Sunday, 31 March 2013

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 13 (Completed)

What should have been a triumphant homecoming for AKB0048 has proved to be anything but, as their return to the planet sees them vilified as cowards and traitors rather than celebrated as the heroes of days past.

This certainly isn't the way things were supposed to go, in turn threatening to send their entire plan to take back Akibastar into turmoil.  Having witnessed their own fans turn against them, it takes all that they have for the girls to gather up their confidence and carry on regardless in the fact of this hostility, but in doing so their determination slowly but surely begins to win over the crowd.  It's Nagisa who finally makes the breakthrough however as the crowd's anger shows no sign of abating, with her own belief in the music and entertainment that she loves seeing her channel Acchan to such a great extent that it turns the crowd around almost instantly.

Of course, even with this sealed, and in spite of the return of Yuuko after her earlier disappearance, there's still the small matter of DES to deal with, and once Chieri goes Centre Nova their interest in proceedings becomes all the more intense.  Rather than weapons, it's with music that the girls look to drive their opponents away; something that proves to be highly successful at this new peak of their powers, meaning that Akibastar is saved and a new, most potent singing combination is born at the heart of AKB0048.

Come the end of the series, I think it's fair to say that AKB0048, and this second season in particular, have proved to be much better than they perhaps had any right to be - much if not all of its premise is daft, and it's clearly heavily driven as a marketing vehicle for AKB48, but at times it manages to transcend this to provide some really great material.  Certainly, this didn't happen week in and week out, but some of its strongest moments were downright magnificent within Next Stage especially, and the overall journey encompassed by the show proved to be a mostly satisfying one.  It's no Macross Frontier, but as a pretender to that throne (and let's not pretend that it isn't) it's still a pretty respectable effort.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 13 (Completed)

Spring has sprung in the world of Minami-ke (oh, how I wish that were true here as well), which means excitement for some....

...and allergies for others.  While pollen is the most widespread course of allergic reactions in the springtime, it seems that Chiaki has a rather unique cause for an allergy of her own - none other than Kana, whose overbearing nature are general idiocy are enough to cause the youngest Minami sister all sorts of problems.  Not that Kana doesn't have some problems of her own however, as Fujioka's instinctive habit of kicking everything in sight (apart from the one thing he probably should be kicking) on account of his place in the school's football team makes her life - then again, what do you expect when you turn the whole thing into some kind of scientific experiment?

Meanwhile in the wonderful world of Hosoka, peas are his new obsession - a fascination which even indirectly trickles down to Chiaki to give her a rare bout of craving vegetables.  (In other news, peas are the best vegetable, and I'll broach no argument on this)  Finally, aside from some chatter about accidentally walking into the wrong toilets, Kana experiences the power of the secret first-hand, and decides to abuse this power to make all and sundry come to the flower viewing she's been looking forward to so much - a strategy which works wonders, it seems.

So ends another season of Minami-ke, and it certainly does enough to end the series on a high with just the right blend of dumb jokes and silly slapstick to be thoroughly enjoyable for the most part.  Although it hasn't always hit the proverbial nail on the head, Tadaima has managed to prove itself one of the better, if not best, series of Minami-ke, which has manages to keep a franchise which should be running out of ideas by now surprisingly fresh without losing any of what made it enjoyable in the first place.  Anime comedy is usually a case of being "good enough" rather than consistently fantastic, and Minami-ke certainly falls firmly into that "good enough" category to have been well worth watching.

Friday, 29 March 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 12

The big national team semi-final is upon us, and while I'd like to say that all eyes are focused on Mizusawa's big match against Akashi Girls School's team... they really aren't, as in the eyes of most that game is a foregone conclusion, with most of the attention of those present focused upon the semi-final.

Indeed, even Akashi's ace Megumi seems to be taking the semi-final for granted, commenting that she'd really rather get straight on with playing in the final.  Certainly, her confidence seems to be in keeping with her abilities, as she makes a rapid start to put opponent Chihaya on the back foot while tactically doing all she can to also keep her on the defensive.

During the course of the episode, our focus shifts here and there, giving us some background into Megumu's rise as the centrepiece of the Akashi team after an unspectacular start as well as the origins of Megumu's "fan club" (are Madhouse practicing for Photo Kano already?), while also getting some insight into the ties between Kana and Chihaya and how they have a part to play in ensuring that the Mizusawa team works well as a unit.

If there was one problem with this week's episode of Chihayafuru, it was that meandering focus - we never quite had long enough engaging a specific subject to be drawn fully into it before our attention was flitting off elsewhere in an attempt to cover numerous elements in a single episode.  It isn't very often at all that this series gets its pacing wrong, but this is perhaps one of those rare occasions - not a fatal misstep, and there were still some really nice moments, but it does feel as if more could have been made of such a big match (although of course there's still more to come before this semi-final is over).

Vividred Operation - Episode 12 (Completed)

The girls might have resolved their differences with Rei, but as we reach the finale of Vividred Operation that still leaves the small matter of the Alone's mastermind taking on Rei's power with a view towards obliterating the entire planet.

Such is the power manifested in this "final boss" that it seems as if absolutely nothing can stop it, not even our fully equipped heroines.  With this last Alone all set to fuse with the Manifestor Engine's energy and cause a reaction which will blow the planet to smithereens, is there anything left to be done?  Yes there is in fact, as it soon becomes clear that Rei is alive and well within the behemoth attacking the planet.

With a renewed determination to save their friend (and maybe the Earth to boot), and in spite of assertions that they have absolutely no chance of victory, the quartet set off to give it all they've got in tackling the Alone, looking to break Rei free of her current prison.  Of course, the relationship between Akane and Rei might also just prove to be the key to overall victory and saving the planet...

After a great couple of opening episodes, Vividred Operation's biggest problem was frequently its predictability, and it was this issue which also reduced the effectiveness of its finale, which felt telegraphed from the first moment to the last.  Although it never quite descended entirely into "monster of the week" territory, there weren't enough twists and turns to add anything significant to the show's narrative, and its characters were never quite strong enough to pick up that slack.  Ultimately then, Vividred Operation could be looked at as "Strike Witches without the charm" - not a bad series by any stretch, but one which stepped away from any number of interesting directions it could have traveled in to leave us with a fun but somewhat vacuous anime.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 12 (Completed)

Now that pretending not to hear things has finally (and with every pun intended) started to fall upon deaf ears, Kodaka has seemingly decided to quit the Neighbour's Club entirely rather than face up to the situation which has unfolded around his like a man.

Instead, Hasegawa finds himself befriending (although of course he wouldn't call it that) members of the student council, helping them out at every opportunity and using his presence alongside them as an excuse not to spend time at his designated club.  Nobody can hide from their problems forever though, and eventually everything catches up to him...

The necessity of facing up to the situation within which he is embroiled is brought home in a decidedly physical form by Rika, who attacks him both physically and verbally in an attempt to make him see sense - something which seems like it isn't going to work but ultimately proves potent, and not just for Kodaka either.  Thus, both Rika and Hasegawa finally admit that they've made themselves some friends, Kodaka also comes to the realisation that he has to answer Sena's feelings somehow, and Yozora... well, Yozora really doesn't take the whole scenario very well.

The biggest disappointment of this finale is that, despite seeming willing to tackle the big points of drama surrounding its cast (in a way which was weird, meta, and weirdly meta), at the end of it all we fall short of actually resolving anything much - it's been obvious to the viewer that this group are friends for eons now, and the more important points which branch off from this surrounding Sena, Yozora and even Rika, still aren't addressed directly to any satisfying degree.  This leaves with an unspectacular ending to an unspectacular series that never really did anything much to succeed in sticking in my mind; it certainly never managed to rekindle the entertainment value of the early days of its first season, which is a real shame.  Would anyone bet against us receiving a third season of Haganai after the ending we've been served here?  I certainly wouldn't.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Tamako Market - Episode 12 (Completed)

It's decision time for Tamako - but is she even going to be allowed to make a decision of her own with everybody fussing over her and telling her to "follow her heart" and other such nonsense?

Of course, the appearance of the prince in the flesh has only exacerbated this problem, as everyone in the marketplace is now alternating between cooing over Tamako and cooing over the new arrival while skirting around the big question.  It's not surprising that even Tamako herself is distracted, all things considered.

Eventually it's up to Dera to force the issue and be blunt in terms of asking Tamako what she's going to do about the situation, and there's no real surprise about what her final decision proves to be, to the ultimate relief of many around her.  Not that any of this matters anyway, because it turns out that the entire thing about Tamako being a prospective bride was just a misunderstanding anyway, so effectively the entire series was a pointless waste of time.  Hurrah!

Although those words might seem harsh, they pretty much do justice to my big problem with Tamako Market - it introduced a curiously interesting premise and some potentially juicy character hooks, and then did absolutely nothing with them for twelve long, laborious and often painfully trite episodes.  If it wasn't for one good episode (set around, of all people, Tamako's dad), the entire thing would have been a complete disaster, but it seems like this series couldn't even get being utterly mediocre right.  But hey, at least it isn't all bad news - I can now safely say that Nichijou is no longer Kyoto Animation's worst series.

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 25 (Completed)

After all of the build-up towards a final battle against the Ogre with the future of humanity at stake, things are resolved in surprisingly short order by this final episode of Shin Sekai Yori.

In short, with the Pyscho Buster lost and with it seemingly all hope, Saki channels Shun's thoughts to find an elegantly simple solution to the problem at hand, using the Ogre's upbringing to turn the "Death of Shame" on its head and thus end the Ogre's life, albeit with a hefty sacrifice made in the process.

From here, the episode focuses entirely on the aftermath of the rebellion, with Yakomaru captured and put on trial as he vehemently argues that he and his kind are humans and should be treated as such - words which fall on death ears as the ringleader of the rebellion is sentenced to suffer the worst punishment imaginable.  Although his words angered most of the remaining populace, they hang heavily over Saki and Satoru, who between them come to realise that Yakomaru's argument isn't entirely without merit, and that in fact the differences between humans and Monster Rats have simply been enforced upon the latter by the former in an attempt to subjugate them.  It's a chilling realisation, but can it allow Saki to shift humanity towards a better world?  Well, that's a question that has to be left to our imagination.

All of this makes for a terrific ending to Shin Sekai Yori - a series that was tremendous when it got things right, but stumbled and lost its way too frequently to be considered any kind of classic.  Putting its missteps aside however, its story as a whole is a fascinating one that ultimately does a fantastic job of holding a mirror up to humanity, prejudices and all.  Perhaps the most impressive part of how these themes are woven into the story is that they're done in such an even-handed way - both sides in its eventual conflict, and the build-up towards it, are heavily flawed are blindly idealistic in their own ways, making this anything but a straight fight between good and evil.  It's these shades of gray, coupled with intelligent characters and world-building, that set Shin Sekai Yori out from the pack, and even though it wasn't always a success at what it attempted I'm incredibly happy that they at least tried and, more often than not, managed to get it right.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 12 (Completed)

The end is in sight for Girls und Panzer's grand finale, but with Oorai still at a distinct tactical disadvantage, can they really hope to turn the tide in their favour?

With the appearance of what appears to be Kuromorimine's trump card, the behemoth known ironically as the Maus, things certainly aren't looking good for Miho and company, but then again we all know how the fight between David and Goliath ended... with this in mind, Oorai still have some impressive tricks up their sleeve, making full use of the tanks at their disposal with a view to turning the tide in their favour and taking out that pesky Maus.

From here, Miho has a clear plan to take the match into its end-game, and of course this involves manipulating the match into a clear-cut, one on one stand-off between Miho and her sister.  With this achieved, does Miho have what it takes to surpass her family's much-vaunted style and win on her own terms for both herself and her friends?  Of course she does, silly!

So ends Girls und Panzer in perfect fashion to close out what has been an almost perfect series - it might not have the emotional or story-telling depth of an Evangelion or Madoka, but it's still soomething of a masterpiece in its own by taking what is ultimately a rather ludicrous concept and crafting it into a beautiful ballet of massive weapons of destruction, humour, action and tension, and sprinkling it with enough character to make it compelling.  In an age when so many series pour all of their focus into the characters, its been refreshing to see a series where the characters are often secondary to the real stars of the show, that being the tanks themselves.  It's a risky decision but one that paid off massively here - the biggest question for me is whether I'd like to see a second season of the show; a question to which my heart answers yes, but my head responds with "it couldn't ever be this good a second time around".

Monday, 25 March 2013

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 24

Now that Azuki's place as the lead female role in the Reversi anime adaptation has been sealed, Ashirogi Muto can get back to doing what they do best - worrying about making their manga a success.

As a result, this brings us back to a potential sticking point between artists and editors, as Takagi continues to insist that the series needs to end and end soon as his story works hard to be the best it can be, no matter how brief.  With only a couple of months worth of material left to run, it's time for Hattori to go to the chief editor with this news, and needless to say it doesn't go down too well, especially given that this means the manga will end before the anime adaptation even begins.

With the editorial department adamant that the series can't end so soon, Mashiro and Takagi are left with a choice - defy the chief editor and end the series at their own pace, or elongate it to keep him (and the magazine) happy.  After some waxing and waning on the idea, it's Takagi that makes the decision that he simply can't try to make Reversi run any longer - not least because he wants to create a perfect ending that will allow Mashiro to get married while holding a place as the number one manga artist.  Thus, Reversi's grand finale is unveiled, and it seems that Ashirogi Muto can tick another item from their "to do" list.

Having thrown so much drama and tension at us across its three series, it's inevitable that these final episodes will see a lull along those lines as the show dots its "i"s and crosses its "t"s - sure enough, this penultimate instalment is far more of a feel-good story than one of exquisite twists and turns.  Not that this is a criticism - it's a fitting end to the show and the journey it's taken us on, and I'm sure nobody can begrudge it a suitably happy ending after all the blood, sweat and tears we've seen toiled by its main cast throughout.  Hopefully the final episode can provide a fitting ending to the Bakuman story outright.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Little Busters! - Episode 24

All is quiet once more now that Kud's drama has died down... but what's this, another mysterious task presented to Rin and Naoe to resolve?

This time around, the unusual letter attached to the tail of Lennon the cat implores its recipients to put on a puppet show - an odd request, until not twenty feet from the duo an argument breaks out between a bunch of younger kids which revolves largely around - you guessed it - a puppet show.  It's Rin who steps in to offer to do this show herself the very next day out of a determination to complete the task set before her - but can she really do it?

Of course, anything is possible with the help of the other Little Busters, and so the entire group set about trying to create a story suitable for a puppet show, with... well, let's just say not entirely brilliant results.  Ultimately, it's Komari who steps up to the plate to help Rin, offering up a story she has written and illustrated herself while also helping to create the puppets themselves just in time for Rin's big performance.  But just who is writing these mysterious notes, and how do they seemingly know the future?

After all the fraught and heavy drama of last week's episode we probably needed a change of pace from this week's Little Busters, but that doesn't really hide the fact that this was also a return to mediocrity for the series - some mild amusement on a couple of occasions aside, the story didn't have as much heart or interest as it clearly wanted to have, and the whole thing ended up falling rather flat.  It also didn't feel much like a late-game episode for a series that surely still has some important things to wrap up, which didn't help in terms of this installment creating the right impression either.

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 12

Having seen her father shot dead right in front of her, this isn't a particularly easy time for Chieri.  Neither, it seems, has this assassination had any impact upon DES' activities, as they continue to hold a tight grip over Akibastar.

With our without Chieri however, taking back Akibastar continues to be Tsubasa's primary concern, meaning that there's no let up in training for the other members as they can only hope that Chieri comes back on-board in time.  As Tsubasa's frustration at the abilities of her charges boils over, the collective memories of those involved regarding their journey so far seem to be just what is required for their Kirara to react with the Dualium crystals, taking them on a brief journey not entirely dissimilar to that experienced by the disappearing Centre Novae, it seems.

Indeed, in Nagisa and Chieri's cases their "trip" is virtually identical to those experienced by Yuuko and previous Centre Novae, albeit in a rather more brief form than the more permanent disappearance of their peers.  If nothing else, this proves that the plan to take back Akibastar can succeed, and thus off we head to see if AKB0048 can retake their home planet.  As their concert begins however, their welcome is entirely less warm than they might have been expecting...

When I start using phrases like "Kirara reacting with Dualium crystals", it makes me realise just how much nonsensical bullshit I've bought into over the course of this series, but regardless it seems as if the series has set itself up nicely for a finale that will (hopefully) explain everything and bring us one final epic concert/battle.  Having expected their concert at the tail end of this episode to be a triumphant return, I'm actually quite pleased to see the series proving itself happy to do something a little darker and perhaps more realistic, which in turn makes for what could be another interesting turning point for the show.  If nothing else, all of this certainly helps AKB0048 to feel more well-grounded and confident in the importance of its own universe than some of its stumbling earlier steps perhaps suggested at.

Space Brothers - Episode 50

After all that walking, hearing Nitta exclaiming that he wants to go back is hardly music to the rest of his group's ears - a fact not really improved by his explanation that he needs to backtrack to retrieve his lost mobile phone.

Although Nitta is prepared to turn tail and walk back alone, leader of the day Mutta is having none of it, and in a rare assertion of his authority he takes control of the situation entirely, insisting that the group travel onwards to their next food ration drop-off point and setting up camp before returning to look for Nitta's phone.  Despite Nitta himself being far from happy with this decision, it's clear that this is the smartest course of action for all concern.

Thus, once camp has been set up, Nitta and Mutta retract their steps to find the missing phone - a situation which also gives Mutta, and us, an opportunity to learn about the all-important phone call which Nitta has been waiting for and expects tonight.  In short (and as hinted heavily at a few episodes back), Nitta does in fact have a brother - a brother who is something of a genius when it comes to his knowledge of space, but this is a knowledge that is being wasted as Kazuya is both a drop-out and a shut-in, refusing to leave his room or speak to anyone.  With Kazuya having promised to call his brother at long last after having not spoken to him for two years, can Nitta retrieve his lost phone in time?

Perhaps the biggest problem with this particular plot point is - if Nitta hasn't spoken to his brother in two years, why wait until a week where you're trekking across the desert to suggest that said brother call him?    Putting this to one side, this week's episode of Space Brothers was mostly enjoyable on account of Mutta's role in charge of his group - for all of his frequent depictions as something of a bumbling eccentric, it was nice to see him in a position of power taking charge of the situation and getting things done in the most effective manner to add a little extra depth to his character.  I just hope we don't get too overly caught up in Nitta's current situation, as I get the feeling that the series has far more interesting fare that it could be bringing to the fore.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 12

It's the New Year in this penultimate installment of Minami-ke Tadaima, meaning that it's time for the Minami sisters to get dressed up in their finest long-sleeved kimonos... a situation which doesn't last all that long when there are more fun things to be done with them.

From here, the episode meanders here and there, pondering where some of Kana's friends have been over the New Year break, although it seems like half of them can't even remember despite picking up either the dialect or units of measurement of their host locations, and a visit to the indoor swimming pool with the sole purpose on berating how her recently laziness has turned her summer washboard stomach into something, well, decidedly less so.

It's off out into the snow at this point, as Kana and Chiaki both find themselves dragged out from under the kotetsu to make full use of the snow, although it seems that this mostly means just ganging up on Kana in a snowball fight.  Speaking of which, don't mess with Haruka when it comes to snowballs...

In terms of purely providing comedy, this was perhaps the weakest episode of Tadaima thus far - a lot of its setups felt like they were stretching things a little too thin, and there was a real struggle to derive any particularly original comedy from any of the scenarios on show.  Still, even at such weak points there's a certain amount of gentle fun to be had from Minami-ke, so it isn't a complete disaster but rather a distinctly non-memorable episode from a series that can do much better.

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - Episode 11

The trouble with telepathic divine chat rooms is that if you "type" into the wrong window, your conversation ends up in entirely the wrong place and everyone is left feeling embarrassed.

This is just one of the problems facing Jou Edogawa - the other, of course, being that pesky penis, although this no longer seems to be an issue by the time we reach this episode.  With Sasami continuing to make use of Tama's body to enjoy her trip remotely on account of catching the 'flu, our protagonist's number one goal seems to be to make friends with Edogawa - a line of pursuit which Edogawa herself seems to view as some kind of threat or challenge.

Whatever you do, never challenge Edogawa to a freestyle rap battle

There's also another problem with Sasami's efforts, that being that they're succeeding in making Kagami exceedingly jealous.  It's an issue that Kagami wrestles with and ultimately loses to, storming off in a huff at the start of a festival that the group are visiting, required some conciliatory behaviour from Sasami which in turn leaves her unable to seal her friendship with Edogawa.

Having set up some seemingly important things in last week's episode (and the tail-end of the episode before that), I'm rather struggling to figure out whether there was actually any point to a lot of this episode beyond its mixture of fan service, comedy and relationship-building - all worthy reasons to put together a story arc admittedly, but not quite what was initially advertised I feel.  Still, there was some fun to be found here - the suggestion that Edogawa is some kind of "chuunibyou" cracked me up and there were a couple of other decent moments; just not enough to make up for the fact that this series continues to live under the shadow of that first episode no matter how visually alluring it manages to be.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 11

Just as everything seems to be going smoothly for Mizusawa, out of nowhere conflict appears on the brink of their first play-off match, as Nishida loses his rag over what he perceives as Tsutomu's lack of ambition in terms of actually wanting to play in their line-up.

As he storms off to the canteen to comfort eat while berating himself for upsetting the apple cart at such a pivotal moment, it's left to the others to make a decision as to what their line-up should be.  Surprisingly, it's Chihaya who takes the lead here, deciding that they should stick with the selection that has worked for them so far, and thus ensuring that Nishida's anger at Tsutomu doesn't dissipate.  Once engrossed in the match however, the full extent of Tsutomu's hard work as a pivotal member of the team becomes clear - every member of Mizusawa has been fully appraised of the quirks of their opponent, leaving them ready to face down and capitalise on what should be the strengths of their opponents.  Furthermore, Chihaya has realised how exhausting this data collection must have been for her team-mate, hence her quite correct decision to leave Tsutomu out of the line-up.

With another victory in the bag, it's on to the semi-finals, which sees Mizusawa having to rely on Sumire's "unique" notes - even here, Tsutomu is impressive, making full use of her notes about fashion styles, accessories and names to effectively make a psychological profile of each opponent to figure out who they are and what might be expected of their playing style.  From there, it's time for the big game to start... but are Mizusawa's latest opponents underestimating them?

Although I feel as if I must sound like a broken record in saying it, this week was another wonderful episode of Chihayafuru - its drama managed to feel natural enough, and led to another opportunity for our lead characters to develop both as individuals and a team.  Even when the depiction of the matches themselves aren't set up to generate any major tension, there's still a real thrill and sense of enjoyment to be found from watching Mizusawa's accomplishments that never seems to ebb.  No doubt we'll be focusing more on that in-game tension next week, but once again we've been reminded about how proficient Chihayafuru is at everything it does, from comedy to character-building and far beyond.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Robotics;Notes - Episode 22 (Completed)

The GunPro-1 is ready to roll, and roll it does, meaning that it's time for the big face-off between Aki, Kai and company and Misa as controlled by Kimijima Kou.

While Misa might have the technological advantage in many ways, that isn't to say that the group of rebels facing off against her are stuck in the stone age - they're more than capable of using AR technology to baffle and render Misa's missile attacks largely useless, while their use of monopoles in the GunPro-1 gives them a chance of something resembling a level playing field.  Throw in Kai's "special weapon" in the form of his ailment and the means to trigger it at will, and things less predictable than you might first think.

Thus, this final episode sees things to and fro; Kai takes the upper hand against Misa, only to find the spectre of Kimijima Kou (who has also locked out any chance of preventing that all-important rocket launch) in a less forgiving mood.  With the emergence of an application that can "kill" Kimijima however, at last an end is in sight to this conflict, if they can only succeed in making use of it to win the day and prevent the launch.  No prizes for guesses how that ends up in this final episode.

Even when it came down to its grand finale, there was something missing from Robotics;Notes - never mind the gaping holes in both plot and logic, some nicely realised and pleasingly robust action wasn't enough to paper over the substantial cracks in the series as a whole.  While Steins;Gate did a wonderful job of building up a rapport with its characters and the cast as a whole during its quiet first half, Robotics;Notes failed to do this in similar circumstances, and then made things worse by continuing to plod along in a meandering way even when push came to shove.  As a lesson in mediocrity, this series certainly did the job, but given the hype in the wake of Steins;Gate's success it ended up being easily the biggest disappointment of the last six months.

Vividred Operation - Episode 11

At last, the truth is out, and as Rei is taken into custody by the powers that be her friends learn the shocking truth that it was her who played a pivotal role in aiding and abetting the Alone attacks.

But just who, or rather what, is Rei?  As normal as she might look, apparently it's more than just the pertness of her buttocks that is out of this world, as Isshiki posits that she's from some kind of parallel world.  As the episode continues, so we discover just how instrumental Rei's presence has been to attracting the Alone to attack the planet, leading some parties suggesting that she should be "disposed of" immediately.

Meanwhile, Akane and her friends are trying to come to terms with what they've just learned as they attempt to piece together why Rei would want to do harm to humanity and the Manifestor Engine, and just as importantly swallow the fact that they are now seen as liars by the girl they wanted to be their friend.  Ultimately, they simply won't stand for it, so there's only one way to resolve the situation - break into the headquarters where Rei is being held and "rescue" her.  This, however, soon proves to be little more than the precursor to an appearance from the being that's really pulling the strings.

As this series has progressed, so it has become more forced in its attempts to espouse friendship over all - it's a rather cheesy sentiment in the first place, and when you continually deploy it so heavy-handedly it doesn't really help.  Perhaps the bigger shame here is that this week's installment doesn't do more to delve deeper still into the truth about Rei's back story, instead leveraging it simply as a means to an end that certainly sets us up for a potentially epic and action-packed finale, but without any particularly strong emotional resonance to drive it along.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 11

The time has come for the grand unveiling of the Neighbours Club's movie debut.  But where is the movie?  In fact, where's Rika?

Such is our lab coat-sporting girl's determination to finish editing the club's film project that she's managed to come down with a cold and pass out before actually completing the task.  Thus, it's with a heavy heart that Yozora leads the way in suggesting that the screening should be cancelled, not solely because they don't want to show an unfinished film but more specifically because they don't want to watch the film amongst themselves without Rika present.  As a result, the rest of the group patiently waits for Rika to recover and finish up her post-production so that the whole club can enjoy seeing the film for the first time together.

No sooner is this bit of excitement over than we find Aoi Yusa returning to the forefront of the series, this time with an absolute determination to have the Neighbours Club shut down having heard of its existence from Kodaka.  However, Aoi has reckoned without the formidable powers of Yozora and Sena when it comes to getting what they want, and despite even her best-laid plans it seems that this particular after-school club is untouchable.  Oh, and after all that Sena confesses to Kodaka and suggests that they should get married.  Wait, what?!

Considering how overblown most anime series like to make confessions of love, I really enjoyed seeing such a throwaway outpouring from Sena in the midst of a game of Gal Gun - coupled with all of the reactions which came in its wake (including Kodaka's inevitable reaction to the whole thing), it genuinely worked well as a bolt out of the blue that was both obvious and surprising at the same time.  This came at the end of an episode where nothing particularly notable happened, but at least those not particularly notable things made good use of the show's roster of characters, which all too often this series seems to have been struggling with.  It's the kind of thing that reminds you why you've warmed to these characters at some point, and why you've persevered with watching this show - I just hope Sena's throwaway confession isn't, well, thrown away in the name of dragging the franchise out into further series.

Psycho-Pass - Episode 22 (Completed)

It was inevitable that it would come to this, and thus Psycho-Pass' final episode sees Kogami facing off against Makishima in a no-holds barred knife and fist fight.  Can Akane reach them in time to stop this conflict turning lethal?

Yes she can, as it happens, although in the ensuing confusion Makishima manages to slip away once again.  Rather than immediately taking Kogami into custody, Tsunemori instead allows him use of her Dominator, switching this for his traditional firearm and allowing him to accompany her as they redouble their efforts to capture a fleeing, and now injured, Makishima.

Although it seems that Akane has gotten the edge on her colleague when it comes to making this arrest and ensuring that Kogami doesn't incriminate himself, it seems almost as if a higher power (and I don't mean the Sibyl system) has decided the fate of our two male characters - thus, it's Kogami who gets to achieve his goal, leaving Akane distraught.  Fast forward a couple of months and much has changed, although in the same sense nothing has changed - the Sibyl system still reigns supreme, and Akane continues to find herself torn between fighting for justice and fighting for a better justice than the one she serves now.  There's little time to consider this however, with a new recruit coming on board in the continuing fight against crime...

So often, a series can ruin a lot of its hard work by leaving things sufficiently open for a second season - not so in Psycho-Pass' case, which is clearly hopeful of being able to tell more stories in its world, but is confident enough to assert that a single incident or character isn't enough to bring about a revolution.  Thus, we're left with an immensely satisfying ending to the show's major story arc that both subverts and lives up to expectations, as a final reminder of just how self-assured it has been in its narrative.  Admittedly, sometimes it has been a little too cocky and full of self-importance in its ideas, but as a whole Psycho-Pass was a superb viewing experience - a top-notch crime drama with a thought-provoking setting and worldview that, for all of its literary quotes and philosophical, actually asked its deepest questions of society on a far higher level.  It might not be the true successor to Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex we all hunger for (what could possibly take its place?), but that shouldn't undermine what is an excellent series in its own right.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Tamako Market - Episode 11

News travels fast in the market district, and no sooner has last week's revelation been outed than it seems like all and sundry have heard the news - but is Tamako really princess material?

For Tamako's part, she seems far more interesting in filling her hundredth shopping district point card and winning the medal that doing so allows than any of this talk of marriage or royalty, but for everybody around her it's a decidedly strange time - exciting in one sense but scary in another, especially for those close to Tamako as they have to face up to the fact of losing her; something which is inevitably going to befall them at some point even if she turns down the proposition currently placed in front of her.

All of this reaches a head as some repairs to Dera's communications equipment allows for Tamako and Prince Mechya to talk, albeit briefly before Dera packs up again (he must be using WebEx) - while everyone around her quietly contemplates a future without Tamako and does their best to encourage her to choose what they believe will make her happy, Tamako herself misconstrues this as those around her simply not really caring about whether she leaves or not.  Once Tamako loses her precious medal, only to have it handed back to her in short order, it seems that decision time is right around the corner.  In other words - it's the last episode next week.

Putting all of my negativity towards this series as a whole aside for a moment, there was an impressive "vibe" to be found from the second half of this episode in particular - there was a real tangible sense of the difficult emotions running through it from almost every character as they face that nightmarish conflict between seeing their friend (or even daughter) find happiness and allowing someone who has become an integral part of their daily lives walk away.  Even Tamako's reaction to the behaviour of her friends was a well-realised element of that equation; the kind of near-silent anger and hurt that she is simply too good-natured to show in public.  In a way, it's also this final point that serves as a reminder as to why so much of the series has struggled - Tamako has too rarely shown any interesting insights into her character, and that single, small loss of control has given her more character in one scene than the entire ten and a half episodes that preceded it.  Perhaps now that we've seen that face of our protagonist, we can look forward to something suitably fleshed out to at least ensure that Tamako Market goes out on the right note.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 24

Has Shun really returned, or has all of Saki's recent (and indeed ongoing) trauma come back to haunt her?  That's a question that we'll have to keep on the back burner for the duration of this week's Shin Sekai Yori as other events move on apace.

In fact, Saki's potential reunion with Shun is interrupted by the arrival of Kiroumaru, who has come to find Saki in lieu of Satoru who has some light wounds from the duo's necessitated escape from the Ogre.  Although they not have the Psycho Buster in their possession and could use the opportunity to leave Tokyo, it's decided that there will be no better time to face off against the Ogre than here while it's lightly guarded, and thus plans are put into place to do what needs to be done as soon as possible.  But will Saki and Satoru be capable of killing what is ultimately another human being?

As doubts rage over how best to handle the situation, an opportunity finally presents itself, and after Satoru's attempt to try the "soft option" of provoking the Ogre into realising its humanity fails there's nothing for it but to deploy the Psycho Buster.  However, at the last moment, terrified by the fact that Satoru could be infected and killed by this bio-weapon  Saki burns the weaponised anthrax into nothingness, thus rendering it useless.  With no other cards left to play, it seems like only a matter of time before a grisly fate meets the trio of survivors at the hands of the Ogre and/or Yakomaru.  But are they really out of options?

I'm still not really sure about this use of Shun so late on in the series, as his ethereal presence feels a little out of place with the rest of the series, but that aside this was a largely terrific episode of Shin Sekai Yori - it was good to finally see Saki and Satoru coming to terms with the humanity of their opponent while raising questions of how its nurture may have effected its worldview, and the second half of the episode carried no shortage of tension thanks to its cat and mouse game before taking us on a brief but intense emotional rollercoaster as it seemed as if everything had been resolved, only to have the proverbial rug pulled out from under us at the last minute.  It's going to feel like a long wait for the finale of this series next week now, to see what ultimate fate it has in story for its cast.

Bakuman Season 3 - Episode 23

Azuki's live radio show, and Mashiro's unexpected appearance on it, seems to have settled down the controversy surrounding the pair's relationship with the majority of fans - but is that enough to ensure that the production staff of Reversi's anime adaptation aren't put off using her for the lead female role?

As it turns out, that problem is a moot point, as the anime's director wants to use this opportunity to do something even more daring - holding a public audition broadcast over TV and the Internet, before allowing the public to vote for the voice actress they want to play Naho's character.  Given that not all of the otaku audience has forgiven Miho for her "transgression", this is quite a worry for all and sundry, although ultimately Mashiro realises that this is exactly what he needs to dampen the disquieting worry that she might not get the part solely based upon her own abilities.

Thus, it's off to the public audition we go, with all of the rivalries and bitchiness that you might expect from such a scenario as her fellow professionals shun Azuki almost to a woman.  When it comes to the crunch however, there's only one voice actress who knows how to blow away the audience with her knowledge of the role, and that's... Kana Hanazawa!  Of course not, I jest... aside from a stunning performance, Miho always more than proves her knowledge of the source material, which when put together is enough to realise her dream.

Although the whole "public audition" idea feels like a gimmick too far, and one that you'd never see for a high-profile adaptation in reality I would wager, it made for a pretty good opportunity to explore a different side of the industry (albeit in an overly dramatised way) and ramp up the tension for the second half of the episode - something which worked very well indeed all the way through to its satisfying ending.  Now that most of the show's major goals are accomplished, I hope it still has enough energy and tricks up its sleeve to make its final two episodes worthwhile and bring this excellent third season to a close.

GIRLS und PANZER - Episode 11

It's been a long, long wait since before Christmas, but now at last we're ready to be regaled with the closing episodes of Girls und Panzer.

Having left us hanging not too far into Oorai's national final against Kuromorimine, we return to the action with a bang - quite literally.  With a disadvantage in terms of both numbers and firepower, Miho is going to have to play smart rather than strong to have any hope of winning this particular battle, and luckily she's prepared to do just that.  Cue the copious use of smokescreens and ambush tactics to both play to Oorai's own strengths and their opponents weaknesses, retreating when required and setting themselves up to attack only when the conditions are favourable towards them.

As the tide looks to very slowly but surely turn in Oorai's favour, Miho is revisited by an old spectre as an attempt to cross a river goes awry for one of her team's tanks.  Faced once again with the decision that saw her banished from her family's team, there's little hesitation this time around when it comes to doing what needs to be done, and thanks to the help of all involved the group escape before their opponents catch up to them.  From here, it's onwards to the town and some urban warfare, although Kuromorimine have a distinctly powerful surprise in store for their opponents...

It is perhaps over-blowing the quality of this episode, but my heart tells me that this penultimate installment of Girls und Panzer is nigh-on perfect - its tank-based action looks as great as ever, the tactics deployed are fascinating, the key characters pull through to add something to proceedings (be it drama, emotion or comedy) and the sense of tension and the competitive edge as events unfold is palpable.  In short, this is everything that made me fall utterly in love with this series in a nutshell, and it's great to see that the intervening months haven't dulled its proverbial blade.  Roll on the finale!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Little Busters! - Episode 23

Kudryavka may have returned to her homeland of Tebwa, but she certainly hasn't left the hearts of her friends back in Japan, who find themselves unable to tear themselves from the developing news of the country.

Unfortunately, it's far from good news - in the wake of the shuttle launch explosion, rebel forces have sensed an opportunity to lay claim to the land, sparking riots and violence as Tebwa spirals into chaos - a chaos into which Kud has just walked.  Although she manages to be reunited with her grandfather, and good news about her mother's condition soon springs forth, the diminutive girl still finds herself torn when it comes to meeting her mother again out of fear she'll be disowned or despised having not made good on her promise to become a cosmonaut.

While her grandfather goes to pick up Kud's mother for their big reunion, events conspire to keep them apart yet again as rebels attack the home where Kud is hiding out, taking her prisoner as the daughter of the cosmonaut who has become a symbol of what the rebels see as wrong with their country.  Meanwhile, the rest of the Little Busters fret more and more about whether they were right to let her go as they worry about her well-being, despite knowing that there's nothing they can do at this point.  Or is there?  The world of Key visual novels works in mysterious ways, and it's ultimately the power of her friends wishes for Kud's well-being that rescue her from captivity and set everything upon the right path for Kud's happiness.

I don't think I've been able to say this of any of its previous installments with any kind of assured tone, but this was a great episode of Little Busters - I didn't think that its continuing focus on Kud and its increased scope would work, but I was proved wrong in spades as we served easily the most potent and dramatically raw material of the series so far, which build wonderfully to its admittedly absurd yet still satisfying crescendo before giving us a happy ending that, for once, felt fully justified.  If only Little Busters had managed to polish off its other story arcs with this kind of majesty, I might have had a very different view of the series - still, at least this episode has brought me at least one fond memory of watching the show, for which I can only be thankful.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 11

Of all the reckless things that Chieri has done throughout the course of AKB0048, stowing away on a ship back to her home planet must surely be one of them, although arguably Nagisa's decision to go with her could be considered as even more so.

Still, once they actually arrive on that home planet of Sagittariustar, Chieri has contacts she can call upon to ensure a safe transit to her home for both herself and her friend, whereupon it;'s simply a case of waiting for her father to return.  This gives us an opportunity to fill in some gaps about Chieri's youth, namely how she became aware of AKB0048 on a planet where entertainment is completely banned, and her relationship with her father down the years all the way through to her running away from home.

While the rest of the AKB0048 crew are figuring out how to take back Akibastar via an audacious plan which involves every member becoming a Centre Nova to power a hyperspace jump into the depths of the planet's underground caverns, Chieri eventually receives a rather rude invitation to meet her father, involving armed security forces.  Although Nagisa has no intention of becoming a Centre Nova simply to be used as a weapon for her father, it seems that she has little choice when threatened with the prospect of DES forces acting against both the Flying Get and Nagisa.  Thus, it's time for her to show her radiance to her father (it sounds filthy when I put it like that, does it?) - but perhaps there are other forces at work that want to ensure that the Zodiac Corporation's grand plan failed.

After a reasonably good episode, this week's AKB0048 was really all about its shocking final scenes - I'm sure I wasn't the only one who didn't expect things to take quite that turn at this point in time, and it's piqued my curiosity as to where we're headed for these final two episodes as surely it isn't just going to be an easy, protracted victory for our heroines?  That aside, the filling in of Chieri's back story worked well enough, and there was something very Macross-esque about her performance for her father, so all in all this was a satisfying installment to lead us into the final couple of episodes.

Space Brothers - Episode 49

An epic trek across the desert continues for our astronaut candidates as their survival training gets well under way - will all of the characters we've come to know and love make it through this particular ordeal, and will the attempt to engender competition between the various countries represented have the effect that Bold assumes it will?

As we reach the end of the first day Team E, led by Kenji, are relived to find their food supply and all ready to pitch tents for a good night's sleep - whether this is a wise move is soon thrown into question by their overseers, who not only inform them that they're currently in last place, but that one of their number (excluding the current leader) has to take a penalty of some kind for their tardiness.  Fast-forward a couple of days and things really aren't looking much better - Team E are lacking behind the others, and their tiredness and low morale is only making things worse, leaving them needing ever-more frequent breaks.

It's only when Nitta steps up to take the leader's position that things begin to change - he might be very much the taskmaster of the group, but his insistence that the team pushes on relentlessly sees them move up to fourth place while catching on the others.  It's news that puts a spring back into the group's step, and Mutta takes the reigns with a similar determination to continue what Nitta started... but is the man who engendered this sense of progress and determination about to undo all of this hard work for the team?

Having expected more conflict and argument as this element of the group's training progressed, this week's Space Brothers was quite good at fostering my expectations then subverting them, turning what looked like Mutta losing his temper into anything but.  Ultimately though, our cliffhanger comes from Nitta and his current personal situation, and it's this which will drive the next installment - I have to admit, I'm curious as to where exactly it's going to go and what the fallout from it might be as we reach the big fifty episode mark for the series.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 11

Having spent so long trying to woo Haruka Minami with his cooking, is it time for Hosoka to try a different tact?  Knitting, perhaps?  Not that Hayami's suggestion of such to Haruka is in any way in her own self-interest...

Fashion also plays heavily in the next segment of this week's Minami-ke, as a new coat for Maki somehow causes Atsuko to be the focus of all sorts of difficult and vague questions that seem to have no right answer; moreover, just when it seems she's found the perfect formula for handling such questions, so her attempt to use it to answer more serious fare misfires somewhat.

After a vivid illustration of the perils of mistaking conversations about the snow with conversations about breasts, we return to Hayami's attempts to get Hosoka to knit a scarf - as things clearly aren't going well, she decides that it's time to find out some of Haruka's weaknesses in the hope that she can confront Hosoka with them and return his knitting mojo somehow.  But does Haruka even have any weaknesses?  Chiaki certainly doesn't think so, and any other attempts to find out more seem to go nowhere fast.

All of this melds together into an episode that isn't really a classic - predictable though it was I got a kick out of the whole snow/breasts misunderstanding skit (hey, I'm British, I live for double entendres), but the rest of the episode felt a bit flat; Hosoka is less funny when he's obsessing over knitting, and the whole thing with Maki's coat was too random to really hit the mark.  But hey, you can't expect comedy anime to get it right every week.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Robotics;Notes - Episode 21

Aki finally has the team she needs to build her dream robot, but boy are the stakes higher than she could ever have imagined as Robotics;Notes hits its penultimate episode.

With news organisations and the like beginning to twig that the whole "solar flare" story is some kind of scam or something of the sort, it's clear that Misaki and Kimijima are going to have to push on with their plans before their true intentions come to light, in turn piling the pressure on for Aki, JAXA et al to complete their robot.  Meanwhile, there are other important issues at hand, with Kai finding out the rather painful truth about the N IV device while Kimijima and Sister Centipede look set to ratchet up that pain even further until the latter defects at a pivotal moment.

Although their robot is now effectively complete, Kai's testing of the N IV has left him hospitalised, begging the question - who is going to pilot the machine with the required skill to best Misaki and make full use of the systems set up to defeat her and Kimijima?  Of course, it's too early to write Kai off, as he offers himself up to the task despite his current state of health - a piece of showmanship that earns him little respect from Aki, even though she knows that there is no other option.

Having complained about the slow pacing of this series on numerous occasions, it feels a little odd to now complain of it going in completely the opposite direction for the first half of this week's episode, where so much happened that there was no time to feel or fully comprehend the impact of any of it, leaving us with a bit of a mess.  Thankfully, the soft centre of this installment's second half at least restores some faith in the series as we go into its climax - the final scenes with Aki and Kai, and even the comic relief as they're joined by the other Robotics Club members, worked really well in bringing a personal angle to a challenge which threatens the world.  If only there had been more similarly successful moments, then I might have found myself caring a whole lot more about what happens in next week's episode.

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 10

While the national team tournament continues apace, Arata has to face up to the consequences of his actions in last week's episode - something which he does with surprisingly good grace for someone so passionate about playing in the individual tournament, even if his goal looks likely to be stripped from him.

Meanwhile, Mizusawa find themselves facing off against another decidedly unconventional opponent in the form of a handful of students from Yamaguchi Mioka high school, an establishment renowned for its high level of entrants into Tokyo University.  Not only that, but the school's karuta team are also the champions of an inter-school quiz show, and they seem intent upon bringing this intellect to bear against all-comers in the world of karuta to boot.

This means that yet again Mizusawa's players have to focus against opponents that they simply don't know what to do with - Chihaya in particular is flustered by the completely random placement of her opponents cards and the fact that he constantly moves and jumbles them further, leaving her unable to even attempt to memorise them.  It's a problem that some of her team-mates don't have when it comes to memorisation, but do they collectively have what it takes?  And even if they do win, will Arata's plight become a distraction for Chihaya?

Even when it's repeating the template of the previous episode in some respects (pit Mizusawa against a strange set of opponents then stand back and watch), it still works just as well at the second time of asking - watching the interactions between players, and more importantly their personal battles with themselves, somehow never gets old and remains entertaining throughout.  Come the end of this episode, we're also party to some more developments between the main cast, which could add some further dimensions to a series that it already brimming with great moments of humour, introspection and character development.  Bring it on!

Friday, 15 March 2013

Sasami-san@Ganbaranai - Episode 10

We only just met Jou Edogawa at the end of last week's episode of Sasami-san@Ganbaranai, but as this latest installment we're already informed of her little (or maybe not so little) secret.  Now, how do I put this sensitively?....

Edogawa has a penis.  Only sometimes, but she has a penis.  Don't ask... mostly because it isn't actually explained in this episode.  Anyhow, having come across (get your minds out of the gutter) this problem, Sasami has been sworn to secrecy by Edogawa, and quite understandably so.  Although the whole thing is still bugging our protagonist rather, it's quickly put to one side as Sasami starts to enjoy her second year of high school as she goofs around with Kagami, and things only look set to take a further upward turn as Edogawa herself invites her, and all of her classmates, on an all expenses paid trip.

Unfortunately, this is also exactly the moment that 'flu decides to strike Sasami's body, leaving her too ill to attend.  Luckily for her, Amaterasu's powers are sufficiently wide-ranging to allow her to mould Tama's body to resemble hers, while getting to enjoy the break remotely via a mixture of a "divine chat room" and hooking into Tama's senses.  Maybe she hasn't thought things through, but Edogawa quickly finds herself in some sticky situations (I said get your minds out of the gutter) as a result of bringing the group to a hot springs - a situation not help by Tsurugi's usual turn of pervertedness.  With knowledge of Edogawa's secret on-hand, Sasami uses Tama to protect her friend - but is Jou really Sasami's friend?

In light of everything this series has thrown at us, I'm not sure that I can particularly mark this episode as being any weirder than any of its previous installments just on account of a member of the cast now having a part-time phallus... but what the heck, this week's Sasami-san@Ganbaranai was weird.  In a way, it's a shame that the episode felt the need to be so heavy-handed in its breathless horniness, as when it wasn't being constantly incorrigible it was actually pretty funny before descending into a sexual mire of its own making.  If nothing else, you won't find anything much crazier than this series in 2013 I would wager, and it delivers its insanity with panache, but at moments like this I feel like it just doesn't quite have enough to deliver the quality alongside that insanity.

Vividred Operation - Episode 10

The pressure is on for Rei as time is running out on her attempts to help the Alone in the hope of being reunited with her parents - indeed, so desperate has she become that she's seemingly willing to risk everything to make sure that the next Alone attack succeeds.

With this virtually suicidal mindset firmly implanted in her head, Rei seems determined to finish her mission with no regrets, and her first aim along those lines is to apologise to Akane for that whole tomato-squishing incident that occurred previously (Akane must be having a whole surfeit of tomato-related trauma building up in her psyche by this point).  Of course, Akane has no hard feelings about the whole thing, and the next thing Rei knows she's invited to stay for dinner as it's steak and blowjob day in the Isshiki household, which in turn leads to a mayonnaise-related accident, a shared bath and a sleepover as the two girls secure their friendship.

Come the next morning however, it's time for Rei to swing into action, saying goodbye to her pet parakeet before setting off to fire all of her remaining arrows at the arriving Alone to power it up to its maximum capabilities.  Little does she know however that Professor Isshiki, thanks to Himawari, has managed to figure out that an external source is powering up these creatures, and what's more they've worked out how to track down the source.  Thus, as soon as Rei fires her first arrow, the chase is on to capture her while also defeating the Alone.  No prizes for guessing who ultimately comes face to face with Rei and she's eventually apprehended...

Although what was going to happen was blatantly obvious from the get-go, the closing minutes of this week's episode did their job nicely in terms of setting up and revealing the whole thing after a small but satisfying brief slice of action.  Before that point, this was another episode that was "just there" - there was nothing that you could really get excited about or laud from the rooftops, but just another blend of friendship and fan service that is feeling increasingly unspectacular as the series goes on.  Still, perhaps it was all worth it for the climax of the episode, and a fine set up for the final couple of episodes that will hopefully up the ante.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT - Episode 10

Just as it seemed that everything was going smoothly with their culture festival movie project, out comes the truth about Yozora's plagiarism of a popular film to send the whole thing into a tailspin.

Needless to say, not only are her fellow club members not too happy about her behaviour, but they're also no longer at all keen on shooting a plagiarised movie - a good job then that Sena has already created a backup movie script just in case Yozora screwed up, and although the script seems to be an amateurish mess of ideas it is at least original.

As shooting of their film continues in earnest, the gang get a glimpse of how things should really be done by paying a visit to Kobato's middle school's culture festival and her own movie project, an impressive piece with Kobato herself at its centre.  Indeed, it's a surprise to Kodaka to hear that his little sister is the centrepiece of school life there in general, although Kobato herself seems to shun the attention for whatever reason.... like brother, like sister it seems.  It's this avoidance of any kind of friendship or intimacy that is clearly starting to irk Rika in particular, as she eventually confronts Kodaka about his refusal to accept the fact that he has friends now - yet another argument that seems to fall on deaf ears when it reaches our protagonist.  But why is he so vehement against protecting himself from making friends or falling in love?

In the wake of another episode that feels like it's whipped through its source material at a lightning pace, we seem to have reached the crux of the series as it pertains to Kodaka - is it finally going to be decision time for him when it comes to choosing where his heart lays in terms of both friendship and more?  I really hope so, as this now feels like a series that needs and deserves a conclusion - no matter how luke-warm I am towards this show for the most part, it would be so much better for some kind of final resolution come the end of it all to give weight to at least some of the shenanigans that have come before.  I know it's asking a lot for this kind of series, but we shall see.

Psycho-Pass - Episode 21

The game is afoot as we reach Psycho-Pass' penultimate episode with Kogami and Tsunemori racing to be the first to reach and deliver their own visions of justice to Makishima - oh, and saving the country from starvation into the bargain.

With Kogami unable to bypass the biometric security required to enter the facility where Makishima is crafting his virus, it seems as if he's already realised that Akane is smart enough to keep with him, and thus he's happy for her to take the lead by using the MWPSB's influence to shut off all power to the complex - a move which also disables all of its security.  Thus, the race is well and truly on to capture the culprit at the heart of events - but what will his next move by with no power to any of the systems that he requires to complete his plan?

Akane is convinced that rather than run, Makishima will head to the control room to manually reboot the plant's power, and thus heads off there while sending Ginoza and Masaoka to cut off any escape routes he might have.  It comes as rather a surprise therefore when we reach said control room to find no sign of either Makishima or Ginoza... has Akane miscalculated something?  Indeed she has, and that something is the kind of nefarious deeds that Makishima is willing to carry out to achieve his goals, which in turn sets us up for a tumultuous finale...

For all of its occasionally heavy-handed moments of proselytizing about the freedom of the people, the importance of true justice and so on, this was another rip-roaring episode of Psycho-Pass that showcases everything that has been so great about the series - the strength of some of its main characters, the excellent realisation of its crime drama roots, and that blending of crime drama with bursts of action, emotion and, yes, those monologues and reference-heavy debates between characters.  Am I hyped for the finale of the series?  You bet I am, and Psycho-Pass remains the best anime of the past six months and probably beyond in my book.

Tamako Market - Episode 10

It's school festival time (don't worry, this isn't Hyouka so it only lasts a single episode), and the baton club have landed themselves a prime position in the schedule's festival.  In other words, it's time to knuckle down and create something fitting for the occasion!

After much discussion about what their on-stage performance should involve (with Kanna's suggestion of "firefighting acrobatics" shot down quickly and repeatedly, in the end it's left to Tamako to deal with the costumes - a smart choice as we get to take a peek at Choi's impressive sewing abilities - while Midori is put in charge of the performance's choreography.

Although initially thrilled by the prospect of creating this, Midori soon finds that choreography is far, far more difficult than she perhaps imagines as she struggles to come up with any ideas at all.  Rather than turning to her friends for help, she remains determined to go it alone, and the longer she struggles with this mental block the more impossible she finds it to admit her troubles to Tamako and Kanna as she wears herself into the ground with worry and attempts to drum up ideas.  Eventually, the other girls realise what's going on in plenty of time to assist and ensure that all goes smoothly come the big day.  Oh, and Tamako is the princess that Dera was sent to look for.

That throwaway previous line almost exactly mimics the big problem with Tamako Market to this point - it introduces some interesting ideas, does nothing with them for considerable periods of time, and then suddenly returns to them out of the blue by throwing something out there; something that was, on this occasion, entirely obvious from episode one to boot.  In a wider context, this episode worked reasonably well, powered along by Midori continuing to be the show's easiest character to relate to with a plight that I'm sure many of us have suffered from ourselves in the past.  That doesn't really excuse the fact that Tamako Market has delivered a lot of fluff throughout the series when it seemed to promise so much more, and no matter what it does in its final couple of episodes it's hard to imagine it being seen as anything much other than "just another slice of life show" by the time it's finished.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) - Episode 23

Having introduced us to its flora and fauna last week, and as it continues to do so this time around, a simple question is raised - why is Tokyo filled with these mutant creatures?  The answer returns us to the concept of human's Power leakage that has been at the core of so much of the series.

There's little time to really worry about such things however, as our group of survivors are more concerned simply with surviving in this hostile environment so that they might complete their goal and defeat the Ogre.  Once we arrive at a waterway, Kiroumaru suggests that the only viable strategy is for the group to split up, leaving Saki and Inui to return and retrieve the submarine they traveled to Tokyo in while Kiroumaru himself and Satoru look to lead their pursuers astray.

On the journey back to this submarine, Inui suggests that perhaps Kiroumaru isn't being entirely straight with them while he questions why he spent so much time and effort in Tokyo previously, and why he also neglected to mention certain important facts that would have helped them stay safe while retrieving their submersible.  Paranoia or not, again there's little time for any in-depth thought into the matters as one peril after another face Saki and Inui, and perhaps inevitably only one of them can survive for long enough to retrieve the biological weapon which could be the key to defeating the Ogre.  Even this seems set to become of secondary important for Saki, as some strangely familiar dreams and memories seem to manifest themselves right before her very eyes in the form of a boy whose name she thought was lost...

Although there are certainly nits that I could pick with the unfolding of this week's episode, namely around the reintroduction of Shun via dialogue inside of Saki's head (which felt like a lazy and, for this series, unrealistic way of setting things up), there's still plenty of compelling viewing of Saki and company's attempts to survive in this harsh landscape against all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures, and with suggestions of plenty of twists still to come in its final couple of episodes I simply can't wait to see how the climax to the series maps out.  If it can even come close to living up to much of its build-up in the second half of the show, then Shin Sekai Yori is on a very firm footing indeed right now.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Little Busters! - Episode 22

Confusion reigns after the launchpad shuttle explosion in Kud's home country of Tebwa, with no news coming out of the country regarding her mother's condition or status in its wake.

With what little news there is suggesting that the country might be subjected to biohazards and the like as a result of the explosion, it doesn't seem like a place that anyone would be particularly keen to visit, but for Kud in particular there is a real dilemma on her hands as she's offered a plane ticket and the opportunity to return home to check on her mother.

In short, Kud isn't so much using Japan as a current home but a place of escape, after having (in her mind) shamed herself after joining an aviation school in her homeland in the hope of becoming a cosmonaut before being found wanting thanks to her unique traits.  Such is Kud's shame that she feels unable to face her mother, but at the same time it's clear that the only way she will find out her fate is to return to Tebwa.  So what should she do?  Nobody has the answer, namely because it seems as though there is no right answer, but needless to say it's ultimately up to Naoe to see through everything and nudge Kud in what seems to be the right direction.

Certainly, this made for one of the better episodes of Little Busters in some ways, as it took its outrageous circumstances and fashioned them into a more genuine moral dilemma that can at least be related to.  Beyond that, it's too late for me to become sufficiently invested in the show's character at this stage, which leaves the show dead in the water to some extent, although I'm curious to see where this particular story arc is headed now given that I assumed that Kud's departure would be the end of the matter.  Again though, even Little Busters on relatively good form simply isn't compelling enough to be truly memorable.

AKB0048 Next Stage - Episode 10

Stranded on an unknown planet with a damaged ship, things are looking a little tricky for the AKB0048 crew as this week's episode begins.  Still, it could be worse - they might have ended up on a junk planet having to sing along to Dare To Be Stupid.

Beyond that, it isn't all bad news, as the planet has a breathable atmosphere if nothing else, leaving the successors tasked with exploring and finding out what they can about the planet while repairs are on-going.  This brings them some interesting encounters with the land's flora and fauna, whether it's hallucinogenic mushrooms or Pokemon rejects.

Indeed, it's once such Pokemon-lite making friends with Orine that leads us to the real revelations about the planet, as an aggressive turn from the parents of Orine's cute new friend leads onwards to an attack from Zodiac Corporation forces, who it seems are using the planet to mine dualium.  When it comes to placating those angry beasts however, there's only one thing for it - to sing at them!  Between this and a little fighting action, the danger passes, although not before Chieri and Nagisa send themselves on a seemingly suicidal stowaway mission.

I suppose I have to give some credit to this week's AKB0048 Next Stage for turning what looked like it was about to become a throwaway episode into another opportunity to reveal some additional details about the show's wider world and pertinent plot points - admittedly this wasn't done in the most spectacular fashion, but it just about worked well enough to be passable before giving us a fascinating twist in its closing moments that could well make or break the series.  Needless to say, I'll be watching on to see where this show is ultimately headed.

Space Brothers - Episode 48

There's no more time for preamble, as this week sees training kick off in earnest for our astronaut candidates - at least, it will if Mutta can stop pondering the potential bad omens hinted at in last week's episode.

Indeed, his foremost concern should probably be one of his two instructors, as Vincent Bold continues to bemoan the demeanour of the non-military candidates in the group.  On the flip side of this, Mutta seems to have taken an immediate shine to Bold thanks to his intense nature and, more specifically, a promise to complete the course six months faster than the two years allocated to it.

All of this is in stark contrast to Bold's fellow instructor Larry Bison, who has a reputation for being a "luke warm" character with none of the intensity of his colleague.  It's Bold that sets the tone for the early days of the group's training however, spying an opportunity to improve efficiency by combining a couple of tasks and thus sending the whole group packing on a survival trek across the Texan desert on the way to Amarillo (cue Tony Christie).  Although spirits are high as the group set off, we can rest assured that it won't be long before fractures appear, particularly within the JAXA-led Group E...

While I'm not entirely sure about Mr. Bold's suitability as an instructor of any kind - cutting off questions curtly and looking to get things done faster than they need to be don't seem like good traits for such a position - I'm willing to let it slide as we move towards another period of character-centric drama from Space Brothers.  It's something that the show has done unfailing well throughout, no matter the scenario constructed around it, so I'm ready for such more top-notch material this time around - hopefully it won't let me down.

Robotics;Notes - Episode 20

Despite all of their recent adventures, I very much doubt that "being held at gunpoint by a little girl" figured Aki and Kai's expectations, but that's exactly where we find ourselves as this week's Robotics;Notes opens.

Thanks to this and a face-to-face encounter with the AR avatar of Kou Kimijima, we get to learn the truth behind Misaki's behaviour - how she saved Aki and Kai amongst others during the SS Anemone incident by killing the living, breathing Kimijima, only to find herself haunted by his virtual presence to the point where he effectively turned her into his slave.  Even in the face of all of this information (oh, and that gun being pointed at her), Aki still refuses to have her enthusiasm for justice dimmed as she swears that she'll do whatever it takes for her sister and beyond - a stirring monologue made all the more pertinent by the fact that the whole thing was streamed across the Internet.

It's thanks to that bit of surreptitious streaming that the entire Robotics Club team are quickly reassembled
in the hangar that houses GunPro-1, and what begins as a milling of friendly faces (joined ultimately by Kai and Aki in spectacular fashion) soon begins to morph into a coherent plan to use the GunPro-1 to foil Kimijima's plans to launch a black hole bomb and eradicate humanity.  Can they really do that using a clunky old robot?  Well, that's the point of the show's finale, so let's hope so shall we?

Although this is very much Robotics;Notes in top gear as it blends friendships, robotics, conspiracy and the like into its mix, there's something that's still not particularly satisfying about the whole thing, largely revolving around the fact that a lot of the major points of its narrative don't make much sense - it feels rather like a "join the dots" picture where all of the dots connect up soundly enough, but the picture you reveal once you've done so is a jumbled mess.  Perhaps it's because I've struggled to become fully invested in its characters or scenario, but there are too many logical or character-based holes in what I'm seeing (particularly surrounding Misaki) to work for me - maybe I can put that to one side and at least enjoy what should be a rip-roaring finale, but it seems guaranteed that the show as a whole is going to be no classic in my book.

Minami-ke Tadaima - Episode 10

On a cold day, the experience of sitting under a warm kotatsu is like heaven... at least, it is until the electricity bill arrives.

In light of such a bill, Haruka decides that it's time to be more "eco-friendly", which is of course nothing to do with being cheap at all - a decision which leaves Kana and Chiaki figuring out other ways to save the environment; and of course some cash.  While sharing body heat to keep warm is all good and well (if a little too much for Mako), it doesn't work particularly efficiently when someone is hogging the duvet, so before we know it Chiaki has come down with a cold at the worst possible time, that being the day as a planned "snack party".  With her friends rallying around bringing food-based gifts that they believe should help her recovery, we end up having a party anyway, albeit one which revolves around sukiyaki rather than snacks.

From here, Haruka's insistence upon eco-friendly living sees Takeru effectively press-ganged into inviting the Minami family out to dinner, which is course an expensive mistake to make, before the episode closes out with Mako having another visual overload as "she" walks into the midst of a "pyjama day" which proves to be an over-bearing strain on his senses.

One or two little moments aside, this certainly wasn't Minami-ke at its funniest, getting by instead on that sense of light-hearted entertainment that pervades everything it does to make for a soothing start to any day, whether it involves the copious wearing of pyjamas or not (and that sure is tempting on a lazy Sunday).  Even when it isn't firing on all cylinders, I get the feeling I'm going to miss this show once it's gone from my viewing schedule again even if it isn't an outright classic.