Tokyo Ghoul – 02

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I’m not sure if it was the less even animation, the wealth of scenes in which Ken is bawling or screaming, or that highly irritating OP song featuring a guy who fancies himself Imogen Heap; this second episode of Ghoul felt more of a chore than the first. Then again, the act of turning Ken was done; this was more about the realization of what he has become, and how ignoring his new needs will only lead to greater suffering.

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It’s a shame Ken is such an irritating little twerp most of the time, because his “flesh withdrawal”, made worse by hallucinations (or possibly something more) of Rize seductively egging him on, are effective and visceral, if a bit repetitive. But the focus of this episode is his relationship with his best/only friend and quasi-brother Hideyoshi, along with the awareness that ghouls aren’t simply showing up all over his world; they were always there and he just didn’t see them.

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Unfortunately, Hide comes off as a bit of a cypher himself: the ideal friend who is smarter than he looks (and he looks really dumb) who Ken can’t bear losing by going over to the flesh-eating side of things. But when Hide introduces Ken to Nishio, who is posing as a normal college student living a normal life, Nishio siezes the opportunity to again beat the crap out of Ken, then threaten Hide’s life, causing Ken’s (or rather Rize’s) kagune to sprout out of a desire to protect him.

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The kagunes are kind of silly looking and over-the-top; kind of the ghouls’ version of bankais. Hide’s is blue, while Ken has three or more, all red and sinister-looking. The colors of their fight scene are inverted so as not to show so much blood, which, like the heavily censored cold open, created more confusion and shrugging than actual excitement. This show is probably best watched uncensored, but I don’t have that option at present.

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In the end, Ken defeats Nishio fairly easily, but he can’t defeat his hunger. His dalliance in addressing that hunger puts him into a frenzy, and a crumpled Hide ceases being his treasured friend and just looks like irrestistable meal. Thankfully Touka appears (I assume she was following them; as Tokyo is kind of a big place), knocks him out, and she and her boss at the coffee shop (another ghoul) feed him while he’s out, ending his flesh-jonesing.

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The flashbacks that attempt to create a deep and meaningful bond between a character who has been doing little besides irritating us and his friend we’ve barely seen come off as a bit schmaltzy and generic. Where the heck is Ken’s family? Is Hide his only link to his human life? Seems that way. That makes the stakes of crossing over that much lower. You’re a ghoul now, dude…deal with it. The old cafe owner and Touka clearly have.

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Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam

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Week six of our Hot Summer Flashbacks series brings us up to Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam, a 50 episode TV series set in UC 0087 and released in 1985. I’m not going to lie: I had a hard time getting into Zeta’s 80’s sense of…style. Zeta’s also kinda terrible on every level but let’s no jump ahead of ourselves…

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In a nutshell, Zeta is the direct sequel of the original Mobile Suit Gundam and depicts the dysfunctional world that arises after Zeon falls and the Federation gains total control of Earth and the near earth colonies. It’s a grim tale and one we who grew up post 9/11 can relate to: in the name of hunting down terrorism and protecting earth, the Federation deploys the Titans, who leave ethics behind and regularly brutalizes the colonies (and federation officers) who step out of line. In this regard, Zeta is an interesting, forward looking piece of commentary.

Unfortunately, Zeta is also a fumbling mess. In addition to an all new cast of characters (see: mostly Gundam stereotypes) and the characters retroactively introduced in the OAVs I’ve reviewed in the previous weeks, Zeta gives each surviving character from the original series a cameo, if not a major place on the cast. Simply, there are too many characters to keep track of or care about. More importantly, as many of the cast are re-hashed versions of the original cast, I found it very difficult to care about any of the new characters. (let alone not hate them out right)

It’s also worth nothing that Zeta is an idiotically designed show, where characters are both over designed and their mobile suits are difficult to distinguish…

MechcomparisonLeft: Bad Guys. Right: Good Guys. Good luck keeping track of that during a battle

MSZG gets its name from Zeta Gundam, a Macross-style transformable mobile suit introduced mid-way through the series. If you want to skip Zeta, the fact that Mobile Suits can transform is the third most important concept introduced to the UC timeline… and that’s not saying much.

The second most important concept is that Minerva Zabi, the infant daughter of one of Zeon’s original brutal lords, has survived and grown up on Axis, a colony hidden in the asteroid belt. (and referenced heavily in the Stardust Memory OAVs) Essentially, this means that we’ll see at least 3 parties vying for political power from now on: Federation, Neutral, and neo-Zeon.

minervaMinerva Zabi, heiress of Zeon and Khann, one of the many not exactly villains of Zeta. It’s not explained why anyone follows a child who has no idea what is going on nor how to fight a war because… Zeta!

As we saw in Stardust Memory, this fractured political structure can be interesting. Unfortunately, Zeta presents it as a convoluted mess. There are certainly clear evil doers, but what their motives are is entirely unclear. Further, characters shift loyalty for bizarre reasons pertaining to ’80s Japanese concepts of Woman’s hearts, betrayal and other foggy things. It’s just awful and I wanted to strangle everyone on the cast, good or evil, constantly.

Worse, the actual recurring villains are so incompetent at what they are doing that it’s hard to care. What tension will rise when Jerid, the evil Titan pilot, has been shot down for the 10th time, beaten up for the 5th time, and generally done nothing more than get his allies killed and has no motivations beyond ‘shoot down the Gundam’? it’s waffle house drama. totally vapid.

cyberFour and her… Big Gundam

Beyond politics, the single most important concept added to the UC by Zeta is its expansion on New Types. Specifically, the Federation’s attempts to create artificial newtypes, aka cyber-newtypes, a group of emotionally unhinged teenagers who can pilot… bigger gundams but are totally crazy and unreliable. Cyber Newtypes are bonkers crazy, almost always attracted to Zeta’s main character in some way, and die in laughable-if-it-weren’t-tragic-ways.

In another nutshell, they are only important because they appear in future Gundam series and represent humanity’s fear of true newtypes. There’s also newtype-style magic, with characters knowing what other characters are doing, or where they are, and in the end the protagonist uses new type power to win the final boss fight but none of that is very interesting, well done, or important.

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So you noticed I have’t talked much about Zeta’s protagonist, haven’t you? Kamille Bidan, a twerpy anti-war super newtype may-as-well-be-a-clone-of-Amuro doesn’t have much going for him. He’s obnoxious, good ad everything, sexist and indecisive. Thank goodness he’s not so good as to win the final boss fight without falling into a coma because I wanted him to die from the very beginning of the show.

Also, Char is a main character. Except he wears sun glasses always and pretends to be someone else most of the time and he doesn’t really do anything. Weird right?

p5Oddly, the ‘star’ icon on the Titans’ helmets gets reused in Zeta’s sequel Double Zeta by the good guys… not sure why?

In closing, Zeta Gundam is pretty much terrible. characters pop jarringly from place to place with no transition, but regularly take two minutes to launch their mobile suits from the ship. Almost everyone dies in unsatisfying, drawn out ways and the end of the series is a total let down of magic saves the day with no explanation as to what happens after the final battle.

If you don’t care about back stories for future Gundam series, skip this one. There’s nothing worth watching here. Nothing at all.

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Zankyou no Terror – 01

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Finally we come upon the first episode of “Terror in Resonance”, by the end of which Nine and Twelve make a mini-9/11, and bring a third into their circle. To be honest, it left me a bit morally conflicted, though that’s probably the point. On the one hand, I cannot discount the show’s technical and artistic bona fides, what with Watanabe Shinichiro storyboarding and directing and Kanno Yoko handling the soundtrack. On the other, the supposed “heroes” just blew up half of the Tokyo City Hall.

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After a thrilling, imaginative (snowmobile!), literally cold open in which two masked rogues steal some nuclear fuel from a snowy facility and the most visually complex and beautiful OPs of the season, we transition to a sweltering Summer day in present-day Tokyo. We see the faces of the gents who pulled of the nuke heist: the calm, cool, analytical Kokonoe Shin, and the warm, impish Kumi Fuyuji. In private they call each other “Nine” and “Twelve” respectively, and both the OP and a dream Nine has hints that they’re escaped test subjects.

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Kokonoe and Kumi seem intent on adopting the appearance of normal lives. At their age, that means attending high school. There, they cross paths with Mishima Lisa, a plain girl who is bullied by her peers and her overbearing mother doesn’t seem to help her appetite. She’s trapped, helpless, and miserable. Both Kokonoe and Kumi see that in her, and it reminds them of the people they couldn’t save. So when she happens to be in the building they’re planning to blow up, they give her the choice: die, or join them.

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Unsurprisingly, the desire not to die outweighs whatever reservations she has about becoming the boys’ “accomplice.” She takes a literal leap of faith into Kumi’s waiting arms, and into a new life. And it’s likely City Hall is just the beginning of Kokonoe and Kumi’s plans. So here we are, watching everything go down form the perspective of the “villains,” while also getting a brief taste of the detectives who picked up their scent by chance—a YouTube video.

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This brooding, stark world was presented with nigh impeccable artistry and care; this show is right up there with Aldnoah and DMMd as the Eye Candy Kings of Summer. It also challenges us to root for terrorists while only giving us the slightest hint that they may be justified or at least understandably motivated in their illegal and ultimately murderous activities. So what drives them, why are they so good at terror stuff, what are their goals, and how does Lisa fit into the equation? Moral qualms aside, I won’t deny I’m excited to find out.

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