No Guns Life – 02 – Brand Loyalty

As promised, Juuzou finishes the job, derailing the train, disabling Karen by deactivating the sub-brain that governs her Extensions, and rescuing Tetsuro, after he gets the kid to act like a kid and have a temper tantrum, using Harmony to yell through one of Karen’s Extended goons.

Juuzou takes the still-unconscious Tetsuro to his friend/associate Mary, who is a whiz when it comes to installing/repairing Extended equipment. We also learn Tetsuro is the son of Berühren’s CEO.

We don’t learn how they met, but it certainly behooves Juuzou to know someone not Berühren-affiliated who can fix him, and he probably keeps the non-Extended Mary safe.

I liked Mary’s slightly ratty character design, and seiyu Numakura Manami finds the perfect voice for her: youthful, sarcastic, and confident. She agrees to let Juuzou know the second the kid’s awake so she can determine what’s keeping him in his coma-esque state.

Thus the rest of the episode features Juuzou basically playing the waiting game, which is doubly irritating to him due to his complete inability to track down his preferred brand of cigarettes.

Turns out there’s a reason for that: a very well-spoken Berühren stooge named Cunningham has acquired every pack of that brand in the city. He believes Juuzou needs the special “active ingredient” in the bran to move properly, and he’ll only part with them in exchange for Tetsuro.

Juuzou dismisses Cunningham’s presumption—he just likes the brand’s taste is all—and wastes all of the guy’s goons, forcing him to flee. And while a masked Mary tracked Juuzou down to tell him Tetsuro is awake, she also provides a key assist by removing the arms of Cunningham’s sniper.

No Guns Life remains a show I’d recommend now that the cast is expanding. Mary’s tinkerer type complements the  more world-weary Juuzou, while her prediction he’ll make the “freed” Tetsuro his partner in resolving doesn’t feel too off the mark.

Above all, both Juuzou and Mary seem like people doing what they want, not acting as tools for a corporation, and want to afford Tetsuro that same freedom to choose his path. Berühren won’t make it easy.

ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 05

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Two of Lotta’s stalkers bond over sandwich bread

I continue to be both bemused and delighted by the sheer obsession with food, eating, and dining in ACCA and the culinary minutiae therein. The fact that these characters need their three squares a day, plus the occasional snacks, really anchors them in the land of reality. It also mirrors real life in its lack of traditional “action”, but that lack hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm for the show in the slightest.

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One of the most important moments of the episode—and of the show as a whole—surprisingly happens not during a meal, but during a car ride (which is also, in its utilitarian practicality, a tether to reality). In that car, Lilium basically lets slip to Jean that he has a tail, and the reason he can’t detect him is that he’s someone by whom he’s used to being watched.

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Jean’s a sharp guy, so it doesn’t take long for him to narrow it down to his friend the photog. And when he arrives in the wintry, hearty Birra district and Crow is already there with his camera, we finally see a look of shock on his face as Jean stops and turns back to look for…him. It’s not clear whether he sees him or not (Crow seems pretty far away, though he’s wearing black in the snow), but that look back is all Crow needs to know he’s been found out.

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“Could you two young brats flirt somewhere else? I’m trying to run a bakery here.”

Two elements of the episode that are a little more obscure in their intentions were the plotlines of Eidar very unsubtly showing up to see Jean, only to be crushed when he’s not there, and Maggie pursuing Lotta, only to learn where she lives, that her parents are deceased, and that she loves sandwich bread. I’m hoping we’ll find out soon what Lotta’s significance is, if there turns out to be any, of course.

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After a rather stern dinner with Birra’s ACCA supervisor, Jean walks into the tranquil, snow-covered forest to confront his tail, and the resulting confrontation is wonderfully offbeat. Jean doesn’t seem betrayed; on the contrary, he seems like he could care less…though he doesn’t wonder if all those times Niino got him drunk he was pumping him for information.

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Back home, Jean and Niino share a meal with Lotta like nothing happened, and Jean even makes him promise to stay with Lotta and take her out to eat every day he’s off on his next audit, this time of the Western-style Rokkusu District. Niino obeys, likely hoping he doesn’t miss anything good.

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The final scene during sunset in Rokkusu is full of intrigue, as is the little chat between Lilium and Pastice at the airport. Is Jean simply saying hello to a vaunted superior in his hometown, or is something else going on? Something…coup-y?

For the first time it looked like Jean was doing something counter to the person we’d seen up to that point; that he was finally showing us something he’d been hiding. I may be dead-wrong, but I’m having fun guessing as I enjoy the food-filled ride.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 04

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ACCA steps back from the larger national coup plot to let Jean continue his inspection duties, this time to Suitsu, which may be the most isolated district in Dowa, seemingly frozen in time due to a noble class that insists on the preservation of “tradition and formality.” Not only are any outside forms of technology forbidden, those like Jean who come from outside are given a tight leash so as to limit cultural contamination.

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Not surprisingly, there are many in Suitsu who aren’t too happy about that, and have been organizing for some time. Jean happens to get scooped up by a group of them who believe he overheard their talk of a coup. Turns out their coup isn’t the same coup Jean’s mixed up in. These guys simply want to open Suitsu up, allow it the same freedom as the other districts to grow and develop, not simply fester like some dusty diorama.

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But apparently, the coup attempt that occurs when Jean is around isn’t the first of its kind by any means. All such former attempts were squashed and all records of them happening kept secret from the outside districts. Jean, for the record, seems sympathetic to the rebel cause here, even offering potential clients from his home to help Suitsu open up. But he stops short of getting involved, serving more as an observer.

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Unfortunately, all the adventures he witnessed will be subject to a gag order as a condition of his being allowed to leave, and anyone arrested in the coup attempt freed. It’s basically a hard reset, with one important difference: we saw how Jean reacted to being in the middle of a mini-revolution.

Did the cigarette he received in his hotel room and Crow/Niino’s intense surveillance of him indicate he’s involved in the larger coup? Or like his Suitsu excursion, is he merely being moved by forces outside his control, like a leaf in the wind?

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 03

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ACCA’s obsession with things getting done over dinner, drinks, and parties continues apace, as Mauve quietly invites Jean to an intimate dinner that, considering Jean’s blushing, almost feels like a date. In reality, it’s a business engagement.

Mauve has been told to stop investigating, but she wants Jean, with his 13-district-wide gaze, to keep his eyes and ears open for intel on the coup rumors. She’s also concerned that if the heir apparent Prince Schwan (a known puffed-up doofus) ascends, it could threaten the peace of the kingdom.

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As for the Prince’s grandfather the king, he seems like a pretty laid-back, kindly fellow, more concerned with the selection of sweets and fruits at the royal gala than anything else.

Schwan’s a pretty typical idiot prince, and it’s not that comforting to know how close he is to the throne, at which time he vows to disband ACCA, install a puppet privy council president, and do other not-so-cool things. Even his secretary Magi only seems to respect the dude so much.

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As for Jean, he’s one of the many ACCA-affiliated guests who are invited to the event, including Mauve, all five chief officers, and Niino, who brings Lotta along as his assistant (but seemingly really just so she can get a taste of the high life, I’m guessing).

As he floats about the palace, Jean can’t help but feel again like he’s being watched, and it’s because, well, he is. There are rumors all over about an impending coup, and there are enough hotshots in one place to actually make something like that a possibility.

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The thing is, Jean, as far as we know, isn’t an intermediary for the rebels planning the coup. At least, that’s not what Chief Officer Lilium thinks. He trusts his instincts, which tell him he can trust Jean. Groshular, on the other hand, is the one he believes is really behind the coup plot. He’s responsible for the rumors, after all – what better way to deflect attention?

Jean is seen as someone who is a big fan of order and preserving peace, concepts both Lilium and Mauve share, which is why they both come to him seeking an alliance with him. No doubt they’ll work and work quickly to stop a coup from happening, if they can. The question that remains is, is Jean really the person they (and we) think he is?

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 02

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Despite the threat of bad things on the horizon, the still-for-now peaceful world of ACCA is a very comfortable place to jump into and spend time, and the show continues a relaxed pace that draws you in rather than makes you nervous or impatient.

While we start with more frankly unnecessary explanation of Dowa and ACCA (though it’s good to now know what an ‘acca’ is), we suddenly find that the “mushroomhead” rookie officer Rail was never going to be able to frame Jean Otus for anything, because the well-informed Jean was on to him all along. It’s a nice demonstration of Jean’s towering competence that it’s important to establish for later on.

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The show keeps things grounded in reality and humanity by continuing to show Jean and others hanging around food and drink. This week we see Jean have breakfast, lunch and dinner, having lively discussions in each one.

Jean’s also often grabbing food for the house and his sister, which is how he bumps into Mauve, who has been ordered to cease her solo investigations, which had to deal with rumors of a coup d’etat plot.

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We also meet an actual not-work friend of Jean’s in Nino, who is a freelance reporter (and certainly looks the part). He’s on good terms with Jean’s sister Lotta too, so Nino is clearly a guy Jean trusts when he tells him not to worry about the feeling he’s being followed.

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I’m loving watching Jean’s far-flung travels between districts, and the way it isolates him from both home and office. He’s out there on his own, autonomous, soaking everything in, doing his job with what seems to be pride.

And yet…is the Jean Otus we’re seeing just an elaborate, near-perfect cover? Chief Officer Groshular believes Otus has something to do with the coup plot, so he has an elite undercover agent following him…who it’s hinted at earlier with a silhouette, then confirmed to be Nino, whom Groshular calls “Crow.” What a tangled web ACCA weaves.

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Right now, it seems just as plausible (if not more so) Jean is totally innocent, and his unorthodox behavior, combined with an inaccurate tip, has led Groshular to cast his suspicions upon him. But it’s intriguing to wonder if we’re only trusting Jean based on what we’ve seen and not the person Jean Otus truly is, hiding just beneath the surface.

Once he arrives in Jumoku, Jean almost looks like Alice, dealing with people and things far bigger (or smaller, in the case of “Tintin”) than they should be. It adds to the disorienting feeling of who is following whom.

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Nino/Crow is clearly perfectly comfortable observing Jean in plain sight; they go back 15 years to high school (though Nino cryptically says he’s been watching him for 30), after all. So is Jean oblivious to the fact his buddy is his tail, or is he well aware, and on his toes to avoid giving Nino anything to work with? Does Jean only pretend to get really drunk to lull Nino in a false sense of security?

It looks like the makings of a great noirish cat-and-mouse game thus far, presented with stylish art and a gorgeous soundtrack. ACCA exudes confidence without arrogance, telling a good yarn without getting too serious about it. But always present is that subtle background noise of looming dread in a peaceful world.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: From the creator of House of Five Leaves, the director of Space Dandy and One Punch Man, and Madhouse, ACCA follows the vice-chairman and second-in-command of ACCA’s Inspection Department Jean Otus, fulfilling one last audit before the department is shuttered.

However, Otus’ exposing of corruption in a district results in the shuttering being cancelled. Otus starts to feel like he’s being followed and watched, as he wonders if his department was really spared because trouble is on the horizon in otherwise-peaceful Dowa.

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Rejecting the notion that all police dramas must start with a bang and with thrilling action or the capturing of some devious members of the criminal classes, ACCA takes a far more leisurely, introspective, and detailed approach.

While some early scenes where ACCA officers talk to each other about the structure and purpose of their own organization (which is a little clunky), the episode rights itself by diving into the monotonous but not awful day-to-day existence of a glorified functionary who seems to be coasting.

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If this all feels somewhat boring, I think that’s kind of the point. There’s a distinct foreboding feeling lurking on the margins of otherwise mundane world of Dowa. Comments about the increasing number of fires and the fact the King of Dowa has just turned 99 adds to the looming dread.

Nice little details like Otus’ penchant for smoking cigarettes (a rare luxury in Dowa), the birdlike form of the country, and all the various organizations and ranks and their relationships with one another also kept me interested.

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But while trouble may loom (Otus’ discovery of black market corruption indicates there could be larger rot lurking in the depths of ACCA, and one of the org’s “Chief Five” mentions a possible coup d’etat), life nevertheless continues as normal, and that’s where ACCA really shines.

Otus and his colleagues spend a lot of time either in diners, bars and cafes, or opening up tasty treats at work (specifically, at or around 10). The building he lives in is managed by his sister, who wants him to get out of ACCA and join her in the family business.

All those little slice of life moments add up to a rich, lived-in experience, which makes up for the lack of exciting action. The visuals are nothing fancy, but get the job done, while the eclectic soundtrack is superb. If ACCA continues along this offbeat tack, it should secure a firm place on my Winter watchlist.

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ReLIFE – 02

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The test scores are in, and a great many things become known. In ten years, Kaizaki forgot between 75% and 96% of everything he learned in high school the first time around. Kariu is mad about losing the class rep job to Hishiro not because she can’t get free lunches, but because she has feelings for Ooga. Finally, Onoya has even worse test scores than Kaizaki…and she’s a real high schooler!

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These two need tutoring, and Ooga is happy to serve the role as tutor, but gets more than he bargained for when Kaizaki and An start digging into his relationship with Kariu, including their matching earrings. I’m liking how quickly yet naturally the circle of friends is coming together.

I also liked Kaizaki’s outsize reaction to An whipping out her cell phone; once a capital crime in his day, now students use them with impunity (outside of class, that is). Or how he takes Hishiro’s reaction to his lending her 1000 yen (that he’s like a grown-up) literally; worried the brainy girl is on to him.

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Hishiro comes to dominate the latter half of the episode as Kaizaki makes it his mission to get her to come out of her shell a little more. The fact her forced smiles are so disconcerting is proof of how genuine and straightforward she is; the only smiles she can make are real ones, all of which were triggered by Kaizaki being nice to her.

At the beginning of the episode, Hishiro has no friends; now she has one, and of her own choosing, boldly asking for Kaizaki’s phone number. Hishiro really shines in this episode, greatly aided by her adorable character design…and Kayano Ai’s adorable voice.

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Ryou, who was skulking around corners the whole episode, observing Kaizaki from a distance, not only suggests he try to quit smoking (the smell lingers, plus no one will sell to someone with his new babyface), but also not to get too attached to anyone. Apparently, when the year-long experiment is over, everyone young Kaizaki interacted with will forget him, because he’ll be back to being 27.

Not like that’s something he’ll be able to explain if they every learned, but this still seems like a downer, especially considering Kaizaki will remember them, and will likely not feel so great as a result. When Hishiro told Kaizaki she had to rush things, that this was her last chance, it reminded him how confident he was that his future would go the way he thought it would.

It didn’t, and ReLIFE is ostensibly the path to getting somewhere closer to his ideal future (or even creating a new one). But having to sever all his new bonds at the end of the year seems like a steep price to pay for that future. As I watch the next eleven episodes (at my own pace), it will be interesting to see if he ever tries to haggle over that price. Hishiro—callsign “Sorry Cat”—is someone worth knowing. Could she also be a bond worth preserving, even if it breaks Ryou’s rules?

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ReLIFE – 01 (First Impressions)

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27-year-old NEET Kaizaki Arata meets Yoake Ryou of the ReLIFE Laboratory, and agrees to participate in an experiment aimed at rehabilitating NEETs. Arata takes a pill that makes him look ten years younger and endures a taxing first day as a third-year high school student, with Ryou as his observer.

Anime in which the MC re-lives their life in one form or another are nothing new—ERASED being a recent example—so a new take on it requires good execution. ReLIFE largely succeeds by keeping things light (aside from a couple of dark-ish moments).

The science of Arata’s transformation is thankfully not explained; suffice it to say the pill is a means to an end: a second chance at having a successful adulthood (as measured by Japanese society). Arata has a healthy skepticism initially, but as he’s just been cut off by his parents, he can’t very well turn down job that guarantees a year of living expenses.

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The veneer of seediness inherent in a secretly 27-year-old hanging out with high schoolers is quickly washed away by the exhilaration inherent in an adult being plunged back into the crucible of youth with no manual. Young people don’t just look different, they talk and act different as well, and while settling back into long-forgotten patterns is no cakewalk for Arata, it’s engrossing to watch.

This show has a nice even core of six main characters, including Arata and Ryou, and we get a quick intro of the other four in short order. Three are girls: the aloof brainiac Hishiro, the prickly-yet-kind Kairu, and the peppy Onoya, who takes an instant liking to her fellow transfer student.

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Like I said, the first day doesn’t go so well, with Arata constantly drawing attention to himself and the fact he has no idea what he’s doing yet. This culminates in the teacher, Amatsu Kokoro, finding a pack of cigs in his bag and calling him to the teacher’s lounge after school.

Arata has to write an apology letter, but when he applies his 27-year-old charm and perspective on Amatsu (who in reality is two years younger than him), her initial harsh manner softens considerably. It comes as no surprise the person at school he’s able to interact with most successfully is the one closest to his real age!

Of course, he’ll have to learn how to interact (again) with teenagers and start acting like one himself (at least a very mature teenager). Ryou intends to give him a wide berth in terms of how he’ll spend the year, be it keeping his head down in the background or making a big “Springtime of Life” splash.

But Ryou wants Arata to remember the purpose of the experiment is to reform NEETs (a label Arata dislikes); ending up right back where he started in the beginning of the episode would mean the experiment failed.

Arata’s year will likely fall somewhere in between the two extremes of high school life and exposure, and the credits indicate he’ll befriend all the other four core students one way or another. I for one am excited to see how this experiment shakes out.

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P.S. I am aware the entire 13-episode run is available all at once, Netflix-style, but I won’t be marathoning. That being said, I may well finish reviewing it faster than if it aired once a week. Think Prison School pace.

Sekai Seifuku: Bouryaku no Zvezda – 03

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First, a confession: we’re not tobacco smokers; never have been. They just didn’t agree with us, unless we were very drunk, and even then, we paid a price the next day. That being said, we’ve always been very accepting of smokers’ right to smoke. We once lived with three smokers at once. When laws banned smoking in most bars, we felt like the bars lost their ambiance. And of course, we grew up seeing heros and villains alike enjoying a good smoke, and usually looking pretty cool while doing so.

Kate and Natasha aren’t like us. They’re not willing to live and let live with smokers. With them it’s Zero Tolerance Total Ban with no quarter for those who transgress, even their own comrade, Yasu, who has a history of misbehavior. We learn that he and Gorou were once gangsters who were in a tight spot and were saved by Kate; they apparently joined Zvezda not long after that. Gorou maintained a healthy fear of Kate’s power when she’s serious; a power we see as she battles the smokers of West Edogawa.

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Kate also possesses tremendous charisma and is able to rally previously scared and frustrated masses of fellow non-smoking residents into a fearsome army of “Smoke Busters.” Yasu’s little mini-revolt doesn’t last long once he sees Kate flash the same red eyes he saw when she was standing atop a pile of bodies, and goes back to Zvezda with his tail between his legs (though he still doesn’t swear off cigarettes.) As for the last bastion of smokers, they seem to turn into soulless ghouls milling around the street. Zvezda heads home, and everyone ends up back in their cozy little spaces.

So if this episode felt too preachy and mean to smokers, remember we’re talking about the whims of a little girl who feels very strongly about the subject. And at the end of the day, she isn’t wrong: second-hand smoke is dangerous. It comes down to moderation in opposition to an action: Kate has none, and is powerful enough not to bother with any. We’re reminded of a kid on This American Life (listen here) who tried to force his family to stop eating meat. His mom made him (grudgingly) admit that he didn’t get to decide what other people are allowed to eat. Of course, if this kid could summon a giant foe-smiting fist, things would be different….

7_very_goodRating:7 (Very Good)