Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 04

aaa41

There were times during last week’s ep when I was a bit lost, dazed and confused, but now I take solace in the fact that Kusanagi was too! I love an episode of anime that tosses all the pieces on the table and makes you simmer with the chaos and the depth of the mystery to solve before solving it this week. It did so bit by bit, both with some of the Spring’s best snippets of noirish dialogue and some of the best combat.

aaa42

After Batou attacks her, suspecting her of dirty deeds, and Aramaki’s men dig up the same dirt, it becomes clear to Kusanagi that like us, she doesn’t have the whole picture. Much of the truth of her mentor’s murder is hidden behind blocked pathways in both her memory and sensory perception.

The fact that we don’t see the real body or hear the real voice of her heroine, only those filtered through prosthetic body and cyberbrain, is one of Ghost’s best conceptual assets. The Kusanagi we follow is only a projection, layered within another projection: the anime in which she dwells. But she still knows herself, and knows when something is amiss, as it is here.

aaa43

When the official report is that Mamuro’s grave was never disturbed, she decides to test that report. Turns out the perpetators literally buried the truth below a lie, as the mobile mine trap was buried above the LTC’s real remains, including his cyberbrain.

Once she connects to it, Kusanagi learns a lot more, and is able to remember a plot she had probably already uncovered before her cyber-virus tore up her memory. Mamuro had uncovered a plot by a military and a civilian official to cover up an arms smuggling racket, and those parties then moved to eliminate and then discredit Mamuro.

aaa44

After some slick modifications of a mobile mine to get the confirmation from the vice-minister (before not-killing him with a point-blank flash-bang), Batou covers her as she heads to a seedy site where enemy spies were being lured with Mamuro’s cash by the very 501 organization he once headed.

aaa45

After a not altogether necessary but still awesome fight with Raizo, Kusanagi gets the rest of the truth from Kurtz. Had Mamuro tried to take down the minister, 501 would have been purged, so she prevented that by letting Mamuro die. Neither she nor the enemy included Kusanagi in their equations, picking up the football dropped by her mentor’s death.

But because she linked with him in the alley where she found him, she was infected with same memory virus he had – the same “fire-starter” virus that played big in the first two eps. Kurtz knew about the virus, and used Kusanagi as bait.

aaa46

Considering all that, it’s not surprising Kusanagi wouldn’t want anything else to do with Kurtz or the 501. And with Mamuro exonerated, his recommendation for her goes through. She’s promoted to major and provided an inheritance, part of which was earmarked for her prosthetic body, which is no longer government property.

She may have had to run away from spider girls, dodge blows and bullets from past and future friends, and get her arm torn off, but she’s now freer now than she’s ever been.

aaa47

Kusanagi then wipes the rest of the slate clean by undergoing an eradication of all the false memories, planted by the virus, of a mother-like figure who cared for her in her youth. But…were they really false memories? Did Kusanagi really get down to the bottom of things, or simply down to a place she can be satisfied with?

aaa48

In the final scene, after a montage of all the future members of Section 9 going about their pre-section 9 lives, Aramaki meets with Kusanagi on the street to report his results: the Captain was replaced and the minister will be quietly tried, and one day Mamuro’s findings will be made public.

In the meantime, he invites the new major to form a team with the independence she always yearned for and her new circumstances allow – a team that won’t simply defend against its enemies, but attack them head-on. With all the pieces thus locked into place, we can gaze on the final product: a pretty sweet re-imagined origin story..

9_brav2

Gunslinger Stratos – 04

gs41

I’ll admit, I was going to drop this last week, but for the fact it ended with the unexpected death of a character who’d had a non-trivial amount of screen time up to that point. Yes, much of that screen time was spent setting up death flags for her, but it was still a shock to see Sidune get taken out so quickly and gorily. Everyone reacts how I’d expected, which is both good (no one acting out of character) and bad (such reactions are predictable).

gs42

While the first half of the episode was about mourning the dead and dealing with the fact it wasn’t any one person’s fault, the second half was all about moving forward, and on to the next battle the Timekeepers set up. Life goes on, except for the people turning into dust. Tooru and Kyoka also had a nice little moment of shared grief, but their would-be kiss is unfortunately interrupted by an alarm.

gs43

From there, it’s back to 2015 Tokyo, and more battling with their alternate doubles. Both the other Sidune and Olga get badly injured, and the two Toorus race each other to the goal gate atop Tokyo Sky Tree, in a sequence that really did the massive structure justice in terms of accentuating its sheer scale (only Burj Khalifa is currently taller).

Still, my drop reprieve was only for one additional episode, so this will be all from me, reviews-wise. I imagine if I was a big fan of the game I’d be a little more passionate about it.

7_brav2droppedblank

Denpa Kyoushi – 04

dk41

Kagami-sensei’s latest lecture kills two birds with one stone: teaching Irregular Twintails (Makina) the true dignity of maids (Akiba, not regular), while encouraging Potatoes (Kiriko) to get back to doing what she loves: performing as the underground maid idol and YouTube sensation “Cutter Girl.”

dk42

Makina puts up a fight, offering her Wikipedic knowledge of real-world maids and dismissing the Akiba kind as “fakes.” Even so, she agrees to serve as a maid at a cafe run by a friend of Kagami’s who has gotten serving down to an intricate science.

dk43

Kagami, or rather the cafe where he brought Makina, makes a decent case for the dignity of Akiba maids by showing her the amount of skill, initiative, creativity, and people skills required to make a diverse array of “masters” happy. Sometimes that means acting cute or subservient…sometimes it means being standoffish and rude.

He paints maid cafes as a microcosm for society at large, but Makina fires back that most of society doesn’t “get” or approve of maid cafes, so she can’t let Kiriko continue lest she give the school a bad image.

dk44

In the B-part (which Kagami announces by tapping on the fourth-wall), Kagami arranges a live performance in front of a growing crowd of people, with the idea being if society doesn’t approve, she’ll make them approve by delivering a dazzling performance.

Potatoes, suddenly full of confidence, calls Makina’s bid, stating she’d be able to weather explusion better than not being able to do what she loves. She then takes the stage and becomes an instant hit online and off, with Kagami pulling the logistical strings. Now, it would hurt the school’s image if they did expel Potatoes.

dk45

While I’m glad the show seems to be back on track with regard to Kagami tackling the problems of a student or two per week, this will be my final review of Denpa Kyoushi. It’s far from terrible, and often downright charming. In a lighter season, or with higher quality visuals, I’d keep it. But the fact of the matter is I’m reviewing more shows than I want to this season, and Denpa’s iffy production values made it vulnerable for culling.

Class dismissed!

7_sesdroppedblank

Yamada-kun to 7-nin no Majo – 03

y731

In addition to its ability to smartly construct episodes that go off in interesting and unexpected directions, 7-nin also does quite a good job balancing comedy and poignancy without coming off as sappy. It reminds me a lot of Majimoji Rurumo, only with far more refined character design.

y732

It’s also clever in the way it brings up situations in which one’s gender makes a difference, such as dealing with the President, Yamazaki Haruma, who doesn’t give men the time of day, which turns out to be a red herring. The Prez can tell from their smell that he’s talking to Yamada and Miyamura, not Urara and Itou. But that’s fine, because he has a job for Yamada: convince Urara to apply to college. Then he’ll get his club budget.

y733

Yamada, Miyamura, and Itou are then confronted in an outdoor corridor by Vice Prez Odagiri Nene (Kitamura Eri) and Igarashi Ushio, the latter of whom seems to have some kind of undisclosed history with Yamada. Ushio mocks Yamada for being Miyamura’s “dog” now, while Nene warns Miyamura that she, not he, will be the next President.

Turns out Miyamura has more banking on their deal with Yamazaki than Yamada and Itou realized. But Miyamura assures them it’s not just about him anymore; he honestly wants to see the club succeed. He also warns Yamada that if they fail, Yamazaki might shut down the club altogether.

y734

The interesting mechanics of the body-swapping play a crucial role in Yamada’s ultimate success, though it doesn’t seem like that at first, what with Urara suddenly swapping bodies with Yamada, who not only gets Urara’s body, but her nasty cold as well. Assuming she tricked him so she could study at school, she goes home…to Urara’s house, with Miyamura and Itou tagging along.

y735

What I love about where this mission takes the three is, despite his delinquent rep, Yamada’s the most not-okay with snooping around Urara’s place, even if it could reveal clues about why she doesn’t want to apply to college. But Yamada finds something else out about the home and Urara’s life; something not immediately apparent to the others: the home may appear “normal”, but it’s also an oppressively lonely place. Even her photo albums are full of forced smiles.

y736

Not coincidentally, when Urara comes home in Yamada’s body, angry as hell he ditched her (even though Yamada was sure the opposite was the case), we see that what truly hurt her was opening the clubroom to find no one there. When she remarks how it’s lonely whether she’s at school or at home and tells him to go home, Yamada gets the picture and decides he’s not going anywhere.

Even though her face is turned, her memory of the empty clubroom made it clear she wished Yamada had disobeyed her, so she’s elated when he comes back with a damp washcloth. Then he proceeds to shock her and me by making a deal with her: he’ll make a serious run at getting into college, if she comes with him.

With the prospect of college no longer just another setting in which to be alone, she accepts, just as the sun comes out. It may seem fast, but let’s not forget these two have shared bodies, kissed several times, and come to learn a lot about one another, including sides of them no one else knows about.

y737

That would have made a fine ending, but 7-nin wasn’t quite done. Why close on a poignant moment when you can close with the realization of Yamada’s precious dream of having a microwave in the clubroom, which was his initial motivation, after all.

Only it doesn’t turn out quite as wonderfully as he’d dreamt: not only does Itou microwave his prized yakisoba bread too long while still its plastic wrapping, Yamada’s own body has caught Urara’s cold, which makes sense, as he kissed her twice. You know you’ve got your Couple Card when you’re making each other sick!

8_mag

Sidonia no Kishi 2 – 03

sid231

Kobayashi’s coup went off without a hitch, and she immediately changes Sidonia’s course, both literally and figuratively, in a chilling scene that makes it obvious there was no love lost between her and the not-so-Immortals. And yet this doesn’t mark any kind of sea change in the day-to-day operations of the ship, nor do higher-ranking officers like Yutaha have any problem with the new change of leadership. After all, Kobayashi’s bosses never were in the spotlight; it’s hard to mourn their loss. Or maybe Yutaha is simply being pragmatic.

sid232

Either way, big changes in how Sidonia wages war are being implemented, from upgrading the armor of the Type-18 frames, to impregnating Placental Hoshijiro with a human seed, making her Tsugumi’s mommy. I really like the creep-factor this kind of sci-fi body mod/body horror stuff lends to Sidonia’s “world,” one already full of oddities.

sid233

At the same time, this episode doesn’t forget about the sheer majesty of simply floating outside Sidonia. The careful camera placement and motion really sell the idea of how vast space is, and how the terror of that vastness can cause people like Kobayashi to take extreme steps to preserve their tiny civilization.  

sid234

Where Sidonia continues to flail and fail is at comedy, particularly anything involving Nagate seeing naked ladies. All of the careful physics go out the window as they resort to cartoon violence, smashing a heavy metal door into Nagate, who hits the wall hard, and then has the door smash down on him, a sequence that would surely have put him in the hospital.

Like a previous instance in the first season where his face swelled up after getting beaten for a similar transgression, seeing his CG face get bent up here breaks the uncanny valley in a bad way. But most of all, this attempt at lightweight comedy comes off as ham-fisted and obvious, nothing like the expert precision of other areas of the show.

sid236

This is more like it: giving us a glimpse into Yutaha’s spartan quarters gives us a glimpse into her character off-bridge: she dresses down, builds scale models, and tries to keep up with the news. Sure, emergency maneuvers would send most of the contents of her room flying along with her, but those are rare enough.

sid237

While checking the logs of who’s gone to see Tsumugi, Yuhata discovers Nagate and Izana have been occasional visitors. I was expecting some kind of confrontation, but instead Yuhata is merely curious, and the others even invite her to lock hands with them, as they had come to do with Tsugumi (or rather Tsugumi’s balloon “sock puppet” avatar). Tsugumi continues to nicely toe the line between cute and creepy.

sid238

When her sharp eyes spot a 500-core Gauna force heading their way, Kunato requests to intercept it with Tsugumi. Yuhata wants to see how she works in a formation, and so denies the request, but she’s overruled by Kobayashi, who is eager to see the full extent of the chimera’s powers. Perhaps because Kunato wasn’t among those who locked hands (a pilot superstition I’d expect him to shun), things go very wrong when he flies Tsugumi into a Gauna placenta trap. This, after Kunato guaranteed defeating the force would be a cakewalk.

sid239

Two more of Sidonia’s strengths are its thrilling launch sequences and visceral pilot POV shots, both of which contribute to an adrenaline-laced sci-fi spectacle to end the ep. With Tsugumi neutralized, it’s up to the conventional Guardes to avert disaster on the very first leg of Kobayashi’s very possibly ill-conceived new course.

sid2310

To that end, all the Guardians that launch—96 in all—lock hands into a ring formation and blast away with authority, which is another Sidonia strength: immensely enticing cliffhangers. The strengths definitely outweighed the weaknesses this week, as they usually do with Sidonia, while building great anticipation for next week’s big battle.

9_brav2

Kekkai Sensen – 04

ks41

A third of the way into Spring ’15, Blood Blockade Battlefront is my number one. Nothing can match its scale and complexity, and creativity of its world(s), the swiftness and confidence of its storytelling, or its rapidly expanding yet increasingly diverse and charming cast, anchored by perhaps the weakest among them, possessing the strongest of weapons in their battle for balance.

ks42

Elaborate action and effective comedy go hand in hand with Kekkai, as demonstrated when a big Libra party to let their hair down comes to screetching halt when Leo finally decides to say something, which happens to be his description of something he saw in the subway that matches the description of the greatest potential threat to humanity: blood breeds, AKA vampires.

ks43

Just like that the stakes are raised significantly. We only got the smallest glimpse of what Angel Scale could do to the balance, but this feels like a much more existential threat. Vampires are taken seriously here; something I’m thankful for after seven seasons of True Blood, in which they did everything from play Wii Golf in their living rooms to have sex with their head turned around backwards. But they were never very frightening, nor are the ones in Owari no Seraph. The Blood Breeds of Kekkai are, because they’re strange and unknown and…er…variably corporeal.

That doesn’t mean the leading expert on them can be the hilariously lucky Blitz T. Abrams, who possesses a curse that only affects people (and vehicles) around him, meaning he’s never that fun to be around if you don’t like physical pain, even if it’s not his fault. It doesn’t bother Klaus, who sees Abrams as a mentor of sorts.

ks44

With Leo’s eyes, Abrams is confident they can really get the lay of the vampire land (normally people aren’t able to see vamps unless they want to be seen.) So they plunge into the depths of Hell—on public transportation!—so Leo can take a good look at the “Edge of Nothingness” so Libra can get a better idea of what they’re up against.

ks45

Like previous journeys to the Alterworld, this was another lush symphony of bizarre dreamscapes—I really dug the Final Fantasy vibe of the train station carved into a tree, below which is their ultimate destination. Along with all its narrative and character pros, this eye candy, and the eclectic soundtrack, are what pull Kekkai ahead of the rest.

ks46

While there are a lot of bright sparks affecting his vision, Leo is still able to discern the blood breeds within the nothingness, and it’s not good: more than the 13 believed to exist, there are hundreds of them lurking down there, and if any one of them wanted to take human form and wreak havoc in Hellsalem’s Lot, they’d do plenty of damage indeed. And As the members of Libra back in Hellsalem report, that’s exactly what’s happening.

ks47

When the traditional authorities prove not to be up to the challenge against elite vampires, “specialists” Steven and KK take over, and at least for a time, hold their own with their special abilities, before the female vampire brings the hammer down on them. Klaus, who is watching a live video stream courtesy of Chain (use of modern mobile tech is another neat aspect of Kekkai’s world-building), hops back on the train with Abrams and Zapp, and implores Leo to find those vamps’ weaknesses, because only he has the eyes to see them.

ks48

Steve and KK weren’t sure if they’d survive the fight they were getting into. All they knew was that they had to buy as much time for Klaus and Leo as they could before being neutralized, trusting they’d come through. They do: Klaus makes almost as awesome an entrance as Abrams, and armed with the Vampire’s true name, seals her into a cyberpunk cross.

ks49

Leo is amazed they made it, and weary that it took so much exertion to take out one elite blood breed when there are perhaps a thousand lurking in hell. But the lesson that sets him a little more at ease is as simple as the world he lives in is complicated: no one knows what’s coming tomorrow. Plenty of pain and suffering may be in store. But defeat is assured if one gives up.

9_mag