I imagine a lot of this stuff will have to wait for the second half of the series in the Autumn - With only one episode to go before White Album "takes a break", there's only really going to be time to cover the concerts and any direct aftermath I would assume. What money on Yayoi licking away Touya's tears of Yuki sings on stage next episode? Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets...

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Viper's Creed - Episode 10

As its major storyline has ramped up, so Viper Squad were put well and truly on the back foot by the conspiracy unveiling around them - Accused not only of murdering members of Hound, but also their own comrade Haruki. This leaves them on the run from the military, and on the brink of capture and, most likely, death.

However, the players in this coup appear to have reckoned without one thing - Ageha, the young girl who is a hacker extraordinaire and former close friend of Haruki. While Ulla seems to think that, whatever she's doing, she's still working for Hound and himself, the reality appears to be rather different, as her hacking talents help the Viper team to escape from their tight spot and regroup, while Ageha is even on-hand to provide the evidence that they were framed, and who by.

This knowledge then puts them back on the attack, storming the Arqon building to steal their own vehicles to that they can attempt to broadcast this evidence on TV rather than using the Internet as a broadcast medium lest the military delete the information (Have they not heard of Wikileaks?). However, their escape with these vehicles comes at a high cost....

It's this high cost which is actually the weak link of this episode as far as I'm concerned - Overall, this was a very tight, fast-paced and action-packed instalment which brought everything to the table that you can and probably should expect of Viper's Creed's premise, and it does so pretty solidly to boot. However, the death of Norma and the reason for the injury which led to her suicide mission felt hugely contrived, seemingly popping up out of nowhere with a little bit of lazy scripting that left me feeling most unsatisfied. Still, this major story arc of the series has at last brought the show back on track, albeit belatedly, and this was almost certainly the best episode so far since that rip-roaring opener - Indeed, I dare say it was probably slightly better, all things considered.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 10

After a bizarre and entirely pointless, baseball related and filler-tastic ninth episode, Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo thankfully returns to normality this time around.

Well, when I say normality, I mean normality within the framework of this particular series. While Leopard is undergoing some upgrades (giving the series the opportunity to partake in some more nudge-nudge, wink-wink phallic humour), the main focus on this story is on a box that appears out of nowhere, insisting on talking to the head of the Shishidou family about something called "Enigma". Yes, I did really mean to type box.

Inside this box is a girl, but she can't be let you otherwise (according to her) she'll die, which I suppose almost makes her some kind of Schrödinger girl. Anyhow, said girl/box has come from Nerval, where she's been locked away as a literal "part" of that colony. Before she can spill the beans on what she knows, and passing some time with a slumber party that seems to exist largely as mild Itsuki fan service, the Shishidou residence comes under attack by the android (which turns out not to be) we saw in earlier episodes, Aleida; a hit and run attack which allows Aleida to snatch back this all-important box before doing a runner.

I've very much gotten used to not having a clue about what is going on in this series this days, and being resigned to this inevitability is probably a good thing as yet again I really feel like I don't have the foggiest idea about most of the major plot points, and I'm just hoping that's actually the point of the show. While some of the unsaid things are clearly so for a reason (such as Honoka's meeting with some familiar faces from her past), I still don't feel like I have any grasp over the broader story here. Oh well, it still continues to be generically entertaining and colourful in its own way (although this episode definitely needed more of Leopard's involvement), and anything is an improvement after that God-awful baseball episode.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Viper's Creed - Episode 9

Haruki's surprising death at the hands of (relatively) unknown forces may have proved to be a surprise last episode, but it probably goes without saying that the fallout from this action proves to be immense in this next instalment of Viper's Creed.

For starters (and perhaps rather bizarrely) Haruki's murder sees his father abandon his prior plans for the transformation of the city, which seems rather short-sighted, but the problems are far greater for the remaining members of Unit Viper. After being sent on a mission to capture Hound's members, the military take over, but before they know it Viper's members are being attacked in the dead of night, and accused on national television of attacking and killing innocent civilians. A conspiracy is clearly afoot, but who is responsible?

While Ulla tells the "truth" about Unit Viper to the press, and Arqon go on the hunt of their defective mercenaries, someone is clearly pulling the strings, but how deep does this rabbit hole go? At the moment we really dont know, but things are certainly getting interesting as far as this series goes - A far cry from the cooking episode we were forced to sit through not so long ago. Sure, this whole "conspiracy" arc is a little cliched, but it is at least more interesting and holds some promise, even if it isn't the most action-packed of storylines. If nothing else, this was the kind of plot we were expecting from Viper's Creed, so its introduction is most welcome on that front alone.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 10

After waxing and waning during the course of the series so far, the last episode of Shikabane Hime felt as though the scales had finally fallen from Gainax's eyes, allowing them to see what they needed to do to create something truly magnificent. Put simply, episode nine of Shikabane Hime: Kuro was a masterpiece, a real legend in its own lunchtime that got everything right.

That episode also left us with a tantalisingly horrific ending, with jumbo jets falling from the sky onto the packed city below - The bets kind of horror is often loosely based around reality, and the sight of planes ploughing into buildings hit all too close to home for obvious reasons. Given that spectacular ending and the way this instalment begins, this event actually gets a surprisingly small amount of screen time in this episode, as we get little more than a few brief scenes that wouldn't have looked out of place in a game of Left 4 Dead. Beyond that, the vast number of corpses created by this atrocity is little more than a distraction to get the Shikabane Hime away from the Kougon cult's main temple, leaving it open for Shichisei to do what they will with.

After only getting briefly involved with the goings-on following the plane crashes, Makina and Ouri soon head off to try and continue their fight against Shichisei, which eventually brings them up against Sadahiro and Akira (who are also trying, and ultimately failing to take on Hokuto and Akasha) who are under strict instructions not to let them pass into the Kougon-owned chamber they want to enter. Come the end of the episode the reason for this becomes clear, with yet more revelations to follow no doubt...

After that fabulous episode nine which could be regarded as a work of near-perfection as far as I'm concerned, this episode of Shikabane Hime: Kuro was always going to struggle to live up to that billing. While I wish more had been made of the fight against the surfeit of corpses following the numerous plane crashes (it could have had a single, action-packed episode all to itself... Or they could have made it into an entire series, and called it... I dunno, Lost or something), the series is now clearly more interested in getting to the real heart of its story (and I can't really begrudge it that), dropping some very heavy hints surrounding the claim that killing 108 corpses will allow a Shikabane Hime to go to heaven. Surely a religion would never lie about the existence of a sure-fire way to an eternal life of happiness? Perish the thought...

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episodes 11-12

It's time for another double bill of The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya (and of course we can't forget another episode of Nyoron Churuya-san) - What craziness can Haruhi et al get up to this week?

Episode eleven brings us an event at Yuki's house, with the female characters working on making some Valentine's Day chocolates, even if Haruhi's initial plan for a life-size naked Mikuru chocolate is dashed. A shame really, it sounds delicious... Of course, for the duration of their visit Nagato has had to hide mini-Ryoko in a box, bringing us the joy of a Ryoko-in-a-box when they leave. I laugh at the daftest things sometimes.

The Valentine's Day theme continues into episode twelve, with Itsuki and Kyon given chocolates by Haruhi, Mikuru and Yuki.... well, on the condition that they have to work for it and suitably impress the ladies, that is. For some reason, Itsuki decides that dressing and acting as male "companions" would be the best way to impress them, which has the rather more predictable outcome of making them look like idiots. Oh, and causing Mikuru to cry in the most disturbing and strange way.

As usual however, it's episode six of Nyoron Churuya-san which makes me laugh at the most random things, like a good luck charm that says "No way", Tsuruya being taken to a festival in a backpack, and a gravestone for some smoked cheese. RIP smoked cheese. Nyoron...

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 23

I was fully expecting this to be the final episode of Clannad - After Story, but appears that there's going to be one last episode after this one (if it counts as an episode per se, it's only going to be some kind of compilation clip show of sorts). So, with the actual storyline completed in episode twenty-two, we're left with this instalment to fill, and thankfully KyoAni have decided to shy away from filling an episode with killing and resurrecting more small children and their mothers.

Instead, we travel back in time to the beginning of Tomoya and friends second year at school (or third if you're Nagisa and are repeating a year). This gives us ample opportunity to see Tomoya and Sunohara hanging around, generally misbehaving and pulling pranks aplenty, while also allowing us to see their introduction to Kyou.

Meanwhile, Nagisa is struggling to make friends in her new class, a path eased in the most unlikely manner by Tomoya, who also gives her an inadvertent life lesson when she's caught up in one of Sunohara and his pranks - Quite a cute way of tying Nagisa and Tomoya together before they actually meet properly, it has to be said.

Anyway, after often exclaiming that I prefer Clannad when it's trying to be a life hearted school series than when it gets all serious and depressing, I enjoyed the chance to make the most of one final slice of just that. Maybe it's because this is the final episode proper (compilation show aside), but Sanae's bread-related outbursts were all the funnier, and it was really just nice to see a bit more of Kyou truth be told. I can't really blame anyone who can't be bothered to watch this episode seeing as it doesn't really fit into the rest of After Story, but as a final little dose of Clannad-flavoured distraction I can't complain.

Toradora! - Episode 24

After that intense ending to the last episode, this week's Toradora! was pretty much going to have to hit the ground running, and that's exactly what it did, with Minori and Ryuuji both chasing after Taiga, Minori confessing her own feeling towards Ryuuji in the process. They don't manage to catch Taiga before she leaves the school grounds however, which leaves Ryuuji having to patch up Minori after a hallway fall - A perfect opporunity as it turns out for Minori both to explain her motivations and say a goodbye of sorts to the guy she loves.

This leaves Ryuuji to continue the hunt for Taiga, which turns out to be a simple enough affair, but this is when things start to get a little crazy - Not only does Taiga's mother appear on the scene telling her to come and live with her new family, but Yasuko tags along, furious as Ryuuji for working on her behalf over concentrating on his studying. This in turn causes Ryuuji to blow up with some rather harsh words for Yasuko, and before we know it our new couple (of sorts) are both on the run from their respective parents.

Normally, such behaviour would involve a brief period in hiding before returning home with tails between legs, but Ryuuji seems to have taken the entire thing far more seriously, suggesting running away with Taiga until he's eighteen, then marrying her so that they can be together for ever - The phrase "sudden" doesn't even begin to describe this plan.

Luckily for the pair of them, they still have their friends to rally around them, so Ami, Kitamura and Minori (perhaps most importantly, donating her entire life savings to the couple) all do their bit to try and help with Ryuuji's plan, no matter what their true thoughts on the matter are - That is, after all, what friends are for. Even Yasuko seems to understand what is required to some extent, leaving Ryuuji with the opportunity to meet and stay with his grandparents for a while.

To be quite honest, I'm not sure what to make of these major plot developments at all - I know love can make you crazy, but this episode has turned Ryuuji from an eminently sensible and logical young man into a somewhat deranged one who verbally abuses his own Mum before deciding to run away and marry a girl he hasn't even properly declared his love for yet. To my mind, this is just a little too out of character for him, and I'm finding that a tough issue to resolve internally.

That aside (although I'm not sure you can just put such a major plot point to one side like that) this episode once again offers up some beautifully emotional moments, mostly courtesy of Minori - From her hurried explanation of her feeling for Ryuuji through to her selfless giving up of entire life savings, she puts everything on the line for the two people she cares about, and watching her break down when left along with Ami after Ryuuji and Taiga leaves was honestly heart-rending. Ami's brief flicker of sadness when forcing Ryuuji to admit that he loves Taiga was another masterful little moment, a brief slip of her mask that spoke volumes with little more than a slight change in expression.

So, I'm really not too sure what to make of this episode, which has me a little worried after loving this series from beginning to end thus far - In Toradora! I trust though when it comes to bringing us an ending worthy of this marvellous series, and even when I can't feel comfortable about some of the plot development I can't help but absolutely adore the way this series portrays love and friendship in general, with the subtlety and importance it duly deserves.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Kurokami: The Animation - Episode 10

By the end of the last episode of Kurokami, things really didn't seem to be going too well for Keita and Kuro - Although the former had narrowly escaped death, he was hardly in the best of shape, and meanwhile Kuro was.... well, having her face licked by Hiyou. Ewww.

The face licking continues into this episode, although not for long as Keita somehow manages to make it to the cave where Kuro is held captive in no time at all (was it really that close geographically?). So, the rest of the episode is set up perfectly to pit Kuro against Hiyou, and Keita against Shinobu. It's the latter fight that really gets the lion's share of the attention however, with the revelation that Shinobu is a "Minus Root" - Someone who has killed their Master Root (in this case, Keita's mother of course) and thus completely broken the law of mathematics in some convoluted and bizarre fashion by my estimate... anyhow, it is this which gives her the ability to absorb the Terra of others.

So, while Kuro trades blows with Hiyou using all her fighting skills, Keita somehow manages to defeat Shinobu simply by telling her that she isn't happy, which is pretty much the equivalent of having a character in Street Fighter IV called "The Psychologist", who just stands there and wins every round by pointing out their opponent's character flaws. Anyhow, this observation plus a punch to the face saves the day, with Keita feeding Kuro a massive amount of power to defeat Hiyou. Is it all in vain however, as the Kaionji group seem to have pretty much all of their ducks in a row come the end of the episode...

After a fair few increasingly dull episodes, Kurokami finally shows some signs of improvement here, with an action-centric offering that actually made for a half-decent chunk of entertainment. Yes, there were some laughable moments (notably Keita's unlikely aforementioned victory followed by his quick and inevitable descent into "Oh woe is me" complaining again, and Hiyou's scream of defeat simply made me laugh out loud) but hey, it wasn't so bad for a mindless show this time around, and between all that action and the half-decent soundtrack it managed to hold my attention better than previous instalments.

Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo - Episode 9

What the Hell did I just watch - Was this even the right series? I've referred a few times to Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo's confusing plot points, but this wasn't just confusing, it was plain random.

For some reason, episode nine of the series leaves the normal character roles and universe behind entirely, instead bringing us some kind of bizarre baseball-related filler episode. Akiha as the "Masked Pitcher", an evil player using mysterious "QT" powers to defeat every team in the women's baseball league? Itsuki as a former baseball player, kicked out on account of her own QT powers, but invited pack to take on this Masked Pitcher? Leopard as the Demon of Baseball? About the only real link to the bread and butter Sora wo Kakeru Shoujo story is the insertion (sorry, bad choice of words) of a Leopard-related penis joke.

Last episode, I discussed how this series has no right to be anything other than utter rubbish, yet somehow manages to be entertaining. Well, this episode also has no right to be anything other than utter rubbish... Only it is utter rubbish as well. Filler episodes are one thing, but entirely pointless filler episodes set in a different universe are quite another, and no matter how cute Itsuki looked in her various hats there was really no point to this particular episode at all, nor was it really amusing in any real sense of the word. Why bother making a full length twenty-six episode series if you're going to try and pass off stuff like this slap-bang in the middle of it?

DVD review: The Slayers - Volume 4

My coverage of The Slayers' UK DVD releases over at UK Anime comes to an end with a look at volume four of the series - It's funny how an otherwise unspectacular show can do just enough to hook you in and entertain you somewhat.

The Slayers - Volume four

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 11

Episode eleven of Minami-ke Okaeri gives plenty of attention to Riko in her never-endingly fruitless pursuit of Fujioka, and to be frank it seems to be having a bad effect on her.

The episode begins with the appearance of "Observer Hiroko", although the word "observer" should probably be replaced by "interferer", as she passes forth her knowledge and thoughts on the helpless Kanna-Fujioka-Riko love triangle, before trying to help Riko practice confessing to Fujioka with little to show for her efforts when all is said and done.

Riko soon gets another opportunity to impress however, as she's invited to a study evening (along with Fujioka) by Kanna. Of course, everyone's favourite member of the Minami household steals the show, dreaming a predictably surreal way of being a good host to her guests, but falling victim to her own "wonderful" hospitality on account of the paranoia and habits of the others, with mildly amusing consequences.

Riko's next plan is to impress Fujioka with her intellect in the hope that he'll come to her for tuition, a plan which brings about some rather Hosaka-esque daydreams in the process. However, Riko is pipped to the post somehow by Kanna, who manages to outscore her on test results and thus ruins said dream.

After all that, Riko finally gets a break as Chiaki and Mako make some Valentine's Day chocolate, primarily at the whim of Kanna. Eating chocolate and playing Othello appears to be Kanna's idea of paradise... Fujioka take note.

After giving me a few good laughs last time around, episode eleven of this series was a bit of a damp squib really, raising little more than a smile or two for its efforts. Not a bad episode, but only Kanna's bathtime hospitality efforts really stick in the memory, continuing the extremely hit and miss nature of this series.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Shikabane Hime: Kuro - Episode 9

Right from the very start, Shikabane Hime has been a difficult series to pin down - At times it's played to its horror roots perfectly or offered up otherwise compelling story lines, but at others it's been slow and ponderous, seemingly struggling to get any real momentum to propel it beyond the realms of mediocrity.

Well, let it be duly noted that the twenty-second episode of Shikabane Hime is the moment when the series gets all of its ducks in a row, and delivers what is quite simply an astonishingly accomplished episode. By the end of the last instalment everything had been set up nicely, with the truth about Ouri revealed to some extent, and the beginning of episode nine of Kuro finishes this off as we get the full low-down on Ouri, his Corpse mother, and also the cat that has been following his journey from the very start. All of this information is relayed, exhibited and built upon using the horrific potential of the scenario to the full, making for an intense display of gruesome imagery liable to give even the most hardened anime watcher nightmares.

In a similar vein, Makina also learns the origins of Hokuto, which in turn allows her to discover how her own family ties in to Hokuto's origins, and indeed why she was picked out to be killed an made into a Corpse, and then a Shikabane Hime herself.

These two revelations tie Makina and Ouri together as the episode progresses, leaving them to fight together properly at last while the rest of the Kougon cult track down and corner the surviving members of Shichisei. The battle isn't over yet however, as the episode ends with another moment of uncomfortably horrific imagery - Again, the stuff of nightmares (and worse, the kind of nightmare that we've all but seen unfold on our own television screens in real life), and another challenge for all involved to overcome.

While my feelings towards Shikabane Hime have largely been mild respect and a modicum of enjoyment throughout, I really can't praise this particular episode highly enough for blowing everything that has come before out of the water. Quite simply, it was close to perfection in every discipline - The animation was tight, focused and brought the horrors of the story to life, the pacing was spot on and filled every second of running time with moments of import, and the actual plot development itself was absolutely compelling, matching and complementing the action and violence expected of it.

I've often said that this series should work more on exploiting the horror genre which it naturally sits so close to, and this episode proves my point exactly, succeeding fantastically at being horrifyingly beautiful and nightmarishly engrossing. If it can keep this kind of quality up for its last handful of episodes, I'll be beyond impressed, and you can expect much more complimentary gushing from me.

Rideback - Episode 10

Well, there goes my prediction that some action-packed scenes must be coming soon after watching the last episode, as Rideback manages to squeeze in yet another instalment without a great amount of actual Rideback usage.

The main focus of the episode is on the protest against GGP organised by Rideback owners who have had their vehicles confiscated as part of the "anti-terrorist" crackdown, while the handful of people who have managed to hold onto their Ridebacks also get involved to lend their support. Of course, this includes Haruki, Suzuri and company, with the latter doing the riding as part of the protest.

Her appearance at the demonstration perhaps inevitably leads to some confusing her with "Rideback girl" (who is, of course, Rin), and before she knows it she's become an inadvertent cause celebre, and also the focus of GGP's attention (although you'd have thought they'd know what Rin looks like, even with a crash helmet on).

Speaking of Rin, she makes her way into the city while still in hiding, hoping to reunite with her friends at last thanks to the help of Tamayo, whose father and brother and meanwhile beginning to pay the penalty for their "terrorist" support. All of this occurs against a backdrop of the actual terrorists, with Tenshirou playing a large part, planning their next step in the fight against GGP.

While all of this amounts to plenty of slow build-up and not a lot of actual excitement, the final minutes of the episode suddenly pulls a no-nonsense, brutal sucker punch out of the bag to leave you feeling both stunned and drained by the end of it. While this episode ending was perhaps expected to some extent, I certainly wasn't expecting quite such a horrific turn of events. It's a brave and impressive way to save an otherwise slightly plodding episode, but it somehow succeeds in doing so while also shaking up the plot in terms of what might happen next yet again to do its part in jogging my expectations of Rideback in a positive direction once more.

Hetalia Axis Powers - Episode 8

Another episode of Axis Powers Hetalia means another bundle of food-related jokes, because of course they aren't growing thin at all after eight brief instalments. Oh no.

In this episode, Italy gets captured repeatedly, eventually leading to likewise happening to Germany, and bringing us perhaps the only amusing line in this episode referring to the suspect contents of Germany's DVD collection. If ever (heaven forbid) a reminder was needed that Hetalia isn't historically accurate, a mention of DVDs probably does a decent job.

The episode ends (ignoring the Chibitalia section entirely as the even bigger waste of time that it is) with Japan the next target of the Allies cunning plans. Will he fall for it? Tune in next time, if you can actually be bothered, which is a struggle even for me right now.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Viper's Creed - Episode 8

After that God-awful cooking episode, Viper's Creed at least redeemed itself with a seventh instalment that wasn't completely stupid, and thankfully this episode continues that story directly to keep things moving in the right directly.

In essence, episode eight is all about father versus son, as Haruki's relationship with Hound coming to light just as a new bombing in their name occurs, and Haruki's father is torn between caring for his son and his Presidency of the company. Of course, the blademen of Viper squad aren't too happy about having a possible informant in their midst, especially as Hound have cited them as the cause of these terrorist atrocities, a link that the populace have mindlessly lapped up.

As the episode progresses, so the lines between terrorist and "good guy" becomes blurred, as Hound's leader Ulla is seen plotting with a member of Arqon, Haruki's father's true plans come to light, and Haruki himself meets an untimely demise. We also get a foreshadowing what is shaping up to be quite a reunion between Saiki and Ulla as the series progresses.

All in all then, this is a major improvement over those earlier episodes which can now only be described as filler. I'd be the first to admit that aspects of the plot and story of this series still feel decidedly clunky (with the use of dream sequences and delusions bordering on the cringe-worthy), but at least its now offering us a cogent, coherent plot which threatens to actually go somewhere, which is enough to get me watching for reasons other than looking for excuses to pole fun at it. Real progress indeed.

White Album - Episode 11

While the big build up to the various Christmas concerts for Yuki, Rina and their rivals approaches by the day, White Album's actual major plot points seem to go sideways more than backwards in this particular instalment.

Most of the episode focuses on Rina's preparations for her own concert, and it's fair to say that rehearsals are going terribly, with Rina stumbling through, forgetting words and generally not behaving the way her idol pedigree would suggest. Touya appears to be about as useful as a chocolate teapot in this scenario, with his motivational techniques amounting to waving like a moron, giving Rina a thumbs up like a moron, or... well, he's just a moron, okay? Just what's bugging Rina though? Towards the start of the episode she confronts Yayoi about the torn-up letter from Yuki to Touya, but she still reveals nothing of its contents.

Speaking of Yayoi, she seems to be pretty distracted herself, and looking for reasons not to go home, doubtless on account of her "stalker". Still, that isn't enough to stop her copping off with Touya yet again, as they spend a romantic night in her car. She's one classy lady is our Yayoi. Indeed, the whole incident is as cringeworthy as you can get, with Touya bursting into tears because he doesn't understand Yuki, and Yayoi licking up those tears. No, really, I'm not making this stuff up. Of course, yet again Touya is too weak to resist her feminine charms...

Away from the major plot points, Akira is constantly yapping like a little dog around Mizuki's feet, trying to help and feeling hurt whenever she tries to do anything alone. Indeed, he seems to be under the impression that this series is called Whine Album judging by his annoying moaning. Then there's Haruka and Mana, who are now exercising together and seem to be slowly building up quite a nice little friendship, based around lies though it may be.

All of this of course pales into comparison against the episode's climax, where Rina seems to latch on to what is going on between Touya and Yayoi, leaving her with a priceless look on her face. We're left hanging at this point, but I can only hope that the next episode will heavily feature Rina slapping some sense into my favourite male protagonist of the year so far. Even though I seem to be hating or disliking more and more of White Album's characters, you have to give it some kudos for soap opera style entertainment value.

Minami-ke Okaeri - Episode 10

Minami-ke Okaeri is proving to be as varied as ever in terms of episode quality, but on this particular occasion this falls in its favour, as episode ten proves to be towards the more amusing end of the scale.

The episode begins with a torrential downpour that catches Touma out, leaving her drenched. Of course, Haruka makes sure that she gets a warm bath and hot chocolate, but Chiaki is far from keen to lend her a new set of clothes. By the time Fujioka pays a visit, Touma is desperate, but for poor old Fujioka it looks like he's just walked into a mad house. Mind you, that sounds like pretty much every visit to the Minami household...

Touma and Fujioka continue to be the focus of the episode in another vignette, as we rewind to the days where the two of them had first met (and where Touma's whole gender confusion begins, although I thought we'd already covered that in an entirely different way in the last series, but never mind), a wonderful time of discussing football and confusing the Hell out of any non-football fans present... not that I've ever done that before... *cough*.

Sandwiched between the two is perhaps the funniest part of this episode of the bunch, with Chiaki's line in trivia causing much stress to Uchida at a sensitive moment - It's best not to mention about natural colouring being made from insects when someone is eating a coloured sweet. Uchida's subsequent attempts to hide from Chiaki's trivia in turn upsets Chiaki, who hates being ignored - An impasse saved by the appearance of Fujioki, who gets regaled with a rather beautiful bit of trivia for his own efforts.

The episode ends with Natsuki's surprisingly successful attempts to persuade Haruka to get Touma to come home from their place earlier - Surprising because of Natsuki's over the top and, to be honest, downright creepy use of the advice given to him by his brothers on how to behave. Again, some pretty amusing stuff on show here.

As I've already mentioned, and as per so many slice of life shows, Minami-ke Okaeri is well and truly a hit and miss affair - At least it's hitting the mark more often than its predecessor Okawari though, which is a huge relief, and has made for plenty more laughs than the last series offered.

The Sky Crawlers

You can't judge a book by its cover may be a well-worn phrase, but it still frequently turns out to be true, and in many senses The Sky Crawlers is a perfect example of it. From watching the first five minutes you'd probably be fooled on two counts - On the first, you'd be expecting a couple of hours of non-stop action and intense dogfights, while on the other the visuals could well have you exclaiming "Oh, so this is going to be like Last Exile then?". Wrong, and wrong. To be fair, there are some obvious visual comparison to me made to Last Exile in terms of aircraft design and the "steampunk"-esque feel of the movie in places, but that's where the similarities end.

A Mamoru Oshii directed movie based upon novels by Mori Hiroshi, The Sky Crawlers introduces us to its world via Kannami Yuuichi, a pilot just transferred to a new air force base. It's here he meets first Tokino, his roomate on the base, before getting some face time with his direct superior Suito Kusanagi. It's this building and swirling relationship between Kannami and his superior which underpins the entire storyline in its many and varied forms.

Speaking of storyline, it's really hard to pin down a single central thread which runs through the movie - On the one hand it builds up and then slowly unravels the mystery of Kannami's predecessor, Jinroh, on another it's a tragic love story between Kannami and Suito, and on another still the movie enters far more philosophical territory as it examines war, peace and immortality, and the relationship between the three.

The key tenets to these latter discussions comes largely from the various pilots shown here and their status as "Kildren" - People who are eternally young, and as a result can live forever. While this is thrown in as almost a throwaway comment early in the movie, it soon becomes the core emotional crux of the story. What happens when you throw the eternally young (in both mind and body) into the extremely adult environment of war and death? What happens within that environment when you are otherwise destined to live forever? These questions seep into the entire framework of the movie's second half, including (of course, and most specifically) the mental state of Kusanagi. Add to that the additional mystery of what the Kildren actually are (there are suggestions of cloning of some kind), and you have yourself plenty to chew on.

The importance of war to the world we're delivered into here is given less ponderance, but its existence is almost 1984-esque in a way - In short, the war we see here is not fought by countries, but by two rival corporations. There's no actual "point" or final strategy to the conflict, it merely (and ironically) exists to remind the populace of the importance of peace, and to keep them satisfied with the current status quo. War as a tool of controlling one's own populace is always a fascinating concept to consider, and it's a shame it isn't given a wider role here.

With all of these issues simmering away in the background and carefully building up, it's safe to say that The Sky Crawlers is a slow burner - Although the story keeps on progressing relentlessly, it does so at an exceptionally slow pace, which can make the movie's first half frustrating until we get to the real meat during the final hour. Patience is a virtue, but you'd better stock up on it before sitting down to watch this offering.

Thankfully, any sense of boredom which may strike during the film's first hour is most likely to replaced by marvelling at the sheer beauty of the world presented here - Quite simply, it looks stunning, boasting so much intricate design and detail in every single room and scene, even away from the obvious focus of the fantastically realised aircraft and the incredibly (if infrequent) dogfights we're presented with. This is matched by the film's audio, which is equally intricate right down to the wind whistling through ill-fitting room windows and the distant barking of a dog that really does its bit to subtly immerse you within the world the movie depicts. With all that detail on offer, one area where The Sky Crawlers may disappoint is in terms of character design - While character animation is a bit hit and miss (from the sublime to just not looking right), the looks of the major characters seem to be very artifical and almost doll-like. This all feels a little jarring to start with, although as the story and the significance of the pilots existence as Kildren comes to light this slightly other-worldly look actually starts to fit into place, whether intentionally or not. This slightly inhuman feel to the major characters does lessen any emotional impact the story has in its darker moments however, so overall I have to mark it down as a negative against the movie.

Overall then, The Sky Crawlers is an odd old beast really - Nobody can doubt its visual beauty, but does it succeed as a story? I'm really torn on this point in all honesty. When you take a look at the surface there seems to be little life to this rather stilted tale of life and love as a pilot, but once you drill deeper there are some fascinating topics for discussion and consideration, as you would expect from the man who brought us Ghost in the Shell. I only wish that some of those deeper points where given a slightly more considered and in-depth airing within the framework of the movie though.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya - Episodes 9-10

It seems that it's time for another double bill of The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya, with the series taking ever more bizarre turns in its bid to amuse and entertain.

Episode nine involves the creation of a drama, which (thanks to ideas posited by all of the SOS Brigade members, which Haruhi receives entirely too warmly) ends up as some kind of scenario involving maids fighting to the death - Certainly not good news considering that Kyon is paired up with Nagato in the first battle...

Meanwhile, episode ten features some more mini-Ryoko, as she attempts to reach the bathroom sink before inadvertently giving Nagato a head injury, and then trying to make her way out of the house before the appearance of a neighbourhood cat gives her pause for though (or should that be "paws for thought?" Haha. Ha. Ahem). Not particularly great episodes on either count it has to be said, but you can't win them all.

The same cannot be said of episode five of Nyoron Churuya-san however, with its miniature episodes that never fail to crack me up with their utterly bizarre pointlessness. Wandering off with a model Tsuruya? "You will die"? It's hilarious.

Clannad ~After Story~ - Episode 22

So here we are at last, at the "final" (bonus episode aside) instalment of Clannad - After Story that we've all been looking forward to. Or dreading, depending on your perspective on these things.

Throughout Clannad I've stated my disinterest in the whole "other world", supernatural side of the story, but by the end of the last episode and its shockingly cruel climax I was starting to wamr the idea of something, anything, that would make for a happier ending. I'm all for gritty reality, but After Story seemed ready to toss a metric tonne of grit in my eye whilst stranded in the middle of a sandstorm.

Of course, this ending to the story turns it all around via a decidedly trippy first half that really defies explanation - Somehow had clearly been hoarding a bunch of the show's animation budget for this moment though. Acid trip over, we find ourselves "rebooted" back to the point where Nagisa has just given birth, only this time there's no death or sadness, just a nice long montage of happiness for all of Clannad's major characters. Hurrah! I'm not too sure how I'd explain this whole scenario officially, so I will just assume that the town featured in Clannad is running Windows XP with System Restore enabled, and someone screwed up their PC and had to restore back from before the "oops, Nagisa died" save point. Yep, that about covers it.

The series proper ends with some cute Fuuko comedy (I really did laugh out loud at her attempts to act adult), and a very final scene that I can't really explain too well either. It's nothing to do with Windows though.

Despite being all ready to hate this cheap get-out clause of an ending... Well, I kind of liked it. Yes, of course it is a huge cheat after everything they've put us through in recent episodes, but for once I don't begrudge this series a happy ending to polish things off - Clannad was always meant to be a lovable little show rather than some kind of School Days effort, and with that in mind this ending was a pretty good fit. It was nonsense, but it was warm, fuzzy nonsense, so it is duly forgiven.

Toradora! - Episode 23

Not for the first time with this series, just as I'm about to mark an episode of as having nothing absolutely pertinent to the main story of note happening, it manages to blow me out of the water with the kind of emotional intensity rarely seen outside of... well, outside of real life. It's a just a shame the animation quality seemed to drop a little this week alongside it.

For much of the episode, we're served the usual delicious mixture of humour and more serious points, as Ryuuji continues to grapple with his plans for the future which leave him wanting to go to college but not daring to lest it put too much strain on Yasuko. Things are far easier on this front for Taiga, whose family are so rich she simply doesn't care.

Then there's Ami, who goes at least some way to clearing up my confusion regarding her feelings - She wants to stick around with her new-found friends, but at the same time she's come to the conclusion that their lives will carry on and "fix" themselves without her, which clearly leaves her feeling somewhat isolated. There's a suggestion later in the episode that there's still more to her current state of mind than that, but it's left unspoken.

One thing that is made clear however throughout this episode is one key similarity between Ryuuji and Ami (and, to a lesser extent, Taiga) - Their need to run away when things get difficult. While Ami looks towards escape when her feelings for her friends gets out of control, so Ryuuji runs away from both Yasuko and Taiga's feelings for him in different ways, while Taiga is similarly running away from her feelings towards Ryuuji.

In the case of Ryuuji and Taiga's relationship, this blows up massively when the former's covering up of the latter's outburst when she was rescued during the skiing holiday comes to light, in a fashion almost akin to the moments towards the end of episode sixteen, giving us a tsunami of emotion that picks up the viewer and takes them on a roller coaster ride right along with the characters involved. It's another one of those incredible moments that I don't think I'll forget soon, from Minori's expression when she catches Ryuuji's lie to her pure anger directed towards both of them for denying their true feelings at her expense, through to the instant understanding and camaraderie shown by Ami and Kitamura, knowing what needs to be done without a single word being spoken. It's a beautiful explosion of what it truly means to be a friend, and equally what it truly means to be in love - Yet again, Toradora! manages to surpass itself when push comes to shove.