Ushio to Tora – 15

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This week’s UtT starts out in deliciously absurd fashion as Ushio is once again a passenger on a runaway vehicle—this time a bus being controlled by Hakumen’s lesser youkai minions, the hiyou. One or two of them are no problem, but as this arc has proven, get enough of them together and they’re a menace.

When they learn of Ushio’s latest dilemma, Nagare and Tora both race to the speeding bus, and the three then use a neat bit of teamwork to rescue the 40+ passengers. It involves Nagare slicing off the ends of the bus, Tora blowing out the people, and Nagare catching them with a magic barrier. Then Ushio stops the bus by stabbing the Hiyou with the spear.

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The passengers are safe, with no serious injuries, but Ushio is racked by guilt over what happened to them and how much worse things could have potentially gotten. But it’s a burden the wielder of the beast spear must bear, and Nagare doesn’t want to see his pathetic face, so he  starts asking him about the girls in his life, and Ushio’s scowl turns into a blush.

Nagare, Ushio, and Tora then encounter what looks like a group of Stigs, but are actually former potential spear wielders who didn’t make the cut. They include the long golden-haired biker girl Moritsuna Jun, whose big brother Satoru is an onmyou master and one of the four chosen along with Nagare and Hinowa.

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Jun can’t find Satoru, but then he turns up with a fearsome shikigami called a hiruko, targeting Ushio. Nagare and Jun can’t do anything against it, but Tora tears through it, and the deranged Satoru has to retreat for the time being. Tora opines that Satoru’s body has been taken over by the Hiyou, like the bus, and has become their latest instrument for disposing of Ushio.

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Unsure of how to proceed, Ushio remembers he can contact the Elder of Ungaikyou through any mirror, even a rest stops! The elder puts him in touch with the tengu Osa, who informs Ushio that the only way to remove the Hiyou from Satoru’s brain is to become an apparition or monster, which Ushio does whenever he wields the spear, enter Satoru’s body, and destroy the infestation. But it’s a risky proposition: the spear could very well consume Ushio’s entire soul in the process. So Ushio is faced with a choice: risk his own humanity to save another, or put him out of his misery.

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Of course, Ushio doesn’t really see that it’s much of a choice, especially when he sees how distraught Jun is and why: her brother once had trouble controlling his spiritual powers, and when he saved her from a low-level youkai, he ended up scaring her.  Ever since, she’s wanted to properly thank him.

To see Ushio’s reaction to her story, you just know he’ll put even excising the regrets of others before his own life; to do so would only add to his guilt and make it even harder to live with himself. At the same time, he has responsibilities as the true chosen wielder of the spear. At some point he must put his selflessness and emotions aside and think about the bigger picture.

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Satoru returns as promised, he has a few tricks out of the gate, and combined with Ushio’s uncertainty about how to handle this situation, the good guys are quickly on their heels. But it’s Jun who grabs hold of her brother and won’t let go that eventually draw the real Satoru out and make him come to his senses.

But once he does, and realizes what he’s done, he too is overcome by guilt and regret, harking back to how his sister recoiled when he last lost it. He’s so overcome, in fact, that he doesn’t believe he should live anymore, and leaps backwards off a cliff, giving us…a cliffhanger. Of course, considering Tora—who can fly—is around, and Satoru features prominently in the OP and ED, I’m not willing to write Jun’s bro off just yet. Catch’im, Tora!

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Heavy Object – 02

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This is my courtesy second viewing of Heavy Object, and I can predictably report no significant improvement. It didn’t help matters that this episode spends its first four minutes re-staging last week’s cliffhanger, as if it needed padding. While there was more action and drama in this second outing, none of it came close to meet my quality standards, to say nothing of impressing me with anything novel.

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When the Princess’ Object gets its ass-kicked, she ejects and sends out an SOS to lure the enemy Object, which ignores the white flag and continues attacking the Alaskan installation. Dozens if not hundreds are killed gruesomely, but there’s almost no weight to any of it, because Qwenthur and Havia don’t seem to be in any danger at all out in the open, for some reason. There’s a particularly bad sense of where they are in relation to everything else on the battlefield, and how exactly they manage to stay alive while ducking the Object’s massive, deadly weapons.

Even worse is the pacing and timing of the battle. Q even points out how freakishly fast for their size Objects can move, and yet Q and Havia have enough time to bicker for an extended period with their commander Frolaytia, scamper around, and cover an undisclosed distance on foot out in the open while. Whenever it’s off-camera, the Object ceases to exist as a threat, and when it’s on-camera, Q and Havia survive its attacks and only faceless extras die. It’s a mess.

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I’m not opposed to any and all black-and-white, good-vs.-evil conflicts, but I think I can do better than Heavy Object in that regard, as demonstrated when the enemy troops locate the Milinda and immediately start talking about tying her to the Object and seeing how long it takes for her suit to tear off, then implying she’s in for a night of torture and gang-rape whether she survives the dragging or not. Gee, ya think we should root against these guys?

When Q kills the SOBs and rescues the Princess (while Havia saves him from an RPG), Q goes unconscious, and is presumably watched by the other two, while all the while that gigantic enemy Object just…twiddles its thumbs behind some mountain, I guess.

When Q wakes up, Milinda falls over herself wondering why anyone would bother saving her, and then the three decide to try to find a weakness in the Object, as if getting anywhere close to it wouldn’t mean their instant deaths. Q also manages to land on Milina and asses her boobs in his thoughts again, which…yeah.

One would think that the Objects in this world have been effective precisely because they can’t be brought down by a trio of enterprising kids. Then again, the Object was so shy towards them this week, perhaps it’s keeping its distance because it’s pilot is scared of that very possibility, which begs the question: Why exactly are wars fought this way again?

Never mind, I don’t want to know.

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Noragami Aragoto – 02

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That shaman-looking regalia did the “Evil Smirk at the End of the Episode”, so there was a good bet he’d turn out to be a less than swell guy, and this episode confirms that with all the subtlety of a Hiyori Iki Suplex.

Yukine comes clean about having made a friend outside the Circle of Trust, but everyone’s happy about it, and Yato, while a little weary that Suzuha is a Bishamon regalia, merely urges caution going forward.

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Suzuha already has Yukine in his thrall with his friendly demeanor and approachability, but seals the deal by telling a very sad tale about a girl who used to notice his flowers every Summer, but could never remember him, and forgot about him altogether thirty years ago, when they promised to meet at an old cherry tree he’s now desperately trying to rehabilitate.

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Suzuha’s longing turns to obsession and despair one night, after the shaman-looking guy (named Kugaha) seems to twist the knife, telling him even his master has forgotten him and that he has nothing. A pack of phantom wolves then kill Suzuha right there, and Bishamon, who may well have forgotten Suzuha what with the legions of other regalia she has to keep track of, only wakes up when she feels the loss.

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Unaware that Suzuha is gone, Yukine arrives at the time they agreed on for a picnic, along with his friend Hiyori. Yuki makes no bones about his concern about Hiyori forgetting about him when she grows older and moves on with her life, both to Yato and to Hiyori herself, but she tells him not to worry: she’s not going anywhere. At least, not until she’s satisfied Yuki has gotten a good academic education. When/if Yato fixes her tail problem, even she can’t say what will happen, but she doesn’t want Yukine to worry.

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The pain from Yukine’s worrying, after all, is also felt by his master Yato. So it really puts into perspective how much pain Bishamon endures every day from the collective pain of her myriad regalia. And she only knows it’s Suzuha who is gone when she spots a dead plant in the hall; all the low-level regalia put on happy faces so as not to add to her suffering, a geture that’s both helpful and unhelpful.

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Even though her exemplar Kazuma watches her like a hawk, he’s still caught off-guard when blight suddenly appears on Bishamon’s neck. He acts quickly and decisively, gathering all regalia for a full-body inspection to ascertain who gave Bishamon the blight. When Dr. Kugaha performs the examinations and finds no blight, and Bishamon shows up with no blight on her neck, Kazuma is confused and his confidence shaken.

And that’s probably also Kugaha’s doing: the guy’s a doctor; maybe he faked the blight to stir Kazuma up? It would seem he’s poking and prodding at the weak spots of his fellow regalia. Suzuha was only the first. As he remarks to Nora (who the bad guys always seem to consort with on this show), Kugaha doesn’t consider Bishamon worthy of being the War God, is acting to topple her, and seems bent on using Yato to facilitate that outcome.

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Weekly ED – Taimadou Gakuen 35 Shiken Shoutai

Happy Friday. Now GET UP AND DANCE TO SOME ANTIMAGIC BEATS!

I love how this theme not only drops funky piano chords, but is also sung by Itou Kanako. She has a very distinctive, familiar voice, and when I looked her up I found out why: she sang the excellent opening theme to Steins;Gate. Her’s is a light, somewhat nasally voice that’s powerful and articulate without ever sounding strained.

The panning shots of the main six characters (only four of which we were formally introduced to in the first episode) are fine, but honestly this ED is all about the music; a sound that takes me back to fighting the LeBlanc Syndicate in FFX-2 (and yes, that’s a good thing).

Rakuen Tsuihou: Expelled from Paradise

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Hannah Brave (Braverade): It’s been a while since we last got together and watched a movie as a trio, so when I came upon a solid-looking film written by Urobuchi Gen (Aldnoah.Zero, Fate/Zero, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Psycho-Pass, Gargantia) and directed by Mizushima Seiji (Fullmetal Alchemist, Gundam 00, Natsuiro Kiseki, UN-GO), I thought I’d corral the staff (everyone but the busy Oigakkosan) and kick back for some shared big-budget sci-fi entertainment. Here’s Zane to start us off.

Zane Kalish (sesameacrylic): Let’s see…BOOBS! Agh, let me start over. 98% of humanity has left earth (or, to my mind, expelled themselves) and abandoned their physical bodies to live in the Utopian cyber-society called DEVA.

Our heroine, Angela Balzac (not un-ironically named for the author of The Human Comedy, and voiced by the awesome Kugimiya Rie), comes from that all-digital world, and as an officer in System Security, is responsible for preserving the status quo.

That means going where she’s sent. So when an Earth-based hacker named “Frontier Setter” offers the citizens of DEVA the chance to travel the stars aboard the Genesis Ark, Angela transfers her consciousness into a artificially-created body and travels to Earth to deal with the threat.

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Preston Yamazuka (MagicalChurlSukui): Once there, she meets her guide Dingo, a charming, Han Solo-esque rogue. Following close behind him is a huge swarm of giant sandworms, and he has her help slaughter them so he can sell the meat to locals. Then Dingo deactivates the network link on her mecha, rendering it a useless hulk that he sells for scrap.

At this point you may be saying “Wow, this guy’s a dick!”, but taking Angela off the network was actually a good idea considering she’s after a master hacker. And Angela gives as good as she gets, dick-wise

Hannah: Indeed. The opening act is all about the clash of cultures between Angela’s clean, gleaming, sterile Utopian DEVA and Dingo’s dusty, dirty, slimy, crude world. The Angela of this early part of the film is insuffrably arrogant and condescending, which makes sense considering where she’s from. She also refuses any kind of help or offers of food and rest, stating that time is of the essence and she wants to complete the mission by herself.

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Zane: Those refusals, borne out of her independent spirit and her pride (she’s not going to rely on some primitive earth ape!) come back to bite Angela pretty hard, as she learns that living on earth, in a body, isn’t so easy. When she gets cornered by some unsavory sorts in a town alley, she can only fight them so long (and a kick-ass fight it is) before she runs out of gas.

Either due to a lack of food and rest or some kind of bug, Angela takes ill, and Dingo must nurse her back to health. This is the first time her armor starts to crack and I feel sympathy for her, but it won’t be the last. But it wasn’t just arrogance that led to her illness; it was ignorance, having never been in a physical body, she had no baseline for what was supposed to feel normal or abnormal.

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Preston: Once Angela’s better, she and Dingo track down a supplier of a substance that can be used for rocket fuel, who lets them monitor a buy. Curiously, Frontier Setter sends only remote-controlled vintage robots, many of them custom-designed, on the deal.

Then the couple finds a lone robot that seems like more of a welcoming party than a sentry, and they learn the truth: “Frontier Setter” isn’t a human being, it’s the AI for the Genesis Ark project, which has been left on for more than a century, and is not only carrying out its original directive (remotely building the Ark up in orbit), but has gained sentience. Enter WALL-E comparisons (especially since DEVA is a lot like that film’s Axiom)!

Hannah: This encounter and revelation is the point at which the film becomes more than a sci-fi unlikely buddy flick and enters more philosophical ground, the likes of which Asimov and Dick often tread upon. Frontier Setter is an independent sentient artificial Intelligence in a world where most of humanity has adopted virtual collective existence out in orbit.

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Zane: What’s fascinating about Setter is how Dingo has more in common with him, with regards to everything form what humanity is and should be, to rock music (Setter even writes his own based on what he’s heard), than Dingo has with Angela. Angela, and the place she’s from, is far more alien. Body of flesh, body of metal, doesn’t matter; they think the same.

Hannah: The encounter also marks the successful completion of Angela’s mission. When Setter arranges the necessary equipment to zap her back to DEVA (he lives to serve humans, after all), Angela prepares to leave, but not without offering her heartfelt thanks to Dingo for all he’s done for her.

She also offers him DEVA citizenship, and without putting on the hard sell, simply asks him why he prefers Earth. His powerful response is a veritable thesis on the human condition and questions like “Where are we going?”.

Preston: Angela considers physical bodies a kind of “flesh prison”, but Dingo thinks she’s swapped that prison for an even more insidious prison of the mind, in which society is always assessing and judging itself and doling out resources proportional to a person’s usefulness to society.

That’s ideal for Angela, but anathema for Dingo, and probably Setter to, were he to upload to DEVA. It’s a great exchange because neither party is totally wrong or right; humanity has always survived by compromising between extremes.

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Zane: Angela was clearly on Earth too long, because upon making her report to her superiors, she is surprised to learn they don’t recognize the handshake promise of a “rogue AI” that could potentially destroy DEVA (even though he’d never ever do that), and consider Angela’s return to DEVA without “completing her mission” a serious blunder on her part. Then she refuses to return to Earth to destroy Frontier Setter, and the DEVA brass imprisons her into a frightening void that eventually takes the form of an eerie forest of loneliness.

Hannah: So Angela did catch a bug down on Earth: a bug in the form of a different way of thinking from the rigid dogma of DEVA, which believes all potential threats must be eliminated without review. And in her and particularly Dingo’s interaction with Setter, she’s come to think of the AI as just as much a person as any human, digitized or no.

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Preston: That new-found respect and empathy for Setter and his desire to explore the galaxy has thoroughly transformed Angela from smug, superior, arrogant, advancement-obsessed automaton to a passionate, independent, thinking, feeling human being.

Setter proves he deserves the esteem when he comes to rescue her from her prison, resulting in an awesome journey through cyberspace that briefly transforms Setter into a pixelated hat with an “F” and Angela into a blocky SD figure.

Zane: Blocky Angela was awesome! But so is regular Angela, who once Setter takes her to the armory of a DEVA defense ship, licks her chops like a kid in a candy store and starts to devise a way to repel DEVA’s massive attack on Setter’s launch site.

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Hannah: After so much time on God’s green earth, it was good to see the film move into space for some truly beautiful kinetic space battle scenes, in which Angela’s Setter-equipped and multiple support-ship-escorted mecha is a far better flyer and shooter than the virtual humans pursuing them.

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Preston: One thing the show is definitely very light on for such an expansive setting is actual human characters with lines, so it’s startling to suddenly see other DEVA security officers screaming across the desert in their mechas, headed Setter’s way.

These girls are exactly like Angela was earlier in the film: absolutely loyal and firm in their belief what they’re doing and only what they’re doing is right and good. As in The Matrix, anyone still “plugged in” is a threat to anyone who isn’t; there’s a relentlessness to their outright refusal to negotiate or even speak to their targets before opening fire.

They still have their proverbial heads in the sand where now Angela has popped hers out and now sees with her own eyes. But it says something about these DEVA humans that it’s just as likely these girls would undergo the very same transformation as Angela if they had the same experiences she had.

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Zane: The show wisely avoids adding a romantic angle to things, with Angela and Dingo having more of a platonic friendship of mutual respect/esteem and lots of mutual life-saving. This is good for two reasons.

First, there’s already a lot of stuff going on in this film, so we didn’t really need a love story as well. Second, in an effort to get a head start on her fellow officers, Angela stopped her physical clone body’s growth prematurely, leaving her with the appearance of a 16-year-old girl.

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Hannah: When confronted with lots and lots of awesome sci-fi action, I’m usually quick to say I could watch this stuff all day, but even I got a little fatigued by the final siege, exciting and amazing a technical achievement as it is. I respected the sequence more than I loved it, simply because it contributes to the fact this film was nearly two hours long and didn’t really have to be.

Preston:  Though things like Angela’s fierce battle faces, jumping from ammo store to ammo store, and Dingo doing what he can with his dune buggy and hidden arsenals, were all very impressive and fun, I won’t deny I too felt some tighter editing was in order leading up to the big finish.

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Zane: As for that big finish, I kinda assumed Setter would find some volunteers aboard DEVA to accompany him to the final frontier. Alas, there were zero takers. Dingo can’t go, ’cause he’s scared of heights. Even Angela declines.

Even though she’s been expelled from the “paradise” of DEVA to live a dirty physical world in a meat cage that requires daily sustenance and sleep, she already has plenty left to experience and explore on earth; she’s not ready to leave it.

Hannah: Setter laments that his century-long mission has failed, but his human friends disagree: to whomever he finds out there on his interstellar travels, Dingo and Angela are confident he’ll make a very good representative of mankind; certainly better than most DEVA inhabitants, and maybe even better than the two of them. He too is a child of humanity, with mechanical feet in both Angela’s world of rules and technology and Dingo’s world of dirt and guitar riffs.

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