Akudama Drive – 12 (Fin) – Good Trouble

You could sense this was going to be a particularly intense finale when it starts with Swindler, Courier, and the kids surviving a violent Shinkansen derailing. Brother thinks it’s all over, but Sister still believes in her big sis. Swindler may have a badly broken leg, but she’s not ready to give up.

She produces the 500-yen coin that started her run of “bad luck” (putting it quite mildly) and places it on Courier’s chest. It’s payment for one last job: ensure the kids get to Shikoku safely. Through their prickly, foul-mouthed repartee, Courier too can sense that Swindler is cashing out.

After wishing the kids godspeed, Swindler limps out into the open and almost immediately spotted and surrounded by police drones. But she finally gets her own official Akudama intro sequence (this show’s version of the magical girl transition) as she pulls off one last Swindle.

At first, it seems like nothing other than stalling the Executioners—whose mundane banter in the midst of such carnage only heightens their monstrousness. She pretends to be an ordinary civilian caught in the crossfire, but she’s quickly identified as Swindler, and is stabbed through the chest by one of the Executioners.

That woman Executioner thinks it’s creepy that the Akudama wears a bright smile even in death, but Swindler has every reason to smile: not only did she succeed in buying crucial moments for Courier and the kids, but also sparked something even the Executioners won’t be able to contend with.

Oh, they certainly put on a show of force in surrounding Courier’s bike with seemingly every Executioner, drone, and airship in the city. A feisty Executioner is even able to lunge at Courier, but Brother comes between them an ensures the wound isn’t deep enough to kill Courier yet.

That’s key, because they still need Courier to help them out of this mess. Of course, Courier isn’t enough, especially in his battered state and woefully outnumbered and outgunned. That is, until, the fruits of Swindler’s Last Swindle are borne. Her execution, ruthlessly carried out while pleading she was just an ordinary person? That was caught on video.

The girl whose parents were killed last week steps between the Executioners and Courier and the kids, and even shoots one of them with a gun she found. She’s not alone. Soon the Executioners and their arrogant Boss are surrounded by a far larger force of ordinary citizens rising up against the violence. Even Bunny & Shark’s message is retooled: the Executioners are the Akudama now.

The resurgence of public unrest keeps the Executioners busy enough that Courier is able to charge up his bike railgun and not only bring down the Police station and its looming tower, but uses the tower wreckage as a goddamn ramp to escape with the kids.

He follows the train tracks towards Shikoku until his bike warns him it’s running low on juice, and in any case there are three Executioner airships still in pursuit. Courier stops near a windswept tree, the kids alight from the bike and continue on foot while he’ll go back and stop the airships…at any cost.

Akudama Drive has never had a problem with absolutely bonkers action sequences, but as expected the finale takes them to entirely new heights, reaching Synthwave Music Video levels of serene awesomeness. Courier dances on his bike to dodge enemy fire as long as he possibly can, but is eventually swallowed up by a railgun beam and seemingly vaporized, all while Brother and Sister run away as fast as their little legs can carry them.

BUT…it turns out Courier isn’t quite dead yet after being turned into a black-on-white sketch—usually a death sentence for most characters, but Courier and the Akudama aren’t “most”! He uses his metal arm to replace one of the two prongs on the bike’s railgun that melted away, focusing the beam enough to land a direct hit on the third and final airship pursuing the kids, and destroying it.

With nothing and no one else chasing Brother and Sister, Courier slumps over wearing a smile of relief and satisfaction as the morning sun washes over him. He just managed accomplished his final delivery mission. Before parting with the kids, he gave them the 500-yen coin Swindler gave him, making his last job technically gratis.

Aside from a parting shot showing the wreckage of the police tower, the remainder of the episode is given over to Brother and Sister continuing on to Shikoku as the end credits roll. They reach a tunnel through which there is nothing but light, and walk through it while holding hands, vanishing into the blinding white.

What Shikoku is like and what becomes of them is left ambiguous; suffice it to saw they are safe and free. So is Kansai, it would seem, with the fall of the murderous Executioners. Swindler’s heroic death made her a martyr, and caused the spark that lit the match that brought about the downfall of the region’s old, unjust order—what the late John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Hey, I never thought I’d be quoting a civil rights icon in a show about goofy Danganronpa-style archetype criminals on the run, but here we are! In its finale Akudama’s lyrical action sequences, heart-wrenching character moments and operatic soundtrack all combined to elevate a previously goofily over-the-top series to an epic cinematic experience. And like any great movie or series, I’m holding myself back from immediately watching it all over again.

Akudama Drive – 11 – Their Little Dream

Suddenly, we’re back where we began: Ordinary Person gets off work on time and spots a takoyaki stand. Instead of being accused of not paying, she pays without interacting with Courier and the two go their separate ways. Of course, if this is how things had gone down in the first episode, there wouldn’t be a story.

This is clearly not reality. What is reality is Pupil waking up in a hospital bed to find that not only have nearly 6,000 ordinary people been marked as Akudama, but nearly a third of them have been executed, and his senpai seems perfectly fine with it, as is their Boss, who is praised by Kanto. Order in Kansai has been restored—even if the odd orphan has to be tossed off their parent’s corpse into the cold.

Swindler at first revels in the comfort of her ordinary apartment, and could presumably continue living there as if all of the crazy events in which she participated was all just a very weird dream. But this is the dream, just as a young Courier discovering his mentor, the previous (and female) Courier murdered is a dream.

Bunny and Shark—in crisp HD for the first time—deliver their latest lesson with Swindler and Courier as an audience: they explain the “Butterfly Dream” in which one asks themselves if they’re dreaming of a butterfly or the butterfly’s dream. Apparently, in Kanto, it doesn’t matter: you can be both or neither.

The animal stick puppet characters assert this is where Swindler and Courier “truly belong”: a place where they can dream of whatever and whenever they want and live in their happiest moments forever! Swindler even has a little Shoujo Manga moment with Courier…before both he and the takoyaki stand beging to digitally degrade and evaporate, leaving only the interior of the Shinkansen.

Swindler and Courier escape this world of coddling and restraining illusion thanks to Hacker’s Haro bot, with which the real Hacker is able to interface and which serves as a kind of dream totem for Swindler and Courier; their means of realizing they’re in a dream. The Bunny & Shark program is a form of brainwashing meant to separate body from mind (and free will) when entering Kanto. It is the effect of the Decontamination Zone.

Why would Kanto insist anyone who enters have their mind separated from their body? That becomes clear when Hacker leads them outside of the train to see something even stranger than their dreams: an endless deep blue sky full of eternally floating wreckage of old Tokyo.

As for Kanto, its true form is that of a complex quantum computer with a morphing geometric black structure resembling an Angel from Eva. Everyone in Kanto converted their consciousness to data and stored it in this structure (again, like Eva’s Human Instrumentality Project). Hacker turns back and cheekily breaks the fourth wall, commenting on how crazy a twist this is!

Swindler’s first priority is the kids, whom Hacker points out are currently being restrained by the Kanto structure. It’s presently breaking down, and the siblings were always meant to be Kanto’s new and everlasting vessels. All of Kanto’s data is being transferred to them.

Needless to say, Swindler isn’t cool with the kids being used once more as mere tools. She’s long since completely devoted her mind and body ensuring brother and sister’s one “little dream”—to be alive, safe, and together—is fulfilled. Whatever else they are and whatever Kanto perceives their use to be, she insists they’re ordinary kids who deserve and ordinary life.

Unfortunately, her attempts to physically attack Kanto are repelled by its gravitational wave defense system, which means it’s up to Hacker to go into Kanto and play the toughest—and most fun—game of his life. That’s just fine to him, as the whole reason he’s helping Swindler and Courier comes down to profound boredom. If he can die doing what he loves, he’s okay with that.

This is definitely Akudama Drive at its most baroque and psychedelic, and even though The Day I Became a God had a quantum supercomputer and trippy virtual hacker fight first this season, Akudama is able to put a different spin on both. Hacker’s battlefield resembles FFXIII’s final dungeon, Orphan’s Cradle, while the floating wreckage reminded me of FFXIII-2’s final dungeon, Labyrinth of Chaos.

Hacker ends up succeeding in freeing the siblings, but only by sacrificing his digital self, which is all that’s left of him. He lies about being “just fine” to Swindler and offers her a final token of gratitude for returning his Haro drone intact: coordinates to “a mystical place nobody’s heard about, let alone been to,” which he deems a “perfect place” for them.

He then urges everyone to hurry aboard the Shinkansen, which he programs to return to Kansai, and from there they can presumably head to those coordinates. As Sister surprises Brother with her new street smarts (and potty mouth—”You were shit at protecting me!”), Swindler thanks Courier for all his help. Of course, for Courier, finishing the job wasn’t a choice, but a necessity.

That’s when we return to Kansai where the approaching Shinkansen is placed in crosshairs. Three choppers open fire on it, knocking it off the tracks in a huge fireball as Pupil and New Pupil look on. Here’s hoping Swindler and the kids alighted before the train blew up!

Assuming they did, there are likely to be more hardships—and a likely final showdown with the Executioners—before they can reach their promised haven. Whatever happens in the finale, this episode was a master class in twisty, surreal, mind-bending, truth-dropping, beautifully batshit fun.

No Guns Life – 13 (S2 01) – Enter the Dismantler

Following a brief re-intro by Juuzou, No Guns Life picks up right where it left off. Turns out that chip in Rosa McMahon’s locket, which Juuzou accepted as payment, is exactly as much trouble as he thought it would be. While he’s at a vintage electronics shop playing the recording on the old medium, his office is raided by Spitzbergen, the anti-Extended terrorist group.

Mary and Tetsuro escape (with the former being protected from a flash-bang by the robotic hand-pet), but Tetsuro doesn’t feel right leaving Chris behind. When Mary refuses to let him use Harmony on a badly-wounded EMS officer, he runs right into his captors’ hands. He and Chris are held as hostages until Juuzou coughs up the data.

Meanwhile, Mary follows the hand pet to a foggy staircase, atop which stands her big brother Victor, who is riddled with Extensions and was the same person who attacked the EMS officers guarding Juuzou’s office.

Victor isn’t there to ask how his sis has been, but to offer a simple warning: quit helping the Extended. Considering Mary doing so as her calling—even refusing payment in deference to what her patients have already lost—it seems unlikely she’ll comply.

Mary later meets up with Juuzou at a diner, where they meet Avi Cobo, a detective with Public Safety who is investigating Spitzbergen. Unfortunately, they can’t guarantee they’ll ever see Tetsuro or Chris again, considering how extreme some members of the group are. But what Cobo really wants is the data Juuzou has, and has his partner follow Mary, who he’s convinced is Victor’s sister.

I wouldn’t call this a standout episode of NGL, more of a gentle easing back into its grimy cyberpunk world, a re-establishing of stakes, and the formal intro of Victor, who villain-wise looks to give Berühren a run for its money. This week set up key future confrontations which will no doubt result in more of NGL’s trademark pulse-pounding, rock-em-sock-em action.

Dropped: RikeKoi

I couldn’t even get through the sixth episode, so it’s time to cut bait on this one. Himuro can be cute at times, but she and Yukimura are almost too (romantically) dumb to live, the art sucks, the science is very shaky and the show has become a repetitive snooze-fest.

RikeKoi – 05 – Experiments in Tedium

Meetings tend to be boring, and the first meeting we witness of the researchers and their professor, Ikeda, is no different. For one thing, Ikeda’s frequent “muscling up” routine isn’t particularly compelling.

For another, in reporting the results of their experimentation thus far to their professor, Himuro and Yukimura don’t add anything new for us, the audience. It feels like a recap, with further romantic progress halted so a heretofore unseen character can get brought up to speed.

Ikeda is intrigued by the research, but suggests that his students branch out to other subjects in order to amass more useful and accurate data. This is interpreted as branching out to the lab as a whole, which is only six people, only one of whom is remotely “normal” (Kanade).

The resulting experiments, in which Yukimura and Kanade share a straw (which is blocked by Himuro) and Ibarada and Inukai (childhood friends who know each other extremely well) have a competition to see who can raise the other’s heart rate the most, carry little scientific or comedic value. Frankly, the whole exercise felt like a drag.

RikeKoi is starting reveal the overarching flaw in its premise: Not whether two scientists can determine through science whether they love each other, but whether they should, and if that results in worthwhile entertainment. In the case of this episode, the answer is a firm “yah, no.”

RikeKoi – 04 – A Date Packed with Data

When Himuro and Yukimura show up to their first date in their normal lab outfits disputing the arrival time within hundredths of a second, things seem destined to go pear-shaped from there. Fortunately, Kanade and Kousuke are there to observe, document, and course-correct, so Kanade helps Himuro pick out more suitable garb.

The two also have a data-collecting app with which they can tally various reactions during the date, from a racing heart to uncertain thoughts. Yukimura is almost ready to hit the latter button when Himuro appears in a cute outfit, whereupon he spams the former button.

Things go pretty smoothly from there, until Yukimura hesitates when the itinerary calls for them to hold hands. Himuro decides to wait for the bus while he settles up the bill, but she’s confronted by a pickup artist who was just caught two-timing his girlfriend and ended up with no one.

Himuro skillfully, hilariously rejects this guy like he’s never been rejected before, providing a damn PowerPoint—magically created for just this instance!—illustrating the reasons why she won’t accept his invitation. When he forces the issue, Yukimura steps in, takes her hand from the guy.

He then makes an impassioned speech about how neither he nor Himuro have time to waste on “animals who have abandoned all reason” and storms away. He worries he made an ass of himself, but Himuro is duly impressed.

Yukimura proves a scaredy-cat in all things amusement park ride, but obviously Himuro doesn’t mind whenever he takes her hand for support, and is afraid of a couple rides herself, culminating in the two huddling together on the Ferris Wheel. Yukimura presents the gift of earrings, chosen using a mathematical formula created just for that decision.

Himuro is touched, and when Yukimura apologizes if they didn’t meet the “base conditions of a date”, Himuro presents the data collected thus far indicating her happiness increased exponentially. Furthermore, even if this data isn’t sufficient to prove their hypothesis, it invites the collection of more data, ergo more dates in the future.

RikeKoi – 03 – Just Get Married Already!

Fourth-year undergrad Inukai Kousuke takes the stage, and at least momentarily gives Ayano a crisis in confidence, since he mentions how he holds his current lover in his arms twice a day and has spent over 227,000 yen on her.

Then we learn he’s talking about 2D girls in dating sims. When Yukimura tells Kousuke he has nothing to be ashamed of Ayano again begins to doubt whether she’s really in love.

When Kanade reaches out during a break, Ayano regales her with a story from her past. When she was in elementary school she was bullied for loving pillbugs. One day, while in the woods, she’s approached by a boy who not only knows what she’s up to, but voices his respect for it.

When she blames the pillbugs, he tells her she’s ostracized not for her hobby, but for having a negative “halo effect” due to her unkempt appearance and standoffish body language.

His call for her to keep her head up and move forward boldly “with beauty and dignity” is something she’s taken to heart, and indeed inspired her not only to pursue a career in science, but as Kanade says, became the cool, beautiful egghead she strove for.

Yet Ayano still feels she’s only partway there as long as she’s unsure of her love. Kanade figures out pretty quickly that the boy Ayano met and was so inspired by and smitted with thirteen years ago was none other than Yukimura. Naturally, the two don’t realize they met each other so long ago.

Rather than try to convince them then and there that they’re soulmates who should by rights be married already were it not for their scientific stubbornness and romantic cluelessness. Better to give them a chance to figure it out for themselves by going on a date.

Neither of them has any problem with this. The problem is, they don’t know the first thing about dates. Enter their three lab-mates, who offer three different versions of how their ideal date would go.

Kanade’s, naturally, involves the teacher she adored in high school, and quickly turns into a sugary shoujo scenario. Kousuke’s involves his tsundere 2D sweetheart, who looks an awful lot like his real-life childhood friend Ibarada. Ibarada’s involves a BL version in which Ayano is a dude with a very detailed backstory.

Eventually they settle on an amusement park date, and calculate the most efficient route to access all 22 attractions. It’s clear they’re overthinking things, but when it comes to actually asking the other out, Yukimura initially pooh-poohs the idea, before asking Ayano out, resulting in her most adorable reaction yet.

RikeKoi – 02 – Love is the Secret Ingredient

This episode is told mostly from the point of view of Himuro and Yukimura’s kohai Kanade, who takes us through a typical day for a fourth-year undergrad at Saitama National University’s department of Information and Computer Science. The two lovebirds continue their dubious research into love, with Himuro calculating their hear rates while she sits on his lap and when he pets her head, activating her prehensile hair.

Then their senpai Ibarada Ena wakes up from her long slumber (she’s up all night playing up to three games at once) and tears down their experiment by pointing out it lacks a control. Who is to say anyone would raise Yukimura’s heart rate when they sit on his lap? When Ibarada sits on his lap and Yukimura pats Kanade’s head, very similar data is returned. Himuro is not happy, but I fear she’s too focused on one particular biological reaction.

Changing course, Himuro and Yukimura use the lab’s communal kitchen to test the theory that food made with love will taste better to the person eating it. Himuro cheats by writing a love message on one omelette but not the other, and Yukimura takes the hint and picks the “correct” dish, thus re-entering Himuro’s good graces. For putting up with their nonsense, Kanade is rewarded with a home-cooked hot meal to accompany the piles of papers she must read.

RikeKoi No. 2 lacks the novelty and energy of the first episode, and the show’s insistence on teaching us scientific jargon while rarely hewing to scientific accuracy is counterproductive (and occasionally patronizing). If you’re going to do a silly love story about two clueless science nerds, don’t bother trying to educate the audience—just go all out and have fun with it!

RikeKoi – 01 (First Impressions) – Science Fell in Love, So I Tried to Prove It

One morning, right in the midst of what is clearly their typical playfully adversarial tete-a-tete, grad student researcher Himuro Ayano tells her colleague Yukimura Shinya that she may be in love with him. Shinya replies that he “couldn’t say he harbors no affection” for her. Both are “science-types”—True Nerds—with zero romantic experience, so they decide to attempt to use their beloved scientific method to prove if “Himuro’s Love” is the same as love.

Thus two people who are geniuses in their particular fields undertake a fool’s errand, trying to quantify and analyze something as unscientific and inscrutable as love, stalwart in their absolute faith that everything can be expressed in data; in numbers.

While they may be correct that love and other emotions boil down to electrical signals in the brain, science is still a long way from interpreting them to the point of a surefire formula for what is or isn’t love. For one thing, it’s different from person to person!

Of course, that doesn’t stop the two lovebirds from trying via “experimentation”, i.e. wall slams and other close contact that increases heart rate. Much science-y bickering ensues, with their more normal kohai Kotonoha Kanade (an audience surrogate) stuck in the middle.

In many ways, this show echoes Kaguya-sama: Love is War, which also features to surpassingly competent and upstanding people who are utterly incompetent when it comes to matters of love. Yukimura and Himuro are similarly their own worst enemy by insisting on such a high and ultimately impossible standard for what love is rather than simply starting a relationship like normal people.

There’s a level of suspension of disbelief that two grad students as attractive as these two have never experienced romance until now, such late-blooming is far from inconceivable. I also felt the bear mascot explaining math brought the episode to a screeching halt, though I suspect he’ll appear in every episode.

There are also additional characters yet to be introduced who may make things more complicated, but with the unreliable sample size of one episode, I am willing to put forth the hypothesis that I like this show and its quirky couple and it’s worth watching! We’ll see if I’m proven right.

P.S. Like ReLIFE, another rom-com about late bloomers, RikeKoi is being released all at once, Netflix-style. I won’t binge it, but depending on if I stick with it (likely at this point) I’ll probably be watching/reviewing more than one episode per week.

Ao-chan Can’t Study! – 06 – WE HAVE THE MEATS

With Ao’s father having an apparent bout of writer’s block, Ao accompanies his managing editor Yabe Souichirou to a festival full of meat and boobs…for data gathering. There, Ao encounters Miyabi (despite her slight bust size) and Takumi, both of whom are working at the event.

Thus, Ao worries that the two are a couple. Miyabi, ever the opportunist, sees Yabe for what he is: a much better catch than Takumi. Still, as she considers Ao and Yabe to be a thing, she is content with Takumi.

Yabe and Ao are both a little off when it comes to interpreting things, which means Ao lets her dad-inspired dirty imagination run away with itself regarding Takumi and Miyabi. In reality, Takumi isn’t interested in Miyabi at all.

Once he’s on his break, he seeks Ao out, both because he wants to clear up any misunderstanding about himself and Miyabi, and because, frankly, he’s jealous of Yabe being so close and familiar with Ao. Whether it’s prudent for him to literally sweep Ao off her feet away from Yabe so he can get some time to talk with her…is another matter.

Still, once he and Ao are alone, he makes it clear he only cares about her, and is running out of patience. He must feel she’s strung him along long enough; if she’s interested, she should communicate that. If she’s not, she should say so and give him the opportunity to move on, whether it’s with Miyabi or anyone else.

As far as Takumi is concerned, there’s no one he’s particularly interested in other than Ao. Ao feels likewise…the two just have to find some way to end up on the same wavelength. Unfortunately, considering we’re only halfway into this story, I suspect more bumps in the road to follow.