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.

Vinland Saga – 19 – What Are You Looking At With Those Eyes?

Having entertained him so much thus far, Thorkell gives Thorfinn a few minutes to rest before continuing the fight. An intermission, if you will, during which he tells the boy about Thors. The two of them were fellow Jomsviking commanders, and Thorkell is Thorfinn’s great-uncle, since his brother, their leader, gave Thors his daughter’s hand in marriage.

In one battle, Thors was thrown from his boat, never surfaced, and presumed dead. But one night, Thors returned. Thorkell was delighted, until he realized Thors didn’t mean to stay. Thors wouldn’t explain to his satisfaction why, only that he learned the secret to being a true warrior, and had a look in his eye Thorkell had never seen.

Thorkell tried to kill Thors for deserting, but ended up with his axe smashed and knocked out cold by Thors…who didn’t even wield a sword. Fifteen years later, Thorkell learned Thors had died for real. Thorkell doesn’t see that same look in Thorfinn’s eyes, which means Thors never told him his secret.

Thorfinn listens to Askeladd one more time, warning him if he loses, the man he wishes to duel will be killed by another. Askeladd is the only one there who has ever seen Thorkell fall in battle, and the reason is almost comically simple: the man has a glass jaw.

Thorfinn jobs for a while, until Thorkell drops his guard to kill him. Askeladd blinds him with the reflection of the sun on his blade, and Thorfinn leaps up and kicks him straight in the jaw, knocking him flat on his back. When Finn tries to go for the kill, he’s surrounded by Thorkell’s men.

The first duty of those men is to keep their commander alive, but Thorkell is furious they disrupted his duel. That’s when Prince Canute arrives, the changed man he became last week, and orders all fighting to stop. When Thorkell bristles, Canute tells him the truth about his father not loving him, choosing Harald as his successor, and sending him to England to die in battle so he didn’t have to assassinate him.

What Canute seeks to do is head to the main camp at Gaineborough and fight his father the king, snatching the crown and the throne from the man who forsook him. Thorkell thinks this is just a tough-guy act, and Canute will crumble if he pretends to punch him, but Canute doesn’t flinch in the slightest. Furthermore, Thorkell sees the same look in Canute’s eyes that Thors had.

Thorkell tells his men his one greatest regret in life was not following Thors rather than trying to stop him. By getting knocked out, he missed his chance to learn what Thors had learned about being a warrior. In Canute, he’s been given a fresh chance to learn, so he agrees to become his follower and fight for him. No doubt Thorkell’s men will follow his lead.

Finally, the wounded but not-as-near-death as we thought Askeladd confesses to killing Ragnar, and offers his sword to Canute with which to kill him. He adds that if Canute spares his life, he will fight for him as well. Canute, loather of pointless deaths, declines to execute Askeladd, instead ordering him to honor Ragnar through leal service.

And with that, ladies and gents, everyone we’ve been following have joined forces behind Prince Canute in what is to be a glorious fight against King Sweyn. Since Thorfinn is Thorfinn, he’s going to follow the man who killed his father. Oh, and he shouldn’t look now, but Canute is now his legit co-protagonist, while Thorfinn remains a callow boy who needs to grow up.

Vinland Saga – 18 – Their Own Paradise

While the long-awaited rematch between Thorfinn and Thorkell is everything it should be, and doesn’t disappoint, it doesn’t take up the whole episode by any stretch, and it doesn’t impress because of the blows exchanged, but because of the words. It doesn’t take up the whole episode because more than half of the episode takes place at the site of the crashed sled Finn abandoned to rescue the man he means to kill himself. And that’s not a bad thing at all.

When we return to Prince Canute, he can hear Bjorn’s mushroom-enhanced savagery, doesn’t want to open his eyes, and strays into a dream. There, Ragnar says goodbye, but also asks forgiveness for his crime of raising him like a son, and not a jarl. Thors tried to raise Thorfinn as a son and not a warrior, and we see how that turned out. When he awakes, Canute laments to the priest that with Ragnar dead no one in the world loves him.

Then the priest procedes to explode Canute’s brain by telling him what Ragnar showed him wasn’t really love. True love, by the priest’s admittedly extreme standards, is the corpse of a dead raider, whose remains will never steal or kill, but will nourish the animals and the Earth. Ragnar’s love, and the love of any father for his son, is simply discrimination—assigning an artificial hierarchy to what should or shouldn’t be protected.

When Eve bit the apple, man attained knowledge in exchange for expulsion from paradise, but what they lost when they were expelled is something they’ll never know and never attain again. With that loss comes questions—what is love, what is death, what is the purpose of life—that will never be answered.

Mirroring this philosophical exchange between Canute and the priest—and in some ways reinforcing its points—is the duel between Thorfinn and Thorkell, in which the hulking giant is able to best throw his opponent off balance not with the swing of an axe, but with a question that came to him while thinking about Thors, the one man stronger than him: what does it mean to be a true warrior?

Thorfinn can’t help but remember his father’s words: the ultimate warrior need not even hold a sword. It was an ideal he tried and failed to attain, and rather than paving a path for his son to follow, only inspired rage and a thirst for revenge. Thorfinn ultimately dodges the question like he dodges Thorkell’s strikes. Failing to dodge even one of those strikes could prove fatally punishing to his body but contemplating his question means having to reckon with the fact that all these years have been pointless.

Ultimately, what makes the moving back-and-forth between the fight and the talk work so well is that it puts the needlessness and pointlessness of Thorfinn’s actions into perspective. He needs to hear some of the things being said between Canute and the Priest. However the fight turns out—and getting thrown a hundred feet in the air and coming down hard isn’t going to help his cause—Thorfinn will still be hopelessly lost.

With Bjorn growing more and more mindlessly violent and running out of enemies to slay, Canute comes to a revelation: stop fighting needless battles when the Paradise of old will never be attained. Instead, he aims to create a new paradise on Earth, something that he as a member of a royal family can actually do. When Bjorn sidles up to him, Canute manages to disarm him with a look he’s never sported before…the look of someone from whom the fog has finally lifted.

Canute tells Bjorn and the last man standing to stop fighting. He’s going to chase down the horses, and orders the priest—named Williband—to tend to Bjorn’s wounds, and for the other man to help him. This is no time to fight or die. He asks the two to become his vassals, and he will do what, on Earth, he believes only a king can: give meaning to their battles, their lives, and their deaths.

Assuming Thorfinn survives his fight with Thorkell, will Canute be able to give him those things—and will Thorfinn be able to accept them? He has only six more episodes to work with.

Vinland Saga – 17 – Not Everyone’s Afraid to Die

The normally cautious Askeladd lashes out at his mutineers, throwing them off balance and allowing Bjorn to escape on the sled with Thorfinn, Prince Canute, and the Priest. But as he contemplates what could be the last moments of his life, he remembers a moment from his childhood when his dying mother told him about King Arthur, who is not only still alive and recovering in the mythical land of Avalon, but will return someday. When he does, she told Askeladd to serve him.

Mutineers manage to catch up to the sled, and realize that there’s no bargaining with Bjorn; if they want the Prince, they’ll have to kill him. Thus, they take the less sporting route by killing his horses, sending the sled and its occupants flying. Finn kills one of the pursuers and mounts his horse, abandoning the prince because killing Askeladd is more important. If Askeladd should die by someone else’s hands, I doubt Finn would ever forgive himself.

Askeladd fights of many of his men, who fall back and shoot him with several arrows, none of which immediately threaten his life (though infection could set in if his wounds aren’t tended soon). Then his life is saved…by Thorkell of all people, who has arrived, and orders his men to kill everyone but Askeladd. The mutineers reluctantly pick up their weapons and die as something resembling warriors, but Thorkell pushes Torgrim too far, and Torgrim simply…goes bye-bye.

That’s when Thorfinn rides in, plowing through mutineers and English alike with his horse and charging towards Thorkell, who without hesitation charges up and uppercuts the goddamn horse like it was nothing. I’ve harped in the past about some of the more supernatural feats of Thorkell and others, but in this case the silliness is a good complement to the seriousness of the situation. Finn tells Thorkell that he’ll kill him if he doesn’t give him Askeladd, and Thorkell is all to eager to let Finn try. Here’s hoping for Finn’s sake this isn’t like London.

Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 05

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“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it.”

I’m reminded of that line by Kay from Men In Black because it’s true. The larger a group of people gets, the more they’re able to do, but at the same time, the dumber they get as a collective. It’s a concept that’s demonstrated in this very action-light, politics-heavy episode of Gatchaman, in which Gelsadra challenges the incumbent Sugayama in the smartphone election for the next Japanese PM.

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I put Sugane’s harem up top not because they had any significant role to play this week, but because they’re an example of what Kay was talking about. First the three girls are united in their support of Sugiyama, reflecting the opinion of the general public. Then, after a few gaffes from Sugayama and some good PR from Gel-san and Tsubasa, all of a sudden they’re for Gel-san. They go with the flow, where everyone else seems to be going. And in the meantime, they burn Sugane’s meat.

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It’s six months until the first primaries here in the states, but there have already been some notable gaffes that candidates continue to pay for due to the echo chamber of the media, from O’Malley’s “#WhiteLivesMatter” to Trump’s “Mexican Rapists” tirade. Similarly, in the world of Gatchaman, if you screw up on camera, those words will haunt you the rest of your days.

Sugayama calls his naysayers “dumb” on live television (believing the camera was no longer rolling), and it proves his undoing, as the media proceeds to pick apart every other thing he says and does, creating a pattern of missteps that erodes the public trust he once enjoyed.

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Meanwhile, there’s nothing particularly special about what Gel-san and Tsubasa do to rise in the polls, aside form the fact Gel-san can simply yell “GE-RU-RU-RU-RU-RU” from a rooftop and collect everyone’s desires. From there, he uses simple arithmetic to determine the best policy position: that Crowds should be abolished. Tsubasa and Jou are with Gel on this, while Hajime is neutral (of course) and Utsutsu helps Paiman out with his own campaign, which doesn’t go far because let’s face it, even if he dominates the little kid vote, he’s not getting much adult support.

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When Rui and Hajime visit Suzuki Rizumu in his cell, his position on people is similar to MiB’s Kay; with collective intelligence decreasing as the size of the sample increases. He’s harsher, calling them “apes”, who like any other animal in nature, goes with the flow of nature.

Despite Gel’s promise to abolish Crowds, Rizumu still believe Gel is “dangerous” and calls him the “Master Ape,” because all he’s doing is going along with what the majority of people want. Sometimes that’s not what’s best, or even right. But Gel wins in a landslide, so we’re about to find out just how wrong it is.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 04

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Well, that was weird.

After deploying in full force last week (save O.D.) and Tsubasa making her big debut on the battlefield, the Gatchamen find themselves at a crossroads. VAPE’s leader has been caught, and relatively easily, but then again, he doesn’t put up much of a fight. Why should he? He accomplished everything he set out to do. The Red Crowds were a menace. He suspects most people will think no differently about Blue Crowds.

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A great blow has been dealt to Rui’s dream of updating the world. But not all Gatchamen are on board about that being their purpose. “We’re heroes”, Tsubasa says again and again about her and the rest of them; that means when Rui is in trouble, she came to rescue him, even though he didn’t want to be rescued. Joe and Tsubasa remain of similar minds: endorsing Crowds is not their top priority; protecting the people is.

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While the Crowds have never been more feared by the public, opinion on the actual Gatchamen (and on Gelsadra) remains high, to the point Millio wants her and Tsubasa to be regulars on his TV show, perhaps ditching O.D. in the process. In an even stranger development, the Prime Minister resigns after the VAPE attack and calls for smartphone elections…again. This time, he makes it clear a vote for him is a vote for the continued presence of (Blue) Crowds in society.

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While Gel is certainly a popular idol, she believes the best way for her to enact real change on Earth is by winning that election. When she’s told she’s just a little girl, she transforms into an adult man—heck, why not? She’s an alien! I’d say she has a decent shot at winning. Does that mean the Crowds will be put on the back burner, replaced by Gel’s different approach of “uniting minds” and sowing mass happiness? Will the rift between Rui and less pro-Crowds faction of the Gatchamen widen? Times suddenly feel very uncertain.

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Gatchaman Crowds Insight – 03

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Tsubasa and Gelsadra are wrangled into appearing on the Millione Show where they show off their practiced jokes, then visit the drugged-out Gatchaman HQ for the first time, where Paiman is angry they went on TV. Tsubasa doesn’t see the problem; it can’t be a bad thing for heroes to appear on TV to inspire the people they protect. Ultimately Paiman is appeased when Tsubasa calls him “Leader.”

Tsubasa’s goals as Gatchaman couldn’t be simpler: be a hero who protects the people. That’s it. She doesn’t have any interest in “updating the world” or evolution, as Rui does. When a disturbing new prophecy from JJ portends a city “of teeming masses colored crimson”, and Rui informs the other Gatchamen of Suzuki Rizumu’s aims, Tsubasa more or less sides with Hibiki Jou’s objection to keeping something like Crowds around when there’s the potential for danger and even bloodshed.

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Jou likes the newbie’s simpler, more realistic goals, and calls Rui’s determination “idealism.” This is the largest philosophical gap we’ve seen in the Gatchamen thus far, as Jou’s opinion isn’t all that different thatn Rizumu’s It’s also given credence when the prophecy comes true and the city turns red with great coordinated masses of red Crowds.

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No less than six Gatchamen suit up, the largest deployment in insight so far, and while it’s great to see them start to take the fight to the red Crowds, it’s clear they’re woefully outnumbered, as usual. Tsubasa, meanwhile, is stuck on the sidelines since she can’t reliably transform, and before long, Rui meets Rizumu on a rooftop helipad, where Rizumu says today is the day his Crowds will start taking lives.

He sees Rui’s attitude as that of a spoiled child having his toy taken away. He wants Rui’s note, too, and refusing to give up his ideals or belief in eveyrone, including Rizumu, Rui hands it over, only to cough up blood and collapse when Rizumu repeatedly stabs it.

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But JJ’s prophecy also mentioned “a great wind” saving “the flame of life.” That wind comes from Gelsadra, who after activating the moods of everyone in the city (who are mostly frightened), she sucks up all of those thousands mood icons, figures something out, then transforms into a figure of smoke, blasting the prophesied wind towards Tsubasa, who has successfully transformed and is racing to Rui’s aid with Hajime.

Rui is willing do sacrifice his life for his ideals, hoping his very public and televised death will be the catalyst that finally causes that world update he’s so intent on. And he could be right; the people are disgusted by the red Crowds’ actions. But even if the blue Crowds get their shit together, we’re still talking about a war, which won’t be bloodless. Not only that, Tsubasa isn’t going to let Rui die if she can help it.

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