Hinamatsuri – 12 (Fin) – Losing Your Balls is Snow Big Deal

Hinamatsuri ends on a hell of a high note, with two stories that while not very closely connected to one another, nevertheless ruled so hard. We pick up on Hina, Hitomi, and their two male classmates’ predicament of being lost in the snowy mountains. With Hitomi in charge, they soon have an igloo built, but unless they get help, they could die up there. Hina takes a rather casual view of their sitch (the “snow big deal” being a pun she seems particularly proud of)…until they tell her there’s no food.

Right then and there, Hina decides that this is one of those times when her telekinetic powers will be needed, and commits to finding a way to get fed rescued. She goes out to fly around and finds a light, but when she tells the others her secret, they think the cold has gotten to her. She eliminates all doubt by floating before them, then making Hitomi float.

The kids take this well, most likely because in as dire a situation as they are, she’s their only hope, and, well, she’s not crazy, her powers are real. After they try to recharge her powers by attempting to create the illusion of being in a cafe that serves ikura rolls, she makes a giant one out of snow.

A rescue helicopter easily spots the sculpture, and is extremely confused by it, but not so confused they crash! Hina and the others are picked up, and the next we see her, she’s safe in a hospital bed with a very relieved Nitta by her side. His nonchalance to the phone call about Hina was just putting on a tough-guy act; he really does care about her.

After that, and a montage of everyone in the city going on with their lives, we jump three years into the future and across the western sea to China, where Mao has lived and trained with a martial arts school. When she first arrived by raft, she scrapped together a living on the streets much as Anzu did, until taken in by the martial arts school’s master.

The rockstar dude who Hina once performed saw Mao’s feats of telekinesis on YouTube and has come along with many others to “learn the secrets”, even if it’s just a sham to sell regular old martial arts training. Mao is also still talking to handmade dolls representing Hina and Anzu.

Just when she was getting restless living such a regimented life as the golden goose for opportunist martial artists. Rocky reveals that he knows Hina, the girl with the same blue hair as her doll. Mao is overjoyed she finally has a lead.

Her handlers don’t want her going anywhere, however, so they chase her into the street and attempt to apprehend her. That’s when Hinamatsuri turns into a straight-up martial arts action show, with some of the best animation of the entire series as Mao takes down her ochre-suited opponents one-on-one and all at once.

While the latest-introduced and least utilized magic girl, with her Cast Away episode and now this extended segment, Mao has definitely had some pretty awesome adventures that have allowed her to efficiently demonstrate what a badass she is (as if we needed any reminders). It’s the best fight since Hina took on the whole of the rival yakuza organization.

Their master agrees to let Mao go with Rocky to Japan…if she can defeat a “metal man” that’s basically two rapidly spinning shafts no ordinary human could ever stop or even slow down, lest they get pulverized. Mao stops the thing dead with her powers, but makes sure to make it look like she used her martial arts to do it, positioning her arm and leg right where she stopped the shafts.

Her handlers buy it, and she and Rocky are off on a plane. Rocky to help Mao open new branches of the school (another stipulation of her release), and Mao so she can report to Ikuruga about losing the transport balls, and, more importantly, be reunited with her friends Hina and Anzu.

Things end so abruptly that I suspect the adventures of Mao, Hina, Anzu, Hitomi, Nitta, and the others aren’t over. I certainly hope not, anyway. A second season would be most welcome, especially if the show continues to be inventive in how it uses both the girls’ superhuman powers…and their humanity.

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PSYCHO-PASS: The Movie

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I am a professed fan of PSYCHO-PASS, but was among those who thought the 2014 sequel couldn’t quite match the greatness of the 2012 original (You can read my reviews of PSYCHO-PASS and PSYCHO-PASS 2 by following the preceding links). I’ve also always had a soft spot for Tsunemori Akane, the ever-conflicted super badass detective and one of seiyu Hanazawa Kana’s most compelling roles.

This 2015 movie (which will have a limited theatrical release in the U.S. later this month) is Akane’s biggest stage to date. Rather than focus on another Japan-based mastermind, the franchise turns its gaze outward to the mainland: the Southeast Union or SEAUn, where the Sybil System has been transplanted on an island utopia called Shamballa Float.

Akane heads there because after armed terrorists from the union launch a failed assault on Tokyo (the film’s action-packed beginning), she learns that they may have been sent by none other than her former enforcer, friend, and romantic interest, Kogami Shinya. Their reunion in a foreign land forms the character crux of the film.

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When Akane arrives at SEAUn and gets a tour of the place outside Shamballa, it’s both her and our first look at the world outside Japan where Sybil doesn’t yet hold full sway. It’s seething with unrest and violence, much of it being meted out by a military police force that rules with an iron fist.

We are forced along with Akane to weigh the pros and cons of Japan and SEAUn as they relate to the implementation of Sybil technology, which is still in its harsh “teething stage” in the latter nation. There’s even more overt segregation, with latent criminals wearing neckbands that will sedate or poison them if their hues cloud too much.

The movie does a good job quickly rendering a very oppresive and unpleasant place where I definitely would never want to live.

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Fueled by her intention to find Kogami and get to the truth of matters ASAP, Akane rides along on a military operation led by Colonel Nicolas Wong, who is also her escort and the first official she met in SEAUn. While initially friendly and accommodating, he has a big problem with Akane running off on her own, to the point he suspects she’s joining the terrorists.

Kogami is pretty surprised to see Akane, considering a war zone is no place for a metropolitan detective and they haven’t seen each other in years, but they don’t have time to reminisce and escape the combat area to Kogami’s base camp.

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Kogami, who calls Akane “Inspector” for old time’s sake, explains himself simply by saying he’s part of SEAUn’s democratization movement. SEAUn’s military dictator Chairman Han may have a bunch of Sybil toys, but he can’t believe the fight is hopeless.

Kogami brings Akane to his movement’s headquarters, where he’s revered almost like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, only without the insanity and disease (though the exotic Angkor Wat-esque buildings definitely look the part). Akane can respect what he’s trying to do, and certainly understands Kogami’s power to draw people into his orbit with his natural charisma (a part of her still likes the guy), she still asks him to turn himself in, a request he declines.

To Akane’s releif, Kogami didn’t send terrorists to Japan. Rather, they were extremist comrades of his who broke off from his movement to do their own thing. But the fact that group got to Japan and were able to get as far as they did in their assault tells both Akane and Kogami that they must’ve had official support on the downlow.

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In the meantime, Kogami impresses upon Akane the importance of getting back to Shamballa Float before she ends up tangled up in more unpleasantness. Her reluctance to leave is overridden when a band of ultra-elite mercenaries with cybernetic prostheses hired by Wong attacks the headquarters. It’s all Kogami can do to get Akane out of there safely, and while he puts up a rather implausible fight, he’s eventually taken prisoner, and later beaten for information.

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Akane is arrested upon her return to Shamballa, and Wong lobbies for her immediate, but Han steps in and allows her to stay, albeit under closer observation. That gives Akane a chance to use some pillbugs Shion gave her to infiltrate Shamballa’s Sybil System, gather data, and even release her attendant Yeo from her latent criminal collar.

However, by the time Shion discovers that military officers like Wong were illegally bypassing cymatic scans that would cloud their hues to a tremendous extent, Wong has Yeo drug Akane’s drink in exchange for the promise of having her little brother’s collar removed. Wong welshes on the deal and shoots Yeo in the head, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt he’s an evil opportunistic bastard.

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When the mercs deliver Kogami to Wong, he arranges for him and Akane to be shot and cover up their deaths in an abortive helicopter escape attempt. I must say, I really didn’t see how Akane and Kogami were going to get out of this one, even if I knew they were.

Ultimately, the choice of killing them out in the open on rooftop rather than a location Wong could fully control proved his undoing, as Akane and Kogami are saved by the cavalry in the form of the Bureau of Public Safety, who kill Wong and either lethally eliminate or take into custody his men.

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All of the mercs save their leader are killed in the attack, and Kogami goes after him, while after having metaphorical cold water splashed on her head by Mika, Akane confronts “Chairman Han”, who is really a cybernetic body double inhabited by the collective brains of Sybil System itself.

Akane has another one of her patented Big Picture Verbal Spars over law and the will of the people with Sybil, ultimately convincing it/them to make Han step down and open both leadership of SEAUn and the choice to implement Sybil up to the people, via democracy.

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Oh yeah, meanwhile, Kogami has an intense but ultimately pointless final battle with the merc leader, who is only still alive so Kogami has someone strong to fight and Gino has to rescue him. After taking care of the merc, Gino lets Kogami go, making him promise not to burden Akane anymore, and also gets a good punch in.

Akane’s mainland adventure thus wrapped up (shame she didn’t get to say a long and decent goodbye to Kogami), she and the other bureau members leave Shamballa and SEAUn in the hands of the new, more populist regime. And there you have it: Inspector Tsunemori Akane was singularly instrumental in changing the course of an entire nation, hopefully for the better.

I watched this because I’m not sure I’d be able to make the theatrical release, and feared it would be dubbed in English. Turns out, more than a quarter of the dialogue is in horrible English anyway (as attempted by the Japanese seiyus) which was extremely irritating. But aside from that, this was a sufficiently fun, exciting flick that moved briskly and gave us some welcome quality time with Akane-san.

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HaruChika – 03

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Haruta and Chika’s lame love triangle continues to be an ongoing problem with HaruChika. If it were a classmate they both loved, male or female, that would be one thing; the fact their object of affection is a teacher all but eliminates the possibility of anything actually going anywhere. It doesn’t help that said teacher is a walking snooze-fest. I simply ain’t buying what either the show or its two title leads are selling.

But hey, at least that triangle is only a peripheral element of the story. This week, the show once again focuses on a new character, Sei Maren, who doesn’t get off to a stirring start with an opening line like “Where is the step I should take to move forward?” Whoa there, Proust.

He also has a whole built-in story, with a Life Box he opens sometimes to stoke his angst! Haru, Chika, and Miyoko encounter him in drama club, looking lost (and not at all good at drama, as the leader Nagoe admits frankly).

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So this Sei guy has a personal problem, and people are worried about him (particularly Miyoko, randomly). So what does Haruta do? Write a play that will “make everyone happy.” Only Nagoe rips it up, and the drama club and brass band get into a little exchange of unfriendly words, resulting in a challenge that will be settled on the stage.

The subsequent dramatic “exit game”, in which Haru, Chika, and Miyoko square off against Nagoe, Sei, and their star actress Yaeko (who does a fair impression of Princess Mononoke), is actually the niftiest part of the episode. It has all six “actors” essentially straddling two different worlds, gradually adding to the complexity of their setting and situation in order to get one of their opponents’ actors to exit stage right.

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Of course, it ain’t perfect. Haruta shows yet another skill he’s good at – acting and improvisation, as well as being nigh telepathic about Sei’s personal concerns, not helping his annoying Gary Stu status. Many of his lines in the exit game are a little too on the nose, to the point of being cruel to Sei. But more than what he knows and probably shouldn’t, it’s just deeply troubling how meddling this guy is!

He’s such a busybody, interfering in others’ lives and being as coy and dramatic about it as he can, in this case literally. They also somehow stole Sei’s Life Box from the closet in his room! WTF? (Note: I don’t want to hear a rational explanation for this; it’s just silly.) And Sei’s feelings about abandonment are far too easily quelled by Haruta and Nagoe’s intrusive charade.

As for Miyoko’s apparent feelings for the guy, well, she must see something I don’t, which is to say she sees…something, period.

Haruta also didn’t have to keep Chika in the dark…but of course he did, because he’s a jerk! So when Chika kicks him and sends him careening to the earth, it’s highly satisfying. I LOL’d. It’s like she’s kicking the little twerp not just for her own sake, or for Sei’s, but for all of us.

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Ushio to Tora – 20

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Events get extraordinarily heavy in this week’s UtT, with Hakumen massacring men, women, and children indiscriminately, and Ushio rendered helpless before the monster’s fearful visage. Even Tora’s fire is little more than the inconsequential buzzing of a harmless bug in Hakumen’s ear. Thanks to Ushio, Jeimei and Kiryou are still alive, but both have been transformed by their traumatic experience and the loss of their mother and father.

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The way things shake out is even darker: Kiryou knows that human sacrifice is a way of forging a sword strong enough to fight Hakumen, but he dare not suggest it outright, because Jeimei is the only family he has left. Yet it’s Jeimei who offers herself to the flames of the forge, over the desperate protests of her brother and Ushio. Her rationale is that if her sacrifice can lead to Hakumen’s defeat, it’s all worth it.

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Despair eventually turns to hope, as Jeimei and Kiryou become the blade and shaft of what becomes the Beast Spear, imbued with the strength and power to oppose Hakumen no Mono. Jeimei returns to Ushio and Tora in spectral form to complete her saga: she reincarnated as Yuki, found that Hakumen had inserted himself between the pillars that held Japan up against the very sea, and the task of holding Hakumen in place fell from Yuki to Mikado, and finally, to Sumako, who was only freed of her task deep under the ocean for two years, during which time she gave birth to Ushio.

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By travelling back in time, Ushio experienced a kind of causal loop: the reason the Beast Spear chose him is because it contains the souls of Jeimei and Kiryou, who sacrificed themselves with the hope that “Tsung Yue” or Ushio would use the spear they became to one day rid the world of Hakumen no Mono.

His actions in the distant past led to his very conception. And he also learns his name refers to the unyielding, steadfast ocean that bends to no one where his mother dwelt and dwells still. Now Ushio heads home to think over how to go about fulfilling his destiny, which he himself set into motion.

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Ushio to Tora – 19

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Big change of gears this week, as the focus shifts from the women in Ushio’s life back to Ushio and Tora, who waste no time exploring the suspicious-looking cave with a temple and a really nasty demonic aura all about it. As the very creepy youkai Tokisaka informs them, this is where a piece of Hakumen no Mono landed when he retreated many centuries ago when humans and youkai joined forces to fight it. But it’s not dead, only dormant.

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U and T have a lot more questions, but rather then tell them the whole story, Tokisaka decides to send them back in time 2,200 years to the village where it all began. There, outside the castle walls, they meet a young Jiemei, who bares more than a slight resemblance to Mayuko (likely with good reason).

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They save her from youkai, but because she can’t see Tora, she thanks only Ushio, and invites him to her house. It’s a nice house, warm and loving and happy…but there’s also a fair amount of sadness to it, both the fact Jeimei’s clothes are rather tatty, and the house is outside the walls.

Turns out Jeimei’s father was once the court priest and swordsmith, but he and the family were cast out when a distant relative tried to assassinate the king. Her father and brother Giryou (whom Ushio also met while within the Beast Spear) are eager to forge a divine sword that will grant them access back into the castle.

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When elbow grease doesn’t do the trick, Giryou suggests they use dark arts in the forging process, and hey presto, they churn out one fine-looking sword. Turns out Hakumen no Mono has been in the castle all this time, disguised as nine concubines. His transformation is, shall we say, extremely disturbing and creepy? Because it was, as is his voice.

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Hakumen lays utter waste to the court and all who charge him with their divine weapons, including Jeimei and Giryou’s father. Then their mother gets the top half of her body blown off by Hakky’s ice breath. In a rage, Ushio rushes him with a spear, but not the spear we’re used to seeing him wield. That’s because the Beast Spear hasn’t been forged yet. Also, he seems paralyzed by the evil eye of the great messed-up looking beast.

While it’s a bit odd for Ushio to suddenly end up going back in time to relive history, it’s certainly better than a straight narration. It’s also interesting to see Jeimei and Giryou at this early stage, and a glimpse of the happy, simple lives they led before dark arts, fate, or both, thrust them onto far different paths, not to mention see Hakumen no Mono in all his terrifying glory.

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GATE – 04

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In this necessary and functional—if not particularly flashy or exciting—episode, many things come into focus as the various pieces are arranged on the board. It is clear now that Lt. Itami is a man who has always been in the right place at the right time: first Ginza, where his heroic actions gained him this new command, then his battle with the fire dragon, his decision to take on refugees.

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As his fellow lieutenant (a go-getter if I ever saw one) remarks, Itami’s circumstances make him a very valuable man who will likely have a lot more freedom to decide what is to be done about this Special Region. The Japanese government suddenly finds itself with a potential windfall of natural resources within its borders, which could be a game changer in geopolitical affairs.

Meanwhile, Itami’s unit is tasked with taking care of the refugees, which include the sorceress Lelei, the demigoddess Rory, and the grieving she-elf Tuka (or Blue, Red, and Yellow, if you like).

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Not surprisingly, the SDF’s technology awes the natives, and even the spartan military accommodations are treated as the height of luxury, and that’s a big part about what technological advancement is all about: making what was formerly luxurious available to all, everyday. I try to never forget that when I take a shower or switch on a light…or write an anime review on the information superhighway.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Gate, after getting a brief and somewhat unfortunate glimpse of America’s government salivating over the Special Region the Japanese found, we see that the Chinese are also interested (and yes, the Geely GE has an optional throne).

So interested, they want to ship half their population across the Gate. Of course, that would mean taking the Gate—and the territory around it—from Japan, which would mean war. Somehow the animators resisted giving the Chinese Premier a mustache so he could twirl it – and a fluffy white lap cat to pet as he discussed his plans. I must say, these quick peeks at the highest echelons of Japan’s rivals are the least interesting part of the show, so far.

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More interesting is the fact King Duran, who led his army to ruin but survived a couple limbs poorer, immediately knows what the Empire did and why, and won’t talk to the Emperor’s daughter Pina about what’s going on on Arnus Hill. Or that Tuka isn’t ready to accept her father is dead along with the rest of her village, and is worried that she and the others will have to repay the soldiers’ kindness with the only currency they have: their bodies.

Lelei tries to set her mind at ease about money, not just because the SDF lets them harvest valuable dragon scales from the battlefield, but because the “men in green” (and women too) aren’t going to charge them at all. Helping Tuka and the others is Itami’s best way to engender trust, win hearts and minds in the Special Region.

So he gives them a lift to Italica to peddle their wares. And Pina and her men are headed to the same place on their way to Arnus. When she encounters the SDF and their refugees, how will she play things?

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