Sunday, October 31, 2010

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - 4

Don't Mess With Index

Well now, that was a very exciting and action-packed episode, and full of interesting things.

I find it somewhat humorous to watch this episode as a Westerner. Though I was certainly not offended, I could easily see where someone might take this as anti-Catholic. I don't think it's meant that way - I think it's more that in Japan, the various Christian churches are a bit more foreign and exotic than they are in the US and Europe, and thus more natural fodder for escapist action stories. In any case, as nasty as they were I felt bad for all those nuns - they were pretty much cannon fodder for the whole episode. Between Stiyl vaporizing them, the Amakusa dude absent-mindedly killing them with his sword and his female assistant taking out about a dozen with her Balsa-like spear skills, they were being dropped like a bad habit (I apologize for that).

But best of all was Index, finally showing some teeth here to silence all her critics. Her "Sheol Fear" attack had Agnese's girls collapsing by the score. Unfortunately for her, the surviving sisters had one more trick up their sleeves - puncturing their own eardrums with daggers so they couldn't hear Index' song. Now that's faith. What we're left is a battle royale between Roman Catholics, Amakusa Catholics, Anglicans and Touma, whatever the hell he is - all over one nun who has the ability to decipher a magic book. It might not make much sense but it's pretty entertaining to watch.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - 4

The 4th episode of Sordemo was pretty much all Moriaki-sensei, all the time. That comes as a bit of a surprise based on the first three, but he proved himself to be sufficiently eccentric to hold his own with Arashiyama.

We learned a lot about Moriaki this week. He's a Tigers fan, for one - Hanshin ("Manshin" for the copyright lawyers) that is. Not just a Tigers coffee mug, but a Tigers seat belt too! How's that for devotion? We also find out his love for math comes from an unpleasant encounter where his budding genius was stomped on by a 2nd grade homeroom teacher. We also find out that Arashiyama isn't the first student to fall for him. His response to the love letter from the first? A simple equation detailing that a teacher can't date a student for moral reasons - no "Sensei and Ninomiya-kun" for this teacher.

He's quite the comedian, Moriaki-sensei - in his own mind, anyway. The entire sequence with the office chairs was hilarious, but the bit with the finger puppets was the highlight of the episode for me - that was a new take on an old gag. If it wasn't obvious before it is now that Arashiyama is seriously smitten with him. Problem is, in addition to his moral code Moriaki sees her as his second mortal enemy (after the aforementioned homeroom teacher). We found out a little about her, too - namely that she's a surprisingly good student in everything but math. She says she fails math - making Moriaki's life hell in the process - because she doesn't see how it will help her quest to be a high school detective, but methinks she does it because she likes all the after-class time with sensei. She's a clever girl this one, in her way.

Next week seems to be a Tatsuno-focused episode, so a couple of the characters who looked like majors in the first - including Miyu Irino's Sanada - continue to be largely absent. The only constant appears to be Arashiyama and the cafe, but that's enough so far to drive a very interesting and eccentric series.

"I like corn."

Negima: Mou Hitotsu no Sekai OVA - 4

While I didn't enjoy this episode quite as much as the first three, the Mou Hitotsu no Sekai OVAs remain by far the best adaptation of Akamatsu Ken's stellar manga series. Shinbo-san must be the busiest director in the business, but if that makes him too tired to overwhelm the character of the source material with his mannerisms, so much the better - like Goldilocks' porridge, this blend of Negima and SHAFT is just right.

The focus this time is on Chisame and her long vigil watching over Negi as he lies comatose, struggling to master the shadow of Evangeline inside him. This is one of the key moments of the manga, of course - when Negi once and for all chooses not to follow the path of his father but to pursue darkness instead. His guide on this part of the journey - taking the reins from Evangeline - is the irreplaceable Jack Rakan. His presence injected enormous life into the manga and the OVA is no different. He's a filthy-minded and greedy bastard who just happens to be the biggest badass in the Magical World.

We also catch up to a number of the girls, scattered throughout the Magical World - Nodoka treasure hunting, Asuna and Kaede dragon hunting, Konoka healing Kaede and dragons, Ku-fei working on her mad skills. But the main focus here is on Negi's training, and manga readers know that the best part of this arc is still to come - as Kotarou joins up with Negi and Chisame and we get to see just what a rapscallion Rakan really is. I wish this was rolling out as a TV, not OVAs - this is just way too long to have to wait for Negima this good...

Fall Season Reviews

We're a month into the fall season of 2010, so taking a cue from the forums at AnimeSuki I thought I'd post my grades so far.  I don't normally like to attach number grades to reviews, but for these kinds of summaries I think it's helpful.

Bakuman (4 episodes watched): 8/10. Pedestrian animation, but I love the story of a boy and his dream - this story really gets it. I also love the "Manga 101" aspects.

Kuragehime (2): 9/10.  Refreshingly unvarnished look at what it means to not fit in with society.  Each episode has been a delight to watch, start to finish.

Ore no Imouto (4): 9/10. Very different from the ecchi incest comedy I was expecting. I'm struggling a bit with how repugnant Kirino's behavior can be, though I know it's essential to the story. That's more than balanced by the smart writing, wonderful humor and willingness to confront serious issues.

Shinryaku Ika Musume (4): 9/10. I truly treasure any anime that can consistently make me laugh, and this one does. It's very silly and somewhat demented, but still has a good-natured quality to it. Ika Musume is hilarious and I love all the supporting cast.

Sora no Otoshimo Forte (4): 7/10. It's still lightweight and appears to be replaying the themes of S1, but I appreciate that SnO is unpretentious and unrelentingly ecchi. And the humor is creative, as opposed to...

Motto To Love Ru (4): 5/10. It really feels as if this show has stopped trying. Just random nudity and public humiliation for its own sake. I still like a few of the characters and it can draw a chuckle, but this is a shadow of the first half of S1.

Soredemo (3): 7.5/10. It's good SHAFT and good Shinbo - the visual trickery serves the story and doesn't smother it. I love Arashiyama as a lead - she's insanely goofy and lovable and Chiaki Omigawa is hitting the performance out of the park. Like a lighter, more misogynistic Natsu no Arashi.

Tegami Bachi Reverse (4): 8/10. No speed bumps - it's really a continuation of S1. So far, still the same openly sentimental story of a crybaby boy and his dingo. A truly gorgeous and faithful manga adaptation.

Index II (3): 7/10. See above - pretty much a straight continuation. I don't think this is a great property but it's solidly entertaining and I enjoy Touma as a lead, and Biri Biri works better as a supporting character IMO.

Yosuga no Sora
(4): 8/10. I'm not crazy about the omnibus format but at least this series does an interesting twist on it. I've seen so many comparisons, but what this most recalls for me is Sola. It's an odd mix - thoughtful and sentimental, almost hardcore at times, beautifully directed with great music.

Fortune Arterial (3): 6.5/10. This one hasn't made much of an impression on me, though it's getting more interesting. Not exciting but interesting enough to keep watching for now.

Star Driver (4): 6.5/10. My apologies to everybody who loves this one, but it just isn't doing much for me. I find the plot to be a bit ponderous even for BONES, and while I appreciate the over-the-top theatricality of the show I just don't find it especially interesting.

Panty/Stocking (4): 5/10. Some real talent seriously slumming. Easy targets - cum jokes, fat jokes, pedo jokes - while there's the occasional clever meta-humor I don't think there's much creative or daring going on here.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Kuragehime - 2

Episode 1 of Kuragehime was probably the best premiere of the fall, and the follow-up, though sadly delayed by a week, didn't disappoint. Based on two eps this is my favorite show of the fall, and it's been a pretty decent fall.

There are so many things I loved about that episode that it would be impossible to list them all, but some highlights would be:

- Tsukimi's reaction when Kuranosuke said "I wanted to see you again."
- Banba. The Banba-ray, her hair getting stuck in the door - all of it.
- The Arakawa Tram. I rode it in May (it's the last streetcar in Tokyo)
- The bumpers with Clara
- Tsukimi's mental breakdowns. As good as "tilt" gets...
- The "Three Kingdoms" obsession. Chips! Moe!

I absolutely love the unvarnished way the series looks at all the characters. The Nuns are exactly what they are - they're not ashamed of their lifestyle or their personal passions, nor should they be. But they're also revealed to be borderline paranoid, genuinely rude to Kuranosuke and missing out on so much of life because of their self-imposed exile from society. And that's the truth, really - no matter how much they claim this is their lifestyle choice, they live the way they do because they're afraid of human contact and stricken with (unjustified) self-loathing. In a judgmental and shallow culture, they dread above all else the idea of being judged.

As for Kuranosuke, he's genuinely friendly and a nice person. But his lifestyle is a matter of pure escapism too, which we saw the first strong hints of in this episode. He dislikes the lifestyle of his rich and powerful family, so he plays the buffoon and dresses as a woman to live a life as repellent to his family as possible. He's just as much of a social outcast as the Nuns are, even if he's totally at ease in his own skin.

I don't know exactly where all this is going from here. Obviously the potential for romance between Tsukimi and Kuranosuke is there, though for now their budding friendship is delightful enough. Since this is really a story about not fitting in, there's certainly potential for it to become a little saccharine and full of life's lessons as the Nuns discover their "inner beauty" and Kuranosuke reconciling with who he is. I don't see that happening, though - with Omori-san directing and the incredibly light touch in the writing, I think this will continue to be blunt and honest in its view of its characters. Kura's bribe of the Matsuzaka beef certainly showed the Nuns that "Stylish" aren't all bad, but it's going to take more than that to get him accepted - and that's even accepted as a woman, never mind a boy. And then there's Kuro's brother and his family connections, which are obviously going to play a role in the larger "plot" that will accompany the character stuff. That's fine - I don't mind a little plot, but I just love watching these people go through their paces. I wish that episode could have gone on for hours.

Amagami SS - 17

Episode 17 brings a new arc, a new girl (Sakurai Rihoko) and a new ED featuring her. In addition, we get a slight change in format as Rihoko becomes the primary POV character, not Junichi.

I've already expressed my reservations about the omnibus narrative style, on display in a more conventional fashion here than in Yosuga no Sora. While the resets are starting to feel a little old, there's a certain curiosity in seeing which Junichi will show up each time. So far he seems closest to the last arc - a basically normal horndog teenager, but there are elements of the snarky Junichi from the Kaoru arc as well. And why not - this is the "childhood friend" arc, so there are some obvious similarities in the circumstances.

As for Rihoko, she neatly checks off some of the boxes for the series. Childhood friend, clumsy girl, airhead, slightly tubby chowhound. Junichi has clearly known her since elementary school days (seen via a flashback where he tried to turn her into a meat bun - no comment necessary) so there's a comfort level there. The twist this time is that the girl has known all along that she was in love with him, though it appears to have been completely unreciprocated. The plot contrivance this week was Junichi helping Rihoko out of a "Winnie-the-Pooh"-like dilemma, stuck under a fence sneaking into school. We got the obligatory pantsu jokes and razzing by Junichi, but he was fairly gallant in helping her escape. This incident compels Rihoko to go on a diet - mainly to look good for Junichi of course - but that's apparently been a running gag in her life. So far this diet isn't looking much more promising than the prior diets were.

On the whole it was fine - Rihoko was likeably unpretentious enough, though the fat jokes grew old pretty fast. As always, we'll just have to see where they take things over the next three episodes. And if you don't like this girl, why, it's like we used to say about the weather in Chicago - just wait a little bit and it will change!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Shiki - 13

It's been way too few and far between with Shiki lately - due to a hiatus and a holiday this is only the second episode in five weeks. And this is a lousy series to deal with that, too - there's no show currently airing that has such expert pacing (most of them feel like the end credits start rolling after about 5 minutes) and leaves me in greater suspense for the next episode.

Once things start rolling it's as if no time at all has passed, and you're pulled right into the story. Things continue to go from bad to worse in the village - the headline news this week is that Natsuno is officially dead. It was rather ant-climactic in the end, really - though I fully suspect he'll be one of the risen before long given his prominence in the second OP and ED. The deaths are hitting close to home now - Dr. Baka's wife Kyoko is dead, too, and he seems poised to use her as some sort of experiment. And Akira and Kaori's Dad has been bitten, as well, giving Megumi the inside track to finish off the siblings. Absent Natsuno those poor kids are basically on their own now, unless Dr. O suddenly becomes a lot smarter and more effective. Meanwhile, Seishin's father (scarier looking than any of the okiagiri) rouses himself from his near stupor to say farewell to an old friend.

I love this show for it's atmosphere, suspense, and superb production values. But I do have a couple of quibbles. I'm getting quite frustrated with the passivity of the villagers. I know these are small-town folk who don't like to buck the system or make a fuss, but it's stretching my credulity to think they could let their village be so brazenly destroyed and do nothing to try and stop it. The other problem I have is that the show is starting to feel a little one-note. It's just unrelentingly bleak - things are getting worse and worse and though I've always viewed this as a tragedy ant not a mystery or action show, it still leaves me somewhat exhausted to see such an unbroken string of depressing events. It's quite pathetically easy, what the vamps are doing to the villagers - like watching crickets being thrown into an iguana cage. The vampires have become so brazen they've opened an okiagiri clinic and funeral home to process the villagers into corpse demons more efficiently.
What a Looker!

There are a few tiny glimmers of hope. First off, Seishin's father knows more than he's letting on - he may have some experience with this phenomenon and a notion of how to fight back. Akira and Kaori still live - for now - and Oazki still hasn't given up (much use he's been, but still). And there's still a nugget of an idea in my head that Sunako may have some mercy in her that will play a role before the series ends. I hope we see some balance in the coming episodes - even a hint of a counterattack. It would go a long way towards leavening things a bit, as nine more episodes of a descending spiral of death and depression may cause even this brilliant jewel to lose its shine.

Shinryaku Ika Musume - 4

Like many a brilliant comedy, Shinryaku Ika Musume is proving itself to have more going on than meets the eye. As much as most of the humor is delightfully approachable and can be appreciated by kids of all ages, there's a subversive bent to the more satirical bits that was more apparent in episode 4 than any that preceded it. Each mini-ep, in its way, was just a bit unsettling.

For starters we had an ep focused on Ika Musume's obsession with shrimp. She finds a wallet and gets a 10,000 yen (about $125) reward, which Eiko - ostensibly to try and bring Ika and Nagisa together, but really to cause amusing trouble - sends her off to town with Nagisa to search for ideas on how to spend. Some good laughs are derived from Nagisa's paranoid fear of Ika, and Sanae spots them as Ika settles on her purchase, about 10 lbs of shrimp. There's some mild torture by Chizuru before she allows Ika to gorge herself, and then the payoff - a package is delivered and inside is Sanae in a giant shrimp costume (complete with heavy breathing). Very creepy.

After that is a sad/cute vignette where the siblings somewhere heartlessly head home and leave Ika Musume behind all by herself at Lemon. Naturally, when the TV breaks she gets into all sorts of trouble - staging a rather messy invasion using the condiment bottles. The next night Chizuru - ostensibly because she feels sorry for Ika having to stay along without the TV, but really to cause amusing trouble - invites her home. All sorts of fun is had around the TV, with the PSP, and Takeru's models - but when it's finally time for bed there's all kinds of trouble. Ika wants to stay up and have more fun, but Takeru just wants to sleep. She ends up in Eiko's room, where Chizuru finds them in the morning in a rather compromising position.

Finally, the funniest ep of the week features a rival beach cafe owner who, seeing Ika Musumue's popularity with the kids at Lemon, decides to trot out an unlicensed franchise version of her. Turns out he's an inventor and his Ika Musume is basically a busty teenager in a bikini with a mechanized Ika head. The second head is... just wrong. It's a great sight gag the director is smart enough to let speak for itself - the long still shots of the hideous heads and the others' horrified reactions to it are priceless.

I wonder if Ika is officially a resident of the Aizawa house now, or this was a one-time event? On balance the laughs were a little different this time, the humor less broad than in the first three episodes. We're getting a little deeper into the ethical side off Ika's situation now, though I don't expect this show to ever lay the social commentary on too thick. We're also seeing a bit more of just how disturbingly odd the humans around Ika can be, and not always totally kind in nature. Chizuru (who definitely has a sadistic side) and Eiko really are taking advantage of her, in a way - as Chizuru herself said Ika could easily have paid off the repairs to the wall (episode 1 continuity - yes!) with the reward money, but no one suggested it. Still, there seems to be some genuine affection there - certainly there is where Takeru is concerned, and his motives are pure enough. While I think (and hope) this is going to remain in large measure a screwball comedy, I do wonder how much that side of the story is going to be explored - I wouldn't mind a little of it in the mix.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Yosuga no Sora - 4

Well, with this episode it's now officially official that Yosuga no Sora is following the omnibus format that's all the rage this season. The Kazuha arc wrapped up and the Akira arc begins next week, but with a twist - the story picks up at the end of episode two. And indeed, it appears that this is going to be the format the series takes for the rest of its run - all of the girls' arcs will pick up from some point of shared continuity rather than "reset" all the way to the beginning.

A lot of how one feels about this series is, I suppose - as with Amagami SS - dependent on how they like the format. I confess that I'm not a fan of the omnibus generally. I like the approach taken in a series like "Kanon" or "True Tears", where things play out and characters develop naturally over the course of the entire run. In a sense I think all these resets are cheating. That said, this is clearly a better show than Amagami SS - the writing is more subtle and interesting, the visuals and music superior, and the content generally more mature. They're taking a more interesting tack with the omnibus as well - I like the idea of branching storylines much better than the universal reset. If omnibus ever makes sense, I suppose an adaptation of a dating sim is a case where it might.

As for the ep itself and the wrap of the Kazuha Arc, it was fine - no major surprises but no groaners either. Kazuha isn't the most interesting of the girls from my perspective - Akira is more to my taste for starters - but the development between she and Haru was handled reasonably well. Even if this was her arc, as much of the ep involved Akira in any case - the drama between her and her father (and by extension, Kazuha and her father) was wrapped up rather nicely. Her kiss with her sister was interesting, too - like so much in this show it's not explicitly clear just what the meaning of it was. Rather than a yuri/incest moment, I think it was Akira's way of forcing her sister to confront her feelings for Haruka. I'm also glad we didn't get cheap melodrama surrounding her illness. Another interesting element - perhaps inconsistent with her behavior in prior eps - was Sora's surrender to Haru's relationship with Kazuha. She seemed to give in rather easily.

Finally, speaking of what's not "explicitly" clear, we get another nebulous sex scene - this one the most "explicit" by far, between Haru and Kazuha. We get lots of nudity and some serious petting, with an implied consummation. It's a bit shocking to see such openly graphic sensuality backing a pretty serious anime, but this is an eroge after all. I wasn't immediately clear whether this was happening in Haru's imagination or his memory, since it was revealed to be in his thoughts while listening to her play the viola - but the game vets seem pretty sure it was a memory, so I'll take their word for it. Haruka is definitely establishing himself as the full-on stud of the season, chock full of the kavorka - to the older women he's a cherry boy, to Sora he's twincest material, and the other girls can't seem to get physical with him fast enough. Hiro Shimono's never played anyone quite this much the player, I don't think...

Nurarihyon no Mago - 17

I like the turn this series is taking with the last few episodes. The pacing has always been pretty good, but there seems to be less dead weight at the moment - the various threads are starting to tie together nicely and there don't seem to be any wasted scenes.

According to the manga readers, the Supernatural Squad were starting to disappear from the story by now. If that means the anime writing staff are writing this arc largely as original material, they're doing a great job - the scenes with the gang have been some of the best these last few episodes. It was Shima's time in the sun this week - he was a fidgety presence all over the ep with his soccer ball, but that was nice foreshadowing - as this "Giant Killing" skills ended up saving the day (and Kiyotsugu's butt) when he was about to be cursed by one of the Shikoku demons. Turns out the bad guys are systematically destroying shrines with the apparent intent of attacking the Nura Clan from beneath - or so Rikuo believes. Meanwhile, Grandpa and Natto Kozu have found the leader of she Shikoku Clan, who seem to be on pretty good terms.

There were several interesting moments here - Kiyotsugu's laugh, for starters. I was also interested in Yura's reaction when she thought Rikuo and Yuki-onna were kissing (they weren't, alas) - she seemed mostly concerned with Kana's interests, which leads one to believe that Yura isn't going to throw her hat into the ring. Yuki-onna, OTOH, is fully pot-committed with Rikuo - she's ready to take on all comers. That appears to include Kejoro, who seems to have staked her claim - guess she likes younger men, especially judging by the PV. This led to the best line of the episode, Yuki-onna's "Please don't be reckless - you're not so young anymore."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Oreimo - 4

The 3 episode prologue - and a humdinger it was - out of the way, Ore no Imouto is free to commence the "proper" story with episode 4. The parents are nowhere to be found this week, so it appears that subplot is either finished or tucked away for safekeeping. Instead, the focus again turns to Kirino's attempt to separate her two worlds and to her relationship with Kyousuke.

Herein lies one of the problems with this show, as rock-solid as it is so far. Kirino's relationship with Kyou is at the heart of the story, and it's built around the dismissive attitude she has for him. But as of this moment her character is on the knife-edge of being downright unlikable. There relationship is so uneven - he treats her so much better than she him - that she risks becoming a totally unsympathetic character. Hell, not only did he trick their father into letting her keep her hobby, he even took a punch for her. And despite the one "thank you" she gave him at the end of episode 3, still treats him like dirt. The act she put on in front of her friends at the house was borderline sickening, frankly. At least her whining at Comiket was more along the lines of simple childish petulance - I like her much better with that group surrounding her.

And ah, Comiket - that was well played. I attended TAF last March at Big Sight, and while it's reportedly not quite the nuthouse that Summer Comiket is, it gave me an idea as to what these events are like. Most of my favorite moments of the series have involved the otaku gang, and this was no exception - I just flat-out adore Saori, and the scenes between Kirino and Kuroneko are never less than hilarious. Kirino didn't exactly show up well here either, though. Kuroneko won her the beloved Comiket Special eroge disk she craved, but she couldn't even muster a proper thank-you.

The ep ends on a cliffhanger, with Kirino's "normal" friend Ayase spotting her leaving Comiket with Kyou and the otaku pair. Ayase had been at the house during the worst of Kirino's display earlier and more or less took Kyousuke's side, even exchanging email addresses with him on her way out. Worlds are colliding, of course, with her spotting Kirino in this setting and that's drama enough. But others have noticed and with the benefit of their keen eyes I have as well - something's not right with this girl. I sense "stalker" vibes, now that my suspicions have been triggered. Given that this show has shown itself quite willing to deal with serious issues in a serious manner, that sort of development wouldn't surprise me at all.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bakuman - 4

I can already hear the chorus of criticism for this episode - "too slow". And I admit - things are developing at a pretty deliberate pace. But that's just fine by me - it suits the mood of the piece.

The fourth episode was pretty much a "how-to" series on drawing manga. I never knew about J-pens and Kabura pens - but then, last week I didn't even know the rough sketch was called a "name". Masahiro, for all his feigned indifference at first, is clearly a tremendously knowledgeable guy when it comes to manga. He's the expert of the duo, the technician - he knows the ins and outs of the trade and just what the boys are in for. He even knows the three keys to success - hubris, effort and luck - and how important an editor is to the process. Takagi, on the other hand, is the big-picture guy. He's the navigator of the pair. Meanwhile, I love the way Nobuhiro hovers over them like a guardian angel. He's very much a character in this story, even if he's long gone.

Along the way we're introduced to a couple of new characters - Azuki's best friend and a wannabe manga artist in her class - but most importantly Niizuma. He's a 15 year-old mangaka who was a semi-finalist in the Tezuka Manga Competition. The boys notice him in a a feature in "Jack" (that's "Jump" to you and me) and as he's about to come to Tokyo, it looks like he's going to be a rival/inspiration to Masahiro and Takagi - starting with the next episode...  Though he doesn't think so, Masahiro's drawings show him as an artist of real talent, and it's clear he has the obsessive commitment to see his dream through.

Tegami Bachi Reverse - 4

Tegami Bachi is a definitely a series that thrives on formula, but it threw a real curveball this week. The episode was full of time jumps and began in the middle, with Lag mysteriously working at an "imagery lighthouse" under the name Lugh with his grandfather. Lag seems perfectly at home in this scenario, except for the mysterious ghostly voice that keeps warning him to flee. Eventually there are visions, too - of a four-eyed shadowy monster and mysterious bruises on his body. In short, the first half of the episode plays like a traditional ghost story.

That's our Lag
It's only in the second act that the truth is revealed, and in this we have a classic sentimental Letter Bee scenario. Apparently the old man was the lighthouse keeper - and is there any lonelier job? - and was abandoned by his son, who took his beloved grandson with him. Driven half-mad by loneliness he set down his imaginary life with his grandson in a series of fake letters and journals, pouring so much heart into them that Lag was swept up in the delusion and a gaichu was attracted to the heart. Despite Niche's best efforts ("I even tried licking you, biting you, dropping you, stomping on you, grabbing you, and dropping you!") it isn't until it's almost too late that Lag recognizes the shadow as Niche, and Jiggy Pepper - at last - comes along and saves the day by destroying the gaichu with Niche's help. The whole idea of a man whose loneliness was so powerful that it created a fantasy world years after his death was poignant, and the lighthouse a perfect setting. Lag, sentimental fool that he is, was the perfect victim but in the end, he still sheds tears for the old man - as always seeing only the kindness and sorrow and not the hate.

That was a very solid episode, in the end very much a classic archetype of the show in substance, though differing greatly in style. Jiggy Pepper knows about Lag's good deed towards his sister and is grateful - indeed, Jiggy ended up being much more soft-spoken and less of a tool than I expected him to be. Not only that but the other bees all appear to be fanboys of his - Connor and especially Zazie certainly are, and Lag appears to have joined the club. And why not - he rides a chopper on his route, he has a cool raptor for a dingo and he carries himself like James Dean. He's going to play a major part in the Lag/Gauche scenario before it's over, of that I'm certain.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - 3

This one is really growing on me. Sometimes oddball shows - especially comedies - kind of chip at your resistance until you let yourself enter their universe completely. The somewhat demented sense of humor here is working better for me every week. It's SHAFT - and Shinbo - so you know it's going to look interesting, but this is one of those SHAFT series like Natsu no Arashi that keeps the visual gimmicks to a minimum. The result is a show that's always fun to look at, with jarring imagery and detailed backgrounds that you don't always notice until they factor into the plot.
The Eyes Have it

This week's theme was "Eyes" - starting with a shot of Van Gogh's self-portrait. Arashiyama's math teacher Moriaka - upon whom she's seriously crushing, of course - has become a regular at Seaside, and this time he brings a pair of paintings left by his grandfather. Despite his confirmed belief that she's a baka, he knows Arashiyama loves mystery novels - and tasks her with determining the story behind the art. She does, much to her maid colleagues surprise. Then, another hilarious shopping trip for carrots and onions - complete with fruitless visual aids to jog her memory - gets sidetracked by a "boy" trying to lure a cat out of a narrow alley. Turns out the boy is a girl, the fourth maid from the ED - Kon Futaba is her name, and she's Arashiyama's senpai. That's a problem as Arashiyama thought she was a 12 year-old bishounen and said a bunch of things you don't say to your senpai in Japan. The most memorable thing she said during their encounter, though, was one of the worst puns of modern history - "Squid pro quo". Ugh - it hurts so good. Things wrap up at school when Arashiyama realized the truth about Futaba, who promises to be a major character in weeks to come.

Though the last ep didn't necessarily make the deepest impression on me as I was watching it, I confess I found myself looking forward to the next episode of this series as much as almost any this season. Arashiyama is one of my favorite characters for a while, a tour de force comedic performance by Omigawa-chan. She's surrounded by a winning cast of oddballs - Moriaka, the cop, her fellow maids, Futaba, Sanada, her siblings - all of them have made an impression with limited screen-time. That's reminiscent of Shinbo's Natasu no Arashi too - and though the source material is totally unrelated I can't help but think of this as lighter, more cynical cousin of that hugely underrated series.

Amagami SS - 16

The Nanasaki Ai arc ended pleasantly enough this week, though it was a bit of an anti-climax (pun intended). The first half of the episode was taken entirely with Ai and Junichi manning the swim team's oden booth at the Culture Festival, complete with visits from discerning senpai and drunken sensei. After a hard evening's work Ai and Junichi dine on the last of their delicious oden - this series definitely has a George Costanza-like fetish for food as a sensual experience - before she led him off on merry journey by bus and trail to a secluded onsen atop a hill. There she finally confessed - he's dense, Kiddo, but not that dense - dropped her towel and our young lovers made sexy time in the hot springs. It was surprisingly passionless for an actual (implied) love scene, though rather sweet in its way I suppose. Much like the whole arc - Ai was rather sweet but I never got much of a spark from the relationship. Junichi was a bit too "normal" in this arc for my tastes - his lack of quirks made him less interesting than in earlier arcs.

I'm still not quite sold on the "omnibus" format of this series (that Yosuga no Sora - a better show, so far - also seems to be following). It's inevitable that every viewer is going to like some girls/arcs better than others, so entire blocks of the series are going to be less than gripping. For me I would really rather see something play out "Kanon" style over 26 episodes and watch the main character develop as a result of events and his relationships with the female cast, not arbitrary resets. I haven't really liked any of the girls as much as the first, Haruka - and that's been a problem for me as I've tried to keep my level of interest steady. Ai was a nice comeback from two sub-par arcs but it still didn't connect with me as a romance.

We have two more arcs to go, and although there are hints in the preview that the new girl, Rihoko, will be the POV character in the next cycle I assume the basic format will remain in place. For me the most interesting element at this point is to see how the series as a whole is wrapped up. Will there be a "winner", or will be simply see the final arc end as the prior five did?

Yozakura Quartet - Hoshi no Umi (OVA)

I don't know the manga all that well, but I know that it's much beloved. And I know that the TV adaptation left me just barely interested enough to slog through to the end. The character design and animation felt flat, and there serious pacing issues and flaws in the narrative style. I figured there had to be something more here that never made it on screen.

Turns out I was right, and the new Hoshi no Umi OVA bears that out. This is very much a signature work of Ryochimo Sawa, who both did the character designs and directed. While the look is still different from the manga, I love it - it's angular, distinctive and vaguely surreal. The pacing is leagues better than the series too - the OVA does a great job of introducing all the characters and setting up the plot without rehashing everything the TV did. Everything about this version is sharper, snappier and more interesting, and it makes for a very agreeable re-introduction to the material. I won't bother explaining the rather complicated premise - suffice to say, it's a rather unique look at the inter-relation of humans and youkai in a very special town - but if the TV series is your only exposure to this story, I highly recommend you give the OVA a try.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - 3

Touma - his is the first that will pierce the heavens. It's refreshing to see an anime hero who basically fights magic with his bare hand, and science and brawn with his bare hands. His only weakness is Index's jaws on his head.

One thing about JC Staff, they don't mess around a whole lot with background information when it comes to Index - they pretty much jumped into the story starting with season one, episode one and assumed you either knew the source material (I didn't) or would enjoy it long enough to figure out basically what was going on (I did). We've jumped seamlessly into a major arc from the original light novels - yet another magical book that everyone seems to be trying to get their hands on. This seems to have led to two new jewels in Touma's crown - the petite klutz Sister Agnese and the sexy Sister Orsola. She's the only one that can decipher the book and she seems to have fallen hard for Touma, judging by the scene where to put Styl's cross around her neck. That cross is absolutely going to be a major plot point before this arc is over, and for now things are pretty confused - the Amakusa may not be the bad guys after all, or at least no worse than the Roman Catholics. Led by the scary Sister Lucia, they appear to be out to kill Sister Orsola to make sure the secrets of the book are never revealed Right now Touma himself appears to be the only friend she's got, but she's simply traded one kidnapper for another - Benedict's army has her now.

Overall, this ep was somewhat less entertaining than the last one. As much as I love the fact that Touma has no superpowers and refuses to even use a weapon, it was a little lame how he took out two of the Amakusa basically by tackling them. There wasn't as much fun repartee between Touma, Index, Styl and Agnese this time either, as it lost out to the action sequences. The first season was susceptible to these kinds of fits and starts, with my level on enjoyment fluctuating quite a bit from week to week. I like the humorous side of this show much more than the fast-paced stuff, and while I didn't love her as a lead I have to admit the eps with Biri-biri as a supporting character were among my favorites.  She's missed in this arc.

Sora no Otoshimono Forte - 4

This isn't the easiest series in the world to blog, really. It's mostly just outright silliness that you have to watch to appreciate.

Seems to me that Tomoki is spending more time in chibi form this season, and this episode was no exception. This week's excuse for lunacy is a snowball fight, organized by the Prez, with her as the general of the girls team and Tomoki (against his will) the general of the boys. What follows plays as a bit of a homage to Sengoku Basara, with Tomoki playing the Oda Nobunaga role. Naturally his motivation is to be able to have his way with the losing team - the Prez has no difficulty pushing his buttons - and his strategy is to take out Sohara first, which pays off with disastrous and hilarious results later that play like a scene from "Ghostbusters".

The "serious" side of the episode involves Astraea, still under orders from her master in the Synapse to off Tomoki. Free will and the slavery of the Angeloids are the obvious theme underpinning the series this season, and Astraea is this season's Nymph - and given the nature of this show, no doubt she'll be redeemed in the end and be a part of Tomo-chan's harem (if Sohara doesn't kill him first). Along the way will be lots of service and sex, and a new high-quality ED every week. Heck, we may even get an insert song like we did this week - the "Reject Song" of the socially outcast, girlfriend-free boys.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Steelhead Zinfandel - 2007

Trader Joe's bypasses the usual subterfuge on this one - you don't even have to read the fine print on the back of the bottle to know this is actually a product of well-respected Sonoma bio-dynamic winery Quivira Vineyards. TJ's is selling this second label offering for $6.99.

A couple of things strike me about this wine. One, it's no soft and round cheapie - this is a pretty big wine with a lot of backbone. The tannins make their presence felt early and throughout, and with this structure I imagine this $7 wine could easily improve for 2-3 years at least. Still at that, it's pretty civilized for a Dry Creek Zin - a virtual teetotaler at 13.8 ABV, what dominates both the nose and the initial impression is pepper. This is a spicy wine, with some nice dark fruit - blackberry? Definitely the sweet-tart, earthy quality of black fruit. The finish is moderately short, with the lasting impression the spice and a hint of woodiness. The wine is well-served by a half-hour or so of oxygenation to tame the tannins a little bit. I'd pair it with barbecue or pizza - the usual Zin suspects would work great here, and the modest alcohol content definitely gives the wine an even more food-friendly aspect.

Shinryaku Ika Musume - 3

No drop in quality - this is officially the best comedy of the fall season. Every sketch has been a winner so far and I'm impressed by the lack of repetitive jokes and the actual development happening with the characters and the way they relate to each other.

Squid Girl FAIL!
We learned a lot about Ika Musume this week. She's a rationalist, first of all - refusing to be afraid of anything she can't see. Eiko's attempts to get her to be afraid of ghosts with a traditional Japanese "test of courage" fail miserably - Ika simply refuses to believe (sidebar - having just done an evening stroll through Okuno-in cemetery in Koya-san, Japan, I can fully vouch for the extreme creepiness of a big Japanese graveyard). However, when she gets lost and tries to locate the others using her firefly squid glow ability, they mistake her for a ghost and tear off at a rapid pace - especially Gorou, revealed to be a coward of epic proportions. Fortunately some helpful ghosts guide Ika back home, though she still won't acknowledge their ghostliness. What she is afraid of, however, are sharks and killer whales - even inflatable ones (and bananas too). Her terror almost gets Takeru drowned, but Gorou saves him and this lands us in a swimming lesson for Takjeru, and to the realization that Ika is pretty much helpless when she has to rely on her arms and legs.

Finally, we meet anther new character - Nagisa, surfer chick and new part-timer at Lemon. She's the only one who sees Ika Musume as a threat (Seriously? How kawaii could she be?) which in turn immediately makes Ika fall hard for her. She starts following Nagisa around like a puppy-squid, drunk with the lusty feeling of being feared, but all poor Nagisa wants to do is get the hell away from her. But she decides to stay "for the sake of humanity" - setting up one of the more hilarious delusional pairings of recent memory.

If you can watch this show without smiling, you're made of stone - I can't resist it at all. Ika Musume is absolutely adorable, and quite unlike any of the moe girls of recent vintage - but all of the other characters are also extremely lovable, and the situation comedy extremely clever. This is one of those shows you can enjoy without working too hard, yet it still plays as very smart. I find myself looking forward to new eps of this show as much as any currently airing.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Nurarihyon no Mago - 16

This was definitely a serious plot advancement episode for Nurarihyon. Although Grandpa was once again absent - bar one brief cut-in - Both Rikuos saw plenty of action and the Nura Clan started to fight back with a little more vigor against the Shikoku Seven.

Hitotsume turned out to be a blabbermouth in more ways than one, spilling information to the Shikoku spy posing as a waitress at Bakaneko. Given that he's proved no use other than shooting his mouth off at the clan meetings about how the clan has gone to hell, it wasn't too surprising. What did prove surprising this week is that Night Rikuo proved himself to be quite merciful - some might even say weak. When he had the Shikoku demon down and out (saving Yura in the process) he let her go with nothing more than an admonition to her leader not to "let women do his dirty work". As well, he tacitly acknowledged that Hitotsume might be right about the clan - and let him walk away with nothing more than a stern glance.

Meanwhile, the kids remained on their outing in the mansion, baby-sat by Yuki-onna (looking better than ever). The direction of the episode seemed a little snappier to me this week - the scenes with the Supernatural Squad in the mansion were sharp. and the quick-cut to Nurarihyon and Natto soaking in some nameless Shikoku hot spring was perfectly placed. The takeaway from the ep, if I'm reading the signals right, seems to be a growing disagreement between Day and Noight Rikuo over the state of the clan and the battle with the Shikoku Seven. The other interesting element was that Rikuo has now revealed his demon form to both Kana and Yura, which is sure to lead to some interesting dialogue later.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yosuga no Sora - 3

Three episodes in, and I still can't figure this one out. It's not just me - there's a reason why this show - from the beginning - has been compared to more different shows than any series I can remember. This week "School Days" comparisons are all the rage, but I don't see that happening at all. I still feel "Sola", with a twist of "Ef"- but the fact is this show is a chameleon, full on contradictory moods and styles that confuse and fascinate.

No question 03 was a great episode. It looked fantastic, and did a superb job of summoning a somber, reflective mood. For most of it's existence Yosuga no Sora seems to be a thoughtful, slow-paced character study - but there are always those elements of darkness and hard-charged sexual energy that send it spinning off in odd directions. Once again the sex teased in the prior episode was a troll - this time, the red-hot yrui action between the Ojou-sama and the Miko was a figment of Haru's imagination. Turns out the reason Kazuha calls Akira "Onee-chan" is rather obvious - they're half-sisters, with Akira the illegitimate daughter of Kazuha's father and predictably treated ignobly by him. She's my favorite girl of the series so far - which is a little scary given how this episode ended - but Haru has clearly set his sights on Kazuha for now. That could be no more than the first path, given that this is a game adaptation - and it could be the prelude to ugliness with Sora, which is what has set off the "School Days" nonsense.

Haru is indeed interesting, a fully functional teenager more than interested in girls and not bashful about acting on it. He's caring and solicitous of Sora, but appears to pay little mind to her obvious desire for him - whether because he's oblivious only to her, or because he simply doesn't consider twincest an option. Then again we're not entirely sure whether they've already kissed - or more - or whether that was a figment of the imagination too. Clearly this has been hinted at too much to be a red herring, and there will be some reckoning between Haru and Sora at some point - though whether that's just one route in an eroge or a dramatic confrontation we don't know yet.

And then there's the omakes, with Kazuha's maid. They're odd to say the least - totally out of synch with the rest of the series, hard-R rated but quite hilarious. And they all seem to involve Yahiro doing things to "cherry boy" Haruka she really shouldn't. Clearly, this boy has the kavorka.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Oreimo - 3

The intensity was ramped way up in the third episode of Ore no Imouto. We had an interesting structure here - no OP, with the entire episode building up to Kyousuke blurting out the title, then a jump to the ED. Almost as if the entire first three episodes were the preview for the rest of the series.

We were treated to more hugely enjoyable conversations between Kirino and Kuroneko regarding their relative favorite series - two on the phone, and one at another meetup with Saori in Akiba. Kirino seems to have embraced her new lifestyle full-force - she still hides it from her model friends, but can't help but crack a small grin when she hears the otaku in her class debating earnestly. There's something very real about this "dual-lives" scenario that some teenagers deal with. Meanwhile, Kyou is spending time with neighbor-girl Manami, blissfully unaware of her interest in him and thinking his work is done as a life counselor for his sister.

What follows is a little heavy-handed, I admit. Kyou and Kirino's father finds one of her eroge and pops a vein, forbidding her from all otaku-related activities. After she flees the house Kyou chases after her and soon realizes it's up to him to try and salvage the situation. His speech to their father - a rather long-winded and theatrical speech about individuality and identity - is melodramatic to say the least. But there's inherent power in the situation that transcends the somewhat clumsy writing. He is, once again, standing up for the sister who treats him like garbage, and the merit in his argument is obvious. But here's where it gets ugly - when their father agrees to let her keep everything except the R-18 eroge - something even Kyou admits he's right about - Kyou pretends the games are his. And what does dear old Dad do? He punches his son in the face.

Now, I know some would call me a prude and oversensitive for being offended by this. But in a series that (very effectively) goes for a realistic look at adolescent existence and being true to yourself, the idea of a father punching his son is downright repugnant to me. Say what you will about the father's motivations or his overall position - I happen to think he was about 90% wrong from the beginning and handled himself like a complete tool - there's no way in hell I condone what he did. And I think it was glossed over a little too quickly in the episode.

In the end, Kirino finally does thank Kyousuke for what he's done - leading to the aforementioned utterance of the series title - but that's the very least she could do. He's one hell of a brother, this guy, and GAR to boot. Though there's very little evidence that he and his sister have been close and she generally treats him like a dog, he puts himself out for her time after time - until the very end of this episode with no thanks whatsoever. Despite being an invisible man in his own house and barely a blip on his family's radar, Kyou takes it on himself to look out not just for her welfare, but Kirino's happiness too. In it's unglamorous way that's as powerful an expression of familial love as we've seen this season. The depth of this series I expected to focus on incest-related fanservice continues to impress me.

To Aru Majutsu no Index II - 2

Brace yourselves, for I have shocking information to share - in this weeks episode of Index II, Index is kidnapped! How's that for a plot twist?

Well - not really. It's actually our old buddy, the 6' tall, flame-haired, chain-smoking, stubble-cheeked 14 year-old Styl Magnus. Seeing Styl brought back definite memories of the first season, and indeed this was pretty much vintage Index. Index kidnapped - check. Biblical world domination plot - check. Touma gets in trouble without doing anything wrong - check. Nun-service - check.

Along with some lovely shots of Index in the shower, we get a close up look at a new Sister this week - Kugimita Rie! Oops, that's Agnese Sanctis - a vertically and dexterity-challenged loli nun representing the Roman Catholic Church. Her method of dealing with her lack of height is a preposterous pair of platform sandals, which unfortunately exacerbates her dexterity problem greatly. Madcap misunderstandings follow, especially as she seems to have a thing for Touma, which leads to much Index mastication. The plot - if it matters - involves a rogue group called the Amakusa Catholics, a real-life group of religious mystics. Seems the R.C.'s have mislaid a powerful book (Liber Al vel Legis) which only Sister Orsola Aquinas can decipher. The Amakusa kidnap Orsola (Aya Endo) right from under Styl and Agnese's noses, and the race is on to retrieve her and the book before whole bunches of biblically bad things happen.

I was a little worried that this season would be some sort of unnatural Index/Railgun hybrid - I'm not a huge fan of Railgun the series, though I like the character - but those fears appear to be unfounded. This is straight up Index - the same irreverent mix of mysticism and bad science along with visual comedy and fanservice. And through it all the unflappable Touma, a decent-hearted schlemazel of a kid who just wants to stay out of trouble and get his homework done. He's not flashy, but there's just something incredibly appealing about the guy as a central character. This series may not be especially deep but it's good fun, and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Bakuman - 3

What's in a name?
Bakuman continues to unwind at a deliberate pace, with roughly the entire episode taking place during the boys' late night visit to Nobuhiro's studio. The boys, flush with the enthusiasm of youth, pick through Uncle Nobuhiro's things until 1:30 AM - pissing off Masahiro's mom, but in the process giving the audience a brief "Mangaka 101" course and discovering something very interesting in a yearbook and a box of letters about the girl who inspired Nobuhiro to pursue manga. In short, she's Azuki's mother - a bit of deux ex machina that brings a whiff of fairy tale to this stew, but works as a Adachi-esque plot device. That night at Uncle's condo/studio also features a very touching phone call between Moritaka and his Dad - an emotional conversation between two males who never talk that's emotional in a way only a father or son could really understand.

The next day, Masahiro and Takagi go to Azuki's house to confirm that her mom really is the girl from Uncle's letters and indeed she is, although - though still a MILF - she now sports grotesquely large blonde hair rolls. The title of the episode is "Parents and Children" after all, and this visit - along with the phone call to Dad - forms the bookend of the episode. One gets the sense that Masahiro's father and grandfather always hoped he would follow his Uncle's dream, and that Azuki's mother never really got over Nobuhiro. The theme emerging is once again the dreams of youth, though in this episode we also see it from the perspective of the parents - how adults live their dreams vicariously through their children, sometimes. We also get the sense in this episode that Nobohiro was a deeply-loved man - by his nephew, his brother, his father, and his middle-school sweetheart. Nobuhiro comes off as a kind of "beautiful dreamer" who inspired - and inspired affection - among everyone he was close to.

"Bakuman" is a manga after all, and in this adaptation it's easy to tell - it plays very much like a manga on screen. It's a manga about manga, and about being a boy with a dream - the pure, innocent enthusiasm of Masahiro and Takagi is infectious in this episode. I can recall many a 1:30 AM conversation with a friend talking about dreams of the future - conversations that usually ended with angry admonitions from my Mom - and that sense of wanting to do it all now. Whatever we wanted to do, we didn't want to wait - when we were so sure of our dreams sleeping on them seemed like a waste of time. I haven't quite bought Takagi yet - his motivations aren't quite as fleshed out, and he's a bit of a comic relief character for now. But it's early, and Masahiro is obviously the one at the heart of the story, so that's a small quibble. I'm completely invested in his side of the story and enjoying the relaxed pacing. I know we're getting a fairly realistic picture of the world of manga writing, despite the boys' promise to have not just a manga but an anime by the time they're 18. So if things moved too quickly, that wouldn't be consistent with the story being told.

Tegami Bachi Reverse - 3

Kawaii overload
Episode three was a classic, archetypal Tegami Bachi. A perfectly self-contained 20:49 of emotional stand-alone story, flawlessly paced, with a tie-in to the main plotline book-ending it on either side. When you have a formula that works this well, why change it?

I'm seeing a bit more quirky humor so far in "Reverse" and it makes a nice addition - I adore the show but the emotion can be a bit of a sugar overload at times, and the humor is like a nice twist of lime to brighten the dish. Of course this being Letter Bee the humor is of the gentle variety - as in Niche's perfectly delivered "On account of I am a dingo!" and Lag's equally spot-on surprised "On account?" Niche is definitely becoming more human as the series progresses - picking up on the mannerisms and language patterns of Lag and his friends. We also see that Zazie and Connor have more or less become permanent hangers-on at Sylvette's house. Lag begins the episode puzzling over what to write in his "letter shindan" to Gauche, but the bulk of the story concerns a young heiress named Ray who - in one of several gaffes in the episode for him - Lag mistakes for a boy at first. She's a sickly thing, and the only thing keeping her going are the beautiful - and wordless - and unaddressed - picture letters she receives depicting scenes of her long-lost hometown. Turns out the letters are the product of her clumsy, illiterate but kindly maid Kimidori. She begs Lag not to spill the beans, but when the sinister head maid Colabasso (I would watch this series for the names alone) tries to take credit and a huge reward, Lag - acting on an idea Niche suggested earlier - shoots one of the letters with his Red Needle and spills the beans. Calabasso is fired and Ray realizes her childhood friend has been her savior. Kimidori's idea appeals to Lag as an option for Gauche's shindan, but alas - Lag's drawing skills would fit right in with the "Nomo Drawing Contest" from Cross Game.

Finally - Gettin' Jiggy with it!
What was great about that episode? Lots - extreme cuteness with Lag and Niche at the start. Niche's jealousy over Lag being smitten by Ray. The aforementioned humor. And finally a glimpse of Jiggy Pepper in the preview - looks like he's finally going to play a major role in an episode, something I've really been waiting for. Like I said, this series has a formula that works and it generally knows to stick with it. In terms of consistency it has few equals - Tegami Bachi knows exactly what it is and doesn't usually try to be anything else. Other than the occasional anime-original misstep filler episode in the first series (there were excellent anime-original eps as well) there really haven't been any clunkers here.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru - 2

Episode 2 could easily have been titled "Arashiyama and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day".

It strikes me that I've very rarely seen a series for which success is going to depend more on how the viewer likes a seiyuu. Chiaki Omigawa is an actress that tends to inspire very strong reactions, positive or negative (I'm on the "pro" side, very much so) to begin with. Her voice is distinctive and she tends to play a version of herself, to some extent, in every role. Add to that the fact the Soredomo is very much centered around Arashiyama's antics - she's a force of nature, this one - and Omigawa's presence suffuses every scene, every gag. If you're not a fan, I can't see this going too far with you - this is definitely a star vehicle for her.

Episode itself was pretty solid, about on a par with the first for laughs. We learn a few new things this week - first of which is that Arashiyama is hot for teacher, math teacher to be exact (he doesn't show up except in her fantasies this time). Also, she has a cute younger brother and sister (sis is a dead-ringer for Kyoko from "Dennou Coil") who are predictably bratty, and that she has been visiting Seaside and getting free curry from Obaa-san for every crying fit she's had since she was a toddler.. But mostly it's three sketches about her doing zany things - she's truly a bit of a psychotic, this girl. She's full of weird ideas for promoting the cafe, she has no common sense whatsoever, she'll say anything to anybody - including the town cop - and she's not the brightest star in the sky. But I find her adorable and her antics generally wildly entertaining - she's a bit on the nasty side with some of the stuff she says, but I don't think it's anything more than the fact that she's a live wire with no filter whatsoever.

This still has a bit of a Natsu no Arashi feel for me. The superficial similarities are undeniable - the setting is a dysfunctional cafe and the character designs are somewhat reminiscent. Shinbo seems to be parceling out his visual tics at about the same rate, too. While the humor in both series is definitely from the zany end of the spectrum, NnA was definitely a little darker and more sentimental, at least so far. Soredomo doesn't seem to be the sort of series that will tug the heartstrings and though the pieces are in place for a love triangle, there's little indication that romance will be a major part of the story. But Omigawa is born for this role, and so far her performance is a tour de force in my book. I'm enjoying what I'm seeing and getting a few big laughs out of each episode, and loving the OP and ED. So far, it's a keeper.