Keroro is not pleased with the state of the summer season.
After the sparseness of last week, everything seems to have returned in full force in readiness for the Round-Up’s one month anniversary. In light of all the drops of previous weeks, I’ve picked up a number of new series on the anime front, although unfortunately there are still many backlogged manga chapters waiting patiently for my attention.
Reviewed this week: FLAG, Ginga Densetsu Weed, Gokinjo Monogatari, Hanoka, Higurashi, H&C II, Kemonozume, Keroro, Mai-Otome DVD Special, Ouran, SaiMono, School Rumble, Tsubasa, Utawarerumono, NHK, xxxHOLiC, Otogi-jushi Akazukin, Love GetChu!
…and in manga: Erementar Gerad, Fate/Stay Night, Fruits Basket, Tsubasa Chronicle, Utawarerumono, xxxHOLiC
FLAG 2: What I should probably write here is that FLAG is “an interesting and subtly nuanced portrayal of conflict” with phrases like “gritty realism” tossed in for good measure, but let’s face it- this episode was just plain dull. I was hoping that we’d get to know the HAVWC team, but instead we’re treated to a tour of their hardware and facility, before Shirasu gets left behind whilst everyone else goes on a mission. I can’t really say that much of this episode held my interest in any way whatsoever, but according to the preview Shirasu will be going to the front lines next time, so I’m going to stick with it for now.
OP impressions: The song is forgettable, but I like the montage of photos.
Ginga Densetsu Weed 25: In the days of yore, reaching the penultimate episode of a series meant some kind of urgency on the plot front, but no longer is that the case. This episode is more a breather before the end, featuring lots of dogs running around in the snow prior to the inevitable final boss confrontation. Nonetheless, its worth as a parody source remains undiminished- and with just one more episode to go, I must find something new to take its place (I’m considering ROTK, but please direct any alternate recommendations to the comments box).
*DROPPED* Gokinjo Monogatari 3-4: I’m not entirely sure why I tried to watch Gokinjo, but the manga improved after a slow start and so the anime had to be given a chance too. This time around, Mikako and Tsutomu make up, Tsutomu continues to spend time with new girlfriend Body-ko, Mikako gets annoyed, they argue…*yawn*. I’m also distinctly unenthused with the artwork- the character designs have all of the flaws of Yazawa’s work whilst retaining none of the charm; the backgrounds are chiefly a lifeless white; and what colours are used are horribly grimy, not unlike the sort of shades found after the contents of a paint box are mixed together by a small child.
The world must see just how bad the animation is.
*NEW* Hanoka 1-2: After reading about this, I can’t say I was expecting a great deal, but since the first episode is only four minutes long, it didn’t seem too much of an investment in time to try it. After you cut out the OP, there’s only two and a half minutes of actual episode, so understandably very little happens- our heroes appear, some giant monsters get blown up, to be continued. I’d like to say the graphics look interesting, but so far it’s more a case of amateur and flat.
Episode two is slightly better (and a whole 53 seconds longer), featuring the obligatory hero angst before Hanoka realises that as a destined main character she has little choice but to fight.
OP impressions: A decent OP overall, with a catchy instrumental beginning and end- a nostalgic reminder of my gaming days.
Higurashi no Naku Koro ni 20: Another superior episode of Higurashi, featuring all the violence and madness we’ve come to expect from Shion’s continuing instability. This time around, the ‘answer arc’ lives up to its name by providing us with insights into the Watanagashi arc and what it means to be “demoned away”. With so many of its counterparts falling by the wayside in terms of quality (Uta, Ouran, SR, ‘Holic, I’m looking at you), Higurashi remains the one spring pillar of consistent strength.
Honey and Clover II 8: With any other series, the excellence of episodes 6-7 would have left me worried that the standard could not be maintained, but not so with H&C. I was entirely confident that this episode could live up to live up to its predecessors, which is unfortunate, since it fell some way short. To be fair, the scenes devoted to Hagu’s storyline were very powerful and moving, but before we could even get to them, we were treated to a misplaced ‘humorous’ section about Mayama’s trip to Spain and his latest stalking techniques. The episode also fits in a rather anticlimactic end to the Morita story, in which the company is bought back from its stereotypically evil president. Overall, some hints of greatness, but a hit-and-miss episode overall.
*NEW* Kemonozume 1: I think I set my expectations too high for this one, and a result it came off as somewhat disappointing. The series follows the exploits of flesh eating demons and the warrior family committed to hunting them, with the typical “demoness and human fall in love” occurring towards the end of the episode. On the surface, the story seems promising, but the lengthy exposition scenes, uninspiring characters and flat art style all serve to put me off. I have to admit that the action scenes are well executed, however, even if the best one involved a bizarre and annoying monkey.
OP impressions: An average jazz track accompanies simple, high contrast stills- slightly reminiscent of the Bebop OP. Could be a good song if the vocals were absent.
ED impressions: Spinning flowers and an average song- this time the vague resemblance is to the Texhnolyze ED.
Keroro Gunso 53: Another solid if not outstanding episode of Keroro, but I have to ask- when is Giroro coming back? The first half sees Keroro, Tamama, Fuyuki and Kururu visit various historic monuments in the hopes that they were built by aliens for the purpose of invading Pekopon, whilst the weaker second half heralds the return of Angol Mois and another botched invasion plan involving cherry blossoms.
*NEW* Love GetChu 1-3: I already gave this a rambling and poorly constructed post of its own, but I may as well mention Love GetChu here for completeness. I’ve yet to venture into raw territory, but the three subbed episodes have made for an enjoyable opening to the series; by all rights, this should be a hackneyed rehash of old clichés, but instead Momoko’s quest to become a VA is turning into an enjoyable tale.
OP impressions: A bit too cute for my tastes, but energetic and catchy nonetheless.
ED impressions: A walking rabbit plush and some J-dance/rap = instantly forgettable.
Mai-Otome DVD Special 8: Why, you may ask, given all that I have said about Mai-Otome, would I want to subject myself to another DVD special? To be honest, each time I watch one I wonder that, but I’ve come too far along the path of Mai- to give up now. This time around, we see Natsuki and Mai’s reunion at the episode twenty-three hot springs, together with a recap of Mai’s past and how she ended up in the Black Valley. It’s a lot less interesting than it sounds, especially as most of the story is told against a backdrop of silhouetted stills.
*NEW* Otogi-jushi Akazukin TV 1-6: After familiarising myself with the OVA episode, I’ve finally got around to watching the first five episodes of the TV series, and I have to admit that it was a lot more enjoyable than I was expecting. A fusion of magical girl and fairy tale with a touch of harem, the series tells the tale of destined main character Souta and his encounter with the three Fairy Musketeers Akazukin, Shirayuki and Ibara as they attempt to protect him from the forces of evil and their monsters of the week. Yes, it’s aimed at children, but the brightly coloured character designs and energetic music bring back nostalgic memories of retro gaming- a good choice for some straightforward and light-hearted fun. The only thing that I dislike is the Sweet Phone; it looks like the kind of plastic toy you buy for two-year-olds and seems a particularly pointless addition to the TV series.
OP impressions: An energetic and catchy start.
ED impressions: Not too bad compared to the usual run of ending themes; the song is oddly reminiscent of the Chrono Trigger Guardia Millennial fair music.
Ouran High School Host Club 18-20: Episode 18 sees the introduction of Honey’s brother Chika, and a flashback look into Honey’s transition from the demon captain of the karaoke club to the loli shota of the Host Club. A solid episode overall, which is only marred by the appearance of Renge at the start (sigh), and a few too many lines for the dull Mori- since there isn’t really time to develop him, I’d rather he just remained in the background.
Unfortunately, 19 does not fare so well; perhaps watching two episodes of over-the-top comedy in a row (and with rather mediocre subs) adversely affected my opinion of the episode, but it came off as quite a weak instalment. The overdramatic nature of the series means that it always walks a fine line between hilarious and tiresome, and unfortunately this episode fell into the latter category. The episode sees the return of the ever-annoying Lobelia Girls’ School after the Zuka Club abducts Haruhi to star in their latest performance- the only real highlight here is ever cool and calm Kyouya.
Fortunately with 20, the series is back on form, giving us an insight on the twins’ past and how they came to join the Host Club. I have to admit I was wary of what seemed to be yet another Hikaru+Kaoru focused episode, but it turned out to be a well-executed character piece that was largely free from any painfully over-the-top moments.
Saiunkoku Monogatari 10-16: To have one episode of SaiMono to look forward to is always most welcome, but to be shown the way to the rich vein of Shadow Dreams fansubs (thanks again, Impzie) is as much as anyone can ask for. Episode ten sees the surprisingly abrupt conclusion of the Ensei arc, providing us with some insights into his past but leaving further questions that will hopefully be explored later on. Before getting stuck into the next arc, we’re given a couple of side stories in the form of episode 11, which sees Shuurei’s Bishie Host Club rally together when she comes down with a fever, and 12-13, which introduce child prodigy To Eigetsu.
With that out of the way, the story continues in earnest as both Shuurei and Eigetsu pass their national exams and earn appointments as minor officials; unfortunately, with so many generic officials displeased at seeing both a woman and a thirteen year old pass the national exams, they end up having quite a difficult time of things.
If I liked SaiMono before, then this mini-marathon has greatly increased my appreciation for the series- I find myself increasingly drawn into the characters and storyline, with each episode building on the last to weave a complex and fascinating tapestry. And as an added bonus, I now have enough screencaps to work on a parody version.
School Rumble 20-1: There have been quite a few times this week when I’ve been left thinking “what the hell is this!?”, and this School Rumble double bill was most definitely one of them. First up is episode twenty- a tedious three-part side character extravangza featuring Imadori, Ichijou and her brother playing Dojiboron, minor characters discussing relationships, and cyborg Tenma in ‘Police Force Rumble’. All-in-all, a rather uninspiring selection, but as nothing compared to the follow-up episode twenty one- a painfully unfunny magical girl parody topped off with a basketball section that had absolutely nothing to do with School Rumble whatsoever. Over the last few weeks, my faith in the series has been slowly crumbling, and now I have to admit that it has been completely shattered, to the point where I wish this had ended at 13 episodes after all.
Tsubasa Chronicle 39: After the monotony of last episode I can’t say I was looking forward to this, but like a bitter pill, it had to be swallowed. The conclusion of the ‘bus world’ story, the episode brings us more stills, more dull vehicle and ‘road gang’ scenes and yet another time-filling sequence involving an insert song. The only consolation is that next episode sees a return to the main storyline; for a time I was worried that we’d be stuck on endless episodes exploring the bus route and the generic characters that travel on it. That being said, Bee Train are probably producing the first episodes of Bus Chronicle even as we speak.
Utawarerumono 21: Due to lack of resources, I have yet to see episode 20 in either raw or subbed form, but with episode 21 more readily available I decided to forge ahead anyway. Unfortunately, Kuuya and her rabbit-eared clan were something of a disappointment, with the whole thing once again coming off as slightly laughable and not terribly engaging.
Welcome to the NHK 6: I need to break free of this morbid fascination I have with the ED- I find it disturbing, and yet on some level I actually look forward to exposing myself to its horrors each week. Anyway, with that digression aside, this episode sees Satou take to the classroom on a mission to discover if Yamazaki has a girlfriend; it’s slightly painful and not as bearable as episode five, but the series continues to hang on in the red zone for now.
On a related note, watching this makes me feel as if I am now capable of writing my own game scenario- perhaps I have at last found my true calling.
xxxHOLiC 19: At long last, the gods of anime have heeded my fervent prayers, because this time week the animation is vastly improved; distance shots still aren’t great (and I doubt they ever will be), but close ups are aesthetically pleasing for the first time in a while, as the animators discover lost arts like “colour”.
Story-wise, the episode sees Watanuki, Yuuko and the rest participate in a very unique snowball fight; apart from the sight of a giant snow-Mokona it’s strictly average, but not dull enough to be sleep-inducing.
Erementar Gerad (Elemental Gelade) 18-20: With Rasati’s story coming to its end in chapter eighteen, our heroes board a boat to another continent in preparation for the Viro arc (sigh). Nineteen brings us the obligatory pool chapter, before the action kicks off in chapter twenty with the long overdue arrival of Greyarts; even at this early stage, both Greyarts and Viro seem a lot more interesting than their anime counterparts. All three chapters are what we’ve come to expect from EG- light-hearted, fun, and fronted by some stunning artwork.
Fate/Stay Night 3-4: Despite not enjoying the anime that much by the end, my quest into the manga continues. This time around, the manga covers episodes 3-4, with Kirei explaining the rules of the game to Shirou, and Ilya and Berserker making their first attack. I’m not too impressed with the artwork- the line work is solid enough but the shading relies too much on screen tone and lacks the contrast and character it needs.
Fruits Basket 121: Another gap-filling chapter, in which Tohru and Kyo confess their feelings for each other- for once, I have few complaints and in fact very little to say.
Tsubasa Chronicle 126: I was happy to see CLAMP take a risk with a character and turn Fye into a vampire forced to feed off the blood of his prey Kurogane, but guess what- if he can get his left eye back, everything will return to normal. Not that I don’t expect everything to turn out well in the end, but it ruins the drama of the chapter somewhat to create a get-out clause so soon.
*NEW* Utawarerumono 2: Apparently chapter 1 wasn’t worth of being scanned, and if it corresponds to the Japanese chapter I’ve seen then it’s just a few pages of Eru, Aru and not much else. Chapter 2 sees Haku, Oboro and the harem wander the mountains in search of a fabled hot spring; I’m assuming that the creator was aiming for a tongue-in-cheek parody, which is unfortunate as there was precious little actual humour to be found. The artwork isn’t too bad, a cute chibi style that comes in a few grades below the original game art.
xxxHOLiC vol 9 c2: As it turns out, the events at the end of last chapter were just a premonitory dream- one that Watanuki inadvertently bought from Himawari. In this chapter, Yuuko takes Watanuki to a place where he can sell the dream, complete with a few extremely vague hints about Himawari, and a cliffhanger revelation about Doumeki. This is xxxHOLiC back on top form- interesting story, striking artwork, and even a glimpse of black Mokona.
Random trivia: Doumeki’s given name is Shizuka.