Shoumetsu Toshi – 01 (First Impressions) – High on Vespa Chases, Low on…Everything Else

Shoumetsu Toshi is the latest in a long string of anime in which mysterious phenomena put giant holes or voids in a city. After a brief flashback to the Akira-like mini-cataclysm, we’re suddenly in the present, and a guy named Takuya with a yellow Vespa straight out of FLCL is preparing to rescue Yuki, a blue-haired maiden from lonely confinement.

It goes without saying he meets some resistance, as those holding Yuki would rather she stay put, and a hectic chase ensues. The chase, involving esper monks and Apache helicopters, is at least exciting in its execution, but one does get the feeling the show is trying to use that excitement to occlude the fact we have no idea who anyone is or why anyone is doing anything.

Takuya is also capable of doing things with his Vespa a normal Vespa probably couldn’t do, but fine, perhaps it’s modified. He ollies the scooter into the back of a truck lab, where his researcher client(?) is pleased he’s delivered the “sample” (his rather inconsiderate name for Yuki, last survivor of that big boom in the beginning).

Yuki doesn’t take well to being treated like a scientific sample, and isn’t sure anyone has her back, so she wanders off alone. Fortunately, she doesn’t cover much ground, and Takuya is able to catch up to her and reaffirm his commitment to doing the job he’s been given.

That job is to get her safely to the site of the phenomenon, known as “Lost” (also the name of a popular former mystery series on ABC). Takuya also calls an apparent friend who is quick to betray him, as right behind her is a bad dude in a black trench coat and hood listening in.

Yuki gets back on Takuya’s scooter, choosing to stick with him, and another unlikely scooter chase ensues, which while packed with more Apache monk, and guy-with-dozens-of-submachine-guns action, left me scratching my head more than pumping my fist. Ultimately, there’s not enough behind the action to form much of a connection to anyone.

Had they reached the boundary of Lost, there might’ve been a feeling of something having been accomplished, but it’s not to be, as the hooded trench coat guy knocks both Yuki and Takuya off the bike, leaving the latter in very bad shape. I wish I cared where things go from here…but I can’t in good conscience say that I do. And that makes two duds to start my Spring. Not encouraging…

Advertisements

Golden Kamuy – 02 – Something They Carve Together

As Asirpa prepares traps to ensnare delicious nut-fed squirrels for dinner, Sugimoto determines the prisoners will avoid small villages where they’d stand out. The pair head into the booming port and commercial city of Otaru to canvass the places where they’d expose their tattooed skin: the baths and the brothels.

While questioning sex workers, the tiny Asirpa gets nabbed by the brothel owner, but quickly demonstrates she’s not worth his trouble, considering her skill with a knife handle and the “immortal” company she keeps.

Ultimately, they manage to snag their first prisoner the same way they catch squirrels: with a snare that traps him by the neck. Asirpa is adamant that they’ll kill nobody needlessly, and instead uses the pencil and paper acquired in Otaru to draw their captive’s tattoos. Fun little human moments like Asirpa drooling over squirrel meat or her shock at Sugimoto’s “rubber pencil” trick are effective at keeping the mood from getting too heavy.

This prisoner escaped from the others when they suddenly started killing each other, not realizing that absent drafting skills (or pencils), completing the map meant quite a bit of skinning. However, before this prisoner can give them any more information, he’s shot right through the brain, darkening the mood anew.

Sugimoto tracks down the gunman and identifies him not just as a fellow soldier, but one of the much-feared and respected Hokkaido 7th Division, known as the Guardians of the North for their tenacity in even the toughest battles. In other words, a division Sugimoto would be right at home in, had he not been dishonorably separated from the army.

The two share a couple moments as fellow soldiers to prepare for battle, and when the soldier asks if Sugimoto is tracking down the prisoners for money, he corrects him by saying it’s for love…which isn’t far off. After all, the money is for the family of the friend he loved, not for himself.

This time, Sugimoto’s foe is too tough to go easy on, and when the choice becomes letting him go to inform his superiors and stopping him, Sugimoto tosses the butt of his rifle at the guy, hitting him in the head and sending him tumbling off a cliff and into the freezing river, where he and Asirpa presume he’s dead but rather sloppily refrain from confirming it.

That error could be a result of hunger, but “We’re alive, so of course we get hungry” Asirpa has the solution for that when they return to her hunting tent, which is also her kitchen, There, she skins the squirrels they caught and lets Sugimoto eat the brain of one raw, which is supposedly the best part.

She finely minces the remaining meat and bones into chitatap, a kind of dish that sounds like the way you make it (incidentally, one should say “chitatap” while chopping the meat). In a concession to Sugimoto’s Sisam tastes, she forms balls with the meat and cooks them in broth for a sumptuous meal, and uses the Ainu saying “Hinna, hinna!” instead of “Itadakimasu!” to give thanks.

There’s no such thing as eating too much out here in The Grey, so after nabbing and sketching their second prisoner in as many days, Asirpa gets a bead on a rabbit and pounces on it. Unfortunately, this prisoner is an escape artists who coughs up a razor with which to cut himself free.

While chasing him down, he and Sugimoto end up tumbling down a cliff and falling into the drink, which is a death sentence for those who don’t get their freezing clothes off and warm up in front of a fire within ten minutes.

There’s a black comedy of errors as the prisoner succumbs to the various symptoms of hypothermia, but once he gets Sugimoto’s assurances he’ll spare his life, he coughs up a bullet they can use to spark a life-saving fire.

Having survived their dance with death, the two bond, casting aside their conflict, and the prisoner, Shiraishi, shares more intel with Sugimoto, including the fact that the leader of the prisoners is a grizzled and immensely-skilled samurai veteran from a war fought thirty years prior.

Meanwhile, the 7th division private also survived his hypothermia (perhaps Sugimoto’s immortaliy rubs off on people) and soon wakes up, meaning his commanding officer, who himself  seems to have survived having a large part of his face peeled off. As tough and resourceful as Sugimoto and Asirpa are, the characters they’ll have to deal with to achieve their goal are no slouches!

Golden Kamuy has established itself as one of the best best of the Spring, despite taking place in a bitterer Winter than the one we’re still struggling to escape in real life. So far it’s sported some great characters of almost mythical ability, offered some creative combat and survival skills, integrating elements of Ainu culture wherever possible. The OP and ED are also tight as hell. More than anything, Golden Kamuy has attitude, but isn’t so serious it won’t crack jokes where appropriate.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 11

In “CULTURE”, as Yuu feeds the “cut” bullets of increasing size, the girls roll into an armory, but Chito is far less interested in the tanks than a book lying on the ground. Titled “War and Human Civilization”, it’s written in English, which means even Chito can’t read it, calling them “letters from an old, far-off place.”

Considering the state of civilization in this show, that would seem to be something of an understatement. We build taller and taller buildings; Saudi Arabia is building one that will be 1km tall when finished. But we’re a long way from stacking cities on top of other cities like so many pizza boxes.

The book and its language, like the elaborate giant whirligig, are elements of human culture that should be preserved and understood if lessons are going to be learned by future generations.

It’s all well and good to feed an animal bullets, but to possess a book about how and why that animal can eat bullets—or detect where radio waves are originating—is even better.

Lessons of being mortally injured by falling objects or stray bullets led to the development of helmets, and in “DESTRUCTION” Chito gets and object lesson on why they still wear them even though there’s no one else around: their environment can be extremely hazardous at the drop of a hat…or bolt.

That bolt is the vanguard of a hail of shards of metal and machinery, as a gargantuan robot that could be a flesh-less warrior from the Seven Days of Fire plummets into a heap. The girls explore, and the cut shapes its body into a key of sorts to activate the robot. Yuu activates the first lever she sees, and a cruise missile is launched and detonates a few thousand feet away.

She presses another button, and the robot emits a laser beam that causes even greater destruction and widespread fires just off in the distance. Yuu starts laughing uncontrollably, saying it’s “fun”, but Chito gives her a closed-fist punch, telling her that nothing about this is funny. Yuu apologizes.

If they didn’t before, a first-hand demonstration of the destructive capabilities of civilization helps the girls to understand a little better why so much of the world is abandoned and in tatters. And yet there’s stuff all over the city and its environs that is still on, long after humans disappeared.

In “THE PAST”, Using their new pet as a guide, Chito and Yuri traverse a forest of windmills in, and come across a nuclear submarine. Again the animal creates a key out of its body, granting them access. The submarine may be beached, but it’s in working order, to the girls’ amazement.

It’s nuclear reactor seems to still be generating power (though I worry about radiation), while the girls traverse another forest within the sub on foot: a forest of what look like ICBMs.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 10

This week, the girls find a train, a radio signal, and a furry companion. As usual, they are absolutely dwarfed just by the vertical scale of the train, to say nothing of its length. Judging by the number of “robot corpses” strewn across its interior, it seems the design had to accommodate robots far bigger than humans.

After Yuuri experiences the boredom of waiting for the train to reach the destination, she and Chito do what I do when possible—head to the front. Yuuri points out that they’re going faster than usual because they’re moving on a moving train. It starts a fun discussion about the rotation of the earth and relative speed.

If there’s a commonality to these little talks it’s that it reveals both that Chito is very bright and just doesn’t have all the words needed to describe the scientific principles she understands, and Yuuri, while perhaps less bright, nonetheless comes to some perceptive conclusions of her own, despite having even less vocabulary than Chito.

At the end of the line they alight from the train and continue through another vast expanse of infrastructure. For a moment, Yuuri picks up something on the radio: what sounded like a sad song.

They look for a way to ascend to where the waves will be stronger, and happen to stop right on an ascending platform…only it either needs maintenance or wasn’t meant to convey humans and kettenkrads, because it moves extremely fast and stops on a dime.

That leads to a great bit of physical comedy as the girls and rig keep moving even when the platform stops; naturally, Yuuri lands on her feet. They’re met at the top by an eerily red sunset and a much clearer and more consistent transmission of the song, which is indeed sad, albeit very beautiful and moving in general, especially combined with the sad sunset.

I especially liked when the graininess of the radio feed gave way to a clear, crisp performance of the song. I just wished they could’ve tuned the radio to something more upbeat; they could’ve used some cheer after that last song.

When they come upon a massive hole—with another massive hole in the level above—Yuuri wonders if it was caused by the battle all the broken weaponry around them was used for. Chito surmises the hole predates the weapons, and that the hole was more recently merely a venue for a later battle. In any case, the image of a tank being repurposed as a fountain by nature and gravity is a sight to behold, especially when Yuuri literally soaks her head.

In what looks like a rocket tube, Yuuri finds a strange creature that neither she nor Chito can quite place, and so settle on “cat.” While they don’t mention it themselves, it very much also resembles those tall white idols they’ve encountered here and there. When the animal makes noise, the radio seems to translate it, even though the animal only seems to be repeating the girls with slight variation.

While the end of the train line and the sunset provided suitable ending points for the first and second vignettes, the third looks poised to continue, as the “cat” follows the girls, who decide to keep it with them for now. As Chito puts it, they’re always throwing things away or using them up, it’s nice to add something for a change.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 06

The girls are in a spot: a gear has snapped clean in two, stopping the Kettenkrad, and their “last tour” in its tracks. If they can’t get it going, their chances of survival plummet. Chito can’t get it going, and Yuuri won’t help (probably aware there’s little she can do). She just cheerfully sings a little song with one lyric: “hopeless, hopeless.”

Then Yuuri spots an airplane flying in the sky, and Chito spots a woman in a white coat running after it. Hope has arrived, in the person of Ishii, who has taken up residence in an old underground aircraft hangar.

Ishii is a quietly kind yet no-nonsense person. She knows she can’t live in the base forever, so she’s using the plans she’s found to design and build an airplane to fly to the next city (the plane seen in they sky was a prototype).

More than a base, the hangar appears to be some kind of repository of aeronautical history, and just as Chito and Yuuri may be the last two people operating a Kettenkrad, Ishii is possibly the last aeronautical engineer and aviator left.

The girls help Ishii compete construction of her plane, and in exchange, she provides them with food, shelter, a bath (aaaaahhhh) and the part and repairs needed to get their ‘Krad going again, thus probably saving both their lives.

The day of the flight comes, and there’s a sense of finality and longing for the status quo that’s about to be blown to bits by the winds of progress. It won’t stay warm and calm for long; Ishii has to launch now. And she’s glad she has human witnesses for what could be the last manned flight.

After all, it’s only history if someone besides the one making it saw and documented the event. The takeoff sequence is appropriately epic in its portrayal, as is the awe in the girls’ eyes as they watch Ishii achieve flight.

For a few magnificent moments, the plane soars majestically over one of the widest and clearest views of the city we’ve yet seen; loaded with enough fuel to fly 2,000km, more than enough to reach the nearest city, just visible from Ishii’s giant telescope.

But a few moments is all the plane gets; it breaks up in midair, the pieces pathetically plummeting to the ground far, far below. Chito collapses in reaction, but Yuuri spots Ishii in a parachute, slowly descending. She’s okay, but she failed.

Still, Ishii feels a great sense of relief, to the fact she even smiles, which Yuuri interprets as her finally “embracing the hopelessness” all humans in this wrecked world must embrace in order to keep going. She falls and falls and falls, perhaps to the lowest level, but there’s every reason to believe she’ll survive.

As for Chito and Yuuri, they load up on as many ration potatoes they can find and set off in their repaired Kettenkrad, bound for still higher levels of the city. They, like Ishii and Kanazawa, are also a part of history…likely the tail end of it. When they, and whatever other scattering of remaining humans, have passed on, there will be nobody and nothing left but the ruins.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s hope somewhere out there, waiting to be found. And maybe Yuuri wants to be proved wrong.

Shoujo Shuumatsu Ryokou – 05

(Click here for an ambient accompaniment to this review)

Dwarfed as they always are by their vast, abandoned urban labyrinth, the girls come upon habitations. They grossly underestimate the number of people who could live there—millions, not a mere thousand, but it that speaks to their extended isolation in general.

They explore inside one and find a place that, in another time, and if the city around them wasn’t totally dead, they might’ve lived. At least for one night, they stay in the room, and as they each imagine how they’d furnish it, those items magically appear, as if the girls were sharing the contents of their minds’ eyes.

Still, they decide they can’t stay any longer; they’d run out of food for one; the automatic lights would keep them up for another (unless they find a switch). Their “house” is now the Kettenkrad; they feel most comfortable aboard it, always on the move.

But due to the little amount of sleep they got under the lights, Chito falls asleep at the handlebars, and only Yuuri waking up and rousing Chito stops them from crashing. Still, they need to stop and rest, which they do in an eerily gorgeous geometric landscape, surrounded by clusters of buildings suspended on tall poles.

While their brainstorming in the house was more magical realism, Chi’s bizarre dreams enter the world of the surreal, and also highlight what could be some deeply-ingrained anxiety over Yuuri. Her more aggressive personality and “bigger” presence give her monumental scale, suddenly of a piece with the colossal surroundings, and only Chi alone, small and vulnerable.

First MegaYuuri blows Chito off a carefully balanced pile of rocks (like the one they built before going to sleep), then Chito finds herself in a vast ocean, riding the same kind of fish they ate a couple episodes back, only for Yuuri to appear in monstrous fish form to try to eat Chi, who wakes up with a start. To her irritation, Yuuri, still asleep, seems to be dreaming about eating something…or someone.

(Now let’s switch it up to some rain.)

Girls’ Last Tour has always been a very immersive, atmospheric, and for all its fantastical ruined landscapes, naturalistic show, but the last segment, “Sound of Rain”, really kicked those qualities up to eleven. When it starts to rain, the girls find shelter under a partially-collapsed structure of unknown purpose. There, they dry their jackets, Chito reads, and Yuuri gets bored.

But when she focuses in on one raindrop hitting a surface, then another, she decides to place objects under those drops, eventually creating a relaxing orchestra of sound that is random-sounding at first but suddenly snaps into a musical rhythm—which turns into a new song that plays as the credits roll.

The sounds took me right back to the last time I sat on the porch and simply listened to the gently falling rain. Kino doesn’t have the monopoly on the “Beautiful World”; it’s here too, in all its glory.

No. 6 11 (Fin)

Citizens of No. 6 start dying from the parasitic wasps within them. Shion and Rat have found Safu, but she’s become a medium for Elyurias, and while part of her remains to tell Shion she loves him, she isn’t quite Safu anymore. Rat sets a bomb on the main computer core and escapes with Shion, but Safu stays put. When the bomb blows, the prison begins to crumble, and is hastily evacuated. Both Nezumi and Rat are seriously wounded by gunfire from guards. Elyurias transforms into a giant wasp and spreads her power throughout No. 6, removing the infestation of wasps, tearing down the walls, and healing the guys. With eveything Shion hoped for accomplished, he and Nezumi go their separate ways, with Shion returning to a changed No. 6.

Eleven-episode runs can be killer for series with Really Big Ideas like No. 6. As the series progressed, it seemed unsure of how large a story to tell, and unsure how exactly to tell it. Episodes were spent with Nezumi and Rat just sitting around philosophizing. There’s a lot of exposition and lengthly explanation here, too. This was not a perfect ending, and I don’t think it was a great one, either. But it was pretty good.

I was disappointed that the guys came all that way to rescue Safu (though Rats primary goal was destroying the prison) only for her to say a few word and then basically die; she almost feels like a McGuffin. She’s obviously the kind of girl who knows who she loves no matter how little of him she actually sees, and Shion is a mess after Rat carries him off without her, having lost someone he had so much more to say to. But his pipe dream came true – in a deus ex machina, neat-little-package way kinda way. It had a definite ending, which is more than can be said of some 11-episode series.


Rating: 3

Sket Dance 21

This week’s a field trip, with Himeko and Bossun bumping into each other in the city, then spotting Switch on what initially looks like a date with Yuuki, the plain, pallid, Ring-like occult chick. It turns out he’s coming with her to pick out a computer, but it soon evolves into much more than that.

I really enjoyed their philosophical banter. These two are definitely intellectual rivals who are more alike than different; they’re simply dedicated to opposite ends of the human condition, namely the supernatural and the scientific. When they bump into a former classmate of hers, it’s learned that back before she was so involved with the occult, she confessed to him and got shot down because she was “scary-looking.” Switch’s cosmetic advice to her is similarly amusing.

They’re at a department store, so they avail themselves of the available services, and tarts her up. The transformation is striking, and the fact she still sounds the same and walks with the worst posture in the world is hilarious. I must say I definitely enjoyed virtually a whole episode dedicated to Switch and Yuuki; they really bring out the best in each other. The fresh setting brought back memories of Tokyo’s massive department stores that sell just about everything.


Rating: 3

Tiger & Bunny 13

So it took about three weeks and half of the Heroes’ asses getting kicked for them to find out that – gasp – Jake Martinez has not one, but two powers: the barrier power, and telepathy. Interestingly, classically the least observant and analytical hero, Tiger, is the one who discovers this. Everyone else who fought him just kept rushing Jake until they could no longer stand. So the big bad of the season is dealt with through the use of…an ordinary stun grenade. Something that would disorient anyone. Sooo….why didn’t they use one at the beginning???

Well, the episode answers that question to my satisfaction: they needed to stall for time, and divert both Jake’s and Kriem’s attention while they set up a jamming signal for the exobots. Once they do, Fire Emblem, Blue Rose and Dragon Kid finally have something to do besides sit in a lounge and watch what we’re watching. I got the feeling that just about everyone played an important role this week, which is good. Also, the episode dispenses with excessive exhibition and starts right off the bat with Barnaby taking it to Jake. The combat animation is quick and sharp.

So yeah, I enjoyed this episode more than the previous two partially because it was better, but also because I knew this arc had to end eventually. It’s a bit of an anticlimax that Jake doesn’t even remember Bunny’s parents, but I’m glad that in the heat of the battle he didn’t say something to the effect of “Haha, I actually DO remember your parents! They begged for mercy yadda yadda yadda”; I feel like that line is overdone. He didn’t remember them, period. So, remember, if you want to hold a city hostage, have more than a team of just two people, both of whom are busy playing around while their robots are jammed and disabled. Rating: 3.5

Tiger & Bunny 10

“Calm Before the Storm” is a fitting title for this week’s heroic adventure, though the second half is more like the storm after the calm. When he grudgingly takes some time off work, Tiger tries to ingratiate himself with his daughter by appearing in her presence for once, with a gift in hand. However, his assertion that heroes never get days off is proven correct: as the bridge he’s driving on is bombed by a terrorist. Predictably, he fails to see his daughter once more. Poor Tiger!

Meanwhile, Barnaby thinks he’s found the one who killed his parents – an odd-looking dude named Jake Martinez, and is off to prison to question him. An automotive aside; Tiger’s daily driver is a green Isuzu Bighorn, while Bunny rolls in a red Honda NSX. These are both very fitting vehicles for those characters. But like Tiger, Bunny and all the other heroes get a rude interruption to their respective respites when Ouroboros makes their big unveiling. The bridge was one of three routes out of Sternbild they bombed, making the 20 million citizens their hostages.

Two shadowy but snappily-dressed villains announce how things will go down: if their demands are not met, they’ll start blowing up the city’s support columns, eventually causing catastrophe (and proving why it’s a bad idea to stack three essentially cities directly atop of one another). Their foot soldiers – nasty mechas piloted by re-animated plushies – surround all the heroes menacingly, and jam the Hero TV feed. If public fear hadn’t quite pervaded yet, it sure as hell will now. The heroes now have two dilemmas: how to defeat Ouroboros, and how to calm, reassure, and earn back the trust of the citizens. Rating: 3.5