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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5

Toaru Kagaku no Railgun T – 20 – Den Perfekte Soldaten

Well, what do you know, not only can Kuroko carry an episode, Ruiko can carry a pair, along with Frenda Seivelun. Most of the episode is one big shopping mall chase scene and showdown between Frenda and Yumiya Rakko, two sadistic hunters with poor Level 0 Ruiko in the middle. And yet the episode manages to infuse some humanity in both killers.

Having gone this far to save Ruiko, Frenda never quite feels right abandoning her to Yumiya, even when it seems the best shot at surviving. After all, Ruiko shared the last of her mackeral with her. As for Yumiya, she’s in full Assassin Mode until she spots some classmates from her school, and for a moment she’s reverted to her shy and lonely persona.

Yet just as Frenda gradually figures out Yumiya’s tactics as she survives one bullet wound after another, Yumiya draws on her experience with being an extreme loner to aid her assassin’s skills. When Frenda finally decides splitting up is necessary, she tries to find the right way to break it to Ruiko—who proceeds to suggest splitting up before her.

Frenda can’t help but be impressed with Ruiko’s attempt to be “a perfect soldier” despite knowing it could mean her death. Ruiko serves as a decoy with stuffed animal bombs that among everyone in the mall only one person reacts to as bombs: Yumiya. This allows Frenda to finally spot her, and when she launches herself at her with a devastating kick she doesn’t miss her face.

A thrilling two-sided beatdown ensues, with Frenda hitting the deck indicating to Yumiya that she’s won. However, Frenda is merely getting low because it’s the safest position to be in for when she detonates bombs all over the mall, sucking the oxygen out of the air and with it Yumiya’s ability to smell or breathe. It’s a very demolition expert-y way of getting the upper hand in a fight.

Yumiya tries to counter the thermobarics by rushing to the nearest broken window to take in air, but that’s just when Frenda pounces out of the smoke, stuffs mini-bombs in Yumiya’s gob, kicks her out of the building, and sets off the detonator with a particular sense of self-satisfaction followed by a huge bang. Throughout their battle, Ruiko managed to blend in with the bystanders and calmly escape the mall.

With the extent of the threats to her life still not fully known, Ruiko takes up temporary residence at an Antiskill facility, and is restless and anxious until she finally receives a message from Frenda, who asks her to have dinner ready when she stops by, a reply to Ruiko’s invitation before they split up.

As for Yumiya, she’s alive but down an eye and most of her face due to the blast, and her SCHOOL boss Kakine Teitoku isn’t in the mood to indulge her in seeking revenge. Getting ahold of the Tweezers takes precedence, and her role in the op is going to a backup.

Back home, Ruiko tries to reach back out to Frenda but doesn’t get any replies, yet still prepares dinner for two. When the doorbell rings, she’s so excited she stubs her toe on her desk (as beautifully animated as the earlier battle), and just as dejected when it turns out to be Uiharu.

The good news? Ruiko learns no one died in the mall explosions. The bad news? She’ll probably never see Frenda again. That hurts, and you can sense Ruiko’s pain. Frenda, so much more powerful an esper than her and heartless a killer to boot, and yet someone with whom Ruiko could share a can of mackerel. Ruiko may have acted like the perfect soldier that day in the mall, but at the same time, Frenda was the perfect friend.

Shuumatsu no Izetta – 05

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Fine’s coronation is also the stage chosen to unveil Izetta to the world, and it’s fun to witness medieval ritual juxtaposed with flashing still and movie cameras of the modern era, just as it’s fun to watch Izetta take care of business, wiping out the modern might of the Germanians with magically enhanced medieval weapons.

The first stage in Eylstadt’s strategy to, well, survive, is to make the world know and believe who and what Izetta is. But neither the Germanian king nor Major Berkman doubt whether she’s real. The king wants her, badly, while Berkman wants to cut Eylstadt’s propaganda off at the knees by identifying and exploiting Izetta’s still-unknown-to-the-enemy weakness.

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While fun, the merging of eras is also jarring, just as it’s jarring to see Izetta unleash hell against the Germanian army in front of cameras, then return to the palace to be praised like a good girl who finished her chores. It’s a lot for Izetta to handle, but she has promised to serve ad protect Fine with her dying breath; she’s not the kind to back down just because things are tough…or weird.

More than anything, Izetta is a witch who has been used dwelling in the shadows and edges of the world. Now she’s the exact opposite: a global celebrity with a fairy tale story so compelling that the people want to believe. Not only does Eylstadt want them to believe, they need them to do so, in hopes of gaining powerful allies against Germania.

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If this is to be merely a 12-episode show, I’m pleased with the generous pacing so far. Not only is Izetta unveiled and placed into immediate use in order to quickly build up her public persona as a magical force of resistance against a no-longer invincible-looking enemy, but the enemy strikes back just as fast, advancing on the Veile Pass – a place with no Ley Lines for Izetta to draw from.

The Germanian King’s adviser Eliot is sure to remind his majesty that the reason they’re invading Eylstadt is to gain supply routes between them and Romulus (i.e. Italy), not merely to capture a witch. This pass is part of that route. As it happens, Private Jonas is assigned to its defense, which won’t include bombings due to a.) the thick fog and b.) the fact the pass is worthless without intact roads to use.

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Sieg Reich and Fine’s royal guards (who are all or mostly female special forces) draw up an intricate plan that serves to hide Izetta’s inability to use magic, by drawing upon stagecraft and showmanship in a battlefield setting.

A dummy Izetta is flown behind a plane, lands on a ridge, and is replace by the real Izetta (refusing to let them use a body double), who must talk a big talk before planted bombs are detonated, taking out the advancing enemy.

It works far better than it should have, thanks to an abundance of luck in both weather and geography. But conditions won’t be so favorable in every Ley Line-less area the Germanians target, so even though Berkman hasn’t found Izetta’s weakness yet, doesn’t mean he won’t eventually.

It may happen far sooner than Eylstadt thinks, thanks to some bad luck: Berkman has a spy posing as an Eylstadt officer who happens to be in the same outfit as Jonas. There’s every indication either he or Jonas overheard Schneider talking very loudly about Izetta’s weakness by a creek.

That’s the kind of carelessness that can lose a war, and I’m not optimistic Izetta won’t be re-captured by Berkman at some point.

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Akuma no Riddle – 05

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This week’s riddle is “How do you get a bird out of its cage?” One thing Haru, Tokaku, and this week’s assassin Sagae Haruki share so far has been a sense of confinement due to circumstance. Haruki’s cage is poverty, and she has assassinated to put food on her large family’s table, and she’s promised they’ll be forever free from want if she kills Haru (even if she dies in the process).

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Tokaku’s cage is her name. Even though she never saw her father and her mother died right after she was born, the Azuma family has shaped her course in life and assigned her expectations. Haru’s cage has been built from the bones of those who died so that she could live. Haruki neither gets off on killing like Otoya, nor is she unsuited for killing like Kouko; she’s good at it, but it’s a means to free her family from its cage.

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Yet Haruki doesn’t seem altogether apathetic to Haru’s plight, nor Tokaku’s. She believes it to be a service and a kindness to free them too, but that suggest an inability to fathom that death is not the only way out of those cages. In Haru’s case, she considers it a solemn duty to always smile, be merry, and try to live as normal a life within that cage, honoring those who built it with their lives.

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By the same token, death isn’t the only way out of Tokaku’s cage either. She may be stuck with her name, but by choosing to subvert Class Black’s system by swearing to protect rather than assassinate Haru, Tokaku seems determined to survive in her cage her own way, while building a tunnel from her cage to Haru’s, connecting the two. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. I will stop using metaphors now.

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Akuma no Riddle – 04

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What comes suddenly but never leaves? Well, that would be death, right? And not just the death of a person, but the death of innocence. Once death enters one’s life—as it does every assassin—it also never leaves. Some say murdering takes pieces of one’s soul. If that’s the case, Class Black’s rep Kaminaga Kouko yearned to separate herself from death, to try to preserve at least part of her soul. But to be granted her wish of walking away from assassination, she had to take one more life: that of Ichinose Haru.

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While last week Haru mostly took care of herself against the very impatient Takechi, Kaminaga is a different kind of animal: in short, she’s not a very good assassin, and doesn’t even like killing. She was simply born into the business, and does it because it’s all she knows how to do. But her peers mocked her and she accidentally killed her mentor with a car bomb gone wrong. It’s not surprising that she’d strike as early as possible, out of a desire to get this nasty business over with so she can retire; the exact opposite of Takechi.

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To that end, Kaminaga attempts a series of passive attacks via booby trap bombs. Tokaku either detects and disarms them all, and in one case shields Haru from the blast. This earns Tokaku back some points after dropping the ball last week. Once Kaminaga is cornered and forced into close combat with Tokaku, it’s over for her. Because she’s not a sadistic serial killer, I actually felt kinda bad for Kaminaga, even if it hardly made sense for her organization to bother training her when she was neither practically nor emotionally cut out to be an assassin.

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Witch Craft Works – 12 (Fin)

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Witch Craft Works follows Noragami with a similarly tepid ending; wrapping up the Weekend arc with a load of miscellaneous magical mumbo-jumbo, while frantically jumping from one place to another tying up loose ends. We got way more tell and not enough show, but in the end, the show had kinda backed itself into a corner where technicalities had to be employed to explain why both Honoka and Kagari survive and save the day.

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We will say we liked the effect of the city and its people being restored all in one fell swoop after Honoka agrees to sacrifice his life in exchange for Evermillion’s power. Turns out she merely transferred the power Ayaka had been using back to Honoka by annulling their contract. But it’s hastily restored and Ayaka is revived. It’s a reiteration of a problem this show had for its entire run: a lack of palpable danger and risk.

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Meanwhile, Weekend is out of mana and defeated, and gets captured by Chronoire on her way out. Then Chronoire and Kazane (who healed up much faster than Weekend predicted) fight it out, because they have a past, or something, and everything returns to normal, including Tanpopo’s gang challenging Ayaka to fights that they then lose badly. Presumably it also means more of Kasumi fighting Ayaka for bro-time.

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This was a case where the buildup of the last couple weeks was better than the payoff, but we were kinda expecting that, so we don’t feel particularly ripped off. The lush, whimsical visual style and guy-as-the-damsel dynamic sustained us till the end, but Witch Craft Works never really got better than its first couple episodes, due to ultimately lame villains and way too many extraneous side characters.

Rating: 6 (Good)
Average Rating: 7.167
MyAnimeList Score: 7.43

Witch Craft Works – 11

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Ah, the Penultimate Final Battle Buildup Episode…we know them well. If there’s still a fair amount of information to convey to the audience, a PFBBE is the time to do it, so that there’s time for both the resolution of said final battle and a proper cool-down period that checks in on everyone one last time. Cram too much into the end, and the end can feel rushed and unsatisfying. We still consider the second episode to be the best of this series, and we’ve been legging it out in hope of a strong ending.

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After this week, we’d have to say there’s still a good chance of WCW pulling it off, since this PFBBE packs a lot of setup and exposition, identifying the final threat—Weekend will blow up all the people in the city if she doesn’t get Honoka—and fielding the force that aims to thwart her: Ayaka, drawing from Honoka’s power. Honoka’s little dreamworld excursion is suitably trippy, and Mikage-sensei provides enough info for us to get the jist.

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While there’s a lot of talking, there’s also a lot of fighting, first between Kasumi and one of Weekend’s underlings in another giant teddy battle, and we will state for the record we have officially seen enough giant teddy-fighting. We’re also a bit astounded at how ineffective Tanpopo’s crew is this week; they literally just stand around. Fortunately for them their master Medusa managed to escape from her captors and takes the enemy out with some badass petrification.

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As Honoka convalesces, Ayaka leaves him in Atori’s care (she talks through a puppet…HOW KOOKY.) and tries to take her “prey” Weekend on alone, but Weekend has been planning this op for more than a year, and has more than enough magic stowed away to repel her. It takes a feverish Honoka voluntarily going to Ayaka’s side (showing he’s been practicing his broomflying) to charge her back up. So the stage is set for the final battle. We wonder if the powerful Chronoire and/or Kazane will have anything to contribute to it, or if it’ll be strictly an Ayaka/Honoka-vs.-Weekend affair.

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)

Btooom! – 03

Himiko runs from Sakamoto, who thinks he’s found her with his radar. However, the one he tracks is an older man named Taira Kiyoshi, who recalls what happened on the plane that sent them there; Sakamoto was tased in the head and lost the memory. They tentatively agree to team up and try to avoid playing the game if possible, but they have to find food. A plane parachutes briefcases probably filled with provisions, but someone beats them to it, only to get blown up by a bomb planted by another player. They run to another parachute, but a young boy is there to meet them, covered in blood and standing over a dead body.

A couple dozen innocent people are kidnapped, put on a plane, given chips that can only be removed if they die, told they’re being dumped on a remote island, and told they can only leave that island if they have eight of those chips, including their own. That means killing seven other people. And everyone will be fighting over limited supplies of food and water- the airdrops of which will inevitably draw them together. This is Battle Royale or the Hunger Games, only with some adults in the mix. The plane trip Taira recounts is thoroughly unpleasant and chilling in the same way.

How could people be so callous about the lives of their fellow men? While some of the players are tougher and less moral than others and look forward to the bloodbath, most are probably like Taira and Sakamoto: they really don’t want to kill anyone. Sakamoto actually did kill one person, and he hated it. Mass murder just isn’t in him. But hunger, thirst, and desperation will eventually give way. Deprive humans of comfort and necessities, and they turn nasty, just as sure as any “lesser” creature. It’s kill or be killed. Forcing people in such a situation is tyranny. But we won’t get our hopes up that those responsible will ever be punished for it.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Btooom! – 02

Himeko was an ordinary school girl until she made a mistake: she invited her friends to join her at an apartment where a popular band is hanging out, but she’s late arriving, to find the band beating and raping the other girls, and she’s next. She flees them, and the case makes the news, and her friends move away after abjuring her. She is then parachuted to the island, where she meets three other players: a teacher who is promptly killed by the soldier, and an otaku who pretends to be nice then tries to rape her. She uses a bomb to scare him off, then goes to a pond where she washes herself, when she meets Sakamoto.

We kinda feel bad for Sakamoto: his introductory episode wasn’t nearly as good as Himeko’s. Her past is woven nicely with the present, as we follow her right up to the moment Sakamoto bumps into her in the first episode. We really how this was executed: in both times, she goes through hell and is gradually hardened against any interaction with men, since men have been so horrible to her of late. She may hate herself for running for it when her friends were in danger, but there was no way she’d be able to hold off four men. She did what she had to to avoid getting raped or worse. It sucks, but that’s how it goes.

This episode also gives us a possible reason people are being sent to this island: a chain letter is being passed around asking people to vote for someone they want to disappear from their lives, and they’ll get paid. The episode indicates Himiko’s friend Miho did just that with her, and it’s not unrealistic to think the other three players and even Sakamoto had enemies who could’ve voted for their…relocation. But most interesting is how Himeko has already met Sakamoto within the digital version of Btooom! – they just aren’t aware how closely they both resemble their avatars. Also, Himeko really really hates men.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Car Cameos: As the girls cross the street, there are three cars:
A Honda Fit, an Audi A4 (B5), and a Honda CR-V.

Btooom! – 01

22-year-old NEET Sakamoto Ryouta spends all his days playing BTOOOM!, an online-fighting game using bombs. He’s ace of the #10 ranked team in the world. One day he wakes up hanging from a parachute, and finds himself on a deserted jungle island. He has been given a set of bombs that run on 10-second timers, and when a second castaway attacks him with his own bombs, Sakamoto realizes he’s been thrust into a real game of BTOOOM! He kills his rival, is shaken up about it, and the next time he wakes up he encounters a beautiful high school girl bathing in a jungle pool.

BTOOOM! didn’t make the most explosive impact compared to a couple other Fall series we’ve started on. Part of that may be our post-Accel World fatigue – after just finishing a battle game series in which there’s lots of not-always compelling inner dialogue, we’re understandably weary of starting another one right back up. Part of it may also be that shows with similar nonsensical titles like Gantz and Durarara! were more impactful right off the bat.

BTOOOM! stumbles in a couple places: Sakamoto’s would-be killer either has horrible aim or his bombs’ bark are far worse than their bite; and it takes too long for Sakamoto to figure out something that should have been immediately apparent: that the numbers on his bombs were a countdown. In fact, he did notice that when he threw his first away…only to forget in the heat of battle. But BTOOOM! is also straightforward and accessible, it doesn’t try to do too much too soon, and it’s by Madhouse. Hotshot video game kid thrust into a real life game of life and death is always intriguing if pulled off right, and despite some minor missteps, BTOOOM! isn’t altogether unintriguing.


Rating: 6 (Good)

Car Cameo: There’s a conservative sedan of  indeterminate make and model in the cold open, within the game. Has both Toyota Crown and Nissan Cedric characteristics.