Sunday, 30 September 2012

Joshiraku - Episode 9

After so long without any subtitled Joshiraku to watch, suddenly two episodes show up in short order like some kind of proverbial buses.

With the school holidays beginning, the gang are worried about the lack of children attending their rakugo performances - ignoring the fact that rakugo isn't exactly the ideal form of entertainment for children, the group still look for ways to tempt kids to visit.  Ultimately though, there's clearly only one thing that will bring children surging in through the doors.... a view of Marii's ass!  Never let it be said that Marii isn't the butt of this show's jokes....

After all of that excitement it's time for a visit to the zoo, which includes discussions about front-loading your zoo with pandas, lamenting the misfortune that is being a red panda and discussing favourite animals - of course, Polar Bear Cafe gets a mention too, as do the multitude of sad animal-related stories that can reduce anyone to tears.  For the episode's final segment we find our group of performers feeling decidedly sleepy; not least Marii, who certainly lives us to her motto of "sleep and let fortune strike you" - unfortunately for Marii, those fortunes seem to strike everyone but herself, no matter how grandiose her dreams and sleep-talking.  Then again, maybe the others are just getting a little too lucky; could it be that they're just a figment of Marii's dreams too?

Having missed the mark a little too frequently in its previous episode, this felt like a return to form for Joshiraku - lots of laugh out loud moments and smart (and occasionally snarky) references, and no shortage of nods to other anime (watch out for cameos from Birdy and Last Order amongst others) to keep you on your toes.  In short, it's another little slice of classic Koji Kumeta, and that's something that we can always do with more of.

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai - Episode 13

I'm really not sure that the world needs any more Haganai, but it appears that I'm in the minority on that one - as well as a second season arriving this winter, we also have this bonus episode from the first season to entertain us in the meantime.

With all of the members of the Neighbours Club present and correct (well, as correct as they can be), Kodaka suggests that they pass the time by writing a relay novel - that is, each member takes it in turn to write a single page of a story before the next person takes over and writes a page of their own, and so on.  Of course, the result of this activity probably goes without saying... they end up writing the plot to Guilty Crown.

Okay okay, they don't really - instead, things follow a decidedly predictable bent - Yukimura lifts a tale from the Sengoku period which depicts him as a slave of Kodaka; Yozora reminds us why she's one of the most loathsome characters ever to grace an anime and Sena does little better; Kobato's pretension is offset by Maria's obsession with poop; and then the whole thing ends with a good old session of robosexual shenanigans delivered by Rika.

Having enjoyed the initial episodes of this series, this bonus episode was a perfect reminder of what the series became as it went on - at best, a run-of-the-mill comedy that was struggling for material, and at worse a vehicle for Yozora (and occasionally Sena) to spit bile at one another, which is somehow supposed to count as being amusing.  Sadly, aside from Rika's crazed slice of mecha Boy's Love anime (which was genuinely funny), there was nothing here whatsoever to convince me that a second season of this series is worth the time and effort of being produced, let alone watched - and it's not very often that I give up on sequels, such is my completest philosophy.

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 22

Although Eureka Seven AO isn't coming to an end just yet (we have to wait until November for that, thus increasing my list of "shows that aren't quite finished yet"), it does at least have some twists and turns in store before it leaves us for a little while.

With Elena's problems resolved, all of our attention for this instalment turns towards Truth, and despite outing him as a Secret previously it seems that even that "diagnosis" is thrown into question - not surprising really, as he reaches new levels of destructive insanity which he happily aims at all and sundry with no clear motive for his actions.  Such is Truth's wrath that even Naru needs to intervene to save Ao, finally reuniting this pair... in terms of location at least, although it seems that there is something of a wedge between them emotionally thanks to the respective journeys upon which they've embarked since the start of the series.

Of course, none of this helps with the long-term goal of defeating Truth, which is where the Secrets step in; more specifically, the Secret's formerly captured spokesperson (spokesecret?) lends himself as part of a package of additions to Elena's IFO, as the remainder of Generation Bleu join forces with this entity to try and halt Truth's rampage of destruction as it threatens to kill all of those infected "Coral Carriers" which have been growing substantially in number.  But can their massed forces finally put a stop to Truth?  Judging by the ending credits to this episode, it may take the re-emergence of an old face from the past to help...

Having thoroughly enjoyed so much of Eureka Seven AO of late, I have to admit to being a bit disappointed by this episode - Truth's existence is probably one of the less interesting elements of the show, and he feels almost like an arbitrary villain at this point whose motives and origins seem suitably nebulous to fit around whatever the show requires him to be at that time.  With so many other fascinating questions and conflicts surrounding the series, I hope the show as a whole doesn't end simply chasing around a lunatic, as it feels like it could, and should, offer so much more.  Now we'll have to wait until November to see what the ultimate goals of this series are...

Space Brothers - Episode 26

As we reach the final interview for our prospective astronauts in Houston, it's crunch time for all involved.  Or is it?

While the Nanba brother's parents seem incredibly relaxed despite the fact that one of their sons is a few days away from launching into space while the other is facing a potentially life-changing interview, Mutta himself is understandably decidedly nervous - a situation not helped by his vigorous exercise of prior days coming back to bite him.  On top of it all, an attempt by one of his interviewees to recreate the "loose screw problem" Mutta came across in a previous JAXA interview goes horribly wrong, with disastrous (yet admittedly hilarious) consequences.

Still, that embarrassment aside the whole interview goes without a hitch despite the presence of Azuma - in fact, the entire interview is a little too easy in terms of its tone and questioning, to the the point where Mutta wonders what the point of it is.  In fact, he's exactly right to do so, as there is no point to the "final" interview other than to mark closure of the selection process in the candidates minds - it's hear that the real selection process begins in earnest, as those making the selection look to choose their final picks to proceed while the would-be astronauts are relaxed with their guard down.  Possibly not the best time for Mutta to try and make Azuma's acquaintance despite the advice of others to leave him well alone, then...

All of this makes for a fun and fast-paced (by this show's standards, anyway) instalment that moved things forward nicely while also making the most of the inherent comedy that can be found from Mutta's personality and reactions to things - enjoyable stuff indeed, and what could be a necessarily light-hearted instalment given that it feels like we could be reaching a real dramatic crux of the series over the comings weeks as Hibito heads to space and Mutta's dream reaches a make or break point.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 13

With the cat forcibly exited from its bag, Taichi finds himself with no choice but to tell his friends about the information provided to him by the "second Heartseed" despite the warnings of dire consequences were he to do so - lo and behold, those consequences take immediate effect as this story arc comes to a close.

Now, rather than having a convenient time slot to prepare for any reversals in age, these changes can happen at any time of the day or night, making this bizarre problem impossible to hide - unless the group stays within the abandoned building that they've practically made their home, which is exactly what they do.

This would all be good and well (aside from making some flimsy excuses to parents), were it not for a developing family crisis on Iori's part - with her mother about to take her errant and violent drunkard of a second father back into the family home, she's desperate to get back to check on things; a situation not helped by some suitably vague phone calls.  Torn between sitting out the current situation with her friends and racing off alone to check on her mum, Iori is caught between a rock and a hard place - that's what friends are for of course, as they offer their assistance in ensuring that any problems are resolved without compromising any of the group with regard to their own problems.  Unusually, even Heartseed emerges to offer his own unique brand of assistance given the group's problems with "Number Two" (no giggling at the back), even if his suggestion of help is shot down by Iori so that she can continue to follow her own path.

So ends another story arc of Kokoro Connect (and what would have been the series as a whole had it not been extended).  This was certainly the weakest arc of the bunch, and it suffered from a few issues, most notably that it had a few plot points to sprinkle across the story, but none of them really had enough "flavour" or emotional depth to really work as a hook - both Yui and Aoki's problems were pretty tame compared to some of the stuff that the series has tried to handle, while Iori's part of the story held much more promise but didn't really have enough time or depth to deliver upon it.  In spite of this, the arc as a whole held together reasonably well in terms of continuing what has gone before - I only hope that it isn't a case of ever-decreasing returns for the show's story as it struggles to recreate some of the sharper moments of its original story arc.  Even then, Koroko Connect has succeeded in being far more compelling than I would ever have expected it to be, and there's something to be said for that if nothing else.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 12 (Completed)

Despite everything seemingly have resolved themselves within the Rinne for Madoka, Lan and Muginami, things certainly aren't looking any rosier back in the real world outside - in fact, they only seem to be getting worse as the environment becomes ever-more threatening, much to the delight of Moid.

However, it appears that everything is still under control as the girls within the Rinne come across Yurikano and an unconscious Dizelmine - although Yurikano is adamant that herself and Dizelmine must stay while the others escape to pay for the lives lost as a result of their misguided efforts in the past, Madoka is having none of it, insisting that they all escape so that those concerned can rectify their perceived sins in a more beneficial way.  Thus, the group escape from the Rinne safely, with the only "harm" coming to Dizelmine as he returns some ten years younger than he entered - not a bad deal at all, truth be told.

With planet Earth safe once again and Moid's plan thwarted, Madoka and her Jersey Club cohorts get to spread their influence across the galaxy, while the Rinne itself and its fallout ultimately leads to an end of the Polyhedron problem thanks to a "miracle" of some kind altering the orbits of both affected planets to ensure there is no chance of them ever coming into collision in the future.  In other words, it's a happy ending all-round - provided you don't feel a little worried at the prospect of Madoka holding an incredibly influential position across an entire galaxy, of course.

Following on from a first season of fun and frolics punctuated with occasional bursts of action and drama, this second season of Rinne no Lagrange never quite got its balance right - its comedy was less marked, which (arguably quite rightly) allowed the show's "serious business" to take centre stage; the trouble is, that serious business was rarely all that compelling, with its galactic politics and the behaviour of those deeply ensconced within it becoming increasingly repetitive.  Even when it came to the shows grand finale, its story couldn't quite match its in turn sinister and beautiful visuals, failing to deliver any real tension or explore the legend around which the entire series was based in a suitably interesting manner.  While incredibly fun at times and quite affecting at others, Rinne no Lagrange never really knew what it wanted to be, nor did it particularly have the legs to fill its running time in a satisfying fashion - issues which mean that it will be remembered as a colourful failure that brought some great comedy to what was almost a slice of life mecha setup, without ever delivering the full package of action and drama that it clearly wanted to alongside that.  Still, that soundtrack sure did kick ass...

Joshiraku - Episode 8

It's been a while since I last had the opportunity to check out any Joshiraku (almost a month in fact), but it's back to the rakugo grindstone now for episode eight of the series.

It's the New Year as this episode begins (no, it hasn't been that long since I last watched an episode), and poor old Marii is the rest of the group's punching bag once again as she finds herself having to come last at everything, whether it's delivering the final syllable of the group's New Year greeting or receiving the final New Year gift envelope from the manager.  However, there are important advantages to being last... at least, so the others tell Marii.

From here, it's off for a shopping trip for the gang - a trip that soon turns into a hunt for charms and foodstuffs to bring youthful vigour back to, or simply to generally improve whatever ails or bothers, all and sundry.  But does this stuff actually work?  It seems to do the trick on Gan, until she admits that she's simply acting up.  For the final segment of the episode, it's April 40th!  Why, you ask?  In a desperate (and ultimately misguided) attempt to prevent Kukuru from getting the so-called "May Blues".  But why May?  What about the rest of the year?  Then again, it seems that Kukuru has all twelve months of the year covered pretty well on her own, despite the offer of the others to help out and share her burden.

After a long break, perhaps I wasn't in quite the right frame of mind to have cultural references and gags thrown at me, leaving me tiring of this particular instalment of Joshiraku pretty quickly - that said, even when it isn't hitting all the right notes with me this is still a show that can get laughs out of me on a relatively consistent basis, whether it's the absurdity of seasonal depression being linked to seeing a manga artist's assistant or Kigurumi's "cute act" (which is yet to get tiresome).  It's these moments that make this series watching even when you're struggling to keep up with what it's trying to riff on, and although it might not have quite the panache of Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei at going about it, it's still very much appreciated.

Tari Tari - Episode 13 (Completed)

It's finally the day of the big (but decidedly unofficial) White Festival - except its raining.  And the school's gates are locked and chained, as are the gym doors.  And the school council's chairman is laying in wait for our errant pupils to cut off their rebellion before it even begins.

Just as any hope of our group of friends being able to perform look set to vanish entirely, up steps not one but two proverbial knights in shining arm - first, the school principle, who (after making a bit of a fool of himself) is quickly followed by the vice-principle.  Despite the treat of dismissal from the chairman, the ban on entering school property is over-ruled and the festival gets to go ahead, albeit with an outdoor location instead of the gym.  What's more, the school's full music club turns out to lend their talents to the performance, while a not inconsiderable crowd of pupils and townsfolk turn up to see the event unfold, ensuring that it's a surprisingly large-scale success for the choir club.

With their short-term dreams fulfilled, it's time for the group to take a longer view as their graduation looms - a situation that brings a brave decision from Sawa in particular, while the others all look to find their niche in the world; something which they seem to succeed at entirely judging by the show's closing montage, which gives us our requisite happy ending to finish up the series.

Although not an unqualified success, Tari Tari succeeded more than it failed on an episode by episode basis - early on it had a sharp eye for humour to help carry an otherwise unspectacular storyline, then when it came to delivering some character-based drama it managed to dish out some surprisingly heart-rending stuff, particularly in the cases of exploring Wakana and Sawa's back stories.  Sure, some of its episodes and plots didn't work, and even its closing gambit looked a little leggy for a while, but the fact that its final instalment was both oddly touching while still delivering a bit of humour and plenty of feel-good factor pretty much sums up the series as a whole - a gorgeous and lightweight series that nonetheless managed to punch above its wait her and there.  It certainly won't be one of 2012's most memorable series, but Tari Tari proved accomplished at achieving almost everything it set out to, making it a pretty enjoyable summer distraction as a result.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 25

Although Mutta might be fretting over his forthcoming final astronaut selection exam, this week's Space Brothers is largely more focused on another rather important countdown, as launch day fast approaches for Hibito and his fellow astronauts.

Thus, this episode sees Hibito boasting a packed schedule in the run-down to his big lift-off, including a journey to Florida and the Kennedy Space Centre to recreate and rehearse his final few days before lift-off, and going into quarantine in preparation for the launch.

This leaves Mutta largely to his own devices, and without anything else to do with his time he decides to stop sitting around waiting for his final exam to come about, instead choosing to train his heart out to improve both body and sole in the hope of gaining an edge in whatever the final selection process throws at him - a big unknown thanks to Azuma's presence, although Hibito seems convinced that he won't give Mutta a hard time despite holding a grudge against his younger brother.

As a continued build-up to Hibito's lift-off and Mutta's final examination, this was an episode that had little to do other than spin its wheels in a sense, yet in keeping with Space Brothers as a whole it managed to be both fun and interesting thanks to a combination of both its likeable characters and its attention to detail when it comes to the whole space exploration aspect of its premise.  To be honest, this episode could simply have run through the build-up to Hibito's big day via a huge checklist and still been interesting, such is the inherent fascination stored up within its subject matter - an advantage which the series continues to use in keeping me hooked to its goings-on, without a doubt.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 12

With "time reversal", and individuals returning to a younger childhood state at random, the latest problem to afflict our quintet of high school students, it was only ever going to be a matter of time before they had to deal with one of their number reverting to infancy.  However, it seems that this is the least of their concerns...

It's really Yui and Aoki that have to face the brunt of the difficulties in this week's episode, with the former finding herself reverted back to her state immediately after she was assaulted in her past while Aoki's reversions have seeded sufficient memories of ex-girlfriend Nana in his head to leave him confused about his true feelings for Kiriyama and their origins.  What's more, Yui is still finding herself pursued by former karate club-mate Mihashi, who demands to know why Kiriyama quit the club and what she's doing with her life now.

Ultimately, these pressures merge to cause a row between Aoki and Yui - a state of affairs which leaves both individuals confused about their emotions.  While Yui seems prepared to do little more than run away from any problems which face her, thankfully Aoki has a rather more determined streak in him; thus, he decides to solve his confusion in the only way he knows how - by visiting Nana to confirm for himself where his heart lies.  No matter how brief his meeting with his ex-girlfriend, and wavering in his love for Yui is extinguished, giving both parties a chance to try again with a new understanding of one another.  Of course, this is only one problem solved in the face of the group's current turmoil....

While I know I'm not the only one to question the dramatic value of this latest story arc of Kokoro Connect in comparison to what's gone before, the series still seems to be making a pretty good fist of using it to generate some tension and emotion.  Although some of this episode's plot elements were clumsy (Mihashi's appearances and insistent attitude in particular felt "bolted on" and not particularly important to the wider story), and while Aoki's resolution to his confusion felt a little weak and almost arbitrary, the first half of this episode did grab me sufficiently to leave me sympathising with its characters and their predicaments to the point of being at least somewhat moved by it. Whether it can build and further improve upon these foundations remains to be seen, but given that the show's previous story arcs have built to a fitting climax I really hope that its latest concept can do so again.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 21

Now that Japan have arrived to save the world (well, to save Generation Bleu at least), the resultant confusion means unfamiliar circumstances for a not inconsiderable portion of the show's cast.

While Ao has to get used to working alongside both Japanese forces and Secrets, Fleur has an even bigger task to get to grips with as she becomes the new president of Generation Bleu with all that entails.  Elsewhere, Elena is taking on life amongst the US forces in her own inimitable manner, and Naru makes an unlikely comrade of the former Team Harlequin crew, as the question as to who are the good guys and bad guys in this series continues to rage on  -should we be rooting for the Scub or the Secrets?

It's Elena that really gets the focus for the latter half of this episode however, as she continues to pursue the opportunity for her to return to her own world - the trouble is, when Eureka makes an ethereal appearance before her, she hears an uncomfortable truth... she's already on her own home world, but simply in the wrong time.  Put simply, this isn't what Elena wants to hear at all, leaving her to continue her quest despite the evidence mounting to suggest that it's entirely fruitless.  With the new-look Generation Bleu joining the Secrets in a raid against a new Scub burst, former colleagues quickly come to blows, meaning that it's decision time for Elena - can she accept the truth before Truth gets in the way?

Inevitably, and as per the last few episodes in particular, Eureka Seven AO's complexities really show themselves at this stage in the series - when you have to spend half an episode exploring all of the changes in the show's politics and what it means for its characters, you know you're in pretty deep.  Still, in spite of this I'm sufficiently invested in the show's world to be able to soak this up with the requisite degree of fascination, and the focus on Elena's predicament was both much needed and welcome even it was a little anti-climatic (albeit joyfully meta in its cliched ending of said sub-plot).  My biggest concern right now is how the series is going to finish - it somehow feels like we're still so far away from a real resolution to everything that Eureka Seven AO needs to wrap up, which could make for some rip-roaring instalments in the weeks ahead; then again, it could mean that the show ends up as a train wreck.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Autumn 2012 anime preview

October is fast approaching, which can mean only one thing - it's time for me to over-extend myself and watch way too much anime again!  What's on the all you can eat animated buffer for the autumn season though?  As usual, I've compiled a full season preview (complete with key art and trailers wherever possible) over at UK Anime, so why not check it out?

As always, I'd love to hear what you lovely people have on your "must-watch" list for the coming season, and if you ask really nicely (or just look at my MAL profile) I might give you some hints as to what I'm planning to watch and 'blog about for the autumn.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 11

With Dizelime's (or rather, Moid's) plan well and truly swinging into action, things are looking rather dire for the Earth as it becomes enveloped in, well, stuff, signalling the impending unleashing of the much-feared Rinne.

At this point we'd normally look towards our trio of Vox pilots to save the day - except we find them all lost in some kind of unknown wasteland, each seemingly facing their demons and their enemy in their own unique, but completely separate, way.  With nobody able to contact them and communications between the three pilots lost, is there any hope in getting through to them as they fight their own futile battles alone?

If nothing else, we finally get some insight into what has driven Moid to the actions which caused this forthcoming apocalypse in the first place, via a story that stretches back 20,000 years to Maycun's own abuse in the name of activating the Rinne, causing the destruction of the planet but also sowing the seeds for a goal which Moid could never hope to attain.  Our new villain might be convinced that nothing can stop the progress of the Rinne now, but others disagree for one simple reason - they have faith in Madoka; faith that looks all set to be repaid as our protagonist is brought to her senses from the depths of despair by an e-mail and, of all things, a packed lunch.

It feels as if we've wait so long for this final battle with the entire planet on the line that I'm not sure that anything short of an End of Evangelion-esque display would really do it justice, and lo and behold this penultimate episode of Rinne no Lagrange doesn't quite get it right.  Visually the series managed to remain reasonably striking, and it put forth some confident ideas and plot points, only to shirk them somewhat at the last - was the world really just saved by some packed lunches?  Was Moid's desire really so woolly and poorly-formed after all his efforts?  In spite of some decent moments and smart ideas, there wasn't really enough sustenance to the climax to this battle for the future of the planet to really feel satisfying; something was missing, pure and simple, and I was never left with any feeling of tension or suspense even in such an apocalyptic setting.  Perhaps this series works better as a slice-of-life series with some mecha elements than anything more serious after all...

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 12 (Completed)

As we come to the end of this second season of YuruYuri (did we ever figure out what we were supposed to call it properly?), so the series finishes in a suitable fashion - that being, with lots of goofing around.

In fact, it's the first segment of just such goofing around that's arguably the best bit of this finale - after watching Kyoko trying to get scare out of her amusement club friends by leaving a toy snake in the doorway, it seems that she's procured all sorts of childish yet fun toys to allow said club to live up to its name... although it seems that nothing is as fascinating as Chinatsu's hair.

With that done and dusted, the rest of the episode brings us some good old-fashioned pantomime, with the amusement club and student council combining to create their own unique take on the Snow White story, complete with a silent talking mirror, a hun-toting huntsman and a tomato preferred to an apple.  Oh, and a giant robot of course; what else?  All of this combines to allow plenty of opportunities for each character to show off their own in-jokes in the name of comedy, making for a fitting end to the series if nothing else I suppose.

Ironically, it's this final segment that also demonstrates Yuru Yuri at its weakest - its over-used character tropes have been one of the biggest problems with the franchise as a whole at its lower ebbs, and it's the seeming realisation of this after some frankly dire early episodes that lifted this second season into the realms of respectable comedy.  Once this series breaks out of its constant looping of the same tired old gags in favour of using them more sparingly in the midst of other material, and similarly once its broadens the use of its characters beyond the main staple of the show, it manages to shine as a fun, colourful and entertaining little series that has been more enjoyable to watch than I would otherwise have expected it to be.  That this second series succeeded in doing it more often is worthy of at least some praise - YuruYuri is no comedy classic and never will be, but much of this season was a fun jaunt that made its presence welcome in a summer season line-up that was largely lacking in comedy.

Tari Tari - Episode 12

After all of the build-up, if you were expecting an outcry from the students of Tari Tari's school upon the announcement of its closure and relocation, then think again - in fact, the student body is surprisingly apathetic to the whole thing.

Indeed, even the members of the choir club seem resigned to the fact that nothing can be done about their school building - however, they are willing to fight for their festival and the chance to perform and sing in front of an audience, even if that means doing so unofficially.  Thus, the group's preparations continue apace...

...only to be hindered at almost every turn, be it the loss of the props Wien worked so hard to create or the refusal of the student council and its body to back Miyamoto's plea for the reinstatement of the school festival.  Still, it isn't all bad news - the choir club's hard work seems to be drawing an increasing number of students into a state of enthusiasm about what they're doing, while the vice-principle seems to have found at least some peace with her own feelings thanks to the work and penmanship of Wakana.  However, with the powers that be involved in the redevelopment project having little patience for any inkling of interference from the school or its students in their work, will everything that they've strived towards ultimately come to naught?

Perhaps it's simply because it hasn't lived up to my expectations of its finale, but this climactic arc of Tari Tari feels a little weak - where other series would portray the current scenario as an epic struggle between students and authority to recognise their needs and passion (a la From Up On Poppy Hill as a recent example), this show feels rather half-hearted in comparison.  Not that taking a different tact is necessarily a bad thing, but it's a little tough to find anything to get behind within the current story - there's no real human drama in the choir club's desire to sing aside from a little sympathy towards them, and it certainly pales into comparison to what the series has succeeded in doing at times prior to this point.  This may sound a little harsh, but when push comes to shove I simply feel ambivalent towards the final dilemma of the club and its members - surely they could simply perform some place away from the school? - and it isn't really what I envisaged from the show at this point.

Hyouka - Episode 22 (Completed)

Another week sees another favour asked of Houtarou by Chitanda, albeit this time what sounds like a deceptively simple one - holding an umbrella.

Of course, things are a little more involved than that, especially for our favourite energy conservationist - in fact, Oreki is asked to hold an umbrella for a parading Eru as she takes the part of the Empress in a traditional Japanese Doll Festival for her town, albeit one with "real-life" dolls.  Things only become even more complicated once Houtarou arrives to find a fair amount of panic and chaos amidst those preparing for the festival - a situation certainly not helped by his revelation that a bridge they are planning to use is closed for construction work.

Still, with some replanning and political shenanigas, the festival goes off without a hitch in spite of Oreki's fretting about not being able to see Chitanda properly in her current made-up state, and also about what such a long walk is going to do for his ability to conserve energy.  With the event over, thoughts turn briefly towards why the construction work which should have been postponed ended up going ahead and clashing with the festival, but this is but a trifle compared to the show's finale, which sees Chitanda pondering her inescapable future as a pivotal part of the town she grew up in despite its decline, and what she can do to improve the lot of its people.  It's a future that has a very clearly defined gap in it.... but does Oreki have the confidence to stand up and stake his claim to the gap that seems almost meant for him?

So ends a series that has been, rather appropriately given the frequent exclamations of a its lead female character, a curious affair.  Setting aside its visual beauty, there was something pleasing about the way much of Hyouka conducted itself - sedate to the point of being almost other-worldly, but with characters that did a lot to carry the series even when the weight of the story underneath those characters seemed too slight to support them.  It didn't always carry things off quite so well as I imagine it intended, occasionally either trying too hard or simply falling flat on account of a weaker than usual story, but by the end of it all I was more than sufficiently warmed up to the characters and setting to forgive the odd poor episode.

What that leaves us with is a show that feels very different (this isn't your typical mystery anime by any stretch of the imagination) while simultaneously proving to cater squarely to an existing audience within anime fandom (i.e. anyone with an interest in or enjoyment of slice-of-life high school shows) - as my early misgivings about the series evaporated I'd call Hyouka a victory for the most part, although it certainly isn't a series we'll be talking about for years to come; a perfect example of a good throw-away anime that you probably won't want to watch more once.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 24

We're back in Houston as Mutta returns to living with brother Hibito to prepare for the final round of astronaut selection exams - a joyful event perhaps, were it not for the presence of dog-cum-alarm clock Apo.

Still, there's little time to dawdle for either brother - while Hibito is being put through his paces learning how to operate and use the lunar vehicles he'll need to employ when he reaches the surface of the Moon, so Mutta finds himself operating a vehicle of his own... albeit nothing more than a lawnmover as he helps out Ozzy with his day job.

As the episode progresses, so it sets up its main thrust of the coming weeks as we learn that Hibito's selection to journey to the moon was actually a major surprise - a surprise which came at the expense of a far more highly qualified Japanese astronaut named Takio Azuma.  While Mutta spends some time hanging out with Hibito's stand-in, Lowry, it becomes clear that Azuma might be the biggest obstacle between Mutta and his dream, serving as he does on the committee which will make the ultimate decision on which astronauts are selected.  It seems that Azuma's legacy and his unspoken rivalry with Mutta's brother also hangs heavily over Hibito himself, causing the latter to form doubts of his own.

While it goes about shifting its focus, this week's Space Brothers is understandably a staid affair, happy to simply go about its business without drama or fireworks and letting its characters carry things through as required.  As a result, this was a decidedly unspectacular instalment of the series, but one that holds plenty of additional promise just around the corner - promise that it will hopefully deliver upon, and given what it's managed so far I have few doubts that it'll be able to execute whatever it puts its mind to.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 11

The problems just keep on coming for Kokoro Connect's quintet of friends - no sooner are their troubles with having their desires unleashed at random put to bed do they find themselves with a new and arguably even more bizarre problem to contend with.

This time around, the group are faced with this simple but troublesome scenario - every day between midday and 5PM, some members of the group (Taichi excluded) will revert to some kind of state of childhood.  The group discover this courtesy of the first victims of the "experiment", Iori and Yui, but as the episode progresses both Inaba and Aoki also get to experience some brief slices of time as their childhood selves.

Perhaps more troubling in the midst of all this is that it doesn't seem to be Heartseed pulling the strings - or rather, it is Heartseed, but not the same one responsible for pulling the previous stunts suffered by the group.  Although Taichi learns all of this, he's strictly forbidden to tell anyone else, thus exacerbating his problems.  That aside, you might assume that reverting to a child-like state for a few hours would be no big deal, but for this particular group of students it's a real problem - all of them have memories from their youth of some shape or form that they've either forgotten with good reason or simply have no need to recall, and with the reversion to childhood also bringing the memories of that time flooding back with it, it seems that all and sundry have some new struggles to face over the coming episodes.

Although the way this latest story arc was initially presented made it seem as though it might have ended up as frivolous fare, this week's Kokoro Connect has quickly established that this won't be the case - exactly how far it can go with its new premise remains to be seen, but it certainly seems confident that it can wring the requisite amount of drama and turmoil out of events to make it worthwhile.  Given what has gone before, I have a certain amount of trust in the series that it can deliver upon its promises, so hopefully it can succeed in doing exactly that moving forward.

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 20

With Allied forces attacking Generation Bleu's headquarters, Blanc making a desperate last-ditch attempt to put paid to Truth's attempts to interfere with everything and numerous other revelations and plot points popping up all over the place, to call the current state of Eureka Seven AO "chaotic" would probably be an understatement.

With Blanc and possibly Truth lost to the quartz-born Fusion explosion deep within Generation Bleu's headquarters, the now leaderless remaining staff have to figure out what to do next - despite Allied forces swarming around the base and biding their time to make a move, it seems that giving up isn't on anyone's agenda.  Thus, reliance is once again foist upon the Secret-infected Gerog to get the Triton up and running, while Ao takes Nirvash to venture into the hepths of headquarters to retrieve the so-called "Quartz gun" - something which he only succeeds in doing in a massive outpouring of Quartz.

With the Triton just escaping the collapse of what is left of headquarters, and the re-emergence of Team Harlequin and some of its staff into the fray, once again allegiances become decidedly fluid in the second half of this episode, with Harlequin seemingly putting its eggs into the Allied basket (on the surface, at least) and Elena seemingly looking to defect to the Allies herself.  The biggest twist in the tale comes from Blanc himself however - he may be dead, but his final preparations prior to his demise couldn't have been more thorough, offering Generation Bleu a pivotal deal... a deal make with the Secrets themselves!

The politics and shifting allegiances of Eureka Seven AO at this point may be chaotic as I alluded to earlier, but I'm actually rather enjoying that facet of this series - it certainly isn't trying to dumb down any of its elements and its complex geo-political landscape adds both a feeling of tension and a little more realism to proceedings.  That aside, this week's episode was another thrilling rollercoaster ride, with short bursts of action seeking only to punctuate the emotional turmoil and dilemmas facing its characters at every turn - it's truly compelling stuff, and probably the best this series has had to offer into the bargain.  It's perfect timing as well as we reach the final straight of a series that still feels like it could head off in any given direction even as some of its conflicting elements look set to settle down.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 11 (Completed)

Now that the game is up and Rokka knows the truth about the current inhabitant of Hazuki's body, it's decision time for all involved as Natsuyuki Rendezvous reaches its climax.

One thing that quickly becomes clear is that this is the end of the road for Shimao in terms of "borrowing" Hazuki's body, as even he finally admits that it's time to let go of his current physical reality.  But what of Rokka?  Is her love for Hazuki great enough to accept him upon his return to his own body, or would she rather simply follow her husband into the afterlife?

For a few shocking minutes it seems as if this is not only Rokka's choice but also a decision accepted by Shimao, who looks set to help his wife into the afterlife while ignoring Hazuki's desperate pleas for him to stop.  Thankfully, it seems that this is little more than a bluff as a "parting gift" by Shimao before returning the body he's been using to its rightful owner, and paving the way for Hazuki to make his own gambit for Rokka's happiness.

So ends a series that held so much potential, and occasionally delivered upon it in spades, but one that largely failed to really make the most of the myriad emotions afforded its setup.  Natsuyuki Rendezvous showed flashes of brilliance in showing the emotional struggles of Rokka and Shimao in particular, but seemed to lose sight of what it was trying to say as it dragged out its body-swapping plot point and leaned too heavily on flashbacks to the past to bring a meaning to its presence.  While Hazuki's trip to a land of fairy tails proved too distracting from the show's more important plot beats, all of the characters proved to be tougher to root for as the series progresses, with their attitudes and decisions proving to be the final nail in the coffin of a series which promised so much but delivered to little.  While I'm glad I watched Natsuyuki Rendezvous for those moments where it caught me squarely in the chest and tugged hard at my heart strings, by the end of it all I was simply glad that it was over.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 11 (Completed)

Just as Moyashimon returned, so it departs again as we reach the conclusion of this second season to find that all is well in France - Haruka and Ryuuta are both in agreement to have their engagement and proposed wedding cancelled, while Marie has made piece with her family and has an opportunity to ensure that their vineyard thrives.

In fact, as the gang return to Japan and their normal lives, there is only one tragic footnote to this French adventure - nobody had remembered to pick up any cheese for Professor Itsuki during their visit, much to his overbearing disappointment.

While everyone is relieved, and indeed thrilled, to see Hasegawa return to their fold, for Haruka herself there is still one pressing question in her mind - is there any need for her to stay at the university now that her sole reason for being there (avoiding her father and the threat of an arranged marriage) has dissipated?  Of course, the response to Haruka's return is more than a sufficient answer to that, as she realises just how much she's been missed, while the other members of the group redouble their efforts now that their collective is complete once again.

After a bright start, I think it's fair to say that Moyashimon Returns never quite managed to live up to the standard of its predecessor - it's hard to put a finger on exactly what went wrong (and I use that term loosely, as the series was still plenty enjoyable enough), but perhaps the focus on more grandiose dramatic content lost some of the simple sense of fun and entertainment that came from the first season.  Still, no other show can really claim to mix inter-personal relationships with learning about science in quite the same way as Moyashimon, and I'd like to think that I at least learned a little while laughing along with the show's cast, which is surely the entire raison d'etre of this series.  It may be a further example to be used when arguing that sequels rarely live up to their originals, but that hasn't stopped Moyashimon Returns from being a decent viewing experience that has still managed to add some further fond memories to its franchise as a whole.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 11

With a new school year promising new members for the Amusement Club, it's time for a clean-up of the former Tea Club room they occupy.  Unsurprisingly, there's all kinds of old junk to be found within its previously unused closet.  More surprisingly, that list of junk includes... a time machine.

In the ensuing excitement and panic(triggered by the thought it could be one of Nishigaki's higly explosive inventions), Akari ends up triggering the machine, sending herself (and by proxy us) tumbling back in time to the beginning of the series.  With the strange machine no longer operational, it seems as if Akari is stuck in the past unless she can get the time machine fixed... so while she's there she might as well make the most of her journey, aiming to fix the misfortune which plagued her first week at middle school in the name of increasing her presence.

Of course, this being Akari, any such plans are well and truly thwarted at every turn, whether it's oversleeping when she should be helping her past self dress properly for school or misfiring when it comes to reminding herself to use a proper introduction in her new class.  With the help of her sister and Nishigaki to help her through the week and aid with her return to the present however, all's well that ends well as Akari gets to reflect of the importance on the memories that her middle school days have created; memories which might never have happened had Akari successfully altered the past.

Yes, my mind is probably as blown as yours by YuruYuri entering time travel territory (and with no time paradogs in sight), but despite reaching new heights of outlandishness this was a pretty entertaining episode that made far better use of Akari than has been typical of this second season of the show in particular.  It also once again managed to finish its tale in a decidedly touching and surprisingly moving fashion, something which this series has managed to do a couple of times now to prove that it's more than just a fluke - further evidence of how much this second season season of YuruYuri seems to have grown in confidence and stature since its stuttering initial episodes, that almost leaves me expecting to miss it once its final episode is done and dusted next week.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Tari Tari - Episode 11

With the White Festival fast approaching, everything seems to be falling into place for our choir club as they work towards their decidedly ambitious musical project.

Now that Wakana has a handle on writing a song, it's up to the others to roll up their sleeves, whether it's Sawa's work on choreography or Taichi's artistic set-building efforts... actually, perhaps the less said about Taichi's artistry the better, as he finds himself having to grovel to the school's art club (or rather, one of its number) to help him out in return for a photo of Sawa.

Is all of this going to be for naught however?  If you hadn't guessed it already from the ominous references throughout the series and the appearance of builders around the school in last week's instalment, things are not looking up for the school, and this latest episode finally sees what's going on revealed - the existing school is about to be taken over and rebuilt as part of a luxury apartment complex, seeing a smaller school built in its wake.  With the school proper shutting down and relocating to temporary classrooms in the short term, the White Festival is summarily cancelled - unlike most other anime of its ilk however, there's no sign of rebellion from either teachers or students as they meekly accept their fate in the name of progress; only Wakana refuses to have her dreams crushed as she continues towards completion of her all-important song.

Having expected the announcement of the school's impending closure to generate some serious late drama for the series (and let's ignore its implausibility in terms of timing and how quickly the school would be expected to relocate for now), the whole thing rather fizzled out upon its announcement, with everything carrying on in a business as usual sense.  Instead, we seem to be sticking to the feel-good factor that come from the show's main cast now that they've conquered their personal demons and get on with their lives thanks to the bonds of friendship they've enjoyed - a decision which works pretty well for the series overall, even if it feels like it might be wasting an opportunity for a grand finale.  Perhaps next week's penultimate episode will set things off in a more dramatic direction, seeing as it doesn't have a huge amount of other material to work with at this point.

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 10

Dizelmine seems to change his mind about things more often than most people change their socks - rather problematic when he also happens to be in charge of a powerful planet and all the resources that come with such a position.  Thus, we shift once again from happy-fun-time friendship to galactic war as we enter the end-game of Rinne no Lagrange.

With Le Garite and De Metrio seeking to tear chunks out of one another yet again - and right above the Earth's atmosphere to boot - there's a sense of chaos all around back on Earth.  Despite being on opposite ends of the current conflict, Lan and Muginami decide to set out together in their Vox to see what's going on, only to be joined (of course) by Madoka as they take to the skies.

So, just what is going on with Dizelmine?  In short, he seems to be playing exactly into Moid's hands by launching this attack although he doesn't seem to realise it, and as the episode progresses we get to the core of Dizelmine's problem as it relates directly to Villagiulio.  As the king's temper reaches its crescendo, it appears that he's about to unleash the same demon which say Earth destroyed by Maycun some 20,000 years previously.

For all of its impressive visuals towards the end of the episode and a suitably desperate, world-ending plot to bring this series towards its conclusion, I can't stop feeling that a lot of its elements have been diluted too much over the course of the series - Dizelmine's constant vacillations regarding De Metrio and Villagiulio have undermined him as a character, and his actions as being of sufficient substance to drive the plot, and even Lan and Muginami's awkward position is too well-worn at this point.  Still, all of the pieces are in place for what could be a fantastic finale to the series if they play it right, and if all else fails... well, the show's soundtrack is as tremendous as ever, right?

Hyouka - Episode 21

Valentine's Day is the subject of this week's episode of Hyouka - always a fraught time in the world of anime, and seemingly especially so if you're either Satoshi or Mayaka.

The reason for this is made clear right from the outset, as we flash back to the pair's middle school days to find Satoshi refusing Ibara's offering of chocolate on account of it not being home-made enough for him.  Never a good move, especially in front of an incendiary girl like Mayaka, who vows to win him over the following year with some chocolate par excellence.  We are, of course, now at that fated Valentine's Day, meaning that Mayaka is determined to make good on her promise of delivering some chocolate that even the fastidious Satoshi cannot refuse.

After putting a significant amount of effort into creating her masterpiece, disaster strikes as the finished chocolates are stolen from the clubroom while Chitanda leaves them unattended for a short while - but who on earth would do such a thing?  Houtarou reluctantly agrees to lend his abilities to tracking down the culprit; although even when the chocolates are seemingly nowhere to be found, Oreki can still pin down the culprit - a culprit who is far closer to home than Chitanda seems to have realised.

As perhaps the weakest "mystery" that this series has delivered us thus far (just one look at Satoshi's face gave the entire game away), this week's Hyouka instead had to rely on its characters to carry the story - something which thankfully it has proved to be consistently adept at.  As a result, this was time well spent with both Oreki and Satoshi, and particularly the latter, in terms of delving into their personalities and how time has shifted them.  While this focus has still done little to truly pin down Satoshi as a character (which seems to be rather the point; here is a young man who wants to remain detached about everything that goes on around him, which goes a long way to explaining why he looks up to Houtarou as he does), it still gave us some fascinating little insights into him in the midst of a tale which allowed all four of its main players to bounce off of one another in satisfyingly organic ways.  The only question now is to how the series is going to end in a few weeks time - will it choose to continue its focus on the group's romantic proclivities or shelve it for something lighter and fluffier?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 23

Mutta might have secured his place in Houston for the final round of exams before becoming an astronaut, but it looks as though this achievement cuts no mustard with his parents when it comes to paying his own way.

As a result, Mutta finds himself job hunting as he waits for a date to make the trip to Houston, and with Christmas fast approaching there's only one temporary job fitting for a man of Mutta's stature - a shopping centre Santa Claus.  Aside from the constant guilt of having to lie to kids in this role, Mutta seems to be equally mired in guilt about having, as he sees it, taken friend Kenji's place in the final line-up to make it to Houston.

Only this isn't the case at all, as events play out before us to reveal that Kenji is part of the line-up, with the confusion caused by another of the would-be astronauts selected dropping out of the process to pursue  a different (but not entirely unrelated) dream.  With that awkward barrier ultimately hurdled, we're afforded the rest of the episode to anticipate the move to Houston, the final examination, and perhaps just as importantly Hibito's big day as he sets off for the moon.

Overall there isn't particularly a lot to say about this episode, serving as it does as little more than a bridge to its next full-blown story arc as things get serious again.  It's an example of how strong Space Brothers' character roster is however that the series can get away with doing this with little difficulty, as it still manages to remain broadly entertaining even when it doesn't have a particularly sharp focus on any one event or goal.  As a result, this is an unremarkable outing that does only what is required of it as we get to the real meat of the story again starting from next week.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 10

The gang are all back together just in time for their school camping trip, so it appears that happy days are here again for our quintet of school friends.  Or perhaps not...

While most of the group are delighted at a chance to spend some time together in relative normality while trying to put the issue of Heartseed's current "experiment" to the back of their minds for a little while, Inaba is clearly having a much tougher time than her companions as she moodily and skittishly stomps around the others, showing a surprisingly competitive streak when it comes to preparing food alongside Iori in particular as her desires strike her unexpectedly.

Given her behaviour it seems like only a matter of time before things come to a head for Inaba, and lo and behold this is exactly what happens as her actions in front of Iori lead her friend to come to the realisation that Inaba is quite clearly in love with Taichi.  Try as she might (quite literally), Inaba can't run from either this fact or her friend, leading to her and Iori having it out in the middle of the woodland regarding why Inaba tried to push Iori and Taichi together despite having feelings for him herself.  If this seems like the kind of thing likely to destroy the friendship of those involved, Iori is having none of it, insisting that it isn't like Inaba to give up without a fight.  Thus, broken friendships are mending, but possibly not for long now that we have an escalating love triangle in the group's midst, which could prove more problematic than any of Heartseed's games...

I had high hopes for this week's Kokoro Connect as it brought its current story arc to its conclusion, and it certainly delivered - Inaba has been a strong character throughout, but the glimpse underneath that seemingly thick skin we've seen a few times throughout the series to date set the tone well for an episode which really brought her raw emotion and true feelings to the fore in an almost gut-wrenchingly striking manner.  Take away its unique spin on things and this series is currently just another high school romance show at its core, but that really shouldn't detract from the fact that Kokoro Connect has employed some notably strong story-telling when it's really needed to, and between that and the catalyst that is its strong base of characters has brought to the show, it seems to be building further upon that base by the week.

Eureka Seven AO - Episode 19

Any kind of attack perceived to be against America isn't the smartest idea in the world, and after rescuing Ao from the clutches of Allied forces last week Generation Bleu find themselves firmly ensconced as public enemy number one in the minds of most.

Indeed, the situation with Ao is the final straw for the US, and before we know it Generation Bleu finds both their electricity and funding cut by their corporate overseers while also preparing some devastating weapons of their own should push come to shove and the Allies need to go head to head with their new enemy.  In the midst of all this, Truth is brewing up a storm at the worst possible time... a matter not helped by him seemingly learning the, well, truth about his origins.

It isn't just Truth who is involved in spilling such beans, as we finally start to get an idea about exactly who Elena is and the mysteries surrounding her past - there's little time to ruminate on this however as Truth runs amok in space, destroying scores of satellites in an attack that the US ascribe to Generation Bleu, in turn looking to attack their facility as events look likely to enter open warfare.  Truth himself also gets involved in this fray into the bargain, all while our IFO pilots are left exposed like sitting ducks with the Triton unable to take off while its crew look to "roll-back" AI Georg to a previous version after having been infected by contact with the captured Secret.  But are those Secrets the good guys or the baddie in this tale?  It's left to Ao and Fleur to discover this for themselves as everything else collapses around them...

To call this week's episode of Eureka Seven AO "busy" would be an understatement - it filled itself with so many important or simply engaging moments that watching it was a breathless experience without time to pause.  This episode also did a pretty good job of ratcheting up a feeling of helpless tension as Generation Bleu found itself cut off from those who might previously have looked to them for help, creating a feeling not entirely dissimilar from the first half of End of Evangelion.. only not as good, obviously.  Throw in some shocking pivotal moments, and you have yourself an episode that it's truly hard to tear yourself away from - Eureka Seven AO might still be a mess of ideas and plot points, but it can certainly be a gripping one when it wants to be.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Natsuyuki Rendezvous - Episode 10

It's crunch time in the battle for Hazuki's body - but who will win, especially now that Rokka is well and truly in on the game after coming to the realisation that it's actually Shimao currently inhabiting her co-worker's body.

At long last, it's time for our two lead male characters to have it out and get things resolved... well, sort of at least.  After Hazuki sees himself seemingly melt away as he becomes Shimao within the fantasy world in which he's trapped, swapping places with the dead and practically buried Shimao who was there previously, it seems that Shimao is willing to give his rival his body back, albeit only if he promises never to go near Rokka again.  For his part, Hazuki remains insistent that he'll only consider any deal if Shimao promises to finally let Rokka go so that she can live her own life.

The next thing we know however, Hazuki is being pushed off a virtual cliff, only to awaken back in reality... a decidedly uncomfortable reality, as he remains without his body and instead finds himself floating around as a ghost while Shimao makes use of his host to talk and joke with Rokka while eating rice balls.  Is he ever going to give Hazuki his body back?  With Rokka starting to probe into Shimao's "resurrection" and just how long he's been using Hazuki's body, what could be the sign that it's time for Shimao to say goodbye to his wife once again looms large in her conversation.

Having frustrated me at times and astounded me at others, this penultimate episode of Natsuyuki Rendezvous sat firmly in the middle of those two polar opposites by being "just okay" - by this point I've lost most of my sympathy and/or empathy for all of the main characters for some reason or another, which leaves this instalment to simply go through the motions.  It does this decently enough, and thankfully it finally drags us away from the frustration's of Shimao's picture book world into something more tangible after threatening to spend even longer spinning its wheels.  Ultimately though, the show's final episode seems to have mapped itself out pretty clearly, and I'm now just happy that we're close to the end of a show that occasionally promised so, so much, but never seemed to have the focus or nous to really deliver on all of the expectations it built so early on.

Moyashimon Returns - Episode 10

It seemed a little like love was in the air as well as bacteria in last week's Moyashimon Returns, with Misato and Hasegawa seemingly getting on pretty swimmingly as they went on the run from Ryuuta and his cronies.

However, there is still a lot to be fixed before such things can even be considered, and not just for Haruka - French native Marie also needs to sit down for a serious chat with her own father.  This really comes to the fore as Sawaki notes that her father isn't, despite pretending to do so, even drinking alcohol - it seems that he's trying to run a vineyard without having so much as tasted alcohol.

As the episode progresses, it seems that it's up to Sawaki to save the day on a number of fronts thanks to his ability to communicate with bacteria.  For starters, he used this skill to leave a message for Marie regarding the problems building in their wine "cave" - a message which both gets their wine "brewing" and also does a notably job of loosening the wedge that has been developed between herself and her father.  Then there's Hasegawa, who returns to clear the air with Ryuuta only to have him collapse on her - luckily, Sawaki can figure out what's wrong by sight alone, which leaves this would-be couple to finally admit the true feelings about their current arrangement on both sides.

What this leaves us with is a surprisingly feel-good tale, as everything looks set to be resolved as happily as possible - it is perhaps a sign of how likeable most of its characters are when this is a thing of joy, while the use of Sawaki's ability as more than just an oddity is actually a welcome addition to a series in which its otherwise mostly felt secondary to the vagaries of the plot.  Of course, we still have one episode to go to wrap things up, meaning that this series isn't going to go everywhere we might otherwise have wanted it to, but it's still been an enjoyable ride for the most part, visit to Paris and all.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Rinne no Lagrange: Season 2 - Episode 9

It's Christmas!  Okay okay, as per usual it isn't actually Christmas, but it most certainly is the case in Kamogawa at the time of this latest episode of Rinne no Lagrange.

Understandably, Christmas is a busy time for Madoka and her Jersey Club buddies - particularly so this time around, as they also find themselves in charge of organising a leaving party for the soon to be departing Kirius and Array.  In the midst of all of this, Madoka is also under pressure to pin down her future career plans from her school teacher, which is a tough decision that she doesn't even seem to want to think about, and a choice likely to made tougher by Muginami and Lan's desires to return to their home planets upon graduation.

Madoka isn't the only one with problems by any stretch of the imagination however, as Asteria has a whole new kettle of fish to deal with now that Void has gone AWOL, having first stolen the tablet that is pivotal to preventing a future disaster befalling the Earth and beyond.  After admitting her true age and origins to her employees (as well as her real name of Maycun), our diminutive 20,000-something seeks both to find Moid and find out what he's up to - a mission which sees her becoming increasingly suspicious of Dizelmine, who also seems to have gone into hiding of sorts.  As this episode closes, these suspicions looks likely to be proved as entirely valid....

Much like last week's episode, this instalment of Rinne no Lagrange kept its powder well and truly dry in advance of its big, final revelation - not that it was quite as otherwise fluffy as its immediate predecessor mind you, via an episode which was blatant in its handling of the future of Madoka and those around her; a future that looks likely to be put on hold anyhow as the prospect of inter-galactic war rears its head again.  Finally, it appears as if we could be returning to some full-on mecha action... remember when Rinne no Lagrange had some of that?  Either way, it's time for the Vox to soar into action once again, so I'm rather looking forward to that change of pace given that this second season hasn't always been as sharp with its slice of life stuff.

YuruYuri ♪♪ - Episode 10

For this week's YuruYuri, we head off for a school trip to Kyoto (maybe that's why this week's Hyouka was off the mark if they let Kyoko work on it) - well, I say we, whereas in fact we as viewers spend much of our time with the juniors left behind in the wake of said trip.

The episode is bookended by what seem to be the new darlings of this series in terms of appearances, Sakurako and Himawari - at the start of the episode Sakurako insists upon going on a trip of their own, taking her friend on a meandering walk that ultimately sees them get lost in the woods (although if they were to venture a little further they'd find themselves anything but lost), before we close with Sakurako's elder sister watching the two girls do homework together and argue up a storm while recalling happier days when they seemed to be much better friends.

In between all of this, we do get some brief snippets of those who went on the school trip proving to be rather unimpressed by some of the local landmarks, while Chinatsu replaces her pining for the absent Yui by proving to be extremely, err, "accommodating" towards Akari.  Cue another creepy suggestion of rape on Chinatsu's part, a la season one.

Having enjoyed it spending time away from a lot of its main characters at times in recent episodes, oddly this latest instalment of YuruYuri actually felt weaker for the relative absence of some of the regulars - there was a distinct lack of laugh out loud moments, or anything that seemed particularly interesting or entertaining for that matter aside from a moment or two that made me smile.  Perhaps we're simply on the run down to the end of the series now, but half-decent production values aside this was a distinctly forgettable dose of sapphic comedy.

Tari Tari - Episode 10

Having agreed to it as a desperate attempt to raise the money they need in advance of the White Festival, it's time for the Choir Club to put their backs into part-time work as "superheroes".

After a stuttering start underpinned by feelings of intense embarrassment, the gang soon warms to their task as "shopping mall heroes", with crowds gathering and interest growing thanks to their efforts to the point where they're asked to extent their appearances from a one weekend only affair to become a more permanent part of the area's publicity.  Although the group are relatively happy to accept this idea in the name of raising more funds, it seems that the school's vice principle is ready to step in and intervene once again... but can she really do anything about it having signed the rights to let them work a part-time job previously?

Of course, much of the vice principle's ire still stems from her past relationship with Wakana's dead mother - a still-burning flame that Wakana herself exploits as she talks to Naoko in the hope of finding some inspiration for her current song-writing task.  Surprisingly, Naoko actually provides some helpful advice that looks likely to set her former friend's daughter on the right track, although we're once again distracted by some promotional superhero work that virtually turns into the real thing thanks to a random bag-snatcher.  It's certainly a scenario that Wien seems to enjoy in a cathartic way, but with builders turning up outside the school there might just be bigger fish to be friend in the very near future...

Putting its deliberately cringe-worthy "singing superhero" shenanigans to one side (why have we not seen governments trying to employ the cheap crime-fighting technique of singing at offenders until they give in?), this was an okay episode that didn't really do much overall - aside from one flashback featuring Naoko and Wakana's mother, it was bereft of any of the real emotion or drama that have underpinned other recent episodes, and it was also a little too light on humour for my taste as well.  Thus, this time around we were left with a forgettable instalment that does little more than lead us into Tari Tari's closing episodes and whatever they might bring.

Hyouka - Episode 20

It's the New Year as Hyouka enters its penultimate episode, providing Houtarou with pretty much the only thing that will spur him into action... an invitation from Chitanda.

Thus, Oreki gets to accompany Eru on her traditional shrine visit (kimono and all) to see in the new year, although for the latter it seems to be more about business than pleasure as she visits those in charge of the shrine to bring them her family's greetings and best wishes.  Oh, and sake... can't forget that.  After stopping by to say a quick hello to a shrine maiden outfitted Mayaka and draw a fortune, Houtarou's promise of a year of misfortune within that fortune soon looks likely to be rather prescient...

After offering to help out those working at the shrine with a simple errand of fetching something from the warehouse, an unusual mistake on Houtarou's part leaves them searching for said item in the wrong place - more specifically a shed, which they soon find locked from the outside by another member of staff.  With nobody else knowing who they are, no cell phones (seriously?!) and Eru insistent that they can't shout for help lest it cause a misunderstanding about their reason for being in the shed in the first place, it's up to Oreki to fathom out a means of escape.  Thank goodness for TV dramas about Oda Nobunaga (and no, he wasn't a cute girl in this one) and Satoshi's interest in just such dramas as the day's unlikely saviour.

Although previous story arcs within this series have had their necessary contrivances to build a story and, more importantly, a mystery, I don't think any of those previous arcs have been quite as blatant in dispensing with common sense in the name of fashioning a plot.  Are we really expected to believe that Oreki, a 21st century teenager, has gone out without his cell phone, on an evening where he's meeting his friends, no less?  This is the most glaring example in an episode where all of the main cast felt like they'd had some level of lobotomy in the name of making a simple situation (being trapped in a shed) into something far more complex.  Put simply, it didn't work and ended up being perhaps the weakest episode of the series as a result, a few snappy one-liners and fun moments aside.  It's the first major mis-step for a series that has otherwise managed to be fun in spite of its mundane scenarios and forced situations that were at least forgiveable - hopefully it's also the only mis-step as we rocket towards the end of the series, and a Valentine's Day setting.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Space Brothers - Episode 22

After a one week break, we return to the world of Space Brothers still uncertain as to who has succeeded and who has failed in the wake of JAXA's latest astronaut qualification exam.

Thankfully, we aren't kept on tenterhooks for too long, as we quickly learn who has made the great thanks to that bizarre game of rock-paper-scissors from the team occupied by Mutta as the entire group goes out for a meal together.  But what of those who didn't manage to win out in that game?  While the others seem at least somewhat relaxed in the wake of their failure to qualify from the exam (including Furuya, who we saw plenty of last episode), Mutta appears restless as he ponders what to do next, certain that his luck has finally run out.

This attitude isn't changed when he hears the news of how many individuals from the last exam will be heading off to Houston - with eight astronauts picked in total and three of them confirmed to be female, Mutta quickly realises that only one additional place is left amongst the selection for those who didn't qualify automatically.  Given that good friend Kenji is also on the list of those fighting for that final place, Mutta has well and truly written off his hopes.... but perhaps just this once it's going to be his ability and personality that triumphs over good luck to ensure that his dream doesn't come to an end?

Slow-burning though it might have been once again, this week's episode of Space Brothers (as so often seems to be the case with this series) still works really well - its method of revealing Mutta's future and the final exam result was carried out in a slightly odd way, but one that proved effective to the point of being quite touching in the midst of an instalment that made good use of its characters despite not really going anywhere with them.  It's the ability to make the viewer root for and empathise with its characters that makes this series what it is, and it's a goal that it shows no signs of losing sight of, which is undoubtedly good news all around.  Roll on a trip to Houston, although it looks like we'll have to wait at least another week before we make it there...

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Kokoro Connect - Episode 9

The last few days have seen this series (or, more accurately, some of its production staff) conjure up more drama than even its premise and characters could dream of in a blaze of bullying and recriminations.  Still, let's put that to one side for a moment to find out what's next for our group of rapidly deteriorating friends.

Having reached a low ebb in last week's episode, it seems that Taichi has finally gotten himself together enough to try and reassemble his friends starting with Iori, who is more than happy to hear his apologies and his realisation that he can be decidedly stubborn to the point of being selfish once he gets a train of thought into his head.  Along those lines, Aoki is similarly happy to be welcomed back into the fold, leaving us with just the remaining female members of the gang to convince.

While Inaba continues to avoid Iori and company, Taichi and Aoki turn their attentions towards Yui, eventually persuading her to talk to them and, in a rather unorthodox manner, they assure her that no matter what happens she won't find herself with an overwhelming desire to hurt people to the point of it being uncontrollable.  Although Aoki doesn't get his wish of spending a night in a love hotel with her, Yui subsequently returns to school to a hugely warm welcome, while the group's after-school club is almost complete again... even if they are finding their desires hard to control when it comes to food.  This leaves us to focus once again on Inaba, as she squirrels herself away from the others - a state of affairs that causes Heartseed to intervene to force her hand into returning to the fold, in the knowledge that her deepest held desire could well cause massive problems for the entire group...

With a major focusing on moving all of its proverbial chess pieces into place for maximum emotional impact over the next episode or two, this was an unspectacular yet solid instalment that perhaps could have done a little more to drill into the psyche of its characters at this point but nonetheless still delivered a reasonably entertaining and somewhat amusing episode.  It's Inaba's current dilemma that is really the most fascinating aspect of the current story arc at this point however, meaning that her return to the group seems assured to cause fireworks next week.  Let's just hope the show's production manages to avoid causing similar fireworks moving forward - there certainly need to be one or two individuals dunked into buckets of cold water before they cause any further damage, that's for sure.