Wednesday, 14 February 2018

The Halfway House - Winter 2018 Edition

I hate to alarm you folks, but we're already half-way through the first anime season of 2018. Yes, it's mid-February already, and yet it seems like only yesterday that I was writing about my hottest shows of 2017.

Still, in keeping with that whole "writing about things" state of mind, this seems like a perfect time for me to dig out some of my highlights from the currently airing state of shows, to celebrate what's worth watching (and catching up on if you're not already watching) from the winter line-up.

A Place Further Than the Universe

We've all had those discussions with people who shrug off vast swathes of anime as "cute girls doing cute things", and to some extent you can see the core of the point being made in a lot of those cases - as much as I love, say, Hidamari Sketch, for all of its unceasing talk of friendship it only occasionally hits upon the true nature of spending time with the people you would call friends.

By contrast, A Place Further Than the Universe nails how friendships work utterly. Its tale of a disparate group of girls who invest themselves in what initially seems like an impossible prospect of journeying to the Antarctic is perhaps one of the most realistic depictions of friendship I've seen from this kind of anime - at times, these girls can barely stand one another, stomping all over one another's feelings due to their own foibles, deliberately pressing one another's buttons or (in one of its most powerful episodes) trying to sabotage a long-standing friend's plans through sheer jealousy. Yet, every relationship on show here remains intact, because all of this is part of the unspoken "contract" of friendship - you deal with the irritating habits and peccadillo of your buddies and forgive them their indiscretions, because you know that they'll do the same for you and none of these problems ever truly overshadows the shared goals or interests that brought you together in the first place.

In a weird kind of way it's actually quite inspirational to watch, and director Atsuko Ishizuka (No Game No Life and HaNaYaMaTa) is perfectly placed to not just bring about this story with style, panache and colour, but also with an emotional core that captures everything from humour to heartbreak with an easy hand that is hugely entertaining. Coupled with a unique hook which itself is being played out far from idealistically - this is no dream trip to the south pole, but a research venture being carried out with too few people and too little money -my only concern now is that the show won't have time to wrap things up in a satisfying fashion given that seven episodes in we're literally only just setting sail.

Mitsuboshi Colors

The biggest problem with Mitsuboshi Colors is that every description I want to write for it invokes Yotsuba, and as soon as you compare anything to Yotsuba it instantly loses because... well, what's going to beat Yotsuba?

Anyhow, this manga adaptation takes in a trio of young kids - girls, of course - who have set up an "organisation" to protect their home town... which, of course, is simply an excuse for them to have a secret base, make up adventures to go on and generally goof around.

The surprise here is just how funny every episode of the series has been thus far - I didn't expect to be laughing at poop jokes in 2018, yet the childish innocence of our trio and the willingness of the townsfolk to play along with their flights of fancy is charming and lets the humour flow. It doesn't always knock it out of the park, for sure, but there's a decent enough ratio of good gags and moments to make every episode feel worthwhile. Besides, where else this season are you going to see what Ghost in the Shell's Batou decided to do with his life after leaving Section 9?


In terms of my surprise of the season, this is top of the list - a show I started watching in the expectation of hating it and dropping it in short order, only to find it currently sitting at or close to the top of my favourite shows for the winter.

At its core, the show's conceit is pretty simple - when two members of a dysfunctional family are kidnapped in broad daylight, panic gives way to the grandfather of said family cooling mentioning that he has the ability to stop time for everyone except them. However, what should make the rescue of protagonist Juri's brother and nephew instead leads them into a terrifying dilemma and seemingly insurmountable danger.

While its "time freezing" idea is a simple but joyful one in itself that is wonderfully depicted within the series, where Kokkoku excels is in how it uses this premise. When you take away police and passers-by, turning them into virtual mannequins, and then pit our plucky family up against a gang of criminals, what should be a warm, welcoming town instead becomes the home of a claustrophobic pressure cook housing a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. It's an over-used phrase to suggest that anything "has you on the edge of your seat", but that's truly the case here - every scene is filled with tension and the sense that the cast are walking a tightrope of life or death, and the presentation of the series as a whole does a lot to accentuate that.

Yes, Kokkoku has its lazy moments - on several occasions it shoots for the bottom of the barrel when it needs to find a credible threat to Juri - but thankfully these missteps are offset against a show that is a show packed with drama and horror that it leverages to reach the pinnacle of dramatic tension every single week.

After the Rain

I don't know anyone who wasn't a little worried by the premise of this "teenage girl falls in love with middle-aged man" series - yet somehow, here we are almost halfway into the show, and a lot of expectations have been subverted by this charming little show.

Admittedly, After the Rain still has a lot of work to do to sell me on the romance at its core - a teenage girl falling for a kind man who helps her out when she hits a low point is utterly believable, but there's still not a whole lot for me to hang my hat on as to why the idea is even humoured by the other party in said relationship.

For now though, it's just about doing enough for that core relationship to function, and the rest of the series is sumptuous enough to do the rest of the heavy lifting. For starters, the show is beautiful to look at - not just colourful and eye-catching in its world and designs, but also sporting a splendid attention to detail around its characters, particularly our young protagonist Akira Tachibana, who makes up for her curt speech by speaking volumes in her movements and body language. The show also has a strong grasp of comedy alongside an innate understanding of Akira's troubles and desires, and the two become closely intertwined elements that power the series through as an enjoyable experiences that never gets too bogged down in its minutiae.

Violet Evergarden

(Full disclosure: The UK home video rights for this series have been acquired by my employer, Anime Limited)

Who knew that a Kyoto Animation series would look this gorgeous? Oh, right, everyone did, my bad.

Thankfully there's more to Violet Evergarden than just jaw-droppingly gorgeous character designs, animation and backgrounds - the show has a lot of heart too. In a sense, it's an unusual series - not particularly interested in the trappings of war, but far more interested in looking at the aftermath of a major conflict after weapons have been lowered and what effect that's had on the people captured within the story's focus.

At the centre of this, of course, is Violet - a girl brought up knowing nothing but war, and now having to come to terms with peacetime as someone who has thus far lived her life as an emotionless killing machine. Her blunt take on the people she meets and their situations has worked well thus far in putting over some interesting stories, and at the time of writing it seems that we're going to reach deeper into the psyche of Violet herself as she has to face up to her past more fully. I'm looking forward to seeing where that goes, and if it can blend that with the other elements that has made Violet Evergarden work well thus far then we could be set for a memorable series.

March Comes in Like a Lion - Season 2

(Full disclosure: The UK home video rights for this series have been acquired by my employer, Anime Limited)

Of the shows continuing from the autumn 2017 season, March Comes in Like a Lion is one that I took some time to get around to for no particular reason, but boy am I glad I did.

Anyone who has seen the first series of this show will know that it's a visual tour de force that does an incredibly good job of handling difficult subject matter, no least protagonist Rei's efforts living with depression, but incredibly this season season manages to top all of that substantially.

This is thanks to a long-running story beat surrounding Hina, who finds herself the subject of bullying at school. Now we all know how bulying narratives normally work in anime - character gets bullied, struggles, then somehow finds a way to turn the tables and get one over on the bullies, and they all live happily ever after.

Not here however. Hina ignores the bullies. They bully her more. She goes to a teach. They tell her not to cause a fuss. She goes to her sister. Her sister is powerless. And so the cycle goes on. It's stark, bleak and highly emotive, but it also perfectly captures the horrific nature of persistent bullying, where there are no simple answers and the structures that are supposed to be in place to prevent and/or correct bullying are wholly inadequate or ill-equipped to deal with the problem. What really makes this story work is that it doesn't simply chronicle this from afar - instead you see it up close and personal from the point of view of every character involved, whether it's Hina's brave attempts to struggle through in the knowledge that she's done nothing wrong through to her sister's increasingly desperate demeanor and her teacher's difficulty in coping with the burden placed upon her.

Honestly, in isolation its a story that should win awards and plaudits wherever it goes, and even more incredible is that it's woven into a story that takes in so much of the human condition, from physical and mental illness through to the simple joys and pleasures of life. While you need to watch the first season of March Comes in Like a Lion to enjoy this one, that's no excuse not to check it out - it's a must-watch show, pure and simple.

The Ancient Magus' Bride

I've left this continuing show from the autumn until last simply because I'm still not too sure what to say about it without my thoughts turning into a word salad - in short, I like it, but for reasons even I can't quite discern.

Above all else I suspect my enjoyment of the series comes less from its characters - although they're growing on me constantly - and more from the show's world. There's something delightful about the way its depicted - a world of magic and the supernatural where there's menace around every corner, but not in the sense of "bad guys" that want to ruin everything but rather natural dangers or those who are simply operating to different means and ends than you or I.

As mentioned though, I am warming to Chise and the rest of the cast - the series is slowly but surely laying out the personalities, flaws and troubles of the main players and then providing opportunities to understand, learn and grow as people that is proving most satisfying. However, it's the living breathing world of The Ancient Magus' Bride, warts and all, that keeps me coming back every week.

So, there you have it, my breakdown of "things that are good to watch and that" this winter. What are you folk currently watching and enjoying? I'm always all ears for more recommendations.

Monday, 1 January 2018

My Anime Top Ten - 2017

I'm back, baby! Okay, I'm not really back, but now I no longer have an official "home" for my musings this is the time of year when my fingers get decidedly itchy. The people must know what anime I enjoyed in 2017, and they must know immediately.

So, after a three-year hiatus, it's time to perform a little necromancy on this blog to share my top ten anime of 2017. You know you want to hear alllll about them, don't you?

10. Recovery of an MMO Junkie
EDIT (02/02/2018): In the month or so after writing this post, it's become clear that the director of Recovery of an MMO Junkie, Kazuyoshi Yaginuma, has consistently expressed opinions that are virulently anti-Semitic and pro-fascist (read more here). In light of these revelations, I can no longer express any kind of support for this particular anime series, so while everyone is entitled to their own thoughts on how a creator's opinions should be tied to their work (and I am leaving my initial thoughts untouched in light of that), I am personally expunging this series from my top ten list.
I wasn't originally planning to watch this series and certainly didn't expect much of it, but having been coaxed into checking it out I could see why.

Recovery of an MMO Junkie takes so many of the things that have been done before in other anime but absolutely nails their execution and presentation. Primarily, this series takes its premise of relationships within an MMORPG and plays with them in a very believable - and perhaps most importantly - a very modern way. While the characters themselves fret about the disparity between their online and real-life personas - be that on the basis of character or gender - actually it doesn't matter, as the shared passions of these people eases the transitions between online and offline.

There's no big drama to come from the revelation that a man plays a female character online or vice versa - it's perfectly normal to those steeped in these online worlds - and while this shouldn't be such a refreshing revelation from an anime series it somehow still is. This serves as a solid basis for an adorable cast of characters having a fun time which is suitably infectious for the viewer and makes for one of the the autumn 2017 season's stronger shows.

9. Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid
Oh joy, another monster girl anime - we all know how I loooove those. If it wasn't for the promise of KyoAni's visual goodness (and the fun Interviews with Monster Girls coming along to soften my stance on said monster girls), I may not have even watched this show. Thankfully I did, and few series gave me more joy in 2017. Every week I couldn't tear myself away from the opening credits, I adored most of the cast, its best-placed and timed gags made me laugh uproariously, and every so often an episode would pull the emotional rug out from under your feet to remind you how attached you'd gotten to the cast. I don't have anything profound to say about this show - it was simply a rip-roaringly good time.

8. Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond
I loved the first season of Blood Blockade Battlefront, even if those hugely delayed final episodes killed its momentum ultimately. Given its change of director, I wasn't expecting too much of the second season, but I'm very happy that it proved me wrong.

In essence, Blood Blockade Battlefront & Beyond gave me exactly what I wanted out of a return to Hellsalem's Lot - never mind any "big picture" machinations, just give me the main cast dealing with whatever insane problems comes their way. The result is pure entertainment each and every week - characters who were neglected somewhat in season one got their time to shine, the main cast got to do their bit but were giving enough breathing room so as not to become tiresome or repetitive, and the show's soundtrack accentuated each and every journey into the maelstrom in a way which somehow managed to one-up the first season.

7. Princess Principal
Whenever I want to tell people how good this show is, they ask me "What's it about?" Then I start with the words "Well, it's set in steampunk London..." and they recoil visibly and try to exit the room/Skype call/aircraft etc.

Yes, Princess Principal is set in Steampunk London (steampunk post-Brexit London one could argue, where London has walled itself off from a United Kingdom run by self-serving bonkers politicians), but that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that every episode is an enjoyable - and often self-contained - spy thriller. The series actually manages to be pretty varied narratively as it builds up its cast and finds various missions to deploy them into, while still having some delicious twists to its tale just as things might otherwise become stale.

So, rather than talk about "steampunk London" now, I'm just going to show people the opening credits to this show - if that sells you on Princess Principal with its eye-catching visuals and James Bond-esque opening theme, you should certainly watch the rest of it.

6. In This Corner of the World
My first thoughts when I left the cinema after watching In This Corner of the World were filled with picking over the movie's problems - and by problems, I mostly mean "ways in which it was different from the source material".

I still stand by some of my complaints as to how this film shifts the way the story ends in particular, replacing the dread of simply knowing what happens to the people of Hiroshima next as their tale ends to graphically depicting it and continuing through. However, none of that should take away from an incredible film that neatly sidesteps the Grave of the Fireflies comparisons by offering a very different depiction of World War II Japan. The way the film depicts the mundane against a backdrop that is anything but is played out expertly and in a way that still has plenty of visual beauty about it, and it's a film that I'll be watching again without a doubt as soon as I get around to it in 2018.

We live in a time where any discussions of war, and World War II in particular, seem more rich with meaning than ever, and while In This Corner of the World has little to say about the politics of the time, in a sense that makes it even more powerful and important as a reminder of what the grand gestures of political leaders can do to the normal people beneath them.

5. Scum's Wish
I've often complained about romantic anime's unrealistic take on relationships, where characters take 50-odd episodes just to hold hands. Well, Scum's Wish is the antithesis of that, with its cast of horny teenagers who just want to fuck.

Thankfully, it isn't quite that simple - the cast of this show are horny teenagers (or, as we call them, teenagers), but rather than just turning that premise into soft porn we're given a far more complex state of affairs as the basis for all of its drama and machinations. Rather than just wanting sex, it's more that these characters assume that sex is the answer to every interpersonal question in a way that is uncomfortably redolent of teenage thinking, and watching characters pursue deeply flawed relationships while missing the point of the relationships they already have is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of the experiences of puberty.

Scum's Wish manages to be sexy and uncomfortable in exactly the right doses, making it a stand-out of the year - not to mention the sheer audacity of the show to have a character wearing a hat with the show's own logo branding on it. We have truly reached the end times of anime marketing.

4. Land of the Lustrous
This autumn season show was initially on my "I'll get around it it eventually" viewing list, before everyone I know and respect started yelling at me repeatedly for not watching it. So I did, and they were right.

Within minutes of the first episode starting I was sold on Phos as a protagonist, and watching her screw up but carry on regardless in the face of the criticism of her peers was hugely enjoyable. Little did I expect the levels of character growth and progression she would demonstrate - no, be forced  to demonstrate - across the course of the show.

Watching Phos grow and change is a wonderful experience - sometimes joyous, sometimes sad, sometimes something far more intangible than such binary emotions. Her journey is offset brilliantly by the warm visual comedy and snappy dialogue, to create an engaging an easy to watch series that still has plenty of depth to it. Phos' story is clearly nowhere near over, so I really hope we get to see more of it.

3. Made in Abyss
I had a couple of people warn me off Made in Abyss before is started airing, but because I'm a rebel I ignored them. Boy was I glad I did.

For starters, Made in Abyss is perhaps my favourite series of 2017 visually - its treatment manages to meld beautiful vistas and the horror often contained just beneath the surface beautifully. For the first few episodes that was my major drive to keep watching the show, but as it descended into its titular abyss so it grabbed me more and more.

Above all else, the show uses that titular device is such a compelling way - on a surface level the depths of the abyss simply destroys humanity body and soul, but this is really just a great excuse to study the characters who have (or are currently) delving into those depths and what the experience has done to them. Rather than simply offer a parade of messed-up characters, there's a real nuance to Made in Abyss' major players - Ouzen is the obvious poster girl for this, but even Riko and Regu are clearly being changed by their experiences in the depths, and that's before we get to Nanachi and Mitty. Oh, poor, adorable, horrific, lovable, disgusting, cute, nightmarish Mitty.

Then, of course, there's episode ten - perhaps the most uncomfortable thing I've ever had to bear witness to in anime. I'm one of those people who has over-used the word "visceral" to the point where it loses its meaning, but Made in Abyss probably deserves the tag in this episode. Yet, its horrific content is all justified and powerful in its execution (take note Inuyashiki), and as much as I gritted my teeth and wanted to make it stop, I didn't stop watching, and the experience enriched both the show and my own comprehension of it. If I were talking "episode of the year" here, this would probably be it, but make no mistake - the rest of the series has a lot to offer too, and I can't wait to drop back into the abyss for its second season.

2. Re:Creators
An anime about anime characters coming to life in real-world Tokyo - seems like a ludicrously simple premise, doesn't it? In truth, it is, but much of the beauty of Re:Creators comes around the fringes of its narrative about two factions of anime characters battling to determine the future (or lack thereof) of the planet.

While I came to Re:Creators for a hugely enjoyable cast of characters, fantastic action scenes and a Sawano Hiroyuki soundtrack that reminds you what the man can do at his best, I stayed for the show's constant discourse on the nature of creativity which plays brilliantly alongside the escalating conflict at the core of the show. In turns funny (including the greatest recap episode you will find in anime) and heartfelt, this is definitely a show I'll want to watch again to luxuriate in and savour.

1. Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju
I wasn't the only one worried at the end of the first season of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju - having laid out its tragic, compelling and fascinating back story, it felt like there was little more for the series to say.

Boy was I wrong. Yes, it makes some missteps along the way and not every element of the story jumps out at you, but Yakumo's struggle - with old age, with self-loathing and with his own past - is an incredible dramatic arc who's power I really can't express in words. Artfully, carefully presented, this is not the kind of story you expect to see in anime, but even beyond the value of its unique nature it's a human story that impacted me massively. No other show this year has seen me finish an episode, then go for a long walk just to think.

So, there you have it, and I think it says a lot about how strong 2017 was for anime that there are still plenty of honourable mentions that I left out. Of course, Yuri on Ice doesn't strictly qualify here as a 2016 show but is always worth mentioning (although to be honest it's more deserving of a "best of all-time" discussion rather than "best of the year" to my mind).

In terms of actual 2017 shows, KONOSUBA produced one of the sequels of the year - slicker, snappier and funnier than its already entertaining first season; Owarimonogatari had a worthwhile twist in its tale to bring Ougi's story to a climax of sorts; Tsukigakirei was the cutest tale of young love you'll ever find while Tsurezure Children offered a smorgasbord of the funniest tales of romance. Humour of a different kind - with plenty more besides - came from Saga of Tanya the Evil, a show I expected to hate but fell utterly in love with.

Rage of Bahamut: Virgin Soul would have made my top ten easily if it didn't flub its ending so disappointingly, while it was more of a wrench for me to leave out season two of My Hero Academia as it did so much right and so little wrong. New Game was also a close contender with its sequel in a similar (if slightly less impressive) vein.

In film, the BLAME movie made me want to read the manga and thus accomplished its mission (well, kind of - I've not actually started reading it yet), while Napping Princess made me realise that I will love pretty much anything Kenji Kamiyama does as long as we pretend Cyborg 009: Call of Justice doesn't exist.

If 2018 can give me even half of the great viewing experiences I had in 2017, I'll be more than happy.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2014 - Barakamon

Following on from my viewing of Log Horizon, this year's Secret Santa pickings have turned out to be a great opportunity to watch recent shows that I'd hoped to catch but never got around to, and thus my second selection for 2014 was Barakamon.

Out of nowhere, this seemed to be a series which built an impressive amount of hype from those watching it as it aired, although in this case the hype may have done it a disservice by frequently involving the phrase "it's like Yotsuba&!"  Allow me to begin by saying that Barakamon cannot hope to occupy the same planet as Yotsuba, let alone the same strata of entertainment.

The series tells the story of a young, ambitious calligrapher named Seishuu Handa, who finds himself disgraced on account of punching an old man with a stick who also happens to be a big name in the calligraphy world himself - an attack predicated upon said old man suggesting that his work might be lacking in any real sense of self (a common theme that runs through anime as commentary on Japanese society, no doubt - see this series and the currently airing Your Lie in April).

In the wake of this attack, Handa finds himself shipped off to a remote island in the hope calming him down, offering him a period of self-reflection and, perhaps, an opportunity to discover a previously hidden side to his artistry. For Handa's part, he doesn't mind his exile so much, as surely it'll give him the peace and quiet he needs to work doggedly on his calligraphy.

Of course, this proves to be anything but the case, as Handa instead finds himself constantly bothered by overly helpful neighbours and, more frequently, a group of kids led by the loud and excitable young girl Naru. This offers countless distractions and irritations that Handa could really do without, but perhaps these distractions and his being forced into the bosom of this village's society is exactly what he needs to truly find himself.

If all of that sounds rather predictable, then... well, it is. Thankfully, Barakamon is a series more interested in the journey rather than its character development, and so any kind of narrative arc to the series can take a back seat for the kind of comedy manga adaptation fare you might expect. As these kinds of series go, Barakamon is largely pretty mediocre - it has its funny moments but they're relatively few and far between, particularly in the early running of the series which feels like it's trying way too hard to force the issue in terms of both characterisation and making its gags hit.

Thankfully the series does at least calm down, find its footing and ultimately get into the groove of what it attempts to offer, and with that new-found confidence comes more good jokes and one-liners, more enjoyable character interactions and some saccharine yet sweet moments that provide an enjoyable pay-off (even if one or two missteps arguably hijack what should have been some of the better scenes). It still isn't hilarious, nor does it have anything approaching the charm of Yotsuba (while we're making such comparisons), but it's broadly fun and feels better paced, and with some solid animation to keep it trucking the overall experience is a decent one.

Ultimately, my opinions of Barakamon could be seen as a case of "damning with faint praise" - I simply can't get excited about the series, nor can I reel off hysterical moments, because it never moved me to any great degree beyond the occasional laugh or smile. Its relatively unique setting and premise allows it to stand out from the ever-crowded pack of anime comedy, and it's certainly competent at what it does, but I suspect if you removed the "calligrapher on a remote island" angle this show would have been forgotten about no sooner had it begun.

On another day this may have been one of the better comedies on the block, but in a year which brought us Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun and Sabagebu, as well as less overt comedies like Shirobako, it's hard to give it a look-in when it comes to 2014's final reckoning.

Reverse Thieves Secret Santa 2014 - Log Horizon

This 'blog may be defunct but its writer most certainly isn't, and who would turn down the opportunity to spend their December being forced at gunpoint (okay, I may be exaggerating here) to watch anime that some random stranger thinks you might like. Probably. Maybe. Possibly. If you're really lucky. Yes, that's right, I threw my hat into the ring for the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa jamboree again this year, and this marks a brief return to the site after a six month hiatus. Heck, it is Christmas after all...

While it seems like almost everybody I know spends every single episode of Sword Art Online poised to tear it apart at the slightest misdemeanour (as well as a fair few major ones, admittedly), I've broadly found myself enjoying that series' sense of place and world-building, and of course its whole "living, breathing people trapped in a video game" scenario is clearly what led my Secret Santa to one of their selections for my perusal this year - Satelight's adaptation of light novel series Log Horizon. Given that its been recommended to me many a time before, I of course jumped at the chance to finally sit down and watch it in its entirety.

For all of my excitement, I have to confess that my first impressions of Log Horizon were... less than glowing. Visually, the series has a decently broad aesthetic and imagines its world - where 30,000 MMORPG players suddenly find themselves trapped in a very real version of Elder Tale, the game they've been engrossed in thanks to the release of a new expansion pack - rather nicely. However, the animation quality itself leaves a lot to be desired and certainly feels cheap, especially compared to the obvious budget afforded Sword Art Online. More egregious for me in its early running is that Log Horizon simply doesn't care about the origins of its premise, spending no time at all thinking up a plausible reason why people would suddenly be transported and trapped in a video game world and waving away any questions about that fact as far as it possibly can. Yes, people are upset at this jarring change in their circumstances, but that lasts for all of five minutes before everyone simply gets on with their new lives as if it was nothing unusual at all.

Thankfully, as the series progresses it becomes clear that there is method to this madness - yes, Log Horizon doesn't give a monkeys about why humans have been dropped into a video game world, but what it does care about is what happens when this occurs. In fact, it cares a great deal about this, and the show's greatest joy is watching its cast, led by the tactical genius Shiroe, come to understand the socio-economic and political impact of the descent of 30,000 new (and not to mention immortal) full-time residents of Elder Tale upon its world. At this point, the series morphs into how you'd imagine things turning out if Spice and Wolf author Isuna Hasekura wrote Sword Art Online, as the show explores the newcomers relation to the world's now-sentient NPCs known as the People of the Land, examines the impact of realising that there are opportunities beyond the mechanics everyone is used to from their time in Elder Tale as a mere game, and plenty more besides. This is blended with just enough action and set pieces along those lines to keep people on that side of the fence happy, without ever losing what is certainly a fascinating and thoughtful treatment of its subject matter.

This is all helped along greatly by the show's main cast, a growing motley crew of individuals who all bring something unique to the table yet interact in a believable way. Admittedly not all of the cast get the character development they deserve (Akatsuki, I'm looking at you), but with so much else on its plate its actually impressive how much Log Horizon manages to cram in on this level alongside its broader strokes that effect the whole world.

After that auspicious start and a fair number of episodes of doggedly trying to convince me of its cause, Log Horizon finally succeeded in winning me over to its cause. How much so, you ask? So much so that I've now caught up with and am watching its currently airing second season each week, that's how much. It might not manage to avoid all of the typical light novel tropes - Shiroe can be a self-insert character with the best of them at times, complete with a small but passionate harem that grows around him - but it still offers up perhaps the most unique take on the otherwise tired "trapped in a video game world" story I've seen, even offering a twist on the question of what happens when players die in that world. Its insistence upon viewing its concept in decidedly original ways is ultimately its biggest draw, and the fact that it manages to do so intelligently yet charmingly is why Log Horizon turned out to be very much my cup of tea... and there's nothing better than a nice cup of tea on a cold Christmas Eve, right?

Monday, 30 June 2014

The end of an era...

When I fired up this 'blog on a whim at the start of 2008, the world was a very different place - Crunchyroll and legal streaming were still largely irrelevant (particularly to someone based in the UK such as myself), fansubs still ruled the roost, and Twitter barely existed in anything like the hugely popular form that it does today.

It was that environment that led to the creation of this imaginatively titled affair - put simply, I had nowhere else to talk about the latest anime, or to store my thoughts in a manner that I could easily refer back to for my writing work elsewhere when circumstances demanded me to recall some forgettable series that somebody had unfathomably licensed for home video release. Although this was a place for public consumption and discussion, my aims were always personal; I just needed a repository for my stream of consciousness, so that I could easily grab an image for a series or remember that episode x of series y was a particularly good one.

Although having this information to-hand is still undeniably useful to me, times and circumstances have changed. The UK now gets to enjoy the vast majority of content legally streaming online, and material that doesn't stream to the west at all is becoming rarer and rarer - this in turn gives me an outlet to write about the latest anime both in my capacity for the UK Anime Network, and also now in a regular monthly streaming anime column in MyM Magazine (which you can buy and read on iOS devices too, don't you know).

These opportunities have also brought me to a realisation - that to properly facilitate my work for those publications I need to work smarter, which ostensibly means watching more, writing less and making what I do write cover the latest anime in a broader sense. In other words, episodic blogging simply doesn't make sense to me any more, nor is it a good use of my time when I can throw some images and comments into storage elsewhere ("the cloud" is a dumb buzzword but cloud storage is a beautiful thing), offer up some immediate thoughts via Twitter and then save my full musings for writing about batches of episodes or series as a whole elsewhere. Worse still, at times over the past year in particular I've found myself not watching particular shows simply because I don't think they'll be interesting to write about episodically - a corruption of my enthusiasm which I'm sure you'll agree is fucking insane.

It's a harsh reality that I've been pondering for a couple of months, but now seems like the time to stop prevaricating, make my decision and retire Hanners' Anime 'Blog with immediate effect at the end of the spring season, having completed writing about every spring show (apart from M3, but fuck that series).

The site will stick around forever, of course (by which I mean until Google go bankrupt in some kind of fireball of a technology bubble bursting or something), and it might even spring back into occasional life if something which doesn't legally reach the UK absolutely demands that I write about it, but to all intents and purposes this is the end of a journey that began over six years and 3,800 posts ago. For those of you who followed my musings, be it casually or regularly, thank you all for reading - if you feel even the slightest inkling that you might miss all of this nonsense as much as I'll probably miss vomiting it into a WYSIWYG interface, then you should probably follow me on Twitter or keep up with my long-form writing at those links further up the page.

Love Live! School Idol Project Season 2 - Episode 13 (Completed)

The Love Live is over (and there are no prizes for guessing who won), which leaves just the small matter of graduation to be tackled by both third years and the student council alike.

As you might imagine, Honoka's attempts to write a graduation speech to deliver as student council president proved rather torturous and led to some last-minute panic, but otherwise everything is in-hand and organised, leaving Honoka free to offer some comforting words to Eli before delivering that graduation speech, which of course actually turns out to be a graduation song instead.

With all of that done and dusted, there are still some final things to tidy up - literally in Nico's case as she packs up her club room paraphernalia, but also figuratively as the Idol Study Club now needs a new leader... a role to which Hanayo seems perfectly suited despite her protestations.  A final tour of the school for the graduating girls takes in all of their familiar haunts - the stage, the alpacas (who have a surprise of their own, it seems), and of course the rooftop that turned from makeshift practice arena to the group's home from home.  Saying goodbye to all of this is a sad moment, but Honoka eventually realises that, just as she promised at the start, she and her friends followed through on their dream to the very end.  But is this end though? Not when there's a bucketload of cash to be made from a Love Live movie it isn't... place your bets on what that will involve, but my money is on an international Love Live tournament.

So ends (for now, anyway) Love Live - I know I've compared it to K-ON a number of times over this second season, but it certainly sits in a similar position for me as a light and fluffy story with a decent dose of comedy that can nonetheless tug mercilessly at the heartstrings when it really wants to. The proof of quality for a show of this ilk is in its emotional payload, and although it never quite reaches K-ON's level is certainly delivers surprisingly well in that regard in its later episodes including this finale, while still piling up the colourful fun and frolics leading up to those moments, even as someone who doesn't care all that much for the show's music. In other words, even putting aside the obsessive aspects of its fan base, it isn't too hard to see why Love Live has been a major success even in an ever-more crowded market of idol-based anime.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Mekakucity Actors - Episode 12 (Completed)

Now that Momo and company have been rescued, it's time for the gang to make good their escape and take on the "final boss" in this finale of Mekakucity Actors.

With the entire cast assembled, the group has no shortage of special powers to use to get to where they want to go, whether it's Takane's hacking ability (and not an iconic cap in sight) or... well... Takane's abilities with a gun in her hand. Eventually, and again thanks to a spot of special power utilisation - this time from Hibiya - the group finally find what they're looking for in the form of Mr. Tateyama's lair.

Although Tateyama - or at least the entity controlling him - wasn't expecting visitors so soon, he was expecting them regardless, and it seems that he has a few tricks up his sleeve to boot. For starters, he's quick to indulge in spilling the beans about Marry's true nature, suggesting that she's trapped within a cycle of despair that is triggering this entire series of events because of her desperation not to lose her friends. What's more, Tateyama also spies an opportunity to take on the body of the indestructible Haruka to further his plans yet more - however, it seems that he's reckoned without the power of Marry and her friends to remain steadfast in ensuring that his plot can't possibly succeed.

Truly in keeping with the rest of this series, nothing made much sense in this final episode of Mekakucity Actors - it felt like key plot points were missing entirely, with a series that has been dragging its feet for much of its running time suddenly having to race through things at a deeply unsatisfying pace to the point where even its (lazy) resolution felt like an afterthought.  The real shame is that there were brief flashes of what this series might have been on show in this finale - when the Mekakushi-dan are working together as a team it's actually pretty entertaining to watch, and that it's taken twelve episodes to reach that point is just one damning aspect of a show that has made a complete shambles of telling anything approaching a coherent story.  Is Mekakucity Actors the biggest disappointment of the spring?  You know, it almost certainly is.