Great Pretender – 08 – Tinker, Gambler, Soldier, Fly

The plan is to get Sam to join an underground casino the gang controls and squeeze him for all he’s worth. When Cynthia’s honeypot angle fails (Sam likes ’em young), and Abby refuses to be her replacement, Laurent is ready with a backup: Makoto. Specifically, his skills as a mechanic. In order to sell him, he brings in Luis Muller (Clark’s rival in the air who was nearly killed in an accident) and his attractive, patient wife Isabelle.

Thing is, Luis is only interested in one thing: revenge. He wants Sam and Clark dead and their entire race burned to the ground, but isn’t willing to stoop to a con to accomplish that. He’s also a bit…unbalanced since the accident. Fortunately Isabelle is steady as a rock and comports herself well in selling Makoto as a desirable mechanic, even though it’s her very first time participating in a con.

Clark is eventually sold by Makoto’s mechanical know-how, but Sam is on the fence. Clark thinks he’s a cheeky but otherwise “nice guy” but Sam, being a self-professed “bad guy” can sense that Makoto is more like him than he lets on. That belief is confirmed thanks to Laurent’s use of Mrs. Kim and some goons to pose as Muller’s “patroness” who are looking to hang Makoto out to dry for double-crossing her pilot.

Sam eats right into their hands, claiming Makoto as his “property” and “buying” him off of Mrs. Kim. The kicker is when he hears about the underground casino to which Makoto has connections. Sam may not fall for pretty faces like Abby’s or Cynthia’s, but he certainly falls for the prospect of betting on pilots and making more money on the side, especially as it caters to his bad-guy image.

One thing I like about Sam (who is otherwise a scumbag) is that you’re never 100% sure whether he’s buying what the con artists are selling, or simply going along for the ride to see where it goes. As for Abby, she’s interested in learning whether Luis was really a soldier, and when and where he operated, as he may have played a role in her own dark, traumatic militant past. That said, you can only have so many shots of Abby staring stoically out of windows!

Great Pretender – 07 – Skybrawl

Team Confidence heads to Singapore, where Makoto sees the Ibrahim brothers in action for the first time. While Clark plays the flashy playboy, Sam is the ruthless wheeler-dealer. The pair bought up the struggling race and have since made it a fixed affair a la WWE—all the winners and losers are chosen ahead of time.

Watching racing planes swoop over around and through Singapore’s futuristic skyline is fun, but the pulse-heightening action is once again hurt by a lot of obvious CGI and harshly posterized photo-based scenery. It’s an aesthetic that works sometimes, but often comes off as cheap.

The night after prelims, in which Abby just manages to qualify for the race by the skin of her teeth, she and Cynthia to the brothers at the rooftop pool of the iconic Marina Bay Sands. While Abby skinny dips and plays hard to get with the already-smitten Clark, Sam proves a more stoic nut to crack, but Cynthia seemingly convinces him that she’s enough of a rising star to promote—and ensure she’ll win the next race.

While we often see Clark carousing with ladies, this is still a PG-13-equivalent anime, so it call comes of as pretty chaste, especially when he doesn’t push for a more intimate rendezvous with Abby. She retires early for the night, but probably doesn’t get much sleep, as ever since she started flying she’s been getting flashbacks from her Dark Past.

The next day, Sam doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, and the veteran pilot steals the lead from Abby. When Cynthia gently protests, Sam drops any semblance of a nice guy act and tells her he neither promised nor owes Cynthia a damn thing, and proceeds to go into a bitter misogynist rant that you know he’ll pay for later. Abby has another flashback in the cockpit, but Makoto is able to snap her out of it via radio headset, and she ekes out a photo-finish victory.

From what I gather, Abby was at one point an award-winning ballerina whose life was suddenly turned upside down. At some point she became separated from her parents, ended up in a terrorists training facility, and got caught in a fierce battle where her comrades were cut to ribbons. When Makoto asks why Abby is in the con artist business at all, Laurent’s answer is simple and devastating: Abby is trying to find the right way to die.

We’ve seen her flashbacks and heard a bit about her from Laurent, but the fact remains Abby’s said very little herself—either about herself or anything else—in the past seven episodes. Will Makoto, con man with a conscience, seek to talk her out of her apparent death wish? Will Abby ever be in the mood to listen? All I know is, they’d better inspect her plane thoroughly for sabotage before her race against Clark.

Great Pretender – 06 – Earning His Wings

After an enticing stinger in which a terrified Makoto is along for the ride in a plane piloted by a crazed-looking Abby—which then blows up—we rewind a bit to see Makoto serving the remainder of his sentence at a Japanese penitentiary. The warden notices he’s good with a wrench, and decides to put in a good word for him with Nakanoshima, a grizzled old mechanic who runs a successful garage.

Makoto’s prison sentence really has changed his perspective on things. He no longer believes it’s justified to scam people, whether they deserve it or not. He wants to pay his debt to society and live life on the straight and narrow, rejecting any further collaborations with Laurent’s crew. Of course, that stinger of him in a plane with Abby indicates he will ultimately fail.

From there, we shift to a woman being fired by her boss for refusing his advances, and that same boss meeting Cynthia (AKA “Jennifer”) at a bar in Las Vegas. Jen clues the man in on unlicensed underground fights where the real money can be made, and even spots him cash to wager.

She tells him to put the money on Abby, who ends up winning despite her opponent being twice her size. Jen tells the businessman the outcome of the fight—and subsequent fights—was rigged so Abby would win, getting him to bet more and more of his own cash on a sure thing, night after night.

Meanwhile, far from his past con man life, Makoto works his ass off for two months, learning his way around his boss Nakanoshima’s true passion, propeller planes. Eventually Nakanoshima informs him of a racing team that needs a mechanic, encouraging him to “leave the nest.”

This mention of a racing team, along with the abrupt shift to working on planes, should have tipped Makoto off in some way, but perhaps his con man instincts were dulled by prison and his focus on “breaking good”.

As for Mr. Businessman, he ends up withdrawing all of his liquid assets and wagering them on another Abby victory. Only this time, Abby doesn’t win…though after taking a couple of blows to the head, she tries her damnedest not to lose, going into MMA punishment machine mode against her hulking opponent.

Ultimately she loses, as there are no rules to break to achieve victory. Businessman loses everything, and in a very Robin Hood move, Cynthia ends up delivering his duffel of cash to the very woman he fired. She may be a ruthless con artist, but she still has a sense of honor, and isn’t above pulling off jobs to right injustices.

Shortly thereafter (and once Abby’s battle damage heals) is when Makoto finds himself on an island that gives him quite a bit of deja vu, and before he knows it he’s being introduced to the plane racing team for whom he’ll serve as mechanic: Cynthia, Abby, and Laurent. They paid

The next scam involves a race in Singapore, where they’ll work to take everything a pair of oil magnate heirs for everything they have—two hundred million dollars, or double what they made in the LA job. Makoto wants nothing to do with them or any more crimes, so Laurent insists he’ll be on the level as a mechanic, and not be involved in anything else.

Abby, who will apparently be the team’s pilot, goes up with Makoto in a plan he himself serviced, returning us to the events of the stinger. That’s when we learn Laurent and Cynthia paid Nakanoshima to train Makoto just enough to pass as a plane mechanic, but obviously there’s only so much he can learn in two months, right?

Even so, the plane Abby and Makoto are in blows up (they’re able to safely eject) not because Makoto didn’t service it correctly, but because Laurent sabotaged it, in order to convince Makoto that he’s not a mechanic, but a con man.

I’ll give Great Pretender credit: it closed the book on the LA job before it got stale and then immediately shifted gears to something entirely new, fresh and exciting, with ever higher stakes and moral implications in store for Makoto. Just when he thought he was out…

Great Pretender – 05 – Cooking Up Something Good

Turns out Dickens wants Salazar in cuffs, so Makoto’s efforts to keep him free to care for his son goes nowhere, and Makoto has no choice but to cooperate lest he end up in prison himself. So as Eddie, Laurent, Abby, and a camera watch closely, Makoto cooks up his very first batch of Sakura Magic, a drug that doesn’t really exist.

Having watched sufficient instructional videos, Makoto is able to pull it off, though the candy is a little rough-looking. Abby is ready to taste-test and offer another performance, but first Eddie presents Laurent with the ten million dollars in ten suitcases, and Agent Dickens’ troops bust in, automatic weapons drawn.

Dickens makes no effort to conceal the fact that Makoto was her mole. She also promised no one would get killed in the raid, but that’s before an enraged Abby suddenly pulls a gun on the cops. Laurent dives to shield her, but the two end up riddled with bullets and die in a puddle of blood on the floor, to Makoto’s absolute shock. Naturally, I immediately questioned whether they had actually been killed, or if this was simply a larger con in play.

If it is, Makoto goes off script and takes Dickens hostage, forcing the cops to back off. He urges Salazar to escape, but in the confusion Eddie sneaks off and overloads the pressure on a tank, blowing up the entire lab. Makoto ends up under a wounded Salazar, and ends up chasing a hobbled Eddie. Eddie gets the jump on him and starts beating him with a traffic cone before Salazar, okay after all, punches him out.

That’s when things get weird. Dickens conducts an interrogation that ends with her accepting a bribe of 100 million dollars, again to Makoto’s shock. This cleans Eddie out of his international assets, but he’s free to leave and make it all right back. Naturally, Makoto is disgusted with Dickens’ shady conduct, but before he can protest too much he’s knocked out.

When he comes to, he learns what I expected: Laurent and Abby were fine, and Dickens and her team were fellow con artists, part of a much larger scheme to take Eddie for all he’s worth. “Dickens”, who really goes by Cynthia, hosts a huge celebration for the whole team on her private island, and everyone receives a cut in the numerous millions of dollars.

It’s understandably quite the surreal experience for Makoto. Despite the predictability of the outcome, Makoto being in the dark for the majority of the long con nevertheless lent an air of suspense, which helped the proceedings feel like more than the sum of their elemental parts. When people start going their separate ways but Laurent offers to take him under his wing, Makoto asks them to wait three or four years for him to get his affairs in order.

They agree, and Makoto returns to Japan. But just as soon as he arrives, he dumps his sack of American cash on the front desk of the nearest police station, confesses to having conned people out of it, and indicating his wish to pay back those he scammed. Looks like he’s going for a clean slate, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those years he told Laurent to wait would be spent behind bars (again). In any case, the LA designer drug adventure comes to a satisfying conclusion.

Great Pretender – 04 – The Candyman Can’t

Let’s start with the basics: Makoto has no idea how to cook drugs, yet Eddie is now spending millions to renovate a lab where he’ll be…cooking drugs. Laurent (through Abby, who sneaks into Salazar’s house in the night) provides video lessons in how to cook.

It’s pretty much the best he can do; the rest is a result of the various rash choices Makoto made that got him so deep into this mess. But it still seems rather unlikely Makoto would be able to learn how to make even a marginally passable product after a week of watching videos.

In the week the renovations will take, Eddie lets Makoto enjoy the sights of L.A., provided his bodyguard Salazar is always around. When Makoto learns that Salazar’s wife is dead and he only sees his son on Sundays, he insists on Salazar keeping to that schedule with his kid.

The three have a lot of fun together; the son knows his samurai, and also considers a bodyguard to be a much cooler job than cops or FBI. If he knows what his dad truly did for a living beyond bodyguarding, he’s not talking about it. Makoto wonders if it’s genuine ignorance or simply putting on a brave face.

During a bathroom break, Makoto is accosted by Anderson, who then introduces him to Dickens, who offers Makoto a deal: if he serves as their mole and helps them apprehend both Laurent and Cassano, he’ll be sent back to Japan without any jail time.

It’s probably as generous an offer as he’ll get from law enforcement, though it certainly doesn’t ensure his safety; Eddie’s reach, even outside of prison, is likely vast. Not to mention the last time he tried to pull one on Laurent and Abby, he ended up hanging out to dry on the Hollywood sign.

At a big lavish “sushi party” at Eddie’s celebrating the completion of the lab renovations, Eddie formally welcomes Makoto into his “family”, while also announcing he’s found a rat. It turns out to be a random guy who gets the bat to the balls.

This, despite the fact Makoto didn’t notice a video camera in the teddy in his room until he’d already had a couple meetings with Abby. The thing is, Salazar doesn’t care what scam Makoto, Abby, and Laurent are pulling on his boss. His job is to protect Eddie’s personal safety, not his money.

Salazar’s situation hits home for Makoto. He grew up thinking his dad was a cool, moral lawyer protecting the rights of the downtrodden. He’d later learn, the same time as his mother, on TV, that their father and husband was scamming them all along, and was really the linchpin of a despicable international child trafficking operation.

Makoto also wants Salazar’s dream of getting his kid in college to come true. Like Makoto himself, his son is an innocent who doesn’t deserve to have his life destroyed—or the stigma attached to his name by his criminal dad. So Makoto puts on the glasses with the built-in two-way bug, and agrees to assist Dickens—but only if they leave Salazar out of it.

Great Pretender – 03 – Burrowing Deeper

Makoto manages to win Eddie Cassano over by first spending the night watching his movies at a motel, then intentionally getting caught by Eddie’s men. Once he’s before Eddie himself, he flatters him by declaring his love for his movies—which he considers art rather than RedLetterMedia fodder—and likens it to his drugs, which are like precious children to him.

Eddie will pay $10 million not only for an exclusive license for Sakura Magic, but all of Makoto’s lab notes on the formula, enabling any chemist to make it themselves. Still, Eddie wisely withholds the exchange of cash until his lawyers have been to Makoto’s lab in Japan. Thankfully Makoto’s pals are there just in time to greet them and corroborate Makoto’s story.

However, it’s still too risky to hand over millions in cash at Eddie’s house, which is under LAPD surveillance, while Eddie himself has been hounded by Chief Inspector Anderson for over a decade. They try to give Anderson the slip with a false limo, but Anderson sends a decoy tail after it and chases Eddie’s shitty Malibu instead. A pretty nifty car chase ensues, though it’s marred somewhat by the clunky CGI car models.

Anderson turns out to be on Eddie’s payroll, and simply had to make it look good for both his team and the higher-ups. Eddie then shows Makoto, Laurent, and Abby to one of his top drug labs, presents Makoto with everything he needs, and asks him to whip up a batch of Sakura Magic right then and there.

Makoto never designed for his researcher story to endure under this level of scrutiny, and he’s able to save his skin for the time being by dismissing the lab as too filthy to work in. In response to this, Eddie vows to completely renovate the lab to Makoto’s exact specs. Each time he squirrels out of trouble the lie he uses ends up burrowing himself deeper into this increasingly lethal situation.

Pretty soon he’ll be out of moves, but that may not end up mattering. That’s because Anderson’s case has been suddenly taken over by infamous mob-buster FBI SA Paula Dickins. However, she’s not even after Cassano, but Laurent Tierry & Co., purveyors of international fraud. Getting arrested by the feds is far from ideal, but it’s probably better than whatever Eddie will do to Makoto when he finds out he’s being scammed.

Great Pretender – 02 – Sins of the Father

When Abby cuts Makoto down from the HOLLYWOOD sign, he falls quite a ways and gets knocked out, which is the perfect opportunity to get into his backstory. “Edamame” the con man used to be clean as a whistle, you see. All he wanted to do was make his bedridden mom proud, but he was hired by a company that turned out to be perpetrating consumer fraud. He just thought they were selling a quality health tea product.

The fuzz raid the office and he’s arrested with everyone else. No one believes he was unaware that a crime was being committed, thanks to the ages-old adage “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”. Because his father was a convicted criminal, he’s suspected of simply following in ol’ dad’s footsteps. He goes away for eighteen months and his mom passes away. But since everyone in the world assumes the worst of him, the only thing to do is lean into the skid.

The newly conscious Makoto has a luxurious seaside lunch as Laurent explains that after spreading rumors of a hot new drug, Eddie Cassano wanted to meet the Japanese researcher who designed it. He hired the water filter lady he scammed as well as Kudou and his old crew to basically put Makoto through his con artist paces, and he passed with flying colors. He also knows Makoto’s past, and considers it an added bonus that beneath the hardened con man one is an innocent, pure-hearted mama’s boy.

That night, Laurent leaves Makoto at his swanky pad with Abby to keep an eye on him. Convinced that the plan will go south and they’ll all be killed, Makoto tries to sneak out, but Abby puts him in a bodylock. Despite this, Makoto is able to pick a bent gold medal from her pocket. She ultimately lets him go, believing him useless as long as he doesn’t want to be there, and warning him Cassano’s men will be watching both him and the airport.

Makoto ends up getting one over on both Abby and Laurent, as they assume they’ve lost him and have to start over at square one, only for Cassano to tell them Makoto’s already there and closed the deal for double the original price. It stung when Laurent said there were no good con artists in Japan, especially when he believes Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who rose from a peasant background to unify the country, to be the greatest con artist in history.

I’m still not a fan of the posterized photo-based backgrounds, but no one can accuse this show of not being colorful enough; that poppy pink-and-yellow lunch was pure Vice City. While neither Makoto’s past nor the trio’s present mission is nothing original, it still manages to be pleasantly diverting.

Great Pretender – 01 (First Impressions) – Sakura Magic

Edamura Makoto is the self-proclaimed “Best Con Man in Japan”, but when a lost wallet switcheroo goes wrong and the cops are at the door, Makoto leaves his buddy Kudou and happens to find the same foreigner who conned them out of 300,000 yen. Makoto should have known to try to con someone so slick-looking.

Makoto secures a ticket to LAX to follow his new nemesis, a Frenchman named Laurent Thierry, and even joins him for a good long sit in L.A. traffic in his imported Peugeot RCZ. He’s not letting Laurent out of his sight until he gets his cash back, but Laurent has a big scam to pull in Hollywood, and offers to let Makoto be his wingman.

After buying him a suit at Macy’s, they arrive at the mansion of a film producer with mob ties who just got out on bail. Laurent introduces Makoto as a pharmacological doctor from Japan and presents the “product” he’s willing to license for sale: “Sakura Magic”, a designer drug in the form of a piece of candy.

He has Abby, one of the beautiful bikini-clad women by the pool try the drug out, and let’s just say it gets the job done. In a chaotically animated sequence, Abby ecstatically bounces off palm trees and loungers. The producer’s interest is piqued.

Makoto takes one too, and realizes that Laurent used him as a drug mule. Not only that, Laurent never had the cash; Kudou has it, and is making it rain back home (at least I think that’s what went down…?)

After escaping the producer’s house, he rushes Laurent, only to get kicked crane-style by Abby, the swimsuited woman who tried the drug. Turns out she’s on Laurent’s team and was merely putting on a very convincing act using her impressive athleticism.

That’s when the episode ends at the beginning, with Makoto hanging upside-down from the “Y” in the Hollywood sign…I guess as a lesson that he’s not the top con dog in this town; that title goes to Laurent and Abby, who are clearly operating on another level.

That opening is reminiscent of the same kind of absurd, iconic image that started Breaking Bad: Walter White in his tighty-whiteys and a handgun. Funnily enough, Bryan Cranston would go on to co-create Sneaky Pete, which is all about…con artists!

Wit Studio/Netflix’s Great Pretender is bright, bold, brash, and looking to capitalize on the long-popular “in too deep antihero” trend, though in a clearly more lighthearted than Mad Men or, more recently, Ozark. Cons include an abundance of bad English in the first half (it thankfully switches to Japanese) and an abundance of digitized photos in place of hand-drawn or painted backgrounds, that, intentional stylistic choice or no, always come off as lazy to me.

Still, Laurent, Abby, and Makoto seem like a trio of people who will be entertaining to watch, and the premise, while common in live-action American TV, is something I haven’t seen a lot of in the anime medium. Oh yeah, the late great Freddie Mercury sings the cat-filled ED (Freddie loved cats)! To quote Pecorine, How crazy is that?

Koyomimonogatari – 01

Koyomi Stone is the first in a 12-episode miniseries of short stories involving Araragi Koyomi and all the other various characters in his orbit. First up is Hanekawa Tsubasa, whose dealings with Koyomi pre-date his girlfriend Senjougahara’s. Tsubasa presents him with a mystery of a stone in a shrine and asks him to report it to Oshino to see if it’s an oddity.

Oshino’s reply is for Koyomi and Tsubasa to study the high school’s curriculum. Tsubasa picks up on the clue and deduces the stone was once on its own until someone was about to toss their failed woodworking project into the nearby garbage, but placed the stone in it instead.

As a result, both objects changed: the stone became something that resembled an object of worship, and the failed house became a successful shrine. With the case closed, Koyomi remembers it was he who built the crappy house and put the stone in it; he later tosses the house and discovers the stone is really just a hunk of concrete.

The usual Monogatari style is all there to be seen and heard, adding weight to an otherwise slight and superfluous mystery, while the shorter runtime makes for easy watching.

AICO – 12 (Fin) – A World for Both Aikos

AICO ends by having its cake and eating it too, with only Isazu suffering long-term ill effects from the events of the finale. In the last couple episodes he’d devolved into a raving, maniacal villain, but at least it was presumably out of his Papa-Grizzly desire to protect his cub, Yuzuha. However it’s clear he’s willing to use Yuzuha to manipulate the matter to his whims and gets drunk off the power, ignoring her pleas for her to stop.

Isazu presents a persistent threat to Kanzaki’s attempt to perform extremely sensitive “brain transfer surgery”, the science of which neither the show nor I will bother getting into; suffice it to say Yura is one of the greatest medical and scientific minds in human history, which is frankly…a bit much.

But with the other Divers arriving at Primary Point, and Kurose successfully infiltrating the hospital and disconnecting Yuzuha from her duplicate bodies (ending the threat Isazu presented), Kanzaki/Yura has just enough time to pull it off. When the procedure is complete, The “Real” Tachibana Aiko emerges from the surgical capsule safe and sound, if a little out of it.

However, Yura’s intention wasn’t just to revive Aiko, but save the other Aiko who had spent the last eleven episodes proving that she was just as real. He didn’t want either Aiko to die. Yet once the “fake” Aico has confirmed Aiko is alright, she seems ready to do just that, as her head retreats into the mass of Matter, which starts to turn green, as if decomposing.

But just when everyone is lamenting the loss of a person they’d become quite fond of, the dying matter spits out a strange fetus-like thing, which then spits out a fully alive (and naked) Aiko. Turns out Gummi, whom her father gave her, was meant to serve a far more important role than just that of a pet and companion.  Gummi also contained the sum total of data for Aico’s body, such that once the brain transfer was complete, Gummi was able to surround and regenerate her body.

Aiko invites Aico to join her family (her mom and brother are released and soon up and about), but while she’s grateful for her conterpart’s kindness, she respectfully declines.

Aiko at least insists she meet at least once with her Mom and Ryouta before going off and doing her own thing, and the resulting reunion is every bit as powerful and earned-feeling as when she first arrived at their cocoon, particularly when she starts to tear up immediately after turning her back on them.

From there, everyone returns to their lives, and the Area, now free of malignant Matter, begins to rebuild. As for Aico, she starts on her own path at a new school as a transfer student, but her name probably isn’t Aico.

As for what it is, we never find out, and I enjoyed the ending that cut off her introduction. All that matters is she is a different person. She’s the girl in loafers walking into a classroom in the ED. Most importantly, she’s the one we’ve been watching and following all this time. I wish her well.

AICO – 11 – More Technobabble Leads to the Home Stretch

When Yura/Kanzaki finds Aico, she’s already willing to forgive all the lies he’s told to that point, because she exists in part because of those many lies. She’s also as ready as ever to sacrifice herself to save her mother, brother, and the “real” Aiko, even though that Aiko has already offered to do the same. For his part, Kanzaki is hesitant in the moment to let Aico go through with it, even though, as she says, that’s how the Burst will end.

In that moment of hesitation, Dr. Isazu hooks himself up to some kind of interface we’ve never seen before which allows him to connect to and manipulate the same Matter as his unconscious daughter.

Isazu uses the human-form Matter to restrain Aico and Kanzaki and a rather lengthy argument with the latter ensues, densely packed with a whole mess of technobabble about networks and cell assemblers. Suffice it to say, Isazu wants his daughter back, and is willing to sacrifice both Aikos to do so; Burst be damned.

Isazu gets increasingly frustrated with Kanzaki’s apparently boundless, “god-like” genius, but is unable to kill him, because Kazuki swoops in just in time to free Kanzaki and Aico from their bonds. A torrid chase ensues, and the real Aiko succeeds in suppressing the purple Matter with her Red long enough for the trio to get to shelter…only it’s not the shelter, but some kind of storeroom.

There, Kanzaki gathers materials for a makeshift explosion to blast their way out of their dead end and continue to Primary Point, but Kazuki doesn’t want Aico to go…because he’s fallen in love with her, plus when the matter attacked his arm he saw her memories. Aico tells him she’s flattered by his confession, but if he truly loves her as he says, he’ll let her save her family, which she can only do by reuniting Aiko’s body and brain.

Back outside the area, the JSDF is poised to start their bombardment of the entire facility, but they’re foiled at the last second when Nanbara lifts the blockade on the Area and sends in wave after wave of civilian Divers. The generals must hold their fire, and Nanbara is summarily fired by her superior, though her assistant Hori remains on the job for the time being, likely by design.

Nanbara gave up everything to save the Matter that will keep her country at the forefront of science from being annihilated by that same country’s military.

Now we’ll see if her sacrifice, and those of Shinoyama and many others, will be validated, as Kanzaki finally gets Aico to Primary Point, where the Burst and Aico’s existence began. The other Divers are holding their own, led by Sagami and Shiraishi and now convinced that what they’re doing has a crucial and noble purpose.

After many trials, lies, revealed secrets, and yes, one very lame confession, Aico has reached her destination, and it’s where she herself has chosen to come. Now let’s see if she and Kanzaki can end the Burst, save her family, wake Yuzuha up, and maybe, just maybe, save Aiko as well.

AICO – 10 – Explanations Give Way to Emotions

While “AICO” is off communing with “Aiko”, Sagami decides that his team will help Yura carry out the mission by helping him return AICO’s artificial brain with the Matter. In doing so, he basically concedes that AICO is an artificial being and thus expendable, or at least her sacrifice is instrumental in ending the Burst.

Kazuki isn’t okay with that. Artificial brain or not, he’s fallen for AICO, which Kazuki says is “based on a misunderstanding.” But just because Yura created AICO doesn’t make him the arbiter of who and what can and should be preserved.

While looking for AICO, Yura ends up engulfed by a Human-form Matter, which turns out to be controlled by Yuzuha. She recreates the mountains they once visited to beg him to help her find her body.

All this time, she’s been reaching out to the humans—not AICO—in order to make a human connection. Her body is at the hospital with her father, but she has no scientific data or even anecdotal information for Yura to use to be able to science a way to save her. It’s a very unfortunate situation all ’round.

Meanwhile, AICO makes contact with her real-brained counterpart in the purple/pink Matter. Aiko heard Isazu’s address, and knows an attack from the military is imminent. To that end, she asks AICO to find her family and get them out of harm’s way ASAP.

What about Aiko herself? She believes her “time is up”, and that there’s no longer any time to save her family and herself; and given a choice between the two, there is no choice. She resolves to suppress the Matter as much as she can to facilitate the task she gives AICO.

More interestingly, while existing as the Matter, she felt like she began to lose herself, but has been able to hold onto herself due entirely to her Dream Contact with AICO. Her artificial duplicate has lived her life in her stead, and she’s been able to watch and feel everything she’s felt, the good and bad, thus keeping her human.

AICO doesn’t like the idea of leaving Aiko behind, but ultimately she accedes to her wishes and hurries to where her mother and little brother are being held in stasis.

The resulting emotional reunion is an austere yet surprisingly powerful scene the show successfully earned. Artificial or not, AICO is pretty much Aiko, and rescuing her family has always been a higher priority han rescuing herself.

As the Divers deal with the increasingly dormant Matter, Aiko manages to free Yura from a panicked Yuzuha’s grasp, and Yura races to the cocoon, just as AICO takes her leave of her family. From the look of her, she seems particularly resolved to doing something that will probably result in her own sacrifice.

After all, while Aiko’s need for AICO to act in her place to save her family is all well and good, nothing about those wishes addresses the issue of the Matter itself. Will Aiko or AICO have to die to end it, or is there still a way to reunite them, which could also reunite Yuzuha with her body?

AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

In a key early scene that informs the torrent of revelations to come in the on-the-nosely-titled “Truth”, Aiko weeps for the loss of Shinomiya, something for which Shiraishi is very grateful, despite the fact she doesn’t blame Aiko for the loss.

We also learn that Kanzaki essentially leaves the remaining Divers no choice but to press on, questioning whether they took the risk to their lives seriously when they signed up for a mission they knew they might not return from.

Sagami curses Kanzaki’s cleverness, but the kid has a point: they signed up for this. That they were lied to about the details doesn’t change the fact that taking the job meant being prepared to die from the start.

From there, “Truth” unfolds pretty much like the previous episodes, with the team storming through the next zone to get to the next gate…only this is the final gate before Primary Point, and they no longer have a Beetle to protect them from the big stuff.

Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, however, a “benevalent” purplish version of the Matter protects Aiko & Co. from the malignant red Matter int he nick of time, in the process sending Kanzaki and Aiko flying like Renton and Eureka.

But once the group enters the facility where Aiko’s still-incomplete operation took place—and where the Burst began—the end of their journey also marks the end of the episode’s momentum. For the balance of the episode, revelation after revelation is made, thanks to Dr. Isazu remotely  talking to Aiko and the others from the facility’s P.A. system.

Much of what he says, we already know: that Kanzaki is really Yura, for instance. Some of the news is, well, new: the “Aiko” we’ve followed all this time wasn’t the one with the real brain after all, but AICO, the elaborate artificial brain occupying the carbon nanostructure-repaired real body of the real Aiko—both built by Yura.

Yura intends to merge the fake Aiko’s brain and body to end the burst, which will also destroy the near-as-makes-no-difference sentient life form he created. No other possible solution is brought up; Isazu simply informs Aiko that the SDF will soon pummel the facility she’s in, so she’d better find cover.

Because so much information is dumped on us, some of which repeats what’s already been revealed to us, things get really stagnant in the latter chunk of the episode. Switching from the facility to the hospital where Isazu is to the hacker’s house where Kurase and Nanbara are only feels like a naked attempt to break the infodump up among different settings, and it doesn’t really work.

The slog is somewhat interrupted when the red Matter arrives, and rather than stick with Kanzaki/Yura or the Divers, Aiko runs off on her own, gets cornered, as is once again saved by the purplish Matter, in which an inviting, brightly-lit opening is formed. When Gummi goes in, Aiko follows, and before she knows it she’s face-to-face with “the other Aiko”, the one Isazu says is the real deal.

Does this mean Isazu’s daughter is controlling the red Matter? What are the two Aikos going to discuss? Is there any way to end the Burst and save Japan from destruction without destroying the artificial body that apparently started it all?