Monday, 28 February 2011

Bakuman - Episode 21

They may have sealed a place in the Golden Future Cup, but there's still no let-up for Ashirogi Muto as they continue their bid to prove to their editor Hattori that they're ready for serialisation.

Despite their fervour and hard work, it does appear that Mashiro is coming close to breaking point as the duo try to create a new chapter for Hattori's perusal every two weeks - a tough deadline that means trivial stuff like sleeping comes second every time.  On top of all that, and as if their nerves about how they will fare in the Golden Future Cup aren't already shredded, they soon find out who their opponents in that particular competition are set to be - a roster including Fukuda, Nakai (albeit as an artists for the actual writer of his entry, the blunt yet pretty Ko Aoki), and one other entrant who we'll come to later.

Regardless of this competition, there's good news ahead for Takagi and Mashiro, as Hattori tells them to stop creating new chapters for their detective story and instead start focusing on getting serialising, with him confident that they can make it into Jack at their current level even if they weren't to win the Golden Future Cup - a thought which brings excitement and relief to our duo, mixed with a steely determination to win that competition anyhow in their quest to surpass Nizuma.  Before all that though, a rather hefty new contender has appeared in the form of rock star turned manga artist Koogy, who sets a rather large cat amongst the pigeons by announcing his own entry at a live concert and thus ensuring a huge amount of cheap publicity for his work... hardly playing fair, according to his Golden Future Cup rivals.

In a way, I'm not really too bothered about this newly introduced rival either way, as I'm actually more interested in just following our main duo's trials and tribulations off their own back - still, I suppose some extra drama won't do the show any harm and it certainly seems to have hit a run of form without getting bogged down too much in its minutiae, so once again I'm happy to just go with Bakuman's flow and see where it takes us next.

Level E - Episode 8

Level E being what it is, I had no idea what direction it might choose to head in next after the end of its Power Rangers wannabe arc... and what do you know, it duly brings us a love story of sorts - the anti-Kimi ni Todoke if you'd rather.

The main focus of our tale is one Princess Saki, a member of the all-female Macbac.  Saki is visiting the Earth because it's time for her to find a mate, a person who she will only mate with once, bear a child with, and then live with forever more until that person passes away.  Sounds lovely, doesn't it?  It probably would be, except that every race who has ever had a member of the Macbac species mate with it has died out within a few generations.  Of course, it's up to our Dogurian "Earth Defence Force" (minus the Prince, who has been sent away for obvious reasons) to both act as Princess Saki's guide, while trying their darndest to ensure she doesn't mate with a human.

Kraft and company's chances of preventing disaster for the human race seem pretty good, given that Saki can't speak Japanese, plus it's Christmas Eve and everyone around already seems to have hooked up with somebody.  However, Kraft bets without the looming disaster of love at first sight, which hooks in a lad named Mikihisa whose seemingly disastrous Christmas has just taken a turn for the better as he locks eyes with Saki, leading to her instantly asking to marry him.  While Kraft tries to defuse the situation by making full use of the language barrier between them, we inevitable end-up with a full on chase for the future of humanity as Mikihisa and Saki look to escape together.

Although this feels like a slightly clichéd concept in some ways, it doesn't really matter when it's delivered with such a tight and frequently funny script, carried almost entirely by Kraft and his subordinates Sade and (hilariously) Colin.  Yes, the premise is daft, and as per the last story arc I worry (probably needlessly at this juncture) about them running with said premise for two long, but as an opening gambit to this story episode eight works and it works well, and knowing this series we're in for at least a couple of twists and turns yet, particularly given the potentially amusing cliff-hanger to this episode.  In short, Level E looks all ready to continue to deliver its comedy goods this time around.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Star Driver - Episode 21

After laying a revelation about Takuto (or rather, his parentage) our way last week, you might have thought that Star Driver would want to build on that intriguing turn of events in episode twenty-one.  However, you might then remember that this is Star Driver we're talking about, and assume that it'll be back to business as usual as per the rest of the series.  And you know what?  You'd be absolutely right.

The big news this time around is that the Glittering Crux Brigade are finally ready to début their "Overphase" system for Cybodies - a technology which won't allow them to reach that much-vaunted fourth phase (they still need a maiden for that), but will allow them to boost their powers above that of a standard third phase encounter.  Of course, the use of this untested technology will be potentially dangerous, but Madoka Kei (aka Window Cleaner... sorry, Window Star) is up for having another crack at Takuto and Tauburn.

So, with the Overphase technology put to use, we find ourselves faced with an intriguing new threat for Takuto to handle - a literal mix of Cybody and Madoka so that we can't tell where one begins as the other begins, or to put it more bluntly Takuto is going to have to wrestle with a giant, horny Madoka Kei.  No surprise then that Takuto struggles to fight against an opponent it appears he'll have to actually kill to win against, and no surprise either than this entire state of affairs pisses off Wako something chronic... so much so that it's her turn to pull a special ability out of her ass this week, unveiling the power to "downphase" a Cybody and reducing Window Star to her usual third phase state so that Takuto can beat her, which he duly does.  Still, it looks as though Wako has chosen her man at last; let's face it, anything must be better than that stuffy old Sugata.

Not for the first time with this series, Star Driver hits upon something interesting only to render it utterly dull and useless with its staunch refusal to add any kind of peril to proceedings.  In this case, we were finally faced with a conflict where someone absolutely had to die, no questions ask or no chance to sidestep this brutal truth... until the episode pulls out a deus ex machina so it can all end without anyone getting hurt.  What. The. Fuck. Star. Driver.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is why everyone is raving about Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the world it's woven where everything has serious and realistic consequences; this is also why nobody gives two flying monkeys about Star Driver any more.  The sooner this show finishes and puts us all out of its abjectly mediocre misery the better.

Break Blade 4: Sanka no Chi

After some initial ambivalence towards it, the third Break Blade film finally convinced me that it had what it takes to be a good anime movie series, largely on account of some absolutely nailed-on fantastic action that both saw its mecha credentials put to the test and pass with flying colours.

While that showcase battle ended with Zess injured and Cleo captured, there is of course no let-up as Sanka no Chi begins, with Krisna choosing to assemble a crack squad to counter the threat from Athens that receives their orders right from the very top of the Krisnan tree; Hodr himself.  Needless to say, Ryugart's unique abilities grants him a berth in said unit under the care of Narvi, whilst also fighting alongside her brother, another soldier in Loggin and one rather controversial choice - former prisoner and all-round nut-job Girghe.  Indeed, Girghe wastes no time in proving both his craziness and his piloting skills via an impromptu skirmish against his squad-mates which sees him take them on and beat them with ease.  That still leaves plenty of additional time for training, for Ryugart in particular, before they leave on their first mission... although not before our assumptions about Sigyn's romantic interests are confirmed.

Elsewhere, Krisna prove they aren't the only ones with an absolute nutter amongst their number, with Athens making an impressive scalp as they unexpectedly ambush and destroy General True and his unit courtesy of Nike, a twenty-five year-old midget (although don't tell her to her face) with a short temper but plenty of offensive power to match her attitude.  With True's unit out of the way, Baldr's troops are the next in the firing line, and just as this encounter looks likely to go equally pear-shaped up pops Rygart and company to save the day... minus Girghe who chickens out and proclaims himself too scared to fight in actual combat.  Surely he must be kidding?  Why yes, yes he is, as the episode closes to destructively dramatic effect.

Compared to the fantastic combat of the third movie, there wasn't quite as much to impress here overall - it felt as though the animation budget dropped a bit in places, and a lot of the encounters on show here were too one-sized to really get yourself involved in.  That said, there's still a lot to be said for the weighty, "chunky" and realistic feel of the combat which lends itself to even the most gravity-defying moments.  There certainly remains a lot to be enjoyed on the battlefield, while off it there are enough fascinating characters to keep things fresh and hold the possibility of some major twists and turns (the fifth movie looks like the place to be for such things) even if both Sigyn and Cleo seem to have been kidnapped as prisoners of fan service at the moment - in short, I still enjoyed Sanka no Chi enough to keep my interest in Break Blade renewed and in good shape.

Friday, 25 February 2011

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 20

It's taken quite a while to reach this point, but last week's instalment of To Aru Majutsu no Index II finally delivered upon us a storyline worthy of its possibilities, with people passing out all over the place, Accelerator facing off against forces looking to capture Last Order in a skirmish which eventually includes Index within its goings-on, and Touma about to be the recipient of one rather unwelcome guest from the Roman Catholic church.

Starting out with Accelerator's plight, it seems that the appearance of Index has given them exactly the opportunity he required to escape, taking a hostage, snatching up Index and making good on that escape in no small part thanks to the appearance on the scene of God's Right Hand, aka Vento of the Front.  While Vento isn't interested in such trifles within Academy City, that doesn't stop some blood being shed, the aftermath of which is coincidentally come across by the now united duo of Touma and Last Order.

With more Hound Dog forces on the prowl, Touma escapes with Last Order only to find himself hunted down by Vento instead, leading to an early test of both individual's abilities which ends with Vento's own body letting the side down and granting Touma a reprieve... for now.  Elsewhere, Accelerator is having entirely too much fun mutilating those out to get him, as the whole of Academy City looks set to be plunged into Hell in a hand basket.  Oh, and Mikoto Misaka is wandering around the place too, which is always a good thing if you ask me.

At long last, we seem to have a story arc of To Aru Majutsu no Index which combines everything that the series does well - hefty slices of action that makes good use of its characters, and a wider plot which leverages Academy City excellently as a backdrop for the varied pitched battles about to be fought by a number of different factions as they become entangled and intertwined.  Aside from rushing through a couple of its plot points somewhat, this was a coolly and effectively delivered instalment that promises even better things to come over the next few weeks.  To Aru Majutsu no Index seems back to its best at last - it's just a shame that it took twenty episodes to reach that point.

Fractale - Episode 6

I began to fear for Fractale a little last week as it frittered away an entire episode on... well, pointless stuff broadly speaking, with the odd exception.  However, with the Granitzfamily airship needing to land for maintenance, episode six brings us a chance to mix things up and get back to more interesting goings on once again.

Luckily, that's exactly what happens, as it isn't long before we're introduced first to a rather suspicious guy with an antique digital camera who is happily snapping away at Clain and a naked Phryne, and then to another faction of the Lost Millennium group to show us that there's more than one line of thinking when it comes to "saving" people from the Fractale system.  Although this faction seems friendly enough towards the lost and weary souls who are left helpless without the communications that makes up the Fractale system, there's clearly at least some tension between them and Granitz's bunch for reasons that soon become clear later.

Our "guy with camera" also proves to be an important part of this episode's story, as Clain follows him back to his home to find it packed with ancient technology, later returning with Phryne at the promise of even more impressive sights to come.  In short, what this man wants to show Clain is a system he's created to boost Fractale's signal, giving people in the area a brief dose of virtual "bliss" than uncovers both the shortcomings of Fractale itself as well as the disturbing truth about how this alternate faction of Lost Millennium really operates.  That isn't all either, as a stray photograph picked up by Phryne seems to offer up an answer to just who our mysterious lover of old technology is....

After the disappointment of last week, this was an immeasurably better episode of Fractale that went back to exploring so much of that social (and even otaku-focused) commentary that I've talked so much about in earlier episodes.  For starters, we now have our two factions of Lost Millennium to compare - can either of them genuinely claim that their way of doing things is "right", and how do they both stack up against the Fractale system itself ethically?  Sprouting out of this is once again the question of technology and at what point it actually begins to limit human innovation and endeavour - witness the lost sheep of a post-Fractale world once its signal is no longer received in that area, then think about how you felt and behaved the last time you had any protracted period without any form of Internet access.  This point is then pushed a little further into the realm of human communication, as Clain admits that for all his virtual friends it's a very different feeling to have an actual, face-to-face conversation with someone who shares his interest, and it's a scenario which strikes him at an emotional level far more than any virtual conversation could ever hope to.

All of these questions arguably strike at the heart of otaku-dom in particular as it asks questions of the relevance of their online communications (including this 'blog, I suppose) - it's an interesting bait-and-switch tactic on the part of Fractale at times as it teases with fan service then hits you with some heavy-hitting philosophical comments, but you know what?  On an occasion such as this episode, it actually works rather well.  If only the series thus far wasn't quite so hit and miss - when Fractale gets what it's trying to right, it really does succeed pretty admirably.

Gosick - Episode 8

The second half of Gosick's previous episode saw the body count starting to stack up, with a couple of murders amongst those visiting Horovitz - but to what end, and where is the killing going to stop?

Where?  In pretty short order within episode eight in fact, with that second killing sending Victorique's little grey cells into over-drive and pointing her towards the solution to the two mysterious murders in no time at all.  Essentially, there's no honour amongst thieves, and in-fighting between those after the town's treasures is revealed as the eventual culprit, despite some clever ruses to make it look as though it was all an internal conspiracy against those very same visitors.

With any immediate danger out of the way, Victorique is now free to concentrate on her real aim - clearing her mother Cordelia's name by discovering the true killer in the events for which she took the blame.  Again, it seems as if our heroine already has a very good idea of the culprit, and all it takes is a simple piece of deception for the murderer to reveal herself by her own admittance.  The fact that the finger of blame is pointed at crazy maid Harminia isn't a huge surprise, but after learning of just how she went about her sinful task and why, Harminia grabs an opportunity to escape and does so, setting fire to pretty much the entire town in the process (this girl moves fast, I have to say that about her).  This leaves us with a final set piece atop the drawbridge which joins Horovitz to its surrounding lands, with a crazed Harminia setting about trying to kill Victorique while Kujo protects her before a frantic race to depart the collapsing bridge before it's too late - a scene which turns the table on who is protecting who, although you have to wonder why the other people who were supposedly present decided to vanish at that critical, life-saving moment!

So, this story arc comes to a close whilst proving it to be head and shoulders the best story arc to come from this series yet - it wasn't flawless and it still didn't get its pacing decisions right at times but overall it provided a compelling story from beginning to end to back up some of its top-notch character dynamics.  If Gosick can continue in this vein then I have renewed hope for it; I've actually really rather enjoyed the last couple of episodes despite it having to fill those awkward post-Madoka Magica moments, so let's hope it doesn't fall back into old habits from this point forth.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 8

Is it a big deal to have your soul detached from your body and stored within a handy trinket?  Not if your name is Kyubey, but for Sayaka this separation of body and soul means something very different.

As per her brutal, care-free assault on a witch at the end of the last instalment, Sayaka's disinterest in her own well-being becomes readily apparent as we rejoin that scene at the beginning of this - sure, she won her battle, but without any thought or consideration for her own injuries in the knowledge that they'd heal soon enough.  Such is Sayaka's recklessness that she doesn't even accept her hard-won Grief Seed from her victory, instead giving it to Kyoko as "payment" despite her obvious physical weakness in her normal form.  It isn't just her physical self which is suffering however, as her mental fragility also shows through as she snaps at Madoka, suggesting that the only way her friend can understand her pain is to become a magical girl herself before telling Madoka to leave her alone.

Such is Sayaka's state that even Homura's previous concerns regarding the forthcoming Walpurgis Night have almost been superseded by the feeling that Sayaka could prove to be a more immediate problem, although it seems that Kyubey can't even stay out of her discussions without throwing his thoughts into proceedings.  Nevertheless, Homura confronts Sayaka as she moves closer to the brink as her final link to humanity in Kyousuke fades from view, offering to help but admitting that in reality she has an ulterior motive for her offer.  Indeed, as Madoka meets with Kyubey once again and seemingly reaches the brink of signing a contract with him under the premise of receiving God-like powers that could "save" Sayaka, we see just how desperate Homura is in both actions and emotions; actions which unveil some surprising revelations about just who Homura is, or rather more importantly where she's come from.  Regardless, it seems as though it's all too late for Sayaka...

As is my Friday evening ritual at the moment, this is the time of the week where I lavish an unholy amount of praise upon Puella Magi Madoka Magica for everything it does, and once again its hard to find fault with this week's outing as it drops us another level into Hellish darkness by unravelling one of its major characters before our eyes before delivering a handful of big shock moments that blow open a whole universe of new possibilities for the remainder of the series.  My one concern with this is that, whether it comes from Homura or Madoka, these revelations could make for a far too convenient finale to the show given the powers they both either possess or have the potential to - I really hope that the series doesn't go down that route, as to seek a "happy ever after" ending in the face of the balance of hope and despair (to use Sayaka's words), Puella Magi Madoka Magica's "equivalent exchange" if you like, offered by this series has a very real risk of diminishing everything that's gone before.

That doesn't stop this eighth episode, and the series thus far, from being an absolutely stunning piece of story-telling, but having been burned by bad endings so often before it is worth making that cautionary note if only in the hope that it turns out to be a needless worry.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Wandering Son - Episode 6

After building up to it over its previous three episodes, it's finally the day of the school culture festival, and of course that all-important performance of the version of Romeo and Juliet worked on by the class.

Before that however, we get to enjoy a little of the culture festival itself, from some surprise visitors including model Maiko and Takatsuki's friend Yuki (who, of course, was cross-dressing as a boy complete with a suit for the occasion) through to early preparations for the play, with Makoto understandably nervous about taking on Juliet's role while Chiba is the snarkiest, most ice cold Romeo you'll probably ever find.  The highlight of the pre-play goings on however must surely be the world's least scary haunted house, which many of our main characters somehow manage to make the most of anyway in a decidedly amusing fashion.

This takes us to the play itself, and after an abortive attempt by Makoto to deliver his opening lines a heartfelt plea to the audience to start over manages to break the tension and allow for the rest of the play to go smoothly, complete with hammy acting and comedy moustaches.  All in all the play is a hit and the overall venture is a success, but has it changed the relationship between Chiba and Makoto at all?  The bunch of (admittedly second hand) flowers given by the former to the latter suggest so, as well as being a role reversal in itself, but with Chiba's icy demeanour it's hard to tell anything for sure.

This might not have made for the most innovative episode of Wandering Son, but it was still an entertaining one that managed to effortlessly squeeze comedy from aspects of its scenario without ever casting aspersions upon its central premise - if anything, its focus on Makoto this episode helped to strengthen that while posing some curious questions about his own desires and emotions away from the main focus upon Nitori and Takatsuki the series tends towards.  If nothing else this proves how robust Wandering Son's character dynamics are as a whole, rather than having to rely solely on its two leads, which can't be a bad thing.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season - Episode 7

The previous episode of Kimi ni Todoke was, put simply, a disaster of gigantic proportions in terms of the relationship between its main characters, borne of a misunderstanding that bordered on the ludicrous.  Still, at least some strong words from Yoshida at least started to put Sawako in the correct frame of mind when it comes to dealing with this problem which is at least partially of her own making.

As this seventh episode of the series progresses, we reach the point where pretty much everyone else within Sawako and Kazehaya's orbit seems to have realised the nature of the misunderstanding between them.  The next to fathom it out is Kurumi, who put two and two together and reaches the correct sum before having a few choice words of her own to put Sawako's way - not to dissuade her, but rather to express disappointment at the stupidity displayed by her supposed love rival.

From here, both Ryuu and Pin both put the pieces of the current situation together as they hear more of the story about what transpired last episode from Kazehaya, in turn giving their own unique reactions which (in Pin's case more than Ryuu's) perhaps begins to shift Shouta's mindset ever so slightly in the right direction towards realising he may have made the mistake.  By the end of this instalment things have become decidedly more awkward, with some ill thought-out words from Ken causing a commotion in a corridor at just the wrong moment and indirectly causing another moment of friction between our leading pair, the fallout of which causes Ryuu to have a brief word in Sawako's shell-like before an impromptu meeting between Yano, Yoshida, Kurumi and Ken brings its own set of drama.

Truth be told, this week's episode of Kimi ni Todoke was never going to pack the punch of its direction predecessor, leaving it as no surprise that proceedings were rather more muted this time around.  Overall, I think this decision to back away from the drama in the in-series hours following such an upheaval proves to be a good one, allowing us to monitor as the emotion of the moment drains away and (coupled with some sage advice or hints from others) allows for some more well-defined and crystal clear thought.  Is taking some time out to think about what they've just said and done, or more importantly what they haven't said or done, going to be enough for either Sawako or Shouta?  Well, probably not, but regardless I shall be waiting with bated breath for the next episode as per usual.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Bakuman - Episode 20

From the brink of separation, Ashirogi Muto is back in business, and on top of that they're rather enjoying pulling the wool over editor Hattori's eyes as they work together on their detective mystery manga.

While Hattori assumes that Takagi has set himself a two year time limit to work on his ideas, our pairing of wannabe manga artists are actually working to a tough six-month deadline - tougher still given that Hattori has sent Takagi a vast amount of detective anime and manga to watch for inspiration.  It's at this point that Miyoshi steps in, offering to watch and read all of this material and summarise it all so that Takagi can focus on his writing.

Eventually our dynamic duo are ready to show off their work to a surprised Hattori, who finds himself suitably impressed by their efforts.  Before he'll even consider submitting their work for serialisation however, he makes two demands of his charges - firstly, to enter the Golden Future Cup, and secondly to create a manuscript once every two weeks to prove that they can make the required deadlines for a serialised manga despite their other concerns (i.e. high school).  Can they meet these hurdles, and how will they far against friend-cum-rival Fukuda in the competition?  Will they even make the grade and be entered?  Cue another of those nervous "waiting for a phone call" moments which seems to tense me up as much as the show's protagonists.

As has so often been the case with Bakuman, this series is at its best when it keeps things simple.  This episode summarily focuses on two guys fighting hard to pursue their dream, and it's all the better for it - the entertainment, humour, tension and passion simply flow out of that idea with little additional effort required.  Never mind the underlying romance, rivalries and so on, this was very much Bakuman on top form, and I couldn't help but find myself feeling a little excited, proud even, as Mashiro and Takagi's dream shifted a little closer towards their reach.

Level E - Episode 7

Stuck on a planet that doubles as a giant, life-sized RPG, it's probably a good job that our forced Colour Rangers are actually kind of enjoying their role as they have to grind their way up to a sufficient level to complete the main quest which might just provoke the Prince to take them back to Earth.

However, once they actually feel adequately confident in their abilities to begin said quest, they soon come across a couple of problems.  Firstly, the Prince has elected himself to be the game's Princess who needs saving (which is of course disturbing in all sorts of ways), and secondly the bad guy who needs defeating has an assigned level of around 1,300 which is significantly higher than any of our Colour Rangers.  If this isn't bad enough, it seems that the AI which controls the Demon Lord in charge of the game is acting up, making things even more difficult and leaving the Prince to have to resign to being snatched away by the game's evil General to live and fight another day.

Of course, this being Level E there are a fair number of twists to be thrown into its comedy blend throughout this episode, all of which work surprisingly well at both defying expectations and being laugh out loud funny, while the rest of the episode also has enough clever or just downright good gags to be entertaining right the way through to the end of this story arc.

In fact, kudos should really go to the series for managing to make its Super Sentai parody last for three full episodes without ever running out of steam - I got worried when it ran into a second instalment and expected to be thoroughly fed up of it by the time it morphed into a third episode, yet the entire arc had more than enough comedy and smart presentation of those comical scenarios to ease itself through without a problem.  That sense of exceeding expectations pretty much sums up Level E in a nutshell thus far - from an interesting premise it's so far hardly missed a beat in delivering its irreverent sci-fi comedy, and the next story arc looks like it holds lots of potential for hilarity as well, leaving this series to luxuriate in the midst of some of my favourite shows for this season.  It's certainly head and shoulders above some of winter 2011's more predictable comedy fare like Mitsudomoe - even though I also kind of enjoy that show despite not 'blogging about it here, for what it's worth.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Star Driver - Episode 20

With Star Driver fast running out of episodes, its time for this series to start getting a serious move on in terms of plot development and adding some spice to its major story lines - thankfully, that's exactly what this twentieth episode sets out to do.

In essence, this week's instalment is a tale of two love triangles - of course, we've been watching the triangle that encompasses Sugata, Takuto and Wako since the very start of the series, but that particular conundrum sees something of a shift as Takuto finds himself jealous of the close relationship shared by the other too; indeed, it's the same quandary that it appears caused Keito to separate herself from her former friends.

However, that scenario is well and truly cast into the shade compared to another love triangle we're introduced to this episode, that being the relationship between Tokio (aka the head of Vanishing Age and the Glittering Crux Brigade), Katashiro (another Glittering Crux member) and Sora, a girl who started with an arranged marriage to the latter before falling in love with the former and seemingly bearing his child before leaving the island - no prizes for guessing who that child is...

In the midst of all this we see Camel Star (not sponsored by a cigarette company, in case you're wondering) trying to shake things up, as he figures out the true identity of the East Maiden and puts his own plan into effect to break the Southern Maiden (aka Wako's) seal.  Cue a Zero Time battle than sees Takuto fighting whilst somewhat disabled courtesy of Camel Star's first phase, while his plan ends up causing a minor civil war between Glittering Crux Cybody drivers, in turn allowing Takuto and Tauburn to win the day... as per usual.

After frittering away so many (read: almost all) of its episodes, it's nice to see things finally building in an interesting direction at this late stage - although I can't quite get my head around Takuto's parentage at this juncture (is Tokio really that old?), we did learn some significant information about the man at the helm of the Glittering Crux Brigade, finally see a fire (or at least a slightly damp match) lit under Takuto's feelings for Wako, and perhaps most important we got a Zero Time battle that was interesting for almost thirty whole seconds, which is a new record on my watch.  With next week's episode also promising to continue in the right direction, can Star Driver pull out a decent ending to this tepid series?  It won't be enough to save it from the halls of anime mediocrity, but regardless of that I sure hope it does so that my hours of watching this series don't prove to be in vain.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 19

After tearing a tendon in my foot and having to hobble around dragging said foot around with me, I'd like to think I can at least somewhat empathise with To Aru Majutsu no Index's Accelerator at the moment.  Okay, well maybe not, but at least it gives me a better introduction than discussing the light and fluffy (read dull) previous episode which set out its stall to bring together all of its major players in roughly the same location.

Following on from this meeting of certain elements, we follow Accelerator and Last Order on their rain-soaked way home, a journey disrupted by Last Order's playfulness leading to her tripped and grazing her knee.  As she waits at a nearby bench, Accelerator heads off to buy some plasters (bear with me here, it gets more interesting than this I promise), and on his return he finds himself subjected to an ambush, allowing him to have a little "fun" at the expense of his pursuers.

While most of these assailants are easy meet, Accelerator soon appears to have met his match in Amata Kihara, who not only knows all about Accelerator but also knows exactly how his attacks and abilities work - knowledge which means that our unlikely hero on this occasion has met his match, being beaten practically to a pulp while Kihara's "Hound Dog" minions round up Last Order.  The game isn't quite up yet however, as Accelerator uses what little energy he has yet to blast Last Order into the air and to (we assume) safety via his wind-producing power.  With an errant Index walking in on proceedings, unconscious Antiskill members all over the place, MISAKA finding Touma and begging him for help and the Roman Catholic church's supposed most powerful weapon Vento of the Front on the loose, it's fair to say we're building up to a pretty major story arc to close out To Aru Majutsu no Index II.

If nothing else, it's simply a relief to see this series teetering on the precipice of some genuinely epic story-telling after numerous episodes that haven't exactly been firing on all cyclinders.  As build-ups go this was a solidly handled affair that has piqued my interest without blowing me away or leaving me particularly on the edge of my seat for the next episode, so hopefully it will build from what we've seen so far into a more entertaining and fascinating affair.  Goodness knows To Aru Majutsu no Index owes us one of those at the moment.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Fractale - Episode 5

Having managed to escape the attentions of the Fractale system and those behind it, albeit for the time being at least, it seems like a time for reflection and a little relaxation for the escaping Granitz family, with even Phryne and Clain seemingly reluctant to upset the applecart at this juncture.

As he decides not to try and escape via the handily provided parachute, Clain is instead made to work for his living aboard the massive airship - a novelty for a boy who has spent his life being served by machines all of his life, and a rather tiring one at that.  Interestingly though, he soon seems to settle into this lifestyle and the sense of community which pervades every aspect of living on board this flying blimp, with his own real worry the face that he still hasn't seen hide nor hair of Nessa, although it soon comes to his attention that she is at least on board.

In fact, Nessa's presence soon becomes less of a mystery and more of a problem, as her unique properties as a Doppel effectively allow her to hide "inside" the ship's computer system, causing all sorts of problems that seem irreparable until Clain uses his old technology geekery to figure out the root cause.  So, the race is on to find Nessa, although of all people it's Phryne who eventually unwittingly stumbles across her in the aftermath of an attempt for her to leave the ship which peels away another layer of the relationship between Phryne and Nessa while also proving they they aren't quite away from the prying eyes of the Fractale system just yet.

After a couple of pretty deep and fascinating episodes of Fractale, this latest instalment left me feeling rather unimpressed - it didn't have a huge amount to say for itself and thus frittered away much of the episode on nothing in particular as a result.  Okay, so there were some obvious discussion points, namely whether working for your living makes living that life more fulfilling, but that isn't really up there with the kind of more existential questions posed in previous weeks.  On top of that, the whole "looking for Nessa" aspect of the episode just... well, wasn't very interesting really, and even the small reveals about how Phryne feels about Nessa weren't particularly eye-catching either.  Maybe it just isn't a good idea to watch this show (or anything, for that matter) after Madoka Magica, but there certainly wasn't the sparkle of previous episodes in Fractale this time around.

Gosick - Episode 7

With the so-called "Grey Wolves" assembled in their rather isolated town of Horovitz and with the story about Victorique's mother now out in the open, it's perhaps understandable why our diminutive detective isn't exactly warmly welcomed upon her arrival.

Still, although some parties (not least the head elder's maid) are far from thrilled to see Victorique given her resemblance to her mother Cordelia, the elder himself seems quite content to have her around, giving Victorique the possibility of investigating and attempting to discover the true perpetrator of the crime she believes her mother didn't commit.

Indeed, the evidence to back up her belief comes relatively thick and fast throughout this episode as she investigates Cordelia's home and the grave of the man she was supposed to have killed, although her investigation runs the risk of becoming of only secondary importance against a backdrop of hungry wolves, attempts to force Victorique to leave and, most importantly, a couple of murders of other visitors to the town at the time of its summer festival.

Certainly, this mixture of elements continues to leave this particular story arc of Gosick looking like the best we've been presented so far - yes, it's still a bit hammy and overbearing at times but it has a solid feeling of mystery surrounding it which hasn't been unnecessarily ruined, and the usual wonderful interplay between Kujo and Victorique serves to complement this rather than having to take over and carry the show alone.  In short, it's a little more traditional in its murder mystery story-telling, and on this occasion sticking to some of the traditions of the genre's formula seem to be standing it in good stead.  Let's just hope this arc finishes with a suitable bang rather than a starved wolves' whimper.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 7

After tentatively planting Puella Magi Madoka Magica into my top three anime series of all time at its half-way point, part of me was expecting it to go and let me down as punishment for making such a bold assertion.  However, if this show is planning to do just that, there's no sign of it in this seventh instalment.

Following the big revelation surrounding the reality of the magical girls' Soul Gems last episode, Sayaka is understandably upset and insistent upon finding out why Kyubey didn't tell her (or indeed any of his charges) about this rather important part of the "small print" within their contract.  Of course, from Kyubey's point of view where a human "soul" resides is of little importance and that it's far safer for a magical girl not to have body and soul bound as a single entity... indeed, he even intriguingly hints that there's a further step that Sayaka could take to become even more resilient to pain and injury.

Just as Sayaka seems unable to overcome her feelings about this turn of events, up pops Kyoko once again - not to fight, but to recount her own history as a magical girl, weaving her own narrative of how and why she agreed with Kyubey for help against a backdrop of a religious father whose errant take on his gospel almost caused his ruin before Kyubey's intervention.  Of course, the miracle wrought by Kyubey has a sour (and in fact brutal) ending, explaining why Kyoko now exists only for herself... a concept which Sayaka still refuses to accept as she seeks to tread her own path as a magical girl.  That said, come the end of this episode Sayaka's resolve is beyond tested, as she learns of her friend Hitomi's romantic interest in Kyousuke - the final nail in her proverbial psychological coffin as she finds herself facing off against her first ever witch.

Once again, nothing goes to waste in this week's episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica; every scene and action is of some importance, all the way from Kyoko's obsession with food right through to the big stuff - the importance of the concept of a human "soul" and how it ties into the physical body, and whether this uniquely human concept is as "inconvenience" as Kyubey would see it or a cornerstone of existence and what it is to be a living, breathing person.  I would wager that the second half of this series will lean heavily on such questions in particular, and while I've hesitated to compare this series to Neon Genesis Evangelion thus far there are some obvious likenesses at this juncture both in the way this question is handled and the behaviour of Sayaka in particular.

The fact that such soul-searching (with every pun intended) questions have been slickly polished and slipped into such an entertaining, compelling, thought provoking and visually striking package frankly leaves me rather speechless. This isn't the best state of mind for an anime 'blogger to be in, but as I mentioned last week words alone simply can't do this series or its core concepts justice, and I certainly don't think I can properly put across the mixture of shock, disturbance, sadness, inner contemplation and excitement this particular episode brought me.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Wandering Son - Episode 5

After a week off last week, Wandering Son returns, and of course its focus returns immediately to that gender-bending Romeo and Juliet play currently being planned for the school culture festival.

With work on the script now extended to the show's entire circle of friends, Chiba can barely hide her distaste at the carefully planned script she sees as being "ruined" by the involvement of so many people, watching the play turning back towards a far more traditional take on Shakespeare's work (gender swapping aside).  As if that wasn't bad enough up pops a friend of Chiba, who proceeds to blab about Nitori's cross-dressing within moments of seeing him - not a smart move, although it seems that Takatsuki's the only one who is upset at this outburst while Nitori remains relatively unfazed and the rest of the group are merely curious about it if anything.

With the Romeo and Juliet script eventually finished it's time to cast roles for the class, and of course this not being some kind of idealistic romance series the lead roles don't go to who you might expect, with Chiba snaring her part as Romeo only to find herself cast against Makoto in Juliet's role.  This only succeeds in bringing the worst out of Chiba - she wants to act alongside Nitori yet at the same time she doesn't want Makoto to wimp out and give the part to his friend, and somewhere along the way she's decided that she wants to rewrite the script anyhow to fill it with death, doom and gloom, requiring some intervention from the teacher to talk her out of the idea.  Come the end of the episode, we're returned to relative normality, although it seems as though preparations for this play will bring up some additional twists and turns yet.

In comparison to previous episodes, this week's Wandering Son was actually pretty light on all-out drama, sporting a lighter touch for the moments that did require serious attention in building, moulding and shaping its various relationships as Nitori figures out a little more about why he likes Takatsuki and the increasingly intriguing dynamic between Chiba and Ariga develops.  Above all though, this episode was really one for entertainment, with lots of perfectly time dialogues, reaction shots and one-liners than underlined the show's comedy credentials which occasionally underpin its character-building.  Of course, all of this was accompanied by that beautiful artwork which has become perhaps the biggest hallmark of the series so far, reminding me why I missed not being able to watch this careful, considered but nonetheless enjoyable slice of life series last week.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season - Episode 6

Oh Kimi ni Todoke, will you ever stop tugging on my heartstrings?  In fact, will you ever stop tearing them out and brutalising them for my enjoyment and entertainment?  On the evidence of this episode, quite possibly not.

Things were quite clearly about to get messy come last week's cliffhanger, with Kento and Kazehaya all set to face-off over a bawling Sawako... and so it goes, with Shouta demanding from his possible love rival just what Ken has done to make her cry.  As if this wasn't tricky enough, a bunch of Kazehaya's friends show up at this moment, pointing out that this looks like some kind of love triangle and thus pushing a terse confession to Sawako from Kazehaya himself - not quite the stuff from romance novels that's for sure, and with so many conflicting voices present it perhaps isn't entirely surprising that Sawako simply doesn't understand exactly what Kazehaya is trying to say.

As Shouta storms off in a huff Sawako gives chase, giving rise to a more private conversation between the two of them - even given this direct exchange, things somehow manage to get worse rather than better, with both individuals somehow managing to misconstrue the other's meaning of how and why the like the other so that the two of them both leave the conversation thinking that they've been rejected.  Ouch.  When neither party turns up for afternoon registration it's pretty obvious to the rest of their class that something is up, especially as rumours of this lunchtime entangle pass through the school, so of course it's up to Yano and Yoshida to try and at least attempt to clear up this whole mess - surprisingly, it's the latter who says what really needs to be relayed to Sawako, that being that she effectively needs to stop feeling sorry for herself and assuming that everyone looks down on her when it's no longer the case.  Is this enough to light a fire under Sawako?  Quite possibly, although this show being what it is it's unlikely that things between herself and Kazehaya will be quite that simple...

Although part of me wants to moan a little about the misunderstandings between Kazehaya and Sawako in this episode being too contrived, another part of me remembers when I was a shy teenager who point-blank refused to believe that anyone fancied me even when I had 100% reliable information that suggested they did, so perhaps what we see here isn't so far-fetched after all.  Anyway, before I start with my outpourings of teenage regret this was another top-notch roller coaster of emotion, bringing me close to tears on the one hand before soothing those tears with depictions of wonderful friendships, then throwing in a bit of comedy to add some laughter to proceedings too.  It's an eclectic mix which sometimes shifts from joy to tears ridiculously quickly yet still manages to pull it off every time.  Unlike the characters in this show, I'm not afraid to confess my love for Kimi ni Todoketo all and sundry, and right now it certainly seems to be at another high point when it comes to chaining and enslaving me to its romantic cause.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Bakuman - Episode 19

Despite a bit of a falling out last episode, it didn't seem as though the relationship between Moritaka and Akito was in that bad shape... think again however, as come the start of this instalment the former decides that it's time to call their pairing a day, with Akito agreeing without too much of a fight.

Despite the break-up of this partnership, Takagi has no plans to quit his dream to be a manga writer, so he endeavours to carry on down his own path (spurred on by his relationship with Miyoshi) while Mashiro of course has Azuki to think about.  Thanks to this break-up, it seems as though the pair of them will never know how close they were to one another's ideas as they both move towards creating a mystery manga... at least, it seems that way until Mashiro meets with Hattori, and his probing into what has happened between the two of them brings this revelation to his attention.

With this knowledge, and with Moritaka clearly still wavering about going it alone, Hattori sets out to bring their pairing back together, albeit while also using their split to his advantage in the hope of getting them to create a more considered manga after a protracted period of work upon its story.  This looks like the kind of cunning plan that might succeed, were it not for the fact that Mashiro had already agreed to look over any names created by Takagi despite their split, which of course soon makes it clear to all concerned how close in style their ideas were - a ray of light which brings their brief separation to an end as they look to turn the tables on their ediotr without his knowledge.

Despite having enjoyed Bakuman pretty much from the word "go", I have to say that this was easily the best episode of the series thus far.  Sure, you could argue it was a little rushed in the way it squeezed the manga creating pair's break-up, progress and reunion into a single episode when perhaps two episodes might have worked better, but regardless this was very much compelling stuff full of twists and turns that brought a grin to my face as various characters tried to outmanoeuvre one another, sometimes unwittingly so.  It was smartly written and delivered and hugely entertaining, and I enjoyed every second of it as a result.  Good stuff indeed.

Level E - Episode 6

Level E continues its Super Sentai send-up for episode six, with our quintet of apathetic kids all set for a mission to retrieve the key that should let them return to their normal lives and escape from the Prince's boredom relieving sense of humour.

After making the long trip required for their next adventure, it doesn't take long for these wannabe (or rather, don't wannabe) Colour Rangers to find their target, Craft; despite his stern looks and strong build however, he clearly couldn't give two monkeys about their quest or playing up to the Prince's requests and so hands over the key with no fuss.  After a little trouble figuring out how to use it, three of the five "Rangers" manage to remove their wrist-bands, even if they have to publicly name the girl (or girls) they like in the process.

Although the majority of the lads are now free, of course the Prince doesn't let them go that easily, and before they know it all five boys are whisked away to a far-off planet - a planet set aside solely as some kind of life-sized RPG.  With enemies roaming around and NPCs of limited vocabulary everywhere, it seems that our Colour Rangers have no choice but to play along, don their costumes once again and grind their way through to reach the required level to win the day.  This seems like a massive chore... until they get into said RPG and end up enjoying every minute of it, as such games are want to do with you.  Come the end of the episode, all five boys seem to have more than enough power to take on their quest and win; but what is the Prince going to throw at them next?

While I am a bit concerned that this whole Colour Rangers story arc might go on too long, and one episode seemed like it should be enough, there were still a few decent laughs to be had from this week's episode.  The elements of the instalment which poked fun at RPGs require no explanation, but this time around we also had some other nice touches of humour as well as references to previous episodes and story arcs which were nice touches in terms of melding the whole series together.  Come the end of it all, this was another pretty entertaining outing that did more than enough to keep me smiling throughout.  Whether it can manage to do so for a third episode along the same lines remains to be seen, but thus far it's still so far so good for Level E.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Star Driver - Episode 19

While Ruri's relationship with her boyfriend is going well (and seemingly involving kissing both with and without glass), there are more important fish to fry for Star Driver's nineteenth episode - namely Wako's birthday.

Of course, Wako spends said birthday with both Takuto and Sugata, who proceed to spoil her by cooking her a curry and giving her... well, some rather rubbish presents to be honest.  With karaoke next on the agenda however, the group's celebrations threaten being ruined by the appearance of Madoka and Kou, with the latter revealing her first phase ability to effectively steal the body of another.  You can probably tell where this is headed, with the two girls stealing Sugata and Takuto's bodies for a while; not that they succeed in fooling anybody, with Wako in particular showing a rather vicious streak when it comes to dealing with these imposters.

From here we move straight on to the episode's big battle sequence, and in keeping with what went before this time around it's Kou's turn to have a crack at Tauburn with her own Cybody, complete with a ridiculous introduction (which is nicely poked fun at by the show itself) and a Cybody with the ability to transform into a jet-like flying machine that looks like it could give her the upper hand against Takuto... until of course he pulls the ability for Tauburn to fly out of his own ass to continue this show's long line of having no idea how to end a battle and choosing to just make shit up as it goes along instead.

In fairness, this was a pretty cool battle sequence even if that ending was so predictable it rather ruined the whole thing, and bonus points to this episode for poking fun at itself on a couple of occasions which amused me somewhat.  That aside, I felt that the whole "body snatching" aspect of this episode was rather a wasted opportunity - not much was done with a scenario that was ripe with potential, and Kou and Madoka were both so useless in their body switching roles that they frittered away the chance to cause some genuine chaos far outside simply messing with Wako's head.

Still, this was one of the more entertaining Star Driver episodes of late that didn't leave me watching the clock and waiting for it to end for once, so that can only be a good thing.  It's still hardly boosted my interest in the broader facets of the storyline though, and at the rate it's going it looks like it's simply going to run out of time to explore them all while it concerns itself with Sugata's cooking, pointless mecha battles and the like.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 18

From ending with a climax to its last instalment that I wasn't too sure counted as comedy or drama, episode eighteen of To Aru Majutsu no Index II kicks off with not one but two brief scenes that seem almost exclusively designed to offer up fan service, offset by only one item on its agenda that could be considered of any importance.

With those two items from the religious side of the show's coin out of the way, the rest of the episode is concerned with bringing Touma into contact with first MISAKA 10032 and later Last Order as he ends up being dragged into their goggle-induced game of hide and seek.  To be honest I'm not entirely sure what the point of this whole set-up is beyond some MISAKA fan service and a vague attempt to be entertaining, but oh well.  Similarly, this episode also sees Accelerator introduced to Index for the first time, with the latter looking for Touma (and food of course) while the former has gone to find the errant Last Order before she gets herself into too much trouble.

Come the end of the episode all relevant parties are re-united, leaving me unsure as to whether there was any importance whatsoever in what I'd just watched or if it was all just an attempt to fill up some time by throwing a bunch of fan-favourite characters at the screen.  Certainly, there was no depth to this outing or its narrative, so at the moment it feels rather like it was just a waste of time, but as per my feelings last week at least the individuals being focused upon of late breeds hope for a decent story arc once it sees fit to start moving in the right direction.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Gosick - Episode 6

Now that the imposter Avril is displaced and the real deal is put back in her rightful place, Kujo has himself a new blonde-haired friend to hang out with - something which leads us into the first mystery of this new story arc, as a plate on sale at a market goes missing in the midst of what appears to be magical goings-on.

Of course, as per usual Victorique seems to fathom out exactly what has happened in no time at all when Kujo relates the scenario to her even though she wasn't there, although this time something is rather different, as Grevil neither captures the culprit nor discovers the stolen plate.  However, this oddity is soon forgotten as Kujo find himself more concerned with Victorique's odd behaviour, as her reactions to him and in particular a prank he pulls on her turns into an outright falling out between the pair of them, all of which happens after Victorique spots a classified advert looking to assemble so-called "Grey Wolves" at a place called Horovitz.

Needless to say, next thing we know Kujo has been dragged along by the still angry Victorique despite her continued refusal to speak to him, and off they had on the train to Horovitz... a journey which sees Kujo once again meet the nun who was believed to be responsible for that missing plate, and one which also reveals yet more about Victorique's back story, in particular the circumstances surrounding her mother.  All of this ties into both the Grey Wolves advertisement in the paper as well as local legend, bringing Kujo, Victorique and a handful of others into what could well be a decidedly dangerous situation...

This sixth episode of Gosick is notable in that, compared to the instalments that have gone before, it does remarkably well at keeping its proverbial powder dry.  Rather than solve its opening mystery in a flash it's still left open to question, while the remainder of the episode has a more measured build up towards an admittedly predictable but nonetheless effective cliffhanger.  Add in the usual stubborn charm which oozes from Victorique and her dealings with Kujo, and you have arguably the best episode of Gosick yet.  How it proceeds from here remains to be seen, but at least this series feels as though it's finally beginning to understand the potential of the show's material and how it should best be utilised.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 6

Just as things were getting deadly seriously between new magical girl on the block Sayaka and old hand (but new to town) Kyoko Sakura, who else should pop up to interrupt proceedings but Homura?  Our ice queen quickly puts paid to this face-off, while also admonishing Madoka for continuing to involve herself in all these magical girl shenanigans.

So, Sayaka lives to fight another day, but with little in the way of power within her Soul Gem it looks as though she has little chance of present about winning any kind of fight with either Kyoko or Homura.  As for that pair of magical girls, it seems as though Homura is looking to make something of a deal here, promising to deal with Sayaka and letting Kyoko have the run of the town to herself provided she keeps her nose out of things, while also warning of an impending Walpurgis Night - although there's no explanation of what that means in universe, its traditional German meaning is a festival celebrating a meeting between sorcerers and witches, which doesn't sound like good news for magical girls to me.

Meanwhile, Madoka is still concerning herself with what to do about Sayaka as she realises that her friend is in trouble and well and truly out of her depth - attempting to reason with her does nothing as Sayaka is hell-bent on following a "just" path, and a conversation with her mother suggests that the only way forward for Madoka is for to put her good girl demeanour to one side for a moment and do something wrong for a change in the hope of changing things or at least enabling Sayaka to see just how worried her friend is.  Such an opportunity arises when Sakura decides to have another shot at baiting Sayaka, leading to another impending face-off between the two which Madoka interrupts.... with dramatic and shocking consequences that stuns all present with the exception of Homura.

You know, I'm really not sure what to say about Puella Magi Madoka Magica any more - it's so good, so fantastic, so utterly gripping and nigh-on perfect in everything that it does that no words I write here can really do it justice.  It's such an exceptional blend of visual, audio and story telling elements that, as of this half-way point, I'm willing to call it one of the top three anime series I've ever watched without a hint of hyperbole.  This series knows exactly what it's doing, giving you enough room to guess at what's really going on and the real aims of Kyubey and Homura, whilst throwing in twists that make perfect sense yet nonetheless leave you speechless as they unfold. 

Puella Magi Madoka Magica's first six episodes have been unfailingly and increasingly utterly, utterly brilliant, and if its second half follows suit then I'm almost terrified about just what a huge success we could be in the process of witnessing here.  Don't listen to me blathering on, just go and watch the series so far - and if you've already watched, then go and watch it again.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season - Episode 5

Throughout Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season thus far, it seems as though the distance between Kazehaya and Kuronuma has been increasing almost as fast as time has been flying in-series, with this episode zipping forward again to take us to the end of mid-term exams and the beginning of preparations for that old anime stable, the culture festival.

With exam results proving to be impressive all-round for Sawako's classmates courtesy of her revision sessions, it perhaps isn't all that surprising that her "unique" charms are the first thing that springs to mind when it comes to deciding what the class should do for the school festival.  Thus, before we know it almost the entire class has voted to hold "Sadako's Black Magic Cafe" - yes, that's right, a Sawako themed cafe which makes the most of all the rumours about her which are renowned throughout the school.  This odd mix of persecution and popularity is certainly an improvement for our heroine however as she finally finds herself fully accepted into the fold.

Of course, all of this is little more than a distraction from the real issue of Shouta and Sawako's disintegrated relationship - with Yoshida in particular worried that her comments to Kazehaya are at least partly to blame she recruits Ryuu only semi-successfully to try and put things right with Kazehaya.  Ironically, it's actually Pin of all people that does more to spur Kazehaya into action than anyone else thanks to the usual torrent of acerbic comments - the realisation that even this dolt of a teacher knows more about what's going on than he does is enough for him to go running off to find Sawako.  Is he too late though?  He could well be, with Kento continuing to lie (or rather, not tell the whole truth) and manipulate as his own end-game appears to be coming into sight.

Not for the first time with this show do I find myself suddenly realising just how heavily invested I am emotionally with its characters, finding myself moved almost to tears by Sawako's own devastating disappointment at the end of this episode - not bad going for a character who couldn't be much further from my "type" in terms of likeability.  That aside, Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season continues to get just about everything right in terms of its characters, all the way from Yano and Yoshida's way of handling things through to Sawako's delight at being included as an integral part of the class even though it's still largely at the expense of poking fun at her reputation - I swear every class I was ever in at school had one person who managed to tread that fine, indiscernible line between popularity and ridicule.  In terms of romantic drama, this episode certainly looks like it has everything nailed, leaving me to contemplate an entire week of having to wait for that intense cliffhanger to be resolved.  Even if I were to try distancing myself from it, I fear Kimi ni Todoke will always know exactly how to push my emotional buttons and manipulate me into loving it.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Bakuman - Episode 18

Despite working as Nizuma's assistant in the hopes of learning something from him, it seems more like Moritaka and fellow assistant Fukuda spent most of the last episode teaching their so-called genius boss all kinds of stuff, although you have to hand it to Eiji for soaking it all up.

Given their thoughts and opinions being listened to so intently by Nizuma, it seems as though Fukuda feels ready to impart yet more of his perceived wisdom upon any who wants to listen, in this case Nizuma's editor - cue a long discussion/rant about the way series are ordered within magazines such as Jack broadly in order of popularity and how that creates an unfair system for manga that need longer to develop and get to the core of their story.  Methinks the actual authors of Bakuman are writing something of an op-ed piece with this particular debate...

Anyhow, Moritaka finally does learn something worthwhile (albeit incredibly simple) from Nizuma in the end, courtesy of a throw-away comment from Eiji about how he's been writing manga since he was a little kid.  This reminds Moritaka of the scribblings of his own youth, leading to the realisation that he probably has plenty of good story and character ideas stored away from those heady earlier days freed from the pressure of trying to write and create mainstream manga.  At the same time, it appears that Akito is also moving down a similar line of thought to Moritaka, as their ideas converge upon that of a mystery/detective story.  However, there look set to be more obstacles in the pair's way before they can get anywhere with their latest effort, with Moritaka exhibiting his frustration at Akito spending a lot of time with Miyoshi and causing something of a minor falling out between the pair of them.

It probably says something about me that the part of this instalment of Bakuman I enjoyed most was the rant about how the manga industry disadvantages new series and doesn't give them time to "breathe" and develop - I'm sure we've all expressed frustration at the same-y nature of manga and anime sometimes, and this kind of thing is exactly the reason why.  Perhaps someone needs to create a manga or anime called "Grumpy Old Content Creators Have a Whine About the Industry They Work in"?  I'd definitely watch it.  Anyhow, it's that kind of stuff which makes Bakuman the fascinating specimen that it is at times, more so than its drama or romance elements on occasions such as this; that isn't to say that the other elements of this show aren't continuing to work well however, to make for what continues to be a compelling package.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Level E - Episode 5

After toying with the viewer for the entirety of episode four, Level E and its Dogurian prince need some new subjects to toy with for this latest story arc... enter a bunch of normal, everyday school kids.

Before they know it, these youngsters are kidnapped and whisked aboard Baka's spacecraft, where these five boys are equipped as bringers of justice to the universe, complete with embarrassing costumes which can be deployed with consummate ease.  Baka calls them the "Colour Rangers"; however, the enthusiasm of his young charges couldn't be much more different from those of your average Power Rangers-esque hero show, as they'd much rather be out on dates or generally messing about, while all but the class representative and red ranger are more than a little ambivalent to the idea of fighting for justice.

If having all of this junk dumped on them by a bored alien isn't bad enough, the Colour Ranger gang soon learn that there's an alien in their midst at school - in fact, it's their teacher to be precise, a cold-blooded assassin who now appears to have turned her attention to this ragtag collection of kids.  Still, come the end of it all it appears that she isn't quite the threat she first appeared to be, leaving the Colour Rangers with a new mission - to get rid of those ridiculous costumes and the annoying Prince's telepathic voice from their heads.  To do this is going to require a significant amount of levelling up and a journey to claim a key from a powerful rival... an adventure which Baka will no doubt enjoy watching from afar.

Although this episode didn't hold any of the surprise value of either of the past couple of instalments, it still managed to work pretty well with the vein of comedy which it decided to plumb - hero show parodies of Power Rangers and its ilk aren't exactly uncommon in anime (hell, Mitsudomoe managed a hilarious one just a few weeks ago), but Level E's take on the matter still had a good number of laughs, largely provided by the jaded, apathetic modern kids that are the very opposite of the squeaky clean and eager heroes of the shows having fun poked at them here.  Ostensibly that's all there is to it - a story arc designed to parody and just have a lot of fun with its premise, and that it does in this week's episode.  My only real worry is that this arc could wear a little thin if it's spread over too many episodes, but that's a concern for another day, and for now Level E has left me with a grin on my face once again.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Star Driver - Episode 18

Whoever could the oh-so mysterious Eastern Maiden be?  If last week's episode didn't ruin any surprise that revelation could have brought our way within seconds of posing the question, then the beginning of this eighteenth instalment of Star Driver duly ensures that any dramatic tension along these lines are summarily ruined.

That aside, this episode begins with an end of summer barbecue party and Takuto and company's dorm - a party which ends up turning into an outright firework battle once Madoka and Kou get involved in matters.  Next thing we know, Takuto's room is ablaze, leaving him having to stay with Sugata while his decimated living space is rebuilt.

From here, the rest of the episode is spent hammering the identity of the Eastern maiden into our brains over and over again, just in case we were so stupid we'd somehow missed it already.  Okay, I'm being a bit harsh, as we also get a bit more insight into Keito's personality as her importance to the series grows all the way through to the intriguing final scene of the episode.

Still, rather than a Zero Time battle this week, we instead get "treated" to a little scrap using Madoka's First Phase, as she butts into the middle of some sword training between Sugata and Takuto before creating one of those confusing, all-enveloping darknesses where you can't tell whether you're about to strike friend or foe - you know, the kind you've seen a million times before in other anime and cartoons, only far less interesting in this case thanks to Sugata fixing the problem with a quick blast from his King's Pillar (which sounds like a euphemism for something, but really isn't).  So, the day is saved, and so is BONES' giant robot animation budget for this week.

If you can't tell by my world-weary cynicism in this entry, I remain both bored and unimpressed with Star Driver again at present - every time is looks set to do something to come out of its coma of predictability, it somehow manages to ruin the whole thing.  For what is supposedly an anime about Cybodies which could change the entire world as we know it if the Glittering Crux Brigade succeeds, there's still no tension or drama in anything we see - battles are finished with the equivalent of a flick of the wrist, and more time is spent on school life shenanigans than any form of character building or plot development.  Perhaps someone should get the Madoka Magica team onto a mecha series when they're done with that show?  By all accounts they could do a far better job than this effort which seems to borrow from numerous other similar series whilst completely missing the point of what makes those shows great.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Kara no Kyoukai - Epilogue

Despite my best intentions to watch this for the first time once my Kara no Kyoukai Blu-Ray box set (yes, I bought it) turns up, it appears that impatience has gotten the better of me - ergo, here I am talking about the epilogue to the series of movies which turns up within said box set.

The epilogue in question takes place a single, long conversation between Mikiya Kokuto and Shiki Ryougi, with the main starting gambit of the conversation being exactly "which" Shiki Kokuto is talking to.  As it turns out, the banter under-way here is with neither the "good" nor the "evil" Shiki, but rather the personality that lies dormant beneath them both.  This brings about a detailed discussion as to just who this Shiki Ryougi is as well as why and how she was formed and what role she plays in the overall individual we know - a discussion which suggests that this "original" Shiki holds far more power than either of her other outward-facing incarnations, and also one which more than dips its toe into far deeper territory as it discusses the origin of personality, how it relates to the physical body of a person and so on.

Indeed, this entire epilogue is really rather focused as a discussion on what it is to be a living, breathing human, whether it's Kokuto's happiness to reject whatever "miracles" this Shiki offers him in deference to just being himself and living life as it comes to him good or bad, or this Shiki's inability to either enjoy or appreciate what could be called a normal life due to her being buried under her other personalities.  In short, it's very deep and introspective stuff, so if you were hoping for more blood, guts and visceral action then prepare to be disappointed.

Being the sort to enjoy just philosophical and deep outings however, I found myself rather drawn into this simple yet involved half hour of pure dialogue (paired with some gorgeous snow-bound visuals, incidentally) - beyond the questions it asks of the Kara no Kyoukai story as a whole, it has some far broader queries to ponder about the nature of life itself which is worthy of discussion at levels far higher than this humble episodic 'blog.  While you could dismiss it as an effort at pretension on this franchise's part, I'd like to think that there's far more to it than that, and it certainly got my brain ticking over during the course of its running time, making for a fitting end to a series that was arguably always looking to assert itself as more than the sum of its often impressive parts if you want to de-construct it more seriously than as a work of entertainment alone.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - Episode 17

Now that Touma has finished messing about in boats, it's time for a bit of a breather in terms of any To Aru Majutsu no Index II major aver-arching storylines this week with an instalment that seems more designed to shift characters around to where they need to be above anything else.

At the centre of this are Accelerator and Last Order, both discharged from hospital and finding themselves moved to a new home; a sanctuary with a member of Antiskill, which seems like a pretty safe place to be.  Elsewhere, the rest of the MISAKA network are also getting a fresh start as their rehabilitation begins, although to what end we're not yet sure.

While these pieces of the proverbial chess board are moved into place, the rest of this episode can content itself with what is effectively a bit of slice of life comedy, with Misaka clearly looking forward to thinking up things to do for Touma's post Daihaseisai penalty game, much to Kuroko's irritation.  This takes up to what is inevitably a very Mikoto-esque date involving mobile phone contracts and, of course, a frog-themed phone strap.

Given its very nature, there isn't a huge amount to say about this episode really - ignoring the use of yet another "oops, I walked in on some girls in the shower" moment (how many times has it been in this series?), there were actually some decent moments of humour, particularly surrounding the Kuroko-Misaka-Touma love triangle, and overall it was an entertaining enough way to spend twenty-five minutes on a Saturday morning.  If nothing else, the integration of the various individuals seen in this episode bodes well for a stronger forthcoming story arc than those we've seen of late.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Fractale - Episode 4

If episode three of Fractale were to have a headline to promote it, it would probably be "from moe to massacre in thirty seconds", and it's with that lighting fast change in tone that we enter Fractale's latest instalment.

With Lost Millennium's attempt to disrupt the Star Festival not really going to plan despite that aforementioned bloodbath, and with the indoctrination of those living under the Fractale system continuing, our heroes (or are they villains) of the piece decide it's time for a change of tact, and instead focus their efforts on kidnapping Phryne after her arrival to guide the festival.  This they duly achieve, escaping in their airship with Phryne, and of course with Clain and Nessa also in tow.  The fallout from this incident gives Clain a little time to pause and reflect upon seeing death for the first time in his life; something which is effectively impossible to encounter within the Fractale system, thus bringing up another moral and/or philosophical point for the viewer to consider.

That aside, it's pretty clear (and not entirely without merit) that Clain continues Lost Millennium to be little more than murderers and terrorist, leaving him to decide to free Phryne and escape - a plan which earns him a surprising rebuke from Phryne herself of all people.  There's also rather an awkward stand-off between herself and Nessa which is never fully explained during the episode beyond that fact that they are complete opposites in one respect - Nessa "loves love" while Phyrne professes to hating love.

Following their attack on the Star Festival, Lost Millennium's Granitz family are labelled criminals, taking us quickly to a face-off between Lost Millennium and those in power within Fractale - a rather tumultuous state of affairs which sees Clain in particular tossed this way and that as he follows Phryne down a path that leads both of them pretty much exactly where they started the episode, as guests of Lost Millennium and the Granitz family.

As entertainment value goes, this week's Fractale certainly aimed to pack a fair amount into its running time - life, death, love, action and a developing story with more turns than a particularly arduous lock.  As per last week's episode, it also made sure to put some philosophical questions well and truly in the viewer's court - is witnessing death an important part of being human, even when its unavoidable?  Are the two sides shown within this series so deeply involved in their hatred of one another that they can't allow themselves to accept even the slightest hint of the other's culture or way of life?  Is that itself a commentary on Japanese society?

Away from such questions, there's also a lot of internal queries about Fractale's story, in particular the relationship between Nessa and Phryne - how this explains may well be pivotal to how this series develops and is viewed, so in a sense everything that we've seen this episode feels like it will rely heavily on the next instalment to give us the full picture before we can judge it properly.  Given what I've seen thus far though, I'm happy to give it more time to explain and unravel itself, as I continue to find myself fascinated by what this series seems to be trying to tell or ask us even if I'm not sure where its literal content is heading.

Gosick - Episode 5

After leaving us with a couple of mysteries still to deal with at the end of its previous episode, this fifth instalment of Gosick certainly wastes no time in getting to the bottom of them; a process which admittedly only throws up further questions still.

Of course, it's up to Victorique to do all of the problem solving around these parts, and this she does by pulling out the book which was hidden by Avril in the library previously, perusing its contents and finding a postcard addressed to Avril but never posted in the process.  With Victorique holding onto this postcard and leaving Kujo to ponder over the contents of the book itself, the latter soon finds himself whacked over the head and knocked out, coming to to find himself being looked after by Avril but with the book gone.

In the midst of all this, rumours of a successor to a much-feted thief abound, as do tales of a ghost in the academy's store house - a story which seems to hold some truth in Kujo's eyes as both himself and his teach hear some ghostly pleas for help coming from said location.  Again, it's up to Victorique to reveal the truth, including the true occupant of the store house and thus the truth about Avril and what this suspicious transfer student is actually looking for.  Cue a tense stand-off involving Kujo and his assailant, and a threat dispersed when Victorique uses a pile of books... it's super effective!

Anyhow, part of me does seem to be warming to Gosick a little now - on the down-side, it still isn't the show I really wanted it to be and it continues to be wasteful with its mystery elements which gives it little opportunity for suspense or to allow the viewer to guess what's happening (it's either blatantly obvious immediately or impossible to fathom based upon the information given).  But, on the other hand it is quite a fun viewing experience and it makes pretty good use of its characters most of the time, with Victorique in particular easing every episode along effortlessly, although even she runs the risk of becoming tiresome on occasion.  This series certainly isn't going to be any kind of classic, but as popcorn entertainment goes its doing okay for the time being.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica - Episode 5

While the climax to episode four of Puella Magi Madoka Magica introduced us to Sayaka in her new magical girl orientation, episode five begins with a quick flash back to the moment she makes her contract with Kyubey as a bit of a reminder and to fill in the gaps of what went before.

Despite both Madoka and Hitomi being saved by Sayaka's actions, we see some very different "morning after" responses from this trio of characters - Hitomi is understandably little more than confused by what happened to her (not being in on the whole magical girl secret) and Sayaka is as cheerful and out-going as ever, while Madoka is still wrapped in chains of worry about her friend and what she's gotten herself into.

For Sayaka herself however, everything seems to be going just as planned, with her wish granting Kyousuke the use of his hands and the ability to play the violin once again; interestingly however, Kyubey's take on his contract with Sayaka seems a little different, as he comments to new rival magical girl on the scene Kyouko Sakura that Sayaka "did and didn't" make a contract with him - this could simply be on account of that fact that Kyousuke's legs are yet to heal, but it could mean something else entirely.  Still, while Sayaka is happy with her current lot Madoka continues to fret, imploring Homura to help look out for Sayaka only to be rejected, then offering to do the job of watching over Sayaka herself - an offer which of course has Kyubey giving his usual "you can make a contract any time" sales talk to Madoka.  Indeed, this even looks set to take place as Sayaka comes face to face with Sakura; a clash of personality and ethos that looks likely to have lethal consequences until someone steps into the midst of their battle...

So, another week has left me once again coming to the end of an episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and shouting "what? That's it?  You can't leave it there, I don't want to wait another week for more!" - such is the effect this series has had on me.  Even though its per episode formula is clear to see, it does everything right where a series like Star Driver gets it wrong - its emotion, drama and character interactions are all hugely important and filled with interesting snippets of information that leave you trying to second guess what will come next, while the action scenes offer up genuine edge of the seat tension and a feeling of real peril, no doubt partly due to Mami's demise a couple of weeks back.  The fact that the backdrops and gorgeous and fitting, the dialogue and character designs work well and the action is surprisingly well animated at times, and it seems as though Madoka Magica is refusing to put a foot wrong.  This series is awesome, and it quite clearly knows it as it teases and manipulates us with a grinning, motionless face.