Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin - 9

#9 was yet another smart, atmospheric and beautifully animated episode of Occult Academy - thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. And you know, I'm getting very worried.

Why the long face? Well, we only have four episodes to go. And as this "Occult Flavor of the Week" ep will carry over into episode 10, that leaves only three eps to wrap up the main storyline. We seem to have really lost track of that main plot track lately, in a wave of side stories of varying success. It's a big plot, cleverly conceived, and I really want to see it resolved in a way that does it justice.

With that out of the way, 9 was an excellent episode, the start of what appears to be a two-parter focusing on Akari, the ghost of a little girl who died in tragic circumstances. Several interesting things happened here. First, we see the Vice-Principal teaching a class, this one on the subject of summoning spirits (in a classroom complete with a very cool Ouija guitar). While attempting to summon the Principal - at the insensitive suggestion of Kozue - she accidentally summons the little girl. That's when things start getting interesting, to say the least. Akari comes and goes in puffs of snow, and finally attaches herself to Smile. Eventually the Scooby gang sets off to help her find her home...

But not before a fascinating exchange between Maya and Fumiaki. He initially says he'll join the gang despite the fact that it appears not to be Nostradamus-related, clearly longing to be part of the group. But Mikaze comes a-calling, and his hormones get the better of him. There can be no doubt from Maya's reaction that what we're seeing here is jealousy - her incredibly expressive face leaves no room for it. That's an unsurprising though interesting turn. It also furthers a suspicion that's been growing in me that Mikaze's seemingly random interruptions are specifically designed to keep Abe-sensei from getting too close to Maya. She always turns up or calls at precisely the moment those two are starting to connect, seems to me. Mikaze is the most mysterious character on the show - we've really been given very little to go on with her. I can't believe she and the old lady aren't the same person at this point, but beyond that we know very little of her motivation or abilities - except that she's a terrible driver.

At least these side stories do manage to shed a little light on the main characters, and this arc appears to be continuing that. JK continues to emerge as the outright funniest character on the show as he grows beyond the limits of his archetype. There's the aforementioned jealousy between Maya and Abe. And the story of Akari is interesting in itself, obviously tragic, and the way her "homecoming" was played out was genuinely scary. I'm interested to see what happens to wrap her arc up, but even more anxious to get back to business and start hacking the big mysteries of the series.

Giant Killing - 22

Remarkably,the pacing of GK slowed down even more with episode 22. Due to halftime we covered only 10 minutes of game action, and at the end we're only 55 minutes into the match. It seems inevitable now that the Osaka arc is going to be the last one for the series, sadly. This was another strong episode - they're all strong with this show - though not quite as riveting as the previous few.

With a miraculous comeback looking ever more unlikely, Tatsumi's confidence is even more striking - and more baffling to his team. As usual, it's Kubo who takes it on himself to challenge his team in the locker room and, as usual, he's mostly out of line. This time it's Sugie who feels his wrath, and only Dori steps up to defend the defense's performance. In truth, Sugie and Kubota played pretty well, considering that ETU was under relentless attack for the entire half. It was really Gino and the forwards - along with a midfield unable to win loose balls and maintain any possession - that let the side down. Where was Tatsumi while the team was arguing? Why, off soliciting the opinion of ballboys about a possible ETU comeback - with the answer being, "It'd be fun". That, it seems, is the extent of Tatsumi's halftime coaching.

Meanwhile, we get out first glimpse in a while of the fan conflict between the old guard Edomae and the Skulls. This time the sympathy of the narrative is with the Skulls, as Edomae show up late and expect space to be cleared for their banner. I prefer Edomae to the somewhat thuggish Skulls, but their leader makes a fair point - where was Edomae when ETU was rudderless and in danger of relegation? I'll be very interested to see if these two sides reach a detente in light of their mutual love of ETU.

Back on the field things are grim, even if Sugie and Kubo have stepped up their game. Dulfer is still supremely confident, his fire rising at the prospect of crushing his young rival. Gino finally unleashes a fine pass, but Natsuki fritters away the chance due to his indecision and in the process earns a look from Gino that could melt steel. Turns out that Tatsumi - possibly in a rare motivational misstep - had told Natsu that he was insufficiently determined as a forward. This seems to have shaken Natsu's empty-headed confidence and left the offense, two strikers or not, punchless and disorganized. Will Sakai step in to save the day? Will Sera finally break out and lead the attack himself? Or will Natsuki find himself and revert to his relaxed, bombastic attacks? One of them is sure to happen - we'll probably find out next week.

Asobi ni Ikuyo! - 8

The theme of this week's episode is the humble Yanbaru Kuina - small, almost flightless and extremely endangered. It's apparently the most famous bird in Okimanwa, and continues this series' progression as something of an Okinawan travelogue in addition to a very bizarre comedy.

While episode 8 of Asobi no Ikuyo! had a cameo from The Underside of the Kitten's Paw and another rather lame plot by the dog aliens, the focus - when not on the Yanbaru - remained squarely on the romance side of the story. Manami is starting to remind me of Aoba (gee, I wonder why?) in the way she's pushing Aoi on Kio the way Aoba pushed Akane on Kou. At least this week Manami officially confessed her love - to herself, in a clever scene that left me unsure whether or not she was crying. Unfortunately she's no closer to openly declaring in the war for Kio, and he remains too dense to get the fact that either Manami or Aoi are warm for his form. While Kio did express a desire to learn to fight, his character hasn't evolved much on the relationship front - all of the movement has come from his harem. I'd like to see him clue in a little (maybe some fatherly advice from Uncle Magnum?) romance-wise, as I think it would make both his character and the overall plot more interesting.
This was definitely a focus on those two, with Kio and especially Eris reduced to minor background. The Doggies have not proven to be any real threat so there's not much suspense in the larger plot at the moment, so most of my interest remains focused on the harem side of things. I continue to like Manami's chances, though I'm rooting for Eris and Aoi can't totally be ruled out. Otherwise, I'm afraid this ep was a little boring as it came up short in the humor department, and humor is the fuel that powers this vehicle. At it's best it's a series that has lobbed clever parodies and inside meta-humor - and fan-service - like hand grenades, and the plot is a bit thin to carry things for 23 minutes when those elements aren't heavily used. Hopefully next week we'll get back to the more frenetic, insane style of those middle episodes.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mitsudomoe - 9

I know the first two episodes of this series were the weakest, but I feel badly for anyone who didn't stick it out. If you did, you've been amply rewarded - Mitsudomoe made a slow build to hilarious through 8 episodes, and with #9 it ascended into high art.

I'm not sure which line was the funniest of the episode for me. It might have been Chiba (complete with an "erection" T-shirt) saying "I practice all the time" to Hitoha in the first skit. Or perhaps it was Futaba's "Shin-chan, you gotta nail me in the butt again sometime - it felt great!" in the last.

But you know, that wasn't even the highlight of the episode for me. That would have to be the skit with Futaba, Mitsuba and the barrel, set to the Mozart C-Major Piano Sonata, K.545. It was - and yes, I'm really saying this - worthy of Charlie Chaplin. And this episode marked another milestone for a show that had already proved it could be flat-out hilarious. Between the barrel sketch, Futaba's voyage through the air to Strauss' "Blue Danube Waltz" from 2001 - a Space Odyssey to the "Yabechin's Room" sketch, Mitsudomoe went high-concept this week. And amazingly, pulled it off beautifully without losing one atom of hilarity in the process.

I think what's most remarkable about this series to me is that it has now moved deftly between so many different styles of humor and managed to succeed across the board. Misunderstanding, situation comedy, slapstick, sexual innuendo and wordplay, farce, and parody - and all of them were present in episode 9 alone. Poor Shin-chan can't shake the "perv" label, Chiba keeps getting pantsed and when he finally got to try his signature "panty-snatch" it was on Yabe-chin. Futaba continues to provide abject misery and grievous bodily harm to Mitsuba, and Hitoha continued to futilely try to bond over Gachi Rangers, only to fall short once again. The themes presented in previous eps continue to be developed and expanded upon, and the situations become increasingly more bizarre, but it all stays true to character.

I've said it before - good comedy is really, really hard to pull off. The fact that Mitsudomoe is able to pull off so many different kinds of comedy is a little miracle, and not something I expected after the first two episodes. No show in months - maybe years - has made me laugh as hard, and I've grown to really like all of the characters. I wish this series was going to be 52 episodes - I don't want to say goodbye in a few weeks.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Amagami SS - 9

That certainly was a surprise. In a radical shift from the first two arcs, Amigami SS turned into some sort of over-the-top romantic comedy. Instead of clumsy courtship we got a lot of sight gags, crotch humor and annoying voice-over narration. Even the animation style looked different to me, more primary colors and softer edges, perhaps befitting the material.

Problem is, most of the humor really didn't work very well. The Nakata Sae arc is off to a rough start for me. I'm not at all sure I'll be able to get used to Konno Hiromi's work as Sae, either - the breathy baby-doll voice she's using here takes a lot of getting used to.

To be honest, my interest in this series has been on a gradual decline since the spectacularly sexy "knee-kissing" episode three. I'm probably going to take a break from blogging this one, as it just doesn't interest me enough at this point that I think I can do it justice. I'll keep watching and hoping things pick up again, and even as little hope as I Have for the Nakata arc, we still have three more girls to go after that...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Chicago vs. California

When I was 27 years old, I left my lifelong home of Chicago and moved to San Diego, California. Eventually I moved to San Francisco. So at this point, I've had a taste of three pretty distinct lifestyles and cultures (and don't think SoCal and NorCal aren't as different as either is from the Midwest).

I just got back from a visit back home to see my Dad, and my sister - who still lives in SD - met me there. It was my fourth or fifth trip back since I moved, and she hadn't been back in ten years or so. I found it pretty interesting to see how different her view of Chicago was from mine, though we'd both been rather fond of it when we left.

In the first place, one thing you hear people complain about constantly - both in and outside of Chicago - is the weather. And I've been one of them - I didn't min the winters so much (I love snow) but the summers were brutal. Usually hot and invariably humid and sticky. But we happened to pick the one summer week where it was cooler in Chicago than in either of our home towns - it was 106 in San Francisco one day, in fact. So no harm, no foul there.

Then there's construction. They have a saying in Chicago - there are two seasons, winter and construction. And indeed, it seemed like every tollway, expressway and surface street I drove on (a lot of them) was dotted with flagmen and orange cones. Intellectually I understand this, of course - winter plays havoc with asphalt, and you can't fix it when there's risk of sub-freezing weather. But paired with another of Chicago's problems - sprawl - the construction irked and irritated me more than I remembered. Chicago does indeed have a sprawl problem - in every direction, specially West, the suburbs have continued their amoeba-like expansion in the years since I left. It seems to take half an hour just to drive from one suburb to another, and when you have to cover any distance - say from the Northwest side to the Southwest burbs - the sheer distance and construction-worsened traffic make the drive interminable. I've certainly been spoiled by how compact the Bay Area is, and you can chalk both of us up as pissed about construction, traffic and sprawl.

But that's where we part ways. We spent a day together with my Dad downtown, walking from the South Loop to the Gold Coast. I love the city - Chicago has a rugged, handsome skyline that's more American than any other place. I love the buildings, the pace, the river, the lake. My sister, by contrast, now finds the city too loud and exhausting. Personal temperament, or the fact that she lives in a place that really has no there there, downtown-wise? While the suburbs leave me cold, downtown still thrills me. This is America at it's most American. It's a marvelous combination of classic Daniel Burnham-style American architecture, modern high-rises and ample green spaces. And the trains and buses are efficient and still cheap.

Most interesting, to me, was our impression of the people. Chicagoans, to me, are solid, reliable and possessed of a wry sense of humor. They keep their social contracts and don't waste a lot of time on small talk. To her, they seemed disinterested and unfriendly for the most part. From my perspective, what she's missing is the casual friendliness of California, especially SoCal. But for me, that's not really real - that friendliness seemed very surface-level, all frosting and no cake. While you're more likely to get a big smile from a server and have a stranger strike up a conversation in California, I think a Chicagoan is more likely to return a lost wallet or take the time to cal you if they're running late. Chicago, then, would be all cake and no frosting.

Perception is a funny thing - I don't know if there's something in our makeup that makes us feel differently about the place where we grew up, or if it's simply a matter of time or the differences between SoCal and NorCal, which in my view is closer to Chicago. I love the Bay Area, but I could see myself moving back to Chicago and loving it if I lived someplace like Belden and Clark, or River North. She could never go back - she'd hate it.

Last thought - I suppose I'd probably gain 20 pounds if I did, as the food I grew up loving - Italian Beef sandwiches, char-Polish and fries, stuffed pizza - is about as unhealthy as it gets. But I didn't eat those things every day when I lived there and I suppose, after a while, I'd have my fill and go back to having those things as the occasional splurge. If you get to Chicago, leave the dietary restrictions at home and live it up for a few days.

Kuroshitsuji II - 9

You've really done it now, Claude - you've tainted dear Ciel's beautiful soul with Alois' icky, trampy one. And not only that, seriously pissed off Sebastian in the process. I wouldn't give much for your chances at this point.

The big news is, apparently Alois really is dead - although of course so was Ciel after S1. Claude kept the soul in a ring hidden in a tin of tea (which should look familiar) and came up with an admittedly clever idea - lure Ciel out with a fake message from the Queen, kidnap him and muddle his memories with Alois. Effectively Claude has now swapped one bochan for another, much better model - and left Sebby frozen out by brainwashing Ciel into ordering him away. A worthy gambit for a demon butler. But I can't help but think that Sebastian is going to regain the upper hand in the end, one way or the other - he seems to have all the answers when the chips are down.

Though Sebastian always ends up feeling something like a hero character, the hard truth of this story is that he's treating Ciel no better than Claude would. It's hard not to feel sympathy for Ciel - his entire life he's been a tool of those more powerful than he, and his only real friend wants nothing more in the end than to devour his soul. There's a distinct and undeniable nobility to the boy - courage in the face of danger and stoicism in the face of seemingly endless despair. It would be nice to see a better ending for him than S1 offered, but Kuroshitsuji doesn't seem to specialize in happy endings so I don't hold out too much hope.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Nurarihyon no Mago - 8

Is it a Moribito sequel?? No, dammit...

After a pretty decent combat sequence between Night Rikuo and Gyuuki for the first few minutes, episode 8 is devoted entirely - and somewhat surprisingly - to Gyuuki backstory. And it isn't finished, at that! We were promised more backstory than the manga provides, and it appears we're going to get it. As a result, we're presented with an entire episode without a single appearance by any of the main characters apart from Night Rikuo. And Nurarihyon, of course.

While the backstory for Gyuuki was perfectly fine, it wasn't particularly exciting and had a somewhat obligatory feel to it. It's a good fable - Umewakamaru is a human boy conceived under odd circumstances in the distant past, perhaps the 11th or 12th century. Tragedy befalls him in the loss of his parents, and he ends up - through means we're given a few hints at but no clear answers - a demon, sworn on revenge against humans. He ends up taking the name of Gyuuki, the demon who devoured his mother and was in turn slain by the 12 year-old Umewakamaru. After centuries, an invading army of demons arrive, the powerful Nurarihyon at their helm. After thoroughly defeating Gyuuki he gives him the opportunity to join his clan, which Gyuuki eventually does.

What this ep didn't really tell us is why exactly Gyuuki decided to rebel against the Nura Clan and try to assassinate Rikuo - that was left as cliffhanger material. We certainly know a lot more about Gyuuki now, but I'm not sure I wouldn't have found a five-minute flashback followed by a resolution of the conflict with Night Rikuo more involving. I haven't read the manga, but those who have seem to harbor a worry that 24 eps isn't going to be enough to do justice to the material. If that's the case I don't like to see an entire ep (and counting) devoted to the backstory of a side character, even if we did get to see Yuki-Onna's mother (or grandmother?).

Shiki - 8

Well, I'm completely sold at this point. Shiki has been on an upward trajectory and 8 was clearly the strongest episode of the series thus far.

One element that was much more in play this week was suspense. There have been suspenseful interludes in the first 7 episodes, but 8 was a masterpiece of Hitchcockian, edge-of-your seat anticipation. The ep started with yet another fascinating conversation between Seishin and Sunako, philosophical and foreboding and deepening the mystery around her character. We were then treated to an intensely exciting scene where, as most expected, Natsuno, Kaori and Akira find Megumi's grave empty. But in a classic horror-movie riff, a vampire (corpse demon?) abducts Kaori and she's saved only by Natsuno and his spade. In a questionable decision (well, these are kids) the trio decide to bury the unconscious demon only partially in hopes that adults will discover him. Akira is keen to attack the Kirishiki mansion, but Natsuno points out that everything they assume to be true about vampires comes from movies and might not apply - though the hints have been strong that at least some of the cliches hold true - and that they might not even be fighting vampires. Akira and Kaori snuggle together terrified in a rather poignant scene, unable to sleep but bravely planning to fight on. The next day the grave is empty - and that evening, a very strange little girl and her puppet arrive at Natsuno's house in one of the creepiest and best directed scenes of the summer season.

I continue to be intrigued by the possibilities here. Most significantly, Sunako, about whom we've been given only tantalizing hints. It seems obvious to me that she's going to be at the heart of this story's ultimate resolution, but how? Is she the leader of the vampires and ultimately the most powerful and cruel, merely toying with Seishin for her own amusement? Or might their conversations hold real meaning for her, and she truly does feel something for the humans on which her family preys? Also interesting is the relative absence of curve balls we've been thrown thus far. Creepy and suspenseful this series has become, but the vampires have thus far behaved obediently to accepted standards - no sunlight (bar one of them), unable to enter without being invited, etc. Are things really as obvious and predictable as they seem, or is this a colossal feint on the part of the writer? I've said it already, but I rather hope it's not - I like the idea of a smartly written tragedy, where the drama comes not from surprising the audience but in watching the characters struggle like rats in a maze. In any case, we have 14 eps to go so there's all sorts of possibilities here - if things continue to improve at the rate they have been, Noitamina clearly has another classic on their hands.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Major - 150

For all his considerable talent, nothing ever seems to come easy to Goro. Now, as his team is on the verge of a division title, we learn that the foreshadowing of episode 149 was the real deal. Bull-headed as he is, Goro was at least smart enough to see a Doctor – one Emily Ferguson – but only because he could keep it a secret from his team. Dr. Ferguson diagnoses him with “Thoracic Tunnel Syndrome” – apparently a narrowing of the artery in his shoulder. But it’s at this point that Goro surrenders his intelligence points and bolts the doctor’s office, only to wake up in severe pain after his first (successful) appearance as a closer. Emily reluctantly agrees to let him pitch the last three games, but it’s obvious that Goro is taking a big risk with his arm.

This is a maddening part of Goro’s character, but it makes him who he is. He’s already surrendered one shoulder by pitching hurt to win a Little League game, now he’s apparently willing to risk his only good one to try and win a title for the Hornets. So what happens if they do win the last game – does he have to stick around for the playoffs as well? The World Series? You have to admire Goro’s guts and commitment to winning, but as a 20 year-old he’s crazy to risk his career.

Episode concludes with another welcome – if brief – visit from the Shimizu twins, this time complete with parents. They want to skip school to watch Goro’s last game but Mom doesn’t want to let her. Fortunately Dad steps in and overrules. Now first of all, why does Shimizu need her Mother’s permission – she’s in college! And when did Taiga get taller than Kaoru?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Asobi no Ikuyo! - 7

I must give credit to Asobi no Ikuyo for sticking to its guns. This show has the ability for groan-inducing humor, and some of the best fanservice of any series out there. The lack of pretense is what sells it for me - it's a series that's very happy to be what it is. That doesn't mean it can't be smart when it wants to - some of the parody humor ("Bewitched" this week) especially involving the assistdroids is highly clever. But mostly it's sex, otaku jokes and inexplicable plot developments with no explanation whatsoever.

We met a few new characters this week. Akane and Mikoto are the two girl members of Kio's film club. They're smokin', natch, and in a rather hilarious scene they explain how Kio is a girl magnet because he's "kind, gentle and an anime fan". If that isn't parody, I've never seen it. We also meet Ichika, a mysterious chibi girl who seems to know a lot about what's happening between the Catians and Dogisians. And our billionaire loli from the Cat's Paw worshipers joins Kio's school as a transfer student, along with her heavily armed maids and Eris. As for the obligatory beach episode portion of the festivities, my favorite moment there was when Akana and Mikoto discovered the "tail holes" in Eris' hand-me-down swimsuits - one of which Mikoto was wearing backwards. No wonder the boys almost passed out from blood loss.

The romance side of things here is interesting, because the material does a good job of making a strong case for all three major contenders. While in the end I expect no resolution of this storyline, if there is one I could realistically see it going any of the three possible directions. We see an awful lot of the romance from Manami's POV, which leads me to believe she's the front-runner - but Aoi has received a lot of romantic development, and Kio seems to have strong feelings for Eris - who also scores points for giving up her first mating season because she couldn't be with him.

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin - 8

Well, I suppose we were due for something of a down episode with this series. And while we got one, relatively speaking, I think that's as much a credit to the consistency of the series as an indictment of the episode itself.

There wasn't much new revealed this week, as had the linear conclusion of the Maya-Ami feud storyline. The wrinkle is that the alien hoax was the red herring, and the dead cow - as I thought - the real story. The culprit? Chupacabras of all things - where's Asuna when you need her? - as this show continues the occult magical mystery tour. There were a few problematic elements with the execution. First of, for me, seeing Ami crunched in the jaws of a giant chupa would have been enough to send me into a fit of panic. For all concerned, there seemed to be a bit too much calm and deliberate in the response. And how is it that Ami ended up being unhurt after what had to be several hours in the clutches of the chupas? Maybe they didn't like her blood, but it almost looked like she was being used as part of a religious ceremony. And, given the interest of the Vice-Principal and her flunky in covering up the incident, that might not be totally out of the question. I hope we get a little further explanation of this as we go. Second, the whole feud between Ami and Maya seemed a bit of a yawner to build a cliffhanger around.

On the other hand, we got to see Fumiyaki take a few more baby steps on the road to GAR-ness. And Smile's giant wrench - introduced without a shred of comment - was a hilarious addition. And we got to see that JK, in addition to his dowsing (and piano!) skills, isn't at all useless in physical combat. It was all good fun, but I'll be pleased if we see a return to the main storyline and relationships next week.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mitsudomoe - 8

Another winner for Mitsudomoe this week, with all of the sketches working to solid comic effect or better. If Futaba wasn't my favorite character already, her performance this week probably cemented it. Even if the rest of the ep had sucked (it didn't) her oppai song at the end would have stamped it a classic.

I love the continuity we see in this series, where each episodic edition flows seamlessly from the last. I was a bit disappointed not to see more development on the Yabe-chi x Hitoha front after the misunderstanding in last week's closing sketch, but we were treated to new extensions of the Gachi Rangers and Nipples storylines. Hitoha, who also had a strong week, finally confessed to Yabe-chi - about her love of Gachi Rangers - during a visit with Futaba to kill cockroaches. Alas, he didn't believe her - and a string of misunderstandings around said cockroaches cements his belief. Misunderstandings also nearly cost Yabe-chi his job and get him branded as a perv. The rest of the bits were a bit more situation-oriented this week, from Mitsuba and Hitoha being locked in the shed (they seem to spend a lot of time locked in sheds) to Futaba's hilarious adventures with a lost little boy, including the aforementioned song. Futaba remains lovably clueless, causing massive destruction all around without meaning to but skating by cleanly herself.

Next week looks like an interesting ep, with the title "Santa Claus is my Sweetheart". From the PV it appears that the boys and Soujirou will be back in the spotlight again. I never know exactly what to expect from Mitsudomoe, but for the last month or so each ep has been a reliable source of big laughs. The show has found the perfect balance of nastiness and genuine heart, and the humor is in the zone. All of the characters are well-established and the show has a huge choice of go-to sources for hilarity. I'm only sorry this is stopping after 13 eps - there's enough potential material here to power two cours easily.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Giant Killing 21

The second Osaka episode continues on the same pace as the first, pointing us towards two more eps likely to complete the second half. And so far, Osaka Gunners looks every bit the dominant force they appeared to be going in - they lead 2-0 at the half, with ETU not even having managed a shot on goal.

As expected, Kubota proves to be the key to Osaka's attack, as a kind of attack savant. Turns out Dulfer spotted his genius and rescued him from a career in mediocrity as defensive midfielder, turning him into a forward. And while at first glance Kubota appears to be a kind of offensive midfielder, he is a true striker - something Sugie discovers to his dismay when he views his as strictly a passer. Kubota attacks, and nets Osaka's second goal. The same age is Tsubaki, this kid is worlds apart - a strange and insecure fellow, but someone who loves the thrill of the attack and appears to be the perfect attacking player.

So where is the hope for Tatsumi and ETU? Well, at the very least they launched a couple of attacks towards the end of the half - one of them foiled by Kubota. But Gino appears to be off form and Natsu hasn't been remotely threatening, leaving Sera as the only one with a touch in dangerous territory. Tatsumi still seems confident, and the nature of the show demands that ETU rally in the second half. Perhaps Tatsumi is banking on Kubota getting tired (that was his rep with the junior national team) and Tsubaki's relentless speed creating chances. Perhaps Sakai gets off the bench and enters as a third striker or replaces Tatsumi, offering an offensive spark.

It's hard to dislike Osaka, never mind hate. Kubota is a true genius, and Dulfer seems genuinely thrilled to see his players happy and executing beautiful football in the Dutch style. But in the series they're the enemy and they provide a formidable one, if not an especially obnoxious one. Tatsumi clearly would love nothing more than the knock the smile off Dulfer's face, but he better find a way to make something happen in the next episode or it'll be too late to make a serious game of it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kuroshitsuji II - 8

Well, that was certainly interesting, on so many levels.

First thing to catch my eye, of course, was the return of the "troll" OP from episode 1. Turns out they didn't spend all that money to use it for one episode after all. The return of that OP signaled the Alois-centric ep we expected from the PV. What I didn't expect was for Alois to die in the end - apparently, anyway. I'm not a fan of the character but his backstory was interesting, if predictable. Obviously Jim McCain (didn't he run for President? Oh, wait...) had a very fucked-up childhood. Real or not, Claude convinced him that Sebastian was responsible for the death of his little brother, finally giving him the wish for vengeance needed for a contract, which leads to him deposing the pedophile incumbent and taking over as the Queen's Spider. But as was obvious from 07, Claude's interest lies in Ciel's soul and that soul alone. Poor Alois isn't really in it for the vengeance and blood lust - he just wants Claude to love him. And that's just not worth Claude's time.

We found out a few other things too, not least of which that Hannah was a demon - not a huge surprise. And her last act with Alois' corpse was rather ironic and disgusting. What we don't know is what comes next - is Alois truly out of the picture, or is his soul still of some importance in what's to come? Will we now get a third OP, or go back to the one from episodes 2-7? Are we now looking at a battle royale between demon butlers for Ciel's soul - and has Grell truly gone over to Claude's side? The overall quality of the series has definitely been on an uptick over the last few eps, so I'm more than committed to finding out the answers at this point. For an episode with no Ciel and Sebby, that was a fine effort.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Amagami SS - 8

With this week's eighth episode two arcs are complete, and we're one-third of the way through this adaptation. I'm new to the material and have no preconceptions, but I can only be honest and say that, compared to the Haruka arc, this arc made very little impression on me.

I didn't hate the Kaoru arc - or the character, either. I just didn't find it especially interesting. Kaoru's family drama seemed rather lame, and there just wasn't much chemistry between the two leads. And I didn't like Junichi as much in this arc either - I thought he was much more engaging as the sneaky-assertive puppy dog slowly seducing Haruka without her realizing it. There was a real snap to the romance between them, a little dangerous edge. Here, the relationship was pleasant enough - I have nothing against the childhood friends meme. But it was just a little too nice, with no real passion to it, and Junichi came off rather vanilla. Or plain yogurt, if you prefer.

Now, interestingly, after pairing Junichi off with an older girl and then a classmate, we now get to see how he interacts with a girl younger than he is, 15 year-old Sae. I have no idea what to expect but my hope is that we'll get something a little edgier like the Haruka arc. When it comes to romance series - and really, this is six romance mini-series in one bucket - I'll take edgy over bland any day of the week.

Shiki - 7

Wow. Shiki has really rounded into form with the last couple of episodes, stepping up and starting to earn the mantle of a Noitamina series.

The episode gave us about as much exposition as the first six combined, though not much came as a surprise because the creators have never tried very hard to hide what was going on. As I thought, we're watching a tragedy here and not a mystery - the audience is forced to watch the characters stumble through in ignorance while they, with an overview, can see quite clearly what's happening.

We find out a lot this week. The scenes from Masao's perspective were creepy and very well-done, especially his recollection of the nighttime visits from his killer and his time inside his coffin. Tatsumi - already having overheard Kaori and Akira (Twintails and Otouto) discussing Akira's suspicions about the Kirishiki mansion - rescues him. In the process, we learn that not everyone killed by the vampires rises - only a select few, like Masao, are special. We learn through Masao's flashbacks that once bitten, the victim is under the control of their killer, who comes back nightly to feed on them until they expire (very, very creepy - reminded me of this). And we learn that these vampires follow most of the rules - no direct sunlight, no getting your head cut off, etc. Except Tatsumi - he can take sunlight and is surely different in other ways too, though he doesn't reveal how. In a wonderfully disturbing scene at the safehouse where he has brought Masao we see the little boy who has been brought in to be Masao's first kill. Masao appears to still have a semblance of his humanity and it repulsed at the notion, but Tatsumi assures him that it's no different than humans feeding on animals, and that he has to feed or die.

Perhaps most refreshingly, the cowl is finally lifted from Ozaki's eyes and he figures out what's really happening. Seishin, surprisingly, is the skeptical one - or perhaps doesn't want to believe the truth. While Akira was clearly the first to piece this together the structure of the remainder of the series is revealed - he, Natsuno and Ozaki have all reached the same conclusion and independently set out to prove it. Natsuno, Akira and Kaori by digging up Megumi's grave - a notion poor Kaori understandably finds horrifying - and Ozaki by using one of his patients as live bait, to see if her killer comes for her in the night.

There's a lot of style here. There's almost no gore and very little in the way of cheap horror movie gimmicks, but lots of atmosphere. The result isn't so much scary as unsettling, and at its best very much so. I respect the fact that the writers appear to have been very honest with the audience - no random, nonsensical curveballs. What we thought we were seeing is what we were seeing, and the drama is watching the characters figure it out. And now, in watching what appears to shaping up as a war of survival between the seemingly overmatched Natsuno, Twintails, Otouto and Ozaki and the entire Kirishki clan and their horde of corpse demons. I can't shake the feeling that Sunako may be the one to even the odds here, somehow - her role in this is still complicated and shrouded in mystery. Might she be the key to the survival of the village - a sympathetic figure amongst the enemy?

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Nurarihyon no Mago - 7

Direct continuity from 06 this week, as we literally pick up the moment that episode left off. Kana is still alone in the dark, the boys still passed out and mumbling, the girls cowering in the baths under Yura's protection, and Rikuo still defending Yuki Onna from Gozumaru.

Last week was definitely no mirage - that was Day Rikuo taking a stance and challenging Gozu with the sword. I finally have what I was asking for, a bit of consciousness overlap between the two halves of Rikuo's nature. As you can see from the pic above, this "human" Rikuo is nicely drawn - while he clearly hasn't transformed into Night Rikuo he has a bit of an alien, feral look to him that I love. And while not the powerhouse that Night Rikuo is, little Day Rikuo isn't half-bad with a sword - able to call forth something more than mere human power and surprising Gozumaru in the process. While it's Night Rikuo who (somewhat disappointingly) shows up to settle things when Gozu shows his true form, it's now clear that Day Rikuo is not totally out of touch with his demon side.

Another interesting element here was how the Supreme Commander, despite first-hand intelligence thanks to the Tengu Clan, decides to let Rikuo handle Gyuuki on his own. Clearly this is a test of both Rikuo's power and dedication to the cause. While the others, like Lord Zen, would like to assist, Grandpa forbids it. And that's where we more or less leave things here, with Night Rikuo about to face off with Gyuuki. But not before he has a very interesting encounter with Kana on the stone steps, emerging from the night with twin balls of foxfire escorting him in a great entrance. He has a brief conversation with her, then leaves my darling Yuki Onna in her care and heads off to settle matters with Gyuuki once and for all.

I'm consistently enjoying this series, though not quite loving it yet. Too many of the characters are still a bit 2D for my tastes, but the development of some of the others - Rikuo, Yuki Onna and Zen especially - has been interesting. With a long run of eps ahead of us I suspect this series is going to get darker and more complex and just generally better as we progress, and I can't wait to see that. What I am already loving is the way the series uses striking visuals to really create a mood. The entire sequence with Night Rikuo and Kana on the steps, while relatively simply animated, was a masterpiece of lighting and imagery.

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin - 7


The producers over at A-1 sure like to give us glimpses of Maya's zettai ryouki every week. And I'm not complaining - it's easy on the eyes. As for the episode itself, unpredictable as ever, Seikimatsu goes in a fairly new direction this week with a story focused on Maya's childhood, seen through flashbacks triggered by a meeting with Ami's Dad, Shige. Shige is a burly, lovable construction worker who loved Maya as a kid and apparently the occult, too. Saddened by the teenaged Maya's seeming hostility towards all things supernatural, he concocts a wild scheme to turn her back into the old Maya again, using crop circles, aliens and cow mutilation, with JK and Smille as his lackeys. My question - does this mean JK and Smile actually mutilated that poor cow?

The whole premise was pretty preposterous in hindsight, but I'll confess that I didn't catch on until the big reveal. Given that this is a series about time travel and alien invasion the notion of a traditional "gray" in a very classic flying saucer didn't seem so out of line. Really, the saucer gag was more or less an excuse to develop Maya and Ami's relationship and show us a little more of Maya's childhood. In addition, we saw Maya and Fumiaki working together in a much more cordial manner this time, though she wasn't above insulting him. Clearly their relationship changed after the NDE episode last week, and I find it much more interesting than watching her hit him constantly.

The entire episode had "Kamichu" vibes for me, even more so than the previous six. It wasn't the masterpiece that 06 was, but certainly strong in its own right and kept the momentum going nicely. We saw just a moment of Mikaze, but enough to remind me that we haven't seen the old obaa-san since she first appeared - all the more reason to suspect she and Mikaze are the same person.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Asobi ni Ikuyo! - 6

It would be hard to call any episode of this show "serious", but after the extreme silliness of the last few weeks this one qualifies. The ecchi quotient was turned down quite a bit (though not all the way) and the episode focused mostly on the relationships between the major characters.

The assist-troids get a new use this week, acting as sensors as the Catian council sits in discussion in a sauna. Turns out this is a simulator, looking suspiciously like the holodeck on the USS Enterprise. It's also revealed the be the source of the "simulations" the Catians use to help get them through their mating season. Chaika offers it to Manami and Aoi for just that purpose (suggesting Kio's father) but they chicken out, instead asking for (respectively) a shooting range, and a demo kitchen. Both want the full version, of course - complete with Kio. But not for that purpose. Aoi wants him as a taste tester, and Manami ostensibly to help her lift a heavy weapon. In reality, though, she ends up psychoanalyzing him in one of the more serious moments of the series - and in the process shatters all illusions that she herself isn't in love with him, no matter how much she offers to help Aoi. Alas, it turns out that the Kio in the holodeck is a reflection of the person who summoned him - so his stated feelings can't be trusted. Or can they...

There was some interesting stuff going on this week. First of all, Kio is nuts to have Eris under the same roof and in heat and not do anything about it. That's anime cliche, of course, but I want to slap him. We get a greater sense than ever that Eris' feelings aren't just a question of being in season - she wants him, not just it. In fact, the three main girls' cards were pretty much laid on the table here - all of them want Kio, whether they'll admit it (Aoi and to a lesser extent Eris) or not (Manami). The question is, which one does he want? All of the enjoyably preposterous intergalactic politics and gunplay are just a supporting element to the fanservice and building up to answering that question. My money is on Manami - she's first in line and she is Aoba, after all. But unusually for me, my rooting interest is for Eris. She's a refreshing change from the dingbat trope that usually defines her character - one clever pussycat and sexy to boot. Plus, mate with her and it's assistroids for life - talk about a dowry!

Major - 149

We finally got to see a long-teased watershed moment in Major - Gibson vs. Gibson. While GAR Joe Sr. was toiling in the minors trying to work his way up to the Chicago Bisons, his son was scuffling. Now, Junior is white-hot and Senior is back - and strikes out Sonny in a crucial situation to save a lead. Of course, the notion that Gibson - at 43 - could throw 100 MPH after all the wear and tear on his arm is more preposterous than 17 year-old, 150-pound Kitamura Kou doing it - but the "baseball Gods" were on his side!

Back to Goro, things are as I feared - Goro is being drafted to be the closer as Watts has finally admitted his hip is bothering him. I think it's rather silly that a major-league team would pull it's best starting pitcher to be a full-time closer in the middle of a pennant race, but this is anime, I guess. It's also a point of fact that every time Goro blew on his fingers he would have been charged a balk, unless the umpires had ruled it OK for that day due to cold weather.

Ah, the blowing on the hands. To make the move to closer worse, Goro is hurt - numbness and shooting pain in his hand. Maybe an elbow problem, or a nerve issue? In any case, following Watts' lead he's not going to tell anybody. We all know Goro is only too willing to sacrifice his body for his team, but I'm worried - this is the only arm he has left. The Hornets are within a game and I can't see Goro giving up the ball, but it looks like the sexy trainer/manager is coming back next week - perhaps she'll save the day. In the meantime I hope we hear more from Joe Gibson soon - he's a great character. Perhaps a Hornets-Bisons duel in the playoffs?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Giant Killing - 20

Well, as I expected this episode played out almost in real-time. We're about 20 minutes into the Osaka match, which means we're looking at about 3-4 more eps to wrap it up if we keep to that pacing. Which would take us almost to the end of the series.

I also expected this episode to play as something of a letdown after the fantastic build-up of episode 19 - and it definitely did. Hard to fault the show for that - it would have been hard for any ep to follow up 19, especially one covering the early part of the match. It was still a solid 100% action episode, though, and gave us a clue as to just how formidable Osaka Gunners are.

Turns out, their four forward formation isn't just blind aggression or a gimmick - each striker complements the others' abilities. Hauer is at the center, and he plays almost the role of a center in basketball - they can dump the ball into him and with his great size and strength, he can possess the ball in the "pivot" and either attack the goal or distribute. As well, his height makes him dangerous in the air - especially when marked by the diminutive Kuro. Katayama and Hatake act as wingers, flying down the flanks and poaching for goal or floating high crosses to Hauer. But it's the timid-seeming Kubota who appears to be the key. While he appears Tsubaki-like in his seeming nervousness and hesitant attacking, he's a sort of football savant - acting instinctively and making incredible passes and solo runs. His nutmeg of Sugie was a thing of beauty. He's the main distributor in the front and due to his unorthodox style, impossible to predict. I suspect it was he than Monsieur Blanc was referring to when he mentioned the "strangely attractive" Osaka player (and not to the doughnut).

Dulfer is proving himself more than Tatsumi's match so far. After initial surprise and grudging respect for Tatsumi's tactics and ETU's defense, he didn't panic. Osaka is like an ocean attacking a beach - wave after wave comes with no stop, and he correctly reasons that ETU will lose concentration sooner or later, and it leads to a scoring header by Hauer. Meanwhile, Tatsumi's two strikers haven't registered at all and the entire match has been played in ETU's half. Tatsumi's strategy seems to have been to weather the early storm and counter strongly in the second half, which is a recurring mode for ETU. but so far, Osaka and Dulfer show no signs of cracking.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what Tatsumi can come up with here, as his team seems truly outmatched. The frustrating thing is that unlike a real soccer match, this one looks like it will take a month! As impatient as that makes me, I know it'll be a blast to watch - Osaka is clearly the most interesting rival so far. I love Dulfer's Dutch VA - he's clearly an excellent Dutch speaker and really delivers his lines with fire and panache. He's a great foil for Tatsumi (who's being brilliantly portrayed to Tomokazu Seki, BTW). Meanwhile Blanc watches in fascination from the press box, pondering who knows what for Japan's national team...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Kuroshitsuji II - 7

Wow - after a very silly start, episode 7 of Kuroshitsuji certainly got intense. While still generally maintaining the more absurdist and less gritty tone of the second season, we definitely saw some of the grisly violence and bleak view of human nature from the first.

Seems to me that Sebastian is clearly stronger than Claude. I mean - Claude simply refuses to fight fair in any of his matchups with Sebby. He uses his three puppet akuma, when they're disposed of the monocular maid, and finally a demonic blade pulled from a very odd place. All Sebastian has are his own skills and some tableware, yet he manages to dispense with all challengers and fight the armed Claude to a draw - until being caught up in the latter's web (literally). For the first time in a while, Sebastian got seriously nicked.

But then the focus turned to the real heart of the episode, Ciel. Already having showed his cold-blooded side by blowing the head off the woodsman who burned down the Phantomhive Estate, Ciel challenges Alois to a duel. While the butlers rage outside the boys duel inside, under the watchful eye of the sickening Viscount Druitt. Alois appears to have the early advantage, but it's a ruse by Ciel - who stabs Alois in the gut and is stopped from dispatching him only by Claude's hand.

Alois once again shows himself to be a vile little toad in this ep - begging and pleading for his life after being wounded by Ciel. The look in his eye as he saw Claude's expression upon tasting Ciel's blood was priceless. He looked like he'd caught his lover cheating on him - and Alois very quickly became an afterthought in Claude's mind once Claude got a taste for what all the fuss was about with Ciel's soul. In the process we get another small hint - Ciel's soul is indeed the holy grail for demons - pure, untainted white despite knowing blood, death and darkness.

Apparently Alois is going to be just fine, as it seems by the PV we're getting an Alois-centric ep next week. But I suspect Claude will now see him only as a tool to obtain what he really wants, Ciel. While Alois seems increasingly pathetic Ciel remains, despite his cruelty and steel, somehow noble and proud. And Sebastian appears to always be the one in control, even in his battles with Claude - he understands more than anyone else and uses it to his advantage. Clearly, they remain the dominant pair in this series.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Mark West Pinot Noir - 2008

I'm always a little suspicious of wineries with "attitude" - if the wine was good enough, would they need it? And Mark West has it - from their "keepin' it real" website to their motto, "Pinot for the People". But here's the thing - Pinot Noir for the People is a darn good idea. This is the most exquisite - and difficult - grape in the world, and one of the hardest to find for under $20. There's lots of mediocre cheap Pinot out there, but not much of it with any varietal character. Mark West's versions have acquired quite a reputation as a super bargain - are they worth the hype?

The label says "Appellation California" and that tells you this wine is sourced from all over, though the bulk of the fruit appears to be Central Coast. In the glass it's lightly colored, almost translucent - giving a hint of what's to come. Make no mistake, this is a lighter Pinot Noir style - but what would you expect for the $9.99 I paid for it? The worry is that this will be yet another fruit-forward cheap Pinot - pleasant enough, but with nothing especially Pinot about it.

Does the Mark West transcend the barrier? To a certain extent, yes. While the nose is strictly strawberry/cherry, a little oxygen begins to coax some real Pinot character out of the wine - a fair amount of spice, and - hallelujah! - a hint of cola and mushroom, so rare in cheap Pinots. At 13.8% ABV this is clearly a new world Pinot Noir, but the alcohol is pleasantly tamed here, and the wine drinks easily. Tannins are muted but with a nice dusty tang. Like most Pinots it would pair well with a wide range of foods. While it remains fruit forward throughout, the Mark West doesn't get swamped with the sweetness so many mediocre Pinots do. It's not an unqualified success - it misses the depth and complexity you'd find in a solid Burgundy and even a good Oregon Pinot. But you'd pay at least three times as much for most of those, and viewed in that context you have to be satisfied with the hints of varietal character you get in this wine. And they're delivered in a pleasant, easy to drink package. It's not great Pinot, but at least you know it's Pinot you're drinking.

Mitsudomoe - 7


It's official - Mitsudomoe is bloody brilliant. Pure genius. There was so much that clicked in episode 7 that I hardly know where to start. Serious Squad Gachi Rangers! The old cleaning lady lusting after Shinya. Chiba's jealousy of Shinya's fame. It was all spot-on.

No series I can recall does misunderstanding-based comedy as well as this one. I love that style of humor, but it's awfully hard to pull off well. And the marvelous thing about the writing here is that not only do the individual sketches work well, but the misunderstandings have a theme that runs through every episode. I suppose the most important event this week was the introduction of the "Hopelessly in Love With Satou" squad, apparently the last major characters to be introduced. Poor Satou - he just wants to be normal, but the unwanted devotion of the three girls in the HiLWS irritate Chiba so much that he puts his evil genius to work torturing Shinya. Not only has he been branded a pervert, but now - due to an unintentional pantsing of Chiba - he and Chiba have been branded as future lovers.

The other ingenious misunderstandings of the ep involved the Serious Squad Gachi Rangers. Hitoha stumbles onto their show and discovers she loves it. But she's so hopelessly inept socially that she can't bring herself to discuss it with anyone. That is, until she overhears Yabe-chin say he loves it too - but that leads to crossed signals where she thinks he's talking about her panties and he thinks she's talking about Gachi Rangers - and vice-versa, all at crossed purposes. This is revisited in another hilarious sketch at the end when Yuki - finally getting a chance to outshine her eyebrows - thinks Hitoha is about to confess to Yabe-chin when in fact she only wants to apologize and bond over Gachi Rangers. But not before yet another hilarious confuzzlement when the head of the HiLWS ends up in a bath with Futaba and her father - who looked exactly like Shinya when he was in sixth grade.

The funny thing is, I actually get the feeling that Hitoha is sort of crushing on Yabe-chin. It's obvious that her general loathing of people and their stupidity is conflicting with her desire to have more social interaction, and that makes her the most poignant character on the show. The great thing about all these misunderstandings is that everyone gets screwed over in turn - except of course for Futaba, who's too dense to even get what the misunderstandings are about and skates through scot-free. This is all pure genius, I tell you - genius! If you aren't watching this show already, stop whatever you're doing and start right this minute...

Shiki - 6

This series continues to be a fun, campy exercise. While the obvious vampire hypothesis appears to be proving out, there are a few nice secondary mystery elements creeping in.

Of course, lots more people died this week - young people, old people. Dr. Leg-twitch is revealed to have a complex about his Daddy, who placed the weight of the village on his shoulders. His growing frustration with his own ineptitude reveals itself in a few snit fits and a generally vile temper. It also causes him to disdain the "clues" that Seishin has brought him - namely, that many of he deceased quit their jobs before they died and many others have left town without notice - as an irrelevant waste of time.

Meanwhile, the smarter villagers - Otouto, Natsuno, and a crazy Obaa-san- have started to figure out the truth. Even Seishin may have an inkling - we know he was checking out vampire books from the library. Was it to research Sunako's disease, material for his own novels, or a suspicion as to the cause of the "epidemic"? Or just the fact that his father is the scariest looking man alive? When Natsuno finally confronts the Doc with a question about just how dead Megumi was, the veil is finally lifted from Ozaki's eyes and he appears to catch on. Meanwhile, Otouto and Twintails have gone to investigate the mansion on the hill, and the ending finds them in serious jeopardy.

Lots of interesting questions presented themselves here, in addition to Seishin's motive for reading the vamp books. Just why did one of Ozaki's patients actually improve for a bit before she died - was it the whole blood transfusion? Why are so many families leaving town - are they simply being consumed by the Kirishikis? Or perhaps, going elsewhere to spread the "epidemic"? Most interesting to me - what of Sunako? She's the only Kirshiki to receive serious screen time so far. Is she somehow a vampire with a sense of compassion - might she be the key to ending the carnage? She seems to be toying with Seishin, frankly - like a cat with a mouse before he devours it. She's obviously going to be the key to wherever the resolution of this series is coming from.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Amagami SS - 7

Just what are you doing, Nii-Nii?

We had no kissing in odd places in episode 7 - just a fairly straightforward relationship building episode. Kaoru is having problems at home, and misses a couple days of school - which sets Junichi off on a desperate quest to find out what's wrong. He eventually tracks her down at her "Northern Crab Gratin" waitressing job, thanks to some creative cameos from a couple of the other girls and the two badminton bozu from episode 6. Junichi acts the good friend and talks Kaoru into calling her mother, then goes home and behaves oddly in the bath.

I must confess, so far I'm finding the Kaoru arc much less interesting and romantically involving that the Haruka arc. First off, a problem with this episode for me is that Kaoru's whole issue was because she saw her Mom with a guy she didn't know. Seriously - that's enough to send her off the rails behaving like a ten-year old? I understand she's had a rough past, but that had a distinctly self-involved character to it.

There's also just not that much chemistry between Junichi and Kaoru, at least that I can see. They're too much alike, and too comfortable around each other. You might be able to build a good relationship based on that, but not necessarily one worth watching. Junichi is his passive-aggressive puppy-dog mode, slowly wearing down Haruka's resistance, was much more interesting to me. And because of the social and chronological gap between them, there was a sensual charge to their romantic encounters - a bit of the forbidden fruit.

It's hard to see one episode salvaging this arc as a whole for me, but there's still four more arcs to go after that. I guess that's the good thing about the "hard boot" narrative style of this series - it's like the weather in Chicago. If you don't like it, just wait 2 hours and it will change...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nurarihyon no Mago - 6

I'm liking where this series is going. The last couple of episodes have been the strongest so far, with 5 triumphing on great atmospherics. 6 was the best-paced episode of the series, solidly involving from start to finish with a nice mix of humor and suspense.

We continue where we left off, with the Kiyo Supernatural Squad having been joined the the occult professor, revealed to be a puppet of one of Gyuuki's minions. The trap having been set, the gang proceeds to an inn on the evil mountain, giving us a low-key but amusing onsen half-episode. While the girls (sans Yuki Onna and Yura) soak, the boys (and Yuki Onna) set off on Kiyo's heels as he hunts for youkai. Well, there are more here than he's bargained for - including Gozumaru, who commits the unpardonable sin of stabbing my precious waifu Yuki Onna in the foot. As Yura protects the girls from low-level demons and Kana searches for Rikuo in a jealous worry Gozumaru, having split up the gang, prepares to eliminate Yuki Onna once and for all. But Rikuo has something to say on the subject...

There was some nice development here. I think we saw a real milestone moment as, for the first time, Day Rikuo inserted himself in a highly dangerous situation to save Yuki Onna (hey - who wouldn't?). Night Rikuo never appears - it's the human boy who stays Gozumaru's sword and prepares to fight. Whether this represents his strong feelings for Yuki Onna or a more accepting attitude towards his responsibilities, we shall see.

I also enjoyed the continued development amongst the other characters. Yura has the best line of the episode ("I better separate my shikigami from my old receipts") and generally shows her wounded pride. Kana is endearingly neurotic about Yuki Onna's laser-like focus on Rikuo. The others are still mostly two-dimensional, but we have a lot of time to go yet and a lot of characters to get to. I was a bit worried for a while - liking the show, but generally unmoved. After the last two episodes the quality of the source material and direction is starting to shine through.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Asobi ni Ikuyo! - 5

Remarkably, Asobi ni Ikuyo continues to get sillier. Aoi and Manami in thong bikinis on a speedboat. Kio wearing Eris' jumpsuit. A giant AssistDroid suit with a loli inside it. Combat maids battling dog-eared aliens in the name of a nekomimi worship cult.

Yes, this is certainly odd stuff. We learned that Aoi is flat-chested this week - a little Clearasil could have taken care of her entire set. Manami, OTOH, filled her one-piece out rather nicely. We also had a near-confession from Aoi, more implausible denials of love from Manami, and more "in-heat" jokes about Eris. Apparently she can't use her power suit when she's in hear - sort of a built-in horniness irrationality trip circuit - so Kio has to don it in order to facilitate their escape from the Underside of the Kitten's Paw battle yacht (I'm guessing that's the first time that sentence has ever been constructed). Alas, the canine aliens are attacking the yacht at the same time and Aoi, Manami and the AssistDroids are simultaneously launching a rescue attempt. The dogs are clearly being set up as the villains of the piece, but everyone escapes, with the disturbingly cld Kio affecting a daring rescue of Aoi.

This probably isn't a series that lends itself to serious analysis - or any analysis for that matter. But it's fun, and certainly not allergic to fanservice, and occasionally insanely clever with its humor. I've certainly seen the premise done before but I give the gang at AIC PLUS+ credit - they're kicking up the bizarre factor to the point that the show laps stupidity and almost makes it back around the track to smart. And I have no idea what to expect next, which is always a trip.

Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin - 6

There's certainly no question in my mind that Seikimatsu Occult Gakuin is the best series of the season. Some of the reasons are obvious - writing, animation, casting - but others are coming into more clarity six episodes in.

The first thing that strikes me in watching this week is the sense of balance this show brings. There are other series out there that do individual elements well, but in Seikimatsu we have all the elements in proportion. The show is funny, serious and genuinely moving in turn, when each is called for. And it has the remarkable ability to slide between these states effortlessly and gracefully.

The second thing that strikes me is just how adept the writing is at telling the audience just enough with every episode. With all mystery/puzzle series the quest for equilibrium here is crucial - reveal too little and you frustrate your audience, too much and you bore them. Here the mix is perfect - a little piece of the puzzle every week, enough to satisfy - but always leavened with a new bit of mystery we didn't have before. I feel as if we're going to see a series that ends at exactly the place it should, with everything coming together.

The mysteries aren't just of the occult variety - the characters are slowly being revealed too. This week it's Fumiaki/Ushida/Bunmei/Abe Minoru. It's clear his is a story of powerlessness. All his life he's been a tool of others, including his mother as it turns out - who this week is revealed to be a rather cruel and exploitative woman by Fumiaki's visions in the NDE tank. The forces Maya, thinking back on her own hurtful childhood with her father, to reluctantly reassess her feelings for him. While Fumiaki's faults are obvious, here he did at least volunteer himself to save Kozue. And a pretty good job of it he did too, though the solution was right under (over) our noses. Fumiaki's frustration at being used is the obvious motivation that controls him - he resents everyone up to an including Maya for that - but he's at least trying to take some responsibility for his actions (and his students). And this week represented an important watershed between he and Maya. Will it be a romantic as well as professional watershed? Time will tell.

This series continues to remind of a darker, more cynical version of Kamichu. Gatou Asou's peerless character designs call that series somewhat to mind, but it's also the easy transition between the worlds of fantasy and reality and the supremely classy production values. Like Kamichu, Seikimatsu features gorgeous backgrounds and animation, tremendous BGM and genuinely creative and innovative direction. There's even something of the Yurie/Matsuri/Mitsue dynamic between Maya/Kozue/Ami. The tone of the show is darker, of course - Kamichu seemed to dwell on the wistful side of Shinto, while Seikimatsu lives squarely in the creepy, menacing world of multi-cultural occultism. But the two shows give the sense that you're watching something special - the work of extremely talented and innovative artists who have something interesting to say. Enjoy it for what it is, because shows this good don't come around every season.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Giant Killing - 19

It's a pretty big statement, but that just might be the best build-up episode ever.

With only six episodes left - tragic as that sounds - this could be the final match of the series. I hope not - or hope that at least we have a second season - but if it is the writing has done an amazing job of building it up.

Really, it all came together for GK in this episode and you had pretty much everything. There was tons of great behind-the-scenes stuff - very realistic depictions of game-day in the bowels of a professional arena. I loved seeing the players arrive, the stretching, the banter in the Osaka locker room. You had the fans perspective, which this series does so well - this time the junior ETU brigade, and it was a blast watching their emotional roller-coaster of getting pumped for the big game and terrified of big, bad Osaka.

Osaka is being developed beautifully as well. I love Dulfer - the way he talks about "beautiful, offensive football" is so characteristic of the Dutch passion for the game. He and Blanc are rare examples in anime where foreigners are depicted in a non-patronizing, or at least non-paternalistic way. I love how they're so emotionally transparent, and how uncomfortable that makes their handlers. But it's not just Dulfer - there are real personalities on this Osaka team. They even appear to have their own Tsubaki in Kurobota - except that he's both an Olympic and National player - one of four nationals on the Gunners. It was hilarious that their fans were furious at Blanc for tiring out their players by selecting so many, where all the ETU boys could do is dream of having one player on the National team - so very indicative of the gap between power franchises and poor ones.

And then there's the ETU players themselves, and Tatsumi. All of their development has been building to this - the two-striker alignment (and I still see Sakai entering as a third forward in this match) was the product of their shared storyline. Gino is finally motivated, Murakoshi seems to have finally bought into Tatsumi's mindset, and the team generally seems to have caught his infectious spirit. This is the essence of Giant Killing - the thrill of the upset, the sheer joy of playing aggressive football and exciting your fans. No matter what Osaka does, they're expected to win - only ETU can exceed expectations. The battle of wills between Tatsumi and Dulfer is a joy to watch - no bad guys here, just two intense competitors who recognize the quality of the opponent and are incredibly charged up by it. Blanc recognizes it too, of course, which is why he would be nowhere else while this match was being played.

There are times when I curse the snail's pacing of GK, and it's going to be a long week waiting for this match to start. But dammit, that's how you build up a game - I could feel myself getting charged up right along with Kota and his pals. I haven't had more fun watching an episode of any series since "Cross Game" finished up...

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mitsudomoe - 6

Mitsudomoe continues its hot streak with another rock-solid episode, this week revolving around the "Sports Day" theme, and looping back in some earlier moments from the series.

We start out with what must surely be the least subversive and cynical scene of the series so far, as Soujirou and Futaba rehearse for Sports Day on the empty athletic field the night before the event. Dare I say it, the scene is almost sweet - Futaba is certainly a Daddy's Girl (and freakishly strong - carrying him on her back!) and Soujirou is certainly willing to do anything for her. This segues into the festival itself, and we return to more familiar tonal territory as Futaba shows her beastly side during the horseback event. Mitsuba has collected most of the hats, and seems to be using the event as an excuse to inflict pain - but Futaba wants those hats. Meanwhile, Hitoha has unwisely been placed into the jockey role and she's terrified of heights. She's unwittingly drawn into the battle between her sisters, who are ironically on the same team. More panty hilarity as Sugisaki, desperate to humiliate Mitsuba, reveals to the class that Eldest is wearing teddy bear panties. Alas for Sugisaki, this is old news - and to defend her position she's forced to back up her claim that she wears sexy adult undies. This, of course, drawn the intense interest of the boys, who begin to gather in a scene that could have come from "Middle School of the Dead" - to which poor Sugisaki responds by saying she'll only show her panties to Mitsuba, which only makes her look more like the loser. Finally we have a skit where Yabe is ill and Hitoha - purely for selfish reasons, as in his absence the room is too loud for her to read - goes to the nurse's office to aid his recovery. There she finds our nutty occult freak Sakiko painting sutras all over his soon-to-be-naked body. But at least Sakiko learns - this time she uses water-based ink, which promptly rubs off all over Hitoha, who uses herself as a human cushion to keep Yabe from falling on his head.

This ep wasn't as uproariously funny as the last one, but still very clever and probably the most heartfelt one so far. There were some nice insights into each of the sisters' characters. Hitoha remains wonderfully dismissive of humanity - her reference to Miyashita as "Miyawhatever-san" was probably the funniest moment of the episode. She's utterly selfish but the most sensible of the triplets, often finding herself drawn into bizarre situations to try and cover up for others' insanity. Futaba is, of course, utterly clueless, intensely competitive but devoted to her father. And Mitsuba, while superficially cruel, again shows her softer side here - in a nice nod to an earlier episode she's the only one who still has the pencil case that Futaba made for the each sister from her own clothing. The supporting cast continues to be mined for great comic effect too, with Sakiko and Sugisaki in the spotlight this time. And it looks like we're going to finally see Shinya's groupies next week, which should prove an interesting addition to the cast.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Kuroshitsuji II - 6

Kuroshitsuji dispensed a little bit of exposition in episode 6, but doled out a lot more confusion in the process. This season is certainly doing a yeoman's job of guarding its secrets.

The episode beings with Sebastian about to devour Ciel's soul (the ending of season 1). Only he can't - Ciel's soul is tainted somehow. Tainted apparently by Claude and Alois, who have somehow karmically molested poor Ciel (which irritates Sebby to no end). And now because Ciel has no memory of his revenge his soul is incomplete, and so Sebastian must arrange for a second revenge before he can devour his bocchan. So he strikes a demonic deal with Claude by which Alois will be the subject of Ciel's second revenge and make his soul edible again - except somehow the deal says that Claude will get Ciel's soul, which makes no sense. And Sebastian also reveals that Ciel's soul is unique among all humans, and in the last moment of the episode Alois proclaims that he will own Ciel's soul, and Ciel that he'll kill Alois. Easy, right?

While there were certainly reveals here, I feel like I know less about what's happening than I did before, which is a little frustrating. The episode itself was entertaining enough - a well-choreographed "Crouching Tiger" style battle between Claude and Sebby, Alois's plot to get the guests to kill each other foiled by Agni and eventually by Sebby's hidden musical talents, and generally a chance for Team Phantomhive to show off their usual quirks. All good fun, but a trifle in comparison to the still a bit muddled and obtuse main storyline.

I'm going to be patient and ride this out, because I enjoy watching Sebby, rooting for Ciel, hating Alois and laughing at the Phantomhive staff. But what will make or break this whole exercise is whether this business with Ciel's soul is resolved in a way that actually makes sense. That and, of course, what happens with said soul at the end of the season.