To celebrate the fortnight anniversary of the Weekly Round-Up (or rather, because I just thought them up), this week sees two new additions to the format-
1. Series in red are on Zero Tolerance, which basically means that they have 1-2 more episodes to impress before being dropped entirely.
2. Whenever a series introduces a new OP/ED, I will try to specifically comment on it. For now, I won’t be extensively ‘back-commenting’ on existing OP/EDs.
Reviewed this week: Aria, Chocotto Sister, FLAG, Good Witch, Higurashi, H&C II, Innocent Venus, Keroro, School Rumble, Tsubasa, Shadow Warrior Chronicles Utawarerumono, NHK, xxxHOLiC, Night Head Genesis
…and in manga: .hack//4Koma, .hack//GU+, Furuba, Mai-Otome, Tsubasa, xxxHOLiC, Yotsuba&
Many thanks to Necromancer for his work on the Ovan oven; those who have been keeping up with my Roots rants will know that this piece of gadgetry is set to outsell the George Foreman grill.
Aria the Natural 12-3: The long weeks without any Aria have been difficult (perhaps I should motivate myself enough to watch the raws), but finally further instalments of Natural are here. Episode 12 is one of Aria’s occasional two-part stories, combining the summer mirage story of volume four, in which Akari wanders into a mysterious coffee shop, with the nightlight chapter that appeared in the Aqua manga. The latter half didn’t touch me as much as its manga counterpart, but overall another sweet and enjoyable outing on Neo Venezia- with added fat cat.
Episode 13 centres on Alice as she sets herself the bizarre yet strict rule of getting home from school by only stepping in shadows (I have to admit, I used to do things like this when I was a kid). Although an episode focussing on the lesser used Alice and Athena is always to be welcomed, this was one of Aria’s weaker moments; perhaps Alice only works well when her stubborn determination is offset by Akari and Aika’s personalities.
Chocotto Sister 3: I thought that dropping Kamisama Kazoku would keep me safe from “x is naked in an apron” but no, here we have Choco doing the exact same thing. That little piece of ‘entertainment’ aside, the bulk of the episode concentrates on introducing Chitose, the meganekko new apartment manager and latest would-be harem member. Chitose is a particularly annoying member of the “clumsy and clueless” class, and I can’t help missing Grandma, but average as this series is, I find it tolerable enough that it doesn’t make the drop zone. I am finding the ED particularly disturbing, however, and will be skipping it from now on.
FLAG 1: The spiritual successor to Gasaraki, FLAG centres on the life of Shirasu, the photojournalist responsible for the ‘FLAG’, a photograph that has become a powerful symbol of peace. Of course, the road to peace isn’t going to be as smooth as just taking one picture, and pretty soon Shirasu is teamed up with a UN squad and their “HAVWC” mecha. To emphasise the whole photography aspect, the episode is told through the perspective of various video cameras and still shots- the jury’s still out on whether this is an innovative technique or just a poor excuse for budget saving.
I can’t say I’m a big fan of the ‘functional realism’ that characterises the series, but I did grow to like Gasaraki so I’m going to give this one a chance; whether it turns out to be “interesting and thoughtful” or just “dull masquerading as clever” remains to be seen.
ED impressions: An ED of two halves; a slow start accompanies some shots of photography equipment, before switching to pictures of Shirasu and a more energetic finish. Not too impressed by the song, but the video suits the series well.
Good Witch of the West 12-3 [Complete]: What was this series about again? In the penultimate episode, we suddenly learn of the existence of a shadow kingdom, and then it’s off to see Lot and Riez, who are not final bosses at all, but just a mere distraction. By the final episode, neither the characters nor writers seem at all clear on what is supposed to be going on, leading to several minutes of standing and talking, followed by a confrontation with the previously unmentioned king, a chat with the queen, and the mysterious yet convenient resetting of everything. To be honest, it’s debatable whether anything at all was accomplished in the entire series.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni 18: Another instalment of the “Detective Chapter”, this episode follows the aftermath of Shion’s fingernail pulling, reintroducing Keiichi (who is more annoying than ever), the ever-creepy Takano and taking us up to the events of Watanagashi (not having watched the earlier episodes, Takano and Tomitake still want to break into Oyashiro’s shrine). Apart from the general irritation of seeing Keiichi, and the ridiculousness of the thuggish biker gang, this was another worthy instalment that leaves me desperate for episode 19.
Honey and Clover II 6: No sign of the time travelling aliens proposed last week, nor of the fabled Hachimitsu to Battle game, but nonetheless the much anticipated episode 6 is here. Where earlier episodes were focused on specific characters, this episode is more of a ‘check-in point’ to see where everyone has ended up at this point in time. Takemoto has realised that work is simple, boring and endless; Hagu briefly grows up beyond elementary school age before reverting again; Morita and his brother remember the good old days with their father, and Mayama buys Rika an Ovan oven. I may poke fun at it but it’s all in good humour; not only did I enjoy this episode, but it achieved the remarkable effect of making me care about Kaoru, a character I don’t know a great deal about.
Mayama is a student of the Tenma (Haruka 8 ) and Roux school of relationships.
Innocent Venus 2: I can’t hide it anymore- Innocent Venus is one of those series where I just can’t seem to make myself concentrate enough to really know what is going on. This episode begins a boringly standard terrorist hijacking situation, then various other things happen whilst our heroes are glimpsed and the tarot card-kunai murder team shows up to kill off the generics. Fortunately, the episode ran out of time before the ugly mecha could launch, but my interest in the series is severely lessened by this dull instalment.
OP impressions: for some reason this reminds me of a light J-pop take on Ali Project’s style. Entirely average.
Keroro Gunso 48-9: Two more episodes to ease the building Keroro withdrawal; 48 charts Keroro’s attempt to infect the world with laziness (somehow, even Rei Ayanami gets in on the act here, or at least her fourth incarnation); whilst 49 is a two-part story covering some oddly benevolent behaviour from Kururu that convinces the rest of the platoon to act differently in order to garner attention, and Momoka’s “Fuyuki’s confession” simulator. Unfortunately, the annoying 556 had to appear, but otherwise this was a winning double-act that purged all memories of the unsatisfying afro episodes.
School Rumble 2nd Term 18: Heedless of the drama that surrounds it, School Rumble marches bravely forward into another episode, and I have to admit that this was a weaker one. More of an “odds-and-ends” instalment in terms of story, this episode covers Harima and Eri ending up at same part-time job; Akira, Yakumo, Sarah and Tenma getting stuck in floorboards; and Nishimoto, Nara and Yoshidayama learning to be ‘cool’ in order to gain entrance to Tougou’s dance party. A few laughs here and there, but overall not a terribly inspiring selection.
ED2 impressions: The song is forgettable but I love the video for its similarities with the first season ED.
Coming soon; Harry McKenzie’s Host Club.
Tsubasa Chronicle 38: Syaoran and co land in a desert world not too dissimilar from the racing levels in Crash Bandicoot 3, and in a slightly out of place turn, immediately notice a feather stuck to a passing truck. Cue twenty five minutes of uninspiring vehicle and crossover character stills whilst our heroes ride a bus and try to catch up with said truck- we even get to listen to an insert song whilst watching the bus drive along a road. Tsubasa has never been good at filler, and it would be safe to say that this is the most dull and uninspired world ever (until the next one); even the bandit attack at the end seems to be an excuse for the two sides to stand and stare each other, carefully conserving animation budget.
Utawarerumono 19: Like the name ‘Shadow Warrior Chronicles’, this episode bordered on the ridiculous as it brought the Na-tunk arc to an end. Derihourai must surely gain the prize for “most dense brother ever” for failing to realise that Karura and his long-lost sister Karurauatsuurei were one and the same until the second half of the episode, whilst his arrogant and petulant nature only serve to annoy (he even tries to acquire Karura for his harem). Poor Suonkasu gets only a modest amount of screentime before meeting his end, whilst the action scenes either involved looped animation of generic warriors, or special attacks ripped from the game and mini-game. I realise that I want to write more about Uta, but to rant or to parody, that is the question.
Next week: our first anime look at Sakuya, Kanhorudari, the armour golems and Hawenkua.
Karura, Eru and Touka discover Sunrise’s Suon’s ‘special flowers’.
Welcome to the NHK 4: aka “Welcome to the Drop Zone”. In the manga, this was a brief but hilarious section in which Yamazaki shows Satou the otaku world of specialist shops and maid cafés, culminating in the initial design for their eroge heroine (a terminally ill alien robot maid and childhood friend of the hero). This was one of my favourite sections in the manga, but once again the anime stretches it out and waters it down so much that the result is painfully unfunny. It also seems that the animators are skipping shifts (could all the Gonzo, Bee Train and Production IG animators be attending a Sunrise ‘sweet potato dango’ party?), meaning that everything looks so bad that it’s hard to tell warped dream sequences from reality. With such dull episodes and an entirely disturbing end sequence, this is falling to the bottom of the pile- if episode five doesn’t impress, I won’t be watching any more.
‘Ultimate moe’- the way it was meant to be
xxxHOLiC 17: Apparently this episode was based on a xxxHolic novel, which I mention for informational purposes as it doesn’t really make it any the less boring. Focussing on yet another woman with self-esteem issues, the episode mainly consists of Yuuko and Watanuki sitting in a room and talking about nothing much. The animation (if you can call it that), is better than episode 15, but still poor enough to ensure ugly characters and more stills than a photography exhibit; I really didn’t think I could find a series that made NHK and Tsubasa look good, but here it is. This is perilously close to being dropped, but as episode 18 is a manga-based story, it earns one last chance.
Night Head Genesis: If episode was one was “average but promising”, then episode two must surely be “average but dull”. The entire episode takes place inside the confines of the seedy bar that Naoto and Naoya reached at the end of episode one, and aside from some cutlery bending and mind-reading, not a great deal happens. The tone of the episode is lessened by the inclusion of the arrogant “REAL MAN” Jin, who is dislikeable from the start, and only gets worse when he tries to beat up his girlfriend for having affairs with the other onscreen male generics. Why is the man always angry at the woman in these situations, and not with the men who are equally guilty for sleeping with her?
After episode two, I vowed to put this on zero tolerance and give it one last chance, but unfortunately the series managed to blow it yet again in the third instalment. After some dull talking scenes, the episode degenerates into a drug induced sequence in which Naoya is afflicted with versions of a murdering S&M queen (elsewhere, the woman in question imagines she is being watched by a giant eye). Had this series been executed better, it could have been a creepy and spine chilling experience, but as it stands it switches between utterly dull and completely incomprehensible. A missed opportunity that I have no further inclination to watch.
.hack//4Koma 4: A new chapter so soon after the last is unprecedented, and leaves me with little to say that I didn’t include last week. This is another set of hit-and-miss four-panel shorts; most of the Haseo vs. Kite or goodie-two-shoes Atoli shorts fall flat, but the ones that parody the original games are hilarious.
.hack//GU+ 4: Quite possibly my favourite part of the new generation .hack (through lack of serious contenders), the manga continues the GU story as we meet bishie arena champion Endrance and his avatar Macha. After easily defeating former champion Youkou (Yowkow), Endrance takes on Haseo as his next opponent- much as I like Endrance and would love to see him wipe the floor with Haseo, it is clear that Haseo’s destined main character status will earn him victory in the end.
Fruits Basket 119, 130: Could I really be reading an in-sequence chapter of this at long last? Going in back in time to ‘before Tohru’s accident’, this chapter sees Tohru’s confession of her feelings to Kyo, and Kyo’s admission that he probably could have saved her mother’s life. On the whole, this wasn’t too bad a chapter, and had I not been dulled by the endless angst, I might have actually felt something for the characters’ plights.
With 130, I go back to my out-of-sequence ways; finally the curse has been broken and everyone is free, but why? Did it lessen because of Tohru’s power of love and positive feelings? Was the level of angst too much for even the curse itself to bear? Was Shigure right when he said the curse was weakening naturally, thus rendering the events of the entire manga fairly pointless? More importantly, however, does this mean the series can finally come to an end now?
Mai-Otome 24: I thought Rena had died in the last chapter, but it turns out that she was just ‘downed’, RPG style. This instalment concludes the Akira vs. Arika conflict (I’m not at all impressed with Akira’s robe), before saying goodbye to Carlteya and Midori. The final warning of the chapter, “Beware of Sergey”, is one that all little girls should heed.
Tsubasa Chronicle 103-120,123,125: Okay, enough with reading any old chapter I find, regardless of order; thanks to Hyuu~Scans I can now bridge the gap between Rekord and Tokyo. The conclusion of the Rekord arc felt rushed at best- our heroes storm the library, get attacked by giant dogs, and Fye suddenly decides to unleash his magic in a piece of cheap deus ex machina. Then it’s onto a post apocalyptic X-Tokyo, and finally the plot changes gear as we discover that ‘our’ Syaoran is just a Fei Wong-created clone of the real thing. There are few too many contrivances, and a sense that CLAMP is having more fun creating grandiose action panels than constructing a sound story, but I can’t help getting carried along for the ride.
xxxHOLiC vol 8 c4, vol 9 c1: For a brief time, xxxHolic gave us something akin to a main storyline, but fearing that it would be too much, too soon, the series has now reverted back to its earlier standalone nature. These two chapters are at the weaker end of the spectrum; the closing segment of volume eight features snowman building (as already seen in the anime), whilst volume nine opens with New Year’s dreams and Watanuki getting attacked by a giant eyeball monster. Not particularly enthralling in itself, but nonetheless I’m still looking forward to the next chapters.
Caught up with
Yotsuba& (Yotsubato): Well, the goods news is that ADV manga plan to release volume four at the beginning of next year (please, let this be true), but in the meantime, I have satisfied my need for more Yotsuba by ‘acquiring’ chapters 22-38 though other means. Even though it’s just more of the same, each chapter of Yotsuba& is a delight to read, featuring the ongoing tussle between common sense and Yotsuba’s own unique approach to everyday life. Expect a more detailed review soon.