AICO – 09 – Bogged Down in Matter…and Exposition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AICO – 08 – Finally, a Casualty…but Yura Lives

The nano-structured cat is out of the bag, and Aiko and Yuuya have some serious explaining to do to convince the Divers, whose emotions upon learning Aiko is artificially-bodied range from disbelief to anger. Yuuya deflects it from Aiko by saying it was his call to keep them in the dark, and then reveals that the mission is far larger and grander than the Divers thought, and if Yuuya’s mission is successful, the Burst itself will end.

It’s still a lot to take in, but thanks to Shinoyama and Shiraishi backing Yuuya up, Sagami agrees to keep going as per the terms of their contract, with the caveat that should he find out Yuuya is lying about anything else, he won’t hesitate to personally kill Yuuya and Aiko to protect his team from undue danger.

It’s the “undue danger” part I’ve always been a bit fuzzy with. AICO‘s overarching antagonist—the Matter—is so diverse in form and behavior and so overpowered that it’s been an exercise in suspended belief to watch the Diver team weave through and neutralize it so efficiently.

I get that they’re good at their jobs, but this week alone we have a gigantic human-form Matter that’s literally stories in height, and Sagami & Co. firing what amounts to pea-shooters at it. There’s a distinct disconnect between the scale and ability of the foe and the Divers’ ability to survive at all in the Area, let alone get as far as they’ve gotten.

Mind you, things have only seemed too easy up to this point. In this episode, the team finally suffers two major casualties, just when it was starting to feel absurd that they hadn’t yet suffered any. What gives the loss of the Beetle, the nearly indestructible mothership around which the whole mission revolves, extra weight is just how damn fast it happens.

A Matter tentacle burrows through the armor, and within the space of a few seconds, things go from just fine to the heavy laser is overloading and the whole damn tank exploding, with Aiko, Yuuya, and Shiraishi getting out at the very last moment. And they’re not outside long before the Matter starts coming after them.

This results in the next major casualty, and the first human one: Shinoyama, who sacrifices himself to allow not only Aiko and Yuuya, but his lover Shiraishi to live and keep going. It’s a tough loss because the team was already very light on people who believed in Yuuya’s vision of the mission, and his loss only aids the skeptics’ belief they’re way in over their heads (which again, I don’t know how they haven’t known this for days, but fine).

What of Aiko? Well while she’s certainly hamstrung by the fact that she feels pain after any attack on the Matter, and the larger the Matter, the more intense the pain. But when the Matter keeps coming and Shiraishi and Yuuya are occupied, Aiko picks up a gun and a grenade launcher and starts firing. It’s a welcome badass moment for a character who’d been squirming in pain for most of the episode.

While this episode distinguished itself with some of the series’ best battle action and upped the stakes with heavy losses in equipment and manpower, it also saved a nifty little revelation for last: Kanzaki Yuuya is an artificial body like Aiko, with the brain of none other than Toshihide Yura. It explains why he’s fine in the Area without a suit, and why he knows so much about Aiko, is so protective of her, and also sometimes treats her like an object.

While this was wasn’t the biggest surprise in the world—no doubt many saw this coming many episodes ago—I for one was too distracted by other things to ponder who/what Yuuya was. But now it’s official: Yuuya is Yura, which means the Burst was his fault. This is a quest to correct his mistakes, and he’s not turning back.

That’s up to Sagami, who is ready to kill Yuuya and Aiko as promised but holds his fire when Yuuya turns around to reveal he’s actually shedding tears for Shinoyama. Mind you, Sagami and the Divers don’t know who he really is (at least not yet), but Isazu does, and he wants his hands on that tech to save Yuzuha, whose brain waves continue to react in sync with Matter activity.

Sidonia no Kishi – 05

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Sidonia belts out yet another BADASS episode, that’s very different from the four that preceded it. In fact, one of the only things that held it back from a 10 was the somewhat meaningless cutaway back to Sidonia in the middle for what was nothing but an infodump by Kobayashi and the wierd Bear woman (?)(Why is she a bear? Inquiring minds want to know…). But the badassery of this episode wasn’t due to any flashy battles or explosions.

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No, this was a bottle episode, the majority of which took place inside Takane’s frame after rescuing Shizuka. They’re beyond the point of no return and his fame is out of juice anyway, so they have to do a lot of sitting and waiting for one of two things: death or rescue. This is by no means original, but I have to say, I’m hard-pressed to recall better executions of this kind of lost-in-space scenario.

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Leaving aside the convenience of two love interests being in such close contact for so long. And Shizuka strips down to her birthday suit for a totally practical reason: to photosynthesize! Despite how cold and terrifying space looks out there and how tiny the frame looks compared to it, there’s a warmth from the two of them that permeates their scenes. You get the feeling everything will be fine, because at the very least, if they die, they’ll die together.

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Ten days pass before any hint of rescue, and food and water are exhausted, the latter an example of over-complicated technology coming to bite them ass at the worst possible time. When Takane starts to succumb to dehydration, that same fancypants tech is his savior, as Shizuka is able to filter her urine for him to drink, a touching scene with shades of Princess Mononoke. The act also gives Takane the idea to filter the frame’s lubricant for more water. Wonderful things, these filters!

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The victory is enough for the couple to try a closer embrace, forgetting their suits are on. Further hanky-panky is interrupted by One Hell Of A Dramatic Entrance by the entire defense wing, which disobeyed orders and formed a 256-frame relay ring to come back for the pilot who defeated the Gauna (along with his would-be girlfriend). Their arrival is a powerful moment of jubilation and relief, and a happy ending that neither felt like a cheat nor an inevitability.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 04

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Like Sidonia’s Kabizashi, I prefer to use “Holy Craps” sparingly; preferably no more than five per season, but in the case of this episode, I feel perfectly justified in exhausting one. Holy Crap, that was one awesome tour-de-force of an episode. My heart rate remains elevated some time after watching it. But worry not, Braverade is near a fresh-air-providing open window, and no harm will come to her.

Going into this episode, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to say the same of Sidonia. When your elite subjugation squad is annihilated and a Gauna manages to dodge the HMD, you know Sidonia is in for a rough ride, and so we get a “Gravity Alert”, in which those bulky safety harnesses prove so crucial to survival. Good thing Nagate put his on! I appreciated the hard sci-fi approach to everything Sidonia does.

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For instance, a small moon-sized colony ship can go into evasive maneuvers without seriously messing up the structures inside. Kobayashi’s job is truly thankless and unenviable: she must either choose to destroy a big chunk of the ship, killing hundreds of people, or lose the whole ship. No wonder she wears a mask. Her’s is one of many choices that make the episode’s title “Choice” so fitting.

It was a single choice—a bad, emotionally-fueled one—that got Sidonia into this hole in the first place: Akai and Momose tried to save one another, when victory hinged on their ability to let each other go. As I assumed, the next four-man group to be sent out would include Nagate, along with Shizuka, Kunato, and En. Izana is notably excluded.

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But this team isn’t supposed to fight the Gauna, it’s merely charged with retrieving one of the two Holy Craps Kabizashis still barely in their frames’ range; if they don’t hypermile, they could end up stranded in space. When Nagate spots the Kabizashi, Kunato is quick to run ahead and grab it, but that puts him in the firing zone of the Gauna, which fires its own Hyggs cannon, disabling all but Nagate’s frame.

From here on, the choices are Nagate’s, and he makes what could be called an emotional choice in going after the Gauna instead of towing his colleagues home. But he’s a clever chap, and his frame fits him like a glove, so he’s able to ice the Gauna, earning him instant ship-wide recognition and celebrity, along with more even ire from Kunato, no doubt.

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But of course, all is not yet well—the emergencies never relent, right until the end, with Nagate making another clearly emotional choice: to search for Shizuka’s ejection pod, flying past the point of no return in the process. Following an episode in which such chivalry ended in disaster and after witnessing how sacrificing a few to save the many worked out, Nagate isn’t following Kobayashi’s lead: he won’t leave a (wo)man behind.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 03

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This episode demonstrated how simulations and tournaments are no test of a pilot’s true mettle, any more than good looks and celebrity. The Elite Four won the team competition while Akai took the individual trophy handily, but when it came time to face a real Gauna in battle, their skills and teamwork were all for naught, because Akai chose to be a good boyfriend which was the only slip-up required in such a fast-paced, tense battle to throw the entire team into chaos. When they stopped fighting and started trying to save each other, they had lost.

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This is quite a gut-punch, both to me and to everyone watching back on Sidonia, hoping for a quick and easy victory. I imagined one or two of the team members to be taken out, tops, based on the death flags they were throwing beforehand, but all four of the best pilots Sidonia had to offer, all at once, without even finishing off the Gauna? To understate matters, that’s not good. Now, as a matter of necessity, a new four-person group must be formed from the best pilots still alive.

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In most cases, the fate of Akai’s Elite Four would be taken by Kobayashi and Sidonia’s bosses as a cautionary example of how chemistry comraderie, and a sense of family are a double-edged sword; it’s what made the Four such a great team, but against the Gauna, it turned out to be a fatal weakness. Thus, one would think they’d pick four pilots who didn’t know each other or even particularly like each other. But because they’re prominent characters, the most likely candidates are Nagate, Izana, Shizuka, and Kunato.

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I’m well aware that three of those four are involved in a love triangle, which means the very same thing could befall them when the Sidonia hits the fan. But then, maybe Kunato harbors enough hate and angst to balance that out. In this week’s “Kunato Gets Pwned” segment, Akai beats him in the individual competition. He’s so pissed off afterwards that when poor Izana accidentally bumps into him he smacks her to the ground, and she takes a candy apple stick to the leg, which…ouch.

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Let’s not also forget Izuna’s jealousy towards what she sees as Shizuka (the “conventional” woman) getting along too well with Nagate. Izana bumps into Kunato because she’s distracted by that jealousy. When Nagate and Shizuka of all people come to Izana’s aid, we see what could be the next dream team together for the first time. Meanwhile, strategic genius Midorikawa Yuhata, fueled by the death of her brother, could well be the one planning their future battles. But I fear I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Sidonia no Kishi – 02

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Tanikaze Nagate’s grandfather pushed him to become the best pilot he could be, but he could only teach him so much. In order to realize the dream of becoming a true guardian pilot, Nagate had to face real action. The first appearance of a Gauna in a century on his very first sortie obliges.

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The Gauna itself is a frightening, implacable hulk of a monster somewhat resembling the Giant Warrior from Nausicaä—not at all a bad thing to imitate—with a medusa-like tangle of tentacle-like protrusions, one off which grabs Yamano Eiko’s frame and swallows her whole, then morphs into a rough approximation of her. Very creepy, dark stuff, though notably lacking in gore, at least in this instance.

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Nagate is slammed down early in the battle and would seem to be another casualty, but he gets a somewhat preternatural second wind, picks himself off, and hangs with the Gauna long enough for the others to escape, until a “Heavy Mass Cannon” projectile—essentially a big weight—fired by Sidonia impacts with the Gauma, driving it back, but not killing it. While the mining mission was a bust, the fact they were able to push it back with only one trainee out of eight lost is accepted as a victory.

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It’s something else entirely for Nagate. He does well in battle, but not afterwards. The innocence he lost in the battle is on display in flashbacks to the moments before the battle, when the haughty Yamano refuses to shake hands with Nagate and Izana for good luck, which it turns out she could have used. After the battle Nagate definitely showing signs of PTSD, and is unable to keep his food down. He has the skills, but he has yet to build the fortitude, for the trials ahead.

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So far the show seems to be punishing arrogance and rewarding meekness: in addition to Yamano’s comeuppance, Kunato is shot down (figuratively) for the second episode in a row, being totally ignored and passed by by Akai, the leader of the Elite Four Guardian Pilots tasked with finishing off the Gauna, who is only interested in Nagate, and why wouldn’t he be? Nagate fought the Gauna head-on. That fact also attracts Midorikawa Yuhata, who has the makings of a Nagate groupie who would wedge between the quiet rivalry brewing between Shizuka and Izana.

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