Banana Fish – 12 – “Who am I?”

Ash continues his winning streak by knocking off one gang leader after another, with Arther getting more flustered as his subordinates report the losses.

Ash is also confident almost to a fault, whether it’s confronting Dino at the airport to tell him shit is ON, to meeting with the leader of a Harlem gang alone and even pulling a gun on him while completely surrounded. In both cases, Ash earns respect.

He and Eiji have also settled in to an idyllic domestic life at the fancy condo. Eiji is kept busy photographing everyone who goes in and out of the mafia property next door, as well as preparing a traditional Japanese dinner.

But while it’s all smiles and rainbows at home, Ash is spilling lots of blood on the streets, including by his own hand. While I’m sure opinions vary on its continued utility, I feel that instances in which protagonists come right out and ask themselves “Who am I?”  should be retired from drama forever.

That being said, I do enjoy the very natural chemistry and interactions between Ash and Eiji throughout the episode; they truly come off as a couple of people who care about each other a great deal despite very different backgrounds and skills.

Indeed, when they get into a fight when Ash comes home with blood on his shirt, Eiji basically has him pegged, and Ash lashes out not because Eiji is wrong about him, but because he’s right. Thankfully, they make up quickly the next day, when Eiji finds him at the library.

The Harlem gang leader (Bloody Cain) whom Ash impressed with their first meeting ends up as a go-between observer in Ash and Arthur’s full-on war, which I imagine will soon culminate in Ash and Arthur going at it mano-a-mano. In preparation for that, Ash is ready to send both Eiji and Ibe back to Japan…though one wonders if they’ll be safe there.

Meanwhile, Eiji’s photos and further research have uncovered a massive conspiracy between White House officials, congressmen, and military officers. Ash believes Banana Fish will be used to cause coups-de-etat in countries America wants kept in chaos.

As Max says, this is really big…too big, frankly. Just like Ash’s unspeakably awful past or the extent of the gang activity on Manhattan, the whole titular Banana Fish thing is just too comically huge and ungainly; it’s honestly hard to take seriously.

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Attack on Titan – 38 (Start of Season 3) – Behind the Curtain

Season 3 of Shingeki no Kyoujin begins with a question long pondered by Eren: If beyond the wall is a sea…what’s beyond the sea? Wizard of Oz will always be a favorite movie of mine, but I doubt I was alone when I first saw the curtain get pulled back to reveal the “Great and Powerful” Oz was just a flimflam man with a budget.

Titan has never pulled the curtain back; not entirely. It may show us glimpses that alter or expand our way of thinking about this bizarre and mysterious world, but the central mystery of how all of what is going on came to be remains tightly guarded.

I found it notable that this season’s OP contains not one bit of anyone actually fighting a Titan. Indeed, the entire episode only features one Titan: Eren, briefly, in a controlled experiment. That’s because the true enemy of mankind is, not surprisingly, mankind.

Titan Season 3 looks like it will further explore the depths of the secrets of the walls, detail the lengths to which the Powers that Be will go to protect them, and impress upon us the importance of revealing or exposing those secrets for the salvation of humanity…if that’s even what the “good guys” are actually doing.

That’s what’s intriguing; even someone as sharp and resourceful as Levi only has bits and pieces to work off of regarding their “enemy.” All he knows is that he was entrusted with the Titan Coordinate (Eren) and the heiress to the throne (Historia), two assets that, properly utilized, could blow this whole thing wide open.

But those Powers are working against him, and brazenly; no longer in the shadows. The secret behind the curtain remains, but forces have come from behind it to shoo nosy interlopers away. With Scout Regiment activity suspended, Pastor Nick murdered, Commander Erwin arrested, and Levi’s squad on the run, the episode adopts the feel of a cat-and-mouse conspiracy thriller.

And yet, for all of the brisk plot development, the ep still takes the time to re-introduce the cast still stinging from their respective recent ordeals. There’s painfully forthright Eren; eternally badass Misaka; strategic Armin; hungry Sasha; resentful Jean; weary Connie; non-good-girl-y Historia; crazy Hange; no-BS Levi. I left plenty out but you get the gist.

When the government demands the Scouts hand over Eren and Historia, Levi takes a gamble by sending his squad to Trost district, the site of the Pastor’s torture and murder, and bring Eren and Historia before Pyxis. They enter the district in broad daylight wearing their gear, and Eren and Historia are quicky snatched up by kidnappers.

Only the “Eren” and “Historia” they snatch are actually Armin and Jean posing as body doubles. Led by Mikasa, Levi’s scouts rescue them and capture the kidnappers, who prove so laughably amateurish that it sets off alarm bells in Levi’s head. Could they—could HE have fallen for a larger chess game in which the kidnapping was only a diversion?

The feeling of dread only grows worse as Levi observes from a rooftop as the wagon containing the real Eren and Historia getting blocked by a large crowd. The suspicion of being in the middle of a trap crystallizing, Levi asks Hange’s scouts Nifa if she’s ever heard of the serial-killer Kenny the Ripper, then reveals he used to know and live with him.

Levi identifies the true kidnappers too late, as Kenny gets the jump on him, takes Nifa’s head off with his huge guns, and gives Levi a warm greeting as his very large and professional-looking crew swoops in to surround him.

What had started oh-so-modestly with the scouts cleaning up their farmhouse hideout escalated in a damned hurry. Eren and Historia are in deep trouble if Levi could be ambushed so easily. I didn’t imagine the show could make the government as existentially scary as a Titan attack, but…here we are.

Shoukoku no Altair – 03

We left Tintin Mahmut in dire straits last week, but still with an ace in the hole: his trusty eagle Snowy Iskender. As Zaganos, outnumbered 10-1, considers using poison to pull out a victory, the female Imperial officer stopping Shahra from cutting any more tent ropes, and Mahmut straight getting his ass kicked by the male officer, it’s all up to the bird.

I must say, this show’s clever (if sometimes credulity-straining) use of Iskender and the eagles to lend Mahmut a hand in times of great need add a sheen of destiny to his story, as if nature itself would prefer he succeed in his endeavors.

Or rather birds, plural: scores of them descend on the hostage tent and pull it away; conveniently dropping it on top of the Imperial soldiers standing by for orders to burn it. Instead, they are the ones who burn, in a nice bit of irony.

Iskender him(her?)self comes to Mahmut’s aid against the big guy, who after all has only one eye and thus has a depth perception shortfall that results in a rather creative death: Mahmut and the eagle work together to wrap a chain around the guy’s face and throat, and Mahmut snaps his neck.

Thus Mahmut’s would-be tormentor is dunzo, and so is the Imperial plot to take Hisar. Ibrahim Vali opens the gates to Zaganos and his forces, and Mahmut makes the call to release all of the Araba, despite their rebellion. For that, and for all their roles in the brief Hisar rebellion, Mahmut, Ibrahim, and Zaganos are all brought before the Divan of the other 11 Pashas to testify and be judged.

To Ibrahim and Mahmut’s shock and delight, the former is not executed, but restored as Vali of Hisar. Zaganos is reinstated as Pasha. But Mahmut, as I figured considering the outcome of the other two verdicts, isn’t so lucky. He is stripped of his rank of Pasha, and demoted to Binbashi under Halil Pasha. He couldn’t have ended up under a nicer commander, but it’s still a huge step backwards for Mahmut, for whom duty is life.

Having tasted the sweet top only makes the demotion all the more bitter, but Mahmut does not contest or even disagree with the Divan’s judgment. There were always risks Mahmut exposed himself to by becoming the youngest Pasha, and that included letting emotional detachments make him forget that the role of Pasha is far more than going off alone to save one’s friend.

It’s just as bitter to think that by accomplishing so many great and noble deeds in Hisar, thwarting those who threatened peace while saving thousands of innocent people, in this case, was the wrong move, at least in his position. Being a Pasha must mean being more detached, more aloof from personal concerns, while far more attuned to the greater needs of the state as a whole.

It’s a big picture position, and Mahmut simply wasn’t ready yet. But he’s learned his lesson, and is eager to see more places, meet more people, and be reinstated as Pasha as quickly as possible…but not so quickly that he doesn’t do it properly.

Judging from the scheming of both Minister Louis and Lelederik, and the fact Louis is aware of Zaganos’ spy network (which Z gave Mahmut the means to contact) and is taking them out one by one, Mahmut can’t get back in the Pasha’s seat soon enough.

Shoukoku no Altair – 02

This week’s Altair begins with more of Mahmut’s backstory; specifically, when he was still in school and excelled at everything but convincing others to follow him—and inspiring loyalty is a key trait in a pasha. What inspired him to work harder to adopt that ability was a friend of his, the older Ibrahim, who vowed to become Vali of his hometown of Hisar.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Hisar is in rebellion, with Ibrahim at the center. Zaganos Pasha immediately sets off with a punitive force, but Mahmut breaks out his usual indignation with the situation, clearly having not learned how to properly engage with the impatient Zaganos.

Thus, he gets nowhere, and must follow Zaganos to Hisar to find out what’s going on. Shahra decides to tag along, because she belives she could be useful; I know of no other reason she has besides seeming to like Mahmut (who doesn’t return her interest, even for a moment).

Elsewhere in Hisar, the families of all thousand soldiers in the castle’s garrison are the hostages of an alliance between the Araba and the Empire. The deal is, Ibrahim’s and his mens’ loved ones will be seen safely to the Turkish capital if they hand over control of the city.

That would be bad news to Turkyie, as Hisar is a buffer between them and the Empire. Unfortunately, between the Imperial representatives, the Araban leader, and the local (female) lord who has brought a large force of her own to bear near Hisar, all the new characters create a bit of a haze and no one really stands out. They’re all just kind of around. But with the tent soaked in oil, there are certainly human stakes to consider.

When Shahrah gets a little dance party going outside that tent, it lures out one of the Imperials. Mahmut, Good Guy that he is, tries to tell the Arabans—happy to be gaining a new city and nation—that they’re all pawns in a larger game of geopolitical chess being played by Minister Louis, whom if I’m not mistaken was roundly beaten by Mahmut in his little fake arrow scheme.

Nevertheless, Mahmut is right in the thick of things, having to cross swords with an opponent of unknown ability (that turns out to be pretty formidable) out of loyalty to his friend Ibrahim. The Imperial tells him it’s no worth it, as Ibrahim had already failed in his role as Vali by letting personal emotions supersede his duty.

He accuses Mahmut as failing for the same reason, but vows not to take his life until the Imperial army is within Hisar’s walls and he can claim victory. And that’s where we leave things: with Mahmut in some very deep water; but with a few pieces (like his at-large golden eagle) to work with, he’s certainly still in the game.

Shoukoku no Altair – 01 (First Impressions)

Take away the exotic setting and lush costumes, and Shoukoku no Altair is the very common story of an overachieving young man determined to move forward, be useful, and protect his country, after enduring tragedy earlier in life in which he wasn’t able to save his family.

Fortunately, Altair does have an exotic setting, lush costumes, and a very decent soundtrack to boot. And so we have ourselves a show that isn’t all that original in storytelling but is able to just sail by on competent, often stylish execution.

Newly-appointed Pasha Tughril Mahmut is the youngest Pasha ever, but never comes off as arrogant or petulant, even when a comrade accuses him of having a “tantrum.” Rather, I liken him to Tintin: young, courageous, resourceful, cunning…and yes, a bit dull. He has a strong sense of justice and is always ready to shut naysayers down…but has no idea what to do with women.

One of his mentors, Pasha Halil, sees a great future for Mahmut, so when the Balt-Rheim Empire accuses their homeland Turkyie of assassinating their prime minister, Halil chooses to be the sacrifice they demand.

War claimed many lives twelve years ago, as we see in a heart-wrenching, well-directed flashback in which a young Mahmut struggles in vain to save a woman I presume is his mother. From that point on, he swore always to do whatever he could, never standing still.

So Mahmut does what Tintin would do: investigate the incident and find the real truth, which is that the arrows used to kill the minister were of Balt-Rhein design. He joins up with with Halil, who believes the Empire as a whole does not want war, just an isolated element.

Thanks in part to a clever use of mutton stew and the local eagles, the pashas weather an attempted ambush, capture the conspirator’s men, and bring them and the false arrows before the Emperor himself.

War is staved off—for now, but the minister who conspired to start it was not tried or even named for his role, meaning this is only the beginning of Pasha Mahmut’s duty. With only THE REFLECTION left to air on my Summer list and my interest in Apocrypha fading fast, Altair is just interesting enough for another look or two.

Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 10 (Fin)

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ARISE – Alternative Architecture last episode wasn’t just a glorified prologue to the upcoming film that continues the re-imagining of Ghost in the Shell, but a petty satisfying conclusion to the ten-episode television adaptation of the four ARISE movies. It’s an ellipsis, to be sure, but I didn’t feel cheated. It’s a good place to pause, and created anticipation for what’s to come.

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Pyrophoric Cult’s second part succeeded as both end and prologue to ARISE because it captured and distilled the cyberpunk fun of Ghost in the Shell. Things are pretty simple this week: transport Hozuki’s head to the Americans, where her secrets will be extracted and she’ll be sent into exile.

The show’s dry and somewhat dark (in this case) sense of humor comes out in the way Kusanagi says goodbye to the Hozuki head before closing her in a convenient carrying case, then tells her men that as Hozuki is still technically alive, they need to treat her as such, right before unceremoniously heaving the case into the back of a van like a sack of rice, making a satisfying clank in the process.

It’s a great expression of Kusanagi’s frustration with the piddling transport job, as well as a nice F-U to Hozuki for all the trouble she’s caused.

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Not long after the job starts, though, Pyromaniac escapes from custody with the help of Kurtz who just waltzes into the facility where he’s being held, a rare case of hands-on action on her part that would incriminate her if her quarry weren’t someone capable of wiping all security records of said facility.

Before he escapes, he hacks into the cyberbrains of all the scientists analyzing him, some of whom are American. Among those codes is the capability of launching a nasty-looking American drone helicopter to harass Kusanagi’s convoy.

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The drone doesn’t destroy them, but leads them to an American base, where a platoon of Fire-Starter-hacked special forces wearing optical camouflage are waiting. The purpose of the multi-pronged attack on Kusanagi is ostensibly to take out any possible agents who are a legitimate threat to the existence of Fire-Starter virus, which include her and Hozuki.

But Kusanagi won’t go out without a fight, and indeed never seems to panic, even though she and her whole team have been lured right where the enemy wants them. Ever the level-headed military woman, she splits her men up and delegates tasks to them, each according to their skills, while she dives into her personal net, wrangles up an impromptu strike force of mercenary hackers to disable the hacked special forces.

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Once that’s done, she manages to find Pyromaniac himself and enters his “world”, which resembles the Kuzan battlefield that presumably embittered him to his present crusade. Yet she’s almost disappointed to learn he’s not even a “true” ghost, only an amalgam of false memories created by Fire-Starter; a glorified A.I. Even the banter he delivers turns out to be wooden because it was simply uploaded to give him a little more personality.

Most impressively, while Kusanagi may appear to be on the ropes, in reality she’s in complete control of the situation, creating a decoy of herself to fool Pyro and then surrounding him with delete protocols. All that was missing from her coup-de-grace was shouting “BANG!” as she formed a gun with her hand, though that would admittedly been a bit cliche.

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Thus Kusanagi gets a victory in this final week, one that’s both convincing and satisfying, and the product of relatively easy-to-follow teamwork, both from her unit guys and Aramaki pulling the political strings. Sure, her direct interfacing with and deleting Pyro may have been Kurtz’s plan all along, as Kurtz’s parting shot is one of confidence and anticipation rather than anger at being foiled. But the next confrontation between Kusanagi and her former CO will be one of many matters for the film.

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For now, I’ll enjoy Kusanagi’s provisional win, and the somewhat cheeky ending of Kusanagi appearing in a military uniform to receive formal thanks from the Prime Minister. Even Aramaki doesn’t want to hear about some of the things Kusanagi learned while in her dive with Pyro; proportionally speaking, the Prime Minister is completely in the dark about what the good Major and her team did and how they did it.

All the Prime Minister needs or cares to see is the smiling, uniformed Shell standing at attention, telling him it’s all in a day’s work, while it’s the jumpsuit-wearing Ghost and her cohorts working in the deep cyber-shadows to keep his government—and his brain—in one piece.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 09

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In the final fifth of AAA, Kusanagi’s team grows tantalizingly closer to Fire-Starter, locating and capturing a man believed to be only one degree of separation from the unseen antagonist of the series. This man, called “Pyromania” by the Yanks, likes to spout quasi-religious drivel as he blows up airliners.

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About the Americans: Aramaki has little choice but to give them command of the operation to capture Pyromania, but Kusanagi sees the kick-down to observer status as a challenge: no matter what the bureaucracy decides, she’ll prove which team is more capable of getting the job done.

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Kusanagi believes she has the edge because she has access to Hozuki, or rather, the head of Hozuki, recovered from the attempt on her life. Kusanagi hopes the considerable state secrets contained within Hozuki’s brain will prove enticing enough to bait Pyromania.

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Once the operation is underway, Pyromania manages to hack many of the joint teams supporting cast; even the American Jeril is hacked and starts shooting her 9mm at Hozuki’s titanium brain case. But once the hacked parties are neutralized, Kusanagi, Ishikawa, and three Logicomas begin the cyberbattle with Pyro, visualized with 3D graphic representations. I have to admit, the battle gets a little chaotic and hard to follow on the screen, but I kept up with what was supposedly happening.

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In the end, Kusanagi is able to pinpoint Pyro’s location and take him into custody, but they aren’t able to recover any more information about Fire-Starter from his cyberbrain, as it’s all been wiped. But that clearly isn’t going to stop Kusanagi from getting her man.

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Meanwhile, her former commander Kurtz seems to be intricately involved in the Fire-Starter affair, pulling strings from her rather ungainly Ferrari stretch limo, hoping to gain control of the “third world”.

It always seems to come down to someone close to Kusanagi’s past. And on that subject, not much ground was covered (i.e. none) on Kusanagi’s struggles with her identity; suffice it to say she seems content to define herself as a leader of those who will stand before extremists who would use all the technology available to them to wreak havoc. And right now, Fire-Starter is her nemesis.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 08

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Who is Kusanagi Motoko? It’s a question ARISE has been constantly asking, and which she herself asks, now that this latest arc has become her most personal yet. By the end of last week’s installment, it was pretty darned evident that her love Akira was mixed up in some unsavory conspiracy with Dr. Theid and Col. Hozuki.

A question asked parallel to this is “Who is Scylla?”, a question everyone seems to want to know the answer to except Motoko and her former comrade Kurtz, who gives her a gun with a familiar mark carved into the grip, and the task of “burying” Scylla for good.

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In an interesting choice by the animators, Motoko spends most of this episode wearing hot pants instead of her usual pants, perhaps to accentuate the fact her right leg is still not quite behaving properly thanks to Fire-Starter. She even shows up in a smoking ball gown, indicating whoever she is, she wants to embrace her femininity and have fun with Akira even as suspicion about him continues to mount. Akira says he was drawn to her by her desire, through customization, to make her prosthetic body her own.

Akira’s work, the fruits of which are shown when he and Motoko attend a wedding between two elderly people in brand new young skins, are following a similar path as Motoko: blurring the lines between the technological and the organic. He also considers Motoko’s body to be herself, not merely a tool that allows her ghost to walk about, or choke people. Despite his seedy dealings, I found myself approving of him as Motoko’s mate.

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When Akira’s deal with Hozuki goes sour and he and Motoko are attacked while in bed together, Motoko is quick to blame herself for the targeting, but it’s really Akira the gunmen were after. Detective Togusa’s investigation overlaps with her unit’s, and he warns her that Akira can’t be trusted the way she’s trusting him, and the Qhardi leader confirms that Akira is the “new” Scylla.

After we see how Hozuki and Thied make that happen, and Aramaki and much of the rest of the unit are ambushed at the Vice Minister’s office, the body of evidence is too great and Motoko can no longer deny who Akira is and what she, and she alone, must do.

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Not that she’s looking forward to taking out her lover; someone who seems like a genuinely nice guy who got mixed up with the wrong people and took one too many wrong turns. But it turns out to be more than that: the Scylla in Akira’s brain was once Motoko, and Motoko was once Scylla, aiding the Qhardi separatists back when she was with the 501, before she faked her death.

By shooting him and destroying his cyberbrain, she’s saving her comrades and ending the latest crisis, but she’s also killing a part of her past. She was Scylla, but now who is she? It’s a question she still doesn’t know the answer to. But while she was in Akira’s arms, for a fleeting moment, she knew she was wanted, and that she was happy.

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So ends another tragic chapter in the chronicle of the enigmatic Kusanagi Motoko. But while my heart sank at her having to kill her lover, she’s always proven able to restore and reinvent herself and continue use her unique talents and unique unit to be a force for good in the world. She casts away the explosive “Ariel” parts Akira had furnished her, and rebuilds herself with more customization; if she forgot who the flesh-and-blood Kusanagi originally was, she’ll simply create a new one through prosthesis and cyberization.

The show doesn’t question the rightness or wrongness of such a path, but it does indicate this is all she knows how to do and it’s at least something. It also contrasts her with the all-natural, married Togusa, who impressed her in the last case to the extent that she offers him a job in her unit. With her lover gone that unit is now pretty much all Motoko has, but her offer to Togusa is interrupted by the news that his wife’s water broke and that he’s going to be a father.

Motoko’s look of bemusement as he races off seems to indicate she almost forgot there were still low-tech people like Togusa extant in this world. But in addition to his sleuthing skills, I’ll bet Motoko wants his perspective on her team—a perspective she’s lacked for untold years—as she continues to face threats like fire-starter and rebuild her own identity in the process.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 06

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This latest episode of ARISE further reinforces the quality that make it by turns engrossing an frustrating: its complexity. The show is to be commended for not compromising its narrative principles or pandering to a lower common denominator. But that rigidness makes it more practical as a binge than stepping in every week, especially when there are a lot of other shows, anime or otherwise, on one’s weekly watchlist. This makes sense, considering this show was originally a series of movies.

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I’d argue the “alternative architecture” was a blessing and a curse to ARISE: while I feel it might be more cohesive and easier to follow in its previous format, without airing as television broadcast, I would have never been exposed to it to begin with. That being said, its translated structure lends a certain uniqueness that can’t be ignored.

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I also have to commend ARISE for not holding back in the action department, though I do wish quieter scenes could have been animated with as great care as said action scenes were composed. The amazing stunts Kusanagi & Co. pull off as if it’s just another day at the office really pull me in and make me feel comfortable, despite the fact there’s a bit too much AI in the world being portrayed to be too comfortable.

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But yeah, this week things get very complex indeed, with the operation to retrieve colonel’s module being hamstrung by an illusory world before Kusanagi can break free, and is then saved by her new ally VV, whom I described as the CIA equivalent of Kusanagi. They work well together; as well as I imagine Kusanagi and Batou would work together if they weren’t on opposite sides for most of this episode.

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This complex scene of Kusanagi, Batou, Paz and VV all trying to get the upper hand on each other best illustrates the attention to detail and creativity of the direction. Not to mention, this is a show where many characters don’t have flesh-and-blood bodies, and thus can take quite a bit more punishment, not to mention lose a limb or two and keep on tickin’.

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The plot is even more complex than the action, but boils down the Colonel, Ishikawa, Batou, and everyone else in their unit being infected with fales memories of a humanitarian mission, when they were actually confronted with guerillas.

The Colonel takes his life so he can’t be used by whomever infected him to cause any more harm. Batou wouldn’t mind keeping memories that portrayed him as something other than a “dog trained to kill”, even if they’re fake. Kusanagi’s response is both cold and accurate: he’s a whiny bitch.

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As for the final twist: VV, who had helped Kusanagi up until now, was in actuality an AI infected with false memories that allowed her to masquerade as a human, who won’t rest until she’s found out why; ironically one of the more human compulsions for self-discovery and validation for one’s existence.

Unfortunately, achieving her goal would mean throwing the world into more political turmoil than it’s already in, so she’s gunned down. It’s certainly an unexpected twist—almost too unexpected—but I appreciated the guts of the show to take things one step deeper.

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Even if the mastermind behind the insidious false memory-producing virus remains at large, thanks to Kusanagi and her variably loyal (looking at you, Saito) fledgling unit, Pandora wasn’t fully unleashed to the world and Japan is safe for another week.

In a common problem in anime, Kusanagi needs to recruit more members for her club or its registration will be revoked, so she reaches out to another one of the bes tin the business, Batou, with an enticing offer: to let him feel like more than a trained killing dog…without the aid of false memories.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 05

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In our next arc, Kusanagi has yet to form her “best defense is a good offense” unit, but has to react to a new threat in which another disgraced colonel is using city-wide Domination to control nearly all of the city’s 20 million vehicles, thus holding their occupants hostage, while he works to air all of the Japanese military’s dirty laundry to the world. Clearly, the public story of what happened in Qhardistan differes from what really happened.

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It’s an episode in which a lot of the mundance automation technology both the people of Japan and Kusanagi herself take for granted is suddenly all messed up. Luckily for Motoko, an older-model motorcycle passes her by when he late model slows down and refuses to respond to her inputs, and one of her many badass moments of this week, she manages to maneuver the bike into and through a delivery van trying to take out Logicoma (whose memory apparently contains incriminating data). Oh, and Batou’s driving the van. I guess these two still aren’t quite friends yet, huh?

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It’s on to the next badass moment, as Motoko and her comparatively pint-sized Logicoma have to take on not one but two heavy-duty military mechas that would like nothing else than to take her out. She seems to be in a bad way when all of a sudden an ally leaps out of the shadows and disables the enemy mechs.

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This ally, code named “VV”, looks like the American equivalent of Kusanagi, and wants to assist her in locating and deactivating or destroying Colonel Soga’s means of hacking the city’s systems and prevent Pandora from being opened, as such an action would likely cause problems for America’s government as well. VV’s arrival inspires Kusanagi to finally assemble her team; one member by gunpoint (Saito), another who volunteers (Pazu).

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But in the middle of their op, once they successfully infiltrate the suspected enemy base, Kusanagi herself is trapped in a mental construct of Soga’s making. He knows she’s after him, and warns her she won’t succeed in stopping him from carrying out his mission. Soga is certainly a tech whiz, and may even have a good reason for doing what he’s doing; a reason Kusanagi can relate to. But her first loyalty is to the state, and despite this initial setback I expect her to give Soga a run for his money.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 04

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There were times during last week’s ep when I was a bit lost, dazed and confused, but now I take solace in the fact that Kusanagi was too! I love an episode of anime that tosses all the pieces on the table and makes you simmer with the chaos and the depth of the mystery to solve before solving it this week. It did so bit by bit, both with some of the Spring’s best snippets of noirish dialogue and some of the best combat.

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After Batou attacks her, suspecting her of dirty deeds, and Aramaki’s men dig up the same dirt, it becomes clear to Kusanagi that like us, she doesn’t have the whole picture. Much of the truth of her mentor’s murder is hidden behind blocked pathways in both her memory and sensory perception.

The fact that we don’t see the real body or hear the real voice of her heroine, only those filtered through prosthetic body and cyberbrain, is one of Ghost’s best conceptual assets. The Kusanagi we follow is only a projection, layered within another projection: the anime in which she dwells. But she still knows herself, and knows when something is amiss, as it is here.

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When the official report is that Mamuro’s grave was never disturbed, she decides to test that report. Turns out the perpetators literally buried the truth below a lie, as the mobile mine trap was buried above the LTC’s real remains, including his cyberbrain.

Once she connects to it, Kusanagi learns a lot more, and is able to remember a plot she had probably already uncovered before her cyber-virus tore up her memory. Mamuro had uncovered a plot by a military and a civilian official to cover up an arms smuggling racket, and those parties then moved to eliminate and then discredit Mamuro.

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After some slick modifications of a mobile mine to get the confirmation from the vice-minister (before not-killing him with a point-blank flash-bang), Batou covers her as she heads to a seedy site where enemy spies were being lured with Mamuro’s cash by the very 501 organization he once headed.

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After a not altogether necessary but still awesome fight with Raizo, Kusanagi gets the rest of the truth from Kurtz. Had Mamuro tried to take down the minister, 501 would have been purged, so she prevented that by letting Mamuro die. Neither she nor the enemy included Kusanagi in their equations, picking up the football dropped by her mentor’s death.

But because she linked with him in the alley where she found him, she was infected with same memory virus he had – the same “fire-starter” virus that played big in the first two eps. Kurtz knew about the virus, and used Kusanagi as bait.

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Considering all that, it’s not surprising Kusanagi wouldn’t want anything else to do with Kurtz or the 501. And with Mamuro exonerated, his recommendation for her goes through. She’s promoted to major and provided an inheritance, part of which was earmarked for her prosthetic body, which is no longer government property.

She may have had to run away from spider girls, dodge blows and bullets from past and future friends, and get her arm torn off, but she’s now freer now than she’s ever been.

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Kusanagi then wipes the rest of the slate clean by undergoing an eradication of all the false memories, planted by the virus, of a mother-like figure who cared for her in her youth. But…were they really false memories? Did Kusanagi really get down to the bottom of things, or simply down to a place she can be satisfied with?

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In the final scene, after a montage of all the future members of Section 9 going about their pre-section 9 lives, Aramaki meets with Kusanagi on the street to report his results: the Captain was replaced and the minister will be quietly tried, and one day Mamuro’s findings will be made public.

In the meantime, he invites the new major to form a team with the independence she always yearned for and her new circumstances allow – a team that won’t simply defend against its enemies, but attack them head-on. With all the pieces thus locked into place, we can gaze on the final product: a pretty sweet re-imagined origin story..

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 03

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The second arc of ARISE takes us back to before Kusanagi Motoko joined Section 9, when she was still in the 501 Organization. It’s another tautly-produced episode packed with richly-detailed environments, slick action, a dope score, and good old-fashioned police work, performed with the aid of cyber-technology.

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That police work surrounds the recent murder of a Colonel Mamuro, a soldier with a reputation for integrity being smeared by allegations of corruption surrounding the circumstances of his demise. Mamuro also happens to be Kusanagi’s mentor and de facto benefactor. With him gone and new rules in place, what remnants of her physical and financial freedom remain are in jeopardy. Even more so, now that he’s suspected of corruption. Talk about crap luck.

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Her fortunes marginally improve when Aramaki, the head of the investigation, brings Kusanagi on as a consultant, familiar and clearly impressed with her bona fides, even if he doesn’t know her personal stake in Mamuro’s murder. She immediately gets to work, diving deep into the cybernetic aether, finding dots, and connecting them.

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That night, as Kusanagi gets in touch with Togusa, the civilian detective following Mamuro’s case, and his involvement with a prostitute, she is infiltrated, and runs out into the night in her underwear, only to be ambushed by her bitter 501 colleagues. Like Togusa’s boss, they want her to quit digging into the case, lest it cause trouble for all of them. Something tells me she won’t be so easily intimidated.

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The next morning, Kusanagi first meets Logicoma, a primitive but plucky assistant mecha to whom she literally gives a voice (Sawashiro Miyuki laying on the cute, if you were wondering), whom Aramaki assigns to Kusanagi for the duration of her consultation. The suggestion is that this will only be a temporary arrangement, but I one gets the feeling this is a trial run to determine of she’s right for Section 9.

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Kusanagi traces Mamuro’s last steps and gets jumped by an apparent n’er-do-well. Like the gymnast-like mobile mine, the combat is quick and frenetic, but also smooth and deliberate; not so chaotic we don’t know what’s going on. It’s neat then, that this isn’t just some random enemy going after Motoko, but Pazu, a cop who just happens to be working undercover with the outfit that was hired to take Mamuro out with mobile mines.

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After Pazu offers her useful info that propels her investigation further, he expresses his envy for her “freedom of movement”, unaware that her freedom is by no means a sure thing. At the facility where the mines came from, Kusaragi not only bumps into Togusa, who is looking for two military officers who match the description of the figures who followed Mamuro on security video.

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In that same warehouse, Kusanagi finally gets a good look at the guy who infiltrated her and has been tailing her ever since she took on the case. Anyone even casually familiar with the franchise knows him as Batou, Kusanagi’s beady-eyed second-in-command, but here, in the past, he’s pointing a gun at her. It’s amusing that Kusanagi first met almost every future member of Section 9 at gunpoint.

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Ghost in the Shell: ARISE – Alternative Architecture – 02

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Unlike so many anime on the air today, Arise doesn’t hold your hand too much with long narrations or official introductions or long narrations. Instead, it tosses you into the deep end of its intricate cyberpunk narrative. You’ll either sink from the sheer weight of proper nouns, or swim among all the interesting ideas.

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I’m here writing this, so I was mostly able to navigate the occasionally opaque cybercop-talk of plots layered within plots. There’s a dense, sophisticated story unfolding, necessitating quite a bit of exposition, but it’s nicely balanced with—and sometimes, occupying the same space as—nifty bursts of good old-fashioned cop action.

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Standard fare like busting windows and firing guns, and setting off sprinklers are more setting-specific stuff like a robot containing the two minds of identical twins working together, or Motoko’s colleague being implanted with false memories until he’s not in control of his own body. Arise is a show that blows stuff up real good and makes your mind churn.

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As for Motoko, she’s fearless, reckless, and superbly competent, neither afraid of mussing her hair or losing a layer of synthetic skin tossing her body at attackers. She and Batou are almost as in sync as those cyber-twins in the heat of battle, tossing guns at one another and not flinching as each kills the bad guy behind the other.

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As to the plot: Emma Tsuda is identified as a tech officer under Motoko’s former 501 colleague, Lt. Col. Kurutsu, who was investigating a hacker known as “Scarecrow” whom apparently had the same disorder she had.

While Emma used cyberization to “structure her attenuating selfhood” (making herself more and more a “Tin Girl”, the “Scarecrow”, AKA Brinda Jr., achieves selfhood by dubbing ghosts, stealing bodies, and assuming the identities of others. The two live within Emma’s body, and though his brain and her heart are fading away, they yearn go on living together after death.

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These odd soulmates are unfortunately pawns in a bigger, more dastardly plot spearheaded by military bigwig (and somewhat scary-looking cyborg) Colonel Hozuki. She’s in cahoots with a foreign weapons cartel, and used Scarecrow to eliminate said cartel’s domestic competition, while trying to pass Emma off as the ringleader in a diversionary massacre.

Motoko and Batou follow Togusa and Emma to a thrilling dock standoff where Tin Girl and Scarecrow desperately transfer to a next-gen mecha. When Mokoto dives in to try to get more info on the virus, they flee again, only to be blown up by a warship just offshore. To top it off, Hozuki, supervising all this from her chopper, is herself hot down by the cartel, reaping what she’s sown.

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If I didn’t quite get all that right, please forgive me, for I watched this quite late at night, but suffice it to say Motoko and her team are rewarded for uncovering Hozuki’s plot by being given special authority, and tasked with continuing their investigations into the hacking virus, along with any organizations involved.

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Considering Motoko doesn’t wear a military uniform anymore (preferring a fetching red leather suit), it’s clear more authority and autonomy suit her just fine. These first two weeks of Alternative Architecture covered the events of the fourth and final Arise OVA, while the preview indicates we’ll be going back to when Motoko did wear a uniform.

So if it felt like we were just thrown right into the middle of everything—not a bad way to do things in this kind of setting, IMO—it’s because we were; now comes the backstory.

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