Star Trek: Lower Decks – 03 – Buffer Time

While in the turbolift trying to make small talk with the captain, Boimler ends up letting slip two words no senior officer should ever hear: buffer time. Once she learns the lower decks are over-inflating work time estimates (the way even Scotty used to do) in order to secure more free time, the captain puts an immediate stop to it.

And I do mean immediate: suddenly everyone is equipped with a PADD that issues a ticking clock for every task they perform—like an Amazon fulfillment center technician. Free time is eliminated, which means stress and anxiety build up with no time for release…or adequate sleep! And as the TNG episode “Night Terrors” thoroughly demonstrated, Starfleet officers need REM sleep.

As a result of heightened anxiety and increased fatigue among the crew, mistakes are bound to be made. Mistakes like, say, when someone brings along not only the wrong cultural artifact for a diplomatic mission, but one that enrages the aliens to such an extent that they decide to launch an invasion of the Cerritos—the crew of which is in no condition to repel boarders.

Character-wise, Rutherford and Tendi are so slammed by work they come pretty close to taking it out on each other. Boimler, who was already operating on zero buffer time, is happy as a clam even as the rest of the crew crumbles, and Mariner ends up on the ill-fated away mission with the first officer, Commander Ransom, a Starfleet officer in the Kirk/Riker mold.

When the aliens do board the Cerritos, each member of the crew is so lost in their own personal hell of ticking clocks and trying to make up time that will never be made up, there’s barely any time to notice there are intruders aboard ship, let alone do anything about it.

As such, the intruders initially run wild, spraying graffiti all over the exterior and corridors of the ship, despite only being armed with spears, which as Boimler points out are no match against even one hand phaser. Soon he learns the senior officers and captain have also shifted to the new work schedules, resulting in the captain having to virtually run the bridge all by herself.

Down on the planet, the aliens (who are a pretty standard Star Trek alien race of the week) decide that if Ransom or Mariner can defeat their hulking champion, they’ll let them and the other officers go free. Mariner shows Ransom all of the scars that show she’s best suited to participate in the gladitorial match.

Even so, Ransom refuses to let his subordinate fight for him; indeed, he’d rather—and does—stab Mariner through the goddamn foot so that she has no choice but to stand down. While Trak makes clear part of command is being able to send junior officers to their probable deaths for the good of the ship, this is not one of those instances, and Ransom is personally eager to test his mettle—not to mention his honed physique, which Mariner can’t help but notice.

While Mariner and Ransom ultimately bond over their shared near-death experience (and Ransom’s righteous beat-down of the so-called champion, who turns out to be a lot more interested in reading books than fighting) Boimler snaps the captain out of her devotion to the scheduling system that could lead to the loss of the ship.

Realizing perhaps to late to be credible that eliminating down time is a bad idea, the captain makes a shipwide announcement to all crew to bend or break every regulation necessary to secure the ship. The crew then proceeds to use the very PADDs that had been oppressing them to beat the alien intruders back to their ships.

The ship is saved largely due to Boimler urging his captian to essentially backtrack on a system he believed would have ensured maximum crew efficiency. But realistically, that would only happen if everyone was a workaholic like Boimler: the real world is different. And so it is that Boimler’s name is affixed to an edict essentially calling for laziness where indicated, contrary to his hallowed values.

When Tendi assures him no one will ever remember “the Boimler Effect”, we jump forward to the distant future in which it’s being taught in school—and they built a statue of him. That said, he’s not as important a historical figure as Chief Miles O’Brien…obviously!

Stray Observations:

  • The entire main premise of the Cerritos-based plotline is an homage to officers like Scotty and LaForge being lauded as “miracle workers” for getting work done far quicker than estimated, when in reality they just know how to manage expectations.
  • Ransom’s duel with the huge alien champion is akin to Kirk’s battle with the Gorn in “Arena”, as well as other bouts that usually caused his uniform to tear or even fall off.
  • I appreciated Mariner’s mixed feelings about Ransom’s fight, both being outraged that he’d fight in her place and kind of turned on once it’s clear Ransom’s got this.
  • Interesting how Mariner and her Captain/Mom have barely interacted so far. One assumes Boimler/Tendi/Rutherford will learn about that connection at some point…
  • The gold plaque Boimler receives is similar to the dedication plaques that hang in some corner of the bridge of every Starfleet ship.
  • The future teacher describes the eagle on Statue Boimler’s arm as “The Great Bird of the Galaxy”—which was the nickname of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
  • Chief O’Brien probably needs no introduction. His illustrious career spanned from the first episode of TNG and the last episode of DS9 and beyond. He also devised Scotch-flavored chewing gum, bless him.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 02 – Sam of All Trades

I recently watched the TNG episode “Time Squared”, which featured a lot of sweet shuttlebay porn. The Enterprise-D’s shuttlebay is gleaming and spotless, but that’s just where the shuttles land. We never saw the dirtier storage and maintenance facility, but that’s the part of the Cerritos we get to see in just the second episode, where Ensign Boimler gloats about being assigned to co-pilot a shuttle escorting a decorated Klingon general to his diplomatic appointment.

Meanwhile, it’s become clear Ensign Rutherford has developed a bit of a crush on Ensign Tendi—can you blame him?—but his grueling engineering duty schedule conflicts with a date to watch an astronomical phenomenon. In order to make that date (he considers it beneath a Starfleet officer to go back on his word), he quits the Engineering division. Seems kinda rash!

Boimler could never have predicted a slacker like Ensign Mariner would not only be his shuttle co-pilot, but also old friends with the general they’re escorting, a closeness made clear when in the middle of introducing himself to the general, Mariner pounces on him and the two have a brief knife fight.

By-the-book diplomatic protocol and theory are fine, but Starfleet is just as much about who you know than what. The resulting shuttle ride is predictably chaotic as Mariner exploits the fact the general is a lightweight when it comes to bloodwine.

He’s passed out by the time they land in the Klingon district to grab him some local Gagh, but before they know it he’s “behind the wheel” and taking the shuttle for a joyride without them. With transport and ship-to-shore comms not an option due to the properties of the planet’s atmosphere, they’ll have to track him down on foot.

In a hilarious demonstration of how nice and understanding the vast majority of Starfleet officers are, Rutherford’s commanding officer is perfectly fine with him exploring other divisions. Things don’t go well with command, however, as Rutherford manages to muck up a basic holodeck command simulation that theoretically shouldn’t be muck-up-able.

Feeling that perhaps there’s some continuity to be found in the great engineering project that is the human body, Rutherford tries his hand at being a nurse, only to find his bedside manner is non-existent. We also observe how Tendi’s bubbly personality serves her well in calming and reassuring the patient Rutherford wound up.

Boimler once again exposes his greenness when it comes to missions on worlds other than Earth and Vulcan (which shouldn’t even count!) when they reach the Risian district. He’s suddenly seduced by an human-looking woman who turns out to be an alien interested in depositing eggs in his throat. Thankfully Mariner has his back…and a hose!

She has it again when Boimler recklessly jumps into the middle of a dispute in an Andorian bar he knows nothing about. Things escalate quickly into a big Alien Bar Fight (a Trek standard, to be sure) but cool (and thirsty) heads prevail when Mariner offers to pay for the next five rounds if everyone agrees to stop fighting.

Now that’s Starfleet—inadvertently starting fights, then amicably ending them. But Boimler starts to lose hope that he ever had a chance to be a Starfleet captain, and tosses his combadge in a puddle.

The last division Rutherford tries is security, and to the surprise of both himself and the buff Bajoran chief, his cybernetic implants give make him the perfect fit for security, as he dispatches a squad of holographic Borg without breaking a sweat, letting the implants do their thing.

Still, after a day(?) of trying out new career paths, all it takes is one glance at an open Jefferies Tube—spotless and gleaming—for him to politely turn down the offer to job the “bear pack”. Like the chief engineer, the security chief is supportive and happy for Rutherford.

Back on the planet, Mariner and Boimler encounter a shifty, Gollum-like Ferengi offering transport. Boimler is suspicious, but Mariner tells him she’s “pretty sure he’s a Bolian” and that he should listen to her since they haven’t let them astray yet. But when the Ferengi betrays them by pulling a knife, Boimler phasers it out of his hand, saving Mariner.

Once they learn the Klingon general safely reached the embassy, Boimler and Mariner return to the Cerritos. Despite asking to keep events between them, Boimler ends up telling everyone at the bar how Mariner confused a Ferengi for a Bolian. We later learn that the Ferengi was another friend of Mariner’s, who put on a performance in order to restore Boimler’s confidence.

As for Rutherford, he learns that Tendi wasn’t going to hold it against him for not watching the pulsar from a window—and certainly wasn’t something to quit the job he loves about! Instead, she joins him in the tubes and watches it on a PADD, in a very cute cozy scene of budding friendship.

Star Trek episodes don’t always have A and B-plots running side by side, but they’re definitely a common occurrence among the hundreds of episodes of television in the franchise. I felt both A and B worked well here, with the on-ship/off-ship plots complementing the characters and served as backdrops for their development. Tendi definitely got the short end of the stick this week, but she’ll no doubt be the focus of an episode (or an A or B plot of one) soon.

Stray Obervations:

  • The cold open features another TNG classic: the alien intruder depicted as a bright point of light. In this case, it’s one that is weak enough to be placed in a hold by Mariner, who threatens to stuff it in a canister unless it creates the cool new tricorder model that has a purple stripe…and a power crystal!
  • Mariner’s little singing but about the shuttle’s blast shield was as awful here as it was in the previews that made me initially weary of this show. Thankfully it and scenes like it are the exception and not the rule.
  • That said, why did she have so many bowls of broth, and why was it spilled all over the consoles? I know, I know…“it’s a cartoon!”
  • Boimler really was presenting himself to that Klingon general all wrong. Standing too far away and speaking too softly are both considering insulting.
  • The senior officers looking ready to get angry only to be totally understanding and supportive was a an example of why I love this show: even though it borrows so much from a franchise I know back to front, it can still surprise me!
  • Another practice that, while true to Trek, I found a bit problematic, was the alien stereotyping by Boimler and Mariner. Mariner’s barb about Klingons smelling bad was pretty cringey. As for Boimler ragging on Ferengi…Dude, the Alpha quadrant would have been lost to the Dominion without Quark and Rom!
  • At least the Ferengi dude was acting all “TNG first season” on purpose…IRL he wears a monacle!
  • As someone who does not mind tight enclosed spaces (as long as I can get out of them of course!) I always loved the Jefferies tubes growing up…even if they made no sense. You’re in space! Just make the ship big enough so the tubes are regular height!
  • I am so here for all the alien representation these past two episodes. Due to budgets, previous Trek crews were overwhelmingly human, which made the Federation feel small.

Star Trek: Lower Decks – 01 (First Impressions) – The Optimism’s Back

We’re big Star Trek fans here at RABUJOI, and while I was both excited and proud to watch its return to TV (albeit streaming TV) in the form of Discovery and Picard, since it meant Star Trek was back and that could never be a bad thing, I’ve been ultimately disappointed in the negative and violent general outlook and worldview of those new shows.

I came into Lower Decks with extremely guarded expectations. I was not a fan of the art style in the previews nor what sounded like a lot of try-hard rapid fire comedic dialogue. Heck, even the logo of the show is ugly, with the words “LOWER DECKS” rendered what looks like a crappy free font, clashing with the iconic yellow/gold Star Trek word type.

Lower Decks is first Trek show since Voyager ended in 2001 to restore that upbeat, optimistic, cozy, joyful Star Trek milieu in which actually want to live and hang out. It felt more like those shows, and thus the Trek that I grew up with and love, than any of new live-action stuff, and pulled off that feat in less than half an hour!

Obviously, a show like ST:LD has the advantage of not having to spend too much time setting up its world—it’s basically TNG-era Star Trek, only animated. If you aren’t a Trekkie, I’m not sure why you’d watch this show, nor could I begin to imagine how it would come off not knowing anything about warp cores or the uniform colors or what-have-you.

LD can immediately focus on its scrappy underdog characters who populate the unremarkable Federation Starship USS Cerritos, starting with Ensigns Beckett Mariner and Brad Boimler. While Mariner comes off as an overly hyper chatterbox (she’s also drunk in her first scene), I’m pleased to report not every character chats at the same pace, and even she calms down for some scenes.

It’s clear Mariner’s authority-bucking, boisterous joie-de-vivre is a veneer to conceal the fact her round-peg personality in a square-hole Starfleet has caused her career to stall. There’s a lot of Tom Paris in her, right down to her admiral dad. She’s the opposite of the eager-to-please, by-the-book Boimler (ahem…Ensign Kim, anyone?), and between his discipline and her experience the two are poised to learn much from each other about life in the command division.

Rounding out the main quartet is medical officer D’Vana Tendi of Orion (hence the green skin) and engineer Sam Rutherford, a cybernetically-augmented human and to me, spiritual successor to Geordi LaForge. Tendi, also like Ensign Kim, is the definition of “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rookie” without Boimler’s hang-ups, while Rutherford’s still-buggy implants sometimes add cold Vulcan logic to his human baseline at inopportune times.

There is a mission-of-the-week, and it involves the less sexy but very important second contact with a new purple porcine alien species. An aspect of Trek I believe really translates well to animation is the aliens and their worlds. Since it’s animated, the makeup and production design budgets are only limited by the animator’s imagination, and there’s never a chance of putting off viewers with either unconvincing makeup or falling into the uncanny valley.

Boimler was instructed to “keep an eye” on Mariner by the no-nonsense Captain Freeman, and that eye immediately watches Mariner break protocol by selling farm equipment to aliens on the side. Boimler ends up being sucked on by an alien spider-cow creature for far too long, but the whole incident demonstrated that his green instincts caused him to overreact on more than one occasion while Mariner got the feel for things and was able to improvise them out of peril.

Back on the Cerritos, Rutherford is on a date with Ensign Barnes that, unlike LaForge’s many dates, starts out pretty well! The issue is, the Cerritos’ XO Commander Ransom came back up to the ship infected by a bug bite that turns him into a vicious black bile-spewing zombie, and soon more than half the crew succumbs to the same transformation.

While it could have come off as too-cute-by-half to have the Rutherford and Barnes remain completely calm and even continue their small talk as their comrades start eating each other in the Ten Forward-style bar, the comedy worked for me since it tracks that Starfleet officers would keep their heads even under extreme conditions. Similarly, D’vana enters a gory hellscape of a sickbay, but feeds off the professionalism of her Chief Medical Officer (who is a Caitian) is, and comports herself well in triage duty.

What ties Boimler’s close encounter on the planet to the zombie virus aboard ship is the purple-pink goo secreted from the spider-cow, which cures and de-zombifies the crew. Thus it’s established that despite her refusal to submit to Starfleet orthodoxy, Mariner inadvertently saved the ship by letting the spider-cow suck on Boimler as long as it wanted. I got a really cozy feeling from the scene of the four officers taking a much-earned breather, their deeds going unsung as the senior staff takes all the credit.

While I hope she doesn’t back into saving the ship every week (something that would make her akin to early Wesley Crusher aboard the Enterprise) in a pilot it works pretty well at establishing the value of her approach to a Starfleet officer’s duty. If she breaks a few regulations, she’ll be able to rely on Boimler (who doesn’t rat her out to the Captain) and her other fellow junior officers to rein her in or bail her out.

“But wait, Zane,” you may ask: Why would you want to live in this Trek world—in which the crew turned into vomit zombies and a drunk officer cut another’s leg to the bone with a contraband bat’leth—but NOT want to live in Discovery or Picard? Because the violence, xenophobia, and general lack of human progress is too virulent and unrelenting in those live-action series, while the violence in Lower Decks is more stylized, comic, and by dint of being animated doesn’t feel as real (and thus depressing).

Also, it’s clear Lower Decks isn’t centered around violence, whether it’s threatening to blow up Qo’noS, enslaved androids being hacked into causing a massacre, or beheading people you don’t agree with. It’s far more aligned with the values of TNG. Its goal of being a Trek comedy inevitably bring up The Orville. I actually thoroughly enjoyed The Orville because it too took place in a lighter-hearted TNG-style world that’s futuristic but also bright and fun.

But as hard as it tries, Orville will always be homage with a hint of satire. Whatever else it is, Lower Decks is Star Trek, through and through. Production of live action Trek is delayed In These Times, and no telling if what we ultimately get won’t be filled with more violence and despair, and the further erosion of my preferred Trekkian outlook. I didn’t know this going in, but Lower Decks is just the Trek I need, just when I needed it.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The show’s logo may be hideous, but the opening sequence is beautiful, showing the Cerritos getting damaged in various ways against gorgeous space backdrops. The credits are also in the same font and color as TNG, which is just fine by me!
  • The USS Cerritos is the perfect balance of familiar details (like the Enterprise-D style deflector dish) in a new orientation. While a little awkward-looking, it’s a clean enough design, and I actually prefer it to the Orville.
  • The Senior Staff is mostly in the background, which is how it should be, but I do like the Riker-esque Cmdr. Ransom and the big burly Bajoran security chief. As for the doctor, she’s from a catlike species first depicted in the original Animated Series but a live-action Caitian admiral appears in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. He was my favorite Trek alien for a long time, even though he was just in the background.
  • On that note, another great thing about an animated Trek is that you can have as many alien officers as you want without worrying about the makeup budget. Orions, Bolians, Andorians, etc.
  • It’s astonishing how many Trek lore Easter eggs this episode manages to cram into the half-hour, but most of them feel organically integrated, rather than shout out “Remember THIS?” or “Remember THAT?” The old didn’t get in the way of the new, but added texture and color.
  • This is a show that rewards die-hard Trekkies, not just with familiar sights and sounds but in how qualities of past Trek characters and episodes inform the crew of the Cerritos.
  • Mariner’s dad is an admiral, but her mom is also her Captain!
  • Rutherford’s date with Ensign Barnes ends up kissing him in a moment of passion after an emergency EVA, but he’s so preoccupied with a code fault in the airlock, and the fact she isn’t preoccupied with it, he later decides not to pursue a second date.
  • The second part of this joke is that Ens. Tendi agrees with his reasoning. Both of them are total Starfleet nerds and I love it.
  • That was a hell of a battle through the decks of the ship…reminded me of the DS9 Genesis game where Sisko has to run through the corridors of the Saratoga after the Borg attack.
  • I have never seen Rick & Morty, but I think part of why I think I’m okay with the very un-anime character design is that I’ve also been recently watching Avatar and Korra, which features an almost-but-not-quite anime style.
  • Other quick production notes: the voice actors all do great work bringing their characters to life, while the orchestral score does what a Trek score should.
  • I’ll be reviewing this series going forward, but future reviews will be shorter and feature fewer images, I promise!

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 03 – The Dream is Over

We rejoin the Super HxEros in the middle of a battle with pixy-like kiseishuu with a penchant for stealing underwear. Momozono Momoka unleashes her powers (and loses her clothes), while Kirara’s would-be decisive blow has no power due to her presently low stores of H-energy. To add insult to injury, the kiseishuu nabs her underwear.

It’s then, and on numerous occasions when upper and lower bodies of characters are prominent—whether wearing underwear or not—that we learn there are two kinds of censorship in DHH: the four-pointed stars that appear when characters are in HxEro Mode, and the classic “soupy fog” of various colors that completely obscures partial or total nudity.

Frankly, around halfway through this episode when we were learning about Momoka’s long-held resentment of her well-endowed model of a big sister in one of the most generic and half-assed backstories in recent memory, my enthusiasm for this show went *poof*—lost into one of those censoring clouds.

After Momoka’s ill-advised long soy milk bath (from which Retto must rescue her), the underwear thieves strike the girl’s locker room, stealing Kirara’s classmate Yuna’s “lucky pair” for her date later that day. Retto ends up tracking the culprit down and retrieving the pair, and Kirara actually does him a solid by vouching for him to Yuna & Co.

Yuna then takes Kirara underwear shopping, with the latter hoping to gain some H-energy with a lucky pair of her own. We then learn that Yuna’s date is with female senpai, which is oddly treated like some kind of punchline, even though her friends are apparently aware Yuna likes girls.

That night Kirara sneaks into Retto’s room to sleep back-to-back with him in her new sexy underwear, hoping it will charge up her H-energy. Both she and Retto remember when they were kids sleeping under a kotatsu and he initially tried to draw on her sleeping face, only to find it too cute and froze up. Their futon session is disrupted by the discovery of Tenkuuji sleeping between them, something I highly doubt they’d have not noticed until that moment!

Kirara finally manages to unleash her HxEros power again, though it happens quite randomly while she’s in bed, and she ends up wasting all of that stored-up H-energy without even accidentally defeating a kiseishuu boss this time. So basically, she has a lot to learn about controlling her clearly considerable powers so they’e actually useful.

I’d usually refrain poking holes in the logic of an ecchi anime involving battling alien libido vampires, but with its branching plots this episode felt so long and ungainly and the censoring so considerable (no doubt since I watched the broadcast version), I found myself gradually checking out. Going by the three-episode rule, I’ve decided to pass on the remainder of Dokyuu Hentai HxEros.

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 02 – Nothing Can Stand Against Two Beating Hearts

This week we get a look into Retto’s daily life at HxEros HQ, and it’s what you’d expect of three girls with high H-Energy levels. First, the dog Runba steals Momozono Momoka’s panties and gives them to Retto, and she reacts by condemning him for not taking them himself like a man.

Then Tenkuuji Sora wakes up in Retto’s own futon, having mistaken his room for hers. Finally there Shirayuki Maihime, the “most decent” of the three, who drops kibble down her shirt compelling Runba to burrow up her shirt and lick her chest.

So we have the brash, uninhibited girl, the sleepy forgetful girl, and the maternal airhead girl. All just thin caricatures so far, but it’s enough for now. As for Kirara, one meeting with Retto’s uncle and she’s out, not ready to hear she “has what it takes” (i.e. Eros) to be a crucial part of the team.

Back at school Kirara is back to her Iron Maiden act, breaking the heart of a guy on the baseball team, and Retto lets her be, honoring his promise not to tell anyone what went down between them. Kirara can’t help but remember just how precocious and forward she used to be with Retto, even putting his hand on her chest then pulling him close so they could compare heartbeats.

When Kirara asks why Retto bothers fighting the Kiseishuu, it’s because while he can’t do anything about the fact he and Kirara’s relationship was ruined by them, he’s determined not to let it happen to anyone else. Then a bee-like Kiseishuu arrives on campus and attacks the baseball player with a crush on Kirara.

The censor bug is drawn to the kid by his lewd thoughts about Kirara, but while he’s definitely heartbroken about her brusque rejection, he still doesn’t want the bee-woman stealing all of his emotions, and Kirara isn’t about to stand by and let her.

So she goes in, confronts her, and very nearly ends up on the wrong end of her stinger. The moment Kirara thinks her goose is cooked, Retto storms in and delivers a devastating uppercut to the bee-woman, defeating her on the spot, keeping his promise never to let a bug touch Kirara ever again.

The force of his attack is such that it destroys both his and her clothes, however, so when the baseball kid comes back with a cop, they have to huddle up inside an unlocked car. Naked and sweating so close to Retto, Kirara can’t help but remember how it felt comparing heartbeats as kids…only this time it’s her heart beating faster.

Heartened by those good old days when she and Retto had fun together, Kirara reverses her decision and decides to join the HxEros after all. All she asks is that Retto refrain from using her to “recharge” his “stores” of H-Energy and/or Eros. Just as she’s about to note there’s an exception to that rule for emergencies, a stuff breeze gives Retto a full look at her lower half, and the mood curdles instantly!

Over at HxEros HQ Momoka is eager to show Kirara around, but perhaps a bit too eager to have the new quintet bonding in a mixed bath. That said, there’s an unintended positive result of dropping Retto into a pile of naked ladies and accidentally groping Kirara: she gets such a shot of H-energy that when she raises her fist in frustration it not only pokes a hole in HQ’s roof, but destroys the episode’s final boss in one shot!

“GUILTY PLEASURE” are the two words constantly flashing in my head as I watch this funny trashy lunacy. The show is keenly aware of what it is and not ashamed to go all out and flaunt it. And all the details are wonderful: everything from suggestive imagery (upturned faucets, “creative” camera angles) to beats like the bee woman protesting “First I’ve heard of it!” in response to Retto’s promise.

There’s definitely not much to other HxEros, but there’s also an underlying sweetness and depth to the central couple that makes it easier to invest in this beyond just naked bug-busting nonsense. And with above-average visuals and music, it’s a show I have no qualms watching.

P.S. The title of his review paraphrases the Klingon legend of the power of two beating hearts in love destroying the gods and burning the heavens to ashes!

Dokyuu Hentai HxEros – 01 (First Impressions) – Same as She Ever Was

We kick off the Summer 2020 season with something dumb, silly, and either fun or tedious, depending on your mileage: a show about teens fighting libido-sucking aliens with their pent-up sexual energy! The world is relying on youth to save it from a future in which no more children are born because they just can’t be bothered to get it on.

This silly (and very familiar) premise is anchored by two childhood friends Hoshino Kirara and Enjou Retto. While Kirara was once very close to and friendly with Retto, one day a switch flipped and she became someone aloof and so disgusted by boys she won’t even touch anything they touched without gloves. At school she’s given the nickname “Iron Maiden”.

Meanwhile, Retto became a superhero. Assuming an alien (called Kiseishuu or “Censor Bugs”) sapped Kirara of all her emotions five years ago, he swore that he wouldn’t let the same awful fate befall anyone else without him doing something about it. That “something” involves focusing his “erotic power” to defeat the Kiseishuu.

One day, while Retto is trying to apologize to Kirara for accidentally groping her when she slipped on steps (as you do), a Kiseishuu who has grown powerful collecting the libidos of townsfolk confronts the two, and Retto doesn’t quite have the necessary power to defeat it.

Retto takes Kirara’s hand in his and flees, and Kirara, touching a boy for the first time in years and not disliking it, is suddenly overcome by erotic energy. Turns out the Kiseishuu didn’t suck all of it out of her years ago; instead it realized she was an exceptionally ridiculous wellspring of the stuff, and she intentionally suppressed it out of shame.

With the monster bearing down on them both, she finally frees her heart from the iron maiden in which it had been locked away, and in the ensuing sharing of energy with Rettou, the two manage to pulverize the Kiseishuu into the stone age. Naturally, a side-effect of using their powers means all of their clothes are torn off.

In the afterglow of their ecchi victory, Kirara offers to help Retto with his alien-bashing work going forward, even slipping up and using his first name after years of refraining from doing so. Then the other three members of Retto’s HxERO superhero group appear to introduce themselves to Kirara, their newest member. Oh and by the way, they all live together, no doubt to keep their HxEro force in top form.

Both the realization she and Retto are nude and the realization he’s been living with three other girls compel Kirara to deliver a couple blows to Retto, but there’s no going back now! Like them, Kirara was born to do this, and no less than the future of humanity depends on their continued victories over the aliens.

So there you have it! As I said earlier, this was silly, dumb, fun, harmless stuff, and even has a smidgen of heart to it what with the pure childhood-friend affection between Kirara and Retto at its core. Production values get the job done, neither embarrassing or exceptional, while the ecchi elements so far follow a restrained less-is-more pattern.

It’s not great, but it was better than I expected as it went along. At the very least, I’ll be checking out the next episode to see how Kirara fits into the superhero milieu.

Darling in the FranXX – 21 – Fight to Live

Things are looking pretty grim with the VIRM’s purple nerve networks overwhelming the blue of the Klaxo princess as Hiro continues to suffocate. However, just his presence in Strelizia Apath’s cockpit seems to have delayed the VIRM self-destruct booby trap the princess triggered.

But he only delayed it; Hiro’s friends and allies have just 72 minutes to do something before Apath blows and takes Earth with it. Just as that countdown begins, Zero Two arrives at the control room where Franxx and Hachi are observing events…and she promptly passes out.

When she comes to, she learns from Franxx that she is a clone of the princess, the last surviving member of a Klaxo Sapiens species that fought a millions-of-years-long war with the invading VIRM. That war changed the  once-cosmopolitan Klaxos into sterile war machines, just as humans have become something similar.

Franxx created Zero Two from DNA from the princess so that humanity had someone on their side who could operate Star Entity. He created the human Nines so that she had backup. Reuniting her and Hiro was simply a “scientist’s whim.” For her part, Zero Two doesn’t care about clones or fakes or the VIRM; she just wants to fulfill her promise.

To do so, she has to get back to Hiro in Strelizia Apath. Since the path to the Grand Cradle is sealed and can only be accessed by the princess, Franxx comes along. Right on time, Squad 13 arrives to escort them, bringing a much-needed smile to Zero Two’s face. Time is running out, but it looks like they’re going to make it.

Kokoro, Michiru, Miku and Ikuno stay behind to fend off the VIRM that followed them, so that escort shrinks to one: Delphinium. When they arrive at the door, another VIRM attacks and Ichiro and Goro keep it away from Zero Two and Franxx by grabbing it and jumping off a ledge to an uncertain fate.

Franxx reveals Zero One DNA in his left arm, which the tentacles of the door snatch (with little regard to Franxx’s human parts), and a Klaxosaur snake arrives and opens wide for Zero Two to ride to the Cradle, leaving Franxx behind. One by one, people are sacrificing their lives to give Zero Two the smallest of small chances of stopping the end of the world.

Before leaving Franxx, rather than curse him for what he did to her, as he fully expects her to do, she thanks him for creating her and allowing her to meet her Darling. Love, in Zero Two’s case, trumps hate.

When she arrives, things are bad; both the princess and Hiro are unresponsive. But Zero Two won’t accept it. She kisses Hiro in hopes of taking away the burden of the VIRM infection. Zero One watches in spectral form and is moved (as much as an ancient sentient weapon can be “moved”) to lend to Zero Two what remains of her powers.

In mid-kiss, Zero Two and Hiro share a moment in an idyllic setting, in a wintry place that looks similar to the forest to which they escaped years ago. They kiss in this place too, and in the real world Strelizia Apath “hatches” from the shell around the cradle, and launches a massive beam that obliterates the VIRM fleet in space. In the ensuing chaos, Franxx is crushed, but got to see his life’s work realized, and the world saved because of it.

The VIRM snatch Hringhorni from Strelizia and retreat, vowing to return with a full army (it’s somewhat frightening that what we saw was just a “small detachment” and not at all representative of their full force). But for now, at least, the world is safe.

Time for a big party with good food, good friends, and good conversation, right? Except that the fleet-destroying attack seems to have taken everything Zero Two had. She’s slumped in the cockpit, unresponsive, and her red horns have crumbled.

Could this be the end for Zero Two; one last sacrifice to keep the world alive? And is there any kind of world in which Hiro wants to even live that doesn’t have her in it? I’d predicted often that Zero Two would eventually bite the dust early in the show, a la Kamina, but the fact we’ve (presumably) lost her with just three episodes left somehow hurts all the more.

Darling in the FranXX – 17 – All the New Rules are Starting to be Scrapped

Things have gotten so blissfully domestic in the scarred remains of Mistilteinn, Zero Two files her horns like one trims their nails, and Miku makes her a tiara of flowers that give her a more regal bearing. There’s a very Garden of Eden/Earthly Delights about their home, especially with Hiro Kokoro already having met their “serpents” in Zero Two and the pregnancy book, respectively.

Both have lent knowledge “Papa” (i.e. God”) did not directly give them, and has fundamentally changed their destinies, with Kokoro gaining the drive to procreate and Hiro growing horns of his own. Once Adam and Eve Know Too Much, anyone who’s read Genesis knows what happens next—expulsion from paradise. Papa’s agents arrive almost on queue to “check on” Squad 13 and see if any “corrections” are needed.

The Nines come dripping with the smug superiority you’d expect of such agents, looking down upon the less-than-ideal living conditions. None of them seem to touch the meager repast their hosts made and caught themselves—and no doubt can’t afford to waste. They look upon Squad 13 with pity, if not outright disgust, and their honeyed words and wry grins are fooling nobody (except Zorome, of course).

Meanwhile, during their latest meeting in the “birdcage” conservatory, Kokoro finally tries to come on to Mitsuru, having read the contents of the pregnancy booklet over and over, seeing the profound difference in their bodies, and thinking how right it feels to bring them together to make a life that will carry on after they’re gone.

Unfortunately, the night before while bumping into a Nine, Kokoro lost her booklet and it fell into Alpha’s hands. That’s when the wry grin vanishes.

Mitsuru rebuffed Kokoro’s advancements, but more out of shock that she was acting on feelings he knew he had for her. It takes a bath with his old buddy Hiro to realize those are feelings of love, and he should do what his heart is telling him to do.

Before he has a chance to, the Nines confront Kokoro in front of the rest Squad 13 (who heard from Zorome that she and Mitsuru are an “item” now), and Alpha presents her baby booklet, full of straight-up taboo ideas that aren’t even supposed to be spoken of. Reproduction has been banned ever since humans “evolved past it.”

What’s interesting is how Alpha handles what could be a life-jeopardizing situation for Kokoro like a hall monitor finding contraband. He is merely an instrument of Papa speaking only with Papa’s voice. But his dispassionate tone becomes cruel when Kokoro makes her case for why humans are no different in other animals, and how there should be more to life than piloting FranXX into battle.

He calls her and her perfectly reasonable ideas utterly “disgusting”, and for that, Ikuno slaps him and has to be held back from doing more, not merely lashing out on Kokoro’s behalf, but due to her own unrequited love for Ichigo.

Hachi and Nana separate Kokoro from the others and reveals that they’ve been watching Squad 13 all along, as part of Dr. FranXX’s “final test” for them. When Nana insists that even talking about reproduction is banned, let alone doing ti, Kokoro rightfully asks why they have the organs to do so, and emotions that seem to compel them to do so.

These questions from Kokoro spark a sharp visceral reaction in Nana, leading both Hachi and Alpha to suspect that she’s “relapsed to puberty”, which is ominously referred to as “not being good” for the person to which it happens. Alpha even blithely suggests they replace her with a “new Nana,” as the current one has been rendered “useless.” Harsh shit.

Based on Dr. FranXX’s reaction to Squad 13’s developments (and absent further information) it seems his primary goal was to see how easing 13’s emotional and sexual suppression would improve their performance as weapons against the Klaxosaurs. After all, he never expected his experiments would lead 13 to develop “humanity’s original reproductive instincts.”

And yet, here we are. When two members of APE arrive at Klaxosaur Central (presumably in the Gran Crevasse), they meet the humanoid “Princess of the Klaxosaurs” and formally ask her to surrender to Humanity and end the now century-long war.

When she refuses, one of the APE members attacks her, and she slaughters him, his partner, and their three guards with ease. When she removes the mask of one of the corpses to find nothing there, she derides them as “human wannabes.”

That got the gears going in my head: what if, perhaps a century ago or more, aliens invaded earth and imposed the system they have now? What if the “humans” we’ve seen in the various plantations are the anamoly, and the Klaxosaurs are actually closer to what humans used to be?

We can’t say how far in the future this story takes place, so the fact Nana, Hachi, and the parasites we’ve watched could have tricked us into thinking they’re “real humans” with their familiar looks and ways of living. The Princess’ words throw everything into doubt…though one thing we learn from Zero Two is that she can’t reproduce like humans.

Earlier in the series I doubt anyone would have guessed that the first Squad 13 couple to jump into bed together would be Kokoro and Mitsuru, but here we are. I enjoyed the contrast between the candlelit chasteness of Zero Two and Hiro’s romance, and the more physical, primal, hot-and-heavy Kokoro+Mitsuru variety that finally crests with the two having sex.

It is an act of simple human biology, and yearning to decide one’s future with one’s own heart an act of simple human psychology. But in their artificial world, these are also acts of rebellion, as well as capital crimes for which there may well be dire consequences. After all, Dr. FranXX, Hachi, Nana, the Nines, and APE are all watching. The Garden of Eden may feel secluded, but nothing that goes on there is really private.

APE, however, have more pressing matters. The Princess has violently rebuffed their condescending “olive branch”, and so they vow the Klaxosaurs will “feel the pain of having their earth scorched by their own creation.” ‘Their?’ Scratch that about aliens: perhaps Klaxosaurs are highly-evolved humans who created the APE and their ilk; now they’re at war with them, with Zero Two, Hero, and Squad 13 stuck in the middle.

While we’re on the subject of creations coming to bite their creators in the ass, I’ll close with that iconic quote from Jurassic Park:

Ian: God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs.

Ellie: Dinosaurs eat man…Woman inherits the earth.

Hey, at least Dinosaurs never destroyed God…right?

ClassicaLoid – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Gist: Kanae is a sad, lonely girl who misses her late Grandmother. Kanae lives in a huge mansion covered in musical icons but, more importantly, she’s surrounded by selfish pricks who won’t leave. Unfortunately, a developer has purchased the building and is about to demolish it.

However,  looses his cool when, yet again, he is interrupted from eating Gyoza. Beethoven gets on the roof and magically transforms, blasts music, and scares the developer’s construction crew away. (more specifically, he conjures ghosts for everyone to dance with and turns a pipe organ and a recking ball into mechs that dance)

Later, in the offices of a secret organization, it is implied that Beethoven is an alien. (a ‘classical-oid) So… that.

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The Verdict: the visuals are over the top but fairly average in rendering, as is the humor. Despite their charms, I can’t say I actually like or empathize with any of the characters either, because they are all selfish and absurd.

Ultimately, ClassicaLoid doesn’t earn a space on my review docket but I can recommend the first episode. Especially they dialog-free opening scene that matches music to cooking.

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Kuromukuro – 09

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Not long after coming to in a cave filled with clocks and obsolete electronics, Yukina passes back out, as if hypnotized by the mysterious figure with the robotic voice and her dad’s watch and journal. She wakes up in a bus shelter, where Akagi and Kaya find her.

Just like that, all the potential answered questions about Yukina’s dad, and all the other mysteries in that cave, dissipate. That was a little disappointing, and the whole cave thing felt like a tease, but I came to forgive the episode when Yukina came around on piloting the artifact with Ken.

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What I like is that there wasn’t any one reason she didn’t want to and tried to run away: she’s scared; overwhelmed by the pressure; uncertain if this was the right path. But she also doesn’t like how she’s been ordered around like some automaton. Would it hurt for someone to ask her nicely?

Having dealt with her absence, Ken is resolved to let Yukina go, but Yukina isn’t ready for Ken to disappear from her life. She’s taken a shine to the guy, and vice versa, and when he realizes it’s as simple as asking nicely, he does so, and before lone Yukina is back in the cockpit with him.

I also appreciated that Hiromi’s decision not to let the military force her daughter into the artifact, even using her body as a shield. The protection is unneccesary, as Yukina was only “annoyed with herself” and needed some time and space, which she got, and is now willing to do her part.

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Once Yukina and Ken are in their tough new skin-tight nanofiber flight suits, Yukina puts on a brave front but Ken sees her hands shaking. She admits it: she’s scared shitless, but that command artifact out there isn’t going to defeat itself, and she doesn’t want Ken to use her absence as an excuse to get himself killed, nor does she like the idea of him sacrificing his life to save her. She’d prefer if they get through this together.

What “that” is could have been very intriguing indeed, had Efidolg succeeded in abducting Glongur and bringing Yukina and Ken up to the mothership. But that possibility is negated when the UN’s hunch about the tractor beam neutralizing the artifacts’ shields proves true.

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Another possibility not realized: Akagi and Kaya are once again very close to an errant missle explosion, but neither is even slightly injured. Not sure why they keep teasing the fact that these two could end up stains on the mountainside, adding to Yukina’s burden by association, but Akagi is determined to play a larger role in her protection, and not just because he teased her when they were little.

Sophie and the guy with the dirty mouth show up to take out the small fry, leaving Ken free to take on the boss artifact. He has trouble with his acrobatics, but Yukina again uses her unusually extensive knowledge of geology to lure the artifact onto a rock face she knows will crumble.

Rather than self-destruct, the Efidolg pilot surrenders. This was initially surprising, but I’m pretty sure when both Plan A (capturing Glongur) and Plan B (defeating Glongur in a duel) failed, he pivots to Plan C: letting yourself be captured by the enemy so you can learn more about them and possibly escape and cause more damage from within. We’ll see how he plays it.

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Kuromukuro – 08

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Like Ikari Shinji, who was overwhelmed by duties and expectations, Yukina seeks refuge away from the places that have oppressed her, but neither strays too far. Yukina hides out in Ogino’s room (decorated with posters of other P.A. Works), unsure of what she wants to do but very sure of what she doesn’t, namely fight and kill people in Glongur.

Ogino is a good friend in that she lets her crash there, lies to her mom for her, and gives her space to sulk. But she’s also a good friend because she provides her own perspective on Yukina’s plight—i.e. it’s a blessing, not a curse—and tells her the sulking and running has to end eventually, and she has to go home.

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Akagi and Kaya turn out to be fine, and were only gone as long as they were because Akagi’s bike ran out of gas. He gets a punch and a stern reaming from his father, warning his son not to “keep living for others’ approval,” but Akagi is mostly concerned with gaining Yukina’s approval, and he feels bad for ending up in a position where she might have been hurt.

Ken claims not to be worried about Yukina, and is only searching for the key to his artifact, but let’s be real here: of course he’s worried; after all, he’s still not certain Yukina isn’t the reincarnation of his princess. The princess is gone and his sense of purpose with it…except that Yukina has been filling the role of protectee he needs so dearly.

Talk about what Yukina wants comes up both in class and at UN control. Sophie suspects that if Yukina being in that artifact’s cockpit is the only thing keeping Earth safe, Yukina’s getting in that cockpit, whether she wants to or not. Unlike Shinji’s dad Gendo, Hitomi isn’t ready to commit to forcing Yukina; she’s more concerned with simply finding her.

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Yukina’s would-be protectors mount a search for her; Ken on the big horse he met earlier, Akagi on his refueled bike (with Kaya tagging alone, hungry for more viral streaming).

Rather than go to school (which would feel like a quick surrender), Yukina heads into the Kurowashi Valley, where the castle of Ken’s lord once stood but has since been reclaimed by nature.

Not having any satisfying answers about how to proceed, perhaps she thinks following her father’s journal and exploring the site where the demons once attacked might shed some light on her proper path. Or heck, maybe she’ll find her missing dad.

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Little does she know, the area is swarming with formerly dormant Efidolg Cactii, one of which zeros in on her location and attacks her. She’s saved neither by Ken (who gets close but never finds her by episode’s end) or Akagi (who took off later).

Instead, the magenta cactus is destroyed by a mysterious blue robot and a man with a very sharp sword and a watch Yukina instantly recognizes as—you guessed it—her father’s. The way this reunion has unfolded, it’s almost as if Yukina was always meant to ‘run away’ (even just a little bit) in search of either a reason for—or alternative to—pilot Glongur.

I’ll close by presenting two little snippets from the episode of both Ken and Yukina talking to themselves:

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I just wanted to point these moments out because I laughed heartily at both, for different reasons. Ken’s surprise at the horse’s size is another unique product of a samurai from four centuries ago suddenly finding himself in the present, where horses (and Japanese people) are simply larger due to better food, medicine, and breeding. His delivery is great too.

Yukina’s observation, on the other hand, is one of the most sophisticated collections of words she’s spoken. It seems meant to show us there’s more to this unmotivated airhead than meets the eye. She’s either a secret geology buff or maybe she was just paying special attention to one particular part of class.

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One Punch Man – 12 (Fin)

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With just one episode left, One Punch Man doesn’t waste any time with an OP or recap; we’re plunged right into the hugely-anticipated Saitama-Boros bout. It’s everything I could have hoped for. As Saitama claims an early arm from Boros, below the ship the S’s finish off their opponent, led by Silverfang/Bang, who grabs the foe’s core before he can regenerate his body around it, showing sprightliness beyond his years. Drive Knight also warns Genos not to trust Metal Knight, potentially presaging interhero treachery.

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Meantime, it’s back to the Main Event. Yep, all my shows are ending the same way, but that’s okay, as they’ve all used slightly different approaches to the Final Epic Duel. OPM gets into abstract territory by unleashing a lush and dazzling rainbow of colors, textures, movements, and styles of line, with ironically very little damage being done to either combatant. Hell, Saitama is punched literally To The Moon—what I assume is an equally iconic image in the manga.

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But it’s no big; Saitama takes advantage of the Moon’s weaker gravity to blast himself right back to ex-City A (causing the alien ship to list in the process) and the battle continues. It’s clear both combatants are having a lot of fun, now that they’re fighting opponents who won’t go down instantly. And many a frame in the fight would make a great piece of art to hang on your wall.

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After hearing about so many special moves from so many foes, Saitama decides to break out his ulitmate move: Killer Move: Serious Series…Serious Punch. And No, he doesn’t need to work on that awful name; the fact that it’s awful matches his persona perfectly…not to mention reminds me of “The Paddling of the Swollen Ass…With Paddles.”

Whatever it’s called, it’s the punch that defeats Boros, who remains alive long enough to thank Saitama for a good fight, happy that the prophecy proved true, but also very cognizant of the fact Saitama had plenty of strength to spare and held back; Boros never had a chance of beating him. It’s nice to hear an enemy admit defeat so graciously at the end, rather than cursing and fuming his way to the grave, as many a final boss are wont to do.

As for his surviving crew? The Class S’s round them up and take them into custody, but before that, Amai Mask confronts them and tells them what a terrible job they did due to the destruction of City A and resultant damage to the Hero Association’s reputation. He doubts the media and public will buy that they “did their best”, even though they did.

Amai Mask thus reveals himself as the ultimate villain in OPM; the guy who’s never satisfied with a victory he did not himself create. Metal Knight swoops in like a vulture to pick the bones of the alien ship and develop new weapons…for, uh, for peace. Right.

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Due to coincidence, Tornado happens to be floating right by the exact spot where Saitama bursts out of the wreckage of the ship, where he’s met by an elated Genos. Both of them ignore the little green esper until she protests, and Genos shows some rare saltiness by calling her a spoiled brat and ordering her silence (Bang breaks up an extended fight).

While Amai Mask is initially right and the destruction of City A remains in the headlines for months, news about it, and any public disgust that went with it, eventually fades. The Hero Association builds an even bigger, stronger headquarters, and builds highways sprawling out like spokes from a wheel to every city for quick dispatch of heroes. Humanity comes out of its clash with Boros’ ship stronger than ever.

And, in a comforting epilogue, Saitama and Genos remain Master and Apprentice in mopping up baddies who’d threaten humanity. Sure, there’s still a lot of collateral damage in such battles, but buildings and infrastructure can always be rebuilt. Evil must be punched, and Saitama and Genos will keep punching, for fun and profit. Here’s hoping someday we get to watch them punch more.

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One Punch Man – 11

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I’d call this episode a non-stop action thrill ride, but to its credit, it’s not exactly non-stop. Sure, millions of lives hang in the balance as the Class S heroes fight the alien invaders, but there’s a lovely nonchalance about how they’re fighting, almost like another day at the office, while the ship up above also offers moments of workplace comedy and the inefficiencies of bureaucracy, even on a space pirate ship.

Saitama is laying absolute waste to the ship, but the alien leader’s lieutenants are either off doing their own stuff, hiding out on the bridge, or already dead. That leader, the one-eyed Lord Boros, seems unconcerned with the damage to his ship; instead, he seems to want to meet with the one doing the damage.

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But he doesn’t make it easy. Saitama loses his way, then ends up on the bridge by not falling for the oldest trick in the book (being told to go right when he should go left). Then the blue octopus-like lieutenant shows off his elaborate destructive powers, but is really just tossing lots of rocks at Saitama, who dodges everything, then splits the guy’s head in two with just one well-struck stone.

Down on the surface, the heroes eventually figure out they need to destroy the cores of their foe to prevent him from regenerating. Before they do, a lower-class hero laments that as Class S heroes they’re very stuck in their ways and not prone to listening to their inferiors, even if their ways are futile and listening could get them somewhere.

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When the progress bar on the artillery department tech’s computer finally fills up, the ship prepares to unleash another barrage of shells on the surface, killing all the heroes below, but Tornado arrives just in time and shows just how useful she is to have around by stopping the falling shells, then turning them around and launching them at the ship.

Saitama doesn’t see the effects of that damage, as he’s deep in the core of the ship, having finally found the Guy In Charge, Boros, who tells Saitama here there to fulfill the prophecy of a warrior who is his match in a fight, thus curing him of his existential ennui.

We’ve seen how similar Saitama and Mumen Rider are, but Boros could be an example of what happens when someone with Saitama’s level of ability (or something close to it)  uses his power for so long he runs out of enemies to fight.

Saitama destroys his armor easily enough, but Boros gets right back up, unharmed by one punch and unleashing his full power. Only one episode left to see how many more punches Saitama will need to send this jerk packing.

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