Star Trek: Lower Decks – 10 (S1 Fin) – Nor Yet Favor to Women of Skill…

If you watched TOS you know about Beta III and how its pre-warp civilization was ruled by computer Landru until Captain Kirk shut it down. Apparently problem solved, but flash forward to the time of Lower Decks and the people of Beta III are once again under Landru’s heel.

While distributing art supplies, Brad tells Beckett he now knows she is the captain’s daughter, and since their comms are on an open channel, it isn’t long until the whole crew finds out. Beckett must contend with an uptick in nepotistic ass-kissing by her crewmates.

Elsewhere on the Cerritos, Rutherford tests out a new personality modifier that can make him optimistic, sexy, angry, and everything in between. This is as Tendi serves as liason for a new Exocomp crew member, Ensign…Peanut Hamper. Since the little guys were deemed sentient back in TNG’s “The Quality of Life”, it was only a matter of time!

Finally, Captain Bowman and the crew of the destroyed Rubidoux are breaking in their new ship, the Solvang, when they are captured (and blown up attempting to escape) by a powerful and gigantic ship made of a motley of cannibalized ship components…but the sharper-eyed nerds notice the ship at its core: Pakleds, last featured in TNG’s “Samaritan Snare.”

Needless to say, this episode is packed with stories big and small. And since this is the season finale, there are a number of big character changes to the status quo enjoyed in the previous nine episodes that will reverberate into the already-approved second season.

First is the cementing of Beckett and Boimler’s friendship in spite of their very different personalities. As predicted, Beckett is finally rolling down her sleeves, putting her hair up, and taking being a Starfleet officer seriously. Of course, this is for a very Beckett reason: she wants to run away from the hassle of being the Captain’s kid, and for that she’ll need to get promoted and transferred.

Tendi and Peanut Hamper turn get along like two space peas in a space pod, though the latter’s lack of hands makes it hard to manipulate objects meant for humans. Still, just when Tendi is about to warn the doctor that Peanut may not have the steadiest hands, Peanut executes perfect microsutures and even develops a new skin-grafting technique. The CMO is impressed, but is Tendi jealous? Of course not! She’s proud of Peanut Hamper!

Things take a sudden turn for the action-packed when the Cerritos receives a distress signal from the Solvang. When they arrive, the Pakled ship is already scavenging parts from the wreck of the Solvang. The ship gets its hooks in the Cerritos, but Freeman wisely notes that going to warp is probably what Bowman did, which doomed her ship, so instead she cuts power.

When they get their captors on screen and learn they’re Pakleds, everyone on the crew carries the same assumptions as the crew of the Enterprise: the Pakleds are slow and dumb, not a threat! And yet, here they are, carving the Cerritos up like a space turkey.

In such a strange and hazardous situation, Freeman leans on her daughter’s unorthodox methods for arriving at a plan to defeat the enemy. Beckett notes that the Pakleds are taking their time, meaning there’s time for Rutherford to create a virus that will hack into the Pakled’s “inviting” networks (due to the need to integrate so many different kinds of tech).

Ruthy turns to Badgey for help with the virus, but has to make a Faustian bargain: Badgey won’t cough up the virus without the safeties being taken off-line. Meanwhile, Beckett opens all the compartments where she’s hidden contraband (including her bat’leth) in order to arm the crew to repel Pakled boarders.

Just when it seems Peanut Hamper is the perfect crew member to deliver the virus to the Pakled ship…she declines, and beams herself into space to escape danger. Turns out she only joined Starfleet to piss off her mom. Hey, at least she didn’t go insane and try to kill everyone with her multi-tool nose!

Rutherford, who finally restores his “normal” personality, volunteers to deliver the virus. Tendi thinks he’s stuck on “heroic” mode, but he’s just being himself. Shaxs helps get him to a shuttlecraft and flies him to the Pakled ship, ramming through its hull in a nifty bit of tactical officering.

When Badgey, who Rutherford placed in his implants for the trip, refuses to finish downloading the virus unless his “dad” is killed by the Pakled. When Shaxs takes care of all the guards, Badgey sets the self-destruct, so Shaxs rips Rutherford’s implants out, tosses him on the shuttle, and shoves it back into space, before dying heroically in the explosion.

Rutherford and Shaxs have saved the day, but then three more Pakled ships just as huge and janky as the first converge on the Cerritos. Things are dire…until yet another ship dazzles the space-stage: The USS Titan, commanded by Captain William T. Riker (with his wife Commander Troi by his side).

It’s the second time he’s showed up in the nick of time (as he will decades later in Star Trek: Picard, though I’d prefer it if Picard took place in the future of an alternate universe. Do I buy that Riker knows Beckett? Sure, why not. They’re both the gregarious sort. The Titan scares off the Pakleds with its superior firepower and maneuverability, and the crew of the Cerritos can breathe easy.

In the final act, Freeman and Beckett agree to help each other out more rather than stay unproductively at each others’ throats. Rutherford loses his long-term memories, including his friendship with Tendi! She’s committed to becoming friends with him all over again, but it’s still a major bummer…the show just pressed a reset button on his character, and he wasn’t that developed to begin with!

Finally, Beckett and Boimler come to an understanding. He’s come to think of her as a valued mentor, but she insists it doesn’t have to be that way, they can just hang out as buds like they have been. However, when Riker offers Boimler a promotion to helmsman of the Titan, he takes that pip and runs, leaving Beckett in the dust. A captain mom, an admiral dad and years of experience, and a guy still gets promoted before her. Not that she wanted to leave, mind you, but she thought Boimler was happy where he was.

Will we follow his adventures on the Titan next season, or will he screw up and end up kicked back to the Cerritos? Only time will tell! Until then, this was a surprisingly strong first season of Lower Decks. I enjoyed it on a Star Trek level, a comedy level, and even an animation level; it looked consistently awesome and the classic orchestral soundtrack really sold the grandeur of space exploration and battle.

Trek-wise, it was able to pay homage and/or satirize without ever coming across as either too sappy or too mean; a delicate, difficult balance to be sure. The tone was always just-right, and even its bombastic finale managed to find time for the slice-of-life-on-a-starship moments that really immerse you in its world. I never thought I’d say this, but the extant live-action Trek series could learn a lot from Lower Decks. They probably won’t, but that’s okay…there’s more Lower Decks to come.

Higurashi: When They Cry – 02 – Something is Rotten in Hinamizawa

From last week’s suddenly murderous Rena to Rika’s burning-red eyes, we open with Something Completely Different, with Rika waking up somewhere outside of normal time and space, welcomed by a little horned shrine maiden named Hanyuu with whom she is well-acquainted.

Rika asks if she died, but Hanyuu doesn’t have an answer. All she can say is that the “shard” on which they stand leads to July 1983, which angers Rika, who has apparently lived that month for a hundred years. With no other choice, and knowing everything there is to know about that place and time, Rika vows to “win their future” like they’ve won it before.

While offering an enticing taste of the “bigger picture”, and I now know July 1983 has happened many times before, it is only a small taste, and there’s plenty of mysteries yet to be revealed. It is only the second episode, after all! As for the cliffhanger of Rena with that scary blade, she reverts back to “kyute” Rena once Keiichi looks back at her.

Back at school it’s time for P.E., which means the girls are in super-tight bloomers for fanservice while guys get to wear shorts. Strange how such an otherwise laissez-faire school has such strictly-followed P.E. uniform guidelines! Especially when the physical activity of the day amounts to a game of “zombie tag”, with make-believe gory imagery filling in for the real stuff yet to come.

Keiichi and Rena head back to the junkyard that evening (they should really go in the morning of a weekend when there’s more light!), with Rena holding the creepy murder blade. When Keiichi offers to carry it, she shuts him up with another curt response—even though he ends up handling it anyway while freeing Kenta-kun.

As he delivers blows to the wood in the way of the statue, Keiichi suddenly gets a flash of him bashing someone to pulp with a bat—a vision of the future or merely a possible future? Considering Rika’s strange experience with Hanyuu and the shards, anything is possible. As for Rena, she keeps spacing out at times, as if revealing her true nature or an alternate personality.

Keiichi and the kids end up encountering Tomitake, who always seems to be on his way to something else. His quasi-military clothes suggest he’s up to more than harmless bird photography in the village, but Mion tells Keiichi that his true reason for being there is nothing more nefarious than looking for a single lady to date.

That night everyone attends the Watanagashi (or “cotton-drifting”) festival. The ceremonial dance is to be performed by Rika, who wears the same shrine maiden garb as Hanyuu…that can’t be a coincidence, right? In any case, she’s painfully cute, and Rena can’t resist fawning over her.

Before Rika’s dance, Keiichi, Rena, Mion, Rika and Satoko avail themselves of the many festival foods for sale, from takoyaki, snowballs, and cotton candy—particularly appropriate for a festival honoring futon cotton). Mion makes sure Keiichi gets to have a nice moment alone with Rena, though between Rena’s occasional momentary mood shifts and that whole future incident with the bat, I can’t see any romance between them lasting long!

Tomitake appears again, taking a photo of the group without permission before saying he can’t stay for Rika’s dance. Before he leaves, Rika approaches him and pats him on the head, almost as if to bless him. I guess she knows Tomitake—and everyone else in the village—a lot better than I initially thought.

Then there’s the episode’s pièce de résistance: Rika’s gorgeous, beautifully animated ceremonial dance. The convivial festival atmosphere abruptly shifts to something more sacred and profound as the crowds watch in silent awe. Then we cut to Tomitake in a field being greeted by blonde woman we’ve yet to meet.

What does it mean? is my most frequent question this week. The five friends continue to have youthful fun, but how much longer will it last? Well, the calendar indicates only a couple more days before shit hits the fan. So then the question becomes what Rika can do to stop a future where Keiichi is bludgeoning people to death—if that even is her goal—and how the adult characters fit into the equation.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Akudama Drive – 01 (First Impressions) – Too Much is Not Enough

From its opening moments when it presents a stark futuristic urban landscape a la Blade Runner 2049, then the camera dives into an impossibly lively and kinetic future cityscape, I knew we’d be in for a lush eyefeast. The gaudy visuals are always on the cusp of causing sensory overload, but the direction wisely finds “rest spots”, such as when the camera angles stay level at an alleyway takoyaki stand.

It’s there where our unnamed female protagonist is grabbing a bite to eat, and the course of her night—and the rest of her life—is suddenly changed forever, all thanks to a ¥500 piece dropped by a gray taciturn young man on a purple Akira superbike. He refuses the coin from the girl, saying “dropped change is bad luck”. After what happens to the girl, I really can’t dispute that!

We learn Mr.Poutybike is really Courier, whose bike is equipped with omni-directional mobility gear to essentially Spider-Man his way over and through Kansai’s endless labyrinth of concrete canyons. We also meet Brawler creating an impressive, ever-growing pile of busted-up police bots; Hacker, hacking into the Kansai Central Bank; and sultry sadist Doctor performing an impromptu heart bypass in public transit airship.

These four super-cool, ultra-colorful characters (none of them named; their jobs are their names) each have centuries worth of estimated sentences for their myriad crimes. After they show off their stuff, each receives a mysterious text for a new job: Whomever of them rescues the murderer Cutthroat from his public execution later that night will be rewarded a cool ¥100 million.

The four criminals, designated S-Class Akudama, converge on Kansai Police HQ…where our Ordinary Girl ended up after being arrested for not paying for her takoyaki. The fact she didn’t pay when she had the ¥500 coin suggests to a police bot that she may be a Swindler. When Brawler starts throwing bots through windows, the Girl is caught in the middle of the fray.

When she spots a black cat—the same one she saved while almost getting hit by a car earlier—she chases after it and protects it, because between those selfless acts and not feeling right spending Courier’s ¥500, Ordinary Girl is a good person—maybe the only good person in this whole insane city!

That, however, doesn’t save her from the bad luck of picking up that dropped coin, which puts her literally in the crossfire of all four Akudama, who had been busy fighting each other until she presented them with a mutual target to kill. She manages to save herself (for the moment) by lying about being an Akudama like them named Swindler, so-called because she even tricked the computer system.

Before they start pressing her for proof, a giant police robot emerges from the elevator, missiles firing. Cutthroat was only a second or two from being beheaded by guillotine when the other four Akudama, the megabot, and Ordinary Girl all spill out into the public execution arena, much to the police cheif’s chagrin. They also end up destroying part of the underground prison, freeing, among others, the D-Class Akudama Hoodlum.

Courier leads the attack on the megabot, winding his bike around the giant overhead scoreboard display, sending it plummeting on top of everyone else. At first Ordinary Girl can just watch gobsmacked as all this chaos happens around her with the cat in her arms, but when she spots Courier about to be killed by the bot, she remembers her duty to get him back his coin.

She distracts the bot by pointing out Hoodlum, giving Courier enough time to activate his bike’s built-in railgun (but notably not activated with the coin—a missed opportunity to be sure). The bot is destroyed, the cops are in disarray, and all the Akudama are still breathing. Courier refuses to thank the Girl for helping him. Dick!

But how long will each of them be breathing? When Cutthroat emerges free from his binds and is given the briefcase by Courier, he immediately fits its contents (necklaces) on himself, the Akudama, and the Girl, and a guard. When the the guard tries to pry it off his head explodes, indicating the chokers are bombs. Then the theretofore silent cat finally speaks up—apparently the mastermind of this job and the scenario in which the criminals and Ordinary Girl find themselves.

You may not find a more indulgently EXTRA show than Akudama Drive (AKA “A.D.D.”) this Fall, and its first episode surpasses even K in pure delicious eye candy. I knew going in this had the same director as Persona, the character designer of Danganronpa, and Railgun’s composer.

Kurosawa Tomoyo (Sound! Euphonium’s Kumiko, Amaburi’s Sylphy) does a tremendous job infusing Ordinary Girl with a crisp, bright, expressive voice. So there’s a ton of talent here. One of my favorite unnecessary-but-awesome flexes are the transitions between parts of the city in which the different layers of the landscape are fitted together like Tetris pieces.

One thing that may turn some off besides the visuals that border on too cool and trying too hard: the fact there’s no attempt to give dimension to any of these characters, who basically start and end at their names and are embellished with their individual style and methods. No amount of intricate spinning signs can distract from the fact there’s not much below the surface.

That said, I found Ordinary Girl an effective and sympathetic audience surrogate, and whatever deadly game into which she’s stumbled backwards is one I can’t wait to watch unfold…even if it may be best to switch off the ol’ brain and enjoy the empty neon calorie airship ride.

Rating: 4/5