Kekkai Sensen & Beyond – 01 (First Impressions)

Kekkai Sensen returns with quite a few literal bangs, launching straight back into high gear in a feverishly action-packed opening salvo; a colorful ballet of bizarre blink-and-you’ll-miss it sights.

In the middle of all this chaos is Leonardo Watch, delivering pizzas as Femt unleashes a swarm of vicious flesh-eating monsters on Hellsalem’s Lot; a swarm the superpowered agents of Libra quickly pacify…while yelling the longwinded names of special moves over one another. Klaus von Reinherz is always good for an epic coup-de-grace, and we get one in the very first minutes. Sometimes more is more.

Leo finally has a home all his own, and is about to fire up his much-awaited (and very expensive) X-Station Double X video game sconsole when his pals Zapp and Zed toss a metal box through his window containing none other than the disembodied head of American Presidential Envoy Franz Ackerman, who far calmer about being just a head than I would be.

Within a few minutes of meeting Ackerman(‘s head) Leo finds himself caught up in another multi-vector, high-powered battle between the various criminal factions after the head, and his new home and video game console are destroyed. IN the first episode. Poor guy. Fortunately, he’s got powerful friends who are more than a match for his pursuers.

All Leo has to do is keep running towards Federal Hall, where Ackerman’s address will take place, and Libra takes care of him. That’s easier said than done, as the constant outrageous attempts on his life by more and more dangerous monsters and artillery take their toll on Leo’s psyche until he’d rather simply curl up in a ball.

It’s Ackerman, who again, is a head relieved of his body, who manages to instill a sense of hope and duty in Leo, asserting that “willingly backing down while any possibility remains is unreasonable beyond reason!”

Leo borrows his co-worker’s pizza delivery bike, head and body are reunited, the address promotion rapprochement between the two worlds takes place, and Libra can score another victory in maintaining balance. Unfortunately, Leo doesn’t get reimbursed by the government for his lost home and video games, as Acky promised. Hey, politicians can inspire, but they also often lie to achieve their ends!

It’s a rousing return to one of my favorite series in recent years, owing to it’s strangeness, its bizarre beauty, its bumping soundtrack, and its wide storytelling potential. More of this, please!

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Taboo Tattoo – 02

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From a professional artistic standpoint, Taboo Tattoo is garbage. A simple example of this is it’s incomprehensible choices in framing. As seen above, Seigi is talking to two characters sitting next to each other. This isn’t a pan-shot. They literally did not frame one of the characters.

In this same frame, Seigi is also information repeating as a question… information he’d been given last episode and had time to absorb. Call and counter call scenes like:

“we’re in the Army” “you, the army?” and “it may result in your death” “my death?” are a convention for abhorrently bad anime/rpg writing, they also waste of our time as viewers, since we’ve been told the information multiple times and gain nothing from hearing the character’s non-reaction.

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An example chest level shot… after a floor level shot, transitioning into an over the shoulder (but back in the room) shot, all within a second’s time. (then 2 different shots of Seigi gasping for air on the floor of his room — jesus stop moving the camera!)

In more general examples, the framing bounces from multiple characters’ points of view during an exchange. Maybe it’s low with a character on the floor looking up at who’s talking, followed by looking back down at the listening character, or across the room in an establishing shot.

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It’s constant but unnecessary movement, generally in scenes where slower, more traditional pans would anchor us to a single point of view and let us absorb the scene from that point of view, thus gaining a degree of emotional connection with the character holding that view.

tl;dr throwing the camera around the room during a conversation doesn’t make the conversation more interesting. The opposite in fact.

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An example of the glimmer of greatness: casually reading a manga about a teen freaking out while talking calmly about a grim situation to a teen who’s freaking out…

What’s actually maddening about Taboo Tattoo is that, despite its artlessness, the dark character that shows up this week was actually interesting. Even if only for the chained-up loli aesthetic.

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Similarly, TT pokes fun at a few conventions of anime in general. Army-chan lolz off Seigi’s attempt to intimidate her by smacking the wall and his classmates are all like ‘you are a protagonist so we’re going to throw you out the window because screw you for auto-getting the girl’

It’s almost clever enough — almost fun enough — but god damn it’s so incompetently put together 90% of the time I can’t get into it. /Rant

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Taboo Tattoo – 01 (First Impressions)

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Seigi is a middle school martial artist living with his emotionally damaged grand father/martial arts sensei. See, Seigi’s father died ‘because he wasn’t strong enough’ and his mother made his childhood friend look out for him, which she does in wifu-like fashion.

Also, AMERICANS are plotting to destroy the second most powerful economy in the world, some south east asian island kingdom and Seigi’s middle school friends tell him the rumor is the AMERICANS have created super science tattoos to do just that!

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In fact, Seigi acquires one of these tattoos from a friendly stranger in the very first scene and then meets a young looking (but apparently 30?) female AMERICAN military spy who’s collecting the tattoos that were stolen from AMERICA (by the Yakuza?) and are being sold in Japan.

Unfortunately, she beats the living #$^* out of Seigi AND explains the entire premise of the show to him, including how the tattoos need to be primed before they will work. Except Seigi’s doesn’t, because it’s the most powerful tattoo (the Void Maker), which Seigi uses to save his life from an AMERICAN mafia guy named Bear Teddy, who’s also got a tattoo and is trying to kill all the tattooed competition.

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TT defies criticism, largely because it is so completely terrible that it’s hard to know where to start. The pacing is absurdly abrupt and the story is nonsensically idiotic. (AMERICA’s secret weapon is apparently common knowledge to Japanese middle schoolers who read Otaku blogs)

If exposition blasting us with the plot wasn’t bad enough, Seigi’s ‘become the super hero of legend’ arc is generic, his childhood friend’s personality and narrative purpose is generic, the art style is weirdly deformed (their heads are occasionally too big) and a character even has cat ears because, fuck why not right??

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The animation during the fighting is okay. Maybe even serviceable. But over all, it is not a looker.

The only moment of joy in the entire episode was Seigi’s request for “Native American Indian Curry Udon” for dinner, which his waifu’s closest approximation apparently involves cabbage and a Jamaican recipe. The runner up? …unexplained cat ears on the AMERICAN. ugh…

This show is complete horseshit.

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GATE – 10

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Itami’s awkward situation is resolved when a “rude” cell phone interrupts Rory’s advances. Moments later, the three special forces teams converge, and Rory takes them all out as they take out one another. So in effect, Rory ends up getting off; only as a demigod, and not as a human.

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The group then goes back on the run, commandeering a van and booking it for Ginza, where the visitors are to pay a visit to the memorial honoring the victims of the special region’s initial invasion attempt. Kuribayashi way way way overreacts to her CO’s ignorance of the situation by pulling a goddamn gun on him (one would think such actions usually warrant court martial).

His ex-wife uses the web to make sure there will be a big enough crowd of fans waiting for them in Ginza to dissuade the bad guys from making any further attempts to kidnap the visitors. She also shows she knows Itami to a T when she accurately describes just how each of the three visitors appeals to him, whether it’s Tuka’s looks, Rory’s personality, or Lelei’s vulnerability.

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The less said about the U.S. president speaking directly to a covert field agent—without any organizational distance or attempt to achieve plausible deniability—the better. Sorry, but a sitting president is more likely to be jizzed on by a salmon than be this idiotically close to this sensitive and covert an operation.

“Agent Graham” is introduced as one of the only survivors of Rory’s massacre (why she spared anyone is also beyond me), and he still tries to salvage the situation by attempting to pluck one or more of the visitors from the streets of Ginza, where the throngs of fans have amassed and been parted like the waves of the Red Sea by Rory, resplendent in her gothic lolita garb.

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Itami, Kuribayashi, and Tomita escort the visitors to the memorial, with all eyes and cameras on them, foiling any designs Graham may have had. Kuribayashi also bumps into her sister, a rookie news reporter, and report everything they’ve been through and everyone who has been chasing them on live TV. Within minutes, all of the CIA agents in Japan are arrested—which almost makes up for her pointing a gun at Itami earlier.

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After praying at the memorial, the group goes back through the gate and returns to the Special Region base. Itami is exhausted, wishing he’d been able to go on an actual vacation, while the three girls all look back on their visit with fondness, whether due to the dazzling technology (Lelei), the shopping (Tuka), or the opportunity to kill lots of people (Rory).

Pina, on the other hand, took something else away from her visit to Japan: they are an enemy her empire will never be able to defeat, and if her empire fights a war, they will not only lose, but be utterly destroyed. She vows to head back to the capital to put an end to the war once and for all. Something tells me she’s going to run into some opposition…probably from some old men.

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GATE – 09

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GATE’s ninth episode starts out doing well by me, serving up more of what I want the show to focus on: Itami and his circle of comrades and friends in a slice-of-lifey manner. Sure, Pina’s constant mistaking the world for her own gets old pretty quick, but I chuckled at their sudden fascination with BL literature. It’s also fun watching Rory haughtily claiming not to need any other garb, then changing her mind as soon as she sees something she likes.

Then Itami is approached by none other than the Japanese Defense Minister in Akiba, who orders him to take the Special Regioners to the designated safe house: a hot spring inn. Thus begins one of the stranger and yet also somehow duller onsen episodes in recent memory.

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I say dull because there’s nothing that goes on that is particularly unique or interesting about their stay. They’re having a lot more fun than I am watching them, and other than learning a little more about Itami through his ex-wife (who apparently chose to marry him rather than starve) nothing much of consequence was revealed about anyone (save one person; more on that later). And fine, Drunk Kuribayashi was cool too.

I say strange because the whole time they’re relaxing and bathing and drinking, the inn is surrounded by Japanese special forces assigned to guard them, along with a bunch of American, (and Russian, and Chinese) agents, locked in a pretty uninspiring special forces forest battle.

International politics come to the fore when the U.S. President essentially blackmails the Japanese Prime Minister into taking the guards off of the Special Regioners, leaving them exposed to capture. The show also implies that had they not been ordered to stand down, the Japanese SFG would have eliminated all of the enemies easily. We get it, show; you reeeeally don’t like bureaucrats.

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But the whole idea of A.) those enemy forces getting so close to the inn in the first place and B.) everything about the president and prime minister mostly struck me as dumb. Dumb to the point of making me question continuing to watch this show, so tired am I of our diverging priorities. The high-level political stuff is already insufferable, and there’s every possibility there will only be more of it in the second cour.

There’s a little consolation in the fact Itami and Rory are the last two standing after a night of drinking (both of them would also be the two most aware of what’s going on outside), and Rory lamenting that once she rises to godhood she’ll lose both the pain and pleasures of the flesh, before coming onto Itami, who is, after all, unmarried, available, and conscious.

But the final scene isn’t fooling anyone. There will be no getting it on tonight for Itami and Rory, as their activities are sure to be rudely interrupted by an approaching group of American guerrillas. I hope they don’t get far with their kidnapping plans and/or Rory puts the righteous hurt on them for ruining one of the last moments in her semi-mortal life to get some.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 10 (Fin)

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ARISE – Alternative Architecture last episode wasn’t just a glorified prologue to the upcoming film that continues the re-imagining of Ghost in the Shell, but a petty satisfying conclusion to the ten-episode television adaptation of the four ARISE movies. It’s an ellipsis, to be sure, but I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a good place to pause, and created anticipation for what’s to come.

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Pyrophoric Cult’s second part succeeded as both end and prologue to ARISE because it captured and distilled the cyberpunk fun of Ghost in the Shell. Things are pretty simple this week: transport Hozuki’s head to the Americans, where her secrets will be extracted and she’ll be sent into exile.

The show’s dry and somewhat dark (in this case) sense of humor comes out in the way Kusanagi says goodbye to the Hozuki head before closing her in a convenient carrying case, then tells her men that as Hozuki is still technically alive, they need to treat her as such, right before unceremoniously heaving the case into the back of a van like a sack of rice, making a satisfying clank in the process.

It’s a great expression of Kusanagi’s frustration with the piddling transport job, as well as a nice F-U to Hozuki for all the trouble she’s caused.

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Not long after the job starts, though, Pyromaniac escapes from custody with the help of Kurtz who just waltzes into the facility where he’s being held, a rare case of hands-on action on her part that would incriminate her if her quarry weren’t someone capable of wiping all security records of said facility.

Before he escapes, he hacks into the cyberbrains of all the scientists analyzing him, some of whom are American. Among those codes is the capability of launching a nasty-looking American drone helicopter to harass Kusanagi’s convoy.

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The drone doesn’t destroy them, but leads them to an American base, where a platoon of Fire-Starter-hacked special forces wearing optical camouflage are waiting. The purpose of the multi-pronged attack on Kusanagi is ostensibly to take out any possible agents who are a legitimate threat to the existence of Fire-Starter virus, which include her and Hozuki.

But Kusanagi won’t go out without a fight, and indeed never seems to panic, even though she and her whole team have been lured right where the enemy wants them. Ever the level-headed military woman, she splits her men up and delegates tasks to them, each according to their skills, while she dives into her personal net, wrangles up an impromptu strike force of mercenary hackers to disable the hacked special forces.

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Once that’s done, she manages to find Pyromaniac himself and enters his “world”, which resembles the Kuzan battlefield that presumably embittered him to his present crusade. Yet she’s almost disappointed to learn he’s not even a “true” ghost, only an amalgam of false memories created by Fire-Starter; a glorified A.I. Even the banter he delivers turns out to be wooden because it was simply uploaded to give him a little more personality.

Most impressively, while Kusanagi may appear to be on the ropes, in reality she’s in complete control of the situation, creating a decoy of herself to fool Pyro and then surrounding him with delete protocols. All that was missing from her coup-de-grace was shouting “BANG!” as she formed a gun with her hand, though that would admittedly been a bit cliche.

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Thus Kusanagi gets a victory in this final week, one that’s both convincing and satisfying, and the product of relatively easy-to-follow teamwork, both from her unit guys and Aramaki pulling the political strings. Sure, her direct interfacing with and deleting Pyro may have been Kurtz’s plan all along, as Kurtz’s parting shot is one of confidence and anticipation rather than anger at being foiled. But the next confrontation between Kusanagi and her former CO will be one of many matters for the film.

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For now, I’ll enjoy Kusanagi’s provisional win, and the somewhat cheeky ending of Kusanagi appearing in a military uniform to receive formal thanks from the Prime Minister. Even Aramaki doesn’t want to hear about some of the things Kusanagi learned while in her dive with Pyro; proportionally speaking, the Prime Minister is completely in the dark about what the good Major and her team did and how they did it.

All the Prime Minister needs or cares to see is the smiling, uniformed Shell standing at attention, telling him it’s all in a day’s work, while it’s the jumpsuit-wearing Ghost and her cohorts working in the deep cyber-shadows to keep his government—and his brain—in one piece.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 09

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In the final fifth of AAA, Kusanagi’s team grows tantalizingly closer to Fire-Starter, locating and capturing a man believed to be only one degree of separation from the unseen antagonist of the series. This man, called “Pyromania” by the Yanks, likes to spout quasi-religious drivel as he blows up airliners.

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About the Americans: Aramaki has little choice but to give them command of the operation to capture Pyromania, but Kusanagi sees the kick-down to observer status as a challenge: no matter what the bureaucracy decides, she’ll prove which team is more capable of getting the job done.

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Kusanagi believes she has the edge because she has access to Hozuki, or rather, the head of Hozuki, recovered from the attempt on her life. Kusanagi hopes the considerable state secrets contained within Hozuki’s brain will prove enticing enough to bait Pyromania.

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Once the operation is underway, Pyromania manages to hack many of the joint teams supporting cast; even the American Jeril is hacked and starts shooting her 9mm at Hozuki’s titanium brain case. But once the hacked parties are neutralized, Kusanagi, Ishikawa, and three Logicomas begin the cyberbattle with Pyro, visualized with 3D graphic representations. I have to admit, the battle gets a little chaotic and hard to follow on the screen, but I kept up with what was supposedly happening.

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In the end, Kusanagi is able to pinpoint Pyro’s location and take him into custody, but they aren’t able to recover any more information about Fire-Starter from his cyberbrain, as it’s all been wiped. But that clearly isn’t going to stop Kusanagi from getting her man.

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Meanwhile, her former commander Kurtz seems to be intricately involved in the Fire-Starter affair, pulling strings from her rather ungainly Ferrari stretch limo, hoping to gain control of the “third world”.

It always seems to come down to someone close to Kusanagi’s past. And on that subject, not much ground was covered (i.e. none) on Kusanagi’s struggles with her identity; suffice it to say she seems content to define herself as a leader of those who will stand before extremists who would use all the technology available to them to wreak havoc. And right now, Fire-Starter is her nemesis.

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Arpeggio of Blue Steel: Ars Nova – 11

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I-401, newly transformed by the merge with Takao (who is still alive within the ship’s systems), easily dispatches a fleet of Nagara-class cruisers and sets course for Hawaii, with I-400 and I-402 in pursuit. With a confrontation inevitable, Iona tries to talk to them, but they limit their exposure to her and open fire. Hyuuga and Haruna/Kirishima create decoys of the I-401, and the sisters are kept off balance.

When I-400 is unable to dodge an incoming torpedo, I-402 sacrifices herself for her sister, not wanting her to get hurt. I-400 is trapped in a wire net and also sunk, causing Iona distress. The I-401 resumes course only to be intercepted by a huge fleet of American Fog ships on one side, and a rapidly-closing Kongou, who has escaped custody and merged with Maya, on the other.

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Straying from the Code of Admiralty has its costs. In doing so by being sunk and siding with Gunzou, Hyuuga, Haruna, Kirishima, and now Takao have lost their ships; and now Takao’s even lost her physical model. While it’s somewhat disappointing the show didn’t have the stones give her a “complete” death, the fact that so many former ships are now limited to their mental models makes up for it. No matter how many chefs are in the kitchen, there’s still only one real kitchen: I-401. If she’s sunk, everyone sinks with her.

But the other cost in leaving the Fog is in the emotional toll, most pronounced this week for Iona, who has to kill her sister ships, whom she considers actual sisters, even if they don’t believe the same. They were the last of the Japanese fog ships that held true to the Code, but after their brief contact even I-402 can’t bear to see her sister destroyed. Iona pleaded for them not to fight her, and now she must live with the grief. Of course, with American battleships on one side and a seriously-pissed Kongou on the other, she may not have to live with it long.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • The New I-401 looks awesome.
  • Haruna and Kirishima messing with the now body-less Takao (“Step into the light!”) was a nice moment of levity.
  • Nice underwater tactics this week, what with the decoys and wire trap. Those by-the-book sisters didn’t know who they were messing with.
  • Introducing an entirely new faction of Fog with just one episode left gives us the feeling that this might go another season. Not sure how we feel about that; we were kinda hoping things would resolve in 13.

Girls und Panzer – 05

In preparation for Oorai’s battle with Saunders, Yukari infiltrates their school and collects recon. Her cover is blown, but she learns what their flag Panzer will be. Still, Saunders is an exceedingly wealthy school with three teams, and they’ll be sending ten Panzer against Oorai’s five. The match begins, and Oorai soon learns Saunders is using a radio interception balloon to listen in, so they switch to cell phones and make the first kill.

While enjoying Panzer-shaped desserts delivered to the table by RC Dragon Wagons in a Panzer cafe, Miho and her team cross paths with her sister Maho and her flunky, Erika. Their exchange is, shall we say, chilly, with Erika calling Miho’s school “nameless” and their efforts an “insult to Panzerfahren”, while Maho says…nothing. She warns Miho not to soil the Nishizumi name in the coming battle. But while the confrontation is unpleasant  all Miho & Co. can do is keep their eyes on the immediate match against Saunders, which commences in the episode’s second half and will conclude (one would think in Oorai’s favor) next week. As always, the odds are against them.

The Saunders Panzer corps emulate the Americans in all things, including Shock-and-Awe with regards to their numbers, facilities and resources. But they also possess a healthy dollop of arrogance and overconfidence. Arisa listens in on communications, apparently unaware all that needed to happen for her to be getting false info would be someone on Oorai spotting her balloon, which is exactly what happens. It’s Oorai that draws “first blood”, so now it’s nine on five, with the Saunders Shermans spread out all over. Now that she knows what both Hana (being disowned) and Yukari (having friends for the first time) have invested in Panzerfahren, Miho is compelled to prevail. Thumbing her nose at Maho won’t hurt, either.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Car Cameos: Darjeeling and Orange Pekoe watch the match beside their vintage “Pink Panther”, a modified Land Rover used by the British Army’s Special Air Service.

Tank Cameos: As stated, an M25 “Dragon Wagon” Tank Transporter deposits tank-shaped treats to the girls. The Saunders team is composed of ten Sherman tanks, including one Firefly, one M4A1 76mm, and eight 75mm. Yukari spots rare M4A6s on the Saunders hanger deck.