October 2011 Anime Season – Fate/Zero Episode 5

Business has officially picked up as of this episode.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t like what came beforehand. I’ve certainly found its animation to be superior to FSN/Tsukihime adaptations and on the Garden of Sinners level of quality ufotable produced in recent years. The cast in Fate/Zero has incredible depth and a great mix of personalities across the spectrum.

 

My one issue has always been how the sheer volume of dialogue at times has hindered the pacing and atmosphere.  Book 1 of the original novels is very saturated with dialogue. This slow start was always going to happen. I’ve forgiven it somewhat with the character development that has gone on through it, but it becomes testing at times. Episode 4 didn’t flow that well for me since dialogue between combatants or to other people present always seemed to happen when the scene was picking up, then lose that momentum. Even my hardcore Type-Moon fan friends think Episode 4 didn’t need as much dialogue as was provided there.

 

However, the promise of what this adaptation can deliver is now coming to fruition. Dialogue was sharper, fitted the mood/scene and allowed the atmosphere to build up all through the episode. The fighting in this episode was flockwin. Fluid animation, lovely smoke effects (FINALLY in anime there is smoke animation that actually looks/feels like smoke!), Berserker looked festy as hell with the CGI, dialogue within was short and to the point. And best of all, within that action/scheming we now have a very clear grasp of the methods and motivations of most of the Servants and their Masters. This episode achieved so much but was able to provide plenty of action and the like to be entertaining/stimulating while developing the characters and delivering dialogue. This is the balance I’ve been wanting to see in this show all along. And I’m fairly confident it will be able to provide that balance more often as the dialogue volume tones down as of Book 2, which the adaptation will be reaching soon.

 

Saber continues to be charming and honorable – gotta love that. Irisviel isn’t afraid of her mortality at all and sticks with Saber even under the worst of circumstances – lovely woman. Rider is a freaking man’s man and is Mister Charisma in spades. Power to him for the way he stuck up for Waver when his old teacher tried to talk him down. Lancer is pretty FAB-ulous but not a cockblock, kudos to you Grand Master Sexy. Archer has an ego the size of Jupiter but is amusing. Kariya’s re-emergence as a cold-hearted bastard from the once soft, caring person is poignant, although he has his (deluded) reasons.

 

I really couldn’t have asked for more from this episode. If Episode 4 left me underwhelmed, Episode 5 more than made up for it.

PS. Rider, my man, let’s hang out sometime and talk about kingship and manliness! My shout!

October 2011 Anime Season – Chihayafuru Episode 4

With Episode 4, Chihayafuru now moves back to present time. Taichi virtually dares Chihaya to reach Class A to make her years of hard work worthwhile. Chihaya is spurred on by the sight of Taichi’s simple, typical girlfriend and vows she will reach Class A by winning the upcoming karuta tournament, making Taichi promise he has to help Chihaya form a high school karuta club if she wins. Taichi comes to the tournament in disguise but his old teacher recognises him instantly. They watch Chihaya steamroll her way to the final match with newly forged resilience and her trademark tomboy flair. In the final, Chihaya gradually overcomes the mind games her older opponent employs and uses her determination and passion to will herself to win the tournament. Taichi is impressed with how much Chihaya has grown and improved in the three years they were apart. Chihaya finally makes the call to Arata she’s been wanting to make for three years now that she’s finally reached Class A. However, Arata cuts her off, declaring he is done with karuta and never wants to hear from Chihaya again.

It’s rather intriguing to see when Episode 3 ended, Chihaya being far behind Arata and Taichi in skill and also in general life experience, yet one episode later she’s now ahead of them both. All three of them had a spark of some sort but only Chihaya has managed to kindle hers. Taichi seems somewhat content to settle for good enough and is with a girlfriend he even admits not caring much about. Arata has succumbed to darkness and lost his drive. While Chihaya has improved dramatically and still retained her spunky, pristine nature. At some points watching that episode, Chihaya lit up that screen more than her self-obssessed modelling sister ever could.

The changes in Chihaya are evident. When Chihaya would fall behind in the past in a match, her self-doubt would overwhelm her. Now, she simply wills herself to get over the line. She doesn’t hate her opponents, has a genuine love of the game and keeps her manners more in line. But thankfully some things don’t change – Taichi can still irk her and she easily drives him up the wall. Chihaya is still an adorable ball of positive energy and has a mix of a glamour look and tomboy behaviour. It’s always a delight to see her in action. Time away from the trio has served her well.

The atmosphere of Chihaya calling Arata was very poignant. You’ve got Chihaya revelling in victory, standing in the light and finally getting where she wants to be while clutching her girlie pink phone. Whereas you have Arata in a house full of darkness and answering an older style phone. The distance between them is just amplified by these subtle qualities and makes for one very moving scene. Other great moments were when the teacher called Taichi ‘Eyelashes’ – priceless. Chihaya’s button-eyed expression while wolfing down chocolate then snoozing with her eyes open – adorable. Chihaya in a white T-shirt and tying her now long hair back while playing – there was just something undeniably cool about that.

It was once that Chihaya needed Arata and Taichi to help her get her spark and feel alive. Now it is the reverse and time for Chihaya to repay the favour. She seems up to the task but certainly the reality of the dream team not being infallible to the darker side of life has left Chihaya somewhat stunned. But you need adversity to make this story work. She’s a strong girl and will get over it. What follows will prove to be evermore intriguing and heartwarming.

October 2011 Anime Season – Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Episode 4

I think all around the world, heads exploded over this episode. In a good way.

Maria the 10-year old appears, apparently coerced by Yozora to give her control of the room. Yukimura, the stalker of Kodaka seen in Episode 2, is a reverse trap that wishes to be just like Kodaka – an opportunity too good for Yozora to ignore. Rika is a scientific genius permanently in heat that is smitten with Kodaka. Needless to say, a ‘harem’ of sorts is forming. Yozora and Sena don’t like it one bit, but both girls end up joining the club. And all the while, Kodaka’s relationship with other students is going downhill.

After reflecting for a bit – this is actually one clever episode. Sure, you have three new girls introduced into the mix, now making six girls all up when you include Kobato during Kodaka’s time at home. But despite the fact this episode spends a fair amount of time introducing and developing those new girls, this episode actually belongs to Yozora. Let’s examine what happens:

1. Maria is sleeping in the classroom. Yozora details – with a weird pleasure in her tone – how she was able to coerce Maria into giving her the room. After Maria tries to go back on the deal, Yozora engages in clever reverse-psychology to talk Maria back into to deal. Yozora steals the moment.

2. Yukimura is revealed as Kodaka’s stalker but has good intentions overall since she idolises Kodaka – in a rather twisted way…Yozora can’t pass up the opportunity to ‘educate’ Yukimura on how to fulfill her role of becoming like Kodaka and ends up making fun of the situation at Kodaka’s expense. Again, another character introduction ends up demonstrating more qualities of Yozora.

3. Kobato is barely in the episode for 30 seconds. Kodaka ignores her. Kobato fans get their moment for the week but she matters little in the overall mix – almost as if to prove it’s steering itself away from Ore no Imouto. Yozora is still the feature thus far this episode.

4. Rika’s introduction and display of her overly sexual nature ends up turning into a moment where Yozora reveals her jealousy and indirectly shows she cares about Kodaka because of the nature of the flashback material in Episode 3. Again, several minutes of another character’s introduction is used to fuel a Yozora moment to steal the show.

Thus this is an episode we learn more about Yozora – and her true nature. Yozora is a bully – something she denies but it’s there for everyone to see. Yozora coerces Maria, pokes fun at Sena, jokes continually at Kodaka, uses Yukimura for her own amusement at Kodaka’s expense yet again. Yozora loves to dictate how people behave around her and getting a kick out of the results. Yozora is definitely a bully. So it begs the question – why has Yozora set up this club to make friends when she’s really trying to control everyone? Does Yozora have a twisted concept of friendship due to past events? She clearly had a good heart when she was young. What has caused Yozora to go sour and be anything but the friend she was to Kodaka in their youth? Yozora clearly cares about Kodaka, but if she’s got any delusions of being with him or being proper friends with the others in the club, she’s got to stop hiding behind her shell and be real. Ironic that the person who created the club is the one person who is failing to achieve the overall objective of the club – to make friends. Episode 3 set the foundations for friendship between Sena and Kodaka. You could argue some form of a basis of friendship also exists towards Kodaka for Yukimura and Rika, since they’re at least trying. Yozora is way behind everyone in this regard and her jealousy is blatantly obvious. So it really begs the question – what caused Yozora to become so mean and kill her heart?

The concern for a lot of people was the introduction of these new characters in Episode 4 would detract from the main trio too much. Amazingly…that didn’t happen! Maria’s presence was brief, served as material for the relevant fan group and drifted out after serving her purpose. Yuki Igucha voices Maria with a childish, upstart nature but not an irritating one – which is somewhat admirable. Nozomi Yamamoto’s sedate voicing of Yukimura is a complete opposite of her voicing of Rie from UN-GO and shows some depth for a newcomer. Yukimura reminds me of Hideyoshi from Baka to Test considerably, but Yukimura is more amusing in my opinion. Misato Fukuen utterly revels in voicing Rika, portraying her hot-blooded nature and the maniacal narration of the ‘dirty manga’ damn well. Honestly, ‘mecha porn’ – that is gold! They all get their moments and then some – they were worth remembering. Yet the episode goes to Yozora and some well-executed development. And you just wonder how it is one of the most outrageous, simple shows of the season is slaying most of the competition when it comes to character development? Good writing and pacing I guess. It’s easy for secondary characters to steal the show sometimes. AIC had it happen in Ore no Imouto and they seem to have learnt their lesson. Let’s hope they don’t let it happen again and can give the three main characters continual development as they have done thus far. What is clear is that despite Yozora’s mean exterior, she does value friendship deep down – but never shows it. Hopefully we find out why.

Yet again, Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai avoids going down the spiral and stays on track. Thumbs up yet again for this week. One wonders what it will pull off next. Either way, I can’t wait!

October 2011 Anime Season – UN-GO Episode 3

Perhaps things are about to pick up.

The once-prominent Sasa family is attending a ceremony for the 7th anniversary of the death of the former house head. The current head dies in a bizzare immolation. Or so it seems…Cut to Rie tracking down Shinjurou and Inga in the ‘Restricted Zone’ to get their help to solve the case. The Professor seems keen to cut them off before they get involved, but even the Professor can’t weave a plausible enough lie this time. The episode ends with the revelation that the supposedly murdered son was actually a robot…and that the computer within the household holds the key to the truth of what’s going on.

There were some improvements this episode. As I suspected, Rie doesn’t approve of her father’s methods and prefers Shinjurou’s ways. Rie gets some much needed character development and now has potential to be a good character. Whoever picked her outfits deserves credit – Rie’s got style. The specific role Professor Kaishou plays within the system is now spelt out in more detail – this guy’s power and how casually he weaves his lies is chilling. A conflict between those two will happen sometime soon. What was best about this episode was it tried to break free from the formula of the first two episodes. Once the Professor wove his fabrication, evidence to counter it came to light and Shinjurou deduced the truth. That computer’s final line was priceless. In terms of world setting, the opening minutes with the slum, ruined nature of the ‘Restricted Zone’ were rather effective and a good device to promote Rie’s defiance.

 

Still…while the roles Shinjurou and Inga played in this episode were better…we still know next to nothing about them! And they’re the main characters! Honestly, I think this is what’s really hindering this show. If we knew at least something about what caused Shinjurou and Inga to pair up, the source of Inga’s powers or how Shinjurou cheated death, I think we as viewers would care a LOT more about them! I seriously hope that’s not something they only explain in the Episode 0 movie. That doesn’t get released until November 19 and to release that info that way could really backfire. Indeed, while the world setting and second tier of characters intrigues me, the primary characters don’t because we’re not allowed to know anything about them! This needs to change…The mystery quality isn’t an issue anymore, really. The lack of development of Shinjurou and Inga as characters has hurt this show. Even a 5 minute flash back explaining why it is Shinjurou and Inga pursue the truth like they do – SOMETHING to make us care about their plight – would really lift this series! A moment like that make so much difference. At present, Rie is probably the one character with motivations and a purpose that are clear thus far. I care about what she intends to do, but not the main protagonists as much, which shouldn’t be happening…

On a final note, Shinjurou seems rather keen to get the Professor to unlock the device he has at any price. Perhaps getting one up on the Professor this time will get him what he wants? Or will it take a bigger mystery for Shinjurou to outperform the Professor and cause him to cave in? Either way – develop Shinjurou and Inga as characters ASAP, please!

October 2011 Anime Season – Series ranking at 25/10/12

Okay, everything has offered at least 2 episodes now. Things are getting clearer.

And with that, some major changes on the preference order of my season viewings.

As I said in a previous post, I dropped Guilty Crown, reducing the number of titles I’m watching this season to seven. Look, it’s got potential but I’m not willing to wait ten years for something interesting to happen, for Shu to grow a spine and for a character that lights up the screen to emerge. Two seasons of this will be too much time lost to much ado about nothing, IMO.

So here is the new order for the seven shows I’ve continued with:

7.  (7) Squid Girl S2. Same old, same old but passable.

6. (6) UN-GO. The world setting is full of the tyrannical dystopian nightmare worlds I read in high school and it’s very effective in that regard. But its characters are very underdeveloped and we need to see more about them immediately or this show will have wasted its potential.

5. (3) Mirai Nikki. It’s still good but Episode 3 was rather light…Thinking Episode 4 will kick things back up a few notches, but Episode 3 was too sedate.

4. (2) Fate/Zero. It’s not that anything bad happened in Episode 4…It’s more the fact it could have been better…Lancer vs Saber should have been thrilling even if it was an introductory battle. Still, the constant cutting to a different character/scene and the sheer amount of dialogue just killed the flow within this episode and prevented it from being a thrilling fight. However, Rider stole the show in the final minutes as only this incarnation of Rider can!

3. (5) Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai. I’m amazed at how THIS show is being far more effective at developing its characters while mixing that exposition in with events/action and also has a potentially interesting plot. It’s still light and nothing fantastic, but it’s ticking the right boxes. It’s funny, it looks good, its service is steamy but not sleazy. This show really couldn’t do much better so far!

2. (4) Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing. Truth be told, as I am a HUGE fan of the original Last Exile, I’m going to be harsher on this show more than anything else. Still, Episode 2 was the best thing I watched for the last week. Stunning CGI, the character mix is now balanced, the plot has emerged, the motivations of the heroes and villains are now apparent and some facts about EXILE and the like that we never knew from the original are finally explained! The amount of plot progression and character development that occured within this single episode while providing a good deal of action was pretty darn impressive. Keep this up, Gonzo. You may have a winner here.

1. (1) Chihayafuru. As much as Last Exile 2 and Boku wa Tomodachi have improved, Chihayafuru hasn’t put a foot wrong once yet. It’s doing everything it’s setting out to do thus far. While the subject matter isn’t the most exciting, in terms of setting up a feel-good coming of age tale and the bonds of friendship that don’t feel contrived, it’s excelling. I hope we go back to present day Chihaya in Episode 4 though.

October 2011 Anime Season – Last Exile: Fam the Silver Wing episode 2

For all the shows that seemed to go sedate this week – Last Exile was NOT one of them. Business has really picked up.

 

Fam and Giselle get Millia to safety while Lilianna launches a failed kamikaze attempt to kill the Ades leader, Luscinia. Fam and co. go on a rescue mission which ends with a chilling revelation. EXILE was used by non-Ades kingdoms to flee the planet long ago during war then to come back when it was safe again. Ades is unwilling to forgive those who fled and imakes an example of the Turan Kingdom by coercing Lilliana into activating EXILE to destroy the main city. Fam, Giselle and a heartbroken Millia barely escape.

 

The balance between females and males is now better. Luscinia adds some much-needed steel to the show and makes for a damn good villian, aptly voiced by Kazuyuki Okitsu. Shinji Ogawa makes a moving cameo as the dying Turam king. Aki Toyosaki continues to impress by keeping Fam’s cute charms in check and letting flair out when needed. The promise of Jun Fukuyama appearing soon to voice Orlan is tantalising. Veteran Miyuki Sawashiro handles the loving yet brazen older sister role in Lilliana with ease while Ai Kayano provides the fuel for the defiant, panicked Millia. The CGI use is just spellbinding –  Gonzo have gone all out to impress and haven’t relented yet. The mix of new music pieces and ones from the original series work damn well. The cloud scenes are bliss. The detail and fluidness of the flying scenes – particularly when Fam navigates the enemy ship – is stunning. And with some very important story fleshed out this episode without letting the pace slow down for a moment, Episode 2 is an absolute blast that ends with a very chilling mood. My only downers were that neither new theme song holds a candle to the original themes and that while the overall character mix is great, there hasn’t been a truly standout moment from any of the main cast. Something needs to happen with them quickly.

 

Why the Ades Federation is hellbent on destroying other kingdoms now makes more sense. And the fact EXILE’s purpose is FINALLY made clear is also welcome. Lilliana’s role as the catalyst for EXILE as Alvis was in the original series poses some questions – why does she have the power to do this and what does Luscinia have planned for her? Will the Kartoffel Kingdom (that name is hilarious!) provide the help Fam, Giselle and Millia need to strike back at Luscinia? Will Dio re-enter the fray immediately and what role will he play when the presence of other Guild members aiding Luscinia has been revealed?

 

All in all, Last Exile: Fam The Silver Wing has really picked up in a week most series took a breather. I feel compelled to see this through and I hope the promise of a more concise story will be delivered this time.

October 2011 Anime Season – Fate/Zero Episode 4

Saber and Lancer rant. Saber and Lancer fight. Kotohime and Tohsaka observe. Irisviel gasps. Rider intervenes. End episode.

That really is what Episode 4 is in a nutshell. Of course, there’s a lot more detail. Saber and Lancer talk a lot. Lancer’s master is around but elusive. Kotohime seems to have feigned bowing out of the game to allow himself to be a more effective observer and that Assassin being ‘taken out’ by Archer was a staged event by himself and Tohsaka. Irisviel seems rather smitten with Saber while Saber is the dashing, honourable woman we know her to be. Lancer acts incredibly FAB-ulous and even cockier. You could virtually feel the pheromones flooding from him like ravenous vultures. Rider has a much more knightly, honourable approach to the battles and decides to break up the fight between Saber and Lancer – as only Rider can! RIDING LIKE A BOSS! 😄

But in all honesty, if it wasn’t for Rider’s hilarious antics in the closing minutes of that episode, I think I would have been underwhelmed by this episode. Don’t get me wrong – the battle was intriguing and better than ones in Fate/Stay Night in terms of action and bloodshed. But there’s one thing that prevents it from being exhilirating – the dialogue. There’s SO MUCH of it…Look, I like the dialogue overall. When Rider rants, he’s damn entertaining! When Saber does, she’s charming yet sharp. When Lancer does, he makes every sports player on the planet look pretty not fabulous in comparison. The problem is the amount being fired out! There’s parts where there’s half-a-minute to a minute of blazing action, then they go into rant mode once more. Maybe it’s just me, but every time someone rants I always get the ‘Can’t I have slashed you up eights ways from Sunday by the time you finished saying that?!’ urges when they flap their tongues for so long. I guess since several of the Servants are Knights, they are somewhat honourable and love to rant. But sometimes it’s overbearing…it breaks up the flow and moments that should have felt epic feel a bit sedate in comparison. Then again, what can I expect when Nasu Kinoko was one of the major writers for the Fate/Zero novels? I generally like Nasu’s ranting, but he has a tendency to not know when to quit. And it just kills some of the atmosphere/thrills to be had within this episode.

That said, good episode. Not great. I appreciate how honest and dedicated to the source material it is and that Type-Moon fans are rapt. But for the not-so-hardcore fans, they’re going to be tested at times by the sheer volume of dialogue. Fate/Zero is still at the top end of this season, either way. I just hope future battles are more gripping.

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