AICO – 04 – An Artificial-Bodied MacGuffin

I’ll give AICO this: it knows how to move things along. The Diver team run into far nastier resistance than they thought so early in the mission. It’s great to watch people on the job whom we’ve already met off duty. It not only affords us a look at their procedures and teamwork, and ability to keep up with their constantly evolving foe.

As for that foe, we get a decent helping of its various forms and behaviors. As a rule, any non-sentient “force of nature” villain has to evoke a certain degree of primal fear (in lieu of a personality), and I think that’s achieved here. There was a lot of jargon/technobabble being thrown around, but the brisk pace kept me from getting bogged down.

I also enjoyed the juxtaposition of the foreboding alien landscape that is the MatterZone with the so-far-untouched parts of Japan the other characters enjoy.

Sure, in each case they’re basically scenes of more exposition—establishing that Nanbara, Isazu, and Kurose were all college buds, and that Nanbara and now Isazu aren’t in a hurry to destroy a valuable resource.

But it’s just neat to cut from scenes where characters are fighting for survival while pushing through a hostile environment, to ones where they can hold a meeting, enjoy a tasty desert, or dote upon their comatose daughter without having to worry about being, er, mattered.

The show doesn’t forget that the individual sub-teams within the Diver team are competing for an achievement bonus. Kaede is probably guilty of the most unnecessary chatter of the whole crew, but probably gets away with it due to the fact she’s still quite young and also extremely talented.

Yet no matter how highly talented, trained, experienced, and armed the Divers are, it never feels like they can truly relax there in The Shit, and constantly have to have each other’s backs lest some tentacle of Matter end them in an eye-blink.

The first leg of their journey is marked by one of the giant dams, which also happens to serve as a massive three-bladed, electrical-shocking guillotine, which is one of the more original ideas AICO has served up. If this setup is an exact copy of something from a far better anime I haven’t seen before, well…ignorance is bliss, because giant dam guillotines are cool.

They’re also damned effective, if only temporarily so, as after the “slice” is made everything downriver dies, while everything in the immediate vicinity is paralyzed. But between the living Matter looking like miscellaneous viscera and the fact it’s apparently “learning” how to take a crude human form, there’s clearly no permanent fix for this scourge as yet.

Of course, ending all this is, supposedly, Aiko’s role…or it will be, much further up the river. If there’s one blemish on this episode, it’s that the protagonist is utterly sidelined this week; even more so than previous episodes. She mostly just reacts, once to the point of passing out. Simply being in such an inhospitable place clearly has a deleterious effect on her cyborg physiology.

Part of that is inevitable: she’s certainly not trained to fight the Matter, and I daresay I’d probably be much more freaked out in her situation. But let’s call an artificial-bodied MacGuffin a MacGuffin. The show could have avoided this by giving Aiko some training (and development) prior to the mission, but that would have killed the narrative momentum. For now, like Aiko, we’re along for the ride, so I suppose I’ll just enjoy it…and watch my six.

P.S. I’ve intended to skip the ED the last three episodes…yet I always end up watching it to the end. The end theme is very pretty, as are the sights the top half of Aiko walks through.

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Overlord II – 11

(Rubs hands together vigorously) Oh man, do I love a good Overlord battle extravaganza. In order to answer the slight against Nazarick, Demiurge arrives with Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Zeta, along with Mare and Shalltear (though Shally sits out the battle, lest she do much damage) to supplement Sebas and Epsilon.

Nazarick’s…let’s call it a punitive assault, happens to coincide with the Renner Raid, and Climb, Brain, and one of the Orichalcum-ranked warriors provided by the Marquis end up at the same place as Sebas: the Eight Fingers hideout where not only Tuare is being held, but where four of the Six Arms are ready to fight.

Sebas tells them they’ll last up to ten seconds if they all attack him at once, but when he hears one of them dares call himself the “Undead King”, he pops, he gets mad and does it in about eight. No wasted movements, just pop-pop-pop-pop, off come the elite warriors’ heads.

Climb & Co manage to find Tuare’s cell…or do they? The camera cuts away before we see the woman’s whole face (or it’s just assumed to be Tuare and I’m just overthinking things).

Meanwhile, at another Eight Fingers base, Mare figuratively disarms the mistress of the house before literally de-legging her and dragging her away, leaving Zeta to take care of things from there.

The Amazonian Gagaran arrives just around this time, and assumes Zeta works for Eight Fingers, and judges her a foe she can take based on her slight size and cutesy voice, and picks a fight.

Wellsir, Gagaran judged very, very wrong…but she’s not alone, so the fight is extended when Tia arrives and manages to hold out against Zeta’s very novel high-level entomancy, which includes bugs that block blows as well as Cap’s shield, bug bullets that take down adamantium barriers, and bugs that have sword-sized mandibles.

Eventually the gap in level is too much for Gagaran and Tia, but their ally Evileye arrives in the nick of time. Unlike them, when she says she’s stronger than Zeta…I kinda believed her. She certainly demonstrates the validity of such a claim by putting Zeta on her ass (well, abdomen; she’s an insect) with an equally novel homebrew insecticide spell.

With four other sites and four other maids, I expected the episode to jump around more, but I appreciate Overlord’s patience in sticking with one battle once it gets into rhythm, as this one does.

This battle escalates so many times with the introduction of new parties, I wasn’t missing the other raids anyway. When Zeta is just about out for the count, who should arrive but Demiurge, wearing a sinister mask (perhaps to hide his nerdy glasses from mere mortals?).

Demiurge takes out Gagaran and Tia with a ranged fire spell, but went with too high a setting because he assumed they were as strong as Evileye. And even when she throws everything she’s got at Demi, it’s all for naught; his defense is just too strong.

Demi looks ready to stop playing around and finish things when there’s yet another arrival—frikkin’ Momonga himself—wondering out loud which of the two combatants will be his foe. I’m intrigued by the possibilities this presents.

Sora yori mo Tooi Basho – 12

Shirase vividly remembers the day she was suddenly pulled out of class and informed of her mother’s death. How can she not? We all carry days like that in our memories. For her, it was the end of life feeling as it had before, and the beginning of a dream; an awful dream from which she hoped every day to wake up from.

She’s worked so hard, endured mockery, made and fought with friends, and arrived at the place where she lost her mother. Yet she still doesn’t feel like the dream is over. Now Gin has invited her and the other girls to join the team that will press inland, to the observatory site from which Takako never returned.

Shirase tells her friends it’s not so much that she’s depressed to stressed out about her mother. Rather, she’s weary that if and when she gets to the end of the road, there will be nowhere left to go. If nothing changes, the way it hasn’t thus far, what if she keeps feeling the way she does the rest of her life? What if she can’t wake up?

The girls decide to give Shirase space, proof, according to an adult colleague, that they’re truly good friends. Shirase sits with Gin, who tells her that neither of them know what Takako felt, or whether she wanted them to return to Antarctica, where she’d be waiting in some form.

All Gin can say for certain is that she came because she wanted to come: “At the end of the day, those ideas we latch on to aren’t enough to motivate us. But when we run around on the injustices of reality, they’re the only things that can break through, make the impossible possible, and allow us to proceed on.”

After laying out all of her cash and listing all the ways she made it, Shirase regains the idea that brought her to Antarcica, and joins Gin and the other girls on the inland trip…because her mother is waiting there.

Along the slow, cold slog of a trip, Shirase and he girls experience the harshest conditions so far, but still have to work in them, because there’s no other choice. They also experience some of the most otherworldly sights, like a sun pillar.

When Shirase asks Gin if her mother saw the same thing, Gin answers in the affirmative. Later, Gin has Shirase check in with Syowa Station. From then on, as Shirase realizes she’s following in her mother’s last footsteps, the journey adopts an increasingly melancholy mood.

When a punishing blizzard arrives identical to the one that suddenly claimed Takako, Gin remembers Takako’s last call on the radio, saying “it’s beautiful” but not telling Gin where she was, because if Gin went out to attempt rescue, nature would likely have claimed her as well.

The girls are snug in their sleeping bags as the winds lash against the snowcat, and Shirase sees a vision of her mother sitting nearby, working on her laptop. Mari wakes up to thank Shirase for taking her for allowing her to get the most out of her youth.

It doesn’t matter to her whether they went to Antartica or the Arctic or anywhere else; what made the trip special was that they took it together, as friends. Shirase then tells her mother that she, who thought she’d be fine alone forever, now has friends: slightly weird, frustrating, and broken friends, but friends who were willing to come this far with her.

Now, there’s only a little further to go, and once the snowcats arrive at the observatory site, those same friends rush into the underground complex to try to find something, anything that serves as proof Shirase’s mother was there. And boy do they ever find it: Takako’s laptop, with a photo of Takako and Shirase taped to the back.

Again Shirase’s friends recede to the hallway as Shirase fires up the laptop. She gets the password right on the second try, and when Takako’s inbox opens, it immediately starts updating, with a dozen, then a hundred, then a thousand emails gradually pouring in…and Shirase loses it. Her friends hear her anguish and then they start crying.

In a show that’s had no shortage of episode climaxes that tug at the heartstrings, no scene to date has tugged quite this far (I pretty much lost it too!). It truly feels like Shirase has finally awakened from her hazy three-year-long dream, having experienced a profound measure of closure from this. In any case, her fear of not feeling anything once she came to the end of her journey didn’t come to pass. She didn’t just feel something; she felt everything.