Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 9

The karuta club now has all of its requisite members and is ready to officially swing into action... with one slight alteration, that being that the club advisor refuses to allow Chihaya herself to act as club president.  But hey, she can always be captain instead, right?

So, as club activities begin, it's time to start practising in earnest, with Chihaya taking the lead with the seemingly ill-advised idea of pitting herself amongst the newcomers - an intimidating introduction for them, but one which Chihaya is convinced will give them the same passion for karuta which she derived from her introduction to the game at the hands of Arata.

With her ambitious thoughts already turning to national tournaments but with little time to practice, it's clear that some kind of training camp is required - cue a hastily arranged weekend meeting at Taichi's rather impressive home while her mother is away at a wedding.  Chihaya's over-bearing attitude shows no signs of letting up here as she tries to force her charges through a beyond gruelling fifteen match playing session which threatens to break the newcomers - perhaps luckily, this idea is broken by the early return of Taichi's mum, giving time for Chihaya and the others to reflect upon things before attention is turned to a different matter - Chihaya's birthday.

Although that birthday celebration came more than a little out of the blue (I know, I know, it was a surprise), this episode again succeeded in demonstrating what Chihayafuru is so good at - while the framework of the episode is pretty run of the mill stuff within the "school club" anime fold, it's the small details that brings the instalment out of the ordinary and into a realm of its own.  Most notably, its the telling glances and moments between Chihaya and Taichi that really come to the fore, speaking volumes with barely a word said and granted even more depth once Arata's shadow over them is involved.  It's perhaps this love triangle angle that will weigh ever-more heavily over the series at it progresses, but to this point it's been depicted so well that I have no problem with it heading down that path, and at the moment it seems as though it's going to be an interesting journey no matter where it takes us.

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 8

With burglaries rife around the area - Squid Girl isn't perhaps the first person you'd turn to when it comes to looking after your home while you're out, but Eiko and Chizuru are left with little choice but to leave our titular character for their own devices for a day as they head out to work.

Needless to say, when a burglar does turn up he finds himself mightily confused by Squid Girl's behaviour - is she friend or foe for starters?  Eventually he seems to have succeeded in pulling the wool over Squid Girl's eyes, but little does he know that she isn't the only security installation in the house...

From here, Squid Girl's squid devouring ways come under the spotlight as a certain incident involving our "friendly" local MIT scientists causes her to give up on her favourite dish - a vow which is easier said than done as you might expect the longer her shrimp-free diet continues.  Finally, a hot day and too much hard work sees Squid Girl come down with heat stroke, resulting in a trip to the first aid room of the nearby life guard station.  The trouble is, Sanae is also recovering there as she too is afflicted by the heat, which poses an obvious question for Squid Girl - is she going to get assaulted before she regains the energy to escape or defend herself?

After an amusing first segment of this week's episode which worked its misunderstandings and daft premise well, things didn't work out quite so nicely for the remainder of the instalment - Squid Girl's attempts to avoid eating shrimp trod down an overly well-worn path that made it all too predictable, while the final segment was reasonably well worked but neither particularly funny nor entertaining.  There have been plenty of better episodes of Squid Girl that's for sure, which shouldn't detract from the overall sense of entertainment which has pervaded the show throughout.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 8

Having seen off Reisuke Houjou (and somehow managed to cover up his death as a mere disappearance after fending off some home intruders), we fast forward a couple of weeks for this latest instalment of Mirai Nikki as one of the diary holders hands his ability over to a third party while Yukkii and Yuno get set to start life at a new school.

Having been at least partly responsible for blowing their previous school (and most of its occupants) into tiny pieces, Yukiteru frets about how he'll fit in while Yuno's concern is more about them revealing their diaries to anybody.  It certainly seems that Yukkii's worries are unfounded, as within minutes of entering his class the worry of having to sit behind a boy who bullied him at his previous school and was instrumental in screwing him over in the whole Uryuu affair is offset by his meeting a couple of decidedly friendly girls in the form of Hinata and Mao.

With rumours of a serial killer (yes, another one) responsible for gruesome murders at large, Hinata does what any middle school girl would do, and suggest that this new group of friends check out the otherwise off-limits crimes scenes.  Needless to say, Yuno isn't too impressed with this new female attention Yukiteru is getting, and things only get worse once Hinata runs into a pack of rabid dogs which then proceed to chase the remaining characters alongside Aru Akise, an enigmatic but laregly errant classmate who yearns to be a top detective.  Once they find themselves cornered, it seems that only Yukiteru's future diary can save the day - but has he simply succeeded in exposing himself to even more danger by revealing its abilities around the others?

Despite throwing everything that it possibly could at its twisted, madcap happenings last week, it doesn't take long for Mirai Nikki to find more insanity to leverage in the name of entertainment - Yuno's terrifying lack of patience and decorum never ceases to amuse as she openly suggests using Yukkii's friends as a decoy so that they can be eaten by dogs while she escapes with her loved one, while we have plenty of other suspicious characters to focus upon thanks to their introduction this time around.  It's the twists, turns and "who owns a future diary?" moments which really make this week's episode fun to watch - it's as unhinged as ever, but that's certainly no bad thing.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 9

Having returned from his hospitalisation and with TRAP all set to pick up where it left off without the long hiatus previously expected, it seems that all is well in the world of Ashirogi Muto once again.

Indeed, with a colour spread to greet their return, fan letters aplenty and a relatively high survey ranking to go alongside it, it's as if they'd never been away.  However, such positivity soon runs into some potential roadblocks, with the news of a pair of rival mystery manga series starting thanks to TRAP's popularity while trying to take advantage of its hiatus, ramping up the pressure on our returning protagonists to deliver.

This proves to be easier said than done, as their ratings begin to slide alarmingly into a seemingly bottomless pit - they aren't the only ones suffering either, as Hideout Door and its authors also have to face up to the very real possibility of cancellation.  With a meeting to decide their fate coming up, Mashiro and Takagi struggle with what to do to turn around their fortunes - do they listen to the demands of fans, go down the battle manga route or stick to their principles?  At the end of the day, nothing they do can reverse their poor fortunes, marking the end of TRAP's time at Shounen Jack.  Is this also the end of Ashirogi Muto however?

Given the expectation of normal service resuming this week after the hospital and hiatus drama of recent weeks, Bakuman certainly had no intention of giving us a break here, instead going right for the throat by effectively pushing Mashiro and Takagi's manga down a flight of stairs while giggling with glee.  The surprising pace at which this was delivered certainly didn't mess around, not even leaving the ultimate cancellation decision as a cliff-hanger and effectively taking us back to square one in terms of the duo's dreams.  You could almost argue that this was all dealt with too quickly within a single episode, but then again the pace of this episode was perfect for delivering the shock of the bottom falling out of Ashirogi Muto's manga, as we joined their feelings of helplessness as their dreams crumbled before them, which was ultimately what made this the compelling episode that it was.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 7

After their successful "purge" of supposedly disloyal elements last episode, Ades' forces focus their attentions to the north of the Grand Lake, even if their ruler Augusta seems to be having doubts of her own as to the heavy-handed nature of the nation which she leads.

Meanwhile, Fam has the completion of her contract with Sylvius' crew in her sight, and despite only having one craft left to steal to put an end to her current task she's still determined to go out with a bang thanks to the opportunity to half-inch a whole fleet of craft - a needlessly reckless task through the eyes of Gise, but one that neither Fam herself nor Millia can take their eyes from.

As their mission begins, it seems that Fam isn't the only one in pursuit of these craft, as their Sky Pirate friends and family make an appearance with the same goal in mind.  What seems to be some friendly rivalry soon turns into something rather more serious however, as it quickly becomes clear that all concerned have been thrown into the midst of a trap laid by Ades' forces, leaving them with little chance of escape from the bombardment that follows.  With even Gise unable to focus in the panic which ensues, it's up to Fam to do some "blue sky thinking" to save them from this peril., although it isn't quite game over yet as Fam and Gise set their course to return to the confines of the Sylvius...

Having lacked any big action set-pieces to speak of in recent weeks, this week's Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing makes up for this with a far more focused and action-oriented instalment.  Admittedly, it doesn't do quite as good a job of generating tension and excitement as it might have set out to, but at least it's plot and the progression of that story felt far more grounded (with every pun intended) and considered than the scattershot approach the series has exhibited of late.  This still isn't enough to take us back to the heady, earlier episodes of the series, but if nothing else we're finally getting a glimpse of a show which has its head screwed on once again.

Working'!! - Episode 9

She might be good at her job, but it seems like Yachiyo's skills don't stretch to technology as it's revealed that she doesn't even own her own mobile phone - in fact, she's kind of scared of the things.

Of course, this is no good in the modern world of communications and interconnectivity, so it's generally agreed by the rest of the staff that it's time for their chief to join the modern world - thus, Sato is tasked with taking her to the nearby phone store (which seems to have some oddballs of its own) to pick up a device for her.

This week's episode also sees a return for Yohei and Mitsuki, with the former finding himself terrorised, propositioned and stalked by Takanashi's man-eating sister Kozue while the latter worries about the purity of her innocent little Yachiyo to the point of spying on the restaurant's break room to look for anyone who might be a danger to her.  Besides of this, we of course also have a dose of Yamada being... well, Yamada basically as she succeeds admirably in getting on Takanashi's wick.

All of this adds up to another fun episode of Working - Sato gets most of the best lines this week with his deadpan attitude and delivery leading the way, but there's a lot of entertainment value to be had from the cast in general.  It's nothing ground-breaking, as everyone simply goes about doing what they normally do, but the fact that it's almost unceasingly amusing and great to watch is that has stood this series in good stead so far across its two seasons.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 8

Having saved Kanji Tatsumi from himself (or at least his Shadow) in last week's hilarious episode, there's an opportunity for a bit of downtime for the gang as the school camping trip pops up on their agenda.

While there is a little time to ponder the culprit behind the murders at the centre of the series, and also an opportunity to make a new friend in the form of the initially hostile but eventually more personable Naoki Konishi (brother of the murdered Konishi, of course), the general aura of the episode is one of light-hearted fun and... well, filler really.

Thus, we get to see Chie and Yukiko's atrocious attempt at making curry, some rather troublesome arrangements when it comes to sharing tents for both the boys and girls, further proof that Hanamura is far too much of a lecherous fellow for his own good, and why taking a dip in the nearby river isn't always such a great idea.

Although nothing will match last week's episode in terms of laugh out loud entertainment value for me, this was still a pretty fun instalment that gauged its humour just about right, making the most of its characters as they bounce off one another while also continuing to really get to grips with using Narukami's deadpan delivery and attitude in the name of comedy.  After a potentially ropey start, Persona 4: The Animation seems to have grown quite admirably into the arguably daunting boots that it had to fill, and hopefully it'll only continue in the right direction as we move ever-closer towards its half-way point.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 20

Last week's Mawaru Penguindrum did its darndest to turn things on their head, outing Himari as an adopted daughter of the Takakura family rather than a biological part of that unit while positioning Shouma as her saviour and "soul mate".  A cat has well and truly been set amongst the pigeons, to put it mildly.

It's this revelation which reverberates heavily through this episode - most directly in Shouma's inability to keep up the happy family façade any longer (something which Kanba also struggles with) while also heaping pressure upon himself as the sole person capable of being punished for his family's sins.

Much of the rest of the instalment is delivered via flashback, as we see through Shouma's eyes his initial meeting with Himari and the friendship which develops as they spend time together before Himari is snatched away to face her end at the hands of the heavy-handed metaphor that is the Child Broiler.  Of course, as we now know Sho rescues her from this fate, yet it's Kanba who continues to fight for her physical well-being in the present day against the backdrop of an organisation which claims to fight for the have-nots of the unjust world they purport to live in.

There's certainly a lot to pick up on and mull over from this week's episode, which makes the most of the surprise of last week's episode to fill in some more of the many, many blanks on show within the structure of the series.  Yet again however, this leads to more questions, whether it's about the righteousness of the Kiga group (whose cultish obsession belies a devotion to tackling the inherent unfairness not just of society, but of the world), thoughts about love which effectively encompass the age-old "better to have loved and lost" argument within its own framework, plus Kanba's exact place in the Takakura family and by extension exactly how Natsume fits into the picture given the way she and Kanba refer to one another and those around them here.  It seems as if there shouldn't be time to ask more questions at this juncture but it feels like Mawaru Penguindrum is determined to keep as much as it can up in the air until the very end, which will promise an end to the series that is either a disaster or a spectacular success.  As for the subject of the show's title.... Penguindrum?  What Penguindrum?  Perhaps it's as false as the ability to change the world that Revolutionary Girl Utena promised...

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 8

As per last week's episode, summer is still in full sway for Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai's eighth episode - worse still, the air conditioning has packed in for the Hasegawa household, leaving them (and Kobata in particular) at the mercy of the weather for the next few days until a replacement unit arrives.

Luckily for Kobato, she finally spies an opportunity  to change out of that stifling gothic lolita dress into something a little more suitable for the current climate - that said, the opportunity to head on over to the school's air conditioned club room still seems like a mightily tempting one.  Once there, little has changed as Yozora makes a habit of teasing her fellow club members while Sena gets a shock from her latest visual novel and Maria gets herself into trouble as a result of that aforementioned teasing.

With nothing much better to do, the group decide that a visit to the pool is in order - an ill-timed trip it turns out, with the buses to the pool packed to the rafters while the swimming baths themselves aren't much better.  This has a particularly big impact upon Yozora and Rika, who seem the least well-adjusted to large crowds, to the point of them both leaving early to the consternation and disappointment of the others.

As episodes of this series go, this week's instalment was okay - nothing more, nothing less.  It had a sprinkling of amusing moments but largely seemed geared up to titillation and fan service over large amounts of comedy before rushing through any real emotional payload at its climax for no particular reason.  As I mentioned last week, the shine of those razor-sharp early episodes has faded now, and we're left with the more mediocre fare which we perhaps predicted that the series would end up serving up.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Guilty Crown - Episode 7

Given all of his recent adventures, you might imagine that Shu would be happy to return to school and relative normality - except, of course, that given the nature of his arrest by GHQ not so long ago he's very much at the centre of the rumour mill upon his arrival back at his normal class.

However, it seems that Shu isn't alone - putting Inori aside for a moment, he finds himself being defended by student council president Arisa Kuhouin, who succeeds in turning the rumours swirling around in Ouma's favour to make him the talk of the school in a far more positive manner.  Not that this is the end of Shu's troubles mind you, as the return of his mother Haruka to the apartment leaves him with some awkward explaining to do regarding Inori's presence, although his mum doesn't exactly seem to mind so much.

Of course, these additional characters haven't been added to the series just for the sake of it - with Funeral Parlour running low on funds and looking for a partner to bolster their financial position, it seems that the Kuhouin Group, to which Arisa is heir, is the perfect fit.  However, the group's resistance towards GHQ's way of doing things has marked them out as a potential "enemy" by the powers that be, leading us to a scenario where a party aboard a boat held by the Kuhouin Group brings together Shu and Gai as interlopers while GHQ's plans put Haruka, Arisa and the rest of the ship in danger.  Of course, this can mean only one thing - it's time for Shu to get involved in some red hot Void action to save the day!

Held up against the rest of this series so far, this is just another day at the office for Guilty Crown - it still looks pretty, but its plots still feel largely forced, a little contrived and very much unlike your typical noitaminA fare as it serves us up its fan service and slightly bombastic story ideas.  That isn't to say that this week's episode is dull or otherwise poor - it's as fun as ever in many respects, which is worthy of some praise, and its nicely paced to boot - but there's really nothing to get your teeth into on a deeper level, leaving us with a slightly vacuous experience overall.

Un-Go - Episode 7

After last week's superb episode of Un-Go, this week's instalment follows directly on from that in a sense, as Shinjurou continues his discussion with the prisoner and so-called novelist who seems intent upon using our "defeated detective" as a major part of his attempts to create a novel from reality.

If this isn't odd enough, even more notable is this prisoner's sidekick - a configuration that almost seems to match that of Shinjurou and Inga, with a suspicion that grows even stronger as Shinjurou finds himself feeling dizzy and ultimately falling unconscious in the prison's visiting room.

When he awakes, our protagonist is faced with a very different "reality", as he finds himself working on the set of a movie set in the midst of a war and starring three young girls.  Just what is the film about, and what is the director up to?  While the first question seems to be answered with the response "it's a film about girls running around in their pants", the actresses themselves have far more varied, considered and wide-reaching opinions on the work in which they are involved, while Shinjurou seems unavoidably dragged towards the sense of mystery that he feels in everything around him - but this time, it seems as though the prime suspect for his eventual suspicions is none other than himself.

There's really only one word for this episode of Un-Go, and that word is "weird".  This, however, is no bad thing, as everything about the instalment does a wonderful job of unnerving and confusing the viewer.  To start with it seems that we're quite clearly in a kind of dream sequences, but then even the contents of that dream become so unsettling and off-kilter that even this is thrown into doubt before the tail end of the episode seems to suggest some kind of link between what we've seen and reality.  This all combines to create an uncomfortable viewing experience that is nonetheless fascinating - it's a brave, cleverly positioned and avant-garde piece of work that I can't help but admire, even if its full implications aren't going to be revealed until the next episode.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 8

With just one more member to go before their karuta club becomes official, can Chihaya and her new friends work their magic and find someone else to join their fledgling club?

Although the more traditional recruitment drive of handing out flyers falls on deaf ears, a slice of serendipity comes the way of Chihaya as she runs into a familiar face from some years previously - namely a boy named Nishida (or "Porky", as Chihaya prefers to call the rotund fellow) who gave Chihaya and Taichi some trouble in a karuta tournament back in grade school before Nishida was put to the sword by Arata - a humbling defeat which still seems to haunt him, to the point of jacking in karuta to play tennis.

Given this past (and Chihaya's insistence on calling him Porky), it's hardly surprising that Nishida wants nothing to do with the karuta club - however, it seems that the game still hasn't entirely left him, as Chihaya's perseverance leads to her discovery that he still uses karuta to some degree as the basis for his tennis.  Having found this out, Chihaya at least has enough information to hand to coax him into playing her at karuta - an experience which proves that he's still got what it takes while also rekindling his enjoyment of the game.  Thus, the club has their requisite five members and we can move on to the next stage of the series.

After the life-affirming train of thought around which last week's episode centred, and compared to the charming nature of the instalment before that, Nishida's recruitment didn't really bring us anything to make it stand out from the pack in those terms - bringing him on board always felt like an inevitability, while the link between karuta and his tennis playing felt... well, kind of stupid.  Thankfully however, the episode wasn't a complete write-off courtesy of a combination of Chihaya's continuing excitable vigour (which is not only charming and lovable, but kind of reminds me of someone) and perhaps the most compelling slice of karuta action so far.  Maybe it's just that we know a little more about the game now, but it certainly seemed a little more tense and fascinating than previous bouts, which could well bode well for the future.  In closing then, this is perhaps the weakest episode of Chihayafuru we've had served up yet, but it still had enough entertainment value to see it through.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 7

When the South Wind restaurant's owner invites Eiko, Chizuru and Squid Girl over to his house, it seems like a nice enough gesture... provided you ignore the giant Squid Girl heads in the front garden, that is.

However, it's rather hard to fathom exactly what the owner's motivation for this invitation is - his sharp, abrupt attitude towards his guests make them feel more like they're being kidnapped, yet some of his actions seem to be belying the harshness of his words as he shows his guests the comforts of the Squid Girl toilet (should we place bets on how long until this becomes official merchandise?) and feeds them heartily.  All is well as it turns out that all he really wants to do is help the girls for their help in bringing Ayumi out of her shell - a nice enough sentiment for sure.

This week's second helping of comedy comes as Squid Girl takes a tumble, and in true cartoon fashion ends up with amnesia as a result of bashing her head.  With no memory of who or what she is, Cindy and Sanae try to take advantage of the situation by attempting to persuade her that she's an alien and Sanae's girlfriend respectively (I'm assuming that ship has already sailed in doujinshi), although it's the assertion that she's a squid who can't remove her hat that seems to amuse our eponymous central character the most until her memories finally return.

Finally, part three of this instalment sees Squid Girl setting up an after-school "invasion club" with Kiyomi and her friends - despite being entirely unsure as to what after-school clubs actually do.  Still, eventually they figure out a decent way to "invade" the local area, and much fun is had by all concerned before sickness interrupts the group.

All of this makes for another fun, entertaining and occasionally amusing episode, driven largely by Eiko's reactions and snappy one-liners on this occasion to provide most of the best laughs, although Sanae's continued place as this show's proverbial punching bag continues to have its moments.  Of course, then there are all the fish and sea-based puns provided by Crunchyroll's subtitles, which never fail to amuse somehow and leave me continuing to love this series.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 7

So, the adorable Reisuke Houjou has been allowed into the Amano household - and by adorable I mean murderous lunatic of course, with Rei having proved himself to be the fifth diary holder in Mirai Nikki's fetid little game.

Although Reisuke's diary is a childishly simple one - a picture book which only shows future events for three times of the day - this does little to deter the mind of almost fiendish brilliance within as he concocts ever more despicable ways to do away with Yukkii and Yuno.  Of course, Yuno is no sucker when it comes to these things, preventing an opportunity for both herslef and Yukkii from being poisoned, while Yukkii's quick thinking stops Rei from electrocuting Yuno in the bath - our young guest is quite the electromaniac (and no, that doesn't mean he has a penchant for listening to Kraftwerk).

Eventually, it seems as if Reisuke has gained the upper hand with a particularly cunning trick on his part which fills the Amano home with poison gas - with Yukkii seemingly out of action, it's up to Yuno to try and catch her current "prey" in the hope of taking the antidote he holds for the aforementioned poison gas before it does for Yukkii.  Even Yuno is no match for some of Rei's crueler plots however, but of course it's too early to write off our diary-sporting team as a blend of plot twists and an outright deus ex machina (no, not the character) save the day.

There's so much wrong with this episode of Mirai Nikki in terms of its ludicrous story, horrific characters and unthinkable violence - but who cares when it's so incredibly, shockingly entertaining?  It's hard not to be dragged along on the roller-coaster ride that is an episode like this, with all of its twists and turns complete with a vast number of "oh shit" and "they didn't really just go there, did they?" moments.  It would take a cruel and malicious person to derive so much enjoyment from this show... but oh well, I guess you'll just have to mark me down as one of them.  This is a series which is almost transcending that of the "guilty pleasure", entering the realms of "downright shameful" pleasure, but I can't help but love it.  Oh, and how awesome is the chiptunes-infused background music in this week's instalment?  Hurry along with the series OST please.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 6

Having stolen the first ship under the conditions laid out by her current "employers" last week, we fast forward somewhat at the beginning of Fam, the Silver Wing's sixth episode to find ourselves at around the half-way point in Fam's challenge.

As political machinations surrounding Augusta continue, and Millia starts up a little propaganda as she tries to resurrect Turan from the dead, Fam takes on her latest ship-stealing obstacle - or ship-winning, in this particular case.  Her target this time is the Naheed, a battleship owned by a Federation aristocrat, Baroness Roshanaku Dabar.

Fam puts her cards on the table here by entering an underground Vanship race, upon which she makes a bet with the Baroness - win, and she takes the Naheed, lose and a disguised, cross-dressing Millia belongs to the Baroness (who seems to have a thing for young boys).  What Fam hasn't entered into the equation however is that she's put up against an ace Vanship pilot who not only entered the Grand Race but is undefeated in quite some time.  Of course, Fam refuses to shirk even this challenge, giving it her all to the very last and winning the day (naturally) - while all of this is going on however, some of the owners of other ships stolen by Fam have rather less luck as they come to the attention of Ades' more malicious and violent sorts.

After jumping about rather messily in an attempt to bring us back up to speed and cover the political movements early in this episode, it takes almost half the episode before things settle down and a coherent plot emerges, bringing us both Vanship racing and bloodshed to continue the comparisons of Fam's seemingly care-free, adrenaline-fuelled life with some altogether more sinister elements that are reacting directly to her own efforts.  The racing was no Redline, that's for sure, but it did at least bring a scintillating finale to an episode perhaps most notable for Gise's apparently increasing unhappiness with her team-mate and pilot, which could be about to make things far more interesting.  After such a grandiose and impressive start to this series, it certainly needs to settle down into something more formidable rather than scrabbling around trying to find the centre of its story-telling gravity as it currently is.

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 8

Following the Chief Editor's decision to suspend TRAP until Mashiro and Takagi graduate, their fellow manga artists and friends suggestion of a boycott quickly escalates into a full-on stand-off between the authors and the editorial department.

With this group of high-profile manga creators refusing to budge, their editors go back to the office in the hope of persuading their boss to change his mind - an attempt which falls upon deaf ears with the chief's staunch refusal to change his mind.  As Mashiro continues to work hard right the way through to his surgery, and again after its successful completion, so the boycott carried out by their comrades comes to pass, leading to a tough time for Jack in its wake.

Of course, once the magazine bereft of so many high-profile series comes into Takagi and Mashiro's possession, the cat is soon released from the bag, leading to the pair pleading with their fellow artists to resume work, if only on the assumption that TRAP's hiatus will be shortened until Mashiro is discharged from hospital.  But given his stubbornness, is the Chief Editor even likely to make this decision ultimately?

While the mix of office politics and good old-fashioned withdrawal of labour in protest was a pretty interesting angle for Bakuman to take, this was undermined somewhat for me by the lack of any real explanation as to the Chief Editor's actions.  Sure, we know that his decision was based in no small part around the fate of Mashiro's uncle, but his decision to risk the entire magazine's reputation against this ultimately personal choice felt a little odd, and this was only thrown into even starker contrast by the way he suddenly reverses his decision at the end of the episode with even less of an explanation.  Couple that with some more clumsy romance between Mashiro and Azuki (they're in love but don't want to kiss?  Err, okay...) and there was something a little "off" about this week's instalment, entertaining enough though it was.  Still, things have been suitably shaken up before Mashiro's discharge from hospital, which will hopefully lead us back to the blend of items which tends to represent Bakuman at its best.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Working'!! - Episode 8

It seems as it Takanashi has been having a rough time in Working of late, and things certainly don't get much better for him this week as he makes a shocking discovery - that his little sister Nazuna is now as tall as he is!

With his last familial source of small cuteness gone, Takanashi turns to Poplar for help, imploring that she become his little sister if only for one day - something she reluctantly agrees to, despite the consternation and outright worry of the others, not leads Inami.  Given her crush on Takanashi, Inami finds herself wishing that he'd call her cute as well... but perhaps Soma has an answer to that particular problem?  After a few false starts, he hits upon a sure-fire way of hearing those words from his mouth, much to Inami's constant delight.

For the second half of the episode, Kirio Yamada swings by Wagnaria on the hunt for his sister - after ascertaining that none of the usual staff are in fact her, Soma leads him up the garden path first by giving him a picture of Takanashi dressed as a woman (if you haven't watched the first season of Working, this joke will only confuse you) before ensuring that Yamada is never around when her brother is looking for him, even going to the lengths of taking her out shopping and buying her things to keep him from his clutches.  Is this Sato being a nice fellow who likes having Yamada around, or is he simply doing it because he gets a kick out of it?

After a bit of a lull over the past couple of episodes, this felt like a sharper, funnier episode of Working that has a fair number of great one-liners and gags to deploy evenly across its running time, while also making full use of Inami and Yamada's respective "cute factor" to keep fans happy into the bargain.  Heck, this week's episode even has a contiguous plot thread to keep us going as well - not a first admittedly, but perhaps welcome in terms of keeping the series ticking along on its undoubtedly merry way.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 7

Considering his demeanour and reputation as a delinquent, Kanji Tatsumi's appearance on the Midnight Channel was an... interesting announcement of his disappearance.  Still, regardless of any impressions left by the turn of his alter-ego, it's time to head back into the mysterious, foggy world inside the television once again.

First things first however, our quartet of heroes and heroines (now bolstered by Yukiko of course) need a lead as to where to find Tatsumi within this world, meaning a quick trip back to reality to find something suitable so that Teddie can pick up Kanji's scent.  That duly carried out (and giving us another hint as to Kanji's true nature in the process), our target is tracked down to a bath house which seems to have become the home for his Shadow.

Given what they find there in terms of Kanji's alter-ego, it's no surprise that the boys on the team aren't too keen to press on, but eventually they're left with no choice but to do so to face up to their toughest challenge yet, as this Shadow and its minions seem largely impervious to the attacks of their massed Persona while proving capable of providing a few "sneak attacks" of their own.  It's only some intervention from the Velvet Room and Narukami's wild card that finally opens up an opportunity to win the day before Kanji himself defeats his own Shadow and embraces his.... let's call it effeminate... side.

While I've enjoyed Persona 4: The Animation in broad terms thus far, this week's instalment took that enjoyment to a whole other level by being outright and utterly hilarious throughout.  Okay, maybe it's a bit cheap making jokes about Kanji's sexuality but hey, I come from a nation that brought the world Are You Being Served? so I'm more than comfortable laughing uncontrollably at such cheap gags and, more importantly, our team of rescuers reactions to the situation.  If you'd missed it over recent weeks (and it hasn't always been obvious to be fair), Persona 4 has now built a fantastic roster of regular characters who do a wonderful job of bouncing off one another in comedy terms here to make for an episode that really couldn't be any more entertaining if it wanted to.  Sure, this isn't exactly a comedy anime at its core, and there's even a serious undertone to this episode beneath all of its superb one-liners and snippets of dialogue, but it's great to see that the series isn't taking itself too seriously, and I feel like I haven't laughed this hard in weeks.  This might just be my favourite anime episode of the autumn season to date.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 19

Having failed in his bid for revenge, it seems that Tabuki has done a runner, but in the aftermath of that intense scenario we do get confirmation of a couple of things that had felt somewhat obvious from recent episodes - firstly, that Kanba is still in touch with his parents despite his protestations last week, and secondly that Tabuki and Yuri's relationship was only forged under the shared memory of Momoka and nothing more.

With all of that out of the way, this episode quickly moves on to the joyous return home for Himari, as she gets to enjoy a lavish meal with her brothers and Ringo to celebrate the occasion.  All is not quite well in Himari's world however, as she's come to the inevitable conclusion that her illness is incurable despite its current remission, while her heart seems to be wavering about something else entirely - something that Sanetoshi seemingly can't help with.

Things are about to get a whole lot worse for Himari however, as she finds herself visited by Natsume - after visiting Sanetoshi herself with regard to the importance of the diary of which she owns half, she seems to have redoubled her efforts to win back Kanba's love.  While Himari and Natsume talk at crossed purposes for a while, Natsume's love for Kanba finally comes out into the open - it isn't the only thing either, as Natsume suggests that Himari isn't even officially part of the Takakura family at all.  Is this really truly?  It seems impossible, but with Natsume threatening to force the truth into Himari's eyes so it appears in her own volition, as we pay another visit to the child broiler and find out both Himari's true origin as well as her saviour.

After such an emotive instalment last week it was always going to be tough to keep things moving along at that level, and despite its best efforts at shocking the viewer its revelations all felt too cold and calculated to really generate any organic emotions from myself around them.  Perhaps it's simply that the series had done too good a job of subtly hinting that Himari isn't the sister she initially seemed to be to Shouma and Kanba, while similarly the knowledge of Kanba's link to his parents and the truth of Tabuki's relationship with Yuri all felt too predictable to bring anything more than a mild "yeah, that figures".  After spending so long setting up and teasing so many questions, I can't help but wonder whether Mawaru Penguindrum has spent so much time toying with my emotions and expectations that it's proved to be counter-productive in the long-term by rendering me immune from any real surprises - either way, this week's episode had only a fraction of the impact I'd wager it was designed to.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 7

Regardless of the summer break, the Neighbours Club are still meeting at school on a daily basis - all, that is, aside from Kobato who finds herself unable to make the journey to the club room in the summer heat given her proclivity for wearing all-black.

For the rest of the club however, the summer has changed nothing as they all continue to hang out together while not really talking to one another at all and mostly engrossing themselves in their own disparate interests.  After one day when only Kodaka and Yukimura turn up however, Kodaka quite rightly points out that the members need a better way of communicating their intentions with one another outside of their club activities.

With online forums and social networks ruled out for various reasons, the obvious answer to this particular quandary is the use of mobile phones, although amazingly the thought never even occurred to either Kodaka or Yozora.  Thus, it's with much exctiement that these friendless fellows swap numbers and mail addresses with one another... all, that is, aside from Sena who has somehow managed to make it to this point in her life without a mobile phone at all.  While the others use their new-found avenue of communication in various ways, Sena finally joins the 21st century, meaning that there are even more new ways for Yozora to bully her.

After a decidedly dull start to this episode that proved to be almost entirely uninteresting, this week's instalment of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai did at least redeem itself somewhat with some more amusing moments surrounding the use of mobile phones, with Yozora and Rika in particular providing some laughs before the end of the episode was again ruined somewhat by Yozora's picking on Sena going rather over the top.  Certainly, the sheen of earlier episodes has dissipated with this series over the past couple of weeks, perhaps inevitably so, but provided it can continue to bring at least some humour to the table each week it'll hopefully remain a worthy watch.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Guilty Crown - Episode 6

For all of the talk of Leucocyte as their next big target, last week's episode of Guilty Crown ended with a rather grandiose demonstration of its power - a demonstration which held the very real possibility of putting an end to Gai's campaign altogether.

Of course, the Funeral Parlour leader is made of sterner stuff, and despite a comrade in the process he somehow manages to survive this otherwise lethal attack from a satellite above, meaning that's he remains well and truly alive and kicking to head up the plan to take Leucocyte out for good - a mission which will require the abilities of both Ouma (to extract a Void) and Kenji Kido (whose gravity-defying Void is necessary) to complete their plan.

But will Shu even take part in this mission?  Perhaps predictably, his immediate answer is "no" given the risks involved - a decision changed only by his seeing a less confident and assured side to Gai.  Well, either that or the all-out fist fight between the two of them.  With that settled, it's off to attack the core which controls the Leucocyte satellites, in a plan which seems to be going swimmingly until the appearance of Daryl Yan to put the skates under everything with a spectacular lack of care which puts the whole of Tokyo in danger, in turn allowing Inori, Shu and Gai to all show what they're best at as they attempt to save the innocent lives suddenly thrust into danger.

There's nothing smart or particularly clever about this week's episode of Guilty Crown (again raising those awkward "should this even be a noitaminA series?" questions), but as a set-piece episode in its own right it works pretty well - once again it's gorgeous to look at, it has some slick action, and a few nice scenes and moments to keep things ticking along.  On the downside of things, Shu remains as wishy-washy (and more importantly, as indecisive) as ever to the detriment of the series somewhat to the point where even seeing him get punched in the face twice doesn't help, while Inori's deadpan attitude isn't much better.  It doesn't feel right calling a show from this programming block "mindless but shiny entertainment", but that's exactly what Guilty Crown serves as for me right now.

Un-Go - Episode 6

Given what we've learned in previous episodes of Un-Go about the curtailing of freedom of speech and the like in the world that it posits, it's no huge surprise that the focus of this week's story, a man named Yajima, begins his particular tale incarcerated for his outspoken views which didn't mesh with those of the government.

On the cusp of his release, a fellow inmate present Yajima with a second-hand book stamped with the name of none other than Rinroku Kaishou - a book which also contains an intriguing coded message written on Yajima's own personalised manuscript paper.  Just what does this all mean?  Rather than asking Rinroku (a friend of Yajima's) himself, Shinjurou is called into action to investigate this rather odd state of affairs.

As Shinjuro's investigation commences, not only do we find that Rinroku is still in possession of his own copy of this exact same book, but also the meaning of the coded message in question.  Perhaps most importantly of all however, more and more evidence seems to link this fêted detective to Yajima's wife, with him seemingly paying numerous visits to her in a time-frame which also saw Yajima's wife blinded in an incident about which little is known which followed the disappearance of their children.  Of course, all is not what it initially seems from the evidence, and after clearing up these confusing circumstances our attention turns to the inmate we mentioned who gifted Yajima the volume which started it all, in a scene which looks set to reverberate heavily through the remainder of the series.

Put simply, this was an absolutely excellent episode of Un-Go - it built its mystery and story carefully and quickly, allowed us to flow along with its revelations and jump to the same conclusions as its major players before pulling the rug out from under us and presenting us with what appears to be a far more generous and palatable truth.  But is it the real truth?  Given what this series has taught us so far, and even some comments this episode, you can't help but feel there is still more to the situation presented than we're left with - a thought we have little time to ponder as Shinjuro quite literally reels from the encounter which closes the episode.  Overall, this instalment effectively didn't put a foot wrong, finding time for some nice humorous touches while still rattling through its story at a perfect pace - of course, pacing is nothing without an interesting tale to tell, and thankfully Un-Go nailed that aspect of its offering this week too for what is almost certainly the best this series has offered us so far.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 7

Chihaya managed to find her third member last week, and she may still be beating Taichi with fearsome regularity, but she's still a couple of members away from her karuta club becoming a fully fledged one in the school's eyes.  Fear not though, for our leading lady has a plan.

That plan is, of course, not the most graceful of things, as she deliberately targets the second smartest boy in the year (behind Taichi), and less attempts to persuade him than to bribe and physically drag him into the karuta club.  However, Komano Tsutomu (or Desktomu as he's less flatteringly known to his classmates) isn't easily persuaded - indeed, all he's interested in its studying and proving himself via that medium, claiming that he has no time for games whatsoever even in the face of Chihaya's beauty.

Having been dragged all the way down to the karuta club room while literally hanging on to his desk for dear life, Tsutomu is at least persuaded to watch a game of karuta having been lectured about its intellectual merits and the possibility of improving his ability in school.  However, his disdain for the way the game makes it easy by allowing its cards to be placed face up leads to a rather unconventional game where all of the cards are turned face-down, making memorisation all the more important and actually giving Taichi a chance of winning for once.  Essentially, this episode is his rather than Tsutomu's, as he casts off his cloak of disinterest in winning or losing and openly admits that he wants to win - sentiments he further explores as he appeals to Tsutomu to take a chance, even when playing something he has little chance of winning.

It's Taichi's final sentiments that really lodged in my heart from this week's Chihayafuru. While "it's not the winning, it's the taking part" is a tired, lazy and hoary old sentiment, Taichi's creed is different - no matter how hard the fight or how small the chance of victory, you have to play; to take a chance and do the things you love, and if you take the chance and do come out victorious the rewards are all the sweeter.  This isn't really about karuta at all, but rather a handy piece of life advice - you might well have little chance of reaching the top of your chosen sport or profession, or winning the love of a girl you so admire, but does that mean you should just give up and not even try?  Of course not, and it's a beautiful, wise sentiment that stands proud as a highlight of an episode that was otherwise both funny and just plain fun to watch.  Thank goodness those involved with Chihayafuru never gave up, because they've created something really special thus far.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 6

Aww, how sweet - after he saved her life last episode, Yuno has decided to visit Yukiteru to personally thank him for the risks he took fending off the Sacred Eye cult and the insanity than ensued.  Wait, what's this?  Yukkii isn't home?  Yuno smashing a window and breaking in?  Ah... old habits die hard, it seems.

The reason for Yuno's spot of breaking and entering is that her diary has helpfully told her that Yukiteru's mother has a few days off work to spend at home, and like any good prospective wife she decides it would be best to welcome them both back with open arms and a hot meal on the table.  Of course, Yukkii doesn't see things quite the same way and tries to hide Yuno away in his closet, to no avail.

Aside from brief peeks at what Uryuu and Deus ex Machina are up at present, our window on the current state of Yuno and Yukiteru's relationship (Yuno has a date in her diary for when they're going to sleep together for the first time, which is handy) is pushed to one side by the appearance of a cute little kid named Reisuke Houjou who is put into the care of Yukiteru's mother after the loss of his parents in the Sacred Eye incident.  Of course, this is Mirai Nikki we're talking about, so there's no such thing as "just a cute kid" - there's something far more sinister to Houjou than first meets the eye, as evidenced by an "accident" with some scissors which seems to be the start of something much more malicious aimed towards Yuno.

We probably needed a bit of a breather after last week's lunacy, so I can't be too begrudging of a slower, more comedy-centric first half of this episode - it does, of course, not hold a candle to the show's crazier moments, so thank goodness we've been been fed another member of this show's diary-owning asylum to pique our interest late in this instalment.  Roll on more blood, guts and violence again next week, no doubt.

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 5

If taking over the Sylvius seemed like Fam biting off more than she could chew (as it patently was), then our titular heroine is now in a really tight spot, with the crew of the Sylvius holding her and her compatriots with a demand to steal no less than fifteen Ades craft before they'll be freed.

Still, despite these harsh demands Fam doesn't exactly seem too phased by her situation, and even though her pleas to contact her comrades back home fall on deaf ears she and Gise continue to prepare for their first assault on Ades' property, while Millia has to come to terms with the face that her country (or former country, perhaps we should call it) is about to be annexed following its crushing defeat.

While Fam and Gise make their first raid on enemy territory, Millia looks for a way to start rebuilding her country, even if it means doing so via the smallest piece of land possible and embarrassing herself in the process - where did she get that maid outfit from, anyhow? While Millia's eventual victory may only seem slight, Fam and Gise's result is far more impressive to behold - one down, fourteen ships still to go, as the Sylvius finds itself pondering the prospect of being pulled directly into war with Ades.

In truth, there wasn't really a huge amount going on for much of this episode, as we had to endure lots of chatter and largely idle banter before the main characters got down to their respective items of business.  When we did reach this part of the episode, everything was pulled off cleanly and with humour rather than action, which worked well enough in its own right, but without coming close to setting your pulse racing as a result.  I can't help but feel this is a bit of a downer after the excitement and relative tension of earlier episodes - with the promise of its ship-stealing plot seemingly in its ability to deliver a little excitement, the reliance on comedy here felt like a let-down, although there's still a long way to go in Fam's current challenge so I can only hope that things pick up markedly in the weeks to come.

Squid Girl Season 2 - Episode 6

After yet another break, and what should be its final hiatus for its run, Squid Girl returns to light up my Monday evening once again via its sixth instalment, serving up another trio of triumphant tales as it did so.

Our first sub-episode this week sees Squid Girl joining Chizuru, Eiko and Takeru as they go from a refreshing morning run.  While Chizuru ends up fulling her exercise regime with a hapless, loved-up Goro, the others take a detour to help Squid Girl take in the city, including the terrors of a giant Buddha... although in truth it's only really the food that makes any lasting impression upon our protagonist.  Next up, Squid Girl finds herself availed of Sanae's close attentions by her own force of diminutive bodyguards - an idea which gives rises to a plan by Sanae which sees her take on the role of Squid Girl's bodyguard for herself.  While this grants her access to every part of her favourite creature's life, can she really trust herself not to abuse her powers?

Finally, the week's instalment is closed off by the return of mini-Squid Girl.  Hurrah!  This time around, we're spared anything too overly emotional (a good job, after her last outing made me cry) in favour of what is effectively a silent movie of sorts as mini-Squid Girl finds herself literally swept away on the breeze of an adventure which takes her from the airs to the "seas" (well, a puddle) through to an attack by cats.  There's only one thing to say about this particular segment, and that's "Awwwww....".  Repeatedly.

It's the mini-Squid Girl segment which will doubtless monopolise everyone's memories and thoughts for this episode, and with good reason, serving as it does as a triumph of using animation and music to tell a story and provoke a reaction rather than the usual dialogue and verbal gags.  Still, the other sections of this week's instalment were pretty good too, making for another fun frolic in the world of Squid Girl as it shows no sign of losing its way.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 7

Despite his rather long-term hospitalisation, Mashiro is determined not to stop drawing manga, even if it means working through the pain barrier - something which even Azuki eventually seems to reluctantly understand and decide to support him with.

However, not everyone is thrilled with Mashiro's dedication, most notably his mother, who of course sees parallels between her son and his uncle given his untimely demise from overwork.  It's these concerns that she puts to Jack's chief editor when he pays Mashiro a visit, giving him suitable food for thought in the process.

It's this train of thought that eventually leads the chief editor to pay a return visit to Mashiro with the following announcement - after a meeting of editorial staff, it's been decided that TRAP will be put on hiatus... not just until Mashiro's recovery, but until his and Takagi's graduation from high school.  This is, needless to say, a massive shock - not just to Ashirogi Muto themselves, but also some of their fellow manga artists who happened to be visiting at the time of the announcement.  In view of this, the decision is made for a show of power amongst the manga artists who are friends with Mashiro to effectively go on strike until the decision is reversed.  But can their respective editors talk them out of this decision, and will they even want to?

Although not quite as good as recent episodes, this instalment rightly took its time in building up to and then delivering its announcement of Ashirogi Muto's enforced hiatus - a decision that sits atop an interesting set of ethical and moral dilemmas underpinned by Mashiro's age and made incredibly complicated by his mother's reluctance for him to carry on drawing manga.  Whether putting their work on hiatus is the right thing to do is an interesting theoretical topic for discussion in itself, before you even reach the question of whether the length of the hiatus is fair - regardless, we're certainly set for an interesting face-off between authors and editorial staff next week.

Macross Frontier: Sayonara no Tsubasa

In case you've been living upon an asteroid for the past few years, the opening scene of Macross Frontier's second theatrical outing, Sayonara no Tsubasa, opens with a pretty typical example of what you can expect from it - a lavish Sheryl Nome musical number, accompanied by a raid and subsequent dogfighting as part of an attach on a Vajra hive.  The music, of course, takes precedence to the action - this is the world of Macross, after all.


Anyhow, after a quick recap of the first movie, the victory over the Vajra hive falls into the background compared to Sheryl's collapse on-stage as her illness finally enters the public eye.  Not that her manager Grace seems incredibly concerned, given that Sheryl is little more than a replacement for the "true" songstress who can play a full role against the Vajra, and even more so seeing that a blood transplant from the naturally immune Ranka could save her anyhow.

Speaking of Ranka, our wannabe singing superstar is well on her way to a notable career of her , with her first live concert scheduled.  Winning over her fans should be easy enough, but can she win over Alto's heart?  Such concerns abound within both herself and Sheryl as the plot twists and turns, with an attempted coup against Frontier with Grace as its mastermind (albeit a a puppet controlled from higher up herself) used as an opportunity by the powers that be within Frontier to hatch a plan to control the Vajra's power for their own ends with the potential to control the entire galaxy within their grasp.

Of course, putting the entire populace of Frontier in danger goes against the grain of SMS's beliefs, and with Sheryl interred with a death sentence hanging over her for spying, they have the perfect excuse to turn against their would-be masters via a prison break to free Sheryl before trying to stop any plans to take control of the Vajra.  Cue a massive finale with dogfights, big explosions, and of course music aplenty, before a climax which actually proves brave enough to resolve its major love triangle before cruelly putting the whole thing on hold once again.

In many ways, it would actually be rather unfair to compare this second Macross Frontier movie to the original TV series - but what the Hell, I'm going to do it anyway.  Overall, this is a very different beast to the Macross Frontier that we know, stitching together a far more complex plot across the two films that has more threads running through it, but perhaps feels a little less directly compelling as a result - there's such a thing as trying to do too much with your story, and at times Sayonara no Tsubasa skims the surface of doing just that.  On the flip side of this, the film's bigger budget stands it in great stead when it comes to those set pieces I mentioned earlier - the concert scenes are stunning (if you can ignore the odd moments of clunky CG), and the dogfights breathtakingly more so, all backed up by a soundtrack which loses nothing of the energy, intensity and beauty of the TV show's soundtrack.

I might as well just go ahead and admit it - my heart does, and probably always will, remain with Macross Frontier in its original format (and not just because Ranka doesn't lose out to Sheryl in that one, honest).  That said, Sayonara no Tsubasa is very much a case of the show done differently rather than better or worse - it mixes things up and takes a different angle on its story with good effect, and ultimately works very well in its own right and with its own set of positive and negative elements that you can take away from it.  Ultimately, all of the important elements that make this series what it is are there, and that's the main thing we can hopefully all agree on - that Macross Frontier is still pretty damn awesome no matter which version you enjoy.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Ad Lib Anime Kenkyuujo - Episode 1

When it comes to ideas that are either the product of ground-breaking genius or a disaster waiting to happen, I'm not sure that anything can top Ad Lib Anime Kenkyuujo's premise - what happens when you give three anime voice actors a bunch of cue cards and characters to work with, and then basically let them make stuff up for a while?

Episode one of the series sees regulars Emiri Katou and Kaori Fukuhara joined by Takahiro Sakurai, who has a pretty packed CV but is introduced via his role as Masaki in C: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control.

For this episode, Katou and Fukuhara are cast as two prospective Gods (of thunder and wind respectively), both of whom are dunces faced with their teacher (played by Sakurai) having flunked their latest exam.  It probably goes without saying that the ad lib recording is a pretty surreal experience, with the girls questioned on how to straighten a teacher's toupee without them noticing and with Katou's character suddenly enjoying a turn as part of a biker gang.

As concept's go, I can't really deny that this is both interesting and fun, albeit probably more fun for the participants than the viewers - I can't help but think that an English version of this would make a great game for a convention panel.  In a way, the anime portion of the series looks likely to be very much of secondary interest compared to getting a behind the scenes peel of some major anime voice actors and actresses in action - it's genuinely quite impressive to see the energy both Katou and Fukuhara throw at their efforts, and if they love their jobs just a fraction of the amount they seem to then all is well in the world.  Unless you're interested in the world and work of Japanese seiyuu, then this series is probably going to be a hard sell for you - personally, I'm quite chuffed to get this peek at the world (and inside the seemingly lunatic minds) of these individuals.  Hey, episode two features Yuu Kobayashi too, which surely is not to be missed, providing the fansubbers can keep up with the vast amount of work required in translating this particular show.

Working'!! - Episode 7

There's a molester on the prowl in the vicinity of Inami's route to work as episode seven of Working begins - a worrying thought, needless to say.  Worrying, that is, for the molester himself, given Inami's proclivities.

Needless to say, these two individuals do indeed meet as Inami makes her way to Wagnaria for her shift, although impressively he actually manages to block her punch.  More interestingly, he claims not to be a molester at all but rather nothing more than a boy looking for his missing sister.  Given that he looks rather like a certain somebody and claims to boast the surname of Yamada, surely he can't be looking for Aoi?  Nah, of course not...

With this supposed molester on the lookse, others are of course worried about Inami's route to work, nobody less so than Taneshima, who implores Takanashi to make sure she's safe on her journey.  This sounds sensible enough, but when he catches Inami and Kirio Yamada chatting away happily something breaks in him.  Could this be... jealousy?  Like a dog eschewing its owner, or something rather more personal?  Although it seems as though some long, hard and difficult thinking is about to grant Takanashi an epiphany in his feelings for Inami... well, don't get your hopes up.

Much like last week's episode, we weren't treated to the same level of humour and laughs as Working at its best this time around, but then again we never seem to be whenever Inami and Takanashi are involved heavily as there's always a slightly more serious (well, as serious as this show can get) air around proceedings.  Still, that didn't stop this from being another entertaining instalment, ensuring that this series remains as fun as ever to watch even when it isn't quite on the sharp edge of its proverbial comedy knife.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 6

After the distractions of its previous episode, this week's slice of Persona 4: The Animation brings us... well, more distractions to some degree.

Before really reaching the mainstay of the episode, we find ourselves with some time to see how Narukami is getting on with his new, temporary family setting - a role he seems to have fitted into quite nicely, as he makes up for Nanako's father's Golden Week absence (despite his earlier promises) by taking her out with his friends, where she makes quite an impression overall.

 With this done and dusted, we can turn our attention back to the current investigation being undertaken by Narukami and company, from linking the current victims and their ties to the initial murder which kicked off proceedings through to identifying the next likely victim thanks to the Midnight Channel.  Judging by what they see, the next person in the spotlight is a renowned male delinquent named Kanji Tatsumi - not the most likely of victims, but there's no doubting his ties (however small) to Yamano.  From here, everything gets a little bit slapstick, with the group trying to first warn Tatsumi of the impending danger before attempting to covertly tail him as he's propositioned by a strange boy, but there's no doubting we're heading back towards some serious business.

Although it wasn't quite as focused on its core elements of importance as I was expecting, this episode delivered reasonably well on what was required here, introducing our next potential victim and still finding time to good off and have a bit of fun with its characters into the bargain before we dive back inside June's television next week.  It arguably still doesn't beat actually playing the game, which feels far more satisfying, but it isn't a bad alternative either.

Mawaru Penguindrum - Episode 18

In perhaps the biggest twist to its tale thus far, last week's Mawaru Penguindrum saw Tabuki turn from Mr. Perfect Good Guy into the villain of the piece.  But what are his intentions?

Before we deal with this, the episode begins to a flashback through Tabuki's own formative years - born to a mother obsessed with both pianists and people of talent, that obsession saw young Tabuki put under immense pressure to develop a relevant talent of his own, leaving him to give up playing the piano when a younger, prodigious brother appeared on the scene.  This decision let to his abandonment entirely by his mother, seemingly condemning him to disappear into the ether before interference from Momoko saved him.

Given this back story, it's no surprise that Tabuki wants vengeance upon Momoko's killer, leading to his kidnapping Himari in the hope of persuading Kanba to bring the Takakura family's father to him so he can enact this revenge.  The flaw in his plan is that Kanba knows not of his dad's whereabouts (at least, so he claims despite his suspicious behaviour of late) - so who will take the punishment for Momoko's demise?  Or will Shouma or even Ringo save the day?

As episodes go, this was easily the best Mawaru Penguindrum has had to offer for quite some time, bringing to the boil a mixture of tension and grief in a tumultuous exploration of human emotions and with a sprinkling of social commentary thrown in to proceedings to boot.  Somehow this instalment manages to provided all of these things without being over-bearing in its delivery of any of them, using the strengths of its characters to create its dilemmas and concerns rather than introducing them artificially.  Quite frankly, it was all rather emotionally draining for the viewer even if it did bring us yet more questions and surreal, inexplicable moments to ponder - hopefully though, this is the springboard that the remainder of the series can push off from, even if it feels like I've been saying that intermittently for some time now.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 6

It's almost the beginning of the summer break - what better time for the members of the Neighbours Club to spend with all of their new-found friends outside of said organisation?

Ahh... I see the problem now - perhaps it would be better if the club members just hung out together in that case?  This is the general train of thought as discussions turn to karaoke, with Sena (amongst others) professing to having never been to a karaoke joint before.  Thus, a decision is made to go on something of a club trip, albeit not before Yozora has taunted and bullied poor Sena to the point of total submission.

Then again, things don't go much better when the group actually arrive at Yozora's choice of karaoke venue, with the pricing structure of the establishment and its pay per person cost going against the grain of what Yozora was expecting.  Thanks to a "bright" idea from Sena, both of these girls pay separately for their own rooms, leaving them both alone while the other four go off and have a good time in a room of their own.  That said, even putting them in different rooms doesn't seem to stop the constant struggle for supremacy which wages between Yozora and Sena, although it's the latter who gets the upper hand thanks to her pronouncement come the end of this week's instalment.

Having rather enjoyed much of this series (susprising myself in the process) as a guilty pleasure of sorts, this is perhaps the first episode of Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai that didn't really work for me.  The karaoke setting is always a good place to drag some great comedy out of a series, but this episode failed pretty badly in that regard, preferring instead to turn most of its attention to Yozora and Sena and the now tiresome bitching between them, which seems to have transcended witty put-downs and snappy one-liners in favour of what is more or less outright bullying.  These particular shows of verbal aggression really aren't fun to watch, leaving Kodaka as the only voice of reason (and some half-decent quips).  I really hope this show doesn't go too far off at the deep end with its bitchiness, particularly when the rest of the supporting cast seem rather like one trick ponies, as it feels like this could fracture what has been a surprisingly entertaining series up to this point.

Guilty Crown - Episode 5

Shu may be freed from captivity, but is he free of his captors?  While he carries with him the ability to signal his position to GHQ and thus spell doom for Gai and his Funeral Parlour forces, "freedom" seems too strong a word.

Regardless, for now Shu is very much central to Gai's plans as he outlines his next aim - to steal something called "Leucocyte".  With a complex and alarming number of possibilities to their next mission, there's plenty of hard work ahead for those within the Funeral Parlour - not least for Shu, who is clearly in need of a significant amount of training.

Enter Ayase to perform this task, as she pulls no punches in introducing Shu to the various individuals and their specialities within Funeral Parlour's arsenal - not that he shows much hope of getting to grips with them in the training montage which follows.  In lieu of failure after failure, Shu continues to mull over his situation and sounds out the possibility of leaving the group and taking Inori with him.  Inori, of course, has no intention of doing such a thing, as she makes her loyalty to Gai all too clear.  Still, when push comes to shove (and thanks perhaps to some words from Ayase), Shu decides to face up to the test Ayase has planned to see if his abilities are up to scratch, with his particular unique trait ultimately serving him in good stead.  Any celebrations are short-lived however, as news from Gai's mission to take the Leucocyte filter through.

Shorn of the slick action of previous episodes, this was a pretty middling instalment of Guilty Crown - it offered us little new information about Shu's personality (we pretty much have him summed up now) and didn't really delve into Ayase's persona as much as we might have liked either.  Sure, this episode gave us some important progress, mostly in term of seeing Shu accepted into the Funeral Parlour fold a little further, while also filling in a blank or two surrounding Gai, but that aside the gorgeous visuals and great soundtrack made this feel like a work of style over substance, something which Guilty Crown can't afford to be... well, guilty... of too frequently.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 5

Yukiko might have been rescued from death at the hands of her own alter-ego, but there's still a criminal at large as we hit episode five of Persona 4: The Animation.  Given that Yukiko is still recovering from her trauma however, there's some time to kill before Narukami and friends have to return to the serious business of getting to the bottom of what's going on.

Essentially, that means that we've reached the part in the original Persona 4 game where you start finding out about clubs, Social Links and other stuff to make your life in battle easier - a point which effectively counts as filler when dropped into it's anime format.  With discussion of clubs at the forefront of discussions, Narukami finds himself rather reluctantly co-opted into the school's basketball club (he should, of course, have joined the soccer club) - a ragtag and under-subscribed assortment of individuals headed up by team manager Ai Ebihara.

Never mind sports however, this episode is really all about love, with aforementioned manager Ebihara having a crush on club member Ichigo, who in turn (quite rightly) has a thing for Satonaka.  Distraught upon learning this, Ebihara instead drags the ever good-natured Narukami along as her "temporary boyfriend" without so much as a thought for his own feelings or well-being - a fact which, coupled with Chie's presence, causes quite a stir when the club finally manages to arrange a basketball match.

Given that it has no real impact upon this anime adaptation, there isn't really a lot to say about this particular episode as it goes about demonstrating perhaps the most pressing problem with bringing a video game across to this format - how do you handle the "grind" of preparing for battle and levelling up your character?  Thankfully, this instalment is at least light-hearted and kind of fun, but that doesn't really cover up the fact that it's all a bit cliché as it leaves us waiting for a return to the important mystery and action aspects of the show in its next episode.  Fingers crossed we don't have too many episodes like this one deigning to fill the gap between major plot arcs.

Un-Go - Episode 5

Having picked up a new addition to his "team" in the form of AI with awkward dress sense Kazamori, our "defeated detective" finds himself putting this newcomer to good use as we enter another one-shot story arc of Un-Go.

The story in question begins with a reminiscence of the past from pro-war leader of the Rising Sun group Hakurou Shimada, as he recounts the day three of his members saved countless people from an attempted terrorist bombing by driving the explosives away from the area of danger at the cost of their own lives.  While many are enraptured by this story as a statue is unveiled to commemorate the incident, former members of the Rising Sun group who have defected protest outside, while Shinjurou has nothing but disdain for what he sees a pure, simple waste of life no matter the circumstances.

It's this disdain which blinds Shinjurou from the truth as he discovers two dead bodies hidden within the statue - his conviction that Shimada must be the man responsible leads to him unwisely using Inga to make his grand pronouncement, only for the answer to her question leaving him shocked and disproving his theory.  Not accustomed to this feeling, Shinjurou looks all set to quit, before eventually seeing sense after Kazamori points out to our protagonist that his assumption that he'd never do anything to help anyone is actually almost wholly incorrect.  Thus, a second stab at solving the case sees Shinjurou come good, while also finding the opportunity to expose Shimada for what he is in the process.

While not quite as sharp or fascinating as its previous story arc, there was still a lot to like about this week's Un-Go - we got to learn another slither or two of information about Shinjurou, and perhaps more importantly we got a more concrete sense of the nature of his relationship with Inga.  This was backed up by a reasonably interesting story that had sufficient twists and turns to entertain and get you thinking, while also actually giving the viewer enough rope to hang their deductions by for once, even allowing our genius detective to prove his human fallibility in the process.  It might not jump out at you and scream from the rooftops of its quality, but there's still enjoyment and some nifty story-telling to be had from watching Un-Go without a doubt.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 6

Despite the trials and tribulations of their meeting with the disenchanted Arata, both Chihaya and Taichi are now finally singing from the same song sheet in terms of the creation of a karuta club at their school.  Lo, thanks to a little persuasion of the relevant school staff, the newly created club now has a suitable location as its base, even if it is only a storage room.

With five members required to make up a proper school club, this episode sees our leading duo being that long and arduous task typical of many club-based anime of trying to recruit members.  Perhaps surprisingly, they catch someone's eye immediately via the frustrated outlook of archery club member Kanade Oe.  Kana's true love is traditional Japanese culture, and in particular traditional fashions, and thus she visits the karuta club in the hope that it might allow her to vent these desires.

Of course, Chihaya and Taichi have little interest in either the traditional clothing of the game, or indeed the real history behind the sport and the one hundred poems of which it is comprised - thus, despite numerous attempts to recruit her, a dismayed Kanade has little interest in joining the club in the name of playing competitive karuta alone.  Eventually however, Chihaya's persistence reveals a new understanding between herself and Kanade, as the latter begins to explain the deeper meanings (or at least her interpretation of them) behind the hundred poems, not only enchanting Chihaya but also giving her a new method of memorising the cards.  Such is Kana's inspiration that Chihaya will do anything to get this new member integrated into her club, and so two becomes three as we reach the end of the instalment.

After last week's episode filled with tension and emotion, this time around Chihayafuru exhibits a very different energy which is no less compelling in its own way.  Helped along with a great moment or two of slapstick comedy, and aided by the increasingly brilliant depiction of Chihaya and Taichi's relationship, we're dragged along by Chihaya's passion and interest before finding ourselves sucked into Kanade's own source of interest via some gorgeous visual clues and some exposition on karuta's history which just about avoids turning into Wikipedia: The Animation to add another facet to this already wonderful series.  Every time I worry about this show stumbling it somehow manages to get a little better still - it can't keep improving like this, can it?

Hidamari Sketch xSP - Episode 2 (Completed)

Quite frankly I've had a terrible day today - thank goodness then that a new instalment of Hidamari Sketch is 100% guaranteed to relieve stress and cure any work-related ills.

I probably don't need to mention that this second and final instalment of xSP is split into two, with the first half of the episode taking in the decidedly ordinary task of washing some curtains.  Of course, even this can somehow manage to be fun when you're part of the Hidamari Apartments gang, as it winds up involving a paddling pool and plenty of detergent, meaning bubbles aplenty and the chance to splash around whilst trying to wash the curtains in the process.  Now, if only Nazuna had relayed the day's weather forecast a little sooner...

After a brief distraction involving Yoshinoya and her determination to let all and sundry know that she in no way resembles a cow, the residents of Hidamari Apartments find themselves faced with a rare and unusual treat - a meal out, fully paid for by their landlady.  But what's the catch?  Seemingly, there is no catch, so off they all traipse for an all you can eat buffet of meat, cakes and other such goodies (including copious amounts of beer for the landlady) - although when I said there's no catch, this does depend on the result of a game of "Sushian roulette"... and the landlady having enough cash on her to actually pay the bill.

As ever, Hidamari Sketch is relaxing, uncomplicated and beautifully presented fun throughout that makes the most of its characters and their never-overbearing foibles to entertain its audience.  You could probably argue that the show's comedy isn't at its absolute sharpest in these two special episodes, but it still delivers enough laughs and funny moments to be worthwhile, and this second episode in particular worked rather well in its all you can eat restaurant setting if only thanks to the landlady shaking things up a little.  Roll on season four of the series proper!