Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Chihayafuru - Episode 17

Come school sports day, you'd rather expect the members of its karuta club to hide as far as possible from such activities.  Not so Mizusawa's ragtag bunch, who not only participate in an inter-club relay competition but go on to win (albeit rather improbably) in the final.

Such is the driven nature of those within the club since their exploits at Omi Jingu, as all of the members on-hand have their own goals - goals that they covet and work towards fiercely despite their odd moments of self-doubt.  Nowhere is this better expressed than within Taichi - so driven is he to reach Class A as soon as possible that he breaks up with his girlfriend without a second thought and sneaks off to far-flung karuta tournaments to try his hand and improve his game... not that he's the only one on that count.

While reaching the top rungs of the karuta ladder aren't as easy as Taichi and Nishida hope, their troubles are relatively transitory compared to those of Chihaya herself.  Following her defeat at the hands of eventual karuta queen Shinobu, her focus has been solely upon her speed and reactions in light of that defeat - but is this really the correct approach?  Her karuta teacher suggests otherwise, even going as far as to suggest that her speed might well be her downfall - a thought that leaves her confused and bewildered until her fellow club members being to dissect what he might mean and point Ayase down the path towards improving as a player in some entirely different ways.

Although this episode meandered hither and thither a little too much, removing some of its more normal pin-point focus as a result, there was still a fair amount to enjoy here, if only in terms of seeing the group we've followed for a little while now working so hard and improved because of it - no full-on special powers or abilities are on show here, just good and honest practice.  More notably, Taichi's place in the series becomes ever more fascinating - particularly now that his girlfriend is out of the picture (if she was ever really in it), it's becoming more and more difficult to discern what really drives him - is it love of Chihaya, love of karuta or rivalry with Arata?  The answer most likely sits somewhere in-between those three points, but it's an intriguing facet of this fascinating little series that keeps me coming back for more.

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 4

Ever wondered what your friends talk about when you're not around?  Of course you do!  If you plan on listening in on their conversation however, make sure you're listening in on the right people and not just someone who looks incredibly similar...

This minor error on Tadakuni's part takes us onto the mainstay of this week's episode of Daily Lives of High School Boys, with East High and North High foisted upon one another to work together towards a joint festival, thus effectively merging an all boys and all-girls school for the duration in the process.  Thus, the various segments which make up this arc give some surprisingly sharp insights into how boys tend to view the opposite sex, trying their best to ignore the airs, graces and constant complaining about them which comes from the female contingent.  Meanwhile, East High's student council president, and more specifically her competitive streak, causes all sorts of hassle before finally culminating in that most ladylike of past-times - a full-on fist fight in the school hall.

That's actually pretty much it from this week's episode - not as laugh out loud funny as previous episodes, but occasionally very much on the ball with its observational comedy to somewhat make up for any shortfall in belly laughs.  If nothing else, Daily Lives of High School Boys gets by from daring to be different and poking fun of things from an entirely male point of view, and that alone is often enough to make it wholly fun to watch.

Monday, 30 January 2012

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 4

There are a fair number of things you wouldn't want a girl you liked to do to you, whether it's suddenly starting to ignore you seemingly at random one day or walking off to catch the nearest train after you've made a half-baked confession of sorts to her one evening.

It's the latter problem which confronts both Kaito and Ichika as this fourth episode of Ano Natsu de Matteru begins, and neither of them knows how to handle the situation, leading to a decidedly awkward morning greeting between them.  While Kaito knows how he feels about Ichika, our leading lady seems a little less certain - she likes Kaito well enough, but the problem of what is likely to be a fleeting stay in the area weights heavily on her mind.

As both parties come to a decision in their respective heads about how to handle things, so a spanner is thrown into the works courtesy of Tetsurou's older sister Manami - her decision to "kidnap" Kaito for a binge of shopping and leisure is totally misunderstood by Ichika as she sees the couple drive by, and her stalking of them does nothing to dissuade her mistake to the point where she sets about trying to forcibly drag Kaito out of the house before finally learning the error of her ways.  Although her behaviour proves a point about her feelings for Kaito, the situation between them is ultimately put to the back of their minds as they focus on other things - studying, primarily, as the group build up and then break up for the summer holiday which, it seems, is where the real fun is going to begin.

Following a pretty decent past couple of episodes, this week's Ano Natsu de Matteru felt a little weak - for the second instalment in a row we had a main story based on a misunderstanding, only this time around there was no real novelty to it, instead taking on the clichéd old idea of "girl sees guy with another female, girl stalks couple, girl gets wrong idea until misunderstanding is resolved".  It was all a little bit dull really, and spiced up only marginally by Ichika's extra-terrestrial powers and Remon's... well, similarly impressive powers.  At least with the summer break upon its characters, it seems that we're about to reach the meat of this particular series - it has everything in place to deliver, so I can only hope it has something more innovative in mind than the fare delivered here.

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 17

With serialisation meeting time approaching once again, the pressure is on for Takagi in particular as both marriage and serialisation become inextricably tied together - this is as nothing to the pressure felt by editor Miura however, with Ashirogi Muto's latest work getting a muted reception in the serialisation meeting preamble while Business Boy Kenichi looks likely to be put out of commission at the same time.

So it goes that Aoki Kou's new effort makes the grade effortlessly, while its one-shot winning status in Jack Next isn't enough for Takagi and Mashiro's latest outing as it gets passed over for serialisation.  There's little time for either joy or despair from the relevant parties however, as the crows finally come home to roost for Nakai after burning all of his bridges of late - rejected at every turn, he seeks to return home and quite the manga business, despite Mashiro imploring him to stay and continue to fight.  With Takahama's aforementioned manga cancelled, his complaints about Miura sees both himself, his editor and Ashirogi Muto brought before the Chief Editor with a view to giving a stern lecture on the relationship between artist and editor.

Away from all of this, it seems that Hattori is having the time of his life, as his new find and rival to Takagi, Aiko Iwase, proves to be more than a little adept at following his instructions and creating an impressive manga manuscript.  But who is going to draw the artwork for such a piece?  Hattori has a cunning plan which could well propel his career forward considerably - a potentially risky scheme which involves (and reinvigorates) none other than Eiji Nizuma.

Aside from being more than a little glad to see the back of Nakai after recent events (even if there's still a possibility of his return) this was a pretty decent episode which kept any romance at arms length and instead made the most of the twists and turns surrounding its artists - an arch mixture of elation, excitement, disappointment and soul searching that was eminently watchable.  The intriguing developments just keep on coming, and as a result I can't help but keep on watching no matter how often Bakuman threatens to falter or fall entirely flat on its face.

Another - Episode 4

After that incident with the umbrella last week, worries about the "curse" of class three have understandably amplified - even more so considering the fact that Sakuragi's moehter was also killed in an accident on the same day as her daughter.

Our protagonist Kouichi misses the direct aftermath of the incident out of a requirement for a check-up on his lung, although the hospital does seem to be suspiciously busy, leaving nurse Mizuno working overtime as a result.  Still, she finds time after Kouichi's check-up to shoot the breeze about the latest gossip, as they discuss the accident and the odd nature of classmate Mei Misaki, which Mizuno has some interest in given that her brother is also a member of class three.

Mizuno aside, Kouchi finds himself with nobody to speak to about what's going on - a visit to the creep doll store brings him into contact with Mei but offers no further clues, while neither his aunt nor his classmates will fill him in on any further details, with the recent accident making him more of a pariah than ever before as his terrified cohorts try to plan some new "countermeasures" to ensure their safety from the curse.  With Kouichi and a friend narrowly avoiding one nasty accident which the former writes off as a mere coincidence, the sense of foreboding only grows until we reach some more decidedly gruesome scenes come the end of the episode.  I can see myself taking the stairs for the foreseeable future - provided I'm not carrying an umbrella at the time, of course.

Although Another continues to be quite a slow-burner overall it's most certainly beginning to pick up pace, turning its creepy aura into creepier incidents and behaviour via its slickly driven visuals and fantastic use of audio.  My only real worry at this point is that the show is going to spiral into a "violent death of the week" structure - it'll need more to keep itself afloat than lots of mystery with the odd outpouring of blood, so I really hope that the coming instalments shake things up a bit and strike out in different directions.  Only time will tell, but it's time I'm willing to give this darkly gorgeous and fascinating show.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 16

Having muddled through much of the series thus far, Yukiteru finally tasted defeat at the hands of Seventh, with this lovey-dovey pairing outdoing both himself and Yuno to leave them both hospitalised and with their respective cell phones stolen.

Thus, we rejoin Yukkii as he undergoes his rehabilitation under the watchful eye (literally, just the one eye) of Uryuu, who has been brought in with a "secret plan" to defeat Seventh - at least, that's what Yukkii's been told so that his future diary can fool Seventh into expecting something that isn't coming.  Given his tough rehabilitation regime, Yukiteru is more than a little happy to receive a visit from his errant father, as we learn the reasons for his parent's divorce and Yukkii's desperate desire for his folks to remarry.

This is, of course, the world of Mirai Nikki we're talking about, where nobody can be trusted, and before we know it Yuno has clocked Yukiteru's father hunting for his son's diary in the promise of having his debt wiped out if he provides it to an unknown party.  While this is more than enough of a good reason for Yuno to kill him, Yukiteru ensures that his father remains in the land of the living, before a call from Seventh brings Yuno and Yukkii, together with his father, for a rendezvous.  The events that follow proves the real aim of Yukiteru's dad and allows Yuno to grab back both her own and Yukkii's mobile phones, but as Uryuu arrives in her usual explosive style there's new danger in store for our protagonist.

I really should have learned not to doubt Mirai Nikki by now, shouldn't I?  Here I was, internally bemoaning the introduction of Yukiteru's father into a plot which seemed to be going nowhere in particular, only to have it all turned on its head in typical dastardly fashion as the greed and selfishness of all come to the fore, while also granting us some more opportunities to see Yuno in her frequent lunatic bouts of action.  It might have started slowly, but this week's Mirai Nikki was fun and compelling stuff once again come its second half as it shows no sign of falling flat overall right now.

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 4

From saving the world (or at least the town), it's back down to earth for Madoka with this fourth episode of Rinne no Lagrange - but what's this, a new and mysterious transfer student at her school?

The new "student" in question is Muginami, the odd girl which Madoka previously met on-base during her previous adventures in robot piloting - intriguingly, it turns out that Muginami wasn't supposed to be in the facility at all, and it seems that she isn't affiliated in the slightest with that faction, which is both a cause for concern but a problem the powers that be seem willing to ignore even after she pops up in Madoka's classroom.

One person who does seem concerned with Muginami is Lan, who watches the newcomer like a hawk even as the school takes part in their annual swimming contest.  Realising that she's being watched, Muginami puts paid to Lan's spying, unaware of the fact that the latter can't swim and leading to both Madoka and herself having to save the day and rescue her (although Muginami clearly hasn't learned her CPR from Vinnie Jones...).  This only serves to deepen the friendship between Muginami and Madoka, much to Lan's irritation - although is she worried about this situation professionally or personally as her own friendship with Madoka is under threat of being overshadowed?  Either way, come the end of the episode Madoka is both living and attending school with these two girls - a trifling matter as further developments in space and with the prisoner taken in Madoka's first skirmish come to the fore.

After the pretty fast and furious giant robot action of the past couple of weeks, this was a pretty heavy change of pace for Rinne no Lagrange - its comic moments were absolutely spot-on throughout (Lan's cafe slapstick in particular was sublime), but beyond that we were treated to the same old transfer student and saving someone from drowning schtick that's been done to death.  This episode was necessary in terms of bringing Muginami's part in proceedings to the fore, so I can't begrudge it that much, but couldn't she and her rivalry have been introduced in a more imaginative fashion?  I'm still warming to this series in some ways, but hopefully it can think outside the box a little more going forward... or at the very least give us bash some big robots against one another for a while again set to the show's awesome soundtrack.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 16

Did you really think that the murders and mysteries within Inaba had been solved and cleared up?  Of course not, and after a decidedly quite spell it appears that it's time for the Midnight Channel to begin broadcasting once again.

This chain of events is brought about by "student detective" Naoto, who makes an appearance on television both to show his prowess and discuss how he still has doubts that the case upon which he worked has really been solved.  This is a theory that he then goes on to espouse directly to our group of would-be crime-fighters, showing that he hasn't completely overlooked the relationships between them and how the group in question might have formed.

Given that TV appearance to provoke any potential criminal into action, it's no shock to find Naoko appearing on the Midnight Channel - first indistinctly, but then in a very obvious fashion via some kind of mad scientist alter-ego.  That means it's time for the gang to head off into the world beyond Junes' TV for the first time in a while, although Rise's inability to track down Naoto means they have to decamp back to the real world to do some digging befre they can find him.  Once there, it seems as if Naoko already has the better of his sobbing, childish Shadow... at least, he does until he denies that the wailing individual before him is part of Naoto's true personality.  This means that it's time to do battle again, as we learn in more ways than one that Naoto isn't quite who he seems.

Having said that I was ready to return to the more mysterious elements of this series after rather a lot of frivolity within Persona 4: The Animation of late, I was certainly thrilled by what we saw here - a well paced, plotted and directed affair which made great use of Naoto's personality and intellect while also taking us back to the heart of the series in compelling fashion.  The potency of its cliff-hanger was perhaps weakened by a reversion to comedy, but this does little to take the sheen off a great episode.  I've thoroughly enjoyed Persona 4's frequent dips into comedy, but those moments work so much better when they have the kind of fare on show this week to sustain them.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Nisemonogatari - Episode 4

Finally freed from his captivity at the hands of Senjougahara, thanks in no small part to Hanekawa, Koyomi finally gets the chance to return and aid his sisters after Tsukihi's plea for help received to his mobile phone.

The trouble is, do the Fire Sisters really want their big brother's help?  It certainly doesn't seem like it as they refuse to tell him anything about what's doing on, much to his irritation.  Luckily, Tsubasa's presence and her apparent assistance with whatever Karen and Tsukihi have been up to gives our protagonist a chance to find out at least a little of what's developed here - a story which unsurprisingly involves the Fire Sister's attempts to track down the peddler of curses which affected Nadeko and others at their school, and even less surprisingly led them to Deishu Kaiki.

As Araragi goes for a bath to cool off and mull over whether there's really any danger from a supposed swindler like Kaiki, so a wild Shinobu appears - not just to tease Koyomi in terms of both body and mind as she proves surprisingly talkative, but also to offer her own thoughts on the situation, even if she's at pains to announce that this is on account of her boredom rather than any true desire to help.  Recounting a story she heard from Oshino, it seems that Karen has been afflicted with a cursed disease known as the "wreathe-fire bee", a rampant fever that sure enough has now struck Karen down.  That, of course, leaves the question of what to do about it - Shinobu is unable to help with any simple resolution in this case, which means that Koyomi is likely going to have to take far more direct action to save his little sister.

After all the japes and joking around of its early episodes, things have finally taken a more serious turn as of the latter half of this week's episode of Nisemonogatari, although this series being what it is even the most worrying of situations are served up with playful banter between characters, in particular as we finally get a proper introduction to the formerly mute Shinobu as she toys with her "master" while also filling him in on the gaps in his knowledge.  This makes for another dialogue filled, visually stunning, frequently perverted and generally engaging instalment - yet there's still an indefinable something missing in comparison to Bakemonogatari.  I can't quite put a finger on what that something is, but it continues to nag at me as the series goes on, somewhat akin to an worry that the series is trying too hard to appease the fans and losing some of the heart of what made its predecessor great in the process.  I don't want to say that I'm not enjoying this series, because that wouldn't even be vaguely true, but somehow I feel it's leaving a gap in my heart that I can't quite grasp.

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 14

Despite their secretive armaments and an Exile of their own, it seems that even Glacies' massed forces are powerless to resist the Federation's own Exile, brought to bear once again courtesy of Princess Liliana.  But with Glacies laid to waste, is the horror of the destruction wreaked upon this land the final straw in turning opinion against ruling president Luscinia within factions of the Federation?

While the suriving pilots of Glacies are greeted by an unexpected figure, the Sky Pirates have problems of their own as they being repairing the destruction caused to their own hideout by the Federation, giving them more than enough evidence that Kartoffel and its people are also within Ades' sights.  Given that, it's no surprise that the Sky Pirates are more than willing to lend everything at their disposal to Millia, although what she's actually going to do with such dwindling power is another question entirely.

Indeed, much of this episode is really about Millia's inner turmoil, with her loathing of what her sister Liliana has done using her control of an Exile offset by the fact that she is, after all, still her sister.  Her outer determination to kill Liliana to put an end to the suffering and destruction she's caused brings an angry reaction from Fam, who sets out to prove her friend's idea wrong the only way she knows how - by racing with her Vanship.  Come the end of this demonstration, Millia and Fam are singing from the same song sheet once again, the song in question being one of creating happiness for all and sundry - an idealistic concept, but one that might just fit in with the news delivered to their doorstep by the end of the episode.

After an episode of wall to wall action last week, things were bound to be a little more sedate in terms of warfare with a requirement to focus instead on the personal and political.  I still can't shake the feeling that  Fam, the Silver Wing's politics still haven't been hammered out and depicted well enough to really have any impact, but thankfully the depictions of war, destruction and loss coupled with Millia's conflicting emotions had enough to power the episode forwards somewhat.  Some of its developments may still feel a little too convenient, and it certain manages its warfare in the sky better than its other elements, but I'm continuing to enjoy this new take on Last Exile's world nonetheless.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Guilty Crown - Episode 14

Never mind culture festivals, the inhabitants of Tennozu First High School and the wider Loop7 region have some big problems on their hands - namely, that they've been labelled as contaminated by new president Keido and have thus been quarantined from the rest of Japan.

With communications down and no real way of knowing what's going on in the outside world, the school's students quickly become restless, with most of their bile reserved for the student council president Arisa - despite her assertions that her grandfather and the Kuhouin group he fronts will do everything in their power to rescue them, these promises fall on deaf ears largely on account of the school's delinquent elements.  With no communications and the the whereabouts of the rest of FUneral Parlour still unknown, even the likes of Tsugumi and Ayase are powerless, although the former does just so happen to pick up a Void strength measuring device that she finds laying around.

While those within the walled-in quarantine zone wait idly, the powers that be are rather more energetic however as they put their own plan into action - effectively, organised genocide against those remaining in Loop 7 using Endlaves and a movable barrier to shrink the quarantine area ever smaller.  As news begins to filter through about what's going on, panic breaks out in the school, while the promise of freedom in return for handing in Funeral Parlour members creates a witch-hunt which threatens more than just actual members of the organisation.  As things look set to get really out of hand, it's ultimately left to Shu to step up to the plate and make a difference, courtesy of a plan involving the use of Tsugumi's newly-unveiled Void to gain the support of the students while showing that the government have no interest in the survival of those within Loop 7.  Reluctantly, it seems as if Shu is stepping into the... well... shoes... of predecessor Gai.

As the episodes roll on by, there's an ever-increasing suspension of disbelief - or more precisely, a willingness to accept what you're seeing without question - that comes with watching Guilty Crown.  So many of its twists and turns now feel like convenient plot twists, such as Tsugumi's Void and the Void measuring device, while other elements are as-of yet unexplained such as how Keido is not only alive but President of Japan.  No doubt some of these questions will be answered, but that still doesn't change the fact that Guilty Crown is pretty much the de facto home of dei ex machina of all shapes and sizes at the moment.  Then again, if you embrace these elements and just roll with it, the slick presentation and occasional "cool factor" go a long way towards making up for those deficiencies - if only that wasn't such a big "if", and if only this series wasn't marketed as a noitaminA work, we'd probably be saying far more positive things about it.

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 4

When confronted with a random (and not to mention insincere) confession from a classmate out in town, there's nothing for it but for poor Rihoko to blurt out that she's really in love with Junichi, who just so happens to be standing right around the corner.  But did he hear her over the noise from a passing train?

We're left guessing as to what Tachibana did or didn't see and hear as first Rihoko arrives to cook a meal for the Tachibana siblings before Junichi follows close behind, albeit with melted ice cream by this juncture.  There's clearly some awkwardness from both camps in light of what's just gone on, but while Junichi clearly wants to say something he simply can't get the words out.

Still, this uncertainty does nothing to ruin a good meal (and I suspect nothing would ruin a meal for Rihoko), so a good time is had by all before it's Sakurai's turn to have a potential confession interrupted by Miya.  When a sudden downpour arrives, Rihoko finds herself invited to stay over for the night rather than getting drenched in the rain, making for an ideal chance to confess her feelings.  Thankfully, some late night insomnia and a decidedly contrived accident involving a sparkler finally gives this pairing the impetus they need to confess their feelings and (hopefully) live happily ever after.  About bloody time too, you dolts!

Its subject matter might have been unspectacular and decidedly mundane - in terms of drama it didn't really even try - but somehow this particular story arc of Amagami SS+ plus was satisfying exactly because of its normality.  That, coupled with the natural chemistry between long-standing friends Junichi and Rihoko, gave us a scenario that was believable and a potential relationship which was plausible, and given her rough treatment in the first series it was a simply joy to see a lovely girl get what (or rather, who) she wants.  This isn't a romance story that'll live long in the memory, but as enjoyable throw-away entertainment who am I to argue about what it succeeded in delivering here?

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 13

Fond farewalls to Dian and her country of Glacies prove to be short-lived for Fam and company, as their departure throws them straight into the face of a massive Federation fleet making their way for Glacies borders with a view to invading this secretive land.  Can one small vanship really do anything to help prevent a bloodbath?

Regardless of the possibilities, Fam immediately turns tail in the hope of warning Dian as to what's headed their way, and perhaps more importantly to inform her of the nasty surprises part of the invasion force has in store for them.  While Glacies' pilots easily see off the first wave of attackers, by the time Fam arrives on the scene it's too late to do little more than watch in horror as Glacies' forces are mown down by the Federation's anti-vanship weaponary - not that Dian and her comrades have any intention of turning tail and running no matter the odds.

With their attempt to help completed, Fam, Gise and Millia have nothing left to do but leave the area, although our own focus on the battle panning out remains as Glacies pull out all the stops to halt the invaders in their track.  Indeed, the Federation aren't the only ones in possession of the ability to use an Exile, with Glacies showing off some powerful defences of their own to force the Federation's hand into using their own ultimate weapon.  Meanwhile however, Fam and Gise's major concern turns towards their own homeland, as they stop off at a Sky Pirate hideout to find it's been bombed, ravaged and abandoned.  Can anyway stand in the way of the destruction being wreaked across the planet?

This isn't going to be the first time I praise Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing for its grandiose depictions of war in the skies, and I'd wager it won't be the last either - regardless, once again the action segments of this episode were a real treat as they took an ambitious, CG-packed and ultimately great-looking view on a massive battle for supremacy in the air between two major forces.  It wasn't all just big explosions and battleships however, as this week's episode didn't forget to offer a more human view on its warfare as well, with scenes that remind the viewer as to just how much has been lost in terms of life and property framed against some potential incoming danger for Kartoffel.  In other words, this was a hugely effective and terrific episode to watch, and pretty much a shining example of this series at its absolute best.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 16

Takagi and Miyoshi's relationship is back on the right track (well, if you consider marriage to be "the right track"), while Aoki and Nakai's relationship is anything but, although it's probably for the best all things considered.  Thus, it's time to get down to one of the pivotal issues of the manga business - panty shots!

With Nakai putting himself very much out of the running, the questions of who is going to provide the fan service for Aoki Kou's current effort becomes the burning topic for much of this episode.  When Miyoshi mentions "fellow" manga artist Ishizawa for the job, both Mashiro and Takagi are luke-warm on the idea to put it mildly - with good reason too it turns out, as Ishizawa has even Nakai beaten in the creepiness stakes.

Enter this week's knight in shining armour Fukuda, who not only puts Ishizawa and Nakai in their respective places with a bit of the good ol' ultra-violence but also offers to train Aoki in the ancient art of the panty shot.  Despite the mutual dislike between the two of them, Aoki agrees to be tutored in this way, and so begins the start of something beautiful it seems, with Fukuda bringing out a hitherto unseen side of Ms. Kou.  Meanwhile Ashiro Muto continue to prepare for serialisation, which may prove to be less of a foregone conclusion than they're led to believe, while a new rival appears for Takagi in particular who is quickly taken under Hattori's wing.

Although things feel a little contrived this episode in terms of shifting characters and their relationships towards one another around, it's nice to return to thinking about creating manga even if we are worrying about who draws the best panty shots most of the time.  If nothing else, Aoki Kou is becoming a highlight of this second season of Bakuman as she comes out of her shell, and with worries about serialisation and the like rearing their head again here we seem on course for some more fascinating fare over the coming weeks.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 15

With the fun (or hardships in Narukami's case) of the summer over, it's back to school for a new term as we hit episode fifteen of Persona 4: The Animation.  Not only that, we also get a new transfer student to ponder, with young assistant detective Naoto Shirogane joining the school to suggest his increased prominence within the series moving forward.

Still, if going back to school is normally a thing of anguish, there's no such worries here as the first activity upon their return is the school's field trip to give the students a dose of excitement before they've even started.  That said, this isn't so much your typical school trip but rather a "cultural exchange" with another school in the rather fancy Tatsumi Port area, making for an impressive yet ultimately dull first day for all and sundry.  Things only really begin to get interesting once evening draws in, and the students find themselves housed in a rather "interesting" hotel while the gang find themselves with an unexpected visitor in the form of Teddie.

With the second day of their trip to themselves, it's time to go out and explore, although the group soon get split up before Narukami runs into Chie rather bravely (and impressively) fending off some would-be muggers picking on a poor young local.  The resulting conversation between the two of them signifies an increasing closeness in their relationship - a thought interrupted by news that Rise has managed to find a club for the group to hang out in.  Cue lots of drinking (but it's not alcohol, honest!), proof that Yuu is the king of cool no matter what his state of sobriety and an ultimately rather weak King's Game in that very anime-esque way we're all used to.

Aside from bringing Naoto into the fold, and despite being part of the original game I believe, it's probably fair to say that this is effectively more filler for the series as it edges ever-so slowly back towards some more serious fare.  Thankfully, if there's one thing Persona 4 has managed ably it's presenting less important aspects of its adaptation complete with a shed-load of entertainment, something which the series manages again here with great use of Narukami's staid character and with plenty of funny and laugh out loud moments to keep things ticking over.  In a way,  I almost prefer this side of Persona 4 to its murder-mystery aspects - then again, I'm just about ready to return to something a little more meaty after the fun and frolics of recent weeks.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 3

The effects of the alcohol consumed by all and sundry last episode might have worn off, but the foggy memories of the previous day haven't quite worn off by the next morning.

While Kanna soon finds herself faced by some minor embarrassment from that afternoon courtesy of Remon, this is as of nothing compared to the worries of Kaito and Ichika, with the former imagining a horribly bungled confession which will see him become the laughing stock of his friends while the latter becomes increasingly convinced that her secret alien origins have been outed to Kirishima.  In Kaito's case, his worries are bad enough for him to skip school and avoid Ichika, which ultimately only leads to the others worrying about exactly what's up with him.

Kaito is still feeling sore about his imagined rejection even once school has finished, and his continued desire to avoid his new housemate leads to him going out into town with Kanna when she stops by to see how he's doing.  As the two wander and chat, little do they know that they're being followed... at least, they don't until Remon gets a little too over-exuberant in her attempts to film the wonders of their youth.  Ultimately all's well that ends well, as Kaito and Ichika quite literally bump into one another and eventually clear up their relative misunderstandings, although it seems that in doing so they've set about a whole other chain of awkward events.

Having noted a definite improvement in episode two of this series following a disappointing opener, I have to similarly note that this third episode is improved yet again - now we're a little more familiar with the characters and set-up everything feels tighter and more relevant, while the rampant fan service of episode one is virtually nowhere to be seen here.  Admittedly, this instalment does go down the tired old "misunderstanding" route so beloved of anime romantic comedy, but its resolution and what followed was sweet enough, and curiously my attention has actually been grabbed the most forcibly by the show's secondary characters - beside Remon acting excellently as a cipher for comedic trouble-making, the dynamic between Tetsurou and Mio was both fascinating and slightly beautiful in the way it was portrayed.  Hopefully this isn't something that's forgotten as the series moves forward - some of the best romantic comedy series of recent times (Kimi ni Todoke and Toradora) have made great use of secondary relationships, and I'd really like to see Ano Natsu de Matteru do likewise.  I'm not going to start declaring my love for this series just yet, but it's beginning to impinge upon my heart a little, so only time will tell if finds the relevant strings to pluck and win me over entirely.

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 3

It's summertime!  Okay, well, it's not actually summertime, as this week's Daily Lives of High School Boys self-referentially points out, but let's just say it is for the sake of this episode, okay?

Of course, summer can only mean one thing for a high school boy - chasing after girls on the beach!  Of course, this is easier said than done, as Hidenori realised when he comes to the shocking revelation that guys are, in the eyes of girls, pretty much exactly the same as noodles.  Still, you can't win them all, so it's off to the hot spring ("so much steam") and a game of trivia ping-pong that leaves Tadakuni feeling inadequate in both knowledge and ability with a little ball.

After having a crack at creating the world's worst anime related radio show (and succeeding, I would say), a rather pointless time-filling (and CD selling) montage leads into Hidenori finding himself anguishing over whether he should talk to a girl who takes the same train as him.  Could it be love?  Or maybe it's just the hair growing out of the mole on her neck that compels him to speak to her.  All of this leads us into the big finale, a dig at the high school girl anime genre complete with Yuu Kobayashi screaming her heart out for much of its running time.

Whether it features high school girls or boys, quick-fire anime comedy tends to be a hit and miss affair as I've discussed many times previously, but at least Daily Lives of High School Boys is managing to keep up a decent hit rate - the boys amazement at the amount of steam in their bath was a hilarious dig at modern anime censorship, while the ping pong game which followed was laugh out loud funny in a more general sense.  This show is at its best when it's poking fun either at itself or other anime clichés and tropes, but it also has a vein of more traditional humour running through it - although it doesn't always get it right, it continues to be entertaining stuff more often than not.

Chihayafuru - Episode 16

With the national karuta contest out of the way, where next for Chihayafuru and its bunch of lovable wannabe masters?

Recap-land, that's where, as this episode spends most of its time retreading the ground covered so far.  Unfortunately, Chihayafuru seems to be a series that doesn't sit well with such a condensed treatment based on the evidence of this instalment - it feels dull, clunky and stripped of much of the emotional investment and characterisation which have underpinned the series throughout, with major events skipped over in favour of focusing on the karuta side of things itself.  Put simply, it really doesn't work.

In fairness, and in an attempt to at least offer something new to those of us who've stuck with the series throughout thus far, this episode also attempts to entertain us via a number of short skits which break up the recap segments - these are okay if unspectacular, with only the final gag in the series really getting a laugh out of me in the midst of a lot of obvious or slightly over-stretched jokes.  It's better than nothing though I suppose, although why this series even needed a recap beyond giving an opportunity for the production staff to have a little respite from their hard work is beyond me.  Hopefully we'll be back to the good stuff again next week, because I'm very much in need of my weekly dose of Chihayafuru these days.

Another - Episode 3

With an impromptu visit to a decidedly eerie shop selling dolls turning into another enounter with the ever-more mysterious Mei Misaki, we finally get to clear up one of those mysteries - what's underneath that eye patch?  The answer is, of course... Skittles!

Okay, okay, not really - behind the eye patch is an artificial eye, which Mei claims allows her to "see things she shouldn't be able to"; her primary reason for keeping it hidden.  After moving away from the creepier segment of the shop, Mei regales to her new "friend" the story of class three which occurred twenty-six years ago, of which we were clued in on right at the start of the series - the story of a popular girl whose life was cut tragically short, and whose classmate's refusal to deal with their loss left them with a ghostly member of their class.  But how does this tie up to the recent death of a girl named Misaki which Kouichi is aware of from the hospital?  Besides which, what about the girl with the eyepatch sat right in front of him?

There's clearly more to this story than meets the eye, but our protagonist's attempts to find out more are met with a wall of silence from all and sundry - Kouichi's aunt Reiko defers telling him anything of substance, while his classmates deflect or stall on any questions before ultimately telling him to forget about it until next month, when all will be revealed.  With exams underway, forgetting about things for a while seems like sound advice, but Kouichi simply can't drop the nagging concerns he has, and ultimately his pressing brings us to a shocking revelation from Mei before tragedy unfolds.  Are these two seemingly unrelated incidents connected?  It seems more than a little likely that they are.

As this third instalment of Another wore on, I began to worry about just how much longer we'd have to wait for some kind of pay-off from all this build-up.  My impatience was duly shot to pieces as the final scenes of this week's episode delivered a double-whammy - a big (if admittedly entirely obvious to the viewer) reveal, followed by one of the most grotesque death scenes I've ever seen in anime.  The timing of these incidents is perfect in terms of washing away those concerns and putting the show well and truly back on track, bolstering my intrigue in a series which already had its visual and audio elements absolutely locked up in terms of delivering a perfect sense of creepiness and the realisation that we're a long way from getting the full story.  This could well be the turning point for Another which moves us from a series which is simply visually adept into something far more compelling.

One things for sure though - I'm not going to be dancing along to Singin' in the Rain on the staircase again any time soon...

Monday, 23 January 2012

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 15

Yukiteru might have rid himself of Gasai Yuno's attentions (for the time being at least), but with new diary owners popping up left and right this isn't exactly the time to relax or celebrate by any stretch of the imagination - still, at least Deus Ex Machina has been kind enough to explain just how these new diary-wielding maniacs have managed to pop up in the midst of this survival game.

In short, these new "apprentice" diary owners don't actually physically own their diaries at all - rather, they're simply 'blogs hosted off a server and made accessible to the individual in question.  Hey, I guess that makes me a future diary owner too!

20:05 You write an insipid 'blog post
20:08 You screengrab an image of a nutter from Mirai Nikki
23:00 You receive no comments on your post

Look at that, it works too!  Anyway, I digress - with this knowledge, Akise looks to put together a plan to thwart and capture these new diarists alongside Yukkii, by luring them out into the open courtesy of Kousaka's mansion of a house before cutting off the phone data signal to that area and thus rendering them helpless.

This all seems like a great plan... until Yuno uses her knowledge of Yukkii's movements to come along, cut the power and send said plan into chaos.  With Akise and Kousaka now having to manually switch off the nearby cell tower, Yukiteru is left facing danger alongside his bonkers would-be girlfriend once again, as two diary owners named Ai and Mar come at him with their unique abilities.  Once the mobile phone signal is turned off, it seems like game over for these assailants... except they're actually real diary owners, complete with their own "love diary".  Thus, it's the battle of the couples, in a chain of events which can hardly be said to go well for our protagonist as he finds himself and his associates both outfought and out-thought.

Once again, Mirai Nikki really hits the spot when it's at its most bat shit crazy - there are plot holes aplenty in this episode, but does it really matter when it's so much fun to watch?  As per usual, I found myself grinning and giggling away as the insanity unfolded without worrying too much about the nuances of the matters at hand - it's hard to get too bogged down in minutiae when you're being so hugely entertained, after all.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 3

In Madoka's world, it seems that giant robots are like buses - you don't see any for a dedicate, then a whole load all crop up at once.  This is quite a problem when two of said robots are quite clearly not on your side.

Not that even this seems to faze our newcomer of a Vox Aura pilot - at least, it doesn't when Madoka realises that the latest enemy on the scene is in danger of causing damage to her beloved town, giving her more than enough reason to go tearing after this upstart without a second though as to her own safety.  Cue another major chunk of mecha-on-mecha action, as Madoka's unorthodox combat style both fascinates and concerns her opponent.

Any confusion is only accentuated as Madoka gives said opponent a jolly good telling off about his actions, while also breaking off the fight on a regular basis to protect the citizens of the town and their property from flying debris and the like, even going to the extent of ensuring that she stays in relatively "safe" areas when it comes to scrapping with her foe.  Meanwhile, Lan has problems of her own, ostensibly due to her own self-doubt - although she finds the courage to take off in her own unit to try and help Madoka, her lack of confidence looks liable to make her little more than a liability until some words of encouragement from Madoka reach her and allow this new partnership to, eventually, see off the opposition.

Having been so disappointed by its first episode, I have to admit that I'm warming to Rinne no Lagrange by the minute - not just for its fantastic soundtrack or its short, sharp bursts of slick action, but also for the sheer vim and vigour that its protagonist brings to proceedings.  There can be no underestimating the influence Madoka's character has upon this show - she may be alternately daft and one card short of a full karuta deck, but her attitude to life, her hometown and its inhabitants are all intoxicatingly pure and admirable, leaving us incapable of doing anything but cheering her on, even if it's with a bit of a laugh and the occasional rolling of eyes.  Delivered as part of a slick package, Madoka's adventures are beginning to work rather well - now the only question is whether the show's back story and the core story of its rival factions can be fleshed out beyond vague mutterings and half-baked explanations to turn the rest of Rinne no Lagrange into something wholly worth watching.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Nisemonogatari - Episode 3

Book clearing duties may be over, but Araragi's conversation with Kanbaru isn't quite over as episode three of Nisemonogatari begins, with the latter proving to be rather astute at picking up on the interest other girls have in the form - not that it's difficult to be more astute than Koyomi as he continues to even clock what the whole Nadeko "Twister" incident had to do with anything.

It's when Araragi leaves his friend's house that things begin to take an interesting turn however, as he bumps into a rather morose fellow who goes by the name of Kaiki - a man who rouses memories of Oshino on account of his looks and aura, although by the same token there's clearly something very different about him.  Considering whether he should follow Kaiki as he goes about his unexplained business, Araragi is sure that there are ill omens surrounding this man, but such thoughts are quickly shelved when he bumps into Senjougahara as she goes about her own business.

Of course, Hitagi isn't too pleased to see her boyfriend skipping a study session, nor is she exactly thrilled by his cavorting with other girls (although at least Araragi has an excuse for the first part), leading to some painful reminders as to who wears the trousers in their relationship.  Such trivilaities go out the window once Kaiki is mentioned however, returning us to Araragi's state of kidnap by Senjougahara that we saw in episode one as she explains her own prior dealings with the man and why she wants to keep Koyomi far, far away from his influence.  When a text message arrives from younger sister Karen reading simply "help me" however, even Senjougahara is unable to keep her beloved under lock and key.

After having a bit of a moan about the overuse of fan service and sexual elements last week, this felt far more like a "proper" episode of Nisemonogatari - still teasing and flirtatious throughout, but with its core story pushing to the fore the move towards more focused story-telling had an evident positive impact on proceedings.  Then again, I also suspect that it's the return of Hitagi Senjougahara that does just as much to pull this episode to a higher plain; her one-liners, snarky comments, terrifying threats and (amazingly) evidence that there is a stumbling "dere" side to all that "tsun" cast a glorious, glittering spell over the instalment as a whole - very much a reminder of the smart and entertaining dialogue that made Bakemonogatari great to watch over and over again.  In short, things are finally on the up for Nisemonogatari, and hopefully next week's instalment will propel them even further in the right direction.

Happy 4th birthday Hanners' Anime 'Blog

As the realisation came to me earlier this month that it's almost time for this 'blog's "birthday", I figured that I'd done pretty well to hit the three year mark.  It was at that point I realised that I started the 'blog in the January of 2008, making this the fourth anniversary of the site's inception.

So here I am, four years later with almost 2,400 entries, close to a million unique page views and almost 150 series, OVA and movies marked with the "completed" tag - I'm nothing if not perseverant when it comes to seeing some half-baked idea through to the bitter end.

I've never really framed my work on this 'blog in terms of goals, successes or failures - it's just for fun and so that I can keep track of my thoughts, which is becoming ever-more important for me in terms of my work for UK Anime in a world where legal streaming of new shows is becoming increasingly commonplace.

Given that my aims for the 'blog are largely internal, I'm amazed that anyone reads my ramblings at all, but given that you're ready this post right now I'd like to thank you for your interest, time and support over the years, and hopefully you (and I) will still be around for the big fifth anniversary in 2013!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Guilty Crown - Episode 13

Last week's Guilty Crown felt very much like an end of series affair, with the immediate threat defeated and the possibility of a second Lost Christmas prevented despite the loss of Gai.

However, as we return to this very different looking Tokyo we soon get a glimpse of why there is still much left to do, with the ravages of the virus giving the city an eerie look while all communications are cut off as the entirety of Tokyo is put under lockdown and quarantine by GHQ, leaving people separated from their loved ones and unable to return to their homes.  This situation also applies to the attendees of Tennozu First High School, with Shu joined by Tsugumi and Ayase alongside the rest of the school's students as even the Funeral Parlour are split up by the current situation.  It's Ayase in particular who is partly our focus, with Gai's death hitting her hard as she harbours feelings of both her own responsibility for his loss while also blaming others for the way things turned out.

With such a grave situation, there's only one thing for - it's time for a culture festival!  No, I'm not sure exactly how that works either, but the student council somehow seem to think it's a good idea and so the entire school sets about setting one up, complete with a performance from Egoist, aka Inori.  Perhaps understandably in a time of famine, homelessness and general panic, not everyone is entire happy with this idea, and thus the festival is gatecrashed by ruffians who have managed to acquire some military hardware to run roughshod over everything.  Cue this week's prescribed action sequence, which sees Ayase make use of her rather impressive Void thanks to Shu's new, improved extraction powers.  The day might have been won, but there's only even worse news to come for the resident's of Tokyo's Loop 7.

I know we often laugh about the use of the culture festival as a plot device in anime, but really Guilty Crown?  A culture festival in the middle of a mass panic and quarantine after people have been ravaged by some weird cancerous virus?  It felt like a lazy way of filling out the episode before its inevitable (and admittedly kind of cool, as always) action scene to round things out.  Beyond those closing minutes that gave us our dose of adrenaline and set the scene for the episodes to come, there really wasn't much to talk about here - this episode was "just there" but did little to extend its cause or tell us anything next.  Hopefully next week will see us tackle some weightier subjects than what Daryl thinks of toffee apples.

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 3

With Ayatsuji's story out of the way, we go back to the future for episode three of Amagami SS+ as Rihoko Sakurai gets her turn in the spotlight - an important moment for this series given how poor Rihoko was left hanging in a one-sided crush by the original series.

Rejoining her story a few months later, it's clear that nothing has changed in this regard - Rihoko is now tea club president with Junichi serving as vice-president, but aside from that it's business as usual between the two of them as they hang out and have a decent enough time time, with Tachibana clueless as to his friends feelings for him despite the fact that basically everyone else has clocked on to it.  Still, with Rihoko reminiscences about her and Junichi's youth and the latter's suggestion to rekindle those days gone by, it seems that our protagonist isn't entirely resistant to Sakurai's feminine chest... charms!  I mean feminine charms.

Is there any way out of this rut for Rihoko?  An opportunity presents itself as Junichi relays that his parents are away from home, leaving him and Miya to eat nothing but watermelon and white noodles - not exactly the balanced diet a young boy needs.  Thus, Sakurai offers to come over that evening to cook a meal, an offer graciously accepted by Junichi, albeit out of desperation for food rather than anything else.  With Rihoko persuaded by her former tea club fellows to serve him up some eel and lotus root, she seems all set for an entertaining evening - at least, she does until a mutual classmate of her and Junichi looks likely to put paid to everything...

Given her rotten treatment first time around, I have high hopes for the lovely Rihoko in this story arc - for such a sweet girl to be ignored by her crush was a huge let-down in Amagami SS (and I know I'm not the only one of that opinion), so with any luck this second attempt will go far better, and this hope alone is making for a more interesting viewing experience already than Ayatsuji's arc in my opinion.  That said, this opening gambit to said arc was pretty slow going, eased by the effortless dynamic between Rihoko and Junichi (fat jokes and all) and the fact that the former is an unspectacular yet lovable character who you can't help but root for.  There's some drama ahead, but for now this was a fun enough effort to get its story moving forward.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Daily Lives of High School Boys - Episode 2

One of the great things about being of the male persuasion is that you can be amused for hours by even the simplest of things - like a big stick for example.  Cue the opening gambit of this second episode of Daily Lives of High School Boys.

In this case, finding a stick in the street offers an opportunity for our trio of high school lads to play at being in an RPG, with decidedly amusing consequences - until two of them realise they've been getting too carried away and have forgotten their bags that is.  This opening skit is probably the highlight of what is otherwise a somewhat funny instalment, which goes on to prove the wonders of a convex mirror when it comes to making women look good and the news that an underwear thief is at large in Tadakuni's sister's vicinity - although said underwear thief might be closer to home than any of the boys would like to admit.

Moving into the episode's second half, we're introduced to the book girl of one of last week's skits, find the hapless school principle trying to justify his establishment's seventy hour fasting activity about which he has no idea (another well-delivered little moment for this week), ponder the brother-sister relationship of several characters and try (and fail) to tell some more ghost stories.  Oh, and there are butlers too, as they try to figure out an excuse for the young lady in their charge to skip school.

While I can't shout from the rooftops about Daily Lives of High School Boys as a classic anime comedy based on these two episodes, I do appreciate where it's coming from and what it's trying to do, and although it doesn't offer up vast swathes of laugh out loud moments it does have plenty of chuckles to offer to make the time spent watching it worthwhile.  Even when its setup is predictable, the comedy pay-off usually makes it work ultimately, and the show's main characters walk the line between being likeable and "laddish" enough for the basic premise of the series to work.  "Like" always feels like such a weak adjective to use about anything in a world where it's almost become synonymous with "secretly hate", but in Daily Lives of High School Boys' case it feels exactly right - this isn't a show I'm willing to gush about at the moment, but I genuinely do like watching it as it both entertains and amuses me, which is no small feat in the sea of mediocre anime comedy we're often faced with.

Chihayafuru - Episode 15

Facing off against the reigning Queen of karuta, Chihaya finally finds herself up against the competition she so desired, although perhaps this particular competition is a little too stiff as she looks set for a thrashing at the hands of Shinobu Wakamiya.  However, with her first card finally won come the end of last week's episode, is there time for a spectacular comeback?

Despite finding her rhythm and getting back to her best, there's still no way back for Chihaya given the mountain she had to climb, and despite winning five games there's nothing our protagonist can do to stem the tide of Shinobu's masterful play.  Still, for all of her disappointment and frustration as it comes flowing out in a desire to immediately tackle her shortcomings, perhaps a more perceptive girl might have noticed that Shinobu was well and truly ruffled by Chihaya's performance, exhibitng her own blend of anger and excitement about finding a potentially worthy foe; a real coup for a lonely girl with no competition in the field to speak of.

So caught up is Chihaya in understanding where she went wrong as Shinobu strolls to the Queen's title again, that she almost missing out on an event bigger event, with Taichi reaching the Class B final.  Eventually however, she's dragged along to give her support, but a physically exhausted Taichi doesn't have quite what it takes to win the day either, and despite running his opponent close he too ends his run at Omi Jingu with nothing to show but defeat - a runner-up no less, the hardest defeat there is to take.  It's onwards and upwards for the team however, as they spend their summer break hard at work improving their deficiencies ready for their next showdows - an ethos which even extends to born geniuses Shinobu and Arata.

This week's Chihayafuru may not have had quite the excitement or tension of the previous instalment, but as is so often true of this show it's the little things that it gets right - more specifically, it's Taichi's final that really grabs the attention, showing both how Mizusawa's disparate set of karuta players have turned into a true team while also ably exhibiting the deflation and disappointment of defeat for all concerned.  The temptation with any anime series based on a sport or game is to see our main characters win through and emerge victorious, but is there really a story in that?  For Chihayafuru, it's clear that the real character of the story comes through defeat and facing those stronger or better than yourself, and it's something that it utilises ably and really quite wonderfully in an episode such as this one.

Ano Natsu de Matteru - Episode 2

After a far too predictable opener, Ano Natsu de Matteru's second episode kicks off with an explanation of how Ichika Takatsuki fell out of the sky from her own point of view, thanks to a seemingly frivolous journey to try and find an image she has stuck in her head gone horribly wrong.  Not that anything went particularly right for Kai during the incident either, mind you...

With that out of the way and our new guest's credentials as an alien confirmed (as if it were necessary), Kai and, more specifically, Ichika have some explaining to do about the embrace they were found in with the latter almost naked at the end of last week's instalment.  Although Ichika's attempts to cover up her true origins are clumsy at best, she does enough to pass off any major suspicion - indeed, Kai's sister Nanami seems more than happy to let her stay in the family home to look after her brother while she's away on business, although of course love rival Kanna is a little less happy at the prospect.

Given that unhappiness, it's also no shock that Kanna has quickly blabbed about Kai and Ichika's new living arrangement to the rest of their mutual group of friends - thus, when they both return from seeing off Kai's sister (and some comprehensive shopping for new clothes for Ichika, even female aliens love to shop it seems), it turns out that their meeting regarding Kai's summer film project has been moved slap bang into the middle of his house.  After some discussions about where they should film and what the movie should be about, a mixture of the drink being served and general malaise turns things in a more frivolous and frank direction, leading through to yet another pang of pain and illness from our protagonist that Ichika has to "kiss better".

Compared to my massive disappointment with episode one, things did feel a little sharper this time around for Ano Natsu de Matteru - it's a little less reliant upon fan service, and a little more settled in what it's trying to do now the cat called Ichika is out of the bag, for the viewer at least.  Despite that however, you simply can't shake the feeling that there's nothing special here to lift the show beyond mediocrity right now - its characters are dull and two-dimensional in terms of personality, and their situations do nothing to grab you or make you care about them in the slightest.  There's still time for these things to build, but the early signs still aren't exactly great from a series I expected far, far more from.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Rinne no Lagrange - Episode 2

From running a one-person school club through to (unwittingly) meeting an alien and going on to pilot a giant flying robot and thwart an enemy attack is quite a leap - then again, we already know that Madoka Kyono is no ordinary girl given her experiences a decade previously.

Having fended off the attack of an enemy robot, Kyono quite reasonably assumes that's the end of the matter and that her impromptu work is done - not so, however, as the organisation she helped out in this instance is looking to her as the new outright pilot of the robot in question, known as Vox Aura.  Never one to let people down, Madoka reluctantly agrees to stay on-board - and not a moment too soon as her second mission is already winging its way to the Earth to take her on.

After getting horribly lost within the base in which she's located and running into another hyperactive yet odd girl named Muginami, it's time to launch again, albeit not before donning the requisite skimpy outfit required of such a position.  In that typical "episode two of a mecha anime" fashion however, things aren't so simple this time around as Kyono's wavering doubts about her ability destroys her connection to the Vox Aura and leaves her dumped in the middle of the sea.  Cue an angry phone call from her cousin to rile her up into action and motivate her once again, although with two enemies to see off now this might be too much to ask of her prodigious pilot.

After going in way too heavily with its fan service last week like a girl who puts out on the first date, this second episode of Rinne no Lagrange felt like a very definite improvement, with tighter writing but still enough time to derive comedy from its scenario as and when was required of it.  That said, this isn't enough to life the series beyond the generic streak exhibited by this episode as it played out almost exactly as you might have guessed it to, from Kyono's loss and regaining of the Vox Aura's powers through to the reactions of others involved in the situation.  I'm not sure this series has anything to lift it beyond the realm of mecha anime also-rans, but at least proving to be reasonably enjoyable to watch this week is at least a positive upturn for a show whose opener hugely disappointed me.

Last Exile: Fam, the Silver Wing - Episode 12

After dipping back into the past and the true events of the original Grand Race which Fam loves to harp on about, we're returned to both harsh reality and the present for episode thirteen of Fam, the Silver Wing.

With the Sylvius missing, Fam, Gise and Millia at least find themselves in a place of safety thanks to Glacies pilot Dian, who clearly recognises Fam as having saved her during their last encounter.  Thus, Dian slightly reluctantly puts up this trio while also helping them to source parts for their badly damaged Vanship, thanks in no small part to Millia's ability to speak Russian... err, I mean Glacies language.

As our three guests spend more time with Dian, whether it's eating or trying to fix their craft, so the initial icy (you can make your own jokes there) relationship between these parties thaw, although Dian's memories of the Grand Race (and perhaps more importantly its immediate aftermath) are clearly far, far different than Fam's rose-tinted ones.  Such negative memories might well be about to repeat themselves too, with a mass combined force under the control of the Federation about to pay Glacies a decidedly unwelcome visit.

Despite being a far cry from some of the entirely action-oriented episodes we've seen at times during the series, this quieter, more reserved outing actually worked pretty well as a standalone instalment in its own right - admittedly we didn't get as deep into the mindset of the people of Glacies as perhaps we could, but there was something quite charming about seeing Dian and Fam's relationship develop but never quite completely mature, with the whole thing adding to the impact of the episode's final scenes as they look set to launch us back into the thick of the action again next week.

Another - Episode 2

Despite finding creepiness in every corner in its opening instalment, it's school life as usual as Another's second episode begins, with the students of the fated class 3 carrying on with art classes and the like as you'd expect from any normal school.

Despite this however, there's clearly still plenty that our protagonist Sakakibara hasn't been told, with mentions of the class "curse" slipping out while other individuals continue to press him about his history in Yomiyama and whether he really isn't a regular visitor there in years gone by.  What's more, the eyepatch-sporting Mei proves to be as enigmatic as ever, being ignored by everyone else around the school while chatting dryly to Koichi from time to time.

It's Mei's strange aura, and perhaps more importantly her trip to the hospital's morgue while he was in said institution with his collapsed lung, that leads him to do a little digging as to whether any girls died in the hospital during his stay.  By the end of the episode he has an answer to this question with the news that there was indeed a death around the time of a junior high school girl - a girl named Misaki.  Couple that with a decidedly strange shop selling dolls in which Mei is loitering as she offers to show Sakakibara what's under her eye patch (what a flirtatious girl), and we can consider the creepiness factor very much ramped up in this episode.

For all of these weird goings-on, Another is certainly working hard to keep its powder dry at this point, letting out information (or misinformation perhaps, who knows?) a slither at a time, relying instead on its atmosphere and our constant questioning of everything that's going on to drive the series over and above any major revelations.  Certainly, the show's audio in particular has to be commended for powering that feeling of unease, perhaps even more so than its visuals, and for now I'm more than happy to simply find myself along on this discomfiting ride until it finally decides to show its hand - and surely it must do exactly that sooner rather than later.

Future Diary - Mirai Nikki - Episode 14

As this second half of Mirai Nikki begins, things are looking pretty good for Yuno - she has her beloved Yukiteru under lock and key, Hinata is similarly at her bidding and the rest of the group in pursuit of her are having a gas... quite literally.  So safe is Yuno in her current position that she's happy to pad around the hotel security room she's "borrowing" in her underwear - Hell, she's even brought her parents along for the trip.  Well, part of them at least...

Despite being trapped in an increasingly gas-filled room while Yuno has her fun, Akise still hasn't given up hope, using the CCTV system to pick at Yuno's psychological scabs as he informs her that he knows all about the fate of her parents, plus that of one other body found in the massive hole at Yuno's house.  Whoever that third body belongs to, it's enough to irritate and upset Yuno further to the point where she simply blanks out Akise's taunts, seemingly leaving them in an even more desperate situation.

However, the trapped trio have reckoned without a deus ex machina, as Kousaka suddenly finds himself imbued with a Future Diary of his own, outlining his brilliant moments and thus pushing him in the right direction to escape confinement.  From here, his diaries assertion that he'll rescue Yukiteru makes his showdown with Yuno seem simple enough, although after freeing Akise and Mao he soon learns rather painfully where the shortcoming of his diary lays - it never tells him about the things he gets wrong.  Still, this commotion of enough for Hinata to help Yukkii free himself, leaving the entire group to flee the hotel leaving only a sobbing Yuno to her own devices.  With more diary holders on the way, and Yuno's spirit far from broken, we can hardly call anything "resolved" however.

If nothing else, it'll be interesting to see what this week's Mirai Nikki does to fans with an unconditional love of Yuno, as her mask of undying love for Yukkii turned into that of a full-on psychopath thanks to her actions here, even if she is a psychopath whose been playing Skyrim (why else would you aim for an arrow to the knee?).  Of course, there is more than one reason to love Yuno, and it's her batshit, deranged insanity which makes this episode as her lunacy comes to the fore, bringing Yukiteru to breaking point in more ways than one.  I'm not entirely sure what to make of the addition of Kousaka's diary, but I suppose it would be churlish to complain about a deus ex machina in a show featuring a character called Deus Ex Machina, wouldn't it?  With Yuno still very much in the game and some more diary holders on the way, it seems that we can expect lots more interesting twists and turns just around the corner.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Bakuman Season 2 - Episode 15

I think it's fair to say that things were a little fraught in terms of the love lives of our two burgeoning manga artists by the end of last week's Bakuman, so how on Earth are they planning to sort out their mess?

In Mashiro's case, "sorting things out" seems to have been confused with "having a blazing row" - after being told by Miho that she can't trust him before hanging up, he calls her back to suggest that he can't trust her either, which is hardly the best move in the world.  Next thing we know, Mashiro isn't talking to Miho and Takagi still isn't talking to Miyoshi - facts with overshadow the fact that their one-shot manga in Jack NEXT has succeeded in reaching number one in the reader's survey, leaving it well-placed for serialisation.

Meanwhile, Aoki Kou is suffering from a similar situation, with a second place ranking with her own one-shot in Jack NEXT taking a back seat to her feelings for Takagi and, perhaps more importantly, the insistence from her editor that she really needs to start working with Nakai again.  While she isn't entirely against the idea, Nakai's sickening attitude leads to him getting a well-deserved slap round the chops, although her ensuing actions almost put the eventual reconciliation between Miyoshi and Takagi on the ropes.  Before we know it, this unlikely couple are engaged, Miho is talking to Mashiro again and Aoki has herself some new friends to occupy herself with.

Overall, and after bemoaning another slice of unrealistic romantic drama from the series last week, this was a mixed bag from Bakuman in episode fifteen - Aoki's behaviour and motivations felt real enough (and I've warmed to her hugely as a character of late, even if I swear the animators have doubled her breast size this series), as did the childishness of Miho and Mashiro's falling out and Nakai's nastiness, but Takagi's proposal to Miyoshi was cringe-worthy and it adds another needless layer to the romance aspects of the series that doesn't really improve the story as a whole at all.  At least everything seems to have been wrapped by the end of this instalment, so with any luck we'll be back with our noses to the grindstone in the manga business again next week.

Persona 4: The Animation - Episode 14

After presenting Nanako's view of the summer last week, this time around it's Yuu Narukami's turn to get the focus turned upon his relaxing summer - at least, it would have been relaxing were it not for a certain fox.

Having lost her umbrella on account of said fox, Narukami decides to buy Nanako a replacement - a task which is easier said than done for a jobless student.  Thus, our protagonist takes on a part-time job tutoring a kid to try and make the required money; a decision which snowballs as he finds himself unable to refuse the opportunity to assist other people in the town.

Before we know it, Narukami is helping out with childcare, assisting old ladies, fishing, flirting with nurses, dressing as Teddie and giving first aid - although never all at the same time, I should hasten to add.  While this is no doubt doing wonders for his social standing, it certainly isn't doing much for his physical health as be the end of it the poor guy is exhausted.  Still, all's well that ends well as we end with happiness for all and sundry.  Ahhhhh.

Much like Nanako's take on things last time around, there were some great comedy moments within this week's Persona 4 - perhaps not quite enough to drive the episode from beginning to end, but just about enough to make it somewhat entertaining even if it was the epitome of filler.  Perhaps I'm being a little less generous because it feels like so long since we last had some "proper" Persona action between this arc and the New Year break, so hopefully we get back to business as usual as soon as possible next time around - a possibly forlorn hope with it covering school trip territory.

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Nisemonogatari - Episode 2

Despite this series ultimately being all about them, we weren't really properly introduced to the so-called "Fire Sisters" in Nisemonogatari's opening instalment - an oversight rectified by the beginning of episode two, which brings us a quick run-down of the personalities of tomboyish Karen and short-tempered Tsukihi and the team which is created when you stick these two middle school girls together.

With that out of the way, and after last week's distraction in the form of Hachikuji, it's finally time for Araragi to call on Nadeko Sengoku's house.  With her parents away at work and the house to herself, Nadeko is a little different to the shy, stumbling girl of Bakemonogatari - indeed, she's downright seductive throughout with no doubt of her intentions towards Araragi.... unless you are Araragi of course, in which case you remain as clueless as ever.  It isn't all fun and frolics however, as Nadeko also informs Koyomi that the "curse" which brought about her snake-related misfortune in the past is still alive and well, and what's more it's being investigated to some extent by his sisters.

Speaking of which, we get to meet Karen Araragi properly this episode as she hand-stands her way down the street, stopping for a quick chat with her brother with the kind of randomness so beloved of this show before a phone call sees her on her way with the promise of adventures and achievements to regale her brother with later.  This interruption comes while Koyomi is on the next leg of his tour to fill an empty day, which means paying a visit to Suruga Kanbaru - a visit which involves nudity, lots of Boys' Love fiction, and Kanbaru doing goodness knows what to our innocent protagonist.

Just like it's first episode, it feels like there's no explicit point to this week's Nisemonogatari.  This, of course, is unfair, as some building towards its main story is clearly in place, but these moments are few and far between in the sea of dialogue - not that this is a particularly bad thing when said dialogue continues to be so entertaining, doing a great job of capturing the relationship between Koyomi and each of the girls with which he converses wonderfully.  The only slightly sour note along these lines is that the intelligence of the dialogue, while still intrinsically intact, feels cheapened somewhat by its constant reliance on the sexual - it just about works in the case of both Kanbaru and Sengoku, with the latter working surprisingly well as a seductress while the former's tomboyish insistence on proving herself as some kind of pervert fits well enough.  I also have to admit that this is arguably fan service done right, titillating as it is without every overstepping its bounds, but it is still fan service, make no mistake about it, and I'd like to see some more considered fare from Nisemonogatari sooner rather than later rather than a bunch of girls trying to get into our protagonist's pants.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Amagami SS+ plus - Episode 2

Noriko Kurosawa will stop at nothing to win the student council presidency from rival Tsukasa Ayatsuji - although is that really even her actual goal, as she pursues Junichi Tachibana as her primary method of attack to engineer a dramatic end to last week's episode.

Such drama is, perhaps sadly, short-lived however, as Ayatsuji sees straight through what Kurosawa is trying to do and has little time for her efforts, preferring to spend that time instead berating her boyfriend for his outright, dumb stupidity, which you'd think she'd be used to by now.

With that failure of that plan, the battle for the presidency all comes down to the four candidate's speeches, and there's no prizes for guessing who wins the day there to secure what turns out to be a landslide victory for Ayatsuji.  With mission accomplished, and with Tachibana as her vice-president, there are still important things to consider - can Junichi really study hard enough to go to the same university as his girlfriend, and is he going to see her naked as an accident with a dog offers up a great opportunity for him.  Wait, that last part sounded wrong, didn't it?

Anyhow, ultimately this was a decidedly fluffy episode and story arc of Amagami SS+ (and no, I'm not talking about the dog now) - its drama was decidedly short-lived and there was no tension, interest or excitement in the whole venture aside from the possibility of some fan service which never entirely emerged.  Given that Ayatsuji's personality never really added much to the original series, it perhaps goes some way to explaining the rather weak account given of this arc which added little if anything to the first season's arc - hopefully Rihoko gets a better treatment starting next week, because goodness knows she deserves one.

Guilty Crown - Episode 12

A second coming of Lost Christmas on the horizon... Gai seriously wounded... Inori about to be kidnapped by some malicious interval?  Yep, I'd say that's pretty heavy as mid-series cliff-hangers are concerned.

This is, however, not even the half of it, as before we know it we're in flashback mode to a simpler time, and a summer involving Shu and his big sister Mana.  Yes, that's right, Shu has a sister, not only long-forgotten but also locked away in the depths of his memories.  This isn't the only thing he's kept under psychological lock and key, as that summer also led to him meeting Gai, or Triton as Mana chose to name him after his lifeless body is washed up on a beach.  With a deep friendship delvoping amongst this trio, things take a turn for the worse as Mana becomes the first victim of the so-called Apocalypse Virus, albeit not before descending into madness and, ultimately, proving to be the sole catalyst for Lost Christmas itself.

Given that power, I'm not sure if it's surprising or not that anyone would want to resurrect Mana and her twisted will, but that's exactly what's at the heart of the new Lost Christmas at which we are at the brink.  It seems that only Shu and Gai can stop this madness as Koudou looks to quite literally marry Mana in the hope of inheriting her powers for reasons unclear - cue some more hot Void action as it's ultimately left to Shu to make the day via another extremely tough decision.

There's no doubt about it - lots of stuff happens in this week's Guilty Crown.  With revelations aplenty, attempted incest, madness, action and another hefty dose of gorgeous animation it's tough to be too harsh on an instalment that tries so hard, although at the same time I can't help but wonder whether anything that we're seeing actually makes much sense.  At the moment Gai's origins as a boy washed up on a beach remain unexplained, Mana's madness feels weird more than outright bonkers, and I could probably list plenty of other moments that don't sit with me quite right were it not almost dinnertime as I write this.  Perhaps most importantly of all - where does the series go from here?  This felt like a perfect ending to Guilty Crown in many ways, and with its two biggest personalities removed from the picture I can't help but think that the second half of the series is going to be a very different beast indeed.